A Personal Perspective

Growing up in rural Northern California, in a middle to upper-middle class white household, I was always under the impression that prison was something that happened to other people. Bad people, that did bad things; not people like me. When members of our social milieu had problems with the law, it was almost always of the sort that could be dealt with via payments and, when someone did on occasion end up in jail, it was only spoken of by adults in hushed tones and treated as some sort of mistake or aberration. All the way through my early twenties, even once I should have known better, prison just seemed like somebody else’s problem.

I mention all of this because I believe that my experience isn’t an uncommon one. Our prisons aren’t filled with people from privileged middle-class backgrounds, so many of us come of age never having known someone who has spent time in prison. Without that first-hand knowledge, it’s only too easy to forget that the people in prison are real people too, with hopes, dreams, fears, and so on. I imagine that anyone who has taken the time to find this site and read our entries is already aware, at least on some level, of all that I’ve said. I mention it not to inform you, but to remind you- many people aren’t concerned about the problems in our prison system, or aren’t interested in prisoners’ rights, not because they’re cruel but because they’re uninformed. Not because they’re callous but because they don’t understand what’s really happening.

When I met John*, I simply knew that he was a friend of a friend, that he was decent looking, and that he was interested in me. It was only after we had gone out on several dates that I learned that he was also an ex-convict, recently off parole. He had been in San Quentin not once, but two or three times, for both violent and non-violent offenses, for several years at a time. He had two strikes and was paranoid about going back to prison- afraid he’d get a third strike and be stuck there for the rest of his life.

John was a troubled man in many ways: a rough childhood, followed by a stint in the military that had left scars both physical and psychological, hadn’t given him much of a foundation to build on. My friends and family thought I was crazy to keep dating him once I learned all of this but for one reason or another, I did. The really sad thing for me was that it was clear to anyone who cared to look that John was a smart guy with a good heart. Even his violent crimes had been the result of caring too much and not knowing how else to protect someone he cared about. He was also sporadically homeless, unemployed, and prone to outbursts of verbal rage. I thought that maybe if he had some help from someone who cared, he could make a better life for himself. I thought maybe I could be that person.

While we were dating, I was never sure how much I could ask him about what prison was like. I realized then that I really had no idea what life in prison was like. Sure, I’d seen television shows and movies set in prisons but never before had I known someone who had actually been inside and I thought this was my chance to finally know. Whenever I asked, though, he was evasive, shunting my questions aside or laughing them off. Finally, one day he just looked at me and told me that he really didn’t want to talk about it. That it wasn’t like I’d seen on tv, but that it was terrible and that he’d rather die than go back. I still remember the troubled look he had when he told me he didn’t want me to see him that way; I think we both knew that wasn’t really possible. One of the most defining experiences of his life was one that was so foreign to me that even in trying to understand, I offended.

In the end, I had to end the relationship. Not because he had been in prison, but because of what prison had done to him. At 34, he was a broken man. He had constant health problems, due in part to the years he had spent with inadequate medical attention, making him seem much older sometimes. Socially, on the other hand, he was stunted. I was the younger by a good ten years but when we went out in public, I was the one that ended up embarrassed by his inappropriate words and actions. When people tried to help him or be friendly, half the time he’d scare them off or drive them away with preemptive rudeness. All those years behind bars had taught him how to fight, but they hadn’t taught him how to interact with people. He couldn’t keep a job, or a housing situation, or even friends. At some point, he just gave up. I don’t know whether it happened while he was in San Quentin, or when he got turned down for job after job because of his record; more likely it happened gradually, as the defeats accumulated and he decided there was nothing he could do to stem the tide. He decided that the system had given up on him, so he gave up on it.

These days I’m a little bit more educated regarding our prison system, a little bit more aware of its many flaws, but I still see men like John on the streets around Hastings every day and I wonder: how many of them have a similar story? How many of them started life with hope and decent prospects, made a few foolish decisions in their youth, and ended up so distrustful of our society, so broken by the system, that they too just gave up? The other day I saw John himself, walking down the street in the Tenderloin. He didn’t see me, and I let him walk by without saying anything. I hate to be one more thing that failed him, but I’m only one woman and I realized years ago that the wounds he had were far beyond my lone ability to heal.

*For reasons of privacy, the name has been changed

A Short Break to Honor Liviu Librescu

We take a short break from food blogging to honor the life, and sacrifice, of a wonderful man – Professor Liviu Librescu, who saved the lives of his Virginia Tech students by blocking, with his body, the entrance to the classroom, so they could escape the mass-murdering shooter by jumping out of the windows.

It was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi), I think, who said “make yourself a teacher, make yourself a friend”. So close to National Holocaust Rememberance Day, my eyes well at stories like Librescu’s, who, like Janusz Korczak, epitomizes this saying to its fullest possible meaning.

Our best teachers live with us, even after they die, because their memories and values live in our hearts. What is remembered, lives. May his memory be blessed.


I got a few email inquiries from US readers asking what ful was. After much botanical immersion (basically, googling “ful” and “fava bean”) I struck gold. Ful is fava bean! And there are several varieties. Read all about it.

And, folks, if you have questions about terms, or measurements, or temperatures, please, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments to the blog. That’s what it’s there for. This way, others can benefit from the answer to your query, and I get to know that my writing is being read somewhere on the blog, too. 🙂

Party Food : Part II

I was hoping to post about the farm day, when I got to see the organic farm and meet the vegetables, and their growers, face to face; it was a lovely morning. But the camera, with the farm pictures, has gone with Chad to Colorado, so we’re left with stuffed zuccini.

Stuffed Zuccini

4 zuccini or summer squashes
1/2 white onion
5 mushrooms, or 10 mushroom stems (if you’re stuffing the rest of the mushrooms)
1/2 cup crumbled goat feta cheese
3 garlic cloves

Cut each zuccini to about four pieces of equal size. With a small knife, remove some of the inside, leaving a little “cup” with a bottom.

Grate the stuff you took out of the zuccini; chop the mushrooms.

In a pan, sautee chopped garlic cloves and onion; then, add grated zuccini and chopped mushroom. Sautee all this together until soft and aromatic.

Then, mix in a bowl, with cheese. This is the stuffing.

Now, hear your oven to 180 degrees celsius. Scoop some stuffing into each of the zuccini “cups”. Organize in a baking dish and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the zuccini is cooked but still firm. Enjoy!

Party Food (alas, no pictures): Part I

The other day I had lots of beautiful ladies of all shapes and sizes over here for a clothes swap, and had to serve them something to eat.

The original concept was of finger foods, but then things got complicated; some of the stuff I was planning to make required vegetables which were unavailable from our Chubeza delivery, and some of the ingredients simply called to make them into something else. Eventually I settled on a different, but fun, menu, and it got rave reviews from the ladies.

So here it is, for your cooking pleasure; part I includes recipes for cabbage rolls and stuffed mushrooms. Tune in tomorrow for stuffed zuccini.

Shavuot Cheese Suffles (see below)

Cabbage Rolls with Quinoa

This one, in its meat version, is an old Mennonite favorite, and Chad’s family has been eating it for years. Chad and I have been working on a vegetarian version, and recently we discovered that a combination of quinoa and lentils for the filling works wonders. The following version, however, has only quinoa – but is equally delicious.

1 white cabbage
1 cup quinoa
1 onion
5-6 cloves of garlic
3 tbsp of rosemary, or herbs-de-provence, or any other mixed herb
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1-2 cups of your favorite homemade tomato sauce

In a pot, fry up the onion and garlic. Add the quinoa and herbs, and 2 cups vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then lower the temperature, cover pot and cook for about 20 minutes. Drain any excess broth and set aside.

In another pot, place cabbage in water. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, or until cabbage becomes slightly translucent and leaves are soft. Drain and let cool.

Using a small, sharp knife, remove the core of the cabbage. Then, carefully peel each leaf at a time (this requires practice), and remove the white tough middle of each leaf (so the leaf remains complete, but can be easily bent).

Heat up your oven to 180 degrees celsius. Pick a nice, deep, wide baking dish and oil it lightly with olive oil. Pick up every cabbage leaf, and using a spoon, place a healthy spoonful of the quinoa mix in each leaf. Fold the sides and roll all the way. Place in baking dish. The idea is to put the leaves in the dish quite snugly. When the dish is full and you’ve run out of usable cabbage, mix the tomato sauce with the broth and pour on top of the cabbage. Put in oven and bake for 45 minutes.


25 champignon mushrooms
3 large potatoes
1/2 onion
olive oil
black pepper and chili flakes to taste

Carefully remove stems from all mushrooms. Chop up the stems and the onion, and fry in olive oil until brown and fragrant. Meanwhile, bake, boil or microwave the potatoes. Mash’em with the stems and onion. Then, stuff some of the mash into each stemless mushroom, place in a lightly-oiled baking dish, and put into a hot oven (200 degrees celsius would work) for about half an hour (or more, if you really want a crispy top).

Food Festival Addendum

Yesterday, while talking to a student about the food festival, I finally managed to realize and verbalize what was so bizarre for me in the whole experience. There was stark contrast between the survivalist, let’s-eat-’cause-tomorrow-there-ain’t-gonna-be-any-food attitude of the folks and the luxurious, toy-like dishes served. It was, at the same time, a feeling of apocalypse and decadence which made the festival into a military operation of fast gorging of delicacies, rather than the sort-of-Roman-feast it was supposed to be.

Tel Aviv Food Festival

Hiya, all; not much cooking this week, yet, except for some organic mashed potatoes. The reasons for this absence from the kitchen are quite complex, but they certainly include our visit to the Tel Aviv food festival, Taste of the City.

The idea is quite fun: many of the city’s wonderful restaurants open large booths, where they sell small portions of the best dishes in their menus for a relatively inexpensive price. For example, a set of four Dim Sum dumplings is sold for 20 NIS. The booths are located around Hayarkon park, and the very many visitors (more than three hundred thousand last year!) walk between them, making a meal out of various interesting entrees.

For the most part, folks behave in a civil manner and don’t push each other on the way to the food, which is also facilitated by the large number of service people on each booth. It is, however, a strange feeling to be part of a large picnic where everyone, including you, is stuffing their faces and standing in line for more. I can see how this pastime can really turn off those of us with more delicate tastes. It also raises the question of garbage, as this festival is based on a huge amount of plastic and paper plates, and there is no recycling structure in sight.

As far as vegetarian options go, things looked quite good. Almost each restaurant had some sort of a vegetarian option. Sushi places offered vegetarian sushi and agedashi tofu; various rice and noodle dishes, with vegetables, as well as veg and tofu stir-frys, were offered at the Thai and Chinese places; pasta places had vegetarian pastas; and there was plenty of fresh squeezed juices and smoothies for those who preferred to pass on the many beer varieties. The best part was a small and modest booth, bearing the sign “sun soya” or “soya sun”, which offered “meat” based on tofu and wheat gluten, with vegetables, silver noodles and brown rice. I think we’re going to experiment more with fake meats at home. And, of course, the nice neighboring booth sold little boxes of raspberries, so we had our breakfast for the following morning in hand. All in all, quite an entertaining way to pass the evening. The one thing that spoiled some of the fun was the commercial megacorp booths, with noisy music, dancers, and incessant flier-handing. As we were heading off (by foot – you would not believe the traffic!), a lady handed us some sugar-free gum samples, to finish off the experience.

When we got home, we found our vegetable box awaiting us, with tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, potatoes, carrots, beets, zuccini (in four different colors!), kale, parsley, cabbage and red peppers. It’s vegetable salad day, today, for both of us; but we promise to be more creative over the weekend.

Sweet and Savory Sesame

The other day, a few of us were having lunch at a Tel Aviv cafe. One of us was telling a story about her grandfather, originally from Russia, who can’t stand a few local foods, such as Tchina. A great wave of sadness washed over the table. “Life without tchina“, mumbled another friend. “Fancy that. How sad”.

Yes, we Israelis love our sesame. We like it on our bread crust, we like it as sweet halvaof various flavors, we use it to coat our schnitzels (breaded chicken meat) – but most of all, we love it as that fabulous paste, out of which we make a dip, a sauce or a spread, according to taste. Americans call this divine paste “tahini”, which has always made me giggle; the word tchina comes from the verb litchon, to grind. And, indeed, raw tchina is nothing more than ground sesame seeds.

I confess I’m not a big fan of halva, though Chad loves it very much and always keeps a box of a local, Jaffa-made variety, that looks like an old lady’s hair. I’ve given up sweets, and I don’t really miss them all that much. My fandom of sesame is almost entirely due to the fantastic tchina I eat everywhere.

There is, however, one exception; the wonderful and crumbly tchina cookies I tasted, for the first time, at YAFA – a little cafe/bookstore in central Jaffa, and our local peace oasis. YAFA is devoted to the understanding between Jews and Palestinians, offers a variety of interesting books about the Middle East, and hosts an impressive curriculum of classes in spoken and literary Arabic. They also serve fragrant herbal tea, accompanied by these little delicacies. After tasting them in the company of my dear pals Shachar and Amit, we all sought to recreate them; Amit, who is vegan, loves them and makes them often to our delight. The recipe I’m posting today, however, has a few small changes, which I think improve the cookie’s rich texture and allows vegans to skip the use of margarine (yuck).

The following two recipes – one for stir-fried vegetables with tchina, the other for the cookies – are my entries for a fun event, organized by Barbara at Tigers and Strawberries, called The Spice is Right: Sweet or Savory? I guess sesame, as well as sesame paste, are spices but also ingredients, and that’s how they’re used in these recipes. Enjoy.

Stir-Fried Vegetables and Tofu with Tchina Sauce

1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 package extra-firm tofu
4 garlic cloves
3 carrots
3 zuccini
1 package forest mushrooms, or fresh shiitake, or dried, pre-soaked shiitake
5-6 large leaves of kale or chard
1 inch piece of peeled and chopped or grated ginger
4-5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons raw tchina

black pepper or chilli flakes to taste

Mix soy sauce and tchina; cut tofu into 1/2 inch cubes and soak in the mix. Chop all vegetables into 1-inch cubes, and tea the kale or chard to large but edible pieces.
While tofu is happily soaking, heat up the oil in a large wok. When the wok is very hot, add garlic cloves and ginger, and stir a bit until fragrant. Then, add the vegetables: first the carrots, then the soy-tchina sauce from the tofu (keep the tofu aside for a while). Let the carrots sit in the wok a bit until they start to soften, then add the zuccini, mushrooms, tofu, and finally the kale. Add black pepper or chili flakes to taste and enjoy.

Tchina Cookies with COconut Milk and Spices

1/2 cup raw tchina
1 1/2 cups whole wheat or whole rice flour (I used the latter)
5 tablespoons coconut milk
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon of each: cinnamon, ground clove, nutmeg
3 heaped tablespoons brown sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Knead to a dough. The dough comes out crumbly and a bit on the dry side, so do not be alarmed; if it’s very dry, add some more coconut milk or tchina. Now, make small (less than 1 inch) cookies; due to the dough consistency, you can’t exactly roll it, but rather squeeze it into a little ball. If you want to go fancy, one of these cookie presses might come in handy, will make your life easier, and your cookies prettier. Amit has one; yet another kitchen appliance which seems to be a refugee from the 1970s and works like a charm. Place on baking sheet and bake for about ten to fifteen minutes. Remove when cookies are slightly golden and no longer soft, but before they brown (they don’t taste as good when very brown). Consume with herbal tea or fragrant Turkish coffee.

Vegetable Adventures Launch

Hello Friends, Old and New!

This blog follows my culinary adventures with vegetables, and particularly, with a surprise box of vegetables, delivering various wonderful edible toys right to my door. You can expect to read of Chinese medicine and nutrition, various interesting types of vegetables, lots of recipes, mostly with a Middle-Eastern twist, healing with food and herbs, and occasionally some other issues might sneak in: ecology, music, dance, martial arts, jewelry making, a dash of healthy idealism, and way too many books.

We may want to start with the folks who grow the vegetables. Oh, wait, we may want to set the stage for the vegetable arrival.

My partner, Chad, and I live in a lovely small apartment right near the Tel Aviv beach, in a neighborhood called “The Yemenite Vine”. The neighborhood is a colorful, vibrant and honest mix of folks who came to Israel from Yemen in the 1960s and of newcomers – young Israelis and many African, Asian, Eastern European and South American workers. The heart of the community is Hakarmel Market, a huge Middle Eastern market selling all kinds of produce, groceries, house equipment, etc. On the other side of the neighborhood is the Mediterranean Sea – on the shore of which are the Tel Aviv skyscrapers and Jaffa’s ancient buildings. Tel Aviv is a culinary heaven, offering endless restaurants and cafes, and Jaffa offers the very best Middle Eastern food one can think of. Under such ideal conditions, how can there not be a Yemenite Vine food blog?

Now, here’s where the vegetables come in.

About a month ago I made friends with some environmentalist friends, who introduced me to community farming and organc produce, and who let me know of such farms in Israel. Ecology, organic agriculture and recycling is not a very high priority here yet, save for a few isolated areas. Naturally, we were thrilled to give these folks a try. So, we are now the proud members of the Chubeza organic farm:


(that’s where the lovely lettuce picture comes from, actually)

Every Monday afternoon, a nice person knocks on our door and delivers us a big box of vegetables. We have no control over the contents of the box, which makes all this even more fun! We get a great variety of seasonal vegetables. Our whole grains, beans and occasional dairy products and eggs come from the nearby market, or from Jaffa’s Middle-Eastern stores. Our mission is to cook and consume all this goodness within a week; your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read of our adventures in the kitchen, provide advice, ask and answer questions, and suggest your own recipes, if you feel like it.

Ah, but there are tricky rules. We’re both vegetarians (I rarely and occasionally eat fish, but not usually at home); being a big fan of Traditional Chinese Medicine, my cooking is geared toward healing rather than just pleasure and at least tries to follow Five Element Theory (zang-fu). We’re not big fans of sugar, refined grains, or processed foods; and we don’t usually combine animal protein with hard-core starches. Nevertheless, we’ve been known to make mean dinners, and to produce fun giant weekend brunches; we both love to cook and do it often.

This week, the lovely people of Chubeza have graced us with the following ingredients:
Arabic lettuce (like Romaine, only large and a tad stiffer)
Manguld (wild beet leaves)
Collard Greens

Let the fun begin!