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Posts Tagged ‘life’

Goodness gracious is it difficult to find a decent greasy breakfast in Israel.  As delicious and healthy as the standard Israeli breakfast fare is (eggs cooked any way, but usually as omelet or scrambled – accompanied by a large fresh salad, dips/sides – tahini, feta, cream cheese, tuna, fish roe in cream sauce, homemade jams – and fresh bread), I have been craving something more typically American or even British.  Something with animal fat, a mixture of creamy yolk, bloody juice, and spicy carbohydrates.  Oh, the agony!  My kingdom for a proper fry up!  And I’ve been coming up empty.

Not that Israelis don’t try.  But the couple times I have ordered the “Steak & Eggs,” slowly cropping up on trendier menus, I have been so sorely disappointed to the point where these eating establishments should be ashamed of themselves.   I won’t name names.  Just be wary.  I’m going to keep ordering it until I can create a more comprehensive picture.  Honestly, last week I was presented with three pitiful strips of “steak” that was as thin, tough, and stringy as boot leather (I refer to the classic Charlie Chaplin sketch below), topped with 2 overcooked “sunny side up” eggs (the yolks were almost solid), all over “hash browns” that embarrassingly consisted of what I can only describe as a giant lukewarm mound of ordinary fries cut up into smaller segments before being fried – with absolutely no seasoning.  Sadly, the best part of this dish was its name – “The Texas Hold’em.”  As you might imagine, I politely complained, and still insisted I pay for the entire meal.  I don’t believe in something for nothing.  It wasn’t the delightful waiter’s fault, after all.

Send me your recommendations for restaurants to try!

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This is a real “Rose of Sharon,” as referenced in the bible in the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as we know it in Hebrew – “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.”  The real rose is, as seen, I kind of lily.  This year I saw them for the first time, or at least was introduced to them, and acknowledged them as the real deal. They bloom in the autumn on the sea coast, springing forth from the sandy rocks.  So beautiful a fragrance, such delicate thin white petals, spread out along the cliffs they blow gently in the breeze, dancing.

My name in Hebrew is Sharon – it’s what everyone calls me in Israel.  Irène is reserved for my English and French language identity.  It took me a long time to like my name. Irène Sharon – “peace” (from the Greek goddess of peace, Eirene, protector of Plenty, and revered by Athenians), and the forested plain region of Israel – often identified with this lily.  Now that I know that this unique flower blooms only in the fall, only here, and that I learned these things at a time when I was in such crisis, so tested, means all the more to me.  I love my name.  I want to work harder.  I want to be worthy of such a powerful, important, and beautiful name.

A test of survival – this last month was the most difficult one I have known in years.  It rivals studying for 5 AP exams while acting in a play while applying for college.  It rivals writing half a dozen final papers in two weeks.  It rivals the last week of sleepless nights finishing an honors thesis.  Yes, all academic references – but these were some of my roughest periods.  The task I was given did not require months and years of research in libraries.  It was kind of an opposite task – not cerebral – but practical.  A job job.  Logistics – coordinating the actions of 50+ people, scheduling 200+ wine tastings within a 2-week period, training 100+ people within a week, monitoring and assessing the success of these events, and troubleshooting at a moment’s notice – it was a kind of mad dance – the highest usage of email, telephone calls, text messages, and meetings – long drives, rushed taxi hops, running to train stations, and constantly being called, always fixing problems.  It might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  10-16 hour days for a month, playing Sudoku with the largest spreadsheet I’ve known (as my bosses refer to it), moving people around like chess pieces, around the country, from day to day, hour to hour.  All this to sell wine, aggressively, on a large scale, during the holiday rush.  Now that I think about it, it really was like chess – strategic moves in a sales war.  It’s no wonder my bosses refer to this mad task as “hunkering down in the bunker.”

And I survived.  And I’m so happy.  And I love my job.  And I’m a sappy sappy sod, but I don’t care.  It feels good to work hard.  It feels good to have finished an arduous task.  How did I survive?  Sadly, or not so much, with a lot of single malt, chocolate, club soda (I love club soda), coffee and early morning news (BBC or France 24 at 6 am – not kidding) to feel connected to the world like a real grown up with a routine, and KAYAKING.  I kept at it.  Yes I did.  6:30 am once or twice per week, dragging myself to the beach for the greatest physically exhausting high – paddling kilometers during lessons with a professional, learning the techniques of the craft, to master control of the vessel.  Me versus the sea and wind.

And it was my kayak instructor, a typical gruff wiry leathery sort of sportsman, who pointed out the lilies, the delicate חבצלת חשרון, and bent one down from a high cliff for me to smell.  It a special sort of thing – that this flower blooms at the end of the Jewish new year.  Well, it actually crosses over – end of the year is also the beginning of the next.  It ushers out the old and brings in the new.  Kind of like my life.  A very new and different phase.  It’s much more like physical labor than mental labor.  Maybe it’s good for me.  For now.  It may make reading books and relaxing with friends more – more – fun?  Thinking for pleasure?

What is certain is that wine goes with food, and food will never leave my life.

Shana tova. שנה טובה ומתוקה.  A sweet and good new year to you all.

Second-to-last day of madness. Yes, that's a bottle of Gamla Sangiovese.

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I have just returned to Israel more tired than I can remember in a long time.  Due to Ms. Irene, the hurricane, not me, my flights were all canceled.  No, I was not stranded in paradise.  I was stranded in Chicago.  Three days were spent in alternating phases of work-absence-anxiety-and-catch-up AND having a lovely time seeing friends with whom I didn’t otherwise have time to spend.  Now home.  To a scary and very exciting month of work.  I took a moment today to look up some favorite poems.  Calm before the storm.

For Laughs:

You’ll Drink Your Orange Juice and Like It, Comrade

By Ogden Nash
There’s a Cyprus citrus surplus
Citrus surplus Cypriotic.
No Sicilian citrus surplus
But a Cyprus citrus surplus
Not a Cyprus citron surplus
But a Cyprus citrus surplus
Not a Cyprus citrus circus
But a Cyprus citrus surplus.
It’s a special citrus surplus
“Just a surface citrus surfeit,”
Says a cryptic Coptic skeptic.
But the bishop in his surplice
Certifies the surfeit citrus –
In his surplus Sunday surplice
Certifies the cirtus surfeit
Who’ll assimilate the surplus
Siphon off the Cyprus citrus?
Sipping at the citrus cistern
Who’ll suppress the Cyprus surplus?
Says the Soviet to Cyprus,
“Send us all your surplus citrus;
This is just a simple sample
Of Socialist assistance.
Should you show a similar surplus
In the simmering summer solstice
Send a summons to the Soviet
For surplus citrus solace.

Now on Cyprus they’re all reading
Victory by Joseph Comrade.

One of my all time favorites is “Lanyard” by Billy Collins

A fantastic montage made to the recording of “Man in Space,” by Billy Collins

 

On a more tender note:
The following poem is by A.E. Housman, a fascinating person – revered classics scholar and popular poet. A dear friend once inscribed a book to me with this poem, and I’ve never forgotten it.

It is no gift I tender,
A loan is all I can;
But do not scorn the lender;
Man gets no more from man.

Oh, mortal man may borrow
What mortal man can lend;
And ’twill not end to-morrow,
Though sure enough ’twill end.

If death and time are stronger,
A love may yet be strong;
The world will last for longer,
But this will last for long.

Alas, I really have to go to bed. 2 am. Jet lag has to be beaten somehow. And so I bid you adieu with these words of Robert Frost‘s:

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

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Kauai’s NaPali Coast – no roads or inhabitants on the entire western third of the island – the rugged breathtaking region can only be viewed in its entirety from the ocean

I kayaked the entire Na Pali Coast – 18 miles of rough open ocean with no “bail out” spots.  After rafting the Colorado river, National Geographic ranked kayaking the NaPali the #2 adventure in America.  And I did it.  And I survived, rather, I thrived, with flying colors.

Now – I am not an adrenaline junkie.  I hate “adventure sports” for their own sake.  You will never find me attached to a bungee or a parachute.  Hiking is cool, even difficult hiking, but I won’t ever veer from the path.  So why oh why did I sign up for what seemed like a suicide mission?  I’m not quite sure.  It’s not like anyone helped me out psychologically there — everyone I spoke to said it was really difficult, an event that would push you to the limit, and one woman even compared it to childbirth.  So why, again, would I do this?

I kayaked from the end of the north road to the end of the south road. Yes, that's about a third of the entire island.

Stress.  Life.  Powerlessness.  Who knows.  The feeling that I was not actually relaxing and having a vacation (see previous post), combined with somehow wanting to prove something to myself – prove…what?  Prove…I don’t know…that I’m not a weakling, that I can deal with life, control my body, tackle seemingly huge and scary tasks…all of that.  And kayaking in the ocean takes all of that.  You cannot think or worry or stress out about anything else because you have to be right there and only there.  In fact, if your mind wanders, you can flip your kayak or crash into cliffs or both.

Of course, being on one of the most beautiful, unique islands in the world helps — nobody can see this beautiful coastline in its entirety — except on a kayak.  Even a motorboat isn’t enough – they cannot enter the caves and nooks and crannies or land on the tiny beaches that are only accessible to small small boats like kayaks.

Miloli‘i Beach - accessible only by water - a favorite spot for monk seals, which I saw from a distance

I wish I could report that I was scared.  Before or after.  Or during.  But I wasn’t.  I think beforehand I had resigned myself to the “fate” of it all — it would be hard or easy or somewhere in between…I would survive fine or I wouldn’t and it would be a disaster.  Whatever, it would be what it would be and there was no point in worrying about it.  What I didn’t expect was that it would be as fun and smooth and effortless as it was.  Well, not effortless – the paddling was brutal – but I didn’t tire out in the first hour like I thought I would.  In fact, I was among the best.  I was paired with another single woman (what they were thinking, I don’t know – the guide could have taken one of us, and there was a single guy, too — even out the men/women ratio — but no).  We had the most solid consistent rhythmic stroke of anyone.  We NEVER flipped over.  One friendly couple, who wasn’t even fighting, flipped over 7 times!  We almost always led the pack – next to the lead guide.  Crazy.  Every other kayak had a strong man in it, strong men with decent upper body strength — I was shocked myself at how good we were doing — I had expected to be the trailing kayak who needed help flipping over every few minutes.

In any case – I have never felt my body so entirely.  It was like a full day’s meditation.  18 miles is no small feat – whether you’re walking or running or swimming or whatever.  My arms did a lot of that work.  The ocean, the cliffs, the caves, the sky, all so beautiful.  We also saw a group of small dolphins close up (I believe they were called bottle dolphins).    And talk about beating the stress out of yourself physically — there is nothing like such an intense challenge to shove all of the “everyday life” out of you.  Perspective.  I’ll be remembering this for a long, long time.

All in all – if you’re even on Kauai and you’re not a 90 pound weakling, I would highly recommend kayaking the coast.  You can only do this in the summer, though, and I wouldn’t recommend it to people with bad motion sickness issues (I usually do, but I took some new pills the night before and morning of, and had no trouble – the ginger I took with me also helped).  That said, this isn’t an airplane or a sheer drop into a valley.  People have been traveling the world in small vessels since prehistoric times.  It’s how we got to where we got.  Ancient Hawaiians lived on these remote cliffs and valleys.  It’s only natural we see these places in the way they would have.

 

The forbidden island Niʻihau seen in the distance

The kayak company I chose was Kayak Kauai — nicer more professional folks I’ve not met in ages.

The Na Pali National Park website — for permits on camping and hiking, as well as kayaking info.

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OMFG they must be joking. That’s what I first thought when I saw the headline in the Green Prophet: Jordan’s Crazy Star Trek Park Will be a Cleantech Showcase.  A Star Trek theme park?  My kind of vacation.  As some of you know, I’m a bit of a nut about Star Trek.  Apparently King Abdullah II is a huge huge huge Star Trek fan, too, and he even managed to get himself a role as an extra in Star Trek Voyager.  So now he’s gone and found over a billion dollars to build a Star Trek theme park in Aqaba?  Meters from Eilat, Israel’s year-round scuba-snorkel-spa resort-city?  Umm.  Wow.

Here are the related articles.  Have a blast.  Check out some of the titles (giggle giggle). I’m sort of in shock.

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  • The number of teeth in a full set. Including wisdom teeth. Which I have.
  • The international telephone code of Belgium. To which I’ve been.
  • The number of traditional counties of Ireland. The majority of which I’ve driven through.

The age I will be tomorrow.

Coming to a cake near you!

Or now, depending on when I publish this post.  Yes.  I share a birthday with Harry Potter,  and I may go out tomorrow to watch the final film on the big screen.  Such an interesting feeling.  I’m not as emotional about birthdays as I’ve been in the past.  For good reason?   Hm.  I still feel like a child so often – bills and taxes and chores, all so baffling.  But here are some great things to think about (stuff you dig up as you do do on milestone days):

  • Women feel most attractive at 32. Good for me.  Excellent for me, actually. Goodbye ugly duckling syndrome!  I did wear a brand new bikini today on the beach, all day, and didn’t bat an eye.  Shame be gone!
  • Women become their mothers at age 32.  Not so good for me.  I’m seeing signs of it all the time.  However, seeing as I’m supposed to be becoming my mother, and as my mother will most definitely be reading this post, I choose to see the positive in this: she worked hard at interesting things, traveled the world, had three kids and earned a PhD in the process, and had a fascinating, creative life.  She still does, in fact.  Not too shabby.  Now if I start chewing with my mouth open, applying blood red lipstick, and start wearing hot pink hot pants, someone shoot me.  Love you, mom 😉
  • The eternal singleton?

    My 32nd Year of Being Single. A blog I just discovered.  I don’t read it, but it’s a cute concept.  The book Bridget Jones’s Diary begins in her 32nd year of being single.  I read this book when I was 21.  Didn’t think it would be me.  Seeing as I’ve now been single for 32 years, maybe I should start reading this blog as a show of solidarity.

  • And in the newsEx-Louisiana Governor, 82, marries prison pen-pal, aged 32.  Read the story.  Big shot popular politician in the slammer 8 years for extortion and bribery marries this woman who somehow chose him as a pen pal.  Lord.  Hope for me yet?
  • In photographs – in searching “32 years old,” I came across these haunting photos of women, all in their 20’s and early 30’s, all of whom had had breast cancer.  The image that brought me there was of  “Nikki, 32 years old.”  The project is called SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Exposed.  Take a look.  My mother and both grandmothers had breast cancer.  This, my 32nd year, was the first year my doctors found it necessary for me to start having twice-annual ultrasounds.  Scary real.  In short – women are getting this disease earlier.  I don’t want to die of this.  So preventable.  Check yourselves out every month.
  • WINE – finally – had to check 1979 out.  It seems my birth year was pretty crap.  Well, not total crap, but very mediocre.  All around the world.  Even the best chateaux in France didn’t make wines in 1979 that could be drunk any more than 30 years.  Doesn’t bode well.  The best wine of ’79, as this website proclaims, is the Chateau Lafleur.  It goes for around $1,600 per bottle, if you can find it.  The same vintage of the Cheval Blanc and the Mouton Rothschild 1ere Grand Cru Classe go for $325 and $365 respectively.  Must say something about the Lafleur.

There you have it.  32.  I plan to work hard.  Meditate.  Do yoga.  And be social.  Not try to do these things.  I will do these things.  Things will move and grow and change and take shape according to my will this year.  Because even though my house is a sty, it’s because I say so, and I am a grownup.  Now on to watching Harry Potter!

Irene being silly.

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As promised, here are some things I ate or saw in France (Bordeaux, Paris, Giverny) a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

Creme Brulee at an everyday kind of brasserie at the Place St Michel. Delicious. Burned to perfection.

Steak Tartar at Le Bistrot du Sommelier in Bordeaux, 163 Rue Georges Bonnac. Also fabulous. Very laid back. Very "homey" food. But it's entirely prix fixe, fast, rude-friendly (I suppose you'd call it), and certainly an experience. We had pink Champagne that night.

Fish, artfully jumping out of and diving back into...ice at Auchon, mega-awesome-supermarket

Tourte aux pommes. Giverny. Respite from the tourist hoards I had a luncheon fit for only the pudgiest of gourmands. No holds barred, a large bottle of San Pellegrino, 500 mL of red Bordeaux, duck pate, lamb brochette with amazing gratined potatoes, and this chunky rustic natural apple pie. Followed by coffee.

The potatoes!!! Best part of my lunch by far in Giverny.

The yummy lucky ducky luncheon I treated myself to on my very-hot-art-and-shopping- in-le-marais-day. What better than a salad on a summer afternoon? That would be fois gras (center) duck confit and preserved duck all around atop some heavily-dressed greens. Heaven. I believe I had a carafe of Sauvignon (blanc).

Cafe de Deux Magots. The famed literary cafe where all the greats drank and dined. St Germain. And now we, the tourist hoards, pay tenfold what the starved artists a century ago paid - and I'm not talking about inflation. I said to hell with it, it's expensive anyway, I might as well get what I want. Better a slightly overpriced gourmet salad than the death-provoking highway robbery-priced ham sandwich. The fois gras and smoked salmon salad (house specialty) was dainty, but worth every bit. Washed down with Leffe. Refreshing.

My last dinner. A bit disappointing. A bit of comfort food nonetheless. Jambon and fromage crepe with an egg on top. Yup, a croque madame a la Bretagne. The best part of the meal was a rich, smokey apple cidre - served in that brown bowl.

My first glass of Cinsault! A rose, but a Cinsault rose. I've been dying to try it since I learned that Pinotage was a hybrid of Cinsault and Pinot Noir. It was interesting, and not at all like what I expected.

Martzipan potatoes and figs. They were terrible, but only because of this particular shop. A decent potato consists of a small amount of cake, covered with a thick dense layer of marzipan (shaped into a potato) and then rolled entirely in unsweetened cocoa powder. It's my mother's favorite.

Macarons! Exceptional French cookies. Melt-in-your-mouth meringue and creme and almond and wow. So colorful and dainty. Specialty macaron shops seem to be popping up like the cupcake shops were a while back in the US. Much tastier, these are. The flavors are getting super-creative. I had a bergamot flavored one!

Last but not least. Desserts (a fairly typical, but typical is extraordinary here) at Le Bistrot du Sommelier. We have a semi-fredo with raspberry (if I remember correctly), creme brulee, profiteroles (my favorite this trip), and a chocolate fondant cake with pistachio ice cream.

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Just Because I Like Them.  Enjoy.

From Tom Jones.  Who knew Albert Finney was so amazingly beautiful in the early 60’s?  Incredible actor.

One of the finest scenes from Tampopo – a stunning, poignant, and hilarious Japanese film all about food — and the society that surrounds it.

Seems a more than a bit kitschy now, but Like Water For Chocolate was one of the hottest movies we ever got to watch in high school.

A thoroughly bizarre film, Beetlejuice scared the crap out of me – and though I did enjoy watching it – I think I would close my eyes or run out of the room during certain bits.  This was certainly one of them.  Even though I knew it was coming.

Yes, it’s dubbed in French (gotta love the French and their inability/unwillingness to accept subtitles – kidding – kind of…), but this is the only video I could find online of this scene.  I won’t write the title for fear it will be taken down.  But you gotta love: “Oh, dessert! Cerveau de singe au sorbet!”  My friends and I would watch this scene over and over again.  That and the scene where the guy takes the other guy’s heart out, still beating.

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I haven’t written about food in a long while – a shame.  It’s been nuts.  However this week I decided to take care of myself – I’m not working as much!  The Golan Heights Winery’s “Wine Country Bar” at the Port of Tel Aviv this week has been an absolute blast to work at all week (please come!), and I took most of the week off from the wine bar – hence, only between 6-9 hours of work per day.  With a day off, too!  Taking care of oneself feels awesome.  I made appointments.  I cleaned the house.  I bought shampoo and lotion I’d been missing for a while.  I’m catching up on sleep.  It’s brilliant.  Long live living well!

And in that spirit (in the 10 minutes I have before I go to work) – how about focusing on good, organic veg.  Or home grown veg.  I just came across this article (a challenge really) in the Huffington Post: growing just one food-producing plant this year.  Just one.  Indoor, outdoor, potted, or not, how about it? How hard can it be to grow one tomato plant?  One cucumber plant?  Even some herbs?  Some lettuce?

I have a rooftop garden, with plants on it.  Half the year I basically “kill” them.  Black thumb.  Neglect.  Cluelessness.  All factor in.  But I have the perfect space.  Last year I wanted to start a box-garden or invest in a vertical gardening apparatus of some sort.  If I can buy a cone or a pyramid trellis, I could maximize my surface area.  So how about it?  Any advice from city-dwellers and growing food?  Think I can do it?  (Think I can actually motivate myself on a regular basis to take care of such a thing…gulp…)

Other related link I like to share with you:

Care2.com – a media website devoted to “making a difference.”  I’ve often enjoyed articles and how-to’s on gardening, the environment, pets, health, etc.  Great people.  You can send free ecards from there – and they donate money to save trees (I think) with every card you email.

Happy days!  For now.  Unrelated: I got my passport back from the embassy today, and I just have to share this – it looks like a passport from the land of Disney.  Seriously, it’s the most patriotic bologna I’ve ever seen.  I opened it to find a painting of Francis Scott Key on a ship looking over at a flag in the distance with a handwritten few last lines of the Star Spangled Banner.  Throughout the pages, you have quotations on the top from famous Americans, as well as the preamble to the constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Bill of Rights…all spread over vistas of American landscapes.  And the Statue of Liberty.  And the last page (OMG) has an image of the earth, as seen from the moon, with Apollo in orbit – of course the USA (and Canada and Mexico) is the country we see below.  Hmmm.  I’ll post photos later.

For now, happy days!

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Come one, come all!  From tonight, Saturday May 21 to Saturday May 28, the Golan Heights Winery is presenting their incredible yearly wine extravaganza at the port of Tel Aviv.   There will be 6 separate themed bars, and each cost only around 30 shekels to sample all four (or more) wines featured there.

All of the information online about the fest is in Hebrew.  However, it’s going to be fantastic.  The winemakers themselves are going to be there.  We’re opening top-end wines that are not yet on the market.  There are free workshops every night.  Blind tastings.  The works.

Day 1 was incredible! I got to open a Yarden Rom. That's right. Rom.

Basically, be there or be square.  You can come for 20 minutes, you can come for 4 hours.  It’s simple.  As it’s free to get in (it’s at the namal, after all), you can pick and choose exactly which of the 6 experiences you’d like to have.  Starts at about 7 pm every night (except Shabbat, when it’s after Shabbat ends, around 8 pm).

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