Saturday, March 28, 2009

Back Home

Oh my! Did I really let the whole week fly by without writing?
What a grand vacation we had! Now that we're back in cold, rainy Portland it seems like ages ago that we visited the farmers market, ate bhel puri and visited the Hindi multiplex for a movie starring not one but two of my favorite heartthrobs, and visited both Golden Gate and Corona Heights parks in San Francisco. I took the photos below in The Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, a lovely glass paned structure filled with all manner of exotic plants and intriguing foliage.
Even with all the activity, there was lots of time for cooking, eating, knitting, and catching up. With another visiting family, the house was full of kids but surprisingly calm. Our hosts were gracious and generous and saw to it that we had a fine vacation. The drive home was interminable and we arrived to chilly rain which is bothering more than it usually does. Bad news as it look like anything resembling pleasant weather is still weeks off. I'm having a hard time shaking off the vacation groove--re-entry is proving difficult--but I'm only hours away fomr a new term and Passover is fast approaching so it's time to get busy.

Food filled vacation and some tasty listening

I just got back into town after a lovely week away. The food was great, from asparagus fries to Oaxacan mole to a fabulous South Indian feast followed by heavenly cardamom rose ice cream. And those were just the meals eaten out! I had the good fortune to spend the week with two excellent cooks and together we ate all manner of delicious things from Hawaiian chicken to black bean soup. I visited a bustling Bay Area farmers market bursting with citrus fruits, strawberries, and all manner of produce that we can only dream of here in Oregon in March. And I made a return trip to a large Indian grocery where I stocked up on all manner of exotic provisions from lime pickle to Kashmiri chile powder. And my most exciting purchase? An idli steamer which will allow me to make these tasty dumplings in my own kitchen! More on that soon, I promise.

I haven't managed to make much more than green smoothies and toast since we returned late last night but I did want to alert my readers to something which I hope at least some of you will find interesting. My friend Liz is one of the hosts of The Yiddish Hour on our local community radio station. Most Sundays she plays a nice variety of music but tomorrow's show will be something different. Instead of music, she'll be looking at the intersection of food, sustainability, and Judaism. It should be a fascinating program for anyone interested in ethical food consumption. You can tune in to 90.7 fm (or stream live online) at 10 am on Sunday, March 29th or download the show at any point afterward here. This should be a fascinating program--I hope you'll tune in. More info on Liz's blog.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I've never thought of Redding, California as much more than a convenient stopping place along I-5. There's food, gas, and lodging, and not a whole lot else, or so I'd always beleived. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that Redding contains a design treasure in the form of The Sundial Bridge, designed by world famous architect Santiago Calatrava. We decided it was worth a visit this morning before heading south and we found a fascinating structure full of interesting angles and surfaces. It's a stunning cantilever foot bridge with cables running from a curved tower on one side. Its asymmetry makes for a surprisingly graceful structure which looked lovely spanning the river and provided lots of interesting photo possibilities.

The drive to San Jose was interminable, but thankfully uneventful. We are settling in and looking forward to the rest of the week.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Road Trip!

I'm writing from our luxurious wi-fi enabled room at the Super8 in Redding, California. We left cool and damp Portland early this morning but by the time we stopped for ice cream in Ashland the skies were nearly clear. Overall the trip has been quite enjoyable. We're enjoying listening to Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. The boys have mostly kept their squabbling under control although at one point they were going at it and I pulled over a rest stop, got out, and simply refused to get back in the car until they promised to stop. It's a tactic I haven't had to use in ages, but it made the remaining 150 miles infinitely more pleasant.

We had a lovely dinner and then retired to our motel room where the boys were delighted to find The Princess Bride on cable TV. We're thinking about getting up early to explore this very unusual bridge before continuing our journey to San Jose where we will spend the week. It's such a treat to be able to spend this time with my kids and take a break from real life.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Little Springtime Sewing

I'm packing up all the kids for a road trip in less than 48 hours. I have laundry, packing, cooking, and shopping ahead of me and what am I doing with less than 3 days to go?

Sewing, of course! Because it struck me the other day that I had everything I needed to make The Princess a little something special for our trip in the house. With the fabrics, thread, and elastic all on hand it kind of seemed like a sign that I was meant to make it right away. It's not every day that I dig through my stash and find a perfect fabric combination (a sea foam green linen and a pretty Japanese printed cotton) with enough yardage to make something happen.

The pattern is the Prairie Blouse from the book Seams to Me by Anna Maria Horner. This book is full of lovely projects featuring the author's fabric designs. There's lots of fun stuff which got me excited to sew but I don't love the directions. I freely admit that am not great at sewing and my brain is famously lacking in 3D reasoning, but there was still no reason for some of the inconsistency I found in the pattern directions, like showing a bias edged hem in the photo and mentioning a completely different hem in the directions. Very confusing, especially as the book is marketed for beginners or veterans.

It started off well enough but I had to put it in time out for a day and then have my friend Catherine come over and talk me through the binding at the neckline, but we got through it and I finished last night so there's still time to pack!

Monday, March 16, 2009


Early in the term, at our fist faculty meeting, there was the usual complaining about low student attendance. For many of our students work comes before school which is understandable given the need to support themselves and often family back home. Low attendance has long been one of our greatest challenges. My supervisor suggested it was time to "get tough" and start kicking out students who missed too much class. I suggested we work more on positive reinforcement and the idea of The Great Pizza Race was born.

I told my students about it everyday, kept attendance records on view in the classroom, and made a chart showing class statistics. It was close for a while but we ended up winning the competition. Tonight we had a stack of pizzas delivered and we had a little party on our final review night. The students seemed to love it. I am just happy to see their progress when they improve their attendance.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Words I Never Thought I'd Hear

Today was notable in that it was the first of four sessions in which I get to be a parent-teacher in my daughter's Shabbat School class. When we were first looking at synagogues, one of the big draws for our homeschooling family was the elementary religious education program which was cooperatively taught by parents. How great, we thought, parents and children learning together.

After many different classes, teaching teams, and groups of kids over the last decade, my enthusiasm is somewhat dulled. As it turns out, it's not an easy thing to manage a class of 6 year olds, only a few of whom are genuinely interested in the content presented in our carefully crafted lessons while the others are clearly there against their will and would rather poke each other, and lounge apathetically under the tables. Today reinforced my career choice of working with teens and young adults. I bow to those who work with these kids all day long. I do not have that kind of stamina. Or patience. First grade teachers must be superhuman.

It occurred to me as I worked with these kids today that there were a couple who probably would be happier not in a classroom for the sixth day in a row. And I thought back to MonkeyBoy at six. He went to Shabbat School on Saturdays and mostly seemed to enjoy it and learn quite a bit. But he wasn't at school all week long. Watching these high energy, super physical kids I realized that my son would likely have been just like them had he been trapped all week long.

It just so happened that MonkeyBoy came along today. He'd been hired to do child care during some concurrent programming for parents, but none of the folks who'd requested child care ended up bringing their kids. Since he was bumming around with nothing to do I encouraged him to join the first grade class and help out which he willingly did. He was as overwhelmed by the energy level as I was but he jumped in to assist as needed.

When we left, we started talking about the class. On his own, he suggested that maybe there were kids who just shouldn't be in a classroom until they mature a bit. It was then that I heard the words every parent longs for: I think you did everything just right, Mom. He's pretty sure that he'll be ready to start school as a freshman next fall but that it's too bad more kids can't be home until they're ready for school.

MonkeyBoy has been crabby and critical lately, especially with me, so I nearly keeled over with shock when I heard the words I didn't expect for decades.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fish again?

As I've mentioned here before, I'm mostly vegetarian. Cooking meat or fish always makes me a little nervous and I think I drive the guys behind the counter crazy on those rare occasions when I peer into the glass cases hesitantly, fumbling around for a coherent request. "Uh....yeah....I need some salmon? For a few people?" Most women of my age are quite competent with such requests and I still dither around like a 20 year old living away from home for the first time.

And for years it didn't matter. I had no need for flesh of any kind. But as my body has changed I have found that it rather likes the quick blast of protein a little meat or fish provides. I have been steadily working to increase my repertoire beyond fish on the grill and beef brisket, not that there's anything in the world wrong with either of these. When I was recently given a stack of old food magazines I came across a recipe for coconut crusted salmon with tamarind sauce that I've now made twice, and it's been a hit both times.

The recipe includes many of the flavors I love: earthy turmeric, tangy tamarind, and sweet coconut. It's got a lovely crunch from the panko and coconut crust, and the accompanying sauce provides lots of lively flavors. I served it along with saffron rice and a multicolored cole slaw (made by my youngest using a recipe from Mollie Katzen's Salad People) for a perfectly balanced meal. The fish is quite simple to make and comes together quickly, providing me with at least one fish recipe I can cook with confidence.

I typed up the recipe and posted it here before realizing that the whole thing is available at the Cooking Light website.

added later: I managed to get the turmeric stains out of a favorite shirt after the usual stain removers failed. The key seems to be to dab the stains with lemon juice and then leave the soiled garment in the sun for a few hours. Good as new! You can avoid this whole process by wearing an apron.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tuna Corks

There are lots of delicious looking recipes in A Homemade Life. I'm not sure what it was about these that intrigued me other than being made of things I generally have on hand (and let's not underestimate that appeal). The fact that anyone could write rhapsodically about humble tuna caught my attention and this was among the first recipes I tried. They're kind of funny looking: short, squat, and oddly pink. Despite this my kids gamely tried them (I think they were really hungry). The result--"not too bad" which would be high praise from anyone else. I rather liked them, too. They're easy enough to make, not as fishy as they sound, and provide a solid blast of protein should your meal be lacking. Also--as highbrow as the name bouchons de thon may sound, we got a kick out of the English translation: tuna corks. How great is that?

You'll find the recipe here. Let me know if you're brave enough to try them and what you thought.

How to Avoid The Dirty Dozen

I don't know about you, but much as I try, I can't always buy organic produce. Sometimes it's about availability and sometimes, quite honestly, it's about price. I suspect the latter is increasingly becoming a consideration for food shoppers as jobs disappear, savings dwindle, and the economy tanks.

We're trying something new this year. Despite famously picky children, we took the plunge and signed up for a share in the Winter Green Farm CSA which will provide us with a box of seasonal produce each week of the growing season. Our weekly shares won't begin arriving until May, but we are looking forward to lots of fresh, locally grown organic goodies. Until those boxes arrive, however, we'll be shopping at the grocery store and early season farmers markets which provide varying amounts of organic produce.

When I can't buy all organic, it helps to know where to put my money. Thanks to the good folks at The Environmental Working Group, those decisions aren't too tough. They just put out the fifth edition of The Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, which I find fascinating reading. There's even a handy dandy wallet sized pdf version you can download and take along to the market.

I was surprised to see that the item with the highest pesticide load was peaches. Peach season feels a thousand years away, but you can bet that I'll only be buying organic when the time comes.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Right Now

Right now it's snowing like mad outside. I couldn't tell you why--it's mid March, all my shrubs are in bud, it feels like the whole world is holding its breath and waiting for spring when out of nowhere, winter returns, cold and wet, with giant sloppy flakes. In December this would thrill me but in March? Enough already!

It's not so bad. It's warm and quiet because the non-schooled kids are still in bed. I'm baking for Purim and my kitchen smells of orange and vanilla. I just opened another bag of my favorite coffee which I am enjoying in my favorite mug. Things could be worse.

My big orange cat just ran up the walk, covered in white. He flew in and immediately curled up in the chair in front of the fireplace. There's no fire burning but maybe I should light one. Our last fire of the season, perhaps? A fitting goodbye to winter.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Holiday Baking

I just went and looked up the post I wrote two years ago about making hamantashen for Purim and--horrors!--the dough recipe had disappeared! This is the best hamantashen dough ever as far as I'm concerned: moist, easy to work, and full of orange which enhances every filling I've ever used from classsics like poppyseed and apricot to the more modern chocolate and hazelnut. Most hamantashen dough is dry and crumbly and, in my opinion, just not all that appetizing.

I hunted around for a while and found the recipe living elsewhere and have updated the link so go get started with your baking. Even if you aren't Jewish, it's hard to beat the taste of a lovely, homemade hamantashen.

A Treat

Hello? Anyone out there? Probably not. Probably you're all reading regularly updated food blogs by fabulous writers. Blogs like Orangette, one of my very favorites. Molly Wizenberg's blog was the first food blog I read regularly and one of the strongest inspirations for starting a food blog of my own. I love the way she weaves food and loved ones together so seamlessly.

Her new book A Homemade Life was just published and I got an opportunity to hear her read last night at Powell's. What a treat! The chapter she read was all about her father but her details could have described my own father with a few tiny tweaks: basil for dill, ugly cat lamp for hideous wild boar statue. I loved listening to her explain how food pulled her away from academia and into a life where she could focus on her passion.

It occurred to me as I was listening that one thing I never hear about from the food bloggers I so enjoy reading is kids. Do any of you know who is writing about how they manage to satisfy a houseful of diverse appetites? If I only had myself (and other adults) to cook for and my own tastes to pursue, I can assure this blog would be a happening place full of fresh veggies, stinky cheeses, and wild experiments from all over the globe. When I started this blog I was trying to answer very simple questions about how to nourish myself and my family and how to keep appetites alive. Those questions are still with me and I hope to keep trying to find the answersand writing about it here.

Friday, March 06, 2009


I am mother to two teen boys but recently seem to have acquired a third. The Dark Lord's best buddy B comes over nearly every day after school. But he always calls me first to ask it it's OK, which I love.

My boys give me a lot of one syllable grunts passing as language these days, and it's hard to get a smile out of them. Not cool at all, apparently. But today I caught proof that teenaged boys are indeed capable of the same sweet, open smiles we loved when they were little.

I can't look at this without smiling myself.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know this was the huge crazy project I started back in July. Using instructions from The Alabama Stitch Book, I worked for months, made a few mistakes, worked a whole lot more, and finally wrapped everything up today. I dyed many yards of fabric before settling on these colors, stenciled each outer panel, stitched the inner and outer panels together (by far the most time consuming part), cut away parts of the outer panels, seamed everything together (twice!), took the seams in to improve the fit and finally added the waistband this afternoon. The waistband is the only part of this entire thing which wasn't done by hand though I ran the sewing machine so that's still me doing the work so it absolutely counts.
I modified the pattern slightly since I'm considerably curvier than your average model. I made this work by making the skirt out of five, rather than four, panels. This seemed like a brilliant idea until I finally got to the trying on phase where I realized that I'm not actually an entire panel wider than the skirt in the book. I spent some time taking in seams and then the elastic pulled it in the rest of the way so that it fits!

I am so delighted to have this skirt finished, and to be able to wear something I made entirely myself, from dyeing the fabric to every one of the thousands and thousands of applique stitches. I may be crazy, but I'm a well dressed crazy, thanks very much.
Next up? I might try my hand at embroidering some Indian style blouses. Or sew some clothes for my daughter. Or start a new pair of socks. Ideas?