Monday, August 22, 2011

Beginnings

Today is the first day of school for my kids.

Beginnings.

I originally thought of titling this post New Beginnings, but I got philosophical with myself and determined that all beginnings are new, because every beginning is a new opportunity for new experiences, even if the beginning itself may be the same as last year (school, for instance).  But a beginning of any kind is exciting - one has no idea what the end of the day will be like, even for the best planners among us, because life happens every second.  A traffic jam causes one to take an alternate route to work/school.  An offhand comment from someone causes one to think about something they weren't planning on originally...a flash sale convinces someone to finally make that purchase they were putting off for a while.

All of these things are beginnings, new little opportunities for new experiences, new thoughts, new chances.

The kids were welcomed to their new classrooms today - one had new teachers and classmates, one had a new classroom.  One was anxious, one was timid.  I'm confident that when I come home, I'll be bowled over by hearing all the stories of things they did today.  Both were fearful of today's beginnings, but I was excited for them.

It's a part of growing up, and fortunately for all of us, beginnings never stop, so we always have new chances.  It's comforting to know that there's always a new opportunity around the corner.  It's our choice how we approach these new opportunities and these beginnings, but thankfully they never give up on us.  My job is to role-model to my kids how to grab hold of these new beginnings and make them our own so that they too are excited.

But for today - I'll look back on their baby photos and just think about how much they've grown, how they've become these incredible little people and remember that, at the end of the day, what I hope will never change is how tight they hug me...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Master Chef

Recently, my husband found this intriguing show on Hulu called Master Chef.  It's one of those reality-tv shows, but what's fun for us is that it's home cooks - people like us, basically - who are competing to be declared the Master Chef by the three judges, 3 formidable giants in the culinary world (Gordon Ramsay one of them, who I think is hysterical to watch).  The contestants come from all walks of life and are self-taught cooks, but they all have a passion to succeed in the restaurant business.  Since my husband and I love cooking and have fun with it, we enjoy the show.

The contestants have to battle it out through a series of challenges, which got me thinking.  I have a suggestion for a challenge:  shabbat meals.

Somehow, I developed a reputation (among a very small group of individuals, like maybe, 3) that I can whip up shabbat meals in about 2 hours.  On a Friday afternoon.  After I come home from work and the grocery store.  If you're unfamiliar with shabbat meals, the most common description is that it's like preparing Thanksgiving dinner.  And that's not really too far from the truth.  There are usually several courses and the attempt is made at preparing dishes that are special and different from what you'd serve during the week - all in honor of the holy day that is Shabbat.

There are books and blogs and articles all about how one can prepare for Shabbat ahead of time so that one does not feel disorganized as Shabbat approaches on Friday evening (this blog is dedicated to the entire notion of how to de-frazzle oneself).  They're all wonderful, and I try to implement them.  Preparing everything on Friday afternoon is not a sustainable solution, nor is it very nice to have a frazzled mommy who is running around preparing everything right up until the verylastsecond before candlelighting, when all preparation ceases.  <--oh, that's another important point here - one often prepares two meals, one for Friday night dinner, and one for Saturday lunch, due to the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat itself...

And yet, that is the situation I find myself in week after week (except for the frazzled mommy part.  I suppose I'm so used to my routine that I'm no longer frazzled but I do what I need to do and I just "git 'er done").

So here's my suggestion to the Master Chef show developers:  I challenge the home cooks to create two Thanksgiving-style meals in two hours - start to finish.  And I think I'm being generous by not throwing kids into the mix, because things always get more interesting when you're trying to entertain two little kiddos and get the chicken into the oven at the same time...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's too hot - summer bucket list

At the start of every summer since I became a mom, I have this yearning to do all things summer-y, the kind of things that summertime lends itself to: drinking lots of lemonade, running on the beach, watching an outdoor concert, etc.  For some reason, with the kids I feel like summertime is a "more fun" time, though there's nothing that makes summer different from the other three seasons.

Maybe it's because everyone's mind goes slightly on vacation this time of year, or maybe it really is the hot weather.

I always try to come up with a list of fun things we'll do each summer, and this year I found out there's a real name to such a list!  A summer bucket list!  Now, usually this list is done before the season begins so that you're prepared...but it's never too late, and since I have a hard time coming up with ideas myself, here's someone else's summer bucket list.

With August here and school around the corner, the pressure is on to accomplish as many as possible...

1.Go to the beach - done!  We did it in Israel

2.Make Popsicles - Done!  We made them Tuesday night and the kids enjoyed yesterday afternoon.

3.Go to the movies

4.Paint using our feet

5.Tie dye shirts

6.Take a picture everyday

7.Roast marshmallows

8.Go for a boat ride

9.Go to an outdoor concert

10.Make homemade soap

11.Play with water balloons

12.Play with squirt bottles outside

13.Whip up some edible sand

14.Play with colored bubbles

15.Pick vegetables from our garden - I think we can take a pass on this this yea'rs since we're in a drought...

16.Make and play with homemade face paint

17.Have an ice cream sundae party

18.Try lots of different sunglasses on and take pictures

19.Build a sandcastle

20.Make frozen bananas - I have frozen bananas in the freezer to avoid throwing them away, does that count?

21.See fireworks

22.Celebrate the fourth of July

23.Go to a parade

24.Visit a farmer's market - DONE!  Went to the Airline Farmer's Market - like a shuk in Houston, but more subdued...

25.Visit new playground - well, we visited playgrounds in Israel, so I think that counts...

26.Play at a splash park

27.Go swimming at Grandma's house - the kids go swimming with their grandparents on the weekends, so that totally counts...

28.Have a late night movie night

29.Go berry picking - we tried to go blackberry picking again this year, but the drought damaged the crop, so not our fault...

30.Visit a fair

31.Make fizzing sidewalk chalk

32.Make smores

33.Visit a sunflower field

34.Make moon sand

35.Plant sunflowers

36.Go blueberry picking - see #29

37.Walk around by the water

38.Make our own strawberry freezer jam - DONE!  We take it up a notch and make our own jam on the stove...

39.Go to an outdoor movie

40.Fly a kite

41.Make our own bouncy balls

42.Make our own gak - tonight I made play-dough for the kids, does that count?

We're not doing too bad! We can make some modifications to fit the attention spans of a 3.5 year old and a 2 year old for the rest, plus we do have to take into account the weather. And then there are special considerations for certain things like an outdoor concert - they tend to start late here, so it doesn't make sense for me to bring the kids out, as much as I'd like to.

But this gives me a good list to work on! Do you have a summer bucket list?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fishtank fun

Friends, it's been a long, long, LONG time since my last post...

Thank you for hanging in there with me.

July has been an extremely busy month for me in several ways, all of which I'll eventually get to, but none of which is the subject of today's post.

Today, I'm writing about our fishtank.

Our fishtank is a new member of our family that came to us in a funny way.

Back when my husband was courting me (it was a long-distance relationship) and I visited him once in Pennsylvania, his apartment was SPOTLESSLY clean except for his fishtank: he said that the brown-ness of the water was "natural" (and let's not get into what was covering the walls).  I said that that thing had to go - as there was absolutely no way it would join us in our marriage if it was so brown.

My amazing husband did so, but I had no idea of his immense attachment to the fishtank.

Flash-forward to this summer - whenever we have run out of ideas to do with the kids and everyone we know is busy, we go to the fish store.  This is one of those "I'd rather be cleaning the tile grout than be here, but I'm here to support my amazing husband" moments for me.  So we've done that several times this summer, my husband always looking longingly at the fish.

And then my husband came with a surprise for me, that was actually a gift to himself.  The day before our wedding anniversary this July.  He came home with a fishtank.  And three fish, each fish in its own pot (for travel purposes, of course).  The kids went wild, cleaning the cabinet with baby wipes.  I just stood there, asking "what, on earth, is that?".

Apparently, I had told my amazing husband that he could have a fishtank if he finds one for $50.  Which apparently was quite the challenge since a 30-gallon tank with stand (and we're not even counting the fish) easily can run you over $200 or so.  I have no recollection of this challenge, but my husband took me up on it and found a tank and cabinet and 3 fish for $50Thank you, Craigslist.

So here I am, the family asleep, me sitting next to the fish tank.  The kids are in love with the fish and the process of feeding them.  The fish are extremely entertaining and serve as conversation starters for my suddenly-fish-loving family.  I have nothing to do with the tank maintenance, but right now, at this moment, I'm happy it's here.  I'm happy my husband got his wish, I'm happy my kids find it exciting, and as I sit here watching the fish swim, I suddenly crave sushi.  JUST KIDDING.

I just find it peaceful.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tragedy for Houston Jewish community

We're back from Israel, and more about that later, but first - devastating news rocked the Houston community over the July 4th weekend...

Houstonians Josh and Robin Berry and their kids were traveling back from Colorado when they were hit head-on by an oncoming vehicle, close to midnight.  The parents were instantly killed and the three children were injured, two seriously.  The children are in Lubbock right now and should be able to travel back to Houston this week to continue their treatments.

The Jewish Herald-Voice has ongoing coverage of the efforts to help the family and to support the children.  Beth Yeshurun has set up a fund for donations to help with expenses which you can access here (select Perlo-Berry Family Fund to designate your donation).

Such a tragedy is hard for any community, but a community is what helps us cope.  All of our prayers and efforts will build foundational support so that the Berry family can go on and live the values the parents taught the children.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Packing our bags and going to Israel...

Don't be jealous.

Ok - you can be a little jealous.

We're going to Israel this week for a 2-week vacation for a family member's bar mitzvah.  My whole family is going - so this is a massive 2-week vacation with my whole family.  My husband couldn't be more thrilled.  :=)

No really - we are psyched.  This is our first real vacation in....years....and we're going with the kids, plus we're going to ISRAEL!!!!!!  Really - is there a better place to go?!?!?

(ok - totally not counting Florence or Paris...)

Anyway, that's why there haven't been posts from me lately (been busy with work and such), and there won't be posts from me for the next two weeks (unless I surprise you AND myself).  But here's a question - I'd love to hear any suggestions you may have for fun "field trips" or activities to do with the kids...we won't be renting a car so activities have to be easy to get to, but so far I've only found activities that are open on Shabbat so that won't do, but if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kid to Kid: new-ish resale shop in town

Thanks to Tasti D-Lite now going kosher in all of its Houston locations, my husband took all of us to the Galleria location one evening for a frozen dessert* treat.  (Isn't that like out of a dream?  I came home from work and my husband declared that we're all going out for "ice cream".  The kids had a blast, and apparently the frozen concoction was their dinner.  A win/win/win for all.  :-))

**It's not ice cream, and it's not frozen yogurt.  It's a frozen dairy dessert.  Exactly what it is, I don't know.

Anyway - in the same shopping plaza is a store called Kid to Kid and we explored it on Sunday.

By explore, I mean I could have purchased the entire contents of the store if I didn't have a credit limit.

First of all, the store is kid-friendly so we took the kids and they had a great time playing while I was shopping.

Second, the store is clean and well-organized, so everything is easy to find.

The store carries everything - clothes, shoes, diapering supplies, baby gear, maternity wear, books, toys - the whole nine yards.  And it's top quality, gently used items.  I even found some brand new items with original tags on them!!  At a fraction of the original price!!

But here's the best part....just as we were leaving, my son announced that he, well, let's say that he needed a new diaper.  Being the super-organized parents that we are, we didn't have one.  We contemplated purchasing an unopened package of diapers they had for sale, when my husband turned around and spotted a vanity...with diapers...and wipes.  They were prepared for store customers to use - for free.  I got the diaper and wipes, the owner handed me a plastic bag for the dirty one, prepped the changing table in the bathroom for me (a beautiful bathroom, by the way), and this was all done with a smile.  The sink even had a stepstool for the little one to wash his hands.

If you're a parent, you know these little touches are meaningful.

So in sum, I recommend this place, and you can even bring your kids because they will be busy playing in the play area or reading books, and you will be happy with your purchases and pleased with the great customer service.  Happy shopping!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kosher on a Budget is coming to Houston!

Sorry I've been away - been busy, you know...

But - I'm coming to you with some exciting news today!!!

Kosher on a Budget will be in Houston and doing a class on couponing, being frugal, and living the kosher lifestyle on Monday May 30 at 10 am!!!

If you want to get more details, email her at kosheronabudget AT gmail DOT com.  And let her know that you heard it here first!!

I plan on being there and I hope to see you there too.  Shabbat shalom everyone!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cinco de Mayo - son's birthday party

Last week we celebrated my big boy's 2nd birthday on May 5th (his birthday), or Cinco de Mayo as it's known in these parts.  Since he was born on May 5th, I knew that this party theme would come up eventually, so I figured I'd jump the gun and go ahead and do it.  To wit, a feast:
I made a Tex-Mex dinner that consisted of some incredibly tasty things...thanks to all contributors for this beautiful table.  Menu consisted of:
Not bad, eh?   The leftovers lasted us through lunch today (no, we didn't eat this 5 days straight).

Mexican Rice: (recipe courtesy of a friend of mine)

1 or 2 cups of rice (depends if you have a lot of guests)
water (double the amount of rice you make)
1 medium onion
1 can tomato juice
fresh pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon
dash of oregano
salt to taste
2 tablespoons oil (canola, safflower...not olive oil)
1 cup of mixed veggies (corn, carrots, green beans), if desired

In a large skillet or pot heat the oil (on medium heat) and then add the desired amount of rice and brown. Make sure you stir the rice constantly while it browns otherwise it will burn. The rice should be a light, even brown color. Then add the onions and saute until they are a crystalline color. Then add the can of tomato juice and stir quickly so it does not stick to the pan. Add the water and the chicken bouillon and bring to a boil. Add veggies, pepper, oregano and salt to taste. Cook uncovered for about 15 minutes and then turn heat down to a low simmer and cover. Cook rice until it is soft but not sticky.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Adventures in the Kitchen: Homemade Fruit Leather

Under the heading "Why Not?", I present to you homemade fruit leather:

Strawberry fruit leather
What you see there is strawberry fruit leather, using mashed strawberries that we had previously frozen since we had a large amount of strawberries left over from when we last made strawberry jam (a couple of months ago) (thank you dear friends who brought us the hand-picked strawberries), so this came together very quickly.  We followed this blog post.  Who knew we had a dehydration setting in our oven?!!?!  But please note - you don't need a food dehydrator for this - just set it in the oven overnight on the lowest setting for the fruit to dry out!!
Needless to say, the kids loved it.  Tonight my husband made a second batch.  Awe-some.  I recommend you try it!

What is your favorite fruit leather flavor?

Happy Mother's Day

To all of the mothers out there - young and old, new and experienced, biological or not - have a wonderful Mother's Day and I hope you will spend it with the ones you love.

What are we doing today?  We are going to Bayou Wildlife Park!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I went "no 'poo"...and back

Huh?

No 'poo -  the idea of idea of not using the typical shampoo/conditioner routine to wash hair.

Why...?

Well, after I read this post, I didn't look at my shampoo bottle the same way again.  Shampoo is a detergent?  What are all those chemicals in there listed after water?  Why would I wash my hair with that?  If I'm so concerned about what kind of dish soap I use and making sure that whatever I use is biodegradable, shouldn't I be just as concerned as what I use to wash my hair?  Maybe they're on to something here...

So I toyed with the idea for about a month until I had a situation where I would have washed my hair twice in one day.  And my husband said to me, "You don't want to wash your hair twice in one day.  Why don't you try the no 'poo routine?"  Lightbulb moment.  Why don't I, indeed?  But it takes commitment.  I had read enough blog posts about the process and the method to know that there is a transition period while your hair goes crazy and gets used to the natural hair care.  Was I ready to see my hair in its natural state, go to work like that, not sure how long it will be and what it will look like post-transition?

And before I had a chance to think twice, I did it.  Wouldn't you know it - my hair was BEAUTIFUL that first day.  Golden, fluffy, with natural volume.  It was as though my hair was doing a happy dance.  It lasted for maybe 36 hours.  Then the transition period started.

But I stuck it out.  I just knew that a lot of good would come out of this.  And it did work!  My hair was full of volume and was just really really nice.  I felt proud of sticking to this routine!  I even confided to a close friend that I went no 'poo, whispering the words to her.  I felt like I was sharing a dark secret.  For any of my friends, if you saw me while I was doing it, you probably didn't know there was anything different about my hair.  And that's a good thing!

Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share so you'll just have to trust me.  And also unfortunately, my hair stopped cooperating after a month.  It seemed to get dull and was not happy anymore, so I went back to the regular shampoo/conditioner routine.  But I think I will do the baking soda/apple cider vinegar routine at least once a month to clean my hair and refresh it.  And I definitely have an eye out for what I put in my hair than I did before.

If you'd like to read more about the process, click here or here or here.  Let me know if you try it and if it works for you!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Amazing Holocaust Video

Here's one more thing, and most likely I am not alone in this.  We always see movies and images of the Holocaust - indeed of that entire time period - in black and white, and it's so easy to associate black and white with "a long time ago".  It's much harder to remember that for everyone who lived during that time, life was in color, just like it is for you and me.  Here's an incredible video of color movie footage and images.  Be warned: viewer discretion is advised.



 

Yom Hashoah 2011 - Holocaust Rememberance Day

Today is Yom Hashoah, Israel's official Holocaust Remembrance Day.  January 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, on the day marking the liberation of Auschwitz.  Yom Hashoah, by contrast is held every year 8 days before Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), the most perfect irony.

Check out here and here for additional information.

Every year, Houston holds a special ceremony to commemorate.

Every year since I was little, I've gone with my mom (and/or Dad).  I'm no stranger to the Holocaust; while my immediate family wasn't directly involved, that was only because my grandfather had the good sense to flee with my grandmother and their infant daughter away from the advancing German soldiers and into the Soviet interior - my grandmother's family, living on the unfortunate front lines of the German invasion into the Soviet Union.  So, 72 members of my grandmother's family was killed, who knows how.  And my grandfather was drafted into the Soviet Red Army and spent his military time on the front lines, leaving my grandmother behind hiding in forests, among other places.  My father's family in Moscow evacuated also into the interior but was mostly spared most of the horrors.  So - I grew up with the Holocaust and its aftereffects front and center in my life, but not everyone else has.

These commemorations are important for all the people to whom it's not so obvious: for those who believe that the same thing couldn't happen here in America (it could), or for those who believe that such genocide doesn't happen anymore (it does - check out Africa), or for those who just don't know the facts.  Holocaust education goes beyond what actually occurred during the Holocaust and really digs deep into why and how did it happen.  Did you know that America had a eugenics program which Germany admired (and Sweden's program lasted until 1975)?  And what about all of the ordinary citizens of the German-occupied countries who basically went along with all of the horror surrounding them?

Perhaps it's MTV who says it best.  The Holocaust happened to people like us.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easy Passover Salmon Recipe

I got tired of meat meals so I made dairy for lunch today.  In addition to my husband's awesome matza lasagna, I made a salmon fillet.  This is hardly an original and more of a technique than anything else, but it's fresh tasting and super yummy so I'm including it here.  Here's the recipe:

Celebrate Spring Salmon:
1 piece of salmon fillet
1 lemon, sliced with peel
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thin
several sprigs of fresh rosemary, stems removed
extra virgin olive oil, probably about 1 Tablespoon

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  You'll be roasting this salmon, baby.
2.  Lay the lemon slices spread throughout your pan.  This is your bed.  Lay the salmon on top of the lemon slices.
3.  Make several slits throughout the fillet and insert the garlic slices into the slits.
4.  Scatter the rosemary leaves on top of the salmon.
5.  Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over the salmon.
6.  Roast the salmon, about 10 minutes per inch.  It took me about 20 minutes.  The top of the salmon may turn a nice even brown color from the roasting - a total guest-pleaser.  Serve immediately, or at room temperature, which is my preference.


Enjoy!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pesach granola - YUM-O

For the last couple of years, I start to get panicky about Pesach breakfasts for my kids, thinking that without cereal in the morning they will surely starve.  I turn to my friends for assistance and send out an email starting an email chain that's all about Pesach breakfasts.  I've received several helpful responses!  Here is a short list:
  • matza brei - the truly original Pesach breakfast - can be customized!
  • muffins
  • cream cheese OR whitefish salad OR butter & jam OR just jam + matza
  • cottage cheese latkes
  • eggs (I wish the rest of my family loved eggs as much as I do...)
Last year a friend of mine sent me a recipe for matza farfel granola, and since I wasn't able to find that email, I found another granola recipe online that is a winner for me.  My cereal-loving child eats it up, and I find it filling too.

Enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Pesach!!

Happy Pesach/Passover everyone!!  Wishing all of my readers a wonderful holiday/chag/yom tov...drop me a line if you did something creative for your seders!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Passover: Yup, there's an app for that

Got your Pesach guideNo.

Got your OU Passover guideNo.

In the grocery store with no idea whether cottage cheese needs to have a special Passover certification or not?  (BTW, yes it does.)

Don't worry - there's an app for that.  Or two.

I downloaded the OU's Passover app, and I also have the CRC Kosher app that has a new Passover update.  I think that both are useful.

The OU app is essentially a product/category listing.

The CRC Kosher app has an FAQs section, a kashering section, and a nicely organized categorical listing.

On the whole, I think the CRC Kosher app is more developed than the OU app, but it's great to have both.

As a reminder, please confirm with your local rabbi any kosher-related concerns; the CRC and the OU are different agencies and sometimes have different answers to the same question, so the decision ultimately rests with your personal rabbi.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I haven't started preparing for Pesach

There.  I said it.  I haven't started doing anything for the holiday.

Oh sure - I bought the grape juice on sale.  And we bought some tea that seems to fly off the shelves.  And we committed to a few meals out (woo-hoo!).  But other than that?  Nothing.  Nada.

This - despite that I receive emails daily from various Jewish cooking/mom-related sites with this or that Pesach checklist/prep tip.  Despite that I have my own Pesach binder with recipes from previous years, lists, and fun stuff so I don't have to keep re-inventing the wheel.

Why on this green earth have I not even uttered the word in my house?  First - I'm tired.  I had two large events take place last week that I planned, and I'm just tired of planning.  Second - I'm busy at work.  So unfortunately, Pesach hasn't yet appeared on my radar screen.

The other, possibly subconscious, reason why I haven't yet broached the topic is because I want to go back to basics: I want to re-emphasize the holiday itself, and not go nuts with the meals and the cleaning.  It's time to get back to basics and remember what the holiday is about, which is something I only think about when I sit down to seder, not before.

So here are my thoughts:
  • Go through my recipe file and pick out the recipes that are Pesach-friendly.  Salads, chicken, veggie dishes - there's so much out there.  Now's the time to read the recipes again with fresh eyes.
  • Go through the Pesach grocery aisles and really consider what I need (which means, don't go shopping with the kids!).  Buy the staples, not the latest and greatest.
  • Buy a food processor.  Last year I determined that this is something I need, so I want to invest in a good one that will last me for years.
  • I don't bake from scratch during Pesach.  I make fruit salad for dessert, or I splurge and buy the cake-in-a-box.  Pricey...yes, but it really saves me the headache and I allow for it since I don't buy lots of other stuff.
  • I love love love this post.  People - this is what it's about.  Back to basics.
  • Remember that - no matter what - make it fun for the kids.  A stressed out mommy is not fun.  A tired mommy is not fun.  So - be flexible and keep it simple.
 My indulgence every year?  The muffins-in-a-box.  Don't ask me why.  There's a little piece of heaven with some cream cheese on a muffin, I'm sure of it.


What are your favorite Pesach strategies?

Starbucks now questionable for the kosher consumer

Starbucks has rocked the boat in the kosher world.

As Starbucks has added to their food menus, their cleaning practices (as far as cleaning cooking utensils) has come into question with respect to the separation of utensils that are used for coffee-brewing purposes and utensils used for (non-kosher) food purposes.  Knowing that all utensils are (or may be) washed together in hot water, it now becomes difficult to say that a brewed drink at Starbucks is 100% kosher since it has been cleaned and washed together with utensils used in the production of non-kosher food.

In light of all of this, the Houston Kashrut Association (HKA) put out a statement aligning its policy with the Chicago Rabbinical Council which you can read here; essentially, the new guidelines are that the full-service stores are to be avoided (for the most part), and that the kiosks (like those in Target and Randalls) are ok.  Please read more details in the CRC policy which easily outlines the dos and don'ts so that you know what you can order.

Too bad!!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What is the Montessori Method?

Our kids attend a montessori preschool and we love it, but I have to admit that I'm still not able to 100% answer the question above.  What exactly is the Montessori method of education?

I do know that I was intrigued by the method that after my initial school tour, I went to the library and found the biography of Maria Montessori and I read the first part of it.

This coming Monday - April 4th - a guest speaker will come to explain what the method is all about and how it works.  If you are interested, I suggest you come check it out!

Here are the details:
Date: Monday April 4th
When: 7 pm
Where: Mr. and Mrs. Ken Freedman's home @ 4300 Mildred Street, 77401
Speaker: Dr. Elisabeth Coe, principal and founder of School of the Woods Montessori Middle and High School and Executive Director of the houston Montessori Center.

Dr. Mitchell Bard at the JCC tonight!

Join Dr. Mitchell Bard tonight (March 31) at the JCC for a special lecture on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (stupid) movement against Israel.  Here are the details:
The Center for Jewish Living and Learning at the Jewish Community Center of Houston presents The Vilification and De-legitimization of Israel, Thursday, March 31 at 8:00 p.m.  Join us for a lecture with guest speaker Dr. Mitchell Bard, author of The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East.
The boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement is focused largely on college campuses, but it is especially nefarious because it is one element of a broader global campaign aimed at the delegitimization of Zionism and, ultimately, the elimination of Israel. The BDS campaign is also a fight about freedom of speech that seeks to stifle academic exchanges and trade with Israel and to claim for its adherents' rights it denies to Israel and its defenders.
Join Dr. Bard as he addresses the history of the BDS movement and how the Jewish community should respond.
This lecture is offered in partnership between the Jewish Community Center and Congregation Beth Yeshurun.
 The JCC is located at 5601 S. Braeswood, Houston 77096.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Today is a BIG day!!

There is a stupid worldwide movement trending right now to boycott Israeli-made products, I guess to weaken Israel's economy and destroy it that way.

Um - ok.  I guess those people can stop using Google search, online chat, cell phones, mammograms, voice mail, thumb drives (USB flash), oh - and they can stop eating cherry tomatoes because all those things have their origins in Israel.  (Who knew?  Check out here and here.)

So while they're busy doing that - what we need to do is go BIG!!  BUY ISRAELI GOODS!!

Today - March 30 - go out to your local stores and buy Israeli goods.  Find the store manager - thank them personally for carrying those products and that you appreciate them not capitulating to the idiots out there.

Here are some ideas for local goods:
  • Yes To products (beauty, skincare) - found at Walgreens
  • Gottex (swimwear) - Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, Dillard's, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom
  • Victoria's Secret (lingerie) - lots of their products are manufactured in Israel - who knew?
  • Keter (home storage, hardware) - Home Depot, Costco (I saw it there a few weeks ago)
  • AHAVA & Mineral Care (Dead Sea skincare) - Marshall's, Sears, Sephora
  • Wine - Beldens, Kroger, maybe Spec's
  • Food - Costco (Israeli Feta), Beldens, HEB, Kroger, Randalls - this should be an easy one
This is just a beginner's list.  Check out the BIG website - even though Houston isn't listed, you can click through the categories for the other cities/regions and look at Israeli brands that are sold in the chain stores we all have.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Busy this week

I'll be lucky if I post anything this week (besides this) because this is a busy week for me, both at work and personally.  My nephew will be called to the Torah for the first time this coming Shabbat and we're hosting the Shabbat lunch at our house, and the next day is my synagogue's annual gala with which we're fairly involved, so I'll be stretched thin.

Nonetheless, I'll most appreciate it if you can leave me any detox-ifying recipes in the comments in my previous post.  We really need to enter spring with a "clean" slate!!

Thanks in advance!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Post-Purim, pre-Pesach detox

With the weather turning beautiful, and our plans for our summer trip to Israel underway, and with my closet being restored to its walk-in self, I feel the urge to detox.  Not in the "colon cleanse" kind of way (that's hardcore), but definitely move towards a more healthy, clean living.  I want to be outdoors (maybe my lovely office view is to blame), I want to move and walk, and I want to eat clean.  I'm not sure what "eat clean" means, but I feel like my body needs something more simple than the current fare.

So - this is a general call-out for your favorite clean-living recipes.  Recipes that are more plant-based and grain-based, as opposed to meat-based (not that we eat a lot of meat during the week, fortunately!).  For example, I want more recipes that use quinoa, tofu, vegetables, etc - but also recipes that don't require a lot of cooking or baking or processing.

I get inspiration from the Gluten-Free Goddess, but I'd like you to share with me your favorite *simple* recipes.  I like crunchy salads, fish, light soups, sandwiches.  Anything dairy.  Simple desserts.

Thanks in advance!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Purim Song #2 - fresh from Israel...

Check out this video - by students from Ein Prat in Israel...

Happy Purim!! Here's the song of the day for you...

Fresh off their success with the 2010 Chanukah song of the year, here is "the" Purim song of 2011 from the Maccabeats:



Happy Purim everyone!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Getting ready for Pesach with new sponges!

Just in time for Pesach cleaning, 3M - the makers of Scotch tape and Post-It Notes - have come out with a high-value coupon for sponges.  Click here for the coupon and since the coupon comes from the manufacturer's own website, you can print and use as many as you like!

Thanks Money Saving Mom!

Final hours: Purim Challenge - you give cans, I give cash

REMINDER - we're now in the last few hours of the Purim Challenge and I want to challenge my readers to give what they can to the needy...and remember that for every can donated, I will give 10 cents to Yad Sarah...so please follow the instructions here and may we all have a freilichen Purim and go from strength to strength!!

Thank you Houston!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Light will always outshine the darkness

This weekend, we saw the awful destruction that both man and nature can create.

In Japan - the earthquake, the tsunami(s?), the possible nuclear meltdown, the chaos - the sheer uncertainty of life.

In Israel - a family shattered forever, on Shabbat during their sleep - what is supposed to be the most secure time in one's week.

One destruction by the hand of nature, one destruction by the hand of man.

I keep thinking - there is no way the news can get worse.  I've been thinking this for a few years now, as the news headlines have become more outrageous.  Economic collapse, horrible crimes, political revolutions, natural disasters - every time I read a headline, I think:  this is it.  Mashaich just has to come because I can't imagine how much more insane the headlines have to get.

And yet, the next day, the sun shines.  It always shines.  It always rises and shines and makes the sky look pretty and the flowers open and the birds chirp.  Always.

That teaches us a lesson.  It teaches us that to dispel darkness, we must give light.  This is what Chabad teaches.  When times seem to be the most dark - when things look the most bleak to you, that is when you must give light to the world.  Goodness.  Hope.  Faith.  Acts of kindness and charity.  It's what got the 33 Chilean miners through.  It's what Little Orphan Annie sings about.  It's what gets us through our darkest moments - that hope for a better future, that things will turn around, and we will see the light. 

So do what you can, please, to bring forth more light into this world.  Light candles on Friday night, or give charity in honor of Purim, or share an unsolicited kind word about someone.  Do what you can to increase the light.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hadag Nachash - in Houston - this Sunday!

Hadag Nachash comes to Houston on their way over to Austin's South by Southwest Festival to play at Warehouse Live on Sunday night March 13!!!

If you've never seen them perform, get ready - they are excellent performers!!

Back when we lived in Pennsylvania, my husband was able to bring the band to our college town and that's when we really became familiar with their music.  Hebrew knowledge is a huge plus since many of their songs are in Hebrew - but it's ok if Hebrew isn't your strong suit; they give a great concert.

For more information about the band, check out this article and you can buy tickets here.

Drop me a line if you go!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A modern take on an ancient way of saying "no"

This post, while originally developed a while ago, is inspired by this post.

Everyone is well aware that our world is a 24/7 world.  Not that it wasn't before, but technology has allowed us to be in perpetual motion, with live-streaming everything, on-demand everything, instant access to everything, even to the point of impacting geopolitics.  The 9-5 job - a total relic of a by-gone era - is no longer a funny thing of our past, but now it's practically the norm to work on vacations (if you're lucky enough to take any) and check work email on weekends.

Moms have pressures of looking great, being green, signing kids up for the latest classes, volunteering here, there, and everywhere, and menu-planning has even taken on a life of its own.

How can you make it stop?

So our Torah - with its timeless wisdom revealed in each letter - offers a solution, a time-tested technique used by G-d Himself.  Even G-d had to stop and say no.  It's called Shabbat (our 7th day).  Heard of it?

Shabbat is our chance to say no, to stop that cycle of perpetual motion.  So much has been written about the beauty of Shabbat, how Shabbat has kept the Jews more than the Jews have kept it - all of that is great.  And now, when there is so much discussion about the art of saying no and how do you limit your activities to only your priorities and how do you SCHEDULE IN quality time with your familiy...Shabbat offers us a way to say no.  So simple. 

It's not our decision that we can't this or that on Shabbat, I can't, it's ShabbatI can't do anything about that.

I can't check email on Shabbat.  I can't go to that party on Shabbat.  I can't volunteer for that on Shabbat.  I can't go to the store on Shabbat.  Even better - you don't have an excuse - the decision was made for you - it is just your reality.  You get to say no, and you say it with confidence, because no one can say anything to convince you otherwise.

So then the result is that you have one day a week where you don't check your email and you can't come in to the office to finish the project and you can't volunteer and you just say no - and you stop.  And breathe.

And that is your anchor.  Knowing that you have a whole 25-hour period where - since you don't have the "noise" of the external obligations - you can focus on what you TRULY prioritize, that is a blessing, you get re-energized and refreshed so that when Shabbat is over, you can spend the next 6 days doing what you need to do, and knowing that every week, no matter what, we set the table for Shabbat.*

*This line is a quote fron a children's Shabbat book my kids have, the title escapes me now.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Before and After: Organizing shoes

Recently I got sick and tired of seeing this every single day in my closet:
That, ladies and gentlemen, are my shoes piled up inside my closet.  Ridiculous.  Ironically enough, they didn't start off that way.  You can see on the left hand side one of those shoe organizing racks where you just slip the shoes on...guess what - they don't work!
(clearly)
Those cheap-o shoe racks really don't work for shoes with heels because the shoes are hard to retrieve...they don't work for sandals because sandals don't always have something you can slip on...they don't work for boots...so you end up with this pile on the floor!!  It drove me crazy!!

I found the solution in Costco.  It's a 3-tier shelf made of bamboo (eco-friendly!) that has shelves with slats you place your shoes (or anything else) on.  It took me about 5 minutes to put it together, about 5 minutes to purge my shoe collection and identify the trash/donate piles, and I have a lifetime of enjoyment of being able to walk into my closet and practically dance with all the space I gained.

LOOK AT THAT!!!  The new shelf is on the left hand side.  The old shoe rack is on the right hand side, in my donation pile.

Amazingly, by organizing my shoes, I now realize that I need new shoes...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What are you doing on Sunday March 6?

*UPDATE:  I added the JCC event below**

If you haven't made plans yet, I suggest you get cracking.

Apparently March 6 is THE DAY in Houston for organizations to plan something.  It's enough to make you want to go out and get a personal assistant to help you manage it all.

A list of events for you (I'm sure I'm leaving something out...):
  • Jewish Kids in the Kitchen (JKIK) Purim activity @ Meyerland Minyan
  • PJ Library Story Time @ 10:30 am (more details on the Community Calendar on the Federation website)
  • Hats with Heart!  A new event to find new-to-you ladies' hats and raise funds for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society @ 3-5 pm - for more information, email standoutcopy@swbell.net
  • Aishel House annual benefit concert featuring Yehudah Glantz
  • Jewish Baker 3-part series in conjunction with JCC's Center for Jewish Living and Learning, with Naomi Malakoff, at UOS.  More information and RSVP here.
Make your plans now!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Purim Challenge: You give cans. I give cash.

**UPDATE:  This challenge will be extended through tomorrow, just to have one more opportunity day for a mitzvah!!  Please give what you can!!**

Matanot L'Evyonim - one of the major mitzvot of Purim but sometimes overlooked.  This is the mitzvah where, even though we go crazy with our celebrations, we ALWAYS remember those who are needy among us and we GIVE.

Kosher on a Budget is challenging her fellow bloggers to raise the profile of this mitzvah, and with your help, I know that Houston will rise to the challenge.

Here's how it will work:  For every non-perishable food item that you donate between now and Ta'anit Esther (March 17), Houston Ima will donate 10 cents to Yad Sarah in Israel, up to $200.

Yad Sarah is an incredible organization in Israel that is dedicated to assisting homebound individuals to make life easier, serving the disabled, the elderly, and the sick, all provided free or at minimal cost by an enormous network of volunteers.  My aunt (z"l) was a beneficiary and the work they do is mindblowing.  Visit their website to get a feel of the services they provide.

Give as generously as your budget (or pantry) will allow, and leave a comment on this post with the number of items you donated AND leave a comment on the original Kosher on a Budget post.

In local grocery stores, we have a network of "red barrels" to help you donate to the Houston Food Bank.  Or, you can donate to your pantry or organization of your choice.

Thank you, Houston!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Israel at the Rodeo?!?!?

Unless you are a recent transplant to Houston (as in, maybe you got here yesterday), you know that the Rodeo (with a capital R, because there really is only one) is the biggest event of the year.  It's not really just an event - it's an entire parallel universe.

So, given that, OF COURSE Israel has something to do with the Rodeo this year.  Don't believe me?  Check this out:

HKA Kosher Survey

Did you know that Houston is home to its very own kosher supervising agency?  The Houston Kashruth Association is a neat organization that supervises local bakeries and eateries as well as factories that produce a lot of what we see on the grocery store shelves. 

With the recent explosion (hey, when 2 kosher restaurants open in the same month, that's an explosion) of kosher eateries, "going kosher" has gotten more attention.

With that in mind, HKA has launched a survey to assess the kosher needs in town.  If you haven't taken the survey yet, please do so here.  Hey - you may even win a prize!!

(I would be remiss if I didn't mention the OTHER local kosher supervising agency organized by Chabad - the Mehadrin Kashrus of Texas - with its nifty logo!  We are so lucky to have two!!)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What are you grateful for this week?

Anyone who joins us at our Shabbat table is expected to answer that question, weekly.

Such a simple question: What are you grateful for this week?

But it makes you stop.  And think.  And through the process of articulating that for which you are grateful, it makes that gratitude real and more alive than just thinking about it and letting it just happen.

It all started like this:  When I lived in St. Louis, I was virtually adopted by the most amazing community I had experienced, and there was a particular family who often hosted me for Shabbat lunch and dinner.  Shabbat dinner at their house was a huge affair, typically with over 20 people.  And in between the soup and main courses, we would go around the table and state what we are grateful for each week.  And after each person spoke, we'd make a l'chaim.

With so many people around the table, this could take up to 30 minutes, if not more.

But no one was rushed, no one minced words, and occasionally there were tears (of gratitude) and laughter.  Now granted, not everyone was grateful for something as profound as world peace or things like that...usually people were grateful for their jobs, a roof over their head, money to pay the bills that week, a medical procedure that went well, a test in school that was aced, a successful work project, or just hitting all green lights on the way to work that day.

That was the whole beauty of it - there are so many things to be grateful for each day - do we take the time to think about all of those little bits that add up to a pretty good day?

Many people save their declarations of gratitude for Thanksgiving.  But I was so moved by this family custom that I adopted it as my own*, and now this is just what we do.  Shabbat is the perfect time to stop - think - and say thanks.

For all of the little miracles, and big ones, and everything in between.

*This family is very aware that we have adopted their custom and we always give them credit at our table.  And in a weird twist of fate, their son lived in Houston for a year for his residency so we got to see the father again.  Small world...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Parsha Parenting - Ki Tisa - calling all women!

How did I miss this?

Even though this Parsha Parenting post is for last week's parsha, Ki Tisa, it's still timeless and a lesson worthy to remember.

Women and mothers - a toast to all of you and here's to continuing to bring the light to the world and our homes and our children throughout the ages...

Didn't attend the concert...

I am so embarrased about this, especially since I wrote about it here, but I didn't make it to the Maccabeats concert on Sunday.

I'm sorry.

I had planned on it 100%.  But then the kids and I and my mom went to Galveston Sunday morning and had such a wonderful time that we came home only 45 minutes before the group was slated to perform, and there was just no way I could make it in time.

The kids really did have an awesome time at the beach.

Now I'm paying the price (hello sunburn in February!) but I am sure that it was a terrific concert and if you attended and would like to share your thoughts about it, please do so that I can live vicariously through you...

Week ending 2/26: meal plan

Dude, it's late and I'm tired, but here's what I thought of for a meal plan this week:
Tonight - Broccoli cheese crustless quiche - had some fresh broccoli in the fridge (sale last week!) so whipped that up with some mozzarella and feta cheese - yum!
Sometime this week - I want to make homemade black bean burgers (and maybe I'll try homemade buns??), and I also have homemade pizza dough in the freezer that is always begging to be made into pizza (and I have caramelized onions in the fridge ready to go, so why not?), plus we have some frozen tuna steaks...so I think we'll be ok this week.

I'm trying to narrow down the list of top family recipes so that I have a set list to choose from - but there are so many!  This is such a hard project, I can't even get started!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Supermom's super-chic and super-cheap bedroom decor

A friend of mine recently added some decor to her bedroom and today we are featuring her guest post.

Thanks to this post over at Rose Knows Coupons, my bedroom recently received a makeover.  It only took a quick trip to Michael's to pick out 9 scrapbook frames measuring 12x12, 9 pieces of scrapbook paper in coordinating colors, and a very patient husband who spent part of Sunday afternoon carefully measuring and re-measuring to hang the frames exactly in order.  It also helped that the frames were only $3.74 each as they were marked down, and I had a coupon from the Sunday insert.  We have had an empty wall for 5 years now, so this was a very exciting project!  The scrapbook paper can be replaced when we no longer want a green, brown, and blue color scheme.

Check it out:


Friday, February 18, 2011

Today is Purim Katan!

T-minus one month until Purim!!

We get to have Purim Katan this year because it's a leap year, so the "real" Purim will be on March 20th this year.  But Purim Katan is special too!  Check these out to read more about it:

Make it a joyous day, ya'll !!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Best Places in Houston: Kosher Pizza Places

Well of course they are two of Houston's Best Places...it's just that no one else knows that...

Check out the Best Places in Houston blog and today there is a post about Saba's and Aroma Pizza Cafe.  I actually love both pizzas and all the other food and I wish both of them hatzlacha (good fortune) in their endeavors.  I love having options when it comes to dairy meals.

So - check out the website and post a comment in support of these two restaurants!!  Thanks to Best Places in Houston for recognizing these two!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Maccabeats in Houston this Sunday Feb. 20th

Moms - you may want to come out on Sunday to the Maccabeats concert and tell your daughters, "Yes, I'll be happy if you come home with a guy like that."

If you are still singing the "Candlelight" song (like me) - even when the real song comes on the radio! - then you do NOT want to miss out on the Maccabeats in concert, LIVE at Houston's Yom Limmud.

Oh yeah, you can also attend Yom Limmud and learn a thing or two.

Yom Limmud is Houston's all-day Jewish learning extravaganza with top-notch speakers and 2 concerts this year.  This year it'll be at Emanu El and you can also order a lunch there and I think there will be childcare.  Check out the flyer for the event here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Menu plan week ending 2/19

Another Monday, another menu plan.  Or not much of one.  I still can't do it, folks.  Tips???

Here's what I had planned:
Last night - homemade pizza (planned and done - it was tasty!)
Tonight - I planned on making chicken stir fry with leftover Shabbat chicken, so I went ahead and made brown rice this evening.  However, my husband came home late tonight and my kids finished up the chicken soup, so chicken is shredded and brown rice is made for another night, I guess.
Tomorrow night - I was thinking of making this crock-pot "Mexican Lasagna" (dairy) from Family Circle magazine, so maybe I'll make that.  But I have all this leftover chicken to use up...

Beyond that?  I don't know.  It'll have to depend on how tomorrow night goes!

Please share any tips you have to plan menus in advance!!

Follow up to my 12:25 am Thursday night post

As you may recall, I posted at 12:25 am on Thursday night while I waited for a kugel to finish baking, on my mission to get as much done as possible before Friday, inspired by this blog here.  I went to bed sometime around 1 am, not a late hour for me (sadly enough).

What did I have left to do on Friday?  I planned on baking dessert, making a veggie (something with green beans), and I think that was it.  Shabbat lunch was basically leftovers (+ a fresh chicken dish) so that made it easy.

Friday afternoon I found my green bean recipe - super easy (and amazing - I've never seen green beans consumed that fast).

For dessert I planned on chocolate walnut torte, but since my guests included a tree-nut allergy, that became a chocolate torte.  When I came home, I discovered that I ran out of eggs and flour, so there went the torte.  I spent about 10 minutes wondering what to make for dessert.  Finally - thank you, Susie! - I pulled out my Short on Time cookbook (um, because I was) and found the baby apple tart recipe.  Perfect!  I had everything I need.  And then - I decided to change the recipe half-way through the process (recipe to follow).

Anyway - long story short - I had EVERYTHING ready for Shabbat EARLY, and since the children were playing nicely by themselves, I did the unthinkable:  I pulled out a book and actually read about the parsha for about 7 minutes.

Wow, can you imagine?

I felt awesome.  I really did.  And when everyone came over and so generously offered to help, I sincerely meant it when I said, "Thanks - but I'm good, everything is done."

Here's my super-easy last-minute dessert:

Almost-Strudel (hey - I just made that up!)

* 1 puff pastry, thawed and at room temperature
* 1 apple, diced (I sliced it and I know that dicing it will be easier)
* 1 jar of jam, like cranberry or apricot or something that complements apples (I used our homemade apple cranberry jam)
* a bit of margarine + a bit of brown sugar + cinnamon - all melted together in a pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1.  Unwrap the puff pastry so it's a square.
2.  Slather your jam on top of the dough.  Use as much as you like!  (I used almost 8 ounces)
3.  Evenly distribute the apple pieces all over the jam.
4.  Add the brown sugar mixture on top of the apples.  The mixture won't cover all of the apples - that's ok.
5.  Fold one third over the middle section, and fold the other third over the middle section, and transfer to a baking pan (I lined mine with aluminum foil), seam side down.
6.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until brown and golden.  Some of the filling may leak out.
7.  Before you serve, warm it up a bit.  Slice and graciously accept compliments.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Supermom came to my house yesterday

I wasn't planning on it, but Supermom came to my house yesterday.

Turns out we're very good friends and while I always suspected that's she's a Supermom, it wasn't confirmed until yesterday.

Yesterday we were in the middle of enjoying a very nice seudat shlisheet (Sabbath third meal) at our house, with good table conversation flowing punctuated by reminders to the kids to be careful.  My Supermom friend fished out a pickle (gherkin-size) from the glass pickle jar, in the process stabbing it with the (not sharp) knife.  A couple of minutes afterwards, we all simultaneously noticed that the pickle jar was leaking water onto the table.  Not a common occurrence at the table, there was a brief moment of interest followed by mayhem, trying to figure out how to stem the water leakage and also figure out HOW it was leaking if the jar was sitting on the table, seemingly whole-looking.  Needless to say, my husband and I basically did nothing (for some reason, I threw a tortilla under it thinking the tortilla would absorb the water - not a good idea) while my friend's husband (thank goodness he's an engineer) smartly grabbed a kitchen towel and cleaned up the whole mess.  We threw away the pickle jar and all the pickles.  For the next 15 minutes, we marveled at my friend's Supermom ability to break the glass jar with a butter knife without actually breaking the jar, and it continues to be a mystery.

It was funny.  So - be careful when fishing items out of glass jars...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Check out the Blog Hop!

If you're looking for some fresh new blogs to peruse this weekend, check out the all-new Blog Hop page.  New links are added as soon as new blogs link to it, so check back often to see if a new blog pops up.  A variety of topics is represented so hopefully you'll find something that piques your fancy!

Happy reading!

It's 12:25 am and I can't remember the last time I felt this productive

Chatzos Challenge - BRING IT!

(this post is for you)

A friend of mine recently started a blog detailing her adventures in making Shabbat early enough to meet the chatzos (mid-day Friday) deadline - a concept I've never heard of until she brought it up.  Sure - it's always wonderful to prepare Shabbat early enough so that you're not racing around counting down the seconds until the 18 minute window before candlelighting is up (I may speak from experience) - but I did not know that such a custom exists.

It's as though the Torah is teaching us organizational skills...

Anyway, you can read more about the concept on her blog.  For me, getting anything done before Friday afternoon is icing on the cake because I work out of the house full-time, and I don't cook in advance and stock up my freezer (although I may do that in the future).  So tonight - I don't know what got ahold of me.  Here is a run-down of what I've done so far:
* Floormated (thanks Hoover!) the living room floor
* baked challah
* made Shabbat lunch chicken
* made 2 different kugels (one noodle, one veg)
* prepped and marinated Friday night chicken (hubby will cook in the morning)
* polished candlesticks and kiddush cup
* laid tablecloth on table (the kids like to help me set the table for Shabbat and I love doing it with them, so that's our activity for tomorrow afternoon)
* cleaned the kitchen
* 1 load of laundry, start to finish

So - why am I still awake?  Because my throat is dry and I wanted some warm apple cider before I go to bed.  Also, kugel #2 is still in the oven so I am waiting for that.

There's no way I'm expecting such activity on a routine basis.  Certainly I don't want my Thursday nights to be all about the kitchen.  But it definitely is nice to know that certain things are already done.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An egg co-op in Houston?

Why yes - of course!  Um - what is an egg co-op?

(it's ok, I've never heard of one either)

My understanding is that an egg co-op is similar to participating in a co-op for fruits and veggies.  The benefit is that you know where your eggs come from, and you know about the chickens who worked so hard to lay those eggs for you.  You get to support a local farm and also improve the health and well-being of your egg-eating family. 

The way it works is that you buy a "share" for the specified length of the program.  Your share will be a certain number of eggs each week delivered straight from this farm.  You can also buy half-shares.  The co-op needs a minimum number of shares in order to commence, so time is of the essence.

Here at our local Jewish Community Center, a program is underway to begin an egg co-op to purchase farm fresh eggs.  Now, everyone touts farm fresh eggs, but really, these are straight from the farm.  As in, this farm.  Right outside of town.  Not hundreds of miles away.  I believe this is a fairly innovative program along with the CSA (community supported agriculture) fruit/veggie program our JCC operates.  Not too many JCCs have such programs, so we are very lucky.

Judaism, of course, supports and advocates for humane and ethical treatment of animals.  After all, how can we nourish ourselves if we don't take care of the beings who nourish us?

If you would like more information about this program, contact the egg co-op administrator at the JCC at jhandy [AT] jcchouston [DOT] org.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Meal planning check-in: Week ending 2/12

Well, here we go again.  What shall I make for dinner this week?
I finished the chicken soup from shabbat, and I feel like there is so much leftover food in the fridge from this weekend that needs to be creatively re-invented, so I feel like it's only right to use up that food before making fresh food...
I also want to make the pasta-tofu dish that was suggested in the comments here.  I think homemade pizza is in the plans for this week.  Maybe something with fish...like fish wraps?  We used to eat a lot of those when we were in grad school...

Maybe what I need to do is to make a list of my family's favorite recipes, and work from there?  Then I don't have to start from scratch every single week?

What are your family's favorite weeknight recipes?  Share in the comments box!

*HOT!* Free Matisyahu song download

If you're a fan of Matisyahu, you can download the song "Darkness into Light" for FREE for a limited time from the Amazon MP3 store.  Check it out here!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Calling all Supermoms - time to take a break

Tonight I met up with a dear friend of mine (more on that in another post) and we chatted about our relatively new roles as moms.  After discussing a few situations - that now seem so ordinary because we don't stop and think, we just do - she said to me, "Wow, so you really are Supermom."

(truly - I'm not - I have Shabbat dinner chicken in the oven right now and I still have to report to work tomorrow, as an example)

Which got me thinking about all of the things moms do just because, and all of the things that happen behind the scenes ("the laundry doesn't fold itself" is a common refrain in my household)...and then this post caught my eye.  There are so many things that demand our attention RIGHTNOW...but just as important is that we don't lose ourselves in this whole mothering role and that we pay attention to our own needs.

So how timely to find a post that speaks to easy ways to pamper ourselves!!  I'm happy to try any of these starting tomorrow!

How do you like to pamper yourself on the cheap?  Leave a note in the comments box!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

For the kosher Starbucks addicts out there

While we're on the topic of staying warm, my thoughts always turn to a warm cup of something yummy, like out of Starbucks (or your favorite local coffee shop).  Given the recent changes to some of their products, it's a bit of a challenge to know exactly what is kosher and what should be avoided, but fortunately we have technology on our side!!

Have you heard of KosherStarbucks.com?  I just recently found out about it and I want to share it with you!

It's a terrific site that goes item by item, giving you exact details of what's permissible and what is not.  You can even subscribe to it so that you are alerted instantly when there are updates! 

Anyway, I think it's a handy site and I hope you find it handy as well.

What's your favorite Starbucks drink?  I love lattes.  Leave a note in the comments box with what you love to order from there!

Get ready for wintry weather!

If you haven't been outside recently - watch out!  It is COLD!!!

Please be careful and be strategic re: food and gas.  You don't want to be stuck in the cold pumping gas, and you also don't want to be one egg short of a challah recipe when making challah this week.  Take the time today to plan out your recipes for the rest of the week and grocery shop asap.

A good excuse to plan for Shabbat early!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Meal planning check in: week ending 2/5

This week is a bit tough because right now my kids + husband are sick, so I need to think of sick-friendly foods.  Obviously, chicken soup is at the top of the list.  I'm planning on making butternut squash soup tonight because I picked up a butternut squash at the market, and I also need to get some tofu and maybe try the noodles + tofu with peanut sauce left in the comments from the earlier meal planning post.  In general, I want to take inventory of my pantry/freezer and try to use up what we have.

Easier said than done?  I hope not.

Please drop me a note in the comment box with your favorite food to eat while you're sick.  Help me feed my family!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Welcome Jewish Herald-Voice readers!

Welcome to all readers who come here via the Jewish Herald-Voice!!  I am honored to be one of the featured bloggers on the paper's website so I hope you enjoy what you read here.

I have to admit - I look forward to reading the paper each week.  It's my Friday night post-clean up, post-kids are in bed activity.  I've read this paper since I was a kid growing up here...when I travel I pick up the local Jewish paper and while they are good, I have yet to see one that is as comprehensive as the JH-V is (outside of New York).

So, please add your comments to any of my posts and you can always drop me a line at HoustonIma AT rocketmail DOT com.  You can also follow me on Twitter via the button on the left.

Shabbat shalom!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

We will never forget

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, January 27, 1945.

We will never forget.

72 members of my mother's family were killed in the Holocaust.

I'll never forget.

My mom used to walk to school on roads made with Jewish tombstones.

We'll never forget.

My grandmother and my aunt, as an infant, fled their town in a train when the Nazis advanced to where they lived, a bomb dropped on the train, and my grandmother and aunt escaped and managed to survive in the forest.  By themselves, because my grandfather was in the front as a combat medic.

My children will never forget.

My father and family evacuated from Moscow during the war.

We will never forget.

We will never forget, but we will move on and we will be stronger.  Check out photos here and click here for more information about today.

Today's theme song - The Partisan Song (in Yiddish w/ English translation):
Zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letsten veg,
Khotsh himlen blayene farsthtelen bloye teg.
[Never say you are walking your final road,
Though leaden skies conceal the days of blue.]
Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sha'ah,
S'vet a poyk ton undzer trot mir zaynen do!
[The hour that we have longed for will appear,
Our steps will beat out like drums: We are here!]
Fun grinem palmenland biz vaysen land fun shney,
Mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey.
[From the green lands of palm trees to lands white with snow,
We are coming with our all pain and all our woe.]
Un vu gefalen s'iz a shpritz fun undzer blut,
Shprotzen vet dort undzer gevurah, undzer mut.
[Wherever a spurt of our blood has fallen to the ground,
There our might and our courage will sprout again.]
S'vet di morgenzum bagilden undz dem haynt,
Un der nekhten vet farshvinden miten faynd.
[The morning sun will shine on us one day,
Our enemy will vanish and fade away.]
Nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in dem kayor,
Vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.
[But if the sun and dawn come too late for us,
From generation to generation let them be singing this song.]
Dos lid geshriben iz mit blut un nit mit blay,
S'iz nit keyn lidel fun a foygel oyf der fray,
[This song is written in blood not in pencil-lead.
It is not sung by the free-flying birds overhead,]
Dos hot a folk tsvishen falendike vent,
Dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent!
[But a people stood among collapsing walls,
And sang this song with pistols in their hands!]

List of Stupid Money Spent

Check out this list from a fellow Houston blogger; it's a rather unique list.

I cannot compile such a list for myself, mostly because it will be painful and traumatic and much longer.

Food waste should definitely be included in this list.  There are so many times I buy food with plans of using ingredients in a specific recipe, only to not make said recipe, and then the food is wasted, and so goes my money.  Shabbat leftovers are a big part of that - making so much food and then wasting it if it doesn't reheat well, or loses its luster after Shabbat.  I am definitely trying to do better in the food waste area, so hopefully this food waste proportion will go down over time...

Clothing is also an issue for me.  I intensely dislike trying on clothes in a store, so I tend to make my purchase with the plan of returning the item if it doesn't work out.  Get this - apparently some stores DO have a return policy where they only accept returns within a specific time period!  Or, even better: Loehmann's near my house closed, so now for sure I will never be able to return a skirt I purchased there (um, I have a brand new knee-length black skirt, if anyone's interested...)

Then there are various late fees, penalties to pay (hello Massachusetts - why do I need to pay a penalty on tax I didn't know I owe until April 15?), and so on.

But like I said, it's painful to think about.  All those donations - I call them donations to make myself feel better - when I really couldn't afford them, but I had 100% control over preventing them.

What would be included on your list of stupid money spent, and what are you going to do differently this year?  Add your comment in the comment box.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meal planning check-in: week ending 1/29

I suppose since I started the conversation about meal planning, I should update you on my progress.

Remember, this was my first week, so be forgiving.

This week I planned on making:
super salmon veggie patties (really, they ARE super)
shepherd's pie with leftover Shabbat chicken (frugal, right??)

I think that's as far as I got.

So far I made:
hamburgers (husband had a craving)
chili (made by husband with leftover hamburgers while I was Zumba-ing)
mushroom barley soup (made with leftover cooked barley from Shabbat)

So....can't say that I stuck to the meal plan...but I can say that all of the meals were possible because we had the ingredients on hand...

Now on Twitter!

Houston Ima is now on Twitter and is open to followers!  Catch up with all of Houston Ima's latest news and views at @HoustonIma2.  (Yes, apparently @HoustonIma was already taken...as was ImaHouston...sad, I know...)  You can also catch Houston Ima on Twitter via the widget on the left-hand side of this page - click on the Twitter link to take you directly to my profile.

Looking forward to interacting with you in 140 characters or less!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My secret confession

Ok it's time to come clean.  I've been Zumba-ing on the sly here.  Let me tell you, it's like a whole other person is out there doing this Zumba thing.  You wouldn't recognize me (and this time around, I'm not wearing hot pink pants).

You probably wouldn't recognize me as I helplessly flail my arms around, trying to follow the instructor.  You probably won't recognize me as I try to keep the rhythm with my feet, discovering that it's so easy to trip over my own foot, and look at that, apparently my left leg refuses to lift as frequently as the instructor's leg lifts.  Thank goodness no one recognizes me in the class, actually.

I am a professional working mom by day, Zumba impersonator by night (on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

The really neat thing about Zumba is that you can make it as challenging as you want it to be.  You can move fast or slow, and actually all of the movements are fairly optional, leaving you to work out at a comfortable pace, or you can challenge yourself with increased difficulty.  It's an egalitarian workout that doesn't punish you at the end, but makes you smile as you realize that everyone is having fun and no one cares how anyone else looks.

No doubt, the next time I attend a wedding, there will be some Zumba moves to be had...

(just kidding)

Get ready to laugh

I just stumbled onto this site and I can tell that I'm going to spend more time on it soon than I really should.  It's hilarious, people (and there's a shout out to Emery/Weiner in this post).  Even though it's geared for the younger crowd (am I really that old?), it's still quite funny.

Listen, if we can't laugh at ourselves, then what can we laugh at?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In search of: tofu recipes!

I've recently begun to cook tofu (I know, where have I been all this time...), which is funny because I never particularly cared for it except in miso soup (which I absolutely love) but otherwise, it never had any appeal to me.  Recently I've re-energized my cooking with more healthy fare (not that we were unhealthy before, but there's always room for improvement) and tofu definitely fits the bill.  We usually eat more dairy/parve foods during the week, and tofu seemed like the "new frontier" for me.

Which leads me to my request:  can you please share with me your favorite tofu recipe in the comments box?  I need some inspiration!!

To help us get into the mood, Nasoya tofu has a promotional campaign going on where if you sign up with this promotion, they'll send you a coupon a week for tofu products.  Great, right?  Click here to sign up for this promotion.

Thanks all!  I look forward to getting some yummy recipes!!

Another "get out of the kitchen and do a mitzvah" opportunity

Saba's is at it again - today (January 23) only - mention Torah Day School when you make your order and Saba's will donate 15% to the school.  Treat yourself to yummy dairy food at Saba's and do a mitzvah effortlessly!

Enjoy!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happy Tu B'Shevat everyone!

Happy birthday to the trees!

Houston is fortunately a rather green city and most trees retain most of their green color through the Houston winter.  Take some time today and thank your local tree for:
  • providing a home for birds and small animals
  • providing shade when you feel the heat
  • providing us with beauty to look at
  • shielding us from extreme weather
  • improving our air quality
  • giving us something to talk about with our kids outside
  • providing us with oxygen - VERY important :-)
  • and more you can read about here and here 
Tu B'Shevat is also a wonderful opportunity to think of the Land of Israel and the ecology we find there.  The famous "seven species" that are directly associated with Israel are remembered today and featured in lots of yummy recipes.  Re-ignite your environmentalism and think about you can do to leave the Earth in a better position.  Go outside with the kids and talk about the textures you see and feel, the sounds you hear, the animals and bugs you see.  Read Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree and think about what we can learn from trees, the silent givers.

Enjoy the day!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Meal planning

As part of trying to eat healthier and stay within our budget, I'm thinking about doing more meal-planning, meaning, that I'll be thoughtful of our family meals each week by planning them out ahead of time and shopping accordingly.

Benefits:  Having a stocked pantry/fridge/freezer ahead of time with all of the ingredients that I need, avoiding the 4 pm thought of "What are we going to eat for dinner tonight?" followed by a mad dash to the grocery store on the way home, healthy meals all planned out.

Cons:  There aren't any cons really, other than taking up some time to actually do the meal planning.

I have friends who do this religiously.  I like being organized, so doesn't this make sense?

I've tried to do something like this in the past, and actually I tried to have regular theme nights so that I can focus my meal planning on a specific theme rather than come up with a menu from the giant universe of food.  In fact, using theme nights is an idea shared by The Food Nanny.  And guess what?  The Food Nanny has free templates to use for food planning!  I can use those!

I think the key here is discipline.  I already do have a well-stocked pantry, so I know I have the basics.  All I need is the discipline to actually sit down and think about what my family should eat this week.  Suggested theme nights are Asian/Indian, Mexican/Latin, slow-cooker, fish, pasta/Italian, grill night, soup/sandwich night, dairy night (think quiches and frittatas), and more.

So many bloggers are documenting their real-live menus, so there is a lot of material out there for inspiration, like here and here and here.  Will you join me as I try to menu-plan?

Do you plan out your menus?  Do you have suggested dinner ideas?  Leave a comment with your suggestions!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Grab some pizza and do a mitzvah!!

Get out of the kitchen and let Saba's Pizza make your dinner tonight - AND help Robert M. Beren Academy's 8th grade class raise money for their trip to DC!

Saba's Pizza will donate 15% of your purchase towards the goal when you mention BEREN - so everyone's a winner!

What an excellent deal and an easy way to give some tzedakah!!  Enjoy!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Go shopping this Sunday!

Calling all ladies -

When you're not busy taking the kids to the Tu B'Shvat events I mention in my previous post, why don't you treat yourself to something new at the Women's Boutique to be held at the Young Israel synagogue (7823 Ludington Drive) in the Fondren Southwest area from 10 am - 4 pmSaba's Pizza and My Pita will be there selling food, and there will be almost a dozen and a half (!) vendors offering excellent children's toys, modest clothing, beauty services, and art.  Here's the info below (click on the image for a larger view):

And - there are coupons!  Check them out here:
If you go, drop me a note in the comments and share what deals you picked up!