Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion review

I received a free sample of Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion to review.  This is an honest review of my family’s experience with this product, which we probably wouldn’t have tried if we hadn’t been offered a free sample.

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion is a gentle moisturizing lotion made without mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, phthalates, or formaldehyde.  It’s made from 98% natural ingredients, including organic coconut oil that is harvested without damaging orangutan habitat.  All ingredients are listed on the label.

My daughter Lydia is the youngest in the family, at two and a half, so she was the first to try this lotion.  After her bath, I rubbed it into her arms and legs, which tend to get dry and flakey in the winter. Read more of this post

Public Transit and Convenient Commuting

It’s getting harder and harder for me to believe that the majority of Americans who work outside the home commute by car.

I understand that many small towns and suburban and rural areas have no public transit at all, and that many cities have inadequate public transit providing infrequent service to just a few neighborhoods.  What I don’t understand is why so many people put up with it!  Of course there are situations in which people have good reasons for living and/or working in remote areas.  But there are millions more who just seem to be taking for granted that, as a grown-up, every day you get into your car.  It hasn’t occurred to them to try their local public transit or to ask why there isn’t any.

What really staggers me is when I hear people who live and/or work in the very same neighborhoods I do, talking about driving to and from work–especially if they’re employed by one of the local universities whose every employee/student ID card functions as a bus pass!  Seriously!  You don’t need a special card; you don’t need to sign up for the transit program; as soon as you get your ID, you can hop on a bus, tap it against the card reader, and get a free ride to anywhere in Allegheny County the transit authority goes, any time buses (or light-rail trains or inclines) are running!  You can use it all weekend, not just for commuting!

Pardon all the exclamation points, but I’m excited to be working for the University of Pittsburgh now.  None of my previous employers offered free transit, so I’m accustomed to paying slightly over $1,000 per year for an annual bus pass giving me unlimited rides all year.  It was convenient even when it was a series of monthly passes arriving by mail, even more convenient with the ConnectCard that lasted all year.  It cost much less than paying cash fare for my workday commute, with the additional bonus of free rides for other travel.  But it was a substantial expense each year, which I don’t have now, whee!

It took me until last week, my fourth week at the new job, to realize just how staggeringly convenient my new commute is: Read more of this post

Book Reviews: Old and New

I started a new job three weeks ago, so I’ve been rereading familiar books as a backdrop to all the new ideas!  However, right before going back to work, I read a book published in 1999 that was new to me.

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

John is a teenager in the era of zines–that brief time between when teenagers started wanting to tell everyone their innermost thoughts and when blogging became possible.  That time and its trends are perfectly evoked in this novel of self-exploration and the joy of getting to know a really interesting person.  When you’re a straight white suburban guy, and your new best friend is a Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee lesbian, should you ask her to the prom?  I didn’t expect much from this book, but I really enjoyed it.

Kumquat May, I’ll Always Love You by Cynthia D. Grant

I read this book several times as a teenager and liked it so much that it had been on my shelf all these years, but I never got around to reading it again until now.  It’s pretty well done, with zany characters and some very clever lines, but now I see it as kind of self-consciously over-written, and Olivia is so mature and perceptive that her inability to pick up on painfully obvious clues doesn’t make much sense.

Olivia is a high school senior who has been living alone for two years.  First her father died, then her grandmother, and then her mother went out to the grocery store and never came back.  Her mom sends postcards once in a while, always promising to be home “soon.”  Meanwhile, Olivia has kept her solitude a secret from everyone but her best friend Rosella.  But now, her childhood friend Raymond has moved back to town, bringing new energy into Olivia’s life, falling in love with her, and sharing a secret of his own.  What will happen if she tells him the truth about her mom?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This one did not disappoint me when I read it for what must be the fifth or sixth time, at least.  If anything, I’d forgotten just how excellent the prose and dialogue are, how wonderfully the various events of Scout’s childhood weave together into an overall story that feels so true, how perfectly it depicts a range of characters who understand that racism is wrong yet to some extent take it for granted, and how it’s not just about racism but about multiple ways of respecting people for who they are.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

My partner Daniel brought out his DVD of The Secret of NIMH to watch with our two-and-a-half-year old Lydia, who loved this story of a brave mother mouse and has wanted to watch it every week or so since–but Daniel and I were frustrated that the movie so drastically over-simplifies the plot of the book and adds a lot of magical mumbo-jumbo and makes Jeremy the crow so irritating!  We think the best thing about the movie is the colors; many scenes, especially at sunset, are visually gorgeous.  Anyway, I was inspired to look for the book, which I’d read in school in sixth grade.  I found it in the library.

Mrs. Frisby is a mouse raising four children alone since her husband’s untimely death last year.  When her son Timothy comes down with pneumonia, she visits Mr. Ages, a mouse known for his knowledge of healing, and gets medicine and the advice that Timothy must stay indoors and warm until he is fully recovered.  But the mice must move out of their winter home before the farmer plows his field and destroys that home, and the weather’s getting warmer too soon for Timothy to make the journey to the summer place.  Mrs. Frisby happens to rescue a crow tangled in string, who advises her to consult the wise old owl about her problem–and that leads her to learn about her husband’s surprising past and his association with the mysteriously intelligent rats who live in the big rosebush.

This is an excellent story combining cute animals with deep thoughts about the nature of intelligence, ethics, and cooperation.  Lydia’s interest in it is really pushing her toward accepting a story with very few pictures!  We’ve tried other chapter books on her, and she’s accepted them some of the time but often insisted on flipping through the book to see all of the pictures or on hearing Chapter One over and over again.  With this book, she keeps asking to hear the part about the owl (perhaps because that’s one of the scariest scenes, perhaps because she likes my owl voice) but she’s generally letting me pick up where we left off, so I think we’ll be able to read the whole book before it’s due back to the library!

Visit the Quick Lit Linkup for more book reviews!

Asian Ingredients for Every Kitchen

Longtime readers may have noticed that my family often makes Chinese, Japanese, and Indian food.  Check out my article at Kitchen Stewardship about incorporating Asian flavors and techniques into your everyday cooking!  Here, I’m giving more detail about some of the ingredients I like to keep handy.

Two foods I’ve always considered basics, even when I lived in a dorm and cooked in an electric hot-pot, are rice and soy sauce.

Brown rice is more nutritious and has more fiber; white rice is more traditional.  Basmati rice, sushi rice, or jasmine rice might be most suitable for specific recipes, but properly cooking each variety is a bit of a hassle.  I often use ordinary, inexpensive white rice for everything–Mexican and South American food, too!

Soy sauce should be traditionally brewed–it makes a big difference in flavor.  For years, I only bought Kikkoman because none of the other brands tasted right.  I tried Trader Joe’s soy sauce after learning that Kikkoman now uses genetically modified soybeans in its soy sauce for the US market.  (Kikkoman’s organic variety is, of course, GMO-free…but it’s hard to find and expensive.)  Trader Joe’s house brand plant-based foods are all GMO-free, and their soy sauce is traditionally brewed in Japan and tastes great!

However, if you’re gluten-free, you’ll need a soy sauce with no wheat in it.  Look for tamari, and even so, read the ingredients to make sure.  San-J tamari is gluten-free and very tasty.

If you can’t have soy at all, coconut aminos give a very similar flavor.

Whatever you do, don’t buy La Choy soy sauce–blecchh!!

I do eat non-GMO soy, and tofu is another favorite ingredient in my cooking.  If you’re allergic or opposed to tofu, in most recipes you can substitute boneless chicken–just make sure it gets cooked thoroughly in the recipe, or pre-cook before adding it.

My whole family loves nori seaweed, the greenish-black stuff that’s wrapped around sushi and recently popular in snack packages. We make our own maki rolls (technically different from sushi, maki use more nori) and omusubi (rice balls, also called onigiri) or sometimes we just eat nori by the sheet! It’s great for balancing your metabolism after eating too much sugar.

Rice wine vinegar makes sushi rice taste right and is a useful ingredient in sauces.

Sesame oil is delicious!  It’s more of a seasoning than a cooking oil: Mix it into a sauce or salad dressing, drizzle it on cooked food just before serving, or use a small amount of sesame oil mixed with a lighter oil (like peanut oil) for stir-frying.

A basic yellow curry powder works in both Indian and Thai recipes.  I buy mine in bulk at the food co-op.

Another great spice blend for Indian food is garam masala (also available at the co-op).  I was pleased to find that it has the right flavor for the Middle Eastern dish Loubie, as well.

For hot-and-spicy flavor, dried red pepper flakes or a standard American hot sauce will work, but I prefer sambal oelek chili paste.  It’s spicy but not ridiculously super-strong, just right for mixing into a sauce or adding to one serving just before eating.

Fresh garlic and ginger give the best flavor…but I’ll admit I usually get lazy with ginger and use the dry powder.  A garlic press makes fresh garlic easy to use.

Hondashi, also called bonito broth mix, is instant broth made from dried fish–essentially, fish bouillon.  It adds fishy flavor to soup, rice, or sauce.

Fish sauce has a stronger flavor than hondashi, kind of smoky.  Generally, fish sauce is more suitable for Thai or Vietnamese food, while hondashi is for Japanese food.  We recently tried a recipe for Thai coconut lemongrass soup that called for hondashi, but I ended up adding a dash of fish sauce to my servings to make it taste right…so the next time I made it, I used fish sauce instead of hondashi, and it was much better!

Coconut milk is yummy, in my opinion and both kids’, but my partner Daniel usually doesn’t like it–that soup is a rare exception.  Fortunately, in many recipes the coconut milk is added at the end of cooking, so we can leave it out of the pot and add it to some people’s servings at the table.  This works well with the “curried lentils and random vegetables” kind of meal.  Canned coconut milk is easy to keep in the pantry for spontaneous use.

Lime juice allows for spontaneity, too, if you keep a bottle in the refrigerator door.

Cilantro is great in Thai, Indian, and also Mexican food.  I wish the stores sold smaller bunches of it, but it’ll last two or three weeks in the refrigerator if loosely packed into a glass jar.

Oyster sauce, plum sauce, and hoisin sauce are bottled sauces you’ll usually find in my refrigerator door–but I don’t just use them by themselves; I mix them with other ingredients to make stir-fry sauce.  I especially like the smoky flavor of oyster sauce–try it in Zucchini Tofu!

We also keep stocked up on two kinds of Japanese noodles: Soba noodles are made of buckwheat and taste great with stir-fry, in place of rice.  Udon noodles can be used the same way or in delicious soup.

Pickled ginger is traditionally served alongside sushi, but it’s a tasty garnish for a noodle bowl, too.  Look for a brand without artificial coloring.  I used to love pickled daikon, too, but lately all the brands I can find contain not only artificial coloring but also artificial sweetener!  I have a scary metabolic reaction to artificial sweeteners, so I can’t have any more pickled daikon…but that reminds me…

Daikon is a big, long, white radish with a mild but interesting flavor.  (If red radishes upset your stomach, daikon might not–especially when it’s cooked.)  Most Asian markets and some supermarkets sell fresh daikon, which can be grown in many parts of the United States.  It’s nutritious and low in calories!  Slice it up for your soup or stir-fry.

Those are some of my favorite Asian ingredients!  What are yours?

Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party for more fabulous food ideas!