bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · gardening · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Travelogue · Vietnam · what's cookin'

Day 1084:

Today we took a bicycle tour of the Tra Que vegetable village. As you can see from the photos, it was very hands-on.

After all the manual labour and plant identification, we left the farm and biked over to the home of a family that makes traditional rice paper. We got to try our hand at making it and then we ate the final result with some soy sauce for dipping. Crunchy and delicious.

After that we biked into town for lunch at the “Banh My Queen”—apparently the very best Banh My in Hoi An. We chatted with our guide, Emma, who grew up in Hoi An and whose English is excellent. At the end of lunch we biked back to our villa and practically threw ourselves in the pool (it was pretty hot out today.)


Tonight I went back to Chabad with N and R. We had a lovely dinner there (chicken kebabs, veggies, spring rolls, and challah) and then spent some more time chatting with Israelis. Now we’re home and I’m totally wiped out—so if you’ll excuse the brevity of this post (and even if you won’t,) I’m off to bed.

Jewy goodness · Travelogue · Vietnam · what's cookin'

Day 1080: Out of Touch

Google Translate has been my friend these last four weeks. Ever since we left Singapore I’ve been typing and then holding up my phone instead of resorting to charades with the shopkeepers and restauranteurs. It makes things much smoother… most of the time. Yesterday we had the place cleaned and the landlord approached us with his phone to tell us something: “The ladies are finished giving birth; time to pay them so they can go home.” Okay, then.

But the odd translations are manageable. What’s really killing me is WhatsApp. Everybody in Vietnam uses it—to the point where I got a “data only” phone plan because I figured I wouldn’t be making local calls.

It was all fine and good when I messaged Mr. December, K, or my parents. But it wouldn’t connect when I entered in the number for a local restaurant (“Just call me,” she said, “and I’ll bring your order by on my motorcycle.”) The proprietor of Lucky Beach Restaurant can call me, but I can’t call her. Not such a big deal—we can bike over and order.

A slightly bigger deal is that I can’t reach the bike rental guy to tell him that I want to keep the bike for two more weeks. It wouldn’t be a problem if the shop was nearby, but none of the neighbourhood shops had bikes with a padded seat on the rear rack for E, so I had to go a bit farther from home. Now WhatsApp is telling me that number isn’t on WhatsApp, and also refusing to send any “invitation to WhatsApp” messages. In theory the bike guy knows where we’re staying and has my number, so he should be able to WhatsApp me, but it just doesn’t sit right with me that I’m late returning the bike and can’t get in touch to explain why.

Worst of all are the tour operators who list a WhatsApp number that WhatsApp doesn’t think exists. I want to do the sunset kayak tour, the rice farming experience, the vegetable village tour… but it’s been so hard to get in touch with these people that we may run out of time here before we can do it all.

So what gives? Is it my phone? Is it user error (AKA I’m the idiot)? I don’t know, but I don’t like it.


We didn’t go to Chabad for dinner tonight because some of us were feeling sort of iffy. I went online and ordered us some food from a Souvlaki place; it turned out to be a hit. N ate most of my chicken souvlaki and E ate her own chicken-filled pita. Everyone ate, everyone liked it, and nobody was hungry afterwards. We did our Shabbat things (candles, hamotzi for the bread, kiddush over wine, blessing the children) and ate our dinner up on the roof, surrounded by glowing silk lanterns and a cool breeze.

Keepin' it real · mental health · Travelogue · Vietnam · what's cookin' · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 1071: Trying.

trying /ˈtɹaɪ.ɪŋ/

(verb; gerund or present participle)

  1. Making an attempt or effort to do something. I’m trying to keep it together despite my depressive thinking and difficult housemates.
  2. Make severe demands on a person; irritating; bothersome. With their whining about food, their resistance to schoolwork, and their unwillingness to work towards a solution, my children have been especially trying today.
  3. Subjecting (someone) to a trial. It feels like they’re trying me in a court of parenting law and finding me guilty.

Today I found a restaurant for breakfast that serves Western food; I rushed everyone out the door to get there before people imploded from hunger. The kids ordered a bagel with smoked salmon, pancakes, French toast, and fried eggs with breakfast potatoes. I was so happy that we seemed to have nipped one problem in the bud early today.

Then the food arrived. One kid didn’t like their French toast at all (both Mr. December and I tasted it and thought it was quite good.) Another (I’m not naming names, but I bet you can guess who it was) finished their pancakes and then asked if we could also order some French fries (the answer was no.) A third asked if they could have a smoothie; when we said no, the child persistently asked why not, loudly and in a whiny tone (that kid most definitely did not get a smoothie today.) As we paid and left, the kids all complained that they were still hungry. All I could think was, I make an effort to find the right restaurant for them, and all they can do is complain and ask for even more?

(Also, I can’t imagine how they can still be hungry. Those servings weren’t meager.)

In the afternoon it started to rain. Then it really rained, sending us from our rooftop classroom back into the dark depths of the main floor. One child refused to do their work and had the temerity to throw a fit when we explained why we were exasperated with them.

The kids were trying; but I’m still trying.

I googled “Western-style supermarket Hoi An,” read all the reviews, and picked a likely candidate. K and I went armed with a list and our grocery bags. We took the time to read every label carefully (thanks, google translate!) and discovered that all of the seasoning mixes here contain dried shrimp. Instead of one bottled of mixed spices, I bought six different seasonings.

This grocery store had something we hadn’t seen yet in Vietnam: frozen French fries. The only bags they had were 2.5 kilos, but I’m sure the kids will be able to demolish that in a couple of days. We also bought fresh milk, pasta sauce, pancake mix, and a few other things this family definitely eats. We finally staggered to the cash under the weight of our baskets (no carts here) and packed our bags while the clerk cashed us out. Then we learned that this store doesn’t accept credit cards. I didn’t have enough cash to pay for it all, so I got directions to the nearest ATM and left K at the store to hang out with our groceries. When we finally paid and left the store, I had the presence of mind to dash across the street to a market stall and buy a strainer so we’ll be able to fish our French fries out of boiling oil (no oven, you remember, so we’ll have to deep fry them every time.)

Dinner was pasta, and I was bemoaning the fact that one of our two burners doesn’t work, so I’d have to cook the pasta first and then take it off and cook the sauce. Then I saw the rice cooker out of the corner of my eye and thought, “Why not?” The rice cooker got the sauce nice and hot in about five minutes (and then kept the sauce warm on the table in between servings.) Now I’m googling what else we might be able to cook in this very basic rice cooker. Rice cooker challah, maybe?

Everyone liked dinner, and we ran out of food before people felt full. Cue the complaints. I pulled out my secret weapon: a bag of popcorn kernels I found at the supermarket today (it was in the corner on the bottom shelf—aka the floor.) I popped a giant pot (on our one burner) and then sat down with the kids to watch Big Bang Theory and eat the popcorn.

It was a far-from-perfect day, and I started off feeling pretty discouraged after breakfast, but I kept trying. It was all I could manage. I’ll keep trying again tomorrow.

family fun · Thailand · Travelogue · what's cookin' · Worldschooling

Day 1056: Sticky (stɪki)

1. Adjective: Of or pertaining to sticks.

Another day of touring; another day I’m grateful for my trekking poles. This morning we wandered through Chiang Dao Cave, a huge series of caverns full of stalactites, stalagmites, and Buddha statues. The stairs (of which there were many) were all different heights, and using both sticks afforded me some extra stability when stepping down, and a bit of extra power when climbing up. More importantly, it took away the fear and uncertainty of walking on uneven ground (if you’ve seen how little it takes for me to sprain an ankle, you understand) so I could walk faster.

2. Adjective: difficult or embarrassing.

We had already stopped at a market on our way to the cave and enjoyed ice cream, Italian sodas, bubble tea, a croissant, and a mango; I was surprised anyone was hungry for lunch. But they were, and when our tour guide ushered us into a restaurant and we saw the menu, we had to explain politely that there was nothing the kids would eat. The next restaurant we stopped at had an entry fee, for some reason, and wouldn’t even let us see the menu in advance, so Mr. December and I had to say no again. Third time was the charm—we stopped at an Italian restaurant along the roadside that advertised pizza and French fries (among other things.) K’s hopes of a full meal were dashed—and R was disappointed—when we heard that the restaurant was temporarily out of beef, but by this point we decided to just make the best of whatever they had. We ordered a pizza, some fries, a plate of plain spaghetti with tomato sauce on the side, and some garlic bread. Meanwhile, our guide excused herself to eat at the noodle house across the road.

3. Adjective: adhesive.

They’re called the “Sticky Falls” for a reason. At first I thought that name was just a bit of an exaggeration; then I stood in a pool of water and started climbing the rocks as water rushed over them. I got better traction than on any “slip-proof” surface I’ve seen to date. We all climbed (there were approaches of various difficulties) once, and then Mr. December, R, and E took the stairs to the bottom and climbed up all four waterfalls all over again. It’s rare that I get to do the adventurous stuff anymore, what with my track record of knee, ankle, and head injuries, so this was very exciting for me.

There happened to be a huge group of Israelis at the sticky falls while we were there, and I actually ended up speaking a bit of Hebrew to them. K turned to me in astonishment. “Wow,” she said, “you were right when you said Hebrew is useful in the strangest places!” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Thailand is not a strange place to run into Israelis—I just basked my teenager’s acknowledgement that I was right.

Jewy goodness · Thailand · Travelogue · what's cookin' · Worldschooling

Day 1052: Sharp Knives

In my experience, any activity that starts with handing sharp knives to children is going to be seriously fun; by that measure (and every other,) today’s fruit carving class did not disappoint.

We met our teacher in the old city, at a table in the outdoor communal dining area of a hotel. She had us carving in minutes: tomato roses were first, followed by carrot and pumpkin butterflies, cucumber leaves, and finally, elaborate watermelon flowers.

K absolutely loved the activity. N refused to touch a single fruit or vegetable (the teacher kindly didn’t charge us for him.) R enjoyed it immensely until she got too hot and went to lie down on a bench. E worked alongside K to the very end, although she was in tears once or twice because the watermelon flower was too difficult for her. I had to remind her that she’s the youngest by several years, and it’s impressive that she was able to do all the other carvings.

Mr. December enjoyed the class far more than either of us expected. He usually hates doing any kind of art or craft project, but somehow fruit carving was different. He worked very diligently on his watermelon flower and was heard to remark that he felt “ready for the big time. When’s the next competition?”


K, E, and I went to Shabbat dinner at the local Chabad House. There had to have been a hundred people there, all crammed in at long tables. We chatted with the people seated near us: an Israeli family on vacation, and a mother and two teenage daughters from New York. The food was exactly what I’ve come to expect: Challah, Israeli salads (tehina, eggplant salad, etc,) fish, and then chicken, potatoes, and rice. I’m fairly certain that they serve the exact same menu in Chabad houses all over the world. There was plenty of singing, all the traditional songs known by Jews the world over. The songs, the language, the food—all of it felt like home, which was a very welcome feeling in a place where everything is foreign and strange to us. The girls both enjoyed it; we might go again next week.

Thailand · Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 1050: Welcome to Thailand

We’ve arrived safely in Chiang Mai after a mostly uneventful flight (except that the flight itself was apparently an event, as it was Air Asia’s inaugural flight into the Chiang Mai airport. What does that mean? They showered us with gifts.)

Our Air BnB is a lovely old house with four big bedrooms and huge beds. Our hosts greeted us with smiles, open arms, sweet coconut rice, and the best tasting mango I’ve had in a long time. This homestay includes breakfast, so it’s Pad Thai for us in the morning (I asked for some bread as well, for the unadventurous among us.)

The kids are all pretty exhausted, and so am I. Our bodies are still on New Zealand time and some of us didn’t sleep very well last night either. It was one of those evenings that was a bit rough, which is understandable—change is hard and not being able to read any of the signs around or understand what anyone is saying is unsettling, to say the least. I’m sure all will be well in a few days.

Jewy goodness · what's cookin'

Day 1037: Recipe Time!

In our house, we make challah every Friday for Shabbat. It used to be my job; then R took over when my hands were hurting, and now she says it’s her job. Sic transit gloria mundi, right? At least she still lets me braid it.

Blogs that give out recipes can be really annoying. Before you can find the ingredients, you have to read the blogger’s life story and their personal connection with the recipe. Not here. No siree, one more paragraph and then we get into the recipe.

This is my personal recipe. I started with someone else’s and then tinkered with it for a few years until I settled on this version. I hope you bake it and enjoy it.


Sara’s Not-Yet-Famous(-but-a-Girl-Can-Dream) Challah

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup warm water
  • 4 ½ tsp yeast (or two packets)
  • ¾ – 1 cup sugar (you choose: how sweet do you want it?)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ½ cup cold water 
  • 6 eggs 
  • 8-9 cups flour

Method:

Mix the yeast into the warm water and sprinkle a bit of sugar on top. Set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine sugar, canola oil, and salt. Add 1 cup boiling water and stir well; then add ½ cup cold water. 

Test the water temperature. If it’s warm on the inside of your arm but not uncomfortably hot, it’s ready for the yeast. If not, wait a few minutes and test the water again. If it’s too cold, warm it up a bit in the microwave.

Add the yeast.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl, then add them to the large bowl. 

Stir in the flour a cup at a time and mix until the dough sticks together like a ball and is no longer very sticky. 

Knead well and set aside in a warm place to rise. 

(The longer it rises, the more flavourful your dough will be. Minimum rise time is one hour.) 

When the dough has risen, divide the dough in four and shape your challahs (there are tons of online tutorials, so I won’t re-invent the wheel. Google “how to braid challah. I use six strands.) Take care to handle it as little as possible—this will keep your challah light and fluffy. 

Preheat oven to 325F. Let the shaped challah rise for 45 minutes to an hour (any more than that and it might collapse when you move it.)

Just before you put them in the oven, brush the challahs with a beaten egg (you can also use water) and the topping of your choice: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, streusel, sugar and salt, cinnamon, sprinkles… whatever you want, really.

Bake at 325F for 30 minutes, or until golden. Smaller challahs should be checked around the 20 minute mark. 

Remove from oven, cool, and eat some before everyone else eats them first. 


And now the obligatory food photos:

(If you use a screen reader, know that all of these photos are close-ups of challah in one shape or another.)

Any questions?

Kids · New Zealand · Travelogue · what's cookin' · Worldschooling

Day 1034: What’s for dinner?

You all know it by now: it’s hard to feed this family. Everyone has their own issues:

  • K and E don’t eat cheese (rules out pizza)
  • R doesn’t eat chicken (don’t ask me why—I don’t know)
  • E only eats French Fries when we dine out
  • N only eats pizza, cereal with milk, hot dogs, chicken fingers, fries, and steak. He’ll eat rice under duress, if we have the correct brand of soy sauce on hand

I ask you, what’s a parent to do? (aside from just giving up and making everyone fend for themselves; I’m still dedicated to at least one meal a day eaten as a family.)

Couple the kids’ pickiness with the fact that eating out in New Zealand is as expensive as eating out at home, and you’ll understand why we mostly cook our own meals when we travel. But that only erases some of the problem, because there are still very few things that everyone will agree to eat.

So? you ask, What’s for dinner?

(Oh, how I loathe that question. Half the time I’m thinking, “Didn’t I feed you guys dinner yesterday?“)

Here are our go-to homemade dinners while travelling:

  • Beef stir-fry with broccoli, onions, and peppers (and rice)
  • Lentils & Rice (I make the lentils with an onion-and-wine sauce)
  • Steak (not cheap, but everyone eats it) with sweet potatoes and salad on the side (the kids don’t eat the salad)
  • Pasta with a variety of sauces (sometimes I’ll grill some chicken breast to go along with it.)

“That’s it?” N said when I pitched this blog post to him. “There have to be more than four meals the whole family can agree on!”

Nope. That’s it. Four meals that require minimal, common ingredients and can be thrown together quickly. Sadly, I’m getting sick of beef stir-fry already (I say “sadly,” because all the kids eat it—the beef and the rice, anyhow.)

(I guess sandwiches would be another option, but those are so easy for the kids to make themselves—I leave that sort of thing for breakfast and lunch.)

So… what’s on your table? Anybody have some new meal ideas for me?

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

Day 1014: Nothing to Eat

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’m hungry, but there’s nothing to eat!” today. We’re trying to use up all the perishables before we leave, and apparently what’s left doesn’t count as food. The kids have a point—there’s nothing to eat if you’re not counting the bread and butter, cheese, tortillas, homemade granola bars, nuts, eggs, Rice Krispies, hot dogs, peanut butter, bananas, strawberries, yogurt, and ice cream. These poor, starving children.

If left to their own devices they’d probably air a commercial: “You can sponsor a child in our home for just $2 a day, and ensure they have access to medicine, fresh water, pizza, chicken fingers, and french fries. We’ll send you a photograph of the child enjoying the food, and as a special thank-you, we’ll also include a personalized Rainbow Loom necklace as a gift. These children are hungry—please call today.”*

They’re cute and all, but I have zero empathy for them right now. We made a baked French Toast casserole for brunch today; it was essentially a dessert. We had four loaves of bread to use up and now we’re down to three. It was delicious, too. If the kids turned their noses up at it, that’s their problem—not mine.


*Last time I mentioned my kids wanting some kind of food—probably candy—some friends and family brought them some. Please, don’t bring us any food. We’re trying to use it all up. They’ll survive.

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

Day 1007: Third Night

I didn’t skip a day of posting, I was just practicing for when we cross the international dateline and will miss January 1 completely—how weird is that?

Okay, fine. I missed yesterday’s post. I was totally wiped out and instead of blogging, I went to bed. According to my CPAP machine I got over ten hours of sleep… so why don’t I feel less tired? No matter. It’ll be early to bed for me tonight as well.


Ha! Did you see what I wrote up there? Early to bed tonight… don’t make me laugh!

We had so much fun tonight. Friends came over, we made sufganiyot, we ate them (the sufganiyot, not the friends.) Tonight’s fillings were blueberry, strawberry, and lemon curd.

The frying was actually much more successful than Sunday night’s attempt, thanks to the videos we watched about the science of donuts and the science of fried foods. We started using the cast iron pot instead of the soup pot, which kept the oil temperature consistent. I also rolled the dough thinner this time, so we didn’t have any doughy middles.


I also got a Chanukah present from myself: special earplugs that help me filter out background noise while allowing me to hear conversation at normal volume. I tested them at an event today—so far, so good. It was so exciting not to be driven out of my mind by background chatter. The kids all want a pair now, of course, but I think I’ll test drive these for a little longer before I buy any more.