Tuesday
Dec312013

curried red lentil soup

Inspired by the flavors of Indian Mulligatawny, this soup is one of my daughter's favorite recipes. She asks me to make it for her all the time.

 

I find that the flavors get even better the day after it is made. I always make large batches since it is just as easy to make a large batch as it is a small one. My kids love to take a thermos full for school lunch. It also freezes well if we want to save half for another time. 

 

I buy fresh curry leaves at our food coop but they are also available in Indian grocery stores and even on Amazon.com. If you buy a bag of them they can be frozen for future use. If you cannot get fresh curry leaves you may omit this step and just mince the garlic and ginger into a fine paste.

 

 

CURRIED RED LENTIL SOUP

2-3 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely diced

4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup fresh curry leaves

2 tablespoons oil (I used coconut oil but olive oil would be just as good!)

2 onions, diced

4 carrots, sliced into rounds

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1 tablespoon mild curry powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

2 pounds split red lentils

12 cups water (more as needed)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 cans coconut milk

fresh cilantro

 

Combine ginger, garlic, and curry leaves in a spice grinder or small food processer and blend into a paste. Heat coconut oil in a large stock pot over medium heat and add onions, carrots, and celery. Cook stirring frequently for about 4 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add curry leaf paste, curry powder, and garam masala and cook another minute or two until very fragrant. Add lentils, water and salt and increase heat to high to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender, about 15 minutes. Add coconut milk and adjust seasoning to taste. Sprinkle with freshly chopped cilantro before serving.

Wednesday
Nov272013

NYC parents to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio

Like many parents I know, I have become quite interested in the issue of testing, and am one of the organizers of the Teachers Talk Testing Forum at PS 321 on Tuesday December 3rd. You can see more about the event (and sign our petition) on our website, teacherstalktesting.com. If you are a NYC parent I hope you will consider attending!

 

This video, made by Parent Voices NY gives a glimpse at some of the issues motivating so many of us:

 

 

To give a little background on why I got involved...

 

As a parent of public school children one of the things that has surprised me is how much standardized testing has changed in the past few decades. When I was a child in public schools myself, I never gave much thought to the standardized tests we took periodically. There was no stress surrounding them, and it was assumed that if you went to school and did well that these tests would not show otherwise. 

 

When my boys entered 3rd grade, the first year that standardized tests are given in NYC currently, I started to hear more about testing and became more aware of controversy. I still was not worried...it seemed like a natural thing to think that there should be some assesment that reaches across schools and districts to measure how students and schools are doing in the scheme of things. 

 

My perceptions started to change as I witnessed the tremendous stress one of my sons experienced as the tests approached. Although he has always been a good student and has gotten excellent report cards over the years he was clearly worried about these tests and seemed convinced that somehow they were going to be different than his other school experiences. Not only was he worried about getting a good grade, but he had become aware that the scores might affect him in other ways -- for example, he worried the tests would effect his chances at getting into a good middle school. (For those outside of NYC the idea that you must apply to public middle school must sound strange, but that is that way it works here.) One night he went so far as to say that he was worried about his entire future...if he did not get into a good middle school did that mean he would not get into a good college? Or get a good job? Or be able to earn a living? All of this from an 8 year old!

 

The second thing that really drew my attention to this issue was the idea that these test scores could be used to sort teachers into categories: according to advocates of high stakes testing we would now be able to see who the good teachers are and who the bad teachers are. This theory was so widely accepted that in New York City teachers' scores were published for all to see two years ago. This was horrifying enough even if you believe the scores are accurate...but when you really look at the ways that teacher scores are determined it becomes totally outrageous. In our school, where the majority of students score well, and the quality of teaching attracts families to the neighborhood specifically so that their children can attend our school, some teachers still scored poorly. One of the interesting things to note though, is that a teacher who scores very well one year may score very poorly the next...do we really think that the quality of teaching changed dramatically from one year to the next? 

 

All of these things led me to start attending our school's Testing Task Force meetings. We are very lucky to have a principal who really explains how things work very clearly, and takes the time to do so in grade by grade meetings with parents and in meetings like the Testing Task Force meetings. While the idea that standardized tests can be used to weed out "bad" teachers is very compelling, it is really important to understand how these practices affect great teachers as well. One of the things I have learned is that just one or two struggling students in a high performing class can result in a terrible rating for a teacher. The sample size of a classroom is too small to be statistically meaningful, and yet that is how these scores are determined. Even in a classroom where the majority of students perform well on tests, scores may vary from year to year, and if a few students who got one question wrong on a test in 3rd grade get two questions wrong on the same test in 4th grade that can result in a poor performance grade for their 4th grade teacher. Not only does this show how the tests can be unreliable indicators for teacher performance, but it also highlights how we can really negatively impact great teachers in our quest to rid the system of "bad" ones. This alone is reason for me to get involved. The idea that our educational practices might be deterring great teachers from wanting to teach is not something I want to risk.

 

I hope you will consider joining me at Teachers Talk Testing on Tuesday night if you are in the area!

 

 

 

Monday
Oct212013

halloween: mythical woodland creatures

In my kids early years it was sometimes a struggle to convince them that home made costumes were the way to go. We would pass shops full of ready to wear costumes and I would be greeted with whining and tears...why can't we buy that!?!?

 

Now that they are older and all in school all day I have filled my days with other projects and have less time to devote to things like Halloween so I opened up the idea of buying costumes this year...boy was that idea rejected quickly! Of course, I am thrilled that the love of making things has been passed down to my children but this year the pressure to perform set off a total panic attack for me.

 

One of the hardest parts of Halloween planning for me is negotiating with the kids about what to be - their fantasies and my costume making skills are not always in line. This year Owen decided he wanted to be a satyr and set to work researching how to make his costume. He found all kinds of inspiring photos online and even a few how to's for making the legs but I was still worried: the sewing involved to make fur pants that would fit over the newly sculpted animal legs is way beyond my skill level! Then we happaned across this video that gives a brilliant way to make animal horns for a costume. I was so thrilled...it only used readily available materials and the skills needed seemed appropriate. I gathered the whole family around to suggest we embrace this as our theme and much to my delight all agreed. We were able to gather the supplies and make 5 sets of horns all by the end of the day. In fact, the kids worked so quickly that I struggled to get photos of all the step!

 

 

We agreed that the horns will unify us but the specifics of what we will wear with them will be unique to each...Oliver is leaning in the Minotaur direction while Bea is fawn meets queen. She is the only one to have fully hammered out the details of her costume (photo at top of post). She fell in love with this cheap wig we had in our costume box from a past year and combined that with as many dark and glamorous peices of clothing as she could dig up. The military jacket is the one item I managed to buy while contemplating a store bought Halloween...it is from H&M.

 

Monday
Jun172013

balloon weights

 

This year my friend Emma asked me if I would work on decorations with her for our school's Staff Appreciation Day. We had fun trying to come up with ways to make our very institutional looking gym get tranformed in to something pretty and festive. We started by coming up with a palette, and decided balloons would give some needed height since the gym has such high ceilings. We needed balloon weights to keep the centerpieces in place and realized that was a perfect opportunity to add a fun homemade element that would keep it looking fresh and fun. We ordered 20 hot pink, 20 light pink, 20 yellow, 20 blue, and 10 white balloons and just mixed them up sort of randomly into groups of 5. Aside from the fact that the hot pink and light pink looked identical once they were inflated it worked out well. Emma made a banner by painting our message with gold paint onto some brightly colored paper.

 

I decided plaster of paris might be a cool material to use for our weights. At first I was envsioning all white sculptures realized that was too tricky - especially since I needed about 20 weights and didn't have any experience making anything like that. I decided to just use basic paper cups for molds. I needed two things - a loop to tie the balloon strings to, and some way to make them more festive and interesting looking. A jumbo paperclip worked perfectly for the loop and I have fond childhood memories of making simple tissue paper flowers so thought I might recruit the kids to help with that. I twisted clusters of three white pipe cleaners together and hooked the paper clips onto colored pencils. I positioned these things in the cups and started pouring plaster on top of them only to realize I had the order backwards. The best way would be to have everything ready,  mix up a batch of plaster of paris and fill about 18 cups. Then, working quickly, we drop a pipe cleaner bundle into each cup and suspend the paperclips in the plaster by balancing the pencils across the tops of the cups. Let the plaster set overnight. 

 

 

To finish the flowers I cut tissue paper into squares measuring roughly 5-6 inches. I used a few shades of pink and some yellow. Once all the squares were cut I made stacks (with some color variations in each stack) that were around 6 sheets each. They don't need to be exact...the more layers you have the fuller your flowers will be, but if they get too thick it is hard to separate all the petals. Fold each stack into accordian pleats so that when it is all folded it is about 1 inch wide. Trim the ends to create rounded or pointed petals. Fold a pipe cleaner around the center of each bundle of tissue, making sure that the pipe cleaner stem is not too long -- you can trim them or just fold them to be short -- so that your flowers are close to the plaster and don't droop too low. Open up the folds of the paper fanning it around around the pipe cleaner and then carefully peel up the tissue, one layer at a time. It may rip a little but not to worry...they do not need to be perfect! Although I planned to recruit the kids for this stage Emma and I sat and enjoyed a glass of wine while assembling the flowers and got through the job fairly quickly.

 

I left the paper cups on my molds until I was ready to use them. At that point I just cut a little slit in the rim of the cup and tore it off, revealing the nice clean plaster. When the luncheon was over we packed them all up to reuse in the future. I'm sure we will need to re-fluff the flowers a bit, or even remake a few, but the weights worked so well I am sure we can use them again.

Friday
May242013

Flying birthday party!

 

Recently one of my boys went to a great flying themed birthday party. My friend Donna never does anything half way so I was not surprised when she went all out for her son's party...the cleverness began with the amusing invitation:

 

We will head to the park for airplane races and stunt flying, then head home for some terrible food, and inflight movie, and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.

 

Before the party each child received a boarding pass (shown above) which Donna made using a free downloadable template which you can find here.

 

 

The birthday boy, Will (above left in his captain's hat), used the computer program Microworlds which he has been learning at school to create an "airsickness bag" (above center). The bags were filled with Foam fliers, gum, and a tee shirt which Donna designed (above right). It is now one of Owen's favorite shirts! Donna ordered the tee shirts here and than made the airplane cloud here and printed them on iron on tranfers.

 

 

Thank you to Will and Donna for having such a fantastic birthday party, and to Donna for sharing photos too!

 

Monday
May062013

garrison artists on location

 

Our family is excited to be heading to Garrison on Saturday for the one of our favorite events, Artists on Location. We were introduced to Garrison Artists on Location by my brother-in-law Ben several years ago and have been regulars ever since. Ben's brother and father are the auctioneers of the event, a lively auction in a beatiful setting, that happens twice a year. In past years, artists would gather in the morning and set off to paint along the river or in the area, and their works were auctioned off in the afternoon. This year the event has been renamed Riverside Art Auction and the artists will be able to submit any work they like, rather than that days work. More work is on display in the Studio and is part of a silent auction. On a beautiful spring day it is a real treat to spend the afternoon on the river, have a glass of wine, and possibly even buy a painting, while the kids frolic with new friends. 

 

Monday
Apr222013

brooklyn museum: El Anatsui

 

After spending an afternoon working on the book Jodi and I gathered our families and went to the Brooklyn Museum to see the show Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui. The show is gorgeous and so inspiring. The majority of the work is made from bits of metal from recycled cans and packaging. The unbelievable use of color and draping is really magical. Unfortunately I only had a phone camera and the works are quite large so the images below are just small details...they don't do it justice but they might give you just a hint of how pretty it is. If you are in Brooklyn the show will be up until August 4th and is definitely worth checking out.

 

Tuesday
Apr162013

exciting news: super make it

 

You may have noticed that in recent months I have been posting less, and complaining of being busy more! I am excited to finally be able to explain why. My wonderful friend Jodi Levine, a longtime craft editor at Martha Stewart Living magazine, has been wanting to write a craft book for ages and decided to take the plunge. About a year ago she asked me if I would join forces with her and photograph the book. It started as a bit of a pipe dream...we imagined self publishing...but after a lot of work and much time we are happy to announce that Potter Craft will publish the book in the fall of 2014. It is such a thrill for me to be collaborating with such a talented and inspiring friend, and a very exciting (and sometimes scary) opportunity do be doing something new. 

 

The book, Super Make It, will be full of ideas for rainy days, parties, holidays, for adults and kids to do separately or together.  Martha Stewart Living gave a sneak peak at one of Jodi's projects in the May issue of Martha Stewart Living, and we just launched our website for the book if you want to take a look! I'll keep you posted as we add more to the site.

Thursday
Apr112013

paris bird market

 

When we were in Paris we went to the bird market which is part of the flower market on Sundays on the Ile de la Cite. Seeing all the colorful birds was quite fun, and for the kids especially, a welcome change from going to museums. As an added bonus our great friends Randall and Bernat were also in Paris so we got to meet them for a quick hello. 

 

Saturday
Apr062013

easter vacation

 

Last week we spent a week with my parents and my sister and her family in Paris. It has become a tradition to take a family vacation over spring break, and is quite a treat to all spend a week together...we rent an apartment so that we have a comfortable home base, and so that we do not have to eat out three meals a day...something that is not so fun with lots of kids in tow. One of the things that makes these trips so special is that between trips to museums and sights Adam and I, and Lauren and Ben, can take turns going off to explore while the others take care of the kids. Knowing this, I planned ahead and brought the supplies to dye easter eggs using the tools used to create pysanka so we could dye eggs when it was my turn to entertain the kids at home. We always dye eggs, and always enjoy it, but the Ukrainian method is very elaborate and time consuming so makes great activity when you want to spend some time on it. While Lauren and Ben went exploring the Marais the kids and my parents and I worked on these eggs. Although they are not the precise and geometric patterns of typical pysanky eggs I love the more abstract results and we all really enjoyed the process. I think we will do this again next year, so hopefully I can take more photos and share the details in another post in time for next easter!

 

p.s. we came accross this cute little easter bunny at the paris bird market. I'll post more about that soon.