Saturday, July 30, 2011

Salatim: Aubergine And Others

Salatim is Israeli cuisine's answer to tapas or antepasta. You serve a selection of Middle-Eastern dips and small salads with pita and olives for an interesting hors d'ouvres. Add some stuffed vine leaves, a big salad and some cheese et voila - lunch for a summer's day.

I usually have a mammoth cooking fest on a Thursday night because it suits me to have a full fridge for the weekend and leftovers for as long as they last. Most salatim will last the week in the fridge if necessary, but it never happens. I eat them as dips with crackers or crispy things, spread on toast, as dressings for salads, or sauces for pasta. 

The most ubiquitous salatim are humus and tehina. For Salat Tehina, just take the humus recipe and add more tehini paste instead of chickpeas. It makes a lighter, more runny sort of dip with a distinct sesame taste.

The next most popular ingredient for salatim is aubergine:
Salat Aubergine (also known as Baba Ganoush)

1 aubergine
lots of garlic
lemon juice
chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Prick an aubergine and place it in a hot oven until the peel is crisp and cracked. Cut it in half and scoop out the flesh into a sieve. When it is drained put all the ingredients into a food processor and mix to a loose paste. NB: start with small amounts of the seasonings and add to taste.

A variation is to mix the aubergine with mayonaise instead of lemon juice - for a creamier salat.

Salat Aubergine Piquanti
1 aubergine sliced and cut into small cubes
1 pepper (whatever colour you like)
6 tomatoes (peeled and chopped - save the juice)
lots of chopped garlic
ground cumin and coriander
salty and pepper
canola or sunflower oil (no point wasting good virgin olive oil for cooking)
Lemon juice

Saute the aubergine and garlic in a pan. Add all the other ingredients and simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Leave to cool. Many people add tomato puree for a deeper red appearance but I'm on a back-to-basics quest so I try to eliminate things in packaging.

And here's one for free as we've practically made it already:
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Par-boil slices of carrot. Saute chopped garlic in a pan. Add the carrots, lemon juice, ground cumin and coriander, salt and pepper. Simmer until the carrots are soft and any liquid has been absorbed. Serve cool.

This post is linked to the Saturday Recipe Swap at LakesSingleMum. The theme this week is summer dishes for picnics and BBQs. Check it out.

I've also linked to Recipeshed's Salad Week. Loads of interesting and unusual salads so pop over and take a look.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Demise Of Death As We Knew It

On Saturday evening, on hearng about the death of Amy Winehouse, I turned to facebook and twitter. I don't know why Amy's death hit me so hard, I didn't even listen to her music particularly although, when it came on the radio I was impressed by her amazing talent. Maybe because she was a young Jewish woman from NW London who could have been any of my friends' daughters. Maybe because I had some insight into her upbringing and family background and it was close to home. Who knows.

This was my first national tragedy shared on social networking sites as I've only been on fb/twitter since January. Having enjoyed the comraderie and hilarity of the Royal Wedding with friends across the globe, I thought there would be a similar coming together (for those interested at all) to share the love and support, though obviously of a different nature.

On twitter there was shock about the news and an outpouring of RIP tweets. And something else. People genuinely angry about the insensitive comments (and jokes even) that some people feel compelled to post. As if there is no real person behind the celebrity character, as if she left no grieving family. I didn't get any of these tweets of extremely bad taste in my timeline as I follow fewer than 100 people and all of them are very nice. However, those I follow were switching off in anger and only returning to unfollow the insensitive, unfeeling and generally misguided.

On facebook an even more surprising thing happened. I read at least four posts declaring, in the opinion of the authors, the follow sentiments:
1. The circumstances of Amy's death meant she did not deserve such sorrow.
2. How dare I be upset when other major tragedies had occurred the same weekend and that these had not affected me in the same way showed me to be lacking in... I don't know what. Compassion?
3. Amy willfully brought about her demise because addiction is a choice.

To answer 1. and 2. - If I share my feelings on facebook it is because this is how I feel. I do not appreciate being told how appropriate my feelings are (or aren't). I do not expect my feelings to be graded on a sliding scale according to other concurrent events. As my friend E pointed out, Mother Theresa died the same week as Princess Diana. I cried for Princess Diana - deal with it.

The arguments around point 3. swiftly slipped into a war of words and symantics. What does choice mean? Did she want to die? I don't think so - which for me is the bottom line. Or maybe she did and if so, was this her choice or was it also the mental desease taking control? I am not a mental health expert and neither are most of my fb friends who joined the discussion.

My overall impression is that, whereas death has always been carefully tip-toed around in order to respect the dead and and not cause added distress to the grieving families, facebook has turned us all into Op-Ed authorities with our own private following. I have been to funerals of suspected suicides where any hushed murmerings were quickly silenced. I have been to funerals where wrong choices may have been made and things could have turned out differently. Non of these occasions were times to be judgemental and those with opinions kept them to themselves.

Social networking sites are a wonderful thing. My world has expanded incredibly since joining facebook and twitter. But something happens when you write to the world from your kitchen table. Unlike at a dinner party when a forceful opinion can be retracted, modified or at least explained less forcefully in accordance with the immediate reactions, a post on fb/twitter is there in writing. You can remove it without trace only if you get there before the comments start coming in or you can try to explain or expand your point of view, again in writing. I express my opinion here on my blog which has a similar effect. As I said, the posts on fb/twitter surprised me although I still agree that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But, at the time of writing, death to me is still sacred. It still commands respect and hushed tones - especially in the case of an untimely and tragic death.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Potato Kugel and Ratatouille

My current Friday night dinner from the weekly menu plan (yes the same one still - but I'm speeding up the recipes so that I can change it soon. Promise) is vegetable streudel, potato kugel and ratatouille. That's Austria, Germany and France on one vegetarian plate (which is ironic as these cuisines are not known for their vegetarian selections). As I've already given a recipe for the streudel and I wanted to do the kugel today, I thought I'd also include the ratatouille and voila  - dinner!

Potato kugel (potato cake) is an Ashkenazi Jewish traditional dish from the kitchens of Eastern Europe. It is basically a big savoury potato bake - like a large hash-brown with fried onions. There are many variations but here is a simple version which you can doctor by adding grated carrots or other vegetables to taste.

Potato Kugel

Finely chop a large onion and fry it until golden.

Pulse 4 potatoes in the food processor and put them in a bowl.

Mix in the fried onion, 2 eggs, I tbsp flour, 1/4 cup cooking oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Put an oiled baking dish into the hot oven until the oil is hot. Pour in the potato mixture and bake for about an hour or more. Don't get scared if the top goes a deep brown - it's supposed to. The finished kugel should be crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.

Ratatouille

Fry a large onion and chopped garlic in a pot until they are soft. Add sliced courgettes, green pepper, peeled and chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until all the vegetables are soft in a light tomato sauce. I usually spice it up a bit with some soy sauce, tumeric, or even a vegetarian stock cube.

This post is linked to Meal Planning Monday at At Home With Mrs M. You can click on the link for more weekly meal plans.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tipsy Tart

Tipsy Tart is really a rich, dark pudding cake with a brandy flavoured syrup poured over when it's still hot. It's one of my favourite desserts. It's very popular in South Africa and all my SA friends make it - with various recipes. Actually it's a matter of taste, proven by the fact that I found tens of recipes when I googled it - necessary thanks to some secretive and protective cooks. Some make it with nuts (pecans or walnuts) and some recipes include bananas and dates. I am not a cake person - I don't see the point of cake except to hold the cream and icing together. I think one of my aversions stems from the fact that most of my friends bake with margerine instead of butter so that they can serve the dish with or after a meal that includes meat (kosher restraints). When I started keeping a meat-free kitchen I discovered that baking with butter really makes a big difference! However I still like my cake moist and chewy so I went for a banana/dates version.

Tipsy Tart

A. Combine the following ingredients and leave to cool:
1 cup sultana raisins
1 cup dates finely chopped
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp instant coffee
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water

B. Cream together 1/4 cup butter and 1 cup demarera sugar. Then  mix in 3 large eggs.

C. Combine 2 cups self-raising flour1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt.

D. Mash 4 bananas.

E. Fold A and C into B and then mix in D. Pour into a buttered baking dish and bake for about 30 mins in a hot oven - until you have a moist sticky pudding rather than a dry cake.

F. Prick all over with a tooth-pick and pour the syrup over the top. For the syrup bring the following ingredients to the boil, add 1/3 cup brandy and bring to the boil again.
1 cup demerara sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/4 tsp vanilla

Serve warm with cream or vanilla ice-cream. A dark, rich, helping of Heaven in a dish....

This post is linked the Saturday Recipe Swap at Lakes Sinlge Mum. Go and check it out - it's cake week!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

IVF: Too Many Too Fast

Before starting this post I took a quick look at my list of tags. This is the 16th post in my IVF journey. 16 posts and I'm still faffing around with dreams of effective IUI! I'm irritated that I didn't take the advice given and move on faster to the real treatment. I'm bored with how long it took quite frankly. I suppose at the time I didn't realize how long the journey would be (four years in total). If I had I would have been devastated. So, because I cannot bear to go through it all agan so slowly, I am gong to speed up the telling.

I had been  prescribed Cetrotide (stops early ovulation thereby allowing the eggs to mature longer), Gonel F (to stimulate the growth of more eggs) and Ovitrelle (stimulates the final maturization of the eggs and releases them from the ovaries). On day five of my cycle I went to the IVF unit at Haddassah, Mt Scopus. Blood test done, ultrasound approved and the nurse took me into a private room to show me how to inject myself with the Gonel F.

I was nervous but I know diabetics who have to inject several times a day for their whole lives. I could certainly do it for a short time in order to have a baby. The Gonel comes in a pen. You set the dial for the doseage, screw in a very fine needle, and pull out the end (it comes out according to the set doseage). You swab your stomach with an antiseptic wipe, push in the needle and squeeze down the end of the pen. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. My hands were shaking just handling the needle, let alone jabbing it into my stomach. I held my breathe and....surprise! It didn't hurt at all. The needle was so thin it was like acupuncture (I imagine :-) ). Then I squeezed the liquid medicine into my flesh where there wasn't a space for it and it killed - OWCH!

I was told to take 225 units a day and come back four days later. At this point I want to say something about the Cetrotide. I honestly don't remember taking it. I don't even remember what it looked like. I do remember having something left over which I never used and this could be it. On googling Cetrotide I found out that it is usually taken between days five and seven. By this time all the medicines have probably changed anyway so let's just move on.

On day nine I had about six or seven eggs big enough to measure on both sides. And there were more little ones visible. The nurse showed my chart to the Prof. "You're shooting too many too fast," he said. "You're producing them like a 22 year old. We'll have to slow you down!" He certainly knows how to give a compliment that Professor.

My doseage of Gonel F went down to 150 units and then 75 units per day. And one day I went into the clinic to be greeted with the news that I would not be having IUI but instead would be undergoping IVF. There were simply too many eggs for IUI. It would be irresponsible as I could end up with a multiple pregnancy. As they didn't want to waste all those fabulously large eggs, they had arranged it all with my health fund and I would probably have the operation in two days time.

I was stunned. Stunned and excited. I was to take 37.5  units of Gonel F this afternoon, have the Ovitrelle injected into my bottom at 9pm tonight, not eat or drink from 10pm tomorrow as I would be having general anaesthetic, and turn up at 8am on Thursday morning. Sometimes it's best when desicions are taken out of your hands.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Happy Half Birthday To Me

Today marks six months since I started blogging. On the same day that I wrote my first post, The First Question About Daddy, I also signed up with FB and Twitter. On the one hand half a year has gone by very quickly, but on the other hand, I cannot now imagine a time without blogging, FB and Twitter and, of course, all the lovely people that I am now in contact with daily. Below are a few things that I have been reflecting on recently.

My Name. Midlife Singlemum may have been a mistake - I can't decide. I chose it to include words that would show up on searches and firmly establish my niche. In that respect it hasn't disappointed (although I have branched a little into expatland). However, I am a bit tired of having people greet me in the street with a, "hello Midlife!" It's beginning to sound more middle-aged than I like to feel. Other jokes include Midlife Crisis and Midwife. I tried to think of a way to shorten or change it without losing my place in the blopgosphere (Like MTJAM for example) but MLSM sounds like a text message or, worse, a hospital superbug. Any suggestions gratefully recieved.

Blogger. I love my blog. I love the layout and that I can put a picture behind the page. The template designs are a bit limited in what they can let me do, but it's fine for now. The only big question I have is what is the story with the All time stats? My top story has been my first post for the entire six months. The All time stats for this post show between 207 and 209 views (yes it  goes down as well #illogical). However, the very same post receives more views regularly. I have tried to ask Blogger but so far no reply. Which is why I wonder, should I switch to another host before I try to grow any bigger? Is it worth paying for the security of technical support and back-up facilities. Again, I would be happy for the advice of more experienced bloggers.

How to Monetize. I have an unusual situation whereby, although I have many readers in Israel where I live, I find myself writing more for readers in the UK. This excludes me from most promotions, competitions, and advertising. On the other hand, I am putting so many hours into blogging it's a shame not to be able to make money out of it. I'll have to think more about this one.

Traffic. In the beginning I was thrilled when I averaged 50 views a day. Then I started to join other sites and clubs - Tots 100, Netmums, Britmums, Expat Blog, Go Overseas. I participated in memes, carnivals and linkies - Silent Sunday, MUMenTUM, Meal Planning Monday, Blow Your Own Blog Horn and Tracks of my Years. Suddenly it seemed to take on a life of its own and I can have up to 250 views a day (on a good day). I know I'm still among the small fry compared to the big fish out there, but it still fascinates me to see the unlikely traffic sources on my stats page. And you can't aim higher if you don't know where you are now.

Klout. What can I say? There seems to be no rhyme or reason. In a week that I decided to socially engage with a vengeance on FB and twitter in order to up my Klout score, I initiated some long FB threads and in the same week I picked up two new followers on the blog, several on twitter, new friends on FB and got more pageviews than ever before, my Klout score went down. To be fair, it bounced back a bit after two days. This leads me to think that they may have a 48hr delay in filtering data. Who knows? However, it all adds to the fun and I do love the number games.

SEOs. In case you are wondering why I have linked to so many sites on a post that is essentially about me. This is something I learned from Jax at Making It Up. As my current techno-guru she advised that linking up increases your search potential and leads to more traffic on the blog. So I do link up at every opportunity. It's a win-win situation.

And that's it. Not the initial lessons about starting a blog that I learned and listed in A Blogging Marvelous Month, five months ago, this is I think a slightly more sophisticated set of ponders befitting a half-year veteran. Let's see what the next six months has to offer...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Four Weeks Of Dieting

After four weeks of being careful it's time for some feedback and re-goaling. Btw, I know the title says dieting but it really was more a matter of careful eating a la French Women Don't Get Fat - which I firmly believe is the only way to go.

As this is already the beginning of week five, I feel confident enough to share some numbers, i.e. this isn't just a one week wonder and I fully intend never to reach these figures again (in both senses of the word).

On Sunday 19th June I weighed 82kg. This is my personal high-weight without being pregnant. I work in kg as 82 sounds better than 12 stone 13 and you can see the numbers drop in 100g increments (about 1/4 lb). Two weeks later I had dropped 2.6 kg but it was too much and I had to give back 600g the next week. This week I only lost 400g. Disappointing in a way as it is still 200g higher than two weeks ago, but nevertheless, still 1lb down. So I am now 79.6kg (12 stone 7 1/2).

My goal for next week is to see a 78 on the scales. It will mean a bigger effort this week but 700g (1 1/2lbs) is not unreasonable. And tbh I have only been a little bit careful over the past couple of weeeks, not very careful.

So here are my top tips for getting the motivation to actually do it. None of your drink loads of water and weigh yourself once a week as that's all old hat, although it may be effective. My tips are ones I discovered worked for me and were sometimes surprising.

1. I went out and bought clothes. I never buy clothes when I'm fat because a.) it's demoralizing and b.) I resent paying for new gear when I've got a whole wardrobe full of stuff that's too small. However, I was feeling wretched and desperate and that can only lead to one thing - comfort eating. So I bought five large tee-shirts, a skirt and a swimming costume. Not a lot. I already had a couple of pairs of trousers that I was alternating, and a couple of tops. After my modest spree I had enough fresh combinations to wear daily and feel good in. I felt good enough to spur the motivation I needed to look and feel even better.

2. I went swimming. I had to as we were invited to stay with my cousin in Netanya and they have a pool in their building. I've avoided pools for years but I couldn't deny DD the experience (she loved it!) so I bought a cozzy with fitted bits and panelled pieces, and I discovered that a.) no one cares what you look like when you are romping with the kids in the pool and b.) there were far flabbier bodies than mine on show. So I'm already at a weight where it's not desperate and I can take DD swimming when required - half way there really, shame not to continue...

3. I give myself an extra day when necessary. I started on a Sunday and MUMenTUM reports in on a Monday. I give myself that extra day to gain (read lose) a few more grams before having to record the week's progress. It's not a competition where I get to win the car, the year's supply of yogurt and the round the world trip by cheating the other contestents with 8-day weeks. Who cares if my week was actually 8-days?

4. The laptop is my ally. Even if I am watching television (and assuming there is no sewing to do) I have the laptop on my lap and blog about, social network or just play card games. You can't eat if you're with laptop!

5. I only have two meals a day. After coffee in the morning and taking DD to nursery (where she has breakfast) I return home to work. I try to have brunch instead of breakfast and lunch. Then I have an early supper (5.30-6pm) with DD in the evening. It works for me as I've no other adults to fit in with. We always finish supper with some fruit (French women again) and then I clear away everything and clean the kitchen sink (just like the Fly Lady advises). Vey little chance of going back to dirty up my kitchen after that.

6. I drink ice-cold soda water as it feels a bit more special than plain water and you can sip it slowly. It feels very virtuous as well.

This post is linked to MUMenTUM at New Mum Online where several other women are hurtling towards the pool season in supportive unison. Check it out. Thanks Liska!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cheese Burekas And Vegetable Streudel

When I planned my weekly menus I knew that I wasn't going to find the time to cook every evening. I also like to do one larger shop every couple of weeks (with top-ups before the weekend) rather than shop daily. As I am trying to buy fresh produce rather than many processed foods (for health aswell as budgetary reasons) I do have to make the time to cook before the vegetables start to soften and the cheese begins to fur. What works for me is to cook and freeze on a Thursday evening night.

The first week I was in the kitchen for hours as I wanted to prepare every cooked dish for the week and freeze the things for later in the week. Obviously I don't cook pasta ahead of time and there is always a salad to chop, but the sauces and anything else that will freeze only requires taking out. I make double quantities (or more). This isn't hard when your're only dishing up for two and one of you is a toddler. My most useful kitchen utensils are really small plastic containers - think butter dish size.

On subsequent Thursdays I found I only needed to make half the number of dishes as I had some things in the freezer from the week before. My homemade humus needs making every week, as do the egg salad and potato salad as these don't freeze. This week I made enough cheese burekas and vegetable streudel for the next three weeks (i.e. 20 burekas and 3 streudels).

A note about burekas. Burekas are a national dish in Israel. Basically they are parcels (or rolls) of flakey pastry filled with anything you like. Popular fillings in the shops are cheese (any kind), mushroom, spinach, and mashed potato. DD likes cheese so mine tend to be cheese burekas. Btw, one of these pastries is a burekas and the plural should be burekasim, however Anglos in Israel have long referred to some burekas or one bureka.

Cheese Burekas And Vegetable Streudel.

Roll out some flakey pastry. I buy mine frozen. Spread with cheese, several kinds if you like. Or fry up some mushrooms, or mix cooked spinach with cheese, or use mashed potato. You can pretty much add anything savoury - olives, spring onions, capers. Roll up the pastry like a swiss roll and cut into sectons about 4cm wide. Place on a baking tray and cook in a hot oven until they are golden brown.

For the streudel, instead of spreading the mixture lay it in a sausage shape at one end of the rolled pastry and roll it up. My favourite fillings at the moment are either pre-sauteed mushrooms and onions, or pre-sauteed spinach with pine nuts and camembert cheese (add a pinch of nutmeg to this). Some people brush the rolled pastry with oil/butter and sprinke it with breadcrumbs before adding the filling. This does make the pastry crispier but I like mine more doughy so I don't bother. Again, hot oven until golden brown.

This post has been linked to the Saturday Recipe Swap at Lakes Single Mum and Meal Planning Monday over at At Home with Mrs M.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DNA Is Over-rated

I am moved to write this post after finding myself recently commenting the same thing on a few other blogs. In my opinion DNA is vastly over-rated.

I first wrote some of these thoughts as a response to an article in the Daily Mail a few years ago in which a 40-something man accidently found out that his father wasn't in fact his biological father. He was devastated. He blamed his mother, he cut off all ties with his 'father's' family as he no longer considered them his family. He felt orphaned and without roots, his whole life had been a lie, etc, etc... In fairness to the man in question, I have since found out from my friend Karen's experience that you can't necessarly believe everything you read in the Daily Mail. I hope they also misquoted this man because what I read really made my blood boil.

Many people choose the donor route when trying to conceive. It may be a matter of age, the lack of a partner, same-sex partners, other fertility problems, genetic abnormalities in the family or reasons that I've not even thought of. Others have used surrogacy with only one or neither partner contributing. Many more couples and singles, over the years, have decided to adopt. The effect is the same - a child in your family who has different genes. A child with a different set of DNA. So what?

DNA does not give you a happy and secure home. It does not give you a feeling of belonging to a loving family. Your DNA does not educate you, read you stories, kiss your knee or your forehead when you fall over. DNA cannnot give you wonderful childhood memories and an album full of funny photographs to reminisce over. Your DNA does not pick you up from school every day and take a day (or a week) off work to look after you when you're sick.

Brothers and sisters and cousins become close through shared experiences and family traditions. Mummies and daddies, uncles and aunties, and grandmas and grandpas, exist by the power of their love, their pride and their joy in the children of their family.

DNA cannot even keep families together. I know adopted children who have no desire to find their biological origins. My maternal grandfather was an immigrant with no family in England. Unfortunately he died when my mother was only eleven years old. She and I have no knowledge of or connection with any of his family. Many people have no knowledge of or connection with one side of their family. Many make the decision to cut themselves off from whole sections of their family. Families that survive as a unit do so because they are emotionally healthy and filled with love and support.

As my wise friend L said: children will accept their identity - it is a matter of how you present it. Maybe the Daily Mail man should have been told the truth, but in those days there was reason to feel secure that the truth would never come out. In these days of advanced genetics it is reasonable to assume that nothing can remain a secret. DD will know how lucky I was to be able to have her and about all the help I received in order to do so. She will know that DNA exists and that it is something to study in science. I firmly believe that it will have little impact on her identity and on her sense of family.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Spaghetti Tofunaise

Once again I'm doubling up for Meal Planning Monday (food for the week) and MUMenTUM (fit and slim, support and motivation group). Click on the links for more information and entries to each club.

I'm not sure I qualify for either of the above this week. After losing 2.6kg (almost 6lbs) in two weeks, and feeling ubersmug about it, this week I have given back the 0.6kg I lost last week. Part of it is that I wasn't as careful as I should have been (due to being so smug) but it's also because if you lose too much to quickly you have to give some back sometimes. The important thing is to carry on rather than throwing in the towel because of one lousy week. I'm still 2kg less than when I started three weeks ago and maybe I needed this disappointment to remind me that I have to keep at it. Next week will be better - promise.

As for meals for the week - I'm still using the weekly meal plan I posted two weeks ago. I did explain last week that I will be sticking to it until I've written up all the recipes that people have asked for. So this week it's Spaghetti Tofunaise. Just to remind you, if you're expecting exact amounts you're in the wrong blog. And I also have to confess that this is a vegetarian dish that is trying to feel like meat. I know that's a no-no for some puritan veggies but some of us need like it.

Spaghetti Tofunaise

Fry a large onion and some garlic in a pot until they are golden. Put them in the processor with chunks of tofu and peeled chopped tomatoes. Pulse to a mincemeat-like texture. Return all the mixture to the pot and cook, seasoning with salt, pepper and light soy sauce. I often add a carrot and cube of chopped spinach from the freezer as it gets lost in the tofunaise but surely adds some health value. When it looks and tastes done (i.e. not too runny) turn off the heat and mix in some grated cheese. Serve tossed with spaghetti.

P.S. I usually make double quantity and freeze half with or without the cheese.
P.P.S This can also be used as the bottom layer of a vegetarian shepherd's pie.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Unavailable And Not Sorry

I am an older mother. This means that most of my friends have teenagers or even grown-up children. And I am shocked at how quickly some of them have forgotten what it was like to have a toddler. I had a rather upsetting exchange of words with a friend this week when she accused me of distancing myself, not bothering to turn up to anything, shutting DD off from my community (how can you expect us to embrace her if you don't let us anywhere near her?), and generally falling short of any semblence of friendship.

I started to think about the implications of these accusations. Firstly, on reading the above you would think that I am shutting my daughter up at home, away from society. This is not the case. Although we don't tend to socialize so much in the circles I used to frequent, DD and I have a lovely community who we see regularly. Secondly, if we don't go somewhere it is because it is not convenient for a 2yo - not because I can't be bothered.

For 20 years before I had DD, I understood the restrictions of family life with young children. I was totally laid back and accommodating. I waited until everyone's children were bathed, fed, in bed, whatever, until a planned evening could begin. I cut short outings to be back in time for school pick-ups. I sat around the table with sticky-fingered, attention-grabbing, screaming babies. Luckily there were often other children around as most of my friends had kids about the same ages. The children would run off and play together and the adults did get some adult time. And if we didn't, we didn't. My friends' lives were also their children's lives and I understood.

Mostly our social life centres around Shabbat (Friday evenings and Saturdays). Many people prefer to socialize on Friday night and then relax on Saturday. Families with small children tend to make a bigger thing of Saturday lunch, for obvious reasons. My friends from 'before' no longer have young children. For DD I have necessarily been socializing with younger families so that a.) she has other children to play with, and b.) the hours are condusive to the life of a 2yo.

I choose not to take DD out in the evenings as she gets over-tired and hysterical (see Singlemum And The Seder Night). If she falls asleep in the buggy on the way home I have to wake her up to walk up three flights of stairs. It's no fun for anybody, least of all one exhausted and uncomfortable little girl who just wants to be in her bed by 8pm. That, coupled with the fact that I don't have money for babysitters at the moment or a partner to leave DD at home with, means that I see the wonderful friends who are willing to come round to me of an evening, for coffee or a glass of wine and a pizza.

As a single woman on my own I was always available. I could come early to help set up and stay late for the clearing away. I could drop everything and be anywhere at a moment's notice - and I frequently did/was. But now it's my turn to put my family first. How dare my friend expect me to fit in with events arranged for the convenience of her teenagers. How dare she not allow me the right to make decisions on how I bring up my daughter. How dare she have forgotten that I never once told her how to mother her children. How dare she think she has any authority over me and my life.

End of rant. Thank you very much.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Homemade Humus

It's Monday again and time to link up to two great blog linkies: MUMenTUM for the getting healthy and back into shape support, and Meal Planning Monday to make sure your week doesn't flow past in a river of fish-fingers and oven chips.

Last week I posted my weekly menu plan for a meat-free kitchen and a family of two (one who has her main meals at nursery and one who needs to lose weight). I'm not going to change this menu for a few weeks although, obvioulsy, there are days when we do something different. However, I've had requests for recipes so I'm going to write some of them up here. And when they're done I'll change the menu. How's that for a plan?

First a note about shop humus. Humus (chickpea and tehina spread) is a staple in Israel. You can buy fresh humus from take-home shops at a fair price. Tubs of superior processed humus at the supermarket for about 2pounds50 for 400g. Quite a steep price but all processed food is expensive here, which is one of the reasons I make my own. The other reason, apart from having humus at 1/10 of the price, is that you never know exactly what's in the processed stuff. The very cheapest humus costs about 1pound50 for a 1kg tub at the supermarket and it lasts for a month in the fridge - nuff said. A friend of mine once described it as whipped margerine with sugar, salt, lemon juice and garlic to diguise the taste. I noticed a few E-poisons on the label too.

Homemade Humus
Disclaimer: I love cooking and have often thought about writing a cookery book. Unfortunately I'm not very good at quantities - I tend to go by taste and texture (which is why I hated chemistry in school :-) ). So if you can cope with 'a bit of this' and 'a sprinkle of that', read on.

I buy packets of frozen chickpeas. You can get them in cans which is also fine, or soak and cook your own. I'm all for going back to basics but I don't make my own paper when I want to write someting down so frozen chickpeas works for me. I put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them to defrost and soften them, and let them sit for three minutes - about the time it takes me to get everything else into the food processor.

Put a cup of chickpeas, 2 tablespoons of tehina paste, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and 1/2tsp ground kumin into the food processor and pulse it until you have a lumpy paste. Add water to thin it to the consistency of runny cake mix as it will thicken up in the fridge over the next few hours (did I mention that it's best made in advance?). It's all a matter of taste, some like it more lemony and some like more garlic. You can also throw in some parsley for a green humus.

Serve spread in a flattish dish. You can pour more olive oil over the top and sprinkle with za'ata (ground hyssop) or cayenne pepper, or pine nuts, lemon wedges, or parsley. You can eat it with bread or crackers or as a dressing for salad. A Middle Eastern delicacy involves a serving of fried mincemeat and onions on the humus. My favourite? Humus on toast topped with leftover ratatouile.

So what about this week's MUMenTUM. Well, following my menu plan and not noshing in the evening has led to a 0.6kg loss this week. This is 2.6kg (5.7lbs) in two weeks. Smug? You bet!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Blogmeet Jerusalem

When I started blogging in January I 'met' a whole community of parent bloggers in the UK. I joined their clubs, I participate in their blog carnivals, I tweet with 'friends' I've never met on the most intimate of matters. In the past few weeks they have all got together at BlogCamp and then again at Cybermummy. All the blogs and tweets were full of it. I understood, however, it was a little difficult to be 3,000 miles away with no chance of attending either.

Then I read from Sally (Who's The Mummy?, Tots 100, BlogCamp): So it's settled then, Rosie (Rosie Sribble), Jane (Diary Of A Desperate Exmoor Woman) and I are going to Israel. I knew that Sally was one of the organisers of BlogCamp Manchester so it was conceivable that after this event and Cybermummy, she badly needed a holiday. But it didn't sound like a holiday. First of all Israel is an unusual choice - it's expensive and it's far. If you need a rest it makes much more sense to sit on a beach in Spain. People who come to Israel usually come for a reason, either religion or to go scuba diving in Eilat.

I was surprised but excited. Three giants of parent blogging in the UK were coming to Israel. Maybe I could meet up with them in Jerusalem? I've noticed that some of the other mummy bloggers know each other in real life and sometimes meet up. I wanted to actually meet some of these women too.

When I found out that in fact they had been invited on an organized tour, I admit I was worried for a while. If you know Israel at all, or if you've been reading Sally, Rosie and Jane's posts, you'll be aware that everything here is political. Not just the laws and governmental issues, but where you can eat, how you dress, swimming hours at the pool, where you live, where you pray - it's all political. Who could have invited them? What was the agenda? Would a moderate Jewish teacher/mother living within the green line be allowed anywhere near them? Were they even coming to Jerusalem - maybe it was a Gaza/Ramalah thing? (I swear that the threatened repeat of the Turkish Flotilla debacle only crossed my mind once.)

Following the tweets, I gleaned that they already knew Susie (New Day New Lesson), a fellow Israeli blogger, and that she would be seeing them. (Jealous? Okay, a bit.) I emailed Susie asking if they would be in Jerusalem at all, and if I could pop over, only if it were convenient, even for five minutes, not to interfere, just to say hello... Think like you've just started drama school and Debra Winger is in town (actually she came for the film festival one year and we sat at adjascent tables in the Cinemateque cafe, and I met sat behind Phyllida Law but that's another story). Kitsor* Susie passed on my missive to Kinetis and I was invited to join them for a tour of the shuk (market) after lunch on Thursday.

Well spotted! Who are Kinetis? I asked myself the same question and quickly clicked my way to the following information. Kinetis is an organisation that makes the statement: Kinetis - Accelerating Creative Energy. Our mission is to raise awareness of Israel as the creative energy capital of the world. My reactions were: I never knew such an organisation existed, thank God, and it's about time!

Reader, I made the rendezvous and I was not disappointed. I met Sally, Rosie and Jane, and Susie aswell. We talked about blogging and writing and living in Israel. We had a quick march through the shuk, I tool a photo (see below), and then they went off to the Old City while I ran off to pick up DD from nursery.
It was short and sweet. I'd love the chance to meet again and shoot the breeze in less hurried circumstances, but until then, this was good. The only downer was that on the bus afterwards I suddenly thought: what an idiot I am, I should have taken a photo of exotic Middle-Eastern spices, etc. for Silent Sunday! Oh well, I didn't but Rosie did.

*Kitsor = to cut a long story short.