◊ Blast From Your Past

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Dear mom,

It’s fun to hear about all the snow in Birmingham while it’s a sunny 65 degrees here. I went on a run in Tel Aviv and came home sun-burnt! This is global-weirding for sure.

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Your yoga practice is good. I’ve tried so many times to appreciate its slow stretching and meditative intent … but I can’t. I’d rather feel sweat burning my eyeballs during a long run or step off a spinning bike with wobbly legs, gasping for air. Yoga would be good for me, but I don’t wanna.

Another thing I don’t wanna…. SCHOOL.

Spring semester starts on Sunday and I can’t bear the thought. This break has been wonderful. I climbed out of the classroom hole to experience the things I came here for. I hosted dinners in Jerusalem, reunited with old friends in Tel Aviv, spent Shabbat with family in Pardes Hana, ate goat cheese from a farm in the Jerusalem forest, baked and cooked and baked, ventured to a women’s embroidery cooperative in Bethlehem, decorated my new room and cooked Yemini food in Rosh Haayin.

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Lessons from textbooks are limited. The academic abyss that I will return to on Sunday feels soul-sucking and I think I’m much better at learning outside of it. I’m practicing to balance both worlds and must remember not to get stuck in either. One of these days I’ll start doing yoga… and my homework.

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The highlight of these two weeks in Israel was cooking Yemeni food with Dvora and her mother in Rosh Haayin. When Dvora picked me up from the bus stop the first thing she said to me was that she remembered two things from visiting our house over 20 years ago: that you made an amazing hummus she still thinks about and that dad sent her home with bluegrass tapes. I assured her 20 years later things are the same. If a stranger were to visit our house tomorrow, she would probably leave with the same memories – that you stuffed her with incredible food and dad shared his favorite music.

Dvora and I chatted about Birmingham as she showed me Rosh Haayin. It was great to hear her stories of all the people and places that I know.

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After a visit to the local jeweler and her family’s synagogue, we made lunch with her mother. Dvora spoke to her mother in Hebrew and her mother spoke back in a Yemeni version of Yiddish or Ladino… a mix between Arabic and Hebrew. Her wrinkled, tenacious hands reminded me of Bubbe’s… especially when she stuck them in hot oil without flinching. Together, Dvora, her mother and I made two types of Yemeni bread with vegetable stew and Hilbeh, a spicy chutney. Before I left Rosh Haayin, Dvora helped me pick out Yemeni spices at a local spice shop. The smells reminded me of India. When I mentioned this, Dvora reminded me of the spice trail… that India and Yemen’s culinary similarities are a result of their historic trade partnership.

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I documented the recipes for the dishes we made, but like Bubbe, Dvora’s mother doesn’t use measuring cups. She relies on her hands. The dough is right when it feels right… sticky and stretchy.

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IMG_1513Throughout the day, Dvora listed tons of recipes  I can’t wait to try –  Yemeni charozeth, homemade grape juice… You were right, she’s amazing! This was definitely not my last visit to Rosh Haayin.

Dvora and I share the same culinary philosophy – that you can’t be afraid of food; that it’s silly to fret over a recipe when you have your own capable nose and tastebuds. She sent me home with neatly packed Hilbeh and Khubaneh, her family’s Shabbat bread, that I’ll serve at my own Shabbat meal this weekend.

Stay warm!

xo,

Shaina

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Khubaneh (Yemeni Shabbat bread) and Glub (Yemeni fried bread)

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Prep time: 1 hour and 45 minutes include time for dough to rise

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yields: two dozen rolls

Dough:

  • 1 egg
  • 1Tsp of salt
  • 1 Tsp of sugar
  • 1Tsp dry yeast
  • 2 cup warm water (you add when mix dough)
  • 4 c white flour
  • 2 c whole wheat flour

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Mix egg with salt, sugar and yeast until yeast is dissolved. Add warm water just before sifting in dough. Work the dough with your hands until sticky and pliable. Cover with towel and let rise for just one hour (do not let rise too much).

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Khubaneh

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Khubaneh tin

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Kubaneh is a special Yemeni Shabbat bread. It is made in a metal tin over the stove. If you do not have one of these, you can use a steel baking pan or baking tin.

Pour one inch of olive oil into Kubaneh dish. Separate dough into five balls and place into dish, leaving one inch at the top. Cover dough in olive oil. Place top on Kubaneh dish and place over a low flame on the stove for 30 minutes. Once cooled, removed from Kubaneh dish. Before serving, brown top and sides of Kubaneh on a Shabbat hot-plate or a frying pan over low heat.

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Fill pan with two inches of oil and heat until bubbles form. Stretch dough into flat, palm size circles and drop into hot oil. Fry until golden brown and drain on paper towels. Eat immediately with Hilbeh and vegetable stew.

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Hilbeh (Yemeni Chutney)

    • 2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds, soaked for at least 24 hours
    • leaves of 1 leek stalk
    • 3 clove garlic
    • 1 green chili
    • 1 stalk fresh coriander
    • juice of 2 lemons
    • salt
    • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Soak  fenugreek seeds in a cup of water for at least 24 hours. Drain the water and blend the seeds with the remaining ingredients until a water salsa is formed. Eat with breads and veggies.

Yemeni Vegetable Stew

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prep time: 40 minutes

Yields: lunch for 3 or 4

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  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 white onions, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 3 medium zuchini, chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 4 ounces tomato paste
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cayenne powder
  • handful of fresh coriander, chopped

Saute onions and carrots of medium heat until onions are translucent. Add one cup of water and remaining vegetables. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. When carrots are soft add tomato paste and spices. Stir, cover pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Add coriander and allow to cook for five more minutes.  When vegetables are soft, serve piping hot with bread or rice.

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♦ Indulgence

Dear Shaina,

Thank you for the compliment.  It is comforting to know that I haven’t lost my touch completely … if only, to make you call home.

Time does fly.  It’s bad enough when its my life, but at least I can review the markers in real time.  As far as your life goes, it’s harder to track.  Whole chunks of space go missing…and the moments of missing are sharp and ever present. Talking with you helps calm my anxieties and gives me enough tidbits of your daily doings to activate my vicarious pleasure (or angst). So, thanks for indulging me.

Mazel Tov on your success in Arabic.  I know how much time and effort you sweated over it.  And congratulations on allowing yourself an indulgent vacation.  I have yet to regret any of my indulgences and only wish I had allowed myself more over the years.  I am making up for it.

Yoga is my current indulgence. I am surprised by how much pleasure I am experiencing in practicing yoga.  Five days this week…I have never in my life done any physical activity five days a week! It’s not that it’s easy and I fully understand why its called a practice.  There’s just something about the physicality and the restoration, the striving and the serenity and the total focus on…my breathing, my heartbeat, my sore joints and stiff muscles, my body’s imperfect capacity, my gratitude for my strength…and my life…and the stilling of my mind.  I am fully indulging myself in this pursuit of balance, acceptance and peace. I feel good! Maybe it’s just all that seratonin leeching out into my brain…whatever!

Dad and I spent four days iced in at our winter chalet at the top of the hill.  I didn’t want to leave.  We were very comfortable being holed up together, safe and warm with plenty of good food and books…and no obligations or commitments. Having always been so outwardly driven and people-needy, it was a sweet surprise to experience another part of myself.

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Being home put me into full blown cooking mode. My super sized pots have been getting a workout.  Pea Soup, chicken soup and, this week, an actual red-meat chili!  Dad always brings home the Wednesday NY Times from the office and gives me the Dining Section. This week it had a recipe for Chinese Chili that intrigued  both of us. It’s made with brisket cut up in chunks…I haven’t made a red meat dish for as long as I can remember, especially a chili.  It was delicious! I made enough to bring to the Hirsch’s (he’s still in the hospital) and for Shabbat dinner with family and friends.

The rarity of my making a recipe with meat made me realize how much of our eating is influenced by your vegetarianism. I shop and cook as if you live around the corner and might drop in for dinner at any moment.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to start serving meat at every meal.  Dad and I still enjoy eating vegetarian style most nights.  But maybe this Chinese Brisket Chili is a sign of reality seeping into my pots affirming the separation of our lives…as it should be.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop missing you anytime soon.

Love, Mom

xooxoxoxoxoxox

Easy Low-Fat Eggplant Parmesan (Lasagna Style)
Vegetarian, Gluten Free

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I promised you my eggplant parmesan recipe this week…the perfect meal to pull out of the freezer when it’s freezing outside. I love eggplant parmesan and I love vegetarian lasagna.  I don’t love all the breading and frying in traditional eggplant parmesans and I don’t love the heavy pasta load in traditional lasagnas. So I made up this recipe,taking the best of both dishes and eliminating the high calorie elements. You can make your own sauce or buy your favorite ready-made spaghetti sauce or combine the two. Surprisingly, this satisfies all my Italian cravings without leaving me feeling one little bit deprived.

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I made these in late fall when the last harvest of eggplants and basil abounded. My measurements are imprecise, so if you end up with extra of one of the components, not to worry.  It can be reused for something else.  Extra roasted eggplant makes a great side vegetable or can be used in a stir-fry dish.  Extra sauce can be used on pasta or frozen for later use.  Extra ricotta with spinach is perfect for stuffing manicotti and rebaking smothered in tomato sauce. All good in these cold winter months!

Preheat oven to 375° convection bake or 425° on regular bake setting

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Japanese Eggplant

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Traditional Eggplant

Eggplant

  • 3-6 medium sized eggplants or the equivalent amount of Japanese eggplants (long thin eggplants)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Cheese Filling

  • 1 pound low fat Ricotta Cheese
  • Basil, Oregano and any other favorite Italian seasonings, fresh or dried
  • 16 oz package chopped frozen spinach defrosted or fresh spinach sautéed and chopped

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 – 3 quarts Tomato sauce
  • 2 large onions
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Boxed or canned plum or diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar or agave
  • Salt, Pepper and Italian seasonings ( basil, oregano, parsley)
  • (Your favorite store bought tomato sauce is a great timesaving alternative)

Topping

  •  1 pound low fat mozzarella cheese, grated


Eggplant

Slice eggplant in 1/2 inch horizontal slices.  If using regular eggplants, lay out on a sheet pan and sprinkle with salt. Let sit about 30 minutes.  Salt removes the bitterness and excess water.  After 30 minutes, rinse in cold water and pat dry.  If using Japanese eggplants, you can skip the salt step and just slice 1/2 inch round slices.

Place up eggplant in a large bowl and lightly drizzle with EVOO (olive oil).  Lightly salt and pepper.  Stir eggplant around in bowl until lightly oiled and seasoned. Place parchment paper on a large baking sheet and arrange prepared eggplant in a single layer on the sheet. Place in pre-heated oven for 15 to 25 minutes until lightly browned and slightly crisp, but not burned. It may take several baking sheets to bake all the eggplant. The roasted eggplant at this stage is delicious as it is!  When roasting eggplant to use as a side vegetable I just cut the eggplant in chunks and bake it the same way.

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Tomato Sauce
In the meantime, if you are making your own sauce or doing some combo of homemade and store bought, you can prepare it now.  I usually sauté onions and garlic in a little olive oil, add a jar of store bought vegetarian tomato sauce and a couple boxes or cans of plum or diced tomatoes. I season with salt, pepper, a tad of sugar or agave if needed, basil and oregano and simmer over low heat until it tastes like I like it. Set aside when done.

Cheese/Spinach Mixture
Drain the liquid from the defrosted spinach or cook (sauté or microwave) the fresh spinach and drain off any liquid.  Mix the drained spinach into the ricotta cheese.  Add pepper and basil to taste. Set aside.

Assembly
Spray casserole dishes with a non-stick spray.  I use pyrex loaf pans or casserole dishes at least 3 inches deep.

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Cover the bottom of the casserole with tomato sauce and layer the eggplant on the bottom of the dish. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce.  Sprinkle a light amount of grated mozzarella over the eggplant layer.  Spread a 1/2 – 3/4 inch layer of the ricotta cheese/spinach mixture over that.  Continue to layer tomato sauce, eggplant and tomato sauce and end with a generous topping of grated mozzarella cheese.

To Bake and serve immediately:

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Place loosely covered (aluminum foil) casserole on a cookie sheet and place in a 350° preheated oven.  Bake about 30 minutes or until bubbly.  Remove foil covering and continue baking another five or ten minutes until cheese topping is browned lightly or the way you like it.  Remove from oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes.  Serve with extra tomato sauce, a fresh green salad and some garlic bread.

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To Freeze:

Finish assembly and wrap tightly in freezer wrap and plastic freezer bags.  Freeze immediately.  Thaw when ready to use and bake according to instructions.

◊ Sweetness

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Dear mom,

Our blog is not a space for you to publicly guilt me into calling you. But good job… it worked. Sounds like you had a fantastic time at Sundance. I wish I could have been there! I had a great vacation too. Liz, her friends from Bologna and I roamed the streets of Lisbon in search of pastries and pretty views for a week. It hit the spot.

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Seeing your picture of dad building a fire made me pine for home. I just finished my first semester of grad school (what) and up until now I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even had a chance to think about how far I am from home. Now that I have some space to breathe and reflect, I’m surprised by the reality of February… that I’ve been here for over 5 months; that by some miracle of God I’ve advanced to intermediate Arabic; that I’ve settled into a new apartment in the center of Jerusalem; that I haven’t even scratched the surface of my year-in-Jerusalem to-do list. My calendar is already filling up for the next few weeks of my “break.”

Things are good here but I miss home. Living abroad has its way of sucking time away into something unrecognizable. Or is that just part of getting older? The seasons are different here and the lack of time-markers I’m used to – the smell of our fire-place, christmas tunes, chalky heart-shaped candies – draws the passage of time into something like a vortex. I can’t explain.

So I’m making a special effort to mark the end of my first semester with sweetness. My time in Portugal was a great start – a true vacation full of indulgence and relaxation. Since I’ve returned, I’ve celebrated my new apartment (and its shiny oven!) and honored the sweets of Lisbon by baking. I forgot how fun it is to mix ingredients in a bowl and watch them transform under dry heat.

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In Lisbon, bakery windows lined with eggy, orange flavored pastries decorate every street corner. Someone I met told me that Portuguese pastries, rich and yellowed with egg yolks, are a result of the church’s historical dominance.  Women in the church brightened white linens with egg whites. The remaining abundance of yolks went into pastries and thus traditional Portuguese cakes were born. The most famous is Pasteis de Nata, an eggy, caramelized custard cupped in flaky dough. The girls and I travelled to a Belem, a town 20 minutes from the heart of Lisbon just to visit a bakery known for their Nata and it was well worth it. We devoured the Pasteis de Nata straight out of the oven, warm and crisp, topped with cinnamon.

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About to devour Pasteis de Nata in Belem

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The recipe below, Crispy Oat, Orange and Poppy Cookies is a tribute to the one-million sweets I ate in Portugal. Inspired by Portugal’s orange flavored cakes and endless supply of pastries, these cookies are sweetened with honey and fresh orange juice, full of hearty seeds and grains, wheat-free and almost vegan …  a healthy sweetness.

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Hope Birmingham has recovered from its snow trauma!

xo

Shaina

Crispy Oat, Orange and Poppy Cookies

Makes 10 – 12 cookies

Prep time: 20 minutes

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  • IMG_12502 tbs spelt flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 4 tbs poppy seeds
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dates (finely chopped)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3 heaping tbs orange zest (from two oranges)
  • juice of one medium orange
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cup uncooked thick rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, seeds, dates, vanilla, honey, orange juice + zest, cinamon, egg and chopped dates in bowl.

All my oranges are zested out

All my oranges are zested out

Melt the coconut oil in a separate bowl or in a saucepan. Stir in the oats until coated. Stir oat mixture into bowl of remaining ingredients  until combined. Then, drop one tablespoon of batter onto the cookie sheets for each cookie. Bake until golden, about 10-15 minutes. Remove and transfer onto a rack for cooling. The cookies should be crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle. Perfection. Eat within 3 hours of baking for the ultimate crunch and chew experience.

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Also …

When I travel, I always like to learn a recipe or two that reflect the local flavor. In Lisbon, one of the girls I was traveling with befriended a local who generously invited us to his apartment to cook a traditional Portuguese dinner. It was fun and educational, but Portuguese food is not really my thing. I’ll include the recipe below, but only with a disclaimer that it’s not something I would normally eat and probably not something I will make again.

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Portuguese Fish Stew

  • IMG_35491/3 c olive oil
  • 5 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 medium red peppers, chopped
  • dash of chili flakes or cayenne
  • 1/2 tsb pimiento (substitute paprika) powder
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 15 mussels, rinsed
  • 2 pounds fish filet cut into 1 inch chunks (we used cod)
  • 15 shrimp, peeled
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1⁄2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • fresh black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat and cook tomatoes, garlic, onions and spices until fragrant. Add fish, seafood, salt, rice, wine and water. Bring to boil and cover pot. Let simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until fish is cooked. Make sure to not over cook – rice should be al dente. Garnish with plenty of chopped cilantro, lemon juice and black pepper. Serve immediately…. with lots of wine.

A few images from Lisbon:

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If New Orleans and San Francisco had a child (or a parent?), it would be Lisbon.

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If I was dependent only on my sense of sight, I would be tricked by the colorful houses, sea-side geography, steep hills and small alleys into thinking that I was in San Fran. But the smells and sounds proved otherwise. The air, heavy with the scents of fish, after parties and mold reminded me of New Orleans. And the buildings, romantically dilapidated and covered in graffiti were also NOLA-esque.

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Most buildings in Lisbon are built from beautifully hand-painted tiles.


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Eating chocolate cake with the girls

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