♦ Looking from Oregon

Dear Shaina,

If I didn’t know you, I’d be worried about the depth of your angst and be calling in the white coats…or at least making a parental comfort visit so I could actually touch, taste and experience the texture of this particular life crisis in order to “fix” it … Or more accurately, comfort myself.

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But I do know you, as much as a mother can know her 24 year old daughter, and I know you come by your angst honestly (it’s in the genes) and studiously.  Although, I hate to see you struggle in any kind of way, I know that you are living your life consciously.  Questioning your path doesn’t always make for an easy road, but you are much more likely to find and pursue your personal “hits” if you go through life  looking.

As Dad and I enjoy the Oregon sunsets on this beautiful coast and explore our own next steps, it is with no small amount of empathy that I feel your pain …and possibilities.  Birmingham has been my home for the past 30 years, the longest I have ever lived anywhere.  The life I sought in my 20’s became my reality in Birmingham… rich with family, friends, career and community. But there are still those moments when I wonder, is there yet a new dream for me to pursue?

Dad and I try on new places and examine the “fit”.  There are so many different styles out there and I’ll admit that a more urban, diverse, liberal and walking-friendly environment is calling.

It is hard to let go of the comfort, beauty and familiarity of Birmingham and I don’t know if I have the guts to just walk away from my life to start a new one.  I do know that all any of us have is the present moment and Dad and I are living that cliche to the hilt.

In the meantime, the owners of the beach cottage we are renting in Oregon live next door in the “big house.” In addition to getting some great design ideas from them, we have shared some extended evenings enjoying wine and food. It’s refreshing to know that we are still capable of making new friends (we hope they’ll visit B’ham and maybe even make it down to our beaches) …and I learned a couple new cooking tips.

David, the owner, happened to be marinating a piece of flat iron steak in our refrigerator (so he had to invite us to share dinner with him and Doug). After poking holes in it with a fork and rubbing it with a variety of herbs, spices and marinades, he left it uncovered in the refrigerator for two days and only had me turn it once.

I’m used to soaking my meat in lots of liquid marinade in a tightly covered container and having it slosh around for a few hours or overnight.  This meat was amazing…tender, tasty and moist!  I don’t know what the trick is, but I am never soaking my meat again.  He said it works great with chicken, too.

Don’t despair, Shaina. I wont go on and on about the meat.  Most of the meal was veggie anyway and just the best!

I went to Sunday Market in Astoria and couldn’t control myself… Every color of heirloom tomato, green zucchini, right from-the-dirt bright orange baby carrots, purple peppers, red beets, yellow beets, fresh cut basil, all different colored fingerling potatoes, long thin purple Asian eggplants, sweet walla walla onions, biting fresh arugula, yellow lemon cucumbers and fresh green pickling ones, too…

We managed to do it all…grilling the zucchini, eggplant, pepper and onions and roasting the potatoes, beets and carrots. All were tossed lightly in some olive oil and seasoned with kosher salt and pepper and a little fresh garlic and basil. By the way, my roasting expertise has to do with having a really good oven that has a convection bake setting and gets really hot (you need at least a true 400 degrees in a regular bake setting).  You probably don’t have either in your not-quite-yet-gourmet kitchen.

On to Portland today for the urban leg of our trip.  Ten more days of city life!  I can’t wait to try your green potato salad when we get home.  I never thought of making all that fresh mint we have growing everywhere into a pesto.  It sounds delicious.  In the meantime, we sure are enjoying the wine in Oregon!


Mom xoxoxoxooxoxoxox

David wanted to try a new recipe (I think he made it up) and I know that not only will you love it… It will bring back some fond childhood food memories!

David’s Burnt Butter Tomatoes:

  • 5 tomatoes
  • 4 tbs butter
  • Sea salt
  • Cracked pepper

Slice fresh tomatoes (any varieties) about a 1/4 inch thick and arrange on a platter. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Meanwhile, put 4 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan over medium heat (adjust amount of butter based on how many tomatoes you have and how much you love browned butter).Heat until butter just turns brown and starts to smoke a little. Take off the heat immediately before it turns black. Pour hot browned butter over fresh salted tomatoes and enjoy immediately.

They were GOOD!

David’s Spicy Salad Dressing:

  • Olive Oil
  • Orange Champagne Vinegar
  • Yellow mustard
  • Diced jalapeno
  • Lemon grass paste
  • Finely diced fresh basil
  • Fresh Lemon juice
  • Garlic

Combine equal parts of oil and vinegar. Blend in remaining ingredients to taste.

Dressing is great over arugula salad:

  • Fresh arugula
  • Lemon cucumbers sliced
  • Pickling cucumbers sliced
  • Fresh basil chopped
  • Parmesan Cheese grated

David’s Flat Iron Beef Rub:

  • Fresh garlic paste
  • Sweet chili paste
  • Hot paprika
  • Smoked chili flakes
  • Kosher Salt
  • Tomato paste
  • Ginger finely diced
  • Cracked pepper
  • Diced thyme, rosemary, and sage

Rub all ingredients on both sides, fork to tenderize, and dry uncovered in fridge for 24 hours with a flip mid way. Grill til desired doneness.

Leftovers folded into an omelet were great the morning after

◊ Where am I going?

Dear mom,

My original plan was to write you a feisty letter entitled “Pesto Wars,” and ask our readers to name the winner. Then I had a bad day and now I don’t even want to win the pesto wars. I’m feeling like a nothing. A little nothing going no where.

Everything is just… nothing.

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I had always seen this period of my life as a time where I’d risk everything to chase my dream. I’d work like a dog and reach for the stars. And it wouldn’t matter whether or not I won because I’d be happy doing something that I love.

But here I am, without a clue as to what my dream is, probably not able to peg love if I brushed up against it. So instead of a river gushing forward, I’ve become a whirlpool – moving and moving and telling myself that if I’m working this hard, I must be moving somewhere.

That’s how I came up with this recipe. You gave me basil pesto –  so I’d give you mint pesto. We’d take a vote and I’d win. Gold star for pesto champion Shaina; time to move on to the next win.

I tried to muster my champion energy after work today as I plucked the mint leaves for this recipe from my garden in the front.

A few weeks ago, our garden was wild with mint, parsley and mystery plant overgrowth. In the winter, Arielle planted mystery bulbs that a friend of hers smuggled here from Europe. Summer transformed them into leaves that span the length of my torso.  Walking up our stoop and into our front door was a trek through the jungle… It made me feel like a character on fern gully, where all the plants have voices.

But a neighbor complained. All that fostering of life for nothing?

Nothing. I resented her. I fought her (in my head). And I trimmed the plants.

Now the plants are back and we’ll have to cut them again soon. It’s a cycle of nothing. The plants grow, we harvest them, they come back. They grow, we harvest them, they come back.

All I do in my life is fill jars and empty jars and fill jars and empty jars.

How can one thought be so calming and panic-inducing all the same time?

I fill jars and empty jars and I fill jars and I’m lucky to have jars to fill, jars to empty, jars to share, jars that hold black beans and split peas and mung dal and wheat berries and steel cut oats. So many jars that I get to fill and empty day in and day out!

As for my mint pesto … it’s yummy, but as for winning… I’m over it.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be back in the game, but for now, I’ll admit that there are a few things that aren’t winning in this recipe. First, the potatoes in the mint pesto potato salad. Somehow, your potatoes are always the perfect balance of brown crispy on the outside and butter smooth on the inside. I don’t know how you do it. Second, I’m ambivalent about the use of garlic in this pesto. Garlic typically enhances savory flavors, but I’m unsure about the mint/garlic combo. Send tips!

I want to be a veggie roasting pro when I grow up. Get ready, get set, and I’m going…

love ya,


Mint Pesto

  • 6 handfuls of fresh mint (About 4 cups)
  • 3/4 cup raw walnuts
  • two cloves garlic
  • Juice of two fresh lemons
  • salt
  • lots and lots of black pepper

Combine all ingredients in food processor until pureed. Use immediately or store in freezer til you need it.

Green Potato Salad

This green potato salad is a healthy, vegan (and much more flavorful!) alternative to plain old potato salad. It’s minty and fresh, and best served cold. The organization I work for often refers to our members as “deep green.” Well… this is what this dish is. The pesto is dark green, and the green beans make it even greener (I will walk you through the process of blanching them so that they’re perfectly crispy and bright bright bright green!). So switch things up and some color to your next summer picnic!

  • Red Skin Potatoes
  • Green Beans
  • Mint Pesto!
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

Cut potatoes into wedges and toss in olive oil, salt and pepper. place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until brown and crisp at 500 degrees. Meanwhile, wash and trim fresh green beans.  Bring water to a boil. Add green beans to boiling water for no longer than one minute, and immedietly transfer to bowl of ice water to pause the cooking process. You will be left with bright, crunchy green beans. One potatoes are done, mix with green beans and pesto for a delish potato salad in several hues of green.

♦ For the Soul

Dear Shaina,

It’s not actually homesickness that you are experiencing…it’s “child/youth sickness.”   Saying goodbye to unscheduled days, no weighty responsibilities and endless hours of possibilities, adventures and “whatever-you-want-to-dos” is a real world adult reality check that doesn’t go down easy. I feel your pain.   I don’t think I even realized the depth of my “youth sickness” until I retired and reclaimed the pleasures of empty days. But working has its rewards too, which are probably difficult for you to appreciate right now.  It’s actually those stresses and responsibilities that lead us in search of those carefree summer days and allow us to embrace them.

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So, enjoy your misery and indulge in all the “summer days” that come your way!  And, of course, you can always come home and Dad will make you a tomato sandwich and I will make you okra.

Not that you need us or Alabama to reclaim your youth. You do have an absolute gift for creating  “home” wherever you are.  Food and friends are pretty darned good ways of doing it and I absolutely love hearing about how you bring all the elements of your life together.

In the meantime, Dad and I are living the permanent summer vacation life (I don’t mean to rub it in).  I even got Dad to take a yoga class on our New England trip and now he’s hooked.  It’s gentle yoga, of course, but yoga nevertheless.

Dad and I are so happy that you are coming home for the holidays and especially looking forward to the few days we’ll spend together living in our bathing suits at the beach right before. Since I will only be home for two days before Rosh Ha Shana, I decided that I better start cooking now before we leave for Portland (the next leg on our permanent vacation) or I will be a crazy person trying to get everything done in a day.

So I have been making chicken soup … Lots of Chicken Soup… enough to feed family, friends and family of friends…and anyone else who ends up at our house after temple. It really freezes well and I have the messiest part of the preparation done.  I know my Chicken Soup recipe is not as exotic as some of your veggie creations, but it is a basic and even a die-hard vegetarian ought to know how to make a good Chicken Soup. This is Bubbe’s method. She was very meticulous about her Chicken Soup and it was the best…so once again, I continue to try and perfect it.

Don’t worry, I’ll prepare the veggie version for you…with matzoh balls, of course!
Love and see you soon,


Bubbe’s Chicken Soup

  • 1 Whole Roasting Chicken
  • 1 Large Onion, peeled and cut in quarters
  • 3 Large Carrots, peeled and cut in 2 inch chunks
  • 2 Large Stalks of Celery cut to fit in pot
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • Dill, optional

Wash chicken thoroughly in cold water.  Leave skin and fat on the chicken.  Place whole chicken in a soup pot and fill with just enough water to barely cover the chicken.*  Bring water with chicken to a full boil.  A foamy residue will form on the surface. Skim the foam off the water and discard.  Once all foamy residue has been removed, turn heat down and add cut vegetables and salt to pot.  Cook covered at a low heat until chicken begins to separate from bone.

Remove chicken from soup and debone. Put chicken in a separate dish to be added back to soup when serving or it can be made into delicious chicken salad or just eaten for dinner.

Remove carrots from soup and place in a separate bowl to be added back to soup when serving. Refrigerate.

Strain the remainder of the soup. Cooked onions and celery may be eaten if you like them or discarded.  Put strained soup in a pot or storage container and cool overnight in the refrigerator.  When completely cooled, you can skim the fat off the top of soup or you can leave it if you want a richer soup.  I always skim the fat and it is still delicious.  This skimmed chicken fat (schmaltz) may be used in cooking or discarded.  At this point, soup can be heated and served as a clear soup or with carrots and chicken pieces added.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper and add dill if you like.

If you plan on freezing the soup, it freezes well as a clear soup, skimmed or unskimmed (can be skimmed when defrosted) or with the carrots and some chicken pieces.

This easy traditional soup has been enjoyed by generations of families throughout the world. In our home, it is generally served with matzah balls and part of many holiday celebrations.  It is the highlight of the meal and slurped with equal enthusiasm by everyone from the one-year-olds to the ninety-year-olds.

*The key to making a rich chicken broth is to not use too much water.  If you need more soup, buy another chicken and make another pot.

◊ There are two things that money can’t buy

… And that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.
Homegrown tomatoes.

Dear Mom,

I’m feeling homesick.  This whole summer has really put me in a funk. It’s been averaging a sticky 100 degrees in DC, and I still have to put work clothes on and spend my days in an office. It throws me off when my life activities don’t change with the seasons.

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Summer is eating tomatoes and peach ice cream and never changing out of my bathing suit. But I’ve been doing the same things since December and I can’t wrap my head around how time moves so freakin fast. Wahh.

I just miss home. I miss our front deck and Alabama tomatoes and squash and okra.   All I want to do is go blackberry picking at the farm and then come home and watch dad make tomato sandwiches. Remember last summer when you and dad had your okra battles? He came home with bushels of okra every week – you roasted most of it and he’d boil whatever you allowed.  Then I’d have to judge the winner. I ate your roasted okra like peanuts – dozens at a time. The slime dried out and they were crispy and salty. Dad’s were super slimy, but so watery sweet. The flavors were incredibly different, but both delicious. A few days ago I explained okra to a friend who had never tasted it. I told her it’s like eating a sweet, seedy loogie.  Okra…

Anyway. Yesterday I attempted to live summer.  In sandals and a tank, I biked with Arielle and Adam from DC to Arielle’s family friend’s house in Potomac. It was a 15 mile ride on major roads and it poured rain the entire ride– miserable. At one point, we biked around a dead deer on the side of the road. I screamed the whole time. Traumatizing. The point of going to the family friend’s house was to swim in their pool, but the rain and thunderstorms made that impossible.

The upside to the trip was that the family gave us a huge bag of yellow squash from their garden – alas, summer! And this morning I came back from the farmers market with okra and baby tomatoes. While I’m pining for a big, juicy Alabama tomatoes, the baby tomatoes from the mid-atlantic region are about as phenomenal. My favorites are sungolds – they are teeny and yellow and pop in my mouth. They are acidic candy. And next to the other tomatoes – maroon and green and red – they are gorgeous.

I made an okra, squash and tomato salad and it is SO summer.

It’s so summer that it almost fulfills my longing for lazy Alabama heat. It doesn’t really, but it’s time for me to face summer as an adult.  I can’t lounge around in swimwear eating tomato sandwiches and popsicles my whole life (I resent this). So I’ll suck it up and go into my office everyday in my professional attire – as long as I can come home to summer in a salad bowl.



Ultimate Summer Salad

  • Okra
  • Yellow squash
  • Best tomatoes of your region
  • Fresh basil
  • Arugula
  • Salt and pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar and olive oil

Toss squash and okra in olive oil, salt and pepper and broil for 30 minutes. When it comes out of the oven, chop it up with tomatoes and basil. Toss all ingredients with arugula. If you want some protein, add goat cheese. Live summer.