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Russian Kasha

Russian FeastKasha is one of the oldest Eastern European foods. For more than a thousand years, Russians, as well as other Eastern Europeans, have enjoyed kasha, or buckwheat groats, in a variety of ways.

Originally conceived as a food for ceremonial events such as weddings and celebratory feasts, kasha came to be a staple of the Russian diet.

Long before Americans began to incorporate whole grains into their diets, the Russians habitually enjoyed a plate of kasha as part of their meal.

Although there are many ways to enjoy kasha, I cannot promise you that your children will fall in love with it unless it is slowly introduced and – probably – heavily camouflaged by things they do like.

You can try this recipe from AboutKasha.com that sounds intriguing, or modify the recipe I created below.

Kasha with Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and SpinachKasha with Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Spinach

4 cloves garlic, minced

8 cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 c. spinach

1 c. white button mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare the kasha according to the directions on the box. In a sauce pot, add olive oil and turn heat to medium high. Add garlic, onion, and mushrooms. Saute until softened, about 4 minutes at medium high heat. Add tomatoes and cook for about 3 more minutes. Finally, add spinach, stir and cover. Remove from heat. After 3 more minutes, stir and add more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over the kasha. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.

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Martyrs Day in Madagascar

Antananarivo, MadagascarMarch 29 marks the anniversary of Martyrs Day in Madagascar, a day when 11,000 people lost their lives while opposing French colonial rule in 1947.

On this day, their sacrifice is remembered and honored.

Families celebrate by spending time together and enjoying activities together such as going to the movies or relaxing in a park.

Elected officials make speeches at special events and lay commemorative wreaths to honor those who died.

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Cherry Blossom Festival Unites Japan, USA

DC cherry blossomsOn March 27, 1912, American First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, planted the first two Japanese cherry blossom trees near Washington, DC’s Tidal Basin.

Mrs. Taft was an excellent advocate for bringing the Japanese cherry trees to Washington. For three years, she lived with her husband and children in the Philippines while her husband served as the Governor-General of the Philippine islands. She was considered remarkable at the time because she welcomed the opportunity to learn about the language and culture of the Philippines and to befriend the Filipino people.

In addition, Mrs. Taft enjoyed traveling to Japan and China and she brought a respect and appreciation for other cultures to the White House when her husband was elected in 1908.

Ninety-nine years after the two ladies planted the first cherry blossom trees, visitors to Washington still enjoy them, as well as the 3,000 others that subsequently joined them.

This year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival is being conducted while the original givers of this beautiful gift – the people of Japan – are struggling with unbelievable challenges and tragedies.

More than two weeks after an earthquake and a tsunami changed life for people of Japan and set off a nuclear crisis in their country, many Americans are using the National Cherry Blossom Festival to reinvigorate American donations to help the people of Japan.

For more information about the history of the cherry trees in Washington, DC, check out the National Park Service’s website.

More information about the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 26-April 10, click here.

The American Red Cross is one of the best options for donating funds to help the people of Japan.

 

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A Cookie By Any Other Name

palmiers

Photo: Real Simple

Known as palmiers in France, palmeritas in Spanish, ventaglio in Italian, and elephant ears in English, these little cookies have a devoted, global following.

It is believed that they are French in origin, where their name translates to “palm leaves.”

They are widely available in bakeries and from companies such as Goya, but they are also easy to make – so long as you don’t try to make your own puff pastry!

Here’s a recipe from Ina Garten that was posted on www.foodnetwork.com. Try it and let me know what you think.

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What Kids Should Know About Libya

Libya has been in the news recently as the United States and other nations enforce a “no fly zone” to help protect Libyan citizens who do not agree with their current government.

Without going too deeply into the situation in Libya, which may be overwhelming for children, it is an opportunity to teach kids about Libya and its place in the world.

Libya – whose official name is Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – is located in North Africa. It is the fourth-largest country in Africa and the 17th largest in the world.

The country is mostly covered by the Libyan Desert, which is one of the driest, hottest places on earth.

Some parts of the desert have not had rain for more than 13 years. The highest temerpature that has been recorded in the desert is 136 degrees Fahrenheit!

The majority of people live in cities and are primarily concentrated close to the coastline with the Mediterranean Sea.

Islam is the major religion in Libya. While most people practice Sunni Islam, there are also Coptic Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics.

Arabic is the primary language spoken in Libya but there are many people from other countries living in Libya, including people from Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Egypt, and Italy. Italian and English is sometimes spoken in the larger cities.

Libya is a very young country – half of the people there are 15 years old or younger.

Fortunately, every child in Libya has access to a free education through secondary (high) school.

In fact, Libya has the highest literacy rate in Africa. More than 82 percent of the people can read and write.

Family is very important to Libyans and they are accustomed to living close to each other. There are more than 140 tribes or clans and people strongly associate with their tribe.

Libyan food is very similar to the rest of North Africa. Staples of a Libyan diet include: couscous, olives, soups, dates, grains, and milk. Following the meal, most people consume several glasses of black tea.

Libya is a beautiful, historic country facing many challenges but hopefully the Libyan people will soon be living in peace.

Libyan Desert

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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Hear the World

kids listening to musicLike most people, I love listening to lots of different kinds of music.

From Edith Piaf to Bob Marley to Loretta Lynn to Ali Farka Toure, I’m interested in many different voices.

I’ve succeeded in getting my son hooked (a little). He enjoys French children’s music; in fact, it’s his favorite CD to listen to in the car.

And we both enjoy a CD of African lullabies that I bought him when he was a baby. 

I’m always looking for new ways to broaden our collection and a relative recently gave us Putumayo’s  Picnic Playground with fun children’s songs from around the world.

The Putumayo World Music company and their Putumayo Kids collection is a great resource for CD’s from different countries and regions of the world. According to their website, their goal is to “introduce children to other cultures through fun, upbeat world music.” As a result, they’ve been acknowledged by the Parents’ Choice Awards and the National Parenting Publications Association. 

But you don’t have to buy a CD in order to get your child to listen to different music from around the world. YouTube has many songs from other cultures that are fun for kids. As always with YouTube, you have to monitor it carefully to ensure your child doesn’t accidentally see something inappropriate.

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The Festival of Purim

EstherPurim has been described as a Jewish mash-up of Halloween and Mardi Gras. The story of Purim is well-known to readers of the Old Testament. The Book of Esther tells how Esther, the Jewish wife of a Persian king, saved the Jewish people from the plot of an evil advisor to the king, named Haman. 

Haman had a grudge against Mordecai, who happened to be Esther’s cousin. Haman convinced the king to send out a decree that called on the rest of the kingdom to kill all the Jewish people. This decree would have included Esther but the king did not know she was Jewish.

Esther – knowing that the fickle king could easily have her killed – asked the Jewish people to fast for three days and then she went to the king and informed him that she was Jewish and that Mordecai was her cousin.

The king promised to give her anything she wanted. Haman was hanged for his evil plan and Mordecai became the king’s advisor in his place. Although it was too late to rescind the order to have the Jewish people killed, Mordecai amended the order so that the Jewish people could defend themselves. The following day the Jewish people celebrated and it is this celebration that is known today as Purim.

Jewish people typically observe Purim by publicly reading the story from the Book of Esther, giving to the poor, and sharing food. Some people produce plays, dress up in costumes, hold beauty contests, and have parades.

One popular food on Purim is a cookie called hamantaschen. It is translated to mean “Haman’s pockets” or “Haman’s ears,” and their triangle shape is said to mimic Haman’s triangle hat. Check back tomorrow for a post on this awesome – and fun – cookie.

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Japanese-Americans Standing Up for Muslims

Here’s an interesting article from the Washington Post about how Japanese-Americans, who remember how they were treated in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, are responding to House Homeland Security Chairman Peter T. King (R-NY)’s decision to hold hearings about Muslims in America.

It’s wonderful to read how times of crisis can bring what we think of as disparate groups close together. And it’s definitely a message worth sharing with our children.

In school, at the playground, and in life they may be the only people available to stand up for someone else. Especially in this time of heightened awareness over bullying, it’s important to recognize that the skills they develop to deal with it in childhood will be useful to them throughout their lives.

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Happy 100th International Women’s Day

International Women's Day 2011Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize the contributions of women to societies around the world and the important work we have still to do to ensure equal access to health care, educational opportunities, and employment.

I first celebrated International Women’s Day as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I worked with women in my village to coordinate a soccer match between two teams of women and a soccer match between two teams of my female students. We held a ceremony with lots of fantastic speeches (my French still wasn’t so great so I can only imagine the full impact of the oratory), and finally a dance in the evening. It was one of the most successful events of which I’ve ever been a part.

Equal rightsAlthough there have been many improvements made in women’s lives since 1911, many of the same issues persist – in the United States and around the world. In most of the world, women are still likely to make less money than their male counterparts. Women continue to struggle for equal access to – and authority over – their health care. Education is still a major issue for women.

So while women have won many of the same rights as men, the struggle for equality continues.

women in Tahrir Square, Egypt

 

 

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Talking to Kids About Egypt

For the past two weeks, Egyptians have been protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, calling for the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s thirty years in power.

Close on the heels of a similar – but more quickly resolved – crisis in Tunisia, the situation in Egypt has been fascinating to watch on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and – oh, yes – the evening news and in newspaper accounts.

Those accounts have shown that children have been involved in the protests – almost from the beginning – and that they are playing a role in Tahrir Square as well as in their own homes, pushing their parents to join the protests.

This is not a revolution being waged by children, but it is clear that they have something to say – and it’s a great way to encourage greater understanding of power, politics, and personal freedom in your own children.

If you’d like more information on what’s happening in Egypt, read the Washington Post (yes, a daily newspaper) timeline here.

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