I was just about to send when I got your letter. You have no idea how busy the life of a retired person can be! This letter is way too long, but I am sending it anyway.
Three weeks ago I was packing chocolate chips and toothpaste to bring to you in Israel. Now I am buying Chanukah gifts and getting ready to cook up a Thanksgivukah feast! My brain is on jet lag trying to absorb all the experiences and feelings and foods that I eagerly swallowed up in Israel. And this living room I am sitting in is so big…and so empty.
It wasn’t this color when I left for Israel!
In Israel we were surrounded by family. The homes and apartments in Israel are smaller than ours, but there was more than enough room as we were welcomed and entertained with food, comfort and unconditional love. It didn’t matter if I didn’t remember all the names and which kids belonged to which grandparents or who was married to who…or how many times I asked. We were one family, with the same eyebrows and similar cooking and eating habits and beautiful children and loud voices and welcoming homes and open hearts…no matter the distance between countries and visits…or the size of the rooms. And why do I think I need so much space in my house?
Amit and Nimrod’s wedding was a grand event celebrating life and love and family and friends in true Schuster style…a spectacular venue, an Israeli gourmet food extravaganza, drink bars, coffee bars, paparazzi style photography (mini-cameras attached to liquor bottles as they were passed around the dance floor and shots were poured), music, dancing and a bride and groom whose love and joy were evident! The invitation said it all…I eat…I do…I dance! And we did until the early hours of the morning. Dad’s knee is better, but I don’t know if he’ll ever dance with me again.
Every day offered up another celebratory event, shabbat dinners and lunches, an afternoon at the beach, a tour of Jerusalem and more large and small family reunions as we reconnected and caught up with the lives of our Israeli and Ukrainian family.
We caught our breath and settled into a fabulous apartment in Jerusalem thanks to the generosity of our cousin and her boyfriend. What a gift…a real kitchen with an oven, speedy wifi, a washing machine and a real Jerusalem neighborhood. Shaina, I loved sharing all of the events with you, but our time together in Jerusalem was a special treat. We shopped. We cooked. We talked.
I loved walking the streets with you in search of breakfast or coffee or some exotic fruit or vegetable. I loved watching you navigate Mahane Yehuda and meeting your spice guy and your tehini vendor.
We toured your school and got a small glimpse of your life and its challenges. I tempered my worry with my admiration of you, knowing that you will create a place of comfort and success for yourself out of these less than ideal circumstances.
So much of Israel has taken on the habits of America…the skyscrapers, the billboards, the fancy mall near The Wall, Mamila…yet so much in Israel seems so smart…the lights in the apartment hallways that turn off after a few minutes, the large receptacle cages on the street for recycling plastic drink bottles, the drains in every kitchen and bathroom floor and those amazing multi-purpose thick yellow disposable cleaning cloths that are a staple in every Israeli kitchen!
I love the open markets and cafes, the vast tubs of exotic spices and the huge pomegranates that are pressed into glasses of juice right on the street.
I don’t love the brusqueness of everyday Israeli interactions, but I am not exactly comfortable with how accustomed I have become to the sweet smiles and slow talkin’ down here in the deep south either. Israel’s ever-changing landscape and ability to transform a street, a neighborhood, a city…practically overnight…thrust me back into the reality of how painfully imperceptibly slow change is here in Alabama.
I did manage to transport a half-gallon of olive oil, multiple bags of spices and jars of tehini from Israel to my kitchen without spilling a drop…a feat that caused me no small amount of anxiety.
With my new Israeli cookbook in hand (a beautiful gift from family), I am ready to start bringing a little Israeli flavor into these big empty rooms.
Happy Chanukah and Happy Thanksgiving! And I would never think of actually frying a turkey, although you have to admit, it is the perfect blend of the two holidays; one that traditionally celebrates with a turkey and one that celebrates burning oil!
You will be so missed at the table..in the kitchen…and throughout this big old house.
Gali’s Classic Tahini Cookies
I gathered lots of family recipes from Israel. Everyone brought a dish to our Israeli Family Reunion Shabbat dinner and I will share them as I make them. If you haven’t already sent me your favorite recipes, do it now! I want to be prepared to cook all your favorite foods when you visit.
I love all the flavors and will start with Gali’s classic Tahini Cookies which are very easy to make, very Israeli and a favorite in our family. I think they will make a great Thanksgiving-Chanukah dessert. Might as well start with dessert! Thanks Gali!
- 350g (3 cups) of self-rising flour*
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 cup of raw tahini
- 200g (1 3/4 stick) butter or margarine, softened
- 2 bags of vanilla sugar**
Ready to Bake
*Regular flour can be substituted by adding 1 tablespoon of baking powder and 3/4 teaspoon of salt
**Small bags of vanilla sugar are an Israeli staple.
2 teaspoons of vanilla and 2 tablespoons of sugar can be substituted for two bags of vanilla sugar
Heat the oven to 180° (Celsius) or 350° (Fahrenheit)
Place parchment paper or cooking spray on baking sheet.
Mix together in a large bowl flour, sugar, tahini, butter, vanilla sugar until it forms a homogenous dough.
Right Out of the Oven
Roll the dough in your hands and mold into 40-50 small balls. Flatten them as you place them on the baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart from each other.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until they turn a light golden color.
Take out the baking sheet and let the cookies cool down before picking them up; otherwise they might crumble in your hand.
Be careful not to let the cookies burn. Enjoy!
Ready to Eat!!
Squash and Sweet Potato Soup
This very easy soup was inspired by the beautiful squash we saw in Israel, the Israeli spices I brought back home and the need to make another soup for Thanksgiving. I always serve two different hot soups as appetizers as people are coming in from the cold and arriving at different times. This soup is very easy, flexible (Israeli code word for anything goes) and hard to mess up.
- 3 pounds Butternut or any winter squash (amount can vary depending on how much soup you want to make)
- 1 Large yellow onion cutup
- 1 pound Sweet potatoes (or carrots or any other vegetables you like)
- 2 – 3 cups of water
- 1 tsp salt
- Fresh minced Garlic to taste
*Israeli spice mix or a combination of cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, pepper
Garnish with cilantro and sour cream or yogurt if desired
* I used a fabulous pre-mixed spice combination that I got at the market. It contained dried onions and peas (as far as I could tell) and a blend of fragrant Israeli spices.
Raisins, carrots, cinnamon and even a little sugar can be added if you like a sweeter soup. The soup should be a savory-sweet blend of the salty tangy spices with the sweetness of the vegetables.
Bake whole unpeeled squash and sweet potatoes in the oven at 350 on convection bake until they are tender and the skin peels off easily. Baking and peeling is much easier than cutting and peeling raw winter squash. But if you prefer, the raw peeled squash can be cooked in a large pot with the water until tender.
Remove skins and put vegetables into a large pot with water and onion and spices. Add enough water to just cover the squash and sweet potatoes.
Bring water to a boil and then turn down heat and simmer. When onions are cooked, blend soup mixture with a stick blender. Adjust spices to taste. Add water if mixture is too thick. Continue to simmer soup, adding water as needed for desired consistency.
Taste frequently and adjust seasonings to taste. Soup is done when you are satisfied with the flavor and consistency of the soup.
This hardy soup can be frozen for later use and can be modified by adding other vegetables or more squash and cooking and blending. Don’t be afraid to try new spices to vary the flavor.
Savory Corn and Squash Fritters (Thanksgivukah Latkes)
I made up this Thanksgivukah latke in an attempt to combine two dishes, Corn Casserole and Squash Casserole, traditionally served at our Thanksgiving feast with the classic latke always enjoyed at Chanukah. I was surprised at how good they turned out. Lighter than potato latkes, they aren’t quite as bad for you as you might think. Who knows…a new tradition may have been born! The only problem now is, which holiday do I make them for next year…Thanksgiving or Chanukah?
- 2 pounds raw yellow crookneck squash chopped and drained*
- 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (defrosted and drained)
- 2 leeks, the white and light green parts only, chopped
- 1 cup corn meal or corn bread mix**
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 clove fresh minced garlic or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 2 eggs, beaten
- Peanut or vegetable oil for frying
* Liquid from drained squash and leeks can be reserved for veggie broth for soups; it freezes well.
**If you use corn bread mix, reduce salt and baking powder by half
For a spicier option, you can add chopped chile peppers to the fritter batter or experiment with different spices…dill, basil, tarragon
Wash yellow squash and leeks and chop in a food processor until pretty finely chopped. Place in a strainer and thoroughly drain excess water for about 30 minutes. Mix corn and chopped squash and leeks together .
In a large bowl, stir together corn meal, baking powder, spices, salt, and pepper.
In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and whisk into corn meal mixture. Combine squash, corn, and leek mixture with the corn meal and egg mixture and blend thoroughly.
Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Drop batter by spoonful into hot oil. Fry on both sides until crisp and brown. Drain on paper towels.
Serve with traditional latke toppings…sour cream and apple sauce or…
Top with your favorite salsa to spice things up a bit. Or add a little salsa to sour cream.
Sauté some leeks and mix with sour cream, salt and pepper and a little fresh dill for a garden fresh accompaniment.
Try adding some cranraisins or fresh chopped cranberries to your applesauce this year in honor of Thanksgivukah
Plain Greek yogurt can be substituted for sour cream.