◊ Cleanse 5775


Dear mom,

I am writing out of turn to share my cleanse experience and recipes while they’re fresh … I know you won’t have a chance to write before you get back from Portland next week.

Many of our readers know about the annual Cleanse, where a group of us adhere to special dietary restrictions during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to deepen mind/body/spirit connection.

I broke my Yom Kippur fast and cleanse last night on bagels and chocolate chip cookies. I have been noshing refined sugary gluten all morning and I miss the cleanse.

The diet itself isn’t so remarkable to me. I basically eat according cleanse rules always. But the cleanse was particularly meaningful this year because of all of the people who contributed their thoughts and recipes. It’s fun to share this experience and to be part of a group aiming toward introspection and healing. Three friends (two of whom live on separate continents) wrote personal letters to me re their cleanses. I was moved by their thoughts and realized how grateful I am A.) for the internet B.) for the friendships that remain across far distance and C.) for having an idea that was taken seriously (it’s been awhile).

The cleanse Shabbat that we were able to prepare together during your visit was also special. It was nice to introduce you to my life and friends here!


I added a ten-minute daily meditation to my cleanse this year. I did it but couldn’t really do it. I followed the rules of the meditation app I downloaded, but couldn’t quiet my mind from thoughts of almond butter, school assignments and dinner party planning. I don’t get the point of a blank mind for a whole ten minutes every day. Meditation did not change my life – it just annoyed me.

I am thinking about doing a cleanse each month for a week around Rosh Chodesh (the start of new moon cycles and Jewish months). It’s a nice way to start new periods of time – to re-set my body and mind.

I know your cleanse was a little different this year since you were traveling, but I’m still looking forward to hearing about it. Below are my star recipes from Cleanse 5775.






Roasted tahini-miso tzimmes over creamy Kamut berries

Serves: 7-10

Prep time: 50 minutes

Roasted tahini-miso tzimmes:

  • 3 tbs miso
  • 3 tbs tahini
  • 2 tbs honey (optional)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • zest and juice of 2 navel oranges
  • 1/3 c sesame seeds
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 4 c acorn squash, chopped into 2 in pieces
  • 2 c butternut squash, chopped into 2 in pieces
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced in half and quartered
  • 2 c fresh figs, sliced in half
  • 1 red onion, sliced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine miso, tahini, olive oil, orange juice, sesame seeds and spices into a thick paste. Then, toss with squash, carrots, onions and figs. Lay flat on a baking sheet and bake for 25 – 40 minutes until golden brown on the edges. Stick a fork in the squash to make sure it’s all the way cooked through. Squash should be tender on the inside and golden on the outside.


Creamy Kamut Berries

  • 5 c prepared Kamut Berries
  • 1/3 c golden raisins
  • 1/3 c toasted pistachios
  • 1/3 c toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tbs tahini
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 c chopped fresh basil (reserve some for garnish)


Toss all ingredients together – the tahini will make the Kamut berries nutty and creamy!

Serve the tzimmes over warm Kamut and garnish with chopped basil.





Pink Bean Dip
  • 3 c white beans
  • 3 roasted beets, peeled
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg powder
  • 1/ 2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 3/4 c very toasted walnut pieces
  • drizzle of olive oil for garnish
Put all ingredients except for walnut pieces into food processor and pulse for a minute. Add walnut pieces and pulse for another 1/2 minute. All ingredients should be incorporated into a rough, chunky puree – some nuts pieces should remain. Add salt and pepper as needed and drizzle with olive oil before serving. Can be served with apple slices, celery sticks, carrots, etc.






◊ Filling space


Dear mom,

I don’t want you to feel responsible for me feeling responsible for your worry. I’m not blaming you for it either. I’m just telling you how I feel. Isn’t that what you want? Such mixed messages! …  And more mother-induced trauma.

Just kidding. I’m over it. Glad that you and your chaise finally found homes.

Home. Some people seem to slide in easily. They appear comfortable in their space no matter what surrounds them. I am not one of those people. I’ve re-made home enough to know that I must put deliberate effort into feeling oriented and grounded. The process is always slow and harrowing.IMG_6234

I try to expedite it by walking around aimlessly (usually in the direction of a grocery store) to learn the grounds. I mark new territory with familiar scents  – I burn candles, incense, cookies. I fill new space with things that mark my permanence – glass containers of grains and spices, tubs of tea, jars of oils and lotions, bottles of nail polish.  Also rituals. Tea in the morning; Shabbat dinner; roasting vegetables Sunday afternoon; long runs on the weekend.

One of my favorite time and space-marking rituals is our annual Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur Cleanse. It helps me understand the passage of time, connect with my body and reflect. This year’s cleanse seems particularly important.

As is, the cleanse dietary rituals are easy for me. I want an additional mind-body challenge.

Rebecca inspired me to consider meditation as a daily practice. I do not have patience for stillness. Thus, I will be incorporating 10 minutes of daily meditation in my 10 day cleanse. I’m already annoyed by the time commitment, but I need to be forced to take a pause. For the past year, I have been moving at lightening speed, and I need processing time in order to feel oriented.


In the spirit of the cleanse, below are two cleanse appropriate, Rosh Hashana inspired recipes. You will be here in three days to see my home firsthand! I’m really looking forward to shlepping you to Berkeley Bowl and making Rosh Hashana meals together.



FullSizeRender (6)

For most people, the high holidays smell like warm chunks of meet and heavy kugels. My High Holiday food memories are decorated with colorful salads. Our post-service lunches always contain a large variety of salads – big bowls of kale with avocado, pomegranate studded tabouleh, etc – for starving guests to nosh when they first arrive from after never-ending morning services. My new salad idea is just sweet enough to be Rosh Hashana appropriate: chopped apples, arugula and celery in a creamy honey- tahini dressing.


Chopped Apples, Arugula and Celery with Creamy Honey-Tahini Dressing

Serves: 5 – 10 depending on portion size

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes


  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 garlic gloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbs honey (nix it for the cleanse)
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vingegar
  • 1/3 cup crude tahini
  • plenty of fresh black pepper


  • 4 celery stalks, sliced thinly
  • 3 – 4 good, sweet, crunchy apples, sliced thinly
  • 3 cups arugula, chopped
  • 2 medium stalks of spring onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup toasted walnuts

First, make the dressing. Make sure your garlic is crushed well and herbs are finely chopped. Add all ingredients to a jar or bowl. Stir well, until all ingredients are combined and smooth. Add black pepper as desired. Let sit for at least one hour before use.


No more than one hour before serving, chop celery, apples, arugula and spring onions. Toast and crush walnuts and allow to cool. Pile all ingredients in a bowl, add 1/3 c dressing and toss until apples, arugula and celery pieces are coated. Serve immediately.


Green Goddess Tahini Dressing

Serves: many, many salads

Prep time: 15 minutes

FullSizeRender (7)

This dressing livens up any salad. It’s grain mixed into grain bowls, slathered over roasted veggies or tossed into simple lettuce salads.

  • 1 bunch fresh chives
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch fresh tarragon
  • 1 bunch fresh scallions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbs tahini
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tbs lemon zest
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

FullSizeRender (8)


Simply place all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth liquid consistency is formed. Add salt and pepper too taste. If too pungent, add additional yogurt.

In the salad pictured, I topped a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, celery, roasted beets and chopped arugula with swirls of Green Goddess dressing, tahini, a drizzle of olive oil and fresh ground black pepper.

♦ It’s All OK

Dear Shaina,

I’m good with the topic change. The parents and child are clearly OK. But your shamelessness about poop is the result of neither good nor bad parenting, simply genetics.

Dad and I are cleaning out the attic and I came upon reams of your journals and “All About Me” books from Kindergarten on. You may not have talked much, but you sure did write and tell. You wrote about friends and family, sleepovers and seders and doing stuff with Dad and me. Those pages brought back neglected memories and allowed me a peek into your eight year old world. You seemed pretty happy. Clearly OK. I am grateful to you for your writing, now and then.

Your visit home flew by. Things were easy. Maybe we are mastering our new roles in this phase of your transient life. Mother: let go of household order, pick up (clothes, tea bags, mason jars), clean up (kitchen counters, floors, tabletops) buy food, put child to bed, enjoy the moments. Visiting daughter: mark your territory (foyer, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom), cook, buy food and tea, eat, drink tea (in large mason jars left in marked territories), run, spin, do homework, say good night. It all goes very smoothly once everyone knows their place.

It wasn’t all mundane. Thirty minutes before I was having people over I got a call from you to pick you up because you had a nasty fall while out on a run and couldn’t walk home…but you were OK!  So what’s a little oozing blood running down your leg a week before you are in a wedding wearing a short dress! Just another little activity for us to focus on; wound care, dressings, antibacterial ointments, non-stick pads, adhesive tape.  Amazingly, you made it to the wedding with only a little clear oozing and zero impact on your dancing ability.

Shaina skinned knee

Then there was that little weather incident the night before you left…a tornado headed right our way.  Down to the basement bathroom outfitted with blankets, pillows, water, iPad and disaster head gear. The tornado changed its mind and lost its steam. We got another chance to cuddle up in close quarters… and everything turned out OK.


And the excitement goes on… We were having a little drainage problem in the kitchen and your Dad decided that he could easily handle a simple sluggish kitchen drain. I wish I had pictures. It was right out of central casting; balding man sitting on the the floor hunched over, head under the sink, butt crack showing, tools in hand. Three failed attempts later, accompanied by three major floods of gushing foul smelling, black crud laden water all over the hardwood (now slightly warped) floors requiring every last towel in the house to sop up all the water, he slips in the laundry room on the wet tile and smashes his elbow. I’m OK, he says.


Towels & elbow

A real plumber arrived this morning. Dad’s elbow looks a lot better and thankfully, nothing is broken. Except, after clearing the clog, the main drain collapsed only to produce the fourth kitchen flood complete with bits of rusted pipe metal. They are replacing the main line tomorrow.

Dad and I are going to New Orleans for a long weekend to celebrate Mother’s Day and our 30th anniversary. Hard to believe. Despite the bumps and bruises along the way, we are all more than OK and that is a blessing!


Miss you so much!


Stuffed Portobello MushroomsIMG_3636

Dad and I were at Whole Foods (a habit we picked up from you) and got mesmerized by the multitude of exotic rice varieties in the bulk section. We bought some of each of our favorite colors and ended up with a lot of interesting looking rice. I pulled out my never-used rice cooker and decided to test it out. I made a lot of multicolored rice! My first plan was stir-fried veggies over rice. That was a great meal, but I got left with a whole bunch of cooked rice.

You know I am the queen of leftovers. I can’t bear to throw out good food. This turned out be a good week to test my leftover re-invention skills. I happened upon some incredibly large fresh portobello mushrooms and knew exactly where I wanted to go. They turned out to be a real treat and an opportunity to use lots of leftover bits and pieces including the rice. Anything goes in this recipe, so look to your fridge for leftover inspiration.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (Phase I)


  • 4 large Portobello Mushrooms
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil for brushing and sautéing
  • 1 onion, chopped (leeks, green onions or shallots can also be used)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 3/4 cups pumpkin seeds (or sunflower or pine nuts or cashew pieces or any other nut)
  • 3-4 Cups cooked rice (any variety)
  • 3/4 cups craisins (or currants or raisins)
  • Liberal amounts of fresh or dried herbs (basil, dill, tarragon, thyme, whatever you like) and spices
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons Tahini
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup shredded Jarlsburg Cheese
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Lightly brush mushrooms with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.

Place face down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Sauté chopped onion and fresh garlic in olive oil.

Lightly roast pumpkin seeds or other nuts in a toaster oven or dry frying pan.

Place rice in a large bowl and mix in onions, garlic, pumpkin seeds, craisins, herbs and spices and salt and pepper to taste. Rice can take a lot of flavor so don’t be skimpy with the spices. I threw in some leftover pesto, fresh dill and thyme that were sitting in the refrigerator and lots of sea salt and black pepper.
IMG_3685Mix the tahini and lemon juice and a little water to make a tahini sauce and blend into the rice mixture. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Spoon a large mound of the rice mixture onto each mushroom.

Place in the oven pre-heated to 375° and bake for about 10-15 minutes until heated through and the mushroom is cooked through. This may take more or less time depending on the size of the mushrooms and the amount of rice.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle 1/4 cup of shredded cheese over the top of each stuffed mushroom. Top with toasted sesame seeds and return baking sheet to oven.IMG_3630

Bake another 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. If you like your cheese a little more well done, you can turn on the broiler for a few minutes.


This makes a great vegetarian, gluten free lunch or dinner served with a hearty green salad and avocado slices. Very tasty and filling. It would also make a great side dish for a meat or fish dinner.



Esther’s Portobello Rice  & Eggs Benedict (Phase II)


This dish reminded Dad of Eggs Benedict (the structure, not the taste) so we tried it for brunch one day adding fried eggs and a tahini sour cream sauce…and we finally finished that rice!


Tahini Sour Cream SauceIMG_3684

  • 2 tablespoons Tahini
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon water ( or enough to make it a sauce consistency)
  • 2 tablespoons light sour cream
  • Garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley or Cilantro for garnish



Add chopped spinach, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes with some oregano and basil to the rice for a different taste. Top with Feta cheese.
Throw in leftover grilled vegetables and add tarragon and parsley.  Top with sharp cheddar cheese.
Try an Indian theme with Greek yogurt, curry, ginger, cinnamon, raisins
and cardamom. Top with a curried lentil sauce.



GUEST POST from a friend

(Dear mom – Thanks for your votes of confidence and love. Meh. Our whole collection of back-and-forths is starting to sound the same to me. I’m just too hungover today because it’s Purim so I can’t deal.  But Hannah wrote a beautiful guest post for us from India. We’ve been making pickles together. xo, Shaina)

Purim at Machane Yehuda. This is where I buy my vegetables.

Purim at Machane Yehuda. This is where I buy my vegetables.


Saved by the Hannster:


Dear Shaina,

You were the only 11 year old I knew who slept until noon, and I was impatient to begin our daily projects.  The only children of working parents, our summer days before we could drive were spent doing arts and crafts and cooking together….over the phone.  Finally awake, you’d call me with instructions or a recipe. I followed your every word, including when you told me I could easily substitute sugar free lime Jello mix for gelatin in a recipe.  The resultant frozen green mass with blueberries peaking out through the ice should have been evidence enough that our tele-projects weren’t the most successful, but we continued nonetheless.

With an ocean and several time zones between us, our experimental cooking projects continue, and for that I am grateful.  With very few constants in my life these days, problem solving through food with you is a familiar comfort. I’ve been lucky enough to get to see you in almost every country we’ve each lived, but our intercontinental projects have provided a wonderful bridge between visits.  For the most part, I still take my experimental cues from you…your crazy ingredients, strange dietary restrictions, and yearly cleanses. But, I’m proud to say this culinary idea was mine…..PICKLES! I knew you’d be into it. Homemade probiotics has your name all over it!


Pickling is deceptively easy, involving nothing more than water, salt, spices and time. I was determined to make something fitting of my Indian context yet reminiscent of the super sour pickles my grandfather loved. So, I pulled out my beloved Indian spices and got to work. The longer these pickles sit, the more saliva inducing sourness you’ll get, so mine have been fermenting for more than 2 weeks and they are still going! I’d been experimenting with pickling for a while before meeting you in Jerusalem this winter. I love pickles that bring the taste buds to attention, but its slim pickings on the sour pickle front in Bangalore and so I’d been trying my own.

One conversation while strolling the empty Jerusalem streets one Shabbat, and our long-distance cooking projects were back in full swing. I came back to India full of inspiration and happy to have my partner in crime back at my (virtual) side.

Glad our friendship has preserved itself as well as these pickles!!!!!




Spiced Beet and Onion Pickle

  • 3 tablespoons sea salt, pickling slat, or kosher salt,
  • 1 quart water
  • 3 medium or two large beets peeled and chopped to whatever size you want your pickle to be
  • 1 large red onion roughly chopped
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ piece of ginger chopped (optional)


Combine salt and water and stir until the salt is dissolved. Heating the water can speed up the process, but you will have to wait for the water to cool before making the pickles.  I’m impatient, so I generally just stir and it works just fine.  Next, place the remaining ingredients in a clean jar (1/2 gallon jar works best) and pour the (cooled) salt water over the vegetables, making sure the vegetables are covered but leaving at least 1 inch of empty space at the top of the jar.  You can place a small bowl inside the jar, the keep the vegetables completely submerged in the water, but this totally optional.  Cover the jar tightly and let it stand at room temperature, away from direct light.  Open the jar everyday to release the gases formed during fermentation and taste the pickle.  Be careful when opening the jar because the brine will have turned deep purple, thanks to the beets, and those stains WILL NOT come out!! If any mold or film develops on the surface of the water, simply skim it off with a spoon.  When the pickles are sour enough for your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator where they will keep for months.


◊ No


Dear mom,

Is it insensitive to say it’s your own damn fault?

We only-children have a lot of psychological barriers to conquer. The most important one for me is recognizing that having all of your eggs in one basket is not my problem. I’ve got my own eggs to carry  (totally NOT in a reproductive sense  – keep dreaming).

Plus… kids drop out of school, do drugs and things with strangers, try heroine. I board airplanes and buses. Should we start the would-you-rather-I game?


Asking me to tailor my needs, ambitions and desires to curb your delusional neuroses is  the opposite of promoting psychological well-being. And it’s rude. As your brother Abe says, stop putting me back in the womb.


Irrational fears. Your heart is eased when you see that I’ve been with family. Statistically, this is when you should be MOST afraid. The only times I’m in a car is when I’m with family… There’s a much higher risk of danger as a passenger on a highway anywhere than receiving a body-scrub at an all-female spa in Ramallah. Just saying.


Don’t worry no cars were involved when Naomi and I hosted family for Shabbat. It was very safe :).

Alas, the psychoanalytical intuition I inherited from you and dad forces me to question my curtness in this letter. There’s a reason — an admission that I’m embarrassed to share: I’m still in the process of convincing myself that my eggs (ieech I hate this metaphor) are my own.  What does this process look like? A 19 year old in Uganda by herself; bare shoulders and midriff smack-dab in the middle of 100,000 ultra-orthodox men protesting; a Jew in Ramallah; a not-nice letter from daughter to mother. This is the manifestation of my only-child syndrome. 

(All that insight without therapy! I deserve a cookie… good thing there are hamantaschen in the freezer.)

I do what I want.


There are so many other forces (such as personal values) that drive me to do what I want, but I also need to know my eggs are mine. To reemphasize: I’m going to keep doing my darndest NOT to remember that all of your eggs are in one basket. Sorry I’m not sorry ok I am sorry clearly not sorry enough.




I’m eager to start prepping for our Birmingham-in-Israel Shabbat cross-continental Shabbats even though it’s weeks away. I’ve already started to plan a menu so I’ll share two recipes that I’ll definitely include at the table. You can make both or either for your guests, though you’ll probably only make the first, Mujadra. You may hold off on the second recipe because I feel like grown-ups don’t eat vegan cookies.


Mejadra is a  Middle Eastern dish that Arabs and Israelis share. It’s economical, healthy, quick, tasty and found on almost every Middle Eastern menu. I make it all the time – the flavors blend well with most foods I eat here – tahini, crisp persian cucumbers, labneh, hummus blablabla. In the version below, it’s made with wild rice instead of traditional basmati. I’ve also thrown in a cup or two of quinoa to mix things up. This is the kind of dish that’s always a hit with guests.


Wild Rice Mujadra

  • 1 tsp olive oilIMG_1343
  • 4 white onions, chopped
  • 5-8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 2/3 cup brown or green lentils
  • 1 2/3 cup wild rice
  • 4 cups water
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • handful of parsley, chopped

Heat olive oil in pan and add onion and garlic. Sautee until onions are brown. Add spices and stir until fragrant. Add lentils and rice and stir for 2 – 5 minutes. Add water and bring to boil. Simmer for 20 – 30 minutes until lentils are tender. Garnish with parsley. Serve as a side dish to meet or veggies, dollop with yogurt and chopped cucumbers, top it with a fried egg.


About my previous idea that grown-ups don’t eat vegan cookies. I don’t know. I have an idea in my head that my demographic is the only one that doesn’t have an activity more satisfying than constructing bulk fiberous, nutrient-dense ingredients into something delicious. We work stupid jobs or do meaningless homework and “fun” is sitting at a bar trying to connect with dumb boys. We’re all trying to build something new and unique and great and sometimes the only place that happens is in the kitchen… at least it’s a start? Who avoids butter when they have careers and kids and cars and stuff? Maybe it’s just in my head.


Anyway: these cookies are loaded with all sorts of chocolate and weird grains. It did the trick this time – I created something great and unique foreal.

Triple Dark Chocolate Rye (Vegan, Wheat-Free) Cookies

  • 0.75 oz good dark chocolate (about half a chocolate bar)
  • 1 1/2 c rye fl
  • 1 c rolled oats
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 c dark, vegan cocoa powder (I use Ghiradeli)
  • 2/3 c dark chocolate chips (I use Ghiradeli)
  • 4 tbs coconut oil
  • 4 oz full fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c sugar

Preheat over to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Shred or take a hammer to a good chocolate bar (I did the latter) to break it into small pieces.

Taking a hammer to chocolate = satisfaction

Taking a hammer to chocolate = satisfaction

Mix with remaining dry ingredients. Set aside. In a separate bowl, add coconut milk, oil, chocolate chips and vanilla. Heat in microwave or over stove just until chocolate is melted (about 45 seconds). Be careful not to burn chocolate! Stir to combine ingredients and then add sugar. Before it cools completely, mix with dry ingredients.

Scoop 1 tbs full of cookie dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet. The cookies do not expand much, but be sure to leave about one inch of space in between them just in case. Bake for 12 – 18 minutes and allow to cool. Serve with a full glass of cold soy milk (ew just kidding). I don’t what vegans drink with their chocolate cookies.


To emphasize the message of my letter, here’s what I did this week:

IMG_4146 2I prayed with Women of the Wall on Rosh Chodesh with women who desire to express their Judaism out loud at the Kotel.

IMG_4181I went to Ramallah on a girls spa trip and saw what a ballagan check-points can be



I ventured to the city center to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of religious men protesting the government’s mandatory military draft


IMG_3885 IMG_3918IMG_3952

◊ 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


♦ Hearing Your Voice

Dear Shaina,

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

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










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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Love, Mom


Basic Pea Soup


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

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


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

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

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

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


◊ I Say Soup

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Dear Mom,

You say puzzle, I say soup. Ok it’s a little forced, but I made a special lentil soup last week and I need to make it fit.

But really. You suggest existing outlines of my puzzle –  pieces of it already in place –  shapes that will come together. What. I relate my story more to a murky stew… a big pot set on simmer to soften the random chunks I throw into it. Today, I feel ok about this.

I experienced my first successful attempt to communicate in Arabic this afternoon. An Arab women who cleans the pool locker-room asked me (in Hebrew) about the lotion I was using and I told her (in Arabic! And some hand-flinging) that it was a special product made in France that my mom bought for me in America.  I wrote down the brand on a piece of paper. In her language she thanked me and told me I was a good girl and I understood her. W’allah!

In soup-making, many cooks stick with a meat, a veggie, a grain, 3 or 4 spices max. They might look up a recipe or rely on tried flavor pairings or shoot for a trusted theme: warm spices with root vegetables… chicken stock with bright herbs. Cooking with conventions usually bears good food.

I don’t know what f**ing flavor my soup is. I have no vision about what I’ll sprinkle/pour/throw into it next. I want to trust that the chunks will blend into something palatable. I’ll keep stirring, hoping for healthy digestion, tasty sips and that others might enjoy a taste too.



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Pumpkin Lentil Soup 

  • 1 tsp olive oil20131228_0320 (1)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped fresh pumpkin (or butternut squash)
  • 2 large carrots
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 sprigs of fresh or dried sage or 1 tsp dried sage
  • 4 sprigs of fresh or dried rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 5 cups water/vegetable stock/chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups small, dry green lentils
  • 4 bay leaves
  • salt and good black pepper
  • 4 tbs red wine vinegar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • handful of chopped parsley

Heat olive oil in the base of a large pot. Add onions, carrots and pumpkin and sautee until onions  begin to turn golden (5 – 8 minutes). Add garlic, sage, rosemary and thyme and stir for a few more minutes. When fragrant, add four cups of water/stock, lentils, bay leaves, salt and black pepper to the pot. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer until veggies are soft (about 30 min).

Remove from heat and add vinegar and lemon juice and zest. Allow to cool (because it’s easier) and with an immersion blender or food processor, blend into a thick puree. Add more water for a thinner soup. Garnish with parsley and serve with good bread or rice.

I enjoyed it topped with a fried egg once… another time with sunflower seeds… another time with a dollop of yogurt. Yogurt always wins in my book, but the egg was a satisfying touch.

Soup session with a special visitor

Soup session with a special visitor

♦ Puzzles

Dear Shaina,

One of my friends read your letter and told me it made her sad. Dad acknowledged the Shealy thread. I continue to be perplexed at how you evolved into adopting the Schuster avoidance method of perpetual motion…and I just wanted to fix it…right away.

None of us come with all the puzzle pieces put together.  Maybe it’s enough to know that there are pieces missing and that it’s our job to look for them and try them on…like a jig-saw puzzle. I was 36 when you were born…and Dad was 45.  The seeds we planted in our twenties and thirties and forties gave no clue of what was to come. The puzzle pieces only made sense in retrospect.

At 62 and 70, our conjoined jigsaw puzzles are filling up nicely. The depth and expansiveness of our lives would not be the same without you. The pieces that you have added to the tapestry of our lives go far beyond rain forests in Bolivia and salt deserts in India. You pushed the boundaries of our capacity to love in a way that neither of us thought possible. You stretched the edges of our individual puzzles into new-found spaces filled with curiosity and color and joy. That doesn’t mean that we have no empty holes, no spaces yet to be filled, no angst still to be felt, even at our age.  I am still trying to find the balance between action and stillness, acceptance and striving.

I know how hard it is to be 25…all the pieces dumped out in a random pile on the floor with just barely an outline formed by the edge pieces…a few double and triple rows and some random blobs of color and texture where the pieces all happened to find each other…and all that empty space…anxiously waiting to be filled…


Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees… Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to step back and look at all the pieces that have been filled in…to see beyond the pieces…to marvel at the big picture and appreciate the themes and beauty that have already begun to take shape. And then to examine the empty spaces and begin again. This is as much a reminder for me as it is for you.

I wish, for you, that there was an easy answer, a straight line, a clear vision.  I know there is not…

I do know that I trust your ability to know when the puzzle pieces truly fit…and when they don’t.  The right pieces are there and you will persist in finding them, trying them on, choosing the right fit and discarding the rest.  Awareness and patience…and trust in yourself…you have the rest of your life.

We are on our way to South Carolina.  Soup, turkey and cheesecakes in hand. It’s part of our DNA. We cook and feed and nurture. It’s the antidote for the life search…grounding and connecting us to those people and places most important to us. And it keeps our hands and minds occupied, distracted and temporarily oblivious.

Poker in SC i The next generation!

Poker in SC … The next generation!

I love you and miss you.

Love, Mom



Shirly’s Corn Pudding

I have been cooking like crazy lately.  This recipe that our Israeli cousin Shirly made for our family reunion was another favorite of mine. It was perfect for a dairy meal I made for a Meet ’n Greet with the new Rabbi and his wife and some friends.  It’s really easy to make and goes well with salads and soups for a light dinner. I also varied it by substituting other veggies for the corn. It is like a lighter version of a crustless quiche. I even like the leftovers for breakfast.


  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels , thawed and drained (1 Package)*
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup aged cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 3 eggs
  • One cup plain regular or Greek yogurt (I used no fat Greek)
  • 1 tablespoon onion soup mix (other spices of your choice can be substituted)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup grated cheese for topping
  • Butter, margarine or cooking spray for greasing the pan

* Sauteed mushrooms and onions or chopped drained spinach and onions can be substituted for the corn to vary this recipe. Jarlsburg or other cheeses of you choice can be substituted. I added a little freshly ground nutmeg, salt and pepper and left off the onion soup.

Preheat oven to 350°

In a large bowl place the corn, cottage cheese, cheese, cornmeal, eggs, yogurt and soup mix and any additional seasonings to taste.
Mix into a smooth mixture .
Pour mixture into preheated and greased loaf pan.
Top with remaining grated cheese and bake about 50 minutes or until cheese melts and is bubbling and top is lightly browned


Vegetarian Chili Casserole (for a crowd…and then some)


No matter how I start out, this chili always ends up making enough for a huge crowd with leftovers to be shared with friends or 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.  The secret is in the spicing.  Taste frequently and adjust the seasonings to suit  your tastes.  It is best if it is cooked at least one day before you plan on serving it to give the flavors a chance to blend together. Get out your biggest soup pot (6-8 quarts) and start creating!

Yield: 6 – 8 quarts

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2- 3 hours to be done
45 minutes to reheat as a casserole

  • IMG_28762 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 package tofu ground “beef”, regular or taco flavored
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, cut up
  • 1-2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 fresh peppers, green, red, yellow or orange, 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
  • 1/2 pound baby portabello mushrooms, cut up (optional)
  • 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, coriander 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 and garlic in olive oil.
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.


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 fresh cornbread and your favorite green salad and you have a hearty winter meal.


◊ The Grain of My Ancestors


Dear mom,

You sent your veggie chili recipe just in time.  We’ve experienced a blizzard over here in the Middle East. The roads are ice and yesterday’s white Jerusalem is melting gray. School has been cancelled since Thursday and my toes have been freezing-thawing-freezing-thawing since.

IMG_1152 IMG_3099


And I’m getting antsy. You and dad see my life as exciting. It is. But my schpilkas syndrome isn’t always a positive thing. Right now I’m walled in by snow and slush and I’m about to freak out. The stillness. I can’t.

So I move.

I hop around to fill my life with beautiful views, weird produce, scraps of new languages and cultural mishaps at which I retrospectively laugh. My life is full and I’m glad that you appreciate its pieces. But sometimes I don’t know what I’ve really shared with you because I still feel a big old hole of empty. I think I’ll need to slow down if I want to figure out how to fill it.


Once in 3rd grade I was walking from class to the carpool line and my teacher called me a turtle over the intercom. I left the building in tears and the name stuck. I was turtle… slow, slow, slow in all ways until one day I started to move fast. I don’t know when it happened… if it’s bad or good or neutral. But I think the compulsion that drives me to move fast stems from the same apprehension that held me in slowness. Careful and careless might be twins.

I risk losing me while I’m moving fast. Why do I write to you here? Because when I’m whipping across the globe at this pace it’s important that I stop to tell you what happened.

I don’t buy that you and dad’s lives would be boring without me. Between the two of you, you’ve built (from scratch) a farm with cows, a kitchen with stainless steel appliances and aquariums with tropical fish throughout Alabama; you’ve managed a 501C3, psychiatric wards, 70 person + dinner parties and god knows what else; you’ve sat in your very own office chairs, tractor seats and piano benches.

The things I’ve introduced you to  – like la hoja de coca and indigo fermentation – are superficially weird (exciting, eclectic, whatever). But you two are the real thing.


You’re the ones.. the real weirdos… who inspire me to fill up.



My people’s grain:


Israel’s recipes are infused with Mediterranean ingredients and Middle Eastern spices, but there’s still plenty of flavors that link me back to my Ashkenaz roots. As I think about my sense of self while hopping around at lighting speed, I am reminded that there’s no other food that speaks to my soul more than kasha. I can still smell the sticky fried onions and mushrooms that Bubbe made en mass to mix with kasha and farfel (like this recipe). It brings me back to me in an instant. Buckwheat: the grain of my ancestors.


Below are three buckwheat-based recipes inspired by my current place and purpose.

Sweet Buckwheat Porridge, Raw:

Adapted from my new favorite recipe blog, GreenKitchenStories.com



  • A portable post-swim snack

    A portable post-swim snack

    1 C raw buckwheat groats + water for soaking

  • 1 C raw almond + water for soaking
  • 4 dates + water for soaking
  • 1pear
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • chopped apricots
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or ground vanilla

Soak RAW (much of the buckwheat you find in stores is Kasha, which is roasted) groats, almonds and dates in water seperately for 4 – 7 hours or overnight.

In the morning, add all ingredients to a food processor (I used a stick blender) and blend until smooth.


Topping treats! I garnished my first serving with pomegranate seeds, chopped apples and persimmons, pumpkin seeds and drizzles of tahini and date syrup. It was luxurious. I also recommend any fresh fruit you have on hand, raisins, cocoa powder, date syrup, coconut flakes, honey, almond butter or your own favorite indulgences.


It’s also perfect for a breakfast-to-go or in-between class snack.


Israeli Buckwheat Salad:


  • 2 cups roasted buckwheat groats (Kasha)IMG_0795
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 orange, red and/or yellow bell peppers, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced into slivered chunks
  • red onion, thinly diced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbs crude tahini
  • 2 tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbs ground sumac (or lemon zest)
  • 1 large bunch of parsley
  • 2 ripe avocados



Bring water and salt to boil and add buckwheat. Simmer for 10 – 12 minutes until tender and fluffy. Remove from heat and allow buckwheat to cool for an additional 5 minutes. Then drain any extra water and spread onto baking sheet or large surface to prevent clumps.

Dice all of the vegetables very thinly. If you have other veggies in the fridge you need to get rid of, this is your moment.

In a saucpan, heat olive oil and add turmeric, cumin and coriander. Stir for 1 – 2 minutes until fragrant. Pour mixture into bowl and add tahini, vinegar and sumac. Stir well.

Toss buckwheat, veggies and dressing right before serving. Top with chopped parsley and avocado. Serve cool or room temperature.


Orange Glazed Tempeh over Soba Noodles with Avocado:

Tempeh preparation is adapted from 101cookbooks.com

Yes, Soba Noodles are made from buckwheat!


  • 1 package (12 oz) dried soba noodles (I like to use 100% buckwheat, but they can be hard to find and expensive. More common is a buckwheat + spelt or wheat combination.)
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (3-4 large oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup, date syrup or honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 small garlic cloves, crushed
  • 10 ounces of tempeh (or tofu)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • cilantro to garnish


Cook the soba noodles in well salted water, drain, rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Mix orange juice, soy sauce, maple syrup, ground coriander, and garlic in a bowl and set aside.

Cut tempeh into thin slices. Heat olive oil in pan. Once hot, add tempeh and pan-fry for 5 – 10 minutes, until golden and crisp. Pour the orange juice, etc mixture over the tempeh and simmer for 10-15 minutes (flip tempeh piece 3 or 4 times during this time to allow all sides to absorb sauce) until sauce becomes thick and sticky.

Place tempeh over soba noodles and top with remaining sauce, black sesame seeds, squeeze of lime, cilantro and avocado.