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.