Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bright Spots

I'm sniffling all over again. Didn't I just get over a cold? Anyway, neither sniffles nor snow could keep us from the Indian holiday buffet. We were treated to masses of puffy white flakes as we headed over the Sylvan hills to our delicious lunch. I loved that on Christmas day the restaurant was filled with Hindus, Muslims, a Chinese family, and us. And the snow was all too brief, allowing us a safe drive home whereupon I took a luxurious nap with my fluffiest cat tucked in beside me under the down comforter.

Today, despite the sniffles, I went to my Wednesday morning volunteer knitting class as usual. Since it's winter break, we were joined by a bunch of Somali kids eager to knit. I'd worked with the high school student once before--he just needed a jump start to get back on track. The younger kids (10? 12?) picked it up right away and were off and running in mere minutes. They were so fun to work with and I left with a smile on my face.

Meanwhile...more snow is predicted for tomorrow. I'll believe it when I see it!

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Perfect Little Cookie

Many years ago, while setting up my first post-college apartment with the man who later became my husband, I began to get serious about learning to cook. I took a job with a catering company and began to absorb mountains of information about preparing food. I bought some of my first cookbooks and started to very slowly build my cookware collection. And I began asking anyone and everyone for recipes.

My grandmother was a source of recipes (some from her mother) for many delicious baked goods including sublime lemon cookies, a spectacular fruit tart, and a cheesecake that I simply cannot duplicate. But one of the first recipes she gave me is the simplest of all: brown sugar shortbread. The name says it all, and doesn't it sound lovely? It is: intensely buttery with a deep, rich flavor from the brown sugar. And it's easier to handle than traditional shortbread.
My grandmother made these simple cookies and embellished them with a terra cotta cookie stamp made by this company, leaving a raised design on the buttery cookies. I flattened mine with a fork until my grandmother gave me a cookie stamp of my own as a Chanukah gift many years ago. You can still purchase them in numerous designs on their website if you're interested.
A couple of weeks ago I went to make a batch of these to give as gifts and couldn't find the cookie stamp anywhere. The dough was made up so I decided to try rollling and cutting them in star shapes which worked quite well. But I was delighted to locate the stamp the other day while engaged in an extensive search for something else (MonkeyBoy like to make my life interesting when he unloads the dishwasher).

Clearly another batch of brown sugar shortbread was in order. I highly recommend these cookies which you can make with or without a terra cotta cookie stamp though I do think it adds a certain something. The recipe is here. Enjoy!

Mosaic Monday

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lots of Making

Ahh...the joys of vacation. I've been bustling about with all kinds of projects. While we don't celebrate Christmas, many of my family members do and I confess that I really love the Christmas gathering which was moved to today this year to make it easier on those who really do celebrate the holiday (and freeing us up to head out to the holiday buffet at our favorite Indian restaurant on Christmas Day).
I have the prefect excuse to stay out of the holiday retail madness--it's not my holiday. But I love giving gifts as much as anyone. I've come to a point where I really want to give handmade as much as possible, whether food, knitting, or fabric. The kids seem to concur so we've all been busy getting ready for today's "Fake Christmas" family gathering. I printed up and framed a couple of my favorite photos (here and here). There was chipotle hot sauce, fetching little knitted gloves, and lots of drawstring bags which I just learned to make using this tutorial. (I so love that there are so many generous folks out there willing to share what they know in so many areas--thank you!) My boys made up a bunch of wonderful freezer-paper stenciled T-shirts for their cousins and grandparents from their own designs which, sadly, got away un-photographed. And The Princess has been cranking out cards and drawings and complicated assemblage projects like nobody's business. We've all been busy making things and it feels good.

Also, as if I didn't have enough projects to work on, I've started up with a new interest. I've long wanted to begin exploring collage but have been hesitant to dive in. After teaching myself to knit, sew, cook, take photos and more, I'm not sure what I found intimidating but somehow it's seemed like I just couldn't get started. I wonder if it has to do with not having the slightest idea where something will end up. I've muddled through all kinds of knitting projects and flown by the seat of my pants in the kitchen countless times. But starting with a blank page is something new for me, especially when it could go in any direction.

My wonderful husband kept making suggestions to get me moving and I resisted for quite a while but now I find that I am working on exactly what he suggested: an altered book project where I can explore lots of new techniques in a sort of visual journal. Now I find myself thinking about composition and color and am bursting with ideas for new pages. My pockets quickly fill with all kinds of junk (oops, I think the official term is ephemera) which I can paste into small collages. I am playing with paint (phthalo blue! yellow ochre!), learning how to layer colors and give texture and depth to surfaces. I am having such fun, blasting the Bollywood dance tunes in my basement hideaway while I layer, cut, paste, and paint.
Thank goodness for vacation! I so love having the freedom of long stretches of time and a light schedule so I can explore and play.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Still Here...

I've been on break for a few days and I'm suffering a bit from the lack of schedule. I tend to jump from one thing to the next in a completely unfocused way but I have managed a few movies, many hours of knitting, some baking, a lot of reading and way too much time here, exploring all the goodies available. Because, you know, I really need old flashcards, watch parts, vintage game pieces, and Italian telephone book pages. They don't call me Magpie for nothing, after all.
I just finished this hat for MonkeyBoy. Why yes, he did choose the Ronald McDonald ketchup-and-mustard sock yarn himself. This was made on size 0 (that's right, zero) needles and I figure there must be, I don't know, a few million stitches in the darned thing. Hideous, isn't it? But when my boy actually requests knitted items from me, you know he gets what he asks for. I finished it in time for him to wear it to a Lego Robotics competition last weekend. When asked, in front of the crowd of kids, coaches, and mentors what his favorite part of the day was, my boy, bless his heart, said "my hat!". Also on the needles (and soon to be off)-a lace shawl made from odd balls of Noro Kureyon and Silk Garden obtained in last summer's yarn bonanza. This is turning out to be one of the loveliest things I've ever made and it's actually for me, to ward off the chill in the basement where I'm spending so much time lately. The pattern is here if anyone is interested in details. Like the two shawls I made earlier this year, this is a quick knit and a wonderful project for combining odd balls.

So even though I feel like I'm spinning my wheels, there's actually a lot getting done, but in a very relaxed way.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Here's what I just realized--I already wrote about this dish, back in March. I wrote out this whole post and went to type out the recipe when I saw that I'd already done so. Oy. So if you want to read the first post, it's here. Feel free to read on for my more current thoughts on the topic of macaroni and cheese. I'm sure this type of thing never happens with the fancy, professional food blogger types.

I don't know if perfection is a goal I should be aiming for giving that sometimes it's a major accomplishment just getting everyone around here to eat. But some things you shouldn't have to settle for. Sometimes you just want to find that one, perfect recipe--the one that will allow you to end your search.

That's how this recipe for macaroni and cheese came into my home. I love a good macaroni and cheese but for years wasn't able to get to what I wanted: cheesy, of course, and nicely chewy without the sludge of a heavy, milky sauce. I tried any number of recipes, most of which were OK though one stands out as being inedible (John Thorne, what were you thinking with the evaporated milk?) but nothing really came close to what I wanted until I found Jack Bishop's recipe in A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen.

This is the simplest and tastiest version of macaroni cheese I know and can be varied endlessly with different cheeses from plain old Tillamook medium cheddar to a liberal amount of crumbled Cougar Gold. The bread crumbs make a slightly crunchy topping and you can control the texture depending on how you cook it. A large shallow baking dish will give you chewy macaroni with lots of topping and a deeper vessel makes for a creamier dish. Either way is great as far as I'm concerned. The recipe is here. I hope it goes over well in your home.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

I started this blog a year ago today --that's 169 posts, 12 full months of kvetching and rambling. I don't think I've ever stuck to a journal this regularly before, but this has really become a significant part of my life. Thanks to everyone who's taken the time to read and extra thanks to those who leave comments. It's nice knowing you're out there!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The End is Near!

The end of the term, that is. I'm sitting here grading exams and getting a bit giddy at the thought of three weeks of vacation beginning at the end of the week.

It's been a week fraught with money worries as the bills from my hospital interlude roll in. Why I'm messing around teaching English when I could be charging $300/hour for brilliant doctorly advice like "take Advil for the chest pain" is beyond me. Happily I managed to convince the hospital to take some pity on my and they shaved a cool two thousand dollars off my total bill, getting the total below what I paid for my last vehicle. Whew.

Speaking of vehicles, The Spouse's Honda started acting odd in perfect conjunction with the arrival of our kicker check. It's happened to us before: tax refund= car malfunction. So he took the car down to our local import auto shop whose website says "In love of Jesus, In Love of Cars". Huh? I didn't get the connection. Before we got the car back, the mechanic managed to go some $200 beyond what The Spouse had authorized in repairs, taking care of our kicker and then some and prompting me to wonder What Would Jesus Charge?

And now we have a cat who's acting punky and smells like he's rotting. Doctor, hospital, mechanic, vet--sorry folks, there's only so much to go around!

While I know I can kvetch like a champ, there have been some lovely moments in the last week. MonkeyBoy earned his first stripe at last Saturday's taekwondo promotion. He went through his paces smoothly and with confidence.

Since his class is during my working hours this was my first exposure to taekwondo culture which involves a great deal of formality and displays of respect. We were expected to sing not only The Star-Spangled Banner but the Korean national anthem as well, which was a bit of a shocker. I kept wanting to refer to the Great Grandmaster as Grandmaster Flash but The Spouse thoughtfully kept me in check. It's a whole 'nuther world, for sure but my boy seems a bit taller since his promotion and I can see real, tangible changes in his behavior as he works on mastering his emotions. No small thing, that. He'll be back in class come January, for sure.

Chanukah has been enjoyable and full of small pleasures. I always say I don't like it when the holiday falls before the end of my term but it does keep things from getting too crazy. We had family over Sunday night for dessert and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves although The Dark Lord did manage to fall asleep on the couch in the middle of everything. We had friends from our homeschool co-op over today and an astounding number of doughnuts were consumed.

It was a little bit melancholy as we lit the final candles tonight. I know The Princess doesn't want the holiday to end. But I am looking forward to some down time. I'd like to finish The Great Cabled Monster that is The Spouse's belated Chanukah gift. I got The Happy Hooker out of library in hopes of learning to crochet. We have plans for leisurely dinners with friends and lots of quiet time by the fire. There's a rumor we might even get some snow.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Too Much

Am I not as green as any Oregonian? I compost. I purchase Blue Sky renewable power. I recycle everything I can. I try to buy organic as much as possible. I donate to environmental charities. I capture my rain water in rain barrels. I try to support small local businesses. I haven't traveled by air in the last ten years. True, I have yet to give up my car (or earn enough to afford a hybrid) but I group my trips and try not to drive more than necessary.

But what I am not willing to do is give up lighting Chanukah candles. Honestly. When I look around me at all the hoo ha over The Big December Holiday, the gift boxes, the inflatable Santas, the electric lights all over everything, the millions of trees cut down each year, the traffic jams at retail locations, the tossed away wrappings, the unsolicited mail order catalogs, the piles and piles and piles of cheap plastic holiday junk shipped from China....and these folks are worried about my Chanukah candles? Maybe I don't have to light every single menorah we own (at least 8, maybe more) every single night but I simply cannot see giving up a tradition that has a good deal more history and spiritual depth behind it than glowing inflatable yard decorations.

Day One

The Princess, though worn out, seems to be holding her food and things are looking up. We marked the first night of Chanukah last night lighting the first candle and eating apple latkes. Given schedules, health, and finances this year's holiday feels notably less festive than it's been in the past but I can't say that the light isn't welcome.

Apple Latkes

It's that time of year again....

Chanukah always falls during the darkest part of the year when daylight is scarce and everyone is chilled. The lights, of course, are a welcome part of the 8 day festival but so too are the traditional foods. You've just got to love a holiday that requires us to eat fried foods. Potato latkes are perhaps the best known Chanukah food in the Ashkenazic world. Sufganiot (doughnuts) are another classic and I will try to share my recipes for both this week.

But when the first night of Chanukah falls on a work night that's been preceded by a day of juvenile illness, a big holiday dinner just isn't an option. Instead I came home from work and made apple latkes to enoy by the light of the first candle. Most Jews light the candles at sundown but given the requirement that no work is to be done while the candles burn, I make everyone wait until I get home from teaching my night class.And so it was that I arrived home, donned an apron, and got busy. The Spouse had brought home some beautiful Braeburn apples which turned out to be perfect in this recipe--just tart enough. An apple latke is really just a pancake, but a very special apple pancake indeed. Sweet-tart and dusted with powdered sugar, they make a delicious Chanukah treat. I suppose you could just as well have them for breakfast though we never do. I like having some recipes set aside just for holidays. If you'd like to give these a try, the recipe is here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Chappy Chanukah!

I meant to write something in celebration of the first night of our Festival of Light. But I was up all night with a Very Sick Princess. When I wasn't soothing I was cleaning up and doing laundry and wondering when the next round was starting so I am extremely tired today and not at all able to focus on any sort of thoughtful writing. Instead I will send you elsewhere for your holiday inspiration.

Chanukah is admittedly more fun when it falls during my three week Winter Break, allowing us many evenings of socializing and oily treats. Unfortunately Chanukah will be over before my break begins this year so it just has to be fit in around my evening class schedule. Some would say Chanukah is early this year but of course Jewish holidays are never "early" or "late" except in relation to other calendars. For a good explanation of just why this is, take a look at this post at the wonderful Ragamuffin Studies blog.

Is there an intersection between Judaism and knitting? You know I'd find it if there were, right? Well, go see what Tikkun Knits has to say, be inspired, and maybe even knit your own Chanukah menorah.

And then there's the question of how this tiny minority of Jews fits our little winter celebration into the larger hoo-ha of The Big Winter Holiday. Some of us get a little grumpy after the seventy-fifth round of Jingle Bells (and it's only the first week of December for crying out loud). Those of you who tend to just hunker down at home for the month will surely enjoy the sentiment expressed here by my dear friend Beth.

Chag Sameach!

Friday, November 30, 2007


I pretty much fail in all areas mechanical or technical. There's nothing I hate more than fiddling around with tiny, hidden away, easily lost parts. And yet today I managed, with the snarky but able assistance of The Dark Lord, to save myself a couple hundred bucks by reviving my dying iPod.

I never intended to become a Pod person but my spiffy green mini was a freebie a couple of years ago when we were flush (remember the real estate boom?) and I bought the boys a brand new iBook for animation. While I loved having hundreds of songs with me in the car, the iPod became more valuable once I started my regular walking routine. Nothing gets me going like an uptempo playlist and I enjoyed working on the timing so the peppiest songs would get me up the big hill halfway through my regular walk. I then discovered how very handy an iPod could be in learning Torah readings. I can download mp3 files and practice to my heart's content at home, at work (before class), in the car and even out of town. And when I'm up late at night, working on some new project or knitting to meet a deadline, I love to pop on the headphones for a good podcast to keep my brain going without waking up my family. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with my little mini.

A few months ago some friends were talking about the notoriously short life of iPod batteries. In total denial, I insisted they must be wrong. Maybe other iPods had trouble but mine was working perfectly. And it was....until a few weeks ago when it started flashing weird messages at me and running out of juice only a few blocks into my walk. Not only am I not in a financial position to replace my little green companion, I really cringe at the thought of replacing something that shouldn't have to be replaced, spending money needed for other things, and tossing my sweet mini in the landfill. I began Googling solutions and quickly came across these guys who promised an affordable and painless battery replacement. What could I lose? The darned thing didn't work anyway, so I placed my order.

My new battery came promptly, but the instructions were daunting. Tearing into my iPod with their special "iOpener" was no easy feat and the case does look a little worse for wear. I called on The Dark Lord for moral support and a bit of teen bravado to crack the case but we did get it open, only to discover a surprising amount of cat hair inside. How in the world does cat hair get inside the iPod? I hadn't realized just how much stuff was in that little case and it was quite fascinating to peek inside.Once the guts were exposed it really was a fairly simple matter to disconnect the old battery, hook up the new one, and slide it all back together.

There was a lot of non-technical wiggling that went on in order to reassemble everything but all in all it was maybe a 20 minute operation. And miraculously nothing was damaged. The scroll wheel still works, the backlight comes on, and all the music is till there. For a $30 investment, I ought to get many more months of service from my free iPod. Yippee! This bodes well for my next planned techie adventure--updating the memory in my laptop. Luckily my Dear Old Dad is going to help me through that!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Last Meal?

I was recently listening to KCRW's Good Food podcast whose focus mostly on Thanksgiving cooking, but there was a brief and touching segment in which callers described, in their own voices, their chosen last meal. I found it very poignant as well as quite thought provoking.

My last meal? Hard to say. I might let the good folks at Nuestra Cocina cook anything they wanted for me. I might ask for dosas from Chennai Masala. Or maybe my grandmother's beef brisket with baked potatoes and her tooth achingly sweet fruit salad.

If it were the last meal I ever cooked, well that's easy. I'd have my friend Laura join me once again to make buttery fresh corn tamales.

And what about you?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mosaic Monday

If you click on the mosaic, it should open full size in another browser window. I encourage you to look closely--there are some real gems here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Date with MonkeyBoy

MonkeyBoy and I love Bollywood movies and have gone through everything our library has as well as many of the titles available on Netflix. We've seen a lot of movies, a few more than once, but what we've never managed to do was see one of these films in a theater.

It recently came to my attention that if I was willing to make a long drive and spend and exorbitant amount of money on tickets, we could see the latest Bollywood blockbuster on the big screen. The boy and I had a date and saw Om Shanti Om which was absolutely delightful. Apart from a Latino family, we were the only non-Indians in the theater. We had a moment of panic when the film started and the narration began without subtitles but it wasn't long before the English kicked in and we were able to follow the story just fine.

What I loved was that this movie brilliantly made fun of everything that I love about the genre: the self conscious actors, the dream sequences, the silly songs, copious costume changes, and convoluted and highly improbable plot lines. We got many of the jokes and references thanks to having watched so many of these films recently. While things began to plod after the intermission, the first half was very funny. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

This is a second run theater--tickets normally cost $3.75 but they charge $12 for the Hindi films which seems a little bit over the top. We won't be running out there often, but this was a wonderful treat for the two of us and I'm glad I can count on Monkey Boy's company for such jaunts.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Things just didn't go that well for me on the biggest cooking holiday of the year here in the US. My apple crostata slumped and sagged while the shell for my maple cream pie was powdery above the filling and soggy underneath. I used slightly different dough recipes for each and both were off, so I'm blaming the flour rather than the recipes or the cook. Neither were inedible--we decided the crostata was too ugly for the Thanksgiving table and polished it off midday and the maple cream pie was silky and delicious despite its subpar crust. I thought there was too much nutmeg in the recipe and will cut way back next time because I want my maple cream pie to taste more like maple and not so much like eggnog but it was still quite delicious.

See how I started off talking about dessert? That's just like me.

The dinner itself was fine. I made a kosher turkey with cornbread stuffing, sweet potato kugel, mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower, challah rolls, and fruit salad. I'm not much of a meat eater so the whole process of cooking a giant bird makes me a bit queasy and I end up eating one slice of breast meat and moving on to the other dishes. The reality is I like cooking meat even less than I like eating it and I'd be perfectly happy with a vegetarian Thanksgiving.

We had lots of leftovers. I put the turkey carcass in my huge stockpot with onions, celery, and carrots to make turkey stock which I put to good use last night. Our Shabbat dinner included lots of Thanksgiving leftovers along with a Greek style egg-lemon soup using some of that rich turkey stock. The Picky Ones declared it "weird" and focused on the potatoes, but everyone was up for dessert, an old favorite from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya von Bremzen. This cookbook is a delightful tour of the cuisines of the former Soviet Union. I have used many of the recipes over the years and it's also great reading.
The apple charlotte is very simple and thus only as good as the apples you use. The spouse brought home some beauties the other day and they shone in this recipe in which piles and piles of chopped apple are bound together in a light, eggy batter scented with vanilla, and cinnamon. This isn't a fancy dish--no one will be impressed at its appearance. But it has a rustic sort of no-fail charm about it which felt comforting after my recent dessert disasters. And, I happen to know, leftover apple charlotte makes a fine breakfast. The recipe is here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving Day was delightful around here, for the most part. Sure, there was the usual kvetching about tidying up and who always unloads the dishwasher (and who never unloads the dishwasher) but for the most part it was a calm, enjoyable day. I felt a little guilty about having called the relatives and rescinding my offer to host the big meal after my recent stay in the hospital. But really I'm fine. I cooked on and off all day with lots of pauses to knit, draw with the family, and eat one of the desserts which we decided was too ugly for the Thanksgiving table.

Before the meal we had the required conversation about gratitude. but it really was lovely to hear my kids speak on the subject, each in a distinct voice. A five year old and a fourteen year old see things quite differently --no surprise there. But each had something interesting and heartfelt to say and I so enjoyed listening. They really are wonderful people.

I read the following poem from Ritual Well and I confess to getting a bit choked up.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

By Rabbi Naomi Levy

For the laughter of the children,

For my own life breath,

For the abundance of food on this table,

For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast,

For the roof over our heads,

The clothes on our backs,

For our health,

And our wealth of blessings,

For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends,

For the freedom to pray these words

Without fear,

In any language,

In any faith,

In this great country,

Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.

Thank You, God, for giving us all these. Amen.

It was a good day full of laughter and warmth. I hope all those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving also had the same.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Something New

I've written here any number of times about Laura, one of the most wonderful friends I've ever had. When she moved away in August it was as if some of the color drained out of my world and I knew I would miss her terribly. One of the ways we decided to stay connected is through a collaborative photo blog, Strawhead and Magpie. I know, I know, another blog? But this is just images--no commentary from us (though of course we'd love feedback).

3191 was a huge inspiration and we embarked on our project with Stephanie's blessings.

I'll be sticking with photos and Laura will be including photos and images of her work. We're just getting started so it's clearly going to be evolving for quite a while. Stop by for a visit and let us know what you think!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Something a Bit Different

I had so been looking forward to cooking a huge meal this week to serve on the turkey plates. However, given recent events I thought it might be wise to call off the extended family and have a simpler Thanksgiving with just the five of us.

The turkey has been ordered and the leftovers will surely be used. I won't make nearly the number of dishes I usually do and I can skip gravy altogether because none of us actually like it. Mashed potatoes, a sweet potato kugel, green salad and some fruit should round out the meal. We'll eat early and then, much later, dessert, allowing me to work around the whole meat/dairy separation thing. I've never found a good dairy-free pie crust and dessert just needs butter as far as I'm concerned. Luckily we won't be joined by Orthodox Jews who would rightfully shriek in horror at this extremely loose interpretation of kashrut but it works for us. I'm hoping to give this a try along with a tasty apple crostata a friend recently introduced me to.

A recipe recently caught my eye in Julie Sahni's Savoring India, a giant glossy coffee table book I found at our library. Apparently there is a South Indian fruit which is enough like a cranberry that immigrants to the US have happily made the substitution. I gave it a try today and didn't even feel like I was cheating on orders to rest. The cranberry chutney couldn't be easier--a bag of cranberries and few spices. I'm looking forward to perking up my Thanksgiving table with this, enjoying a little something spicy and fresh alongside my turkey. The recipe is here.

Cranberry Chutney Update: the chutney might not make it to my Thanksgiving table as it turns out (unsurprisingly) to be a splendid topper for uppma and I've been "sampling" enough that there's not much left!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I Want to go to Cuba!

Savor, if you will, the brilliant irony of yesterday's Netflix arrival. I hadn't managed to see Sicko in the theaters so what better time than the night I return from the hospital with countless thousands of dollars in bills? I am in no way comforted by the fact that I will have insurance coverage in January. Will I have to fight for everything? I really don't want to give a penny to Blue Cross, that's for sure.

I still can't understand why we don't have universal health care in this country. So many other nations have managed it but I think we got sidetracked by greed and...I don't know...stuff. There's still that fear that the average American will drown under high taxes. But you don't hear about the French losing their homes due to medical bankruptcy, do you? Do Americans really need stuff more than they need affordable health care for everyone?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Shabbat at Portland Adventist

It could have been worse. In any other local hospital, I doubt anyone would have mentioned Shabbat. I did get a red rose on my breakfast tray "in honor of the Sabbath" I was told.

The closest emergency room happens to be in a Seventh Day Adventist hospital. Instead of baking challah or schlepping kids as on a typical Friday, I spent the morning alternately trying to reach my doctor and trying to breathe. When I finally got through to her she was unwilling to see me--she wanted me to head straight to the hospital.

I arrived with a heart rate over 130 beats per minute and extreme shortness of breath. They extracted gallons of blood, performed various tests and X-rays, and pumped lots of stuff in to me. They kept me overnight, finally got my heart settled down, and found a cause for all the drama and it wasn't my thyroid after all. That nasty Halloween head cold seems to have left me with an infection in the lining around my heart which caused the super-high heart rate and the breathing difficulty. Beta-blockers slowed everything down, Advil took care of the chest pain, and I was happily escorted home by family this afternoon.

I can't describe how awful it was to not be able to get enough air. I felt so panicky and was, of course, completely unable to take deep breaths to calm down. It's a terrible thing to take breathing for granted.

So I'm OK now. And home, which never felt so good. But a tiny bit worried. After years with my current employer I'll finally be getting insurance but it won't kick in until January 1 so I'm paying for this little adventure all on my own. I'm just waiting for the bill. No doubt when it arrives my heart will start racing all over again.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Temporarily Out of Commission

Mr. Graves has come for a visit and I am not in great shape. I started feeling light-headed a few days ago and am now having heart palpitations and breathing trouble. I went to the doctor this morning, sure it was pneumonia, but my lungs are clear. The Doc is pretty sure my thyroid is going wacko again and will adjust meds once the lab results are in. Meanwhile, I have a new herbal tincture to support my heart. I'm to rest until my breathing returns to normal. Normally this would be hard for me but since I get all wheezy even talking, walking around much is pretty much out for a while.

At least my hair isn't falling out. Yet. And I am lucky to have a most wonderful husband who will take good care of all of us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Drug of Choice

After a long hiatus over the summer and until the end of Ramadan, I am back working with the women at Kateri Park. The first session was a bit of a bust and I had to beg off due to illness last week. But today we had a full house! A few of last year's Somali women have returned along with two delightful Burmese women and an American woman as well.

We were a mostly jolly bunch this morning as I attempted to get everyone off and running with their knitting. The women helped each other and laughed over dropped stitches and seemed to enjoy themselves. Unlike the others, the American woman was quiet and intensely focused on her knitting. She told me she had learned to knit as a child and then forgotten over the ensuing years. Clearly her hands remembered how to form the stitches as she was rapidly adding length to her garter stitch scarf.

Before she left she asked if I would cast on an additional identical scarf for her which struck me as odd and I asked for more information on what she was trying to do. In a quiet, haunted voice she explained that her 16 year old son had left home last night and she was having a hard time. She was afraid that she might go out and get drunk or take drugs to numb the pain but she'd decided that what she really wanted to do was knit through this intense time. She didn't want to be left with nothing to work on if she messed up the first project and a backup, ready-to-go if needed, would make her feel more at ease.

I had no idea what to say to her. Of course I quickly cast on a second scarf, made sure all her yarn was rolled into tidy balls, and I encouraged her to come back next week. Shortly after she left, my phone rang. The Dark Lord, home today for the latest school-free day, was calling for the second time already to check in. My casual chatting with my son belied the depth of my feelings for him this morning and my gratitude that he still checks in.

I was reminded of some of the hard, hard things I've gotten through with yarn and needles in my hands. Three years ago I knitted a beautiful lacy scarf for a friend dying of cancer, each stitch a prayer. Once the shock of my brother's suicide wore off, I knew that if I could pick up the needles and make something I'd be OK. Finishing another friend's prayer shawl this summer helped me through a deep sadness.

When I was asked to help start this knitting group we talked about building community and pride among the residents of the low income apartment complex. We thought the residents would enjoy getting to know one another over yarn and needles. But today I felt that I'd been given an opportunity to offer a far more precious gift to my new student. What an honor.


The Princess asked me to take this picture and I gave very little thought to it as I snapped. Now every time I look at this photo I like it more: the soft textures of the petals and the gravel contrasting with the stripes, the pinky-red and the green, the grubby nails, and the shockingly perfect framing which was simply how I snapped the picture, no cropping involved. What a happy surprise!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Mosaic Monday--Autumn Edition

I confess that Mosaic Monday has kind of slipped my mind of late. I haven't spent a great deal of time Flickr-gazing, though I always enjoy it when I do. These are some recent additions to my Flickr favorites. All are by other photographers, and each is a gem as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I wrote earlier in the week about getting my workspace spruced up. At first I was focused on making things cozy and pleasant. Now I'm working on function--getting the lighting right, storing works in progress in a way that allows me to pick up where I left off . I'm so thrilled that I can run downstairs and get to work rather than having to move things, dig things out, and remove kid debris but I'm feeling very possessive of my space, perhaps too much so.

I had a minor tantrum tonight when The Princess moved in and began spreading glitter all over while working on a collage. I wasn't very gracious at all. I already had MonkeyBoy on the other end of the room working on a new stop motion movie which meant the lights had to be just so. Too much overhead lighting makes me cranky and after I gave in on that one I noticed the glitter and kind of lost it at my poor daughter who was just trying to enjoy making things with me.

The Dark Lord was, as usual, up in his room. When he has his computer he has little use for the rest of us so we haven't exchanged more than a few words all day. But I had my other kids hanging around with me and I should have been enjoying that, not snapping about how things should have been going my way. Sometimes I wonder why my kids are as nice as they are given they've grown up with me as a role model.

I managed four quilt squares and a little tote bag to hold a gift for the birthday party The Princess is attending tomorrow. For the last few months small fabric bags have been my birthday gift of choice. Once I wrapped my mind around the mystery of lined bags there was no stopping me and I've actually made a dent in my considerable fabric stash. I dug deep today and unearthed some fabulous Kaffe Fassett fabric I'd completely forgotten about, a wild floral print that makes me think of Yellow Submarine, my favorite childhood movie. A little accent fabric, some jaunty yellow rickrack and soon I had a bag that was so fabulous I really didn't want to give it up. But I will. Really. I don't want to be childish.

It's the End of the World as We Know It......

I don't think I ever would have known about this had the good folks at The Jew and the Carrot not pointed it out. Wow. It's not like pancakes are hard to make. "Just point, blast and cook". Oy.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Last night my class had their midterm. I wasn't there to administer the test as I had called in sick earlier in the day. I'm still sick, but I hate to miss more than one day so I came back tonight only to hear from my assistant that there had been a major issue last night. There was a cheating incident. My assistant actually saw one of the students handing a completed exam back to another student.

Their tests are far from identical and I don't think much copying could have happened before the problem was discovered but I wonder why anyone felt it was necessary. One of these students has been with me for a while and finally agreed to individual tutoring this term. He's been making fantastic progress and I can't understand why he felt the need to cheat.

The irony is that none of my exams even carry any weight until the final exam where they demonstrate their readiness for the next level of classes. This is far from "high stakes" testing, but I do like to get them familiar with testing mode. And that does mean doing your own work.

Most of the time I encourage collaboration in my classes. The students have much to teach each other. But testing is different. The boys will be getting a stern talking to in Russian. I'm not sure what else to do--I don't want to humiliate them, but I feel like there's a need to further clarify classroom expectations. Hopefully they'll get the message clearly so there will be no trouble come final exam time.

Cold-Fighting Chickpea Curry

Most sick people, it seems, want simple food: broths and juice, nothing too complicated or taxing for a body already fighting invaders. Not me! When I have a head cold all I want is food that's hot and spicy. I can't taste it unless it's highly spiced, but there are good reasons for spicing up the sickroom food: onions, garlic, and chiles are all great for the immune system.

Spicy chickpeas with tomato over rice is a perfect cold-fighting dish. The tomatoes provide lots of vitamin C, the onions and garlic have antiviral properties, and cumin, coriander, and turmeric boost the immune system. All that spice clears the head quite effectively, too!

I got the recipe from a friend who copied it out of her favorite Indian cookbook for me. I had to adjust to what I had on hand (no more fresh chiles, alas). While it hasn't cured my cold yet, it was a delicious dinner and an even better breakfast reheated.

I think the only reason I got this darned cold is because I've failed to brew up a fresh batch of The Tonic yet. Clearly that needs to happen before we get much further into cold season.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Nod to Halloween

I don't have a whole lot of use for Halloween (as explained here). I usually have to work and the kids only bring home junk candy so as far as I'm concerned there's only one good thing about the day: Spider Web Munch. It's one of those ridiculously cute things that I'm embarrassed to admit to, but it's got the heavenly chocolate-peanut butter combo going on. Made with bittersweet chocolate chips it's almost respectable as desserts go, and you get to play around while decorating. I found the recipe in the newspaper years ago and it's become my one concession to the holiday. It beats an old, stale fun size Snickers bar any day!


I'm not really a fan of Halloween. Sure, as a kid I loved to pig out on candy--who wouldn't? But now that I'm a parent, the last thing I want of for my kids to pig out on candy. Dressing up is all well and good, but I don't love the whole scary/creepy/ghoulish side of things. No need to glorify death as far as I'm concerned.

I've always let The Spouse handle Halloween while I go off to work but today I'm struggling with a nasty head cold. I've already called in sick and I plan on hiding in the basement with a box of Kleenex and a Bollywood movie and ignoring the doorbell while the family is out begging for candy. Aren't I a grump?

Nonetheless I'll take this opportunity to shamelessly promote The Dark Lord's short Halloween movie which is, as far as I'm concerned, just scary enough--see for yourself!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


At long last I've spent some time focusing on the corner of our house which is my designated craft space and storage area. It's in the basement, which I've always found rather depressing. I've used plenty of paint and color to brighten things up but the fact remains that it's underground with both poor natural light and hideous overhead alternatives. I hadn't realized how sensitive I was to such things until I started to avoid the space altogether, piling up yarn all over the house or tossing bags into the space and abandoning them. I've been given mountains of yarn and yards of fabric over the years and hadn't ever figured out how to manage it all. I'd all but given up sewing as I don't really enjoy tangling with the machine and doing so in a dark and gloomy space? Why bother? The quilt I started for The Princess shortly after her birth has been languishing for five years along with another I started after my my brother's death.

I finally decided to just buck up and make the best of it. I'm sure there are countless folks out there who give anything for a designated work space like mine could be. The last few weeks I've been working hard to make this space work for me. A recent trip to The Big Swede and an entire day spent assembling the monster storage unit seems to have done the trick and gotten the improvement ball rolling. Huge thanks to The Spouse who battled that monster with me!

I now have the Wall of Fabric, sorted more or less by color. The painting is by Laura--lovely, isn't it?

And the Wall of Yarn--just like your local yarn shop, right? Who knew I had so much yarn? In my defense, I bought very little of the yarn, the rest has been given to me by lots of generous folks. Now that I can see what I've got, I've got ideas galore about future projects.

There's even a cozy corner with a comfy chair. As cozy as a basement gets, anyway. A project I really want to start soon is a shawl for me as it's always a bit chilly down here.

Getting things tidied up and put away has allowed me to appreciate some of the treasures I have hidden down here like this gorgeous Indian fabric and the Chinese lion pincushion from Bean:

and the beautiful stainless steel framed mirror my sweetie made for me during his years working for this guy.

I have a small cedar box holding remnants of my grandmother's needlepoint projects:

A gorgeous skein of unusually soft sari silk yarn from Colleen:

And a prickly old cat who loves to hide down here, ideally on the ironing board or in a pile of fabric:

I'm realizing it doesn't feel all that lonely down here after all.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pupusa Frenzy

Now that I have a child in school I am beginning to get used to last minute announcements relating to school assignments and projects. The latest was the proyecto cultural for The Dark Lord's Spanish class. I love that his teacher asks the students to think about the language outside the classroom but the announcement came during a very harried day which included a number of hastily changed plans, evening classes, a child care scramble--nothing unusual, but having to come up with an interesting yet simple dish with a little sabor latino was not exactly compelling at 9 pm when everyone was finally back home and The Dark Lord was able to focus on the task at hand.

Given our time frame, most of the delicious Latin American dishes I know were not in the running. Tamales and enchiladas were simply too complicated. My delicious posole verde was out because The Dark Lord doesn't think much of it (I suspect it's too nutritious). Racking my brain I suggested pupusas which require little more than masa harina, water, oil, and a bit of something to tuck inside.
With a fresh bag of masa harina from Bob's Red Mill, we were in business. A little salt and some water, and we had something the consistency of Play-Doh. We pulled out plum-sized balls, put in a bit of filling made of shredded cheddar and roasted green chile, pulled the edges of the dough up around the filling to cover, and flattened them into discs before slipping them into hot oil where they cooked, about 4 minutes per side until golden. We drained the pupusas on paper towels and then gobbled the down. Here you see The Dark Lord attempting to shove a too-hot pupusa into a mouth tender with new orthodontia. Not the recommended technique. Since the pickiest of The Picky Ones was away with a friend all weekend we decided take The Dark Lord out to give professional pupusas a try at El Palenque, Portland's venerable Salvadoran restaurant. We ordered a vegetarian family meal for 4 which included pupusas, fried yuca, a tamal, fried plantains with cream, black beans, rice, and banana empanadas, and the delicious sweet cheese bread Salvadorans call quesadilla which has nothing to do with the Mexican variety. It was a delicious meal but, interestingly, The Dark Lord decided he liked his pupusas better than those made by the little old Salvadoran lady who had no doubt been making them for decades. So last night, another batch, these filled with shredded cheddar and sliced scallions and served alongside the posole verde, which proved to be an ideal combination.

The recipe is here.