I will never, never understand cake mix. Since cake has no nutritional value, its only function is to taste good. But if you make it from a mix, you end up with something more akin to aerated ceiling plaster with a hint of propylene glycol. Since it doesn’t taste good, it has no purpose.
There is a particular set of irritations that happen to people with a predilection for healthy food, a giant love of nature, and a tendency to approach their health with a minimalist, prevention-first mindset. In a word, hippies. Here are some that have plagued me over the years.
There are chia seeds glued onto my canines!
Like so much gelatinous goo on the bald head of a Garfield Chia Pet. Remember how spreading seeds on a chia planter works? If you’re the type of person who adds chia seeds to snack bars and yogurt, a bit of saliva is enough to get some chia-glue going and stick chia seeds to your teeth.
And when I say canines, I mean teeth, but I can only assume that chia-eating dog owners find them on their dogs’ coats, the same way I find them on my toddler, and also everything I own. Because that’s how toddlers work.
My coconut oil deodorant melted!
Coconut oil melts at 76 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re the type of person who deodorizes with a mixture of coconut oil, baking soda, cornstarch, and a bit of lavender oil mixed up with a fork in an old salsa jar, your finely-tuned cream mixture will turn to goo.
On the bright side, the more liquidy your mixture gets, the more you know you need it. A handy visual indicator.
My ginger bug died!
And now I can’t make experimental fermented beverages. Plus, I’m a sad person because I had kind of come to think of it as an inert, bacterial pet, and no one understands because they have normal pets like cats.Y
I have barefoot angst!
Because I’m on a barefoot kick, but I need to go to Sears, and I don’t have the braided thong of cloth that makes it look as though I’m wearing flip-flops.
I need to buy yogurt at the supermarket!
But all the low-fat, high-sugar, nutrionally-bankrupt options sitting in fluorescent-lit yogurt prison remind me of the three things I hate most–disempowerment, brainwashing, and patriarchy—and I end up leaving the store in a steaming rage-spiral.
I need to get food at a gas station, but I don’t really consider any of this stuff food.
I accidentally revealed how infrequently I shower!
Because I mentioned taking a cold shower on Sunday when the hot water didn’t work, but I’m talking about this on Wednesday, haven’t taken a shower since, and didn’t think anything of it when I mentioned the Sunday shower. If you disagree with the idea of daily showers as necessary, know that soap advertising played a big role in the concept of the daily shower, and don’t want to open those particular cans of worms, it’s easiest to say that you get dry skin.
I self-identify as a hippie, but I don’t want you to confuse me with those hippies.
You know the ones, with the fluffiness and the moon crystals, the anti-vaxxing and the unquestioned conflation of “natural” and “good,” and the idea that people give themselves cancer with negative thoughts. Or the ones who give bad advice about essential oil use, and recommend coconut oil for ALL problems.
Or the ones who turn “natural living” into a consumer activity with surface-level gestures toward healthy eating, like buying almond milk because it’s almond milk, without looking at the ingredients or questioning whether 2.5 grams of fat is the correct amount of fat for a beverage purportedly made from nuts.
My partner spent an agonized Facebook post asking his friends for better terms than “hippie” to get away from those associations, and came up with nothing. The best I had was to add the word “pragmatic” in front of it.
And that describes me fairly well: I’m a pragmatic hippie.
To be honest, I’m not sure how many of these problems are still considered hippie things since some of them, like chia seeds, have gone mainstream. It’s been years since I had to explain to someone what chia seeds are, or since I had to go to a special store to buy them. But whether these behaviors have gone mainstream or not, I know their roots.
This is hippie stuff, and these are hippie problems, and I have them.
I found both of these articles after I wrote “Are you sure you don’t want any?” Both the author and commenters on “How to Politely Pass on Dessert” are apparently much more considerate than I am–I hadn’t been thinking of this situation as a difficult one, just an annoying one. I expect others to accept a no-frills “no, thank you” as an answer. Not only do I not owe anyone an explanation, I’ve learned that it’s worse to give one–people try to counter your reasons, which is annoying when you have more than one reason, or just want to pass on dessert without telling someone your entire life story, dessert preferences, and digestive health. The article does have some good tips for people who aren’t quite as socially obtuse and uncompromising as I am.
The open letter spoke to me a lot more. I ended up focusing my own piece on the social aspects of one particular question, but a lot of what he wrote echoes parts that I took out of mine. In short: I’m picky about food, and I’m just not going to bother eating something unhealthy if I don’t truly love it.
It is a white-frosted cake edged with ripples and poofs of day-glo aqua created from an unfathomable amount of food dye. “Happy Birthday” is written in perfect school teacher penmanship, in some sort of color-coordinated bright shade that would make the 80s proud. And of course, there are handfuls of thick, round sprinkles, in case you needed to be bludgeoned over the head with the overall message: this is a festive fucking occasion.
I don’t want any cake.
Yes, I am sure, thank you. I don’t need to reexamine this decision.
It’s not about the cake. It’s not about the calories or sugar, or even the wheat, which I don’t digest well. It’s about you questioning my decision, which is among the most inconsequential decisions I will make in my life. Maybe I’m not actually sure? Maybe I haven’t thought it through enough? Maybe I should text a friend and see what they think.
Although it’s not limited to women, a lot of women are socialized to ask this, and in name of being a good host, to push food in general. I wasn’t socialized this way, and it’s not my personality either. I’m way on the other end of the spectrum: I forget to introduce people properly, and to offer them water or stale gluten-free granola bars until they’ve been over for hours.
But asking “are you sure you don’t want any?” isn’t hospitality; the dish has clearly already been offered at least once. That was hospitality. “Are you sure?” is pushiness disguised in a hideous leisure suit of unwanted fruit salad.
And yes, I see that you are putting the pile-of-pudding-and-Cool-Whip-thing in the fridge where it will be inaccessible for all time. Since I didn’t want any before, its sudden inavailability is a moot point.
On a similar note: yes, I’m sure I don’t want a seat. I drove to get here; I’ve already been sitting. “Are you sure?” is definitely not limited to one thing, which is why I didn’t add cake, alcohol, or children to the post title.
Don’t even try to turn something down if your weight is anywhere in the same solar system as skinny. At the lower end of my general weight range, it’s not enough for cake-pushers to ask, “Are you sure you don’t want any?” at minute-and-a-half intervals. At the lower end, they also add, “But you’re so skinny.”
The wise ass part of my brain would always think, “Yeah, I’m skinny because I’m not eating the cake.”
“Skinny” is an adjective that gets thrown at women below a certain weight, whether or not it’s an accurate term. You should eat the cake because you’re skinny. I’m not skinny, and in fact, have a fair amount of muscle. But that doesn’t matter either. Skinny people can turn down cake too.
And I still don’t want the cake.
If I say, “Next week I’m going to hop a train with nothing but a backpack, a notebook, and a toothbrush,” you should probably ask if I’m sure. You could say that it sounds like quite an adventure, but am I sure? Have I considered that the day-to-day of this might not be as romantic as it sounds, and that water is heavy but also necessary, and oh hey, that I have a kid?
If I say, “Tomorrow I’m going to go get a face tattoo so I can emulate my favorite Star Trek character, Chakotay,” you should question this too. Feel free to ask if Chakotay really is my favorite character, really, and if a face tattoo is the best way to pay him homage, and even if it is, is there the tiniest chance that a face tattoo will negatively impact a lot of the rest of my life?
If I say, “I am going to get a mountain lion as a pet,” you should absolutely feel free to ask if I’m sure, and to point out that I’m not big on cats, and that some aspects of this plan might need a little work, even if, technically, the lease allows us to have a cat.
But it’s not a major life decision or a ridiculous plan. It’s a pan of brownies. The top is shiny and crackly in the way that brownies from a mix usually are. Some of them have been mounded up on a paper plate in a heap that is several steps shy of decorative. Which doesn’t make them bad, but I don’t want any. Even if you don’t want to bring home most of a pan of brownies because you will be tempted to eat them all, and you didn’t substitute the applesauce for canola oil like Weight Watchers said, dammit, I don’t want them.
I am sure.
I am still sure, even though you asked again. The brownies are not my problem.
I am sure.
When I was little, I would float saltine crackers on my tomato soup, then nudge them down slowly into my bowl, watching the tomato lava well up into the crackers’ holes. “Stay on the raft, stay on the raft,” I would whisper in the voices of the doomed adventurers on the sadly absorbent raft. I don’t remember if my poor little soup adventurers managed to jump to the rim of the bowl, or if I was a morbid enough kid that they perished descending the crater of the Campbell’s Tomato Soup Volcano.
Tomato soup is as essential to my childhood as the sound of softballs hitting aluminum baseball bats and the hot, righteous tomato-red anger of yelling that it was Greg’s fault, not mine, slamming the door, and pulling at my own hair while scream-crying.
I figured I should add the last part because I always worry about sounding sappy, which I thought might happen after writing a list of childhood memories that turned out to be only one thing. Apparently, I also already forgot* that I lead with the tragic deaths of the tomato soup explorers.
Everything I do is overkill.
Anyway, speaking of scream-crying, this is exactly the brand of depression I was experiencing one particular night when it turned out that my partner would be working late and it would fall to me to provide dinner. This is the type of mental anguish which makes even searching for a tomato soup recipe overwhelming. The search was frustrating to begin with because, somewhere, we have a good recipe from when we first made homemade tomato soup back in 2007.
Back in 2007, tomato soup was still a mysterious thing. I had only ever tried it from a can, which is weird because I didn’t grow up eating a ton of processed food or stuff made from mixes. But Campbell’s tomato soup was a pantry staple. It was not a food composed of other ingredients, but a substance unto itself, a dull martian red liquid that could be listed as an ingredient in other recipes, such as meatloaf and hamburger pie. How many other soups can be listed as ingredients? There are no recipes that call for “an extra cup of tortilla soup, added at the end” or “corn chowder, added to the desired consistency.”
The only other soup that doubles as an ingredient is canned cream of mushroom, but I don’t know if “doubles” is the correct verb because I’ve never heard of anyone also eating cream of mushroom. It goes in green bean casserole**. That’s it. Then back in the corner. And when I say “corner,” I mean “dank dungeon with one of those giant, pendulous scythes.” I hate, hate, hate mushrooms, and for this reason, created an extremely factual infographic as a service to the world.
Back to the tomato soup. Combine a missing recipe with scream-crying depression, a baby I am responsible for taking care of, and the fact that I can’t chop onions anymore because of how quickly and painfully my eyes tear up. I can’t even chop a shallot, which is the size of the flesh at the base of my thumb. The weight of responsibility for cooking a meal–normally not one of my household chores–came to weigh on me like a couch being carried up two flights of stairs.
Why didn’t I order food out instead? I can’t remember why that wasn’t an option. Maybe I didn’t have the mental energy to dislodge the idea of tomato soup from my brain. Whatever the case, I arrived home from my parents’ house with a few tablespoons of dried minced onion and and some garlic cloves to get me started.
I sauteed the onion with butter, and burned it.
Luckily, I found that we had not been out of dried onion after all. I sauteed some more, and burned them again while focused on chopping the garlic.
But then everything clicked into place; I stopped burning things; the baby played nicely, banging jars on the floor and trying to sweep our filthy kitchen.
I prefer loose methods to recipes.
Here’s the tomato soup method I came up with:
Start with allium component–onion and garlic, in my case.
Add tomato component along with other liquids: water or broth.
Season while the liquids heat. Throw in a bay leaf, some Italian seasoning type stuff, if not Italian seasoning itself. Black pepper and crushed red pepper.
Add dairy component–milk or cream, plus some Parmesan for the umami.
And here’s what’s in that:
A few tablespoons of dried minced onion
A couple of tablespoons butter
3 cloves of garlic
One 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes with added basil
Italian seasoning, or similar
Crushed red pepper
A teaspoon of Better than Bouillon, veggie flavor
A cup of water
A little over a cup of milk
This made enough for two dinner-sized bowls of soup, and a couple mugs leftover to have with salad the next day.
Between the ingredient list and the directions, it ended up being a proto-recipe, one lacking in specific ingredients. Or does that lack make it a method? Either way, it’s something to throw together without finally-tuned spice blends, and in less-than-ideal conditions.
*If it makes it better, I don’t write in order.
**And even that’s a stretch. It’s pretty easy to make a quick sauce of broth and cream instead.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about goblins, it’s that they eat most of the same food as chickens: fruit, bugs, and various forageables. At least, the goblins in Pumpkin Goblins do. Even though I have chickens, this is actually a weird coincidence. I did the earliest work on Pumpkin Goblins almost two years before the chickens came on the scene. Since Pumpkin Goblins is coming out later this month, it’s occupying a lot of my mental space. So much, in fact, that it has seeped into my snacks. Thus, here is the story of how I ended up making goblin candy.
Every time I needed a goblin to mention some kind of food, my first thought was: Worms? Or graveworms? Goblins eating bugs was an easy option, kind of a default idea, and I usually like to challenge those and do my own thing. Since the goblins snatch pumpkins rather than growing them, I figured they weren’t big on agriculture. Their village is in the middle of the woods, so it didn’t seem like a great place for any sort of farmland. They weren’t going to be raising pigs and cows, or eating bacon cheeseburgers. But I could imagine them growing little gardens, or picking fruit from the woods. The bugs still fit the image I had in mind, and every time I mentioned goblin food, it was mostly bugs and fruit:
“A conspiracy as vast as an ocean of soup, as intricate as a puzzle box or a lattice-weave pie crust. As dangerous as undercooked cricket brulee with the crunchy top.”
A goblin from the front row stepped forward and handed Hobkit a lumpy biscuit.
“Thank you, yes. Bat-darnit, I was hungry.”
The smell of burnt applesauce hit him as soon as he started down the ladder. Applesauce with mothwings and nutmeg, an Ebleween favorite. The familiar scent tugged at Torlik’s memory.
The idea of goblin candy came from a very quick bit of dialogue in Pumpkin Goblins:
Amber shared a bit of her Halloween candy with Falkit, who in all her years as a driver, had never tried it. Spitting it out, the goblin dramatically pretended to throw up. “It doesn’t have any apples,” she complained.
“It’s a chocolate caramel, not a caramel apple.”
“No apples, no worms. Nothing juicy-good like goblin candy.” She spat again. “Sticky.”
Even though this is a very minor bit of the story, I have a vivid image of what goblin candy is like: dark and fruity, gooey in texture, with a hint of spices.
My recipe for goblin candy is based on a recipe for No-Bake Pecan Chocolates from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I’ve made the original recipe many times, and at this point, I kind of make it my own way. Since it’s a deliciously sticky mass of chocolate and nuts, I thought it would be a good starting point for goblin candy. Btw, I highly recommend Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, vegan or not. And I’m not; it’s just a collection of awesome, unique cookie recipes. Their gluten-free flour mixture alone is worth the cost of the book.
1 cup chocolate bits
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup almond meal
1 cup dried cherries and currants
1/2 cup chopped pecans
A pinch each of allspice and cloves
Melt the chocolate on the stove, over the lowest heat possible. Stir in the brown rice syrup, salt, and vanilla. Stir in everything else. Form into candy blobs, preferably on parchment or waxed paper. Dip hands and utensils into water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking. Refrigerate until firm.
Bugs are an optional ingredient. I do know people who eat bugs. If there’s a bug out there that complements fruit and chocolate, and you eat that bug, why not add it?
Aiming for a caramel vibe, Vegan Cookies calls for brown rice syrup. But the book is for vegans, and if you’re not, you could probably go straight for the caramel. Point is: sweet and very sticky.
Likewise, it doesn’t really matter if you use almond meal (which is my own addition, anyway). Point is: ground nuts of some variety. Cornmeal would probably be a terrible substitute (I don’t know why that even popped into my head.) I’m sure you could swap out the pecans too. In fact, I’m not sure how much goblins really like recipes, so if you want to ignore the whole thing and smash ingredients against the walls of a haunted house, that might work too.