Wednesday, April 25, 2007

First Funeral

Daniel's father, Leo, died on Monday night, erev Yom Ha'atzmaut. He died after a grueling illness. Essentially 12 years lost to a combination of Alzheimer's and a Parkinson's like combination. He was a survivor of the Holocaust, who fortunately was able to get out of Czechoslovakia and escape through Europe and eventually reach the US with his mother and sister. They were eventually reunited with his father. He spoke eight languages but spoke virtually nothing for the last two years. He was an academician, a Zionist and a liberal and believer in Israel, peace and the Jewish people. He raised four nice children but was denied a decent retirement (let alone a pleasant aging) with his wife of 55 years, Rita.

Rita, by the way, is one of Akiva's favorite people. They've bonded over Curious George, The Little Red Lighthouse and Shabbat dinners at Jessica and Daniel's. He went right over to her (he knows a Grandma when he sees one), sat on her lap and they became friends.

This was our first funeral in Israel. A few surprises. It's informal, of course. No suits, no black dresses, not alot of ceremony. It was held in the Sephardic hall as the family was told that they would be more comfortable with men and women standing (no seats except for a few around the side) together and with women speaking or even worse, gasp, helping to carry the body at the end.

Ah, the body. Wrapped in a tallit, lying on a stretcher of sorts. NO CASKET. Sort of drives home the fact that it is a body that is being buried. He looked so small and indeed he was never a big person while living (I only interacted with Leo Laufer when Jess and Daniel got married but he wasn't able to respond) but in death, he seemed even smaller.

People spoke. We stood. More people spoke. We stood some more. It was good even though it was sad. Daniel and his brother, Michael, spoke of a man that I don't know, even his grandchildren barely know (except for the oldest two who are 23 and 21 respectively) and most assembled knew through his family - through stories and memories. I was reminded of the children's book, written by Mem Fox with wonderful illstrations by Julie Vivas called, Wilfred Gordon Mcdonald Partridge which is a great book that tells of the friendship between the aforementioned WGMP and his neighbors at the Old Folks Home next to his house. He's friends with a few of the residents and in particular likes Miss Nancy because she has four names, just like him (I can't remember the names though). Miss Nancy is spoken about sadly because she has "lost her memories." WGMP collects some of his favorite things and brings them to Miss Nancy and she looks at them and remembers things from her childhood and is happy because WGMP helped her "find her memories."

Burial was down the hill. Won't discuss all the particulars except that there was a 21 gun salute of a sorts as nearby there were people doing some target practice for "mishmar ezrachi/civilian patrol."

It was a good funeral.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Yom this and Yom that

It's been busy. Yom Ha'shoah - Holocaust Memorial Day. Yom Ha'zi'karon - Memorial Day. Yom Ha'atzmaut - Independance Day. As I write this, the music playing somewhere live in the neighborhood is filtering in - Yom Ha'atzmaut, Moroccan style with oud music and trilling vocals and that particular kind of male tenor that you always here in Middle Eastern music of this variety. Ira and the big boys just left for town - there are live concerts, folk dancing, and fun of all sorts to be seen and had and they decided to check out the fun. I'm home with Akiva.

It's basically one 'tekes'/ceremony after another for about a week and a half. There are the official State ones, school ones, neighborhood ones and tonight, a program at Shira Hadasha. Minha services at 6:15, followed by a Yom Ha'zi'karon service - it was lovely. Poems and readings with musical accompaniment and most grueling, people stood and remembered names of people they knew (family and friend and extended) who had been killed in wars or terrorist activities and when they died. It was quite poignant to have people stand and remember a friend or cousin who was killed in '67 and '73 and even one woman who remembered a brother killed in '48. I thought about my friend Tzippi, who's fiance was killed in '82 in Lebanon, and Michael Levin, killed this past summer in Lebanon. Levin, was a Ramah Poconos boy, a friend of my nephew Benjy. He was featured in a DVD made by another Ramahnik, Sally Mitlas, and the DVD was shown on Israeli TV tonight. Levin was what's called a lone soldier as his parents and sibs are back in America and he was here on his own as a citizen and soldier. His mother, in Israel for the ceremony at Har Herzl - the military cemetary in J'lem, said that when they came in for his funeral last summer, they expected a small group, as they don't have alot of family here and when they pulled up at the cemetary they saw many people and wondered if there were alot of burials that day. All those people were there for Michael. They didn't know him but they wanted to pay their respects to this guy, here alone, without his family, giving everything to the country - his life.

What's interesting is that at the end of the service, we morphed into Yom Ha'atzmaut and did a festive Ma'ariv service, complete with Hallel and song and happiness and it felt good. It felt really good. I sang and was happy.
Chag Sameach.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Food of the Week

It's been an interesting food week.
Following our truffle adventures - we had truffle omeltets and truffle toasts (first you clean them, peel them and slice thinly) and we enjoyed the notion of eating the truffles but they weren't the all encompassing experience that we had hoped for.
Last Tuesday, I had a meeting - yes me, a meeting - with Jess and Hadass (Honey partner in Tel Aviv) at the port in Tel Aviv, or in hebrew, the 'Namal.' Very cool area. Wooden boardwalk, laid out in curves, with inset sand circle, waves splashing over the side, cafes with pillowed chaises and chairs to while a way some time, nursing a drink. A cross between South St Seaport, but better, and Hudson River Park. Hadass claims that it's ok during the week but that on weekends, when the Israeli equivalent to the 'Bridge and Tunnel' crowd shows up, the 'khu'bat'im' (from Holon and Bat Yam) that it's no fun.

Jess was writing about the company, Comme Il Faut, owned by a woman, run by women, with a feminist drive and direction to the company. The have a space down at the Namal, called 'Bayit Ba'namal,' and it comprises stores, spa (no guys allowed) and cafe with an array of nice looking dishes, that thank goodness don't have the usual look of Israeli menus, at least not what's here in J'lem.
We sat, at a lovely wooden table, umbrella gently shading us from the Tel Aviv haze, and I ate the loveliest salad - it wasn't enouph for the price and the enjoyment factor but that's a separate matter. It was buckwheat (not my mother's buckwheat, otherwise known as kasha and not even served with bowties or browned onions) but a paler and larger, grained variety. It was perfectly cooked and served with wilted greens of some sort (that I have yet to find in this country - meaning interesting greens to cook with other than 'alei selek' which translates to beet greens, but which look alot like swiss chard but don't taste like chard) and a lovely array of wild mushrooms, simply seared and served on top of the grains, with a dollop of sour cream on the side. I pooh poohed the sour cream but it was a nice counterpoint to the salad, although not completely necessary. We finished the meal with an iced cappucino/caffe hafuch, really nicely done and creamy and almost like iced coffee as I know it.

I decided to recreate this meal with some additions for Friday night. We had visitors coming; Jeremy Slawin, 17 year old son of good frinds in Houston, Tx. Jeremy was coming on "March of the Living," and spending Shabbat with us. We also had a family of 6 coming as well - David and Robyn (both in Israel for many years) and their 4 kids (the 2 oldest are 17 year old twins and Natan is marginally friendly with them). Miryam W visiting with us, came with me to the shuk on Wednesday and we got some of the critical ingredients and I did a look-see of what I could get in order to make a reasonable do of the dish. After breakfast at my favorite cafe - she had brioche and I had a sandwich - we both had some excellent coffee - we took a walk around checking out the mushroom situation. I found buckwheat and here's what I learned (this, after I came home and read up on buckwheat). I learned that there's buckwheat and there's kasha. Kasha, is that brown stuff, essentially very toasted and slightly processed in terms of size of grain, buckwheat. Buckwheat, is lighter in color and larger in grain and the color of pearled barley. It cooks up fluffier and while retaining some of the earthiness of it's brother, kasha, has a lighter taste. I bought the light stuff on a hunch that it might be more of what I wanted. I hit real pay dirt with the mushrooms. We walked around and then stopped at a guy in the covered shuk, who was selling truffles and other interesting fungi. He had portobellos (we bought some of those), fresh oyster mushrooms (large and gorgeous, we bought those too) and fresh porcini mushrooms. I'd never eaten fresh porcini and they were a revelation - beautifully tinged with coral pink and quite lovely in size and shape. Quite different from their dried cousins. It was VERY expensive for one little package, but you only live once. The proprietor and I had a long chat about how to cook the 'shrooms, what order to cook them and what to add to them. He suggested lemon grass. I said how, I'd never seen any in Israel. He motioned me over to his fridge where he pulled out some lemon grass. I almost kissed him. Then, he suggested fresh garlic to chop on top. I hear you thinking to yourself, "well, garlic, that's nothing special." But, here in Israel, it's fresh garlic season. Meaning, fresh garlic, hard and juicy and garlicky and not dried and old. Fresh garlic everywhere and hanging and drying in the shuk on braided greens, perfuming the air with it's pungent aroma. I bought some. I already had some at home but didn't want to disappoint him. I also inquired after baby spinach and he again motioned to his fridge. I bought a nice pkge of greens. It wasn't baby spinach as I know it but it was better than the spinach that I tried to make wilted spinach salad with last week. I finished up my shopping trip with some other goodies - some excellent olives, fresh almonds (sort of like fiddlehead greens with a fuzzy exterior), a nice piece of cheese and came home pumped about my recipe.

Thursday we all cooked a bit. Assembled the buckwheat, made roasted sweet potatoes to satisfy those who might be scared off by buckwheat, cooked a white bean and tomato gratin that's really easy and tasty too and Natan made what turned out to be an excellent rice pudding cake. Essentially, arborio rice (what you use to make risotto), cooked with milk and combined with some sweetener, eggs, dried fruit and toasted nuts and baked into a lovely and light cake of a sorts. Ira and I and Natan (Gabe was playing baseball), sat down and ate some beans at about 10 and enjoyed the good smells coming out of the kitchen.

Friday, another trip to the shuk. Alan Salzberg called, "would we go out for breakfast?" He agreed to a shuk bkfast - Ira and Alan had a laffa feta (rolled toasted laffa sandwich with feta, olives, onions and tomatoes, Miryam had a brioche and I had a yoghurt with granola and fruit. Needless to say, we all had coffee. After bkfst, Alan gave us an hour. Picked up fresh salmon - this to satisfy all carnivores and besides, I thought that the salmon would complement the buckwheat, some herbs and teas - found a great herb guy who has his own real, powdered sahlab (orchid root). Next time. Bought greens, breads and some cookies and fruit. Stopped by the cheese guy and got goat sour cream (quite nice) and fresh farmer cheese (Ira says too sweet but I like it) and garlic butter (well, it looked so lovely and Gabe has been lapping it up) and a nice bottle of wine - look for red wines by Yatir Winery, quite good. We had drunk a bottle of Yatir on Wed night, when Miryam treated us to a fabbo dinner at "Tzachko" which is a great restaurant in the Iraqi section of the shuk and just happens to be owned by the same guy who runs the cafe that I love and who just happens to be the head of the shuk. You may not have known that the shuk has a director - 'yoshev rosh' but it does.

Went home and did final prep work. Poached the salmon in a light court bouillion (sp?), did a careful mushroom saute and in a sep pan, greens saute. Then, went to the pool and had a good swim and came home and went to shul at Shira Hadasha for some long-winded singing.

Great dinner. Good company. Great food.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Passover Report

Was planning on cranking about politics, my increasing unhappiness with everything that goes on in this country, from the settlers moving into a building in Hebron, to the disturbing story of a baby who didn't make it past a checkpoint to the hospital without wheezing to death while waiting for his paperwork to be checked, from Katzav receiving a new rape indictment, to the 3 soldiers still missing and not yet returned to their families, to my feeling that peace is so insurmountable, what am I doing here? But, I digress from my real annoyances of the day.

Cleaning, shopping and cooking. Where's all that extra time I anticpated from less yomtov and more hol hamoed? Swallowed up by entertaining - Wed night and Thurs night of last week, preparing for Shabbat with requisite honored guest of my cousin, Barbara, from the US, to more cooking on Saturday night because yomtov was approaching again, to cleaning today because more guests are coming - niece Helaina and an ever-changing cast of her friends, although I turned her down on 2 more friends at the last minute because I just couldn't face the laundry after they leave but did offer to feed them but them seem to have gone elsewhere, and cousin Rachel Brodie with husband, Adam Weisberg and 2 girls but they'll be with friends tomorrow so main cooking is for tonight but stillllll.....that meant food - yes, I'm sure you all want to know. Truth is I cooked with what I had on hand last night and this morning, although Ira did make a run to the shuk to replenish empty stores - no one should go hungry and is at the makolet/bodega right now getting eggs and milk and whatever else we still forgot.

Cooked with celery, carrots, fennel, onions/garlic, potatoes, sweet pots and turnips. First a nice soup, then sauteed veggies with quinoa, fresh salmon casserole with veggies and pear/apple crisp for dessert. That does not include cookies from the freezer that I saved for 2nd yomtov and the stuffed veggies that we'll do now - little dumpling zucchini's and peppers with quinoa and RICE (yes, we're offering rice to those infidels that will eat it on Pesach). Ira picked up, big excitement, negev truffles at the shuk - 150nis a kilo and he bought a quarter of a kilo and tomorrow will make truffle matza brie or truffle omelets or truffle something - must check the recent article in Ha'aretz about truffle ideas and preparation for local truffles. Who'd thunk it? And, hey, more affordable than in America where I've never bought them.

I'm not complaining enouph. I sound like I'm enjoying it. Well, it is Gabe's b-day but he's gone. Fourteen years old. Not even a Bar Mitzvah boy anymore. He went to Aunt Sarah for yomtov - for the purpose of playing basketball with Noam. That's good.

Hag Sameach.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Pesach Oddities Noticed

Seen on Janglo, the local listserv which has answers on anything from selling new furniture, finding where to buy this and that to...

"ADVICE: where you can get kitniyot free mayonnaise answers

i was asked to post answers so here they are...
cheaperkol on kanfei nesharim
shefa shuk in the rav shefa mall in romema
shaarei ezra on rechov bar ilan
assorted makolets in bayit vegan
and someone said emek refaim but did not say what store so i am
assuming super hamoshava."

I am so grateful to this person, who clearly has too much time on their hand, like many jangloites for solving this important problem.

Actually, the kitniyot issue - this is related to the age old question of Passover? Where are your parents from and their families and did they eat legumes and rice on Passover? If you were lucky, your parents weren't from Eastern Europe (everyone's were of course, at least that I knew) and we all didn't eat kitniyot on Passover, meaning no rice, no beans, no humous, and in later more stringent years, no peanut, soy or corn oil, let alone anything that had any suspect ingredient realated to the list. Funny thing, kitniyot do not qualify as hametz/leavened foods, merely as kitniyot and moreover, while you shouldn't prepare them for someone who doesn't eat them, if you cook rice for yourself if it's your tradition, you do not 'treyf' up your pots and can still prepare non-rice and bean dishes for others who don't eat rice and beans and such.

Still, shopping here is an adventure in avoiding kitniyot or allowing them in small ways - soy oil, margarine with soy oil, or prepared mustard (made from the mustard seed which is considered kitnioyot), or milkys (choco pudding with whipped cream) which have something probably a questionable starch used as thickening. At a certain point, you feel like throwing up your hands - I called my friend Karyn frequently, checking in on various things. Karyn made sure that I had made haircut appointments for everyone well in advance of the last week (pre-sefirah rush), had washed my car before the final rush, and had advised me about the best oven cleaner (St Moritz but I couldn't find it), and that soy oil was considered ok, when I called in confusion from the grocery store.

"ADVICE: Kosher for Pesach Fish Food
My local pet store has some Kosher for Pesach fish food called Blood
Worms. But the ingredient list includes yeast and starch, which is of
unknown origin.

Rabbi Blumenkranz's book says it is OK to give the fish matzo meal for
a week.

Does anyone have any experience with feeding the fish matzo meal, or
does anyone know what kind of starches are in this food?

Thanks for your help. Gerti"

This defies comprehension, right? Can you imagine the digestive systmem of some poor, unsuspecting goldfish during his autopsy after Passover? Poor guy, died of acute piscatory failure, or better put, constipation or explosion due to complications thereof. I realize, that you're not supposed to have anything in your house that could be considered edible from a hametz perspective, and that includes the dried up pretzel bits and such in the car or inside the sofa, but have you ever really wanted to eat fishfood? Have you ever sprinkled fish food into the tank and thought about how you want to just take a nip of it - just to see. I mean, dog food I could see - as I fed Harry dog (the Shelanski doggy) his milk bone biscuit, I thought, hey, what's this like (not really but I could picture this more than fish food), and let's not forget the famous Honeymooner's episode of Norton and Ralph trying to market dog food, which Ralph finds delicious - and even feeds it unsuspectingly to the head bus guy (I can't remember why this happens, do fill me in if you remember), but at least dog food is a meat product with cereal and is food like and probably would keep you going if you needed to depend on it. Enough said.

Tonight, seder with Jess/Daniel and the girls, Sarah and Michael and their 3 and a friend of Benjy's, Miriam and Peretz (Daniel's sis and bro-in-law) and their 3, friends of theirs (3?), our niece, Helaina and 2 friends and I think that's it. Food will be extensive and will pay respect to all family traditions. We've made pickled veggies, roasted sweets and whites, and quinoa salad for tomorrow's lunch at Miriam's house (barbecue, I'm told). It's wierd not to be hosting and running around but certainly more relaxing than years of the past where we made 2 and thought nothing of it. We won't be drinking slivovitz though - haven't found any. Shocking, really, but bought a new bottle of Arak.

Thinking of all of you and wishing a wonderful Pesach - lots of crumbs and lots of fun.