♦ Life Lessons

Dear Shaina,

And you didn’t even like puzzles when you were a child! I am moved by your willingness to give yourself over to your work despite the emotional confrontation it requires of you. You seem to have landed exactly where you need to be at this particular moment of your life. Looking back at how you got here, your process was both random and intentional, rational and gutsy and always trusting of your instincts. You stayed in the pursuit, many times not knowing where it would lead, until you found a path that felt on target…and you took it. What a life lesson! You have mastered it and it will serve you well throughout your life. Life is a series of intentional meanderings and instinctive pursuits of ever-evolving targets. You are well prepared and I am proud of you!

It was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, last week. I wrote a memory story about Bubbe for a community program. Of course, it was about food. Food was and is such a big deal in all our lives. Bubbe and Zayde’s early experiences of extreme hunger insured that no one in our family would ever have the opportunity (at least not under their watch) to encounter even a remote sensation of hunger. Stuffed was the only satisfactory response to “did you have enough?” And we carry on that legacy of physical and emotional sustenance through food.

I had a strong urge to make Bubbe’s Blintzes this week. I hadn’t made them in years and the last time, it was difficult. The dough skins were thicker than hers and stuck to the frying pan or fell apart when I filled them. I struggled. They were good, but I knew I hadn’t yet achieved the Bubbe Blintz standard of excellence. The blintz cheese waiting in my freezer was calling to me to try again.

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With my shmata on my head and my ceramic non-stick pan in hand, I swirled the first spoonful of batter over the lightly buttered pan.DSCF7001
I knew from that very first blintz dough that my hands were moving in Bubbe motion. I turned out 60 or so paper thin crepe skins with ease and relative perfection.

I was transported back to Bubbe’s kitchen…watching her magically flip a perfect circle of translucent lightly browned dough onto a waiting torn open brown paper grocery sack…waiting for her to mess one up so I could eat it fresh out of the buttery frying pan. Sometimes she would mess one up on purpose because she knew how much I loved them. The very same taste and texture came out of my kitchen. Bubbe’s Blintzes have become mine. Taste memory has the amazing capacity to immortalize and transform in the same moment. It is the closest I can get to comprehending the concept of a Time Machine.

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It’s your birthday! You were born on Earth Day.It always seemed so fitting. You dare to make this earth your home and  you have experienced the diversity and richness and suffering that exists beyond your footprint. Twenty-seven years old!! Your footprint has already left indelible marks in many people’s lives.

Happy Earth Day and Happy Birthday, Shaina…may you continue to follow your instincts, to share your goodness with everyone you encounter and to live on this earth in peace and good health always.

You are a wondrous joy in my life.
Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoox

Bubbe’s Cheese Blintzes

I have been on a baking binge. It rained all last week and I entertained myself in the kitchen. I am sharing the Blintz recipe again with some refinements. I learned a few tricks from a Russian friend of ours who made delicious Blinis for brunch. Blini dough is a little pancake-ier than Blintz dough and is eaten in more of a crepe style, but the basic principles are the same.

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Bring all ingredients to room temperature. This recipe makes 4 to 5 dozen depending on how much cheese you use, how thick your blintz skins are and the size of your crepe pan.

Blintz Crepe Batter

  • 3 Cups flour
  • 6 – 7 Cups skim milk
  • 7 Eggs
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix ingredients in a blender or in a large deep bowl using an immersion stick blender until there are no visible lumps*. Let batter rest for about 30 minutes.

*Having a hard time with the lumps in the batter? Try pouring the batter through a mesh strainer over a bowl. Mash up the lumps with a spoon, adding additional milk if needed or if your pressed for time, just throw the lumps away and start cooking.

Blintz Filling

  • 3 pounds Farmer Cheese* (it looks like very small curd dried cottage cheese) *It can be stored in the freezer for a very long time if it is vacuum packed…and it is as good as new when defrosted!
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients together by hand or with a stick blender or electric beater. Set aside while making Blintz crepes.

Use a non-stick or stainless steel or cast iron crepe pan or small shallow frying pan. Heat pan over medium heat before smearing butter lightly on pan. I use wax paper to hold the butter and lightly spread it on the pan.IMG_5823

Pour about ¼ to ⅓ cup of batter into the pan and swirl it around the bottom of the heated pan to cover the pan with a thin layer of batter. It may take a few times to get the pan to the right temperature and the right amount of batter to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin coating of batter.

Cook on one side only until you can see the bottom of the crepe bubbling up from the bottom of the pan a bit and   the edges come away from the sides of the pan. Don’t be discouraged if you mess up the first few crepes. They are delicious plain, so enjoy your mistakes. Flip the crepe out of the pan onto parchment paper or brown paper sacks cooked side face up.

Repeat process until all the batter is gone.IMG_5819

Once the crepe is cooled. Place a couple tablespoons of the cheese mixture at the bottom of the circle of dough on the cooked side of the dough. Roll the dough over the cheese to form a tube about the size of a roll of quarters. Roll the dough over once and fold the sides in. Then continue to roll the dough until the blintz is formed. The uncooked side of the dough should form the outside of the blintz. Place the completed blintz with the seam down on a fresh piece of wax paper on a metal baking sheet. You can use more or less cheese filling based on your preference, but don’t overfill.

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At this stage, the Blintzes are ready to be sautéed in a small amount of butter until the outsides of the Blintz are lightly browned. Blintzes may also be flash frozen prior to sautéing and placed in freezer bags to be prepared and served at another time.

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Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate

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My baking binge didn’t stop with the Blintzes. I decided to try making some Biscotti.  I knew I hit on a good recipe when some friends came over to play mahjong and between dad and them, they made a serious dent in the Biscotti I was planning on serving to a Book Group I was hosting the next morning. It was all good. I just made another batch. They are easy to make and satisfying to eat. Hope you like the ones I sent to you. This recipe makes between 30 -50 Biscotti depending on how big you make them.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons of Brandy or Amaretto
  • 1 tablespoon of Almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole almonds lightly toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or melting chocolate
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips or melting chocolate
  • sea salt (optional)
  • toasted slivered almonds (optional)

Mix together sugar, melted butter, brandy and extracts in a large bowl. Add eggs and almonds and stir together well.

Mix together flour, baking powder and salt and add to egg mixture, mixing until combined.
Chill dough for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°.
Using moistened hands, halve dough and form 2 (12” x 3”) loaves and place on parchment paper on a large baking sheet.

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Bake until pale golden, about 30 minutes.
Carefully transfer the loaves to a rack and cool for 15 minutes.
Cut loaves into 1/2”-3/4” slices with a serrated knife.
Arrange biscotti on a baking sheet and bake until golden, about 25 minutes.
Cool completely.

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Place white and dark chocolate in separate pint mason jars and melt carefully in the microwave at a low power. Check every 15-30 seconds stirring to see if chocolate is completely melted. Do not over heat as chocolate can burn easily.

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Dip ends of cooled biscotti in the chocolate as desired. White chocolate can be drizzled over a dark chocolate dipped biscotti or vice versa. Sprinkle with slivered almonds and a little sea salt if desired.

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◊ Raw

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Dear mom,

It’s already been a week since I was home for Passover? Yesterday was the weekend? I’ve been living in a computer screen vortex since I left home and every time I look up, I feel further from the world outside.

I’m in post-production mode of three different projects. This means I’m finished collecting puzzle pieces and I’m now ready to sort, order and put them together. Thinking about it makes me dizzy.

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They aren’t just any puzzle pieces. They’re heavy. They are other people’s stories, but putting them together comes from my own core. Schoolwork feels like therapy sometimes… My emotional state is raw and being home for Passover only intensified that feeling.

Along with the usual Passover routine – cooking, overeating, taking shots of slivovitz, leaning to the left from too much dessert/the Haggadah told us to – we dove into discussions that shook assumptions of my basic values.

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Dad asked me to come up with a discussion question for our Seder. Before we recited the ten plagues that Moses inflicted upon the Egyptians, he asked it:

Is inflicting hardship upon others in order to gain freedom justified? Is it always tit for tat? What about preemptory strikes? Blood, locusts, boils, wild beasts, death of the first-born…. Is it easier to commit acts of cruelty when god’s on your side?

I thought the questions would spark good debate, but for the first time in the history of our dinnertime discussions, you and Abe agreed – you and I agreed – Abe and dad agreed – we all agreed (whoa!) that we don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re fighting to survive. We don’t know the answer. We analyze risks and benefits, we act as efficiently as we can, and we don’t look back because we know that we made the most thoughtful, conscious decision possible.

When dad asked the question, I’m guessing that some people had ISIS or Israel and Gaza in mind. Initially, I was thinking about salads (duh) — about how every bite may enable slave labor in Florida’s tomato fields. I also thought about other circumstances  in which the stakes feel higher.

I’ve sort of always known that the answer is that we don’t have the answer … That the reason conflicts remain conflicts is that it’s damn easy to be convinced that god is on your side. I’m still fighting with this answer.

The flight is too big for the limited space in my brain right now.

Home already feels like worlds away.

xo,

Shaina

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After I left home, I stuck to a completely raw diet for the rest of Passover and LOVED it. It inspired me to play with new foods and I really needed the intestinal catharsis after all that sponge cake (it’s mostly air, it’s mostly air, it’s mostly air… yeah right). It was a good strategy to avoid matzah too.

Raw Chocolate Hazelnut Orange Chia Breakfast Bowl/Parfait

This recipe contains two components that can be eaten on their own or layered together.

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Cardamom Coconut Chia Pudding

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  • dash of cardamom powder
  • honey, maple syrup, other sweetener to taste (optional)

Stir chia seeds into coconut milk and add cardamom. I didn’t add sweetener because I knew I’d be eating it with the plenty sweet chocolate pudding (recipe below). I also kept sweetener out of it so it would more versatile for later breakfasts and snacks. It was perfect topped with a sliced banana.

 Raw Orange Scented Chocolate pudding

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  • 1 medium avocado
  • ½ cup hazelnuts
  • juice of one orange
  • zest of one orange
  • ½ cup pitted dates
  • tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup almond (or coconut) milk
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cacao powder
  • dash of sea salt

A vitamix or other high powered food processor is necessary here. Dump all ingredients into food processor and puree until smooth. Add more nut milk if needed.

FINAL STEP:

Layer the puddings with orange wedges in bowl or jar.  Garnish with crushed hazelnuts and orange zest (and cacao nibs for extra luxury).

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Herbed Raw Almond CheeseIMG_7621

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 3 cups water
  • dash of smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup onions, finely chopped
  • dash dried basil
  • salt
  • fresh black pepper

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Soak almonds in water over night. When ready, drain water from almonds and place into food processor. Add another cup of water and puree until frothy and white.

Place cheese cloth over a bowl or jar, and drain the liquid from the almond meal to collect a nice jar of almond milk. Collect remaining almond meal in a separate dish. Stir herbs and spices into almond meal and store in fridge. Get creative with your herbs!

Yogurt, Apple, Sprouts and Nuts Breakfast Bowl:

(pictured below)

  • 1 apple, chopped
  • 3/4 cup plain organic yogurt
  • handful of cilantro sprouts
  • herbed almond cheese
  • curry cashew cream

Stir yogurt into chopped apples. Top with cilantro sprouts, herbed almond cheese and curry cashew cream.

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♦ Happi-stress

Dear Shaina,

I don’t know which one of us should be scared. Your emotionally-drained, stressed out, exhausted, anxious, overworked, confused, chronically twitching self never looked so good…and happy, I might add. Maybe you have embodied a new state of happi-stress! Whatever…happiness or happi-stress, if you’re happy, I’m happy!

It was pure pleasure having you here for the holidays. Lots of home time, lots of talk time, lots of family holiday time and lots of good eating. The Seders got people talking. IMG_5747The matzah balls were fluffy. The Gefilte fish was my best ever.  I think I finally perfected the recipe after only four years of trying. Gail’s brisket was outstanding. And all the desserts have disappeared. It still brings me great pleasure to watch you nibble down a half of a Passover spongecake in one sitting leaving the crumbs as proof that you actually did not eat the whole half a cake. Not to worry…Passover sponge cakes are 99% air. All the calories lay in those crumbs you left strewn all over the counter.

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Then there was the momentous breakthrough…real chicken broth crossed your lips for the first time in twenty years! And it was good, wasn’t it? What next? I know its not beef tenders!

All in all, it was an exceptional Passover. DSC_0074_2Putting you on the plane was hard. I miss you already. I am comforted knowing that you are returning to your stress-filled, important, thrilling and mostly happy life. The mid to late twenties aren’t the easiest years in a person’s life. It’s a time of figuring out who you are and what’s important to you and, mostly, realizing and accepting that you are the only one who can make that happen. I know its not always fun, but I am proud of you for struggling to figure it all out and owning the responsibility for making it what you want. I love watching you evolve into your grown-up person, while at the same time I am so aware of time moving quickly. I feel like I am in the midst of a multi-character serial with ever-changing plot lines. I cherish each episode and don’t ever want it to end, but can’t wait to know how it will all turn out. That’s life. For now, all good…and I am grateful.

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I am dedicating my recipes this week to Passover. It’s a fun time to experiment with cooking and every once in a while something turns out really good. Since you already took those ridiculous sponge cake pictures, I just have to add the recipe. I am also including my new and improved matzah pizza recipe. It’s a far cry from the tomato sauce and cheese on a piece of matzo toasted under the broiler that was a standard for you and your pre-teen buddies. Once you make the matzo dough, the possibilities and varieties are infinite.

Hmm…just like life. No wonder we like cooking so much!

Love,

Mom
xoxooxoxoxoxoxoxoxoox
Passover Sponge Cake

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This recipe comes directly off of the Manischewitz Potato Starch container. It is gluten free and very light. My mother, Bubbe, made this cake every year and always marveled when the cake rose higher than the edge of the tube pan and came out intact.

Although the recipe is simple, it is a bit of an art to have it rise appropriately 11032844_899514556757905_666511423_nand come out in one piece. In my early years I always ended up making two cakes because one would invariably fall apart and I would use it in a strawberry trifle concoction I made up and try again to bake an intact cake. The strawberry trifle was such a hit that it has become a regular Passover dessert item and I just bake two sponge cakes from the beginning. This year, they both came out! I have arrived!

Serve in a trifle with strawberries and cream or with plain strawberries or lemon curd. Or just nibble on the plain cake. It will be gone before you know it. Just watch those crumbs…
Passover Sponge Cake

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Preheat oven to 350°

  • 7 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup Manischewitz Potato Starch, sifted
  • dash of salt

Separate 6 of the eggs setting aside the egg whites in a separate bowl.
Beat the six egg yolks and one whole egg until light and frothy. Gradually add sifted sugar, lemon rind and juice, beating constantly and thoroughly until light and lemony colored.
Gradually add sifted potato starch, stirring constantly with an electric beater to ensure thorough blending.

With a clean beater, beat the egg whites with a dash of salt until stiff but not dry. Fold gently but thoroughly into the egg yolk mixture.

Place in an engrossed 10” tube pan. (I recommend a two-piece tube pan with a removable bottom for easier cake removal.) Bake in a moderate oven (350°) for about 55-60 minutes or until cake springs back when gently touched with fingers. The top should be lightly browned and have a little crusty top.

Remove from the oven and immediately invert cake over a bottle (like a wine bottle). Cool completely before removing from pan. Cut around sides and tube of pan and separate cake from sides of pan. Cut around bottom of cake and remove tube. If it falls apart, don’t worry…just make a trifle with your favorite fruits or toppings.

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Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Pizza (for Passover)
and then some…

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Passover Pizza Crust

  • 4 pieces of matzah
  • 1 large bowl of very hot water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
  • 1teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (optional, it gives the dough a hint of pesto flavoring)

Break the matzah in pieces and soak in the bowl in hot water for about 5 minutes or until soft. Then drain the matzah in a colander and dump the water.

While matzah is soaking and draining begin preparing the toppings.

While preparing the toppings, place the drained matzah for the crust in the large bowl and mix together thoroughly with the remaining dough ingredients. The mixture should be moist and thick, but able to easily spread.

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Use a 12-16 inch non-stick pizza pan. The larger the pan, the thinner the crust will be. Spread the matzah mixture to the edges of the pizza pan being sure to cover the bottom of the pan entirely. I started in the center and spread outward to the edges of the pan with a spatula.

Place the pizza pan in the 400º oven and bake for about 15 – 25 minutes (depending on thickness) or until crust is dry on the top and the bottom.

Remove from oven and set aside.

Passover Pizza Topping
This particular topping was inspired by a pizza we had a chain pizza place that was the best pizza I have had in a long time. The matzah dough is a far cry from the real thing, but the topping almost makes up for it. A traditional margherita pizza topping or any topping you like will work just as well. Be creative.

  • 1 sweet onion, sliced in thin wedges
  • Oil or butter for sautéing
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 12 ounces mushrooms, any variety (I used shiitake and portobello), sliced
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
  • Truffle oil (optional)

Heat up a large sauté pan at medium heat with a little oil or oil and butter. Add the sliced onions, allowing them to cook slowly until browned and soft, but not mushy. Add a little salt after about 10 minutes of cooking. A little sugar (optional) can also be added to aid in the caramelization process. It could take 20 – 30 minutes for the onions to caramelize. When done, remove them from the pan and set aside.IMG_5641

Place the sliced mushrooms in the same pan and sauté until they are done, adding oil or butter if needed and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan when done and set aside.
Grate the cheese.

Sprinkle the grated cheese over the baked matzah crust and top with the mushrooms and onions.

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Bake in the 400º oven for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is crisp.
Remove from oven and lightly sprinkle a few drops of truffle oil over the pizza, if desired.

Tips and variations:
The dough can be made ahead time and ready for toppings at a moments notice. Consider traditional pizza toppings with tomato sauce, mozzarella and leftover roasted vegetables. Experiment with different cheeses and fresh herbs like basil and oregano and any other toppings you enjoy.

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This pizza reheats well in a toaster oven the next day and is a nice treat for breakfast, lunch or dinner.