♦ From Down the Hall

Dear Shaina,

It is really odd to be writing a letter to you when you are just down the hall and we are crossing paths in the kitchen, preparing lists for almost daily grocery store excursions, merging dirty clothes in the washing machine and…exchanging words (not always so nicely) face to face.

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So here I sit struggling to do my assignment, “mom, do ur blog” instructions in a text from you, following a text that said, “having din w friends, will b home later.”

Parenting is not an easy business at any age…of any aged child. It is perplexing and daunting and evokes anxieties and insecurities from the depths of your core. Shaina, lest you think this is about you, believe me, it is not! You are, and have been, a relatively easy child. I do know how fortunate I am to have the privilege of being your parent.

I am immensely proud of your accomplishments, your bravery and self-awareness, your independence and your many ever-emerging talents.  Not to mention the bonuses of having a child who travels to exotic places, always has another exciting option up her sleeve and provides us with never-ending tales to share with family and friends.

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The challenges of parenting are not about you, or any kid, I suspect.  It’s about what and who we bring to the game. You think you’ve escaped the ghosts you tried so hard to release in your own life…and all of a sudden, you have become your mother…and those shreds of familiarity are chilling.

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There were so many things that Bubbe and Zayde did intuitively, as parents, that were right. They had no expectations of who we should become.  They only wanted us to be healthy and happy and able to take care of ourselves.  They insisted on the absolute importance of love and family.  I think that was it…and all that flowed from that. Any screaming and arguing was just another tactic to ensure those principles.

I think it worked, but with it came the whole package…the sense of obligation, the persistent quest for happiness, the need to leave home and find my place in the world.  I did that in my own way.

I know some parents who think their job is to control their children in an attempt to produce the desired product.

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My understanding of parenting is more about powerlessness and staying out of the way of the inevitable. Neither approach is easy or foolproof…and I have made errors on both ends of the spectrum.

Having you home brings all the players out of the closet…yours and mine.  All in all, I think we are okay. You are a child any mother would be proud to claim…as I am.  We are just both doing what we both need to do…hanging on and getting away!

Thank God for food…the grains that bind us!  I have learned so much from you, although I am not sure I will ever be able to replicate your style. You prepared an amazing Indian feast for Shabbat dinner…dishes that even our Indian guests loved!

Watching you create recipes for a friend who is undergoing chemo has made me appreciate what a unique gift you have.

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Your food is creative and delicious, elaborate and healing…and remarkably beautiful and awe-inspiring.

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I am also impressed at how much your kitchen maintenance has improved! Thank you!

I don’t know how long you’ll be here, but I am glad to be in these moments with you. My wishes for you are simple…to be healthy and happy…to remember the importance of family…to find your place in the world and…to be safe.

Love,

Mom

xoxoxoxoxoxo

Browned Butter Halibut
Although I am intimidated by your creations. I still have to cook dinner occasionally,at least when I am not throwing together all your tasty leftover morsels into a humongous salad. This is a very simple fish recipe that Dad really enjoyed.

Add a simple green summer salad and baked sweet potatoes, plus the dessert below,  and you have a satisfying quick and easy dinner.

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Yield: 4 servings

  •  1 – 1½ pounds of fresh wild caught halibut (4-6 ounces per person)
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, garlic to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and zest from one lemon (or lime juice and zest)
  • Garnish with fresh chopped dill, parsley or tarragon and lemon wedges if desired

Salt and pepper fish generously on both sides. Add fresh finely chopped or thinly sliced garlic.

Lime Juice and zest...a great substitute for lemon.

Lime Juice and zest…a great substitute for lemon.

Marinate in lemon juice with zest plus 1 teaspoon olive oil for a half hour.

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Heat a sauté pan large enough to hold all the fish over medium heat.

Put oil and butter in the pan and heat until lightly browned.   Add fish immediately to browned butter and cook 3 – 5 minutes (depending on thickness of fish) on each side.  Fish is done when it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Serve with lemon wedges. Add salt, pepper and fresh herbs to taste.  Serve immediately.

 

Blueberry Oatmeal-Buckwheat Crumble

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This lightly sweetened blueberry crumble recipe is inspired by your healthy crunchy-grainy approach to food…and all those gallons of late summer blueberries we picked.

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Blueberry Filling

  • 5-6 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon potato starch or corn starch
  • Zest and lemon juice from small lemon
  • ¾ cup chopped dried fruit (apricots, dates, figs, raisins or any dried fruit)
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar or to taste (agave or honey can be substituted)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Wash blueberries and place them in a pot with the next four ingredients for the blueberry filling.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally throughout the cooking process.  Turn the heat down and simmer for about forty-five more minutes or until blueberry mixture is slightly thickened and reduced by half, but still liquidy.  Add the almond extract and stir.  Cool slightly.

Oatmeal-Buckwheat Crust and Topping

  • 1¼ cup uncooked rolled oats
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ½ cup buckwheat flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup butter, melted (margarine or coconut oil can be substituted)
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 T raw sugar or agave

IMG_1319While berries are cooking, prepare crust by whisking together the oats, flour and salt in a bowl. Add the melted butter or margarine to the oat mixture and stir until crumbly. Reserve ¾ cup of this mixture in a separate bowl for the topping.

Preheat oven to 350°

Grease an 8” x 10” baking dish and pat the remaining oat crumb crust mixture onto the bottom of the baking dish.

Prepare the topping by adding ¾ cup of chopped nuts and 1 tablespoon of raw sugar to the reserved oat mixture.  More sugar can be added if you like a sweeter topping.  Mix thoroughly.

Bake at 350° for 35 – 45 minutes or until oats and nuts are lightly browned and blueberries are bubbling.Pour the slightly cooled blueberry filling over the crust in the baking dish.  Sprinkle the oat-nut topping mixture evenly over the berries.

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Eat warm with ice cream or serve cold as a fruit snack or breakfast treat.

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◊ Unloading

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Dear mom,

Home after 6 months of wandering… It’s finally time to unload! My closet shelves seem wider and your kitchen appliances shinier and I am SO done with my freakin humongous backpack.

I still need to process it all as I recover from the exhaustion that comes with the bag-lady package, and I can’t stop thinking about Israel. My role as birthright staff was a success and I enjoyed the days with our distant but familiar family in Israel after the trip.

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My group watching the sunrise from Masada

During my first few days in Israel, I laughed a lot in my head. A simple “Shalom” slammed me back to the pit of my childhood… Hebrew words were throwbacks that roped chants from the Jewish Day School back into my brain. Every Israeli situation was a novelty.

I know that a visit to the Western Wall is supposed to be emotional and that I’m supposed to cry when I touch it and blablabla. But during our visit to the Old City, all I could think of was my 4th grade art project, when my classmates and I each reported on one of the city’s landmarks. I was in charge of Sha’ar Ha’ashpot, the Dung Gate, where Jersulamites chucked their trash. I presented it with an intricate drawing of an old relic surrounded by diapers, banana peels and flies.

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prayers shoved into cracks of the wall

And when I opened my mouth to speak Hebrew, I only thought of Carl’s made-up song to the tune of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, which helped me remember Hebrew grammar rules… “Conjugate the verbs, come on!”  followed by a quick rap of  the actual conjugations, ani ahavti, ata ahavta, hoo ahav, etc…

Most embarrassing was my response to Sivan (our group’s medic and my roomate) when she introduced herself to me. Instead of introducing myself back like a normal person, I sang to her. The chant that Mrs. Posner sang to help us remember the months of the Jewish calendar just slipped off my tongue…  Sivan, Iyar, Tamuz, Av…

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Sharing a camel with our bus driver, David

From that moment on, Sivan made a rule that I couldn’t call her name unless I sang it.

My American Jewish education prepared me for a visit to my homeland with Israeli songs, folk dances and silly games that seemed irrelevant to any real situation. And as I toured ancient sites and tested memories in my head, the nostalgia for Israel that I was trained to feel possessed me… it was creepy.

But after ten days of touring ancient sites with other American Jews (Jewish Americans?), I relocated to the homes of  our Israeli family members. I met Chana for the first time, your Israeli replica. After showing off each room in her home (including a whole room just for kitchen appliances), she force fed me for hours… Israeli salads and hummus and a spongy orange cake that tasted exactly like one Bubbe used to make I couldn’t believe it. I observed personalities so clearly unique to our family’s gene pool… the force feeding, the loud talking all at once… that at times I thought I was back in Birmingham.

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Chana with her cake and cool glasses

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I heard stories of how Zayde’s brothers and sisters landed in Israel, and how we have cousins in Russia who are rediscovering their Jewish heritage right now preparing to make Aliyah. Sitting around a table of aunts and uncles, baby cousins and plates and plates of food, I saw, firsthand, the joyous outcome of a country that prioritizes the provision of a safe haven for Jews seeking refuge. The songs and dances that I learned at summer camp and school provided the initial backdrop of familiarity… but with the family, the sense of belonging that I learned about at summer camp and youth group and Jewish Day School finally unfurled.

I know it’s all a cliche and I’m surprised by my reaction to Israel… it wasn’t my first time there but it was the first time I’ve felt this way.

I think my emotional experience was shaped by the juxtaposition of my itinerary: I headed to Israel from India. In India, my outsider perspective was extreme and the “welcome” limited. The religious and societal structures create a barrier that makes integration into Indian culture impossible for a white American like me. The newness, surprise and unfamiliarity of everything around me in India was acutely opposite of the nostalgic comforts in Israel. So of course the “welcome home” from the Israeli customs officer in the airport elicited a heightened reaction.

I don’t really know… I have a lot to unload.

love,
Shaina

In Israel, the breakfast spread is glorious: dozens of fresh salads, salty cheeses, creamy tahini and thick yogurt. The participants on my trip stared at my plates piled high with crunchy veggies at 7 AM each day, How can you eat vegetables so early in the morning?

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Post breakfast bliss with Naomi!

The Zucchini and Tomato Salad recipe below is adapted from my favorite cookbook right now, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem,  and the carrot salad is one that I made up to commemorate my moment of glory as a Birthright staff, which happened in the morning of our last day of the trip. I complimented the quantity of veggies on a participant’s breakfast plate and his response to my comment was, “ You know I started eating vegetables in the morning because you told me to.”

Wow. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a positive influence on a young person’s life. Salads in the morning are where it’s at.

I also included a recipe for hummus because it’s just so basic… I’m shocked that we don’t have it in our recipe index yet!

Chunky Zucchini and Tomato Salad

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Serves 8-12 people as a side dish
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  • 8 green zucchini
  • 5 large tomatoes
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups greek yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 red chiles, crushed or 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 handful of fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/2 C chopped parsley
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 tbs date syrup, agave or honey

*Note that I modified the original recipe for this dish for American convenience and ease. So if you want the real thing, pick up a copy of Jerusalem. You won’t be disappointed!

Preheat the oven to 425 F and cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Trim the zucchini and cut lengthwise into thin 3/4 inch pieces. Halve the tomatoes. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place zucchini and tomatoes cut side down on separate pans. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes until browned on the tops and edges. The veggies should be tender in the middle and crisp on the edges.

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Remove from oven and allow to cool. Meanwhile, mix all remaining ingredients (except for honey/date syrup) together and hold some parsley for garnish. Once cool, chop zucchini and tomatoes coarsely. Gently fold into mixture and spread over large, shallow bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and date syrup/honey, and garnish with parsley. Serve with warm pita, couscous or your favorite bread.

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Chopped Carrot, Beet and Tahini salad

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Serves 10 – 12 people as side dish
IMG_8589prep time:

15 – 20 minutes

  • 1 lb of carrots
  • 2 medium beets
  • 2/3 c walnuts
  • 6 medium dates
  • 4 tbs tahini paste
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs water
  • 2 tbs lemon zest
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 tbs sesame seeds
  • 4 tbs zatar
  • salt

To roast beets and walnuts, preheat the oven to 350. Wrap the beets in foil, place them on a pan, and keep them in the oven for 15-25 minutes until soft. Place walnuts on a pan and keep them in the oven for 7-10 minutes until brown and fragrant. Allow to cool. *This can be done the night/day before.

*You can also opt to leave the beets and walnuts raw for a crunchier, earthier dish.

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Chop raw carrots, roasted beets, walnuts and dates into small 1/4 inch chunks (you can do this in a food processor for ease, but make sure that you don’t pulverize too much) and mix. In a separate bowl, mix tahini paste, olive oil, water, lemon zest, lemon juice and sesame seeds into a fluid paste. Combine all ingredients and add zatar and salt to taste. Eat as a crunchy, healthy breakfast salad on its own, top with plain yogurt, or use as an accompaniment in sandwiches and pitas.  The possibilities are endless.

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Hummus

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  • 4 C chickpeas (canned will work, but it’s much better if you cook them yourself)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 c tahini
  • juice from 2 lemons
  • 1/3 c water
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • salt to taste

Optional additions

  • turmeric
  • roasted red pepper
  • more garlic
  • spinach
  • chili powder/hot sauce
  • black pepper
  • olive oil, zatar, parsley, cilantro, tahini for garnish

Puree all ingredients in food processor until smooth and creamy. Play around with optional additions and garishes. Serve with warm pita, french fries :), roasted veggies, salads, chips… anything!

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See what I did:

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Sivan and I always held up the caboose… I the sheep herder and she the body guard. Here, we rest at Masada while waiting for kids in the bathroom. Always in the freakin bathroom.

Even the foods were familar

Rugelach yum… even the foods were familiar and comforting

IMG_2095Shabbat din!

IMG_2188Herzliya with Ron, Nurit and the kids

IMG_2182In the mornings Hanoch showed me the agriculture fields near his house. He rode his bike and I jogged after him.

IMG_2171Reunited with a long lost friend in Tel Aviv with shakshuka yum!

IMG_1959So much grafitti in Tel Aviv… the most colorful Bubbe I’ve seen

♦ Commingling

Dear Shaina,

It seems that the airports have been very busy this week flying Schuster and Shealy kids around. Naomi left for Israel Saturday morning and Rebecca arrived in B’ham in the evening. Now you are on a plane from Israel ending/continuing/beginning your journey.

Gail and Abe were at a wedding Saturday night so I picked Rebecca up from the airport and invited her and a fourth for mahjong and dinner.   I made a simple dinner of pesto pasta with roasted vegetables, pan-seared flounder and tomato-cucumber-basil salad with garlic bread toast…and both Dad and Rebecca were thrilled to have the opportunity to play mahjong. As always, there were plenty of leftovers.

It was the leftovers…and Bubbe, who never threw away any left over food…that inspired the morning-after brunch I prepared for Dad and me.  Sunday morning was one of the first in a long time that both Dad and I were at home together…a cause for celebration…and breakfast. I didn’t really have any specific menu in mind, but as I started rooting around the refrigerator and saw those leftovers, I knew what I had to do. fish & pasta 070213 The result was a breakfast casserole that turned out good enough to serve to company.  Dad said it reminded him of a New Orleans brunch (without the heavy sauces)…and I used up all the leftovers!

I have been preparing for your homecoming this week.  I removed all of our junk from your room and left your junk pretty much intact. It is daunting how much space our lives take up even when we don’t really live there.  Our commingled stuff has been separated, at least for now…at least in your room.

We seem to have crossed thresholds in our lives almost simultaneously. Just because I continue to remind you to wear a raincoat in the rain doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the capable young adult you have become.  And just because I want to know your plans doesn’t mean I don’t have a life of my own filled with my own activities and schedules.  It is precisely because we are two separate adults traveling on our own ever-evolving life paths, that I want to ensure our commingling during these brief moments that you will be spending in a place that was at one time the only place you knew as home.

Our relationship, at this point in both of our lives, is more a choice and less a given. I think often about my relationship with my mother, your Bubbe.  It seemed that it was always a given.  Maybe it was the nature of that generation or maybe it was just that we both needed so much from each other that we didn’t know how to be anything other than mother and daughter and daughter and mother…needing and wanting…without ever really knowing each other.

Although our relationship naturally has some of the strains and issues that exist between most mothers and daughters, it is my hope that we will choose to be in each others lives…to share our stories and our hearts and our interests…even if that means you might have to learn to play mahjong!

I can’t wait to see you, to cook with you and to commingle our lives again in this place that we still call home.

Love,

Mom

xoxooxoxoxxoxoxoo

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P.S. I love my new Prius!

Egg and Veggie Breakfast Casserole

This easy casserole was made from leftovers from dinner the night before.  Whole wheat and sour dough rolls had been sliced and made into garlic toast rounds with roasted garlic paste and olive oil and the veggies were oven-roasted with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.  You can vary this recipe with different vegetables, cheeses and breads…depending on what’s leftover in your refrigerator.IMG_1568

I served it with tomato-cucumber-basil salad, flounder seared in a little butter and garlic and some fresh fruit.  Mimosas and good coffee topped off this great Sunday brunch menu.

Yield: 4-6 depending on what else is served

  • 6-8 small round garlic toasts
  • 2-3 cups of cubed roasted vegetables
  • 4-6 ounces of grated cheddar or Jarlsburg cheese (I used equal parts of both)
  • 6 eggs (Egg whites can be substituted – 2 egg whites for 1 whole egg)
  • ¾ cup milk (skim can be used)
  • 1 tsp pesto ( finely ground basil, olive oil, salt and pepper)
  • Dash of freshly ground nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Pine nuts and parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Lightly grease a deep 10” round casserole dish with butter or spray.  Layer garlic toasts on bottom of dish.  Top with a layer of roasted veggies and then a layer of grated cheese.  Continue layering…bread, veggies, cheese…until casserole dish is filled to about ¾” from the top or until you run out of veggies.Egg Casserole 070213

Whisk together eggs, milk, pesto, nutmeg and salt and pepper.  Pour over layered ingredients in the casserole.  Top with more grated cheese and pine nuts and parmesan cheese if desired.

Bake in a 350° oven for about 45 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and top of casserole puffs up and is lightly browned. Let dish rest for five minutes before cutting and serving.

Tomato-Cucumber-Basil Salad

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  • 6-8 small Campari tomatoes (or your favorite variety of tomato), thinly sliced
  • 4 small Persian cucumbers (or your favorite variety of cucumber), thinly sliced
  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves, washed and cut into strips
  • ½ cup of green onions or Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
  • Black Greek olives, pitted (optional)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar

Cut and mix all vegetables in a bowl.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Add a few splashes of Balsamic vinegar and toss.  Season to taste.