♦ your life…your job

Dear Shaina,
Interesting titles from your last two posts…“your problem”, “your fault”. Have you given up on the “I” statement thing already? Just trying to keep up.

Actually, I thought I better respond quickly (not my usual pattern) just to clarify and allay some of the tension out there (not ours…everyone else’s). Interestingly, I have received almost no comments from anyone on your last post, not even Dad, other than he read it. One comment was just, “Kids!” As if to say, ‘you do your best and this is what you get!’ I suspect people think that we’re having a big fight …or something.

I don’t think they got it. Or maybe I didn’t. I just smiled when I read your letter. I do appreciate your sense of humor! You are way ahead of schedule in terms of examining yourself, realizing that you are fucked up, that much of it is inherited from your loving and overly-engaged family and…that it’s no big deal! We all have issues!. Accepting them, even embracing them, goes a long way toward minimizing the impact they have on our lives.

That, my dear, is the whole point. We can’t change who we are or the things that made us who we are. Learning to love our imperfections, not being embarrassed by our flaws, not trying to hide the blemishes…produces the change/growth we are looking for. I’m not saying it’s easy to embrace our non-idealized selves. Acceptance is hard and becoming your best self is a whole other line of work. I think you totally get it and I am very proud of how you own your life! It took me a much longer time to get to that place. Of course, I didn’t have a fellowship where they pay you to naval gaze.

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Dad and I are continuing to coast on the wave of retirement. No point in naval gazing at this stage in life. Once you give up on bettering yourself, all kinds of opportunities emerge. Dad and Robert performed their debut “coffee house” concert at a friend’s home with ten people in attendance. They were well received and hope to do a New Year’s Eve encore at our house.

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I decided that Shavasana is my favorite yoga pose, I only cook when I feel like it and I am planning a martini mahjong marathon for the day after Christmas. We are both hooked on Siamese Mahjong (a way to play mahjong with just two people). An arrangement of tiles and racks has set up semi permanent residence on our kitchen table. We’ve come a long way!

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I do hope you are having fun, wherever you are at the moment. Keep crying (it cleans out the eyes so you can see more clearly), keep laughing, keep struggling with it all…that’s your job right now…and you’re darn good at it!

Love, Mom
xxoxoxxoxoxo
I’m not doing much formal cooking these days, but I still enjoy puttering in the kitchen. I made a GF appetizer for the dinner/coffee house concert where Dad and Robert performed. I saw this beautiful ahi tuna and was inspired. I’ve done this before, but am never quite sure how it will turn out. I put together a slightly different marinade this time and there were no complaints. The recipe is easy, can be made Gluten Free and looks impressive even though it only takes about 15-20 minutes of actual labor. Aside from the marinating time, the slicing is the longest part.

SEARED TUNA WITH GLUTEN FREE MARINADE
Serves 10-12 for appetizers

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  • ~ 1 1/2 pounds fresh ahi grade tuna ~2” thick
  • 1/2 cup GF Tamari Sauceimg_9493
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1-2tsp Sriracha sauce
  • Juice from 1/2 fresh orange
  • ~1 inch of fresh ginger peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 stalks green onions
  • 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds,
  • wasabi
  • pickled ginger
  • rice crackers

Cut tuna in blocks that are about 5” x 3” x 2”thick
Mix the next 8 ingredients together in a flat bottomed glass container large enough to hold the tuna.
Slice the green onions up into small pieces. Add the white and lightly green parts of the onion to the marinade mix. Set aside the green pieces for garnish.

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Lightly toast the sesame seeds by placing in a dry frying pan and heating over a low heat until lightly toasted, shaking the pan frequently and watching very closely to not burn the seeds. Set aside to cool.

Place the tuna in the marinade and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, turning every 30 minutes.

Heat grill to highest temperature. Use the sear setting if you have one.

Grill tuna 1-2 minutes on all sides or until it is done to your liking. 1-2 minutes will result in very rare tuna.

Slice tuna in 1/4″ thick slices and orange on platter.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and remaining green onion.

Serve with wasabi, GF Tamari Sauce, pickled ginger and rice crackers

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♦ Living My Life

Dear Shaina,

I would never take down your glow-in-the-dark stars! I won’t even throw out your Fruit of the Loom underwear from third grade without your permission. And I take full ownership of my feelings! I think you’re projecting! Although, I do appreciate your attempt at psychological interpretation. Of course, it’s my problem! I thought we were supposed to share our feelings in these letters. Feelings aren’t always rational, orderly or predictable and I know you know that! Not to worry…I am proceeding full steam ahead with my own life and quite proud and satisfied to be a supportive observer of yours. I am quite OK and as far as I can tell, so are you.

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In the meantime, the years-months-days-hours-minutes keep flying by! In the last few months, I’ve immersed myself in at least three radically different lifestyles…urban hoofing it, accompanied by backpack or grocery cart everywhere for everything we need and do – to suburban car commuting, accompanied by NPR on the radio everywhere for everything I need and do – to barefoot days of walking the white sand beaches of the Gulf Coast with nowhere to go and nothing to do. It’s disorienting and refreshing. Then there’s the mail…hold, transfer, deliver, stop-hold, deliver, hold, stop-hold…never-ending paper to shuffle through.

My days (and nights) are filled with obsessively watching the news (I am horrified by the undercurrent of racism, divisiveness and fear in our country), walking, going to yoga, playing mahjong, doing volunteer tasks and catching up with neglected house chores. I laminated my newly minted Medicare card and signed up for a Medigap and prescription drug plan. I renewed the expired car tags, the ones both Dad and I swore we had just renewed… Where did a whole year go?

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I bought a PC laptop so I could install my newly purchased financial management program to make my bookkeeping life more manageable. What was I thinking? Talk about a learning curve…the software and the hardware! My eyeballs have computer-rot (there must be such a term)! You know, when your eyes go out of focus and you feel like there are teeny protruding nodules embedded in your eyeballs. I am challenged and determined and have talked to more tech people in Bangalore than I care to admit.

And I am still trying to wrap my head around how it is that 65 years have fast-forwarded into this moment. My brain and my body seem to be holding up, despite over 51 years of Type 1 Diabetes . To say, “I am filled with gratitude” is an understatement. I would not have chosen a life with diabetes at its core, but for all its challenges, it forced me to commit to living my life consciously, with a full heart and with appreciation for every single day. For that, I am also grateful!

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I will miss celebrating my birthday with you. I do plan on capitalizing on this momentous occasion for at least a month (if not the whole year), so don’t hesitate to call me anytime to make my day.

I definitely have been neglecting my cooking duties, so don’t expect much in the recipe department. Is this really a cooking blog anyway?!

I love you and miss you! As always, call your mother!

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxooxxooxoxoox

Easy Chicken Dinner for Two

Who has time for cooking? I am beginning to understand why people stop cooking when they are only cooking for two. Most nights, it’s salad and vegetables and sometimes a veggie burger or a tuna fish or grilled cheese sandwich. Every once in a while, I buy a piece of fresh fish or take out a couple of chicken breasts.

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Easy Chicken Dinner for Two

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut in strips
  • salt and pepper and any other spices if *desired(basil, oregano, tarragon) to taste
  • 1 whole onion, sliced in wedges
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4-1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
  • 1/2-3/4 cups raw cashews (or any other nuts you have around)

* I used salt, pepper, garlic and a little oregano

Sprinkle cut-up chicken with salt, pepper and any other spices you lie and let sit while preparing onions.

Sauté sliced onions in olive oil in a 10” sauté pan until they are translucent.

Add the chopped garlic to the onions and continue cooking until onions are caramelized but not deeply browned.

Add the chicken strips to the onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until cooked through, turning over as needed.

Add the sun-dried tomatoes before the chicken is fully cooked and continue sautéing until the chicken and the tomatoes are browned together. Add the cashews and cook until nuts are lightly browned. It should take about 15-20 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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I couldn’t resist buying this beautiful branch of brussels sprouts, but it made a whole lot of brussels sprouts. After one night of eating  just roasted brussels sprouts and salad for dinner, I decided to add some chicken. I had leftover tomatoes and cucumbers (no lettuce left) and found some sun-dried tomatoes and raw cashews in the frig.  The next thing I knew I had a very easy and tasty 20 minute meal. Perfect for busy retirees!

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I  cut up the tomatoes, cucumbers and a little onion and dressed this salad with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. I cut the brussels sprouts in halves and quarters and roasted them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

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It was one of the tastiest meals I’ve cooked in a long time…and super easy!

♦ The Empty Nest…Again

Dear Shaina,

We behaved as if the summer would go on forever. A few days at the beach, a brief girls trip, but mostly day-to-day…going to meetings, eating, chopping, running, spinning, for you; shopping for groceries, walking, yoga stretching, washing sweaty clothes, preparing dinner, cleaning the kitchen, for me…the ordinary, the mundane…the sharing of meals and chit chat to the background clutter of podcasts and political reality TV. I almost got used to it.

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As the large and small suitcases appeared on your bedroom floor I started feeling sad. And I didn’t understand it. It’s not like you haven’t done this before…many times before. This time felt different to me. I felt a way overdue (10-years) post traumatic empty-nest-syndrome coming on. No more coming home for vacations from school. No more school. No more home-base for worldly adventures. No more living at home until the next take-off to wherever. The next step, no matter how impermanent or worldly it may be, will likely not involve setting up shop in the bedroom of your childhood with glow-in-the-dark stars tenaciously stuck to the ceiling. It will not include bedtime rituals revisited nightly where, if I am lucky, I can get a glimpse into the truth of my child’s being. It will, at most, serve as a stopover on your next leap into the world of adulthood.

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So, I was sad…and a little reluctant…and anxious. I made reservations for Dad and me to fly to NJ so we didn’t have to say goodbye two weeks before you actually left the country. We packed and weighed and repacked your suitcases and said our goodbyes at the Newark airport, another déjà vu. We went back to Larry and Ruth’s and distracted ourselves with mahjong. And we got on a plane the next day to begin our own adventure and bypass the empty-nest thing altogether.

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Receiving your first call and hearing your smile put us at ease. I forget how adaptive you are, how well you know what you need and how persistent you are in going after exactly that. I remind myself that you always manage to be exactly where you need to be, even when you’re not quite sure where that is.

 

Although, I’m not sure how you will survive without your vita-mix to fulfill your food-in-jar obsession, I am glad that, at least, you have a SCOBY.

So, Dad and I are here, forging out a slightly different routine than our usual at-home one. We eat a late healthy breakfast (Shaina style, yogurt, fruit, oatmeal), walk 4-6 miles a day doing errands or real hikes, visit grocery stores and mostly hang out in the neighborhood.

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We went to a concert in an old school theater, Shakespeare in the Park, 2 different street fairs (on the same day), an author event at the local bookstore, minyan at one temple and Shabbat services at another and I got a library card. Dad went to his first conversational Spanish class and scheduled a drum lesson for later in the week.

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Every morning last week we were awoken to the sounds of a crane demolishing the building across the street (a long overdue project) and we became immersed in the daily drama of deconstruction.

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We have a favorite Thai restaurant. I buy fresh cut flowers weekly. I do laundry. We clean. We are acting like we live here. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. I feel very retired and indulged. All good.

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I am cooking my first real dinner tonight. I bought fresh wild Alaskan halibut, dandelion greens for a salad that was being sampled at the grocery store and golden beets and sweet potatoes. It feels like a very indulgent dinner. Making fish reminds me of you and all the fish dinners I made this summer to ensure you got your protein fix. In fact, buying fresh fish at the Fishmarket may become my newest trigger for remembering this past summer when we all pretended that you lived at home.

Love,
Mom
xoxooxoxoxoxoxo

Dandelion and Arugula Salad with Tiger Figs and Nectarines
This salad complements the fish well with its grassy flavors and lemony dressing. The fruits added a sweet surprise just when you thought you couldn’t handle one more tart bite. 

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  • 1 bunch dandelion greens
  • Juice of one lemon
  • A handful or two of arugula
  • 1 nectarine, cut in wedges
  • 3 tiger figs, cut in slices
  • 1/4 cup cured black olives
  • Finely sliced purple onion to taste

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon spicy mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Wash and dry dandelion greens and remove tough red stems. Cut up leaves and toss in a bowl with lemon juice. Allow greens to chill in the lemon juice for about 30 minutes, while preparing the dressing and the rest of the ingredients.

Prepare remaining salad ingredients.

Whisk mustard and olive oil.

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Add remaining ingredients to dandelion greens. Add dressing and toss thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

Halibut with Lemon Caper Sauce
(For Two)

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This is a relatively easy dish to make and the ingredient amounts are forgiving.  Taste often and listen to your instincts. You can never have too much garlic or shallots! I added roasted golden beets and a baked sweet potato to round out a very satisfying meal…with wine, of course!

  • About 3/4 lb of fresh wild Alaskan HalibutIMG_8764.jpg
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter
  • Fresh garlic, chopped or thinly sliced

Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick or well seasoned frying pan and add chopped garlic.
Cook over medium heat until butter is lightly browned and garlic is aromatic.
Add seasoned fish and cook on both sides for about four minutes on each side or until fish is cooked through and flaky, but not dry.
Set aside on a heated plate and cover with foil.

Lemon Caper Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
  • 1 shallot thinly sliced or chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped or sliced
  • Juice of one lemon with zest
  • 1/3-1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 2 green onions or chives cut up
  • 1/4 cup cut up fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Add additional butter and oil to fish frying pan and sauté garlic and shallots until fragrant. Add wine and lemon juice and increase heat to medium high. Boil until sauce thickens slightly. Stir in parsley, capers and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.

Pour warm sauce over fish and serve immediately.

Garnish with parsley and cured black olives.

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Bon Apetit!

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♦ Only Child

Dear Shaina,

Maybe we’re just a family that likes transitions. WeIMG_8302 seem to find ourselves at that edge over and over again…and we kinda like it.

I’ve started measuring my transitions in relation to bathroom facilities. In the space of a month, we journeyed from a very large home with a 180 square foot master bath complete with soaking tub and walk-in steam shower to a 110 year old, 586 square foot condo with a single bathroom measuring a mere 5 x 8 feet, maybe.

A week long jaunt off to Berkeley for your amazing graduation (we’re so proud of you) afforded us a one room “cottage” sporting a toilet at one end of the room and a kitchen sink at the other, leaving us to find our way to a novel outdoor shower right outside of the cottage. IMG_8278

After returning to Birmingham, we made our annual trek to the Acoustic Cafe music festival where the facilities consisted of Porta-Potties, pumped well water and…well, we skipped the shower altogether.

We managed to get ourselves clean and relieve our bodily waste in much the same way in all locations.

The more obvious adjustment occurred with the convergence of people and stuff. More precisely, you and three hundred pounds (that is actually an underestimate) of your stuff returned to the bedroom of your youth.

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You actually did a pretty good job of making it disappear pretty quickly. The laundry room was pretty active for about a week. We all started eating a little healthier. Visits to the grocery store became a little more frequent. New routines and rules began to emerge…your rules. No TV in our bedroom after you go to sleep, and no talking either, due to your highly advanced and sensitive hearing capacity, even with ear plugs.Forget anything else we might want to do in our bedroom.

IMG_7984It’s a transition…we’re used to being on your own.

Then there were the kitchen activities, mostly a pleasure. You chopped, I wiped. You dropped, I swept. You dirtied, I washed. It worked.

The Vita Mix fiasco was the I Love Lucy moment for me; Dad on the step-stool with his phone camera strategically poised above the Vita Mix as explicitly directed by you, me delivering ingredients upon demand, and you confidently tampering away at your culinary creation.

And then, WHAM! You opened the lid, as you had done hundreds of times before, the blade hit something still frozen and the rest was a gloriously executed explosion of chocolate and raspberry goup splattering the walls, ceilings, floors, chairs, hallway and even your ever-tolerant father. He wasn’t happy.

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You immediately said you would clean it up. I laughed and grabbed my camera. I had the best time ever!  Watching you scrub that ceiling and those walls…Bubbe would be proud!

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Only children are often over indulged, self-centered and spoiled. We made an effort to not overpower you, but when it’s two to one, as it always is with an only child, the odds are automatically stacked. We encouraged your independence, self-reliance and self-determination. You don’t typically present as an only child. More often than not, you were a quiet, undemanding and too easy to get along with child. We were secretly pleased when we finally had to punish you for lying to us when you were 15 years old and you shocked us by standing up to us, while we whimpered about the broken bond of trust in our tiny enmeshed family.

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You are the poster child for “nature vs. nurture.” Your innate calm, thoughtful, easy-going qualities were cloned directly from your father, along with his feet. But nurture apparently had its way with you. Along with my eyebrows, you seemed to have acquired a few of my louder more authoritarian traits. It looks like you’re stuck with a pretty strong dose of both of us.

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We couldn’t be more proud of the young adult you have become (although we don’t necessarily want to live with you). You found your voice and it’s one hell of an amazing voice! But don’t worry. We’re used to transitions…and we absolutely love this one!

Glad to have you home…for a short while, anyway!
Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxooxoxoxoxoxoxo

 

It’s summer time and there’s not much cooking going on. The garden is beginning to take hold and a few things are landing in my kitchen. Most of these recipes are modifications of some old tried and true ones, but with every new season, there are new variations. The quantities aren’t precise so use your judgment and know you can’t go wrong with a little more or less of any ingredient in these dishes. Enjoy!

Squash Casserole

  • 2-3 pounds yellow squash
  • 5 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • Vegetable bouillon to taste
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1 – 2 cups grated aged cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3eggs beaten
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

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Cook cut up yellow squash, carrots and onions in a large soup pot filled with water and vegetable bouillon to taste until vegetables are tender.

Drain vegetables when cooked into a large bowl. Broth may be reserved for a soup base.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of butter to the hot vegetables and stir until melted. Using a stick blender, blend all the vegetables together to your desired consistency.

Add yogurt, garlic and half the cheese and mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Add eggs and mix together.

Heat up a casserole dish (or several small casserole dishes) using a little of the butter in a 350° oven.

Melt the remaining butter and add the bread crumbs and remaining grated cheese for the topping. Pour squash mixture into heated casserole dish(es) and top with bread crumb mixture.

Bake in 350° oven for 45-60 minutes until topping is browned and casserole is set.

 

Fennel Slaw

This is another summertime favorite.  Easy to make. Light and refreshing. Can be made ahead of time.

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  • 2 Fennel bulbs
  • juice and zest from two small or 1 large lemon
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Variations: add sliced fresh radishes or green onions

Thinly slice fennel bulb and mix together with the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before serving. Adjust seasonings to taste.

 

♦ At The Table

Dear Shaina,

I am in the throes of a kitchen-trashing cooking marathon for Passover. We got in Monday afternoon after a wedding in Chicago and I got right down to it and made another Chocolate Bomb (I already made two before I left last week). My strategy (I always have a cooking strategy) is to start with the sweets and move on to the sautéed onions and mushrooms while chopping and cooking the Gefilte fish. My strategy revolves around the progressive use of the food processor (from sweet to smelly) and the arrival of the cleaning people (tomorrow); trash the house today, clean tomorrow, fish smell gone by seder time.Image 4-20-16 at 9.59 PM.jpg

I was looking at all the Passover recipes and pictures on our blog; the table, the food, the people. Some of the guests are no longer with us, some will be going to other seders and you will be hosting a seder of your own. I can’t help but feel the void that you’re not being here will create. I remind myself that we will see you shortly, that we can FaceTime during the seder (maybe), that you will be celebrating with friends…blah, blah, blah…I am still and will be missing you at our seder.

Image 4-20-16 at 9.57 PM.jpgOne of the ways I am dealing with it is by cooking like a fiend…13 hours in the kitchen yesterday. I managed to produce one sponge cake, Nahum’s mother’s Poppy Seed Cake (yes, I said a remembrance prayer in her honor even though I never met her), Matza Caramel Chocolate brittle, a sugar free apple crisp, 6 pounds of chopped onions and three pounds of baby Portobello mushrooms sautéed and 85 pieces (yes, I count like Bubbe did) of Gefilte fish. IMG_7806

There were sticky fish pieces on every surface of the kitchen, every pot and bowl I own (almost) was dirty, the house smelled and my sciatica was throbbing. There is nothing that makes you feel more productive and takes you outside of yourself  like immersing yourself in a major cooking frenzy. I hardly even thought about missing you during those 13 hours…except when you texted me for the spinach kugel recipe. It actually made me feel better. There is something comforting about knowing that I will “be” at your seder in the same way that Bubbe continues to “be” at all of ours. Food is transcendent. I’m going to add those sundried tomatoes (per your modification) to my spinach kugel and transport you right into my kitchen.Image 4-20-16 at 10.02 PM.jpg

It is your birthday on the first night of Passover. I hope the Passover sponge cake makes it there in time. You were the only kid I knew who loved having your birthday on Passover…and you still do! You loved having a bunch of people over for dinner, you loved all the matzo delights and you loved the variety of amazing desserts. You actually once claimed (not so long ago) that Passover sponge cake was your favorite cake, any time of the year! Who says that!?

I will still miss you. Maybe you can send us a few seder tips, a relevant question or two, a sharing exercise to stimulate a more nuanced Passover discussion…like you always do. I might almost be able to imagine that you’re right here at the table with us.

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxooxoxoo

 

Too much boiled chicken (from all that Chicken Soup)?

What’s for dinner the night before the Seder?

What’s in your last sandwich before Passover begins?

Chicken Salad!

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This is my favorite thing to do with the boiled chicken from my Chicken Soup. I usually make Chicken Soup for Passover ahead of time and freeze it until the big day.  I make enough soup to supply two seders and leftover soup for the week.  We can’t possibly eat all that boiled chicken and it won’t hold until the holiday, so I freeze it and have it ready for chicken salad anytime I want some.

As soon as the soup is done, I remove the chicken, let it cool a bit and debone it while its still warm.  I freeze some of the chicken in the soup and save whatever I think we will eat in the next few days. I then divide the rest up into freezer bags that hold about a half of a deboned chicken. When I am ready for chicken salad, I just defrost a bag and make my favorite recipe.

Tarragon Chicken Salad

  • Deboned Cooked Chicken (whatever amount you have)
  • Mayonnaise (amount to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Tarragon (or to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Optional: Toasted Pecans or slivered almonds, celery, black olives

Chop  Chicken in a food processor or cut up in small chunks. Add desired amount of mayonnaise, tarragon, salt and pepper and mix together.

Serve as a salad, sandwich or with crackers.

Good for lunch, dinner or appetizers. Also makes a great matzo sandwich.

 

 

♦ Out of Our Minds

Dear Shaina,

My life is a blur! A month in Portland setting up a teeny condo in a 100 year old building, that we arrived at sight unseen, with a key, two suitcases full of dishes and an air mattress, a few towels, sheets and some forks (I forgot to pack the knives and spoons).

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Late night arrival

Are we out of our minds? As dad says, “Taking risks and acting foolish are for the young…and the old!” We have arrived! Dad’s new guiding principle is “time competence”. Using your time competently translates into “do the things you want to do now”! There just isn’t enough time left to be wasteful of this precious commodity.

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The air mattress from hell!

So, we did it! After a couple of rough nights on the air mattress, multiple visits to the thrift store, furniture stores and hours and days spent navigating the IKEA maze, we began to settle in. A comfy mattress arrived, a chair and table were picked up at the thrift store, a Murphy bed was ordered, the IKEA team delivered a truckload and in a blink of an eye we had a bed, night tables, quilts, pillows, a coffee table and lots of other goodies.

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Our first chair…from the thrift store.

We worked tirelessly cleaning, putting together, hanging, organizing and walking back and forth to the hardware store enough times to become familiar faces. Our neighborhood offered us access to everything we needed on foot…a coffee shop across the street with wifi, numerous restaurants, bars and grocery stores, nail places, a barber shop, beauty salons, an independent movie theater, yoga studios, spas, a library, even a shoe repair place, and three synagogues all within blocks of our condo. We set out to explore all the neighborhood offerings and barely touched the surface. It was exciting and energizing and pleasantly exhausting.

Rainbows and raindrops

Portland’s charm…raindrops and rainbows

Then we took a break…Dad off to Park City with the boys and me off to Berkeley with my girl. It was a first for us in some ways; the first time I stayed in your home, the first time I slept in your bed with you, the first time you orchestrated a mini-vacation for me. We went to a yoga class, saw a movie, sat in on one of your classes and “played” mahjong with your friends. I walked your neighborhood and shopped your grocery stores. I stepped into the routine of your life for a few days in the midst of my own chaotic escapade. I slept really well in your bed! Thank you!

There is something to be said about embarking on a new adventure…at any age. I got unstuck. I see new possibilities and options and opportunities. Living in a small space wasn’t confining. Using my feet to run errands, buy groceries, get my haircut, pick up a prescription or go to a yoga class made me feel more connected to my life and the people that I encountered along the way. I love the way Portland lives!

Feeling like home.

Feeling like home.

We are back in Bham and comfortably slipping into our usual routines. I love the spaciousness of our home and the closeness of family and good friends. Getting into the car to go wherever you want has its advantages. Shabbat dinners, Monday mahjong, Tuesday and Thursday minyan/walking group, Book Club, yoga and all the rest live fully in my Bham life. I am grateful to have so many options and to know that there is a lot of life to be enjoyed wherever I am.

Love,
Mom
oxoxoxoxo
Riced Cauliflower with Mushrooms and Herbs

Although I did entertain a few times in Portland (mostly wine and Trader Joes hors d’oeuvres), I never really cooked a full meal. That changed once we got back to Bham and Shabbat offered the opportunity to reunite with family and friends. I wanted to do something simple, but tasty and healthy. I had heard about substituting cauliflower for rice, but wasn’t sure exactly how that would work. I tried it and loved it! It is healthy and will work in any recipe that calls for rice. I happened to have some portobello mushrooms, so this recipe evolved from there.

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The “rice” can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until you need it.

Riced Cauliflower with Mushrooms and Herbs

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
  • 12 ounces portobello mushrooms
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 green onions, cut uo in 1/4” pieces
  • fresh basil, chopped
  • fresh parsley, chopped
  • fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted cashews (optional)

Wash and core cauliflower and break up into large chunks no bigger than 2-3”. Fill food processor no more than 3/4 full with cauliflower chunks. Pulse processing blade to chop cauliflower into rice sized pieces. Set aside or store in the refrigerator in a covered bowl until ready to use.

Chop the onion into small pieces and drop into a large preheated sauté pan. Sear the onions over medium heat until the moisture from the onions cooks off. Add one tablespoon of oil and the garlic to the onions and continuing sautéing until they are cooked, but not overdone. Remove form the pan and set aside.

Cut up or chop the portobello mushrooms into small pieces and drop into the heated sauté pan and cook until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan and mix together with onions and garlic.

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Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the “riced” cauliflower. Cook over medium flame, stirring frequently until tender, but a little chewy, about 5-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in mushroom and onion mixture and continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes. Add chopped green onions, fresh herbs to taste and mix together. Garnish with roasted cashews if desired.

Serve heated or at room temperature.

This dish tastes even better the next day after all the flavors have come together.IMG_7515

♦ 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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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!

Love,
Mom
xooxoxooox

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

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*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

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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.

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♦ 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoooxox

 

Butter Lettuce Salad with Sweet Potato Croutons and Pomegranate Seeds

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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.

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Salad

  • 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.

Dressing

  • 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.

♦ For Now

Dear Shaina,
Vacation has taken over my life!

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A month in Portland and now Destin…the city, the mountains, the beach…different scenery, different rain clouds, different mattresses! We walked a lot. We ate a lot. We used public transportation…a lot. We shared our dollars and our candy with the homeless.

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We heard music, went to bars (even saw a comedy show in one) and meandered through vintage stores. We were entertained everywhere we went.

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Dad getting ready for Halloween…or whatever.

Tossing aside your everyday routine allows you a sneak peek into your core nature.

  • I can be pretty lazy…and enjoy it…up to a point.

Late night TV, Solitaire on my iPad, hours of sitting and knitting hats I don’t need (I couldn’t resist all the unique yarn shops in Portland including the one at the Alpaca Farm near Mt Hood), sleeping in later than you think possible, having no daily obligations or agenda. It’s both luxurious and unsettling.

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  • I function best with some structure, however minimal it may be.

Dad and I signed up for weekly Pilates, drank coffee every morning, ate steel cut oatmeal and apples and cottage cheese for breakfast on most days, went to Powell Books to hear authors, planned our days around restaurants, music and local events, walked for miles and miles everywhere, and did laundry on Sundays.

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  • Grocery stores and markets are my art galleries.

I went to a grocery store (there was one two short blocks from our apartment) or market almost every day to buy the best honeycrisp apples we ever tasted or more bulk oatmeal or just to see the stunning fresh produce displays. The farmers market offered up 20 varieties of small batch freshly smoked salmon and sable and raw locally harvested honey and gluten free baked goods in addition to rows and rows of locally grown apples and raspberries and lettuces…and wine, coffee and bread, of course.

Edible Art Everywhere

Edible Art Everywhere

  • There are only so many fabulous restaurant meals I can have before my kitchen starts calling me.

We explored the happy hour scene and ate artfully crafted small plates and drinks unique to the ambiance of the restaurant.

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We ate at rooftop bars overlooking the city, downtown establishments sporting their original 50’s decor, food trucks offering vegetarian thai cuisine in our neighborhood and highly polished converted warehouses that had been invaded by nouveau chefs and patrons, young and old, sipping on fancy drinks and Pinot Noir.

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Still, my kitchen was calling. I was inspired by some friends we visited for a weekend on the river near Mt Hood to bake my first baguette from scratch. Despite the fact that I bought the wrong yeast and didn’t have the right size bowl for the rising process, I loved messing around in my little rented kitchen. I even prepared fresh cod for dinner to accompany the freshly baked bread.

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Fresh Cod

  • Cooking is my craft, my therapy, my antidote to laziness…it feeds my soul and my need to accomplish something.
  • I love living in a neighborhood where I can walk a few blocks and get everything I need.
  • I love being in a climate where the air smells green and everyone is required to compost as much of their garbage as possible.

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  • I love living in a town where women wear their gray hair proudly and you can go into the most exclusive restaurant in hiking boots and shorts.
  • I love accessible city parks, patient bus drivers and all kinds of service employees who love their jobs and are genuinely helpful.

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  • I am a rooted creature.

I miss the predictability of routine, the comfort of community, the embrace of my home and the familiarity of the life I have known for over thirty years.

  • For now, home is still home.

Vacation is a lovely respite from the everyday routine, but for now, your childhood bedroom is still where it always was.

See you soon!

Love, Mom

Easy French Baguette

Baked by our friends...my inspiration.

How it should look…baked by our friends…my inspiration.

  • Rapid Rise yeast (use amount according to package instructions)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups warm tap water
  • 3 1/2 -4 cups all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • Vegetable oil for greasing bowl
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes

Optional

  • cornmeal for lining bottom of baking sheet
  • sesame seeds, salt, poppy seeds or herbs for topping if desired

Dissolve rapid rise yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water in a large bowl; let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add 3 1/2 cups flour, and stir with a spatula until a soft dough forms and all flour is absorbed; adding a little flour as needed if dough is sticky. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle evenly with salt. Knead until the salt is incorporated and the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Add a small amount of flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands. The dough should feel slightly sticky, but elastic. Knead into a ball.

Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl; cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven or warm room. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes. Gently press two fingers into dough. If an indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.

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My first attempt.

Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes. Divide in half. Working with 1 portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll each portion on a floured surface into a 12-inch rope, slightly tapered at ends. Place ropes on large baking sheet (covered in parchment paper to make clean up easier) sprinkled with flour or cornmeal.

Cover lightly with a dish towel and let rise again for 30-40 minutes or until doubled in size.

Heat oven to 450°. Place an iron skillet on a lower rack or the floor of the oven.

Uncover the dough. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle across the loaf about 3” apart. Dust top lightly with flour. Sprinkle with optional seeds or toppings if desired .

Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms) right before putting the loaves into the oven.

I'll keep trying!

I’ll keep trying!

Bake at 450° for 20-30 minutes or until browned on bottom and sounds hollow when tapped.
Allow breads to rest for thirty minutes after they are removed from the oven before serving.

♦ Meant To Be

Dear Shaina,

So what, exactly, does switching it up look like?

You: I’m worried about you… Should you still be driving, is your house too big for you to take care of, why do you have so much stuff?!
Soon enough.

Me: Let’s travel to exotic places and spend all our money on extended VRBO rentals, new furniture, house remodeling projects, yoga classes, dental work, more stuff, etc…we’ll try to fit in a visit to you.
Working on it now.

No, you do not sound like a stressy 20-something deep in crisis. Who doesn’t need a bi-monthly pep talk?…I love you just the way you are and I think you’re great! Does that count for this month? That’s never gonna change.

Happy to switch it up. You go first!

I am enjoying a no Labor Day weekend with a stay-at-home cooking marathon in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. It is such a luxury to cook in advance and not have to fit all the holiday preparation details in between working hours. The chicken soup, brisket, honey cakes, apple cakes and potato blintzes (a first for me) are done.

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The potato blintzes are a hybrid recipe; crepe dough from Bubbe’s cheese blintzes and the potato filling from her knishes. I made the crepe batter in my Vita Mix and it took 30 seconds and not even one lump! My Cuisinart effortlessly chopped the onions and blended the potatoes and fried onions. I used all my pots and pans and extra large bowls to boil potatoes, sauté onions, mix the filling, make the crepes and flash freeze it all. I pretty much trashed the kitchen, overfilled all my freezers and sampled enough fried onions and potato filling to have attached them to my DNA… if that is possible.

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I love what you are doing with the cleanse this year. Although I am fortunate to not have to worry about how much I spend on groceries, I learned at the hands of a master who taught me how to love grocery shopping and create healthy, nourishing, satisfying and tasty meals on a very tight budget.

My mother (Bubbe) always researched the food specials of the week and bought whatever she could on sale. Even after she couldn’t go to the grocery store herself, she gave me a list of what to buy each week…and I did. She hand-picked each green bean, each apple, each cherry to make sure she got the freshest items (no wasteful rotten spots for her). She never spent money on plastic storage bags or containers (she reused the food containers and plastic bags that her purchases came packaged in) and she never, ever threw out food (leftovers are what you eat the next day). We never had soft drinks or chips or candy in our house unless their was a party. She bought very little processed food and made almost everything from scratch. The things we thought we were missing out on (Oreo cookies and Wonder Bread for me) turned out to be not so good for us anyway.

It’s Rosh Hashana. It’s Zayde’s yahrsteit. I’m cooking Bubbe’s food. You are promoting a cleanse that raises personal awareness and global consciousness about food justice. I’m thinking that things are just as they were meant to be.

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Wishing you the sweetest of New Years and may we all make it into the Big Book of Life for a safe, healthy and productive year to come!

Love,
Mom
xooxoxxoxoxo
Red Cabbage Slaw

I am serving this Red Cabbage Slaw at our erev Rosh Hashanah dinner this year. It has apples and honey in honor of the holiday and it’s an easy do-ahead dish that doesn’t require oven space. Other than the honey, it can be prepared Cleanse friendly and it is very cost efficient. A head of red cabbage makes a whole lot of slaw! And it gets better the longer it sits. If you are preparing this for the Cleanse, but want some additional sweetness, omit the honey and add a half cup of raisins ($.50).

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Yield – 20 servings
Total Cost: $8.35
Cost per serving: $.42

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil ($.50)
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice with the zest from the lemon used for the juice ($1.00)
  • 2 teaspoons honey (.20)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 head of red cabbage, thinly sliced ($1.50)
  • 2-3 large carrots, grated into thin strips ($.40)
  • 1 large apple, cut in small pieces ($.75)
  • 8-12 ounces of sugar snap peas, thinly sliced crosswise ($4.00)

Whisk oil, lemon juice and zest, honey and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss together. Adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before serving.