Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When a To-Do List Doesn't Work...

I recently created a comprehensive "to-do" list of jobs that I wanted to get done. I posted it beside a calendar for the month to remind me to do it. When the month had ended and time came to turn the page on the calendar, I checked off the items that had been done - and was dismayed to discover that about 75% had not been touched.

When this happened a second month, I became very discouraged... What was I doing with my time?!

It was then that I decided that I needed a "reverse-to-do" list, a "DONE IT!" list - to boost my morale. On a scrap of paper, I wrote DONE IT! in big letters - and proceeded to fill it with 10 accomplishments as mundane as washing the dishes. Once I had 10 on my list, the pressure was off. I spent the rest of the day doing whatever I wanted...

I don't know if I accomplished more with my DONE IT! list - but I did feel better about how I spent my time. And isn't that what it's all about?!

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Tea Collection

I'm a coffee drinker who only occasionally makes a pot of tea , so tea lingers much longer in my cupboard than coffee. But, sorting through the various packages of tea in my cupboard, I was surprised to discover how many kinds I had collected.

One of my favorite kinds of tea is jasmine tea which was introduced to me by Wing Kam, a student from Hong Kong. According to Ten Ren Tea, Jasmine tea is green tea which has been scented with jasmine flowers. When the tea is picked and set to dry, jasmine flowers are layered on top of the tea leaves to impart some of their lovely scent. The red package on the right has jasmine flowers mixed in with the tea leaves.

I also like ordinary green tea. My favorite was China Green Tea from a company called Universal. I only had one package of it - by the time I realized that I really liked it, I couldn't remember where I had bought it! I have carried around the top of the package for years, trying unsuccessfully to find the same tea! It could be my favorite - if I could find it again!

I don't usually like English Breakfast tea, but if I were stranded on a deserted island with only one type of tea, I would want to have President's Choice English Breakfast Tea. The package I have was the gift of a student. I like spicy tea, too, like this Israeli Masala Chai, but the Twilight South African Redbush is a little too spicy for my taste buds! I even have a package of Ikea rhubarb vanilla organic tea, which is nice for a change of taste.

I wonder - in my quest to completely use up all my tea before buying any more - how many years will it take before all this tea is used up?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Too Old to What...?

I am always inspired by stories of people who move out of their comfort zone and begin new careers, even if some would consider them "too old." That's why Dave's mother inspired me so much. Dave, one of my colleagues when I was teaching in an adult high school, casually mentioned that his mother had gone back to school to begin a new career in her 60's. She had decided to become a nurse (like one of her daughters) and graduated as an RN at the age of 65!

I just have to meet your mother!
I told Dave, so he arranged it. Talking to her, I discovered that nursing was not her first career. After raising her family, she had worked in real estate and acting. When I met her she still had an agent in Montreal who called her whenever an "older woman" was needed in the background of a scene. There is a big demand for older women, she said. At another stage of life, she had spent months at a time volunteering at an orphanage in Central America, sometimes bringing her teenage children with her so they could experience what poverty was. Though she no longer volunteered at the orphanage, she continued to actively fund-raise for them.

Dave's mom graduated from nursing at a time when Ontario was experiencing cutbacks in hospitals - so she headed south to look for work. She worked for several years as a nurse in a seniors' residence in South Carolina. A few years later, when jobs again opened up here, she returned to Ottawa working as a visiting nurse. Her only regret, she said, was that Britain had mandatory retirement at age 65 - she would have liked to go there to work for a while.

I met other inspiring women when I was a teacher of immigrants and refugees, all trying to rebuild their lives in Canada. One student, a refugee from Somalia, was a mother in her late 30s. Asha's husband had been killed in the war, so she left the country with her children and eventually came to Canada. She completed her high school at our adult program, then applied to university. I wondered how she would manage, a single mother of teenagers, in this stressful study environment.

I can only study part-time
, she told me one day, when she dropped in at our school. There is so much homework and reading - and I have the kids to look after.

Your children must be proud of you, I told her.

Proud? No, they tell me I'm too old to be in school - that I should stay home, enjoy my life and watch TV. They're embarrassed that I'm still a student. But I'm not going to give up.

A few years later, I saw Asha standing in a grocery store line-up ahead of me.

What are you doing these days? I asked her.

I finished my Masters in Social Work Degree, and now I'm a social worker in a center for immigrant women, she replied.

She did it! Dreams can come true - if we don't defeat ourselves by saying we're too old to try.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Remembering Hugo Bartz

Hugo Bartz, the only grandfather I ever knew, was a man ahead of his time - though as a child, I viewed him and my grandmother as very old-fashioned! (Just as I would later view my parents - and my children now view me! "What goes around, comes around.")

I say he was ahead of his time because life has a way of cycling - returning to ideas that went before. In the 1950s, before herbal health supplements were popular, Hugo was already a believer in homeopathic cures. He made his own yogurt (or thick milk, as he called it) and tried to go to a natural hot spring for a few days holiday whenever he could. Fortunately western Canada, where he lived, has many mineral hot springs: Radium, Harrison, Banff, to name a few. At the time, I viewed his practices as "quaint" - the remnant of another era - but here we are, 50 years later, buying natural supplements and appreciating the health benefits of natural hot springs! Hugo lived to the ripe old age of 100 - another indication that his lifestyle was a healthy one!

Hugo married my grandmother when he was only 19 years old. She was the 29-year-old widow of his first cousin, Theodore Guhl (or Gohl, as some of our relatives spell it). Hugo's mother and Theodore's mother were sisters.

Theodore and my grandmother, Olga Sell (pronounced and sometimes written Zell) had 3 children (though a number had died in infancy. As my grandmother recounted her story, it seemed to me that every other child survived.) She was expecting yet another child when, at age 27, her husband, a farmer in the Ukraine, contracted typhoid fever and died in 1921. Tragically, my grandmother's only surviving sibling, a brother, died at the same time - they must have both drunk contaminated water. As my grandmother often said, miraculously the children survived!

My grandfather, Theodore Guhl, was a very religious man. He knew he was about to die, and told my grandmother that he sensed that this baby - this unborn child - was going to go with him. Sure enough, the baby, another daughter, did die in infancy.

Death certainly was no stranger to this generation. When I think of all the losses my grandmother had before she was even 30, it boggles my mind!

Left alone with 3 children, the youngest (my mother, Margaret) only 2, another daughter, Lydia age 4, and a son, Erhardt, age 7, she found it impossible to run their farm with no help. So she appealed to her late husband's aunt, Hugo's mother, to get one of her sons to come and help her. One of the middle children, Hugo, was sent for the summer, and - as the story goes - when fall arrived and the work was done, he said, I guess it's time for me to leave, and she replied: Maybe you should just stay and marry me. And he did!

Together they farmed the land until Stalin threatened to take it from them - and from all farmers who owned land at that time - to create communal farms under the communist system.
Fortunately a Russian friend of Hugo's, a peasant farmer, helped him get the proper documentation to immigrate to Canada. They arrived in Halifax on December 13, 1928: Hugo, Olga, Erhardt, Lydia, Margaret, and Theodore, the firstborn son of Hugo and Olga.

I began to understand my grandfather and his generation a little better after reading a book entitled My Russian Yesterdays, by Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896 - 1985) an immigrant to Canada from Russia, around the same age as my grandmother. Although Catherine was Russian Orthodox, and my grandparents retained their German Lutheran religious practices, her descriptions of village life in her childhood remind me so much of my grandfather Hugo's lifestyle.

I discovered Catherine de Hueck Doherty and her writings when I read about Madonna House, a Catholic community she founded in Combermere, Ontario. I was interested in buying her book, Poustinia, so rather than order it online, Terry and I drove out to Combermere to buy it - and I bought My Russian Yesterdays as well.

Here is the log-cabin Russian-style church at the Madonna House Community.

A peaceful flower garden at Madonna House.

The Gift Shop at Madonna House

Reading Catherine's book about village life in Russia at the time of my grandparents made me appreciate my Grandfather Hugo in a new way. Life in other countries seems less strange or "quaint" when we learn more about it!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Another Weekend Cake Recipe: Honey Cake

It's Friday again! Time to bake for the weekend.

Another popular weekend cake in Israel (Ugat Shabat, for those who have been following this blog) is honey cake. This recipe comes from my cousin Rose-Marie, who lived in Israel for a few years. This cake reminds me a little of spice cake.

Honey cake - straight out of the oven!

Honey Cake
  1. Cream together 1/2 cup of margarine, butter or oil and 1 cup of sugar.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of honey and 2 well-beaten eggs.
  3. Mix 3 cups of flour* together with spices (1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves). Add 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Mix together. Then add it all to the egg mixture.
  4. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon baking soda in 1/2 cup strong black coffee (or tea) and add it to the cake batter.
  5. Add 1 cup yogurt and beat well.
  6. If you wish, you can add a handful (approximately 1/2 cup) of raisins or almonds to the batter. If you do, coat them with a teaspoon of flour, so they won't sink to the bottom.
  7. Bake in a greased pan for an hour or so at 325 degrees Fahrenheit ( 165 degrees Celsius)
  8. The cake is ready when a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out dry. You will smell it long before then...
  9. Enjoy!
*A Healthy Variation -
As with the Marble Cake Recipe posted last Friday, wheat germ and psyllium can enrich the white flour with no change to taste or texture.

If desired, replace 12 tablespoons of flour with 6 tablespoons of wheat germ and 6 tablespoons of psyllium. (Psyllium is available in many bulk food stores.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Typically Canadian Food?

I'd like to try some Canadian food, Carolina (a student intern from Germany) told me last summer when she was spending a few days with us.

My youngest son had spent a year in Germany as an exchange student a few years back. Now Caro, one of his German friends, was on her way to an internship in Edmonton.

Canadian food, eh? Do we even have Canadian food?

Over the next few days, I came up with a short list of things that I think could be considered "Canadian." I have included links to the recipes found on the website: recipelink.com

The first three are French favorites from Quebec, but we in Ontario eat them too.

1. "Poutine" is from Quebec. It's basically French fries with gravy topped with cheese curds (cheddar cheese before it has been pressed into blocks). Most people don't make it - they buy it at an outdoor stand called a "chip wagon."

2. French onion soup - served in a bowl topped with croutons and cheese that is baked until it melts in the oven

3. Tortiere - Quebec-style meat pie. I have my own favorite that I found in an Air Canada in-flight magazine one time.

We do have Canadian desserts - or at least I think they're Canadian:

4. Flapper Pie - My mother used to make this cream pie for my brother all the time. Baked on a graham wafer crust, the cream filling is topped with merangue.

5. Nanaimo Bars These layered bars are very sweet, but delicious! I'm not sure whether or not they're Canadian, but there is a city called Nanaimo in British Columbia, so Canadians assume they are!

6. Butter Tarts - very sweet, syrupy tarts

7. Ottawa's own favorite "junk food" - Beavertails: deep-fried flat doughnuts smothered in lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon (or other options) These are sold at a stand in the Byward Market and at special events in the city. I notice that the recipe here does not mention adding a touch of lemon juice after frying the beaver tail.

Visitors to Ottawa have been known to ask, Are those really fried tails from a beaver?

To which residents have been known to reply: Of course! If you don't want yours, I'll eat it.

If there are any more "Canadian" dishes I haven't thought of, let me know and I'll post them!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Anyone Up For the Challenge?

(Making miniature knit sweaters and crocheted bears!)

I have always enjoyed knitting sweaters out of chunky yarn - the knitting progresses so quickly.

This Nordic-style knit jacket is made of very thick yarn - the thickest I've ever used.

When I began to knit socks and baby sweaters, I felt I had moved into a new realm of knitting - the yarn is so fine.

That was before I discovered miniature knitting and crocheting. Taking it up (or down) quite a few notches, some artisans use thread instead of yarn!

A few years ago in Toronto, I met Andrea Berenbaum, a Canadian who loves to crochet miniature bears and other animals - each one unique. Here is a website displaying some of her creations. To truly appreciate her art, pay attention to the dimensions of each bear!
Here is another site where her crocheted miniatures are sold: Etsy
I don't have any of her bears but I do have this tiny beaded bird she made. There is a pen lying beside it, to show how small it is.

Today I discovered another amazing yarn artist: a woman who creates and knits miniature sweaters. This YouTube video shows her in action.

This Coraline sweater animation was sent to my daughter by her friend Natalie. Thanks, both of you, for sharing!

Now ... anyone up for the challenge of miniature knitting or crocheting?!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cookbooks I Have Loved and Used

My First Cookbooks
I began to take an interest in cooking when I had my first apartment and tired of eating cottage cheese and hard-boiled eggs. Maybe it's time to increase my cooking repertoire!

I remember going to a bookstore, looking at the cookbook section, and choosing the Fanny Farmer Cooking School paperback. It suited my style: it was to the point - not cheerfully chatty like The Joy of Cooking, a popular cookbook at the time. It had general instructions for beginners like me and recipes for food I liked, like dumplings and chocolate pudding! I bought it and took it home. I can honestly say that Fanny Farmer taught me how to cook!

I'm not sure why I wanted to learn to cook from a book. I had resisted "helping" my mother cook at home. It felt less creative - besides, I didn't like anyone hovering over my shoulder telling me what to do. (And I must admit, I still don't!) My Aunt Elsie (an excellent cook) was concerned about my lack of cooking skills. After all, wasn't that a woman's role in life? But I remember her daughter, Eleanor quietly telling me, Don't worry! When you're ready, you'll learn.

Now I was ready - and this cookbook was going to teach me how!

For the next 10 years, Fanny Farmer was the main cookbook I used. When it started to fall apart, I bought a new paperback copy (which has since also begun to fall apart). I was disappointed, however, to discover that it wasn't exactly the same as my previous one. (In fact, each edition of Fanny Farmer is a little different! - to the dismay of all of us who love one edition and hope the next edition will be just the same!)

When my second Fanny Farmer Cookbook began to fall apart, I went on Ebay to look for it in a hard-cover version. I thought I had it in the more durable hard-cover format (on the right), but when it arrived and I started to use it, I again discovered that, even if they claim to be the same edition, hard-covered and paper-back editions differ. My solution was to keep the old one (seen here with an elastic around it to hold it intact!) while I try to adapt to the hard cover one. The one on the left is a more recent edition... I don't use it a lot. I'll never understand why publishers insist on changing cookbooks that are perfect just the way they are!

Eventually two other cookbooks were added to my collection. Knowing my love of desserts, my Aunt Lydia gave me The Better Homes and Gardens Dessert Cookbook. I used to make the Banana Nut Cake almost weekly, eating it un-iced with plain yogurt for breakfast.

Then my friend Judith gave me the Betty Crocker Cookbook. Its colorful illustrations inspired me to try my hand at new things - like cinnamon buns, date loaf and apricot loaf.

These three cookbooks - the beginning of my cookbook collection - are still my favorites.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Joy of Walking (Again)

For the first time in many months, I went out for a walk in my neighborhood this morning. The sun was shining, even though it was cold (-11 degrees Celsius / 14 degrees Fahrenheit). The roads still had glassy patches of ice on them but it was possible to manoeuvre around the ice.

The fun of walking in the sun, listening to cardinals and crows singing around me brought back memories of the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) walks I used to take part in weekly with the Nepean Nomads Walking Club, a local branch of the International Volksport Federation which began in Europe in 1968.

Every week the Nomads - in cooperation with other walking clubs around the city - would provide an interesting ramble somewhere in our vicinity. The walks were open to all, members or non-members alike.

Most were map-walks: When you showed up at the walk, you signed in and were given a map of a 10-kilometer course that ended up where you began. You could walk alone at your own pace or join a group of walkers. You were asked to sign in again on your return, or someone would feel obliged to go out looking for you!

For those not ready for a 10-kilometer walk, 5-kilometer options were often provided as well.

My daughter and I used to go on the map walks most Saturday mornings - and still remember our adventures exploring neighborhoods and country villages we never would have visited on foot otherwise.

We were always amazed at how quickly some of the "older" walkers, the "regulars," would manage to finish the course. Our personal time improved from almost 3 hours to complete a 10-kilometer walk to 2 1/2 hours. We still laugh about the time it began to sprinkle during one walk, and a kind gentleman offered to share his umbrella with us. He slowed down his pace for us, but we were still huffing and puffing trying keep up with him. He told us that most regular walkers could finish the 10-kilometer course in 1 1/2 hours!

I haven't gone on a 10-kilometer walk for a few years now. A sore knee held me back one year, and I never got back into the habit. I see that the local walking clubs are still going strong and have organized walks for every weekend of the year. The 2009 schedule of the NCR (National Capital Region) is posted online. A google search of Volksport will bring up links to clubs in many parts of the world. The American Volksport Association and the Canadian Volksport Federation have websites that connect to local clubs. Some walkers like to participate in walking events in other parts of the country or even other parts of the world when they are on vacation.

Walking is a lot of fun - I really must get back into it again! But before I attempt another 10-kilometer walk, I have to get in shape. The club used to recommend that walkers regularly take at least three 45-minute walks a week to build up stamina for the 10-kilometer course. If the weather stays nice, that will be my goal in the coming weeks.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Random Act of Kindness

Montreal, with its lovely old buildings and French culture, is a favorite family destination for weekends away. One weekend this winter, I arrived in Montreal after a night of freezing rain. Roads, which had been salted, were safe, but many sidewalks were still dangerous sheets of glare ice.

As I walked down the street, carefully avoiding icy patches, I suddenly approached a long stretch of sidewalk all glassy and white. I should add that when I say I was walking down the street, I was doing just that. Montreal is a city built on a mountain (Mount Royal - hence the name, Montreal) and many of the streets are at an incline - a detail you usually don't notice unless you are tired and walking uphill, or when the street is very icy, as it was that day, and you are trying to maneuver a slippery slope.

The road would be safer to walk on, but to get to it, I would have to cross a sheet of icy sidewalk - or go back the way I had come. Never one to go back, I began to gingerly move across the ice when the inevitable happened: I slipped and fell, sitting down hard on the cold, hard surface.

I sat there for a moment, slightly stunned. The only thing hurting was my right hand, which had instinctively gone out to break my fall. But it felt bruised, not broken. Still I hesitated. Getting up would be risky: if I tried to stand, would I embarrass myself by falling down again, perhaps hurting myself even more in another fall?

As I sat there, wondering what to do, I noticed that a car driving past had pulled over. The young driver quickly got out and approached me.

Are you all right? he asked.
I nodded.
Here, let me help you up, he said, stretching out his hand. Then in the sure-footed way of young men who think nothing of running, let alone walking, on ice, he led me to the safety of the road, and went back to retrieve the bag I had dropped.
Do you have far to walk? he asked.
No, I'm just heading to that next building, I replied.
Well, walk on the road. It's safer, he cautioned, as I thanked him and proceeded on my way.

I was so thankful for his generous gift of a helping hand, just when I needed it most.

Would I have done the same for a stranger, I wondered, if I had been driving by? Would I have pulled over and stopped, or merely watched to see if the person could manage on his own - and if not called 9-1-1?

I, like so many, am wary of getting involved in other people's problems - but how much safer and friendlier a city feels when strangers look out for one another!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Obama and Me

I happened to be in Washington DC the week following the US Presidential election last November. On my way to a conference in Virginia, I had enough free time to spend a few hours walking around the city before continuing on my way.

I should say, at this point, that I have very little interest in politics. I don't follow elections in Canada, let alone the US. Needless to say, I didn't know much about Barack Obama before arriving in Washington that Thursday in November. In fact, I barely knew his name. The friend I was traveling with, on the other hand, had followed Obama's political career ever since hearing his first speech at a Democratic Convention. A Democrat with dual American-Canadian citizenship, she had voted in the election and is a member of "Democrats Abroad."

The weather was unseasonably warm as we wondered around downtown Washington, near the White House and the Mall. People were strolling around with smiles on their faces. A feeling of hope and change charged the air.

Everyone seemed happy.

We enjoyed a relaxing lunch at an outdoor cafe near the White House.

We saw Obama everywhere!

Here Kay is posing with him! (I think the real Barack Obama is a bit taller!)

At the airport after the conference, in the spirit of the Obama-mania that surrounded me, I bought a copy of Dreams From My Father, the first book Barack Obama wrote, after graduating from law school, before entering politics. A biographical memoire, it tells of his childhood, growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, then back in Hawaii again, of his coming to California and New York to study. He also writes about his three years in Chicago working as a Community Organizer - helping poor people help themselves - and about his first trip to Kenya to connect with his African roots by meeting his late father's family.

I found the book absolutely fascinating! I love stories of people who travel and experience different cultures, and this one did not disappoint. His rich descriptions of life in Indonesia, Hawaii, New York, Chicago and Kenya held me entranced. A writer with an ear for dialogue, he captured the unique speaking style of all, whether they were Indonesians, Kenyans, foreign students, or fellow Americans of all ages. I couldn't put the book down - finishing all 480 pages in about a week!

I was left with a lot of respect for this man whose life experience has encompassed white and black America, as well as parts of Asia and Africa. A brilliant writer and thinker from an ordinary middle-class family, he has struggled to understand himself and his place in the world. He is also a caring individual with a heart for helping the poor. Reading the book gave me a glimpse of the person behind the politics. Dreams From My Father is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand this new American president.

Hearing my enthusiasm for Barack Obama's first book, my family gave me his second book, The Audacity of Hope, as a Christmas gift. This one is about politics - the ideas as well as the people behind them. As I said, politics does not interest me - so I haven't made much headway so far. I have not yet been caught up by the story.

I was fortunate to be in Washington at this juncture of history - on a warm sunny day when streets were not crowded, unlike Obama's cold, crowded January Inauguration Day... Blessed, because I sensed the spirit of hope of the nation - and caught a glimpse of who this new American president is.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Marble Cake Recipe

Last Saturday I talked about the importance of having cake to serve to friends and family on the Sabbath.

Friday, the day of preparation for the Sabbath, is when all the food for the Sabbath is prepared in Jewish homes in Israel (and around the world.) So here, on the eve of the Sabbath, is a recipe for my favorite cake, a marble cake. The recipe was given to me by my friend Pearl from Kibbutz Hazorea. I often make it on on the weekend as my Ugat Shabbat [u-GAT sha-BAT] or Sabbath Cake. Even though I'm not Jewish, I still celebrate the weekend with cake!

By the way, this coming weekend is a long weekend in Ontario for the first time. The government has given us a new holiday: Family Day. Another great reason to have cake!

This is my family's absolutely favorite cake! We don't put icing on it - but sometimes serve it with a scoop of ice cream.

Pearl's Marble Cake
(This is Pearl's original cake recipe. I have added my personal adaptations for making it vegan and "healthier"at the end.)
  1. Cream together: 1/2 cup butter or margarine, 1 1/2 cups sugar - then add 2 eggs.
  2. Prepare 1 cup of sour milk or yogurt (To make milk sour, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to every cup of milk.)
  3. Prepare the dry ingredients: 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 1/4 cups of flour. (I never add salt or vanilla to cakes - if you want to, add 1/4 teaspoon of each)
  4. To the creamed together mixture, add a third of the dry ingredients. Mix. Then add half of the milk. Mix. Add another third of the dry ingredients. Mix. Add the rest of the milk. Mix. Finally add the last of the dry ingredients. This is your cake batter. Some people believe that the more you mix a cake, the better it tastes.
  5. Pour the batter into a well-oiled bundt pan. Then prepare the chocolate sauce used to marble the cake
  6. Chocolate sauce for marble effect: Mix 1/2 cup of Nestles Quick or any other sweetened chocolate drink powder with just enough milk to make it as thick as thick cream. Pour this onto the cake, swirling it into the batter to make a design.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit ( 175 degrees Celsius) for about 50 minutes. It really depends on the oven and the kind of pan used. Check the cake by sticking a toothpick into the middle. If no batter sticks to the toothpick, it is ready to come out of the oven.
  8. Let the cake cool completely before removing it from the pan.
  9. Enjoy!

Here's how the cake batter looks before it is marbled.

Here's how the batter looks like after the chocolate marbling .

Vegan Version of this Cake:
  • Replace each egg with 1 tablespoon soy flour mixed with 1 tablespoon of water. Use vegan margarine in place of butter, and soy beverage or other milk substitute in place of milk.

"Healthy" Versions
- I am constantly trying to make cakes "healthier." (To justify eating more, of course!)
  • In the last cake I made (pictured here), I replaced 4 tablespoons of the flour with 2 tablespoons of wheat germ and 2 tablespoons of psyllium.
When I took a workshop on preparing food for Type 2 diabetics, the dietitian said that whenever she baked anything, she always replaced 4 tablespoons of flour with 2 tablespoons of wheat germ and 2 tablespoons of psyllium. The texture of the cake was unaffected and it came out of the bundt pan easily.
  • Sometimes I use one third white flour, one third whole wheat flour, one third spelt flour (which has more protein and is supposed to be good for Type 2 diabetics.) The cake still tastes good, but does not come out of a bundt pan well, in my experience. It tends to crumble. So if you use other than white flour, perhaps put it in a rectangular pan and serve it out of the pan. It still tastes great!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

(Almost) Effortless Organization

When I was a child, cleaning up my room was really easy - all I did was open my closet door and pitch in everything that was lying around in my room - clothes, shoes, toys. Then I'd close the door, confident that the room looked great. I could make my bed and "clean up my room" in under five minutes - which worked really well when my mother said I only could go out and play once my room was cleaned. Look Mom, it's done!

The problem came once a month or so when my mother opened the closet and said. Clean this out too! Then I knew that I'd be there for several hours at least!

Times have not changed that much - it must be the personality I was born with! Only now I don't throw things into my closet. My little study is the catch-all I use when I want to tidy up some corner of the house. If someone is coming over for a visit, I often pile up books, mail or newspaper clippings I want to keep and carry it all to my study desk, with the intention of dealing with it later.Then I close the door. I dread those days when I realize I have to clean the study up too!

One of my problems - I think - is that I am a visual person, so if things are out of sight, I tend to forget about them. In order not to forget about a bill or a check, for example, I have to put it out in clear view.

Another problem is that creating a system for keeping important papers or newspaper clippings takes a lot of time and mental effort. That's why I have a number of file folders called "Interesting Info" in my filing cabinet. It's easier to put a clipping in there than to think about what heading to file it under - so that I'll be able to find it later on!

I recently watched a video lecture on Time Management by Randy Pausch, the university professor who gave a famous "Last Lecture" on Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams when he realized that he was dying of cancer. Although his time management lecture had a lot of really good ideas, like using a speaker phone when you know you are going to be on hold for a while (and having a task like folding laundry to do while you wait), it was obvious to me that I could never replicate his amazing organizational skills. It's just not me. But that doesn't mean I can't pick up a few pointers.

So today, as I try to restore some order to my study, I will resort to a system I used as a child when I had to clean up my closet. I tell myself: Just put 10 things away. That's all. Just 10.

Once I quickly do those 10, I either have a warm, fuzzy sense of accomplishment in the fact that I am seeing visible results from my efforts, or I get so caught up in what I am doing that I keep going, oblivious of the time.

Either way, I make some headway - and then go off to do something I enjoy more.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is Spring Perhaps Here?

Is it possible that Terry and the groundhog were both wrong on February 2, when they both predicted six more weeks of winter?

That was just nine days ago, and when I stepped outside today, there was definitely a spring feeling in the air! No, I didn't see budding trees or flowers sprouting out of the ground. But the weather was 9 degrees Celsius (that's 48 degrees Fahrenheit) And I did see puddles...

And after three months of winter, that's a sign of encouragement!

The paths were bare of snow.

There was a bare spot under the pine tree.

Now the next landmark will be when the ice clears off the road - and I'll be able to walk around my neighborhood again without fear of falling!

But for now, I'm not risking it!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


We have many teachers in life, each one unique.

The teacher I am thinking about today came to Ottawa as a young scientist working for the National Research Council. Young and single -and looking for a place to meet young ladies - he attended a service in a downtown church - maybe he would meet some attractive women there. And he did. He soon met the woman who would become his wife. It was love at first sight. But something else happened in the months that followed: he also encountered God in a new way, and felt called to become an Anglican priest, which he also did.

This is how I met him years later - as the priest in my church.

LESSON 1: You never know what random action can change the course of your life!

He shared this biographical information in an early sermon. Another time, he spoke of synergy, a scientific mystery that people have known for centuries but cannot explain - that somehow, two people working together can accomplish more than two individuals working alone.
King Solomon spoke of it hundreds of years ago when he said: Two are better than one, for they have a good reward for their labor.

I think of synergy whenever I feel overwhelmed by a problem - maybe I need someone to help me - or when I look back and wonder how a certain group managed to accomplish what they did. The answer is synergy.

LESSON 2: Don't always try to do it alone - you will accomplish more as a team, even a team of two.

This man was a priest for only a short time in our church. Ill health forced him to retire suddenly, though he did live on for quite a few years. He died a week ago.

When I think of the short time I knew him, out of the many years he lived and worked, both as a priest and scientist, I am sure that there are many others who look back on life lessons they gained from him.

LESSON 3: You never know who your life or your words will impact, or how those impacted by you will go on to influence others. Each one of us - unknowingly - contributes to the lives of more people than we can ever imagine.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Winter of Our Discontent

It's finally over - the bus strike that held our city in its grip for almost two months - two bitterly cold winter months, at that - has ended.

How did people manage? By hanging in day by day, hoping it would end soon. I think most would have thrown up their hands in despair or marched angrily on city hall had they known it would last this long.

The transit strike impacted almost everyone in the city. Many avoided the downtown core, especially during rush hour. People who depended on buses to get them to and from work had to find alternate ways of commuting, usually car-pooling - or alternate places to live, closer to work. One of my sons spent the past seven weeks sleeping on the sofa of a friend who lives downtown. A second friend from the suburbs also joined them. This strange living arrangement - three friends and two cats in a one-bedroom apartment continued for seven weeks - ending, amazingly, with friendships still intact! Some changed their work hours - beginning at 6 am so that they could leave before rush hour. Others simply walked for miles - or biked in the snow. One 60-year-old woman walked 12 hours a day, to and from work, if she couldn't get a ride. University students who lived off campus couldn't get to their final exams in December or to classes in January. The stories go on and on.

Businesses suffered. At the end of a trying day, few people feel like shopping.

Now that the strike is over, one would think that buses would all be up and running immediately. Wrong! Although several of the main routes resumed February 7 (a week after the strike ended), others have to wait until more buses are on the road again. The problem? Buses that haven't been driven for 7 weeks in the winter don't start easily, let alone run. Frozen batteries on the whole fleet is one of the problems mechanics are dealing with.

This is a small slice of our story, the winter of our discontent. It's a story of anger, frustration, and questions: Why, in this city of almost a million people, is public transportation not considered an essential service? Why was the strike allowed to continue for so long? It's also a story of people quietly doing what they had to do, often helping others as well if they could.

For many, it will be a winter they will never forget.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Time, the Tyrant

My class of new immigrants had been reading an article on farming in Africa, and comparing how farming was similar or different in their countries of origin.

As we were concluding, I turned to the class and asked: Is life harder here in Canada or in your country?

To my surprise, many of them said: Here in Canada.

What do you mean?
I responded. We have so many modern conveniences.

one young Ethopian replied. But here in Canada everybody is in a hurry. In our country, people talk to each other more. In Canada everyone is more stressed.

Are you more stressed? I asked.

Of course, everyone is stressed. I'm always running too! That's the way life is here.

His comment made me think of a friend, a former bank teller.

I used to love my job at the bank, she told me, because I got to meet to so many nice people. But then they sent us for training on how to serve people faster. We even had to practice avoiding eye contact with customers - eye contact encourages people to talk to us, and that slows us down. I had to leave. Productivity has become more important than customer service!

Is that why so many of us are stressed these days?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Favorite Cake - recipe to follow ... next Friday

Certain traditions from my 10 years in Israel remain with me still. One of them is the "need" for a Sabbath cake or Ugat Shabat ("u-GAT sha-BAT" in Hebrew). In Jerusalem, when shops shut down for the Sabbath day of rest, life takes on a different pace. What do you do when stores are closed and there are no buses? You visit friends, of course. And because no observant Jew would use the telephone on the Sabbath, you can just drop in on friends, unannounced, as my younger son and I did on a recent trip to Israel. And the food you will be offered (as we were offered), as you sit and chat, is Ugat Shabat. Although my weekends are not the same here, they don't seem complete without a simple Sabbath cake.

There is no set recipe for Ugat Shabat. Often it is a sponge cake or honey cake.

My favorite is a marble cake my family loves. Baked in a bundt pan, it tastes good uniced, with a cup of tea or coffee. A scoop of ice cream can be served with it if desired. It was given to me by my friend Pearl, from Kibbutz Hazorea. Perhaps I'll write about Pearl sometime. I have been thinking about her today, as I often do when I take out her recipe...

Maybe that is reason enough for friends to share recipes with each other more often!

Friday, February 6, 2009

First You Eat With Your Eyes...

My class was having a potluck lunch at school, immigrant students all bringing food from their native countries. As we admired one particularly attractive platter, one student - a young lady from Iraq - commented: First you eat with your eyes, then with your mouth.

What does that mean? I asked.

It's a proverb in my country. It means that food has to look appetizing or we won't want to eat it, she replied.

I thought of that proverb on a recent weekend in Toronto. Some food set before me was so attractive, I almost didn't want to spoil its beauty by eating it. I had heard of latte art - then I had a cup at Balzac Cafe in Liberty Village

Amazingly, the flower design on the coffee remained intact till the very end.
Here is another type of art: A bowl of cake and fruit served at the home of a friend.

They both looked almost too good to eat- but I did succumb - and they tasted great too!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"Life is a Series of New Beginnings"

I don't make New Year's Resolutions anymore - they're too hard to keep.

But this year I did make a secret promise to myself: I decided to empty my freezer and pantry - to use up all the food - and begin afresh, once it's all cleared out.

I've made some headway. You probably wouldn't know it as my cupboards are still jam-packed with food. As I look at them I wonder...

How many kinds of hot chocolate or honey do we really need?

So I'm clearing it out, using it up... day by day.

Sometimes I wonder how we got into this situation. This food stockpiling habit didn't occur overnight.

It began at a different stage of life when we needed food for five bag lunches a day - as well as ingredients for quick suppers for five at night. Having a lot on hand seemed a good idea then. A necessity, in fact. At that time I was following some helpful advice: Buy 2 of everything to avoid running out at a critical time.

Bulk buying was great - for that stage of life. But old habits die hard.

Our needs are different now: there are no bag lunches, and meals are smaller. I've come to a new beginning. It has just taken me a while to realize it.

So, after many years of accumulating, I'm doing a cupboard cleanse! And it does feel good!

Life is a series of new beginnings - but sometimes it takes a while to figure it out.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

For Knitters Only!

Sometimes I feel like a certain knitter in a Youtube animation - a woman who spends most of the story sitting and knitting...

I have been knitting a scarf for more than a year. I call it my Waiting Scarf.

I take it along whenever I expect to have to sit and wait a while, like in doctors' offices, at airports or on trains.

Originally I bought some variegated yarn to make a pair of socks. I was new to sock knitting and I liked the color, so I bought a lot, not knowing how much I'd need.

After the socks were finished, I didn't know what to do with the rest... until I discovered a lovely knit pattern for a Shadow Shawl, and decided to try "shadow knitting" (alternating 2 rows of variegated and 2 rows of dark yarn) If you alternate between knitting and purling rows - knit 2 in one color, then purl 2 in the other - the dark looks like a shadow of the variegated rows. Here is what my scarf looks like today.... It's not finished yet.

How long do I plan to make it? Until I run out of the variegated or the dark blue.

But unlike the knitter in the animation, once it's done, I don't plan to quit! In fact, I have a lovely ball of variegated part-mohair sock yarn that I'm anxious to try!

Okay, now watch the film, The Last Knit. (I think any knitter will identify.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Toronto's Liberty Village Neighborhood

Whenever I visit Toronto, I like to explore some neighborhood on foot. On my last visit, we wandered around King Street West, visiting Liberty Village, a former industrial area where old factory buildings are being converted into residential lofts and trendy shops.

After wandering through West Elm, an American home dec store similar to Ikea or Pottery Barn, we stopped for a sandwich and latte at Balzac a cafe located at the corner of Hanna and Liberty Streets, tucked away in a building called the Toy Factory.

Then down Queen Street West to The Workroom, a quilter's paradise.

Here are some of fabrics sold at The Workroom hanging in embroidery hoops on the wall, and a cute thread display.

I bought some quilting fabric, of course. (Remember the Quilters' Motto: You can never have too much!)

Then we walked to a shop run by Virginia Johnson, a Toronto-born fashion textile designer and illustrator, and rummaged through her scrap bin for some fabric deals. (And bought a bag of scraps, of course!)

Finally, we stopped in at a bedding store called Kings and Queens where we found some cute little Japanese mugs.

All in all, a successful shopping day!

Monday, February 2, 2009

When Will Winter End?

Today is Groundhog Day - that time in winter when non-skiers like me look at all the snow outside - and wonder when spring will arrive...

Traditionally we look to this little animal, the groundhog, to tell us if winter is over now or if we can expect another six weeks of snow and cold. Today was a lovely day here in Ottawa! The weather hovered around the freezing mark as long as the sun was out. As you can see from the shadows in the picture, however, any little groundhog coming out of his burrow here today would see his shadow, turn around and go back to sleep for another six weeks. Or so the tradition goes. Spring, according to the groundhog theory, will come around mid-March.

In our family, we have another system for determining when winter will end. We count down the 100 days of winter, starting on December 1. According to the Hutchins' 100-Day Theory, winter begins on December 1 and ends 100 days later on March 10. (If it snows in October or November, is it winter? you might ask. Not according to the theory. Likewise, if it snows at the end of March, it's spring - not winter - snow.)

Terry has been counting down his 100 days for years, and I thought it was a random number. (As they say, behind any successful man is a surprised woman.) But then a friend asked him the obvious question that I never bothered to ask: How did you arrive at this theory?

Well, according to the stats on the Weather Network (Terry's favorite internet site), December 1 is the first day that the average daytime high temperature where we live is below freezing, and March 11 is the first day that the average daytime high temperature is above that mark! So those are the 100 days of winter! It's all so logical!

How accurate is Terry in predicting the end of snow and cold? Probably about as accurate as the groundhog, I'd say! But really, it doesn't matter how you predict when winter will end, the important thing is that once Groundhog Day (February 2) is here, there is an end in sight - or so we hope!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Whatever Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Stronger

I found a quote that describes my life, one of my students, a young woman from Somalia, told me one day.

What is it? I asked.

What doesn't kill me makes me stronger, she replied, and went on to explain. I had to leave my country because of the war. I didn't get killed, like so many others did. I managed to escape to Italy. I had to learn Italian to live and work there - that made me stronger. Then Canada accepted my family as immigrants, and now I'm learning English and computers. It is making me stronger! This is the proverb that describes my life.

Armed with this attitude of becoming stronger, she went on to get her high school diploma, then a part-time job as a Walmart cashier. Before long, she was a full-time cashier, then the store's head cashier. Eventually, after completing an accounting program part-time at a local community college, she went on to a job in management.

How much easier it would be to deal with life's problems and setbacks, if we only had this young woman's attitude of viewing these bumps and roadblocks as opportunities for strengthening and growth.