Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Brilliant Friend Rachel’s Brilliant Freezer Burritos

  Y’all know I like to give credit where due, so here is a great big shout-out hooray to my friend Rachel.  Only an IRL friend will let you stand in her dining room and watch as she offhandedly does the most awesome things with food.

Let me just back up a bit to say that we love freezer burritos and the kosher kind – breakfast, with egg, or beans & cheese – cost about $3 or more.  A pack of 6 burrito wraps costs $3-something.  A can of black beans (don’t gasp; yes, I use canned, though she probably doesn’t) costs under $1.  A pack of shredded mozarella – ditto; cheap (the pre-shredded is often cheaper than the blocks, these days, though I don’t like the powdery cellulose stuff it comes packed with).

So here’s what I did, in an attempt to recreate Rachel’s freezer burritos.  I happened to have chicken filling because we were having burrito night here anyway.  If you don’t, just use salsa like she does.  In fact, you can use salsa anyway – extra deliciousness, I say.


  1. Slice onion (doesn’t have to be too fine) and fry in a bit of oil with a sprinkling of kosher salt, until soft but not brown.
  2. Add well-rinsed black beans (or really any other beans you like) and stir until beans begin to soften.
  3. Add garlic, salt, pepper, taco seasoning to taste.
  4. Add a cup of water and let the water simmer away until beans are mostly alone in the pan (my pan is cast iron, so almost nothing scorches and I can cook it a long time).  Repeat this step if you want softer beans.  Season to taste.
  5. Turn off the heat and let beans cool (only because I don’t like putting hot beans in the blender).
  6. Add bean mixture to blender or food processor and blend until either smooth or chunky, depending on how you like it.

FAKE CHICKEN FILLING (not really a recipe)

  1. Slice onion and fry in a bit of oil with a sprinkling of kosher salt, until soft but not brown.
  2. Add a package of fake chicken strips and stir until it begins to brown.
  3. Add a can of Hungry Man sloppy-joe sauce, or your favourite BBQ sauce, or whatever, really.
  4. Add chili powder, garlic powder, pepper, whatever you want – to taste.  You’re done!

Now make yourDSC04504 burritos:

  1. Smear wrap with black-bean filling.
  2. Spread chicken filling and/or salsa over black-bean filling.
  3. Sprinkle with cheese (mozarella or whatever).
  4. Wrap it up! (lots of images on Google of how to do this)
  5. Wrap burrito in parchment paper.
  6. Toss it in the freezer.

DSC04503But wait!  Here’s the brilliant bit:  SAVE THE BAG THE WRAPS CAME IN!!!  Use it to store the homemade burritos in the freezer.  Isn’t that awesome???  That one tip alone is worth the cost to you of reading this post (I hope).

Don’t they look all cozy, stashed away in there…?  I got 7 burritos out of tonight’s supper leftovers.  It wouldn’t have been so many except that the big kids skipped supper.  And now they have snacks to snack on in the freezer.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Quick Ladder Art / Craft for Parshas Vayeitzei

DSC04474Based on a “ladder” idea for Vayeitzei that I saw in Mommzy’s Montessori-based booklet of parsha ideas for Bereishis, I came up with this craft concept very, VERY quickly to occupy my kids and a friend who happened to come over last Friday for a 6-hour playdate (it wasn’t as gruelling as it sounds – I promise!).

I borrowed a picture of Yaakov sleeping from this PDF of parsha colouring pages at (I didn’t bother printing the rest of the picture, just used a PDF-to-JPG program to strip out that page, then used a paint program to cut out Yaakov, then used Word to paste three Yaakovs on one page so all three would fit on a single piece of paper.  Okay, that sounds like a LOT of work when I type it all out like that.  Trust me – it took about 2 minutes or less.

DSC04470The kids all enjoyed building the ladders and cutting out stars from yellow construction paper.  Gavriel Zev drew an alien above Yaakov’s head – that’s what he’s dreaming about.  Naomi Rivka wanted to do an angel, so that’s what she’s got, hanging onto her ladder.  Gavriel Zev also chose not to add clouds (just bits of my polyester fibrefill stuffing; I would have used cotton balls if I had any here) at the top of his ladder, so all three projects turned out different enough that the kids seemed pleased. 

Here are all 3 together:


Sorry it’s too late for this year… hope this project helps somebody NEXT year!

Happy Easy Tomato Egg-Drop Soup

DSC04479“It’s my own invention!”

Here’s a quick easy medium-hearty soup to go along with a rice-based stir-fry – especially good for a cold evening when there wasn’t much in the house beyond rice and tinned tomatoes… I improvised this, writing down what I did along the way so you could enjoy it, too (cuz I knew ahead of time that it was destined to be just as fabulous as it turned out to be!).

What’s in it:

  • 1 tin tomatoes (the big kind of tin – 700-something ml?)
  • 2 tins water or nice veggie broth
  • 2 cubes frozen ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp ch soup mix (omit if using nice veggie broth)
  • 1-2 cups of frozen corn kernels, depending on how much you like corn; I forget how much I tossed in
  • 1 package extra-firm tofu, browned in wok
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (contains fish)
  • black pepper to taste
  • sriracha / hot sauce to taste, optional – OR red pepper flakes, optional
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce (s/b a bit less?)
  • 6 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar (I used lite = low sodium, just because we bought it by accident)

To finish the soup, you’ll need:

  • 2 tbsp corn starch mixed well into 1/2 cup water until it looks like milk (this is called a “slurry”)
  • 2 eggs for dropping at the end – stirred gently in a cup (no bubbles)
  • Green onion, sliced into little circles – I only had 1 in the house, but more would be better
  • toasted sesame oil, to serve

Re:  the egg dropping part – if you want perfect, soft, silky strands instead of rubber blobs in your soup, it can be tricky, so read up before you begin.  Here's a guide to how to do it right.  If you really, REALLY care; sometimes, I don’t.

How to make it:

  1. On medium-high heat, bring to boil tomatoes and water / broth, along with soup mix if using.
  2. Add garlic, ginger and corn kernels and boil until cooked through.  If soup is too watery, boil down for a few minutes.  If it’s too salty, add a bit more water (I started with 3 tins of water tonight and it was too much).
  3. Add browned tofu, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, sriracha / red pepper flakes, soy sauce, rice vinegar.
  4. Season to taste – I added a little more more rice vinegar and soy sauce, but then it was a bit too much soy, in my opinion.  Play with it; make sure the soup tastes PERFECT at this stage, because no more vigourous cooking will take place once the corn starch goes in.
  5. Almost at the end!  Turn down the heat to just below medium. 
  6. Stir in the corn-starch slurry until mixture bubbles and thickens slightly.  Please don’t do what every kosher restaurant around here seems to do, which is turn the soup to SNOT with corn starch (sorry, I know it’s a troubling image, but it’s true).  That said, I had to repeat this step because my soup was still too watery with 2 tbsp, so repeat as necessary.  As with all of my recipes, it’s more of a state of mind than an actual step-by-step procedure. ;-)
  7. Turn off the heat, but do the next step immediately so you don’t end up with raw eggs in your soup.
  8. Now for the egg dropping.  Have your eggs stirred and ready, standing by and pour them slowly (some people pour over a fork or the back of a spoon; I poured through a sieve) into the soup, while stirring continually in a single direction (not wildly or every which way) for a minute.  Observe that you need at least three hands for this step:  one to pour, one to hold a fork / spoon / sieve, and one to stir the soup.  Govern yourself accordingly.
  9. Cover the soup until you’re ready to serve it (I like to give it at least another minute to fully cook the egg).
  10. At serving time, sprinkle each bowl with a smattering of green onions and splash on a small dollop of toasted-sesame oil.  Chili oil might also be nice for this.


Monday, November 19, 2012

FREE Printable: “Winter” Reading List (based on Five in a Row)

A long, LONG time ago, I posted a link to a printable “summer” reading list I’d made up based on Five in a Row (FIAR), a popular unit-studies curriculum for ages 4-8 based around classic picture books that generally emphasize good stories and wholesome values.  Took us a bit more than a summer to get through the books, but eventually we did it, which felt really good. 

I’ve wanted to do the same thing ever since then for the books in FIAR2, the second “level” of the curriculum (there is a little-kids version AND a “beyond” curriculum for older kids that generally covers only 1-2 novels per year instead of 20-some-odd picture books.  And now, at last, it’s done!

As much as I like the idea of FIAR, this list is my pragmatic nod to the fact that we have absolutely no time or space in our lives to fit in unit studies, and probably wouldn’t be good at them even if we tried.  However, if you’re inclined in that direction, I have heard from others online that the actual FIAR program itself is excellent, especially if you have a range of very young kids, who really enjoy reading the books over and over again…

But in any event, if you can’t or won’t do the full program, you can use my list just as a short, workable list of books to systematically “get through.”  This printable reading list has one page with all the titles and “greyed-out” covers, then one page with the covers in colour and the flags of the countries where each book is set.  For Babar, I used a cloud rather than a country’s flag, to show that it’s an imaginary setting – and yes, it’s annoying that so many of the books are set in the U.S…. but what can you do???  The flags from the first one are at right, just for contrast:

image image image

For extra fun, and perhaps a few nickels and dimes for me, every book title and cover image is clickable – it takes you through to a copy of the book on to help you find them easily.  If you’d prefer, you can just click here to be taken to my Amazon “store” (it’s just one page) to browse the books directly.

Also, though I’m calling this one the “winter” reading list and the last one the “summer” reading list, in truth, both include the same header in the PDF, with the following “cut-n-pasteable” titles. Just pick the one for the season you’re in, OR if you don’t want to commit to a particular time of year, just choose the bottom one, which just says “Our reading list.”  :-)


  • To download this and dozens of other General Studies printables, including science, art and music resources in Hebrew and English, Ambleside, composer and artist resources, click here.
  • For hundreds of Limudei Kodesh (Jewish) printables – including weekly parsha copywork and holiday resources, click here.

Enjoy!  As always, I’d love it if you left a comment, just to say “Hi!” or whatever…

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Note found at Random


Dear Mommy:

you cod have been a better person on friday.


Frankly, I find this a rather high standard.  If we were all to write such notes, even just to our own closest relatives, we’d have no time to do anything else.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Toldos Parsha Summary: The Two Different Babies

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash.  When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I  use the words “some people think” or something similar (find out why).  If you find these overviews helpful, or if there’s a typo, or something is confusing you or your kids, please don’t leave a comment.  Just don’t.  Whatever you do… don’t… comment.

Yaakov and Rivka are married now, but they aren’t perfectly happy…

There is something they want more than anything else in the world. They want a baby. Now, when we want something very much, what do we do? We daven! So what do Yaakov and Rivka do? Daven! They ask Hashem for a baby.

Hashem answers their tefillos. They are expecting a baby!

But Rivka thinks she must be having the strangest pregnancy in the history of the universe. Her belly is always wriggling. (Some say that when she passed by a yeshiva, her tummy would pull towards the yeshiva; when she passed by a beis avodah zarah (place of idol worship), her tummy would pull towards the beis avodah zarah.) Rivka has no idea what’s wrong, so she goes to ask Hashem. We think this means she asks a tzaddik – somebody like the navi Shem, Noach’s son.

Hashem tells Rivka, “You will have TWO babies – twins!”

More than that, though. He says, “One son will be a tzaddik. He will be the head of bnei Yisrael (the Jews). But one son will be a rasha. He will be an important leader of the non-Jewish nations (goyim). Eventually, those two babies are born, and BOY, are they different! The first baby looks hairy and red. They name him Aisav, from the word עשו/“asoo” – that means “made” – because he already looks grown up. Then, the second baby is born holding on to the first baby’s ankle or heel. The word for that part is עקב/”aikev” so they give him a name with those letters in it: Yaakov/יעקב.

And then… Those babies grow up! (the Torah sort of skips that part)

Yaakov is a tzaddik: always learning Torah and doing mitzvos. But Eisav grows up into a rasha: hunting animals and killing people. Rivka loves Yaakov best, but Yitzchak loves Eisav best, maybe thinking he’s a tzaddik, too.

image One day, Eisav comes home hungry from hunting.

Yaakov is busy cooking. (We think it was lentil soup, for a sad reason – lentil soup was served in those days to mourners. Rashi says Avraham had just died and Yaakov was cooking the lentils for Yitzchak.) Do you think Eisav, that murdering man, cares or even asks NICELY for a bowl of soup? Nope, he does not! He growls, “Give me some of that red, red stuff!” But Yaakov is clever. He knows Eisav doesn’t care about important things. So he says, “Sure! I’ll give you some soup if you give me your bechorah – your birthright.  I get the oldest-son bracha instead of you.” Eisav shrugs and growls, “Who needs it?” and takes the soup.

Do you remember in the parsha two weeks ago, when there was a famine?

Avraham went down to Mitzrayim to get food. Later on, we’ll read about Yaakov also going down to Mitzrayim during a famine. In this week’s parsha, there’s a famine, too… but Hashem tells Yitzchak, “Stick around. Don’t go to Mitzrayim.” Some people say Yitzchak was so special that Hashem wanted him to stay in eretz Yisrael his whole life. Hashem promises Yitzchak that even if he stays, he will have as many children and grandchildren as the stars in the sky.

Torah stories often remind us of things that have happened before.

Do you remember in last week’s parsha? Avimelech wanted to marry Sara because she was so beautiful… and he almost did, because Avraham said she was his sister! That happened one time before with Paroh. And now, Rivka is so beautiful that Yitzchak, afraid for his life, tells Avimelech she’s HIS sister. But Avimelech finds out and asks Yitzchak, “What have you done?” He knows how powerful Hashem is, and he orders his people to leave Yitzchak and Rivka alone.

Yitzchak lived near Avimelech for many years, raising sheep and growing wealthy…

Everyone around him gets very, VERY jealous. To raise animals or grow food, we need water. You might live somewhere where water is easy to get, but in the desert, it’s not easy. Long ago, Avraham dug wells, but now Yitzchak’s jealous neighbours fill them up with dirt so he can’t have any water! Every time he digs a new one, they fill it up again! Finally, he moves back to Be’er Sheva, where Avraham once lived, and there, at last, they leave him alone. Be’er actually means “well,” and sheva means “seven” – the city had that name before, but now it also means Yitzchak’s seventh well.

After many years, Yitzchak is very old – 123 years!

It’s time for him to “bensch” (bless) Yaakov and Eisav. He’s blind; some people say since the akeidah, but other people think Eisav’s bad wives did avodah zarah with smokey fires that ruined his eyes. Yitzchak wants to give Eisav the bracha. He sends Eisav out to hunt delicious meat for a meal, but Rivka thinks Yaakov deserves the bracha, so she quickly cooks meat, then covers Yaakov in hairy clothing and Eisav’s vest. “How did you get meat so quickly?” asks Yitzchak, when Yaakov arrives. “Hashem helped me,” says Yaakov. Yitzchak knows Eisav would never talk about Hashem! He says, “The voice is Yaakov’s voice, but these hairy hands are Eisav’s!” But he smells Eisav’s vest and gives the bracha.

Then Eisav comes home and finds out!

“No!!!” he shouts. “Give me a bracha, too, father!” Eisav now hates Yaakov more than ever; he’s furious! Rivka knows something terrible will happen if Yaakov stays, so she quickly packs his things to send him to her family in Charan. Yaakov says goodbye to his parents and runs off, and you’ll never guess what happens along the way…

Oh. We’re at the end. We’ll read more of Yaakov’s story in next week’s parsha…

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Crochet Projects on the go

I don’t want to inundate this blog with crochet projects… but on the other hand, I really do feel that crocheting complements our homeschooling, because it makes me less fidgety and better able to sit with the children and IGNORE them while they’re doing their work.  It sure beats moving across the room to use the computer, which – as any classroom teacher can tell you – is a recipe for inattentive kids (“heck, if the teacher’s not paying attention, why should we?”).

So while they work, I sit and crochet.  Today, while Naomi and I were doing school during GZ’s preschool class at a local recreation centre, I made these miniature turtles… here they are, frolicking in their bed of yarn.

DSC04440 (1024x768)

They took about 45 minutes each – would have been far less if I wasn’t actually helping Naomi with her work.

Then, later on this evening, a few “finishing up” type projects I’ve been putting off…

This hat was completely finished over the summer (June?) – and then I ran out of yarn just before I started the ribbed edging… and the yarn store was all out of the colour I needed.  Natch, I ordered it on eBay, and it arrived promptly, but by the time it got here, I’d started a million other projects and, well… here it is, November.

DSC04445 (768x1024)

I wanted something at the edge, and finally threw this little flower on.  Yes, it really is as asymmetrical as all that.  But then, it’s a gaudy pink variegated Pepto-Bismol flower… I think I like it simply because it’s like nothing I would ever actually wear, and yet now that I’ve made it – I might.

DSC04449 (1024x768) 

The colours look all wrong for November, but I’ve been told that warm weather will come again… eventually.

This weird teal cat hat was a special request for a friend of Elisheva’s:

rav DSC04432 (1024x768)rav DSC04433 (1024x768) 

I think she has a much bigger head than me, so I’m hoping it’ll look less goofy on her.  Elisheva seems pleased, in any event.  I’m kind of impressed with the texture of the hat itself – ignoring any cat-related thingamies I’ve sewn on.  It has a distinctively stretchy, non-crochet kind of feel to it.  Quick and easy to make, also.  Strange how so many crochet projects bill themselves as “not looking like crochet.”  Kind of like kosher food that advertises itself as “not tasting kosher.”

This was last week’s project…

DSC04391 (768x1024) DSC04390 (1024x768) DSC04388 (768x1024)

It’s a baby present for a friend in Israel.  I am very pleased with the facial expression; these are my best eyes ever, I think.  I found a good tutorial for doing baby-safe eyes with yarn knots – I’ve been using yarn knots all along, but these are the biggest and most expressive-looking so far, I think.

Two chunky bunnies I don’t like very much at all… I don’t know what I was thinking when I did the brown one and she brings down the blue one, which is actually kind of cute without her.  She turned out wider, and brown is totally the wrong colour for this project.  Plus, I was itching to use those doll eyes, which I bought months ago, but honestly, they’re too big for this project.  Yarn eyes would have been better here, for sure, or ordering the right sized ones on etsy.


Finally, I made these matching big-and-little lattice-pattern hats which I actually like very much.  The little one was sort of an accident; the pattern came out WAY too small, so I gave the hat to Naomi Rivka and made another one that I ended up giving to Elisheva… except when I find it lying around and wear it myself.  This grey is very nice; in certain lights, it looks almost blue.

DSC04292 DSC04279

Anyway, there you are.  One post, so you won’t be inundated with many many as I go along.  If you crochet and are at all interested in more pictures and/or links to patterns, please check out my Ravelry scene.

What have you been working on these days???

Monday, November 12, 2012

Picture Study Narration, and Classical Writing Primer review

While it seems to be a public holiday in some parts, around here, with two MORE field trips this week (sigh), we can’t really spare any time, so we’re hard at work – for a change.

These are the kids’ narrations for this painting, Mary Cassatt’s The Boating Party.  I typed them, so it went quickly.

DSC04411Gavriel Zev’s (his “sketch” of this painting is at right):

In the painting, I saw the sea was a little bit green. Two people were on a boat – just plain people, skinny people. One was a man and one was a woman. There was a baby, too. There was a city in the background and some was trees. I liked the painting because there was a lot of particular things. I didn’t like the people very much – they looked a little bit bad (like they weren’t well drawn).

DSC04409And Naomi Rivka’s – I typed hers, then had her copy out the shortest sentence, in keeping with the Well-Trained Mind approach to easing them into their own creative writing, using short passsages from their own narration (in addition to high-quality writing models):

In the painting, I saw three people in a boat – one was a baby, and two were adults: a lady and a man. The man was rowing the boat and the lady had the baby in her lap. In the background, there was a city, and one of the houses, I am going to draw in my narration. I would give this painting a B because it’s not perfect, because the sail has too much grey in it, but it’s good. The sea is greenish-bluish and it also looks like Jello. The sea around them is gentle in this painting because a lady wouldn’t bring out her baby if it was rough.

Here’s her picture:


The workbook we’re doing these with, by the way, is Classical Writing Primer (CW).  There are three different Primers available:  Fall, Winter, Spring.  Some people, I guess, do one per term all through the school year.  There are 12 lessons per book, making it perfect if you want to time it that way.  However, I bought the Spring primer last winter with the intention of doing one lesson every OTHER week through the spring and summer.  Well, we’re still on Lesson 8, which shows you how that’s going. 

I have been alternating between CW and First Language Lessons since the spring.  Naomi seems to like the book and generally views our time with it as a treat, even though some of the lessons seem pretty dry.

The format is standard throughout all three books:  each week is introduced with a “model” passage, like a poem or story excerpt or in some cases, a psalm or religious / patriotic song.  The four “days” within the “week” proceed as follows:  Day 1 - study story vocabulary & read from the ongoing longer book (Thornton Burgess’ Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse, which is free in the public domain), illustrate the story, copywork excerpt from this week’s “model,” short grammar exercise; Day 2 – nature study, sketch, copywork, grammar; Day 3 – Danny Meadow Mouse again, illustrate, copywork, grammar; Day 4 – picture study, illustrate, copywork, grammar.

I was drawn to this program because, although simple and perhaps tedious in its predictability, it’s a reasonably good way to make sure everything “gets done” – the basics of a Classical / Charlotte-Mason inspired education:  reading good writing, copywork, picture study, nature study.  Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d recommend these books mainly for Christian families who live in the U.S. (which, duh, is probably who they were written for in the first place).  While the Spring book includes a psalm, which was fine with me, I plan to substitute a more relevant model when we get to “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”  The other two volumes, both Fall and Winter, include Christian-themed passages that I decided we would avoid altogether, so Spring will likely be the end of our journey with this curriculum.

The workbook itself is $20-something on, but you can almost always find a decent coupon code which will bring down the price somewhat (between 25-40%).  Other resources available to go along with the Primer series are the “Helps” books, a $3 download, with tips and answers to the fill-in questions.  I haven’t used it much – I can usually tell if Naomi has punctuated her sentences right or whether she’s found a word that rhymes with “vale” or an antonym of “dry.”  Honestly, I can’t imagine any parent able to read the workbook text itself would have trouble figuring out the answers to any of the questions in the book.  But some parents might find this extra useful for the teaching tips.  There’s also a separate free PDF download with the pictures for Picture Study.  I usually just Google them and print them here while the kids are doing other schoolwork, but if you wanted, you could send the whole PDF out to be printed and then you’d be ready ahead of time.

This Primer series (which I pronounce with a long I – “PRY-mer” – but which I understand most people in the US pronounce “PRIM-mer,” is actually the prelude to a whole series of Classical Writing books from the publisher, based around the concept of the progymnasmata, which the website says is Greek for “preliminary exercises,” but honestly, could have been the inspiration for the phrase “it’s Greek to me.”  The word describes the 14 phases of oratory skill valued in Ancient Greece, progressing from the simplest (“Fable - retell a fable”) to the most complex (“Law - argue for or against a legislative proposal in general terms”). 

There are 8 levels to the CW program (starting with Aesop and Homer and going all the way on up to Demosthenes) but when I started looking through them, my eyes crossed.  For each level, there’s a Core Text, and then an Instructor’s Guide and Student Workbook for each half of the year-long program.  And I get the sense, from things other homeschoolers have said on the forums, that it is a VERY complicated program to implement.  I may be wrong… but I think I’m right.  I may be a Classical homeschooler at heart, but fighting with that impulse in my head are the words of Ruth Beechick pushing me ever closer towards simplicity.  For most kids, learning to read well isn’t hard; learning to write well isn’t hard.  Ironically, the qualities I like in the CW Primer: its simplicity and focus on the basics (reading, narration, nature, picture) seem to be completely missing from the advanced levels of this series.  So… no go.

For our next-level writing curriculum, I have actually already bought Susan Wise Bauer’s Writing With Ease Level 1 workbook.  I didn’t buy the Teacher’s Guide because I feel there’s enough intro and overview of the program in the workbook.  The workbook offers some of what our CW program does, with progressively more elaborate writing models throughout the book.  However, there is no Nature Study and no Picture Study, so I’ll have to go back to my slapdash way of providing these on my own.  There’s also nothing I’ve seen by way of continuity or longer readings ongoing throughout the book, so this is strictly a writing program.

The bigger question is… Do we need a writing program?  I’m still not 100% sure.  Generally, I figure if kids read, they’ll write.  But lately, having read some awful writing from people calling themselves professional writers (and who are probably avid readers themselves), I have started to think it honestly couldn’t hurt.

Do you use a writing program?  Do you love it?  Tell me about it… or maybe not.  I need another curriculum like I need another earring hole… which is not a bad metaphor, given that I have 13 earring holes (7 right; 5 left) and maybe 4 still work; the others, like curriculum purchased in fits of optimism, have closed up due to disuse.  But enough about me and my ears.  Tell me about great curriculum!

“Canning” pumpkin… the easy, freezy way!

When I say easy, I mean easy; domestic goddess, I am not these days.  Not even up to my usual, slovenly, standards.

But anyway – pumpkin.  I bought four biggish ones on November 1st for 99 cents each (up from 49 cents last year, and FREE the year before!), plus I found one BIG one this evening walking to my mother’s house (sitting at the curb, but it only had a couple of squirrel-bites out of it… and I figure the roasting takes care of any squirrelish germs; I hope I’m right!).

So here’s what you do:

  1. Open the top of the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds.  I generally throw away the cap, but you could roast it, too.  SAVE THE SEEDS!
  2. Slice the pumpkin almost all the way down on one side, then the other, then pull it apart with your bare hands – this is my “Incredible Hulk” moment, where I feel huge and powerful and furious… for a second, until the, um, fruit in my hands snaps apart easily.
  3. Use a metal spoon and scrape the “gunk” off the inside walls of the pumpkin.  Discard.
  4. Place face-down on a metal baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for an hour, or more (varies according to the size of your pumpkin), until a skewer poked into the outside wall penetrates the pumpkin half easily.  Baking it longer is actually better… the pumpkin caramelizes deliciously, turning golden-dark at the edges and draining a sticky syrup.  Remove from oven; cool until it’s safe to handle it.
  5. DSC04406Scrape it out – I use a great big wooden spoon known as The Spanker (tm).  Try not to nick the outer wall of the pumpkin.  I love the empty shells as they’re hollowed out – they look like crumpled up leather jackets; that awful orange leather they used to have in the 70s:
  6. Here’s the most important step:  DRAIN the pumpkin.  Pack it into a strainer and let it drain, as long as possible.  It may have lost a lot of liquid in roasting, but unless you’ve incinerated it, there’s lots more where that came from.  Drain, drain, drain.  Otherwise, you’ll get mostly pumpkin juice, which may be good on the dining table at Hogwarts, but doesn’t make such great pies.  As it is, commercial canned pumpkin is VERY dry.  You may still not want to risk making pies with your homemade pumpkin without boiling it down a bit.
  7. Once your pumpkin has drained, purée it – toss it, a bit at a time, into a food processor and whir until there are no bits left.  Nobody wants to bite into a lump of pumpkin.  Collect in a bowl and purée the next batch.  Continue all evening until all pumpkins are done (I do 2 at a time – more than that becomes hellish, as far as I’m concerned, but someone else might prefer to have it all done in one day/evening).
  8. DSC04405Get a tallish, thinnish measuring cup, so your baggies will slip right over the top.  That way, you can measure each baggie’s worth as you go.  Tap the bottom of the measuring cup a few times to make sure the pumpkin compacts all the way to the bottom.  I use just about 2 cups per baggie, because that’s what recipes seem to call for.
  9. Seal up the bags… and away you go, downstairs to the great big freezer!!!  Assuming no major interruptions to your electricity and a good, hard-working deep freezer, the pumpkin is good for at least eight months, and probably a year.   In a fridge-freezer, I’d probably want to use them up within 4-6 months.  In either case, you should check periodically to make sure they’re staying nice and frozen.  Keep them together in the freezer, if possible, so you don’t lose one and find it off in a corner, years later.

OH – final tip:  THE BAGGIES LEAK!  Especially cheap ones; all we had for these pictures were the expensive kind Ted’s family gives us.  Always thaw frozen baggies of pumpkin in a bowl in case of leakage.  This sometimes works in my favour, as the watery stuff runs out, leaving slightly denser, dryer pumpkin purée.

DSC04407Here’s an old post with a few more pictures, in case you’re utterly captivated at the thought of more quivering pumpkin goo.

So what can you (or I) do with 2 cups of frozen pumpkin???

  • Pumpkin soup (use any squash soup recipe, just slip in pumpkin – which is a KIND of squash, after all)
  • Pumpkin challah
  • Pumpkin kugel
  • Pumpkin spice cake
  • Pumpkin ravioli – mix with ricotta and fill homemade pasta, or pipe creamy mixture into store-bought canneloni
  • Pumpkin pie (here’s a pareve one!), or… kick it up a notch with cream cheese and you’ve got…
  • Pumpkin cheesecake (secretly, I don’t love pumpkin pie)
  • Pumpkin noodles
  • Pumpkin gnocchi
  • Pumpkin pancakes (popular in the Caribbean, says one friend)
  • Pumpkin latkes (kinda like pancakes – shhh…)
  • Pumpkin muffins (made these ones last week)
  • Pumpkin butter (don’t worry; it’s pareve)
  • Pumpkin / ginger hamentashen
  • Pumpkin risotto (or these pastries filled with it)
  • Mmm… here’s a new one from Couldn’t be Parve:  Pumpkin Doughnuts!

How do you use canned / frozen pumpkin???

Hate Note

Just dumped out my miscellaneous camera contents to prepare for a post on “canning” pumpkin (in the freezer).  And I turned up this one more photo that shows the sheer zany cuteness of my 5-year-old… he got angry with me one day this week and scrawled this adorable missive in his fury:



A moment after I took the picture, he decided that even the note didn’t express how angry he was, and he crumpled it up and threw it away.  I have a facebook friend who’s always sharing pics of the adorable things her children have written and made for her… me, I get hate mail. 

(but – on the bright side! - did you notice that his handwriting is totally improving???)

Sigh.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah… pumpkins.

Word Search with Lucy

Came across this scene with GZ’s leopard, Lucy, doing a word search:


Surprisingly, she was having a great deal of success…


Is this cheating, or creativity???

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Menu Plan Monday: 27 Cheshvan, 5773 – fill-in-the-blanks edition


Why the weird dates? Click here to find out! 

Welcome!  We’re an Israel-bound (next summer) homeschooling Jewish family of 6 (2 parents, 2 teens, 2 littles) and all our meals are kosher.  Read my MPM intro here or just visit my big ol’ list of Everything We Eat.  We eat mostly vegetarian, kinda frugal, not always super-healthy, but in better, more organized periods of our lives, try to include one vegan meal every single week – on Vegan Vursday, of course!


Sunday (Today):  Tuna-Noodle Casserole @ Mommy’s House – anything I don’t have to cook is Yummmmmmy!

Monday:  Perogies, Mashpo & Peas – almost entirely from the freezer – yay!

Tuesday:  Bread and Hearty _____ Soup – I’m giving myself a break and plopping this in here as a TBD… I’ll plan WHICH bread and WHICH soup later on.

Wednesday:  Moroccan Meatballs and Fruity Couscous

Thursday:  Pasta with ______ – creamy, something of some sort?

Okay, it may not look like much, but I am hoping planning menus again will help me out of this massive overwhelming slump… anyone want to offer ideas for what kind of bread?  Soup?  Pasta??? 

Help me fill in the blanks – and maybe inspire yourself along the way!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Chayei Sara Parsha Summary: Two Great Women

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash.  When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I  use the words “some people think” or something similar (find out why).  If you find these overviews helpful, or if there’s a typo, or something is confusing you or your kids, I’d love to hear from you.  Pwitty Pweez?

Avraham and Sara were very old by now…!

At the end of last week’s parsha, a malach stops Avraham at the last second from killing Yitzchak. This week, the parsha starts by telling us that, Sara died – left to be with Hashem in shomayim. Some people say she actually died from hearing that Avraham had brought Yitzchak for a korban. Other people, though, think she lived for years afterwards. When she dies, the Torah says her age strangely – instead of saying, “she was one hundred and twenty-seven,” it says she “was one hundred and twenty and seven.” Some say that means even though she was over 100, she was as innocent as a twenty-year-old and as beautiful as a seven-year old. One story about Sara is that when she was alive, her Shabbos candles stayed lit all week long, filling the tent with joy.

Have you ever been to a levaya (a Jewish funeral)? It’s a very sad and solemn time.

Somebody usually stands up and talks about the person who’s died. That’s a hesped – in English, a eulogy. Sara is the first person to ever have one. Avraham stands up, weeping, and talks about her, how hard she worked, how he’ll miss her. At a levaya, we bury the dead person’s body – where would Avraham bury Sara? Nearby is a field with a cave. The field belongs to a man named Efron. “Please,” Avraham begs. “Sell me this field so I may bury my beloved wife.” Efron says, “Take the field – it’s yours. Have it for free.” But Avraham hesitates. He wants to pay, so nobody can ever say it isn’t his. Plus, he knows Efron might cheat him, so he asks again how much money he should pay. Eventually, Efron says, “Four hundred shekels.” That’s a LOT of money! But Avraham pays him as much as he’s asked, and buries Sara there.

That was a very special cave – called Me’aras Hamachpeilah, the Cave of Doubles.

Why did Avraham pay so much money for a field with a hole in it??? Some people say he could smell something special, deep within the cave – the smell of Gan Eiden, because Adam and Chava were buried there. One reason it’s called Me’aras Hamachpeilah is because the two of them, plus all of our avos and imahos (ancestors) except Rachel, would eventually be buried there. If you remember the parshiyos from last year, can you name all the doubles? (Adam & Chava, Avraham & Sara, Yitzchak & Rivka, Yaakov & Leah – oh, and maybe the head of Eisav!) To this day, we still know where it’s located, near Chevron in the city of Kiryat Arba. Many people will go there to daven this week for parshas Chayei Sara!

Now, Avraham is alone with his servant, and he had a problem.

Yitzchak has no wife, and he’s still mourning Sara’s death. Everybody around them is doing avodah zarah and Avraham wants a wife for Yitzchak who will help him create a proper home. So he calls his servant, Eliezer, and sends him to the city where his brother lives. When he arrives, Eliezer doesn’t know how he’ll know if he’s found the right woman, so he makes up a test. He says to himself, “I’ll wait here until the girls come out to get water from the well. If a woman says to me, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels to drink,’ then I will know she’s a perfect tzadekes, the right wife for Yitzchak.” The minute he finishes, a beautiful young woman comes out and opens the well to draw water. Seeing Eliezer, a stranger, she says, “Drink, and I will also give your camels to drink.” And she does – all ten of the camels. Do you know how much a camel can drink? That’s a LOT of water. Eliezer is amazed! Her name is Rivka, and he gives her jewellery, then follows her to her home, where he tells his story to her father, Besuel (this is the son of Avraham’s brother Nachor), and brother, Lavan. They ask Rivka, “Do you want to go marry this man, Yitzchak?” She agrees.

Things were different in those days: she’s never seen Yitzchak in her life, but still agrees to marry him!

At the end of her long journey, Rivka, riding on a camel, comes close to where Avraham lives and sees Yitzchak out in the field, davening Mincha; she knows there’s something special about him. “Who’s that man walking in the field?” she asks. “That is my master, Yitzchak.” She covers up her face. After they’re married, Rivka lives in Sara’s tent, such a tzadekes, they say, that her candles stayed lit, brightening the tent all week long. And Yitzchak begins to feel less sad at last.

After Yitzchak is married, Avraham, too, finds a wife.

The Torah says he marries a woman named Keturah, but many people, like Rashi, say this is just a different name for Hagar, the Mitzri wife Sara sent away in last week’s parsha. It’s easier for men to have babies when they are old, and Avraham has six more sons with Keturah before he dies at 175 years of age. But the parsha says something interesting: “All that he had he gave to Yitzchak.” Yet in the very next line, it says that to his other sons, “Avraham gave gifts.”

What gifts could he give them, if he’d already given “all that he had” to Yitzchak???

At the start of Avraham’s journey, Hashem promised him a land, and children; He said Avraham would become a “bracha” – a blesser, filling the world with Hashem’s message. Avraham was a wealthy man, with lots of servants and donkeys and gold and silver. That was the “stuff” he gave to these six new sons and to Yishmael, his son with Hagar. What he gave Yitzchak was BETTER than gold and silver: those promises, and the bracha – the idea that wherever he went in the world, he would spread bracha and Hashem’s light. Avraham passed those things on to Yitzchak, who would pass them on to his son – or at least, to ONE of his sons, as we’ll see in next week’s parsha…

Have a great week!!!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Vayeira Parsha Summary: The Message of Malachim

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash.  When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I  use the words “some people think” or something similar (find out why).  If you find these overviews helpful, or if there’s a typo, or something is confusing you or your kids, I’d love to hear from you.  Really truly! 

imageThis week’s parsha starts outdoors on a VERY hot day…

Avraham has had his bris milah at 99 years old! Now he and Sara have new names (do you remember the old ones?). He’s imagefeeling terrible three days later, but he sits outside to make sure no travellers get stuck out in the heat. Welcoming guests – hachnasas orchim – was so important to Avraham & Sara that some people think their tent had four doors to invite people from every direction! And guess what? Avraham sees three guests, coming across that hot, hot sand!

Sometimes, old people walk very slowly because it’s difficult. But not Avraham!

He jumps up, runs over to the men and bows low. “Please,” he begs, “come have water, and some crumbs of bread; rest beneath my tree.” They agreed. What did Avraham offer? Not much at all. Water… and bread. Not even a good meal.

imageBut then he gives them much, much more than he’d promised.

He runs to Sara (she was 89!). “Quick – knead the finest flour to make cakes for our guests!” While she’s baking, he runs to prepare the best foods – creamy milk to drink and meat from a tender young calf. (Do we have milk at a meat meal? But the Torah mentions milk before meat; in those days, people could have them in that order.) What an amazing meal!

What Avraham doesn’t know is that they’re not ordinary visitors…

They look like three normal men. They even pretend to eat! But they’re really malachim (angels), messengers of Hashem who perform only one job each. One of them (some say he was named Michael) delivers a message: “Sara will have a baby next year.” He leaves; the other two keep going to the city of S’dom (we’ll find out why soon).

imageNow: picture the oldest woman you have ever seen. And imagine her with a brand-new baby!

You might laugh thinking of an 89-year-old lady having a baby – anyway, that’s what Sara does. But Hashem can make anything happen, so when that baby is born later on, he’ll be called Yitzchak, from the Hebrew word l’tzacheik – to laugh.

One of the malachim has a terrible job to do – destroying the city of S’dom.

The people of S’dom were terrible! They treated strangers most cruelly, murdering people and not caring about one another. Avraham goes with the malachim and begs them to save the city. “Maybe I can find fifty good people in the city!” Hashem says he will save it if Avraham can, but Avraham looks and looks… and there aren’t fifty, or forty-five, or forty, or thirty, or twenty or even ten good people. So the city must be destroyed. But Avraham’s nephew Lot is living in S’dom. He and his family aren’t as good as Avraham, and they don’t stop bad people around them, but Avraham is so holy (Do you remember what holy means? Special to Hashem!), that the second malach, Refael, rescues him. He says, “Run away with your family! Don’t ever look back!” Then, the third malach, Gavriel, does his job: he destroys the city.

But Lot’s wife doesn’t listen. She looks back while the city burns – and is quickly punished.

She turns into a crusty, rusty pillar of salt! In fact, today, near where S’dom used to be, there’s so much salt that the Yam HaMelach (the Salt Sea; in English, the Dead Sea, because nothing can live in it) is one of the saltiest places on Earth. The water is so salty that you can’t even sink while you’re swimming in it! (It’s also the lowest place on earth.)

imageRemember in last week’s parsha, when Avraham and Sara met Paroh?

Avraham worried that Paroh would kill him and marry Sara, so he said Sara was his sister. But now, guess what? Same thing with another king! In Grar, in the south of Israel, Avraham tells a powerful king named Avimelech that Sara is his sister. Avimelech is about to marry her when a plague strikes. In a dream, he learns who she really is. Just like Paroh, Avimelech begs Avraham to take Sara and leave in peace, giving Avraham gifts of animals and servants before he goes. Avraham is getting to be wealthy and powerful – and his neighbours are learning how Hashem protects His people.

imageIn last week’s parsha, Avraham married Hagar and had his first son – Yishmael.

A year after the malach’s promise, Sara and Avraham have a son – a boy named Yitzchak. Yitzchak grows up, much loved, but Yishmael, now 14, is a terrible influence. Sara finally sends Hagar and Yishmael away to the desert, where Yishmael almost dies – stumbling, sick and thirsty, over the sand. Luckily, Hagar and Yishmael do teshuvah and Hashem makes a well of water appear. They survive and live long lives – far away from Sara and Yitzchak.

Many years pass… and Yitzchak grows up.

Now, Hashem calls to Avraham with the most difficult of his ten tests: “Avraham, bring your son Yitzchak as a korban for me.” How old was Yitzchak? The Torah doesn’t say. Some people think 37, others, 13. He’s not a baby, though, and when Avraham says, “let’s take firewood and a knife and go for a walk,” he figures out what’s happening. Avraham tells Yitzchak that Hashem will send a lamb for a korban, but they both know that Yitzchak is the korban – and they walk up Har Hamoriya togerther. Yitzchak isn’t afraid to do what Hashem asks, and he lets Avraham tie him up. But just as Avraham raises the knife to kill Yitzchak… another malach (some people think it was Tzadkiel) calls out, “Avraham! Avraham! Don’t hurt the boy – you have passed the test; you listened to Hashem.” Avraham looks up to see a ram caught in a bush. The ram becomes the korban instead (do you remember what we use rams’ horns for to this day?) and Avraham goes home with Yitzchak. But as we’ll find out in next week’s parsha, not everybody lives happily ever after…