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...