The Holidays Are Here!

I know that I am probably supposed to be the curmudgeonly Jew who reluctantly put up with the season of American excess and bacchanalia and is breathlessly grateful when New Years signals it’s completion and a return to normal American consumerism.

Yeah, that’s what I guiltily expect of myself as well.

But I have a confession to make and I might as well make it here and now while I still have your attention.


There, I’ve said it.

I get onto the bandwagon the first of November and ride the Turkey bus through Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving! I like to make pilgrim hat place cards, search endlessly for recipes I’d like to try (even though I always make the same thing the same way year after year), watch the Macy’s parade with Evan and, of course, our traditional viewing of the quintessential Thanksgiving movie – Home for the Holidays!

I just love it.

Maybe because I don’t celebrate Christmas I just sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds and fun of the season. I love the tv cooking shows – I am especially addicted to all the Unwrapped shows where Marc Sommers goes and tells us how candy canes and turduckens are made. I like the kitschy Christmas movies like The Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to watching White Christmas and Christmas in Connecticut a few times every year.

I certainly have my Hanukah but I also am well aware of the nature of the celebration. It’s a small holiday in comparison to our High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippor or even the fun and very festive holiday of Purim that most American Jews just ignore sadly.

I decorate a little and we light our own chanukiot and exchange small gifts. I make latkes and other special food items because for me, its a great time to try out all kinds of new recipes (even though I always go back to the old standbys like a good brisket!) I buy donuts and we play dreidel.

Christmas comes and finds me like it does countless other American Jews with a plate of Chinese food and a movie in front of me. I can’t say I am not bound by tradition now can I?

The holidays wrap up on New Years Eve when we have another big party for our little family with cocktail food and punch as we watch more tv and then race to see who can be the first to bed before the New Year.

It’s a great season for me. I am too poor to really be able to spend money on gifts like I was once able to so I sit now and knit presents that I think are cool and definitely made with love. I plan how to make Hanukah sparkle with homemade and dollar store decorations that Evan and I can make together. I stick cloves into oranges and I bake cookies while the snow flies outside.

It’s a nice time and a time I really enjoy.

So there…you have it. My confession.

No, I am not all of a sudden pulling a big, Griswald-sized Christmas tree into the living room. And no, I am not planning a trip to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap to whisper what I’d like under my menorah while perched on his lap.

What I AM doing is just enjoying each day as it comes and enjoying a time of year that is going to happen whether I welcome it or not. I have great memories of Christmases from when I was young. I can’t deny that now that I am a Jew. I don’t think it would be healthy TO deny that.

So I am embracing everything I am. The little girl who still has that look of wonder at the shiny lights and sparkly tinsel all around and the grown up girl who knows her boundaries and can still enjoy it all for what it is.

Pretzel Challah

I don’t have much time today because I am busy making challah! Today I am pretzelling four of the eigt loaves I am making. Who thought it could be so easy!

In short, make your bread product as you normally do. I admit I use prefab bread and thaw it out to make my challah. In this case, I let it get soft and then cut it into loaf sizes and then strip sizes and then braid it into the final presentation.

Here comes the magic!

Boil 1/2C water. Stir in 1.5 t of baking soda once the water has boiled. It will fizz and bubble. Take it off the heat. Take a brush and brush your bread product with the baking soda mixture.


Make sure you get all the nooks and crannies. If you want finish with an egg wash for a nice brown, shiny crust. Bake as you normally would ūüôā

Added: the children pronounced it “good! It tastes like a pretzel!” which is certainly high praise! Then they split the loaf in half, each taking half, and scurried back to their lairs.

Try it!


Right on schedule, wintertime started in western Pennsylvania, and here in the Mon Valley on Halloween, and with it came heavy, bilowy, grey clouds that threatened rain and snow, colder temperatures and a biting wind.  More so than even the Christmas baccanalia that fills the stores this time of year, the weather really signals winter has come.

A week ago we thought temperatures that kissed the 40sF were cold.  Today, that has all changed and we wait for the 20sF because those will surely come and the gloves and hats and winter coats have come out and repairs have been made, what needs washed has been tossed into the dryer and we are pronounced ready for the inevitable.

Sure, it could get warm again and most likely will. ¬†But this coldness which caused us to turn on the heat, and hence the rule that the heat won’t be turned on until November 1, has come right on time.

It’s funny how we often wait a long time for winter to finally give way to spring which is cpaxed to give way to summer. ¬†Fall is standing at the ready with leaves that start to turn in early August regrettably. ¬†But winter, winter seems to come right on time. ¬†And even though summer can peek through occasionally causing oddly warm Thanksgivings or Hanukkah nights when warm strolls in the neighborhood seem more appropriate than the winter evenings I remember when we stood in knee deep snow to screw the lightbulbs into the chanukia in front of the synagogue on Main Street.

Yes, winter is here and won’t be letting us forget here until sometime in March or maybe even April if she decides to overstay her welcome. For me it’s a good time, a warm time and I know a lot of folks don’t feel the same way. ¬†It’s a time to bake cookies and think about warm, nights filled with family and knitting and soup-filled tummies inside a warm home looking from the inside out at the cold, frosty night.

Wintertime has come.



Good Eats? Then Why Am I So Offended??

Cooking is like an art to me…a form of self expression. ¬†I collect cookbooks and recipes. ¬†I pore through them and pick and choose things that I think my family will not only like but will also EAT. ¬†In short, I really enjoy not only the process of cooking but I think what I enjoy most is the CHALLENGE of cooking.

I admit I am a big cookie artist. ¬†I love to find all sorts of different kinds of cookies to make. ¬†I recently started to feel the same way about basically any kind of cooking I am doing. ¬†And to me, it’s so much of an art that I also get really offended when the family turns its collective nose up at what I have worked so hard to produce.

Every night for me is like Cupcake Wars with real food!

And it’s hard to even figure what they’ll accept or reject. ¬†Take for example Sloppy Joes ¬†– REJECT! ¬†In fact, one of the children asked where were the noodles for the spaghetti sauce, very clearly missing the hotdog buns (I think they create less messy Joes) set beside the plates. ¬†He also missed the plates and got another one instead – yeah, the “children” are 21 and 29, respectively, but please, bear with me.

Tonight I made lemon chicken with sweet and sticky green beans and rice.  I even made the effort to make applesauce raisin bars for dessert.  Not even touched.  Last night I made them cheeseburger macaroni from scratch with Velveeta and most of ended up in the fridge.

I was crushed both times.

Last week, I went on strike and proclaimed for all to hear that I wouldn’t be making any NEW food OR cookies until all the leftovers STOPPED. ¬†I stopped making human sized portions too and stuck to child sized fare so there really wasn’t a lot to eat anyway and it was all first come, first served.

But now, I realize that I do get really offended when they reject what I make. ¬†Even the easy stuff. ¬†I mean, what am I supposed to do? ¬†I can’t even judge based on past experience what they will eat or won’t eat and I’m pretty much stuck making Happy Meal sized portions for a family of four adults for the forseeable future.

It gets even worse because I feel compelled to EAT this stuff when I prefer food I know they won’t even touch. ¬†Like chumus or falafel or vegetables or an apple. ¬†You get the picture.

Which brings me to my two evil confessions. ¬†First, yes, I hide food that I want to eat. ¬†Why? ¬†Because they are like locusts here. ¬†If I would put out a bag of tortilla chips that would take me a month to eat with salsa on the side as a snack….I’d never see them. ¬†So yes, I have a stash. ¬†And the second thing is I dole out cookies on a need to eat basis. ¬†I realized they were wolfing down my hard work like dime a dozen Dollar Tree cookies and so now I put out about half a dozen at a time. ¬†Is it mean? ¬†Probably but I felt so hurt that my hard work was eaten with such little regard. ¬†And I proved it, too, when I got them 3 dozen cookies for $0.99 from Aldis and they were gone in a day. ¬†About the same as it took them to inhale mine. ¬†So I don’t feel too badly about my evildoing.

It’s just all so difficult. How do you feed a pack of people like this? ¬†You can’t tell what they like (other than chocolate chip cookies from ANYWHERE) and you never know when or what they’ll eat.

So what do I do?  Any ideas?

I bought a head of cauliflower and tomorrow I am making Buffalo Cauliflower Bites with it. ¬†No one in this house will even go near it and I don’t even want them to.

They can have leftovers and believe me, there are a lot this week! ¬†They’re all made with good food from top notch recipes and you can take it from me, I worked hard to make them all. ¬†On second thought, maybe I SHOULDN’T complain OR be offended.

I’m getting quite a few nights off from cooking!

Memories – Tic Tacs, Velveeta and Baseball

I spent every summer with my grandmother to the point that a lot of my childhood memories revolve around the things that we did together and the memories I have of her.

I remember the blankets on the beds – blue flowery bankets edged in teal satin. ¬†Her perfume – that dark brown, “grandmother” perfum from Estee Lauder called (interestingly) Youth Dew. ¬†Her Adorn hairspray. ¬†The aluminum gliders on the porch. ¬†Fireflies in the twilight. ¬†The tree in the back yard. ¬†The peonies in the front yard. ¬†How she would sneak a cigarette on the back porch while my grandfather was working in his study. ¬†Laundry day and the laundry chute. ¬†Sewing with her in the basement. ¬†The way the books in the basement smelled and being scared of what really was behind THAT wooden door down there!

She, my grandfather and I would sit on their bed and watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play baseball on KDKA every night they were on. ¬†If they weren’t on we would listen to them on the radio and if it was a really special night, we would go INTO Pittsburgh to see the game at Three Rivers Stadium! ¬†I loved each of those nights and love the Buccos to this day! ¬†I can still hear her kvell about her favourite players. ¬†When I was an exchange student in New Zealand the Pirates made it to the World Series and not only did my grandmother send me Heinz ketchup that year but she also send me all kinds of Pirate memorabilia that was in all of the stores so I wouldn’t miss out.

She was a home ec teacher and taught school for 30 years before she retired. ¬†My dad decided to take bartending school in Pittsburgh so while he would be in school, my grandmother would teach me to sew. ¬†I made a really geeky polyester outfit but the time we spent together making it remains priceless. I wish I had a sewing machine even now because I love sewing that much. ¬†When I was little and lived with her before my mom married my dad, my grandmother not only dyed her own shoes…she also made all of her own clothes. ¬†That’s some serious respect you’re seeing from over here!

I still have her teaching cookbook which I use a lot.  Her favorite recipes are marked in it.

One thing though she couldn’t stand were vegetables and the way she choked them down was copious quantities of Velveeta melted on them. ¬†I was basically starved at home since my parents were never there and school lunch was our only meal most of the time so this delicacy of Velveeta and broccoli or french cut green beans was like nectar!

And as far as I was concerned, her only really bad habit was her smoking.  I think because of it I can jokingly say she became addicted to Tic Tacs.  I know now that when I pop one in my mouth, that sweet vanilla mint outer coating makes me think immediately of her.  The smell of Youth Dew wafts around me and my grandmother is right there again.

I hope she knows how many memories she gave me and how very much I miss her. ¬†She is so much a part of who I am and tehe person I have become…more so I think than even my mother.

Tic tacs, velveeta, baseball and everything.



The Happy Migraineur: Homemade Icepacks!!!

My migraines, as I have said before, are epic. ¬†They are triggered by weather, hormones, food, wine, stress…life.

I’d had headaches when I was younger but nothing like the ones I have had since I had The Boy 21 years ago. ¬†That first real migraine, or at least the first one I knew, without a doubt, was a migraine, was killer. ¬†I thought I’d die. ¬†The only thing I wanted was a cold room and complete and utter darkness.

As I told Scott yesterday, I had a headache but compared to my migraines it was just a nuisance and not even worth tylenol.  Usually I know when the migraine is on the attack.  It starts either on the left side of my head or the right side in the back at the base of my skull.  Then it spreads like an tsunami all over my skull from one side to the other and from front to back.  I sometimes get an aura and sometimes I just KNOW that this one is THE one and start to batten down the hatches.

My first line of attack is to either do nothing or to take tylenol if I think it could help.  Then I drink a hot cup of tea.  My neuro told me that caffeine and the pain reliever mixed together work better.  He said sometimes even caffeine can stop the migraine attack but I find it works better with tylenol.

Next, I eat a popsicle and get an ice pack which is what this post is about.  The
ice pack.

I find that most ice packs are too hard or don’t conform to the parts of my head or neck that I need when the migraine is on the attack. ¬†So what is a migraineur to do?

Enter the homemade ice pack!!!

I took a Ziploc freezer bag with the sliding zipper (I recommend a genuine, authentic, freezer Ziploc – mainly to limit the possibilities of leakage but your mileage may vary) and filled it with corn syrup until I had a flat layer about 1/4″ thick. ¬†Then I put the bag into the freezer.

This is where the icepack gets cool.

It didn’t freeze solid but kept a very elastic property. ¬†Even frozen it was very pliable. ¬†When I used it, it stayed at a great temperature for about 20 minutes which is how long doctors recommend you ice something like your wrist, ankle or head.

It’s better at molding to whatever you’re freezing than peas and doesn’t drip like a pea package does. ¬†

To make this short and sweet (ha!), it’s a perfect way to apply cold to an area and have it really mold to the area and provide a better administration.

Now, there are some cool things you can do.  You can put little floatables in the corn syrup like glitter.  You can color it with food coloring.  You could draw on the bag with Sharpies.  Basically you can make it your own.  It would actually be a good activity for the Littles and though I might give it a whirl, you MAY be able to use ziploc snack size bags to make smaller size ice packs.  Either way, they are portable in a small cooler and great for the boos that could happen at, say, Miracle League games or at the playground.

The best part?  No toxic chemicals on the inside to poison anyone and make them sick.  

For me, they are great to put under my head and neck when I lie down.  I can cover my forehead and head with them.  In short, I absolutely adore them!

So let me know what you think.  Try them out and see how they work for you and then leave a comment!!!