♦ Bringing A Bit Of Home

Dear Shaina,

Reading your letter tugged at my heart a bit. I know that you’ll be fine, but I could feel that familiar trepidation that accompanies new beginnings. You’ve done this many, many times…and by now, you know what to expect and how to get through it.

When you went off to overnight camp for the first time at age nine, your letters proclaiming your homesickness and pleading with us to rescue you (if you love me, you will come get me, RIGHT NOW!) nearly did us in. By the time we came to retrieve you from your suffering, you were sitting on your bed getting a last game in with a new camp friend and told us that you would be finished in a few minutes…as if your trauma were some figment of our overly enmeshed parental imagination.


It is your way…to acknowledge your discomfort, to endure it, to master it…and to reap the rewards of your choices, as challenging as they may be. Most people are unable or unwilling to tolerate the discomfort of the unknown and unfamiliar.  Their fears, the fears that come with being in this world, become the all too narrow parameters that define their lives. You learned, at a very young age, that you can be afraid and still engage with the scary…and survive…and thrive. You came to trust the power and capacity of your internal resources.

So, now is the time for sitting and listening, you say…

I spent much of my twenties moving too fast, doing too much and obsessing about reaching the finish line…whatever that meant.  I was older than you when I first began to understand the importance of sitting and listening…to my self and to others. It was a life lesson…and life lessons are ongoing.  You already know…sitting and listening can be a really good thing, although not as easy as it seems.


Dad and I are at the beach…one week before we leave for Israel. I am beginning to gather your list of random items…Yogi teas, Ghiradelli cocoa, the nalgene water bottle with the happy face, a mesh laundry bag like the one you took to camp…eagerly looking forward to bringing you a little bit of home.

I am not yet back into any routine with all this coming and going.  Thanksgiving and Chanukah have converged and will arrive on the heels of our return from Israel.  I am already thinking menus and guests..mostly the usual…with a few Thanksgivukah tweaks.  Got some Mushroom-Barley soup (with shiitakes) in the freezer and made a squash casserole last week. I am already missing your presence at the table…and your food innovations.


I will try to get my fill of you while in Israel, but I don’t expect to succeed. At best, I will get a glimpse of the subtle changes that new experiences inspire and the adaptations that you have made to your new life…one refrigerator and no oven?!  You do have amazing adaptive resources!






Prep time: 45 minutes-1hour
Cook time: 1 hour
Serves 8-10 as a side dish

May be prepared ahead of time and baked or reheated before serving.

Can be frozen and served later for a winter supper with soup and salad or for brunch alongside lox and bagels.


This recipe is a compilation of several recipes that I have modified over the years in search of the perfect squash casserole.  It comes out different every time based on the quantities and types of ingredients I have in the house.  I have made a variety of substitutions to make it a little healthier, but I love it best when it has lots of butter and aged cheddar cheese topped with seasoned bread crumbs. For a gluten free casserole, leave off the bread crumbs and top with extra cheese or make a topping with your favorite nuts and cheese.

Wash and cut squash, onion and carrots into chunks and cook in salted water until vegetables are cooked through and soft.  Drain vegetables well (broth from cooked veggies can be saved and used for a soup base) and put in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or stick blender.4-5 pounds yellow crookneck squash

  • 1 large onion
  • 2-3 carrots
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ -2 cups grated aged cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup sour cream (Greek yogurt may be substituted)
  • 1 clove fresh garlic minced or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs or crushed crackers
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

While mashed vegetables are still hot, add butter and grated cheese and mix thoroughly into hot squash mixture.  Add sour cream and garlic and salt and pepper.  Add 1 cup (more if you like) grated aged cheddar.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Set aside remaining ½ cup cheese for topping.

Lightly beat 2 eggs and blend into squash mixture.

Preheat a 9” x13” glass baking dish with one tablespoon of butter in the oven.

Mix bread crumbs with a tablespoon of melted butter.

Pour squash mixture into the preheated, greased 9×13 glass baking dish.

Top with breadcrumbs and remaining cheese.

Bake at 350° for 45 minutes to an hour until top browns and casserole is bubbly and slightly browned on sides.

Allow to set for 10 minutes before serving.


◊ Seated and Listening


Dear Mom,

I’m relieved that you’ve adopted a mushroom log to fill my absence… it’s important to have something to feed and water (don’t forget about dad).

I too have barely cooked since I left home. My kitchen here is one fridge and four burners between five girls. I know a transition to this from three fridges all to myself at home is possible, but I need time to adjust. On the upside, my veggie-chopping view is the same one you get in postcards of Jerusalem… my kitchen window looks out over the Old City.

photo 4

kitchen table view

View from my room

from my room

No matter how breathtaking the views, adjustments are never easy. My schedule feels so not me… I spend most of my hours absorbing information rather than creating output. I’m itching for dirty hands already. Typically, I channel energy by producing – painting, taking photographs, cooking, writing – but here I sit in class, read and listen. It’s not my style and I’m scared that I don’t know how to do it… though I admit that the practice is probably exactly what I need.

Jogged up a hill and saw this

jogged up a hill to here

It’s painful to be seated and listening for most of the day, especially when what’s being said takes 100% of my brain power to decipher. I want to run away to the market and get lost in samples. Once again, why am I here?

Inhale. Exhale. I’m only here because why not? Because challenges can be good for the soul. Because listening skills are important.

ps. A tip for the shrooms: Soak them oil infused with fresh herbs overnight… they’ll soak up a ton of flavor and will be great chopped up with nuts or in salads.



Another thing I’ll have to get used to is life without an oven. I did without one in India, but its absence here is unexpected. How will I endure the week without my Sunday afternoon mass-veggie-roasting ritual? This recipe is a tribute to what once was.

Whole Grain Back-to-School Carrot Muffins
Prep time: 45 minutes
Yields 24 regular muffins OR 48 mini muffins

This is a quick, easy clean-out-the-pantry muffin. When I was first presented with the opportunity to move to Israel, I freaked. I met with my decision-making goddess for a consultation and in return I developed a special a back-to-school muffin recipe for her (she has two young children and was looking for a breakfast idea that she could easily and quickly throw together before carpool). Now that I don’t have access to an oven, all I can think of is these muffins. They would be perfect brain food for between class breaks. Packed with protein, whole grains and vitamin A, these muffins are perfect for students and parents of students who need something healthy and hearty to grab before heading out the door.


  • 1 1/2 Cup whole wheat flourIMG_9129
  • 1 1/2 Cup of your favorite whole grain cereal mix (I use Bob’s Red Mill Hot 5 Grain Cereal Mix for its hardy combination of flax, oats, rye, etc. You can also use rolled oats or  self-prepared combo of rolled oats, flax meal, wheat bran, etc)*
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ripe bananas (can be frozen)
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt (if you’re worried, nonfat is ok, but 2% or whole is better)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups grated carrots (or zucchini)
  • optional: 1/2 cup crushed walnuts, 1/4 c raisins, 1 tbs fresh grated ginger
  • 4 tbs oats or hot cereal mix for topping

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine dry ingredients. Mash banana with a fork until pureed. In separate bowl, combine banana, greek yogurt, oil and eggs. Add flour to liquid mixture and gently stir until just combined. Gently fold carrots (+walnuts, raisins, etc) into the mixture and spoon batter into muffin tin coated with butter, oil or cooking spray. For full muffins, bake for 20-30 minutes – for mini muffins, bake for 15 – 20 minutes.

A few muffin tips: check for doneness with a toothpick early (you don’t want to overcook!); leave some lumps in the batter – over mixing will reduce fluff; cool in the pan for just 5 minutes and then remove so the muffins don’t get soggy; store in airtight container or freeze.


♦ Shaina Moves Out…Shiitakes Move In

Dear Shaina,

IMG_2132I am having a hard time cooking for two these days.  It’s not about the quantity or finding recipes for two. I have always defied portion controlled cooking, opting instead for cooking massive amounts, thereby creating opportunities for drop-in company, future freezer meals, leftovers and creative repurposed new delicacies.

It’s more about having the will to cook for two. It hardly seems worth it.  When you were home (or even not always at home) it seemed more compelling to have a meal on the table with all the essential elements…protein, vegetable, grain, fruit. I am perplexed at how even one additional person at the table can make such a difference to my efforts in the kitchen. I haven’t done any serious cooking since you left.

Shaina off to Israel 100213.

I throw a salad together and add some tuna.  I make an omelet…with a lettuce and tomato salad…and call it a meal. I take a veggie burger out of the freezer and sauté some onions, add some cheese and…a salad…and that’s dinner. No exotic nuts and spices and healthy grains, no unnameable vegetable curries or pates, no roasted garlic infused vegetables scorching my oven…and not one single leftover.  Everyday is a blank food slate to be filled and I just can’t seem to rise to the occasion.

The mushroom log is my only saving grace. I am so glad you have a picture of the log when it was still…well, just a log!  It was definitely the best buy of the summer…and the best food(?) purchase ever! I check on my little log every day (more like 3 or 4 times a day) and forward pictures to you of its daily growth spurts.

Shiitakes Are Born!  Day 1 to 5

Shiitakes Are Born!
Day 1 to 5

It makes me feel like a part of you is here sharing this fungal birth experience with me. I tell my log story to anyone who will listen and whip out my iPhone to proudly display its progress. I feel like a new parent.  Not quite overbearing and hysterical (your words), but a little like a nutcase!

I have to admit…I miss you…and haven’t quite gotten used to your absence.

The mushroom log is a fine distraction and my sole source of cooking inspiration…for the time being.  How much can you do with 15 shiitake mushrooms anyway?

Ready for Harvest

Ready for Harvest

I know I’ll start cooking again…at some point. Thanksgiving/Chanukah will force the issue, if nothing else.  In the meantime, it’s a good thing your Dad is so easy to please when it comes to food.


My shiitake mushroom omelet with English Cheddar and fresh basil served with tomatoes and farmer’s market bread made the perfect Sunday brunch.


The garden fresh arugula and mustard greens that I tossed together were the ideal platform for the Persian cucumbers, purple onion, pine nuts and the last of the okra roasted… topped with, of course, sautéed shiitake mushrooms .

The last of the summer okra

The last of the summer okra

I threw on some home-made herb dressing and a little fresh grated parmesan and actually produced a recipe worthy salad! Maybe I am inching my way back into the cooking world…or maybe I just need more than one other person to cook for.


By the time we see you in Israel, you will be settled into student life, babbling in four different languages, friends with every fruit and vegetable vendor in the market and have a collection of strangely filled jars.  I can’t wait!!




Arugula and Mustard Greens Salad
Garnished with Sautéed Shiitake Mushrooms

Serves 4-6

These are approximate amounts.  Modify to your tastes and appetite. Arugula and mustard greens have a little bite and make for a very interesting salad.  Other lettuces can be substituted or added.

Herb Dressing

  • 1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • fresh minced garlic to taste (1/2 tsp or more)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste


  • 5 ounces of Arugula
  • 5 ounces of Mustard greens
  • 2 Persian cucumbers thinly sliced
  • 1/4  red onion thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound fresh okra sliced in rounds (optional)
  • 5-7 shiitake mushrooms, destemmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
  • olive oil, salt and pepper

Blend all dressing ingredients together and let sit for at least 30 minutes to absorb all the flavors.  Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Toss lettuce, cucumbers and onion together in a large bowl and set aside in the refrigerator.


Place cut up okra in a bowl and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Arrange in one layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 400º on bake or 375º on convection bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp.  They can be turned once for even browning. When done, set aside to cool at room temperature.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan and add sliced shiitake mushrooms. Sauté on one side until they release moisture.  Then move them around and turn over until they are seared on both sides , but still tender.  Salt and pepper to taste. set aside at room temperature.

Right before serving the salad , assemble all ingredients.  Sprinkle the roasted okra over the lettuce mixture. Add the mushrooms and pine nuts.  Drizzle with salad dressing and toss.  Add parmesan cheese if desired and serve immediately.


Really Yummy!