Friday, November 30, 2007


As if it weren't enough to feel guilty pretty much every time I shop--something I buy is likely to be trucked across the country, grown in an unsustainable manner, or bad for me--now I have to worry that even the "good" things are also bad. Still, I appreciated the tips here on figuring out what's really "eco-friendly" and what isn't. And I'm trying to remind myself that doing one thing better is better than none, so I'm trying to let go of the guilt and just be grateful that I have choices.

Today I bought some of this organic chocolate (yes, because I had read about it). I don't know if it was a good choice or a bad one, but it will be tasty, I'm sure. And I bought it from a small locally-owned store.

(I know I saw the "Six Sins of Greenwashing" on someone else's blog, but I can no longer remember whose...)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

quick update

My laptop is back and all is well. No data lost, no (visible) problems.

(And now, another resolution to be better about backing up. I've been so lucky--knock wood!--with my laptops over the years that I have become rather cavalier about it.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I am without laptop, which might fall under the category of things to be thankful for, or otherwise. At the moment it's feeling rather otherwise (I'm using an old slow one that doesn't have all my stuff on it, and I'm a little worried about that stuff), but I have to say, going most of the week without laptop was actually good for my back and shoulders. A fact worth remembering when the laptop returns. (I am still saying "when" and not "if.")

We are all just back from a great visit with my family--all the siblings, spouses, and kids under one roof. I think my parents survived the onslaught. They have (barely) enough room for us all--we are thirteen, plus two dogs, when we all get together--and the stove, oven, microwave, and dishwasher all held up.

I made the garlicky cranberry relish, crusts for two pies (Mom filled them: one apple, one hickory), sweet potato casserole (with hickory nuts rather than pecans), and this pear-upside-down cake (that was for Friday). And then I contributed to various other dishes; my sister and I are particularly good now at tag-teaming on whatever needs doing in the kitchen. I don't think it's bragging to say the food was great--it always is when we all get together.

And then there was some knitting, too. I finished this sweater, which has been my obsession all month--so now, I can work on Christmas knitting. I think I'll scale back a little from last year, when about half my recipients got knitted items, but I'll still work up a few things before the end of the month.

So we're home now and the laundry is already done and there was enough in the pantry to make these muffins (if you make them, cut the sugar in half, double the apples, and leave out the raisins and walnuts if your family doesn't like them), and it looks like I can manage dinner out of the pantry as well. So all in all I'm pretty thankful.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I was away last week for a long weekend at a conference. As usual, I made a couple of calls home while I was away, checking in with everyone, but I didn't really get a chance to talk to Nick after the first night. So when I was delayed on Sunday, hanging around in the Minneapolis airport for more hours than I'd planned, I took the chance to chat with him again, knowing he'd already be sleeping when I returned home. He'd taken a tae kwon do test and finished up a science project over the weekend, so I expected to hear lots about all that. Instead I heard this--

"Mommy! Saturday morning, I made cranberry muffins from the Joy of Cooking! All by myself! They were really good and really easy."

Words to warm a mother's heart.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


(cross-posted at Lessons from the Tortoise)

Today is the birthday of Astrid Lindgren, creator of one of the most daring girls in children' s literature, Pippi Longstocking. So it seems a fitting day to be talking about the new Daring Book for Girls, by Andi Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz. (Full disclosure: I worked with Andi on Literary Mama, and, after reviewing Miriam's book for LM, have corresponded with her as well.)

My copy of The Daring Book arrived a couple of weeks ago and I put it on top of a stack of things to take care of later, as I (far too often) do. Nick (10) saw it first. "The Darling Book for Girls?" he asked. Then he corrected himself, but I thought the misreading was telling. Does he think girls are darling rather than daring? (Um, in a word--no. Not yet, anyway.)

He started flipping through it, immediately seeing the similarities to The Dangerous Book for Boys, which he received as a birthday present this year. "Hey! We didn't get instructions for how to make a volcano! Why didn't we get that?" He continued to turn pages, noting how many things "they" got to do that "we" didn't. "And why does it say 'no boys allowed' on the back? Mine doesn't say 'no girls allowed'!" He's not really one to be put off by prohibitions like that, but I was intrigued by his response. He found stuff he liked, and he didn't like being told it wasn't for him.

But then it got buried in the stack for a while and by the time I pulled it out again he was engrossed in a science project and didn't have time to check it out for a full review. So I handed it to Mariah (17) instead. She started by getting annoyed with the book. Too many games and jump-rope rhymes. "A lot of this is stuff that people think kids don't know but they do. Like, 'how to have a sleepout"?" So, it's a bit on the--perhaps unnecessarily--nostalgic side. But once she got past the games, she found a lot more to like: interesting stories about real princesses, crafts (she wants to go back and do some of those), Spanish and French vocabulary, Greek and Latin root words, more stories about interesting women..."Did you know Julia Child was a spy?" This is the kind of stuff she loves. She was a bit annoyed by the science sections--not because she doesn't like science, but because she does: "this seems like they thought, 'oh, girls don't like science, so we should put it in,' but they didn't even make it interesting! I think the periodic table of the elements is incredibly cool, but they made it boring!" So, on balance, she found things she likes and would go back to, but found the whole package a bit condescending. Well, she's 17--everything seems condescending to her. (Including, no doubt, that sentence. Sigh.)

So now both kids have had a crack at it, but I haven't even turned a page! Now, I'm a sucker for narrative, so what I go for are the stories: queens of the ancient world, unlikely spies, explorers (alas, I'm still waiting for the fascinating Isabella Bird to turn up in a book for kids...). These are all nicely done: short, readable, and intriguing.

Like Mariah, I am less fascinated by the handclap games and the jump-rope rhymes; those things really are still passed down on the playgrounds in my neighborhood, and one of the great pleasures of them is learning them from other kids, not from adults. But they take up a small enough section of the book. The page (!) on boys is blessedly sensible, and seems to take on the comparable section in the "Boys" book quite directly: while the "Boys" book starts with the premise that girls are different (because, apparently, they "do not get quite as excited by the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do"), the "Girls" book reminds girls that the generalizations they know about girls tend not to hold up, so the ones about boys are likely equally suspect. Nice work on that one, women.

Of course therein lies the essential paradox of this book: it exists only to demonstrate that it doesn't need to, trying to send the message that there's no reason girls and boys couldn't be equally daring and dangerous. I'm happy to read the message, and to shelve both books next to each other for both my kids to consult. And maybe, just maybe, we can look forward to a second, combined edition that dispenses with the particularity altogether.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Roasted Vegetable Soup

I haven't posted a recipe in a while. It's been busy, and it's also hard cooking these days with one almost-vegan in the house when everyone else is an unrepentant carnivore and certainly unwilling to give up dairy products. Sigh. Still, my most recent vegan recipe is easy, delicious, and very very healthy. (No, Nick won't eat it, but he pretty much doesn't eat soup so I don't even stress about it.)

This is so easy it's hardly a recipe. Indeed, it's hardly soup. When Mariah and I were eating it the other night we decided that it's really glorified baby food. Though no baby food I ever tasted was so delicious.

OK, here's what you do:

Preheat your oven. Somewhere around 450 is probably pretty good. You could do it lower, but then it would take longer and I am an impatient cook.

Now peel and cut into roughly 3/4 inch cubes:

2 sweet potatoes
2 white potatoes
2 large carrots
1/2 large butternut squash

(Note: I usually don't peel potatoes or sweet potatoes when I roast them, and you could certainly leave the peels on in your soup, but your puree will be considerably lumpier. You decide.)

If you don't have one of these just sub in more of another.

Spread the cubes out on two rimmed baking sheets (like a jelly-roll pan) and pour a glug of olive oil over it. (That would be 1-2 tablespoons.) Peel some garlic cloves and throw them in, too. I used about six.

Now roast your veggies until they are soft inside and brown outside. I generally set a timer for ten minutes and try to turn everything over every ten minutes; they will take 20-30 minutes in all. You don't really need to cook them all the way through, but you do want everything soft enough to puree.

If you're not sure how your eaters will respond to garlic, remove one or two of the cloves before proceeding.

In batches, puree the roasted vegetables with veggie stock. There are several very tasty organic ones on the market; I used Swanson most recently, but I also really like Kitchen Basics. If you are more ambitious than I, you will have your own home-made veggie stock for this part.

Put the pureed vegetables and stock in a large stockpot and heat gently, adding enough stock (I used five cups in all, but six or even seven would be good, too) to make it all soupy. Ladle into bowls and enjoy! You can serve six easily from this recipe, or serve three one night and then refrigerate. Add more stock when reheating and you'll get six more lunches out of it, seriously.

You can also add other vegetables at the roasting stage--onions, other kinds of squash, and mushrooms would all be tasty. I'm sure cream or butter at the final stage would be nice if you weren't serving vegans, but you really won't miss it. This is a thick, hearty soup full of all kinds of delicious nutrients.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

My ghoul

Last year Nick was this very scary headless wonder; this year he went the purchased costume route but he was still plenty scary. Unrecognizably so, in fact. He went out with a bunch of kids from the neighborhood and they were gone almost two hours before they came back, dragging their stash with them. One or two complained that they didn't think they got that much candy, but I didn't hear any complaints out of Nick. Here's what it looked like this morning, after he ate as much as he wanted* last night and put another piece in his lunchbox this morning.

*Nick is a hoarder. He ate maybe three pieces last night, maybe four; the rest he will dole out parsimonously for a few weeks, then he will forget about the rest--or hide it, and then forget about it. Around Christmastime I will throw away any I haven't eaten--unless he hides it, in which case it may take until Easter. Don't laugh--we just found this past year's untouched Easter candy!

[edited to add: handing out candy was less of a chore this year than I'd feared; there were far fewer uncostumed ones--kids or adults--and there were plenty of cute little ones in a variety of super-hero and princess costumes. I particularly liked one rainbow-wigged clown, and I was dismayed by the number of SpiderMen (boys? some were girls, too!)]