Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Greener and greener

After all the rains we've had lately, the valley and surrounding mountains are lovely and green.
                                A bouquet of wildflowers picked by Shira. Yes, we do tell her not to touch the cyclamens, but sometimes she'll sneak one away anyway.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pesach cleaning tips from Rabbi Moshe Finkelstein

Those resonated so much with me that I felt I ought to share them with you!

"In former times, wealthy people who had large houses also had many servants who did their every bidding. Today, we seem to be caught in a trap. The average modern home is larger than formerly. Furniture, utensils and clothes are much more plentiful. However, we do not have all the servants they did, so most of the chores fall on the housewife. [My note: most of us also live at a much faster pace and have more additional obligations].

As a result of this, the pressure of pre-Pesach cleaning has reached unnecessary and overwhelming levels. The housewife often becomes overly nervous, unable to enjoy Pesach and perform the mitzvos of the Seder night [my note: because she is so tired she falls asleep before Seder is over. This always happens to my mother-in-law.]."

While doing the Pesach arrangements, of course we discover many nooks and crannies that should have been cleaed/dusted/organized, but until this moment, were not. It doesn't mean we ought to do it all before Pesach! My solution, when time runs short, is to compile a list of post-Pesach tasks, to be dealt with at a more leisurely pace. 

Or, to summarize this, dust is not chametz!

"Some women have a habit of taking a bite of matzoh, then running back and forth to the kitchen taking a few more bites in between. In this way, it takes them too long to eat the matzoh, and they do not fulfill the mitzvah properly. The same is true about the wine [and other Seder atributes]. Therefore, do not leave the table until you have finished eating the required amount. Sit like a Queen! [My note: this can be difficult to do if you've been on the edge for a fortnight before Pesach. The cleaning race is over, but you find it hard to relax]."

So, if time is pressing, Pesach cleaning can be separated from spring cleaning. Cleaning windows is good, but no one said this must be done a week before Pesach!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Baked apples on a cold morning

Yesterday, I decided that baked apples in red wine would make the perfect dessert for a cold day. But as it turned out, I had no red wine - what I did have was grape juice and arak, and my volatile imagination immediately made a match between the two. I took:

1/2 cup natural grape juice
2 tablespoons arak
1 tablespoon honey, slightly diluted with hot water
A sprinkle of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, and some vanilla essence

I mixed it all and poured over halved, peeled apples in a baking dish. Into the oven it went, filling the house with the delightful smell of cinnamon, until apples were tender. Later we enjoyed eating the apples with cream.

I especially like this recipe because there's no refined sugar in it.

Illustration photo: Yes, I know. I should have taken a picture *head hangs low*. Hopefully, next time, because with such delight, there is sure to be next time, and probably more experimental variations of Baked Apple Wonder.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vegetable storage: part 2

More vegetable-storage tips:

Bananas should never be kept in the refrigerator, as they are sensitive to cold and go black.

Avocados should be stored at room-temperature until ripe, then transferred to the refrigerator unwrapped.

Citrus fruits - grapefruits and pomelo are cold sensitive, and so should be stored outside the refrigerator. Oranges and lemons, on the other hand, will wilt if stored at room temperature for too long, and so should ideally be stored in the lower shelf of the refrigerator.

Onions have a strong smell that can take over your entire refrigerator, so beware. I store them in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, because that way my eyes sting less when I chop onions (although I wear chemical laboratory protective glasses, too).

Watermelon - a ripe watermelon can be stored in a refrigerator for about a week.

Sweet potato - should only be stored at room temperature; develops a queer taste and cold damage if refrigerated.

Garlic - cold storage is best, because otherwise it will sprout. In the refrigerator it can keep for several months if the air circulation is good. I sometimes let my garlic sprout on purpose and use its leaves in salads, the same way as green onion.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

When my husband wants to make me laugh...

He does this:

He catches one of the chickens (don't ask me how he manages to do this, they don't like it!) and holds it firmly, then asks me to take a photo.

PS: Last time he did this, Shira approached the chicken and politely asked, "Can I have your tail please, Chicken?"

*Big Smile*

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Advice for vegetable storage

From the Volcanic Center (Institute of Post harvest and Food Sciences)

Some great tips, many of which I had no clue about!

Tomatoes - don't react well to cold. Store tomatoes at room temperature until completely ripe, and afterwards keep up to one week in the refrigerator. Remove stems before placing tomatoes in refrigeration. To prolong the tomato's shelf life, store in plastic bag with large holes for good air circulation, and put a paper towel (or small kitchen towel) next to the tomatoes to absorb excess moisture. Personally, I prefer a plastic box lined with a towel, for compact storage. 

Bell peppers - more cold-tolerant than tomatoes, but this is only true for the red, yellow and orange - not the green (which basically aren't ripe). A firm pepper in good condition can be stored in the refrigerator up to ten days. The nylon bag + paper towel idea can be used in this case too. 

Cucumbers - a bit problematic, because on the one hand, the temperature in most refrigerators is too low for cucumbers; on the other hand,  they can't be stored outside the refrigerator, because they tend to wrinkle and shrivel up very quickly. The best compromise appears to be, again, storing them in a plastic bag with a paper towel. Always remove the residue of the flower attached to the cucumbers, because rot usually begins to spread from there.

Eggplants - like cucumbers, don't react well to cold, but can't be stored outside of the refrigerator for a long time either, so it's better not to stock on them too much time in advance. Persoally I only refrigerate them during the summer months. It is recommended to buy light eggplants with firm, shiny skin. Heavy eggplants have many seeds, which are a source of bitterness.

Lettuce - lettuce, like other leafy vegetables, needs storage in very cold temperatures close to freezing point. In your average refrigerator, it will survive in decent condition for approximately a week. To prevent wilting and allow air circulation, it's best to store lettuce in a plastic bag with tiny holes. 

It's important to remember that the upper shelves of a refrigerator are slightly colder than the lower shelves - it's particularly true for older refrigerators (such as ours). Therefore, if storage at room temperature isn't practical, we store cold-sensitive veggies in the lower shelves.

To be continued... 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Creative storage solutions

Some very cute ideas for creative storage. Not mine, and I don't know where the credit's due, but some homemakers sure have a great mind for organizing! 
 Small jars with their lids permanently stuck with strong glue to the upper shelf.
 A magnetic stripe.
 Wrapping paper rolls held with a thin cord.
 Pot lids stored on the outside of the cupboard.
 A hanger for spray bottles.
Toilet paper rolls used to compactly store rolled-up cords.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Aunt Tzila's fried onions

This is a story that landed in my inbox, and I liked it so much that I decided to translate it for you. I know you'll love it as much as I did.

A quick glance at the clock tell me it's already 20:30. A quick calculation tells me it means I have been running between the kitchen and my little angels for the past half hour. 

Mommy! Tuck me in!

Mommy! Water, please! If we are running out of water in Israel, it's because of all the children who beg for water a second after their head touches the pillow.

Mommy, my teddy bear dropped to the floor!

Mommy, he isn't letting me sleep!


I'm slightly breathless from all the running.

Two minutes of silence tell me the sleep routine is complete.

My stomach reminds me I skipped lunch today, and no dinner is waiting for my dear husband.

I look around, trying to think of something quick, tasty and healthy to cook.

I clear the counters, filling the dirty pots with water and placing them elegantly on the stove, and pile the dishes in the sink. I sweep, mop and tidy up.

Suddenly I remember the voice of dear Aunt Tzila: if you have no time to cook and your husband is about to arrive, chop an onion and fry it, its smell will make anything appetizing. She laughed and added: it doesn't matter even if all you do later is pour some eggs over the onion, the smell will do its job.

I, a fresh young bride, looked at her then with wondering eyes. Me? Greet my husband with fried onion? My husband will have a three-course gourmet meal every night!

Now I know what she was talking about. I smile to myself, inwardly thanking Aunt Tzila. I chop the onion swiftly.

The smell fills the air as I toss stripes of bell pepper into the pan, add a few chunks of hard cheese I found in the refrigerator, and pour eggs over it all. 

I hear the car coming to a stop in the driveway and the familiar footsteps coming upstairs, and cut up salad as fast as I can.

"Mmm, smells delightful. What's for dinner?"

That's my hungry man.

He comes into the kitchen, sniffing and making a move to look into the pots. No! It's not there! I say sharply before he looks. Uh... leave the pots.

So what did you make?

In a stroke of brilliance, I respond: I made Mediterranean omelet with grilled peppers and cheese, and it's served with chef's salad.

Mmm, this sounds delicious, he says appreciatively.

After he has Swiss hot chocolate for dessert (hot milk with some melted chocolate) he asks: "do you need me to do anything?"

"Yes," I say simply, "some dishes."

To his astonishment, I transfer four large pots, full of murky water, from the stove to the sink, which threatens to collapse.

To my astonishment, he doesn't run away or fall asleep on the spot, but rolls up his sleeves and says, "you deserve this after all you did for me tonight."

...I stifled a smile and went out, garbage bag in hand.

On my way to the trash can, I thought that much of our life consists of marketing: how we present things is how they are perceived by others.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The awakening of spring

In Israel, the month of Shvat is best known by the bloom of the almond trees, but in reality, everything bursts into bloom these days. I especially love our local wild flowers, which I can find in abundance in our yard.
 Well, the above is rosemary, not a wild flower, but it's still blooming so beautifully I thought it deserves to be included too.

Cyclamens growing out of small pocket of earth in a rock. Aren't they lovely?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Possibilites of life

This blog is a jumble of different things - recipes, religious experiences, crochet patterns, family celebrations, life in Israel and homemaking. 

Whenever I venture into something personal here, I'm striving to find the balance between expressing what I feel and maintaining the privacy of our family. Several comments prompted me to write this, and since my thoughts aren't fully in order, I won't blame you if you find neither head nor tail in what I'm saying.

When I got married, I fully assumed I would be the mother of a very large family, with a child around every 18-24 months. Now, for various reasons, it looks like this isn't going to happen - and when I say for various reasons, it means there are reasons, beyond expecting to fall pregnant at a certain time and not being able to. As you can imagine, I'd rather not go into details here. 

It's now over 4 years since I started blogging. In the beginning of my way here, I was still very hurt by my past life and, perhaps, trying too hard to walk in a straight line and fit everything into neat compartments. Now I embrace and rejoice in the diversity of destiny, thought, temperament, and family situations. I have been blessed beyond measure, and often overwhelmed with gratitude, by the friendship and kindness shown to me. 

I'm very, very thankful for my two healthy, beautiful daughters. Whether or not I ever have more children, I rejoice in having Shira and Tehilla, who are the light of my life. Lately, I've been wondering what my life is going to be like if I only have them.

I assumed I would be busy taking care of babies well into my forties, but if my daughters are all I ever have, by the time I'm 30 I'll have two children well past the stage of toddlerhood, and no perspective of more. In such a case, I will reach earlier than expected that stage of life all mothers, hopefully, eventually reach - a time when the children are grown and not so very needy anymore.

I might have more leisure, but there's never such a thing as "too much" time, as there are so many things to do in the home and beyond. Among other things, I might prevent the accumulation of dust bunnies under the sofa, perfect my knitting, and reach out to help other women who are having babies, whether it is by cooking meals (like I'm doing now for my sister-in-law) or volunteering to babysit. The care for young children is so intense that in every community, a woman who has a bit more time on her hands can be a real blessing to others. 

Of course, all this is speculation. I don't know what will really happen; whatever it is, I'm trying to learn to go with what G-d has in store, rather that what I had set my mind on. I know He can work wonders, as He already had, in my life and the lives of others. 

The beautiful painting is "women washing clothes by a stream", by Daniel Ridgway Knight. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

In our corner of the world...

Once more, it seems as though days are just slipping by, without me being able to fit so much as a shred of computer time in them. Sometimes, real life just takes a priority - right now, so much that I'm even finding difficulty to think of what to say (something that doesn't happen often!)

Just two days ago, we were overjoyed by the birth of a nephew (this year is proving to be very rich in the blessing of babies - practically everyone in the family either are pregnant, or gave birth just now). We're expecting my sister and brother in-law to return home today, and since we live practically next door, I'm looking forward to stopping by and bringing a meal.

We were away for a long weekend, so as you can imagine, there are countless of things being (and yet to be) done around the house. I'm braving the fierce wind and hanging out load after load of laundry. The trick is to use countless clothespins; if the clothes don't get blown away and over deep into the valley, they dry in a flash. I've unpacked the bags, hung up new curtains (a gift from my mother), and of course, there's that meal being cooked in large enough quantity to be shared. The car is yet partially to be unloaded.

Thanks to all who lately took the time to contact me, whether through this blog or via email. Your attention and friendship mean a lot to me. I hope to be back again soon, and in the meantime, remain warmly yours,

Mrs. T