Saturday, January 28, 2012

Updated, easy to make, kick ass vegan gluten free bread

... with one small problem.

A few months ago, my daughter posted a link on the PPK site to my vegan, gluten-free millet bread.  That has gotten more hits than almost anything else I've written.  And well it should- the bread comes out great.

However, I wasn't entirely happy with that recipe.  You see, I like to keep things as simple as possible, and I know I'm not alone.  One of the things that makes regular old white bread so easy to make is that you don't need that many ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast.  Yeah, sugar or some other sweetener will make it rise faster and it's always nice to have some richness via oil or other fat, but the four ingredients are all you really need.  (And people, don't skimp on the salt.  You could do away with the yeast before you could do away with the salt- for real.)  I had you going for quite a few flours that may be hard to find, and that made me feel bad.

Since I put that recipe up, I've done quite a bit of experimenting with the bean-free, gluten-free flour mix that BabyCakes Covers the Classics includes.  And you know what?  It's fabulous.  I got the brilliant idea to try it in my bread recipe, and it worked.  It didn't just work once or twice, it's worked more than five times.  It's so much simpler- and cheaper, with easier to find ingredients- and you're going to love it.

Just one problem: I don't have permission to tell you what the flour mix is.  I wrote to them and asked, but I haven't heard back.  Well, ugh.  Some people would just tell you anyway, but that's not the way I roll.  I feel comfortable telling you that it includes brown rice flour, potato starch and cornstarch, but I can't tell you the proportions.

But... there is a preview available on Google Books, and possibly on Amazon.  Here it is.  Go to page 24, which is included in the preview, and look at the section "If You Don't Want To Use Bean Flour".  The mix described there is what I use, although instead of using arrowroot, I use cornstarch.  I use this in bread, in cake, in brownies and in veggie burgers.  It works.

Do I need to tell you that if you're vegan and you have a wheat problem that you should buy the BabyCakes books?  Well, you should.  Because Erin McKenna does some things with donuts that actually make me want to eat donuts and the frosting is one of the best frostings I've ever tasted- like egg yolk buttercream, but not unctuous.  Go, buy the book.

Without further ado, here's my bread recipe.  Please use this and go ahead and talk about it.  But when you do, please link back to this post- and back to BabyCakes NYC.

Simple, Vegan, Gluten-Free Bread

Recipe yields one loaf

2 1/2 cups water OR 1 1/2 cups water and 1 cup vegan milk
1 tablespoon oil (I've used olive and canola oil)
1 tablespoon sweetener
1 tablespoon yeast
3 tablespoons flax meal (make sure it's ground flax meal and not whole flax seeds)

3 cups of vegan, gluten-free flour mix (see above)
1 tablespoon xanthum gum (you MUST use this)
1 tablespoon salt (did I mention that you really, really need to use this?)

Mix together water (or water and milk), oil, sweetener, yeast and flax meal in a bowl.  Let sit for three minutes or until yeast begins to dissolve.  In another bowl, mix together flour mix, xanthum gum and salt.  Stir liquid ingredients to make sure flax and sugar don't sink to the bottom, then pour into dry ingredients.  Stir to combine, then pour into loaf pan and cover to let rise.  (You will NOT knead this- the dough will look much wetter than wheat dough.)

I usually let my dough rise an hour and a half, but time to rise depends on temperature and moisture.  The dough won't double in size, but it should rise by at least a half.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for at least 35 minutes but probably closer to 45 minutes.  Again, this will vary by oven.  The bread is ready when it makes a hollow "thwap" when you tap the bottom of it (as for all breads).  Let cool in pan at least five minutes, then remove from pan and cool on a rack completely before you slice it.

This is go-to bread you can do anything with.  Below is how I like bread best, toasted with butter.  It's also great for sandwiches.


Deb in the City

PS Do you note the dark flecks in the bread?  That's the flax meal.  I like it, but if you don't golden flax meal will produce a fleck-free bread that will taste and hold together just as well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Through a glass, darkly

I take my children out to walk a lot.  They don't always thank me for this, but it's one of the few things I know I'm doing right.  Jacob and Jazmyn no longer whine about walking like they used to, and they've got more stamina than many adults.  Plus it's a great way to see the world.

It's just that sometimes that world is really messed up.

I cannot walk them anywhere in downtown Boston without running into a poster or store window that features a model or mannequin in a state of undress.  This wasn't the norm when I was seven, but it sort of was by the time I was in my early teens.  I took it, basically, in stride because I'd already been reading Cosmo, Glamour and Mademoiselle for a few years.  Well, my children haven't, and they're not taking it so well.  I don't blame them.

Simon sometimes visibly shudders when he sees these things.  I think a number of things are going through his head: this is inappropriate; this should be done in private; this is embarrassing; this is supposed to be "sexy" and I don't like sexy things; do I like sexy things? I'm not supposed to like sexy things; sexy things are for grown ups, and kids aren't supposed to be grown ups; that's bad for kids but good for grown ups- why is that? This is hurting my head, so I just don't want to look.

I try to reassure my son that what he's seeing is not real, because in a significant way it's not.  Are there incredibly tall, thin and young women walking around in the population?  Sure- but none of them are good enough these days to escape a lot of air brushing before their image gets immortalized in a window or poster.  But this is no comfort to my son, because he gets the perfected, hypersexualized image that they're selling.  (And that *is* what they're selling, of course, with their products as the vehicle by which it can be delivered to you, onto you.  Why else would they use images of half- or completely naked teenagers to sell... clothing?)

It makes me so angry on his behalf.  I wish he didn't have to see this, and when it gets right down to it, I wish I didn't have to see it.  There should be standards, damn it... but no, that's not what I really think.  My children need to be protected from hateful actions and sometimes hateful speech, but not... weirdness.

Then it hit me: I don't mind my children "hearing" this part of the cultural conversation, but I do mind that it's so loud.  Be attractive, be sexually appealing and don't stray from the norms- or else.  We say these things- most cultures do- but to walk around a major city in the United States, you'd think that was ALL we said.  Being sexy/gorgeous/desirable is where we have put all of our aspirations.  Where is the discussion about going to Mars?  Finding a cure for AIDS?  Eradicating hunger?  Keeping a clean water supply?  Those conversations happen as well, but they're not nearly as easy to find as an under-dressed fourteen year old pretending to be an idealized version of a twenty-five year old.

Excuse me, I'm going to go read Scientific American now.

Deb in the City

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My thoughts on the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs

I recommend everyone go out and buy this or get it out of your library.  It's the 90th anniversary issue, and about half of it is a retrospective in clips about the challenges to liberal democracy, why it eventually won and what it faces in the 21st century.

This is not a perfect issue.  Voter turnout in the United States has been falling since 1960- and the fall was from less than 63%.  Foreign Affairs does not address this, and as far as I'm concerned you can't assess whether liberal democracy is living up to its initial promises if less than 60% of the eligible population votes.

I also find it amazing that Asia isn't mentioned until we get to current events.  Was Japan so unimportant during these last 90 years?  Is China so unimportant now?  Latin America and Africa don't rate a mention at all.  I think "euro-centric" would be an appropriate adjective for this issue.

Much of the other half of the issue is about currency.  Once again, a lot of time is spent on the euro.  It doesn't look good here, and it doesn't look good in any current reports.  Don't get too excited about the yuan either.

This page contains links to the first half of the issue, "How We Got Here".  If you still believed that people didn't fully know what was going on in Europe in the 1930s- in the 1920s- these snippets will disabuse you of that quickly.  Some of this was also chilling: it is impossible not to see parallels to our present.

Some of the most note-worthy:

The Philosophic Basis of Fascism, by Giovanni Gentile, a Fascist apologist, in January of 1928:

... For freedom can exist only within the State, and the State means authority. . . .

Liberalism broke the circle above referred to, setting the individual against the State and liberty against authority. What the liberal desired was liberty as against the State, a liberty which was a limitation of the State. . . . Fascism has its own solution of the paradox of liberty and authority. The authority of the State is absolute. It does not compromise, it does not bargain, it does not surrender any portion of its field to other moral or religious principles which may interfere with the individual conscience. But on the other hand, the State becomes a reality only in the consciousness of its individuals. And the Fascist corporative State supplies a representative system more sincere and more in touch with realities than any other previously devised and is therefore freer than the old liberal State.

 Radical Forces in Germany, by Erich Koch-Weser, in April of 1931:

Greater danger is threatening at the present time from the National Socialists, popularly called the Nazis. This movement comprises the large ranks of the disinherited and the déclassés -- middle-class citizens, officials, officers and landowners. All of these deserve our sympathy and pity. Enormous numbers of them have been uprooted from a satisfactory social position by war, revolution and inflation, and thrust out to seek an uncertain and penurious existence. . . . The success of the party lies principally in the fact that those who belong to it despair of ever again being able to win a substantial share of the goods of this world or to secure a higher post than the one they fill today.

The Position and Prospects of Communism, by Harold Laski, in October of 1932:

Men, in short, accept a capitalist society no longer because they believe in it, but because of the material benefits it professes to confer. Once it ceases to confer them, it cannot exercise its old magic over men's minds. . . . Once its success is a matter of dubiety, those who do not profit by its results inevitably turn to alternative ways of life. They realize that the essence of a capitalist society is its division into a small number of rich men and a great mass of poor men. They see not only the existence of a wealthy class which lives without the performance of any socially useful function; they realize also that it is inherent in such a society that there should be no proportion between effort and reward. . . .

The Reconstruction of Liberalism, by C.H. McIlwain, in October of 1937:

Under laissez-faire and our distorted notions of contract, a lunatic may be protected against the results of his agreement, but of economic inequalities the law can never take notice -- De minimis non curat lex; there is little or no safeguard for the weak against the strong; protection of the public against an adulterated product would be unthinkable -- Caveat emptor.

Now this is a return toward Hobbes's "war of every man against every man," without the equality that Hobbes prem­ised. Yet, we are told, the state cannot and should not do anything about it. State interference in such matters would be a violation of a sacred right. What a ­caricature of liberalism! . . .

Freedom and Control, by Geoffrey Crowther, in January of 1944

...If we are realistic, we shall recognize... that there is a great deal in the circumstances of our century that leads straight to Fascism. The enormous development in the technique of propaganda and advertising, in the power to sway the minds of people in the mass, plays straight into the hands of the would-be dictator or any other manipulator who, for large ends or small, seeks to muddy the waters of democracy. The growth of large-scale industry, the need for gigantic aggregations of capital, the implications of a maximum employment policy -- all these create the danger of a concentration of economic power. The technique of modern war, with its emphasis on the possession of certain complicated weapons which only a handful of highly industrialized states can produce, makes the small nations, or even the league of small nations, quite helpless, and compels the Great Powers to devote quite unprecedented proportions of their resources to the barren purposes of war. We cannot abolish these things, we cannot dodge them. . . . The plain truth is that Hitler has an answer to the problems of the twentieth century and we, as yet, have not. It follows that whatever happens in the present war, Hitler will be hot on our heels for the rest of our lives. We shall have to think very fast, and run very fast, to keep ahead of him. One slip, one stumble, and he will be on our necks.

The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers, by Azar Gat, in July/August of 2007

...Together, the Soviet Union and China were larger and thus had the potential to be more powerful than the democratic capitalist camp. Ultimately, they failed because their economic systems limited them, whereas the nondemocratic capitalist powers, Germany and Japan, were defeated because they were too small. Contingency played a decisive role in tipping the balance against the nondem­ocratic capitalist powers and in favor of the democracies. . . .

"Time to Attack Iran" is stunning; the author seems to be arguing that we can attack Iran's nuclear facilities and control their response, but he does a poor job explaining why.  This article did nothing to convince me that we should, indeed, attack Iran.

"Talking Tough to Pakistan"... yes, they've lied to us, but I'm bothered that this doesn't address or acknowledge complaints Pakistanis have against the United States and that many sincerely do not trust us.  Should we be getting more for our aid?  I'd love to, but so far muscular diplomacy isn't working too well for us.

"Balancing the East, Upgrading the West" disappointed me a little bit.  There were virtually no data points to back up many Brzezinski's statements (and it pains me to say that, because I always get excited when I listen to him on talk shows).  However, it's impossible to deny his basic points, i.e. that China and the US can't ignore each other and that what happens to one reverberates onto the other.  He also made the softest argument I've seen yet for backing off from Taiwan: they're inevitably going to move closer to China, and that process has already started.  Hmm.

The articles on currency don't tell a consistent story, but that's not a criticism.  The first piece makes a convincing case for why Europe wasn't ready for a unified currency and that Greece and ultimately Europe's best shot is if Greece reverts back to the drachma.  Having watched this debacle for the last six or seven months and not seen a credible solution, sign me up.  The next piece makes the argument that the stability of the euro (as well as the dollar) is essential to keeping our worldwide currency system up.  I'm not convinced, but it does explain pretty well how our systems collapsed in the 1930s and didn't in the 1970s.  The last article is about the yuan.  As I said, don't get excited about that currency overtaking the dollar as the default reserve currency.  Hurray!  The dollar remains king... but no one should throw a party over an inflated yuan.

Go read this, even if you're not going to agree.

Deb in the City

Thursday, January 05, 2012

My thoughts on the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs

Did I mention that my interview with Charles Mann, author of 1491 and 1493, is up on my writing blog?  It is!  Please go read, then go read his book.

When I finally treated myself to an issue of Foreign Affairs this summer, I felt like I'd found my home.  Between this publication and Agatha Christie, this was a delicious summer.

I finally finished the Nov/Dec 2011 issue, just in time to start digging into the Jan/Feb 2012 issue.  (Hey, it's not all my thought- the first issue was a month late.)  I share here my brief thoughts on the articles and essays.  I'm throwing in links, even though some of them are only available for "premium users".  They're worth a read, even you end up at your library (which I never think is a bad idea).

The title of this issue is "Is America Over?"  This makes you think that most of it is going to be about the US in decline, but it's not.  I come away from this feeling like we're still much better off than almost anywhere else and will probably stay that way for quite some time.

The Problem Is Palestinian Rejectionism: Some background about and ramifications of the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  For what it's worth, I don't think this should be a make or break issue.

Israel's Bunker Mentality: ... but Israel has problems of it's own.  Some uncomfortable statistics about the mistreatment of Arab Israelis.  Not surprisingly, I see parallels in the US right now... speaking of uncomfortable.

The Broken Contract: Here's the meat of "Is America Over?", and if this is all they've got, I'm not too worried. I thought this was the lightest piece of the issue, but the insights into the shift in 1978 are interesting.

The Wisdom of Retrenchment: Do we need to go in with guns blazing for everything?  No, and the costs of doing so are outweighing the benefits.  (Would "no kidding?" be too cheeky?)

Humanitarian Intervention Comes of Age:  Advocates continued aid in situations like Libya.  I might have felt better about this if it had dissected why some areas have been considered more worthy of aid than others.  (Is it too cynical to use the word "oil"?)  This piece also reminds us that our failures in the 90s are still felt today (Somalia and Rwanda especially, but to some extent even the former Yugoslavia).

The True Costs of Humanitarian Intervention:  This piece reminds us that even our "successful" interventions were not without a price.

Can Europe's Divided House Stand?:  When this went to press, the eurozone was a mess.  As I write this some three months later, the eurozone is still a mess, and there's some history explaining how we got here in the first place.  As with the US, it wasn't just inadequate laws, it was also inadequate enforcement.  This piece suggests a mix of better enforcement and better policy, but it's going to take a long time.

Why We Still Need Nuclear Power: Why?  Because it's cheap and less polluting... provided we don't have a disaster.  In fairness, I have to agree that many of the accidents could be prevented with better design and regulation (did I mention that "regulation" became one of my favorite words in 2011?).  A big problem we face in the US is the storage of nuclear waste.  Interestingly, no mention here of peak uranium.

The Dying Bear: Russia is in a demographic quagmire and it's affecting public health and education, among other things.  The article ends with the warning that these trends could create an unstable rogue state, but frankly I think that's wishful thinking.  Everything was easier when we could fear the USSR- er, Russia.

Is Indonesia Bound for the BRICs?: In a word, no.  Yeah, they've got some good stats, but they've also got endemic corruption and a decaying infrastructure.

The Sick Man of Asia: Next time any of us want to complain about our healthcare system, take a look at China, shudder, then be very grateful.  (Maybe I feel this way because I live in Massachusetts?)  They've got both infectious and chronic diseases; the incidences of diabetes and depression are shockingly high, and the loss of productivity due to illness from smoking is mind-boggling.  Some insight into why Falun Gong became so popular and so irksome to the Chinese government.  My tangent: we've been touting alternative medicine in this country for approximately the same amount of time the modern Chinese have.  I'm guessing, after reading this, that most people in China would be ecstatic to have Western medicine.

Counterrevolution in Kiev: Oh, Ukraine- having alienated your own population, you're not going to be able to play the EU and Russia off of each other very well.

Worth a read.  Excuse me for a bit while I read the next edition.  I'm curious to see what contemporaries thought of Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin- I'm sure I'll be disappointed.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

RIP Gordon Hirabayashi

My husband and I hadn't gotten out of bed this morning when we learned of the passing of Gordon Hirabayashi.  As a young man in 1942, he stood against Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast.  And well he should have.  He hadn't done anything wrong.

Unfortunately, innocence wasn't enough to protect him and others like him.  By "others like him", I mean people of Japanese ancestry.  And why should it have been?  Being an American citizen wasn't enough to allow him or the others due process.

My husband read the obituary to me and I had a horrible thought.  Oh my God- Hirabayashi v. The United States hadn't been overturned.  Had this been cited in anything?

Yes it had- Clarence Thomas had cited it in his dissent in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.  I mean, okay, let's put this into perspective: first, it's Clarence Thomas; second, it was a dissent.   But the fact that it hasn't been overturned made my face turn white.

Famously, the survivors of the internment received an apology and reparations, and we like to tell ourselves that Earl Warren, one of the masterminds behind the scheme, felt so burdened by the guilt of what he had done that he became the Chief Justice who presided over cases like Brown v. The Board of Education.  Didn't this all, in the end, come out well?

Hell no.

You have to read the decision to understand why it is so galling that this is, in some way, still on our books.  It's not just that they punt their responsibility to disagree with Congress and the President; it's not just that they shrug and say, dude, this is war, respect the military's judgment.  It's not the ridiculous suspicion that the Japanese language school many children went to was a conduit for pro-Japanese propaganda.  It's not even that they bemoan the "melancholy resemblance" to what the Nazis were doing to the Jews and sign on to do it anyway.  It's that they say, yes, under normal circumstances, it's really terrible to have laws that discriminate against one "race"-  but these are not normal circumstances.

Normal circumstances...  In my lifetime, we've had approximately one decade of "normal", between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of The War on Terror.  The same can be said for my parents, who were born the year the Hirabayashi decision came out.  There is almost always something taking place which is so dangerous and extraordinary that it's worth suspending the liberties we are supposedly guaranteed in our constitution.  (For what it's worth, I would point out that the constitution and the rights within it were written by people who themselves lived through extraordinary times.)

What good is an official apology and even reparations if you don't change the laws?

If Obama hadn't signed the National Defense Authorization Act last week, albeit with "serious reservations", I might not take Hirabayashi's passing so hard.  I might be able to celebrate that this man suffered, fought and won guarantees of civil rights for all of us.  But I can't.  Almost 70 years after over 100,000 people were removed from their homes for the accident of their ancestry, we're still arguing over whether we have the right to detain people without due process.  It's a shame there isn't some kind of document with a set of principles that could help us settle the matter.

Oh yeah.

Rest in peace, Gordon Hirabayashi.  Thank you for your courage.  The fight's on us now.

Deb in the City