Archive for November, 2010

Sweaterbabe to the rescue

I’ve been an addicted knitter for some years now, and have steadily developed my skills in that area.  I spent hundreds of dollars on yarn for various projects I had in mind several years ago, but have been stalled on most of them because I’ve lost interest in the projects themselves.  One of the hardest things I’m discovering about knitting is matching up a gorgeous, favorite yarn with a project worthy of the stuff.

For example, I have some heather green 100% wool yarn for which I haven’t found a good sweater pattern.  I thought I would use it to knit Kate Gilbert’s “Arwen” sweater,

but after knitting up a few inches of it, I got bored. I loved the hood, but for me there was not enough texture or interest, and I hated the hem and sleeves.  But what else could I knit that would look good with my genuine Lothlorien leaf brooch?  Nothing in my Jo Sharp books appealed (too boxy and conventional).  My Viking knitting pattern book had some cool stuff, as did my Alice Starmore fisherman’s sweater books, but I can’t knit a really warm sweater and expect to be able to wear it much in Israel, even in Efrat.  I thought about creating an original Shimshonit-designed sweater using the techniques I learned from Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson’s Knitting In the Old Way, but I couldn’t think of anything original.

I had despaired of finding anything before the moths find the wool, until I was looking today for a knitting pattern to use some pink mohair I’d  bought for my daughters for a poncho or cape or shawl or something.  I didn’t come across anything interesting for the mohair, but I did come across the Sweaterbabe website which has so many beautiful, creative, interesting knitting patterns, I found at least three or four projects that would work beautifully for my heather green, plus some for my lovely nut brown color wool DK and a dozen other yarns hanging around with nothing to do.  Not only are the sweaters, hats, scarves, cowls, and vests wonderful looking, but customers who have knitted her patterns say they are extremely well-written and easy to do, even as first-ever knitting projects.  I also liked the finished projects gallery where she posts photos from happy customers proudly wearing their beautifully-knit projects.  (I’m especially impressed with how neat and well-knit they look, even on the novice knitters.  Photoshop jobs?  I hope not.)  The site is intended both for knitters and crocheters, and includes advice and tips for both types of crafts.  There is also a blog, an email list with monthly free patterns, and an “Ask Sweaterbabe” page to post your specific questions to Sweaterbabe Herself.

I have traditionally been a cable fan, knitting standard-shaped sweaters and avoiding openwork.  But I’m getting more interested in lacework in my middle age, and Sweaterbabe’s many sweaters with lace combined with cables and unusual shapes have me intrigued.  In the end, I have decided to knit either this lacy drape-front cardigan (which I can close with either my Lothlorien pin or the lovely silver scarf pin my friend Heather gave me) :

or this dramatic wrap cardigan:

And with all of Sweaterbabe’s dozens of other projects, I think I’ll be busy throughout the winter.


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I’ve laid off politics for a while because frankly, it’s exhausting enough to live in a place where politics is served with your cornflakes at breakfast without writing about it all the time.

But I really can’t be silent about the recent dust raised over Israel’s naming of national heritage sites in the country for the purposes of preservation and renovation.

It started with Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), where Arabs accused the Jews of “fabricating” their connection to the site (you can thank Hanan Ashrawi for that little nugget) and after Arabs rioted there in 2000, then-PM Ehud Barak ordered the IDF to abandon it.  It was subsequently handed over to Palestinian police who, despite their commitment to protect the site, stood by and watched while it was ransacked and burned by an Arab mob.  After thousands of years of being venerated as Joseph’s burial place (including by Arab geographers), the PA suddenly claimed that the tomb is not that of Joseph the Jew, but of some Muslim named Joseph, serving as their excuse for making it into a mosque.  I don’t believe such ridiculous claims and I suspect, given the fact that these Arabs had no difficulty reducing the place to rubble, they don’t either.

Next we move on to the Cave of the Patriarchs.  Located in Hevron, this site is the burial place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah (none of whom Muslims can claim any connection with except possibly Abraham, according to tradition).  As a result of the Wye River Accords, the site has been divided, giving the Muslim Waqf control over 80% of the site and limiting the access of Jews to the tombs of Isaac and Rebecca to ten days a year.  To acknowledge the Cave of the Patriarchs as the second holiest site in Judaism, PM Binyamin Netanyahu officially added it to the list of national heritage sites.  This declaration has met with outrage from the UN, Arab governments, and the United States (which I have noticed are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from one another in their policies and attitudes), and UNESCO has called for this site to be removed from Israel’s list of national holy sites.

If the world wants to deny the Jews any connection to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, what of Rachel’s Tomb?  Well, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, so the little minds have been hard at work cooking up a cock-and-bull story about Rachel’s Tomb.  Here it is: As of 1996, the tomb, which has always has been acknowledged as Rachel’s burial place by everyone who has been here (British, Turks, Arabs, Jews), was renamed by Palestinian Arab spin doctors the Mosque of Bilal Ibn Rabah, after an Ethiopian slave in Mohammed’s household who was killed in the wars in Syria and is buried in Damascus.  Not only are Arabs reduced to making up stories to try to lay claim to Jewish holy sites in the Jewish State, they’re declaring a “holy war” to back up those new claims.

But wait—there’s more!  According to a recent statement by a PA official, the Western Wall is not Jewish!  That’s right.  A PA-backed “study” shows that the Western Wall is NOT part of the Temple Mount, but an integral part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (which is not contiguous with the wall, but never mind the facts).  This study claims that “the Temple Mount never stood in the area,” that the Western Wall is Waqf property and belongs to an Algerian-Moroccan Muslim family, that none of the stones in the current Temple Mount wall date from the time of King Solomon, and that the path next to the Wall was never a public road, but was established for Muslim use to access the mosques on the Mount.  The author of the “study” states, “No one has the right to claim ownership over it or change its features or original character. Also, no one has the right to agree with the occupation state’s racist and oppressive measures against history and holy sites.”  Which measures are those?  The ones that comply with the version of history accepted by educated, sane, objective, politically disinterested historians?  Or the ones that seek to explore through archeology the area’s use and workings in ancient times?  Or perhaps the ones that say that Jews have a right to live freely in their own land rather than be voted out of existence by a bunch of ragtag Muslim zealots bent on grabbing this land for themselves any way they can get it?  Anyone who makes the absurdly false claims these PA nutjobs are making, or believes them (as it’s only a matter of time before the UN and America will) is buying a story that says that the Dome of the Rock (dating from 691 CE) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque (the most recent building dating from 1035) have always been there, were built on bare ground (presumably under the personal direction of Mohammed), and on land the Jews never occupied.  Riiiiiiigggghhhhht.

I believe in freedom of speech.  I believe that people have the right to believe whatever they wish, and to speak about it freely.  If, despite Columbus’s successful voyage, satellite pictures, and man’s visit to the moon, someone wants to claim that the earth is flat, that’s their right.  If someone thinks the moon is made of cheese, let them.  (And don’t forget to bring me back some next time you go.)  If someone wants to cook up conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination, about UFOs, or about Hitler’s brain being kept alive in Paraguay, be my guest.  But just as people have the right to claim anything they like, it is the right of the rest of us to ridicule them, refute them, or simply ignore them.  In fact, it is the obligation of every responsible citizen (and more so those in positions of influence and decision-making) to examine the facts and ask questions rather than simply believe a tall tale because he or she doesn’t know any better.  To allow ignorance, conventional wisdom, and politics to play a role in policy-making at an international level is to delegitimize the very policy-making body to which they belong.  Given how the UN has behaved for the past several decades, how its conduct and voting record has gotten less and less rational, and now how UNESCO is rewriting history in the Jewish State, it is actually the UN that is being delegitimized.  (How long, after all, will it be before the UN building in New York itself gets voted an ancient Muslim holy site, is given an phony Arabic name and converted into a mosque?)  As far as I can see, the UN is the greatest purveyor of incitement, disinformation, political intrigue, and outright lies in the world, and as such, the greatest threat to world peace.

What are the takeaway messages to be gleaned from all this insanity?

  • The only people worse at history than Arabs are lazy Westerners.
  • Ignorant Christians are as dangerous as zealous Muslims.
  • If a Muslim says it, it must be true (contrary facts notwithstanding).
  • Israel has no holy sites.  Anything that has been claimed by them for thousands of years and is supported by texts (holy and secular), archeology, and tradition, becomes instantly invalid once Arabs come up with a story claiming that those sites are sacred to Muslims.
  • If we want to return places to their “original” names, then Nablus should be universally known as Shechem, London should be Londinium, New York should be New Amsterdam, Iraq should be Babylon, and Mecca should be Terok Nor.
  • Arab vandalism of Jewish planting on state lands has led to several clashes in the Gush.  Four settlers were shot dead by an Arab at point-blank range last August.  There have been several stonings of Jewish cars by Arabs on the road near the northern entrance to Efrat.  An Arab attempted to stab hitchhikers near the Gush Junction the other day.  Arabs have launched a full campaign to delegitimize the spiritual connection of Jews to this land.   And the West is buying it all, hook, line and sinker.

It’s time to push back, people.

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The other night, the Cap’n and I watched the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” episode where Dax and Worf finally wed.  There were plenty of ups and downs in the story with the wedding on and off every few minutes.  Unwavering adherence to Klingon tradition, a difficult mother-in-law, and sudden time pressure to include Worf’s son at the wedding all seemed to create resentment and conflict between the bride and groom.

As we were watching it, I realized that while I felt sympathy for Dax wanting to throw Klingon tradition aside (and with it her requirement to pass muster with Sirella Martok), and instead get married in Captain Sisko’s office in a civil ceremony, I didn’t really want her to do that.  Why?  Because the Cap’n and I have seen so many movies where a religious/traditional person falls in love with an unaffiliated person and to make the match work gives up his or her beliefs and practices.  (We really liked “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” because it didn’t involve the Greek falling off her derech; instead the white bread guy converts to Greek Orthodoxy.)

For Worf and Dax to be married in a parve ceremony felt wrong.  Worf is thoroughly dedicated to Klingon tradition, and Dax herself (throughout at least two of her seven lifetimes as a Trill) has been fascinated by Klingon culture.  As we watched the events unfold, it became increasingly clear to us that this situation is very much like any other intermarriage and as dedicated Jews, we were rooting for the unaffiliated partner to convert.

I spent a post some time ago comparing Klingons to Arabs.   One commenter to that post claimed that Klingons are modeled on Vikings.  Perhaps in some sense they are, but I suspect that Vikings did not share the Klingons’ reservations about intermarriage, since intermarriage is an effective means to conquer and fully assimilate another society.  In this episode (“You Are Cordially Invited”) Klingons began to look to us like Jews too with their adherence to ancient tradition, their reservations about intermarriage, and their belief in a relationship as a joint spiritual journey where both partners must be in sync for it to be a successful marriage.  When the episode ended on a happy note, we were satisfied that all had turned out to everyone’s satisfaction.  Worf married in a Klingon ceremony, his son was present, the Martoks did their bit, Dax grew up a little, and I’m sure Quark made a tidy profit on blood wine at the reception.

Who could ask for anything more?

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Banana came home the other day and announced that her rav at mechina (preparatory kindergarten) had told the girls that in the home, the husband makes the decisions and the wife obeys the husband.

I’ll give you a minute.

Okay?  Good.

Once the Cap’n and I had picked our jaws up off the floor, I remembered that Banana’s rav is Sephardi.  (He also tells the girls it’s assur to eat fish with dairy and who knows what all else.)  I don’t mean to impugn Sephardim, but many—especially those who came to Israel from Arabic-speaking countries—have not encountered anything like a women’s movement in their communities.  So after a giggle and a snort, I pointed out to my five-year-old that in the Crunch household, Ima and Abba are partners and work together as a team.  There are things that Abba does better and takes responsibility for, and things that Ima does better and sees to.  But our strength comes from acting as equals, not from having one person in charge and another subservient (though by assuming the traditional stay-at-home mom role and doing most of the chores, it probably looks that way).

A friend of mine once told me that her four-year-old son told her that “Mans [sic] work and mommies stay home.”  My friend had a Ph.D. but had chosen (for the time being) to be at home with her young children, as I did.  It’s galling sometimes to feel like we have to give up our image as educated, intelligent beings in order to provide our children with parental care in their early years.  But perhaps at the same time it affords the opportunity to explain the complexities of feminism and modern life to tell them about our choices, and point out the choices other mothers make to go out and work, or fathers to stay home, or parents to have their children cared for by others while both parents work.

I sometimes think we’re going down a weird road by sending our kids to the frummier schools in Efrat.  But then again, we have plenty of  interesting conversations at home as a result, and our kids don’t take for granted what we do in our house when they know that other people do things differently.  We explain to them in neutral ways why other families do what they do, and why we do what we do.

Given that some Jewish families—both those who do a lot and those who do almost nothing—often don’t discuss why, perhaps in the end my kids are getting a better education after all.

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Bill is turning out to be a charming boy.  At 21 months he is smallish and skinny, but with hazel eyes, a winning smile, and an irresistible giggle, he has also begun cultivating the social graces the Cap’n and I hold so dear.  (Read about ’em here, here, and here.)  When I sneeze, he says, “Ah-too, Mama.”  When he asks for more of something and I prompt him, he says, “Peez, Mama.”  And he regularly says “da-da” (infantese for todah, or “thank you” in Hebrew) when given something, with no prompting.

So for those out there who think teaching children manners can wait until they’re in school, or in the army, or never, I would like to point out that not only can babies be taught manners at an early age, but that even boys are educable.  (That last was the Cap’n’s observation.)

So parents of eligible daughters, begin placing your bids for my boy now.

And enrollment in Auntie Shim’s Etiquette Boot Camp begins this summer.

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Jewish American radio host Dennis Prager has a video in his series “Prager University” which seeks to describe “The Middle East Problem” in brief.  Here it is, the Middle East conflict, in six minutes:

Prager aptly describes it as an easy problem to describe, but a difficult problem to solve.  One side wants to exist in peace; the other side wants to destroy it.  The rest is commentary.  Now come to Israel and see for yourselves.

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I drive to the Yellow Hill near Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion a few times a week, taking the kids to swim lessons or gymnastics.  Our route there frequently passes Arab shepherds herding goats or sheep, speeding Arab taxis ferrying passengers between Hebron and Bethlehem, Arabs on horseback or driving donkey-drawn carts.

Somehow, these sights often inspire commentary from Peach (the only political animal among my children so far).  The other day, while driving with my kids in the car, Peach announced, “I hate Arabs.”

It’s difficult sometimes to temper my young children’s reactions to the things they hear around them.  A family we know lost their son, murdered at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva a few years ago.  The murderer?  An Arab.  The four people killed in a car just south of here in August were killed by an Arab.  The security fence (some sections of which appear as a wall around here) was built to keep out Arab terrorists.  The people who demand that we stop building in our yishuv so they can fritter away more time not making peace with us?  Arabs.

Nevertheless, I don’t like the word “hate.”  It’s very strong, and there is nothing essentially hateful in an Arab.  They are human beings, like we are.  They eat, sleep, learn, work, love and live much as we do.  They are as much God’s creation as we are, and I don’t think it’s right to hate them.

What I do sanction is anger at their leadership, those who would harm us or poison others against us, and suspicion of them in general.  While there may be some who don’t deny the right of Jews to live in their ancestral homeland, this study done by the Israel Project indicates that most Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank would like to see Israel disappear and be replaced by a Palestinian state.  This isn’t shocking to me, or even surprising.  I don’t blame them, because honestly, I feel the same about them.  I was honest with Peach when I told her that if I were to wake up tomorrow morning and this land would be magically empty of Arabs, I would breathe a sigh of relief, much of my low-grade but ever-present anxiety would melt away, and I would feel utterly joyous.  I don’t want them dead, or harmed in any way.  I want them safely, comfortably settled with dignity—somewhere else.

This, I would point out, is more than can be said for most Arabs.  Violence against Jews is common currency in Arab society and shedding Jewish blood scores major brownie points.  (Consider the fact that this Arab man, released from prison and accused by others in his community of being a collaborator, sought to restore his own reputation by stabbing a Jewish woman.)  In addition, while I’m honest about the facts of what happens in Israel with Peach, I try to discourage her from hating even those who wish us dead and  I certainly don’t teach her hateful, nasty, biologically absurd ideas about our enemies being descended from pigs and monkeys the way Arabs teach their children about Jews.

Perhaps because I deliberately keep my views about Arabs complex and murky, I can tell that Beans is sometimes confused.  She has at least one Arab man working at her school, and she speaks of him as a friendly person.  She is also eager to learn to speak Arabic.  When I asked her why, she wasn’t sure, only that she seemed to think that it makes sense living where we live to understand each other.  Yet at the same time, knowing what some Arabs have done (such as tried to blow up our little supermarket in Efrat years ago), she feels nervous around Arabs she doesn’t know.  When I take her to the Rami Levi supermarket at the Gush Etzion Junction where Jews and Arabs work and shop alongside one another, she often asks softly if a group of Arab men entering the store in front of us are Arabs.  The answer is usually yes, but I also point out to her that the security guard has a metal detector wand which he waves around every Arab man’s waistline, front and back, to prevent anyone with an explosive belt from entering the building.  I don’t know if that makes her feel better (or me, for that matter), but I try to show her that while Arabs are allowed to shop in Jewish-owned stores, given the past behavior of some Arabs THEY are the ones who get the wand treatment, and I (a woman with fair hair and skin, young children in tow, and only a small pack around my waist outside my shirt) do not.

There are times when I think that playing the game by Arab rules is appropriate.  Meeting violence with harsh reprisals (targeted killings, air strikes in response to missiles fired at Israel, life imprisonment with no chance of parole or exchange for those with blood on their hands) is the very least Israel can do to maintain its self-respect when dealing with people who see mercy as weakness, justice as laughable, restraint as capitulation, and targeting civilians as legitimate.  But when it comes to hatred, glorification of murder and suicide, and dehumanization, I think Israel is wise not to join them.  Our God commands us to love life and do all we can to preserve it—theirs as well as ours.  This is an area where I think Israel really gets it right.

Does it make life any easier, or my lessons to my children any clearer?  Definitely not.  But life is rarely that easy.  It’s part of the epiphany I had the other day where I realized that there is nothing more fulfilling than being Jewish, and at the same time nothing as burdensome.

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A bit of gallows humor

The following is from an email that has made the rounds on the Internet.  I don’t necessarily agree with its socially conservative message (or its fast-and-loose play with the Biblical time line), but I love the gallows humor, especially in the punchline.

Why I’m so depressed

Over five thousand years ago, Moses said to the Children of Israel, “Pick up your shovels, mount your asses and camels, and I will lead you to the Promised Land.”

Nearly 75 years ago (when welfare was introduced) Roosevelt said, “Lay down your shovels, sit on your asses, and light up a Camel.  This is the Promised Land.”

Now Obama has stolen your shovel, taxed your asses, raised the price of Camels and mortgaged the Promised Land!

I was so depressed last night thinking about health care plans, the economy, the wars, lost jobs, savings, social security, retirement funds, etc….  I called Lifeline and got a call center in Pakistan.  When I told them I was suicidal, they got all excited and asked if I could drive a truck.

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A recipe to die for

Following my post the other day about a cool blog I discovered that explores the art, history, and social commentary of New England gravestones, my friend Mandy sent me the following photograph of an Israeli gravestone.

Where Western burial practice involves burying and setting a flat stone either upright or flat over the head of the grave, Israeli stones cover the entire grave in stone, perhaps to keep scavenging animals from… well, never mind.  This affords the opportunity either for brevity (Theodor Herzl’s grave says simply, “Herzl”) or more fluency of expression.

Most stones I’ve seen give the deceased’s name, birth and death dates, and parents’ (or father’s) names.  In Poland, I saw Jewish gravestones with engraved icons of broken candlesticks (denoting a woman whose death was untimely), a hand inserting a coin into a tzedaka box (indicating that the person was renowned for giving charity), or a hand pouring water from a ewer over another pair of hands (showing that the deceased was a Levi).  The stone in this photograph has none of that information.  Instead, it has the recipe for “Grandma Ida’s Nut Cookies.”  I kid you not.  (At first I thought it was a Photoshop job, but since I can’t prove it, I’m willing to believe it’s genuine.)  Here’s the recipe:


200 grams butter     1 egg yolk     1 [container?] sour cream

Add 350 grams self-rising flour gradually

Place dough in refrigerator for an hour


300 grams strawberry preserves

150 grams ground pecans  +  vanilla sugar  +  tablespoon cinnamon

Turkish delight cut into thin rectangles


Divide into four [parts] and flatten into rectangles

Spread a thin layer of jam

Sprinkle the nut mixture in a thin layer

Arrange on the edge of the rectangle a border of Turkish delight and roll

Put into an oven heated to 180 degrees for half an hour

Slice diagonally while cookies are still warm

After cooling sprinkle [with] powdered sugar

Some people are stingy with their recipes.  When I once asked a friend how she made her lasagna, she answered, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”  My mom had to figure out for herself how Lois Callahan made her scrumptious bean dip.  And in the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” Gareth’s recipe for duck a la banana dies with him.

I think it’s immoral to withhold good recipes, and I like this family’s style.  Rather than letting Savta Ida take her beloved nut cookie recipe with her to The Beyond, the family had it chiseled in stone for posterity.  Now that’s a legacy.

As for the recipe itself, I’ve never baked with Turkish delight and don’t plan to start now.  But I might get curious enough to make these cookies without it.

The best part, though, will be telling raving fans where I got the recipe.

[Thanks again, Mandy!]

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This is the seventh (and last) in a series on my favorite home cooks.  (Read previous posts about Mimi, Leora, Batya, Ilana-Davita, Sigal, and my mother here.)  I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but one of the first things the Cap’n and I nixed when we went on an austerity plan (i.e. when we had children and I opted to stay home) was eating out.  The pickin’s were slim in Boston for kosher food anyway, and my tastes ran to slightly more exotic cuisine than deli, pizza, and Chinese.  Since I’ve learned to cook the stuff I like, I can’t help but be one of my favorite cooks.

Please introduce yourself in a few sentences.

I’m Shimshonit, the authoress of this blog.  I was born in Seattle, but lived in 13 houses in six states (in New England, the Deep South, and the West Coast) by the time I was 18 years old.  I have a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, and underwent Orthodox conversion in 1998.  I’m 42, married with four young children, and live in Efrat (Israel).  I love to read recipes, cook, and of course, eat.

From whom did you learn to cook?  (If not from a person, how?)

The first time I entered the kitchen to do anything other than get a snack or wash dishes after a meal was when my mother had just learned from a friend how to make chicken marsala and decided that my brother and I should learn to make it too.  (I was 20 years old.)  I left home armed with a few simple recipes, but no real idea of cooking technique.  I am largely self-taught, with some help from cookbooks, friends, and—joy of the modern home cook—the Internet.

In what style do you cook predominantly (e.g. Mediterranean, Jewish, Asian)?

When I was young, my family ate out once a week.  In the early days, it was pizza, burgers, and eventually, Chinese.  As we got older and our tastes broadened, it would sometimes take us hours to decide where to eat out.  Mexican? Thai? Japanese? Greek? Moroccan? Italian? Lebanese? Kashmiri?  Once I began to keep kosher, I realized that if I liked ethnic food, I’d have to learn to make it myself.

My day-to-day cooking is vegetarian, centered around lentils, beans, rice, a little pasta, and vegetables, with some grated cheese or plain yogurt on the side.  My style is largely Tex-Mex and Mediterranean, and I go through a lot of onions, garlic, and crushed tomatoes.  For Shabbat meals, I often make chicken and several vegetable dishes.  One of my favorite cooking inspirations was when we lived in Newton (Mass.) and subscribed to an organic farm; whatever vegetables arrived in a large crate on delivery day was what was for dinner.

What dietary guidelines do you observe (kashrut, vegetarian, vegan, Paleolithic diet)?

We keep kosher, and eat very little meat.

What are your favorite foods?  What food aversions do you have?

Mushrooms and green peppers are not to be found in the Crunch household.  Favorite foods include chicken soup with matzo balls, split pea soup, vegetarian chili, salads of all kinds, bittersweet chocolate, and sourdough bread (which I still haven’t got the hang of baking yet).

What is your relationship to your kitchen, to food, to cooking?

My kitchen is small but lovely, with blond maple cabinetry, dark green granite work surfaces, and two enormous sinks.  My oven is small but ample for most of my needs.  However, about one-third of my cooking and baking vessels (including all of my cake decorating supplies) live in the basement in cupboards because my kitchen cannot store them all.

One of the things I realize from the fast days in the Jewish calendar is how much time I spend thinking about food, planning meals, shopping and cooking.  One of my primary roles in the Crunch family is to see that the children take wholesome food to school and eat well at home.  I enjoy having guests on Shabbat, and am willing to undertake any challenge to meet our friends’ dietary needs when coming up with a menu.  (We have friends who are vegans, have Crohn’s Disease, lactose intolerance, food allergies, avoid beans or margarine, and break out in hives if they ingest MSG.)

I waver between feeling like an artist and a slave in my kitchen.  I love to create, and prefer home cooking to eating out.  I like making the food to my (and my family’s) taste, and knowing exactly what goes into it.  On the other hand, my kids can be picky eaters, and I often have to refrain from making things I like because I’ll just have to make something else to suit my kids’ more pedestrian tastes.

What do you think cooking and food say about identity?

I made up this question, but I don’t really have an answer to it.  (I was more interested to see if other people did.)  I do know that any time people are asked to name something that identifies them as being part of an ethnic group, it’s usually something to do with food.  As to the relationship between personality and food, I know some people who only eat 30 things, yet are very open-minded and accepting.  And I know others with very cosmopolitan tastes who are not so open-minded.

I have traveled widely and enjoyed the cuisine of almost every place I’ve visited.  Now that I keep kosher, I am making an unambiguous statement that I am Jewish by only eating food in that category.  But in my heart I am still a world traveler and enjoy a variety of styles of cooking, modifying recipes to fit my dietary limitations.

Please share one of your favorite recipes, either from a blog post or from your own repertoire.

One of the features on the “Bend It Like Beckham” DVD has Gurinder Chadha, the director, cooking aloo gobi (curried potato and cauliflower) under the critical eyes of her mother and her auntie.  The feature was very amusing to watch, and aloo gobi quickly became a favorite with the curry-loving adults in my extended family.  A humorous note: The recipe calls for the whole tomatoes to be grated with a vegetable grater.  In the feature, Chadha says she adds the tomatoes whole and breaks them up with a spoon while they’re cooking to avoid a mess.  Her mother and her auntie shake their heads and say, “Doesn’t matter!” and insist that they must be grated.  Do what you have time and patience to do for this step.

Indian food can be a potchkee, but once you start cooking, it goes quickly.  Eliminate stress by making sure you have everything chopped and measured before you begin cooking.  (I love making aloo gobi because I get to use all those lovely glass nesting bowls I got for a wedding gift.)


Allow extra time for it all to cook, as it takes longer than the directions say.  And remember: “Anyone can make aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?”

½ cup vegetable oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

Large bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), separated into stalks and leaves, coarsely chopped

3 or so small green chilies, minced

1 large cauliflower, cut into small florets

3 large potatoes, well scrubbed, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 can whole peeled tomatoes, grated with a vegetable grater

Fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about a 2” or 3” piece)

Fresh garlic, minced (about 4-5 large cloves)

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons garam masala

Heat oil in a large frypan.  Add onion and cumin seeds.  Stir together and cook until onions become “creamy golden” (her mother’s words) and translucent.  Add coriander stalks, turmeric, and salt and mix.  Stir in chilies and tomatoes.  Add ginger and garlic; mix.  Add potatoes and cauliflower and a few teaspoons of water.  Stir vegetables to coat with curry sauce.  Cover and simmer 20 minutes or so.  (Stir periodically and check for doneness.  When I make it, it actually takes the vegetables closer to 40-50 minutes to cook.)

Add garam masala; stir.  Sprinkle coriander leaves over.  Turn off heat, cover, and leave as long as possible before serving.  Delicious as leftovers or gently rewarmed for Shabbat lunch.  Chadha says she loves it the next day between two slices of white bread.

Mrs. Bhamra says you'd better finish all your curry or you won't get your kulfi.

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Gosford Park

The Cap’n and I recently revisited one of our favorite movies, “Gosford Park” (2001).  Written by Julian Fellowes, it is the only Robert Altman-directed film I like.  True to Altman form, it’s packed with stars (Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, Kristin Scott Thomas, Clive Owen, Stephen Fry, Sophie Thompson, Tom Hollander, Emily Watson, Jeremy Northam, Eileen Atkins, and I could go on), and has nearly a dozen plot lines working simultaneously.  Unlike most Altman films, though, the separate plot lines are tightly interwoven rather than frayed and dangling, and its exploration of the lives of the characters is layered not only by personality and the relationships between characters, but also by the upstairs-downstairs dichotomy that exists in this story of a shooting party that takes place at Sir William McCordle’s country home (the title of the film).  When Sir William is murdered twice, hardly anyone cares for the deceased man and the list of suspects—i.e. those who have a clear motive—is long.  But is the list complete?

I won’t give it away in case any of you wish to see it.  I highly recommend it for a glimpse into the world of masters and servants that is less idyllic than that of the BBC series “Upstairs Downstairs” and more nuanced in the connections between masters and servants than that of the 1993 Merchant-Ivory film, “The Remains of the Day.”   Exhaustively researched, I enjoyed seeing the special features about the ex-servants who acted as consultants on the film nearly as much as the film itself.  I also recommend using subtitles to catch every word, since many comments are made sotto voce and some words and expressions are hard to catch.

Fellowes’s writing captures the cynicism, the bitterness, and the snobbishness of his characters beautifully.  Among my favorite speeches is Elsie’s (the head housemaid) who, after spending several minutes gossiping with one of the visiting ladies’ maids, says “Oh, just listen to me.  Why do we spend our lives living through them?  I mean look at poor old Lewis.  If her own mother had a heart attack, she’d think it was less important than one of Lady Sylvia’s farts.”  The toffee-nosed (but penniless) Lady Trentham’s cattiness comes through in her observations about another guest who appears in the same dress on the third evening of the party: “Mabel is so clever to travel light.  Why should one wear a different frock every evening?  We’re not in a fashion parade. …Difficult color, green.  Very tricky.”  And the housekeeper Mrs. Wilson’s speech sums up my job as a mother: “What gift do you think a good servant has that separates him from the others?  It’s the gift of anticipation.  And I’m a good servant.  I’m better than good—I’m the best.  I’m the perfect servant.  I know when they’ll be hungry and the food is ready.  I know when they’ll be tired, and the bed is turned down.  I know it before they know it themselves.”


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Grave matters

While trying unsuccessfully to research where in Boston I saw a plaque with a quotation by William Bradford (the Common?  The Public Garden?) I came across a fascinating blog.

I have always enjoyed strolling through cemeteries, reading the stones, marveling at some of the names (especially in New England), and paying tribute to Those Who Have Gone Before.  I’ve visited the Old Granary Cemetery in Boston; the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna (Beethoven’s final resting place); Pere Lachaise in Paris (a veritable Who’s Who That’s Dead, including Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Isadora Duncan, Seurat, Richard Wright, and Chopin sans heart, which is buried in Warsaw); the Safed cemetery where Channah and her sons, as well as Rav Yitzhak Luria, are buried; the Mount Zion cemetery (to pay tribute to Oskar Schindler); the Warsaw cemetery which, on our Tragical History Tour, was actually one of the more uplifting places to visit, since unlike the camps, Jews there died of natural causes; and dozens of others.  This interest of mine freaks the Cap’n out; he thinks it’s eerie.

But it’s not just about dead people.  (I don’t see any when I visit a cemetery.)  It’s about history, art, naming trends, and people’s lives.  So for anyone interested in a fascinating tour New England art and social history, I highly recommend the blog Vast Public Indifference.  Caitlin GD Hopkins uses humor, wit, photography, and considerable writing skill to explore topics such as “Hot Baby Names for 1710,” “101 Ways To Say ‘Died,'” and “Scalia On Grave Markers.”  She gives recommendations for reading, and I also enjoyed reading her recommendation for a book about King Charles II and Restoration history.  (It seems she and I have many interests in common.)

Most of my readers probably won’t find this of great interest, but I know one of you will.  Enjoy, Mom!

(Click on this link to read her post about this stone marking the grave of a mother and her two daughters.)

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My father recently forwarded an email of quotations purportedly by Thomas Jefferson, warning of the threats to democracy by banks and financial institutions, big government, taxation, and an unarmed citizenry.

It is clear from this email that some Americans are fed up with what they view as out-of-control government spending, Wall Street shenanigans followed by  federal bailouts, and high taxes.  To express this disgruntlement, someone has compiled a group of quotations (some provably Jeffersonian, others not) to show that one of America’s sages, and perhaps its greatest champion of liberty, foresaw the current economic crisis over 200 years ago.

Thomas Jefferson had plenty of pithy things to say, and at one point in my life (before I read very much American history) I really admired him.  But as I began to read American history in earnest, I discovered that the more I read about him, the less I liked him.  He wrote a magnificent Declaration of Independence, purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon for a smoke and a pancake, and had the vision to sponsor the Lewis and Clark expedition (which, if nothing else, led the Americans to Oregon).  But he reveled in the indiscriminate bloodiness of the French revolution; he vociferously opposed the creation of a national bank to help pay the debts incurred in the course of the American revolution (preferring, perhaps, to let the states duke out who should pay what and start the new nation on an acrimonious foot); and he hired yellow journalist James Callender on the sly to smear President John Adams in the press, helping to bring down the presidency of one of the most honest, sensible, rational men of that time.  As a politician, he was less than admirable.  As a man, he was frivolous and irresponsible, spending his considerable fortune on expensive book and wine collections, remodeling Monticello constantly, and racking up enormous debts (that would go unpaid until his death) while preaching economy to anyone who would listen.  Some also find it disturbing that he fathered several children by his slave, Sally Hemings.  (Assuming it was consensual, I am less disturbed by that than by the fact that he promised his dying wife never to remarry, and then kept his promise.  What a fool.)

The following are the “quotations” by Jefferson in the email I received, followed by my comments:

“When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.”
This has been correctly attributed to Jefferson, and perhaps there’s something to it.  Jefferson was enamored of the rural farming economy of his native South, and had little love for the growing cities in the North.  Whether it is true that the South enjoyed more honesty in politics and governing than the North, I can’t say.  These days, the least corrupt countries are those with the most women participating in them.  Like Iceland.  Or Finland.  The more women (and, by extension, fewer men) serve in politics, the less corrupt the country is likely to be.  (Read Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic—and my review of it—for more commentary on this subject.)  Israel is woefully dominated by men in government, and the PA has no women at all that I know of.  It’s about more than rural versus urban life.

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
As it happens, this quotation has not been proven to be from Jefferson (according to this website, which draws from the 1900 Jeffersonian Cyclopedia.)  And if it were?  Fine words from a wealthy slave owner.

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes.  A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”
Poor Jefferson couldn’t hold on to a dollar bill to save his life, and died with staggering outstanding debts.  Jefferson’s opposition to the creation of a national bank (invented by Alexander Hamilton, an illegitimate child from the West Indies with no fortune, no pedigree, and no slaves) in order to pay the country’s debts after the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War gives the lie to this observation of Jefferson’s.

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
This is a common sentiment among Americans nowadays.  But it should be noted that until the Civil War, there was no income tax in America.  On the other hand, slave holders claimed that their “darkies” wouldn’t be able to take care of themselves without their white masters to “protect” them.  Nonsense.  It was their slaves who did the labor that filled their coffers, nursed them when they were ill, cooked their meals, cleaned their homes, and ironed their shirts.  I know he wasn’t talking about slaves here, but if you substitute slaveholders for “government” and slaves for “Americans,” it reads very differently.  And lest anyone accuse me of applying modern ethics and sensibilities to pillory the ancients, it should be noted that Civil War historian Shelby Foote (a Southerner) has observed that the single greatest mistake made by the Founding Fathers was to create the United States and its Constitution with slavery intact.  It was ALWAYS a source of tension and discomfort.  The North had outlawed slavery in its states, while the South awarded part-human status to its slaves by insisting that it be awarded additional seats in Congress in the Three-Fifths Compromise.  Things only got worse as the country expanded westward and talked of admitting new states to the Union.  Slavery, while accepted by some individuals in some parts of the country, was not universally accepted in America.

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”
This quotation has not been proven to be by Jefferson, though I’m sure many would like it to be.  I believe there are plenty of examples of very bad big government.  But where there is less government, there is also a greater reliance on one’s own fortunes (which can sometimes be poor through no one’s fault) and charity (which is not always a compelling motivator to help one’s fellow man).  Socialized governmental systems are not all bad (see the Netherlands, Finland, etc.) and minimal government should not by definition be much better.

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
This is one of the rare statements I agree with.  Yitzhak Imes, one of the four Jewish settlers gunned down on the road here in Judea in August by an Arab, was once a licensed gun owner.  But after being arrested for praying on the Temple Mount (everyone but Jews is allowed to pray there), his license was revoked as a result of his acquiring a “criminal” record.  Had he had his gun in the car and been able to shoot back, it is possible that he and/or the other passengers in the car that day (including his wife who was pregnant with their seventh child, a special education kindergarten teacher here in Efrat, and a young newlywed) might have been able to defend themselves before being shot at point-blank range, and lived.

“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”
This quotation has not been proven to be from Jefferson.  Nevertheless, in extreme circumstances it may be true, and a few more arms for the Jews in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s would not have been amiss (or the Jews in Mandatory Palestine, for that matter).  In America, I think the right to vote and a government with America’s checks and balances system is a greater safeguard against all but the most extreme forms of governmental tyranny.  (Wish Israel had checks and balances; they’re almost absent here and we feel it keenly.)

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
I’m happy to see that since the Civil War, this has not been borne out in the US.  Thank God.

“To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
This is misquoted, the correct quotation being the following: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical” (my italics).  One is voluntary, the other obligatory.  The net effect is the same.  As for the message, I would argue that slaves didn’t pay taxes, but their labor more than subsidized the planters’ way of life and gave the Southern states extra representation in Congress through the Three-Fifths Compromise.  Are we supposed to believe that practice was not “sinful and tyrannical”?  The safeguards against this are the vote and the Bill of Rights which allow people to challenge their government through words and lawful actions.  It works surprisingly well in the long term, though there is plenty of short term frustration.  And ironically, it is the American conservatives who have dug the huge hole of debt the Americans find themselves in these days, those who would agree with most of what Jefferson (sometimes) says here.

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.  If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
This quotation is false according to Snopes.  Nonetheless, anyone can see why it is so popular now.  Before I knew it was false, I could imagine why Jefferson might have said it—he had a personal loathing of financiers since he was perpetually indebted to them, and Virginia didn’t want to pay its share of the national debt after the war.  In the end, the nation’s capital ended up in a malaria-infested swamp between Virginia and Maryland as a sop to Jefferson and the other Virginians in the government in order to found a national bank (in New York, under New Yorker Hamilton’s direction) to begin the country’s history with a precedent of fiscal responsibility.  Had Jefferson actually said this, his words would have been prophetic: After his death, Jefferson’s children were homeless on the continent their father had helped to conquer.

The Snopes discussion makes some important points about circulating emails like this one:

One of the “Rules of Misquotation” outlined by Ralph Keyes in his 1992 book on that subject is that axiom that “Famous dead people make excellent commentators on current events.”  Given the fear and uncertainty engendered by the current economic situation, and the disgruntlement expressed by many Americans at the thought of providing taxpayer-funded government bailouts to financial institutions and other large corporate entities (such as the auto industry), it was only a matter of time until someone trotted out a quotation (apocryphal or otherwise) from a respected, long-dead figure demonstrating that this whole economic mess was both predictable and inevitable.  And one could hardly find a more hallowed figure in U.S. history than Thomas Jefferson to deliver this message, warning us from across the centuries that predatory banks and corporations would eventually impoverish us all.

I’m sure I am considered a heretic for my feelings about Jefferson.  But if the people who admire him most nowadays are the kind of people who disregard history and fabricate (or believe) quotations like these to salve their own wounds, poor Jefferson’s legacy can suffer no greater harm from my dislike of him.

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This is the sixth in a series of interviews with my favorite home cooks.  (Read my interviews with Mimi, Leora, Batya, Ilana-Davita, and Sigal here.)

My mother may not have been a fancy cook, but she was my favorite cook for years.  I loved how she put tuna and mixed vegetables into my macaroni and cheese.  I loved her version of scalloped potatoes (which she describes below), with ground beef, potatoes, and tomato soup, layered like a non-pasta lasagna.  To this day, no one makes mashed potatoes like she does.  And when she used to fire up the grill to make a gorgeous marinated flank steak, look out.

She developed an interest in cooking when I was a young adult.  Although she didn’t have much to teach me about gourmet cooking, we have enjoyed learning more about preparing balanced, nutritious meals together, and are forever sharing recipes and looking through each other’s cookbooks.  Her inspiration for fine cooking, her Italian-American friend Elena, has also been my inspiration.  I’m working now on developing a kosher cioppino recipe (tomato-based fish stew) which I’ll share when I have it down.

And now, without further ado, my mother.

I am Shimshonit’s mother and have a great interest in cooking. However, that interest was not always there, and was in fact a long time coming. I have great admiration for young women who are confident and capable in the kitchen early in their lives as that was not my experience and later I felt it had been a significant loss. Now, though, I feel I have almost made up for it and then some.

I grew up in northern Vermont where food was pretty much just meat and potatoes (and vegetables, of course). My mother was a good cook and seasoned things well, but she wasn’t inventive and we never veered away from the traditional fare for that region. When I was maybe ten or twelve years old my cousin, who was a home economics teacher, gave the family a recipe for homemade pizza and when my mother served it for our dinner one night she was actually thrilled and very excited, couldn’t stop talking about it—the first time I had ever seen her do that with any meal she had served. The pizza was her one main adventure, though she used to make some sort of tamale pie which my brother loved and I hated.

My mother did nearly all the cooking in our house. When I was quite young I put together, with her instructions called from the laundry room where she was ironing, tuna noodle casserole. I didn’t enjoy doing it and only repeated that one dish when she asked me to for her own convenience, but at least I did like eating it. My sister (three years older) did only a little bit more in the kitchen than I did.  When she, our brother, and I did dishes together (no dishwasher), it was made a bit more interesting than cooking by our singing rounds which was rather fun.

When I married, I made the few things I had grown up eating and liking, including a dish we called scalloped potatoes, but which in our version had hamburger, onion, and tomato soup with the sliced potatoes instead of a cream sauce. Our menus were boring (my dear children never complained and even their father only once in a great while mumbled something about our having a change) but I just didn’t have much interest in cooking. We managed to survive but it’s a wonder.

And then we moved to California. That was 1981, and in 1982, I went to work in my husband’s business office. A young woman worked in the pathologists’ office next door and we used to gab.  When we found we lived near each other we became very friendly, often walking together at the middle school track in the neighborhood when we got out of work in the afternoons. Our topic of conversation most often was about food, menus, and recipes, a subject I was surprised to find actually becoming much more interesting to me. Elena was fifteen years my junior but she was Italian and a marvelous cook.  One of the first things she taught me was that I did not have a stocked refrigerator unless I had a bag of fresh parsley in there. I henceforth had a bag of fresh parsley always available, and began trying some of Elena’s recipes. She had many, and suddenly I discovered that cooking was fun! Not only that, but my family appreciated my efforts! I had a new attitude toward cooking and found it most enjoyable and challenging.

When we moved to Oregon in 1988, I got a computer. It took a while for me to get the hang of it but once I found how to get into the Web and look up recipes, I was off and running. I don’t think I ever had as much fun as the enjoyment of tracking down what looked like a good recipe and making it successfully. I began keeping them in my “computer cookbook,” which also became a place to enter and store all those recipes from the cards in my recipe box I’d collected through the years from friends and family.  Most of them I’d never used, and typing them into the computer allowed me to read and evaluate them for taste and popularity.  Our family has always enjoyed ethnic food, all kinds, and it was an easy step to begin looking up recipes for some of those dishes as well.

When Shim showed signs of also being interested in cooking, it was fun to share ideas and now she has far surpassed me in exploring new sources for foods and dishes. I think, like me (and  perhaps even more so), she has found cooking to be most gratifying and creative. It gives me great pleasure to feed people food I have given a great deal of thought to and carefully prepared.  If anyone had told me when I was young that I would be such a happy camper in the kitchen I would not have believed them.

The recipe I would like to share is for “15-Minute Chicken.”

4 chicken breasts halves, cut into finger-sized pieces

¼ C. flour

¼ C. olive oil

Salt & pepper, to taste

1 T. rosemary (fresh is best but dried is fine)

3 T. fresh lemon juice, sherry, or any wine (I use a mixture of white wine and lemon juice)

1 T. finely chopped parsley

Roll chicken in flour and cook over high heat in oil for 3-5 minutes, until no longer pink. Stir in salt, pepper, and rosemary. Add liquid to deglaze pan, simmering the chicken slowly for just a few minutes. Sprinkle parsley over the top.

Note:  I found a recipe similar to this recently only it called for slicing a few potatoes, cooking them in the microwave, then stirring the slices in with the chicken to brown.

Another note:  Sometimes I like an excuse to use capers in a recipe, and this is one where they are a lovely addition. I omit the rosemary.

Thank you, mother dear.

A very Vermonty-looking room (not my mother's house)

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Help wanted

As part of my job search, I subscribe to a listing of jobs around the country called Israemploy.  It puts out a daily digest of positions to be filled which I usually scan quickly, then delete.  But today, for some reason, many of them caught my eye.

First there was the group of “been there, still doing that” jobs: Cook, Baker, Dishwasher, Kitchen worker, and General worker.  Not interesting.

Then there were the “What on earth is that?” jobs:

Nail builder.  Does this mean a manicurist, a maker of nails, or one who builds structures using nails?

Flash designer.  Tell me this isn’t someone who designs clothing for exhibitionists.

Law student.  Who knew that just going to law school was a career?  Does this mean that graduating involves a career change?

Kindergarten nanny.  I’ve heard of kindergarten teachers, and I’ve heard of nannies, but not kindergarten nannies.  Is that like Mary Poppins with a degree in early childhood education rather than a smartly dressed woman with a sharp tongue and a vain disposition?

Sushi person.  To make sushi?  To sell sushi?  To eat sushi?  To be a naked woman on whom sushi is sometimes served?  If someone who likes people is a “people person,” is someone who loves sushi a “sushi person?”  That would be me.

Salary controller.  This sounds promising, especially if I get to control my own salary.

If I wanted to work outdoors, there are a few options.

Beehive worker.  I assume this is to do with the collectors of honey rather than the stylers of hair.

Worker for a sheep pen (South).  Southern Israel, or South Australia?  Building the pen, or just mucking it out?  Never mind.

Agricultural worker – Seasonal.  This is up in Binyamina where I’m not sure what they’re harvesting.  Apples?  Pomegranates?  Pears?  Would I be working with Arabs?  Other Jews?  Leggy Swedes enjoying a few sunny months on kibbutz?

Perhaps the most boring would be Blow dryer, Hair drying assistant (presumably to assist the Blow dryer), and my favorite Hebrewism, “Hair wash fanist.”  (“Fan” is Hebrew for a hair drying appliance.)  Just think: I could stand around all day, getting varicose veins, watching hair dry.

Think I’ll keep looking.

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One of the most useful things I learned from attending public high school was sex ed.  It was taught to girls and boys separately (my first experience of single-sex education), discussed in an honest, factual, unabashed manner, and gave me all the information I needed about biology, pregnancy prevention, and sexually transmitted diseases, to make my choices in life.

My last two years of high school, and my year of high school teaching, were both in girls’ Catholic schools.  My high school (in Monterey, California) was unusual in that the seniors were given a day off from lessons in the spring to spend the day (including a posh luncheon) with a gynecologist imported from San Francisco.  She gave us a presentation about female sexuality, sprinkling her talk with humorous anecdotes from her private practice in The City.  She told us everything we needed to know, and then the floor was open for questions.  We were allowed to ask anything and everything we wished, and our questions were answered in full.  Recognizing that we would soon be off to college and devoid of adult supervision or counsel, the blessed sisters made an effort to provide us with as much information as possible to keep ourselves safe and healthy.

Contrast this with the year I spent teaching in a girls’ Catholic school in Newton, Massachusetts, where sex education comprised lectures about abstinence.  Please note that I was in high school in the mid-1980s, and was teaching fifteen years later.  But the school where I taught espoused the much more traditional Catholic attitude toward premarital sex and, since it was not acting in loco parentis (as my boarding school was), perhaps the administration did not feel at liberty to offer advice that might run counter to some families’ values and parenting.

But I still remember the students filing into my US history class grumbling about the abstinence-only curriculum.  “In two years we’ll be in college, and if we don’t know what we’re doing, we can get into trouble!”  They were angry at the school for denying them the information they knew they would need in order to make their own choices.  And given that one of my students (not in that class) was several months pregnant by graduation time, it’s clear that these girls were done a disservice.

All that came back to mind last week (as well as news of a 10 year old mother delivering her child in Spain recently) when a friend of the Cap’n’s who is a family physician sent him a link to a Slate Magazine article/slideshow on “The European approach to teens, sex, and love, in pictures.”  It is compiled and written by a physician who works for Planned Parenthood, and examines and contrasts advertising and attitudes toward teen sexual activity in America and Europe.  (In a nutshell, it shows that Europeans accept that many young people are sexually active and use humor to teach about condoms, encouraging young people to be prepared.  Americans view youth sex as bad, carrying a condom is perceived negatively both for girls and boys, and Madison Avenue prefers fearful messages  to sell condoms.)  It should interest parents, teachers, media analysts, psychologists and health educators, as well as anyone else who takes an interest in the next generation.

Click here to view it.  I’d be interested in comments from readers on both sides of The Pond.

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Olive tree wars

There’s been a fair amount of ink spilled lately over the disruption of the olive harvest and the destruction of olive trees in Israel.  Most of the time, settlers are blamed for impeding the livelihood of Palestinian Arabs, and in some cases that might even be true.  But it should be noted that not all olive trees destroyed are actually cut down by settlers.  Arabs have cut down olive trees belonging to Jews, and sometimes have even cut down their own trees, blaming settlers in order to fuel the ongoing media campaign against Israel and, in a hypocritical twist, to collect compensation from the Israeli government.  (Even Ynet thought it was plausible enough to post an article about it.)

Destruction of olive trees is a crime.  The Torah teaches that even in time of war (which many would argue this is) it is not permitted to cut down the enemy’s fruit trees.  (Whether the Koran contains any such statute I am not in a position to say.)  Those who do it, Jewish or Arab, should be prosecuted according to the law.

The annual olive harvest media smear circus is a complicated one.  Attacks on property and person are part of an ongoing jockeying for ownership that is taking place in the West Bank.  Arab squatters attempt to move in and claim areas abandoned by the IDF (such as Shdema and Adurayim), shoot Israeli motorists on the roads (sometimes killing them) and attack Jews who seek to cultivate state land.  Jews build houses in settlements and attempt to connect Jewish communities for security by legally planting on state lands.  In Netzer, located between Elazar and Alon Shvut (Jewish towns) in Gush Etzion, a group of Jews plowed and planted a 10-dunam area with olive trees, vines, and pomegranate trees.  As soon as the Jews planted the vines and were laying the irrigation hoses, a group of Arabs came,  began shouting that the land belonged to them, shoved the Jews, and uprooted the vines.  The IDF and Civil Administration were called and upon arriving, declared the land to be state land.  Soon after, the Jews planted large olive trees at Netzer.  Arabs came and uprooted the trees.  The Jews replanted the trees.  Arabs came with saws and axes and cut down three trees before being stopped by a group of activists.  The Arabs fled before the IDF arrived.  The saga continues.

The media claims that settler destruction of Arab property is part of a “price tag” campaign whereby settlers exact a price for the Israeli government’s plans to dismantle settlements or give away land.  Arabs consistently blame Jews for property damage and vandalism without providing any evidence of who carried out the destruction, and the media take these accusations at face value, without question.

On the other hand, one could argue that Arabs have had a “price tag” campaign going since the 1920s when they decided to assess a penalty to Jews for the crime of living here.  (Never mind that the whole reason Arabs from nearby lands flocked to Ottoman Palestine was because Jews were arriving and creating an economy that offered better opportunities the ones they were living in.)  That campaign has taken the form of open war, terrorism, and delegitimization.  It has created a climate in which anti-Semitism dons a mask of “anti-Zionism,” Jewish history is denied, hatred is taught in schools that in any other country would be unlawful, and a sovereign state can be attacked physically and in the media without question or reproof.

The olive tree wars are wasteful and a hillul Hashem, but they do have one mitigating factor: it’s trees, not people, being cut down.

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This is the fifth in a series of posts on my favorite home cooks.  (Read previous interviews with Mimi, Leora, Batya, and Ilana-Davita.)

My friend Sigal is one of my few sabra friends, though from her perfect English one would never guess she was born and grew up in Israel.  She has always amazed me with her delicious Shabbat meals (served on plates she made herself as a skilled potter) and tireless dedication to making her own “processed” foods such as almond paté, nut and grain crackers, and granola.  She and her husband recently decided to become vegan, but it hasn’t slowed her down a bit.

Please introduce yourself in a few sentences.

My name is Sigal I have lived in Efrat for the past 13 years. I am a mother of four, homeschooling three kids and one about to go in the army.

From whom did you learn to cook?  (If not from a person, how?)

I learned to cook from my mom and then anyone else that I felt I could learn from, as well as from cookbooks.

In what style do you cook predominantly (e.g. Mediterranean, Jewish, Asian)?

I don’t think I have one particular style but I do cook a lot of Mediterranean dishes.

What dietary guidelines do you observe (kashrut, vegetarian, vegan, Paleolithic diet)?

I keep kosher and am vegan myself, i.e. no animal products with the exception of honey.

What are your favorite foods?  What food aversions do you have?

Favorite food? Tomatoes, garlic, I can go on but it seems that I like fruits and vegetables A LOT!

What is your relationship to your kitchen, to food, to cooking?

I have a love/hate relationship with cooking. Sometimes I can’t get enough and sometimes I wish we could pop a pill, go on with the day, and not have to think about food shopping, food preparation, cleaning up, washing dishes, etc.

What do you think cooking and food say about identity?

I don’t know what food says about my identity and why would it?

Please share one of your favorite recipes, either from a blog post or from your own repertoire.

This is my homemade granola recipe:

6 – 8 cups rolled oats

4 – 6 cups  mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit

½ – ⅔ cups oil (sesame or mild olive oil are best)

1 – 1½ cups maple syrup or honey

1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F or 180°C.  Mix all the ingredients except for the raisins and dried fruit.  Line a baking tray with baking paper and spread the granola mixture about ½ – ⅔” deep.  Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until lightly brown.  Take out and mix well.  Put it to bake in the oven for 5 -7 minutes more, remove, and mix again.  Add the raisins and dried fruit and bake for 5 more minutes.  Cool.  Keep mixing the granola and breaking it up until completely cool so it doesn’t form into one lump.  Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

Thank you, dear friend.

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Oregon, my Oregon

Moving around the US as much as my family did when I was young, it’s not easy to come up with an answer to the question, “Where are you from?”  On the one hand, I am tempted to answer “Boston,” since that’s where the Cap’n and I lived for many years before making aliyah.  But despite my Vermonter mother and the fact that our ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, no one could mistake me for a New Englander.  I’m no Southerner (we only lasted two years in Georgia), nor a Coloradan, nor a Californian.  I was born in Seattle, but my family left before I was a year old.

That leaves Oregon, where I spent six years as a child and another twelve on and off as an adult.  I worked there, made friends, and got to know the place better than any other state I’ve lived in.  My friend Kathy and I would make day trips to the coast, to Astoria, to Warm Springs.  I skied on Mount Hood, hiked in the Columbia Gorge, stayed on the Metolius River, visited Sisters with my family, drifted down the Deschutes River with my father, attended a play at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.  Portland was my stomping ground for many years, going to movies at the Movie House (an indie theater that doubled as the Portland Women’s Club, where the lobby was full of squishy armchairs, board games, and a fireplace); the opera; hiking in Forest Park and Tryon Creek State Park; visiting the zoo and the Forestry Center; strolling through the Rose Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, and the Japanese Garden; and enjoying the wide variety of great restaurants including our family’s favorites: Swagat (south Indian, located in Beaverton), Kashmir (Pakistani), Al-Amir (Lebanese), and Mykonos (Greek).

With the cooler weather coming here in Efrat, I am reminded that there was never a bad season in Oregon.  Summers were sometimes late (beginning in July some years), but warm and dry.  Autumn was cool and crisp, with a dizzying variety of apples (with which my family would make homemade cider).  Winter was cool and drizzly much of the time, but we got the occasional snow around New Year’s which made the place a wonderland.  (When my parents moved back to Oregon my last year of college, they bought a house atop a steep hill with a panoramic view of Mount Hood out the living room window.  It snowed that winter, and my entire family—Irish setter included—sledded down the steep hill in the middle of the night.)  And spring was magical, with fragrant daffodils blooming, the delicate smell from the flowering crabapple tree drifting through my open window, and the “Chiddle-urp! chiddle-urp! chiddle-urp!” of robins in the morning.

While Seattle was very hip in the 1990s for its grunge scene, Starbuck’s coffee, and crunchy, flannel-wearing Northwest character, Oregon has its share of attractions.  It’s always been a place where beer is beloved, with the Anheuser-Busch brewery right behind Powell’s Bookstore downtown, and microbreweries everywhere.  Windsurfers flock from all over the world to surf the powerful winds of the Columbia Gorge.  And those interested in natural beauty can find desert, lakes, old-grown forests, mountains, beaches, and rivers to explore.  Portland has more annual rainfall than Seattle, but growing up with that much rain taught me never to be put off by it.  (The Cap’n and I were once expecting Shabbat guests, but the torrential rain that day kept them at home.  We, on the other hand, NEVER missed a social engagement due to rain.  There is a Minnesotan expression, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”)  Rain, after all, is an excellent excuse for hot chocolate.

I once heard a talk by a local rabbi who was new to Portland.  He remarked on the magnificent view of Mount Hood from the city of Portland and wondered aloud when the wonder of it wears off.  The audience chuckled and murmured, “Never.”  I could say the same for the rest of the state.  Since in the American psyche, Oregon is one of those tucked-away places, like Wyoming, Delaware, and Nebraska, I’ll share a few photos of the place (from the Web):

Oregon coastline


Japanese Gardens, Portland

The Salmon River

Rose Test Garden, Portland

My children occasionally ask me if I miss America.  I can’t deny that I do sometimes, and that my yearning is not eased by the knowledge that I may never see Oregon again more than once, perhaps twice.  But I hope one day, on one of our family’s rare trips to the US, to take my children to see it.

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