Ecological Wonders for a New Year

We are about to celebrate the new year here in Israel in the middle of January. And it’s not January 1. You see, in Israel, according to the Jewish Biblical calendar, there are actually four new years – ways of marking the passage of time. Are you thoroughly confused yet??? The spiritual new year, Rosh HaShannah, comes on 1 Tishrei, a Hebrew month usually falling in September. It is commemorated by going to synagogue and praying for G-d’s blessings as we turn fully to Him. Then there’s 1 Nissan which falls in the springtime, and corresponds with the exodus from Egypt and the Passover. The first day of the month of Elul, in late summer is a new year for animals (pre-dating St. Francis by milennia) and was the time for the ancient tithing of livestock. Lastly, the 15th day of the month of Sh’vat is the new year for trees! You read that correctly: a new year’s day for trees!

Next week marks our holiday of ”tu b’Sh’vat,” in the middle of winter, the middle of our rainy season. The ground has softened, the sap has begun to rise, and the fruits are just bursting forth in their nascent stages. We celebrate the festival by eating different fruits indigenous to the Land of Israel and by planting trees. Lots of trees! And bulbs! Children are out of school and you can see groups of people everywhere with shovels, on their knees, digging holes, planting precious trees…in the most unlikely of places, too! You see, here in Israel, most people are very environmentally conscious and very much lovers of nature.

Still, it was a huge surprise for us to see what is happening in the desert during our trip to the South last month. We spent three days in the Negev, and were astounded by the modern-day ecological and sustainable miracles that Israeli ingenuity is doing there – projects that can effect the entire world for the good! About an hour’s drive south of the Dead Sea, in the Arava part of the Negev (Jordan rift valley on the eastrn border) is an area called the Badlands. That’s exactly what it looks like- an uninhabitable sandy wasteland. A land where movies have been filmed because it looks like it’s from another planet!

We were butted up against the eastern border of Israel, driving along the Peace Route. This border was created on 1 September, 1922, when the British Mandate separated Transjordan from Israel. The border in the Arava is in the center of the lowlands formed by the Syrio-African rift, a deep crevice in the earth’s crust starting in Turkey and ending in Mozambique in Africa. This rift valley was formed eons ago by the movement of the edges of two tectonic plates. On 26 October, 1944, a peace treaty between the Kingdom of Jordan and Israel was signed. Ironically, for a Peace Route, much of the area is barbed wired off because of mines which were planted by the PLO in the 1960s.

Still, the landscape was stunning. The red sandstone mountains of Edom in Jordan to the east and the white mountains of the Negev to the west frame the valley. Our first stop was Moshav Hatzeva, founded in 1965 as a farming outpost protected by the IDF. Today this agricultural community extends over 1,500 acres. Yes. In the desert! Israel is farming productively in the middle of the desert! Food is now grown here, supplying not only Israel, but also for export to other countries in the Mideast, Africa and Europe. KKL-JNF (the Jewish National Fund) built the Hatseva Reservoir which receives floodwaters that flow in the winter. Using this huge reservoir as well as desalinated and gray water, the desert is able to bloom.

John and I stopped at the Peace Pavilion, a joint US-Australian project that overlooks the moshav. From the plateau, a sea of green and what looked like water (actually the sun’s reflection on the white tent rows) stretched for miles below. We were surprised and filled with pride to see the marker adjacent to the pavilion: the funds for the development of this vast irrigation project was funded by the generosity of the Los Angeles Jewish communities. Way to go, Angelenos! All those water certificates sent as Bar Mitzvah and birthday gifts and for memorials for loved ones went here. Our dollars in action!

We just HAD to drive down to the valley floor to get a closer look. Rows and rows of beige canvas tents and white plastic greenhouses greeted us. Some were empty, awaiting new seedlings. Others were filled with all sorts of herbs, fruits and vegetables in various stages of growth. We saw cucumbers, tomatoes and beans growing vertically to conserve space. There were scores of varieties of eggplants. Strawberries hung suspended from what appeared to be white plastic gutters. Hands of bananas hung ripening in huge bunches from squat trees. Citrus fruits were nearly bursting from the branches of tented citrus groves. And the date palms! These farmers were even growing corn. In the sand! Vegetables that typically grow in the heat of summer thrive here in winter.

The farmers here use a variety of agricultural techniques. Drip irrigation, the main way of irrigation, delivers specified amounts of water directly to the root system of the plant through carefully placed hoses. Watering is also carried out hydroponically. Here the roots grow in long tubes which carry recycled and recirculated water. There are also misting systems sending microdroplets to the plants during the hottest times of day. Most is computerized to fit timed requirements. Tents not only provide needed shade, but prevent rapid evaporation due to both blistering sun and driving winds. It’s a grand experiment with equally grand results providing nutritious food to many areas in the world that would go without. Such ingenuity! And it’s all sustainable! Earth friendly!

From Moshav Hatzeva we drove to Ein Yahav, another desert farming community that is absolutely thriving! It takes a certain sort of person to live out here in the middle of nowhere, so to speak. But this date-producing moshav is growing and prospering in every way. New neighborhoods of single-family homes and duplexes (large single-family homes with a shared wall) are being built. There are neighborhood restaurants, a pub, grocery stores, clinics, post office and a new strip mall with cafes and glideria (we Israelis love our glida, or ice cream!), toy store and handcrafts shop. We saw the community synagogue, parks, neighborhood swimming pool, rec center and schools. A thriving community made from dates where children of all ages roam free, and every family drives around in little golf carts!

Not missing an opportunity to experience the local color, I went to the shopping center. i had the best glida, a soft goatmilk ice cream sprinkled with fresh cantaloupe and halvah and drizzled with techineh. Can you say Paradise? The store selling local handcrafts got me next. With an eye-catching display of soaps (CAMEL MILK soap! Hey we are in the desert!), desert-sage sticks, desert plant teas, dates, and ceramics, I gladly emptied my wallet. The prices were very friendly and quality amazing. All the people we met were friendly and all spoke English. And of course we went into the date store and bought a couple boxes of dates and a bottle of silan date honey so we could celebrate Tu b”Shvat and the wonders in the Israeli desert.

Desert Wanderings

A friend of ours up here in the north of Israel wanted to tour the Negev area for a few days before he moved back to the States. He rented a large apartment just southeast of Beersheva and said we could come down and take one of the guest bedrooms. So, why not? We jumped at the opportunity. In my last blogpost, I wrote about the Yatir Forest, an immense manmade forest planted in the desert and an organic herb farm and world-class winery there. But there were more surprises in the land of Bedouins and camels than just the Yatir Forest.

John and I have taken upon ourselves to read through the entire Scriptures in one year. And not just to read the Bible, but to visit as many of the sites mentioned as we could. We wanted to get a real feel for the Land, the People and the stories – up close and personal – to be able to internalize what we’ve been reading. What an incredible gift it has been!!! In the books of Kings and Chronicles, especially, as we read through the actual historical accounts, I kept coming across qthe term ”high places.” It was a term I just glossed over and took for granted. Tel Arad changed that.

A high tel or hill(Hebrew) rises from the wide expanse of desert plain. It is a perfect spot, once settled and fortified, for defense because it provides a 360* lookout. It is one of the high places. Tel Arad is made up of two components: at the base of the mountain are the ruins of an ancient Bronze Age civilzation dating back to the third millenium BCE with a large Canaanite city built over it, and at the top, a huge fortified city from the Israelite period and time of the kings (12th century – 6th century BCE).

Why the Bronze Age inhabitants disappeared, know one knows, but the Canaanites built over top the remnants 1500 years later. A thick, double-layered wall runs along the perimeter of the village at the tel’s base. At various intervals along the wall and at the entrances to the city were once semicircular guard towers. A deep well and cistern which collected the rain runoff provided water for this desert community. Close in proximity to the Dead Sea, the Canaanites traded asphalt from there to the Egyptians who used it for mummification. There is evidence of small one-story and two-story residences, as well as larger living complexes with severals rooms and courtyards. There was a cultic worship area with the remains of two platforms with altar and nearby basins as well as shrine areas for idol worship. Arad is first mentioned in the Torah, in Numbers 21:1-3 ”…the Canaanite king of Arad, who dwelled in the south, heard from the spies that Israel had entered the land. And he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners…and Israel conquered them and their cities.”

Climbing up the mountain was no small feat for me, but eventually we reached the smaller, square Israelite fortress constructed during the reign of King Solomon. It was built as a royal citadel to block any invaders, Moabites and Edomites from the Southern Negev coming into Judah. Two incredibly important discoveries were unearthed here that cement Arad to its Biblical references. The first finding was a pile of 107 ostraca, pottery shards of historical account and basic bookkeeping written in Both Hebrew and Aramaic. Some contain instructions for the disbursement of grain, oil and water to the troops stationed there. Others, dated to 600 BCE, were letters written to the commander of the garrison, Eliashiv son of Eshiahu. A seal was also found here bearing his name. Another had an inscription which mentioned a ”House of YHVH” that was there.

During the period of the Israel’s kings – found in the Bible in the first and second books of Kings as well as in First and Second Chronicles – several of the rulers decided of their own volition to build their own temples, alternatives to traveling to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount for Jewish worship, sacrifice and pilgrimage. The temple at Arad is a perfect example of this. With our guidebooks, our Bible and well-marked signs (in English!), we were able to fully comprehend what we were seeing.

Not built according to the standards given by G-d to the Jewish people for authentic worship, the Tel Arad temple is completely out of scale and layout for the Holy Temple. This place was an extra-Biblical Jewish-pagan hybrid. It did have an altar for sacrifice and an inner sanctum, their version of the Holy of Holies. Two incense altars and a standing stone (the originals are now in the Israel Museum) were found in situ. The incense altars had a cannabis/frankensence remains, so was used for enhancing ecstatic states. There were two standing stones: a monument to G-d and one, a shrine to, Asherah, a pagan fertility god.

“And in every city in Judah he (King Ahaz) built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and aroused the anger of the Lord, the G-d of his ancestors.”

– 2 Chronicles 28:25

“ In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign for forty years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Tziviah of Beersheva. And Jehoash did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him. But the high places were not taken away: the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places.

– 2 Kings 12:1-3

During Josiah’s rule, the high places with their cultic worship were torn down, the temple at Tel Arad was buried, but this would only be temporary. It would be uncovered under successive kings and rededicated. Despite the warnings of the prophets, the high places were never fully destroyed. Under Israeli King Jehoash, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar would sweep down and destroy the Southern Kingdom, taking the Jewish people away captive in 598 BCE.

Centuries after the Jews abandoned Tel Arad, the Greek Hellenists, then the Romans claimed the mountaintop. Both invading armies built on top of the Hebrew’s fortress, reclaiming the parts that were still intact. It fell into disuse over the years, then was retaken by the Ottoman Turks. Eventually that, too, was abandoned.

The December sun was casting long shadows as the afternoon grew on, and we had to meet our friend in Beersheva for dinner. It was a good half an hour drive back and Marc had found a wonderful authentic Indian restaurant, vegan and kosher. It’s name Hodoo haK’tannah, Little India in Hebrew. It’s owners are members of the tribe of Menashe, whose wanderings took them to at part of the world for nearly 2000 years. Most of the Bnei Menashe have returned home to Israel in the past 18 years, and are observant Jews. We ate out of doors and the food kept coming. Most was highly spiced, but we shared dish after dish of deliciousness. After this grand adventure, I was thoroughly stuffed… and completely exhausted, but couldn’t wait to see what surprises the next day’s travels would bring.

The Desert Forest

Israel is truly a land of the miraculous on so many different levels. What was just a century ago a barren dry desert, has become through ingenuity, a powerful vision of the future, hard work and Divine Providence, a fertile and prosperous country. The people of Israel have always valued nature and green space. The early pioneers of the late 1800s and early 1900s labored under grueling extremes of temperature, lack of fresh water, malaria and Arab Bedouin attacks to drain swamps, clear rocky soil and bring irrigation to the parched land to plant fields and orchards, forests and parks.

The first Prime Minister of Israel, David BenGurion, had a dream to turn the Negev Desert into a vibrant, flourishing place where people could live and thrive. Through the generosity of donors to the non-profit Jewish National Fund (JNF/KKL), tens of millions of trees have been planted throughout the country. The most visionary and near- impossible feat, the creation of a ’green lung’ – an entire forest planted in the sands of the Negev Desert!! – has been the most spectacular, gaining recognition from environmentalists worldwide.

The Yatir Forest is named after the Levite Biblical city whose ancient ruins from the times of Joshua were discovered there. It lies south of Jerusalem and northeast of Beersheva, on the southern edge of the Hevron Mountain slope. It is the land Abraham and the Patriarchs of the Jewish faith traveled and sojourned, today the Upper Negev Desert.

The land in the upper Negev is made of loess soil. During the winter rainy season, the water creates a crust on the topmost part, causing the rainwater to run off creating flash floods. For years, that rainwater (in an area where there is typically less than 275 mm of rain per year) was basically being wasted. Using the collection techniques from the 5th century BC Nabatean spice traders of collecting the rain in cisterns combined with modern techniques, digging trenches to channel the water into man-made reservoirs, the Yatir Forest was first conceived in the late 1960s. Since then, over 4 million trees have been planted on over 7,500 acres. Many different varieties were selected for this project as the elevation changes from 1200 feet to 2500 feet above sea level. Both the temperature and amount of rainfall vary from elevation to elevation as well. Different species of evergreen trees (Aleppo pine, Jerusalem pine, cypress) as well as deciduous (terebinth, eucalyptus, fig, pistachio, jujube/Christ’s thorn, Jerusalem oaks, carob and tamarisk) have been planted. The trees grow on terraced steps with wide berms banked on each side to maximize water retention and to prevent flooding and soil erosion. Three weeks ago, we visited the region. It was spectacular to actually see what we had read about!

Most of the coniferous trees we saw were shorter and thinner than their American counterparts, but just the fact that they are able to grow at all here was incredible. Five hiking trails of varying difficulty wind their way through the Yatir Forest, including Israel’s National Trail which spans the country from North to South. The forest is an environmental wonder. Not only are their many designated hiking and picnicking areas, but the composition of the soil itself has changed. Where once was rock and sand is now richly composted loam due to the tree roots, decaying leaves and underbrush. Animals not seen in the area for centuries, like certain fox and salamander species, some thought extinct, have returned to the forest. Not only the landscape, but even the climate has changed. The temperature variations in this microclimate are now less extreme. It is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter here, and the oxygen levels have increased, cutting down the carbon levels in the atmosphere. Scientists worldwide are now studying this ‘experiment’ in reforestation to help fight climate change.

The trees of the Yatir Forest are all tagged and the land meticulously cared for. Any unhealthy trees are removed or treated, and the underbrush is also managed. Bedouins who live in the area graze their goats and sheep in the forest. They are allowed to chop down a certain amount of timber each year for cooking and heating wood, thereby thinning out the thicker parts of the woods. The animal dung also aids in fertilizing the soil. It has become a win-win solution for all.

In the early 2000s, a 650,000 cubic meter reservoir was added to collect the channeled rainwater and assist with irrigation. In addition, desalinated water from the Mediterranean and gray water from sewage has been treated for use in orchards and vineyards. The Yatir Biological Farm, using permaculture techniques, grows vegetables, olives and herbs which are used in the manufacture of medical tinctures and essential oils. Several vineyards have sprung up in what was desert just a few decades prior. The elevation and chalky, calcium-rich soil is the perfect medium for the vines.

At the recommendation of our friend, Saher, we made reservations at the Yatir Forest Winery, located at the base of the mountain, a 10 minute drive from the forest’s vineyards. Saher makes a special 3 1/2 hour trip down from the North twice a year just to buy their wines. And now we know why. It has become one of our top four best wineries in all of Israel. John and I and our friend, Marc, were warmly greeted by Smadar who took us on a personal tour of the whole operation. The small winery began in 2000, a joint venture between local winegrowers from three tiny moshavim or villages in the forest. Today they carry on the winemaking tradition that goes back to the time of the Judaean kings, 2500 years ago. The farmers that lived in the area back then earned their livelihoods through grape and olive production, so wonderful the wine and olive oil were exported to Egypt and Rome. The current output of Yatir Forest Winery is 180,000 bottles per year, enjoyed locally and internationally. The production staff used the down time during COVID when there were no tourists to build the new visitor center and tasting room. The vintner at Yatir, Eran Goldwasser, chooses only the most select grapes grown exclusively in the region. He is now garnering worldwide attention for his output, the wines winning several prestigious awards throughout the world.

A table was set for us with big plates of locally produced cheeses and crackers, olives, nuts and dried fruits. Smadar gave generous pours as she told us about each wine. The Mt. Amasa white, a blend of Vigonier, Rousanne and three other grapes is absolutely the best white wine we’ve had while in Israel. Highly aromatic with a fruity nose with undertones of oak and vanilla, it reminded us of the California varietals that came from the Arroyo Grande vicinity. We bought a case of six bottles… the price was too good for us not to pass up. Their four reds we tasted were all complex and delicious. Great color, body, legginess and nose. The Petit Verdot, with its intense dark purple color and fruit- forward bouquet also had a rich dark-chocolate scent. Blackberries, cherries and chocolate, ripe and full gave a satisfying palette. It also came with a good price tag. We bought a case for special occasions and Shabbat.

Their flagship red, Yatir Forest, received a score of 93 from critic Robert Parker.
The 2016 combines Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, Petit Verdot and Malbec all grown regionally and selected specifically from the best grapes. Aged 15 months in French Oak, it is very drinkable now, but definitely a wine to keep for a few years. Another deep purple/crimson wine, the Yatir Forest had an amazing nose of forest fruits, fragrant leather and oakiness. The taste was spectacular! With a limited edition each year, this wine had a much steeper price.

Such magnificent wines come from vines are uniquely fit for that particular microclimate. The wines are exported to Europe, the United States, Argentina and China. All are Kosher to the highest standards. Representatives from different European and American wineries are now coming to Israel to learn from Yatir Forest on how to shift ways of growing sustainably and ecologically with respect to changing climates.

Israel, tiny though it may be, is truly a land of innovation. It is a testament to vision and perspicacity. It is a fulfillment of ancient Biblical prophecy and a modern-day miracle! As the prophet Amos wrote, ” I will restore the people Israel from captivity. They will plant vineyards and drink of their wines. I will firmly plant them in their own land that I have given them, never to be uprooted again says the Lord.”

Holiday Beauty in Northern Israel

We absolutely love the diversity that is in Israel. There are so many different cultures each with their own unique celebrations and December is certainly the month where this is most visible. This year, we set out to learn about and experience as much as possible. I invite you to come with us as we tour the North.

They say there’s no place quite like Tsfat for Chanukah. One of the oldest cities in Israel, built atop a high mountain overlooking the entire Galilee, it is a very observant Orthodox Jewish city reminiscent of 18th century Europe in many ways. At Chanukah, the whole city is aglow, bathed in the warm candlelight of menorahs perched in every window. It is the most beautiful, quaint, romantic city! Walking tours beginning at twilight are prevalent.

The smell of latkes, potato pancakes fried in oil, hangs heavy in the air as families gather to say prayers, sing songs and light candles. Children dance and sing to street musicians’ Klezmer music. Street vendors hawk trays of piping hot chestnuts and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). There is wine tasting and liquor tasting and beautiful art exhibits to see. If you are lucky, you will come across a group of children playing dreidels (spinning tops) in one of the side alleys. Old men hand out Chanukah gelt, gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins.

Klezmer music Chanukah joy!


From Tsfat, we move down the mountain to the Arab town of Rameh. Northern Israel is dotted with Arab towns: Muslim, Druze, Circassian, Bedouin and Christian. Each village has its own flavor and traditions because the people who have settled there are from different places. There is a large population of Lebanese and Syrian Christians in Rameh, which is home to Melkite Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Latin Rite Catholics. On the eve of December 4, they hold grand celebrations in honor of Saint Barbara. As an aside, we used to live very close to Santa Barbara, California, and often visited the mission there, yet knew nothing about this saint.

Barbara was born in Southern Lebanon, very close to the present-day Israeli border in the early 3rd century. This beautiful young woman had a very wealthy, pagan father who kept her locked away in a high tower to preserve her maidenhood. Somehow, she would sneak away and go to a well where she met a group of Christian girls who told her about Jesus. Barbara became a secret Christian. When her father found out, he had her brutally tortured in hopes she would recant her faith. Every night her wounds would heal. Eventually her father beheaded her. There are many miracles associated with the young martyr, and she is venerated throughout the region.

The Maronite Christians of Rameh hold a Vigil Mass as evening descends on the hills and mountains of the Galilee. Afterwards, there is a candlelight procession through the streets of the village. The priest carries a gold monstrance containing a consecrated communion wafer, the Eucharist, the Body of Christ lifted up high. He walks under a canopy, the four poles held by men of the village. There is much singing in Arabic, songs about Saint ”Boorbar” that are centuries old. At the culmination of the Eucharistic processsion, a feast is put on. The main food eaten is a hot, honey-soaked, boiled wheat dish. I asked several people the significance, but it was difficult to understand, as most of the ladies I met spoke Arabic exclusively. The cooked wheat is topped with different things, mostly pomegranate arils in the shape of a cross; various nuts,pine nuts or dried coconut; raisins, dried cranberries and other fruits; candy, sprinkles, candy, sweets, and more candy,

Because there are so many immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union, many people have brought their traditions with them. Many Jews married outside of their religion under the Communist regime. Many became atheists. More than a few converted or celebrated the Russian Orthodox feasts with their spouses. In Haifa, there is a large Russian Orthodox Catholic group. On December 5, they gather for the Mass and to commemorate St. Nicholas. Following the church service, the priest dresses up as the saint and distributes candy to the children. He enters the darkened church hall carrying a lit candle, representing the saint brining the light of the gospel to the people. To the adults, he gives each a tea light. Everyone gathers in a circle and sings Russian Christmas songs as each candle is lit and the room becomes brighter and brighter. That night, the children go home and leave their shoes outside the door to be filled with goodies (small candy and toys) from St. Nick.

Fr. Sergei as St. Nicholas

One of the holiest places in Christendom is the ancient city of Nazareth. This is the home of Mary and Joseph and the childhood home of Jesus. It is about a half an hour drive from our home, and we understood the city goes all out during the month of December. There are huge nativity scene displays at all the entrances to the city, as well as Israel’s largest Christmas tree and annual Christmas market. Nazareth is also home to the Basilica of the Annunciation, the largest Roman Catholic church in the MidEast. It is built over the remains of the house where the angel, Gabriel, appeared to the virgin, Mary, to tell her of her role in bearing the Messiah. The church has large displays of madonnas (statues, plaques, paintings, mosaics) from all over the world.

In the streets outside are large Christmas markets , wooden stalls where one can buy Christmas ornaments, hand-carved olive wood nativities, arts and crafts, spices, incense, holy oils, food, and of course, Santa hats and suits. By nightfall, it gets very crowded. The place is positively dripping with pork products (pork shawarma, anyone?). There are stages set up for local choirs and dancers in native costume. What would a celebration be without parades? We were absolutely shocked to hear bagpipes!! Because the Scots were here during the British Mandate period, they passed on their love of bagpipe music to the local Arab community. In Nazareth you can see ladies dancing, pipers piping and drummers drumming. It’s all part of the hoopla with fireworks every night.

There are so many Christians here in the Galilee now, and commercialism has taken over the Holy Land. I never remember seeing the Christmas shops and markets that are now prevalent throughout the region. As more money flows into the Arab communities here, upscale European and Western style stores filled with the most gorgeous decorations line many of their streets. Last night, John and I visited two exclusively Christian villages to see their decorations: M’ilya and Fassuta, right up against the Lebanese border. The streets are heavily decorated with beautiful and tasteful white lights. M’ilya is built on the top of a mountain, an old Byzantine turned Crusader village. At its highest point is Château du Roi (see blogpost 13 July, 2021, ”Living Like Kings”) and the Greek Melkite Church. There is a huge Christmas treee and nativity scene. During the weekends, there are visits with Santa and a Christmas market with fireworks.

Last night was our first trip to Fassuta. The residents are mostly refugees to Israel escaping the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s. All are Melkite Catholics. Fassuta is absolutely the cleanest, friendliest, beautiful old city in the Northern Galilee, in our opinion. John and I were only a handful of outsiders visiting, and we were warmly welcomed by Musa Gerais, the town’s treasurer, who personally led us on a tour of the village. The highlights included an old stone chapel, very tiny, lovingly renovated and restored to its original 11th century splendor.

Outside, the town was elegantly decorated. The Sha’ir home was built in1776, renovated in 2019, and arrayed in tasteful holiday splendor. Across, the street was the large MelkiteChurch with a magnificent life-size nativity imported from Italy and a stunning Christmas tree. During the weekends leading up to Christmas, there will also be Christmas markets, street food, staged performances and fireworks.

There are so many more sights, sounds, smells, and celebrations in this part of Israel. Several of the churches in Nazareth and along the shores of the Galilee host classical concerts. The Ethiopian Jewish community celebrate their holiday of Sigd, which usually occurs at the beginning of December. Whether Jewish or Christian, there is more than ample opportunity to learn of the various traditions. Haifa hosts the Holiday of Holidays, in tribute to the three Abrahamic religions and their roots in the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It’s interesting that the main street for this month-long celebration takes place at the foot of the Bahai Gardens.

Chanukah Adventure 2021


For this former homeschooling mom, moving to Israel has been a history geek’s dream-come-true. The place is jam-packed with historical sites from ancient to modern times. I’ve always been interested in the origins of some of the Bible stories I grew up hearing(especially around the festival of Chanukah). I was familiar with the exploits of Judah Maccabee and his band of ragtag fighters; of the valiant heroine Judith; of the high-drama tragedy of Channah and her seven martyred sons, but couldn’t locate any of them in the Scriptures. Aha!!! I discovered them in the Catholic Bible and in the writings of Josephus (Matityahu Josephus Flavius).

John and I have been spending the last couple months pouring over the First and Second Books of the Maccabees and subsequent historical accounts by Josephus. It’s not that the Jews and the Protestants erased these books, per se: it’s just that they don’t rely on them as Canon. Maccabees and Judith are books in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible written by the Hellenistic Jews in exile. They are classified as Apochryphal books by some theologians. Yet these stories have been passed on as an important part of the Jewish oral tradition, and Josephus, a Jewish Israeli historian who wrote for the Romans in the first century, corroborates these accounts. Archeological finds substantiate the rest.

Anyway, that said, it was time for a road trip, our first in months. It would have to be very special – just for Chanukah. Last year we went to Tsfat to find the burial tombs of Channah and her sons, as well as the high cliff dwellings and fortress on Mt. Arbel where the Hashmonean resistance fought off the Greco-Syrian army (see 5 December, 2020 post). This year, it would be Modi’in, site of the battlefields and of the burial place of the Maccabees. Modi’in is now a large, modern city halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Let me take you back in time a couple thousand years.

It began around 167 BCE, when the Greek army under Antiochus arrived in Israel to quell the Jewish forces and colonize the land. Conquering their way to Jerusalem, the Greeks commanded Matityahu, the High Priest, to sacrifice a pig (forbidden meat) upon the Temple altar to their Greek gods. He refused. Antiochus Epiphanes mandated that the Jews would not be allowed to keep their religion. No Sabbath. No Torah study. No circumcision. No weddings or Bar Mitzvahs. Gymnasia would be built. Academia. Pagan temples. Statues of Greek gods erected in the town squares and now-desecrated holy Temple. The elderly priest fled with his sons and the Resistance to the hills and fields of Modi’in to begin their guerilla campaign. After the death of Matityahu, his son, Judah took over as the Jewish leader. They marched into battle against the world’s largest army of the time, carrying flags emblazoned with the words, ”Who is Like Our G-d?” In Hebrew, the phrase is ”Mee camokha ba’alim Adoshem,” and the first letters spell out the nickname ”MaCaBee,” the rulers of the Hashmonean Dynasty. There were many, many battles between the Greco-Syrian army and the Jewish Hashmoneans. The entire war lasted decades after the Temple Mount was reclaimed, cleaned and rededicated. The Books of Maccabees are exciting reading and recount the entire history. Highly recommended!

We decided to make our own personal connection to the narrative and visit the sites. Several surprises awaited us. Following the roadsigns off Highway 433 near Modi’in, we followed a dirt road. Lots of cars were parked on either side, so we knew we’d arrived. John and I were perplexed by what sounded like rave music coming from the woods. Tents. Pop-up campers. Old sofas. Intensely religious Haredi Jews. Hippie families. And in the middle, a large stone structure with a domed top. It was a wild scene. A happening.

We were all here for a special Chanukah experience. The hub of it seemed to be this building, the tomb of the High Priest Matityahu the Macabee. It was a hive of activity, with people going in and out and milling about. A fitting place to start. I lit a candle and said some prayers, prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for protection of this land and her people. Prayers for the wisdom of today’s leaders. It was so moving.

All around were small groups of campers, much like the Macabee band, I thought. Some were praying, a few were studying Scripture. Families were cooking over campfires. Kids were playing in the woods. People were playing instruments. It was all quite loosely organized. Next, John and I made the short drive down the mountain. There were hikers everywhere and even caravans of dune buggies out for fun. We met up with an interesting and friendly group. The men were old army buddies, and each year when school is out for Chanukah, the families all make a camping trip together somewhere in Israel. This is so typical of Israeli life.


I spoke for awhile in Hebrew with the young families.They had come from as far away as the Golan, Judea and Beersheva. And they really wanted a group picture, so i gladly obliged. They pointed us in the direction of the tombs from the Maccabean era, but first a little stop to visit the battlefields along the way. No huge monuments of historical markers as in the United States. Just open spaces with tiny deer leaping across the plains.

No crutches! I’m walking again!! on the battlefields of Modi’in

There was some small Hebrew lettering spray-painted on a rock alongside the road. We almost missed it, but it marked the way to something spectacular: Macabee tombs!!!

The bones had long since disappeared, but the tombs remained. Carved into the stone with huge boulders shaped to cover each opening, the rocky landscape was dotted with the ancient tombs! I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Every so often, between the hewn tombs, were little bone pits. As was the custom, a body would be lowered into the hole then placed into the carved-out slot. The boulder was then rolled over the tomb and left there for a year, after which the bones would be removed and placed into the nearby bone pit. Then the burial site could be recycled for another body.

Did i mention how rockin’ awesome this was? John had so much fun hopping from hole to hole then going exploring. It was hard to keep up. Deep in the underbrush, he found ancient walls, stacked blocks. An old fortress? A synagogue? This is where a guide or an archaeologist would have come in handy. Upon further examination, John found what appeared to be an underground shaft or tunnel. It was blocked by several large round rocks, which of course, he had to try to roll away. Whatever this structure was, had once been quite extensive, judging by the size of the foundation.

Not far from the National Forest is the Hashmonean Village/Museum, a re-creation of an ancient village. There is a fee to enter, but it includes guided tours, static displays, cases of oil lamps, ancient pottery, tools and coins found in the area from that time period.

Not only is this a historical Biblical site, but it was instrumental in the 1948 War for Independence. The Ben Shemen Youth Kibbutz was located here and surrounded by Arab villages. Several important battles were fought here in ’48. Control of the surrounding hills was essential in order to ensure freedom of action at the Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion), and to keep safe passageway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. During the operation, for the first time in history five brigades came under one central command, the nascent Israel Defense Forces.

There is a monument to the young soldiers who fell in this area. Fittingly, it ties the valiant Macabees of old to those who died to secure the land in 1948. Eight concrete flames, like the flames of the Chanukah menorah, rise to the sky. According to First Maccabees 13:28 Shimon, brother of Judah, set up seven pyramid-shaped stone markers for the graves of his family: for his parents, for his four brothers killed in battles- Elazar, Yehudah, Yochanan and Yonatan as well as his own. This modern monument is also an homage to the former.

It’s All About the ”Red Stuff!”

Middle Eastern Red Lentil Stew (vegan!)

Yaakov (Jacob) simmered a stew, and Esav (Esau) came in from the field, and he was exhausted. Esav said to Yaakov, ‘Pour into me now some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted.’(From then on they called him Edom) Yaakov said, ’Sell me today your birthright.’ And Esav said, ’ ’Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?’ Yaakov said, ’ Swear to me this day;’ he swore to him and sold his entire inheritance to Yaakov. Yaakov gave Esav bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and got up and left; thus, Esav spurned the birthright.

Each year we read through the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. I have always loved the story of the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, on so many levels. It’s so descriptive. And I’m a real foodie, so I appreciate that it centers around food – but to sell off my entire inheritance (Esav, the oldest brother was a son of Yitzhak (Isaac), and grandson of Father Abraham, the Patriarch: two incredibly wealthy men). He had to be mighty hangry!!! And that must have been some mighty delish stew!! Each year I try to test a new recipe for that ’red stuff,’ so now I’m going to share three of my favorites. So glad I had this blogpost in reserve to pull out for you all. This year’s trio is decidedly MiddleEastern, as I’m trying to be more authentic and historical. Next year, I’ll actually be up and able to make them… in the meantime, somebody bring some of that mejaddra!!

– Genesis 25:29-33

The first recipe is true Middle Eastern comfort food. I think my tastes are changing a bit from strictly Western to other things. I first had this on my pilot trip to Israel in 2014. I hadn’t really eaten much in a couple of days because I was so on the go, and I was starving. Like Esau. In the ancient city of Tsfat in the Upper Galilee, I met a native Israeli family who invited me in to their home for lunch. They served the most delicious dish: simple home cooking. The perfect, satisfying, filling, comfort food, and so easy to make. It’s not red stew, but a combination of rice, lentils and fried onions. We feasted on freshly-made cheeses, mejaddra, and yogurt. And afterwards the father brought out a carafe of strong Turkish coffee infused with cardamom, which we sipped from tiny demitasse cups while eating a little piece of halvah. It was the best, just an unforgettable moment of Israeli hospitality. So glad I snapped photos of it back then. What I wouldn’t give for this plate of mejaddra now…. I hope you enjoy!

Mejaddra

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 large brown onions (the onions are the star of the show here)
  • 1 cup dried brown lentils (or 1 can lentils, liquid reserved)
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp powdered cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 cups of water or vegetable stock, or if you are using dried lentils, the boiled lentil water)

In separate bowls, soak the rice and the lentils for a couple hours, straining out and changing the water twice. Next, drain off the lentil water and place the lentils in a medium sized pot. Cover the lentils completely with water with a good inch more over the top of the lentils. Add about a tsp salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer and cook about 20-30 minutes until the lentils are tender. NOT MUSHY! Drain off the lentils SAVING THE LENTIL WATER! (If you are opting for the quicker, canned lentils, drain, reserving the liquid.)

Thinly slice the onion. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and flour. Toss to coat the onion in the flour. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or medium sized pot. When glistening, add the onion slices and fry up for 10-12 minutes until the onions are a crispy brown. DO NOT BURN!! Transfer out the crispy onions to a paper-towel lined plate. In the same heavy saucepan in which the onions were cooked, add the cumin and coriander seeds. It should become quite fragrant after heating for about a minute. Now add in the drained rice and the remaining powdered spices. Stir to coat the rice in the oil and spice. Add in the lentils and reserved lentil water. The liquid should measure 3 cups. If necessary, add in more water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff rice. season with salt to taste.

Spoon the rice-lentil mixture onto a large plate or bowl and top with the crispy fried onions. If you’d like, you can top it off with a small handful of chopped parsley or cilantro.

This next soup is more of an accurately Biblical lentil dish. the spices and the red lentils really bring out that glorious color:

Red Lentil Soup vegan

Now this red lentil soup is the real deal. The Red Stuff. Esav’s Bane. True flavors of the Levant. Israeli cooking, whatever that is. It’s fragrant, filling, flavorsome, fantastic. I think once Esav got a whiff of this soup, he was justified in saying, “Just pour it right down my throat, Bro!” Not only a lovely soup, but the lentils are just full of protein, so it is quite life-sustaining.

Jacob’s Big Boilin’ Pot of Red Stuff, aka Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 5 cups vegetable broth (or water or a combo of both)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt
  • 1 lemon, cut up
  • optional garnishes: chopped parsley or cilantro; yogurt; crumbled feta cheese bits (we’re keeping it Israeli)

In a large bowl, soak the lentils for about two hours, straining out and replacing the water at least once. Heat olive oil in a medium/large pot. When glistening, add in the garlic, onion, and bay leaf until the onion is soft and fragrant. Add in carrot slices and cook, stirring about 2-3 minutes. Mix in all the spices with about 1/4 cup of the veggie broth or water. It will be very rich in color and very fragrant. Add in drained lentils and 5 cups of veggie broth or water. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to a simmer and let gently cook on low heat for 20 minutes. The lentils should be tender/ slightly chewy, but not mushy.

I keep the soup chunky. It’s more rustic and has more of a Biblical feel to it that way, but feel free to puree it with an immersion blender. Add salt to taste, and garnish with the chopped herbs. Serve with a wedge of lemon on the side, which can be squeezed into the soup at table. You can also add crumbled (goat) on top. This is great served with light, fluffy Israeli pita and humus (NOT the American cardboard that passes as pita!!) or pieces of crusty, wholegrain bread.

But I like the idea of a red stew. A stick to your ribs kind of meal. Hearty and healthy.

Hearty Red Lentil Stew with Chickpeas and Pumpkin vegan

This is the one! The lentil stew to sell a birthright for …. almost … not quite. But still, this is the one I was making all last winter that is, quite frankly, one of my favorites. It can be made in a crockpot for a Shabbat lunch (perfect for this weekend!). Great lefovers. Freezes well.

We have lots of pumpkin here. Big, huge, light brown monsters that are cut into wedges and sold fresh at the market. Our dlaat is a staple food here. As is the lentil. As is the humus. Not the paste, but the bean. The Hebrew and Arabic word for chickpea is actually humus, pronounced KHOO- moose. I’ve tried to keep this stew as authentically Biblical, using foods indigenous to this region. If you are a geeky homeschool mom (ME!!), then this is a perfect food to cook with the kids as a historical re-creation. Enjoy!!

HEARTY RED LENTIL STEW WITH CHICKPEAS AND PUMPKIN


Ingredients:

  • 1 1/5 cups red lentils
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (15 ounce/ 425 g)
  • 1 kg/ 2 pounds of peeled, chopped pumpkin cubes or butternut squash cubes
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 28 ounce/794 g can chopped tomatoes, with the liquid
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprrika
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • salt, to taste
  • garnishes: lemon wedges; chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro, zaatar), grated nutmeg, (goat) yogurt

In a medium bowl, soak lentils in water for about two hours, changing the water at least once in the process. Heat olive oil on medium high heat until shimmering, then add the garlic and onion, sautéing until soft. Add in the spices and 1/2 cup of the broth to form a red, fragrant paste with the onions. Cook about 2 minutes. Now add the rest of the broth. Mix in uncooked squash or pumpkin cubes, the undrained canned tomatoes, and the drained lentils. Pour the chickpeas into a strainer, drain, and rinse under cold water. Let drain and add to pot. Stir until well mixed. Bring to a slight boil, then turn down heat to low and let simmer at least an hour. Add salt to taste. Cook low and slow, the longer the better, stirring the bottom and sides every half hour to prevent sticking.

Garnish with lemon wedges, chopped herbs, yogurt, or sour cream. Serve with soft, fluffy pita, or a hearty whole grain sourdough. Makes great leftovers. Freezes well. This is also a fantastic crockpot meal for Shabbat.

A Diversity of Cultures

When last I wrote, I think I was still in the hospital – I can’t even remember any more. So much has been happening both globally and domestically in just the past couple months that it makes my head spin! I’m home, post a very extensive back surgery. After putting out a call for meals, I got a few real winners – one, a whole Indian dinner from a Mumbai immigrant that was so surprising and so phenomenal that I promise to devote an entire blog just to her story and her food. She’s in Austria now, but as soon as she returns I hope to be up to spending a day in the kitchen with her, learning her secrets.

This was the BEST Indian food ever!!!! The red at 7 o’clock on the plate is a roasted Tandoori cabbage slice!!!

The diversity of cultures here always astounds me. Israel is truly a melting pot in every sense of the word. Claudia’s family came from from Damascus in 1949. The dishes she brought us are very typical of the cuisine of the region. I found her Makhloubeh , a very simple chicken and rice dish to be entirely flavorsome and entirely satisfying. It’s economical and nicely spiced. She also brought us kishou (KEY-shoo) squash, cored, stuffed with a spiced meat, rice and tomato, swimming in a tomato sauce.

Before I start with recipes, I’d like to share our conversaton. She came up to my bedroom to find out how I was doing. I find Israelis to be much more forward than we Americans. “What did the doctor do? Who was the doctor? Which hospital?”Then, “How was I doing now? Was I swelling? Did I run a fever? (Do you have heat? was how she put it-) Was I going to the bathroom regularly? What was I drinking and eating? Was I getting up and walking?” She’s not a nurse. She’s a tour guide, a beautiful woman in her forties. When she found out I was eating lots of salads and raw fruits, she was horrified (I was trying to keep food prep as simple as possible for my husband, who was lacking in culinary skills). “After surgery, you must only eat hot foods! Cooked foods. Soups. Never anything raw. Certainly never raw vegetables!” I had never heard this before, and she thought I was completely off my rocker for not knowing this fact, although I never did find out why this was. And never, ever, ever, under any circumstances drink cold drinks!!

Anyway, it was so nice of her. And the Makhloubeh was lovely. John was quite impressed and took a picture of it before serving.

MAKHLOUBEH (meat/basari)

The dish is an all-in-one meat, veggie and rice “cake.” The word makhloob means upside down in Arabic. It’s a Middle Eastern comfort food. Many of these recipes are found throughout the Levant, from Iraq to Egypt, with lots of family or ethnic variations: differences in vegetables, meats or spices used. The following recipes were not tested by me, but Claudia assured me they are very easy to assemble. Some of the instructions are from her memory and taste and not measured. Both serve about 6 generous portions.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large potato, peeled and sliced in 1/2 inch/ 1 cm rounds
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced in 1/2 in/ 1cm coins
  • 1 medium brown onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small purple eggplant, sliced
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 small can or package tomato paste
  • 1kg/ 2 pounds chicken, cut up: 2 legs, 4 thighs, cut up, skin on.
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1TBSP salt
  • 1 TBSP black pepper
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin

Slice the veggies. Sprinkle salt on the eggplant and potato; let stand for 5 minutes and then rinse. Soak the rice in a bowl of very warm salted water. In a large pot, add extra virgin olive oil to generously coat the bottom. Heat the oil, then add the onion, potato, carrot and cauliflower. Cook, stirring until slightly soft. Now add the spices. Continue to cook, stirring to coat the veggies. The vegetables will be soft. Add the tomato paste, a heaping serving spoon and stir in. Next add in the eggplant. When all is nice and soft, remove the veggies to a paper-lined platter, leaving the sauce behind. Place the cut up chicken pieces over into the pot. Stir to brown. Add 6 cups of water. Place the lid on the pot and cook on medium heat about 30 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate. Reserve the stock/soup to a bowl.

To assemble the makhloubeh, in the same large pot, add a little more olive oil, layer the vegetables in your desired circular pattern covering the bottom. Then add the layer of chicken pieces (bones and all!) and finally the strained, uncooked rice on top.

To the reserved stock, add another 1/2 tsp salt and some additional cumin, about a teaspoon. Pour it slowly over the vegetable, chicken, rice pot. The stock should cover the rice. If it does not, add a little extra water. Place pot on medium high heat on the stove until just before boiling, about five minutes. Cover pot and let simmer another 40 minutes to let the rice fully absorb the liquid. Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes.

Very carefully place a plate over the pot of makhloubeh and turn upside down. It can be sprinkled with pistachio or almond and and freshly- chopped parsley.

RICE-STUFFED SQUASH (meat/basari)

This reminded me so much of the stuffed vegetables my mother used to make. I haven’t had this in years. I guess it’s Jewish comfort food. But this had a decidedly Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) flavor. The secret here is hollowing out the palm-Sized squash. There is a special coring tool Claudia uses. It cores out the center of the squash, but could also be used on apples, pears, potatoes…In Hebrew the word for squash is kishu, in Arabic, kusa.

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 palm-sized green squash
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 large serving spoon of tomato paste
  • 1/2 kg or 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup white rice, rinsed welland drained
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mint, chopped
  • 2 Tbspparsley, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • lemon juice

Wash and cut ends off the squash. Use the coring tool to remove the inside, hollowing out the meat of the squash so it looks like a tube. Set squashes aside.

In a bowl, mix the rice and onion in with the ground beef. Both will be raw. Add half of the mint, half of the parsley and the salt and pepper. Mix gently with hands to combine. In a large pot, pour in the water and stir in the tomato paste until it resembles tomato juice. Heat until it comes to a boil. While tomato liquid heats up, stuff each squash leaving a little at the ends (an inch/2cm to allow for expansion. Add parsley, mint, a pinch of salt to the liquid. Squeeze the lemon into the tomato broth. You can also add a pinch of sugar. place the stuffed squash into the pot. Cover and reduce heat. Let simmer for 35minutes.

My good friend, Ronnie, is an American, but is married to an Israeli man. She brought over one of his favorite salads -and our too. This one is really quick and easy to make. Perfect for any meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner, and is so healthy! It’s a powerhouse in a bowl. The quinoa and humus ( that’s the actual Hebrew word for garbanzo beans!!) add protein and are filling. The veggies are tomato, red onion and cucumber. Top it off with tiny cubes of bulgarit cheese or its saltier cousin, feta crumbles. And add a simple dressing. It’s absolutely wonderful! I had John do some photos of this one, too.

RONNIE’S QUINOA SALAD (dairy)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 cup small Persian cucumbers, sliced OR 1 English cucumber, chopped
  • 16-20 small cherry tomatoes, halved
  • lemon juice
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh mint or parsley, optional
  • 1/2 cup feta crumbles or bulgarit cubes

Put the water and quinoa with a dash of salt into a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer. While quinoa is cooking 12-15 minutes, uncovered, chop the veggies and add to a bowl. Fluff the quinoa. Let cool. Add to bowl and mix with the vegetables and drained chickpeas. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Drizzle with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the cheese bits. Combine gently. Top off with the mint and/ or parsley, if desired.

Over the past few weeks, my progress has been very slow, but very much forward. I tire very easily, and realize I’m not as young as I used to be. My husband, John, has been an absolute tsaddik, righteous person, in his care for me and the house. He’s trying so hard, G-d bless him, caring for me, shopping, cleaning, fixing meals and snacks. He has salads and snack down, and has mastered marinated, grilled salmon fillets (one day he will ‘get’ rice, but that’s a tricky one). I gave him instructions for a simple zucchini soup. It was delicious!

So, I’m pretty exhausted now. John is following my instructions for a potato leek soup. At the rate he’s going, Master Chef is soon to come. I’m getting totally spoiled…. he will soon need a break. Can’t wait to get back to fun day-tripping and cooking! Until next time-

That Old Rollercoaster Called Life

Yes. Its been awhile since my last post. If you recall, in my last blog post a few weeks ago, I gave some delicious new recipes. Most of the recipes I post are ethnically Israeli for themost part and hopefully, not too complicated to prepare. Israel is unlike the States in many ways. In some areas like high tech, we are quite advanced and leading the world. In other areas, we lag behind – as in the area of healthy available convenience food options. Since we’ve lived here, there have been more products like (very expensive) pre-washed and cut salads, chopped carrots and cabbages, and pre-made dough, but that’s about it. While the center of the country caters more to the American immigrant, we live in the periphery where items like prepared salad dressings, soups, pre-cooked, sliced chicken, rotisserie chickens – are all hard to find items, and when I do find them, sky high in price. I did find liter/quart sized organic chicken broth in aseptic boxes a few years ago, and bought three at $9.00 a pop just to have as an emergency backup. So I make and freeze my own soups and stocks and make my own dressings, salsas and well – EVERYTHING. I have tried to keep my recipes as simple and tested as possible. I usually try out a recipe 3 times before doing a photo shoot or post. I try NOT to include extremely exotic ingredients, although most US grocery stores offer a wide variety of international products. So it is my wish the recipes will work for you.

The last time I’d written was right after we’d returned from our five week US state-hopping adventure. I had known something was physically wrong with me and had been trying to get an accurate diagnosis for seven years. Things were headed South, and I was just praying they would not worsen during our travels. And thank goodness they did not. I’d written that I thought I’d herniated a disc and, that after that last photo shoot and blog, I’d head for bed. I’ll try to spare the gory details, but I pretty much missed the Jewish holidays…. besides we were in our 14-day quarantine after an international flight. So either way we were grounded and I was relegated to teledoctor phone appointments. I took my NSAIDS, but the pain was excruciating; besides losing the feeling completely on my left side from the waist down, I could neither move my leg or foot. It was dead except for that constant lightening bolt jolting.

During that time, we had a friend from the US move back to Israel from Virginia. He is now staying in our guest bedroom. I wish I could have done more to help make his move more pleasant, but he was on his own. He did tell me I’d need to mask up before going to the ER and handed me a new N95 mask, coated with an anti-viral to make it super safe. Trying to find the humor or at least irony in everything, this is where the roller coaster begins to plummet. By the time I got to the emergency room in Haifa, 40 minutes away, not only my bottom portion, but my top was on absolute FIRE!!! As it turns out, whatever chemical in that mask made me highly allergic, and I started to develop a blistery red rash. It would last four days.

The rash from hell begins!

OK. We went to the right ER. Not the crowded one, but still a very good smaller one. I was seen immediately. Given X-rays, a CT. The top (and I mean #1!) spinal neurosurgeon in all Israel, the amazing Dr. Neta Raz, was called in from his vacation. And the roller coaster evens out. I have drop foot, at least two completely compressed/compacted vertebrae and no discs and a possible rupture of another disc. As I had suspected- MRI would be taken the next morning. And I’d need emergency surgery, but since it was the holiday of Simchat Torah and everything in Israel comes to a grinding halt… hospital staff is greatly reduced, the surgery would be rescheduled for two days hence. In the meantime, I’m taken up to the orthopoedic ward.

A typical Israeli hospital is nothing like the hospital rooms in the posh Tel Aviv area and it is absolutely nothing like the hospitals in California (at least before the pandemic). For one thing, you have a family member or really good (at least before your hospital stay) friend or even a paid helper stay with you. He/she gets a small, uncomfortable chair at your bedside. Your designated aide is there at bedside 24/7 to help you with whatever you need- calling for a nurse; asking for pain meds; helping you go to the bathroom (however that may be). That’s why it’s important to pick your friends wisely here. It’s all part of the bonding/friends for life/members of the same tribe/lack of adequate nursing staff culture. It’s part of the adventure.

In the hospital, you are given one of those too-small-no-matter-what-size-you-are, hospital gowns; you get a bed with a rubber mattress covered by a thin sheet and a very small blanket/cover and pillow. Reminder to new Olim: it’s not just BYO toothbrush, its BYO water pitcher and cup or disposable water bottle. It’s BYO towels, washcloth, soap, etc. Its BYO PJs, socks, slippers (hey! They don’t charge you $180 for a pair of those really nifty slipper socks with the non-skid soles). No television, no radio. Its a no-frills ride. BYO emesis basin or trash can – yup this can be a bit gross, especially with the food your neighbor’s visitors bring! So be forewarned.

Did I say visitors? Did I say food? Did I say noise? We’re not in America. We’re in the Mid East and it gets pretty darned loud. No, not from the howls of patients whose pain levels have soared to a nine on the Richter scale. It’s the MiddleEast! What would an ER be without a knock-down, drag-out fight, trays and IV poles flying before the ”gentleman” was escorted out. It’s a shame I didn’t understand more than ”I’ve already told you twice.” And ”What’s the problem? What happened here?” Hey! Free entertainment!

Yikes! It only gets better from here, Folks! The next day I was wheeled downstairs and outside to a portable MRI trailer unit. My husband, John, at my side. Trying to understand the questions in Hebrew as three people were trying to fill out forms, question me, translate, etc. was total chaos. I was told to remove all my jewelry. I took off my necklace, given to me by a dear friend, and my wedding ring of 37 years. I gave them to John, who pocketed them. So much was happening so fast, that he totally didn’t realize he was holding them for me. The MRI tech was Russian… the stereotypical large, rough woman with no patience, barking commands in Russian-accented Hebrew. She was extremely irritated that I didn’t fully understand. In English she commands, ”Surround yourself! Surround yourself! Surround belly!” I just wasn’t getting it. Finally she makes rolling motion with arms and shouts, ”Like salami! Like salami! You know! Do! Do NOW!” Aaaahhh, yes. Roll over on your tummy. I know, but find the whole process so hysterical. Salami!! I can’t stop laughing/crying. It took a while to do it and to stay still for long enough to complete the test.

I’m wheeled back to my room. Surgery was scheduled for the following evening. John went back home and would return with my bag of necessities the next day. Happening to notice my ring and necklace were gone, I called John to check his pockets. Nope. Not there. Double check. I search my bags. Nada. The roller coaster lurches forward and takes a deep, nauseating nosedive. It’s almost 5pm. I hobble down on crutches to the MRI trailer. Nothing. The one lady still there has nothing. I fine-tooth comb the ground, retrace our steps, and fill out a report at the security station. In tears. Hyperventilating. I call John. Nothing. He thinks it might have fallen out of his pocket in the paid parking lot down the street as he got out his wallet. More tears. He drives back to Haifa with a flashlight and tools. Finds the necklace in a gutter, but no wedding ring. So, if you’re ever in Haifa across and down the street from Bnei Tsion and find a gold ring with a one-carat diamond, let me know. It looks like this:

I spent much of the next day in tests and trying to find a mittapellet for hire, a sitter. I checked everywhere and came up empty-handed. John did not know enough Hebrew and physically was not up to spending the night at my side in a cramped, uncomfortable, little chair. Finally, right before I was wheeled into surgery, a friend steered me in the direction of a very nice, but incredibly expensive little Phillipino lady. She was available for hire. So I had the operation: a diskectomy with a bunch of other work, freeing the nerves, decompressing and creating room in my spine.

I guess I was pretty loaded up on drugs, feeling no pain, that night. All I remember is Virgie spooning a few teaspoons of warm water into my mouth explaining why ice, col water, or more than four drops was life-threatening. She was soon sleeping soundly in the chair next to my bed. Later in the week, I found out that night, all night long, I had FaceTimed all my children, crying and ranting about my lost wedding ring. 37 years! I called up a couple friends in the States – if you are reading this and I called you speaking out of my mind craziness, I sincerely apologize. Please gently let me know. I wrote and submitted two magazine articles. I wrote one of my editors. I wrote a lovely children’s story about a little girl and her pet black bear. And I answered some emails. Again, if I wrote you spouting craziness, forgive me. Where was Virgie???? For $200.00!?!??

So I was 10 days total, I think, in the hospital. You lose all track of time in a place like that. We had no TV, but there was always entertainment. With four people to a room, a sitter or two and several visitors for each person, there was no lack of entertainment. We had an Israeli woman to my left, a Muslim Arab lady to my right, and a Druze lady next to her. Each day, people would come bearing coolers and containing exotic smelling foods for the mittapellet, the patient and themselves. It’s a real social event and a cultural thing to go visit people in the hospital, I think. Nothing is private. Well, for them it was, because I don’t speak Arabic, and my Hebrew is still lacking. Pardon my complaining, please, but the noise and activity and lack of privacy were not very conducive to recovery.

I survived the noise, and the food. My foot is beginning to move more and I’m using my leg a bit as it regains feeling. I’ve been visited by the hospital physical therapist, who we fired after ten minutes for commanding me to stand up and walk without explaining how…. I was at a 9.5 pain level with still no feeling from the thigh down. As I write this, the recovery process is slow but sure. My old PT on the other hand, Saher, is wonderful. He’s made hospital and home visits. He reminds me of an Israeli version of Ben Stiller. Every morning in the hospital, we had the same breakfast: undressed salad, watery porridge; a hard-boiled egg and sour cream. This was the evening gourmet fare, which shows why people opt for home-brought food:


My last night/day was the great adventure. At 4:50 am, I was awakened by orderlies taking two of my roommates from the room. I was being swabbed down… from all angles and in crevices I didn’t even know existed! The nursing staff was being hustled out. I was alone in an empty room, and called my husband (cell phone, as there are no landlines) to come immediately. Something was not right! Shortly thereafter the men with ladders appeared as the curtains started being ripped down. ALL OF THEM! OK. Now this was definitely more than beyond usual. John appeared, but was hustled out of the room. OK. I was a bit freaked out.

Bathrooms were being disinfected with floods of green liquid. Floors and windows washed. No one would tell me what was happening. Corona? Ebola? Mersa? Worse??? I knew I had to document this for a blog, so I hobbled out to snap a few more photos.

After a complete shift change, a staff of industrial cleaners, and lots of drama, I found out what was going on. There had been a case of klebsiella (ah ha! I remembered that bacteria from my days of microbiology!) and all precautions were being taken to prevent a full outbreak across the entire wing. I was swabbed again from top to bottom and it felt like a scene from Monsters, Inc.. I was in a rush to just leave. My time was definitely up. My husband had asked for my discharge papers.

A nurse came in to inform me (I was finally alone in a very clean room) that they were going to make a nice reception for me before I leave. That’s why they were really cleaning! A surprise party just for me!! Well, that’s different. A grand, farewell shebang send-off! ”You’re throwing me a party??” I asked incredulously. ”What? What? I throw what? I am not throw anything!” I respond, ”No. No. A party. I’m getting a party?” She stared at me and said, ”No. You make party at home. I make you reception and you go home.” Obviously, there was some communication blockage. ”Reception??” I ask. ”You wait here. I give you reception from doctor to take to pharmacy. Then you go.”

I began to get it. No balloons for my going away. No cake and ice cream to make up for the swill. No champagne. No fizzy drinks. No compensation. After all, it’s socialized medicine and my stay was “free.” I did get exemplary medical care in my surgeon and surgery. The tests, surgery, and stay, would have cost cool tens to hundreds of thousands in Los Angeles. Sure, I would have had a nice room, TV and would have made-to-order food from a menu, but hey, I probably wouldn’t have had a rambling blog for your perusal.

I’m finally home, and had a home nurse come to do wound care and my physiotherapist visit to give me encouragement and exercises. I’m re-learning to walk and it’s slow, but I’m making progress. John has been a saint, stepping up to the bat taking over all the housework, shopping and cooking. Bless his big heart!!! Just so thankful this whole ordeal didn’t happen on our vacation! Hopefully, soon, I’ll be on more field trips, meeting more people, visiting new and exciting places and collecting new recipes. I need a long, straight stretch of rollercoaster at this point. And if there’s anyone up here in the North who finds a diamond ring or can provide a meal, please let me know….

New Year, New Recipes

Upon our return to Israel, we entered into a mandatory 14-day quarantine (with 3 molecular PCR tests done!!!). Our son had come home two days before our arrival to open up and air out the house. I had given Max a long list of groceries to get so that we wouldn’t co home to an empty fridge. Entering the front door, the house was clean and Max had even left a a bouquet of flowers. Previous to our arrival I had also ordered a ton of organic, freshly-picked-from-the-fields produce. Three huge crates were left at my front doorstep the next morning. It was absolutely glorious! Squash, white and purple cabbages, pears, the last nectarines of the season, avocados, pumpkin, greens, carrots, beans, onions, sweet and regular potatoes, mangos, limes, fresh dill, parsley, cilantro, basil and so much more. Gad even put in exras like cherry tomatoes, eggplant, pomegranates, and oranges.

It had been so long since I’d written a blogpost that I had to spend the whole day developing and perfecting the recipes for you. Which was great, because by the end of the second day, I’d fully realized that I herniated or ruptured a disc and had to take to bed (which will also give me time to write and to design the embroidery for my daughter’s wedding dress). But with my husband’s help, I’d put up several jars of spiced pears, zucchini pickle relish and some pickled corn. Lots was frozen and there’s food to last for weeks which will also be served for the Jewish holidays(Rosh haShannah the New Year; Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement & Sukkot the weeklong Festival of Booths). Interesting fact: in Israel, almost all stores and businesses completely shut down for each of the holidays – sometimes that can last up to three days in a row!!! So we’ve learned from past mistakes to have everything we need for the days before, during and after.

So here goes. This first recipe is an old family favorite, made by my dad of blessed memory. A few years ago I was going through an old box of letters and photos and I found his hand-written list of ingredients. His recipe called for whole Seckel pears. I had four kilos (8.8lbs) of regular hard green pears, so I used many and put up 12 pint jars of spiced pears. I substituted honey for the sugar to make it a little healthier.

Spiced Autumn Pears

  • Ingredients:
  • 5 pounds pears
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup dark honey
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, broken up
  • 1/4 cup cloves
  • about 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Sterilize canning jars and lids in boiling water 20 minutes,making sure all are completely submerged.
While the jars are going, make the syrup. in medium pot, bring water, vinegar and honey to a boil, then reduce to low. Add spices. Halve pears. remove the core with a melon baller and cut each half into 3 slices. On a clean kitchen towel, using tongs (there are special, inexpensive canning tools that are a mainstay in my kitchen) remove the sterilized jars. Divide pears between the jars. Using a funnel, pour hot syrup into each jar up to 1/4 inch from top. Put lids and sealing rings on jar. Process back in hot water bath for another 20 minutes.

The next recipe is great for Rosh haShannah because it incorporates many of the symbolic foods we use at the festive meal. Plus, many of the ingredients are used in the other recipes. I roast a pound piece of fresh pumpkin (our pumpkins are different than the US/UK varieties) or a nice sized butternut squash, halved, seeds reserved and roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. The salad below keeps well for up to a week, and is absolutely gorgeous with all those jewel-like autumn colors! Plus it’s packed with proteins, vitamins and antioxidants.

Vegan,pareve,serves 6-8

Autumn Harvest Quinoa Salad

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup multicolored quinoa
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups (or more) roasted pumpkin or buttternut squash, cubed
  • 1/2 cup red/ purple onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup candied or regular roasted pecan pieces
  • 1/3 cup large yellow raisins
  • 1/4 cup raisins or currants
  • 1/4 cup dates, chopped (I used 5 large, soft dates, pitted)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 pomegranate’s arils

Dressing ingredients:

  • 1 large orange
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • juice and ”mash” of 1/2 red/purple onion (I will explain)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baharat spice (I will explain)*

Cook quinoa in water according to package directions. Fluff and let cool. While quinoa is cooking dice the onion and cube the roasted gourd into small, bite-sized pieces. In large bowl, add fluffed quinoa, onion, squash/gourd, pecan pieces and dried fruits. Fold together gently. Pour 1/2 cup dressing over top. Directions below. Reserve remaining dressing for fruit salads or green salads. Fold gently to incorporate. Mix in most of the pomegranate arils, reserving some for the top.
This is so tasty. The flavors are popping bright, and the dressing really adds an exotic complexity.

To make the dressing:
Grate the orange rind into a large tumbler or drink shaker. Squeeze orange into bowl, removing any pits. I keep the orange bits. Transfer to the shaker. Add oil and honey. Using a garlic press, squeeze the onion juice from the cut-up red onion into the shaker. Add the left-over mashed onion. Add the baharat.* Add water. Shake vigorously.

  • *If you don’t have the Middle Eastern spice blend, baharat, you can make some easily. It is quite versatile – used in salads, soups, casseroles, stews, and baking:
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Assessing what I had in the produce boxes, I decided to make a vegetable quiche using ingredients on-hand. Hmmm… what do I have a ton of that might go well together? I had the veggies, 18 eggs, cream and four cheeses Max had bought (but no parmesan). It turned out to be the best quiche I have ever made!!! This is best eaten hot or warm and served with a side salad or a fruit salad – or the Autumn Harvest Quinoa Salad above.

Vegetable Quiche

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 frozen and defrosted deep dish pie shell OR frozen, defrosted pastry to line a large, greased quiche dish
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted and peel removed
  • 1 red/purple onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 medium-sized zucchini, quartered lengthways and sliced
  • 1 large carrot or 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin 1/8”)
  • 5 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1/3 cup shredded smoked gouda (this really adds the complexity!)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
  • salt and freshly cracked pepper

Roast the pepper 15 minutes at 400*F/200*C then let cool. Peel the skin off and remove the seeds. Place your pastry-lined quiche dish on a foil-lined jelly roll pan (baking sheet with sides). In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmery, then add the cut-up onion, carrot and squash. Sauté until the vegetables are tender. Set aside. In a medium sized bowl, lightly beat eggs and stir in cream. Spoon the cooked veggies into the bottom of your prepared pastry-lined dish. Layer the shredded smoked gouda, distributing evenly. Cut pepper into thin strips and lay them over the cheese. Sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper. Gently pour in the egg mixture. Let settle. Sprinkle shredded cheddar over top and sprinkle paprika over cheddar. Place in oven pre-heated to 375*F/188*C for 45-50 minutes or until top is bubbly and golden brown.

I can’t even begin to believe I forgot to photograph this one! We devoured the ”test soufflé”for lunch and froze the second one. The third, my husband brought me on a plate for Rosh haShonnah dinner, and hadn’t taken any pictures beforehand. But I wouldn’t share this recipe unless it was absolutely mouth-watering. Baking it just makes the entire house smell like the fall holidays!! The soufflé is a bit like the filling for a pumpkin pie, only lighter and fluffier- and more tasty. It’s a great side dish, but I think it would be super with cream on top for breakfast or as part of a cheesecake (I’ll save that project for another day).

“Orange” Soufflé
(6-8 servings, pareve)

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 large carrots, peeled
  • 1 cup roasted pumpkin, butternut squash or canned pumpkin purée
  • 6 pitted dates OR 1/2 cup silan (date syrup) OR 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 orange, peel grated, and juiced – seeds removed
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 tsp flour ( can be a GF substitute)
  • 1 TBSP baharat spice powder ( see above recipe)

Preheat oven to 400*F/200*C. Wrap the sweet potato, and carrots in aluminum foil and roast for about 45minutes or until tender. Oil a soufflé dish or tall casserole dish. After the veggies have roasted and cooled, peel the sweet potato and cut the carrots into chunks. Transfer the veg along with the pumpkin/squash into a large mixing bowl. Add the dates, silan or honey, the grated orange rind and juice. Purée thoroughly with an immersion blender. When well-blended, gently fold in the beaten eggs, sprinkled flour and baharat. Very gentlytransfer the mixtue to a greased soufflé dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, uncovered until soufflé rises and top has browned. Can be served warm or cold.

The next dish is another salad. It’s traditional to eat beans on the Jewish New Year as a sign of our fruitfulness and of the many good deeds we will do in the upcoming year. In the Southern United States we would eat black-eyed peas as a symbol of good luck for the new year (January 1). Also, because beans are a humble dish, according to the Southerner, starting out the year in humility ensures wealth in the months to come. The Jewish custom is to eat scallions: scallions look like whips. At the Rosh haShonnah table the little kids like to smack each other with scallions. It’s a fun object lesson of slavery in Egypt. May we continue to live in freedom without fear of the taskmasters’ whips! Whatever the tradition or superstition, it’s a healthy side dish that can stand alone as a hearty lunch.

Black-eyed Pea Salad

serves 6-8 vegan, pareve

  • Ingredients:
  • 3 cups black-eyed peas, soaked, rinsed and cooked (can use frozen, defrosted)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 4-6 scallions
  • 1 stalk celery
  • handful of each: fresh parsley, oregano, basil, chives
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & freshly-cracked pepper

In large serving bowl, add cooled tender peas. Finely chop the peppers and celery. Slice white/light green parts of scallions. Add to bowl. Finely chop herbs and mix into salad. Crush the garlic into the mixture. Add the juice of the lemon (seeds removed). Drizzle in about 1/4 cup olive oil, then salt and pepper to taste. Combine thoroughly and place the bowl, covered, in fridge for at least an hour. Serve cold. This actually tastes better the next day when the flavors have melded together.

Enjoy!

A Visit to the States

My husband and I just returned from a glorious 5 weeks in the United States. From all the horrendous news, we just didn’t know what to expect. And we were absolutely shocked!!! To see all the tremendous displays of unabashedly proud American patriotism. Everywhere we traveled-

Savannah, Georgia
Florida

It was all so beautiful. We saw all different races and cultures getting along well together. In towns, parks, university campuses, bed and breakfasts. Everyone was quite friendly and respectful. I think for the most part, people want to get along and enjoy their lives.

Seeing family again after three and a half years was the best thing ever! We got to meet our oldest daughter’s new husband. Three of our daughters met us in Florida for a beachy, family reunion. Unfortunately our son was still in school in Israel, and my third daughter and her fiancé are. In Scotland, where travel is closed. We visited my husband’s family in Florida. John’s dad is now 94. All John’s siblings and their children were there. And meeting our new granddaughter who is 7months old was a special treat. Highlights included a day trip to St. Augustine; a backyard barbecue/wedding reception for Katie and Tim; a sunset boat trip around the islands off the coast of Florida; and a hunt for alligators in the local wetlands (a nice way to say swamp). Our youngest daughter convinced my husband and me to get up before the crack of dawn one morning to see the sunrise over the Atlantic: she, her husband and daughter had done it the day before. We are definitely not morning people, but John and I took a blanket and thermos of hot coffee with some sweet rolls. What an amazing (and romantic) experience!

From Florida, we traveled to Southern California, visiting our #2 daughter. Our 3 year old grandson was getting over a cold, so he and his dad, Steven missed the great Florida/Georgia adventure. Can I tell you how marvelous it was to finally truly meet Logan – endless superhero costumes,parks, a farm, funny faces, and nighttime stories? And the baby is just the sweetest!!! Emma’s organic vegetable garden was huge and incredibly productive with tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, cucumbers, carrots, beets, greens. One day I made a spiced tomato jam, and Emma made the most delicious pasta sauce. Yum! Reuniting with many of our oldest and dearest friends was a time we will treasure, but the week was all too short…

It was on to the Pacific Northwest where my youngest daughter lives. We’d always wanted to travel “up the coast” towards Canada but never did in the 32 years we lived in California. It was gorgeous!!! The mountains and volcanoes, Puget Sound, the forests and the lakes. Now I know why Tessa and Mike love it so much. We hiked a lot. We visited old fur trapper forts. The sal on runs had just started, so watched the fisherman shoulder to shoulder in the rivers. One Sunday we packed up and headed to the lake with their friends. Babies, toddlers, inflatable boats and paddle boards and a lovely picnic made for a fantastic time. And the best part was playing with our 3 year old granddaughter. She’s so cute and a real whippersnapper!

While we were in Washington it was also blackberry season. Thick bushes filled with the ripe purple gems grew wild EVERYWHERE!!!! So I spent hours picking until my fingers and lips were stained and our big buckets were full. In the week I was there, I spent an entire day making endless jars of blackberry lavender preserves. I strained out some of the berry juice and mixed it with balsamic vinegar, crushed shallots, salt, pepper, a splash of white wine vinegar and some water. Not only is it delicious on a spinach salad, but I marinated a large filet of salmon in the sauce. We put it on a cedar plank and Mike grilled it. Heavenly! It broke our hearts to leave them –

The next few days were spent back in Southern California. We spent the time with Katie and really getting to know Tim. Because of the pandemic, we’d missed their courtship and wedding. But I’m absolutely thrilled with the gentlemen our daughters have chosen as life partners. They are great husbands and fathers. We were able to spend a couple days with Logan aka Spider-Man, aka Batman, aka CatBoy, aka The Geko. And John and I shopped for things we can’t find in Israel, filling up another huge suitcase and two carry-ons. The last day was spent with Katie and Tim at the Getty, our favorite place.

It was the most fabulous trip! However, it was waaaaaay too short. We want them all to come spend time together with us here in Israel. We had so many California friends we weren’t able to connect with. Maybe next time. The flight back was a long one and we have been quarantined at home for 14 days. 14days! And three negative PCR tests for each person. Our son, who lives an hour and a half away, was able to come and air out the house and stock up on groceries before we arrived.

Since then, I’ve been cleaning and dong a lot of cooking for the upcoming Jewish high holy days. I have developed a whole slew of delicious recipes using the symbolic foods of the season. I can’t wait to share the, with you in a couple days. Rosh haShonnah is tonight and it’s coming all too quickly. So all those yummy foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner will be posted very soon. Until then, I leave you with a parting shot from our last evening in Long Beach, California –