♦ Fun After Thirty!

Dear Shaina,

I don’t know where you got the idea that all the fun is really over after thirty! Have your father and I done such a poor job of having fun? All the late night parties at our house, all the dancing at everyone’s parties, all the music festivals, the oh-so-fun holiday celebrations, the snow-women on the deck, the trips to Disney World (ok, that wasn’t so much fun, but we thought it would be), all the happy hours at the beach…? What about our recent adventure to New Orleans for our anniversary? We ate in award winning restaurants, heard amazing live music, spent time with old friends and mingled with a myriad of fun characters that seem to rise from the earth on every street corner.

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We have clearly failed you. Ok, so your idea of fun is not exactly the same as ours. What you thought was fun at age five isn’t the same as your idea of fun today, either. If you have the capacity to have fun, it only gets better, really!

In between the 3 martini lunch and the late nite live music.

In between the 3 martini lunch and the late nite live music.

As you bemoan the rapid onslaught of your imagined bleak fun-less future, I am going through more boxes of books and papers containing the remnants of all of our earlier years. In addition to all your ratty stuffed animals, I discovered a box of dolls complete with two anatomically correct baby dolls, still in their diapers. It’s hard to let go of stuff. They remind us of the big and small moments, intertwined with lots of fun memories that stitch together the fabric of our lives.

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I found one of my own composition books from grade school. I wrote an entry about being mad at Peppi because she was telling secrets in school to everyone but me. She was actually inviting people to a surprise birthday party for me. I barely remember our fight, but I remember that party and how surprised I really was. It was a highlight happy moment in my childhood.

We all want to hold on to happy and fun. We don’t want it to end. We believe we will never be this happy again. Nothing is permanent. You know that already. That is why you grab each moment and mourn the inevitable loss with each step forward. Your life is so rich and full; the angst sharing space with the pleasure, in spite of, because of…the fun.

So you’re on the edge, again. You don’t need to be in Jerusalem to perfect your mind-body-God enthusiasm. It’s already inside of you and it travels well. I’m a believer even without the science. Here’s to going over the edge and relinquishing it all to the God(s)!

We are off to the Acoustic Cafe Music Festival this weekend. It is our new annual Memorial Day Tradition (just started last year). We have a new tent and camping pads and we staked out a perfect spot near a Port-a-Potty and a water spigot. Fun comes in all kinds of packages even at our age!

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Love,
Mom
xoxoxooxxoxoxoxoxoxxoxox

 

What’s for Dinner?

This has not been a particularly creative or time intensive cooking week for me so no fancy recipes. When I told Dad we were having Black Bean Cheese Burgers (from the freezer) for dinner, he said, “why don’t you put them over those leftover grits?” That inspired this 15 minute satisfying, tasty and healthy meal that also incorporated some of my leftover veggies sitting in the refrigerator. Sometimes, you have to keep things simple, especially when you’re having so much fun.

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Black Bean Burgers over Chipotle Spiced Grits

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  •  1 onion sliced in wedges
  • 4 mini sweet peppers, sliced, any color
  • 3 or 4 mushrooms
  • Any other leftover veggies you want to add
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Black Bean or any veggie burger of your choice (meat burger if you prefer)
  • Cheddar or other cheese of choice to top the burger
  • 2 cups of cooked corn grits
  • Chipotle Sea salt to taste
  • 1 avocado
  • lemon juice, garlic powder, salt, to taste, optional
  • Romaine lettuce
  • 2 small persian cucumbers, sliced
  • 2 compari tomatoes, sliced
  • Salsa
  • Cilantro

Lightly sauté onions, pepper and mushrooms in a large sauté pan. Add the burgers to the pan and cover. Flip the burger when it is done on one side and top with cheese after flipping. Cover the pan and cook until cheese is melted, burger is done on both sides and veggies are cooked to desired tenderness.

Add Chipotle salt to cooked grits to taste and heat in the microwave.

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Peel and mash avocado. Add lemon juice, garlic and salt if desired and set aside.

Arrange romaine lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes on plate. Add salsa and mashed avocado.

Spoon grits onto the plate and top with the melted cheese veggie burger.

Garnish with remaining sautéed vegetables and cilantro.

Eat and enjoy!

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♦ It’s All OK

Dear Shaina,

I’m good with the topic change. The parents and child are clearly OK. But your shamelessness about poop is the result of neither good nor bad parenting, simply genetics.

Dad and I are cleaning out the attic and I came upon reams of your journals and “All About Me” books from Kindergarten on. You may not have talked much, but you sure did write and tell. You wrote about friends and family, sleepovers and seders and doing stuff with Dad and me. Those pages brought back neglected memories and allowed me a peek into your eight year old world. You seemed pretty happy. Clearly OK. I am grateful to you for your writing, now and then.

Your visit home flew by. Things were easy. Maybe we are mastering our new roles in this phase of your transient life. Mother: let go of household order, pick up (clothes, tea bags, mason jars), clean up (kitchen counters, floors, tabletops) buy food, put child to bed, enjoy the moments. Visiting daughter: mark your territory (foyer, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom), cook, buy food and tea, eat, drink tea (in large mason jars left in marked territories), run, spin, do homework, say good night. It all goes very smoothly once everyone knows their place.

It wasn’t all mundane. Thirty minutes before I was having people over I got a call from you to pick you up because you had a nasty fall while out on a run and couldn’t walk home…but you were OK!  So what’s a little oozing blood running down your leg a week before you are in a wedding wearing a short dress! Just another little activity for us to focus on; wound care, dressings, antibacterial ointments, non-stick pads, adhesive tape.  Amazingly, you made it to the wedding with only a little clear oozing and zero impact on your dancing ability.

Shaina skinned knee

Then there was that little weather incident the night before you left…a tornado headed right our way.  Down to the basement bathroom outfitted with blankets, pillows, water, iPad and disaster head gear. The tornado changed its mind and lost its steam. We got another chance to cuddle up in close quarters… and everything turned out OK.

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And the excitement goes on… We were having a little drainage problem in the kitchen and your Dad decided that he could easily handle a simple sluggish kitchen drain. I wish I had pictures. It was right out of central casting; balding man sitting on the the floor hunched over, head under the sink, butt crack showing, tools in hand. Three failed attempts later, accompanied by three major floods of gushing foul smelling, black crud laden water all over the hardwood (now slightly warped) floors requiring every last towel in the house to sop up all the water, he slips in the laundry room on the wet tile and smashes his elbow. I’m OK, he says.

 

Towels & elbow

A real plumber arrived this morning. Dad’s elbow looks a lot better and thankfully, nothing is broken. Except, after clearing the clog, the main drain collapsed only to produce the fourth kitchen flood complete with bits of rusted pipe metal. They are replacing the main line tomorrow.

Dad and I are going to New Orleans for a long weekend to celebrate Mother’s Day and our 30th anniversary. Hard to believe. Despite the bumps and bruises along the way, we are all more than OK and that is a blessing!

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Miss you so much!

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxoxooxo

Stuffed Portobello MushroomsIMG_3636

Dad and I were at Whole Foods (a habit we picked up from you) and got mesmerized by the multitude of exotic rice varieties in the bulk section. We bought some of each of our favorite colors and ended up with a lot of interesting looking rice. I pulled out my never-used rice cooker and decided to test it out. I made a lot of multicolored rice! My first plan was stir-fried veggies over rice. That was a great meal, but I got left with a whole bunch of cooked rice.

You know I am the queen of leftovers. I can’t bear to throw out good food. This turned out be a good week to test my leftover re-invention skills. I happened upon some incredibly large fresh portobello mushrooms and knew exactly where I wanted to go. They turned out to be a real treat and an opportunity to use lots of leftover bits and pieces including the rice. Anything goes in this recipe, so look to your fridge for leftover inspiration.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (Phase I)

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  • 4 large Portobello Mushrooms
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil for brushing and sautéing
  • 1 onion, chopped (leeks, green onions or shallots can also be used)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 3/4 cups pumpkin seeds (or sunflower or pine nuts or cashew pieces or any other nut)
  • 3-4 Cups cooked rice (any variety)
  • 3/4 cups craisins (or currants or raisins)
  • Liberal amounts of fresh or dried herbs (basil, dill, tarragon, thyme, whatever you like) and spices
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons Tahini
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup shredded Jarlsburg Cheese
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Lightly brush mushrooms with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.

Place face down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Sauté chopped onion and fresh garlic in olive oil.

Lightly roast pumpkin seeds or other nuts in a toaster oven or dry frying pan.

Place rice in a large bowl and mix in onions, garlic, pumpkin seeds, craisins, herbs and spices and salt and pepper to taste. Rice can take a lot of flavor so don’t be skimpy with the spices. I threw in some leftover pesto, fresh dill and thyme that were sitting in the refrigerator and lots of sea salt and black pepper.
IMG_3685Mix the tahini and lemon juice and a little water to make a tahini sauce and blend into the rice mixture. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Spoon a large mound of the rice mixture onto each mushroom.

Place in the oven pre-heated to 375° and bake for about 10-15 minutes until heated through and the mushroom is cooked through. This may take more or less time depending on the size of the mushrooms and the amount of rice.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle 1/4 cup of shredded cheese over the top of each stuffed mushroom. Top with toasted sesame seeds and return baking sheet to oven.IMG_3630

Bake another 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. If you like your cheese a little more well done, you can turn on the broiler for a few minutes.

 

This makes a great vegetarian, gluten free lunch or dinner served with a hearty green salad and avocado slices. Very tasty and filling. It would also make a great side dish for a meat or fish dinner.

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Esther’s Portobello Rice  & Eggs Benedict (Phase II)

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This dish reminded Dad of Eggs Benedict (the structure, not the taste) so we tried it for brunch one day adding fried eggs and a tahini sour cream sauce…and we finally finished that rice!

 

Tahini Sour Cream SauceIMG_3684

  • 2 tablespoons Tahini
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon water ( or enough to make it a sauce consistency)
  • 2 tablespoons light sour cream
  • Garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley or Cilantro for garnish

 

 

Variations
Add chopped spinach, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes with some oregano and basil to the rice for a different taste. Top with Feta cheese.
Throw in leftover grilled vegetables and add tarragon and parsley.  Top with sharp cheddar cheese.
Try an Indian theme with Greek yogurt, curry, ginger, cinnamon, raisins
and cardamom. Top with a curried lentil sauce.

 

 

♦ Debriefing

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Dear Shaina,

I know it sounded like I got you all wrong, but really, I didn’t. I am proud of your creative resourcefulness, in all matters. I am in awe of your comfort with your being by yourself, your ability to structure your time and accomplish what you set out to do without any prodding from anyone other than yourself…and then turn around and organize a social outing with a few close friends or 80 friends of friends because you’re ready for some fun. You seem to be able to manage what most of us still find very challenging…meeting our alone needs and our social needs without expecting someone else to do it for us. I am proud of you…and of me and Dad for providing the nurturance and opportunities that gave you the space to take your life wherever you chose. And you have chosen well. We are proud!

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My getting it wrong didn’t really have anything to do with you. Every mother has their own vision of the ideal mother they want to be and believe they can be. It doesn’t necessarily comply with the actuality of their mothering or the vision their children have of them. In truth, I never imagined myself as a working mother. My fantasy was that I would be the PTA organizing, cookie baking, field trip driving mom who was always there and never missed a mom-beat. Instead, I was an overbearing, impatient, overprotective worried mother who was pretty bored with the do-the-laundry-while-the-baby-is-taking-a-nap routine. I realized pretty early on that I needed to go to work for your sake and mine. I don’t regret my decision. It proved to help both of us grow into independent, productive and fun-loving women.10257145_10201836219616231_363673777101131976_n

That doesn’t mean that I am immune to the pangs of guilt that all working mothers have, especially when their children are home alone sick. The sticky remnants of our idealized mother-image gnaws at our hearts. If only I had been there…how much I missed not being there…how much I missed even when I was there… It’s never perfect and we keep wishing it were.

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Shaina, each time you come home from whatever far-away adventure you are currently on, I have the sense of meeting someone deeply familiar, yet subtly altered. You seem more settled and happy. The kind of happy that eases a mother’s mind. This Passover was one of our best ever…and not just because all the food was the best ever (even the gefilte fish). Your consistently gentle essence breezed in and drew us into late night talks, kitchen marathons and momentary peeks into the ever evolving world of Shaina. Being with you, shopping with you, debriefing our days (a new habit you picked up from a housemate…thank you thank you!), even cooking with you, was perfect!

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So Shaina, memory is selective and the timing of memories is especially altered. I remember the blue jello dreidles and the green poop and the witches games and the mud pies and all the mac n cheese you ate as a little girl. I remember. I was there. I remember the kitchen experiments when you got older, although more vaguely, because I wasn’t always there. The trashed kitchen memories were vivid as they awaited me when I did get there.

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Today, mother and daughter, we are here together creating new memories….memories that may supersede other memories in their poignancy, their pleasure and in their immediacy…or not. It’s been an incredible holiday and I can’t wait to do it again!

Love,
Mom
xoxooxoxxoxoxoxo

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Passover Sponge Cake

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Shaina, who knew that this was your all time favorite cake, Passover or not?! I have spent the last three years trying to perfect it. Not the recipe. That’s standard…the same cake Bubbe made every Passover since I have been conscious…the recipe on the back of the Manischewitz Potato Starch can. Every year Bubbe would exclaim at the height of her cakes…the higher the better…it has to do with the egg whites. I started making them the last couple years of her life as she sat in my kitchen directing my efforts. They didn’t come out as high as hers and invariably one would fall apart when I took it out of the pan and I would have to make another one, using the crumbled one for strawberry trifle (your Dad’s favorite). One year, I remember making three cakes before I finally got one to hold together…not that anyone was complaining.

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This year, another miracle of Passover occurred. I produced two fully intact, respectably high (although in my memory, Bubbe’s were higher) Passover sponge cakes. And you revealed that this was your favorite all time cake. Will wonders never cease?!

It turns out that this cake is also gluten-free and makes a perfect cake all year round for those gluten free people in your life. It makes delicious strawberry shortcake and goes well with homemade lemon curd (a recipe from a friend).

I guess I’ll be making a third sponge cake again this year for your birthday, Shaina…the day after Passover ends.

Manischewitz Passover Sponge Cake
(from the back of the Manischewitz Potato Starch Can)

  • 7 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup Manischewitz potato starch, sifted
  • dash of salt

Separate 6 of the eggs. Beat the six egg yolks and one whole egg until light and frothy. The key here is to use a regular stand mixer (not a hand-held) and really beat those eggs until they actual change color and become lighter.

Gradually add the sifted sugar and beat thoroughly. Continue beating while adding the lemon juice and zest ( I usually add a little more zest and juice than the recipe calls for up to two teaspoons of zest and two tablespoons of juice). Beat thoroughly together.

Gradually add the sifted potato starch, stirring constantly to ensure thorough blending.

Beat egg whites with salt until stiff but not dry. Fold gently but thoroughly into egg yolk mixture. The key here is to make sure there is not even a drop of egg yolk in the egg whites and that you use a separate clean bowl and beaters. I use a hand held for the white and always keep them far away from the yolk mixture when preparing this cake.

Place in and ungreased tube pan (I like the tube pans that have the detachable bottom). Bake in a 350° oven about 55 minutes or until cake springs back when touched gently with fingers. I bake this cake for 56 -58 minutes. The top should be brown but not burned and a little crusty.

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Invert pan and cool thoroughly before removing cake from pan.  Once you invert the pan (I use wine bottles), do not even attempt to remove the cake until it is absolutely stone cold. Use a sharp knife to go around the edges of the pan and the tube in the center of the pan.

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If the cake does happen to fall apart, it will still be delicious and no one will notice when you serve it layered in a trifle bowl with strawberries or lemon curd or both.

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Passover Potato Knishes

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Bubbe used to make special Passover Potato knishes that looked like round balls of potato with a glossy outside but no dough. They tasted a little liker the insides of her regulars potato knishes. I never bothered to get the recipe because there were always so many other things to make on Passover. This year I wanted to make a gluten free Passover appetizer and decided I would try to replicate at least the concept of a Passover Potato Knish. The don’t look or feel like my Mom’s but they were such a huge hit, I think Bubbe would be proud!

  • 2 pounds sweet yellow onions
  • oil for sautéing onions
  • 5 pounds red potatoes
  • Lots of salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 4 eggs*
  • oil for brushing tops

*Egg whites can be substituted for whole eggs. Use 2 egg whites for every egg called for. I usually do half and half.

 

Chop onions and sauté in olive or Canola oil until very browned and reduced. This step can be done ahead of time. When I have a big cooking event coming up, I will chop up a whole bag of onions and sauté them and put them in the fridge. As I am cooking over the next few days I have a ready supply of sautéed onions for any recipe that calls for them.
Boil whole potatoes in salted water until done.
Rinse in cold water and peel off skins while potatoes are still hot, but you are able to handle them. I usually skin them while rinsing them under the cold water.
Mash the potatoes, adding in 1/4 cup canola oil, sautéed onions to taste (the more the bettering our household) and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Lightly beat eggs and add to potato mixture, blending thoroughly.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Wet hands with water and spoon potato mixture into hands to form a golf-ball sized potato mound. Place potato balls onto baking sheet. brush tops of balls very lightly with a little oil.
If serving at a later time, bake at 375° for about 15- 20 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Let cool completely and remove with a spatula. Store in a sealed container separating the layers with waxed or parchment paper. they can be frozen. To reheat, return to baking sheets covered with parchment paper and reheat in a 375° oven until browned and crisp around the edges, about 15 minutes.
If serving immediately, bake in 375° oven for 25 minutes or until browned and slightly crisp.

♦ Who Knew?!

Dear Shaina,

I wasn’t already feeling bad enough about inflicting only childhoodness on you …and then I find out, twenty-five years later, that I was a totally clueless parent! I had always thought of myself as a conscious and conscientious parent; someone who knew her child and tried to provide what her child needed, separate and distinct from my own needs…stop rolling your eyes. I tried. Obviously, I missed some things.

Who knew that you struggled with loneliness. It seemed that there were always kids around and activities planned and sleepovers at our house or someone else’s. You were gone for a month every summer at overnight camp living in a crowded cabin with 15 other girls. The rest of the summer was filled with day camps, swim team and friends. I know there were lonely moments. Clearly, you dealt with them creatively.

Who knew that you had a phone glued to your ear laying alone in your sick bed (Oy! Stab me in the heart!). You never answered the phone at home and barely talked on it (at least when we were around). I know I didn’t leave you home alone sick as a small child. Bubbe would have killed me. You clearly had to have reached some age of maturity to have been able to identify with the Golden Girls. You couldn’t have been that sick or I would not have left you at any age.

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And the only thing I ever saw you make in the kitchen was an egg sandwich! I just really had no idea how much creativity was going on right under my nose. I am afraid to ask what else I don’t know. I am not sure how all of this relates to only-childhoodness, but at least if I had had a few kids, I would have an excuse for my cluelessness.

When I was young, my imaginary “when-I-grow-up” life included lots of children, a white picket fence with a backyard and a stay-at-home mom, not unlike my own childhood. Life doesn’t always pan out the way we expected it to. Sometimes the things we think we want, don’t make us feel the way we thought they would.  I never would have survived as a stay-at-home mom…and you probably wouldn’t have either.  Although being an only child has its challenges and burdens (I promise to clean out this house before I die), the reality is that the grass has brown spots on both sides of the fence…for parent and child. I am continually in awe of all the beautiful green grass you have so creatively grown and nurtured on the side of the fence that you got thrown into. And your friend, Hannah, hasn’t done such a bad job either!

Shabbat was great! The pics...not so much.

Shabbat was great! The pics…not so much.

In the meantime, thanks for suggesting that I host a concurrent Bham/Israel Shabbat dinner. It turned out to be great fun and an idea worth repeating. We hosted the Birmingham parents who have children living in Israel while you hosted their kids eight hours earlier in Jerusalem. There were a few parents and kids missing at both of our tables, so we’ll have to plan a repeat. I apologize for the fuzzy pictures.

What a Fun Group! Forgive the pics.

What a Fun Group! Forgive the pics.

The food and drink were amazing thanks to everyone’s efforts. We had matzah ball soup, roasted Eggplant, classic Israeli salad, carrot salad, kale/vegetable salad and Challah and wine, of course.

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I made hummus with the tahini I brought home from Israel, your zesty herbed rice salad with dried cut-up figs instead of raisins, roasted green beans and chicken piccata with mushrooms and capers. Dessert was lemon pound cake, cherry hamantaschen (still some in the freezer waiting for you), and Naomi’s famous chocolate streusel bars. It was the perfect collaborative feast and a very special Shabbat for all of us!

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Now on to Passover. I just ordered my fish. I am hoping to perfect my gefilte fish this year. And when exactly will you be arriving in Birmingham  (speaking of being clueless)? I am always the last to know!

Safe travels and I can’t wait to see you…whenever it is!!

Love,
Mom

xooxoxooxoxxoxoxoxoo

 

Let’s begin with Dessert!
Naomi’s Favorite Chocolate Streusel Bars

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Every time Gail or Naomi (when she’s here) make these, people inhale them (even non-chocolate lovers) and want to know the recipe. Here it is…

  • 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.) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, divided
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts

Directions
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.

 

For the non-vegetarians 

Easy Chicken Piccata for a Crowd

Makes enough for 12-14 plus leftovers

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  • 6-7 whole skinless and boneless chicken breasts (2 chicken breast halves per whole breast)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour *
  • 1 tsp each dried tarragon, parsley and basil
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1 pound mushrooms sliced
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 – 1 1/4 cup white wine like sauvignon blanc (not sweet wine)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup chicken broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup capers
  • Fresh parsley
  • Lemon slices for garnish if desired

*Matza meal or potato starch can be substituted for Passover, Potato or corn starch can be used to make this dish Gluten Free.

This recipe can be partially prepared ahead of time to minimize mess and preparation time on the day you will be serving it.

Day One
Place chicken breasts, one or two at a time, between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with the non-tenderizing side of a mallet into cutlets about a 1/4 inch thin or a little thicker if you prefer. Depending on the size of the breast, after pounding it down, you can cut it into serving size pieces. Lightly salt and pepper the chicken and set aside.

Mix the flour with the dried herbs in a shallow bowl.

Heat a large sauté pan and pour a little oil and some of the garlic into the pan. Sauté the garlic lightly. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture and sauté for 1-2 minutes on each side in the oil and garlic. Set aside the lightly browned chicken in a dish that can be covered and stored in the refrigerator. Add more oil and garlic as needed to finish sautéing all the chicken. Once you have sautéed all the chicken, cover and refrigerate.

Place the sliced mushrooms in the same sauté pan that you used for the chicken. Add oil if needed and sauté until mushrooms are cooked through, but not overdone. There should be juices from the mushrooms and deglazed chicken remnants in the pan. Remove mushrooms and all liquid from the pan and store in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Squeeze fresh lemons to make about 2/3 cup of lemon juice and refrigerate in a covered container.

Day Two

IMG_3374About an hour before serving time, take chicken, mushrooms and lemon juice out of the refrigerator. Wash and chop the parsley and thinly slice a lemon if using for garnish.

Using a large sauté pan or two pans, place chicken in the pan. Add mushrooms with juices, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 3/4 cup wine and cook over medium heat. As the sauce thickens, add 1/2 cup chicken broth. Add more as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings (garlic, salt and pepper) and lemon juice, wine and broth to taste.

Cook until chicken is browned and cooked through and all flavors are well-blended. This could take 20 – 40 minutes depending on how much chicken is in the pan. Toss in capers. Serve immediately or keep warm until serving time.

Garnish with thin slices of fresh lemon and chopped parsley.

I made mine in a large (16”) electric frying pan that I was able to use as a serving dish while keeping the chicken warm. Serve with green beans roasted with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

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♦ NO, What?!

Dear Shaina,

No, What?!

It does seem that thou protesteth a wee bit much.

I do not hold you responsible for your only-child status.  Nor do I hold you culpable for my mother-worry (something that even mothers of multiples have). And who ever asked you to tailor (nice Zayde metaphor) any of your needs or actions to my neuroses?!  Putting you back in the womb?!…you have spent less time in the womb (literally and metaphorically) than almost any kid I know, including Abe’s.

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So, NO, WHAT?!

No, you won’t stop traveling around the world or wherever! I don’t expect you to.

No, you won’t stop experiencing your life to the fullest! I hope not.

No, you won’t live your life for me! Who asked you to?

No, you won’t stop running 10 miles a day…so your feet will hurt!

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Despite my mother-angst and neuroses, I have spent much of my parenting consciousness focused on mitigating the burdens of your only-childness…from play-group to sleep-away camp, from staying out of your classrooms to encouraging you to make your own decisions about schools, coursework, career, travel, friends…just about everything. Dad and I both understood the importance of you finding and being your own person…and supported you in that process and its outcome. Personally, I think we did a damn good job (maybe too good a job)!

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I am sorry that you bear this burden, but I also know that even if you had 5 brothers and sisters, the challenges of finding your own life burdened by fulfilling your fantasy of your parents wishes and dreams would still be there. My own parents, your Bubbe and Zayde, wanted only one thing from us…for us to be happy…the ultimate in a catch-22 parental demand/burden/expectation. If you defy them, you suffer; if you comply, they win…but so do you.  That takes a while to learn. It is my only wish for you, also.

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I recognize your separateness from me and mine from you. My feelings are my own and not intended to impose expectations on you.  That is your problem to deal with (although you seem to be dealing with it just fine). I accept fully who you are and who you are continually becoming.  My mother-love is bursting with pride and I am, with some objectivity, in awe of all your accomplishments, your daring, your zest for life and your skills in managing the hurdles of growing up and staying alive. If there ever were expectations, you have exceeded them all…so get over it.

And now that your SHAINA sign (from your Bat Mitzvah) has fallen off your bedroom door, it may be time for you to clean out that childhood shelter of protection and fantasy.

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That doesn’t mean I won’t always being praying for your health, happiness, safety and mazel. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t be hoping that, one day, I will see one of those eggs (which I absolutely know are your own) come to fruition. No pressure.

I couldn’t love you more…just the way you are.

Love,

Mom

xoxooxoxxoxoxoxoxoox

Crustless Quiche Appetizer

After all of our recent discussions, I thought I might send a blander recipe to settle things down a bit.  It still has lots of flavor, but could be spiced up if you want.

I made this dish for an event I was going to.  I needed something dairy or veggie that would yield a lot of pick-up bite-sized snacks that could be served at room temperature. This worked out perfectly!  It can also be made in a more traditional quiche dish and served hot or made in individual mini muffin trays (although that seems like a lot more work).

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To adapt for Passover, leave out the flour and you could add a little matzoh meal.  If you leave out both, it becomes gluten free.

Preheat Oven to 350°

  • 1 pound chopped spinach, fresh (sautéed) or frozen, drained
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms, sautéed
  • 1 large or two small onions, chopped and sautéed
  • ~ 1 cup cheddar and 1 cup jarlsburg cheese, grated and mixed together
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 6 eggs, slightly beaten
  • Scant 1/2 cup flour
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon fresh
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese for topping

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Reserve 3/4 cup of the cheddar/Jarlsburg cheese mixture for the topping and set aside.

Place spinach, mushrooms, onions and cheddar/Jarlsburg cheese in a large bowl and mix together.

Combine milk, cream, cottage cheese, slightly beaten eggs, flour and spices in a bowl and mix together.

Add the milk/cream mixture to the vegetable/cheese mixture and mix thoroughly.

Lightly spray bottom and sides of a 9” x 13” glass baking dish with a non-stick cooking spray.

Pour quiche mixture into the baking dish.

Mix parmesan cheese with remaining cheddar/Jarlsburg mixture and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

Bake at 350° for 40 – 50 minutes or until top browns slightly and casserole is set.

Casserole may be undercooked and frozen for later use. Defrost and allow to come to room temperature and finish baking in the oven at 350°.

Cut into 1″ squares for pick-up appetizers.

♦ One Egg, One Basket

Dear Shaina,

My heart is always eased a little when I see that you have been with family…both our blood relatives as well as the family we have created over the years. Knowing that you seek out the blessings of family…where love and connections are the undercurrent of everything, where life’s milestones are celebrated and traditions are transcended and where food and kitchen secrets are shared…is a comfort to me. Most of all, I am comforted to see you safe and surrounded by love and friendship.

Never too old to learn how to do something new with a grape tomato!

Never too old to learn how to do something new with a grape tomato!

My comfort was short-lived when I heard about your day trip to Ramallah.  I am all for a girl’s day out at the spa…but Ramallah?! You tell me it’s safe.  Everyone else tells me, you are out of your mind!  I remind myself that you are responsible (most of the time), you are not really a wild risk taker (calculated risks only, I pray) and that you have traveled the world and survived (pooh, pooh, pooh!). I still get scared. I know that your life is beyond my control and I pray fervently, everyday, for your safety, your health, your well-being, your happiness…and a strong dose of mazel.  Prayer is a pretty flimsy substitute for control, but it’s all I have and I’m counting on it.  But just in case, would you mind just being a little more cautious with your life…for my sake (and your father’s)?! I am counting the days until you get home for Passover. I am only truly at ease when you are right under my nose.

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I am working on planning our concurrent Birmingham/Israel Shabbat dinner….Birmingham parents with kids living in Israel sharing Shabbat here while their kids share Shabbat in Jerusalem. It’s a great idea…now let’s see if we can pull it off. You need to let me know what’s on your menu so I can introduce the parents to a taste of what their kids might have eaten at your house eight hours earlier.

Dad is on a ski trip with the boys and has chosen yoga over skiing as his sport of choice on this trip. Along with his drum sticks and practice pad, I am certain he will entertain himself and get an adequate workout. I feel like I am a yoga evangelist. I am glad to hear that you are now enjoying your new yoga class. Now if you can only learn to spare your poor feet a little…a ten and a half mile run…no wonder your feet hurt!

A whole lot of avoidance!

A whole lot of avoidance!

I have been working on taxes (my annual descent into receipt madness) and baking (my go-to avoidance activity) hamentaschen for Purim. I made over 250…half for the Chesed Committee at temple and the rest to enjoy and give away.  Dad’s favorite is cherry, even though I made some chocolate-peanut butter chip-caramel just for him. There will be a few waiting for you in the freezer to enjoy before we begin our Passover cook-a-thon.

Please take care of yourself…remember all my eggs (and I only have one) are in one basket…and you are the primary bearer and caretaker of that basket!

Love,

Mom
xoxoxoxoxooxooxox

Bubbe’s Hamantaschen Revisited
Dairy or Pareve

Yield: about 40 to 60 depending on how large and thick you make them

Prep time: 2 -4 hours (includes chilling, rolling and baking)

Cooking time: 14-16 minutes per batch

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  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter (1stick), shortening or pareve margarine
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 full cups unbleached all purpose flour plus more flour for kneading and rolling dough
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Filling

  • 3 cups of filling or 2 twelve-ounce cans of prepared filling or jam

Options: poppy seed, cherry, strawberry, chocolate chips, prune, raisin and nuts, almond filling or your favorite jam.

Make your own: combine fruit (prunes and raisins work well) with a little orange juice and sugar and cinnamon to taste and cook over low heat until thickened.  Nuts may be added.  Be creative!

Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Cream the sugar and butter in a large bowl. Add the vegetable oil and eggs and beat until blended. Add orange juice, zest and vanilla and mix together.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl and mix together.

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Mix dry ingredients into the large bowl with wet ingredients.  Knead dough into a ball. Divide into 4 balls of dough and wrap in clear plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Dough may be kept in the refrigerator for a week or may be frozen for up to a month for later use.

Preheat oven to 350°

Work with one ball of dough at a time, keeping remaining dough refrigerated. Roll out dough on floured surface to ⅛ inch thickness.  Cut in 2 ½  to 3 ½ inch circles (the metal lid band from a wide-mouth canning jar or the jar itself make the perfect size cookie cutters). Put a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle. Pinch the sides and top together to make a triangle shape. You can use a smaller glass or circle cookie cutter and less filling for smaller hamantaschen.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 14 to 16 minutes until edges are lightly browned.

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Chinese Brisket Chili

I am not really a meat chili person, but this was so intriguing that I had to try it and it was delicious! Not to mention that it turned out to be the perfect thing for those weird cold days we had this winter.  You will probably never make this dish, but some of your meat eating friends might want the recipe anyway.  This dish made me fantasize about having a chili party next winter…White Chili made with chicken, Chinese Chili made with brisket and our family classic…Vegetarian Chili made with tofu.  It’s a thought….

This recipe is adapted from one Dad found in the newspaper…of course I had to add a few of my own touches. It makes enough to feed a crowd!

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  • 3 pounds lean brisket
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce, more to taste
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 – 3 large onions, chopped
  • 12 – 16 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 – 4 carrots chopped or sliced
  • 2 green or red peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1 habanero or other hot fresh chile (to taste), seeded and chopped
  • 6-8 cloves fresh garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1 3” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons five-spice powder
  • 16 ounces of beer
  • 2 cans or boxes of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar

Chopped cilantro for garnish

Start with a 8-10 quart dutch oven or soup pot.  Trim the fat off the brisket reserving a small piece (about 2 tablespoons) of fat. Throw any remaining fat away. Lightly brown the reserved fat on medium-high heat in the dutch oven to slick the bottom (this piece of fat can be discarded after being browned). Cut the trimmed brisket into 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch cubes. Add the chunks of brisket to the pot and cook until the meat loses its redness.  Transfer the seared meat and juices to a bowl and toss with soy sauce and hoisin sauce and let stand while preparing the vegetables.

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Reduce heat to low and add onions and mushrooms to the Dutch oven.  Sauté until soft.  Add carrots and peppers and continue cooking.  Garlic, ginger and hot peppers can be finely chopped together in a food processor and added to the vegetables. Add spices and beer and bring to a simmer.  Add tomatoes.  Add meat with marinade and juices. Cover and simmer until meat is tender and flavors are well blended. This could take 3 hours and tastes even better the next day.

Stir in vinegar and adjust seasonings with soy sauce and salt.

Garnish with cilantro and serve with black beans and brown basmati rice.

This dish gets better the longer it cooks and can be made a few days ahead of time.  It also freezes well.

♦ Indulgence

Dear Shaina,

Thank you for the compliment.  It is comforting to know that I haven’t lost my touch completely … if only, to make you call home.

Time does fly.  It’s bad enough when its my life, but at least I can review the markers in real time.  As far as your life goes, it’s harder to track.  Whole chunks of space go missing…and the moments of missing are sharp and ever present. Talking with you helps calm my anxieties and gives me enough tidbits of your daily doings to activate my vicarious pleasure (or angst). So, thanks for indulging me.

Mazel Tov on your success in Arabic.  I know how much time and effort you sweated over it.  And congratulations on allowing yourself an indulgent vacation.  I have yet to regret any of my indulgences and only wish I had allowed myself more over the years.  I am making up for it.

Yoga is my current indulgence. I am surprised by how much pleasure I am experiencing in practicing yoga.  Five days this week…I have never in my life done any physical activity five days a week! It’s not that it’s easy and I fully understand why its called a practice.  There’s just something about the physicality and the restoration, the striving and the serenity and the total focus on…my breathing, my heartbeat, my sore joints and stiff muscles, my body’s imperfect capacity, my gratitude for my strength…and my life…and the stilling of my mind.  I am fully indulging myself in this pursuit of balance, acceptance and peace. I feel good! Maybe it’s just all that seratonin leeching out into my brain…whatever!

Dad and I spent four days iced in at our winter chalet at the top of the hill.  I didn’t want to leave.  We were very comfortable being holed up together, safe and warm with plenty of good food and books…and no obligations or commitments. Having always been so outwardly driven and people-needy, it was a sweet surprise to experience another part of myself.

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Being home put me into full blown cooking mode. My super sized pots have been getting a workout.  Pea Soup, chicken soup and, this week, an actual red-meat chili!  Dad always brings home the Wednesday NY Times from the office and gives me the Dining Section. This week it had a recipe for Chinese Chili that intrigued  both of us. It’s made with brisket cut up in chunks…I haven’t made a red meat dish for as long as I can remember, especially a chili.  It was delicious! I made enough to bring to the Hirsch’s (he’s still in the hospital) and for Shabbat dinner with family and friends.

The rarity of my making a recipe with meat made me realize how much of our eating is influenced by your vegetarianism. I shop and cook as if you live around the corner and might drop in for dinner at any moment.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to start serving meat at every meal.  Dad and I still enjoy eating vegetarian style most nights.  But maybe this Chinese Brisket Chili is a sign of reality seeping into my pots affirming the separation of our lives…as it should be.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop missing you anytime soon.

Love, Mom

xooxoxoxoxoxox

Easy Low-Fat Eggplant Parmesan (Lasagna Style)
Vegetarian, Gluten Free

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I promised you my eggplant parmesan recipe this week…the perfect meal to pull out of the freezer when it’s freezing outside. I love eggplant parmesan and I love vegetarian lasagna.  I don’t love all the breading and frying in traditional eggplant parmesans and I don’t love the heavy pasta load in traditional lasagnas. So I made up this recipe,taking the best of both dishes and eliminating the high calorie elements. You can make your own sauce or buy your favorite ready-made spaghetti sauce or combine the two. Surprisingly, this satisfies all my Italian cravings without leaving me feeling one little bit deprived.

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I made these in late fall when the last harvest of eggplants and basil abounded. My measurements are imprecise, so if you end up with extra of one of the components, not to worry.  It can be reused for something else.  Extra roasted eggplant makes a great side vegetable or can be used in a stir-fry dish.  Extra sauce can be used on pasta or frozen for later use.  Extra ricotta with spinach is perfect for stuffing manicotti and rebaking smothered in tomato sauce. All good in these cold winter months!

Preheat oven to 375° convection bake or 425° on regular bake setting

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Japanese Eggplant

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Traditional Eggplant

Eggplant

  • 3-6 medium sized eggplants or the equivalent amount of Japanese eggplants (long thin eggplants)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Cheese Filling

  • 1 pound low fat Ricotta Cheese
  • Basil, Oregano and any other favorite Italian seasonings, fresh or dried
  • 16 oz package chopped frozen spinach defrosted or fresh spinach sautéed and chopped

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 – 3 quarts Tomato sauce
  • 2 large onions
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Boxed or canned plum or diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar or agave
  • Salt, Pepper and Italian seasonings ( basil, oregano, parsley)
  • (Your favorite store bought tomato sauce is a great timesaving alternative)

Topping

  •  1 pound low fat mozzarella cheese, grated


Eggplant

Slice eggplant in 1/2 inch horizontal slices.  If using regular eggplants, lay out on a sheet pan and sprinkle with salt. Let sit about 30 minutes.  Salt removes the bitterness and excess water.  After 30 minutes, rinse in cold water and pat dry.  If using Japanese eggplants, you can skip the salt step and just slice 1/2 inch round slices.

Place up eggplant in a large bowl and lightly drizzle with EVOO (olive oil).  Lightly salt and pepper.  Stir eggplant around in bowl until lightly oiled and seasoned. Place parchment paper on a large baking sheet and arrange prepared eggplant in a single layer on the sheet. Place in pre-heated oven for 15 to 25 minutes until lightly browned and slightly crisp, but not burned. It may take several baking sheets to bake all the eggplant. The roasted eggplant at this stage is delicious as it is!  When roasting eggplant to use as a side vegetable I just cut the eggplant in chunks and bake it the same way.

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Tomato Sauce
In the meantime, if you are making your own sauce or doing some combo of homemade and store bought, you can prepare it now.  I usually sauté onions and garlic in a little olive oil, add a jar of store bought vegetarian tomato sauce and a couple boxes or cans of plum or diced tomatoes. I season with salt, pepper, a tad of sugar or agave if needed, basil and oregano and simmer over low heat until it tastes like I like it. Set aside when done.

Cheese/Spinach Mixture
Drain the liquid from the defrosted spinach or cook (sauté or microwave) the fresh spinach and drain off any liquid.  Mix the drained spinach into the ricotta cheese.  Add pepper and basil to taste. Set aside.

Assembly
Spray casserole dishes with a non-stick spray.  I use pyrex loaf pans or casserole dishes at least 3 inches deep.

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Cover the bottom of the casserole with tomato sauce and layer the eggplant on the bottom of the dish. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce.  Sprinkle a light amount of grated mozzarella over the eggplant layer.  Spread a 1/2 – 3/4 inch layer of the ricotta cheese/spinach mixture over that.  Continue to layer tomato sauce, eggplant and tomato sauce and end with a generous topping of grated mozzarella cheese.

To Bake and serve immediately:

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Place loosely covered (aluminum foil) casserole on a cookie sheet and place in a 350° preheated oven.  Bake about 30 minutes or until bubbly.  Remove foil covering and continue baking another five or ten minutes until cheese topping is browned lightly or the way you like it.  Remove from oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes.  Serve with extra tomato sauce, a fresh green salad and some garlic bread.

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To Freeze:

Finish assembly and wrap tightly in freezer wrap and plastic freezer bags.  Freeze immediately.  Thaw when ready to use and bake according to instructions.

♦ Hearing Your Voice

Dear Shaina,

It seems like I haven’t heard your voice in weeks.  We have been in touch by email and text…you in Portugal, us in Park City…but it’s just not enough for me. I start to worry and wonder what I’m missing by not hearing the tones beneath your spoken words. Mother’s believe they can hear the unsaid and feel the unseeable.  I am a firm believer.  I have to hear your voice…

We had to return from Utah (Park City was warm and sunny- ideal for the Sundance Film Festival) to Birmingham to see some real snow falling from the skies and experience the frigid temperatures that you expect at a ski resort in Utah in the middle of January.

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The snow and rapidly forming ice sheet came on suddenly and unexpectedly in Birmingham.  If I had come home 30 minutes later, I probably would have been stranded on the road like thousands of other drivers who abandoned their cars on highways and streets throughout the city.  People walked miles to get home or slept in offices, schools, public buildings or at homes of friends who were within reach. Two inches of snow blanketing a thin layer of ice maintained by temperatures in the teens stopped this city in its tracks. Amazingly, there were no power outages.

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By the time I got home, Dad had cancelled his appointments and was gathering wood from his ever-ready wood pile to stoke the fire he was tending in the wood stove. The perfect day for us!

I put on a big pot of pea soup (soup is always good) and pulled an eggplant parmigiano (I’ll send that recipe next week) out of the freezer from some I had made in the fall. With plenty of cold-weather food, a cozy fire and an abundance of vacation laundry, Dad and I settled into an afternoon of domestic tranquility. Dad filled the bird feeders while I sliced and diced the veggies for my soup. We sat by the fire with some hot cocoa and watched the birds nibbling at their treats.

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Dad took his traditional orchid with a backdrop of snow pictures and even got a little workout on his new drum set.

Even though all my days are, technically, days off, this day felt like a gift…no where to be, nothing to do, no expectations or demands, no schedule.  We were stuck at home.  The world was on a time-out.  We were warm and safe…and together.  What more could we want?!… Other than a phone call from you, of course.

I suppose I could call you, but I pride myself in being able to trust you to set the frequency and level of communication based on your needs, not mine. So, why am I so whiny…just the mother in me I guess. I know you’re fine.  And I know we’ll talk soon…and my heart will be eased.  I just want to hear your voice!

Congrats on your Arabic exam. Enjoy the rest of your break. Talk to you soon!

Love, Mom

xoxooxoxxoxooox

Basic Pea Soup

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Vegan and gluten-free
Makes enough for a crowd and some for the freezer

  • 1 pound split yellow peas
  • 1 pound split green peas
  • 3-4 quarts of water (more as needed)
  • 3-4 Bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard or mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6 carrots, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 6-8 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)

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To vary the taste, add cumin or other spices you like
Garnish with fresh chopped tomatoes, fresh parsley or a dollop of sour cream
Small cooked pastas can be added if desired for a heartier and even thicker soup

Start with a large 8-10 quart soup pot.  Put water, peas, bay leaves, mustard and salt in the pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Add carrots, onions, celery, sweet potato and garlic and simmer at least 40 additional minutes, adding water as needed.  Add salt and pepper to taste and white wine if desired. Cook until all vegetables are soft and well blended. Adjust spices to taste.

Soup generally tastes even better the next day.  Can be frozen.

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♦ Puzzles

Dear Shaina,

One of my friends read your letter and told me it made her sad. Dad acknowledged the Shealy thread. I continue to be perplexed at how you evolved into adopting the Schuster avoidance method of perpetual motion…and I just wanted to fix it…right away.

None of us come with all the puzzle pieces put together.  Maybe it’s enough to know that there are pieces missing and that it’s our job to look for them and try them on…like a jig-saw puzzle. I was 36 when you were born…and Dad was 45.  The seeds we planted in our twenties and thirties and forties gave no clue of what was to come. The puzzle pieces only made sense in retrospect.

At 62 and 70, our conjoined jigsaw puzzles are filling up nicely. The depth and expansiveness of our lives would not be the same without you. The pieces that you have added to the tapestry of our lives go far beyond rain forests in Bolivia and salt deserts in India. You pushed the boundaries of our capacity to love in a way that neither of us thought possible. You stretched the edges of our individual puzzles into new-found spaces filled with curiosity and color and joy. That doesn’t mean that we have no empty holes, no spaces yet to be filled, no angst still to be felt, even at our age.  I am still trying to find the balance between action and stillness, acceptance and striving.

I know how hard it is to be 25…all the pieces dumped out in a random pile on the floor with just barely an outline formed by the edge pieces…a few double and triple rows and some random blobs of color and texture where the pieces all happened to find each other…and all that empty space…anxiously waiting to be filled…

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Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees… Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to step back and look at all the pieces that have been filled in…to see beyond the pieces…to marvel at the big picture and appreciate the themes and beauty that have already begun to take shape. And then to examine the empty spaces and begin again. This is as much a reminder for me as it is for you.

I wish, for you, that there was an easy answer, a straight line, a clear vision.  I know there is not…

I do know that I trust your ability to know when the puzzle pieces truly fit…and when they don’t.  The right pieces are there and you will persist in finding them, trying them on, choosing the right fit and discarding the rest.  Awareness and patience…and trust in yourself…you have the rest of your life.

We are on our way to South Carolina.  Soup, turkey and cheesecakes in hand. It’s part of our DNA. We cook and feed and nurture. It’s the antidote for the life search…grounding and connecting us to those people and places most important to us. And it keeps our hands and minds occupied, distracted and temporarily oblivious.

Poker in SC i The next generation!

Poker in SC … The next generation!

I love you and miss you.

Love, Mom

xooxxooxoxoxoxoxoxo

 

Shirly’s Corn Pudding

I have been cooking like crazy lately.  This recipe that our Israeli cousin Shirly made for our family reunion was another favorite of mine. It was perfect for a dairy meal I made for a Meet ’n Greet with the new Rabbi and his wife and some friends.  It’s really easy to make and goes well with salads and soups for a light dinner. I also varied it by substituting other veggies for the corn. It is like a lighter version of a crustless quiche. I even like the leftovers for breakfast.

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  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels , thawed and drained (1 Package)*
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup aged cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 3 eggs
  • One cup plain regular or Greek yogurt (I used no fat Greek)
  • 1 tablespoon onion soup mix (other spices of your choice can be substituted)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup grated cheese for topping
  • Butter, margarine or cooking spray for greasing the pan

* Sauteed mushrooms and onions or chopped drained spinach and onions can be substituted for the corn to vary this recipe. Jarlsburg or other cheeses of you choice can be substituted. I added a little freshly ground nutmeg, salt and pepper and left off the onion soup.

Preheat oven to 350°

In a large bowl place the corn, cottage cheese, cheese, cornmeal, eggs, yogurt and soup mix and any additional seasonings to taste.
Mix into a smooth mixture .
Pour mixture into preheated and greased loaf pan.
Top with remaining grated cheese and bake about 50 minutes or until cheese melts and is bubbling and top is lightly browned

 

Vegetarian Chili Casserole (for a crowd…and then some)

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No matter how I start out, this chili always ends up making enough for a huge crowd with leftovers to be shared with friends or frozen for later use.  This combination of vegetables reflects what I had in my refrigerator plus a few things I picked up at the grocery store.  The recipe and quantities are very flexible and accommodating to individual tastes and desires, so don’t feel like you have to follow this recipe precisely.  The secret is in the spicing.  Taste frequently and adjust the seasonings to suit  your tastes.  It is best if it is cooked at least one day before you plan on serving it to give the flavors a chance to blend together. Get out your biggest soup pot (6-8 quarts) and start creating!

Yield: 6 – 8 quarts

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2- 3 hours to be done
45 minutes to reheat as a casserole

  • IMG_28762 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 package tofu ground “beef”, regular or taco flavored
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, cut up
  • 1-2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 fresh peppers, green, red, yellow or orange, cut up
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 5-6 cans (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes
  • 4 zucchinis, cut up
  • 4 yellow crookneck squash, cut up
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 pound baby portabello mushrooms, cut up (optional)
  • 2 cans black beans, drained (or you can cook your own dried beans, any kind you like)
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, drained
  • Cumin, Chili powder, garlic, coriander and salt to taste ( a good taco or chili seasoning mix can be used)
  • Aged Cheddar Cheese for topping (optional)

Cut up all vegetables in small or bite sized chunks.
Heat oil in a large 6-8 quart soup pot. Sauté tofu, onions, carrots, celery, peppers and garlic in olive oil.
Add canned diced tomatoes and remaining vegetables and beans and cook at medium heat until thoroughly heated.  Add spices to taste. Lower the heat and cook until liquids are reduced and mixture is thickened. This could take a couple hours.  Taste and adjust seasoning frequently.

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This chili can be eaten as a thick soup or placed in a casserole and topped with cheese and rebaked in the oven at 350° for about 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

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Serve with fresh cornbread and your favorite green salad and you have a hearty winter meal.

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♦ Keeping Your Parents Entertained

Dear Shaina,

I loved all the pictures of the menorahs in glass boxes…so different from here where we are constantly trying to explain that Chanukah is a minor holiday…as if that isn’t obvious enough in this world of Santa Clauses and reindeers.

I so missed having you here for the holidays. You always bring something fresh and fun…like the time you mandated that we could only bring a used or new gift from our house (no shopping at the store) to exchange at our family/friends Chanukah party…and that people could steal someone else’s if they liked it better than the one they chose. It was hysterical! We vowed to do it every year, but you haven’t been home on Chanukah since and the rest of us just can’t seem to get it together. We did, however, eat enough latkes to last the whole year and…yes, I finally hung Chanukah lights…and you weren’t even here!

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Two couch surfers stayed with us last week, thanks to your offer of our house.  Apparently, you are on some listserve of socially conscious young people and saw a request for couches along their route across the country. Once you checked her out and learned that she worked with one of your friends in DC, you told her she could get a reference on us from him.  Your DC friend, and a group of thirteen college kids he had led on a spring break work trip to New Orleans several years back, had stayed with us on their way home, again, per your coordination.  Dad and I decided that we would have led pretty boring lives if you hadn’t been born.

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I am serious. You have led us to countries we would never have visited, you exposed us to foreign flavors and cultures and you introduced people into our lives who, like you, have stimulated us and provided us with a measure of hope for the future. We thank you for letting us horn in on your adventures and giving us a glimpse of a world we most likely would’ve missed had it not been for you.

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I know it can feel like a burden to be an only child and I don’t want to add to that burden in any way by suggesting that you are responsible for filling our lives. Your engagement in your own life and your commitment to your own pursuit of happiness is gift enough to us.

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Plus, we get all the collateral benefits without the risks, challenges or hardships.  So, thanks! Keep up the good work of keeping your old parents entertained.

Thanks for sending Tan’s herbed rice recipe. I had some fennel I had to use so I tried it.  It was so delicious! Dad wants to know when I am making it again. I made it with preserved lemons (Nahum’s recipe) instead of lemon juice. Preserved lemons are my new favorite food discovery…you get all the lemon freshness, without the sharpness. I use it in everything that calls for lemon. It seems like we get a little taste of Israel every day.

After a brief heat wave, we got really cold weather. Dad dragged all the plants inside, started splitting wood and stoked up the wood stove…and I started cooking a huge pot of veggie chili…same as always.

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I hope you’re staying warm. Miss you and love you.

Love,

Mom

xoxoxooxooxoxoxoxo

Nahum’s Preserved Lemons

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This is a great way to use up a lot of lemons and have them on hand for a variety of uses. I use them in anything savory that calls for lemon juice and zest. Although they are layered in salt, they don’t seem to add a salty flavor, only the true essence of lemon..

  • 3-4 smooth medium skinned lemons, washed thoroughly (if the skin is too thin, they will be mushy, if too thick, they will be bitter)
  • Coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 glass pint jar

Slice off ends of lemon and discard.  Cut lemon into very thin slices and remove seeds. Layer in a glass pint jar, sprinkling Kosher salt between each layer. Pack the lemons tightly in the jar until it is full and put the lid on tightly.

Leave it in room temperature. Once brine starts to accumulate in the jar, turn it upside down.

After three to five days it will be ready.  It can be refrigerated at this point and used for a couple of weeks.  The longer it stays, the more picklish (and less “fruity”) it will be.

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If you want to spice it up, add sweet or hot paprika to the Kosher salt and you will have Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Tan’s Tomato Salad

I served this at Thanksgiving dinner and people went back for seconds. I used Kumato (Brown tomatoes) and Campari tomatoes. It is a ridiculously easy recipe and is light, flavorful and satisfying…and I even forgot to add the olive oil!

  • 1 pound of your favorite tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped green or purple onions (optional- I added these)
  • Preserved lemons or Moroccan Preserved Lemons
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Just combine coarsely chopped tomatoes (any kind) with finely cut up preserved lemon, black olives and some salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for a while and add some olive oil before serving.

One Pot Vegetarian Chili (a big pot)

No matter how I start out, this chili always ends up making enough for a huge crowd with leftovers to be frozen for later use.  This combination of vegetables reflects what I had in my refrigerator plus a few things I picked up at the grocery store.  The recipe and quantities are very flexible and accommodating to individual tastes and desires, so don’t feel like you have to follow this recipe precisely.  Just get out your biggest soup pot (6-8 quarts) and start creating!

  • Image2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 package tofu ground “beef”, regular or taco flavored
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, cut up
  • 1-2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 fresh peppers, green, red, yellow or orange, cut up
  • 1/2 pound baby portabello mushrooms, cut up
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 5-6 cans (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes
  • 4 zucchinis, cut up
  • 4 yellow crookneck squash, cut up
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 2 cans black beans, drained (or you can cook your own dried beans, any kind you like)
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, drained
  • Cumin, Chili powder, garlic and salt to taste ( a good taco or chili seasoning mix can be used)
  • Aged Cheddar Cheese for topping (optional)

Cut up all vegetables in small or bite sized chunks.

Heat oil in a large 6-8 quart soup pot. Sauté tofu, onions, carrots, celery, peppers, mushrooms and garlic in olive oil.

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Add canned diced tomatoes and remaining vegetables and beans and cook at medium heat until thoroughly heated.  Add spices to taste. Lower the heat and cook until liquids are reduced and mixture is thickened. This could take a couple hours.  Taste and adjust seasoning frequently.

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This chili can be eaten as a thick soup or placed in a casserole and topped with cheese and rebaked in the oven at 350° for about 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Serve with a salad, French rolls or fresh cornbread and you have a hearty winter meal.

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