Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Chalkboard Resurrection

My Chalkboard Shopping List.
I don't remember exactly when it happened.  Sometime in between playing Oregon Trail on boxy Apple computers in elementary school and typing "asdfasdfasdf;lkj;lkj;lkj" in typing classes in junior high, The Whiteboard Invasion occurred.  Riding the tail winds of the democratization of computers in the 1990s, whiteboards infiltrated my classrooms with their colorful dry-erase marker companions.  Together, computers and whiteboards advanced into the new millennium, leaving powder-ladened chalkboards behind in the 20th century.

But once upon a time, chalkboards were the new technology.  The Headmaster of a high school in Scotland invented the chalkboard probably around the turn of the 19th century.  However, until they become commonplace in America, classrooms and public education in this country were very different than today, as explained by Steven D. Krause in his scholarly article, "'Among the Greatest Benefactors of Mankind': What the Success of Chalkboards Tells Us about the Future of Computers in the Classroom" :   
The description of schools and schooling around 1800 by Paul Saettler in his text The Evolution of American Educational Technology is indeed grim.  Before and around 1800, instruction at the elementary and secondary level was more or less individual study;  “Developing understanding through inductive group discussions was unknown” (32).  Writing instruction seemed to have more to do with making copies of existing texts and "whittling goose-quill pens" (33) than what we might consider "writing instruction" from even a current-traditionalist paradigm.  Page 9
 By the mid-19th century, chalkboards had become ubiquitous in most American schools:
 …It seems to have been an innovation that became synonymous with “schooling.”  Even the small schools in rural and westward lands such as Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa had to have a blackboard… So from almost the beginning, the chalkboard seems to have been a technology that was universally accepted, immediately adopted, and widely praised.  As quoted in Tyack and Cuban’s book [Tinkering Toward Utopia], Josiah F. Bumstead wrote of blackboards in his 1841 book The Blackboard in the Primary Schools that “the inventor or introducer of the system deserves to be ranked among the best contributors to learning and science, if not among the greatest benefactors of mankind” (121).  Page 11
Yet, how quickly chalkboards disappeared from my classrooms in the 1990s, replaced by the identically-functional whiteboards and, most significantly, school computers.  Indeed, by high school, I was taking French lessons on computers in our language lab, copying notes from PowerPoint presentations in my U.S. history class, and writing all my essays and research papers with the help of spell and grammar check in Microsoft Word.  

The ubiquity of computers in 21st century education forces an important, retrospective question:  Is typing better or worse for our brains than handwriting?

Many researches think it's worse, which you can read about here, here, and in this article from the Wall Street Journal:
Using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging, researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.
It's not just children who benefit. Adults studying new symbols, such as Chinese characters, might enhance recognition by writing the characters by hand, researchers say. Some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.
So perhaps we should revive handwriting and the tools that facilitate it, like the chalkboard.  Happily, the popular website Pinterest is leading the Chalkboard Resurrection.  Just type "chalkboard" in the search box, and the results will blow you away with their simple creativity and an old-fashioned beauty that even the shiniest whiteboard couldn't match.

Imagine my delight when I found an old, dusty chalkboard sitting by its lonesome in my parents' garage.  My mom let me take it and even gave me some unused sidewalk chalk she had stored away.  With my new toy at home, I cleaned it off and propped it up against our kitchen counter - and hello new shopping list!   Forget the pen and paper; my new-old chalkboard is really a digital tool in disguise.  Now we just snap a picture of our Chalkboard Shopping List with our smartphone to produce a digital list to use at the grocery store.  So, on behalf of all of us who grew up with you, Chalkboard, welcome to the 21st century.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Engagement Ring Thing, Part 2

I’ve started to mind the public gaze towards my engagement ring when I wear it atop my wedding band.  But I didn’t always feel so self-conscious about it.  In the months leading up to our big day, I excitedly showed off my pretty diamond ring.  It was an outward symbol of my impending nuptials and, more importantly, my commitment.  But with our wedding day behind us and with new wedding bands to represent our commitment, my engagement ring now somehow feels a bit different.  Because it’s not a stand-in for the wedding band anymore, it feels... flashy.  Like a status symbol.

Indeed, the diamond solitaire ring is flashy by design, isn’t it?  It’s not like I have a Kardashian-style, bzillion carat rock sitting on my left hand, but my engagement ring draws attention anyway.  It sparkles and glimmers, and the gem juts out from the flesh of my knuckle like a crystal in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.  And when I push it up next to my wedding band, the diamond acts like a gemological prima donna, overwhelming the simple streamlines of the gold band, just screaming to be looked at.  

And people do look at it.  Women especially (we are very skilled left-hand gazers, aren’t we?).  Indeed, when I stopped wearing my engagement ring last summer, a few people asked me where it was.  If its absence is so noticeable, I thought, then my ring’s presence must be even more conspicuous.  And when I started wondering if it’s customary to nix the engagement ring after the wedding day, Google led to to some public forums whose participants reinforced the prominence of the public gaze towards the engagement ring:  You want to show the world the diamond engagement ring that your husband chose for you when he proposed- don't you? And don't you want to show them forever?” read one comment.  Another said, “You wear the engagement ring because what woman in her right mind is not gonna sport that diamond?”

But, permit me to be a wet blanket for a moment: perhaps there’s something more sinister going on with engagement rings than just wanting to show off our pretty diamonds.  Once you look into the history of the marketing of diamond engagement rings, they quickly lose their romantic veneer.  And I’m not even going into the conflict diamond stuff.  Here are a few quotes about the engagement ring industry from Anne Kingston in her brilliant book The Meaning of Wife:

  • “De Beers also put a value on the future wife directly linked to her husband’s earning potential.  That arrived with its edict that an engagement ring should cost two months of her future husband’s salary.  The size of the diamond, went the marketing message, represented the depth of love, as illustrated in one De Beers ad: ‘You can’t look at Jane and tell me she’s not worth two months’ salary.  Just look at her.  So I wanted to get her the biggest diamond I could afford.  One that other men could see without getting too close.’” p. 55
  • “De Beers’ marketing also influenced the engagement dynamic.  In promoting the ‘surprise’ proposal, the company perpetuated the notion that women play a passive role in the marriage decision...this strategy was calculated to benefit diamond merchants.  Its research revealed that if women are asked to pick out their engagement ring, they pick a less expensive ring than their fiance does.” - p. 56
  • “Within De Beers, however, no one deludes themselves about the gem’s financial value.  As [De Beers’ chairman] … told a British reporter in 1999: ‘ are intrinsically worthless, except for the deep psychological need they fill.’” - p. 56
This over-valuation of the engagement ring may actually reflect a sadder truth about women in our society, as suggested by Meghan O’Rourke in Slate Magazine:
So it's easy to simply regard a ring as a beautiful piece of jewelry and accept it in kind (I'm guilty myself). But it's also the case that a murkier truth lies within its brilliance: Women still measure their worth in relationship to marriage in ways that men don't. ... (It's telling, for example, that in many parts of Scandinavia, where attitudes toward gender are more egalitarian, both men and women wear engagement rings.)
Womp, womp.  It’s no fun to think of engagement rings so negatively, is it?  What these authors ignore is the loving intention behind the act of proposing with a ring, one of joy and unadulterated happiness. In spite of the great marketing ploys and the gender inequalities, we rightfully celebrate engagements and the gemstones that accompany them because we love Love.  And that’s a good thing.  

I once heard someone once describe engagement rings as the promise of marriage and the wedding band as the fulfillment of that promise.  Indeed, both rings are special symbols of love and commitment.  Yet, for me, the “promise” and the “fulfillment” are special in very different ways.  

Engagement rings are publicly special.  Designed to be seen and shown off, they’re gorgeous, flashy, protruding announcements of a proposal and a sparkly message of “Sorry, I’m taken” to the world.  Extrinsically valued, we celebrate engagement rings as we celebrate engagements. I love seeing relationship statuses changed to “engaged” on Facebook with corresponding ring pictures; I smile watching YouTube videos of surprise proposals; and I happily read gossip magazines’ articles advertising "all the details" on celebrity engagement rings.  

But I won’t remember what Drew Barrymore’s engagement ring looks like, and I’m sure I’ll forget about Jessica Biel’s ring whenever she finally decides to wear it out in public.  The ring I remember the most belonged to a professor in college.  He had one of the thinnest gold wedding bands I’d ever seen.  It communicated promises without pretension, love without wealth, and commitment without status. I thought it was beautiful.  Unpolluted by vanity, his ring was a symbol of his marriage in its purest form.

And that’s the beauty of the wedding band.  In contrast with the public gaze towards engagement rings, wedding bands are privately special. They may be exchanged in front of an audience, but their simplicity does not demand public attention.  No one notices them like they do engagement rings, and no one grabs your hand excitedly to see your new wedding band.  Rather, like the uniqueness of the love between spouses, wedding bands’ specialness can only be understood by the wearers.

So I guess that’s the real reason I sometimes prefer to wear my wedding band by itself nowadays - because its value is intrinsic.  Within its precious metal is something even more precious: the blessings of our families and friends and the private vows Ian and I pledged to each other on our wedding day, all imbuing a specialness even the largest diamond couldn’t match.  

But I suppose I can wear my engagement ring freely now that you know that, even though my diamond gets all the attention, it’s the thin band underneath that really matters.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Engagement Ring Thing, Part 1

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
1 Corinthians 13:4

I twisted my engagement ring back onto my finger last week for Valentine’s Day.  Ian surprised me with a cooking class for the two of us for the holiday (what a guy!), so I decided to don some of my special jewelry for the evening, including the earrings I wore on our wedding day and my diamond solitaire engagement ring (don’t worry, we didn’t get our hands too messy during the class).  It’s still sitting pretty on my the finger typing the letters s, w, q and x in this post.  

I hadn’t worn it for many months before last week.  I took off my engagement ring last summer because it’s a bit tight, even more so when my already-stubby fingers puff up in the summer heat.  After wearing it for nearly two years straight (a year before the wedding, and a year after), I was surprised that I didn’t miss it very much.  I enjoyed the simplicity of just wearing my wedding band.  So I kept my engagement ring in my jewelry chest, wearing it only sporadically.

But after a few comments about its absence last year, I started wondering: should I always wear my engagement ring with my wedding band?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my engagement ring.  Ian and I picked out the diamond together at Leber Jeweler in Chicago.  It’s a sustainably mined 3/4 carat diamond from Canada.  (Adorable fact about Canadian mined diamonds: in a effort to build a national brand, Canadian diamonds are etched with a microscopic image of either a bear or a maple leaf.)  I remember sitting in the jeweler’s office watching him pull various diamonds out of their red maple leaf-emblazoned paper squares, spreading them delicately across a soft velvety piece of black fabric.  It all felt very James Bond. But the gems didn’t even matter that much to me because all of the sparklers laying in front of us represented something much more precious: that we were acting on the commitment we both felt in our hearts.  

I proudly wore my engagement ring for the year of wedding planning, and quietly slipped it onto my right hand on our big day.


And with these words: “this ring which we have chosen together, I give in token of the covenant made this day between us.”  - we crowned our wedding bands as two of our most important possessions, knocking engagement ring off its meaningfulness throne  Because it plays second fiddle now, I don’t mind not wearing it.  Simply put: I’m not engaged anymore.

So I take pleasure in the simplicity of my wedding band. It doesn’t draw attention, no one asks to see it, and no one judges its size.  Therein lies another, perhaps more important reason I sometimes choose to keep my engagement ring in my jewelry chest: because it makes me feel a little bit self-conscious, which I’ll explore in Part 2.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Soft Skin Secret

I'm all for self-acceptance.  Even though I know I don't turn heads walking down the street like a Victoria Secret model does, when I get ready for the day I look at at my 170 pound self in the bathroom mirror, stretch marks and all, and I stick my tush out an tousle my hair, pout my lips and murmur to myself "Ooh I look good!"  It's like I have reverse body dysmorphia.  

So, most of the time, I like my body.  But when I tune into Downton Abby on Netflix and PBS, I find myself in unabashed admiration of Lady Mary's alabaster skin.  This past week I played "I-Spy" with her freckles.  Among a pale sea of perfectly smooth skin, I counted just two of them.  Someone sign that girl up for a Neutrogena commercial!  

I'm sure I should credit the makeup and lighting teams for such envy-producing skin because I know that most of us fair-skinned folk have a rough go of it.  I sunburn easily, have the oh-so-common little red bumps on my upper arms called keratosis pilaris, and my feet are so pale during winter that it looks like I'm wearing bleach-white socks.  Once when walking by Wrigley Field before a Cubs game in early Spring, some bro-dude scalping tickets said: "Anybody selling tickets or need tickets or need...[seeing me walking by in my shorts] a tanning salon?"  I'm a White Sox fan now.

I don't go tanning, and I'm not so great at applying bronzer, so I'm stuck with my fair and sensitive skin.  But I have found a way to make it much softer in texture and appearance: homemade body scrubs.

I learned about using an olive oil and sugar scrub from a natural spa workshop in Chicago.  But I didn't start keeping a jar of it in my shower until I became vegan.  Books like Eating Animals, Skinny Bitch, The China Study, and movies like Food, Inc. and Forks Over Knives - they all imbue an acute skepticism towards the government and industry's marketing of food to the masses.  For example, the famous Got Milk? campaign told us that milk helps us build strong bones.  But permit me to drop this fact bomb on you: did you know that countries that drink the most cow's milk have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world?  

This consumer skepticism spread quickly from my kitchen to my bathroom.  I started questioning the claims on the bottles of my shower gel and moisturizers.  It turns out that natural oils do an astounding job of moisturizing my skin, especially against dry winter weather, and I don't have to worry what "cyclopentasiloxane" is.  Now I love my homemade body scrub so much that I divvied up a big batch of it into individual jars, and gave it out as Christmas presents.  

I still make the occasional shopping trip to CVS for the products I'm not ready to give up yet, like my tinted moisturizer and benzoyl peroxide (hello, adult acne!). But I sure like being able to shop for my shower scrub in my pantry.  And no worries my skin absorbing weird chemicals - I eat both of the ingredients everyday!

I also use a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar to exfoliate my face a few nights a week.  If you find it to be too rough, you can also use baking soda.  And, if you are good with bronzer/self-tanner, the oil leftover on your skin from this scrub will make application a breeze!  

Soft Skin Hand and Body Scrub
2 cups sugar
1 cup olive oil
10-20 drops of essential oil like lavender (optional, available at Whole Foods)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Breaking My Paper Towel Addiction

Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” was probably thinking of environmentalists.  I minored in Environmental Studies in college, and now a thick coat of green guilt pollutes many of the everyday activities of my Western lifestyle.  When I accelerate too quickly after I get the green light, I think of the excess gasoline I'm burning; when I go the grocery store, I feel bad whenever I forget my reusable bags; and I often turn down the thermostat to 55 in winter, covering up in sweatshirts and blankets before upping the heat.

The upside of all this guilt is empowerment and purpose.  I’ve donated to help hunger relief efforts in Somalia, and I’ve signed petitions to defend human and animal rights, but I act to protect the environment in the choices I make every single day.  

Yet there’s one place where I haven’t been so environmentally diligent: paper towels.  I’ve been known to reuse a tissue after wiping off a smudge of mascara, and I even started buying less-soft toilet paper after reading this New York Times article, which says that the really plush, cozy T.P. is much worse for forests than recycled paper alternatives.  
But I love me some paper towels.  I use them as napkins, dish scrubbers, microwave covers, and general de-messers.  I’ve even used a whole paper towel for a scant drip of juice or oil on the counter - even to clean up water spills.  

They may be convenient, but paper towels are not very “green.”  Here’s a few not-so-fun facts about the paper industry from
  • The United States consumes 30 percent of the world’s paper each year.
  • Of the 741 pounds of paper used by the average American each year, close to 55 pounds is tissue paper (which includes paper towels, napkins, facial tissue, and toilet tissue).
  • Even with recycling programs, a little more than one-third of the trash going into landfills is paper products. Paper towels are not recycled.
And a couple more for good measure from The Daily Green:
  • Paper accounts for 25% of landfill waste (and one third of municipal landfill waste).
  • Municipal landfills account for one third of human-related methane emissions (and methane is 23-times more potent a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide).

So on Friday night, after years of keeping a stray dish towel dangling off of the oven door handle, I made the full paper-to-cloth switch.  I bought $10 worth (meaning, a lot) of old dish towels and cloth napkins from Goodwill to supplement my current stash.  I reorganized my cabinet space and two of my storage bins - one for clean towels and one for dirty - and dusted off my crab-shaped napkin holder (which we fondly named “Crabkin”).  Finally, I put away my paper towels and their little upside-down-T-shaped holder away in a hard-to-reach cupboard, intending to use them for emergency “biomaterial” spills only.  

"Crabkin" with our collection of cloth napkins and nice, hand-drying only, dish towels

The environmental benefit of choosing cloth over paper towels will be diffuse - I won’t get to see the trees I save.  But the financial benefits will be concentrated squarely in our diminished grocery bills: According to Green Matters, the average family uses around 104 rolls of paper towels each year, at at annual cost of $180!  And that’s the best thing about caring for the environment: while Mother Earth will give you a karmic nod of gratitude for choosing cloth towels over paper, driving slower, and turning down the thermostat in winter; your bank account will thank you, too.  

(Check out the NRDC’s ratings of the most environmentally-friendly household paper products here.)  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chemo Tuesdays

Tuesday is quickly turning into one of my favorite days of the week.  Not because of any Domino’s pizza deals or even the half-off movie ticket prices on Tuesdays at the cinema.  Nope.  I love Tuesdays because that’s when my aunt comes in to town for her chemotherapy treatments.

I know.  Chemotherapy, like cancer, s-u-c-k-s.  It makes my aunt sick and sleepy and initially caused her to lose her hair.  But, in her true fashion, she died the peach fuzz on her head hot pink.  And now she has managed to make her Tuesday poisoning appointments into one of my favorite weekly activities because I get the spend the whole afternoon with the lovely ladies that are are my aunt and my mother.  I love them both by themselves, but the sum of them together is different/funnier/crazier than the individual parts.  Indeed, Chemo Tuesdays renew my appreciation for living close to my family.

It all starts when I pick my mom up from her elementary school at 2:45, where she works as an ESL teacher and instructional aide.  On the drive over to the Indy hospital where we meet my aunt for her appointments, I ask my mom about her day.  She explains the triumphs and the difficulties of teaching foreign-born children, all while trying her darndest to avoid stereotyping whole ethnicities based on the academic performances of a few ten-year olds: “Ji-eun always come to class prepared, but Mahdad won’t even stay in his seat!”

As we walk into the cancer treatment center we smile and nod hello to the familiar faces of the staff nurses.  We find Aunt by the Keurig machine brewing her very own cup of “butter toffee coffee.”  I like the way that sounds.  She knows I don’t drink coffee so she generously offers to make me a cup of chai tea.  I say, “No, thanks.  I always thought chai tea tasted like Christmas.  I love Christmas, but not in my mouth.”  

We all settle down into our respective seats - Aunt in her plush recliner, finished in a warm fabric that’s the same color as her sweet coffee.  My mom and I sit facing her, and we chat casually with the nurses about the easiest of current conversation topics: the Super Bowl last Sunday.  After affirming their Indy-born allegiance to the Giants (read: Manning’s) against the Patriots, the three of us are tacitly surprised that none of the nurses have heard of the Puppy Bowl, whose popularity is a difficult thing to explain: “Well, there are these puppies playing football on a mini-field, and you can see them through the water bowl cam.  And then there’s kitty half-time...”  

In the meantime, two other nurses are getting my aunt’s chemo cocktail ready.  After checking her blood work and prepping the port embedded in her chest, they hook up a network of plastic chutes that funnel into a single tube that drips liquid into her body.  I stare, as always, amazed at the insignificance of the little plastic bag that contains the chemo drugs.  I always expect it to be filled with radioactive green goop and marked with fiery red and black words of warning, yet the clear bag of anti-cancer drugs looks as innocuous as the saline.  But I know those are powerful chemicals in there, and I say a little prayer of thanks for the medicine and for its effectiveness.  

Once the bag is empty and the nurses detach my aunt from the web of plastic tubes, we leave a few business cards at the nurses desk for our next destination: a dark and cozy den in Indy where we get our feet rubbed by Chinese men.

Seriously.  Aunt started going to a Chinese massage parlour called “Foot Fitness” initially to help with neuropathy in her toes, which can be a side-effect of chemotherapy.  But with the $25/hour pricetag, the soothing music, and firm-but-soft hands, the three of us are hooked.  Lucky me, this week my foot-rubber had the upper body build of Daniel Dae Kim.


Normally the masseurs conclude by rubbing my back.  After interweaving his fingers in mine (normal for the hand massage) and throwing my arm against the back of the cushy massage chair (new to me), I was kind of hoping we’d conclude with a little make-out session in the dark.  No such luck.  When he finished pushing on my lower back he said, “Okay, lady, you done.”  

Leaving with my hair-tousled from a head massage and looking like I did just have a make-out session, we head across the street to our third destination: Costco.  I smooth out my hair in the cold parking lot as my aunt and mother tear through their purses looking for their Costco membership cards.  My mom has the audacity to make fun of the sound of papers ruffling in her sister’s purse.  I don’t even think to complain about the wait because A. The two of them rummaging through their purses makes me laugh and B. because I know they’re about to spoil me rotten with fun Costco food purchases.

Suffice it to say that my mom and aunt are not so great at passing up a good bargain.  So walking past the Costco bouncer into the bulk store is kind of like walking into a candy shop with my husband: I know we’re not leaving empty handed.

“Let’s get this 24oz jar of olive muffaletta spread.”
“Annie, can you eat this?  No, it has milk protein in it. But this one’s gluten free!”
“My friend told me Ensure shakes tastes like chocolate metal.”
“Where are the fiber tablets?  I see Calcium supplements, but where’s the Fiber One?”  This search for powdered ruffage inevitable ends with the lone call of “HUCKLE BUCKLE BEANSTALK!” - my mom found them.

We leave with a probably-too-large receipt (I blame the 144 pack of Sam Adams my mom bought for my dad), but also a few six-packs of Glide dental floss on sale for $10 each - holla!

In our final Chemo Tuesday indulgence, we eat dinner at McAlister’s Deli before Aunt drives home. In celebration of our Costco purchase, Mom decides to get the New Orleans Muffaletta Sandwich.  I order a baked potato with veggies and veggie chili on top, no cheese.  Aunt orders the yang to my yin - a bacon spud with sour cream and regular chili.

“Your total is is $30.57.” The cashier says.
“Who has 57 cents?!” challenges my mom.
“I do!”
I pull out my wallet to help.  But in the ultimate head-start, Mom empties the contents of her change-purse directly onto the deli counter.  She gets the two quarters, a nickel, and two pennies before I can even reach for my first quarter.  
“You win, Mommy.” I say. “And by ‘win,’ I mean you ‘lose’ because you have to pay.”

“Have you ladies ever been to the Foot Rub place across the street?” My aunt asks the cashier and the young girl filling up our iced teas.
“No, I’ve never been in there.”
“I’ll give you one of their business cards.  I have a few in my purse somewhere.”
“I’ll look in mine, too.  Who can find one first!?” says my mom.  So begins another three-minute paper-shuffle to find the Foot Fitness cards in their respective purses.

“Man, you guys compete for everything, don’t you?”  The cashier remarks.  
“Found one!”  My Aunt wins again.  She’s 2 and 0 for finding cards in her purse.  I’m impressed.

Once we sit down to dinner, the conversation comes easily, like it always should with family.  At one point, they both start tearing up as my mom recounts a story she watched on ESPN about the Baltimore Colts Marching Band: “The football team left in their Mayflower trucks in the middle of the night in whatever year that was, but the marching band showed up the next day at the stadium with their instruments in hand, all ready to play!”  They may both be tearing up, but I smile at their likeness.

Once the plates are cleared, the bulk purchases divided (who really needs two jars of Grey Poupon, after all?), the Foot Rub cards distributed, and the chemo drugs are at work inside my aunt’s body, it’s time for us all to drive home.  

Teddy greets me at the door with a look of excitement and exhaustion at wondering where I’ve been all day.  “I missed you, Teddy, but it’s Chemo Tuesday and I had so much fun.” I say.  “I hope someday soon I can start calling it Foot-Rub Tuesday.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Healthier Mac and Cheese - What?!

The past few weeks I have been seriously considering going gluten-free for a trial period to determine if I’m sensitive to wheat in my diet, which is something I’ve suspected for awhile now.  Yet, as a vegan, I can’t help but wonder, if I eliminate wheat from my diet, what the h-e-double hockey sticks am I going to eat?  So, out of lack of preparedness, I’m putting off my gluten-free trial for at least another week.  Stay tuned!

It doesn’t get much more gluten-ey than pasta, does it?  If I’m going to inflame my digestive system, then mac and cheese is how I want to do it!

I know vegan macaroni and cheese seems oxymoronic.  Indeed, when I stopped eating animal products, there were some dishes I thought I would just never be able to eat again, and hamburgers and mac and cheese were #1 and #2 on my list of most-missed foods.

Well, I’ve come to learn that vegan mac and cheese is NOT an oxymoron.  I tweaked a recipe from a vegan cookbook that my turkey-basting grandparents got me for Christmas - yay for awesome grandparents and inter-generational acceptance!

On a related note, also not an oxymoron: chubby vegan.  Case in point, this is what the casserole dish looks like only 10 hours after I took the first photo:

I told you it was delicious! I love to sprinkle it with a few dashes of Tabasco sauce.

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound macaroni, shell, or rotini pasta
2 medium (or 3 small) yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cups of water
2/3 cup of canola or vegetable oil
2/3 cup raw cashews
2 teaspoons salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
2 Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon squeezed)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 or 1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly oil a baking pan or casserole dish.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Bring potatoes, carrots, onion, and 2 cups of water to a boil.  Turn down to low and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  *Do not drain the water from the vegetables*

In a blender or food processor, combine the cooked vegetables with their cooking water, oil, cashews, salt, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, pepper, and cayenne pepper.  BE CAREFUL IF THE LIQUID LEVEL IS HIGH!  If using a blender, like me, pulse the mixture together gently before hitting the “Blend” button - this will help you prevent a Brawny commercial-worthy explosion of hot liquid all over your counters.  Blend until smooth.

Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.  

Mix cheese sauce in with the cooked pasta and pour into the casserole dish, sprinkle with bread crumbs.  

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling on the edges.