Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Frugal Ima Super-Frugal Recipe: Split Pea Soup

FIFrugal Recipe copy  Oh, Frugal home managers, you know you love 'em - those Kopans comfort food tried and true crock pot recipes will get us all, God willing, through this awful winter.  Here's another stunner of a super-frugal recipe; yes indeedy, this gorgeous thick winter soup will set you back just three measly bucks.  

David grew up with this and it also got him through his first few super-lean months of grad school.  He taught me how to make it - I think he thought it made him look foxy that he knew how to cook something.  Now, somehow, I'm the one putting it together.  But David's still foxy.  How does that work?

Anyway.  We really love lentils and split peas in this house because they deliver the same frugality (~$1 a pound, incredible!) and nutritional punch as other dried beans, but don't require any of the fussy soaking and/or pre-cooking required of, say, dry kidney beans or black beans.

This pea soup satisfies my requirement of minimal kitchen schvitzing time.  Letting the peas cook together with the water all day long means that they basically melt into a smooth soup, meaning you don't have to stand over it with an immersion blender unless you really, really want to.  As you might, if you want a few minutes to yourself when you ostensibly can't hear the children whining for more snacks, or that "he hit me", blah blah blah.  (Forget what I said.  Immersion blending is a great idea!)

Here's what you'll need:
1 lb (1 bag) of split peas (yellow is prettier than green, but green is more widely available.)
2 medium onions
1 lb of carrots
6 cups of water or stock, or some combination
salt, pepper, and garlic powder

Chop up the veggies.  I do a dice with the onions so they'll be pretty undetectable in the final product, and leave the carrots large-ish because my boys like to pick them out to eat them.

Now just throw everything together in your crock pot.  

This is a great step for little hands to help with.  I just poured the liquid in, and then let the boys throw everything else in.

There will be tasting.  The other half of this carrot went back into the pot, I think, so if you're expecting company, mind your helpers.

Season to taste.  If you're using stock, you'll probably use less salt.  We like a lot of garlic in ours.

Stir it up and season a bit more, if you want.

Then put it on low and go about your day.  This soup works best with a full 12 hours in the pot, perfect for working families.  I used to have this in the crock pot by 7 AM and it would be perfect for dinner.  If you get it in a little later, just start it out or finish it off on High for a couple hours.

If it's been a long day, pour yourself a drink with one hand and grab the immersion blender with the other and blend away, my dear beleaguered Frugal Home Manager.  But if your day's been okay, or if you don't have an immersion blender, here's what your soup will look like.

We served ours with roasted potatoes.  You could also throw the potatoes in the soup itself for a nice one-pot meal.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

SuperIma Sunday Check-in

Hey SuperImas!  It's that time of week again, where we check in to report on what we've adjusted in the past week to bring a little bit more sanity to our lives, and what our plan is for the coming week.  I really believe that without a plan to accomplish something, it will never happen.  So, this is my self-imposed accountability.

This week was the first week of Winter Break, which means that the boys didn't go to preschool.  At all.  Which is kind of insane if you think about it, but also kind of a relief because I wasn't schlepping to and from preschool 2 hours each day like normal.

I did have the frozen chili on the menu for this week instead of making something else, and it made it possible for me to escape to a coffee shop one on Tuesday night where I got about 1000 words of writing for fun done.  So, that was a win!

For the past couple months, I've been experiencing some unpleasant health issues, mostly food related.  I eat something, I feel miserable.  Two weeks ago, coffee and chocolate started really bothering me, and in the past week, scrambled eggs have caused me some SERIOUS discomfort, as in, I need to lie down from feeling so sick after eating them.  A couple of things make me think that it's a gall bladder issue - there's a family history, basic symptoms seem consistent with what I'm hearing/reading, and certain foods, mainly whole dairy and fatty ones, seem to be a trigger.  I've been dealing with it for a couple months now, and calling it the stomach flu or even food poisoning, but I think that the time has finally come for me see a doctor.

 This week, my commitment is to do whatever it takes to see a doctor and get a referral to someone who might be able to help me, because, you guys, this is getting pretty ridiculous.  I am afraid to eat because I don't know what will make me feel bad.  It's truly debilitating, taking me out of commission for hours at a time.  No one should feel like this unless they're in their first trimester - which I'm not.  Yeah, I checked.

Okay, enough violin-playing from this end.  Time for your SuperIma Sunday checkin - what are you going to do to make your life a little more sane this week?

You're doing an awesome job.  Way to go.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Frugal Ima Super-Frugal Recipe: Jalapeno Bread

FIFrugal Recipe copySo, I have a spouse that loves to nosh.  He has quite a fast-paced job, and barely eats all day, so when he comes home he starts eating and pretty much doesn't stop for a few hours.   He gets home around six and we eat dinner around 8, so you can imagine the havoc that can wreak on my fridge and pantry, especially with each meal carefully planned.  

His favorite snack, crackers or chips topped with jalapenos and/or cheese (not so much cheese since I informed David I don't really want him to have a heart attack at 50 as runs in his family) can get quite pricey.  He could eat a $2.50 box of crackers in a day and a half.  So, until I could find a really incredible deal and can stock up on boxed crackers, I had to find an alternative solution if I didn't want to blow my grocery budget (still right at $75 a week, thankyouverymuch.)  I started searching for noshy snack recipes I knew David would love.

But, seriously?  What with the challah, and the cookies, and the vegetable chopping, and all the other schvitzing I do in the kitchen in the name of saving some cash? This frugal Ima doesn't want to have one more food task on her plate.  So I don't often squeeze snacks for David into my kitchen schedule, and he is left to stare forlornly into the fridge after work, and choose between vanilla yogurt and carrot sticks.  (cue violins playing)

Well, David let me go out for coffee all by myself the other night.  So, as a reward, (and don't you tell me your marriage doesn't work on a system of mutual back-scratching and exchanged rewards, I don't believe you)  I made this jalapeno bread, which to him is an acceptable substitute for the tres expensive Triscuits or Wheat Thins.  Topped with jalapenos, of course.  He can eat it with one hand without digging jalapenos out of a jar, which is perfect because he'll be able to give the kids their bath while he's noshing - no excuses!

The whole thing cost me a few bucks to make.  (It might cost you a little more if you don't buy jalapenos in industrial sized jars like we do.)  It's whole wheat, low fat, and high-taste.  If you have a bread machine, I learned yesterday that this turns out perfectly baked in there.

Here's what you'll need:
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons honey
3 c flour (we use half whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast
cubed cheddar cheese (we leave this out most of the time to keep it pareve)
a big bunch of jalapenos

Chop up your jalapenos and lightly squeeze them in a towel to dry them a bit.  This is so all that spicy juice doesn't infiltrate your bread and the jalapeno flavor stays distinct.

Throw all your ingredients into a mixer or bread machine, or a large bowl to mix by hand.  Mix and knead till it's all smooth:

Let it rise to about double in bulk:

Punch it down and form it into eight rolls in a greased round pan, cover with saran wrap, and let rise again:

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or so.  I used a pair of scissors to cut little "x" shapes in the top of each roll.  Just because I thought it was pretty.

Or, you could just chuck everything into the bread machine and let 'er rip, which is what I did yesterday:

Nom Nom.  Happy Noshing!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Frugal Jewish Education: Take Your Kids to Shul

275/365 - Ready for ShulDo you want your kids to feel a connection to their Jewish community?
Do you want them to recognize Jewish ritual objects and their uses?
Do you want them to know how to behave in a Jewish prayer service?
Do you want them to be familiar with the sights and sounds of Jewish prayer?
Do you want them to know how to greet other Jews on Shabbat and holidays?

There is one thing you can do that will accomplish all these things (and more!):

Take your kids to shul (synagogue).

Yep.  That's it.

You don't have to be an expert in any of the above for your kids (and you!) to learn about all of it, just by taking your family to shul on a regular basis.  The rabbi, cantor, and lay leaders are the experts and do the Jewish prayer service every week, and every day in some shuls.

Don't know the prayers?  Don't know the motions?  It's no excuse.  Most of Jewish prayer is silent or led by the prayer leader, so just stand up when everyone stands up and sit down when they sit down.  (If more people are sitting down than standing up, like for the Mourner's Kaddish, you should probably sit down too, unless you're in mourning.)

Don't know how to greet other Jews on Shabbat and holidays?  It's no excuse.  Just repeat what they say back to you.  If someone says, "Gut Shabbos," you say "Gut Shabbos" back.  "Shanah Tovah" gets a "Shanah Tovah" in return.  Teach your kids to do the same - they love repeating things back to their teachers (you!)

Here are some tips to make your shul-going experience with children as pleasant and instructive as possible:

1.  Keep your expectations low.  For Kol Nidre (the eve of Yom Kippur), David and I said we wanted to stay through the chanting of the actual Kol Nidre prayer, and then we would be okay with leaving.  That prayer occurred about half an hour into the prayer service.  We barely made it.  Be prepared to leave if your child throws a fit  or acts up.  It's okay - Shabbat services happen every week.
260/365 - Pretty For Kol NidreIMG_2182
(Kol Nidre before and after.  See the disparity?)

(Rami having a total meltdown right before we leave for shul)

2.  Explain to your children exactly how they should behave.  Asher and I had this conversation before we walked into shul yesterday:
Me: "Asher, when we walk into the shul, should we use our loud voices or quiet voices?"
Asher: "Quiet voices."
Me: "And may we run around like wild things, or walk and sit quietly?"
Asher: "Sit quietly."


Me: "Asher, what should we say to people we see in shul?"
Asher: "Gut Shabbos."

And he got it!  He truly did.  Now, these are the only three behaviors I dictated to him.  This left room for him to move seats, whisper things to me, and play quietly with toys.  Which brings me to.....

3.  Come prepared.  Bring non-messy snacks (like apple slices) and quiet toys and books for the children to amuse themselves with.  Just sitting in the prayer service will teach your kids an awful lot, especially the younger ones - they don't need to pay attention to every single word.  Remember that in more traditional synagogues toys that have electronic components and coloring books would be no-nos.

4.  Make it special.  Keep a special kippah (skullcap), special shoes, or special toys that only come out for shul-going.  Our kids have these prayerbooks  that they get to take with them only when they go to shul.  I can't recommend these highly enough - they are tear-proof and simple for small children to handle and understand.
(Asher checking out his Shabbat siddur before shul)

5.  Model behavior.  If you want your children to pay attention to the prayer service, don't chat with your neighbors.  Ask them to stand up for prayers with you.  Sing along if you can.  Your enthusiasm and attention will rub off on your child.
If you want them to greet other people, say "Shabbat Shalom," to as many people as you can, especially ones that look like they would be very happy to engage with a small child.  You just might make someone's day!

Remember, by taking your children to shul, you are not only doing something for yourself and your family.  You are enriching the entire Jewish community.  Jewish communal leaders are seeing a decrease in regular Shabbat communities, and even mildly noisy children are a very welcome sight to "regulars."  They would love for you to be a "regular" too.  And as your children go to shul more and more, they will develop a relationship with the synagogue, its congregants, and its clergy, not to mention a comfort and familiarity with Jewish prayers and behaviors.  100% worth it, in my book.

(Me and the boys, on a Shabbos morning before shul)

Okay, shul-goers (and church-goers?  Any Christians reading?) - What are your tips for making the most out of taking children to prayer services?  Share them below, or link to your post that talks about it.  Looking forward to hearing!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

SuperIma Sunday Check-in: Inagural Edition

My post about being a SuperIma came straight from my heart on a particularly bad day.  It was inspired by another blog post I read on my Google reader, and when I tried to find the exact post, by Reader navigation skills failed me. I looked for half an hour so now I give up.  But I presume that mother would forgive me.

Anyway.  The number of comments that post received was, to be honest, record breaking here at the Frugal Ima.  (6 comments!  and none of them were mine!)  Each of them choked me up.  As I read them, here's what I was thinking:
1.  I am not alone.
2. I am not alone.
3. I am not alone.
4. I am not alone.
5. I am not alone.
6. I am not alone.

Wow.  What a relief.

This change from full-time working Ima to full-time stay-at-home Ima has been a difficult adjustment to navigate, in more ways than one.  In fact, I think I haven't been so much navigating it as resisting it, ignoring it, weeping about it, and being angry about it.  For me, the switch is complicated by a few things (which are totally whiny and you don't have to read them unless you really want to know):

1.  I am a perfectionist.  Any job I have, I want to do well.  So, actually, I have noticed myself being obsessed with being a perfect stay-at-home mom.  This post and your responses made me realize "perfect" is very different for this job than in any other job. At my old job, my supervisor would meet with me once a week, ask me how planning for a program was going, or how many students I had met with.  We would (partly) define my success and progress that way.  When you're a stay-at-home parent, every benchmark of success is relative and mostly self defined, making "perfect" a moving target.  I won't get an evaluation until my kids are my age.  From the lady wishing her rabbinical school would just give out letter grades like a normal school (LOVE YOU RRC!!!!), this is a huge, almost devastating change.

2.  I don't like this job.  I just don't. I like my kids, and G-d knows I LOVE MY KIDS, but I enjoyed them 100 times more when I was working full-time.  That's the simple truth.

3.  "Help" is Expensive.  Even if I want to hire someone to watch the kids a few hours a week so I can catch a break, or send out David's shirts to be pressed, or get a house cleaner, the weekly dollars add up.  We lost our entire emergency savings account when we had to (essentially) short-sell the house, and we're aggressively saving to build it back up as quickly as possible.  It's tough for the Frugal Ima to justify hiring someone to help me do a job that I don't get paid for (yeah, I get paid in kisses and love, but they don't pay the bills.)

4.  I am an introvert.  I've always hated parties, and don't especially enjoy being out of the house. I feel "recharged" after some quiet time at home as opposed to connecting with other people.   All the things that are supposed to help stay-at-home parents adjust - "Getting out" and "meeting people" - are pretty much the most arduous things I can imagine doing.  It's not that I don't like the other parents who stay at home - it's just envisioning the stress of getting everyone ready to leave the house (including myself! Because those who truly know me know all about my Hermione hair...) When you are a stay-at-home parent, being an introvert is really tough because you have a deep need to be at home but at the same time OMG home is your JOB now, and fills you with stress, because you don't even know if you're doing a good job at your job (see point 1)  and.....yeah.  You can imagine.

I haven't quite worked out how to address each of those challenges yes, but I do know one thing.  This past week, when I had the stomach flu on Thursday and Friday, I mostly laid on the floor moaning.  The laundry didn't get folded and the kitchen floor wasn't swept.  But when my little boy wanted to snuggle with me on the couch, I said "Sure." instead of "Ima has to fold the laundry now."  And my heart felt so joyful in that moment.  And no one died because the laundry didn't get folded that day.   And I felt marginally better.  And happier.

So each week, I'm going to post here the one thing from my job I'm going to let slide just a little bit, and what it's going to make room for.  Because I really need it, you guys.  Parenting is hard, and full-time parenting is harder, for me at least.  And I really need your support.  Here's my very first "SuperIma Check-In."

This week, I'm going to serve some veggie chili we have stashed in the freezer for dinner one night, which will give me at least 45 minutes of "freed" time.  I'm going to spend 45 minutes uninterrupted by children, email, or internet, working on some writing I've been doing for pleasure.  The few times I've done that in the past couple of weeks, I've felt a small sense of accomplishment, and G-d knows I need that right now.

I'm inviting you to join in.  You don't have to link back to me, or follow any rules.  (I'll put a Mr. Linky, but you can just link to your post in the comments, or tell us about it in the comments.) Just tell us what you're going to do for yourself, and maybe what you're going to let slide a little bit.
You deserve it.  And I support you.

Yes, I realize that these are all what my dear Israeli bestie Hela calls "Tzarot Shel Ashirim" - "Problems of Rich People."  Trust me, David and I spend time every day feeling thankful for all our (many!) blessings.  But that doesn't negate the fact that I'm still having a tough adjustment period here, and I don't want to make myself feel guilty (er) for feeling that way.

I hope you'll forgive me for increasing my posts just a bit on the "Ima" side of "The Frugal Ima".  (And hey! If it really bothers you, you can stop reading.  I'm not monetized. ;))

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Funfetti Challah (Frugal Jewish Education Series)

We all know the best way to learn how to do something is to do it yourself.
We also all know that it is far better to have our children do things for us than to have to do them ourselves. (After all, why else did we have children in the first place?  I jest!  But not really.)

For this reason I always involve the boys as much as possible in helping me with the Friday challah baking.  While we make "balls" and "snakes" out of the dough, we talk about taking challah and why it's important.
We always separate the challah and say the bracha   (links to instructions for ritual separating of the challah)  together.
Asher, who already knows the formula for Jewish blessings from saying them meal after meal before we eat, (as we try, and I emphasize try, to remember to do)  really loves saying the blessing along with me.  Both boys know the last word of the blessing and jump up and down when they say it.
(It is so sweet to watch Rami's face light up and scream "eesah!" at the end of the bracha.)

 Because the bracha has so many of the same words that we use daily before we eat, I use it to teach this lesso:.  We express gratitude when HaShem gives something to us, but we also express gratitude when we set something aside for HaShem.  Being Jewish is not only about getting and saying "thank you-" it's about saying "thank you" for the opportunity to give back as well.

In an effort to make this mitzvah a bit more fun and to keep it interesting week after week, I've been trying new add-ins.  I had seen this post on  homemade funfetti cake and figured the same principle would probably work for challah.  And I was right!
So, from the Kopans Bayit to you, here it is -
Funfetti Challah.

Mix up a regular batch of challah dough. (As if Challah is ever 'regular'!) After the first rise and punch-down, plop a couple of tablespoons of standard rectangular sprinkles (jimmies?) on top. 

Knead them in till they're evenly distributed. 

Strand and braid as usual. (Yes, I just made "strand" into a verb.  Hello, self-publishing!)

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or so, as usual.  The finished challah comes out with pockets of color and sweetness.  

Asher obsessed over hunting for the blue funfettis.  Awesome.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Being a SuperIma

I hear it a lot.  I am SuperIma.  I appreciate your admiration and your props, folks, I truly do.  And I just want to write a blog post all about it.  Yes, it's true.  I am SuperIma.

If being a SuperIma means that I am speechless when my son tells me he wants me to go to work, and don't have the first clue about how to teach him not to say that again.  Ever.

If SuperIma schleps her boy to an age-inappropriate movie so that she gets a chance to see it before it hits DVD.

If SuperIma leaves crusted snot on the baby's face when she is laid down for naptime, because wiping it off would wake the baby, and that is just not okay right now.

If SuperIma serves spaghetti-Os to her children for dinner one night.  And then boxed mac and cheese another night in that same week.

If SuperIma forgets, on occasion, to do dinner prep, and weeps about it while SuperAbba boils spaghetti.

If SuperIma leaves her wide-awake boys in their bedroom for an extra 45 minutes so that she can squeeze in a workout.

If SuperIma doesn't scrub the downstairs toilet one week in the name of getting just 5 more minutes to herself in the downstairs shower.

If SuperIma yells (yes, YELLS!) at her child when she is frustrated that he just. won't. toilet train.

If SuperIma squeezes the baby into pajamas that are undeniably too small, because the prospect of digging through boxes to find the next size up is just too overwhelming.

If SuperIma notices a streak of dried snot or smeared banana on her couch cushions, and shrugs and sits down on it instead of wiping it up.

If SuperIma regularly makes a second pot of coffee after lunch just to find the energy to cheerfully get through the afternoon.

If SuperIma sometimes pours herself a different kind of drink the second she hears Abba walking in the door at the end of a long day.

If SuperIma sometimes thinks, like seriously thinks, about checking into a hotel for the night so she can just get away from it all.

If SuperIma only includes one photo at the end of her very long blog post, and that photo is of the disgusting state of her house where she ignores it all while blogging, because that is all the photographic energy she can muster.

Yep.  I'm SuperIma.  And so are you (or, you know, SuperAbba, as the case may be.)  And here is your high-five.  And hug.  Way to go, lady.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Frugal and Spiritual: Homemade Challah (Or: "Kansas City Challah")

Baking Challah is one of my favorite parts about being Jewish.  You can buy challah (to the tune of $5 a loaf, oy!!) but this mitzvah is so close to my heart that both my frugal and my spiritual selves really benefit from the weekly schvitz of baking it every week.

Challah is about delicious bread, to be sure.  I love Deb's description of what it smells like when it's baking.  But lots of bread is delicious.  Challah is special.

Lots of people don't know that "challah" is actually the word for the portion that was set aside for the Temple priests thousands of years ago (check out Numbers 15.)  Before baking, Jews still remove a portion of the dough and either burn it or dispose of it in remembrance of that time.  

Taking the challah is actually the spiritual heart of baking this awesome Shabbat bread, for a couple of reasons. Taking a portion of the dough before braiding and baking reminds us that everything we have really belongs to HaShem.  Not only that, but it is our responsibility to use the blessings HaShem gives us, an abundance of food being among them, to help others, just as our ancestors set aside a portion for the priests so long ago.

Over time, Jews have become connected to the moment when challah is taken as one of a handful of times when we are especially close to HaShem, when the gates of heaven are open to our prayers.  I am one who takes this especially to heart.  Even if we are not expecting guests, I bake challah every week.  I feel connected to HaShem, but also to other Jewish bakers all around the world who are doing the same thing and seeking the same connection that I am.

Challah is a braided bread to ensure that it is technically at least two loaves in one, to represent the double portion (lechem mishneh) of manna that HaShem provided to the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 16) - another story to remind us that HaShem always provides for our needs. Different bakers use different braids.  I use a five-strand braid (YouTube Link) - a strand for each Kopans in the Kopans Bayit.  For me, this is a recognition of how lucky we are to have five in our family, and a prayer that each one of us will be provided for and taken care of.  
It is literally baking with love. 

For all these reasons, my challah baking is very important to me.  You can imagine my horror when we moved from Ohio to Kansas City and suddenly my tried-and-true challah recipe didn't work.  It was too wet, and adding more flour made it crumbly.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out the right balance.

Mara gave us her incredible recipe, but David likes his challah more eggy than sweet (actually, he doesn't like it sweet at all.)  So each week I tried a different tweak. It took nearly four months (!!!) but I finally recovered the Kopans challah recipe to work in Kansas City.

I'll be making more posts on how to make challah baking extra fun for kids (funfetti challah, anyone?) but for now here is our challah recipe from Middle America.  

Kopans' in Kansas City Challah Recipe:
1 1/4 c water
3 eggs
3 tbsp honey
1/2 c vegetable oil
6 c flour
2 1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp instant yeast

Knead all ingredients together until smooth and allow a first rise, until nearly doubled in bulk:

Turn out onto a floured surface and separate into sections for braiding:

Roll into strands, the middle thicker than the ends, for braiding:

Braid and allow a second rise under saran wrap on baking sheets.  The second rise should be no longer than 45 minutes.

Wash with beaten whole egg and bake at 350 degrees for 28 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees.  Cool on a cooling rack:

If you live in Kansas City, stop by the Kopans Bayit some Shabbos to grab a bite.  Shabbat Shalom!

ETA: This post was contributed to Mara's challah recipe swap over at Kosher on a Budget.  You MUST go visit!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Creating Monsters in Eight Nights - Chanukah and Gifts?

IMG_6384So, here's the scoop.
I always said I would never give my kids Chanukah presents.  "Purim is the Jewish season for gift-giving!" I would proclaim, "And not Chanukah!"

And then I had kids.  And they are soooo cute (see sidebar.)  And I want to make them happy.  And I want to give them things that will put smiles on their little faces.

So I started picking up things, here and there, that I could give them for Chanukah.  Token things, little things.  A set of plastic animals found in the clearanced dollar section at Target.  An "egg" that dissolves in the bathtub to reveal a tiny toy dinosaur.  Gelt.  Sweet little jungle-animal hand puppets I snagged at Costco for $2 apiece. 

My mom, bless her, loaded the kids up with Chanukah gifts as well.  Again, nothing big-deal or crazy-expensive; a new box of markers and a coloring book.  Sweet wintertime window clings.  A Shalom Sesame DVD.  A dinosaur board book.  A Lego set. 

And so it was that we ended up with more than one present for each night.  By the third night of Chanukah, the boys started to peer into their bags for the next present almost as soon as they had gotten the first one.  Uh oh.

But!  I was excited for the fifth night of Chanukah.  The fifth night of Chanukah, I tell everyone, is a magical night.  A Chasidic custom teaches that this night is special, because it's the first night of Chanukah where there is more light than darkness amongst the candle spaces.  The fifth night, being so close to a new moon, is always one of the darkest nights of the year, even moreso because it can never fall on Shabbat.  The fifth night teaches that we must bring light even into a world of great, seemingly insurmountable darkness.  We are the candles, etc. etc.

Gorgeous.  So I decided long ago that this would mean in our house that we get out and do something positive for someone or some cause on the fifth night.  The local Kollel was throwing a Chanukah party for some kids and the residents of our Jewish retirement village.  Exactly what we needed - low key and awesome. 

I explained to the kids (well, Asher) that there were lots of Sabas and Savtas (grandparents) who don't get to see their grandchildren, and that we could go talk with them and show them our favorite toys and wish them a Happy Chanukah and that it would help them feel happier and maybe not so sad about missing their grandchildren. 
And that doing that would be our Chanukah present for that night. 

I thought they Got It, you guys.  I really did.
So we drove home, all the while talking about our fifth night mitzvah, and I was full of the warm fuzzies.  I fed my angels dinner and then we arranged our candles in the chanukiah.  Asher lit his own and my heart swelled with pride.  We finished singing the blessings.  Then he turned his sweet little face to me and asked, "Can we do Chanukah now?"
 It took me a second to realize it, but in just four nights of modest gift-giving Asher had begun to equate "doing Chanukah" with "getting gifts."
Oy oy oy oy oy oy OY.

So my first reaction is to put the kibosh on Chanukah presents, right?  So all the other little tchotchkes I had picked up went straight into the gift bin (thanks Mara, you frugal genius).  But obviously the gifts Savta had sent still needed to be distributed, and then there were the Chucks.  I got a pair of gloriously cute Chucks on super clearance on cyber Monday (we're talking $12 a pair, for shoes my boychiks needed anyway).  And because I am a supercool Ima, I bought a cheap pack of shoelace charms that blink when you move.  And I strung them on, and put the shoes back in their boxes, and you could see the charms blinking from the outside of the box you guys, it was so so cool!

So last night, the sixth night, I made a big production out of how tonight's gift was so so awesome.  And I gave the shoes to the boys.  And they looked at them.  And they stomped around a little bit.  And then Asher looked me straight and the eye and said, "What else is in the bag?"


Now, I know what you're thinking.  "Those children are so spoiled!" "Don't you teach those mini menschen their manners?"
Dear readers, I promise you - we make these children say "thank you" for everything.  Even their milk with breakfast.  We say brachas before we eat our food and talk about gratitude-related things all the time.  They have to say "thank you" to their teachers before they leave preschool for the day.
I feel so deflated.

So, what's an Ima to do?

I already said "no" to any more Chanukah presents.  And I'm going to have Asher take the remaining gelt and give it as gifts to his preschool.  But I feel like I've created a monster in three years and four nights.  What would you do?  No Chanukah presents anymore?  Only on the eighth night?  Do you think the children will  be somehow damaged?  By which decision?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I am about to make your Chanukah about 18 times more pleasant.

Did that title get ya?

IMG_6012I think I've mentioned before how much I hate standing over a stove.  For real.  I mean, I can't even stand to boil pasta.  So you can imagine how much I hate, hate HATE dealing with the stinky mess of latkes at Chanukah time. 
Even you, O Cheeriest of Jewish Home Managers - don't you try to tell me you haven't been there:  You grate up the potatoes, rushing to get them all done before they start getting brown, weep over grating onions, fret over getting ALL the liquid squeezed out lest the stray droplet leap out of the frying pan to scar your arm, heat up the oil to the perfect temperature so that your latkes will be crispy on the outside and perfectly done on the inside (as opposed to burned on the outside and raw on the inside,) and, just as you've been burned by one too many droplets of steaming, leaping oil, and you're observing that the size of your latke pile doesn't nearly reflect the extent of your labors, it happens. 
The smoke detector goes off. 
Your children are screaming and crying (even though they know it's not, in fact, an air raid siren, just a smoke detector,) you are about half an inch too short to reach the smoke detector, even standing on a chair, so you're frantically trying to fan the smoke away from it while keeping an eye on the latkes still cooking, and....oy.  Before you know it you have smelly house, hair and clothes, traumatized children, a wasted hour, and 8 burned latkes.

Wow, sneak attack!  Your Chanukah is suddenly miserable.  Right?  Wrong.

I stumbled across this recipe for oven-fried latkes and I thought, "Hey, if these flop, all I've lost is a couple of potatoes."

They.  Were. Incredible. 
I made 16 on Wednesday night and my boys were polishing off the last two for breakfast on Thursday morning.

Here's what you'll need:
4 large potatoes, 5-6 medium ones, or 7-8 small ones.
1  medium onion.
3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c (or so) oil.
salt and pepper to taste
(You don't need the Manischewitz I included in the picture, but I figured a little on the rocks couldn't hurt.)

Dump the flour and baking powder in the bottom of your bowl.  Season it with whatever salt and pepper you want (you can always add more later.)

Now put a good layer of oil on some baking sheets lined with foil and parchment.  Slide them into the oven at 425 to let that oil get nice and sizzly, and waiting for your latkes.

Crack the eggs on top of the flour and baking soda.  Grate in your onions.

Then your potatoes. (All recipes call for squeezing the liquid out of these.  I had a toddler screaming upstairs like a KGB agent had infiltrated his bedroom, so I totally forgot this step.  They turned out fine, but if you want to squeeze, knock yourself out.)  Mix it all up really well.

Drop spoonfuls of the batter on a cookie sheet and smoosh them down a little bit.  I got 8 per cookie sheet.

After about 12 minutes, when you see the edges start to brown, flip them over.

After another 8-10 minutes, pull them out and drain them on some paper towels.

As for cleanup?  Just ball up the foil and throw it out.  Chuck those cookie sheets in the dishwasher.  You're done! 

Now, just TRY to stop those latkes from being eaten. 

Sit back and relax, you are a hero!  Just like Judah Maccabee.

Happy Chanukah!

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