◊ Hyper-nomadism

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Dear mom,

Soon after I wrote to you explaining why I spend much of my energy preparing healthy foods, my attention was diverted from health habits. I feel ok about it.

Right now, my life is about chasing stories and summer breeze. I find people and listen to their stories. If I have time, I jog to the ocean and go for a swim (or sneak into Naomi’s spin class or sit on the rocks by the sea and/or eat ice cream).

The chase has led me into a life of what I call hyper-nomadism. I’m used to normal nomadism: long-term living out of backpack and changing houses every few months or weeks. Hyper-nomadism is more intense and for a shorter time. Until a few nights ago, I hadn’t slept in the same city for over a week. Each city was like a different world with its own climate and culture. I’m chopping vegetables whenever I get a chance, but it’s hard to plan for salads when I have no base, no routine, no expectations of when or where I’ll find my next kitchen. It’s a good thing that Israeli restaurants are known for beautiful heaps of chopped vegetables.

Getting my daily kale juice at a Tel Aviv juice stand

It feels good to spend to spend energy on things that don’t fit into a routine. I’m making an effort to do fun things like go to music festivals and the beach. But, because I’m accountable only to myself regarding how I choose to spend my time, I always feel that I’m not doing enough work AND that I need to do more fun things AND that I need more me-time. It’s as stressful as it sounds. I worry that my whole life will be a constant feeling of needing to do more and less and something different, so I’m training myself to say SHUT UP to this feeling when it creeps up… And to do what I feel in the moment! (I don’t know when or how doing what I feel like doing became foreign to me.)

I have to admit that the kindness and hospitality of family here makes me I feel like a cheater among hardcore hyper-nomads. It’s much easier to go for days with only a couple pairs of underwear and innumerable unknowns when weekend retreats to family comfort, good food and fresh laundry are certain. I’m so grateful for my cousins and hope that I’ll be able to provide the same kind of stability for the future hyper-nomads of the world one day.

Xo,

Shaina

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Last week for Shabbat lunch, Nurit made tofu schnitzel. It was a perfect Shabbat with lots of rest and family time capped off with a sunset run with (behind) Naomi in Caesarea.

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Tofu Schnitzel

Prep time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4-5 people as main course

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  • 8 ounces (two blocks) of extra firm tofu
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • pinch of hot paprika (and/or chili flakes) to taste
  • Handful of finely chopped parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • vegetable oil for frying

Mix breadcrumbs, flour, spices, salt and pepper in one bowl. Whisk egg in separate bowl and add breadcrumb mixture until combined.

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Wash dry and cut tofu into 1inch thick slices. Submurge tofu slices, one by one, into egg. Then, dip into breadcrumb mixture to coat. Repear until all tofu slices are coated with breadcrumb mixture.

Heat oil in a medium sized saucepan on high (enough so that tofu can be submerged – about 2 inches). Place tofu into oil and fry for 2 – 4 minutes on each side until golden.

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Remove from oil and place on paper towel to remove excess oil.

Serve with plenty of salads, tahini, hummus and, of course, ketchup and mustard! Leftovers are great on a sandwich with onions, avocado and mustard… Or treat it like fried chicken and eat with slaw and greens.

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◊ Telling stories

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Dear mom,

My grown-up person is strange to me too. In my first hours back from Israel and Palestine, I went straight to laundry, grocery shopping and my life (my life = finding space for the 4 liters of tahini I schlepped across the ocean, scheduling meetings with professors, filing recipes, going to a spin class). These endeavors were far from my usual homecoming routine — my luggage dump onto the hallway floor, my jet-lagged memory-mumble and slow crawl into bed, my early-rise to a full fridge and piles of neatly folded, clean clothes.

My grown-up person embraces the laundry/grocery life with ease and excitement; it is puzzled at how readily I snap back to childhood when I’m home.

Contrary to your verdict, I will always be a child at home regardless of how much junk I clean from my room. I have no doubt that you’ll have plenty more chances to wash my dirty clothes and make me breakfast on demand. Consider yourself lucky to be spared from my late-night, half-formed reflection-thoughts on Jewish-Arab relations, snow in a Mediterranean climate, Palestinian traditions, the transcontinental strength of our family’s genetic traits.

The story I was reporting in Israel and Palestine is about best friends and business partners –  a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli – who collect and sell embroidery together. They requested I not use their names because of potential backlash.

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I completed my reporting goals – 10 interviews, 5 photo shoots, lots of meetings – and now I have to write it all up. I also spent plenty of time catching up with family, hanging out with friends and taking long walks alone. I had a great time, but I won’t be able to call my trip successful until I’ve written the article. It will take some time to develop so many different experiences into memories and meaningful stories. Shwai shwai, liat liat, slowly slowly.

dried sage leaves in the kitchen

dried sage leaves in the kitchen

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I spent two nights with the Palestinian business partner and learned a lot about her life in Bethlehem. She reminds me of you – her hands never stop cooking, sewing, embroidering, cleaning, preparing. Everything in her house, from olive oil soap to sheep’s milk cheese to embroidered cushion-covers and table clothes, she cultivated with her own hands. For breakfast, we ate olives that she picked and cured herself, green leaves she collected from the Jewish Israeli’s front yard and sautéed with onion and garlic, and kaak ma’amoul that she made late at night.

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Kaak ma’amoul are traditional Palestinian date-filled, sweet cookies. I had eaten them before, but the way that this woman made them without sugar in the dough was different and oddly nostalgic.

Her kaak ma’amoul are simple: dough – white flour, oil, water and fennel seeds – wrapped around spiced date puree. The mild dough against sticky dates reminded me of Bubbe’s oily strudel stuffed with spiced raisins. While I was reporting, I noticed many such parallels among Jewish and Palestinian traditions and daily life. Also, the ways in which many of the Jewish Israelis and Palestinians that I spoke with described their feelings toward one another were strikingly similar.

“When you don’t know people, you get afraid,” the Jewish Israeli friend said. “But when you see them you get unafraid.”

“I wanted them to meet Israelis to see that they are human like us and we are all like each other,” the Palestinian friend said.

People are afraid of the unknown. When they are separated, they do not interact and fear persists. Fear dominates.

Bethlehem

Bethlehem

This is why I went back to Israel and Palestine over my winter break. This is why I study journalism. Sometimes I feel that the only way to introduce humans to one another – to cross borders, create groundwork for dialogue, dilute fear in a small way – is to tell stories. Thus, I can’t call my trip a success until I write the story! I can’t call my trip a success until I highlight, in a small way, humanity on both sides of the wall.

xo,

Shaina

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I recreated the Kaak Ma’amoul I ate in Bethlehem as soon as I got back to my kitchen. Inspired by Bubbe cookies, I added plenty of orange zest and juice. I also substituted whole-wheat flour for white flour. As you can see from the picture, they didn’t come out pretty… I think pretty kaak ma’amoul is one of those things that takes practice.

*note: Most kaak ma’amoul is made with sweet, yeasted dough (sometimes with semolina in addition to wheat flour). This is not the traditional recipe.

Kaak Ma’amoul

Prep time: 1 hour

Makes 20 – 30 cookies

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Dough:

  • 2 ½ C whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 tbs orange zest
  • 2 tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Filling:

  • 1 cup dates, pitted
  • ½ tsp cardmom, ground
  • ½ tsp cloves, ground
  • ½ tsp cinnamon, ground
  • juice of one medium orange

Mix the flour, oil, water, orange zest, fennel seeds and salt with a stand mixer or knead with your hands until dough is smooth and stretchy. Put dates, spices and orange juice in food processor and blend into a smooth paste

Heat oven to 375. Divide dough into 25 – 30 balls (1 ½ in each). Divide paste into the same number of balls, but keep each ball half the size of the each dough ball.

Roll each dough ball into a 4 x 1 inch rectangle. Wet hands, and roll paste ball into thin log. Place date log into dough and fold dough around it (like a tube). Roll the log/tube in your hands until smooth. Fold the dough log into a circle and seal it into a closed ring by pinching the ends together (you may have to use some water to get it to stick). Place circles on baking sheet and cook until golden, around 25 minutes.

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◊ From the Bottom

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Dear mom,

I’m sure what you are experiencing on the news must be very scary for you, but the worrying is annoying and needs to stop. My day-to-day reality is not scary … it’s just exhausting. 

I have lived on five continents. I have been exposed to a variety of worldviews, political clusterfucks and human rights tragedies. I became used to being an outsider looking in, which made it fairly easy for me to swing across conflicting realities. I adjusted quickly from Mumbai to New York to Mountain Brook. 

Here, I am not an outsider. I do not have the privilege of casual opinions, quiet observations or weightless sympathy. I am a Jew living in Israel. My actions and words are part of the stage. 

Several times a day, I am tossed across worlds that host separate realities and contradicting narratives. As the truths shift, so does my heart. Listening to everyone is exhausting; cross-checking my reactions to it all before I open my mouth drains me empty. Sometimes it hurts.  

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I want the violence to stop. I turn inward. I ask myself what I can do to ease the chaos around me. Right now, living in Jerusalem feels like living in a pressure cooker and, from what I see, the heat is not fueled by extremists or political leaders. It is fueled by people like me — laypeople who neglect personal responsibility by refusing or forgetting to build unity into their agendas of day-to-day tasks.  The heat is fueled by people who are set on defining and defending rights and wrongs.

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I know what you’re thinking and yes, there very well may be universal rights and wrongs … but the fact that they exist has no bearing on the situation here. Anyone can argue a black and a white. I want the violence to stop and I don’t see a purpose in sustaining this argument. 

I want the violence to stop, so I will focus my energy on efforts that are productive.  I will take time to listen, engage, acknowledge the suffering and pain of others, tell stories, smile and humanize.  I will speak as an individual, avoid blame and propaganda and veer from divisiveness. It is all that I can do. 

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I am a Jew living in Israel … and — deep breath –I refuse to be enemies with my neighbors … and — another deep breath —  I refuse to mitigate my empathy for human-life (regardless of my political views). I am not naive to think that my efforts are always (or often) mutual, nor do I think they can create peace at-large. But I do believe that I can lower the heat on the pressure cooker in which I live. I can say hello and listen to, tell and re-tell stories. Peace can come from the bottom. From the streets. From people like me. 

Stop worrying.

xo,

Shaina

See... people are still dancing in the street. They aren't scared, you shouldn't be either.

See… people are still dancing in the street. They aren’t scared- there’s no reason for you to be.

Ps. I know you’re not happy with my decisions right now, but I hope my letter sheds some light unto my reasoning. And really, stop worrying.

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Pps. Here’s a Jewish bit that I found consoling: In a recent d’var Torah, Rabbi Les Bronstein of  T’ruah explained that the Torah tells us that we must to do what is necessary to save ourselves …  but that even when we are protecting ourselves, we must allow ourselves to weep for the other.  He said, “If we stop protecting ourselves, we will cease to be. But if we stop caring about the consequences of our self-preservation, we will cease to be the Jewish people, which may be tantamount to ceasing to exist altogether.” 

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Musakhan

Last week, I helped the family downstairs prepare the Iftar meal with which they break their Ramadan fast. They showed me how to make Musakhan, which, I was told, is the Palestinian dish to know. I’ve tried a lot of foods from this region so I was shocked (and upset) that I wasn’t familiar with most famous Palestinian dish! But now I know. Even though I ate around the chicken, it was an incredible meal. 

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Along with Musakhan, we made “Arab Salad,” which is the salad that I (and many Israelis) eat almost every day – finely chopped vegetables mixed with tahini, lemon juice and parsley. 

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Also, look at this amazing oven that works like a taboon – can we get one?

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Serves 5 – 7 

Prep time – 1 – 2 hours

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp cloves, ground
  • 3 cardamom seeds, crushed
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbs olive oilIMG_5732
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 tbs sumac

  • 1 pound white or yellow onions
  • 1 pound red onions 
  • 2 tsp salt  
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken (or vegetarian) stock
  • 4 Tbs. ground sumac 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 
  •  1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper  
  • 4 pieces lavash, taboon, shrak, or pita bread
  • 1/2 cup toasted cashews, almond slices, pine nuts
  • handful of parsley for garnish

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Combine garlic, cloves cardamom seeds , salt and black pepper. set aside one tablespoon of mixture and rub remainder into chicken. Let marinate. 

Meanwhile, chop onions into small pieces. Place in large skillet with olive oil and half of your chicken stock and salt. Cover and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes or until onions are translucent. Then, add remaining spices and continue cooking over low heat for another 20 minutes. 

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Roast chicken in oven on 400 degrees on a baking sheet. Mix reserved tablespoon of spices with lemon juice and 4 tbs sumac. Once chicken is roasted, cover chicken with remaining spices.

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Once onions are cooked and fragrant, brush pan with olive oil. Place bread on pan and sprinkle with 3 – 4 tbs of chicken (or veg) stock. Then, cover with onions and place in oven.

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Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until onions are browned and bread is crispy. Place chicken on top of bread and garnish with parsley and cashews, almonds or pine nuts. To eat, rip pieces of bread and chicken with your hands, or cut it up like a pizza. For a vegetarian version, replace chicken with baked zatar tofu, or top with labneh or greek yogurt. 

◊ Let’s Talk

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Dear mom,

Indeed, the life force goes on. Throughout stress, transition and mayhem, we chop vegetables. We get on buses. We pretend we’re taking notes in class when we’re chatting with friends online. We finish homework on time for class (ha). Tragedy and fear persist, and so does life. 

Many people from home have been asking how I’m handling it all. People ask about what it’s like when sirens go off indicating that rockets from Gaza are on the way. They ask for my thoughts on “the conflict.” I’m unable to vocalize anything… My anger, sadness and sensitivity surprise me each time in engage with someone about life here. The whole situation has tremendously affected me.

Several days ago, I released some of the mess in my brain with a pen-and-paper purge. I didn’t write my thoughts with the intention of posting them here, but I want to share them with you.

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One week ago, four days after the bodies of  Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were found outside of Jerusalem, I went to my first course of the summer semester, which covers inter-communal relations in Jerusalem, a topic that puzzles and fascinates me regularly. In the first twenty minutes of class, my classmates and I introduced ourselves with our names and a comparison between our hometowns and Jerusalem. 

My name is Jia-li, and I come from the Szechwan province, where it hot in the summers like it is now in Jerusalem.

My name is Amir, and I come from San Juan, which is a walled city resembling Jerusalem.

My name is Jackie, and I come from Boston, where historic architecture is all around like it is in Jerusalem.

I was the last person in the room to share. 

My name is Shaina… 

My voice was unexpectedly shaky. 

I grew up in Birmingham, AL, a city known for its history of racism and hate crimes. Today, systemic racism and segregation in the public sphere exist. I did not interact with African Americans other than grocery-store clerks, maintenance workers, house cleaners and ‘nannies’ until I was in high school. I joined dialogue groups and workshops to talk about race, and made black friends who were afraid to come to parties at my house because they did not want to be stopped by the police in an almost all-white neighborhood. I ventured to neighborhoods that I was told not to go to. I became comfortable with the discomfort of being in a place where I am different and comfortable with the discomfort of being in a place where everyone is just like me.

I did not have to explain how my hometown was similar to Jerusalem.

Two weeks ago, I moved from an apartment in Nachlaot to a Palestinian neighborhood. Nachlaot is in West Jerusalem. Its residents wear high-waisted jeans picked from the racks of trendy vintage stores, American Apparel leggings (the kind of thing to stock up on when moving to Israel from the US) and old leather backpacks. They are hip Jewish-Israeli artists, students and young professionals. 

I moved to a Palestinian neighborhood to practice my Arabic and experience a different space of the city. My new apartment is a fifteen minute walk from my old one and it feels like it’s in a separate country.  Even the pavement on the streets is different. 

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Last Wednesday, the day that the boys’ bodies were found in Hebron, I was in the library until evening, multitasking between writing final papers and reading the news. When I got to my apartment, I squeezed through barricades of soldiers to reach my front door. I found my roommates packing overnight bags. Neither of them – a Palestinian-American and a Dane – felt safe staying in the apartment. We shared updates from our Facebook newsfeeds and the op-eds we had read. I listened to the Palestinian-American’s accounts of  the situation in Gaza and Hebron. We left the apartment and headed in different directions – I walked back to Nachlaot, my old neighborhood.

Ten minutes later, I was on Jaffo Street in the city-center. A mob of pre-teens emerged from an alley screaming, in Hebrew, “death to Arabs,” followed by police on horses. Young girls wearing Israeli flags laid down in front of the horses while the teens ran in the streets with sticks in their hands, cheering and shouting like they were at a football game. I started crying. I followed the mob, and watched them surround two small Arab boys against the wall of a shop. The police were gone. The boys sprinted away as fast as they could. The mob cheered.

I arrived at my friend’s house in Nachlaot and plopped down on his leather couch next to others just like me. They had gathered to comfort one another in face of the day’s painful news. The conversation vacillated between things like the health benefits of sprouted grains and how only a society of animals could celebrate something so brutal as the murder of children. I was too shaken to say anything. My fifteen minute walk from neighborhood to neighborhood illuminated the separateness of the multiple realities being lived by Jerusalem’s inhabitants. These realities are divided by vast gaps, but have been built right on top of each other. 

The next day, the body of Muhammed Abu Khadier was found. Another tragedy. In spite of warnings from friends, family and Israeli security, I went to Muhammed Abu Khadier’s mourning tent in Shuafat, a fifteen minute walk from my University’s campus. I thought about the fifteen minutes it took for me to get from Mountain Brook to Ensley – going there was the only way to bridge the gap. 

Visiting Muhammed Abu Khadier’s family was sad and uncomfortable and important. 

The severity of the conflict has escalated. People in Jerusalem are scared; people in Tel Aviv are scared; people in Gaza are scared; I am scared. What does this violence mean for the future of the families around me? These days have been a painful time for Jews and for Palestinians.

Today, a Muslim-American friend (she wears a headscarf) asked if I wanted to meet up for dinner in a place that feels mutually safe. I laughed to myself.

I responded via text message, Hahaha yes!

And then, Sorry, not funny…  just feeling confused about where that place is supposed to be.  

I am embarrassed to admit this: when I walk the streets of Jerusalem my heart remembers driving around Birmingham. It remembers being conflicted, torn and confused about where I’m supposed to be. It remembers the dialogue groups I participated in in high school – Anytown Alabama, Heritage Panel and PEACE Birmingham – that positioned me to see individuals beyond their homophobia or evangelical conviction that I was eternally dammed. In Birmingham, I learned that trying to bridge gaps can curb violence and fear; I learned how to speak and think in I instead of we and they; I learned that no one has exclusive ownership of the truth. Is it naive to think that teaching our children to communicate – to think – could make the world more livable?

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Thank you for sending your prayers – please, continue to do so. But more importantly, let’s talk. 

Whoa.

xo,
Shaina

Ps. Wow dad has tarragon growing in the garden?! YES. 

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This salad is adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s 2012 collaboration : “Jerusalem: A Cookbook.” You know it. The two are an Israeli Jew and Palestinian who united over a shared appreciation of food among other things.  I received their book as a gift from my aunt and immediately fell in love. I will never be able to look at it in the same way I did before living Jerusalem. It’s pages, in which Ottolenghi and Tamimi weave together the separate realities of the city, are colored with familiar scenes, characters and flavors. It’s beautiful. 

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Shabbat dinner spread

Tamimi and Ottolenghi aren’t the only ones:  Jam Session, recipes from women belonging to The Parents Circle, a group of Israeli and Palestinian parents who lost children in the conflict, is another inspiring collaboration. There is hope. Yesterday, my classmates and I had the privilege to hear Raphie Etgar, the founder/director of  Museum on the Seam speak about his work to create dialogue and unearth hard topics through art. Etgar told us that “creating art is one of the ways people can something and expect other to listen … Discussion is a starting point for considering other options.” Word. 

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Jerusalem Date and Greens Salad, Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4-5

  • 1 tbs wine vinegar
  • 1/2 medium purple onion, thinly sliced and chopped
  • 5-7  Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 2 small pitas or any bread you have laying around, torn into 1 1/2 -inch pieces
  • 1 tbs poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup almonds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts (or all) chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
  • 5 handfuls of arugula or mixed greens (the original recipes calls for 5 to 6 ounces baby spinach leaves)
  • 2 oz goat cheese feta, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbs good olive oil

Put vinegar, onion, salt and dates in a small bowl.  Leave to marinate for 20 minutes and drain any residual vinegar.  Discard vinegar.

Heat butter in pan over medium heat. Add pita and fry until golden. Add poppy seeds, almonds and whatever other nuts use choose, continuously stirring until pita is crunchy and nuts are toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and mix in sumac, chile flakes and a pinch of salt. Let cool.

When ready to serve, toss spinach leaves, pita mix, dates and red onion and feta with olive oil, lemon juice and pinch of salt. Serve  immediately.

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The recipe below is one I made up in a last-minute effort to clean out my kitchen space. It also reeks Jerusalem. The dominant flavors – rich tahini, spiky zatar, surprisingly warm- spiced chickpeas – are familiar to all Jerusalemites (the tofu part… not so much). Don’t be scared by the list of ingredients… it’s long, but this dish is worth it.

Tahini Roasted Vegetables with Crispy Chickpeas and Baked Tofu

Prep time: 1-2 hours

Serves: 7 – 10 as a side, 4-7 as a main

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  • 3 medium sized carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 3 cups (one large box) of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 medium purple onions, chopped into 1/2 in pieces
  • 2 medium eggplants, chopped into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • 2 cups chick peas, cooked (or canned) and drained
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/tsp cumin
  • pinch of cayenne powder or chili flake
  • salt to taste
  • 1 (or more) 16 oz box of extra firm tofu
  • 1 (or more) tbs olive oil
  • salt
  • sumac
  • zatar
  • 4 heaping tbs crude tahini
  • 1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
  • sprinkle of sumac
  • sprinkle of zatar

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Preheat oven to 250 degrees (use convection setting if you can). Toss carrots, tomatoes and onions in olive oil, salt and pepper and lay flat on baking sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper). Allow to slowly roast in oven for about 35 – 50 minutes until tomatoes are wrinkled, onions are browned, eggplant is soft and carrot edges are crisp. Check frequently – it turns from browned to burnt quickly! When done, mix with lemon juice and zest. Allow to cool.

While your veggies are in the oven, mix cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, salt and olive oil. Add chickpeas until coated. Lay flat on baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Set aside.

Up the oven to 350 once veggies are done.

IMG_3782Remove the tofu from its packaging and pat dry with paper towels. Cut tofu into cubes and allow excess liquid to drain. While draining, prepare mixture of olive oil, zatar, sumac and salt. Mix tofu cubes with the zatar mixture so that each cube of tofu is covered with a green powder coating. Lay flat on baking sheet covered in parchment paper.

 Bake tofu and chickpeas (on separate baking sheets) until golden and crispy at 350 – this should take 30 – 50 minutes. The zatar and cinnamon will make your kitchen smell heavenly.

After it’s all out of the oven, toss everything together with 2 tbs tahini and sesame seeds. Drizzle remaining tahini over top. Dust the final product with pinches of sumac and zatar and serve.

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Guest Post from a Cousin

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Dear Esther,

After returning bloody, bruised, and blistered from our Yam L’Yam Shvis Shvil, Shaina and I were determined to cook a Shvis Shabbat feast (Shvis = Shavuot in Bubbe language). We wanted to remember Bubbe, but didn’t have the time or energy to make her blintzes – we could barely walk after 75 kilometers of climbing steep hills, walking through dry wadis and scurrying around (or into) boulders in just one and two half days! So, we opted for her sweet kugel instead.

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Finding the right kind of noodles was the first challenge. FYI, there are no Manischewitz brand “wide egg noodles” here in Israel. The closest thing I could find was a slightly different, thicker type of egg noodle, which I think ended up making the kugel a bit denser than I would have liked. Long story short, this recipe is easy, but if you try making it healthy-“ish” it just doesn’t work (as we learned the hard way!). Bubbe didn’t skimp out on her use of “hoil” and eggs – neither should you if you attempt to make this one at home.

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Shaina,

What am I going to do without you, my kambuchi kitchen goddess, next year? I’m already getting sad you are leaving in just 2 months. On the upside, I know great things are about to come your way! And with that, here’s to more Schuster-Shealy Israeli adventures both in and outside of the kitchen!

Love, Naomi.

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Bubbe’s Sweet Kugel 

  • 2 packages Wide Egg Noodles (Manischewitz brand is preferable, if available)
  • 1 lemon (juice and zest)
  • 1 orange (juice and zest)
  • 3 green apples, diced (I used 4, some green, some red—depends if you like tart or sweet and what is in
  • season)
  • 1-2 cups raisins (Bubbe didn’t actually ever measure—so just eyeball it)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs, beaten (I used 2 eggs and 4 egg whites but the egg whites didn’t hold the kugel together so
  • well…)
  • 4-5 tsps. Vanilla (once again, according to personal preference)
  • Cinnamon to taste (I use A LOT!!)
  • Canola Oil (for pan) and maybe add some to kugel as well if you want to truly cook like Bubbe!

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Boil noodles until a little less than fully cooked (they shouldn’t be hard but not so soft they are falling apart); Drain. In a separate bowl mix together diced apples, raisins, sugar, lemon zest, and orange zest. Add noodles to this mixture. Then add lemon juice, orange juice, vanilla, and cinnamon. Stir in eggs.

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil (canola) in bottom of 13 x 9 x 2 glass baking dish for a few minutes until it starts to bubble/pop. Pour noodle mixture into prepared ban. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 30 minutes. Let cool. Can be served at room temperature or re-heated in the microwave.

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♦ Who Knew?!

Dear Shaina,

I wasn’t already feeling bad enough about inflicting only childhoodness on you …and then I find out, twenty-five years later, that I was a totally clueless parent! I had always thought of myself as a conscious and conscientious parent; someone who knew her child and tried to provide what her child needed, separate and distinct from my own needs…stop rolling your eyes. I tried. Obviously, I missed some things.

Who knew that you struggled with loneliness. It seemed that there were always kids around and activities planned and sleepovers at our house or someone else’s. You were gone for a month every summer at overnight camp living in a crowded cabin with 15 other girls. The rest of the summer was filled with day camps, swim team and friends. I know there were lonely moments. Clearly, you dealt with them creatively.

Who knew that you had a phone glued to your ear laying alone in your sick bed (Oy! Stab me in the heart!). You never answered the phone at home and barely talked on it (at least when we were around). I know I didn’t leave you home alone sick as a small child. Bubbe would have killed me. You clearly had to have reached some age of maturity to have been able to identify with the Golden Girls. You couldn’t have been that sick or I would not have left you at any age.

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And the only thing I ever saw you make in the kitchen was an egg sandwich! I just really had no idea how much creativity was going on right under my nose. I am afraid to ask what else I don’t know. I am not sure how all of this relates to only-childhoodness, but at least if I had had a few kids, I would have an excuse for my cluelessness.

When I was young, my imaginary “when-I-grow-up” life included lots of children, a white picket fence with a backyard and a stay-at-home mom, not unlike my own childhood. Life doesn’t always pan out the way we expected it to. Sometimes the things we think we want, don’t make us feel the way we thought they would.  I never would have survived as a stay-at-home mom…and you probably wouldn’t have either.  Although being an only child has its challenges and burdens (I promise to clean out this house before I die), the reality is that the grass has brown spots on both sides of the fence…for parent and child. I am continually in awe of all the beautiful green grass you have so creatively grown and nurtured on the side of the fence that you got thrown into. And your friend, Hannah, hasn’t done such a bad job either!

Shabbat was great! The pics...not so much.

Shabbat was great! The pics…not so much.

In the meantime, thanks for suggesting that I host a concurrent Bham/Israel Shabbat dinner. It turned out to be great fun and an idea worth repeating. We hosted the Birmingham parents who have children living in Israel while you hosted their kids eight hours earlier in Jerusalem. There were a few parents and kids missing at both of our tables, so we’ll have to plan a repeat. I apologize for the fuzzy pictures.

What a Fun Group! Forgive the pics.

What a Fun Group! Forgive the pics.

The food and drink were amazing thanks to everyone’s efforts. We had matzah ball soup, roasted Eggplant, classic Israeli salad, carrot salad, kale/vegetable salad and Challah and wine, of course.

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I made hummus with the tahini I brought home from Israel, your zesty herbed rice salad with dried cut-up figs instead of raisins, roasted green beans and chicken piccata with mushrooms and capers. Dessert was lemon pound cake, cherry hamantaschen (still some in the freezer waiting for you), and Naomi’s famous chocolate streusel bars. It was the perfect collaborative feast and a very special Shabbat for all of us!

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Now on to Passover. I just ordered my fish. I am hoping to perfect my gefilte fish this year. And when exactly will you be arriving in Birmingham  (speaking of being clueless)? I am always the last to know!

Safe travels and I can’t wait to see you…whenever it is!!

Love,
Mom

xooxoxooxoxxoxoxoxoo

 

Let’s begin with Dessert!
Naomi’s Favorite Chocolate Streusel Bars

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Every time Gail or Naomi (when she’s here) make these, people inhale them (even non-chocolate lovers) and want to know the recipe. Here it is…

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Cocoa
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can(14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
  • 2 cups(12-oz. pkg.) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, divided
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts

Directions
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 13x9x2-inch baking pan.
2. Stir together flour, sugar and cocoa in large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg; mix well. Set aside 1-1/2 cups mixture. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared pan.
3. Bake 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in medium microwave-safe bowl, place sweetened condensed milk and 1 cup chocolate chips; stir. Microwave at MEDIUM (50%) 1 to 1-1/2 minutes or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred; pour over crust. Add nuts and remaining chips to reserved crumb mixture. Sprinkle over top.
4. Bake an additional 25 to 30 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 24 to 36 bars.

 

For the non-vegetarians 

Easy Chicken Piccata for a Crowd

Makes enough for 12-14 plus leftovers

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  • 6-7 whole skinless and boneless chicken breasts (2 chicken breast halves per whole breast)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour *
  • 1 tsp each dried tarragon, parsley and basil
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1 pound mushrooms sliced
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 – 1 1/4 cup white wine like sauvignon blanc (not sweet wine)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup chicken broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup capers
  • Fresh parsley
  • Lemon slices for garnish if desired

*Matza meal or potato starch can be substituted for Passover, Potato or corn starch can be used to make this dish Gluten Free.

This recipe can be partially prepared ahead of time to minimize mess and preparation time on the day you will be serving it.

Day One
Place chicken breasts, one or two at a time, between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with the non-tenderizing side of a mallet into cutlets about a 1/4 inch thin or a little thicker if you prefer. Depending on the size of the breast, after pounding it down, you can cut it into serving size pieces. Lightly salt and pepper the chicken and set aside.

Mix the flour with the dried herbs in a shallow bowl.

Heat a large sauté pan and pour a little oil and some of the garlic into the pan. Sauté the garlic lightly. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture and sauté for 1-2 minutes on each side in the oil and garlic. Set aside the lightly browned chicken in a dish that can be covered and stored in the refrigerator. Add more oil and garlic as needed to finish sautéing all the chicken. Once you have sautéed all the chicken, cover and refrigerate.

Place the sliced mushrooms in the same sauté pan that you used for the chicken. Add oil if needed and sauté until mushrooms are cooked through, but not overdone. There should be juices from the mushrooms and deglazed chicken remnants in the pan. Remove mushrooms and all liquid from the pan and store in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Squeeze fresh lemons to make about 2/3 cup of lemon juice and refrigerate in a covered container.

Day Two

IMG_3374About an hour before serving time, take chicken, mushrooms and lemon juice out of the refrigerator. Wash and chop the parsley and thinly slice a lemon if using for garnish.

Using a large sauté pan or two pans, place chicken in the pan. Add mushrooms with juices, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 3/4 cup wine and cook over medium heat. As the sauce thickens, add 1/2 cup chicken broth. Add more as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings (garlic, salt and pepper) and lemon juice, wine and broth to taste.

Cook until chicken is browned and cooked through and all flavors are well-blended. This could take 20 – 40 minutes depending on how much chicken is in the pan. Toss in capers. Serve immediately or keep warm until serving time.

Garnish with thin slices of fresh lemon and chopped parsley.

I made mine in a large (16”) electric frying pan that I was able to use as a serving dish while keeping the chicken warm. Serve with green beans roasted with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

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♦ Keeping Your Parents Entertained

Dear Shaina,

I loved all the pictures of the menorahs in glass boxes…so different from here where we are constantly trying to explain that Chanukah is a minor holiday…as if that isn’t obvious enough in this world of Santa Clauses and reindeers.

I so missed having you here for the holidays. You always bring something fresh and fun…like the time you mandated that we could only bring a used or new gift from our house (no shopping at the store) to exchange at our family/friends Chanukah party…and that people could steal someone else’s if they liked it better than the one they chose. It was hysterical! We vowed to do it every year, but you haven’t been home on Chanukah since and the rest of us just can’t seem to get it together. We did, however, eat enough latkes to last the whole year and…yes, I finally hung Chanukah lights…and you weren’t even here!

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Two couch surfers stayed with us last week, thanks to your offer of our house.  Apparently, you are on some listserve of socially conscious young people and saw a request for couches along their route across the country. Once you checked her out and learned that she worked with one of your friends in DC, you told her she could get a reference on us from him.  Your DC friend, and a group of thirteen college kids he had led on a spring break work trip to New Orleans several years back, had stayed with us on their way home, again, per your coordination.  Dad and I decided that we would have led pretty boring lives if you hadn’t been born.

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I am serious. You have led us to countries we would never have visited, you exposed us to foreign flavors and cultures and you introduced people into our lives who, like you, have stimulated us and provided us with a measure of hope for the future. We thank you for letting us horn in on your adventures and giving us a glimpse of a world we most likely would’ve missed had it not been for you.

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I know it can feel like a burden to be an only child and I don’t want to add to that burden in any way by suggesting that you are responsible for filling our lives. Your engagement in your own life and your commitment to your own pursuit of happiness is gift enough to us.

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Plus, we get all the collateral benefits without the risks, challenges or hardships.  So, thanks! Keep up the good work of keeping your old parents entertained.

Thanks for sending Tan’s herbed rice recipe. I had some fennel I had to use so I tried it.  It was so delicious! Dad wants to know when I am making it again. I made it with preserved lemons (Nahum’s recipe) instead of lemon juice. Preserved lemons are my new favorite food discovery…you get all the lemon freshness, without the sharpness. I use it in everything that calls for lemon. It seems like we get a little taste of Israel every day.

After a brief heat wave, we got really cold weather. Dad dragged all the plants inside, started splitting wood and stoked up the wood stove…and I started cooking a huge pot of veggie chili…same as always.

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I hope you’re staying warm. Miss you and love you.

Love,

Mom

xoxoxooxooxoxoxoxo

Nahum’s Preserved Lemons

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This is a great way to use up a lot of lemons and have them on hand for a variety of uses. I use them in anything savory that calls for lemon juice and zest. Although they are layered in salt, they don’t seem to add a salty flavor, only the true essence of lemon..

  • 3-4 smooth medium skinned lemons, washed thoroughly (if the skin is too thin, they will be mushy, if too thick, they will be bitter)
  • Coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 glass pint jar

Slice off ends of lemon and discard.  Cut lemon into very thin slices and remove seeds. Layer in a glass pint jar, sprinkling Kosher salt between each layer. Pack the lemons tightly in the jar until it is full and put the lid on tightly.

Leave it in room temperature. Once brine starts to accumulate in the jar, turn it upside down.

After three to five days it will be ready.  It can be refrigerated at this point and used for a couple of weeks.  The longer it stays, the more picklish (and less “fruity”) it will be.

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If you want to spice it up, add sweet or hot paprika to the Kosher salt and you will have Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Tan’s Tomato Salad

I served this at Thanksgiving dinner and people went back for seconds. I used Kumato (Brown tomatoes) and Campari tomatoes. It is a ridiculously easy recipe and is light, flavorful and satisfying…and I even forgot to add the olive oil!

  • 1 pound of your favorite tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped green or purple onions (optional- I added these)
  • Preserved lemons or Moroccan Preserved Lemons
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Just combine coarsely chopped tomatoes (any kind) with finely cut up preserved lemon, black olives and some salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for a while and add some olive oil before serving.

One Pot Vegetarian Chili (a big pot)

No matter how I start out, this chili always ends up making enough for a huge crowd with leftovers to be frozen for later use.  This combination of vegetables reflects what I had in my refrigerator plus a few things I picked up at the grocery store.  The recipe and quantities are very flexible and accommodating to individual tastes and desires, so don’t feel like you have to follow this recipe precisely.  Just get out your biggest soup pot (6-8 quarts) and start creating!

  • Image2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 package tofu ground “beef”, regular or taco flavored
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, cut up
  • 1-2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 fresh peppers, green, red, yellow or orange, cut up
  • 1/2 pound baby portabello mushrooms, cut up
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 5-6 cans (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes
  • 4 zucchinis, cut up
  • 4 yellow crookneck squash, cut up
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 2 cans black beans, drained (or you can cook your own dried beans, any kind you like)
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, drained
  • Cumin, Chili powder, garlic and salt to taste ( a good taco or chili seasoning mix can be used)
  • Aged Cheddar Cheese for topping (optional)

Cut up all vegetables in small or bite sized chunks.

Heat oil in a large 6-8 quart soup pot. Sauté tofu, onions, carrots, celery, peppers, mushrooms and garlic in olive oil.

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Add canned diced tomatoes and remaining vegetables and beans and cook at medium heat until thoroughly heated.  Add spices to taste. Lower the heat and cook until liquids are reduced and mixture is thickened. This could take a couple hours.  Taste and adjust seasoning frequently.

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This chili can be eaten as a thick soup or placed in a casserole and topped with cheese and rebaked in the oven at 350° for about 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Serve with a salad, French rolls or fresh cornbread and you have a hearty winter meal.

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♦ Family, Food and Love

Dear Shaina,

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!

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?

food and fam israel 2013

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.

Amit wedding 2013

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.

Israel family 2013

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.

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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.

Israel Market Shaina 2013

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Love,

Mom

xooxoxoxoxoxoxooxoxo


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.  

Ready to Eat!!

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

    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

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!!

Ready to Eat!!

Squash  and Sweet Potato Soup
Israeli Style
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.

Soup's Done!

Soup’s Done!

  • 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.

Options
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?

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  • 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

Squash Corn latkes 2013

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.

◊ 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
IMG_8589prep time:

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