♦ Puzzles

Dear Shaina,

One of my friends read your letter and told me it made her sad. Dad acknowledged the Shealy thread. I continue to be perplexed at how you evolved into adopting the Schuster avoidance method of perpetual motion…and I just wanted to fix it…right away.

None of us come with all the puzzle pieces put together.  Maybe it’s enough to know that there are pieces missing and that it’s our job to look for them and try them on…like a jig-saw puzzle. I was 36 when you were born…and Dad was 45.  The seeds we planted in our twenties and thirties and forties gave no clue of what was to come. The puzzle pieces only made sense in retrospect.

At 62 and 70, our conjoined jigsaw puzzles are filling up nicely. The depth and expansiveness of our lives would not be the same without you. The pieces that you have added to the tapestry of our lives go far beyond rain forests in Bolivia and salt deserts in India. You pushed the boundaries of our capacity to love in a way that neither of us thought possible. You stretched the edges of our individual puzzles into new-found spaces filled with curiosity and color and joy. That doesn’t mean that we have no empty holes, no spaces yet to be filled, no angst still to be felt, even at our age.  I am still trying to find the balance between action and stillness, acceptance and striving.

I know how hard it is to be 25…all the pieces dumped out in a random pile on the floor with just barely an outline formed by the edge pieces…a few double and triple rows and some random blobs of color and texture where the pieces all happened to find each other…and all that empty space…anxiously waiting to be filled…

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Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees… Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to step back and look at all the pieces that have been filled in…to see beyond the pieces…to marvel at the big picture and appreciate the themes and beauty that have already begun to take shape. And then to examine the empty spaces and begin again. This is as much a reminder for me as it is for you.

I wish, for you, that there was an easy answer, a straight line, a clear vision.  I know there is not…

I do know that I trust your ability to know when the puzzle pieces truly fit…and when they don’t.  The right pieces are there and you will persist in finding them, trying them on, choosing the right fit and discarding the rest.  Awareness and patience…and trust in yourself…you have the rest of your life.

We are on our way to South Carolina.  Soup, turkey and cheesecakes in hand. It’s part of our DNA. We cook and feed and nurture. It’s the antidote for the life search…grounding and connecting us to those people and places most important to us. And it keeps our hands and minds occupied, distracted and temporarily oblivious.

Poker in SC i The next generation!

Poker in SC … The next generation!

I love you and miss you.

Love, Mom

xooxxooxoxoxoxoxoxo

 

Shirly’s Corn Pudding

I have been cooking like crazy lately.  This recipe that our Israeli cousin Shirly made for our family reunion was another favorite of mine. It was perfect for a dairy meal I made for a Meet ’n Greet with the new Rabbi and his wife and some friends.  It’s really easy to make and goes well with salads and soups for a light dinner. I also varied it by substituting other veggies for the corn. It is like a lighter version of a crustless quiche. I even like the leftovers for breakfast.

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  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels , thawed and drained (1 Package)*
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup aged cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 3 eggs
  • One cup plain regular or Greek yogurt (I used no fat Greek)
  • 1 tablespoon onion soup mix (other spices of your choice can be substituted)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup grated cheese for topping
  • Butter, margarine or cooking spray for greasing the pan

* Sauteed mushrooms and onions or chopped drained spinach and onions can be substituted for the corn to vary this recipe. Jarlsburg or other cheeses of you choice can be substituted. I added a little freshly ground nutmeg, salt and pepper and left off the onion soup.

Preheat oven to 350°

In a large bowl place the corn, cottage cheese, cheese, cornmeal, eggs, yogurt and soup mix and any additional seasonings to taste.
Mix into a smooth mixture .
Pour mixture into preheated and greased loaf pan.
Top with remaining grated cheese and bake about 50 minutes or until cheese melts and is bubbling and top is lightly browned

 

Vegetarian Chili Casserole (for a crowd…and then some)

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No matter how I start out, this chili always ends up making enough for a huge crowd with leftovers to be shared with friends or frozen for later use.  This combination of vegetables reflects what I had in my refrigerator plus a few things I picked up at the grocery store.  The recipe and quantities are very flexible and accommodating to individual tastes and desires, so don’t feel like you have to follow this recipe precisely.  The secret is in the spicing.  Taste frequently and adjust the seasonings to suit  your tastes.  It is best if it is cooked at least one day before you plan on serving it to give the flavors a chance to blend together. Get out your biggest soup pot (6-8 quarts) and start creating!

Yield: 6 – 8 quarts

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2- 3 hours to be done
45 minutes to reheat as a casserole

  • IMG_28762 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 package tofu ground “beef”, regular or taco flavored
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, cut up
  • 1-2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 fresh peppers, green, red, yellow or orange, cut up
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 5-6 cans (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes
  • 4 zucchinis, cut up
  • 4 yellow crookneck squash, cut up
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 pound baby portabello mushrooms, cut up (optional)
  • 2 cans black beans, drained (or you can cook your own dried beans, any kind you like)
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, drained
  • Cumin, Chili powder, garlic, coriander and salt to taste ( a good taco or chili seasoning mix can be used)
  • Aged Cheddar Cheese for topping (optional)

Cut up all vegetables in small or bite sized chunks.
Heat oil in a large 6-8 quart soup pot. Sauté tofu, onions, carrots, celery, peppers and garlic in olive oil.
Add canned diced tomatoes and remaining vegetables and beans and cook at medium heat until thoroughly heated.  Add spices to taste. Lower the heat and cook until liquids are reduced and mixture is thickened. This could take a couple hours.  Taste and adjust seasoning frequently.

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This chili can be eaten as a thick soup or placed in a casserole and topped with cheese and rebaked in the oven at 350° for about 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

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Serve with fresh cornbread and your favorite green salad and you have a hearty winter meal.

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◊ The Grain of My Ancestors

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Dear mom,

You sent your veggie chili recipe just in time.  We’ve experienced a blizzard over here in the Middle East. The roads are ice and yesterday’s white Jerusalem is melting gray. School has been cancelled since Thursday and my toes have been freezing-thawing-freezing-thawing since.

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And I’m getting antsy. You and dad see my life as exciting. It is. But my schpilkas syndrome isn’t always a positive thing. Right now I’m walled in by snow and slush and I’m about to freak out. The stillness. I can’t.

So I move.

I hop around to fill my life with beautiful views, weird produce, scraps of new languages and cultural mishaps at which I retrospectively laugh. My life is full and I’m glad that you appreciate its pieces. But sometimes I don’t know what I’ve really shared with you because I still feel a big old hole of empty. I think I’ll need to slow down if I want to figure out how to fill it.

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Once in 3rd grade I was walking from class to the carpool line and my teacher called me a turtle over the intercom. I left the building in tears and the name stuck. I was turtle… slow, slow, slow in all ways until one day I started to move fast. I don’t know when it happened… if it’s bad or good or neutral. But I think the compulsion that drives me to move fast stems from the same apprehension that held me in slowness. Careful and careless might be twins.

I risk losing me while I’m moving fast. Why do I write to you here? Because when I’m whipping across the globe at this pace it’s important that I stop to tell you what happened.

I don’t buy that you and dad’s lives would be boring without me. Between the two of you, you’ve built (from scratch) a farm with cows, a kitchen with stainless steel appliances and aquariums with tropical fish throughout Alabama; you’ve managed a 501C3, psychiatric wards, 70 person + dinner parties and god knows what else; you’ve sat in your very own office chairs, tractor seats and piano benches.

The things I’ve introduced you to  – like la hoja de coca and indigo fermentation – are superficially weird (exciting, eclectic, whatever). But you two are the real thing.

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You’re the ones.. the real weirdos… who inspire me to fill up.

xo

Shaina

My people’s grain:

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Israel’s recipes are infused with Mediterranean ingredients and Middle Eastern spices, but there’s still plenty of flavors that link me back to my Ashkenaz roots. As I think about my sense of self while hopping around at lighting speed, I am reminded that there’s no other food that speaks to my soul more than kasha. I can still smell the sticky fried onions and mushrooms that Bubbe made en mass to mix with kasha and farfel (like this recipe). It brings me back to me in an instant. Buckwheat: the grain of my ancestors.

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Below are three buckwheat-based recipes inspired by my current place and purpose.

Sweet Buckwheat Porridge, Raw:

Adapted from my new favorite recipe blog, GreenKitchenStories.com

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  • A portable post-swim snack

    A portable post-swim snack

    1 C raw buckwheat groats + water for soaking

  • 1 C raw almond + water for soaking
  • 4 dates + water for soaking
  • 1pear
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • chopped apricots
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or ground vanilla

Soak RAW (much of the buckwheat you find in stores is Kasha, which is roasted) groats, almonds and dates in water seperately for 4 – 7 hours or overnight.

In the morning, add all ingredients to a food processor (I used a stick blender) and blend until smooth.

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Topping treats! I garnished my first serving with pomegranate seeds, chopped apples and persimmons, pumpkin seeds and drizzles of tahini and date syrup. It was luxurious. I also recommend any fresh fruit you have on hand, raisins, cocoa powder, date syrup, coconut flakes, honey, almond butter or your own favorite indulgences.

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It’s also perfect for a breakfast-to-go or in-between class snack.

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Israeli Buckwheat Salad:

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  • 2 cups roasted buckwheat groats (Kasha)IMG_0795
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 orange, red and/or yellow bell peppers, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced into slivered chunks
  • red onion, thinly diced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbs crude tahini
  • 2 tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbs ground sumac (or lemon zest)
  • 1 large bunch of parsley
  • 2 ripe avocados

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Bring water and salt to boil and add buckwheat. Simmer for 10 – 12 minutes until tender and fluffy. Remove from heat and allow buckwheat to cool for an additional 5 minutes. Then drain any extra water and spread onto baking sheet or large surface to prevent clumps.

Dice all of the vegetables very thinly. If you have other veggies in the fridge you need to get rid of, this is your moment.

In a saucpan, heat olive oil and add turmeric, cumin and coriander. Stir for 1 – 2 minutes until fragrant. Pour mixture into bowl and add tahini, vinegar and sumac. Stir well.

Toss buckwheat, veggies and dressing right before serving. Top with chopped parsley and avocado. Serve cool or room temperature.

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Orange Glazed Tempeh over Soba Noodles with Avocado:

Tempeh preparation is adapted from 101cookbooks.com

Yes, Soba Noodles are made from buckwheat!

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  • 1 package (12 oz) dried soba noodles (I like to use 100% buckwheat, but they can be hard to find and expensive. More common is a buckwheat + spelt or wheat combination.)
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (3-4 large oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup, date syrup or honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 small garlic cloves, crushed
  • 10 ounces of tempeh (or tofu)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • cilantro to garnish

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Cook the soba noodles in well salted water, drain, rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Mix orange juice, soy sauce, maple syrup, ground coriander, and garlic in a bowl and set aside.

Cut tempeh into thin slices. Heat olive oil in pan. Once hot, add tempeh and pan-fry for 5 – 10 minutes, until golden and crisp. Pour the orange juice, etc mixture over the tempeh and simmer for 10-15 minutes (flip tempeh piece 3 or 4 times during this time to allow all sides to absorb sauce) until sauce becomes thick and sticky.

Place tempeh over soba noodles and top with remaining sauce, black sesame seeds, squeeze of lime, cilantro and avocado.

♦ Keeping Your Parents Entertained

Dear Shaina,

I loved all the pictures of the menorahs in glass boxes…so different from here where we are constantly trying to explain that Chanukah is a minor holiday…as if that isn’t obvious enough in this world of Santa Clauses and reindeers.

I so missed having you here for the holidays. You always bring something fresh and fun…like the time you mandated that we could only bring a used or new gift from our house (no shopping at the store) to exchange at our family/friends Chanukah party…and that people could steal someone else’s if they liked it better than the one they chose. It was hysterical! We vowed to do it every year, but you haven’t been home on Chanukah since and the rest of us just can’t seem to get it together. We did, however, eat enough latkes to last the whole year and…yes, I finally hung Chanukah lights…and you weren’t even here!

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Two couch surfers stayed with us last week, thanks to your offer of our house.  Apparently, you are on some listserve of socially conscious young people and saw a request for couches along their route across the country. Once you checked her out and learned that she worked with one of your friends in DC, you told her she could get a reference on us from him.  Your DC friend, and a group of thirteen college kids he had led on a spring break work trip to New Orleans several years back, had stayed with us on their way home, again, per your coordination.  Dad and I decided that we would have led pretty boring lives if you hadn’t been born.

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I am serious. You have led us to countries we would never have visited, you exposed us to foreign flavors and cultures and you introduced people into our lives who, like you, have stimulated us and provided us with a measure of hope for the future. We thank you for letting us horn in on your adventures and giving us a glimpse of a world we most likely would’ve missed had it not been for you.

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I know it can feel like a burden to be an only child and I don’t want to add to that burden in any way by suggesting that you are responsible for filling our lives. Your engagement in your own life and your commitment to your own pursuit of happiness is gift enough to us.

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Plus, we get all the collateral benefits without the risks, challenges or hardships.  So, thanks! Keep up the good work of keeping your old parents entertained.

Thanks for sending Tan’s herbed rice recipe. I had some fennel I had to use so I tried it.  It was so delicious! Dad wants to know when I am making it again. I made it with preserved lemons (Nahum’s recipe) instead of lemon juice. Preserved lemons are my new favorite food discovery…you get all the lemon freshness, without the sharpness. I use it in everything that calls for lemon. It seems like we get a little taste of Israel every day.

After a brief heat wave, we got really cold weather. Dad dragged all the plants inside, started splitting wood and stoked up the wood stove…and I started cooking a huge pot of veggie chili…same as always.

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I hope you’re staying warm. Miss you and love you.

Love,

Mom

xoxoxooxooxoxoxoxo

Nahum’s Preserved Lemons

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This is a great way to use up a lot of lemons and have them on hand for a variety of uses. I use them in anything savory that calls for lemon juice and zest. Although they are layered in salt, they don’t seem to add a salty flavor, only the true essence of lemon..

  • 3-4 smooth medium skinned lemons, washed thoroughly (if the skin is too thin, they will be mushy, if too thick, they will be bitter)
  • Coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 glass pint jar

Slice off ends of lemon and discard.  Cut lemon into very thin slices and remove seeds. Layer in a glass pint jar, sprinkling Kosher salt between each layer. Pack the lemons tightly in the jar until it is full and put the lid on tightly.

Leave it in room temperature. Once brine starts to accumulate in the jar, turn it upside down.

After three to five days it will be ready.  It can be refrigerated at this point and used for a couple of weeks.  The longer it stays, the more picklish (and less “fruity”) it will be.

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If you want to spice it up, add sweet or hot paprika to the Kosher salt and you will have Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Tan’s Tomato Salad

I served this at Thanksgiving dinner and people went back for seconds. I used Kumato (Brown tomatoes) and Campari tomatoes. It is a ridiculously easy recipe and is light, flavorful and satisfying…and I even forgot to add the olive oil!

  • 1 pound of your favorite tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped green or purple onions (optional- I added these)
  • Preserved lemons or Moroccan Preserved Lemons
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Just combine coarsely chopped tomatoes (any kind) with finely cut up preserved lemon, black olives and some salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for a while and add some olive oil before serving.

One Pot Vegetarian Chili (a big pot)

No matter how I start out, this chili always ends up making enough for a huge crowd with leftovers to be frozen for later use.  This combination of vegetables reflects what I had in my refrigerator plus a few things I picked up at the grocery store.  The recipe and quantities are very flexible and accommodating to individual tastes and desires, so don’t feel like you have to follow this recipe precisely.  Just get out your biggest soup pot (6-8 quarts) and start creating!

  • Image2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 package tofu ground “beef”, regular or taco flavored
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, cut up
  • 1-2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 fresh peppers, green, red, yellow or orange, cut up
  • 1/2 pound baby portabello mushrooms, cut up
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 5-6 cans (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes
  • 4 zucchinis, cut up
  • 4 yellow crookneck squash, cut up
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 2 cans black beans, drained (or you can cook your own dried beans, any kind you like)
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, drained
  • Cumin, Chili powder, garlic and salt to taste ( a good taco or chili seasoning mix can be used)
  • Aged Cheddar Cheese for topping (optional)

Cut up all vegetables in small or bite sized chunks.

Heat oil in a large 6-8 quart soup pot. Sauté tofu, onions, carrots, celery, peppers, mushrooms and garlic in olive oil.

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Add canned diced tomatoes and remaining vegetables and beans and cook at medium heat until thoroughly heated.  Add spices to taste. Lower the heat and cook until liquids are reduced and mixture is thickened. This could take a couple hours.  Taste and adjust seasoning frequently.

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This chili can be eaten as a thick soup or placed in a casserole and topped with cheese and rebaked in the oven at 350° for about 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Serve with a salad, French rolls or fresh cornbread and you have a hearty winter meal.

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◊ Deep Fried Judaism

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Dear mom,

I just ate the best sufganiya (donut) of my life. It was warm… crisp and golden on the outside and doughy on the inside… filled with salty caramel cream. My Chanukah in Israel has been full of lights, songs, sticky fingers and young faces dusted in sugar. I love that my religion commands the indulgence of deep-fried sugary foods as a mitzvah.

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I’ve eaten pistachio, raspberry, chocolate, strawberry and dulce de leche donuts… cauliflower, beet, sweet potato, corn, spinach and zucchini latkes.

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I’m only trying to make up for years of underestimating the spiritual significance of fried foods. Back home I was told that Chanukah isn’t a big deal… that Americans overemphasize the celebration only to compete with the Christmas spirit around us. But Chanukah (and its donuts) are fo’serious in Israel. I swear the air smells like a deep-fryer.

Rambam says: “We already have an established custom to make sufganiyot (doughnuts) which are sweet baked goods and this custom is an ancient one of our fathers since these foods are boiled in oil, to commemorate the miracle that occurred to that flask of oil.”

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We conquered the Greeks and kept our tradition burning. This greasy goodness is important to the Jewish people, I repeat as I indulge in just one more jelly-filled donut.

Of equal importance to donuts are the lights. Menorahs in glass boxes attached to walls, stacked on top of ledges and and displayed on plastic chairs illuminate dark alleys throughout Jerusalem. Wicks fueled with olive oil glow like America’s lit-up reindeer with added holiness. Children and families gather around the light to sing, pray and dance. Chanukah streets are romantic.

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But today is the last day of Chanukah and my gut-spirit is finished. Our cousin, Tan, made the best, most fresh-tasting cold rice salad a few weeks ago.  I snagged the recipe from her and made it along with layered sweet potato and beet purees for a Thanksgivukah meal I shared with friends. I’m just thankful that both of these dishes are post-Chanukah cleanse appropriate … I’m craving veggies after 8 holy days of saturated fats. At least in Israel I’ll avoid the Christmas cookie spell that invades American offices and schools at this time of year, Baruch Hashem.

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Hope your Chanukah was special too! xo,

Shaina

Ps. See some of my favorite menorahs below the recipes

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Zesty Herbed Rice Salad

Prep time: 35 minutes

Serves: 5 – 7

  • 2 cups colorful rice (I used red – or purple- in this recipe. You can also use brown)
  • 3/4 cup raw fennel (or celery if you’re on a budget), finely chopped
  • 2 large green onion bulbs, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • juice and zest of 3 large lemons
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (more if needed)
  • plenty of good black pepper
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

Combine rice with 2 1/2 cups of water bring to boil over high heat. Then, reduce heat and let simmer for 20 – 25 minutes. Once cooked, allow to cool (you may want to prepare it a day before serving to allow plenty of time to cool).

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Meanwhile, toast slivered almonds in a toaster oven or skillet until golden brown and fragrant and set aside. Then, finely chop fennel, green onion, mint and parsley and set aside.  Mix olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and lemon zest and set aside.

Right before serving (and once rice has reached room temperature or cooler), mix oil and lemon, herbs and fennel, almonds and raisins into rice. Garnish with any additional herbs, almonds, or sprinkle of lemon zest. Enjoy cold.

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Nutty Sweet Potato and Beet Layers

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Prep time: 1 hour
Serves: 10 - 20 people as a side

IMG_1039Sweet Potato Layer:

  • 1 scant tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of cayenne powder (to taste)
  • 5 large sweet potatoes, boiled and peeled
  • juice and zest of one orange
  • 4 tbs crude tahini
  • 1 tsp salt (or more)

Beet Layer:

(similar to the beet puree I posted here, but less walnuts and more olive oil)

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  • 4 largebeet, roasted and peeled
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3 tbs olive oil

For garnish:

  • pumpkin seeds
  • chopped parsely
  • drizzle of olive oil

First make the beet layer (it’s messier). Combine all ingredients in food processor and puree until smooth.

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Add more olive oil as needed. Set aside.

For the sweet potato layer, heat spices in olive oil over low heat until fragrant. Then, combine all ingredients and mash with the back of a large fork until smooth. It’s okay for chunks to remain.

When you’re ready to serve, spread a thick layer of sweet potato puree on a serving dish. Top with an equally thick layer of the beet puree. Garnish with pumpkin seeds, chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pita chips, crackers or thinly sliced apples. Eat leftovers next to yogurt for breakfast… everyone will be impressed.

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Some lights around town:

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