Thursday, November 29, 2007

Soup, and other mind-altering substances

When you're feeling a bit down, few things help more than a fresh pot of soup. I've had a butternut squash out on the counter for a couple of weeks, and today I decided that since it clearly is not going to look cute and decorative forever (as evidenced by a couple of brown spots on the peel), it was time to figure out what to do with it.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to make a soup out of it. The first recipe I found was for Cream of Any Vegetable Soup from the original Kosher Palette Cookbook that my sister-in-law gave me when I got married. Of course, since then, these cookbooks have become somewhat of an empire, with a new one every year or so, and increasingly long and obscure lists of ingredients. But what would life be without the occasional, elusive search for Panko bread crumbs, crimini mushrooms, or Chilean sea bass? I enjoy the variety, but I really do reach for that old standby, Spice and Spirit a.k.a. The Big Purple Cookbook, about 93% of the time.

I must say, butternut squash is absurdly difficult to peel with a knife, unless I was doing something totally wrong. But this recipe was relatively straightforward, and didn't take too long. I followed the instructions carefully for the roux, an interesting mixture of flour-margarine (I made it pareve). This recipe totally had a funky, Food-Network-vibe to it.

There should be a cooking show about cooking with small kids. "Yes, Andy, you can smell this next ingredient, too, but take my word for it, flour doesn't have much of a smell." "Ann, you can't pick those pieces up from the cutting board to put into the pot until the knife isn't moving!" "I have to go see why Little Rag is crying. Please stop touching the garbage!'

Anyway, I didn't know what to expect from this soup because whenever I'm at a wedding (though I think it's been a couple of years) and they ask if I want "cream of whatever" soup or another option, I ask for the other option. The stars aligned properly, and the soup came out well. It was exactly what I needed. It was similar to a carrot soup I've made, but smoother and milder. Since it's pureed, I sat the kids down with straws in their bowls, and they got to work.

This was one of those days when I had a bit of a sniffle, and was a little bummed out (maybe I'll post about that soon), and what really brought a smile to my face was one thought: "Soup's on!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More Vintage Sheets - Animals of the Seventies

Back in the 1970's, animals came in many interesting patterns and colors. Nowadays, wildlife is still thrilling in its variety, but unfortunately, many of these particular species are extinct. Times have changed, and sadly, Paisley Zebra, Floral Camel, Plaid Giraffe, and several others, have vanished with the years. Their images stay with us, however, immortalized in this bedding. This pair is on Ann's bed currently. It's also pictured in my 35-year-old brother's baby album. How did my mom keep this stuff so well?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Open Door Policy

My carpooling buddy, who lives two doors away from me on a little path of apartments, is, among other things, a genuine sweetheart. She's got a very distinct way of framing things in a positive, constructive tone, with her own two boys as well as with my kids.

Her apartment's front door is situated immediately behind the stairway leading from the sidewalk up to our own door. Thus, this isn't a carpool where I need to drive anywhere. In essence, I cannot get to and from the car without passing her place. It's been a great arrangement for this year and last, but there is one caveat.

The Raggedy kids, though they can be shy in certain settings, are generally quite friendly. As in, they make themselves right at home in lots of places. As in, they try to barge in on my neighbor whenever she opens the door to let her son in. And as she is so sweet, she'll graciously invite us all in for what turns into an improptu playdate.

Andy loves it there, because it's boy-land, with a fire-truck bed and testosterone-toys. Ann loves it because she and my neighbor's son are in different classes this year, and they don't get much chance to play together anymore.

There are a number of times when I've been able to quash the playdate idea before it got started, and a few occasions when I've allowed the kids to stay for a couple of minutes before rustling them up and getting them back home.

But yesterday proved to be a real challenge. A few minutes turned into a half hour (we moms got to talking about the elementary school dilemmas we're imminently facing), which turned into nearly an hour.

At that point, Little Rag was hungry and crying, and there was not much hope of getting to make the dinner I had wanted to quickly prepare while the big kids played. Ann and Andy tag-teamed to give me a really hard time about getting out of there, and my neighbor's son kept bringing out more enticing toys, which had them totally hooked.

After an agonizing 15 minute battle involving my neighbor holding my wailing baby, and me basically wrestling Ann and Andy into putting their shoes and coats back on, we finally did the walk of shame back to our apartment. Whereupon I told Ann that I'd made a decision:

I asked my neighbor to open her door while I would bring out her son alone, and then to let him in and close her door. Only afterward would I bring my own kids out and lead us all home. She understood where I was coming from, and agreed to it, with the added stipulation that we should still see each other and set up occasional playdates in advance.

She's expecting another baby in late spring, and hasn't been feeling too great herself, so I can imagine that she's not always up for the intrusion. And it's been disproportionate in that we live upstairs and further down the path, so somehow it never winds up being here.

Would anyone have handled this any differently?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Vintage Sheets

While we're on the topic of sleep, I wanted to get to something that I've been interested in posting for a while. Ann started sleeping in a bed when we stayed with my parents for Pesach the year she was nearly 3. When we came home after that week, RaggedyDad and my father brought over the bed that was mine since we came to America from Israel when I was 5.

Ann's bed is my old bed, and what better to complete the look than having my mother give us a big shopping bag full of the bedsheets used by my older brothers and me when we were kids. Realize that my mother is the type to keep things in impeccable condition.

I tend to be a sentimental, nostalgic person, and I really like the idea that the old kiddie sheets are now in our home. However, this notion can be taken to the extreme. I know someone who actually found the old potty seat (bleached down I presume) that she used, and uses it for her kids. For me, however, the intermingling of sentiment and excrement is where I draw the line. Take a picture of the old thing if you need to, and then toss it, please.

Back to more pleasant things, like bedsheets. Aside from some fading from being washed a million times, the sheets are in great condition. And I get a kick out of watching Ann (and Andy now that he uses some of the pillowcases) fall asleep while watching and thinking about the same colorful sheets I remember from being a kid.

Can anyone identify all of the vintage Disney characters on these sheets?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Yes Sir, That's My Baby

Because some battles just aren't worth fighting.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bechorah Soup

Back when I first got married, I knew how to cook just about . . . nothing. Enter my very patient husband, who, thanks to his upbringing in Russia, was accustomed to occasional bouts of hunger.(Okay, that was a terrible joke.)

One of the first recipes I tried out in my new life as a Mrs. came from a magazine my mother gave me when she was finished with it. It was probably Family Circle or Parade or something like that. Coincidentally, the week I tried out the recipe corresponded with the weekly Torah portion of Toldot, which includes the well-known story of Esav selling his bechorah, or birthright, to Yaakov for a bowl of red lentil soup.

The recipe is called Pot Luck Soup, but in the Raggedy household, it is known as Bechorah Soup. It's a good, hearty soup pefect for this time of year when the chillier weather is upon us (please stop laughing, Fudge and Ezzie. In my opinion, it is colder these days). Make sure to have plenty of challah or bread for dipping purposes. Doubling it works fine. My own notes are in brackets:

Pot Luck Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter [margarine or just a bit more olive oil]
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves [I don't like cloves in food so I leave them out]
1 can (35 oz.) Italian plum tomatoes
3 to 4 cups canned broth (chicken or vegetable) [or dissolve bouillon cube in water]
1/3 cup dried lentils, green or brown
1/4 cup dry red wine [I use the inexpensive cooking wine]
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley [I leave it out if I don't have it]

1. Place oil and butter in a heavy pot over low heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot; cook, stirring, until the vegetables are wilted, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cloves during the last 3 minutes.

2. Puree the tomatoes with their juices in a blender and add to the pot [I think this is an unnecessary step. Just use the pureed tomatoes to begin with. Or mush them up as you cook.] Add the broth and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium; simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.

3. Add the wine, season to taste with salt and pepper, then simmer gently for 20 minutes more. Stir in the parsley and serve.

Here's hoping the only thing our children fight about is who gets the last bowl of this soup.