Friday, April 13, 2007

Happy People

And one dog...

Enjoying the sunshine by the beach in Tel Aviv.

Monday, April 09, 2007


I have an overriding passion…

For passionfruit.

These innocuous looking little balls,

whether hard, shiny and firm, or wrinkled like an old crones leathery face, are filled with the most wonderfully flavoured, seedy pulp.

According to family legend, a fruit salad without granadilla isn't worth eating. Even the addition of the contents of one puny, undersized fruit perfumes a big bowl of mixed fruit, adding a certain je ne sais quoi.

I was lucky this week as, when I visited my cousin's place in Ness Tsiona, the vines that have completely covered the small gazebo, were filled with a very generous quantity of fruits just calling out to be picked. Admittedly, I attacked the vines with trepidation. Snakes are known to lurk in the area. And, of course there are lots of spiders and all sorts of creepy crawlies.

Nothing attacked me, but I did come face to googly eye with a leaf grey praying mantis. Obviously a very successful female, because she was HUGE, the biggest I have ever seen, at least 8 inches long {20cm}. And I am not exaggerating.

Her mandibles were about 1cm wide when opened and I, who am usually quite eager to pick up interesting creatures so I can take a better look, only tried to capture her half-heartedly. She looked like she would have easily taken a chunk out of my finger, maybe not enjoying it as much as decapitating one of her lovers, but still…

Having returned back to my mouse house with a big bag of dusty fruit – they would have been shiny except that the hamsin we were enjoying had lightly coated everything in orangey grey dust, I decided that I felt like a passiflora mousse. Slightly sour, slightly sweet, rich with soft cheese, the perfect accompaniment to a parched and dusty throat.

  • 300gr passionfruit juice
  • Sugar/sweetener to taste
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • 750gr 5% neufchatel type sweet cream cheese
  • 1 package gelatine + 150ml water

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring Has Sprung

The Grass Is Ris...

And the flowers, birds, bees and beetles are rioting...

or bursting...

And the cats are lazing,

Talk about competion for time on the potters wheel...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Out of Control

My life, for the past few months, has been out of control.

Work has completely taken over and, after long, stressful days being pulled in 17 directions at once, I have been coming home mentally and morally exhausted. Forget being creative with words, forget being creative with food, forget being creative in any way shape or form.

Mealtimes have been graced with a boring monotony of spaghetti alioli, salads, scrambled eggs and the occasional pancake. This has been leavened with reheated frozen leftovers and more reheated frozen leftovers. For a change of pace, and for the Omega 3's, I have enjoyed sardines on toast, or made semolina or oatmeal porridge. Basically, I have subsisted on simple foods, too boring to write about and not incredibly appetizing to photograph. Nursery foods, they are called in England. Comfort foods that are not complicated or challenging.

OK, admittedly I splurged and bought 100 grams of fresh truffles when I saw them for sale in the Carmel Market. The outcome of that dinner was homemade linguine with lemon zest, cream, parmesan and the 2 truffles finely shredded. This was my first attempt at making pasta, and I didn't have enough regular flour to dust the pasta sheets before each pass through the rollers. So I improvised and used spelt flour, which added an interesting nuttiness. What I learned from that particular experiment was not to start making pasta at 8 o'clock at night when you are hungry, and that it is a 2-person undertaking 4 hands are much better than 2.

The other thing I learned is that desert truffles have an incredible amount of waste – the skin is completely embedded with extremely fine sand that can't be brushed or washed off. So my 2 golf ball sized truffles, after being peeled and pared, ended up being the size of medium brussel sprouts. And desert truffles are not as intoxicatingly scented as the black truffles that Chez Pim recently wrote about. But any truffles, even desert truffles, are better than no truffles at all. And desert truffles are certainly much less expensive than their cousins. For my little treasure trove I paid 50 Shekels, or USD11.

Pasta, this week, is a big no-no if you keep kosher.

Passover is here...

and the stores are filled with matzo, matzo meal, matzo flour and zillions of coconut macaroons – the traditional Passover substitute for cookies here.

I celebrated the first night of Passover upstairs with SistR and her family. I was in charge of the 3 things that I consider essential to the festive meal: the chicken soup with kneidlach aka matzo balls, hard boiled eggs with salt water, and the horseradish for serving with the gefilte fish {which are a version of carp quenelles, Jewish style}.

The chicken soup was easy. 5 kilos of bones covered in water and simmered for 2 hours, kept well skimmed, with a token carrot, and a handful of soup celery {the stalks and leaves from celery root, which is less strong than regular celery}. I scooped the bones out and let the soup sit so any solids could sink to the bottom, then I ladled the clear liquid into another pot. I ended up with about 7 litres of soup, beautifully strong and needing no salt because, of course, these were Israeli chickens and they had been koshered, which does the same thing as brining.

The kneidlach were more involved. First, I had to make schmaltz {rendered chicken fat} by taking chicken fat and skins and slowly cooking this down until the skins started to brown. Then I added some finely sliced onion and continued cooking until the skins and onions had turned brown and crispy. Once drained these crispy bits are called gribnes and is a cultural treat, fiercely fought over by those in the know. The onion flavoured rendered fat is strained and then left to harden. It will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge. This is used for making the matzo balls, and various other high cholesterol goodies.

For the matzo balls I took 2 cups of matzo meal, 3 tablespoons of schmaltz, 1 medium onion grated on the fine side of a box grater, 4 eggs, 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper and about 1 1/2 cups of cold chicken soup. This is mixed well together and then allowed to sit for at least 1/2 hour, though longer is better. Bring a large pot of salted water, or your chicken soup if you don't mind it getting cloudy, to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Personally, I like smaller kneidlach, so I roll the balls gently but firmly to the size of medium small Brussels sprouts, dropping them into the simmering pot as each one is finished. They will slowly bob to the surface and then occasionally turn over. Once all of the balls are in the pot, put the lid on it and leave it simmer very very slowly for about 25 minutes. The kneidlach will be about the size of golf balls, and will be light and fluffy but not pulpy and textureless. When drained these can be kept for 2 days in the fridge. To reheat take them out of the fridge while you bring the soup to the boil, then drop them in and turn the heat down to a simmer. They take about 5 minutes to be hot all the way through.

Boiled eggs in salt water are exactly what they sound like. It is one of the things that everybody {who likes eggs} say "why don't we make this any other time of year, they are soooo good". The eggs, warm or cold, are put into individual bowls and the salt water, lukewarm and about as salty as chicken broth, is poured over the eggs. It is a little like an egg soup and is very satisfying.

The horseradish was the biggest challenge… Mainly because it is extremely painful. I used a lovely fat fresh horseradish root about 8 inches long and as thick as a big carrot, peeled, 1 medium small beetroot, peeled but not cooked {omit this if you don't want pink horseradish}, 1 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt and about 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Chop the horseradish and beet into small chunks and throw them into a food processor fitted with a chopping blade, put the lid on and pulse until they are very finely chopped. If you need to take the lid off to scrape down the sides be very, very careful, the fumes take a few seconds to waft up and out and they are like having pointed sticks thrust vigorously up into your sinuses. Even being extremely cautious you are guaranteed to cry profusely.

Add the sugar, salt and vinegar and pulse to mix thoroughly. Taste a tiny bit – again using caution both because of the fumes and because this can be very spicy, to put it mildly. This will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge. This will get progressively milder, but for at least the first few days will be far stronger, if you got a good root, than any horseradish you can buy.

Passover is a teaching exercise, explaining some of what Cecil B. DeMille had in his movie The Ten Commandments. You get to play with your food, dipping and stopping and starting and even spilling drops of wine to symbolize the ten plagues that were visited on Pharoh and his brethren. We did the traditional symbology, but we also had our own version for nine of the plagues, with each guest being inflicted by one...

  1. Blood - get your baby fingernail painted with red laquer
  2. Frogs - feed the 6 hungry frogs in the fish tank
  3. Lice - did you know that birds are plagued by lice?
  4. Wild beasts - play with the cats wandering under the table
  5. Pestilence - bellow like a cow in trouble
  6. Boils - pierce and squeeze a "pus" filled condom {actually pink tinted pudding}
  7. Hail - have crushed ice thrown at you
  8. Darkness - have a paper bag pulled over your head
  9. Locusts - eat a leg of locust {sculpted from modelling dough made with matzoh meal

The tenth plague we left alone, some traditions shouldn't be tampered with...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sunrise, Sunset...

After a 15 hour day at the office there is not much to say except...

Was there a sunset today???

Oh well, livings must be earned.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Friday in Jerusalem

Last Friday I was in Jerusalem...

Everybody told me I shouldn't go, that there was lots of tension because of the ramp going into the grounds of the Dome of the Rock.

The only tension I saw was from the very few people dashing rapidly through the square by the Wailing Wall. Prayer sayers were in the minority - a thing that I have never seen before. There were reportedly 3000 police and soldiers in the old city. I think I must have seen about 2897 of them, mostly lining the ramp or positioned at the entrance to the square. The other people who were out in force were the media vultures, waiting for a violent clash that never happened.

Any tensions I had were assuaged by lunch at the American Colony Hotel. Actually it was hight tea, complete with crustless whitebread sandwiches with cucumber, tomato, smoked salmon or lettuce all, of course, with butter. There was a very flat, very sweet scone, strawberry jam, sweetened whipped cream, and a date biscuit that would have been very nice with a sharp cheese. Beginning of season strawberries were the finishing touch.

The location was wonderful, but the service was pretty awful, and not at all up to a hotel that is under the Relais Chateau label. We had to ask to give our drink order and only ever received part of it, and I had to make 3 requests for milk to go with my tea. This is not up to the standards you would expect of a 5 star hotel. The worst of it was the waiter who laid the table and threw the napkins down... And when I say threw I mean just that, mine slid all the way to the far edge of the table.

Maybe he was suffering from local tensions too...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Something Different

This is a pancake made with some extra dough from The Bread.

When I patted the dough into shape before the second rise, I decided I had a bit too much for my new little casserole, so I mixed up a lump with some milk, sugar and cinnamon and made it gloppy like normal pancake dough. Then I let it rise again, and a couple of hours later made myself some lovely pancakes.

They had a completely different structure and mouthfeel from normal pancakes. I could have added a bit less milk, but they were tender and crispy and absolutely delicious dotted with the last of my Canadian Maple Syrup.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Working Like the Proverbial Dog...

There's lots of spice in my life right now...

Just not the right kind

The company I work for is in the midst of a merger.

Personally, in terms of anything other than an increase in work for me, this means nothing.

  • Am I getting an increase in pay? No.
  • Am I getting additional perks? No.

But all this nothing actually does mean something…

My office computer and I have increased the depth of our relationship and we spend many hours sinking soulfully into each others gaze – merging ourselves if you will…

And just so you understand, I am not a bigwig in the company, just a secretary. Personal Assistant to the CEO, if you want to make a big deal out of it. Which I don't.

This intensified bond has had a negative effect on my relationship with my significant other – my personal computer. In fact, I have been returning home with my eyes swirling around in my head like Ka's in the Jungle Book. My bare necessities are now sustenance and unconsciousness (with no phones ringing). Forget cultural enrichment or even a night out with friends – my social skills have been reduced to incomprehensible monosyllables…

I do admit to going to my pottery class once a week - mainly so I can take out my anger management issues on the lumps of clay. I can't complain though, there are some decent dividends too.

Mind you, my quality eating moments have decreased significantly too… Actually, they seem to have disappeared.

I honestly can't bring myself to blog about the Israeli version of Kraft dinner (which is what I ate twice last week – once freshly made and once with leftovers). My supplies of homemade frozen meals have been reduced to 0 which is why I resorted to WackyMac.

Spagetti ali oli, is another quickie, or sticky rice with satay sauce, if I remember to soak the rice in the morning – in the morning coffee gets precedence, naturally.

But I digress.

My brainpower, creativity and resources are nil by the time I get home. Weekends are now used to recover so I can work another week.

Admittedly I did make another batch of The Bread this past weekend,

mainly so I could use my newest, smaller sized, casserole.

I wanted to check out how it works, which turns out to be really well.

This time around The Bread was made with white, spelt and whole wheat flours. I used a pair of scissors to cut the top - very effective and made the presentation most professional looking, I thought.

And I did make chili crabs for my Friday night dinner.

But I added red cabbage which lost its colour in my iron wok.

Everything turned an unappetizing shade of blue-grey, which I should have realized would happen, except that my brain was still hiding under the duvet, never having joined my body when I got up on Saturday.

And the cloud ear fungus that I mixed in generously, though it added a great crunchy texture to the dish, didn't add any visual oomph.

Overall, it tasted great, but looked absolutely appalling {the picture was taken about 3 seconds before everything turned blue}

Good thing I didn't have company. Blue food is not as cool as it sounds - it looks cyanotic and even a bit dangerous.

Oh, and just so that you know, I have come home drenched more than a few times in the past couple of weeks – scooters and rain are not a great mix, and all I want to do is get dry, eat something hot and quick, and crawl into bed with my buckwheat heating pad.

Maybe one day, not in the foreseeable future, but sometime sooner rather than later, I hope, I can re-establish my acquaintance with my computer and be more faithful with my blogging.

This is known as Jewish guilt,
Because who is really concerned about this, other than me?

Sunday, January 28, 2007


I have been craving some serious Chinese food recently.

Food with wok hai, food that is like mother's milk,
But that is not so sweet as to be mistaken for dessert.

Food that will put hair on you chest (if you are so inclined)

But I have yet to find that kind of Chinese food here in Israel. 1950's and '60's "Canadian-Chinese", or "Kantonese", everything flavoured with Osem Chinese style soy sauce, which is artificially flavoured and coloured as far as I can tell, and has no relation to naturally brewed soy sauce, or even LaChoy's lacklustre version. And everything tasting exactly the same, no matter if it is called Mandarin, Hunanese, Cantonese Szechuan, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Peking style.

And then, to add insult to injury, in order to eat pathetic pseudo-Chinese you have to take out a mortgage and still be careful to not order anything that has seafood in it. That is, of course, if the restaurant isn't Glatt Kosher…

Family legend has it that I first tasted Chinese food aged 6 weeks – when my mother fed me a sip of wonton soup. Ever since then I have been hooked. I remember going to the original Toronto Chinatown on Dundas Street. This was back in the early 70's and Sai Woo was considered to be the epitome of authentic. My father, in a generous mood, let me choose any dish on the menu, and me, aged about 8, and having been influenced by National Geographic articles written by Euell Gibbons, I chose an abalone dish. I don't remember how they cooked it or even the texture, but what I do remember is that it was tinned and that was a big disappointment. I had expected something that would taste special and worthy of National Geographic, but I could have been eating tinned clams, or textured SPAM or Dinty Moore chicken. That's what eating Chinese food here is like... a big disappointment.

Personally, my favourite dim sum treats are chicken's feet and tripe. Fat chance finding either of those here. Instead, I am assaulted by limp ravioli noodles filled with sweetened sweet potato {yes, you read right – sweetened sweet potato} doused in olive oil and spiced with dried coriander and cumin. I really don't think that this could be considered even bastardized dim sum. But then again, this is Israel, and nothing is sacred.

I digress.

I love Chinese food. Really love it. And really miss the real stuff. In desperation, I have managed to achieve almost authentic tasting Chinese food in my own home.

But I still wish I could just wander down the street and have my cravings satisfied...

Spicy Chicken with Cabbage and Noodles
This is flexible and you can play with the quantities to suit your taste and the number of guests {I made enough for 2 and I love spicy food}. Just make sure that you don't overload your wok and make sure it stays very, very hot.

  • Egg noodles, blanched and tossed with oil to keep from sticking then allowed to drip dry
  • Peanut oil or corn oil
  • 1 inch ginger sliced into very thin match sticks
  • 3 cloves garlic smashed and sliced very thin
  • 5 Green onions sliced into 1 inch pieces.
  • 1 star anise
  • 10 tiny dried bird chilis
  • 1 tsp whole Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp dried shrimp
  • Sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp {approx} dark soy
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp hot sriracha sauce
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch or ricestarch
  • 3 tbsp Xiao Xing wine or sherry
  • 2 boneless chicken thighs, thinly sliced, sprinkled with a generous grind of black pepper
  • 1/4 red cabbage thinly sliced
    You can also add bean sprouts, very thin matchstick carrots, mangetouts, or almost any other vegetable that you like, just so long as they are cut to cook extremely quickly, this was just what I had on hand
  • Fresh hot red pepper – to taste –
    Mine was really hot - I used 1/2 of a 4 inch one that was the size of a medium carrot

Mix the starch, sugar, wine or sherry, soy and sriracha sauces together with a little bit of water.

Heat some peanut oil in a wok until it just starts to smoke, then throw in about 1/3 of the ginger and garlic, swirl it around the wok and then throw in the noodles and give a quick toss. Let the wok regain heat and then toss the noodles again. Basically you want the noodles to start getting a bit browned, and even lightly scorched and crispy in places. Use chopsticks or forks to help separate the noodles. When the noodles have lots of crispy, browned bits, throw in half of the green onions and a small splash of sesame oil, toss around to mix thoroughly and then put onto a warmed serving plate and keep warm in the oven.

Heat some more peanut oil in the wok until it just starts to smoke, then throw in the anise, Szechuan and dried peppers, swirl around until they get toasty. If you like spice leave the chilis and Szechuan peppers in the oil, but if you like your food on the milder side, scoop them out now. Add the dried shrimps and then the rest of the ginger and garlic, swirl around again and then throw in the chicken. DO NOT STIR.

After the chicken starts to turn a bit brown, give it a quick stir and wait until the chicken looks almost cooked. Throw in the starch/soy sauce mixture and stir thoroughly, throw in the cabbage and toss again, then cover for a minute. Toss again, then add some sesame oil, the rest of the green onions and the fresh hot pepper {saving some for decoration}. Toss one final time, and then tip out onto the waiting noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining green onion and fresh hot pepper.

Serve with cold beer and a smile.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I love muffins...

I don't know anybody who doesn't.

They are THE easiest thing to bake. Incredibly forgiving, you can measure by eye, not by gram, make lots of substitutions, make them lean and mean, full of fibre, or an embarassment of riches topped by a melting pat of butter or some heavy whipped cream.

There is a very basic ratio involved, wet to dry. Once you know how to make a basic muffin you can play with the recipe and turn banana muffins into gruyere and sundried tomato muffins.

Basic Banana Muffins (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)

  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup mashed banana
  • 1 heaped tbsp yoghurt or sour cream or the equivalent in milk, cream or buttermilk
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil or 3 1/2 tbsp melted butter
  1. Heat oven to 375f
  2. Grease or line a 6-muffin tray
  3. Mix wet ingredients in a large bowl
  4. Mix dry ingredients together very well in a separate container.
  5. Add dry ingredients to the wet ones. Barely mix them together - it's ok if there is still a bit of dry flour showing. I NEVER stir more than 20 times, and usually only about 13!
  6. Fill the muffin tins 3/4 full and then put the tray into the preheated oven.
  7. Check the muffins after about 15 minutes - when tapped a muffin will sound hollow and a toothpick will come out clean.
  8. Let the muffins cool for 2-3 minutes after they come out of the oven and then take them out of the tins.

Enjoy hot, warm or toasted the next day, smeared with butter, jam, honey, sour cream, butter or just plain.

The muffins in the pictures substituted stringy halvah for the sugar {I actually used about 2/3 cup halvah because it is not as sweet}, and exchanged 1/3 of the AP flour with wholewheat flour, I also threw in a bit of lemon zest and real vanilla.

I also made these in mini muffin tins and ended up with about 20 3-bite muffins

Grated carrots can be substituted for the banana, or grated apples, mashed persimmons, orange juice or part lemon juice part yoghurt {not forgetting to include the zest}.

Or try this using grated zucchini, mashed feta cheese, chili flakes and fresh thyme and/or oregano.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Birthday Party

Well, birthday parties aren't what they used to be...

Nowadays, they come stocked with dj's and mobile menageries, professional face painters, bouncy castles and more chemicals than you can shake a stick at (in the form of candies, chips, snacks and pop.

I feel my age, and older, when I go to a child's birthday party.
Because they make me remember what it was like to be small...

When I was young enough to go to birthday parties that were taken seriously, the entertainment was homegrown all the way. Pin the tail on the donkey, hot potato, blind man's bluff, musical chairs. Admittedly my family did things a bit differently. We were given the most amazing scavenger hunts to go on, with my parents hiding elaborate clues, complete with hand drawn pictures and maps, arrows chalked on the street and on walls, and balloons peeking from between the leaves of the apple tree.

I don't remember the final prize, but I do remember the hunt for clues. A flock of little, screaming, giggling girls running from tree to tree, lamp post to lamp post, looking under rocks and through post slots, racing each other through the neighbours' yards to see who could find the next clue. And when it was found, we would all gather around trying to figure out what the clue meant. It was so exciting.

And then I grew up and the wide eyed innocence of youth became something that was not cool to have. Of course, now I know better, and wish I could revert to that time of unconditional belief in everything. Where there was good and evil and everything was cut and dried, black and white. There were no shadows then, except for the long evening shadows of mid-summer, telling us that bedtime was soon to come and that a bedtime story with a happy ending would be our just desserts for existing.

Nowadays, like most adults, I live vicariously, enjoying watching joy light up the face of a child as a grubby hand reaches out for a heart shaped marshmallow. Or the unashamed participation in a puppet play, yelling at the hero that the villain was just behind the curtain, hands partly covering eyes in anxious anticipation of what was to come.

Or the tightly screwed up eyes as the all important wish is made before the candles on the homemade birthday cake are blown out.

If I could remake just one wish, what would it be?

I wish I could regain the feeling of not having a care in the world and being absolutely, supremely confident that everybody loved me just for being.

Not: just for being me.
Just for being.
There is a difference...

But as we all know, you can't tell anyone your wish or
It won't come true...

Oh well.