Tuesday, March 04, 2008

New Horizons

New challenges...

The past couple of months have been full of changes, challenges & hopes.

Back at the end of November I quit my job of 7 years, with no prospects of a new one... That was a big change, and my immediate reaction was to sleep and sleep and sleep. I guess that was the result of stress and distress and feeling underappreciated. It also didn't help that I had been living hand to mouth, my salary only just covering basic living expenses... It's no fun having to think twice or thrice about whether or not to have a cup of coffee at a cafe.

The challenges have been to live on no salary, and to actively job hunt. I have been sending out my resume to hundreds of potential employers, getting an interview every week or two, though Murphy's Law of interviews is that they all happen in a bunch. So some weeks I wouldn't have any interviews and others I would have 2 or 3 or even 4... And that is pretty stressful.

Now, I don't know about other people, but my interviews generally last an hour or even more. I had one that lasted 3 hours (seriously) and got invited back for a second interview to meet someone who was flying in specially from the US. I have only had 2 interviews that lasted less than an hour - and neither was for a job that I REALLY wanted... Mind you, they were second interviews, and horror of horrors, one guy asked me, point blank, ok, what is 3/8ths? Urk - I have a fear of math when I have no paper or pen, let alone a calculator, to help me. I just don't trust my brain. Do I want to work for someone who asks questions like that?

The hope, of course, is to find a great job.

And finally, I interviewed at the right place, at the right time, with the right person, and was immediately asked to schedule a second interview for the next day. And, despite riding my scooter through torrential rain, arriving soaking wet in spite of my rain gear, and going in to the interview carrying shopping bags filled with my wet, dripping, streaming, soaking wet gear, and having to sit, damp-butted, through another hour long session, they called me back to say that they wanted me to work for them.

Which is all well and good, but they still hadn't told me what my salary would be, which is typical of Israel. So when I went in to sign my contract last week, I really didn't know if I would or would not be working. And I very nearly didn't, but I stood my ground, and am getting, for the first time since I moved to Israel, a living (though not extravagant) wage.

Tomorrow is my first day of work, and I am extremely nervous. But that is to be expected.

And on top of the new job jitters, I am going to be taking part in the International Women's Day Craft/Art Sale at the Amiad Center in the Flea Market in Jaffa, which is to be held on Friday March 14th, just over a week away.

That would be really easy, if I was going to be selling my pottery, but having lived hand to mouth, I had to stop potting, and my stock has been almost all given away as presents. Instead, I am going to be cooking and baking for the next week. And I am hopeful that people will like what I do and I will have lots of impulse buyers.

I am planning on making: English Almond Chocolate Toffee, Crumiri Cookies, Individual Chocolate Chip Butter Cakes, Caramel Corn/CrackerJack, and Honeycomb Sponge Toffee. As you can see from my examples, everything is individually packaged and they will all cost the same - 10 Shekels (about $2.50), which is, I hope, basically an impulse buy kind of figure, and that people will think "I feel like a snack, "oh that looks good, "hmm, maybe that will keep the kids quiet for a while. I will maybe have a few larger cakes for sale, but I figure people don't want to carry around cakes when they are wandering around a flea market.

If you have any suggestions for me - ie, I have never, ever participated in a sale before, and I have no clue how much of each I should make - should I figure on 100 packages of each item, 50? Should I do anything special for my stand? All comments or suggestions are VERY welcome!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Very Kosher Dinner

Well, not really...

I treated myself to "Pork Breast" lat night, which is pretty much pork belly with a bit of rib attached. Definitely not kosher, but definitely terrific.

I followed Chez Pim's advice and made myself a personalized 5 spice mixture. Cassia bark, star anise, coriander, Szechuan pepper corns, cloves, black pepper corns & a couple of dried chilis, toasted off in a pot, gently crushed, threw in the breast, added water to almost cover, and gently braised with a closed lid for about 3 hours.

What makes mine different is that I smeared a darkly carmelized homemade quince/orange marmalade onto the skin, and with the heat it slowly melted and dripped down the sides, adding a sweet bitterness to the meat that helped to balance out the richness of it.

Once the meat was meltingly soft, I carefully removed it from the braising liquid, added a generous slug of dark soy sauce and reduced the liquid down to a sticky sauce that lightly glazed the sliced meat.

I served it on a bed of steamed rice, with a spinach & iceberg salad dressed with a sharp oil, wine vinegar & lemon dressing, with some finely chopped raw onions on the side to give a bit of bite to the pork.

Not alot of work for alot of reward!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ooh La La

OK, flowers are beautiful,

But the beauty of this tart is that a little
goes a very long way

Towards satisfying a craving for
something sweet and indulgent.

Besides, almonds are good for you,
And all the hype about this is true.

Almond Tart - Courtesy of David Lebovitz,
adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere
(with some adaptations by me)

Makes one 9 or 10-inch (23-26cm) tart

For the dough

  • 1 cup (140g) flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (my addition – caramel & salt are peas & carrots)
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz, 115g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
  • 1 tablespoon ice water
    (you may need a teeny bit more depending on the moisture content of your flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
    (I didn't have any so I just used the vanilla)

Mix the flour and sugar in a standing electric mixer or food processor (or by hand, using a pastry blender.)

Add the butter and mix or pulse until the mixture is sandy and the butter is in very small pieces, the size of rice or smaller. It should be pretty well-integrated with no large visible chunks.

Add the water and extracts and mix until the dough is smooth and comes together.

Press into a flat disk (I suggest you try and make this about the size of the bottom of your tart shell, it makes it easier to deal with in the long run), wrap in plastic and chill thoroughly.

To put the pastry in the pan, let the dough come to room temperature and press the dough into a tart shell using your hand.

It takes some practice but don't worry if it doesn't look perfect. Try to get the dough relatively flat on the bottom, and push it evenly up the sides with your thumbs. It doesn't need to be perfect, but you do want to make sure the sides don't collapse. If that happens, you can take it out midway during baking, and push the half-baked dough back up the sides.

Put the tart shell in the freezer and chill thoroughly.

To bake the shell, put the chilled (or frozen) shell into a preheated 375F (190C) oven.

Bake the shell for 20-30 minutes, until it is set and light golden-brown.

Remove from the oven and patch any holes with leftover dough.

NB. I used all of my dough, so I made up a teeny tiny extra batch of about 1 tablespoon and used it to after baking to patch a crack and then to extend a side that was a bit shorter than the other.

For the filling

  • 1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
  • 1 cups (200g) sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (I increased it to 1/4)
  • 1 cup (80g) sliced almonds (I used 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract (I used vanilla)
  • 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or Amaretto
    (I had neither, so I used The Kings Ginger)

To bake the tart, heat the oven to 375F (190C). line the rack under the one you plan to use with a sheet of aluminum foil or baking paper.

Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a big, wide heavy-duty pot (use one that's at least 4 qts/4l) until it begins to boil.

Continue to cook and when it starts to foam up, remove it from the heat and stir in the almonds, the extract, and the liquor.

Scrape the filling into the shell. If there's a bit too much filling, don't toss it; if the tart leaks, you can use it for topping off.

Make sure there are no clumps or piles of almonds and that everything is evenly distributed, then put the filled tart shell into the oven.

After the first ten minutes, check the tart.

Take a heatproof rubber spatula, holding it diagonally and with a tapping motion, break up the surface of the tart with a good series of taps (not too hard or you will break the tart shell). This keeps the top of the tart from getting that corn flaky look on top.

Continue to bake, checking every 5-8 minutes, and breaking up any dry crust that may be forming, getting less aggressive as the filling sets up. As it begins to caramelize, stop tapping it and let the tart do its thing.

Remove the tart from the oven when the filling is caramelized to the color of coffee with a light touch of cream and there are no large pockets of gooey white filling, about 30 minutes (my timing was closer to 40). Let the tart cool a few minutes on a cooling rack.

Check and see if the tart has fastened itself to the tart ring. Slide a knife (or a curved vegetable peeler, which will slide nicely in between the ridges) between the tart and the pan to loosen it so the sides don't come off when you remove the ring.

To remove the ring rest the tart on top of a solid object and gently coax the ring off. Slip a large spatula underneath it to return the tart to a cooling rack.

Once completely cool, run a long chef's knife under the tart to release it from the bottom. If it's stubborn, set the tart on top of a warm stove burner for a second or two and you should be able to pry it off.

I lined the bottom of my tart shell with baking paper and I have to say I had absolutely no problems with sticking either on the sides or at the bottom.

Of the pan...
But the same can't be said for how it sticks
To my sides or bottom!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Never Done This Before...

This is a project that I have wanted to do
For a very long time.

Today I finally, I got up the courage,
got out my sugar thermometer,
and got my cobalt blue KitchenAid whirling.

Adapted from French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
  • 1 1/2 envelopes (21g) of unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cups glucose
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Lots of confectioners' sugar for dredging

In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Soak for 10 minutes.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and heat to 250F – hardball stage. Pour boiling syrup into gelatin with mixer going at low speed (I used the whip attachment not the paddle) Slowly increase the speed and when it is starting to get a bit foamy, then turn up to high speed (use caution and common sense, we are talking boiling sugar here). Add the salt and beat for 12 minutes. Add vanilla and incorporate into mixture.

Scrape into a 9 x 9-inch pan lined with oiled plastic wrap and spread evenly. Or you can use icing sugar dusted Silpat. (note: lightly oiled hands and spatula or bowl scraper seem to make life easier). After pouring marshmallow mixture into the pan, take another piece of oiled plastic wrap and press mixture into the pan, or dust with more icing sugar and use an offset spatula to press it gently into a flattish profile.

Let mixture sit for a few hours. Remove from pan, dredge the marshmallow slab with confectioners' sugar and cut into approximately equal sized pieces with scissors (the best tool for the job) or a chef's knife. Dredge the marshmallows in confectioners' sugar.

According to the recipe this makes 12 ENORMOUS marshmallows, but I found them way too big, so I used a 9"x12"sponge cake pan and made 80-100 smaller, less gluttonous ones

Good thing I have upstairs neighbours!
'Cause the end result was outstanding

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Another Rainy Day

Another Rainbow...

And if you look closely, there is a secondary rainbow
Glowing gently on the right.
Two for one!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Quick & Easy

This isn't necessarily the most interesting dinner,
but it is definitely as the title suggests.

It was cold and rainy outside when I decided to make dinner. Cold always makes me crave carbs, and so I decided to make one of the easiest pastas there is... Spaghetti ali oli, or spaghetti with olive oil and garlic. This is not the sort of food you eat before going out on a late night date, and neither is it an optional thing - either everybody eats it or nobody does - garlic is a very powerful thing when it is the main flavouring. But this is yummy, quick, easy and you can adjust it up or down accordingly.

Spaghetti Ali Oli
Makes 2 servings

I am putting this note first so that you don't discover after you have thrown the pasta water out that you should have saved at least a generous cup it to add at the end, . The butter & olive oil end up emulsifying with the water and turning into a sauce.

  • spaghetti or spaghettini (the thinner stuff )
    - angel hair is probably too thin for this though)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed (at least - depends on how daring you are)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 c chopped parsley - this helps to combat the garlic breath
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Nutmeg (optional - I like it, so I use it - freshly grated by preference)
  • Parmesan cheese - finely grated & lots of it
While the spaghetti is cooking heat the olive oil gently and slowly cook the garlic in it - do not let it brown or burn, or it gets bitter.

When the spaghetti is done al dente (my trick is to take a piece out and cut it in half to see if there is still a white center in it - as soon as the white center is gone, the pasta is ready), drain it, but leave it wet - you want water. Put the butter onto the pasta, pour the oil/garlic on and sprinkle with the parsley and add salt & pepper (and nutmeg if using) to taste. Traditionally there is alot (read ALOT) more oil in this, but if you keep it wet and add some of the reserved water if necessary, then the amount of oil is kept to a (relative) minimum.

Serve with lots of parmesan and more freshly grated pepper.

And having talked about celeriac remoulade yesterday, I decided to use the rest of my beautiful bunch of celery to make a remoulade. No quantities, just the homemade mayo, spring onions, hardboiled eggs and lots of lemon zest.

Okay, they aren't the most colourful dishes, but definitely Yum!

Now I'm off to watch Bridget Jone's Diary
and slurp spaghetti...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saturday Night Comfort

Even though it was a lovely day on Saturday,
I craved something warming and homey.

So I hit the books and came up with something that reminded me of lunch at the cafeteria when I was in university.

The first time I ever ate cornbread was back in the days when I still had the world ahead of me, and I had not even contemplated leaving Canada. This was not something that we had grown up with at home. Its crunchy texture, almost sweet flavour and sunny yellow colour, when matched with whatever soup was available, usually my all-time favourite Scotch Broth, was an instant hit with me.

But for some reason, I rarely make it. So when I do, it becomes a special occassion.

I saw the recipe in the Silver Spoon and thought
"hmmm, a cornbread cake".

But on making it I found there were a few things wrong - for one thing, the recipe calls for a scant 1/2 cup of yoghurt - and when mixed in with the 3 cups of dry ingredients it was immediately obvious that there had been a typo. So I trebled the yoghurt, and then added an extra glop inadvertently - the yoghurt container burped... And when I tasted the unbaked mixture, it was definitely not "cake" sweet. And then there was the issue of how many this would serve - the editors say it serves 6, I say it serves 12 hungry people, because of course you don't just serve this on it's own.

Yoghurt Cornbread – adapted from The Silver Spoon

  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 1/2 c cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 c balkan style yoghurt (the original recipe calls for 1/2 c)
  • 5 tbsp neutral oil
  • 2 eggs
  • Thinly sliced almond paste (optional)
    (I used 2-3 oz for 1 pan – not everyone likes almonds)

Preheat oven to 350F

2 8inch cake pans well buttered and then dusted with a flour and sugar mixture

Beat eggs, oil & yoghurt, add well mixed dry ingredients.

Divide into the pans.

If using, push almond paste into the batter so that it is covered

Bake approximately 40 minutes until nicely browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool for about 5 minutes, then turn out.

In my opinion this is best eaten while still warm.

If you have used the almond paste, dust with icing sugar and serve with lightly sweetened, sloppy whipped cream or creme fraiche.

And then...

I found a gorgeous bunch of celery at the Carmel Market on Friday - after I had gone on another job interview. And it immediately called out for being made into soup.

Now here in Israel there are 3 kinds of celery. There is the traditional kind, called American here (big wide stalks that call for being stuffed or braised), this has a very "celery" flavour, which becomes milder as it cooks. The leaves are used very sparingly because they are so strongly flavoured.

There is celery root, which is lovely as a remoulade salad with homemade mayonaise and to which I add, untraditionally, chopped eggs and lots of onions and lemon zest.

And then there is soup celery, which looks rather like the scraggly stalks and leaves from the celery root. This is much milder, and is added prolificaly and uncut, to traditional chicken soup - usually a big bunch is added to 1 chicken's worth of soup. For those of you who have never encountered this type of celery, you would think that the soup would be inedible, but it adds a depth to the soup which normal American celery just doesn't manage to pull off. I actually like eat the celery after it has been cooked to almost disintegration, it is sweet and mild and doesn't resemble it's namesake at all.

And for the more esoterically minded cook, the leaves of lovage are very similar to pale green celery leaves, and can be used in the same manner as soup celery, but it has a much more intense flavour that resembles Maggi, and imparts an almost umami meatiness to the soup.

Cream of Celery Soup – adapted from The Silver Spoon

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1tbsp butter
  • 4 cups chopped celery (SS called for 3)
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 2 – 3 medium potatoes diced
  • 1/2 stale French stick torn apart
    ('cause it was there and I thought "aha - thickening agent)
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme (because my post of thyme is growing out of control)
  • Salt & white pepper to taste
  • Water
  • Lightly whipped cream, chopped thyme and finely grated parmesan for garnish.

In a large pot melt the oil and butter, add the onions & sweat them off, then add the celery and thyme and sweat them off until bright green and starting to soften.

Add potatoes and bread and cover with cold water (level should be about 2 inches above celery/potato mix). Add about 1 tsp salt.

Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer until potatoes are very soft.

Puree with immersion blender, season to taste.

Garnish with cream, thyme and parmesan.

And so, as the sun set over Jaffa, I warmed my soul with comfort food.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Skies Opened

Today the skies opened up...
and let out all of the bathwater.

Which isn't usually a bad thing - I like rain. I even like going for walks in the rain. I admit to not particularly enjoying driving my scooter in the rain, but that is more a case of sheer self preservation. Israeli drivers are bad at the best of times, making the French and Italians seem calm and reserved, but on rainy days they seem to get perverse pleasure from swerving into the deepest puddles just so they can see how big a rooster-tail they can make. And I can sort of see the fun in that, but... not when it means swerving without looking, and cutting me off, or worse still, the guy in front of me or the guy to the side of me - who then don't look when they swerve to avoid the original maniac.

Being originally Canadian I know about dressing for the weather. I am a veritable onion, with layer after layer protecting me from the iniquities of the weather. But but occassionally we get a day like today which serves up what would be termed a tropical storm anywhere else in the world. Centimeters of rain falling in a very short time. And my layers, even though supposedly waterproof, just don't match up to the drenching I get.

And of course, the weather seems to be as contrary as the people, and instead of short sharp cloud bursts spread out over the course of the year, we have heavy rain falling for hours on end. But for only a couple of days a year. And we Israelis welcome the deluge - the rains of February have to fill up the Sea of Gallilee so that it can provide water for the country for the rest of the year.

So really, I don't mind the rain, except on days like today, when I have to get all dressed up and go for a job interview - because inevitably I will arrive literally dripping, creating puddles wherever I stand, and little trails wherever I walk. And I feel like a fool - and that doesn't make the interview process any easier...

But now I am home safe, in dry clothes, sipping my tea and enjoying the rainbow after the rain.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Interesting Encounters

I had an interesting encounter today.

It all started with a meeting I had with a business consultant from the Israel Small and Medium Enterprise Authority (an org run by the Ministry of Industry and Trade that provides assistance to new and existing businesses).

I was rather astonished to find that their offices are in the New Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. For those of you who have never been there, this is a huge monolithic monstrosity about 6 storeys high taking up a very large city block. It is in a rather insalubrious part of town - lots of down and outs, rooming houses, foreign workers, girlie shows, the usual deal for a bus station in a major city. Not the kind of place you expect to see a government office in, but there you go, some things in Israel are a bit hard to get your head around.

The offices are, apparently, temporary, which would be a good thing for the workers - I don't know how you would describe an office environment that shakes vigorously every time a bus rumbles up the ramp to the loading bays. Unsettling for clients definitely. My advisor was a nice man who, fortunately for me, spoke very good English - for when my Hebrew failed me. He sits in an interior office with no windows and bare, whitewashed concrete walls. But that hasn't seemed to affect him. I was consulting with him regarding my future, or at least, what I hope will be my future. And he gave me several good tips. Now it is up to me to get cracking and start in on my new life. But more of that when it becomes less nebulous and more concrete.

Anyways... I decided to leave my scooter at home rather than risk it getting stolen from the bus station - which would be a very likely happening. And so, after more than 3 years of being public transportation free, I hopped on a bus. Now admittedly, here in Israel, the bus system is pretty comprehensive (if you ignore the fact that there are no public buses running from Friday evening through Saturday, and only starting to run again after sunset on Saturday night) and generally fairly reliable. So I got myself a day pass and got me on a bus.

After my meeting with the consultant, I decided to go to Diezengoff Center, wander up to Ben Yehuda street, and then go to the Carmel market.

Anemones bought at the Carmel Market

So onto the bus I hopped, and there had a strange encounter with a fellow passenger.

Now we are talking about a rather good looking young man, but with something not quite right about him. He asked me if I spoke English, introduced himself as Gabriel from Potsdam, New York and then started to ramble about pickpockets in Barcelona, and how Tel Aviv felt so safe. Then he explained that he had missed his flight and had to go back to the airport in a couple of hours to pick up his luggage, that he only had 20 shekels and would have to change into his suit.

We are talking about getting a partial life history here.

Now the strangeness about him was in his speech and mannerisms. He appeared to be... challenged or drugged or perhaps both. I suspected that perhaps he had received head injuries in some sort of accident - the suspicion arising because of a large scar along his chin and the fact that his smile (he smiled alot) was rather disconcerting as he had a major chunk of teeth missing from the side of his mouth. This suspicion was confirmed when Gabriel said that he was in Israel to visit friends courtesy of MedicAid, and that he was going to be going back to Barcelona to take a course in teaching English as a second language - also sponsored by MedicAid.

The point of this course was so he could go to Jakarta to teach. When I commented that the region wasn't exactly politically stable and also happened to have the highest population of Muslims in the world, this obviously Jewish young man smiled (again) and said "Oh that won't be a problem, I'm Muslim". Which put me in my place.

But I wonder how much of the encounter was real and how much was a figment of his imagination?

I Feel Like a Song

I am so excited...

I have never been quoted verbatim before and tonight I came home from a great evening to discover that someone had delved into MudPies in Jaffa, liked what they read and quoted me!

To begin at the beginning, I received a phone call last week from my former boss to personally invited me to the office party in celebration of a successful merger and the official declaration of the new company logo. Not one to cut off my nose to spite my face I accepted blithely (and gladly - I may no longer work there, but after 7 years, alot of people had become part of my extended family, especially as my immediate family here in Israel are relatively new to me - ie, I only discovered them when I came to live here).

And besides, this being Israel and an office party there was food and drink to be had at no charge. The entertainment was sure to entertain the Sabras, but not having grown up on Israeli cultural fertilizer, I wasn't so sure about it. Turns out that I was wrong!

I actually enjoyed myself, apart from just seeing my "family". I understood all of the "in" jokes made by the company spokesman, a comedian by the name of Eyal Kitsis, and the video that they showed, made with the participation of all of the senior management, was very funny and professionally amateurish... a clever take off of:
meets Close Encounters (photo from IMDB)

And then they had a live band...

Now in the past they have had acts that meant absolutely nothing to me - Sarit Hadad and her ilk -Israeli singers whose style is distinctly Middle Eastern - lots of lululu-ing and wailing and definitely not where my head is at (I am, after all a product of North American post-60's hardcore, skipping the disco era and heading straight into punk... and then beyond into industrial, with a bit of old-timey bluegrass and opera - go figure, I am a collection of contradictions...

So a whole evening of Mizrahi music, just doesn't sit well with me.

But tonight I was very pleasantly surprised when the band turned out to be Mashina (about the only band here in Israel that I genuinely know and like...) What a treat, music I like and can dance to!

So having danced my feet off and really having had a good night, I came home to discover that I was being quoted! The only thing I can say is "I am chuffed!" Which translates into pleased as punch! So thank you Israelity, and I hope your day turns out as nicely as mine has done!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New / Old Jaffa

I went for a wander through the old city of Jaffa on Saturday.

A glorious sunny day that brought the (local) tourists out in force.

I love Jaffa. It is such a bundle of contradictions. And it draws such mixed reactions when Israelis hear that I live there. They act like I live in some kind of safari park in deepest, darkest Africa. Or in the middle of the most dangerous part of New York. And so on Fridays and Saturdays people come to see the view and hopefully some wild animals, but only when there are other people around to reinforce the feeling of safe danger. Hordes of trepidatious tourists, eating their cotton candy and feeling rather daring that they are not on the beaten path. Which is ridiculous, as there are perfectly normal people living regular lives in Jaffa. We have more problems than alot of other areas in Israel - namely because there is such a large part of the population which has been disenfranchised. But the municipality is working on changing that .

The gentrification of Jaffa, which was originally where the dregs of society were encouraged to live - drug dealers and their prey, lots of low end prostitutes, non-Jewish denominations, criminals, low income or no income families, people who moved from the more respectable parts of the city because of increased costs, or were put there by the government and given abandoned houses for a duration of three generations after there property was lost during the war of independence (and what were they supposed to do after 3 generations?).

And then the city started to expand. Which is great, it means the country is growing and prospering. But expansion has to happen somewhere and the northern and eastern limits of Tel Aviv are now at least a 20 minute drive away. West is the sea... so that leaves south and Jaffa.

To put things in perspective, I can walk to the beating heart of Tel Aviv - Diezengoff Centre, in about 25 minutes. If I were to drive there it would take me about 5 minutes. How convenient is that? And a big bonus is that there is (right now, pre-gentrification) no parking problems, except on Fridays when the Hummous Brigade (aka local tourists) come out to play.

There are lots of unclear land issues going on in Jaffa. I won't go into detail, except to say that the bureacracy here is hell and what with all of the wars we've had, and the pre-British mandate lack of interest in the area (after all, this was a desert...), alot of people have lived on the same plot of land for generations, but with no clear ownership rights. Which means that in the eyes of the country (aka politicians and the developers who are in their pockets), alot of the land in Jaffa is ripe for the taking - which means money can be made... Which is good for me insofar as I will benefit from increased municipal services and my apartment will increase in value, but I will also suffer from increased taxes, increased population, fewer parking spaces etc. And the community will become less diverse - which is a very bad thing. One of the reasons I so love my neighbourhood is that there are so many different types of people living here.

But I digress.

It was a glorious day and there were all sorts of characters out, including fishermen bringing in their catch (fish don't have a day of rest, and so neither do alot of the fishermen). I didn't see anything spectacular, nothing over a kilo really, mainly red mullet and small mackerel. But the tourists were gathered and gawking.

They walked past the old shabby buildings that sit cheek by jowl with the new austentation of the Andromeda complex.

Old Decrepit Grandeur
New & Austentatious
Half Renovated, Half Shabby
I love Jaffa, but I really hope that the changes don't mean that it will become a Disneyland attraction, complete with cotton candy and actors playing the parts of the people who were moved on.
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Friday, February 08, 2008

Another Friday in Jaffa

Wandering through the Jaffa Flea Market this morning I couldn't resist taking this picture of a daddy & his daughter. I stood watching them for about 5 minutes. Daddy was in constant movement, making wonderful faces just so he could watch his daughter laugh.

Of course, being Friday it was also shopping day here in Israel.

After 11 years living here I still haven't managed to figure out why Israelis seem to shop on a Friday as if the shelves were going to be bare for the next 6 months. At the grocery stores shopping carts are filled well past overflowing, which would be normal for a family of 8, but when it is a 21 year old girl with a baby at her hip, you know she hasn't had time to do the bunny act to that extent. And it is not like she is planning on having a party.

I checked out one woman's cart and we are talking 4 loaves of bread, a dozen pita, 12 each of about 6 different flavours of yoghurt, white cheese (which is sort of like baking cheese) 3 jars of chocolate spread, about 2 kilos of yellow cheese (which is used the way North Americans use processed cheese), 4 kilos of tomatoes, about the same of onions, potatoes and carrots, 3 bags of rice, crackers, cookies, 5 chickens, 3 kilos of chicken schnitzel (pounded chicken breasts), 12 2-litre bottles of water, various soft drinks to the tune of 6 or 7 bottles, a couple of k's of bourekas, 1 head of lettuce, and a few litres of sunflower oil, 2 or 3 k's each of sugar and flour, a couple of packs of Huggies and of course 3 or 4 tins of Materna baby food. And you see the same woman doing the same shop week after week after week.

My shopping is alot more modest than that. This weekend I bought 6 shrimp, a tilapia, a head of lettuce, 3 cucumbers, some green onions, a kilo of jasmine rice, 3 turkey wings, a bottle of gingerale and some strawberries. The plans are: grilled fish and salad for dinner, and a batch of jook/congee to combat the cold for the rest of the week, and fresh strawberry ginger jelly.

I did treat myself to some masabaha though. After all, it was Friday...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Feed The Birds

Mary Poppins is one of the seminal movies in my life.

It is one of those movies that any little girl born in the early 60's saw and loved.

Ok, so I am getting on in life... I even have grey hairs on my head having a love fest and procreating rapidly. But that doesn't stop me from reverting to childhood once in a while.

Well before anybody knew about laughing yoga, you had the scene at Uncle Albert's, with everybody bobbing up to the ceiling laughing until they cried. The penguins serving tea and dancing still makes me smile. But the song that I always loved best was feed the birds. There just seemed to be such poignancy about it. And who wouldn't want to feed birds rather than save pennies?

Somebody obviously bought too many baguettes for the weekend, and instead of being frugal and making breadcrumbs or French toast, they decided to feed the birds.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Back Again

After far too long I am going to try and get back to posting.

So what is new and exciting?

Well, there have been a few star moments in my life recently.

I went to visit family in Canada, and got to meet my 3 year old nephew for the first time!

I quit my job - after seven (yes 7!) years.

I am currently unemployed, but I have a small plan in the works that might completely change my life and my direction (but not my location) if all goes well. Details will follow slowly...

And I am busy baking again - successfully and happily. It is a good thing though, that I have neighbours, otherwise I would be forced into eating all of my own goodies.

Crumiri (adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini)

These little bites are usually made with cornmeal, but the picture is of my semolina version.

They are light, moderately sweet, very addictive, and have been declared by my 6 year old neighbour as "the best cookies ever". I'm not sure about the accolade, as she says that about every cookie she eats, but I think they are pretty special.

The cornmeal variation is very crunchy, the semolina version is more refined, but still crunches very satisfyingly.

Makes about 24 dozen 1-bite cookies.

  • 180 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 160 g sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or 1/8 teaspoon seeds scraped from a real vanilla bean
  • 240 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 110 g semolina (I used Cream of Wheat) or medium grind cornmeal

Preheat the oven to 175°C and line a baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the vanilla and mix again.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and cornmeal. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. The dough will be thick.

Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a 2-cm star-shaped nozzle, and pipe onto the prepared baking sheet to create the shape of your choice (such as a star/flower, horseshoe, a stick, or a small "V", "S", or "O"). Make sure you keep the cookies small and give them a little room to expand.

If you don't own a piping bag or worse, if you own a shoddy one, plop rounded espresso spoons of the dough onto the baking sheet and press down gently.

Slip into the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes (depending on the size and shape of the cookies), until pale golden around the edges. Let stand on the baking sheet for 2 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Dust lightly with icing sugar.

The cookies will keep for about a week in an airtight container.

Variations: Replace the vanilla with high-quality almond extract or finely grated lemon or orange zest.