◊ One hundred percent

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Dear mom,

You abandon the blog for over a month. You call your Mahjong game an obligation. You amount your bathroom renovation to chaos.

Please.

It’s not hard to send me a recipe. Playing games with your friends isn’t a thing. Having a messy bedroom and beautiful bath does not = disaster. Why are these things consuming you?

I’m annoyed because what do you do?

(Laundry isn’t a thing.)

I’m annoyed because I get it and it worries me.

I think I was in 6th grade when I decided that I wanted Puma sneakers. We took a trip to New York to visit family, and you and I spent the first three days fiending for shoes. We mapped out every store in the city that carried Pumas and walked all of Manhattan. At the end of the three days, we found THE Puma factory store, which housed every model in every color. I cried there. The search commenced with a dark-grey suede pair of shoes with red stripes (not cute). They are still sitting in my closet… I maybe wore them twice.

It’s a good thing dad is tolerant of high levels of crazy.

You give 100% every time. It’s a trait that I admire, and a trait that, in my own life, I try to keep in check. It’s too easy to get sucked in – to be totally consumed — by the small things.

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classic family portrait

Pumas in New York, beads in Vancouver, hair-wraps in New Orleans, sweatshirts in San Fransisco, antiques in DC, textiles in India, hermit crabs at the beach. Our family vacations were driven by searches for things that we couldn’t find in Birmingham. My memories make me nervous that we … I… do not know how to enjoy time without something driving me towards an end goal (which has usually amounted to nothing).

Our search for Pumas was torture, but it was fun. The shoes were a catalyst of exploration and togetherness. We walked all of Manhattan and saw so many new things … together.

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Now that you’re retired, your vacation is permanent. Laundry is a thing; Majong is a thing; bathroom renovations are a thing. I ask for help making desserts for Cari’s wedding and you bake, decorate, wrap and deliver 100 individual cakes. It doesn’t surprise me. Even Bubbe, without child-rearing obligations or a proper job, found reasons to wake up at 4 AM. She had to bake hundreds of knishes for … you know …  people.

You enter the most confusing stage of motherhood and ask questions that, in my opinion, are not worth thinking about. All I can say is that the situation is not so confusing. You have time to dwell, so you dwell. How much space defines a close mother-daughter relationship? Ain’t no one got time to decipher that. Except for you.

xo,

Shaina

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I just moved to a house closer to campus. In shifting pantries, I found one milllllion baggies of different seeds and nuts. Instead of re-organizing all the bits and pieces in my new house, I dumped them all into these biscotti and started fresh.

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Honey Orange Whole Wheat Biscotti with Dates and Almonds/Pumpkin seeds/Pistachios

Prep time: 1.5 hours

Makes 3 dozen cookies

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  • 3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Zest of two full oranges
  • juice of one orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c dates, finely chopped
  • 1/3 c slivered almonds
  • 1/2 c pumpkin seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 c shelled, raw (unsalted) pistachios (optional)

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Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.  In a large bowl beat the honey, eggs, oil, zest, orange juice and vanilla until combined. In batches add the dry ingredients until the mixture forms a dough. Fold in the nuts (you do not have to use every variety of nut listed here – I suggest choosing one). Knead several times and then shape into a log (about a foot long, 3-4 in wide). Put log onto baking sheet and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until slightly brown and dry. Remove and allow to cool.

 

Once dough is cool, cut into 1/2 inch diagonal slices with a serrated knife (saw rather than chop – make sure not to push too hard). Arrange pieces on s baking sheet so they are facing up. Bake for ten minutes (shorter or longer depending on thickness of cookie) and flip. Bake for another ten minutes until hard and lightly browned. 

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Buckwheat and Rye Biscotti with Fig, Walnuts and Dark Chocolate Chunks

Prep time: 1.5 hours

makes 3 dozen cookies

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  • 1 c  dark rye flour
  • 2 c buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1/2 c dired figs, finely chopped (8-10 figs)
  • 1/3 cup walnut pieces (small!)
  • 1/3 c good dark chocolate chunks/chips
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt.  In a large bowl beat the sugar, eggs and oil until combined. In batches add the dry ingredients until the mixture forms a dough. Fold in the nuts, figs and chocolate. Knead several times and then shape into a log (about a foot long, 3-4 in wide). Put log onto baking sheet and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until slightly brown and dry. Remove and allow to cool.

Once dough is cool, cut into 1/2 inch diagonal slices with a serrated knife (saw rather than chop – make sure not to push too hard). Arrange pieces on s baking sheet so they are facing up. Bake for ten minutes (shorter or longer depending on thickness of cookie) and flip. Bake for another ten minutes until hard and lightly browned. 

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◊ Sweetness

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Dear mom,

Our blog is not a space for you to publicly guilt me into calling you. But good job… it worked. Sounds like you had a fantastic time at Sundance. I wish I could have been there! I had a great vacation too. Liz, her friends from Bologna and I roamed the streets of Lisbon in search of pastries and pretty views for a week. It hit the spot.

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Seeing your picture of dad building a fire made me pine for home. I just finished my first semester of grad school (what) and up until now I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even had a chance to think about how far I am from home. Now that I have some space to breathe and reflect, I’m surprised by the reality of February… that I’ve been here for over 5 months; that by some miracle of God I’ve advanced to intermediate Arabic; that I’ve settled into a new apartment in the center of Jerusalem; that I haven’t even scratched the surface of my year-in-Jerusalem to-do list. My calendar is already filling up for the next few weeks of my “break.”

Things are good here but I miss home. Living abroad has its way of sucking time away into something unrecognizable. Or is that just part of getting older? The seasons are different here and the lack of time-markers I’m used to – the smell of our fire-place, christmas tunes, chalky heart-shaped candies – draws the passage of time into something like a vortex. I can’t explain.

So I’m making a special effort to mark the end of my first semester with sweetness. My time in Portugal was a great start – a true vacation full of indulgence and relaxation. Since I’ve returned, I’ve celebrated my new apartment (and its shiny oven!) and honored the sweets of Lisbon by baking. I forgot how fun it is to mix ingredients in a bowl and watch them transform under dry heat.

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In Lisbon, bakery windows lined with eggy, orange flavored pastries decorate every street corner. Someone I met told me that Portuguese pastries, rich and yellowed with egg yolks, are a result of the church’s historical dominance.  Women in the church brightened white linens with egg whites. The remaining abundance of yolks went into pastries and thus traditional Portuguese cakes were born. The most famous is Pasteis de Nata, an eggy, caramelized custard cupped in flaky dough. The girls and I travelled to a Belem, a town 20 minutes from the heart of Lisbon just to visit a bakery known for their Nata and it was well worth it. We devoured the Pasteis de Nata straight out of the oven, warm and crisp, topped with cinnamon.

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About to devour Pasteis de Nata in Belem

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The recipe below, Crispy Oat, Orange and Poppy Cookies is a tribute to the one-million sweets I ate in Portugal. Inspired by Portugal’s orange flavored cakes and endless supply of pastries, these cookies are sweetened with honey and fresh orange juice, full of hearty seeds and grains, wheat-free and almost vegan …  a healthy sweetness.

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Hope Birmingham has recovered from its snow trauma!

xo

Shaina

Crispy Oat, Orange and Poppy Cookies

Makes 10 – 12 cookies

Prep time: 20 minutes

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  • IMG_12502 tbs spelt flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 4 tbs poppy seeds
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dates (finely chopped)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3 heaping tbs orange zest (from two oranges)
  • juice of one medium orange
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cup uncooked thick rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, seeds, dates, vanilla, honey, orange juice + zest, cinamon, egg and chopped dates in bowl.

All my oranges are zested out

All my oranges are zested out

Melt the coconut oil in a separate bowl or in a saucepan. Stir in the oats until coated. Stir oat mixture into bowl of remaining ingredients  until combined. Then, drop one tablespoon of batter onto the cookie sheets for each cookie. Bake until golden, about 10-15 minutes. Remove and transfer onto a rack for cooling. The cookies should be crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle. Perfection. Eat within 3 hours of baking for the ultimate crunch and chew experience.

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Also …

When I travel, I always like to learn a recipe or two that reflect the local flavor. In Lisbon, one of the girls I was traveling with befriended a local who generously invited us to his apartment to cook a traditional Portuguese dinner. It was fun and educational, but Portuguese food is not really my thing. I’ll include the recipe below, but only with a disclaimer that it’s not something I would normally eat and probably not something I will make again.

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Portuguese Fish Stew

  • IMG_35491/3 c olive oil
  • 5 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 medium red peppers, chopped
  • dash of chili flakes or cayenne
  • 1/2 tsb pimiento (substitute paprika) powder
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 15 mussels, rinsed
  • 2 pounds fish filet cut into 1 inch chunks (we used cod)
  • 15 shrimp, peeled
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1⁄2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • fresh black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat and cook tomatoes, garlic, onions and spices until fragrant. Add fish, seafood, salt, rice, wine and water. Bring to boil and cover pot. Let simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until fish is cooked. Make sure to not over cook – rice should be al dente. Garnish with plenty of chopped cilantro, lemon juice and black pepper. Serve immediately…. with lots of wine.

A few images from Lisbon:

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If New Orleans and San Francisco had a child (or a parent?), it would be Lisbon.

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If I was dependent only on my sense of sight, I would be tricked by the colorful houses, sea-side geography, steep hills and small alleys into thinking that I was in San Fran. But the smells and sounds proved otherwise. The air, heavy with the scents of fish, after parties and mold reminded me of New Orleans. And the buildings, romantically dilapidated and covered in graffiti were also NOLA-esque.

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Most buildings in Lisbon are built from beautifully hand-painted tiles.


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Eating chocolate cake with the girls

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