♦ 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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♦ Schuster Shealy

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Dear Shaina,

I laughed out loud, while shedding a few tears, when I read your response to Dad’s guest post. As if I didn’t know that the predominant gene pool stamped on your DNA had SHEALY all over it…

The minute you were born, after they slapped you to make you cry (Schusters don’t have to be prompted to wail loudly), they laid you down next to me for the first time.  I looked into your eyes as you quietly eyeballed me…and there you lay…clearly a mini Allen Shealy replica!  As you got older, the comments veered more toward, “We never knew Allen was so pretty.” I was grateful that at least you got my eyebrows!

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The Shealy genes penetrated far beyond appearance. By the time you were two, I understood that the die was cast and that I should give up any attempts at trying to mold you in my image, or any other…you were hard-wired. So much for nature versus nurture!

You were quietly cautious and  took your time…with everything.  You were shy with strangers, easily manipulated by your more Schusterly cousins and adored by everyone! Even as a small child you emitted a sense of calm, loving acceptance and tolerance.

Lest anyone think that you were simply a sweet, adorable child, easily malleable by the prevailing players in your life, that was not the case. The strength of your core, the individuality of your spirit and the stubbornness of your will were apparent and readily available to you when needed.

Your pre-school teachers would place your cubby next to the most out-of-control boy… every year.  They knew you would ignore the bad behavior while promoting a sense of calm around you. When you decided that ballet classes and soccer games involved too much public performance for your comfort, you simply stopped, literally in your tracks. I had no choice but to take you home and hope the next activity might be a better fit. Even at the age of three, you would modify the teacher’s model of an art project, creating your own version from some vision in your head…and then other children would copy yours. You were/are a leader, quiet and non-dogmatic, but clearly present.

You are so like your father! Your signature, Shaina Shealy, speaks to your comfort in your genes. However, the impact of nurture has not been totally undercover. I would like to think that some of your creative skills have come from the hands of your Schuster relatives…along with the importance of family, friends and tradition, your love of food and cooking for large hoards of people and, of course, your keen bargaining skills. Perhaps, someday, the Schuster may find its way back into your given name, Shaina Schuster Shealy, no hyphens necessary.

Maybe the biggest challenge for an only child overdosed with love and attention and privilege from two doting parents is to find her own voice.  You took that on from an early age. I know you often feel that your path eludes you, yet the thing I am most proud of for you, is that you have the courage to pursue that search. You have learned to trust and follow your voice…wherever it may lead you. Your voice…and your path…may change over time, but you have mastered the process of paying attention to who you are.  Despite all the Shealy and Schuster chatter, the Shaina murmurs ring strong.

I sit here in the living room  wearing the soft cotton housedress, a gift direct from India from you (it’s what all the Indian mothers wear around the house). You putter around your room identifying the things you will need as you set out for a year of study and exploration amidst the Schuster family ambiance in Israel.
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I sit with my own meld of mother worry and pride, an all too familiar feeling.  It has been a lightning quick summer filled with kitchen mess, stuffed refrigerators, endless trips to multiple grocery stores…and friends and family…sharing old traditions, trying on new ones…tashlich (casting away of sins) at the farm, new tastes at the holiday table, escaping from temple during Yiskor…the Schusters and the Shealys, together.
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Rosh Hashana was an extravaganza of tastes and blessings. You requested Pomegranate Tabouli, a sweet and savory salad that has become a new Rosh Hashanah tradition.  As you leave Birmingham for the land of milk and honey…and pomegranates…I hope this dish is a reminder to you of how two seemingly disparate flavors can produce something beautiful, sweet and uniquely flavorful and captivating.  This is your dish!

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We cooked together, we prayed together and we gave thanks. We looked to the new year with hope and promise. You bring so much that is fresh and honest and spiritual into our lives…making us better than we ever thought we could be. I will miss this time with you…even as I reclaim my kitchen.

I wish you safe travels, new friends, enlightening adventures…and an ever stronger voice!

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxoxox

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Pomegranate Tabouli
With apples, walnuts and Pomegranates

  • 2 cups flat leafed parsley, finely chopped
  • ½ cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 cup crisp sweet apples, diced unpeeled
  • ½ cup red onion, diced
  • 1 ½ – 2 teaspoons ground smoked paprika or chipotle chile pepper
  • ½ cup raisins or currants
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice and zest from one lemon
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • Honey (optional)
  • 1 cup walnuts

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Mix first six ingredients together in a bowl. Stir in pepper, lemon juice and zest and oil. Season to taste with salt and a little honey if you like a little more sweetness. At this point, the mixture can be covered and refrigerated for up to two days.

In a dry skillet, over medium heat, stir walnuts until toasted, about three minutes.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.  Crush with the side of a knife or in a mortar with pestle until they are in coarse pieces.

Stir crushed walnuts into pomegranate mixture. If mixture has been refrigerated, set it out at room temperature for about an hour before adding walnuts.

6-8 servings

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