♦ The Empty Nest…Again

Dear Shaina,

We behaved as if the summer would go on forever. A few days at the beach, a brief girls trip, but mostly day-to-day…going to meetings, eating, chopping, running, spinning, for you; shopping for groceries, walking, yoga stretching, washing sweaty clothes, preparing dinner, cleaning the kitchen, for me…the ordinary, the mundane…the sharing of meals and chit chat to the background clutter of podcasts and political reality TV. I almost got used to it.

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As the large and small suitcases appeared on your bedroom floor I started feeling sad. And I didn’t understand it. It’s not like you haven’t done this before…many times before. This time felt different to me. I felt a way overdue (10-years) post traumatic empty-nest-syndrome coming on. No more coming home for vacations from school. No more school. No more home-base for worldly adventures. No more living at home until the next take-off to wherever. The next step, no matter how impermanent or worldly it may be, will likely not involve setting up shop in the bedroom of your childhood with glow-in-the-dark stars tenaciously stuck to the ceiling. It will not include bedtime rituals revisited nightly where, if I am lucky, I can get a glimpse into the truth of my child’s being. It will, at most, serve as a stopover on your next leap into the world of adulthood.

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So, I was sad…and a little reluctant…and anxious. I made reservations for Dad and me to fly to NJ so we didn’t have to say goodbye two weeks before you actually left the country. We packed and weighed and repacked your suitcases and said our goodbyes at the Newark airport, another déjà vu. We went back to Larry and Ruth’s and distracted ourselves with mahjong. And we got on a plane the next day to begin our own adventure and bypass the empty-nest thing altogether.

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Receiving your first call and hearing your smile put us at ease. I forget how adaptive you are, how well you know what you need and how persistent you are in going after exactly that. I remind myself that you always manage to be exactly where you need to be, even when you’re not quite sure where that is.

 

Although, I’m not sure how you will survive without your vita-mix to fulfill your food-in-jar obsession, I am glad that, at least, you have a SCOBY.

So, Dad and I are here, forging out a slightly different routine than our usual at-home one. We eat a late healthy breakfast (Shaina style, yogurt, fruit, oatmeal), walk 4-6 miles a day doing errands or real hikes, visit grocery stores and mostly hang out in the neighborhood.

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We went to a concert in an old school theater, Shakespeare in the Park, 2 different street fairs (on the same day), an author event at the local bookstore, minyan at one temple and Shabbat services at another and I got a library card. Dad went to his first conversational Spanish class and scheduled a drum lesson for later in the week.

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Every morning last week we were awoken to the sounds of a crane demolishing the building across the street (a long overdue project) and we became immersed in the daily drama of deconstruction.

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We have a favorite Thai restaurant. I buy fresh cut flowers weekly. I do laundry. We clean. We are acting like we live here. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. I feel very retired and indulged. All good.

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I am cooking my first real dinner tonight. I bought fresh wild Alaskan halibut, dandelion greens for a salad that was being sampled at the grocery store and golden beets and sweet potatoes. It feels like a very indulgent dinner. Making fish reminds me of you and all the fish dinners I made this summer to ensure you got your protein fix. In fact, buying fresh fish at the Fishmarket may become my newest trigger for remembering this past summer when we all pretended that you lived at home.

Love,
Mom
xoxooxoxoxoxoxo

Dandelion and Arugula Salad with Tiger Figs and Nectarines
This salad complements the fish well with its grassy flavors and lemony dressing. The fruits added a sweet surprise just when you thought you couldn’t handle one more tart bite. 

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  • 1 bunch dandelion greens
  • Juice of one lemon
  • A handful or two of arugula
  • 1 nectarine, cut in wedges
  • 3 tiger figs, cut in slices
  • 1/4 cup cured black olives
  • Finely sliced purple onion to taste

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon spicy mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Wash and dry dandelion greens and remove tough red stems. Cut up leaves and toss in a bowl with lemon juice. Allow greens to chill in the lemon juice for about 30 minutes, while preparing the dressing and the rest of the ingredients.

Prepare remaining salad ingredients.

Whisk mustard and olive oil.

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Add remaining ingredients to dandelion greens. Add dressing and toss thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

Halibut with Lemon Caper Sauce
(For Two)

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This is a relatively easy dish to make and the ingredient amounts are forgiving.  Taste often and listen to your instincts. You can never have too much garlic or shallots! I added roasted golden beets and a baked sweet potato to round out a very satisfying meal…with wine, of course!

  • About 3/4 lb of fresh wild Alaskan HalibutIMG_8764.jpg
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter
  • Fresh garlic, chopped or thinly sliced

Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick or well seasoned frying pan and add chopped garlic.
Cook over medium heat until butter is lightly browned and garlic is aromatic.
Add seasoned fish and cook on both sides for about four minutes on each side or until fish is cooked through and flaky, but not dry.
Set aside on a heated plate and cover with foil.

Lemon Caper Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
  • 1 shallot thinly sliced or chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped or sliced
  • Juice of one lemon with zest
  • 1/3-1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 2 green onions or chives cut up
  • 1/4 cup cut up fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Add additional butter and oil to fish frying pan and sauté garlic and shallots until fragrant. Add wine and lemon juice and increase heat to medium high. Boil until sauce thickens slightly. Stir in parsley, capers and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.

Pour warm sauce over fish and serve immediately.

Garnish with parsley and cured black olives.

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Bon Apetit!

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♦ Only Child

Dear Shaina,

Maybe we’re just a family that likes transitions. WeIMG_8302 seem to find ourselves at that edge over and over again…and we kinda like it.

I’ve started measuring my transitions in relation to bathroom facilities. In the space of a month, we journeyed from a very large home with a 180 square foot master bath complete with soaking tub and walk-in steam shower to a 110 year old, 586 square foot condo with a single bathroom measuring a mere 5 x 8 feet, maybe.

A week long jaunt off to Berkeley for your amazing graduation (we’re so proud of you) afforded us a one room “cottage” sporting a toilet at one end of the room and a kitchen sink at the other, leaving us to find our way to a novel outdoor shower right outside of the cottage. IMG_8278

After returning to Birmingham, we made our annual trek to the Acoustic Cafe music festival where the facilities consisted of Porta-Potties, pumped well water and…well, we skipped the shower altogether.

We managed to get ourselves clean and relieve our bodily waste in much the same way in all locations.

The more obvious adjustment occurred with the convergence of people and stuff. More precisely, you and three hundred pounds (that is actually an underestimate) of your stuff returned to the bedroom of your youth.

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You actually did a pretty good job of making it disappear pretty quickly. The laundry room was pretty active for about a week. We all started eating a little healthier. Visits to the grocery store became a little more frequent. New routines and rules began to emerge…your rules. No TV in our bedroom after you go to sleep, and no talking either, due to your highly advanced and sensitive hearing capacity, even with ear plugs.Forget anything else we might want to do in our bedroom.

IMG_7984It’s a transition…we’re used to being on your own.

Then there were the kitchen activities, mostly a pleasure. You chopped, I wiped. You dropped, I swept. You dirtied, I washed. It worked.

The Vita Mix fiasco was the I Love Lucy moment for me; Dad on the step-stool with his phone camera strategically poised above the Vita Mix as explicitly directed by you, me delivering ingredients upon demand, and you confidently tampering away at your culinary creation.

And then, WHAM! You opened the lid, as you had done hundreds of times before, the blade hit something still frozen and the rest was a gloriously executed explosion of chocolate and raspberry goup splattering the walls, ceilings, floors, chairs, hallway and even your ever-tolerant father. He wasn’t happy.

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You immediately said you would clean it up. I laughed and grabbed my camera. I had the best time ever!  Watching you scrub that ceiling and those walls…Bubbe would be proud!

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Only children are often over indulged, self-centered and spoiled. We made an effort to not overpower you, but when it’s two to one, as it always is with an only child, the odds are automatically stacked. We encouraged your independence, self-reliance and self-determination. You don’t typically present as an only child. More often than not, you were a quiet, undemanding and too easy to get along with child. We were secretly pleased when we finally had to punish you for lying to us when you were 15 years old and you shocked us by standing up to us, while we whimpered about the broken bond of trust in our tiny enmeshed family.

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You are the poster child for “nature vs. nurture.” Your innate calm, thoughtful, easy-going qualities were cloned directly from your father, along with his feet. But nurture apparently had its way with you. Along with my eyebrows, you seemed to have acquired a few of my louder more authoritarian traits. It looks like you’re stuck with a pretty strong dose of both of us.

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We couldn’t be more proud of the young adult you have become (although we don’t necessarily want to live with you). You found your voice and it’s one hell of an amazing voice! But don’t worry. We’re used to transitions…and we absolutely love this one!

Glad to have you home…for a short while, anyway!
Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxooxoxoxoxoxoxo

 

It’s summer time and there’s not much cooking going on. The garden is beginning to take hold and a few things are landing in my kitchen. Most of these recipes are modifications of some old tried and true ones, but with every new season, there are new variations. The quantities aren’t precise so use your judgment and know you can’t go wrong with a little more or less of any ingredient in these dishes. Enjoy!

Squash Casserole

  • 2-3 pounds yellow squash
  • 5 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • Vegetable bouillon to taste
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1 – 2 cups grated aged cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3eggs beaten
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

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Cook cut up yellow squash, carrots and onions in a large soup pot filled with water and vegetable bouillon to taste until vegetables are tender.

Drain vegetables when cooked into a large bowl. Broth may be reserved for a soup base.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of butter to the hot vegetables and stir until melted. Using a stick blender, blend all the vegetables together to your desired consistency.

Add yogurt, garlic and half the cheese and mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Add eggs and mix together.

Heat up a casserole dish (or several small casserole dishes) using a little of the butter in a 350° oven.

Melt the remaining butter and add the bread crumbs and remaining grated cheese for the topping. Pour squash mixture into heated casserole dish(es) and top with bread crumb mixture.

Bake in 350° oven for 45-60 minutes until topping is browned and casserole is set.

 

Fennel Slaw

This is another summertime favorite.  Easy to make. Light and refreshing. Can be made ahead of time.

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  • 2 Fennel bulbs
  • juice and zest from two small or 1 large lemon
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Variations: add sliced fresh radishes or green onions

Thinly slice fennel bulb and mix together with the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before serving. Adjust seasonings to taste.

 

◊ voice

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Dear mom,

People are asking how my transition from Berkeley to Birmingham feels and I’m like what. What’s a transition? I sweat double here than I did in Berkeley. That’s the only change I notice. Deep inside though, I know I left Berkeley with heaps of growth and new knowledge.

Earlier last semester, I got roped in to speaking to a class of undergrads studying journalism + Judaism. Don’t ask. They wanted me to speak about new media stuff. Because I know things?

I sat in front of the class and felt 17 again. I told them what I was working on and admitted I don’t feel like a real reporter. Then they asked questions and I was surprised I had real answers.

Towards the end of the talk, one of the girls in the room raised her hand. She said, “Like, how did you get the courage to start to get your voice out there?”

I foreal laughed out loud. Then I was kind of stumped. I have a voice?

I thought about my literal voice. About the first semester of school when my instructor made me repeat sentences over and over and over again until I ended on a hard stop instead of a question. I learned how to mask uncertainty from “I have a story idea?”

I thought about the voice coach who came to radio class and made me YELL my script in front of class. “Get angry!” She said. All I could do was giggle.

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Sasha’s turn to be humiliated

Sometimes I listen back to my voice on recorded interviews and bang my head against my desk. I sound like a drunk 5 year old. I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself.

Other times, though, I recognize my voice –with its giggles, uptalk and meek rambles– as valuable. It’s taken me to some cool places. Though that recognition is fleeting, it’s a remarkable change from two years ago.

I’m not sure I have a firm answer for the girl who asked me how I found the courage to put my voice out there. I’m still kind of laughing about the whole thing. But what I said to her was this: find people who believe in themselves and surround yourself with them. Allow them to lift you.

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I spent the past two years surrounded by brilliance and fearlessness that motivated me to be those things too. Why did I really spend so many hours in the B1 cave? Because working next to people venturing into the frontiers of virtual reality and building apps and creating a freaking media empire, etc, etc, etc filled me with courage.

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As my transition from that wonderful bubble into the real world hits, I’m counting those first moments I saw the value of my voice to fortify me.

xo,

Shaina

I made a lot of angst recipes during the last few weeks of school. At the end of the day all I usually wanted was to crush nuts in the vitamix. Pulverizing is empowering.

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Plant based snickers bars:

Bottom Layer

  • 2 cup cashews
  • 1 cup dried figs, chopped
  • tsp sea salt
  • tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbs coconut flour
  • vanilla bean paste

Middle Layer

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 5 -7 dates
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • handful rosted peanuts, chopped

Top layer

  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 8 dates, soaked over night
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Chocolate layer

  • ¾ cup coconut oil
  • ¾ cup good cocoa powder
  • ½ cup honey

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  1. Add ingredients in layer 1 to food processor and pulse until dough forms
  2. Transfer dough to a small loaf pan lined with parchment paper press into a square about 1/4 inch thick. Put into freezer.
  3. Repeat above steps with ingredients for layer two. Reserve peanuts and mix into dough after combined.
  4. Spread layer two on top of layer one. Place into freezer.
  5. Melt ingredients for chocolate layer above low heat and spread on top of layers 1 and 2. Put into freezer until all layers are hardened.
  6. Remove from freezer.  Cut into squares. Store in the freezer or fridge to keep fresh until serving.

 

Paleo birthday cake to celebrate Mozzified turning 1!

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Cake*

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp raw honey
  • 5 tbsp coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • vanilla bean
  • some sea salt

*double this recipe for 2 layers

Mango Filling

  • 1 3/4 cups raw cashews, soaked for at least 4 hour and drained well
  • handful ( 5- 7) dates
  • 1 cup dried mango
  • ½ tsp lemon juice
  • vanilla bean
  • some sea salt

Frosting

  • 1 cup coconut butter
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • splash of beet juice
  • splash of carrot juice
  • splash of lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • vanilla bean

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Preheat oven to 350. Using double the cake recipes, pulse dry ingredients in a food processor and then pulse in wet ingredients.  Grease two 6 in pans with coconut oil and pour batter into pans. Bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile puree all filling ingredients in food processor until smooth and creamy. Add warm water as needed. Place in bowl and set aside.

Put frosting ingredients into small pot and warm over low heat while stirring.

Remove cake from over and allow to cool. Cover bottom later with filling. Add top layer and cover with frosting.

 

♦ At The Table

Dear Shaina,

I am in the throes of a kitchen-trashing cooking marathon for Passover. We got in Monday afternoon after a wedding in Chicago and I got right down to it and made another Chocolate Bomb (I already made two before I left last week). My strategy (I always have a cooking strategy) is to start with the sweets and move on to the sautéed onions and mushrooms while chopping and cooking the Gefilte fish. My strategy revolves around the progressive use of the food processor (from sweet to smelly) and the arrival of the cleaning people (tomorrow); trash the house today, clean tomorrow, fish smell gone by seder time.Image 4-20-16 at 9.59 PM.jpg

I was looking at all the Passover recipes and pictures on our blog; the table, the food, the people. Some of the guests are no longer with us, some will be going to other seders and you will be hosting a seder of your own. I can’t help but feel the void that you’re not being here will create. I remind myself that we will see you shortly, that we can FaceTime during the seder (maybe), that you will be celebrating with friends…blah, blah, blah…I am still and will be missing you at our seder.

Image 4-20-16 at 9.57 PM.jpgOne of the ways I am dealing with it is by cooking like a fiend…13 hours in the kitchen yesterday. I managed to produce one sponge cake, Nahum’s mother’s Poppy Seed Cake (yes, I said a remembrance prayer in her honor even though I never met her), Matza Caramel Chocolate brittle, a sugar free apple crisp, 6 pounds of chopped onions and three pounds of baby Portobello mushrooms sautéed and 85 pieces (yes, I count like Bubbe did) of Gefilte fish. IMG_7806

There were sticky fish pieces on every surface of the kitchen, every pot and bowl I own (almost) was dirty, the house smelled and my sciatica was throbbing. There is nothing that makes you feel more productive and takes you outside of yourself  like immersing yourself in a major cooking frenzy. I hardly even thought about missing you during those 13 hours…except when you texted me for the spinach kugel recipe. It actually made me feel better. There is something comforting about knowing that I will “be” at your seder in the same way that Bubbe continues to “be” at all of ours. Food is transcendent. I’m going to add those sundried tomatoes (per your modification) to my spinach kugel and transport you right into my kitchen.Image 4-20-16 at 10.02 PM.jpg

It is your birthday on the first night of Passover. I hope the Passover sponge cake makes it there in time. You were the only kid I knew who loved having your birthday on Passover…and you still do! You loved having a bunch of people over for dinner, you loved all the matzo delights and you loved the variety of amazing desserts. You actually once claimed (not so long ago) that Passover sponge cake was your favorite cake, any time of the year! Who says that!?

I will still miss you. Maybe you can send us a few seder tips, a relevant question or two, a sharing exercise to stimulate a more nuanced Passover discussion…like you always do. I might almost be able to imagine that you’re right here at the table with us.

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxooxoxoo

 

Too much boiled chicken (from all that Chicken Soup)?

What’s for dinner the night before the Seder?

What’s in your last sandwich before Passover begins?

Chicken Salad!

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This is my favorite thing to do with the boiled chicken from my Chicken Soup. I usually make Chicken Soup for Passover ahead of time and freeze it until the big day.  I make enough soup to supply two seders and leftover soup for the week.  We can’t possibly eat all that boiled chicken and it won’t hold until the holiday, so I freeze it and have it ready for chicken salad anytime I want some.

As soon as the soup is done, I remove the chicken, let it cool a bit and debone it while its still warm.  I freeze some of the chicken in the soup and save whatever I think we will eat in the next few days. I then divide the rest up into freezer bags that hold about a half of a deboned chicken. When I am ready for chicken salad, I just defrost a bag and make my favorite recipe.

Tarragon Chicken Salad

  • Deboned Cooked Chicken (whatever amount you have)
  • Mayonnaise (amount to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Tarragon (or to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Optional: Toasted Pecans or slivered almonds, celery, black olives

Chop  Chicken in a food processor or cut up in small chunks. Add desired amount of mayonnaise, tarragon, salt and pepper and mix together.

Serve as a salad, sandwich or with crackers.

Good for lunch, dinner or appetizers. Also makes a great matzo sandwich.

 

 

◊ Poppy Seed Things

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Dear mom,

You and dad are seriously inspiring. I only hope that I’ll be using my time with such competence when I’m your age.

I started this response a few weeks ago, right after your letter. I wrote that I’m questioning my time competency… I think I’m not as good as you and dad. Then school stuff stole me away and I forgot about the letter completely.

I’ve been spending most of my time around a big table in a room called B1, my school’s new media hole. It smells like dirty boy scalp, fries and cigarettes. My classmates and I sit there with our headphones on, hunched over computers, only looking up when an instructor walks into the room or when someone brings snacks. Zainab says it looks like the game hungry hungry hippos. It’s much more pathetic than that.

I was questioning my time competency because I feel like school is sucking time so so quickly. It’s like I enter a tunnel and all the sudden hours have gone by and it’s hard to get out. Even when I really have to pee. I dance in my chair making just one more edit until things become dire.

If my next UTI comes from homework, I’m going to feel really sad about my life. I only have two more years of my twenties! Why am I spending all my time hunched over a computer?

I don’t know. It’s fun?

But it is fun.

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school peeps in Denver

 

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sometimes I get to go outside

I’m not in B1 right now. It’s spring break, so obviously I’m on a plane headed somewhere warm and sunny. I’m ready to work my ass off.

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this is what every class looks like. all those tangerine peels…

Sorry I’m so intense. Next time I’m home I’ll try to find a grandkid you can rent.

xo,

Shaina

 

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Poppy seed cake

I wanted to save this recipe for Passover time, but at the current rate of our letter-writing, I figured that my next letter might not be until after the holiday.

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I learned this recipe from Nahum in the last half of our fishballs lesson when I was in Jerusalem this winter. It’s his mom’s special cake. When you make it, you have to pray so her soul can be elevated. Or something. Nahum says it better:

This is one of my favorite cakes. It’s light and spongy and not super sweet. It also fits everyone’s weird dietary stuff – gluten free, grain-free, dairy free. Definitely try it for Passover… which will be here before we know it. Time goes crazy fast!

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  • 1 1⁄2 cup poppy seeds, GROUND
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 6 eggs separated, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 7 stick of butter or canola oil, melted and cooled
  • 1/3 cup raisins and/or sliced almonds, optional

 

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Grease a 9 inch pan and preheat oven to 300 F.

Grind the poppy seeds in food processor or coffee grinder until sticky. Combine with baking powder in large bowl.

Beat egg yolks until thick, slowly adding sugar, salt and vanilla. Add butter and poppy seeds and raisins/almonds. Mix until combined.

With a separate whisk (electric mixer is best) and clean bowl, beat egg whites until stiff (look for peaks). Gently fold the whites into the poppy batter and pour into pan. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake passes the clean toothpick test. Cool before serving and dust with powdered sugar if you wanna be fancy.

 

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Meyer lemon poppy cashew cream

This is my weird vegan, paleo, raw take on the poppy theme. It’s a slightly sweet, ultra luxurious lemon poppy cream made with only four ingredients: cashews, lemon, raisins and poppy seeds.

 

  • 3 cups cashews, soaked in water overnight
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup – 1 cup raisins (I prefer less sweet, so I use ½ cup)
  • juice and zest of 1 meyer lemon
  • 1 cup poppy seeds, ground

 

Soak cashews in water for 5 hours or overnight. Rinse well and add to food processor with ½ cup water, dates, lemon juice and lemon zest. Puree until smooth and creamy. Add ground poppy seeds (use food processor or coffee grinder to grind seeds prior to this step) and mix into the cashew cream.

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I layered it with overnight oats soaked in cinnamon and almond milk + green apple + raisins for a very luxurious breakfast. Almost better than eating cake!

It also works as filling for a raw poppy cheesecake with a cinnamon, walnut base. Also Passover friendly!

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♦ Out of Our Minds

Dear Shaina,

My life is a blur! A month in Portland setting up a teeny condo in a 100 year old building, that we arrived at sight unseen, with a key, two suitcases full of dishes and an air mattress, a few towels, sheets and some forks (I forgot to pack the knives and spoons).

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Late night arrival

Are we out of our minds? As dad says, “Taking risks and acting foolish are for the young…and the old!” We have arrived! Dad’s new guiding principle is “time competence”. Using your time competently translates into “do the things you want to do now”! There just isn’t enough time left to be wasteful of this precious commodity.

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The air mattress from hell!

So, we did it! After a couple of rough nights on the air mattress, multiple visits to the thrift store, furniture stores and hours and days spent navigating the IKEA maze, we began to settle in. A comfy mattress arrived, a chair and table were picked up at the thrift store, a Murphy bed was ordered, the IKEA team delivered a truckload and in a blink of an eye we had a bed, night tables, quilts, pillows, a coffee table and lots of other goodies.

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Our first chair…from the thrift store.

We worked tirelessly cleaning, putting together, hanging, organizing and walking back and forth to the hardware store enough times to become familiar faces. Our neighborhood offered us access to everything we needed on foot…a coffee shop across the street with wifi, numerous restaurants, bars and grocery stores, nail places, a barber shop, beauty salons, an independent movie theater, yoga studios, spas, a library, even a shoe repair place, and three synagogues all within blocks of our condo. We set out to explore all the neighborhood offerings and barely touched the surface. It was exciting and energizing and pleasantly exhausting.

Rainbows and raindrops

Portland’s charm…raindrops and rainbows

Then we took a break…Dad off to Park City with the boys and me off to Berkeley with my girl. It was a first for us in some ways; the first time I stayed in your home, the first time I slept in your bed with you, the first time you orchestrated a mini-vacation for me. We went to a yoga class, saw a movie, sat in on one of your classes and “played” mahjong with your friends. I walked your neighborhood and shopped your grocery stores. I stepped into the routine of your life for a few days in the midst of my own chaotic escapade. I slept really well in your bed! Thank you!

There is something to be said about embarking on a new adventure…at any age. I got unstuck. I see new possibilities and options and opportunities. Living in a small space wasn’t confining. Using my feet to run errands, buy groceries, get my haircut, pick up a prescription or go to a yoga class made me feel more connected to my life and the people that I encountered along the way. I love the way Portland lives!

Feeling like home.

Feeling like home.

We are back in Bham and comfortably slipping into our usual routines. I love the spaciousness of our home and the closeness of family and good friends. Getting into the car to go wherever you want has its advantages. Shabbat dinners, Monday mahjong, Tuesday and Thursday minyan/walking group, Book Club, yoga and all the rest live fully in my Bham life. I am grateful to have so many options and to know that there is a lot of life to be enjoyed wherever I am.

Love,
Mom
oxoxoxoxo
Riced Cauliflower with Mushrooms and Herbs

Although I did entertain a few times in Portland (mostly wine and Trader Joes hors d’oeuvres), I never really cooked a full meal. That changed once we got back to Bham and Shabbat offered the opportunity to reunite with family and friends. I wanted to do something simple, but tasty and healthy. I had heard about substituting cauliflower for rice, but wasn’t sure exactly how that would work. I tried it and loved it! It is healthy and will work in any recipe that calls for rice. I happened to have some portobello mushrooms, so this recipe evolved from there.

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The “rice” can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until you need it.

Riced Cauliflower with Mushrooms and Herbs

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
  • 12 ounces portobello mushrooms
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 green onions, cut uo in 1/4” pieces
  • fresh basil, chopped
  • fresh parsley, chopped
  • fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted cashews (optional)

Wash and core cauliflower and break up into large chunks no bigger than 2-3”. Fill food processor no more than 3/4 full with cauliflower chunks. Pulse processing blade to chop cauliflower into rice sized pieces. Set aside or store in the refrigerator in a covered bowl until ready to use.

Chop the onion into small pieces and drop into a large preheated sauté pan. Sear the onions over medium heat until the moisture from the onions cooks off. Add one tablespoon of oil and the garlic to the onions and continuing sautéing until they are cooked, but not overdone. Remove form the pan and set aside.

Cut up or chop the portobello mushrooms into small pieces and drop into the heated sauté pan and cook until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan and mix together with onions and garlic.

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Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the “riced” cauliflower. Cook over medium flame, stirring frequently until tender, but a little chewy, about 5-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in mushroom and onion mixture and continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes. Add chopped green onions, fresh herbs to taste and mix together. Garnish with roasted cashews if desired.

Serve heated or at room temperature.

This dish tastes even better the next day after all the flavors have come together.IMG_7515

◊ Balls

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Dear mom,

I’m writing from Ben Gurion airport snacking on Bamba about to board my flight home. Two weeks in Israel – my shortest trip yet! It’s a blur.

Also, this post has audio — here’s a preview: 

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Each time I’m in Jerusalem, I find a new pocket holding its own world. This time, that pocket was my project. It belonged to midwives, mothers-to-be and new mothers. Many of them were understandably reluctant to speak with me and, for the first time, I was asked to turn off my recorder right in the juicy middle of interviews. Figuring out the right balance of friendly and assertive + respectful and relentless is not an easy job.

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The takeaway: I want to be midwife when I grow up… Is it too late? What other work matches the satisfaction of bringing life into the world?

When I wasn’t in the magical world of childbirth, I was with the fam. In the past three years, I feel like I’ve seen more of the family in Israel than I’ve seen in Birmingham. So lucky!

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI got my routine initiation into Israeli salads and time zone with Hanoch and Edna, ate kreplach and chulent with the whole 20-person Pardes Hanna crew and even caught up with Ran and Nurit.

Most of my family time, though, was with Tan and Nahum. I can’t tell you how stuck I would have been without them. They fed me, drove me places early in the morning and late at night, helped me (an understatement) with my project, entertained me, fed me, fed me and fed me. They are amazing and SO MUCH FUN.

I’ve wanted a cooking lesson from Nahum for years. Every Saturday he cooks elaborate meals for his family and during my last Shabbat in Jerusalem he let me tag along. He’s a serious foodie. 

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I met Tan and Nahum in the Shuk with my microphone on Friday morning. I found Nahum around a table of men drinking Arak and smoking cigars. I used to live right outside the Shuk so I know it well. I have my nut person, my old/rotten veggies person, my natural foods person, my grain person.

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But Nahum takes Shuk intimacy to a whole new level.

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click on the audio below to hear this guy singing to us

CLICK TO LISTEN TO NAHUM’S VEGETABLE GUY⇓

 

The characters of Shuk are Nahum’s best friends. He only buys from the best and most expensive vendors.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetCLICK TO LISTEN ⇓

 

Afterwards, we cooked. Nahum showed me how to make fish balls – his own recipe inspired by his father’s gefilte fish + Jewish North African culinary traditions.

JOIN US ⇓

 

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Now it’s back to reality. I’m sure there are just as many characters chilling in Berkeley Bowl as there are in the Jerusalem shuk, but it’s just not the same.

CLICK TO LISTEN ⇓

I’m including audio in this recipe, so don’t forget to click the play buttons!

xo,

Shaina

These fish balls are inspired by Nahum’s father’s gefilte fish recipe:

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Fish Balls Chraime

Serves: many

Prep time: 1 hour

Fish Balls:

  • 1 lb. ground cod or haddock
  • 12 cup bread crumbs
  • 14 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 onion (shredded finely/juiced)
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and peper to taste

Pulse the fish ball ingredients in a food processor or mix with a wooden spoon.  Knead the mixture with your hands for a minute or so until the mixture binds together like dough.  Set in fridge.

Sauce:

  • 5-7 peppers, roasted
  • 5 – 7 dried sweet pepper, rehydrated
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 7 – 10 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes with juice
  • 1 cup water or stock
  • 1 tbs sweet paprika
  • 14 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Garnish:
  • zest of one lemon
  • chili flakes

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Peel skins from roasted peppers and place dried peppers in water to rehydrate. Heat oil in a saucepan. Add garlic, roasted peppers, crushed tomatoes and water. Once rehydrated, add dried peppers.  Add the paprika, chili flakes and cilantro. Bring to boil, cover and cook for 25 minutes over medium heat.

About 10 minutes into the time the sauce is cooking, form the fish balls. The balls should be the size of ping-pong balls.

 

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Check the consistency of the sauce. If you want it thicker, cook it down some more. When the sauce is ready, place the fish balls into it and cook for 10- 12 minutes.

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When finished, serve fish balls over plenty of sauce with a chunk of white challah to soak it up.

 

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Ps. Nahum’s thoughts on Judaism

♦ More than Just a Knish

Dear Shaina,
I saw Riva a few days ago and she still hadn’t seen or heard your post. I told her she was famous and she said, “for vat?” Sheryl promised to reveal her online debut to her that night. I wish I could’ve been there.

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I love the way you and Rebecca brought Riva and Bubbe to life on the page and in the sound. I have seen Riva in action many times, but watching you and Rebecca exercise your respective tools (Rebecca with the rolling pin and you with the microphone) was the real show for me. Rebecca relinquished her assigned position on the couch and asserted her role as a true balabusta (competent woman of the home) and you, the shy quiet one, led the charge with the microphone-in-her-face interrogation. Riva was so proud of Rebecca’s dough rolling skills and assured me that you would get it with a little practice. There was little for me to do, but watch (and clean up the mess, of course).

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And then there was the tasting…similar to Bubbe’s, but different. And the discussion of the potatoes…there is always a discussion of the potatoes; the kind I bought, the kind she uses, when I cooked them, when she cooks them, the color, the quality, the wateriness, the denseness… Bubbe was exactly the same about her potatoes. There is a right and a wrong potato for knishes. Even though Riva asserts that hers are the real potato knishes, they both agreed on the potato part.

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All afternoon, Riva insisted that her recipe was a secret and that she was sharing it with us because we’re femily. The more she said it, the more nervous I got watching you with that microphone in her face, knowing where this recipe was going to end up. I nudged you. I whispered, you need to tell her. When you finally gently broached the subject and told her what you planned to do, she responded without skipping a beat, “Sure, go ahead and print it.” We were all speechless! “But Riva, you said it was a secret” you said. Her response…”Yes, it’s a secret, but I gave it to you. Now it’s yours, you can do what you want with it.” I only wish we had that on tape!

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Riva was in her glory. Bubbe was right there with us…I am sure in the fried onions and oil. I was proud to be the daughter and the mother at that very moment. The sticky dough, the savory filling, the delicate seasoning…more than just a knish…it’s femily, it’s tradition, it’s love.

Thank you Shaina and Rebecca! I am more than proud to be your mom and aunt!

Love,
Mom
xooxoxooox

P.S. Those leftover fried onions did not go to waste. In true Bubbe tradition, I just repurposed them. See recipe below.

Baked Brie with Caramelized* Onions

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*Okay, Bubbe didn’t know a caramelized onion from caramel candied apple. It just sounds better than slowly sautéed sweet onions in oil.

This is hardly a recipe. It was an impulsive brainstorm that popped into my head as I was putting out the Brie cheese on New Years Eve and came across the leftover sautéed onions in the refrigerator. I was going to top the Brie with my usual Pesto, but when I saw the onions, I thought maybe…
This dish got rave reviews and is super simple to make.

  • 1-2 cups chopped sweet onion
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 round of Brie
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • parsley for garnish
  • Crackers or apple slices for serving

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Preheat oven to 350°
Sauté onions in olive oil until golden brown and caramelized.
Place Brie on an oven proof serving dish.
Spread caramelized onions over the top of the Brie.
Bake 20 minutes or until cheese is heated through.

Garnish with parsley and serve with crackers or apple slices.

Next time, I might even try adding some crushed pecans before baking for an added twist.

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FEMILY- a very special guest post

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The story goes: Bubbe and Zayde were new to Birmingham when Riva and Isaac came to town.  Zayde heard Riva’s maiden name was Schuster and arranged to meet at the Jewish Community Center. “He said he’s wearing a yellow shirt and I said I had white hair!” Riva said. “And I found a beautiful femily!”

Turns out the Hirschs are not related to our Schusters. But after surviving the Holocaust with few living blood relatives, makeshift familial attachments to other survivors was important for both couples. Riva and Bubbe kvelled and kvetched like sisters.

CLICK TO LISTEN ⇓

 

The letter below was written by my cousin Rebecca several years ago following the first Yom Kippur after Bubbe died. As we ate Riva’s knishes, so similar but different than the ones Bubbe fed us, we thought of Bubbe. We missed her schtink of fried onions and big hugs.  Last week, we finally got around to cooking with Riva. Bubbe was definitely “proud on us.”

CLICK TO LISTEN ⇓

 

** Click the play button for for short sounds of our knish adventure. ++ Be sure to scroll all the way to the recipe for a step-by-step sound guide on mixing, kneading and folding knishes.

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Dear Esther and Shaina,

There is no tie that holds my family closer together than our love of food. Whether we are the ones that spend hours upon hours in the kitchen, or show up just in time to get that hot out of the oven knish, we simply love food. This love comes out even when we fast during Yom Kippur.

“Beckelah, did you try mine knishes? Dey different from Mamala’s. I put mine mit dill.” Those words mean one thing: it’s time to break the fast.

The Schuster-Shealy fam has been breaking the fast with our close friends: The Hirsch-Perlstein fam for almost 30 years. Or as their grandmother Riva likes to say “Of course you come break the fast mit us, ve are family!”

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At each and every break fast, Riva is the one to greet you at the door and in the most loving way start demanding: “come, zit, eat mamaleh. You need to eat. Here come eat mine knishes.” Around the age of 7, I’m pretty sure I was able to respond with “yeah I know, they are different than Bubbe’s—you make them with dill.”

Despite the differences in the recipe, no knish will ever be as satisfying to me as those of my Bubbe or of Riva. As my dad likes to say “this is the food of our homeland.” The simplicity yet the complexity of potato mixed with garlic and honions (onions), wrapped up in an hoily (oily) dough and baked until golden perfection was and is such a formidable part of my childhood. I loved when my mom would get the phone call that it was time to come to Bubbe’s to pick up the knishes. And after stuffing our faces with them by the dozen, Bubbe would, without fail, ask “Tell me kids are dey edible?”

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6 hands, 1 knish

Sometimes, I was even lucky enough to partake in the process of making the knishes. Nothing was more exciting than knish making time—when Bubbe would make 100s upon 100s of knishes.

Here are some of the important rules and memories from the times I spent “working” in Bubbe’s kitchen:

  • No fressing, no lessing, no shmecking (if you ever made it to my Bubbe’s house, you know about this sign)
  • You just need a little bit of hoil (translation: Bubbe’s version of a little bit of oil equaled about a gallon of it per batch of dough)
  • Speaking of dough: “You can use dis dough for anyting—kreplach, strudel, blintzes, knishes, anyting you want.”
  • Where is your shmata? (Head covering)
  • Mine Rebecelah, go rest, you young, I don’t want you to be tired. Let Bubbe make you someting to eat. You da baby of da family and you need to rest.

Sometimes, sometimes, if I was really lucky, I was deemed the brown paper bag girl. I had the critical role of unfolding brown grocery bags to place the finished knish on to soak up any hoil. After laying out a bag or two, I had to go back to resting on the couch and eating in case I was tired or hungry. That’s one thing I learned for sure—there was no one more important to Bubbe than her grandchildren. And she would be damned if anyone did anything to make our lives even the slightest bit difficult. Everything she did spoke unconditional love for “her seven grandchildren. Dey are the hair dat I breathe.”

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While we often joke about her crazy kitchen routines, her hour long monologues about her grandchildren, and so many other “Bubbisms,” I am so thankful to have had a grandmother in my life who demonstrated each and every day what it looks like to love another person unconditionally. She was our biggest fan and protector, and we knew it with every bite of that knish that she spent hours making just right.

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While Bubbe is no longer with us today, I know she is just as happy watching three of her grandchildren enjoying her best friend Riva’s knishes together just the other week at break fast. Whenever I get to spend time with my siblings and cousins, I smile just thinking of how Bubbe is kvelling. Especially when we are eating, because heaven forbid “you lost veight.”

xo,

Rebecca

 

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Riva’s Knishes

 

Potato filling

  • 8 potatoes
  • 1 tbs margarine
  • two onions, finely chopped.
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste

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Peel and boil potatoes in salter water until soft. In saucepan, melt margarine and sautee onions until translucent. In large bowl, mash potatoes with onions, salt and pepper until soft. NO CHUNKS! Use a stick blender if you have one (different from bubbe’s, Riva’s knish filling is smooth and fluffy).

Dough

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

Beat one egg in large bowl. Add oil, baking soda and lukewarm water in that order. Mix well. Add two cups flour and a pinch of salt and knead into dough.

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Assembly instructions:

Preheat over to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Separate dough into three parts and roll into pickle/hot dog shaped logs. Cover with towel to keep moist.

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Roll one section of dough into elongated oval shape on floured surface. Brush dough with melted margarine. Cut dough in half. Pile a thick 1/2 inch of potato mixture onto each cut of dough. Stretch dough over the filling and press edges together.

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After edges are tucked in and there are no holes, flip over onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Again, brush top of dough with margarine and generously sprinkle will dried dill. Bake for 35 minutes until top is golden. Once cool, slice into two inch pieces for individual knishes. Serve as forshpeiz or hearty nosh in between meals.

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Riva likes to make potato salad out of leftover potato filling. She mixes it with mayo and hardboiled eggs. She’s definitely from the old country.