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Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’

Being a long-term expat gives a person a unique perspective, as you well may imagine – an outside eye with insider access – and in the case of these bloggers, the ability to be ambassadors to the world at large.  It’s been a while since I focused on food myself, and I want to highlight to whoever may be reading, a review of some incredible blogs – AND – their very special qualities.  I’ve chosen and linked some specific posts to shed a light on the diversity of boutique dairies and cheeses, markets, spices, comfort foods, and out-of-the-way corners/villages/eateries that guidebooks would never even know to mention.  Enjoy!

Milk, Dairies, and Cheese

Israelis love their cheeses, eaten (much to my chagrin, actually) very fresh.  For fresh cheeses, however, they’re extraordinary.  A huge variety of cow, goat, and sheep cheeses are produced by the largest and smallest boutique dairies all over the country.  Baroness Tapuzina told us about her visit to the Ein Kamonim goat far recently.  Sarah Melamed of Food Bridge posted about a comparison between camel, cow, goat, and buffalo milk, oh my!  To add my recommendations on Israeli cheese, I adore the Markovitch Dairy – run by a sweet couple, on their own, with their goats, near Petach Tikvah – they make a cheese very similar to Camembert, with a blue center – during events they cater, they stuff big majoul dates with a softer goat cheese – to die for.  A bigger better-known artisanal cheese-maker is the Jacobs Farm – they make a hard cheese with pimento and caraway seed that is so incredibly different – it took me a while to like it, but I adore it now.

Markets and Places

Pita with zatar

My friend Liz, of Cafe Liz fame, is truly a market connoisseur.  Actually, most of these bloggers probably are, but I as know Liz well and we hang out in Tel Aviv quite a bit – she has been my personal ambassador to some gems.  Here, she tells us about Ramle, an out-of-the-way melting pot of a little town near the airport with an incredible history.  Here, a foray into the Levinsky Street market, undoubtedly the best place to buy spices in Tel Aviv – a bizarre 2-3 blocks of storefront if you’ve ever seen one.  And in a post I highly recommend, Where to Buy Food in Tel AvivLiz compared the prices of several basic food items at the shuk (market), and several commercial and organic stores around town – with very interesting findings for the consumer.

Sarah has a whole page devoted to shuks (markets), that you should really check out.  She’s written about Nazareth on a couple of occasions, somewhere most of us urban-folk would never venture.  The food scene is incredible there, and the New York Times recently featured it in an article, “Nazareth as an Eating Destination.”  A great pictorial is Spice Up Your Life in Nazareth, and a more complete anecdote is Nazareth Shuk: A Kaleidoscope for the Senses.  Another great post is by Miriam Kresh, the veteran blogger of Israeli Kitchen, also littered with fabulous photographs.  Miriam’s knowledge of the natural foods around us and the making of such basic (yet to us, complex) processes such as wine-making, soap-making, lotion-making, olive-pickling, and much more is astounding.

Comfort Food Around Us

Stuffed peppers

The new Jerusalemite among us is Ariella, of Ari Cooks.  A trained pâtissière, I love reading through her recipes.  A recent post of hers focuses on soups, Soups for Thought, and it was so so so good. So apt for the winter, so cold this year, making up for last year’s heat wave.  She links to several other soup recipes, so it’s an excellent resource.  Miriam has a great post on pickling olives at home, a local staple, olives are.  Sarah is hands down the kubbeh expert among us, and if you don’t know what these lovely semolina dumplings stuffed with meat are, do click her link.  Here is also Sarah’s excellent, beautiful, and brief journey through Israeli foods, including the ubiquitous falafel, foreigners so know us by.

I have skipped so much and focused on too few blogs — the amount of recipes, the innovation of this cooking, this east-meets-west, foreign-domestic, old-new, always fresh outlook displayed by the food bloggers of Israel is inspiring.  If you live here, I hope you choose to eat well and eat interestingly.  If you don’t live here, when you visit, make food a priority.  It’s so special and vibrant and fresh here.

Have a great week, all!  Here’s to getting through the winter!

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I am sometimes privileged enough to get to participate in days and evenings that many people would die to experience, or have a hidden camera along with them.  As a writer, I don’t need one.  And believe me, I’d be a fool not to use my experiences as fodder for something extraordinary one day.  I won’t disclose direct details and names are omitted (don’t worry, nothing as sordid as you’d think).  The last 3 days of my life have simply been surreal – nothing short of it at all.  Billed as a combination “giving back and coming together,” the winery created a three-day program for every single worker – yes, we shut down for three days.  Included in this adventure:

  •  Community service – I spent most of the day breathing in ungodly amounts of sawdust and varnish fumes in an enclosed greenhouse for about 6 hours for the benefit of a community center for the mentally challenged – the folks came down to help us, and I ended up getting sprayed by said varnish for several minutes.  Ah well.  All for good.  I did get to commune with donkeys, ducks, and chickens that day in their petting zoo – always a plus in my book – and it was amazing to see what 6 hours’ hard work by 100+ people actually can accomplish.  It was great – although the sawdust ring and piles of sediment in the bathtub that night (I kid you not) were a cause of some concern to me.
  • A romantic tour of the old city of Jerusalem.  Great fun.  Churches, ramparts, architecture.  I’ve done it at least half a dozen times, and even led unofficial versions of it for friends.  But I loved it.  Towards the end I got tired, and when we got to the incredible Austrian Hospice, I simply disappeared into the cafe-garden with a lovely creamy Meinl cappuccino while the group went up to the roof for another half-hour of pointing-at-buildings.  It’s a rose garden, quiet, and two foreign gentlemen smoked cigars next to me.  At that moment I was happy.  I loved my employer, my colleagues, the retreat, the weather, the location.  It was a great day.
  • Ridiculous performances — I hate using ridiculous to describe performance art, as artists try hard and need to earn a living.  There just happens to be a lot I cannot tolerate, and I was subjected to some extremely…well…difficult work.  Folksy mediocre sort of stuff — the fact that many, perhaps not most, but not a few, of my work colleagues enjoyed some if not all of the two evenings’ entertainment, puzzled me.  But let me leave it at that. To each his own.  A fantastic exercise in anthropology, one could say.
  • A scavenger hunt.  A big fat three-hour frantic massive-list hunt, 21st-century-style (all evidence photographed, video’ed, and internet research often required).  We were broken up into groups and I knew almost nobody in mine.  Running all over Jerusalem, climbing the YMCA tower (450 steps up) to count carillon bells, taking photographs while sitting inside random people’s cars, teaching tourists to speak a sentence in Hebrew about our company, archery in the park, and on and on.  It was exhausting.  We didn’t win, but now I have 7 new friends at the winery, most of whom I never would have met, approached, or sat with at a meal.  The fact that I enjoyed this is a huge credit to the HR people at the winery.  They know their stuff.  It could have been cheesy-city, but almost every group participated with gusto.  It was great.
  • Raucous late-night adventures in the shuk — my favorite part of the trip — reminded me of my adventures in Bordeaux.  A small group (12 or so) of people from almost every walk of life (department) of the winery decided to head out for some post-cheesy-art living it up on the town.  We found ourselves at the Casino de Paris – a hip new bar-eatery in the middle of Machaneh Yehuda shuk (market).  Yes, hidden among the vegetable stalls is quite a chic place, bright, friendly, excellent booze, people spilling out the door on a Monday night.  We drank, ate, drank, told stories, drank, made merry, and drank under the stars beside the covered stalls outside the warm little bar.  Then we made our way to the famous Machaneh Yehuda restaurant a couple blocks away.  We drank, ate, drank, and made merry all over again, to a much higher and stranger degree.  With stranger foods (shellfish after midnight).  Stranger objects (wearing tea towels somehow became part of this segment of the evening). Stranger liquors (we started the evening with high-end Cognac and single malt Scotch, and somehow ended up finishing it off with cheap Arak).  So it goes.  Interesting taxi-back-to-hotel arrangements.  And lots and lots of ibuprofen.  I’m quite proud of myself, really.  I can really hold my liquor, or so it seems to me.  I didn’t tell any bad sex jokes, I didn’t vomit, I didn’t fall down, and I hardly cried at all.  I think it was a well-maintained buzz through and through.  In the course of 6 hours (with food) I think I consumed 3 glasses of wine, 2 whiskys, three sips of beer (one ale, two stout – a knowledgeable person told me to try stout with whisky and it was an excellent combination), one tiny sip of Arak, and a glass of bubbly.  It was a fantastic evening.  Had it occurred at the American Colony as I’d wanted, it would have been better.  It’ll have to wait for the next adventure.  But it was very good as it was.

It doesn’t often occur to people that they live interesting lives — but on this particular occasion, it occurred to me that I do.  I don’t make wine, but I get to work with people who do.  People who make world-class amazing wine.  And that counts for something.  It’s amazing when you know you’re working with and for good people, for a good cause.  Wine is a luxury product, I suppose, but it’s far more essential than a Lexus or foie gras or an Xbox, I think.  It’s a connection to land, to history, to religion, to people, to experience.  What’s a wedding without wine?  New Years?  Anniversaries?  Birthdays? Beuf Bourgignon? Coq au Vin?  I’m back to stressed out life — and even if it doesn’t seem charmed 99% of the time — it is a charmed existence in many ways.  There’s always that after-work glass of wine waiting.

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It dawned on me recently that I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t even live in Tel Aviv.  I live on the Dizengoff corridor, and that’s about it.  With regular forays into the Rothschild realm, and occasional ganders into arty-yuppie-land, Neve Tzedek, I sometimes take peeks at the sea on weekends.  Basically, I enjoy strong coffees in various cafes around the city, about which I know a great deal. On Fridays I run wine tastings at Tel Aviv’s best wine shops, and when I’m in good spirits, on Saturday nights I hop between posh wine bars and local pubs. My yoga studio is three blocks away.  My new gym is 5 blocks away.  The longest trip of the week I make is a ghastly 20 minute bus ride to my therapist, followed by another 10 minute bus ride to my meditation class, followed by one 10 minute bus and one 5 minute bus home.  That’s my marathon day.  And I never have to leave the borders of Tel Aviv.

Adding to my insular lifestyle, I don’t typically read Israeli newspapers, and I have somehow managed to keep up with the basics by listening in on bus and taxi drivers’ radios here and there.  When I walk by a kiosk, I take a look at the headlines and then walk off.  Once in a blue moon I’ll pick up the International Herald Tribune…but mostly because it has the New York Times’ arts & leisure section which contains the crossword puzzle I miss so much ’cause doesn’t it feel so much better to complete it on paper with pen instead of on a computer screen.  For news, I read the BBC online, I surf the Huffington Post a few times a week, and I click on interesting links my friends post on Facebook and Twitter.

Pathetic, isn’t it?  It’s difficult and embarrassing to admit.  It’s beyond stagnant.  It’s positively vegetative.  Me! Me! I used to work in PR and read/skimmed half a dozen papers every day.  I saved searches on Yahoo news, BBC, AP, AFP, Reuters, CNN, NBC, ABC, even Fox, and more. Local, national, international.   I LIKED reading newspapers, even as a child.  I liked the feel in my hands, I liked to be in the know.  I felt it was important.  And it really was.  It still is.

What happened to me?  Did the news become too painful?  Did I slowly succumb to life as a numb couch potato?  Did I choose the easy way out without even knowing it?  Being proactive is difficult.  For me, reading the news, taking in all the pain (along with the joy and innovation and intrigue), many times leads to action.  It’s hard to really know about the injustice in the world and sit idly by.

Better to not read the news.  Ignorance is bliss, right?

Not really.  Because I know in many ways I’ve been a bump on a log.  Sure, I work hard.  I try to improve myself through yoga and meditation and running in place like a hamster.  I read great books, the greatest books.  I think big thoughts.  I write creative little sketches.  I play with words.

But I haven’t been participating in anything.  Is the daily grind of trying to make a living (which in itself isn’t easy) to blame?  Is social networking partially to blame?  The immediacy of the medium makes it all seem more important than it is.  And it’s addictive, too.  Talking talking talking.  Links links links.  When I could be out learning how to sail, or participating in a knitting group, or better yet, helping people who are suffering by, who knows, teaching, building, cooking, writing…etc, etc.

I don’t live here.  I have thoughts of “going back.” But if I haven’t really tried, how do I really know I don’t like it here.  The politics are worse than in any place I’ve ever been.  Maybe even Russia.  Well, maybe not Russia.  People die here needlessly every day.  There is a violent uprising in Jerusalem right now, a 45-minute drive away, and I’m sitting here typing in my sunny beautiful living room eating a ripe avocado and gourmet French cheese.  What gives?

Passover is in two weeks.  A holiday commemorating the Israelites emancipation from Egyptian slavery.  Every year I think about the people who are still enslaved today.  In Israel we’ve got refugees, asylum seekers, and yes, lots of illegals, all fleeing terrible conditions in Africa, coming across the porous Egyptian border every day.  As a nation we grumble angrily, curse them coming, and mostly don’t offer any kind welcome.  And here I am, uselessly trapped in my own tiny little silver-spoon world, despite the “financial difficulties” I still face.

My Passover resolution: free myself by helping others.  And to put down the sci fi for a moment and read a newspaper each and every day.

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The gorgeousness that is sorrel

It looks like spinach but tastes NOTHING like it.  A sour, delicate leaf, perfect in soups and stews as it has a remarkable thickening quality while retaining its vibrant taste.  Spinach cannot compare.  I don’t know why the whole world isn’t cuckoo for sorrel.  In fact, I’m hoping to start a trend here.  People, if you haven’t tried it, take my word for it, you simply must.  Period.  With the scents that were wafting out of the kitchen, we knew we had one legendary meal in the making.

Today, after a rather frustrating morning of heavy work, I boarded the bus to Jerusalem, on a whim.  One of my favorite friends, the lovely queendeb, resides there on the border of Baka and Talpiot (although she only admits to Talpiot). We don’t get together as often as we should, and as two creative food-minded people, we decided on a cooking project.  I brought the sorrel and a bottle of Israeli-Champagne (GHW’s Gamla Brut).  In her quirky kosher kitchen (with her little brother in NYC on video-Skype the entire time), we proceeded in what felt like an adventurous cooking show.  Here’s what became of our evening:

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small celery root, chopped
  • 1 yam, chopped
  • 500 g chicken wings
  • 1 bunch sorrel, 1/2 chopped, 1/2 left whole
  • handful of cilantro stems, chopped
  • 3-4 small celery stalks with leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 white cabbage, cut into large in-tact wedges
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 finely chopped, 1/2 in strips
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbs yellow mustard
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 shot Laphroaig Whisky
  • chipotle pepper to taste
  • pepper, garlic powder, chili, etc to taste
  1. In a large soup pot over high heat, drizzle olive oil, then brown the chicken wings.  Remove.
  2. Whisk together the mustard and soy sauce.
  3. With the fat of the chicken left behind, add the onion, garlic, celery root, and yams (in that order – waiting a minute between additions).  Cook at medium heat until sweating/softened.  Add mustard/soy sauce.
  4. Layer the chicken wings evenly over the vegetables.  Then sprinkle the chopped sorrel, chopped celery & celery leaves, and cilantro stems evenly over the chicken.
  5. Sprinkle chipotle pepper over the surface.
  6. Create a layer with the whole sorrel leaves spread flat.  Place the cabbage wedges over the sorrel evenly.
  7. Pour the whisky over the contents of the entire pot.  Allow to cook for a few minutes to let the alcohol evaporate.
  8. Sprinkle all the lemon zest, and pour lemon juice over the contents of the pot.
  9. Without stirring, slowly and carefully pour two glasses of water into the pot.
  10. Bring to a boil, reduce flame to lowest possible, cover and let simmer for 30-60 minutes.  Do not stir, but checking to ensure the bottom layer isn’t burning is fine.  Add pepper, spices, etc at the end, to taste.
  11. Serve over couscous or rice.

The resulting stew-y casserole was pure heaven.  Rich, smoky, sour, spiced.  The smoky qualities of both the Laphroaig and the chipotle pepper, combined with the tartness of the sorrel and the lemon components, were so complementary, it was wild!  All the veg fell apart, becoming almost caramel-like.  The sorrel indeed thickened things up, and oh me, oh my, the lemon zest was a joy in and of itself!  The layering method came about organically, in that we thought it would be interesting to allow the leafier veg to steam in the lovely saucy broth of the layers beneath it.  And what can I say of the chicken?  It fell off the bone.  So tender.  So moist.  So perfect.

The best part was, even though we didn’t know where we’d end up, we always knew we could do it.  Two savvy seasoned cooks with random well-loved ingredients having a ball.  The bubbly went great with the meal, and I’m so glad we drank it.  This meal was a shining beacon in the middle of a drab work week.  So, it’s a yes to letting loose!  A yes to drinking your best wine for no reason but to enjoy it in the here and now!  And a resounding yes to sorrel! To single malt scotches everywhere! To lemon rinds!  To chipotle! L’chaim, l’chaim to life!

And I’ve driven myself into the cheesy corner.  But it really felt like that.  A meal as a celebration.  Even with just a couple lonesome American-Israeli friends.  Especially because.

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