Saturday, December 31, 2011

The last day of 2011

Evolution of a photographer: January 2011, Nitzana, Israel, one the first occasions I'm taking the Nikon D90 to my hands. 

It's the last day of 2011. For me it was a very good year. It was a year of revelations and adventures. I learned a lot about myself this year. I was never the type for soul searching. The "new age" spirituality, self-search were not my "thing". But this past year I've questioned many things I assumed I knew about who I am.  I've discovered my ability to write something other people will read. For years all I've ever written was either buried in deep drawers or burnt to ashes. Today I save even the silliest "notes to self" I write, I might use it in the future. I'm not willing to succumb to that horrible internal critique that haunted me for years. 
March 2011-Winter sky on the Judean Hills, Israel
June 2011-Burekas and egg in Yahud, Israel
This was the year I re-discovered my creativity. For years I used to draw and paint, so I've found a new way to use light, expressing myself through photography. At the beginning of this year my photos were hardly worth noticing. Slowly but surely I figured out what the technical terms mean or how to open the menu of my sophisticated yet frightening camera. Now, at the end of this year, I feel I've advanced light years in my photography. Now I know how much I still have to learn but I love it. Photography will never be boring.
July 2011- The Safari Zoo, Ramat-Gan, Israel 
I had a very good year due to a number of reasons. The time I've spent with my kids was priceless. I'm pleased I had the opportunity to be a full time Mom, even if it's not for long. I'm glad we could leave our lives here for more than a month in order to travel to Canada. One of the best voyages I've ever took.
August 2011 - Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland,Canada

August 2011, West-point lighthouse, Prince Edward's Island, Canada

Now this wonderful year that was filled with great places, good food, terrific photography and most of all my wonderful friends and family, is ending. Tomorrow my new year will begin with a new job therefore a new way of life. I'm going back to what I know best: lab work and research. I know it will be intense and demand my fullest attention. Before I start I want to share some of my last year's photos. I think you can see in them the evolution of my photography. 
September 2011 - An exercise in night photography, Tel-Aviv Beach, Israel
November 2011- Discovering the many ways you can process Raw formats.  Zichron-Yaakov, Israel

November 2011-A house designed by a friend. 

I hope I'd still have the time to share with you my adventures in this chaotic country.
I don't know what the future holds. I hope it will be another very good year to us all. I wish you only the best. I hope it will rain.

Happy New Year. 

December 2011-Nachlat Binyamin, Tel-Aviv, Israel

December 2011- The only photo in this post taken using my iPhone 4. Judean Hills, Israel

Monday, December 19, 2011

A family heirloom

Have you met Señor Del Mundo?
If you speak Spanish or Ladino you might be appalled by this question that actually asks if you met your maker or in Hebrew "Adon Olam" aka God.  For years I heard my grandmother speak about this guy on many occurrences. I thought he was a friend of hers from abroad called Mister Delmundo. My Ladino improved as I grew up and I believe only when I got to school I finally realized who the mysterious Señor was.  I still think he's my grandmother's pal.

My mother's mother was born on board of a ship sailing the Black Sea from Istanbul (than Constantinople) to Constanta in Romania. She was born to a Sephardic family that according to household myths were direct descendants of Jews deported from Spain.  She married an Ashkenazi from The Ukraine but never abandoned her Sephardic heritage and especially the food. She had a fascinating life story: born in the era of The Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires and living to see the fall of Communism, tiny cell phones and emails. I didn't know all this about as a child, I only knew her as my "safta". She lived with us and helped in my upbringing. She was a very important figure in my life and a major impact on my nutrition. In short, she spoiled me. She had her clever way to feed me stuff that otherwise I would not touch. For example in order to make me eat spinach and cheese she would bake an Inchusa. I loved inchusa, never refused a slice. Throughout my childhood and rebellious adolescence inchusa was the taste of comfort. Now my mother makes inchusa from time to time reminding us of my grandmother that is still very present in our lives although she passed away 15 years ago.

I ate inchusa all my life but only recently I've discovered its origins. This was thanks to my acquaintance with Gil Marks and his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. There I discovered that Inchusa is a traditional Sephardic tart containing a sweet or savory filling. The name originates from the Spanish enchusa, an herb from the borage family that was primarily used in the tart but later replaced with spinach. The custard was originally baked without a crust. To prevent it from sticking to the baking pan some flour was mixed with oil and the thick spinach and egg mixture gratin was spread over the top and baked.

The Sephardic culture and the Ladino language are slowly disappearing though there are efforts of preservation; the number of Ladino speakers is dropping steadily. I don't speak it to my kids though I grew up on it, my grandmother spoke very little Hebrew. Recently I've met two lovely ladies that have Turkish grandmothers and are trying to keep their legacy through food, and cooking. Liz and Ariella made me realize that making my kids inchusa or other Sephardic foods is a way of keeping my Sephardic legacy.
I baked inchusa for the first time last week and it was a great success. I made the gluten-free version (something my grandmother never heard of). My middle child got a school project. She has to bring something to class for "show and tell". It needs to be related to our family history and to combine something of Jewish history. My brother suggested I'll bring an inchusa, which is our true family heirloom.

1/2kg spinach leaves without stem and washed, chopped.
150gr Feta cheese
3 eggs
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons of flour (corn mill for the gluten-free version)
2 tablespoons grated cheese (either cachkaval or parmesan)
Salt and pepper.
Heat the oven to 180 centigrade.
Oil and flour a 22cm round tin or Pyrex
Mix all the ingredients till the mixture is unified. Pour to the tin and bake till a crust is formed.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A study in scarlet or is beet photogenic?

Beet ravioli: gluten-free

Less than a year ago all I knew about photography was how to click the little silver button and have the subject more or less in the middle of the frame. Each time a term such as "closing aperture" or "shutter speed" was used in my vicinity my eyes would glaze. Thanks to my best friend the talented Sarah Melamed (Foodbridge) I now see the world as one big photo op.  My latest craze is food photography and so I drive the whole household insane because they're not allowed to eat before I take a picture. I'm now studying diligently Helene Dujardin's "plate to pixel" and practice food styling and lighting.
 I was thrilled when my DH decided to buy beets for cooking. Beets have such a gorgeous color therefore must be very photogenic. I needed to find something to do with them and to form something eatable I can photograph. Again it was the DH that came up with the idea: beet ravioli. We had that dish a long time ago when we had only two kids, in a very luxurious restaurant. We didn't have the recipe of course but we recruited our memory and creativity.
Not a new nebula but an almost transparent slice of beet 

We used very few ingredients: beet, hard goat cheese such as a tomme de chevre, walnuts, olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and of course salt and pepper. The trickiest part is cutting the beet in thin slices that will form the ravioli. We used a mandolin slicer that does a beautiful job and is safe to use. Safety is an important issue when using this device, there're models out there that the term guillotine slicer describes them better. I must confess that all the pretty slicing was done by the DH while I simply chopped the cheese and walnuts. We marinated the beet slices in lemon juice and olive oil for half an hour and then proceeded to form the ravioli. Between two slices of beet we've put a chunk of cheese and chopped walnuts, trying to make it look like a closed pocket.
DH hand modeling how to close the ravioli

On top of the raviolis we sprinkled a bit of kosher salt and balsamic vinegar. The fun part was styling the whole thing, it was rather amusing since not me nor is the DH professional, so improvisation was the key to the photo session. When I finished taking the pictures we just ate the lot. They turned out great.
The rest of the beet was cut julienne style and tossed into a salad with the cheese leftovers, walnuts, chopped parsley, dill, olive oil and lemon juice. We served the salad to my parents at the Shabbath dinner, and they admitted it was the first time they had ever ate raw beet. My mom liked it but my dad diplomatically said he preferred to eat it as borscht.
crocuses blooming in the Judean Hills. 

Though winter is stalling and the days are still mostly sunny and clear, some flowers start to bloom after the long dry summer. We found not very far from where we live, in an archeological site dating to the days of King David, these carpets of crocuses. Sheer beauty. 


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The fountain of beer

Some of the beer taps in Maayan Habira

It was a lovely day at the beginning of May and we planned a great touristy experience in the old city of Akko. It didn't happen. Somehow the whole day went haywire. The traffic was horrible and the prospects of getting to Akko in a reasonable hour went up in exhaust pipe smoke.  We changed our destination and drove to Haifa instead, the northern port city where my dear husband grew up. There were five of us: my DH, "The Three Musketeers"-his three old pals since junior high and me. It was a special occasion since our gang member currently living in Zurich came to visit the homeland. We found it was quite a challenge to be tourists in our own country, at my DH and pals hometown. Finding something new and exciting in the mundane and familiar is not easy.
The Bahai temple in Haifa

Dedicated to our attempt to have a touristic experience we went to the prettiest part of Haifa: The Bahai Temple and Gardens on the slopes of the Carmel Mountain. We all knew in our hearts that the important bit is the lunch that will follow, so we spent very little time among the groomed flower beds. It was clear to us all that we will have hummus for lunch at one of Haifa's famous establishments. But like any plan we made that day this too wasn't going to happen.
A view to the Bahai Gardens, Haifa

The day was getting hotter as Israeli spring usually turns and we were getting thirsty. My DH had a brilliant idea. Why won't we have a beer at the local tavern "Ma'ayan Habira" (The Beer Fountain)? We all agreed especially since we've never been there. Ma'ayan Habira is one of those mythological establishments that exist for decades. It is not a fashionable bar or some trendy restaurant. Strangely enough, though we've been to Haifa countless times I've never been to the place though my DH promised to take me there ever since we started dating.
The entrance to the restaurant

I was pretty shocked when I saw the restaurant's neighborhood. Downtown Haifa is not very aesthetic or eye pleasing. But once you enter the place the atmosphere transforms. "Just one beer and we'll be off to have hummus" we agreed. We sat at the table only to leave two hours later slightly tipsy but in a very good mood. We had to try at least 4 kinds from the 16 types of draft beer the place serves. Of course that all this drinking couldn't be endured on empty stomach, some of the local specialties had to be ordered. We ended up having Eastern European delicacies such as chopped liver, and warm kostitza (a type of smoked ham) alongside pints of Belgian and English beers. There was lots of beer therefore lots of laughter. The hummus was completely forgotten. We ended the feast with Bavarian Creme, a type of pudding that was extremely popular here in the Seventies. 
Some of the food we had: beer, bread (the basics of life), kostitza, chopped liver and Bavarian Creme. 

Ma'ayan Habira was established in 1950 by Nachum Meir (his portraits decorate the restaurant's' walls).
Nachum Meir's portrait.

At first it was a sausage factory. It became a restaurant in 1962 and since then serves and prepares the same type of food. The restaurant is run by Meir's children and grand-children. Their draft beers include among others Belgian ales like Leff (Blond or Brun), English Newcastle brown ale, wheat beers like Hoegaarden and the Israeli made Goldstar, Heineken, and many more.
The bill: served on pieces of cardboard and handwritten. 
The restaurant is a rare institution in Israel where few restaurants survive more than 5 years. The food is simple but tasty, the beer flows like from a bursting fountain so chances are that any visit to the place will leave you feeling happier than you got in.
Maayan Habira
4th Nathanzon Street, Haifa
Open Sun-Thu 9:00-17:00, Tuesday open till 24:00.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Comfort food for hungry farmers

The orange season is here
For the past year I wasn't a very dedicated farmer and I've let my little organic garden wither. I don't even have a proper excuse but I've neglected my planters that once were thriving with tomatoes and eggplants. With the change of seasons I had a change of hearts, I decided I need to rehabilitate my garden and plant new herbs and vegetables that suit the coming winter. I've recruited the whole family for a joint effort. Our main task was to uproot the withered old plants and clean the terrace where the planters stand. My kids were not surprisingly very excited about playing with mud. My youngest son used his little red shovel to dig fiercely whether it was necessary or not. We've planted both flowers and vegetables. I look forward to see how the spinach, broccoli and radishes will turn out. The pansies are blooming beautifully.   
my pretty pansies
After spending most of the morning outdoors making an attempt to be good agriculturalists, come lunch time we were all ravenous. The best food to warm us cold hungry workers was our favorite orange soup of course. It's not made of oranges but from a variety of orange vegetables usually carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes. Each time we get a different soup depending on the ratios between the different vegetables. The secret to a wonderfully tasting soup is roasting the orange ingredients in the oven prior to cooking them. This process is caramelizing the sugar in the vegetables, than we add them to some sautéed onion, add water or stock and let the whole thing simmer for about half an hour. The final stage is mashing with a hand blender the whole mixture till we get creamy, velvety bisque. We love to upgrade the taste with a bit of whole cream and to sprinkle peeled sunflower seeds, the gluten-free option to croutons.

Now I look after my planters on daily basis, I even saw some small shoots already popping from the ground. We had a wonderful weather this week, it rained for days. So the rain started early this year; let's hope it will keep raining. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vote the Dead Sea

My faithful readers are aware of my escapist tendency and my avoidance of any political or actuality issues, but I'm joining the campaign for The Dead Sea. Just last week I spent half a day in the area which is one of my favorite in the whole world. I thought I'll be alone in the desert, enjoying the beauty and serenity of the Ein-Gedi oasis. Well, 5000 people thought the same. But it didn't matter. I still enjoyed myself and took many pictures. All the school kids that saw me wondering around with the Nikon on my neck were so impressed that it was worth the hassle.

I won't bother with you with all the dry facts about the Dead Sea, I will only say it is a wonder of nature that is horribly abused by Mankind. Perhaps it's winning in the official status will help repair and restore this place to what it ought to be.
So, please add your votes in the following link and add The Dead Sea to the list of 7 Wonders of Nature.

View of the Dead Sea from the Ein-Gedi oasis.

Hotels area on the artificial ponds in the southern part of the Dead Sea

Ibex, I always meet them traveling to the desert.
Ein-Gedi oasis, sweet water running in the desert on the shores of The Dead Sea
The vote will close very soon, on Friday the 11.11.2011 but according to recent updates The Dead Sea is among the finalists. Keep up the good work. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Memories of maple

Maple trees and maple syrup from Canada

One of my favorite childhood books was Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. I liked many books in the "Little House" series but the first book had a certain charm that made me read it so many times that at some point I knew whole bits and paragraphs by heart. For an Israeli kid growing up in the city under the harsh Mediterranean sun, the descriptions of endless woods and melting snow were utterly dreamlike. Above all I preferred the chapter "Sugar Snow" I think it still has a magical ring to it. In this episode little Laura's Grandpa and Pa are producing maple syrup.  

I loved the depiction of the way Grandpa hammers the wooden troughs into the trees and the sap flows and fills the buckets. I didn't even know what real maple syrup tasted like till I was a grown-up. In my childhood, maple syrup was artificially flavored simple sugar goo. I know people my age that think to this day that the fake syrup tastes better than the real thing, maybe because it was what they grew-up on. My kids, on the other hand when given the bogus maple, were outraged and claimed it to be disgusting. They've grown up on organic maple syrup imported from Vermont.
Last August in our voyage to Canada, it was clear to me I'll come back with lots of maple syrup. I knew I wouldn’t meet Grandpa as he drill into trees but I thought I might have a chance of seeing something similar to what I imagined so many years ago. When we stayed at the small island of Ile d'Orleans in Quebec I finally saw maple groves. I thought it was beautiful. These days the trees have plastic tubes where the sap pours. But a lot of the process is still as it was 150 years ago, as you can see in the following link:
When we got back home with something like 3 liters of maple syrup we immediately put them to good use.  For example in this salmon entrée, that was the star of our Rosh-Hashana meal.
Maple mustard grilled salmon
4 salmon fillets about 170gr each
1/2 cup (125ml) maple syrup
1/2 cup good quality mustard
Salt and pepper.
Season the fillets with salt and pepper.
Whisk the maple and mustard together in a bowl. Place the salmon in the bowl and marinate for at least 2 hours or even over-night.
Pre-heat a heavy pan, preferably cast iron place the fillets in the pan and braise them 5 minutes on one side and a little less on the other.
Serve at once.
Salmon served with Israeli couscous 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Let's start with something sweet

Jewish holidays are over. Yesterday we finally got back to the blessed routine: school, kindergarten, work and job hunt. We had a lot of free time on our hands these past couple of weeks but we ended up not doing much with it. I'll summarize my holiday adventures (and recipes) in the coming post, which naturally is taking me ages to write.
For now I just want to share with you this great gluten-free brownies recipe that will ease up any crisis or post-holiday melancholy because it uses a lot of chocolate. My loyal readers already know that I come from a household of chocoholics and I keep looking for new opportunities to incorporate chocolate in our nutrition. I firmly believe that one day, scientists will declare that chocolate is good for you.  I have adapted the current recipe from Chef Michael Smith's book: "Chef At Home", which I highly recommend for its simple yet delicious everyday cooking.
250 gr dark chocolate
200 gr butter
1 cup flour divided to 1/3 soy flour, 1/3 tapioca flour and 1/3 corn starch.
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1.5 tea spoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 eggs
2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180c (350F)
Melt in microwave the chocolate and butter then mix till smooth. While the chocolate mix cools whisk together the flours, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla to the chocolate and mix thoroughly. Stir in the flour mixture until incorporated. Pour batter into a lightly oiled and floured 9x13 inch tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
The brownies come out moist and fudgy, and taste great. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Autumn Blues

Views of Caesarea in the autumn light

It has been a month and half since we got back from our great Canadian adventure. I'm still a bit overwhelmed. We went back straight to the rat race of modern living. School year started with new schools for my eldest child and my youngest, my DH got back to his highly stressful job, the house missed us when we were away and many things around here needed taking care of.
I also got back to job hunting; I hope my days as a stay at home mom are numbered. Although only now I became aware of the fact that looking for a position is a full time job. So much of my time now is spent on polishing my CV, going through e-mails and websites, preparing to interviews. It is an absolute change of pace. With it came a change of mood; celebrating the beginning of a new year (in Jewish tradition) renders me contemplative and prone to soul searching. The weather changes as well, when the scorching Israeli summer is less cruel. The days are still very hot but at night a cool breeze blows that makes one snuggle in the blankets. We don't sleep with the air-con on anymore. Some days a light drizzle washes the dust away.

A couple of weeks ago we've experienced a bit of Israeli autumn, while visiting the ancient city of Caesarea in the rain. The day was beautiful, it rained a little and then the sun came out and played hide and seek behind the clouds,causing the light to tint the sea in deep shades of blue. The ruins and mosaics were washed and their vivid colors sparkled, making it easy to imagine how grand this city must have been thousands of years ago.
Part of the Byzantine bathhouse marble floor 

 On the way back home, we saw along the highway the maritime squill blooming; as every child in Israel knows it is a sure sign that autumn is here if only for a short while.
 I hope it will rain. 

Maritime squill blooms alongside highway no. 2 

If you are Hebrew readers or just like my photography, check out my blog in Hebrew at traveling ibex .

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rubies from my back yard

Growing up, I always wished for a house with a garden. I was born and raised in a city and lived most of my life in apartments. So when finally we managed to buy a house with a backyard just a few years ago, it was for me a childhood dream come true.
It is a very small piece of land I admit but it's mine. (Well, almost. Half of it belongs to the Bank). One of the first things my husband and I planted was a pomegranate tree along with an olive tree and a vine. The area where we live is mentioned in many biblical stories so it is very rich in relics and reminders of Jewish history. We felt here a strong connection to past generations of Jewish settlers and wanted to keep the tradition of growing olives, vines and pomegranates.
The tree in my backyard

I love my pomegranates. I am so pleased the tree is thriving in my back yard and gives fruits we eat and use. I don't need to go to the supermarket for pomegranates anymore. In addition I find this fruit to be so beautiful. The red seeds look like gems, like giant rubies. I can understand why throughout history so much symbolism and tales evolved around the pomegranate.
 Organic pomegranate juice 

In Jewish tradition for example the pomegranate is used as a metaphor for wisdom and good deeds because it is full of juicy seeds. The book of Torah is decorated with silver pomegranates. In many ancient Jewish settlements pomegranates motives were used for decoration. Even the current Israeli coin for two Shekels uses the pomegranate motif from coins used during the Roman Empire. I feel a part of very old agriculture tradition. Pomegranates are common in other cultures as well; in Greek mythology for example it symbolizes life and fertility.
A two Shekel coin from my purse

Come autumn followed by Jewish New Year and the holidays, we find ourselves gathering produce almost every day, the tree is bursting with fruit. Since our tree is organic (no pesticides or herbicides) we use the fruits mainly for juice. According to recent scientific researches, pomegranate juice is really good for you. They're full of antioxidants, anti-cancerous agents; it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels and can boost the immune system. It is also very tasty.

It is traditional to eat pomegranates  in Jewish New Year ceremonial dinner (you can read more about it in this post: It symbolizes hope for a year full of good deeds like the fruits' seeds. 
So later tonight we're bringing with us a bag full of pomegranates to the feast and we'll celebrate the coming of a new and hopefully good year.
Shana Tova!
Pomegranate blossom in the spring