Monday, April 28, 2008

Constructive Avoidance Tactics

It's been fairly quiet around here. The Great Bar Mitzvah Invitation Saga has kept me quite busy what with shopping for paper, trips to the printer, repeated design attempts, and of course keeping MonkeyBoy's nose to the grindstone. He was the one who decided he would hand color all his invitations so he's on a strict 10-a-day schedule. The stoners nice folks at Kinko’s have made things more complicated and time consuming than necessary but I did not bite anyone's head off when told of the latest delay. I am trying really hard not to give in to the panic that rears its head when I start thinking about what it will take to pull off a bar mitzvah in six weeks.

Maybe that's why I've been drawn to my spinning wheel lately. I have quite a few hand dyed rovings to get me through this spinning frenzy and I predict quite a few skeins of yarn coming off the wheel in the next few weeks. Currently I'm about halfway through 4 ounces of something gorgeous from Dicentra Designs.

I love spinning fiber like this as it's such a thrill to watch the colors change. I have no idea what this yarn will become but right now I'm just happy making it.

Next up, a sewing project. The Princess needs some light, summery pants and while choosing fabric I also found the most delightful bee ribbon. Hopefully I can make the fabulous bee-trimmed linen pants that are in my head a reality. Sewing never seems to work out that way for me, but I can always hope.


About halfway through Passover I started craving granola which, being made of oats, is definitely on the forbidden list for the week. I tortured myself looking at recipes I couldn't make until Passover ended and finally purchased the needed ingredients yesterday. I still haven't switched my dishes, but by 9 o'clock last night I had a big batch of granola cooling on top of the stove.

I've made granola plenty of times and yet I 'm always delighted at how a good mix of ingredients and only the slightest effort produces something so much tastier than can be bought. I tried the recipe from Nigella Lawson's Feast which has gotten rave reviews all over the place and I wasn't disappointed. Yes, I know, there's an awful lot of Nigella around here what can I say? She 's never let me down.

Her granola recipe includes applesauce which seemed a little weird to me but I think it helps everything stick together without a frightful amount of oil and also softens the texture just enough that you don't fear cracking your teeth.
This batch was made with sliced almonds, cashews, pepitas, dried cherries and dried apricots. Yum. Surely you want to make some yourself. The recipe is here. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Matzoh Crack

We used to call it toffee matzoh around here, but the description from Smitten Kitchen seems to have taken hold this year and for good reason. This stuff is delicious and, yes, downright addictive. In fact, it's what gets us through the long, tedious, post seder days of Passover.

It takes all of 10 minutes to make and the only hard part is waiting for it to cool. Heat a stick of butter and a half cup of brown sugar in a saucepan and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Add a pinch of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Set aside to cool. Line 2 cookie sheets with foil and cover completely with matzoh, breaking the sheets as necessary to fill in gaps. Spread the melted sauce evenly over the matzoh and pop into a 350 degree oven until caramel starts to bubble. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Wait 5 minutes or so, until the chocolate is soft, and spread evenly over matzohs. You can top the melted chocolate with chopped nuts if you like. Put trays in the refrigerator to cool. Then eat. Not all at once if you can help it.

I probably should have brought this up before the end of Passover, but the good news is you should be able to find marked down matzoh in stores now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rain, Rain Go Away

Those of you living elsewhere, take pity on us Portlanders. Apart from one notable exception, it's been the longest winter ever: rain, wind, hail, and even April snow in the hills. I'm not one to complain about our damp and mossy climate but it's been cold and miserable. I don't know if it's a lack of vitamin D or something else, but I've about had it with wet and gray.

Here's my antidote. I realize it's not to everyone's taste but it makes me laugh and I can't get the tune out of my head.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Passover News Item

I don't even know what to say about this other than it's nice to see a protest in Israel that doesn't involve violence. But still.

Iraqi Macaroons

The seder meal is rarely terribly innovative at my house, especially when I am serving to my older relatives. We start with gefilte fish and matzo ball soup and then move on to some kind of vegetarian main dish alongside brisket or chicken, allowing me and the kids who are concerned about such things to keep vegetarian while the meat eaters are satisfied, too. There's asparagus, tzimmes, and fruit salad as well along with charoset and horseradish.

Even dessert is pretty standard. Unless the holiday falls super early in the year and edible berries have yet to arrive on our supermarket shelves, I make a flourless sponge cake rolled around whipped cream and strawberries which, I'm sorry to say, does not photograph well. This year's berries were not so good, especially after the exuberantly fragrant ones we ate last month in San Jose, but liberal additions of sugar and vanilla brought them to life. Plus, when surrounded by clouds of whipped cream, what's not to like?

It was feeling a bit too formulaic for me this year and I started looking around for something to spice things up. While re-reading the Passover chapter in Nigella Lawson's Feast, I came across her recipe for Iraqi Macaroons which looked more or less like the standard homemade variety with the addition of freshly ground cardamom and rosewater. Freshly ground cardamom? I'm there!

Aren't they cute? So plump and nutty, and vaguely exotic. And they were the surprise hit of our seder. I thought they'd be politely declined (more for me!) but everyone requested a few in their take-home packages.

Do give these a try as they are quite delightful. Being quite sturdy I imagine they would likely travel well. Also, as I'm finding more and more folks eschewing wheat, I like having a few wheat free options for sharing. The recipe is here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Eyes Have It

Lately I've been making good use of my shiny new insurance card and I've been catching up on a number of things. While I still can't quite face my dental phobias, I have gone in for a few maintenance procedures which can make me a bit jumpy. I always feel quite grown up and proud of myself when I make those tiresome appointments and then get through them without snapping at anyone.

However, given the lack of either large, cold machines and/or blood, I expected my eye exam to be smooth sailing. I'd already come to terms with the fact bifocals were on the horizon given the amount of optical gymnastics required to read knitting patterns up close while trying to follow subtitles on the TV across the room. I don't have a huge hangup about this. I am fully aware of just how old I am and really,what's the alternative?

But I'm in pretty good about denial in other areas, I guess. I really like this eye doctor but hadn't seen him in years due to the high fees at his office. When I walked in and sat down the first question out of his mouth was whether I'd had my thyroid tested. I explained that I'd just had blood drawn and hadn't yet gotten my results but that I was being treated successfully for Grave's Disease and had been more or less asymptomatic for a while. Or so I thought.

Apparently I'm developing thyroid eye disease and it was apparent to him as soon as he saw me. Once we started talking I realized that, yeah, my eyes have gotten super light sensitive and yeah, they've felt a bit dry but I hadn't really put two and two together. I still don't quite understand everything but apparently among all the damage an overactive thyroid can cause is a swelling of certain optical muscles, causing the eyeballs to protrude and to interfere with the body's normal process of lubricating the eyes which pretty well explains the light sensitivity and the discomfort.

I'm not on a fast track to blindness and I'm very grateful for the fact that I'm not exhibiting any signs of either the glaucoma which blinded my grandfather or the macular degeneration that's made things so hard for my grandmother. But it is possible that my vision may deteriorate and that is a very frightening thought. I have had plenty nightmares about losing my glasses and trying to find my way around. The thought of losing any of my vision is very sobering.

I have really not dealt well with my illness. I tend to ignore my body's signals to slow down, and I resent it when I do. I haven't figured out how to treat my body gently without feeling weak, like a loser. Instead I tend to push on and ignore whatever my body is trying to tell me.

I had thought things were going along just fine but to have signs of my illness so readily apparent has thrown me. That and the fear of ending up looking like Marty Feldman (who also had Grave's Disease).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Public Debut

Yes, I am a crazy person. Elisheva commented that she was surprised I had time to take an all-day train trip three days before the first seder. I didn't, not really, but off we went anyway with a promise from the kids that they would work like Israelite slaves to help me get ready for Passover. And they mostly did. I did mention to my grandmother that I have been more prepared for seders than I was last night, but things came together and we managed the streamlined seder that my older relatives favor. I felt a bit let down after all my work, but I should know to think of this as an intergenerational gathering rather than to expect a spiritually significant ritual.

After all the racing to get ready for last night's seder, and knowing that we'd be spending the second seder with good friends, today stretched before me with virtually nothing to do. I decided to make good on my promise to The Spouse to have The Monster finished for him to wear at Passover. Technically I'd "finished" it two weeks ago. But after carefully following the pattern directions, the button band was a warped, distorted mess. I figured today was as good an opportunity as any to re-knit the button band and finish the thing once and for all. I knitted like a madwoman and sewed the last button on only minutes before we were due to leave. The Monster was finally ready for its public debut at tonight's seder where I couldn't help but smile every time I looked at my sweetie across the heavily laden table. It was a delightful evening made even better by knowing The Monster was done for good.

Passover is a festival of liberation and, while I realize its themes are far more weighty than my knitting struggles, I can't help but feel a sense of freedom at putting this particular project behind me. All the effort proved to be worth it once I saw the smile on its recipient's face.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Walnut Pate

It's that time of year again and the massive cooking extravaganza has begun. Today I started the stock for the matzoh ball soup. I also made tzimmes and lemon curd, as well as a large batch of walnut pate. A week without bread, pasta, and tortillas leaves us wanting lots of different spreads to perk up all that matzoh. That first taste at the seder is wonderful but as the week rolls on, a change of pace is appreciated. That's how lemon curd and walnut pate became staples for us this time of year.

In all my frenzied list-making I almost forgot about walnut pate. The Dark Lord reminded me yesterday and it's a good keeper so I made up a big batch today. This recipe is often called (rather sadly in my opinion) mock chopped liver. That makes sit sound like it's not quite something else when what it is is delicious. So we are making a concerted effort to rename this tasty, high protein Passover standby (though it could easily be made any time of year). It's simple enough: onions, eggs, and walnuts--but these few things work magic together once the onions have browned deeply and the walnuts are lightly toasted. It doesn't make a spectacular food photo, but as a spread on matzoh (or bread) it can't be beat. Think of this when you need something a little different for your next picnic or sack lunch. You'll find the recipe here.

Go By Train

With an early morning blood draw, the loss of my bank card, a mammogram, and endless Passover cleaning and prep to do, this isn't turning out to be such a great day. So let me procrastinate further and tell you a bit about yesterday, which was quite delightful.

We joined a bunch of other homeschooling families for a day trip to Seattle via Amtrak. This required being downtown and fully awake before 8 am which was slightly traumatic, but we pulled ourselves together. The Dark Lord had yet another day off school so he joined us. I don't get to do so many things with all my kids anymore and I was delighted to have him along.

The train ride itself provided many hours of enjoyment for the kids, especially the little ones who enjoyed traveling without the restrictions of seat belts and car seats.

Once in Seattle, we decided to visit the central branch of the public library, which is a truly stunning structure. The Spouse is the real architecture enthusiast in our family, but I found the building absolutely breathtaking and had a field day taking pictures. After the library we walked down to the Pike Place Market. We failed to locate one particular vendor from whom we'd hoped to purchase a bar mitzvah present for MonkeyBoy's dear friend, but we had lots of fun wandering and eating piroshky and crumpets.We were pretty well worn out by the time we walked back to the train station for our return trip. I thought it would be quieter on the train what with all those worn out kids but they seemed determined to get the most out of every minute and they played hard until the train pulled into the station back in Portland.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Almost Summer

MonkeyBoy and I had rather a hard time dragging ourselves to shul yesterday and sitting through the service given that it was a summery-warm and brilliantly sunny morning. (Beth, I'm keeping my promise!) Those two hours felt like a gentle torture but once liberated we raced home to enjoy the sun briefly before returning to the synagogue for The Princess' Shabbat School class. We got the boys to come along and while she was learning about Passover, The Spouse and I took the boys to a new nearby park.

Tanner Springs Park
is a mini-wetland in the middle of an urban neighborhood of new construction and new money. The whole area was once a swampy wetland and this little plot of under an acre is all that remains. It's a bit unsettling, really. There was a surprising amount of birdsong and not a songbird to be seen so I couldn't help but wonder if I was hearing virtual birds. One bird was for real, though-- a huge osprey alternately perched on the roofs of swanky condos and swooped down to look for fish in the dinky little stream. It was truly awesome to see the magnificent bird up close but also a bit sad given its slim chances at finding a meal.

We wandered about in a bit of a sun-induced daze but throughly enjoyed the warm afternoon. There was some great art installed in the park which made interesting photography subjects.

Our lovely afternoon was topped off by a stop for ice cream after picking up The Princess. I'd been curious about Cool Moon Ice Cream ever since last summer's skywriting episode. They have a great selection and everyone enjoyed their choices but I was particularly taken with their "kulfi", a pistachio and cardamom ice cream that lacks the texture of its Indian namesake, but has all the rich, exotic flavor. A perfect dinner for an almost summer evening.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Seeing Ghosts

MonkeyBoy had a really funky bleach and dye job done by a friend a few months ago which was growing out in to a shaggy, oddly colored mess. When he asked for a haircut, I jumped and in we went today to get him shorn before he changed his mind.
The problem was that when he walked into the waiting area after the haircut I was completely taken aback by his resemblance to my brother. He has the same build and nearly the same face, right down to the cleft chin. With the shorter hair MonkeyBoy looked so much like his uncle that it brought tears to my eyes.The hair stylist thought I was upset about the job she'd done. I didn't know how to explain to her that I was seeing a ghost.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Celestial Trumpets

Did you hear them last night?

I'm sure there was some kind of heavenly music when I took the final stitches on The Monster. I fought the pattern every step of the way, even down to the armhole facings which, when worked according to the directions, resulted in these weird flaring epaulets straight out of a cheesy sci-fi movie. I re-worked them with a simple, obedient ribbing and all was good.

I even made a point of thinking good thoughts on those last stitches in an attempt to counteract all the cursing I've done on this project. Never have I been so very glad to be finished knitting something.

The Spouse has already picked out buttons from the lovely fabric shop around the corner. They were quite spendy but given the blood, sweat, and tears on this project (and that I didn't have to buy new yarn) $25 for gorgeous buttons seemed almost trivial.

I've just washed it and, just as everyone promised, the majority of my knitting irregularities disappeared. It's blocking as I write and of course I can't wait for it to dry so I can get the buttons on and call it finished for good.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


I am irritated beyond belief after spending the morning running around looking for a replacement jar for our blender. The old one had long been cracked but when we noticed a chip out of it, we thought maybe glass in the morning smoothies might well counteract the health benefits of fresh fruits and veggies. Clearly it was time for a replacement.

I bought the blender years ago and had already broken one jar which I easily replaced at our local Fred Meyer. That was three or four years ago. As of today none of the stores I tried (Fred's, Target, Kmart) sell replacement blender jars. I can order one online but it will cost nearly as much as a new blender with postage and take a week or two to arrive.

So here I am, pretty much forced to buy a new blender when the old one worked just fine. And I guess I'm just supposed to toss the old motor. I spoke with someone at each store and indicated my extreme displeasure with the scam they had going. By the third stop I was pretty wound up and the nice man at Kmart agreed that it was a very wasteful and stupid policy.

And then he pointed out the really good deal they had on their high end blender. Which I bought. And while it made quick work of the carrots, spinach, and fruits in the first smoothie, I still find myself wondering how in the world we can get away with such wasteful consumption.

Update--to make matters worse, new blender is a piece of cr*p which stopped working on the second use after the motor mechanism stopped turning due to a stripped out shaft. Unbeleivable. More for the landfill and I still don't have a functioning blender.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Our 20 Seconds of Fame

Believe it or not, I don't buy a lot of knitting books. I like to get them from the library and give them a good read before I'm sure that it's worth taking yarn money to spend on a book. But when I heard that MonkeyBoy and I were mentioned in the new book Knitalong, I had to buy us a copy for posterity. We met the author a couple of years ago when she dropped in to our regular Wednesday knitting circle and she mentioned that she was researching a book but I had no idea we'd be in it. Our brief mention can be found in the Knitting for Others chapter.

I spent much of Friday evening curled up on the couch reading and considering projects for it turns out that it's a book I would have bought even without the thrill of seeing my name in print.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Getting out the dancing shoes

For anyone in Portland looking for some wonderful live music, our beloved Fishtank Ensemble is in town and playing with 3 Leg Torso tomorrow night at The Kennedy School. I've heard both bands play before. Both are great but it's Fishtank that's played in constant rotation here at our house. They are way too eclectic for me to describe accurately but here's what their website has to say:

This lively and unusual group consists of extremely talented musicians mastering their respective instruments: violin, saw, accordion, shamisen, flamenco guitar, contrabass, percussion and voice. Romanian folk music forms the bulk of the material with a healthy helping of flamenco, Swedish folk music, klezmer, Gypsy jazz, other folk sources as well as original songs.

We took the kids to see them a while ago and everyone had a great time. We’re looking forward to more of the same tomorrow night.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Update on New Man

He is free, apparently cleared of all charges. That's all I know.