♦ One Egg, One Basket

Dear Shaina,

My heart is always eased a little when I see that you have been with family…both our blood relatives as well as the family we have created over the years. Knowing that you seek out the blessings of family…where love and connections are the undercurrent of everything, where life’s milestones are celebrated and traditions are transcended and where food and kitchen secrets are shared…is a comfort to me. Most of all, I am comforted to see you safe and surrounded by love and friendship.

Never too old to learn how to do something new with a grape tomato!

Never too old to learn how to do something new with a grape tomato!

My comfort was short-lived when I heard about your day trip to Ramallah.  I am all for a girl’s day out at the spa…but Ramallah?! You tell me it’s safe.  Everyone else tells me, you are out of your mind!  I remind myself that you are responsible (most of the time), you are not really a wild risk taker (calculated risks only, I pray) and that you have traveled the world and survived (pooh, pooh, pooh!). I still get scared. I know that your life is beyond my control and I pray fervently, everyday, for your safety, your health, your well-being, your happiness…and a strong dose of mazel.  Prayer is a pretty flimsy substitute for control, but it’s all I have and I’m counting on it.  But just in case, would you mind just being a little more cautious with your life…for my sake (and your father’s)?! I am counting the days until you get home for Passover. I am only truly at ease when you are right under my nose.


I am working on planning our concurrent Birmingham/Israel Shabbat dinner….Birmingham parents with kids living in Israel sharing Shabbat here while their kids share Shabbat in Jerusalem. It’s a great idea…now let’s see if we can pull it off. You need to let me know what’s on your menu so I can introduce the parents to a taste of what their kids might have eaten at your house eight hours earlier.

Dad is on a ski trip with the boys and has chosen yoga over skiing as his sport of choice on this trip. Along with his drum sticks and practice pad, I am certain he will entertain himself and get an adequate workout. I feel like I am a yoga evangelist. I am glad to hear that you are now enjoying your new yoga class. Now if you can only learn to spare your poor feet a little…a ten and a half mile run…no wonder your feet hurt!

A whole lot of avoidance!

A whole lot of avoidance!

I have been working on taxes (my annual descent into receipt madness) and baking (my go-to avoidance activity) hamentaschen for Purim. I made over 250…half for the Chesed Committee at temple and the rest to enjoy and give away.  Dad’s favorite is cherry, even though I made some chocolate-peanut butter chip-caramel just for him. There will be a few waiting for you in the freezer to enjoy before we begin our Passover cook-a-thon.

Please take care of yourself…remember all my eggs (and I only have one) are in one basket…and you are the primary bearer and caretaker of that basket!



Bubbe’s Hamantaschen Revisited
Dairy or Pareve

Yield: about 40 to 60 depending on how large and thick you make them

Prep time: 2 -4 hours (includes chilling, rolling and baking)

Cooking time: 14-16 minutes per batch


  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter (1stick), shortening or pareve margarine
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 full cups unbleached all purpose flour plus more flour for kneading and rolling dough
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt


  • 3 cups of filling or 2 twelve-ounce cans of prepared filling or jam

Options: poppy seed, cherry, strawberry, chocolate chips, prune, raisin and nuts, almond filling or your favorite jam.

Make your own: combine fruit (prunes and raisins work well) with a little orange juice and sugar and cinnamon to taste and cook over low heat until thickened.  Nuts may be added.  Be creative!

Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Cream the sugar and butter in a large bowl. Add the vegetable oil and eggs and beat until blended. Add orange juice, zest and vanilla and mix together.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl and mix together.

Hamantaschen 030514

Mix dry ingredients into the large bowl with wet ingredients.  Knead dough into a ball. Divide into 4 balls of dough and wrap in clear plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Dough may be kept in the refrigerator for a week or may be frozen for up to a month for later use.

Preheat oven to 350°

Work with one ball of dough at a time, keeping remaining dough refrigerated. Roll out dough on floured surface to ⅛ inch thickness.  Cut in 2 ½  to 3 ½ inch circles (the metal lid band from a wide-mouth canning jar or the jar itself make the perfect size cookie cutters). Put a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle. Pinch the sides and top together to make a triangle shape. You can use a smaller glass or circle cookie cutter and less filling for smaller hamantaschen.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 14 to 16 minutes until edges are lightly browned.


Chinese Brisket Chili

I am not really a meat chili person, but this was so intriguing that I had to try it and it was delicious! Not to mention that it turned out to be the perfect thing for those weird cold days we had this winter.  You will probably never make this dish, but some of your meat eating friends might want the recipe anyway.  This dish made me fantasize about having a chili party next winter…White Chili made with chicken, Chinese Chili made with brisket and our family classic…Vegetarian Chili made with tofu.  It’s a thought….

This recipe is adapted from one Dad found in the newspaper…of course I had to add a few of my own touches. It makes enough to feed a crowd!


  • 3 pounds lean brisket
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce, more to taste
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 – 3 large onions, chopped
  • 12 – 16 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 – 4 carrots chopped or sliced
  • 2 green or red peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1 habanero or other hot fresh chile (to taste), seeded and chopped
  • 6-8 cloves fresh garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1 3” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons five-spice powder
  • 16 ounces of beer
  • 2 cans or boxes of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar

Chopped cilantro for garnish

Start with a 8-10 quart dutch oven or soup pot.  Trim the fat off the brisket reserving a small piece (about 2 tablespoons) of fat. Throw any remaining fat away. Lightly brown the reserved fat on medium-high heat in the dutch oven to slick the bottom (this piece of fat can be discarded after being browned). Cut the trimmed brisket into 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch cubes. Add the chunks of brisket to the pot and cook until the meat loses its redness.  Transfer the seared meat and juices to a bowl and toss with soy sauce and hoisin sauce and let stand while preparing the vegetables.


Reduce heat to low and add onions and mushrooms to the Dutch oven.  Sauté until soft.  Add carrots and peppers and continue cooking.  Garlic, ginger and hot peppers can be finely chopped together in a food processor and added to the vegetables. Add spices and beer and bring to a simmer.  Add tomatoes.  Add meat with marinade and juices. Cover and simmer until meat is tender and flavors are well blended. This could take 3 hours and tastes even better the next day.

Stir in vinegar and adjust seasonings with soy sauce and salt.

Garnish with cilantro and serve with black beans and brown basmati rice.

This dish gets better the longer it cooks and can be made a few days ahead of time.  It also freezes well.

♦ Puzzles

Dear Shaina,

One of my friends read your letter and told me it made her sad. Dad acknowledged the Shealy thread. I continue to be perplexed at how you evolved into adopting the Schuster avoidance method of perpetual motion…and I just wanted to fix it…right away.

None of us come with all the puzzle pieces put together.  Maybe it’s enough to know that there are pieces missing and that it’s our job to look for them and try them on…like a jig-saw puzzle. I was 36 when you were born…and Dad was 45.  The seeds we planted in our twenties and thirties and forties gave no clue of what was to come. The puzzle pieces only made sense in retrospect.

At 62 and 70, our conjoined jigsaw puzzles are filling up nicely. The depth and expansiveness of our lives would not be the same without you. The pieces that you have added to the tapestry of our lives go far beyond rain forests in Bolivia and salt deserts in India. You pushed the boundaries of our capacity to love in a way that neither of us thought possible. You stretched the edges of our individual puzzles into new-found spaces filled with curiosity and color and joy. That doesn’t mean that we have no empty holes, no spaces yet to be filled, no angst still to be felt, even at our age.  I am still trying to find the balance between action and stillness, acceptance and striving.

I know how hard it is to be 25…all the pieces dumped out in a random pile on the floor with just barely an outline formed by the edge pieces…a few double and triple rows and some random blobs of color and texture where the pieces all happened to find each other…and all that empty space…anxiously waiting to be filled…


Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees… Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to step back and look at all the pieces that have been filled in…to see beyond the pieces…to marvel at the big picture and appreciate the themes and beauty that have already begun to take shape. And then to examine the empty spaces and begin again. This is as much a reminder for me as it is for you.

I wish, for you, that there was an easy answer, a straight line, a clear vision.  I know there is not…

I do know that I trust your ability to know when the puzzle pieces truly fit…and when they don’t.  The right pieces are there and you will persist in finding them, trying them on, choosing the right fit and discarding the rest.  Awareness and patience…and trust in yourself…you have the rest of your life.

We are on our way to South Carolina.  Soup, turkey and cheesecakes in hand. It’s part of our DNA. We cook and feed and nurture. It’s the antidote for the life search…grounding and connecting us to those people and places most important to us. And it keeps our hands and minds occupied, distracted and temporarily oblivious.

Poker in SC i The next generation!

Poker in SC … The next generation!

I love you and miss you.

Love, Mom



Shirly’s Corn Pudding

I have been cooking like crazy lately.  This recipe that our Israeli cousin Shirly made for our family reunion was another favorite of mine. It was perfect for a dairy meal I made for a Meet ’n Greet with the new Rabbi and his wife and some friends.  It’s really easy to make and goes well with salads and soups for a light dinner. I also varied it by substituting other veggies for the corn. It is like a lighter version of a crustless quiche. I even like the leftovers for breakfast.


  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels , thawed and drained (1 Package)*
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup aged cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 3 eggs
  • One cup plain regular or Greek yogurt (I used no fat Greek)
  • 1 tablespoon onion soup mix (other spices of your choice can be substituted)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup grated cheese for topping
  • Butter, margarine or cooking spray for greasing the pan

* Sauteed mushrooms and onions or chopped drained spinach and onions can be substituted for the corn to vary this recipe. Jarlsburg or other cheeses of you choice can be substituted. I added a little freshly ground nutmeg, salt and pepper and left off the onion soup.

Preheat oven to 350°

In a large bowl place the corn, cottage cheese, cheese, cornmeal, eggs, yogurt and soup mix and any additional seasonings to taste.
Mix into a smooth mixture .
Pour mixture into preheated and greased loaf pan.
Top with remaining grated cheese and bake about 50 minutes or until cheese melts and is bubbling and top is lightly browned


Vegetarian Chili Casserole (for a crowd…and then some)


No matter how I start out, this chili always ends up making enough for a huge crowd with leftovers to be shared with friends or frozen for later use.  This combination of vegetables reflects what I had in my refrigerator plus a few things I picked up at the grocery store.  The recipe and quantities are very flexible and accommodating to individual tastes and desires, so don’t feel like you have to follow this recipe precisely.  The secret is in the spicing.  Taste frequently and adjust the seasonings to suit  your tastes.  It is best if it is cooked at least one day before you plan on serving it to give the flavors a chance to blend together. Get out your biggest soup pot (6-8 quarts) and start creating!

Yield: 6 – 8 quarts

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2- 3 hours to be done
45 minutes to reheat as a casserole

  • IMG_28762 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 package tofu ground “beef”, regular or taco flavored
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, cut up
  • 1-2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 fresh peppers, green, red, yellow or orange, cut up
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 5-6 cans (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes
  • 4 zucchinis, cut up
  • 4 yellow crookneck squash, cut up
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 pound baby portabello mushrooms, cut up (optional)
  • 2 cans black beans, drained (or you can cook your own dried beans, any kind you like)
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, drained
  • Cumin, Chili powder, garlic, coriander and salt to taste ( a good taco or chili seasoning mix can be used)
  • Aged Cheddar Cheese for topping (optional)

Cut up all vegetables in small or bite sized chunks.
Heat oil in a large 6-8 quart soup pot. Sauté tofu, onions, carrots, celery, peppers and garlic in olive oil.
Add canned diced tomatoes and remaining vegetables and beans and cook at medium heat until thoroughly heated.  Add spices to taste. Lower the heat and cook until liquids are reduced and mixture is thickened. This could take a couple hours.  Taste and adjust seasoning frequently.


This chili can be eaten as a thick soup or placed in a casserole and topped with cheese and rebaked in the oven at 350° for about 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.


Serve with fresh cornbread and your favorite green salad and you have a hearty winter meal.