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This year, while we search for the joy and light amid all of 2020's doom and gloom, we thought we'd try something a little different for the holidays here at Protocol: We asked tech workers to share stories about the food and drink that bring them happiness over the holidays (plus the recipes, of course). We've collected many of those recipes and stories here, for our first-ever "Tech industry holiday cookbook."
You'll find cookies and cakes and soups and stuffings between these virtual cookbook pages. You'll hear stories about children and grandparents, and others about tradition and memories. Many of these stories are about heritage: where people came from, and where they are going. You'll even find a short tale about what happens when, predictably, tech execs try to optimize for the best possible recipe using AI (I'm rolling my eyes at you, Google Cloud).
From all of us here at Protocol, we wish you a very happy holiday, and we hope you can perhaps create your own traditions and memories using some of these recipes. We've collected all of the recipes here, and if you share photos of your own holiday cooking and baking with me on Twitter, I'll retweet them (and share some of my own).
Hayden Brown, CEO of Upwork
"From my mom, Marcia Odell, who inspires me and nourishes me in every way. In our family, we eat this pie not just for dessert, but as a great breakfast or lunch food, too; after all, it's mostly apples! We also have a running debate about whether this pie tastes best fresh out of the oven or even better the next day — and a strong faction of folks who think it's best a la mode, versus the purists who would never taint it with even the best vanilla Haagen-Dazs."
Fidji Simo, head of Facebook app
"Two of my favorite things about the holidays are getting to be with my family and being able to pass along generation-old traditions to my 5-year-old daughter. Every year on Christmas Eve, my family bakes a yule log cake, which is a French holiday dessert that consists of a sweet spongy cake rolled and frosted with a rich chocolate buttercream made to look like bark — perfect for someone who has a sweet tooth like me! Better known as a bûche de Noël in my home country, this dessert represents the yule log that families used to burn on Christmas Eve to symbolize the coming of a new year and to bring good luck. While the yule log looks complicated, even an amateur baker can master it! I will admit, you can usually find me cheering on my mom and husband as I take my place as the designated dessert taste-tester for any leftover frosting. I love the chestnut one; to me, chestnut tastes exactly like Christmas. Sometimes, my family even goes the extra mile when decorating by adding a few meringue mushrooms or rosemary sprigs and cranberries.
While this year has kept my family physically apart, it has not stopped us from coming together virtually and celebrating our traditions. Since I usually travel to France or my family comes to the States for the holidays, we already set a date with my parents to bake yule logs together in Messenger Rooms on Facebook so we can continue our tradition, even from separate continents."
Brian Huseman, VP of public policy at Amazon
"I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and a favorite family holiday tradition was for my mom, my brother and I to get together to bake cookies. We particularly liked 'Hello Dolly' cookies (I wasn't sure where the name came from when I was young, but research now tells me it came from the musical). As was appropriate in rural Oklahoma at the time, we used old-fashioned sweetened condensed milk. Christmas season doesn't start in my family until the first batch of Hello Dolly cookies come out of the oven!"
Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, chief diversity officer at Microsoft
"Every year, ever since I was a little girl, my mom would pause her busy, working single-mother life to make these cookies. I learned about tradition, the science of baking and the importance of following directions from these cookies. It was a special time for us to have our favorite movies on in the background, sing songs or just catch up. We packaged them with love and gave them to friends and family, much to their delight."
John Howard, director of government affairs at Dell
"For me, the holidays are usually all about sweets, thanks to my family's baking skills. Each Christmas, we'd help my mom bake thousands of amazing Christmas cookies of all sorts and hand-deliver them to our friends and neighbors. My most treasured Christmas cookies are peanut blossom cookies, thanks to that delicious combination of peanut butter and chocolate. This recipe makes about three dozen cookies. Hope you enjoy and that this recipe inspires you to start similar traditions with your family this holiday season!"
John Howard's peanut blossoms cookies. | Photo: John Howard
Susan Kimberlin, venture partner at Backstage Capital
"Every year for the holidays I make toffee as a gift for friends and family, and for me, it's the signal that the holiday season has really begun. I started making it as a kid — my cookbook with the original recipe is inscribed as a Christmas gift from my parents, from 1986 — and since then I've branched out from the original recipe, which is for toffee layered on toasted almonds and coated with dark chocolate.
This week, I made both that original version and a new version that I decided should just be called 'Kitchen Sink': a mixture of toasted almonds, 'Butter Snap' pretzels, and white chocolate-coated pretzels in a brown sugar and coffee-flavored toffee and mixed white and bittersweet chocolate coating, dusted with sea salt … and rainbow sprinkles. I make it as my gift for my a cappella group's white elephant gift swap every year, and there's always a lot of maneuvering to try and guess which package is the one from me, with its mother lode of crunchy-sweet-saltiness."
Susan Kimberlin's toffee. | Photo: Susan Kimberlin
Mike Wystrach, CEO of Freshly
"I grew up in a small ranching town in southern Arizona. My mom has been there since 1947, so our family knows everyone there. Every Christmas, or the few weeks leading up to Christmas, my mom would bake hundreds of cranberry cakes (two options: nuts or no nuts!) and give them as gifts to our neighbors. They would come wrapped in tinfoil with a red string wrapped around them like a gift. To this day, they remain extremely popular in my hometown. For me, just the smell of the bread reminds me of Christmas. After all, we pretty much ran a small bakery for four weeks leading up to the holiday. While hunting down the recipe, I discovered it was actually a recipe from Ocean Spray!"
Google Cloud’s new holiday tradition
"Amid their pandemic baking, Google Cloud's Dale Markowitz and Sara Robinson wondered if they could train AI/ML models to predict new baking recipes. So they collected a dataset of roughly 600 baking recipes for cookies, cakes and bread, identified 16 core ingredients and built a classification model using AutoML Tables. The result of their research was a bread and cookie creation dubbed the "breakie" — and it actually tastes good."
Kristi Hummel, SVP of talent and culture at Dell
"The holidays are such a special time for my family. It's a time where we break from the routine of everyday life and remind ourselves what we're thankful for. I'm sharing my family's yummy make-ahead dish for the holiday season. Because you prepare things ahead of time, this dish is perfect for those mornings where the kids are hungry and you'd like to sit back and spend time with them while the dish bakes away! You can spruce up the dish by serving it with fresh fruit and a warm blueberry muffin. It's a favorite at our home, and I hope it makes your family smile this holiday season."
Deb Liu, VP and founder of Facebook Marketplace
"My family makes a hot pot every year for the holidays, both for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We do one night of Chinese hot pot usually on Christmas Eve and then on the actual Christmas holiday we make an American meal. It is our way of continuing a tradition that my parents and in-laws had of celebrating their Chinese heritage and combining it with our American upbringing. Our kids pitch in and help with the chopping and prepping, and they love being able to select and cook their own food."
Deb Liu's hot pot. | Photo: Deb Liu
Renato Profico, CEO of Doodle
Profico's favorite holiday recipe, eggplant parmesan, originates from Puglia, in Southern Italy, where he's originally from.
Mary McDowell, CEO of Mitel
"I'm from the Midwest where the dish that accompanies the turkey is called stuffing, made with white bread, cranberries and the like. I married a Louisianan for whom Thanksgiving was incomplete without spicy cornbread dressing. For years I tried various compromises: spicy white bread or bland cornbread concoctions. Whereas I once pleased half of the family, now I was getting no votes. I finally realized sometimes you have to adapt the lessons of the Book of Ruth: ' … whither thou goest, I will go … thy people's Thanksgiving dressing shall be my Thanksgiving dressing.' I have happily served Paul Prudhomme's recipe for years now, resulting in a happy husband and newly appreciative Midwestern fans!"
David Berkowitz, founder of Serial Marketer
"My mom makes these latkes (potato pancakes) every year, and she taught me how to grate the potatoes by hand. Now I cheat, using the KitchenAid mixer's peeler and grater attachments while saving myself a few Band-Aids. There's nothing like the taste of this served fresh, and now I've taught my own school-aged daughter how to cook them and continue the family tradition, adding to the brightness of Hanukkah."
Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.