Friday, May 25, 2007

Vegan Eats in the San Francisco Bay Area

I was so pleased to see the two articles (below) in my local paper.

I'm familiar with Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I own both of her cookbooks. You can find a link to her website, The Post Punk Kitchen, under Links on the right.

I had previously heard of Que SeRaw SeRaw, but I have yet to eat there. Soon, I promise. And I'll report back.

I had not heard of the vegan donut place in Berkeley, however. That was news to me, and I'm trying to figure out an excuse to drive across the bay and buy some donuts.

Nina's Kitchen

The other day I went out for lunch at a local coffee shop, and I discovered something new. They had these apple walnut cinnamon rolls made by Nina's Kitchen. I had never seen them before, and I'll try any new vegan thing I see at least once. The $3 was a little steep, but it was worth it. It was really delicious, and I'm going to keep buying them so that they keep them in stock. I checked out their website: Nina's Kitchen, and found out that they're in nearby Watsonville.

Vegan fare

Here is a mini-article that accompanied Let 'em eat cake:

- Que SeRaw SeRaw offers vegan and raw food to go with many vegan desserts on the menu. 1160 Capuchino Ave., Burlingame (650) 400-8590.

- Whole Foods Market offers a wide variety of vegan cookies and desserts in their stores. 3000 Telegraph Ave. Berkeley, (510) 649-1333; 774 Emerson St. Palo Alto, (650) 326-8676; 1250 Jefferson Ave. Redwood City, (650) 367-1400; 1010 Park Place San Mateo, (650) 358-6900; 100 Sunset Drive San Ramon, (925) 355-9000.

- The People's Donuts offers vegan doughnuts in a variety of flavors at Eclair Pastries, 2565 Telegraph Ave. Berkeley (510) 848-4221.

- Author Isa Chandra Moskowitz has a Web site called the Post Punk Kitchen ( which offers a variety of vegan recipes, including desserts.

- Charlotte Blackmer features recipes, restaurant reviews and other food-related musings on

Let 'em eat vegan cake

This is a reprint of an article entitled Let 'em eat vegan cake by Kristin Bender in the San Mateo County Times:

Seven days a week, bakers at People's Donuts churn out blueberry, chocolate, vanilla cake, lemon poppy seed and other sugary sweet doughnuts without using any animal products.

But some days, the bakers go hog wild, if you will, making a maple doughnut with textured soy protein bacon bits on top for their most special customers.

"I feel like you shouldn't let the meatatarians have all the fun," says doughnut maker Rachael Devlin, wiping a dab of chocolate from her chin at Eclair Pastries on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue, which is where the six-week-old People's Donuts does its baking.

From doughnuts to chocolate truffles to strawberry cheesecake, bakers are increasingly cooking up delectable vegan desserts and plenty of non-meat eaters and carnivores alike are gobbling them up.

Last year, Alicia Parnell opened Que SeRaw SeRaw, an organic vegan raw retail food store in Burlingame.

Nothing in the store, which offers prepackaged salads, soup, entrees, pizza and desserts, is cooked above 118 degrees. Still, her food doesn't skimp on flavor, she says.

"We have the yummiest (vegan) cheesecake on the planet," says Parnell.

In addition, they sell blueberry scones, chocolate truffles, pecan bliss cookies, cinnamon rolls with frosting and pies.

"I have one customer, who wants to buy a whole pie every day," she says. "We are only two people making food. Then he comes in and says he's buying it for his mother and his aunt."
Her desserts, she says, also aim to satisfy even the most serious chocoholic.

"We have a chocolate pudding that is absolutely out of this world," she says. "It handles the chocoholic's need for a fix."

The anti-Krispy Kreme

People's Donuts owner Josh Levine of Oakland spent a year studying doughnut-making and tasting doughnuts before perfecting his recipe, which he says contains no eggs or milk and is nearly all organic.

Claiming to be the first vegan doughnut operation in the state, he says even those skeptical of vegan food find the doughnuts tasty.

"I've had marriage proposals and exclamations of love," says Levine. "They are surprised because they think it's going to taste like bean sprouts and tofu."

Ryan Kellner, the owner of Mighty-O, an all-organic vegan doughnut shop in Seattle, understands the long-standing prejudice toward vegan food and is working to change it by making great-tasting doughnuts.

"There are some people out there who if you say, 'Try thisit's vegan,' they will say, 'No thanks I'm not vegan.'"

He once gave a batch of his vegan doughnuts to a group of construction workers who gobbled up every last crumb.

"Then they found out they were vegan doughnuts and then didn't want to eat them any more," he says. "I think it's really weird but it's part of human nature. Some people like to eat meat (and eggs and dairy) and they don't want to be told that their lifestyle is wrong."

But these days with people paying more attention to the evils of trans fats — thanks in part to the Food and Drug Administration's January 2006 requirement that it be listed on food labels — there is an increased yearning for delicious, healthful desserts that go beyond the hippie earthy crunchy date-oat bar sort of thing.

"Vegan baking is becoming more popular, and people are becoming more conscious of the fact that there is a lot more of it going on," says Kellner.

"The vegan movement has always been asking for it, but most of the stuff five or 10 years ago wasn't any good. But now, these people are growing up and they are willing to try different things," he says.

Beyond the table

A vegan (pronounced, VEE-gan) avoids all animal meat, chicken and fish as well as eggs, animal milks, honey and their derivatives.

But veganism also denotes "a philosophy and way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, nonhuman animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, nonhumans and the environment," according to one description in the "Vegan Voice," a magazine devoted to the lifestyle.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz knows quite a bit about cooking and eating vegan.

The author of "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" and "Vegan with a Vengeance," the 34-year-old New Yorker has been a vegan since she was 16.

She says vegan baking isn't more difficult than baking with eggs and milk, but there is a little more trial and error.

"You have to really learn how ingredients act together," she says. "I think a lot of people try and replace eight eggs with eight cups of apple sauce and that doesn't always work."

Moskowitz, who is working on a third cookbook, says she tried for a decade to make the perfect lemon bar.

"Every couple of months for the last 10 years I'd try and make them," she says.

Finally, it was agar agar, a vegan gelatin substitute made from seaweed, that helped her turn out the perfect lemon bar. Moskowitz keeps track of what people are saying about her vegan dessert recipes and the reviews are quite good.

"I haven't had any complaints. I look at people's food blogs and people say 'I can't believe it, it's the best cupcake I ever had,'" she says.

Got cake?

Charlotte Blackmer of Berkeley can relate. She runs a Web site and food blog called Love and Cooking, which offers her home recipes, experiences feeding the multitudes, restaurant reviews and other food-related musings.

Blackmer says while "it is perfectly possible to make a lovely fruit compote, or a crisp, or even fruit pie without use of animal products, sometimes the soul just cries out for ... chocolate cake."
For this, she got help from an "extremely non-hippie source," an acquaintance who is a convert to Orthodox Christianity hipped her to a vegan chocolate cake that is truly heaven sent, she says.

Because Orthodox Christians have strict rules about abstaining from particular foods in the seasons of Advent (before Christmas) and Lent (before Easter), as well as abstaining from certain foods on most Wednesdays and Fridays during the year, they find ways to eat dessert without cheating, according to Blackmer.

So, wrote Blackmer, "If you or a near one are vegan, or dairy-sensitive, or egg-sensitive, or trying to cut down on your cholesterol, this is just a darn tasty cake, and it couldn't be easier to put together."

And if that doesn't satisfy the sweet tooth, you can always grab a maple bar with those yummy soy protein bacon bits at People's Donuts in Berkeley. Your arteries will thank you.

Josephine's Lenten Chocolate Cake
Recipe courtesy of Charlotte Blackmer

2 cups (16 fl. oz.) very cold water
Shortening or margarine for greasing
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting the pan
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Dark chocolate chips (check label to make sure they're vegan, some brands have whey) or nuts (optional)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4cup (6 fl. oz.) corn oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and put 2 cups of water into a container in the fridge. Grease (not butter!) and flour a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl until well blended. If you want to add the optional dark chocolate chips or nuts, you can do so at this stage.

Mix wet ingredients together (I found my 4 cup Pyrex good for this and used a whisk). Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix together (again, my flat whisk was helpful).

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until tested done.

For topping, you have several options. Josephine either dusts it with powdered sugar, or frosts with frosting-in-a-can that passes the ingredient test. If you are a better person than I am, you can whip up some frosting of your own as long as you use margarine or shortening, not butter. What I did was put some high-quality dark chocolate chips on the cake the minute it came out of the oven, and after they melted (about 5 minutes), spread them with my spatula to cover the cake.

Serves 12.

Per serving (without topping; 1/2cup each chocolate chips and chopped walnuts added): 448 Calories; 20g Fat; 5g Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 391mg Sodium.

Per serving (without topping): 372 Calories; 14g Fat; 4g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Garden of Vegan

My current favorite cookbook is Garden of Vegan. Here are some of the recipes that have become regulars in my household. The numbers in parentheses are the page numbers. This is a reprint of a post I made at the GoVegan Forum.

The Death by Chocolate Pie (194) is a true winner. If you know someone who loves chocolate, this is guaranteed to make them happy.

The Nut Butter Cookies (184) are wonderful. I make them with a mix of peanut and almond butters.

My youngest son, who is almost three, and I can finish off a batch of the Chickpea Toss (147) by ourselves. Quick, easy, tasty!

The Megadarra (123) is awesome. I tried it for the first time just a handful of weeks ago, and I've already made it again. And my wife is already bugging me to make it again. We jazz it up with some seitan chicken.

Nana Marg's Nuts and Bolts (108) is perfect for entertaining. It has gone over well with my omnivore relatives and coworkers.

My all-time favorite homemade salad dressing is the Maple Dijon Flax Oil Dressing (98). I've made this countless times. In fact, I'll be making it tonight again because I'm bringing home a whole bunch of leftover salad from our volunteer appreciation lunch today.

The Rustic Quinoa & Yam Salad (95) is great. Quinoa, yams, garlic, red bell pepper, cumin, cilantro - need I really say more?

Auntie Bonnie's Chickpea Salad (92) is another great recipe combining chickpeas and olives.

I liked the Hungry Person Stew (87), but it didn't go over well with anyone else in my home. Oh well...

I haven't made them in quite a while, but the Raspberry Fig Breakfast Bars (47) are delicious. I've had a couple of my wife's omnivore coworkers ask for this recipe, they liked it so much when they tried hers.

For other breakfast treats, try the Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes (40) and Claire's Couscous Porridge. Can you tell I like breakfast?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Thank a Teacher

The San Francisco Education Fund put together a website called Thank a Teacher Today. On it, you can send a free E-Card to a teacher and say "thanks."

By the way, the April copy of California Educator, the magazine of the California Teachers Association has a mini-poster (see above) reminding us that Wednesday, May 9, 2007 is Day of the Teacher. The theme this year is "Celebrating the Artistry of Teaching." You can also find the poster and other information on their website and at Day of the Teacher 2007.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Study: Stress, low pay turning teachers away

Here is a reprint of an article from Sunday's San Mateo County Times written by Shirley Dang:

Sabrina Walasek loved teaching middle school science and math in Daly City and Felton, near Santa Cruz. But after six years, the Oakland resident found herself worn out from keeping kids in check.

"The amount of energy spent on discipline and behavior management just got to me after awhile," Walasek said.

Ultimately, she said, the stress wasn't worth the pay.

"It was almost impossible to exist in the Bay Area on that salary," Walasek said.

She and her husband, also a teacher, both left the profession. Now she uses her education experience and business degree to develop educational toys at LeapFrog in Emeryville, a job that comes with a much higher paycheck.

But pay isn't the only issue causing teachers to rethink their careers.

Stifled by bureaucracy, faced with poor conditions and blocked from making decisions in their own classrooms, teachers are leaving the profession in droves, according to a new study released Thursday by Cal State University's Teacher Quality Institute.

The 1,900 teachers surveyed cited the litany of rules and regulations, lack of textbooks and supplies and a test-obsessed culture as reasons they left or plan to leave within two years.

"Those kind of things aren't just driving people crazy, they are driving teachers out of the classroom," said Ken Futernick, principal author of the study and director of K-12 Studies at the institute.

About one in five California teachers abandon the field after four years, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. With this type of exodus, the nonprofit Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, based in Santa Cruz, projects a 30,000-teacher shortage in California by 2015.

At high-poverty schools, one in 10 teachers jumps ship each year, either for a different campus or a new occupation entirely.

"It's students from our most challenging schools who suffer the most," said Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of schools. "We really do have a revolving door."

Nearly half of teachers surveyed by the institute left for personal reasons, such as childbirth or retirement. The other half left out of frustration with the job.

Top reasons include bureaucratic impediments, poor district support, low staff morale, a lack of resources and an unsupportive principal. Like Goyne, more than 40 percent of those who left said they did so because they lacked authority to make decisions about how and what to teach.

"Why did I go pay all that money to go to college if I can't even apply the skills I was taught?" Goyne said.

Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Association, said the study echoed the union's concerns.

"We need to have more say at the local level," Kerr said. "Teachers are feeling like they're not able to use the knowledge they have."

English teacher Paula Gocker left El Cerrito High School in the West Contra Costa school district two years ago after she was ordered to teach using more excerpts from novels and plays rather than whole works of literature.

"I knew I couldn't be culpable in that kind of education," said Gocker, a 20-year veteran and a former Teacher of the Year in West Contra Costa.

Like a quarter of teachers surveyed, she felt strait-jacketed by the required curriculum, which lays out when and how to teach a lesson. She escaped to teach English at San Rafael High School, where she said she has more input, flexibility and respect.

"If teaching is going to attract bright and creative people, they need to see they're teaching people, not just shoveling in curriculum."

Not surprisingly, low pay also tops the list of gripes in the survey. In the Bay Area, the sky-high cost of living and comparatively low salaries make it especially hard for new teachers to stick it out, particularly when the school presents a challenge.

However higher salaries won't necessarily draw teachers back, Futernick said. According to the study, teachers who ditched a campus said poor working conditions trumped pay among reasons for leaving.

"They're almost saying 'you couldn't pay me enough to stay at this school,'" Futernick said. Interestingly enough, teachers surveyed who stayed in the field and felt supported at their campuses cited their compensation as adequate, the study says.

Fewer than one in five teachers said they would return to the field for more money or "combat pay," extra cash for teaching in a tougher school.

"As long as we think of these schools as combat zones, we're not going to close the achievement gap," Futernick said. "We need to turn those schools into learning zones and teaching zones."
Futernick, also the husband of a teacher, said he remained hopeful.

Nearly 30 percent of teachers said they would return to the classroom — even if they did not receive more money — if the school itself changed for the better.

"We have to think about making them attractive places," Futernick said. "When we do that, people will want to go, and they'll want to stay there. Because they'll be doing what they came into the profession to do in the first place, which is to make a difference."

Money is a big concern. I can't afford to live in the city which employs me. This is true for many teachers. My wife also works in San Francisco - for lawyers, who pay her far more than I get paid. And yet even with our two salaries we can't afford to live in San Francisco. Well... we could. But we don't want to settle for what we can afford. And what we'd like for ourselves and our two children we can't afford.

I've commented recently on the "test-obsessed culture" which is also mentioned in this article.

The school bureacracy needs a major overhaul. District administration eats up far too much money. And the hoops they make us jump through. I often think that the people in human resources in my district forget that I am one of the human resources that keeps them employed. They work for me, not the other way around. They provide a service to me and my fellow teachers. Instead, I get excuses for their incompetence and they make it sound like I'm interrupting them when I call for assistance.

I am lucky that I have a supportive principal. I am grateful every day that I have a job at the school that I do. It's a good school. I like the neighborhood and the families that send their children to my school. I like my colleagues; some of them I even respect and admire. And I have a principal that lets me do my job to the best of my ability without getting in my way, no micromanagement, but she supports me when I need help, advice, or just an ear to bend.

I'm not going to leave the field, but this article certianly points out many of the reasons why some people are leaving teaching. If we really respected teachers, if we really valued public education for everyone, if we put our money where are mouths are, then maybe we wouldn't have these problems. But as a culture, our respect for teachers is waning. We undercut equity in education. Some schools have all the money and resources they need; others, sadly, do not. And we just don't pay teachers a salary that compensates them for all the work they do.

If we paid teachers a salary that was commensurate with the responsibility we entrust them with and the accountability we place on their shoulders, we'd have to pay them all a million dollars a year. Now wouldn't that be nice.

Why You Should Be Vegan Follow-up

Today I read my essay (see below) and had them critique/grade it based on the rubric that I also gave them.

Overall, they gave me good scores. But they did have a couple of good criticisms that I think might make it an even better essay.

First, one student suggested that I start with the argument about cost. It's factual and really hard to argue with. She said that I should then use the argument about health. "Oh, it's cheaper and healthier for me too - cool!" And that I should end with the argument about suffering and compassion because she thought that was my weakest. As she pointed out, some people just don't care that cows have to die for them to eat hamburger.

The other major criticism was that I did not address the objection about plants having feelings. A few students brought up this response which I had neglected to include. They felt that it would have been a better essay if I had addressed that. One student claimed that plants do have feelings. I challenged him to bring in evidence backing up his assertion. We'll see if he does or not; I'm not holding my breath.

Which got me thinking... How could I respond to that objection about a vegan diet? I went to the Internet and found the information below from Don't Plants Have Feelings Too?:

1. What about plants? Don't plants have feelings too?

It is very possible that plants have sensitivities that we do not yet understand. Because plants do not have nervous systems and cannot run away from predators, it has generally been assumed that they do not experience pain and suffering. Recent scientific evidence suggests that this assumption may be incorrect. However, we do know that birds and other nonhuman vertebrates have well-developed nervous systems and pain receptors the same as humans. Like us, they show pleasure and pain and they present comparable evidence of fear and well-being. Animals cry out in pain, they nurse wounded body parts, and they seek to avoid those who have hurt them in the past.

In order to live, one has to eat. However, when we eat animal products, we consume many more plants indirectly than if we ate those plants directly, because the animals we eat are fed huge quantities of grasses, grains, and seeds to be converted into meat, milk, and eggs. As a vegan (one who eats no animal products) you cause fewer beings to suffer and die for you.

I also found this response at the MadSci Network:

Plants can sense light (phototropism, photomorphogenesis, photoperiodism) and gravity (gravitropism) and some can respond to touch (thigmotropism, thigmonasty) (Salisbury and Ross, 1985). As far as botanists have determined, plants do not have feelings, do not grow better when exposed to certain types of music, and cannot communicate with humans as claimed in the bestselling book "The Secret Life of Plants." Those claims have been debunked by real botanists (Hershey, 1995). Botany is unfortunately hampered by many misconceptions. However, the scientific aspects of plants are extremely fascinating, probably even more so than the false claims (Attenborough, 1995).

Even nonvegetarians are indirectly eating plants because photosynthetic plants are at the base of our food chain. So we either eat plants directly or we eat animals that eat plants. Medical research has clearly shown that it is better for your health to eat a mostly vegetarian diet. It is also better for the environment because domestic animals pollute the environment with massive amounts of waste and eating animals is less efficient. The land area to support a human population eating plants is about one-tenth the area needed to support the same population that eats meat (Starr and McMillan, 1995). Strange as it seems, if you want to help plants, become a vegetarian.

Those ideas should help me make my essay stronger.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why You Should Be Vegan

The essay below is one that I wrote last year for my students as a model of a persuasive essay. I'm a teacher of fifth grade students, so keep in mind that this is aimed at ten- and eleven-year-olds. I'm planning on having my current students read it tomorrow (Thursday). If their reactions are anything like I remember, I'll post some of their comments, anonymously, of course.

As I’m sure you’re already aware, I am a vegan, which means I’m a strict vegetarian who doesn’t eat any product that comes from animals, including milk and eggs. It works for me and many other people all around the world. And it can work for you too. You should adopt a vegan diet because it’s healthy, it’s cruelty-free, and it’s cheaper than being an omnivore.

One reason being vegan is better is because it’s healthy. First of all, if you don’t eat meat, you’re not consuming cholesterol. And cholesterol you don’t need to eat, because your body can make all it needs. Scientists have found that many fruits and vegetables are not only highly nutritious, giving you all the vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbohydrates you need without all the fat, but they help prevent disease. Blueberries, for example, are one of the highest in antioxidants, which are important in fighting free radicals that could lead to cancer. The American Heart Association recommends eating “a variety of fruits and vegetables a day” because they know from all the research that a low-fat, high-fiber diet helps prevent heart attacks and stroke.

It’s cruelty-free. I mean, really, who wants to eat food with a face? It’s just gross!!! Those poor, unsuspecting animals were just trying to get by, just like the rest of us and then BAM they’re dead, cut up into pieces, wrapped in plastic, and shipped to your local neighborhood grocery store. Animals have feelings just like us, even chickens and cows, and they shouldn’t have to suffer and die for us to have a nice meal. You can have a perfectly fine meal without meat at all. Look at all the dishes from around the world that are already vegetarian: red beans and rice, falafels in pita bread, miso soup with tofu, and so on. I’m sure you can think of even more. And we don’t need to take milk away from cows either. That’s cruel too. Cow’s milk is for baby cows, not for humans. Think about it!

Have you been to the grocery store lately? When you were there did you compare the cost of a pound of beef to a pound of tofu? Of course you didn’t, so I did it for you. Yet another reason that being vegan is better than being an omnivore is that it’s cheaper. By the way, a pound of tofu costs about $1.29 to $1.49 per pound, $0.20 extra for the nice organic tofu, while even cheap, fatty, nasty-tasting hamburger I wouldn’t feed to my worst enemy’s dog still costs about $2.29 a pound. Salmon and cod cost $6.99 a pound, porterhouse steak costs $5.99 a pound, chicken strips are $4.99 a pound, and pork loin roast costs $3.49 a pound. All of those prices, by the way, are the weekly specials that are discounted more than the regular price, while tofu always costs about the same. All meats cost more than the meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh, and seitan that vegans eat, because all of those come from plants not animals. It’s just cheaper to raise plants than it is to raise animals. It’s just plain old common sense.

People are always saying to me, “What do you eat?” It’s hard not being sarcastic after a while, because I feel like I’m VeganMan, poster child of the vegan movement. So, I politely say, “I eat fruits, vegetables, and grains. You know, all the stuff on the food pyramid, except meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products, like milk and cheese.” Yeah, being vegan does take a little bit more work than being an omnivore. I can’t just walk into most fast food places and order whatever I want off the menu. But, being vegan doesn’t mean I’m deprived of anything. I get plenty of protein; you don’t have to eat meat or drink milk to get enough protein. And I still enjoy foods like cookies, muffins, and ice cream; it just has to be made with soymilk and soy margarine instead of cow’s milk and butter, which comes from cows, by the way. Now I’m not saying you’ll never have a heart attack if you’re vegan, but why wouldn’t you reduce your risk if you could? And the thing is, you can. It’s totally up to you. You choose what you want to eat. If you can talk your parents into buying you toys and other stuff you want, surely you can talk them into buying you healthy, cheap, cruelty-free vegan food.

So, I have to be a little more careful and selective. I have to read food labels and politely say, “No, thank you,” when people offer me food a lot of times. But for me, it’s worth it being vegan. I know that my food choices keep me healthy, are right for my beliefs about suffering, and it’s easy on my checkbook. Go vegan!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

More Thoughts on Standardized Testing

There is a great article at GreatSchools called "What's So Bad About Teaching to the Test?"

I have problems with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It's a federal law with requirements and sanctions, but no funding. And it heavily relies on standardized testing. Each state has its own standards and tests. Are these all of the same quality? No. Is NCLB pushing the states toward the same high level? I don't know, perhaps. Either way, NCLB puts another layer, the federal one, on all the state ones. It's more administration, and I don't see how it's improving the quality of education that I provide.

I had already read in American Educator about the study done by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) mentioned in the article above. Luckily, California, where I teach, is one of the eleven (11) states that they found where the state standardized tests are aligned to the state content standards. I quote:

Eleven states met our criteria for having both strong content standards and documenting in a transparent manner that their tests align to them in all NCLB-required grades and subjects.

They are: California, Indiana,* Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico,* New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. (*State isn’t yet testing in science at the high school level.)

The AFT commends these 11 states for meeting this challenge. We consider these states to be leading the pack in terms of standards, alignment, and transparency.

Of these 11 states, Tennessee stands out. In addition to having strong standards across the board and tests aligned to them, its standards documents clearly specify which standards will be tested, and its high school standards are written course by course.

So, I am "teaching to the test" because I'm teaching the state standards for my grade level, which is what my students are tested on. That's not true of teachers in all fifty states. And it's not necessarily the teacher's fault. It may be a problem at the state level.

However, they are only tested on English-Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. History/Social Science is left out. And push come to shove, when we get close to the standardized tests, history begins to fall by the wayside. I won't even mention the arts or health.

I previously mentioned that there is too much emphasis placed on tests. Here is a quote from the article above that addresses that directly:

Is There Too Much Emphasis on the Tests?
An Education Week survey in 2000 showed that 66% of teachers thought that state tests were forcing them to concentrate too much on what was tested, which meant other important subject matter was not covered. Subjects like social studies and the arts, which are not mandated for testing under NCLB, get less attention.

Many testing experts prefer performance-based assessments — those that require students to demonstrate critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. These tests typically require students to write open-ended answers to demonstrate writing skills or show how they came up with the answers to math problems. But the majority of state tests are of the multiple-choice variety. States shy away from performance-based tests because they tend to be expensive to score and have problems with reliability in scoring.

Though I have serious issues with standardized testing, I don't give them less than 100%. I am a professional. Whether I like it or not doesn't really enter into the equation. Standardized tests are here and will be for the forseeable future. For me to not prepare my students to the best of my ability to do well on those tests would be doing them a considerable disservice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thoughts on API and Standardized Testing

KleoPatra asked:

Is that good or bad? Is this room for improvement or is it a sign of times to come? Curious what you make of it all...

referring to this post.

It's good and bad. We've stayed where we were in some cases. We were ranked as an 8 last year and we're still an 8 this year. I'm not sure what the criteria (score) is to get us ranked as a 9, or as a 10 for that matter. So I'm not sure how much as a school overall we need to raise our API (Academic Performance Index).

We did go up 21 points, which I think is a good improvement. Is there still room for improvement? Absolutely. I think that most of our student sub-groups improved, except for our socioeconomically disadvanted students. So, that's not good, and clearly needs improving.

But there are more general problems with standardized testing...

One, I don't like them. Too much emphasis is put on them. It causes a lot of stress for students and teachers that is unnecessary.

Two, I don't know how useful they are. It would be better to administer a comprehensive test like this at the end of the school year. But in California, the STAR test is administered about 80% of the way through the school year. I'm not sure that students and their parents understand that no one is really expected to be able to answer 100% of the questions. There are some things I haven't taught yet; the school year is not over. Because I teach fifth grade and my current students will be in middle school next year, I don't receive their test scores for this school year; they are sent to their next school. I know how each of them did last year when they were in fourth grade, but I never get their scores from fifth grade. I think this is a serious gap. We teachers have all this accountability, but the information isn't being properly distributed. I think the middle school teachers should continue to get the results, but I should too. How can I see what impact I've had on my students if I don't get the test scores so I can make comarisons? I can't. We do get an overall picture of how they did as a group at the beginning of the next school year, but not the specifics that would be actually useful. Granted, I don't think most teachers are that interested in the specific data like I am, but it should still be routinely provided. Because I don't see the results, it really has no impact on the teaching I'm doing. The assessments, tests, quizzes, assignments, etc. that I give drive my instruction because I see the results of my teaching. I don't see the results of the standardized tests, so it doesn't really impact my instruction. It takes up a lot of time, but doesn't help me be a better teacher.

Just for clarification... STAR stands for Standardized Testing and Reporting. This is what the state of California calls it's standardized testing program. Everyone calls it the STAR test, but what we actually administer is the CST, the California Standards Test. And by accountability, I mean I'm a public school teacher. I'm essentially a public servant. Anyone can ask me about what and how I'm teaching. The results of of my students' results on the CST is turned into an API for my school. And the API is published on the web and in local newspapers. Parents look at the API for prospective schools. It impacts property values. Again, too much emphasis is placed on these results.

Three, I don't think standardized tests are a good measure of what my students can do. It's just one test. Or a series of tests over the course of a handful of days. Relative to the rest of the year, these few tests carry too much weight. What about all the other work and learning that we've done the rest of the year? That doesn't seem to count. It gets lost in the equation. They're tested in English-Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. English includes reading comprehension, spelling, grammar, writing, etc. There's no real writing component; the students don't write anything. They just fill in bubbles. What about History/Social Science? We teach it, but it's not tested. Is it because it's not as important? One could interpret it that way.

Okay, I think that's enough for today. I'm sure I could write more, but I'm pretty tired and I think it's time to stop.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dave Brubeck!

Last night, we saw Dave Brubeck in concert as part of SF Jazz spring season.

First, he played with his current quartet, Bobby Militello on saxophone and flute, Michael Moore on bass, and Randy Jones on drums. They were amazing to watch. There was great interplay amongst all the musicians. There were some great moments between Dave on piano and Michael on bass. On a couple of songs, Dave would start out, and just play solo piano, and then they'd launch into a song with all of them playing. They opened with "On the Sunny Side of the Street." I wish I was better versed in jazz, because I didn't recognize any of the other songs, except one, and it's title escapes me. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

After an intermission, the quartet was joined by a big band, mostly horns, but more various percussion. They played a tribute/medley of Count Basie tunes, as well as an extended piece from Brubeck's Elementals suite; this music is currently being used by the San Francisco Symphony as well. Near the end he broke out the songs that made him a star, "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and "Take Five" from his famous Time Out album. It was amazing to hear these live, and I loved the big band arrangements. And then he closed with "Take the "A" Train!"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Lafayette Elementary API

So I went to the state website, and looked up the API score for the school I teach at. We have an API (Academic Performance Index) score of 829. Which is the same score our English Language Learners got. Our socioeconomically disadvantaged students scored 798, 2 points below the 800 the state wants; our Asian students scored 830, and our White students scored 871.

We have a statewide rank of 8 (out of 10), but only a similar schools rank of 3. I don't really understand this similar schools ranking, and when I clicked on the button for a similar school report I was told, "There is no similar schools report available for this school." I think that if you give a school an 8 and a 3, there really should be a report so you can understand why it's a 3.

The base API for our district is 753.

Our 2005 API was 808, so we essentially went up 21 points.

GreatSchools is a great website, which presents all this information better than the state website, because it's all right there in one place and they use graphics. Check us out at GreatSchools: Lafayette Elementary.

API Scores Released

Again, these are excerpted from an article titled County API marks better but still lag from March 28, 2007:

Based on scores from state standardized tests, the 2006-2007 Academic Performance Index, released by the California Department of Education Tuesday, rates schools on a scale of 200 to 1,000, with 800 being the state's target score.

Schools across the state have continued to show progress since the API was implemented in 1999, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Tuesday during a press conference.

Over the last eight years, for example, he said the median API for elementary schools in the state has increased 129 points to 758. For middle schools, it grew 91 points to 724 and for high schools, it showed an 80-point gain to 700, he said, adding that there's still more work to be done, especially at the high school level.

These gains, O'Connell said, have prompted state officials to discuss the possibility of increasing the state's API benchmark. But, for now, he said it will stay at 800.

"These results show, once again, that students are making consistent progress," he said.

The API report also includes a "statewide rank" which shows how schools compare to the rest of the state as well as a "similar schools rank," showing how they fare next to schools with similar challenges and educational opportunities. Both of these are on a scale of 1 to 10.

O'Connell said students who are African American, Hispanic, in special education and from low socioeconomic backgrounds are lagging behind on the API.

"Closing the achievement gap remains a top priority for me," he said. "Closing the achievement gap is not only an economic imperative, it's a moral imperative."

To view all of the API results, go to:

Standardized Testing - Again!

This is an excerpt of the article titled below, originally from 3/26/2007:

Heat is on with school testing
Students caught between Sacramento's rising demands, feds' No Child Left Behind Act
By Sharon Noguchi

Ready. Set. Go fill in those bubbles.

California's students are sharpening their No. 2 pencils for the spring testing season, which kicks into high gear Tuesday. That's when the state Department of Education will release school rankings from last year's STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) tests and goals for this year's round.

With government upping the ante by setting goals and threatening to punish schools that don't make the grade, standardized tests play a bigger role in public schools than ever. Starting in second grade, students practice taking timed multiple-choice exams. By fourth grade, teachers must ensure that their students master 110 skills in language arts and math.

Increasingly, many teachers and administrators feel they're caught in a vise, pressured by the rising demands of Sacramento and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Although schools have long administered standardized tests, a decade ago they took on greater significance. Eager to calm a public upset about students who couldn't read or do math, California legislators created benchmarks that ramp up annually.

Schools now have about four weeks left to teach new concepts and skills, reinforce previous lessons and give practice tests before the annual STAR tests are given in late April or early May.

When scores come out in late August, schools examine their federal and state marks to see where students soared andwhere they fell flat. Teachers use the results to decide how to teach in the new school year.

Neither the state nor the federal government makes any allowances for tougher-to-teach children.

The state does consider where schools start and gives them credit for rising scores.

"Our goals are much more realistic," said Bob Bernstein, the state's testing chief.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act expects every student in every school to achieve the same level. Every year the law demands increasing percentages of students attain proficiency in language and math. But it leaves it to the states to define proficiency.

But supporters of No Child Left Behind, both liberals and conservatives, maintain that its title says it all. Schools must educate every child, regardless of circumstances, to meet high standards.

Educators agree with the vision. But many teachers wonder how multiple-choice testing will achieve it. What, they ask, is gained by forcing students who don't understand English to take tests they don't comprehend?

Federal and state laws also mandate that special-education students take the same tests as other students.

For state standards, each school is expected to grow from 5 to 30 points each year — the lower the score, the higher the expectations — until they score at least 800 out of 1,000 possible points. In addition, various clusters of students — classified by ethnicity, poverty or language — must achieve the same gains.

When the state enacted high-stakes tests in the early 1990s, it promised to measure learning in different ways, to see what students can do in a real context. For example: Could they write a letter to a grandparent? Or figure out how much wood and mesh they'd need to build a rabbit pen?

After a short-lived attempt in the mid-1990s at such "real-world assessment," the state opted for the strictly multiple-choice STAR tests.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Birthday Weekend

We spent the weekend in Carmel and Monterey for my wife's birthday. This is a shot of Carmel Bay facing north. A picture never does justice to the real thing, but I was trying to capture the waves and the varying shades of water.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Vegan and Omnivore Co-existing Peacefully

In the same issue of Newsweek (noted below), there is another interesting article: "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (and Child)."

Men and Depression

The current issue of Newsweek magazine, dated February 26, 2007 has a cover article titled "Men & Depression: Facing Darkness."

As a man suffering from depression, I think the more information that's out there, the better. Depression takes a terrible toll on men and women, but men are often overlooked just because of the oft-quoted statistics about twice as many women having depression as men.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

100th Day of School

While not the sort of thing we make much of a big deal of in fifth grade, the grade I teach, today is the 100th day of school for us this year. I only mention it to point out my other blog: 180 Days of School. It's a collection of quotes about education and related topics that I have been doing this year. You might find it interesting.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ditching the Dairy

From MSN Health & Fitness:

Making the Decision to Ditch Dairy

Some experts question whether milk, cheese and yogurt are essential for your diet.
By Martica Heaner, M.A., M.Ed.

Q: Your article "Good Cholesterol, Bad Cholesterol", recommends reducing saturated fats like high-fat meats and dairy. My personal trainer said that I should eliminate dairy completely. But why should it be reduced or omitted when nutrition guidelines call for two to three servings of dairy each day?

A: Eating less saturated fat, found in meat and regular dairy products like whole milk and cheese, can help control high cholesterol. Low- or no-fat dairy products are better sources of calcium and protein.

But some nutrition experts are starting to question the benefits of dairy, especially following the USDA recommendation to eat as much as three servings every single day. New York University professor Marion Nestle writes extensively in Food Politics how lobbyists have influenced the government’s nutritional guidelines. It’s the profit motive, as Nestle explains in her book “Food lobbyists, therefore, are people who ask government officials to make rules or laws that will benefit their clients’ companies, whether or not they benefit anyone else.” So, if a particular type of food gets the governments’ stamp of approval, then it's likely that sales will increase. The dairy industry spends millions promoting consumption, such as in the “Got Milk” ad campaign. Most recently there have been charges that the dairy industry is trying to boost sales by claiming that eating more dairy helps with weight control.

So is something wrong with dairy? Some say it’s a no-brainer: Only babies of various animal species drink milk, suggesting that adults of the species don’t really need it. When it comes to humans, up to two-thirds of the world’s population—including around 50 percent to 90 percent of Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Native-Americans and Asian-Americans—are lactose-intolerant, according to the Surgeon General’s 2004 report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis, meaning that they lack or are low in the enzyme lactase, which digests milk. So they are unable to consume much milk-based food.

Plus, critics say, cow’s milk is designed for, well, calves. And because of the different biochemical composition between human and cow’s milk, babies who aren’t breastfed are given formula instead of regular cow’s milk.

Although the calcium and protein in milk are important nutrients, proof that dairy sources of calcium are required for strong bones is weak. Populations that eat little or no dairy do not have higher rates of osteoporosis.

Some studies suggest a significantly increased risk of some cancers from eating three or more servings a day of dairy, especially prostate cancer in men. This cancer link is inconclusive, however, and more research needs to be done.

Dr. Walter Willett, a Harvard University nutrition researcher and author of Eat, Drink and Be Healthy and Eat, Drink and Weigh Less, believes that dairy products are not essential, and recommends low-fat dairy or supplements as sources of calcium. (If you do take a multivitamin or calcium supplement, make sure that it also contains D.)

When it comes to bone health, calcium and vitamin D aren’t the only important nutrients that play a role: Vitamin K, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, zinc and other trace minerals all help form bone. If you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, you’ll easily meet your quota of these nutrients.

So do you have to give up pizza, grilled-cheese sandwiches, ice cream, yogurt and chocolate milk? Probably not. Most populations, even if they don’t drink milk, have developed fermented milk foods such as yogurts and cheeses, so it’s not like dairy is a completely new food source. If you have problems digesting milk products—and this can worsen with age—you can find substitutes or use Lactaid.

If you are a big milk drinker and have dairy at every meal, keep an eye out on the latest research findings to stay informed. You may want to cut down. Choosing lower-fat options and holding off on the extra cheese is a smart idea when it comes to weight and cholesterol control.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Vegetable Soup

Here is another article from the San Mateo County Times:

Beef up vegetable soup without meat for hearty winter meal
By Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times

IN the face of such recent challenges as freezing temperatures, battling the flu or recovering from the lingering effects of holiday overeating, there is nothing quite so restorative as a bowl of soup.

Few things are easier to fix than a soup made from vegetables. No long simmering of meaty bones or tough cuts, no complicated stocks.

For meat-eaters, the hardest part of making vegetarian soups is coming up with a combination of ingredients that has enough substance to make you feel like you've eaten. The best solution is beans. Because they're naturally high in protein and have a dense, meaty texture, beans fill in nicely, giving the vegetables the balance they need.

After that, though, vegetable soups are a breeze.

White Bean and Fennel Soup
Olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 fennel bulbs
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound dry Great Northern or cannellini beans
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons best-quality olive oil, divided, for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-low heat. Add onion and carrots, and cover and cook until they soften, about 20 minutes.

Trim branches and fronds from both bulbs of fennel; chop at least cup of the fronds, wrap tightly and refrigerate. Quarter 1 bulb lengthwise and cut out the solid core. Dice and add to the soup pot.

Set other bulb aside.

When vegetables in the soup pot are softened and aromatic, stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 or 3 minutes. Add the beans, bay leaf and 8 cups of water. Cover and place in the oven to cook for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, remove the pot from the oven and stir in 11/2teaspoons salt. Return to oven to finish cooking until the beans are tender, another 45 minutes to 1 hour, 15 minutes. Cooking time can vary depending on the condition of the beans, so begin checking after 30 minutes.

When beans are tender, remove pot from oven. If a few beans are slightly chalky, leave the pot covered for a while and they will finish cooking in the reserved heat. If the soup loses too much moisture in the oven, add water as needed to maintain a soup-like consistency.

In a small skillet, heat 1/4cup olive oil over medium heat. Quarter the remaining fennel bulb lengthwise, but do not trim the core, so the fennel bulb will stay together. Fry the bulb until well browned on all three sides, covering tightly in between turns to avoid splattering. Remove the pan from the heat momentarily to carefully add the wine, replace the cover, and cook until the fennel is tender, about 10 minutes.

When the fennel is tender, remove from pan, sprinkle with salt and cut each quarter in half lengthwise. Add to the soup. (The dish can be prepared up to this point a day in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered.)

When ready to serve, warm soup over medium heat in a covered pot. Just before serving, stir in the reserved chopped fennel fronds. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste and more salt, if necessary. Ladle soup into warm, wide soup plates and finish each with a drizzle of the best-quality olive oil. Serve immediately.

Serves 8.

Per serving: 293 Calories; 13 grams Protein; 37 grams Carbohydrates; 12 grams Fiber; 11 grams Fat; 2 grams Saturated Fat; 0 Cholesterol; 481 milligrams Sodium.

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World!

The following article was reprinted in the San Mateo County Times.

Book offers strict vegan ethics frosted with hedonism
By Julia Moskin, New York Times

ISA CHANDRA MOSKOWITZ, a vegan chef, does not particularly like to talk about tofu. Ditto seitan, tempeh and nutritional yeast.

"I think vegan cooks need to learn to cook vegetables first," she said last week during a cupcake-baking marathon. "Then maybe they can be allowed to move on to meat substitutes."

Moskowitz, 34, was born in Coney Island Hospital, lives in Brooklyn, and is a typically impatient and opinionated New Yorker. She can't stand how slowly most cooks peel garlic, makes relentless fun of Rachael Ray and rolls her eyes at the mention of California hippies.

But as a vegan and a follower of punk music since age 14, she is also part of a culinary movement that helped turn the chaotic energy of punk culture of the 1970s and 1980s into a progressive political force.

"Punk taught me to question everything," Moskowitz said. "Of course, in my case that means questioning how to make a Hostess cupcake without eggs, butter or cream."

The charm of Moskowitz — in person, in her cookbooks and on her public-access television cooking show, the Post-Punk Kitchen ( — is that she makes even the deprivations of veganism and the rage of punk seem like fun. Like feminism that embraces makeup and miniskirts — the frivolous bits — Moskowitz's veganism embraces chocolate, white flour, confectioners' sugar, and food coloring.

Wearing a black "Made Out of Babies" T-shirt (it's a friend's band) above a red-and-white
checked apron, she bent maternally over a batch of strawberry cupcakes.

"Don't you just want to pinch their little cupcake cheeks?" she said.

But can a cupcake be cute and punk at the same time? In the early days of punk, bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash were notorious for nihilism, anarchism and epic consumption of drugs and alcohol. But as punk became more political (and as bands self-destructed) in the 1990s, many punks adopted a more profoundly rebellious stance: against drugs, against alcohol and against the whole habit of mindless consumption.

"It was about purifying the movement, about being poison-free," said Ted Leo, of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, who led the band Chisel in the 1990s. He became vegetarian in 1988 and has been vegan since 1998.

Many punks became vegetarian to protest corporate and government control of the food supply. Veganism takes vegetarianism farther into cruelty-free territory by avoiding anything produced by animals: milk, cheese, eggs, honey, etc.

"I would love to live in a world where I knew the eggs came from happy chickens," Moskowitz said. "But in Brooklyn? That's not going to happen.

"Besides, eggs are the big lie in baking. All the books say they provide structure, but that's kind of crap."

At 16, Moskowitz dropped out of the High School of Music and Art in New York to follow bands, live in squats in the East Village and cook for social justice.

"I learned knife skills by cooking for Food not Bombs," she said, referring to the activist group that protests corporate and government food policy. "But I also learned to love Julia Child and Martha Stewart. Vegan food can and must be pretty," she said, pounding a fist on the butcher-block counter.

Moskowitz's kitchen, like punk music itself, has a strong do-it-yourself aesthetic. Her husband, a carpenter, builds more shelves when the ingredients threaten to take over, the oven needs frequent coaxing to get up to temperature,

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Frosting and if Fizzle the cat wants to sit on top of the refrigerator, the cupcakes must move over.

"Here is the hideous curdled face of vegan baking," Moskowitz said, gesturing to a bowl of soy milk mixed with vegetable oil and cider vinegar. Baking, she said, has long been the final frontier for vegan cooks.

Her second cookbook, "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World," was published by Marlowe & Co. last fall. Her first, "Vegan With a Vengeance" (Marlowe, 2005), has sold more than 50,000 copies.

"Omnivores" — that's meat-and-dairy eaters — "can't imagine baking without eggs and butter," she said. "But we use cider vinegar instead of buttermilk for tenderizing, and really good shortening for the fat, and the rest just happens." Nonhydrogenated shortening and margarine produced by Earthbalance and full-fat soy milk from Silk are her baking staples.

From them, instead of lumpy, penitential scones and muffins (the usual vegan baked goods) Moskowitz and her co-author Terry Hope Romero produce insanely fetching cupcakes with mousse fillings, butter cream frostings, chocolate ganache icings and sprinkles galore.

Moskowitz says that she has received passionate e-mail messages not only from vegans but also from parents of children allergic to eggs or dairy products, who are thrilled to find vegan baked goods that are not made with whole-wheat flour and egg substitutes and that actually taste good.

The next book by the two women, to be published in the fall, will be "the long-awaited vegan Joy of Cooking," Moskowitz said. "Vegan food is everywhere."

Moskowitz and Romero both have been vegetarian since age 16, and vegan for almost that long.
"It's kind of like being gay, in that vegans tend to remember an 'aha' moment in adolescence or childhood," Moskowitz said. "It happens when you realize that the lambs or chickens on your plate are the same as the ones at the petting zoo."

It is also like being gay in that, 20 years ago, the notion of a vegetarian teenager was far more alien than it is today.

"People used to throw chicken nuggets at me in the cafeteria," said Romero, who grew up in Plainville, Conn.

The number of adult vegetarians has remained steady at 2 to 3 percent, the Vegetarian Resource Group has found in 10 years of regular polling. But American teenagers have been taking up vegetarianism in growing numbers.

In a 2005 Harris Interactive poll for the group, 10 percent of girls ages 13 to 18 said they "never" ate meat, poultry or seafood.

In a 2006 poll of 100,000 college students by the food service giant Aramark, 30 percent of all students said that it was "very important" to them to have vegetarian food options on campus, up from 26 percent in 2004.

But punk vegans like Moskowitz and Leo acknowledge that they are still far outside the mainstream, and that the label "vegan" — unlike "vegetarian" — can still inspire a strong negative reaction.

"Any time you confront a deeply ingrained societal norm, people are going to get upset," Leo said.

Moskowitz agreed that the vegan movement is in need of a public-relations overhaul.

"I can't say there's no self-righteousness in the movement, and also, a lot of the food is awful."

She said vegans should stop whining about what they can and can't eat, and start cooking.

"When someone invites you to dinner, bring something delicious, and share it," she said.

This peaceable approach — smoothing frosting over the rough edges of rage — might be the key to Moskowitz's appeal.

"You can't stay angry forever," she said. "Either as a punk or as a vegan."

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Frosting
From "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (Marlowe & Co., $15.95)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup light molasses
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup soy milk
2 tablespoons soy yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 recipe Vegan Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt into a bowl and mix.
Whisk the oil, molasses, maple syrup, soy milk, yogurt and lemon zest in a separate large bowl. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix just until smooth. Fold in the chopped crystallized ginger.

Fill cupcake liners two-thirds full. Bake for 19 to 22 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Vegan Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting
From "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (Marlowe & Co., $15.95)

1/4 cup nonhydrogenated margarine, softened
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese (found in many health food stores), softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

Cream together margarine and cream cheese until just combined. Use a handheld mixer to whip while adding the confectioners' sugar in 1/2-cup batches. Mix until smooth and creamy, then mix in the vanilla and lemon zest. Keep tightly covered and refrigerated until ready to use.

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes.

Per cupcake (with frosting): 334 Calories; 15g Fat; 2g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 205mg Sodium.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Christmas Music Postlude - Part Two

Besides categorizing the Christmas songs into some kind of demented holiday ten best (as I did yesterday), I thought it might be interesting to go to the other end of the spectrum and make note of some of the original songs of the holiday season. Some of these have been covered by other artists, but not frequently. So here's my list of songs of that kind that the holiday season would be lesser without:

  • A Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
  • Boogie Woogie Santa Claus - Jimmy Dorsey
  • Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
  • Christmas Everyday - The Temptations
  • Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses
  • Dig That Crazy Santa Claus - Ralph Marterie
  • Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band Aid
  • Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - Elmo & Patsy
  • Green Christmas - Barenaked Ladies
  • Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon
  • Home for the Holidays - Perry Como
  • It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Johnny Mathis
  • Last Christmas - Wham!
  • Little Jack Frost Get Lost - Frankie Carle
  • Mambo Santa Mambo - The Enchanters
  • Merry Christmas, Baby - Kenny Burrell
  • Merry Christmas Polka - The Andrews Sisters
  • Oi to the World - No Doubt
  • Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
  • Santa Bring My Baby Back - Elvis Presley
  • Shake Hands with Santa Claus - Louis Prima
  • Snowfall - Glenn Miller
  • The Bell That Couldn't Jingle - Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
  • The Christmas Blues - Dean Martin
  • The Man with the Bag - Kay Starr
  • The Merriest - June Christy
  • The Nutcracker Suite - Les Brown
  • Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney

Frank Sinatra gets special mention with two songs: Mistletoe and Holly and The Christmas Waltz. And an extra special mention must be made of the great Louis Armstrong with Christmas in New Orleans, Christmas Night in Harlem, Cool Yule, and 'Zat You, Santa Claus?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Christmas Music Postlude - Part One

Well, Christmas is over. 2006 is over. Even my five-year-old is teasing me about still listening to Christmas music. But that doesn't stop him from singing along with Jingle Bells, so go figure. But I am actually starting to delete Christmas music from my MP3 player, as I save them to disc. So, here's my Christmas music wrap-up for this year...

I got up to 400 Christmas songs on my MP3 player. Jingle Bells still holds the #1 spot with 22 different versions. There is a two-way tie for second place with White Christmas and The Christmas Song at 18 versions each. Winter Wonderland is #3 with 17 versions, and at #4 is Silent Night with 12 versions. There is another two-way tie at #5 with Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas with 11 versions each. Sleigh Ride and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town are tied at #6 with 9 versions each. Yet another two-way tie at #7: Blue Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with 8 versions each. At #8 is What Are You Doing New Year's Eve with 7 versions. Tied for ninth place is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Deck the Halls with 6 versions each. And with five versions each coming in at tenth place are: Carol of the Bells, Here Comes Santa Claus, I'll Be Home for Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock, O Holy Night, Santa Baby, Silver Bells, and We Three Kings.