Tuesday, August 28, 2007


There's a young Russian-speaking Turkish couple that has been in my class for two terms. Neither of them have strong academic skills (which explains the second term with me) but both kids are bright and very hardworking. They crack me up because despite having been married only a year or so, they act very much like an old married couple. I've enjoyed them very much. I was saddened when the young woman told me last week she wouldn't be coming to class anymore, but I also understood completely as she was days away from delivering her first child and the bus ride to school was long and hot and she had pretty much had it, poor thing.

I raced to finish the baby gift (another MDK kimono and a vine lace hat) and put on the finishing touches last night before class, but the father was absent. It turns out that he was at the hospital and their baby was born last night. All is well--mama and baby are fine. But here's the part that's bringing me to tears: they named their daughter after me.

Teeny Weeny Zucchini Muffins

Wasn't I just whining about the piddly zucchini output from my garden? It's funny how things change. A few tiny specimens have suddenly morphed into monsters. It's Attack of the Godzini around here these days. Happily the plants I chose at the grocery store are of a variety that can get large and remain fairly tasty without a bunch of tough seeds. I went out to do battle with the squash this morning and came back with enough for dozens upon dozens of tiny zucchini muffins.
Apart from babies and hedgehogs, I don't think I'm terribly susceptible to cute, so my fondness for the mini-muffin seems to make little sense. It isn't that they're petite and charming (though they are). I find it much easier to properly bake a mini-muffin than those of the standard sized variety. They cook all the way through and they seem nice and sturdy so no topless baked goods. They're a great size for picky kids who can take one bite and then turn up their noses at your lovely treats without wasting a full twelfth of the batter.
The recipe takes its inspiration from a few sources, but I think it's fair to call it my own. It's full of zucchini, of course, and also warm spices. No nuts to mess up the texture though you are welcome to toss them in your muffins if you like that sort of thing. And I should think you could make a dozen standard size muffins from the quantities given though you'll really want to watch the baking as the zucchini is very moist. Better yet, just make some mini-muffins and wallow in their spicy cuteness!


Because last week's birthday festival wasn't enough (it never is when you're 5) The Princess wanted to know about plans for her Hebrew birthday. Operating from two calendars can be confusing, but it does offer up double birthday possibilities. The Princess (and MonkeyBoy as well) were born on the full moon which is the middle of the Hebrew month. She mentioned last night that maybe she could have ice cream for her Hebrew birthday but I suggested a more exciting surprise.

So, at around 2:30am I bundled her up and joined her brothers on the front lawn where we had a perfect view of the complete lunar eclipse. The night was clear, not too chilly, and our noisier neighbors were unaware of anything spectacular occurring outside so things were relatively peaceful. It was truly magical. and, while I'm still yawning this morning, I'm so glad I pried myself out of bed to see the eclipse with my children.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Birthday Cake

We keep food coloring on hand primarily to tint homemade playdough and to make fake blood. Really, it's never used for food. But then when the just-turned-five-year-old asks for the rainbow cake for her party, what's a mom to do?

The cake recipe comes from a Lubavitch cookbook and yes, those ladies know how to feed a crowd. Their zeal for kashrut can lead to recipes with nasty fake ingredients. The results are dairy-free cakes which can be served at a meat meal. When you're already using non-dairy creamer, food coloring probably seems minor, but nonetheless it generally stays out of our food.

Today, however, I tinted three separate bowls of batter all sorts of garish colors and stirred in the zest of lemons, limes, and oranges. The cake itself was at least redeemed with real food: butter and half-and-half took the place of the suspicious nondairy ingredients. There was lemon custard filling to go between the layers and excessively sweet orange frosting. It wasn't the prettiest thing, but my brilliant husband suggested a light scattering of calendula petals which made the whole thing presentable. Three layers of sugary, multicolored cake? What could be more perfect for a fifth birthday party?

I said, with some contempt, that it tasted more like a bakery cake than homemade. Not delicious, but showy. If you simply must make it, let me know and I'll type up the recipe. Or you can just look at the pictures.

Mosaic Monday

Ummm...I'm not actually feeling this bright and cheery, but I do wish I were.

I'm a bit frazzled and worn down after having a houseful of kids for The Princess' birthday fiesta. I've been going nonstop and had a rather dramatic (and painful) reminder to slow down today. I was racing from parking lot to grocery store to pick up a couple of needed items while thinking to the week ahead: final exams, faculty meeting, grading, visiting Grandma, child care, and so on. I was so deep into next week's schedule that I suddenly found myself sprawled on the ground with total strangers surrounding me asking if I was OK. I picked myself up and discovered a dreadful throbbing in my knee which eventually allowed me to laze about at the party with ice on my leg while The Spouse took care of everything, dear man that he is. I feel silly, of course, and sore, but also freshly aware of my need to stay in the moment and be a bit more mindful as I move through my days.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Royal Birthday

It was pretty hard to swallow The Dark Lord turning 14 just last month, but today's milestone is at least as incredible--The Princess is now 5. It seems like only yesterday she was a tiny, beaming, bald-headed alien tot. I owe my learning to knit to her as it was clear this was a child who'd be needing lots and lots of hats for a very long time:
It took far longer than expected to conceive her but there was never any doubt in my mind that she would join our family and she was certainly worth the wait. Her birth (my first at home) was incredibly peaceful and lovely and I love that her brothers were able to share the experience with us.

She's always been sociable and outgoing and she continues to enjoy lots of people and experiences. She has a remarkable affinity for music and is developing a love of science. Her curiosity about the world grows daily. She's also incredibly thoughtful, compassionate and so very sure of herself, all of which are admirable qualities which I know will serve her well.
The week has been busy with daily trips to the hospital to sit with my grandmother, and I am phenomenally tired, but I didn't want the day to slip by without a moment to acknowledge how dear she is to me. Happy birthday, sweet girl!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


My grandmother, who will be 89 in October, just made it through her knee replacement with flying colors. I was quite worried about how she'd manage. I expected to find her exhausted and doped up but when I arrived at the hospital she was cheerful, chatty, and quite comfortable. With the help of a physical therapist she took 5 steps on he new knee today, which I find simply amazing. So much strength in that woman! I look forward to her being pain-free and mobile again.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rainy Day Color

It's kind of a drippy, muggy, end-of-summer day and I was feeling just a bit blue so I went looking for color in my house. What do you know? I found it! Unfortunately, my new camera started acting odd and now I'm worried it's going to have to go away for a long vacation at the camera repair spa, leaving me sad and lonely.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Around the World in 8 Hours

The day started innocently enough: I took a few photos of some recently completed knitted gifts for a new arrival. A former student of mine just had a baby girl and The Princess and I intended to drop by to see the new baby, drop off the gifts, and then let the new mother catch up on her sleep.

The baby is beautiful--under a mass of silky black hair her eyes were bright and engaged. I met the husband and two brothers as well, all very genial folks who were friendly and kind and maybe just a bit nervous at having The Teacher in their home. This young woman has a number of male relatives around as well as a younger sister but no one experienced with babies. The young men all seemed quite tickled with the baby and took turns holding her and cooing at her, but the mama seemed anxious and kept asking me questions about her daughter's desire to nurse and be held constantly which I assured her were completely normal. I find it sad that she has no support system and I know she's lonely when the apartment empties out as everyone heads off to work and school.

I held the baby and she slipped into a sweet sleep. I had planned to make our exit then so mama and baby might take a nap together but suddenly The Princess and I were told to wait on the couch--mama was making us lunch! Now the last thing I wanted was for this very tired young woman to be making me lunch only two weeks after a c-section, but she insisted. She flipped on the TV for us and despite poor reception I was able to recognize a Bollywood megastar dubbed into Arabic and beamed in from Dubai. Hindi movies are a weakness of mine but this was the first I'd seen which included both polo and hang gliding..and I have no clue what it was called.

I was served a delicious cup of Somali style coffee which was rich with spiced milk and continued to hold the sleeping babe as my offers of help were repeatedly refused. Lunch included a delicious savory rice dish, home made fries, and some kind of beef which was very hard to chew though The Princess and I gamely took our "politeness bites".

After lunch, one of the brothers, recently returned from Alaska, offered to show me an informational DVD about the fishing boat on which he worked. Happily, the film wasn't too long, but what absolutely killed me was the music that went along with the seemingly endless scenes of fish gutting and packing. I believe the first selection was classical Spanish guitar followed by a Spanish language hip hop number. Then I swear it was Zap Mama doing Gershwin and then a couple of rollicking old-timey banjo heavy numbers. I was truly amazed by the variety and context of the music but I think the wonder was lost on my Somali hosts. My viewing was repeatedly enhanced by heavily accented commentary on the fish processing business which only added to the surreal experience.

I admit to a feeling of relief when the new mama's eyes started to droop, giving us an opportunity to slip out. My head was spinning as we stepped out into the bright light and fresh air. I dropped off The Princess and picked up The Spouse to run some errands and eventually we ended up at Pho Van (because I hadn't had enough culture shock for one day) where we enjoyed some delicious Vietnamese food along with a Latina lady with her children switching back and forth between Spanish and English behind us and some jovial Russian speaking men nearby. Oh, and the music? A sort of twangy Asian surf mashup. Incredible--I felt like I'd been to 4 or 5 different countries by evening. No wonder I'm tired tonight....By the way, if anyone is interested in the knitting: a basic yarn over, garter stitch baby blanket, a vine lace baby hat, and the baby kimono from Mason Dixon Knitting which was a breeze to knit and a total pain to seam. Also I think the ties are not placed well and I'm going to position them differently for the next one. Yes, there is a next one because I have another pregnant student who'll be needing a baby gift any day now.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Summer Latkes

We visited Kruger's Farm and came home with a dozen ears of freshly picked corn. I love corn on the cob as much as anyone, but when I saw those heaped up ears of corn all I could think of was corn fritters or summer latkes.

I'm starting to think my children will eat anything if it's called a latke. We eat piles of potato latkes during Chanukah, of course, but I've tucked all kinds of things into a savory pancakes, called them latkes, and watched them disappear. So while the more common name is corn fritters, we called them summer latkes and called them good: fresh corn, scallions, and finely minced bell pepper (all right, I admit, I lied and told The Picky Ones the red bits were tomato which is acceptable whereas bell pepper is, for some reason, an abomination) all held together in a light batter and served with salsa and sour cream alongside a leafy green salad.

An impulse purchase at the farm stand made this process one hundred times easier. If you find one of these for under $5 just go ahead and buy it already and save yourself from a bloody corn-related knife disaster. I am impossibly clumsy in the kitchen and it's a wonder I still have all my fingers, so anything that decreases the likelihood of losing a digit is fine with me, especially if it actually works well which this marvelous little item does.

If you come across some freshly picked corn in the coming weeks, give these a try. The recipe is here.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Our prior home included a number of ancient fruit trees on the nearly 1/2 acre property. The apples were nasty and the pears so wormy that I cut most of the fruit away before making chutney and pear butter, but the Italian plums were always perfect. The trees looked so spindly that I was pleasantly surprised by improbably heavy yields nearly every year.

I love the meaty, flavorful Italian plums more than any other variety I've tasted, though there was a delightfully juicy honey-sweet golden plum that grew on a now-deceased tree when I was a kid, but I've never seen another of those succulent beauties as an adult and have no idea what the variety was. Italian plums are easy enough to find this time of year. They dry beautifully, of course, and they are very pretty for baking (and don't these look lovely?) but in my opinion, jam is where they shone most brightly.

I was recently lamenting the loss of those plum trees to a friend who offered up this year's crop off her trees in exchange for a few jars of the resulting jam. We picked the plums slightly under ripe so I gave them a few days to soften and develop more flavor. I made a lower sugar jam using LM pectin and was delighted at the yield: a half grocery bag of plums became 16 pints of delicious jam . Of course some goes to the plum-supplying friend, but the remainder is a treasure to tuck away for winter breakfasts. And I really need to think about planting an Italian plum here in my yard.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Another Goodbye

I was so sad to hear that Mabel's is closing down. This is the second recent yarn shop closure in Portland and I really hope it's not a trend that's going to continue. I feel a little guilty, of course, as I have resorted to the occasional online yarn purchase but I've always tried to spread my yarn dollars around equitably and Mabel's has certainly received a good chunk of those dollars over the years. Not enough of them, I guess. Given my recent windfall, I am not likely to buy yarn again for years, but it's always nice to have a place to gather with fiber loving friends and Mabel's was that place.

I have hosted something like a dozen knit nights with friends at Mabel's since their opening in 2004 and the gatherings have ranged from quiet and intimate to raucous and filled with laughter. I even held my 39th birthday party there, complete with a homemade cake. I've spent countless hours there with my children. MonkeyBoy proudly wears his Mabel's T-shirt at every opportunity and he was once interviewed there by a reporter who was thrilled to discover a knitting boy. He took the news of the impending closure quite hard, actually. And while I am not one for foofy coffee, their maple latte was delicious. Mabel's owner Cait was patient with knitting questions and generous in her donations both to the refugee knitting circle and the synagogue auction. I know Portland is blessed with an abundance of yarn shops, but Mabel's was special because along with yarn and needles, there was a place to gather and that place will be sorely missed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Consolation Prizes

I lost one of my dearest friends last week and I hear another friend will be packing up to leave soon. I don't handle changes well, especially when loss is involved, so I've been rather sulky of late.

But.....and thank goodness for the but......there are consolation prizes and I want to recognize them:

It turns out that my impulse-purchased second hand bike was rather a score and is worth a bit more than I paid. This fact is neither here nor there as have every intention of holding on to it because every time I ride the bike I love it more, but it does make me feel rather clever.

Yesterday's ride was to the Montavilla Farmers Market where I had one of the most memorable peaches of my life, an Elegant Lady grown by the Baird family of Dayton. This really was a fantastic peach, and I enjoyed it sitting with The Dark Lord, juice running down our chins. He's a teen, he simply had to act blase, but even he admitted it was delicious. The peaches were that much tastier for our having biked a few miles to buy them. We ended up taking a big bag home and making a pie.

My boys are being unusually sweet and agreeable. Dare I even say...helpful? It's quite wonderful.

Yes, I've lost a good friend, but I am re-discovering others and that's a wonderful thing.

A long lost member of our knitting circle is closing down her yarn store and giving everything away. Everything. I did my part in helping her liquidate and I have yarn for years and years of projects. I have long dreamed of making my first sweater for myself out of this in plum and I am now the owner of 18 balls!

We headed to the beach over the weekend expecting the usual cool weather and overcast skies typical of the Oregon Coast. Instead, we had brilliant sunshine, warm breezes, and hundreds upon hundreds of pelicans. It was a perfect day of kites and sandcastles, shells and tidepools. No one argued and no one snarked until dinner (which really was truly snarkworthy--why bother starting up a restaurant of you're just going to serve nasty food but I digress...) . We'd planned a beach trip the weekend before but it was rather abruptly canceled due to fraternal squabbling so this peaceful, sunny day was a rare pleasure.

I tell you, when you're flying a kite, everything looks good!


There are few things I love as much as fresh zucchini. Isn't it odd, then, that I should be the only person in the known world who isn't completely inundated with squash this time of year. I've heard all the jokes about keeping one's doors locked lest someone sneak in zucchini--and I want to be the victim of such a crime. I'm good at growing the plants--they are always lush and gorgeous and covered with blooms which, sadly, produce very little.

I've been hoping for a bumper crop as I read other blogs so that I might try making these or this or even this. But what I'd really been waiting for was to make another zucchini-feta tart.

I have a subscription to Saveur magazine and I admit to feeling rather sheepish about it given the number of ads for luxury vehicles and fancy vacations that fill the pages. But once you move past all the eye candy for the well off, the articles are engaging and informative and I have a found a number of recipes which have become standards in my kitchen. Last May, the cover featured a photo of a zucchini-feta tart which looked absolutely heavenly.

I love anything with feta, especially the Pastures of Eden feta which is shipped (I know, I know, using lots of fossil fuels) from Israel to my local Trader Joe's where I snap it up in alarming quantities. But really, it's the best. And then there's the tart's base--who doesn't love puff pastry? And Trader Joe's now carries an all butter, non-hydrogenated variety which I had waiting in my freezer for just such a dish.

The combination of the slightly sweet, light-as-a-feather pastry with the creamy cheese and bright zucchini is brilliant. This is a bit of a fiddly dish what with salting some of the zucchini and blanching the rest, and the pastry does require a bit of pre-baking. But every step is worth it, I promise you. The finished tart is good warm, cool, or cold and is quite pretty as well so it would make a lovely addition to a party table.

The recipe is here. I ended up having too few zucchini in my garden to make this all from homegrown but it was delicious nonetheless.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


My students were later than usual returning from break tonight. One of the other teachers said they were all outside. I came out into a perfect summer evening to find all my students staring up at the sky as a plane slowly wrote out the words "cool moon ice cream". They were all so taken with it and I decided to give them all the time they needed as they were clearly fascinated. After all, they were reading in English!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007


An antidote to the sadness: I bought myself a sweet little bike yesterday.

I was an avid bike rider as a kid. I regularly rode my bike to high school and my bike was my only form of transportation in college. I was quite the road hazard in those days, pedaling off to class with a both a cup of coffee and a cigarette to manage.

I always loved that feeling of racing along but somehow I lost touch with my inner cyclist over the years. I was never willing to drag kids along in a trailer but now there are those tag along bikes and I think The Princess might be about ready for such a thing. I realized the other day that I could make about 90% of my commute to work without riding in traffic and that got me thinking that it really was time to get myself back on a bike. I've always felt guilty driving alone to work and I do think the time is coming when we'll all be forced out of our cars so I'd prefer to be prepared.

I was advised against buying used from strangers but I just couldn't help myself. Of course I should have brought Beth along to check it out before I handed over the cash, but she was a little busy this weekend and I am terribly impetuous. She is going to chew me out but surely she'll understand love at first sight. The bike is not new, but it seems to be in exceptional condition and everything works as it should. More importantly, the frame size feels just perfect.

I took an inaugural spin this morning to my favorite cafe. The trip was about 4 miles during which I was mostly on a dedicated bike path. I spent only a few minutes riding in traffic and it all felt quite safe and manageable. After a good visit with a friend, a bagel, some coffee and, yes, knitting, I was off again to buy a well fitting helmet and a proper lock. At that point I was tired and my legs were shaky so I wimped out and called The Spouse for a ride home, but I still managed over 6 miles on my first jaunt out on a bike in years. And, surprisingly, nothing hurts which I take as a very good sign. Clearly this sweet little bike and I were meant for each other.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Melancholy Brunch

We had to say goodbye this morning to some of the best friends our family has ever had. They've spent the week packing and loading and chasing down a million tiny details before driving across the country and I figured the least I could do was send them off with a good meal.
We had a cheesy, eggy, protein-rich strata--the simplest thing in the world to make and completely unfussy, which is nice on a hectic morning with other dishes to attend to. Our fruit salad included both cherries and raspberries from Laura's recently emptied freezer.

But really these were just supporting players. What this was all about was doughnuts, an essential ingredient in a successful move as far as I'm concerned. In the past I was happy enough to run out for doughnuts and we even have some of Portland's best only a few minutes away. But now that I am the proud owner of a deep fryer, I can have fresh, piping hot, cinnamon sugar rolled doughnuts whenever I feel like it. OK, not really. If I made them whenever I wanted I'd be enormous. The fryer was bought to enhance our Chanukah celebrations and has dutifully been packed up since last winter. But I figured this was a special enough occasion to haul it out again. Because really there's nothing better than a hot cup of coffee and a freshly made doughnut, even when you're kind of sad.I sent my friends off with full bellies, a thermos of hot coffee, and goodies for the long trip ahead. Every doughnut was eaten, leaving me nothing to munch on this melancholy day. Should you decide that a batch of doughnuts is just the thing you need to get you through, you'll find my recipe here.


Our family has been in a funk today. We knew it was coming but even so, watching our very dear friends drive off with a car full of kids, cats, frogs, and fish while towing a trailer full of plants was hard. Our families have been close for years and we've shared so much. I can't even think of how many times they've joined us around our table and I had a hard time believing that today's brunch was our last meal together for the foreseeable future. Of course we wish them luck in their new adventures, but it's going to be a while before we stop stumbling into the hole they've left here.