Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I just don't get it.....

I guess there just aren't enough of us angry populists, or at least not enough of us with money anyway. I've never donated as much to a presidential candidate as I have to John Edwards and I only wish I'd had more to give. But the news today says he's stepping down. And I am so very disappointed.

I loved that instead of vague messages of hope and change, Mr. Edwards had good, solid plans. Plans to get out of Iraq, plans to provide every American with affordable health care and a high-quality education. And I was honored to be able to take my boys to hear him speak last spring. But he's been massively outspent and largely ignored by the media who can't get past the Black and Female labels. I don't care what they look like or whether they have boy parts or girl parts--I just want a smart, substantial progressive Democratic candidate. I'm disappointed that so many Democrats seem swayed by the rock star candidates who look to me to be more of the same in new packaging. Someone might be able to talk me in to voting for Obama (any takers? I'll see you in the comments!) but I can't see holding my nose tightly enough to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mosaic Monday

For days we've been hearing of impending snow and we've had high hopes of finally seeing the white stuff. Again, nothing. A cold, damp, distinctly not-snowy morning. Disappointing, but not a bad morning for looking at photos. The Mosaic Maker was cranky today and refused to include a couple of the photos I really liked but the collection isn't bad at all.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dosas at Home

I think about dosas a lot. I love nearly every Indian dish I've ever tasted but I've actually dreamed about dosas which says something either about dosas or about me. I've been reading about them for weeks, gearing myself up to try making them at home. Most recipes have you soak rice and lentils, grind them together, and ferment them over a few days. Not necessarily difficult but planning is required. Planning isn't one of my strengths, sorry to say. I'd pretty well convinced myself that my homemade dosas wouldn't be worth eating anyway.

I was looking up a recipe on Bureka Boy's blog today, a yeasted roll with exotic flavors to serve with coffee (and I'll write about those soon, I promise) when I came across an old recipe of his for No Wait Dosas--just the kick I needed to finally try making my own.

No long-soaked lentils here--these are replaced by wheat flour. And rice flour takes the place of the soaked rice, making these a snap to whip up in the blender. I omitted BB's mustard seeds as I wanted those to flavor the filling. Grated coconut added a lovely nuttiness to the batter.

These don't have the lovely sourdough tang of a classic dosa, and mine didn't have quite the crunchy/chewy texture of the professional varieties I've tasted. But nonetheless, they were very tasty. I made an approximation of potato fillings I've eaten before, bright yellow with turmeric and speckled with green cilantro and black mustard seeds. The crepes take a bit of skill on the griddle, but you'll get the hang of them quickly enough. These came together in under an hour and that's with a pot of chana dal to serve alongside. Bureka Boy's recipe for quick dosa batter is here and my potato filling is here. I hope when you give these a try you'll get hooked, too.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Little Something for the January Blahs

I am not at my best these days. My luxurious 3 week winter break is just a fond memory, all the kids' activities are back in full swing, and there's been a great deal of extra stuff needing my attention of late. As one might imagine, nutritious home cooked meals have been few and far between. I should be posting here more often but I can't imagine anyone needing to get the details on the burritos, pasta, and tuna melts that have kept everyone fed around here. Sadly, that's so often what it comes down to. My efforts to uplift my family's meals haven't come to much lately as we've just gone for the old standbys, food without fuss, just enough, really to keep going. Not what I envisioned for my family years ago when the introduction to Laurel's Kitchen regularly got me all fired up. Well, what is parenting all about if not dispelling illusions right and left?

Another oft-used cookbook back in the days when my kids were too young to complain was The Savory Way by Deborah Madison. Among the many treasured recipes this book contains is Smoked Chile Salsa, something I need to make a few times every winter. In her introduction to the recipe Madison writes:

This sauce is based on a Mexican sauce I like very much but that is almost impossible to find. Búfalo is illustrated with a picture of the charging body if a red buffalo, which is just about how it feels in your mouth.

The book was written way back in 1990 before Búfalo became easy enough to find in any town with a Latino population but I find this homemade sauce to be infinitely better even without the stylish little glass bottle. This isn't a tomato-y chip and dip kind of salsa but rather a rich, flavorful, slightly smoky, slightly tangy hot sauce to be served in small dollops. It's plenty picante but also delightfully full of flavor, and just the thing to add some zing to the boring, inoffensive kid food we've been living on. Burritos with tasteless canned refritos? This sauce will help. Stodgy home fries? You'll want this sauce. Another pan of macaroni and cheese? It won't make the boxed stuff edible, but this sauce will definitely do something worthwhile to cheesy pasta. My very favorite way to use it involves sautéing chunks of sweet potato in a bit of broth until tender and tucking them into a warmed tortilla with cheese, and home-cooked pinto beans. A nice drizzle of this smoky, tangy sauce sets off the sweet potatoes beautifully. Too bad my kids won't touch my sweet potato burritos with a ten foot pole.

The recipe is here. I hope it helps to liven up these cold, dull mid-winter days.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Everything New is Old Again

First off, can I just say that I am tired. That's Tired with a capital T. Even though it was a short work week I am completely wrung out after 10 hours of "teacher class". That's how I explained it to my students when I arrived 20 minutes late after I raced across town at the conclusion of Day One. I am not a person who can sit for 5 hours straight, even if it the Next Big Research-Based Results-Oriented Thing in Education. Luckily the workshop leader didn't seem to mind my knitting. There was a lot of serious multicolor doodling going on as well. I'm a hard sell when it comes to people telling me they have The Answer, especially when I can't get a lot of feedback on customizing for my particular students in my unique program. And I don't trust anyone selling education, especially now in the fearful climate created by NCLB. But I got lots of good ideas and perhaps more importantly am now up to speed with the approach my fellow teachers decided to adopt last year so at least I know what they are talking about. Still. Ten hours over two days? Too much. I'm a wreck.

Meanwhile I have bad news. I know a few readers were rooting for New Man. So was I. But he's up to his usual nonsense in his new class. Worse, actually. His teacher gave him a final warning tonight but doesn't have high hopes that he'll suddenly pull himself together. I am really disappointed by this. I wanted to see New Man succeed in our program, I really, really did.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bar Mitzvah Post #1

I started this blog shortly after The Dark Lord's bar mitzvah which was, of course, a lovely occasion, but one preceded by months (OK, years) of planning, stewing, worrying, and so on. That bar mitzvah was the first one in our family since the 1930's so, you know, no pressure at all.

It all went so swimmingly that I've been coasting along in serious denial about that fact that we needed to throw another of these things only a year and a half later. Lately invitations have been trickling in from MonkeyBoy's classmates. I've been sending in the RSVP's, offering to bake cookies, and writing dates on the calendar. But have I actually done anything whatsoever about my own son's bar mitzvah? Not a thing. Oh, he's been going to his weekly lessons with the world's greatest Hebrew tutor and working hard and studying diligently. He's learning quickly and will soon be able to chant his Hebrew smoothly.

His brother and I also have Torah readings to learn. Not a huge deal. But there is so much more than that and as Mother of the Bar Mitzvah Boy it pretty much all lands in my lap. There are invitations to design, address, and mail and the corresponding RSVPs which must be tracked, the lunch (for 80 or so) to be organized, a kid party to follow the ceremony, and a thousand little details (clothes, haircuts, embossed kippot, flowers.....). Our congregation is not one of those known for ice sculptures, limos, and other bar mitzvah excesses but it is an important milestone in a child's life and deserves to be celebrated fully and joyously. Which means a big production--not my forte.

Even so, I realize that all this is superfluous to the the process itself, the journey of becoming a bar mitzvah rather than simply having a bar mitzvah. Bar mitzvah (or bat mitzvah for girls) recognizes a young person's growth toward maturity and marks the beginning of Jewish adulthood. One of the key elements of this maturity, I believe, is learning to think of others and moving away from the inherent selfishness of childhood. This is one of the reasons Jewish congregations encourage (or even require) kids in this process to have some sort of mitzvah or tzedakah project, something which helps out a good cause, raises awareness about an issue, or in some way benefits the community.MonkeyBoy, like any normal kid in between childhood and adulthood, can be shockingly self-absorbed on occasion. But he is also capable of stunning empathy and generosity with others. I have seen him empty his wallet more than once for a total stranger, and do so with a smile on his face. He's a great kid that way and he makes me so proud. That's why I was so happy when he began exploring ideas for his tzedakah project. I knew he could really dig in to if he found the right project. I suggested that he might see if there are some needs at Kateri Park he might be able to help with. This is the housing complex where we've been teaching knitting to low income, predominantly refugee women and kids once a week for the past year. MonkeyBoy has come along with me and gotten to know lots of people there. Unsurprisingly he's a huge hit with the kids.

He spoke with the manager today and came away with lots of ideas about how he might move forward, both educating our synagogue community about refugee issues and collecting donations for the folks at Kateri Park. The needs are many, ranging from pencils to a new computer to literacy tutors. I was thrilled to listen to him talk excitedly about all the possibilities today. He has a lot of work ahead of him, but I love that this is a place where he's spent time and gotten to know people and learned to open his heart even further.

I think it's going to be a great bar mitzvah.


I left for work rattled by the news of cancer (not me--someone at work). The Big C strikes fear in me every time it appears near and my thoughts were dark and gloomy as I made the familiar drive. At one point I noticed a huge black plume of smoke near the MAX station--no idea why and no one else looked concerned but it seemed quite odd. I had an uneventful class (hooray!) and when I left it became clear that there had been a huge power outage. Street lights, traffic lights, and businesses were all dark which made the normally busy street oddly eerie. A few blocks to the east, all was normal.

During a quick phone call home The Spouse suggested I might want to stop for some food as his dinner had been a complete disaster. Not even the cats would eat the rejected chicken. The fine dining options are slim in east Portland after 9pm so Subway seemed like my best option. (I know, I know, bad in so many ways). So I walked in to the brightly lit shop to find a group of young people, lots of tattoos, piercings, and so on. A blue haired girl picked up a violin and started playing klezmer music, a classic tune I've heard hundreds of time but still, live klezmer violin at Subway in SE Portland? Very weird. As I ate my veggie sandwich I listened to her play along flawlessly with every song on the radio from crappy contemporary pop to "Here Comes the Sun" to (my favorite)"Tainted Love. Wow. The girl had talent.

On the way home some one came at me head on on a 4-lane one way street.

I was glad to get home.

Monday, January 14, 2008

(Maybe) Getting my Groove Back

I might be getting my knitting groove back. Last week I made a quick pair of cabled fingerless gloves for a friend's birthday with no disasters to speak of. This is a quick, easy pattern that I've made numerous times. I always enjoy the making of these and they seem to be popular with their recipients. I finished a pair of Jaywalker socks started way back in June. I don't love the fit but, again, no disasters on my part although the skein of yarn came up short and I improvised with a solid green toe on one sock (and, yeah, it is hard to photograph socks on one's own feet). The too-small Andean style hat started for The Dark Lord will go to a much smaller child for her upcoming birthday. I love how it came out--the crochet trim and braided ties are quite jaunty and it won't be at all too small for her, so a happy ending there.
All this relative success gave me the strength to cast on yet again for The Green Cabled Monster which I will now make considerably larger with the understanding that the gauge specified in the pattern and the stated finished sizes have little connection to reality. It's so hard to know when to trust a pattern and when to rely one's instincts. And a tiny bit frustrating, too, after having to rip out many weeks worth of knitting.

Also, for those following the saga: an update on New Man--after listening to him blurt out every answer to every question for two days I realized that although he hadn't passed my final exam way back in June he'd clearly continued to study English and had learned a great deal in the intervening months. I gave him my basic level final on Wednesday night and he passed with 86% meaning New Man is now someone else's problem student. He's been moved up a level with full warning to his new teacher who is willing to try him out. I sincerely hope the additional challenge will keep him focused.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A break from winter

The sun came out today and it was gorgeous! I don't think of myself as particularly weather sensitive but for the first time in weeks I hopped out of bed eager for a much needed walk. After my thyroid condition allowed me to shed 30 pounds with very little effort I've gotten rather blase about my weight but the fact is my thyroid has settled down considerably so I need to be a bit more proactive about both my weight and my health. But slogging through the rain just doesn't hold any appeal to me so today's brilliant sunshine was a joy. I did my usual route, a bit over 2 miles, and felt strong enough to run off and on for a few blocks.
Later we strolled through Laurelhurst Park along with lots of other eager sun-lovers. The colors were dazzling! Even with my slightly achy hips, something about the sunlight and the warmth made me feel very grateful for my creaky old body that's still going strong.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Say It Ain't So!

Many years ago, my sweetie and I spent a number of months living in Mexico. This was my first trip outside the US and it was full of exciting discoveries. One of the biggest thrills for me was all the delicious fresh produce. I enjoyed trying exotic new fruits like mangoes (which I still adore), papayas (not so much), and deliciously sweet fresh pineapple. But what I never expected to delight me as it did was the taste of Mexican bananas which were fresher, sweeter, and more flavorful than anything I'd eaten at home. I was a banana fiend in Mexico. I ate piles of them fresh and made a top nearly every morning to have some blended with fresh pineapple at the licuado stand in the central plaza of Cuernavaca. I still remember the first banana I ate after returning home, in a Safeway in California. It was woody, dry, and tasteless and I was, quite frankly, bereft.

I am still a voracious eater of bananas. I buy quite a few pounds each week, organic whenever possible. I know, I know -- the localvores would string me up for my love of this high-traveling exotic. So sue me. I love my bananas. They even have numerous health benefits.

All of this preface is to set the scene for the deep funk in which I find myself this afternoon after listening to the latest episode of Good Food. After the regular market report, host Evan Kleinman spoke with Dan Koeppel, the author of the recently published Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. According to banana experts around the world, my beloved fruit is on its way to extinction due to the combination of a devastating fungus and a lack of genetic diversity. Needless to say, I'm finding news of the pending banana apocalypse very upsetting, but for those people whose diets are heavily banana-dependent this could be a real tragedy.

I'm waiting to get my library's copy of the book, but found Koeppel's Popular Science article to be fascinating reading in the mean time. And I think I might just run out and stock up on my favorite fruit while I try to wrap my head around the idea of a world without bananas.

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Man

Winter Term began tonight and it's the smallest class I've had in years so all the anti-immigrant folks should be pleased as punch. Call me a sucker but the boy who made my life a living hell spring term is back in my class. He came by three different times last term, with the sad puppy look going, begging me to let him come back. "I am new man" he told me repeatedly. I made it clear that I would kick him out in a heartbeat if he caused any trouble whatsoever and he swore he would be quiet and work hard. He showed up tonight in a fancy embroidered white shirt--a Turkish atonement garment, perhaps--and did his very best to sit quietly and pay attention. It was almost comical to watch him struggle to control his ever-running mouth. I had to remind him to settle down on a couple of occasions but overall I was pleased with his self control. I like "New Man" just fine. Hopefully he'll make it for eleven weeks.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Bad Knitting Juju

Everything I've touched since the completion of my Noro Shawl has been a disaster. When I got back to work on The Green Cabled Monster I knitted furiously. I got enough of it off the needles to try it on my very lucky husband only to find that the two sides didn't meet across his belly by a full 8 inches. Now I could take the easy way out and blame him for growing but the fact is that, for perhaps the first time in my knitting life, my gauge was absolutely 100% perfect. I can honestly blame the pattern but that doesn't change the fact that some 70+ rows of beautiful cables had to be tearfully pulled out. Not sure when I'll have the guts to cast on The Monster again.

Thinking a smaller project would cheer me up, I started on an Andean style earflap hat for The Dark Lord who, miracle of miracles, actually requested that I knit him something. All was going well until I spotted a mistake in the colorwork. No problem , I needed to to rip back one row but when I pulled it off the needles and held up the beginnings of the hat (earflaps plus a few inches around) it was so large that it looked like a giant's panties. Oy. I started over with fewer stitches, worked merrily along and almost finished. Due to my total incompetence with stranded colorwork it's now way too tight!

I'm beginning to feel cursed, like I used up all my good knitting juju on my lovely shawl and everything else is doomed. I decided I needed a Knitting Year in Review to remind myself what I'm capable of. Just waiting to get my groove back.......

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

new year

I've been trying to think of some sort of wise, optimistic new year post but not much has come to me. Things have been quiet in a very good way around here. Lots of visiting with friends, good meals, movies, and making things. In the last 10 days I've taught 5 people to knit!

The kids and I got to go see Do Jump's holiday show and what a treat that was. My grandmother buys the kids theater tickets every year for their Chanukah gift and this was this year's selection. I can't describe what they do accurately--acrobatics, theater, dance all rolled into one, accompanied by a fine klezmer band. The first half of the show was a number of unrelated short pieces and the second half was a longer piece about Marc Chagall. I had no idea what to expect but left feeling like Chagall had been truly honored by Do Jump's performance. The brilliantly colored backdrops featuring his paintings were perfectly enhanced by the trapeze and gymnastic work. Hard to describe but so worth watching.

I took MonkeyBoy to shul on a very dreary Saturday morning. During the silent Amidah I was struck by the sound of the rain hammering on the roof and the gentle whisper of the pages of the prayer books being turned.We spent a whole Thursday day with good friends eating, knitting, and watching snow fall. None of it stuck around, much to the kids' dismay, but it was lovely to watch it fall especially gathered around a cozy fire with friends. Three days later, there was thunder, lightning, and a short, heavy shower of icy snow. After the first thunderclap The Spouse and I looked at each other, both remembering our first date a million years ago. The evening began with thunder and lightning and ended with snow. How perfectly fitting that we had a night to ourselves that same day. The children spent the night with their cousins and we enjoyed a classic dinner and movie evening, followed by a leisurely morning. I am not going to handle going back to the regular schedule next week very happily at all.

All this visiting and hanging out has left my hands free to knit like crazy. Last night, as 2007 was ending and 2008 just beginning, I finished knitting the last row of my --can I say this?--absolutely gorgeous Noro shawl. This took exactly 17 days and eight skeins of yarn. It's hard to see just how big it is until it's off the needles but I keep looking at it and thinking that's a lot of knitting! I love how it feels over my shoulders. It sits nicely without slipping and it isn't too warm. Now that I have my lovely knitted treat it's time to get back to The Green Cabled Monster I promised my husband. As I sit here, wrapped in my very own lovely shawl, I can't help but marvel at its rich colors and simple but elegant pattern. So there's my new year wish, for all of us: a year of color and warmth and simple pleasures.