Friday, August 31, 2012

Excuses - #BlogElul 13

Another day, another blog post about Elul. I hope I don't bore you guys to tears before the month is done. Wouldn't that be a great excuse not to write them through to the end?

We are so great at making excuses. If we put a fraction of the energy we put into inventing excuses into just doing whatever it was, it would get done.

This is true whether it's about washing the kitchen floor (you would not believe how many excuses I have for that ...), making that scary career step or another important decision, or picking up the phone to call a friend.

In Elul, we have important soul work to do before we meet the King of Kings. We have so many excuses to avoid doing it. Let's discard them all and just work on becoming the people we would like to be.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Elul is almost halfway through ...

I've been reading an amazing blog by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. She talks about all sorts of things, but right now she's engaged in a project called #BlogElul, as you can see in this picture I lifted from said blog

So, what's Elul when it's at home? Elul is the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar, and when it ends, we have the first day of the seventh month, known as Tishrei. This day is mandated in the Torah to be a day of solemn assembly, of blowing of trumpets, of G-d's judging of our sins of the previous year and determination of our fate in the coming year. Yes, that's Rosh HaShanah, literally the Head of the Year. We call it the Jewish New Year, but actually it is not the beginning of the first month - that one is Nisan, the spring month in which we commemorate our redemption from Egypt. Are you confused yet?

Anyway, the tradition is to spend the month of Elul, before Rosh HaShanah, in the practice known as "cheshbon hanefesh", literally an accounting of the soul. In the synagogue, every weekday after the morning service, we sound the shofar to remind us that we need to be spiritually prepared to meet the King of Kings. It is quite common for people to follow some kind of book or path in this preparation.

Rabbi Sommer has provided us with a visual blueprint to guide brief daily blogs about the Elul process, and I meant to participate in it, but got caught up in other things, as so often happens. People have been posting their Elul blogs in the comments of her blog, and I want to join in. It is, after all, never too late to begin the accounting of the soul.

Today is the 12th day of Elul, and her theme is Image. I can think of no better image than this nice blue sign, and I will do my very best to keep up. Most of the posts should be much briefer than this, so don't be daunted by the prospect of daily posts from me!

How is your accounting going?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What I've been doing ...

Blow the Shofar Horn at TechCrunch50
I've not posted here in over a week, but I have a good reason for it. The wonderful Barbara Feldman trusted me to write some of the little informative pieces on her website, Rosh Hashanah Fun. It's got lovely colouring pages and stuff for kids, and it also has little tidbits of information, such as why we celebrate RH, what we eat, whether Yom Kippur is a happy or sad holiday, why we fast, etc. Even better, she's PAYING me for it. I'm so excited. I've been paid for online writing before, but each time it fills me with wonder and awe.

Originally she was looking for one writer to write the 20 pieces on the website, but mercifully she decided to split it between me and the incomparable Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. I am kind of stunned that I'm up there with a rabbi, especially one I admire so much. Here's a fun exercise for the reader: see if you can figure out which ones I wrote, and which ones she wrote.

Anyway, I will try to post more, now that I've got all my work for Barbara in (at least for now ... there are hints she may want me to do more, which would make me very happy). For one thing, I want to get in on Rabbi Sommer's Elul challenge, which you will have seen if you checked out her website above. I've also been feeling extremely artisanal in the kitchen lately, and I totally need to brag about everything I've been making.

Oh yeah, and I also need you guys to donate to my Breast Cancer run. Last year I made it to $1000. I'm not saying we necessarily need to duplicate that, but with heartfelt thanks to those who have already donated, I'm sure we can do better than $300 ... 

What exciting things have you been doing?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Kombucha Love

So I've developed this thing for fermented foods and drinks. They are supposed to be really good for a damaged gut, and G-d knows I've got one of those. So I started buying kombucha at the store. Tastes good, maybe half a glass every morning followed by a glass of water really makes me feel better. It's just freaking EXPENSIVE, and since I've been following all these fermentation groups on FB, it was obviously time to try doing it myself.

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that supposedly dates back to the ancient Chinese. The Wikipedia page for it is full of wild discussion of the pros and cons. It certainly is not a subject that leaves people indifferent, if they get into it.

For one thing, the Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY) used to ferment kombucha looks kind of scary. I got one from a friend of a friend here in Winnipeg, put this picture on Facebook and got some really freaked-out reactions. It looks like a big slippery pancake, and I have to admit that I don't like touching it, myself. But it does the job, and I figure the only difference with yoghurt is that you can actually see the micro-organisms.

 So I brewed up my sweetened tea in a 2L jar, flopped the SCOBY in, covered it up in its sheik outfit (as my friend Barbara called it) and left it there for a week. I resisted the temptation to check it out as apparently the mother grows better undisturbed.

By the end of the week, the smell from this corner was just like the one from the commercial bottles, only better. So I flipped the SCOBY (and its new baby!) out of the jar and popped them both into a new jar with 2 cups of their product - a SCOBY hotel. They are now waiting patiently on top of my fridge until I am ready to brew up some more.

The rest of the tea, which tasted like the commercial stuff only better, went into the bottles at the top of this post, one with a few blueberries and one with a piece of ginger. I'm told I should burp the bottles regularly to avoid explosions, and I've got them sitting in the same corner in a cardboard box, just in case. I'll be sure to let you know what they taste like. I don't want them too fizzy as carbonation and I are not friends.

So that's my kombucha tale - what have you been experimenting with?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Blog?

Question Mark So I've been going on about these women bloggers I've been hanging out with on FB. One of them asked us why we blog, what benefit we accrue from blogging, what keeps us going.

I gave some kind of flippant answer, but in truth, now that I've been doing this for a while (almost exactly a year, in fact), maybe it really is time to stop and think about the why.

I started this blog as a place to experiment with writing, to see if it was something I could do. I didn't have any particular audience or purpose in mind beyond my immediate family and friends. I called it My Coat of Many Colours because I love Carol King's song Tapestry, in which a character wearing a coat of many colours drifts across the Tapestry of her life. I even explained all of that in this blog post. I am such a classic ADHD person, a drifter and a butterfly and a jack of so many trades. This blog was started as a way to explore all those different interests and passions that I have, trying to figure out what I want to be if I ever grow up. I'm fifty years old now, so you'd think I have a pretty good sense of self, but if anything, I'm more confused now than I was when I was twenty, because I've tried a few things I thought then that I might want and it turns out I was wrong.

So the first purpose of this blog, for me, is to help me figure things out by writing about them. I've never been much of a journal-keeper, but I do find that sometimes thoughts flow out better through my fingers than swirling around in my brain. Obviously I do practise a certain amount of self-censorship, especially as it involves other people.

Another thing this blog has done for me is to help me find new communities. I've joined a couple of blogging groups on Facebook, and both of them have been wonderful. I've developed a passion for local food, and I've met some amazing people through writing about that. I've joined a Paleo Bloggers' group as well, and have learned a lot from reading the blogs there. I'm exploring all kinds of traditional food skills like fermenting and dehydrating, and the blog is one way for me to talk about those beyond a few status updates and pictures on Facebook. I also talk about Judaism. It is indeed a coat of many colours, which means I don't fit into any niche. How beautifully my blog mirrors my life.

I would love to find some way of making a living from blogging, but yeah, so does everybody else out there. Trust Julien Smith to express that with his trademark ferocious succinctness. I'm no Dooce, that's for sure. I've thought of putting affiliate links and stuff like that (not ads) on this blog and I'm afraid my friends will all hate me if I do. Still working that one out. Would you mind if I did? What would you like to see?

So why do I blog? Because it's there. Because there are people out there who actually read it sometimes, and it makes me happy when they do. Because it forces me to articulate my thoughts, just like Ruchi's question in our FB group made me stop and think. Because it's one of the few things in my current life that require discipline, and I need more of that in my ADHD soul. I've actually got my calendar set up to send me a reminder every day to write. It doesn't always happen at the time, but at least I think about it, and that sometimes leads to writing later.

I've often wondered whether I should focus this blog more on one thing and try to turn it into a source of income. Or maybe I should split it up into specialised baby blogs. Or maybe I'm wasting my time trying to "find myself" and I should just suck it up and get a job.

What do you think? If you blog, why do you? If you don't, why not?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Eyes Have It

GlassesI have the privilege of hanging out on FB with some amazing women bloggers. I am learning a huge amount because they share so generously.

One of our members blogs for The Times of Israel, and she brought this particular bit of absurdity to my attention:

An Ultra-Orthodox group in Israel is developing a product that causes men's eyesight to become blurry, preventing them from seeing immodestly dressed women.

These are stickers you put on your glasses (or on plain glass lenses if you are blessed with good eyesight) that prevent you from seeing more than a few metres ahead. Any immodest person in your vicinity dissolves into an indistinct blob, and all is well.

Setting aside the question of driving safely wearing these things (presumably they have another pair for driving, and just hope that there won't be any immodest billboards along the way - and many in Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods don't drive anyway), I think it's a fabulous idea.

The Ultra-Orthodox (or haredim, as they are called in Hebrew - ironically, it means Quaker) in Israel have a long history of employing violence to in their attempt to make the entire country fit their notion of Judaism. They will throw stones and dirty diapers at fellow Jews, force women to walk on the other side of the sidewalk from men and segregate buses. The difference between them and the Taliban diminishes day by day.

Of course most Orthodox people, and even most Ultra-Orthodox people, do not use violence in their day-to-day dealings with others. Many are horrified and ashamed to be associated with the Jewish Taliban, and some are courageous enough to speak out against them. They are risking excommunication and social shunning, no less effective in their closed society than in a Hutterite colony. It is easy for those of us on the outside to say what kind of stand they should take, but being expelled from the only home you have ever known is a stiff price to pay for speaking out.

This is why I am so much in favour of these blurry stickers. Not only will they prevent these guys from seeing immodestly dressed women on billboards and such, they should also do quite a number on their aim with a rock or a dirty diaper. I'm sure all women in Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods feel much safer now.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Curiosity - a Celebration of the Human Spirit

I tried really hard to stay awake Sunday night, watching my Twitter stream grow steadily more excited. I failed. But luckily, the Mars Science Laboratory, with its rover known as Curiosity, went ahead and landed safely without me.

In case you've really not been paying attention, NASA managed to land a one-ton rover, much heavier than any other unmanned vehicle, on the surface of Mars. It's going to spend the next few years exploring the Martian surface, and maybe even find a few microbes under all that gravel, who knows. The engineering feats involved in that gentle landing, using a previously untested "sky crane", not to mention getting the picture shown here (taken by an orbiter that really was not designed for that purpose), are absolute testaments to human ingenuity and the power of the human brain and hand. While progress has been getting a bad rap lately (why did we think GMOs were a good idea, again?), and there are people out there who seriously bemoan the invention of agriculture as being the source of all the world's woes, it is hard for me to see this as anything other than a Good Thing.

Yes, there are always going to be those who say that that money should be spent on improving social conditions here on Earth. To quote a famous 1st century rabbi, the poor will always be with us - the US$2.5 billion cost of the Mars mission is a small perturbation on the budget of that illustrious country. The cost of the current wars is pushing a trillion dollars, a number so absurd that human brains cannot encompass it. If a fraction of that money were put towards eradicating child poverty and hunger, we wouldn't have to worry about the cost of a measly space program or two.

More to the point, I really think that humanity needs to explore its options beyond this planet. While we have a few billion years left before the sun makes this one uninhabitable, chances are we will have achieved that particular goal well before we need to worry about a red giant in the vicinity. So then what do we do? The only hope we have is to use those giant brains of ours to find us a new home, and exploring our neighbours in the Solar System has got to be the first step in that journey.

But beyond everything else, space exploration is just really, really cool. I know that some people have a fundamentally dark view of humanity, and believe we would do better to just shut up and die already, rather than spreading our contamination over the Universe. But I believe that we have a divine spark, whatever its origin (it does not require belief in a personal G-d). Every time humans take a step beyond their little concerns and squabbles, and work together to satisfy some of that divine curiosity we have been given, the Cosmos becomes a better place.

In the words of Psalms 8,  

ד  כִּי-אֶרְאֶה שָׁמֶיךָ,    מַעֲשֵׂה אֶצְבְּעֹתֶיךָ--
יָרֵחַ וְכוֹכָבִים,    אֲשֶׁר כּוֹנָנְתָּה.
4 When I behold Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers,
the moon and the stars, which Thou hast established;
ה  מָה-אֱנוֹשׁ כִּי-תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ;    וּבֶן-אָדָם, כִּי תִפְקְדֶנּוּ. 5 What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou thinkest of him?
ו  וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְּעַט, מֵאֱלֹהִים;    וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ. 6 Yet Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

That crown of glory and honour just got a little brighter this week.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

It's that time of year again ...

I've signed up to run in the CIBC Run for the Cure. I'm not generally a big supporter of pink ribbon stuff, there's just too much pinkwashing going on in this world.

But I have a weakness for this run, because it was the first 5K I ever ran (all of last year - nostalgia already!).

Also, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation assures me it has no formal links with the Susan B. Komen Foundation, recently in the news for pulling its funding for Planned Parenthood's mammograms. So I feel pretty comfortable fundraising for this organisation. I have many friends and relatives who have been touched by the spectre of breast cancer, so there's no question that the cause itself is worth supporting.

Last year you, my friends and readers, stunned me by donating over $1000 to support my run. So here I am again, virtual cap in hand, to beg you to repeat or even surpass that performance. The picture on this blog post should be a live link to my fundraising page (do please tell me if it doesn't work!), and I will add the widget to my blog as well.

Whom am I running for? You, me, and every human mammal on this planet.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fermented Kale - Cinderella on my counter

Doesn't look very appetising, does it? I should have photographed it in its original mason jar, it looked prettier there. Regardless, let me introduce you to a batch of lacto-fermented kale.

I've been making kale chips, as my faithful readers know. I do think they are yummy, and an excellent use for my dehydrator. But I wanted to try something different, with the benefits of lactobacilli and a little softer for my sometimes temperamental digestive tract. (Sorry for the TMI!).

I'd already been making lacto-fermented pickles, thanks to Sally Fallon's fabulous book, Nourishing Traditions. I've been making my own yoghurt for the past several years because I (try to) follow the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for above-mentioned digestive issues. I like the yoghurt thick, like Greek yoghurt, so I'd always strained the whey right into the sink. Now I collect it and use it to make wonderful healthy stuff - for example, if you soak rolled oats (which I don't eat, but my kids do) overnight with a few tablespoons of whey, you have the equivalent of instant oatmeal in the morning, without the industrial additives and with an enhanced nutritional value.

I totally recommend this book, especially if you have any kind of auto-immune issues. This despite the somewhat inflammatory language (pun intended). Look past the rhetoric to the information and the recipes, and your life will be so much better.

OK, back to the fermented kale. I found a recipe online (which involved kale, salt, water and whey - duh, I could have figured that out myself. Working on that self-confidence thing). I took a mason jar and layered kale and salt until it was pretty full, then added water and whey. Closed 'er up and let it sit on my counter for a few days, then transferred it to a container in the fridge. Given that self-confidence thing, I joined a wonderful Facebook group called WILD FERMENTATION, where extremely nice people reassured me that I was doing it right and that I wouldn't poison myself. They did recommend, however, against fermenting kale by itself because they said it wasn't very appetising. They generally added it to cabbage to make kale-kraut combinations. But here I already had this fermented kale, what to do with it? Here's what I've come up with so far.

First thing I did was to mix it with some canned salmon for lunch yesterday. I usually use spinach leaves, but I'm a little chary about eating too much raw spinach what with the oxalic acid and all. Raw kale is completely out of the question for me. But the fermented kale was soft and gave a nice little tang to the salmon - didn't even need to add my usual lemon juice. So there we go, there's one good use for fermented kale.

Today I came to make my morning omelette with a little trepidation. My daughter was up half the night with a stomach bug and I wasn't feeling too fabulous myself in that regard. Again, I usually use spinach in my omelette, but hey, there was the container of fermented kale. I heated up some coconut oil in my lovely cast-iron skillet, popped in some kale, then added some herbs and my whisked-up eggs.

It was very nice, tasted good (again, just that little bit of tang to wake up your tongue) and my body hasn't complained (yet, anyway). In fact, I'm feeling much better than I did when I woke up, although of course that could all be in my head. So much of this stuff is, really.

So, my thanks again to the lovely folks at WILD FERMENTATION. I went out yesterday and found a little glass jar that I can fill with brine and use to weigh down my ferments INSIDE their mason jars. The scary part of fermenting stuff on your counter is that if it floats up and sticks out of the brine, you can get mould. As long as it is nicely under the brine, it is all anaerobic and the lacto-bacilli can do their magic.

So there is my Cinderella food tale. I do have a nice big cabbage sitting in my fridge waiting to be turned into kraut, and I'm thinking carrot, broccoli and cauliflower thoughts as well. I will no doubt report back on my adventures in fermentation-land.

What new culinary paths have you explored recently? Any suggestions as to what else I can do with my fermented kale? Let me know!