◊ Again

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Dear mom,

I finished my first semester of graduate school. Again.

I came home to a family, food and mahjong marathon. Again.

I threw my stuff into bags and now I’m in a strange yoga pose on the floor of the airport waiting to board my flight while people look at me funny. Again.

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Education, luxury/gluttony and world travel… what a routine!

The first time I traveled internationally, I bought currency in advance. I had the money belt, several copies of my passport with emergency phone numbers scribbled on the back, iodine tablets for dirty water, a travel purse with two kinds of emergency antibiotics.

Now I carry clothes, sneakers, lotions and snacks. This whole process of unloading and loading has become so familiar that I didn’t even double-check my bags after I zipped them. I left my wallet at home. My wallet! What else am I forgetting? What other mistakes will I make?

Oy. There is so much more I could have done to prepare for this trip.

On one hand I feel calm. I know that Hanoch will be waiting for me at baggage claim and that Edna will prepare Israeli salad with eggs, cottage and tahini for breakfast. I know how to take the bus from their house to Jessica’s apartment and the colors I’ll hijack from her crazy nail polish collection (Parka Perfect, Nice is Nice). I know the stall owners at the shuk that will let me nosh from their bastas and the ones that will yell loudly if they see my hand reach into their bins of dates and dried figs. I know most of the beds I’ll be sleeping in and I know who to call if I get lost. I know because I’ve done it all before.

On the other hand I’m totally freaking out. I don’t know anything. I have a new mission that’s complicated and tricky. There are so many unknowns that I don’t even know what I don’t know. The stakes feel high. I’ve invested huge amounts of time into learning new skills that are supposed to prepare me for this, but I can’t keep track of what skills I’m supposed to be using. I left my wallet at home! This trip could be a complete fail.

I could have stayed home with you and dad, gorging on your latkes, apple cakes, etc, etc, etc and sleeping all break long. That would have been nice. Instead, I’m on my way to the known and the unknown. Again.

Xoxo,

Shaina

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In our family, we use the word struggle a lot. We struggle with discomfort and comfort and how to find a balance.

We struggle with finding appropriate dishes to serve to make all of our guests comfortable. Yep, I’m talking about parve desserts. The recipe below is a parve one that’s worthy of the dessert table. These truffles will please guests who are vegan and who keep kosher. They’re gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free and have no added sugar. And they’re green!

Matcha Truffles 

Serves: 12-20

prep time: 40 minutes

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  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 2 tablespoons agave (or honey if not vegan)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons matcha green tea powder
  • ½ cup toasted coconut for dusting

Add the nuts to the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients to the food processor, and process until a sticky paste forms. If more liquid is needed, add 1 tablespoon of lukewarm water or nut milk, like almond milk.

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With coconut oil on your hands, roll about 1 tablespoon of the mixture into a ball. Roll each truffle in toasted coconut before serving. Store in fridge and serve cold—they will begin to melt if you leave them out at warm temperatures for too long.

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♦ Traditions and Memorials

Dear Shaina,

Bubbe would be kvelling (bursting with pride), and so am I, at your adaptation of her much loved food memories. I can hear her tasting your radishes and onions and eggs and proclaiming that they are better than what she had as a child. She would declare you a Balabusta (a homemaker of the highest order) and if you attempted to credit her with the inspiration she would pooh-pooh you and exclaim that you were a much better cook than she ever was.

Esther 512Mb cf card 12 03 08 262I was lucky to grow up with a mother who took pride in my accomplishments rather than feeling threatened or competitive as some mothers are. Bubbe and Zayde called it naches fun di kinder (pleasure, pride from the children). It is what they lived for and what no material gift could ever equal. I completely get it! Of course, you actually are a better cook than me, not to mention all the other things you have accomplished that I am so very proud of!

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It’s hard to think about or prepare food without Bubbe’s presence hovering over my shoulder. Jews have always emphasized the remembrance of the dead. We observe annual anniversary prayers (Yahrsteit) and holiday memorial services (Yizkor), but nothing seems nearly as effective or enduring as food memorials. Yahrsteits can be forgotten. Yizkors can be skipped. But the smell of frying onions, the magic of butter-soft arthritically molded fingers stretching and rolling dough, the taste of a freshly fried blintz in too much butter, the insistent urging to eat and eat more and the inevitable question, “Are they edible?” , are indelible memories that make daily appearances. No wonder food is such a big deal forJews. At least in our family…

I am getting ready for Chanukah and your homecoming. I remember Bubbe grating potatoes with the classic box grater and straining her homemade applesauce through those hand grinders that look like a pot with holes in the bottom and a big handle that rotates large blades at the bottom pushing the mashed applesauce through the holes leaving the seeds and skins to be discarded. There was no fancy motorized equipment, just simple tools powered by the willingness of loving hands (not that she wasn’t amazed when we gave her a Cuisinart that could grind raw meat in 30 seconds and grate enough potatoes and onions for latkes for 20 in minutes without shedding a tear or losing a knuckle).IMG_1534

My applesauce is already done and in the freezer. I peel and core my apples before cooking so there is no need for straining. I am planning on making three varieties of latkes this year…traditional, sweet potato and corn-squash…all with the aid of my Cuisinart. I scheduled your hair appointment for Friday, the masseuse for Saturday (I am liking this new tradition) and leaving Sunday and Monday for any last minute preparations for your trip to Israel and to bake cheesecakes for the annual South Carolina Christmas pilgrimage.

The traditions have evolved, morphed and adapted for a new generation of memories…and memorials of the future.

By the way, LLOL may not be a thing right now, but new traditions are born everyday! Laughing Lots Out Loud!!

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxooxoxoxxoox

 

Grilled Caesar Salad

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I have been wanting to make this salad since having it at a restaurant in a Casino in the middle of nowhere in northern California. I had never heard of grilling lettuce and to my surprise, it was the best Caesar salad I ever had! It was served with traditional Caesar dressing on the side (although it didn’t need any) along with crusty french bread croutons and shaved parmesan. I decided to make it last night before it got too cold outside to grill. It seemed the perfect accompaniment for filet mignon for Shabbat dinner with a couple of friends. I incorporated a ripe avocado and the seeds from a pomegranate that was close to the end of its viable use. I made a dressing in case anyone wanted it and improvised the rest. It was again, surprisingly, delicious and simple to prepare.

Yield: 4 servings

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Grilled Caesar Salad

  • 2 stalks of Romaine lettuce hearts cut in half lengthwise
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Garlic powder (optional)
  • Shaved or grated parmesan cheese
  • Sliced fresh avocado
  • Pomegranate seeds

 

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Dressing (optional)

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice from half lemon
  • 1 clove fresh garlic finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
With Dressing

With Dressing

Turn on a gas grill to the highest temperature or light up a charcoal grill.

Cut the romaine heart in half lengthwise keeping the stem of the stalk attached.
Brush olive oil lightly all over the cut edge of the lettuce.
Sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic powder over the oiled area.
Place the lettuce stalks on a very hot grill with the cut and seasoned side down. Grill for about a minute, uncovered, until slightly charred grill lines show on the cut side of the lettuce. The stalk should remain intact.

Remove from the grill and place grilled side up on individual plates.

Garnish with avocado, parmesan and pomegranate seeds or wherever your imagination takes you.

To make the dressing, blend all ingredients thoroughly adjusting seasonings to taste. Serve on the side.

This salad can also be served on a large platter. Cut the stalks diagonally in one inch strips to serve family style.

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◊ Perspective

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Dear mom,

Glad to see you’re learning internet lingo (ps. LLOL is not a thing).

Sweating the small stuff surely is a luxury. What’s more luxurious is the ability to recognize the small stuff as small, which can be hard until after the fact. Or until I’m outside of it. Puma sneakers were no small thing in that factory store in Manhattan – you can attest to that.

Obsessing over the small things… is it called tunnel vision?

Since my sneaker meltdown in 6th grade, I’ve had so many opportunities to step outside the tunnel that my ability to shift perspectives has grown markedly nimble.  This skill is one of the many gifts I’ve gotten from moving so far so much so fast. It is the most luxurious of all luxuries.

I’ve implemented it in the way I see big things (we don’t have to talk about Israel/Palestine again), and I can zoom-in:

Let’s talk about coming home for Thanksgiving.

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the farm

In grad school, my assignments can create a strong vacuum at the bottom of the tunnel. Reporting is time and emotion consuming; deadlines = anxiety dreams. Should I cut graf one? Which quote is more quotey? I agonize.

I have to physically switch it up to remind myself of the bigger world and make these things small again. I usually go to the kitchen. Once I’m behind a chopping board, my attachment to my homework loosens (still can’t figure out if this is a good or bad thing). I chop veggies into a salad and munch away for too much time than I should spare. Big salads are (more) important.

Physically removing myself from the North Side of campus for a solid 5 days last week sharpened this notion. Being home made me realize how silly it is to make anything more important than health, family and old friends. I didn’t do a lick of schoolwork when I was home and I was not worried.

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Women’s holiday sliv shots

Instead, I chatted with my cousins over popcorn and M&Ms til 2AM, went to the farm with the boys, picked radishes, ran my favorite nature trails, lost at mah jong, massaged a shit ton of kale, sat in the kitchen, dined and snacked and gorged with fam, and took long sits in your steam shower.

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I still get sucked into the tunnel – I worry about the insignificant and obsess over the small. Making a salad can pull me out. Physical movement – a change of scenery – melts the petty-worry-grip.

xo,

Shaina

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When I went to the farm, I snuck away from the boys and their antics to pick radishes (pronounced raydish in the country). I came home with two full grocery bags of spicy, dirty raydish. The Berkeley grocery store radishes weren’t nearly as spicy as the homegrown, so I compensated by garnishing the dish below with spicy arugula.


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Spicy Radish Egg Salad with Almonds

This is a classic Bubbe recipe (she used big black radishes and skipped the almonds). Her house consistently smelled of fried onions (pronounced hun-ions in Bubbe land). She used the same hunions in her knishes, brown potatoes, kreplach, chicken burgers and more.

  • 3 eggs, hardboiled
  • 1 tsp olive oil OR 1 tsp butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • One bunch radishes (5-7 medium radishes)
  • toasted almonds, chopped or slivered
  • salt
  • pepper
  • arugula for serving

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Dice onion. Coat the bottom of a deep skillet with olive oil, butter or a mix of both. Turn heat to medium, and add onions once oil is hot.  Stir to coat onions in oil and spread them evenly over the pan. Turn heat to low, cover pan and let cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. After about ten minutes, add salt and fresh black pepper. Continue to cook until onions are deeply browned.

*Side note: I learned from you who learned from Bubbe to go big or go home when it comes to fried onions. It’s just as easy to fry three as it is one, so just do em all! Put what you don’t use into a jar and store in the fridge – they will stay good for over a week and are a luxurious addition to omelets, veggies, sandwiches, salads, yogurt, etc.

In the meantime, use a large hole grater to grater radishes into wide shreds.

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Toast crushed or slivered almonds in a toaster or over a skillet until brown and fragrant. Peel the hardboiled eggs and mash them with the back of a fork. Combine radishes, almonds and eggs.

When onions have cooled to room tempurature, stir them into the egg mixture. Add plenty of salt and fresh black pepper. Serve over spicy arugula with a slice of good bread.

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