♦ Thankful

Dear Shaina,

Reading your letter made me want to make those scones and muffins so badly, but I was a little overwhelmed getting ready for Thanksgiving.  I will make them, someday…and I have a great rye scone recipe to share with you…someday. In the meantime, here’s a tip for keeping butter cold when making scones. Freeze a stick of butter and then grate the butter into the flour using the larger holes on a box grater.  It’s easier, less messy and the butter stays really cold.

I have to say this year’s Thanksgiving was one of the best I can remember, ever! From the minute you walked through the door (leaving a trail of suitcases, bags, shoes, clothes…) until you left a week later, we didn’t stop…talking, cooking, eating, shopping, eating, cooking, cleaning, talking, eating and cleaning some more…with family, friends, more friends, more family…I LOVED it!!

And so many firsts… I will take full credit for inviting our favorite massage therapist and her family to Thanksgiving dinner, that is if she wanted to work during the day doing massages in our downstairs “spa-for-the-day” den. She did. All the women in the family scheduled an hour massage and enjoyed our transformed “spa” basement complete with scented candle and refreshing citrus infused water as they indulged in the pleasure and pain of an Eleanore massage.  Our masseuse, who is now like family, earned a little cash, didn’t have to cook and enjoyed a wild Thanksgiving dinner, with her family, at the Schuster/Shealy household. All agreed that this was a new tradition worth repeating!

Then there was the turkey…my first KOSHER turkey. (see Recipe below) I must say, the Rabbis know nothing about depilatory techniques. Little did I know I was opting for a bird with a 5- o’clock shadow and a serious case of in-grown stubble that defied the usual turkey wash-and-rinse once-over. I scrubbed and scraped and pulled at those feather nubs till my fingers cramped. What?!…No electrolysis, laser hair removal, Nair?  There must be a better way! I dug around in my kitchen drawer for some modern day feather-plucking kitchen tool that surely I had picked up because I knew I would need one someday. And there it was, a relic from the seventies waiting to be repurposed, a hemostat.  It was the perfect tool! Time consuming? Yes, plucking each hair follicle one by one! Two hours later, my turkey (we got real up-close and personal) was clean, exfoliated and stubble-free…I mean, this turkey got the full Brazilian!  It was delicious…and I would do it again…but I sure do wish those Rabbis would get some advice from their wives about hair removal before sending their turkeys out that way.

Shaina’s Sweet Potatoes and Kale?!

And finally…Shaina in the kitchen with Mama…did I say cyclone? My turkey and dressing (see Recipe below)…your sweet potatoes with coconut milk and kale(?)…my green beans with lemon zest and parsley (see Recipe below) and your lemon scented basil quinoa, again, with kale.  We had sugar free, gluten free, non dairy, vegan, vegetarian and every other option too. Was everyone happy? How could they not be? They’re coming back next year…all 25 of them!

Most of all, I loved trashing the kitchen with you…watching you slice and dice and taste and mix and adjust and taste some more until it was just right. You take risks with flavors and ingredients and trust that they will turn out alright…and they do, in fact better than alright. I promised myself that I will try some of those strange spices that sit in my spice drawer waiting for you to come home.  I even enjoyed cleaning up the trails of droppings you left in the wake of your cooking experiments.

This was the first Thanksgiving that we really did together! I really love being with you always, but the kitchen…is a really special place when you’re in it. 

Oh, did I say how thankful I am? I am so thankful for my life, for my family and friends, for our good health and good fortune and… for all the blessings that I enjoy every day!

Love, Mom



Two – 14 pound turkeys fed 25 people and left plenty of leftovers.

  • 1 Turkey (or 2 smaller ones if you have a lot of leg and thigh lovers)
  • 1 Garlic bulb, peeled and minced (more can be used if you have a very large turkey or if you like a lot of garlic)
  • 3-4 Celery stalks with the leaves
  • 4-5 Carrots cut into 3″ chunks
  • 2 Onions cut up
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive oil

If frozen, thoroughly defrost the turkey so it will be ready to clean and season the night before you plan on roasting it. Clean the inside and outside of the turkey thoroughly, removing the neck and any other parts from the cavity. Kosher turkeys only come with the neck which I clean and roast with the turkey. Kosher turkeys also tend to have a lot of ugly stubble, so leave extra time for cleaning.  Pat dry and place breast side up on rack in the roaster that you will be roasting the turkey in.

Mix a little olive oil with the minced garlic and rub all over the turkey inside and out, including a little under the breast skin.  Salt and pepper the turkey liberally inside and out.  Place celery, carrots and onions in the bottom of the roaster around the turkey. Reserve a piece of carrot, onion  and celery and place inside the cavity of the turkey.

After seasoning, I truss the turkey using string and tying it around the legs and breast horizontally and vertically. It makes it a little easier to get it out of the roaster when it’s done.  Cover the turkey with the roaster lid, or aluminum foil if you are using an open roaster, and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

On cooking day, take covered turkey out of the refrigerator a few hours before cooking time and let the turkey come to room temperature before placing in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Place covered turkey in oven and check after one hour and then every 45 minutes after that until almost done.  When checking, baste juices over the top and sides of the turkey.  Cook turkey about 14 minutes per pound or until legs separate slightly from the body of the turkey and juices run clear. Roast turkey uncovered for the last half hour to brown the outside.  A little oil may be brushed on the skin to facilitate a brown crispy skin.

Remove turkey from the oven when done and let it “rest” uncovered for about 20 minutes before slicing and serving.  Remove the roasted carrots and place on the serving platter with the turkey. Enjoy!

Pour the turkey juices from the roaster into a pot.  The onions and celery can be strained or removed with a slotted spoon if you like a clear gravy.  Add some parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (or poultry seasoning) and salt and pepper to taste.

Heat over the stove while turkey is “resting”.  If you leave the celery and onions in the gravy, you can use a stick blender to chop and blend them into the gravy to add a little substance. Small scraps of turkey from the carving process can also be added to the gravy.

If you like a thicker gravy, place a tablespoon of flour or potato starch into a small cup and stir a few tablespoons of turkey juice into the cup stirring the flour and gravy until smooth.  Continue adding turkey juice to the mixture in the cup and stirring until the flour mixture is soupy and not lumpy.  Pour flour mixture into the pot of gravy/juice and bring to a boil. Cook over low heat until gravy thickens and serve with sliced turkey.

I never stuff my turkey, but my family loves dressing. I have always tried to appease both sides of the family by making two separate dressings; a southern style cornbread dressing sans veggies and a typical northern bread stuffing with onions, carrots and celery.  This year I combined the two and everyone was happy, especially me! This dressing is vegetarian and can be made vegan by leaving off the eggs. It makes  about 20 servings.

  • 1 Bag Cornbread Stuffing Mix
  • 1 regular sized loaf of whole wheat or white bread toasted and broken into pieces
  • 2 Onions, chopped
  • 4 Carrots, chopped
  • 3 Stalks of Celery, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • About 2 quarts of  Chicken Broth (vegetarian chicken soup powder and boiling water
  • 3 Eggs
  • Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme or poultry seasoning mix
  • Pepper

Sauté chopped onions, carrots and celery in a little olive oil until soft.  This may be done the day before.
Mix together cornbread mix and regular toasted bread.
Add cooked veggies to the bread mix.
Add “chicken” broth to bread mixture.
Add enough broth to make a very loose liquidy dressing (the consistency of cooked grits for the southerners out there).  You can add boiling water if the mixture is too thick.  You don’t want to see any pooling liquid in the mixture, but you want to be able to pour the mixture into a casserole.
Taste and add spices as desired.
Lightly beat 3 eggs and thoroughly mix into dressing mixture.  Eggs may be omitted for vegan diets.
Pour a little oil into the bottom of an oversized casserole dish or 2 smaller casserole dishes and preheat in a 350° oven until oil is heated.  Pour dressing mix into hot casserole dish and bake uncovered until done.
30 minutes for smaller casseroles and up to an hour for a large casserole.

The dressing should hold together loosely but not be dry. Top can be slightly browned.

GREEN BEANS (inspired by the Barefoot Contessa)

  • 1 pound Haricots Verts (French Green Beans)
  • 1/2 Bunch fresh flat leafed parsley, chopped
  • Zest of 2 lemons (1 TBLSP)
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • Olive oil Salt and pepper

Microwave Haricots Verts for 3 minutes on high or until slightly undercooked for desired doneness. Mix lemon zest and chopped parsley and set aside. Heat olive oil in large sauté pan toss in Haricots Verts and minced garlic and cook until beans are done to desired tenderness. Remove form pan and toss with lemon zest and parsley.  Salt and pepper to taste and serve.

◊ Life as an Eco Carny

Dear mom,

If I eat one more kale chip, spoonful of almond butter, slice of vegan cheese or clif bar, I’m either going to vomit or be constipated for life. Life as an eco carny has me drowning in “green” foods samples  – and I think you know plenty about my struggle with free samples.  All I want is my chopping board, loads of veggies, and plain yogurt. I love to travel but am having serious kitchen withdrawal.

This is a rare letter that truly (and regretfully) feels like a substitute for actual communication with you. So I hope people don’t get bored with it as I catch you up on why I haven’t called in a while.

Spirit fingers

November is a whirlwind. I’m on the eco-carny train working festivals in California in order to inform people about my org’s mission and recruit new members. First stop: San Francisco. And I’m completely smitten. The festival ended yesterday and since then I’ve been roaming… seeking funky street murals, popping into bakeries and cafes, sorting through smelly racks of clothes at thrift stores. Can I move here? Job shmob… who cares. I just want to live.

The people in San Fran are weird. Especially the people who come to our events… senile bag ladies, people dressed only in twigs, those who define “green” as marijuana use, unsupervised children with dreadlocks. A weekend at the festival in San Fran served the same purpose as a trip to Wal Mart in Birmingham – it made me feel almost normal… almost sane… and privileged for my token competency.


When tens of thousands of people come under the same roof to celebrate all things green, the conversation possibilities are endless. I’m on my feet, chatting about the environment and economy all day… and despite my exhaustion come nightfall, I feel pressured to keep up with my coworkers who are always ready to rage throughout the night. And if my boss tells me  to drink, then I have to drink :). Since our crew has been coming here for years, we have our regular digs… the favorite is a piano karaoke bar called Martuni’s, where broadway actors chill after shows. On Sunday night, we sipped martinis while the cast of the Lion King competed over karaoke. It. was. amazing.

This is where I landed during my run today

And about the visibility issue… I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but… I am writing letters to my mother visible to the whole freaking world! I challenge you to name any action more visible than that. Yes, I am shy by nature and yes, when I was young, I didn’t speak (is a selective mutism self-diagnosis pushing it too far?). But I’d like to think that I’ve exercised my shyness comfort zone plenty.

I’m just not a chatty person and that’s that. Verbal communication is overrated (which is why I miss India where all I had to do was  smile, nod, make funny faces and stir my hands in the air). So maybe my take on boys is hypocritical. I hate the way that boys act towards me, but is it my fault for not giving them opportunities to act in other ways? I guess I don’t give people much to work with. Am I too defensive? Too insecure? Ugh I’m over this conversation. I embrace my single-lady-ness and should stop attacking its persistence.

Anyway, right before I left for California, Arielle and I hosted a brunch that lasted til 6pm (success). We decided last minute to post the brunch as an American Jewish World Service Global Hunger Shabbat event, which lured friendly strangers. We started the brunch with ice-breakers (my fav!) and quickly cut the awkwardness with alcohol.  The menu is below.

Cucumber grapefruit gin fizz

Bloody Marys with Celery Ice Cubes

Spinach Feta Pumpkin Muffins

Buckwheat Fig Scones

Ricotta Cardamom Pancakes

Big Beautiful Porridge with Nuts and Dried Fruits

Radish Cucumber Salad

Fall Veggie Hash

Spinach Onion Frittata

Blintzes (thanks Ilana and Molly)

Pumpkin Muffins (thanks Sami and Ayla!)

Me: How did we drink so much?
Carolyn: We’re grown people… uhh… grown ups. We’re grown ups. It’s very possible to drink so much.

You would have loved the celery ice cube bloody marys (minus the cheap vodka).  I’m including my two favorite recipes from brunch in this post – the buckwheat scones and spinach feta pumpkin muffins. They were the first dishes to run out and are both perfect for fall. I adapted both of these recipes from 101cookbooks.com. Heidi, the site’s blogger always posts the most beautiful, healthful recipes!

As it gets colder, I’m obsessed with buckwheat and these scones are perfect… not too sweet but just enough to complement the nutty buckwheat.  I know buckwheat is not a normal flavor to love and I’m blaming bubbe for pushing kasha on me since childhood. Maybe we can make them for Thanksgiving.

I’m in San Fran for another day and then off to Los Angeles. And then I’ll be home for Thanksgiving! Can’t say that I miss DC yet.



PS. Mark said that I refer to you by your first names? …huh? Right back atcha. I would never. Ever.

Fig Buckwheat Scones:

(Adapted from 101cookbooks.com – thank you, Heidi! Original recipe is here.)

These scones are the most beautiful, photogenic baked good I’ve ever created. Usually, I have a hard time making things that are supposed to come out pretty, but this recipe inspired me to (try) to follow instructions. And even though I wasn’t precise in my measurements or process, they came out beautiful and delicious.

Dry mix:

  • 1 1/2 C buckwheat flour
  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Wet mix:

  • 4 Oz cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/4 C heavy cream
  • 1 C Fig Butter ( recipe below)

First, mix dry ingredients. Then, add butter. You can either make dough in food processor or rub butter between your fingers, rubbing it into dry mix until it feels like grains of rice. It’s important that the butter stay solid and cold, so do this quickly!

Then add the cream and gently mix into flour.

Transfer dough onto a well-floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into your best rectangle (Heidi says it should be 8 inches wide, 16 inches long, and 3/4 inch thick… but I just did my best to get it to look like a square). Make sure the dough does not stick by using plenty of extra flour.

Spread the fig butter on the dough and roll the long edge of the dough into a log so that the seam is on the bottom.

Slice the log in half with a knife and place the halves on a baking sheet. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (can be kept in fridge for two days).

Preheat the oven to 350° and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

After 30 minutes, take  logs out of the refrigerator and cut into 6 equal pieces. Place each scone flat on baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, rotating halfway through.  The scones are ready to come out when their undersides are golden brown. They are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day.

Makes 12 scones.

Fig Butter:

  • 6 dried figs
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 C nuts (I’ve used cashews, walnuts and/or almonds)
  • dash sea salt
  • clove powder, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla to taste

Add all ingredients to food processor and puree until smooth. Whenever I make this, I always double or triple the ingredients – even though I intend to make it for a specific recipe like this one, I use it liberally throughout the week – it’s great stirred into oatmeal or yogurt, or spread onto apple slices or a cracker.

Pumpkin Spinach Feta Muffins

(Adapted from 101cookbooks.com, original recipe here)

  • 1 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 C cubed pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 2 tsp sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large handful of chopped spinach
  • 4 tbs chopped parsley
  • 3 tbs sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tbs toasted walnuts in pieces
  • 3/4 C grated Parmesan
  •  1/2 C cubed feta
  • 5 tsp  mustard
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 C buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • 2 C flour
  • 4 tsp  baking powder

Preheat oven to 405F  and grease a muffin pan with butter.

Toss squash in salt, pepper and olive oil and roast on baking sheet for 15 minutes until cooked through. Set aside.

Mix two-thirds of the squash with chopped spinach, parsley, sunflower seeds, Parmesan, two-thirds of the feta, and all of the mustard. Add lots of salt and black pepper!

In a separate bowl, beat eggs and buttermilk/yogurt  and add to the squash mix. Sift the flour and baking powder onto the  mix. Add salt and a generous dose of freshly ground black pepper and fold together – do not overmix!

Spoon the mixture into muffin pan and top each muffin with a bit of the remaining squash and feta.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes  until the tops of the muffins are golden. Let cool slightly before serving.

♦ Visible

Dear Shaina,

What tiff?  I thought we were having a little spirited discussion about your hatred of boys. I knew what you meant then and I absolutely understand what you hate and why you hate it.  I would like to think that your father and I had a hand in raising you to hate being objectified and… to hate the objectification of others, as well. I do NOT think you should get over it!

But I would like to talk more about the visibility thing.  The visibility thing is not about hating boys or posting Arielle’s picture instead of your own. It’s about the remnants of your shyness and your hesitancy to show the world, people, even boys… who you really are, what you think, how you feel…beyond the surface.  Putting a picture of yourself on your blog (or not) is just a metaphor for how you are in the real world. You have to admit, you do play things pretty close to the vest.  And that is not a bad thing. I’m just sayin…if you want boys to notice more than your physical attributes (which they will notice regardless), you may have to let them know a little more about the rest of you, at least in small doses.  I feel privileged to be able to have an insider view of your life and I just want you to feel more comfortable showing your whole self off a little more!

Your friend Mark, the photojournalist from NYC, arrived just as we drove in from the beach.  He is staying with us while working on a project to tell the Alabama immigrant story.  I learned from him that you have been referring to us (your parents) in the presence of your peers, by our first names. When Mark asked us why you do that, we both responded with… “huh?”  We didn’t have a clue that you call us ‘Esther’ and ‘Allen.’  Although this is not a huge deal for me, I will have you know that I would get severely reprimanded by Bubbe (she didn’t even know the meaning of reprimand) if I even called her “Mother.”  She insisted on “Mom” or “Mommy” and of course later in life, everyone affectionately called her “Bubbe.”  So, just don’t be thinking about calling me “Esther” to my face!

In the meantime, this week has been totally crazy! I think I may have too many things on my plate.  Right now I am cooking Shabbat dinner for Goldie’s 90th and nothing seems to be coming together. I am cooking my traditional Chicken and carrots and potatoes recipe which usually turns out great…and I hope it does this time too.

Have fun in California and I cant wait to see you in a couple weeks for Thanksgiving. I need your cooking inspiration!

Love, Mom

One Pot Roasted Chicken and Potatoes

The following recipe is for 10 – 12 people, but can be doubled or tripled for large crowds.  Just make sure to leave plenty of cooking time if you are making a large quantity.

  • 1 onion sliced in thin wedges
  • 3 – 4 carrots peeled and cut in 2 inch chunks
  • 2 – 3 pounds of red or yukon gold potatoes
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic chopped

Place all vegetables in the bottom of a large roaster. Add salt, pepper and dried parsley liberally and mix together. Cover the bottom of the roaster with the veggies.

  • 3 – 4 Chicken Breasts on bone with skin on
  • 6 Chicken legs with skin
  • 6 Chicken thighs with skin

Clean chicken and remove any excess fat, but leave skin on. Salt and pepper the chicken liberally.  Add chopped garlic, parsley and any other seasonings you like.
Layer chicken on top of vegetables in the roaster.

I sometimes use Kosher parve chicken flavored powdered soup mix to season both the chicken and potatoes. Leave off the salt if you use the powder mix.

Preheat oven to 350°
Roast in covered roaster. Check after about 45 minutes to see if juices from chicken have begun to fill bottom of pan.  Cook covered until chicken is almost done and juices are visible.  Uncover chicken and baste with juices periodically while continuing to roast chicken in the oven until it is golden brown and skin is crisped.  A little paprika and parsley can be added if desired.  This may take a couple hours depending on the quantity of chicken and potatoes you are cooking.  Don’t be afraid of overcooking.  It actually gets better the longer it cooks.

This dish can be cooked partially the day before and put in the oven for the final browning before serving.  The excess fat in the meat juices can be removed after cooling leaving the remaining clear juices for basting in the final browning.  Leave at least an hour to reheat and brown.  More time will be needed if you are preparing a large quantity.

For vegetarian guests, roast seasoned potatoes (regular and sweet potatoes can be used) carrots and onions with a little olive oil in a separate roasting pan.

Vegetarian version

This recipe, with or without the chicken, is naturally gluten free.

Add a green salad and a steamed green vegetable and dinner is done. Pick up a Challah and a bottle of wine and you have Shabbat dinner.

◊ Revoking My Statement

Dear mom,

I’m on my way back to DC after a week of being stuck in Destin with you and dad, avoiding Hurricane Sandy’s wrath. I’m writing this letter on my slow, clunky computer and hadn’t realized how bad it is until now, after working on your brand new one all week.

I understand your excitement. Your new computer is so fast! And beautiful! And though you’re still slow – really, it’s painful to watch –  I’m proud you’re taking a stab at new technology. Projects are fun.

I can’t stop thinking about how beautiful Dani’s wedding was. The beach weather was perfect, her dress was amazing and love was in the air. It made me think about what kind of wedding I might want to have. The dress, the venue, the food, the… boy?


At the beach we had a conversation/tiff that was prompted my adamancy of hating boys.  I feel like I need to clarify.

I said that I hate boys. You said that I don’t hate boys.  Dad asked if I like girls. You said I only hate boys because I’m afraid of being visible.

I still don’t get the visibility thing.

But I hate to admit it – gritting my teeth – you’re right (you don’t know how hard it is for me to say that publicly), I don’t hate boys.

I do hate when boys I don’t know talk to me at bars like they’re trying to get to know me. I hate when boys smile at me and think they’re doing me a favor. I cringe when they tell me I look pretty. And when strange men look me up and down or try to brush up against me, I just. can’t. deal.

You tell me that it’s my fear of visibility. In your mind, my rage against boys is somehow linked to the fact that I posted pictures of Arielle picking apples instead of me on my last post on this blog. You think that I don’t like boys because I don’t like to be seen?

I don’t like to be seen as an empty shell.  And when a strange boy says hey at a bar, it makes me feel like exactly that… A small empty shell. I’m sure you understand.

But you are probably going to say that I need to get over it. That it’s my own problem and no one else’s. And you’d  probably be right… again.

So I’m going to revoke my I hate boys statement and replace it with right now, at this time in my life, I am disturbed by x, y and z actions of boys. Because for now, that’s the most I can muster. Next time I state my hatred for boys, there’s no need to get all worked up.

Anyway. The recipe I’m sending you is linked loosely with my boy-hating.

It’s an Indian recipe, Kichdi.

Where I lived, in Kutch, Gujarat, people slurped big bowls of Kichdi under pools of ghee as an after-meal digestif. One of my neighbors routinely brought me a big bowl around 11 pm, claiming that it would make me stronger. In Gujarat, where many stick to a pure vegetarian diet, this simple combination of mung beans and rice is considered an everyday essential. Most of my neighbors ate Kichdi with ghee, curd, sour pickle and chapatti (flat bread). But I ate all sorts of Kichdi preparations that varied from state to state and restaurant to restaurant.

When I got home, it took my body awhile to adjust to not having Kichdi in my system. It’s now my favorite comfort food – a remedy for illnesses of all sorts. It also has Ayurvedic relevance… Some of my friends talk about doing a Kichdi “cleanse” (I can’t imagine) to rid themselves of impurities. I like to spice it up, add a lot of veggies, and cool it down with plain yogurt.

I hope you enjoy this small dose of India. And that you’re closer to understanding what I mean when I say I hate boys.

With love, hate and everything in between,


Spicy Kichdi with Veggies

  • 3/4 c whole green mung beans
  • 1 c white rice
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbs chopped ginger
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 3 tbs oil
  • 1 onion
  • 3/4 tsb dill seed
  • salt
  • 1 or 2 chilis
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 green pepper
  • other veggies to taste

Bring rice and beans (in same pot) to boil. Let stand for 25 minutes. Pound spices together. Cook onion, pepper and veggies in oil, cumin seeds and dill seeds until brown. Then add spice mixture and tomatoes. Add to rice and beans. Garnish with chopped cilantro and eat with plain yogurt (curd).