◊ A New Year


Dear mom,

Since my last letter about wanting to switch things up and your go-ahead to do so, I spent some time wracking my brain about what that can look like. What parts of my communication with you do I want to leave behind and what do I want more of?

More self-assuredness, less complaining. I’m doing X. Rather than I think I’m doing X, but it might be a bad idea and I have no idea if it will work out. More curiosity and less dismissiveness. Like, I should actually try your recipes! More gratitude, less worry. Even if I fail my Arabic midterm, I’ve learned a lot.

It’s a nice meditation for this time of year – the reflection period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that encourages us to think about these things.

Here’s my first take:

I feel excited about school projects. I’m happily participating in the cleanse. My house threw a big party this weekend and no one called the cops or threw up on the floor. How are you doing? It sounds like you’re having fun in Portland – visiting your favorite book stores, cafes and happy hours.

The cleanse has been great for me this year. It always pushes me to be more creative with food. Now that we’ve incorporated a $$ challenge – to spend no more than $4.10, the national average food stamp benefit on food for each of the ten days of the cleanse – there’s an extra push. I’m cooking and thinking more.

Last Monday after Rosh Hashana services, I made a beeline for the grocery store. I had fun in there at first – hunting for sales, picking the least-bruised/mushy produce from the 99 cent bin in the back of the store, grabbing just a teeny bit of arugula instead of a huge bagful. I miraculously kept the bill under $30. But by the end I was tired. Out of all the food I bought, I didn’t even have a snack to munch on during my walk home.

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It took a lot of time. I spent almost 45 minutes in the grocery store! It was fun … but what if I had a job? The 99 cent bin at Berkeley Bowl was swarming with customers at only 2pm. If I had a job and couldn’t get to the store til 5 or 6, I wonder if there’d still be good food.

I concentrated really hard in the checkout process. I selected yogurt I thought was on sale, but it rung up as $7.50 (!!). I asked about the sale, and the guy said that the sale was on the regular yogurt, not the organic. So I put it back.

Once I got back to the house with bags and bags of “imperfect” 99 cent produce, I had to prep it right away. I was on my feet for almost three hours dissecting brown spots out of apples, scrubbing dirty potatoes, carving into squash. It was therapeutic – I listened to my favorite podcast and enjoyed washing, chopping and putting things into tupperwear. But I can’t imagine doing the same job with hungry kids and a long list of other priorities tugging at my sleeves.

Five days later, I’m sick of eating sweet potatoes, the thought of brussel sprouts makes me nauseous and I can’t do more lentils. The homemade soy milk endeavor was not worth it.

I’m sending you cleanse-friendly recipes with their cost breakdowns. The hardest part of this whole thing is the math.

Can’t wait to hear more about your Portland adventures and to see you in a week.

xo,

Shaina

Ps. To learn more about the cleanse, check out our site – 10yamimclean. We’re doing a big fundraiser for global food justice via AJWS. AJWS will match all donations made before Oct 2!

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Zucchini Noodles with Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Serves 5 – 7

Cost per serving: $1.55

Gluten free, vegan, tree nut free, grain free, paleo friendly

Sauce:

  • 1 jar roasted red peppers $2.85
  • 3 cloves garlic (no kissing tonight!) $0.20
  • 1 tbs flax meal (leftover from summer subletter)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin seeds $4.35
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper to taste
Noodles:
  • 4-5 long green zucchini, zoodled, peeled or vegettied *see below (free from garden)
  • 1 tsp olive oil $0.17
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped $0.20

Total cost: $7.77

Per serving: $1.55

Sauce:

Combine all ingredients in food processors and puree until smooth. Keep refrigerated.

Noodles:

With “vegetti” (my fav new kitchen tool), peeler or mandolin, shave zucchini into strips aka noodles – #zoodles.

Heat pan in olive oil and add chopped onions. Cook on medium heat for about 5-7 minutes til transluscent. Add zoodles and cook for 7 – 10 minutes til soft (but not mush!).

Top with creamy sauce and garnish with pumpkin seeds.

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Sweet and Salty Peanut Butter Jelly Bars

Makes 30-35 squares, about 15 servings

cost per serving: $0.61

Gluten free, vegan, tree nut free

I brought these to my Creative Non Fiction class and they went over well. I like bringing snacks to class/everywhere. I like to share. But it’s hard to budget snacks for the people when I’m struggling to budget snacks for myself. I figured that if I used basic ingredients (sorry friends, no almond-cocoa-date truffles this week), I could keep things relatively affordable. I feel very lucky that this is something I don’t have to worry about (too much) on the reg. What a gift!

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  • 2 cups puffed rice $1.5
  • 1/3 cup flax seeds((leftover from summer subletter)
  • 1/2 cup oat bran  $0.27
  • 1 cup oat meal $0.35
  • 3/4 cup unsweeteened coconut shreds $0.75
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins or other chopped fruit $1.15
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened peanut butter (leftover from summer subletter)
  • 2.5 cup pitted prunes $3.75
  • 1/2 cup flax meal (leftover from summer subletter)
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk $0.75
  • 1tbs cinnamon powder
  • juice of one lemon (from tree)
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • 1 tbs coconut oil $0.20
  • dash of salt

(Added$0.40 for spices already in the house)

TOTAL cost: $9.12

cost per serving: $0.61

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Need to poop? Eat this.

Put peanut butter, prunes, dates, flax, cinnamon, lemon juice and vanilla into food processor. Blend until a sticky paste forms.

While the food processor is going at it, reserve 1/4 cup of coconut shreds and mix dry ingredients in your largest mixing bowl.

Heat oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix coconut oil with salt remaining shredded coconut and line parchment paper with oil mixture.

With a large spatula, your hands or both, work dry ingredients into wet ones. You may need to add a bit of hot water to the fruit paste to loosen it up. Do this with caution.

Once combined, press mixture onto parchment paper so that it’s evenly distrubuted about 1 1/2 inch thick across the baking sheet. Place in oven for ten minutes, just to crisp the edges. Remove and allow to cool before scoring.

Cut bars into small squares and keep remaining crumbled in a ziplock for yogurt toppings. Keep bars in airtight container in the fridge.

♦ Meant To Be

Dear Shaina,

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

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

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

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

Happy to switch it up. You go first!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Mom
xooxoxxoxoxo
Red Cabbage Slaw

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

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

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

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

Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before serving.

Cleanse 5776

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Ok. It’s finally time to start prepping for the fourth annual CLEANSE — a mind/body/spirit reflection during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I can’t believe how fast our New Year is creeping up on us. 

Arielle and I decided to add a new element for year 5776. Along with the regular food rules (listed below and here), we’re asking people to spend no more than the national average food stamp benefit – $4.10 daily – on food for the ten days of the cleanse. We expect that nourishing our bodies with a whole foods, vegan diet (reminder of rules below) will be nearly impossible on this budget. So, we’re be asking people to match the amount spent over the allotted budget in a charitable donation to the American Jewish World Service. We’ve built a donation page here.

Access to healthy food in America is a challenge that can be easy to ignore. It’s important to feed ourselves with nourishing foods, and we feel it’s  important to remember how difficult it can be for others to do the same .We hope that this cleanse will not only spark reflection on our own personal health, but also on how we can contribute to the health of others. I think that this challenge will inspire gratitude for the current abundance of resources in our lives. 

We know that this year will be more challenges than previous ones. Our blog, 10yamimclean, provides support and a forum for dialogue. On the blog, we’ll post recipes and resources that  related to food justice — we encourage you to do the same. Shoot us an email with a reflection, recipe or question, and we’ll through it up on the blog (and give you credit unless you specify otherwise). When you send recipes, please include a cost breakdown or rough estimate of cost. An example of what this looks like is below. 

Happy Cleansing!

 DSCF8300White Bean Kale Burgers

5-7 servings

$1.08 per serving

  • 2 cups white beans, dried ($1.30)
  • 4 cups kale, finely chopped (from garden)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped  (from garden)
  • 2 red onions ($0.55)
  • 3 cloves garlic ($0.25)
  • 2 eggs ($0.40)
  • 1/2 cup dry roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped ($2.00)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • dash of chipotle seasoning
  • fresh herbs on hand, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal ($0.30)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbs olive oil (0.17)

(+ roughly $1 for spices)

($1.30+$0.55+$0.25+$0.40+$2.00+$0.30+$0.17+$1 ) = $5.97.

I averaged this recipe for 5 1/2 servings… I eat a lot. It came down to $1.08 per serving. Not bad!

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Submerge beans in water and soak for 7 hours. Then, cook on high heat until tender. You can do this in bulk a few days before and use leftover beans for other recipes.
In large mixing bowl, combine kale and beans and mash until almost a paste. Add 2 tablespoons of the cornmeal and remaining ingredients except for olive oil. Refrigerate mix for at least 20 minute.
Preheat oven to 300 F.

Place remaining cornmeal on a plate. Coat hands in olive oil and form  5-8 patties about 1/2 inch thick.  Dredge both sides of the burgers in cornmeal. Transfer to non-stick or parchment covered baking sheet and bake until golden, about 25 minutes.

I (Shaina) just did my first cost-breakdown of a recipe. Ow, my brain!

It took a lot of time. It was boring. And tedious. I kept losing count.

Some people do this every day – every meal – every visit to the grocery store, pantry and kitchen shelve.

In asking you to calculate the cost of your food as you share recipes, we don’t want you to be overwhelmed or for you to be intimidated by the thought of this task. Rather, we want to encourage you to think about cost before consuming. It’s ok to post estimates. You can guess prices when you aren’t sure and round numbers as you wish. But also think.

Here’s a great resource on how to calculate recipe costs: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/07/how-to-calculate-recipe-costs/

Cleanse Rules:
For the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we will undertake an intensive reflection of the mind/body/spirit connection. We will only consume:
 

Vegan foods – no products derived from animals (no meat, eggs, dairy, honey, etc.)

Gluten-free foods – nothing made with wheat

Unprocessed foods – nothing packaged with more than three ingredients

Unsweetened foods – no added sugar, honey, agave, etc.

Alcohol-free beverages 

An exception to the above rules above is the inclusion of organic eggs and yogurt that is organic, plain, stabilizer- and additive-free. This is a personal choice.

◊ Switching it up

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Dear mom,

It sure is nice to have someone believe in me.

Dear Internet,

This must be weird for you.

Mom, our exchange has become too predictable. In the three (!!) years we’ve been writing, our letters have become a looping pattern…

Me: I’m stressed and everything is chaos and what is my life?!

You: Oy vey, I’m so worried about you! I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m worried, but you should NOT worry! You’re fine… you’re great! And yoga helps.

Me: Ummm thanks, you’re a weirdo and I’m still confused about my life. Ps. I have principles.

You: Wow, sounds like you’re doing great (I’MSOWORRIED). Maybe you should lay down in shivasana. Dad and I miss you. We love sitting around the house.

And on and on and on and on.

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I’m bored. Should we make an effort to switch it up? Or is this what our communication looks like? Do I come across to you as a stressy 20-something deep in crisis, in need of bimonthly pep talks from my mother?

This was my first week back at school. It feels good to be back and I am calm (what). My move back to Berkeley went smoothly (what). Being confused about my schedule does not count as a crisis.

first day of school

first day of school

Yeah, I’m switching it up.

It’s almost Rosh Hashana and after four of our annual whole foods diet “cleanses” (reflection on the mind/body/spirit connection) during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Arielle and I feel bored.  This year, along with the food rules, we’re asking participants to spend no more than the national average food stamp benefit – $4.10 daily – on food for the ten days of the cleanse. I expect that nourishing my body with a whole foods, vegan diet will be nearly impossible on this budget. So, we’re be asking people to match the amount spent over the allotted budget in a charitable donation to a food justice org. I’ll lay out the details in another post.

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It was really nice to sit around the house with you and dad before school started. The mega-eating (new term) marathon, prepping vegetables from the farm and hanging out were all treats. I weirdly miss home!

Anyway. Thanks for the pep talks, horrible pictures and congenital neuroses. Thanks for indulging the crazy in me. And believing in me always.

xo,

Shaina

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Different from my usual recipes with 1 million + ingredients, this one is simple, simple, SIMPLE.

Also, I’ve been roasting beets for years with the same method – wrap them in foil and sticking them in the oven with whatever else is in there. For this recipe, I steamed them in the oven with water and vinegar. I’m hooked.

Thyme Marinated Beets with Crushed Hazelnuts 

Serves 5-8 as appetizer

  • 3 – 4 different colored beets (I used chiogga and yellow)
  • ½ cup Sherry or red wine vinegar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1  shallot, chopped
  • 5-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
  • good black pepper
  • good sea salt

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Preheat oven to 425°. Combine whole, unpeeled beets, ¼ cup vinegar, salt and ¼ cup water in a pan or dish Cover with foil and steam 45 minutes. When cool, remove skins with fingers (they should slide off). Slice beets thinly with knife or mandolin.

Toss beets with shallot, thyme, remaining ¼ cup vinegar, and olive oil . Season with salt and good pepper and let sit for at least two hours. Before serving, garnish with hazelnuts and extra thyme sprigs.

*This dish is even better the next day – – beets can be marinated 2 days ahead of time.

♦ I Worry

Dear Shaina,

I don’t even know where to begin…When you watch your child transform into the adult that they were always meant to be, it is awe-inspiring, humbling and terrifying all at once.

I started writing this weeks ago…after you told me you had been to Gaza and back…you hadn’t told me before you went to prevent me from worrying.

Dad and I met you en route to a scuba diving adventure the two of you had planned. Gaza barely registered a blip on my worry radar in the shadow of my scuba diving dread.

You survived both…a momentary comfort blunted by the understanding that I have no control over the ever-present lurking dangers in the world that you may encounter by chance or intention. Your beliefs, decisions and actions are beyond the purview of me or anyone else.

How did this happen; that you should own your life so completely, that you could transform your fearfulness into fearlessness, that you are able to trust and challenge your own voice?

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I guess there were clues all along the way. Before you were born I, with the naiveté of a first time mother-to-be, eagerly awaited the arrival of my “mini-me” daughter.

The first time I laid my eyes on you, you looked directly back into my eyes. I saw your father’s penetrating, but self-contained gaze and I knew in my gut you were not a “mini-me”.

You were a quiet and calm baby…some might say passive. I could put you on the carpet in the living room and you would amuse yourself by staring at the beams on the ceiling 20 feet above. You cried rarely, but let me know clearly if some need was not being met.

In preschool, you were shy, but attentive. Your cubby was always next to the most out-of-control child in the class…maybe because you had a calming  effect…maybe because you were tolerant…maybe because you never got caught up in the fracas.

A teacher gave all the children the same colored cut-out pieces of paper and instructed them to paste them onto their sheet of paper to create the shape of the flower she displayed. You placed your colored pieces of paper onto your sheet creating a flower design of your own making. Some of the other children liked your variations and tried their own. You led without intention or demand.

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At age 5, I enrolled you in soccer. You hated it. I made you go twice. You sat down in the middle of the field during a game. I took you home and we never went back. I signed you up for swimming and you swam almost everyday. You refused to participate in swim meets. I let you skip them.

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In your own unassuming way, you continued to assert yourself. I maintained the illusion that I was in charge, but I knew the truth early on. I learned to respect your needs, to trust your instincts and to understand that you knew better than I did what was best for you.

Bubbe used to say, “When you have little children, you have little worries. When you have big children, you have big worries.” So I’m a big worrier…a proud worrier. You are an amazing kid who is worth all the worry I withstand on your behalf. I may not own your life, but that doesn’t stop me from petitioning the universe daily…may you be safe and healthy and happy… and may the harshness you encounter on your life’s journey be minimal.

India Allen All 3 09 695 (1)Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxooxoxoo

Green Beans with Tomatoes and Chick Peas

There is no end to the excess of summertime garden veggies. This recipe accomplishes the goal of using up two surplus veggies (plus fresh basil which you can never have an excess of) in one easy-to-prepare dish. It can be served as a vegetarian meal over pasta or rice or as a side dish with any meal.  It can be prepared ahead of time, made in large quantities and served hot or at room temperature.  All measurements are flexible and subject to individual taste.

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  • 1 large onion, cut in thin wedges
  • Olive oil as needed
  • 5 garlic gloves (or to taste), coarsely minced
  • Green Beans – about a pound or as many as you have of any variety, ends cut off and strings removed
  • Tomatoes – about a pound or more of fresh tomatoes cut up or a couple boxes of processed chopped tomatoes
  • Fresh basil – a couple of handfuls chopped or a couple teaspoons of dried basil
  • 1 can of Chick peas
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Calmata olives (optional

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Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet and add sliced onions.  Sauté until edges are lightly browned. Add minced garlic and continue sautéing for a few minutes.

Add green beans to onions and continue sautéing until green beans, onions and garlic are slightly browned and mixed together. Cover the skillet and continue cooking over medium heat until the beans are almost done.

Add the chopped tomatoes and half of the fresh basil or dried basil to the beans and continue cooking. I use about equal parts of tomatoes and green beans. If I want a more tomato based saucy dish, I add more tomatoes.

Continue cooking until liquid from tomatoes is reduced and thoroughly blended with the beans.

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Add the chick peas, salt and pepper and more basil and continue to cook until all flavors are blended together. Adjust seasonings to taste.  If desired, add calamata olives.

Garnish with fresh basil.

This dish gets better everytime you reheat it so make enough to have leftovers and don’t be afraid to add more tomatoes and basil.

◊ Yeah

Dear mom,

Yeah. It’s all too much. I came to Israel for the summer to work on one story. Now I have four. I have hours and hours and hours – maybe days – of tape that I will have to trim down to max 15 minutes. And in my last week here, I’m running around like a madwoman collecting more. What am I thinking?

As usual, my eyes are too big for my stomach (and for my brain and hard drive). Too much is overwhelming, but usually I don’t regret going for it. Sure it was stressful for you to shuck all that corn the night before a big trip, but look at all those kernels you have in the freezer! The possibilities are endless. What a privilege!

Pre-Shababat, Mea Shearim

Privilege. I move across walls and worlds; I ask questions that many wouldn’t dare ask; I’m learning how to trust myself. My government and my family do not control what I choose to do or say. I was not born a refugee and I was not born into a climate in which my life was threatened daily. I am allowed and encouraged (!) to think critically. Feeling safe and free are the keys with which I access this world of too-muchness. I am grateful for these privileges. I try not to take them lightly and wow, the heaviness gets to me.

Laylat Al Qadr, Damascus Gate

I went to Gaza last week for interviews and came away with a positive impression of the people I spoke with. Afterwards, I spent the weekend with cousins in Israel. One of them, my age, said that she will always love me, but that she does not appreciate the way I see the circumstances. I told her that my empathy for people on the “other side” does not mean that I am critical of her or anything that she has done in the past. Still to her, my actions are a slap to her face. We talked it out and our relationship is closer than ever, but I still feel sad that despite my intentions, my actions can hurt the people I love.

Near the Erez border crossing, Gaza Strip

In Gaza City, graffiti messages cover almost every public surface. The graffitis include love notes, taxi numbers, reminders of 27 (years of Hamas), wedding announcements, religious verses, memories of catastrophe and war.

My privileges allow me to believe that basic human understanding can make the world a safer place. I think I can empathize with the reasons that people are critical of this, with how people can label it as childish, with attitudes of defense and anger towards it. For many, an attempt to understand “the other” can be scary and even life-threatening. My world is cushioned with clouds of security and safety… I know I am naive. But, in this climate of meaningless bloodshed and loss, I do not see a better option than to try to promote understanding.

My goal is definitely too much. So it’s only natural that I’m going for it.

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xo,

Shaina

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The recipe below is for the Palestinian version of dolmas. Najla, the star of the piece I wrote last winter, makes hundreds at a time, and (similar to the embroidery) she sells them to Israelis via Yael. Usually, it takes her 3 hours at a time to prepare 350-400 pieces.  I’m used to eating dolmas that are stuffed thick with one inch or more of rice. Najla’s leaves are much tastier – she rolls them thin like pencils so that they’re mostly leaf with only a hint of gooey rice in the middle.

I asked Najla to line up the spices so I could take a picture for memory. She laughed and said that it doesn’t really matter what spices I use. Whatever she has in the house, she said, is what she throws into the bowl (she also threw in a tsp of parve Osem soup powder, a staple in our kitchen). I told her that I cook the exact same way, but that I had to at least pretend to have exact recipes so I could post them to the blog.

Saturday lunch at Najla's daughter's house in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem

Saturday lunch at Najla’s daughter’s house in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem

The crucial spices and herbs include mint, parsley, nutmeg and garlic. GARLIC. When Najla sent me back to Jerusalem with a small pot of rolled leaves, I smelled so strongly of garlic that the officer at the checkpoint did not wait for me to dig around in my backpack for my passport. He let me go without even seeing it… That was a first!

*If you can’t pick em fresh like Najla does, you can buy canned or frozen grape leaves from a Middle Eastern specialty store.

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DSCF7737Najla’s Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves

Prep time: 1 ½ hours

Makes 40 – 50 stuffed grape leaves

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup white rice, short grain
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed or shredded
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 Large tomato, diced
  • 1 tbs dried mint, crushed
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 handful (1/2 cup) fresh mint, chopped finely
  • 1 handful (1/2 cup) fresh parsely, chopped finely
  • pinch of nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
  • pinch of all-spice and/or 7-spice mix (optional)
  • 1 tsp veg boullion (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 40 -50 grape leaves, destemmed

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Rinse one cup of rice and place in large mixing bowl. Add oil, tomato, onion, garlic, herbs and spices. Mix together.

Lay grape leaves smooth side down. Sprinkle a pinch (really, a teeny amount! See picture) of rice in the bottom of each leaf. Roll the leaves from bottom up keeping the edges inside. Imagine you’re rolling a burrito for a Barbie doll. As you roll the leaves, try to keep the edges right. This may take practice.

Line the bottom of a small pot with 4 -5 unrolled, flat grape leaves. Stack the rolled grape leaves on top of one another in the pot. Add one tsp olive oil. When full, cover the rolled leaves with an additional 4 – 5 flat leaves. Add water until leaves are submerged at least one inch.

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Cover with lid, bring to boil and reduce to simmer for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Serve with tahini, labne or greek yogurt!

**next time I make these on my own, I will add some lentils into the rice mixture for extra protein

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Above: Najla’s husband gave me a sunflower with fresh seeds! She said to wash them with salt and put them in the sun to dry, but I ate most of them raw.

Below: Najla and the newest embroidered cushion covers from the Beit Sahour collective. The pieces are called “Magazine” because the women found the design in a magazine.

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♦ Too Much

Dear Shaina,

I planned on writing this letter last Sunday night, but your dad came home from the farm with 120 ears of fresh-picked corn that he insisted had to be shucked, blanched and frozen ASAP. We were leaving for Atlanta the next day to pick up our Israeli cousins to take them to the beach for the first few days of their weeklong Birmingham visit and there was no other time to do it.

I hadn’t packed. I had cleaned the house all day so it would be ready for guests when we returned. And I had set aside the evening to leisurely write and get ready for the beach. Dad shucked all the corn and said he would take care of it…until his hands cramped up and he couldn’t do it. So there I was stuck with 120 ears of shucked corn complete with corn silks stuck to every surface of my just cleaned kitchen and no room in my freezer for all those ears. I spent the rest of the night cutting the corn off the cobs, blanching it, bagging it and stuffing it in the freezer. So, I yelled, “Would 50 ears not have been enough? You HAD to pick 120?! What are we going to do with all this corn?!!! It is too much!”

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I had just put about 8 hours into shelling, cleaning and bagging a black garbage bag full of purple hull peas…an apparent delicacy here in the South. Then there’s the kale and okra and tomatoes and cucumbers. All my freezers are full! It is too much!

IMG_6287We got up early the next day and drove to Atlanta, picked up the cousins and packed the van to the roof with their overstuffed suitcases and carry-ons and proceeded to the beach. The sand and water were perfect and we logged some marathon hours at the shopping malls. I am not even sure how we all fit into the van for the ride back home… more bags were jammed into every nook and cranny of that car! It was almost too much! And everyone was happy.

The rest of the week was filled with food, family and celebration. I experimented with cooking peas and corn together and they were a great addition to Shabbat dinner at Gail and Abe’s. Then I made Shirly’s Corn pudding for brunch. I used a bunch of cucumbers in a cold cucumber and yogurt soup, but no one will eat it but me. I made fresh basil pesto and put it on tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and pasta with roasted veggies. I served tomatoes with everything; eggs, sandwiches and just plain with salt and pepper. I even made a tomato and peach salad with feta cheese. I am determined to use every single vegetable one way or another. I am hoping this will convince your father that a much smaller garden will produce more than enough food for all the friends and family we have, but I am afraid he is just enjoying all this fresh stuff way too much.

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Too much seems to be the desired norm for this family. I remember when you were a small child and would put a large glob of butter on a piece of bread and we would tell you it was too much. The next time you asked for some butter for your bread you said, “I want too much.” You come by it honestly. Too many options, too many opportunities, too many places to stay and stories to hear.

I know it can be stressful and even maddening at times, but I can’t help but feel grateful for all the too muchness in our lives.

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Love, Mom
xoxoxoxooxoxxo

Esther’s Purple Hull Peas and Sweet Corn

When you have too much of everything in your freezer, just put it all in a big pot and cook it together. That’s how this recipe came to be. If you love peas and you love sweet corn, this dish is sure to make you happy…and put a dent in your freezer. This recipe will serve a lot of people for a lot of days, but they won’t mind if it’s too much.

  • IMG_62981 large onion, cut in thin wedges
  • 3-5 fresh garlic cloves, halved or quartered
  • 1-2 Tablespoons of oil (olive oil, vegetable oil or butter will do)
  • 2 tablespoons of Osem pareve chicken flavored soup powder (any chicken, onion or vegetable soup powder or seasoning mix will do)
  • 1 quart bag of frozen or fresh purple hull peas (about 4 cups)
  • Water
  • 1 quart bag of fresh or frozen corn kernels (about 4 cups)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place cut up onions and garlic in an eight-quart soup pot over a medium flame and cook about a minute until a little of the moisture is released. Add the oil or butter and sauté until the onions and garlic are lightly browned.

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Stir the powdered soup mix into the onions and garlic.

Add the frozen or fresh peas and just cover with water. Cook over a low flame until the peas are tender. This may take 30 to 40 minutes.

When peas are just tender, add the corn and more water if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Continue simmering over a low heat until flavors are blended and liquids are slightly reduced. Add more water and seasonings if you like a lot of broth.
Serve hot as a side dish or with rice and roasted veggies for a healthy vegetarian meal.

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Tomato and Peach Salad
Tomatoes and peaches are two of my favorite summer fruits. I first had a version of this salad at a friend’s house and I loved the flavors of these two fruits together. Here is a modified version with some lettuce added for a little touch of green. This recipe will serve 4-6 people.

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  • 2 generous handfuls of arugula (lettuce is optional if you prefer the tomatoes and peaches only)
  • 3-4 medium to large fresh home grown tomatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • 2-3 fresh summer peaches
  • olive oil and balsamic vinegar for drizzling (or your favorite bottled oil and vinegar salad dressing)
  • Feta cheese for topping (optional)
  • Fresh basil leaves or green onions for garnish (optional)

Place arugula on a platter.IMG_6355

Slice tomatoes and arrange a layer on the platter over the lettuce.

Lightly salt and pepper the tomatoes to taste.

Slice the peaches in slices or wedges and arrange a layer over the tomatoes.

Drizzle lightly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar all over the salad.

Top with feta cheese crumbles if desired and garnish with sliced green onions or basil leaves.

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◊ Hyper-nomadism

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Dear mom,

Soon after I wrote to you explaining why I spend much of my energy preparing healthy foods, my attention was diverted from health habits. I feel ok about it.

Right now, my life is about chasing stories and summer breeze. I find people and listen to their stories. If I have time, I jog to the ocean and go for a swim (or sneak into Naomi’s spin class or sit on the rocks by the sea and/or eat ice cream).

The chase has led me into a life of what I call hyper-nomadism. I’m used to normal nomadism: long-term living out of backpack and changing houses every few months or weeks. Hyper-nomadism is more intense and for a shorter time. Until a few nights ago, I hadn’t slept in the same city for over a week. Each city was like a different world with its own climate and culture. I’m chopping vegetables whenever I get a chance, but it’s hard to plan for salads when I have no base, no routine, no expectations of when or where I’ll find my next kitchen. It’s a good thing that Israeli restaurants are known for beautiful heaps of chopped vegetables.

Getting my daily kale juice at a Tel Aviv juice stand

It feels good to spend to spend energy on things that don’t fit into a routine. I’m making an effort to do fun things like go to music festivals and the beach. But, because I’m accountable only to myself regarding how I choose to spend my time, I always feel that I’m not doing enough work AND that I need to do more fun things AND that I need more me-time. It’s as stressful as it sounds. I worry that my whole life will be a constant feeling of needing to do more and less and something different, so I’m training myself to say SHUT UP to this feeling when it creeps up… And to do what I feel in the moment! (I don’t know when or how doing what I feel like doing became foreign to me.)

I have to admit that the kindness and hospitality of family here makes me I feel like a cheater among hardcore hyper-nomads. It’s much easier to go for days with only a couple pairs of underwear and innumerable unknowns when weekend retreats to family comfort, good food and fresh laundry are certain. I’m so grateful for my cousins and hope that I’ll be able to provide the same kind of stability for the future hyper-nomads of the world one day.

Xo,

Shaina

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Last week for Shabbat lunch, Nurit made tofu schnitzel. It was a perfect Shabbat with lots of rest and family time capped off with a sunset run with (behind) Naomi in Caesarea.

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Tofu Schnitzel

Prep time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4-5 people as main course

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  • 8 ounces (two blocks) of extra firm tofu
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • pinch of hot paprika (and/or chili flakes) to taste
  • Handful of finely chopped parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • vegetable oil for frying

Mix breadcrumbs, flour, spices, salt and pepper in one bowl. Whisk egg in separate bowl and add breadcrumb mixture until combined.

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Wash dry and cut tofu into 1inch thick slices. Submurge tofu slices, one by one, into egg. Then, dip into breadcrumb mixture to coat. Repear until all tofu slices are coated with breadcrumb mixture.

Heat oil in a medium sized saucepan on high (enough so that tofu can be submerged – about 2 inches). Place tofu into oil and fry for 2 – 4 minutes on each side until golden.

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Remove from oil and place on paper towel to remove excess oil.

Serve with plenty of salads, tahini, hummus and, of course, ketchup and mustard! Leftovers are great on a sandwich with onions, avocado and mustard… Or treat it like fried chicken and eat with slaw and greens.

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♦ No Big Deal

Dear Shaina,
Another revelation for the apparently clueless mother…I had no idea of your anticipated diabetes diagnosis. There were many things that rolled around in my head in regard to the impact of my disease on the inner workings of your child mind, but that one eluded me.

I have always worked very hard to not burden anyone with my disease. When I was first diagnosed, your Bubbe and Zayde were devastated. My illness took on the magnitude of all the tragedies they had endured in their lives. I became to them the sick child. It weighed heavy on their hearts. I somehow knew that the only way I could ease their pain was to stay alive and live my life as if this diabetes thing was no big deal.

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I started baking sugar-full desserts when I had friends over because I didn’t want people to feel like they had to deprive themselves in my presence. I baked sugar-free apple crisp and always had fresh fruit for myself so people wouldn’t feel sorry for me or feel bad for eating sugar in front of me. Managing the food part is the relatively easy part of living with diabetes, but it’s the most obvious concern to the non-diabetic world.

I learned early that people had a lot of misperceptions about this disease and I intuitively knew that it was my job to protect them from feeling responsible for my diabetes and, in turn, protect myself from their stereotypes. I made it look like it was no big deal. It worked for me…most of the time. I have only recently come to appreciate how big a deal the past fifty years have been. I can finally allow myself to feel some of my sadness without fearing that it will weigh heavily on the people I love or dampen my own spirit.

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I am truly grateful that you didn’t feel my burden as your own. I am truly grateful that the worst fallout you have had to deal with are your enormous grocery bills and your obsession with fresh foods and cooking for yourself and everyone else you come into contact with. I am truly grateful to be very much alive and able to finally figure out what was really going on in that child brain of yours. I pray every day that I will live another twenty years (at least) so that I can be fully enlightened about what is really going on in your brain today. By now, I realize that cluelessness is a natural state of parenting in real-time.

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In the meantime, the full force of summer in Birmingham has hit…hot and humid. The kale and cucumbers are thriving. The tomatoes are just beginning to get red and all the herbs are flourishing. A bluebird has decided to take up residence in our little birdhouse in the front yard and she has hatched a noisy little bunch of chirping baby bluebirds. So much for our summer entertainment…

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I look forward to hearing about all of your adventures and I look forward even more to being clued in on the whole story twenty years from now.

Love,
Mom
xooxoxoxoxooxxoxo

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Savory Herbed Potato Salad

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This is my go-to summer Potato Salad. It has no mayonnaise which makes it a little less scary to take on a summer picnic. This recipe takes full advantage of all the herbs growing in our garden. It is very flavorful and everyone seems to love it. For those of you who have asked for this recipe, here it it is!

  • 3 pounds red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 small shallot minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fresh pepper
  • 1/4 small red onion, chopped or thinly sliced
  • 3-4 scallions sliced in small pieces
  • 3-4 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Black kalamata olives (optional)
  • Coarse kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

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Boil potatoes with skin on until just done (easily pierced with a knife or fork). Overcooking can cause potatoes to be mushy.

Rinse with cold water and cut into bite sized pieces. I leave the skin on. Put in a large bowl.

While potatoes are cooking, prepare the fresh herbs and onions.

Whisk together oil, mustard,vinegar, shallots and salt and pepper. IMG_6243

Pour mixture over potatoes and toss until potatoes are covered.

Add remaining ingredients and toss together. The amount of fresh herbs can be varied based on your taste preferences

Add salt and pepper to taste.

This dish is best if prepared the day before serving.

◊ Your Sweet Life

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Dear mom,

When I was young, I expected a diabetes diagnosis. Bubbe had it, you had it… it seemed only a matter of time before I’d be sticking needles in my tush too. To your credit, I was a-ok with this self-predicted future. Your health, fullness of life and energy levels were well above average – you worked and played harder than any of the moms I knew. Among all the possible illnesses out there, I thought, diabetes would be doable.

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I know better now. I no longer anticipate a diagnosis nor think about where I’d position an insulin pump when I dress up. I know that living with diabetes is not as painless as you make it seem.

People ask me how I got into food and if I’ve always eaten so healthily. I think I inherited my health awareness by watching you manage yours. Not everyone has the opportunity to see how powerful a half cup of juice can be on a person’s ability to function. The active role you took in your health rubbed off on me…  growing up, food in our house food was, literally, medicine.

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10 things children of diabetics learn early:

  1. Candy or juice? They’re pretty much the same.
  2. Always always always carry snacksIMG_7735
  3. Needles aren’t scary
  4. Vitamin-e oil is good for scars
  5. White and brown food is almost always mostly sugar

    SUGAR!

  6. Make a fuss at bars and restaurants – it’s worth it
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When you want a low-sugar margarita, don’t trust the bartender: order a shot of tequila, a shot of fresh lime juice, a shot of fresh orange juice and soda water to make a perfect drink

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It feels strange to celebrate this 50-years-with-diabetes thing. I know it’s a big deal to live for 50 healthy years with diabetes, but I never considered an alternative for you.

I’m honored to celebrate your sweet life by supporting ‪‎UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center‘s search for a cure.  We’ll party hard when I get home, but for now let’s drink some kale to your health!

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xo,

Shaina

L’chaim – here’s to finding a CURE in your lifetime!

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Kale Coconut Smoothies

Serves 2

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  • 1/4 c unsweetened soy milk
  • 1/4 c light coconut milk
  • 1 tbs almond butter
  • 1 frozen banana, chopped
  • 1/4 c frozen mango (or pineapple, orange or other citrusy fruit)
  • 5 – 7 leaves of fresh dinosaur kale, trimmed
  • dash of vanilla
  • dash of salt

Place all ingredients into food processor in order listed (always put liquid in first to give the blades some room to work their magic). Blend until smooth. Add ice if you desire a thicker consistency.

Kale harvest at the farm

Kale harvest at the farm