Saturday, January 30, 2010

A promise to bake more bread

There is something very simple one can do in the kitchen that I'm going to make a very good effort to do more of: bake my own bread.

We go through a lot of whole wheat bread in this house. I love toast, my toddler loves to share my toast, I love to make French toast and my husband loves an evening snack of bread and butter and hummus (especially if I make his snack FOR him :) We usually go through two loaves a week.

I did a quick calculation and that's about $250 to $300 a year in bread, if not more. If I make it at home it would only be about $50 a year in ingredients. Not to mention by making it here I can control what goes in it, substituting local honey for the processed cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup and a myriad of preservatives I can't pronounce. I always believed that a simple loaf of bread should only consist of flour, yeast, water, milk, honey, salt and butter. Maybe some oats on top to make it look pretty.

So while my bread is rising (hopefully, I can't seem to find a warm spot in the house on this cold New England day) I thought I'd write a little bit about why I love the process of making bread. The yeasty smell of the sponge, the warm sticky dough in your hands, the whir of my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer (without which I'd probably have stronger arms but would make less bread), that fun moment when you get to punch the dough, and finally the amazingly rich and comforting odor of it baking after all the rising and shaping and kneading. There's nothing quite like it....

And, now four hours later, I wish I could send you all some of the final product through the interweb but you'll have to settle for the picture above of it cooling on my counter and imagine the sensation of eating a warm piece with melted butter. Yum. I will most definitely do this more often! I'm going to have to since we ate half of one of the loaves already!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A happy, happy, happy walk around Ipswich

After all of last week's political gloom and doom, and then cold and snow, this morning dawned a balmy 38 degrees. I was determined to take my toddler for an early morning walk around town to cheer us up, banish the cabin fever we've both been feeling and hopefully spot the bald eagle I saw near the town wharf a few weeks ago (when I sadly did not have a camera). One thing I love about my town is that I can step out my front door, walk five minutes down the street and be along the river walk.

I told my daughter that it won't be long before the chimney swifts are back to nest in the round holes in the foundation of the long building on the right (click to enlarge). They fill the sky over the river in the summer chasing insects.

It was still a bit icy and with yesterday's rain there was a lot of water coming over the dam. This dam has been here for centuries but there's a movement starting in town to have it removed to make fish passage easier and hopefully restore our anadromous fish run. Studies show there's bedrock just upstream of the dam and without the impediment there would be a nice rapid right through town. Our house is just around the bend upstream, we could literally walk to the end of our street, jump in our kayaks and paddle the three miles out to sea. I told my daughter that I hope we can all do that someday, she smiled.

She was even more happy when I let her out of the stroller to walk up and down the foot bridge. This is the first time she's been able to do this since she learned to walk as there's been so much snow and ice. I swear she let out a twenty second rapid jumble of words as soon as she ran up to the bars and pressed her little face closer to the falls. I recognized "happy", "water" and "walk" in there. "Happy" was repeated over and over. It's her new favorite word.

She fell asleep somewhere along the lower river near the town wharf so she missed the beautiful shapes the melting ice takes when the current slows.

But when she woke up in Zumi's, our local fair trade coffee shop, she babbled "happy" again and again. I think we both feel better. Walks and January thaws (and a decaf caramel cloud latte for me:) definitely make us both "happy". Perhaps when she wakes up from her nap we'll go to the beach!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Asian Carp invades Great Lakes

I just got this form letter (below) from the Michigan Attorney General in an email from a former Aquarium colleague. It is sad news indeed: the Asian Carp has been found in the Great Lakes. These guys get HUGE as you can see in the photo to the right. What's even more sad is US federal authorities knew about it and have done nothing to stop them. The future of the Great Lakes hangs in the balance, although I have a bad feeling the Lakes will never be the same again. For a full article from the Huffington Post click here.

Please read the letter below and if you have a minute stop by to sign the petition that will be sent to Washington:

Can You Help? Tell your friends about
Thank you for signing the online petition to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs and the Great Lakes at Your efforts are helping me make our case to President Obama and Congress that residents of the Great Lakes region will not stand by silently as federal officials allow Asian carp to destroy our Lakes.


Now you can do even more. Please forward this email to five friends or family members, one for each of the Great Lakes , asking them to sign the petition at

We need to act because the U.S. Supreme Court declined this week to close the locks in Chicago that can stop Asian carp from entering the Lakes, ignoring Michigan 's pleas and those of Ohio , Minnesota , Wisconsin , Pennsylvania , New York and Ontario .

Making things worse, it was revealed federal authorities knew of new DNA evidence of Asian carp IN LAKE MICHIGAN but did not make the Court aware before it made its decision.

The front door to Lake Michigan remains wide open even as these waterborne aliens threaten to devastate the Lakes' $7 billion fishery and hundreds of thousands of jobs connected to the health of the Lakes. The need for each of us to act has never been greater.


Please forward this email right now to five friends or family members, asking them to visit and sign the petition demanding authorities in Washington D.C. and Illinois act today.

That's telling one friend about for each of the Great Lakes . Please help us sound this critical alarm.

Thank you,

Mike Cox
Michigan Attorney General

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mass Backwards

I could write a lengthy blog about my disappointment at my state's election results. But instead I will leave you with this link to Jon Stewart's Monday night clip: Mass Backwards. It kind of sums up how I feel, and it's at least giving me a good laugh, which I need right now as I think of all the uninsured people, and children, that are out there in this country. I am glad to live in a Commonwealth that takes care of its citizens by providing affordable health care. Many of my friends use Mass Health and are very grateful for the program.

So I hope you enjoy a laugh and that you aren't one of the thousands who worry about how they're going to pay for their health care. And I hope, for the rest of the country who stands with me on this issue, that next time Massachusetts can put forth a better Democratic candidate that will get the job done.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Myopia sled dog races!!

YES! Sled dog racing on the north shore of Massachusetts! Last month, when my husband and I saw the sign hanging across the entrance to the Myopia Hunt Club (more well-known for their summer polo matches) we almost jumped out of our seats. How cool would it be to see a real dog sled race!

This past Saturday the day came, we packed Lizzie up in warm clothes and headed to neighboring Hamilton for the Myopia Sled Dog Races. The first thing I noticed is that a lot of the dogs weren't your typical Alaskan Sled Dog, huskies or malamutes. Most of them looked more like this adorable guy:

But there were more typical sled dogs, some of them already linked together waiting for their race: Unfortunately, our toddler only lasted an hour so we only got to see the Skijoring. Skijoring? Yup, that's the sport where a cross country skier is pulled by one or two dogs. Sounds odd, but when my husband saw the first racer enter the final stretch he said, "that's the BEST sport EVER!" And it did look pretty cool.

I think our toddler didn't last long because she wore herself out running around. She was excited because the club bulldozed the snow away from the viewing area and it was the first time she was able to walk around outside (without being caught in a snowdrift) since she learned to walk last month.

So we never got to see the 4 and 8 dog professional races head out. But it was a beautiful day, you could wander around and get up close to all the racing dogs, everyone was friendly - especially the people that Lizzie ran into when she was running around in circles.

And thanks to the New England Sled Dog Club for making it a free event! We hope it comes back to Massachusetts next year, you might just see my husband skijoring, now if we only had a trained sled dog...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Beware of sneaky ingredient changes in your favorite foods

I realized something this week that first made me enormously angry, and then just really sad. I have been buying Cascadian Farm's organic Purely O's cereal for my toddler for about four months now. I chose this brand over Cheerios and Trader Joe's O cereal because it was organic AND only had fruit juice as the sweetener. In an age where everything seems to have added cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup I was very happy to find Purely O's.

Then something happened a few days ago. I noticed the Os in new box I purchased were a slightly lighter color, so I tasted one. It was REALLY sweet. Upon looking at the label I saw that for some reason there's now sugar, tapioca syrup and molasses. WHAT! Now they have three times the sugar as Cheerios! And no warning on the label that there's now added sugar to Lizzie's favorite formerly healthful snack.

So I wrote the company explaining the reasons I stated above for choosing their product and my confusion at the new ingredients. This was their response:

Thank you for contacting Cascadian Farm regarding your dissatisfaction with the recent reformulation of Cascadian Farm organic Purely O's cereal.

Our goal is to give consumers quality products at a good value. Prior to introducing any product, extensive consumer testing is done. We conduct market research and product testing continuously to obtain consumer reaction to existing products and to changes being considered. Only when we feel confident that a product change will broaden its appeal will we alter a product’s formulation. We are sorry that you do not agree that the recent change in Cascadian Farm organic Purely O's cereal was for the better.

We appreciate your loyalty to General Mills and hope you continue to choose our products.


Katie Gafler
Consumer Services

I do believe that in a taste test the average American would choose the sweeter product, we are so programmed to expect sugar that I don't blame the taste testers. But what about those of us who don't WANT the sugar! I'm not the only mom who noticed and is a bit pissed off. On Urban Baby. com there are quite a few complaints. I'm glad it's not just me.

Now I'm just sad that the one more product has fallen victim to the sugar mentality. And I'm sad that because of childhood obesity Lizzie's generation is the first predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than my generation. How can we keep our kids healthy and slim if everything they eat is loaded with sugar? I'll keep looking and shopping around and hopefully I can find another organic and cane sugar-free version of Cheerios.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Genetically modified food proven to cause organ and endocrine damage

Finally, actual physical proof that genetically modified food causes organ damage. In an elegant recent French data analysis, three GM corn strains were shown to cause damage to rats fed the corn for 90 days. I won't go into too many specifics, the article in the International Journal of Biological Sciences can be read in full here. But for those of you not willing to wade through the medical terms and experimental facts, figures and graphs I will sum up as best I can.

  • Rats were fed three genetically modified corn strains (interestingly two of them were developed by Monsanto, my most hated large agro-conglomerate).
  • All three of these GM crops have genes in them that either tolerate mass exposure to the herbicide Roundup (therefore having Roundup residue in them) or manufacture their own pesticides. To quote the article "Therefore, all these three GM maize contain novel pesticide residues that will be present in food and feed."
  • Detrimental health effects were different for male and females, which is not surprising as pesticides and herbicides can interfere with endocrine functions.
  • "Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted."
The authors stress that this study was only conducted over a 90 day period and long term studies are necessary. If you think about it, we've all been eating GM food since they were introduced in the early 1990s. What really scares me is children who are exposed to GM food from infancy. Unless you buy organic the cereals, french fries, corn chips and cookies your kids are eating are mostly likely made from GM grains.

Even baby formula made from cow's milk is manufactured from cow's most likely fed GM corn. One more reason to buy organic! I shudder to think what this is doing to their little endocrine systems. I am lucky that we can afford organic formula and now milk. But, a lot of parents either can't afford it or don't think it's necessary.

The most interesting fact about this study is it wasn't conducted by the French authors. These data were actually collected by Monsanto or on behalf of Monsanto. The authors actually had to go to court to obtain the results as stated in this paragraph below:

"The raw biochemical data, necessary to allow a statistical re-evaluation, should be made publically available according to European Union Directive CE/2001/18 but unfortunately this is not always the case in practice. On this occasion, the data we required for this analysis were obtained either through court actions (lost by Monsanto) to obtain the MON 863 feeding study material (June 2005), or by courtesy of governments or Greenpeace lawyers. We thank the Swedish Board of Agriculture, May 30, 2006 for making public the NK 603 data upon request from Greenpeace Denmark and lawyers from Greenpeace Germany, November 8, 2006 for MON 810 material. This allowed us to conduct for the first time a precise and direct side-by-side comparison of these data from the three feeding trials with these GMOs."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Year's Resolution: fix that leaky faucet!

With the new year some people resolve to lose weight, get in shape, be a better person...sure I'd like to do all of that. But first I must fix the leaky faucet in the bathroom. For nearly two years it's been dripping, most recently at about one drip every three seconds. I discovered it's just the hot water, so when we're not around I've been shutting off the hot water feed. But the rest of the time it drips, wasting 9 ounces per hour or 1.69 gallons a day. Over the course of the year that's about 620 gallons. In a town where our river sometimes has low water flow issues even 620 gallons a year makes a difference.

I've never fixed a faucet before, which might be surprising since in my former career I built plumbing systems at a large Aquarium. Here's me doing some extreme plumbing in one of the older 11,000 gallon saltwater reservoirs. Yet, if I messed something up at work I could always beg one of the professional plumbers who care for the really big exhibits to come bail me out. I get really nervous working on plumbing at home, there's no one but an expensive private plumber to bail my butt out.

But this morning I took the plunge. I shut off the hot water feed line and popped the top off the hot water faucet. I undid the screws and took off all the metal gaskets, but then I ran into trouble. The plastic plumbing underneath looked nothing like the picture of the brass "pressure faucet" in my Home Depot fix-everything book.

So what am I going to do? Keep the hot water shut off and wait for my husband to get home for moral support. He may not know what to do any more than I, but at least he can laugh with me if I break the faucet. When I do finally get that plastic housing off I'll be able to tell what kind of rubber gasket needs to be replaced and then good bye leaky faucet!

Replacing a leaky faucet shouldn't be that hard, mine's just being slightly extra challenging. So, if you have one leaking in your house get it fixed. A faucet dripping at one drop per second can waste up to 20 gallons a day. I'm lucky mine was only wasting less than two gallons a day!

Happy New Year everyone!