Monthly Archives: October 2010

More Pinkwashing…

Geez, could I be any more of a bummer this week? (Sorry, I’m battling the flu and am swamped at work and just generally crabby.)

Anyway:

Eating Chips to Cure Cancer? that’s what Pepsi wants you to think!

Oy.

Survived the Sleepover

Okay, it’s not for the faint of heart, but the sleepover birthday party is a very affordable kids’ party option with significant green potential.

But man, am I tired.

So, to break it down into pros and cons (note: this was a boy’s party, so I’m using that batch of generalizations, but many/most will probably apply to girls too):

Advantages to a sleepover over a General Ordinary Birthday Party

  1. you can reasonably explain to your kid that since you’re being such a fabulous parent as to let him have a sleepover, he won’t be able to invite as many children as he would for a Regular Party, thus cutting down on numbers of crazed children destroying your house.
  2. with lesser number of kids, you can use Real Dishes And Cups And Flatware instead of the plastic and paper stuff. (You can do that with a larger number of kids too, if you have enough dishes.) (Or you can go to the thrift store and buy more for really cheap–either to save for the next party or to just re-donate to the thrift store.)
  3. If you are feeding them dinner, while takeout pizza or something is always an option, a “make your own pita pizza” bar can also be fun, with different toppings and cheese and sauce as each kid wishes.  Takes some creativity to make sure every kid gets the pizza he actually made, but it’s a bit of a novelty, and they are honestly really really delicious. (Makes a good plain-old family dinner kind of thing too.)
  4. you don’t have to plan as many activities, with the built-in cool-factor of “sleepover”–you can plop them in front of a movie with popcorn and kill a lot of time that way. (but see caution below in “disadvantages” section)
  5. in lieu of junk-filled “goody-bags,” you can invest in a nice solid grownup-type flashlight for each kid. After cautions about not shining them in each others’ eyes, which they will mostly ignore, these are fun to play with, freak each other out with while telling ghost stories, make menacing shadow figures on the walls with, and are also handy in the night if anyone gets scared. Very affordable, and something eminently usable in the future.  And very inexpensive.  (This is a theme for me, you might have noticed.)
  6. Expanded time period means everything is a good bit less intense; heightened hyper-party-excitement not only cannot be, but should not be sustained over such a long period of time.
  7. Pancakes for breakfast are easy, and everyone likes them.
  8. We didn’t pay $200+ to have a party at one of the same Party Places everyone else has their party at, and the food at our party was better

Disadvantages to the home sleepover:

  1. you have to clean your house beforehand, and can be pretty sure it’ll need cleaning again by the next day.
  2. you have to wash all those dishes and cups and flatware (honestly, not that hard.)
  3. it usually takes an hour or so to convince guests–and guest of honor, who is probably your own kid and whom you have a right to holler at a bit and threaten with No Sleepover Ever Again Unless You Dial It Back A Whole Bunch Of Notches–that the –of that whole “heightened party excitement cannot be sustained” thing
  4. A family room with couches around the perimeter, a futon on the floor, and lots of cushions might as well be a neon sign saying “PILLOW FIGHT!!!!” It’s like Pavlov’s dog.
  5. you might have invited this one kid for whom “watch a movie” means “act out the entire thing because he’s seen it 600 times,” and if the movie is Kung Fu Panda, the whole concept of using the movie to calm everyone down might not work as planned.
  6. the other kids might also enjoy acting out Kung Fu Panda, while holding their cups of popcorn. In the part of the family room where they are going to sleep. On the couches and futons.
  7. Plans to have nice organized play will be foiled by overstimulated kids past their bedtimes–forget scary stories or anything like that.
  8. What is it with boys and fart jokes, anyway?
  9. The adult who sleeps in the family room with the kids (these are fairly small kids; older ones would probably just want/need an adult in earshot) won’t get much sleep.  The other adult who sleeps in the bedroom with the younger sibling who is crushed to not be able to “sleep with the boys” (how does one explain?) will also not get much sleep.
  10. Unlike the expensive party places–we had to cook, clean, serve, etc.–That’s why we pay someone else to do the parties at the Big Party Places.
  11. Whenever the doorbell rings in the morning with parents coming to pick them up–it won’t be as early as you hoped.

So, in a nutshell: a good thing.  We generated very little garbage, everyone had fun, homemade and whole-ish food was eaten, pillows were tossed, and General Grievous had his butt kicked by Anakin on the Wii. My kid got to be the first one in his age group to be allowed to have a sleepover (for which I’m sure the rest of the moms will be irritated with me–I blame the friend-of-ours-parents who let THEIR kid have a sleepover 3 years ago that mine went to, and he’s been begging every year since then to do it, and none of his friends’ parents thought their kids were ready yet…)

But man…that scraping sound you hear in the distance is my tired mom butt dragging on the floor.

Umm…Happy Halloween

And now, for the most depressing link roundup I could possibly manage:

What’s scarier than Halloween? Blood Chocolate. –an account of trafficking, child labor, and corporate pressure to keep beans cheap.

Broken Hearts: A Review of Industry Efforts to Eliminate Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry –showing how despite efforts, the real power to end the abuses lies in the hands of the chocolate companies, (like Hershey’s), who appear to be mostly concerned with profit.

And if we needed another reason: oh goody. Cancer, Hyperactivity, and Allergies may lurk in Trick-or-Treat bags. (Hint: it’s the synthetic food dyes.)

Then there’s less depressing stuff that nonetheless makes me sigh, because I know the kids around here wouldn’t fall for it: Replacing Candy with Sugar-Free Eco-Friendly Treats. (Know what I would have done if I’d planned ahead more? Gotten on ebay and bought a buttload of those ridiculous “silly band” things in bulk, and given those out. At least they are popular, and while they are ridiculous, they at least don’t use up THAT many resources…)

At least for costumes this year we were able to go second-hand and homemade…Harry Potter and (we think–Halloween isn’t for another two days) Tinkerbelle. (Or Belle.  Or Little Black Cat. She keeps changing her mind.  Fortunately, we can manage any of the three with thrift-store finds and fifteen minutes at the sewing machine.

At last, one final eco-tip, courtesy of my son:

“Pillowcases hold WAY more candy than plastic pumpkins!”

(And are more eco-friendly, but I’m not sure that’s his motivation…)

Happy Halloween! Be safe, be as green as you can, be healthy, and most of all have fun.

Chicken Night (Save the Chickenbodies!)

I know, I know, we should be eating less meat, and I keep blogging with all these meaty recipes on all these non-Mondays…

But in our household Thursday nights are beyond insane–I direct a choir that goes till 4:30, then I have to pick up the kids, and my husband has to come home from work, and my daughter has to get into leotard and tights, and somehow by 5:45 we have to be out the door again to take her to dance class, having already eaten dinner.

I get through most of life without resorting to many pre-prepared foods, but given all this and the fact that Thursday nights at Whole Foods the rotisserie chickens are only $5.99, it’s a pretty good deal all around.  While I get the kids and the table set and the bread and veggies–usually raw carrots or cucumbers at the moment–on the table, in between yelling at my daughter to get her dance clothes on and yelling at my son to put down the wii and finish his homework, my husband stops at WF and grabs a chicken.  He walks in at about 5:20, and we have a leisurely 25 minute dinner. Or something like that.

Not really blog-worthy, I know–so big deal, we pick up a rotisserie bird once a week. I’ve done that occasionally for years. But the cool part–what I discovered recently as we made this a regular thing is that I can take the carcass (which otherwise would stink up my garbage can till Tuesday when we take it out) and freeze it, and then once a month when I’ve collected 4-5 chicken-bodies I can toss them into the crockpot, fill it with water, turn it on low, and promptly forget about it till dawn.  And then I have several quarts of beautifully seasoned chicken stock, since the chickens were usually herb-and-garlic, or lemon-roasted, or some combination of treatments.  Enough salt that I don’t have to add any, but–well–not so little that I have to add any.

(Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t know about this little trick. Save and freeze the chickenbodies, avoid buying bland and tasteless chicken broth in difficult-to-recycle-tetrapaks.  News to me.)

Friday is my day off.  I can strain the stock and make soup for dinner that night, or freeze it in quart containers, or cook it down to a really strong concentrate and freeze it in ice cubes to reconstitute later, or do any of the dozens of things one can do with good stock.  If I had any veggies-on-the-verge in my crisper drawer I’d toss them into the pot too–why not, right?

So, for about $24 (4 chickens, one a week) we have 4 total meals for 4, at least 4 extra lunches worth of what didn’t get eaten at dinner, and some good soup makings.

Not a bad deal for the Chicago burbs. I highly recommend it.  Don’t throw out your chickenbodies.  Save them and make pasta fazool for dinner tomorrow night.

The C Word

Contrast the story below with the accompanying photo:

A quote from the “carepages” site of an old friend who’s been battling cancer for years: “My wife has been oh so diligent in helping me stay on my diet free of refined sugar, bleached flour, corn fed beef and pork and all other foods that create the ‘soil’ that grows cancer. To fight the cancer, she prepared regular doses of kale smoothies, green tea and Korean ginseng along with fantastic mostly vegetarian dishes loaded with cancer fighting compounds (to find out more, read the book AntiCancer: A New Way of Life.) I also did yoga and pilates faithfully 6 days a week for over two months now sprinkling in runs, bike rides and weight lifting as time permitted…”

The “soil” that grows cancer. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put better. (As seen in the pretty pink cardboard flowerpots above and to the right.)

It’s near the end of October, that month where pink ribbons are everywhere–racing for the cure, buying for the cure, walking for the cure, donating for the cure, promises to work for this elusive “cure” are all over the place.  Unfortunately, guess what’s also all over the place? People and companies plopping that pink ribbon on things just to get people to think They Care, and thus shop from them. Companies selling products with carcinogenic chemicals in them are “donating a portion of profits to the cure” and thus hoping to get a pass.

It’s called Pinkwashing. (Sort of like “greenwashing,” where a company puts pictures of green fields and fuzzy bunnies on the front of something called “eco-green-super-non-toxic-natural cleaner” and it’s exactly like their other products only it has 1% aloe vera gel or two micrograms of lavender essential oil or something added…)

Now please, don’t get me wrong–YES, we need to fight for a cure for cancer, YES we need to find a way to combat this horrible disease, to give hope to those who already have it or will get it in the coming months and years. But…what about “Walk for Prevention!” or “2% of this company’s profits will go toward community education helping women avoid and eliminate breast cancer risk factors” or things of that nature? Where are those pink programs?

They are around.  They are sometimes harder to find, because they are spending what funding they have to do the research and education and don’t have giant marketing departments like the Big Pharma or cosmetic companies.  but what we don’t know really can hurt us. Check out this article from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics–a huge number of the products we use all the time have hormone-disrupting chemicals, things that can mimic estrogen, metals that stay in our bodies and accumulate over time…and worse many of them are not even required to be named on product ingredients lists.

Something else that article points out: Guess who the three cosmetics companies are who use the pink ribbon to advertise their products? Estee Lauder, Revlon, and Avon. Guess what those companies’ response has been when the above campaign asked them to eliminate potentially cancer-causing chemicals from their cosmetics?

Check out some of these links–

  • at SafeCosmetics.org–the origin of the pink ribbon. According to this article, it wasn’t originally pink, but peach–until Estee Lauder wanted to use it to sell products.
  • a New York Times article about the results of the President’s Cancer Panel–hardly an alt-fringe group :-)!
  • The Cancer Panel report itself
  • Skin Deep, a website with cosmetic safety information (hint: click at the bottom where you can show 500 per page, it makes it easier!–or use their advance search), or their specific sunscreen page–scary to realize that practically every sunscreen you can buy at a mainstream pharmacy or grocery store has potentially cancer-causing chemicals in it.  And encouraging to at least have the impression that there are a lot more products in general in the mid-range, if not the “recommended” range, in a number of categories.
  • The Environmental Working Group and its accompanying EnviroBlog
  • the ChooseWiser.org blog asks (and answers) the question: When is a pink ribbon a red flag?
  • The Breast Cancer Fund’s State of the Evidence 2010 report.
  • Read the “What is Body Burden” article on ChemicalBodyBurden.org. (IMO, this is a key–or even the key concept we need to be thinking about–toxicity isn’t just a question of simple cause and effect, it’s something that builds up gradually in our bodies over time.  If we can keep the burden low enough that our bodies can do their naturally efficient job of keeping us cleaned out and detoxed, that’s good…but who actually knows at what point the load is too big?)

A few days ago I blogged about how much we do, how much money we spend, how much Stuff Of Unknown (to us) Origin we put all over our faces and hair and bodies in the name of some inexact concept of Beauty...Would knowing the use of those products increases your risk of breast (or other) cancer cause you to stop, or make changes? Wouldn’t you rather not get cancer at all than pray there’s a better cure if you do?  The voices warning us about the long-term dangers of the way we live our lives every day are drowned out by the big media and marketing groups, but they are growing stronger, even if they still seem to come from the Fringey Green Wackos…and the Wackos, at least to me, are sounding less and less wacky these days, when we start seeing that what they are saying is being echoed by the doctors of those already diagnosed with cancer, like my friend from the beginning of this post.

Please, Think before you Pink.

And next October, don’t be surprised to see me wearing a peach-colored ribbon on my purse or coat lapel…

Chew on this! (Dental Sealant Safety)

My seven year old has had his first batch of molars for a year or so now.  My daughter has her first loose tooth.

The dentist, whom I actually really like and respect (he let me get a small cavity filled without novocaine, which wasn’t bad at all) –he’s the first dentist who’s actually listened to my concerns about things, and not just blown them off–is recommending sealants for my son.  I’m very ambivalent about the whole thing–for one thing, BPA is used in a lot of dental sealants–or rather, BPA is no longer used in any of the sealants, but many of them are made of things which break down into BPA when they contact saliva.

Our doc says that he doesn’t use the BPA sealants, but I don’t (yet) know exactly what he has used.  I’m going to ask him, though, now that I found this post on The Green Phone Booth with some actual detailed information about which sealants do and which do not have BPA in them.  Non-Toxic Kids has a good one too…And this article has information from a couple of studies on the topic–the crux seems to be that none of the sealants leave BPA in the bloodstream in any measurable amounts, but they do leave it in the saliva for the first hour or so after application.  Which, to me, says that if we swallow our saliva we’re ingesting the stuff.  And articles like this one scare the heck out of me.

When I hit puberty, I immediately got a buttload of cavities, which were of course filled with the silver fillings we all used Back in The Day. I’d like to avoid that for my kids if possible (not the silver part, the cavities!)–but not by exposing them to something even less safe.

Anyone have any additional research that I can add to my roundup here?

Meatless Monday–Supernachos!

Okay, I know grownups probably aren’t even supposed to admit to eating nachos, except at superbowl parties.  (Although, any of y’all who see “nachos” and go “FAT FAT FAT I’m not even going to READ!” might dare to take a look; these are very calmed down on the fat-and-calories front.)

Remember in college and young-adult-hood, when every time you went to the local dive bar with your friends and no one had enough money (or what you had you were determined to spend on as much beer as possible) to buy real food, so you got a giant plate of those fairly horrific nachos, with tortilla chips and loads of cheese that would soak through the chips, and salsa and guacamole and sour cream, and maybe you’d dare someone to eat 8 slices of jalapeno peppers and say you’d buy her another beer if she could do it and not reach for her water glass for a whole minute afterwards, and she did it and didn’t show her agony even though her mouth was on fire, not as much for the free beer as to show she was a real bad-ass?

Er…me neither.

The thing is, that icky plate of soggy fat-laden nachos can be healthed up quite a bit with a little effort and can even become a really good vegetarian-type dinner. In a hurry.

*****

Bean and Cheese Supernachos

Cover a plate–a non-huge one, preferably–with a single layer of tortilla chips. These can be your regular ordinary chips or choice, baked (less fat) if you choose, or even homemade (baked or fried), though I’ve never tried this. (The single layer part is key for any hope at making this a healthy dinner as opposed to a dressed up snackfest. You can make a really filling dinner of supernachos with maybe 8 or 9 total chips.)

Wait, could we please digress for a moment? My favorite of those “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light commercials: Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor:

And…we’re back. We were talking about remembering that we want this to be, at least to some extent, a healthy and body-feeding whole-food dinner kind of thing.

Okay, you have your single layer of chips on the plate.

Over the chips, layer 1/2 cup (or more, it’s your dinner, your appetite, and your calorie count–but these are non-fat, high protein, and really good for you) of black or other cooked dried beans. Again, these can be out of the can (drain first) or something you’ve cooked previously and store as a regular kitchen staple.  (Black beans, by the way, seem to cause less of a problem with…let’s just say, noxious methane emissions, FWIW…)

Sprinkle beans with a little cumin and garlic powder; you can add some red pepper or chili powder to this if you’d like.  Sprinkle with chopped or sliced jalapenos if you’d like…you can actually add any veggies you want here, but I tend to prefer my nacho veggies cold in the pico de gallo instead of heated over the chips, where they risk making them soggy. (Er…if it’s not Monday, and you’re not avoiding meat, this would also be where you’d spread some of last night’s chili or Saturday night’s shredded rotisserie chicken remains around too.)

Over this, sprinkle a reasonable amount of (organic and hormone-free) grated cheese, of whatever kind you like that melts well.  Again, the more cheese, the more saturated fat, so watch that commercial again and make your choice.  (Or just because it’s funny.) And the beans with their seasoning honestly make the extra cheese not as needed for texture and flavor.

Heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds, check to see if the cheese is melted, and then heat additionally at 15 second increments until it looks right. (Don’t just stick it in there for a minute on high, or you’ll have burny bubbly cheese on one side and cold unmelted on the other–trust me on this!)

Serve with lots of really good veggie-laden pico de gallo–i.e. fresh salsa you can either make yourself or buy for way too much money at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or probably any grocery store, or just cut up some tomatoes and peppers and onions into small chunks and toss them with just enough jarred salsa to hold them together and some chopped cilantro–guacamole, and if you must have something creamy and sour, try a little nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

*****

Now, obviously, if you want to really make this a healthy lovely meal with nothing for anyone to complain about–you’d leave out the two worst offenders, which are of course the tortilla chips and cheese, without which this obviously wouldn’t be nachos at all.  But if you wanted, you could skip the chips and put rice on that plate instead, and have a really good black-beans-and-rice kind of thing, and it’s almost as fast as the nacho version if you have some already-cooked rice around.  Or you could compromise and put the rice-and-beans, or just the beans, into small corn tortillas for bean tacos, or larger wheat tortillas for burritos.

But there’s something about those nachos…

Pass the jalapenos, please. ;-)

Not-Quite Meatless Sunday: Slow Shortcut to Mushrooms! (Crockpot Garlic Mushroom Recipe)

Okay, do any of y’all go to the Renaissance Faire, in whatever incarnation it might be in your own locality?

There are lots of reasons to go–people-watching at its best, costumes, cool dialogue, great comedy, great music…and then there’s the food.

The giant roasted turkey legs are, I think, a staple of Faires everywhere.  And they are actually fairly easy to make onesself, once one actually has the turkey legs; one year instead of roasting the whole Thanksgiving turkey I instead dismembered it, roasting the breast separately, cutting up and freezing the thighs, making stock from the carcass and wings, and roasting the legs in a little barbecue sauce in a 350 degree oven for an hour or two.  Absolute yum.

But this post is not about the turkey legs; this post is about the shrooms.  The giant vat of garlic sauteed mushrooms swimming in broth, from which the guy will dip you out a serving complete with styrofoam bowl (grr) and plastic spork (grrr), or ladle out a quart in a Ball jar to take home.  These shrooms are lovely–soft and flavorful and generally absolutely delicious, and one of those rare things you really can’t get anywhere but at the Renaissance Faire.

Except, now, my kitchen, and my crockpot.

Well, I found a recipe for them online. And discovered today that my local grocery store, the one I almost never go to, was selling mushrooms on sale at a huge discount.  I couldn’t resist; I bought 3 lbs, even though it meant incurring 6 horrible styrofoam containers, and a quart of organic beef broth, even though it meant ridiculous amounts of sodium and a non-recyclable tetrapak container.

Renfaire Garlic Shroom Nirvana (so simple I can hardly even call it a recipe)

I came home, I washed the shrooms, I put all 3 lbs of them into my biggest (6 quart, I think?) crockpot, with one chopped onion and about half a cup (okay, in my case more like 2/3 of a cup) of minced garlic (or “jarlic,” actually, it’s the pre-minced stuff, sue me) and the quart of broth.  Also a splash of lemon juice and a little black pepper.  I put it on low in the crock, and went to work.

I came home from work. My husband was speechless with joy and amazement. Okay, actually, he tasted them and said, “Hmm. Not bad.” –which is from him the equivalent of “Delicious, honey, please make this again!” (As opposed to “It’s okay,” which means I’ll eat it when you cook it and I won’t complain or else I know you’ll tell me to cook next time, but it ain’t my thing.”)  But he also knows I know he loves these, so I’m hoping I have garnered a few Wife Points from this…

These are really good.  And they taste a LOT like what we get at the Faire, only not as salty, which is good.

Three pounds of mushrooms gave me two quart jars of mushrooms and broth, plus an extra pint of very intense shroom-garlic-onion-beef broth. If you wanted to store them or give them away, you’d fill each clean hot quart jar with mushrooms and then fill it to the top with broth, so they can continue sort of marinading in there.  And store in the fridge. I honestly can’t speak to how long they should last in there, but I suspect it’s a good long while, and the Shroommeister at the Faire said you could also freeze them almost indefinitely.

Now, future iterations of this recipe will happen with vegetable broth, or faux-beef-broth such as I found a recipe for here (essentially adding a little vegan Worcestershire and soy sauce to regular veggie broth), the low-sodium version, and hopefully mushrooms I got in bulk somewhere with my own produce bags.  (No apologies for the jarlic; I will keep using that.) That would make this a recipe actually appropriate for a green blog.  For the moment I just get maybe cheap-and-homemade points, since for maybe $8-9 I got a lot of shrooms.

God, I love mushrooms. Just send me to the Shire and invite me to dinner at the Gamgees…

Bundt Cake of Endless Autumnal Substitution

Okay, remember a couple of weeks ago when I made my Applesauce Bundt Cake? (follow that link to the original recipe)

Well, I discovered something interesting the other day when I made it–or something like it–again.

The recipe takes 2 cups of applesauce; I only had one.  But I also had a cup or so of pumpkin puree from the pumpkin oatmeal breakfast cookies.  So I thought…well, it should work, right? Why wouldn’t it?

It would. It did. It was actually really really good, even made with 100% whole wheat flour instead of half white and half wheat like the original recipe.  My kids even love it.  So here’s the amended version:

*****

Some Kinda Fruit Sauce Cake

Preheat oven to 350

In a large bowl mix till smooth and maybe a little foamy:

  • 2 cups pureed or mashed fruit, such as applesauce, bananas, pumpkin, zucchini, pear sauce, peaches, or whatever
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar; if the fruit you are using is very sweet to begin with, substitute up to half a cup of powdered milk for an equal amount of the sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or other flavoring of choice)

Add (just till mixed):

  • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (or combination of white and wheat in whatever proportions you choose)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • (and/or other spices in lieu of the above, as you see fit and have in your spice rack)
  • A cup or so of raisins, nuts, or other dried fruit

Mix well and bake for about an hour in a bundt pan or two loaf pans, 40 minutes in 2 square pans, or maybe 30 minutes for muffins.

I have not tried every combination or permutation of this, but I strongly suspect that, aside from the obviousness of other root veggies, almost any mashed or pureed fruit of which you happen to have two cups would work just fine, and give all kinds of delicious different variations (none of which, in the interest of full disclosure, I have actually tried):

  • peaches, and add 1/4 tsp cardamom to the spices (Trader Joes has a nice spiced peach sauce…though you’d then definitely want to diminish the sugar in the recipe)
  • all pumpkin, with some ginger added with the spices
  • banana, and maybe substitute 1/2 a cup of unsweetened cocoa for 1/2 cup of the sugar (although I already have a recipe for something very like this…)
  • what about pear sauce instead of applesauce? I think I might go with white flour for that one…
  • Or whatever weird combinations of fruits you have…that brown banana plus some applesauce and isn’t there still a half cup or so of pumpkin butter from breakfast the other day?…I find it hard to imagine much that could make this cake actually bad, you know?
  • UPDATE: re that previous comment? I tried it substituting nut butter for half the oil; the result was a little too dry, or maybe I overbaked it, and had a sort of funky taste…not enough nut to assert itself, just enough to make you go, “hungh?”–I’ll work on it. In the meantime…yeah, maybe not.

*****

Just pay attention to your proportions, and it should work just fine.

A note about flour type–I find that the more “autumn-y” the fruit combo I’m using is, and the more pronounced the spices, the less likely it is that my children will notice that I’ve used all whole wheat flour.  If I were doing something with, say, peaches and raspberries, I’d probably err more on the side of the white flour, whereas with applesauce and pumpkin I’d go for the wheat.  Again, it depends on your tastes and your situation.

If you don’t have or don’t wish to use a bundt pan, you could also do this in two loaf pans–or make a number of smaller loaves. As you wish…This is seriously good, and is a great way to turn some of those leftover dregs of Stuff in your fridge into a yummy snack or easy way to ingratiate yourself with your co-workers…

Of Hair and Acceptance

Occasionally on WordPress I check out the “freshly pressed” section on the homepage, where some of the “best” blog posts of the day are featured. (Some I have to wonder, why is this here?–but that’s me.) Came across one a few days ago that was fairly awesome:

I Love My Hair!

And it has in it an amazingly cool video from Sesame Street:

This video has apparently, in the few weeks it’s been around, gone absolutely viral and been seen by tons of women and girls (and probably boys and men too) all over the net, and it’s fabulous. And it got me to thinking. (**DANGER** Jenn is thinking again, Jenn is thinking, **DANGER WILL ROBINSON**)

I am a Euro-American woman, and I have very fine stick-straight hair. All my life I have wanted thick, curly hair.  I was like Ramona in those Beverly Cleary books, who saw that girl Susan with the “boing-boing” curls and just envied and loved and wanted from afar.  I slept on rollers, I sprayed goop into my hair, and I went through that period in the eighties wherein I got really bad eighties perms as often as I could, and still couldn’t get the thickness and wave I wanted. (I’m serious, my hair is so straight it wouldn’t even take perms most of the time, and even those would fall completely straight within a few weeks.) I had a friend in junior high, an African American girl with long hair that she could play with and braid and she didn’t even have to put fasteners at the bottom to make the braids stay in; in boring geography classes (which were most of them; Mr. Roark, bless his heart, was a really nice man but he didn’t stir one to passionate yearnings for deeper knowledge) she would fiddle with it and braid and un-braid it over and over–oh, I loved her hair, I envied her hair, I so wished I had her hair…

(Er…okay, I read those last few sentences and want to clarify, it wasn’t some psycho stalker thing, it was a seventh grade girl with a whole set of negative body-and-hair image issues admiring a friend’s hair.)

Even as an adult, it’s been quite a journey. The turning point for me was when I was sitting next to my friend Heidi in a rehearsal one day–Heidi basically has the Exact Hair I Have Always Longed for, thick and long and curly and absolutely beautiful.  Like Jean Rowena Whatserface the ingenue high school girl in Mr. Holland’s Opus–anyway, I had that day tried to do something to my hair, I forget what–curled it, braided it to get wave in it, I forget what, and it had been actually fairly successful, though my hair was still mostly very straight.  And Heidi had hit hers with a fully straight blowout. Every bit of that gorgeous wave gone.  In effect, she had gone to a whole lot of time and effort and possibly cost to make her hair do exactly what mine always does without any effort at all, and I had gone to as much time and effort to make mine look like hers.

The insanity of that hit me that day, and since that day I have embraced the stick-straightness of my hair. I embrace the sort of medium-boring-brown color (although I occasionally hit it with reddish temp stuff when I feel I need some color in my life), I even embrace the threads of white at the temple that threaten to explode one day into a full-blown Bride Of Frankenstein stripe.  My hair is what it is, I love it, and I don’t need to change it to look like anyone else’s hair. (Also, just to clarify: Heidi is a beautiful woman. She is beautiful with a blow-out, she is beautiful with her hair waving the way it normally waves, and Heidi can wear her hair any damn way she wants to and she’s just plain gorgeous period. Her hair, her choice–but realizing that she would choose exactly what I was always trying to get away from was a big deal for me. :-))

Now to be clear here–I don’t in any way mean to equate or even compare my probably very typical little hair-image struggles with what the African-American community (or any communitiy of color, really)  has had to deal with and continues to deal with in terms of constant cultural pressure that blond-and-pale=beautiful, and the degree to which one matches that beauty standard=how beautiful one is, and the farther from that standard one is=how un-beautiful one is.  It’s just sick, and it’s why videos like this are so important for little girls–of all colors, IMO–to see. So are movies like Chris Rock’s “Good Hair”–a really interesting and eye-opening look at African-American hair culture, inspired by Rock’s daughter one day asking him the question, “Daddy, how come I don’t  have good hair?”

See this movie, seriously. (And if any part of you just went, “I’m white, why would I need to see this movie? It doesn’t apply to me, does it?” I’d say, definitely, you need to see this movie.)

Another story: about a year ago, I was watching the opening scene of Rent with my kids for the first time, the Live from Broadway version filmed in the theater. (Okay, this is the part where my husband goes, “oh HONEY, did you have to tell the whole blogging world that our son likes Rent??” Sorry, sweetie–he loves the song, it’s loud and it has screaming electric guitars and drums and lots of words and he just digs it. And it’s not his fault, or yours, that his mom is a Rent-head.)

(By the way, Rent features actress Tracie Thoms, who is also featured in Chris Rock’s “Good Hair.” Maybe it’s just me, but I think she’s sort of a goddess.  In a non-psycho-stalker kind of way.)

I’m not going to re-hash the plot and characters here, but suffice it to say that Roger and Mimi are the sort of central love interest, and Mimi in this production is played by a gorgeous actress with brown skin and thick, black, curly hair and pipes that just don’t quit.  We’d listened to the recordings in the car often enough that my kids know most of the songs (don’t worry, I skip “La Vie Boheme” when they are in the car), and they knew the kid-friendly version of the story pretty well.

The cast is very multi-ethnic, and there is exactly one blond-hair-pale-skin actress in the chorus who plays a number of small roles.  As we watched that opening scene, the blond actress flashed onscreen for just a moment, and my daughter automatically pointed and said, “Look! There’s Mimi!” As in, after being Disney-Princessified, my daughter assumed that any heroine love interest character in any movie would be blond and pale.  She saw the blond, and just knew this had to be Mimi, because that’s what Mimi should look like. It sort of blew me away; it was like Heidi’s blowout in terms of flipping on an internal lightswitch and making me go, WHOA. This Changes Here.  So I flipped to another scene in the movie (don’t worry, not the pole dancing scene) and let her see the real Mimi and watch her interact with Roger and hear her sing and see how beautiful she is. And started buying non-blond Barbies.

So does this have anything to do with greenness of any kind? Well, maybe.  Because the thing is, how much of what we–especially women–consume and buy and put on our hair and faces and into our bodies is nothing more than some feeling inside our selves that we need to do this if we are going to be attractive? I have never heard a woman who wears makeup every time she leaves the house say, “Oh, I know I look just fine without it, I just like to wear it.” But I have heard many times, “OMG, I can’t let people see me without my ____ on!” (foundation, mascara, lips, whatever.) How much do we do, how much time do we spend, how much do we pay other people to change our natural appearance so we can be more “beautiful”? And, the question to which there is as yet no empirical answer–what is it costing us in our health and that of our environment?

I’m not judging–believe me, I am so not judging. I’m the last person to question anyone’s motives about anything–for one thing, as much as I spout about naturalness and beauty, ultimately my lack of extra beauty regimen has more to do with laziness than anything else, and I have plenty of quirky little insecuritiesand behaviors myself.  And I do have several friends who do do some of the funky hair stuff just because they like it, and I’m totally all over “do what makes you feel good about yourself” and all that.  I guess I’m just saying…I don’t know what I’m saying. Maybe I’m saying that each of us is the only one with the answer to the question, “Am I doing this because I want to, or because I’m afraid other people won’t like what they see if I don’t?”   And even knowing the answer to that question isn’t enough–because sometimes people not liking what they see when they look at us can cost us, say, a job…so again, no judging.

Just asking the questions.

Jenn, who is over 40, sorta-almost-plus-sized, has greying hair, wears no makeup, and is a beautiful woman.

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