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Stuff that doesn’t fit in any other category

Mazda’s Magnificent Miniaturized Marvel: MX-5 Miata

Way back in 1989, Mazda introduced the MX-5 Miata, its take on the two-seat convertible sports car. To say the car has been successful would be an understatement; it's perennially well reviewed and still going strong 34 years later.

Over the years, we've been lucky enough to own a couple—the first was a 1999 version that we sold shortly before the kids came along. And the second is still ours, a 2020 model that we bought used last summer...

We bought it to have something fun and involving to drive around in—complete with manual transmission, just like in the good old days. But this post isn't about our car, it's about something amazing that Mazda has done—or rather hasn't done—to the Miata over the 34 years of the model's existence: It hasn't bloated it into some oversized imitation of the car it used to be.


The greatest dishwasher innovation ever

This is definitely a "first world problem and solution," but in case anyone's in the market soon, I thought I'd share…

We'd had our dishwasher for over 12 years, and by last summer, it was starting to show its age—two of the modes couldn't be used at all (the buttons wouldn't activate), and the top rack would constantly want to fall out, despite my replacing its stoppers at some point. It was also quite loud.

Conveniently, I visited my father last summer and saw their dishwasher, which featured a thin silverware rack located at the top of the washer:

I'd never seen this feature before—hey, it'd been 12 years since we looked at new dishwashers—but after one cycle, I was a convert. This tray solves the single worst issue with traditional dishwashers: Loading and unloading the silverware bins.


(No) planes, (no) trains, and automobile

Our family (four of us) flew on Alaska Airlines to Colorado for the holidays; we left on the 20th, and were set to come back on the 27th. We watched the news of the mass cancellations on Southwest and others, but as we were set to fly back after the worst of the weather, we thought "everything should be fine."

Oh how wrong we were.

I awoke Tuesday morning to an email from Alaska Airlines, sent late Monday night, telling us that our Tuesday evening flight had been canceled.


The most popular letters in Wordle and its relatives

Each morning, I spend a few minutes doing a set of word puzzles—I find they help clear the sleep and get me ready for the day. My daily set includes (in the order I do them):

My focus today is on the first three games in the list. Everyone is probably familiar with Wordle, where you have to guess a five-letter word in six tries.

Canuckle uses the exact same rule set, but all the words are related to Canadian history and culture.

Quordle also uses the same rule set as Wordle, but you solve four five-letter words at the same time. (If you like that kind of thing, Octordle (8 at once), Sedecordle (16), Sectordle (32), and Sexaginta (64) take it to extremes.)

When I started playing Quordle, I had troubles as I'd focus on one word and use up too many moves, preventing myself from solving the others. So I thought I'd "do the math" and see if I could find better opening words for the three Wordle-like games.

To do that, I looked at all the words that had been played so far, figured out which letters were most likely to appear, then created a set of four starting words, based on letter popularity, for each puzzle.

Note: The remainder of this post includes an analysis of all the words used in each game, and ranks the letters by occurrence counts. It also includes graphs showing the distribution of the letters. The images are hopefully unreadably small before clicking, and the top letters are ROT13'd to prevent accidental reading. Still, if you don't want to know, stop reading now.


Monkey Bread recipe—the non-dessert variety

Update: I have updated this recipe to show all measures in grams, as well as fixed some formatting and typos. Given the approaching holidays, I chose to republish with a new date, as it's been a few years since I posted this.

Growing up, around the holidays my mom would bake something we called Monkey Bread. If you search the net for Monkey Bread recipes, what you'll find is a number of dessert-like breads, covered in a sticky brown sugar (or other sweet) coating. Those are not the Monkey Bread my mother made—hers was more of a "regular" bread (containing just ¼ cup of sugar) that you can eat with your meal.

What makes the bread unique—and fun to eat—is that it's assembled from small pieces, which you then tear off and eat.

Although I bake Christmas cookies and occasional other stuff, I'd never tried her Monkey Bread recipe. But for this year's New Year's Eve party/potluck, I thought I'd give it a shot…and after a couple false starts, I managed to get one done…

As noted, that was not my first attempt. I left the egg out of my first batch (whoops), and missed a whole cup of flour (whoops again) on my second try. But in the end, it came out great, and was well liked at the party.


My favorite holiday cookie recipes

My mother has been baking holiday cookies for as long as I can remember—at least 50 years and counting. Many years ago, she gave me a binder with her cookie recipes in it, which I basically ignored for a long time.

But in 2009, when our eldest daughter was six, I started making some each holiday season. And pretty much every year since then, I've made a batch of holiday cookies. Here's a sample plate of this year's batch*Click the image for a larger version with cookie names

And as nice as it is having her written recipes, some complete with notes, I wanted to digitize them, for easier access. I also wanted to convert them from their use of the inane US-based measuring system to one based on weight in grams, which greatly eases preparation (assuming you have a good kitchen scale).

Recipe: Monkey Bread

Monkey bread is a nice bread to make for a party—it's made up of lots of bite-sized pieces. You can read more about it in this blog post, but here's the recipe.

This is very time consuming to make, mainly due to multiple long waits for the dough to rise.

Load recipe in LoseIt: Monkey Bread

The Recipe
All-purpose Flour4 cups500 grams
Sugar¼ cup47 grams
Active Dry Yeast1 packet21 grams
Salt1 teaspoon6.1 grams
Milk (2%)1¼ cups305 grams
Butter¾ cup170.3 grams
Preparation and Notes

Please see the full Monkey Bread recipe post for the detailed preparation instructions.

Recipe: Jumbo Raisin

These cookies are very soft, and have a wonderful mix of flavors and spices—as long as you like raisins! They puff up during cooking, and remain puffed. Softness is retained well in storage, but add a piece of bread to enhance their shelf life.

Load recipe in LoseIt: Jumbo Raisin Cookies

The Recipe
Raisins2 cups290 grams
Shortening1 cup205 grams
Brown Sugar1½ cups330 grams
All-purpose Flour4 cups500 grams
Baking Powder1 teaspoon2.6 grams
Baking Soda1 teaspoon2.6 grams
Cinnamon1 teaspoon2.6 grams
Nutmeg½ teaspoon1.2 grams
Allspice½ teaspoon1.0 grams
Preparation and Notes

Preheat oven to 350F (177C).

Boil two cups (290g) of raisins with one cup of water, then let them cool back to room temperature.

Cream shortening and sugar, then add the eggs and the cooled raisins. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and slowly add to tjhe shortening mixture. Form into roughly 20 gram balls, and place two inches apart on a light-colored baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops just start to brown. Cool on wire cooling racks.

Recipe: Dream Kisses

These cookies are nut-laden and hard to describe—they're like a small ball of sugar and nuts that sort of crumbles in your mouth. Make sure you get crushed pecans, not chopped pecans—you want them in very small pieces.

Load recipe in LoseIt: Dream Kiss Cookies

The Recipe
Butter2 cups454 grams
Powdered Sugar½ cup60 grams
Vanilla2 teaspoons8.7 grams
All-purpose Flour4 cups500 grams
Crushed Pecans2 cups226 grams
Preparation and Notes

Preheat oven to 225F (107C).

Mix all the ingredients together and chill. Roll into 10 to 15 gram weight balls. Place on an unlined light-colored baking sheet; dough can be spaced closely, as these cookies don't expand when baked. Cook for about 45 minutes. It can be tough to tell when they're done, as they don't brown. Place on cooling racks to cool.

When cooled, roll cookies in powdered sugar. When serving, cookies can be rolled in additional powdered sugar.

Recipe: Shortbread

This dough can be tricky to work with, as it's quite dry, but it's worth the hassle—the resulting cookies are light and flaky and melt in your mouth.

Note: I never add the salt in any of these recipes; I've found I can't taste the difference, so I see no point in adding more sodium.

Load recipe in LoseIt: Shortbread Cookies

The Recipe
Unsalted Butter1 cup227 grams
Powdered Sugar½ cup60 grams
Vanilla1 teaspoon4.3 grams
All-purpose Flour2 cups250 grams
Salt¼ teaspoon1.5 grams
Preparation and Notes

Preheat oven to 350F (177C).

In a bowl, combine the flour and salt and set aside. In your stand mixer (or a separate bowl with hand mixer), cream the butter, then add the sugar and beat until smooth. Finally, add and mix in the vanilla.

Gently stir in the flour and salt mixture until it's just incorporated. Flatten the dough into a roughly circular disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least an hour.

Line two light-colored baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about ¼ inch thick. Cut into rounds, or use cookie cutters to cut into shapes. Place on the papered baking sheets, and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up the dough. The cookies can be fairly tightly spaced, as they won't expand much when baked.

Bake for eight to 10 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned (my preference is to get them out at the very first hint of brownness). Cool on a wire rack.

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