◊ 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
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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

◊ Collecting

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Dear mom,

Word. While you’re feeling stuck by all the mess and stuff you’ve accumulated in your life, I’m bouncing back and forth India like a ping pong ball, gathering more and more of it. A handwoven scarf (or 7) here, a bunch of recipes there, one more train ticket on my credit card, new opportunities around every bend…

Natural dye textile studio in Munnar

Natural dye studio in Munnar

We’re both collectors. I hoard time and experiences and handmade textiles. I worry that so much of my energy goes towards stuffing my bags that I forget to be.

But this is just how we be. And I’m thinking that it’s ok.

Filling jars and emptying jars…

I got really good at filling and emptying jars in DC and thought (hoped?) that things might change once I fled my routine. But I have so many new jars here and I just love to fill and empty. There’s no escaping life.

Over skype the other day, you told me that the only thing that matters is that we get out of bed in the morning and do something. It doesn’t matter what is is… just something. Excitement, productivity, meaning, beauty are only perks.

photo(3)I’m grateful that lately I’ve been packing my jars tight with those perks. The first “work” (ha) chapter of my time in India is over, and now I’m indulging. I’m writing from a cloud. Literally. I’m sipping on hot tea in the mountains of Darjeeling and all I can see around me is cloud and prayer flags. I came here from Bangalore, where I stuffed myself with dosa (recipe below) and partied hard at Priyanka’s wedding. And before that, I lazed around Kerala’s beaches with Teresa, who came from Germany for the wedding. Tomorrow I embark on my trek through the foothills of the Himalayas.

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Wedding decorations

Meanwhile, I’ll hand-wash a bucket of dirty clothes, hang the pieces to dry, and stuff my bag to its brim feeling fulfilled as ever. I always straddle my bag to tackle it closed. Some call hoarding a problem, I call it enthusiasm. I’m not sure what to call your closet.

All I know is that I’m lucky you’re coming to nyc full of practice. We’ll unpack and repack my mess in preparation for the next journey, and hopefully we’ll collect some stuff together along the way… my priority is bagels.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!!!!!! 

Love,

Shaina

Dosa:

I’ve already briefed you about my dosa overdose in South India… My average was 3 a day for 14 days. Sorry I’m not sorry.

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People in the south eat dosa dipped in sambar (lentil stew) and coconut chutney for breakfast and I just can’t get enough. I eat dosai (plural for dosa) exactly like I used to eat Bubbe’s blintzes… over and over and over again without getting bored or too full for just one more.

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Dosa is made from a combination of rice and lentil flour, which is fermented into a sweet smelling batter.  The most common filled dosa is masala dosa, whose crispy shell is stuffed with spiced potatoes and onions. But I like my dosai plain, just like you enjoyed Bubbe’s blintz shells without the cheesy filling. There’s something perfect about how the crispness of the oily edges turns into gooey, fermented dough towards the middle.

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And it’s somewhat healthy… and gluten-free and vegan. The coconut chutney and sambar add protein, hardy fiber, healthy fats and a kick of spice.

My friends here joke that I have two stomachs (like a cow), and that one is for dosa only. I try to explain the special training I received as child at Bubbe’s kitchen table, where I worked on tall stacks of buttery blintzes that magically never grew shorter.  Blintz after blintz after blintz… just like dosai… losing count is too easy.

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Recipe serves 5 – 9 people:

  • 1 Cup medium grain rice
  • ½ Cup whole urad lentils (skinned black lentils)
  • 1Tbs Fenugreek seeds
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs Vegetable oil

You will need a heavy duty food processor to make dosa batter from scratch. A Cuisinart or Vitamix works best, but you can by with a blender.

First, wash, rinse the rice and the lentils in separate bowls. Cover rice and lentils with water (leave about two inches of water on top) in separate bowls and soak overnight (or 6-8 hours) with the fenugreek seeds.

Once soaked, add 3-4 tablespoons of lentil water to the food processor and turn it on. Then, slowly add the lentils while allowing the extra water to drain off. If needed, add water one tablespoon at a time. Grind lentils for about 15 minutes or until the batter is smooth and fluffy.

Remove lentil batter and place into bowl. In the same food processor (don’t worry about washing it), pour one cup of soaking water from the rice. Turn the food processor on and slowly add the rice to the grinder. Grind for about 20 minutes until liquid batter is formed. It’s ok if the batter is slightly gritty.

IMG_1296Remove from food processor and mix rice and lentil batter together with salt in a 3 quart bowl. Cover the bowl, but do not seal it (I recommend covering with a light towel)- this is where the magic happens!

If it’s summertime, leave the batter outdoors (out of animals’ reach) for about 8 hours to ferment. The batter ferments best in a climate that is at least 90 degrees F. If it’s cold outside, put the batter on the lowest rack of you oven and turn the pilot light on. Leave the batter in for about 10 hours. Depending on the climate, the batter may take longer or shorter to ferment. But trust me, you will know when it happens! When the batter is fermented it will smell sweet and acidic, almost like beer. It will also be frothy and twice the volume you started with.

After fermentation, the batter should be liquidy, like pancake batter. If it’s too thick to pour, add water.

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Heat a skillet on very high heat and brush with a drop of oil. Pour 1/4 of a cup of batter onto the skillet.  With little pressure, spread into a thin circle with the back of a rubber spatula or spoon. Cook on high heat until the bottom side of the dosa is brown. Flip the dosa to brown the other side. The dosa should be crispy on all edges. Serve with sambar and coconut chutney and enjoy!

Coconut Chutney:

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  • 1/2 Tbs Oil (I like to use coconut oil, but anything works)
  • 1/4 Tsp Mustard seeds
  • 4-7 Curry leaves
  • 1 Tbs Grated ginger
  • 1 Green chili or red chili powder (to taste)
  • 1 Cup Grated fresh coconut or 1/2 c grated dry unsweetened coconut
  • 1 Cup Water if using dry coconut, 1/2 c if using fresh coconut
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • Juice of 1 fresh lemon
  • 1/4 Cup Chick peas
  • Cilantro for garnish

Heat coconut oil and spices in pan over low heat until fragrant. Allow to cool and combine with remaining ingredients in food processor until smooth chutney is formed. Garnish with cilantro.

You can use coconut chutney in many different dishes – over fish, rice or veggies! Or for a vegan veg/cracker dip…

See my recent collection:

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The bus ride from Ernakulam to Munnar was stunning.

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I went hiking in the clouds and sprained my foot. It was worth it.

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I visited a natural dye workshop called Aranya Naturals on one of Munnar’s tea plantations. All of the workers are differently-abled. They create the most beautiful naturally dyed textiles with sophisticated shibori techniques.

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Saw Elephants in Cochin

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The food in Kerala… omg.. banana chips in coconut oil and appam.

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I’m in love with Kerala. After Munnar, I met Teresa in Cochin and we took day trips to beaches via ferries.. the best public transport this world offers.

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The Bhuj crew reunited for Priyanka’s wedding in Bangalore! The gang back together again.. a bit more classy this time around. Or not.

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The wedding was as stunning.

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I borrowed saris from the master of sari beauty and elegance, Shruthi. The one above was printed by Ismael Khatri’s operation in Ajrakpur. Also, Shruthi has an amazing blog about Kutch.

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Aditi, masterji, wrapped us up. Never imagined I’d dance so hard in a sari and stay clothed. Somehow it worked. Thanks, Adu!

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I’m obsessed with auto decorations.

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Bagels in Bangalore. What.

tibetan food

Tibetan food in Darjeeling. Tsampa (roasted barley flour porridge) with cheese and milk for breakfast and Thupka (noodle soup) for dinner.