Humus Wars

Humus, correctly pronounced khoo’ moos, is serious business here in Israel. So much so that it’s even sparked minor wars. The Arabs accuse the Jews of culturally misappropriation of the thick, creamy chickpea paste served at every meal. Men heatedly discuss the absolute best, hands-down humusia (restaurant specializing in only humus pronounced khoo moo see’ yah)) to the point of loud, irrational arguments. I’ve actually seen this numerous times. And in January a local Galilee village incurred mass riots with fireworks and stones being lobbed (one fatality) in a Hatfield-McCoy style fight between rivaling factions. The cause of the dispute that got way out of hand? Which local tribe made the best humus. Go figure. Never say your uncle makes better humus that someone else in an Arab village –

Some say humus originated in the Holy Land in Biblical Times. Others, that it came from Egypt. Arabs claim it is a true “Palestinian food,” while many claim it was brought along with the dried chickpeas from Jewish refugees fleeing the hostile Arab lands in 1948. Either way, it’s one of our beloved national foods.

Depending on your personal preference, humus is made and served many different ways, but always made with the basic ingredients of rehydrated chickpeas, lemon juice, tehine (sesame paste) and water. Some swear by chunky humus – I like mine smooth. Some enjoy it hot – I like mine cold or at room temperature, with a splash of olive oil and a spattering of the spice zata’ar.

Depending upon the humusia, you can order humus with chickpea balls, ful mudammes (favs beans), hard boiled egg, or shakshuka style – hot with eggs cracked on top which gently cook in the paste. It is not uncommon to have your hummus served with chopped picklim (pickles) or served with a raw onion – I love this!!!!

Arab restaurants, not of the Kosher variety, serve chopped lamb and other meats on top. Jewish humusias are typically pareve, neither serving meat nor dairy. There, expect to find falafel (fried chick pea balls) served on the side. It always comes with fluffy pita bread- think biting into a cloud.

Traditionally, humus can be served before the main meal in small dishes as part of a larger mezze platter with a bazillion different salads and a basket of pita. It always shocks first-timers. The endless salads (eggplant a million ways; chopped veggies; pickled everything; tabbouleh; tehine; humus; and more) keep coming until the little dishes fill the entire table. Don’t be fooled! Don’t fill up! You haven’t even ordered your entrees yet!!!! Or humus can be served by itself in a huge bowl, cratered in the center and filled with olive oil and your above-stated accompaniment, sprinkled with zata’ar or fresh chopped parsley, chopped garlic or paprika. With your pita, veg and raw onion to scoop it up, it makes for a protein-packed, very filling, cheap and satisfying meal. Add a glass of tea or limonanna (minted lemonade) and your day is made.

In the summer, my go-to breakfast every morning is a finely chopped cucumber, chopped hard boiled egg and a serving spoon of humus all mixed together. Very rarely do I go through the effort to make my own, as humus is one of the few pre-made foods (some ‘salads, i.e. eggplant and mayo; cabbage and mayo) that can be found in every store… and it’s delicious.

However, there are a couple really good recipes I’ve tried and my own riff on the tradition. So, here goes:

YOTAM OTTOLENGHI BASIC HUMUS (serves 6, pareve)

  • 1 1/4 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1tsp baking soda
  • 6 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup & 2 Tbsp tehine paste
  • 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 1/2 Tbsp ice cold water
  • Salt

Soak dried peas in a large bowl of boiling hot water to cover. Let sit overnight until size doubles.

The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place medium large pot on high heat with drained chickpeas and baking soda. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the water and bring to a full boil. Cook, skimming off any foam and skins that float to surface. The peas should cook between 20-40 minutes, maybe longer, depending on type. They should be very soft and tender, breaking up easily when pressed between your thumb and finger, but not be mushy.

Drain the chickpeas. You should have about 3-4 cups. Place in a food processor or blender until you get a thick paste. Then, with the machine still running, add the tehine, lemon juice, garlic & 1 1/2 tsp salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the ice water and allow it to mix for about 5 minutes, until you get a very smooth paste.

Transfer the humus to a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes before serving.

Tamar’s Quick and Easy Humus (pareve)

  • 2 cans garbanzo beans
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 cup tehine
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • Salt, pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Drain 1 can and 1/2 can chickpeas. Pour peas and 1/2 can liquid into large bowl. Add lemon juice and blend with immersion blender until smooth. Add tehine and garlic. Blend until creamy. Can add up to 2 Tbsp oil to create a creamier, smoother texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Turn out into serving bowl and top with extra olive oil and any of the toppings in blogpost above.

TAMAR’S WHITE BEAN HUMUS (pareve)

  • 1 can white/capellini beans
  • Handful (1/3 cup) fresh basil leaves
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic
  • Olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
  • Salt & pepper

Drain beans. Blend with remaining ingredients until creamy and smooth. Turn into serving bowl and garnish with roasted sesame seeds or roasted crushed garlic pieces. That simple. Quite easy and delicious with crusty rustic bread. Enjoy!

The Incredible Israeli Breakfast

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Before I visited Israel for the first time in 2011, I asked an ex-pat Israeli friend what she missed most about her native country. “The breakfasts. Definitely the breakfasts!” was her answer. Was she kidding me or just plain crazy?

Israelis take the most important meal of the day incredibly seriously. If you’ve ever been to Israel (and not stayed at a hostel or pilgrim house), you will know what I mean. I’ll never forget that first morning in Jerusalem’s Dan Panorama Hotel. The breakfast spread was simply overwhelming. Different from anything I’d expected. Delicious!!!! I fell madly in love at first sight, smell and taste. It was so different than anything I’d ever seen. So, what makes this meal so wonderful?

There are several different staple courses. First of all, because of the Kashrut rules (most Jewish people keep Kosher to some degree), the meal is dairy. No meat to be found anywhere at all. No bacon. No ham. No sausage. No meat. Fuhgeddaboudit!

We’ll start with the salad course. There are salads of every kind… not the typical American tossed salad, but chopped fresh vegetables, sprouts, nuts, grains, olives, and eggplant. The national food of this country, found at just about every meal is the Israeli salad: cucumbers and tomatoes diced finely and topped with olive oil, lemon juice, or tehine. There can be cherry tomatoes (did you know they were developed here first?) with cheeses and balsamic vinegar; sprouts with green onions, mushrooms, radishes,  arugula and nuts dressed with olive oil;

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quinoa salad with pomegranate arils, juice, green onions and feta cheese;

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lentil salads; cold eggplant cubes in picante tomato sauce; smoked eggplant with garlic, pureed; carrots in vinaigrette; all types of cabbage salads; anything fresh, colorful and in season cut up and dressed is fair game. Avocado and hard boiled egg with sprouts and walnuts is popular here as are tabbouleh and fattoush. And the beet salads! Don’t get me started-

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An Israeli breakfast is not complete without the dairy, namely wide variety of cheeses: cow, sheep, and especially goat-milk cheeses, both hard and soft. We have whole pieces of gouda, kashkaval, manchego, grana padana at our tables. There are the soft cheeses, like tsahoba (yellow cheese), emmental, and buttery emek cheese. Add to this feta: Tsarfatit and Bulgarit, which is a very salty feta. Cream cheeses; labaneh is a mainstay here – a thick cross between a sour cream and a yogurt, spread on bread, dolloped on salads, on eggs, on veggies and everything in between. A reason I gained so much weight in my first three years here. And yogurt – with fruit, with honey, with nuts, with granola, usually fresh goat yogurt. I eat this every morning. The darned delicious cheeses!

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Fish!!!!! Lots of fish!!!!! Thank the Russians and Eastern Europeans for this course. There is always tuna fish – whipped into a mousse, plain, tuna salad (dark tuna is used – white unavailable here, so if you visit me, bring the Albacore!). Also included are assorted smoked fishes and pickled fishes – whitefish, sable, herring, salmon (lox), to name a few. Pickled herring with onions, herring in cream sauce. Fish. Fish. Fish (It’s not considered meat, so breakfast usually is the time to eat it).

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I certainly hope you’re not full yet, because we are only getting started! Olives of all types (stuffed with almonds, lemon, chiles, garlic) and all colors. Of course humus. Lots and lots of humus and pita. Mix it into your salads (I have humus, cucumber and hard boiled egg chopped small every morning). Humus with a soft egg on top. Humus with gargarim (whole chickpeas), with olive oil and zata’ar spice, hot humus. It’s ubiquitous in Israel. And of course, there’s bread. Wholegrain. Pita. Dark flour breads. Flatbreads. Crackers. Sorry, but you won’t find Wonderbread here no matter how hard you try. There are lakhmaniot (little hand-held buns and breads) of all varieties. Just recently the American-Jewish bagel started making an appearance. The Yememites introduced Jachnoon, a tight roll of filo dough that is deep-fried and soaked in a sugar syrup, usually orange blossom flavored.

You won’t find pancakes or French toast here. Unhuhh. Nope. We have bourekas, another national breakfast food that is also a snack food. The boureka is found on every breakfast buffet, in every grocery store, and in bakeries. There are stores everywhere that sell only bourekas (I have my favorite place. If you come, we’ll go. It was one of the places my daughter, Liz, requested from her last visit, they are just that good!!!). They’re sold by the kilo. So the boureka came to us from Turkey. They are thin, fluffy paper-like filo dough pockets filled with savories like mushroom and onion, cheese, spinach and feta, potato. They come in bite-size and hand-held size. Some fillings are sweet with jams and fruit butters, some have nutella or chocolate centers. A popular variety is the pizza boureka, and they are all best eaten piping hot.

Would you believe, that the rabbinate (board of Chief Rabbis) ruled in 2013 that each type of boureka has to have a pre-determined shaped based on the filling (the triangular are dairy; the square are potato; semi-circles are mushroom; pizza spirals; fruit filled have open patchwork on top)? That way, people would not get confused? Oy va voy! I’m so confused…..

Are you ready for the eggs? Another national dish is shakshuka. There are several different takes on this, but basically it’s a mildly spiced tomato sauce with eggs cracked on top and cooked by the heat of the sauce. Sop it up with that hearty bread. Put a spoonful of white labaneh cheese on top.

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I love chavita (khah vee tah), our version of an omelette. I’ll include the recipe at the end. For those who want breakfast to go, try sabikh. It’s a warm, thick (think eating a cloud) pita stuffed with pieces of boiled potato, grilled eggplant, hard-boiled egg and tehine on top. And pickles. And Israeli salad. Sometimes fries. Serious food for starting the morning. Street food. Great breakfast.

Yes, there are fruits. All seasonal. Melons, fresh dates, figs, stone fruits, pomegranate, mango in the summer. In the winter dried fruits, stewed fruit compotes, citrus and apples. Sweets. Pastries and quick breads and cakes and rugelach. DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT EATING THE HALVAH!!!!!! One of my favorites since I was a kid. Halvah is made of sesame seed paste and honey compressed to form a brick shaped bar of awesomeness. Flavors that are traditional are plain, chocolate, marble, pistachio, and espresso. Now you can get many different flavors (Halvah King, Mechane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem) like chile, passionfruit, whiskey, cherry….there are over 100 varieties!

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I’m sure by now you’re thirsty. Very, very thirsty with all that salty cheese and fish, the humus and the halvah. Every Israeli breakfast comes with freshly squeezed juices. Max likes apple carrot. I prefer the lemon with fresh ground mint over ice or the orange pomegranate. John, well he sticks to plain old orange, which if you’ve ever tasted the Jaffa Orange isn’t so plain, nor is it old. Add tea or coffee. No Starbucks here. The coffee is usually a strong Turkish blend with cardamom. Or have it aufrukh, upside down, a cross between a cappuccino and a latte with lots of foam on top.

From the grand hotels to the small cafes, to the kibbutz or bed and breakfast, this meal is usually a big deal. The kibbutzniks used to work very long, hard days in factories or in the fields, and needed hearty fare to keep them going until the afternoon. Most all of the food was locally sourced, seasonal, and abundant. The Israeli breakfast has become this country’s gift to the culinary world. When people come visit, I serve a big breakfast. It’s how we roll now. Lunch here is a medium sized meal, or is grabbed on-the-go like falafel or shawarma. Many people have their breakfast early and lunch around 1:00-3:00. Shops, clinics, government offices close during the hottest part of the day so people can pick up kids from school, run errands and eat lunch. Dinner is usually a smaller, large snack affair… unless of course, it’s a special occasion.

But if you visit Israel, and I hope you do, make sure you sample Israeli breakfast at several different places. You’ll fall in love and never want to leave. That’s a promise!

 

                             GALILEE CHAVITA (serves 1)

  • 1 large egg, cracked into a bowl and scrambled
  • 2 TBSP raw red/purple onion minced very finely
  • 2 Tbsp assorted fresh herbs, chopped very finely – Parsley, chives, and either thyme, oregano or basil are good.
  • 1 tsp butter or PAM
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a small skillet sprayed with PAM or coated in melted butter. Pour the scrambled egg in and let sizzle. Do not mix!!!! you can tilt the pan a little bit, or move the edge a wee bit with a fork so extra runny egg will cover the pan, but just leave it to bubble and sizzle. Add the chopped onion and herbs all over the top. Turn off the heat and let the herbs and onion sit a bit. Season with salt and pepper. Can be folded in half and served as a sandwich between pita or bread. I like mine plain with a chopped Israeli salad and a ramekin of goat yogurt on the side. (The onions should keep their crunch)

SHAKSHUKA (my favorite recipe is Yotam Ottolenghi’s, serves 4)

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  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 190 ml olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 red & 2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into thin strips
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs thyme, leaves plucked
  • 2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander/cilantro, chopped
  • 6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt & pepper
  • 8 eggs

In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin seeds on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and two tablespoons of the coriander/cilantro, and cook on high heat to get a nice color. Add the tomatoes, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low heat 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorsome. Break the eggs into the pan (can split into four individual little skillets and crack 2 eggs onto each). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook gently on low for `10-12 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with chunky bread.

 

When I have guests, I usually make this Broccoli Egg Cake, my version of Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower cake (not a cake at all). It keeps well in the fridge and can be enjoyed hot or cold.

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Broccoli Egg Bake  (serves 6-8)

  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1 bunch broccoli
  • 1 red/purple onion
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 7 eggs
  • 120 g/1 cup flour
  • 1/3 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 150 g/ 1 1/2 cups grated gouda cheese
  • 100 g 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 75ml / 5 Tbsp  olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp nigella seeds
  • 1 Tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 180*/400*F.

Cook the broccoli in florets in a large pot of salted boiling water. Simmer for 506 minutes until the broccoli has softened a bit. Strain and run the florets under cold water. Drain well.

Cut 4 round slices off one end of the red onion. Set aside. Chop the rest. Place in a small pan with the rosemary and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, until soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

Beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Add the chopped basil ribbons, flour, turmeric, salt and pepper. Mix until you have a smooth batter. Fold in the onion and cheeses carefully. Do not overmix! Add the cooled broccoli and fold in thoroughly. Do not break up the florets.

Line the base and sides of a springform pan (9 1/2 inch/ 24 cm) with parchment paper/ baking paper. brush the sides with melted butter. Sprinkle the nigella and sesame seeds on the bottom and sides so they stick to butter. Pour in the broccoli egg batter, spreading evenly. Arrange the onion rings in concentric circles over the top. Place in the center oven rack and bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown, puffy, and set. Remove from oven and let cool before releasing from pan.

 

 

 

 

Sheba: The Queen in Israel

The central part of Israel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv is known for its hospitals and excellence of medical care. I grew up knowing of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem – my parents were big donors. But there is also Shaare Tzedek, Beilenson, Ichilov, and Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. When my husband was diagnosed with Stage 3+ cancer, we made the immediate decision to transfer from our hospital in the North to Sheba. It required some pull (proteczia) from friends who knew people there, but we were able to get an immediate appointment, thank the Lord.

Sheba Medical Center, the largest hospital complex in the Middle East (and the largest I’ve ever seen), was first established as a triage and military hospital in 1948 in military barracks and quonset huts for casualties from the Israeli War for Independence. In 1953, it also began to take on civilian patients. Today, it sits on a 163 acre campus east of Tel Aviv. With over 125 departments, Sheba has been rated in the top ten medical centers of the world by Newsweek. It is number four in cancer care worldwide. It is a city unto itself, complete with its own infrastructure.

John and I were more than a bit overwhelmed by our first visit – just trying to find our way around this huge campus was daunting. However, we were immediately put at ease, as an entire personalized team had been pre-assembled for John which included his own oncologist (world famous, Dr. Anat Shmueli who specializes in colorectal cancer), radiologist (Dr. Jacob Lawrence also only sees colorectal cancer patients…he’s the best!), surgeons, dietician, nursing staff, social worker, acupuncturist, alternative medicine specialist, spiritual advisors (there is a panel of rabbis, priests, pastors, imams and other spiritual leaders), and our personal patient coordinator. We understood from the beginning that theirs would be a holistic approach to healing, leaving nothing out. Unlike many of the hospitals here in the North, everyone is completely fluent in English. All the signs and paperwork are in English and Hebrew, which was a huge improvement for us. Cleanliness and efficiency are all top notch. All of our paperwork was handled the first day, so there was not the typical delay in getting referrals, approvals for each doctor and procedure, and delays in appointment and treatment protocols. It was all handled for us.

All of the departments are world class and cutting edge in research and technology. The medical center is home to the National Center for Health Policy and Epidemiology Research; the National Blood Bank; two heart centers; several medical research centers; the world’s largest rehabilitation center; geriatrics; pediatrics; a huge Alzheimer’s center; an eating disorders hospital; and numerous other clinics, both outpatient and inpatient.

Some of the departments, I’ve never even heard of, like the translational medicine center. I guess that’s for people like us who need remedial help with their Hebrew????? No clue…. but I’m pretty sure that if it’s a disease, a treatment for it can be found here.

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Sheba has its own hotel for guests who wish to stay close to their patients. Because it is known for medical tourism (people from all over the world come to be treated here), there is an off-campus “hotel” just for patients who need to be seen on a regular/daily basis for treatment. This full-service hotel is for patients of Sheba only, with full-time nursing staff in house and shuttle to and from the hotel to each building of the hospital. We were advised to have John spend the last two weeks of treatment there, but did not need it (it was all covered under our state medical insurance).

In addition, there are two full shopping malls for all your needs from clothing to books to pharmacies to grocery stores, banks, and a post office. There are full service hair and nail salons, offering free services to cancer patients. Four restaurant courts have a wide variety of Kosher restaurants. Sheba is a little city unto itself.

Because art and music are known to be beneficial to the soul, and have been proven to aid in the recuperation process, there are magnificent pieces of original art in sculpture gardens scattered throughout the campus and galleries along each corridor. It is not infrequently that we heard a classical or jazz quartet in one of the lobbies or courtyards. Pianists, local klezmer groups, and choirs serenade the patients regularly on a volunteer basis. This is a medical center like no other that we’ve visited. Tucked away in nooks and crannies are indoor lily ponds and waterfalls, multi-language libraries, family rooms with interactive games for the children, zen gardens, and all sorts of things to feed the soul and make the hospital stay as pleasant as possible.

Our favorite buildings included the pediatrics wings. the cheerful, brightly-colored sculptures outside (pink alligators climb the wall of the main building), indoor play areas, rainbow colors, and interactive and educational displays are everywhere. There is a full size theater, a puppet/marionette theater, and roaming clowns, mimes and musicians who roam throughout. A small rainbow train takes children and parents from building to building.

For me, the crown jewel (literally) was walking into the newly dedicated Beit Yehuda and Tamar Synagogue. Spectacular, dazzling colors caught me by surprise. The stained glass is everywhere. Modern and reminiscent of the Chagall stained-glass windows at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, it is an artistic masterpiece designed by the German artist, Yvelle Gabriel. The focal point is the cobalt blue, stained glass Aron Kodesh (holy ark that houses the sacred Torah and Haftorah) suspended in mid air. I was up in the balcony (women’s section), but the rabbi told me that when viewed straight on, it appears to be in the shape of a Star of David. The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) is a kaleidoscopic star of reds, oranges, golds and yellows. Other pieces of stained-glass are found throughout the large synagogue symbolizing the journey of the Jewish peoples from the Beginning to modern binary pixels. There is a supernatural, almost cosmic feel to the place. There are study halls adjoining the main worship hall. Services are conducted several times daily as well as Shabbat and holidays. I was able to be present for the morning davening and Torah reading. It was a spiritually uplifting experience in every way.

 

Medical care is open to all. Patients from the Palestinian Authority and Gaza are also treated. And Sheba is not just in Tel Hashomer. There are outposts in Uzbekistan, Mauritania, Equatorial New Guinea, Cambodia, Armenia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka – and a multidisciplinary clinic was recently established in the Ukraine. Docotrs, many specialists in their field worldwide, fly into Sheba Medical Center for further training.

John’s radiation and chemo treatments have been easy going, thank G-d and the staff of Sheba. He has had absolutely no symptoms: no nausea; no hair loss; no low energy; no weakness; no appetite loss; no further weight loss; no ulcerations. This part of the journey has been an answer to prayer. We pray his MRI and PET scan results come back clean and that he will not have to undergo that horrific surgery. It would be a huge miracle, but we wholeheartedly acknowledge G-d’s hand in all of this. We could not have asked for better care anywhere. The oncology center has an on-call hotline for questions that is open 24 hours. We were given many different numbers for who to call/contact directly in case of emergency or just for information or questions. There were always doctors and pharmacists available and a host of nurses on call. I only wish I could say this about the hospitals in the north of the country. Truly, Sheba deserves its rating as one of the top ten in medical care.

 

Searching for Jason!!

When I lived in Los Angeles, there was a game my daughters, girlfriend, and I used to play. It was called “Searching for Jason (Schwartzman).” We’d casually scout him out at record stores, museums, clubs, and on the street. He was one of our favorite actors, starring in many Wes Anderson films. Seeing film, television, and recording stars was no biggie in our area. They were everywhere. But this passtime was different. Not in a stalker kind of way, just a really fun game. Sometimes we got lucky. One of my daughters even got a selfie with Jason. Another struck up a conversation with him at Amoeba Records in Hollywood. And another daughter was good friends with his dog-sitter.

Fast forward to life in Israel. Around the holiday of Shavuot, my son was given a few days army leave. During Shavuot it is customary to pig-out on dairy products (celebrating both the Land of Milk and Honey and the giving of the Torah to Moses – the milk of the Word). So, we decided to take a field trip to a dairy  and restaurant I’d heard of at the little moshav of Bat Shlomo: Schwartzman Dairy, to be exact. Who knows? Maybe I’d chance a surprise Jason sighting!

Bat Shlomo (Solomon’s daughter, named for the niece of Baron Rothschild) lies just south of the Carmel Mountain Ridge, about fifteen minutes from our beloved town of Zikron Yaacov. We pass the exit on the freeway all the time, but as often is the case when you live somewhere, we had never taken that detour to explore – until now. What a treasure the place is! What a history! What a view! And what cheeses! Some of the best in Israel so far….

Situated on a hilltop, overlooking vineyards, olive groves, and wheat fields, we were greeted at the little hamlet by a farmer on a tractor. He welcomed us by telling us the history of Bat Shlomo and proudly explaining how everything eaten at the restaurant is grown on the property.

Moshav Bat Shlomo was founded by a small group of European immigrants in 1889, under the patronage of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. The leaders of this village were the newly married Transylvanian couple, Zelig and Chasida Schwartzman, along with and 64 other pioneers. Theirs was a tough plight as they struggled to build homes and farm amid the roving Arab and Bedouin bands. Regularly, their animals would be stolen, their houses and fields burned during nighttime raids. A watchtower was erected outside the property to insure 24 hour surveillance. The local Ottoman police were sometimes helpful in chasing off and, at times, killing the bandits.

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Zelig & Chasida Schwartzman

The Jewish Effendi – a wealthy Arab (Yemenite) in those days, and friend of the pioneers, Mahmoud Sa’id, helped Zelig Schwartzman legally buy formally undeeded Arab lands – at exorbitant prices. He also gathered together a group of Arabic speaking men to help guard the settlement and settle any disputes between the pioneers and the  nomadic desert tribes. Pillaging and looting were the legacy of these Arabs from ancient times. They would stop just short of murder for fear of blood revenge. So it was with great daring, chutzpah, and steadfastness that these Yiddish-speaking young Zionists worked the land and raised their families. Over a period of many years of backbreaking work, they planted mulberry trees (they had hoped to raise silkworms); they planted vineyards; they cleared the rocky land; dug wells; raised livestock (and kept fresh fish in the stocked fish pool); built stucco homes with red tiled roofs; and created livelihoods.

According to a 1922 census by the British Mandate, Bat Shlomo had a population of 66: 53 Jews and 13 Muslims living together. Today, the original street still exists, with all of the original 14 homes preserved and modernized, or in a state of renovation. Surrounding each home, are lush, verdant landscaped gardens. The crown jewel is the old synagogue, still in use today after over a century. It is a beautiful little village, with many of the residents direct descendent of the original pioneers.

In the center of the main avenue, is Schwartzman Dairy and Restaurant. Going here is an authentically Israeli experience, and a favorite hang-out of locals. Off the beaten path, known by word of mouth. Max and I made the cheese and gift shop our first stop. It was the most eclectic place, literally filled to the rafters with historical memorabilia, photos, and products made on the moshav for sale. Because sheep, goats, and cows are still housed out in the back sheds, there was a plethora of products from salves and soaps to woolens. Also available were a variety of honeys and honey products from local hives; date and carob syrups; different types of olives and made-on-site olive oils. We were able to sample their local reserve and estate wines: Cabernet Francs; Cabernet Sauvignons, all very expensive. There were spices. There were herbal teas, natural remedies, sauces, jellies, tapenade, nut butters and oils, dried fruits and all kinds of jarred relished and pickles – all made on the farm. Add to this an odd assortment of antiques, scales, photographs and other ephemera. It was so crowded with products and visitors that it was a bit claustrophobic, but totally worth it. Would I spy Jason crouching behind the counter or munching on cheese at one of the small tables?

 

The main attraction of the Schwartzman Dairy Store was the cheeses! Oh my goodness!!!! That’s all I can say! Cheese heaven!!!! The two gentlemen behind the counter were none other than the grandsons of Zelig Schwartzman. They sliced up generous samples of sheep milk cheddar, goat toms, parmesan, feta, ricottas, and various other dairy delights. After sampling and purchasing several varieties, some herb-laced, others with nuts and other savories (warning: very expensive! but worth every shekel), we decided to have lunch in their restaurant.

Adjacent to the shop, in the garden patio, covered with a varied assortment of tarps for shade, was the dining area. Crowded with locals, and totally mismatched eclectic, Max commented that this was “so typically Israeli. As far as ambiance, it can’t decide what it wants to be,” which for me, adds to the charm of the place. The tables are an odd assortment of picnic tables, long farmhouse tables and benches, metal fold-outs and cafe bistro tables and chairs. Persian and Arabic carpets as well as Indian fabric, Mexican rugs and vintage American cloths cover the floors and serve as tablecloths. There was a large aviary inhabited by an odd assortment of finches, cockatiels, lovebirds and doves in the center of the restaurant. Old farm equipment and tiki torches mix with totem poles, Israeli flags, old army paraphernalia  and twinkle lights which hang from the trees. There are old Purim and Sukkot decorations hanging, leftover from bygone holiday celebrations. The walls are crowded with fabulous old pictures from the early days of the moshav and vintage 1960 Israeli travel posters. An accordion player and violinist serenaded the guests with Broadway show tunes, Israeli folksongs, Yiddish melodies, and popular American hits from the 1950s-1970s as well as cowboy music and a couple random Tschaikovsky melodies. Strange, but fun. And no local Israeli restaurant would be complete without an assortment of dogs, chickens (and a goat!!!!) strolling through the premises! I searched in vain for a glimpse of Jason enjoying the local delicacies behind the large fern…. nope, just a mannikin clothed as a pirate. How random!!!

Max and I decided to split a Druze-style roll up: we had had others through the years, but this was the absolute best we’d ever tasted. A soft warm, herb-studded dough with fresh melty sheep cheeses, labaneh (the closest way to describe it is a salty thick sour cream), and zataar served with a side of olives and a chopped Israeli salad. For dessert, we tried my two favorite sweets in Israel: knaffe and malabi. Totally decadent and fattening beyond words. Total taste sensation. Sheer melt-in-your-mouth goodness. This did not disappoint. The knaffe was made with homemade halvah on the bottom, rich, salty, melted goat cheese in the middle, and crunchy strawlike phyllo dough threads on top. As if this is not enough, it is then saturated with a sweet syrup. Aaaahhh!!!!! The malabi is best described as a light panna cotta, like a sweet dairy jello. It is usually topped with rose syrup and crushed coconut and peanuts. This version was entirely different. The custard base was much richer, and the toppings included carob syrup and crushed pistachios. I can’t wait to go back for more – after I lose 10 pounds.

We had to take a stroll through the village outskirts to walk off all those calories. Amazing views, almost like Tuscan hills. The farmers were still working to bring in the wheat harvest, bundling up the golden bales in the fields. Peacocks strutted freely along the grounds, and the peals of children’s laughter could be heard in the distance. From the hilltop, the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean sparkled in the distance. It was the most peaceful, beautiful place. I can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time I WILL find Jason-

Scouting Israel

When I was a young teenager, my parents used to schlep me up and down the East Coast of the United States (at my pleading) to Richmond, VA; Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia, PA and New York so I could attend Israeli Festivals and Showcases. They got to visit with family and friends, and I got to have fun. It was at an Israeli Showcase in 1974 that I first encountered Tsofim, the Israeli Scouts. I corresponded regularly with four of them for years, seeing two Scouts every year when they visited the States.

The Tsofim I was friends with fostered my love of Israel and my desire to eventually make Aliyah. Elisheva and Ido eventually “graduated” from the Scouts and entered the IDF. We were all counselors together at Camp Ramah in 1978, and kept in touch until 1982. They were true ambassadors, and both were from the suburb of Tel Aviv, Kiryat-Ono.

Fast forward to today. My husband and I have been making the trip to Sheba Medical Center 5-6 times a week for the past six weeks. Sheba sits adjacent to Kiryat-Ono. And, ironically, I’ve come full circle. From their letters, which I’ve kept tucked away and have been re-reading, Kiryat-Ono was a tiny little middle class village of single family homes and a few apartment buildings. About a twenty minute drive East of Tel Aviv, it was a sleepy little town.

Today, as part of the central coastal plain, where many many Anglos reside, it has become a sprawling upscale metropolitan area, a mix of secular and religious Jews. Anchored by Sheba to the South and the prestigious Bar Ilan University to the North, it is a rapidly-growing family community. High rise apartments are being built at a dizzying pace, and with that, malls, cultural centers, beautiful synagogues, and fantastic restaurants and gourmet foods stores.

And right next door to this strip mall was the Center for Tsofim! As we were looking for a place to eat (KiSu Asian has become our new favorite place), the Scouts had just dismissed and were everywhere! Pre-teens through late high school. Their uniforms had changed only a little bit, and it brought back a flood of memories!!! And here I am! And here they were! I wish I’d kept in touch with my four friends over the years. I only hope they are happily married with families, health and success.

In the center of the city (no longer a quiet hamlet), you can still find the original single family homes and gorgeous tree-lined streets. Some of the older homes are being renovated; others torn down and replaced with bigger, modern villas.

John and I have taken advantage of our time in “the Merkaz” (central Israel) to scout out other areas as well. There’s Petakh Tikvah and B’nei Barak, both growing exponentially from tiny villages in the 70’s to high rise metro areas today. And each city has its unique flavor. Whereas Kiryat-Ono is more like Southern California, B’nei Barak is home to a huge Orthodox Jewish Hassidic community. So much so, that the entrances to the city are closed to driving on Shabbat and holidays. And as the sign says in Hebrew, they mean business (or no business!) -don’t even think about driving there. It’s not going to happen!!!!

On to Holon, just Southeast of Tel Aviv, where we spent a pleasant afternoon. Holon was originally built by Polish Holocaust survivors as an industrial town shortly after World War ll. Known for its textile, metal, and appliance factories, this working class town was repeatedly attacked by surrounding Arab communities during the war of 1948. Today, the city has been transformed into another very upscale urban area with a population nearing 200,000. Besides Hebrew, languages spoken are English, French and Russian.

I had wanted to visit the Israeli Design Museum in Holon for years. Each month features an homage to innovation and design from eyeglasses to timepieces to vacuum cleaners. Its quite unique and interactive displays bring common objects to life. Our time there brought us the design of Dyson -as in household appliances. John, an industrial design engineer, was totally in his element.

Holon also has a fabulous children’s museum and a comic and caricature museum (we didn’t have time for that one). It is home to the Olympic Israeli rhythmic gymnastics team (first place) and has a world-class music conservatory. Violinist Pinchas Zukerman holds master classes for the young students there each summer. There is also a huge children’s theater in Holon. And Holon Cinematique, Israel’s only digital and media arts festival is held annually. It’s definitely a happening place!

We did manage to stroll through Yanit Park, a man-made family water park. Really well laid out and even though it’s in the city, you feel like you are in a tropical paradise with fountains, pools, paddle boats, wave generators and water slides. Holon is made for families, culture, entertainment, and fun.

Still, in the midst of all the new, history is given it’s due. You can visit the old part of the city, now a living museum of historical pioneers’ homes and the monument/museum of Tel Harish where battles for Israel’s independence were fought.

This area is so different than where we live in the North. For a country the size of New Jersey, there’s a seemingly endless amount of variety and diversity! And there are so many more places for us to scout out!

An Early Summer Feast

 

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The last of the Spring holidays is rapidly approaching here in Israel. It has been two months of non-stop festivities beginning with Passover for the Jews, Easter for the the Christians and Ramadan for the Muslims. The Jewish people have been counting the days of the Omer (for the late spring harvest) and working on improving their inner spirituality.

We had an interesting holiday of Lag B’Omer a couple weeks ago, celebrating the Light of the World, and also the life of beloved first century sage, Rabbi Akiva. This festival is usually celebrated with joyous bonfires, singing and dancing. Tragically, for Israel, it was marked by arsonist terrorists setting fire to several communities. The moshav of Mevo Modi’in was utterly destroyed. We know four families who lived there, including the Solomons and Swirskys. Their sons form one of our favorite LA bands, Moshav. Hamas and other terrorist factions in Gaza have been sending over incendiary devices attached to balloons, burning up thousands of acres of forest and farmland.

This week, we are looking forward to the last holiday of the season, Shavuot, where we celebrate the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai; the wheat harvest that has just come in…. as we travel on Route 6 every day, we have seen the gathering and bundling of the golden fields of wheat. It is spectacular!!!!…. the fruits and vegetables coming into season; the summer flowers; the Land of Milk and Honey; the sincere milk of the Word; and the love story of Ruth and Boaz.  And the Christian communities here will be celebrating the Feast of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit fell upon the talmidim of Jesus and upon the congregation of people gathered in Yerushalayim for the Shavuot holiday. Wow! That’s a mouthful!!!

Some religious Jews stay up all night studying Scripture. The seculars (khiloneem) celebrate the agricultural aspects of the holiday with parades and floats and lots of flowers. And EVERYONE enjoys eating dairy products!!! Lots of dairy!!! Cheese platters; cheesecake; noodle puddings; cheese blintzes; and interesting regional specialties. So, without further ado, here are some amazingly delicious and culturally different recipes I’d like to share with you:

LAYALI LAVAN

This recipe comes from Lebanon. the Jewish refugees that escaped persecution from the Arabs in the 1940s-1950s brought this exotic and romantically delicious recipe with them.  On a warm summer evening, eating it is like flying on a magic carpet with your lover into the sunset. It’s just that awesome!!!     8-12 servings depending on how big you slice it-

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3/4 cup cream of coconut/coconut cream – 2 cans
  • 3 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3/4 cup solet (semolina)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup ground pistachios
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons rose water (available in MiddleEastern/Indian stores or Trader Joe’s in the U.S.)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons orange blossom water (available in Middle Eastern/Indian stores or Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 1/2 cups milk (can go vegan by using unsweetened almond, rice or coconut milk)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Chill the cans of coconut cream in the fridge for several hours or overnight. You need the cream to be cold enough to completely separate from the liquid below. DONOT SHAKE can!!! Open and remove the solidified cream to a large mixing bowl. Discard the liquid or reserve for other use. Using a hand mixer, whip up the coconut cream just as you would make dairy whipping cream. When thick and fluffy, set in fridge to keep chilled.
  2. On a medium-high heat stove, whisk together the milk, semolina and salt in a large pot. Bring mixture to a rapid boil, stirring constantly. Make sure it does not burn!! As soon as the mixture reaches a boil, remove from heat and stir in the dried cranberries, rose water, orange blossom water, and orange zest.  With a rubber spatula, turn the mixture into a 9X13 inch baking dish. Smooth the surface so all is even. Allow it to cool to room temperature 25-45 minutes. Once it has cooled enough, take the whipped coconut cream from the fridge and spread an even layer overtop the semolina milk surface. Cover and chill in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight.
  3. For the super delicious syrup: Make this right before serving. It will be poured, warm and fragrant over the dessert just prior to serving. In a small saucepan, put the sugar and gently pour the water overtop, adding the freshly squeezed orange juice. Cook on medium high heat without stirring. As soon as the syrup reaches a rolling boil, reduce the heat to simmer as you swirl the pan to just mix the ingredients. Add 1/2 teaspoon each of orange blossom and rose waters. Let come to room temperature…but still slightly warm, and put into a lovely small pitcher.
  4. To serve: Slice up squares of this rich custardy dessert and carefully transfer to individual plates. Decorate with chopped pistachios. I like to add a small amount of dried rose petals (unsprayed!!!) from the garden for that pop of color and romance. Drizzle with (pour it on, baby!) the fragrant syrup and enjoy!

 

The next recipe comes from the Persian Jews. It is very different to the Western palate, but I just adore this one!! Besides being a tasty coffee latte drink you’ll probably never see at Starbucks, it’s beautiful to present with slices of poundcake or a few plain cookies or macarons. A delicious summer drink! Serves 2.

             PERSIAN PINK SPICED ROSE & CARDAMOM LATTE

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 shots espresso coffee or turkish coffee powder
  • 8 cardamom pods or 3/4 teaspoons dried cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon rose water
  • 1/2 teaspoon beet juice or red food coloring
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons dried unsprayed pink or red rose petals, crushed
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium saucepan, pour the milk, rosewaterand cardamom along with the beet juice (which I use) or food coloring and honey. Stir until well combined and warmed. Do not allow it to boil! Remove from heat, and if you are using cardamom pods, remove the pods with a spoon. Whisk with a hand-held frother or immersion blender for a few seconds to froth up.
  2. Pour an espresso shot into each cup or glass. Spoon the warm pink froth over the top and sprinkle with rose petals. Place a small sprig of thyme on top.

 

On Shavuot, the Russians eat cheese blintzes with cherry sauce on top. These are thin crepe-like pancakes filled with sweetened ricotta cheese or fruits. Both varieties are available in the frozen foods section. I love to make pre-packaged sweet potato ravioli with a sage-infused cream sauce or a cheese tortellini with a basil-pesto infused cream sauce. Both are equally delicious.

My Christian friends living on the shores of Lake Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee celebrate the Pentecost by eating freshly caught lake fish (Dennis, Amnon or St. Peter’s Fish) covered with a red tomato sauce to remember the tongues of fire that alit atop the disciples’ heads. I believe a sole, halibut, flounder or tilapia (any white fish) will be a tasty substitute.

 SPICED WHITE FISH IN TOMATO SAUCE  serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 fillets of firm, white fish
  • 7 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon caraway or fennel seeds, roasted in a pan for 1-2 minutes
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • small green chile pepper, seeded and chopped(remove the seeds & don’t touch your face! Wash hands well!!)
  • 3 tablespoons of flour or semolina, which is traditionally used
  • 150 ml/ 5 oz. water
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons silan (date syrup) or honey
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • lemon wedges
  • handful/bunch chopped fresh coriander/cilantro/cuzbara leaves
  • salt 7 pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil with chopped garlic, spices, and chili and blend to a paste by spoon or in a food processor. In medium-large pan, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil. In small bowl combine the flour or semolina (preferred) with salt and pepper and dredge the fish in this mixture. Sear the fillets on both sides in a hot pan until golden brown in color. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to absorb excess oil.

Heat the rest of the oil in the pan. Add spice paste mixture and stir for about 30 seconds. Stir in the water and tomato paste. Add the silvan or honey and lemon juice and let simmer. Salt and pepper to taste, if necessary.

Add the fish fillets to pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer, cover and let cook through about 15 additional minutes.Remove fish to plates, pouring the red sauce over top. Garnish with lemon wedges and chopped herbs. A traditional accompaniment to this is ptitptitim, or a very fine grain couscous. Of course, no Middle Eastern feast is complete without a bazillion different varieties of fresh olives; eggplant salads a million ways to Sunday; pickled carrots, turnips and cabbages; humus and pita and steaming hot Turkish coffee spiced with cardamom!

As the Jews say, “Khag sameakh!” and as the Christians say, “Happy Feast!”

 

 

If You Build It, They Will Come

There’s a standard joke in Israel that our national bird is the crane. It sure seems that way, as giant cranes can be found everywhere. There’s definitely a construction boom going on here. Where there were once barren mountaintops and desolate beaches, in the past four years, whole new cities are springing up.

With Anti-Semitism reaching record highs across Europe and in the United States, now is the time for Jews to plan making Aliyah to their homeland. And Israel is certainly getting ready for them. We pass one of these new communities every day on the way to Tel Aviv. Halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv on the new Route Six superhighway, an eight minute drive to the beautiful beaches of Caesaria, is Harish. Built on a mountaintop with sweeping views in all directions, this new city is geared for affordable housing for young families.

Yesterday we decided to investigate this brand new master-planned community. Wow! Just two years old, and already with a population of almost 12,000, the developers are expecting Harish to reach maximum build-out within ten years with a population of 100,000! The neighborhoods are arranged in high rise apartments; large single family apartment condos, duplexes and townhomes. Each neighborhood boasts spacious parks and playgrounds, kindergartens, elementary schools and gorgeous synagogues.

There is a huge mall going up. The main boulevard in town is lined with shop spaces for rent. These will eventually become sidewalk cafes and restaurants as well as retail and service establishments. The city has Macabi, Clalit and Meuchedet health clinics and a wide variety of city offices and services. There will be an immigrant absorption center with Ulpan Hebrew classes. There is so much potential here.

Everything is state-of-the-art, with modern conveniences suited to the Western lifestyle. A diverse and pluralistic community, Harish is open to all Israelis, Jewish and non-Jewish; religious and secular. There are already two large community centers, with plans for four more. Also in the works are sports facilities and health club/spa. Shopping markets flank each neighborhood. A hotel will be built in the next year.

So, how affordable is affordable? A lovely 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment condo with large balcony and additional reinforced safe room( all new construction is mandated to include a safe room) can be expected to go for around $250,000 USD. There are also full-service luxury apartments and penthouses for the ultra-discriminating. Plenty units, varying in style and size, are also available for rent. The city has its own bus lines, taxi services, and is right off the main highway for ease of commuting. There will be a cultural arts center and multiplex cinema.

Because green space is so important to Israelis, the city will be fully landscaped with walking trails connecting each neighborhood and hiking trails just outside Harish. It’s beautiful to see all the young families: little children riding bikes an the sidewalks; lots of families out for sunset strolls; large groups of kids playing unattended in the parks. It seems to be quite a safe environment with a free and easy lifestyle. It is a great opportunity as there is a tremendous need for doctors, nurses, teachers and service providers. An excellent chance to enter on the ground floor of an up-an-coming place.

There are towns like this springing up throughout Israel. And every existing city’s horizon is lined with the ubiquitous cranes hovering overhead. So, the country is awaiting this huge influx of immigrants. Hopefully, many people will heed the signs of the times and make the move soon. Israel is a wonderful place to live. For more information on this town, see Harish.co.il. There is even a button for English!!! Also, for info on this place, all other cities, or info on immigration to Israel, I highly recommend the agency, Nefesh B’Nefesh. They can be found at non.org.il. and on Facebook and Instagram.