♦ Who Knew?!

Dear Shaina,

I wasn’t already feeling bad enough about inflicting only childhoodness on you …and then I find out, twenty-five years later, that I was a totally clueless parent! I had always thought of myself as a conscious and conscientious parent; someone who knew her child and tried to provide what her child needed, separate and distinct from my own needs…stop rolling your eyes. I tried. Obviously, I missed some things.

Who knew that you struggled with loneliness. It seemed that there were always kids around and activities planned and sleepovers at our house or someone else’s. You were gone for a month every summer at overnight camp living in a crowded cabin with 15 other girls. The rest of the summer was filled with day camps, swim team and friends. I know there were lonely moments. Clearly, you dealt with them creatively.

Who knew that you had a phone glued to your ear laying alone in your sick bed (Oy! Stab me in the heart!). You never answered the phone at home and barely talked on it (at least when we were around). I know I didn’t leave you home alone sick as a small child. Bubbe would have killed me. You clearly had to have reached some age of maturity to have been able to identify with the Golden Girls. You couldn’t have been that sick or I would not have left you at any age.

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And the only thing I ever saw you make in the kitchen was an egg sandwich! I just really had no idea how much creativity was going on right under my nose. I am afraid to ask what else I don’t know. I am not sure how all of this relates to only-childhoodness, but at least if I had had a few kids, I would have an excuse for my cluelessness.

When I was young, my imaginary “when-I-grow-up” life included lots of children, a white picket fence with a backyard and a stay-at-home mom, not unlike my own childhood. Life doesn’t always pan out the way we expected it to. Sometimes the things we think we want, don’t make us feel the way we thought they would.  I never would have survived as a stay-at-home mom…and you probably wouldn’t have either.  Although being an only child has its challenges and burdens (I promise to clean out this house before I die), the reality is that the grass has brown spots on both sides of the fence…for parent and child. I am continually in awe of all the beautiful green grass you have so creatively grown and nurtured on the side of the fence that you got thrown into. And your friend, Hannah, hasn’t done such a bad job either!

Shabbat was great! The pics...not so much.

Shabbat was great! The pics…not so much.

In the meantime, thanks for suggesting that I host a concurrent Bham/Israel Shabbat dinner. It turned out to be great fun and an idea worth repeating. We hosted the Birmingham parents who have children living in Israel while you hosted their kids eight hours earlier in Jerusalem. There were a few parents and kids missing at both of our tables, so we’ll have to plan a repeat. I apologize for the fuzzy pictures.

What a Fun Group! Forgive the pics.

What a Fun Group! Forgive the pics.

The food and drink were amazing thanks to everyone’s efforts. We had matzah ball soup, roasted Eggplant, classic Israeli salad, carrot salad, kale/vegetable salad and Challah and wine, of course.

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I made hummus with the tahini I brought home from Israel, your zesty herbed rice salad with dried cut-up figs instead of raisins, roasted green beans and chicken piccata with mushrooms and capers. Dessert was lemon pound cake, cherry hamantaschen (still some in the freezer waiting for you), and Naomi’s famous chocolate streusel bars. It was the perfect collaborative feast and a very special Shabbat for all of us!

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Now on to Passover. I just ordered my fish. I am hoping to perfect my gefilte fish this year. And when exactly will you be arriving in Birmingham  (speaking of being clueless)? I am always the last to know!

Safe travels and I can’t wait to see you…whenever it is!!

Love,
Mom

xooxoxooxoxxoxoxoxoo

 

Let’s begin with Dessert!
Naomi’s Favorite Chocolate Streusel Bars

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Every time Gail or Naomi (when she’s here) make these, people inhale them (even non-chocolate lovers) and want to know the recipe. Here it is…

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Cocoa
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can(14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
  • 2 cups(12-oz. pkg.) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, divided
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts

Directions
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 13x9x2-inch baking pan.
2. Stir together flour, sugar and cocoa in large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg; mix well. Set aside 1-1/2 cups mixture. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared pan.
3. Bake 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in medium microwave-safe bowl, place sweetened condensed milk and 1 cup chocolate chips; stir. Microwave at MEDIUM (50%) 1 to 1-1/2 minutes or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred; pour over crust. Add nuts and remaining chips to reserved crumb mixture. Sprinkle over top.
4. Bake an additional 25 to 30 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 24 to 36 bars.

 

For the non-vegetarians 

Easy Chicken Piccata for a Crowd

Makes enough for 12-14 plus leftovers

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  • 6-7 whole skinless and boneless chicken breasts (2 chicken breast halves per whole breast)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour *
  • 1 tsp each dried tarragon, parsley and basil
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1 pound mushrooms sliced
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 – 1 1/4 cup white wine like sauvignon blanc (not sweet wine)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup chicken broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup capers
  • Fresh parsley
  • Lemon slices for garnish if desired

*Matza meal or potato starch can be substituted for Passover, Potato or corn starch can be used to make this dish Gluten Free.

This recipe can be partially prepared ahead of time to minimize mess and preparation time on the day you will be serving it.

Day One
Place chicken breasts, one or two at a time, between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with the non-tenderizing side of a mallet into cutlets about a 1/4 inch thin or a little thicker if you prefer. Depending on the size of the breast, after pounding it down, you can cut it into serving size pieces. Lightly salt and pepper the chicken and set aside.

Mix the flour with the dried herbs in a shallow bowl.

Heat a large sauté pan and pour a little oil and some of the garlic into the pan. Sauté the garlic lightly. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture and sauté for 1-2 minutes on each side in the oil and garlic. Set aside the lightly browned chicken in a dish that can be covered and stored in the refrigerator. Add more oil and garlic as needed to finish sautéing all the chicken. Once you have sautéed all the chicken, cover and refrigerate.

Place the sliced mushrooms in the same sauté pan that you used for the chicken. Add oil if needed and sauté until mushrooms are cooked through, but not overdone. There should be juices from the mushrooms and deglazed chicken remnants in the pan. Remove mushrooms and all liquid from the pan and store in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Squeeze fresh lemons to make about 2/3 cup of lemon juice and refrigerate in a covered container.

Day Two

IMG_3374About an hour before serving time, take chicken, mushrooms and lemon juice out of the refrigerator. Wash and chop the parsley and thinly slice a lemon if using for garnish.

Using a large sauté pan or two pans, place chicken in the pan. Add mushrooms with juices, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 3/4 cup wine and cook over medium heat. As the sauce thickens, add 1/2 cup chicken broth. Add more as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings (garlic, salt and pepper) and lemon juice, wine and broth to taste.

Cook until chicken is browned and cooked through and all flavors are well-blended. This could take 20 – 40 minutes depending on how much chicken is in the pan. Toss in capers. Serve immediately or keep warm until serving time.

Garnish with thin slices of fresh lemon and chopped parsley.

I made mine in a large (16”) electric frying pan that I was able to use as a serving dish while keeping the chicken warm. Serve with green beans roasted with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

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◊ Not Green Ice Cream

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Dear Hannah,

I see two major pros of our only-child childhood 1.) our creativity got a great workout and 2.) being alone equipped us with a big bag of tools to combat loneliness. Yes, I remember  trying to convince you that the green icy mass of milk, green jello, sugar and blueberries was delicious. It kind of was.

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I found the “ice cream” recipe in a DIY book and put it at the top of our list of summer-things-to-do: egg-white face-masks over the phone, day-long wanderings at outdoor shopping centers, pretending to be mermaids from 8AM – 7PM at the JCC pool. And our Golden Girls marathon days… 8 hours straight of watching Blanch (you), Rose (me) and the crazy Italian grandma (Natalya) together from our respective homes over the phone. The first time I was home alone and sick, you were also home from school and sick. I think we both had the phone to our ears the whole day, watching TV or sulking in sick silence. This is how only children cope.

Today, we make pickles togethers. We cope once again. In your words: with very few constants in my life these days, problem solving through food with you is a familiar comfort. Our project fills a need beyond comfort. It’s a hobby to busy my hands and silence my thoughts when my brain is on mid-20s what-is-this-life overdrive; motivation to try something new; and an excuse to hash it all out with the person who knows me just as well/maybe more than I know myself.

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Green ice cream primed us to dive head-first into the unfamiliarity of fermentation and the strange spices of Bangalore and Jerusalem (you win on the strangeness scale). May the good bacteria of our pickles multiply like our co-spirited weird and crazy adventures! Amen.

xo,

Shaina

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Mixed Pickles

  • 4 tablespoons sea salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup chopped cauliflower chunks
  • 1/2 cup carrot slices
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper chunks or slices
  • 1 jalepeno, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

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Stir salt into water until dissolved. Clean jar (wipe with vinegar for extra sterilization). Layer vegetables, garlic and spices in jar and then add saltwater mixture. Cover the jar tightly and let it brew at room temperature for at least one week. When the fermentation is to your taste, put in the fridge.

 

GUEST POST from a friend

(Dear mom – Thanks for your votes of confidence and love. Meh. Our whole collection of back-and-forths is starting to sound the same to me. I’m just too hungover today because it’s Purim so I can’t deal.  But Hannah wrote a beautiful guest post for us from India. We’ve been making pickles together. xo, Shaina)

Purim at Machane Yehuda. This is where I buy my vegetables.

Purim at Machane Yehuda. This is where I buy my vegetables.

 

Saved by the Hannster:

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Dear Shaina,

You were the only 11 year old I knew who slept until noon, and I was impatient to begin our daily projects.  The only children of working parents, our summer days before we could drive were spent doing arts and crafts and cooking together….over the phone.  Finally awake, you’d call me with instructions or a recipe. I followed your every word, including when you told me I could easily substitute sugar free lime Jello mix for gelatin in a recipe.  The resultant frozen green mass with blueberries peaking out through the ice should have been evidence enough that our tele-projects weren’t the most successful, but we continued nonetheless.

With an ocean and several time zones between us, our experimental cooking projects continue, and for that I am grateful.  With very few constants in my life these days, problem solving through food with you is a familiar comfort. I’ve been lucky enough to get to see you in almost every country we’ve each lived, but our intercontinental projects have provided a wonderful bridge between visits.  For the most part, I still take my experimental cues from you…your crazy ingredients, strange dietary restrictions, and yearly cleanses. But, I’m proud to say this culinary idea was mine…..PICKLES! I knew you’d be into it. Homemade probiotics has your name all over it!

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Pickling is deceptively easy, involving nothing more than water, salt, spices and time. I was determined to make something fitting of my Indian context yet reminiscent of the super sour pickles my grandfather loved. So, I pulled out my beloved Indian spices and got to work. The longer these pickles sit, the more saliva inducing sourness you’ll get, so mine have been fermenting for more than 2 weeks and they are still going! I’d been experimenting with pickling for a while before meeting you in Jerusalem this winter. I love pickles that bring the taste buds to attention, but its slim pickings on the sour pickle front in Bangalore and so I’d been trying my own.

One conversation while strolling the empty Jerusalem streets one Shabbat, and our long-distance cooking projects were back in full swing. I came back to India full of inspiration and happy to have my partner in crime back at my (virtual) side.

Glad our friendship has preserved itself as well as these pickles!!!!!

xoxoxoxoxox

Hannah

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Spiced Beet and Onion Pickle

  • 3 tablespoons sea salt, pickling slat, or kosher salt,
  • 1 quart water
  • 3 medium or two large beets peeled and chopped to whatever size you want your pickle to be
  • 1 large red onion roughly chopped
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ piece of ginger chopped (optional)

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Combine salt and water and stir until the salt is dissolved. Heating the water can speed up the process, but you will have to wait for the water to cool before making the pickles.  I’m impatient, so I generally just stir and it works just fine.  Next, place the remaining ingredients in a clean jar (1/2 gallon jar works best) and pour the (cooled) salt water over the vegetables, making sure the vegetables are covered but leaving at least 1 inch of empty space at the top of the jar.  You can place a small bowl inside the jar, the keep the vegetables completely submerged in the water, but this totally optional.  Cover the jar tightly and let it stand at room temperature, away from direct light.  Open the jar everyday to release the gases formed during fermentation and taste the pickle.  Be careful when opening the jar because the brine will have turned deep purple, thanks to the beets, and those stains WILL NOT come out!! If any mold or film develops on the surface of the water, simply skim it off with a spoon.  When the pickles are sour enough for your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator where they will keep for months.

 

♦ NO, What?!

Dear Shaina,

No, What?!

It does seem that thou protesteth a wee bit much.

I do not hold you responsible for your only-child status.  Nor do I hold you culpable for my mother-worry (something that even mothers of multiples have). And who ever asked you to tailor (nice Zayde metaphor) any of your needs or actions to my neuroses?!  Putting you back in the womb?!…you have spent less time in the womb (literally and metaphorically) than almost any kid I know, including Abe’s.

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So, NO, WHAT?!

No, you won’t stop traveling around the world or wherever! I don’t expect you to.

No, you won’t stop experiencing your life to the fullest! I hope not.

No, you won’t live your life for me! Who asked you to?

No, you won’t stop running 10 miles a day…so your feet will hurt!

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Despite my mother-angst and neuroses, I have spent much of my parenting consciousness focused on mitigating the burdens of your only-childness…from play-group to sleep-away camp, from staying out of your classrooms to encouraging you to make your own decisions about schools, coursework, career, travel, friends…just about everything. Dad and I both understood the importance of you finding and being your own person…and supported you in that process and its outcome. Personally, I think we did a damn good job (maybe too good a job)!

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I am sorry that you bear this burden, but I also know that even if you had 5 brothers and sisters, the challenges of finding your own life burdened by fulfilling your fantasy of your parents wishes and dreams would still be there. My own parents, your Bubbe and Zayde, wanted only one thing from us…for us to be happy…the ultimate in a catch-22 parental demand/burden/expectation. If you defy them, you suffer; if you comply, they win…but so do you.  That takes a while to learn. It is my only wish for you, also.

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I recognize your separateness from me and mine from you. My feelings are my own and not intended to impose expectations on you.  That is your problem to deal with (although you seem to be dealing with it just fine). I accept fully who you are and who you are continually becoming.  My mother-love is bursting with pride and I am, with some objectivity, in awe of all your accomplishments, your daring, your zest for life and your skills in managing the hurdles of growing up and staying alive. If there ever were expectations, you have exceeded them all…so get over it.

And now that your SHAINA sign (from your Bat Mitzvah) has fallen off your bedroom door, it may be time for you to clean out that childhood shelter of protection and fantasy.

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That doesn’t mean I won’t always being praying for your health, happiness, safety and mazel. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t be hoping that, one day, I will see one of those eggs (which I absolutely know are your own) come to fruition. No pressure.

I couldn’t love you more…just the way you are.

Love,

Mom

xoxooxoxxoxoxoxoxoox

Crustless Quiche Appetizer

After all of our recent discussions, I thought I might send a blander recipe to settle things down a bit.  It still has lots of flavor, but could be spiced up if you want.

I made this dish for an event I was going to.  I needed something dairy or veggie that would yield a lot of pick-up bite-sized snacks that could be served at room temperature. This worked out perfectly!  It can also be made in a more traditional quiche dish and served hot or made in individual mini muffin trays (although that seems like a lot more work).

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To adapt for Passover, leave out the flour and you could add a little matzoh meal.  If you leave out both, it becomes gluten free.

Preheat Oven to 350°

  • 1 pound chopped spinach, fresh (sautéed) or frozen, drained
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms, sautéed
  • 1 large or two small onions, chopped and sautéed
  • ~ 1 cup cheddar and 1 cup jarlsburg cheese, grated and mixed together
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 6 eggs, slightly beaten
  • Scant 1/2 cup flour
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon fresh
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese for topping

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Reserve 3/4 cup of the cheddar/Jarlsburg cheese mixture for the topping and set aside.

Place spinach, mushrooms, onions and cheddar/Jarlsburg cheese in a large bowl and mix together.

Combine milk, cream, cottage cheese, slightly beaten eggs, flour and spices in a bowl and mix together.

Add the milk/cream mixture to the vegetable/cheese mixture and mix thoroughly.

Lightly spray bottom and sides of a 9” x 13” glass baking dish with a non-stick cooking spray.

Pour quiche mixture into the baking dish.

Mix parmesan cheese with remaining cheddar/Jarlsburg mixture and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

Bake at 350° for 40 – 50 minutes or until top browns slightly and casserole is set.

Casserole may be undercooked and frozen for later use. Defrost and allow to come to room temperature and finish baking in the oven at 350°.

Cut into 1″ squares for pick-up appetizers.

◊ No

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Dear mom,

Is it insensitive to say it’s your own damn fault?

We only-children have a lot of psychological barriers to conquer. The most important one for me is recognizing that having all of your eggs in one basket is not my problem. I’ve got my own eggs to carry  (totally NOT in a reproductive sense  – keep dreaming).

Plus… kids drop out of school, do drugs and things with strangers, try heroine. I board airplanes and buses. Should we start the would-you-rather-I game?

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Asking me to tailor my needs, ambitions and desires to curb your delusional neuroses is  the opposite of promoting psychological well-being. And it’s rude. As your brother Abe says, stop putting me back in the womb.

AND.

Irrational fears. Your heart is eased when you see that I’ve been with family. Statistically, this is when you should be MOST afraid. The only times I’m in a car is when I’m with family… There’s a much higher risk of danger as a passenger on a highway anywhere than receiving a body-scrub at an all-female spa in Ramallah. Just saying.

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Don’t worry no cars were involved when Naomi and I hosted family for Shabbat. It was very safe :).

Alas, the psychoanalytical intuition I inherited from you and dad forces me to question my curtness in this letter. There’s a reason — an admission that I’m embarrassed to share: I’m still in the process of convincing myself that my eggs (ieech I hate this metaphor) are my own.  What does this process look like? A 19 year old in Uganda by herself; bare shoulders and midriff smack-dab in the middle of 100,000 ultra-orthodox men protesting; a Jew in Ramallah; a not-nice letter from daughter to mother. This is the manifestation of my only-child syndrome. 

(All that insight without therapy! I deserve a cookie… good thing there are hamantaschen in the freezer.)

I do what I want.

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There are so many other forces (such as personal values) that drive me to do what I want, but I also need to know my eggs are mine. To reemphasize: I’m going to keep doing my darndest NOT to remember that all of your eggs are in one basket. Sorry I’m not sorry ok I am sorry clearly not sorry enough.

xo,

Shaina

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I’m eager to start prepping for our Birmingham-in-Israel Shabbat cross-continental Shabbats even though it’s weeks away. I’ve already started to plan a menu so I’ll share two recipes that I’ll definitely include at the table. You can make both or either for your guests, though you’ll probably only make the first, Mujadra. You may hold off on the second recipe because I feel like grown-ups don’t eat vegan cookies.

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Mejadra is a  Middle Eastern dish that Arabs and Israelis share. It’s economical, healthy, quick, tasty and found on almost every Middle Eastern menu. I make it all the time – the flavors blend well with most foods I eat here – tahini, crisp persian cucumbers, labneh, hummus blablabla. In the version below, it’s made with wild rice instead of traditional basmati. I’ve also thrown in a cup or two of quinoa to mix things up. This is the kind of dish that’s always a hit with guests.

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Wild Rice Mujadra

  • 1 tsp olive oilIMG_1343
  • 4 white onions, chopped
  • 5-8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 2/3 cup brown or green lentils
  • 1 2/3 cup wild rice
  • 4 cups water
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • handful of parsley, chopped

Heat olive oil in pan and add onion and garlic. Sautee until onions are brown. Add spices and stir until fragrant. Add lentils and rice and stir for 2 – 5 minutes. Add water and bring to boil. Simmer for 20 – 30 minutes until lentils are tender. Garnish with parsley. Serve as a side dish to meet or veggies, dollop with yogurt and chopped cucumbers, top it with a fried egg.

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About my previous idea that grown-ups don’t eat vegan cookies. I don’t know. I have an idea in my head that my demographic is the only one that doesn’t have an activity more satisfying than constructing bulk fiberous, nutrient-dense ingredients into something delicious. We work stupid jobs or do meaningless homework and “fun” is sitting at a bar trying to connect with dumb boys. We’re all trying to build something new and unique and great and sometimes the only place that happens is in the kitchen… at least it’s a start? Who avoids butter when they have careers and kids and cars and stuff? Maybe it’s just in my head.

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Anyway: these cookies are loaded with all sorts of chocolate and weird grains. It did the trick this time – I created something great and unique foreal.

Triple Dark Chocolate Rye (Vegan, Wheat-Free) Cookies

  • 0.75 oz good dark chocolate (about half a chocolate bar)
  • 1 1/2 c rye fl
  • 1 c rolled oats
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 c dark, vegan cocoa powder (I use Ghiradeli)
  • 2/3 c dark chocolate chips (I use Ghiradeli)
  • 4 tbs coconut oil
  • 4 oz full fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c sugar

Preheat over to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Shred or take a hammer to a good chocolate bar (I did the latter) to break it into small pieces.

Taking a hammer to chocolate = satisfaction

Taking a hammer to chocolate = satisfaction

Mix with remaining dry ingredients. Set aside. In a separate bowl, add coconut milk, oil, chocolate chips and vanilla. Heat in microwave or over stove just until chocolate is melted (about 45 seconds). Be careful not to burn chocolate! Stir to combine ingredients and then add sugar. Before it cools completely, mix with dry ingredients.

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Scoop 1 tbs full of cookie dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet. The cookies do not expand much, but be sure to leave about one inch of space in between them just in case. Bake for 12 – 18 minutes and allow to cool. Serve with a full glass of cold soy milk (ew just kidding). I don’t what vegans drink with their chocolate cookies.

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To emphasize the message of my letter, here’s what I did this week:

IMG_4146 2I prayed with Women of the Wall on Rosh Chodesh with women who desire to express their Judaism out loud at the Kotel.

IMG_4181I went to Ramallah on a girls spa trip and saw what a ballagan check-points can be

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I ventured to the city center to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of religious men protesting the government’s mandatory military draft

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♦ One Egg, One Basket

Dear Shaina,

My heart is always eased a little when I see that you have been with family…both our blood relatives as well as the family we have created over the years. Knowing that you seek out the blessings of family…where love and connections are the undercurrent of everything, where life’s milestones are celebrated and traditions are transcended and where food and kitchen secrets are shared…is a comfort to me. Most of all, I am comforted to see you safe and surrounded by love and friendship.

Never too old to learn how to do something new with a grape tomato!

Never too old to learn how to do something new with a grape tomato!

My comfort was short-lived when I heard about your day trip to Ramallah.  I am all for a girl’s day out at the spa…but Ramallah?! You tell me it’s safe.  Everyone else tells me, you are out of your mind!  I remind myself that you are responsible (most of the time), you are not really a wild risk taker (calculated risks only, I pray) and that you have traveled the world and survived (pooh, pooh, pooh!). I still get scared. I know that your life is beyond my control and I pray fervently, everyday, for your safety, your health, your well-being, your happiness…and a strong dose of mazel.  Prayer is a pretty flimsy substitute for control, but it’s all I have and I’m counting on it.  But just in case, would you mind just being a little more cautious with your life…for my sake (and your father’s)?! I am counting the days until you get home for Passover. I am only truly at ease when you are right under my nose.

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I am working on planning our concurrent Birmingham/Israel Shabbat dinner….Birmingham parents with kids living in Israel sharing Shabbat here while their kids share Shabbat in Jerusalem. It’s a great idea…now let’s see if we can pull it off. You need to let me know what’s on your menu so I can introduce the parents to a taste of what their kids might have eaten at your house eight hours earlier.

Dad is on a ski trip with the boys and has chosen yoga over skiing as his sport of choice on this trip. Along with his drum sticks and practice pad, I am certain he will entertain himself and get an adequate workout. I feel like I am a yoga evangelist. I am glad to hear that you are now enjoying your new yoga class. Now if you can only learn to spare your poor feet a little…a ten and a half mile run…no wonder your feet hurt!

A whole lot of avoidance!

A whole lot of avoidance!

I have been working on taxes (my annual descent into receipt madness) and baking (my go-to avoidance activity) hamentaschen for Purim. I made over 250…half for the Chesed Committee at temple and the rest to enjoy and give away.  Dad’s favorite is cherry, even though I made some chocolate-peanut butter chip-caramel just for him. There will be a few waiting for you in the freezer to enjoy before we begin our Passover cook-a-thon.

Please take care of yourself…remember all my eggs (and I only have one) are in one basket…and you are the primary bearer and caretaker of that basket!

Love,

Mom
xoxoxoxoxooxooxox

Bubbe’s Hamantaschen Revisited
Dairy or Pareve

Yield: about 40 to 60 depending on how large and thick you make them

Prep time: 2 -4 hours (includes chilling, rolling and baking)

Cooking time: 14-16 minutes per batch

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  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter (1stick), shortening or pareve margarine
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 full cups unbleached all purpose flour plus more flour for kneading and rolling dough
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Filling

  • 3 cups of filling or 2 twelve-ounce cans of prepared filling or jam

Options: poppy seed, cherry, strawberry, chocolate chips, prune, raisin and nuts, almond filling or your favorite jam.

Make your own: combine fruit (prunes and raisins work well) with a little orange juice and sugar and cinnamon to taste and cook over low heat until thickened.  Nuts may be added.  Be creative!

Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Cream the sugar and butter in a large bowl. Add the vegetable oil and eggs and beat until blended. Add orange juice, zest and vanilla and mix together.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl and mix together.

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Mix dry ingredients into the large bowl with wet ingredients.  Knead dough into a ball. Divide into 4 balls of dough and wrap in clear plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Dough may be kept in the refrigerator for a week or may be frozen for up to a month for later use.

Preheat oven to 350°

Work with one ball of dough at a time, keeping remaining dough refrigerated. Roll out dough on floured surface to ⅛ inch thickness.  Cut in 2 ½  to 3 ½ inch circles (the metal lid band from a wide-mouth canning jar or the jar itself make the perfect size cookie cutters). Put a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle. Pinch the sides and top together to make a triangle shape. You can use a smaller glass or circle cookie cutter and less filling for smaller hamantaschen.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 14 to 16 minutes until edges are lightly browned.

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Chinese Brisket Chili

I am not really a meat chili person, but this was so intriguing that I had to try it and it was delicious! Not to mention that it turned out to be the perfect thing for those weird cold days we had this winter.  You will probably never make this dish, but some of your meat eating friends might want the recipe anyway.  This dish made me fantasize about having a chili party next winter…White Chili made with chicken, Chinese Chili made with brisket and our family classic…Vegetarian Chili made with tofu.  It’s a thought….

This recipe is adapted from one Dad found in the newspaper…of course I had to add a few of my own touches. It makes enough to feed a crowd!

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  • 3 pounds lean brisket
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce, more to taste
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 – 3 large onions, chopped
  • 12 – 16 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 – 4 carrots chopped or sliced
  • 2 green or red peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1 habanero or other hot fresh chile (to taste), seeded and chopped
  • 6-8 cloves fresh garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1 3” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons five-spice powder
  • 16 ounces of beer
  • 2 cans or boxes of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar

Chopped cilantro for garnish

Start with a 8-10 quart dutch oven or soup pot.  Trim the fat off the brisket reserving a small piece (about 2 tablespoons) of fat. Throw any remaining fat away. Lightly brown the reserved fat on medium-high heat in the dutch oven to slick the bottom (this piece of fat can be discarded after being browned). Cut the trimmed brisket into 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch cubes. Add the chunks of brisket to the pot and cook until the meat loses its redness.  Transfer the seared meat and juices to a bowl and toss with soy sauce and hoisin sauce and let stand while preparing the vegetables.

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Reduce heat to low and add onions and mushrooms to the Dutch oven.  Sauté until soft.  Add carrots and peppers and continue cooking.  Garlic, ginger and hot peppers can be finely chopped together in a food processor and added to the vegetables. Add spices and beer and bring to a simmer.  Add tomatoes.  Add meat with marinade and juices. Cover and simmer until meat is tender and flavors are well blended. This could take 3 hours and tastes even better the next day.

Stir in vinegar and adjust seasonings with soy sauce and salt.

Garnish with cilantro and serve with black beans and brown basmati rice.

This dish gets better the longer it cooks and can be made a few days ahead of time.  It also freezes well.