Oh hey, what’s up? I’m just sitting here, editing a post and thinking about the fact that my almost 5 year-old is ‘graduating’ preschool this week. And while I’m not crying right NOW, you best believe that this has been hitting me quite intensely for a few weeks now. How is it that the years are so long and so short all at once? I’m honestly at that point where if one more person stops me while I’m trying to calm a tantrum-ing child of mine in a Target with, “Enjoy it now. Mine are so grown and I miss them”, I just might lose it on them (the stranger, not my children. Let’s be clear). In the movie of my life that is constantly playing in my head, I have responded to these well-meaning strangers with an emotionally-charged, “I got it! OK!! I KNOW! YOU ARE THE 10th PERSON THIS WEEK WHO HAS SAID THAT TO ME. I AM CONSTANTLY STRUGGLING WITH WANTING THEM TO GROW UP AND NOT ALL AT ONCE! NOW PLEASE BUY ME A LATTE AND LEAVE ME BE”! Also in the movie of my life that is constantly playing in my head, the role of ‘me’ is played by the talented and stunning Gal Gadot cause it’s my movie and I can do what I want.

 

We are all on shaky ground lately due to the change that seems to be blowing our way. As a result, my husband and I went ahead and purchased a minivan cause what better way to manage your emotions then to participate in a major purchase (so says your friendly social worker and school counselor)!? Look, I know what I’m doing, OK? OK!? But honestly, I never knew I always wanted this minivan. Like, I didn’t know I always wanted to NEVER physically have to open the side doors to my car, but I don’t. I really don’t and thanks to modern technology, I don’t have to open my car doors ever again. When husband and I bought our first car 7 years ago, we spent every penny we had on a base model Honda Fit. The only luxury that car had was the standard automatic window. Now we’re ballin’ in our swaggin’ wagon and it’s a little strange. Have we all really grown up this much!?

Speaking of ‘growing up’, the other ballin’ thing I’d like to talk about is this here recipe of crash hot potatoes with pesto and labneh. If you don’t know about labneh, let me learn ya something. Labneh (also known as kefir cheese) is a tart cheese spread akin to Greek yogurt and can be found at your local kosher grocer or Whole Foods. I used to actually not like labneh but, as I mentioned above, I’ve done some growing up and so has my palate. I now LOVE labneh and actually prefer it to Greek yogurt for a delicious and protein-packed snack or breakfast (pair it with Persian cucumber, Roma tomatoes, salt and some delicious olive oil and you’ve got my ideal snack). The recipe below is basically my idea of ‘grown up’ cheese fries. Except instead of French fries you’ve got perfectly cooked fingerling potatoes and salty, fresh pesto to bring out all the flavors. You can make this as a dip or spread it on your plate like I did so you don’t have to do SO much work (dipping food into a dip can be a lot of work).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crash Hot Potatoes with Pesto + Labneh

Ingredients for Crash Hot Potatoes:

1 lb. fingerling potatoes
6 – 8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tbsp flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
1
/2 cup Labneh

Ingredients for Pesto:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (can sub half the basil leaves with baby spinach)
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
3 garlic cloves, minced

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender; about 15 – 18 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Drizzle a large sheet pan generously with olive oil. Place tender potatoes on sheet pan, leaving plenty of room between each potato. With a potato masher or large fork, gently press down each potato until it slightly mashes.  Brush or drizzle the tops of mashed potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky salt such as Maldon Sea Salt.

Place sheet pan in oven and bake for roughly 20 – 25 minutes or until edges are browned and crispy.

While the potatoes roast, make your pesto: Recipe for pesto found here.

Once pesto is complete and potatoes are perfectly baked, spread labneh on a plate and top of pesto. Top that plate with potatoes and enjoy! You could also mix the pesto and labneh into a bowl and dip your potatoes in that as well. The choice is yours!

 

 

 

 

 

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You ever wonder how it is you got somewhere? Not like, “I’m at home and now I’m at Target. How did that happen?” Because, really, we all know how that happens. The more appropriate question for Target is, “I went in for toilet paper. How did I end up walking out with $150 worth of goods?” Damn you, Target!!!

But no, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about looking back at your life and wondering how it ‘landed’ you where you are today. Case in point: This passed week I found myself how it was that I was managing a camping trip of roughly 110 9th graders and, like, I was in charge (of that camp — thank Gd, not of the whole trip). I was, however, put in charge of all medical issues—assessing, treating (with what little equipment I had), making calls on who needs off the island NOW and who can wait. I think back to who I was a decade ago or even 20 years ago as a fresh graduate of high school and I think, “There’s no way in hell I saw myself doing what I’m doing now”. Of course I had always wanted to be rock star—singing is the ONE thing I can confidentally say that I do well. I charted my course for that as well. I took lessons forever. I immersed myself in musical theater. I even went to college of a theater scholarship. But alas, I took a different direction when I was 19. When I was 19 I spent the summer working for a rehabilitation camp for Kosovo refugee children and that was it. I went to college the next year, changed my major from theater to political science (which is just theater for unattractive people) and starting working on my career as an advocate. I didn’t know that that’s what it was I wanted to be at that time but, in looking back at what I wanted, that was definitely ‘it’.

I guess you could say my dreams of becoming an advocate have come true. I advocate for my students CONSTANTLY and sometimes? Sometimes people actually listen . . . but not as much as I’d like. That said, I think I might possibly be living my dream. It’s not the dream of accepting a TONY award (I’ve had that speech prepared since I was 12) or of running a nationally recognized nonprofit (I love my family too much to give my whole life to running a nonprofit. Also? I don’t know how to run a nonprofit. Details.). But it is the dream of advocacy. Albeit, a different kind but I love it all the same.

So what does this have to do with fruit bowls and mermaids? Well, the other thing I NEVER thought I’d be doing is running the little food blog. Or any food blog, for that matter. Heck, even cooking! My first roommate and I used to add frozen vegetables to pots of Rice a-Roni and call it gourmet. I did not know how to cook for a very long time. That said, I still loved entertaining and would go out of my way to make sure the table setting looked great . . . most likely because I knew the food was going to be terrible but hey! At least it looked pretty. This post is an extension of that old Whitney. It doesn’t take a lot of culinary ‘know-how’ and it really doesn’t take a lot of talent. It does, however, take a few coconuts, some fruit and tiny little cookie cutters. Tiny cookie cutters came into my life last year when I was reading a Pinterest post on fun kid lunch ideas for school. Someone showed tiny cheese sandwiches in the shapes of various animals and I was like, “Can adults also eat that cause that’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Show me the Amazon link IMMEDIATELY”. A batch of animals, hearts, stars and Mickey Mouse ears later and I’m cutting everything I see into fun, tiny shapes. So if you’ve got friends and family coming over for a Shavuot or Memorial Day meal and you need a fun dessert recipe, STAT or you just really enjoy cutting foods into tiny shapes, this is the recipe for you. I hope you enjoy! Chag Sameach!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mermaid Dessert Bowls

Ingredients:

1 whole coconut, cut in half
1/2 mango, sliced long and thick
1 pint strawberries
1 pint blueberries
1  package pineapple, sliced long and thick
1 pint ice cream

Directions:

First, drain the coconut. Seeing as that I am not, in fact a mermaid and that we definitely didn’t have coconuts falling from the trees where I grew up in Marietta, GA, my husband and I totally searched “WikiHow” to figure out the best way to cut a coconut in half as precisely as possible. We found that #3 works best from the site: 3 Ways to Open a Coconut.

Once you drained and rinsed out your coconut, set it aside. Next, using your favorite tiny cookie cutters, cut out as many tiny figures as possible. I used a tiny heart, dolphin and star cookie cutter to create a more ‘under the sea’ vibe.

Next, scoop out as much ice cream as you want and top with fruit. No one’s pretending this is a difficult ‘recipe’, but it is a fun one at that. Enjoy after Instagramming so that all your friends know you’re having a deliciously fun mermaid time!

P.S. Use all the leftover fruit scraps to make one delicious fruit smoothie! Waste not; want not!

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Israeli Salad with Grilled Peaches

If you know me at all then you know that Israel lives in my heart. I met my husband there. I fell in love with cooking there. I named my children Siona (Zion) and Eden. Our home is filled with artifacts, knickknacks and Judaica all reminding us and calling us back to Israel. For my husband, he spent 2 years in Israel receiving his Master’s Degree in Marine Ecology. My journey in Israel began in 2001 when I studied abroad during the second Intifada. I was one of 8 participants on a study abroad program that typically has 70 participants but when CNN is broadcasting bus explosions and protests 24/7, you get a few students dropping out. I had to sign a waiver stating that I would not sue my small liberal arts college should I blow up in a bus while studying in Israel via their program. But, thank Gd, nothing horrible happened and I ended up having the time of my life. Since that study abroad opportunity all those years ago, I’ve been blessed to go to Israel on 3 Birthright Israel tours (as a chaperone), studied at Pardes for a summer and then for another year. All told, I’ve probably lived in Israel for a combined total of at least 2 years. But it’s been ages since we’ve gone and we long to return.

Taking a page from the Zahav cookbook — classic Israeli salad on the left followed by my Southern flare on the right.

 

I’m waxing poetic about Israel because I’m here to talk a little about the first ever Maccabi International Culinary Competition taking place on July 4, 2017 in Israel. Working with Maccabi World Union, as part of the 20th World Maccabiah Games, this groundbreaking new program is designed to showcase food as a universal language, bringing more people to Israel to immerse them in the culture, heritage and beauty of the land.

Each team will prepare a five-course meal, showcasing the flavors of their country and utilizing the freshest locally grown Israeli produce, meat, and fish. Chefs will be judged on the creativity, originality, and of course, flavor and presentation. The winning teams will be announced at a Chef’s Party that evening. The event will be open to the public following the medal ceremony, providing spectators the opportunity to meet members of the international and local professional chef teams. There will be Jewish professional chefs from all over the world taking part in this competition—-Australia, France, Gibraltar, Israel, Italy, Spain and the USA.

And if that weren’t enough of a reason to register to attend and watch, this incredible event is co-chaired by James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav Restaurant (and Dizengoff and Abe Fisher and Federal Donuts and Rooster Soup Co. and Goldie Falafel). It is Chef Solomonov and his beautiful cookbook, Zahav, that inspired the recipe featured in this post. I am constantly reconciling my natural inclination to make Southern food with my near-constant desire for fresh Israeli food and this dish is the representation of the two. I’m SO excited to see what the chefs participating in the competition cook-up. I wonder how much of what the present will be representative of not only their home country but also their Jewish heritage.

I am so excited to see what these chefs bring together and am dually impressed with the fact that the organizers have brought in an as-yet-to-be-announced tzedakah project that the culinary teams will participate in. There are plans tape and ‘live stream’ the competition so check back in to the blog or at the Maccabi Culinary Competition for more info. Oh, and if you don’t have to spend this summer teaching summer school health to 9th graders, like I do, then you’ll also want to check out the extreme culinary tour that the Maccabi Culinary Competition organizers have developed. It’s an Israeli foodie dream come true! The Culinary Mission runs through the Maccabi games so now only will you be exploring the dynamic culinary movement coming out of Israel at full speed, you’ll be doing it along side the chefs participating in the Maccabi Culinary Competition. More information can be found here, at the Mission’s website.

When you live in LA and have 2 small children and no extra income to throw at plane tickets to Philly, this is as close to actually dining at Zahav as one can get.

 

The view of Jordan from the husband’s patio (mirpeset) in Eilat

 

Somewhere up North — my husband, Yonah, in the whale and me pretending to be eaten by said whale. No one told me we were going to do a serious pic!!

 

If you haven’t been to Jerusalem during Purim, can I just recommend it now? Thanks.

 

This post is sponsored by The International Maccabi Culinary Competition

Israeli Salad with Grilled Peaches and Honey Lemon Vinaigrette

Salad Ingredients:

2 cups chopped Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cups chopped Persian cucumbers, peeled and diced
1 cup cooked pearl barley, cooled
2 peaches, grilled (instructions below)
3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup sheep’s milk feta
Lemon honey vinaigrette (ingredients and recipe below)

Directions for Salad:

Combine all salad ingredients into a large bowl except for the mint and feta. Toss with cooked and cooled pearl barley. Add 3 tbsp of olive oil and stir. Next, add half of the chopped mint leaves and feta. Toss to combine. Top with salad dressing and rest of the mint leaves. Serve room temperature or cold.

Method for Grilling Peaches:

Cut peaches along the seam all the way around and twist halves off the pit. Discard of entire pit (be thorough — accidental pit-eating would be a bummer). Brush cut sides with olive oil. Cook, cut side down, on a hot grill until fruit has grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes.

Rotate 90 degrees to continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes or until total grill marks appear and the fruit starts to caramelize. Remove from the grill with a pair of tongs and sprinkle with a dash of flaky sea salt.

Set aside to cool.

Lemon Honey Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 small lemons or 1 large)
  • 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil

Method:

In a medium bowl or jar, combine lemon juice, vinegar, honey, coarse salt, and ground pepper. Whisk until salt has thoroughly dissolved. Gradually add the oil and whisk until thoroughly combined.

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