29 July 2013

The Plastic In My Kitchen

We make bread often, but by the time we're towards the end of the loaves, they're usually at the shattering stage, and fit for nothing but breadcrumbs or french toast. In the back of my head, I wanted a bread box, but I didn't want a huge thing sitting on the counter, taking up space we don't have. Happily, one leapt out of the King Arthur catalog. It's clear plastic, so it takes up little room visually, and it expands and contracts, so that it's only as big as it needs to be. I love it.

But it's plastic.

My favorite measuring cup is a tapered two cup "beaker", marked in ounces, cups, pints, teaspoons, tablespoons, and milliliters. It's easier to read than the standard Pyrex measuring cups, and more useful what with all the different measurements.

But it's plastic.

I love a nice cup of herbal tea while I'm reading in bed in the winter, and my favorite tea is a loose tea that combines chamomile, mint and lavender. Because it's loose, it needs to be made in a tea ball, or the steeped tea has to be strained. A few years ago, I discovered a phenomenal one-cup tea device - it's got a valve and a strainer and you plop it on top of your cup, and the tea flows on in.

But it's plastic.

I try so hard to get away from the plastic in the kitchen. I prefer to store leftovers in glass, like the working glasses (which work as both food storage and big drinking glasses). I refuse to microwave things in plastic containers. I'd rather use a stainless steel water bottle.

And yet, my three favorite kitchen devices? All plastic.

What's a girl to do?

28 July 2013


If you travel in certain circles, you probably heard that there was a big blogging conference this weekend. I didn't go. I've been before, five times in fact, but I just couldn't get up the energy to buy a ticket to Chicago and find a hotel room and we're doing some not insubstantial renovations to our house and...yeah, I didn't go.

The bummer, of course, was missing some fabulous people that I haven't seen in a year. And I didn't get to stock up on Boiron's unpronounceable Oscillococcinum, which I like dosing my kid with whenever she doesn't want to go to school. "This will make you feel better" I trill, and it always works.

But I like to think that I made the best of it. After all, my (loosely-defined) weekend included a Google seminar - "Google 101 for Content Creators" - which was mostly how to search and how to find educational things on YouTube. For instance, here's how to extract the iron from your breakfast cereal:

The content was a little slim, but Google served up some really excellent donuts, from Brooklyn.

Also, I loved the art in the Google building's lobby - lots of old postcards of New York City, beautifully mounted.

That one in the middle is the MetLife building, which I can see from the north windows in my office building. I restrained myself from prying it off the wall and contented myself with a photo.

Friday afternoon, I took two fifth graders and a second grader on a press junket to Legoland. They loved it. Period, end of story. There was a 4D movie - complete with real wind and actual snow. The 4th dimension that they failed to exploit was smell-o-rama; given that one of the characters in the Chima movie was a skunk, who let loose a couple of times, Odorama would have been a natural addtion. In Miniland, there's a mess of iconic NYC buildings, all Lego-built - an instant tour. Here's the Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim, all lined up like they aren't in real life:

And three little girls, engrossed:

Apparently, I'm a 14 year old boy, because the potty humor, at Apple's expense, on one of the "billboards" in the model of Times Square made me laugh:

Naturally, the exit is through the gift shop. The girl has spent the past 48 hours building and rebuilding a motorcycle kit, which I could have gotten cheaper on Amazon, but which wouldn't have gotten me any cool mommy points - things bought at the source are always more interesting than things that arrive in brown cardboard boxes by mail.

My weekend included no dancing, no drunken confessions in bathrooms, no inspirational keynote speeches, and no free food beyond some tasty samples at the farmer's market. I went to two swim meets, one swim practice, dinner at friends, and a shopping spree at a crazy new boutique in town.

#HomeHer. It's where the heart is.

But I might go back to BlogHer next year.

26 July 2013

Wheels of Steel and Frozen Bananas

(Bear with me. I'm wallowing in nostalgia.)

You might well ask why I have two copies of the New York times Natural Foods Cookbook. Well, a close reader will note that one of them is "new".

And the old one has fallen apart.

The one that unbound itself had been my mother's, and there were two recipes in it that I remembered from my childhood. So, when I found the "new" one in a used bookstore one day, I bought it, thinking fondly about wheat germ snickerdoodles and wheels of steel. The wheels of steel are indeed a fabulous cookie, but the wheat germ snickerdoodles don't really do it for me anymore.

After we cleaned out her house, I brought home the old copy; I think its spine gave up the ghost on the journey. I was going to just toss the broken book in the recycling, but paging through it nostagically, I found marginalia, notes from my mother. And then, because I couldn't help myself, I read through the entire cookbook. Her notes are one thing, but oh what a mess of whimsical sounding recipes are in there. Consciousness III Pudding, followed some 60 pages later by Consciousness III Cookies? How about Bone Marrow Gruel or Mystery Fruit Thing? Definitely a product of 1971.

Upon consideration, I've decided that the blue ribbon winning recipe from the original New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook is this:

Simplest Dessert of All
1 Ripe Banana
Peel banana and freeze. Serve frozen and whole with napkin wrapped around the bottom, or sliced into serving dish.
Yield: One serving
Note: Frozen banana has the consistency of ice cream and tastes delicious.

Really? That needed page space and ink?

My mother doesn't seem to have made any of the really outlandish recipes; her notes show a tendency towards soups, casseroles and cookies. And chicken livers.

Mushroom and Barley Soup
Cold Cucumber Soup III

Sesame Baked Chicken

Just a check mark:
Potato Soup
Raisin Cookies
Whole Wheat Fruit Cookies
Wheat Germ Snickerdoodles

Cracked Wheat Casserole
Potato Meat Loaf
Musart Sprouted Beef Loaf
Lentil and Barley Stew

Six-Layer Dinner

Luscious Chicken Livers

Chicken Livers with Sour Cream

Winter Casserole
Soybean and Vegetable Casserole

Starred, with a nice five pointed pentagram
Wheels of Steel
Ginger Cookies
Homemade Graham Crackers

Because this all started with the Wheels of Steel, here's the recipe. They're sort of oatmeal raisin cookies with peanut butter. Delicious nostalgia, worth making.

WHEELS OF STEEL (adapted from Jean Hewitt's Natural Foods Cookbook)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup non-fat powdered milk
3/4 t. salt
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
3 tablespoons milk
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup raisins
3 tablespoons sesame seeds

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Cream together butter, peanut butter and brown sugar. Add egg and vanilla.
  • In a separate bowl, stir together flour, wheat germ, powdered milk, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add flour mixture to the creamed butter/sugar mixture and mix well.
  • Add liquid milk, oats and raisins, and mix well.
  • Blob the dough out onto greased (or parchmented) cookie sheets. (The original recipe has you make nine enormous cookies out of the whole batch of dough. I like smaller cookies than that. Maybe I should call mine Poker Chips of Steel. Or, Floppy Disks of Steel.)
  • Leave plenty of room for the cookies to spread. Sprinkle with each cookie with some sesame seeds.
  • Bake 10-12 minutes or until done.
  • Cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a rack.

24 July 2013

Kindergarten and Pre-School and How Old Are You Anyway?

Before I went to first grade, I went to half day kindergarten. And before that, I went to preschool. It was a progressive cooperative nursery school, run out of the Unitarian Church in the next town, and I remember learning how to make jello there. I think we also made Christmas tree ornaments out of Elmer’s glue and sawdust and we definitely had naptime every day, on little rugs brought from home. Mine was red cotton, with long twisty shags.

In those days, nursery school wasn’t the norm. I think only a handful of the kids in my kindergarten class had gone to nursery school. Why my mother thought to send us there, I’m not sure, but that’s what she did.

When our child was 20 months old, we packed her off to daycare. Certainly a good part of the reason for daycare was that both my husband and I were working and we needed a solution for childcare. Daycare, in a group setting, appealed to me more than the solitude of one on one with a nanny. It was also cheaper, and it afforded all the benefits of nursery school – it was childcare and preschool all wrapped into one.

Back in January, during the State of the Union address, President Obama threw his support behind universal preschool:

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

I’m wholeheartedly behind that.

But I’m confused about something. In New York State, where I live, children are not required to go to school until they’re six years old – unless they live in New York City, in which case they have to go to school at five as of next year. As you might expect in the United States, there is no national standard for compulsory schooling - states rights, they get to make the rules. In nine states, school starts at five. In 25 states, it’s six. In 15 states, you go when you’re seven. And in Pennsylvania and Washington, you don’t have to go to school until you’re eight. That’s not to say that kids don’t go to school earlier, it’s just that they aren’t required to go earlier. Another way to put it is that, in New York State, except in NYC (and Syracuse and Rochester), kindergarten is optional.

The change in the requirements for NYC is a recent development – it was passed a year ago and kicks in with the coming school year. According to an article in the Times at the time the bill was passed, roughly 3000 kids a year begin first grade without having gone to kindergarten. That’s about 4% of the school population – not a huge number, but not insignificant. Further, the change means that kids can’t be redshirted – if the parent agrees to put the kid in first grade in the next year, they can skip kindergarten – but they can’t start kindergarten a year late.

This is all very interesting.

But back to pre-school. How is it possible to expand preschool nationwide, if there isn't a national standard as to when a kid is supposed to start school in the first place? The cut-off dates are all over the place, and the starting age of compulsory schooling ranges from five to eight. If across the board all children had to begin kindergarten in September of the calendar year in which they turn five, wouldn't that be a good thing? Once that's codified, move back and offer a year of preschool for every child beginning in September of the calendar year in which they turn four. [Or change the cut-off to August 31 instead of December 31.] But make it consistent, states rights be damned.


State by State Compulsory ages: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/07/03/10703.pdf

New York State Education Law: http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us/LAWSSEAF.cgi?QUERYTYPE=LAWS+&QUERYDATA=$$EDN3205$$@TXEDN03205+&LIST=LAW+&BROWSER=BROWSER+&TOKEN=47365689+&TARGET=VIEW

NYC Chancellor’s Regulation: http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/1CC25F63-74E8-41A6-8031-490F206F148D/0/A101.pdf

22 July 2013

Annals of recycling

I'd bought a bottle of two-in-one shampoo and conditioner to leave in the pool bag.

Me: Are you using the shampoo+conditioner?

Her: Yes, and I'm using a lot because I really want the cap.

She's been obsessed with a YouTube video channel of craft projects for dolls, mostly made out of found objects, like the oblong cap from a bottle of shampoo.

So, if I find a craft project that requires toothpaste caps and/or toothbrushes, do you think she'll remember to brush her teeth all by herself?

18 July 2013

Ten Cents for My Thoughts

You remember how I got all on the NRDC's case about how many solicitations they were sending me, and how many live first class stamps were stuck on the enclosed return envelopes?

They got their act together and I haven't gotten any mail from them in months. Huzzah!

I promised myself (and my husband) that I'd stop fixating on the mail, and I have, pretty much. In fact, I've gotten pretty good at dumping most of the mail in the recycling bin in the garage - before it even makes it into the kitchen.

Until today. Today, I got an envelope from the March of Dimes.

If you'll look closely, there's a dime in there. TEN CENTS.

And because there's a dime in there, I couldn't just toss it in the recycling, because we don't do mixed recycling in these parts. No, paper and cardboard go in one bin, and plastic/glass/metal goes in another bin. And last I checked, dimes were metal.

Oy. So on top of printing, and mail prep, and postage (and writing and design), the March of Dimes had to go out and obtain a metric ton of dimes to stick in all of their Annual Fund appeal letters. How can that be cost effective? I just don't get it.

Because I had to extract the dime, since it couldn't go in the recycling, I opened the envelope and in big type under the dime it said:

I know I've taken a risk in sending you this dime...There's a chance you might not return it to me along with a few dollars of your own.

Oh indeed. Of course, Dr. Jennifer L. Howse* thought the risk was that she wouldn't get the dime back. She probably never dreamed that I'd post a picture of her dime on the internet before I stuck that dime in my wallet and tossed the rest of the now metal-free package into the recycling bin.

What irritates me the most about this is that I know why I got this piece of mail. I've given money to the March of Dimes in each of the past few years because friends have marched in their March For Babies walk-a-thons. And I'm happy to have supported the organization, because they do do good work supporting "research aimed at preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality". But when you give on-line to something like a walk-a-thon, there's no way to opt out of further solicitation by dime-encrusted snail mail.

And if people actually return the dime, along with a check for $10, do they get a contribution receipt for $10.10? And who's keeping track of all the dimes - the many going out in the mail, the some that might be returned to the mothership? If some dimes do get back to the mothership, do they get redeposited at the bank? If so, how does the bank feel about all the sticky dimes that the cash accounts clerk has to deposit? Because really, dimes? Dimes aren't worth that kind of administrative nightmare.

One of the scraps of paper that fell out of the envelope was a little flyer with "Five Tips For A Healthier Baby" on one side and "A Proud Record of Fiscal Responsibility". March of Dimes claims that they "spend your gifts wisely" - but, per their own materials, only 75.8% of their budget goes to program. The rest goes to management and fundraising, or, to put it another way, two and a half cents of every dime goes back to buying more dimes. It's starting to sound like a Ponzi scheme**.

But, if you check out the March of Dimes on Charity Navigator, you'll find that that only 65.9% of their budget goes to program.

It could be that the March of Dimes insert*** was relying on newer information than the 2011 numbers that Charity Navigator is, as of this moment anyway. No matter, it seems to me that they're spending an awful lot on fundraising, one dime at a time.

So, listen up, March of Dimes.

1) Stop mailing dimes to people. It's just annoying.
2) Lots of people support your marches and walk-a-thons. Don't add them all to your snail mail list. It's a waste of paper, postage, time and dimes.


* Jennifer's the President. In 2011, according to the tax return available on Guidestar, she earned more than $550,000. That's a lot of dimes.

** I freely admit that was kind of harsh. I've been reading a novel in which one of the main characters lost all of her money to Mr. Madoff, so naturally Ponzi schemes are on my mind.

*** It's dated 4/13 in micro type, so maybe it's using the 2012 financial statements?

15 July 2013

Things Are Seldom What They Seem / Skim Milk Masquerades as Cream


Shelf safe milk is real Grade A milk that doesn’t require refrigeration until it’s opened (no preservatives added). Single-serving cartons can be stored in the pantry for up to six months without refrigeration. It’s a convenient and healthy way to get the nutrition from calcium-rich milk on car trips, while camping, at the park…even at the beach. Freeze a few cartons the night before and toss into a sports bag, picnic basket or cooler, and it will be the right temperature when you’re ready to enjoy it. If your family doesn’t drink it all during the trip…just take it home and put it back in the pantry.

Um, yeah. That's a direct quote from an email I got from "Milk Unleashed" - the marketing arm of the shelf stable milk packaging conglomerate.

First of all, have you ever frozen milk? My mother used to do that, in her singularly frugal way. The milk, when defrosted, is gross. It separates, it develops grainy clumpiness, it's not something you want to drink, ever. Maybe you could put it in a cake. Maybe.

Second, I am mystified by the idea that the milk packagers are suggesting that the shelf stable boxes be frozen for enjoyment at picnics, because even Horizon, a company that packs milk in aseptic packages, says:

Freezing is not recommended for fluid milk, half-and-half or cream. Although freezing is unlikely to alter milk’s nutrition, it will change its consistency. Milk that has been frozen and thawed in the refrigerator can be used in baking and cooking.

And if you shouldn't freeze it in the first place, do you really want to return the unused but now-defrosted milk to your cupboard to save for the next picnic?

The one hand is not speaking to the other hand.

In our house, we have a thoroughly first-world milk problem. We've had a milk delivery service for some years. Every week, we get butter and eggs and four half gallon glass bottles of 2% milk, deposited in an insulated box at the bottom of the driveway. As a result, the child who lives in our house has become a milk snob. If we run out and have to get supermarket milk in a plastic bottle or cardboard box? She won't drink it. She won't drink the milk at school, because it comes in a cardboard container. Glass bottles for my princess, or no milk at all.

So, Tetra Pak? You were barking up the wrong tree.

13 July 2013

Vacation Mere Miles From Home

Due to confusion, we did not go away for the weekend. Instead, we ended up at the H Mart, where we had way too much fun, and bought lots of unusual things to eat. It's like going far far away: a whole aisle of seaweed, another of soy sauce. Pork sliced thin and so precisely arranged.

A three pound bag of MSG:

On of the many variant packages of boiled royal fern (from the refrigerated food section):

And my favorite, frozen sliced cuttlefish, "family's happiness":

Well, maybe it isn't my *favorite*, but I loved that they got the apostrophe right.

Sometimes, all you really need to do is go to a different grocery store.

11 July 2013

I Think It Was Puccini

Remember Wally? The guy who played the Mendelssohn at my wedding on the contra-bass clarinet? And who once jumped up and down on a peanut butter sandwich?And who wore an oak toilet seat with panache?

Wally just had his 80th birthday, and his family threw a big wonderful party for him. I got tapped to stand up and say something about him, so I told the story about the day he'd taken me to the opera.

I was in graduate school, without two nickels to rub together, and Wally called me up one morning. He'd just gotten out of a gig with the contractor for the Met Orchestra, and the guy had given him a pair of tickets to that night's performance. I said sure, and asked him what I should wear. Wally told me he was wearing his usual, which was (and still is) some variation on East German army surplus: head to toe drab with a lot of pockets. So I put on a black turtleneck and a pair of jeans - my usual - and met him for dinner at a restaurant near Lincoln Center. After dinner, at which he produced his own traveling peppermill out of one of his many pockets because you never know when you're going to need freshly ground pepper, we headed over to the opera house. We handed our tickets to the usher, we set off down the aisle, we got closer and closer to the stage. Ta da! Two seats in the third row of the orchestra. On a Monday night. Let that sink in - Monday night at the opera. Dress up night. Everyone around us was in tuxedos and sequins. We were ... not.

You know what? It really doesn't matter what you wear. The opera was divine even though the adjacent people thought we were déclassé infiltrators.

08 July 2013

Baked Beans, or What The Hell Was I Thinking When I Started All These Draft Posts?

1) Apparently I was looking for a recipe for baked beans.

If I remember correctly, I cobbled together some nice beans using bits out of the three recipes I went so far as to drop into a draft post. This was, I should add, before Ms. Deen had her comeuppance.

2) Caitlin Moran is the bomb. Read her book: How to Be a Woman. And then buy a copy for everyone you know. It's a little too racy for my nine year old, but she'll totally need to read it when she's sixteen or so. If you don't want to commit to reading a whole book, read this HuffPo interview with her. It ends with this:

HPW: What impact do you hope "How to Be a Woman" will have?

CM: My ultimate aim would be that people will read it and go, “I agree with some of those things, but it made me think of this, and I disagree with it here. I want to write a book called No, How to Really Be a Woman or This Is Actually How to Be a Woman or A New Kind of Woman," and there would be a million more books like this. It’s a template that I want people to go off and copy. Tell me your story, go out and blog about this, because you need every single woman saying what it’s like for them to be a woman. We need every single woman saying, "This is how it is for me."

I don't know where I was going with the bits that got stuck in that draft post, but I did want to shout from the rooftops about how much I liked her book. Oh, and if you follow her on Twitter? She has a thing for Bruce Springsteen.

3. Masham: p 107. Also, magpies, earlier.

Yeah. I don't know what I was thinking either. Well, it was something about Mistress Masham's Repose, a most excellent book. And apparently he mentions magpies in there somewhere before page 107. But what happens on page 107? I have no idea and the book is in a box somewhere until the house is done and the girl's books get unpacked.

This is how it is for me.

05 July 2013

Other Skeptics

You know, I'm all about "separation of church and state" and stuff. And I'm an atheist. And I celebrate Christmas. Whatev.

I got really annoyed before Christmas* by a full page ad in the New York Times, run by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. For one thing, the world just doesn't need any more people shoving belief - or non-belief - down our throats. It's private. Keep it that way. (And while we're at it, let's get "in god we trust" off of our money.) That same organization has run other full page ads in the Times - like one that urged Catholics to quit the church over the "Bishops' war against women's right to contraception". (That ad was accompanied by a billboard in Times Square). Yesterday, they took on Hobby Lobby, and quoted six of the Founding Fathers "on their strong views against religion in government, and often critical views on religion in general".

Here's the thing. I basically agree with them - yes, separation of church and state - yes, keep the government out of my uterus - yes, contraception should be available and the employer shouldn't get to pick and choose - but what really irritates me is that The Freedom From Religion Foundation bills itself as the "...largest membership group for freethinkers (atheists, agnostics and other skeptics)..."

I hate their implication that atheists are skeptics. I'm not a skeptic; I believe that there are no gods.

Then again, like Groucho, I don’t care to belong to any club that might have me as a member. Not to mention the fact that, I am a skeptic, just not that kind of skeptic.

* Um, I'm working through the "draft" posts - most of which aren't even drafts as much as a handful of links and sentence fragments. Hence the reference to Christmas, which was actually Christmas 2011. It's okay though - FFRF really did have a full page ad in the New York Times on 7/4/2013, on page A9. So my impulse might have been a year and a half old, but not much has changed, although the word "skeptic" doesn't appear in their tag line in yesterday's ad. Now it says "FFRF is the nation's largest association of atheists & agnostics, working to keep religion out of government." So, let's see. Post anyway because I'm flying my cranky flag? Or don't post because they've figured out that atheists aren't skeptics? No, post because hell yeah, separation of church and state, and while we're at it, get "under god" out of the pledge of allegiance, where it didn't used to be.

02 July 2013


On the subway a man's arm snakes up through the clutch of people to the overhead bar. Two Tyvek hospital ID bands hang off his wrist, inches from my face. Did he just get out of the hospital? Is he okay, should he be on the train, is he alone? Wait, why two bands? I look again; I can read the name and the birthday - a date 8 days ago. His baby! His premature baby? His sick-in-the-NICU baby? Oh, my heart, my heart flies out of my body, thinking on the harsh realities of being - an 8 day old baby, in the hospital, his father on the subway. How prosaic, how disorienting - from the quiet, sterile hospital to the noisy, dirty train. I hope the baby's okay.

When I was in recovery for hours and hours after my hellacious c-section, I watched the partners come and go. The little recovery room was also the holding area where the fathers/partners/friends, newly changed into scrubs, awaited their escort into the operating room where their wives/girlfriends/partners were about to be delivered of their babies. One guy, younger than me, slightly built, sat nervously in the corner. After he'd been led out to the delivery room I asked the nurse, lightly, "do they all look so nervous?". Her words have haunted me since: "His wife is about to deliver 24 week old twins." Of course he looked nervous. I wonder sometimes: How are those babies? Did they make it? Are they in good shape, in elementary school, captivated by books and flying down streets on shiny bicycles?

Last week, a boy died. We knew him slightly; his family has a house near my father's house, we've seen them at parties, working in the yard, driving by while heading home. He died. He'd had leukemia, remission, relapse, marrow transplant, remission, relapse. He's the reason I got swabbed to be a marrow donor. But it wasn't the cancer that killed him: it was appendicitis. You think, no one dies of appendicitis anymore, not here, not now. But he was so weak, so debilitated by treatment, that it was inoperable and untreatable. Appendicitis. I find myself stuck on the detail of of inoperable, untreatable appendicitis - somehow it renders his death even more shocking than it already is. A 10 year old boy died. My heart flies out of my body again.

It is a tenuous life we lead.