Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Again

and the Carmel Market called my name...

It's mango season and everywhere I turn there are orange and red and green and every possible permutation thereof of mangos. Everybody here seems to adore the Mai'a mango. They are small, almost hair free and impossibly sweet {Israeli's have very sweet teeth}. The problem in my view is that they don't taste particularly "mango"y. The wild, exotic flavour has been bred out of them in favour of the sugar gene. There are big green mangoes here, shaped like the Alphonse, which look completely unripe, but when you cut into them, they have the brightest orange flesh, firm, juicy and oozing with flavour.

Have you ever noticed that they have a vaguely "piney" taste? Could that be because they are an evergreen, and just like pine trees, don't lose their leaves in winter.

What I always find surprising is that, in spite of the fact that so much of the fruit here is picked unripe, another odd preference of the Israeli's, you can't find green, unripe mangoes to make Thai Green Mango Salad. Maybe that is why they breed for sweetness, to make up for the fact that everything is picked before it's time. When you eat an Israeli made salad they use Mai'a's and then, instead of cutting back or cutting out the sugar, they add huge quantities of white stuff. Ugh.

The last of the white peaches were also out in force, but they are already mealy and good for cooking, not eating out of hand.

Being the Friday before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and a day of fasting {if you do that sort of thing}, the market was even more jam-packed than usual. Everybody was stocking up for a four-day-weekend. This meant seemingly buying enough for a 3 week seige. There is a definite starvation mentality here - possibly the influence of the grand- and great-grandparents and the traumas they went through. Possibly just because every single holiday here is focused on food and traditions surrounding what to eat when, the lack thereof {there are a lot of fast days for the truly devout} and the meals that are eaten to break the fasts.

My father, when he was young and oblivious, took advantage of that fact when he decided that one extra day off wasn't enough for Rosh haShana. He looked in the book of holy days and found that there was one immediately following - the Fast of Gedalia. So with his parents consent, he went to synagogue for an hour or so, and then took the rest of the day off.

The next day at school he was called down to the Headmaster's office...

"Boy, where were you yesterday?"

"Oh sir, please, I was at synagogue sir."

"Synagogue boy?" rumbled the Headmaster ominously.

"Yes sir, sir," said my father earnestly, "it was the Fast of Gedalia, sir."

"The Fast of Gedalia boy?" echoed the Headmaster, and turned to his book of Jewish holy days.

"Yes sir." answered my father in a quavering voice.

"Boy, your parents must be most extremely religious," said the Headmaster looking up as my father just nodded, not wanting to lie out loud. "You were the only Jewish student who was out of school yesterday".

My father just nodded again and sighed with relief when the Headmaster said "Dismissed", and he was allowed to go with no reprimand, or worse yet, a caning.

Unfortunately, at least in this one way, my father brought us up without any formal religiousity, so I couldn't play hookey using the excuses he did.

Bananas are back in the market with a vengeance,

appearing in huge green bunches. Hands and hands and hands of them. When you travel up north towards Haifa, you pass banana fields with thousands of trees with their stalks of bananas in varying stages of growth.

When they get to a certain size the bunches are protected with giant blue condoms. As you drive by, the trees appear to have pendulous blue flowers growing on them instead of fruit.

Another thing at the market this week was the number and variety of amulets, charms, pendants and necklaces against the evil eye. Little metal hamsah's {so named after the five fingers on the hand} waved from most of the stalls, and everybody was wishing everybody else a good fast, Happy Holiday and a good signing in the Book of Life.

Everybody was trying to stock up on good luck before the holiday.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Happy Thursday

Oh joy and bliss...


This is my friend Sass, she is Cactus Flower's mum, and is every bit as cheeky as she looks.

Tonight, to start my long {four day} weekend, the three of us went out to dinner. I showed up on their doorstep about an hour-and-a-half late, but I did warn them that this could happen, and they are familiar with my working conditions. Like all last days before a long weekend, work was hectic and once more gave me the feeling that I really don't understand the mentality here sometimes. In normal countries common courtesy for business meetings is arriving on time. Ok, traffic jams cause lateness, but being 5 minutes late is one thing, 45 minutes is something completely different and shows, in my opinion, a real lack of respect. Fortunately, it is my boss being dissed, not me. I can only complain of having to stay late.

All of us being rather tired - Sass from travelling, CF from working out, me from not being a lady of leisure, we opted to go to the Chinese restaurant across the road from them.

When was the last time you went out for Chinese and got the fancy napkin treatment? Unlike back in T'rana, the big smoke, aka Toronto, where Chinese food is part of the indigenous culture and the best places have piles of white plastic table cloths that are then stripped back for every customer, and where getting a fork is a struggle, let alone 2 forks and 2 knives, Chinese is considered extremely fancy here. I am spoiled, and so for me it has not really progressed to the level of sophistication that I am used to. Israeli Chinese is like what you used to get in the 70's before the advent of Szechuan Orange Beef. But, and there is a but, if you ask them for the non-Israeli menu, you can find things that are a bit more authentic. I have even seen Chinese embassy staff and visiting military staff quaffing and noshing their way down the menu.

We started with soup - summer squash with glass noodles, and pork with Szechuan pickled cabbage. They weren't very photogenic, but the cabbage was nicely pickled and with a splash of chili paste, hit the spot.

A fair rendition of Singapore noodles

- but they cut the noodles - sacrilege
- slurping noodles is good luck -

We also had sweet and spicy beef {a bit like the orange beef of old, but geared towards the Israeli palate, sweeter and less spicy and missing the depth of the Szechuan pepper} that had the smokey flavour of a really hot wok - wok hai or breath of the wok;

a steamed tilapia with garlic black bean sauce, which I find overwhelms the fish - I prefer ginger, garlic and green onions, it has as much punch but lets the fish taste like fish;

and for greenery there was baby bok choy with garlic sauce - processed garlic and a bland cornstarch sauce - no sesame oil, and again, missing the mark, but miles ahead compared to other places here.

Dessert was fried icecream with imitation chocolate and maple syrups. Straight from the 70's and a really excellent rendition - fried in very hot oil, with a crispy batter and a still frozen center.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Better late than never...

Unlike in N.America, the CSA's here take vacations. I expect that is because of the 365 days a year growing season. They did send us an email telling us that that because of the holidays there would be changes in the delivery schedule. Having thoroughly confused SistR and me, they then sent us another 2 emails, further confusing us.

Yesterday we waited with impatience for our surprise package, but instead, we got another email telling us that we would have to wait until tomorrow. So today, I went upstairs to see whether tomorrow had arrived. It had...

An overflowing box was sitting in the middle of the floor waiting to be unpacked and explored. Of course, like all good things, it had to wait - Jesamine needed me urgently in the bathroom for help in scrubbing her toes and checking for potatoes growing behind her ears. Once she was scrubbed like a new penny, we all piled onto the sofa and started the unpacking and unwrapping.

Todays shipment included:

  • A lovely juicy cabbage
  • Eggplants
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes, sweet and white
  • Green onions
  • Summer squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Roma and tiny field tomatoes
  • Sweet peppers
  • Big chunks of pumpkin
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Asparagus beans

The question of the evening was, what to do with my bounty? Especially as I still had some veg left over from last week - I haven't been cooking all that much - come winter I usually spend more time in front of the stove.

I still had parsley and mint left from Rosh haShana dinner {all washed and ready to go}, so that was a no-brainer - Tabbouleh. I made a very simple version - lots of parsley, mint and green onions, tomatoes, pomegranate seeds and salt, pepper, lemon and XVOlive oil. C'est tout.

Even after that, I still had lots of tomatoes left, as well as some eggplants, so I made a cheats version of vegetarian lasagne / moussaka.

I fried the diced eggplant with onions and garlic in a couple of teaspoons of XVO, until golden, threw in some oregano, mace and black pepper, then I layered it in a bowl starting with tomatoes, and spinkling with raw quinoa in the bottom layers. I used cottage cheese and Israeli Tal Emek cheese, which is like a very mild emmenthal, threw in a couple of leaves of Thai basil and nuked it just to get it warmed up. It got popped into the oven {on high and off alternating - still haven't fixed the thermostat} until it was all browned and bubbly. I know I should have used a bigger bowl, but I didn't want to spoil the layered effect by dumping from one container into another.

The juices that sploshed out have made my whole apartment smell like an Italian restaurant. All I am missing are the candles stuck into chianti bottles sitting on red checkered tableclothes.

And if it didn't need cleaning before,
my stove certainly needs cleaning now.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I've Been Going Potty

As in mad, around the bend, silly season..

Actually, I have been playing mudpies tonight and painting plates. I get very stressed when I have to draw or be creative in a literal form, or, more accutately tonight, a figurative form. I am fairly confident with stripes, or even freeform flowers {well, kind of} but drawing something that really has to resemble a person, that is a whole different story. But as they say at the studio - you don't count on anything until it gets home... So I have a while to go before I see the final results.

To augment the silliness, I just got a phonecall from my dad to say he is coming to visit in just over a week. This is a really great treat as I haven't seen him in 2 years. So now, on top of being a bit loopy, I am busy dancing around my little apartment, and bouncing up and down like a little kid.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Good Design?

I am not sure if this is good design or merely amusing.

I walk along the streets here

and there are utilitarian socialist, modern cubist, British colonial, Bauhaus, Miesian and Arab seraglio buildings all jumbled side by side with no thought, no reason or rhyme.

Add in artwork, Israeli independence, penguin and cow competition sculptures, revolving, fire spouting, music blaring fountains, tree lined boulevards, Rami Meiri murals and echoing public gathering spaces.

Good design?

or Bad Taste?

You decide...

Sunday, September 24, 2006


This is a dangerous fruit.

I first encountered one while walking on the shores of the Aegean with my mother. Having been thwarted by figs just beyond our reach, scarlet flesh taunting from burst blue-black skin, my mothers ecstatic exclamations at these rather scary looking things seemed a bit exaggerated.

However, Swiss Army knives at the ready and armed with discarded newspapers, we went hunting in the thickets for the perfect specimens. My mother looked at them, red-orange and armed with spines and spikes (the hunted, not the huntress), and knew exactly what attitude to take with them. Holding them firmly in hands protected by newspaper, she rubbed them vigourously, periodically shaking out the fine shimmering dust that came away in the paper, and being careful not to get any on herself.

When that was done, still protected by the paper, she cut around the north and south poles of the oval fruit and then cut down the Greenwich meridian. Carefully peeling away the skin away from the center line, mom revealed the fruit within.

She then cut a slice for me speared it with the point of the knife and handed it to me. Sweet and wet and filled with lots of large, unforgiving seed, they were perfect food on a hot Greek summer's day. We ate our spoils and all was well with the world until I started to talk.

There must have been some fine, hair-like spines that had stuck to the knife and had wiped off onto the very first chunk. From the knife they had lodged themselves in the middle of my tongue and, though they didn't hurt, they were incredibly irritating, and not something that I wanted in my mouth longer than necessary. So my mom took out the knife again, pulled out the trusty little tweezers and told me to "say ahhhhhh..."

I looked rather foolish, I am sure, standing in the middle of a well frequented path, with my mother playing doctor and alternating between trying to get a hold of the spines with the tweezers, and trying to scrape them of with the knife.

(This isn't my tongue - just an example...)

She managed to get the majority of the spines out, but one or two remained in, bakig be dak lhaik dis undihl dey disohlb'd.

I learned my lesson, but being a bit of a rebel, that doesn't stop me from dancing with the devil and eating sabra's with abandon when they are in season!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Rosh haShana Saturday

A holiday Saturday is even more Saturday-like
than normal Saturdays.

What do I mean by that rather repetitive statement? Well, Saturdays here are really quiet as a fairly large part of the population observe the Sabbath and not only go to synagogue, but don't cook or drive or turn on the tv (admittedly alot of them have the tv going for the whole time - from dusk to dusk), they might go for a walk, but that is the extent of their extra-homely activity. The only people going around and enjoying the day off are us sinners. Holiday Saturdays, alot of sinners join in with the 7-day-a-week pious and redeem themselves a bit. I am not a big one for self redemption, I figure it would take alot more than that to get me onto the straight and narrow. Besides, the winding path I weave through life has been pretty interesting so far, and I am interested in seeing where it leads.

This morning I was woken to the sound of Jesamine's little voice asking if I wanted to go out with her and her mom. With no clue as to where I agreed blithely, scrubbed my face, threw on some clothes and answered the door to a cheerful grin (still) wearing a cast. We dumped our respective garbage out the front door - that's where the garbage bins are - another Israeli weirdness, turned around and went out back to the car, saying hello to the cats on the way. We drove to Neve Tsedek, a very trendy, swish neighbourhood that used to be very non, and is where Tel Aviv started. Surprise, surprise, the cafe/icecream parlour was closed. With Jes starting to get upset at her plans being foiled we turned around posthaste and headed back into Jaffa and Dr. Lek's. Having walked out of the house without mainlining a single drop of coffee, imagine my distress when we discovered that their machine hadn't yet warmed up, hadn't even been turned on yet - at 11h00 in the morning!! Indignation. But at least Jes was happy getting icecream for breakfast.

And so were all the other kids,
as evidenced by the smiling faces I saw.

I am a pretty big kid myself, so I wasn't all that upset at having to eat icecream for breakfast. Mind you, SistR and I split a small cup of lemon meringue icecream, which we then shared with Jes who seemed to like ours almost more than her own mango cone. None of us however, were quite so wholehearted, when it came to digging, in as the little girl at the next table.

From there we went next door to Hinnawi's alcohol outlet
for my treat...

This is one of my favourite neighbourhood shops.

I figured I should take advantage of the fact that SistR has a car.

After all,
it is much easier to transport bottles in a car than on a scooter
(and you can bring more of them home at a time too!)

I managed to replace what had, somehow or other, disappeared since the last time I was there,

I still can't figure out how that happened.

I must have mice.

From there we drove to a local nursery where S & J got
bouganvillias and passionfruit plants.

I took pictures.

Laundry occupied my afternoon and, after the excesses of the night before, I made myself a very modest lunch of lubia, the mystery beans in my CSA. Blanched in the thawed stock from my porkbelly and then sauteed with garlic, ginger, green onions, mirrin, oyster sauce, chili oil and sesame oil, they were deelish!

In the evening it was off to Cactus Flower's place for a
pre-prandial stroll in the glowing light of
an absolutely stunning sunset.

A real award winner.

And there were lots of people out on the beach enjoying it,
just like us.

Unlike Cactus Flower and our Jerusalem Friend, who had both gone out for big holiday lunches that were basically more of the same from last night, I appreciated the supper we had.

A very uneventful Saturday,
but that's how I like my days off.

New Years Hangover or,

Corrections and additions to yesterday's post...

Please note that due to posting after midnight most nights, my brain sometimes doesn't quite function. As a result, last night I forgot that there were also ginormous red stuffed peppers on the sideboard. Not having eaten them I didn't remember them, and I can't comment as to their worthiness, but I heard other people yumming over them.

The other thing I forgot was that I added about 1/2 cup of quinoa to the tabbouleh. I like the texture better than bulgur and it doesn't go soggy. But I don't always add it, and when I do I add so very little of it that is not the main focus.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy New Year

I have a feeling that I need to explain a bit about why I stick in the religious explanations...

I wasn't brought up with any kind of religious education, formal, informal or otherwise. And the fact that I live in Israel isn't because of any religious fixation - it is because of noses. I am not religious in any possible sense of the word whatsoever. The only religious tenet that I believe in is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". But because I live in a country where religion is of such importance - Islam, Christianity and especially Judaism - I learn something new almost every day.

The Jewish religious stuff affects me the most, mainly because the big holidays are all public. Having been born and raised in N.America, it is weird for me not to have Christmas, Easter, New Years or Thanksgiving, let alone the summer-day-off-a-month deal that the nice Canadian government implemented to take pity on its citizens who have to suffer through the long cold winters.

A big "for instance" is Shevuoth - it came as a bit of surprise that there was a holiday all about cheesecake. Who knew?

So Rosh haShana is the sweet holiday, for me, for the less Pavlovianly inclined it's New Year ... There are a number of traditions attached, the main one being to eat slices of apple dipped in honey signifying the sweet year to come. Another is to eat pomegranates, which signify prosperity and prolificacy as well as righteousness. The rumour about pomegranates is that they all have the same number of seeds, no matter the size. I Wiki'd this and they say 613. I have never counted.

The one thing all holidays have in common here is a festive family meal. I alternate between SistR's and my dad's cousin's daughter and her husband's family (they are actually the closest relatives I have here in Israel). The way I work it is I go to whoever asks me first. Such fun to be so popular.

This holiday, my cousin was quicker. So tonight she and her family picked me up for the drive out beyond the airport to the family in law's.

There is never, ever any moderation applied when it comes to festive family dinners in Israel, and even more specifically at my cousin's in-law's. I am still new enough at this blogging biz to forget to be obsessive about taking food pictures, so it was only at dessert that I remembered to snap away.

To sum up dinner, firstly, the picture is of the dinner tables this is in a private home, not a hall, hotel or a restaurant. Please note the glass apothecary jar filled with apples {the work of one of the nieces}. .

A nephew had prepared a huge platter of apples soaked in schnapps and honey that was laid out in perfect concentric circles. Once the synagogue goers had returned, this was the appetizer with which, along with Champagne or wine, we toasted the New Year.

After the ubiquitous temper tantrum by one of the many kids attending, dinner was served. There were green beans cooked with tomates, a beetroot and grilled summer squash salad, a mixed green salad with sunflower seeds, mashed potatoes topped with golden brown fried onions, baked chicken, stewed beef with mushrooms, meatball stuffed dumplings with sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and zucchini, enormous platters of grilled vegetables, eggplant with tehine, faux chopped liver and herbed bread, and meatballs cooked in a beer sauce.

My contribution was a tabbouleh. And everybody commented on it {note the pride in my typing}.

Usually I make a dessert of some sort: lemon tart, Pavlova, truffles, but as my oven is only hot or hotter with no intermediate or low temperatures, and as I was feeling not particularly sweet, I had decided to make a tabbouleh using an idea I got from Diana restaurant in Nazareth. This is probably one of the most divine salads I have had, not just of the tabbouleh genre, but generally speaking. And it is so simple to make.

What you need is:

  • 2 big bunches flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 bunch mint
  • 1 very big, very red pomegranate
  • 8 inches of cucumber (I use Israeli cucumbers - they are a bit like English cukes, but smaller, and more dry and dense and sweeter) peeled and seeded if necessary
  • 6-8 green onions
  • 1/2 - 1 cup quinoa (I only use the lesser amount even though I like it better than bulgur)
  • lemon juice (fresh only - if you only have reconstituted it just doesn't work) 2-3 juicy ones, depends on their size and how sour you like things
  • xvolive oil - the wilder tasting the better
  • salt

Start off by getting the seeds out of the pomegranate - I usually sit in front of the tv and do this, I couldn't be bothered with the water method, and this way I catch up on the news.

  • Chop the parsley and mint until fine (but not dust, you want to be able to see a bit of leaf).
  • Slice the onions as thinly as possible into rings.
  • Dice the cucumber into small cubes (about the same size as the pomegranate seeds) - the small blade of a mandoline works perfectly

You can actually do this part the day before - just make sure that you put it in a ceramic or glass bowl, not plastic, and put the cucumbers at the bottom, then the pomegranate seeds, onions and lastly the parsley/mint. Cover with plastic wrap that doesn't touch the greens, and put it in the fridge.

Just before you serve, sprinkle with salt, pour lots of olive oil on and then squeeze in the lemon, mix thoroughly and then taste - it will probably need a bit more salt, more lemon juice and ALOT more olive oil. This salad can take a surprising amount of oil without feeling greasy - if it has a dry feeling in your mouth then you need more oil. It's olive oil, so other than the calories, it is good for you.

and how often do you eat a cup of chopped parsley at one sitting?

After all that food, I don't know how we found room for dessert, but we did. Fruit salad with passionfruit, apples, nectarines and peaches, melon, raisins and sugar fried pecans {deadly}, chocolate yeast buns, two different kinds of honey cakes prepared by two different aunts, and a really delicious poppyseed cake prepared by another niece.

So Happy New Year and happy Friday.

Oh, and for those of you wondering what I meant when I said I was here because of the noses: when I first arrived here I felt at home, everywhere I looked there were interesting noses, noses of character, noses in abundance and abundant noses. I'm not saying I have a great whacking honker sitting in the middle of my face {my self-portrait's nose is actually a bit too long}, but I am very fortunate not to have inherited...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Start of a Long Weekend

Thank Goodness It's Thursday! TGIT

And not just any Thursday, this is the Thursday before a long weekend. Oh joy and bliss, three whole days stretch ahead of me with only 2 things planned. The possibilities are endless.

My last chore of the day at work was to change the water and feed the goldfish my boss got as a New Year's present. I haven't given the happy couple names yet, I am afraid to commit - the last time I had fish one of them committed suicide, one of them died of heat prostration (I don't leave the airconditioning on in summer so I get home to a 40C house) and the last one died of a broken heart at being left all alone.

As I left the office I couldn't help but notice the sky glowing with the first real sunset of fall. In summer there are hardly ever any clouds to make the sunsets dramatic, and in winter I leave too late to see the sun.

I dodged traffic and arrived at Cactus Flower's apartment where I was scheduled to teach her how to make a basic cream sauce for pasta.

Ok, basic but with stuff added...

First things first of course, so glasses went into hands and we watched the last of the sun seep away down the sky into the sea as we lowered the level of our glasses. Once we were on the way to recovering from our day we proceeded to prep dinner. I got to hand off the onerous job of peeling garlic while I chopped and diced.

The idea was to give her a basis for building with, so for about 300 gr of spagetti we used:

  • 4 big cloves of garlic crushed into a paste
  • 1 large tomato (supermarket, not green market or organic which would be preferrable) diced small
  • some green onions for garnish sliced into small rings
  • a few rosemary leaves chopped (or crumbled if using dry)
  • some oregano (this is a very subjective herb, so to taste - I used about 4 small leaves)
  • a bit of sweet paprika for the colour
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a generous cup of white wine (I forgot to look but it tasted like a Reisling)
  • 150 - 200 ml cream, and
  • 300 gr shrimps, shelled and deveined, split down the middle but with the tails left on

Into a big warmed pan put about 50g butter and 2 tbsp xvolive oil. once the butter is melted but not bubbling, add the garlic and sweat it slowly until it is translucent and the bite has mellowed. Add the tomatoes and turn up the heat to medium. The tomatoes should almost melt and if you swirl around the pan they become almost creamy and emulsified. Add the rosemary, oregano and paprika and a grinding of pepper.

Throw in the wine and turn up the heat to high. Reduce this down by 1/2 to 2/3's.

At this point you can throw the pasta into the well salted, boiling water. Spagetti (no.5) will take about 9-11 mintes to cook (depends on the brand). The way I test pasta for doneness is to take out a piece and pinch it in half after about 7 minutes of cooking. For spagetti it is like looking at the rings of a tree). You will see a white dot right in the middle. The bigger the white dot, the longer it still has to cook. When only a tiny pin point is left you still have about 1 more minute of cooking time.

When you have about 3 minutes of cooking time left throw in the cream and bring it up to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. When the pasta is 1 minute away from being ready, throw in the shrimps, turn the heat to medium, swirl well, and cover the pan. When you are ready to drain the spagetti, give the sauce a stir, taste for salt and add some if you think it needs it, then turn off the heat. Before draining the pasta take out a cup of water and save it in case you need to thing the sauce (which I usually have to do). Drain the pasta, throw it back in the pot with a small knob of butter and a splash of oil and toss it around a bit before pouring the shrimp sauce on top. Mix well and add some (or all or none) of the reserved pasta water as needed, put into bowls, top with the green onions and a good grinding of pepper and serve with a green salad.

It takes as long to do this (including making a salad) as to bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta.

You can use anything you want to the "rose" sauce - chicken, crab, smoked goose or duck, smoked salmon, fresh salmon, tuna. Whatever strikes your fancy. The basic sauce can also be spiced up with curry or garam masala, tricked out with veggies, used as a pedestal to hold a piece of grilled something, or served as a side to plain roast chicken, or you can skip the pasta and use rice instead.

As they say here "Chik Chak" and "Kali Kaloot"
quick and easy - and tasty too.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What to Cook Tonight?

After 2 weeks of not shopping,

that was not the easiest question to answer.

I had loads of veggies, a real surfeit of tomatoes, but very little to add any depth to a meal. I went scounging around in my fridge. There were nine bottles of wine, including a shocking pink lambrusco, a couple of really nice South African's, and a muscat. There were also 4 bottles of alcohol (one of which is a lovely white Port), the usual suspects when it came to saucey things and lots of spices and spice mixes. And then an a-ha moment. Tucked away in the back of the cooler drawer was a small piece of feta, the tail end of a parmigiano regiano and a chunk of very blue Danablue. After a glass of white burgundy - that always strikes me as a bit of an oxymoron - I decided on a macaroni and cheese-ish kind of thing.

The first thing to do was put on the water, but of course I always get waylaid and ended up taking a picture of the 2 bottles of wine I got given by a good friend, a real fineschmeker and oenophile, who recently left the company in order to take a job that was absolutely perfect for him - CEO of Recanati Winery. He always gives me good wines that I enjoy immensely.

Once the water was on it was decision time about what flavours to add to the cheeses. I had a beautiful fat leek and roma tomatoes that smelled viney and winey and ripe. Diced and sliced using my 23 year oldHenckels french knife (the 8 incher, not the ten incher) Tossed into a pan with some butter until they wilted, deglazed with a good glug of burgundy, the last couple of squirts from the UHT cream box, a really good grating of nutmeg and lots of black pepper and then the cheeses.

The burgundy

and the pile of parmesan grated on my microplane zester.

I didn't have any milk to make a bechamel, so I saved about 2 cups of pasta water, mixed a bit of cornstarch into it, added it to the leeky cheese sauce, mixed the whole thing together, threw it into bowls, topped it with parmesan and threw it into the oven .

While it was busy baking, I chatted with my mom who had just arrived back from France. She filled me in on family news (she'd visited my sister and her family who had rented a villa in Cannes, and cousins in Paris who I haven't seen in eons). Mom also told me all about my kindergarden teacher, who we are still friends with, who now lives just outside of Nice. It sounded like she had a wonderful time all 'round, and I was envious of her visit to my K. teacher, especially in light of the fact that KT's husband was in charge of cooking their meals, using vinegars that they made themselves, olive oil from their 200 trees and wines from their 2,000 bottle cellar. I visited them at their house in New Jersey when I was about 15 and I still remember the meal KT's husband cooked. It was one of the most memorable meals I have ever eaten - gravlax with a sweet dill mustard sauce, grilled flank steak (cooked blue) amazing wines and a Port that had been bottled in 1962. Maybe my next vacation will be to France. Now that's a thought...

By the end of our conversation my dinner was ready,

all golden and crispy and bubbling hot. Lucky me!