♦ Guts and Persistence

Dear Shaina,

I love your growing-up person! That is not to say that I don’t still adore your child-person and will never stop indulging your regression. We are in full collusion on that one. I am grateful for your optimism and energy and determination to make a difference…your way. The days of my youth were filled with war protests, burning bras and antiestablishment lifestyle alternatives. So much for peace, love and harmony. We morphed into greedy, materialistic, self-obsessed baby boomers, myself included. We wanted to change the world, but it was too big and too overwhelming, so we joined it…and some of us sought some small place in our little sphere where we might actually find a way to make a difference, at least to ourselves.

The whole world seems to be one big mess; too big for any simple solutions, too big for any one tactic. One idea, one story, one human being at a time seems a more reasonable, if not more manageable approach. I am in awe of your guts and persistence in pursuing the humanity of each person you encounter without assumptions, without intentions and without judgment. Your approach is more hopeful than my generation’s and much kinder.

I am overwhelmed by the hatred, injustice and sadness that seems to be flourishing everywhere. I am fearful and saddened when I think about the world that we are leaving you and your someday-children. My current efforts on behalf of the world amount to getting everyone I know to take yoga. It seems that if everyone inhaled the yogi consciousness, the world would be a happier and more peaceful place…one person at a time. That is all I seem capable of managing right now, in addition to cooking, of course.

My newest kitchen gadget...very low tech

My newest kitchen gadget…very low tech

Cooking seems to be a curative salve for both of us; a meaningful distraction, a tangible outcome, nourishment of the body and soul for ourselves and the beneficiaries of our efforts. I am making tubs of soup and sharing it with friends and family, in sickness and health… I am baking hundreds of hamentaschen to be shared with family, friends and community… I am stocking the freezer with sweets, soups and casseroles to be pulled out on a moments notice for an impromptu dinner or to send visiting friends on their way with a sweet treat for the road. It doesn’t seem like much for a world that is in as bad a shape as ours, but it is what I can do. A little nourishment thrown out into the universe can’t hurt.

At it again...

At it again…

I have eased back into my yoga routine and finally feeling at one with my body despite the torn meniscus and screaming hips. I am learning to be more accepting of my limitations and kinder to my body. I am trying to find my own peacefulness and send it out into the universe that is so in need of positive energy. And I am putting my faith in you and your generation to lead the way to a more humane and tolerant world.

Love,
Mom

xooxoxoxooxoxoxoxoxoxoxo
P.S. So excited that you pulled together a mahjong group! What could be better…mahjong and food…may the mahjong angels be with you!

Indian Pea and Lentil Soup

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This soup is very aromatic and full of flavor. The yellow peas and orange lentils give it a lighter feel than traditional pea soup. I usually double the recipe. As long as I am chopping and messing up a pot, I might as well make enough to enjoy now and later and share with friends. It freezes well. Be sure to taste while cooking and adjust spices to taste.

  • 2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 sweet pepper, red, yellow or green, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
  • 1-2 teaspoons minced small green chiles
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 9-10 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 full cup dried yellow split peas (soaked in water for a few hours and drained)
  • 1 full cup dried red lentils (soaked in water for a few hours and drained)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice, plus zest
  • 1 tablespoon agave, honey or brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric 2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Spice Blend:IMG_5210

  • 1 tablespoons butter or oil
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds or 1/8 teaspoon ground fenugreek

Chopped cilantro, parsley or green onions for garnish.

Melt butter in a large soup pot. Add chopped onions, carrots, celery and pepper and sauté until softened. I chop everything together in the food processor. Add the garlic, ginger, chiles and coriander and continue sautéing for a minute.

Add the stock and partially softened or cooked peas and lentils, lemon or lime juice, agave, bay leaves, turmeric, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, entitle peas and lentils are very tender. Add water if soup is too thick.

Prepare the spice mixture and add to the soup. Melt the butter or heat the oil in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and heat until they begin to pop, about 30 seconds. Add the cumin and fenugreek and fry until golden, about 1-3 minutes. Stir into the soup mixture and simmer for 15 minutes or until flavors blend.

Serve warm and top with garnish of cilantro, parsley or green onions. It is also tasty with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt.

More Indian Pea and Lentil Soup

More Indian Pea and Lentil Soup

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◊ Telling stories

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Dear mom,

My grown-up person is strange to me too. In my first hours back from Israel and Palestine, I went straight to laundry, grocery shopping and my life (my life = finding space for the 4 liters of tahini I schlepped across the ocean, scheduling meetings with professors, filing recipes, going to a spin class). These endeavors were far from my usual homecoming routine — my luggage dump onto the hallway floor, my jet-lagged memory-mumble and slow crawl into bed, my early-rise to a full fridge and piles of neatly folded, clean clothes.

My grown-up person embraces the laundry/grocery life with ease and excitement; it is puzzled at how readily I snap back to childhood when I’m home.

Contrary to your verdict, I will always be a child at home regardless of how much junk I clean from my room. I have no doubt that you’ll have plenty more chances to wash my dirty clothes and make me breakfast on demand. Consider yourself lucky to be spared from my late-night, half-formed reflection-thoughts on Jewish-Arab relations, snow in a Mediterranean climate, Palestinian traditions, the transcontinental strength of our family’s genetic traits.

The story I was reporting in Israel and Palestine is about best friends and business partners –  a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli – who collect and sell embroidery together. They requested I not use their names because of potential backlash.

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I completed my reporting goals – 10 interviews, 5 photo shoots, lots of meetings – and now I have to write it all up. I also spent plenty of time catching up with family, hanging out with friends and taking long walks alone. I had a great time, but I won’t be able to call my trip successful until I’ve written the article. It will take some time to develop so many different experiences into memories and meaningful stories. Shwai shwai, liat liat, slowly slowly.

dried sage leaves in the kitchen

dried sage leaves in the kitchen

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I spent two nights with the Palestinian business partner and learned a lot about her life in Bethlehem. She reminds me of you – her hands never stop cooking, sewing, embroidering, cleaning, preparing. Everything in her house, from olive oil soap to sheep’s milk cheese to embroidered cushion-covers and table clothes, she cultivated with her own hands. For breakfast, we ate olives that she picked and cured herself, green leaves she collected from the Jewish Israeli’s front yard and sautéed with onion and garlic, and kaak ma’amoul that she made late at night.

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Kaak ma’amoul are traditional Palestinian date-filled, sweet cookies. I had eaten them before, but the way that this woman made them without sugar in the dough was different and oddly nostalgic.

Her kaak ma’amoul are simple: dough – white flour, oil, water and fennel seeds – wrapped around spiced date puree. The mild dough against sticky dates reminded me of Bubbe’s oily strudel stuffed with spiced raisins. While I was reporting, I noticed many such parallels among Jewish and Palestinian traditions and daily life. Also, the ways in which many of the Jewish Israelis and Palestinians that I spoke with described their feelings toward one another were strikingly similar.

“When you don’t know people, you get afraid,” the Jewish Israeli friend said. “But when you see them you get unafraid.”

“I wanted them to meet Israelis to see that they are human like us and we are all like each other,” the Palestinian friend said.

People are afraid of the unknown. When they are separated, they do not interact and fear persists. Fear dominates.

Bethlehem

Bethlehem

This is why I went back to Israel and Palestine over my winter break. This is why I study journalism. Sometimes I feel that the only way to introduce humans to one another – to cross borders, create groundwork for dialogue, dilute fear in a small way – is to tell stories. Thus, I can’t call my trip a success until I write the story! I can’t call my trip a success until I highlight, in a small way, humanity on both sides of the wall.

xo,

Shaina

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I recreated the Kaak Ma’amoul I ate in Bethlehem as soon as I got back to my kitchen. Inspired by Bubbe cookies, I added plenty of orange zest and juice. I also substituted whole-wheat flour for white flour. As you can see from the picture, they didn’t come out pretty… I think pretty kaak ma’amoul is one of those things that takes practice.

*note: Most kaak ma’amoul is made with sweet, yeasted dough (sometimes with semolina in addition to wheat flour). This is not the traditional recipe.

Kaak Ma’amoul

Prep time: 1 hour

Makes 20 – 30 cookies

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Dough:

  • 2 ½ C whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 tbs orange zest
  • 2 tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Filling:

  • 1 cup dates, pitted
  • ½ tsp cardmom, ground
  • ½ tsp cloves, ground
  • ½ tsp cinnamon, ground
  • juice of one medium orange

Mix the flour, oil, water, orange zest, fennel seeds and salt with a stand mixer or knead with your hands until dough is smooth and stretchy. Put dates, spices and orange juice in food processor and blend into a smooth paste

Heat oven to 375. Divide dough into 25 – 30 balls (1 ½ in each). Divide paste into the same number of balls, but keep each ball half the size of the each dough ball.

Roll each dough ball into a 4 x 1 inch rectangle. Wet hands, and roll paste ball into thin log. Place date log into dough and fold dough around it (like a tube). Roll the log/tube in your hands until smooth. Fold the dough log into a circle and seal it into a closed ring by pinching the ends together (you may have to use some water to get it to stick). Place circles on baking sheet and cook until golden, around 25 minutes.

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♦ More

Dear Shaina,

Your winter visit flew by and I was briefly spoiled by our late night conversations and annual road trip adventure to South Carolina. You always seem to talk more late at night and in the car. I remember picking you up from overnight summer camp and hearing about all your antics at Camp Judaea for most of the long ride home from North Carolina. Dad and I would just look at each other marveling at the transformation of our “quiet child.

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The drop off at the Atlanta Airport felt abrupt and sudden, especially with the last minute cash and credit card transfer to fill in for the forgotten wallet. Usually our airport “goodbyes” are a little more…well, focused on “goodbye” and “stay in touch” instead of rifling through our wallets to see how much cash we could come up with between us and which of our credit cards might be least questioned in a foreign country. We all did pretty well in responding to that little situation.

Realizing that you would be returning directly to Berkeley from Israel and that this visit “home” was officially over caught me off guard. I am used to sending you off from my home with bags full of your favorite treats and leftover foods from my kitchen. I am used to coming home to your unmade bed, damp bath towels thrown over the closet door and half-filled jars of tea strewn around the house waiting to be put in the dishwasher. The getting-the-house-back-in-order ritual allows me to hold onto your presence a little longer as I move through the process of restoring order. It just didn’t feel right driving in from South Carolina, eating in a restaurant and just dropping you off at the Atlanta airport. It was unsettling.

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In truth, I think it’s about your really leaving your childhood home. You seem more grounded, despite your forgotten wallet; more defined, despite your uncertainties; more comfortable with who you are despite your discomforts. Throwing out bags of accumulated stuff (even though you barely scratched the surface) from your room is the beginning of relinquishing your space in this house. There will always be a room for you, but you will never be a child in this space. All is as it should be. You are building a life that is a credit to you.

My fear is that I will miss the day-to-day knowing of your grown-up person. Not that I hope to talk with you every day or expect to be in on the minutia of your life. I am grateful for your evolution into adulthood and the separateness in our lives. We seem to manage it all pretty well. I am not even sure what it is I want…talking, sharing, a larger window into your unfolding life. I want something for me, and for you, that goes beyond what I had with my mother. I know I am greedy and always wanting more…but really, only one Skype call and a few texts letting me know you’re alive during a three week trip to Israel…I want more!! Maybe when you get older…

Getting ready for New Year's Eve

Getting ready for New Year’s Eve

The new year slipped into our lives with barely a blip on the radar. We spent New Year’s Eve at home with friends, lots of food and comfortable celebration. The cold has set in and I am hibernating. I am burning through those books that have been stacked up on my night table since last spring and cooking chili and soups and apple cakes…winter comfort foods. 2015 just rolls off my marker onto the freezer bags that I am filling with goodies to store for the winter.

I started a new house project in the basement which is engaging my nesting instincts and distracting me from the winter blahs. I am missing you more than I should be. These short teaser visits leave me wanting more. A trip to sunny California may be in my not too distant future.
Love, Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

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Apple Cake Revisited

The big debate over Chanukah was about which is the better apple cake…”the previously ranked Birmingham’s favorite Apple Cake recipe or a new one I found in an Israeli cookbook that just looked so pretty I had to try it?” After several bakings and tastings, I decided to create a new modified version of the two cakes to capture the flavor and moistness of the first and the pretty presentation of the second. I am still unsure of the final winner, but this version ranks pretty high and looks great, too. It freezes well and is a satisfying breakfast treat.

  • 5 large baking apples, peeled and cored
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 tablespoons brandy
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cups walnuts (optional)

Topping

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

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Preheat oven to 350°
Dice three apples into 1/2” or smaller chunks.
Slice the remaining two apples into wedges.
Sprinkle apples with lemon juice and set aside.
Sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until pale and thick.
Lower the beater speed and add the oil to the egg mixture slowly until blended.
Add the brandy and mashed bananas to the oil and egg mixture and beat together for about a minute.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the eggs and oil and mix thoroughly.
Fold in the diced apples and chopped walnuts(optional).

Pour the batter into a well-greased 10 inch diameter springform baking pan.
Arrange the apple wedges in a flower pattern starting at the center go the cake.
Combine sugar, cinnamon and salt and sprinkle over the top of the cake.

Bake for 60 – 75 minutes until golden and a toothpick comes out dry with a few crumbs adhering.
Cool for 10 minutes before releasing from the springform pan and let cool completely.

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