◊ Get a Grip

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Dear mom,

Get a grip. Seriously. If you’re going through life desperately worrying about the invasion of inexplicable life altering tragedies, then maybe you have… like… a problem.

I worry too, but, as I explained in my previous letter, I’m tryna stick with things that are productive. I worried about getting to the airport with enough time to go on a fancy lotion sampling tour at Duty Free after security. It was a productive worry – it made me wake up to my alarm (and every hour for 3 hours before it). Now I’m sitting on the floor, charging my computer and waiting to board my flight out of Israel. My skin is all greased up with an estimated $50 of moisturizer (does anyone actually buy such expensive lotions foreal?).

I’m about to board the plane, but it doesn’t feel like I’m leaving.  I’m at ease. Maybe it’s because I’m in denial, or maybe it’s because I know I’ll be back. Maybe I’m actually a little ready for a break from constantly untangling my brain from the mess it absorbs from media, friends, family, cab drivers, vegetable-sellers, professors, twitter.

I know this mess won’t go away once I’m out of Israel… that it will become more intense as I’m expected to answer questions about rockets, airstrikes, tunnels, Bibi, #IsraelUnderFire, #GazaUnderAttack, Palestinian identity, Jewish identity, Jerusalem clashes, UNRWA, Shujaiyya, Sderot, soldiers, sirens. I’m happy to share my reflections, but please know that I don’t know anything. My opinions are few and my certainty is limited.

My certainty is limited to my favorite hummus places (Blue Bus and the place off Agripas with bright colored plastic boxes for seats), where to buy the freshest nuts in the shuk (the guy after halva king and before the cheap herbs on the left if you’re walking towards Yaffo  in the covered side), the best jogs (Tel Aviv’s Tayelet, Jerusalem’s Tachanat Rishon and Har Eitan), the tastiest salads (Orna v’ Ella in Tel Aviv, Nodir near Bezalel), most beautiful hikes (haaj from Jerusalem to Jericho),  and which professors to avoid at Hebrew U (will remain unnamed).

A walk from Jerusalem to Jericho

A walk from Jerusalem to Jericho

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My nut guy

Blue Bus hummus, Pardes Hana

Blue Bus hummus, Pardes Hana

They make it in a blue bus

They make it in a blue bus

View from my favorite jogging site, Tel Aviv's Tayelet

View from my favorite jogging site, Tel Aviv’s Tayelet

Orna V Ella, Tel Aviv

Orna V Ella, Tel Aviv

I’m certain that my gratitude for family who allowed me to really be family will be forever; that roommates can be family too; that my classmates provided more education than my professors; that Jerusalem attracts straight-up weirdos (I like them anyways); that friends are important; that feeling Shabbat is a special thing; that Jerusalem, for better or worse, is much more than a city and place.

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It’s been quite a year. Thanks in advance for preparing for my return with my favorite foods and clean sheets… In that sense, I guess your worrying is productive (or it at least works out in my favor). Can’t wait for a haircut, massage, hot bath and all the things that will help me restore energy to dive into another intense year of unknowns. I’m just four take-offs and landings away! Til then, hold yourself together. 

xo,

Shaina

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Today I will post two recipes – one dedicated to family: Nurit’s Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Tart, the other dedicated to friends: Zesty Sorrel Pesto.

As you know, the last month or so was a bit stressful and weekend getaways to family saved me. For the past two months, Nurit and the rest of the Pardes Hana family has nourished my soul, beached my body and washed and folded my laundry almost every weekend.  Several Shabbats ago, Nurit made an incredible goat cheese tart. Eggs, cheese and carbs – the perfect comfort food.  I re-made it with rye flour for a Shabbat that I hosted before I moved out of my Nachlaot apartment. It was a much needed indulgence.

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Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Tart with a Rye Crust

Prep time: one hour

Makes two pies: serves 7 – 8

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Crust:

  • 1 /12 c all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 c rye flour
  • 1 cup butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7 tbs ice water

Filling:IMG_3865 2

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 small red onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium bell peppers (mix of yellow, red and orange), sliced vertically
  • 1 cup soft goat cheese
  • 1 cup cream
  • 3 medium eggs
  • tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped

Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until it crumblies to teeny balls. Add 4-5 tablespoons cold water and use your hands to mix it into a dough. Wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough on a floured surface. With the dough, line a standard pie dish.  Press the pastry into the corners of the dish. Leave the excess overhanging the edge. Poke holes in the base with a fork, line with baking paper and fill with rice or beans to weigh down. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven and set aside. 

-OR BUY A PRE-MADE PIE CRUST-

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pan. Sauté onions on low heat until fragrant. Add peppers and garlic and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes.   Set aside to cool.

Whisk eggs, cream, salt and basil in a separate bowl. Spread cheese along bottom of pastry crust and layer with onions and peppers. Pour egg and cream mixture on top. Scatter with remaining peppers and onions, and bake for thirty minutes until top is golden. Allow to cool before serving.

Zesty Sorrel Pesto

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Last week, some of my friends and I organized a food party to learn how to make Chinese dumplings.  I learned how to prepare them, but didn’t want to eat the meat… It was one of the few times I’ve hated my vegetarianism. The other time involved Bubbe’s kreplach, which is basically the same food as Chinese dumplings minus the added ginger. I guess I have a thing for dumplings. 

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My lame contribution to our cross-cultural food exchange was toasted pita with sorrel pesto, parmesean and almond/cashew pieces. My original idea was to do buckwheat blinis with sorrel pesto, ricotta and crushed hazelnuts but I didn’t get it together in time. I still can’t stop thinking about it though, so it will definitely happen in the future.

I made a big batch of  sorrel pesto about two months ago and kept it in the freezer (removing small lbatches into jars that lved in the fridge about twice a week or so). I found a huge (HUGE!) box of what I thought was spinach for just ten shekels at Machane Yehuda, so I took it home. Turns out it was sorrel! Instead of hitting my books, I went straight to the kitchen to prepare a big tub of pesto. In additoin to my master blini plan, this pesto is the perfect quick fix to add zest and rich flavor to simple salad of chopped veggies. Really, it’s a game-changer… especially when in a time and resource crunch (story of my life).

Zesty Sorrel Pesto

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: A lot

  • 10 ounces of fresh sorrel
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 4 tbs tahini or almond butter
  • 1 tbs good olive oil
  • juice and zest of 2 medium lemons
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • generous dash of fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 cup walnuts

Wash sorrel and chop or tear into small pieces. Chop garlic roughly. Add spinach, garlic and remaining ingredients (except for walnuts) to food processor. Pulse until a thick, green puree forms. Once you have a paste, add walnuts and pulse until desired consistency. I like to leave the walnuts a little crunchy for added texture.

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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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