◊ Collecting

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Dear mom,

Word. While you’re feeling stuck by all the mess and stuff you’ve accumulated in your life, I’m bouncing back and forth India like a ping pong ball, gathering more and more of it. A handwoven scarf (or 7) here, a bunch of recipes there, one more train ticket on my credit card, new opportunities around every bend…

Natural dye textile studio in Munnar

Natural dye studio in Munnar

We’re both collectors. I hoard time and experiences and handmade textiles. I worry that so much of my energy goes towards stuffing my bags that I forget to be.

But this is just how we be. And I’m thinking that it’s ok.

Filling jars and emptying jars…

I got really good at filling and emptying jars in DC and thought (hoped?) that things might change once I fled my routine. But I have so many new jars here and I just love to fill and empty. There’s no escaping life.

Over skype the other day, you told me that the only thing that matters is that we get out of bed in the morning and do something. It doesn’t matter what is is… just something. Excitement, productivity, meaning, beauty are only perks.

photo(3)I’m grateful that lately I’ve been packing my jars tight with those perks. The first “work” (ha) chapter of my time in India is over, and now I’m indulging. I’m writing from a cloud. Literally. I’m sipping on hot tea in the mountains of Darjeeling and all I can see around me is cloud and prayer flags. I came here from Bangalore, where I stuffed myself with dosa (recipe below) and partied hard at Priyanka’s wedding. And before that, I lazed around Kerala’s beaches with Teresa, who came from Germany for the wedding. Tomorrow I embark on my trek through the foothills of the Himalayas.

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Wedding decorations

Meanwhile, I’ll hand-wash a bucket of dirty clothes, hang the pieces to dry, and stuff my bag to its brim feeling fulfilled as ever. I always straddle my bag to tackle it closed. Some call hoarding a problem, I call it enthusiasm. I’m not sure what to call your closet.

All I know is that I’m lucky you’re coming to nyc full of practice. We’ll unpack and repack my mess in preparation for the next journey, and hopefully we’ll collect some stuff together along the way… my priority is bagels.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!!!!!! 

Love,

Shaina

Dosa:

I’ve already briefed you about my dosa overdose in South India… My average was 3 a day for 14 days. Sorry I’m not sorry.

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People in the south eat dosa dipped in sambar (lentil stew) and coconut chutney for breakfast and I just can’t get enough. I eat dosai (plural for dosa) exactly like I used to eat Bubbe’s blintzes… over and over and over again without getting bored or too full for just one more.

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Dosa is made from a combination of rice and lentil flour, which is fermented into a sweet smelling batter.  The most common filled dosa is masala dosa, whose crispy shell is stuffed with spiced potatoes and onions. But I like my dosai plain, just like you enjoyed Bubbe’s blintz shells without the cheesy filling. There’s something perfect about how the crispness of the oily edges turns into gooey, fermented dough towards the middle.

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And it’s somewhat healthy… and gluten-free and vegan. The coconut chutney and sambar add protein, hardy fiber, healthy fats and a kick of spice.

My friends here joke that I have two stomachs (like a cow), and that one is for dosa only. I try to explain the special training I received as child at Bubbe’s kitchen table, where I worked on tall stacks of buttery blintzes that magically never grew shorter.  Blintz after blintz after blintz… just like dosai… losing count is too easy.

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Recipe serves 5 – 9 people:

  • 1 Cup medium grain rice
  • ½ Cup whole urad lentils (skinned black lentils)
  • 1Tbs Fenugreek seeds
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs Vegetable oil

You will need a heavy duty food processor to make dosa batter from scratch. A Cuisinart or Vitamix works best, but you can by with a blender.

First, wash, rinse the rice and the lentils in separate bowls. Cover rice and lentils with water (leave about two inches of water on top) in separate bowls and soak overnight (or 6-8 hours) with the fenugreek seeds.

Once soaked, add 3-4 tablespoons of lentil water to the food processor and turn it on. Then, slowly add the lentils while allowing the extra water to drain off. If needed, add water one tablespoon at a time. Grind lentils for about 15 minutes or until the batter is smooth and fluffy.

Remove lentil batter and place into bowl. In the same food processor (don’t worry about washing it), pour one cup of soaking water from the rice. Turn the food processor on and slowly add the rice to the grinder. Grind for about 20 minutes until liquid batter is formed. It’s ok if the batter is slightly gritty.

IMG_1296Remove from food processor and mix rice and lentil batter together with salt in a 3 quart bowl. Cover the bowl, but do not seal it (I recommend covering with a light towel)- this is where the magic happens!

If it’s summertime, leave the batter outdoors (out of animals’ reach) for about 8 hours to ferment. The batter ferments best in a climate that is at least 90 degrees F. If it’s cold outside, put the batter on the lowest rack of you oven and turn the pilot light on. Leave the batter in for about 10 hours. Depending on the climate, the batter may take longer or shorter to ferment. But trust me, you will know when it happens! When the batter is fermented it will smell sweet and acidic, almost like beer. It will also be frothy and twice the volume you started with.

After fermentation, the batter should be liquidy, like pancake batter. If it’s too thick to pour, add water.

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Heat a skillet on very high heat and brush with a drop of oil. Pour 1/4 of a cup of batter onto the skillet.  With little pressure, spread into a thin circle with the back of a rubber spatula or spoon. Cook on high heat until the bottom side of the dosa is brown. Flip the dosa to brown the other side. The dosa should be crispy on all edges. Serve with sambar and coconut chutney and enjoy!

Coconut Chutney:

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  • 1/2 Tbs Oil (I like to use coconut oil, but anything works)
  • 1/4 Tsp Mustard seeds
  • 4-7 Curry leaves
  • 1 Tbs Grated ginger
  • 1 Green chili or red chili powder (to taste)
  • 1 Cup Grated fresh coconut or 1/2 c grated dry unsweetened coconut
  • 1 Cup Water if using dry coconut, 1/2 c if using fresh coconut
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • Juice of 1 fresh lemon
  • 1/4 Cup Chick peas
  • Cilantro for garnish

Heat coconut oil and spices in pan over low heat until fragrant. Allow to cool and combine with remaining ingredients in food processor until smooth chutney is formed. Garnish with cilantro.

You can use coconut chutney in many different dishes – over fish, rice or veggies! Or for a vegan veg/cracker dip…

See my recent collection:

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The bus ride from Ernakulam to Munnar was stunning.

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I went hiking in the clouds and sprained my foot. It was worth it.

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I visited a natural dye workshop called Aranya Naturals on one of Munnar’s tea plantations. All of the workers are differently-abled. They create the most beautiful naturally dyed textiles with sophisticated shibori techniques.

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Saw Elephants in Cochin

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The food in Kerala… omg.. banana chips in coconut oil and appam.

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I’m in love with Kerala. After Munnar, I met Teresa in Cochin and we took day trips to beaches via ferries.. the best public transport this world offers.

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The Bhuj crew reunited for Priyanka’s wedding in Bangalore! The gang back together again.. a bit more classy this time around. Or not.

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The wedding was as stunning.

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I borrowed saris from the master of sari beauty and elegance, Shruthi. The one above was printed by Ismael Khatri’s operation in Ajrakpur. Also, Shruthi has an amazing blog about Kutch.

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Aditi, masterji, wrapped us up. Never imagined I’d dance so hard in a sari and stay clothed. Somehow it worked. Thanks, Adu!

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I’m obsessed with auto decorations.

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Bagels in Bangalore. What.

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Tibetan food in Darjeeling. Tsampa (roasted barley flour porridge) with cheese and milk for breakfast and Thupka (noodle soup) for dinner.

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♦ Letting Go…I’m Working On It!

Dear Shaina,

I just reread your letter and am again reminded of why I am so intimidated.  Your pictures are transporting, your recipes mouthwatering and I have to restrain myself from kissing the computer screen when you treat me to a rare photo of your oh-so-happy-in-this-precise-moment face.  I know you torture yourself with life’s unending questions…while you are fully engaging with every bit of life around you…but I am so proud and happy that you pursued this crazy dream. Even if it changes you…and takes you to places out of my daily reach.

In the meantime, here I am in Birmingham, struggling with my own particular brand of self-torture. In the past 4 months, I have gotten down and dirty in the process of packing and unpacking other people’s lives (yours included) as they let go of the old to forge new lifestyles and pursue yet unfulfilled dreams.

Unpacking at Abe and Gail's

Unpacking at Abe and Gail’s

It’s easy for me to help other people clear their closets of outdated ill-fitting clothing and give away the precious junk they thought they couldn’t live without. I support, encourage and reassure anyone with the guts to try on a new life. And I get paralyzed just thinking about throwing out clothes I haven’t worn in ten years!

Immersing myself in the messiness of other peoples’ moves has made me take a hard look at all the mess and stuff in my life…how burdened I feel by it all…and how difficult it is for me to let go.

I'm Getting Good at This!

I’m Getting Good at This!

Your bedroom has been sitting in limbo for two years…part shrine, part overflow storage, part crash pad.  The bedroom of your childhood is obsolete. I have been talking about a master bath retreat for years. There aren’t many years left. It is time for me to just do it. I want to behave as if we are moving…culling, throwing, giving away…leaving only the essentials. I have been practicing on everyone else and now I am ready to let go! Maybe…

Cooking offers a convenient distraction.

A whole lotta cooking!

A whole lotta cooking!

Wedding showers, shabbat luncheons at temple…friends for dinner Saturday night and more family and friends for brunch Sunday morning…then an afternoon spent trying to replicate the Bubbe Blintz. I needed to use that Farmers Cheese that has been in my freezer for…I can’t even tell you how long. The pull of the kitchen is obviously stronger than a pared down closet. At least I am cleaning out my freezer!

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We leave for a week at the beach this Wednesday and come back only to turn around and go to South Carolina for Karen’s wedding the next weekend.  Then it’s Memorial Day and Dad and I are going to an Acoustic Cafe Music Festival in some small town in Alabama.  We’ll be camping out and practicing yoga and sitting on our old-people’s-outdoor-concert-folding-chairs-in-the-bags. Our trip to NYC to meet you is right on the heels of that corner. There is no end to the diversions and attractions that keep me away from those closets!

Maybe next month…when I run out of things to do that I really want to do.

Love,

Mom

Xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

P.S. Can’t wait to see you in NYC…even if it is only for a few days. I promise…I’m working on letting you go!

 

Bubbe’s Blintzes*

I did it!

I did it!

Bubbe’s Blintzes were a family delicacy.  Her freezer was not complete without a reserve stash of blintzes waiting for a surprise visit from the out-of-town relatives or a local grandchild dropping in for lunch or a snack. Eating only one was practically an insult. She would defrost 6 and make you eat at least 5 before you even had a chance to protest. Bubbe could whip up 100 blintzes in an afternoon, seemingly effortlessly.

These are not the typical sweet blintz that you might find at a deli or in the freezer section at the grocery store. They aren’t savory either. They are just the perfect combination of a buttery crepe wrapped around a smooth creamy cheese filling with the faintest hint of vanilla. Bubbe served them with sour cream, strawberry jam or apple sauce.  I love them plain with nothing extra!

*(Special thanks to Ruth who watched Bubbe make hundreds of Blintzes in her kitchen in NJ. Ruth learned the art from Bubbe and passed it on to me.)

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Cheese Blintzes

Bring all ingredients to room temperature.  This recipe makes 3 to 4 dozen depending on how much cheese you use and how thick your blintz skins are.

Blintz Crepe Batter

  • 3 Cups flour
  • 6 – 7 Cups skim milk
  • 7 Eggs
  • Pinch salt

Mix ingredients in a blender or in a large deep bowl using an immersion stick blender until there are no visible lumps.  Let batter rest for about 30 minutes.

Use a non-stick or stainless steel crepe pan or small frying pan. Heat pan over medium heat before smearing butter lightly on pan.  I use wax paper to hold the butter and lightly spread it on the pan.

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Pour about ¼ to ⅓ cup of batter into the pan and swirl it around the bottom of the heated pan to cover the pan with a thin layer of batter.  It may take a few times to get the pan to the right temperature and the right amount of batter to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin coating of batter.

Cook on one side only until you can see little holes popping through and the edges come away from the sides of the pan.

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Flip the crepe out of the pan onto parchment paper or brown paper sacks uncooked side face-down.

Repeat process until all the batter is gone. Don’t be discouraged if you mess up the first few crepes.  They are delicious plain, so enjoy your mistakes.

Blintz Filling

  • 3 pounds Farmer Cheese* (it looks like very small curd dried cottage cheese) *It can be stored in the freezer for a very long time if it is vacuum packed…and it is as good as new when defrosted!
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract

Mix all ingredients together by hand or with a stick blender or electric beater.Once the crepe is cooled.

Place a couple tablespoons of the cheese mixture at the bottom of the circle of dough on the cooked side of the dough.

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Roll the dough over the cheese to form a tube about the size of a roll of quarters.  Roll the dough over once and fold the sides in.

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Then continue to roll the dough until the blintz is formed. The uncooked side of the dough should form the outside of the blintz. Place the completed blintz with the seam down on a fresh piece of wax paper on a metal baking sheet.  You can use more or less cheese filling based on your preference, but don’t overfill.

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At this stage, the Blintzes are ready to be sautéed in a small amount of butter until both sides of the Blintz are lightly browned.

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Blintzes may also be flash frozen prior to sautéing and placed in freezer bags to be prepared and served at another time.

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They’ll be waiting in the freezer for you…whenever you get here! xo Mom