Rage Against the Minivan: On respect, responsibility, and Mrs. Hall’s open letter to teenaged girls

Excellent post from rageagainsttheminivan.com.  Kristin says exactly what I thought on reading Mrs. Hall’s vicious open letter to teenaged girls.  Only she says it more articulately, and with less swearing.

Rage Against the Minivan: On respect, responsibility, and Mrs. Hall’s open letter to teenaged girls

On respect, responsibility, and Mrs. Hall’s open letter to teenaged girls

Last week I saw dozens of people linking to a post written as an open letter to teen girls from the mom of several boys. Almost as quickly as that post went viral, the backlash hit. It seems like the post struck a nerve – some feeling like it expressed their very own thoughts, and others feeling like the message was problematic.

I am in the latter camp, and my first reaction was to write a snarky post . . . my own open letter back . . . maybe some satire to skewer what I felt to be a condescending and sanctimonious tone towards other people’s children. But I thought better of it, because the more I thought about this mom and her need to write something like this, the more empathy I felt for her.

When I really look at this post and the message behind it, I actually feel sad. I feel sad for this mom and sad for her boys. I think the attitude in this post reflects a lot of fear . . . fear of her boys growing older, fear of their sexuality, fear of their autonomy, fear of their potential. While we may land in different places, I get that fear. I think a lot of parents do. I desperately want my kids to have a healthy sex life as adults. But when I think of the possibility of one of my kids having a sloppy makeout session behind the portables or looking at porn or posting sexy photos, I kind of want to curl up into a fetal position. But hiding my head in the sand about the fact that my children are sexual beings does not benefit me, nor does it benefit my kids. Neither does pretending like it’s everyone OUTSIDE my home who poses a risk to my child’s sexualization, because I have enough humility to know that it could very well be my own daughter posting sexy photos someday, and it could very well be my own son googling a lot worse.

Mrs. Hall and I probably have a lot in common. We probably have anxiety about the potential problems and heartache that could result from early sexual behavior. We probably want our kids to grow up into respectful adults. We probably want them to be respected, too. We want to be involved parents and we want to be cautious of their online life. We want our kids to become moral, upright citizens of the world. We don’t want to raise boys who are disrespectful or who leer at girls.

But Mrs. Hall and I have very different approaches for how to get there. She seems to think she can best help her sons with their sexuality by externalizing the problem. I was struck by the us vs. them nature of this post, as if her own children were devoid of any of their own impulses if it weren’t for the influence of others. She puts the responsibility of their thought life on their female friends. She blames the girls for any potential objectification. For example:

“Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”
Whether or not boys are capable of only thinking of a girl in a sexual way after seeing her in a bathing suit or pj’s is a problem to address WITH THE BOYS. Yes, parents of girls should be having discussions about how they present themselves online. I think that needs to happen within relationship, and it needs to happen with kindness instead of shame. But parents of boys should be having discussions with their boys about their own behavior, and how they will conduct themselves in a world that screams to girls that they need to be sexy.

There is a lot of pressure on girls to be sexual. Our culture tells us in overt and covert ways that sex sells, that being sexy equals power, that the shape of our bodies communicates our worth. It’s not the least bit surprising that girls feel tempted to express themselves this way, and this is a necessary conversation to have with our girls. However, I don’t think the context of this conversation should be about boys and their powerlessness to objectify. It should be about self-empowerment, wisdom, and personal boundaries. Because no girl is responsible if a boy can ONLY look at her in a sexual way. And the dangerous message that Mrs. Hall is sending her own sons is that they are powerless to the objectification of women if certain modesty conditions are not met.

Further, our conversations with girls should be approached with respect and understanding. I shudder to think about having a mother approach me with the tone Mrs. Hall took when I was a teenager screaming for attention with my clothing choices. I feel sad for the real-life peers of Mrs. Hall’s children who realize that they’ve been blocked and then read her barbed “no second chances” letter to them online. This is not grace.

The irony here is that Mrs. Hall herself is objectifying these girls. She is rejecting them if they have stepped outside of he code of behavior which involves only one trait: modesty. She’s not asking about their other qualities. She’s not looking at context. And she is teaching her sons that they have two options when confronted with a sexually attractive girl: objectify or reject. I’m afraid this practice is only reinforcing the idea that boys could not possibly view someone who looks sexy without objectifying them. She isn’t teaching her sons to respect women. She is teaching them that only certain woman are deserving of respect.

I love how Nate Pyle puts this in a post to his son:

A lot of people will try and tell you that a woman should watch how she dresses so she doesn’t tempt you to look at her wrongly. Here is what I will tell you. It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning. It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing. You will feel the temptation to blame her for your wandering eyes because of what she is wearing – or not wearing. But don’t. Don’t play the victim. You are not a helpless victim when it comes to your eyes.
Our world is bombarded with sexual imagery. Unless we have our boys walking around in blindfolds, they are going to see it. It’s on billboard and commercials. It’s on magazines at the checkout aisle and at the gas station. And yes, it’s on instagram and facebook. It’s not wrong to want to reduce this. But our goal shouldn’t be to solely set up conditions in which our sons who never have to deal with this. Our goal should be to have sons who are equipped to deal with women they find sexy. Because THEY WILL. (Or they may find men sexy. That’s a possibility, too.)

I think it is vital that we teach our boys that there is a difference between finding someone sexually attractive vs. reducing another person to a sexual object. We would do well to teach our boys that one does not have to lead to the other. (We would also do well to reassure our children that sexual attraction is TOTALLY NORMAL).

Speaking of sexual attraction being totally normal, something else really bothered me in Mrs. Hall’s post. She said:

We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.
I’m going to ignore the age specifics here, since she’s referring to her boys who are in high school. But I want to point out that many men of integrity DO linger over pictures of scantily-clad women. The fact that Mrs. Hall thinks these things are mutually exclusive is not going to prepare her sons well, either. In my counseling practice I’ve seen MANY men of integrity who struggle with looking at pornography. Of course, some men do this and don’t have moral convictions about it, but I’m referring to men who hold religious beliefs that place this behavior outside their own moral code. I’ve seen pastors of mega-churches, Christian authors, elders, church leaders struggling with pornography . . . I’ve seen great husbands and exemplary dads who struggle with their impulses as it relates to sexual imagery. Plenty of good men struggle to adhere to their own convictions about sexual imagery or lust. And I’ve also seen that most of these men, when raised in Christian homes, had families that shared a pattern of behavior:

They were taught to be ashamed of their sexual feelings
Their parents emphasized female bodies as “forbidden fruit”
They were taught all-or-nothing thinking in relation to sexuality (i.e. Good men aren’t even tempted by this stuff)
Their families lived in denial about adolescent sexual behavior
Their families never normalized sexual feelings
Their families held the reigns too tight, failing to equip them for life in the real world
These kinds of parental behaviors often lead to the very thing the parents are trying to avoid, because when we pair shame with normal sexual attraction, over and over, we are telling our boys (and girls) that there is something wrong with them. Shame is the fuel for addiction – why saddle our children with that potential? We’ve got to normalize sexual feelings and within that, teach self-control and respect. Our kids need to learn to do this in the context of the real world. Because one of these days they won’t have mom around to block the instagram accounts of every potentially sexy friend.

We can’t control how others dress. We can try to help our own daughters, and the girls whose trust we have earned, to make good choices. But when it comes to our sons we need to focus on teaching our boys to manage their own thoughts and to extend respect to every woman, regardless of how she is dressed. That’s their job and no one else’s. Trying to protect them from situations they will encounter in real life simply leaves them with under-developed self control and a mentality that blames women for their impulses.

Pierogies

As I’ve mentioned previously, by a combination of choice and chance, I often end up feeding a lot of people at once. I also live on a fixed income, so making the most out of inexpensive ingredients isn’t just something I teach, it’s something I do by necessity. Yes, I know you can buy frozen pierogies inexpensively at the grocery store, but I like to know ALL of the ingredients in the things my family eats whenever possible, and prefer to be in control of how much salt, fat, sugar etc. goes into the things I make. I’ve also worked in enough factories to be skeptical of food handling techniques in any environment that is more answerable to its shareholders than its customers. Also, preparing and eating meals as a group strengthens both families and communities, both things that mean a lot to me.

So I make a lot of things from scratch. Also, given the time of year, potatoes are even more available and inexpensive than usual. This is another recipe that will feed a small army on less than $10 worth of ingredients, and still leave leftovers for the freezer. I was cooking with the kids today, not because they’re much help yet, but because I think cooking is one of many life skills best started as early as possible. By making it fun for them now, I hope to encourage a lifelong enjoyment of the art and science of preparing their own meals, as well as providing the tools for making their own kitchens an anchor for their social universes someday, as mine is for me.

They’re all still pretty young though, so I did a lot of the prep work ahead of time, making and chilling the dough, preparing the filling and allowing it to cool, so they could jump right into the fun ‘hands on’ part as soon as they were ready.

WHAT

Dough

Pierogie Dough

2 cups flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling dough
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream, plus extra to serve with the pierogi
1/4 cup butter, softened and cut into small pieces
butter and onions for sauteeing

Filling

5-6 medium potatoes
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp butter

Your choice of shredded cheddar, finely chopped sauteed onion, dry curd (drained) cottage cheese, minced cooked bacon, whatever blows up your particular kilt in terms of flavours. I don’t measure quantities for these, since it’s up to your individual taste. A general guide might be 1/2 cup cheddar, 1/2 a medium sweet onion, 1/2 cup cottage cheese, but really, play around until it tastes good to you, and is of a consistency that you could roll it into a 1″ ball and have it stay that way without spreading or crumbling. Salt and pepper to taste. Today I made four double batches (about 200 pierogies) so I know this recipe doubles and triples easily. If I’m going to go to the hassle anyway, I prefer to fill the freezer for easy use later, when I’m more pressed for time.

Making the Dumplings

HOW

In large mixing bowl, or bowl of your trusty stand mixer, combine all dry ingredients. Add sour cream, egg and butter all at once, and mix until combined. If working dough by hand, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic. If using mixer, just dump everything in with the dough hook and let it run on 1 for a few minutes until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 min or overnight.

While dough is chilling peel, quarter and boil potatoes in salted water. Drain when fork tender and mash with whatever combination of ingredients appeals to you. Allow to cool enough to be workable.

Once chilled, on a floured surface, roll dough to 1/8″ thickness and cut out rounds using a biscuit cutter, pint glass or whatever else is handy. Place a rounded teaspoon or so of filling in the center of a round. Dip one finger in water and trace around the edge of the round, then fold over and press edges together to seal. If you like pretty pierogies, crimp the edges with a fork. Place in single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet while working so they don’t stick together. These refrigerate for up to 2 days uncooked, and can be frozen indefinitely. Freeze in a single layer first (you can bag them after they’re frozen) to help keep them from sticking together. If you’re going straight for cooking, pay attention, because I sort of depart from the text here.

First boil

Then brownMost people lean one of two ways with pierogies, they EITHER boil or fry. I do both. Simultaneously, using a method I learned from watching a friend prepare Chinese dumplings. Drizzle 4-6 tbsp of oil into a large, shallow, non-stick pan at medium heat. Top with about 1/2 cup water. Lay pierogies into the water. Allow enough space for them not to be on top of each other or they’ll stick. The water should bubble around them, basically shallow boiling them. Let it boil for 3-4 min, then flip and let the other side boil. Eventually the water will evaporate, and you’ll be left with the oil, so you can move straight from boiling into browning. Let the side that’s down once the water goes brown first, then flip. You may need to keep an eye on them, and move them around to keep them from scorching. Remove when your preferred shade of golden brown is achieved. I make pierogies a couple of hundred at a time, so I often have my big catering pans on standby to keep them warm in the oven until I’m ready to serve. Often I’ll bake large chunks of kielbasa or similar style sausage while I’m sauteeing pierogies.

When serving, top with sauteed onions, crisp bacon, shredded cheddar, sour cream…whatever.

Finished

Enjoy!

Braised Brisket and Two-Tone Yeast Bread

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Flat Brisket in Pumpkin Stout. Two toned yeast bread

Braised Beef Brisket

Prep- 15 mins. Cook 3-4 hours

At least half the meals I cook in our house need to feed 6-10 people, and I often don’t know for sure how many when I start, so things need to be easily adjustable. I like this recipe because I can add extra vegetables, bread or biscuits easily to stretch when I suddenly wind up with 12 at the table, or leftovers are easily wrapped in puff pastry to make Cornish pasties if it turns out to have just been the three of us.

When you feed a crowd as often as I do, you learn how to make the most out of inexpensive ingredients. While still considered a ‘prime cut’, brisket, which is the breast muscle, is one of the least tender cuts of beef available, and therefore lower in price. There are two types of brisket, the point, which is from the top, generally has a fat cap and is a little better marbled, and the flat, which is…well…flat. Flats are usually the cheapest. They’re often packed more as an afterthought than anything, and readily available from any grocery store that has a butcher in house. The one I used today was a little under $6.00, and had virtually no fat, or marbling to redeem it. These cuts can be a recipe for shoe leather if you’re not careful what you do with them.  Prepared this way, the meat is fork tender, and even picky kids (or say, red meat averse cooks) will eat it.

WHAT

A flat beef brisket.
Peppercorns, chopped garlic, sea salt, dried onion, mustard seed- whatever combination floats your goat as a spice rub. Mine’s never the same twice. You can also buy ‘steak spice’ already made.
2-4 tbsp cooking oil (I avoid olive oil for this, since it burns at a lower temp than say, canola)
6-8 medium new potatoes
4-6 medium carrots
A large sweet onion
Beer of your choice (I use whatever guests leave behind, since I don’t drink beer. Today it was a pumpkin stout from some yuppie craft brewery) Beef likes strong beers, like ambers or stouts.
2 tbsp of tomato paste (optional)

EITHER

2 tbsp cornstarch and beef stock concentrate (or powder, or onion soup base, whatever you have- most cooking is pretty flexible, depending on what’s handy.)

OR

2 tbsp Beef Bisto (traditional, not instant)

OR

2 tbsp Flour and Worcester sauce for the traditionalists
HOW

Brush brisket with enough oil to make the spices stick, and season liberally, both sides. Heat another 2-4 of tablespoons of oil in large dutch oven (or your big spaghetti pot, whatever you have on hand. See? Flexible.), on stove top over medium heat.

Sear brisket on all sides, and then reduce temperature to simmer.

Add the beer. A single bottle is plenty. If using it, stir in the tomato paste until blended.

From here you can go two ways, either will work. You can stick with the stove-top if you don’t own a dutch oven, and your pot has plastic handles that will melt, or you can put the lid on your oven safe pot, and put it in the oven at 350. If sticking with the stove top, put the lid on and REALLY, reduce to SIMMER, no more. Meat’s weird. If you boil it, it will get tough. When braising, liquid should only just cover the meat, and it should never actively boil.

No go find something to do for 3 hours or so. Catch up on missed episodes of whatever tiddles your winks, take a nap, play with the kids, build a website…Maybe make the bread pictured above. (recipe to follow)

With about an hour to go, peel and chop onions and carrots into large chunks and add ’em to the pot. New potatoes are best just washed and quartered, not peeled. Chuck them in also. Put the lid back on, return to stove top/oven, and call your mom, or see if anything interesting is happening on Facebook. About an hour. Since I stuck with the stove top today, this was when I put the bread in the oven, so it would all be ready more or less together.

Once carrots and potatoes are fork tender, remove to serving platter. Lift the brisket out, and let it stand on the cutting board for a few minutes while you thicken the beer into a gravy. Turn up the heat under the remaining pan juices. Take a minute to stir while it heats back up so you can deglaze the pan you messed up when searing the meat at the beginning. It will make the gravy taste better, and make the pot easier to wash later. Whether using starch or flour, blend thoroughly with enough cold water to make an emulsion. I always add a little beef stock to cover the taste of the thickener, but do whatever you like. Whisk emulsion into boiling pan juices and let it bubble until it thickens. It should only take a minute or two. if it takes longer, you need more of whatever your thickening agent was.

NEVER ADD FLOUR OR CORNSTARCH DIRECTLY TO A HOT LIQUID.

Unless you really hate the people you’re cooking for and have a backup plan for feeding yourself.

Back to the brisket that’s been resting on the cutting board. LOOK AT IT before you cut it. Meat should always be cut across the grain, never with it, or you’ll end up with meat flavoured chewing gum. For most flat briskets, that means you have to cut it in half with the grain once, to get manageable cross-grain slices. Lay them across your platter of vegetables, and drizzle some of the stout/beer of your choice reduction over the lot.

Now you can serve to the table with only one dish. Another preference of mine when cooking for crowds.
TWO TONE YEAST BREAD

One of my son’s favourites. Showy, but not terribly difficult. I especially like the sweetness of the molasses bread with honey, for breakfast, personally. For rising, I usually just use my oven. I set a small glass or metal bowl full of water in the bottom, and heat to about 225. As soon as it indicates it’s up to temperature, I turn it off, wait about 5 min, and let the bread rise in the warm, humid space.

WHITE BREAD

WHAT

1 pkg (that’s 2 1/4 teaspoons for those of us who use enough of it to justify buying in bulk) active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm milk (110-115 degrees. Think comfortable bath temperature)
2 tbsp plus 1 & 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tbsp plus 1 & 1/2 teaspoons shortening (this is just a little bigger than a golf ball)
1 & 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

HOW

In a large bowl, or for me, the bowl of my beloved stand mixer, with the paddle attachment to start, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Add the sugar, shortening, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Beat on medium speed (or by hand, with moderate enthusiasm) for about 3 mins. Stir in enough of the flour to make a soft, sticky dough. If you’re using the stand mixer, just switch to the dough hook and then add the rest of the flour. If doing it the hard way, turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead in the rest of the flour by hand. The dough should be smooth and elastic at this point.

Spray the inside of a large glass or metal mixing bowl with cooking spray, and put the dough in the bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with a clean dishtowel and set in a warm place to rise. About one hour, though bread rarely suffers from a LONGER rising time.

WHOLE WHEAT/MOLASSES BREAD

WHAT

1 pkg (that’s 2 1/4 teaspoons for those of us who use enough of it to justify buying in bulk) active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm milk (110-115 degrees. Think comfortable bath temperature)
2 tbsp plus 1 & 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tbsp plus 1 & 1/2 teaspoons shortening (this is just a little bigger than a golf ball)
1 & 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

HOW

In a large bowl, or for me, the bowl of my beloved stand mixer, with the paddle attachment to start, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Add the sugar, shortening, salt, molasses and all-purpose flour. Beat on medium speed (or by hand, with moderate enthusiasm) for about 3 mins. Stir in enough of the flour to make a soft, sticky dough. If you’re using the stand mixer, just switch to the dough hook and then add the rest of the flour and let it do the work. If doing it the hard way, turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead in the whole wheat flour by hand. The dough should be smooth and elastic at this point.

Spray the inside of a large glass or metal mixing bowl with cooking spray, and put the dough in the bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with a clean dishtowel and set in a warm place to rise. About one hour.

Yes, lazy blogger is lazy and TOTALLY copy/pasted most of that.

Spray two loaf pans with cooking spray

Once dough has doubled in size, punch it down by pressing into the center of the bowl and turning the sides inward. Divide each dough in half.

On a lightly floured surface, press half of the white dough into a more or less 9 X 12 rectangle.

Set aside.

Now do the same thing with half of the molasses dough. It might be a little denser/stickier. Don’t worry about it. Lay the rectangle of the molasses dough onto the rectangle of the white dough and go for a smoke or have a cup of coffee or something. They need to stick together. Beginning with the short edge, roll together to form a log, and pinch the seam to seal. Pay attention when you’re doing this, since air bubbles or too much flour between the layers will cause your layers to separate after baking. Makes sandwiches a pain later. Place log seam side down, into prepared loaf pan. Repeat with other half of the dough. Cover and let rise again. Depending on the day, this could be 30 min to an hour or more. Bread’s really an all day kind of project. It should about double in size, and puff nicely over the top of the pan. Bake at 375 degrees approx 40-50 min, or until tops are golden, and loaves sound hollow when tapped with your asbestos mom fingers.

Let cool completely on wire rack, and try not to eat it all.  It’s too pretty not to share.

Two tone yeast bread

Baked Sour Cream Chocolate Glazed Doughnuts

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It’s sour cream chocolate cake, but shaped like a doughnut, which makes it a responsible breakfast food.

Sour Cream Chocolate Glazed

For the Doughnuts

WHAT

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
6 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

HOW

Preheat oven to 375.
In a medium mixing bowl, (or the bowl of the stand mixer) combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, and baking soda.
In a separate bowl, beat together the vanilla, egg, sour cream, milk, and oil.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.
Pipe into a greased doughnut pan. I LOVE disposable piping bags, but a large Zip-lock with one corner cut off will do the job.  To minimize mess, and free up your hands, stand the piping bag up in a pint glass.  Now you can use both hands.
Bake for 8 minutes or until the tops spring back when you touch them.
Allow doughnuts to cool a few minutes in the pan, and then cool completely on a wire rack before glazing.  This recipe makes 8-9 doughnuts.  I usually double it and get three doughnut pans worth.  These rise a fair bit, as long as your baking soda hasn’t had more birthdays than you have, so don’t overfill the pans.

For the glaze

WHAT

2 1/2 cups icing sugar

3tbsp milk

3tbsp butter

1tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan over low heat until butter is melted and mixture is thin and smooth.  It should only ever be warm, not hot.  Set wire racks over waxed paper on counter.  Dip doughnuts, allowing extra to run off and remove to wire rack to set.  While glaze is wet, if you like, sprinkle shredded coconut, chopped nuts or sprinkles.

Eat yours before you tell anyone else they’re ready.  They go fast.

The original recipe calls for 6 tbsp of whole milk.  I don’t have whole milk in the house, and I find straight milk glazes start to get skunky after a day or so.  Substituting half butter makes a more durable glaze, that should stand up for a few days under a cake dome.  I never store anything iced or glazed in an airtight container, it makes them soggy.  Invest in a cake dome, or store in a container with the lid just resting on the top.

Cinnamon Streusel Mulberry Muffins

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I hate mulberries.  Not the flavour or texture or anything.  I hate the mess.  I was already living under a catalpa, a basswood, and a northern black maple, all of which lean over my tiny 16′ X 20 patio.  I’d already gotten used to needing a snow shovel for 10 months of the year if I intended to use my patio.  When the houseful of post-grad students next door to me let a mulberry tree grow RIGHT on the fenceline between our two tiny little yards, rather than pull it out before it could do any damage, I figured it was no big deal, ’cause the mess certainly couldn’t get any worse.

I figured wrong.

Mulberry trees are crazy messy.  And they draw pests.  Every night, under my window I listen to raccoons, possums, skunks and heaven knows what else rooting around my yard after mulberries, and every morning, just before dawn, an epic battle between blue jays, robins, and squirrels rages right under my window, tormenting both cats, as every other living thing in my neighbourhood fights over fruit, and then shits all over my patio furniture.  The roots are heaving my patio pavers along the fence line, and I sweep, and then SHOVEL buckets full of berries out into the common green space on the other side of my gate (for the landscapers to deal with) at least twice a day.  As I write this, there are now two of them (berries, not landscapers) floating in my coffee.

I hate that effing tree.

I also hate the idea of wasting anything that could be made useful.  So with the burst of hyper-kinetic energy that arrives within a day or two of a chemo treatment, Boi and I were out early this morning, collecting the nicest of them before shoveling the rest out the gate, since if we leave them standing, we end up with mice, squirrels and far creepier critters constantly visiting our tiny yard in search of food, and I’d already filled the neighbours’ mailbox with them.  Being on chemo means having virtually no immune system, so any and all fresh produce, regardless of origin is soaked in a vinegar/water solution for 10 min or so before being rinsed and dried for use.  Normally both boys are sort ambivalent about eating fruit, but if I put enough cinnamon streusel topping on it, they’ll eat pretty much anything.  So I adapted an old coffee cake recipe and made Cinnamon Streusel Mulberry Muffins.

2013-06-29 10.04.52WHAT

Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil (you can lower the fat/calories by substituting an equal amount of unsweetened apple sauce. It will produce a tougher texture though)
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh mulberries (Use more if you like. They’re all over the damned place! I will cheerfully mail you some if you don’t have a mulberry tree of your own!)

Topping

1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

HOW

Oven 400 degrees

Grease 8 large muffin cups.  My muffin pan has 12 cups.  I always fill the empty ones with water to avoid damaging the non-stick coating by baking empty.

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in large mixing bowl.  Or if you’re me, in the bowl of your stand mixer.  Fill measuring cup with 1/3 cup oil.  Crack the egg into that, then top with milk until the cup is full.  Pour this into the dry ingredients and mix until combined.  FOLD in the berries.  Don’t use the mixer for those, or you’ll end up breaking them and you’ll have lovely purple muffins with no discernable fruit.  Unless you want that.  I have kids.  They like purple food.

For the topping, combine cinnamon with sugar, flour and cubed butter.  The original directions say to just mash it with a fork, which I’m sure will work for most of you, but owing to non-working fingers (the result of a progressive auto-immune condition that causes arthritis, among other things) I have to use a pastry cutter.  The result should be a coarse crumb.

Spoon batter TO FILL muffin cups.  Top with as much of the cinnamon crumb as you can jam on without it falling off all over the bottom of the oven. (the bits left on the pan when you’re done are your reward for not just eating it all with a spoon)

Bake on center rack 20-25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Anytime they start to smell good is a good time to look in on them if you’re like me and don’t really ‘time’ anything.

Allow to cool a few minutes in the pan while you pick at any stray bits of topping that may have fallen off your muffins, and now be looking lonely, and in need of eating.  Remove to wire rack and let ’em cool most of the way.  Serve slightly warm with butter, jam or whatever blows up your particular kilt.

2013-06-29 10.22.04

Basic White Cake

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So my 9 y/o has taken up Minecraft.  Apparently cake is a THING in Minecraft.  Enough of a thing to have its own song.  (<—-  Link to the ten-hour loop, so you can experience what it’s like to live with a 9 y/o who never stops singing it. )   Boi has decided he’s interested enough in cake to actually want to make a real one.   In spite of the mess, whenever Boi shows interest in learning something useful, I try to accommodate it.  I enjoy the time with him, and as a mother, I generally consider my job to be, ultimately, to parent myself out of a job.  Cooking is a fundamental life skill.  It will save him a ton of money as an adult, give him a lot more control over what he and his family consume than he would have were he depending on prepared or processed foods, and hopefully someday serve as the same social anchor for his home one day that my kitchen is in mine.

Cake

We’re sort of big on from scratch cooking in our house, owing to hereditary chemical sensitivities, and general squeamishness with regards to preservatives and unlisted food additives, so when we bake a cake, with few exceptions, we do it from scratch.  This is a simple white cake recipe that goes with everything, can be frosted whatever way you like and easily converts to other flavours, just by exchanging the vanilla extract for say, lemon.  Or maple.  Or rum.  If you like spices, add 2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice and make spice cake.  It’s that simple.  

As I’ve begun to lose some of the use of my hands owing to an autoimmune condition that includes rheumatoid arthritis, my in-laws bought me a Kitchenaid stand mixer for Christmas, since I can no longer mix by hand.  If you don’t have the same issues, your hand mixer, or even a whisk and some enthusiasm will serve you just as well.

WHAT

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shortening (or butter, or margarine, you can substitute whatever you have)

1 3/4 cups sugar

4 egg whites

1 1/3 cups buttermilk  (Note: normal people don’t keep buttermilk in the house.  Take a tablespoon of lemon juice and put it in a bowl.  Then pour 1 1/3 cups milk over it, stir, and let it stand for about a minute.  Voila.  Buttermilk.)

Basic white cake

HOW

Oven 350 degrees

Grease and flour your cake pan (s) Pick 2 8″ or 9″ rounds, or an 8″ or 9″ square.  If you really want easy removal, line the bottom with parchment.  The easiest way to do this is to use the bottom of your cake pan to trace the shape onto the parchment, then cut it out and put in the bottom of your pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, or just a large mixing bowl if your in-laws don’t love you as much as mine love me, cream the 1/2 cup of butter, margarine or shortening.  Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat until well combined.  Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each one.  Add the dry ingredients in two steps, alternating with two additions of the buttermilk.  (so half the dry, half the buttermilk, repeat) Beat on low speed until just combined.  Pour into prepared pan (s)  If you want to make coconut cake, this is a good time to add 1/4 cup of unsweetened flaked coconut.

Bake on center rack at 350 degrees 30-35 minutes.  45-50 if using a single pan.

While it’s baking is a good time to teach your kid about cleaning as he goes.  Yes.  I made him help with the dishes.

Cook times and oven temperatures vary, so pay attention and check on it when it starts to smell good.  It’s done when a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  If you don’t have wooden toothpicks, use your asbestos mom fingers and give it a gentle poke.  If it springs back, it’s a good indicator that it’s done.  Cool cakes IN PANS on wire racks for 10 min.  Remove from pans, and cool completely on racks.

Basic White Frosting

WHAT

1 cup shortening

1 1/2 teaspoons vamilla

1/2 teaspoon lemon, orange, or almond extract (whatever blows up your particular kilt)

4 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar

3-4 tablespoons of milk

Paste icing colours to satisfy a 9 y/o who wants his cake to look like a minecraft ‘creeper’.

HOW

Beat shortening, vanilla and extract on setting 3 of stand mixer or with electric mixer on medium for about 30 seconds.  Add HALF of the powdered sugar and mix well.  Add 2 tbsp of milk, gradually beating in enough of the powdered sugar and milk to reach spreading consistency.

Owen's creeper cake

Baked Coconut-Lime Doughnuts

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Baked Coconut-Lime Doughnuts with Tart Lime Glaze (adapted from flavorthemoments.com)

Glazed coconut-lime doughnutsSo, now that I’m a grown up, it turns out that neither margaritas nor Pina Coladas are considered responsible breakfast options. At least, not on weekdays.  Since you’ve read my previous posts, you’ve already taken my excellent advice, (unless you’re the one person on the planet who ignores all of my pithy wisdom) and invested in a doughnut pan or two. Yes, you can make all of my doughnut recipes in a muffin pan, but the doughnut pan produces a much nicer result. They’re also smaller than muffins, which, for those of us who have trouble facing food first thing in the morning, is a good thing.  This recipe is the most respectable way I could think of to combine a margarita and a pina colada for breakfast, and still be able to drive the kids to school, and meet the teacher without anyone calling social services because you’re drunk at 8:30 in the morning. The original recipe called for coconut milk, which I find repulsive, and which is VERY high in saturated fat, so I substitute coconut water, which produces a lighter result, and doesn’t have as heavy a flavour. These have a muffin like texture, and the tart, lime glaze is very refreshing. This is easy to double or triple when cooking for a crowd, and pairs well with tequila if you’re one of the ‘breakfast of champions’ crowd.

WHAT

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (really, use what you have)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lime zest

1 egg

1/3 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour  (use dipping method to measure or you’ll have coconut-lime flavoured bricks)

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder (If you don’t bake regularly, check to make sure it’s younger than you are)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup coconut water

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Glaze:
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (Concentrate works just as well, but what else are you going to do with the lime you just zested?)

2 tablespoons of coconut water

zest of 1 lime, divided

3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut

HOW

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the cavities of (2) 6-cavity doughnut pans.

Cream the butter, sugar, and lime zest in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat just until blended. Stir in the coconut. Or if you’re me, dump it all into the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, set it to 3, and go WWILF (What Was I Looking For?) around on the Internets for a few minutes.

Stir the vanilla into the 1/2 cup of coconut water and set that aside. combine the remaining dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the flour mixture in 3 stages, alternating with the coconut water, beating after each addition until blended. Fill the doughnut cavities 2/3 full of batter and bake for 18-20 minutes. Really, DON’T OVERFILL THEM! You’ll end up with giant, delicious, lime coconut flavoured, hideous mushroom shaped thingies! Oven temperatures vary, and so do cooking times, depending on a lot of things.  My rule is ‘when it starts to smell good, go check on it’.  If it starts to smell bad deny everything and destroy the evidence.  Cool in the pan for 2-3 minutes, then remove and cool completely.

Prepare the Glaze:
In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, lime juice, half of the reserved lime zest, and coconut water until smooth. Place the sweetened shredded coconut and remaining lime zest on a plate and toss to combine. Dip the cooled doughnuts in the glaze, then immediately into the shredded coconut. Stop licking your fingers! Other people have to eat those! Place on a cooling rack over parchment or paper towels at room temperature until set, unless you LIKE cleaning your countertops with a putty knife. Lick the bowl before anyone else comes home to see you. Double check to make sure you don’t still have icing in your eyebrows before the kids get home.

Store doughnuts in a cake dome at room temperature for 2-3 days. Or just eat them all before you end up having to share. Avoid air tight containers, they will make baked goods soggy.

Thoughts on Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ Sketches.

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This video Has been making the viral rounds this week.  Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen someone repost it with comments like ‘this made me cry’ or ‘this is me’ and ‘every woman needs to see this!’  Well played, Dove.  You’ve got your own customers doing your advertising for you.

I HATE this video.  It makes me angry.   And no, it’s not sour grapes.  Ok, I’m 40 something, vaguely Hobbit-y in appearance, have hair that always looks like it was styled with a lawnmower, and a butt that makes it feel like there’s something chasing me all the time.  

I’m also Fucking Amazing.  

Dove seems to be telling women that they’re prettier than they think they are, which on the surface sounds alright. Except that this video also reinforces the idea that we MUST BE BEAUTIFUL.  Once again women are being led to connect their whole human value not with their intelligence, strength, kindness or achievement…just their beauty.

And before we applaud Dove too loudly for sending such a woman positive message, don’t forget that these are the same people who make Axe body spray, and the vapid ads that go along with it.  This is nothing more than clever branding to make us do their work for them.

It makes me crazy that so many of amazing women sharing this drivel equate their own worth with someone else’s perception, no, not even that, THEIR perception of someone else’s perception of their attractiveness. We all talk about how attitudes towards women need to change. How we need to be defined by more than our attractiveness, and the perception of our ‘fuckability.  

And then we fall for this garbage.  

We need to start by changing our OWN attitudes first. I don’t need Dove to tell me I’m wonderful. I live me. If I don’t think I’m amazing, why should anybody else?  The truth is, Dove doesn’t want me to feel like I’m perfect the way I am.  Women who feel perfect don’t need to buy beauty products.  There is an entire industry dedicated to nothing but making us feel inadequate.  To making us feel like we need to change what we are.  WHATEVER we are.  And we fall for it over and over and over.  Nobody, not our co-workers, families, the media, has any power to make us feel inadequate that we haven’t given them.  Same goes for guys, but women in particular are raised to connect their entire sense of self worth with their appearance. We waste our lives wishing we were taller, thinner, blonder, younger, and it colours every interaction we have.  

Fuck it. I’m awesome.

/rant.

Likely Largest Journalism Collaboration In History | International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

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Normally, the ‘Nation of Three’ happens in and around our home.  Even the most insular of families can’t live in a vacuum though.  Social justice happens to be a pretty big thing in our house.  As does looking at the big picture.  It’s hard not to get angry about things like this when our governments are slashing social programs, and leading the public to believe that the ‘culture of entitlement’ from the neediest section of our society is to blame for our budgetary shortfalls.  Our banks and leaders have made handy scapegoats out of our poor, sick, elderly and disadvantaged.  People who can’t even defend themselves, taking the blame for a failing economy.  It makes me angrier still when otherwise decent people repeat this rhetoric without even considering that they’re pointing the finger at the wrong people.  Headline news has given me a handy follow-up to yesterday’s piece on ‘Poor Hate’.  THIS is where we need to look, folks.  Not to ‘austerity’ – cutting more and more from people who already have so little.  Not pointing our fingers at welfare cheats, immigrants or the working poor.  I’ve been saying it for years THE CHEATS AT THE TOP ARE COSTING US FAR MORE THAN THE ONES AT THE BOTTOM.

Likely Largest Journalism Collaboration In History | International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Recently, the ICU received a hard drive in the mail that exposed the financial records of over 80,000 Global Residents who hide their money in offshore banks. Hundreds of Canadians. The databank was so large it crashed all of their computers.

Last night, as part of a collaborative effort, the CBC revealed the names of the Prominent Canadians who hide their money offshore. They estimate the Government could recoup Billions of tax dollars and pay off the deficit.^^

“The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists today launches the next part of a multi-year project aimed at stripping away the biggest mystery associated with tax havens: the owners of anonymous companies.

Drawing from a trove of 2.5 million secret files, ICIJ led what may be the largest cross border journalism collaboration in history.

ICIJ’s investigation opens the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts and nearly 130,000 individuals and agents, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con artists, and the mega-rich in more than 170 countries.”

‘The files illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy to avoid taxes, fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations. The current banking crisis in Cyprus is one example of how the offshore system can impact an entire country’s financial stability. ‘

From CBC this morning:

‘Worldwide, the Tax Justice Network estimates that between $21 trillion and $32 trillion of private wealth is held offshore, out of reach of national treasuries (a more conservative estimate by the Boston Consulting Group puts the figure at $8 trillion). The international organization says that translates to up to $280 billion a year in lost taxes — twice what the world’s richest countries spend combined on foreign aid.

Canada’s share of that, assuming it’s the same as the country’s proportion of global GDP, would be about $7 billion, or a quarter of the federal government’s projected 2012 budget deficit.’

Now stop kicking your little guys and lay the blame where it belongs.

While our governments would 'austere' us to death, the wealthy have learned to hide their money to avoid paying taxes.

Ah…Poor Hate. Must be Tax Season

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Seeing a lot of ‘Poor Hate’ on Facebook today, so it must be tax season. So far, before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee, I’ve seen over a dozen ‘I hate paying taxes so the government can take my money and give it to someone who doesn’t work as hard as I do.’ or some variation thereof.
Congratulations folks, you drank the Kool-aid. The people who are ACTUALLY responsible for sucking every last dime out of the economy would love you to blame your poorest and weakest. You get to kick someone who’s already down, and they get to keep scrounging until they’ve got every last dime of yours, while you blame a scapegoat.

Photo by Ivan Sorensen

Photo by Ivan Sorensen

I’m assuming you’re referring to spending on social programs, such as welfare, perhaps Employment Insurance (which everyone who collects has to have paid into btw), or healthcare for the poor through programs like the Trillium drug benefit. I say that because I don’t see any of you complaining about having free healthcare, public schools, roads to drive on, water to drink, police and emergency services to call on when you need help, etc.
If you look at the math, the cheats at the bottom cost us very little. The last publicly available data that I could find easily showed that out of over 700 000 claimants, 106 were found to be cheats. That’s hardly an epidemic. For the ones who do ‘cheat’, for the most part, lying about income is the ‘cheat’ of choice. One of the biggest reasons people cheat on welfare is that the amount paid by social assistance is woefully inadequate to live on. Forced to decide between working for cash under the table or shorting rent to pay for groceries, some pick the lesser of two evils. There are very, very few people collecting welfare because they want to. Not none, there are always a few bottom-feeders who are happy to stay there, but very few. In terms of your tax burden, these few cheats are so small a percentage as to not register, and already living a pretty miserable existence. The rest are good people. Ordinary people like you or me, legitimately in need of a little help.

The rate of fraud in the income tax system is over 20 times that of the Welfare system. People with incomes cheat WAY more than those without, and cost us a lot more in the bargain.

If you really want to know where your Canadian tax dollars go, look here. All the information is there.  The vast bulk of spending for individuals goes to seniors.  Not to immigrants, or welfare cheats, or other popular scapegoats,  but to upstanding Canadians who have mostly worked their entire lives, and paid their fair share of taxes.

Imagine a Canada where everyone who fell between the cracks, mostly due to bad luck more than their own negligence, was left to fend for themselves. How long before disease begins to spread, and crime rates go up, (and costs for hospitals, police, and prisons etc.) as good people fall sick, or resort to the unthinkable? Being poor isn’t always a matter of choice. How many of you haters out there are only a missed paycheque or two away from poverty yourselves? How many of you would do anything to make sure your kids have enough to eat? See how easy it is? Those are real human beings you’re talking about. I know and like many of the people posting and repeating hateful anti-poor messages this morning, and I don’t remember you being cruel people. If I’m wrong about that, please feel free to unfriend/follow me.

We live in a pretty good society. <—- Note the root word there is ‘soci’. Latin for ‘a friendly association with others’. One of the key elements of ‘Society’ is that everyone takes a share in ensuring the good of the collective. A society isn’t raised or lowered from the top, but from the bottom. The overall health of a society can be judged by how well those at the bottom are doing. I don’t mind paying taxes to raise the social floor a little. We ALL benefit when even our poor and stupid have a place. When we get over ourselves and recognize that a poor person has the same human value as ourselves.