Monday, December 23, 2013

Recipe: Christmas "Reindeer"

IMG 1749It's been a long time since I posted a recipe; here's a Eubanks family favorite.

We call these "reindeer" because (a) they do look kind of like Rudolph, and (b) it's simpler than "chocolate-peanut-M&M-pretzels." But that's basically all they are. They are delicious, and a great quick mouthful of wonderful. They package well for gifts (we typically put them in the cellophane treat bags that can be found at Walmart), or can fill out a tray for a party. (That is, if they last until the party! Ours always go fast.)

Here's what you need:

1 16oz. bag of small twist pretzels*

2 11oz. bags of Hershey's Dark Chocolate Kisses

2-3 12.6oz. bags of Peanut M&Ms


1. Preheat your oven to 200°.

2. Unwrap the Hershey's Kisses.

3. Separate red and green M&Ms (optional; see note †).


4. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. (I strongly recommend a true cookie sheet, not a "jelly-roll" pan — you'll see why in step 9.)

5. Lay out pretzels covering the entire sheet of parchment paper; it's okay to put them really close (give just a little margin, though). You'll find it easier later if you turn all of the pretzels so that they are oriented the same way.

6. Place one unwrapped Hershey's Kiss on each pretzel in the "bottom" part of the twist — the teardrop-shaped part — so that the tip of the Kiss is pointing toward the center. (See photo.)
IMG 17467. Put the sheet of pretzels+Kisses in your pre-heated oven, just long enough to soften the chocolate thoroughly but not to the point of melting — 6–7 minutes is ideal in a 200° oven. (Be careful, too, of scalding the chocolate, which imparts a bitter taste.)


8. Place one M&M in the center of each softened Kiss. Go ahead and smash it down a good bit; this will set the M&M into the chocolate more firmly, and also cause the chocolate to spread around the pretzel better — all of which makes them stay together better after they set.

9. Slide the parchment paper off of the cookie sheet onto a table or counter. This step is technically optional, but doing so will allow them to cool and set faster, and free up your cookie sheet for another batch!

10. Allow them to cool and set until the chocolate is solid again.


Molly discovered these at a preschool holiday party. At that point, she was still a pretty picky eater (especially when it came to sweets), but when she tried these she said, "those are good!" I knew that I had to try them if she thought they were that good, and she was right!
IMG 1748

The mom who brought them claimed she just threw them together; she wasn't planning on using the Dark Chocolate Kisses, but the store was out of milk chocolate ones. (What a happy accident!) Molly and I bought the stuff to make more on the way home from the party, and we've made multiple batches every year since.

* We prefer Rold Gold Tiny Twists; the flavor in them matches better with the sweet chocolate than Snyder's.

† If you're a Rudolph purist, get the holiday colors (red and green) and pick out all of the green ones — and in that case you'll need three bags. If you don't care about greens, reds, yellows, and browns, you can probably get by on just two bags.

‡ DON'T use wax paper; you'll never get all of it peeled off of the bottoms of the softened chocolate!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thoughts on Amazon's "drone" announcement

NewImageI’ve seen a few pieces on Jeff Bezos’s announcement that Amazon intends to use “drones” (aka UAVs) for package delivery. (See the link here for one such article.)

At first I thought this was a piece from The Onion; frankly, I’ll be surprised if this really ends up happening. First of all, I’m thinking about the shear quantity of UAVs that will be required for something like this to work — and, consequently, the number of UAV operators Amazon will have to employ to bring it off. Somewhat contrary to their name, “unmanned aerial vehicles” are only un-manned in the vehicle itself; there is someone, somewhere, flying the thing. I suppose it is conceivable to program their routes to a degree, but the infrastructure for this is a long way off (if it is even possible). Let me elaborate a bit...

In order to program one UAV to go from point A to point B completely un-manned, the UAV itself would have to have very accurate GPS technology aboard, along with probably an altimeter and some other sensors to ensure that it doesn't crash-land. It would also have to be part of a well-established network that not only tracks that UAV, but also all of the others that are cleared to fly in that particular air-space. In other words, think of the work that the flight controllers currently do to make sure that planes don't crash into each other, and imagine trying to automate that entirely. Otherwise, we have fifty or hundred-pound UAVs crashing into each other and falling to the ground (or on top of your car, your house, or your kid).

Now, add to that the enormity of the number of UAVs that it would take to deliver Amazon's packages — even just the Prime ones, or even a subset of those. How many per day would that be? And would there be a limit to which items Amazon could deliver — or are they going to have some HUGE UAVs for the heavier stuff?

Third, I can see the Federal Aviation Administration having a lot to say about whether Amazon's program can actually take off (pun intended). I have a couple of friends who work pretty closely with UAVs, and a few others who are pilots; to hear them tell it, there's a long way to go before the kind of airspace clearance this would require will be available for general civilian use.

So Amazon has to get past the following obstacles:
  • Acquire a huge number of UAVs and equip their distribution centers to use them
  • Either (a) hire a ton of UAV pilots as, essentially, a team of Doug Heffernans — and are there even that many UAV pilots available? Or will Amazon pay for their training?
  • OR, (b) build a massive computerized system that will allow all of those hundreds thousands of UAVs to operate fully-unmanned; AND retrofit the UAVs to run on that system flawlessly
  • Only THEN can they appeal to the FAA for approval, which will cost them millions in lobbying money to get

And Bezos thinks they're going to do all of that by 2015?