◊ Chopping Vegetables Is Not Enough

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Dear mom,

Chopping vegetables is not enough. This is what I came to in a moment of self-realization while studying for my Arabic exam. And also that I need to work on my stress-management.

Here’s what happened:

Jessica and I went for a study-break walk. She asked me if I was excited about starting new grad school next year.  My Yes was wobbly. 

Actually, I’m really nervous, I admitted. Like, right now I’m nervous about exams and I’m nervous about finding a new place to live when we get kicked out of our apartment, but the thought of school next year hits the nerves at my core.

Why?

Because it is everything. 

Two years ago, I was on the path to social work like every other woman in my family.* Then  I decided to take a risk – to do something different. Thanks to you and dad (thank you thank you thank you thank you), I can do whatever I want to do. 

Now, I’m at the cusp of a dream and I see two possibilities: Picasso and a homeless guy sketching tourists on the side-walk. Failure and success. I already feel homeless about to walk into a museum. It’s messed up. There is a balance between the two, I know.

I’m nervous I won’t recognize it.

After my walk with Jessica, I sat down with study gear feeling completely overwhelmed – gritting my teeth over case endings, sweating over verbal forms. I told myself that in 3 hours I’d take a kitchen break to deal with the freezer full of nuts and flours I needed to finish before moving out of the apartment. I couldn’t wait to numb my mind over a chopping board and mixing bowl. 

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I looked at my Arabic worksheets and thought, why

I love being in the kitchen – I can chop vegetables with a wide smile on my face for hours. I don’t need Arabic; I need to chop vegetables.

Again, Why?

It’s a meditation. I don’t think, I just chop. I move, I mix, I create. My brain is relaxed.

But it’s not enough. I want to do work that fulfills my desire to make a positive impact on the world. I want to learn about people and their worlds and show those worlds to more and more people. I want to explore. But this often gives me stomachaches. 

What if I could sustain my brain relaxation in everything I do?

Thus, my realization:

I need to bring the same attitude with which I approach chopping vegetables to the fulfilling work that I love to do. I will smile at my lists of Arabic vocab; I will not grit my teeth as I write my Islamic Law essay; I will not sweat (but I probably will) over Sufi elements of Persian Art. And when I start classes next fall, I will not try to be Picasso nor will I fear being homeless.

 I think this is called stress-management.

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In the kitchen, if bread doesn’t rise, I repurpose it into crackers; if vegetables are too spicy, I stir in yogurt to cool them down; if a grain bowl is too salty, I add more rice and water. My love for the kitchen isn’t about eating food, it’s about preparing it. It’s about problem-solving, creativity and building things with my own hands all with a relaxed mind and body. 

In the next phase of my professional life, I want a brain like I’m in the kitchen. It’s a long-shot — I’m clenching my jaw just thinking about course registration — but slowly slowly shwai shwai I hope to make do. I don’t want to get stuck chopping vegetables to stay sane. It is not enough for me.

xo,

Shaina

*To the women in my family – the social workers and teachers who do amazing things for the world every day – I dream of having a career as fulfilling as yours.

Warning: the recipes below involve lots and lots of chopping, mixing, grating, mashing and kneading. I really needed it this week.

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Seedy Carrot Rye Loaf

  • 1 packet of active dry yeast
  • 1½ cups warm water
  • 1 tsp honey (optional)
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 4 medium carrots, grated
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, crushed
  • 1/3 cup poppy seeds
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 cup spelt (or wheat) flour

 

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Dissolve yeast in warm water and add all ingredients except for flour. Add flour slowly, kneading the dough. If it needs more flour, add little by little. Spread into two 8 inch tins.

Cover tins with cloth or towel for at least 60 minutes and allow to rise. Mine didn’t do such a good job of rising, but it still turned out ok.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes.

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Smear with butter, tahini or your favorite something. Pop it in the toaster and make an open faced sandwich. Serve as breadsticks next to salad. Treat yourself luxuriously and top it with whole milk yogurt.

 

Hearty Banana-Date-Tahini Cake (Dairy-Free and No-Added Sugar):

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oats,
  • 1 1/2 cup rye flour or spelt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeded (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
  • 15 pitted dates, mashed into date paste
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted (or other light tasting oil)
  • 4 tbs tahini
  • 3 medium very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 4 eggs (or 2 eggs and 3 egg whites)
  • Optional fold-in’s:
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate pieces 
  • 2 ripe bananas, cut into chunks
  • 7-10 pitted dates, chopped
  • handful of walnuts, chopped

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Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F and grease an 8 inch dish or pan. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients.  In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Stir until combined and fold in banana chunks, choco chunks, dates, nuts or whatever you choose.

Spread into pan and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350F or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool.

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♦ Comings and Goings

Dear Shaina,

Please let Naomi know how much I enjoyed her guest post. Bubbe would be so proud! Bubbe’s immortality is clearly evident in both of you. Sharing the gifts of food, family and fun wrapped in love are surely the path to immortality for all of us.

Speaking of fun (again), Shaina, certainly you know that it’s not the quality of alcohol, nor the quantity, that makes the fun! Fun is in your DNA. It’s about your spirit and desire to taste the many flavors of experience that life has to offer. It is about the ability to enjoy what is pleasurable and to endure what is challenging and to not run from either. You have mastered that ability so well that you have a tendency to gorge on the massive array of offerings at life’s all-inclusive buffet.

I know you’re exhausted. You set yourself up for an all-the-time, on-the-go, pressure-packed last few months in Israel. I am not surprised by any of it. I have to remind myself not to worry. I know that you will manage it, as you always do. You will let go of those things that matter less. You will successfully accomplish your goals and you will be sad to leave it all. After a brief break in the home-nest, you will regain your equilibrium, go off to Berkeley and start all over again. We all have our coming and going and being patterns. I am impressed that you recognize them at such a young age. I look forward to the day when you are in one place for more than one year. Maybe even long enough for us to gather all your stuff currently scattered from coast to coast and deliver it to a place that you might consider home, for at least awhile.

Cleaning Out

Cleaning Out

Your pictures from Israel are beautiful and comforting to me. They provide a small window into your life so far away. They are reassuring, affirming and ease my worry a bit. I am cleaning out our bedroom in preparation for our master bath renovation (it begins Monday!) and encountering mountains of old pictures. It’s getting easier to get rid of clothes and stuff than I ever thought imaginable.

The Many Faces of Shaina

The Many Faces of Shaina

But the pictures have a deep hold on me…and there are so many of them. There is nothing in my life that is so tangible and yet inextricably intertwined with intangible feelings and memories than these pictures. It feels sacrilegious to throw any picture away. They warm my heart with joy and love and raise new doubts and questions. Was I a good mother? Did I neglect my family? Do you ever really know what’s going on behind a smiling face? I found high school pictures of me and baby pictures of you. How can so many picture-years accumulate in such a short time? I can’t let them go. So back into the boxes. Someday, they’ll be your problem.

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Despite your stress, you seem happy and healthy and very active. I hope your final papers and exam cramming will slow you down in these last months. I seem to worry less when you move more slowly. Slower is always better for enjoying the moment and keeping you from smashing into boulders. I hope Naomi’s head is healed and that she is moving at a more moderate pace also. I am sending prayers and angels to watch over your every move especially on those across-the-country hikes and jogging escapades.

Love,
Mom
xooxoxoxoxoxooxoxo

P.S. Thanks for getting Dad a Fitbit. After years of trying to get him to go for a walk with me, now he’s asking me to go for a walk with him because he hasn’t met his Fitbit goal. It’s amazing how an inanimate digital object can so quickly and easily direct a human being’s habits. I am reminded of the tamagotchi of your childhood.

 

Almond Fig Fruit and Nut Bars
Any kind of fruit…any kind of nut!

I was cleaning out the freezers and came upon some frozen fresh figs which had been there for longer than I care to recall. I remember your dad picking them and how delicious they were fresh off the tree. I decided to defrost them and cook them and see if I could make something out of them. Once I started, there was no stopping me. I found leftover bits of weird flours, dried fruits and organic nuts (remnants of your visit) in the freezer. I decided to make some kind of fig bar and committed to try and use up as many little bits of leftover stuff I could find. The results were a pretty tasty and healthy Almond Fig Fruit and Nut Bar. Really almost any fruit will do and certainly any kind of nut, so feel free to experiment.

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Fruit Filling

  • 1 gallon bag of fresh frozen figs (this could be made with fresh figs)
  • 1 cup of dried fruit, any kind (apricots, prunes, raisins, dates or a mixture of all)
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • lightly sweeten to taste with agave, honey, Splenda or sugar (optional)

Bring fruit, juice and zest to a boil in a large pot. Reduce heat and cook over a low flame, stirring periodically, until mixture has reduced and thickened.

Add spices, extracts and sweetener if desired. Adjust to taste. Continue cooking until mixture is thickened but can still be poured. Any leftover fresh fruits you have around can be thrown in; bananas, peaches, grapes, etc. More lemon or orange juice can be added based on your taste preferences.

Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups of any flour or mixture of flours
  • 1 1/2 cups regular oats, uncooked
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar or Splenda (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup kefir, plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • 2 cups crushed nuts, any kind

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Combine the first seven ingredients and then cut in the butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles a course meal.
Add 1 1/4 cup of the chopped nuts to the flour-butter mixture, reserving 3/4 cup nuts for the topping.

Divide the mixture in half and set aside half for the topping. Do not mix with the extra nuts.

Add the kefir or yogurt or any kind of sour milk to the remaining flour-butter mixture and mix thoroughly until it takes on a doughy texture. Add more milk or yogurt if it is still too crumbly.

Press doughy mixture into a greased 9” x 13” baking dish covering the bottom of the baking dish.

Bake in a 350° oven for 20-30 minutes or until bottom crust is lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and spread fig-nut mixture thickly covering the entire bottom crust.

Top with remaining crumbly dough mixture and sprinkle remaining nuts over dough crumbles.
Sprinkle a little cinnamon over the top if desired.

Continue baking in a 350° oven until the top has browned and the filling is bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Cool and cut into bars. To cut in diamond shapes, start at the upper right corner and cut from the top to the side on an angle, making your first piece a triangle. Cut the remaining pieces on the same angle all the way down the length of the pan. Then go back to the top of the pan and begin making horizontal cuts across the pan starting about an inch and a half from the top and continue making horizontal cuts all the way down the pan. Hope this makes sense.

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This makes a great pre or post exercise energy bar and an easy nutritious breakfast bar, not to mention all the added fiber benefits.

 

Another variation…

This recipe comes from one of my yoga teachers who also happens to be a fabulous cook. It’s a South African recipe called Farfel Cake, although I am not sure why. It doesn’t have all the energy boosting nuts and healthy oats and flours, but makes a delicious dessert nonetheless. I made the dough with Splenda and used the same fig/fruit mixture as above and added some sliced almonds to the top instead of powdered sugar. It is beautiful and absolutely delicious when made just as the recipe describes.

IMG_1907Farfel Cake

  • 10 tablespoons of butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • pinch salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • smooth apricot jam

Method (I use a food processor for making dough)
Cream butter, sugar and oil. Add unbeaten egg and process. Add flour and rest of ingredients (except jam) to mixture. Make a firm dough. Grate half of
the mixture into a well-buttered pie dish or springform pan. Put a layer
of jam over it – I use most of a small bottle; then grate rest of dough over the jam and bake at 350° for about one hour. When cool, sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Cut and serve.

Guest Post from a Cousin

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Dear Esther,

After returning bloody, bruised, and blistered from our Yam L’Yam Shvis Shvil, Shaina and I were determined to cook a Shvis Shabbat feast (Shvis = Shavuot in Bubbe language). We wanted to remember Bubbe, but didn’t have the time or energy to make her blintzes – we could barely walk after 75 kilometers of climbing steep hills, walking through dry wadis and scurrying around (or into) boulders in just one and two half days! So, we opted for her sweet kugel instead.

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Finding the right kind of noodles was the first challenge. FYI, there are no Manischewitz brand “wide egg noodles” here in Israel. The closest thing I could find was a slightly different, thicker type of egg noodle, which I think ended up making the kugel a bit denser than I would have liked. Long story short, this recipe is easy, but if you try making it healthy-“ish” it just doesn’t work (as we learned the hard way!). Bubbe didn’t skimp out on her use of “hoil” and eggs – neither should you if you attempt to make this one at home.

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Shaina,

What am I going to do without you, my kambuchi kitchen goddess, next year? I’m already getting sad you are leaving in just 2 months. On the upside, I know great things are about to come your way! And with that, here’s to more Schuster-Shealy Israeli adventures both in and outside of the kitchen!

Love, Naomi.

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Bubbe’s Sweet Kugel 

  • 2 packages Wide Egg Noodles (Manischewitz brand is preferable, if available)
  • 1 lemon (juice and zest)
  • 1 orange (juice and zest)
  • 3 green apples, diced (I used 4, some green, some red—depends if you like tart or sweet and what is in
  • season)
  • 1-2 cups raisins (Bubbe didn’t actually ever measure—so just eyeball it)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs, beaten (I used 2 eggs and 4 egg whites but the egg whites didn’t hold the kugel together so
  • well…)
  • 4-5 tsps. Vanilla (once again, according to personal preference)
  • Cinnamon to taste (I use A LOT!!)
  • Canola Oil (for pan) and maybe add some to kugel as well if you want to truly cook like Bubbe!

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Boil noodles until a little less than fully cooked (they shouldn’t be hard but not so soft they are falling apart); Drain. In a separate bowl mix together diced apples, raisins, sugar, lemon zest, and orange zest. Add noodles to this mixture. Then add lemon juice, orange juice, vanilla, and cinnamon. Stir in eggs.

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil (canola) in bottom of 13 x 9 x 2 glass baking dish for a few minutes until it starts to bubble/pop. Pour noodle mixture into prepared ban. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 30 minutes. Let cool. Can be served at room temperature or re-heated in the microwave.

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