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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Chris' LiveJournal:

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Saturday, December 13th, 2014
2:40 pm
D'var Torah -- Parshat Vayeshev 5775 -- my adult bat mitzvah

Did Judah always know, deep in his heart, that Er was no good? Did he love him anyway, his firstborn son? Did he hope that marriage to Tamar, clever, modest, stately as a palm tree, would somehow fix things?

Did Tamar marry in hope, in laughter, in bridal finery? Did Er's brothers joke with him on his way to the marriage bed? Did Judah look forward to grandchildren and was Tamar eager to become a mother?

And then, instead of a pregnancy, a death. Did it crush Judah's heart in a vise? Did he flash back to Jacob, inconsolable, saying “I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son”? Did Judah and Tamar mourn together?

But there was hope of consolation, in law and custom. Er's brother should raise up seed for him. Another marriage bed, and another hope. But Onan was too proud and stubborn, and he died too.

What next? Shelah must now perpetuate the name of Er – the name of Judah – but he is all Judah has left. If he dies too, Judah will have nothing. So Judah plays for time, sending Tamar back to the home of her girlhood, where she lives as a widow, waiting for Shelah.

What was that like, being back in the home that she left with such expectations, but now unmarried and unmarriageable? She would watch and wait, seeing Shelah grow to manhood, unable to leave. She would understand Judah's reluctance. How could he marry his only living child to the woman who buried his first two sons?

When did Tamar see the way to break the stalemate? When bat Shua died and Judah, too, was widowed? When they told her “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah, to the sheep shearing”? Fall shearing, harvest time, celebration of growth and fertility, and time of the festival prostitutes.

What was it like that morning, taking off her widow's garments? Putting on something younger, prettier, newer, nicer? Putting on a veil, hiding the face that everyone knew as the face of the daughter come home, twice a widow?

She sat down, in the open place by the road, and waited for Judah. Did she spy first, to make sure he was the next one coming? Were there others walking on the track to Timnah? Did she say no to someone, before Judah came along? Did it feel good, to be able to say no?

And when Judah came by, did she look straight at him over her veil? Was she bold, or coy? Perhaps even playful? When he asked “please let me come to you”, wanting her as a woman, the man who had sent her back to be a daughter, how did that feel?

And how did it feel to bargain with him, to ask “what will you give me?” To get his seal, so that if she gets the child she hopes for, she can prove its parentage and her justification.

Did they lie there by the side of the road? In the grass, in the bushes, did they find somewhere comfortable? Was their joining hasty, tender, joyful, a release? Was there connection despite the masquerade?

And Tamar stood up and went away, took off the veil and put on her widow's garments again, and waited. Waited to see if it had worked, if she would be set free. Waited for for her belly to round out, waited for the whispers and accusations. “Tamar has been wanton, look, she is even pregnant from wantonness!” She waited until she was taken out to be burned.

And then, so gently, so circumspectly, she said “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong.” What was it like, those heartbeats, while she waited to hear whether he would own up to it? Could she breathe? Could she think? Has there ever been a sigh of relief, a glow of quiet vindication, greater than Tamar's when Judah said “she is more righteous than I?”

“And he did not continue to know her.” Certainly not carnally. But beyond that, could he look her in the eye, after sending her to be burned for a harlot, when it was his seed that she carried, his line that she had saved? I hope he could. I hope somehow they became, if not friends, then family. I hope Judah was a proud father once again, a father of sons named “Outburst” and “Shining”, the children of Tamar's shining outburst.

Saturday, June 28th, 2014
1:27 pm
Seven Layer Cake 2014
This year I made a seven layer cake for Michelle and Rebecca's birthday party.  Layers = 1 recipe of Gil Marks's dobostorte made in heavy cookie sheets lines with buttered foil.  Cool, wrap tightly in foil and plastic wrap, and freeze overnight.  The next day, trim off 1 inch all around and quarter the layers.  Rewrap and freeze until needed.  Filling = egg white chocolate buttercream from Cake Bible.  Made 2x what was needed, use half recipe next time.  Outer frosting = Chocolate Fudge Frosting from Betty Crocker's Cake Decorating.  Again 2x too much.  But also Harold says the frosting was still not much like Ronnie's.  Suggests the next thing to try is straightforward butter + confectioner's sugar + cocoa powder.
Monday, July 1st, 2013
11:33 am
Trip Report: Summer Road Trip 2013
It's so good to be home!  I'm enjoying the waterbed, sleeping more than 20 feet from the girls, my own car, reusable grocery bags, recycling, and composting.  It was great to step out of SFO into cool evening air -- we've been having warm, humid, and sometimes rainy for two weeks.  I know it's been hot here, but it's *our* heat!  We got in late last night, and Michelle is sleeping it off on the sofa.
It was a fantastic trip!  We drove 1600 miles through PA, NJ, NY, VT, NH, ME, MA, CT, and RI.
High points: wildflowers a-plenty, and different ones than we see at home; my parents' moving 50th anniversary observance; imagining all the hard work on the Wilder homestead; seeing poutine on menus and bilingual English-French signs up near the Canadian border;  Vermont scenery; peaceful nature and critters at Sapsucker Woods; chipmunks and fawns and ponies and bunnies; fireflies; happy girls in the surf in Ocean City; great meal at Downbeach Deli in Margate -- a real-deal Jewish deli, what Saul's in Berkeley tries to be but doesn't quite manage; awesome lobster roll in Maine; lots of relatives, including meeting my delightful great-aunt Helen for the first time; my daughters piping up, articulate and from the heart, when comments were invited at the unveiling of their great-great-aunt Mildred's gravestone, and again at my parents' celebration; dinosaur footprints; the girls excited and knowledgable being shown a snake at the Dinosaur Park visitor's center  (Rebecca didn't want to touch it -- because they were going to make her use hand sanitizer afterward.  It had nothing to do with the snake 8^); reading some of Laura Ingalls Wilder's non-Little House works; black raspberry ice cream; super-knowledgeable living history workers at Plimoth Plantation
Lowlights: Rebecca sick for a couple of days; girls squabbling over beds and the iPad
Disappointments: missing the Vermont Country Store, and King Arthur Flour; NO MOOSE!
Useful discoveries: we can download audiobooks free from our library!  Because the rental car had an aux input and a fader, we were able, using a cheap cable from Radio Shack, to play them on the car soudn system, louder in back than in front.  Win!  Residence Inn has 2-bedroom suites; with a sofa bed in the living room, we could have the girls sleeping in separate rooms, which is by far the best arrangement -- they don't squabble and squawk for an hour before going to sleep at night, and Rebecca doesn't wake Michelle in the morning.
This was a very fast-moving trip -- we went to every state in New England so Harold could work on his life list of US sates visited -- he now has only Alaska to go.  I would love to go back and spend a whole week in Vermont, which was lovely and went by too fast.  I would spend some time getting out in nature (and maybe seeking moose).  A week around Boston for some of this historical sites (especially a longer visit to Plimoth Plantation) would be great, too.  But this was a very fine vacation, and I'm very happy to be home.

Current Mood: content
Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
9:45 am
Tom Kha Gai Recipe

I combined information from the recipes at http://anurbancottage.blogspot.com/2011/11/tom-ka-soup.html and http://shesimmers.com/2010/11/tom-kha-gai-recipe-tutorial-for.html

Everyone liked it, and the little girls even exclaimed over how wonderful it was, so, a real success.

Tom Kha Gai

1 quart chicken broth

2-3 slices galangal

4, 1.5” segments lemon grass

(4-5 kaffir lime leaves – I didn’t have any, but would have used them if I did)

1, 14-ounce can coconut milk

1-2 tbl brown sugar

¼ cup fish sauce

Juice of 1 lime

Veggies: I used carrot flowers (see how-to in the Urban Cottage recipe), a bit of sliced celery heart, a few button mushrooms cut in half, and a can of baby corn)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast filets, sliced thin across the grain

(cilantro – optional, and I omitted it as Harold doesn’t like it)

Simmer galangal, lemon grass, and kaffir lime leaves in chicken broth ½ hour.  Add coconut milk, brown sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice, stirring to combine.  Add chicken and vegetables, simmering gently until chicken is done and veggies are no longer crunchy-raw. 

Current Mood: satisfied
Saturday, February 11th, 2012
12:15 pm
birthday desserts, 2012 edition
So, I made special desserts last month for Harold's 43rd and my 46th birthdays.

For Harold's, I worked on refining my seven-layer cake.  I started this project last year, trying to recreate a much-loved dessert from his youth.  This year I used the same recipe for the cake layers, the dobostorte from Gil Marks's World of Jewish Desserts.  This time I made 1.5 batches in my heavy-duty 11"x17" baking sheets, lined with buttered foil, frozen over night, then worked with;.  Trimming off 1" all around and quartering the sheets gave me my 7 layers plus lots of scraps and a spare layer -- more about those scraps later!  The layers were a little too thick and a tad dry.  For next year, I suggest using 1 recipe instead of 1.5, using the same pans.  Then cover with plastic wrap or something else to keep them moister.

The filling was Rose Levy Berenbaum's egg white chocolate buttercream from the Cake Bible.  Unassailably perfect.

The frosting was Hershey's recipe for Perfectly Chocolate Frosting, made with Valrhona cocoa.  It was hard to spread (I could have added more milk), and Harold said it was too dark in color and flavor to be what he remembers.  Based on the picture, he has nominated the Chocolate Fudge Frosting on page 23 of my copy of Betty Crocker's Cake Decorating for next year's frosting.

Despite these ideas for perfecting the process, it was still a darn tasty cake, much enjoyed by all.

And it inspired MY birthday dessert!  I've acquired this really annoying dairy sensitivity -- if I eat any dairy, even butter, I get a rash around my lips.  For a while I was eating it anyway, and dosing myself with medicated creams, but I've decided it's better most of the time, especially at home, to just skip the dairy.  This leaves me craving rich, creamy sweets!  And, we had all these cake scraps left in the freezer.  So I created a dairy-free chocolate raspberry trifle:

For the cake, I used the scraps from Harold's cake, plus Nancy Blitzer's Classic American Sponge Cake from RLB's Cake Bible (I used about half of the sponge cake, there should be something nummy from the leftovers eventually!).  I made a batch and a half of Champagne Sabayon from the Silver Palate Cookbook (substituting framboise for the kirsch, and moscato for a bit of the champagne when my little bottle came up short)  and a batch of Neoclassic Chocolate Mousse from Penny Eisenberg's Passover Desserts.  I layered it all together with frozen and fresh raspberries, moistening the cake with lots of TJ's Raspberry Wine.  It was freakin' awesome!  For moister cake bits, I could assemble it sooner -- it only had a few hours to sit, and overnight would give a different effect.
Sunday, October 9th, 2011
9:04 am
A Few Yom Kippur Thoughts
Yesterday was Yom Kippur, a day for fasting, prayer, and reflection.  I wanted to record and share a few of my thoughts, and a couple of noteworthy moments.

One of the major themes of the day, and of the High Holidays as a whole, is tshuvah.  This word is often translated as "repentance", but it also has connotations of turning around and of answer or response.  It occurred to me, and I want to hold this idea, that tshuvah can be like posture correction.  I'm working with my chiropracter right now on improving my posture.  So, multiple times per day, I notice that I'm slumping or hunching, and correct it.  I don't expect myself to get it right all the time right away; I just keep adjusting, and hope over time that the new way becomes habit.  So too if I notice myself being judgmental of someone else, I can try to adjust my attitude to one of compassion.  And if I'm being judgmental again later, I adjust again, and hope that gradually, over time, the attitude I am working on will start to stick.  It's also like meditation: if my attention wavers, I gently bring it back (or so I've been taught; I don't practice these days) without berating myself.  And again, and again.  The straying is not a failure; the straying and returning is the essence of the process.  And finally, it's like working with 4-year-olds on how to behave.  At our school, they stress telling the child what is good to do (positive language) not criticising what the child has done (negative language).  I think this works better for grownups, too!  I hope these three metaphors may help me have a gentler positive and effective tshuvah process in my life.

Now, the two moments:

The "chet hokey pokey".  Chet, usually translated as sin, has a connotation of missing the mark.  In the kids' service, they did the chet hokey pokey.  (The "ch" is pronounced soft and throaty, like in "chutzpah", not "child".)

You put your right hand in
You put your right hand out
You put your right hand in
And shake the chet right out
You do a little tshuvah
And you turn yourself around
That's what it's all about

Very silly but I think it's kind of a nice physicalization of the process.

Finally, I really enjoyed going outside into the gathering dusk and rising night sounds to check whether I could see three stars in the sky, which would mean it was time to serve the break-fast.  Those were some nice moments of nature and connection, much more gentle and centering than checking a clock.  Serving a yummy breakfast to my family was fun too -- mustard salmon and bruschetta, fast, easy, and tasty.
Friday, September 16th, 2011
9:10 pm
Road Trip, Day One

We're taking a small road trip, partly for its own sake, and partly to gague whether more ambitious road trips are practical for us as a family at this stage.  Day one went well.

We started by driving to Berkeley.  We had planned to have lunch at an Ethiopian place near campus, but it was closed, so we ended up having yummy Peruvian instead.  Rebecca loved a lot of the things, including ceviche (she's quite fond of sushi, so this is not a surprise).  Then Harold and the girls strolled up Telegraph Avenue to Sproul Plaza, shopping along the way -- they bought gumdrops, a hat for Harold, and books for the girls.  And while they did that, I got to shop at Lacis for an hour!  I bought vintage trims, hand-dyed silk ribbons, silk organza ribbon, vintage silk ribbons, vintage and modern trims, pearl cotton thread, a half yard of gorgeaous silk fabric thats purplish-blue or blueish-green depending on how the light hits it, and five kinds of silk thread in seven colors total!  Woohoo!  I'm getting interested in crazy quilting, and I knew for sure that Lacis would have more intriguing materials for it than Joann's.

Then we drove up to Calistoga and took the girls to a little Petrified Forest attraction there.  It's one of these little for-profit places you can find when you travel, like a roadside museum or something.  They have a nice little 0.4 mi loop hike through trees with nice signage.  There are some great big petrified trees there -- coast redwoods.  One is estimated to have been 2000 years old when it was knocked down by a volcanic eruption 3.4 million years ago!  The petrified trees are gray and slightly sparkly, not deep red and shiny the way I think some of the Arizona petrified trees are.  We saw a little brown lizard and a cute little black snake with yellow stripes.

Then we had an ok dinner and retired to our motel in Santa Rosa.  The girls are in their room next door (connecting door) making lots of noise.  I'm sure they'll sleep eventually. 

It was a nice day, all in all.

Tomorrow: onward to Sacramento!

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
1:45 pm
Bibs for Willa

Michelle and Rebecca have a baby cousin named Willa, born to Harold's sister last winter.  After she was born, we started a joint project: the Willa Bibs.  They drew the designs and chose the thread colors.  I transferred the designs to organic cotton bibs from Dharma Trading Company and did the stitching. 

Michelle designed one with zebra stripes and chose blue and green threads for the decorative edging:
hand-embroidered baby bib with zebra stripes
While i was working on it, Michelle was delighted at the idea of her cousin looking like a zebra.  Michelle fed Willa many times during her recent visit, but didn't actually ever feed her with the zebra bib on.

Rebecca drew a flower and chose a yellow thread for her edging:
hand-embroidered baby bib with flower

Rebecca says it's a "singing flower".  My friend Linda notes that it looks a lot like the wildflower farewell-to-spring that grows abundantly in our yard.

The zebra bib is stitched entirely in chain stitch (good practice for it -- my chain stitch is a lot better now).  The flower's stem and leaves are backstitch, the flower is long-and-short stitch, and the edging is blanket stitch.  The brown spot on the flower bib is from actual use in feeding baby Willa!

Sunday, August 7th, 2011
12:47 pm
I made a pincushion!

I made this sweet little pincushion as a gift for my friend Rachel.  I've been working on it for years; among other things, once I had the flowers stitched, I was scared to start the final assembly for fear of messing something up!  But I finally got it done (with help from my fellow preschool mom, Lisa -- she did the machine sewing part of the assembly for me).

Top view:

lilac and cream silk rose pincushion

Side view:

silk rose pincushion, side view

It's an itsy-bitsy thing, about 3" across when assembled.  It's cream and pale purple silk dupioni, stuffed with wool roving, embroidered with silk ribbons and threads and cotton threads.  I had to learn a couple of new ribbon techniques and my bullion knots got a real workout -- after assembly, the whole thing is ringed with bullions.  I saw someone else's picture of the project on line a few years ago and liked it so much that I got the magazine that featured the project to do it myself.  It's from Inspirations, an Australian embroidery magazine with absolutely sumptuous projects -- some of them so large and complex it's hard to believe anyone ever accomplishes them.  I subscribe to Inspirations now, as wellas having a number of back issues.  It's great fantasy fodder -- it's easier to imagine doing fancy projects than to do them, with small kids in the house.  I finished this one, though, woohoo!

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
12:16 pm
doing pretty well, all things considered
I had my surgery yesterday, and it went well.  It took a bit less time than they'd anticipated.  Apparently, despite my collection of previous surgeries, there aren't a lot of adhesions in there complicating their work. And, rather than taking out the mesh from the previous hernia repair, they just re-attached it.  Hopefully it will stay this time!!!

It feels like I've been moving along pretty well.  Yesterday I had a foley catheter, an IV including pain-med-on-demand, and an O2 monitor on the other hand.  Now those have all been unhooked, which is great, because I don't have to ring and wait for somebody to unhook me before I can take a walk.  Walking is important because it helps peristalsis get started again in the GI tract. We're not there on that one yet.   I'm taking oral vicodin rather than the IV pain meds.  One vicodin didn't cover the pain, but two seems to do it.  I'm eating some actual food -- plain white bread, and drinking juices, pretty much.

I've been reading (read the latest Liaden novel cover-to-cover yesterday and today), dozing, and taking walks.  Harold's brought the girls to visit a couple of times.  He's probably going to come back on his own later today and we'll hang out.  It's great having Karen and Paul to help with the kids so he can do that.  So, coherent, pain well managed, up and about.  Not bad for having been in surgery less than 30 hours ago.

I'm not sure when I'll be going home.  Still at least a day or two from now, surely.  Thanks for all the love and support I've been feeling from so many quarters.
Monday, August 1st, 2011
6:04 pm
surgery tomorrow
I'm having surgery tomorrow.  I've had a stricture (a narrow, inflexible section due to scar tissue) in my small intestine for a few years now.  It's troublesome, because if I eat some things like certain fruits and vegetables they can get caught there, causing significant discomfort and, in extreme cases, a medical emergency.  It may also be a contraindication for scuba diving, which I love to do.  I was trying to be careful about what I ate, but a few weeks ago I ended up in the ER again.  That was the last straw, and I scheduled the surgery.  They will either widen the stricture, or remove it altogether and connect up the two good pieces on either side of the gap.  They will also repair my hernia while they're at it.  After this, I should be able to eat salads again (yay!) and go diving again (yay!).  It's not certain yet whether the procedure will be laproscopic or open -- it depends on the extent and location of scar tissue from previous surgeries -- but they'll make the smallest incision that's compatible with a good outcome.  I'm expected to be in the hospital 3 or 4 days.

Harold's sister Karen and her family have been staying with us for a grand in-gathering on her husband's side of the family -- Karen and Paul's very cute baby nieces were named in synagogue last weekend, so the girls cousins' cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles have all been around.  Karen and Paul are extending their stay to help take care of the girls while I'm in the hospital.  Harold will be taking the time off work, and K & P's care will let him spend much more time with me.  Yay and thank you!  Plus, the girls getr some extra bonus time with their cousins Seve, Mira, and Willa.  Willa's just 7 months old, and Michelle loves to feed her.  Her big siblings are cute and affectionate.  Seve in particular is a big help, as he's cooperative and responsible and, at age 7, can to some extent help keep an eye on the youngsters.  Mira and Rebecca love playing princesses together, and Michelle and Seve build things and "row" around the house on "boats" made of sofa cushions.

Then, at about the time I'm expected home from the hospital, Karen and Paul will head north for more family visiting/vacation, and my mom will come out to help me with the girls during the early stages of my recovery at home.  She'll stay about 10 days, and then I'll be on my own some of the time.  The only tricky bit is that I can't lift anything over 10 lbs for about another month after that, but I'll manage.

All good thoughts, prayers, healing energy etc. are very welcome.  If you happen to pray in a Jewish mode, my Hebrew name is Tamar nechdat Michal.
Saturday, July 16th, 2011
9:15 am
amazing spirit in my girls
I was going to skip synagogue today, but Michelle said that she wanted to go so she could thank God for her cousins coming to visit (which will happen in a couple of weeks).  Then Rebecca said she didn't want to go, that she prays at home, and then she started singing.  I took down as much of it as I could:

I love you God
I love you God
Thank you for bringing me here
From your window up high
God I love you
God I love you
Thank you God
Hug the whole world
God God God
There's so much in my heart

After she stopped singing, she said "When I sing that song it makes me part of God's family"

It's so wonderful to see them building their relationship with the divine.
Thursday, April 14th, 2011
10:08 am
parve chocolate recipe for Passover?

Has anybody got an awesome parve chocolate Passover dessert recipe with no nuts?  Thanks!

Sunday, February 13th, 2011
7:36 pm
Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut Milk (Pressure Cooker)

I made this last week and everybody in the family really liked it; that's pretty unusual.  It's almost straight out Pressure Perfect by Lorna Sass (where she calls it Curried Coconut Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas).  My only changes were to reduce the vegetable broth (and slightly reduce the starting amount of curry powder, lest I get too spicy in the reduced soup volume) and increase the peas.

2 cu veg broth
1, 13.5 oz can coconut milk
1 1/2 T curry powder, or more
1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces (or a bit smaller)
15-oz can chickpeas (or 1 1/2 cu cooked chickpeas)
2 scallions, sliced thin, white and green separate
1 cup frozen peas
2-3 T chopped cilantro
fresh-squeezed lime juice -- I used two smallish limes

Combine broth, coconut milk and curry powder in pressure cooker and stir together.  Taste, and add more curry powder if it doesn't taste curried yet.  Add sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and whites of scallions.  Seal and bring to full pressure.  Cook at high pressure for 4 minutes, then quick-release pressure.  Stir the soup a bit to get the now-soft sweet potatoes to melt into the creamy, curried broth.  Some remaining lumps give it a nice variation in flavor and texture, but you want them mostly dissolved.  She says you may need to help this along with an immersion blender, but just stirring was all it took for me.  Rinse any ice crystals off of peas, then stir in peas, cilantro, and green part of scallions.  Cook briefly to heat the peas through.  Add enough lime juice to give it a ncie tang, and serve.

You could presumably do this without a pressure cooker as well.  You'd have to allow a good amount of time to get the sweet potatoes that soft, unless you gave them an initial hit in the microwave or something.  I don't know whether coconut milk takes well to long cooking or not.  If you try it, report back -- I imagine others may be curious.  (When I post a pressure cooker recipe, I usually get someone asking whether it can be done without a P.C.)

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
3:33 pm
what are your favorite quicke/easy sauces?
I sometimes feel driven to distraction by the task of feeding my family, and it's only getting more complicated.  In addition to us having a kosher home, and kids with some typical 3-year-old food reservations, Harold's been on Weight Watchers for about four months and I've recently acquired some kind of milk sensitivity.  It occurred to me today that some yummy, easy sauces might help with this.  I'm thinking about things that would have a variety of uses, from going over simple grilled meat or fish, to steamed veggies, to rice or potatoes, to maybe in a sandwich or on a salad.  Then there can be a simple food for the kids, with a way to dress it up for the grownups, and a way for Harold to choose how much of the richer bits he wants to add, and me to maybe avoid a dairy component.  Ideally these would be things with not too many ingredients (6 or less, maybe, not counting herbs and spices) and not too fussy a preparation -- something I can throw together while managing the three-ring-circus of dinner prep and kid watching.  Something made with pantry ingredients and produce staples is especially handy.

Here are a couple of mine:

Easy-as-Heck Peanut Sauce

Beat together creamy peanut butter and boiling water until you get a consistency you like.  You could use hot stock (meat or veg) instead of the water for a slightly richer flavor.  Start with maybe equal volumes until you learn what ratio gives you a thickness you like.  Season to taste with soy sauce, minced garlic, minced ginger, and/or curry powder to taste.  I like this tossed with ramen noodles (you can make the sauce while the noodles cook) and maybe some fresh veggies and tofu too.  

My Mom's Steak Sauce

Slice a small or medium onion into rings and sautee until it's tender enough for your liking -- anything from still a touch of crispness left down to quite soft.  Add a volume of ketchup to make as much sauce as you want, then enough Worcestershire sauce to give it as much bite as you want.  Heat through and serve.  My mom always served this with pan-broiled T-bone steak and mashed potatoes, and it's a great combination.  I can also imagine it being good on chicken breasts pounded thin and quickly browned in a sautee pan or grill pan, broiled chicken, or a burger (meat, poultry, or vegetarian).

And cheese sauce (bechamel aka white sauce with cheese melted in) is fantastic on all kinds of veggies, or baked with potatoes or pasta.


What are your favorite easy, tasty sauces?

Current Mood: creative
Monday, January 17th, 2011
11:29 am
Smorgaschord benefit for Preschool Family, February 12th
Hey friends, family, and fans!  Harold's a capella group, Smorgaschord, will be doing a benefit for Preschool Family, which Michelle and Rebecca attend (and love).  The concert will be at our house at 8 pm on Saturday evening, February 12.  We'll serve wine, cheese, Italian sodas, and munchies, and Smorgaschord will sing two sets of their fun, lively music.  Smorgaschord is 6 people and they sing all kinds of music -- including Beatles, Beethoven and TV theme songs.  You can hear some samples at smorgaschord.com.  Tickets are $15 per person.  This is an event for grown-ups to have a night out, so sorry, no kids.  There are still spaces left, but seating is limited, so please reserve a place with me or Harold or any Smorgaschord member.  It should be a lot of fun, and we'd love to have you there!
Friday, January 14th, 2011
11:10 am
Seven-Layer Cake, 2011 Edition
When I asked Harold what kind of cake he's like for his birthday, he settled on seven-layer cake, a favorite from his childhood.  I spent much of his birthday weekend putting it together. I want to record some of the process here, partly as a reference for the future should I try to make it again, so this will be a very detailed post.  What I came up with was very tasty but I gather not by any means a perfect replica of the One True Seven Layer Cake (Ronnie's Bakery, Orlando, 1970s).  I'm hoping Harold will comment on this post with where it did and didn't hit the Ronnie's mark, for future adaptation.  Anyone else who had the chance to taste the cake is also encouraged to comment on what they liked about it and what could have been better.  This may be the start of a multi-year quest for the perfect seven-layer cake...or it may be a one-off.  We'll see. 

Seven-layer cake is an American adaptation of the Hungarian Dobostorte.  The Hungarian version has 5 or more  layers of yellow sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel.  I believe it's most typically round.  The American version (and especially Ronnie's) has seven layers of yellow sponge with a light, fluffy chocolate filling and a denser, darker chcolate outer coat, and is most typically rectangular, with a square cross-section.

For the cake layers, I used Gil Marks' Dobostorte recipe in The World of Jewish Desserts.  (Marks has written several totally awesome Jewish cookbooks; his recipes have never failed me yet.)  I made a 2/3 batch and baked it in two, 8"x12" pans.  Quartering each sheet gave me 8 layers -- I used seven and the other one served for snacks, a substrate for frosting for taste-tests, etc.  The layers took slightly longer to bake than Marks says they will.  The first batch was kind of hard to get out of the pans (buttered, floured, nonstick pans at that!) and got somewhat ripped around the edges.  Also, I put it face down on the cooling racks and it stuck to them.  This is a sticky cake; I kept getting coatings of sticky crumbs on my utensils.  So I did a second batch where I lined the pans with aluminum foil, then buttered and floured that.  After the layers were baked, I lifted the layers in their foil onto cooling racks. A fter they cooled, I put them still on foil in the freezer (having a chest freezer is great for many reasons; one is that you can easily put in things like sheet cakes or trays of fruit or cookie dough blobs or whatever).  Then when the filling was done, I pulled the layers out of the freezer, slid a spatula between cake and foil, and assembled with frozen layers.  Much easier!

For the filling, I made the whipped chocolate ganache from the Cake Bible (Rose Levy Berenbaum), using Safeway Select bittersweet chocolate.  I don't still have the wrappers, but Googling suggests it must have been their 78% cacao bar.  The stuff came out barely sweet at all -- almost bitter (the only ingredients are the chocolate and some heavy cream).  The ganache isn't tasty by itself because of the lack of sweetness, but I think it worked well in the context of the assembled cake.    It's fairly firm, and gets quite stiff upon refrigeration -- plan to use it right away.  It wasn't nearly as light and airy as I expected from Berenbaum's descriptions.

For the frosting, I made Berenbaum's egg white buttercream.  She says it's more chocolate-y than her whole egg chcoolate buttercream. That may be true, but it's nothing like the darkness or thickness of the classic Ronnie's cake.  It is absolutely delicious, though, light and sweet.  I ended up making two batches because the Lucerne Sweet Cream Butter that Harold got me turned out to be salted, not unsalted, so the first batch was quite salty.  It wasn't inedible -- in fact, it was compulsively edible -- but it didn't taste right.  To make matters worse, I spread it on the cake before I tasted it! 

So there I was, a few hours before an unknown number of people were going to come over to eat it, with a fully frosted cake that I was pretty dissatisfied with.  ARGH!!!  Two lessons for the future: specify the brand when sending someone else out to get ingredients (I now use Challenge butter for all my baking, because the foil wrappers mean less oxidation if I don't use it right away) and/or read the butter ingredient list; and taste the frosting before spreading it! (I kept telling the girls not to taste as we went, so I was trying to set the example I wanted them to follow.) 

Anyway, I put the cake in the freezer and had Harold get me more butter and chocolate.  He and Yair took the girls to the park while I hurriedly made a new batch of frosting, cut off the old one, and refrosted the cake.  In both batches, I used the microwave method for melting the chocolate.  The first time I used the melted chocolate right away, more or less.  The second time, I let it sit a bit first, since she seemed so set on having it not be too hot.  Bad move!  It set up and had to be re-microwaved and I ended up with bits of solid chocolate in the frosting.  This was not a desperate flaw, but it was not aesthetically ideal.  On the second batch I was in a hurry and added the butter to the mixture a bit faster, and it separated somewhat.  Really, one tablespoonful at a time, even if it seems like it's taking forever!  The second batch did not have quite the perfect smoothness of the first batch, though it was still lovely to eat.


The first batch of buttercream used the rest of the Safeway chocolate, plus some Ghirardelli (not sure if that was the 60% or 70% bar).  The second batch used Guittard semisweet disks, 61% cacao.  These are an absolute delight to snack on, it turns out, as well as a greqat baking chocolate.  A new favorite.  Both chocolates worked well in the frosting.

The assembled cake was very, very tasty.  The layers which had seemed too high (nearly 1/2") when they came out of the oven but compressed down some to what I think were about the right proportions in the assembled cake (Harold, is that accurate?).  The sweet layers, unsweet filling, and fluffy sweet buttercream frosting made a wonderful cake combo -- but not Ronnie's combo.  The buttercream was more like the filling "should" have been, and none of the components was like the frosting should have been. We need to experiment with some other frosting types for that.  Maybe Berenbaum's chocolate cream glaze, chocolate butter glaze, or a ganache... possibly we need to have a chocolate-frosting-tasting event!

Well, I think that's all the info on how I did the cake.  Evaluative comments welcome.

Monday, December 6th, 2010
5:28 pm
A Story
"Guggle and Nuggle rhyme!

Guggle and Nuggle were two twins.  They both loved loved loved summer, but somthing happened in their lives and it was never summer.  Then finally one day it was summer!"

That's a story Rebecca told me.  I asked if she made it up or someone read it to her, and she said "it just happened in my head."
Saturday, November 20th, 2010
8:31 pm
My Favorite Bar Cookie

Chocolate-and-Sherry Cream Bars (and if you don't like sherry and walnuts, read on, because there are a lot of other options!)

This recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens; I first got it in one of their winter holiday baking special editions, then later in their Ultimate Cookie Book. It's a brownie base with addictive fluffy, booze-charged frosting. I'll give the basic recipe first, then note the many variations I've done. Allow plenty of time for the base to cool before frosting it. It can be good to do it a day ahead, or in the morning and then do the frosting in the afternoon or evening. Then you need to chill the frosting -- so give yourself lots of time for all the steps and the waiting in between.


1 cu SALTED butter

4 oz baking chocolate

4 eggs

2 cu sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cu flour

Line a 15x10 baking pan with aluminum foil, then butter the foil. (The foil makes it easy to lift out the finished, cooled cookie base for easy frosting.) Melt the chocolate and butter over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Let it cool a bit so you don't cook the eggs, then mix in beaten eggs and vanilla. Gently stir in flour. Spread in foil-lined pan. Bake at 350 deg for 25 min. You want it to still be moist.

Note: let the base cool completely before frosting it.


4 cups confectioner's sugar (sift, then measure)

1/2 cu SALTED butter, well softened

1/4 cu cream

1/4 cu sherry (or substitution)

1 cu chopped walnuts (or substitution)

Beat the sugar and butter in an electric mixer on low speed until thoroughly combined. Turn up speed and gradually add cream and sherry. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Spread over cooled brownie base.


1/2 cu semisweet chocolate chips

2 tbsp butter

4 tsp sherry (or substitution)

Melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat. Remove from heat, then stir in sherry until smooth. Drizzle over the frosting layer.

Put the uncut cookies in the fridge to chill. When it has begun to firm up, but is not yet solid, score the marks you plan to cut over later. (This step sounds pointless, but is actually important. If you don't do it, the drizzle layer chills hard and breaks all over and creates a huge mess when you try to cut the bars.) Then, when it's fully chilled, cut the bars. Keep them in the fridge until an hour or so before you plan to serve them.


I've never made these the way the recipe is written, since I'm mildly allergic to walnuts. I've made them with amaretto and sliced almonds, and with frangelico and hazelnuts. Both were luscious. For the preschool potluck, I made them with brandy and no nuts. Those were pretty high-test, but I found them delightful and irresistible. I've thought about doing them with bourbon and pecans, or Grand Marnier and candied orange peel. For the drizzled topping, you can use water instead of booze if you feel like they're already boozy enough. Finally, to simplify things, you can use chocolate chips or chocolate shavings instead of the drizzle. Gthis means you don't need to do the extra step of pulling them out when partially chilled to score the bars.


Thursday, November 18th, 2010
9:39 pm
Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding Recipe

I brought this to the parents' lunchtime meeting at preschol today, and got some requests for the recipe, so here it is:


Savory Mushroom Bread Pudding

I got this recipe from the Craigslist Food Forum, where it was posted by a user named Ornellaia. I believe it's original to her. I've made soem changes; I'll give you my version, and in some places I'll note what I've changed. All the quantities are somewhat approximate. You can monkey around with this a lot and still get good results.

bread: a rich, tender bread like challah or brioche is especially nice, but whatever you have around will work. About 6 cups torn pieces, or cubes.

3 cups half-and-half [the original recipe has 2 cups of heavy cream, plus one of milk, which is a little richer -- but I find it easier to have just one thing to buy instead of two]

2 eggs

1 1/2 cu sliced leeks, white and light green parts

1 1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced. Use any kind you like. When I made this for our class meeting, I used a lot of crimini, because they're reasonably priced and available pre-sliced, plus a bit of maitake for extra flavor.

1/2 cu dry white wine or dry vermouth (I usually use the vermoth, because it's what I have around)

3 tbsp butter

1 cup grated gruyere

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

salt -- a couple of teaspoons, or a bit more

pepper -- a bunch of good twists of your pepper mill. Sorry to be so vague.

Tear or cube your bread. Spread it out on one or two baking sheets and put it in a 350 degree oven until it dries out and browns a bit. [Ornellaia doesn't have this step; I got it from a Wolfgang Puck recipe for a sweet bread pudding and I feel it really helps the flavor.] This could be 8-10 minutes or longer, depending on your oven and how well the bread is spread out on the trays.  Or less, I suppose, if you start with bread that is already dry.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Saute the leeks briefly, then add the mushrooms. Add a bit of salt. Continue to stir. After the mushrooms begin to release their juices, add the wine or vermouth. Continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid is nearly all gone. [Ornellaia says to let this cool to room temp, but I don't think you need to.]

Put the bread pieces into a really big bowl. Add the mushroom mixture and toss/stir to distribute the bits evenly. Add the cheese and mix through.

Combine half and half and eggs, season with thyme, salt, and pepper, and mix well. If you have one of those hand-held immersion blenders, it's a great tool for getting this or any custard mixture really smooth.

Put the bread mixture into a buttered baking dish and pour the custard over it. If any bits of bread don't get wet, push them down into the custard.

Bake at 350 degrees until it's solid, and maybe a bit browned on top, it's still kind of moist, but a table knife slid into it comes out pretty clean (melted cheese on the knife is ok, but you don't want to get that milky/eggy custard liquid on it). It's a little hard to describe how it looks when it's done, but I think you'll be able to tell.  It could be 40 minutes, it could be longer.  It'll depend on the size and shape of your baking dish.  [The original recipe said 300 degrees for 40 minutes and that was never long enough.  You don't want a bread pudding to go at too high a temp, but I find 350 works ok.]

You can use other kinds of cheese if you like them better.



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