Sunday, November 30, 2008


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


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


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


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


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.


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.