♦ More

Dear Shaina,

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


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

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


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

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

Getting ready for New Year's Eve

Getting ready for New Year’s Eve

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

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

Apple Cake Revisited

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

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


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


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

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

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


♦ Traditions and Memorials

Dear Shaina,

Bubbe would be kvelling (bursting with pride), and so am I, at your adaptation of her much loved food memories. I can hear her tasting your radishes and onions and eggs and proclaiming that they are better than what she had as a child. She would declare you a Balabusta (a homemaker of the highest order) and if you attempted to credit her with the inspiration she would pooh-pooh you and exclaim that you were a much better cook than she ever was.

Esther 512Mb cf card 12 03 08 262I was lucky to grow up with a mother who took pride in my accomplishments rather than feeling threatened or competitive as some mothers are. Bubbe and Zayde called it naches fun di kinder (pleasure, pride from the children). It is what they lived for and what no material gift could ever equal. I completely get it! Of course, you actually are a better cook than me, not to mention all the other things you have accomplished that I am so very proud of!


It’s hard to think about or prepare food without Bubbe’s presence hovering over my shoulder. Jews have always emphasized the remembrance of the dead. We observe annual anniversary prayers (Yahrsteit) and holiday memorial services (Yizkor), but nothing seems nearly as effective or enduring as food memorials. Yahrsteits can be forgotten. Yizkors can be skipped. But the smell of frying onions, the magic of butter-soft arthritically molded fingers stretching and rolling dough, the taste of a freshly fried blintz in too much butter, the insistent urging to eat and eat more and the inevitable question, “Are they edible?” , are indelible memories that make daily appearances. No wonder food is such a big deal forJews. At least in our family…

I am getting ready for Chanukah and your homecoming. I remember Bubbe grating potatoes with the classic box grater and straining her homemade applesauce through those hand grinders that look like a pot with holes in the bottom and a big handle that rotates large blades at the bottom pushing the mashed applesauce through the holes leaving the seeds and skins to be discarded. There was no fancy motorized equipment, just simple tools powered by the willingness of loving hands (not that she wasn’t amazed when we gave her a Cuisinart that could grind raw meat in 30 seconds and grate enough potatoes and onions for latkes for 20 in minutes without shedding a tear or losing a knuckle).IMG_1534

My applesauce is already done and in the freezer. I peel and core my apples before cooking so there is no need for straining. I am planning on making three varieties of latkes this year…traditional, sweet potato and corn-squash…all with the aid of my Cuisinart. I scheduled your hair appointment for Friday, the masseuse for Saturday (I am liking this new tradition) and leaving Sunday and Monday for any last minute preparations for your trip to Israel and to bake cheesecakes for the annual South Carolina Christmas pilgrimage.

The traditions have evolved, morphed and adapted for a new generation of memories…and memorials of the future.

By the way, LLOL may not be a thing right now, but new traditions are born everyday! Laughing Lots Out Loud!!



Grilled Caesar Salad


I have been wanting to make this salad since having it at a restaurant in a Casino in the middle of nowhere in northern California. I had never heard of grilling lettuce and to my surprise, it was the best Caesar salad I ever had! It was served with traditional Caesar dressing on the side (although it didn’t need any) along with crusty french bread croutons and shaved parmesan. I decided to make it last night before it got too cold outside to grill. It seemed the perfect accompaniment for filet mignon for Shabbat dinner with a couple of friends. I incorporated a ripe avocado and the seeds from a pomegranate that was close to the end of its viable use. I made a dressing in case anyone wanted it and improvised the rest. It was again, surprisingly, delicious and simple to prepare.

Yield: 4 servings


Grilled Caesar Salad

  • 2 stalks of Romaine lettuce hearts cut in half lengthwise
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Garlic powder (optional)
  • Shaved or grated parmesan cheese
  • Sliced fresh avocado
  • Pomegranate seeds



Dressing (optional)

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice from half lemon
  • 1 clove fresh garlic finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
With Dressing

With Dressing

Turn on a gas grill to the highest temperature or light up a charcoal grill.

Cut the romaine heart in half lengthwise keeping the stem of the stalk attached.
Brush olive oil lightly all over the cut edge of the lettuce.
Sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic powder over the oiled area.
Place the lettuce stalks on a very hot grill with the cut and seasoned side down. Grill for about a minute, uncovered, until slightly charred grill lines show on the cut side of the lettuce. The stalk should remain intact.

Remove from the grill and place grilled side up on individual plates.

Garnish with avocado, parmesan and pomegranate seeds or wherever your imagination takes you.

To make the dressing, blend all ingredients thoroughly adjusting seasonings to taste. Serve on the side.

This salad can also be served on a large platter. Cut the stalks diagonally in one inch strips to serve family style.



♦ What A Luxury

Dear Shaina,
The first time I read your letter, I laughed out loud (LOL). The second time…I did it again! LLOL!!

I don’t know why it struck my funny bone…maybe your annoyance, maybe the memories of all those pursuits, maybe it’s the very clever way you deflect the conversation…


You did fail to mention the nirvana-seeking college visits a mere five years after the Puma odyssey. I vividly remember the very long northeastern road trip to colleges big and small all of which you decided were not for you before you even stepped out of the car. No campus tours for you. You relied solely on your gut test…or was it the way they posted their school clubs, or that the gym was too nice, or that there was no campus life or too much campus life…?

Like the Pumas, you didn’t know what you were looking for, but you knew it wasn’t what was in front of you at that moment…so we kept on looking. Then there was the meltdown after visiting a school you got into that you so desperately wanted to go to…and then decided, maybe not so much.

I was patient. I soothed. I indulged. What was that all about? Whatever it was, we shared it. It was fun…and sometimes torturous. It is part of our mother-daughter memory bank. And I smile (actually LOL) thinking about it, grateful for the hours spent together in a mutual single-minded pursuit of something that was ultimately inconsequential. What a luxury!


So now I am retired. I remember those days of back-to-back meetings, appointments and real obligations. My spare time was filled with thrown together dinners, bath and bed-time rituals and laundry and cooking when the house went dark. I was on a minute-to-minute schedule and I thrived on it to the point of exhaustion. I crashed, slept twelve hours and started all over again. Searching for Pumas with my daughter for three whole days was a luxury!

I now live in time that is stretched and padded. Space between activities still feels oddly foreign and decadent to me. I am always surprised when I step into a grocery store in the middle of the day and there are other people there. I am discovering how much luxury can be found in moments of time; meticulously cleansing my face and putting lotion all over my body, luxuriating in a steam shower, hanging out with family and friends, doing nothing (yes, nothing is a thing).

Birthday Celebrations

Birthday Celebrations

There are an infinite number of small pleasures that can happily suck up time, including contemplating relationships.

Your life is a whirlwind of new activities and experiences. Your pace is fast and intense. I love watching you immerse yourself fully in the action of your life. I want to keep up with you…not in real time, but in connection.

Maybe we need to schedule a shoe or boot or backpack pursuit…or maybe a three day trip to a spa will do just as well. Either way, what a luxury it would be!

I am looking forward to indulging you over Thanksgiving!

Love, Mom


Jean’s Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

This is one of the recipes I used for those little cakes I baked for Cari’s wedding. It’s Jean’s go-to recipe and a favorite of her friends and mine. I have made it a million times and have never gotten a complaint, except from people who don’t like bananas.


It satisfies all my baking requirements. It’s easy to make, a great way to use up overripe bananas (I stick them in the freezer so they are there when I need them or have time to bake) and it satisfies the urge for chocolate without being overly unhealthy. It can be served as a breakfast bread, an after-dinner dessert or as a late-night treat with coffee. It freezes well and can be served anytime someone shows up and wants something sweet.

I have been known to double or triple this recipe depending on how many frozen bananas I have around and what party I am planning.


Jeans Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350°

Beat sugar and butter together until blended.
Beat in eggs.
Add mashed bananas and mix thoroughly.
Mix together flour, salt and baking soda.
Add to the banana mixture and mix thoroughly.
Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into a greased loaf pan or two small individual sized loaf pans.
Bake 45- 55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean for the standard loaf size.  30-40 minutes for individual sized loaves.

Let cool 15 minutes in pan. Remove from pan while still warm.




No Effort Fig Snack


This treat resulted from a failed attempt to create an original recipe using roasted eggplant strips wrapped around roasted figs with blue cheese. It just didn’t work, but the roasted figs turned out to be a surprisingly good treat…and very easy. I am going to have them sitting around the table to munch on before andIMG_5016 after Thanksgiving dinner. They are especially good served with roasted and spiced walnuts or pecans.

Dried Black Mission figs

Lightly drizzle with olive oil

Salt liberally with sea salt

Sprinkle with coarsely ground black pepper (Chile powder or chipotle powder can be substituted for variation)

Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet and bake at 450° for about 15 minutes or until puffed up and browned a little. The browner they get the chewier they become, so don’t overcook.

Serve at room temperature with roasted and spiced nuts.

They can be stored in a plastic bag and they will soften up at room temperature.



♦ On the Table

Dear Shaina,

I had no idea how long it’s been since the last time I wrote to you. Extended vacations have a way of transporting you to an alternate universe. I have no excuses… I simply have been out to lunch…and dinner and happy hour and airplanes and VRBOs and vintage shops and mahjong marathons and Pacific coasts and Gulf coasts and eastern mountains and…well, I’m just worn out!


I have been trying to figure out why it is so hard for me to write these letters. I make excuses…I haven’t cooked anything (This is a cooking blog, isn’t it?)…I just saw you…I have nothing new to say and no clever way to say it…I’m on vacation. I promise to write. I procrastinate.


Getting back into a routine is no easy feat for a retired person who operates on an as-desired basis with no demands and few obligations. The post-renovation mess and chaos that I left the house in over a month ago hasn’t budged a bit and is screaming loudly for my undivided attention while my body is wondering if it will ever see a downward dog again, let alone find the all consuming present in shavasana. I have yet to cook a real meal and the only consistent activity in my life is Monday Mahjong (one of my few obligations).


So I set my alarm and declared today the day of return…I made my pre-dawn cup of coffee, went to minyan, walked three miles, came home, showered and got to work. I made the bed, put a dent in finding new homes for the accumulation of stuff stored in your bedroom and the basement, made a few phone calls and pulled out the computer to rewrite my earlier futile attempts to respond to your letter. The first part was easy, but the writing/communicating part is a little more challenging.


I think being the mother of an almost-grown woman-child is the most confusing stage to date. How much space defines a close mother-daughter relationship? How much closeness creates the need for distance? Can a close mother and daughter ever be free of the restraints engendered by loving too much, protecting too much and worrying too much? Are we close? Are we too close? Do I want too much from you? Do I want to much for you, for me?

In the past month, I saw you easing into the beginnings of a new path in your life; a new school, new city, new home, new friends and new jars to be filled with the tastes and flavors that surround you . A few weeks later I watched you reminisce with your high school friends sharing the heretofore untold-to-me stories of your adolescent escapades. Sometimes I think I missed whole chunks of your life.


I don’t worry about you. I mostly worry about me; about how to be a mother of an almost-grown daughter without being intrusive or clueless. I want to be close to you in a way that is enriching to both of us and not burdensome to either. I don’t even know what that means except that I didn’t have it with my mother. Maybe it’s an impossible ideal, but I’d like to leave it on the table anyway.

Your first semester has flown by. Thanksgiving is around the corner and the kitchen frenzy will soon begin. Aside from the Big Bird and the other Thanksgiving standards, there’s no telling what may end up on the table this year! I can’t wait!!

Love, Mom

It’s that Soup time of year again…

Fresh Butternut Squash and Corn Soup

IMG_4940Our neighbor brought over some home-grown organic Butternut squash. We had a day at home between trips and I decided to make soup. I looked around my food-depleted home and tried to use up any remaining edibles before we left again. This sweet and savory soup turned out to be very tasty and satisfying. Feel free to add or subtract or substitute any part of this recipe to suit you own tastes.

  • 2 medium sized butternut squash
  • 1 -2 medium sized purple or yellow onion
  • 1 small garlic bulb
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups water
  • 2-3 carrots, cut in chunks
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, cut in chunks
  • 3-5 dried figs cut-up
  • 2-4 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
  • black and red pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon cumin or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar or to taste
  • 12 ounce bag of frozen corn or kernels from 3-5 ears of fresh or frozen corn

Preheat oven to 375°

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray

Rub the outside of the butternut squash with a little olive oil and salt.
Peel the onions and cut in quarters. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and salt.
Removes the thin paper-like skin of the garlic bulb and slice off the tip of the pointed edge of the bulb. Rub the outside of the garlic bulb with a little olive oil and salt and set it upright on the baking sheet with the cut edge up.


Place squash and onions on the baking sheet with the garlic and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the edges of the garlic and onion are browned and the squash is slightly tender.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to be able to handle.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff and discard. Scoop out the remaining squash down to the outer skin and place in a large pot with the water.


Squeeze the insides of the roasted garlic into the pot with the squash and add the roasted onions. Add the carrots, celery, figs and spices. Cook over a low flame, adding water as needed, until all vegetables are tender and cooked through (about 20 minutes).

Remove the pot from the heat and blend all the ingredients with an immersion blender until your desired consistency.

Return the pot to the stove and continue cooking over a low flame. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired. Add more water if the soup is too thick. For added sweetness, add another fig or two or a little honey.

Add the corn kernels and cook until heated through and tender.

This soup tastes better the next day…and the next as the flavors blend together.

A dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt make a great garnish.


♦ Home

Dear Shaina,

I never intended you to feel responsible for my worry. In turn, I don’t want to take responsibility for your annoyance or have to censor my feelings. I remind myself daily that it is not my job to make your life OK. You are very capable of doing that yourself. That doesn’t stop me from feeling your angst or wanting to hear about it. A final note on worry and then I hope we can move on…a Bubbe quote…The bigger the child, the bigger the worries. That’s just the way it is!


I am sitting on my chaise lounge in our newly redone bedroom. The same chaise lounge that has been with me since my early adulthood in Cleveland. It was the first real piece of furniture I ever bought and was a major splurge at the time. It has lived in all my homes, has been transformed by new upholstery and has traveled from living room to bedroom to basement den and now to its new place in our bedroom. I think it has finally found its home…after 30 + years. I am sitting on it, beside a window with my computer and a mug of coffee on a side table. I am also finally at home in this room.



It think finding home takes longer than we think. It’s not that I wasn’t at home in this house that we have lived in for thirty years. It’s just that the gradual tweaking and adjusting evolves over time. Kind of like getting into bed at night…you plop down and then you adjust your pillow because it doesn’t feel like its in exactly the right spot and you move your body around until you get into a comfortable position and you’re still not done. The process continues as you adjust your environment, almost unconsciously, in response to the cues your body is sending…that is, if you’re listening. The knowing and blending and balancing of the internal and external is forever.

Dad's work!

Dad’s work!

You have the gift of both listening and responding to your comfort cues. Berkeley may not be the perfect home for you forever, but I know you will tweak all that can be tweaked to make it as much home for you as possible for now.

We will be there in a week and I have already started gathering your stuff to bring to you. I am looking forward to seeing you and doing my part to help you settle in.


I have been doing some baking for the upcoming weddings and decided to make Naomi’s Chocolate Streusel Bars. As always, they turned out great and everybody loves them. I am sharing the recipe here because people keep asking for it. I won’t have room to bring them to you, but we can always make some in your kitchen.

I am so looking forward to being with you in a week!


Naomi’s Chocolate Streusel Bars


  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Cocoa
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can(14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
  • 2 cups(12-oz. pkg.) HERSHEY’S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, divided
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts


1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 13x9x2-inch baking pan.
2. Stir together flour, sugar and cocoa in large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg; mix well. Set aside 1-1/2 cups mixture. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared pan.
3. Bake 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in medium microwave-safe bowl, place sweetened condensed milk and 1 cup chocolate chips; stir. Microwave at MEDIUM (50%) 1 to 1-1/2 minutes or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred; pour over crust. Add nuts and remaining chips to reserved crumb mixture. Sprinkle over top.
4. Bake an additional 25 to 30 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 24 to 36 bars.


♦ Stuff

Dear Shaina,
From bombs to earthquakes … a 100 pounds of the past year of your life dumped onto the living room floor exchanged for 100 pounds of clean neatly folded clothing and stuff, a wedding, a haircut, a massage, five filled cavities, three finished papers, two shabbats and only a few minor mother-daughter skirmishes (that I have completely forgotten although I am sure they happened) all squeezed into eight harried days and nine nighttime ritual tuck-ins. Your time at home was a blur, a treasured blur.

And then came the inevitable crash…the wandering through the quiet house, the gathering up of cast away clothing and unfinished jars of tea, the search for the reset button that would push me back into my daily routine…and let’s not forget the crash that shook the earth beneath you a mere nine hours after you arrived in the San Francisco area. There is no end for us weary worriers.

Fortunately for my mental health, the mothers are on my side. They get it. They all know and assured me that someday, you will too. It’s just what mothers do, no matter where their kids are, what they’re doing or how old they are. We worry. It’s not a problem. I feel fortunate to have the privilege of having someone to worry about. And like the other mothers, I have a perverse sense of anticipation, hope and glee at the prospect of you having the very same experience. So cut me some slack.

Progress...slowly but surely!

Progress…slowly but surely!

This moment in time feels like a major transitional period for all of us. Yours is more obvious; moving to a new city, honing in on a career path, forging a new life. Dad and I are just renovating a bedroom and bathroom. I was caught off guard by how jarring this would be; sifting through all our stuff, reading letters and papers, looking at pictures and mementos, deciding what is trash and what is treasure. This stuff prods us relentlessly to evaluate, to question, to take charge, to accept.

Dad and I have spent hours sitting on the deck at the end of the day, a glass of wine in hand, talking about stuff; how to become free of the unimportant stuff, how to translate our good fortune into what is meaningful and pleasurable to us and mostly, to know the difference. We are working on spending your inheritance while insuring that we can be cared for when the time comes.

My old vanity finding a place in our new bathroom.

My old vanity finding a place in our new bathroom.

This phase of our lives will be shorter than the ones that came before and that is more freeing and motivating than scary. We know that today may be the best day of our lives and we are trying to make each one count. In the meantime, if there is anything you need or want, now’s the time. We’re in the final quarter of the game and pulling out all the stops.

I am looking forward to our trip to the west coast and can’t wait to see you in your new home and hear all about your new ramped up life as a journalism student.

Love, Mom

Garden Herbed Meatballs

I know you don’t eat meat, but I had to figure out a last minute appetizer for Shabbat and I had some ground tenderloin in the freezer and lots of herbs in the garden and…well, it just happened. You could probably adapt this for some veggie variety. I served them with hummus. They would have been great with some tahini sauce, but I’m out. Gail and Abe promised to bring some back from Israel. Next time.


2 large chopped onions
2 – 4 teaspoons chopped fresh garlic
olive oil
1- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 eggs
1/2 cup matzoh meal or bread crumbs
1 squirt of hot chili sauce to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Fresh chopped tarragon, basil, oregano, thyme and lots of mint or whatever you can find in the garden
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon allspice
black pepper to taste
1 cup sundried tomatoes or oven roasted tomatoes
Fresh parsley for garnish


Place onions and garlic in a food processor and chop into small coarse chunks. Remove half of the chopped onion and garlic and place it in a large sauté plan with a very small amount of olive oil and sauté lightly.

Place ground beef in a large bowl and add two eggs, matzoh meal and chili sauce. Mix together.

Add fresh herbs to the remaining chopped onion and garlic mixture in the food processor and chop together until finely chopped. Add all of the remaining chopped mixture to the ground beef. Add remaining spices and mix the beef mixture thoroughly.

Add the sundried tomatoes or oven roasted tomatoes to the lightly sautéed onion and garlic in the large sauté pan and cook over medium heat for a few minutes until blended.

Make small bite sized meatballs and sauté in the onion-garlic-tomato mixture until browned on all sides. Continue until all meatballs are cooked. Drain meatballs on paper towel if needed.

The onion and tomato mixture will become very browned and crispy and can be used to top the meatballs when serving.

Top with fresh parsley and crispy onion-tomato mixture and serve warm. They go great with hummus or tahini sauce.

♦ Luv Ya

Dear Shaina,
I clearly know how lucky I am to have you as my daughter. My worry doesn’t stem from my lack of confidence in you. My worry simply is. I worry about you wherever you are…Uganda, Washington, DC, Bolivia, India, Israel…and yes, I will worry about you in Berkeley, too. In fact, I’ve already started.

I worry about the safety of the world you live in and will hopefully raise children in someday. I worry about the randomness of birth and death and the day-to-day moments. I inherited that worry, that knowledge that the world, my world, your world, could crumble to pieces in an instant. I have spent years examining other people’s lives and families and marveling at those who have accumulated generations of personal memories…trying desperately to believe that it is possible to get through this life without some major inexplicable life altering tragedy. I just haven’t mastered that much security and faith yet.


A transformation is coming!

You will be home in four days! My life is in total disarray with much less consequence than the disarray and disorder you are surrounded by. I am trying to maintain my perspective. I will have your room cleaned, your laundry done and your closet put back in some order before you get here. I will prepare your favorite foods and stock the refrigerator with organic yogurt and almond milk. I have Bubbe Knishes in the freezer and Dad bought beautiful heirloom tomatoes that will ripen to perfection by the time you get here.

Heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil

Heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil

I will indulge you in any way I can for the five days of transition you have allowed yourself before you hop on another plane and take off to Berkeley. I will stay calm. I will follow any orders you give me. I will leave you alone if that is what you need. And I will be ever so grateful to tuck you into your bed at night, to rehash the day and to kiss your freshly greased cheek good night. When you’re ready, I will flip the light out and respond to our well-rehearsed night-time refrain…Luv ya, See you in the morning. We will hold on to those seven words as if our lives depend on them. And they do. Love and the belief in a tomorrow is what keeps me going.

I am counting the minutes.

See you soon,
Love, Mom

Alabama Summer Veggies for Shabbat

Alabama Summer Veggies for Shabbat

Basil Marinated Corn on the Cob

Dad bought some corn at the market and, as usual, brought home way more than we needed. After eating some cooked the traditional way for dinner, I decided to marinate the rest to serve cold for Shabbat dinner the next night. This is an easy do-ahead recipe and perfect as a cold summer salad dish. Norma-Jill gets credit for this one. She served it for dinner with salmon and all sorts of delicious salads and vegetables, all made ahead of time.


  • 1 cup fresh basil chopped
  • 8 ears of corn steamed for 5-7 minutes


  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • juice of one or two lemons
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley chopped
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1 TBL sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt, pepper to taste


Whisk all marinade ingredients together, except basil and corn.
Add basil and stir to mix.
Break or cut steamed and cooled ears of corn in half. Place in plastic container and pour marinade over top. Cover tightly.
Keep in refrigerator overnight.
Serve at room temperature.

♦ Counting the Days

Dear Shaina,

I have shared your thoughts, so eloquently written, with many of my friends. They, too, are worried…and proud. They call and email and ask about you and then about me. They ask if you can come home early. I tell them you don’t want to; that you are OK, that you are feeling it all and questioning it all, that you are vigilant and careful, and going about your life, still. I tell them you are safe and I pray that it is true.


I was in the temple gift shop and bought a red thread bracelet with a charm that has Sh’ma Yisroel in Hebrew on it; the Sh’ma to keep G-D near, the red threads to keep the evil eye far away. I lose at Mahjong and willingly offer up my losses to the mahjong gods in exchange for your safe return.

I pray for an end to all wars. I pray for an end to senseless hatred and violence. I pray for an uprising of the best that humanity has to offer; care and respect for all living beings, peace and opportunity for all, a world that is free of people-induced tragedies. I am cynical and naive. I pray anyway.

I haven’t been doing much cooking lately. My cooking marathons have come to a near halt and efficiency and expediency are driving my food preparations. I haven’t been sleeping much either. The only thing I seem to be doing a lot of is watching the news and worrying. The whole world is a mess…and that doesn’t even begin to identify my concern over the situation in Israel…and my anxiety about you. I can’t help it. Someday, you will understand, when your own child lives in a world where dangers and threats exist at every turn, where no amount of reason, love, prayer or force can nullify evil intent or random insanity. I am scared…for you…and for the world. Needless to say, I am counting the days until you get home.


These days, I find myself reaching for Israeli foods and spices. The Israeli olive oil I lugged back from Israel finally got opened. The basmati rice got an extra dose of Israeli spices. Gail made shakshuka for Shabbat dinner and Rebecca baked Nurit’s coffee cake recipe that you and Naomi love.

Bok Choy Salad with Avocado, Raisins and Cashews

Bok Choy Salad with Avocado, Raisins and Cashews

I made a revised version of my Bok Choy Asian Salad (from my last letter) adding avocado, thai basil from the garden, raisins and cashews and, although not Israeli fare, it added a little spice and international flavor that everyone appreciated. I guess food continues to be another way to stay connected and feel a little closer to you and our family so far away.

I did throw together an eggplant parmesan casserole this week in an attempt to use some Japanese eggplant that was waiting for my attention. In fact the whole dish was designed around cleaning out the refrigerator. I used the remains from a large tub of cottage cheese that I could never seem to get to the bottom of and store-bought jars of tomato sauce that had been sitting in the pantry for too long to remember. It actually turned into a very easy, satisfying meal that enabled me to avoid cooking dinner for several days.

I am counting the days until your return. I ask only that you call or text everyday to let me know that you are safe. I just feel better when I hear your voice.

Love, Mom


Easy Eggplant Parmesan




Japanese Eggplant

  • 2 -3 pounds Japanese eggplant
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, garlic
  • 2-3 cups cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 quart jar of your favorite tomato sauce
  • 1 cup (or more) grated mozzarella cheese


Slice eggplant in 1/2 inch thick rounds.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Toss together to lightly cover eggplant.

Place in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake on the convection bake setting at 350° or 375° on a regular bake setting for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through. Flip eggplant over half way through cooking.  Japanese eggplant is always tender and not bitter so there is no need to pre-salt and let sit as you do with traditional eggplant.

Mix cottage cheese, eggs and basil with a stick blender until somewhat smooth.


Spray cooking spray on bottom and sides of a deep casserole dish.

Open jar of sauce and put a small amount on the bottom of the casserole baking dish.

Place an overlapping layer of eggplant to cover the bottom of the casserole and cover with a layer of tomato sauce.

Pour cottage cheese mixture over the eggplant.



Top with remaining layers of eggplant and cover with remaining tomato sauce.

Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the top.

Bake in a 350° oven for 45 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is lightly browned at the edges.

This dish may be frozen before or after baking for future meals.


♦ The Life Force Persists

Dear Shaina,
I am deeply saddened by all that has been and is going on in Israel. I am saddened by all the losses, the terror, and the inevitable fear experienced by all who must endure the fallout of extremism. I am mostly saddened that we, as human beings, can’t simply agree to keep our children safe. I believe that is what we all want.

Despite the state of the the world, the individual life force persists. We go to sleep each night (sometimes not so easily), get up each morning, put one foot in front of the other and chop more vegetables to satisfy our ever renewed need for food and drink. Although chopping vegetables may not be enough, it’s goes a long way toward nurturing the life force…and that’s no small thing.

.4th of July Picnic at the Park


We just celebrated Independence Day for America, a holiday that celebrates individual and political freedoms guaranteed for all. There are many in this country, still, that would claim that this dream has not yet been fulfilled for everyone. It seems so simple and logical…equality and freedom…wouldn’t we all be better off? Yet we somehow insist on playing the top-dog/bottom-dog game; scratching our way, desperately, violently, inhumanely, to maintain this skewed balance. I am most saddened because I see no way out. We have always counted on the next generation to have a clearer vision. That is my prayer for you as you continue on your life’s journey.

This year we celebrated the Fourth of July downtown at Railroad Park amidst a diverse Birmingham crowd listening to a Smooth jazz concert. It was Birmingham at its best! It had a City Stages feel, but a lot more relaxed and spacious as we stretched out on the open grassy hill facing the stage. Trains rolled by slowly as the sun set painting the city skyscape a rainbow of orange and magenta hues. Even the food turned out pretty good. This may be the beginning of a new Fourth of July tradition.

Sunday afternoon I left for a girl’s spend-the-night at the lake to play mahjong. I am glad to hear that you had a little mahjong exposure over the weekend with your cousins. I can’t think of a better pastime for Israelis. Mahjong is the perfect distraction for this overanxious mom. I need all my brain cells to play and have no room for intrusive worry thoughts.

Shaina, this is your last five weeks in Israel before your brief stop in Birmingham on your way to the next chapter of your life. Our home, like yours, is in a state of transitional disorder. Although not always comfortable, it does force you to experience new edges. For us, it means sifting through and throwing out and making choices about what is important and meaningful in our lives. I guess that’s a process that never changes no matter how old you get.

I hope your remaining weeks in Israel hold some moments of peace and that this year leaves you with many rich memories. Most of all, I pray for your safety and welfare and your safe return home. I may be scheduling lots of mahjong games over the next few weeks to distract me from my worrying mind.

French Tarragon From Dad's Garden

French Tarragon From Dad’s Garden



Fourth of July Fare

 Easy Tarragon Potato Salad


  • 3 lbs small red potatoes
  • 4 scallions or 1/3 cup purple onions, sliced or chopped
  • 1/2 cup pitted calamata olives, halved


  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • Juice and zest of one fresh lemon
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of fresh French tarragon (finely chopped) or 1tablespoon of dried tarragon
  • salt and pepper to taste


Boil potatoes in salted water until just done. Cool under cold water.
The potato skins may be left on or peeled off. When potatoes are cooled cut in bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.
Cut up scallions into quarter inch slices and add to the potatoes.
Slice the olives in half and add to the potatoes and onions.
Place mayonnaise in a bowl and stir in lemon juice, tarragon and salt and pepper to taste. Blend thoroughly.
Pour mayonnaise mixture over potato mixture and mix until potatoes are covered. Adjust seasonings.
Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
This dish tastes even better the next day.


Easy Bok Choy Slaw


  • 1 pound of baby bok choy, cut up in thin slices
  • 4 carrots, grated or shredded
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds


  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar or sugar substitute
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili sauce
  • Juice and zest of one fresh lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Place sliced bok choy, grated carrots and cut up scallions in a large bowl.
Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.
Pour dressing over the vegetables and toss until all vegetables are covered.
Adjust seasonings. Top with toasted sesame seeds.

♦ Comings and Goings

Dear Shaina,

Please let Naomi know how much I enjoyed her guest post. Bubbe would be so proud! Bubbe’s immortality is clearly evident in both of you. Sharing the gifts of food, family and fun wrapped in love are surely the path to immortality for all of us.

Speaking of fun (again), Shaina, certainly you know that it’s not the quality of alcohol, nor the quantity, that makes the fun! Fun is in your DNA. It’s about your spirit and desire to taste the many flavors of experience that life has to offer. It is about the ability to enjoy what is pleasurable and to endure what is challenging and to not run from either. You have mastered that ability so well that you have a tendency to gorge on the massive array of offerings at life’s all-inclusive buffet.

I know you’re exhausted. You set yourself up for an all-the-time, on-the-go, pressure-packed last few months in Israel. I am not surprised by any of it. I have to remind myself not to worry. I know that you will manage it, as you always do. You will let go of those things that matter less. You will successfully accomplish your goals and you will be sad to leave it all. After a brief break in the home-nest, you will regain your equilibrium, go off to Berkeley and start all over again. We all have our coming and going and being patterns. I am impressed that you recognize them at such a young age. I look forward to the day when you are in one place for more than one year. Maybe even long enough for us to gather all your stuff currently scattered from coast to coast and deliver it to a place that you might consider home, for at least awhile.

Cleaning Out

Cleaning Out

Your pictures from Israel are beautiful and comforting to me. They provide a small window into your life so far away. They are reassuring, affirming and ease my worry a bit. I am cleaning out our bedroom in preparation for our master bath renovation (it begins Monday!) and encountering mountains of old pictures. It’s getting easier to get rid of clothes and stuff than I ever thought imaginable.

The Many Faces of Shaina

The Many Faces of Shaina

But the pictures have a deep hold on me…and there are so many of them. There is nothing in my life that is so tangible and yet inextricably intertwined with intangible feelings and memories than these pictures. It feels sacrilegious to throw any picture away. They warm my heart with joy and love and raise new doubts and questions. Was I a good mother? Did I neglect my family? Do you ever really know what’s going on behind a smiling face? I found high school pictures of me and baby pictures of you. How can so many picture-years accumulate in such a short time? I can’t let them go. So back into the boxes. Someday, they’ll be your problem.


Despite your stress, you seem happy and healthy and very active. I hope your final papers and exam cramming will slow you down in these last months. I seem to worry less when you move more slowly. Slower is always better for enjoying the moment and keeping you from smashing into boulders. I hope Naomi’s head is healed and that she is moving at a more moderate pace also. I am sending prayers and angels to watch over your every move especially on those across-the-country hikes and jogging escapades.


P.S. Thanks for getting Dad a Fitbit. After years of trying to get him to go for a walk with me, now he’s asking me to go for a walk with him because he hasn’t met his Fitbit goal. It’s amazing how an inanimate digital object can so quickly and easily direct a human being’s habits. I am reminded of the tamagotchi of your childhood.


Almond Fig Fruit and Nut Bars
Any kind of fruit…any kind of nut!

I was cleaning out the freezers and came upon some frozen fresh figs which had been there for longer than I care to recall. I remember your dad picking them and how delicious they were fresh off the tree. I decided to defrost them and cook them and see if I could make something out of them. Once I started, there was no stopping me. I found leftover bits of weird flours, dried fruits and organic nuts (remnants of your visit) in the freezer. I decided to make some kind of fig bar and committed to try and use up as many little bits of leftover stuff I could find. The results were a pretty tasty and healthy Almond Fig Fruit and Nut Bar. Really almost any fruit will do and certainly any kind of nut, so feel free to experiment.


Fruit Filling

  • 1 gallon bag of fresh frozen figs (this could be made with fresh figs)
  • 1 cup of dried fruit, any kind (apricots, prunes, raisins, dates or a mixture of all)
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • lightly sweeten to taste with agave, honey, Splenda or sugar (optional)

Bring fruit, juice and zest to a boil in a large pot. Reduce heat and cook over a low flame, stirring periodically, until mixture has reduced and thickened.

Add spices, extracts and sweetener if desired. Adjust to taste. Continue cooking until mixture is thickened but can still be poured. Any leftover fresh fruits you have around can be thrown in; bananas, peaches, grapes, etc. More lemon or orange juice can be added based on your taste preferences.


  • 1 1/2 cups of any flour or mixture of flours
  • 1 1/2 cups regular oats, uncooked
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar or Splenda (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup kefir, plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • 2 cups crushed nuts, any kind


Combine the first seven ingredients and then cut in the butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles a course meal.
Add 1 1/4 cup of the chopped nuts to the flour-butter mixture, reserving 3/4 cup nuts for the topping.

Divide the mixture in half and set aside half for the topping. Do not mix with the extra nuts.

Add the kefir or yogurt or any kind of sour milk to the remaining flour-butter mixture and mix thoroughly until it takes on a doughy texture. Add more milk or yogurt if it is still too crumbly.

Press doughy mixture into a greased 9” x 13” baking dish covering the bottom of the baking dish.

Bake in a 350° oven for 20-30 minutes or until bottom crust is lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and spread fig-nut mixture thickly covering the entire bottom crust.

Top with remaining crumbly dough mixture and sprinkle remaining nuts over dough crumbles.
Sprinkle a little cinnamon over the top if desired.

Continue baking in a 350° oven until the top has browned and the filling is bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Cool and cut into bars. To cut in diamond shapes, start at the upper right corner and cut from the top to the side on an angle, making your first piece a triangle. Cut the remaining pieces on the same angle all the way down the length of the pan. Then go back to the top of the pan and begin making horizontal cuts across the pan starting about an inch and a half from the top and continue making horizontal cuts all the way down the pan. Hope this makes sense.


This makes a great pre or post exercise energy bar and an easy nutritious breakfast bar, not to mention all the added fiber benefits.


Another variation…

This recipe comes from one of my yoga teachers who also happens to be a fabulous cook. It’s a South African recipe called Farfel Cake, although I am not sure why. It doesn’t have all the energy boosting nuts and healthy oats and flours, but makes a delicious dessert nonetheless. I made the dough with Splenda and used the same fig/fruit mixture as above and added some sliced almonds to the top instead of powdered sugar. It is beautiful and absolutely delicious when made just as the recipe describes.

IMG_1907Farfel Cake

  • 10 tablespoons of butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • pinch salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • smooth apricot jam

Method (I use a food processor for making dough)
Cream butter, sugar and oil. Add unbeaten egg and process. Add flour and rest of ingredients (except jam) to mixture. Make a firm dough. Grate half of
the mixture into a well-buttered pie dish or springform pan. Put a layer
of jam over it – I use most of a small bottle; then grate rest of dough over the jam and bake at 350° for about one hour. When cool, sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Cut and serve.