cheese burekas

Fall is the season for baking cookbooks. Between the chill in the air and the upcoming holidays, people are ready to rev up their ovens. This year is no exception and I’ll be discussing a bunch of them for The Forward.


First up, Breaking Breads. Written by Uri Scheft, co-owner of Breads and Lehamim in Israel, this cookbook offers bakery specialties like the best chocolate babka in New York and beautiful (and tasty) challah that graced my Rosh Hashanah table this year. There are tons of recipes that reflect Uri’s Israeli and Danish heritage and his wife’s Yemenite and Moroccan background, including strudel, kubaneh, several marzipan pastries, krembo, and different salads and dips.

I first met Uri at Union Square Cafe, where he used to eat a late lunch at the bar. The restaurant was across the street from Breads, and the bakery supplied the sesame crusted Jerusalem baguette (recipe in the book) that filled the bread baskets and were my usual mid-shift break-time snack. No surprise that I was also in Breads a few times a week and I really miss working nearby.


For my article for The Forward, I made Uri’s cheese burekas because stuffed food is traditional for Sukkot. I baked them on Sunday morning, stuffed three in my mouth straight from the oven, got a few pictures in, and then brought the rest to my friend’s: her four-year old sons loved them. You might be tempted to skip the nigella seeds because they’re not as easy to find as sesame seeds, but it would be a mistake (and they’re really inexpensive at Whole Foods). Their flavor is hard to describe – it’s a little bit like burnt onion, but in a good way, and it really complements the cheese mix (feta, cream cheese, and sour cream).


Breads Bakery’s Cheese Burekas

Recipe by Uri Scheft from Breaking Breads. I used Dufour brand all-butter puff pastry, which comes in packages of 14 ounces, but Uri notes that this is close enough to a pound for the recipe to work. Even though my unbaked burekas looked a bit of a mess, by the time the pastry puffed browned and the cheese melted, they came out pretty nicely. If you want,  you can fill and fold the burekas and them freeze them so you can have a fresh burekas whenever you want – they might just need a few extra minutes in the oven. 

Makes 8 burekas

2/3 cup (135 grams) cream cheese (at room temperature)
3/4 cup (30 grams) feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup (70 grams) sour cream
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling and shaping
1 pound (455 grams) store-bought puff pastry, thawed if frozen
1 teaspoon water
Pinch fine salt
1/3 cup (50 grams) sesame seeds
1/3 cup (50 grams) nigella seeds

1) Place the cream cheese and feta cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-low speed until smooth. Add the sour cream and mix until well combined. Add 1 egg and beat to combine, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Add the flour and mix until combined.

2) Set the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle approximately 8½ by 16½ inches and about 1/8 inch thick. Trim the edges so you have a nice, clean rectangle, then divide the dough into eight 4-inch squares. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg with the water and salt; brush some of this egg wash over 2 adjacent edges of each square. Reserve the remaining egg wash.

3) Place about 3 tablespoons of the cheese filling in the center of each square and fold the non-egg-washed side of the dough over to meet the egg-washed edge—but do not press the edges to seal. Instead, lightly tap the sides together about 1/8 inch in from the edge; then use your finger to press down and seal the triangle along this line (this is so the edges puff when baked, letting you see the layers of the pastry at the edge of the burekas).

4) Set the burekas on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours (if refrigerating them longer than 1 hour, cover the sheet pan with plastic wrap).

5) Preheat the oven to 400° F.

6) Remove the burekas from the refrigerator and brush the top of each one with the remaining egg wash. Stir the sesame seeds and nigella seeds together in a small bowl, and sprinkle each bureka generously with the seed mixture. Bake the burekas until they are puffed and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Try to cool the burekas slightly before eating—if you have the willpower!


eggplant bacon

I made an E(ggplant)BLT. You can read about it here.


The eggplant bacon – essentially spiced and smoked (with liquid smoke) eggplant chips – may not taste naughty, but the combo of juicy tomato, crisp lettuce, creamy mayo, and smoky salty crispy strips between lightly toasted pullman slices made me feel a little sacrilegious.

While the recipe says that the bacon loses its crispness quickly, I found that it kept well in an airtight container and was delicious the next day crumbled over a salad with chicken for a faux cobb.

PS – please ignore my reflection in the photo of the colander!

Eggplant Bacon for an EBLT

Recipe by Raquel Pelzel in Eggplant.

The key to making thin strips of eggplant crisp like bacon is time. First, salt the eggplant and let it sit for at least an hour so it lets go of all of the excess water. Then marinate it with high-octane stuff like maple syrup and liquid smoke (just a little won’t kill you, I swear) overnight. Then slowly bake it in a barely warm oven. The result is kind of like smoky-sweet eggplant chips, and yes, they can totally stand in for bacon in a BLT or even for chips with baba ghanouj.

2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound total)
1 tablespoon puls ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
¼ cup apple cider
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional, but c’mon, just do it)
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Nonstick cooking spray or oil for greasing the rack

1) Cut the ends off of the eggplants, then slice a sliver off of one side lengthwise so the eggplant doesn’t roll around when you slice it. Cut each eggplant into think planks, about 1/8- to ¼-inch thick (use a mandoline if you have one), so you have at least 20 slices (some will break). Place the eggplant in a colander and toss with 1 tablespoon of the salt, then set the colander in the sink and let it drain for about 1 hour. Pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towel.


2) In a large bowl, mix together the apple cider, maple syrup, soy sauce, liquid smoke (if using), rosemary, smoked paprika, cayenne and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Add the eggplant and toss to combine, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight, shaking the container (make sure that lid is on tight!) every now and then.


3) Preheat the oven to 225° F. Lightly coat a wire rack with nonstick cooking spray (or brush with a little oil) and set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Lay the eggplant slices on the rack and bake until they’re dry, crisp and golden brown, about 1½ hours.

Note: The eggplant bacon loses its crispness quickly, so eat it up tout suite.

good sentences

American poet Jane Kenyon once gave a lecture entitled “Everything I Know About Writing Poetry,” the notes from which I have learned were published posthumously in A Hundred White Daffodils. In her notes, she wrote:

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

Author and writing professor Dani Shapiro shared these words – she tacks them above her desk – during a workshop I attended at Kripalu two weekends ago. It was called “The Stories We Carry.” I couldn’t remember the name of the course the entire time I was at the yoga retreat center (even though once the workshop was over I realized how perfect of a title it was) and when people asked me what program I was on, I mumbled something about writing and meditation.

I started to meditate a little over a year ago, taking a course at the JCC led by Bernice Todres and have continued attending monthly refresher courses. I can’t say I’ve really perfected my practice, but I try. Or I try to try. And I guess that’s why they call it a practice, right? The fact that I’ve even considered meditation is a big deal – see how far I’ve come from this article back in 2011.

Anyway, one of the first meditations that Dani led us through our first day was what she called a metta (which I of course heard as meta, which led to some confusing roundabout logic in my mind). Metta, which I looked it up, means loving-kindness and is apparently a Buddhist practice offering heartfelt wishes for the well-being of oneself and others.

We sat on the floor, on chairs, on these things called backjacks, legs crossed or not, posture straight or not, eyes closed. Dani started: May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. Now think of someone in your life. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Think of someone you have difficulty with. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Think of a known stranger, someone you see every day, but do not really know. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease.

As the first day drew to a close, she suggested that we continue our evening in quiet and that we go to sleep with good sentences in our ears.

I went back to my room, cocooned in my blanket, and picked up the novel that I would carry around with me everywhere, a safety blanket of sorts as I decided how much to engage in the weekend. I finished a chapter entitled “Fifteen Days of Five Thousand Years” – a staccato chronology of a (fake) natural disaster in the Middle East that leads to political unrest, told through news reports, politician statements, and war declarations – and had to close the book because it was so draining.

Have good sentences in your ears.

I recited the Shema prayer that I used to sing with my Bubbie when I stayed at her house in Philadelphia. I couldn’t fall asleep.

Have good sentences in your ears.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Safe. Happy. Strong. Ease.

The weekend was one of fitful nights, failed naps, skipped yoga classes, yet it was punctuated by spurts of inspiration. I shared my writing, connected with strangers, and sat quietly.

I then went home and started a flurry of preparations for Rosh  Hashanah. More on that in the next post.

Last night, I stuck a card in the business book I’ve been plodding through, and picked up Molly on the Range. I wanted good sentences in my ears. And, my god, does Molly deliver! I slept better than I have in weeks, and woke up with a vision of Israeli breakfast.

I had everything in house thanks to some holiday leftovers, a trip to the green market yesterday, the #fridayfairy, and spices sent from my friend‘s restaurant.

Fueled by an iced coffee (well, maybe two), I chopped and fried and swooshed and sliced and spread and sprinkled.


And I ate at the table, the moody sky trying to poke through the window.

I sat down to write and for the first time in a long time, the words flowed easily. I refueled with some French toast. And I hit “publish.”


Israeli breakfast

Inspired by Molly on the Range and Molly herself. 

Make Israeli salad: Chop a tomato or two, removing the seeds that you can easily scoop out  and drain in a sieve while you take care of the rest. Here are the other diced vegetables I added: cucumber, radish, and red onion soaked in a little salt and vinegar. Mix with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flat-leaf parsley, za’atar, cumin, and sumac.

Fry an egg.

Scoop plain Greek yogurt on one side of a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with spices and salt. Slide the egg on one side and pile Israeli salad on the other. Add a slice of challah and keep a jar of tahini nearby for spreading, drizzling, and slurping. Don’t forget the coffee, if you have any left over after all that chopping.

Challah French toast

In a shallow bowl, use a fork to combine an egg, a splash of milk, and a dash of orange blossom water or vanilla (and if you want to be all fancy, a little orange zest). Soak two slices of challah in the mixture until saturated. Melt butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Toast both sides of the challah and serve with dark maple syrup.

place and time


As August drew to a close, I escaped the city and spent a week in Bermuda for a change of scenery to help reignite my creativity. One of my goals was to find a place where water and a hammock were always within reach, and I accomplished that expertly. I packed more bathing suits than t-shirts.

The first half of my trip I spent at an historic old estate on two acres of land, which sounds like a lot and indeed is a lot on an island smaller than Manhattan. Sharing this land, along with the home’s owners and a honeymooning couple, were three dogs, a goat named Billy, a goose, and an egg-laying hen. Across the road lolled a small bay filled with bobbing boats, the water salty enough to make it difficult to swim but easy to float.


The sliver of a beach was small to begin with – perhaps three towels wide, maybe only two – and as the days drew to a close, the tide came in and the beach disappeared. I waded through ankle deep water to grab my shoes and coverup and silently thanked myself for the gift that was this vacation.


I ate most lunches in restaurants and used that time to explore a tiny bit of the island, while my mornings and evenings were lazy and filled with sun and sea and pool and books and writing and music. The rest of my meals came from the kitchenette in my room, which meant lots of coffee and yogurt and fruit. This was by design – not an effort to keep costs down, but an effort to keep effort down.

About an hour after landing, I eagerly agreed when my taxi taxi driver offered to stop to pick up some food before dropping me off at my home for a few days “What produce is local?” I asked innocently. The driver chuckled as as he eased down the narrow winding roads, tooting his horn at other drivers, waving at pedestrians. “The only thing we export is our smiles; everything else we import.” The produce aisle looked eerily similar to the ones at home, just double or triple the price.

One of the best meals of the week was sourced from the neighbors. First, fish. A red hind caught that morning and filleted before my eyes by Pete whose boat I could swim to from my beach. Next, the rest. The honeymooners in the other suite and I pooled our fridge contents. Dinner was cobbled together by the pool, with lemon-drenched grilled fish, a cheese omelette, sautéed cauliflower, and margarine-rubbed rolls. It was eclectic and bizarre and we ate it as it rained.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto-sep-01-2-30-31-pm-crOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMidway through my trip, I took a ferry to St. George. The fact that everyone recommended the same two restaurants was less a statement on how good they were than on the size of the town and its food options.

Here I stayed in an apartment immaculately staged as the old sea captain’s quarters that it had been way back when. Wide plank floors. A dark wooden table surrounded by studded leather chairs. A telescope and a mariner’s spinning globe.

Perched high above town and overlooking the harbor, I waited out a storm my first morning.


In his September newsletter, David Leibovitz wrote about “a vacation where you work,” and that’s what this trip was for me. Sure, I’m back to making my living in healthcare, but I’m still writing for myself and writing for The Forward and with so many new cookbooks out this fall, I had a lot of catching up to do.

I sat by the pool, on the porch, by the blasting A/C and I wrote.

I had conducted some interviews in the days before I left so I spent a good few hours listening and transcribing. As a result, I replayed in my mind a story that Elissa Altman shared when discussing her most recent memoir Treyf. Her grandmother’s brisket, an “elemental” dish of  just meat and onions, had seemed lost for years. The scrawled recipe referenced adding a glass of water, and she and her cousins had started with shot glasses and worked their way up to try to reproduce it. It was only when Altman was living in her late grandmother’s apartment, rummaging through her drawers, finding a five pound cleaver that her great grandmother had schlepped from Czernowitz, cooking on her stove in a kitchen tinged with schmaltz, that she looked up from the sink to discover an empty yahrtzeit glass. A perfect ten ounces, it yielded the brisket of her memory.

Altman told me this story to illustrate why in a memoir where food was featured so prominently, she didn’t include recipes. As a cookbook editor, she gets the need for precision and exacting measurements. But she felt that the food in Treyf was tied to place and time: “Food and the act of cooking is live, it’s organic, it’s ever-changing. And we actually have to take it at more than just face value, which is why when everyone asked whether I was going to put recipes in Treyf, I said no, there’s lots of food in it, but I don’t want to think about the food in the book that way.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon after returning from Bermuda, I saw a photo Altman posted of dinner one night. She described it: “pan-roasted corn and zucchini with red chile and local sheep feta.” We then had the following exchange:

Me: I pretty much have all these ingredients – I think I know what tomorrow’s lunch will be!

Altman: Sauté the corn first, remove, add the zucchini, brown it, then add the corn back……
Me: Oh, thanks for the advice! Can’t wait to try it out…
Altman: and then squeeze lime (not lemon) over it.
Me: Lime….interesting…now, that I don’t have, but would be great with that corn. Might just pop over to my corner fruit guy in the morning…
Altman: think Mexican: squash, corn, queso fresco, lime

This dish, one that I’ve repeated several times since and will continue to churn out as long as zucchini and corn are in season, doesn’t need a recipe. It captures place and time, a return to my own kitchen while eking out the last days of summer.



My mother keeps packets of Gulden’s spicy brown mustard in her purse.

There used to be a kosher grocery store in Maryland that my parents frequented and, in the front of the store was a hot dog stand. The stand only provided bright yellow mustard, but my dad likes his mustard deli-style spicy. So he would slip a jar of mustard from the store into my mom’s cart to squirt on the one dog that he’d eat. After this happened a few times, my mom got smart. Even thought the store and the hot dog stand are no longer around, she still stashes my dad’s favorite mustard for hot dog emergencies.

It shouldn’t come as such a surprise that I homed in on the recipe for spicy whole-grain mustard in The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods. I spoke to co- authors and Gefilteria co-founders Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern last month, and you can find our discussion over on The Forward. The conversation and article is peppered with words like gospel and ambassador, and this book gives even more evidence that these two are leading the next generation of Jewish food historians, champions, makers, and fressers.

Their approach to recipe development is as deliberate as their philosophy and, if you wanted, you could buy the book just for the instructions (but why would you?). As someone who has reviewed my fair share of cookbooks, it was clear to me that the recipes were double, triple, quadruple tested and the abundant notes and variations make the book approachable to anyone. That’s not to say that the dishes are quick and easy – in fact, many of them are quite involved – but you can rest assured that if you read the recipes all the way through (beware of long fermentation, soaking, and rising times), you’re in safe hands.


Before we get to the recipe, a few notes. This mustard is sinus-clearingly intense, and I’ll be giving a jar to my parents over Rosh Hashanah. The recipe requires an overnight soak and then two days to mellow, so prepare for that. If you want to lower the heat, I’ve done a little research and think that substituting milder yellow mustard seeds for brown will help; Jeffrey also suggested upping the honey or trying a more delicate vinegar.

Spicy whole-grain mustard

Reprinted from The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods

Mustard is a key player in Ashkenazi cooking. The mustard plant, a member of the Brassica family, has some pretty important relatives in cabbage and horseradish. Can you imagine eastern European Jewish cooking without them? Probably not. And you also probably can’t imagine a hot deli pastrami sandwich without spicy ground mustard. Personally, I can’t fathom life without a hot deli pastrami sandwich.

Why make your own mustard? Some store-bought mustard contains thickeners and unnamed “spices.” But more important, homemade mustard is just really good. Liz and I cooked a four-course pop-up dinner one January night at Barjot, a restaurant in Seattle. We made almost everything ourselves, from the schmaltz to the pastries. But we didn’t make mustard because Barjot makes its own. After the meal, a guest pulled me aside and said, “Everything was great, but the mustard is out of this world.” Oof. It was time for us to make our own. This recipe is inspired by Barjot’s.

Ashkenazi mustard should have bite and texture. Smear it on Home-Cured Pastrami (page 210) and Home-Cured Corned Beef (page 207), eat it with savory Roasted Garlic Potato Knishes (see page 195), and use it for salad dressings.

1 cup whole brown mustard seeds

1¼ cups apple cider vinegar

¼ cup mustard powder

2½ tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1. Place the mustard seeds and vinegar in an airtight glass container and let sit at room temperature until the seeds absorb the vinegar and plump up, at least overnight or up to 24 hours.

2. Pour the seed mixture into a food processor and add the mustard powder, honey, and salt. Process for a minute or two until a paste forms.

3. Scoop the mustard into a glass jar, seal, and refrigerate for about 2 days to allow the flavor to mellow out. Don’t be alarmed if the initial smell is rather pungent. The mustard will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 months.

new surroundings

I went back to Buvette last week where I ordered the carottes râpées and croque forestière, a grilled mushroom sandwich wrapped in gruyere. As you may recall, I do have a thing for carrot salads from France.

This time, the date showed up but he asked to split the bill. So we’re on to the next one.

Then I spent the weekend downtown, cat sitting or a friend, and took advantage of the new surroundings and colorful cookware to try out a recipe. Buvette’s carrots were on the menu and even though most of my meals took place in restaurants (my parents were in town), I managed to squeeze in a salad and a few fun shots.


Speaking of new surroundings, I’m actually traveling right now. At the last minute, I booked what I’m calling a creative retreat to Bermuda. I’ve wanted to come here since my friends and I were subjected to a emergency landing on the island, trapped for several hours in the airport with only one vending machine, and tortured with a view of pink houses. I know it may seem extravagant given that I’ve just returned from Iceland. And yet, a bunch of projects over the past month have made it nearly impossible to catch up on a pile of writing – both here and over at the Forward. With the Jewish holidays and several upcoming cookbook releases on the horizon, I wanted to dedicate a little time to my “craft.” I’ve also brought my real camera and hope to play around with photographing things that aren’t food.

You can follow my travels over on Instagram. Today, there were bus rides (including an impromptu sunbathing session sitting on a stone wall at the bus stop, my feet mere inches from the cars, trucks, and bikes – but no bus for nearly an hour – winding their way towards me), reading on a beach that slowly disappeared as the tide came in, and a massage by the pool while the sun set. When I finish posting this, I’m taking a night swim.

And now, before y’all hate me, the recipe.

Buvette’s carottes râpées with pistachios and coriander vinaigrette

Adapted from Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. Jody Williams calls this vinaigrette “an assertive lemon dressing” and it’s bracing in its acidity on its own, but mixed with sweet carrots and salty pistachios, it works. This makes a little more dressing than you’ll need. You can use a food processor to grate the carrots, but I prefer to use a julienne peeler for longer, thicker pieces. 

– ¼ C freshly squeezed lemon juice (my lemons were a little sad, so I needed 4; typically you can get ¼ cup juice from 2 lemons)

– ½ C extra virgin olive oil

– 1 medium garlic clove, grated on a Microplane (or finely minced)

– Large pinch sea salt

– Large pinch red chili flakes

– 1 t coriander seeds, toasted

– 4 C grated carrots (approximately 6 carrots hand grated)

– ½ C shelled pistachios (I used roasted salted nuts)

– Handful fresh cilantro leaves

Whisk. Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, and chili flakes. 

Crush. With a mortar and pestle (I used the other end of a wooden spoon) or the flat side of a knife blade, gently crush the coriander seeds and add them to the dressing.

Marinate. Pour the dressing over the carrots, pistachios, and cilantro. Allow to sit for at least half an hour before serving.

Chill. The salad will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for a few days.

“When you live in Iceland,” our taxi driver told us, “you have to know how to live. Our winters are so long and so dark that we have to appreciate every hour of sun we can get.”

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Natasha, my friend since high school, and I were en route to Vesturbæjarlaug, a sundlaug (community pool) recommended by our city tour guide the day before. It’s a twenty-minute walk from downtown Reykjavik and we might have made the trek by foot had we not gone horseback riding that morning. What we thought was going to be a one-hour stroll turned into a three-hour rambling tölta gait specific to Icelandic horses that’s supposed to be very smooth but I’m not sure that our tushes would agree.

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Before getting into the pools, we stripped down and washed off the horse farm thoroughly. Very thoroughly.

In addition to a lap pool complete with red twisty slide was a series of heated tubs. We entered the largest tentatively, securing empty spots on a bench, and quickly found a powerful jet for for an aquatic shoulder and neck massage. An older gentleman struck up a conversation and when we told him we had been horse back riding, he laughed: “You should be using the jet on your ass!”

Surrounded by murmurs and laughter among groups – families, friends, neighbors – our muscles relaxed as we each found comfortable positions, leaning on the walls, heads back, sun shining. We followed a circuit of hot pots and I eventually and gingerly made my way into the hottest – a literally steaming 111ºF.

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No, that’s not one of the pools – it’s Strokker geyser, silly!

The communal feel continued for the next hour and a half, as one silver-haired green-suited woman encouraged me to plunge from the heat into the polar (get it?) opposite pool at a frigid 8ºC. Yes, yes, it’s 46ºF, but gosh, doesn’t it sound chillier in celsius?

My first numbing dip was to my knees, second to my belly button, third past my shoulders, punctuated by visits to progressively hotter hot spots. The final time, stopping just short of my chin, I glanced up to see my cheerleader give me a thumbs up. As I rushed out, she smiled: “It takes me three tries also!”

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Afternoon turned to evening but the sky barely changed. As our fingers and toes wrinkled beyond recognition, we took one last pass at the jets and then joined a bevy of teens stretched out in a warm shallow pool. Half-immersed in the one-foot deep water, we turned our heads skyward, suntanning.



Natasha and Gayle’s guide to Reykjavik, Iceland

Eat and drink

Icelandic food is on the heavier side – while there’s a lot of fish, local produce seems to be largely limited to root vegetables and some berries. It did pay to seek out a few nicer places for dinner that had interesting takes of traditional fare. The restaurants never rush you, and you have to ask for your check. We ate dinner late every night because we had pretty full days and making reservations the day before or the day of usually meant that 9 pm was the only available time. That said, it’s light until around midnight, so eating at 9 pm didn’t feel late.

Breakfast, lunch, and coffee

Sandholt. Great bakery on the “main strip” – Laugavegur. We ate our first (breakfast) and last (lunch) meals there and this was a prefect way to bookend our trip. Amazing breads and other baked goods – we should have eaten more! Ask for lemon curd with your skyr – you won’t be sorry.

Gló. When you’re jonesing for some fresh, raw vegetables, head to gló. The entrees are served with a selection of salads and you could probably get by with just the salads for a light lunch.

Reykjavik Roasters. I got my daily morning fix here as it was across from my hotel and they take their coffee very seriously. The baristas are nice (and cute) and the cafe has an eclectic living room feel, complete with wooden trunk turned table in front of lounge-y couch. It’s a little off the beaten path, but if you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth checking out. And if the coffee doesn’t get you, the avocado toast will.

Kaffislippur. Another coffee place (with decent pastries) that’s in an industrial area near the marina. It’s inside one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever seen (see below).

Dinners (in order of preference)

Matur go Drykkur.  This was one of our favorite dinners and we had tasting menus (they even have a vegetarian one!) which included two desserts, including twisted kleina doughnuts with whey caramel (!!! – I found a recipe if you want to try your hand at making yogurt and then using the whey) and, surprise surprise, skyr with strawberries and green strawberry granita. I had one of the most gorgeous (and tasty) cocktails made with chervil (which I kept mispronouncing as chevril). The restaurante has an open kitchen and is cute inside, but it’s a storefront in the middle of a parking lot and the entrance is through a hotel. Do make a reservation – we made one the night before and only 9 pm was available, and they were turning parties away at the door.

Fiskelagid. Despite the uninspiring name (it means Fish Company), this place served another favorite dinner of ours. The restaurant is down a flight of stairs and the indoor seating is subterranean and a little cave-like, but it works. We opted to skip the tasting menus, and our skyr dessert featured a caramelized blondie, lemony sorrel crystals (ahem, granita) and merengue, and hazelnut gelato. Again, a reservation is probably a good idea – we made ours at the last minute, and like almost every other night, the only time we were able to eat was at 9 pm.

Laekjarbrekka. We had a very good dinner here on our fist night, perhaps a bit less innovative than the first two restaurants I mentioned and with an older, mostly local clientele. I had arctic char with a hollandaise sauce – a bit of an odd combination but the fish was great. This is the place that started our skyr obsession, served with a scoop of blueberry sorbet and oatmeal crumbles – the inspiration for the recipe in my next post.

Loki. Right across from Hallgrimskirkja church, this casual spot serves homey traditional food and the super dense, moist rye bread – similar to Boston brown bread – that steams overnight in a geothermally-heated dirt “oven.”


CityWalk tour. This free two-ish hour walking tour of Reykjavik was a great way to get to know the city and I recommend trying to do it on your first day. Our guide was a grad student in art history, knowledgable, and, like my coffee dude, cute to boot. After the tour, he sent us a list of suggested places to visit, eat, drink, etc. We had originally booked a walking tour with Kex Hostel but after paying and arriving, we were told that the tour not offered and should have never been available on the website. The tour coordinator there told us about the CityWalk tour and, after a little bit of coaxing, cheerfully drove us to the starting point.

Eldhestar. Combination horse farm and hotel. They have a variety of horseback riding options through their rustic fields and creeks, and seem to cater to a lot of experience levels. We went with the newby crowd and were able to try the famous tölt gait. If you ride Kria, beware the shifting saddle. Included in our tour (horses and puffins) was a simple lunch at the hotel – they have soup every day and a basic sandwich bar that included some welcome vegetable, nothing fancy but enough to tide us over. Our ride was notably longer than the 1.5-2 hour advertised. They will lend you boots and rain jumpsuits which we foolishly declined and both ended up throwing out our sneakers and jeans (the horses seem to delight in wiping their grass- and snot-covered nostrils on our legs). Try to get a fly net for your face, otherwise you may end up eating a few insects. The farm  picked us up at our hotel.

Puffins! Our one hour puffin tour was led by Special Tours. The boat ride was a fun way to see the adorable little birds (they have powerful binoculars onboard for anyone to use) and catch a different view of the city.

Golden circle. This is the bare minimum of nature-based touring that anyone visiting Iceland must do. It includes the geysers of Haukadalur (Geysir is the original geyser, though it’s not as active as it once was, so we saw Strokker instead which erupts every 5-10 minutes), Gulfoss Falls, and Þingvellir National Park (where the North American and European tectonic plates meet). We booked our trip with Reykjavik Excursions which was good – we opted for the later departure (10 am) highlights-only trip, because jet lag.

Harpa. Meaning “harp,” this concert hall and performance center is a stunner from outside and in. It’s won a bunch of architecture awards and was apparently built to demonstrate that Iceland was coming out of its financial difficulties. We saw a funny, cheesy one-man show that was a good tongue-in-cheek introduction to Icelandic culture.

Reykjavik 871 +/-2: The Settlement Exhibition. This small museum is at the site of an archeological dig of what is thought to be one of the first houses in Iceland from the time when the island was settled (in 871 CE). We serendipitously caught a tour and the whole thing took about an hour including some wandering time. They have a bunch of games and interactive exhibits for kids and, well, kids like us.

Hallgrimskirkja. Tall church and national monument that apparently has great views. We didn’t make it up. Apparently they have a mediation with organ on Thursdays from 12:00 – 12:30 which I would have liked to go to, but we ran out of time.


Go to as many geothermal and community pools as you can. Enough said.

Blue Lagoon. Super touristy and you should go anyway. This is a natural geothermal pool – it sinks of sulfur, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Do the silica mud mask, pay a few dollars for the algae mask as well. Let them take your photo – they’ll make you look pretty, and email the picture to you. There’s a restaurant inside – LAVA – that’s supposed to be very good but we weren’t in the mood for a fancy sit-down lunch. You need a reservation for the lagoon (we booked the comfort package which includes a towel) and any tour company can schedule it for you along with transportation. Many people go straight there from the airport since it’s so close, but I’m not quite sure about the luggage storage situation. Even with a reservation, the line to get in took at least 15 minutes, but once inside everything runs really smoothly. If you want to get a massage or other spa service, you need to book in advance. Unlike other pools, the shower here have doors if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing.

Vesturbæjarlaug. This is a community pool recommended by our walking tour guide. He said it’s a 20 minute walk from City Hall (near the bottom of Laugavegur) where our tour ended, but we took a taxi from our hotel. This is the real deal if you want to feel like part of the neighborhood. The multiple pools are chlorinated and at various temperatures. The majority seem to be in the 36º-38ºC range while there are a few “hot pots” reaching up to 44CºC and a cold bath for quick dips (or, if you’re a native, a nice long soak). Be prepared to shower and wash in your birthday suit in a single-sex room.


Woolens. I picked up a blanket and hat at Nordic Store (where Laugavegur dead-ends onto Lækjargata). Prices and brands seemed pretty consistent across stores.

Salt.  There is a wide variety of locally harvested salt. Norður is a flaky sea salt – think of it as the Maldon of Iceland. Saltver also makes a fleur-de-sel like product,  but I opted their interestingly flavored more chunky salts (about the consistency of Diamond kosher salt) and picked up a pretty jar of birch-smoked in a 10-11 convenience store (think 7-Eleven) which had a much lower price than tourist or grocery (Bónus) stores. I also bought no-name black lava salt in a souvenir shop.

Blue Lagoon skin care products. We hemmed and hawed when we saw the price of the silica mud mask but on the last day of our trip, we broke down and each bought a tube. I’ve used it since the trip and I’m happy I ended up splurging – the mask just feels so good! If you don’t pick anything up at the lagoon itself, there’s a store on Laugavegur and one in the airport. Prices are the same everywhere.

ChocolateOmnom is a loved the salted almond. I even tried the licorice chocolate bar by accident and I did not hate it. Definitely buy at the grocery store and there happened to be a pretty good deal at dutyfree in the airport. Apparently they have a factory tour – next time, definitely next time. Nói Síríus is the oldest and largest chocolate manufacturer in Iceland and they make an addictive milk chocolate bar with toffee bits.

Licorice (“lakkrís”) everything. Ok, not for me but it’s everywhere and in everything.


Hotel Klettur. We booked this in a deal with our flight and were very happy with it. The hotel is located about two blocks from the top of Laugavegur, so it was quiet and peaceful and still really convenient. We had a fairly basic room with a view of the water and the all-important blackout curtains. A breakfast buffet was included – it was decent and held  us over, though I did get my coffee across the street at Reykjavik Roasters.

Icelandair Hotel, Reykjavik Marina. We didn’t stay here, but we had coffee at Kaffislippur, and wandered around the funkiest hotel common spaces I’ve ever seen: musical instruments hanging over a stairwell, a library, screening room with loungers, gym with a climbing wall, and who knows what else. There’s also a lot of public art around the hotel.


Thanks to LizKathyLizzie, and Natasha’s friend David for sharing your recommendations and experiences in Iceland, and helping us have an amazing adventure!

Happy 4th from Central Park!


I write to you from an old sheet spread out on a patch of grass just a few steps outside my apartment. Surrounding me (cross-legged with a laptop) are kids flying kites, a woman in an American flag inspired tutu, calypso music soaring out of an old-school boombox, and smoke from competing barbecues. I’ve been having my own little staycation here in Manhattan this long weekend.

Yesterday, my sister and I did some bargain hunting at Century 21 on the tip of the island  followed by our first attempt at Citi Biking along the river. It took a little while to get used to being on two wheels again – I don’t even spin – and we ended up on a pedestrian-only path, which a kindly gentleman pointed out to us in a voice loud enough for lady liberty to hear. We were pedaling along the (correct) biking path when I heard a rip: my favorite summer pants had given out. I muttered a few choice works and pouted. We dismounted, found the nearest dock, and returned our bikes. Still pouting, I covering my behind with my shopping bag and quickly found a place to change into a newly purchased dress. We went straight to dinner.

Two glasses of champagne in, I received a text from Citi Bike: “You’ve had your bike out for a while and are being charged for extra miles…” There were a few more choice words followed by more pouting. We weren’t too far from the naughty bike and walked along the Highline to find and adjust it. Despite the mishaps, I’d totally Citi Bike again. But in leggings.


But let’s back up a bit so we can talk about an actual recipe. That sheet that I’m sitting on is already spotted with grass stains and food drips (appetizing, I know) from Saturday afternoon when, after a lunch capped off by today’s crisp, some friends and I picnicked on snacks and watched a flamenco guitar and dance performance in Riverside Park.

The origin of that crisp goes back to last weekend. Well, actually, it goes all the way back to Memorial Day weekend, if I’m going to be absolutely thorough. And, as you probably know, I do like to be thorough.


I spent Memorial Day with Meira and her family. Knowing that her husband Alan’s favorite “fruit” is rhubarb – he’s so British! – I loaded up on the first stalks of the season and schlepped them out to their house on Long Island. In discussing what to do with the rhubarb, Alan requested something sweet but on the healthier side and without anything that would get in the way of the rhubarb taste. Before I had a chance to look up any recipes though, I got sick and had to cut my visit short, leaving the bright pink beauties behind.

Last weekend, my parents came to town and we went out to Long Island for Shabbat dinner where I redeemed myself with a crisp with some end-of-season rhubarb. The filling was super tart – just rhubarb, lemon juice and zest, and a sprinkle of sugar – and the topping sweet like a crispy oatmeal cookie. Everyone, including Alan and my chocoholic father praised it (on the blue plate up top, you can see it’s a little runny), but I thought it could be slightly improved upon.

With a revised crisp in mind, I organized a potluck Shabbat lunch as an excuse to test the tweaked recipe. I skipped the lemon, upped the sugar in the filling and dropped it in the crust, and reduced the amount of coconut oil.

Only one farmer at my market had rhubarb on Friday and he told me that this is the last of the season, so I bought extra and there are now a few pounds of chopped rhubarb in my freezer. So, if you see some rhubarb, grab it while you can and throw together this crisp. Or muffins. Or rugelach. Or compote.


Rhubarb crisp

Serves 8-10 

The filling is based on a recipe of Mark Bitman’s and the topping is adapted from a recipe I tested for a friend. My first take had a sweeter topping (a full cup of sugar) and tarter juicier rhubarb (1/4 cup sugar, one lemon for zest and juice, and no flour), so play with the proportions to get the balance that you’d like. When the fruit bakes down, you end up with a 1:1 ratio of filling to topping.

I use a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate (7 1/2 inches on bottom) for a pretty thick crisp. You could also use an 8-inch square or, for a thinner crisp, a 10-inch tart or cake pan (not with a removable bottom). If you only have whole or slivered nuts, pulse the topping dry ingredients in a small food processor until nuts are chunky, then add egg and pulse a few more times until incorporated.

This is best about 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven (or is reheated). Any leftovers? Top with a big scoop of yogurt, and you have breakfast. 

For the filling:

– 2 – 2 ½ lbs rhubarb (6-7 cups chopped)

– 6T white sugar

– 2T flour

For the topping:

– ½ C all-purpose flour

– ½ C oats

– ½ C sliced almonds

– 1/3 C white sugar

– 1/3 C brown sugar

– 1 t baking powder

– 1/2 t salt

– 1 egg, beaten

– ¼ C melted (liquid) coconut oil

Prep. Heat the oven to 350°F.

Mix filling. In the pie plate, toss the filling ingredients until evenly coated.

Mix topping. In a bowl, mix together flour, oats, almonds, sugars, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of these dry ingredients and add the beaten egg. Stir mixture with a fork until it gets crumbly, the consistency of cornmeal.

Bake. Crumble the topping evenly over the rhubarb and drizzle the coconut oil evenly over it. Bake until the top turns golden brown and fruit juices start to bubble up on the sides, 40 – 45 minutes.




Once you’ve lived in a city for long enough, you develop a grocery shopping routine. Here’s how mine goes, a mix of highbrow and low, seasonal and, well, less so.

On Fridays, I go to the farmers market a few blocks from my place. It’s open year-round and even in the snow, I try to pick up at least a few apples. These days, my must haves are radishes and young lacinato kale from J&A Bialas farm, a boule from She Wolf (I’m partial to their sprouted spelt and polenta), and salted butter from Ronnybrook Farm.

In contrast, there’s also my corner fruit and vegetable guy. I get from him bags of lemons and clamshells of berries and the occasional mango. The quality is about the same as a middling store, and the cart’s selling point is convenience, price, and lack of a long line. I eat enough raspberries in a single sitting that even if they’ve been sitting outside, under an umbrella but still subject to the elements, they’ll last long enough to make it a day in the fridge before I gobble them up.

There’s a Whole Foods just behind my corner guy, and a mere 3 blocks from my apartment, and for sheer proximity it’s my primary source for fridge, freezer, and pantry. My wallet has seen happier days.

And then there’s the slightly sketchy Associated across from my apartment. Based on appearance alone, I avoided the place for the first year, but when I was looking for off-season plums for a project I was working on, my friend Adeena suggested I pop in to the store because she said that strangely enough, they always have plums. And she was right. No matter the season, there’s always a huge pile of plums in the center of their fruit display, if you can call it that. Sure, they’re often hard as a rock, but they’re there when you need them.

I also found another use for the store: cheap produce that is just about a minute past its prime. If I want to make a compote (which these days I mix into my morning yogurt), they usually have just the thing: slightly squashed blueberries, bruised apples, and the like. Sure, you have to heat up your pot the moment you get home, but 30 minutes later, you’re all set. Soups and sauces lends themselves to ragtag tomatoes. And, finally, today’s recipe, tomatillo salsa. You can’t choose your tomatillos at my Associated – they’re prepackaged on a small styrofoam tray for a dollar – and you’ll probably have to chuck 2 out of every 10 for being a bit squishy, but the rest are perfect.


A little time blistering in the broiler alongside jalapeños and garlic, a quick whir with citrus and cilantro, and the tomatillos are transformed into something you will want to douse on everything. Spread it on an avocado and roast beef sandwich? Yup. Mix it with a little oil and lime juice and make a slaw? Yup. Top sunny side up eggs? Yup. Yup. Yup.


Roasted tomatillo salsa

Adapted from Epicurious/GourmetThis salsa is quite spicy, so if your palate runs mild, start with  half the number of jalapeños. This would be great with some lime juice.

Makes 4 cups

– 1 1/2 lbs fresh tomatillos (about 8 medium)

– 6 fresh jalapeño

– 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled

– 1/2 C cilantro

– 1 large onion, coarsely chopped

– 1 T kosher salt

Broil. Preheat broiler and line a shallow pan or baking sheet with aluminum foil. Remove tomatillo husks and rince under warm water to remove stickiness. Broil tomatillos, jalapeños, and garlic on the pan/sheet 1-2 inches from heat, turning once, until tomatillos are softened and charred, 7-10 minutes.

Puree. Peel garlic and pull tops off of jalapeños. Puree all ingredients, including onion and salt, in a blender.


full on

Get out the basket, because it’s picnic weather. My windows are thrown open and all the fans I own are whipping around the grass-scented fresh air to the tune of the roaring lawnmowers outside. I’m resisting the urge to turn on the air conditioning just yet. While there’s nothing more boring than discussing the weather, this year’s been a weird one, with an unseasonably warm winter, an unseasonably cold spring, and now, full on sticky summer. Luckily, the garbage lining the streets hasn’t yet started to stink. Ahhhh, life in New York City. No wonder it clears out once the temperature rises. And I have a few escapes planned myself, thanks to a couple of friends with pools in the ‘burbs and an upcoming trip to Iceland (!!). Tomorrow, I plan to pick up a few stalks of rhubarb at the green market and bring them out to one of said friends with a pool and bake us something sweet (this? this? or perhaps a variation on this?).

Anyway, I want to pass along a quick recipe for the hibiscus drink that I made a few weeks ago (spiked with alcohol) and have not been able to stop drinking (sans alcohol) as the mercury’s inched up. It’s an agua fresca (“fresh water”), traditionally a mix of fruit, flowers, or seeds with water and a little sugar served in Central America. I had my first sips of the fruity variety a few years back in Panama – one morning papaya, another morning watermelon – and since them have tended to make floral versions, almost like a lightly sweetened herbal iced tea, which more properly would be called a tisane or infusion.

I buy the flowers in tea bag form for ease and laziness, but you can always use dried flowers if you prefer and strain them out after steeping. No recipe is needed for these: 2-4 tea bags per quart of hot water (depending on how strong you want your tea), steep for a long time, add some sugar (or agave) to taste, and chill. Lavender works great (4 bags) and I love to drink a relaxing glass before bed. Also fresh mint, which is obviously not a flower. Next up: elder flower because I love St-Germaine.

My agua de jamaica, i.e., hibiscus drink, has a few more ingredients than flower + water + sugar. I like to add lime juice and blueberries – after a few hours, those berries are reminiscent of the fruit at the bottom of the sangria jug. You can also cold brew or add ginger and cinnamon.

Happy summering, all!


Hibiscus agua fresca

This recipe is incredibly easy, but you do need to prepare it far enough in advance to let the drink cool. When I made this for a crowd (6 quarts!), I boiled the flowers in a large pot and then stuck the whole thing in the freezer because my guest were arriving in less than 2 hours. Then I added the blueberries and poured it over glasses full of ice.

Hibiscus is pretty potent, so you don’t need to use too many tea bags. If you want your drink more of a spritzer, seep the tea bags in just 1 cup of water, pour the concentrate into a glass and fill with seltzer. You can also spike your drink with vodka, tequila, or gin.

Makes 1 quart

– 3 1/2 C water

– 2 hibiscus herbal tea bags

– 1-2 T sugar

– 1 lime for juice (1 1/2 – 2 T)

– 1/2 C rinsed blueberries

Steep. Boil water and pour it over the tea bags and sugar in a pitcher that can withstand the heat (or use a pot). Let steep for 30 minutes. Remove bags.

Juice. Squeeze the lime into the infusion and taste for sweetness, adding more if necessary.

Chill. Allow the mix to come to room temperature and then put it into the fridge (or freezer) until very cold.

Serve. Once cold, add blueberries (the berries might get mushy if you put them in the infusion hot) and serve.


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