♦ Happi-stress

Dear Shaina,

I don’t know which one of us should be scared. Your emotionally-drained, stressed out, exhausted, anxious, overworked, confused, chronically twitching self never looked so good…and happy, I might add. Maybe you have embodied a new state of happi-stress! Whatever…happiness or happi-stress, if you’re happy, I’m happy!

It was pure pleasure having you here for the holidays. Lots of home time, lots of talk time, lots of family holiday time and lots of good eating. The Seders got people talking. IMG_5747The matzah balls were fluffy. The Gefilte fish was my best ever.  I think I finally perfected the recipe after only four years of trying. Gail’s brisket was outstanding. And all the desserts have disappeared. It still brings me great pleasure to watch you nibble down a half of a Passover spongecake in one sitting leaving the crumbs as proof that you actually did not eat the whole half a cake. Not to worry…Passover sponge cakes are 99% air. All the calories lay in those crumbs you left strewn all over the counter.

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Then there was the momentous breakthrough…real chicken broth crossed your lips for the first time in twenty years! And it was good, wasn’t it? What next? I know its not beef tenders!

All in all, it was an exceptional Passover. DSC_0074_2Putting you on the plane was hard. I miss you already. I am comforted knowing that you are returning to your stress-filled, important, thrilling and mostly happy life. The mid to late twenties aren’t the easiest years in a person’s life. It’s a time of figuring out who you are and what’s important to you and, mostly, realizing and accepting that you are the only one who can make that happen. I know its not always fun, but I am proud of you for struggling to figure it all out and owning the responsibility for making it what you want. I love watching you evolve into your grown-up person, while at the same time I am so aware of time moving quickly. I feel like I am in the midst of a multi-character serial with ever-changing plot lines. I cherish each episode and don’t ever want it to end, but can’t wait to know how it will all turn out. That’s life. For now, all good…and I am grateful.

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I am dedicating my recipes this week to Passover. It’s a fun time to experiment with cooking and every once in a while something turns out really good. Since you already took those ridiculous sponge cake pictures, I just have to add the recipe. I am also including my new and improved matzah pizza recipe. It’s a far cry from the tomato sauce and cheese on a piece of matzo toasted under the broiler that was a standard for you and your pre-teen buddies. Once you make the matzo dough, the possibilities and varieties are infinite.

Hmm…just like life. No wonder we like cooking so much!

Love,

Mom
xoxooxoxoxoxoxoxoxoox
Passover Sponge Cake

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This recipe comes directly off of the Manischewitz Potato Starch container. It is gluten free and very light. My mother, Bubbe, made this cake every year and always marveled when the cake rose higher than the edge of the tube pan and came out intact.

Although the recipe is simple, it is a bit of an art to have it rise appropriately 11032844_899514556757905_666511423_nand come out in one piece. In my early years I always ended up making two cakes because one would invariably fall apart and I would use it in a strawberry trifle concoction I made up and try again to bake an intact cake. The strawberry trifle was such a hit that it has become a regular Passover dessert item and I just bake two sponge cakes from the beginning. This year, they both came out! I have arrived!

Serve in a trifle with strawberries and cream or with plain strawberries or lemon curd. Or just nibble on the plain cake. It will be gone before you know it. Just watch those crumbs…
Passover Sponge Cake

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Preheat oven to 350°

  • 7 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup Manischewitz Potato Starch, sifted
  • dash of salt

Separate 6 of the eggs setting aside the egg whites in a separate bowl.
Beat the six egg yolks and one whole egg until light and frothy. Gradually add sifted sugar, lemon rind and juice, beating constantly and thoroughly until light and lemony colored.
Gradually add sifted potato starch, stirring constantly with an electric beater to ensure thorough blending.

With a clean beater, beat the egg whites with a dash of salt until stiff but not dry. Fold gently but thoroughly into the egg yolk mixture.

Place in an engrossed 10” tube pan. (I recommend a two-piece tube pan with a removable bottom for easier cake removal.) Bake in a moderate oven (350°) for about 55-60 minutes or until cake springs back when gently touched with fingers. The top should be lightly browned and have a little crusty top.

Remove from the oven and immediately invert cake over a bottle (like a wine bottle). Cool completely before removing from pan. Cut around sides and tube of pan and separate cake from sides of pan. Cut around bottom of cake and remove tube. If it falls apart, don’t worry…just make a trifle with your favorite fruits or toppings.

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Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Pizza (for Passover)
and then some…

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Passover Pizza Crust

  • 4 pieces of matzah
  • 1 large bowl of very hot water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
  • 1teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (optional, it gives the dough a hint of pesto flavoring)

Break the matzah in pieces and soak in the bowl in hot water for about 5 minutes or until soft. Then drain the matzah in a colander and dump the water.

While matzah is soaking and draining begin preparing the toppings.

While preparing the toppings, place the drained matzah for the crust in the large bowl and mix together thoroughly with the remaining dough ingredients. The mixture should be moist and thick, but able to easily spread.

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Use a 12-16 inch non-stick pizza pan. The larger the pan, the thinner the crust will be. Spread the matzah mixture to the edges of the pizza pan being sure to cover the bottom of the pan entirely. I started in the center and spread outward to the edges of the pan with a spatula.

Place the pizza pan in the 400º oven and bake for about 15 – 25 minutes (depending on thickness) or until crust is dry on the top and the bottom.

Remove from oven and set aside.

Passover Pizza Topping
This particular topping was inspired by a pizza we had a chain pizza place that was the best pizza I have had in a long time. The matzah dough is a far cry from the real thing, but the topping almost makes up for it. A traditional margherita pizza topping or any topping you like will work just as well. Be creative.

  • 1 sweet onion, sliced in thin wedges
  • Oil or butter for sautéing
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 12 ounces mushrooms, any variety (I used shiitake and portobello), sliced
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
  • Truffle oil (optional)

Heat up a large sauté pan at medium heat with a little oil or oil and butter. Add the sliced onions, allowing them to cook slowly until browned and soft, but not mushy. Add a little salt after about 10 minutes of cooking. A little sugar (optional) can also be added to aid in the caramelization process. It could take 20 – 30 minutes for the onions to caramelize. When done, remove them from the pan and set aside.IMG_5641

Place the sliced mushrooms in the same pan and sauté until they are done, adding oil or butter if needed and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan when done and set aside.
Grate the cheese.

Sprinkle the grated cheese over the baked matzah crust and top with the mushrooms and onions.

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Bake in the 400º oven for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is crisp.
Remove from oven and lightly sprinkle a few drops of truffle oil over the pizza, if desired.

Tips and variations:
The dough can be made ahead time and ready for toppings at a moments notice. Consider traditional pizza toppings with tomato sauce, mozzarella and leftover roasted vegetables. Experiment with different cheeses and fresh herbs like basil and oregano and any other toppings you enjoy.

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This pizza reheats well in a toaster oven the next day and is a nice treat for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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◊ Berkeley Breakfast

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Dear mom,

Beef tenders. Ok. I can handle it. But those photos…

The content of your prep photo could have come out of my intestines. Really mom. How is that food? I’m nauseated at the thought of putting it in my mouth.

I find it strange that you hear happiness in my voice. Excitement, stress, anxiety, nerves, struggle, exhaustion… these are the things I feel.

I don’t think they’re the usual indicators of happiness.

Happiness. What a weird thing to calculate. I think I’m annoyed with it. I’m annoyed with smiling Berkley flowy pants and flower-hat wearing vegan yogis who give big hugs. Are you turning into one of them? It sounds like it. (I’d rather you make beef tenders.)

I’m working really hard at school. My chronic eye twitch is still chronic. If I’m not hunched over my computer, I’m hunched over a camera or notes or a big salad. I attempt a work-life balance with hikes and cooking, but I feel stressed and nervous and pressed for time all of the time. But I’m choosing this life and am (weirdly) excited about it.

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The work I’m doing is hard, time-consuming, confusing and emotionally draining. But I feel that it’s important. And yes, it’s stressful, but feeling that I’m doing something important is thrilling.

Is this what happiness looks like for me? I’m scared.

best served with a cold glass of kombucha, duh

best served with a cold glass of kombucha, duh

One thing that makes me happy is my new favorite breakfast inspired by one of my favorite outside of school friends (here’s her food site): sautéed dino kale, baked sweet potato, sauerkraut and a boiled egg sprinkled with sunflower seeds. It’s a meal that will help you understand how your beef pics conjure up images of things that come out of my intestines.

Crossing the line? You asked for it.

xo

Shaina

I usually prep the kale, egg and potato the night before so that it takes 5 minutes to throw it together in the morning.  Gluten free, paleo and perfect for Passover (also a good way to use leftover Seder eggs and will definitely cure a matzah belly).

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Kale and Sweet Potato Breakfast

Makes 3-4 breakfasts

  • 1 head of dino (lacinato) kale, de-stemmed and cut horizontally into 3 inch strips
  • drop of olive or coconut oil
  • 1 tbs grated ginger
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 4 eggs, boiled
  • 1 cup sauerkraut (can be purchased at most grocery stores)
  • 3-4 tbs sunflower seeds
  • salt and black pepper

*Part 1: Heat oven to 400 degrees and wrap whole sweet potato in foil. Place on baking sheet and place in oven for 30-45 minutes, until soft.

Meanwhile, heat oil in sautee pan and add ginger, turmeric, kale and salt. Cook for 5 -7 minutes until kale is just wilted.

Part 2: Chop sweet potato into one inch chunks. Top with sauteed kale, sauerkraut and boiled egg, and sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Add plenty of salt and black pepper to taste.

*To make my mornings less overwhelming, I do part 1 the night before and part 2 in the morning.

breakfast on the go

breakfast on the go

♦ Happy Spaces

Dear Shaina,

My morning started with instructions from our yoga instructor to bring three things into our minds that make us happy. The recent chatty phone calls from you immediately filled the happy spaces in my brain. I can actually feel the buzz emanating from you over the phone. I don’t remember ever hearing you so excited about school and your life; your professors, your classmates, your project, your friends, your life! And, of course, my happiness is irrevocably linked with yours. Just can’t help it.

It’s not that I don’t have my own sources for happiness. You weren’t the only image that came to my mind. There are so many things in my life that bring me pleasure and comfort and contentment, all of them contributing to my state of happiness. Indulging in the brief happiness exercise reminded me that, like it or not, my happiness is intricately interwoven with the well-being of the people in my life who matter most to me. I like being reminded..and yoga does that for me. Yoga is one of the things on my happy list. It brings me to myself with undeniable honesty and inevitable acceptance…the ultimate happy place.

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I realized this morning that many of the things that make me happy are things that I don’t necessarily indulge in easily or often. I routinely choose easy, convenient, immediately available quick fixes. It takes more effort to read a good book than to play solitaire on my iPad; to invite friends over than to just hang out at home; to research and try new recipes than to stick to the same old familiar dishes. I am not dissing my less effortful pleasures. I just feel like I am cheating myself by not pursuing more balance and happiness diversity.

Tax Trash...Almost Done!

Tax Trash…Almost Done!

I am also aware of what a luxury this pursuit is. I am immensely grateful. In the meantime, I am currently filling my leisure hours with the annual ritual tax preparation and household paper cleansing process. This actually brings both great pleasure and pain as I vow, each year, to do a better job keeping up with the monthly flow. I am making progress…slowly. IMG_5660Spring has arrived. The orchids are blooming. Dad is sprouting seeds for the garden. And Passover is coming. Passover, like childbirth, is one of those events that as time passes (10 or 11 months), the pleasures supersede the pain. I am about to order the fish for gefilte fish, despite the messy smelly ordeal. I bought the chickens for the soup and will set aside a day for that effort with visions beyond the slimy skinning and deboning to the aromatic comfort soup and endless tubs of chicken salad. I will clean the house and set the tables and make enough food to last for the week…and sit back and enjoy the Slivovitz!

Shaina, please keep all the stories coming. They just add to my happiness!

Love,

Mom xoxoxoxoxoxoxox

P.S. Shaina, I know you don’t eat meat, but I haven’t been cooking anything new lately and started looking back at recipes that haven’t yet made it into the blog. I hope you’re not too grossed out. This happens to be a very easy and delicious meat recipe when you’re cooking for a crowd. I always have fish and vegetarian options for people who don’t eat red meat, but every once in a while…there’s nothing like a good piece of steak!

Beef Tenders

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Rest time: 15 minutes
Yield: 8-14 people depending on size of beef and other food options

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Beef Tenders

  • 1 5-7 pound whole Beef Tender

Marinade

  • 1/2 cup salad oilIMG_1853
  • 3/4 cups soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2T dry mustard
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 T coarsely ground pepper
  • 1T dry parsley
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced

Prepare marinade a day before you plan on serving. Mix all marinade ingredients and place whole Beef Tender and marinade into a ziplock bag and seal with ziplock. Marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Take Beef and marinade out of the refrigerator about 2- 3 hours before serving time and let the beef come to room temperature.

About 90 minutes before serving time, preheat the oven to 500°.

Remove the Beef Tender from the marinade and place on a broiling rack positioned on top of a baking sheet to catch the juices. Pour a little of the marinade over the meat (about a cup, more if you like a lot of au jus).

Place the Beef in the oven on the baking sheet, uncovered, and cook for 5 minutes and then turn the oven off. DO NOT OPEN the oven door. Leave in the oven for 45 minutes. If your Beef is very thick or you like it less rare, leave it on 500° for 6 or 7 minutes, but no longer.

After 45 minutes, open the oven door and remove the beef and let it rest for 15 minutes. Pour the juices in the bottom of the baking sheet into a bowl for au jus to be served with the meat.

IMG_3507 Slice the beef and place on a platter. The meat should be medium rare. Serve with au jus, spicy mustard or horseradish sauce.

◊ #Blessed

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Dear mom,

#blessed #food #childhoodobseity #notreally

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#Bubbe. Bubbe interacted with us, her grandkids, almost solely via food. She fried blintzes for us, she peeled potatoes with us, she scooped us ice cream, she counted the chocolate chips that went into each cookie she force-fed us. We schlepped her to the grocery store, we brought her butter, we enlisted her in apple-chopping, we ate and ate and ate.

Bubbe showered us with indulgence. She conveyed gratitude, love, power, comfort, something, everything, through food. We — I — inherited this mechanism to cope with my own gratitude, power, drive, something. It feels good to make things.

But why so much?

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Why do you make over 300 hamantachen at once? Why do I cook for 20 when I’m hosting a dinner for 5? Why are the only posts in our family whatsapp group pictures of food and injuries from pushing ourselves too hard? Is it genetic that we, the grandkids, can’t sit still… that we thrive off of extremes? That we wake up one day and decide that baking 99 recipes will be fun? Your inheritance was an appetite for survival… is it part of ours too?

Our #blessings are also our neuroses.

Yes, food is metaphor. Our approach to it reflects our anxieties, values, loyalties. It shows our evolution.

Xo,

Shaina

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Around this time of year during my childhood, I’d be sick from Bubbe’s hamantaschen. As soon as the latke parties ended, she’d bust out the flour, jam and “hoil.” In her later years, she made Valentines Day cookies out of hamantachen material. She’d shape the dough into little hearts that she copied from playing cards, and topped them with strawberry jam and chocolate chips. I know she copied the heart shape from playing cards because one year she messed up and made cookies in the shape of spades. She still called them hearts. It was like how she used to make pizza with Velveta cheese.

I decided to pull a Bubbe and mix two cultures into one: I made traditional Persian cookies and added my own “filling” to retain the feel of hamantaschen.

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These cookies, called Nan-e Nokhodchi, are delicate gluten-free Persian cookies, usually decorated with a single pistachio. They are a perfect accompaniment to normal hamantaschen or a holiday alternative for those who keep a gluten-free diet.

DSCF2068Cardamom Scented Persian Cookies with Date Filling

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 5 tbs ground cardamom
  • 2 Tbs. rose water (the kind for baking)
  • 4 ½ cups fine chickpea flour
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt

Garnish:

  • 1 cup dates
  • ½ cup raw almonds
  • 1 tbs ground cardamom
  • 1 tbs rose water
  • pinch of sea salt
  • ¼ cup raw pistachios

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Cream butter with sugar, egg yolk, cardamom, and rose water in bowl. Add chickpea flour and mix well until lumps dissolve. Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap, and place in fridge to sit for at least one hour.

In the meantime, combine almonds, dates, cardamom, rose water and sea salt in a food processor until a paste forms.

When dough has sat for one hour, preheat oven to 300 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a teaspoon, scoop a spoonful of dough from the bowl and place into your hand. Roll the dough gently forming a ball in your hands. Press your thumb into the middle of the ball to form a dip in the cookie. This will flatten the cookie.

Fill each “thumbprint” with the date and almond paste and top with a single pistachio.  Line the cookies onto baking sheets and bake for 30 minutes until edges are brown.

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♦ Inheritance

Dear Shaina,

Thank you for your kind words. In truth, parents never know what their kids are picking up from them, the good and the bad. We put effort into intentional teaching; don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t hurt others, play nicely, share your toys, work hard, “no” won’t kill you, say please and thank you. We teach what we think are the essentials to get along in life and hope for the best. We also know that kids mostly learn from unintentional teachings, the good and the bad.

Dad and I both grew up in families that didn’t exactly fit the Leave it to Beaver TV family norm of the 50’s. Despite our different backgrounds and lifestyles, the basics were the same…our families loved us deeply and sacrificed for the hope of our futures. They were honest and hard working and gave everything they had to ensure our success in life without even knowing what that might look like. We were immersed in environments that taught us, unintentionally, that the value of each person doesn’t come from what they wear, where their house is, how they speak, which clubs they belong to or what kind of work they do.

Roasting a lot of veggies lately

Roasting a lot of veggies lately

We didn’t know any better than to just be who we were. It wasn’t always an easy learning. It took longer than I care to admit to accept and value the eccentricities of my growing up home life and understand the richness of what I learned from living in a home where two people, fueled by the instinct to survive, struggled together to build a new life for themselves and the family they were creating from scratch. Different isn’t bad. Honesty and integrity are key. Learn how to take care of yourself…and do it. Family first. It’s OK to need your children as much as they need you…you can learn a lot from them. There are all kinds of people in the world…people are just people, good and bad.

Although my life is worlds away from my parents’ lives, and yours even more remote, it seems that those lessons took hold and survived at least two generations of indulgence.

Braised Cabbage, my version.

Braised Cabbage, my version.

Then there’s this food obsession that has seemingly invaded all our lives…blogs, pictures, recipes…cooking frenzies around the world. Food is real. Food is metaphor…love, family, friends, sharing, nurturing, healing, celebration, tradition, generosity, bounty, beauty, creativity, sensuality, productivity, focus, risk, meditation. Metaphors are real.

What an inheritance! We are all so blessed!

In the meantime, I made your cabbage dish and added asparagus. I served it over Persian rice made with edamame and it was excellent! I am making it again with tofu for a yoga potluck. Thanks for sharing your recipes…and your life.

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Vegetable Spaghetti Stir Fry

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This very simple recipe was made using my newest gadget called a Vegetti. It is low tech, easy to use and makes ordinary vegetables into veggie strands that can be substituted for spaghetti. I have only used it with yellow squash and zucchini, so far.

Vegetti, my newest kitchen toy

Vegetti, my newest kitchen toy

Even though this recipe has the same
ingredients as my standard sautéed squash, the flavors seem to permeate the spaghetti strands in a way that makes it a whole new dish. No matter how much I make, it all gets eaten. This recipe will feed two people as a main dish and four as a side dish.

Vegetable Spaghetti Stir Fry

  • 2 -3 zucchinis
  • 2-3 yellow crookneck summer squash
  • olive oil
  • 1 red or yellow onion, sliced in thin wedges
  • 2 -4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Optional vegetables:1/2 pound mushrooms sliced, cherry tomatoes, asparagus
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional spices: basil and oregano
  • Optional garnishes: toasted pine nuts, green onions, parsley, parmesan cheese
  • Optional accompaniments: rice, lentils

IMG_5396Following the instructions that come with the Vegetti, use the larger holes and spiral the squash through the Vegetti until you can’t rotate it through anymore. I cut the “noodles”  with a scissor into spaghetti lengths as I go. When it gets down to a nub, you can put a fork into it and try to get a few more turns or just cut the rest up by hand into strips.

Put the raw veggie spaghetti in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 5 to 10 minutes or until liquid has cooked out. Drain vegetables thoroughly and set aside. I actually use the drained liquid as a vegetable broth for soups.Image 2-24-15 at 11.32 AM

Sauté onions in a little olive oil in a large sauté pan until partially cooked. Add minced garlic and sauté for another minute. If using mushrooms or any other vegetables, add to the mixture and sauté for a few minutes. Add drained veggie spaghetti and continue sautéing. Add salt, pepper to taste and any additional spices desired. Cook until all vegetables are done to taste.

Add garnishes and serve.

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◊ Bird by bird


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Dear mom,

Thanks for the votes of confidence (over and over and over again). But yeah, stone by stone, bird by bird, person by person is much more reasonable than change the freakin world.

It doesn’t feel like I’m doing much of anything these days except trying to finish my homework on time. Last night I fell asleep with my laptop. Today is Sunday and I woke up at 6 am to do work! My lower right eyelid has developed a chronic twitch.

Repeat: stone by stone, bird by bird. It will get done.

storyboarding brunch with my multimedia group

storyboarding brunch with my multimedia team

While the days of your youth were filled with bra burning, marches and protests, the days of my youth are filled with screen time, social media and internet trolling. It’s sort of the same (except my generation will come into more severe eye, back and neck strain issues). People gravitate toward platforms on which they believe their voices will be heard.

Listening to those voices without judgment or assumption is an aspiration that I inherited from you and dad. Both of your careers were built on the premise that at their cores, people are good; that human flaws are a build-up of societal plaque and genetic misfortune; that no matter how strange their actions may be, people are people are people. You built your lives on trust in human goodness. It’s a powerful legacy.

That’s all I can say for now. I budgeted only 45 minutes today for this letter to you. It’s time to go back to work quickly quickly. I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to do work that excites me, but I sure wish I could shake this eye twitch. The recipe I’m sending today, coconut milk braised cabbage, is my go-to dish when I want to make something quick, healthy, cost-efficient, filling and bulky.

Xo,

Shaina

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Cabbage is the most efficient food out there, and this recipe transforms it into something luxurious, rich and flavorful. And it’s gluten-free, vegan, paleo and cleanse friendly!

Coconut Milk Braised Cabbage

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3/4 c carrots, chopped
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 c coconut milk
  • 1 tbs yellow curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbs cinnamon powder
  • dash of cayenne powder or red chili flakes to taste
  • 1 head green cabbage, chopped into thin shreds (4-5 C)
  • 1 tsp salt (to taste)
  • juice of half lemon
  • 1/2 cup yellow raisins
  • salt, to taste
  • fresh chopped cilantro and/or sliced almonds for garnish

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Heat oil in large pan. Add onions, carrots and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add coconut milk and spices and bring to boil. Add cabbage and salt and bring heat to simmer. Cover pan and cook over low heat for 15 – 25 minutes, until cabbage is desired consistency. Stir in raisins and lemon juice. Garnish with chopped cilantro and/or sliced almonds. Serve warm or room temperature over a bowl of rice for a hearty meal, top with an egg, or enjoy as is.

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♦ Guts and Persistence

Dear Shaina,

I love your growing-up person! That is not to say that I don’t still adore your child-person and will never stop indulging your regression. We are in full collusion on that one. I am grateful for your optimism and energy and determination to make a difference…your way. The days of my youth were filled with war protests, burning bras and antiestablishment lifestyle alternatives. So much for peace, love and harmony. We morphed into greedy, materialistic, self-obsessed baby boomers, myself included. We wanted to change the world, but it was too big and too overwhelming, so we joined it…and some of us sought some small place in our little sphere where we might actually find a way to make a difference, at least to ourselves.

The whole world seems to be one big mess; too big for any simple solutions, too big for any one tactic. One idea, one story, one human being at a time seems a more reasonable, if not more manageable approach. I am in awe of your guts and persistence in pursuing the humanity of each person you encounter without assumptions, without intentions and without judgment. Your approach is more hopeful than my generation’s and much kinder.

I am overwhelmed by the hatred, injustice and sadness that seems to be flourishing everywhere. I am fearful and saddened when I think about the world that we are leaving you and your someday-children. My current efforts on behalf of the world amount to getting everyone I know to take yoga. It seems that if everyone inhaled the yogi consciousness, the world would be a happier and more peaceful place…one person at a time. That is all I seem capable of managing right now, in addition to cooking, of course.

My newest kitchen gadget...very low tech

My newest kitchen gadget…very low tech

Cooking seems to be a curative salve for both of us; a meaningful distraction, a tangible outcome, nourishment of the body and soul for ourselves and the beneficiaries of our efforts. I am making tubs of soup and sharing it with friends and family, in sickness and health… I am baking hundreds of hamentaschen to be shared with family, friends and community… I am stocking the freezer with sweets, soups and casseroles to be pulled out on a moments notice for an impromptu dinner or to send visiting friends on their way with a sweet treat for the road. It doesn’t seem like much for a world that is in as bad a shape as ours, but it is what I can do. A little nourishment thrown out into the universe can’t hurt.

At it again...

At it again…

I have eased back into my yoga routine and finally feeling at one with my body despite the torn meniscus and screaming hips. I am learning to be more accepting of my limitations and kinder to my body. I am trying to find my own peacefulness and send it out into the universe that is so in need of positive energy. And I am putting my faith in you and your generation to lead the way to a more humane and tolerant world.

Love,
Mom

xooxoxoxooxoxoxoxoxoxoxo
P.S. So excited that you pulled together a mahjong group! What could be better…mahjong and food…may the mahjong angels be with you!

Indian Pea and Lentil Soup

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This soup is very aromatic and full of flavor. The yellow peas and orange lentils give it a lighter feel than traditional pea soup. I usually double the recipe. As long as I am chopping and messing up a pot, I might as well make enough to enjoy now and later and share with friends. It freezes well. Be sure to taste while cooking and adjust spices to taste.

  • 2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 sweet pepper, red, yellow or green, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
  • 1-2 teaspoons minced small green chiles
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 9-10 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 full cup dried yellow split peas (soaked in water for a few hours and drained)
  • 1 full cup dried red lentils (soaked in water for a few hours and drained)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice, plus zest
  • 1 tablespoon agave, honey or brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric 2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Spice Blend:IMG_5210

  • 1 tablespoons butter or oil
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds or 1/8 teaspoon ground fenugreek

Chopped cilantro, parsley or green onions for garnish.

Melt butter in a large soup pot. Add chopped onions, carrots, celery and pepper and sauté until softened. I chop everything together in the food processor. Add the garlic, ginger, chiles and coriander and continue sautéing for a minute.

Add the stock and partially softened or cooked peas and lentils, lemon or lime juice, agave, bay leaves, turmeric, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, entitle peas and lentils are very tender. Add water if soup is too thick.

Prepare the spice mixture and add to the soup. Melt the butter or heat the oil in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and heat until they begin to pop, about 30 seconds. Add the cumin and fenugreek and fry until golden, about 1-3 minutes. Stir into the soup mixture and simmer for 15 minutes or until flavors blend.

Serve warm and top with garnish of cilantro, parsley or green onions. It is also tasty with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt.

More Indian Pea and Lentil Soup

More Indian Pea and Lentil Soup

◊ Telling stories

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Dear mom,

My grown-up person is strange to me too. In my first hours back from Israel and Palestine, I went straight to laundry, grocery shopping and my life (my life = finding space for the 4 liters of tahini I schlepped across the ocean, scheduling meetings with professors, filing recipes, going to a spin class). These endeavors were far from my usual homecoming routine — my luggage dump onto the hallway floor, my jet-lagged memory-mumble and slow crawl into bed, my early-rise to a full fridge and piles of neatly folded, clean clothes.

My grown-up person embraces the laundry/grocery life with ease and excitement; it is puzzled at how readily I snap back to childhood when I’m home.

Contrary to your verdict, I will always be a child at home regardless of how much junk I clean from my room. I have no doubt that you’ll have plenty more chances to wash my dirty clothes and make me breakfast on demand. Consider yourself lucky to be spared from my late-night, half-formed reflection-thoughts on Jewish-Arab relations, snow in a Mediterranean climate, Palestinian traditions, the transcontinental strength of our family’s genetic traits.

The story I was reporting in Israel and Palestine is about best friends and business partners –  a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli – who collect and sell embroidery together. They requested I not use their names because of potential backlash.

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I completed my reporting goals – 10 interviews, 5 photo shoots, lots of meetings – and now I have to write it all up. I also spent plenty of time catching up with family, hanging out with friends and taking long walks alone. I had a great time, but I won’t be able to call my trip successful until I’ve written the article. It will take some time to develop so many different experiences into memories and meaningful stories. Shwai shwai, liat liat, slowly slowly.

dried sage leaves in the kitchen

dried sage leaves in the kitchen

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I spent two nights with the Palestinian business partner and learned a lot about her life in Bethlehem. She reminds me of you – her hands never stop cooking, sewing, embroidering, cleaning, preparing. Everything in her house, from olive oil soap to sheep’s milk cheese to embroidered cushion-covers and table clothes, she cultivated with her own hands. For breakfast, we ate olives that she picked and cured herself, green leaves she collected from the Jewish Israeli’s front yard and sautéed with onion and garlic, and kaak ma’amoul that she made late at night.

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Kaak ma’amoul are traditional Palestinian date-filled, sweet cookies. I had eaten them before, but the way that this woman made them without sugar in the dough was different and oddly nostalgic.

Her kaak ma’amoul are simple: dough – white flour, oil, water and fennel seeds – wrapped around spiced date puree. The mild dough against sticky dates reminded me of Bubbe’s oily strudel stuffed with spiced raisins. While I was reporting, I noticed many such parallels among Jewish and Palestinian traditions and daily life. Also, the ways in which many of the Jewish Israelis and Palestinians that I spoke with described their feelings toward one another were strikingly similar.

“When you don’t know people, you get afraid,” the Jewish Israeli friend said. “But when you see them you get unafraid.”

“I wanted them to meet Israelis to see that they are human like us and we are all like each other,” the Palestinian friend said.

People are afraid of the unknown. When they are separated, they do not interact and fear persists. Fear dominates.

Bethlehem

Bethlehem

This is why I went back to Israel and Palestine over my winter break. This is why I study journalism. Sometimes I feel that the only way to introduce humans to one another – to cross borders, create groundwork for dialogue, dilute fear in a small way – is to tell stories. Thus, I can’t call my trip a success until I write the story! I can’t call my trip a success until I highlight, in a small way, humanity on both sides of the wall.

xo,

Shaina

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I recreated the Kaak Ma’amoul I ate in Bethlehem as soon as I got back to my kitchen. Inspired by Bubbe cookies, I added plenty of orange zest and juice. I also substituted whole-wheat flour for white flour. As you can see from the picture, they didn’t come out pretty… I think pretty kaak ma’amoul is one of those things that takes practice.

*note: Most kaak ma’amoul is made with sweet, yeasted dough (sometimes with semolina in addition to wheat flour). This is not the traditional recipe.

Kaak Ma’amoul

Prep time: 1 hour

Makes 20 – 30 cookies

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Dough:

  • 2 ½ C whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 tbs orange zest
  • 2 tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Filling:

  • 1 cup dates, pitted
  • ½ tsp cardmom, ground
  • ½ tsp cloves, ground
  • ½ tsp cinnamon, ground
  • juice of one medium orange

Mix the flour, oil, water, orange zest, fennel seeds and salt with a stand mixer or knead with your hands until dough is smooth and stretchy. Put dates, spices and orange juice in food processor and blend into a smooth paste

Heat oven to 375. Divide dough into 25 – 30 balls (1 ½ in each). Divide paste into the same number of balls, but keep each ball half the size of the each dough ball.

Roll each dough ball into a 4 x 1 inch rectangle. Wet hands, and roll paste ball into thin log. Place date log into dough and fold dough around it (like a tube). Roll the log/tube in your hands until smooth. Fold the dough log into a circle and seal it into a closed ring by pinching the ends together (you may have to use some water to get it to stick). Place circles on baking sheet and cook until golden, around 25 minutes.

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♦ More

Dear Shaina,

Your winter visit flew by and I was briefly spoiled by our late night conversations and annual road trip adventure to South Carolina. You always seem to talk more late at night and in the car. I remember picking you up from overnight summer camp and hearing about all your antics at Camp Judaea for most of the long ride home from North Carolina. Dad and I would just look at each other marveling at the transformation of our “quiet child.

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The drop off at the Atlanta Airport felt abrupt and sudden, especially with the last minute cash and credit card transfer to fill in for the forgotten wallet. Usually our airport “goodbyes” are a little more…well, focused on “goodbye” and “stay in touch” instead of rifling through our wallets to see how much cash we could come up with between us and which of our credit cards might be least questioned in a foreign country. We all did pretty well in responding to that little situation.

Realizing that you would be returning directly to Berkeley from Israel and that this visit “home” was officially over caught me off guard. I am used to sending you off from my home with bags full of your favorite treats and leftover foods from my kitchen. I am used to coming home to your unmade bed, damp bath towels thrown over the closet door and half-filled jars of tea strewn around the house waiting to be put in the dishwasher. The getting-the-house-back-in-order ritual allows me to hold onto your presence a little longer as I move through the process of restoring order. It just didn’t feel right driving in from South Carolina, eating in a restaurant and just dropping you off at the Atlanta airport. It was unsettling.

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In truth, I think it’s about your really leaving your childhood home. You seem more grounded, despite your forgotten wallet; more defined, despite your uncertainties; more comfortable with who you are despite your discomforts. Throwing out bags of accumulated stuff (even though you barely scratched the surface) from your room is the beginning of relinquishing your space in this house. There will always be a room for you, but you will never be a child in this space. All is as it should be. You are building a life that is a credit to you.

My fear is that I will miss the day-to-day knowing of your grown-up person. Not that I hope to talk with you every day or expect to be in on the minutia of your life. I am grateful for your evolution into adulthood and the separateness in our lives. We seem to manage it all pretty well. I am not even sure what it is I want…talking, sharing, a larger window into your unfolding life. I want something for me, and for you, that goes beyond what I had with my mother. I know I am greedy and always wanting more…but really, only one Skype call and a few texts letting me know you’re alive during a three week trip to Israel…I want more!! Maybe when you get older…

Getting ready for New Year's Eve

Getting ready for New Year’s Eve

The new year slipped into our lives with barely a blip on the radar. We spent New Year’s Eve at home with friends, lots of food and comfortable celebration. The cold has set in and I am hibernating. I am burning through those books that have been stacked up on my night table since last spring and cooking chili and soups and apple cakes…winter comfort foods. 2015 just rolls off my marker onto the freezer bags that I am filling with goodies to store for the winter.

I started a new house project in the basement which is engaging my nesting instincts and distracting me from the winter blahs. I am missing you more than I should be. These short teaser visits leave me wanting more. A trip to sunny California may be in my not too distant future.
Love, Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

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Apple Cake Revisited

The big debate over Chanukah was about which is the better apple cake…”the previously ranked Birmingham’s favorite Apple Cake recipe or a new one I found in an Israeli cookbook that just looked so pretty I had to try it?” After several bakings and tastings, I decided to create a new modified version of the two cakes to capture the flavor and moistness of the first and the pretty presentation of the second. I am still unsure of the final winner, but this version ranks pretty high and looks great, too. It freezes well and is a satisfying breakfast treat.

  • 5 large baking apples, peeled and cored
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 tablespoons brandy
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cups walnuts (optional)

Topping

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

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Preheat oven to 350°
Dice three apples into 1/2” or smaller chunks.
Slice the remaining two apples into wedges.
Sprinkle apples with lemon juice and set aside.
Sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until pale and thick.
Lower the beater speed and add the oil to the egg mixture slowly until blended.
Add the brandy and mashed bananas to the oil and egg mixture and beat together for about a minute.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the eggs and oil and mix thoroughly.
Fold in the diced apples and chopped walnuts(optional).

Pour the batter into a well-greased 10 inch diameter springform baking pan.
Arrange the apple wedges in a flower pattern starting at the center go the cake.
Combine sugar, cinnamon and salt and sprinkle over the top of the cake.

Bake for 60 – 75 minutes until golden and a toothpick comes out dry with a few crumbs adhering.
Cool for 10 minutes before releasing from the springform pan and let cool completely.

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◊ Again

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Dear mom,

I finished my first semester of graduate school. Again.

I came home to a family, food and mahjong marathon. Again.

I threw my stuff into bags and now I’m in a strange yoga pose on the floor of the airport waiting to board my flight while people look at me funny. Again.

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Education, luxury/gluttony and world travel… what a routine!

The first time I traveled internationally, I bought currency in advance. I had the money belt, several copies of my passport with emergency phone numbers scribbled on the back, iodine tablets for dirty water, a travel purse with two kinds of emergency antibiotics.

Now I carry clothes, sneakers, lotions and snacks. This whole process of unloading and loading has become so familiar that I didn’t even double-check my bags after I zipped them. I left my wallet at home. My wallet! What else am I forgetting? What other mistakes will I make?

Oy. There is so much more I could have done to prepare for this trip.

On one hand I feel calm. I know that Hanoch will be waiting for me at baggage claim and that Edna will prepare Israeli salad with eggs, cottage and tahini for breakfast. I know how to take the bus from their house to Jessica’s apartment and the colors I’ll hijack from her crazy nail polish collection (Parka Perfect, Nice is Nice). I know the stall owners at the shuk that will let me nosh from their bastas and the ones that will yell loudly if they see my hand reach into their bins of dates and dried figs. I know most of the beds I’ll be sleeping in and I know who to call if I get lost. I know because I’ve done it all before.

On the other hand I’m totally freaking out. I don’t know anything. I have a new mission that’s complicated and tricky. There are so many unknowns that I don’t even know what I don’t know. The stakes feel high. I’ve invested huge amounts of time into learning new skills that are supposed to prepare me for this, but I can’t keep track of what skills I’m supposed to be using. I left my wallet at home! This trip could be a complete fail.

I could have stayed home with you and dad, gorging on your latkes, apple cakes, etc, etc, etc and sleeping all break long. That would have been nice. Instead, I’m on my way to the known and the unknown. Again.

Xoxo,

Shaina

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In our family, we use the word struggle a lot. We struggle with discomfort and comfort and how to find a balance.

We struggle with finding appropriate dishes to serve to make all of our guests comfortable. Yep, I’m talking about parve desserts. The recipe below is a parve one that’s worthy of the dessert table. These truffles will please guests who are vegan and who keep kosher. They’re gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free and have no added sugar. And they’re green!

Matcha Truffles 

Serves: 12-20

prep time: 40 minutes

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  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 2 tablespoons agave (or honey if not vegan)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons matcha green tea powder
  • ½ cup toasted coconut for dusting

Add the nuts to the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients to the food processor, and process until a sticky paste forms. If more liquid is needed, add 1 tablespoon of lukewarm water or nut milk, like almond milk.

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With coconut oil on your hands, roll about 1 tablespoon of the mixture into a ball. Roll each truffle in toasted coconut before serving. Store in fridge and serve cold—they will begin to melt if you leave them out at warm temperatures for too long.