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.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Time Tough

I'm having all kinds of trouble keeping things straight these days. And yes, I have a beeping electronic calendar gadget that's supposed to keep track of every work meeting, dental appointment, Hebrew lesson, and play date and I still can't manage it all. The Dark Lord nearly missed getting his braces on last week because I'd written down a 2 pm appointment. Luckily I believed that it was 9:30 am which proved to be correct.

This morning the wonder gadget failed to wake me because it had updated itself for daylight savings time (which now begins a week later). I've found a new LMT who works not too far from my home and I did manage to get myself out the door in plenty of time to walk the 2 1/2 miles to her office. It was a gorgeous but chilly morning, the sky a clear blue and the air scented with woodsmoke. I had planned this perfectly--a long brisk walk followed by a relaxing massage. Except that arrived and the office was closed and empty. I waited around and finally gave her a call. She was expecting me today, but not until 2 pm! Oy.

I find it really frustrating when I can't keep these things straight, even with beeping gadgets. Sometimes I'll take a grocery list to the store and still manage to miss certain items despite their being quite clearly written on the list. I feel like such a fool every time I screw up.

Betsy's latest project
is looking pretty good to me. And I do still get that massage later today.......

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fine Film

I love my Netflix subscription not only because it means I never have to see the DVD covers for another Saw movie again, but also for the recommendations that are flashed at me as I rate returned movies. I've ended up watching a number of movies I hadn't heard of based on whatever formula Netflix uses and they're often pretty good.

Last night I came home tired and overstimulated from work. For most people, that would indicate an early bedtime but nothing calms me down like an hour or two of knitting while watching a movie. One of the DVDs that had been sitting around for a while was C.R.A.Z.Y. --it looked good but I hadn't jumped to watch it right away. About 30 minutes into it last night, however, I realized that I was watching a truly fine film and I wanted to share this gem with any readers who may not have seen it.

I won't pretend that I can write a decent movie review because I simply can't. C.R.A.Z.Y. covers 20 years in the life of the Beaulieu family of Quebec. The parents are wonderfully well-developed complex characters who watch their five sons grow and struggle with life. The fourth son is the focus of the movie as he struggles with his sexual identity within the context of his family. As a mother of sons who are a bit different from stereotypical boys their age, this movie really touched me and I fell apart at the ending which brought up a loss that I know well. The movie is warm and funny in parts, and very difficult in others, making it well rounded and rich. The actors are terrific, the soundtrack adds so much, and the camera work and editing are surprising and skillful.

As for watching with the kids? I've always maintained that I'd much prefer having my kids see implied happy, healthy sex on film than violence, but they find any suggestion of sex hugely embarrassing and there's enough of that in this film that I wouldn't watch it with them. Also drug use, though it's not glorified. So no, not "a family movie" but a wonderful movie about a family nonetheless. I can't imagine any parent not being moved by this one.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ritalin Sticks

Please note the lovely handknitted garments worn by The Princess: black fingerless gloves and bright yellow kerchief thing. They were made not by me, but by MonkeyBoy who is a fine if erratic knitter in his own right.

My boy struggles with attention issues and has a lot of the classic ADD characteristics. He's impulsive, has to tap his feet and fiddle with things, is easily overwhelmed, and often has a hard time staying on task. As hard as it is to be around I know it's ten times harder to live it so I am always happy to see him engaged in something that allows him to be still and relaxed. Often it's reading or drawing. And, once again, it's knitting. He'll go months at a time without picking up yarn and needles but then he remembers goes on a wild knitting streak. And he's good. We should all have such even stitches.

Knitting is good for kids. It's a time tested activity in Waldorf schools--the dolls creep me out but I love that they do lots of knitting. Even more mainstream schools are finding many benefits to teaching kids knitting. At our house, I love it when MonkeyBoy settles down to knit. Sometimes he listens to books on tape, but often he's willing to engage in thoughtful discussions. He's excited when he masters a new technique. And the generosity with which he knitted the items for his sister was absolutely lovely to behold. She is so proud to wear his knitted gifts and he's clearly thrilled at seeing her wear them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Return of the Mini Muffin

I've written before about my preference for mini muffin over their full sized counterparts. Back in August I made them with zucchini but now it's fall, there's a fire blazing and we've had lots of wind and rain. It's time for pumpkin mini muffins.
I've made these by the hundreds over the years. Kids love them and adults do, too, often to their surprise. These have fueled many a homeschool co-op morning and many a preschool play date because along with being nutritious and tasty, they're a snap to throw together, even while getting kids up and ready for the day. Thirty minutes, tops, from beginning to end. What could be easier?

You can play around with the spices if you like. Ground cardamom adds a little something exotic, perfect along a warm cup of milky chai tea. These muffins are equally good made with all purpose flour or healthier whole wheat pastry flour, and you'll hardly notice a difference.
The recipe is here. Do give them a try on a chilly fall morning. You'll find that you'll have plenty leftover from the standard can of pumpkin puree. I already have plans to make this in the next few days. And when I write about it I feel sure that I will be breaking some kind of blogged bread pudding record unless there's a blog out there that's all bread pudding all the time. Hmm....maybe I should do a Google search.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Night Out

We just went here and saw this and couldn't have asked for a better night out. First of all, the cinema is all of 10 minutes from our house and so much more pleasant than a metroplex monstrosity. They even serve real desserts! It's kind of a revelation that the boys are old enough to babysit their sister for an evening but feel so much better leaving The Dark Lord in charge knowing we're close by.

But forget the theater--the movie was wonderful. Few people know that as a kid I had a serious fascination with Tudor England. It would have been fair to call it an obsession really. It's never left and I eat up any book or movie covering the reigns of Henry VIII and his children. I loved the first Elizabeth film and this was an excellent sequel, picking up where the first left off. Beautiful cinematography, fine acting, and absolutely splendid costumes. Big screen movies are pretty rare for me, but this was one worth watching in the theater.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I wrote last month about The Dark Lord venturing into public school after having been homeschooled since kindergarten. He's running on too little sleep and too little food and he's often rather stressed out. But he does get himself up every morning, showers, and gets himself out the door. He's made friends and seems to be enjoying himself overall.

Today were the first parent-teacher conferences which I approached with some trepidation. After being my child's teacher all these years I felt like it was my work being scrutinized as much as his. It's all about me, right?

The teachers were each set up at a table in the commons area and the parents went from one table to the next in order to speak with them. It was a bit of a madhouse and I left with a lot of sympathy for the teachers and all they had to juggle (and not a little appreciation for my job which allows me to focus on one subject with one group of students for an entire term).

As for The Dark Lord's academic progress, he's doing well. Very well. He's missing an assignment or two here and there but overall he's making great progress and his teachers seem to like him. The Spouse and I kind of figured this first quarter would be all about learning to get up and out the door in the morning and keeping track of assignments. I figured we'd be ahead of the game if he made C's in his classes but right now it's looking like 7 A's and a B!

I know that grades have nothing to do with who he is or even what he knows, and I know that much of school is learning to jump through hoops. But the thing is, he's having a good time. He's making friends. He's working on group projects and is starting to look into extracurricular activities. He's not getting taunted or harassed and he's not taking drugs. My fears about high school seem to be pretty much unfounded. And good grades? Icing on the cake!

Birthday Babka

I have this friend who's all about cupcakes. She loves making cupcakes and brings them to every birthday, every bar/bar mitzvah dessert table, wherever a little something sweet is needed, you can count on her for cupcakes. She's also a knitter and when I came across a pattern for a knitted cupcake, I knew I'd found the perfect gift for her upcoming significant birthday. Some of the other women in our knitting circle also joined in and we were able to present her with a pink bakery box full of knitted cupcakes.

The connection between babka and cupcakes? Only this--I'm not a baker of cupcakes, but I knew this friend was a fan of my chocolate babka and I wanted to bring something along to share at yesterday's knitting circle. There are a number of food allergies among our members and I try to keep those in mind when I bring food, but yesterday was a birthday celebration after all so wheat and dairy sensitivities were ignored as I started baking.

Babka is a sweet, rich , almost cakey bread wrapped around some kind of delicious filling which may include dried fruit, nuts, and spices. This is the simplest babka I know, but the fragrant combination of cocoa and cinnamon flavors in the filling is always enchanting. I make the dough in my trusty old bread machine, but it isn't a challenging dough and could as easily be made by hand or with a heavy duty mixer, I'm sure.

Once the dough has risen, it's divided and rolled out, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with a cinnamon-sugar-cocoa filling. Everything gets rolled up and tucked inside. There's a second rise in the pan and then into the oven, emerging 45 minutes later looking plain as can be. Once cut, the bread slices will show attractive spirals of filling which I can't show you because I didn't bring my camera (although a photo was snapped by cameraphone---I'll share that when it arrives).

This is one of those breads that fills the house with delicious aromas and you'd be hard pressed to find something better to serve with coffee. And yet sometimes I will simply forget this recipe, for months on end and then find myself delighted to bump into this old friend again. Give it a try and see what you think. The recipe is here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Favorite

I just wanted to share this photo of MonkeyBoy. It's hard to take a bad picture of him but this is one of my all time favorites.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Defying the Rain

We've had a few glorious autumn days lately with golden sunlight and deep saturated colors:
I 'd hoped maybe we'd still be lucky today for our homeschool group's scheduled walking tour. Sadly, Portland's famous rain was dripping from a leaden sky all morning. Nonetheless we bundled up and headed out. Our tour guide was full of fascinating information which helped me to better appreciate the city in which I've spent my entire life. We touched on art, history, architecture, and more. The kids were all very good natured with only adults complaining about the rain. The time flew and eventually the sun even peeped out. Given the weather I easily could have stayed home and listened to the kids squabble today, but I'm glad we ventured out with our friends for a day of tromping about in the rain. It was eye-opening in many ways.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two Winners

I haven't been cooking anything very exciting of late. Lots of the same old standbys which are seen again and again in effort to nourish picky kids: pasta with red sauce, burrritos, scrambled eggs, potatoes and the ever-popular boxed cereal with milk. Yikes. Where did I go wrong?

Fridays have become schlepping hell for me as my kids need to be all over the city throughout the day. It's been nearly impossible to make a proper Shabbat dinner when kids need to be picked up after 4 pm. Last week, however, a friend offered to pick the boy up before joining us for dinner which actually gave me time to cook. Hooray! We had homemade challah, a green salad with pears, toasted hazelnuts, and crumbled feta cheese, a fruit salad, Elizabeth's vegetarian pastitsio and peanut butter brownies from Smitten Kitchen.

Both of the borrowed recipes were splendid. The Spouse and I actually argued over who deserved the leftover serving of pastitsio more. It was a second try on the brownies which I now know need to come out of the oven when they look slightly undercooked. And better chocolate for the ganache made all the difference. Normally I wouldn't bother frosting brownies, but it's crucial here. Just make sure you use something dark and not too sweet--Trader Joe's bittersweet pound plus made magic here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

because this is how my brain works

It started with this: a 900 yard skein of hand-dyed lace weight yarn given to me by a friend that was begging to be made into a shawl. I began poking around for pattens most of which were gorgeous but intimidating. I did find a pattern for something much simpler using heavier yarns. Intrigued (but not yet committed), I pulled out a few balls from my stash and cast on, curious to see how the patten worked. I added a few rows of one yarn here, something different there, and before I knew it I had the beginnings of a shawl on my hands. Given that I was a few days away from a dear friend's birthday and the way the colors were coming together I figured it was meant for her and I might be able to finish it in time if I "knit like the wind". And so I did--I dragged the project to work, to a faculty meeting, to our homeschool co-op, and watched a couple of movies. But I got it done! It was about 50 hours from cast on to bind off.

Monday, October 08, 2007


So I mentioned Ravelry in my last post, yeah? After countless hours with my eyes glued to the screen you might want to think twice about joining. It's like crack for knitters. Beware.

I was so overwhelmed with yarn that I had to detox with a little bit of sewing. I made an apron for a friend's birthday. She makes her own birthday cakes so surely a new apron would come in handy:
I have this old Indian skirt I've been dragging around since high school because I'm so fond of the bright colors on black and the shisa mirror border. I love this thing, but the length has never been right. I don't know what possessed me but while I was digging through fabrics I came across a perfect print to add a three inch border at the hem. So now I have this weird, one of a kind, gaudy-folky-wonderful nearly thirty year old skirt to brighten the gray days of autumn.

I'm feeling the pull to get my basement sewing/craft area in order. When we moved into this house I was thrilled that I'd have my own little corner where I could leave things in progress. After years of doing everything in short bursts on the living room floor or the dining room table, this was a real luxury. But I am spoiled. I've come to avoid this part of the house because honestly I don't much like hanging out where there's no natural light. It's a bit of a mess these days, but I'm starting to feel like I might be able to whip things into shape and enjoy making things in my own space again.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Blogger Housekeeping

I've been trying for 2 weeks to change the blog header and it's almost where I wanted it now, with many thanks to The Dark Lord who is almost as clever as he is sassy. But then I decided it was time for a total makeover, hence the new template and new colors. What I didn't expect was the sudden appearance of a button that lets me type in Hindi like so: अब्क्देफ्ग Sanjay, if you're out there, I'm sure you'll let me know if I've just typed a hideous curse that I need to delete immediately though I suspect it's just gobbledygook. Now if Blogger would let me type in Hebrew I might just manage a few words I actually know!

Speaking of Sanjay we had to say another goodbye today as he took his lovely family away to their new life in California. I'm going to miss them all terribly, as will my kids who are already talking about the spring break trip we've planned to visit them.

In an attempt to cheer myself up I spent the day working on this and looking at this. Great stuff, but not enough--a trip to the fabric store was in order. I swore off buying yarn, but I did need to get some flannel to make new winter nightgowns for The Princess. Unfortunately this store also sells yarn. My color-loving spouse spotted some lovely multicolored merino and began making noises about socks. After August's yarn bonanza, I swore I wouldn't buy any more yarn for a year but I've already broken my word. I can't be trusted. But I did it for love.
If new yarn weren't enough, my long months of waiting are over: I got my Ravelry invitation today. Oh my. I may never come up for air. Fiber-loving friends, I'm telling you: get on the list and join the party!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

One Last Holiday

Three weeks ago we celebrated the beginning of a new year. Ten days after that came Yom Kippur, the day of atonement followed a few days later by Sukkot which has seen rain every single day this week making our outdoor festival less joyous this year than usual --the weather is supposed to be dry for the next week, wouldn't you know?

Our holiday season concludes with Simchat Torah. Jews throughout the world read the from the Torah in shul on Shabbat morning and each week every congregation will read from the same section in sequence throughout the year. Simchat Torah celebrates the end of the old cycle and the beginning of the new one, so we read from the very end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis in the same evening.

We remove the Torah scrolls from their regular resting place and while music plays, everyone dances and the Torahs are passed from one person to the next so that everyone has a chance to dance with a Torah. I never fail to be moved by this, sometimes to tears. That after all these years and all that's happed, there are still Jews to dance with the Torah. No small thing, that.

Our rabbi, who has been on sabbatical since July, returned to lead tonight's service. There was a very moving moment when a young man just returned from army service in Iraq was called to say a blessing over the Torah reading. I was stunned when he signed up and, quite honestly, never expected him to return. It was lovely to be part of welcoming him back home.

After the rabbi reads the final section, the entire scroll is unrolled which is quite a sight. This is many, many yards of handwritten parchment held up by members of the congregation. The rabbi does a quick reverse tour of the year, ending up back at the beginning, Bereshit. I've been to many of these services over the years and I always love it. It's a very special service, but also relaxed, noisy, slightly chaotic and very enjoyable.

Now it's back to regularly scheduled programming until Chanukah arrives in December. I love the rhythms and cycles of Judaism--there are times for busyness and times for quiet, times for serious introspection, and times for silliness and fun. There are weekly, monthly, and yearly cycles giving us a regular rhythm and an ongoing chance to revisit our texts and reexamine our lives.

After spending so much time in the last month really focused on our holy days, one thing that's struck me is all the happy children in our community: children dancing, children in laps, children learning, children snuggled in under a parent's tallit. I am so happy that my kids are growing up in this community. MonkeyBoy will happily go to anything relating to our synagogue because he knows he'll see his best friend there. The rabbi takes the time to see how The Dark Lord is doing in school. The Princess has no end of adult admirers. On a BBC radio program yesterday I heard a man claim that raising children with religion is child abuse. There's no doubt in my mind that religion can be presented to kids in an abusive and horrible way. But a religion that encourages questions and encourages both gratitude and joy? We're blessed to have it in our lives.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The AFT just announced that they're endorsing Hillary Clinton. Apart from the fact that she creeps me out, it seems to me that so many people hate her that, should she be the Democratic nominee, the Republicans won't even have to steal the election in 2008 to win.


We went apple picking recently and came home with 37 pounds of Gravensteins from an orchard with the rather worrisome name of GM Farms. The bushel basket has been sitting in the kitchen where it's slowly being emptied by hungry kids . Before they all disappeared I wanted to make sure to make an apple pancake or two, just like my dad used to make for us. One of the things I always loved about this dish was the slightly salty crust that forms. I rarely buy salted butter, but it's what takes this dish right back to my childhood. The flavor is just like my father's version but we differ in technique. I saute the apples and cook the pancake in the same pan. He likes to preheat the pan in the oven, melting a stick of butter at the same time and sautee the apples separately on the stove. Then he puts the batter in the preheated pan and places the apples on top. I've done it both ways and haven't noticed much of a difference except my way uses less butter and saves the washing of a pan. Sorry, Daddy--I hate to be more efficient than you are!Another nice thing about this one: you probably always have the ingredients on hand so you can make up an apple pancake at a moment's notice. The recipe is here. Let me know how it goes.