November 9, 2015

Pumpkin Pomegranate Cake

I made this for date night on Sunday, loosely based off this recipe but also inspired by this one -- both of which I found after googling "what to do with one cup of pumpkin purée". I slaughtered two pie pumpkins a week or two ago, and had a cup left over unfrozen after making some other things (there is a lot more in the freezer!). I had also bought pomegranates (oh, be still my heart) with our last grocery shop, and things just came together.

The result is a pleasingly moist and light coffee cake. It's not too sweet, and the pomegranate seeds give it a little extra oompf in the fun-to-eat department. I'd make it again.

Ingredients:

- 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- seeds of 1 large pomegranate, about 1 cup
- 1 cup pumpkin purée
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

1. Combine flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium mixing bowl.

2. Add pomegranate seeds, eggs, and butter/margarine and mix well.

3. Pour into greased 8x8 pan. Bake at 350F until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

October 18, 2015

Chocolate Rice Pudding (Dairy-Free, Stovetop)

This chocolate rice pudding whips up quickly and is the perfect fall dessert -- especially when served warm! The chocolate flavour is mild; add more cocoa powder if you'd like more of a punch. I am particularly fond of the combination of cinnamon with chocolate, but feel free to leave it out if you're not a fan.

Ingredients:

- 1.5-2 cups cooked rice (mine was Chinese takeout leftovers)
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1.5 Tbsp cocoa powder
- a pinch salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups almond milk
- optional: raisins, nuts, etc.

1. Put the rice into a large pot and set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla.

3. While mixing, add the almond milk about 1/2 cup at a time, until combined.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the rice. Add raisins, nuts, etc. if desired. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for 6-10 minutes until it reaches the desired thickness.

Serve warm. Or allow to cool and serve cold;it's your kitchen.

August 4, 2015

Things I read about: health, the internet, children, marriage, and... asparagus water

A round-up of interesting blog entries and articles that have crossed my way lately:

Toxic Shock: Why This Woman Is Suing a Tampon Company After Losing Her Leg -- ugh, tampons are terrible (and not just because they can kill you).

Whole Foods' $6 Asparagus Water Is Just Water With Three Stalks of Asparagus in It [Updated] -- there's not much more to the article than the title will tell you, but the picture is funny.

The Web We Have to Save -- there are some interesting ideas here, if you can get past the first 1/3-1/2 of the piece, which smacks strongly of "I used to be important on the internet and now I'm not, therefore the internet is now bad".

25 Ways to Stay Married for 25 Years -- short post; solid advice.

The Third Secret to Destruction-Proofing Your Marriage -- this is a challenging read, but a good one; the comments section is equally worthwhile (I read every one). I'm not sure that I agree with everything she posits, but it is definitely food for thought.

Is Depression a kind of Allergic Reaction? -- very interesting link between depression and inflammation.

Meaning is Healthier than Happiness -- speaking of health, how about epigenetics? Super, super interesting stuff.

July 21, 2015

This is why I didn't like your status update


A few weeks back I ran across these two articles:

I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here's What it Did to Me.

I Quit Liking Things on Facebook for Two Weeks. Here's how it Changed My View of Humanity.

(Please excuse the click-bait titles. I'll give you the TL;DR although I do recommend reading them both -- liking everything on facebook turns your newsfeed into an insane and highly polarized confluence of mostly advertisements; not liking anything on facebook means that you have to actually write comments and be social, and it's nice.)

Both of these articles struck a chord with me. I'm a long-time facebook user -- my timeline goes back to 2005, and facebook was pretty new then. I remember having to have a university email address to register, and I remember the furor when they removed that restriction and facebook was invaded first by thirteen-year-olds, and then by our parents and grandparents. I use it to keep in touch with many friends and family who live far away, and I'm not likely to quit any time soon.

The fact that I'm probably a permanent facebook user, however, (whatever "permanent" means in the internet age) doesn't/shouldn't mean that I keep using it mindlessly. I do have concerns about facebook's advertising algorithms, about privacy, and about the fact that it being a free service means that I am the product. And of course there's the old dead horse about facebook's inherent superficiality and the false sense of community that it (may) provide. I had already decided to stop engaging in facebook debates -- much like how I try not to read the comment section underneath news articles -- for the sake of my sanity. And I am ruthless about unfollowing annoying people and blocking just about every app or meme-generating page that crosses my newsfeed. But what about taking Elan Morgan's line and actually quitting the 'like'?

Unlike Morgan, I didn't announce that I wouldn't 'like' things any more -- I just stopped doing it. Either I liked a status enough to comment on it, or I scrolled on by: no more easy middle ground. And since I did that, I do actually find that I enjoy facebook a lot more. Needing to actually comment or not (and needing to decide which option to take) has brought back a degree of mindfulness that I had been missing. Leaving comments has fostered conversations, and it's nice to engage with people a bit more than I had been. And being made to actually stop and think has curtailed my natural inclination to open it up a aimlessly scroll down for more time than I care to admit. It's helping me to actually see what people are posting. I don't think I'll go back.

July 13, 2015

Beautiful and useful

As Stan and I prepare to enter our senior year of our degrees, the fact that we're going to be done in less than a year has started to be a bit loomy. And yes, we think/fret/pray about things like getting jobs after -- but more on my mind these days is the fact that we'll be moving again. In ten months or so we'll be putting all of our worldly goods on a truck and driving off to parts unknown. When we moved here we filled a 14-foot u-haul pretty much all the way.... and of course, we've been accumulating things since then. This is the longest I've lived in one place since I moved out of my parents house and so I haven't had to declutter as regularly as I have in the past.

I do not want to be driving a 17-foot truck if we can help it... never mind anything larger! And as we've watched some friends of ours prepare to move to the Arctic (sea lift and all) I have been hit by a major decluttering bug. Out, possessions! Out, out, out! This morning the VVA came by and picked up two bags and one box of sundry goods -- at least half of which were baby blankets -- as well as a large and horrifying toy box. The itch to divest myself of stuff was at least momentarily scratched -- though I'm already looking around to see what else can go out with the next pickup.

This sort of thing was not always so easy for me. I am a packrat by nature, and I come from a long and distinguished line of packrats. Those of you who know me may also know that I tend to anthropomorphize objects. When putting clean dishes away I always put the clean ones on the bottom, so that everything gets used evenly and nobody's feelings get hurt. Truth. And my mother will recall the bitter tears shed when we got rid of the toothbruth holder that I had known and loved all of the (ten) years of my life. I'm sentimental. This is just my baseline; and I'm definitely not against owning things. We're not minimalists -- just look at our bookshelves.

But I think where things have shifted for me is that I'm tired of owning things I don't like. Or don't use. Or wouldn't have in my house at all except for the fact that it carries some sort of sentimental connotation or psychic debt. (Like the wedding present it took me four tries to get rid of, because I love the person who gave it to me, even though the present itself was something I didn't like and would never use.) I am finally starting to be ruthless with my possessions.

Now, I finally agree with William Morris: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

We're not there yet. But we're getting closer. Today we went to see said Arctic-moving friends, who are selling off everything they weren't able to put on the sea lift. We got a few books (ie, useful objects), but we also got a painting. A big painting! A big, impractical, lovely, happy-making painting that I know to be beautiful. And it is useful, too, taking our living room focal point from this:

Generic Ikea print left over from Stan's bachelor days (now in exile on floor in hallway)
to this:

Beautiful seascape, plus bonus accidental shadow from my hand
Le sigh. Le prrrr. I would like to have fewer things in my house, true -- but those that are left, I would like to be beautiful and/or (preferably and) useful. Today was a win in that regard.

July 11, 2015

Recipe: Summer Salad

I got asked to bring a salad to a dinner yesterday night, and decided that I would like to do something watermelon-based, since they're in season right now (so delicious and so cheap!). I browsed a few recipes online and then, from general principles, came up with my own:

Yesterday's leftovers, aka today's lunch.
Ingredients:

- 1/2 medium seedless watermelon, cubed
- 2 english cucumbers, diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 red onion, finely diced
- 1.5 cups or so matchstick-cut carrots
- 1/2 to 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- lime vinaigrette: juice of ~2 limes, olive oil, honey, sea salt, black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large serving bowl and refrigerate until needed. Toss with vinaigrette just before serving. Serves ~10.

July 10, 2015

In which we 'ferberize' the baby

Anselm has sort of an odd sleep history. From newborn to about three months he slept very well (or at least as well as newborns do): I could easily nurse or bounce him down to sleep, and then he would sleep wherever he was put -- generally in the bassinet.

The bassinet was great, until it wasn't. At three months, we hit teething and a cold and a growth spurt all at once, and he became very hard to get to sleep -- so we brought him into our bed. He lay beside me and I could nurse him when he needed it without having to wake up much myself. And it was reassuring to the baby to have us right there (and vice-versa). We all got more sleep.

Co-sleeping was great, until it wasn't. Anselm got bigger; he started kicking and rolling. He started crawling on top of us when he woke up in the morning. And our queen bed got progressively smaller and smaller as he forced us out to the edges. So about a month ago we transitioned him to a crib mattress beside our bed. It was easy for me to get in and out of his bed to nurse him. It was a bigger space for him to sleep.

Sleeping beside our bed was great, until it wasn't. I hadn't realised when we were co-sleeping how often he was waking up in the night to nurse -- much, much more than he needed to. My back was starting to hurt every morning from lying on his mattress to feed him. And nursing him to sleep was getting progressively more difficult -- he was canny to the fact that I would eventually sneak away, and started trying to keep himself awake to prevent it. Some nights I would accidentally fall asleep in his bed instead of my own for a couple of hours.

Something had to give. I wasn't sleeping, he wasn't sleeping -- things just were not working out.

Enter Dr. Richard Ferber, and Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. "Ferberizing" is probably the most controversial sleep-training method out there -- and by "controversial" I mean "vilified" -- but honestly, if you actually read the book and not random internet posts for/against it, what he says makes a lot of sense. We were able to quickly identify the source of Anselm's sleep problems: he had a sleep association with nursing to sleep, he was (naturally) upset to fall asleep beside me and wake up with me gone, and he was eating way too much at night. So I read all the relevant chapters, we decided on a plan, and sleep-training started last night -- after a mass text to all my pray-ers!

We decided to go whole-hog and address everything at once, instead of by piecemeal -- reasoning that if it was too hard on the baby we could always scale back. But our goal for last night was that Anselm would sleep (a) in his crib, (b) in the nursery, (c) without nursing to sleep, and (d) without nursing in the night. It was a tall order: all of those things were new. But we were pretty sure that with our support, he could do it.

It went... shockingly, amazingly well. We pushed his bedtime back until he was truly sleepy, and then moved to our new bedtime routine. I gave him a bath, Stan read him some stories, I nursed him in the rocking chair, and then I put him in his crib. He cried, of course -- we followed the plan to check him first after one minute of crying, then after three, then five, then seven, and then at ten minute intervals if he wasn't asleep yet. We would reassure and comfort him but would not pick him up out of the crib. After about thirteen minutes of crying, he fell fast asleep and stayed that way for about six hours. He cried then for less than five minutes before falling asleep again. He roused about two hours later and fussed for less than a minute before going back to sleep until morning.

And now we're thinking: why didn't we do this a month ago?

I know that this was only the first night and that we may still run into all sorts of snags -- like we have no idea how naps are going to go today (which we are also going to have him do in the crib, alone in his room, etc. etc.) But it's so encouraging how well he did last night. Better sleep is well in sight for all of us.

And to those who worry about the crying: well, babies cry. It's not fun for them (or to put them through it) but... babies cry. I'm not worried that we're going to give him some sort of lasting psychological harm: after all, being better rested ourselves means that he's going to get more consistent daytime attention and affection. And frankly, I was so tired that some days I was afraid to drive. I'll take some sadness and anger from the baby in exchange for not accidentally running off the road. You know how it is.