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Fun Chanukah Salt Dough Project

December 7, 2009

chanukiya, salt dough

My kids came home with an assignment to create a chanukiya (chanukah menorah) for the school’s annual competition. After lots of deliberations, we decided to do it together from homemade salt dough.

We used the leftovers to make magnets, by creating shapes with cookie cutters and pasting fridge magnets on the back.

Salt dough recipe:

4 cups flour

1 cup salt

1½ cups water

  1. Mix flour with salt. Add water and knead thoroughly to form smooth dough. Shape into a ball and let dry for about 10 minutes.
  2. Create desired shapes.
  3. Place shapes on baking paper and bake at 200°C (320°F) for about 45 minutes (longer for very thick shapes).
  4. Let cool.
  5. Decorate with paint, sprinkles, beads and so on.

Delayed gratification linked to success in life

December 4, 2009

As a mother of five, fostering my children’s self-discipline is high on the priority list. Today, I came across a clip, which cites scientific evidence for something most parents know intuitively – self-discipline at a young age is a crucial predictor of success and happiness in adulthood.

To me, making a four-year-old wait 15 minutes in an empty room sounds more like torture than discipline training, but I am going to add the idea of get this now or more/better later to my parenting repertoire.

‘Tis the Season to Eat Cholent

December 2, 2009

Winter is here and with it the annual cholent season. While the long months of the Israeli summer make the very thought of a heavy meat meal (and an extra heat source) unthinkable, cholent is the perfect winter comfort food.

For anyone unfamiliar with this masterpiece of Jewish inventiveness, cholent (chamin in Hebrew) is a stew eaten on Shabbat afternoon after being left to simmer on low heat since Friday. Almost every Jewish community in the world has its version of this dish. Natives of communities as diverse as Jerusalem’s Nachlaot or London’s East End, have fond childhood memories of carrying home the steaming pot of cholent from the local baker’s oven every Shabbat morning.

At our house, cholent usually consists of beans, meats, potatoes and grains, such as wheat, barley, brown rice, or buckwheat. The best way to cook the grains is by separating them from the rest of the stew. Although most people I know use cellulose cooking bags for this, I don’t particularly savour the idea of cooking my food in plastic. However, I found the perfect solution while translating a Bukharian cookbook a couple of years. The author suggested cooking the grains in   drawstring muslin bags and that is exactly what I’ve been doing with great results.

Cholent can be cooked either in a crock pot or in a regular pot placed on top of a hot plate or a blech (a sheet of tin placed over a small burner or a pilot light). Make sure the pot is boiling before turning the heat down Friday afternoon.

Here is our favourite cholent recipe with several variations on the theme.

The Mystery Factor in Mother’s Milk

November 30, 2009

Have you ever considered why is it that mother’s milk cannot be measured? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to feed the baby and know exactly how much she has eaten?

The idea hit me while responding to comment on my posting about my baby’s feeding troubles. All of a sudden I realized that common advice to stop nursing, given by doctors whenever a baby doesn’t seem to follow textbook development patterns, is not rooted in opposition to Mother Nature. It is simple: formula can be measured in grams (or pints), making it possible to know just how much the baby has eaten. Armed with this knowledge, a doctor can analyze the data in terms of calorie, vitamin, and mineral intake and develop a treatment plan.

All of that is impossible with breast milk. How many grams are in a 5-minute feed? And how many calories? Unless you resort to weighing the baby before and after every feeding, as my mother had been instructed to do when I was a baby, the exact amounts remain a mystery. And what is in that breast milk anyway? It has not undergone chemical lab analysis, so who can vouch for its quality?!

There used to be a time when doctors could make diagnose an illness using just their five senses. Today, with the advent of futuristic technologies, this ability is gradually becoming extinct. So too with breast milk; if you can’t see it, measure it, take it apart in a lab, it is as if it doesn’t exist. Is it any wonder then, that when faced with a possibility of a problem, doctors prefer to play it safe and rely on quantifiable formula, rather than something as amorphic as breast milk. At least this way, there is a measure of control.

To me, surrounding breast milk with a bit of mystery makes perfect sense. From the Talmud we learn that, “[divine] blessing is not found not in that which has been weighed, not in that which has been measured, not in that which has been counted, but in that which is hidden from the eye.”  In His infinite wisdom, g-d has taken care of every detail of nursing, including leaving weights and measures out of it. This way, mothers can rely on their babies to eat as much as they want, without worrying about “filling the quota” and comparing their babies’ feeding needs with those of others. By keeping parental neurosis over food out of the equation, babies are given a chance to develop healthy eating habits from the start.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of undermining doctors’ expertise or opposing the use of formula when things do not work out. That said, there is more to the decision than control over variables. After all, mother’s milk is not only immeasurable, it is also irreplaceable.

The financial sense of aliyah

November 28, 2009

This week, our close friends are coming on a pilot trip in preparation for their planned aliyah in the summer. Although the move will involve many challenges, there is one thing they’ll be glad to leave behind – spending over one half of their annual income on kids’ education.

While visiting family in the US in recent years, we have met a fair share of professional couples, who told us they could hardly make the ends meet even on a six digit income, because of huge tuition costs. That seems to be a common experience, judging from this discussion of yeshiva tuition and comments such as this:

Parents are taking their kids out of the orthodox schools and putting them in public schools. The Jewish Federation in this city has never seen the kind of numbers doing so, and believe it will only increase … I think all of us are beginning to see the future, in which we return to the 1950s and go to public school, with an after school Talmud Torah program. It’s already starting in many communities.

All of this has gotten me thinking. For years I have heard people say that can’t consider aliyah, because it is too hard to manage financially in Israel.  With lower salaries and higher prices, they argued, Israel just was not an option.

I understand that the decision to move to Israel is complex. However, people who would like to make aliyah, but are held back by financial considerations might want to check the facts. Moving to Israel can offer a financial break for two major budget items of a Jewish family – education and medical care.

Jewish education – Top-notch yeshiva education is free or very affordable. Many religious public schools are superb, but even private elementary schools charge only $50-80 a month. Yeshiva high schools cost approximately $1,500 annually (unless you choose a dorm, which should cost $3000 a year).

College fund – Despite availability of financial aid, US university tuition is prohibitively expensive. In Israel, on the other hand, college tuition amounts to $8000 for the entire degree! I actually know of people who got their degrees in Israel and then got licensed in the States all for a fraction of the cost.

Healthcare – From conversations with friends and family back in the US, I know this is a painful subject. I keep hearing stories about young couples deferring marriage to remain covered by parents’ health plans, people losing benefits, and overwhelming medical bills not covered by insurance. In Israel, medical coverage is universal and quality of care is very good. We pay a 5% health tax and nominal co-pay and can access private care by purchasing supplementary insurance ($50-100 a month for the entire family).

So, if you’ve always dreamed of moving to Israel but thought you could not afford it, do your math. The results may surprise you.

Is Israel a High Trust Society?

November 23, 2009

Lately, I’ve been reading about Francis Fukuyama’s idea of social trust. Fukuyama argues that the degree of social trust between people (beyond family or immediate social networks) in a society has sweeping consequences on its economic prosperity. To demonstrate this, Fukuyama compares countries with high levels of social trust, such as Japan, Germany, and the US, with those lacking this asset (France, Italy, and China).

Social trust allows people to socialize and cooperate unhindered in both formal and informal settings. People are more likely to believe others and rely on them to work for attaining mutual benefit. High trust societies usually develop stable political systems and facilitate the creation of large companies with less need for direct government intervention.

By way of example, Fukuyama compares corporate cultures in France and Germany. French employees and managers have limited mutual trust, leading to rigid company guidelines, seniority-based salaries, and difficulty solving problems without assistance from higher-ups. By contrast, German workers and managers trust each other more readily, which makes for more relaxed work rules, flexible salary plans, and problem solving through direct negotiations.

Fukuyama warns that in recent decades, the US has been living off previously accumulated social trust, which is being depleting due to the rise of individualism, crime, breakdown of family values, and fewer local associations.

All this has led me to applying this concept to the Israeli society in which I live. In recent years, the Israelis have become much more focused on individuality, but also more prosperous. Then again, may be we are all just one big clan, so the theory doesn’t apply to us at all.

How would you evaluate Israel in terms of social trust? Are we creating more of this asset or using it up? I look forward to reading about your “greater picture” analysis, as well as specific examples from your business dealings, work places, and general encounters.

On Breastfeeding and Growth Charts

November 22, 2009

Last week, I posted an item about my baby’s seeming diagnosis of Failure to Thrive (FTT). The dietitian was adamant that I should stop nursing, give her 3 bottles of formula a day, etc, etc.

After talking this over with my husband (the most vociferous male supporter of nursing I’ve ever come across), I decided to check the facts once again. Here is what I found.

The Israeli Ministry of Health uses growth charts developed by the US Center for Disease Control  (CDC) in 2000. These charts were developed following observations of both breastfed and formula-fed babies. Based on these charts, my baby, who was born in the 25th percentile, dropped to the 3rd percentile by the age of one (this means that she weighs less than 97% of babies of her age).

However, in 2006 the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced new charts, reflecting the suggested development of breastfed babies. More recently, UK health authorities used WHO data to develop their own charts for nursing babies. The revised charts show that breastfed babies tend to gain weight fast in the early months, then taper off in their growth.

On WHO’s charts, my baby is in the 15th percentile, gaining significantly after her dip at the age of 6 months. Combine that with her steady growth in height and normal development and the picture becomes all that less worrisome.

What I’d like to know is how is it possible for a pediatric dietitian not to be aware of this information released over three years ago and widely available in both English and Hebrew. Furthermore, even if the Ministry of Health doesn’t deem it necessary to update the charts the way the Brits have done, why doesn’t it, at the very least, inform practitioners (including Mother and Child  Care – Tipat Chalav nurses) of these new standards?

As for us, we’ll continue to monitor our daughter’s growth. I have another appointment with the dietitian next month with printed charts ready and waiting for her perusal.