Saturday, March 26, 2011

health food can be deceptive

Have you ever tried to buy granola without any sugar in it? It's basically impossible. And this is maddening to me. There are companies that cater to the vegan crowd, the gluten-free crowd, the low-carb crowd...but where are the natural, sugar-free products? No offense to those other crowds...I think they're all great, but I think it's a sham when health food companies market cereals with half your daily quota for sugar in one serving.

I figured homemade granola can't be that hard. Guess what? It's not.


Sugar-Free Granola

Ingredients:
3 cups oatmeal
1 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup peanuts
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup egg substitute (or 3 eggs, beaten)
1/4 cup oil (coconut, olive, etc.)
1/4 cup sugar-free peanut butter
1 tsp liquid vanilla stevia
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients (first 7). Mix the wet ingredients separately; the peanut butter won't really mix in, but can sort of be mashed into the eggs. Pour the wet into the dry and mix quickly and thoroughly. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray and spread the mixture between the two sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. I broiled mine for the last two of those minutes, to get a nice crispy, brown finish.

I also added some sugar-free chocolate to mine, which was a mistake. Next time I'll leave that out. But don't think I'm not a fan...I hope to share some of the confections I'm creating in the near future. Here's a teaser: sugar-free peanut butter cups.

Here's the best part about this granola. I had to do with what was in the house. But peanut butter can be easily replaced with apple butter or almond butter. Almonds and peanuts might become pecans and cashews. Raisins might be dried cranberries. Coconut might be applesauce. And so on...the possibilities are endless. Please let me know if you try this and come up with something great.

~~~

Maus also recently learned a life lesson. Turns out, she thought the point of bonsai plants was to trim the tops of the plants, not the roots.


I'm not going to give up on this little guy just yet, but today I treated myself to a new baby...one that doesn't need to be on an easily accessible window sill for light.


Hopefully Maus won't learn to climb the bookshelf anytime soon...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

handmade is worth it

Worth the time, worth the investment, worth the effort.

I didn't think I had any natural talent for crafting. But after spending way too much time trying to figure out how I could trick my sister into making more of her beautiful handmade knits for me (just kidding...sort of), I decided it was about time to pick up the
needles
needle myself. Crocheting keeps it pretty simple. The payoffs? Stress relief. Custom-made items. A reason to think creatively. Oh...and lots of self-satisfaction.

Here are my first two projects. I'm looking forward to sharing more.




Leg Warmers

Pattern from Crochet Kitten.
Using multi-colored Ornaghi Filati Malaga yarn (gotta love the name).









Coasters

Pattern from Pardon My Chaos.
Using Nashua Hand Knits in Cherry Red.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

rules are made to be bent

Ok, I broke a rule. I baked with agave syrup. And technically, that's breaking my no-sugar rule. But here's why I'm classifying it as bending...

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food will cause your blood sugar to spike. Glucose comes in at 100 on the scale and white bread comes in at 70. Both values are high, meaning the body will immediately react with a whole lot of insulin when you eat them. Sucrose (table sugar) is around 60-65. Complex carbohydrates come in lower, usually between 30 and 50. Agave syrup, which is almost completely composed of fructose, also comes in at a 10 or 11. So while eating agave syrup is still technically putting sugar into your body, it will certainly not be processed in the same way as regular white sugar.

Here's another helpful fact. Agave syrup is much sweeter than regular sugar. That means you can use a lot less to get the same sweet flavor. Which is how I got each of the cookies below to have just under 2 g of sugar each (less than half of a typical cookie, depending on your recipe).

Bending this rule was so worth it. These cookies are amazing. But I'd still recommend enjoying in moderation.

And no links to other blogs this time; this recipe came from me.


Coconut Cardamom Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups oats
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup agave syrup
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup egg substitute (or 2 eggs, whipped)
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the first seven (dry) ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining four (wet) ingredients. Add the dry mixture to the wet, one-third at a time, stirring until just mixed. Put spoonfuls of dough on non-stick cookie sheets and bake for 12 minutes. Don't judge the pictures too harshly...makes 36 delicious cookies.





Friday, March 4, 2011

change can be empowering

And it can also be scary. With budgetary crises around every corner, the world of education has taken many brutal hits in the past few weeks. On top of the amazingly long stand-off in Wisconsin, the latest news includes "Draconian" cuts to Detroit's educational budget (which might result in class sizes of up to 60 students) and the mass firing of all Providence teachers (this supposedly being a budgetary, rather than reform move). How can one little state be wrapped up in so much educational scandal?

If people play their parts right, this moment might be very empowering for teachers and students across the country. But all signs point to big change.


I have to start this post with a disclaimer.

Disclaimer: I SUPPORT TEACHERS. I have a great deal of love and respect for the profession, and that is exactly why I think we need to be brutally honest when we talk about it. I do not mean to generalize, but there is certainly a big picture that needs to be seen, and to see it, we have to acknowledge that there are good and bad teachers, there are good and bad administrators, there are a zillion factors that contribute to educational success, and no one can possibly attack them all. That being said, let's start with a baby step.

So you know I support teachers. But I do not support the teachers' union. Unions in general are fine by me, but I don't think the teaching profession should be represented by a group that protects workers that are easily mistreated. Yes, the union has done a lot to prevent unfair mistreatment of teachers in the past. But I think its role has become ridiculous. The union is an impediment to reform. For as much as it has protected good teachers, it has also protected bad teachers. It sets up major barriers to fair evaluations (and therefore, to teacher development) and promotes seniority as the main measure of teacher effectiveness. But that's not even my real beef with it.

I don't think the teachers' union respects teachers. I'm using possessive there for a reason. The union is supposed to belong to teachers. And yet, I know many, many teachers who are obligated by law to join and pay dues, even though they would rather not be represented by the union. And here's why I think so many teachers are offended by that: teaching is a profession, an art, a science. It requires a great deal of skill. If you're good at it, you're proud of it...and you're not scared of evaluations. To watch sub-par teachers be supported by the union is insulting to teachers who know what it takes to be stellar.

I think we need to finally treat teaching as the profession that it is, akin to being a lawyer or a dentist. It should require a great deal of education. It should require full-time work, year-round. It should set high standards, and rewards should be based on performance. And it should be well-rewarded, very well-rewarded. We should hear kids saying, "I want to be a teacher when I grow up, so I can be rich." Or something close to that...

The union might say it wants that too. But ultimately, it's just very political, and very polarizing. A union victory means a political victory for representatives, so rational negotiating often turns into a debilitating stand-off. I was a teacher during one of those stand-offs and I didn't feel supported by the administration or the union. I felt like a pawn.

This leaves us in a catch-22. Unfortunately, teachers still need protection. The accountability that we demand for teachers has not yet been extended with as much oomph to administration and policy makers. So abuses can, and do, occur. But as long as we are protecting teachers with a union, the profession can't really move forward.

What to do? I'm not sure. But I've seen some good thoughts. This presentation from The New Teacher Project (who ran my certification program), demonstrates the importance of eliminating quality-blind layoffs. It also dispels some myths about seniority-based layoffs and offers some ideas about effective evaluating (to avoid the pitfalls of evaluations by administrators or value-added analysis). And while I'm not sure how I feel about this move to grade teachers' colleges, I think it points to an important variable in the equation: higher education. Teachers' colleges are in a key position to help define the way we recruit and prepare the best possible teachers of tomorrow.


If you'll allow me to spew for just a little longer, I'll just add that this is also extremely interesting from a partisan perspective. Traditionally, Democrats support unions and Republicans oppose them. But there are a lot of Republican teachers. And there are increasing numbers of Democrats who are fighting the teachers' union.

So I'm excited to be in education during such an empowering moment. It's personally empowering for me. So I'll share with you now my own big change. Next year, I'll be shifting research gears to work for two new professors on teacher/district/evaluation-related studies. I couldn't be more excited. It's made me start thinking of ideas that might actually be valuable in an applied sense...not just on paper to earn a degree.

Am I being idealistic? Absolutely. Unfortunately, the catalyst for all of this is money, and to get more money into education, we have to change the way people think about it. Here is some final food for those thoughts from one of my favorite commentators...


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

babies grow up...

But some things never change...



Happy second birthday, Maus!