Baked Tofu at The Purple Tulip

P1010891This recipe has been in development for more than three years.  Our son Nicholas first suggested it as part of a dish he wanted to serve in his pretend restaurant, The Purple Tulip.  It turned out very well that first time, but we had to make it several more times to be certain of the correct measurements and cooking technique . . . and we don’t eat tofu all that often, once or twice a month . . . and when we do eat tofu, there are several other recipes we like, especially Tangy Honey-Apricot Tofu . . . so it’s taken us a while to get in enough testing sessions to be confident of this recipe.

Baked Tofu is a protein you can serve in a rice bowl, in a wrap, on a salad, as a “meat” with side dishes, or whatever you like.  You can even eat cold or room-temperature leftovers in your packed lunch.  It has a firm, chewy texture and gets crisp at the edges.  The flavor of the sauce soaks in, making this a tasty, hearty food. At The Purple Tulip, we’ve served Baked Tofu in these two ways:

  • with thinly sliced apple and red pepper, wrapped in a whole-grain tortilla.  May also include lettuce and/or a thinly spread layer of beans sauteed with onions and mashed.
  • over rice, with kale and mushrooms sauteed in sesame oil, salt, and a little white pepper.  This is the version shown above, elegantly plated for me by Nicholas.  He prefers to eat his tofu separately from the vegetables, but he actually does eat those vegetables in decent quantity when they are prepared this way and served with Baked Tofu.

To make 6 servings, you will need: Read more…

10 Book Reviews by a 10-Year-Old

This is a guest post by Nicholas Efran.  His book reviews are a lot more succinct than his mom’s! If you want to know more about the books, you can ask Nicholas in the comments.

key:⭐️=1 star  🌜=1half star  😥=so sad  😠=makes me so mad  👎=thumbs down  🆒=cool book  💯=100

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

This is the story of kids who won a writing contest and got to go to the pre-opening of the new library before it opened to the public. They played many games there, but they found out that the last game they were going to play was “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”. I don’t want to spoil too much of this book, as it is a good book, but I really recommend you read it—and there is a surprise at the end of the book!⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

Elephi, the Cat with the High IQ by Jean Stafford

Elephi is a cat who looks out his window one day and sees a little white car that a man is abandoning in the deep snow. He manages to get the little car into his owners’ apartment. He talks to this car—which I find a little strange, but things in stories can be personified. Eventually the car’s rightful owner comes back and everything is good.⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

Elizabeth Rew is a girl who discovers magic in a place you wouldn’t expect: The New York Circulating Material Repository, which is like a library of objects. She has adventures with her friends, and they discover who is working with bad or dark magic.⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander

We got this book at the library book sale, and since it was about a cat I thought I would like it—but I was almost 💯% wrong. 😠  The book is about a cat who can time-travel and has a strange white mark on his belly. Apparently the cat can talk to his owner, and the owner wasn’t surprised at all when the cat started talking, and apparently all cats can talk and time-travel. Instead of having nine lives, they can live nine lives in nine different time periods. The cat takes his owner places (I only got through two before I quit reading the book) and they have adventures, almost all of which involve getting kidnapped and taken away. Nothing seemed to be explained enough, and their adventures seemed quite repetitive.🌜👎

Redwall by Brian Jacques

This book involved a lot of fighting and things that I thought were just terribly sad, like a mouse and his family getting trapped and forced to do things and being threatened with death.😥  Apparently, when the mice found a fox that was on their side lying injured, they just took him inside their castle, and he could walk up their stairs with no difficulty, which seems strange because mice are a lot smaller than foxes.⭐️⭐️🌜👎

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

This was an extremely good book with many twists and turns in the plot. I really enjoyed reading it, although I think it was a little strange and hard to understand.  Mr. Westing chooses his heirs, and his will describes things they’re going to do as it’s being read. He gives them a puzzle to solve that leads them to the name of his murderer. There are many explosions, and overall I give this book⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

I really enjoyed this book. I remember my dad tried to read it to me when I was about 5, but I didn’t remember any of it, so I wanted to read it again. Claudia and her brother Jamie run away from home to live in the art museum in Manhattan, where they have adventures trying to figure out who made a statue called Angel.⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Miranda had a friend named Sal.  However, another boy punched Sal—apparently just to see what would happen.  Every day when Miranda walks home from school, she has to pass the laughing man, a homeless guy who seems kind of crazy.  It’s all explained in the end, but I don’t want to ruin it!  This is a very interesting book, as it involves time travel, and I give it⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

Ghost Cat by Helen Rushmore

Ghost Cat is a book about a girl named Glory who finds a cat she thinks is a ghost, although she doesn’t really believe in ghosts; however, the legend said there was a ghost who looked like the cat.   Overall, I think this was a very good book, and I think you should read it.  I would give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer

The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer is a book about a family who moves into the country in their family’s trolley car.  They had a lot of fun after finding out that they had neighbors who were very nice.  They grow a garden and have a small farm and have other cool adventures.  I liked this book, and overall I would give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️🆒

Visit the Quick Lit Linkup for more book reviews!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New

Welcome to the April 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family History

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, lore, and wisdom about family history. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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My children’s ethnic ancestry is five-eighths Yiddish: All of their father’s grandparents, and my maternal grandfather, were descendants of Eastern European Jews.  We aren’t Jewish–my ten-year-old son Nicholas and I are Episcopalians, we’re bringing baby Lydia to church with us, and my partner Daniel does not practice any organized religion–but Jewish/Yiddish customs are an important part of our family background.

seder plateDaniel’s grandfather, Herschel, is 99 years old and still hosts a Passover seder in his home.  I’d never been to a seder before I started living with Daniel.  Now it’s our annual connection to our Yiddish roots, and I missed it very much the few years we weren’t able to attend.  Daniel’s mother always comes to spend Passover with her father, and she makes the dinner.  Family friends, the Feldmans, come over for the seder and bring dessert.  We don’t make it as formal and reverent as we could, but we all respect the basic structure of the ritual and try to follow the traditions.

Nicholas was three months old at his first seder.  He sat calmly in my lap and even slept through part of it.  Of course he doesn’t remember it.  He was too young to sample any of the food.  But it was very special to all of us that he could participate in this family tradition with his great-grandfather.  (An extra bonus was that my brother happened to be in town that spring, so he got a chance to attend the seder, too, and to meet Daniel’s extended family.)  Herschel exclaimed many times how glad and amazed he was to be a great-grandfather.  Although he knew we wouldn’t be raising Nicholas as a Jew, still we were welcome at the seder table.

The Story of the OppressionOver the years, Nicholas understood more of the Passover story: Our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, and when they decided to leave, they had a bunch of adventures!  We are grateful to God for guiding them through all those difficulties so that we can be here today.  We remember our brave ancestors and celebrate the coming of spring with this ritual and these ceremonial foods.  He was three years old when he recognized that this story also is part of our Easter Vigil service at church and that we hear parts of it in church at other times of year.  At five years old, he noticed that the Gospels say the Last Supper was a Passover meal; celebrating Passover is totally appropriate for Christians as well as Jews.  His parents, grandmother, and great-grandfather all have enjoyed watching Nicholas grow old enough to read the Four Questions and to hunt for the Aphikomen–a matzoh wrapped in a napkin that is hidden somewhere in the house at one point in the seder for the child(ren) to find at a later point.

DayenuNone of us expected that Daniel and I would have another baby in our forties or that, if we did, Great-grandpa would be still alive to know her–but here they are!  Herschel and Lydia each took their first unsupported steps in the week before the seder (his were the first since an injury last summer) so they had something in common.  “Imagine knowing someone so much younger than me!” Herschel marveled.  He can remember when radio broadcasts began!  Each year we have together is a blessing.

Lydia was eleven months old at her first seder.  She sat in a high chair and was rowdier than I would have liked, but we got through it, and she loved the food!  She ate matzoh, hardboiled egg, date charoses (the apple kind is too crunchy, since she doesn’t have teeth yet), matzoh ball from the soup, gefilte fish, asparagus, and strawberries.  (The asparagus and strawberries aren’t traditional Jewish foods, but they’ve become traditional at this seder because they are springtime foods.)  We didn’t offer her any horseradish!

The Watch-Night of the EternalWe read the seder from The Union Haggadah, published in the 1920s and used by Herschel’s family ever since.  I love the illustrations and the feeling of reading from the same books that have been used for generations.  There are some parts that just give me chills.  Why is this night different from all other nights?  Each year, this night is similar to last year’s seder and many years before, but this night finds us all slightly different than we were or will be in any other year.

An Only KidWe Do This.  These are the traditions of our people.  We do not change them for the children.  The Haggadah includes many references to suffering, slavery, plagues, even a casual mention of “The Angel of Death”–which Daniel always says in a spooky voice.  When the leader reads, “Let us now say grace,” all the rest of us pipe up, “Grace!”  I think this was the first year Herschel didn’t chuckle about how silly he feels saying, “Lo! This is the bread of affliction…”  (That was probably because he bowed out of the role of leader this year, so Daniel’s mother was reading that part.)  There are dark parts and fun parts to the seder, and there are parts we always skip to save time, and it’s not a singing family so we just chant the parts that could be sung–and all of that is the same now as at the half-dozen seders when I was the youngest person present.  Nicholas squirmed a bit when he was one and two years old, and he spent some of the time playing under the table, but he was there through the whole thing.  We expect Lydia to do the same.  After all, they are part of the family.

The seder doesn’t make me want to start observing Judaism, but it makes me feel more connected to the Jewish part of my heritage–which is an even larger part of my children’s heritage.  My two great-grandparents whose lives overlapped with mine were the two Yiddish ones, but I never did any Jewish activity with them; now I feel a little closer to them because I know a little more of what was familiar to them.  I’m glad that my children get to participate in this family tradition.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • They Come Through You — Aspen at Aspen Mama shares what her late-discovery adoption means to her and her family.
  • The Shape of Our Family: Musings on Genealogy — Donna at Eco-Mothering delves into her genealogy and family stories, observing how the threads of family reveal themselves in her daughter.
  • Hand family stories down to the next generation — Lauren at Hobo Mama asked her father to help her son learn to read — never expecting that Papa’s string of richly storytelling emails would bring a treasure trove of family history into their lives.
  • Saving Family Stories — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about why she thinks it’s important to preserve fun and interesting family stories for future generations.
  • Serenading Grandma — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama started playing violin in the fifth grade, her grandma and mother were the biggest part of her musical cheering section. Her grandma urged her to keep playing and reminded her that someday she’d be thankful for her talent. As was so often the case, her grandma was right.
  • Family legacy ambivalence — With a family history of depression and suicide, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama frets about her children’s emotional health.
  • Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New — As an Episcopalian whose children’s ancestry is five-eighths Jewish, Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook values the annual Passover seder that connects her and the kids to family traditions.
 Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to see what’s working for other families!

Miracle Salve GIVEAWAY!!

UPDATE:  The winners have been announced (at the end of the article) but please read about this wonderful healing product and consider buying some for yourself.

Miracle Salve, made by Kerry’s Herbals, is a wonderful product that I’ve been using for a decade.  I now have the opportunity to share it!  Seven lucky readers will win a free jar of Miracle Salve!  Two winners will get the two-ounce jar (that’s a couple months’ supply, even if you have serious skin problems) and another five winners will get the half-ounce jar (that’s enough to get a good sense of what this green goo can do for you).

Miracle Salve is made entirely of natural plant oils and beeswax.  It truly is green–not only is it less environmentally damaging than a product made from petrochemical distillates, but it’s literally green in color, a shade similar to my Earthling’s Handbook logo.  It has no added fragrance but simply smells like its ingredients: a pleasant, herbal smell that I like a lot better than the smell of petroleum jelly. Kerry's HerbalsThis smooth, creamy salve soaks into irritated skin, soothes the stinging, and speeds healing.  It’s awesome for rashes, scrapes, and super-dry skin.  Kerry’s Herbals says it even can be used to treat corneal abrasion, which means it must be safe enough to put into your eye!  I haven’t tried that, but it’s never caused any discomfort when I apply it–unlike so many treatments that sting at first. Read more…

Elsewhere on Earth

This photograph, which was in Sunday’s newspaper, is the image I’m keeping in my mind this Good Friday.

A Syrian Kurdish boy sits on a destroyed tank Friday in the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab. Photo by Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images.

That is a place on this very same planet where I am sitting comfortably in my office.  That is a boy who is growing up in the very same time as my son Nicholas, who is visiting me at work (it’s his spring break from school) and looking forward to a pizza lunch.  Odds are nobody’s going to shoot at us as we walk down the street, and there won’t be any rubble.  The trees here are preparing to open sweet new green leaves.

It is only by luck that we live here and not there.

What is it like to go out to play in that wasted landscape, to find an interesting big thing to climb on that happens to be a recently-disabled killing machine?  I am grateful that I don’t know, but I think sometimes I need to make myself think about it.  I need to think about this one boy, to will him strength and courage to be a better person than many around him.

Today I am thinking of this picture and of these words sung by Phil Collins:

This is the world we live in,
And these are the hands we’re given.
Use them, and let’s start trying
To make it a place worth living in.

The Barb Curlee Memorial Bookmark

Barb Curlee was my friend.  She died last year, of cancer, after fewer years than she deserved.  Barb and I met at church, where we eventually served on the vestry together during three difficult years when the vestry had a lot to do!  Barb was wise and strong and mostly cheerful through it all.  Barb also coordinated our church’s coffee hours and many special meals for nine long years, until she was very sick.  That’s my job now, and remembering Barb helps me keep my determination to keep things going so that we all eat well.

Barb’s memorial service included happy reminiscences from her siblings, and I think they’re the people who produced this lovely keepsake.  I never before attended a funeral that had anything to take home other than a leaflet with a little information about the departed.  It turns out that a bookmark with photos is a perfect thing to take home!

Barb in the oceanI’ve been using this bookmark, and that means that every time I open my book, I remember Barb and think about her for a moment.  It keeps her memory alive.

I really like this picture, and I appreciate that they put the date on it, because it reminds me that Barb had some good times as well as some really awful times in her last months.  Although she had to do a lot of boring responsible stuff, getting her affairs in order and arranging for her sister to take custody of her 14-year-old daughter, Barb also made time for one last vacation.  It’s wonderful to have this reminder that she got to walk in the waves and enjoy a lollipop!

The bookmark also reminds me to pray for Barb’s daughter, Evie.  She’s a great kid, and I’m sure her aunt is doing a fine job of parenting her, but it’s got to be hard losing your single parent to a devastating disease.  Evie moved to the suburbs with her aunt and isn’t coming to our church anymore.  We miss her!  I hope she’s okay.  I hope she still can feel her mom’s love.

Barb and Evie
Yes, my bookmark is showing signs of wear.  But it only works because I’m using it.  If I put it away in a drawer, I wouldn’t think of Barb nearly so often as I do.

A memorial bookmark might sound like a silly idea, but it really works for me!  If you’ve lost a loved one, please consider this easy, affordable way to help people remember her fondly.

Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more budget-friendly ideas!

Save Money on Earth-Friendly Products!

Earth Day is coming up in less than a month!  What will be your Earth Day resolution?

One easy thing to do is to switch to a more earth-friendly version of something you use regularly–like toilet paper.  There are many brands of toilet paper on the market now that are made from post-consumer recycled paper (that’s paper that good citizens put into recycling bins) and either not whitened or bleached with oxygen instead of chlorine bleach–and they are not all scratchy!  In fact, I haven’t encountered a scratchy recycled-paper toilet tissue in about 15 years.  If you’re really particular about texture, buy a small amount of a brand before you try my money-saving tip.

One objection to switching to a better product may be that it costs more or it isn’t sold at your usual store.  Of course, nobody wants to make a special trip every time they run out of toilet paper or wants to spend a lot of money on it.  There’s a simple solution to both problems, and it will make your life more convenient, too! Read more…

Lemon Creamy Salmon photo tutorial!

Lent is about half over.  If you’re fasting from meat during Lent, and you normally eat a lot of meat, by now you’re probably getting kind of bored with fish sticks and macaroni-and-cheese.  Time to try something new!

I’ve posted this recipe before, explaining how this delicious complete meal can be adjusted to work with whatever greens and starch you have handy.  In this post, I’m making a specific version of it, helpfully illustrated with photos for all you visual learners.

Bonus Parenting Tip: If you have a child who is old enough to use a camera and is casting about restlessly saying, “I want somebody to dooo something with me!” on a Sunday evening just as you are about to start dinner, ask him to be your photographer for a cooking article!  It will keep him busy, and it will enable you to get photos of every step of the process without having to pause the food preparation to wash your hands so that you don’t get fish fat and onion juice all over the camera!  (That is the reason I don’t take photos of cookery more often.  Well, also it’s because taking the extra time to load photos into a post rarely seems worth it to me–not being a visual learner myself.)

All photos in this article were taken by Nicholas Efran, age 10.  Thanks for your help, Nicholas!ingredients

To make 4 servings of this particular version of Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens, you will need:

  • 15 oz. canned wild Alaskan salmon, including liquid
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 cups fresh kale
  • 1/2 lb. whole-wheat rotini pasta
  • 2 tsp. instant vegetable broth mix (We get this in bulk at the food co-op.)
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (separately from above oil)
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Read more…

The Power of Purple Is Real!!!

I am putting this post in a variety of categories because it’s kind of silly but I’m kind of serious, too.  I would like to believe that in this very complicated world, my actions truly do make a difference, even in unexpected metaphysical ways.

Purple is my favorite color.  At this point in my life, I feel like I finally own enough purple clothing.  On my fortieth birthday, which in various ways did not go very well, I was wearing an all-purple outfit when Daniel and I went out to lunch and he (very uncharacteristically) spilled an entire glass of ice water on me.  When we got home, I was able to change into another all-purple outfit.  That’s the way life should be!  I am happily on my way to being that old woman in the famous poem by Jenny Joseph.

Monday, I wore a purple sweater.  This was really just because I had finally gotten around to washing this particular sweater, so now it was available again, and at this point in the year I am kind of tired of most of my sweaters, but it had been at least two weeks since I’d worn this one.

Tuesday, I wore a purple and white striped knit top.  As I took it out of the drawer, I thought, “But I just wore purple yesterday!” like I might be enjoying myself too much or something, but then I remembered that my church was hosting the East End Lenten Series supper and service that night, and purple is the color for Lent because purple is the color of sadness in church tradition.  It works all backwards with me and is one of the reasons why I like Lent.

Tuesday morning’s e-newsletter, for employees of the gargantuan “health system” where I work, encouraged us to wear purple on Wednesday to support patient safety. Read more of this post

A Day as Mama and Data Manager

Welcome to the March 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Day in the Life

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have given us a special glimpse into their everyday.

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There are three main things I do in my day-to-day life: mothering Lydia (10 months old) and Nicholas (10 years old), working 40 hours a week as the data manager of a social science research study, and writing this Handbook.  I write quite a bit about the first activity, and if you are reading this you’re obviously aware of the third.  But I’ve written very little about my job.  What is a “data manager of a social science research study,” anyway?

My job is to organize the HUGE PILES OF DATA collected by interviewing 1,517 men every 6 months for 4 years, then every year for 9 years, and 3 more times since then (whenever we got a grant to follow up).  Other people do the interviews; I just work with the data.  The study started when the guys were in elementary school.  They answered questions for about 2 hours each time, and in the early years their parents and teachers were interviewed, too.  Each person’s answer to each question is encoded as a number in a data file, which looks like a spreadsheet.  The row is the data on that participant, who is identified by a 5-digit number.  The column is the question, which is identified by a string of 8 letters and numbers.  There is a separate data file for each questionnaire, each time it was asked; each data file has a name, also 8 letters and numbers.  There are patterns to these 8-character strings, which I can “read” and remember very easily after 16 years working for the study.

In addition to organizing the data from the interviews, I make variables called “constructs”, each of which represents an idea that is measured by a bunch of different questions.  I write computer programs that do arithmetic and algebra with the “raw data” from the questions to create the constructs.  For example, the construct Parental Stress sums up the parent’s answers to these 14 questions; a parent with a score of 14 is exceptionally calm, while a parent with a score of 70 is a frazzled wreck.  My programs attach labels to the constructs and their values so we can keep track of what all the numeric values and 8-letter-and-number variable names mean.  (No, “frazzled wreck” is not the actual value label!  It’s “very high stress”.)

So, it’s my job to know what questions we asked, how the answers were coded, what constructs were made, and where everything is in thousands and thousands of data files.  I also spend a lot of time looking for things that don’t make sense, figuring out what’s wrong, and fixing it.  The higher-level statistical analysis is done by other people, as well as most of the writing of papers about our findings–but because I like to write and am a grammar zealot, they often ask me to proofread and sometimes let me write a section.

The main focus of the study is juvenile delinquency: which boys do it in the first place, which ones outgrow it rather than becoming adult criminals, and what factors make crime more or less likely.  We also have lots of data on mental health, substance use, parenting practices, and demographics.  Interesting stuff!  I love my job.  I’m surprised I managed to summarize it this briefly!  Okay, let’s get on with A Typical Day In My Life…. Read more of this post

Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

This recipe was in the cookbook that came with Daniel’s grandmother’s food processor, decades ago.  Daniel and I bought a used food processor shortly after we began living together 19 years ago, and when his grandmother heard about this, she insisted that we look through her recipes and copy some we’d like to try.  Next to this one, she had written, “DANIEL’S FAVORITE!!!!”  She was a very enthusiastic person, so Daniel’s first response to hearing about this was that he must have said he kind of liked this cake one time.  However, when I made it, he found that he really does like it a lot.

Now it’s his traditional birthday cake that I bake every February.  I try to make it the night before so that we can start eating it for birthday breakfast, because it is a coffee cake–it’s not super-duper-sweet, being almost half fruit, so it’s good for breakfast as well as dessert.  We’ve also made it in the summer when we find a good price on blueberries.

The original recipe called for white flour only.  We’ve tried substituting whole wheat flour for one-third of it, and that makes a healthier cake without any noticeable difference in taste or texture, so that’s how I’ve written the recipe.

I’ve never tried to make it without using the food processor, but I’m sure you could–just chop the nuts finely before you start mixing, and mix the batter in a bowl with a rubber scraper.

To make one 8″ square cake, you will need: Read more of this post

Two Affordable GMO-Free Cereals

I don’t trust genetically modified food to be safe for our health or environment.  About five years ago, I realized that several of our favorite breakfast cereals contained corn, and I’d been reading that most corn grown in the United States that isn’t organically grown is now GMO.  We gave up buying those cereals routinely…but it was hard to resist the best sales!  We love eating cereal, and the mainstream brands are inexpensive, especially on sale, whereas the organic brands are priced so much higher that we’re rarely willing to pay for them (except for this delicious, low-sugar granola from Costco).  We wound up getting most of our cereals from Trader Joe’s, where all house-brand products are GMO-free and the prices aren’t too bad.

Did you know that Cheerios contain corn?  You probably think that’s an oat cereal.  But if you compare Cheerios to most of the store-brand imitators, the flavor is a bit different: The generic ones taste more plain, while Cheerios have a particular roasty-toastiness.  The difference in ingredients is that Cheerios contain a small amount of corn.  Therefore, no more Cheerios for my family.

We were still buying Post Grape Nuts, though.  No corn in those!  But one day I noticed that the box said, “Now with more protein!” and read the ingredients for the first time in years: They now contained soy protein.  Most non-organic soybeans grown in the United States are now GMO, too.  Sigh.  No more Grape Nuts.

Then, one wonderful day last year, I noticed a sign above the enormous pile of yellow boxes that were on special at Costco: GMO-free Cheerios.  Really?!  I examined the box excitedly but saw nothing there about GMOs one way or another.  Warily, I bought one of the big double packs at the bargain price, and when I got home I searched for information online.  I learned that General Mills decided to put in a little effort to use non-GMO corn and sugar in original flavor Cheerios because the recipe is so simple (compared to flavored Cheerios) that this was easy to do.  Hooray!

Not long afterward, I was craving Grape Nuts, saw them on sale, and noticed the Non-GMO Project logo on the box!  Right next to it was a circle saying Soy Free, and sure enough, isolated soy protein is no longer in the ingredient list.  Post took the soy out of Grape Nuts to make them GMO-free to appeal to certain target markets–like me!

I’m so glad that my family can have convenient snacks of affordable Cheerios and Grape Nuts again!  Our nine-month-old daughter can practice her pincer grip on crunchy little circles without being exposed to weird untested ingredients, and when she accidentally scatters some of them on the floor I don’t freak out about wasting expensive food.  (I do eat Cheerios that have been on the floor, sometimes….)

I know that some of the most serious healthy eaters these days won’t eat any ready-made packaged cereals or won’t eat any grain foods at all.  I’ve heard the arguments against them–but I feel that my family is thriving on grains as a part of our diet, and some of the simpler and less sweetened cereals are some of the grain foods we eat.  It’s great that some of the major brands are responding to consumer pressure to sell foods free of GMOs.

These two nutritious cereals that I’ve been enjoying since childhood work for me now that they are GMO-free!  Visit Real Food Friday for more articles on healthy eating!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop for more great food ideas!

Get Up and Eat: 3 Years of Replenishment

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Three years ago on Ash Wednesday, I wrote this article about the renewal we can experience during Lent.  I had no idea what was coming my way!

You may have heard of the idea of choosing one word as a theme for your year.  You’re supposed to place this word around your home or on a bracelet, where you’ll see it regularly and be reminded of your intention, and it will inspire you and serve as a guiding principle.  Maybe you make some collages or something based on your word, for further inspiration.  Maybe you use it like a mantra for meditation.  Some people tell stories of amazing growth that resulted from this simple choice.

It sounds like a fine idea, and in January of 2012, when several bloggers I read were writing about what word each of them chose, I found that a particular word came into my mind as a goal for my own life.  The word was replenishment.

Almost a year earlier, during my church vestry retreat, I’d thought of replenishment as the one word that best expressed what I wanted for my church: We were worn out from years of struggle, and many people had left, so we were down to a small core of mostly old-ish people working really hard to keep our parish going.  I prayed for replenishment of our individual souls and strengths to keep us working toward the replenishment of our parish with new people and new energy.  It’s working!!  Our church is growing and getting really wonderful now!

But as 2012 dawned, I realized that I could use some replenishment myself.  Not only was I working really hard on the vestry, but I was still working my way out of being a migraineur, which is a deceptively elegant word for “chronic horrible headache victim” or, at least in my case, “person with a massively fucked-up tendency to allow her brain to malfunction and get some kind of bizarre power trip out of it.”  My New Year’s resolution for 2010 had been to battle the headaches from every possible direction, and that really helped: I went from having about four headaches per week to more like two per month!  But that battle had worn me down, what with various lifestyle changes and medical appointments and facing stuff in therapy and attempting to ask for what I need, so although I was suffering less pain, I was very depleted and had this awful sense of being so busy all the time yet never getting everything done.

So: 2012, my year of replenishment!  I didn’t write the word everywhere or make a collage, but I prayed about it a lot and, when faced with choices about what to do, considered what would be the most replenishing choice.  It was going pretty well for the first couple months, and then it was time for Lent, and I decided that I would fast from the idea, “I don’t have time to get things done.”  Well, guess how that turned out? Read more…

What I Read Recently: Adult, Tween, Baby, and Architecture Books

I’ve only read two books to myself in the past month, but I’ve been reading to both of my kids, too, and looking at some floor-plan books, so here are two book reviews in each category.

Books I read to myself:

  • The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards begins during a snowstorm in 1964, when Norah and David’s child is about to be born.  They can’t get to the hospital, but luckily David is a doctor, and his nurse Caroline is able to meet them at the clinic and administer anesthetic that makes Norah semi-conscious during the birth (as was the style at the time).  Baby Paul is perfect, but he’s followed by a twin sister whom David immediately recognizes as having Down Syndrome.  He directs Caroline to take the baby girl to an institution, and then he tells Norah that their daughter died at birth.  He wants to spare his family the pain of raising a disabled child, but Norah is devastated by the loss, and it affects their family life forever.  Meanwhile, Caroline finds the institution unbearable and decides to move to another city and raise Phoebe (giving her the name Norah had said she would give her daughter) as her own child.  The plot then unfolds over 25 years.  This is my favorite kind of book, about people who seem very real getting into interesting situations and having feelings that make sense even if you, the reader, would react differently.  Almost every moment has a vivid clarity.  I also love the depiction of Pittsburgh, where Caroline raises Phoebe, because that’s where I live and I’m familiar with their neighborhood and the other places they go.  This book was just as good the second time around as when I first read it several years ago, but I’m glad I waited to reread it until my own daughter was safely born–stories of birth defects and complications are not ideal pregnancy reading!
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.  Just when I think nothing new can be done with the structure of novels, something like this comes along!  Ursula is born in 1910 and dies without taking a breath.  Ursula is born in 1910 and drowns at the seashore when she’s five years old.  Ursula is born in 1910, has a terrible feeling of foreboding at the seashore when she’s five years old, and then at age eight ventures onto the icy roof, after her brother throws her doll out the attic window, and falls to her death.  Ursula is born in 1910 and at age eight hides her doll under the pillow, but then she catches the Spanish flu….  It’s like a time-travel story, except it’s always the same stretch of time; what matters is what she does with it and what else happens, the effects of the proverbial butterfly fluttering its wings.  WARNINGS: Some of Ursula’s lives are pretty grim, even graphically horrifying.  The nature of the story is going to force you to think about all the ways a little girl could die.  But if you can handle it, this is a fascinating book!  I especially like the points when the cumulative effects of Ursula’s multiple lives come almost to the surface of her consciousness–which in some of the timestreams gets her sent to a psychoanalyst who is hilariously clueless about how to talk to a child!

Read more…

How to Get Kids to Behave in Church

Welcome to the February 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Do It Yourself

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of
Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code
Name: Mama
. This month our participants are teaching us how to make
something useful or try something new.

***

By the time my first child was born, I’d been attending a small, liberal Episcopal church in my neighborhood for eight years.  Church is very meaningful to me, so I wanted to continue going, but how would I manage with a needy little baby who would become a wiggly toddler and then a child with his own ideas? Nicholas is ten years old now and has a baby sister, Lydia, and I’m able to manage both of them pretty well while still soaking up church myself.  I’ve learned a lot along the way!

I’m saying “church” but many of these tips would apply to other religions’ worship, and many of these strategies for church behavior also apply to any situation where we need to sit still and listen, like performances and meetings.  I’ve put them approximately in the order that you can start using them, beginning with things that work from birth–so if you have an older child and you’re just now trying to get back to church, skim along until you see something that seems feasible for your child now.  Read more…

A Robot’s Cookbook, Chapter 1

I decided that this text requires its own post to really do it justice.  It started as an extremely lengthy spam email received by my ten-year-old Nicholas, who immediately turned it into a bizarre modern entertainment experience by having the computer read it aloud.  Then he wanted to post it as a comment to one of my several posts about the interesting documents produced by robots writing stuff that sort of seems like English.  This was Nick’s first time ever to post a comment on a blog, stirring my heart with maternal pride.  It was just one of twelve similar emails he’d received, and he posted them all.

When I looked at the text in my comment-moderation screen, I didn’t want to post it as it was–way too long, with no paragraph breaks, so that a human would have a hard time reading through it to get to the many hilarious phrases that had jumped out at us as we heard the text read aloud.  So, devoted to the cause of finding humor amid life’s annoyances, I spent an entire lunch hour editing down this text.  Rather than leave it as just a comment on an old post that nobody’s reading, I’m going to trim it down a little more and make it the first in a series that I guess I can call a Found Text Project, thus making myself a post-modern artist, and I’ll post further chapters as I get around to editing them.

Not one word has been added or rearranged.  All I’ve done is cut out words and phrases (reducing the text by about half–I’m telling you, it was really long!) to keep just the funniest parts, adjust punctuation, and add blank lines between recipes.

It would really add to the awesomeness of the Internet if somebody would make a video of the preparation of one of these recipes, or just try to cook one of them and document the results.

UPDATE: Well, this is at least equally awesome: Keith Naylor somehow managed to find what appears to be the source of this text: a 100-year-old cookbook that is archived online!!  Check it out–although far less garbled, it is almost as amusing.  Wow.

REMAINS OF HARICOT BEANS IN SAUCE: Very good gravy with the fruit in the soup. Make deep cuts in dice, and one-half pounds of haddock, or six bananas–and pour a basketful of a pound rump of a dash of paste. Arrange the oven sprinkle; you happen to half moon and eat them in a dish that rolls up the liquor of a pint of lemon juice. Add one separately, and a pint of red enough. Brown an egg and turnips and pour over the oven. Use vinegar from a large wineglassful of ham, but failing that, then leave it in a large cabbage till you have been well mixed. Take your husband telephones that can do this. Read more…

Things Not to Do: Ingredient Chopping Edition

There will be no gory photos in this story.  Although many things went wrong, cutting myself was not one of them.

Don’t buy a cheap “as seen on TV” food chopper like the Vidalia Chop Wizard.  If you did, don’t try to use it to cut a bunch of different foods that might not work.  If you are doing that, don’t use the fine-dicing grid; use the bigger one that is less likely to get jammed up.  If you must do this sort of experimentation, don’t do it when you don’t really have time for dinner to go spectacularly wrong and be delayed more than an hour while the whole family gets mad at you.  Also, don’t do it when you already have a cut on your thumb from last week’s bagel-slicing mishap, because raw onion juice will sting, and the Band-aid will not protect you but will actually make it worse by holding the onion juice right there in the cut with that nice absorbent pad.

I made all of these mistakes on Sunday–except for buying the chopper in the first place, which I did a little over a year ago; it worked pretty well on onions, at first–and the whole mess resulted from one main Thing Not to Do: Don’t give up on using the kitchen tool that is really appropriate for the job because the baby is sleeping in the dining room.  Move the baby to another room, or take the risk that the baby will wake up and need to be held by Daddy for a while but will then go to sleep for the night at a reasonable hour.  If baby’s sleep is really so precious at this time that you can’t bear the possibility of disrupting this nap, change your dinner plan to something that doesn’t require chopping.  Just, please, don’t put yourself through what I did! Read more of this post

Oh, all right. But they didn’t Book my Face!

More than three years ago, I explained why I was boycotting Facebook.  Yesterday, I joined Facebook.  My intention was to join as The Earthling’s Handbook, but Facebook immediately responded, “You have to join with your real name!  I’m the only book allowed here!” so I joined with my own name but used The Earthling’s Handbook icon as my picture.  I did not give Facebook my face.

Why not?  Everyone else is doing it! Read more of this post

Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (winter, with a baby)

A pesco-vegetarian is someone who eats no meat except fish. That’s what we do when we’re at home and most of the time when we eat in other places.  Our 8-month-old daughter, Lydia, is abstaining from cow’s milk until after her first birthday, because I have some family history of dairy allergies that may have been triggered by too-early exposure to cow’s milk.  However, she’s an enthusiastic eater of just about everything we’ve let her eat!  We also have a 10-year-old son, Nicholas, whose preferences have some effect on our menu.

I highly recommend the book Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair, not so much for the specific recipes as for a laid-back, nutritious approach to feeding a baby, toddler, or preschooler.  I’ve been looking at it often to get ideas for ingredients we could set aside or prepare a little differently for Lydia, and to support my conviction that we can (again) raise a child who’s open to trying lots of interesting foods.  The Picky Eater’s 30 Family-Friendly Recipes are great inspiration, too!  Unlike Nicholas when he was little, Lydia is not keen on being fed ground-up food with a spoon but prefers to feed herself, so we’re constantly looking for soft foods that can be picked up in blobs and for foods that are firm enough to be cut in chunks but soft enough to be bitten and chewed without teeth.

Here’s what we ate for dinner for four weeks in December and January.  I plan our menu up to a week in advance and do the weekend cooking and some ingredient preparation during the week, while Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners so that we can eat as soon as I get home from work.  Lunches are usually leftovers and sandwiches.

Week One:

  • Sunday: Masoor Dal over rice and lettuce leaves left over from making the salad to go with our Christmas Stuffed Shells. Plain yogurt on top for the dairy eaters.  Lydia loves Masoor Dal as much as the rest of us!  We didn’t even tone down the spices for her.  She was wearing a large bib, and I kept pushing up her sleeves, but still she managed to mash oily, turmeric-seasoned lentils all over her clothes.  I changed her outfit and doused the stained one with Bac-Out immediately after dinner!
  • Monday: Sauteed mushrooms and kale, in lots of olive oil with lots of garlic, over whole-wheat couscous.  I mixed some nutritional yeast flakes into mine.  Lydia sampled a mushroom slice but had trouble with it–she doesn’t have any teeth yet–so her main course was leftover Masoor Dal.
  • Tuesday: Falafels made from bulk mix.  Cucumber slices.  The last of the lettuce.  Yogurt.  Lydia was happy eating just the falafels.  We make them small (easier to get them cooked all the way through without burning or crumbling) so they were an appealing size for her to pick up, hold, and gnaw on.
  • Wednesday: Japanese Udon Noodle Soup with daikon radish, sweet potato, mushrooms, and nori seaweed.  I got to cook this meal, after leaving work early on New Year’s Eve.  I made the daikon and sweet potato into strips about 1″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″ and cooked them soft, but not falling apart, so that Lydia could hold and eat them.  She loved them!  Each of us older people also had a scrambled egg in our soup.
  • Thursday: We thawed out quarts of Mexican rice and black beans that I’d brought home in November, when somebody had ordered far too much food for an event at work and the leftovers were up for grabs.  The only meal cheaper than beans and rice is FREE beans and rice!  We also had avocado with this meal.  Avocado is a great baby food, and I remember Nicholas loving it, but Lydia ate only a few strips in favor of totally chowing down on the beans!  We couldn’t believe she packed such a large volume of beans into her little body!  An almost equal volume of beans was scrubbed off her highchair, face, neck, hair, arms, and floor…and the hideous black stains were completely removed from her clothing by Bac-Out!  I expected some diapers filled with masses of obvious black beans, but in fact she digested them quite fully.
  • Friday: Whole-wheat spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce from the batch I’d made for the Stuffed Shells–similar to this sauce.  Lydia ate a lot of saucy spaghetti (as well as admiring the wiggly noodles and tossing them about) and 24 hours later had a diaper rash from too much citric acid.  We need to be more careful about tomatoes and other acidic foods until her digestion matures.
  • Saturday: We visited Daniel’s grandfather in Ohio for his 99th birthday!!!  We had an excellent brunch of baked oatmeal and various egg dishes at the Green Marble Coffee Shoppe, where Lydia enjoyed the fruit served on the side–it seems cantaloupe is her favorite–as well as a jar of apricot baby food.  Then we visited with Herschel at his home until late afternoon.  We got home around dinnertime and decided to go out to the New Dumpling House, the Chinese restaurant near home, for hot and sour soup (contains pork), tofu with black mushrooms, and mixed vegetables in garlic sauce.  Lydia had been asleep in the car, fell asleep again as we walked over to the restaurant, and stayed asleep in the sling carrier while I ate most of my dinner!  That was nice.  She woke up in time to enjoy some tofu.

Read more of this post

Squirrel Appreciation Day

It's Squirrel Appreciation Day!It’s a real holiday!  It’s today, January 21st.  Keep an eye out for squirrels as you go about your day, and appreciate their resourcefulness, climbing ability, and cuteness.  (Photos are from http://squirrelworld.lincatz.com , a site for squirrel appreciators.)

I live in a solidly urban area of a major city, but even so, the neighborhood where I live is a major squirrel habitat.  Even on the busy street of high-rise buildings where I work, I typically see at least one squirrel along my four-block walk from the bus stop to my office.  A squirrel can live happily in an area so small you wouldn’t even know it was a forest, like a seven-foot-wide strip of lawn with a couple of trees. Read more…