Monday, October 13, 2014

Cooking simply

I have come to the conclusion that cooking isn't really very challenging - unless you specifically aim at gourmet recipes, of course - if you can almost always be assured of almost all ingredients, or at least, if it's only a question of putting something on your next shopping list. 

It isn't very difficult to make a good dinner if you always have a chicken or a good part of beef.  Salmon steaks are pretty hard to ruin, too. And your baked goodies, soups and pasta will almost always turn out well with plenty of butter, cream and cheese. And it's really easy to make fancy desserts with copious amounts of whipped cream and chocolate. 

It's a lot more of a challenge to create a variety of healthy, tasty, satisfying meals from the simplest, most economical ingredients. If you use vegetables and fruit in their season, when they are best (and cheapest), things become even more interesting. 

My mother-in-law cooks, and has always cooked, soup almost every day - mostly meatless, sometimes enriched with the bony parts of chicken or turkey. Her lentil soup and split pea soup are especially beloved. A bowl of such thick, savory soup is a meal in itself. I don't cook soup nearly as often, but nevertheless we hardly eat meat during the week - or if we do, it makes for a supplementary part of the meal, such as bits of chicken breast with stir-fry veggies, served over noodles or rice. 

In my mind, I have scrumptious visions of lemon meringues with fluffy clouds of whipped cream piled up high; of an impressive cheesecake with fresh berry topping (berries are rare and expensive in Israel); of espresso mousse with kahlua liqueur, served in individual elegant glasses; of brownies oozing with lots and lots (and lots) of chocolate. Usually, however, I have to compromise for the simple good stuff, such as carrot or apple cake. It's a lot more down-to-earth, but the house smells of cinnamon, and anyone who comes through the door enthusiastically turns toward the oven. 

There was a time when bell peppers were so cheap that my husband brought home great full bags of them, and I made stuffed peppers almost every week. Then came a time when peppers got so expensive we did without any for maybe two months in a row. Nowadays I have just enough for fresh salads. Having any vegetables at my disposal at any time would be more convenient, no doubt, but there is also something nice in not having something, and looking forward to a time when you can have it again, and enjoy it all the more. 

In the photo above; my bean and barley soup, which I'm looking forward to making again soon, in the cooler days yet to come.

Monday, October 6, 2014

To teach one's own

 "We can sum up very quickly what people need to teach their own children. First of all, they have to like them, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away. They have to trust them as people, respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously. They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children's wonder, curiosity, and excitement about the world.

And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children's learning. But that is about all that parents need. Perhaps only a minority of parents have these qualities. Certainly some have more than others. Many will gain more as they know their children better; most of the people who have been teaching their children at home say that it has made them like them more, not less. In any case, these are not qualities that can be taught or learned in a school, or measured with a test, or certified with a piece of paper."

- John Holt, Teach Your Own

Image taken from here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A message from an Italian bachelor

A few days ago I received the following comment, and though I by no means agree with everything this man writes, I found his thoughts interesting enough to be posted here (in a slightly abridged version).


"I had always thought of woman as possessing those delicate qualities of mind and soul that made her in these respects far superior to man. I had put her on a lofty pedestal, figuratively speaking, and ranked her in certain important attributes considerably higher than man. I worshiped at the feet of the creature I had raised to this height, and, like every true worshiper, I felt myself unworthy of the object of my worship.

But all this was in the past. Now the soft-voiced gentle woman of my reverent worship has all but vanished. In her place has come the woman who thinks that her chief success in life lies in making herself as much as possible like man--in dress, voice and actions, in sports and achievements of every kind.

The world has experienced many tragedies, but to my mind the greatest tragedy of all is the present economic condition wherein women strive against men, and in many cases actually succeed in usurping their places in the professions and in industry. This growing tendency of women to overshadow the masculine is a sign of a deteriorating civilization.

Woman's determined competition with man in the business world is breaking down some of the best traditions--things which have proved the moving factors in the world's slow but substantial progress.

Practically all the great achievements of man until now have been inspired by his love and devotion to woman. Man has aspired to great things because some woman believed in him, because he wished to command her admiration and respect. For these reasons he has fought for her and risked his life and his all for her time and time again.

Perhaps the male in human society is useless. I am frank to admit that I don't know. If women are beginning to feel this way about it--and there is striking evidence at hand that they do--then we are entering upon the cruelest period of the world's history.

Our civilization will sink to a state like that which is found among the bees, ants and other insects--a state wherein the male is ruthlessly killed off. In this matriarchal empire which will be established the female rules. As the female predominates, the males are at her mercy. The male is considered important only as a factor in the general scheme of the continuity of life.

The tendency of women to push aside man, supplanting the old spirit of cooperation with him in all the affairs of life, is very disappointing to me.

Woman's independence and her cleverness in obtaining what she wants in the business world is breaking down man's spirit of independence. The old fire he once experienced at being able to achieve something that would compel and hold a woman's devotion is turning to ashes.

Women don't seem to want that sort of thing to-day. They appear to want to control and govern. They want man to look up to them, instead of their looking up to him, so.. as a bachelor Italian man, I may understand American men who still avoid marriage and I guess they also believe that Women today become the greatest evil, as such, any good men should avoid marriage like a plague!"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A little update

It has been a while since I posted, and I received some anxious inquiries from friends and readers, who wondered how we are all doing and whether everything is alright. So, yes - we are doing fine, settling into our new home. I've been, and still am, extremely busy with everything that needs to be done, and sometimes it seems as though there will never be enough time to accomplish everything while I'm still, ahem, light enough to be mobile and active. 

We've now passed through Rosh Ha-Shana, which means the Sabbatical year is here. In the last weeks before the beginning of the new year (which, incidentally, also marked the fourth birthday of our Tehilla), we raced against the clock, trying to complete all we won't be able to do in the next twelvemonth. There wasn't much time (as we've only moved so recently, and garden work, by necessity, wasn't a first priority), but at any rate we've cleaned the yard from weeds, put the flower beds in order and gave some space to the poor suffocated geraniums, and planted a bit here and there. My desire to have more plants is by no means satisfied, but until the end of the shmita, I will have to be content with potted plants. Luckily it's possible to grow almost everything in pots.

Our life out here is even more adventurous than in our old home. Water supply has been inconsistent for the past month, and so we are planning to install a water tank for the times when water is cut off. I've learned an important lesson: do not put off laundry, dishes or showers, or the water might be gone when you least expect it!

Knowledgeable folks around here have also warned us that electricity might not be very reliable in the coldest days of winter, and as I'm due in January, we are preparing accordingly. We will probably purchase a small generator and/or a gas stove for heating. Many people here have wood stoves, but neither of us feels up to chopping wood on a regular basis. 

It would be wrong to say I haven't been writing it all; on the contrary, I began a new book (while trying at the same time to find representation for the previous one), and I soon realized that if I don't make writing my first priority whenever I have computer time, which is so very limited (not to mention the irregularity of our internet connection), nothing will be done. So I'm trying to make the most of the little time I do have, even if it means I temporarily slack as a correspondent, a blogger, or a reader. 

There are still many alterations in the house to be made and, of course, a chicken coop to build. Also, Yom Kippur and Sukkot are still ahead of us, which means there is a lot to look forward to in the next few weeks. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Time of changes

Well, I'm finally able to take a deep breath and say: we did it. The last things were packed, the moving van came, and all our furniture, electric appliances and towers of boxes arrived at the new house. The girls spent a couple of days with their grandparents while we frantically packed and unpacked, and after a week I can proudly say that the only boxes are those in the storage shed. Er, don't mind the clothes strewn on the bed in the mess room. Guest room, I mean.

It wasn't easy. Especially so, since I'm now about halfway (!) through my third pregnancy. I've been extra careful not to lift anything heavy, of course, but still it was exhausting, and now we're savoring some well-deserved rest and enjoying what is left of the summer (which, in Israel, can unofficially last until the end of October).

I don't have a regular internet connection these days, which is both a limitation and a blessing... I do hope we'll get this fixed sometime in the near future. In the meantime, here's a cheerful wave from our little home in the hills.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Nursing on demand and parental authority

There is a lady who writes in an Israeli magazine, whose articles on parenting I always look forward to. She speaks a lot about parental authority, delegating responsibilities to children, resisting worldly influences and other subjects I find instructive. Her most recent article was no exception. She lamented the fact that so many parents are encouraged to choose the so-called "child-centered" lifestyle, becoming slaves to the child's choice of friends, clothes, toys, extra-curricular activities, and... nursing on demand. 

Are You Afraid of Your Child? How to Get Your Parental Authority Back

Nursing a newborn on demand? Why, yes. "In the past," she writes, "new mothers were told to breastfeed according to a schedule. Now it is recommended that you do it whenever the baby feels like it." 

I felt compelled to send this lady a personal email, in which I pointed out that all the examples she used in her article were good ones, except nursing on demand, which in no way "spoils" the baby or harms the mother's authority. Quite simply, the fact that the recommendations in hospitals changed is due to finding out that nursing on demand (or rather, on cue) is actually the easiest and most intuitive way to establish successful breastfeeding - which is important not only for the baby, but for the mother's health as well; try skipping a feeding for the sake of a schedule and you may end up with painful engorgement, complete with a plugged duct and high fever. 

She wrote back. Her response was polite but self-assured. "Our mothers breastfed on schedule," she said, "and we turned out a lot better brought up than the current generation of children." True? Perhaps. Cause and effect? Not in the least. 

I responded and said that, indeed, our mothers were told to breastfeed on schedule - and not coincidentally, it was a generation of formula-feeders. My mother-in-law, for example, was told to breastfeed her newborns every 4 hours. No more, no less. Baby is crying? Let him cry until the set hour. Baby is sleeping and you are thinking of taking a nap yourself? No way - wake him up to nurse. Unsurprisingly, her milk "just ran out" after 1 month, after which she had to give her children's cow's milk (as formula wasn't readily available), and  many years later told me how she "was one of those women who just couldn't produce enough". 

I also heartily recommended this lady to discuss the matter with a lactation consultant, and to consider all the facts. After all, it is a pity if a new mother who threw feeding schedules out of the window reads her article and thinks, "what if I'm spoiling the baby? What about my 'authority' as a parent?" 

Imagine the following situation. It's nearly evening, and I'm busy making dinner. A five-year-old is hanging around and says, "Mom, I'm hungry." "Dinner will be ready in an hour," I say. "But I'm still hungry," she insists. "Alright, then," I say, "if you feel you really need to eat something right now, you can get yourself an apple or a pear." She proceeds to do so, and settles down with her little snack while I continue making dinner in peace.

Does the exchange above make my household "child-centered"? No. Does it make me less of an authority as a parent? No. Would it be better if I barked at my little child, "wait for dinner!"? Again, no. By the way, those who have been reading for a while know I'm very much in favor of regular family meals. But if I get myself an unscheduled snack, sometimes before dinner or right before bedtime, and find it acceptable, why should I refuse when it comes to my children? I'm not speaking about things like sweets and treats, of course, but about an apple before dinner or a slice of bread and cheese before bedtime. 

So what is the difference when we're talking about a baby? A baby is completely dependent. She cannot get up and get her own snacks. She cannot communicate her needs in words or negotiate. All she can do is signal to me that she needs to be picked up and fed - which, if the baby is exclusively breastfed, can only be done by me. So there is no getting around the fact that I must, indeed, feed when the baby needs it, not when it is most convenient for me. This has nothing to do with authority, and everything with meeting the most basic need of a tiny human being. 

Think of a novel concept: scheduled diaper-changing. After all, why must we be slaves to the baby's whimsical schedule of bowel movements or wet diapers? Why must we hurry with a new diaper in hand every time? As parents, we are the leaders, and thus the baby must follow. She must learn that she is part of a family, and adapt to the family schedule. Thus, from now on, diapers will be changed - regardless of how wet or dirty they are - five times a day, at set intervals, and once at night. Try this for a few days, and you will see how your baby soon stops crying because of a messy diaper! 

Sounds ridiculous? Of course. But in my eyes, this concept really is no different from feeding on cue vs. feeding on schedule. Some day, your children will be able to go to the bathroom without your help. Some day, they will open the fridge and make themselves a sandwich. But babies need their parents to provide those primary needs, and it is the parents' job to do so. 

Image taken from

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to subdue a pumpkin

I love pumpkin. It has this delicious, neutral, slightly sweet taste that makes pumpkins perfect for a wide variety of dishes - soups, pies, quiches, cakes. Not to mention the lovely bright orange color. It's just that, whenever I'm faced with a nice fat chunk of pumpkin, the question is - how am I going to cut it/slice it/grate it? Uncooked pumpkin so hard that, whenever a recipe calls for pumpkin, most of my work actually involves dealing with the unruly vegetable. 

So today, when I wanted to make pumpkin fritters, I came up with a brilliant but simple solution: I took the whole piece, boiled it in a large pot, and when it was done (which doesn't take a long time), I could just scoop the pumpkin from the rind into a bowl, easily mash it up, and voila - it's ready for the making of fritters. No fuss, no mess, no sweat. 

Here's to kitchen tips that make life easier! Especially now that so much of my time is taken up with preparations for the house move, which is due to take place in about a week and a half.