Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This One's for You, Beth!

Beth, the very first reader of Magpie Eats, wrote the following today:

Like you, I am pressed for time; and when I get home from work at 8:30 pm, the last thing I want to do is attempt to cook. So I'm hopeful that eventually something will pop up here that can be made in one pot, in less than 20 minutes.

I usually get home at 9 pm or later so I completely understand the ravenous arrival and the need for something easy and satisfying. Here's what I end up eating at least once a week. There is but one catch: you must buy Pastures of Eden kosher sheep's milk feta from Israel. I buy it regularly at Trader Joe's. It is my all time favorite cheese. When I was staring down the barrel of intense dietary restrictions I insisted I could do without all other dairy if I could just have this cheese in my life. And, while I am sensitive to cow's milk, this sheep's milk cheese doesn't bother me at all. It is creamy, mild, just slightly tangy, and simply divine.

So once you've hit TJ's and made sure you have a package or two of this lovely cheese in your fridge, you come home ravenous and looking for something to eat RIGHT NOW. Bring a pot of water to boil and throw in some kind of tiny pasta. I like orzo best, but there are numerous tiny (quick cooking) shapes. If greens are your thing, add a handful of finely sliced spinach, kale, chard, or mustard greens just before draining the pasta, for a quick wilt. Drain the pasta (and greens), toss everything in the bowl with a dash of olive oil, a clove of pressed garlic, a good grind of black pepper and the crucial couple of handfuls of crumbled Pastures of Eden feta. Give it a moment--the heat from the pasta will soften the cheese and, once you stir, you will have a deliciously creamy and delightful sauce coating your tiny pasta.

I can't tell you how satisfying this is. Obviously you can get more complicated: chopped parsley and basil are lovely additions as are chopped kalamata olives, strips of roasted red pepper, and tiny sliced tomatoes are divine with this if they're in season. But you can also leave the extras out--the pasta with the cheese is amazingly satisfying. But, please, buy the right cheese. Any other feta, in my experience, is unlikely to produce the same result, so you've been warned.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Ever since the day a few months ago when a friend brought me a still warm dish of her Indian mother-in-law's freshly prepared uppma I've been hooked. It's hard to describe the appeal of what could simply be defined as a savory Cream of Wheat. Bear with me, it's better than it sounds. Think more of a pilaf/risotto hybrid, speckled with vegetables and nuts, rich with the golden flavor of lightly toasted wheat. It must be the ultimate comfort food for countless South Indians--it just has that warm, wholesome, uncomplicated thing going on.

On a recent trip to Abhiruchi for a Sunday buffet lunch, I had numerous servings of their uppma which was not nearly as delicate as Gita's, but tasty nonetheless.

And finally, I got up the nerve to try my own after buying a bag of farina at Bob's Red Mill last week. I followed the process outlined by Madhur Jaffrey in her World Vegetarian cookbook, but used my own combination of ingredients. We had neither curry leaves nor chana dal, but there was a bowl of leftover shelled edamame in the fridge, making this particular version a Japanese-South Indian fusion experiment. It was delicious though, unsurprisingly, the children were not impressed. You'll find the recipe here. It's clearly a foundation sort of dish--once you have the basics, I'm sure you can play with all sorts of variations. Madhur Jaffrey offers up three versions: cilantro-peanut, cashew and green bean, and a cabbage-pea combo. I plan on trying all of them. If you try it, let me know how it turns out.

Magpie Eats

I've had such fun with this all purpose blog that I'm starting another one!

"Whatever for?", you may well ask.

Well, here's the thing. I really, really miss the food-positive, adventurous cook I used to be. I don't know if it's age, three enormously picky and unadventurous children, Graves' Disease, or just the general chaos of my life, but I've kind of lost interest in food. Meal planning and preparation has become a chore of enormous proportions for numerous reasons and I've become rather estranged from my food. I'm finding that I really want to invite that old foodie back into my home.

I've thrown recipes in here and there on Magpie Ima, which is rather indicative of the way food figures in my current life. I'm thinking I'd like to have a place to focus on food and cooking specifically while keeping this blog as the place for all the bright and shiny things that come my way. Hopefull I can keep up. Anyone interested will find Magpie Eats here.

Reviving Appetite

A new blog? Whatever for?

Well, here's the thing. I really, really miss the food-positive adventurous cook I used to be. I don't know if it's age, three enormously picky and unadventurous children, Graves' Disease, or just the general chaos of my life, but I've kind of lost interest in cooking. Shopping, meal planning, and preparation seem to have become ridiculously difficult and I feel we've hit rather a low spot around here. But lately I'm finding that I really want to invite that old foodie back into my home.

I'd always planned that I'd raise my children on lovingly prepared whole foods, exposing them to a variety of enjoyable flavors, and they would grow to enthusiastically learn at my side in the kitchen. Well, I do have a 4 year old who's happy to fling messy ingredients hither and yon, but dinner, on a good day, might rely heavily on quick-to-fix choices courtesy of Trader Joe's. Sometimes, God help us, we just throw another pot of Annie's macaroni and cheese at the kids and encourage them to consider a piece of fruit as well while we, the adults, forage for sorry leftovers in the fridge or make do with kefir and quesadillas. What a sorry state we've reached around here.

I want to return to the kitchen, so to speak. And I don't want to do it alone. On my other blog I've posted quite a few links to recipes and people seem to be downloading them. I hope they are being used as well, but I've never heard back from anyone about how the cooking went. I'm hoping this blog will attract more folks who are interested in talking food and sharing recipes. I'm looking forward to hearing from people.

What do I hope to provide here? Whatever food-related items come my way, I suppose. I'm bound to comment on meals made for me by others whether in their homes or in restaurants. Well-loved recipes, experiments, and reflections on the process of bringing food to the table should figure heavily in the mix. A caveat: I keep kosher and am primarily vegetarian, so you'll need to look elsewhere for new ways with ham and shrimp. I am fond of a number of cuisines, most especially Indian so there's likely to be some leaning toward veggie dishes from the subcontinent. Or whatever strikes my fancy. I am, after all, a magpie!

Monday, February 26, 2007

More New Knitters!

When I am excited about a new project I often take my knitting to work, hoping to polish off a few quick rows before class and during the break. Lately it's the Embossed Leaves socks which are really stretching my capabilities but will be so gorgeous when complete. There are always a few students who show interest but when I offer to teach them they usually become embarrassed and change the subject.

Imagine my surprise last week when Guadalupe and Juan, two adolescent boys from Guatemala began to show interest in learning to knit. I thought they were just joking around but they insisted they wanted to learn so we made plans to stay after class tonight. I brought some nice worsted weight wool in bright colors and some size 7 bamboo needles which I find a perfect combination for beginners: not too big or small and, more important, not too slippery. A few of the other kids hung around at first, apparently as shocked as I had been that they wanted to learn. When one girl offered the opinion that knitting was only for women I sent the gawkers on their way so we could concentrate.

I was floored by how quickly they picked it up; they were easily the quickest learners I've ever taught and their beginner stitches were even and perfect. It occurred to me that, unlike many of the American teens I've taught, these young men probably grew up around fiber artists. They're from the Guatemalan highlands after all, home of some mighty fine textiles. My very minimal understanding is that Guatemalan men have traditionally been weavers and makers of beautiful things (as well as women) so it's very likely that these boys grew up with lots of examples of creative, talented men.

I filed my taxes today and one of the things I realized is that I really ought to be keeping track of the endless pairs of needles I buy for beginning knitters as I have spent a small fortune and, while I don't mind it at all, a tax deduction is never unwelcome. I now have some muscle on my side in the donation department, however. The fabulous folks at The Naked Sheep Knit Shop in North Portland will be letting me put a plea for donations for the refugee knitting circle in the next newsletter. As more and more women join us on Wednesday mornings, we are in need of more supplies. Knitters are a wonderfully generous bunch and I have no doubt we'll be the recipients of more yarn and needles as people read about what we are doing. Teaching people to knit is one of the joys of my life, but working with people who are new to this country and in need of positive experiences and new skills is that much more satisfying.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Major Adolescent Hysteria!

And it's not the boys for once, it's me. I'm gonna be just a little wound up for the next 3 months.

I found out yesterday that Manu Chao is going to be at the Sasquatch Music Festival with his wonderful band Radio Bemba Sound System over Memorial Day weekend. He is the only musician I'd even consider traveling to see but I am so crazy for his music that I will go to Central Washington if that's what it takes.

He hadn't toured the US in years and was finally as close as Berkeley last summer but we had neither the money to fly nor the time to drive. So now we'll be going to the middle of Washington state deal with this whole crazy festival thing which it sounds absolutely ridiculous for a pair of self-respecting parents in their 40's but we are not missing Manu again. My wonderful parents and some other lucky friends will be taking the kids and The Spouse and I get to have a ridiculous, juvenile, crazy road trip weekend.

Maybe one of these days I'll act like a grownup...but not just yet!

The Talk, Round 2

What is at about kids in the front seat? I probably shouldn't do it, but I've started letting 11 yo MonkeyBoy sit in the front seat from time to time when we're driving around and, like his brother before him, that's when he gets chatty. Well, he's always chatty, but in the front seat his chat is often surprisingly serious.

Today while we were driving around we passed by one of Portland's many Fantasy Video locations and when MB asked me about it, it suddenly occurred to me that one might actually think it was a video store specializing in fantasy titles and not the adults-only kind of place it is. I guess it sounded like a pretty good idea to him but then I set him straight about my impression of what one would see there. Not that I've been. But I can imagine.

Not wanting to put a negative spin on things I made sure to sound positive about sex, how it's the greatest thing ever....with someone you love. We covered pregnancy, menstruation, birth control and more and I brought up the very real possibility that the time was coming when he wouldn't always be thinking with his brain so it was probably good to ask questions as they occur to him, assuring him I'd do my best to answer. I ended by assuring him that all I wanted was for him to find a person he'd be happy with one of these days.

Whew. I know I have to look calm and cool about it all but, honestly, I'm just ready for this.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Today is my father's 66th birthday. He was headed to the beach today so yesterday we had baked goodies from Di Prima Dolce to celebrate and I gave him a copy of Uncle Tungsten which I thought he'd enjoy.

My father is surely one of the greatest people I've ever known. He is brilliant and resourceful and can fix anything. He always has an answer and it's nearly always right. He makes dopey jokes and will drop everything and show up when people need help. He's moved me from place to place countless times and never complained (at least not that I've heard). He's a fine self-taught musician and he has a lovely garden and a thing for bees.

My dad was an enthusiastic single father back in the 70's when role models were hard to come by. He taught me so much about honesty, flexibility and generosity and he showed me that humor can work wonders. He taught me to believe I could achieve anything I wanted. He's a wonderful grandfather and I'm glad my kids have a chance to enjoy being with him.

I sometimes forget to tell him, but I love my dad more than words can say.

So....happy birthday, Daddy. May you have many, many more!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Weekend Roundup

While we did manage to work through an impressive mountain of laundry this weekend, it wasn't all drudgery. Saturday was sunny and delightfully warm, the false spring that so often graces Portland in February. I did not go into a frenzy of pruning or planting as I so often do at the first spot of sun. The yard is as unkempt as ever. We keep talking about pulling down the sunflower skeletons but, ugly as they are, I like to leave them for the birds. Just today there was a cloud of bushtits making a meal on wintered over flower heads, so my garden laziness has its upside after all.

Due to the willingness of friends to allow us to hand of all 3 children simultaneously The Spouse and I managed a nice little lunch together and an afternoon of knitting at a bright and sunny cafe. Later we took the Princess for a few turns on the carousel while her brothers slept over with a friend. She feel asleep on the way home, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to make Adults Only Stinky Cheese Pasta , a simple but intense dish that we both love. If it all sounds too good to be true, it was. The Princess ended up not going to sleep for the night but, in fact, taking a power nap. She popped up at 9 pm and was good for 3 more hours, which we spent watching a Bollywood extravaganza. I can't help myself-- I'm a fool for those goofy movies and my new Netflix membership is just making it worse!

Things fell apart, as they so often do, in the aisles of Target while buying underwear and socks for boys who are always losing one and outgrowing the other. No one enjoys these excursions, but they are occasionally necessary. Unfortunately the boys decided to make their displeasure known through all manner of screwing around which ended with someone getting hurt and everyone getting mad. We left rather ungraciously and grumbled most of the way home. The grumbling was paused, however, when I spotted a pair of bald eagles overhead which seemed rather marvelous in the middle of the city, just a few blocks from Interstate 205. I'm glad everyone was able to take note of that.

Dinner consisted of a mediocre vegetable-rich minestrone at the Dark Lord's request, accompanied by mediocre biscuits. If I'd started the soup earlier it would have been fine but it was a bit rushed and didn't have much character. But dessert was a perfect: Cherry Chocolate Bread Pudding with whipped cream.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I used to think having little ones was the hard part of being a parent. They're so needy and have no language skills or patience. But it turns out I'm still waiting for the easy part to begin. I wonder about when we need to persist, and when we need to follow our instincts about something that doesn't seem to be working.

Right now I am really beginning to question my decisions about my kids. The Dark Lord really wanted to learn to play guitar and we figured that could start immediately post bar mitzvah when he'd have a bit more time. We found a teacher who is highly recommended for both his technical skills and his teaching ability. Generous friends gave the boy a lovely guitar as a bar mitzvah gift and he was quite excited to get started. He was thrilled after the first lesson but as time has gone on he shows less and less enthusiasm for learning. I know it's hard going starting a new skill and he doesn't love to work hard. But he leaves his lessons so visibly unhappy now and has begun to show less and less interest in practicing. It may be that he's simply having to confront the difficulty of learning a new skill. Or it may be that his teacher's expectations and virtuosity are intimidating and taking any possible joy out of learning. I don't know if I should push him to stick with it or honor his feeling that it’s not a good fit.

Perhaps if this weren't coming on the heels of the charter school disaster, I'd have a bit more clarity about how to handle things. That experience was clearly not working well and MonkeyBoy's improved behavior since we took him out should be all the validation I need. But I still worry that maybe I've encouraged them to believe that when things get tough it's OK to cut and run.

I envy all those homeschooling parents who declare with confidence that we must trust that our children will learn what they need and they'll turn out just fine if we just let them be. If any of you folks are reading do you do it? Where does that confidence come from? I find myself less and less sure about the wisdom of homeschooling these beautiful kids of mine while, at the same time, I'm as unwilling as ever to throw them in to the competitive and conformist world of institutional schooling. What's a mom to do?

All I want, really, is to have a few days now and then when I feel confident that I'm doing the right thing with my kids.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Valentine's Day Post

18 years ago today my dear one asked me to marry him. There was a romantic Greek dinner, a cheap ring (which I picked out), and music I'm too embarrassed to mention, but we were young and silly and quite madly in love and I didn't miss a beat before saying "yes". The wedding was 16 months later and things really took off from there. Amazingly here we are, all these years later, with a house (a house!) full of kids and cats and books and yarn and endless proof of a full life.

In Judaism, there's a system known as gematria which assigns numerical values to the Hebrew letters. Surely the best known of these correlations is the number 18 whose value means"life". Eighteen years may not be an entire life but I guess in ancient times it would have been considered a generation, time to grow from infant to adult, from innocence to knowledge, dependence to competence. Enough time for some profound transformations.

Certainly the simple future I envisioned all those years ago turned out to be full of complexities I never imagined. I've learned that I don't actually know everything and, in fact, I have had to work through quite a few challenges in my life. Growing a family, building a career, establishing a home, developing passions, saying goodbye--all of these I've done with the support of a man who I know in my heart would do absolutely anything for me. His love has given me strength to bring babies into the world and raise them, to face my fears, to question my assumptions, to explore new ideas, and to try and do what's right even when it's hard. Quite simply, he helps me see more clearly.

For this life, and for the man who's made it with me, I am profoundly grateful.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chocolate Truffles

My traditional Valentine's gift for my sweetie is homemade chocolate truffles. I roll them in finely ground coffee, cocoa powder, toasted nuts, vanilla sugar, and shredded coconut for a variety of tastes. Each is tucked into a paper or foil cup and then boxed up. They are ridiculously easy and extremely delicious. Who can resist a box of mixed goodies, dressed up in red foil skirts?

The recipe is here. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rainy Sunday

So often it seems my family is squabbling. We're a testy bunch, that's for sure. Someone's always short on something (sleep, food, patience) with predictable results. Usually it seems like a good idea to just stay home and spare the world our craziness.

This morning the boys got to attend a drawing class with their grandfather at the 3D Center of Art and Photography while The Princess, The Spouse, and I had some time together. We'd expected the boys to be engaged for longer and had planned a day of errands but once we picked up the boys we decided that maybe just hanging out would be better. We took the art supplies and knitting and headed for Extracto, claimed a table amongst the industrious hipsters glued to their iBooks, and settled in.

I always feel like taking our family out is such an event, even when everyone's on an even keel. I never know how long the peace will last or if we'll need to bolt, flushed with embarrassment as someone loses it and I mutter useful comments like "that's the last time we ever take you out again!".

But we did OK. We were all together but engaged in our own projects. A woman came in, unpacked her gear, took a look at us drawing and knitting and remarked to me how wonderful it was to see us. And, you know? It was pretty great. The Princess' drawing skills are improving by leaps and bounds, the boys were full of new ideas, and The Spouse managed a few nice sketches. I'm well into the second of my Embossed Leaves socks and, while the lace is no longer giving me fits, it does require some concentration. I'm not sure how long we were there, doing whatever it was we were doing, but it was a nice way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Yesterday was payday and after a delicious lunch with a friend and 2 out of 3 kids, I decided to hit my favorite thrift store in an attempt to find some jeans. My body has changed so much in the last year, and continues to do so. Having a well stocked, super-cheap thrift store in walking distance means I can refresh my wardrobe as needed for next to nothing. Yesterday I think I may have hit my all time greatest thrifting score--a pair of black leather Dansko clogs, barely worn, in my size. The last pair of these I bought new was $109 (and worth every penny) but these I found for......$5! Also I found a pair of fancy new sandals for MonkeyBoy, some lovely, classic looking shirts for The Dark Lord who seems to be developing a new sense of style, a gorgeous summery paisley shirt for The Spouse in a delicious soft cotton, and a copy of The Cooking of India from the 1970's Time Life Foods of the World series in mint condition. I remember poring over these books as a child, though I'm not sure where as they weren't at my own house. Maybe at my grandparents' home. Lots of great photos, classic recipes, and a huge amount of information. I'm thrilled to add this to the collection. Oh, and I got a new pair of jeans, too.

I had a great walk today, a bit longer than usual but not particularly difficult. Inspired by the cycling goal of a friend who feels lucky just to be able to ride, I've set my own personal goal of walking 350 miles this year. She's doing it for charity, I'm just doing it for me right now. I need to either be walking more or up the length of my walks if I'm to make it--anyone want to walk with me? I feel so great after a good walk and I am grateful that I'm healthy enough to enjoy the exercise.

The Princess was invited to a Valentine's party this evening so The Spouse and I had a few hours to ourselves. We visited a new French style bakery where I had a delicious slice of onion tart, followed by a cream puff and a perfect cup of coffee. Bliss! Then, a trip to Mirador because I needed an additional jar for fermenting kombucha so I can up my production. Our evening was nothing terribly exciting, yet I put on my favorite paisley silk blouse and even a dash of lipstick just because a few hours alone with my sweetie is a gift and it felt very special. Every once in a while it occurs to me how very lucky we were to find each other.

Monday, February 05, 2007


I was so gung ho for John Edwards for his stance on poverty, his opposition to the war and especially because he claimed to support universal health care. Now that he has released details of his "universal health care plan" it looks as though it's another giveaway to the insurance companies looking not unlike the sweet deal Massachusetts insurance companies were recently given. Make insurance "more affordable" so everyone can and then must buy in. Hello? Who does that help, exactly?

Reading deeper I find that Edwards' plan requires a Medicare style option among the choices offered to consumers. Some speculate that this requirement opens the door for a single payer system as we would be able to choose the plan that best fits our needs. But the health insurance companies would never allow that to come to pass.

Health care will never be affordable or universally accessible in this country until the insurance companies are driven out of business. There's no other way. Insurance companies exist solely to make money--their interests lie not in improving lives but in lining shareholders' wallets. How we've allowed them to take over this country is beyond me. Nothing short of a single payer, government run health care system (as seen in most of the developed world) will be fair or affordable. I'd like to see a presidential candidate work towards this goal and we, as citizens, should be demanding nothing less.

I'm off my soapbox now. For the moment.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Indian Shabbat

I don't know what came over me yesterday. We had an early morning birthday celebration after which boys were delivered to a friend while The Princess was shuttled 17 miles away to her new music class after which we returned to pick up the boys and finally went home. I put nearly 50 miles on my van yesterday. Ouch. Luckily my electric company just informed me that my 2006 Blue Sky energy purchase kept enough carbon dioxide out of the air to equal at least 2 years of driving the trusty minivan so I felt somewhat better about the long drive.

Nonetheless I was pretty well wiped out by the time I got home. And yet, because I am nuts, when The Dark Lord suggested it was time for me to teach him how to make saag paneer I agreed. And then, because I am completely nuts, I went on to make a multicourse Indian style meal: saag paneer (spinach and homemade cheese), a made up dish I'm calling aloo mutter korma (peas and potatoes in a creamy coconut sauce), basmati rice, naan and tomato chutney. I actually whipped this meal out in about three hours, which I thought was pretty good since I made it all up from scratch. Happily I got a call in the middle of preparations and was able to invite a dear friend to join us for dinner. The potato and pea dish was OK--not as flavorful as I'd hoped and honestly, the naan was not so good either. Normally the kids hoover it down and we had leftovers which pretty much says it all. But slathered in sweet tomato chutney it was just fine. And the saag paneer was absolutely perfect. You'll find my recipe here. It's not a quick and easy dish but it's highly nutritious and, more importantly, absolutely delicious if I say so myself. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about the preparation. It's definitely worth the effort.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Huge Loss

Molly Ivins died last night after a long struggle with breast cancer. All of 62 years old, she still had so much more to say. There are few political writers whose works I've enjoyed so much. She will be sorely missed by progressives.

Even Shrub had something nice to say about his fellow Texan:

“I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed,” Bush said.

That was much nicer than anything she said about him.

Rest in peace, Molly.