◊ 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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♦ Hearing Your Voice

Dear Shaina,

It seems like I haven’t heard your voice in weeks.  We have been in touch by email and text…you in Portugal, us in Park City…but it’s just not enough for me. I start to worry and wonder what I’m missing by not hearing the tones beneath your spoken words. Mother’s believe they can hear the unsaid and feel the unseeable.  I am a firm believer.  I have to hear your voice…

We had to return from Utah (Park City was warm and sunny- ideal for the Sundance Film Festival) to Birmingham to see some real snow falling from the skies and experience the frigid temperatures that you expect at a ski resort in Utah in the middle of January.

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The snow and rapidly forming ice sheet came on suddenly and unexpectedly in Birmingham.  If I had come home 30 minutes later, I probably would have been stranded on the road like thousands of other drivers who abandoned their cars on highways and streets throughout the city.  People walked miles to get home or slept in offices, schools, public buildings or at homes of friends who were within reach. Two inches of snow blanketing a thin layer of ice maintained by temperatures in the teens stopped this city in its tracks. Amazingly, there were no power outages.

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By the time I got home, Dad had cancelled his appointments and was gathering wood from his ever-ready wood pile to stoke the fire he was tending in the wood stove. The perfect day for us!

I put on a big pot of pea soup (soup is always good) and pulled an eggplant parmigiano (I’ll send that recipe next week) out of the freezer from some I had made in the fall. With plenty of cold-weather food, a cozy fire and an abundance of vacation laundry, Dad and I settled into an afternoon of domestic tranquility. Dad filled the bird feeders while I sliced and diced the veggies for my soup. We sat by the fire with some hot cocoa and watched the birds nibbling at their treats.

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Dad took his traditional orchid with a backdrop of snow pictures and even got a little workout on his new drum set.

Even though all my days are, technically, days off, this day felt like a gift…no where to be, nothing to do, no expectations or demands, no schedule.  We were stuck at home.  The world was on a time-out.  We were warm and safe…and together.  What more could we want?!… Other than a phone call from you, of course.

I suppose I could call you, but I pride myself in being able to trust you to set the frequency and level of communication based on your needs, not mine. So, why am I so whiny…just the mother in me I guess. I know you’re fine.  And I know we’ll talk soon…and my heart will be eased.  I just want to hear your voice!

Congrats on your Arabic exam. Enjoy the rest of your break. Talk to you soon!

Love, Mom

xoxooxoxxoxooox

Basic Pea Soup

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Vegan and gluten-free
Makes enough for a crowd and some for the freezer

  • 1 pound split yellow peas
  • 1 pound split green peas
  • 3-4 quarts of water (more as needed)
  • 3-4 Bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard or mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6 carrots, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 6-8 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)

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To vary the taste, add cumin or other spices you like
Garnish with fresh chopped tomatoes, fresh parsley or a dollop of sour cream
Small cooked pastas can be added if desired for a heartier and even thicker soup

Start with a large 8-10 quart soup pot.  Put water, peas, bay leaves, mustard and salt in the pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Add carrots, onions, celery, sweet potato and garlic and simmer at least 40 additional minutes, adding water as needed.  Add salt and pepper to taste and white wine if desired. Cook until all vegetables are soft and well blended. Adjust spices to taste.

Soup generally tastes even better the next day.  Can be frozen.

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◊ I’m Back

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Dear mom,

I don’t have much to say. Being back home is weird. I dither around preparations towards next steps, and my friends from high school are doctors and lawyers and married. I returned from a time warp – why do things progress without me? – and I am nothing.

My job-for-now is my saving grace (though it seems just opposite for you). I prepare meals for a friend braving chemotherapy. Her dietary shift omits dairy, processed foods, soy, various legumes, cruciferous vegetables, etc, and she only eats organic. I drift through my days assembling creative menus and exploring new ingredients that yield foods tasty and healthy. It’s indispensably meditative as I mull over how I’ll get to where I need to be next (on time) and what that means exactly.

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But I know my presence in your kitchen has totally rocked your boat: you take every opportunity to complain about me completely trashing your house and destroying your kitchen. I leave my sneakers and gym bag in the hallway; plates and jars are out of place; my clothes are on the bathroom floor; there is crusted yogurt on the fridge door-handle and drops of almond butter in hard to reach places; the salt is in the wrong cubby. There’s a reason that our site’s tagline ends with the word distance.

It’s usually my job to initiate distance, but you stole away on your West Coast adventure yesterday. How does it feel? I perceived some guilt (or fear?) as you left me to man the kitchen all by myself. But that’s your problem. For me, it’s a dream come true. Even though I’m weary about navigating your kitchen drawers without you (it took me 30 minutes to find the box grater this morning!), the space is welcomed. Please, conquer your retirement unsullied by guilt, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I won’t have to go to the basement while you’re away (still the scariest place I’ve ever been).

Back to the kitchen! I’ll try to minimize the havoc as much as possible.

xo,
Shaina
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Roasted Cherry Almond Millet Mini Muffins (gluten and dairy free!)
Prep time: 45 minutes
Serves 10 – 15

  • 1  cup almond mealIMG_8751_Fotor
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (i like to use blue cornmeal)
  • 1/2 c flax meal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp (sea) salt
  • 1/3 c molasses
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 c almond milk
  • 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup millet, lightly toasted*
  • 1 cup roasted cherries*

Last time I wrecked the kitchen, these crunchy, gluten-free Roasted Cherry Almond Millet Muffins were born –slightly sweet and perfect for a filling breakfast or a satisfying midday snack, they were inspired by a search for a healthy treat that I could make for my new “client.”  Now I’m hooked on millet! A crunchy muffin is like ice cream with sprinkles.. eating it is just more fun! Top these gems with almond butter or yogurt in the morning for a healthy, fiber-full, protein-packed start to the day.

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Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the almond meal, cornmeal, flax meal, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, molasses, olive oil, almond milk, honey, almond and vanilla extracts together.  Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until loose batter is formed. Gently fold in the millet and cherries until combined. Fill the muffin liners and bake on middle rack for 15 – 20 minutes. Let cool before serving.

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*Roasted Cherries: Toss 2 cups of halved and pitted cherries with a pinch of salt, 2 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp honey and splash of lemon. Spread them evenly on parchment paper and roast for 20 – 25 minutes on 350 degrees. For the purpose of this recipe, feel free to substitute strawberries, peaches or other summer fruits for cherries.
*Toasted millet: Spread millet evenly on baking sheet and stick in oven or toaster oven at 350 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes. To make sure your millet muffins are perfectly crunchy, toast it half an hour (at least) before using it for baking so that it can cool… It becomes more firm once it’s cool.

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Blueberry Almond Galette
Serves 6
Prep time: 40 min
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen’s Cherry Almond Galette

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Ingredients for Dough:

  • 3/4 cup red hard wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 oz. / 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut in cubes
  • 2 tsp. lemon juicephoto 2(6)
  • 2 Tbsp. yogurt
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 3 Tbsp. ice water

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 3 cups blueberries
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp. corn starch, almond flour or wheat flour
  • dash fresh grated nutmeg
  • dash cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup raw sugar
  • 1 egg
  • splash of water
  • turbinado sugar, optional

Our blueberry picking venture was pathetic… My memories of bushes generously bearing cloyingly sweet, plump blueberries were tainted by this season’s scarce branches. I blame this season’s monsoon-like weather for our meager bucket of water-logged, almost rotting berries. Usually, I’d season freshly picked berries with lemon juice and spices and bake them under a simple oat crumble.

But this summer’s berry batch needed hardcore TLC. I was drawn to a galette recipe on Sprouted Kitchen because of the almond extract in the dough recipe. So I substituted rye and hard red wheat flour for their spelt and white flour combo, and, duh, blueberries + appropriate spices instead of cherries.
The dough turned out delish and, served with ice cream, the galette eased my distress over this summer’s wretched crop. But I still prefer my berries sweetened by the earth and sun – simple, ample, untouched and undoctored. Oh well.. there’s always next summer.

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First, mix all dry ingredients. Second, quickly work the cold butter into the flour mixture. One tip that my mom taught me is to shred the frozen butter into the flour with a cheese grater. It makes it easier to combine in with the flour. Smush the butter into the flour with your fingers, making small pea-sized clumps. In a separate dish, mix lemon juice, yogurt, almond extract and water, and add it to the dough mixture until combined. Do not over-mix! Form a ball and wrap it up – chill in the fridge for at least an hour or a day or two in advance.
Heat the oven to 400′ and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash blueberries and mix with spices, salt, lemon juice, flour and sugar.

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On a floured surface, roll out the tough to a a 12 inch circle (doesn’t have to be perfect… clearly). Put the dough on a baking sheet and pile the blueberries in the center (leave roughly 2-3 inches of the outer dough empty). Fold the dough towards the center, pinching it together to make it stick. Pull it tight and thin.
Mix egg and brush it on the outside of the dough. Then sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake on the middle rack for 40 – 45 minutes until browned. Serve with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of almond butter.

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◊ Unloading

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Dear mom,

Home after 6 months of wandering… It’s finally time to unload! My closet shelves seem wider and your kitchen appliances shinier and I am SO done with my freakin humongous backpack.

I still need to process it all as I recover from the exhaustion that comes with the bag-lady package, and I can’t stop thinking about Israel. My role as birthright staff was a success and I enjoyed the days with our distant but familiar family in Israel after the trip.

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My group watching the sunrise from Masada

During my first few days in Israel, I laughed a lot in my head. A simple “Shalom” slammed me back to the pit of my childhood… Hebrew words were throwbacks that roped chants from the Jewish Day School back into my brain. Every Israeli situation was a novelty.

I know that a visit to the Western Wall is supposed to be emotional and that I’m supposed to cry when I touch it and blablabla. But during our visit to the Old City, all I could think of was my 4th grade art project, when my classmates and I each reported on one of the city’s landmarks. I was in charge of Sha’ar Ha’ashpot, the Dung Gate, where Jersulamites chucked their trash. I presented it with an intricate drawing of an old relic surrounded by diapers, banana peels and flies.

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prayers shoved into cracks of the wall

And when I opened my mouth to speak Hebrew, I only thought of Carl’s made-up song to the tune of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, which helped me remember Hebrew grammar rules… “Conjugate the verbs, come on!”  followed by a quick rap of  the actual conjugations, ani ahavti, ata ahavta, hoo ahav, etc…

Most embarrassing was my response to Sivan (our group’s medic and my roomate) when she introduced herself to me. Instead of introducing myself back like a normal person, I sang to her. The chant that Mrs. Posner sang to help us remember the months of the Jewish calendar just slipped off my tongue…  Sivan, Iyar, Tamuz, Av…

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Sharing a camel with our bus driver, David

From that moment on, Sivan made a rule that I couldn’t call her name unless I sang it.

My American Jewish education prepared me for a visit to my homeland with Israeli songs, folk dances and silly games that seemed irrelevant to any real situation. And as I toured ancient sites and tested memories in my head, the nostalgia for Israel that I was trained to feel possessed me… it was creepy.

But after ten days of touring ancient sites with other American Jews (Jewish Americans?), I relocated to the homes of  our Israeli family members. I met Chana for the first time, your Israeli replica. After showing off each room in her home (including a whole room just for kitchen appliances), she force fed me for hours… Israeli salads and hummus and a spongy orange cake that tasted exactly like one Bubbe used to make I couldn’t believe it. I observed personalities so clearly unique to our family’s gene pool… the force feeding, the loud talking all at once… that at times I thought I was back in Birmingham.

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Chana with her cake and cool glasses

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I heard stories of how Zayde’s brothers and sisters landed in Israel, and how we have cousins in Russia who are rediscovering their Jewish heritage right now preparing to make Aliyah. Sitting around a table of aunts and uncles, baby cousins and plates and plates of food, I saw, firsthand, the joyous outcome of a country that prioritizes the provision of a safe haven for Jews seeking refuge. The songs and dances that I learned at summer camp and school provided the initial backdrop of familiarity… but with the family, the sense of belonging that I learned about at summer camp and youth group and Jewish Day School finally unfurled.

I know it’s all a cliche and I’m surprised by my reaction to Israel… it wasn’t my first time there but it was the first time I’ve felt this way.

I think my emotional experience was shaped by the juxtaposition of my itinerary: I headed to Israel from India. In India, my outsider perspective was extreme and the “welcome” limited. The religious and societal structures create a barrier that makes integration into Indian culture impossible for a white American like me. The newness, surprise and unfamiliarity of everything around me in India was acutely opposite of the nostalgic comforts in Israel. So of course the “welcome home” from the Israeli customs officer in the airport elicited a heightened reaction.

I don’t really know… I have a lot to unload.

love,
Shaina

In Israel, the breakfast spread is glorious: dozens of fresh salads, salty cheeses, creamy tahini and thick yogurt. The participants on my trip stared at my plates piled high with crunchy veggies at 7 AM each day, How can you eat vegetables so early in the morning?

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Post breakfast bliss with Naomi!

The Zucchini and Tomato Salad recipe below is adapted from my favorite cookbook right now, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem,  and the carrot salad is one that I made up to commemorate my moment of glory as a Birthright staff, which happened in the morning of our last day of the trip. I complimented the quantity of veggies on a participant’s breakfast plate and his response to my comment was, “ You know I started eating vegetables in the morning because you told me to.”

Wow. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a positive influence on a young person’s life. Salads in the morning are where it’s at.

I also included a recipe for hummus because it’s just so basic… I’m shocked that we don’t have it in our recipe index yet!

Chunky Zucchini and Tomato Salad

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Serves 8-12 people as a side dish
IMG_1248Prep time: 30 minutes

  • 8 green zucchini
  • 5 large tomatoes
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups greek yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 red chiles, crushed or 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 handful of fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/2 C chopped parsley
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 tbs date syrup, agave or honey

*Note that I modified the original recipe for this dish for American convenience and ease. So if you want the real thing, pick up a copy of Jerusalem. You won’t be disappointed!

Preheat the oven to 425 F and cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Trim the zucchini and cut lengthwise into thin 3/4 inch pieces. Halve the tomatoes. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place zucchini and tomatoes cut side down on separate pans. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes until browned on the tops and edges. The veggies should be tender in the middle and crisp on the edges.

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Remove from oven and allow to cool. Meanwhile, mix all remaining ingredients (except for honey/date syrup) together and hold some parsley for garnish. Once cool, chop zucchini and tomatoes coarsely. Gently fold into mixture and spread over large, shallow bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and date syrup/honey, and garnish with parsley. Serve with warm pita, couscous or your favorite bread.

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Chopped Carrot, Beet and Tahini salad

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Serves 10 – 12 people as side dish
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15 – 20 minutes

  • 1 lb of carrots
  • 2 medium beets
  • 2/3 c walnuts
  • 6 medium dates
  • 4 tbs tahini paste
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs water
  • 2 tbs lemon zest
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 tbs sesame seeds
  • 4 tbs zatar
  • salt

To roast beets and walnuts, preheat the oven to 350. Wrap the beets in foil, place them on a pan, and keep them in the oven for 15-25 minutes until soft. Place walnuts on a pan and keep them in the oven for 7-10 minutes until brown and fragrant. Allow to cool. *This can be done the night/day before.

*You can also opt to leave the beets and walnuts raw for a crunchier, earthier dish.

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Chop raw carrots, roasted beets, walnuts and dates into small 1/4 inch chunks (you can do this in a food processor for ease, but make sure that you don’t pulverize too much) and mix. In a separate bowl, mix tahini paste, olive oil, water, lemon zest, lemon juice and sesame seeds into a fluid paste. Combine all ingredients and add zatar and salt to taste. Eat as a crunchy, healthy breakfast salad on its own, top with plain yogurt, or use as an accompaniment in sandwiches and pitas.  The possibilities are endless.

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Hummus

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  • 4 C chickpeas (canned will work, but it’s much better if you cook them yourself)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 c tahini
  • juice from 2 lemons
  • 1/3 c water
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • salt to taste

Optional additions

  • turmeric
  • roasted red pepper
  • more garlic
  • spinach
  • chili powder/hot sauce
  • black pepper
  • olive oil, zatar, parsley, cilantro, tahini for garnish

Puree all ingredients in food processor until smooth and creamy. Play around with optional additions and garishes. Serve with warm pita, french fries :), roasted veggies, salads, chips… anything!

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See what I did:

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Sivan and I always held up the caboose… I the sheep herder and she the body guard. Here, we rest at Masada while waiting for kids in the bathroom. Always in the freakin bathroom.

Even the foods were familar

Rugelach yum… even the foods were familiar and comforting

IMG_2095Shabbat din!

IMG_2188Herzliya with Ron, Nurit and the kids

IMG_2182In the mornings Hanoch showed me the agriculture fields near his house. He rode his bike and I jogged after him.

IMG_2171Reunited with a long lost friend in Tel Aviv with shakshuka yum!

IMG_1959So much grafitti in Tel Aviv… the most colorful Bubbe I’ve seen