Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Part of koshering the house for Pesach

Every year, an important part of koshering the house for Pesach is making sure that by the time holiday rolls in, all the foodstuffs in the house are either marked "kosher for Pesach", or at least don't have chametz ingredients in them. This month we have quite a lot of ground beef to go through, and as we all are getting a little bored with meatballs, yesterday I was inspired to make these empanadas. 
I took my last bag of flour (flour tends to get everywhere, so from now until Pesach I prefer to buy bread), that is, 1 kg, added just a pinch of salt to it, a dash of olive oil, and gradually, enough water as I kneaded to make nice pliable dough. So sorry for the lack of exact proportions, but it really is all about the feel and texture. If, when making bread or rolls, you always make sure the water is the last ingredient you add, and you add it gradually while kneading or stirring, you will almost never go wrong. 

When the dough was ready, I put it into the refrigerator for half an hour. 

Then I prepared the filling. I took:

1 large onion, chopped it finely and fried it gently in olive oil.
1 kg ground beef, put it in the same pan and stirred it until it was brown and crumbly.
1 finely grated sweet potato, into the same pan it went, and finally...
2 crushed garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste, and a pinch of oregano. 

I then took out the chilled dough and rolled it out thinly on a flour-sprinkled table. I carved circles out of the dough with the help of a cup, put a tablespoonful of filling in the middle of each circle. I pinched them closed with my fingers to form half-moons, placed on a baking tray, brushed with beaten egg and sprinkled with some sesame and poppy seeds. Then into the oven they went, for about 3\4 of an hour at 200C, until they were nice and golden. I got about 20 and put them straight into the freezer for Shabbat.

I still have quite a bit of filling left over; this afternoon I plan to stretch it by mixing it with cooked rice, and make baked stuffed tomatoes. This is the first time I'm doing this, so wish me luck! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Early Pesach cleaning project: mid-way evaluation

As you perhaps remember, this year I decided to undertake Pesach cleaning much earlier than usual; in past years, I didn't even begin anything before Purim, while this year I declared "Pesach mode" right after Tu B'Shvat, which gave me about a month of extra preparation.

So, what has been accomplished in that month? Less than I expected, but still a considerable amount of work:

- Bathroom cabinets in both bathrooms
- Closets, ours and the girls', have been rearranged
- All the shutters (and we have a lot of windows, thus, a lot of shutters)
- Our second freezer has been cleaned and organized, with all non-kosher-for-Pesach products banished
- The stockpile cabinets have been given an overall make-over, and divided into three sections: kosher for Pesach, non-kosher-for-Pesach-but-not-chametz, and chametz. The latter will be disposed of before Pesach.
- A menu plan was made, ensuring that if we follow it, on the eve of Pesach we'll only have kosher-for-Pesach products at home - without wasting food.
... Also, I did a number of this-and-that, such as thoroughly cleaning the washing machine, laundering some extra things that won't be in use before Pesach, giving the stove a thorough pre-clean, and such like. As I said, it is far less than I expected to do, but it's a start.

We will see how well this holds to the reality test, which is the stress levels right before Pesach. Will they be lower this year? Only time will tell, I suppose.

And now, off to clean!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

As we're approaching Purim

Since we'll be celebrating Purim on Sunday, and since it's in a great part about fun and laughter, I thought I'd share with you a story that happened to me today.

When we just got back from our morning walk, I heard footsteps outside that definitely didn't belong to my husband, and someone pressing the door handle. Naturally, I did what any sensible mother living in a remote place with two little children would do: I dashed to the door, slammed it shut with my shoulder, locked it, and shouted, "who is it?" in a tone that clearly implied, "I have a weapon and won't hesitate to use it."

"I'm looking for the T. family," said the man. I looked through the eyehole; my unexpected visitor was at least two meters tall and about as wide. I have definitely never seen him before.

"How can I help you?" I asked through the door, a little more politely.

"I'm looking for some fresh goat milk," he said. "My son has mouth sores, and I've been told raw goat milk can help."

I peeped through the eyehole again. Then, perhaps a little belatedly, I noticed a woman standing behind the man, holding a small blond boy in her arms. Finally deciding this man is unlikely to be a murderer, I opened the door.

"I'm sorry," I said, "but our goats have not kidded yet."

"Oh, I'm not looking for kids," he smiled brightly, "just some milk."

"But you see," I patiently explained, "goats are like humans in that way. First they have babies, and then there is milk."

I wished him the best of luck in obtaining raw goat milk elsewhere, and gave him our phone number in case he needs some milk in the future and we happen to have it. I also wondered whether I should tell him to begin by knocking next time, instead of just trying to bang through the door, but thought better of it. I decided that from now on, I will simply lock the door as soon as we are all inside, without waiting even a millisecond.

Leaving you with wishes of an easy Fast of Esther and a happy Purim to all my Jewish readers,

Mrs. T

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The inner life

From Vocational Guidance for Girls, chapter 8 - "The Girl's Inner Life":

"False ideals and ignorance of housekeeping processes are responsible for thousands of homekeeping failures; but lack of fairness, of good temper, patience, humor, courage, courtesy, stability, perseverance, and initiative must be held accountable for thousands more."

No summary today; just thought I would share this great quote. 

And here is a photo of Tehilla's finished hat. You can't see it very well here, but it gets narrower about the ears, and has a cute simple pattern to the edge. This one, too, has a pom-pom. :-)

Lately, the girls like to go to sleep together in the big double bed in the spare bedroom. They look so cute, tucked in side by side, that I just can't get enough of looking at them. But today, quite early in the morning, Tehilla woke and was very surprised, and somewhat annoyed, not to find herself in her little bed. She called for me to help her get into it, and once she was tucked in again, I was wide awake (having, for a change, gone to bed early the day before) and had a good head start to begin my day before anyone else was up. I can tell you, I like my mornings so much more this way. Basically, the more waking time I have before my husband gets up, the smoother my whole day is going to flow (generally speaking). 

Of course, the other side of this is that by the hour we come to bedtime stories, I feel all ready for sleep... like now. So I will tell you goodnight, and leave you with a hope to talk to you again soon. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A late layer

 We've waited, and waited, and waited. "When is she going to start? She's 8 months old already!"; we locked her in the coop for a week, under suspicion that she is hiding her eggs in some remote spot. After the week was over we gave up, let her out, and decided she will make up her mind to lay eventually.

And so she did... today, I saw her walking all over the yard with our rooster, while he showed her all the usual laying spots, describing their advantages in a soft clucking voice. It was so funny; they were like a house-shopping couple. "No, honey, I want windows that face south!"
And finally, I found the first egg from her right in the middle of the yard! It's a lovely extra-large cream-colored egg. You can see it in the middle. On one side of it is a White Leghorn egg; on the other, a smallish one I got from my pretty Israeli hen.

I love my chickens. They are so cute, and provide hours of enjoyable observation!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Teaching The Mechanics Of Housekeeping

From Vocational Guidance for Girls, Chapter 7:

The elements of housekeeping are the ABC of homemaking. We shall do well to teach them early, incidentally, and with no undue exaggeration of their place in the scheme of living. We simply familiarize the girl, by long and quiet contact, with the tools of the homemaker, for future scientific use, just as we teach the multiplication facts for later use in the science of mathematics.
A definite list of the simple homemaking tasks suitable for little girls to undertake may not be out of place here:

  1. Setting the table. (A card list of table necessities is useful. Such a list may be given each little girl when she undertakes home practice work.)
  2. Clearing the table.
  3. Washing the dishes.
  4. Sweeping the kitchen. Sweeping the piazza.
  5. Dusting.
  6. Making beds and caring for bedrooms.
  7. Arranging her own bureau drawers and closets.
  8. Simple cooking.
  9. Hemming towels and table linen.
  10. Ironing handkerchiefs and napkins.
The talk in this chapter is mainly about school courses in home economics, supplemented by training at home. The way I see it, homemaking is best taught at home, and there is no, no, no replacement for an orderly, well-managed home to teach basic life skills. But of course it goes without saying that home economics taught at school is much better than nothing at all. 

Sadly, at around the same time parents became too busy to teach housekeeping skills, schools canceled their home economics courses. I personally had a little hands-on class where I was taught to work with glue and scissors and make pretty little ornamental boxes and such like, but I think I would have been much better off learning how to knit, sew, cook and bake.

"After careful consideration it seems wise to urge that the greater part of the practical household work be taught during the period from eleven to fourteen." It sounds like a very good plan to me, too, especially after I've lived the first twenty years of my life without knowing how to operate a washing machine (surely a basic skill these days). I came to marriage knowing very little about housekeeping (and I'm still actively learning every day), which was a cause of stress and strain. 

And I'll finish with this last great quote:

"Of all distinctly vocational training, it is only fair, however, that the homemaking training should come first, as a foundation for all later work. Whether the girl thus trained ever presides over a home of her own or not, the training will have made her a broader woman and a better worker, with a finer understanding of the universal business of her sex."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

She must be kidding

...And pretty soon, according to the time count and to various websites I've been frequenting ("Goat Keeping for Dummies", etc). Her friend and companion is due around the same time, but this girl is a first-timer, so I'm a little anxious on her behalf. I will keep you updated as to how things go. 

Even when we lived in our old home, my husband voiced the idea of getting a couple of goats. If I had known how cute these animals are, I would probably have been much more enthusiastic, instead of putting up reasonable objections (we had a blanket-sized back yard, and no fences between us and the neighbours). As of now, I'm happy to report that for the first time, we're having a weedless winter - the goats took care of it all for us. 

True to my plan, I've been devoting roughly one hour each day to pre-Pesach cleaning. Today was a fine sunny day, so we took advantage of that and made a good start on the shutters from the outer side (we have plenty of big windows in this house, which means a lot of light and air, and a lot of windows and shutters to clean). Shira and Tehilla worked by my side, merrily lending me their little hands with the sweetest attitude that made my heart sing. We chatted while we worked, and I told them about my last night's encounter with an insolent fox in our yard (for lack of better ideas, I just yelled "Shoo!" and he slinked off, looking more annoyed than frightened). 

I hope you all are having a lovely, productive day as well!

Mrs. T

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It was not the Real World

I was one of those kids who love to learn (I still do), but hate school. I loved my friends, I loved some of my teachers, but I hated school as an institution. I was a bookworm so I've always read my schoolbooks from cover to cover before the school year even began, and I was generally meek and eager to please, so my grades were good. But whenever there was a teachers' strike, I would have this awesome feeling in my chest, like the swelling of a golden balloon. A couple of times I found an opening in the fence and ran off, just wandered in the streets and parks until it was time to go home, and all the while I was terrified of having the police on my tail. :o)

Of course, it didn't help that I was the scapegoat/punching bag of school bullies, and/or those who wanted to be on good terms with them. I was ridiculed, I was ostracized, I was picked on, I was reduced to tears, I had monstrous cockroaches shoved under my nose... I still shudder when I remember that. And when I do, I wonder - are those the kind of experiences that are supposed to prepare kids for the "real world"? Because somehow, at least in my case, that Real World was left behind in Junior High, (thankfully) never to be encountered again.

I believe there is just something about a large number of children being cooped up together for many hours in a day that brings out the worst in them. You can take 30 children, 27 of which are basically good, and 3 of whom have bullying tendencies which would never be brought out in isolation. But together with his two friends, the bully forms a gang; then they find several more kids who are desperate for approval and the feeling of importance, to be their cronies. That's 1\3 of the class already. Another 10 tag along, and the rest is divided between scapegoats and children who are either immune to peer pressure, or just by a stroke of luck find themselves left out. Together, the gang of bullies may commit acts of cruelty none of the individual children would do on their own. 

Teachers may try to stop it, or at least keep it at bay, at least when direct bullying is involved. No one, however, can stop children from quietly making fun of someone's glasses or clothes or the way someone speaks, and no one can make a singled-out child feel any more accepted. Overall this is something children grow out of (but many carry the pain that was inflicted well into adulthood). Although I've had my disagreements with people in university, at work, etc, somehow I never found dead cockroaches in my desk again. In "real life", you won't often find yourself spending all day long with 30 other people who were all born in the same year as you, either. You meet people of any age, which gives a multi-dimensional perspective and discourages unhealthy competition. 

Then there is the element of simply being cooped up for too many hours, every day. I believe children benefit from less theoretical lessons and much more exercise, free play and hands-on experience. But then, if you have 30 children in a classroom (and that's optimistic - many times in Israeli schools it's actually closer to 40) it only makes sense you'll need 30 minutes of enforced discipline to have 15 minutes to explain something, answer questions, and give homework. 

It will sound simplistic, but we've seen the same restlessness, followed by bullying, happens with chickens when they are cooped up for too long. There is always a higher-hierarchy chicken picking on one of the "lowliest", but when they are let out, the lower-hierarchy chicken has plenty of space to wander off, scratch for bugs and worms in a different place, and avoid the bully. If they have to spend the day in the coop for some reason, however, feathers will fly, because the birds grow restless and bored. 

You may say I am biased because my own school experience had been so awful. Many children are popular and happy at school, have many friends, and thrive in a classroom setting. They pay a different price. 

But that would be a story for another day. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's done!

I had some leisure yesterday to finish the hat I've been making for Shira, and I even fixed a pom-pom on top. This was my first attempt at making pom-poms, so perhaps this one looks a bit lumpy, but Shira was more excited about it than about the whole hat. :o)

I'm now making a twin hat for Tehilla, but in different colors. Hopefully, soon I will post a photo of the finished product.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Just some random thoughts on a quiet Sunday

Lately, it has been more difficult than usual for me to post on the blog, because so much of my thoughts are occupied with things far too personal to share here. I'm thinking about people whom I have loved, and who have loved me, and whom I will most likely never see again; I'm thinking about places where I would like to go, but which I probably will never see in this lifetime. I'm thinking about things I had done, and wish I hadn't, and things I hadn't done and wish I had. 

And in the midst of all this, life merrily rolls on. Food is cooked, dishes done, washing hung out, animals tended, eggs gathered, wonders of nature enjoyed. Today we ventured out to see the almond trees in blossom - so beautiful. The girls were looking for ladybugs, the goats were enjoying the lush young grass, and I sat down to finish a hat I've been working on, for the girls (I will try to post a photo when I've finished). We are so lucky to live here, in the midst of all this beauty, in a place where we can have a quiet, close-to-nature life. 

Last week, I began reading a curious little book called Possum Living, which promises to teach one how to live well "with almost no money". I can't even begin to list the things in this book I don't agree with, or things which are irrelevant to us (such as hunting, as we are Jewish and will only eat properly slaughtered meat) but it does have some very neat money-saving tips. It's was written in 1978 and is now available for downloading in a PDF form in several websites - or, if you want to read it but are having trouble finding it, send me a line and I'll email the PDF to you. 

Winter is almost over, or so it feels, and the wild flowers are all in blossom, with bees buzzing everywhere. The call of the partridge can be heard many times a day. Goat kids (and fresh milk) and more chicks are eagerly anticipated.  

I hope your day is lovely. 

With friendship,

Mrs. T

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New peeps

Our newly hatched chicks, made it out of the eggs this morning, in our homemade incubator. Now they are much fluffier than when I took this photo, a couple of hours ago. 

I thought their odds of making it weren't very good... overall it wasn't a great hatch to begin with, many of the eggs turned out to be infertile so we were left with only 4. Then, the past few weeks weren't exactly great eletricity-wise - many power shutdowns around here, yesterday one that lasted almost all day. Our emergency unit went out of order, too. Yesterday was to be their due day, and I was sure the fluctuating temperature and humidity had done them in, but they made it today, just a little late. We are all so excited, us and the girls (now 4 and 2.5 years). Two more eggs are due to hatch tomorrow, and one has pipped already.

So far it appears we have one male and one female chick, but I might err. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, if all goes well, we'll know for sure. 

Here is a photo of their Mom. She's an Israeli (Baladi) chicken, so technically not a recognized breed, but I thought her feathering is one of the prettiest I've ever seen on a chicken, if I may say so myself, so I was very eager to get chicks from her. She was hatched in our incubator too, last June. 

And Dad. They are siblings, hatched in the same brood, so I have high hopes for the lovely feather pattern to be repeated. 

I will make sure to keep you all posted!

Update: today, the chicks look all fluffed up. :o)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Training the Little Child

After a rather stormy couple of days, we're once more experiencing the pleasant aftermath of rain: everything shiny and squeaky clean, the birds going wild with joy, and us able to enjoy all the wonders of a sunshiny morning, with laundry on the line, chickens digging outside in the yard, and us off to a long nature walk in the company of our goats (at least one of whom is due to kid soon). Now that we're having our midday "quiet time", I'm able to sit down and read/comment on a chapter of Vocational Guidance for Girls I've been very much looking forward to - Training the Little Child.


"The boy or girl who fills successfully a place in the home of his childhood will be in a fair way to undertake successfully the greater task of founding a home of his own." 

It is so very, very important for the child to be able to feel like a useful and productive member of the household. Sadly, in many instances life today is so rushed that all parents aim at is getting the child out of the way so that they can continue doing whatever it is that needs to be done. It is up to us, as parents, to create a place which a child can successfully fill, and more often than not it means that jobs are slowed down.

Today as we were hanging out the washing, Shira got a basket of socks and other little things, and a box of clothespins, and was left to herself to peg them up. She was ever so proud of herself when the job was complete, and she was appreciated and praised. True, it had taken her around 10 times longer than it would have taken me, and some items weren't pegged up nice and straight, but nevertheless she walked away with the feeling that she can accomplish a job of real value, however small. Sweeping the front porch, feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, kneading dough and mixing batter, folding small items of laundry, sorting silverware and of course picking up toys are other tasks well-suited for small children. 

I confess I'm not always patient, and sometimes children have a way of doing just the opposite of what needs to be done - on purpose. When dinner is late and a 3-year-old is scattering the toys (with shouts of glee) when she knows perfectly well they ought to go in the basket, and you are tired and hungry and have a pile of dishes in the sink, believe me, I can very well sympathize, as I've been there (and in many cases still am there). My only advice to you, and to myself, would be to take a deep breath and call for a time-out. But on a general level, children ought to be trained to contribute what they can in the home - even if it comes with an initial investment of time and effort on your part, more than it would have cost you time-wise, in the short term, to just do the chores on your own. The effort will be worth it. 

In the past, and I'm saying this without idealizing or waxing nostalgic, it was easier for children to participate in daily doings of the household. People grew and raised their own food, made their clothes, walked over to visit friends. Today, life may be materially easy, but it is more complicated. Now children spend their days in schools, cars, after-school activities, and in front of the screen.  All of these are artificial environments, producing nothing real to the immediate satisfaction that is so necessary in the little child. And I don't know about you, but here in Israel people are constantly clamoring to have government-funding for ever longer school days, to solve the problem of where to put the child in the afternoon.  

Today, our only way, it seems, is to consciously slow down (however our circumstances allow). Or like my dear friend Jewels put it, "live slowly and simply, so that you have time to love deeply and well." 

Friday, February 1, 2013

A special request

Hello to you, dear ladies (and the occasional gentleman...) from our (currently very rainy) corner of the world.

Today, I would like to make a special request of you (on behalf of my husband actually). We used to have a very lovely set of wineglasses, simple in design but made special by the delicate thinness (around 1mm at the rim) and exquisite clearness of the glass. I have placed a photo of one of them below, with a matchbox next to it for proportion. 

Most wineglasses sold today are either huge (250cc) or tiny shot glasses, while these contain around 100cc, and have a lovely curved design. We are looking for such, made of either glass or crystal. 
This is the only surviving glass of the original set. We've been wanting to buy more of these for years, but can't find them anywhere. If any of you knows where to get/buy/order similar wineglasses, please do drop us a line.

I thank you in advance, wish you a wonderful weekend and leave you with the hopes of talking to you again soon.