FEMILY- a very special guest post

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The story goes: Bubbe and Zayde were new to Birmingham when Riva and Isaac came to town.  Zayde heard Riva’s maiden name was Schuster and arranged to meet at the Jewish Community Center. “He said he’s wearing a yellow shirt and I said I had white hair!” Riva said. “And I found a beautiful femily!”

Turns out the Hirschs are not related to our Schusters. But after surviving the Holocaust with few living blood relatives, makeshift familial attachments to other survivors was important for both couples. Riva and Bubbe kvelled and kvetched like sisters.



The letter below was written by my cousin Rebecca several years ago following the first Yom Kippur after Bubbe died. As we ate Riva’s knishes, so similar but different than the ones Bubbe fed us, we thought of Bubbe. We missed her schtink of fried onions and big hugs.  Last week, we finally got around to cooking with Riva. Bubbe was definitely “proud on us.”



** Click the play button for for short sounds of our knish adventure. ++ Be sure to scroll all the way to the recipe for a step-by-step sound guide on mixing, kneading and folding knishes.

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Dear Esther and Shaina,

There is no tie that holds my family closer together than our love of food. Whether we are the ones that spend hours upon hours in the kitchen, or show up just in time to get that hot out of the oven knish, we simply love food. This love comes out even when we fast during Yom Kippur.

“Beckelah, did you try mine knishes? Dey different from Mamala’s. I put mine mit dill.” Those words mean one thing: it’s time to break the fast.

The Schuster-Shealy fam has been breaking the fast with our close friends: The Hirsch-Perlstein fam for almost 30 years. Or as their grandmother Riva likes to say “Of course you come break the fast mit us, ve are family!”

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At each and every break fast, Riva is the one to greet you at the door and in the most loving way start demanding: “come, zit, eat mamaleh. You need to eat. Here come eat mine knishes.” Around the age of 7, I’m pretty sure I was able to respond with “yeah I know, they are different than Bubbe’s—you make them with dill.”

Despite the differences in the recipe, no knish will ever be as satisfying to me as those of my Bubbe or of Riva. As my dad likes to say “this is the food of our homeland.” The simplicity yet the complexity of potato mixed with garlic and honions (onions), wrapped up in an hoily (oily) dough and baked until golden perfection was and is such a formidable part of my childhood. I loved when my mom would get the phone call that it was time to come to Bubbe’s to pick up the knishes. And after stuffing our faces with them by the dozen, Bubbe would, without fail, ask “Tell me kids are dey edible?”

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6 hands, 1 knish

Sometimes, I was even lucky enough to partake in the process of making the knishes. Nothing was more exciting than knish making time—when Bubbe would make 100s upon 100s of knishes.

Here are some of the important rules and memories from the times I spent “working” in Bubbe’s kitchen:

  • No fressing, no lessing, no shmecking (if you ever made it to my Bubbe’s house, you know about this sign)
  • You just need a little bit of hoil (translation: Bubbe’s version of a little bit of oil equaled about a gallon of it per batch of dough)
  • Speaking of dough: “You can use dis dough for anyting—kreplach, strudel, blintzes, knishes, anyting you want.”
  • Where is your shmata? (Head covering)
  • Mine Rebecelah, go rest, you young, I don’t want you to be tired. Let Bubbe make you someting to eat. You da baby of da family and you need to rest.

Sometimes, sometimes, if I was really lucky, I was deemed the brown paper bag girl. I had the critical role of unfolding brown grocery bags to place the finished knish on to soak up any hoil. After laying out a bag or two, I had to go back to resting on the couch and eating in case I was tired or hungry. That’s one thing I learned for sure—there was no one more important to Bubbe than her grandchildren. And she would be damned if anyone did anything to make our lives even the slightest bit difficult. Everything she did spoke unconditional love for “her seven grandchildren. Dey are the hair dat I breathe.”

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While we often joke about her crazy kitchen routines, her hour long monologues about her grandchildren, and so many other “Bubbisms,” I am so thankful to have had a grandmother in my life who demonstrated each and every day what it looks like to love another person unconditionally. She was our biggest fan and protector, and we knew it with every bite of that knish that she spent hours making just right.


While Bubbe is no longer with us today, I know she is just as happy watching three of her grandchildren enjoying her best friend Riva’s knishes together just the other week at break fast. Whenever I get to spend time with my siblings and cousins, I smile just thinking of how Bubbe is kvelling. Especially when we are eating, because heaven forbid “you lost veight.”




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Riva’s Knishes


Potato filling

  • 8 potatoes
  • 1 tbs margarine
  • two onions, finely chopped.
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste

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Peel and boil potatoes in salter water until soft. In saucepan, melt margarine and sautee onions until translucent. In large bowl, mash potatoes with onions, salt and pepper until soft. NO CHUNKS! Use a stick blender if you have one (different from bubbe’s, Riva’s knish filling is smooth and fluffy).


  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

Beat one egg in large bowl. Add oil, baking soda and lukewarm water in that order. Mix well. Add two cups flour and a pinch of salt and knead into dough.

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Assembly instructions:

Preheat over to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Separate dough into three parts and roll into pickle/hot dog shaped logs. Cover with towel to keep moist.

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Roll one section of dough into elongated oval shape on floured surface. Brush dough with melted margarine. Cut dough in half. Pile a thick 1/2 inch of potato mixture onto each cut of dough. Stretch dough over the filling and press edges together.

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After edges are tucked in and there are no holes, flip over onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Again, brush top of dough with margarine and generously sprinkle will dried dill. Bake for 35 minutes until top is golden. Once cool, slice into two inch pieces for individual knishes. Serve as forshpeiz or hearty nosh in between meals.


Riva likes to make potato salad out of leftover potato filling. She mixes it with mayo and hardboiled eggs. She’s definitely from the old country.

◊ Elderly

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Dear mom,

My letter was a commitment to not saying sorry and you came back with a whole apology manifesto. You’re old. For someone who still caters meals for 25+ people, still stays up past midnight, still goes to loud concerts, still walks miles at 6 am, still carries vodka miniatures around in your purse, you’re old. You’re allowed to complain about it.

Maybe all your complaining is coming out now because you held it in for so long. I feel like during your working life, you were too busy to pay attention to your feelings. When you slowed down, you learned how to stretch and sense your muscles and realized they hurt? I don’t know. My muscles hurt often. I think I act the most elderly between the both of us.

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You and dad having more stamina than I do when it comes to staying out late partying. I get sleepy. Or worried. Either I’m too lame for my age or you’re too wild for your age.

Health is tricky. I want to preserve my body and enjoy my life without becoming too nutty. I want to run long distances + I want my knees to work for a long time. I want to eat everything + I want my body to be able to do everything. I want to have fun all the time + I want to be functional and productive all the time. Balance isn’t really my thing though.

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I’m in the airport on my way home for a quick visit before heading out of the country again. I’m way unprepared and still have a long list of to-do’s trailing me from this past semester. So feel free to complain all you want… I’ll have my headphones on in the other room hunched over my computer like a normal super cool 27-year-old on vacation. Going wild.




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Speaking of health and balance and that thing you call moderation, here’s a recipe that meets all the requirements: vegan, gluten free, paleo, grain free and completely raw. I made it as a healthy alternative to sticky holiday sweets…  in reality it functioned as a good addition to them. #yolo

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Raw Pumpkin Pie Puree

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  • ½ cup almonds, soaked
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut (shreds/chips)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 – 7 dates depending on desired sweetness (I go with less sweet)
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger (more if you like a little kick)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • generous dash of nutmeg
  • generous pinch (or 2 or 3) of good salt

Immerse nuts and seeds in water and let soak for at least 7 hours (or overnight). Drain and rinse well. Add all ingredients to food processor and blend until creamy. It takes time to break up the coconut, so keep pureeing until you get a creamy consistency. Add more water if the mixture gets stuck.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI made a ton of this stuff toward the end of the semester. I brought it to class as a dip with sweet potato chips, and then to friends with chopped apples. My roommate stirred it into oats for a creamy, spunky porridge. One friend said she ate it with a spoon like cookie dough. I enjoyed it with sweet persimmons, blended into my spinach smoothies and, as always, a garnish atop my yogurt bowl.

♦ Forgive Me

Dear Shaina,
I am out of words. The year has flown by and I can’t seem to catch the days. I find myself spending more and more time in doctor’s offices and wondering if it’s because I have the luxury of time to pay attention to my aches and pains or because my increasingly aching joints are urgently demanding my attention. My braces are finally off, but now the real work on my teeth begins. It turns out that the orthodonture expense was only a small down payment for what comes next… a lot more time in the dental chair. I joked with Dad that we’re going to be one of those couples where the wife’s body falls apart and the husband loses his mind. Fortunately, Dad’s body and mind both seem to be holding out better than mine.


I don’t want to be one of those old people who is always talking about their most current physical imposition. I don’t want to be one of those people spending all their time and money on procedures and tests and therapies. I am way too young to be that old. Despite myself, I am holding onto, sometimes by a thread, my good attitude, positive outlook and enduring gratitude for my body and its steadfast and loyal performance all these years. My most recent new doctor told me that she couldn’t remember if she had ever known anyone who had lived with diabetes for fifty years.


I am grateful…and I am scared. I’m not ready for my luck to run out. I want more years, more good years! My body doesn’t owe me anything, but I will keep pushing and stretching the limits of its capacity for as long as I am able and keep hoping that it enjoys the ride enough to stay right with me.


So forgive me if I bore you with my recent test results or whining complaints about some ache or pain. I will try not to act my old age. Know that I can be easily diverted and engaged in conversation or mutual activities, especially when they involve you.

Can’t wait until you get here!



Butter Lettuce Salad with Sweet Potato Croutons and Pomegranate Seeds


This has become one of our favorite salads to serve when we have company or just for us. Butter lettuce is a refreshing treat (especially after some hard core dental work) and a good change of pace from our usual romaine or field greens. It is light, tasty and easy to prepare. The sweet potato croutons were such a hit that I have started making them just to have around to snack on. Eggplant croutons would work just as well. Use Japanese eggplants to avoid any bitterness and prepare the same way as sweet potato croutons.

This recipe will serve 8-10 people.

Sweet Potato Croutons

  • 2-3 Sweet potatoes, diced into 1/2” to 3/4” cubes
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil salt and pepper to taste

Cut up sweet potatoes into chunks. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper in one layer and roast in a 400° oven for 15-20 minutes or until edges are slightly browned and crisped. Remove from oven and cool.



  • 3 heads of Butter lettuce washed and dried
  • 1-2 avocados sliced
  • 1 cup *fresh pomegranate seeds
  • 1/2-3/4 cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • chives, cut up for garnish

*clementine or tangerine wedges can be substituted for pomegranate seedsIMG_7159

Salad components can be prepared a day ahead and arranged on a platter before serving.

Wash and dry lettuce and arrange on a platter or in a bowl. Distribute sweet potato chunks over lettuce. Slice avocados and arrange on the salad. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the salad and top with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and cut up chives.


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • zest from 1 fresh lemon
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

To prepare dressing, whisk together all ingredients and let sit overnight. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve dressing on the side or drizzle over salad right before serving.

◊ A Twist on Tradition

DSCF8387Dear mom,

I’m a rooted creature too. I’ve lived in exciting places. The feeling of curling up in my childhood bed under the same quilt that kept me warm twenty years ago, however, is just as appealing as the excitement of sleeping somewhere way cooler. Home is grounding – being there reminds me that I once had a place – and will always have one – outside the black hole of whatever currently consumes me.

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Right now that black hole is school and I like it and I’m not sorry for investing 100% of myself in it and in me. My brain is so squeezed for space that I’ve ignored whole categories on my to-do list (prioritizing?). #SorryNotSorry for eating Subway sandwiches, abandoning our blog and forgetting to shave my legs during the month of November. I’m done apologizing to myself for myself.

I haven’t been cooking much lately. My visit home for Thanksgiving, though, awoke my vegetable-chopping ambitions. Our traditions – the 10K run, shots of shlivovitz, lots of food – pulled me from the darkness of my hole and threw me back to moments much bigger than it.

Latkes are my favorite winter tradition. Four years ago (whoa!), I threw a Hanukah party in Bhuj, India. I grated potatoes with three friends, two knifes and one hand peeler. We poked holes into a bottlegourd for a menorah. We covered the floors with newspaper to soak up grease. We left the door open in my kitchen for ventilation and a cow wandered inside.

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For a day, I was pulled from my anxiety re living in a foreign place. I remembered that wherever I am – whatever consumes me – I’m always connected to something bigger.

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I might not have the wherewithal to make latkes + the necessary mess in my little Berkeley kitchen, but I’ve been invited to Hanukah parties where latkes will be plenty. I’ll bring curry cashew cream and hemp seed apple sauce scented with cardamom and orange blossom water as alternatives to usual fixings. Traditions are important… there’s also always room for creativity.




Cardamom, Orange Blossom, Hemp Seed Apple Sauce 

  • 5 – 7 medium McIntosh apples
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 7 pods of green cardamom, seeded and crushed
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract
  • 1tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tbs hemp seeds
  • juice of 1 fresh lemon
  • 1 tbs orange blossom water (can be purchased at middle eastern specialty store)

Peel and chop apples into 1 inch chunks. In medium saucepan, combine apples, water, cardamom, vanilla and cinnamon. Cover and cook until apples have turned to mush (15 – 20 minutes). Mash with fork or potato masher and stir in hemp seeds, lemon juice and orange blossom water.

It’s something a little different to dress your latkes in + a healthy snack + a filling breakfast stirred into yogurt.

Curry Cashew Cream

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  • 2 C raw cashews or cashew pieces soaked overnight
  • 1/3 C nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp good sea salt
  • 1 tbs yellow curry powder
  • pinch of cayenne powder to taste
  • 1/2 cup water… more as needed

To soak cashews, cover with water and leave for 6 hours or overnight. When ready, drain cashews and add them to food processor with other ingredients. Puree until creamy. The consistency should be like runny peanut butter — you can add water if you want it looser. Chill for four hours before serving on your favorite vegan latkes! It’s also good as a salad dressing.