♦ your life…your job

Dear Shaina,
Interesting titles from your last two posts…“your problem”, “your fault”. Have you given up on the “I” statement thing already? Just trying to keep up.

Actually, I thought I better respond quickly (not my usual pattern) just to clarify and allay some of the tension out there (not ours…everyone else’s). Interestingly, I have received almost no comments from anyone on your last post, not even Dad, other than he read it. One comment was just, “Kids!” As if to say, ‘you do your best and this is what you get!’ I suspect people think that we’re having a big fight …or something.

I don’t think they got it. Or maybe I didn’t. I just smiled when I read your letter. I do appreciate your sense of humor! You are way ahead of schedule in terms of examining yourself, realizing that you are fucked up, that much of it is inherited from your loving and overly-engaged family and…that it’s no big deal! We all have issues!. Accepting them, even embracing them, goes a long way toward minimizing the impact they have on our lives.

That, my dear, is the whole point. We can’t change who we are or the things that made us who we are. Learning to love our imperfections, not being embarrassed by our flaws, not trying to hide the blemishes…produces the change/growth we are looking for. I’m not saying it’s easy to embrace our non-idealized selves. Acceptance is hard and becoming your best self is a whole other line of work. I think you totally get it and I am very proud of how you own your life! It took me a much longer time to get to that place. Of course, I didn’t have a fellowship where they pay you to naval gaze.

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Dad and I are continuing to coast on the wave of retirement. No point in naval gazing at this stage in life. Once you give up on bettering yourself, all kinds of opportunities emerge. Dad and Robert performed their debut “coffee house” concert at a friend’s home with ten people in attendance. They were well received and hope to do a New Year’s Eve encore at our house.

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I decided that Shavasana is my favorite yoga pose, I only cook when I feel like it and I am planning a martini mahjong marathon for the day after Christmas. We are both hooked on Siamese Mahjong (a way to play mahjong with just two people). An arrangement of tiles and racks has set up semi permanent residence on our kitchen table. We’ve come a long way!

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I do hope you are having fun, wherever you are at the moment. Keep crying (it cleans out the eyes so you can see more clearly), keep laughing, keep struggling with it all…that’s your job right now…and you’re darn good at it!

Love, Mom
xxoxoxxoxoxo
I’m not doing much formal cooking these days, but I still enjoy puttering in the kitchen. I made a GF appetizer for the dinner/coffee house concert where Dad and Robert performed. I saw this beautiful ahi tuna and was inspired. I’ve done this before, but am never quite sure how it will turn out. I put together a slightly different marinade this time and there were no complaints. The recipe is easy, can be made Gluten Free and looks impressive even though it only takes about 15-20 minutes of actual labor. Aside from the marinating time, the slicing is the longest part.

SEARED TUNA WITH GLUTEN FREE MARINADE
Serves 10-12 for appetizers

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  • ~ 1 1/2 pounds fresh ahi grade tuna ~2” thick
  • 1/2 cup GF Tamari Sauceimg_9493
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1-2tsp Sriracha sauce
  • Juice from 1/2 fresh orange
  • ~1 inch of fresh ginger peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 stalks green onions
  • 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds,
  • wasabi
  • pickled ginger
  • rice crackers

Cut tuna in blocks that are about 5” x 3” x 2”thick
Mix the next 8 ingredients together in a flat bottomed glass container large enough to hold the tuna.
Slice the green onions up into small pieces. Add the white and lightly green parts of the onion to the marinade mix. Set aside the green pieces for garnish.

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Lightly toast the sesame seeds by placing in a dry frying pan and heating over a low heat until lightly toasted, shaking the pan frequently and watching very closely to not burn the seeds. Set aside to cool.

Place the tuna in the marinade and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, turning every 30 minutes.

Heat grill to highest temperature. Use the sear setting if you have one.

Grill tuna 1-2 minutes on all sides or until it is done to your liking. 1-2 minutes will result in very rare tuna.

Slice tuna in 1/4″ thick slices and orange on platter.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and remaining green onion.

Serve with wasabi, GF Tamari Sauce, pickled ginger and rice crackers

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♦ The Empty Nest…Again

Dear Shaina,

We behaved as if the summer would go on forever. A few days at the beach, a brief girls trip, but mostly day-to-day…going to meetings, eating, chopping, running, spinning, for you; shopping for groceries, walking, yoga stretching, washing sweaty clothes, preparing dinner, cleaning the kitchen, for me…the ordinary, the mundane…the sharing of meals and chit chat to the background clutter of podcasts and political reality TV. I almost got used to it.

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As the large and small suitcases appeared on your bedroom floor I started feeling sad. And I didn’t understand it. It’s not like you haven’t done this before…many times before. This time felt different to me. I felt a way overdue (10-years) post traumatic empty-nest-syndrome coming on. No more coming home for vacations from school. No more school. No more home-base for worldly adventures. No more living at home until the next take-off to wherever. The next step, no matter how impermanent or worldly it may be, will likely not involve setting up shop in the bedroom of your childhood with glow-in-the-dark stars tenaciously stuck to the ceiling. It will not include bedtime rituals revisited nightly where, if I am lucky, I can get a glimpse into the truth of my child’s being. It will, at most, serve as a stopover on your next leap into the world of adulthood.

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So, I was sad…and a little reluctant…and anxious. I made reservations for Dad and me to fly to NJ so we didn’t have to say goodbye two weeks before you actually left the country. We packed and weighed and repacked your suitcases and said our goodbyes at the Newark airport, another déjà vu. We went back to Larry and Ruth’s and distracted ourselves with mahjong. And we got on a plane the next day to begin our own adventure and bypass the empty-nest thing altogether.

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Receiving your first call and hearing your smile put us at ease. I forget how adaptive you are, how well you know what you need and how persistent you are in going after exactly that. I remind myself that you always manage to be exactly where you need to be, even when you’re not quite sure where that is.

 

Although, I’m not sure how you will survive without your vita-mix to fulfill your food-in-jar obsession, I am glad that, at least, you have a SCOBY.

So, Dad and I are here, forging out a slightly different routine than our usual at-home one. We eat a late healthy breakfast (Shaina style, yogurt, fruit, oatmeal), walk 4-6 miles a day doing errands or real hikes, visit grocery stores and mostly hang out in the neighborhood.

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We went to a concert in an old school theater, Shakespeare in the Park, 2 different street fairs (on the same day), an author event at the local bookstore, minyan at one temple and Shabbat services at another and I got a library card. Dad went to his first conversational Spanish class and scheduled a drum lesson for later in the week.

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Every morning last week we were awoken to the sounds of a crane demolishing the building across the street (a long overdue project) and we became immersed in the daily drama of deconstruction.

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We have a favorite Thai restaurant. I buy fresh cut flowers weekly. I do laundry. We clean. We are acting like we live here. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. I feel very retired and indulged. All good.

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I am cooking my first real dinner tonight. I bought fresh wild Alaskan halibut, dandelion greens for a salad that was being sampled at the grocery store and golden beets and sweet potatoes. It feels like a very indulgent dinner. Making fish reminds me of you and all the fish dinners I made this summer to ensure you got your protein fix. In fact, buying fresh fish at the Fishmarket may become my newest trigger for remembering this past summer when we all pretended that you lived at home.

Love,
Mom
xoxooxoxoxoxoxo

Dandelion and Arugula Salad with Tiger Figs and Nectarines
This salad complements the fish well with its grassy flavors and lemony dressing. The fruits added a sweet surprise just when you thought you couldn’t handle one more tart bite. 

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  • 1 bunch dandelion greens
  • Juice of one lemon
  • A handful or two of arugula
  • 1 nectarine, cut in wedges
  • 3 tiger figs, cut in slices
  • 1/4 cup cured black olives
  • Finely sliced purple onion to taste

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon spicy mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Wash and dry dandelion greens and remove tough red stems. Cut up leaves and toss in a bowl with lemon juice. Allow greens to chill in the lemon juice for about 30 minutes, while preparing the dressing and the rest of the ingredients.

Prepare remaining salad ingredients.

Whisk mustard and olive oil.

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Add remaining ingredients to dandelion greens. Add dressing and toss thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

Halibut with Lemon Caper Sauce
(For Two)

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This is a relatively easy dish to make and the ingredient amounts are forgiving.  Taste often and listen to your instincts. You can never have too much garlic or shallots! I added roasted golden beets and a baked sweet potato to round out a very satisfying meal…with wine, of course!

  • About 3/4 lb of fresh wild Alaskan HalibutIMG_8764.jpg
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter
  • Fresh garlic, chopped or thinly sliced

Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick or well seasoned frying pan and add chopped garlic.
Cook over medium heat until butter is lightly browned and garlic is aromatic.
Add seasoned fish and cook on both sides for about four minutes on each side or until fish is cooked through and flaky, but not dry.
Set aside on a heated plate and cover with foil.

Lemon Caper Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
  • 1 shallot thinly sliced or chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped or sliced
  • Juice of one lemon with zest
  • 1/3-1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 2 green onions or chives cut up
  • 1/4 cup cut up fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Add additional butter and oil to fish frying pan and sauté garlic and shallots until fragrant. Add wine and lemon juice and increase heat to medium high. Boil until sauce thickens slightly. Stir in parsley, capers and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.

Pour warm sauce over fish and serve immediately.

Garnish with parsley and cured black olives.

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Bon Apetit!

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◊ A New Year


Dear mom,

Since my last letter about wanting to switch things up and your go-ahead to do so, I spent some time wracking my brain about what that can look like. What parts of my communication with you do I want to leave behind and what do I want more of?

More self-assuredness, less complaining. I’m doing X. Rather than I think I’m doing X, but it might be a bad idea and I have no idea if it will work out. More curiosity and less dismissiveness. Like, I should actually try your recipes! More gratitude, less worry. Even if I fail my Arabic midterm, I’ve learned a lot.

It’s a nice meditation for this time of year – the reflection period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that encourages us to think about these things.

Here’s my first take:

I feel excited about school projects. I’m happily participating in the cleanse. My house threw a big party this weekend and no one called the cops or threw up on the floor. How are you doing? It sounds like you’re having fun in Portland – visiting your favorite book stores, cafes and happy hours.

The cleanse has been great for me this year. It always pushes me to be more creative with food. Now that we’ve incorporated a $$ challenge – to spend no more than $4.10, the national average food stamp benefit on food for each of the ten days of the cleanse – there’s an extra push. I’m cooking and thinking more.

Last Monday after Rosh Hashana services, I made a beeline for the grocery store. I had fun in there at first – hunting for sales, picking the least-bruised/mushy produce from the 99 cent bin in the back of the store, grabbing just a teeny bit of arugula instead of a huge bagful. I miraculously kept the bill under $30. But by the end I was tired. Out of all the food I bought, I didn’t even have a snack to munch on during my walk home.

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It took a lot of time. I spent almost 45 minutes in the grocery store! It was fun … but what if I had a job? The 99 cent bin at Berkeley Bowl was swarming with customers at only 2pm. If I had a job and couldn’t get to the store til 5 or 6, I wonder if there’d still be good food.

I concentrated really hard in the checkout process. I selected yogurt I thought was on sale, but it rung up as $7.50 (!!). I asked about the sale, and the guy said that the sale was on the regular yogurt, not the organic. So I put it back.

Once I got back to the house with bags and bags of “imperfect” 99 cent produce, I had to prep it right away. I was on my feet for almost three hours dissecting brown spots out of apples, scrubbing dirty potatoes, carving into squash. It was therapeutic – I listened to my favorite podcast and enjoyed washing, chopping and putting things into tupperwear. But I can’t imagine doing the same job with hungry kids and a long list of other priorities tugging at my sleeves.

Five days later, I’m sick of eating sweet potatoes, the thought of brussel sprouts makes me nauseous and I can’t do more lentils. The homemade soy milk endeavor was not worth it.

I’m sending you cleanse-friendly recipes with their cost breakdowns. The hardest part of this whole thing is the math.

Can’t wait to hear more about your Portland adventures and to see you in a week.

xo,

Shaina

Ps. To learn more about the cleanse, check out our site – 10yamimclean. We’re doing a big fundraiser for global food justice via AJWS. AJWS will match all donations made before Oct 2!

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Zucchini Noodles with Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Serves 5 – 7

Cost per serving: $1.55

Gluten free, vegan, tree nut free, grain free, paleo friendly

Sauce:

  • 1 jar roasted red peppers $2.85
  • 3 cloves garlic (no kissing tonight!) $0.20
  • 1 tbs flax meal (leftover from summer subletter)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin seeds $4.35
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper to taste
Noodles:
  • 4-5 long green zucchini, zoodled, peeled or vegettied *see below (free from garden)
  • 1 tsp olive oil $0.17
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped $0.20

Total cost: $7.77

Per serving: $1.55

Sauce:

Combine all ingredients in food processors and puree until smooth. Keep refrigerated.

Noodles:

With “vegetti” (my fav new kitchen tool), peeler or mandolin, shave zucchini into strips aka noodles – #zoodles.

Heat pan in olive oil and add chopped onions. Cook on medium heat for about 5-7 minutes til transluscent. Add zoodles and cook for 7 – 10 minutes til soft (but not mush!).

Top with creamy sauce and garnish with pumpkin seeds.

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Sweet and Salty Peanut Butter Jelly Bars

Makes 30-35 squares, about 15 servings

cost per serving: $0.61

Gluten free, vegan, tree nut free

I brought these to my Creative Non Fiction class and they went over well. I like bringing snacks to class/everywhere. I like to share. But it’s hard to budget snacks for the people when I’m struggling to budget snacks for myself. I figured that if I used basic ingredients (sorry friends, no almond-cocoa-date truffles this week), I could keep things relatively affordable. I feel very lucky that this is something I don’t have to worry about (too much) on the reg. What a gift!

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  • 2 cups puffed rice $1.5
  • 1/3 cup flax seeds((leftover from summer subletter)
  • 1/2 cup oat bran  $0.27
  • 1 cup oat meal $0.35
  • 3/4 cup unsweeteened coconut shreds $0.75
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins or other chopped fruit $1.15
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened peanut butter (leftover from summer subletter)
  • 2.5 cup pitted prunes $3.75
  • 1/2 cup flax meal (leftover from summer subletter)
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk $0.75
  • 1tbs cinnamon powder
  • juice of one lemon (from tree)
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • 1 tbs coconut oil $0.20
  • dash of salt

(Added$0.40 for spices already in the house)

TOTAL cost: $9.12

cost per serving: $0.61

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Need to poop? Eat this.

Put peanut butter, prunes, dates, flax, cinnamon, lemon juice and vanilla into food processor. Blend until a sticky paste forms.

While the food processor is going at it, reserve 1/4 cup of coconut shreds and mix dry ingredients in your largest mixing bowl.

Heat oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix coconut oil with salt remaining shredded coconut and line parchment paper with oil mixture.

With a large spatula, your hands or both, work dry ingredients into wet ones. You may need to add a bit of hot water to the fruit paste to loosen it up. Do this with caution.

Once combined, press mixture onto parchment paper so that it’s evenly distrubuted about 1 1/2 inch thick across the baking sheet. Place in oven for ten minutes, just to crisp the edges. Remove and allow to cool before scoring.

Cut bars into small squares and keep remaining crumbled in a ziplock for yogurt toppings. Keep bars in airtight container in the fridge.

♦ I Worry

Dear Shaina,

I don’t even know where to begin…When you watch your child transform into the adult that they were always meant to be, it is awe-inspiring, humbling and terrifying all at once.

I started writing this weeks ago…after you told me you had been to Gaza and back…you hadn’t told me before you went to prevent me from worrying.

Dad and I met you en route to a scuba diving adventure the two of you had planned. Gaza barely registered a blip on my worry radar in the shadow of my scuba diving dread.

You survived both…a momentary comfort blunted by the understanding that I have no control over the ever-present lurking dangers in the world that you may encounter by chance or intention. Your beliefs, decisions and actions are beyond the purview of me or anyone else.

How did this happen; that you should own your life so completely, that you could transform your fearfulness into fearlessness, that you are able to trust and challenge your own voice?

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I guess there were clues all along the way. Before you were born I, with the naiveté of a first time mother-to-be, eagerly awaited the arrival of my “mini-me” daughter.

The first time I laid my eyes on you, you looked directly back into my eyes. I saw your father’s penetrating, but self-contained gaze and I knew in my gut you were not a “mini-me”.

You were a quiet and calm baby…some might say passive. I could put you on the carpet in the living room and you would amuse yourself by staring at the beams on the ceiling 20 feet above. You cried rarely, but let me know clearly if some need was not being met.

In preschool, you were shy, but attentive. Your cubby was always next to the most out-of-control child in the class…maybe because you had a calming  effect…maybe because you were tolerant…maybe because you never got caught up in the fracas.

A teacher gave all the children the same colored cut-out pieces of paper and instructed them to paste them onto their sheet of paper to create the shape of the flower she displayed. You placed your colored pieces of paper onto your sheet creating a flower design of your own making. Some of the other children liked your variations and tried their own. You led without intention or demand.

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At age 5, I enrolled you in soccer. You hated it. I made you go twice. You sat down in the middle of the field during a game. I took you home and we never went back. I signed you up for swimming and you swam almost everyday. You refused to participate in swim meets. I let you skip them.

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In your own unassuming way, you continued to assert yourself. I maintained the illusion that I was in charge, but I knew the truth early on. I learned to respect your needs, to trust your instincts and to understand that you knew better than I did what was best for you.

Bubbe used to say, “When you have little children, you have little worries. When you have big children, you have big worries.” So I’m a big worrier…a proud worrier. You are an amazing kid who is worth all the worry I withstand on your behalf. I may not own your life, but that doesn’t stop me from petitioning the universe daily…may you be safe and healthy and happy… and may the harshness you encounter on your life’s journey be minimal.

India Allen All 3 09 695 (1)Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxooxoxoo

Green Beans with Tomatoes and Chick Peas

There is no end to the excess of summertime garden veggies. This recipe accomplishes the goal of using up two surplus veggies (plus fresh basil which you can never have an excess of) in one easy-to-prepare dish. It can be served as a vegetarian meal over pasta or rice or as a side dish with any meal.  It can be prepared ahead of time, made in large quantities and served hot or at room temperature.  All measurements are flexible and subject to individual taste.

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  • 1 large onion, cut in thin wedges
  • Olive oil as needed
  • 5 garlic gloves (or to taste), coarsely minced
  • Green Beans – about a pound or as many as you have of any variety, ends cut off and strings removed
  • Tomatoes – about a pound or more of fresh tomatoes cut up or a couple boxes of processed chopped tomatoes
  • Fresh basil – a couple of handfuls chopped or a couple teaspoons of dried basil
  • 1 can of Chick peas
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Calmata olives (optional

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Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet and add sliced onions.  Sauté until edges are lightly browned. Add minced garlic and continue sautéing for a few minutes.

Add green beans to onions and continue sautéing until green beans, onions and garlic are slightly browned and mixed together. Cover the skillet and continue cooking over medium heat until the beans are almost done.

Add the chopped tomatoes and half of the fresh basil or dried basil to the beans and continue cooking. I use about equal parts of tomatoes and green beans. If I want a more tomato based saucy dish, I add more tomatoes.

Continue cooking until liquid from tomatoes is reduced and thoroughly blended with the beans.

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Add the chick peas, salt and pepper and more basil and continue to cook until all flavors are blended together. Adjust seasonings to taste.  If desired, add calamata olives.

Garnish with fresh basil.

This dish gets better everytime you reheat it so make enough to have leftovers and don’t be afraid to add more tomatoes and basil.

◊ Halfway Where

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Dear Mom,

I’m done with my first year of my second round of grad school. “Halfway there!” and high-fives all around.

This year, I shot and edited video, produced an audio story, published long narratives and quick-turnaround pieces, sort of coded things, made a web site, learned some Arabic. I ran a half-marathon, moved (twice), saw waterfalls, played mah jong, built friendships, brewed Kombucha and made a lot of snacks. I worked on projects that made me cry. I left class with goose bumps and almost threw my computer on the floor more than once. I was overwhelmed with gratitude by the generosity and depth of guidance offered to me by mentors. I was humbled and inspired by the kindness and brilliance of my classmates.

This is what my computer screen looks like before I almost throw it on the flow. those red boxes... editing failure.

This is what my computer screen looks like before I almost throw it on the flow. Those red boxes … oy vey.

Now, at the end of this very full year, I’m halfway there. I feel no sense of accomplishment or relief. All of the things that happened this year inched the bar higher and higher so that each step I take toward there pushes there farther and farther away.

I’m scared that my whole life will be like this.

In your last letter, you said that life is “a series of intentional meanderings and instinctive pursuits of ever-evolving targets.” Do you mean that life’s a calculated chase? Do we ever make a catch? And what happens if we do?

I know how to celebrate the small victories and to live in the moment and blablabla be here now. Like, in my brain, I get it. And I AM grateful for finding a path to follow, surrounding myself with inspiring people, dumping my energy into meaningful stories. But I never feel full. I just keep pouring gasoline onto the fire under my ass until it burns so strong that I can’t think about where or why or how I’ll run. I just run and run and run like a lab rat on a treadmill toward what? You know?

my favorite running spot in Berkeley

my favorite running spot in Berkeley

Don’t tell me I need yoga.

xo,

Shaina

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The recipe I’m sending you is ambitious. It’s for a true adventurer. And (gluten free, paleo, vegan, grain-free) it’s oh so Berkeley.

I went through pounds and pounds of broccoli and several versions of this recipe to get these weird savory vegetable strips. At first I was going for crackers and was unsatisfied with the chewy outcome (the internet says that it’s possible to toast broccoli mush into a crisp, but I’m weary). The outcome of my labor was not successful until I reframed my expectations —  it sounds gross, but… JERKY!

Broccoli Jerky (or Chewy Broccoli Crackers)

  • 2 large heads of broccoli, steamed (4-5 cups chopped)
  • 5 tbs nutritional yeast
  • 2- 3 cloves fresh garlic
  • 2 tbs flax meal
  • 2/3 C pumpkin seeds
  • 1 bunch fresh basil (12-15 leaves)
  • 1 tbs mustard
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • juice of one lemon
  • zest of one lemon (about a tsp)
  • dash of cayenne powder, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • plenty of cracked black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbs flax seeds
  • 1/4 C sun dried tomatoes, chopped

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Set oven to lowest possible temperature. (A dehydrator is ideal for this recipe. I don’t have one, so I set my oven to its lowest temp – 200 degrees.)

Once steamed, chop broccoli (including stem) into 2 inch pieces. Add broccoli with remaining ingredients (except for the flax seeds and sun dried tomatoes) into food processor. Pulse for 2 -5 minutes until all ingredients are combined into a thick paste. If needed, add a tsp of apple cider vinegar. Once the ingredients form a thick puree with a consistency similar to a dough, stir in sun dried tomatoes and flax seeds. Get creative here! You can also add other seeds – think chia, sesame and hemp seeds.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or your other favorite non-stick baking tool. Spread broccoli “dough” in a thin layer across entire baking sheet. Start with your hands and then switch to a spatula to make sure all area of the dough are spread to the same thinness. Insert into oven and leave for 1 – 2 hours (but check frequently to make sure nothing is burning!) until the dough has dried – the corners of the baking sheet may be dry or crisp at this point. Remove from oven and score into squares with a sharp knife immediately. Allow to cool and remove from pan. Store in air-tight container. For a more crispy version, place in oven or toaster oven at 300 degrees for 10-15 minutes before serving.

◊ #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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◊ 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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◊ 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.

♦ Debriefing

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Dear Shaina,

I know it sounded like I got you all wrong, but really, I didn’t. I am proud of your creative resourcefulness, in all matters. I am in awe of your comfort with your being by yourself, your ability to structure your time and accomplish what you set out to do without any prodding from anyone other than yourself…and then turn around and organize a social outing with a few close friends or 80 friends of friends because you’re ready for some fun. You seem to be able to manage what most of us still find very challenging…meeting our alone needs and our social needs without expecting someone else to do it for us. I am proud of you…and of me and Dad for providing the nurturance and opportunities that gave you the space to take your life wherever you chose. And you have chosen well. We are proud!

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My getting it wrong didn’t really have anything to do with you. Every mother has their own vision of the ideal mother they want to be and believe they can be. It doesn’t necessarily comply with the actuality of their mothering or the vision their children have of them. In truth, I never imagined myself as a working mother. My fantasy was that I would be the PTA organizing, cookie baking, field trip driving mom who was always there and never missed a mom-beat. Instead, I was an overbearing, impatient, overprotective worried mother who was pretty bored with the do-the-laundry-while-the-baby-is-taking-a-nap routine. I realized pretty early on that I needed to go to work for your sake and mine. I don’t regret my decision. It proved to help both of us grow into independent, productive and fun-loving women.10257145_10201836219616231_363673777101131976_n

That doesn’t mean that I am immune to the pangs of guilt that all working mothers have, especially when their children are home alone sick. The sticky remnants of our idealized mother-image gnaws at our hearts. If only I had been there…how much I missed not being there…how much I missed even when I was there… It’s never perfect and we keep wishing it were.

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Shaina, each time you come home from whatever far-away adventure you are currently on, I have the sense of meeting someone deeply familiar, yet subtly altered. You seem more settled and happy. The kind of happy that eases a mother’s mind. This Passover was one of our best ever…and not just because all the food was the best ever (even the gefilte fish). Your consistently gentle essence breezed in and drew us into late night talks, kitchen marathons and momentary peeks into the ever evolving world of Shaina. Being with you, shopping with you, debriefing our days (a new habit you picked up from a housemate…thank you thank you!), even cooking with you, was perfect!

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So Shaina, memory is selective and the timing of memories is especially altered. I remember the blue jello dreidles and the green poop and the witches games and the mud pies and all the mac n cheese you ate as a little girl. I remember. I was there. I remember the kitchen experiments when you got older, although more vaguely, because I wasn’t always there. The trashed kitchen memories were vivid as they awaited me when I did get there.

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Today, mother and daughter, we are here together creating new memories….memories that may supersede other memories in their poignancy, their pleasure and in their immediacy…or not. It’s been an incredible holiday and I can’t wait to do it again!

Love,
Mom
xoxooxoxxoxoxoxo

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Passover Sponge Cake

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Shaina, who knew that this was your all time favorite cake, Passover or not?! I have spent the last three years trying to perfect it. Not the recipe. That’s standard…the same cake Bubbe made every Passover since I have been conscious…the recipe on the back of the Manischewitz Potato Starch can. Every year Bubbe would exclaim at the height of her cakes…the higher the better…it has to do with the egg whites. I started making them the last couple years of her life as she sat in my kitchen directing my efforts. They didn’t come out as high as hers and invariably one would fall apart when I took it out of the pan and I would have to make another one, using the crumbled one for strawberry trifle (your Dad’s favorite). One year, I remember making three cakes before I finally got one to hold together…not that anyone was complaining.

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This year, another miracle of Passover occurred. I produced two fully intact, respectably high (although in my memory, Bubbe’s were higher) Passover sponge cakes. And you revealed that this was your favorite all time cake. Will wonders never cease?!

It turns out that this cake is also gluten-free and makes a perfect cake all year round for those gluten free people in your life. It makes delicious strawberry shortcake and goes well with homemade lemon curd (a recipe from a friend).

I guess I’ll be making a third sponge cake again this year for your birthday, Shaina…the day after Passover ends.

Manischewitz Passover Sponge Cake
(from the back of the Manischewitz Potato Starch Can)

  • 7 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup Manischewitz potato starch, sifted
  • dash of salt

Separate 6 of the eggs. Beat the six egg yolks and one whole egg until light and frothy. The key here is to use a regular stand mixer (not a hand-held) and really beat those eggs until they actual change color and become lighter.

Gradually add the sifted sugar and beat thoroughly. Continue beating while adding the lemon juice and zest ( I usually add a little more zest and juice than the recipe calls for up to two teaspoons of zest and two tablespoons of juice). Beat thoroughly together.

Gradually add the sifted potato starch, stirring constantly to ensure thorough blending.

Beat egg whites with salt until stiff but not dry. Fold gently but thoroughly into egg yolk mixture. The key here is to make sure there is not even a drop of egg yolk in the egg whites and that you use a separate clean bowl and beaters. I use a hand held for the white and always keep them far away from the yolk mixture when preparing this cake.

Place in and ungreased tube pan (I like the tube pans that have the detachable bottom). Bake in a 350° oven about 55 minutes or until cake springs back when touched gently with fingers. I bake this cake for 56 -58 minutes. The top should be brown but not burned and a little crusty.

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Invert pan and cool thoroughly before removing cake from pan.  Once you invert the pan (I use wine bottles), do not even attempt to remove the cake until it is absolutely stone cold. Use a sharp knife to go around the edges of the pan and the tube in the center of the pan.

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If the cake does happen to fall apart, it will still be delicious and no one will notice when you serve it layered in a trifle bowl with strawberries or lemon curd or both.

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Passover Potato Knishes

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Bubbe used to make special Passover Potato knishes that looked like round balls of potato with a glossy outside but no dough. They tasted a little liker the insides of her regulars potato knishes. I never bothered to get the recipe because there were always so many other things to make on Passover. This year I wanted to make a gluten free Passover appetizer and decided I would try to replicate at least the concept of a Passover Potato Knish. The don’t look or feel like my Mom’s but they were such a huge hit, I think Bubbe would be proud!

  • 2 pounds sweet yellow onions
  • oil for sautéing onions
  • 5 pounds red potatoes
  • Lots of salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 4 eggs*
  • oil for brushing tops

*Egg whites can be substituted for whole eggs. Use 2 egg whites for every egg called for. I usually do half and half.

 

Chop onions and sauté in olive or Canola oil until very browned and reduced. This step can be done ahead of time. When I have a big cooking event coming up, I will chop up a whole bag of onions and sauté them and put them in the fridge. As I am cooking over the next few days I have a ready supply of sautéed onions for any recipe that calls for them.
Boil whole potatoes in salted water until done.
Rinse in cold water and peel off skins while potatoes are still hot, but you are able to handle them. I usually skin them while rinsing them under the cold water.
Mash the potatoes, adding in 1/4 cup canola oil, sautéed onions to taste (the more the bettering our household) and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Lightly beat eggs and add to potato mixture, blending thoroughly.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Wet hands with water and spoon potato mixture into hands to form a golf-ball sized potato mound. Place potato balls onto baking sheet. brush tops of balls very lightly with a little oil.
If serving at a later time, bake at 375° for about 15- 20 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Let cool completely and remove with a spatula. Store in a sealed container separating the layers with waxed or parchment paper. they can be frozen. To reheat, return to baking sheets covered with parchment paper and reheat in a 375° oven until browned and crisp around the edges, about 15 minutes.
If serving immediately, bake in 375° oven for 25 minutes or until browned and slightly crisp.