Saturday, December 30, 2006

An Obligation

My aunt has come to visit from Africa.

But she is not the obligation of which I speak...

Nor am I obliged,
Beyond common courtesy and extreme gratitude,
For the pomellos that appeared on my doorstep.

No, what has put me under an obligation is my latest
Jaffa Flea Market purchase...

Being sold as a job lot just behind this gorgeous old Morris was a shoebox (admittedly child-sized) filled with funky cocktail forks. Cleaned and polished, they look pretty impressive!

So why is this an obligation?

Well, I have enough cocktail forks to supply a marching band (sixty nine to be exact), and now I feel obliged to start making interesting cocktail snacks that need to be speared by funky cocktail forks.

Good thing that New Years is this weekend!

In the meantime, I am entertaining (very happily) my aunt who I have not seen in 16 years. This is a great treat for me, pure unadulterated quality time with no external distractions and a really wonderful opportunity to learn who exactly my aunt is, not as a wife, mother, daughter or grandmother, but as a person.

That kind of opportunity doesn't often happen with family,
Usually you have to share...

And, not only do I get to be completely selfish this weekend and have my aunt all to myself, but I also get to show off the small everyday joys that make up my life here in Israel...

Masabacha from Ali Caravan and

The bounty of my weekly CSA box
(tomatoes, clementines, coriander)

The Jaffa Flea Market

The local street cats...

Neve Tsedek

Tomorrow will bring what tomorrow will bring... but rain or shine I know that I will drag my aunt, this person who I love, to see another corner of this place that I love.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Jaffa on Christmas Eve

This is Jaffa on Christmas Eve...

I visit my neighbours and am given a sunflower...

Wandering from church to church,
there are no choirs singing, no censers being swung.

Instead, busloads of tourists being taken on guided tours of the Holy Land on its holiest night. The flash of cameras, the chatter about things that have no meaning except to those chattering.

Nothing earthshaking.

So I walk to through the sculpture courtyard, disappointed.

And discover 2 pieces that I have never noticed before.

I like surprises!

To all my family, and to my friends new and old,
May the goodwill and joy of the holidays
Be with you all through the coming year.

Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a good night!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Eighth Night & A Study in Orange

On the eighth night I played around with my camera

And then I did a Study in Orange...

By candle light.

Please note how tiny these clementines are...

They fit easily into a tablespoon!

Not only were they cute... they tasted great too!

Juxtaposition

I love this country...

It is so full of contrasts, contradictions and confusion,
what's not to love about it?

As an example, just look at the state of nature here.

Where I work there is a tree. Its leaves have almost all fallen and only the seedpods of its former summer glory are left, waiting to be knocked down by a cooperative gust of wind.

Growing on the ground around it are snapdragons about to bloom in the cold winter sunshine.

Contradictions, negations and confusion.

And my home neighbourhood is the same...
Fairy lights shaped like the crescent moon of Islam
glitter above the doorways,

Channukah gelt in string bags sits alongside
similary stringbagged oranges

and chocolate Santa Clauses hang out together,
waiting to be put under the tree.

Talk about confused!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tradition

Like all old religions, Judaism is tradition heavy...

Channukah traditions, like most traditions in this faith, seem to be food-centric. Family and friends gather together, light candles for eight nights and then eat themselves silly on grease laden foods such as latkes and donuts. There are, of course other things eaten, but those are the star attractions.

Latkes, of course, are made at home. A quick and easy substitution could be any form of 'Tater Tot or McDonalds type hashbrowns. Donuts... well, the first year I was here Dunkin' Donuts had just opened and the gift to bring to a candle lighting party was a few dozen DD donuts, usually covered with hundreds and thousands. I think that the best soufganiot (the singular is soufgania, but who ever buys just one?) in Tel Aviv can be found at Roladin.

At the Ibn Gvirol branch they take over the covered patio and turn it into a little fry-shop. For eight days and nights the oil is hot and the donuts bob away, getting a little tan before being filled with all sorts of delights. This years 8 day wonderflavour is "Jamayica" (the Israeli pronunciation of Jamaica. It is a warm donut filled with dark chocolate/rum ganache, dipped in chocolate sauce and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. Personally, I could live without the chocolate sauce and nuts - the ganache was already over the top - literally, it was oozing out the hole where it had been squeezed in... very generously.

Of course there are only so many latkes a person can eat before they start staring at television sets and leaning back into old sofas.

So tonight I had a different kind of greasy Channukah food...
Pizza.

This is an Israeli thin crust vegetarian pizza from a small chain called Big Mama's. It has an ok crust, a little dusty without enough char to add interest, a sweet tomato sauce, moderate amounts of annonymous cheese and 6 toppings. At this point you are supposed to count the toppings and then make a comment about how I can't count. But there really are six toppings... zucchini, onion, black olives, mushrooms, fried eggplant and... a scrambled egg spread around the very centre of the pizza and guaranteed to make the pointy end flop just before it gets to your mouth.

Traditional 6th night of Channukah food, or so they tell me...

And just in case you have not yet made your donation to the Menu of Hope III being organized by once again by Pim at Chez Pim and her stable of little helpers, this is just a reminder of the prize that I have put into the raffle.

The Jaffa MudPrize
(Prize Code EU30)

If you win the Jaffa MudPrize you will receive a 29cm handmade-in-Israel stoneware plate with your choice of either an elegant, contemplative nude or a loving father and daughter handpainted and glazed using non-toxic materials. This unique signed original (a genuine collectors item of the future) is dishwasher, microwave and oven safe, so you can bake a pie in it, serve from it or hang it on your wall.

And to go with it are a variety of exotic middle-eastern spice mixes, Persian dried lemons, string halvah, cooking roses, and one or two other little goodies that I have found and think you might enjoy.

For only $10 this great prize could be yours... shipped anywhere in the world (I'm even covering duty charges up to $50, which should pretty well cover everywhere in the universe - though I understand that I might not be able to afford Martian taxes...).

And if this doesn't float your boat, there are lots of other prizes available including some wines, books, tours, knives, catering, dinners at some of the most amazing restaurants around, goodies and gadgets... a plethora of playthings and all from giving away a little bit of the ready for a good cause.

So go ahead, make your day - donate now!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Latkes

The night air was cold as I rode home on my scooter.

The smell of hot oil and frying dough wafted through the air, promising sweet nothings that would momentarily sate my cravings but then leave me wanting more...

It was already late and I wanted to avoid the quick fix of soufganiot. Something fairly fast and easy for dinner, but satisfying as well...

'Tis the season, after all, so I indulged myself wantonly and made latkes - again. After all, they fit the bill but are a bit more virtuous than donuts... This time, however, not only did I manage to assuage my sweet tooth, but I also created something exotic and comforting at the same time.

Batata Latkes with Miso
(12 small latkes

  • 1 large orange sweet potato (batata) coarsely grated
    (approximately 3 cups lightly packed)
  • 3/4 cup finely sliced green onions
  • 2 generous tbsp miso shiro paste
  • 1 large egg
  • black pepper to taste
  • hot chili flakes to taste (optional - but I like my food spicy!)
  • vegetable oil for shallow frying
  • furikake (Japanese sprinkles), sour cream and green onions for garnish

Heat oven to 160c, have ready an oven tray lined with papertowels.

Mix the miso and egg until smooth.

Add the green onions and grated sweet potato and mix well.

In a large frying pan on medium heat until warm, pour in enough oil to barely cover the bottom of the pan. When a drop of water sizzles happily (not angrily) put in 3 or 4 heaping tablespoons of the batata mixture and push, pat and prod them into fairly flat, vaguely pancakey shapes.

Cook on medium - medium low heat until browned and crispy (about 7 minutes), then turn and cook on the other side, adding a bit more oil to the pan if needed.

Put finished latkes on the towel lined oven tray and put in oven to keep warm.

To serve, dollop some sour cream in the center, sprinkle the furikake between the pancakes and on top of the cream, and finish with the green onions.

Don't forget that the batata has a much higher sugar content than regular potatoes and will burn if you don't keep an eye on the latkes. Also, there is no added salt because the miso is quite salty enough.

Don't forget, there are only 3 more nights of Channuka left... to enjoy latkes with no guilt!

And if you haven't yet gone to the donation page for Menu for Hope III, this is just a reminder that there are only 2 more days left before the raffle closes.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Saturday in Jaffa

How cool is it to be able to wander around an ancient city
and be able to call it home?

And what makes old Jaffa special is that it is still a living city.

People live there, and work there.

It isn't just a place for tourists
gazing and wondering what life must have been like there

Admittedly, the majority of it's residents are artists or retirees.
But that just adds to the atmosphere.

And it means that it is also an open-air art gallery, with the walls hung with everchanging displays, permanent pieces and objets d'arts lurking in the many corners the labyrinth of alleyways makes. It is easy to discover something new, interesting or just beautiful there

And after a day spent in the open air, it is a lovely treat to go to the boardwalk and the delicious food at Manta Ray... my favourite restaurant.

Tzatziki with tempura eggplant

Grey mullet marinated with red onions and sumach

The Mixxxed Black Pot

Decadent Crunchy Chocolate
The best dessert in the entire universe...

Dark and milk chocolate ganache on a carmelized graham cracker
with date & whisky icecream

Exactly what the name says...

And thank you for those who told me I'd lit my candles wrong...
Tonight I did it correctly...

There is a first time for everything,
and last night was my first time ever to light Channukah candles!

Hope III

Nobody should go hungry in this world.

Nobody...

Like anybody who is even remotely human, I like to have affirmation. Think Sally Fields' Oscar acceptance speech "... you like me - right now, you like me!" Well, that's how I have felt every time someone has donated to Menu for Hope IIII and said they want to have a chance to win my prize. Thanks y'all (you know who you are...)

There are still 6 1/2 days left to put your money where your heart is, namely the right place, and make a donation for the UN World Food Programme. And of course I know there are people out there who have been shy up 'til now, but I know you like me, and I know you'd love to get your mits on my amazing prize.

Just think, you could be the owner of an original, hand-made-in-Jaffa plate with an original drawing - your choice of demure or provocative, that can be used to serve on, bake with and just display - and if you need to clean it, just pop it into the dishwasher... how great is that. And not only that, but there are a pile of packages filled with exotic spice mixtures (and some recipes to boot). And if that isn't enough, there is also some of the most amazing halvah tucked in there as well. You've never had anything like it, really!

So c'mon, dig deep and help us make this years Menu for Hope even more of a success than it already is (almost $20,000 and counting!).

And just in case you're wondering how I spent my Saturday...

This time it was 2 cups AP, and 1/2 cup each whole wheat and rye flours.

Don't you just love The Bread?

Friday, December 15, 2006

How I Celebrated Channukah

So, how did I spend the first day of Channukah?

Well, it's a bit of a story...

I started my day with SistR and Jesamine (who played hookey from kindergarten) at Moti's Bureka joint, drinking strong coffee and eating a spinach bureka with homemade pickles. This is not traditional Channukah fare, but it is a big treat for all three of us!

From there, I had to rush home and get all primped and pretty, not for a Channukah party, but for a Brit Milah bash. I don't normally attend Brits, mainly because I think that having the whole world and their 17th cousins 42 times removed gawking while a baby has his covenant made for him, is just a bit barbaric. Fortunately, my friend had the deed done quietly and privately a few weeks ago, and in reality this was a birth celebration.

As with all major celebrations (weddings, engagements etc.) here, this was done at a reception hall, and because the weather was glorious and sunny, the cocktails and nibbles were outside in a flower filled courtyard, with pansies and cyclamen bobbing in a gentle breeze that didn't even hint of winter. As is usual, there was an open bar, all sorts of cured and pickled fish (matjes herring, smoked sprats, pickled herring, cured salmon), various small salady things, skewered chicken hearts and livers grilled over coals (as against on a gas grill), and kosher sushi for the more adventurous...

There was a special area set up for kids, with games and cookie decorating and people to look after the kids. The adults, it was presumed, could look after themselves!

Lunch was then served buffet style, with all kinds of different breads, lots of salads, including huge bowls of lettuce and mixed greens, cherry tomatoes and avocado, grilled eggplant with green tehina, roasted cauliflower, artichoke hearts, corn niblets, tabbouleh, mushroom and baby corn, carrot, pasta. There was fish in a red sauce, chicken drumsticks in a barbeque sauce, turket fillets in a lemon sauce, and stewed steaks, as well as green beans, rice, potatoes, and for the children, chicken schnitzels and chips with lots of ketchup. I stuck to the salads and avoided the desserts, which were parve bavarian cream cakes and molten chocolate cakes. And forget the cappucinos with parve milk... I'll have the double espresso thank you very much!

It was a really wonderful celebration of a new life, with lots of happy chatter going on throughout the speeches and home movies...

From there it was home, with a stop on the way to pick up wonderful pomellos and clementine oranges from the little man, who can be found only on Fridays, selling them from the back of his truck outside of the local bakery. That is how alot of produce is sold here, no middle man and picked this morning at dawn. Unless I had my own trees, they couldn't be fresher.

This being Channukah, I felt obliged to make Levivot (Latkes). This wasn't really so terrible because I adore potato pancakes and only indulge myself very rarely.

My Latkes
(1 dozen small latkes, enough for a light lunch, with a salad, for 3 people, appetizers for six, or a token taste for 12)

  • 2 medium potatoes, grated on the big holes of a box grater
    or using the smallest blades of a mandoline (which is what I used)
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 egg
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • corn or other neutral oil for shallow frying
  • Maldon salt, freshly ground black pepper, sour cream, smoked paprika and finely sliced green onions to finish and garnish

Unlike most recipes I have read, I don't rinse or drain my potatoes. To help minimize the potatoes oxidizing (turning brown) I grate the onions first and put them into the mixing bowl with a bit of salt sprinkled on them so their juices start running. I grate the potatoes as quickly as possible and mix them with the onion and the egg. This seems to work fairly well for small and medium batches.

Personally, I like eating at the same time as my friends, so I use 2 frying pans to get the job done quicker.

Heat the oven to 160C and have prepared a baking tray with paper towels to absorb the oil from the latkes while they stay warm.

Heat the pan(s) to medium heat and then add about 2 tablespoons of oil. It should immediately start to shimmer, but not smoke. A piece of potato will sizzle vigourously, but not ferociously, when dropped in.

Drop the latke mixture 1 heaping tablespoon at a time into the oil (a 9 inch pan will fit 3-4 spoonfuls - you don't want them crowded because then you can't turn them easily). Smooth and flatten out the top of the latkes and neaten the edges. (note that the pan is only lightly covered in oil)

You needn't be too exact, rough edges get crispier. The heat should be medium to medium low - you need the potatoes to cook at roughly the same speed as they brown. If the heat is too low they absorb too much oil, if it is too high they burn before they are cooked. I cooked mine for about 6 minutes a side.

I can't be too accurate about my cooking time today because I had an interruption and had to ignore them. "What, ignore your latkes?" you exclaim in horror.

Well, I think it was a worthwhile interruption,...

Christmas Carolers!

I'm not kidding. My doorbell rang and there were some Philippino women (and a little helper) complete with guitar, offering to sing me a Christmas carol. How cool is that? I have never, ever, in my entire life, been caroled before. It is the type of thing you only see in movies... But tonight I was caroled, and then asked for a donation for the Children's Joy Foundation. What the heck, it's Christmas and Channukah and I'm grateful for all the good things in my life, so I emptied out my pockets, literally, (I didn't have anything but small change, not having gone to the bank today) and in exchange for a donation to an organization that I have no connections to either in terms of faith or belief, I got Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. And lots of good wishes for the holiday season. It felt surprisingly good!

And my latkes didn't seem to suffer from their momentary lack of attention.

They may even have benefitted by getting even crispier.

Once the undersides are a deep golden brown, gently turn the latkes over and continue cooking until the other side is nicely browned too. If necessary add a touch more oil to the pan. When they are done, transfer them to the paper towelled baking tray and put it in the oven to stay warm while you make the rest of the latkes.

To serve, sprinkle with the Maldon salt and green onions, add a blob of the sour cream and dot that with the smoked paprika. Grind black pepper lightly between the latkes to decorate the plate.

Eat immediately.

Dessert, courtesy of SistR, was a deluxe version soufgania.

(tranlation: a raised donut filled with dulche de leche)

Happy Channukah!

And don't forget, if you are looking for the perfect Channukah or Christmas gift, for yourself or someone else, don't forget to check out the Menu for Hope III.