♦ 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.

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◊ 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
mom martini

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

7. Health is everythingIMG_7127

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

♦ My Sweet Life

Dear Shaina,

Don’t despair. There is hope for the burn-your-ass and keep-running-like-a-rat syndrome. Eventually you find your stride. Eventually you make your place and settle in. Eventually you realize that you don’t have to feel the burn in order to do some good.

I hate to acknowledge that you may have internalized this suffer-until-it-feels-good affliction from my side of the family. I think its about survival. The good news is we are all surviving. The tough part is that we all have to figure out how to do it on our own.

Speaking of survival tactics, I hear you’re doing a little yoga. Mahjong and yoga…hmmm…I won’t say a word. You are already 30 years ahead of where I was at your age!

In the meantime,I am celebrating my fiftieth year of living with Diabetes! Hard to believe…that fifty years have gone by…and that I am still here to write my daughter a letter about it. On June 6, 1965, the day I was diagnosed with what was then called Juvenile Diabetes, my odds for surviving another fifty years were slim.

46 years ago

46 years ago

The chatter I heard on the street as a 13 year old newly diagnosed diabetic was about a neighbor, an elderly grandfather, a long lost cousin…who lost a leg, went blind, died from kidney failure or heart disease. I chose to tune out most of that. I was instructed to never go barefoot, to not get upset, to eat the same thing at the same time every day, to stay away from sugar, to test my urine four times a day, and of course, to take insulin shots. I chose to ignore most of that too, except taking insulin and staying away from sugar. I knew I had to do those two things in order to survive.

I made the decision, early on, that I wanted to live and that Diabetes was just going to have to live in my life. I wasn’t going to live a life ruled by the fear and dogma that was the prevailing diabetic wisdom of the day. So I went barefoot outside in the summer, got mad when I was mad, stayed away from sweets, took my shots and avoided doctors as much as possible. I allowed myself to hate diabetes without having to hate myself or my life.

I live my life fully everyday; I work; I travel; I celebrate with friends and family; I love my family deeply. I cherish each day! Diabetes has been my constant, many times, unwelcome companion. Our relationship is based on mutual respect and acceptance…acceptance of our mutual goals and our individual needs…and the necessary compromises required for any relationship to succeed.

It is hard for me to believe I have reached this milestone. I am grateful for all the skilled doctors who have hung in there with me despite my stubbornness, for all the latest and greatest torture devices designed to help me manage this disease and for all the research that has enabled me to see the world through my own eyes, to walk as many miles as I feel like on my own two legs and to love with a heart that beats regularly and reliably.

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I am thankful for all the miracles in my life…especially for you and Dad…and hope that I have not overly burdened you.

I know I have been lucky, but I still hate diabetes…and I am ready for the cure! I wish I had a fairy godmother who could temporarily turn me into one of those lab rats at the UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center, www.uab.edu/diabetes, where they have been studying a drug that essentially cures diabetes in diabetic rats. I’m putting my hope on that research and I plan on spending this year prodding them along with a little fundraising support.

I have so many things to celebrate in my life. This year, my sweet life is at the top of the list!

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxoxoox

Summer Kale and Pesto Pasta

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It’s summer time and the garden is rich with basil and kale. This meal is dedicated to you, Shaina. You and Dad went out to the farm and picked a garbage bag full of young tender kale…and you even washed out the dirt and most of the grass. We may overdose on kale this summer…kale smoothies, kale quiche, kale salads, kale burgers…but it’s all good! I am already seeing green!

Pasta

Small bow tie pasta, basil, olive oil chopped garlic dried or fresh good black olives sundries tomatoes pine nuts (optional) shaved Parmesan Cheese (optional)

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain. While the pasta is still hot, mix in basic basil pesto (fresh basil leaves, olive oil, fresh garlic, salt, pepper, all thrown into a food processor) to taste. Add olives and sun dried tomatoes. Set aside.IMG_6054 (1)

Kale

Fresh kale, as much kale as you have or want fresh chopped garlic, to taste olive oil salt pepper hot pepper sauce (optional)

Wash kale thoroughly. If kale is mature, remove thick stems and tear leaves into pieces. If the kale is young and tender, the stems do not need to be removed and you can use the whole leaf.

Heat a large sauté pan. Add a little olive oil and the chopped garlic and sauté lightly.
Add the fresh kale and salute until just cooked and tender. Add salt, pepper and more garlic to taste.
Place pesto pasta on a plate and top with the sautéed kale. Garnish with shaved parmesan cheese, pine nuts or pepper sauce, if desired.

◊ Halfway Where

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Dear Mom,

I’m done with my first year of my second round of grad school. “Halfway there!” and high-fives all around.

This year, I shot and edited video, produced an audio story, published long narratives and quick-turnaround pieces, sort of coded things, made a web site, learned some Arabic. I ran a half-marathon, moved (twice), saw waterfalls, played mah jong, built friendships, brewed Kombucha and made a lot of snacks. I worked on projects that made me cry. I left class with goose bumps and almost threw my computer on the floor more than once. I was overwhelmed with gratitude by the generosity and depth of guidance offered to me by mentors. I was humbled and inspired by the kindness and brilliance of my classmates.

This is what my computer screen looks like before I almost throw it on the flow. those red boxes... editing failure.

This is what my computer screen looks like before I almost throw it on the flow. Those red boxes … oy vey.

Now, at the end of this very full year, I’m halfway there. I feel no sense of accomplishment or relief. All of the things that happened this year inched the bar higher and higher so that each step I take toward there pushes there farther and farther away.

I’m scared that my whole life will be like this.

In your last letter, you said that life is “a series of intentional meanderings and instinctive pursuits of ever-evolving targets.” Do you mean that life’s a calculated chase? Do we ever make a catch? And what happens if we do?

I know how to celebrate the small victories and to live in the moment and blablabla be here now. Like, in my brain, I get it. And I AM grateful for finding a path to follow, surrounding myself with inspiring people, dumping my energy into meaningful stories. But I never feel full. I just keep pouring gasoline onto the fire under my ass until it burns so strong that I can’t think about where or why or how I’ll run. I just run and run and run like a lab rat on a treadmill toward what? You know?

my favorite running spot in Berkeley

my favorite running spot in Berkeley

Don’t tell me I need yoga.

xo,

Shaina

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The recipe I’m sending you is ambitious. It’s for a true adventurer. And (gluten free, paleo, vegan, grain-free) it’s oh so Berkeley.

I went through pounds and pounds of broccoli and several versions of this recipe to get these weird savory vegetable strips. At first I was going for crackers and was unsatisfied with the chewy outcome (the internet says that it’s possible to toast broccoli mush into a crisp, but I’m weary). The outcome of my labor was not successful until I reframed my expectations —  it sounds gross, but… JERKY!

Broccoli Jerky (or Chewy Broccoli Crackers)

  • 2 large heads of broccoli, steamed (4-5 cups chopped)
  • 5 tbs nutritional yeast
  • 2- 3 cloves fresh garlic
  • 2 tbs flax meal
  • 2/3 C pumpkin seeds
  • 1 bunch fresh basil (12-15 leaves)
  • 1 tbs mustard
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • juice of one lemon
  • zest of one lemon (about a tsp)
  • dash of cayenne powder, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • plenty of cracked black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbs flax seeds
  • 1/4 C sun dried tomatoes, chopped

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Set oven to lowest possible temperature. (A dehydrator is ideal for this recipe. I don’t have one, so I set my oven to its lowest temp – 200 degrees.)

Once steamed, chop broccoli (including stem) into 2 inch pieces. Add broccoli with remaining ingredients (except for the flax seeds and sun dried tomatoes) into food processor. Pulse for 2 -5 minutes until all ingredients are combined into a thick paste. If needed, add a tsp of apple cider vinegar. Once the ingredients form a thick puree with a consistency similar to a dough, stir in sun dried tomatoes and flax seeds. Get creative here! You can also add other seeds – think chia, sesame and hemp seeds.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or your other favorite non-stick baking tool. Spread broccoli “dough” in a thin layer across entire baking sheet. Start with your hands and then switch to a spatula to make sure all area of the dough are spread to the same thinness. Insert into oven and leave for 1 – 2 hours (but check frequently to make sure nothing is burning!) until the dough has dried – the corners of the baking sheet may be dry or crisp at this point. Remove from oven and score into squares with a sharp knife immediately. Allow to cool and remove from pan. Store in air-tight container. For a more crispy version, place in oven or toaster oven at 300 degrees for 10-15 minutes before serving.

♦ Life Lessons

Dear Shaina,

And you didn’t even like puzzles when you were a child! I am moved by your willingness to give yourself over to your work despite the emotional confrontation it requires of you. You seem to have landed exactly where you need to be at this particular moment of your life. Looking back at how you got here, your process was both random and intentional, rational and gutsy and always trusting of your instincts. You stayed in the pursuit, many times not knowing where it would lead, until you found a path that felt on target…and you took it. What a life lesson! You have mastered it and it will serve you well throughout your life. Life is a series of intentional meanderings and instinctive pursuits of ever-evolving targets. You are well prepared and I am proud of you!

It was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, last week. I wrote a memory story about Bubbe for a community program. Of course, it was about food. Food was and is such a big deal in all our lives. Bubbe and Zayde’s early experiences of extreme hunger insured that no one in our family would ever have the opportunity (at least not under their watch) to encounter even a remote sensation of hunger. Stuffed was the only satisfactory response to “did you have enough?” And we carry on that legacy of physical and emotional sustenance through food.

I had a strong urge to make Bubbe’s Blintzes this week. I hadn’t made them in years and the last time, it was difficult. The dough skins were thicker than hers and stuck to the frying pan or fell apart when I filled them. I struggled. They were good, but I knew I hadn’t yet achieved the Bubbe Blintz standard of excellence. The blintz cheese waiting in my freezer was calling to me to try again.

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With my shmata on my head and my ceramic non-stick pan in hand, I swirled the first spoonful of batter over the lightly buttered pan.DSCF7001
I knew from that very first blintz dough that my hands were moving in Bubbe motion. I turned out 60 or so paper thin crepe skins with ease and relative perfection.

I was transported back to Bubbe’s kitchen…watching her magically flip a perfect circle of translucent lightly browned dough onto a waiting torn open brown paper grocery sack…waiting for her to mess one up so I could eat it fresh out of the buttery frying pan. Sometimes she would mess one up on purpose because she knew how much I loved them. The very same taste and texture came out of my kitchen. Bubbe’s Blintzes have become mine. Taste memory has the amazing capacity to immortalize and transform in the same moment. It is the closest I can get to comprehending the concept of a Time Machine.

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It’s your birthday! You were born on Earth Day.It always seemed so fitting. You dare to make this earth your home and  you have experienced the diversity and richness and suffering that exists beyond your footprint. Twenty-seven years old!! Your footprint has already left indelible marks in many people’s lives.

Happy Earth Day and Happy Birthday, Shaina…may you continue to follow your instincts, to share your goodness with everyone you encounter and to live on this earth in peace and good health always.

You are a wondrous joy in my life.
Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoox

Bubbe’s Cheese Blintzes

I have been on a baking binge. It rained all last week and I entertained myself in the kitchen. I am sharing the Blintz recipe again with some refinements. I learned a few tricks from a Russian friend of ours who made delicious Blinis for brunch. Blini dough is a little pancake-ier than Blintz dough and is eaten in more of a crepe style, but the basic principles are the same.

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Bring all ingredients to room temperature. This recipe makes 4 to 5 dozen depending on how much cheese you use, how thick your blintz skins are and the size of your crepe pan.

Blintz Crepe Batter

  • 3 Cups flour
  • 6 – 7 Cups skim milk
  • 7 Eggs
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix ingredients in a blender or in a large deep bowl using an immersion stick blender until there are no visible lumps*. Let batter rest for about 30 minutes.

*Having a hard time with the lumps in the batter? Try pouring the batter through a mesh strainer over a bowl. Mash up the lumps with a spoon, adding additional milk if needed or if your pressed for time, just throw the lumps away and start cooking.

Blintz Filling

  • 3 pounds Farmer Cheese* (it looks like very small curd dried cottage cheese) *It can be stored in the freezer for a very long time if it is vacuum packed…and it is as good as new when defrosted!
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients together by hand or with a stick blender or electric beater. Set aside while making Blintz crepes.

Use a non-stick or stainless steel or cast iron crepe pan or small shallow frying pan. Heat pan over medium heat before smearing butter lightly on pan. I use wax paper to hold the butter and lightly spread it on the pan.IMG_5823

Pour about ¼ to ⅓ cup of batter into the pan and swirl it around the bottom of the heated pan to cover the pan with a thin layer of batter. It may take a few times to get the pan to the right temperature and the right amount of batter to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin coating of batter.

Cook on one side only until you can see the bottom of the crepe bubbling up from the bottom of the pan a bit and   the edges come away from the sides of the pan. Don’t be discouraged if you mess up the first few crepes. They are delicious plain, so enjoy your mistakes. Flip the crepe out of the pan onto parchment paper or brown paper sacks cooked side face up.

Repeat process until all the batter is gone.IMG_5819

Once the crepe is cooled. Place a couple tablespoons of the cheese mixture at the bottom of the circle of dough on the cooked side of the dough. Roll the dough over the cheese to form a tube about the size of a roll of quarters. Roll the dough over once and fold the sides in. Then continue to roll the dough until the blintz is formed. The uncooked side of the dough should form the outside of the blintz. Place the completed blintz with the seam down on a fresh piece of wax paper on a metal baking sheet. You can use more or less cheese filling based on your preference, but don’t overfill.

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At this stage, the Blintzes are ready to be sautéed in a small amount of butter until the outsides of the Blintz are lightly browned. Blintzes may also be flash frozen prior to sautéing and placed in freezer bags to be prepared and served at another time.

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Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate

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My baking binge didn’t stop with the Blintzes. I decided to try making some Biscotti.  I knew I hit on a good recipe when some friends came over to play mahjong and between dad and them, they made a serious dent in the Biscotti I was planning on serving to a Book Group I was hosting the next morning. It was all good. I just made another batch. They are easy to make and satisfying to eat. Hope you like the ones I sent to you. This recipe makes between 30 -50 Biscotti depending on how big you make them.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons of Brandy or Amaretto
  • 1 tablespoon of Almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole almonds lightly toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or melting chocolate
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips or melting chocolate
  • sea salt (optional)
  • toasted slivered almonds (optional)

Mix together sugar, melted butter, brandy and extracts in a large bowl. Add eggs and almonds and stir together well.

Mix together flour, baking powder and salt and add to egg mixture, mixing until combined.
Chill dough for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°.
Using moistened hands, halve dough and form 2 (12” x 3”) loaves and place on parchment paper on a large baking sheet.

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Bake until pale golden, about 30 minutes.
Carefully transfer the loaves to a rack and cool for 15 minutes.
Cut loaves into 1/2”-3/4” slices with a serrated knife.
Arrange biscotti on a baking sheet and bake until golden, about 25 minutes.
Cool completely.

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Place white and dark chocolate in separate pint mason jars and melt carefully in the microwave at a low power. Check every 15-30 seconds stirring to see if chocolate is completely melted. Do not over heat as chocolate can burn easily.

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Dip ends of cooled biscotti in the chocolate as desired. White chocolate can be drizzled over a dark chocolate dipped biscotti or vice versa. Sprinkle with slivered almonds and a little sea salt if desired.

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◊ Raw

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Dear mom,

It’s already been a week since I was home for Passover? Yesterday was the weekend? I’ve been living in a computer screen vortex since I left home and every time I look up, I feel further from the world outside.

I’m in post-production mode of three different projects. This means I’m finished collecting puzzle pieces and I’m now ready to sort, order and put them together. Thinking about it makes me dizzy.

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They aren’t just any puzzle pieces. They’re heavy. They are other people’s stories, but putting them together comes from my own core. Schoolwork feels like therapy sometimes… My emotional state is raw and being home for Passover only intensified that feeling.

Along with the usual Passover routine – cooking, overeating, taking shots of slivovitz, leaning to the left from too much dessert/the Haggadah told us to – we dove into discussions that shook assumptions of my basic values.

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Dad asked me to come up with a discussion question for our Seder. Before we recited the ten plagues that Moses inflicted upon the Egyptians, he asked it:

Is inflicting hardship upon others in order to gain freedom justified? Is it always tit for tat? What about preemptory strikes? Blood, locusts, boils, wild beasts, death of the first-born…. Is it easier to commit acts of cruelty when god’s on your side?

I thought the questions would spark good debate, but for the first time in the history of our dinnertime discussions, you and Abe agreed – you and I agreed – Abe and dad agreed – we all agreed (whoa!) that we don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re fighting to survive. We don’t know the answer. We analyze risks and benefits, we act as efficiently as we can, and we don’t look back because we know that we made the most thoughtful, conscious decision possible.

When dad asked the question, I’m guessing that some people had ISIS or Israel and Gaza in mind. Initially, I was thinking about salads (duh) — about how every bite may enable slave labor in Florida’s tomato fields. I also thought about other circumstances  in which the stakes feel higher.

I’ve sort of always known that the answer is that we don’t have the answer … That the reason conflicts remain conflicts is that it’s damn easy to be convinced that god is on your side. I’m still fighting with this answer.

The flight is too big for the limited space in my brain right now.

Home already feels like worlds away.

xo,

Shaina

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After I left home, I stuck to a completely raw diet for the rest of Passover and LOVED it. It inspired me to play with new foods and I really needed the intestinal catharsis after all that sponge cake (it’s mostly air, it’s mostly air, it’s mostly air… yeah right). It was a good strategy to avoid matzah too.

Raw Chocolate Hazelnut Orange Chia Breakfast Bowl/Parfait

This recipe contains two components that can be eaten on their own or layered together.

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Cardamom Coconut Chia Pudding

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  • dash of cardamom powder
  • honey, maple syrup, other sweetener to taste (optional)

Stir chia seeds into coconut milk and add cardamom. I didn’t add sweetener because I knew I’d be eating it with the plenty sweet chocolate pudding (recipe below). I also kept sweetener out of it so it would more versatile for later breakfasts and snacks. It was perfect topped with a sliced banana.

 Raw Orange Scented Chocolate pudding

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  • 1 medium avocado
  • ½ cup hazelnuts
  • juice of one orange
  • zest of one orange
  • ½ cup pitted dates
  • tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup almond (or coconut) milk
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cacao powder
  • dash of sea salt

A vitamix or other high powered food processor is necessary here. Dump all ingredients into food processor and puree until smooth. Add more nut milk if needed.

FINAL STEP:

Layer the puddings with orange wedges in bowl or jar.  Garnish with crushed hazelnuts and orange zest (and cacao nibs for extra luxury).

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Herbed Raw Almond CheeseIMG_7621

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 3 cups water
  • dash of smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup onions, finely chopped
  • dash dried basil
  • salt
  • fresh black pepper

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Soak almonds in water over night. When ready, drain water from almonds and place into food processor. Add another cup of water and puree until frothy and white.

Place cheese cloth over a bowl or jar, and drain the liquid from the almond meal to collect a nice jar of almond milk. Collect remaining almond meal in a separate dish. Stir herbs and spices into almond meal and store in fridge. Get creative with your herbs!

Yogurt, Apple, Sprouts and Nuts Breakfast Bowl:

(pictured below)

  • 1 apple, chopped
  • 3/4 cup plain organic yogurt
  • handful of cilantro sprouts
  • herbed almond cheese
  • curry cashew cream

Stir yogurt into chopped apples. Top with cilantro sprouts, herbed almond cheese and curry cashew cream.

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