◊ Perspective

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Dear mom,

Glad to see you’re learning internet lingo (ps. LLOL is not a thing).

Sweating the small stuff surely is a luxury. What’s more luxurious is the ability to recognize the small stuff as small, which can be hard until after the fact. Or until I’m outside of it. Puma sneakers were no small thing in that factory store in Manhattan – you can attest to that.

Obsessing over the small things… is it called tunnel vision?

Since my sneaker meltdown in 6th grade, I’ve had so many opportunities to step outside the tunnel that my ability to shift perspectives has grown markedly nimble.  This skill is one of the many gifts I’ve gotten from moving so far so much so fast. It is the most luxurious of all luxuries.

I’ve implemented it in the way I see big things (we don’t have to talk about Israel/Palestine again), and I can zoom-in:

Let’s talk about coming home for Thanksgiving.

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the farm

In grad school, my assignments can create a strong vacuum at the bottom of the tunnel. Reporting is time and emotion consuming; deadlines = anxiety dreams. Should I cut graf one? Which quote is more quotey? I agonize.

I have to physically switch it up to remind myself of the bigger world and make these things small again. I usually go to the kitchen. Once I’m behind a chopping board, my attachment to my homework loosens (still can’t figure out if this is a good or bad thing). I chop veggies into a salad and munch away for too much time than I should spare. Big salads are (more) important.

Physically removing myself from the North Side of campus for a solid 5 days last week sharpened this notion. Being home made me realize how silly it is to make anything more important than health, family and old friends. I didn’t do a lick of schoolwork when I was home and I was not worried.

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Women’s holiday sliv shots

Instead, I chatted with my cousins over popcorn and M&Ms til 2AM, went to the farm with the boys, picked radishes, ran my favorite nature trails, lost at mah jong, massaged a shit ton of kale, sat in the kitchen, dined and snacked and gorged with fam, and took long sits in your steam shower.

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I still get sucked into the tunnel – I worry about the insignificant and obsess over the small. Making a salad can pull me out. Physical movement – a change of scenery – melts the petty-worry-grip.

xo,

Shaina

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When I went to the farm, I snuck away from the boys and their antics to pick radishes (pronounced raydish in the country). I came home with two full grocery bags of spicy, dirty raydish. The Berkeley grocery store radishes weren’t nearly as spicy as the homegrown, so I compensated by garnishing the dish below with spicy arugula.


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Spicy Radish Egg Salad with Almonds

This is a classic Bubbe recipe (she used big black radishes and skipped the almonds). Her house consistently smelled of fried onions (pronounced hun-ions in Bubbe land). She used the same hunions in her knishes, brown potatoes, kreplach, chicken burgers and more.

  • 3 eggs, hardboiled
  • 1 tsp olive oil OR 1 tsp butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • One bunch radishes (5-7 medium radishes)
  • toasted almonds, chopped or slivered
  • salt
  • pepper
  • arugula for serving

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Dice onion. Coat the bottom of a deep skillet with olive oil, butter or a mix of both. Turn heat to medium, and add onions once oil is hot.  Stir to coat onions in oil and spread them evenly over the pan. Turn heat to low, cover pan and let cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. After about ten minutes, add salt and fresh black pepper. Continue to cook until onions are deeply browned.

*Side note: I learned from you who learned from Bubbe to go big or go home when it comes to fried onions. It’s just as easy to fry three as it is one, so just do em all! Put what you don’t use into a jar and store in the fridge – they will stay good for over a week and are a luxurious addition to omelets, veggies, sandwiches, salads, yogurt, etc.

In the meantime, use a large hole grater to grater radishes into wide shreds.

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Toast crushed or slivered almonds in a toaster or over a skillet until brown and fragrant. Peel the hardboiled eggs and mash them with the back of a fork. Combine radishes, almonds and eggs.

When onions have cooled to room tempurature, stir them into the egg mixture. Add plenty of salt and fresh black pepper. Serve over spicy arugula with a slice of good bread.

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◊ Wrong Again

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Dear mom,

You got me all wrong.

My last letter was not about an isolated and sad childhood; it was the opposite. If you were anyone other than my mother, you would have read it as a gloating exultation rather than a series of grievances. I was boasting about my frequent practice with creativity and industrious nature, about finding comfort with being alone, about filling up on close friends. These things have carried me into “adulthood” or whatever.

I was often alone, but I never really struggled with loneliness. I learned how to cope. I chose to go to summer camp, to ready my trundle bed so that my bedroom could instantaneously flip into a hostel, to pick up the phone on the rare occasion when I was home alone. I feel proud about the aftermath of my only-childness, not sad. You should too.

Regarding your cluelessness, it would be weird if you knew everything about my life. Really weird, trust me. But you don’t remember me playing in the kitchen?

Naomi came from Haifa to Jerusalem last weekend and we ran the Jerusalem half-marathon and prepared for the Birmingham-in-Israel Shabbat dinner together. When we got home from dinner on Thursday night, we discussed what we’d do next. Go to a bar? No. Let’s bake.

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The only baking ingredients I had were weird grains — no butter, sugar or eggs in the fridge. But we got creative. I sliced eggplant for the star dish of the next evening’s meal and Naomi whipped together cookies made out of rye flour, yogurt, cinnamon, honey, oats, coconut oil and chopped figs. As we worked in the kitchen, we talked about how we used to go through your pantry and bake without recipes when we had nothing else to do. Surprise concoctions… it was a common activity for us. How do you not remember?

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Memory is a funny thing. You probably blocked out my invasion (destruction?) of your sacred kitchen space to keep your sanity. I don’t blame you. Do you at least remember the witches game I played with my cousins? We baked mud pies and brewed dirt potions until you caught us dragging sludge through the house. You furiously hosed us down like dogs and banned us from playing witches again — traumatic for both parties.

You’re absolutely right, the grass has brown spots on both sides … what to do but turn it into green ice cream?

I’ll be home for Passover in less than a week! I know it’s your kitchen and you can do whatever you want in it, but please have the gefilte fish situation under control. Thanks.

xo,

Shaina

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Your parents-of-Birmingham-in-Israel Shabbat dinner looked like a lot of fun and ours was too. I made my own version of this recipe from one of my favorite sites, Green Kitchen Stories. I veered from their Italian spices and went East, substituting freekeh (smoked green wheat, popular in Arab grain dishes) for bulgar and cumin for basil. The recipe seems like a lot of work, but I did it in stages so the final prep was quick. I made the stuffing and tomato sauce a week before and kept it in the freezer until I was ready to use it. I sliced and roasted the eggplant on Thursday night. On Friday, all I had to do was assemble and bake. The pictures certainly didn’t come out as nice as these, but it was still pretty. And it tasted delicious.

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IMG_2067Involtini di Melanzane … in the Middle East (adapted from Green Kitchen Stories)

  • 4 medium eggplants, thinly sliced (1 inch/2 cm)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Thinly slice the eggplant lengthwise and coat with a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the oven on 400 F until browned on the edges (be careful – these are very easy to burn and they will not roll nicely if they’re too crisp!). Remember that you will bake them again, so don’t worry about getting them a perfect golden brown.

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbs cumin seeds
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried chili
  • 2 tins canned tomatoes
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • a pinch of sea salt and black pepper

IMG_2008Heat the olive oil in a pan, add cumin seeds and stir until fragrant. Add onion, garlic and chili. Stir until onions are translucent and then add canned tomatoes, lemon, salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Stuffing

  • 1 1/2 cup of freekeh (precooked) – The original recipe calls for bulgar and notes that you can also use quinoa, cous cous or other grains
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/3 cup  pistachio nuts, finely chopped (save some for topping)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup goat feta cheese, crumbled (save some for topping)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 egg

Cook the freekeh according to the recipe on the box. Add remaining ingredients. Add the egg, use your hands to gently fold the ingredients together without mixing too much.

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Topping

  • 1/3 cup goat feta cheese, crumbled
  • a dash of olive oil
  • handful of fresh parsely, chopped
  • pistachio nuts, chopped or pulsed into a powder

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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush with oil. Preheat oven to 325 F. Lay the eggplant slices on the baking sheet and place two big spoonfuls of stuffing at the bottom of each. Roll the stuffing into the eggplant lengthwise away from you (this takes practice and patience!). Once they are all rolled and sitting next to each other, cover them with the tomato sauce. Bake for 30 minutes at 325 F. Remove from oven, sprinkle with goat cheese, and place back into oven for 12-15 minutes, until goat cheese is melted and browned. Remove from oven and let rest at least 15 minutes. Sprinkle with pistachio nuts, olive oil and chopped parsley before serving.

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I love that we coordinated some of our recipes to be the same in Birmingham and in Israel. Naomi made her famous carrot salad, which you enjoyed via Gail on the other side. I made my own version inspired by hers and one from 101cookbooks.com. The added chickpeas make it a bit hardier than Naomi’s just-carrot salad – it’s a perfect lunch on a busy school day.

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Chickpea and Carrot Salad

  • 1 tablespoon cumin power
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6-8 large carrots, shredded or sliced on a mandolin
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15- ounce can, drained and rinsed)
  • 2/3 cup chopped prunes, chopped apricots and/or raisins
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • A generous handful of candied pecans (you can make your own or purchase them), toasted almond slices, crushed walnuts and/or pumpkin seeds

 

Shred carrots into a large bowl, pour dressing over and let sit an hour or more to let flavors come together. Add toasted nuts before serving.

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◊ Wary But Ready

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Dear mom,

Tomorrow I leave home again. My direction is just as unclear as the last time I left (and the time before that)… the difference is that I’ve become more comfortable with not knowing things. This time, there’s less fear, less adrenaline, less newness attached to stuffing suitcases with this-and-that for life with clouded purpose in a foreign country. A sack of my favorite teas, a quick-dry towel, sneakers and good socks, a down pillow, four cameras (yes I need them all), ear plugs, chocolate chips for the plane, etc, etc… I know what I need.

From the front yard

From the front yard

Living with you and dad has been (uhh… how can a 25 year old with overbearing/hysterical parents word this kindly?)… motivating… but I will miss the small life I’ve rebuilt in Birmingham during these 3 months.  I’m already waxing nostalgic over my cooking-gig guided by “clients’” health needs, luxurious ingredients and big counter space along with all the other stuff: family and old friends, long runs through wooded trails, the first ever AL organic cotton, this company. Yes, pour-over coffee joints, Villager Yoga and hipster popsicles (requisite to any urban wannabe) are proof that Birmingham is rising.

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Thank you for the luxury to return home and recharge. Each time I leave home I feel sort of like I need to resume fight-mode… Tomorrow I’ll muster a new energy and the next day I’ll turn it up a notch to navigate a new place, new language, new people, new foods (!), new projects.  What am I getting into?

Tomorrow opens a new chapter. When I sound ambivalent about the direction of my life, others assure me that I’ll figure it out soon. I’m 99.5% sure that I won’t because what does that even mean?

I’m wary of veering from the path I’ve built to move to Jerusalem because why?  But I’m ready… at least for some good hummus.

xo,

Shaina

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Right: not edible
Left:  will make you see funny things

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best purchase of the summer: a shitake sprouting log

These recipes honor the luxury of home-life. I was never able to afford porcini or any other fancy mushrooms when I was out on my own (well… my priorities weren’t right) so I did some mega experimentation at home. I made two dishes with a variety of dried mushrooms (chanterelle, cremini, shitake…) – both vegan and both satisfying: Vegan Mushroom Risotto and Hearty Mushroom Farro. Porcini and chanterelle mushrooms were my fav with intensely earthy, deep meaty flavors. The farro was the best dish of the summer… hearty and toothsome (Arielle taught me that word, isn’t it good?). It’s even better topped with creamy cashew cheese, a rich vegan treat. A pairing of the two = the most luxurious meal ever.

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Mushroom Farro
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  • 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 6 cups salted water (or vegetable stock)
  • 1 1/2 cups farro
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 lb fresh portabello, shitake, cremini or baby bella mushrooms
  • Salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • good black pepper, freshly ground
  • Parsley, chopped

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Put mushrooms in water and bring to boil. As soon as water boils, lower heat to simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large skillet. Add the onions and cook until translucent about 2-4 minutes. Add the garlic, fresh mushrooms (not the porcinis), salt and thyme. Cooking (stir often) about 8-15 minutes, until mushrooms are tender and onions are brown.
On a separate skillet, heat a drop of olive oil. Cook farro in olive oil until fragrant (about 3 minutes) while stirring.
Remove porcini mushrooms from water with a strainer, rinse, chop, and add to mushroom and onion mix.

Add farro to mushroom broth (you should have about 5 cups) and bring to simmer for about 45 minutes or until tender. The grains should be chewy and splayed. If water remains, continue to cook until grain is splayed. When ready, combine mushroom/onion mixture with farro. Remove thyme sprigs and add plenty of fresh ground black pepper.  Garnish with parsley (thanks for the idea, mom) and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if you please. Stir and serve warm!

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Creamy Vegan Cashew Cheese

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  • 2 C raw (unsalted) cashews or cashew pieces (pieces are usually cheaper), soaked overnight, then drained
  • 1/3 C nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp good sea salt
  • spices (you can do ANYTHING! For the mushroom farro, I’d stick with black pepper, but I’ve used a variety of herbs to liven things up in the past. Last time I put in a spicy smoked flavoring… delish!)
  • 1/2 cup water… more as needed

To soak cashews, cover with water and leave for 6 hours or overnight. When ready, drain cashews from water and add cashews and other ingredients to food processor. Puree all ingredients until creamy. The consistency should be like peanut butter, but add water if you want it looser. Chill for four hours before serving. If you like a firmer cashew cheese, strain pureed mixture in a cheese cloth overnight. Discard extra liquid and serve cold.

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