Friday, August 29, 2008

The Menu

Yes, a busy week here. Two grandparents, eight grandchildren, three siblings, and their spouses. Yep, a busy week here! It's been great. It was the first time all eight grandkids were in the same room. It was really great to have some extended conversations with my brother. With all the small children and his new job (UCLA professor), we haven't talked too much in recent months. It was nice. And I'm really excited to know what he actually DOES at his new job. :)

So, the menu... mostly frozen food:

Challah (freezer)
Cabbage beef soup (freezer)
BBQ chicken (freezer; just needed to be defrosted & bbqed)
Roasted zucchini
Steamed spelt (freezer)
Spaghetti squash
Raspberry squares (freezer)

And for lunch - spanikopita. And some visitors too! SF will get to meet the two youngest kids for the first time, and we always enjoy spending time with RF. Yay.

And a completely unrelated comment... did you know that Sarah Palin gave birth to a son just a few months ago (her 5th child, I think)? He has Down's Syndrome. She was back in the governor's office just 3 DAYS LATER! And now she's running for VP. For a whole host of reasons, this just left me feeling completely depressed. The Republican Party is supposedly the party more dedicated to preserving traditional family values. But how could I consider voting for someone who will in effect need to abandon her children to perform her job duties? In good conscience, I can't. And now I feel I am left without any candidates at all, kind of like the last election. I don't normally talk about politics, and that will probably be a very rare moment on this blog for me. I know a lot more than that should go into considering a candidate, but that's my reaction to what I just read hours ago. I just feel ill that so many people can't be bothered to raise their own children. Strong language, I know, but I had a strong reaction. (And for the records, my husband and I are both republicrats. No one swings votes more than we do!)

Oh, well. It's almost shabbat now and it's time for the cares of the everyday world to melt away as the sun goes down. We get ready to greet the sabbath bride, and then all will be delicious for 25 wonderful hours. Politics and everything else will just have to wait. Thank G-d for shabbat!!!!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Menu

Here 'tis:

Roast chicken with lemon and garlic
mashed potatoes
roasted zucchini
roasted carrots
steamed spelt
caesar salad
lemon tofu pudding

For lunch:

- avocado, cucumber, krab, sesame seeds
- salmon rolls
- futomaki (rolls with kampyo (gourd), sweet omelet, cucumber
- cucumber rolls

miso soup
cucumber salad
green salad with miso dressing
steamed soy beans

And my brother and his wife and children (closing in on 2 and 3-1/2). We're so excited!!!!!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Week of Fun Meetings

We had two fun meetings with two families involved in Ethiopian adoption. The first was with a family that we had met in Ethiopia. They were the only other family at the guesthouse and, coincidentally, they live only about 10 miles away! We hadn't seen them here in the US, so we met in a park for a picnic dinner and it was great to see their daughter, Esther, who is a month younger than Avi, and their son, Tim, who is nearly 9 and was in Ethiopia with us too. They all looked great and we had a good time.

Then yesterday we met another family for another picnic. They will be adopting children of similar ages to ours and already have a 10-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl. We had a great time at the park, and made plenty of jokes about our new "online friends." I've met so many wonderful people this way! Their dossier should be in Ethiopia any day now and then the wait begins. May it be short!!!

Many families that have adopted or will be adopting from Ethiopia also got together for a Sunday afternoon picnic a few weeks ago. It was really fun to talk to all these people and see all these happy children running around.

Our New Protein

Somewhere or other I picked up the idea to try making seitan. Seitan is made out of vital wheat gluten flour, the protein found in wheat. There's a complicated method whereby you make a dough out of flour and water, knead it, and wash it and wash it until only the gluten is left. OR you can buy vital wheat gluten flour. So, this is what I did...

I took 22 ounces of Bob's Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten (which had been in the freezer for, er, a year at least) and flavored it with soy sauce (1/2 cup), ginger (a bunch, grated), and three cloves of garlic, mashed. Then I added water until it turned into a giant rubber ball. It was the strangest stuff I'd ever seen. I tasted a bit, and you could chew it just like bubble gum and it never dissolved! Then I cut it into "cutlets" and boiled it for an hour in water, soy sauce, and slices of ginger. The pieces swelled up A LOT. So much that I had to take many of the pieces out and do it in three batches instead of two. I marinated the cutlets in barbecue sauce then DH threw them on the barbecue. We didn't have long to marinate them, maybe 20 minutes. He barbecued them for maybe 5 or 6 minutes per side. They came out nice and crispy, just like chicken with barbecue sauce. I thought it was pretty good! We served it with rice and a caesar salad.

Now for the cost. :) It only costs $1.15 per pound to make! An ounce of seitan has 9 grams of protein (more than chicken), a negligible amount of carbohydrate, and no fat. An egg, which is a similar amount of protein costs about $0.15. An ounce of kosher chicken (leg quarter meat) costs about $0.16 (but MUCH less if you don't eat kosher!!). The same amount of protein in seitan costs only $0.07. I put out about one-fourth of the batch tonight and it was enough for 2 adults, 1 kid, and for 3 kids to say yuck to. :) Plus enough leftover for Dean's lunch. Anyway... it was like a science lab experiment and lots of fun. I put 4.5 pounds of it into the freezer. Yahoo. Thus ends the culinary adventure du jour.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Menu

A little more minimalist than usual this week. Tired mommy! And in the heat, we all feel less hungry anyway...

BBQ chicken w/BBQ sauce
green salad w/croutons (made from some of the 11 loaves of sourdough bread that turned out like 11 loaves of white bread... oh, well! Good for croutons and hamburger buns)
pesto rice salad with zucchini
steamed green beans with garlic lemon sauce
roasted cabbage
raspberry bars

Shabbat shalom!


It just dawned on me yesterday after I buckled all the kids in after our fourth stop of the day (!) that Raizel is now no longer any extra work beyond what you would expect for a normal 2-year-old. When she was first home it felt like she was 5x the "normal" amount of work, and that probably was no exaggeration. The first six weeks were pretty intense parenting, the next three weeks were moderately intense, then a few weeks of just a little above average, and I'd say the last week or two have really settled into a nice place. She continues to just amaze me. She feels more and more like she is from US and not someone else.

We've also been doing some learning pretty successfully. Last night I gave Raizel and Eli their own spiral bound paper notebooks ($0.05 at Walmart... I got them on my annual trip to Walmart; that's about my max!) and they can sit and color and "learn" with me and Amirah. Amirah has one too and she can color while I read parsha (torah) stories.

We have the wooden lines and curves that go with the Handwriting Without Tears program, and while Amirah writes letters, Eli makes the same letters with the wooden pieces. Last night he was asking if he could write a P, F, E, etc. It was very cute and he actually did really well! Maybe I'll start him on writing sooner than I did with Amirah if he continues to be this into it. Eli participates in a lot of the math with us too, and I got him his own Pre-K math book that he can do during math time with Amirah. When we take out various math manipulatives (pattern blocks, teddy bear counters, etc.) everyone gets some to play with. It's really good, and feels more and more like all of us will just get into the rhythm of "learning time" and it will be possible to do! Our daily schedule for learning will be:

before breakfast, davening (prayers)
8:30 breakfast, then free play
10:00-11:00, Judaica
11:10-12:00, secular (reading/writing/math)
12:10-1:00, science or art or music or ?

The afternoons will be free for field trips, library, other outings, plus swimming lessons 2x/week. We'll see how it goes!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More and More Progress

Now not only does Raizel not mind saying goodbye to me for a couple of hours, but she also did not mind when I taught a 30-minute lesson today. I was thinking I might have to teach outside the house or get them outside of the house while I was teaching, but it might work out after all. The timing is really good too. I'll start teaching my whopping four hours per week starting after September 8, so still another four weeks to go. I'm just so gratified to see this really resilient, adaptable, beautiful little girl just continuing to sail full speed ahead into our family and into our hearts.

She also loves all of our Jewish rituals. We had pita bread with dinner tonight, and we do a ritual washing of the hands and make a brachah, a blessing, before we eat bread. So all but Avi got up to wash, then our guests, then Amirah, Eli, Dean and I made a motzi (blessing for bread). Then Raizel looked at me and said, "I make a brachah too, mama!" So word by word she made the brachah and she was so excited. It was her first brachah, and she looked so happy to be joining the ranks of brachah-makers.

What Is Challah?

A few people have asked me what IS that challah that was so cursed. :) The short answer: It's a rich egg yeast bread that is usually braided and served at the beginning of the three meals of shabbat (Friday dinner, Saturday lunch, and seudat shlishit (AKA "third meal")).

And now for the long answer, since everything in Judaism is 1,000x more than what is apparent on the surface!

"Challah" does not actually refer to the bread itself, though that is how the word is commonly used. In the torah, we are commanded to separate a small portion from a batch of dough (if it is of a certain size). The part that is separated is called the "challah." In the days of the temple, about 1/24 of every private citizen's batch of dough was set aside as a tithe to go to the priests. The priests in the temple had no income per se, so they lived off of the tithes (money, animals, food, etc.) of the people. Since the temple no longer stands, removing the challah from the dough is now a symbolic act. The removed part is thrown into the fire or carefully discarded.

At the shabbat meals, two loaves are served (although many serve just one loaf for the last meal). This is in memory of the double portions of manna that fell from the heavens and sustained the Jews during their many years of wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt.

Bread, perhaps more than any other food, is full of the spiritual energies that went into making it, from the farmer in the field to the woman baking the challah at home. It is one of the most labor-intensive sources of nourishment there is. Think of all the steps, as traditionally outlined in Judaism: plowing, planting, reaping, gathering, threshing, winnowing, selecting, sifting, grinding, kneading, and baking. And eating! Making bread is no small accomplishment.

In Judaism, the earthly world is the vehicle through which we live a spiritual life. The physical and spiritual worlds are not in opposition to each other, and in fact must act in symbiosis. The physical world is here to be permeated by the spiritual world and made holy. And challah is not merely a good recipe. It takes flour from the earth, representing our physical self, and water from heaven, representing our spiritual self. (Water is often used as a metaphor for torah.) These are united in the dough and eating the bread is elevated to a ritual act at the meal by means of a brachah, a special blessing.

In fact, nearly any action a Jew takes has a blessing, a brachah, that goes with it. For example, every time we have finished going to the bathroom we recite a brachah that thanks Hashem for making the vast numbers of openings and cavities in our body work properly. If even one of these went out of whack, we would become ill. Everything we do can be lifted up into the spiritual world, and that really is one of the primary lessons in Judaism.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

And the Curse...

is lifted! Hooray! We had real challah for shabbat. It was ever so slightly on the denser side because it didn't really rise well for a while, but I added a little more warmth and it got going. I guess I just needed to blog about it to make the curse go away. :)

Milestones, Milestones, Milestones

I should be asleep, but a lot is happening around here!

1) We had our 3-month post-adoption visit from a social worker tonight. Ethiopia requires quarterly reports during the first year, to be filed by the agency/social worker. After that we make annual reports ourselves. It took all of 15 minutes (!!??!!), and basically went like this:

Introductions (we had a new-to-us social worker... long story)
When did they last see the doctor?
Have they had any medical issues?
How have all the children adjusted?
How have the parents adjusted?

I was expecting at least an hour! Oh, well. Nothing like efficiency.

2) Avi got his first American tooth... bringing him to a grand total of 3!

3) Avi started pulling himself up to standing position and being quite excited about it.

4) Raizel started sleeping - HAPPILY - in a crib in her very own room! She had been wanting to get up at 6:30 am and play in my bed (ugh). A happy mommy sleeps until at least 7:30 (but 8:00 is fine too!) Now not a peep out of her until 8:00 or 8:30.

5) Tonight, Amirah and I went out with friends to go meteor-watching. Raizel walked out with us, closed my door, and enthusiastically waved goodbye over and over again as we drove away. Is this the same Raizel??? I haven't heard yet how it went after that since we got back just before midnight, but I'm very curious. It was so nice to see her grinning face as I left instead of hearing the howls of protest I'm accustomed to.

So, a very good evening. Lots of little mini-tantrums all around today (myself included!), so it was nice to get out with Amirah this evening. Tonight, to bed on time after making a brief plan for the day tomorrow.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Menu

Here 'tis:

tortilla soup
lime cilantro coleslaw
bbq chicken w/chimichurri sauce
tomato onion salad
lemon garlic roasted potatoes
refried black beans
chocolate challah pudding*

The chocolate challah pudding is with appreciation to the 3-month-long challah curse that has been on this house. Here's the problem... I have made challah every 2-3 weeks (big batches) for a decade. The recipe was memorized, or so I thought. After returning from Ethiopia with two more children, the recipe was G-O-N-E. But only parts of it. Then I thought we reconstructed it. But was it 1 or 2 eggs? 1 or 2 tsps of salt? did I put the salt in already? yes, must have (didn't) the yeast didn't rise? since when does the yeast not rise? did I put yeast in? maybe I'll just add some now! it's rising... a little... bakes up tough and chewy... next time - oops forgot to set the timer! black challah, well, dark brown, we'll make do, shabbos starts in 15 minutes, etc., etc., etc. We can't believe it, but FOUR batches in a row of challah have gone awry. Tomorrow, with a significant amount of help from Hashem, I hope to dispatch last week's giant 12-loaf charbroiled batch into medium batches of challah pudding, and present our dear friend JF with a fine pair of challot suitable for shabbos. If the challah curse continues tomorrow I will positively laugh hysterically because it is so preposterous for this to go on any longer. What are the odds??? I'll let you know!!! (Though JF will probably find out first if I don't have time to post before shabbos; and I'm sure JF will get at least as much of a belly laugh out of the challah curse as we have... but it is getting a bit old!!)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Yet for a woman to have the confidence to put her own career aspirations on hold for two decades or more to raise and educate children requires a heroic leap of faith in her husband-particularly in a society that offers so little support for marriage."

Quote from the Book
"Crunchy Cons"
by Rod Drehe


Here's our bread recipe. A bunch of people asked for it this week (all out of the blue!), so here it is. :)

Whole Wheat Bread
2 large loaves or 4 small loaves
(I usually make the small loaves so we have kid-sized slices)

5 cups white flour
3-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3-1/2 cups water
2 T. yeast
1 cup cracked wheat (or 7-grain or 10-grain cereal from Bob's Red Mill)
4-1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. sugar

Combine ingredients and let rise for 2 hours or until doubled. Knead and let rise again in greased pans for 45 minutes. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes (35 for the smaller loaves).

This is our favorite bread. The cracked wheat gives it a nice slightly crunchy texture, and all my kids like it. We go through 1 recipe of bread every 1 to 2 weeks (we're not heavy bread eaters). I usually make up 6-12 batches of it in ziplocs, minus the water and oil, and keep them in the freezer. Then I just pull it out, add the wet ingredients, and it takes very little time to make the bread. Happy baking!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Teach Your Children, Go To Jail

Two parents that have been homeschooling their nine children for religious reasons have been arrested in Germany and sentenced to several months in jail. Their only crime? Teaching their own children math. And reading. And writing. And ethics. And religion. And science. Seven of the family's children were taken away from the parents in a surprise raid in January and remain in state custody. Since then, the parents have been allowed to see their children for only two hours per month. Oh, there must have been something else going on, you might think. Nope. There has been a marked increase in the government going after homeschoolers. There used to be fines of 900 euros or more. Now there are parents being thrown in jail. Families are leaving the country and going to any of the neighboring countries were homeschooling is a perfectly legal choice.

Homeschooling has been illegal in Germany since Hitler banned it in 1938. Current government officials claim that homeschooling causes "the emergence of parallel societies based on separate philosophical convictions" that could be taught by parents at home. The German court also said that parents do not have an exclusive right to lead their children's education.

I now have 1,001 reasons to be so hugely grateful that I live in the United States. I can go to shul (okay, so maybe we need bullet-proof glass and security guards at our sanctuary doors for every holiday, but at least we can GO!). We can spend our money as we see fit. And we can educate our children as we think best. I will not be taking the choice for granted. And I hope I never let a moment go by when I am not grateful that we have clean water, good educational resources, good medicine, HUGE homes, and relative security. Thank you, Hashem!

One last note... the only other country where it is illegal to homeschool (as far as I know) is China.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sweet Voice

Today I was awakened in a lovely way - the voice of my 5-year-old daughter singing the modah ani prayer as she woke up in her bed. We sing it together every morning, but this is the first time I heard her sing it by herself and without prompting.

The translation of the words is: I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for you have mercifully restored my soul within me. Abundant is your faithfulness.

This prayer has been said for more than 500 years. What better way to start the day than with absolute, clear gratitude that we are alive to experience another day? One interesting note... the usual syntax would be to say ani modah (I thank), but here it is modah ani (thank I). The "thanks" comes before the "I". My thankfulness to Hashem is expressed before I feel the I that is just awakening. My thanks is more important than "I". The last part, "abundant is your faithfulness", is gratitude that Hashem has such faith in me to do good things that he has returned my soul to me for another day.

Just the night before we had talked about how sleep is like a little death (our neshama, soul, temporarily leaves our bodies during the night and is restored to us by Hashem), and how death is like a big sleep. No wonder we need sleep. Our neshama can go get all powered up by Hashem, then come back to fuel us for another day. It's a good life.

NOTE: Hashem is used in place of the many names of God that are found in the torah. These names are considered so holy that they are only used during prayer and sometimes during instruction. Most other times we substitute Hashem which means "the name". We can also take the name of God and alter one letter, i.e. elokeinu, using a "k" instead of an "h."

Friday, August 1, 2008

First New Experience at 40

Today we had, dah dah-dah dah!, a housekeeper. Two, in fact. And yesterday too. Between them they spent thirteen hours scrubbing the house top to bottom. This was a wonderful gift from many friends and I can't thank them all enough, but thank you EG (the ringleader), LK, LB, SR, AD, M, HD, PD, CG, and KB!!!!!! It feels so nice to have the house thoroughly sparkling for shabbat. It was the first time I've ever had a housekeeper come, and it was a very nice treat. It gave the house a BIG boost, and hopefully it won't all be undone too terribly soon. What a great gift. It's inspired me now to hop back on my cleaning schedule, especially now that everything is up to date, so to speak. Last year I had worked out a pretty good cleaning routine (inspired by, but with all the extra work the adoption entailed that kind of went out the window. I would really like to get going on that again now that everything here is settling down. That is, at least as settled down as it's going to get. It's quite a crazy ride every day! But every bit as wonderful as it is insane. Wishing everyone a shabbat shalom!

The Menu

Here 'tis:

Carrot potato soup
Quinoa chick pea salad
Roast chicken
Sauteed garlic zucchini
Sauteed garlic sugar snap peas
Nectarine Crisp

And for lunch:

miso soup
green salad
cucumber salad

YUM (actually, I wish we were having lunch for dinner... oh, well, roast chicken just doesn't taste nearly as good the next day.)

Summer Weather... Humph

This global cooling up here in the midwest is pretty, well, un-summery! Our tomatoes are still little, hard, and green... and it's August 1! Amirah and Eli had basketball class every day this week and it's been canceled twice because of rain!!! (The all-day campers need to use the indoor gym when it's raining.) Recently, there have barely been any days hot enough to go to the wading pool or fountain. Eli gets the shivers if it's under 82 outside. Oh, well. Next week it's supposed to warm up a little more. We'll have to find something else fun to do today before the shabbat-cooking marathon begins.