◊ Balls


Dear mom,

I’m writing from Ben Gurion airport snacking on Bamba about to board my flight home. Two weeks in Israel – my shortest trip yet! It’s a blur.

Also, this post has audio — here’s a preview: 

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Each time I’m in Jerusalem, I find a new pocket holding its own world. This time, that pocket was my project. It belonged to midwives, mothers-to-be and new mothers. Many of them were understandably reluctant to speak with me and, for the first time, I was asked to turn off my recorder right in the juicy middle of interviews. Figuring out the right balance of friendly and assertive + respectful and relentless is not an easy job.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

The takeaway: I want to be midwife when I grow up… Is it too late? What other work matches the satisfaction of bringing life into the world?

When I wasn’t in the magical world of childbirth, I was with the fam. In the past three years, I feel like I’ve seen more of the family in Israel than I’ve seen in Birmingham. So lucky!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI got my routine initiation into Israeli salads and time zone with Hanoch and Edna, ate kreplach and chulent with the whole 20-person Pardes Hanna crew and even caught up with Ran and Nurit.

Most of my family time, though, was with Tan and Nahum. I can’t tell you how stuck I would have been without them. They fed me, drove me places early in the morning and late at night, helped me (an understatement) with my project, entertained me, fed me, fed me and fed me. They are amazing and SO MUCH FUN.

I’ve wanted a cooking lesson from Nahum for years. Every Saturday he cooks elaborate meals for his family and during my last Shabbat in Jerusalem he let me tag along. He’s a serious foodie. 

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I met Tan and Nahum in the Shuk with my microphone on Friday morning. I found Nahum around a table of men drinking Arak and smoking cigars. I used to live right outside the Shuk so I know it well. I have my nut person, my old/rotten veggies person, my natural foods person, my grain person.

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

But Nahum takes Shuk intimacy to a whole new level.


click on the audio below to hear this guy singing to us



The characters of Shuk are Nahum’s best friends. He only buys from the best and most expensive vendors.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetCLICK TO LISTEN ⇓


Afterwards, we cooked. Nahum showed me how to make fish balls – his own recipe inspired by his father’s gefilte fish + Jewish North African culinary traditions.



Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Now it’s back to reality. I’m sure there are just as many characters chilling in Berkeley Bowl as there are in the Jerusalem shuk, but it’s just not the same.


I’m including audio in this recipe, so don’t forget to click the play buttons!



These fish balls are inspired by Nahum’s father’s gefilte fish recipe:

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Fish Balls Chraime

Serves: many

Prep time: 1 hour

Fish Balls:

  • 1 lb. ground cod or haddock
  • 12 cup bread crumbs
  • 14 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 onion (shredded finely/juiced)
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and peper to taste

Pulse the fish ball ingredients in a food processor or mix with a wooden spoon.  Knead the mixture with your hands for a minute or so until the mixture binds together like dough.  Set in fridge.


  • 5-7 peppers, roasted
  • 5 – 7 dried sweet pepper, rehydrated
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 7 – 10 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes with juice
  • 1 cup water or stock
  • 1 tbs sweet paprika
  • 14 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • zest of one lemon
  • chili flakes

IMG_2634 (1)

Peel skins from roasted peppers and place dried peppers in water to rehydrate. Heat oil in a saucepan. Add garlic, roasted peppers, crushed tomatoes and water. Once rehydrated, add dried peppers.  Add the paprika, chili flakes and cilantro. Bring to boil, cover and cook for 25 minutes over medium heat.

About 10 minutes into the time the sauce is cooking, form the fish balls. The balls should be the size of ping-pong balls.


Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset 

Check the consistency of the sauce. If you want it thicker, cook it down some more. When the sauce is ready, place the fish balls into it and cook for 10- 12 minutes.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset 

When finished, serve fish balls over plenty of sauce with a chunk of white challah to soak it up.


Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Ps. Nahum’s thoughts on Judaism

♦ More than Just a Knish

Dear Shaina,
I saw Riva a few days ago and she still hadn’t seen or heard your post. I told her she was famous and she said, “for vat?” Sheryl promised to reveal her online debut to her that night. I wish I could’ve been there.


I love the way you and Rebecca brought Riva and Bubbe to life on the page and in the sound. I have seen Riva in action many times, but watching you and Rebecca exercise your respective tools (Rebecca with the rolling pin and you with the microphone) was the real show for me. Rebecca relinquished her assigned position on the couch and asserted her role as a true balabusta (competent woman of the home) and you, the shy quiet one, led the charge with the microphone-in-her-face interrogation. Riva was so proud of Rebecca’s dough rolling skills and assured me that you would get it with a little practice. There was little for me to do, but watch (and clean up the mess, of course).


And then there was the tasting…similar to Bubbe’s, but different. And the discussion of the potatoes…there is always a discussion of the potatoes; the kind I bought, the kind she uses, when I cooked them, when she cooks them, the color, the quality, the wateriness, the denseness… Bubbe was exactly the same about her potatoes. There is a right and a wrong potato for knishes. Even though Riva asserts that hers are the real potato knishes, they both agreed on the potato part.


All afternoon, Riva insisted that her recipe was a secret and that she was sharing it with us because we’re femily. The more she said it, the more nervous I got watching you with that microphone in her face, knowing where this recipe was going to end up. I nudged you. I whispered, you need to tell her. When you finally gently broached the subject and told her what you planned to do, she responded without skipping a beat, “Sure, go ahead and print it.” We were all speechless! “But Riva, you said it was a secret” you said. Her response…”Yes, it’s a secret, but I gave it to you. Now it’s yours, you can do what you want with it.” I only wish we had that on tape!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Riva was in her glory. Bubbe was right there with us…I am sure in the fried onions and oil. I was proud to be the daughter and the mother at that very moment. The sticky dough, the savory filling, the delicate seasoning…more than just a knish…it’s femily, it’s tradition, it’s love.

Thank you Shaina and Rebecca! I am more than proud to be your mom and aunt!


P.S. Those leftover fried onions did not go to waste. In true Bubbe tradition, I just repurposed them. See recipe below.

Baked Brie with Caramelized* Onions


*Okay, Bubbe didn’t know a caramelized onion from caramel candied apple. It just sounds better than slowly sautéed sweet onions in oil.

This is hardly a recipe. It was an impulsive brainstorm that popped into my head as I was putting out the Brie cheese on New Years Eve and came across the leftover sautéed onions in the refrigerator. I was going to top the Brie with my usual Pesto, but when I saw the onions, I thought maybe…
This dish got rave reviews and is super simple to make.

  • 1-2 cups chopped sweet onion
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 round of Brie
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • parsley for garnish
  • Crackers or apple slices for serving

Preheat oven to 350°
Sauté onions in olive oil until golden brown and caramelized.
Place Brie on an oven proof serving dish.
Spread caramelized onions over the top of the Brie.
Bake 20 minutes or until cheese is heated through.

Garnish with parsley and serve with crackers or apple slices.

Next time, I might even try adding some crushed pecans before baking for an added twist.