Wednesday, April 23, 2008

thinking about Earth Day - slowly

When Earth Day falls on, say, a school holiday, it's the kind of coincidence that makes a mama look good. Having crawled out of my detail-lined Passover-planning burrow long enough to notice that I'm now home with both boys, I did what any self-respecting mother would do: panicked. But then it was Earth Day, and I did what any self-respecting flower child would do (not that I am one, but I did turn up to the accountant's with my 'I Love the Earth' t-shirt on, and she said things like 'ah, so you are the flower child who balances out your husband's bean couting, then?' I ummed, but couldn't quite argue) and: talked eco-responsibility.

We started small, with crafts. I cut out a few big, lopsided circles, and we drew and glued and painted our planet. The Eldest added a big pink rocket that looked suspiciously like a fish. Occasionally, it looked like a fish about to eat the Earth, when he positioned the thing just right. Eep. But not very.

Then, we watered the newly-planted herbs on our teensy deck. Like so.

The herbs are my annual save-money, grow it myself device. For a mere $2.79 a pot (okay, so I cheat and don't start seeds) I'll end up with herbs all spring and summer. Heh. But for the boys, I turned it into talking about growing your own and buying locally. Mostly, they focussed on the dumping water on the dirt part, until they realized that their water bottles could reach to make dark water spots on the neighbor's shed. Eco-lecture over, folks. Time to play.

We later redeemed ourselves (and the neighbor didn't notice - or mind - the wet shed) a bit, with the family 'reduce, reuse, recycle' meeting. We talked about ways we'd improved (a brown paper bag to catch recycling in my little study, reuseable shopping bags) and ways we could improve (turning off excess lights, electric devices, shabbat clocks, using the clothesline). Ah, yes. The clothesline.

I like to use the clothesline once the weather gets warm, and it really does make the laundry smell nice (though my towels come out stiff and uncomfortable). Plus, it's nice how cloth diapers bleach a bit in the sun (although why I care about the aesthetics of a bit of cloth going against the kid's bum is a little hard to explain).

Looking at my clothesline, I had a thought: it's slow. I can fit about two loads of laundry onto the three clotheslines strung over the railing of our deck. And on a warmish day, I can refill them maybe twice. In that time, I could have dried more than that, using the machine. And it takes a lot longer to peg everything out on the line than it does to shove the stuff into the machine. So, being ecologically responsible means moving more slowly?

It does seem to. Consider the options: walk rather than drive (takes longer), avoid disposable plates/napkins/cutlery (now you have to do dishes: takes longer), cloth rather than disposable diapers (laundry time! see above), buy locally grown foods (finding them = farmer's market, not Buy It All Here superstore = takes longer), etc, etc, etc. Add it all up, and eco-responsibility (which is starting to look more like Plain Good Sense than eco-anything) seems to mean SLOW DOWN.

Eh, whatnow? I'm a nice Jewish girl from New Yahk, and we don't do that. Worse, I'm a nice overeducated Jewish girl who should be more brain than balabusta, and I really don't do that. Got places to go, people to talk to, As to add to my already type double-A personality. Slow down, my too-busy Auntie Fanny.

Ahem. Moving on, now.

I've been thinking about the things that I enjoy. Cooking (time), gardening (time), reading (time), writing (work, but also pleasure - and yes, time), and of course my Man-love (time), and my recklessly water-spraying children (a huge lot of time, just now with muddy hands). My greatest pleasures seem to ripen, to be slow and nothing at all Insta-Happy. I think also about my father, a workaholic who once warned me to have an exit strategy to motherhood. Don't let yourself be just a mom, he warned me, or you'll get so wrapped up in your children that you won't be able to let go. I considered this advice, and started running to keep up, to get ahead, to think about the next degree, the next career move. And then I considered my workaholic father, so busy flying around the world that he complains about not having time for his grandchildren. Sometimes, you have to stop. Sometimes, you have to let youself be just a mom, so that you can focus on it and do it right. To be slow enough to live the life that you love, rather than scrambling to keep up with it. Jeez, I wish I were better at that. Still, this idea rings true to me and my endless To Do lists.

So, then, SLOW DOWN.

It's the message that we've settled on for Earth Day around here. It seems to suit us, to make sense and to be a reminder to allow ourselves to live the life that will give us the most joys, and the most satisfaction. It's a good message, I think. Not to mention one that best increases our chances of losing the gerbil in the round exercise ball feeling.

Here's a worrying thought: I went to Blogdigger and typed in 'tier drug,' to see what kinds of reactions there have been to the rolling out of tier 4 and 5 drug copays. The second article was my blog post, and the bloggish silence was deafening. Similar results for 'Wellpoint Anthem.' Sigh.

a meeting of minds and children

Well, the oat matzot are eaten, and they were lousy. But boy, are they gone nonetheless...

Looking around the bloggish world, I see that I am late. Well and so - the next post (Earth Day) will be late, too, but so goes school vacation week. Still, here is a during-Passover post that should have been usefully pre-Passover, since it does have recipes. Ah, me.

(moving on now)

As we did last year and the year before, we shared our seder with the SIL and her family. She's got two kidlets to match mine, and each year they are just lovelier and lovelier. Oh, and don't get me started on the guy who comes with them - if there ever was someone with a sweet, gooey middle, he's the fella. Even if the Eldest did eye his belt a bit nervously for most of the visit.

Thankfully, all three of the SIL's bits of baggage are increasingly patient with the funny foods served Chez Imperfect. (Okay, maybe just two. The bigger third seems to actually be having fun when he chews.) The SIL's offspring are determined, focussed eaters, but they kindly sit at my table and consider foods they'd otherwise never even sniff at. Occasionally, they'll even eat some. So, when they come I cook simpler foods; plain steamed veggies, lots of fruit, simpler starches. I try to be respectful of walking the line between the best chance of getting the SIL's kids to eat and foods that I like (what my crew likes is only slightly relevant - I cook, they eat. They're invited to change the paradigm). Until, of course, I get bored. See below for the recipes we tried - and loved - on Sunday morning, when I couldn't take plain potatoes any more. Heh.

As the kids get older, all four have become not just more pleasant at the table, but more challenging and fascinating for the long, table-oriented arrangements of the seder. The seder can take hours, it starts late, it involves lots of sitting still (not a terribly kid-friendly state of affairs), and it's in Hebrew. Except when it's in Aramaic. Toss in two families who practice differently, and you have a challenge.

But you don't. We agreed at the start that the success of our communal seder rises and falls on the children, and it will grow more complex and full and fascinating as they are ready for it. Already, this year's seder was richer and more Hebrew-laden (the Man slipped a touch of Aramaic past the censors, even) than last year's, with the elder children modeling for the younger pair how to sit, how to engage, and how to ask questions. And listen patiently during the incomprehensible bits. Sort of. When we started, this seder was unrecognizeable from the Haggadah-centric ones of my childhood. Now, the Haggadah features prominently, but our goal is less to read the book and more to teach. I like it. No, I love it. because with this shift in focus comes energy, kid-pleasure and adult rethinking of a book-bound ritual, laden with details and planning. Our seder is fun. It bounces.

When the bigger two sang Ma-Nishtana, the Toddles sang the fragments that he knew, and hollered cha-cha-cha! between verses. When I read bits in Hebrew, the kids waited patiently for me to translate. And when we sang Dayenu, the kids all sang along for the choruses, and the Eldest offered a wee bit of percussion. The plagues, as always, were popular - and more so thanks to the Eldest's old box o' plagues, kept in a bin of ritual objects. The plagues are joined there by the prompt-cards that the Eldest made two years ago for the Ma Nishtana, the pillow he stuffed this year to lean on, his homemade Haggadah (scattering glitter and banned from the table), the slab of painted wood that is our seder plate - painted by guess who - in short, a growing treasure trove of the Eldest's religious history.

Just opening the bin is a reminder to the kids that this is their holiday, too, that they construct and help shape our seder, alongside the adults and our haggadahs. And so, after the first night's dress rehearsal (Oh, dang - forgot to pull out the charoset. Hummph. Oh, hey, hon? Didn't we get romaine for folks who don't want the horseradish root? Um. Just a sec. Okay, so who is helping the Man wash his hands? Because I'm not playing to the lord of the house bit here. Hey, you kids! C'mere.), everyone knew their parts and timing. It was the perfect moment for the kids to relax, and hit us with questions.

does God have arms?

what do they look like?

what if Elijah doesn't come?

were the ten plagues like last chances for the Egyptians? Like the warnings you give me when I chew with my mouth open?

why did God put a plague on the first born, and not the second born?

The SIL's husband, splendid human being that he is, got hit with the first - and possibly the second of the questions. Head in the refrigerator (where on earth is that romaine?), I perked up, but he got there first. Well, one way to think about it is that we're all God's arms, and we can do good in this world. In the kitchen, I smiled. I had used more or less that answer, happily unoriginal, the year before - for question #3's earlier incarnation. It's a good answer, focussing the practical child on their realities and choices.

We walked away from the sedarim thinking about chazakas: there is a tradition that, having done something three times the same way, it should continue to be done so. I considered the joys and pleasures of our seder, I delighted in how our seder was growing, and I treasured the mingling of our families in this endeavor. Despite the religious differences or because of the religious differences and how they just didn't seem to matter. The respect and love that I saw, and the bonds that grow and tighten during this shared experiment - all of these deserve the chazaka that we have shaped, and the continuation of the pattern.

So, next year when the voice in the parking lot pipes up, mid-prePesach scramble, maybe the memory of our sedarim will shut it up. Or not.

Spiced Indian potatoes and Tomato Sorta-Kasundi Sauce
(a.k.a, When the Mama Gets Bored Potatoes and Sauce)

The Taters
5 potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch cubes. Steam for 5 minutes/zap in microwave, or if you can't be bothered pre-steaming, cut smaller. I cut smaller.
3 Tb olive oil
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 Tb ground cumin
1/2 tsp curry powder
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp pink peppercorns (no, really - they're citrusy and lovely, but you could use black in a pinch - just use fewer)
4 thin slices of fresh ginger root

Heat oil and add spices and ginger. When the seeds start to pop, you can add everything else. Saute on medium, stirring often to keep the potatoes from sticking. And, if you do not have my snazzy super-duper nonstick wok from IKEA (or the equivalent, which I'm generously prepared to admit may exist elsewhere), then you might need more oil to keep the potatoes from sticking. Consider the specifics of your cooking reality, and respond accordingly.

The Sauce
3 Tb olive oil
1 tsp pink peppercorns (or, if you have them, 1 tsp mustard seeds)
2 tsp ground tumeric (but Mom doesn't like tumeric, the SIL's eldest informed me. Valiantly, I declined to glare - or laugh. Mom did, in the end, like tumeric. In this sauce, at any rate.)
1 Tb ground cumin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
4 Tb brown sugar
1 great big can (28 oz) of diced tomatoes

Toss the spices and oil into the saucepan, and let heat until the spices pop a bit, or until they are fragrant. Then chuck everything else in, stir gently but firmly for a minute. Simmer for about 20 minutes, lose patience and serve.

Note the first: I served this with a finely chopped salad of cucumber, fennel and olives. I suspect it would be splendid with raita (or, failing that, a thin and somewhat sour yogurt like leben). The SIL suggested poaching chicken breast chunks in the tomato sauce, and I'd add tofu or fish. Like many Indian meals served at our home, we like to have a bunch of small dishes and mix flavors, as the Eldest is wont to say. Other offerings that would pair well are Indian-style spinach, a mint chutney, a jasmine rice and any number of nut-containing/Imperfect unfriendlies. Go forth and mix them flavors, folks. Because sometimes Mom does, in fact, like tumeric. Who knew?
Note the second: keep in mind that the Imperfects eat kitniyot. Some folks do not eat, for example, cumin or fennel seeds on Passover. See here for more. (Editor's note: thanks to an alert reader for pointing out that "the humra is to not eat them since you're worried some actual hametz might be mixed in, or at the least to check them to try to make sure. Whether or not you're Ashkenazi is not relevant in this context." Had I carefully re-read my own link, I would have noticed that. D'oh.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

considering options - and tiers

This article, "Co-Payments Go Way Up for Drugs With High Prices" turned up in my inbox, and scared the bejaysus out of me.

Not to mention freaking out any number of people with hemophilia, parents of people with hemophilia - and I'm sure the folks with von Willebrands weren't singing O Happy Day, neither. Nor the folks with MS, funky cancers, or anything else potentially treated with a tier 4 or tier 5 class drug.

I sent a worried email off to the National Hemophilia Foundation, who said...nothing. I sent a worried email off to my local NHF chapter, who told me (within the hour) that not only were they working on it, they were more immediately worried by Blue Cross-Anthem's single pharmacy plan, which is inexorably working it's way across the country. I agreed. I was worried, too.

Oh, the details of this plan are simple: Blue Cross/Anthem/Wellpoint makes an exclusive deal with a pharmacy whom they own, that all of their bleeding disorder folks will use this pharmacy. Want home care nurses? you only get it if the pharma folks offer it. They don't? Too bad, use the ER, even if it's just the get the kid looked over, or a follow-up infusion. Want to preserve your lifetime cap? Well, so much for shopping around to get the lowest drug prices - you get one home care, and whatever they charge, they charge. Consider this: higher drug prices, the higher costs of ER care vs home nursing care - all of this fills up the lifetime cap and gets the person with bleeding disorders off the books faster. And no, I wish I were paranoid.

Thinking about the NYTimes article (and saddened and intrigued by some of the blogospheric responses), I went to fill a prescription at our local pharmacist. Now, we use a local independant (family-run) pharmacy for most of our 'scripts, and I know they are a luxury - our pharmacy plan makes us pay a couple of bucks extra per prescription to use them, as opposed to mail-order. But once, when the Eldest was diagnosed with two different class of antibiotic allergies, these pharmacists printed out a list of drugs from those classes and handed them to the Man. And we happened to recognize a drug off the list that an intern tried to prescribe for the Eldest, not two weeks later. And prevented a rather horrific repeat of an initially horrific reaction. (Allergen pushed directly into the heart = bad, bad news.) Since then, they've made a special point of looking out for us, helping us find corn-free medications for the Toddles, help with horrific eczema for the Eldest. Oh, yes, they are a luxury. But we don't get this kind of help at CVS.

When I paid for my prescription, I mentioned the NYTimes article to the pharmacist. Oh, yes, he said, that's been written up in pharmacy journals for ages. The insurance company's been paving the way for this for a long time, starting by getting folks used to the idea of tier 1 and tier 2 drugs, and then moving on to a tier 3...and now this. It's been coming for a long time, he said. It means that now, instead of everyone paying and spreading the costs around, now it'll cost you more to be sick. I raised an eyebrow. Yep, he said, next is buying a special tier 4 or tier 5 drug coverage - assuming you can afford it. I thought about this. According to many blog commentators, me being able to afford it is just a matter of me giving up a latte at Starbucks, or eating beans and rice a couple of times a week. But we already do that. So now what?

I walked out, thoughtful and worried. Insurance is failing. If the patience inherent in the tiered drug plan is any guide, health insurance has been failing for some time. So, now what happens? Because a 20-33% copay on the Eldest's hemophilia meds will bankrupt us, and quickly. And is this really what the government wants to see happen to nice, middle class folks who work hard? Or maybe the point is, is the government willing to do something to protect us? Somehow, a scared, cynical voice says, I don't think so.

Still, says a hopeful and equally scared voice, it's Passover. Could this, too, be a plague that terrifies and yet passes us by? Somehow, I suspect it will - but only if there's some sensible and vocal protest from the Israelites involved. I'll be calling the local chapter's advocacy group and volunteering to go and talk to legislators. Hopefully, someone will listen.

There's blood on my doorposts, people, and it don't clot. So don't y'all go buggin' us!
One of the side effects of reconstructing my pantry for Pesach is that I buy a lot of groceries. Which means that for once, I actually don't have enough reuseable bags. (Note: eco-whatever you like, but reuseable bags means no plastic inhaled-choking hazard shopping bags. Also, reuseable bags hold more groceries per bag, and when you are trying to get seven shopping bags plus two kids (read: five kid-shaped objects. somehow.) up the stairs into your apartment, trading seven lighter bags for three heavier bags is just fine by me. So.)

So, plastic shopping bags accumulate in our apartment, and now what? Well, we reuse them slowly, as car garbage bags, unexpected poopy diaper bags, wet togs bags, etc - but then there's this rather kickass option. A hat tip to Girl Bleeder for this one!

Friday, April 18, 2008

sleep and food

Kiddo, it's time to go eat dinner.
The Man put a hand on the Eldest's shoulder. The Eldest, curled into bed with me and a sleeping Toddles, grumbled quietly. The Man looked at me.
You should take him downstairs and manage dinner, he said. I looked over at the clock.
Oh. Right.
I unfurled myself from the Toddles while the Eldest stirred. Why does Mum do dinner? Why not you?
It's the fast of the first-born, the Man explained. I can't eat for a little while yet.
Unexpectedly, the Eldest wailed. It's so unfair! Why can't there be fasting for the second-born, too?
Hm. Well, what about those second born persons?
Right now, the Toddles and the Eldest are curled up together in my bed. I love watching them sleep together, with arms flung over each other, spines tucked into tummies - there's a wonderful microcosm of siblinghood happening there, with a sort of gentle territorialism combined with mutual comfort-seeking. Worn out by a pair of full boy-days, they sleep pretty well.

The Toddles is now on his nth antihistamine-free night, having foregone Zyrtec for the privilege of doing today's food challenge. It galls me that this is true, but without the medication, his dust allergy keeps him from sleeping well. Sleep deprivation combines with two-ness in some shoulda-seen-it-coming ways, and when the mama is also sleep deprived (a poorly sleeping Toddles is a Toddles in my bed), well, you can imagine.

Thus the voice in the parking lot, thus the odd mutual explosion when things go sufficiently wrong. D'oh. So, today's food challenge was a disaster waiting to happen, and picking up speed with each poorly slept night.

The first teaspoon of oatmeal was simple. I don't like it! said the Toddles suspiciously. I ate the oatmeal - appreciatively - and the Toddles copied me. But after that, it was long past naptime, and the already overtired Toddles simply stuck to his refrain.

I don't like it! (defiantly)
I don't want it! (hiding behind my back)
or simply, noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

I tried luring him in, cajolery, tempting him with the idea of oat cookies/muffins/breads/pitas, bribery (oh, how I hate that as a tactic), until I ended up with flat statements ('this is not an option. Your options are with honey, without honey, with chocolate pudding'). The Toddles wailed, I roared and the allergist not-so-coincidentally popped his head into our cubbyhole to see how things were going.

I can stay until 4, he told me, having already given us an hour and a half of precious clinic time. And we can call it quits if this is turning into a major power struggle. It already had, and having just confidently chatted with the doc about the pitfalls of food and power, I was humbled. I paced, muttering, until I realized that it was time for the mama to be a mama. Gritting my teeth, I grew up a bit.

The Toddles and I played with cars, sitting on the floor. We went for a walk (how's it going there? um. He's not eating it. Oh, we see that a lot in the little kids. Farther down the hall, the allergy nurse practitioner looks up. He's not eating it? Yep, we get that a lot.) Huh. Still, I just didn't care how often this happened to others. Given the heroics performed to get us into clinic that day, I couldn't bear the idea that we weren't going to get a happy ending. So, we drew spiders and webs all over the examining table's paper, we found some cool wooden ball and track toys, and we sang Pesach songs. We did everything but talk about oats - nevermind eating them.

Eventually, eventually, when the tone of the afternoon had shifted, and when the Toddles had his second wind, I offered him a raisin. Just one. Then, I offered him a spoon of oatmeal, with the raisin on top. Don't eat the pudding, I told him. Just the raisin. He grinned, and delicately picked the raisin off with his teeth. We tried it again. And again. Oh good, I sighed. I'm glad you aren't eating the pudding - it'll make you too silly.

And then it happened: the Toddles remembered that he is Two, and scraped the spoon clean. Oh, no! I screeched. You ate the pudding - oh, but your ears will get all curly-swirly. It'll be too silly. Whatever shall I do? I paced the tiny floor theatrically. I need a plan, need a plan, need a plan, I said worriedly. Aha! I will put TWO raisins on this spoonful of pudding, like the buttons on a clown's jacket. Now, don't eat the pudding, please - it'll make your nose bounce. And that would just be so silly that oh, I don't know what we'd do.

We hid the raisins under the oatmeal (a.k.a. pudding), we polka-dotted them on top. We made clown eyes, noses and mouths on top of the spoonfuls of oatmeal. And I threatened the Toddles with elaborate, ridiculous images of the silliness that would come to pass, should he eat the pudding. I wailed despairingly when he did, ignoring the slightly perturbed allergist and clinical assistant to stuck their heads in. (Is everything alright? *grin* Oh, woe, woe, woe, he has eaten the pudding. Oh, WOE.) Grinning, laughing and entirely delighted by his absurd mama, the Toddles turned the afternoon around, as the Eldest is wont to say. Bit by bit the littel guy polished off about 2/3rds of a cup of oatmeal - more than he needed to prove the point. His vitals were taken, his lungs listened to repeatedly, until he was decreed just fine and sent off.

Now, oat matza. Except, of course, that they're sold out in the stores, and our box at home has only fragments. So, back we go to the standby: faux matza. With oat fragments, for added verisimilitude, perhaps? Or not. But certainly, oats for the Toddles for the next five days, and oats for us all after Pesach ends.

I know how the Toddles feels, suspicious and uncertain in the face of all of this change. Mango? corn? oats? Is it true? The shapes of our menu are sliding under my feet, and I'm delighted and unnerved.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the Pesach voice (and breaking news!)

Breaking News:
the Toddles is now officially cleared for a food challenge to oats. Putting on my best 'here goes nuthin' face, I asked if there was any way that the usual 6 month wait for a food challenge could be shortened...slightly. I explained about Pesach, and how oats (if cleared) would be the only legit grain for matza, according to Judiac law. Our allergist listened carefully, and then barely hesitated.

If it can be done, I will make it happen. I'll come in myself to staff the challenge, and I'll do my best to cut through the red tape. I babbled words of thanks, words of explanation, trying to make him understand just how grateful we are and how big a deal this is.

Our allergist blushed, telephonically, and said he'd see us on Thursday. Oh, oh, my.
Time is running short on Pesach preparations, assisted possibly by the need to sit around and wait for a plumber (annoying) or spend an unexpected afternoon feeding the Toddles oats (scary yet exciting). I am now a mama-shaped blur, coloured with lack of sleep (a congested, pre-challenge non-antihistamined Toddles means a tired mama) and stress. I can't move fast enough, read labels fast enough, or run enough errands. And then it happened.

There's a voice in my head, and I think it's about four years old. It just spoke up today,

I quit Pesach!

Standing in the parking lot at Target, I spun around. My cart was full, the Toddles miserable and I was pretty sure that nobody but me had heard it. The voice elaborated, I quit! I'm done, I'm fed up, I want to go plant something, write something, I want to breathe without someone asking me 'what should I do now,' having NOT looked at the itemized, organized by priority lists of Pesach Things To Do. I'm out.

I settled the damp Toddles into the car, kissed his nose, and drove off, thoughtfully.

After organizing our trip to Australia, organizing during Australia, preparing for the bleeding disorder conference we went to, Pesach has somehow become too much. I want ordinary life, I want to settle into the usual slightly too-busy routine of our days. And if I have to do Pesach, can we please at least find the time for me to sit down and figure it all out, first?

Unpacking the car, I found the Drawer Dividers of Desperation. They were, fortunately, unaccompanied by the Piles of Toys of Panic. I considered the internal plea for organization, congratulated myself on stepping away from the sense of overwhelmedness that the ultimate toy stack would have tried to solve, and breathed.

When did I put spandex back on? This will never do. Time for some cavalry.

I started by kissing the Toddles again. Poor child, it wasn't his fault that he refused to sit in the cart, then chose a cart that he could climb out of, then refused to be buckled, then slid out of the buckles, then sat precariously in a seat from which he would fall repeatedly. Nope, not his fault - just an unfortunate combination of twoness and a mama unprepared to be firm and forestall the troubles to come. Dang.

I kissed him a third time - kissing that child is therapeutic for me. How could I have forgotten this? Then, I called magid, who sat down and listened while I recounted the voice's declarations and sorted myself out. I hung up with magid, buoyed up with her offer to help and especially, to listen some more. And I called the Man.

We have a problem, I told him. I could feel the palpable click as he set aside his work-day self to listen to me. I explained.

An hour later, he was home and sitting with me as I worked out the menu. He suggested desserts that he would make, he told me I was brilliant, capable, wonderful. He hugged me a lot, and smiled. And he didn't pull out his Palm Pilot once.

Now, the official first days' menu is set. I have a variety of dish options laid out for the rest of Pesach, but I suspect we'll eat leftovers quite a bit. The horrific kosher butcher shopping is now done. The Toddles is happily bouncing in his seat as the Man drives him to pick up the Eldest, and then they'll do the non-produce shopping with the absolutely, positively final shopping list. Tomorrow morning, I'll buy the produce and gasp at the amount of fruits and veggies, and the astonishing dearth of places to store them.

And all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. (okay, so Julian of Norwich said that, but I think a nice Jewish girl can borrow the idea for the nonce.)

Intrigued by the idea of an allergy friendly Starbucks? Vote on it!

Kudos to Evan Frankel from New Jersey, who suggested the idea. And bah, humbug to the half-hearted idiots who always post about food allergies. No, I don't want to just stay home. But until Starbucks figures this one out, I'm taking my coffee budget to Bloc 11. After all, when did Starbucks make a pretty leaf pattern on my latte, hmmm?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

passing over

Pesach is coming.

Oh, heaven help us (and please note the distinction here: Passover, or Pesach, might be about heaven helping the Israelites. But the dusting and schlepping of non-Passover dishes is purely human. Bah. Humbug. Repeat as necessary).

Bah, humbug.

Yep, the Man and I are wrapping dishes in newspaper, wiping out cabinets in our wee kitchen, and hauling boxes down through the trap-door to the basement. Not to mention the burning stovetop and boiling water. Heave, ho me hearties.

This is the kind of effort that takes place after the kids are asleep (wrapping china with smalls running around? Boiling water? um, no), and takes long enough and requires enough effort that you spend some time eyeing the other guy, to make sure they're pulling their weight. After some blog-time tonight, I came downstairs to find the Man washing non-Passover dinner dishes.

Get some good work done? he asked, casually. Oh, ya, I said in an equally casual tone. Did some blogging, the boss-lady wants a conference call, that sort of thing. The Man tried to raise an eyebrow. Hm, he said. I looked at him and quirked one of mine. Bring it on, big boy, I thought. I've boxed, wrapped and planned every dish in this house. What have you got? I glanced at the Passover Prep List (a.k.a. Mum's List) on the refrigerator, made two weeks ago and hung (ceremoniously) today. The Man caught the quirk and the glance, and wisely subsided into a less-ominous silence. I considered the quiet furies that I had while the Man had his quarterly work freak-out in the midst of my early-Passover panic, and decided that I owed him one. Generously, I let it slide.

Marital fun aside, I actually find Passover to be a major religious irritant, mostly because the job of the halacha (Judaic law) for Passover is to make sure that there is no leavened bread in our home during the holiday. Given that 'bread' is defined as being a substance made from wheat, oats, rye, barley or spelt, my creations wouldn't be a problem. Nonetheless. we do have wheat products in the house - one, a packaged snack for the Eldest, which goes from store to high shelf to lunchbag, all without being opened, and the other a bottle of single malt scotch that I will be able to drink, some day, when the Toddles has finished weaning himself - and therefore, we clean and replace our everyday dishes with Passover-specific ones.

Bah, humbug.

I think we do it because we're part of a community who practices this way, although possibly we do this because the Man and I have done it so for long years before the Toddles turned up and changed our dinnertimes, not to mention our breakfast and lunch-times. Although this past Pesach was the first that we spent as reformed Sephardis (heavens, but I owe Wiki one for this post), which meant that our Pesach foods included soy, beans and rice. Nutritionally, this was crucial, and we ate quite happily that Pesach.

And eat well we should. After all, how different is Pesach from our menus year-round? We non-gluten eaters should barely notice the difference between Pesach and non-Pesach, particularly if you are Sephardi. I congratulated myself on a halachik move well made, and told the Man that he should give up and join the rest of us. We were, after all, eating a garlicky fresh corn salad with a lime juice dressing. Didn't he want some?

But the shift from Ashekenazi-style to Sephardi-style Passover opened a can of, well, beans. Making Toddle-friendly matza means making a matza from chickpea or soy flour. Finding such supervised kosher for Passover is tricky, especially as the Sephardic rabbinate is limited in their resources. When I called to ask last year about Tinkyada pasta, a supervised kosher line of gluten-free pastas made by a company that makes nothing but rice pastas, in a facility that makes nothing but rice pastas, I was told that they'd not time to check the company out. So? I asked, irked. I have fairly good evidence from a source highly sensitive to any of the Passover-prohibited grains that there are none on the premises. I explained. The rabbi sighed. Serve it to your children, certainly, he told me. But maybe not to adults? I understood that without having actually observed the comapny's manufactory, the rabbi couldn't formally approve the pasta - but, given that kids were involved, he was trying to help out. I tried not to grumble, thanked him and hung up.

So, we clean our kitchen, scrub out the oven, slosh boiling water on our counters and haul boxes of Passover-specific pots and dishes. And worry about our allergy-friendly products, many of which are too far off the beaten path for proper Passover rabbinic supervision, or approval. Do we keep them or do without? I suspect I know which way we'll lean on it this year - after all, I do love a challenge.

And I'm fascinated to see that for all of our efforts, it's the eating Sephardi-style that will be the barrier to our community during the holiday. Because most of them are eating Ashkenazi-style during Pesach...the poor, food-deprived things.

But then again, perhaps turn about is fair play?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

HR 2063 is not nearly as interesting as...

Ever heard of HR 2063? Sounds glamorous, doesn't it - maybe it needs a new name: the Toothless but a Step in the Right Direction Bill.

I ran across HR 2063 while doing research on the Eldest's legal rights, as a child with food allergies who wants to go to a local, city-run summer program. Okay, I want him to go to it. Not the point.

HR 2063 has the Sec. of Health and Human Services develop a voluntary policy (voluntary = you can opt out, an interesting option to offer) for schools whose students have food allergies. Parents would be responsible for reporting known allergies, and the students would have individual health care plans tailored for them, if they have a risk of anaphylaxis (who decides what a 'risk' means? hmm).

The bit I like is the "strategies to reduce the risk of exposure in classrooms and common areas; (5) food allergy management training of school personnel; and (6) authorization and training of school personnel to administer epinephrine when the school nurse is not immediately available." Oh, and the funding for schools who participate. Because if you choose not to include a stick, then you are going to need a carrot.

Mothers like me already do the informing and educating of the schools. Many of us start from scratch, with wholly - and dangerously - ignorant educators. Too many of those educators are so ignorant that they don't know what their legal rights are, let alone my child's. We parents push for IHPs or 504s, as necessary. We often end up teaching staff how to use the epinephrine injectors - even though this has been part of basic first aid for a good long while now. With parents carrying the bulk of the burden, it would help a lot to see this process normalized a bit. Which makes me wonder why folks like this bright bulb here call HR 2063 frivolous legislation?

Bah. Ignore the idjit who thinks that slamming others is the way to get attention. I prefer this story, instead. Is there really no federal website with useful allergy information? Yeesh.

And in case you were wondering, yes, the Eldest has the right to go to camp. But the city can wiggle (easily) out of doing things that would make it safe for him to do so. So perhaps it's best to tread lightly here, and wheedle instead of cite chapter and verse - at least before the government has a chapter and verse for me to cite.
Ahhhh, phooey.

My heart's just not in it tonight. Yep, it sucks that parents have to struggle to get their kids needs recognized, let alone met, but somehow the idea that the federal government can pass a bill like this to fix it seems..unlikely. Worthy of the attempt, but unlikely.

Let's talk about different attempts instead, shall we? Like this:

That's the Eldest, gamely trying some fresh mango in his salad. He loved it, by the way, and I have to say that it went rather well with the marinated soy-ginger strips of steak. Less eager was this young fellow, here:
That's the Toddles, eating corn in the doctor's office. Magid and I sat nearby, oh-so casually munching along with him. I'm not going to eat corn! I'm not! I'm 'lergic, the Toddles informed me shortly beforehand. Oh, said I. Fine, then - would you like some nroc, instead? The Toddles stared at me suspiciously. Ah. Here, I said to magid. Would you like a snack? The Toddles, watching magid munch, brightened immediately. Yes! I want a snack! Ah.

So, what's a mother to do? I went home, discovered that all of the steak strips were gone, and reworked my pot pie sans pie into this:
This is the newly renamed Seizing the Moment Pot Pie, a.k.a. desperate leftovers with slightly soft potatoes and a corn-happy household. And no pie crusts.

Seizing the Moment Pot Pie

1-2 Tb olive oil
2 onions, chopped pretty small
4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat of a big chopping knife
1 ear of corn, peeled and cut off the kernels
1 small sweet potato, slightly soft (or an elderly carrot, or both - the point is added color and flavor)
2 stalks celery, which I always buy and never use up fast enough
1 dried chili
2 sprigs fresh thyme, which for some reason I had on hand (1/2 tsp dried would also do fine)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
black pepper to taste (I like a lot, you decide for yourself)
protein: I used a package of cold cuts, cut up into teensy pieces, and a package of turkey hot dogs, also sliced into non-choking hazard bits. Yep, I still do that. The leftover steak, had we had any, would have been fine, or leftover sliced chicken. Mix and match your proteins as you will. (See below for fish protein thoughts)
1 cup water

6 potatoes, boiled. Reserve some (.5 cup? or so) of the potato water for use in topping.
1 knob margarine, or roughly 1.5 Tb (or butter, if you aren't keeping kosher/feeding dairy allergic kids)
salt, black pepper
paprika for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Saute the onion and garlic in a wok or some other high-sided pan on the stovetop. (Note: if not using non-stick, you may need extra oil.) When the onions start to brown, toss in your protein of choice. Let sear a bit, and then add remaining ingredients. Cover and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until fragrant.

Meanwhile, use your method of choice to combine boiled potatoes, margarine, salt and pepper into a smooth, mashed potato topping. Use extra potato water as necessary (or warm soymilk) to make a spreadable mixture. Tip: if you have a Kitchenaid cake mixer, the Boston Globe informs me that all good cooks know how to mash potatoes with their mixer. I didn't know that, but by glory, it works!

Pour the fragrant, happy protein-veggie mixture into a 8x10 pan. It should fill the bottom of the pan. Spread the potatoes on top (I glopped them on and then smoothed carefully. It feels like a learned skill, but one I could fake with care), and accept their irregular surface as artistic. Sprinkle with paprika and pop into the oven.

Bake for 25 minutes, while assembling green salad of choice. Serve to furiously hungry small boys, whose father won't be home for hours. Wake up the next morning to discover that there's not enough left in the fridge to make dinner on the leftovers. Dang.

Comments: have fish in the fridge, instead of poultry or meat? This should work more or less the same way, but you might want to replace the water in the filling with white cooking wine, or some coconut milk mixed with water/soy milk (or cream I suppose - it never occurs to me to use the stuff anymore). And consider this: a huge range of veggies work here, in moderation. That sweet potato could be a carrot, it could be a bit of butternut squash. Experiment as you please, but remember to think about your liquid-solid ratios. Add lots of veggies and you'll need more liquid in the filling. But have fun, and tell me what works!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

liquid explorations

Since the Toddles' unexpected anaphylaxis, the Eldest has become very protective of his little brother. He's been reading him books (using newly fledged reading skills), playing games with him with uneven success, and generally shepherding him around.

The Toddles, an irregularly independant sort, is fairly tolerant of this - though inclined to flout the Eldest's authority in the matter of train tracks and chess sets. (Muu-um, he's taking all of my pieces!)

Today, while I vacuumed and washed all of the household bedding (yes, all - dust mite poop, anyone?), the Eldest ushered the Toddles upstairs to the bathroom. Having finished his business, the bigger boy then began initiating the smaller into the mysteries of the toilet.

When I poked my head in (we're just fine, Mum. The Toddles is going to pee in the toilet!), the Toddles had just rewarded his elder brother's care by peeing on his shirt. The Eldest laughed, stripped it off, and offered his brother a cup of water.

Let's try again, he said.
Okay! said the little fellow, brimming with enthusiasm.

One vacuumed bedroom and hallway later, the Man walked into a tableau of grinning, delighted boys. The Toddles was, indeed, peeing - straight into a bowl that the Eldest was holding out. And his aim was fairly good. Some of the time. Look Mum, he's peeing!

Choking with laughter, the Man found me collapsing against a wall and wiping my eyes. Somehow, he said, this wasn't in my ideas of how parenting would go... I hugged him, and went to fetch some rags.
Tofu Larb
There's lots of things that should be in this recipe, which aren't. And who cares? Tofu is much more acceptable to my crew than is chicken, and I edited out things that brought no joy to my table. This made over recipe is courtesy, I should note, of delicious. magazine, which I picked up in the Melbourne airport. Australians (insofar as I can tell) have a wonderful produce-based cuisine, with no cultural holds barred - they love Asian food, Italian, French - if it's yummy, they'll eat it. Bless their little polyglut tums...
Oh, and there's no photo of this - in part because I made it for shabbat, which means no photography (finished it shortly before the sabbath, when I don't use a camera, and by the end of the sabbath the larb was gone, gone, gone). And in part because this is not a pretty dish. It's pale cream (tofu) with pale cream (rice) and pale green bits (lemongrass) and a little bright green (Thai basil) for garnish. Blah look to it, but it's balanced with a lovely flavor. Still, it's a good idea to pair this dish with a really pretty salad. I'd go for a watercress and lettuce salad, with mango or a blood orange or even flavorful navel orange. But that's me.
2 Tb olive oil
2 containers firm or extra firm tofu
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 onions or 4 shallots, chopped somewhat finely
2 stems lemongrass (note: my crew object to the lemongrass texture, but adore the taste. Consider peeling the outer, tough layers of the lemongrass - at least two layers - and then roughly chopping and food-processing the softer, inner lemongrass bits. If you are feeding grownfolk, then just slice finely.)
1/4 cup Thai dressing (see following recipe)
6-8 kaffir lime leaves, sliced up into strips
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint or 1.5 Tb dried mint (the dried mint only counts as an ingredient if you can smell it. Otherwise, it's not mint, it's some papery stuff that's taking up spice rack space.)
Thai basil, unripe mango (for garnish)
Cut tofu into cubes, and set aside for about 20 minutes while you do the rest of the prep. The tofu should drain a bit, creating a puddle of tofu-water on the plate. Toss the water before using the tofu.
Heat oil, then add tofu, lemongrass and onion/shallot. Saute until tofu is browning, as will be the onion/shallots. Remove from heat and add dressing, lime leaves, parsley and mint.
Serve over rice, with the Thai basil and unripe mango as garnish. The Thai basil will give a nice basillish sharpness, and the mango a different type of lemony tartness - both are helpful, since much of the recipe's flavors get mellowed out by the coconut. In fact, I'd recommend adding coconut milk to taste once everything else (excepting the garnish) is in the dish, so that you hit the degree of mellowness that suits you.
Thai dressing
Note: I commit a number of cookery crimes here. First, I don't have kosher fish sauce. Second, my boys uniformly dislike tamarind paste, for mysterious reasons. Third, I added coconut milk to smooth out the flavor. To make this dressing more authentic, att 3 Tb tamarind paste, replace the soy sauce with 1/3rd cup fish sauce, remove the black pepper and use honestly searing chillies. But then don't serve it to us.
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated palm sugar
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 slice of fresh ginger
Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until sugar has dissolved. Or, if you are feeling energetic, place in a jar and tighten lid. Then, shake until sugar has dissolved. Refrigerate - it should last a week or so.

options for growth

The children are growing.

yes, yes, I know. Not the point.

Let's start with car seats, shall we? The Eldest has outgrown his car seat at long last, at the ripe old age of 6.5 yrs. I began dancing a wee dance of joy, thinking of tiny booster seats and maybe a real middle seat in our car, and possibly - possibly? - being able to take home another child sometime. So, I happily went on Google to find a booster and found this.

Several tissues later and annoyed at myself for falling for an obviously cheap emotional ploy, I started doing some research. And was even more annoyed to see that I was finding reason to believe the maybe not-so-ployish ploy. And then I found this, shuddered at the price of this, walked away and then came back to read this blog post. And thought.

Having watched the Eldest slouch and slide out of the shoulder-lap belt during his brief Australian stint in a tushie-booster, I haven't a lot of faith in the kid, let alone the seat where safety is concerned. I think that this isn't a bad choice given the available options, but $200? Yikes. Going to go and chew this one over for a while.
While outgrowing his car seat, however, the Eldest has also been working on other opportunities. In fact, the precise term for this might be under-growing, or retreating?

This past Tuesday, we took both boys to the allergy clinic to do extensive skin testing. The kids discussed it between themselves, and decided that the Eldest would get his testing done first, so that the Toddles could see how easy it was. In the end, so many of the tests were custom made (I brough the food, the tech made the skin test from it), the Toddles went first. But with the leetle TV on, neither boy minded.

Here's the score:

kiwi - extremely positive. Which explains this exciting day and a few grey hairs on the Man's head.
grapefruit - negative
egg- positive
barley - positive
oat - positive, alas, but not by much. Still, there goes my hopes for an oat matza for this year's Passover. Oat matzot are legally accepted, unlike my odd wee creations, acceptable only with some religious law-twisting
wheat - very, very positive
rye - positive
corn - negative. Hmm.
tree nuts - negative. But we're not having them in the house regardless, so who cares?
peanuts - negative.

peanut - positive
peas - positive
poppy seeds - positive (p,p,p-positive. Anyone but me seeing patterns here?)
sesame - hoo, boy. Positive.
lima beans - positive, but who cares?
dairy - yep. Positive
egg - okay, so who needs eggs? Me? Noooo. Surely not. Nope. Except that I do miss my sunny side ups.
zucchini - barely positive. Wouldyalookitthat. Hunh.
lentil - negative. Who the what now?
pumpkin - the rule of the Ps is over. Negative.
mango - negative. Oh, my.

And what now? I've sent the precise skin testing results off to bigfamousallergydoc in New York, thanks to some fast scribbling when the tech put her notes down. We shall see what happens next, but I'm voting for challenges to corn and lentil. Until summer, the mango's just not that exciting, anyway...the Man, a fan of dried fruits (and dried mango in particular), disagrees.

Did you share your skills today? You can read about it here...