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Taking Back Food, One Brownie at a Time

Last week King Arthur Flour deposited a big box of their gluten-free mixes on my doorstep via UPS so that I can review them for you.

I made the brownies this morning, all fancy-pantsed up with the very best peanut-butter frosting ever. They were delicious. They made my Nick make this face:

I’ll  talk more about them and give you the recipe for the frosting in a minute.

But first I want to spend a few minutes talking about why I post recipes here.

It started out as a way to bring people to my blog. There are a lot of other blogs out there that let you link to a recipe. And it worked. People started coming over and reading not just my recipe, but other parts of my blog as well. And I’m a writer. I really like readers. We have a sort of symbiotic relationship, right?

Also, I figured out I’m gluten intolerant just about the same time I started this blog. I get excited about making a recipe gluten-free and having it still taste great. I also don’t mind the boxes of gluten-free goodies I get to review. It’s fun. I like fun.

But, as I’ve learned more and gotten deeper into body acceptance and learning about Health at Every Size, I think my recipes and talking about food serve a different purpose.

Take the brownies I made today, for example. I made no attempt to healthify them. They are brownies, for God’s sake. Between the actual brownie and the frosting, there’s a cup and a third of butter in there. But you know how when you get some low-fat, reduced-carb, healthier version of something like a brownie and you eat it, and then eat more of it, and then more and you still aren’t satisfied? Yeah, that doesn’t happen when you make brownies with real cocoa, lots of butter, whole eggs and top it with creamy peanut butter goodness. A little square and you’re good to go.

Because when you’re body is craving a brownie, it’s really craving sugar and fat and chocolate. And maybe peanut butter.

Replacing the butter with applesauce won’t feed that craving.

I know, I’ve tried. A lot. I was once the queen of replacing high-fat with low-fat. Or best yet, no-fat. I have made brownies without eggs or butter. Really, I have. Applesauce and soy flour. Yum.

So, when I put up a recipe here, I sometimes think to myself: this is me, taking back food. This is me, recovering from the obsessive need to do Susan Powter’s fat formula on every bite that goes into my mouth. This is me, remembering that brownies taste really good.

I think that in order for HAES to take root in the world and really grow–I mean blossom, even amongst the unconverted–it’s important to share our joy of food.

When I share a recipe here, or talk about food, it’s my small rebellion against a society that encourages us to feel good about ourselves if we bake a cake for the people we love, but don’t eat any of it. Think about how many levels of wrong that is. But when you’re caught in the love/hate/food triangle, it seems perfectly sane.

Okay. Back to King Arthur Flour gluten-free brownie mix.

It mixed up smooth and thick with two eggs and a little water. It baked up kind of weird–collapsing in the center of the pan and crawling up the sides.

It’s hard to tell in the picture, but it was bowl-shaped when I took it out of the oven.

My house smelled like one of those really good bakeries that make you weak in the knees when you walk in the door.

The edges had to come off to give me an even surface for frosting. I’m happy to report that they were chocolatey and very chewy. A very nice brownie taste and texture.

I took the brownies out of the pan, because I was afraid that they wouldn’t come out individually with frosting on them. This didn’t work so well. However, the brownies were moist enough that I could just kind of press it back into a round brownie shape.

Brownies aren’t a fancy cake, are they? They’re allowed to be rougher around the edges.

The peanut butter frosting was spectacular. And super easy. Just put 1/3 cup of soft butter, 1/3 cup of smooth peanut butter, and 2 teaspoons of water in a bowl and blend. Then add a cup of powdered sugar and blend until smooth and fluffy. Spread over your cooled brownies.

The verdict on the brownie mix? I will definitely buy and make these again. Gluten-free mixes sometimes scare me. The product they make up might look like a brownie or a cookie or a loaf of bread, but is an impostor. These brownies are the real deal, though. As far as boxed brownies go, they’re really nice. Despite the strange baking habit, they were chewy and rich, just like a brownie should be. The flour mix is rice and tapioca, which means no weird beany aftertaste.

One of the great things about gluten free packaged foods is that they are often full of more whole foods and less chemicals. The ingredients in these brownies include: sugar, tapioca flour, rice flour, cocoa, leavening, vanilla flavor and salt. Which basically means that these don’t taste too far off from what you might make from scratch.

I especially like about all of the King Arthur gluten-free mixes that they are very basic. They’re meant to be played with. This is a simple, plain brownie, ready to be gussied up anyway your heart desires.

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Review and Give Away: Crunchmaster Gluten-Free Crackers

Warning: This review is going to read like someone paid me to write it. Because I’m reviewing a product that was already one of my favorites before I was sent some to review for you. Since I’m in love, I contacted the company to see if I could get some of their product to share the love with you. This is the result:

keep reading

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Review: Sally Pugh’s Expanding into Fullness, Yoga for Large Women

I am super new to yoga. I can count the number of times I have done a yoga session on both hands, I think.

I’m relatively flexible in some ways. My hips, for instance, are nice and loose. I can bend forward and touch the ground. The tops of my legs are flexible, too. I can sit criss-cross applesauce and I can tuck my legs under my body pretty easily.

In other ways–whoo boy. I’m so not flexible. My hamstrings, calves and ankles are as tight as a drum. So is my back.

Wow, so I guess the front of my body is flexy and the back isn’t. I wonder if there is something to that?

Also, I have crap balance. I can’t walk with my eyes closed without falling. I had lots of ear infections as a kid and through my teenage years as a result of spending half my life under water. I blame it on that. In addition to being a naturally off-kilter type, I also get serious motion sickness. For some reason, some poses trigger that in me. Like this boat thing, where you lay on your belly and lift your arms and legs. Blurgh.

I’ve also found that I’m intimidated by yoga classes. When I belonged to the YMCA in Las Vegas, I wanted to. Badly. But I was afraid of a) being 200 pounds heavier than what I assumed would be a lot of whip-thin women and b) being so unable to twist my body into the posses that I made a fool out of myself.

Now I don’t live within 200 miles of a yoga studio, or even an informal yoga class. I was super proud of myself for attending a gentle yoga class at the Y last time I visited, though. I hate being scared of anything. I plan to find a studio or something as soon as one is within reach.

In the meantime, I have found that this is this little treasure chest of yoga DVDs designed especially for bigger bodies. This gives me such a squeeze of glee, I can’t even tell you. It’s like the women leading the two I’ve tried (so far) opened their arms and said, who says you can’t do yoga? Let me show you how.

Sally Pugh of Grateful Spirit Yoga is one of these women. She’s made a DVD called Expanding into Fullness, Yoga for Large Women and she sent me a copy to review for you.

The positive first, because there is just so much of it:

1. There are five women in the recorded class. They are a nice full range of size diversity. (There is less age diversity, and no obvious racial diversity.)

2. Every pose in the DVD has at least one modification, and often more than one. So, for instance, in the jackknife pose, you can bend forward with your legs together, you can open them wider (this is what I did, and was shocked at how much more I could move into the pose when room was made for my belly) or you can do the pose in a chair. The modifications are made without fanfare, without any assurance that at some point you’ll be able to do more or not need the modification. I loved this.

3. All of the women in the class took turns demonstrating the modifications and the full, unmodified pose. I really appreciated this.

4. Sally Pugh has a lovely soft voice and described each pose so well that I did not have to struggle to watch the TV to see what she was doing. I was able to focus on the movement.

5. The music was non-intrusive.

6. This was a very gentle, thorough yoga session that left every part of my body feeling tingly and alive. I really liked the series of leg stretches at the end.

7. The DVD was professionally made and easy to watch.

8. I was able to do the entire DVD. I didn’t have have to use any of the modifications, except for widening my stance sometimes to give my belly room, but I believe that just about anyone could complete this DVD without any of the anxiety and negativity that can come with not being able to keep up.

There are only a couple of cons. In fact, I’m going to call them wishes, rather than cons this time.

1. The DVD is 40 minutes long, with maybe 10 minutes being meditation and warming up. I would love a longer option. (Maybe your next DVD, Sally? Pretty please?)

Yep, that’s it. My only complaint is that I didn’t want it to end.

One of the things I loved best is that my ever-present training partner, Ruby, was able to do the DVD with me. And she LOVED it. She’s already asked to do it again today. I can see Expanding into Fullness becoming a night-time ritual a few times a week.

And one of the best things? Sally’s studio is in Berkeley, which is just a couple of hours from Carson City. Which means it is conceivable that I might some day find myself near enough to take a class with her. And also? She hosts a yoga for large women retreat that I’ll definitely be near enough to attend next year.

I highly, highly recommend this DVD for anyone, but especially to anyone with mobility concerns. This would be an excellent first step toward being a defiant athlete for just about anyone.

Check out an example of the DVD here:

It costs $20 plus shipping. If you can afford it, it’s worth every penny.

NOTE: This DVD was sent to me to review for you. The opinions are totally mine.

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Review: Debra Mazda’s Shapely Girl Fitness

(Warning: Some talk of weight loss below.)

I have used a lot of exercise DVDs and Videos, starting with Richard Simmons and stretching forward twenty years to the Roller Derby Workout.

I doubt if there is anyone reading this who needs to be told that exercise videos are rarely body positive. Lots of skinny girls in spandex doing things your body won’t do without even breaking a sweat, meanwhile the leader is screaming at your to move your fat ass and lose weight. And often, even those that try to be body positive usually focus on weight loss. Like Richard Simmons parading his class at the end of his videos while letting you know how much they’ve lost.

The exceptions to that, for me anyway, are HeavyWeight Yoga 2: Change the Image of Yoga (which, full disclosure, is my only yoga DVD) and the Roller Derby Workout. Both of  these feel like training to me. The girls in the Roller Derby Workout talk about how the exercise they present will make your muscles strong enough to be a derby girl, which I like. Roller Derby is a generally body positive sport, so while the girls in the video are slim, I never feel like they are pushing me to be.

When I was sent Shapely Girl: Let’s Get Moving with Debra Mazda to review for you, I hoped for another body positive DVD. Especially because where I live, in the mountains where winter stretches into June, I sometimes can’t get outside or even out of my driveway.

Ruby and I put on our yoga pants and tank tops and worked out with Debra Mazda this morning. Here are some general impressions first:

The Pros

Debra Mazda is adorable without being annoying. I would love to have an actual class with her.

The women in the video class were a nice diverse group who all had giant smiles and looked like they were genuinely enjoying themselves.

They sweat.

I sweat.

I was able to complete the program.

The music was non-intrusive.

The Cons

I only saw one big one. Debra, while being anti-diet and generally body positive, does sporadically encourage you to burn some calories. While this isn’t a huge part of the DVD, it’s there. I would much rather have her tell me to “come on, get stronger.”

Debra lost a significant amount of weight through exercise and has built a fitness career as a result. I felt like her heart was in the right place. She says several times during the DVD and on her website that fitness happens at every size. That message is on her website as well. But it’s right along side a video that features women who have lost weight. She has the opportunity to be revolutionary–to leave weight loss out of the fitness equation all together. And she almost does. But for people who are very sensitive to weight loss messages, there could be some triggering.  (I recommend skipping the video on her website if talk of weight loss triggers you.)

Every now and then I come across a resource that could be body positive and fat accepting–except that it throws in a weight-loss message almost as an after thought. As if someone said, you know, more people would buy this if you tell them it will make them thinner, and so they did. But it’s not the main message.

This is an old school dance aerobics DVD and Debra reminds me of a hipper, female Richard Simmons. She wants you to love yourself and enjoy moving your wonderful body. She also brings to mind Susan Powter, but in a toned down way. And, she has big giant steps over both of these 1990s gurus in that she doesn’t advocate dieting. In fact, she has a no-diet contract on her website.

I am fairly uncoordinated and it takes me a long time to get the hang of dance steps. There were a few minutes where I just marched in place because my arms and legs wouldn’t move together that way. For some reason, I really had trouble with the V-step with opening and closing arms. Ruby laughed.

Debra offers some modification, but not much. I would have liked to see more. The whole workout could be done sitting down, using arms only, for people with mobility issues. Or standing with arms or legs only, for those with lower fitness levels. The complicated steps aren’t necessary if you can’t keep up. You can just march in place to keep your heart rate up until that part is done. I think when you’re marketing an exercise DVD to people with larger bodies, it is important to address issues like mobility and differing fitness levels. It seems that in her live classes she does this. I would have loved to have seen one of her class participants doing modified exercises.

One of the problems with aerobics in general, at least in my opinion, is that they are so tightly tied socially and culturally to weight loss. They just are. It’s up to you to decide that whatever movement you do, you’re doing it for reasons other than weight loss. Even when the person teaching you suddenly pops out with “burn those calories, girls.”

I felt this workout in different parts of my legs than I do on the treadmill–especially on the outsides of my thighs and hips. My arms got a harder workout than they are used to. As I was doing the Jane-Fonda-esque arm moves, I thought about how stronger triceps will make me a stronger swimmer. And, I kind of enjoyed the retro-feel of the exercises.

This DVD has an introduction, where Debra spends some time talking about fitness for all bodies. Then there is a 30-ish minute workout. There is an option for a 52 minute workout, which I was going to do today. This longer workout restarts the first workout, minus the warm-up. I decided that 30 minutes were enough, but I thought it was sort of innovative to offer some way to extend the workout if you want to.

There is something called Circle Time, which is basically a short advertisement for Debra’s gym. If you don’t live in Philadelphia,  you don’t really need it.

It’s warming up here. Which, believe it or not, means we’ll be getting more snow. (It doesn’t snow much in the dead of winter when it’s very, very cold. We get our heaviest snows in the spring.) I’d do this DVD again on days when I want to train, but can’t get outside or to the gym. I also sometimes just really like to exercise with Ruby, who is a natural athlete and gets real, pure joy out of moving her body.  Sometimes she’ll ask me to exercise with her. (She loves the Roller Derby Workout and asks me to put it on at least twice a week.) Being strong enough to keep up with her is way up on the top of the list of benefits to being a Defiant Athlete. She liked the dance parts of this DVD and I can see us just doing that part sometimes for fun.

DISCLOSURE: This DVD was sent free to me for review purposes, however my opinion of it is honest and my own.

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Book Review: Charley Harper by Todd Oldham

Charley Harper was an American illustrator whose style is so evocative  of Mid-century Modern goodness that when this book came in the mail and I opened it to start reading and browsing through it’s many, many amazing pictures I couldn’t help but feel good.

Charley Harper is a feel good artist.

Yes. That says it all I think.

One of the first pictures in Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life is one of Charley Harper with his wife and son. He’s an old man, with a walker cane. His wife is glorious in pink, and one thing stands out. This man looks happy. He looks like a man who spent his life doing something that was pleasing to himself and the world. Yes, I know that is reading a lot into a picture in a book, but I can’t help thinking when I look at that picture that at the end of my life I want there to be a picture of me and my family where I look that happy.

It’s that sense of joy that beams from his portrait that also shines like a beacon through his illustrations. He’s famous for his birds, and other nature-inspired illustrations.

But he also illustrated books, such as the The Giant Golden Book of Biology and Betty Crocker’s Dinner For Two. In that cookbook, he was commissioned to illustrate the 1950s version of a happy housewife. Each of those happy housewife pictures tickles me right to my toes.

If you can tear your eyes from the stunning pictures, there is lots of great information in this book as well. The story of how designer Todd Oldham first found and fell in love with Charley Harper’s work, and how he ended up putting this book together (it’s obviously a labor of love.) An interview with the artist that feels like two friends talking.

But mostly? This is a catalog of a man’s life’s work. Charley Harper’s love for his art is tangible on every page. It completely lacks pretension, which means (to me anyway) that rather than removing the viewer from the art it draws her in. It makes her see his clean lines and minimalist style with inspiration rather than awe once removed.

Really, there isn’t much more I can say. Except that I’m so happy that someone took the time to catalog Charley Harper’s work–and let it stand on it’s own in this book. After the first few pages, the illustrations are allowed to sing from the pages without words.

I’ll admit to being in love with Charley Harper’s art. The publisher sent me this book to review for you, and I’m so grateful. My opinion of the book was not colored by how it came to me. The full-size coffee table version of this book is pricey, but the link above is to a version that is a little smaller (but still good-sized at 12X8.5) that is considerably less expensive and worth every penny.

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Book Review: Living on Earth, Alicia Bay Laurel

It seems to me that there are two kind of non-fiction books.

Those that are tightly focused on their subject.

And those that are wide-flung, giving a little bit of information about a lot of things that all come together as a cohesive whole.

If that second type of book is done just right, you have a book that wets your appetite. It inspires research, and learning more, and figuring things out on your own.

Living on the Earth, by Alicia Bay Laurel, is that second kind of book. In spades. Reading it makes me happy. It starts with a description of clouds, and ends with a drawing of the constellations in the Northern Hemisphere. And in between is a wealth of handwritten, gorgeously illustrated muse-inspiring ideas.

Here are a few things that tickled me:

  • how to distill rose water
  • how to give birth at home
  • vegan dairy options
  • how to make a bamboo flute
  • whittling and wood carving
  • how to make a Mexican peasant blouse
  • truly lovely soap

See? That’s just a tiny bit of what’s inside this book. None of it is comprehensive knowledge, but all of it makes you want to know more. The original book was written in 1970s, but a revision was done in 2000 so there are viable resources included to facilitate what I promise will be an insatiable desire to Google.

This book was written in a time that, looking back, seems incredibly innocent. People, Babyboomers, broke out and did things differently–vastly differently–than their parents had. Self-sufficiency, doing things for yourself, seems like such a detour from the 1950s image of self-cleaning kitchens and TV dinners doesn’t it?

Things are different today. In 1970 there was a push for the kind of back-t0-the-land self-sufficiency this book so beautifully describes. But the resources were still there. Gas was still as cheap as tap water, and hardly anyone had even considered that we might run out of oil some time. No one, outside of perhaps some geologists or weather experts, was thinking about Climate Change in 1970.

Maybe that’s why it was easy for the Babyboomers to become Yuppies?

Their movement was glorious. But it wasn’t necessary.

Self-sufficiency is necessary today. It is becoming more and more necessary with each passing year. There is a lot of talk about a need to regain skills that people had during the Great Depression. Of course their is, our economy is that scary. But there is something to be said for examining the brief and shining time in our history when people chose self-sufficiency. When figuring out how to do things on your own was a choice, not a necessity.

How much easier is change when it’s a choice, not a mandate?

Infinitely easier.

Take it from someone whose life’s work has been with a population that is infamously resistant to change (teenagers, drug addicts…), self-inspired paradigm shifts are a beautiful thing.

And this book–with it’s lovely, loopy handwriting and Adam-and-Eve illustrations, is an inspiration to a paradigm shift.

That really is a beautiful thing.

P.S. This book is still in print. You can get it at Amazon, but check out the author’s website. If you buy it directly from her, she’ll inscribe it for you. Beautifully. She also has some signed copies of the follow-up book that if I had $50 extra dollars I would be all over buying one of. (I’m going to save my pennies.) She sent me this book to review for you, which did not color my opinion, but which I’m so grateful for.

This book is going into my tiny pile of “books I would want with me if I were trapped on a deserted island (or if the shit hits the fan.)”


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Review: One-Yard Wonders by Rebecca Yaker

I love Storey Publishing. I really do. Their catalog is like a candy store to me.

So I was so very very excited when they sent me a copy of One-Yard Wonders by Rebecca Yaker to review for you. It’s filled with 101 projects you can make with, you guessed it, one yard of fabric.

I was even more excited (hard to believe, I know) when I got the book and was able to see all the pretty pictures and interesting projects. Sure some were slightly cheesy. But it was a fun look-through, and the book is filled with lots of things I would like to make. I think for someone who is an experienced seamster, some of the projects in this book would probably seem elementary (a tea cosy? A draw-string wine bag?) But for someone who is really a beginner, elementary is a very good thing.

I had this thrift-store vintage stretchy knit fabric that I’d been holding on to. It’s super soft and has a great print. So when I saw the Perfect-Fit Sleep Shorts I knew that was the project I wanted to try out of this book for my review.

I had visions of wearing my new vintage-y shorts in my dorm at residency in April and impressing my stranger/roommate with my skills. (Yes, I really did. Yes, I really am a complete nerd.)

This is a patternless project, which is great. The book does come with an envelope of patterns, but the clothes patterns don’t fit me as they only go up to a size 18 which is something like a modern 14 I think. The shorts required some pattern drafting. I used tissue wrapping paper and a pencil. Algebra was involved.

Here’s were I ran into my first problem.

I had to take three measurements. Hip: No problem. Waist to bottom of shorts: No problem. Total rise? Erm. I did my best, using “from front to back” as my only guide. Then you had to subtract the waist to bottom measurement from half of the total rise measurement for the length of the legs.

I ended up with a negative number.

Oh my.

I spent a frustrating 1/2 an hour trying to figure this thing out.   I don’t even remember exactly what I did, except that it involved taking just a half rise (the front half, so now in retrospect I realize that I didn’t account for my bottom.) I finally ended up with a three inch difference. Short shorts. I was so flustered by this point that I just went with it. These were sleep shorts after all, short was ok.

So I made the pattern, which actually was fun and interesting work. Then I laid it out on the fabric.

Which leads to my second problem.

I was using a fabric that was both directional AND reversible. This obviously isn’t the fault of the book. But somehow I ended up with the front and half the back being perfect. And one butt cheek being the backside of the fabric. Um. I have no clue at all how I did this, since I followed directions and folded the fabric in half fronts facing to cut. I didn’t have any more fabric, and I was going to finish these shorts, damn it, no matter what. So I just went with it. Sleep shorts, right?

Now, in reality, these shorts are three seams and three hems. My inexperience made it harder than it needed to be. Maybe if I tried these again, it would be easier and less frustrating.

The only problem is, the problem with the measuring caused me to end up with something more like a pair of boy short panties than wear-alone shorts. When I first finished the shorts, they were gigantic. like a full foot wider than I am around the waist. The pattern calls for an elastic waist, but these would have been so baggy and not flattering with that much gathering. Also the legs were at least six inches wider, measured across, than my leg. If you see the picture, the shorts are meant to be fitted. I had stretchy fabric so fitted was what I was going for.

Stretch fabric = I didn’t need elastic. So I took the shorts in to be much more fitted. I was actually very excited at this point because my shorts looked like shorts. I’d had a problem with the inside seam, because the front crotch area is 1.5″ while the back is 3″ and the book, I guess, just assumed I’d know how to handle that. I didn’t. After a lot of seam picking and resewing I managed a seam that wasn’t bubbly. Having something after all that, that actually looked like shorts was very cool.

So I ended up with a pair of very short, fitted, one-mismatched-cheek shorts.

In other words? I made myself a pair of underwear. Because when I tried them, whatever I did to have a positive leg length ended with shorts that are very definitely hip huggers.

But they fit me like a glove. (I did a good job with the taking in.)  And are super soft. And who cares if one cheek is backward, right?

And look! They really look like shorts. This is my first attempt at anything pants like, so all in all I’m not unhappy.

Back to the book. I would have been very happy if the author had told me how to measure total rise. And how to deal with the bubbly crotch seam thing. A book filled with easy, small projects markets itself to beginners. With only a few pages in front that talk about technique, this is not a beginners book. I’m assuming that having so many projects packed in meant there wasn’t room for tons of instructional material. I should have been more patient and pulled out one of my other sewing books.

So I’m going to put the short’s short-comings on seamstress inexperience. And then say that this is a fun book packed with lots of inspirational ideas, but that if you have no sewing experience you’re going to want to have a book that’s heavier on the instructions near by.

I will definitely be trying some other patterns from this book. There are some cute-as-a-button little girl twirly skirts, simple-looking aprons, and a lunch bag that are calling to me.

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