Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Kitchen

For many people, holiday season is a spectacular time of year. I think those are the people who either love being in The Kitchen or have full time help at home. Or both.

I love holidays. I love eating holiday food. I even love eating holiday food that I don't like, as long as I don't have to make it. The Kitchen stresses me out.

The Kitchen is not my favorite room in the house because it is too busy being my least favorite room. I prefer The Laundry Room to The Kitchen. I can put things in a machine, I can add soap, and I can watch it spin. I can hang clothes, put clothes in the dryer, and fold clothes while they're warm, and clean, and smelling delicious. But I can't, for the life of me, figure out what "fold into batter" means. How in the heck do you fold cream into batter? FOLDING IS FOR CLOTHING! The rhyme is what seals it as truth.

I also cannot follow recipes with more than six ingredients. There is a limit to how much I can count. And there is no way I can find shallots in the store. Yes, shallots. They look lovely in the picture in my cookbook but I have spent longer than I am willing to admit staring at the produce section trying to find shallots. Of course I'm not going to ASK, that's embarrassing. 

My cupboard is stocked with spices that I have used once and never again. Turmeric, nutmeg, chili powder, cumin, sumac, zahtar, and salt. Kidding about the salt, that's the only one I know how to use. If I don't have the exotic spice that the "super easy and user friendly" recipes call for, I sometimes try to replace with something that I do have. For instance, cumin and cinnamon share a lot of the same letters so they might be related. Turns out there is no reasoning when it comes to spices. No one is related. It's not a Jewish institution.

I also have an issue with recipes that use the world "almost." Almost doesn't count. And almost doesn't work. How do I know if the mushroom liquid is ALMOST evaporated? I don't have a countdown! What happens if I turn off the heat when it's almost almost evaporated instead of almost? How does the recipe-writer know what "almost" means for me?Almost must be removed from all cookbooks. Now.

I would like to say that I DO try. And I do cook. And I do bake. And my food is good. (If you've eaten here and disagree, disagree quietly.) But unless it's a recipe that I've used time and again, cooking is stressful. And I haven't even begun to talk about what it's like when you have a toddler in The Kitchen with you. I have two.

My 3.5 year old is always eager to help and she begins snapping her stool into place at the counter the minute she sees me eyeing my apron. I don't discourage her and I try to let her help because that's what the Parenting magazines tell me to do if I want her to be the one cooking for the family in a few years. So I let her place her stool directly in the line of fire so that I may trip on it every time I turn around.

My one year old likes to be a part of the action, too. Her favorite thing to do is look in the oven. Which is great, unless I need to open the oven. Then I have to find a way to distract her long enough for me to get the oven open, put the food inside, and close it. This requires a lot of maneuvering. Sometimes I pick her up, run to the other side of the house, place her down, and run back to The Kitchen. She moves pretty fast but if I put enough things in her way I can make it back to The Kitchen before she does. Hopefully during that time my big girl hasn't decided to help by adding some more spices to the dish. She is helpful like that.

If you've ever cooked together with your children, you know that you pouring anything into the mixer is sacrilegious. It's a known fact that they are the chosen pourers. Of everything. Even if the cup of oil weighs more than they do, they will pour. And you will not help. So I do a lot of deep breathing during cooking. And a lot of oil spill cleanups. 

Kids also like to bring things to you. Chaya, the big girl, is very proud of all the things that she can find in the pantry. Rivka is as well. Generally speaking, in the time it takes Chaya to find the ground pepper which is right in front of her, Rivka has chewed through a box of raw macaroni. Don't worry, it's whole grain.

For Sukkot I will be joining my extended family and so I am only cooking some dishes to bring along. To my family reading this: just because I don't enjoy cooking, doesn't mean I can't. Please eat my food. Here is what I'm bringing: challah, sweet and sour chicken, marsala chicken (this was me out of my element, but my husband really liked it when we had it elsewhere), spicy lemon chicken, vegetable orzo, and butternut squash kugel. 

Which brings me to my final cooking point: If it calls for more than 1/2 C of sugar, let's do everyone a favor and just call it cake, not kugel.


Fear not, I have been keeping up with my Motherlying over the holidays. In fact, I was quite proud when a friend complimented me on my speed of creation for said untruths. Some of the latest:

While she was ALREADY in bed and I was just about to leave the room, "Honey, we can't go wash your face because it's not good to put cold water on your face right before you go to bed."

"I didn't forget to buy your vitamins, the doctor wants me to research some new ones for you."

"Yes, I will look online to see if I can find you Aleph Beis cookies like your friends have."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

About the Drivers

Living in New York has given me the opportunity to study and analyze other drivers on the New York road. After years of strategizing my way out of heavy city traffic and almost killing half a dozen pedestrians who can't seem to locate the walkway, I have narrowed down the 4 types of drivers we have on our roads.

Type A Drivers: Probably Out of Towners. These drivers don't drive in the bike lane. If they are making a right turn, they wait until they see the broken white lines to change lanes. They drive 25mph when the Jackie curves. They don't cut in front of city buses. They make friendly 'go ahead' waves when they see people walking. And they move to the side when they hear sirens. Annoyance Rating: 10/10.

Type B Drivers: New New York Drivers. These drivers recently got licensed to drive. They may be young or old. Depends on how many tries it took to pass the Permit test and then the Drivers test. They want to drive like the top dogs but they're scared. So they weave. They drive right up to the edge of the shoulder but instead of passing traffic they hang out between their lane and the Forbidden Zone. They inch out and then swoop back in to their correct place. They plan to cruise straight through a yellow but end up screeching to a halt 30 seconds before it turns red. When they hear sirens, they panic and usually end up taking an unnecessary turn which gets them lost. Too proud to ask for directions, they pull over into a safe gas station, press lock on the doors multiple times just to be sure, and get directions from their GPS. They usually get lost one more time because they can't look at the GPS and concentrate on the road at the same time. Annoyance Rating: 10/10.

Type C Drivers: New York Drivers. We own the road. Own it. Rule it. Spit on it. Litter on it. Honk-the-heck-out-of-our-horns-on-it. Don't-know-a-single-driving-rule-on-it. But most of all We. Own. It. It's not just about how quickly you can get there. It's about how quickly you can get there even when you have no reason to rush. We rush. Always. The thought of some other car getting there before us is blasphemous. Our joyrides are about the joy we get from using oncoming traffic as our left line and getting a head of all the other cars. There is a special thrill that we get from weaving down an entire street laced with double parked cars on both sides and never once using the brake. There is skill to be found in our Big Apple way of avoiding speed bumps and red light cameras. We hate traffic cops. They're just out to get us. Why do they always pick on us? It's like they can't tell how ridiculous the A's and B's are. And did they not known that 'born and bred in New York' is an actual violation exemption? They must have never gone to school. Annoyance Rating: 0/10.

Type D Drivers: Bikers. Annoyance Rating: 100/10.

The crazy thing about driving in New York is that it's not only the drivers you have to worry about. Take pedestrians, for example, they're like the plague. Most of us New York drivers are quite confident that the law states that pedestrians may cross on the walkway, when they see the little white man, and if none of us are trying to make a turn. And yet these guys can be seen crossing all over the place. They run out into the middle of the street like it's the apocalypse. And they're usually pushing a stroller or dragging kids behind them. Or both. And the ones who cross at designated crossing areas aren't doing much better if they cross when the red hand is showing or if we need to turn. Pedestrians are always supposed to wait for drivers. It's pretty basic.

We also have to deal with tickets. Ridiculous tickets. Like if we park at a pump and go shopping for a couple of hours. What, the cop didn't notice the hazards were on? How is that our fault? And tickets for alternate side parking. These are the almost the worst. New Yorkers experience a paralyzing fear on alternate side parking days. It's hard enough to remember what day of the week it is, much less which side of what streets are being cleaned and when. Probably the most puzzling aspect is that the streets are always filthy. What exactly do those street cleaners do? Does anyone know? Does Bloomberg drive them? Super sketchy.

The very worst thing to do in New York is park. Parking signs make no sense. Three signs are propped up next to each other. One reads, "NO PARKING", the other says, "LOADING AND UNLOADING ONLY", and the last one reads, "NO PARKING ON MON and THURS between 11-12:30." And they all have arrows. One arrow seems to be pointing to the sky, the other to the apartment building, and the last toward the ground. So, no parking in the sky, load and unload the apartments, and use the ground before 11 and after 12:30? Did I get it right? There is no way to know. There's anxiety when looking for a spot (why don't people ever park normally so that we can fit?), anxiety when you find a spot (there must be some reason why no one is parked here), anxiety when you're the only car parking on that road (is there a comic-sans-font-pink-printed flyer from the NYPD hiding on a tree somewhere?), anxiety when you get out of your car (did I lock it ten times, put on a bar, hide my chargers under the seat?) and anxiety when you return to your car: is there or is there not an orange ticket on the window? There is no way to know for sure that you will be passed over. Each time is like another little miracle. Bless it.

The moral of the story? Today, and every day, be a proud New Yorker and know that you are always right.

The serious side of me is thinking about and remembering 9/11/2001. I look forward to discussing the theme of sacrifice with my students today. What do you sacrifice and why?

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Happy (Jewish) New Year!

Freshly showered after a three-day holiday and I feel like I can take on anything.

Except maybe the laundry.
And the overtired, sugar-high, off-schedule kids.
And the overtired, sugar-high, off-schedule me.

But everything else I can totally handle.

This holiday we were guests, as my husband is a chazzan and we went to stay in NJ near the shul where he davened. So I've decided to dedicate this post to all the guests out there who might need my own $0.02 on how to be good guests.

So, the laws of Guestiquette:

1. If you have any allergies or weird eating habits, let your host know. Before you come. If the habits are severely strange (like you eat only cooked spinach on top of roasted eggplant for breakfast) consider preparing your own food. Consider it a lot.

2. Expect your routine to be off. In addition to holiday happenings that push things off schedule, prepare that your children will not go into bed as easily as usual and may not go to sleep "on time." Don't expect your host to close all of the lights in the house and have all the kids whisper so that your kids can nod off. (You're allowed to dream about this, just can't implement it.)

3. Don't discipline your host's kids. Actually, don't discipline anyone's kids. Except yours. Even if you're the greatest parent in the world. And you know exactly what needs to be said. And it always works for your kids. And you can stop a tantrum before it starts. Just keep your mouth closed. If you don't like what you're seeing, walk away.

4. If you use it, clean it and/or put it away.

5. Don't break stuff.

6. Don't jump on the couch.

7. If you bring special treats or toys for your kids and they are not going to share them, keep them in your room.

8. Follow the Rules of the House. Like, do not allow your children to bounce balls in the house or play with the light switch if those games are forbidden. (Is the whole light-switch-gonna-start-a-fire thing true? Or did they tell us that just to scare us?)

9. Pick up a broom every few hours.

10. And sweep.


Did you feel Motherly over the holiday? I often found myself lying explaining.

For example, "We're not allowed to have more than one apple with honey each day."

And, "If we touch a spider's house it will break, and that would be very, very, very sad. Because we love spiders. And we want spiders to be happy."

And of course, "The outside gets closed up after bedtime. And the trampoline stops being bouncy."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Support an Artist

My nephew is eight years old and some days I wonder if he is stronger than me as I watch him overcome the challenges in his life and grow.

I am proud of his mother, my big sister, for the hard work she puts in to help him be the best that he can be.

And I am in awe of his artistic talent (the genes come from our side of the family, but it seems I got only enough DNA strands to make cartoons. And heart shaped pancakes.)

Mendel has entered into an art contest which ends this Wednesday. I am including a link and shamelessly asking you to please like his picture to give him more votes.

Click HERE to LIKE his picture!

ps. Some people who have liked this picture are already my best friends. Snap.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Reasons We Don't Do Stuff

I have resurfaced from somewhere beneath mountains of laundry, crumpled notes inside schoolbags, homework assignments ready to be photocopied and handed out, class lists and seating charts, and the cooking and cleaning that sort of happens in between.

The school year has begun. And as a teacher and as a mother the school year is my life force.

My daughter, the little girl who was too shy to speak at school until January of last year, has blended into her new class seamlessly. She is thrilled about her new Morahs even if she can't remember their names; she repeats everything they say and reports to me where all of her classmates' brothers attend school. More than one person has commented me on how outgoing and independent she is. And each time I hear it I just manage to avoid laughing.

Independent? I don't know. It sure doesn't fee like it when she is insistent on breathing down my neck when I'm cooking, when she demands to hold my hand as I sit near her bed and wish her good night, when she wails about how much she loves me and and how much she will miss me if she does, in fact, go to sleep in her own room and not visit me during the night, and when she begs me to sit next to her at every meal and simply watch her eat.

To all the attachment parenting advocates: be freaking careful what you wish for.

(As a general rule, I love my kids. But some moments are more loved than others.)

Of course this change in routine means that there are plenty of new things for us to discuss (read: argue about) and we are certainly getting our fill. I can't decide if I'm proud or horrified that my three-year-old's vocabulary is peppered with "this is making me crazy" and "I'm so frustrated." I'm almost sure that there is a book somewhere that will say how great it is for her to express herself this way. (Most books do not mention the decibels or intonation of such expressions, so it must mean that all variables are cool.)

As always, there are some discussions that leave me wondering if my nose is growing more rapidly than most others. This weeks highlights include:

"Yes of course I am looking on the computer for lipstick to buy for you. It's just that I can't seem to find the right color for you. I think maybe they will get some more soon."

"I do want to go with you to your friends' house, but we can't this second. They are sleeping now. I think they sleep a lot." (I imagine the mother of these little girls has her eyebrows past her hairline reading this.)

"We can't go swimming because all pools have to be put away once school starts. It's dangerous around the pollution of the school buses."

"Morah doesn't let you bring more than one penny to school because pennies have germs."

I hope she reads this one day.

And I hope she realizes that motherhood demands the creativity of motherly lies.

And that it's not always easy to come up with something plausible.

And she should appreciate how hard I am working to come up with good reasons for everything we don't do.