Chocolate cupcake recipe/science experiment (vegan and gluten-free)

gluten free vegan chocolate cupcakes

They look better in person. Trust me.

Bess attended a friend’s birthday party last weekend.

Translation: I needed to bake so that I could bring food that is similar to what the other kids were eating but safe for her.

I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting in the oven lately, and I think this one is a winner.  I even got confirmation from another egg-free friend!



  • 1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour Blend*
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup mild coconut oil
  • 1 cup very hot water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 12 muffin tins with liners.  (For vegan, gluten-free baking I always have the best luck with aluminum liners and my stoneware pan.)

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt, getting rid of any lumps. Add the oil, water, and vanilla. Mix until smooth.  Then add the vinegar and stir thoroughly.  This is the cool-science-in-the-kitchen part – you can see the batter start to change color as the vinegar reacts with the baking soda.

Pour into the prepared cups and bake for 25 minutes, until springy to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting. Makes 12 cupcakes.

* I love Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour Blend, but I’m sure others would work.  I am not paid by Bob’s Red Mill to endorse their product.  ;)


  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (give or take)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Over very low heat, melt the chocolate and coconut oil together.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the hot water and combine.  Slowly add the sugar, stirring constantly, until it reaches desired creamy consistency.  Add the vanilla and stir.  Allow the frosting to cool (it will get a crunchy coating on top).

Is homeschooling illiberal? Part 2

homeschool child outdoors learning

image courtesy of flickr user spree2010

(My continued rant about Dana Goldstein’s Slate article, “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids: Why Teaching Children at Home Violates Progressive Values”)

No one thinks that teachers or administrators are out to oppress parents or children.  It is the system that is, inherently and fundamentally, oppressive.  Public school staff are placed in an impossible situation.  They are given large groups of children who vary from each other in every imaginable way (except for chronological age) and are expected to teach these children the information they need to perform well on standardized tests created by people who know nothing of their particular students or situation.  Their schools’ funding, not to mention their jobs, depend on their ability to achieve this task.  No matter how hard they work, how much they sacrifice, they are told they are not doing enough.  Curriculum becomes increasingly standardized, laws become increasingly strict, and ultimately schools become little more than child management facilities.  No amount of vociferous debate will change this central fact.

How could it be any different?

If “government is the only institution with the power and scale to intervene in the massive undertaking of better educating American children” – the government that allows children to starve while bazillionaires drive around in private jets, that is more concerned with playing party politics than enacting legislation that will benefit its people – then we are doomed.  Perhaps other Western democracies enjoy a greater investment in public education because in other Western democracies the public enjoys greater government support.  Other countries provide guaranteed health care and paid family leave to citizens.  Other countries take food and environmental safety seriously.  Perhaps other Western democracies have earned their citizens’ trust.

As a counterpoint to Betsy Blanchette, I proffer the story of my friend F. whose son has Down syndrome.  At the time he was required to enter school in order to continue to receive special services, he was non-verbal.  He did, however, have an extensive sign language vocabulary; unfortunately, that did not do him any good.  You see, his school district refused to hire an aide who was fluent in sign language, saying that it was not necessary for this three-year-old boy who could not chew or reliably use the toilet to have the ability to efficiently communicate with a responsible adult.  Despite his parents’ retaining counsel and entering into litigation with the district, exercising their legal recourse, the school would not budge.  I have heard similar stories from other parents of special-needs children.

Are you f*&%ing kidding me?

Luckily, his parents had the means to move to a different school district, one more in touch with its “expertise, resources, and legal responsibility” with respect to this child.  But what if they hadn’t?

Broad scale buy in followed by kicking and screaming at school board meetings is unlikely to cause any meaningful shift in the behemoth that is American public education, at least not any time soon.  On the other hand, is it possible that the best way for education reformers to be heard is to homeschool – boycott if you will?  Gandhi, King, Chavez…need I go on?

Frankly Ms. Goldstein, your judgement regarding social values practiced versus preached is offensive.  Your accusation that I either enroll my children in public school or practice piecemeal philanthropy is disrespectful.  I want my children to grow up to be kind, compassionate, honest, generous, courageous, self-disciplined, wise and principled individuals who are motivated and passionate about making this world a better place.  After my daughter’s short time in our public school (in one of the top-rated districts in our state) it is clear to me that although lip service is paid to these qualities, they are not really valued.  Obedience, academic performance, and conformity are most highly prized.  In order to be taught, they must first be subdued.

If you can convince me that children who are trained to obey, conform, and be people-pleasers are well situated to bring about broad social change, then I am willing to reconsider the whole public school thing.

Good luck with that.

Is homeschooling illiberal?

is public school or homeschool more liberal, progressive

image courtesy of flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography

Dana Goldstein’s Slate article contending that homeschooling is antithetical to progressive social values has hit a nerve.  Homeschooling supporters Astra Taylor, Conor Friedersdorf, and Stephanie Baselice have offered rebuttals.  Since we are leaning toward homeschooling Bess and Harry, I am eyeing the debate with interest.

Goldstein’s thesis is this: Truly community-minded, liberal, progressive parents enroll their children in public school, become involved in the PTO and/or school board, and work to make things better.  I used to see her point.  I have come to understand that no amount of money or parent involvement is going to make public education anything other than what it is: too big and dysfunctional to be fixed.  I believe with every fiber of my being that each human being on this planet deserves an education.  American schools contain children but, unfortunately, fail to educate them in fundamental ways.

For what it’s worth, here are my two cents:

  • The number of homeschooling families who fail to support public education with their children’s presence (an estimated 1 – 2 million children) represents only a fraction of the children not enrolled in public school.  There are 5.5 million children enrolled in private schools, yet the focus of Goldstein’s argument is on homeschoolers.  Why should this be? Is there some fundamental difference between withdrawing from the public school system and placing your resources in a privately funded school as opposed to no school at all?  Is her gripe really about taking resources (i.e., children) out of public school, or out of school altogether?
  • Homeschooling parents will be the first to tell you that it is hard work and it isn’t for everyone, but that even single parents and families who struggle financially can make it work.  This does not stop Goldstein from accusing  homeschoolers of exercising class privilege “rooted…in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families, in which at least one parent can afford (and wants) to take significant time away from paid work in order to manage a process—education—that most parents entrust to the community at-large”.  Does having money make it easier?  Of course it does.  But wealth or unemployment are not requisite.
  • Molesters in schools are bad for PR, but they aren’t driving people to homeschool.  Parents are afraid of school violence and bullying.  These things are not rare.
  • Homeschooling is about teaching children to respect and trust themselves.  If that means having a distrust of public institutions, maybe that lack of trust is justified.  When children starve and go without medical care in the richest country in the world, when lies are used to justify sending people to war to kill other people, such trust is hard to defend.
  • Low income children attending middle-class schools may earn higher test scores, but correlation does not imply causation (Statistics 101).  Is this a peer effect as Goldstein argues?  Or is it that middle-class schools have more money, resources, and good teachers?  If you created a school with identical conditions and filled it with disadvantaged children, would they perform just as well?  And what of those low-income kids, anyway?  Their test scores may be higher if they go to school with middle-class kids – but what does that mean for them in real life?  Anything?  Nothing?  Just because school is capable of addressing poverty doesn’t mean it actually does.
  • Goldstein declares that public school makes children better people.  As evidence, she cites research suggesting that “adult graduates of integrated high schools shared a commitment to diversity, to understanding and bridging cultural differences, and to appreciating ‘the humanness of individuals across racial lines.’”  Though I did not read the research, I think it is safe to assume that the comparison is between individuals who attended integrated high schools and those who attended homogeneous high schools. I wonder what such research would find if they compared either (or both) of these groups to homeschooled children.

To be continued…

(This post has been featured on the front page of BlogHer Family, and is part of the Seasonal Celebration Sunday Linky Party at Natural Mothers Network.  If you’re visiting from one of those places, WELCOME to Ahimsa Mama!)

Weekend links part 2

rock spring park in long valley nj

Taking advantage of the early springiness!

Since I didn’t post last weekend I’m doubling up this weekend with some more things I read this week that were pretty cool, or interesting, or inspiring:

Have a great rest of your weekend!

Weekend links

maple tree tapping at soulshine farm

Maple Tree Tapping at Soulshine Farm

Some things I read this week that were pretty cool, or interesting, or inspiring:

Have a great weekend!

Survival through compassion

compassion for line cutters

Finding compassion, even for rude customers at the supermarket! image courtesy of flickr user Robert S. Donovan

I WON the Non-Fiction Category of the 100 Prompts Contest over at The Writing Reader!  Woot!

Here is the winning submission:

When I was younger, I was annoyed all the time at someone.  Anyone.  Everyone.  Someone cut me off in traffic?  What a jerk.  Someone cut in front of me in line at the grocery store?  I guess they think their time is more important than mine.  Someone made a snarky comment?  I didn’t do anything to deserve that kind of treatment!  As for the people in my life who I actually knew:  my mother, my husband, my sister, my father, co-workers, customers, especially my mother-in-law, they all were subject to my wrath, usually of the passive-aggressive variety.

Psychologists call this the Fundamental Attribution Error.  Basically, it means that if someone does something hurtful or inconsiderate to us, we assume it’s because he is a bad person.  We take one example of a person’s behavior and use it to judge his entire character.  So, if someone bumps into us on the sidewalk, we automatically assume that she is an inattentive, careless clod.  If someone takes our parking spot at the mall, we think he is a selfish, inconsiderate narcissist.

When I became a mother, all that changed.  I’d like to be able to say that I had become a more understanding person as a result of my entry into parenthood, or that my priorities had changed now that I had this new person in my life.  The truth is much less romantic.  Being angry takes a lot of energy, and I didn’t have any to spare.  I wasn’t sleeping, I was barely eating, and I was in perpetual motion trying to bounce, rock, and stroll my screaming daughter into dozing for more than four minutes and twenty-seven seconds at a time.  I no longer had it in me to complain about something someone had said or done.

I guess in a way, my priorities had changed.  It no longer mattered to me what people said or thought, because in the face of extreme sleep deprivation the likes of which are usually seen only at Gitmo, things that once had held the utmost importance for me no longer seemed very significant.  It took way less effort to just pick up the socks off the floor than to be upset that even after twelve years together, my husband still hadn’t gotten the hang of the hamper thing.  If I got a nasty email or phone call from a customer at work, I would just fire off a matter-of-fact, solution-oriented reply and move on instead of spending hours, days even, obsessing about how selfish and rude she was.

As I stopped getting wrapped up in the drama of it all, I stopped taking people’s behavior so personally.  I began to realize that other people’s actions really were about them, and rarely had anything to do with me.  The person who cut me off in traffic probably was late picking up his son from soccer practice.  The person who stepped in front of me in the checkout line at the supermarket probably didn’t see me there.  The person who said that hurtful thing was probably having a bad day.

I also started to see how my own behavior could sometimes be interpreted as being impolite or selfish.  After all, sometimes I do things that are inconsiderate or careless, and I’m not a narcissist or a clod.  At least I don’t think I am.  I’m simply…imperfect.  Just like everyone else.

I learned that we often choose to be angry and judgmental, and we can just as easily choose to be big-hearted instead.  So instead of being angry, I started being compassionate.  Instead of giving the finger, I gave an understanding smile.  Instead of wanting revenge, I wanted to lessen the load for others.  I became more patient, more understanding, and happier.  I have found that a much easier and infinitely more pleasant way to live.

Why I write

writing to preserve memories of childhood and parenting

image courtesy of flickr user mrsdkrebs

Check out my guest post currently running at The Momoir Project:

My daughter’s memories, on the other hand, all seem to spring to mind in vivid color and rigorous detail at the slightest provocation. She tries to engage me in frequent games of “Remember the time…” but usually I don’t remember, or not as well as she does.

She relishes the retelling, and rakes over the recollections for nuggets of meaning. It is in the telling and re-telling, the rolling over of images and words in her mind looking for a glimpse of a larger truth, that allows her to own these memories. I love being able to give my son and daughter the sweet memories that go with a childhood well-lived. But I also want to claim some for myself.

How about you?  How do you preserve your memories?  How do you create memories worth preserving?

Mardi Gras cupcakes (vegan and gluten free)

vegan gluten free cupcakes

Here they are! I wish I was better at food photography.

As I mentioned in my last post, our Daddy was just away for over a week. He was in Quebec City for a hockey tournament, but this tournament happens to coincide with the Carnival de Quebec, which is a celebration held every year in the period before Lent. Similar celebrations occur around the world, primarily in Catholic countries and most famously in Rio de Janeiro. But nothing is quite like Carnival de Quebec, with the snow sculptures and parades (it’s 12 degrees below zero, people! on the thermometer! and there’s wind!), and the canoe races. Ah, the canoe races – please, do watch the video on You Tube. It has to be seen to be believed.

Anyway, in our own little secular New Jersey version of Carnival, we made cupcakes and talked about what Mardi Gras, Lent, and Easter signify for people who are Christian. Here is our cupcake recipe, which – like most of my baking – is an adaptation of a recipe found in the Babycakes cookbook:

  • 3 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour Blend
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/3 cups agave nectar
  • 3/4 cup plain unsweetened applesauce (homemade if you have it!)
  • 3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • powdered sugar
  • milk of choice
  • food coloring

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 standard 12-cup muffin tins with liners. (I have had the best results with aluminum liners and a stoneware baking pan.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt. Add the oil, agave nectar, applesauce, vanilla and lemon zest to the dry ingredients and combine.  Stir in the hot water and mix until the batter is smooth.

In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Pour two tablespoons of batter into each prepared cup. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of the sugar/cinnamon mixture over the batter in each cup.  Then pour another two tablespoons into each cup so that they are almost filled. Bake the cupcakes on the center rack for 22 minutes, rotating the tins 180 degrees after 15 minutes.  The finished cupcakes will be golden brown and will bounce back when pressure is applied gently to the center (and a toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean, if that’s your preferred method for determining the done-ness of baked goods).

Let the cupcakes stand in the tins for 20 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack and cool completely.

We made green, yellow and purple icing – put about four or five tablespoons of powdered sugar into three bowls, and then add a splash of milk. And I mean a splash, a teeny-tiny bit, because you would be surprised how little it takes. You can always add more, and don’t forget that you will be adding more liquid in the form of food coloring.

I let the kids go crazy with the food coloring – you can sort of see from the pictures that the color was pretty vibrant, and that was from only about ten or twelve drops.  I helped them with the purple, we found that the best ratio was about 2 red:1 blue, so we ended up doing maybe eight red and four blue.  Then we just drizzled the icing over the cupcakes, and done!

king cake cupcakes for Mardi Gras


Three corny ideas for enlisting cooperation from your little ones

frazzled mom cartoon

My week (except for the nursling)

Our family has been minus John for ten days. During this time I have been unable to cobble together two minutes of uninterrupted thought. As an extreme introvert who needs some quiet time every day for optimal functioning – let’s just say that I am currently operating at suboptimal.

To make it all worse, Harry has entered a phase of, ahem, extreme independence. It is challenging to maintain a peaceful demeanor in the face of a three-year-old who insists that the world, or at least our family, operate at his pace. Which is very, very slow. I spend my days trying to shift him out of neutral or sometimes reverse, like when I get him ready to go, spend twenty seconds in the bathroom, and come out to find that he has removed his coat, shoes and socks. Since I couldn’t just leave him home with Daddy while I shuttled Bess around I was left with three choices:

  1. Manhandle him into the car which doesn’t work anyway since he learned to unbuckle his seat, albeit only when the car is in motion (when I have my hands full and it’s pouring rain this skill suddenly and predictably eludes him);
  2. Scream like a crazy Mommy, which is exceedingly effective but not ideal; or
  3. Get creative.

I recently invested four minutes in a video on The Greater Good blog, “Getting Kids to Listen – Without Nagging!” and gleaned this tidbit of wisdom: if you don’t give kids something to push against, they won’t need to push. Indeed: Do you like being told what to do? Should kids be any different? If we use a sing-songy “It’s time to put on our shoes now!” rather than a stern “PUT ON YOUR SHOES!”, it’s still an order.

Since defiance in the face of coercion is human nature, it’s up to me to find a better system. My mission, should I choose to accept it (as if I had a choice): concoct more playful and respectful ways to inspire cooperation rather than creating a resist or obey dynamic. Here are three ideas that are working for us right now:

  1. Fill your tank. Harry hates eating unless it’s chocolate. He doesn’t even bother asking what’s for dinner, he just goes straight to “I don’t like that”. Solution: Instead of creating artificial incentives (“If you’re not hungry enough to eat dinner then I guess you’re not hungry enough for dessert” is really a dressed-up bribe) I tell him that he’s a car and he has to fill his tank with good fuel or his engine won’t work very well.
  2. Head to the roundhouse. Transitions are a major sticking point for us right now. Solution: Instead of nagging, or giving five-, three-, and one-minute warnings which works for some kids but not Harry, when it’s time for us all to go out, we pretend to be train coaches and head to our roundhouse (the car) to prepare for our next job (grocery shopping, ballet class, whatever).
  3. Take a knee. Simply telling Harry what to expect solves a lot of problems, but he is usually too absorbed in whatever he is doing to listen. Solution: Instead of getting all lecture-y, we pretend that I am the coach and he is a hockey player, and I ask him to “take a knee” like the players do when their coach needs their attention during practice.

Of course, there’s always the old standby: ask and listen. Why don’t you want to go? Why don’t you want to eat that? Sometimes it’s the answer you expect, but sometimes you learn something new and a solution will reveal itself. You’re in the middle of the World Grand Prix? You can bring your cars to the barn! You have a tummy ache? Then you don’t have to eat! It may not be easy, but usually there is a way to solve problems where everyone wins – or at least nobody loses.

Weekend links

MORE violin this weekend - family concert!

Except it’s not the weekend any more.  It’s Monday.

I’m a little behind around here.  Busy weekend.

So without further ado, some things I read this week that were pretty cool, or interesting, or inspiring:

Enjoy your week!