◊ the sensible parts


Dear mom,

I started seeing an herbalist in the Old City a few weeks ago when I had the flu. I went back yesterday to get more of the flowers he gave me for sleep and he asked if there was anything else I needed. I told him yeah, I need something to make me less crazy. He gave me an essential oil to put on my pulse points for self-esteem. Ancient wisdom. I paid him 25 shekels.

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I’ve started and stopped writing this letter over five times. In December, I wrote you an angry rant about hating the world. In January, I redrafted the letter into a grumble of sadness on being so far from home. In February, I wrote a page about cauliflower. I never posted any of it, I think because I didn’t see it as important. As if!

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Bought my first yellow cauliflower on way to Qalandiya checkpoint – these are a winter special in the West Bank – people are really excited about them – perfect for Maqloobeh

It’s the longest I’ve gone without writing, but taking a sec to reflect on the purpose of our letters was productive, I think. We’ve lived really far away from each other for ten years, and I don’t only mean distance. For me, this letter-writing thing started as a shot at giving you a glimpse of my unreasonable life, which often feels way distant from yours. Like, sending a recipe for mint chutney seemed to be a good way to show you what I was doing in India rather than explaining how I lived without a real plan. A Yemeni bread recipe was easier than writing about what I was learning in Jerusalem back in 2013, and my paleo-broccoli-jerky creations translated my Berkeley life better than I could have done with words.

But I’ve been doing something else in the letters. At some point I veered from sharing my experiences with you to belittling them. In September 2013, I wrote that I didn’t know why I chose to move to Jerusalem and that I didn’t think I’d ever figure it out. January 2014: “I don’t know anything… I have so many unknowns that I don’t even know what I don’t know.” May 2016 when I graduated from journalism school: “I still didn’t understand what it’s all for.”


Looking back on our letters made me realize I’ve internalized my life as totally unreasonable. My self-deprecation in the letters is honest. I sometimes really do feel like my life is a total joke. At times my self-esteem is so low that I forget I’ve made all my “unreasonable” choices based on values that are one-hundred percent clear to me. That I calculated and deliberated on all my decisions in a serious way. I’ve always known exactly what I’m doing. I just have trouble owning it.

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Enough. Next time I start whining about my life full of nothing, call me out on it.  Instead of using these letters to share my unreasonable life, I want to share the sensible parts with you. Like the time I made beet salad with Mulu, an Ethiopian woman in Jerusalem. And ate Shatta with Reem, a Gazan woman in Ramallah. And made psychedelic 3-color tahini all alone at home in the Old City, which by the way I’m totally in love with. Also I watched a goat slaughter again.  The recipes are below.

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view from my rooftop




Mulu’s Beet Salad

  • 3 beets
  • 3 white potatoes
  • 2 raw onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 jalepenos, seeded
  • pinch of ground fenugreek
  • salt


Boil beets until soft. Boil potatoes, separately, until soft. Peel skins of beets and potatoes and chop into 1 inch cubes. Chop onion, garlic and jalepenos. Mix with lemon juice, fenugreek powder and salt. Enjoy!

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Reem’s Shatta

  • 20 hot chilis, red
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups Olive oil
  • ½ cup Salt

Put all ingredients in food processor and blend until salsa-like consistency. Put into glass jars and cover with a cloth. Allow to ferment for at least a week before sealing in an air-tight jar. Reem said she can’t get spicy enough pepper in the West Bank to real Gaza Shatta, which she misses so much that one time she went ot Jordan to meet a friend who brought Shatta from Gaza through Egypt.

Three color tahini

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  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 cup tahini
  • ¼ cup warm water


  • 1 beet, roasted


  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1 handful fresh basil
  • a few sprigs of green onion
  • a few fresh mint leaves
  • (basically anything green you have in the house)

First mix pure tahini with lemon, garlic, water and salt.

To make it pink, blend the base mixture with a roasted beet. To make it green, blend the base mixture with all the green herbs you have. Layer or eat separately. I like mixing it into shredded carrots.

◊ your fault


Dear mom,

It’s been awhile. I’ve avoided writing because talking about myself right now feels boring and pointless. This is the longest I’ve neglected our blog in almost 5 years.

It’s a shame. I’m cooking all the time and have a lot to share with you. In October, Natasha and I planned a seminar for our group about resources in Gaza and hired a Gazan chef to do a cooking demo for us. She taught us how to make stuffed spinach pastries and a lentil stew with pomegranate juice.

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Samah, the mom of the family downstairs, constantly shows me new tricks. The coolest thing in her fridge is a hard, dry yogurt ball. She dissolves pieces of it into hot Cauliflower stew. Also pre-hollowed vegetables! They’re sold everywhere in the Old City. When I came home with a kilo of cored carrots a few weeks ago, Samah gave me a brick of tamarind and showed me how to make it into paste. I boiled stuffed turnips and carrots in it. Earlier this week, guys at a bakery across the street invited me to make pastries filled with date mash. The bakers call them kaak al ajwe or “bagels with dates,” depending on who they’re talking to. The kaak looks like puffy yellow flowers. It doesn’t taste good.

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2 kinds of kaak on the floor


Samah’s fried eggplant

I’m doing other stuff too. My group regularly meets to talk about things like leadership, communication, being Jewish, personal growth. People cry a lot. My advisor is making me sing and act to help me get over my shit. In our first singing session he said I wasn’t tone-deaf and I was like what! I lip synced through four years of high school choir. So I confronted you about it over the phone. I will remind you of that convo.

I asked you why I’ve identified as tone-deaf since as long as I can remember, and you said I was never tone-deaf… That you and dad are the ones who are tone-deaf.

Huh? I asked you to tell me something you’re good at.

You: We’re good at a lot of things!

Me: Like what?

You: A lot of things!

Me: Name one

You: You know…

Me: Say it.

You: We’re good at WORK!

Me. Ha… ok. Anything else?

You: Of course!

Me: What?


Me: Hahaha ok.

Dad in background: I’m good at rhythm

Me: Other things you’re good at?

You (condensing tone): Your father’s smart… at least he thinks he is!

Me: Why can’t you just say you’re smart?

Mom: Of course, it’s all our fault. You know, things could have been worse. Just remember, you’re an only child. You could’ve been really fucked up!

Me: I am really fucked up!

My life right now is all about trying to be less fucked up, but like… the world is in failure mode and I’m sitting here, gazing at my navel, picking apart my problems. What’s the point? Like, I have a lot of shit and it’s probably all your fault and it’s not that big of deal. I could have been really fucked up.

I’m giving you three recipes in this post because I owe you big time. Syrian green freekeh salad, Samah’s mahshi (stuffed carrots) and romemiyeh, eggplant stew from Gaza.

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I live here

Can’t wait for you to visit and see all the strange stuff for yourself.



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Samah’s Mahshi/Stuffed Carrots

  • A dozen carrots
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 onions, chopped finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • bunch of parsley, chopped
  • allspice
  • nutmeg
  • cinnamon
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Tomato paste or tamarind paste
  1. Mix rice and lentils and cover in water. Let soak for 4 – 8 hours.
  2. If you can’t buy pre-hollowed carrots, peel them and boil for 7 minutes until soft. Remove from heat and put them in cold water. Make sure they’re not too soft or they’ll be hard to core. I’m pretty sure the carrots I buy are cored with a drill… I have no instructions for how you should core them, but I’m sure you can figure it out. Save the carrots insides to plug the ends after you stuff them.
  3. Drain and rinse rice and lentils. Mix with spices, parsley and onions. Feel free to be creative and add other chopped veg and spices. Last time I added zucchini and smoked paprika.
  4. Make a broth. There are two options: tomato broth or tamarind broth. I’ve made this recipe with both. Tamarind paste seems to be the more coveted option, but I like the tomato version better. Maybe it’s just familiarity. Mix tomato or tamarind paste with dashes of salt, pepper, nutmeg and/or cinnamon.
  5. Stuff carrots with lentil, rice spice mixture. Again, you have two options at this point: Line stuffed carrots in a deep pan, cover with tomato or tamarind broth and bake at 300 for 45 minutes – an hour. OR cover carrots in a deep pot and simmer over the stove for 45 minutes – an hour. I’ve tried both methods and prefer the oven. Again, familiarity.


Green Freekeh Salad

I’ve been working my way through the #CookForSyria campaign. I’m learning that a lot of the food here has Syrian influence. Samah says a lot of her dishes including my fav eggplant and yogurt thing are Syrian. Apparently kaak al ajwe, date bagels, is also originally Syrian.

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This is the prettiest dish I made from the #CookForSyria campaign by chef Saima Khan

  • 2 cups green freekeh
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ bunch chopped fresh mint
  • ½ bunch dill
  • 1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and tossed with cumin, smoked paprika and lemon juice
  • 1 pinch cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or puréed (optional)
  • 1 tbs pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbs date or apple-cider vinegar
  • 6 tbs good olive oil
  • handful of pumpkin seeds
  • 1 pomegranate, deseeded
  • handful of almonds, cut and toasted

Add the freekeh to boiling water and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water.

In a large bowl, toss freekeh with chopped herbs and chickpeas. In a separate bowl, whisk together lemon juice, oil, cumin, garlic, salt and olive oil, then toss with grains. Toss with pomegranate, nuts and pumpkin seeds. Garnish with extra pretty things.

Romanieh (lentils and eggplants cooked in pomegranate sauce


Chef Ayat Dina (she was on Israel’s version of Masterchef!) showed us this recipe during our seminar on Gaza. Ayat left Gaza at 18 and lives in Jaffa.  Her dreams are to do more cooking workshops, open a restaurant and see her 8 siblings who are still in Gaza. The last one probably won’t happen due to Israel’s harsh restrictions on movement to and from Gaza. She’s an amazing cook and has a great sense of humor. 



This dish is really special and surprising.

  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 7-9 cups of water
  • 2 medium eggplants, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup FRESH pomegranate juice
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil


Add 7 cups of water, cumin and the lentils to a pot. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for 15 – 20 minutes. Add eggplant and half of the minced garlic, continue to simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. Add salt and sumac. In separate bowl, mix flour, pomegranate and lemon juice. Add to lentils and stir until thick. In a pan, fry the remaining garlic in olive oil. Add to lentils. Remove from heat and garnish with pomegranate seeds and parsley. Serve over rice, with pita or naked.

◊ your problem


Dear mom,

I don’t get it. Are you threatening to take the glow-in-the-dark stars down from my bedroom ceiling? Why would you do that??

Your letter would have made more sense 10 years ago… or in 10 years. My pattern of living far far away for a bit and not so far away for a bit hasn’t changed since I graduated high school. I can’t tell if what you’re saying implies that I haven’t been an adult for all those years. And if I’m not an adult, do you think spending a year on doing personal growth activities like yoga and contact dance is going to grow me into one?

Girl please.



Last week my yoga instructor busted me for checking email during shivasana. Nothing about my life is changing.

I’m going to gently suggest that your empty nest PTSD is a projection of your own anxiety about impermanence and/or liberation from mothering a child. The trigger is your nestlessness. Your problem, not mine.

I know it’s hard to tell, but I’ve been grown for some time now. You are free to build a new life without me in the background. Uprooting and rerooting is hard, but you’re doing it and it sounds like y’all are flourishing. It’s nice to hear about dad’s Spanish class, your new mahjong friends and your favorite neighborhood restaurants. I’m trying to find the same shit here.

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so adult I can even take care of animals


If you need to take down my glow-in-the-dark stars for your own liberation, fine… I guess. But if you’re suggesting I sleep in the basement next time I’m home, sorry. It’s not happening.




It’s almost time for our annual Esrei Yamim cleanse (learn more about the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when we eat only whole, vegan, refined-sugar free foods). We’ll be doing the fundraising component again with a very cool new partner. Stay tuned, Arielle and I will explain more soon. To get things started, I’m posting a throwback to one of my favorite cleanse recipes. Arielle and I invented it during our first cleanse back in 2012 and it’s been my go to ever since. See? Nothing has changed.


The Golden Purp

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 oz of firm tofu, sliced into one inch pieces
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbs carraway seeds
  • 1tsp allspice
  • 1 head purple cabbage, chopped
  • 3 tsp sea salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 c golden raisins
  • 1 granny smith (or other tart) apple, chopped
  • 1/3 c apple cider vinegar
  • poppy or sesame seeds for garnish

Heat olive oil in skillet and add chopped garlic and tofu. Fry until golden brown and remove from skillet (place garlic and tofu in separate bowl). Then, saute onions with caraway seeds and allspice over low heat in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add chopped cabbage, salt and pepper and cover for about 2 minutes over low heat (cabbage should become tender, but remain crunchy). Then, add chopped apples and raisins and stir for 2 more minutes. Add apple cider vinegar and cover for one minute (the vinegar will turn the cabbage bright purple!). Remove from heat and stir in tofu and poppy seeds. Enjoy immediately over brown rice (and yogurt) for a hearty meal. It will stay good for a few days, but beware: the raisins will soak up the juices and become bloated, which is scary and gross.

◊ voice


Dear mom,

People are asking how my transition from Berkeley to Birmingham feels and I’m like what. What’s a transition? I sweat double here than I did in Berkeley. That’s the only change I notice. Deep inside though, I know I left Berkeley with heaps of growth and new knowledge.

Earlier last semester, I got roped in to speaking to a class of undergrads studying journalism + Judaism. Don’t ask. They wanted me to speak about new media stuff. Because I know things?

I sat in front of the class and felt 17 again. I told them what I was working on and admitted I don’t feel like a real reporter. Then they asked questions and I was surprised I had real answers.

Towards the end of the talk, one of the girls in the room raised her hand. She said, “Like, how did you get the courage to start to get your voice out there?”

I foreal laughed out loud. Then I was kind of stumped. I have a voice?

I thought about my literal voice. About the first semester of school when my instructor made me repeat sentences over and over and over again until I ended on a hard stop instead of a question. I learned how to mask uncertainty from “I have a story idea?”

I thought about the voice coach who came to radio class and made me YELL my script in front of class. “Get angry!” She said. All I could do was giggle.

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Sasha’s turn to be humiliated

Sometimes I listen back to my voice on recorded interviews and bang my head against my desk. I sound like a drunk 5 year old. I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself.

Other times, though, I recognize my voice –with its giggles, uptalk and meek rambles– as valuable. It’s taken me to some cool places. Though that recognition is fleeting, it’s a remarkable change from two years ago.

I’m not sure I have a firm answer for the girl who asked me how I found the courage to put my voice out there. I’m still kind of laughing about the whole thing. But what I said to her was this: find people who believe in themselves and surround yourself with them. Allow them to lift you.

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I spent the past two years surrounded by brilliance and fearlessness that motivated me to be those things too. Why did I really spend so many hours in the B1 cave? Because working next to people venturing into the frontiers of virtual reality and building apps and creating a freaking media empire, etc, etc, etc filled me with courage.

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As my transition from that wonderful bubble into the real world hits, I’m counting those first moments I saw the value of my voice to fortify me.



I made a lot of angst recipes during the last few weeks of school. At the end of the day all I usually wanted was to crush nuts in the vitamix. Pulverizing is empowering.

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Plant based snickers bars:

Bottom Layer

  • 2 cup cashews
  • 1 cup dried figs, chopped
  • tsp sea salt
  • tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbs coconut flour
  • vanilla bean paste

Middle Layer

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 5 -7 dates
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • handful rosted peanuts, chopped

Top layer

  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 8 dates, soaked over night
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Chocolate layer

  • ¾ cup coconut oil
  • ¾ cup good cocoa powder
  • ½ cup honey

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  1. Add ingredients in layer 1 to food processor and pulse until dough forms
  2. Transfer dough to a small loaf pan lined with parchment paper press into a square about 1/4 inch thick. Put into freezer.
  3. Repeat above steps with ingredients for layer two. Reserve peanuts and mix into dough after combined.
  4. Spread layer two on top of layer one. Place into freezer.
  5. Melt ingredients for chocolate layer above low heat and spread on top of layers 1 and 2. Put into freezer until all layers are hardened.
  6. Remove from freezer.  Cut into squares. Store in the freezer or fridge to keep fresh until serving.


Paleo birthday cake to celebrate Mozzified turning 1!

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  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp raw honey
  • 5 tbsp coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • vanilla bean
  • some sea salt

*double this recipe for 2 layers

Mango Filling

  • 1 3/4 cups raw cashews, soaked for at least 4 hour and drained well
  • handful ( 5- 7) dates
  • 1 cup dried mango
  • ½ tsp lemon juice
  • vanilla bean
  • some sea salt


  • 1 cup coconut butter
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • splash of beet juice
  • splash of carrot juice
  • splash of lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • vanilla bean

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Preheat oven to 350. Using double the cake recipes, pulse dry ingredients in a food processor and then pulse in wet ingredients.  Grease two 6 in pans with coconut oil and pour batter into pans. Bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile puree all filling ingredients in food processor until smooth and creamy. Add warm water as needed. Place in bowl and set aside.

Put frosting ingredients into small pot and warm over low heat while stirring.

Remove cake from over and allow to cool. Cover bottom later with filling. Add top layer and cover with frosting.


◊ Poppy Seed Things


Dear mom,

You and dad are seriously inspiring. I only hope that I’ll be using my time with such competence when I’m your age.

I started this response a few weeks ago, right after your letter. I wrote that I’m questioning my time competency… I think I’m not as good as you and dad. Then school stuff stole me away and I forgot about the letter completely.

I’ve been spending most of my time around a big table in a room called B1, my school’s new media hole. It smells like dirty boy scalp, fries and cigarettes. My classmates and I sit there with our headphones on, hunched over computers, only looking up when an instructor walks into the room or when someone brings snacks. Zainab says it looks like the game hungry hungry hippos. It’s much more pathetic than that.

I was questioning my time competency because I feel like school is sucking time so so quickly. It’s like I enter a tunnel and all the sudden hours have gone by and it’s hard to get out. Even when I really have to pee. I dance in my chair making just one more edit until things become dire.

If my next UTI comes from homework, I’m going to feel really sad about my life. I only have two more years of my twenties! Why am I spending all my time hunched over a computer?

I don’t know. It’s fun?

But it is fun.

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school peeps in Denver


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sometimes I get to go outside

I’m not in B1 right now. It’s spring break, so obviously I’m on a plane headed somewhere warm and sunny. I’m ready to work my ass off.


this is what every class looks like. all those tangerine peels…

Sorry I’m so intense. Next time I’m home I’ll try to find a grandkid you can rent.




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Poppy seed cake

I wanted to save this recipe for Passover time, but at the current rate of our letter-writing, I figured that my next letter might not be until after the holiday.


I learned this recipe from Nahum in the last half of our fishballs lesson when I was in Jerusalem this winter. It’s his mom’s special cake. When you make it, you have to pray so her soul can be elevated. Or something. Nahum says it better:

This is one of my favorite cakes. It’s light and spongy and not super sweet. It also fits everyone’s weird dietary stuff – gluten free, grain-free, dairy free. Definitely try it for Passover… which will be here before we know it. Time goes crazy fast!



  • 1 1⁄2 cup poppy seeds, GROUND
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 6 eggs separated, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 7 stick of butter or canola oil, melted and cooled
  • 1/3 cup raisins and/or sliced almonds, optional



Grease a 9 inch pan and preheat oven to 300 F.

Grind the poppy seeds in food processor or coffee grinder until sticky. Combine with baking powder in large bowl.

Beat egg yolks until thick, slowly adding sugar, salt and vanilla. Add butter and poppy seeds and raisins/almonds. Mix until combined.

With a separate whisk (electric mixer is best) and clean bowl, beat egg whites until stiff (look for peaks). Gently fold the whites into the poppy batter and pour into pan. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake passes the clean toothpick test. Cool before serving and dust with powdered sugar if you wanna be fancy.



Meyer lemon poppy cashew cream

This is my weird vegan, paleo, raw take on the poppy theme. It’s a slightly sweet, ultra luxurious lemon poppy cream made with only four ingredients: cashews, lemon, raisins and poppy seeds.


  • 3 cups cashews, soaked in water overnight
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup – 1 cup raisins (I prefer less sweet, so I use ½ cup)
  • juice and zest of 1 meyer lemon
  • 1 cup poppy seeds, ground


Soak cashews in water for 5 hours or overnight. Rinse well and add to food processor with ½ cup water, dates, lemon juice and lemon zest. Puree until smooth and creamy. Add ground poppy seeds (use food processor or coffee grinder to grind seeds prior to this step) and mix into the cashew cream.


I layered it with overnight oats soaked in cinnamon and almond milk + green apple + raisins for a very luxurious breakfast. Almost better than eating cake!

It also works as filling for a raw poppy cheesecake with a cinnamon, walnut base. Also Passover friendly!

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◊ Balls


Dear mom,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But Nahum takes Shuk intimacy to a whole new level.


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



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

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



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


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



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

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Fish Balls Chraime

Serves: many

Prep time: 1 hour

Fish Balls:

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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Ps. Nahum’s thoughts on Judaism

FEMILY- a very special guest post

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

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



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



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

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Dear Esther and Shaina,

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

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

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

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

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

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6 hands, 1 knish

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

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

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

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

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


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




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Riva’s Knishes


Potato filling

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

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


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

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

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Assembly instructions:

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

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

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


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

◊ Elderly

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Dear mom,

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

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

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

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

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




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

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Raw Pumpkin Pie Puree

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

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

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

◊ A Twist on Tradition

DSCF8387Dear mom,

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

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

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

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

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

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




Cardamom, Orange Blossom, Hemp Seed Apple Sauce 

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

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

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

Curry Cashew Cream

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

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