◊ the sensible parts

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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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herbs

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.”

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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

Xo,

Shaina

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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

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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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Base:

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

pink:

  • 1 beet, roasted

green:

  • 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 life…your job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and remaining green onion.

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

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◊ your fault

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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

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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?

You: PERSEVERANCE!

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.

Xo,

Shaina

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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

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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. 

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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.

♦ Living My Life

Dear Shaina,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxooxxooxoxoox

Easy Chicken Dinner for Two

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

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Easy Chicken Dinner for Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

◊ your problem

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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.

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adulting

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.

Xo

Shaina

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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.

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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.

♦ The Empty Nest…Again

Dear Shaina,

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Mom
xoxooxoxoxoxoxo

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

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

Dressing

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

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

Prepare remaining salad ingredients.

Whisk mustard and olive oil.

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

 

Halibut with Lemon Caper Sauce
(For Two)

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

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

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

Lemon Caper Sauce

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

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

Pour warm sauce over fish and serve immediately.

Garnish with parsley and cured black olives.

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Bon Apetit!

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♦ Only Child

Dear Shaina,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Squash Casserole

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

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

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

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

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

Add eggs and mix together.

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

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

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

 

Fennel Slaw

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

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

Variations: add sliced fresh radishes or green onions

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

 

◊ voice

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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.

xo,

Shaina

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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Cake*

  • 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

Frosting

  • 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.

 

♦ At The Table

Dear Shaina,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxooxoxoo

 

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

What’s for dinner the night before the Seder?

What’s in your last sandwich before Passover begins?

Chicken Salad!

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

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

Tarragon Chicken Salad

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

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

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

Serve as a salad, sandwich or with crackers.

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