Monday, December 3, 2018

Non-potato latke recipes

Chanuka is upon us, and that means we celebrate the miracle of the potato.

Wait, no, that's not right; we celebrate the miracle of the oil - a small pitcher of oil burning for 8 days in the Temple.

A favorite Ashkenazi way to observe this is by grating potatoes and onions, adding eggs, salt, and black pepper, and frying patties until crisp on the outside, and creamy on the inside.... and praying that the remaining batter doesn't go grey, brown, or black as natural chemicals in the potato react to oxidation.

One year, I cooked for a Medieval feast, where potatoes aren't allowed. And in an intentional bit of irony, I made the Chanuka menu Greek themed (for those who don't know, the ancient Greeks are the bad guys in the Chanuka  origin story). So I wanted potato alternative fried patties to make.

And here are the recipes I used:

Onion Fritters
1/2 kg (aprox. 1 lb) onions finely diced (leeks work wonderfully as well)
1/2 kg flour
Fresh spearmint
Oil for frying
In a bowl, mix well the onions, spearmint, flour, salt and pepper. Add enough water to make a thick batter. Heat oil in a frying pan. Drop teaspoons of batter into the oil. Fry until golden brown. Drain the fritters well and serve hot.

Courgette balls (Zucchini)
1 kg (2.2 lbs) courgettes
1/2 cup grated cheese
200 gr grated feta cheese
3 eggs
flour for dredging
Olive oil for frying

Wash the courgettes and cut off their ends. Grate them and squeeze them to remove their liquid. Soak the bread crumbs and drain them. Beat the eggs. In a bowl mix the grated courgettes with the grated cheese, the grated feta cheese, the bread crumbs and the beaten eggs. Add salt, pepper and spearmint. Shape the mixture into balls. Flour the balls and fry them in olive oil until they take brown color.

Santorini Tomato Rissoles
* 500 gr. tomatoes, rinsed and dried
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped (not grated)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
salt and black pepper
1/2 cup fresh spearmint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
150 grams self-raising flour
sunflower oil, for frying

Put the rinsed and dried tomatoes whole into a large bowl. Squeeze and manipulate them with the hands, until they turn into a pulpy substance. This is the only way to do it as you need the skins to give some substance. Next, mix all the ingredients together, apart from the flour. Add enough flour gradually to make a thickish but moist paste. You will probably not need all the flour. The mixture can now wait until it is time to be cooked and eaten. Put about 2.5 cm oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, drop in tablespoons of the mixture and fry, turning the rissoles over once, until lightly golden all over. Serve immediately.

*(I use peeled, whole, canned tomatoes and crush them between my fingers and just use more flour. I don't like the texture of the peel once the tomatoes are smashed).

Delicious yogurt dip to go with the above latkes
1/2 kilo (1 lb) strained yogurt (I use a good quality goat yogurt)
1 cucumber
4 garlic cloves (more makes it with stronger taste)
lemon juice

Grate the garlic and mix it with salt and lemon juice. Peel the cucumber, grate it and squeeze it until all its water is removed. Put the yogurt into a bowl and add the cucumber into it. Then mix the yoghurt with the mixture of grated garlic. Whiz the content until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add some oil. Yogurt dip can be served in a normal temperature but it is rather preferred cold.

Variation: substitute chopped dill for the cucumber or garlic.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Chocolate Lovers Truffle Brownies

2/3 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup butter or margarine
1-1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

Brownie layer:
8 oz. best quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

6 oz. best quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup heavy cream or nondairy creamer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9"X 13" baking pan.

Cream the brown sugar and butter or margarine until light and fluffy. Slowly add flour and continue to mix until blended and smooth. Add pecans. When completely combined, press crust into bottom of prepared pan. Set aside.

Brownie Layer:
Melt the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stirring until smooth. Remove the bowl from heat and cool 10 minutes.

Stir the cooled chocolate mixture. Whisk in the sugar, vanilla, and eggs one at a time until batter is smooth. Stir in the flour and salt until just combined.

Spread brownie batter evenly over the crust and bake in the middle of the oven until top is firm and tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 25-27 minutes. Remove from oven and place immediately into the refrigerator.

Heat all the glaze ingredients in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until chocolate and butter are melted and glaze is smooth. Remove from heat and cool glaze to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Pour glaze evenly over the brownie layer and return to the refrigerator. Cut into 20 bars and serve cold. You may serve each brownie with a blackberry, raspberry, or strawberry.

Yield: 20 brownies.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Changing Perspective, One Smile at a Time

Years ago in high school, I had a teacher who taught a variety of subjects throughout the years. I didn't particularly like her, and it certainly wasn't helped by the fact that none of the subjects she taught held any interest for me. Oooh, shocker! Student doesn't like teacher! Oooh, bigger shocker! Student doesn't like subjects being taught!

But there's one thing she said once - and since it was a million years ago, I don't remember if this was what the lesson was about, or just something she said in passing - that really stuck with me, and I've tried really hard to carry it on throughout my life.

It doesn't cost anything to smile.

Nothing profound, nothing earth-shattering. But the words resonated with me for some reason.

Since I can't remember the context, I imagine when she talked about cost, she meant actual financial cost. No comments about braces or plastic surgery, please.

I've taken it to also mean emotional and mental. Once upon a time I would have also said physical, but for years I've suffered from "Dear God, kill me know" sinus pressure headaches, where it hurts to think, so I've removed that from my equation. And I understand being in a mental or emotional place, where smiling seems impossible, but having been there, done that, I firmly believe in faking it till you make it.

Throughout the years, I've tried very hard to instill this tenet into my children. I know I've succeeded with my daughters, as I have been told time and again from neighbors and strangers-to-me (in other words, people who know my daughters) what polite, kind, and thoughtful girls I have. My boys are significantly younger and are a work in progress, but I definitely work on it with them as well.

There's a Russian woman who lives in the house next to Nati's van stop. Often, when we wait, she's outside, mopping her porch. I started saying good morning to her as we arrive, and she'd reply in kind. After about a week, if I was too slow with my greeting, she'd say good morning to me first.

There's an elderly couple in our building, and Nati and I often see them as we head to his stop in the morning. I started saying good morning to them as we passed them. Now, as soon as the woman sees us coming out onto the street, she'll wish us a good morning.

Thanking the bus driver when he opens the door. Telling the cashier to have a good day. Saying hello to the driver when you get into the taxi. Little things to you, but they can mean so much to the person receiving.

Unfortunately, politeness is seen almost as a bad trait here in Israel. I joke and say that the national sport is yelling, but frankly, it's not far from the truth. I think the worst insult you can give an Israeli is to tell him he's a "frier", a sucker. And for some reason, politeness seems to be equated with being a frier.

So it's going to be an uphill battle, doing things one smile at a time.

What profound bit of unintentional wisdom have you carried through from high school?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Sarcasm, Just Another Service We Provide

My husband likes to tell a story of how when he was a kid, and the family would go on trips, his mom would line the dashboard with twenty single dollar bills. If she had to tell my husband and/or his sister to behave, she'd remove a dollar. My husband and his sister would then split whatever was left when they got to their destination.

This afternoon, we took the boys to the beach in Ashkelon. The drive is a bit under an hour, depending on the driving conditions. We spent a bit over an hour at the beach, and it was wonderful. The water was as warm as a bath, but the waves made things feel more like a washing machine.

On the drive home, the boys were bothering each other more than usual. After telling them to leave each other alone for about the tenth time, and this only being 15 minutes into our drive home, I told them we were going to have a contest.

Not a quiet contest, those things never work. I told them to each look out their window, and call out whenever they saw a pink flamingo. A brief discussion followed to iron out the rules - such as would plastic flamingos count, or did it have to be the real thing. And Elchanan wanted to clarify it was only pink flamingos, and not any pink item.

Unfortunately it only lasted for ten minutes, but it was a gloriously silent ten minutes. And of course during that time, I knew Zach and I couldn't look at one another, because we'd burst out laughing.

And just to be clear, other than in a zoo, there are no pink flamingos in Israel.

Ship off the coast of Ashkelon.

So, what kind of snipe hunt have you subjected your children to, in order to keep the peace and quiet of a drive home?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Family Affair

My sister-in-law, we'll call her Molly, is here in Israel for an intensive 2 week seminar. Her days (and many evenings) are packed with lectures and meetings, and unfortunately it doesn't leave a lot of time for non-seminar touring and certainly doesn't leave a lot of time to visit family.

The last time we saw Molly in person was the summer of 2012, when Zach, the boys, and I flew to the States for a family visit. Nati was 5, Elchanan was 3. Neither were toilet trained... oh, that was fun. So the last time Molly saw my boys, they were barely out of toddlerhood. And it had been even longer since Molly saw my daughters, and she'd never met my son-in-law or my grandsons.

Needless to say, I wanted to arrange a family get together, despite Molly's tight schedule.

My original idea was everyone come to Jerusalem, where Molly was based, and we'd go to a restaurant. But then I started picturing the get together.

First of all, it would mean that my daughter and her family would have to travel by bus, minimum of 90 minutes, just to get to Jerusalem, and then depending on where the restaurant was, would have to get there as well.

Five minutes after arriving, Nati would start complaining that he wants to go home.

Ten minutes after that, Elchanan would start complaining that he's bored. And when he gets bored, he starts picking on... well, everyone.

We'd have to make sure that my grandsons (ages 6 and 3) would sit at the table for the meal, and the schmoozing.

Yeah, none of that seemed appealing.

But then I realized that this get together wasn't going to be about the food, it was about the family. The people, gathering together for the company and the conversation, reconnecting.

So then I suggested having a BBQ at my daughter's house. We'd pick up Molly in Jerusalem and then drive further north to where my daughter lives. By car, it's about 45 minutes. I made cole slaw, potato salad, a batch of chocolate chip cookies, brought burger and hot dog buns, and bag of chicken wings marinading in a home made sauce. I told my daughter to buy the burgers and hot dogs, and I'd reimburse her. The reason behind that was so those items would be cooked and ready (especially for the kids) when we got there. See, sometimes I have a good idea.

And it was amazing. The kids all got to eat and run, play as they wished, where they wished. The grown ups got to have pleasant conversation. And as a bonus, Molly got to see a part of the country that she'd otherwise not have had an opportunity to visit. And we took a 5 minute pause to do some amazing star gazing in mostly dark skies.

What kind of family get together have you been to that ended up being fantastic and amazing, despite being nothing like what you first planned it to be?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Recipe to save

Mexican Burghul Salad

2 1/2 cups burghul grains (I like the larger grain best)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 finely chopped spring onion OR 1/2 red onion
1 large red pepper, finely diced
1 large yellow or orange pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

DRESSING (see Cook's Notes for substitutions)
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon silan/honey
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander spice
Salt and coarse pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil

1: Pour salted water over burghul grains - cover well with approximately 2 cm extra margin - and set aside to absorb for approximately 1 1/2 hours.
2: Whisk dressing ingredients together till well mixed and check seasoning.
3: Check water is fully absorbed - press out extra in a sieve if absolutely necessary but you shouldn't have to unless you added too much - and then add vegetables, beans and herbs to grains.
4: Toss through dressing to coat well and refrigerate till ready to serve.

COOK'S NOTES: Quinoa could replace burghul if you prefer but this will have to be cooked and can't just be soaked. I cook quinoa in the microwave for ease. If you insist, you could simplify the dressing even further, by simply adding cumin, ground coriander and silan to 2/3 cup ready-made French dressing. Apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar can replace red wine vinegar.  Salad feeds approximately 8 and leftovers last for days.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Food, Glorious Food

Every year, one of the local North American organizations has a Canada Day/US Independence Day picnic and fair at the beginning of July. This year, for religious reasons, it's going to be an "end of summer" fair instead.

Last year, I rented a table and sold a variety of cookies, muffins, and cakes. Chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal craisin cookies, peanut butter cookies, banana walnut chocolate chip muffins, mint fudge brownies, and cinnamon fudge brownies. It was a big success for me.

The chocolate chip cookies and the mint brownies were sold out. No one really bought the cinnamon brownies. I was left with quite a bit of the oatmeal craisin, and the banana muffins. And the peanut butter cookies just didn't hold up. They were very crumbly.

Since I'm a list maker, I made sure to create a spreadsheet and make notes regarding the baked goods.

For this year, I'll be selling chocolate chip cookies and mint fudge brownies. I'll make a smaller batch of banana muffins, and also make blueberry muffins. I'll also be making a small batch of "brookies", which is where you drop a lump of chocolate chip cookie dough into brownies batter, and bake together. I'll be selling potato kugels and garlic monkey bread as well, and since it's going to be only a week and half until Rosh Hashana, I was thinking of also making small apple cakes.


Garlic monkey bread

Do you have any local fairs you attend and/or sell at?

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

One Big Something Family

Normally I work from home. The company I work for is located more in the center of the country, while I live smack in the middle of the Negev Desert. Driving, it's nearly 2 1/2 hours. I don't get up to the offices on a regular basis, but occasionally there are holiday-related things I make an appearance for. Today, the team I work with organized a brunch at a cafe not too far from the offices.

Now, when I go up to the offices, I take the train. It's temperature controlled, I don't have to worry about sitting in traffic, there are bathrooms on board, and since I get on at the first stop, I always get a seat. Sometimes it's even got an outlet so I can charge my phone. The big disadvantage is getting from the train station to the office. The scheduling is way off, and often not particularly convenient. But for the three or four times a year, I manage.

For the most part, the seats are arranged four around a table. Well-padded, often even have a middle arm rest, decent-ish amount of leg room. Well, for me, anyway. And yes, I'm short. When you are lucky enough to get a car with electrical plugs, it's only two per table, so that can be annoying if your laptop or cellphone is low on battery and your seatmates are already plugged in.

On this morning's ride, as we pull out of the Ashkelon station, an older man (OM1) sits in the seat diagonally from me in "my" quartet. Right across from me was a young Ethiopian woman in IDF uniform. And right next to me was another older man (OM2). I forget what sparked the beginning of the conversation, but by the time OM1 got off the train over an hour later, I knew quite a bit about his life and family, and he knew a bit about mine.

I knew he'd been a farmer all his life.
Right now he's only growing peaches and persimmons.
He used to grow apples as well, but with the import of Pink Ladies from the US, it's just not worthwhile.
Climate change is real.
His wife was an English teacher.
His wife is from South Africa.
He lived in SA for 6 months and moved back to Israel mainly because of antisemitism.
His family is from the UK, but he was born in Israel.
Much of his family left Poland during the 1930s.
He served in the IDF during the first Intifada and Lebanon Part I.
He has a son and daughter, and then his wife couldn't have more children because she had cysts on her ovaries and had to have them removed.
He's not religious at all, but all during his service and reserve duty, he carried his IDF-issued Psalms in his shirt pocket, just in case.

And a whole megillah of more information.

He got on, a total stranger. And I still don't know his name, and I can't remember what Moshav he lives on. But there's something about sharing a few square meters of space with other human beings for a couple hours. And maybe it's one of these "only in Israel" type of things. Yes, we're strangers. But genetically we're Jews, the three people (OM2 seemed rather put out that we were talking - not loudly, mind you) having a discussion were all immigrants or first-generation Israeli. And that commonality - Jewish-Israeli - immediately made us family.

Sure, we're a loud, obnoxious, frustrating, dysfunctional family.

So what insightful public transportation rides have you had?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Stress Hamsters

So we've moved to a smaller apartment that's basically across the street from Elchanan's school in one direction, and across the street from a mall, the main post office, the central bus station, and a train station in the other direction. There's a supermarket 5 minutes away (although it's not particularly the chain I like), doctors' offices 5 minutes away, and the boys have their own rooms, which has made a HUGE difference in their attitudes and behaviors both at home and in school.

Every so often I find myself breathing. A sigh of relief. Releasing a bit more stress.

And then...

And then I start to wonder when the rug will be pulled out from under us again.

And then I start to wonder when the other shoe will drop.

And I'm back to tossing and turning in bed at night as stress attacks my thoughts.

Because I've been here before. And the rug HAS been pulled out from under us.

I know there are things we need to do, should do, HAVE to do, to keep the stress hamsters from running on their wheels inside my brain.

Oooh, I like that; stress hamsters. Going to use that for the name of this blog post.


We WILL be taking better care of our finances, which is basically the #1 stress factor in my life (well, pretty much anyone's life, amiright?)

I'm hoping my meds will help keep the stress hamsters at bay. And sitting on the beach.

But my Pavlovian response to things going well for us for a change really needs to change. When did I become such a pessimist?

So, how do you deal with your stress hamsters?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Next stage

Yesterday, Zach and I had our last parent-teacher meeting of the year for Nati. One teacher will be going on for a third year with the boys and the younger teacher will be leaving. All in all, the meeting was very positive. Nati has made great strides in his socialization, language skills, his math is amazing (thanks to the paternal-side genes), and he's excelled in almost every aspect of his studies and therapies. We've all noticed a big difference in how calm he's been since we've moved apartments and given him his own room.

The big sticking point in his learning is his reading. Or rather, his lack. We've tried several different things, and nothing seems to be working. He just doesn't seem to have any retention or perhaps recognition for the written word. And because he struggles, he hates having to do it. I mean, if I'm bad at something, I wouldn't want to do it either. But reading is a rather important skill and we need to rethink a few things.

So at yesterday's meeting, his teacher brought up the R-word.

She's spoken to one of the therapists who works with Nati on a regular basis and they feel that it might be time to try medication to help Nati's comprehension difficulties. Specifically, Ritalin.

Now, don't get me wrong. If there's one thing you need to know about my husband and myself, it's that we're not ashamed of our family's various mental health issues. And our family motto is "better living through chemistry". Okay, that's two things.

So now we need to teach Nati how to swallow a pill. And I need to make an appointment for him with the pediatrician so we can take the proper steps for him to get the prescription before school starts up again in September.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Stress and the toll it takes on you

There's a saying from Psalms, "to go from strength to strength".

I, however, live my life going from stress to stress. I don't know why. But it's how I am. And lately, it's been a shitstorm of stress.

My summer plans to go to the US with the boys have been cancelled because 6 weeks after starting a new job (after being out of work for almost 3 months), my husband's company laid him off so they could have the out-of-work brother of one of the company founders basically work illegally. That was over 2 months ago.

We're moving to a smaller apartment on Sunday, the reasons for that being the apartment we're in is really too big for us (when we first moved in, my adult daughter was living with us, she's no longer doing that), the owners refuse to replace the air conditioning so it actually works (having spent 2 summers in Beersheva heat, I can't do that any more). There are a few financial reasons for moving, but frankly, the no air conditioning in 105 F degree weather is a HUGE motivator. Especially when you work from home as I do. And no, we can't simply buy new ones ourselves; it's central air conditioning and the way it was set up is just not good.

So we're moving. And hubby has been out of work for over 2 months. And the vacation that was keeping me sane was cancelled.

So I've been a bit stressed.

The thing about stress is, you don't often realize just how much you've been drowning in stress until the/a stressor has been relieved.

My husband has had several interviews with different companies, literally all over the world. And it looks like a local company is offering him a job. When he called me to let me know, I couldn't make it through the phone call without tears. I barely hung up with him before the ugly crying started. Sobbing, tears streaming down my face.No snot, because as usual my sinuses are stuffed. But I'm sure that would have been dripping too.

Okay, deep breath, find a tissue, and get back to packing.

So, do you go from stress to stress, or are you water off a duck's back kinda personality?

Friday, May 25, 2018

Chocolate chip cookie recipe to save

I haven't made these yet, but someone recommended it. And since I've been wanting a T&T (tried and true) recipe that uses oil, we'll give this one a try.

2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar 
3/4 cup veg oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 & 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cream together eggs & sugar. Add oil & vanilla & mix, add everything else & then chocolate chips. 

Chill dough for 20 minutes and then bake at 350

Do you have a cookie recipe that uses oil that you love? Care to share it?

Monday, April 30, 2018

On a wing and prayer

Orange BBQ Sauce

1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
juice from one orange plus zest
1 cup ketchup
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon pepper

fry onions with garlic until tranlucent, add the rest. cook up to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes, blend and serve
(So I added a bit more orange juice, about 1/4 cup. It upped the citrus flavor by a lot.)
I tossed the wings with cornstarch, garlic powder, and chili powder. Then baked them on an oiled cookie sheet until golden brown. I tossed them with the BBQ sauce and popped them back into the oven so the sauce can caramelize on the wings.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Time Zones, Internet, and Messaging

Growing up, the rule in our house was no phone calls to friends after 10 p.m. The thinking was that if you could wait till that "late", you could wait until morning, when it's a more reasonable time.

In today's day and age of the Internet, cell phones, and more messaging apps than you really need, one would think being aware of time would be standard. Almost my entire family lives along the eastern coast, which puts me seven hours ahead of them. Which is why I wait until 2 p.m. to send a WhatApp message to my siblings. That's 7 a.m. for my sister, brothers, and sisters-in-law. My other sister-in-law (Zach's sister) lives in California.  That's ten hours behind us. So I send her an email when I need to talk with her.

I keep my cell phone near my bed at night. It serves as my alarm clock. Now, it has a sleep mode setting, so that between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. it's quiet. No notifications ping, phone calls are screened, and it's nice and quiet. The problem is there ARE people who may need to reach me in case of emergency, and the work around to get through is a right pain in the butt. The person has to call, let it ring a certain number of times, and then call back within a certain number of minutes. Quite frankly, if there's an emergency, they're not going to remember that. So I took my phone off sleep mode.

Last night I received several Facebook messages from friends on the East Coast of the United States. One person sent me multiple messages at almost 1 a.m. my time. For her, it was almost 6 p.m. Two hours later, I received another couple messages from someone else. Again, where she is, it's a perfectly reasonable time to message.... if you don't take into account what time it is where your recipient is.

I'm not naming names, I'm not calling anyone specific out, there's no need to apologize. Just be aware of the wider world we have access to thanks to the Internet.

What rule did you have growing up that thanks to today's technology makes it difficult or irrelevant?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

To Everything There is a Season

One thing about moving to Israel is learning that there is a lot of food-related seasonality.

The best time for most citrus is December - May.

Strawberry season starts in December, and if the weather is just right, it can go as long as April.

Interestingly (and annoyingly) enough, limes are only about 2 weeks in the summer.

Even celery has a season... Winter to early spring.

Fresh string beans are April, while fresh peas are only the first two weeks of April, and snow peas are only available at specialty stores for about the first week of April.

Fresh Brussels sprouts can be a hit or miss regarding availability. I found them last year, but not this year.

Fried donuts and filled donuts are October to the end of December. Good for my waistline.

And commercially available hamburger buns - you know, the squishy white bread, 8 to a bag kind - are in supermarkets for about a week before Israel Independence Day, till maybe two weeks after. Not even through the summer! Israelis do love their pitas. The bakery near me sells slightly fancier buns throughout the year, but not every day. If I'm thinking about making burgers for dinner and I don't see the buns on the shelf in the morning, I'll often ask them if they're planning on making that day. If they say no, more often than not, I change my dinner plans.

What seasonal food do you most look forward to?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Sewing the Seeds of Love

Yes, I know it should be s-O-w-i-n-g the seeds of love. But I'm going to talk about sewing and garb and stuff.

Time is ticking down towards our Shire's rebirth event. And we still don't have a place to hold it, and I still haven't come up with a menu. And we still need to get our garb cut and sewed.

On Friday, we're heading up to Tel Aviv to get Zach and Nati their American passports renewed, and then we're going to take a little trip to the Nachalat Binyamin area of Tel Aviv where they have quite a few discount fabric shops. I'd like to get some new linen for garb.

We've also made a priority list, an order of what will get sewn and when. First, T-tunics for the boys. Then a fairly simple under- and over-gown for myself (which reminds me, I need to finalize my choice). Then Zach wants to make his garb... which won't be particularly simple since he's such a snob. And then, if there's still time, we'll make leggings of some kind for the boys.

So, what projects are you finally getting to?

Friday, March 30, 2018

Holidays, Family, and Depression

I moved 6,000 miles away from my family; parents, siblings, grandparents, almost all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. And when I married Zach, I added a host of in-laws to that list.

Now, I get that for many, moving 6,000 miles away from family is a blessing. But I come from a fairly tight-knit clan, and we all pretty much get along. Holidays are a BIG thing for us. Getting together, sharing cooking duty, spending time together... it's what we do.

I've been living in Israel for almost 21 years and the holidays always depress the heck out of me. Or rather, it brings my depression to a whole new level.

I remember one year, going through fertility treatments, so I'm hopped up on hormones, and I'm getting ready for Pesach (Passover). I open the fridge and see the huge container of applesauce I had just made... and I totally lost it because I wanted my grandmother's applesauce (and her horseradish, sponge cake, gefilte fish, and stewed pears).

So we invite people - other ex-pats - to our Pesach seder, which is the main meal. I'll usually make a turkey, and a slew of other dishes. I fondly remember introducing the concept to an amazing Australian family who was joining us. Last year was by far one of the more interesting ones.

We had 9 guests, a couple who were vegetarian/vegan, and most of whom were actually not even Jewish. It was really fun for us to introduce and teach our customs to people who had never experienced a real Pesach seder. I made turkey, and I made zucchini stuffed with quinoa, mushrooms, and onions. There was a host of side dishes. And yes, I introduced them all to gefilte fish, which I admit, is an acquired taste.

This year, we're going to our daughter and her family for the Pesach seder for the very first time. And for the first time in a really long time, my usual holiday blues aren't that bad. I'm actually feeling pretty good and looking forward to going and spending time with my daughter, her husband, her delicious two boys, my other daughter, my husband, and our two sons.

Speaking of which, I need to get showered, and pack everything up so we can hit the road.

What are your family holiday meals like?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Parents not caring

Israelis tend to have a rather "take life into your own hands" kind of attitude. SO many people still smoke, people drive like maniacs, and way too few people wear seat belts while in a car.

Wearing a seat belt IS a law here. But another popular Israeli attitude is "laws are mere suggestions, which don't apply to me". If an adult chooses not to wear a seat belt, that's their problem. But when they don't properly restrain their children... that's abuse.

Almost every morning (and afternoon), my son and I wait at the nearby roundabout for his van to school. On one side of us is a mini-market, and a bit further down on the other side is a bakery. Both are popular morning stops for folks on their way to work or taking kids to school, so I see a lot of cars pull up with kids in them.

I thought the worst, most disgusting seat belt violation I had ever seen was a few months ago, when a car pulled up at the mini market. In the back seat were three kids, none of whom were wearing a seat belt. In the front passenger seat was a girl, who looked to be no more than five or six. Not only wasn't she wearing a seat belt or in a booster, but she was sitting BACKWARDS.  She was leaning back against the dashboard!

The mom got out of the car, ran into the store to buy cigarettes, and as she came out, I actually said something to her about getting those kids properly seat belted in. She nodded, got into the car, and drove off... with the kids as they were.

Today, however, I saw something that actually wants me to call the police and beg them to set up a ticketing stop.

Car pulls up. I could see a girl in the back seat, around eleven years old. And it was obvious she wasn't wearing a seat belt. Dad gets out of the car, comes around, opens the back door, and pulls out a little boy, who literally couldn't have been more than two. He had been sitting in a booster (which he's  legally too young and small for). ALSO NOT WEARING A SEAT BELT. Dad carries little boy into the mini market, does some shopping, puts the kid back onto his booster (and yes, I could see he wasn't belted in), and starts going around the car to get into the driver's seat.

I tell the dad he needs to belt the kids in. And he just gives me a stink eye. And drives off.

And then right behind him comes a car with FIVE kids in the back seat (I could see two kids sitting on laps in the back).

Who the hell does this these days???? I mean, people treat the eggs they buy at the market with more care than they do their children in this country!

Have you ever seen someone endanger others to such a degree, all you wanted to do was call the authorities on them?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Pesach is coming - Charoset edition

There are many parts to a Pesach seder, and one of them is the eating of the charoset. Growing up, I had the typical Ashkenazi version of shredded apples, ground walnuts, sweet red wine, and cinnamon, all mixed together. And for many years after, when my husband and I would make our own seder, that's what I would make.

A few years ago, I decided to change things up and offer a variety of different types from around the world. I made the traditional Ashkenazi version, and a more Middle Eastern version with dates. The blogger calls them charoset date truffles. And they were well received. I also made a date version with whole oranges that only Zach liked. I think part of the problem is there's simply too much pith in the local oranges, and it makes it really bitter. If I tried the recipe again, I'd use just the zest and the pulp.

Now, to be honest, I'm not a fan of dates. So before last Pesach, I went in search of a version of charoset that was different, and had neither dates nor apples. And I came across this apricot energy bites recipe. I am VERY embarrassed to say that I didn't bother to read anything about the blogger, saw her name is Ruchi, and immediately assumed she was a Jewish woman, and would understand the Jew-speak in the comment I left her, thanking her for this recipe. Um... she's NOT Jewish, she's from India.

But anyway, I left out the flax seeds because they're kitniyot and we're Ashkenazi, and even though we live in Israel, there are some things I'm just not ready to go full Sepharadi on... and even without the flax seeds, these things were AMAZING. I only made one batch, since it was the first time, and they flew off the plates. Everyone loved them, everyone raved about them. So this recipe will definitely become part of our usual Pesach seder table.

What holiday traditions are your favorites, and what traditions have you changed successfully over the years?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Vacation plans

So the last time I actually took a vacation was a ten-day trip to London, back in March, 2014. I went with my adult daughter and we played tourist, as this was the first time either of us had ever been. It was also the first time I'd ever taken a vacation without any children under the age of 15.

The last time I'd been back to the US was August, 2012. It was a family trip, so I hesitate to call it a vacation, although I didn't actually do any paid work. My boys were just over 5 years old, and about 3 1/2 years old. NEITHER were toilet trained. And let me tell you, family and handicapped bathrooms are not equipped to deal with a 5 year old in need of a diaper change. Yes, even at the zoo, and at children's museums.

Anyway, I'm now in the process of organizing a trip to the US. My in-laws are being generous enough to fly the boys and myself in; Zach just started a new job and won't have the vacation time. One of the main requests from the in-laws is they'd like to have the boys all to themselves for a week or two. But as I'd like to see my mother-in-law before she flies off to help my sister-in-law with her new baby, I'm giving them a week without me.

Wow. A whole week without children. A whole week without having to take care of anyone but myself, without having to answer to anyone. To plan my day as I'd like to spend it. I can't even fathom this concept, it's so foreign to me.

There are people I want to see. I've been living in Israel for over 20 years (and by the time summer rolls around, it will be 21 years), but thanks to social media, I still keep in touch with some of my childhood and young adulthood friends. And of course there are the new friends I've made thanks to social media. I have longtime Internet friends all over the world, and there's a decent list of them that I would LOVE to meet in person if I had the time and money. There's also a nice amount of folks who live within a reasonable distance from where I'll be staying.

Having at least a week to myself presents some interesting opportunities. And it gave me an interesting idea. This year my mom will be celebrating a milestone birthday, and my siblings and I have been discussing what to get her for over six months now. I had suggested we send her and my dad somewhere rather exotic. But then when it became apparent that my boys and I would be coming to the US, I suggested to my siblings that we do a ladies vacation. My mom, my sister, my sisters-in-law, and I go away for a few days. At first I suggested Las Vegas. But after thinking about it, I felt that since none of us are gamblers, going to Vegas would really end up being about spending money - shopping, spas, shows. And since we keep kosher, we wouldn't even have interesting food experiences. So then I suggested to my siblings the possibility of sightseeing somewhere none of us have ever been. San Francisco was one suggestion I had. And then, almost as a throw away, I brought up the possibility of the Grand Canyon.

And apparently, it really seemed to fire up my sister and one of my sisters-in-law! Go figure!

If you had a few days to yourself, where would you go? What would you do?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Musical chairs at the red light

Here in Israel (can't speak for how it is elsewhere), in pretty much any given city, at almost any given time, one might be stopped at a red light when suddenly a van pulls up alongside. It's covered in colorful stickers, has large speakers blasting upbeat music strapped or bolted to the roof, and suddenly, the side door will slide open, a couple guys with peyot (the longer sidelocks of hair many Orthodox Jewish men have)swinging past their shoulders and large kippot (yarulka) covering their heads will jump out and run around the van and dance to the music.

My husband likes to joke that when the light turns green and the guys are scrambling back into the car, it's a tossup as to whether or not the same guy who drove the van up to the intersection is the same guy driving away.

It's fun, it's weird, it's pretty uplifting at times.

The guys are Breslov Hassidim, often called Na-Nach-Nachmans - or as I like to call them sha-na-nachmans or hey-nonny-nachmans - turning their Rebbe's name, Nachman, into some form of Kabbalistic formula.

So what weirdness have you seen while waiting at a local red light?

Clean up on aisle six aka the aftermath

Nati and I passed the spot where the bomb squad did their thing the other day. While they did a good job in cleaning things up, there was still a small pile of multicolored "confetti" made of plastic and paper swept into a corner. I was able to snap a couple photos before the local street sweepers came around and did a better job.

As I said in my previous post, white board supplies and school books.

This time.

Thank God.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

See something, say something

Reporting suspicious or abandoned packages or bags is nothing new in Israel. And it didn't come about since 9/11. We've been doing this for YEARS (although I suppose post-9/11 is years now too...). And with many things, Israelis have this weird relationship with the see something, say something philosophy.

On the one hand, it has saved countless lives. Bombs in backpacks are a very real thing in this country. On the other hand, would a random daycare center in most any city in Israel be a target of terrorists?

I have reported several suspicious bags in my 20+ years of living in Israel. What's involved is calling the police, reporting your location, explaining what you're seeing, any relevant details about location (such as you're at a bus stop, near a day care or school, etc.), and answering any questions the dispatcher may have (among the questions I was asked was if the backpack was open, could I see any wires, did it look empty).

You also might be asked to stay until the police (and bomb squad) arrive, to make sure people don't walk near it, touch it, or knock it around.

So I did. I also stayed because the backpack wasn't visible from the street - there was a truck blocking it from the street - and since it was a girl's backpack, there was also a possibility that someone would come along to claim it - as it happened the last time I reported an abandoned bag.

Unfortunately it took the police and bomb squad 30 minutes to arrive, all the while parents were pulling up to the day care centers to collect their kids, and despite living literally across the street from a fairly large police station. I honestly have to say, the wait really made me feel like a "fryer", the Hebrew term used to describe a sucker or a rube.

But they finally did arrive, they cleared the area, made everyone evacuate to a safe distance, did some X-ray stuff, chased back people who didn't realize what was going on, and eventually did a controlled explosion.

I hung around until that part, and then went upstairs to my apartment. Twenty minutes with the police on scene was long enough for me, I didn't feel like hanging around further to watch the cleanup. Probably papers scattered everywhere. Pieces of crayon and white board markers...

Stock photo of a member of the Israeli police bomb squad

So, have you ever seen something, and then said something?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Cinnamon chocolate chip cake

I've had this recipe from my mom for many years. It's slowly becoming part of my Shabbat cake rotation... especially when I ask the boys what I should make for Shabbat, and one of them requests it.

I usually double the recipe and bake it in a tube pan. When I try to make a double recipe in a rectangular pan, it tends to be underdone in the center.

Now on to the recipe (ingredients have NOT been doubled here)...

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (I used soy milk)
3/4 cup margarine
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 - 3/4 cup chocolate chips
2 tablespoons melted margarine

Mix together the batter ingredients.
In a separate bowl, mix topping ingredients.
Pour 1/2 of the batter into a greased 8x8 pan. Top with 3/4 of the chocolate chip crumble. Cover with the rest of the batter and finally, the rest of the chocolate chip crumble.
Bake 350 degrees F for 45 minutes.

So what favorite recipe from mom or grandma is a regular in your own repertoire?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Holiday disillusionment

At the end of the month will be the Jewish holiday of Purim. To learn what the holiday is about, feel free to read about it here.

For the past 6 years or so, our tradition with regard to giving mishloach manot was to give mostly to people we don't know, and especially to people who might not get any from others (usually because they're secular and don't necessarily observe this part of the holiday). When we lived in Ariel, I had the feeling that when we gave to people, it was truly appreciated. Just the reaction we got when the door opened to our knock, the residents seeing us in our costumes, their momentary confusion turning to happiness when presented with the package of food; it really seemed genuine.

Last year was our first Purim in Be'er Sheva, and our first year living in an apartment building. I knew the demographics of the building was mostly secular, with a decent number of religious Jews, and even a few Muslim families.

Now, usually the amount of mishloach manot we give out is simply dependent on "we make as many packages as we can until we run out of something, and then we stop". One year it might mean "I've made 3 dozen small cakes/challot" or "I bought a sleeve of 25 medium containers, now there's no more vegetable soup, so we stop".

Last year's mishloach manot were oversized cups of popcorn, an assortment of cookies I baked, and a drink pouch. I had baked three different types of cookies, giving me about nine dozen cookies of each type, and I had bought two boxes of drinks, giving me 36 drinks. So it was either going to be "until I ran out of popcorn, or 36 packages were made".

Our first stops of course were the people on our own floor. There are six apartments on each floor. Once those were delivered, we packed up the shopping cart, got into the elevator, and went floor by floor, ringing doorbells and knocking on doors. Many people weren't home. And of those who were home... most looked at us like we were crazy. At some point, I really started getting tired of the "WTF?" looks I was getting when the door would open. And the truth is, some of the religious tenants kind of gave us looks of "why are you giving to us?"

So I'm really discouraged about this coming Purim. To help with it, I've come up with a new plan. I'm making eight mishloach manot. That's it. It will be containers of three different types of salads, and a medium-sized home made garlic pull apart bread. And we'll actually make a list of who we want to give it to, who will make me feel like my effort is appreciated.

I mean, I try really hard to teach my kids that mishloach manot is about the giving, and not the receiving, that it's important to think about people who might otherwise be forgotten, and that it's not about seeking effusive praise and gratitude. But quite frankly, it shouldn't also leave one feeling completely unappreciated.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Possible art show

The municipality, along with the local Fringe Theater, and a few other organizations is putting together an art and music show of works by local women in honor of International Women's Day. I just sent in a submission request, along with lo-res versions of four possible photographs I'd like to feature.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Stick to your ribs delicious

Between the colder temperatures, clouds, wind, and expected rain, and two out of four people in the house having pretty bad colds, this is definitely soup weather. Here's a delicious, filling, and easy corn chowder recipe that always gets rave reviews when I make it.

What is your favorite winter soup to make?

1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 red or green pepper, diced (if you use green peppers, it will give the soup a greenish tinge that's not the most appealing. Using red peppers gives it a reddish-orange color that looks far more tasty)
2 T butter
2 T all-purpose flour
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
3 cups milk
salt and black pepper, to taste

Saute the potato, onion, and pepper in butter until the onions are soft (about 7 minutes).

Add the flour and mix well. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring thoroughly.

Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the chowder has thickened. You do NOT want it to boil.

Then either spoon the soup into a blender, or use a stick blender, and puree until it's a thick chowder, with no large lumps of potatoes.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Different route to school

Elchanan and I started off on walking a different route to school, so he could find different things to photograph. But after only about 5 minutes, he decided he wanted to take the city bus. So he got a few photos taken, but not as many as he'd taken in the past.

When you were a kid, how did you get to school?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Shuk with a camera

Words cannot express the absolute pride and joy I felt while watching Elchanan experience the local shuk with a camera in his hand. He was like a bee in a flower garden, flitting from one stall to another and snapping away. None of the vendors scolded or yelled at him to stop (which has happened to me on more than one occasion), and a couple of them even gave Elchanan encouragement.

What hobbies do you share with your children?

Behind the dried pineapple is dried (and probably sugared) watermelon, rind and all.

Abstract of lettuce.

Jews with Tattoos

I've always wanted a tattoo. When I was about 30, I got my first one. I'm much older now, and I've been wanting a second and third and fourth since that day.

It's not really done in my society, for several reasons. The first (and big one), is the Biblical prohibition. Leviticus 19:28 - "You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the LORD."

The second reason is the forced tattooing many of our ancestors were put through during the Holocaust, when they were reduced to numbers in concentration camps. Tattoos just leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths because of this.

The third is because people seem to believe that if one has a tattoo, one cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

So as to the first reason, there is great debate as to just what the context is, and what it means in general. There are those who say the context of the tattoos is tied to the first part of the sentence; that is, the ritual of tattooing to commemorate the dead. There are those who believe the context is within pagan worship; that is, getting pagan iconography tattoos onto you.

The third reason is actually just Jewish urban myth. It's highly likely someone was told this when s/he asked about getting a tattoo, and whomever s/he asked tried to think of the ultimate deterrent.

And as to the second reason, I certainly can understand and respect it. I just feel that by getting a tattoo, by MY CHOICE, I reclaim something. Just like the LGBT movement reclaimed the pink triangle as a symbol of strength, when it was used in Nazi Europe to identify, mark, and disgrace gays and lesbians.

My younger daughter has been wanting a tattoo since she was about 15 or so. I told her she needed to wait until she reached her majority, and that she had to find something meaningful to her. Once she found the graphic, she would then have to spend a year looking it over, considering it, etc. and then if she still felt strongly about it, she could pay for her own tattoo.

Ten years later, and yesterday, she got her first tattoo. It's on her upper thigh. When I asked her why she got it there, she said because she wants to be able to see it, but she also doesn't want it to be visible to others. Then she said that for her next tattoo, she wants an inspirational quote.

I laughed, and she asked why. I said to her that her first tattoo isn't even 24 hours old, and she's already planning her next tattoo... she's hooked!

Here is a collage of photos I took back in 2014 of different Jewish people with tattoos. The top and bottom are the same person. The right-hand photo is a friend. The left-hand side is me.

So, do you have a tattoo? What does your family think about it? What does your culture feel about it?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Meatball-stuffed garlic monkey bread with marinara sauce

It's a bit of a to-do because you have to make the dough, season the chopped meat, make the meatballs, wrap them in dough and make the marinara sauce.
Of course if you don't particularly care about buying processed foods and ready-made foods straight out of the freezer, I've seen the quick and easy version of this on Pinterest with: Buy some kind of frozen Pillsbury dough, buy frozen cocktail meatballs at Costco, and pop open a jar of your favorite sauce.
The dough I made for this is the onion rolls recipe from The Secret of Challah. Obviously the filling are meatballs instead of onions.

7 cups sifted flour (1 kilo)
2 tablespoons dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons sugar
2 cups warm water
2 eggs
2 tablespoons oil
Mix together the dry ingredients. Then add the wet and knead for about 5 minutes, until all the ingredients are incorporated. Then cover the bowl and let it rise for about an hour or until it's doubled in size.

1 kilo (about 1 pound) of chopped meat (chicken, turkey, and lamb will do as well)
Spices - I used garlic powder, black pepper, and dried oregano
Mix and make into golf ball-sized meatballs.
Garlic bread mix:

About 4 generous tablespoons of minced garlic
1/3 cup oil
dried oregano

Take a piece of dough (a little bigger than a golfball size) and flatten it like you're making pizza. Wrap it around the meatball and pinch the ends closed. Place in a 9x13 baking dish.
Once the bottom is loosely filled (you want the dough to barely be touching), spoon some of the garlic mixture on top. Then add the next layer of dough balls. Pour the remaining garlic mixture over the top.
Sprinkle with coarse salt.
Bake at 350 degrees F (about 180 degrees C) for about 45 minutes. Serve with sauce.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Apparently dog poop is interesting

On today's walk to school with his dad, Elchanan decided to photograph a poop-covered rock. When I asked him why he chose to take that photo, he just laughed. Typical of an almost 9 year-old, methinks.