Sunday, June 29, 2008

Barley Salad

My goodness it's been hot here the last few days. Really hot, the kind of heat that I take personally. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for this as far as I'm concerned and it makes me lethargic and grumpy. And strangely hungry. Because the fact is, there are only so many cool drinks and smoothies I can consume before I realize that I really haven't eaten much of anything at all.

I'm always on the lookout for a good, substantial salad that can be made ahead and kept cool in the refrigerator. No one in my family will touch potato salads and pasta salads seem to get old fast. But leafing through my new copy of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian I came across a salad that looked substantial and and cooling with its dressing of lemon juice and fresh dill tossed with cooked barley, scallions, and chunks of cucumber.

We ate this the other night on the patio along with freshly baked challah, homemade mozzarella, marinated carrots, lemony-garlic chickpeas, and fresh fruit. The barley salad was crunchy and toothsome and the yogurt and cucumbers somehow seemed to cool down the sweltering air.

This would make a lovely traveling dish, whether for a brown bag lunch, a potluck, or a picnic. The recipe is here. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


On the meteorological front, they say it's coming. On the feline fertility's here.

I don't think I ever mentioned the tiny gray cat that showed up here days before the bar mitzvah. Every female cat I've ever owned has been promptly spayed so believe it or not, I've never been around a pregnant cat. This girl showed up with swollen teats but not a kitten in sight. Given her insistence on getting in the house and settling down, I figured she'd be having kittens soon. I ran a bunch of ads and called all the shelters but, guess what? She wasn't the only preggo kitty in town. I couldn't throw her out, could I? I think there's a sign over my door that says "sucker" in cat language.

After a few days, she was still swollen up, but maybe less so. It was hard to tell, until one friend felt her up and decided she'd had the kittens and was just engorged. I can't help but wonder what must have happened to her kittens and how she ended up in our neighborhood. Meanwhile, the cat had definitely moved in and joined the family without upsetting the other cats too terribly much. We tossed more than few names around and have finally settled on Chutki (the little sister in more than one Bollywood movie). I called the vet but had to wait until tomorrow for her checkup. All is good, right?

Except that yesterday morning I noticed she was out in the back yard entertaining every male cat in the neighborhood (except our own, who has clearly had it with all the females in the house and only drops by to eat these days). I immediately scared the boys off, brought Chutki in and made it clear to the kids that she was to stay inside. She made quite the ruckus last night, moaning and carrying on, trying to get out through the basment windows and knocking things over in the process. Somehow she was successful as we found her outside this morning with a crowd of noisy boys around again. So it's probably too late and I fear we're going to end up with kittens after all. Because, you know, four cats isn't enough.


I just got my own copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and I am in love! I had it out from the library last month just long enough to experiment with the challah recipe which was delicious but kind of funny looking. Only this week did I start with the basic bread recipe and!

Here's the deal: you make a wet dough, let it rise once, and set aside until needed in the refrigerator. For days, if that's what works for you. No kneading, no proofing, no careful timing. The downsides are these: the wet dough can be tricky to work and you need to have space in the refrigerator to store the dough. If you can handle those, then give this book a look because the upsides are many: delicious, wholesome bread on your timetable with virtually no effort whatsoever.

While I love fresh bread as much as anyone, I am not one of those cooks to rhapsodize over the meditative glories of kneading dough. I freely admit to using a bread machine for making my family's challah week after week for most of the last 10 years though of course I braid it and bake it in the oven for the characteristic shape. And the machine has been a workhorse for turning out loaf after loaf of hearty, whole grain bread which is perfectly serviceable for sandwiches and toast. But the machine simply can't do anything in the realm of crusty peasant breads. And all the recipes I've looked at over the years involving numerous carefully timed rises and knock-downs, sponges and starters, and complex baking equipment left me cold.

The other afternoon, after I bought the book, I put some water, yeast, flour, and salt in a big bowl, stirred it together, and went to work. While I was gone, the rest of my family pulled off chunks of dough and and made numerous pizzas, some with standard mozzarella and tomato sauce, others with roasted red peppers, basil, and goat cheese. My kids have never gone for homemade pizza but everyone declared this to be the best pizza ever. So there.

I took the last of the dough and made a quick baguette this morning which was almost immediately devoured. I considered posting a video of the knife slicing through the crackling crust but without the aroma it wouldn't have been complete.

I immediately mixed a new batch of dough in the same bowl without washing so as to collect all the old dough bits and incorporate their sour flavor into the new dough. I am looking forward to experimenting with many of the recipes in the book and I encourage you to give it a look, too. Normally I would post a recipe at this point, but I think it's worth reading the book to get the technique down.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why I Love My Job

There are lots of reasons, many of which I've written about here. Tonight provided yet another.

A young man just enrolled in my class. He is very polite, very tall, and very Chinese. With my many Latino and Russian students, it's always clear to me which are first and last names, but with Chinese and Vietnamese students it's harder to tell. When I asked this fellow which name I should address him by in class he said, "Call me Paco".

I love that.

18 Years

Yesterday was our anniversary and in all the hustle and bustle of friends leaving and the first day of the term I nearly forgot about it altogether. Nothing special happened, I didn't even manage a gift or a cake or a bar of chocolate for my husband. Yes, I am feeling like a worm.

We've seen quite a few marriages go on the rocks in the last few years so I guess there's something to be said for ours which feels solid enough after 18 years that an anniversary is just another day.

Everything I wrote last year still holds true, and then some. Here's to the next 18 years!

Monday, June 23, 2008

I'm Back

It's been a busy few weeks around here and my one week break just flew by in a flurry of outings, sunburn, good meals, friends, and the occasional margarita.

We took trips to Sauvie Island, Neskowin, and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. We've had lovely meals at Chennai Masala, Pho Van, and yes, even at home on a perfect Midsummer's Eve.

It was a good week for thrift stores and vintage finds including old rickrack, beautiful buttery soft cotton sheets, a charming Japanese embroidery magazine from 1974, lovely old printed cotton handkerchiefs, and a whole jar filled with chandelier crystals. Not sure what I'm going to do with those but how could I pass them up? I was sad to hear that this would be the last year for the St Rita's Catholic Church Rummage Sale, source of most of these extremely inexpensive finds.

Oh--we met these guys at our farmers market and they were a hoot. Lovely produce, too. Monkey Boy may be volunteering with them this summer.

Here are few favorite photos from the last few days:

Now that the Big Event has passed and the friends have gone home it's back to reality: work, laundry, meals, and summer schedules--all of which are surprisingly more appealing to me than I could have imagined. Oh, and maybe a bit more regular blogging......

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Meal for Midsummer's Eve

So we had a bar mitzvah last weekend. And fed somewhere around 100 people. There were bagels with whitefish salad, huge pans of spanakopita, quinoa salad, fruit, green salad, and hundreds cookies, nearly everything cooked by friends just for us. The night before the bar mitzvah, a very dear friend brought us a delicious Shabbat dinner of moussaka, asparagus, and tiny jewel-like pastries among other delights, with a spare pan of moussaka just in case. We've been eating well on all these leftovers and only last night did I really get around to cooking a proper meal after finally cleaning out the refrigerator.

There were lots of reasons to make something truly memorable. Our very dear friends are still staying with us, and not only was it Friday night which always calls for a special dinner, but it was also the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. The weather was lovely enough that I decided it was time to haul the trusty old Weber kettle out of the garage even though we're not big grill people. Maybe it's that we eat so little meat. And, honestly, it's kind of pain. We never seem to have charcoal on hand which wouldn't be such a big deal except that I won't eat food that tastes like gasoline so only Lazzari will do. Luckily it's easier to find than it used to be. And it seems to take forever to get enough heat to cook, after which the fire seems to fade all too quickly. Really, a big production and yet only the grill would do.

The meal I had in mind is a summer favorite of mine: grilled vegetables with a basil aïoli. I confess that my usual approach to this tasty sauce has been to mix crushed basil and garlic in to store bought mayonnaise but, perhaps feeling a bit too full of myself, I decided yesterday was the day to make my own from scratch. I started using Mark Bittman's basic mayonnaise recipe from this book, met with utter failure, and saved it using Deborah Madison's instructions from this book. Despite a few pitfalls and blender-induced temporary hearing loss, in the end I had a beautiful, velvety and perfectly emulsified sauce that made the grilled eggplant, zucchini, and peppers sing. To complete our feast, we had fresh challah, Orangette's simple but insanely tasty chickpea salad, a variety of cheeses, and the first summer fruits of the season. Of course we ate outside next to my bubbling washtub fountain surrounded by the sound of birds tucking in for the evening. You simply can't do better than this: tasty food and dear friends on an early summer evening. I'll give you a recipe for what I made but of course you can use this approach to grill and serve anything your heart desires. Just make sure to enjoy it outside, on a perfect evening with people you really love.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mosaic Monday--The Bar Mitzvah Edition

So we had a bar mitzvah. What can I say? It was delightful. After a little tiny mini freakout as the guests started arriving, MonkeyBoy (or should I switch to MonkeyMan?) collected himself and did an absolutely fabulous job. With the best ever bar mitzvah tutor at his side, he helped lead prayers and songs, read his 12 verse Torah portion flawlessly, and delivered a drash (an interpretation of his Torah reading) that was clear and well-received. Best of all, he had a wonderful time and enjoyed being king for the day.

My Torah reading went so smoothly that I might just step up to read a bit more often. That was mostly due to MonkeyBoy's help which shows just how much he's learned. I gave up on the DPS. I knew I wouldn't be able to say what I needed to say without crying, so what was the point? What MonkeyBoy knows is that he is loved, not only by his family, but by a whole community of friends and family who came to support him on a very special day.

None of this could have come together as smoothly as it did without all the hard work of many, many friends and family members who helped with food, flowers, photos, set-up, delivery, and a hundred different things that needed to be done. Our guests were generous in their support of MonkeyBoy's mitzvah project and the kids at Kateri Park will now be well supplied with pencils, notebooks, and other school supplies for the foreseeable future. Anything I asked for I got from so many people I hardly know how to start thanking everyone. An event like this makes me realize how very lucky I am to be part of a warm, caring Jewish community and an even wider community of friends who came from near and far to be with us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I Love This

I received the following in the comments:

This blog could be more exciting if you can create another topic that everyone can relate on.

Who can't "relate on" food?

This blog would be more exciting if I cooked more often and had more to write about. And if the spambots went away.......

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My New Hero

I just learned about Doug Ward through a local homeschooling list. He's just been suspended for refusing to give his special ed students a standardized test they have no chance of passing.

Having been in the position of being forced to give inappropriate standardized test to students I completely understand his reluctance to participate or subject his students to the ordeal. I've been forced to give kids with a 1st grade English reading level 10th grade tests. Why? Because our program's funding is dependent on compliance with the NCLB regulations. I'm told our results don't matter and that I should tell my students "it doesn't matter". They get to feel incompetent and be told I'm wasting their time. What a deal!

This high stakes testing nonsense absolutely burns me up. So kudos to you, Doug Ward, for standing up for your students.

Salsa Verde

If you keep up with my other blog at all, you know that my son's bar mitzvah is coming up in a matter of, well, days. So there hasn't been a great deal of excitement on the cooking front. A lot of pasta, salads, smoothies, and veggie juices as we try to get one kid through final exams and another ready for his big day on Saturday.

But when your kid says, "Mom, your green salsa is the best. You'll make it for my bar mitzvah party, right?", what's a mother to do? In addition to buying 3 pounds of coffee, 2 bottles of Manischevitz, numerous 6-packs of Hansen's soda at the supermarket today, I added a few pounds of tomatillos, some fat jalapeños, limes, and a few bunches of scallions to the party supplies in my cart. Because if my kid wants my salsa verde for his bar mitzvah party, you can bet he's going to get it.

This particular salsa is thick and tangy. The tomatillos are very gelatinous so you want this to come to room temperature before serving or it's just a bit weird. Obviously the heat can be managed by your use of chiles, but then again, you never know when you're going to get surprise firecracker. The tomatillos and chiles are roasted but that's the only time consuming part. Then everything is tossed in the blender and whizzed until smooth. So simple, and so very tasty. My recipe is here. Do give it a try.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Very Superior?

I find it hard to believe. Maybe it's due to making sure my children have a religious education. Or perhaps it's my lack of red nail polish. The 1930's Marital Scale is an unsettling look at the ideal spouse of days gone by.


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Superior

Take the test!

Thanks to the always entertaining Red Molly for this much needed distraction.

Friday, June 06, 2008


I hired a charming young lady to come help me clean today and I feel so weird about it. I've done this exactly twice before. The first time I had been sick with bronchial crud for weeks and Passover was rapidly approaching. A group of homeschooled teens were trying to raise money for a trip to Washington DC so it felt like a good thing to help them out and let them help me out. And they were awesome--my own teen has shown no such work ethic around here. The second paid house cleaner came the day before The Dark Lord's bar mitzvah. She was a friend of a friend in a bit of a tight spot so I felt like I was doing her a favor.

This time I had a young woman in my class who was trying to get her housecleaning business off the ground. A few weeks ago I helped her make fliers and business cards and arranged to have her come work for me a time or two before the bar mitzvah. As happens all too often with my students, she's disappeared. She hasn't come to class in a couple of weeks and her voice mail is full. For all I know, she's been deported which at least means she gets to be with her son again so it wouldn't be all bad. For whatever reason, she's gone.

Thus, I ended up searching Craigslist the other night and came up with Sarah who promised to bring her own eco-friendly cleaning supplies. She showed up on time and got to work and has been going non-stop all afternoon.

The thing is, it feels weird to me. I don't know that I'll ever be one of those folks who finds housekeeping to be a deeply spiritual practice. But it does seem that I should be able to manage far better than I do. Mostly I just ignore anything beyond the basics of clean dishes and clothes. When forced (usually due to impending visitors) to clean properly I start out with the best of intentions, wander into another room to put something away, and thus begins a seemingly infinite sequence of distractions at the end of which I find myself both exhausted and baffled by how little I managed to accomplish.

The fabulous Sarah has been working nonstop for the past 3 hours. I've tried to move some of the junk out of her way but she doesn't seem to mind. I imagine that since it's not her junk, it's not a big deal to just work around things rather than get bogged down in decisions about what goes where.

I did a few paid housekeeping stints myself when I was younger and always felt resentful and somewhat superior in that I was sure I'd always be able to clean up my own messes. Hiring someone to clean? How lame. How bourgeois. But that was before kids. These days I find the chaos overwhelming and there's always something or someone demanding my attention more loudly than my kitchen floor. I want to be that serene mother who keeps things under control. I always think that, given a free weekend, I can get it together. Well this is the last weekend before the bar mitzvah and I finally know when I'm beat. I still have a lot of things to do that only I can do so it's not the worst thing in the world to have someone handle the cleaning, is it?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Not Exactly What I'd Hoped...

...but I'd settle for Edwards for VP. If you feel the same way, sign the petition here. I have no idea if it will do any good, but I do know it would be a lot easier for me to vote for Obama with Edwards on the ticket and the polls say it would be a winning combo.

Where I've been....

With 8 days to go before The Big Event I've been just a wee bit busy. I'll spare my readers the full list as it's just short of dizzying but I can say that this much busyness and productivity is quite contrary to my nature.We had 4 yards of garden mulch delivered the other day and it's mostly spread out and working its magic in the rain. My inherited rose garden no longer looks abandoned and overall the yard is looking almost summer ready. The only drawback? I was so sore from shoveling yesterday that I could barely walk and my students were making abuelita jokes about me.What else? Surely the celestial trumpets sounded again last weekend when I found and bought a perfectly respectable brand new ensemble to wear on the big day which, I'm told, allows me to still look like me only dressed up. This is no small thing as there are few things I hate more than shopping for new clothes. I buy nearly everything for under $5 per item at my local thrift store. Shelling out big bucks for brand new isn't easy but if not now, when? At least they're things I'll wear again.

I finished a hat for MonkeyBoy while watching possibly the saddest Bollywood movie ever. There was something very satisfying about brushing away movie tears while finishing the final stitches on the hat, which was a real kick to knit. The "kool" thing about The Koolhaas Hat is that it's based on the wonderful lines at the Seattle Public Library which we so enjoyed visiting in April. One last thing: There's a picture of MonkeyBoy in today's Oregonian along with an article written about local kids' bar/bat mitzvah projects. They didn't really get it right when they talked to him, but he's feeling like a rock star today with his picture in the paper.

This weekend is the final push: Torah readings, clean clothes, clean house, more list making, and so on. We will be going to a party celebrating an old friend's new love which is just so cool.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008