family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real

Day 422: I’m getting too old for this.

It’s Shavuot, most famously known around here as “the holiday where Eema lets us eat lots of ice cream and cheesecake and we don’t have to go to bed until late.” Officially, of course, it’s the holiday that commemorates our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, as well as an agricultural holiday related to the first harvest of the season.

There’s a tradition of staying up all night on Shavuot to learn. In my younger days I actually went all night, and it was really fun. Now I’m old, and by 10:30 tonight my energy was flagging—but the kids were still going strong.

We read some folk stories (Isaac Bashevis Singer’s retelling of stories about Chelm are pretty funny.) We ate cheesecake and make-your-own ice cream sundaes. Then we trooped up to the attic and watched an hour or so of The Frisco Kid, which thought was mostly boring. Mr. December and I were enjoying it too much to care if anyone else was.

The kids were determined to stay up, so Mr. December read to them from a history textbook published in 1840’s United States of America. It’s kind of wild that this history book recounts biblical stories as absolute historical fact, a realization that led to my reading the corresponding stories from the Torah and discussing them with the kids.

That took us to midnight, and now it’s 12:26 and I’m exhausted. We’ve given everyone permission to sleep in tomorrow; the only schooling will be Shavuot- or Jewish-studies-related. And now I’ll go to sleep, because I am way too old to stay up all night learning things.

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real

Day 381: Kitchen Turnover

For those who don’t know, on Passover we change over our entire kitchens—dishes, pots, utensils—so that there will be no trace of leavened things, which we’re forbidden to have on Pesach. Most of the people I know call this “turning over the kitchen.”

There’s a particular feeling of accomplishment in having washed, dried, and packed up all of the Passover kitchen stuff within 24 hours of the holiday ending. We don’t use our dishwasher on Pesach, so this is always a monumental task. I did it today and it took about three hours. I felt so proud of myself.

I did have some help: R got up early this morning and started to wash the dishes herself, so I wouldn’t have to do it all (thanks, R!) She came to me when I was still waking up and told me that she’d broken a plate.

“That’s okay,” I said, “these things happen.” Meanwhile, my inner voice cheered, That’s one less dish to wash! Whee!

Anyhow, everything was finally packed away by dinnertime and I was feeling very satisfied. Then after dinner I went to get a tupperware container for leftovers; I opened the drawer and my satisfaction evaporated. There in the drawer were my Passover casseroles and serving dishes that I had entirely forgotten about. I wasn’t done after all.

I closed the drawer quietly, turned away, and tried to pretend I hadn’t seen its contents. I’ll deal with it tomorrow. Sufficient to this day is the kitchen turnover thereof, or something like that.

Image description: two open drawers, one above the other, containing some glass casseroles, a colander, and some jars. Evidence that I’m not done turning over the kitchen yet.

crafty · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · what's cookin'

Day 374: If a picture says a thousand words…

Look, if it’s true what they say about pictures saying a thousand words, you won’t mind if I just post a bunch of photos from last night’s seder and leave it at that. Right?

Oh, fine. I’ll give you my summary. Then I’ll post a bunch of photos.

Last night’s seder was very satisfying. The food was good, the kids participated, the puzzle clues for the afikoman were mostly fun, and we did the whole thing. They key to seder success (defined as doing both halves instead of petering out after dinner) is to withhold dessert until the very end, it seems.

I had fun making the table look pretty and laying out the food; I took enough photos of the food to create my own catering brochure. I used tiny little plates and bowls to create an individual seder plate for each person, and as we all know, anything in a teeny tiny plate looks fancy.

(In case you’re looking at the individual plates wondering why there’s melted chocolate and a strawberry on each one: Karpas doesn’t actually have to be a green vegetable. Apparently anything over which we say the blessing “borei p’ri ha’adama” (creator of the fruits of the earth) counts. And wouldn’t you know, we say “borei p’ri ha’adama” over strawberries! Of course Karpas has to be dipped, so I added some melted chocolate to fulfil that requirement.)

Today I was tired. I’m still tired. I wanted to take tomorrow as a day off, but we’re building a sample river table with epoxy to see how it holds up to heat and scratching; we want to do the epoxy work outside and tomorrow is supposed to be warm and sunny, so I can’t put it off. I guess I’ll rest later, like maybe in 2023.

Photo descriptions, from top left: a stone serving tray with an array of lemon-filled meringue nests topped with blueberries, and brownies in paper muffin cups; miniature square bowls of chopped liver with a mini fork sticking out of each one; a corner where two runs of countertop meet, with the dessert tray, a casserole dish with marshmallows on top, and small round plates with an assortment of items visible; a large oval table set with a turquoise silk tablecloth, plates with black and gold rims, stemless wine glasses, and three bottles of wine; a close-up of dessert-sized plates with black and gold rims, each with a hard-boiled egg in a tiny square bowl, some melted chocolate on a tiny square plate, a scoop of something brown (charoset) on a tiny square plate, and a strawberry, a sprig of parsley, and three small strips of horseradish.

crafty · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness

Day 373: Always room for one more… craft.

Today was a whirlwind of preparation as I organized, baked, and cooked for our seder. The kids set the table (I decided to be kind to myself and use disposable plates, so we had these fancy gold and black ones) and when I came to see it, I noticed they hadn’t put down any napkins yet. They didn’t have the patience for fancy folding; I thought napkin rings could be an ideal (and pretty) solution.

The problem was, the only napkin rings we own are a silver colour. I decided we’d make napkin rings out of sparkly paper; I led the kids down to the makery, got out the glitter paper… and noticed some gold wire. Now that would look really special, particularly with some shiny beads.

So we forgot about the paper and started wrapping the gold wire around our play-doh rolling pin to shape it. I found the nicest beads we had in a turquoise colour to complement the tablecloth. After the first five were finished I realized I was out of gold wire. No matter, I finished up the rest with clear elastic strung with gold beads.

They looked great. So did everything else. As much as Mr. December would differ on this point (he’s forever telling me not to add extra touches,) I believe there’s always room for a bit more beauty—even (maybe especially) when it takes more work.

DIY · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 372: Everybody helps

One of my favourite memories of Passover as a child is actually a composite of pretty much every Passover until I left my parents’ house. What I remember most isn’t the seder itself, or the food we made; it’s that everybody was involved in making it together.

Mum and Dad have always hosted at least one seder (and usually both,) and the last couple of days leading up to Passover (as well as the day of Passover itself) were spent in the kitchen, all of us rotating in or out, with Mum and sometimes an Aunty giving instructions. Kids were put to work peeling boiled eggs, making charoset, chopping horseradish for maror, setting the table, and sticking our little thumbs into balls of cookie dough so we could fill the indentations with jam. Dad would usually be busy running to the store for last-minute ingredients or bringing folding tables and chairs up from the basement to accommodate the twenty-or-so people who were invited to the seder.

I want my kids to look back at Passover and feel the same warm fuzzy feeling I do when they think of the preparation. So I give them jobs to do, even when those jobs take them twice as long and leave twice as much mess than if I’d done it myself.

Today K grated apples for charoset and then passed them off to E, who mixed in all the other ingredients before spooning it onto tiny individual appetizer plates. N made a batch of flourless brownies (although I did have to get involved quite a bit at the end.) And Mr. December did his part to keep things moving smoothly by taking apart our kettle.

Yeah, you read that right. Our kettle stopped working two days ago, and Mr. December ordered a set of special screwdrivers so he could take it apart and see if maybe he could fix it. Turns out he couldn’t fix it, but at least the kids got to see how a kettle is made.

Chag Sameach to all my family, friends, and readers. May you have a meaningful seder, and may your matzah never be soggy.

DIY · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Kids

Day 370: Pesach Cleaning

I may not be fully into Passover mode yet, but it looks like the kids are. They’ve been asking all week about cleaning the car: “When can we clean the car?” “Can we use the ShopVac?” “Will you help us take out the seats?” Truly, it was music to a mother’s ears.

Today was the day. All four kids went outside armed with vacuums, baby wipes, and giant boxes to hold all the stuff that came out of the car and needs to go into the house. There was enough clothing in there for every one of us to have an extra layer, plus some fleece blankets I keep in the car, plus an assortment of gloves (as expected at the end of winter) and socks (who’s taking their socks off in the car in February?). K got a bit obsessive about getting all the crumbs out of the cracks in the door sills. She took “a break” for a while and never went back out; the seats are still sitting on the driveway, but boy, are those door sills spotless.


I stopped by my parents’ house this evening to check on our sap bucket. There was a respectable 200mL of sweet, golden liquid. We strained it, poured it into a jar, and stowed it in my parents’ fridge. There will be a few more freezing nights next week, so we might get lucky and have enough sap to make a spoonful or two of syrup.


Image description: Two wooden chairs with padded seats: one has a green and pink fabric which is torn on the side; the other has a bright turquoise fabric in pristine condition. Table and other chairs in the background.

Oh, and the exciting stuff: I reupholstered our dining room chairs today! The last time I did it was just after my concussion (two years ago) and the fabric wasn’t particularly well-suited to the task. This time I used a heavier cotton twill that I’ve had lying around for ages. It’s my favourite colour, too.

Here’s my pro tip: sure, most people use a staple gun to attach the fabric to the underside of the seat, but in a pinch (like, say, if you run out of the right size of staples and the long ones stick out of the chair no matter what you do) you can actually use hot glue. That’s what I did two years ago, and although today I started with the staple gun, I moved to hot glue to finish up.

The colour of the new fabric makes me smile every time I see it. I think I should use the scraps to make matching socks for my chairs.

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real

Day 368: Good Day Sunshine

(With apologies to anyone who now has that Beatles song stuck in their head…)

We’re on a four-day streak of beautiful weather. It’s been 12 or 13 degrees (celsius) here since Saturday; and as some of you know, 10 degrees is the threshold past which Canadian children shuck off their coats and sweaters and run around in t-shirts and shorts. The kids have spent hours playing outside (as they should) and even Mr. December and I have taken advantage of the weather to sit on the back patio and daydream together about how our backyard will look when the landscaper finally gets back to us and we can transform the mud pit into something more usable.

I hear tomorrow morning will be rainy, which is unfortunate; we’re going on a field trip to a sugar bush. In a rare example of what homeschooling was like pre-covid, another homeschool parent arranged a bunch of tours at this maple farm and invited people to sign up for the day that worked for them. I can imagine in a year or so when people have gotten vaccines and the COVID panic ends, spending many of our school days learning at museums, parks, shows, and workshops. I can’t wait.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to test a flourless brownie recipe before I feed it to the family at the seder on Sunday night. And some Pesach cleaning wouldn’t go amiss, either, although there’s not much that has to be done: remember, dirt is not Chametz! And a rabbi friend of mine told me that if it’s smaller than a single Cheerio, it doesn’t count as Chametz either. Passover cleaning isn’t spring cleaning. Doesn’t that just lighten the load?

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 367: Here it comes…

Passover.

It used to be my favourite holiday. Then, with each passing year of seders filled with people who really just want to stop the talking so we can eat already, my enjoyment of it waned. Now it feels like something to get through, a change that I’m not happy about. Will this be the year I start really enjoying it again?

You know what I say, the key to happiness is lowered standards. So this year I’ve decided that if the kids enjoy the seder and participate in it, that’s good enough for me. Dayenu.

I found a program plan online for a series of puzzles, each of which has an answer that opens a particular kind of lock. There are five locks, and the fifth one opens a container that holds the afikoman. I have all the locks (one directional, one four-letter-word, one four-digit code, one three-digit code, one keyed) and need only to print out the various instructions and cards and so on. Hopefully this keeps the kids engaged.

Then again, kids aren’t usually the problem. It’s generally the jaded adults who want to just “get on with it.” For that problem I haven’t found a solution. I’ve tried compiling my own haggadah (which worked, sort of) or bringing in humorous parodies (those went over like a lead balloon.) Last year after another disappointing seder I downloaded a bunch of seder table games for this year. If only I could find them…

And don’t get me started on Pesach cleaning or turning over my kitchen; we’re terribly under-equipped for Passover, given that my mom has a whole Passover kitchen at her house and we’ve always had the seders there (and then happily taken home the leftovers to eat all week.) I guess it’s time to be a grownup and get my own Pesach cookware, isn’t it?

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 356: Matzah baking on an open fire…

For our bread class today we made Ethiopian-style matzah. Ethiopian Jews, like some Sephardic Jews, make a soft matzah that is probably much closer to what the Israelites would have made on their way out of Egypt.

The recipe we used told us to do it on the stove, but after I saw a video of Ethiopian Jews making matzah in Ethiopia I decided that an open fire was much more authentic. I started a fire about an hour before we were to begin baking. I also set our oven thermometer inside the fireplace.

According to our stopwatch, it only took us nine minutes to mix, roll, and bake our matzah. And then we tried some. It tasted just like matzah, only chewy and soft. I think I actually like crunchy matzah better.

We decided to see if there would be a difference in flavour if we let the dough rest for a while after we mixed it (if the Israelites hadn’t been in quite such a rush, would the bread have been different?) In baking terms this is called an autolyze, and it’s supposed to let the gluten develop without too much kneading. The only difference we detected in the second batch was that the dough was pretty wet and difficult to spread out in the pan. When I tasted it I thought that maybe it had a slightly different flavour from the first batch, but nobody else agreed with me. Either I’m a supertaster and they’re not, or I was imagining it.

The kids each took notes in their “Book of Bread” notebooks. Surprise, surprise: K, who abhors writing and will do almost anything to get out of it, diligently wrote down all the particulars, including the fireplace temperature, her observations of the matzah we made, and what we should change for next time. There was no argument; she just did it.

Will there be a next time? Will we be making our own matzah for the seders? Probably not. But it was a cool experiment and a fun way to integrate our Pesach studies with our bread unit. I hadn’t planned for them to coincide, but it’s a serendipitous combination. Next week we’ll learn some of the chemistry behind fermentation, and then after Passover we’ll start a sourdough experiment.

crafty · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Kids · The COVID files · what's cookin'

Day 343: We Made Lemonade

Happy Purim!

Know what I did almost all day yesterday? This, four times over:

Yes, those are miniature lemon loaves. I baked almost thirty of them yesterday. I only had eight mini loaf pans, so it took a long time. Never mind how the loaves turned out—the batter was pure silky, creamy deliciousness.

I am never doing that again. From now on, mishloach manot will be cleverly chosen premade goodies, labelled with puns and witticisms.

Since it’s been kind of a rough year in a lot of ways, I suggested to the kids that we call our mishloach manot “When life hands you lemons…”

There had to be a whole lemon—and enough sugar to turn it into lemonade—in each package. Obviously. Then K asked me if I could find a recipe for the lemon loaf they sell at Starbucks. “So when life hands you lemons, you just loaf around?” I asked. The puns spiralled from there.

In addition to the “you could loaf around” lemon loaf, we had “start over from square one” lemon squares, “you might snap at people” lemon snaps, and in some packages, “you may feel like pudding everything off ’til tomorrow” lemon meringue pudding cups. The best part is that I actually remembered to take pictures this year before we delivered all the treats!

Instead of our usual evening at shul followed by carnival-hopping from one synagogue to another, we logged onto Zoom to watch an online Purim shpiel (play) starring families from the congregation. Then I stayed on and listened to the megillah reading while the kids went into a breakout room to play party games with the other kids.

Although it’s a religious obligation to hear the megillah read twice each Purim, I can honestly say that before last night I have never actually heard the megillah read in its entirety. See, normally there’s so much noise from excited children waiting to drown out Haman’s name with noisemakers of all kinds that the readers can hardly be heard and the rabbi has to pound on the table repeatedly to get everyone to quiet down.

Ah, the magic of the mute button! The only people I could hear were the readers chanting the megillah; when Haman’s name came up we all unmuted ourselves and made noise for thirty seconds or so, then politely muted ourselves again. Some people (including yours truly) made signs to hold in front of our webcams when Haman was mentioned. Here’s mine, hastily scribbled at the last minute. The kids especially loved the angry-faced O’s.

Following the reading we had a Zoom dance party where four judges watched all the costumed people dance and then awarded prizes. I’m pleased to report that we were awarded “funniest costumes” for E’s lion, my ladybug, and N’s constantly changing outfits (he kept running back up to his room.)

I hadn’t expected the online programming to be particularly enjoyable; I was wrong. We saw a lot of familiar faces, we danced, we actually heard the megillah, and we all had fun. The kids went to bed feeling like they had just left a party, which I guess they had.

Today we spent Purim day in the traditional way: driving around the city to deliver the goodies we’d prepared for friends and family. This year I limited each one of us to four people, meaning a total of twenty-four packages, max. The first couple of years we did it I had to hype up the delivery aspect to K (who was having really bad Halloween envy.) Now the kids clamour to come with me, and they serve as faithful runners from the car to each front door.

This year I noticed how great it felt to actually see people who don’t live with me. As isolated as we feel now, the bonds we have with friends and family are still alive and well. It made me realize again that when COVID is over I’m going to hug everyone so hard and not let go for a few weeks. You’ve been warned.

So it was a good Purim. We made lemonade (Zoom parties, megillah readings, and treats) out of this year’s lemons (COVID lockdowns.) And if you ask the kids, it was the best Purim, because they got lots of mishloach manot and have divvied up all the candy and Bissli and chocolates—they’re well stocked until Pesach, I think.