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.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Beans Beans...


Are they good for your heart?

Are they a magical fruit?

Are they a vegetable?

Well, in French they are a vegetable - legume,
but only if you translate literally.

Or would that then be figuratively?

And are lentils a bean?

Corn isn't a bean,
But popcorn is always beside the beans in stores...

And succotash is lima beans and corn...

Are mung beans still considered beans

once they sprout?

Do kidney beans have tiny little organs?

And what about edamame?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Hello Tal of Chicago.

Thank you for participating in this years Menu for Hope.

And thank you for giving me the huge compliment of choosing
My prize!

These are just a few neighbourhood photographs
so that you can see where your prize is coming from.

These were all taken within a 5 minute stroll of my apartment.

Sunshine doesn't ship too well,
Otherwise you'd be getting some of that in your parcel too!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

And The Winner Is...

The Menu For Hope III prize winners have been announced.

If you want to find out if you are one of the lucky winners - and aren't we all winners for having participated? then check out the list at Chez Pim and then follow her instructions for getting your prize.

If you are the lucky person who will be getting the Jaffa MudPrize, then please leave a comment so I can get your details for mailing. And don't forget to let me know which plate you want.

Oh, and just so that you know, my usual luck held true... my raffle ticket came up bust, but I did get a prize anyway - being able to participate in this wonderful event.

Thanks to everybody who participated.
And a special thanks to Pim and her team of little elves.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Some of My Favourite Flowers

Until I came to Israel I had only ever heard about these...

I always associated them with the sea.

For no other reason than their name.

I never imagined that they would be so simple,

Or so whimsical.

Their colours are incredibly rich and intense.

But for all their seeming simplicity
They are elegantly sophisticated.

Nature certainly likes to play games.

I love anemones.

It just took me a long time to learn how to say it
Without twisting my tongue in a knot.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Last Legs

Having been severely under the weather last week I had quite alot of veggies and greens that would soon be on their last legs, and needed to be used up in a hurry. There were also some bits and pieces left over from my New Year's extravaganza dinner.

Still being not quite up to my normal amount of activity, I needed to come up with some ideas that were quick, easy, tasty and not very challenging.

Veuve Cliquot at Sugar Delirium gave me the brilliant idea of using up the turnip greens that came with my CSA box, and which I had never cooked with before. And being thrifty and having some baby bok choy and even babier swiss chard to use up, I combined all three together.

Easy Peasy Greens

  • 2-3 cups mixed greens, sliced (I used about 1 1/2 cups of turnip greens and 1 cup of baby bokchoy and chard mixed)
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely sliced (not minced)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • sesame oil, chili oil and light soy sauce to taste.

Heat the oil in a pan on medium heat, add garlic and stir. When the garlic is fragrant (do not let it brown) add the greens.

If you are using turnip greens and they are coarser than the other greens, start them off in the pan a minute or 2 before adding the more tender greens. If necessary add a tablespoon or so of water to help the greens steam/fry. They will take a grand total of 3 or so minutes all told - try and keep them bright and fresh looking.

Pour a very small drizzle of sesame oil, chili oil and soy sauce over top, toss a couple of times in the pan and then serve them up hot. This is one medium serving and would be great over rice or with some spelt noodles.

I always thought of turnip greens as being cooked until they were grey and mouldering, but now, thanks to VC, I have a new vegetable to look out for.

Other things that I found in the fridge that were about to start walking away were:

  • a beautiful red pepper
  • a bunch of basil and some baby spinach
  • some lovely stinky Tome de Chevre cheese
  • a bowl of spagetti that was cooked and just needed to be reheated
  • the remains of a bottle of bubbly wine

I heated some olive oil and added the sliced up red peppers, cooking it on high heat until they started to turn colour. I added some slice garlic to this, and once the peppers were nicely carmelized and the garlic sweetly smelling up the kitchen (but not burned) I threw in the remains of the champagne (about a cup) and let that reduce down.

The spagetti got reheated in a pot of boiling water for just about 90 seconds, and then it got tossed with a small nob of butter, the spinach and basil. I then threw in a handful of the cubed Tome cheese, and then threw in the pepper/champagne sauce. A gentle toss and then into a bowl, with a bit of fresh basil on top and a very generous grind of pepper and I had one very satisfying dinner and a microwavable lunch.

Lucky me - champagne pasta with chevre for lunch.

I wonder if the cafeteria will have that on its menu tomorrow?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


This is one of my favourite things...

Passionfruit by any other name would still taste as sweet.

In fact, when I was growing up, I knew them as grenadilla and we would occassionally get teeny tiny little cans of pulp from South Africa. These were cherished and saved until needed to make the perfect fruit salad. My grandmother used to say that fruit salad without grenadilla was like an egg without salt or a man without a moustache. My grandmother had very firm ideas about certain things. But she was definitely right - passionfruit "finishes" a fruit salad.

Now I am lucky enough to live in a country where these are easily available (especially if you have friends with a tenacious vine). So to make a divine curd filling for a sponge cake I use de-seeded passionfruit pulp instead of most of the lemon juice and watch peoples eyes light up.

And sometimes I am lucky enough to find maracuja concentrate sold at grocery stores with large South American clientelle. Just add a splash to soda water and enjoy a fizzy passionfruit drink that is thirst quenching, delicious and marvellously exotic.

Passionfruit, no matter by what name they are called, are one of lifes most amazing fruits. I will eat them any way I can get them... instead of eggs for breakfast, or cracked over a bowl of vanilla icecream - heaven!

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Different View

Consider this a hint...

A different perspective of one of my favourite things...

And no, in spite of its looks, this is not a beached nudibranch.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Another of My Favourite Things

Believe it or not...

This is one of my favourite things.

Any guesses?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

An Auspicious Start

New Years Eve day started with a thunderstorm that didn't want to end...

That didn't stop me or my intrepid aunt from going to the Carmel Market for supplies. As you can see, the shoppers stayed home, as did many of the stall keepers. However we, dressed in salopettes and raincoats, wandered around, picking and choosing, tasting and debating the merits of the various olives, cheeses, pickles and other treats that we were buying for our New Years feast.

When we arrived home, laden with goodies, I started cleaning and chopping, mixing and measuring, giving strict instructions to my aunt that she was to rest, relax and enjoy being on vacation.

Having acquired 69 ridiculously over the top cocktail forks, I was determined to make the most of them and serve as many little nibbles as possible without causing my aunt (or myself) to explode.

As befitted New Year's Eve we drank cheap French sparkling wine which, when compared to most expensive Israel fizz, is infinitely drinkable. However, that was as close to traditional as we got. We didn't get dressed up, we didn't have our hearts crushed under the high heels of more rapacious people than we, and we were in bed before Midnight and the singing of Auld Lang Syne. New Year's Eve, in my experience, is usually a huge letdown that involves excessive quantities of bad alcohol, lusts that ignore all sense of decorum or propriety, and a complete denial of common sense...

Now really, who honestly believes that they are going to find Prince Charming weaving amongst all of the plastic wine glasses?

New Year's Eve Menu

Smoked Salmon Rolls with creamed feta cheese swiss chard sweated with shallots, white wine and nutmeg

Taramosalata Salt cured red mullet roe with homemade dill mayonaise served in a carrot cup

Fresh Goat Cheese with Deconstructed Pesto marinated in garlic infused olive oil, with oiled chopped basil and toasted pinenuts

An Abundance of Salmon Roe served in cucumber cups with wasabi mayonaise

Lemon Garlic Shrimp marinated in garlic, flash fried in butter, the pan is deglazed with lemon segments

Chicken Baharat and Rose Buds with a sauce made from reduced pan juices deglazed with sparkling wine and enriched with cream, served with basmatic rice and steamed flat beans

Baby Greens dressed with a light lemon vinaigrette (not shown)

Fresh Figs served with Tome, Stilton and Chevre

Baked Red & Yellow Delicious Apples carmelized in the oven with French butter and demerara sugar, served with heavy cream

It was only after I served the cheese course that I realized I had forgotten 2 courses...

Spiced Queen Kalamata Olives with fresh thyme, cracked pepper and orange zest

Dolmades rice and pinenut stuffed vine leaves served warm with savoury lemon custard.

This was understandable, not because there were so many different courses, but because at the beginning of dinner I started to feel lousy. By the time the small small things were finished I was feeling pretty terrible. And by the time dessert was over I had a fever of 39c/102f and was in the throes of my first case of 'flu in 20 years, which kept me in bed for the first week of 2007.

But... I am hoping that the rain and the flu are auspicious signs for the New Year - the rain for an abundance of good things and the 'flu that I shall be healthy for the rest of the year.