Archives for March 2010

Why I consider a rice cooker a kitchen essential

I was in my 30’s before I even knew rice cookers existed.  It was a
Korean friend who clued me in when she was teaching me some Korean
cooking.   Doubtless her dependence on her rice cooker was because her
family ate rice at almost every meal.  We eat rice 3 times a week or so,
but I wasn’t sure we needed one.   But remembering the fact that at
least once a week my rice pot boiled over, I decided to give it a try. 
It might be just the help this scatter-brained cook needed.   Sure
enough, it produced effortless, perfect rice, leaving me free to focus
on other dishes.

All you do is add normal proportions of rice and water, turn it on,
and walk away.  When the rice is perfectly cooked, it switches to warm,
keeping the rice ready and waiting for the rest of the meal to be
complete. You can cook either white or brown rice.  You can also cook
lentils, quinoa, barley, grits, and other small grains.  Most models
have steamer baskets that allow you to steam fish or egg rolls right
along with your rice. 

But the real dealer-sealer for me is that you can use the rice
cooker to cook your morning oatmeal.  Dump oats and water into your rice
cooker in a 1:2 ratio  (1 cup of oats for every 2 cups of water), click
the on button, and walk away.   In 20 minutes you have perfect
breakfast oatmeal.  Add sugar, butter and vanilla.   Stir and serve. 
Almost everyone has time for that little bit of fuss on busy mornings!

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You might also like: a New York Times story touting the versatility of the rice cooker

Adoption benefits and the new health care legislation

I just learned about a bright spot on the new Obama health care legislation.  I am a trifle confused about adoption benefits being added into a health care law, but am pleased that this may make adoption more affordable to more families.  Here are the details, as provided by the Christian Alliance for Orphans.

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To encourage and support adoption, the adoption tax credit was expanded by President Bush and Congress in 2001. This increased the value of the credit from $5,000 to $10,000, and indexed it for inflation (meaning the credit would increase each year to keep up with inflation.) For 2010, its value had risen to $12,170. However, the 2001 increase was scheduled to “sunset” at the end of 2010. This would mean that any adoptions finalized after December 31, 2010 would be eligible for—at most—a credit of only $5,000.

This sunset has now been extended one year. That means that it will need to be extended again before the end of 2011. For the present, however, this extension comes as very welcome news for families considering adoption or in the adoption process.

Specifically, the provisions contained in Obama’s health care legislation include:

The current adoption tax credit has been extended until the end of 2011;
The value of the adoption tax credit has been increased from $12,170 to $13,170.
The increase is “retroactive,” meaning that any adoption occurring after January 1, 2010 is eligible for this higher credit.
The credit is now refundable. This means that even families that owe zero taxes can receive the full tax credit in the form of a tax refund to help with their adoption-related expenses.

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Details in this pdf  (page 903 of 906)

Frugal skin care: olive oil cleanser

A friend of mine who has lovely skin told me that she uses olive oil to cleanse her skin.  She referred me to this article at Simple Mom for the details.   The gist of it is that a natural oil like olive oil works naturally to break down the oil in skin that can make your skin look dull and cause break-outs.  I liked the idea of such an affordable facial cleanser and gave it a try.   I loved the way it made my skin look and feel– clear and glowing and healthy.  My husband gave it a cautious try on a breakout on his face — he’d always thought of oil as the culprit in breakouts.   He was surprised that instead of making it worse, it cleared it right up.   And it didn’t leave his skin dry and flaky like his usual acne treatment.

When my 12 year old son heard about the olive oil cleanser, he wanted to try it too.   I was hesitant.  He has moderate acne, and I was really afraid the oil would make his skin worse.  However, we’ve tried a few different cleansers and acne creams (Proactiv and others) without much improvement, and he was anxious to try the oil cleanser.  Since he definitely has oily skin, I followed instructions at Simple Mom, and gave him a mix of half castor oil and half olive oil to try, instead of just plain olive oil.  He’s been using it for a week, and his skin is noticeably, definitely better.  He is pleased and I am too.

I’ve read recently that turmeric also can be helpful for acne-prone skin.   I am going to keep that in mind, and possibly mix it in with the oil if any of my kids seem to need a bit of extra help in clearing up blemishes.

Sunday

Amazing Grace
How sweet the sound
Amazing Love
Now flowing down
From hands and feet
That were nailed to the tree
As Grace flows down and covers me

It covers me
It covers me
It covers me
And covers me

Not on a horse

Awhile back I posted the youtube video of that hilarious Old Spice commercial.  Apparently the commercial is effective, because the next time John asked me to buy him aftershave, I decided to grab him a bottle of Old Spice.  John has used a different aftershave for years, and we’ve both been quite happy with it.  But he willingly gave Old Spice a try.

The first time he used it, I wasn’t sure what I thought about it.  Maybe I just needed to get used to it.  The next day I wondered if maybe he’d just used too much.   A few days later, when I wasn’t any closer to getting used to it, I finally realized what the problem was.   It isn’t that the stuff smells bad.   It just doesn’t smell like MY man.

I had to reluctantly conclude– that Old Spice guy– he’s the man my man should not smell like.

I much prefer my man to smell like himself.

Help a mom?

Once again I come to you on behalf of my friend Kelli. Would you go read her update? Then I hope you will spread the word on her behalf, asking people to consider being tested as a kidney donor. The more people willing to be tested, the more likely she is to find a match.
Thank you.

Kitchen adventure: Buche de Noel

I have an interesting project slated for today. We’re having a birthday party for our daughter’s boyfriend tonight.  When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, he first joked about avoiding squirrel parts.  Then almost as an afterthought he mentioned a cake his high school french teacher had told him about.  Buche de noel —it’s  not your typical birthday cake request.  I was intrigued.  Always willing to expand my culinary horizons, I googled it.

Buche de noel (boosh day noel) is a jelly-roll style cake decorated to look like a log.  There’s a beautiful example here— it would take a miracle to make a cake of mine that pretty.   Nevertheless I am giving it an attempt.  Just for fun, I thought I’d live-blog my efforts.  Rather than putting up a bunch of different posts, I’ll just add to this one as the day goes on. At the moment, we’re just gearing up for a pancake breakfast, and after that I’ll begin with meringue mushrooms and cream filling.  Pictures– pretty or not–  coming too.  So check back in an hour or two!

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10:15 AM update:  Going to the store for parchment paper.

11:30- Back home, mixing up cake batter and spreading parchment paper on two cookie sheets.  (I doubled the recipe)  Since I’m paranoid about things sticking, I opt to grease the parchment paper and hope that won’t mess anything up.   I also opt to bake the cakes one at a time, since I am concerned that rolling up two cakes both at the optimal cooling time.

12:00 First cake almost done.   Whipping cream is puffing up nicely.   Love my Christmas Kitchen-Aid!

12:15 – Second cake in.  First cake got really big and puffy.   I hope it rolls!  Whipping cream done and into fridge.

12:20  — Psyching up to roll up the first cake.  Am really doubting, it is so thick.

12:22 — Enlisted 12 yo to take picture.   Rolling, cake is cracking.  “Keep taking pictures”” I tell him breathlessly as I wrestle cake into an approximation of a roll.   “It’ll still taste good, ” he reassures me.  Why do I think I’ll say that at least another half-dozen times today?  The heady aroma of chocolate wafts around the room.

12:30– First cake set aside to cool 30 minutes.  Second cake out to cool.  This one is thinner.  Maybe it will roll better.

12:35– Second rolled same as first.  First 1/3 of the cake cracked.  Looking at the pictures I think a long wooden dowel would be a help in supporting that first bit of the roll.  However the rest of the cake rolled nicely, and with frosting as glue I’m sure it will be great!

1:00- Carefully unrolled both cakes and spread insides with whipped cream, then rolled back up, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated.   Looking yummy!!

1:40- Moving on to the meringue mushrooms.   KitchenAid is again whipping away, this time with egg whites– very fun.

2:00- Squeezing meringue onto cookie sheets to make ‘mushrooms’.  Very cute!

2:40 — After making a couple dozen mushrooms, I still have oodles of meringue.  What else can I do with meringue?  Googling blueberry meringue pie…. hhmmmmm….riffing off this recipe, I wonder if I can make blueberry meringue crisp, thus avoiding the need for piecrust…?  Remind self that I still need to frost and decorate the cake….

2:50– Making buttercream frosting– as soon as I wash the KitchenAid again, that is.  Good thing I grabbed Wal-Mart pizza for dinner while I was there for the parchment paper.  🙂

3:15 — I pull the meringue mushrooms out of the oven to cool.  They look cute.  I drop first dollops of too-stiff frosting onto too-soft cake.  Crumbling ensues.  Arg.  Is this thing going to come together or fall apart?  Kids come past saying, ‘oh well, it will taste good.’  Good momma that I am, I tell them to go away.  Crankily.  Tense moments ensue as I smooth the frosting with water dabbed on a spatula.

3:30 — Enough of the ‘log’  is covered with frosting now that it starts looking hopeful.  My mood recovers and the project becomes fun again.

3:45 — The girls help assemble the mushrooms, which look utterly convincing.  We are all charmed.  My 15 year old son makes a blueberry meringue crisp with the rest of the meringue, blueberries, and crumb topping.  No shortage of dessert tonight!

4:15– The cake is covered with frosting and I’ve got the finishing touches set out and ready to add:  my mushrooms, of course, plus sprigs of greenery, green frosting, and pistachios.

4:30– The rest of the decorating is pure fun.   We can’t get over how adorable and perfect the mushrooms look– they’re easily my favorite part of the project.  Then all there is to do is take pictures of the finished product and wait for the party to start!



Shades of grey

When you go into adoption, you tend to do it with best intentions.  Such clear goals.

We want another child.

How great it will be to help a kid who needs a family.

For many people it’s exactly that simple.  At first.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that clarity of focus.   It makes it easier to take the next step, to move forward to bring a young stranger into your circle.

But the deeper you get into adoption, the longer you are an adoptive family, the more you understand how truly complicated adoption is.  How other’s losses are inescapably entwined with your own family’s gain.

Today my Ethiopian daughters and I went thrift-store shopping for Easter dresses.  Did quite well, considering I was shopping with girls ages 14, 12, 7, and 5.  We came away with dresses they didn’t hate.  (Take my word for it:  when you have kids who prefer jeans and t-shirts, ‘not-hating’ a dress is a major win.)

On the way home from the shopping trip, a song came on the Christian radio station and my 14 year old started singing along.   Three years ago she’d never heard this song.  Three years ago she was in Ethiopia, living at a children’s house where evening worship was syncopated with energetic drumming done on a wooden cupboard at the back of the room.  I have pictures of her and her sister and her friends lined up, pounding intricate rhythms, all in a row, smiling with the joy of it.

Since witnessing that ebullience, I’ve thought many times that worship at our quiet Lutheran church must seem staid and dull, after the raucous enthusiasm with which she worshipped when younger.   I think she’s used to it now.  She sings along, participates, even seems to enjoy various songs.

And yet I can’t shake the picture of that girl, that daughter now mine, in the land of her birth, surrounded by friends, singing and drumming in the center of the action.  I know that there are advantages to her new life in America.  Flush toilets and better education and medical care and a mom and a dad….those are just a few benefits that spring to my mind.

But I mourn the fact that she had to say goodbye to her old life to have this new one.

I’ll never forget that girl on the drum.

And you know what?  I don’t want to.

Book giveaway!

Sprittibee is giving away a copy of my book A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family.  Go say hi and enter the drawing!

worth a visit

I have SUCH good links to share with you this week!