Spontaneous Shabbat Lunch

M and I originally thought that last Shabbat would be a quiet family Shabbat, just the five of us at both meals (we never really get around to seuda shlishit, so why pretend). M wasn't feeling well Shabbat morning, so I took the kids to the park myself in the morning (grumbling on the way that I was once again stuck with the kids myself). I ran into my friend T in the park (waving hello if your're reading!), who has a matching set of kids to mine- 2 girls and a boy. Her kids are so matching that the older girls are in school together and the younger are in the same gan.

I had invited her for lunch at the beginning of the week but she said her husband was going to be in miluim and she would be by family. At the park, she said she wanted to call on Thursday to try to revive the invite, but didn't. I said what a shame and somehow we got the idea to have a food pool lunch at at my house. We were into the idea and we knew the kids would love it, but somehow our husbands weren't exactly chomping at the bit to have such a spontaneous social activity. Although they weren't thrilled by the idea originally, in the end everyone had a really nice time and the whole thing really cheered me up and left me with a great feeling (I have friends and they like me so much they would come to my house for lunch on the spot!)

Usually, when I make Shabbat food I cook for at least 6-8 people even though we're only 2 adults and 2 kids who eat real food. This Shabbat, I really pared down and only made 3 chicken quarters (baked with quince, carrots, cinnamon and cumin that I adapted from a recipe in Gil Marks 'World of Jewish Cooking'.) My friend brought a drink, a chicken salad and chummus. I had brown rice and roasted cauliflower and tomato but what really made the lunch was a leftover shoulder roast I had from the night before. I sliced it into strips and made an Asian steak salad. With guacamole and cold cuts, it was quite a feast for such short notice.

Last Minute Asian Meat Salad

1 head/bag Red/Green/Baby leaf lettuce, washed and dried
1 cucumber, julienned or cut into large dice
1 red pepper, julienned or also large dice
5-6 cherry tomatoes, halved
3-4 radishes, thinly sliced
500 grams beef shoulder, sliced into strips

Dressing: (er, rough estimate because I stopped measuring my dressings a long time ago)

3 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
3 tsp honey
1 tsp whole grain mustard

Mix salad ingredients in a large bowl, laying the meat on top. Mix dressing ingredients in a small jar or large teacup. Dress right before serving. Garnish ideas: Crushed roasted cashews or peanuts. 

Shiny the Jewish Giraffe

This post incredibly adorable and I think the mom did a good job handling her 3 year old's spiritual crisis:

Collecting the Moments One by One

I can't even use the excuse that I haven't been near a computer, because I work on the internetz!

A recap from the last week or two:

Just to chime in with other Israeli parent-teacher conference goers, I too, received a sparkling first report for my first first grader. What a nice feeling, especially since I feel that I put in just as much work as my daughter! First grade is really tough these days. Much tougher than mine. (I seem to only remember painting the windows, reading groups with Mrs. McGivern and being forced into Second Grade Hebrew because I learned the aleph-bet in Chabad kindergarten).  A. seems to have an infinite number of notebooks, workbooks and folders to keep track of. Not to mention schools supplies that never stay in her kalmar. (I now seem to make a weekly trip to Office Depot to resupply her bottomless pencil case). But, despite all of these obstacles, she sailed through like the princess she is, smiling, courteous, davening with kavana and learning to read, write, add and subtract all in 3 months!

My 18 month old son, E, took his first steps this week. I knew he would because he managed to walk with a baby doll stroller on Shabbat, exactly the way A did 5 years ago. (The Shabbat she did that, she walked that week). Now, the night he took a few steps, I was very excited and of course told my husband. When he took him to gan the next morning, though, he forgot to tell the gannenet. When she saw him walk, she called me so excited and said "הוא הולך לבד! " When I heard that, my first thought was that he walked out of her yard alone!! But then I quickly realized that she was just excited that he's walking unaided. Whew!

Poor T is stuck in the middle. Our relationship is going through a rough patch. She announced this morning that she doesn't like me, because I made her wear a sweatshirt she didn't like. She has a very particular taste in clothes, that I try to accommodate, but most mornings I'm just not in the mood for a reenactment of What Not to Wear. I know I should pick my battles, but I'm not always good at that. Of course, 15 minutes after she proclaimed her dislike for me, she begged me not to leave her gan immediately after drop off. I can't win...

Hubby is in Germany for 48 hours, as per usual. Just me, my computer and Elite 92 calorie chocolate bars, which are surprisingly satisfying, even though I only ate one!
Here is a really darling music video I found: 

The song is from the soundtrack to the movie (500) Days of Summer. We saw the movie a few weeks ago and I thought it was ok, but I loved the music. Straight from my high school days, the Smiths, the Pixies, etc. I just love how creative and whimsical this video is. I'm not really into music or videos anymore (especially since I lost my entire cd collection on one of my flights back to Israel in 2000) but this one reminds me of why I used to be into it.

[Post title is a paraphrase from the song]

Cauliflower and Mushroom Bisque

This is a sturdy soup that you can make as thin or as thick as you like, depending on how much stock you add. It passes for potato soup but no potatoes were harmed in the making! For serving with dairy, feel free to add some cream or thinned yogurt. This also makes a good sauce for rice, couscous, pasta, chicken, pargiot or even mini hamburgers, which I made tonight.

And it got one kid vote at supper tonight, even though said child burned her mouth on it ( I don't want any McDonalds coffee type lawsuits so, WARNING: This soup is very very hot when you first make it, so blow on it before eating and don't put the bowl between your knees while driving a car. Thanks!)

Hattip to my mother. She gave me the original idea for the recipe.

Cauliflower and Mushroom Bisque
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
4 zucchini, washed and cut into chunks (if you want to maintain a lighter color and you're not in Israel, peel some or all of the zucchinis).
1 large or 2 small heads of cauliflower, broken into florets
1 basket of mushrooms, sliced
3-4 Swiss chard leaves or 1 cup spinach, roughly chopped
Chicken, veggie stock or water to cover vegetables
Pinch of nutmeg

Saute onion and garlic until soft. Add mushrooms and saute until they start to cook down. Add the rest of the vegetables except chard/ spinach and stir. Cover pot and cook on low, without water for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables start to make their own stock (this really brings out the flavor in the vegetables, so don't skip this step). Cover with stock or water, season to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1/2 hour. Add chard or spinach and cook for 10 minutes longer. Let cool for a bit and blend with a hand blender.

Note: Feel free to leave out the greens if you think it will freak your kids out or if you want a mellower, more potato/leek soup type flavor.


(photo credit: Glenda Kay's Gifts. I think you can actually buy a doll like that)

Did You Know About the North Korean Famine?

Ok, not really related to the usual themes of this blog, but I've been a little obsessed with this topic since I read an article about it in the New Yorker last week. They don't have the article online for free but here's a link to a slide show about the article. Apparently, there was a famine in North Korean in the mid-90's that killed 2.5 million people, conservatively. No one has definitive numbers because it was a crime to report "starvation" as a cause of death. I never knew about it until reading this article and when I ask other people who are usually up on current events, no one else had heard about it either. I think it's amazing that an entire country can keep a secret like that. Here is a link to an article in the New York Times in 1996 about the "upcoming famine".

The New Yorker article was mind blowing, especially for someone who loves to eat, like me. She focuses on this one woman, Mrs. Song, who lost her mother, husband and 25 year old son to starvation. She describes the horrible things they were forced to eat, including porridges made out of ground corn cobs/husks and bean stalks. Flavoring soup with grass. And mostly all of her doomed attempts at making money and procuring food for her family.

Here is an excerpt from the online abstract (you need a sub to read the whole thing online):

Even after three members of her family died of starvation, Mrs. Song believed that North Korea was the greatest nation on earth. Mrs. Song used to go twice a week to a food-distribution center near her apartment, in the coastal city of Chongjin. Mrs. Song would hand over her ration book, a small sum of money, tickets from the garment factory, and the clerk would calculate her entitlements: seven hundred grams each per day for her and her husband, three hundred grams for her mother-in-law, and four hundred for each school-aged child living at home. For all its rhetoric about self-sufficiency, North Korea was dependent on the generosity of its neighbors. By the early nineteen-nineties, the Russians, impatient with North Korea’s failure to repay loans, raised their prices for food, fuel, and raw materials. Enduring hunger became part of one’s patriotic duty. 

As I prepared my Shabbat food on Friday, I really appreciated the meat I was able to buy and prepare with such ease, the olive oil I was able to drizzle on my fresh vegetables (oil became completely unavailable at any price in the North Korea in the late 90's), the oven I was able to just turn on with the flick of a wrist.

Here is a link to the author's upcoming book.

הילדה הכי יפה בגן

For those who aren't familiar with this great Yehudit Ravitz song, here's a link.

I think my middle daughter might win the title for her gan this year. I'm not trying to brag, (of course it feels great that my daughter is so loved) but I'm more amazed than anything else. I know that she's made a lot of friends as we've had quite a few playdates this year, but the reaction of the boys when I bring her in the morning is unbelievable. They literally start whooping and shouting and going into a frenzy when I bring her in. Today, they started when I came in (she was putting up her name on the board by the door), because they know I'm her Ima. They shout "T is here! T is here!". I don't think she really knows what to do with the attention, because she can actually be quite shy. She doesn't even really acknowledge them, because she likes to settle into gan at her own pace in the mornings.

I just think it's quite amazing. She's only four now. What's going to be when she's actually a teenager...?

Baby Survival Kugel

Breaking news at the Startup Wife home: My husband's startup was mentioned int his BusinessWeek article.  (His is the second company mentioned, SolarEdge). Woo hoo! Nice to have the media recognize the millions of hours he (and I, picking up the slack at home) have put into this business.

On to the recipe:

So, I've recently been complaining  about how E, my little one, doesn't eat a blessed thing ( I really did offer him most things in Hannah's post here but even from a young age he turned up his nose at the simplest foods). Well, he almost doesn't eat anything. He did take a shine to my carrot kugel (rather, the Kosher Palette's carrot kugel recipe. Remember that oldie but goodie cookbook?). I decided to play with the kugel recipe to turn it into a well rounded meal, since he refuses so many other foods. Here's what I ended up with and it's  still a huge hit with him.

Baby Survival Kugel
5 carrots, peeled and cut into coins
1-2 zuchinni, washed well and sliced
1 cup whole wheat/white flour (depending on preference)
2 Tbs wheat germ
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 small container white yogurt, higher fat the better (3-4%)
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar (you can try 1/2 as well, if you would prefer less sweet)
1 tsp vanilla

Steam or boil vegetables until soft (steaming will retain more vitamins). Drain and mash in a large mixing bowl with a potato masher. Add the rest of the ingredients, in any order you prefer. Mix lightly with a spoon and then blend with a hand blender (alternatively, you can put all the ingredients into a traditional blender and whiz there.) Pour into a lightly greased rectangular pan and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 40-45 minutes, until golden on top and firm.

Let cool completely and refrigerate. Cut into squares or "fingers" and serve warm, room temp or cold. Goes anywhere you child does. Can be served even as a breakfast treat!  Feel free to sub in different vegetables- works especially well with pumpkin and sweet potato.

Is Gender Socialization Genetic?

Lisa Belkin writes on her Motherlode blog about a boy who wants to be a ballerina for Halloween.  The mother wants to stop him, not because she think it's wrong, but because she doesn't want him to be teased. I understand this, but I tend to agree with the commenters who think, at 5, he's ready to be prepared for the teasing and, if he still wants to dress up after being well-informed of the possible social consequences, then she should let him.

This got me thinking about my own boy's toy preferences. My husband and I have been fascinated by how, even as early as 12 months, he had a clear preference for decidedly male-oriented toys- especially trucks, cars and tractors.When Mr. Startup (hubby) returned from a trip to the states with gifts, he bought the girls Barbies (those Polly Pockets were driving me crazy. They lasted about 5 minutes no matter how hard I tried to corral them all into various storage boxes.) and an adorable furry kitty stuffed animal for E. No go. Totally not interested and this was at 14 months. A month later, he brought back a green racing car that zoomed off by itself. A huge hit! We were both simply amazed at how he was gender socialized at such a young age. And where did it come from? It's not like we had a house full of boy toys. In fact the opposite- almost everything is  pink, sparkly and dolls. Dolls totally don't interest him. When I try to give him one to distract him, he just throws it to the side.

He loves other kinds of toys too- especially stacking cups and a toy where you can stack large beads. But we are just fascinated about how he fell so easily into his gender role so early. It's genetic? I have no idea.

Check out Kosher Cooking Carnival #46

Many thanks to Mimi at Israeli Kitchen for putting together a delectable looking Kosher Cooking Carnival.

I'm gaining weight just looking at the recipes!

Greens, Mushrooms and Noodles

I made cabbage and noodles a few weeks ago. I hadn't made it in ages (possibly years) and I had forgotten how much my husband loved it. I bought some Swiss chard and mushrooms this week, thinking I'd make some kind of soup with them. Last week I bought a pack of endives after reading this recipe in the NYT.  Cooked endive sounded intriguing.

In any case, I was still stuck with all these ingredients Friday afternoon, so instead of all my previous ideas, I sauteed onion and garlic, added the mushrooms, thinly sliced endive and the chopped chard, with lots of salt and pepper. I cooked a pot of good wide egg noodles (not the crappy Israeli kind). My husband and I finished the whole thing at dinner, thanks to some generous "tasting" helpings before Shabbat.

A few notes on serving: I served this Friday night, and to be honest, it doesn't take too kindly to reheating on the plata. So there are two options: you can add a few eggs or one egg and some egg whites and more salt and pepper, making this a kugel. Or, you can keep the vegetables and noodles separate until the last minute and stir them together before serving, that way the noodles don't get all tired and limp looking.

In any case, we thoroughly enjoyed the dish (of course, the kids wouldn't look at it).

Greens, Mushrooms and Noodles

1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 basket of button mushrooms, sliced (any mushroom will do, feel free to substitute)
2 endives, thinly sliced from the end
1 bunch of Swiss chard, washed well, checked and chopped
salt and pepper
1 package of wide egg noodles, cooked just to al dente

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in a large wok or frying pan  for about 10 minutes on low heat, until thoroughly browned and soft. Add mushrooms and cook until the juices have evaporated. Add endive, cook until soft. Add chard, cook down as well. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook noodles in boiling water until just al dente. Mix veggies and noodles just before serving. Or mix together and add 2-3 eggs and bake in an oblong pan at 180 degrees Celsius until firm, 30-40 minutes.

When Mom Can't Make It All Better

I happened to actually turn on the TV on Thursday night, which is a rare occurrence for me, and the movie Medurat Hashevet (Campfire) by Josef Cedar was on. I loved that movie when it first came out in 2004 and I loved watching it again, especially after thinking about A Mother in Israel's post What Defines Israeli Parenting?

All of the classic Israeli aspects of childraising are in the movie- the independence (the main character, Tami, spends lots of time on her own, and the climactic moment of the movie actually happens because she's at an unsupervised Lag B'Omer campfire); the mother who tries to be authoritative but sensitive but is too self absorbed by her own traumas to follow through on either well; the insularity of the religious neighborhood that tries to fend off the "bad kids" from the poorer neighborhood next door. It's really a fantastic movie and worth renting if you haven't seen it yet.

One element that really struck me after this viewing was Tami's reaction to her trauma. In most Hollywood movies and TV shows, when something bad happens to a child (Tami is 15), the normal reaction is for the child to report what happened directly to her parents or siblings or another trusted adult. Tami doesn't say a word to anyone. When her sister asks what happened and tries to get her to talk, she refuses and says she's ok. When her mother tries the same, after saying she's not angry, same thing happens. The movie ends, loose ends are tied up, but Tami never discusses what happened with her mom or sister. I thought that was curious and somewhat unsatisfying for the viewer. I wanted her to have that catharsis of spilling everything to her mom and getting comfort, but for some reason Cedar chose to deny us and her that moment.

I think there is something true to life in Tami's reaction. We always assume that kids need to talk, especially when they are in trouble. Maybe sometimes kids need to be alone with their trauma, to work through it themselves. There's a lot in the movie about drawing boundaries within the family- the mother gets angry in the beginning when the older daughter locks her bedroom door and fools around with her boyfriend. She breaks the window on the door as punishment. When Tami locks her door to be alone, the mother reminds her "We don't lock doors in this house!". I think Tami's silence is part of that process of creating boundaries and defining herself.

Best and Worst Parenting Feelings

There is no better feeling than having all three kids asleep at 7:28 pm.

There is no worse feeling that having your son wake up screaming or spit food out that he really wants to eat because a nasty sore on his tonsil makes it too unbearable to swallow. And there is nothing you can do to soothe him aside from hold him and try to shove more Nurofen down his throat if it's time. Hand, foot and mouth disease sucks! Though this homeopathic spray my sister in law recommended seemed to work just now. I sprayed some after he woke up from his early bedtime and he managed to get back to sleep after a few minutes.

Another good feeling I've been having is watching my two daughters play and interact with each other. A is 6.4 in kita aleph and T is 4. They are truly best friends. When my parents were here, my mother was absolutely amazed at how they could sit on the couch for an hour, my older lying in my younger's lap and listening to younger tell embellished versions of her dreams, complete dramatic cameos from Barbie and some other dolls. They truly love each other's company, most of the time. They do fight and bicker sometimes (there was a drama about sharing a balloon in the car today) but they absolutely care deeply for each other. When A spent a Shabbat away at Savta and Zayde's alone for "quality time" they both only wanted to talk to each other on the pre and post shabbat check-in phone call. A just had to share this very important joke with T, she had no time to talk to Ima or Abba!

I don't have a sister and neither does my mother (in a way, we are each other's sister- we talk on the phone everyday and talk about everything). So it gives me even more pleasure to see how close they are, and how much they truly enjoy each other's company. It's also very convenient to have a live-in playdate.

They both love their little brother, so it will be interesting to see how they incorporate him into their play as he gets old enough. He's still in the destructive phase of play.

Blogger Blab Fest and Odds and Ends

The blogger do-dah last night, organized by A Mother in Israel and (Aardvark in the) Israeli Kitchen,  was a blast. It was wonderful to get to know the faces behind familiar blogs and meet new bloggers. Mimi was very generous to open her home and it would have been a perfect evening if only Petach Tikveh was slightly more accessible and/or the Israeli Transportation Authority was slightly more adept at highway signage. I drove myself there with impeccable directions from my navigator hubby, but still managed to get off at the wrong exit and get lost wandering around the dark streets of the Petach Tikveh Industrial Zone with not a clue as to where I was. I did finally find my way to Mimi's and was even able to give a ride to Isramom on the way back so she could get a bus back home.

I really enjoyed hearing about Baroness Tapuzina's background and how she got her food blog going, and how Robin from Around the Island got into photography. It was also good to hear about topics and issues that people struggle with in their blogging. I really hope you will write that haircovering post, One Tired Ema.

I look forward to future meetups.

Loose Ends:

*My 17 month old, E, is insanely picky with food. I'm trying to be nonchalant about it, but it gets difficult at times, (I think more for me than him). He will happily eat sweets morning, noon and night, but has yet to agree to eat a straight piece of chicken. So far, he will deign to dine on fish sticks, chummous or jelly sandwiches, yogurt pancakes, fruit yogurts or Daniella (air whipped yogurt/white cheese thing) carrot kugel and any cake, cookie or chocolate.

Even though this is kid number 3, when you'd think I'd already by experienced enough to handle this, but I'm open to any words of encouragement or advice.

*  Hubby M is going away next week, the third week away in the last 5 weeks. The near constant travelling that seems to be part of the "startup mentality" is getting old for me. I know it's part of the deal, as it were, and we should be used to it, but it's still hard for all of us, even after 3 years.

* My daughter has way too much homework for a first grader. It's a constant stress for me. I thought I finished school already! Not fairy! (A is constantly using this "fairy" word (instead of fair). In Hebrew it turns into "זה לא הוגני".)

Navigating the Mass-Market Milk World

Lisa Belkin has a post up on her Motherlode blog about dealing with rules and attitudes your kids might encounter at friends or in school that differ from the ones at home. Like, you don't have a TV in your house but your neighbor does- are your kids allowed to watch or not?

It's an interesting discussion. I deal with this with the chiloni family across the hall. They have a daughter the same age as my oldest. So my two girls and she play really nicely together. We've gotten into some healthy discussions about how she rides on Shabbat and we don't. For the most part, I've been fine with their play dates, except for some TV shows here and there that I don't care for. A, my oldest, came home from gan last year singing some movie songs that I don't care for either. Also, I let them watch the preschool channel Hop on TV but Arutz Hayeladim (the Children's Channel that's not very kid friendly) is banned here. But I can't forbid them from watching it at other people's houses.

Generally, I try to stay flexible, unless it's something that really offends my sensibilities, like Bratz dolls.

This mother has other problems:

I am experiencing this right now. I LOVE my neighbor who watches my daughter twice a week, but I do notice that she comes home singing little jingles that I’d rather her not know. Yesterday it was “shake your booty…” ha! We don’t own a tv and we eat very healthily, but like other commentors, I’ve wanted my daughter to be aware that other families do things differently and to find love and joy with others even though they are different. We’ve compromised with the nieghbor on lots of little things …no sugary juice for my daughter when the other kids have their juice but rather organic raw milk (provided by me) instead. Now it’s a non-issue. But with the corny pop culture jingles? I don’t know how to handle this one. Should I risk coming off as a total judgemental b**** and asking her not to show movies to my child (she’s already agreed to no TV when my daughter is over) or should I get over it and just “shake my booty!”? :)

Here was my response:

Anonymous #32:

I vote for getting over it, having some sugary juice and letting go a bit. Your daughter has got to learn how to navigate the pasteurized mass-market milk world sometime. Now would be good.

I found the attitudes about TV and food in the comments to be remarkably similar to haredi attitudes towards those topics (TV is bad, can't trust the standards of the next-door neighbor).

How do you deal with different rules and alternative attitudes toward the values and ideals that are important to you?

[Insert Recipe Here]

Well, if you want to find my recipe for Vegetable Soup with Chicken kneidalach, you'll have to go to the fabulous new CookingManager.com site. There are lots of other neat kitchen tips, ideas and recipes there as well.

Kiddie Cocktail Party at Neila

So, Yom Kippur for me was not as successful shul-wise as Rosh Hashana was, but, on the bright side, fasting is a breeze when you take away nursing and pregnancy conditions (like that story of the man who brings all his animals into the house to get quiet...).

But I did bring the kids into shul for Kol Nidre and Neilah. In both cases, I felt it was inappropriate to bring food into the shul. Normally, I will bring some quiet snacks so they can sit for at least 30 minutes (Bamba bags aren't quiet.) But I felt it wasn't appropriate when people are fasting, especially at the end. Other mothers felt otherwise- there was a gaggle of kids in the back of the shul munching away at an assortment of snacks and they weren't toddlers. I made my 6 and 4 year old suffer through an hour of shul without snacks. I made sure they ate at home beforehand, so I knew they weren't hungry. I'm sure it was just hard for them to see others snacking away with abandon.

Now, I tried to make sure E, 15 month old, was fed too. However, two minutes after he ate his yogurt and banana bread, he started coughing (he has a bit of a lingering chesty cold) and sure enough, threw up everything he just ate! Nothing like cleaning vomit on Yom Kippur! (not to be outdone by cleaning an entire jar of Vaseline that he smeared on the floor and mirror as a morning activity).

So, am I just a meanie? Is it ok to bring kid snacks into shul on Yom Kippur?

7 Minute Apple Plum Compote

I just made this up tonight and I think it could be great for a quick dessert for Shabbat or a boring weekday night (like tonight!)

1 apple, sliced
2-3 blue plums or 1 black plum
2 splashes of dry red wine (preferrably wine that you enjoy drinking; I used a nice Merlot)
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 shakes of cinnamon

Put all the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Give a stir. Microwave on high for 2 minutes, stir around and make sure the apples are face down in the wine. Cook for another 3-4 minutes till everything is soft.


Serves 1. You can multiply if you're feeling friendly.

The Tefilla Shuffle

Davening on Yamim Noraim with small children is always a challenge, to put it mildly. There are many configurations and arrangements one can make to accomodate both parents. Growing up, my large suburban shul always employed non-Jewish babysitters for small children and they had "Junior Congregation" for older kids, although I just remember wandering around with my friends those long hours till I was old enough to get into davening. But babysitting was a lifesaver for parents, since children sitting quietly or davening were welcomed into the "sanctuary" (American shul terms are so funny), but noisy kids running in and out were not (there were actually ushers standing at the doors to keep order).

Here in Israel, such luxury does not exist. When I lived in Jerusalem, my neighbor and I shared a secular babysitter on the Yamim Noraim, which was nice, but I felt funny about employing a Jewish person on the holiest days of the year. Although we still go back to J-m for Rosh Hashana, I don't live near that neighbor anymore, and that babysitter has moved on anyway.

Another arrangement is tag-team davening. This is where one parent goes to a very early (vatikin) minyan and then takes care of the kids while the second parent goes to daven. I did this on Shabbat this year, although usually it's the husband who does this, and the wife goes late. I went to a five am minyan on Shabbat morning and left in the middle of musaf so my husband could make a 9 am minyan. Although I didn't get the entire davening in, I, at least, got some quiet, alone davening time to myself. And the early morning walk through the streets of Jerusalem was truly heavenly, in every sense of the word. The minyan took place in the Ramban shul in Katamon, where they have just finished a room downstairs, but had to leave half of it unfinished since they found Byzantine-era ruins as they were excavating.

The problem with the tag-team is that it's hard for kids to feel like it's chag- I didn't take them to shul at all later in the morning, since there was no shofar blowing. I took them to the park, they played and then we came home. The park was packed and there were many mothers wandering around with machzorim in their hands, trying to keep an eye out for falling kids and davening at the same time. Now that my girls are 4 and 6, I do want them to get used to being in shul, get a sense of what it's about and slowly learn to sit for longer periods of time. You have to start somewhere!

So the next day, I davened Shacharit at home and took the kids in time for shofar blowing and musaf. I wasn't worried about the girls going in and out, since they are pretty well behaved and after some shushing, my little one learned not to run into shul shouting about what she needed. My 15 month old was going to be the problem. He stayed pretty well in my arms for the silent Amidah and enjoyed clapping and singing along for the first part of chazarat h'shatz. But then he got antsy, so I took him out. He wanted to go into his stroller, so I put him in. I tried wheeling him into shul, since there was room, but he wasn't interested anymore. I rocked him back and forth outside, and just as I was about to give up and go home, he fell asleep. A really really sound sleep. Score! I was able to wheel him in next to me and he slept through the entire musaf and shofar blowing. Aside from some small issues with the girls, I was actually able to daven the whole time, which I was really excited about. And the girls stayed in with me for short periods of time.

This shul is a young families shul, so there were lots of kids, and they had a short children's service and some toys and mini mitkanim. I was very pleased with how it worked out.

Yom Kef Was Ke-ef

Yesterday we had a Yom Kef at work (Fun Day). I think American companies only do these types of things on Memorial Day, July 4 or Labor Day or any spring/summer Sunday. Since none of these holidays exist in Israel and there are no Sundays, per se, any day can be turned into Fun Day! (This one just happened to fall on Sunday, since, actually, our company is tied to schedule of US stock markets).

Last Yom Kef wasn't so kef for us. It involved a "Laughing Yoga" seminar. Now, I happen to love a good yoga class. This wasn't one of them. So many of us were a little wary of what was in store for us, since it was supposed to be a "surprise". Ug. I was dreading paintball. My heart sunk when we turned into our destination and the signed announced that this lovely activity was one of the place's offerings.

Turned out, no paintball. We were divided into teams (girls/boys/mixed) and sent on a kind of treasure hunt that involved completing Survivor-type challenges. You had to collect "diamonds" from each successfully performed challenge and the winner with the most diamonds got to open the "treasure chest" at the end of the 2 hours.

Since additional points were give for ruach, I broke out all my old nonsensical camp cheers ("Save your toilet paper cause we're gonna wipe you out!!!" ??) which put us over the top and clinched us the prize- chilled champagne, served with watermelon; NICE! We kindly shared with the losers.

Then we continued on to Binyamina winery for wine tasting, a tour and dinner. We all got nice and sloshed (a discussion of beet recipes at dinner turned into a giggle-fest) and the food was delish.

The best part of the day- this was my first afternoon off from the kids in a very very long time. Mazal, our trusty rent-a-Savta, picked them all up from gan and the bus stop, took them to the park, did homework, fed them dinner and put them to bed. I came home at 8:30 to a house of sleeping kids! It cost a pretty penny (it was seven hours of babysitting) but it was well worth it.

Much kef was had by all.

A Dilemma

We were invited to friends for the whole Shabbat. We were supposed to go last week and both families forgot till Thursday night, by which time I had already made plans to send my oldest for a "Shabbat Pinuk" at the grandparents (pinuk= spoiling). So we rescheduled for this week.

Last night, I called my friend to ask what I can bring. (Actually, more to inform her I'm bringing carrot kugel, because that's what E eats reliably and roasted broccoli and cauliflower because they're in my fridge and need to be made). She sounded really preoccupied when I first spoke to her earlier in the evening.

When she called me back later to confim things, she told me the reason she'd been preoccupied was because she had just found out that her neighbor, mother of four, had committed suicide yesterday. Her oldest son, an 8th grader, found her hanging in the bathroom in the afternoon. Her daughter is in my friend's daughter's class. Her youngest just started first grade last week.

I was stunned. I literally had to sit down. I had never met this woman in my life, but news of her death felt like a punch in the stomach. All I could think of was her son, her children. How could she abandon them? My friend said there were never any indications of depression or abuse. No one knew anything.

Such a tragedy. After I caught my breath, I asked if we should still come for Shabbat. My friend assured me that it was still ok to come. I said ok and hung up. Then I called my husband, my mother, my friend. I had this immediate need to call and tell people, I don't know why. Then my mother pointed out that it might not be such a good idea to go and have my oldest, 6, exposed to possible discussion of this tragedy. She was right. A is very sensitive, as are most 6 year olds who are on the cusp of understanding such abstractions as death and love, but can't quite process them as older children and adolescents can.

So I called my friend back and suggested that maybe that it's not such a good idea to come. She said not to worry, she also didn't want her younger son, also around 6, to know and she was sure her daughter was mature enough not to talk about the event in front of him or any of the younger children. I was still hesitant. This poor girl, who is friends with the girl who just lost her mother: Why pressure her to repress her feelings with our presence? But my friend and her husband felt it was ok to come and so did my husband. I was outnumbered.

I hope it works out ok. I'm really not interested in discussing suicide with A. To this day, she still remembers my grandfather's death from a year ago, and she only met him 2-3 times in her life. She's not upset about it, but she still thinks about it and where he is and what happened to him.

Reading the above over, I realize I'm turning this immense tragedy into something that's all about me. I fully realize it has absolutely nothing to do with me. These poor children will suffer tremendously for the rest of their lives for no rational reason except undiagnosed or poorly treated mental illness. I've been thinking of them constantly today and I probably will for a while.

Update: We went and it actually turned out ok. My friend's daughter didn't go to the funeral, which made it much easier. Our kids played together from the minute we walked in erev Shabbat till they collapsed on the couch shortly before Shabbat ended and the topic was never discussed in front of the children. I think it probably helped that my friend and the woman who died weren't very close friends. I'm sure in that situation it would have been much different.

The daughter, N, went to visit her friend in the late afternoon and came home for seuda shlishit crying. My daughters were already asleep by then and her mother, father and I did our best to comfort her. N and her friend are 11. :(

I lost a night of sleep because E didn't like his pack and play sleeping arrangement but I'm glad we all went.

Petach Tikva School Scandal: Abject Racism or Media Lynch?

When I first heard about 100 Ethiopian immigrant children being denied places in religious schools in Petach Tikva, I was obviously appalled. Racism is alive and well in Israel, unfortunately, but I couldn't imagine it had gotten to the extent of actually denying children places in schools. In order to fulfill the requirements of the conversion authority, the children must be enrolled in religious schools.

3 semi private schools in Petach Tikva- Lamerhav, Da'at Mevinim and Darkei Noam- have now said that they will take 50 children into the first grade and the rest they will accept into "Kittot Klita"- separate remedial classes. Gidon Saar, the education minister, does not accept this solution because he doesn't want the children "ghettoized" into their own classes. Shimon Peres has called for demonstrations against the school (you can see his call not once, but twice, in this Haaretz article). Again, as I said, when I first heard of this, I, too was horrified. But after reading up on it over Shabbat, I've come to the conclusion that this is an attempt to attack and demonize these religious private schools.

Over the last few weeks, efforts to find a compromise were made by various representatives of the municipality. One suggestion, proposed by Moti Zaft, head of the religious schools department, was to form special classes for the Ethiopian children to help them close the pedagogic gaps between them and the rest of the students, the main reason cited by the private schools for their unwillingness to accept the immigrant pupils.
Another suggestion, which was accepted by the city's non-official recognized religious schools, was to split up all the children equally among all the schools.
So far the Ministry of Education has been adamantly against the idea of forming special classes for the Ethiopian students.Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said he unequivocally demanded that the students be put in regular classes and that segregated classes where like "small ghettoes."

The schools are offering (or are willing to accept? Different paper have different versions) a sensible solution- how are new immigrant children expected to keep up in regular math, language and Torah classes if they are just entering school? (My husband thought at first that this was an attempt on the part of the schools to keep up their standings on state tests, that these weren't really new immigrant children- but if they're still going through the conversion process, obviously, they are still relatively new).

If the schools were smart or at least a bit media savvy, they would simply accept the kids into regular classes and remove them for remedial work as needed.

Also, it's unclear from any of these articles why they can't be accepted into regular state religious schools in the city. I found it interesting this is the complete opposite from our experience here in Raanana. Here, there was a quota on the number of children from Ranaana that Darchei Noam was allowed to accept, in order to protect the state religious schools, which is logical from a public policy standpoint. The school had to turn away 18 families, at first, because of this quota. We were one of them, until we used our Jerusalem address to circumvent this (they had no problem accepting children from outside of Raanana.) The mayor here is very against private education and does his best to stifle its growth.

In Petach Tikva, the municipality seems to depend on these schools to educate religious children- otherwise, why can't these children just be accepted into the state religious schools system?

There were a number of other articles in Haaretz and Jpost lamenting the spread of private and semi private education, about the weakening of the public system and what it means for the future of Israeli education. As I said before, I fully understand this on a public policy level. However, on an individual level, I was horrified that the mayor was trying to force me to send my daughter to a public school when I wasn't sure that was the best place for her or us. I think school choice is part of being a modern developed Western nation. I think it's foolish to assume every child should go to public school.

I hope a solution is found within the next 72 hours and the school year in Petach Tikva can start peacefully for everyone.

Eeek, My Tanach Professor's Son!

I had this guy's father as a Tanach professor in Stern. Professor Havatzelet wasn't particularly awe inspiring and many times he repeated the same lessons a few times in a row. But he was a very sweet man.

Summer Activity Alert

If people are still looking for things to do with their kids in the Merkaz area, I highly recommend Park Kfar Saba. Parking does cost 15 shekel in public lots but there is plenty of free street parking if you're handy with a map.

The park is only in its first stages, but they have some really beautiful mitkanim (playgrounds? jungle gyms? Not sure how to translate that) based on a combination jungle/ Noah's Ark theme. There is even a mini wooden climbing structure for toddlers which my crawling 14 month old enjoyed immensely (and it was small enough that I didn't have to climb up and rescue him for the too-high slides like most other mitkanim)

The park also has a great "sprinkler park" where kids can splash play in a series of about 30 jets of water. I can't guarantee how hygenic it is, but we went last week and I don't think my kids got any sicker than they were before (they had a few sniffles).

The park also has a pretty area for barbecuing and a great giant sculpture exhibit.
There are also have lawn bowling courts if you're into that.

Sorry, I didn't bring my camera. It was enough wrangling three kids back and forth there myself.

Another place we plan to check out is Mekorot Hayarkon (the source for the not very clean Yarkon river, pictures at right) But I heard good things about this site and since it's so close to us and looks very stroller friendly, I thought I'd try that with the kids this week as well. Update: Sorry, this site is not free. 25 shekel for adults, 15 for kids.

If you have a daughter between 4-6 who loves fairies and anything sparkly and pink, I recommend an outing to see Princess Lillifee- it went down big with my two daughters. I got a nice 15 minute nap in there, so I can't really complain myself. :D

Israel's 'Scary' Religious Army

Salon has an article about Israel's "activist" military rabbis. All of the stories that really inspired me from Gaza incursion, of rabbis inspiring the troops with tefilot and divrei Torah before going in I guess don't play as well to the rabid liberal Left.

Apparently they don't appreciate Chief Rabbi Rontzki's habit of expressing his views:

Rontzki has been accused of speaking out against military service for women -- he denies it -- and after Bamahane, the army magazine, profiled a homosexual major, Rontzki wrote to several senior officers to protest.

But what really gets the goat of Yesh Gvul, the defender of Israeli human rights (who knew we had our own group?) is this:

"Under Rontzki's command, the rabbinate is giving the conflict a religious overtone, and they are also using their free access to soldiers to work toward political goals," said Michael Sfard, an attorney for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group. Those goals, critics like Sfard say, include making sure the West Bank, claimed by the Palestinians as part of their future state, remains in Jewish hands for good.

What I think is most interesting about this article is the sincere attempt on the part of the author to try and convey valid reasons for why the rabbinate might be more activist (there are more religious soliders in the army now) but how it utterly fails to convey how most traditional Sfardi soldiers probably appreciate the strengthened rabbinate. Yes, I'm sure it might make some secular soldiers uncomfortable. But I would imagine that on the night of the incursion, they were probably in the very small minority (don't have any proof for that, which is why I imagine it).

So Far Away

Well, that vacation seems a lifetime ago.

So far, since we've gotten back, I've dealt with a bout of almost swine flu (my baby came down with a fever the day after we came back, so the dr. sent us right up to the swine flu clinic with masks. A few days later, we found out it wasn't.); we currently all have matching hacking coughs and the baby has an ear infection.

I'm also in full kita aleph shopping mode. Here in Israel, you have to buy all the books! So different from the US, where we always got books and workbooks from school on the first day.

And my husband has been away all week! But he's miserable too because he's only gotten to sleep in a bed on night out of the the last four.

Anyway, a few things that I've read that have caught my eye:

This excellent Modern Love column. A really amazing example of a woman's courage and strength while trying to keep her family together. It sounds trite, but really, it's true!

I cannot believe this news about that woman who killed 8 people on the Taconic Parkway in NY last week. I was truly horrified by all the miserable kid-related news that came out of the US last week, but this latest update really takes the cake. I really have no answer to Lisa Belkin's question how can a mother drive drunk. I have no idea how a mother can strap 5 kids into a car that drunk. :(

I was with Michael Pollan halfway through this article about how no one cooks in America anymore, until I started choking on all the pretension. Also, I really have to correct him when he includes frozen vegetables among other processed conveience foods that have replaced real foods used in cooking from scratch. Frozen vegetables are usually just veggies and they usually have more vitamins that old, worn out fresh veggies. But I did appreciate his remembering watching Julia Child on WNET in the afternoons with his mom because that's exactly what I did when I was a child! One of my first memories was sitting at the coffee table in our living room watching Julia Child and copying out Sesame Street picture books onto yellow legal paper. I was already protoblogging at the tender age of 4!

and, a recipe. Take that Michael Pollan! Some of us still like to cook:

Chard and Chicken Pilaf

2 Tbs oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed and chopped
1 pack mushrooms, cleand and quartered
2-4 pargiot or 2 chicken breasts sliced
1 small container (2 Tbs) tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
3/4 cup water or chicken stock
1 cup rice (brown, white or I used a grain mix of pearl barley, buckwheat and brown rice)

Sweat the onions, add the garlic, saute about a minute (careful not to burn garlic). Add chard, saute until cooked down. Add mushrooms and chicken, saute another minute or two. Add tomato paste and wine and stir around some more. Add water or chicken stock, stir through and add rice. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and cover. Cook about 15 minutes for white rice, about 30 for brown or mixed grains. Check after around 15 minutes and add water if it seems like it needs more.

The House That Was Not a Hole

So we make it to Killini, the town with the ferry port, even though the GPS insisted it doesn't exist. Once we made it past the major highways, the drive was stunning. Huge green mountains on one side and impossibly blue sea on the other. Kind of like the coastal drive from LA to San Francisco but greener. I'm really glad we did it because we got to see so much of country this way, though poor M was stuck driving because he didn't put me on the licence. I couldn't have driven anyway because Greek drivers are even crazier then Israeli ones. And they have this cute driving custom- they magically turn two lane highways into four lanes by driving half in the shoulder, thereby letting others pass. There were a number of breathless passing maneuvers that I could have done without, but M got us there in one piece, thank Gd.

Anyway, we find the ferry, I rush to get tickets and we make it onto the 5:30 in the nick of time. Poor E is starving and I get him some applesauce before we set off. It's too windy to sit outside with him, so I went inside with him in the stroller and T, my middle daughter. She was not all that thrilled with this part of the trip and I forgot to take her drawing stuff with us. By that time, we'd been travelling for about 14 hours and my super-organized Supermom persona had kind of worn off.

On the ferry, we actually met another Israeli family with kids who were on our plane in the morning. Their four year old recognized us, although I had recognized the mom myself, but I was too tired to go up and be friendly with my fellow countrywoman. But once the little girl made the connection, we said hello, and exchanged phone numbers promising to sms and make plans. More on that later...

We landed in Zakynthos. The port had a lot of nice bright colored buildings. We get off the ferry in our car and started using the directions from the villa owners. Since they were written in British rather than American, some of them were hard to understand (it took me a while to get that "stay right" means "bear right"). Luckily, we made it to the house and the outside looked exactly like the picture. Terra cotta, with yellow sun umbrellas. The house is in the village of Mouzaki, on the southern part of the island. It's a rural area, with houses spaced fairly apart fields of dried grass around it. People had goats in their backyard and we were actually right near the airport. But mostly, it was much nicer looking and more charming than Athens had been, which was a relief!

There's a crazy wind storm going on when we get out of the car making it difficult to get to the door without my skirt going over my head. I punch in the code for the key safe outside the door open the door and immediate relief! The place is gorgeous- completely new tastefully furnished, clean. Really, everything you could hope for in a completely unseen vacation home you rent for yourself and your family from the internet without any reccommendations! It was a crazy gamble, but it really paid off. The pool was gorgeous and clean, with plenty of deck chairs, two bathrooms, a nice clean new bathtub, a dvd player. It was fantastic. It was a great relief.

Here is the living room:

A nice pic of the pool:

I have more pics of the pool but that's all I have of the house per se. The house was apparently just built last year and everything is new. Even most of the utensils in the kitchen were new- the bbq tools were still in the bag! Basically we felt very lucky, got our stuff inside, got everyone showered/bathed and had some kind of food and promptly passed out from exhaustion!

Well, It Was a Nice Vacation...

I finally have a second to post. I'm not sure where to begin- the vacation or the post-vacation madness.

How about let's start with the vacation? Much nicer!

Basically, it was fabulous. As my husband described it- Nikui Rosh Totali- complete brain cleaning. No internet. Schedule was basically: AM: Pool PM: A different beach every day. One day we took the kids to a nature park and they got to hang out with animals but it was completely stroller unfriendly (hello, who do these people think come to animal parks?) and another day we took a cruise to this Shipwreck beach.

Getting there and back was a hassle. The plane ride there was at 7 am, which means we had to be there at 5. The girls were really great about getting up at 3 am and getting dressed and ready in 5 minutes. E was too- except that I forgot to change his diaper and forgot to pack a bottle for him for the wait on the security line- big mistake. He ate a lot of tea biscuits but then was very thirsty and cranky- and wet. We finally made it through check in and I was able to change him and get him a bottle before getting on the plane.

All I can say is- thank God it was only a 1.5 hour plane ride. No trips to America until all kids can plug into their own iPods or DVD players!

We landed in Athens, got our stuff. Everyone else was travelling with little itty bitty suitcases because they were going to "HaKol Kallul" (all-inclusive) resorts. Not us! Three big duffle bags for us! But we didn't actually overpack too much and only came back with two.

We got to our car- unfortunately, the car M ordered online that seemed like a "deal" online but was only a deal because it didn't include insurance (!) and was actually too small for us. He had to go back and get us a bigger one and was extremely pissed for getting cheated in about 4 different ways. So lesson number one for readers: Beware of car rental "deals". Stick with the major rental businesses and as always, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

So we packed the car and headed to Beit Chabad to pick up our frozen food. The GPS took forever to "Find the Satellite" and I was getting a bit nervous because I had absolutely no idea where we were and where we were supposed to go. Luckily, M printed out Google maps directions to BC and the island, so even if the GPS failed us, we'd be able to get where we needed to go. Yay for my forward thinking husband!

The kids conked out in the back seat and we found Chabad on a little street in Athens. Athens looked kind of like a depressing version of Bat Yam. The parts I saw on the first day didn't look very charming. A lot of cheap dirty stores, a LOT of cigarette ads all over the place ( no wonder 40% of the country smokes as I read in the news last night!). Anway, I made it up five flights because I couldn't figure out how to work the elevator (something about opening and closing the right doors). A very nice Chabad rabbi handed me a rather large insulated bag and a smaller one, packed with individual frozen meals, fantasically packed. I was thrilled. I paid him and he was nice enough to show me how the elevator worked.

Back in the car, M got the GPS working and we made our way out of Athens and towards Korinthos. We needed to get to Killini, on the far edge of the Pelloponese to get the ferry to the island but guess what? The GPS couldn't find Killini! It could only find as far west as Korinthos, so that's where we headed. We later found out that the GPS knew nothing about Zakynthos, our island, either. But there we managed with a map.

M was pretty exhausted from sleeping only 3 hours at night, so we had to make a rest stop on the highway for about an hour. Luckily, there are tons of rest stops on Greek highways, kind of like in America. I took the kids to the bathroom, bought yogurt for E at the gas station (Greek yogurt! Yum!) and some other snacks and we had a nice party on the grass. M slept for about 45 minutes and was refreshed enough to continue.

Here is a piece of Google maps showing a bit what the car/ferry trip looked like. Athens (Athina) is on the right and Zakynthos is all the way on the left:

'No Leftovers' Shabbat

I generally love cooking a ton of food for Shabbat, thus minimizing my cooking for the rest of the week. However, since we're leaving at 5 am on Sunday morning for our trip, no leftovers for this week. I guess I could have frozen the leftovers, but the food I like to cook doesn't freeze very well (roasted veggies and roasted chicken aren't very freezer friendly, IMHO.)

So I was going to cave into my husbands' constant pleas and buy takeout. Now, my husband doesn't plea for take out because he dislikes my food. He just thinks I work too hard and there's too much clean up, so why not spend about the same amount of money and buy it (he doesn't take into account leftovers, probably because he doesn't really eat them. I'm the leftover eater in the house).

So, I was planning on picking up a few last minute food items for the trip at the super (PB, tuna, pitas, hot dogs, and I actually bought some packet soups which I've never in my life bought, but I thought I'd give them a whirl. I got some kind with no MSG or preservatives. We'll see how they taste... ). I had baby E with me and since he generally enjoys supermarket trips, it wasn't a problem.

While at the super, I suddenly felt like I didn't have the strength to go to yet another store for the takeout. And I had some stuff in the fridge I had to get rid of anyway... So...

I bought a chicken and whipped up a few things before my husband saw and laughed his head off that I couldn't get take out even for this shabbat.

The menu is:

Friday night:
Golden Fruit Soup (peach, nectarines and apricots cooked with cinnamon and ginger, purreed and chilled. Recipe below)
Roasted chicken
Roasted Butternut squash
Cumin Scented Chipeas and Spinach (awesome recipe, good hot or cold)

Shabbat Lunch:
Leftovers from the night before
Cold cuts and salatim

I bought little containers of salatim, so I hopefully will still have an empty fridge when we leave.

Golden Fruit Soup
Large Bowl of ripe nectarines, peaches and apricots (I can't remember how many there were, but I'd say about 10 pieces of fruit altogether. There were some grapes in there too)
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 - 3/4 cup light brown sugar (more or less depending on how sweet you like your fruit soup)
Water to cover

Cut up fruit into chunks, cook with spices, sugar and water until soft. Let cool, puree with a stick blender. Chill. For dairy meals, serve with a big dollop of full fat yogurt. Try freezing in popsicle molds for fresh fruit bars ( you can layer with yogurt for fruit and yogurt bars)

Why You Should Have Ratatouille in Your Fridge

It just makes your life so much nicer. I made a big batch for Shabbat, and we had it warm Friday night with some turkey stew and cold as a salat for an appetizer. I've been eating it with lunch yesterday and today and then tonight I sauteed fresh bass fillets in a pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper and then dumped some of the ratatouille after they browned a little, added some white wine and cooked them covered for about 12 minutes. YUM!
Your life will infintely improve with ratatouille in your fridge. Even frozen Tivol shnitzels will seem like gourmet food with a ratatouille treatment.

Here's how I made it:

1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
3 zuchinni, cut in half half moons
1 eggplant, cut in half half moons, salted and drained
2 red peppers sliced
basket of mushrooms, if desired
1 can of crushed tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
3 sprigs of fresh basil, leaves removed, chopped/chiffonade
3 sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves removed, chopped

Sautee onion in 1 tbs of olive oil, till transluscent. Add garlic, sautee another minute. Add vegetables, cook about 7-9 minutes covered until cooked down a bit. Add tomatoes, spices, herbs and sugar. Cook covered, about 30 minutes, until vegetables are cooked down and it looks like ratatouille.


When Famous People Die

Exactly. This is an exact replication of an interview between Yonit Levy (Channel 2 news anchor) and an American reporter on CBS last week about Michael Jackson's death. The only significant thing to come out of that interview was the ability of YL to show off her accentless English.

Say 'Bye Bye'

My 14 month old son, E, is soon finishing his time with his wonderful metapelet (caregiver), whom he's been with since he was 5 and 1/2 months old. She has truly been an extraordinary caretaker, constantly showering him with love and attention and generally "mothering" him, rather than just "babysitting" him. He smiles and gets excited when we approach her door and now he even smiles when we park the car near her house. M and I have remarked to each other numerous times about how happy we were to have found her.

I'm really going to be sad to finish with her at the end of the summer and I can tell she feels the same way. I've really appreciated the security of knowing I was bringing him each morning to someone who truly loved him in addition to simply having the mornings to do my work instead of smooshing it into naptime and bedtime. Basically, I loved being able to share my parenting duties with another mother.

I thought of this delicate and close relationship we have with the metapelet when I read this book review a few months back on Salon.com. The book is called Mothers and Others by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy.

These paragraphs in particular resonated with me:

In the course of writing "Mother Nature," [previous book] I realized there was no way that mothers in the Pleistocene could have reared their young without alloparental assistance. At that point, I had been working on the demographic implications of shared care, and how it meant that mothers could breed after shorter intervals and produce more young that were likely to survive. So I concluded that humans must have evolved as cooperative breeders. Although people had been thinking about various permutations of this hypothesis for a while -- it started out as "mothers must have had help from their mates," and then in the '90s people started to say that it was help from siblings or grandmothers -- "Mother Nature" was really the first book to come out and say it: We could not have evolved except as cooperative breeders.

... What I'm saying is that human mothers are unusual in how much support they need. I'm also trying to expand the concept of what children need to include other people as well as mothers. Mothers need a lot of social support, and having more than one caretaker is very, very useful. When parents are getting divorced and the father and the mother are fighting over custody, that's so selfish. There's no way a child can really have too many allomothers. Even if the mother is mad at the father, she should want him involved. Children develop best in secure social environments, and security includes turning to lots of different people and knowing they are there for you. And since daycare is here to stay, we need to think a lot harder about how to make it better by incorporating attachment theory, making it small-scale and having consistent and responsive caretakers. But these aren't brilliant points. These are just obvious.

An "allomother" is basically a child's caretaker other than a mother.

My three children have all been in some type of childcare since very young ages and I think they have all thrived and benefitted from from their relationships with their allomothers. I agree with Hrdy that the key to excellent childcare is "consistent and responsive caretakers" and I've been lucky so far in finding these kinds of caregivers.

Leavin' on a Jet Plane

We are planning a family trip to Greece in a week and a half. Though this choice of destination is not as frugal or cheap as the ones mentioned in this post at Mother in Israel, it's not as extravagent as it sounds. We are using my husband's frequent flier miles (the ones mentioned in my first post) and we are renting a house I found on this site .

What about food, you ask? (which of course is always my number 1 concern!). I'll be bringing a pot and a pan to make eggs, pasta, rice, etc and I also ordered some chicken and turkey dishes from Chabad of Athens which actually has a kosher catering service.

So how did I come up with Greece? We were orginally planning on going to the States with M's miles. However, we didn't get around to calling up about tickets till the middle of June, which is way too late to book for the summer ( I had a bad feeling about that). I was very disappointed because not only did I want to get to the States to see my Zayde, whom I haven't seen in 3 years, but I just wanted to get on a plane and get out of the country for awhile (it has been 3 years since I've seen an airport).

After being depressed for awhile, I remembered we had neighbors back in Jerusalem who went to Greece for a week in the summer, and I thought, why not, we have the miles? So I started digging around about hotels, rentals etc. I found the vacation home rental site and thus started my mad rush to plan a vacation. I discovered that June is pretty much very late to plan anything for following two months. People book these homes a year in advance!

It became an obsession for a few days and required a lot of coordination between the flight and the availability of different houses. (There is a reason that travel agencies are still in business) But I finally came up with a match and we're leaving in a week and a half!

We are staying on the island of Zakynthos, which is one of the Ionian Islands on the western side of Greece. We are flying to Athens, which takes about one and half hours, renting a car and then driving over the Peloponnesus (like the Peloponnesian War! Remember that from high school history class?) and taking a ferry to the island. The drive and the ferry should take about 5 hours, but I'm sure we'll stop on the way.

We don't have a lot planned yet, but there will be a lot of beach and pool time on the schedule. And I'm hoping to see the sea turtles! A friend who is a professor of Jewish history informed me that there is actually an old shul and Jewish cemetary on the island and that there was a functioning Jewish community on the island until the 1950's. You can read more about that here.

Wish us luck!

Swiss Chard Pie

I made this on Shavuot and it was a big hit at my inlaws.

Swiss Chard Pie

1 bunch Swiss Chard (alei mangold in Hebrew)
1 basket of mushrooms, dark, light, whatever you like, sliced
1 leek, sliced thinly
1 red onion, diced
1.5 containers of 5% cottage cheese
1 handful shredded cheese
2 tablespoons bread crumbs/matzo meal
2 eggs

For crust:
2 medium eggplants or
1 eggplant/1 zuchinni

To prepare crust: Slice vegetables longitudanally quite thin, but not paper thin. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil or roast them in a very hot oven until browned. Let cool in the pan and remove carefully. Line the pie/tart pan with the vegetables. I like to let a little hang over the sides and fold over the pie after it's filled.

Wash the chard in a few changes of water. It's quite sandy. Remove hard ribs and chop finely. Chop the rest roughly, set aside. In a hot pot or large wok, cook chopped chard ribs, onion, and leek until transluscent. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper. After mushrooms have cooked down, add the chard and cover until the chard has wilted.

Remove from the heat and let cool a few minutes. In a large bowl mix together vegetables and the rest of the ingredients. Feel free to add herbs you might like- thyme, basil or marjoram would be great. Pour on top of your veggie "crust". Sprinkle with a bit more cheese.

Bake at 180 C/ 350 F for about 40 minutes, until brown.

Delicious hot, warm, room temprature or cold.

The Scary Private Years

“But I often long to talk to Ellen, with whom, after all, I have done a million things in these scary, private years. We drove the kids up every damn rock in Central Park. On Easter Sunday, we pasted white doves on blue posters and prayed on Eighth Street for peace. Then we were tired and screamed at the kids. The boys were babies. For a joke we stapled their snowsuits to our skirts and in a rage of slavery every Saturday for weeks we marched across the bridges that connect Manhattan to the world. We shared apartments, jobs, and stuck-up studs. And then, two weeks before last Christmas, we were dying.”

This is a quote from the short story "Living" by one of my favorite authors, Grace Paley, z"l. It's not my absolute favorite quote of hers, but it's one of the few I found on the web, saving me the trouble of typing another one in. But I do happen to love this one for the way it encapsulates the experience of mothering young children and being a younger mother, particularly the way she describes these years as "scary, private years". So much of child-rearing and being a young (and youngish mother) is indeed "scary" and "private", which is probably why mommy blogs and Mommy and me groups are so popular.

I also love her mention of snowsuits, which reminds of a great red one that I had when I was four. Now that we live in Israel, no need for kiddie snowsuits. :(

(The image is from another favorite piece of literature of mine, The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats).

I also love her honesty. I think it's rare to find a mother who's never screamed at her kids because she's tired. But it's also hard to find a mom who doesn't who doesn't pray for a more peaceful world for her children. I think it's important to acknowledge that the contradictory emotions of motherhood (and childhood, for that matter) don't negate each other.

No More Mooching

Well, I'm about 4 years late to the blog party, but, since I came up with a cool title, I thought it was time to fire up a blog of my own.

No more mooching off of other people's blogs!

I'm not sure how confessional this blog will really be, despite the provocative name, since my husband actually abhors confessionals of any nature and is naturally very secretive (and since our lives are inextricably entwined, that would affect my writing). So I will try to be as respectful of that as possible.

3 years ago, my husband, M, and his army buddies decided to open a startup, similar to the Little Rascals gang saying "Hey Gang, let's put on a show!". It was a bit more serious than that, but not much. After much brainstorming, vc fundrasing, allnighters and collecting of frequent flier miles they are finally on their way to what looks to be a functioning business.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I've been kid wrangling our three children and working part time at another startup at home (not sure I'm ready to disclose that yet, maybe later). It's been a roller coaster ride of tremendous satisfaction in raising our family and watching this business grow from a tiny germ of an idea to a full fledged global production. It's also been a tremendous source of exhaustion and emotional meltdowns. So I think this blog might be useful in sorting some of the latter out.

And, I'm dying to share recipes as well!

Like this one I came up with yesterday:

Chicken Fingers

4 skinless chicken breasts, sliced lenthwise in 3-4 pieces
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 solet (semolina flour) (purchased thanks to this post)
3-4 shakes granulated garlic (garlic powder, shum migubash in hebrew)
3-4 shakes sweet paprika (can add some hot paprika if you like a kick)
Salt and pepper
1 egg
1 Tbs olive oil
Olive oil/canola spray

Mix ingredients 2-5 in a plate or large bowl. Mix egg and oil. Spray a large pan with oil spray or wipe with a thin layer of oil. Dip chicken fingers in egg/oil and then crumbs. Put in pan, spray lightly with a little more oil (helps crisp the chicken since they are going into the oven). Bake at 180 C/ 350 F for 25 minutes.

Serve with sweet chili sauce, sweet and sour sauce, duck sauce, ketchup, whatever strikes your fancy.

I liked the texture of the chicken slices rather the flattened schnitzel they sell in the market.

Shabbat Shalom!