Saturday, May 29, 2010

Another wonderful thing to do with sardines

...because Emily at Well Fed, Flat Broke is AWESOME and she was kind enough to take my recipe request. I want that platter at the bottom of the post: almondy fishy garlicky pate, fresh bread, mixed pickles, eggs -- yummmmmm!

If you haven't discovered a cooking blog you love and really, really trust yet... why not? I've got several I follow sporadically, and only a handful I follow as often as they update.

Em's blog is at the top of my list, because along with recipes that always hit the spot and have never let me down, it's got a warmth and serene joy to it that make me smile. I hate to let you see this recipe because it could so easily become one of those culinary Secret Weapons -- but this lovely lemon pudding cake has become my very favorite dessert. Yes, more favorite than my own gingerbread with lemon sauce. More favorite than my chocolate lava cake with creme anglaise.

Let me point you toward a couple other blogs, too:

How to Cook Like Your Grandmother: whether you're looking for a classic recipe or just want some down-home cooking, this is a nice place to find it. Also, Drew is awesome and provides resources regarding food health, cooking techniques, and the latest buzz in the health food community. Besides, I love a blog not too shy to post and love its (delicious) cooking disasters: butterscotch halfway turned to Butterfingers, for instance.

Pioneer Woman's blog: because your saturated fat ought to be handed to you by a smiling, chatty, simultaneously brass-tacks-country and urbane-and-modern farm wife. Don't you think? She loves her butter and beef. Site is super-huge, and PW is super-popular (heck, I have a copy of her cookbook on my shelf). I have never had one of her recipes fail, and some -- yeah, make her "fancy macaroni" and have the cardiologist's phone number handy -- better yet, share it with a herd of people -- are to die from. Er, for. Both. Anyway, say hi to "Mrs. Purple Alien Claw" for me. Heh.

Smitten Kitchen: more often than not, it seems that these are dessert recipes. I've tried out a lot of them on those of you close enough for me to feed. Sometimes fancy, but always with an old-fashioned, traditional feel. Happy-making. And we eat this outstanding tomato sauce about twice a week.

No Recipes: okay, I check this one... weekly instead of daily. But if you want things like authentically delicious Tonkatsu Ramen broth, this is the place to explore. (If you make that recipe, invite me over.)

Broke and Healthy: Simple, inexpensive, delicious things to do with cheap-as-dirt ingredients. It'd be easy to build a meal around any of the dishes featured here. Unfortunately, will stop updating quite as often now that the author has a Full Time Day Job. This is the recipe that hooked me.

If these don't ring your bell, for goodness' sakes go looking. I have a whole "bookmarks" folder full of cooking blogs I like, and refer to whenever I am bored or want to try something new -- but everyone ought to have one or two that they follow like an addiction. The ones listed above are easy to love.

The first taste is free.

Food for thought?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Calling All Prospective Parents & Parents! (reviews, prize giveaways)

Note on the drawings: If you are interested in any (or all) of the following drawings, please leave a comment with an email address so that I can notify you, specifying the drawing(s) you'd like to be included in. Note: PLEASE follow the following protocol or another simple-to-figure-out-unless-you-are-a-spambot one for your email address: "handle at provider dot suffix." (I don't want you to get Nigerian scam letters, as I seem to be this month. Seven so far!) I will randomly select winners on June 10th or thereabouts. (If you cannot leave your address, please check back by June 15th to see if you won -- if I haven't heard from you again by then, I'll re-draw for the prize.)

Well. That was a mouthful.

The drawings are for:

1) Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck. This copy is signed by the author and addressed to Drew at How to Cook Like Your Grandmother. He generously forwarded it, but since I received two copies, my abundance is your gain. Stay tuned for the review below.

2) Conquering Infertility by Alice Domar, Ph.D. and Alice Lesch Kelly. This is an unsigned copy. It is, however, a wonderfully helpful book that I picked up when I was drowning in despair; it turned around my attitude and helped me to see fresh options and the pleasures in my world. It would be immoral for me to keep it if I can hand it to someone else who can use it.

3) A package of 25 ovulation test strips, expiring in about a year. They are internet cheapies and they work great. These particular ones are dip strips requiring the additional use of a Dixie cup or simulacrum (you can't just pee on them for maximum efficiency.) When you are trying to conceive, you go through these things like water: I ordered a huge number of them the month before I quit trying to conceive. I have only used one since then -- as a half-assed pregnancy test that turned out positive. (Does this work? Sure, if only to tell you to go get a quality pregnancy test. But these are not to be considered diagnostic, even so much as OTC pregnancy tests. They are made less carefully.) Note: I have two packs of these, but would like to spread the love if there are more than one entrant for them.

Again, let me know how to contact you and which prize or prizes you are interested in if you enter the drawing. Tell a friend who will loan you his/her new book or share her OPKs, and double your chances! Sorta. :)

Let me tell you a little about these items.

Real Food for Mother and Baby is a no-nonsense, eye-opening look at the pragmatics of feeding one's fertility, developing embryo through all the trimesters, nursing baby, and young child ready for solid baby foods. While there is a "crunchy" emphasis on organic meat, dairy products, and vegetables where practical, the book sets forth an easy to follow program. The emphasis is on eating real, sensible, healthy food -- not on a difficult "pregnancy diet," a laundry list of things that you must eat every day, or nutritional balancing requiring a higher educational degree in a relevant field. It's approachable (unless you are vegetarian -- in that case, it will annoy you badly). It's practical. It's eminently reassuring, or was for me. It's a lifestyle book that can set you free if you, like me, tend to be a stress-monster: it teaches that only the devil is in the details, and how to look at the big nutritional picture. And even if you are not yet Trying To Conceive, it can teach you how to eat a healthy, low-stress diet to increase your fertility and health for later. I loved this book, and it was a perfect antidote to all the "OMG eat this TODAY or else" books I had piled on my nightstand before it.

The only harsher criticism I have of Planck's book is that she occasionally gives advice that directly controverts well-substantiated concerns -- such as her exuberant recommendation of raw dairy products and relaxed view on lightly cooked and organ meats. That said, she never fails to mention the opposing view and to make it clear where her evidence is anecdotal or simply the result of belief. If you do your research for yourself, as she recommends, it will be impossible to say that she steered you wrong.

I think I've said everything I needed to say about Conquering Infertility above. If you are avoiding the phone because you don't want to hear yet another pregnancy announcement, if you cannot look at friends' children without bitterly painful jealousy, or if you think you are out of options to be a happy parent -- please, read this book. It may not be the one to help you, but it was the one for me. If you take a look at this one and it isn't resonating with you, by all means, please don't stop looking for the one that does. You deserve joy and you can have it. I promise you, love surrounds you, and happiness awaits you. Reach out for it.

As for the ovulation strips, what can I say? You put them in your pee. They tell you whether you're ovulating or not. If you're like me, that stresses you out. But if you're not, they can be either a great learning tool (I can tell the day I ovulate now, even without the suckers) or a great indicator of when you should(n't) be doing the "baby dance." And if you are already using them, hey, let me try to save you a couple bucks. :)

Hey! We have winners -- check today's blog posting for details!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

More on the Pampers/cloth diaper debate

Awesome new visitor Heather gave me a terrific link to "The true story of Pampers Dry Max, Part 1: The Diaper Wars" on ZRecommends in the comments on my last post. It's worth a read, and I didn't want to risk anyone missing it.

Don't miss Part 2 and Part 3, which are already online.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cloth Diapers - myths and facts

This post is part of the Real Diaper Facts carnival hosted by Real Diaper Events, the official blog of the Real Diaper Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to cloth diaper education. Participants were asked to write about diaper lies and real diaper facts. See the list at the bottom of this post to read the rest of the carnival entries.

Please understand that I have no desire to offend any consumer of disposable diapers; this post is a response to outrageous corporate behavior.

Pampers recently launched a campaign against cloth diapers as a response to public outcry due to (and a distraction from) chemical burns and other skin damage in infants wearing their DryMax line of products. Note that this is a highly contested issue and the center of at least one lawsuit; however, I know several mothers (through BabyCenter) whose infants suffered the burns -- and I assure you the heartbreaking photos are of no common diaper rash.

Regardless, Pampers' "Myths and Facts" page is ludicrous and deserves some response.

Pampers' "Myth" #1: Cloth diapers are better for my baby.
Pampers' "Fact": Disposable diapers like Pampers were developed to offer babies benefits that cloth diapers could not meet. That goes beyond convenience to helping keep babies' skin dryer and more comfortable by reducing leaks and locking wetness inside the diaper in a way that cloth doesn't. As a result, doctors and parents simply don't see the same level of diaper rash that used to exist before disposable diapers.
No, doctors and parents DON'T see the same level of diaper rash that used to exist before disposable diapers: according to a FAQ at Jillian's Drawers (a cloth diaper store; perhaps not an unbiased source), "The rate of diaper rash has increased from 7% to over 78% since 1955, comparable with the increased rate of disposable diaper use."

As for the claim that disposable diapers keep babies' skin dryer and more comfortable, it may be outmoded to assume that cloth diapers do not. Cloth diapers can and most often do feature stay-dry liners of wicking fabrics, so that babies feel dry. Even if babies can feel wetness with cloth diapers, there is some anecdotal evidence that the experience can be beneficial to earlier potty learning. Also, cloth diapered children are customarily changed after every wetting; this is not always the case for disposable diapered children. I feel that the hygienic benefits of disposable diapers are largely mythical.

For what it's worth, I have used cloth feminine pads for years due to sensitivity to the paper ones: I am dryer in them, and indisputably more comfortable. All of my family has appallingly sensitive skin, and that's the fundamental reason I am choosing cloth for my baby.

Pampers' "Myth" #2: Cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposables.
Pampers' "Fact": In October 2008, the United Kingdom's Environment Agency published an update to its 2005 Life Cycle Assessment study on cloth versus disposable diapers. The update confirmed the earlier study's findings that there is no clear winner in terms of environmental impacts between disposable and cloth diapers in the U.K., once all factors such as water, energy, detergent, and disposal are considered.
This "fact" is entirely misleading. These studies were highly flawed; disposable products were greenwashed therein, and the laundering methods described are not typical of modern methods. If you're interested in wading through an angry dismissal of the horseshit factor, please click the link and read up.

Anecdotally, I can assure you that the majority of the HUNDREDS of cloth-diaper-using families who participate in the BabyCenter cloth diapering forums use "green" detergents with low environmental impact, and very many indeed use low-energy, low-water modern machines. Here's the skinny: it takes special care to keep reusable diapers absorbent, non-water-repellent, without smelly buildup, and hygienic. That said, the answer is LESS chemical intervention (and hotter water, to be sure): enzymes, softeners, optical brighteners/UV enhancers, whitening enzymes, essential oils, fragrances, and some say borates all damage the efficacy of cloth diapers. What CAN people use? Generally speaking, surfactants and pH adjusters, hot water, and sunlight: lower-impact ingredients. Additionally (and anecdotally again), many if not most cloth diapering households are at least semi-"crunchy" and want to reduce their environmental impact, and choose low-impact, natural products and methods accordingly.

Finally, and I know this is gross (but we ARE talking about diapers): these studies do not factor for washing of extra linens, children's clothes, and adults' laundry as a result of leaks and "poop blow-outs" -- which are extremely common with disposables and extremely uncommon in cloth diapers. (This tendency alone would convince us to use cloth diapers with our baby!) Diapers (and cloth wipes, etc.) constitute about three wash loads of diapers per week for most families and can reduce "emergency" laundry.

Pampers' "Myth" #3: Developing countries prove that cloth diapers are better than disposable diapers.
Pampers' "Fact": Our product provides key benefits in terms of skin health, dryness, and even sleep. In China, for example, we've learned that babies and parents are frequently awakened during the night each time the baby soaks the bed, because the baby has no diaper or a very thin piece of cloth. As a result, studies have shown that a disposable diaper can help a baby there get a better night's sleep. In another test, we have also seen less fecal contamination spread around the home using disposables versus cloth or nothing.

Clearly, we have a lot to learn about how to help with basic hygiene needs in countries that have very different access to clean water to wash with, and how to best dispose of products after use. We've also learned about hygiene for older children through our Always feminine care business – where in many parts of the world girls are forced to miss school one week each month during their period because they don't have enough pads or fresh water.

We are working in those regions to better understand what they do with products after use, and how to work with local agencies and other businesses to ensure the best long-term system to manage it.

In China, it is common to potty train children from birth with a practice known as "elimination communication" in the U.S. Infants there are using toilet facilities (obviously not unassisted nor reliably, yet) at ages as young as several weeks to several months of age. The entire process is different. Of COURSE a diapered infant will sleep better than one that awakens wet: that said, stay-dry cloth diapers seem to work well to promote sleep, just as disposables do.

As an anthropologist, I grit my teeth when I hear about hygienic "needs" in other cultures. Paternalistic! From a corporation, vulpine! As a skeptic of corporate propaganda, I twitch when I hear about their own "tests" (also, re: fecal contamination, see "blow-outs" above. Ugh!) Biased! Crazy! But it is the height of offense to claim to be finding "the best long-term system to manage" purely wasteful products forced upon other cultures who had their own means to cope with life's challenges, at the expense of cultural heritages, particularly when our own means to cope with diaper waste are so incredibly inadequate in the U.S. Sheesh!

Back to fecal contamination for a moment (I know, I'm sorry.) I read an article yesterday and cannot find it today, in which a researcher tested washing machines in the U.S. by washing a sterile washcloth in them and then measuring fecal bacteria. 1/4 of our washing machines have fecal bacteria; 1/5 of them spread e coli. The researcher's conclusion was that we take inadequate care with our laundry, particularly in terms of water temperature. So, let's not pick on China right now. Everybody go run an empty load of HOT water and a little bleach, right now. Better.

Pampers' "Myth" #4: Disposable diapers are harmful to the environment.
Pampers' "Fact": All of the component materials in Pampers diapers are gentle to consumers and safe for the environment. Pampers diapers are made of materials that are also frequently used in a wide range of other consumer products. We are committed to continuing to reduce our environmental impact. For example, Pampers has decreased its diaper weight by one-third and packaging weight by two-thirds. And innovative technologies, raw materials, and product design improvements have led to significant reductions in energy, water use, emissions, and waste at our plants. We are working so that our diapers in the future will have less impact on the environment than even today's diapers.

All respect to those parents who choose more responsible disposable or partially disposable diapers (gDiapers systems, diaper liners, unbleached paper diapers, etc.) Please understand that any figures I cite below are for the average American disposable diaper, not these more responsible choices. However, even these more responsible choices may have hidden environmental tolls.

Part of the problem is not the manufacturer's fault. Regardless of what kind of diaper is chosen, we are all supposed to scrape/rinse/dump the poop off of the diaper before proceeding to deal with it (through laundry or discarding). We are NOT supposed to discard waste directly into the trash and our landfills. However, virtually no disposable-diapering families actually do this. All cloth diapering families do. The reduction in raw sewage sent directly to our landfills is significant, even if other factors were not.

One child in disposables will use 20 trees and 420 gallons of petroleum, and generate 1 ton of landfill. These figures do not include transportation or manufacture. It takes 3/4 cup of petroleum to make a single disposable diaper. Even if we weren't talking about the ecological environment, disposable diapers would not be good for our geopolitical one.

The nutshell: Cloth diapers are reusable. Disposable diapers are single-use. I don't care how much you try to reduce your packaging, weight (and this is disingenuous: adding ingredients such as sodium polyacrylate are part of the process of making diapers lighter), and emissions -- reusable vs. single-use says it all.

Pampers' "Myth" #5: The materials that make up Pampers diapers are depleting our forests.
Pampers' "Fact": The pulp used in our diapers comes from well-managed forests in North America. In some cases, we source our pulp from scrap wood chips from lumber and saw mills. Our pulp suppliers are required to be certified by an independent third party as practicing sustainable forestry. Certification includes standards and criteria for replanting trees, protecting biodiversity, water, air and soil, and for obtaining broad stakeholder input into the forest management plan.

Doesn't sentence #1 of the "Fact" above confirm the hypothesis? "The pulp comes from forests." Yeah.

Am I not supposed to give a shit because they are in North America? We have rainforests on this continent, too. And other types of forests also matter to the species that inhabit them, to biodiversity, to our air quality, and to future generations.

Okay, on a less snarky note: this "Fact" is the reason I am writing about this issue today. Specifically, the phrase that triggered my political Tourette's is "In some cases."

HOW MANY CASES? I would like to know. Just saying.

Also, the last phrase: "for obtaining broad stakeholder input into the forest management plan." This one makes me see red. Think about stakeholders in management plans in other arenas of American life: do you know what effect the meat, milk, and sugar super-lobbies have had on our guardian committees and dietary guidelines? How about the gutting of organic standards due to Monsanto's (and other corporations') alumni personnel infesting the monitoring organizations and committees? This is setting the fox to guard the hen-house, and it is happening in all the parts of your life. Be watchful. Be wary. Don't believe that "third-party" means "objective."

But really, we're back to those first and second sentences. "We use wood from forests to make trash with only a single use. Sometimes we use wood with less impact (although it arguably creates impact to deplete it for this unnecessary use), but we won't tell you how often."

Okay. No more myths and facts. Back to your regularly scheduled program.

I encourage you to make up your own mind after careful research. And please be aware, I am not criticizing those of you who make the choice to use disposable diapers; I don't live your life, don't know what the right choice is for you, and would not presume to tell you how to choose. But I know what the right choice is for me. And I know when I'm being fed a line of horseshit from a brutal mega-corporation trying to distract people from another serious issue with a lively puppet show.

Cloth diapers are easy to use, but they're not easy to KNOW how to use. For instance, I've been washing my towels with fabric softener for decades. In the course of learning how softeners affect absorbency, I figured out why my towels were retaining scents and becoming less effective. I washed them without a couple times, and now -- boom! Big, fluffy, fresh, absorbent towels again! Like new! Try it! But that's the benefit, if there is one, of being unemployed and obsessed with learning about something new: I can research things endlessly and weed the sensible from the storytime. Not everyone has the luxury of that time, and there's a lot of misinformation out there.

If you want the benefit of my research, you know who to ask.

But don't just take my word for it: here are other posts at the Carnival:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Busily knitting

And aren't these cute? These are wool soakers, which function as mostly-waterproof diaper covers.

Just had to show off. Please ignore the rumpled bedsheet beneath them.

Friday, May 7, 2010


I have been wanting to eat more fish, for the health of the baby. Baby brains are built entirely of fats, and DHA is the best of those fats for that development. DHA is almost exclusively found in fish. Problems? I'm scared of methylmercury, PCBs, and un-sustainable fishing of declining species. Other problems? I'm from a family of fishophobes, for whom trout and tuna fish is about the limit. (Well, Mom likes halibut. But still.)

Enter the heroic sardine. Sadly, America's last canneries just closed their doors, but they are still available fresh and as imports. They are sustainable, not at all threatened, live low on the food chain (they eat plankton), and low in methylmercury and PCBs. So I bought a couple tins when I found them on sale. Then I cowered for three weeks while morning sickness made trying fishy new things inadvisable. I recalled that Grandma Red used to like sardines: I saw her mashing them with heavy cream, minced green apple, and red onion, and eating them on crackers once. I declined to taste, and she concurred, "you probably wouldn't care for them." Fish and apples? I thought not, too.

I put out requests to two favorite food bloggers to help me find recipes. This morning I got my first reply from Drew at How to Cook Like Your Grandmother (minus the fish & apples, maybe.) He pointed me toward an excellent website which provided numerous exciting preparation options and recipes, and a lot of reassurance regarding methylmercury levels in fish. So encouraging! So delicious looking!

Since as of yesterday I am feeling less queasy, I thought, sure, I'll make some fish for lunch.

But there weren't a lot of recipes for tinned sardines. But then I remembered that Alton Brown made a big deal about the sardine/avocado sandwiches he enjoyed so much during his weight loss, and I thought, yes, even though those look kinda fucking disgusting, I am going to forge ahead and try the Sardicado.

First of all, it is an UGLY sandwich... shades of grays and browns and shredlets of green on top of olive-drabby avocado and brown toast. Yikes. I didn't dare taste the fish mixture until it was safely ensconced on a layer of smashed avocado on my whole wheat toast. And then... and then...

Yes, they're fishy. But also smokey. With the native oiliness of the fish cut by key lime juice (didn't have lemon), zest, and black pepper, it put Pat and I in mind of chicharrones de pescado, a favorite Peruvian treat for us (deep fried fish cubes, dipped in fresh key lime juice with hot chilies sliced in). The avocado multiplied the smokiness and softened the flavors, adding just that oomph of umami.

Yum. Yummm.

And I no longer fear the sardine.

So the punchline is, now I want to try them Grandma's way. And lots of ways. They are neither slimy nor as fishy as I feared, and they have a delicious depth of flavor.

If you've known all this for years, feel free to laugh at me.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Bah. I went to school for years and all I got was this lousy t-shirt. And a Master's degree, which does not help me much in the job market. And ... that may actually be the dimensions of the con.

What would I advise my baby to do? Join the military? Maybe. Go to a vocational school, or shorter-term training for a profession? Hell yes. Grad school? Not right now. Ask me again in a few MORE years. Maybe after I've STARTED being able to repay my massive, crushing student loan debt.

Group guest post at Perfume Smellin' Things - top 10 of Spring and a gift drawing

Go see. If you're quick enough, and leave a comment, you may win 10 samples of springtimey fragrances from Marina's collection.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A few of my favorite things

Okay, good stuff comin' your way.

Today our good friends at Don Gusano games announced the official release of their new game, Quack in the Box. We play-tested and adored this game back when it was a stack of hand-cut, typed or handwritten cards. I cannot recommend it enough: I think it's more fun than Chez Geek or Munchkin (which I happen to think are a lot of fun too).

I promised April this link to the Food Politics blog, but I think that others who read this blog might like it too. Marion Nestle is a guru of sorts for me, politically and as an intellectual. She's a trenchant researcher of the processes that determine labeling, nutritional guidelines, and institutional feeding (e.g. of children) in our country and elsewhere.

Also, I promised the Organic Consumers Association that I would pass along a shout-out. They're one of my favorite causes, as they stand opposed to the relatively more evil forces acting upon our food chain. With Monsanto and other industrial agricultural complexes mounting $50,000,000+ campaigns to place their people in key positions in our government (and that does not include the lobbying already in place) with intent to undermine the standards separating natural farming from agro-industrial practices, "the resistance" is one of the best causes out there.

Speaking of good food, particularly food like our grandparents used to eat, I have to mention Drew's wonderful blog, How To Cook Like Your Grandmother. He is funny, his recipes are both well-tested and delicious, and (as I happened to win a drawing for his review copy of Nina Planck's interesting and liberating book Real Food For Mother and Baby, which got here yesterday and has been in my hand almost constantly since) I feel so connected to him today. (Ms. Planck sent another copy directly, which arrived this morning; stay tuned, as either Drew or I will have to have a drawing to pay it forward.)

If you find that any of these things resonate with you, please do pass them along.

Love you folks.