Friday, March 30, 2012

So I wonder

image If we are basically a happy family, going through a rough patch… or basically a miserable family, with occasional moments of sunshine.

Am I the only one in the world who isn’t quite sure…?

Big מצוה Note! (girl)

In the interest of equal time, this is the mitzvah note I wrote for EC going back to school after the Pesach break at the same time as I wrote the one for YM that I just posted.  As you can see by comparing the two, I was a big fan of copy and paste, even waaay back then!  I love this first picture because there’s Ted, way back when.  We’ve only been married 8 years; sometimes I forget that he was around for a long time before that, until I look at pictures like this and remember that he was, um, “in the picture” long before that.  All I can say is, marry a guy who adores your kids because otherwise, he will murder them when they hit, oooh, 15, 16, 17, 18???

Elisheva Chaya was so busy over the פסח break…


Before פסח, she:

clip_image002· scrubbed around the house

· tidied her room

· read “גילה שואלת מה נשתנה”

· helped finish “חמץ-dik” food – like macaroni!

clip_image006During פסח, she:

· said “מה נשתנה” and sang beautifully!!!

· answered all the פסח questions sent home – and quizzed everyone else, too!

clip_image008· stayed up late for both סדרים

· clip_image010visited Riverdale Farm to see baby chicks, lambs, and goats

· dreamed of eating vanilla doughnuts!

· went to בית כנסת for ברכת כהנים

After פסח, she:


· learned פרשת שמיני and discussed it

· sang really loudly on שבת

· happily ate חמץ once again!!


I bet Elisheva Chaya can’t wait for next פסח!!!




Am I the only one feeling nostalgic this Pesach over how big the kids have grown, and how quickly???

Big מצוה Note! (boy)

Dug this out of the RonyPony Archives, though technically, they are not the RonyPony Archives, because the RonyPony Baby is only 7 and this note is from 10 years ago, April 2002.  And honestly, he looks so babyish in these pictures that it could have been from earlier than that.  He doesn’t look 7.  Here’s the corresponding (read: cut n’ pasted) mitzvah note for EC.

Yerachmiel Meir was so busy over the פסח break… 

image imageBefore פסח, he:

· helped clean around the house

· tidied his toys

· read and practiced the הגדה

· helped finish our “חמץ-dik” food – like chocolate!

During פסח, he:

image · said “מה נשתנה” and sang all songs plus הלל loudly and beautifully!!!

· contributed דברי תורה and fascinating insights

· image listened nicely without interrupting

· found the Afikoman both nights!

· visited Riverdale Farm to see baby chicks, lambs, and goats

· brushed up on his mini-golf skills

· went to בית כנסת for ברכת כהנים

After פסח, he:

image · learned פרשת שמיני and discussed it

· sang really loudly on שבת

· played nicely at his friend’s house

· happily ate חמץ once again!!


image I bet Yerachmiel Meir can’t wait for next פסח!!!




For more on the lost art of mitzvah-note-writing, see this article I wrote for Jewish Action magazine.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Short Parsha Riddles: צַו / Tzav

וַיִּקְרָא / Vayikra / Leviticus 6:1-8:36

Click for printable PDF version.

And don’t forget to read last year’s poem and parsha overview.  Plus… copywork and parsha activities – something for every week of the year!

[1] image

To take out the trash can be such a big bore,
Yet the kohanim would fight for this chore;
Up the steep ramp, the kohen – quick! – dashes,
To sweep with his broom and scoop up the __________.


Two kinds of animals we must never eat,
Not for a snack or an after-meal treat;
Though they were kosher the day they were born,
If they’re __________ or __________, their flesh you must scorn!


imageI’d like to duck and run away when the oil comes near,
“Must you pour it?” I beg him, my brother daft and dear.
“Yes, I must,” he tells me now, and asks me to stand still,
And though it’s oozing down my neck, he said it, so I will.  Who are we?


It’s not enough to feel a feeling, when you’re in the mood,
It’s not enough to say you’re sorry, if you have been rude;
Instead, Hashem tells us we can’t just sit and know it –
March to the Mishkan to give a __________, to really, truly SHOW it.

[5] – BONUS!

The kohanim were holy, a specialized breed,
Set apart for fulfilling Hashem’s every need.
When they did a mitzvah, it surely was with love…
So why did Hashem start this parsha out by saying “Tzav!”???

STUMPED?? Here are some answers: 
[ 1 ] Ashes – this mitzvah, trumas ha-deshen, was prized and honoured despite its seemingly lowly nature.
[ 2 ] Neveilah (נְבֵלָה ) or Trayfa (טְרֵפָה), animals that have died or been killed.
[ 3 ] Moshe and Aharon.
[ 4 ] Korban
[ 5 ] The kohanim received a share of almost every korban, but the Olah, with which the parsha opens, was wholly consumed and so could have been perceived resentfully as a waste.  Rashi says the strong word Tzav urges them to follow the rules meticulously, despite the perceived monetary “loss.”

I dream of (Pesach) cheese

imageSorry I haven’t been posting much lately.  Busy, busy… and writing, writing for actual money.  I have always had a theory that I only had so many words inside me each day, and if I’m writing in one way, I just don’t have any more writing left in me for the blog… or anything else.

This cheese picture is actually a little bit of an inside joke, because every time there is some mention of cheese in a book, like our Hebrew book, or any kind of kids’ story, they show SWISS cheese, which Naomi Rivka hates.  Just considers the whole “holey cheese” thing an abomination.  So I like to show her the pictures on purpose now, just to bug her.  It’s nice to have a child you can deliberately annoy and they won’t shout (much), destroy your house or traumatize your other children.  Nope, don’t go ticking off teenagers, that’s all I’ll say about that.

So – Pesach cheese.

I am desperately trying, TRYING, to cut back on Pesach expenses, which everybody says every year.  But this year, I mean it, and so the first prong of this attack was – NO BREAKFAST CEREAL.  I’m not saying ABSOLUTELY no cereal, because sometimes I buy the gebrochts one for kiddie-snacks erev Pesach and for the last day.  The gebrochts ones are sometimes available on sale much cheaper.  But we generally go through many boxes of the non-gebrochts cereal, like some every day, and at $5 a tiny, tiny box, it’s a crippling expense.  (see this post from 3 years ago on the rip-off of Pesach cereal!)

No breakfast cereal.

And also – we spend a TON on dairy.  Cottage cheese, cream cheese, yogurt.  So now that I have been exploring frontiers in cheesemaking and overcoming my own fear of fermentation, I’m looking into what exactly I can make myself for Pesach.

First of all – if we want cholov Yisrael, the answer is basically:  NOTHING.  The cholov Yisrael milk says on the label “kashered at 212°F” (though I have never understood how the milk is KASHERED – was it trayfe before, like a cooking pot?), what this means is that it is ultra-pasteurized, destroying the proteins and making it almost useless for cheesemaking.  (NOTE: this is not the same as Ultra-High-Temperature (UHT) Pasteurization, which lets you store the milk in a tetra-pac at room temperature)

The good news is that there are two brands of 4L non-cholov Yisrael milk bags on the COR’s approved list for Pesach 5772.  I have used these for cheesemaking before and they work reasonably well.

BUT to go with this good news, the so-so news is that I probably can’t use the same cheesemaking (“mesophilic”) culture that I have been using during the year for Pesach (need to call the OU to check), nor the rennet (though I’m waiting for an answer on this), meaning that most complex cheeses are out of reach. 

Last year, there was a brand of buttermilk on the COR list, which might have been useful for starting my own cultures, but this year, it’s off the list.  There also are probably no “thicker” milks than Homogenized (3.25%MF), which is a pain because for really creamy cream and cottage cheese,it’s best to start with a very rich milk.

Still… with a little “live-culture” yogurt to get things started, there just might be a way.  So this week, with my regular utensils, I’m experimenting with various rotted-milk products, trying to figure out what types of fermentation are possible within a very limited Pesach palette.

Here are a few recipes, in case you’re curious about what types of cheeses can be produced during Pesach with nothing but milk, yogurt, cheesecloth and maybe a thermometer.  I haven’t tried ANY of these yet… though some are in progress as I write this:

  • Cream cheese – takes 48 hours
  • Whole-Milk Ricotta – probably do-able with Homogenized; needs citric salt
  • Cottage Cheese – needs vinegar
  • Yogurt – basically, add live yogurt to milk and let it sit warm for a while.  I’d omit the dry milk powder from this recipe during Pesach, which apparently gives a somewhat runnier yogurt.

imageThe key to accomplishing all of this is turning over the kitchen earlier.  Like this coming Sunday.  We are SO far from being able to do that it isn’t funny.  But if I’m going to get serious fermentation going on ahead of time, it will (somehow) have to be done.

I will be sure to keep you posted – unless I fail, in which case I’ll slink into a corner and sulk, while shelling out hundreds for cottage cheese, cream cheese, and those little individual flavoured rip-off yogurts.  Bah, humbug!

How are you cutting back this Pesach?  Inspire me!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New FREE Printable Pesach Story PDF Book!

I’m SO excited about this one!  As I did two years ago, I’ve written a short storybook to share with my kids, and they like it so much, I thought I’d pass it along.


The book is totally free, with large enough text to be printable in “booklet” mode from Adobe reader.  The only catch is that, as I did with the Mah Nishtana book, I’m only making this available by email, simply because sometimes, I like to hear from you, and I get to say hi back… it’s just more personal that way.  Just drop me a  note at Jay3fer “at” gmail “dot” com (or click here and remove the 4 X’s), and I will pop this off to you for your personal enjoyment.

*** BUT:  The only thing I ask is that if you are planning to use it with a shul, school, or other organization or group, you make a PayPal donation to support our little Canadian homeschool.  Any amount is fine, but try to be fair.  You’re welcome to read it first to if you decide to use it.  For the record, nobody ever HAS made a donation and I know for a fact that my materials are being used by professionals… so you can do with that information what you like.  :-)

You might also be interested in…

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

DO NOT CLOSE the School House shelter!

Read my letter to Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, then sign the petition!  By the way, I’m NOT a big believer in online petitions, but in some small, local situations, I think they may be very helpful at increasing gauging awareness… at the very least.

image Dear Ms Wong-Tam:

I'm emailing today because I can't be there in person to protest the proposed closure of the School House shelter.  This is the WRONG DIRECTION for our city, one that will cause more harm than the minor economic savings could possibly justify. 

Though I myself live in Mr. Mihevc's riding (whom I have cc'd), my brother, who has schizophrenia and other mental health issues, has been a resident at the School House for the past year and a half. 

With virtually no control over his own life and impulses, he is not violent or a threat to anyone other than himself, but he does drink and behave erratically.  He is virtually unhouseable elsewhere.  That doesn't mean he deserves to die of exposure or sleep on the streets. 

CAMH and our family have tried placing him in various forms of community-based housing and support programs, but these usually become unworkable pretty quickly.  The School House offers a unique environment where mental illness and other problems are not criminalized and where individuals who need it can find the warmth and safety that is simply not available to them elsewhere.

I support the effort to find and build permanent housing where such a thing is a possibility.  However, this is not always practical or possible.  As Jesus said, "the poor you will always have among you," although I notice, perhaps cynically, that he used the line to justify spending more on luxuries for himself.  Which, I fear, is what the City may be doing at this time as well. 

Anything else is a luxury as long as our fellow Torontonians have nowhere to sleep at night.

{signed, moi}

Friday, March 23, 2012

Short Parsha Riddles: Vayikra / וַיִּקְרָא

וַיִּקְרָא / Vayikra / Leviticus 1:1-5:26

Click for printable PDF version.

And don’t forget to read last year’s poem and parsha overview.  Plus… copywork and parsha activities – something for every week of the year!

[1] image

We’ll start off quite simple, a question so easy,
Begin this new book with an answer so breezy,
Vayikra, it says, “he called to him” – so…
Who called to whom?  Shout it out, so we’ll know!


Three kinds of beasts that Hashem says are nice,
For bringing to Him for your sacrifice;
A cow or a sheep might each take your vote,
But remember, you also can bring Him a __________.


Hashem asks for our gifts to be given each day,
Five kinds of korban (these days, we just pray);
Some if we’re happy and some if at fault,
But whatever you offer, please bring it with __________!


“If a person sins,” the Torah says: if someone goes astray,
If a kohen sins, or makes a mistake, it’s simply not okay;
If a leader sins, we learn this week, he must return to Hashem,
We all make mistakes BUT, we see – He still __________ us and them!

[5] – BONUS!

The kohanim would do, each day, all Hashem asks,
Sweep all the sweepings, accomplish their tasks;
But this job was said to be hardest of all –
Named for the finger right next to the small!


STUMPED?? Here are some answers: 
[ 1 ] Hashem spoke to Moshe.  Told you it was easy!
[ 2 ] Goat.
[ 3 ] Salt.
[ 4 ] Loves!  Or any other word, like “forgives” that fits in the sentence.  You pick!
[ 5 ] 2:1 – קְמִיצָה – in Hebrew, it means your ring finger, but in the Mishkan and Bais HaMikdash, the term was used to refer to the special “open fistful”with which the kohanim would have to measure and carry the flour for the korban mincha (see Rashi).

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pre-Pesach Matzah Baking & Chometz Museum

Quick idea that came to me yesterday as I was getting ready for our annual pre-Pesach homeschool matzah bakefest:  set up a “grain museum” so kids can actually SEE the grains that become chometz (leavened).  This is a fun, tactile way to “meet” the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye) – especially if you actually HAVE all five grains on hand. 

With no preparation, I only had four out of five in the house – I used the last of the spelt flour in a loaf of bread yesterday.  I put out a couple of different forms of each grain, if possible:  I had whole wheat berries plus wheat flour (semolina), whole barley, steel-cut oats along with rolled oats and Cheerios, plus rye flour, so they could see that it’s a different colour.


Meeting the grains hopefully makes concrete the ultimate dichotomy, the chok (incomprehensible Divine law) of Pesach: these grains are at once the only five that can become chometz AND the only five which can be used to make matzah, which, of course, we are commanded to eat on Pesach.

I also included a display of “kitniyos” – beans, rice, and two kinds of corn (yellow cornmeal and white “quick grits” aka polenta-grind cornmeal, depending on whether you’re in the South or in Italy).


Things went downhill when it came time to actually bake.  I couldn’t believe it: this was the very first year that I have actually FAILED in my mission to bring children together and create actual, edible matzah in 18 minutes.  I preheated the oven to 500°, but I guess I should have done it a bit sooner, because the first few took forever, and I think it was actually 25 minutes before we had any finished matzah. 

DSC02762We also had more kids than I’ve had before, plus, now that everybody’s older, I gave them their own bowls of flour.  I think last year, I just dumped everything in the food processor.  I did use the pasta roller again, even though I’m much better with a rolling pin now than I used to be, mostly because it’s kind of neat and gives the place a fancier “matzah factory” kind of feel.

Here’s Naomi Rivka with her finished matzah.  I like how this is “activity time” and “making lunch time” all in one.

DSC02763The weather was so beautiful that when they weren’t baking, the kids were all running around outside.  Eventually, when we’d all finished eating, we went to play in the park instead of the regular Thursday homeschool drop-in. 


Previous matzah baking sessions!

  • Last year – 2011, which I mention that it was “slightly less successful than next year’s” (I think I meant LAST year’s!) and listed a bunch of things to remember for NEXT year (ie this year), which I completely neglected to read until just now… doh!  Note to self:  drier dough next time, use the food processor, and roll it super, super thin. 
  • Previous year – 2010

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pesach Homeschool Video/Animation Project (with free script!)

We were supposed to go to another workshop at the NFB this morning, but I promised I’d do some work for somebody, so I had to tell the kids we weren’t going to the workshop.  They weren’t all THAT crushed – we’ve done a couple already this year. But I felt so guilty that I told them at lunch that we could make our own animation instead.

I decided it should be about Pesach in some way, since we haven’t done much so far, and came up with a basic plot, based on the life of Moshe, with a list of “sets” and characters, in about two minutes.

The photography part is easy with our webcam, though unfortunately, the low webcam quality really shows in the final video.  Here’s our sophisticated video setup:

 DSC02728 DSC02729

Naomi eagerly designed and drew three “sets” – a palace interior, Moshe’s family’s home, and a scene by the Nile River.

Here’s our willing cast of (mismatched, sigh) mentschies!


This was a particularly ambitious project because in our previous homemade animations (here and here), I’ve just whomped music right over the images and not bothered with having anybody speaking in the video.  However, now that both littles are reading, I decided it was worth trying to record a basic script.

Of course, that meant writing a script.  I actually think the one I wrote is quite terrific, especially considering it took about five minutes after we’d finished all the photography.  I’ve made the script available for download on my Limudei Kodesh Printables page here (scroll down to Pesach).  The kids didn’t entire co-operate, but luckily, I just recorded all the audio and trimming it down was a very simple matter.

The video more than compensated for how easy the audio was.  The hardest part, as always, was wrangling (my fingers seem to want to type “wrongling,” which is a FANTASTIC word!) with Windows MovieMaker, a program describes as “so easy a child could use it--an incredibly patient child born to filmmaker parents who didn't mind restarting this application every few minutes.”  I guess I AM that incredibly patient child.  Sheesh. 

Let’s just say that it took about eighteen times longer than it should have due to needing to save every THREE minutes and restart due to freezing about every EIGHT minutes.  Normally I exaggerate or just plain lie about times like these, but in this case, I believe the estimate is charitable.  But I didn’t swear once, and that’s the important thing when you’re spending four hours editing a four-minute video… right???

Anyway, I’m tired and crabby, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead.  Here’s the animation.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Library is on STRIKE?!?!!

Luckily, their online offerings are still available, so I’m taking this opportunity to recharge the Kobo and download five exciting books free – well, I don’t know if they’re all exciting, but one is sure to be a winner.  Here’s what’s going on the Kobo tonight:

Two books by my high school classmate, Cory Doctorow, one fiction, one non-fiction:


The Great Big Beautiful TomorrowContext


The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow


Plus three food books:

Love in a Dish ...and Other Culinary Delights

Love in a Dish ...and Other Culinary Delights

A collection of classic food writing from MFK Fisher, the classic food writer herself, a foodie before there ever was such a thing, from the 1930s to the 1990s.  I have trouble reading “old writing”… the formal tone, the belaboured descriptions.  It all just FEELS dusty.  But I’m definitely going to give this a real try, because everybody who is anybody in food writing references her as an influence somewhere along the line.



Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer

By Tim Stark; I seem to remember reading this, but it was during a period where I was reading about nothing BUT food and this book blurs together with a whole bunch of others, including It’s a Long Road to a Tomato (loved it) and The $64 Tomato, a book I am doomed never to read again because I can never remember the $!% number in the title so I sit there searching randomly for “The $73 tomato?”  “The $86 tomato?” until I give up.  How did I find it just now to put in the linkie, you wonder???  I typed “The $ Tomato” into Amazon.  Clever!

The 100-Mile Diet

The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating

Another one I definitely read, years ago, that was lost in the blur of foodie books.  And now, of course, both these trends have taken off and hopefully are just about over – the trend of eating more and more locally (and writing a book about it), to the point of ridiculousness… and the trend of doing “whatever it is” for a year (and writing a book about it). 

Please note that I don’t think eating locally is ridiculous!  But I recently read a nice article about ChocoSol, a Toronto-based chocolate company, that made the very good point that there are yummy things to eat even BEYOND that 100-mile radius, and the trick is finding ways to bring them in responsibly and convincing others to enjoy them in their highest-quality form, in moderation.  ChocoSol, for instance, brings its chocolate in only once a year, by boat, from Mexico.  This offers the lowest-footprint way of bringing the chocolate to Toronto, where they process it and distribute it in various forms.  Anyway, I don’t want to rant except to say that local eating really doesn’t go far enough… while at the same time, perhaps going a bit too far.  If you know what I mean.

Ooh – last-minute addition!

Allah, Liberty & LoveAllah, Liberty & Love:  The courage to reconcile faith and freedom.

By Irshad Manji, a lesbian Muslim (plus she’s Canadian, so I should probably just toss her a handful of hyphens and have her sort out the order in which she wishes to use these adjectives), who seems to think there is no problem reconciling Islam with her sexuality and a number of other things.  Should be interesting reading, though I prefer seeing her on video than reading the books.  Just lazy, I guess. 

image Anyway, grabbing all these books for the Kobo feels a little like being Mormon and building a food pantry against some kind of unspecified contingency which may never arrive. 

But having survived the garbage strike a couple of summers ago, I have little faith that this no-libraries thing will blow over quickly.  And if nobody is sitting at the front desks, there is a chance that there is nobody maintaining the website.  In which case, it’s better to check out the books now than take the chance on an epic fail further down the line.

If you homeschool, or just READ from time to time, do you have a plan to survive a library strike???

Homeschool Picture Day: Behind the Scenes

Dsc02625 crop It’s always fun having pieces about homeschooling published in the paper.  They always seem to want a picture of me with my kid(s), actually DOING our little homeschooly thing.  Ha ha ha.  Like that’s really what we do.  So, of course, we have to stage it.

Here are a number of attempts to make it look like we’re actually sitting down to learn something together:



2012-02-28 homeschooling pics

This is the picture we ultimately ended up with:

Dsc02602 crop

I think it’s pretty good… even though I’m pointing at our Chumash workbook while Naomi Rivka studiously “takes notes” (with a pen!) in her Latin book.  We’re both just on the verge of laughter – can you tell???

(Jamaican) Patty Time!

image I don’t know if it’s the same where you are, but if you pass through any subway station in Toronto that offers more than just the basic convenience store, chances are there’s a coffee shop that offers lousy coffee and lukewarm “Jamaican patties.”  I put the phrase in quotation marks because I understand they are not truly Jamaican in origin… and also, thinking about it more this evening, I couldn’t help noticing they’re not a “patty” at all.  So they are probably a variation of a British-type “pasty” (a daff-sounding British word for “pastry”) with a slightly colonial flair.

Curiously, in case you’re still reading despite my droning on, I have always used the word “pattie” as the singular – a convention with which this Philipine pattie shop agrees wholeheartedly:



Whatever they’re called and wherever they come from, my absolute favourite meal, my default “caf food” in high school, every day or however-often I could afford it, was a single Jamaican patty, chocolate milk and two chocolate-chip cookies (I seem to recall they were sold in pairs).  The cookies were absolutely the best chocolate-chip cookies I’ve ever tasted, to this day, and my mother makes excellent ones, as do I.  And the patty… mmm… there is nothing finer while IM’ing your friends over lunch, circa 1986 (ask me how I did that if you want serious geekery!*), than green meat inside a crispy, bright-yellow crust.

* hint: to IM your friends in 1986, you must all be sitting in the same room, basically side by side.

Taking the subway a few times lately, patties have been on my mind.  Couple that with the fact that I saw a recipe for them in edibleToronto magazine a couple of months ago that didn’t look too hard (and replaces some of the shortening with coconut oil!), I thought I’d give them a try.  (When tackling a magazine recipe for the first time, I like to cross-reference with at least one “review site” recipe, just to make sure I’m on the track of delicious pattie, so I also used this very similar recipe from AllRecipes.)

Here’s the filling – very basic, ground beef, onion, curry, thyme, salt, pepper to taste.  A neat trick both recipes suggested is adding a cup of breadcrumbs and a cup of chicken soup (I doubled the recipe, which was dumb because now I have a freezer full of beef pattie filling).  You simmer them together once the meat is cooked and it thickens the filling just right.  Warning – fillings NEVER look good in pictures, but this one was delicious, trust me.


Roll out the dough – see how nice and yellow?  There’s curry powder in there, but I also added a pinch of turmeric, just for the colour.  Dollop of filling, and fold it over.  The dough was not all that co-operative, but I patched small cracks with a bit of water on my finger (careful – even a tiny bit of water made the dough too soft and floppy in places, leading to MORE breakage when I transferred it).


Coat with egg…


… bake and serve!


Sit around muttering “pearls before swine” as your children push it ungratefully around the plate or suggest that, being almost fully-grown, they know themselves far better than I do and they have the kind of hunger that is far more satisfied with a toasted pita bun with cream cheese.


Ignoramuses!  I mean, how could you pass up perfectly lovely green meat???