Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pesach Chocolate Chip Bars

Yields 2 9x13 trays. You'll need it. Freezable.

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups oil
4 1/2 tsps. vanilla sugar
4 1/2 tsps. baking powder
1 1/2 cups potato starch, sifted in
7 oz. ground nuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Beat sugars and eggs. Add remaining ingredients. Pour into two 9x13 trays. Bake ~ 45 minutes. When cool, cut each tray into 24 bars.

Note - I used 3/4 cup potato starch and 3/4 cup cake meal. The results were very chewy and moist, so if you eat gebroks, try it this way.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Redefining Breakfast

Part of our new early-to-the-bus routine for Ann involves squeezing in enough time for her to eat before she leaves the house at 7:10 or so in the morning. Having a new time goal in mind this year (last year, gan started at 9) prompted me to do something about the nagging breakfast issue in my family.

For a while, we'd been eating almost exclusively cold cereal and milk for breakfast. Cold cereal is great, and it is a big time-saver. But I wanted to give breakfast an overhaul because I felt like we should be eating something more substantial and more filling, and because unfortunately, we were in a sugar cereal rut.

I really had very few food rules growing up, and so, when buying food for my own home, if I found good deals on the cereals I liked and was used to, that's what I bought and served. Cocoa Puffs, Reese's Puffs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch are some of my favorites.

But I really started to feel uncomfortable with how much sugar the kids were consuming during their first waking hours. I began phasing out the sweet cereals and replacing them with Cheerios, corn flakes (not Frosted Flakes, albeit a delicious option), and Rice Krispies. Pathmark makes a store brand of all of these that bears an O-U, so it depends on whether there are sales and coupons to use, but the store brand is usually the better buy.

RaggedyDad's favorite cereal is Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds, so we keep a boxes few of those around. It's sort of a semi-junky-semi-healthy option. Keeping it around doesn't pose a problem.

For most mornings, though, I started serving hot cereal, which is usually more nutritious and hopefully more filling than what had been the status quo. We have oatmeal usually, but sometimes farina (I know, I know, it's the Wonder bread of hot cereals . . . ) and I serve a bowl to everyone, alongside a plate of toppings.

We call it the "toppings bar" because we're just that crazy. While the hot cereal is cooking, I'll prepare any combination of almonds, dried cherries, raisins, shelled sunflower seeds, chopped dried apricots, and the like on a plate. I used to offer chocolate chips in the beginning of this transition, but I have mostly phased those out unless someone is very insistent. While the dried fruit is sweet, it is fruit, and it's used much more sparsely in the bowls than sugar is in sugar cereal.

Once a week or so we'll have toast or sandwich-maker-sandwiches, or eggs. My father eats a pretty standard Israeli-type breakfast of toast, cottage cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, etc., and I'll serve that once in a while, too.

I'm just glad that breakfast is planned out and is more of a sound meal than it was before! The one challenge I had was cleaning out the oatmeal pot, but I found a solution for it that I'll blog about in the near future.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Taking it to a New Level

It's interesting how our threshold for things changes with time and circumstances. There are things that I encounter nowadays as a mother that would have made me totally afraid, squeamish, shy, or nervous years ago. When the heat is on, somehow you find the strength.

My threshold for cleanliness has also adjusted over the years. I grew up in a household with an extremely neat and organized mother. I've mentioned before that the entire dusting-windex-declutter-etc. routine are typically finished before 6:30 a.m. for my mother. Vacuuming and mopping are daily routines. Dust is afraid to settle on the furniture; it knows that it doesn't stand a chance.

My cleaning personality is by far more relaxed, and yet, with time, I notice that things I hardly noticed before now demand my attention. A little dust and some clutter typically don't get to me. Real dirtiness does, and I never allowed it to get to that point. Plus, more kids simply means more Cheerios in the carpet, ickiness in the bathroom, etc. But it also means that there are a few extra hands to quickly pick up toys from the rug when the vacuum rolls out (2 or 3 times a week around here, not every day!)

A sink left with dishes overnight has never been something I can tolerate, but now I need to finish off by wiping up around and inside the sink. I'm semi-embarassed to admit that for the first 2 years or so that RaggedyDad and I were married, I never made the beds (!) unless company was coming. Now there are several beds to make, and it's one of those tasks that's always done by 8 a.m.

These things became important to me at some point, and I'm not sure why. I do like a neater home, and it's what I'm used to from my own childhood. But RaggedyDad is wary of attempts to get closer to the "obsessive cleaning" mode I grew up with. Not to worry, RD. Our place still has a VERY lived-in feel. Nobody's thinking they stepped into a museum here, unless they were looking for a children's museum-anthropology of the family museum-hybrid.

I do think that my kids will enjoy growing up in a home where they feel a collective responsibility with regards to cleaning up, and also feel calmer knowing that things are being taken care of and not left to hefker-status. That orderliness comes from a neat, clean home, good meals, a gentle routine, security, and love.

Now, excuse me, I see some stubborn fingerprints on a cabinet door.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mommy, I Don't Feel Good

When it comes to sick days for the kids, I tend to err on the side of compassion. My mother was much the same way. If we weren't really all that sick, but she could see that we just needed the day, and it wasn't abused more than a small handful of times over the year, she was fine about us kids staying home from school. My father's policy was more along the lines of, 'If you have no fever, you're going to school.' High school was tough enough that even if I was sick enough to stay home, I often tried to insist that I be allowed to go anyway, lest I miss something important.

RaggedyDad actually (successfully!) performed the thermometer-to-the-lightbulb trick as a kid to get out of going to school in Russia (Soviet schools? Who wouldn't?!), and certainly at this age, Ann and Andy are not missing much if they stay home from nursery and Pre-1A (Kindergarten to the uninitiated. More on these silly grade-level name differences another time).

So yesterday, when we discovered that Ann and Andy have ear infections, Andy also has strep, and everyone's got a cold, it became clear that we were going to get another Sunday on Monday. As in, another day to be home. This comes closely on the tails of Little Rag being deemed a possible 'strep carrier'.

[Pediatrician: He's got strep for the third time in a row.

RaggedyMom: What? Why? What does this mean?

P: Well, I'd venture to guess that he never actually had strep to begin with.

RM: Doctor, is this some kind of phantom-strep conspiracy-theory? Have you and I been watching the same prime time tv shows?

P: Here's the number of a good ENT I know.

RM: And you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"]

Aside from the whole kvetchy-sick part, it is rather nice to be together.

Here's a roster of some of our sick day events:

*"Lunch for breakfast" - macaroni and cheese at 8:30 a.m.? Sure, kids!

*"Wine and cheese tasting" - er, choices of pomegranate juice or Kedem grape juice in 'fancy' plastic shot glass cups, American and 'Gorilla Cheese' (Andy's pronunciation of mozzarella) on party toothpicks

*Camping with blankets - because that is a given on at-home days

* Freestyle project-athon - Cutting up old magazie collages, pom-pom gluing, sticker applying, googly eyes, early-birthday-card-for-RaggedyDad production, etcetera

* 'Helping' Mommy to refold clothes in drawers and resort toys in bins, or ensuring that Mommy will have to do this job all over again

* Play-Doh or fingerpainting, depending on how much of a glutton for punishment I feel like being.

*Sick day cuddles

*PBS hour . . . or two.

*"Breakfast for dinner" - Pancakes, anyone? Yes, The Apple, I know we just had them yesterday -- but we're siiiiiiick . . .

We won't be doing laundry, as our machine is having "issues" and Our Man of Maytag, Jerry (referred to by Andy simply as "Jelly") is not available until tomorrow afternoon. Luckily, we were all caught up before it stopped working.

We also don't need to devote any time to paper decluttering, as I mostly did all that yesterday, nor will we be evaluating and saying goodbye to old school and camp projects, because we successfully purged all but the most special last week.

Whew! The only caveat to today is not making sick days so much fun that they never want to go back to school. Ah, well. They're only this little once. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go find the mini-marshmallows for some hot chocolate.

Friday, November 14, 2008


The number of people you run into on Main Street is directly proportional to how bad you look on any given day.

Bonus points if you did not manage to match your clothes, or if you happen to see friends of your parents or an old high school teacher. Super bonus points if you see an administrator at your kids' current schools, or if the baby is wearing only one sock and has a crusty nose.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Produce Shopping

Although my food's probably still too salty, one thing I have tried to do over the years is to make as much food as possible from basic ingredients. What this means is, in practical terms, is frequent trips to the fruit and vegetable store. I usually do a large-ish produce shop once a week. Sometimes I have to fill in later that week, and sometimes I can even skip a week if things aren't busy around here.

In our neighborhood, there are a few independent fruit stores, as well as kosher supermarkets and chain supermarkets that carry produce. In general, I try to shop for produce in the independents, because I like the prices and freshness there, and I do sort of like that 'earthy' fruit store feel. That earthiness is precisely the reason that some people choose not to shop in these places. To me, it's not grungy as much as it's close to the source of where all of these things actually grow.

There's one giant fruit superstore a few minutes away. People generally find it disgusting. I don't mind it much, and used to shop there from time to time. The kids like the lobster tank, and the prices and variety there are very good. They carry more interesting, ethnically-diverse produce than anyone in town. The sanitary level does leave a good deal to be desired. I once found a clementine crate full of kittens in the first shopping cart I wheeled out. Yikes. Also, the grocery prices there are not very good, so it definitely necessitates a trip to another store.

The chain supermarkets display clean, shiny produce, but the prices are high, and it doesn't seem like the turnover rate is all that good. The apples look so waxy-perfect - to me, that's not what I expect from fruit and veg.

The kosher supermarkets are also good for veg and fruit in a pinch, like when you're shopping for Shabbos, and only need a couple of produce items. In general, the prices (aside from occasional hit-or-miss store specials) are rather high there, too.

One of the independent stores carries very nice produce. A bonus is that it's one of the many stores on Main Street where I get to practice my Hebrew (and invariably get asked by someone if I'm French). Another bonus is nostalgia - it's named after a town that neighbors the town where I was born. This store is very popular in the neighborhood - I know quite a few people who "only go there." It is on the small side, and I'd say that it's one of those places where people seem to hate me for having a stroller.

Never one to conform, I've lately been loving a Bukharian-owned fruit store a few blocks further south. It gives me a chance to practice my other erstwhile language - Russian (just kidding - I totally don't have the nerve to speak Russian in public yet!)

It seems like their prices are the best around, and groceries there are a decent buy. I'm talking about a bunch of asparagus for 99 cents - where I see the same quantity in other places for 2.99/lb or more! (Although it's not always available) I used to buy the giant 10 lb. bag of onions for 2.99, but I find that there are always a few in there that aren't going to hold on for more than a couple of days. When I know there's a Yom Tov coming up, or that I'm making onion soup, I'll still buy the big onion bag, and sort it out right away.

The staples are always around, and for the rest, I try to go in there with the attitude that I'll see what looks good, and devise the veg portion of my menu around it. Beets and cabbage? Okay, we'll have borscht. Butternut squash looks nice and is 59 cents a pound? Sounds like a good side dish or soup.

Do you prioritize prices or a more pleasant shopping experience in your produce (or any) shopping? I enjoy shopping in pleasant places, so I promise not to judge you if it's the latter. For groceries, I've mostly given up on the places that are a few cents cheaper on some items, but treat customers disrespectfully and are difficult to shop in.

The part about produce shopping that is a big drag (even with a car) is the shlepping. I hate wasting weekend time in overcrowded food stores, so I shop almost exclusively with Little Rag (and sometimes Andy), and just get the stuff home without RaggedyDad. The system I use has been described here before. I love my fruit store - now if only they delivered!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hoping I Can

I work as a reading teacher, and these dayts, I tutor for a few hours a week. Ostensibly, I ought to be able to diagnose a child's reading difficulties, come up with a plan for remediation, and carry it out. I've been trained to do these things, and I enjoy my work.

But, like all people, I worry about my effectiveness. I'm sometimes plagued with the thought of, "I hope I can actually make headway with this child." Not because I perceive the student as ineducable (haven't met one of those yet). Not because I don't have confidence in what I need to do (although sometimes I doubt myself, as do we all). But mostly because sometimes, I know that you can do everything you are supposed to do 'by the book' and it still may or may not happen.

Sometimes there are underlying issues that you aren't aware of, be they emotional, neurological, or otherwise, that will stand in the way of the effectiveness of the work. Sometimes the rapport between a student and a teacher doesn't create the most conducive learning environment. Sometimes a student's retention is weak, and the headway you make during one session is lost the next.

I currently work with two great kids. One's father is a marine. The other's father wears a long beard and peyos. The boys are almost the same age. Their issues differ, and their lives differ even more. But in each case, before and after leaving their homes, early on a Sunday morning, late on a Sunday night, after Shabbos, or on weekday evenings when my own mother tells my kids that Mommy will be home shortly to get bathtime and bedtime underway, my silent thought is the same, "I hope I can help this child."