Keepin' it real · what's cookin' · whine and cheese

Day 878: On the Edge

I finished making a small trial batch of jam this morning—it was delicious. So I sent Mr. December and the kids out to harvest more plums so I could make more jam. The kids all had excuses for not doing it, but Mr. December persevered and brought in a bin full of plums.

I knew it would take a long time to pit and chop the plums, so I settled at the table with a giant pile of fruit on my left, a measuring cup and empty bowl on my right, and in front of me, Outlander playing on my laptop. Two and a half episodes later, I had five liters of sliced plums in front of me, sticky elbows, and tears in my eyes (season 2 episode 7 is a tearjerker. Ye’ve been warned.)

I poured the plums and sugar into the biggest pot I have; they came almost to the top. Meh, I thought to myself, they probably won’t boil over. I’ll live on the edge.

They boiled over, of course. And they probably will again tomorrow, since I’m supposed to boil and cool this jam four times before canning it.

A large soup pot with a foamy, lumpy yellow substance in it right up to the rim. It has boiled over and there are plums and syrup on the stovetop and the counter.

In happy news, my brother-in-law walked in today and asked, “Does anybody want my old phone? It’s an iPhone 8.”

“I LOVE YOU!” I shouted and limped down the stairs.

You may be as appalled as my kids are to learn that I’m using an iPhone SE… first generation. As in the one that came in between the 5 and 6 (I hear there’s now an iPhone 13.) I can never quite justify to myself getting a new phone. Mine works. But a better camera is a draw, and you can’t beat free.

I probably should have asked him if the phone is unlocked, but I guess we’ll find out when I insert the SIM card.

Update: my head feels fine, so no after-effects of yesterday’s frisbee to the head. My knee is not so lucky, having been pulled in some way when I launched myself into bed last night. Ow.

gardening · what's cookin'

Day 875: Plum Preserves and Potential Prunes

Today we took a huge tub of plums to our homeschool meet-up and gave them away. Yesterday Mum stopped by and took some to give to her physiotherapist, her furniture refinisher, and one of my aunties. The day before that, we brought some to R’s orthodontist, and the day before that we dropped some off at our neighbours’ houses.

Our plum tree is still laden with fruit. It’s so heavy that the branches are touching the ground. It’s time to take drastic action.

Our oven has a “drying” setting, which I’ve never actually used; today I decided to try making prunes. There are only so many plums a person can eat, but my kids will devour prunes like they’re going out of style. So this morning I picked some fairly small plums, washed them, spread them out on a couple of upside-down cooling racks, and turned the oven on to “dry 140F.” I just checked them and they’re not done by any means, but they’re already starting to shrivel. Hopefully by tomorrow morning they’ll be done.

Plums in the oven before and after 7 hours of a drying cycle.

I’m also making a small batch of plum jam, just to see if we like it. A friend from the community orchard said that she made a syrup to put on her porridge; I might try that next.

In the meantime… anybody want plums?

gardening · what's cookin'

Day 864: Crumble

First, a correction: in my post “Day 863: The Cottage”, I failed to describe our friend and host as a leonine stalwart of a man. The Sweet & Crunchy editorial team regrets this omission.

And now, back to the post.

What do you do with hundreds of litres of plums?

I’m planning to make jam, of course, and we’ll eat some fresh, but there are still many to be used. So I’ll give some away. And then? Well, we love peach crumble; why not plum crumble?

I’ll tell you why not. These plums are pretty small; even with E’s help, peeling and chopping all of them took more than an hour and a half. When I finally did get them all into the dish, I added what I thought was enough sugar.

It wasn’t enough sugar. The crumble was face-puckering, mouth-watering sour. It went down well enough with a bit of vanilla ice cream, but nobody asked for seconds except for E, who apparently likes sour things. It had potential, but between the sourness and the prep time, this is not a recipe I’ll be making anytime soon.

family fun · Independence · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 843: To Market, to Market

(No pigs, fat or otherwise, were harmed or bought in the writing of this title.)

It was a beautiful summer day today; all I wanted was to be out on the water.

“Just give it one more week,” Mr. December cajoled me, “just until next weekend.”

Instead of the beach, we went to a nearby farmers’ market. It was small and manageable for me, in terms of walking, and we needed to buy fruits and vegetables anyhow. The vendors were friendly, the produce was beautiful, and there was even live music.

“If I had my druthers,” I told Mr. December, “I’d want to always buy my fruits and vegetables this way instead of at the supermarket.”

Wrist deep in a plate of jerk chicken, he looked up and asked, “Why? Not for environmental reasons?”

(We’ve had this conversation before: apparently small farms are worse for the environment than large ones—I presume there’s economy of scale.)

Of course not for environmental reasons, nor for cost savings. Shopping at a market just feels more… human, I guess is the word for it. You get to chat with the people producing the food you eat, you have to choose from seasonal produce rather than an international assortment—and I appreciate this not because I think importing out-of-season fruits is bad, but because being aware of (and eating) seasonal produce can make us feel more connected to our natural surroundings.

(I also won’t deny that in the event of a zombie apocalypse or other worldwide disturbance, I think it’s a good idea to maintain some capacity for local food production—just in case.)

A small farmers’ market is also an ideal place for kids to gain some confidence. E saw a cupcake she wanted, and asked me to buy it for her. I was sitting and my knee was sore, so I sent her to find out how much it cost; I watched as she spoke to the vendor, then came back to me to ask for four dollars. It’s a small thing, but buying her own cupcake is a start towards independence. And the reward was (according to E) delicious.

Keepin' it real · Kids · well *I* think it's funny... · what's cookin' · whine and cheese

Day 840: The Kids’ Menu

I can feel my blood pressure rising just thinking of dinnertime: a home-cooked meal is laid out on the table before us. Six places are set, the water has been poured, the kids have been called to the table. And then somebody says whines it:

“There’s nothing here for me to eat!”

It doesn’t matter that we’ve deconstructed dinner down to its plainest components: sauces are on the side, there’s always more-seasoned and less-seasoned meat, there’s always a bowl of rice or pasta or potatoes. One or more of my kids will eat absolutely nothing on the table.

Mr. December and I have gone over this so many times. The bottom line is that if the kids aren’t eating the food anyway, it doesn’t matter how healthy the meal I’m serving is. It’s not going to get into their bodies by osmosis. The point of eating dinner as a family is to sit together, eat together, and make conversation. Maybe I need to let go of what I think they should eat, and just serve what they will eat.

(See? I’ve been should-ing all over my kids again. That rarely ends well.)

With that in mind, I’ve developed the following menu:

Image of a fancy menu, text reads as below the image.

Individually-portioned applesauce cups
Freshly caught Goldfish pungent with all-unnatural cheese
Choice of raisins, cranberries, or scurvy

Homestyle Toast Flambé served with an assortment of gourmet spreads
Delicate shards of taco shells masquerading as chips
Tropical-fruit-flavoured Skittles

Assortment of cold cereals with or without fresh milk
Factory-baked bread with salted butter
Ontario’s finest cheapest ice cream

Our favourite frozen oven fries, delicately salted with your tears
Cigar rolls of deli-sliced turkey breast floating in ketchup
Jell-o snack cups garnished with Fruit You Won’t Eat

Challah liberally sprinkled with superfine Redpath sugar
Plate of local basswood honey with an optional side of gefilte fish
Egg noodles and Turmeric-scented mini croutons in a clear chicken broth

Whatever you want, served in whatever dish is still clean
Those three bites of freezer-burned leftover ice cream cake from your last birthday
Leftover challah

Get it your own damn self.

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Unschooling · what's cookin'

Day 796: Quiet day at home?

Today was just a regular old school day—don’t all regular school days start with a trip to the shuk for provisions?

We started with journaling. Notably, nobody complained about having to do it. They all sat down with their notebooks and started bouncing ideas off each other. It’s definitely getting easier for them.

Next up: music. I taught them a song about Jerusalem; that’s not to say that they learned it. K sang along but nobody else did, so I’ll probably be teaching them the same song on Thursday.

K playing her viola out on the porch.

Everyone was supposed to find a space and practice their instrument. K got right to work setting up her music stand and tuning her viola; N took the roll-up keyboard to his room with the songbook we’d brought along. R and E, however, engaged in all sorts of avoidance—flopping on the couch while moaning, needing a drink, needing a bathroom. Mr. December started to get fed up with them. I corralled the two girls and took them downstairs with me. It took all my patience and then some, but eventually R agreed to learn the F chord. Then it was E’s turn with me—she started to learn the chorus to Sweet Caroline. And when I say “started to learn,” I mean “played the first four notes repeatedly.” Guess what earworm I had all afternoon?

While Mr. December taught the kids, I did laundry. I had to hit the supermarket first, though, because someone (I’m not naming names) scratched their mosquito bites and bled on the bed sheets (it happened in Costa Rica too,) and I needed something to get the stains out. So that was my afternoon: soaking, scrubbing, and hanging to dry.

Bird's eye view of a bowl of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with crumbled feta, a wedge of pita with za'atar, and a cup of coffee.

Two kids refused to go to the park after school; I informed them that if they stayed home there would be no screen time and they would be cleaning up the kitchen. They were unmoved. I was starting to despair of them actually doing any cleaning when R finally heaved herself off the couch and loaded the dishwasher. In the meantime, I sat on the patio and enjoyed an Israeli salad with sheep’s milk feta, a pita with za’atar, and some hummus. Have I mentioned how much I love the food here?

Jewy goodness · Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 792: Are we ready for Shabbat?

Let’s see…

We did the laundry.

We went to the shuk. So did everyone else in Jerusalem. Pretty much everything is closed now and will stay that way through tomorrow, so we stocked up today… and so did everyone else in Jerusalem. R and E helped me schlep it all home. I never get tired of having every single shopkeeper wish us Shabbat shalom.

R and E standing on a sidewalk, each holding several heavy plastic shopping bags. The shuk is in the background.

Food is almost ready—except for reheating. I bought chicken, potatoes, and kugel in the shuk. I’ve made an Israeli salad, and there are slices of eggplant waiting to be fried. For dessert we brought home some goodies from Marzipan, which makes the best rogelach anywhere—hands down.

We bought flowers. The girls chose hot pink roses. Not exactly my favourite, but it was their task and their choice.

We (finally) found the Shabbat stuff in this house. I went into the living room cupboards and found Shabbat and havdalah candles, kippot, and a white Shabbat tablecloth.

UPDATE: Finding all the Shabbat stuff didn’t help. Want to know why?

First, let’s talk candles. I had the Shabbat candles that go in the little glass cups; this was fine, because I could see two sets of candle holders (with said glass cups) on a shelf in a glass-door cabinet. There was only one problem: the cabinet was locked.

“Okay, time for plan B,” I said. “We’ll use tealights instead.” I got some tealights out of a different cupboard and set them on a little dish. Then I went and got the lighter I’d seen in the cabinet.

“Time to light candles!” I sang out. The children gathered round. I pushed the button on the lighter, and… nothing. The lighter was out of fluid.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered. Adding insult to injury, there was not a single match in the entire house.

Mr. December went out to see if he could borrow some matches from a neighbour. He came back with a lighter, borrowed from a few hippie-ish smokers who were hanging out in the square next to our house (we returned the lighter, and now I’m wondering how we’re planning to light the Havdalah candle.) I had foolishly assumed that a kosher house in Jerusalem that has such things as a warming plate and hot water urn for Shabbat would also have matches or a working lighter for Shabbat candles. I was wrong. How many times do I have to be stuck without a light before I just start traveling with matches everywhere we go?

Anyhow, we had a lovely Shabbat dinner, and a fabulously decadent dessert. In between the two we went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at a synagogue that’s housed in a former public bomb shelter—but that’s a story that deserves its own post.

Shabbat shalom!

Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 790: What happened to the shuk?

Our house in Jerusalem is very close to the shuk; Mr. December and I went to walk around yesterday and get our bearings. But what we saw wasn’t the shuk I remembered.

My memories of the Machane Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem are of a bazaar-style market with tiny hole-in-the-wall shops for everything you could imagine. It was loud (what with all the shopkeepers hawking their wares) and definitely not fancy, or attractive, or particularly modern.

At least half the stalls and shops—fish vendors, spice merchants, fruit and vegetable stands—have been replaced by gastropubs, gourmet coffee shops, craft breweries, artisan bakeries, and juice bars, all of which have sleek new signage and a laid-back vibe.

“What the…?” I said, dumbfounded, my head swiveling from side to side. “When did hipsters take over the shuk?”

There are still plenty of stalls selling produce, nuts, spices, and meat, but the vibe has changed from “buy and get out” to “buy and hang out.” That said, it’s still an experience. Mr. December got majorly upsold by a purveyor of fancy fruit-based teas, and he’s still not sure exactly how it happened (if we bring you tea as a souvenir from Israel, try to look surprised.)

So it’s not the same shuk that I remember. It’s still a fabulous place to buy food. I bought a kilo and a quarter of strawberries for under ten dollars Canadian and they’re sweeter and juicier than any strawberries you can buy in the supermarket back home (even the super-expensive and tasty ones.) The tomatoes are gorgeous. I bought more than a kilo of cherry tomatoes yesterday before dinner, and today there are only a few left. Good thing Mr. December brought home another kilo tonight.

Photo of a pomegranate, a box of strawberries, and a  box of cherry tomatoes.
Travelogue · what's cookin' · Worldschooling

Day 788: Hangry Strikes Again

After a productive morning of school at the park, we packed up everything and left our fabulous apartment in Ra’anana. After an hour’s drive (in a very nice minivan taxi) we arrived in Jerusalem.

This house is incredible. Three bedrooms plus an office, a beautiful living-dining-kitchen space, stone arches above the windows, beautiful wrought-iron railings, and a small courtyard outside the door. I’ll post some pics another time, but for now suffice it to say that this house is gorgeous. I’m pretty sure the AirBnB price was an error, but the owner was obligated to honour it once we had reserved. Otherwise it’s way underpriced.

We had a few meltdowns tonight because we were in transit over dinnertime, thus missing an “actual meal” as K calls it. Despite the fact that Mr. December and I identified meals as something we need to do better at, we somehow dropped the ball on it today.

We rectified that mistake by walking about five seconds (okay, a minute) to Super Cheap—a minimarket that’s open 24/6 (closed on Shabbat, of course.) Now the kids are sitting around the table enjoying their instant noodles, breakfast cereal, and French fries. Tomorrow morning we’ll go out early in search of fresh bread. Google Maps tells me that we’re just up the street from Marzipan, a bakery that makes absolutely legendary rogelach. This is dangerous knowledge indeed.

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

Day 753: “So… what do you eat?”

I got a couple of comments on yesterday’s post that I figured were worth responding to, not just because they deserved answers but because they saved me from having to think of something to post tonight (thanks, you guys!)

One commenter asked:

So, if you get rid of all the wheat and oat products and can’t eat legumes, corn or rice, what do you eat? Meat? That seems to be most of the carbs available to us.

And I was about to answer when another commenter did it for me:

“Potatoes? (Not Jewish, so I don’t know, but I grew up in a place where dinner was often of the “meat, potatoes, and two veg” variety. I didn’t try pasta until well into my teens, which seems absurd now, and dinners with rice were an exotic treat.)”

Yes, potatoes. And meat. And more potatoes. Matzah, of course, and… potatoes. Eggs. Salad. Potatoes. You see where this is going, right? It’s actually starting to sound like a Yiddish folksong:

Thursday and Friday, potatoes.
But on Shabbes something special—a potato kugel!
Then Sunday—and so on—potatoes.

(Yes, those are the lyrics. Yes, the whole song is about potatoes. No, I did not just make that up.)

There’s a joke that makes the rounds every Passover:

“This Passover, as we sit down to our festive meals, let us remember that there are people who have nothing to eat on this holiday. We call these people Ashkenazim.”

As Homer Simpson once said, “It’s funny ’cause it’s true!”

When I was growing up (just as now,) my parents usually hosted both Seder nights, at which there was a lot of food; we mostly ate leftovers from the seder for the rest of the week. Don’t pity me, these were the good kind of leftovers: turkey, sweet potato pie, potato kugel, brisket, chicken, matzo stuffing, chicken soup with matzo balls… and the desserts. Mmmm.

Since I don’t live with my parents anymore, what will we be eating for most of Passover? We do eat kitniyot, so rice and legumes are in—this makes a massive difference. Breakfast is either Matzo with something on it (salted butter on matzo is one of life’s simple pleasures) or matzo brei—kind of French toast made with broken-up matzo instead of bread. Lunch will likely be matzo pizza or bunless hot dogs with a side of matzo. Dinners don’t have to change much: some kind of meat along with some variation on potatoes, salad, vegetables. We’ll have yogurt, fruit, and nuts for snacks, not to mention chocolate. Fear not, we’ll be well-fed. It is a festival, after all.