Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hands in the Dirt

I've been neglecting the internet pretty badly lately, but it feels so good to get my hands in the dirt that I've been letting almost everything else slide (even the horses!). I've got three new garden beds dug and planted for herbs, and the final one dug and ready to plant tomorrow after the frost warning has passed. Quite a few of what I'm planting are simply weeds in disguise, having sprouted up in my lawn between mowings (to the chagrin of my Tru-Green neighbors!)One example is a beautiful crop of first year Mullein. I've moved them from my yard to pots so that I can harvest a few leaves at a time throughout the summer.

I left one in the ground for Fred the rabbit to nibble on. He's moved into my brush pile and sits unconcernedly by my front door when I come out each morning. So far he's leaving my potted mullein alone in favor of the wild, but he did sample my newly planted sage almost to the ground.

My other "weed" finds that I've moved to pots for various reasons include Five-Finger Grass (Cinquefoil) (no, it's not related to Cannabis),

a beautiful spread of Star of Bethlehem by my shed

a great spread of sweet-rocket from the ditch by my office, a spread of violets in march, and a few as-yet unidentified wildflowers I've saved from the lawnmower in hopes of transplanting after their blooms are gone.

The satisfaction of working on my own land, the meditation of studying the changes of the season, the back-breaking sweaty hours of digging, raking, hauling and mulching, and the good old fashioned kid-like joy of playing barefoot in the dirt are all so very good for me. Especially since health issues have kept me from being able to do Yoga for the last two months. I've started a Dandelion tincture brewing for detox, and transplated a stray Raspberry cane that escaped via rhizome from a friend's garden, in hopes of starting a Raspberry leaf tincture as well. The store-bought version seems to be helping my health issues quite a bit, but I hate to pay $12 a bottle for something I can make.

Once I'm done getting my dirt fix I do plan to get back on track with FA, this blog, the COFRA site, and all my other social comittments. Until then, I leave you a moment of zen a la Wizard of Oz. The hairy-looking alien pods have opened, and my "leave it alone and see what pops up" garden is once again in a profusion of (non-narcotic) poppies. I got pictures tonight in case the frost wipes them out. They're very pretty, but incredibly delicate.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Recipe Box: Strawberry-Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

The Rhubarb is coming the Rhubarb is coming!

In Michigan it's the season for cheap/free produce, as the Rhubarb explodes out of everyone's garden until it overflows all the freezers and jams and pies their owners can handle. One of my best friends and her family just inherited a massive overgrown garden with their new house, and they are loving the surprises popping up this spring. She has giant bush-like rhubarb plants producing enough to fill three freezers, so she graciously bestowed a pile on me just as I was racking my brain for something to make for our office's annual cake-off. In a Michigan summer twist (not that I'm claiming rhubarb is specific to Michigan) I made strawberry-rhubarb upside-down cake. Yes, I cheated by using a box cake instead of scratch, but that's the problem with baking projects on a weeknight. Between the baking and the digging (since I got some Raspberry canes to plant along with the gift of Rhubarb) I was up until midnight. I jittered myself up with coffee and ended up in a three-way tie for first place at the Cake-Off the next morning. I didn't use any of my own votes (you pay 25 cents for each slice and vote), but I'm wondering if it really would have felt like an empty victory if I had :-)

Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake (aka Spring Flip):


1 box french vanilla cake mix (Supermoist or pudding cake mix)

Ingredients to prepare cake mix per directions on box (typically 3 eggs, oil and water)

2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb (½ inch to 1 inch pieces). The Rhubarb doesn’t need to be completely peeled, but it helps to strip off any tough or stringy skin you might find on older/larger pieces.

2 cups plus ½ cup sliced fresh sweet strawberries

1 cup (packed) light brown cane sugar

1/3 cup butter

9x12 glass baking dish with at least 2” high sides (an extra inch or two higher is even better)

Optional variations: you can include one or more of the following if you’d like, or come up with your own variation. (If adding more fresh fruit or liquid, be sure to balance it by adding dry ingredients such as flour and sugar):
  • ½-1 cup pecan halves or pieces
  • cinnamon or nutmeg (to taste)
  • ½ - ¼ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup shredded coconut


Preheat oven to 350

Put butter in glass pan in oven to melt (careful not to let it scorch)

Prepare cake batter per directions on box, subtracting 2 Tablespoons of water from the ingredients called for and adding ½ cup sliced strawberries. Beat the strawberries into the mix well so that they break up and distribute evenly.

When the butter has melted in the dish remove it from the oven. Make sure the butter has coated the bottom of the dish evenly.

Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter at the bottom of the baking dish

Layer 2 cups of strawberries on the brown sugar

Sprinkle 2 cups chopped rhubarb over the strawberries

Sprinkle any optional ingredients over the rhubarb

Press ingredients gently down into the brown sugar

Pour the cake batter over the layers in the baking dish (there might be some left after the dish is full. You can make a cupcake or two, or discard)

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes

If the cake is firm down to the fruit and doesn't "jiggle" with movement, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, skip to the next step. If it isn't done yet, run a butter knife around the edge of the dish to separate the cake from the sides. This allows moisture to escape so that the fruit cooks down properly. Reduce oven to 325 and bake an additional 20-40 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven until fruit is bubbling up the sides, the cake is firm without “jiggling” when you move it, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Place a cookie sheet or heatproof serving tray over the top of the baking dish.

Holding the cookie sheet or tray firmly against the baking dish, flip them both over so that the dish and cake are resting upside down on the tray.

Let sit without removing the dish for at least 30 minutes to allow all the fruit to drop and the cake to keep the shape while cooling.

Serve warm or room temperature with ice cream or whip cream.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Letter to Torrid

Dear Torrid Executives:

As a formerly eager customer, I would like to express disappointment in your decision to be involved with a contest featuring a "boot-camp" for weight loss. Losing weight rapidly is not only untenable in the long-run, but unhealthy for the participants both physically and psychologically. I don't understand how a store purporting to serve a customer base that is comfortable and confident in their bodies can support a program that teaches them, as all diets do, that their bodies are unacceptable and objects of shame. If you don't want large women to accept their bodies as they are, why do you choose to serve them as a demographic? If you want, as your clothes suggest, large women to feel confident in themselves as people, why would you choose to suddenly sell them out to the media industry that survives primarily by a constant reinforcement of self-loathing in women and girls? Supporting that media and it's ideals of body-hatred through weight loss is a betrayal of your customers' trust.

I do love your clothing line, but I have made the difficult decision to no longer give any of my business to support a company that tries to sell me clothing while telling me my body is not an acceptable shape to wear that clothing. I cannot support a company that asks women to wear the symbols of confidence in their bodies while it in turn supports a contest promoting the objectification and manipulation of women by telling them the shape of their bodies is more important than the achievements of their minds or skills.

If your company would be willing to cut ties with this contest and no longer support any promotion of dieting or body-hatred, I would be happy to bring my business back to your stores. Please consider the long-term effects of your actions, and whether the loyalty of your customer base is more important than any fleeting profits you may realize by selling their trust.


Susan Conklin

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How to Contact Torrid

For those who haven't been following, Torrid has made the disappointing decision to participate in a contest involving boot-camp-style weight loss for women interested in plus-size modeling.

Big Fat Blog has covered this issue in detail, including the original Craig's List post asking for fat women with "pretty faces" to participate in their weight-loss regime in order to be pretty enough to wear clothes.

There's also a response on Hyde and Seek, and a discussion on Fatshionista where they've posted some of the responses they've received from Torrid trying to justify their actions.

If you'd like to write and let Torrid know what you think about their decision to be involved in this contest and encourage unhealthy dieting in their customers, please write to:

Torrid Headquarters
18305 E. San Jose Avenue
City of Industry, CA 91748 USA

You can also E-mail them from their customer service page, but remember that a written letter will always be taken more seriously than e-mail.

For tips on how to write a good protest letter, see NAAFA's list here.

I'll be putting a letter together in the next couple of days that others can use as a template, but remember that original letters will always be more effective than form letters. You don't have to be the most eloquent or erudite person in the world to let the company know you're disappointed in them! Just simply say so. You can include one of the NAAFA brochures , or quote (with credit to the original author) some of the information you've read on blogs and websites to say why dieting is dangerous and ineffective in the long-term.

Even if you just send a short paragraph, your voice needs to be heard by Torrid, so that they know they can't pretend to serve their market while despising it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Send a single mother to Disneyland (part 2)

A few weeks ago, I posted a request for your help in sending a hardworking single mom to Disneyland via KMEL's Bay Babes baby photo contest. I've heard now that she's made it to the final round! If you're interested in helping again, please go to the KMEL website at and vote for

23) Jazmyne-2

Enter your e-mail address and respond to the confirmation e-mail they send you. You can vote once per day.

If there are multiple people voting at the same computer from multiple e-mail addresses you'll have to clear your browser cache between voting.

The mother and kids are over the moon at the chance to have a summer vacation! Thanks to anyone who'd like to help.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Book Review: "Thinner Than Thou"

Book Review: Thinner Than Thou, by Kit Reed

A novel about a dystopic semi-future where youth and thinness has displaced religion as the moral guide in the U.S. The primary "church of thin" is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate of products and clinics claiming to cure both fat and age. It has all the trappings of the modern church including a charismatic prophet of thin who preaches via infomercial and recruit converts willing to give up most of their worldly assets in the pursuit of the new norm of physical perfection. A cadre of mysterious nun-like "sisters" carry out secret operations to save those who refuse to conform, and chains of "scarf and barf" eateries offer a distinctly Roman outlet for suppressed urges. Of course any rigid society creates a fringe, and in this world there are two. The first is the complete fetishization of food and fat. There's the furious and serious national sport of eating competitions, and the pornographic "Jumbo Jigglers" clubs, where clients pay to watch fat people consume huge amounts of food. The second is the secret society of former religious leaders who have banded together, Catholic, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist, to create underground railroads and cadres of believers.

The plot centers around an anorexic teenage girl who is put in the hands of the mysterious "Sisters" for rehabilitation. Her outraged brother and sister (twins) and boyfriend set out on a cross-country search to find her and rescue her from their hands. A secondary plot centers around a writer who commits himself to a weight-loss internment camp run by the prophet of the new church.

Let me start out with the caveat that I read a lot of classical literature. That tends to make me interpret modern novels harshly when it comes to voice and characters. That said, I was irritated at the campy-teen dialogue in the book, along the lines of "Like, totally! Way! No way! Dude! Awesome!" Then again, I don't know many teenagers, so they may actually only talk that way. It was just jarring. The dialogue, with the exception of a few speeches, was stilted and often awkward.

The setting is the real strength of the book. The author describes a world where religion is sacrificed to youth and beauty, because the worship of youth and the contemplation of death are seen as mutually exclusive. The elderly are a problem not in terms of support, but in terms of concealment so as to not remind the world of time's inevitable result. Details like these are brilliant.

My biggest struggle with the book is deciding whether it really glorifies eating disorders. The main character is anorexic, and while those with anorexia may be able to relate to the character's motives and history, the book sets her up as a heroine for maintaining her disorder against the efforts of her rehabilitators. Granted the rehabilitators' methods are medieval, but nothing in the novel really dispels the impression that the girl is anything but daring and independent for challenging the status quo and overcoming every power of the institution by refusing to eat. Any question of her recovery is forgotten amongst the rest of the (otherwise Spielberg-like) ending. Yes, it's a dystopic fantasy and there is an argument for realism, but I wouldn't want my (completely theoretical) teenage daughter to read the detailed instructions for hiding anorexic symptoms from friends and family.

On the other end of the ED spectrum in this book lies the strongest objection I have against the book; Every single fat person in the book is portrayed as a compulsive eater. There are detailed scenes of one-dimensional immobile straw fatties who weep at their inability to stop as they eat an entire roast pig and several entire cakes provided by fetishists. More detail is devoted to the description of pork fat dripping down a fat person's chin or the fat folds of a pink organza-wrapped immobile dehumanized fat person than is given to the development or description of any of the main characters. Fat characters in the novel frequently have to buy love, friendship and/or physical affection with food. The fantasy around the fetishization of fat and food is explained as the desire to let one's self "go" in an overcontrolled society, rather than a natural feature one can't really permanently change. They are also, to highlight one of my own pet peeves, described at least twice as having "such a pretty face."

Now that could be tongue-in-cheek, but the problem with tongue-in-cheek is that only those in on the joke will recognize it as such. The average person reading the book may gain some sympathy, but I doubt they will walk away with any fewer fat stereotypes. While the book does drive home awareness of the current unhealthy obsession with thin and possibly promote some awareness of eating disorders, I don't think it really does much to advance FA.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Recipe Box: Garlic Mustard

Most of the midwest, northwest and east coast states are now dealing with a severely invasive non-native plant that takes over any disturbed soil in partial sun or shaded areas such as woodlands, roadsides and vacant lots. Garlic mustard was introduced by european settlers and has spread wild as a weed anywhere it can establish itself, including my backyard in Michigan.

Garlic Mustard may be a weed, but it's also medicinal (which is why settlers brought it in the first place). The leaves are antiseptic and can be used on humans to treat everything from cuts and scrapes to acne and itchy bug bites. The root can be cooked in oil and applied to the chest for lung complaints like bronchitis.
The leaves are edible, with a flavor somewhere between garlic and onion. The young leaves are less bitter and can be added in small quanities to salads. The older/larger leaves make a great herb in soups, marinades and dry rubs, especially for game (venison, game birds, etc) but also beef and chicken.
I love that spring offers new ways to experiment with ingredients you can't get at the store! It's important, however, to gather from areas free of pesticides or other pollutants, and preferably at least 1/4 mile from the side of roads. Make sure there's no poison ivy growing amongst the garlic mustard plants. Wash the plant thoroughly before using or drying. Also make very sure that you have the correct plant, since there are a few that look similar.
The most common recipes you'll find for Garlic Mustard are pestos, as the bitterness of the leaf goes very well in the flavors of a good pesto sauce. There's plenty of recipes at:

which is the annual Garlic Mustard challenge held in Maryland. A google search also comes up with some fantastic recipes to use this invasive weed in various recipes.

I've got several bunches hanging to dry, and hopefully will have a nice stock for the rest of the year :-) I have a feeling it'll work very well in a wild rice pilaf!