Bread-making for the soul

Rain is pouring down as I write this, as it has threatened to do all day long. The sun has emerged and then hidden itself multiple times, much in the way my mind has been bobbing from pleasant thoughts to dark, hard memories of this day one year ago—a day in which the weather was eerily similar.

Last year, the Friday before Labor Day, my son and I were violently attacked by 3 dogs, as we walked home from his school bus. The images, sounds, and pain of that day are not far from my thoughts.

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If I’m honest, not a day goes by when I don’t think of that time—a pang of remembrance, residual fear when I see or hear a dog, a moment of gratitude,  a realization that we are OK and we have been blessed in so many ways. While external and internal scars remain, we’ve come so far in the past year.

Today, I just couldn’t summon the energy for all of the errands and projects I’d intended. Instead, I spent the afternoon baking a challah, the traditional braided bread for Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath). I have only made challah a few times in my life and I had forgotten how time-consuming the process can be.

Making Bread

The recipe requires considerable patience after mixing the ingredients:  letting the dough rise, kneading it, putting it aside to rest and rise, kneading…  again and again, braiding it and then gently turning up the temperature as it bakes. The recipe is a variation on a tradition that has existed for centuries.

This afternoon, it was just what I needed: pounding the dough, stretching it, transforming it, making something nourishing for my family.

As the sweet aroma of the baking challah fills our kitchen, I think about the ways in which healing resembles the bread making process. It takes time, patience, warmth, attention, pounding through hard moments, stretching oneself, resting, working through it, and repeating. The good and the bad of the last year are braided together, inseparable.

We are different than we were one year ago but I hope as we eat this bread tonight, we will focus on the sweetness of being together, with gratitude, and with a renewed commitment to showing kindness and empathy toward others who go though challenging times.

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Super Bowl Conundrum

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I’ve always been a Super Bowl fan — the food, the commercials, the game (roughly in that order). What’s not to like?

But this year’s different: 1.) I took a killer Super Bowl cooking class at Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen to enhance my game day repertoire and 2.) I’ve actually been paying attention to what’s been happening on the field. (It’s been a heck of a season!) But it gets even better… 3.) This weekend my home team is playing!

Both of them.

Therein lies my dilemma: who should I root for? Carolina—the place I’ve called home for nearly 10 years, where I own a house, gave birth, and am raising two boys with my sports fanatic hubby? Or Colorado—my home on the range, where I spent summer days watching the Broncos training camp, about a mile from my parents’ house.

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Cam Newton — what a player, what a smile!

It has been amazing to witness the Panthers’ historic, virtually undefeated season. Cam Newton’s smile and confidence are contagious. Underestimated week after week, he and his team keep slogging away and spreading their joy (sometimes with a “controversial” dance in the end zone).

 

People are dabbin’ all over town. Flags are waving. Skyscrapers are lit up in Panthers’ blue. And I was even charged with spearheading efforts at work for swagger rights in a friendly bet between Charlotte- and Denver-area arts institutions. Professionally, I’m 100% a Panthers girl.

Personally—it’s more complex. I think about my dad and my brother leaning into the TV, transfixed by the Broncos games all those autumn Sundays, when I was growing up. (They still are…) I think of the crazy Denver fans, like the guy who used to wear a barrel—that’s it—to every game for about 30 years. I think of the stunned look on my friend Staci’s face when rounding a corner, she ran smack into the massive chest of John Elway at a local burger joint. And I think about Broncos barefoot Kicker Rich Karlis, #3, coming to visit my brother when he was a patient at the Denver Children’s Hospital.

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The Barrel Man in his signature hat, barrel, and boots (not pictured).

These things stick with you. Fanhood runs deep. And they still bring tears to my eyes. I can’t deny I will always be a Colorado girl.

But now I’m a Carolina girl, too.

It’s nice to have a definitive view on the world, like my nieces and nephew, who are pulling 100% for Peyton Manning, indoctrinated in the Broncos-way by their Colorado elders.

For my Charlotte family, it’s not so clear cut. My oldest son plans to wear his Panthers’ jersey with an orange shirt underneath. And my youngest switches his allegiance minute by minute.

Luckily, there is a bright side to this whole situation: on Sunday, my team is gonna win.

Grocery Shopping – Ze French Way!

When I’m in France, I love to go shopping. Yes, clothes and home furnishings are swell but my true love is food. Give me an outdoor, open market any day and I’m one happy camper. But I’ve discovered another guilty pleasure — exploring the super-sized hypermarchés that have popped up on the outskirts of most cities around the country.

You think you know how to shop at a grocery store? Guess again. Successfully navigating a French hypermarché means mastering a new set of rules. Hop in your Peugeot and on y GO!

1. Dress for Success

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When French women head to the grocery store, they don’t show up in yoga pants and a t-shirt. Think more like dress, heels, and full make up. That’s the expected attire. Believe me I’ve tried the casual route and my sneakers were a dead giveaway of my American upbringing. It wasn’t until I slipped on a new black & grey number that I looked and felt like I really belonged.

2.  Put Another Nickel In, In the Nickelodeon

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Ok, so a nickel won’t actually cut it. (But a quarter might if you can’t find a euro! It worked for me…) In France, you’ll generally find shopping carts neatly arranged in their metal stables outside the store. People actually return them because they had to invest a euro to borrow them in the first place. If they want their money back, they’ll remember not to leave them flailing in the middle of the parking lot later.

So, two things: don’t forget the cart on your way in since it can be a LONG walk back to find one and make sure you come with some change. Most caddies take 1 euro or 50 centimes pieces.

3.  It’s a Whole New World!

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Did I mention that this place is humongous? For the unitiated, it can be quite an eye opener to find a supermarket in the same complex as a shopping mall. So remember this common sense rule: try on those snappy little shoes and check out those handbags before you check off the fish, ice cream and stinky cheese on your shopping list.

4. I Dairy You

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Did you really think the dairy section was sufficient at your local Trader Joe’s? Believe me, you ain’t seen nothing like the overflowing aisles of refrigerated cheese, yogurt, creams, desserts and other milk-made treasures. Oddly enough, you’ll find the actual milk (ultra-pasteurized) stacked on regular shelves next to warmish bottles of spring water like Evian and Volvic.

5. The Price is Right

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A couple important things to know about pricing in France. First, as you consider your shopping budget, know that the price you see is what you’ll pay at check out. Taxes are already included. Second, many grocery items are priced by the kilogram (that’s 2.2 pounds of fun). You can usually buy less than a kilo — 500 grams is about 1 lb. — but keep those quantities in mind as you’re planning recipes and your budget.

6. Weight a Minute!

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Hey? Where are you going? Don’t leave the produce department before you bag, weigh, and label all your fruit and veggies. Otherwise, you will be banished upon arrival at the cashier.

7. Registers, Registers All Around But None of Them are Fast

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Oh, Lord. Even if you are a quick shopper — no small feat in stores that take 10 minutes to traverse from one end to the other — you’ll need to plan for extra time at the cash register. Make that a LOT more time. Lines tend to move at a snail’s pace. Cashiers are in no particular hurry. For some mysterious reason, usually 4 of the 30 available registers are open at any given time.

Beware of the “priority lines” that give preference to pregnant ladies and those with disabilities. It’s a lovely concept but I personally witnessed two brawls about to break out on my last trip to France — one of them involving my mother, gesticulating with a cane after a recent surgery. Also, don’t try to bring that big caddy into the Express check out lane — you’ll get seriously reprimanded.

8. I Like Big Bags and That Ain’t No Lie

sacsFrench grocery stores are big on the do it yourself motto — be ready to bag your own groceries with your own bags. For environmental reasons, free plastic and paper bags are no longer provided at grocery stores. So bring your own or be prepared to buy ’em. (Note: the produce section does provide small bags for fruit & vegetables only — see #6 above.)

9. Returns? Think Again.

“Fine! I’ll keep ze hat!”

Are you sure you really don’t want that thingamajig? Remember how long it took to buy it in the first place? Consider carefully since successfully returning an item is a major bureaucratic victory in France. You may be used to American stores where returns are welcomed with a smile and often without a receipt. That’s definitely not the norm here. Expect the process to involve several vendors, each of whom will inspect the merchandise and receipt with an eagle’s eye and direct you to wait in no fewer than 3 different lines before you walk out with your 8€50. The old phrase “buyer beware” seems pertinent to remember.

10. Baby, You Can Drive My Car.

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If all of this sounds like too much work or too much choice or too much trouble, maybe you’d prefer opting for the latest rage in France. Drive through shopping! Order online, then pick it up. Total time at grocery store: 5 minutes.  No extra charge.

But what would you do with all that free time — shop???

Something to dish about…

 

"Oh, no! Soiled again..."

“Oh, no! Soiled again…”

 

Last month my husband issued a surprising challenge: could we go one week without using the dishwasher? He was fed up with finding bits of tomato sauce clinging to an occasional dish and wayward Fruit Loops spooning with spoons — not to mention sick of constantly empyting water-logged tupperware from the upper rack. He maintained that with handwashing we’d actually have cleaner dishes in the same amount of time or less.

He’d come up with this theory that the dishwasher is actually the ultimate procrastinating machine,  tempting us with its bubbly mantra: “why wash now what you can rinse and stack for later?” Though it poses as a time-saving device, he argued that the time it takes to empty the dishwasher and recheck the dishes actually make it a time drain.

I begrudgingly decided to play along but only after the terms were fixed: he would handle all of the dinner plates, pots, pans, etc. I’d take care of the rest of the day’s dishes.

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After he posted it on Facebook, something interesting started happening. We began receiving phone calls and emails from worried family members.

“Are you crazy?”… “Do you need a new dishwasher?”…

“Are you being forced to wash all of the dishes by hand (while barefoot in the kitchen)?”

“Have you tried using a rinse aid?”…

“No, really, Sis: Do we need to take up a collection to get you a new dishwasher?”

I couldn’t believe what a stir it had caused! But I was even more surprised by what happened to our kitchen and to me that week:

1.) We never had any dishes piling up in the sink.

2.) We never ran out of silverware.

3.) We became noticibly more frugal in our use of water glasses.

4.) I actually felt happier — washing the dishes after every meal was sort of… well, cleansing. I had an odd feeling of productivity that carried into other tasks around the home and even in my professional work. (Save us all.. ME — a Domestic Goddess?!)

5.) I had the feeling that my husband and I were both sharing the burden of housework.

6.) The difference in time, if there was any, was negligible. It was just spread out throughout the day rather than in one grand emptying/rewashing ceremony.

7.) I learned the true secret to a happy marriage: while it’s ok to loudly critique the dishwasher’s inability to get all of the gunk off, a little more tact is required when assessing your husband’s handiwork.

The following Monday morning I noticed my husband — out of years of habit — load his coffee mug in the dishwasher. I didn’t say anything. After all, the competition was officially over.

But that didn’t stop me from feeling a little guilty later on when I scooped up the rest of the breakfast dishes from the sink and plopped them into the “procrastinator.” I needed some sink space for the lunch plates!

Somehow the magic was gone… but while it lasted, it was grand!

I guess my husband was right. Quelle surprise! (And by the way, so was my mother: I started using a new dishwasher detergent with a rinse aid and those dishes are sparkling again — even if they do sit for a while in the machine.)

There’s one thing I know for sure: No freaking way my sweet-talking hubby can convince me to take the same challenge with our washing machine.

 

Get Your Toddler to Eat

This column originally ran on the site Modern Parent Online in Spring 2011.

by Liz Rothaus Bertrand

There was a time, not so long ago, that my little guy would eat almost anything. He would gobble down every new veggie and exotic dish placed before him. My husband and I were proud of our baby gourmand.

We’d hear about other parents whose kids refused to eat or who couldn’t sit still during a dinner out, and we’d rejoice in our good fortune. (We’d also quietly congratulate each other on our amazing parenting skills. We knew it must be thanks to us that our baby had developed such a sophisticated palate.)

Then something happened. One day peas were in, the next day they were out. Ditto with potatoes. Zucchini. Beef.

But that’s not all. Somewhere along the line, he picked up the habit off tossing food overboard if he didn’t like what he found on his tray. And those quiet dinners out with baby in tow soon became a dim memory.

Why did our little darling become a dining diva and how did we deal with it?

My best guess is that our baby turned into a toddler. It happened so quickly (just as everyone said it would) and without warning. He, who once happily slurped puree is now only too happy to push his plate away, shake his head and say “NO.”

He may still be wearing diapers but, from his point of view, he’s ready to wear the proverbial pants in the house.

Of course, he’s not ready to be in charge but there’s no doubt he’s developing his own opinions, tastes, and attitudes. An inevitable part of parenthood is that we have to keep adapting. It’s our job to keep him on track but it’s only logical that we’ll need to make some adjustments to our parenting strategies and expectations as he grows.

So, we had to develop some new plays in our parenting playbook. Here are five ways that helped us make meal time a better experience for all three of us, as we transitioned from baby-dom to full-throttle toddler.

Give him a spoon:

At first, all we had to do was wave a spoon under his nose and he’d willingly take a bite. When that stopped working, we brought in the big guns: our sound effects team. My husband handled the zooming airplane sound and I chirped like a doorbell. No doubt this was entertaining stuff but the problem was our little guy kept trying to grab the spoon.  He wanted to feed himself but didn’t yet have the dexterity to do so.

The solution was simple: we gave him a spoon of his own. While he fiddles with it and practices bringing it up to his mouth, we can easily sneak that airplane in for a safe landing.

Sit down together:

Now that he’s become more adept at feeding himself with a spoon (or — let’s be real — using his fingers) it’s tempting to plop our little guy in his seat and let him fend for himself, especially at lunch time. When he’s safely strapped into his seat, it seems like the perfect opportunity to dive into the millions of projects that I never have time to do.

But the truth is he eats so much better when he’s being supervised and encouraged. Whenever possible, my husband and I try to sit down with him. Nobody likes to eat alone (even a toddler who wants to do it all by himself!)

Results: less food on the floor and more in his little buddha belly.

Eat out(side):

Restaurants can be tricky. Picture it: the little guy gets restless and fellow diners are giving us the evil eye. Inevitably, one of us is obliged to race through our meal, while the other takes a walk with the babe and ends up eating left-overs at home. Not much fun for anyone.

But last summer we had a revelation. We discovered that a picnic is the perfect way to eat out with a toddler.

Picnics are inherently finger-food friendly, we can be as loud and as messy as we want, and baby can run around unencumbered. It’s a great way to get out of the house, eat together, and not worry about disturbing anyone else.

Prepare a meal together:

Ok, so obviously a toddler isn’t ready to “Master the Art of French cooking” a la Julia Child but he can still play a part in preparing the meal. Our son loves hanging out in the kitchen and emptying the cabinets of Tupperware bowls, pots and pans. Now I’ve finally found some new ways to channel that enthusiasm by involving him in food prep.

So far, he’s “helped“ me sort green beans, rinse veggies, and shuck corn. For him, it’s a game. He gets to practice pulling, tearing, sorting. For me, it’s a chance to spend some fun time together without worrying about how to distract him with something else while I race around to finish the meal. The best part is that he’s curious to try the new food once it’s on the dinner table.

Ketchup, the great equalizer:

Hey, don’t knock it ‘till you try it. Ketchup has helped us to nourish our little guy when he’s particularly determined not to eat a thing. On those days where he’s refusing foods left and right, we dab a little ketchup on his plate and HALLELUJAH! the kid’s eating like a champ.