◊ Sweetness


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.


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.


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.



About to devour Pasteis de Nata in Belem


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.

IMG_1320 IMG_1251

Hope Birmingham has recovered from its snow trauma!



Crispy Oat, Orange and Poppy Cookies

Makes 10 – 12 cookies

Prep time: 20 minutes


  • 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.


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.



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:


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



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.



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



Eating chocolate cake with the girls