Pickle crack

When I was young–10 years old or even younger–Mom used to buy this dill pickle dip. It was creamy, tasty stuff with chunks of dill pickle in it. It was my favorite dip for potato chips. It was a real treat whenever Mom would get some or, when it became unavailable, she would make some from a recipe she obtained somewhere.

When Debra and I were planning a pool party here shortly after we bought the house, I got to thinking about that dip and called Mom to see if she still had the recipe. She did, and I wrote it down. I think I’ve since lost that piece of paper, but the recipe is real simple. Debra and I make it from time to time. Some friends say it’s addictive and they’ve named it “Pickle crack.”

Here’s what you need:

  • 16 ounces of cream cheese
  • 16 ounces of sour cream
  • A 24 ounce jar of kosher dill pickles
  • Garlic powder (not garlic salt!)
  • Dill weed (fresh if you like, but the dried stuff works great)
  • A mixing bowl that will hold a bit more than a quart
  • A fork (for mixing)
  • A knife (for cutting pickles)
  • A bag of potato chips (for taste testing)

It’s easier if you leave the cream cheese out of the refrigerator for an hour or two before you start. That’ll soften it up. But it’s not necessary.

Dump the cream cheese into the mixing bowl and start smashing it with the fork. I suspect there’s some technical term other than “smashing.” What I’m doing is making the stuff more spreadable. Otherwise it tends to clump. When the cream cheese is nice and creamy, add about half of the sour cream and mix it in. Once that’s thoroughly mixed, add the other half of the sour cream and mix it in until you have a nice uniform mixture.

Put that aside, open the pickle jar, and grab your knife. Start dicing pickles. 1/4 inch (6 mm) chunks are good. You can go smaller if you like. Or larger, if that’s your thing. I like to stay around 1/4 inch, but this is definitely a matter of taste. Debra likes to use the onion chopper to dice the pickles. That works, but I kind of like cutting them with a knife.

In any event, chop up a bunch of pickles and mix them in with the sour cream and cream cheese. I like my dip really chunky, so I typically chop all the pickles in the jar and throw them in. Others might like a little less pickle.

If the mixture is too thick (again, it’s a matter of taste), you can pour some pickle juice from the jar into the mixture to thin it a bit. Be careful, though. This is dip for potato chips, not for a veggie tray. Although I have used it for that once or twice. Carrots dipped in pickle dip is pretty good.

If you like garlic, add some garlic powder. Start with just a bit. Mix it in. Taste it. Maybe add some more. Same with the dill. If you want to accentuate the dill taste, throw in a bunch of dill weed. I suggest you exercise restraint, though. Mix the stuff up real good and then set it in the refrigerator overnight for the flavors to permeate. Pull it out in the morning and mix it up. Taste it. Add more seasoning as you see fit.

This stuff is quick to make and people really do seem to like it. Give it a try if you’re looking for a new taste treat for your potato or other chips.


Inconsistent error reporting

The systems I maintain call several different partner APIs to get player account information. We noticed recently that one of the APIs returns seemingly inconsistent error messages when presented with invalid player account numbers. For example, if we ask for information on account number 123456789, the system returns a 404, meaning that the account was not found in the system. But if ask for account number 3420859494, the server returns a 500: internal server error. Very strange.

At first I thought it was that the account number was too long. Typically, the account numbers are eight digits, and the ones giving us errors were 10 digits in length. But when I requested account number 1420859494 (10 digits), I got a 404.

On a hunch, I tried the magic number 2147483647. Not surprisingly, that returned a 404. But 2147483648 returned a 500 error. What the heck?

The magic of 2147483647 is that it’s the largest signed integer that can be expressed in 32 bits. It appears that the API tries to convert the input to a 32 bit integer. If that conversion fails, the server throws an exception and returns a 500 internal server error.

This is the kind of error that unit testing is designed to ferret out. Had they tested the edge cases, they would have seen this inconsistent behavior and, one would hope, modified the code to handle it more reasonably.

I don’t know what to do about this. Their documentation doesn’t say specifically that the input must be a positive 32-bit integer, only that the value must be numeric. Based on the empirical evidence, I could put some validation on my end to ensure that users don’t enter account numbers larger than 2147483647, but there’s nothing preventing the API from changing underneath me and allowing larger numbers in the future. It’s unlikely that those in charge of the partner API would notify me of such a change.

North Dakota Mexican food

Debra and I tried a new place for dinner the other night. When she asked me how my meal was I said, “North Dakota Mexican food.” She laughed and nodded. Considering that we were at a Vietnamese restaurant, that exchange probably deserves some explanation.

We flew to North Dakota back in 1992 to attend my grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary celebration. When we arrived in Bismark, we learned that our bags didn’t make the transfer in Denver. The airline assured us that the bags would be on the next flight. Bismark wasn’t a thriving aviation hub at the time (not sure what it’s like now), so we had a few hours to kill.

In retrospect we should have known better, but we were hungry and frustrated. We saw a restaurant advertising Mexican food, and the parking lot was reasonably full. “How bad can it be?”

As it turns out, pretty bad. Worse than Taco Bell. It’s not that it tasted bad, but that it hardly tasted at all! It looked like Mexican food, but it tasted like … pretty much nothing. The ground beef was bland. The lettuce and tomatoes were standard tasteless restaurant fare. The cheese … well, there was lots of cheese. In fact, everything was covered in cheese. Like their version of Mexican food was a bunch of bland stuff covered in cheese. And the salsa? Pretty much just ground up stewed tomatoes with a little green onion thrown in. Corn chips were the cheapest, thinnest … I think you get the picture.

We had a similar experience about 10 years ago. We went to a little Mexican food place that several friends had recommended. The place was clean and bright and tastefully decorated, the service was good, and their food was indistinguishable from what we encountered in Bismark, North Dakota back in 1992. Except for the salsa. The salsa wasn’t good, but at least it had a little bite to it. With all the good Mexican food available in the Austin area, I honestly cannot understand how that place stays in business. Maybe there’s a bunch of North Dakota natives living nearby?

“North Dakota Mexican food” is our way of describing something that looks like what it’s trying to imitate, but has no taste or tastes completely wrong. I suppose the term could be used to describe things other than food, but I haven’t used it in that context.



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