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!