Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We Are the 1%

Last year, I wrote this piece for Whole Living about charitable giving, and although they'd asking me to focus on a particular "charitable hero," and she was great, it was the research that changed my life. Especially talking to Peter Singer.

The piece starts like this:

"Imagine you're walking past a shallow pond where a tiny child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. Do you rush in and rescue the child? Of course. What if it means ruining your new shoes? Of course -- even if they're really, really nice shoes. You don't think twice. 
Philosopher Peter Singer, ethics specialist and author of "The Life You Can Save," who is famous for his thinking on the topic, argues that we are, ethically, in just such a position all the time: 1.4 billion people are living below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, and 30,000 children die daily of diseases and malnutrition that our money (the cost of, say, a pair of shoes) could prevent. 
Couldn't we be doing more? Shouldn't we?"
We stretch to give, and I hope you do too. There are some good resources at the end of that piece about how to find organizations to give to, although we give everything we give to Partners in Health, and I feel good about that choice. And every year, it comes down to the same question: build a mud room, or give it away. And every year I think that people need to not be holding dying children in their arms more than we need a better place to keep our boots. 
I'm all about "tax the rich," "eat the rich," and occupy everything. You know my politics. But with respect to the developing world, upon whose backs we have amassed much of our nation's wealth, we are the 1%. Even if, yes, you trip over a lot of shoes and coats and backpacks when you walk directly into our dirty kitchen from the muddy outdoors. 
Sending you love and gratitude in anticipation of the new year.
xo Catherine

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away now.

Hello, friends!

I am writing to tell you about FamilyFun's new kids' magazine, the aptly titled FamilyFun Kids, and to invite you to enter here for a free subscription.

This is a magazine for kids and by "kids" (okay, it's mostly the wildly child-like staff of FamilyFun, but still--lots of actual kids, including my own, have tested and retested all of the ideas), that is also blissfully ad-free. That's right: no ads. Which gives me a heavenly, let-freedom-ring, "Down with Poptarts and cold medicine!" feeling about the kind of copy we could write. Not that we would. But still. Look carefully in the first issue to see what I might have written for them. (Give up? It's the fortune-teller fortunes. I know.) You kind of cut the magazine up as you go, since it's full of little mustaches and other stuff you'll actually want to snip and use. And it's just fresh and funny and full of fun stuff to do, in the way that I like. "Optimistic" is what I want to say: kids aren't jaded capitalist brats! They're goofy fun-lovers who just want to use scissors. I love that.

Does it make a difference that the editor of FamilyFun is my best friend from college? No, but I can see why you'd ask. Or rather: yes, but only because she is, like, the warmest, funniest person on earth and she makes great magazines.

There's a really cute video for it here. And subscription info here, on the off-chance you don't win one.

Just comment here by Midnight on New Year's eve to enter the subscription give-away--though you have to be from the U.S. to do it for some reason (sorry, all you beloved Maple Leafs).


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Golden Walnut

Hi guys, and thank you, as always, for your loyalty and love. But now you're back. Because you want to make a golden walnut. And I totally understand! I did too.

These make lovely little gifts.
I believe this is what they call a tutorial, but it is so easy, it hardly needs any explaining. In truth, if you buy a little gold-leafing kit, like this one here at Dick Blick, it will come with instructions, and you'll be like, "Thanks for nothing, Catherine." Fair enough. I think they have that kit at Michael's too, by the way, and if you have a 40% off coupon, well, so much the better. The kit costs around $10.

You'll start with your gold leaf, your gold leaf adhesive, a small screw eye (from the hardware store), a paint brush, a walnut, some thread for hanging, and a piece of wax paper. 

First you'll screw in the screw eye. Like this.

Then you will hold the walnut by the screw eye and paint it with an even coat of the gold-leaf adhesive, which you shook before opening. Lay it on the wax paper to dry for 1/2 an hour or up to 24 hours, as per the instructions on the bottle. I left mine for half an hour.

Now tear a sheet of gold leaf from the little booklet and begin gently wrapping it around the walnut, pressing and rubbing into all the little crevices as you go. Eventually you will get yourself into a bad situation with overlapping gold leaf heading the wrong way, and so you will tear the sheet there and start again in a blank place, tearing and pressing and rubbing until the whole walnut is covered. None of the seams will show, amazingly--the gold leaf will kind of seal up around itself in a lovely way, and it will look perfect, no matter how many little patches you needed to add. I even needed to dab a little more adhesive on a bald patch, wait another half hour, and then leaf just that tiny patch--and this, too, was no big deal.

There's also a sealant in the kit that you can use or not. We've done it both ways. It dulls the finish a little, so we stopped using it--given that these ornaments aren't getting a lot of rigorous use or anything. Tie a thread through the screw eye, and you're done. Or thread a chain through for a totally original necklace that would be what they call "a conversation piece." It is lovely, no? I want to do an acorn too. And a silver nutmeg. I'm not so sure about the pear, though. I can see how Midas got himself into so much trouble. Ben and Birdy would look so cute gold.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Uncanny resemblance?

I'm just wondering.  Because maybe my Hollywood Squares career is about to take off?

Also, I got named one of Babble's "Zillion Weirdest Mom Bloggers of November/December 2011." Or something like that. But I am in such good company over there that I am secretly thrilled.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Kitchen Gifts

Okay, so this is gifts for the kitchen, as opposed to gifts from it--and the idea here is to 1) get perfect gifts for people who love to cook, 2) get perfect gifts for people who don't love to cook but share a kitchen with you, who does, or 3) leave this list accidentally taped to the bathroom mirror.

The big-ticketest item I'm going to mention is this: a Nutrimill grain grinder. 

I am the big, big grinder! I live in the basement and crave daylight.
This falls into the category of "major lifestyle purchase": it's expensive, it takes up a lot of space, and when you use it, clouds of finely milled flour float around your kitchen dustily. Sold? No? Well, it's if what you're doing is committing to baking your own whole-grain bread, and you want some motivation for it.
Then you get to buy whole spelt at the store! And you can smile beatifically when you notice someone noticing it in your cart. "What, this old spelt? I'm just milling my own flour, is all."

But don't argue with the loaf, because it is a beautiful thing.
Freshly milled whole-grain flour is so fragrant and gorgeous that you cannot make something bad from it. You can make something that doesn't rise appropriately, but it will still be delicious. It's kind of like grinding coffee at home: you feel connected to the process, excited, and invested in the outcome. In the long run, you will still spend less money than you would if you bought bread from a store. And in the short run, you will have fun making your own flour from grain you buy either in bulk from a place like Whole Foods, or locally, if anyone nearby is growing grain. (We actually have a grain CSA near us! I know. Local kamut. Enough said.)

Now, that said, if you have a Kitchen-Aid, I would recommend the Kitchen-Aid grain-mill attachment, which cannot produce flour as fine as the Nutrimill, but which is more economical an investment, and also smaller. I really, really like it, and if I'm not grinding tons of flour, it's still my go-to grinder. I've had this one for a while, and it is a friend to me.

If those seem like kind of severe, Russian-work-camp gifts--and they're not--you might consider a seltzer maker. This one. We do, like good Jews everywhere, drink tons of seltzer, and this gadget has revolutionized our beverage consumption. Plus, and you knew I would say this, even with the cost of the cartridges, it costs a third of what store-bought seltzer costs. I'm just saying. Superfun to use, and you can even get flavors and syrups to go in it.

Ben is the house bartender, when it comes to making seltzer. If you are sick, he will make you cola to settle your stomach, and if you come for dinner and don't want to drink alcohol, he will make you a beautiful fizzy something while the grown-ups are busy trying to figure out if you're mentally insane or pregnant or what.
I would guess that making seltzer is one of his top-ten home activities.

Next up: pasta roller. We use ours for pasta and also for crackers. Older children can be taught to use it, and then you can leave them with a blob of pasta dough (eggs and flour, that's all it is), and you will come back a half an our later to skeins and skeins of fresh, tender noodles. Russian work camp and fun! Yay! The one you see here I have been using for over twenty years. It is as well-made as any tool I own, and it cuts two widths of noodles.

Finally, a stocking stuffer: the perfect rubber spatula. It is beautiful. It is heat-proof. And it is one piece. 

If the "one piece" detail doesn't move you, then you have not shared our typical spatula experience.
It's a good thing I have never accidentally baked the head of this spatula into a sour-cream bundt cake.

Two last things: a subscription to ChopChop, the cooking magazine for kids that I do a lot of work with, makes a fantastic gift for families or children who like to cook, and it's a non-profit with a healthy-kids mission, so you can feel good about supporting it. Plus, sometimes Birdy and Ben are in it!

And a reader recommended the recipe-studded cooking memoir An Everlasting Meal to me, and I am halfway through and loving it. Tamar Adler the kind of bossy I love, with lots of unfussy opinions about food and feeding people that really speak to me, including her imperative that you put lots of parsley in everything and that, when in doubt, eggs. I am also intrigued by her suggestion that you cook all the vegetables you have at once, and then keep them in the fridge to eat and add to dishes you're cooking throughout the week. I will report back. (Thanks again, Janet Lee!)

Enjoy your weekend.


Monday, December 05, 2011

Red Lentil Soup (and other thoughts)

Ben at the Quabbin Reservoir.
And Birdy. The reservoir is nearby, and is my favorite place to go at this time of year.
Hi! Are you here looking for a tutorial on how to make an origami creche? Well, you won't find it! That's right. I am sparing you my holiday craft enthusiasm today. Sort of. And I say sort of because I am posting a few links for recipes you might find handy as the holiday food-gift season rolls around. Lots of treats here (including my now-famous-at-least-at-home Salted Caramel Popcorn), Peppermint Patties here, and Maple Rosemary Popcorn, which I made last night and which we devoured. I mean, we were in a frenzy of devouring--everybody in the room a noming blur. Ben's friend Ava was so sad to wander in and find it all gone that I almost had to make more. Almost.

Okay, one more holiday thing. It's that there's another games post here, where I discuss Carcassonne Wheel of Fortune and Dominion, both of which continue to be oft-played favorites around here (we even have the Dominion Prosperity expansion now. I know. Maybe alert me if the Dungeons and Dragons fair is coming to your town, and I'll meet you there!) And the other two games I wanted to mention were Agricola,

which is like somebody's acid-trip dream of Settlers of Catan on crack, and which we love immoderately, despite the fact that during a start-to-finish game you will complete 10 or 11 menstrual cycles. And, on a completely different note, Make Me a Cake,

which is like Settlers of Catan only if Settlers of Catan morphed into a puddle of melted vanilla ice cream. This game goes down smooth and easy, even with the littlest players, and the kids love it not because it challenges their strategic thinking (it doesn't) but because it's cake.

Okay. But the red lentil soup. I kind of forgot about this soup for a while, but then remembered it when we traveled to Montreal recently with some friends and had to get 13 people fed on a very tight budget. This soup, with some lovely garnishes of basmati rice and cilantro, was a hit with everyone. It's creamy from the coconut milk and bright with lime, and the texture is comfortingly porridgy. Lovely.

Red Lentil Soup with Carrots and Coconut
Serves 4-6
Active time: 20 minutes; total time 1 hour

This soup is a version of dal, which is a classic Indian lentil stew. It is deliciously fragrant, thanks to the coconut and spices, and the bright yellow turmeric and orange lentils give it a gorgeous color. Serve the lentils over rice, like a stew, or in bowls as soup.

3 tablespoons butter, divided use
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups red lentils, rinsed (you really do need red lentils for this, but they're quite readily available!)
2 bay leaves
6 cups water or chicken broth
1 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt; less if you're using broth)
Juice and zest of half a lime
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (optional—don’t worry about this part if it’s a pain)
Plain yogurt and cilantro leaves for serving.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and the vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium heat and sauté the onion, garlic, ginger, chile, and carrots until the onions are just coloring, around 5 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, lentils, bay leaves, and water or broth, and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft--around 30 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, salt, and lime juice and zest, and simmer another five minutes. Heat the remaining butter in a small skillet and fry the mustard seeds until they are just popping, around 1 minute. Stir them into the soup, taste for salt and lime juice, and serve topped with plain yogurt and cilantro leaves.

Okay, technically this is not a picture of lentil soup. It's a picture of a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz's, where I made everyone accompany me on my Jewy pilgrimage. It may or may not be apocryphal that my grandfather asked for this sandwich on his deathbed.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

yoj + trofmoc

Okay, one more Christmas craft. Before I go back to, you know, polishing my menorah and studying The Talmud.

It's these little decorate-able felt trees. This is easy to make, I swear. Cut a quarter-circle of green felt (I used a washed-and-dried thrift-store wool sweater), stitch up the seam to make a cone, trace the bottom circle onto green felt and cut out. Now stuff the cone with stuffing, add a nice heavy something to the bottom ("What did I weight these with?" I asked Birdy, because I'd forgotten. And she said, "Rocks from the yard. Nice, dirty rocks.") then stitch the bottom to the cone. Voy-la! We decorate and redecorate them every year with pins and sequins.

Don't feel like sewing? As you can see, a cone of yarn works perfectly well. That's mine, there in the back. But I see I could actually do better:

Christmas tree impersonator.

Happy December, my darlings.