Saturday, February 26, 2011

saturdays are inspirational

I thought it would be great to have Fridays off this semester. But I usually end up spending the day in my pajamas, half-heartedly trying to clean or do homework, always leaving everything half done. The good news is that it makes me all the more inspired on Saturdays. This morning, I made it to the thrift store, the drugstore, and the market by 2:00.

Before that, I spent about an hour ogling various food blogs. They are my new ultimate inspiration. Trying to keep my sanity without sugar, I've rekindled a love for beautiful sweets. So when I got home, I made these...


Sugar-Free Chocolate Crepes (from Family Fresh Cooking)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup egg substitute*
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup evaporated skim milk**
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp powdered stevia
1 tbsp melted butter

*A note on egg substitute: This is made basically from egg whites and we use it because it's cholesterol-free and lower in calories than eggs. You can use 1 egg instead.
**I used this because we had it around. The water and milk can be replaced with 3/4 cup of any kind of milk (dairy, almond, soy, etc.).

Whisk all the ingredients (really well...those lumps are a pain). Spray a large frying pan with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Pour nearly 1/4 cup of batter onto the pan and swirl to spread. Test the crepe by lifting the edge, and after a couple of minutes, flip.

I filled mine with low fat farmer's cheese, no sugar added jam, and topped with fresh raspberries.


P.S. Those green glasses and that cake platter cost me less than $10 at Urban Renewals. Good day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

fantasies come true

When I first visited BC almost a year ago, the still snowy campus radiated magic. With buildings that look like castles and beautiful landscaping, BC is probably the closest thing to Hogwarts this side of the Atlantic. I won't pretend it didn't influence my decision to attend.

Today I went on a walk with co-workers to enjoy the beautiful weather. And they showed me this:


This is a library. At BC. Where you are allowed to sit. For free. Where have I been for the last six months?! Not only is this place quiet and magical and gorgeous, it is also not crowded. I intend to spend as much of my next winter break here as possible, with sugar-free hot cocoa and a couple of Harry Potter books. But I don't think I can wait for that ultimate coziness. I think I've found my new study nook. I guess only so many dreams come true in one lifetime. One down.

Bapst Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Ave.
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

no sugar, plus spice, makes everything nice

Ok, I admit it. Natural sweeteners do not always taste good. Stevia, in any of its many forms, is often accompanied by a weird, bitter aftertaste. In my sugar-deprived state, a lot of my "sweet" concoctions probably taste a lot better to me than they do to my sugar eating friends. With almost no sweet tooth, J has been particularly quick to turn down my recipes. (More for me!) But spice seems to be the key to tempering the moody sides of stevia.

I have been loving the ideas on vegan CCK's blog. While she's not sugar free, pro-health diet choices seem to go hand-in-hand, and she has a wealth of dessert recipes using natural sweeteners. And because they're vegan, they're usually more healthy in many other ways as well. Here are my adaptations of her Five-Minute Chocolate Mousse and Better-than-Kozyshack Rice Pudding. As a clue to how great these are, J came back for seconds!


Five-Minute Lebkuchen Mousse

Ingredients:

1 package Mori-Nu Silken Tofu, Lite
~2 tbsp water
~3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
dash of salt

To taste:
liquid vanilla stevia
cinnamon
ground cloves
nutmeg
cardamom
allspice
coriander

Blend all of the above like crazy. I completely estimated the spices, but since the portion is not large, I don't think I used more than 1/4 tsp of any of them. To really recreate the taste of Lebkuchen, use more cinnamon and cloves than the other spices, and maybe add a little ground ginger too. (I wasn't brave enough to do that.)



Side-Dish Rice Pudding

Ingredients:

almost a full package of Mori-Nu Silken Tofu, Lite (use the extra for 5-Minute Mousse)
1 cup brown rice
dash of salt

To taste:
cinnamon
nutmeg
cardamom
liquid vanilla stevia

Cook the rice according to package directions. While cooking, blend the tofu with a half cup of water. When the rice is done, mix it with the tofu and all the other ingredients. Let it sit overnight, then adjust the sweetener and spices as needed.

I call this side-dish rice pudding, because even though it feels like you're eating dessert, you are actually eating something nutritious enough to be a side dish. No sugar, no cholesterol, hardly any fat. Tons of protein, fiber, and good-for-you spices.



And I can't finish this spicy post without mentioning our dinner for tonight. My elementary school friend posted this amazing recipe on her blog. I followed it exactly, except I didn't peel our potatoes or add any salt or pepper. Oh yeah...and I tripled the recipe. Again, no cholesterol, no fat. Tons of protein and fiber. We talked about some things that might kick it up a notch (bacon, coconut, yogurt or cheese), but are loving the healthy purity of our first batch.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

crazy cat ladies are hip

The blogosphere is full of crazy cat ladies in the closet. They slip in pictures of their cats in posts that are supposed to be about cooking or shopping or knitting. And sometimes they cave in and write a post exclusively about their cats, apologizing all the while for going off-topic, but aren't they just so cute?! Well, I say, apologize no more. It is hip to be a cat lady.

At least, that's what I thought when I stumbled upon this cat-obsessed blog. And when I found the link for submitting photos of your own cat? Well, I made the mistake of mentioning it to Maus, and she was so excited, I had to send some in.

I have a famous kitty and you can read all about her here. When the post revealed that I was the first stranger to send in photos to the blog, I felt admittedly a little crazy, but also a little proud. I think I'm a pioneer on the path to full crazy-cat-lady rights. And Maus gets to go down in history. What a lucky gal.

Friday, February 4, 2011

the world is changing

This past December, NPR aired this story on a place that is very near and dear to my heart, Central Falls High School, where I taught last year:


I immediately wanted to share it here, but wasn't sure what to say about it, because it just made me so sad. I know the students, I know the teachers, and I know the administrators. And at every level, there are amazing people, and there are people who are far too effective at dragging school culture down. But ultimately, Central Falls has just become too polarized to operate effectively. In such a small city, there is so much potential for unity and community intervention, but because everyone is so eager to assign blame and shirk responsibility, they seem to have progressed far beyond the possibility of reform. Reform requires real systemic change, and no one has yet managed to take that approach in Central Falls.

During this year, I have continued to talk with teachers and students there, and they paint a very sad picture. No one is happy. I'll be visiting this month, and I really hope to see individual progress in my former students, because I don't think the place is doing well as a whole.

So where is the positive spin I was hoping to put on this story? I used to have an idealistic vision that the world was headed toward some type of ultimate utopia, that we were knocking down our problems one by one to eventually resolve them all. Now it seems that every time we knock down one problem, another one pops up. There will always be more. But this is not at all depressing to me anymore. Nor is it a reason to stop tackling our problems. On the contrary, it seems to be the very reason we have to live. Every time we figure out one problem, we learn something about ourselves as individuals, and as a human society. And while there is always more suffering, being able to alleviate any of it is still a beautiful thing.

A couple of weeks ago, my mom sent me an email saying, "The world is changing." She was sharing some news of corporate recycling and composting. Just a few days ago, my brother sent me an email with an innovative way to feed the homeless. And yesterday, I attended a colloquium that detailed the work of City Connects, a Boston College program that works to provide services to students who need intervention at the academic, social, health and family levels. I was really impressed, and felt that the world might be changing.

City Connects is such a laudable program, because it bridges the gap between academic problem-solving and real-world implementation. They are improving the lives and test scores of urban, high-risk students as I write. Their solution is cost-effective and ultimately, very logical. They address the risk factors that children face outside of school and seek to alleviate those stresses. They work with teachers to build a better understanding of students. And they relieve the teachers of the external burdens that their students bring to class, so they can focus more on their teaching, and less on the physical and emotional well-being of students.

One of my frustrations with the medical community has been its inability to see the body and mind holistically. In other words, we go from specialist to specialist without looking at the big picture. And each doctor has no idea what the other is doing (more on this later). I think the same is true in education. We now know that factors both internal and external to school have an enormous effect on student performance. City Connects is like a holistic doctor. It centralizes the information on the student, so that schools, families, and social services can all address individual needs. It works to address academic success in a holistic way, one that addresses every factor which has an effect on success. And it holds everyone responsible, including the student.

So when I am saddened by the status of Central Falls, I remember that the world is changing, and that despite all the negativity in that school, there are still teachers there changing the fates of their students. And while they still have a whole slew of problems to address, there are teachers, students and leaders there, working tirelessly to knock down the little ones, one at a time.