♦ Debriefing

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Dear Shaina,

I know it sounded like I got you all wrong, but really, I didn’t. I am proud of your creative resourcefulness, in all matters. I am in awe of your comfort with your being by yourself, your ability to structure your time and accomplish what you set out to do without any prodding from anyone other than yourself…and then turn around and organize a social outing with a few close friends or 80 friends of friends because you’re ready for some fun. You seem to be able to manage what most of us still find very challenging…meeting our alone needs and our social needs without expecting someone else to do it for us. I am proud of you…and of me and Dad for providing the nurturance and opportunities that gave you the space to take your life wherever you chose. And you have chosen well. We are proud!

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My getting it wrong didn’t really have anything to do with you. Every mother has their own vision of the ideal mother they want to be and believe they can be. It doesn’t necessarily comply with the actuality of their mothering or the vision their children have of them. In truth, I never imagined myself as a working mother. My fantasy was that I would be the PTA organizing, cookie baking, field trip driving mom who was always there and never missed a mom-beat. Instead, I was an overbearing, impatient, overprotective worried mother who was pretty bored with the do-the-laundry-while-the-baby-is-taking-a-nap routine. I realized pretty early on that I needed to go to work for your sake and mine. I don’t regret my decision. It proved to help both of us grow into independent, productive and fun-loving women.10257145_10201836219616231_363673777101131976_n

That doesn’t mean that I am immune to the pangs of guilt that all working mothers have, especially when their children are home alone sick. The sticky remnants of our idealized mother-image gnaws at our hearts. If only I had been there…how much I missed not being there…how much I missed even when I was there… It’s never perfect and we keep wishing it were.

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Shaina, each time you come home from whatever far-away adventure you are currently on, I have the sense of meeting someone deeply familiar, yet subtly altered. You seem more settled and happy. The kind of happy that eases a mother’s mind. This Passover was one of our best ever…and not just because all the food was the best ever (even the gefilte fish). Your consistently gentle essence breezed in and drew us into late night talks, kitchen marathons and momentary peeks into the ever evolving world of Shaina. Being with you, shopping with you, debriefing our days (a new habit you picked up from a housemate…thank you thank you!), even cooking with you, was perfect!

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So Shaina, memory is selective and the timing of memories is especially altered. I remember the blue jello dreidles and the green poop and the witches games and the mud pies and all the mac n cheese you ate as a little girl. I remember. I was there. I remember the kitchen experiments when you got older, although more vaguely, because I wasn’t always there. The trashed kitchen memories were vivid as they awaited me when I did get there.

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Today, mother and daughter, we are here together creating new memories….memories that may supersede other memories in their poignancy, their pleasure and in their immediacy…or not. It’s been an incredible holiday and I can’t wait to do it again!

Love,
Mom
xoxooxoxxoxoxoxo

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Passover Sponge Cake

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Shaina, who knew that this was your all time favorite cake, Passover or not?! I have spent the last three years trying to perfect it. Not the recipe. That’s standard…the same cake Bubbe made every Passover since I have been conscious…the recipe on the back of the Manischewitz Potato Starch can. Every year Bubbe would exclaim at the height of her cakes…the higher the better…it has to do with the egg whites. I started making them the last couple years of her life as she sat in my kitchen directing my efforts. They didn’t come out as high as hers and invariably one would fall apart when I took it out of the pan and I would have to make another one, using the crumbled one for strawberry trifle (your Dad’s favorite). One year, I remember making three cakes before I finally got one to hold together…not that anyone was complaining.

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This year, another miracle of Passover occurred. I produced two fully intact, respectably high (although in my memory, Bubbe’s were higher) Passover sponge cakes. And you revealed that this was your favorite all time cake. Will wonders never cease?!

It turns out that this cake is also gluten-free and makes a perfect cake all year round for those gluten free people in your life. It makes delicious strawberry shortcake and goes well with homemade lemon curd (a recipe from a friend).

I guess I’ll be making a third sponge cake again this year for your birthday, Shaina…the day after Passover ends.

Manischewitz Passover Sponge Cake
(from the back of the Manischewitz Potato Starch Can)

  • 7 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup Manischewitz potato starch, sifted
  • dash of salt

Separate 6 of the eggs. Beat the six egg yolks and one whole egg until light and frothy. The key here is to use a regular stand mixer (not a hand-held) and really beat those eggs until they actual change color and become lighter.

Gradually add the sifted sugar and beat thoroughly. Continue beating while adding the lemon juice and zest ( I usually add a little more zest and juice than the recipe calls for up to two teaspoons of zest and two tablespoons of juice). Beat thoroughly together.

Gradually add the sifted potato starch, stirring constantly to ensure thorough blending.

Beat egg whites with salt until stiff but not dry. Fold gently but thoroughly into egg yolk mixture. The key here is to make sure there is not even a drop of egg yolk in the egg whites and that you use a separate clean bowl and beaters. I use a hand held for the white and always keep them far away from the yolk mixture when preparing this cake.

Place in and ungreased tube pan (I like the tube pans that have the detachable bottom). Bake in a 350° oven about 55 minutes or until cake springs back when touched gently with fingers. I bake this cake for 56 -58 minutes. The top should be brown but not burned and a little crusty.

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Invert pan and cool thoroughly before removing cake from pan.  Once you invert the pan (I use wine bottles), do not even attempt to remove the cake until it is absolutely stone cold. Use a sharp knife to go around the edges of the pan and the tube in the center of the pan.

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If the cake does happen to fall apart, it will still be delicious and no one will notice when you serve it layered in a trifle bowl with strawberries or lemon curd or both.

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Passover Potato Knishes

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Bubbe used to make special Passover Potato knishes that looked like round balls of potato with a glossy outside but no dough. They tasted a little liker the insides of her regulars potato knishes. I never bothered to get the recipe because there were always so many other things to make on Passover. This year I wanted to make a gluten free Passover appetizer and decided I would try to replicate at least the concept of a Passover Potato Knish. The don’t look or feel like my Mom’s but they were such a huge hit, I think Bubbe would be proud!

  • 2 pounds sweet yellow onions
  • oil for sautéing onions
  • 5 pounds red potatoes
  • Lots of salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 4 eggs*
  • oil for brushing tops

*Egg whites can be substituted for whole eggs. Use 2 egg whites for every egg called for. I usually do half and half.

 

Chop onions and sauté in olive or Canola oil until very browned and reduced. This step can be done ahead of time. When I have a big cooking event coming up, I will chop up a whole bag of onions and sauté them and put them in the fridge. As I am cooking over the next few days I have a ready supply of sautéed onions for any recipe that calls for them.
Boil whole potatoes in salted water until done.
Rinse in cold water and peel off skins while potatoes are still hot, but you are able to handle them. I usually skin them while rinsing them under the cold water.
Mash the potatoes, adding in 1/4 cup canola oil, sautéed onions to taste (the more the bettering our household) and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Lightly beat eggs and add to potato mixture, blending thoroughly.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Wet hands with water and spoon potato mixture into hands to form a golf-ball sized potato mound. Place potato balls onto baking sheet. brush tops of balls very lightly with a little oil.
If serving at a later time, bake at 375° for about 15- 20 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Let cool completely and remove with a spatula. Store in a sealed container separating the layers with waxed or parchment paper. they can be frozen. To reheat, return to baking sheets covered with parchment paper and reheat in a 375° oven until browned and crisp around the edges, about 15 minutes.
If serving immediately, bake in 375° oven for 25 minutes or until browned and slightly crisp.

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Passover Ideas From Both of Us

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Reunited at last! Mom and daughter are under the same roof for Passover — daughter is FREAKING OUT at the abundance behind the kitchen cabinet doors and mom is a little nervous about the havoc about to unfold. They both know that it will be delicious.

photo 3Some of you may be struggling to put together your Passover seder menus, especially if you’re hosting vegetarians. We don’t get it, but we’re happy help with ideas. Passover is our favorite food holiday – its restrictions inspire new techniques and flavors and neither of us are afraid. Mom’s biggest fear is deciding what not to make so we don’t end up with twenty different dishes that none of our seder guests recognize and can’t decide which to try.

This morning, mom and daughter went to yoga together. The instructor encouraged them to tap into their child-like imaginations because grown-ups often neglect their imaginative abilities in exchange for harsh reality. Daughter notes that she does not need to go to yoga to learn this and wonders about the status of her grown-up-ness. Mother notes her appreciation for the reminder.

Imagination. It’s really important for Passover food… for any food… for life. We have a lot of ideas for the upcoming days of redemption. From seder-table staples to luxurious vegan breakfasts, here are some of our Passover plans:

Daughter’s Passover to-concoct list:

  • Grilled zucchini quinoa with fresh dill and creamy avocado dressing
  • This rosemary almond olive oil cake
  • Spicy thai cucumber salad with toasted coconut
  • Cashew thai red curry
  • Fresh squeezed grape juice
  • Creamy amaranth breakfast porridge with coconut milk
  • Lots of big kale salads with tahini dressing muled in from Israel
  • Spicy Yemeni charozet from Dvora

Mom is sticking mostly to the tried and true classics.

Mom’s Passover classics:

Mom made her first (of many more to come) foray into the grocery store today to check out the options and pick up a few goods.  Neither Mom nor daughter shop by lists, often proving to be unpredictable, but exhilarating adventures.  Both Mom and daughter shop by sight, smell and touch, and of course, what’s on sale. It’s great fun, stimulates the imagination, and turns out overstuffed refrigerators, freezers and food pantries. Mom is also FREAKED OUT by the abundance of stuff in the cabinets waiting to be transformed into everything delicious!
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It’s time to get on with the cooking and Passover prep… We’ll be back soon with tales from the shared counters. Best of luck to all those hosting seders, we would love to hear about your menus and beyond!

 

– mom and daughter

… And in case your imagination needs some inspiration, below are some of our Passover-friendly favorites from the Recipe Index:

 

Mains:

Salads:

Soups:

Sides:

Sweets:

◊ Wrong Again

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Dear mom,

You got me all wrong.

My last letter was not about an isolated and sad childhood; it was the opposite. If you were anyone other than my mother, you would have read it as a gloating exultation rather than a series of grievances. I was boasting about my frequent practice with creativity and industrious nature, about finding comfort with being alone, about filling up on close friends. These things have carried me into “adulthood” or whatever.

I was often alone, but I never really struggled with loneliness. I learned how to cope. I chose to go to summer camp, to ready my trundle bed so that my bedroom could instantaneously flip into a hostel, to pick up the phone on the rare occasion when I was home alone. I feel proud about the aftermath of my only-childness, not sad. You should too.

Regarding your cluelessness, it would be weird if you knew everything about my life. Really weird, trust me. But you don’t remember me playing in the kitchen?

Naomi came from Haifa to Jerusalem last weekend and we ran the Jerusalem half-marathon and prepared for the Birmingham-in-Israel Shabbat dinner together. When we got home from dinner on Thursday night, we discussed what we’d do next. Go to a bar? No. Let’s bake.

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The only baking ingredients I had were weird grains — no butter, sugar or eggs in the fridge. But we got creative. I sliced eggplant for the star dish of the next evening’s meal and Naomi whipped together cookies made out of rye flour, yogurt, cinnamon, honey, oats, coconut oil and chopped figs. As we worked in the kitchen, we talked about how we used to go through your pantry and bake without recipes when we had nothing else to do. Surprise concoctions… it was a common activity for us. How do you not remember?

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Memory is a funny thing. You probably blocked out my invasion (destruction?) of your sacred kitchen space to keep your sanity. I don’t blame you. Do you at least remember the witches game I played with my cousins? We baked mud pies and brewed dirt potions until you caught us dragging sludge through the house. You furiously hosed us down like dogs and banned us from playing witches again — traumatic for both parties.

You’re absolutely right, the grass has brown spots on both sides … what to do but turn it into green ice cream?

I’ll be home for Passover in less than a week! I know it’s your kitchen and you can do whatever you want in it, but please have the gefilte fish situation under control. Thanks.

xo,

Shaina

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Your parents-of-Birmingham-in-Israel Shabbat dinner looked like a lot of fun and ours was too. I made my own version of this recipe from one of my favorite sites, Green Kitchen Stories. I veered from their Italian spices and went East, substituting freekeh (smoked green wheat, popular in Arab grain dishes) for bulgar and cumin for basil. The recipe seems like a lot of work, but I did it in stages so the final prep was quick. I made the stuffing and tomato sauce a week before and kept it in the freezer until I was ready to use it. I sliced and roasted the eggplant on Thursday night. On Friday, all I had to do was assemble and bake. The pictures certainly didn’t come out as nice as these, but it was still pretty. And it tasted delicious.

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IMG_2067Involtini di Melanzane … in the Middle East (adapted from Green Kitchen Stories)

  • 4 medium eggplants, thinly sliced (1 inch/2 cm)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Thinly slice the eggplant lengthwise and coat with a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the oven on 400 F until browned on the edges (be careful – these are very easy to burn and they will not roll nicely if they’re too crisp!). Remember that you will bake them again, so don’t worry about getting them a perfect golden brown.

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbs cumin seeds
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried chili
  • 2 tins canned tomatoes
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • a pinch of sea salt and black pepper

IMG_2008Heat the olive oil in a pan, add cumin seeds and stir until fragrant. Add onion, garlic and chili. Stir until onions are translucent and then add canned tomatoes, lemon, salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Stuffing

  • 1 1/2 cup of freekeh (precooked) – The original recipe calls for bulgar and notes that you can also use quinoa, cous cous or other grains
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/3 cup  pistachio nuts, finely chopped (save some for topping)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup goat feta cheese, crumbled (save some for topping)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 egg

Cook the freekeh according to the recipe on the box. Add remaining ingredients. Add the egg, use your hands to gently fold the ingredients together without mixing too much.

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Topping

  • 1/3 cup goat feta cheese, crumbled
  • a dash of olive oil
  • handful of fresh parsely, chopped
  • pistachio nuts, chopped or pulsed into a powder

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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush with oil. Preheat oven to 325 F. Lay the eggplant slices on the baking sheet and place two big spoonfuls of stuffing at the bottom of each. Roll the stuffing into the eggplant lengthwise away from you (this takes practice and patience!). Once they are all rolled and sitting next to each other, cover them with the tomato sauce. Bake for 30 minutes at 325 F. Remove from oven, sprinkle with goat cheese, and place back into oven for 12-15 minutes, until goat cheese is melted and browned. Remove from oven and let rest at least 15 minutes. Sprinkle with pistachio nuts, olive oil and chopped parsley before serving.

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I love that we coordinated some of our recipes to be the same in Birmingham and in Israel. Naomi made her famous carrot salad, which you enjoyed via Gail on the other side. I made my own version inspired by hers and one from 101cookbooks.com. The added chickpeas make it a bit hardier than Naomi’s just-carrot salad – it’s a perfect lunch on a busy school day.

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Chickpea and Carrot Salad

  • 1 tablespoon cumin power
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6-8 large carrots, shredded or sliced on a mandolin
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15- ounce can, drained and rinsed)
  • 2/3 cup chopped prunes, chopped apricots and/or raisins
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • A generous handful of candied pecans (you can make your own or purchase them), toasted almond slices, crushed walnuts and/or pumpkin seeds

 

Shred carrots into a large bowl, pour dressing over and let sit an hour or more to let flavors come together. Add toasted nuts before serving.

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