♦ Enjoy It All!

Dear Shaina,

Sorry I haven’t written. I didn’t shrug off my commitment…I just had no idea what day it was!  I have been in a suspended universe, crossing states and time zones and climates without intention, finding myself a bit surprised as the new flora and fauna appeared through the windshield.

Beautiful Skies Everywhere

Beautiful Skies Everywhere

Billboards and neon signs announced the emergence of fast food restaurants, motels and souvenir shops…way stations for travelers…sprouting up on the edge of the highway like bustling ant colonies. Gas stations offered up bathroom breaks and a 100 different flavors of beef jerky (I am not kidding). Hampton Inns and random small-town family owned ethnic restaurants offered some comfort as we settled in for the night and played a little makeshift two-person mah jong. Despite the cultural and topographical diversity, the McDonalds and Walmarts and Motel 6’s reminded us of the common thread that binds this country from end to end, however loosely.

The days had no names and the times kept changing so I just gave up on tracking them. My watch remained on Birmingham time.

And Beautiful Sunsets

And Beautiful Sunsets

Our goal was uneventful. Arriving safely was our objective and we did it! We made it in five and a half days. Hardly bad-assed and no strangers in the backseat (it was way too full of stuff).  I am amazed at how quickly one can whip across this country in a car.  I am inspired to do it again and take more time to experience the nuances of the American dream.  I am also inspired to clean out all the crap in our house, for your sake, if nothing else!

As for exaggerating adventures, yours or mine, I am way too old for that.  I know that life follows you wherever you go…with all its choices, dilemmas, joys and complications.

Life is short and full. So…why not? Go for it…with my fullest blessing!  I am looking forward to helping you pack up (I’m a pro), driving to NY with you and sending you off on this next journey, just as I am already praying for your safe return. I still can’t believe you are going back to India! At least its only for four months so I wont feel compelled to visit you again…I have had quite enough experience with alternative bathroom facilities for a while.   I am looking forward to reading all your weird Indian recipes!

Glad to be Home

Glad to be Home

In the meantime, I also participated in a mega Shabbat gathering while in San Francisco. We enjoyed homemade challah, stuffed peppers, roasted Brussel sprouts and a veggie stew and I learned how to make a delicious Persian rice dish that I think you’ll love.  It’s full of fresh herbs and fava beans and is delicious plain or served as an accompaniment to stuffed peppers or veggie stew.

Enjoy it all!

Love,

Mom xoxooxoxoxooxoxoxooxoxoxoxooxoxxoox

Lily’s Persian Style Herbed Rice 

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Serves 10 – 15

(It looks more complicated than it is!)

  • 2 cups basmati rice (brown or white)
  • 2-3 Tblsp of salt
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 bunch fresh dill
  • 1 bunch fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 bulbs fresh garlic or 3 cloves regular garlic minced
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 1/2 cup frozen fava beans (may substitute lima beans or edamame)
  • 1/4″ canola oil to cover the bottom of the pot
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 or 3 small potatoes (Yukon gold or red) sliced in thin rounds to cover the bottom of the pot
  • 1/2 tsp Saffron threads crushed and dissolved in 2-3 Tblsp butter or oil with a 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Rinse uncooked rice in cold water several times until water runs clear.
Bring a large pot of water with 2-3 tblsp of salt to a boil. (Make sure the pot is a heavy bottom pot.)
Add basmati rice to boiling water and boil rapidly for 10 minutes until rice is partially cooked.  Do not overcook.
Bring pot to the sink and pour the cold water over the rice to make the starchy water overflow.
Drain rice into a colander and set rice aside in a large bowl.
Chop all dill, parsley, cilantro, garlic and onions together in a food processor .
With a large spoon, mix together the drained rice and all the herbs and beans and toss loosely into a mound in a large bowl.
Grind together with a mortar and pestle 1/2 tsp saffron, 1/2 tsp turmeric and a 1 tsp sugar .
In a small bowl, melt 2-3 tblsp butter and mix ground spices into melted butter.

IMG_0766Put the heavy bottomed pot back onto the stove.
Add oil (enough to just cover the bottom).
Add 1 1/2 tsp turmeric to the oil and heat over medium heat while stirring.
Slice small potatoes into thin rounds and cover the oil on bottom of the pot with one layer of potatoes.
Toss all of the rice mixture into the pot covering the potatoes.
Poke 3-4 holes with the long handle of a wooden spoon into the mound of rice and pour the butter and saffron mixture down the holes.
Place about 3 layers of paper towels or a clean cotton kitchen towel over the top of the pot and then place the lid tightly over the pot.
Cook at medium heat for 8 minutes.
Turn the stove down to the lowest temperature it will go and steam for 35 more minutes.  Be careful to keep the temperature low so you don’t burn the potatoes.
To serve, scoop the rice out from the top of the pan being careful not to brake the crust on the bottom. Place in a serving dish.
Once all the rice is out except for the potato crust (tadig), carefully remove the potato crust from the bottom of the pot and flip the crust over placing it over the rice in the serving dish.

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It should be golden brown and beautiful! Enjoy!

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◊ If Not Now, When?

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Dear mom,

Haven’t heard from you in awhile… Where are you? You’ve shrugged your commitment to our blog to play Thelma and Louise. I totally forgive you but you’ll have to excuse me for writing out of order.

I must say, your adventure sounds pretty badass. I know that right now you’re probably listening to some Jewish author on tape or talking to Jean about your children’s shared neuroses… but I’d like to imagine you two speeding down highways with strangers in the back seat and windows down.

I know you’re a good friend, but driving from DC to San Fran with Jean just to keep her company?

Your response: Why not?

I understand.

I’m leaving DC to go to India. Why not?

Just how I exaggerate your wild adventure with Jean, I’m sure you perceive my move as a turbulent, reckless leap. But it’s not. It’s not outlandish or deviant… It’s not even bold. It’s why not. I want to wake up in the morning and decide what I want to get out of my day… and then make it happen. Is that an outrageous desire? I’ve always wanted to work with artisans in some capacity and if not now – when I have no looming attachments or responsibilities – then when?

So when you’re imagining me wrapped in a silk sari, side-saddling a painted elephant among ancient temples, know that I’m probably on the side of a dusty road, arguing with a rickshaw driver over 5 cents and sweating through my kurta and balloon pants.

photoI recognize that the above 150 words justifying my decision to you scream insecurity… And yes, I guess I am nervous. I’m hesitant to leave behind my vitamix, the steady pace of office work, DC’s bike lanes, big Shabbat dinners in my dingy frat-style house, spinning classes and short dresses. But I can’t have it all.

Life is short and full.

As you know, the day you left DC, Arielle and I hosted our magnum opus of Shabbat dinners (thanks for helping tidy up my house before you headed off!).

We wined and dined over forty guests with a Russian themed meal and kept the party raging til 4 AM. Katie surprised us from Boston and David came from New York to celebrate our last Shabbat shabang… 7 out of 10 from our fellowship cohort were together! Unbelievable.

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This was the menu:

Challah with poppy seeds
Knishes and Barekas (from you and Jean)
Cumin spiced borscht
Endive salad with cucumber, beets and horseradish dill dressing
Purple cabbage with apples and tofu (Jump To Recipe)
Kasha and varnishkas
Potato salad with creamy dill sauce, roasted tomatoes and peas
Lentil-stuffed cabbage – deconstructed over filo dough
Blinis topped with sour cherry cottage cheese
Sephardi fideos
Quinoa porridge with apricots and cherry juice
Spinach and mushroom fritata
Vodka

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People ate. People drank. We went dancing.

It was a perfect beginning to my transition out of DC.

Hope you’re safe on the road.

xo,

Shaina

PS. Get excited for Indian recipes… Regardless of how dull or wild my trip turns out, my food-inspired letters won’t stop.

Purple Cabbage with Apples and Tofu… aka The Golden Purp

I named this cabbage dish after Arielle because who else would think to to unite caraway seeds and purple cabbage? We eat way too much of this stuff together… it’s super easy, healthy, cost effective and such a pretty purp! Plus, it’s on The Cleanse.

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  • IMG_19681 tbs olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 oz of firm tofu, sliced into one inch pieces
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbs carraway seeds
  • 1tsp allspice
  • 1 head purple cabbage, chopped
  • 3 tsp sea salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 c golden raisins
  • 1 granny smith (or other tart) apple, chopped
  • 1/3 c apple cider vinegar
  • poppy or sesame seeds for garnish

Heat olive oil in skillet and add chopped garlic and tofu. Fry until golden brown and remove from skillet (place garlic and tofu in separate bowl). Then, saute onions with caraway seeds and allspice over low heat in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add chopped cabbage, salt and pepper and cover for about 2 minutes over low heat (cabbage should become tender, but remain crunchy). Then, add chopped apples and raisins and stir for 2 more minutes. Add apple cider vinegar and cover for one minute (the vinegar will turn the cabbage bright purple!). Remove from heat and stir in tofu and poppy seeds. Enjoy immediately over brown rice (and yogurt) for a hearty winter meal. It will stay good for a few days, but beware: the raisins will soak up the juices and become bloated, which is scary and gross.

◊ Life Soup

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Dear mom,

Maybe we’re on different planets because mine tells me that 20s are supposed to be the best years of life. Us 20-somethings are free of weighty obligations and responsibilities… we are in our prime… the world is our oyster. We have opportunities at our fingertips and the spirits to grab them all.

It’s great. I have all the energy in the world to agonize over which opportunities to pursue, what part of the world to call my own, how I’ll spend the most prime Friday nights of my life. No patience for mah jong – no time for yoga.  Gahhh. Can you set a recurring alarm in your phone to remind me about the life’s a journey bit each week… I need to hear it on the regular.

I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear that the 60s are where it’s at.

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It’s freezing in DC and I’ve been making lots of soup. I live off these thick, hearty  and nutritious everything-in-a-pot soups. Packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, veggie soups are a perfect way to welcome 2013 (I tell myself that eating enough of it will remedy my Christmas/Chanukah cookie overdose).

The soups in this post  – and most others I make – are like my life. I need to cram EVERYTHING in. I start out with a basic lentil or vegetable soup, get bored or distracted and feel adventure calling … usually in the form of turmeric and ginger and coriander and whatever else I find in my house’s pantry. These are my life soups –  Lentil Life Soup and Green Life Soup – messy looking but really quite simple. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the long list of ingredients (tell me about it), so I laid out the basics for you + a section for suggested additions.

What should I wear tonight and where is my life going?

Love ya,

Shaina

Lentil Life Soup

I make a huge pot to start off the week and spice up the leftovers to make different meals throughout. This may sound weird, but I like eating it with an egg on top for extra protein and B12. You can make a meal of either soups over rice and/or with a dollop of yogurt and some nuts. I’ll start out by sharing a basic recipe and then include some suggested additions.

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The basics:

  • IMG_16022 cups french lentils,  beluga lentils or other
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 5 large carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt (plus or minus if you’re using veg broth or bouillon)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups water or vegetarian broth (I like to throw in a cube of vegetarian bouillon)
  • 3 cups greens (spinach, kale, chard, collards or a combination), chopped
  • 3 tbs balsamic vinegar or wine

Suggested additions:

  • 6 stems Celery, chopped
  • 2 cups butternut squash or 1 medium sweet potato, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • dash of chili powder or fresh chili, chopped
  • 2 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • parsley, scallions or cilantro to garnish
  • dollop of plain or curried yogurt (recipe below), toasted walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds to garnish

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Bring 5 cups of water to a boil with lentils and cook for about 20 minutes. Drain once tender.

While you’re waiting, heat oil in soup pot and saute onion, salt, pepper and garlic until onions are translucent. If you choose to add other spices like cumin and turmeric, now is your time. Stir cumin with onions until seeds begin to pop. Add 2 cups water, tomatoes, carrots, lentils and other veggies and bring to simmer for about 20 minutes. Once all veggies are tender, stir in chopped greens for 1 -3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonsings – get creative! Remove from heat and stir in balsamic vingar. Top with nuts, yogurt, fried egg, etc.

Curried yogurt topping:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • dash of sea salt
  • dash of black pepper
  • ½ small onion, finely chopped

Combine ingredients and stir. Add chopped cilantro and toasted nuts for a special garnish to any soup or rice dish.

Green Life Soup

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This is a creamy, thick soup dense with nutrients. I like to eat it when I feel a cold coming or when my tummy needs warmth. Try not to get overwhelmed by all the ingredients. And WARNING: Vitamin A overdose is real… I may be turning yellow.

  • IMG_19991 tbs olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 tbs sea salt
  • 3 cups water or veg broth/boulion
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tbs fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet potato, chopped
  • 2/3 cup raw cashews
  • 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp Indian curry powder, 1 tsp garam masala, dash of cayenne pepper
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp Coriander seed
  • ½ tsp whole cumin seed
  • ½ tsp mustard seed
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach
  • 1 tbs lemon zest
  • Fresh juice of 1 lemon
  • Parmesan cheese, plain yogurt or curried yogurt (recipe above) and toasted cashews for special garnish

Heat oil in soup pot and saute onion, and salt until onions are brown. Add 3 cups water, carrots, mushrooms, ginger, sweet potatoes and cashews. Add turmeric, curry powder, cayenne pepper and garam masala and bring to simmer for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat oil and stir in chopped garlic, coriander seed, cumin seed and mustard seed until garlic is brown and mustard seeds pop. Add to soup pot.  Once all veggies are tender, stir in spinach for about a minute. Taste and adjust seasonings – get creative! Remove from heat and blend until smooth (I use a handheld immersion blender – it’s so easy! You can also use a regular blender or food processor). Stir in lemon zest and lemon juice. Top with nuts, cheese, yogurt, fried egg, etc.

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IF YOU DON’T HAVE ALL THE INGREDIENTS, DON’T WORRY! The essentials are spinach, onions, sweet potato, ginger, curry powder, lemon and cumin – everything else is just an added bonus.

Carrot Zinger

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This is an adapted version of Deb’s Miso Carrot Soup that I found on smittenkitchen and made last winter. Yumm so gingery. I didn’t have miso this time around, so i used Bragg Liquid Aminos and a spoonful of rice vinegar instead. The vitamin A situation is out of control. My palms are turning yellow.

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 3 lbs carrots, chopped
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 – 3 large onions, chopped
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped (more or less to taste)
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 5 cups water mixed with vegetarian boullion or vegetable broth
  • ¼ cup Bragg Liquid Aminos (or soy sauce)
  • 1 tbs rice vinegar
  • small dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 4 tbs sesame seeds, toasted
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Heat olive oil in a deep soup pot. Add onions and stir until cooked through. Reduce heat and stir in carrots and garlic until the garlic is browned. (about 10 minutes). Add vegetable broth, pieces of ginger, and  lemon zest, and simmer, covered, until carrots are soft (about 30 minutes). Stir soup occasionally throughout.
Puree soup with an immersion blender (best tool ever) or food processor. Stir in Braggs amino acids or soy sauce, rice vinegar,  cayenne pepper.  Top with sesame oil, sesame seeds and chopped cilantro (and yogurt if you want!) and serve over brown rice for a warm, healthy, hearty winter meal.

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