Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Normally the secular new year kind of passes me by. Deep winter doesn't give me the sense of rebirth and possibility that I feel during the Jewish new year which falls just as everything moves into autumnal glory. Just as I stay well outside the Christmas frenzy, I also tend to avoid resolutions and new beginnings as January rolls around as they're not part of my personal rhythm.

So it's odd that I'm finding myself anticipating that rollover to a new calendar year this time around. I don't know if my recent dental work could be affecting me already but I am feeling stronger, healthier, and less fuzzy headed than I have in months. Recently when looking around at everything I should be doing, I've been likely to shut down, overwhelmed, and begin to long for a nap. I'm no paragon of energy at the moment, but it does seem within the realm of possibility that I might be able to regain control of some things that have gotten away from me. I suppose that's not much, especially for the overachievers out there, but it's enough to fill me with cautious optimism.

Enough of that New Year's silliness--how about some photos? I love going back over the year in photos and being reminded of everything from spring flowers to family outings.

I wish all my readers only good things in 2009. May it be a year of health and happiness and growth.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Zoolights

It was cold and wet and nearly all the animals were sleeping or hiding from the crowds but the lights were lovely and the visiting cousins made it even more fun. We followed the outing with dinner and freshly made doughnuts to celebrate the final night of Chanukah.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Little Miracle

After 6 snowy, icy housebound days I am delighted to report that we left the house today! We've had weeks of frigid temperatures but it's beginning to warm up and our record breaking snowfall is melting. Much as I love snow I'm not sad to see it go, at least for now. It can come back once school starts up again.

My intrepid husband drove us through slippery snow covered side streets (and fully plowed main roads) so we could spend the evening celebrating Chanukah with good friends. We made latkes and had a chocolate chip cookie taste off and then listened to music of both the holiday and non-holiday variety. I particularly enjoyed listening to this album. While I've always despised "the dreidel song" for its annoying stick-in-your-head qualities, this version was loads of fun, especially accompanied by video. Enjoy!


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snowstorm Soup

I know, I know--not very pretty, is it? But it's tasty so read on......


We've been pretty much housebound for four days now. We were able to send the boys through the snow to the local beer and cigarette emporium we fondly call The Crappy Mart for milk and eggs of questionable quality but otherwise it's all about the pantry.

In honor of our epic arctic blast (the most snow in 40 years!) I'm calling last night's dinner Snowstorm Soup. It's a tomato-based lentil and pasta soup with a sample of all the vegetables in the house. When cooked together long enough my picky kids hardly realize they've consumed bok choi and sweet potatoes. They key was having some of last summer's basil pesto tucked away in the freezer. Hearty and warming, this is just the thing for a chilly, snowbound evening meal. Try serving it with a crusty no knead baguette and I don't think you could ask for more.

The recipe can be found here. I hope it warms you on a frozen night some day soon.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Bread Pudding

At the risk of overdoing it, I'm going to share yet another delicious bread pudding with you all. I wish I could talk about my Chanukah donuts but they were so weird that for the first time in recorded history, we had some left over this morning and that was with three teenage boys in the house last night. I don't know what happened but I'm blaming it on the yeast and moving on.

This morning, as I watched the sky dump white stuff for the third day in a row and looked through our remaining provisions I came across last Friday's challah, some heavy cream nearing its due date, and a few bananas. Just like that, a new bread pudding was born and, my friends, this was a winner.

I started with bananas briefly sauteed in butter, sweetened with dark brown sugar and finished with dark rum. I tipped these into a dish of cubed challah and topped with a custard of eggs, heavy cream, and vanilla. Another sprinkle of brown sugar produced a sweet, crunchy topping and my goodness, this was delicious! It was just the thing to have come out of the oven when my intrepid husband returned home after his two hour long attempt at getting to work. He never made it, but got to have bread pudding and a cozy nap instead so I think it all worked out for the best, don't you?
You'll find my recipe here and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Icy

This is what it looks like around here:

There's not a lot going on and, apart from the frozen icy branches scraping on the windows, it's pretty quiet. The weather people are now saying that maybe we won't pull out of this as quickly as originally forecast. It's not so bad, though.

Chanukah begins tonight and we are well supplied with provisions for latkes and doughnuts. We're well supplied with candles for our many chanukiyot , dreidels, and gelt. I even have a few gifts tucked away and ready to go. As far as I'm concerned, we could spend the entire holiday like this, in front of the fire though I am looking forward to seeing friends later in the week after things warm up.

Here's wishing everyone a holiday filled with light and joy and maybe even a miracle or two.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cat Rescue 911

With a couple of notable exceptions, this has been rather a dull week as we spent most of our time worrying about the next storm and pretty much staying put. That's really the only reason I'm sharing the following with you. That and the fact that The Cat Came Back received a surprising number of comments. I guess my readers like a good Chet story.

I'd been feeling rather sheepish this week after I wrote that. Chet woke up from his cozy nap that evening and began whining to get outside. He's got some Siamese in him so his whine is particularly awful and we tend to obey just to make it stop. Off he went, and I didn't see him again that night. Or the next day. By Wednesday morning I was worried and did a tour of the neighborhood in the snow and wind. I talked to a number of neighbors, all of whom knew and loved him. But no one had actually seen him. I was trying not to worry and hoping he was keeping warm.

Today when I ran out to the grocery store, I noticed him out of the corner of my eye. I walked over and found him frantically howling from the window above the garage in a vacant house down the street. I'm not sure how he got up there but he was about 12 feet off the ground inside a locked, empty house and clearly did not want to jump.

I called the boys and they responded with astonishing speed. Normally when I ask for help, a few weeks pass before they show up but I mentioned Chet and they appeared almost instantly, ready to help. It was like Kitty 911 and they were ready to save some lives!

We hauled the ladder down the street. Chet wasn't any more enthusiastic about the ladder than he was about jumping so The Dark Lord, being far taller than I am, lurched around on the top of the ladder and finally dragged him down.
He's back in now and with a new Massive Giant Killer Snow/Ice Storm on the way (our meteorologists are having quite the time) Chet will be staying in for a while because I am not getting involved in kitty rescue in an ice storm.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Heavenly

Today didn't exactly work out as planned but worked out wonderfully nonetheless. A friend and I had made plans to drive to Tacoma for a leisurely day here. As decadent as it sounds, my doctor is actually recommending that I visit the sauna frequently over the next few weeks to aid my body's attempts to eliminate traces of mercury from my body but the thought of a day trip with a good friend sounded heavenly.

This has been crazy weather week so it was wait and watch until this morning when snow began falling copiously and we regretfully called of our excursion. But luckily I had Plan B which involved a visit to a sauna in town, a much simpler affair but without much in the way of driving hazards.

I'd been meaning to visit Loyly for ages and now I wish I'd gone sooner. I'll definitely be back, and often because it was like a 2 hour vacation. This place is heavenly, offering a dry sauna, a steam room, and a lovely, simple lounge area for cooling down in between. If you are lucky enough to live in Portland I'd advise you to drop in for a visit ASAP. The rates are quite reasonable and the expereince is remarkable. I don't know that I've ever felt so clean and well rested.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Winner

After a very scientific drawing, the winner of the Magpie Ima Biennial Crafty Giveaway is Mimi who will be the recipient of a lovely handmade gift. Mimi, please send your address privately so I can ship your little something and thanks to everyone for your comments, each and every time. I always appreciate you taking the time to respond to all my crazy posts.

I plan on making that little giveaway something tomorrow when we're scheduled to be snowed in. I love that 1/2" of snow is enough to call a snow day here in Portland. It's OK. I need the time to recover from today's 3 hour and 45 minute dental ordeal. After saving up $2000 over the last year, I finally took the plunge and had all of my old amalgam fillings removed and replaced with a safer alternative. Since I'd already lost three fillings in the last couple of years, I think it's safe to assume that they were all starting to break down and would eventually need to be replaced anyway if I hope to keep my teeth.

But what really drove me to take this big, terrifying, expensive step was simply this: my doctor believes that the trigger for my Grave's Disease may well be toxic mercury exposure as the amalgam fillings placed in my teenage years begin to break down. Numerous studies indicate mercury's negative impact on thyroid function, especially in relation to autoimmune disease. The arguments for ridding my body of mercury were very persuasive even though I knew it would be huge for me.

I'm trying not to get my hopes up. At the very least, I've proactively dealt with the inevitable deterioration of decades old fillings and replaced them with a far safer alternative material. And...hello? I sat there for nearly four hours while eleven fillings were replaced. That's something right there given my dental phobias-- a huge step, really.

But wouldn't it be something if clearing my body of toxins actually stopped this stupid disease in its tracks? I would so love to have my body return to normal and my old energy back.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Cat Came Back

As anyone in the Portland area knows it is cold right now. The streets are icy, school and piano lessons were canceled today, and anyone who could stayed put since we Portlanders are simply unaccustomed to a normal winter as other people understand it.

I've been worrying about some of my plants. I know my little daphne isn't terribly hardy so it's got an upended landry basket as a shelter. Our fig protection blew apart in the wind so I'm hoping they'll tough it out. And I really hope my blueberry bushes, finally productive, won't be harmed.

But what I worried most about was Chet. Formally known as Chester, the big orange male tabby who showed up here a few years ago and declared it home has refused to come in the house for months. He wandered out about the time Miss Chutki showed up. Once the balance shifted to 3 female cats I think he decided not to stick around as the lone male cat.

He's mostly been hanging around the apartments across the street along with a bunch of scruffy looking unkempt toms. I'd call him and he'd either ignore me or run away which made me terribly sad since I'm quite fond of the big dope. He's big and strong and loud and makes his feelings known. There's no way to have him in the house if he doesn't want to be here.

Since the Big Chill started I've seen Chet hanging around our patio. I put out food and made up a nice nest for him which haven't been touched. This afternoon I found him huddling by the basement window and, despite his protests, dragged him in the house. He headed straight for the food, wandered around nervously, and then settled down in his old place on the rocking chair. I kept my distance all afternoon but finally went over to give him a little love. He growled a bit and then, I guess realizing who I was, started licking my hand, rubbing his face on me and, yes, purring the mighty purr I hadn't heard in months. I'm so happy to have him back.

I think he looks happy to be here as well.

Rice Pudding for a Chilly Day

I'm not a very enthusiastic meat eater mostly because I don't much like the smell of cooking flesh or the way most meat feels in my mouth and this meat has never really been part of my cooking repertoire. As we transitioned to a kosher kitchen, meat meals came to mean more fuss and trickier meal planning. The laws of kashrut forbid mixing meat and dairy and thus we have two sets of dishes, utensils, and cookware. And meat meals tend to be followed by not so spectacular desserts given that there can be no butter, cream, or other dairy products.

I could never eat meat again and be just fine but when my growing children request it, I try to respect their wishes, which is how I ended up with a 5 lb organic free range (but not kosher) chicken in my cart on Friday. The same chicken spent a couple of hours roasting to perfection after being rubbed with fresh rosemary, olive oil, and tangerine juice and was declared delicious by everyone except me. This time around, oh irony of ironies, I was the picky one! We followed the meal with my non-dairy dessert standby: apple charlotte.

The leftover chicken became part of a stir-fry the next night but when the dessert request came I was stumped. But only briefly. I thought a coconut milk rice pudding with Indian spices might be just the thing and set about coming up with a recipe by combining elements from Claudia Roden and this recipe from the web. Coconut milk makes a fine alternative to milk without all the weird additives in most milk substitutes. This dish takes a bit of patience since it calls for cooking the rice in the milk rather than working with leftover rice as in many rice pudding recipes. But the result is lovely: thick and creamy and slightly exotic and perfect with a steaming mug of masala chai on a chilly night. You'll find the recipe here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter is Here!

The long-predicted Great Winter Storm finally arrived and we awoke to maybe an inch of snow on the ground. Not enough to make even a puny little snowman, much to the dismay of my disappointed daughter. But it is cold.

We went round and round about whether or not to go out. I'd been looking forward to the Crafty Wonderland Super Colossal Holiday Sale for weeks and was not about to let a little chill slow me down so we suited up--most of us, anyway. The Dark Lord declared us nuts and settled down with a good book while the rest of us trudged off through the snowy streets to the nearby light rail station.



It was a good day to not be driving and we hopped off at our destination in no time. Crafty Wonderland is a monthly gathering of artisans that relocated to the huge and impersonal convention center for their big December sale. There is so much to see, so much beauty, and so much inspiration for anyone who likes to make things. Luckily they set up a hands-on craft table for those who can't wait to get home

I found myself wishing for a much heftier income than our perfectly comfortable family has. So many lovely, lovely things. We picked up a couple of small treats but I was mostly there to feast my eyes and fill my head with ideas as I love nothing more than to see what other people are making.
Our perfectly timed trip into the city was balanced by a less than ideal trip home which involved malfunctioning trains and a great deal of waiting, most of which was, mercifully, not outdoors. Given that we were packed like sardines into train cars that mostly didn't move for nearly 2 hours, I felt people showed remarkably good humor. The local news even popped in at one point to film our remarkable good humor. I called home ahead of time and had The Dark Lord heat up the very tasty cider which I am now drinking (with a slug of dark rum for good measure) and as the wind howls and blows the powdery snow around outside I must say it is indeed good to be home.

I'm so enjoying your comments on yesterday's post. Keep it up! The great Magpie Ima biennial birthday drawing will take place tomorrow night so make sure to leave a comment for your chance to win some genuine handmade crafty goodness.
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Milestone

It's hard to believe but today is the second anniversary here at Magpie Ima. Two years of crafty goodness, random observations, cranky rants and more. I've learned a lot since I started here. I'd like to think my writing has improved and I know my photographs have. Better yet, my observation skills have improved as I try to put my life down in words and pictures to share with all of you. And I love the connections that have been made here. This blog had brought me new friends from around the world and strengthened real-life friendships as well. I really enjoy looking for things to share, tweaking my posts to get them just so and what I really love love love are your thoughtful and witty comments, each of which makes me feel like a rock star.

So, in honor of this auspicious occasion, I'm doing a birthday giveaway. The lucky winner will receive a genuine handcrafted gift which shall remain a mystery until it arrives. Here's all you have to do to enter this thrilling contest: leave a comment letting me know which of the more than 300 posts I've published is your favorite and why. I'll randomly draw a name from the comments and inform the lucky winner on December 15th.

Thanks to all of you who make my day when you come to visit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Silver Lining

The upside of being sick all week is that I had countless hours to work on the ripple blanket which is now big enough to keep me and my fluffy assistant warm as I work on it. It's grown quite a bit over the last few days and it might even be done--I haven't decided yet. It's a decidedly non-symmetrical thing--I'm hoping a good blocking will curb its trapezoidal tendencies but really, who will care when snuggled beneath its wooly, colorful waves? It's been a very enjoyable project but I think it created more odd balls of yarn than it used. Which means, of course, that another ripple afghan can't be far off.

They're predicting A Great Big Winter Storm here in Portland over the next few days and the kid in me is thrilled. Here's hoping all my local readers stay cozy and warm, kind of like these two:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This is not looking good.

Apart from a little election night giddiness during which I pretty much decided to suspend disbelief, I've always expressed some hesitation in wholeheartedly supporting Obama here on this blog. I've watched as he's made his cabinet picks many of whom are recycled Clintonistas if not actual Clintons. Change? I don't think so.

Some of the possible appointees being considered are baffling to me. My friend Liz has written about the proposed nominees for Secretary of Agriculture here and does a great job of explaining why the position is so important and how to speak up in support of people who could have a huge, positive impact on national food policy.

Today I read that Obama is considering Joel Klein as Secretary of Education. Klein's background is in law, not education. He's been neither a teacher nor an administrator.

As Greg Palast points out in his excellent post on this topic,
Klein is as qualified to run the Department of Education as Dick Cheney is to dance in Swan Lake.
He was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomboerg to run the NYC schools in the hopes that Kelin could rung the schools like a business. Half the kids in NYC have failed to graduate high school under his watch, test scores have flatlined (or worse since he's been accused of monkeying around with the numbers) , and he's wasted millions of dollars on consultants with no real positive outcome. Basically Klein has been a disaster for the New York City schools.

Didn't we vote for change? Why in the world is Obama considering for Secretary of Education a man who pretty much embodies everything that is wrong with Bush's education policies? All I can figure is he doesn't want to look like he's beholden to the teachers unions. Except, damn it, he is. Every teacher I know worked to get Obama elected because we wanted a change from the drudgery and failure that came with NCLB.

I am so angry about this as teacher, as a parent of a school aged child, and as a taxpayer. I am desperately hoping Obama will live up to his promise and appoint someone with a real record of success and a broad knowledge of education to this post and start to undo the damage the the Bush administration has done to our children. Jonathan Kozol, recipient of the 1988 Award.Image via Wikipedia

My suggestion? How about someone like Jonathan Kozol, a widely respected educator with decades of experience, in-depth knowledge, and a genuine heartfelt passion for teaching? That's the kind of change I want to see.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Top 10

I feel so much better now. I still have the drippy nose, manly voice, and splitting headache but I just got one of these from Elisheva over at Ragamuffin Studies who is both an excellent writer and, bless her heart, one of my most consistent commenters. Also we started blogging almost exactly at the same time which I think is pretty cool although I'm fully aware that my writing has yet to reach the quality of hers. But who's comparing?

Apparently there are rules and the rules say I am supposed to link to 10 of my favorite blogs. Only ten? I currently have nearly 150 subscriptions in Google Reader so 10 seems rather sparse. I will attempt to give you my short list but don't feel bad if you don't see your blog listed here because picking a favorite blog is kind of like picking a favorite color--pretty much impossible as far as I'm concerned and it kind of depends on the day and my mood.

So for today, and my current mood:

Even with a limit of 10 there's a pretty wide range here from bikes to Bollywood, from food to food policy, and of course lots of making things. I hope you find a new favorite here.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sniffle. Drip. Repeat.

The only good news about this evil head cold is that I should be over it by the time my 3 week break starts on Friday. This is a bad one. Even my dreaded tonic has failed to stop it. I did virtually nothing nothing all day other than discover that I can now watch movies instantly on Netflix thanks to our upgraded DSL. Isn't technology wonderful? If only it could cure the common cold...

Friday, December 05, 2008

A Very Long Novel

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here but in and around the knitting and the sewing and the cooking and the parenting I have been reading A Suitable Boy, a novel I’ve tried to read numerous times over the years.

The first attempts involved library copies but at nearly 1500 pages, I simply ran out of time before the due date. Also—nearly 1500 pages—kind of large. While pregnant with The Princess, my belly made a good giant-hardback-novel-holder but after her arrival I decided to try again with a purchased paperback. Also not so easy to hold. And as a sleep deprived, constantly nursing mother, I had a hard time paying attention to the numerous characters, main plot lines, lesser plot lines, and hundreds of minor characters. Did I mention that this is a long book?

After a couple of years of watching Bollywood movies, I thought I might give it another try. Complex 3 hour sagas are not bad training for a book like this. I started reading again in August have been reading (albeit with numerous side reads) ever since. It turns out that it’s a wonderful book. Complex, yes, but beautifully written, skillfully paced, and almost never dull. I confess to skimming a couple of the courtroom scenes but otherwise I really enjoyed the book and loved immersing myself in the story for hours at a time.

Even so, I am delighted to report that my 4+month reading marathon is over. No more sore wrists. No more backtracking to figure out what was going on when I nodded off the night before. No more smartass comments from the man who sleeps in my bed. No more feeling guilty about my little trysts with other authors. I have finished what appears to be either the longest novel ever written in English or the longest novel in the English language published in a single volume depending on who you believe. I expected heavenly choirs and flashes of golden light. No such luck, unfortunately. Still it seems like some kind of celebration is in order. Ideas?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Beware!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pure Luxury

A person who is very dear to me cannot wear wool. For a knitter that's something of a tragedy but there are sheep-free fiber options out there. My favorite by far is silk, especially a loosely spun yarn that's squishy and soft and utterly delightful. I've never knitted anything for myself from this lovely yarn as it's super-expensive but I feel like it's a completely justifiable luxury for people I love.
Using a simple but pretty rib pattern I found in Barbara Walker's Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns I designed what I think is a lovely scarf. The silk is such a delight to knit with and the project is flying along.
I'm hoping its recipient will love it but, if not, it makes a nice resting place for the formerly wanton Miss Chutki, the feline teen mother we took in last summer. She takes a lot of daytime naps since she spends most nights crashing around, chirping at her toys and making a surprising amount of racket. It's a lucky cat who gets to rest her pretty little head on pure silk!
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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai

The AP photo is by Ajit Solanki with the caption Indian Muslims release pigeons during a protest against terrorist attacks in Mumbai, as a placard reads " Kill terror not terrorist " in Ahmadabad, India, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008.

I've spent much of the last few days glued to the computer reading news of the ghastly attacks in Mumbai along with much of the rest of the world. This event has had a hold on me second only, I suppose, to 9/11. I kept wondering why.

Yes, terrorist attacks are horrifying, but I can tune out horrifying news pretty well. In this age of non-stop news, I have to or I think I'd go mad. But this time I just kept reading and watching and, frankly, obsessing. It isn't that I have friends there. Nor have I ever been to Mumbai, much as I would love to.

But here's the thing. Not only do I love my Bollywood movies (many of which take place in wildly idealized versions of Mumbai), I have read more novels than I can count which take place there. I've read about so many of the places mentioned in the news: the Chatrapathi Shivaji Railway Terminus (known by its older name Victoria Terminus in my novels) where dozens were gunned down, Chowpatty Beach where one terrorist was captured and another one killed by police, and Cafe Leopold where the nightmare started. I realize that my armchair travels fail to make me any kind of expert, but they have made a connection and seeing those places I've imagined many times flashed across the news in the most awful way possible just makes my heart break.

I haven't even allowed myself to think much about the killings at Mubai's Chabad House. Even though it's had a Jewish population for centuries, India has historically been one of the few places in the world pretty much free of antisemitism. But now we know that there's yet another place where it's dangerous to be a Jew.

Such appalling news and yet I if someone handed me plane ticket, I'd visit Mumbai in a heartbeat to see for myself all the places I've read and even dreamed about. Because how can we respond to senseless death but to keep on living?

In his November 28 New York Times op-ed piece, Suketu Mehta urges us to do exactly that, to fight the terrorists by visiting Mumbai but, sadly, this isn't in my immediate future. However, if you're interested in a bit of armchair travel to Bombay (for they all use the old name) take a look at some of these:

Such a Long Journey, Family Matters, and (possibly my favorite novel of all time) A Fine Balance, all by Rohinton Mistry.

The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

The Last Song of Dusk
by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bagels


While working on my contributions to Thanksgiving dinner yesterday I got a mad hankering for bagels. Nice, chewy, highly imperfect but always satisfying homemade bagels.

I first made bagels eons ago while in college. Our chilly little apartment grew warm and steamy as we boiled then baked our first attempts. They were ugly: dimpled and deflated and a little bit clammy to the touch. But the taste was great and they had a wonderful chewiness to them.

Once I was given my bread machine I decided that it was perfect for bagels. The dough is much stiffer than for regular loaf bread and very heard to work by hand so I was happy to let the machine do the work for me. The resulting bagels were a bit nicer to look at. There was still the dimpling problem but they did rise better. And they tasted great.

I'd been wanting to try the no-knead bagels in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I got the book back in June and quickly became hooked on the dough for baguettes and pizza. I confess I haven't done much else but the standard baguette recipe alone was worth the price of the book.

The bagel recipe, as it turns out, is almost exactly the same dough as for the pizzas and baguettes I've made. It is much softer than other bagel doughs I've worked with but it has the same relaxed timetable as other doughs in the book. I mixed it up last night, let it sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, and then put in the refrigerator overnight. This morning I got up, put a big pot of water on to boil, preheated the oven and began shaping bagels. Because the dough is so soft, it's a bit tricky to handle, especially given the need to boil before baking. The bagels were quite floppy after boiling and getting them onto the baking stone in the oven was no picnic, but in the end they were fine.

Having the dough ready to go shaved a good 90 minutes off the process which was a big help in terms of eating before noon. They still came out dimpled and funny looking but with a good dusting of poppy or sesame seeds, who's to know? They were devoured before they even reached room temperature so I think the flavor made a stronger impression than looks.

I'm posting the recipe here, but I really do encourage you to get your hands on the book as it is a wealth of information on this easy, low stress form of bread baking.

Happy Freakin' Holidays

Nothing like a little manslaughter and gunslinging to ring in the Season of Joy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful

OK, readers. Here's the post meant to at least partially mitigate the kvetching that so often appears here.

Because it's the night before Thanksgiving and I've just explained the origin of the holiday to my students (who are now busy taking a test lest anyone fear they're being neglected). It's a hard concept to explain to these hardworking kids who are stressed out and far from home and family.

So I find myself incredibly grateful for my own family. We've never had to send anyone away to earn money and we've never had to communicate with one another by long distance. I have parents, in-laws, and a grandmother who love me and are always there for me. A blessing, indeed.

There's horrible news tonight and my heart is heavy when I think of Mumbai. So for the gift of peace, I am grateful. If only the security and calm we enjoy could be worldwide.

Work has been stressful this year for a variety of reasons. Declining enrollment is disheartening, and recent changes have been uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. I don't always see eye-to-eye with everyone I work with, but when I walk in to my classroom I feel like the luckiest woman in the world because I am paid well to do work that I absolutely love. How many of us can say that?

A year ago Thanksgiving fell just after my hospital stay. I was only just starting, quite literally, to catch my breath and the simple meal we shared that night was all I could manage. A year later I am stronger and healthier than I've been in a long time. And I am so much better at listening to my body and slowing down when necessary. It's not an easy thing to come to terms with a chronic illness without feeling like a sick person, but I think I am getting better at it, little by little.

My friends have given me so much support and advice and love that I need never feel I'm in this alone. I can always find an answer, a recipe, and a place to leave my kids. What a treasure they are.

And last but certainly not least, how many of us get to go through life with the one we love best at our side year after year? I may get cranky and irritated but I do know that I am married to a man who is uniquely blessed with patience, kindness, and humor among other positive traits too numerous to mention. For these and other blessings I could not be more thankful.

To those of you celebrating the holiday (and even those who aren't) I wish you a day of warmth and peace and an opportunity to stop and breathe and love.

Amazing Potatoes

I think I've mentioned here my undying love for potatoes. I can eat them baked, boiled, fried, roasted, and mashed and never ever get tired of them so it's a wonder I ever come up with anything new in the potato department. Why bother when there are already so many fine ways to cook a spud?

The other night I came home from work to a small pile of baked potatoes awaiting me. Normally I would have been happy to eat them just like that. I love to make hash browns with leftover baked potatoes, too. But I was craving something complex and spicy and thus a new dish was born. Actually, it's probably not a new dish at all. I imagine there are variations of this all over India and they're probably even tastier. Nonetheless I'll call this my own creation since I was improvising away with nary an Indian cookbook in sight.

And I have to say--I struck gold! This is one of those dishes that has everything I need: heat, color, and a savory blend of spices that's hard to resist. But it's not a long simmered curry with multiple steps and stages. If you have baked potatoes on hand you can have this on your plate in under half an hour. And oh how happy you'll be.Two slightly odd ingredients which I hope won't put you off. First: tamarind concentrate. I have something called Tamicon which isn't hard to find in Asian groceries. It's thick like molasses but with a serious tang to it. If you can't find any near you, I imagine a good squeeze of lemon would give you the sour you need for this dish. Or you could just quickly order a jar from Amazon!

The other thing you'll need is fresh curry leaves. Or fresh curry leaves that have been frozen. Any Indian market should have them and here in Portland I am delighted to report that they can be found on the east side at Fubonn on SE 82nd. I am so happy to have these available a few blocks from where I work as before I had to make a 30 mile round trip journey in search of curry leaves. Which actually seemed quite reasonable. Once you start cooking with then you'll find them irreplaceable as they add a distinctive savory flavor to any dish. Buy a bunch and when you get home, rinse the leaves, shake them dry, then strip the leaves from the stems. Packed in a heavy ziplock bag they'll keep in the freezer for months.

You'll find the recipe here. I have eaten these heavenly potatoes twice this week with a big dollop of good yogurt. And I've been very happy. I hope you love them, too.

Let me know. Please? There has been rather a dearth of comments here at Magpie Eats and I am wondering if anyone is out there and trying my food.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Warming Soup for a Cold, Wet Day


It occurred to me that this blog has gotten really dessert heavy. It's not so much that all we eat are desserts but more that my kids are likelier to try new desserts than anything else. I can safely experiment in the world of sweets but deviating from the few savory foods they like seems to get me in no end of trouble.

But sometimes I just don't care. Which is why today I made up a simple, spicy soup which they will likely deem unfit for consumption. Too bad for them--more for me!

It's gray and soggy here in Portland, entirely typical for late November. Just the kind of day that makes a person want something hearty and warming and this soup is just the thing, thick with potatoes and a bit spicy from chorizo.

For those who think I've given up kashrut--fear not. It's a meatless chorizo I found at Trader Joe's and while I generally avoid soy based meat analogs, this seems like just the way to use such things. Of course I'm sure it would be delicious with pork based chorizo as well. I think I've seen chicken chorizo though if it's stuffed in a pork casing I won't be trying it.

As far as I can tell, this is a vegetarian version of the classic Portuguese dish caldo verde, but I only realized that after putting everything together. In any event, it is rich and spicy enough to take the chill off a cold November evening.

Do give it a try and let me know what you think. The recipe is here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

It Could Always Be Worse

The Princess attends Shabbat School on Saturday afternoons at our synagogue and The Spouse and I thought we might use that time for a 2 hour mini-date. We dropped her off, hopped back in the car, began a conversation about our finances. I was optimistically insisting that we really did have enough set aside to do my major dental work next month, get through my unpaid break, and maybe even replace my laptop (whose display has begun a headache-inducing flicker) when the car's engine suddenly stopped. There was no smoke, no weird sounds, just no engine function.

We managed to pull the car to a stop in a no-parking space and I hopped out to look under the hood. Because, you know, I'm such a skilled mechanic. OK. I have no car skills whatsoever, but you have to look under the hood in case a helpful magic flag has popped up saying the problem is here.

No flag. And the dawning realization that the AAA membership had expired. I had figured it was one of those expenses we could forgo for a few months. I called home and had The Dark Lord find me phone numbers for towing companies, none of which answered on a Saturday afternoon. How are you supposed to run a tow company when you don't answer the phone? In frustration, I called AAA, sheepishly admitting that my membership had expired and I didn't really expect anything form them other then could they maybe just suggest a towing company that might answer the phone.

As it turns out, I was not the first ever lapsed member calling for emergency help. There was a $40 surcharge on top of the membership fee but I was happy to pay it if they would just send a tow truck. That's some fine marketing when people are happy to fork over extra money and feel good about it. They sent a truck promptly and The Spouse went home with the car.

As I was walking back to the synagogue to pick up The Princess I remembered the last time I'd been driving a car and it suddenly stopped. I was 8 months pregnant with The Princess in an old Toyota station wagon on that hot June day with my two boys (7 and 9 at the time) and everything we could need for a couple of nights at the beach with friends. We were headed up into the coast range when the engine simply stopped and I managed to get the car off on to the narrow shoulder next to a steep drop-off.

I had not yet joined the world of cell phone carriers and thought them a rather pretentious and unnecessary expense up until that day. I got out of the car, peered under the hood (because you've just got to try) and then stood there with traffic whizzing by and the sun beating down, trying to figure out how to get my giant self and my two boys out of the situation safely.

I must been a sorry sight because before long someone stopped and offered me a cell phone. It was another one of those times when I'd let my AAA lapse (yes, there's a pattern here) so I called my dear old dad who sent a tow truck and then promised to come the 60 or so miles to get us.

The tiny strip where we were parked sat between speeding traffic and a sheer drop so I wouldn't let the boys out no matter how squirrelly they got. After a while we were hungry and, being 8 months pregnant, I was desperate for a bathroom. It seemed like hours before the tow truck and my parents came to rescue us. Eventually we made it to the nearest Toyota dealership and I was presented with a staggering towing bill. The next day I was told that our timing belt had gone out and it would cost a ghastly sum to replace it. But we did, and then went on to throw more money at that old car before finally trading it in.

Being able to call from a cell phone and reinstate AAA so at least the towing wouldn't kill us was good. Having it not be super hot and not being hungry or pregnant was even better. Visiting the mechanic on Monday will be ugly, and the dream of replacing my blinky computer anytime soon is probably going to be on hold for a while. But I was grateful that things were resolved relatively painlessly today.

It occurs to me that my cars only break down when I don't have AAA so I may have learned my lesson.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Show and Tell

No maternal melodrama today, I promise. Instead, how about another show and tell post?

First off: sewing. I got the idea in my head that I really needed to learn how to make simple zippered bags. I'd been wanting something just the perfect size to keep the basics (wallet, phone, and iPod) to transfer from my knitting bag to my work bag and back. For most even remotely competent people, this would be a piece of cake but I am not like everyone else. My 3-D challenges are well known among my friends and nothing brings out my weaknesses in this are like sewing. And zippers? Forget it!

I had to use two different tutorials to make sense of things (here and here) . And I think I spent more time ripping seams than actually sewing them. I was up way too late and my back was hurting but at 2 am I had this:The size is perfect, the wrist strap allows it to be used on its own and I love the inexpensive but charming IKEA fabric. I need to make another one soon to cement what I learned.Next: more sewing. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Amanda Soule's Mama to Mama project which connects crafters with folks in need around the world. The first round of projects supports new mothers and their babies in Haiti by providing newborn caps and receiving blankets. I made my first caps yesterday using the cotton jersey I accidentally dyed pink last summer and then cotton reclaimed from an old T-shirt. Each hat took all of 15 minutes to make but knowing they'll keep a new baby warm makes me so happy. I'm hoping to send a blanket in with the caps next week. Anyone is welcome to join in on this project. As a matter of fact, if you are in the Portland area and want to participate, get your caps to me by December 1st and I will happily mail them in along with mine. Go to the blog and read about it and then let me know if you're in!

Crochet: remember the ripple afghan? It's becoming quite substantial. I am delighted at how quickly it's grown and I love the opportunity to play with colors. I'd hoped to be thrifty and use only leftover and balls of yarn but the blanket quickly outgrew my plans so I visited a couple of yarn shops to fill in. This has been a really enjoyable project and I can see myself always having one of these in progress.And finally--I have not given up knitting. Last week I whipped up what can only be described as My Dream Scarf. It's long enough for a couple of wraps around the neck but not at all bulky so I don't feel like I'm being strangled. The ends flare a bit to add some coverage under my open collar jackets. And best of all, it's made of the softest, yummiest yarn in all the world: Malabrigo Silky Merino. I love this stuff so much--it feels wonderful and the silk allows the color to glow. I can't wait for it to get cold so I can wear this every day.
I'll have three weeks of vacation in December and I am bubbling over with ideas. I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Allies

I was feeling so helpless yesterday, seeing that my child is struggling and having no idea how to help. I accept that I'm not very skilled in this whole teenager thing and have decided it's time to look for some allies.

Step one: The Principal. He was surprisingly responsive about my first major school concern and has always answered my questions promptly and thoroughly. I'm on my first 15 year old but he's dealt with thousands in his career so I figured he might be a good resource. We talked. He ended up pulling The Dark Lord out of class for a chat today and then called me to follow up which I really appreciated. He had some great ideas about helping him focus and getting him thinking about his future and I feel considerably more optimistic about things, especially because he promised to keep and eye on him and check up often.

I am feeling like an OK parent today. I modeled the kind of behavior I'd like to see more of in my son. Asking for help can be hard. It's not so hard for me because I've been lost many times in my life. But for a teen who's in that know-it-all stage, asking for help becomes huge.

As hokey as this sounds I kept thinking about the old saying: it takes a village to raise a child. When I had tiny ones I felt so overwhelmed much of the time because I thought I had to do everything on my own and perfectly. But once I started asking for advice and finding support things got a lot better. That was years ago but I seem to be coming full circle.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Struggling

I am really struggling with my in-school child. Can I say that to the world? I don't want to broadcast his foibles--this is more about me than him.

Last year, he chose to go to high school. The first semester was a struggle but then he found his place and his people and really enjoyed his second semester.

Sophomore year is turning out to be a different story. The work is harder and the expectations are much higher. He's no better and possibly even worse at organization than when he started school. He doesn't share classes with any pals and he bought himself his very own computer which allows him to tune out for most of his non-school hours. He's skating in the easy classes and crashing in the hard ones.

This morning there was a big, dramatic meltdown in which he flat out refused to go to his first class. I could see that he was stressed and losing it and I saw myself morph from the loving, supportive mom I imagine myself to be to nasty, nagging, I-told-you-so bitch mom. He was clearly asking for my help and had nothing to offer him but grief He doesn't know how to get himself back on track and now he knows that I don't know how to help him, either. Now we both feel like losers which isn't exactly progress.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Carrot Halvah


Yikes! It's been a little while since I've shared anything with you, hasn't it?

I had a number of things I wanted to write about but (and this is going to sound so lame) all my photos were stinky. The dishes I'm thinking of were not exactly photogenic and on top of that, the lighting was horrible. Really. We've had lots of dark skies and rainy days lately and none of my photos were remotely appetizing. I so want one of these in my kitchen for the cloudy days but I can't exactly call it a necessity.

Anyway--the sun came out again today just in time for me to show you one of the most brilliantly exotic dishes I know: carrot halvah. It's not halvah in the Israeli sesame seed sense, but a dense, sweet, highly flavored delight which makes a perfect ending to an Indian meal with a cup of spicy chai. Also, it's not bad for breakfast.

Long, gentle cooking is the key here so while it's not a complex recipe, do make sure you can pay attention as it's cooking. You will be rewarded with a sweet, buttery delight absolutely bursting with the flavor of freshly crushed cardamom.

If you ignore all the sugar and ghee, and focus on the many benefits of carrots, you can really feel good about this one. The recipe is here. Enjoy!

What He Said....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Downer

There was so much great news on election night and it just kept coming as it looks like we've kicked out our Republican senator here in Oregon. I loved all the teary-eyed and hopeful faces watching Obama's acceptance speech and the great photos of people celebrating around the world. There's a lot of optimism and excitement that things are going to change for the better.

It's a fine thing that we have our first biracial president and that Americans have for the most part sent the Republicans packing. But how is it that in 2008 there are still places in this country where we are voting to deny our fellow citizens their civil rights?

I'll confess I didn't expect much from Arkansas. I guess they really care about their kids in a place where they vote to reduce the number of qualified people who can adopt children. Because, you know, it's better to kick around with heterosexual foster parents than to have a stable home with gay parents, right?

But what is it with the anti-gay marriage proposals? Arizona, Florida, and California all voted to deny same sex couples the same legal rights that straight families enjoy. Many of these voters were the very same voters who gleefully made the historic vote for Obama and that's the thing that's so hard for me to wrap my mind around.

Apparently Californians voted their religion rather than their party on this one. And I can't help but wonder....what if Mormons were forbidden from marrying? What if Baptists couldn't adopt? What if Catholics couldn't be legal guardians? Discrimination is discrimination, even if it doesn't touch you personally. There are still votes to be counted and maybe 8 will be defeated by a small fraction but what breaks my heart is that so many voted yes.

November 4 was a great, historic day--no doubt about it. But for millions of American citizens it was also a tragic day. Let's keep that in mind as we look at the hard work ahead of us. If we believe in equality then that means everyone. If we believe in progress, opportunity, and security, then those too must for everyone.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Am I Dreaming?

Did we, the same people who allowed Bush to run wild for two terms, just elect a sane, thoughtful, competent person to the highest office in the land?

I guess I didn't believe it could happen this way anymore. I was expecting massive vote fraud, riots in the streets, and the deployment of the First Brigade.

Instead, we got this:
That and the satisfaction of knowing that the bastards who hijacked our country and ran it into the ground got their notice today to start packing. And that maybe the rest of the world will stop snickering at us for a while.

I've long had my doubts about Obama and had little use for the Hope Hype but what I saw in my sons' faces tonight, and what I heard I their words made me reevaluate my cynicism. They've grown up with gloom and doom, but maybe it won't be so bad. Maybe they won't get drafted. Maybe they can go to college. Maybe there will be something to work for after all.

My sincere thanks to all the volunteers that worked so tirelessly to make this happen.

Shpilkes

I can't believe how long this day has been already.

It didn't help that I was up early to take The Dark Lord to his monthly torture session with the orthodontist. On the way home we decided to pick up a huge box of pastries and drop them off at the Obama office. I admit it, I'm a loser. I can't make phone calls. But I can bring treats.

All afternoon it's been nonstop radio and internet, so anxious to start hearing some news. I've been trying to keep busy cooking for tonight's party and doing housework but I feel like I'm about to jump of my skin.

Shpilkes, indeed.

I need to go watch this again.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Something New and Wonderful

I've been a reader of Soule Mama for a long time now. Don't we all want to be Amanda with her lovely family and beautiful photos and endless handmade goodness? I know I do, especially on the hectic days when everyone is cranky and I haven't had a minute to sit down and make something with my hands.

She's started something new and I think it's a lovely idea so I wanted to do my little bit to put the word out.
As crafters, the reasons we create are many. Just one may be to spread a little bit of peace into the world, to make a small but meaningful difference in one person's life through a simple act of crafting with intention. Mama to Mama seeks to find ways to connect handcrafters with mothers, children and families in need of a little bit of handmade love.
I so love this idea and I know I have readers who will feel similarly , so do check out Mama to Mama and let me know if you'll be participating in any of the projects. I know that crafty people are full of generosity and kindness--it will be lovely to see that spirit bloom for those who so desperately need it.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Row 7 and I'm Hooked!

I finally realized my devil-may-care attitude toward learning to crochet was getting me nowhere. I've always heard that crochet is so much easier than knitting--but not, apparently, if you're a knitter first.

It nearly killed me but I asked for help. And got it from someone who is knowledgeable enough explain to explain the pattern, patient enough to watch me screw up, and generous enough to finally do the first row for me so I could get off to a good start. And she was right--one she got the tricky first row done, I was off and running. I've made it to row 7 and my fourth color change. I realize I'll be working on this for a very long time, but luckily I am enjoying it a great deal.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Harvest

I just brought in the fig harvest, folks.

That's right, the two little Negronne fig trees I planted in wine barrels three years ago have finally given me some ripe fruit. I don't think it would have happened had we not had crazy sunny weather through most of the month, but I won't complain. Last year I was so sure I was going to enjoy a bumper crop but the weather was not cooperative.

I'm crazy for figs and find myself unbecomingly envious of people who have huge trees that bear well. I'm sure that makes my Californian and Israeli readers laugh but just save it. While my harvest totaled exactly ten figs, it's enough reason to celebrate as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dancing

I thought I could find a sound curricular justification for showing my students this:




What I didn't expect was how much they would love it. That warm gushy feeling I got the first time I watched it was multiplied many times sitting in a darkened room with my students from all over the world.

One young man wanted the story behind the lyrics. Anyone who has a line on Spanish translations of Rabindranath Tagore's poems, just shoot me an e-mail, will you?

I Will Never Be Sad Again

Or so it seems after watching this repeatedly for the last half hour.



An organization called Playing For Change is responsible for this and God bless them!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Have You Noticed?

It's pretty much full on autumn here in the northern hemisphere and the color is everywhere.

We went on a leaf-gathering expedition yesterday. It was a bright, clear day and despite the usual sibling squabbles, we all had a lovely time together. Even the teens ran around like puppies let loose from their crates.

Don't you wish you could save those breathtaking colors? I learned how to keep autumn leaves from fading so quickly. A simple dip in melted paraffin enables them to hold on to that brilliant color for weeks. The Princess and I filled a basket with wax-dipped leaves today in no time. I expect they'll end up scattered around the house for a little autumnal color, maybe even on the Thanksgiving table. Because they are just so lovely--the light coating of wax seems to deepen the colors and make the leaves glow.