Nov 052013

image olive harvest galilee

The Israel Olive Branch Festival occurs in October-November each year and extends from the Negev to the Galilee. I joined a tour to one of the Druze festival sites in the Upper Galilee, hoping to bring some olives home to pickle, and remembering how long I ago I picked olives on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu.

… I was very new in Israel then. In fact, I got off the plane and went straight to the kibbutz to join the Ulpan program, where I worked in the fields in the mornings, and studied Hebrew in the afternoons. I learned enough Hebrew to get by. Picked up all kinds of other information too, like on the first day we students went olive harvesting.

At the ghastly hour of 6:30 a.m., we climbed onto the back of a rusty old truck and bumped over dusty fields in the growing light, stopping at the olive orchards.  I stood and looked at the trees laden with green and purple fruit. How do you pick the fruit, I asked the dour kibbutznik in charge. I meant, one by one, with your fingers, or how?

He said impatiently, “It’s just like milking a cow.”He made a gesture of pulling his fist downwards.

Oh, er, right. I’d just come from urban Caracas and Rio de Janeiro, and had no idea how to milk a cow. Or a sheep. Or a nanny goat, for that matter.

But I learned. That is, I learned to pick olives. And the feeling of plump olives against the palm of my hand, and the scrape of the wood as the olives come away from the twig, stays with me. So partly from nostalgia, and partly because I love everything about olive trees, I jumped at the chance to travel north and stand in the soft blue light between olive trees again. Continue reading »

Aug 122013

kosher Druze lamb kebabs

I travel to the north several times a year. As the bus rolls up the country, I’ve looked at the Arab and Druze villages covering the Galilee hills and wondered about the people; how they live, what they eat. It looks rural and Arabic, it has an atmosphere of a by-gone day, but I know that the larger towns have community centers, clinics and regional schools.

There is open and free travel to anywhere. All the same, I get the impression that village people tend to stay where they are, especially the women. It’s the men who move around for business purposes, or with the Druze, to serve in the army.

As my cooking has grown to reflect Middle-Eastern flavors,  I’ve come to appreciate regional Arabic foods. But most of my exposure to these foods has come from fabulous cookbooks like those of Claudia Rodin or Yotam Ottolenghi, or from meals featuring ethnic cuisine at kosher restaurants. I never expected to walk safely in a Druze or Arab village, much less to cook and eat in one. But a few weeks ago, I did.

image druze street

Continue reading »

Dec 302012

jerusalem 2012

Why did I shlep my family away from warm Petach Tikvah to trawl grey, windy Jerusalem on a December day?

All the Jerusalemites were hurrying their errands along, anxious to get off the chilly streets and  back into warm apartments. Not at all like my previous visit to the town on a sunny day.  So what were we – Husband, The Little One, my son Eliezer, and I – doing there?

Well, revisiting scenes from Eliezer’s childhood.

As soon as Eliezer was old enough to roam around the city on his own, he made certain neighborhoods his territory, exploring every obscure alley, arched stone doorway, and hole in the ground. (He tells me that a small boy can travel underground through the Bucharim neighborhood through a network of old dry wells and tunnels that still exist there.) And Shuk Machaneh Yehudah was another playground for little roamers like him, who melted into the background and absorbed all there was of atmosphere, customs, tastes and smells without the busy vendors and shoppers taking notice.

And so we walked through the shuk, up Agrippas Street, and down the Ben Yehudah pedestrian mall to Zion Square, in search of those long-lost times.

Continue reading »

Sep 252012


This post is not about food that you and I are going to eat. Although, it is about food – and electricity, and basic things like toilet paper – for HaBayit Shel Susan, a job training center in Jerusalem that rescues kids at risk. I visited the center on the foodie tour of Jerusalem organized by Tal Marom Communications.

 The kids, ages 15-20, come off the street or were referred to the center by social workers, teachers, or other professionals.  They arrive scarred by long neglect and abuse, trusting nobody yet starving for attention. And although many deny it at first, they’re also hungry to fit into normal, working lives.


At HaBayit Shel Susan, volunteers teach the kids life skills. Who volunteers? Top artists and  business people; students, pensioners, all kinds of professionals, and just plain good-hearted folks. Avital Goel, the manager, works with a team of salaried teachers and volunteers who conduct informal therapy sessions, take the kids on trips, and teach a variety of classes to close some of the gaps in their education..

The program aims to teach the kids how to design and craft glass and paper objects, the sale of which goes to support the center. And they do produce lovely things: tableware, jewelry, and much more.

image-glass-plate-habayit-shel-susan image-hairpins-habayit-shel-susan


Continue reading »

Aug 122012


Reader, it’s been too long. Don’t think I’ve forgotten you. It’s just been….life.

Soon after my return from Canada, my husband became seriously ill, with hospitalization, medication, aggravation – the whole megillah. He’s still not entirely well, but at least he’s home and able to be alone for some hours at a time.

What happened? Well, Husband dehydrated in the extraordinary heat wave Israel’s been experiencing this past month. Dried out to the point of kidney damage. We’re lucky he’s still here. And if anyone feels like saying a quick prayer for him, or just sending good energy our way, his name is Yosef  Dov ben Mina.

I have many many things to tell you and many photos to share – in a few days, when my computer gets fixed. Somehow a virus got past my antivirus programs and firewall. I’m working on a backup laptop without access to my recent photos – sigh. But all that’s small potatoes compared to the scare we just went through as a family. I’m only grateful that Husband is  recovering.

My vacation in Calgary has floated back to the past. Still, let me offer you  glimpses of things I enjoyed there, whose photos I saved on blessed Flickr before the computer crash.

Continue reading »

Jul 242012


The Stampede festival in Calgary, Canada, that is.

Every July the entire city of Calgary takes a ten-day vacation from ordinary life and transforms itself into the Wild West. Putting aside mundane concerns, the townsfolk put on big white hats, proud to show their cattle ranch origins, or at least, their fantasies of cowboy origins, and go out to celebrate with a loud “Yahoo!”

This year, Calgary was more exuberant than ever because it was celebrating its 100th Stampede festival. The Wikipedia entry gives a full picture of how the city gives itself over to this Western dream every year.

Continue reading »

Aug 302011

August has been a month of short trips away from home. To Tsfat, visiting many good friends there. To Acco (Acre), where I wandered through layers of history at the Crusader Fortress. To Rosh Pina, hilly town of rural roads climbing up to nineteenth-century houses and peaceful olive groves. That’s why I haven’t been posting much. Fact is, I haven’t been cooking much.

I’ve been dreaming out of bus windows for long hours, tramping new ground, aiming my camera everywhere. When at home, meals have been Old Familiars and Reheatables – foods I can cook in my sleep and most of which I’ve shown you here. I don’t know why I’ve felt compelled to rise and walk the Land these past weeks. Maybe it’s the ominous newspaper articles about possible violence, come next month. If indeed war comes, which G-d forbid, we may not have the freedom to move around. Or is it a combination of foreboding and my inborn restlessness? Who knows.

But it’s almost September. The Little One gathers notebooks and pencils, anticipating the return to school. An autumnal breeze blows through my neighborhood, making a susurrus in the treetops. The little crop of potatoes I planted on my balcony is ready to for my digging fingers to pull out. And the urge to get up and go dissolves, giving way to the old instinct that says, Stay in your kitchen and cook.

Proof of that is a new sourdough bread recipe I came up with today, where I added very soft cooked brown rice to the first rise. (And if you get the pun at the beginning of the sentence, say so here!) Give me the day or so the dough takes to ferment, and I’ll show you the finished bread later on.

In the meantime, see some of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve talked to. I have loved visiting them.

How about Rosh Pina?

Here’s a goat enjoying an olive tree nosh on the organic Ginat HaMitbach farm. image-goat-israel
Goats provide the milk from which the farm’s excellent cheeses are made. You can also buy beautiful loaves of organic sourdough bread there. And on Fridays they serve a generous rustic breakfast, all kosher. Ginat HaMitbach doesn’t have a website, but if you read Hebrew you’ll find them on Facebook. image-israeli-goat-cheese

I bought an unripe Camembert there, accepting strict instructions to keep it in the fridge and forget about it for the next three weeks, except to turn it over a few times. The owner of the farm wasn’t present, but Alice, a WOOF volunteer, allowed me to take her photograph. (More about the WOOF volunteer organization here.) image-woof-volunteer-israel

Another food adventure in Rosh Pina was finding The Well Delicatessen, where Sigal Eshet-Shafat sells extremely delicious jams, liqueurs, salad dressings and marinades. All her original recipes, all ingredients locally sourced, and all kosher. My photos came out awful, but you can see the products at her site. image-Sigal-Eshet-Shafat

Sigal’s apricot-passiflora jam is something out of this world. In fact, I think I’ll thin down some of that sourdough with milk and make some pancakes – topped with that jam. And her spicy date marinade, sort of a thin chutney, is going to feature in one of my roast chickens sometime soon.

Moving up the mountain to Tsfat, here is this year’s Klezmer festival. I arrived in the early afternoon, getting off the bus next to the ongoing tent protest promoting rent control nationwide. image-tent-protest-israel

The Ottoman clock tower by day… image-ottoman-clock-tower

The Ottoman clock tower by night, with the happy crowd surging under it. image-ottoman-clock-tower

A street barbeque in front of a local butcher store. I know the shop from when I used to live in Tsfat, so confident of the kashrut, I bought a pita stuffed with Merguez sausages and salad. It was the best Merguez I’ve ever eaten. image-street-barbeque-safed

One of the big stages is always set up on Avraham Sadeh Square. It was almost sunset at the time I took this photo.


Long after the last performance, I sat there alone with a friend in front of the empty stage, eerily surrounded by about 500 white plastic chairs while the cold moon rode high above.

Frammin’ and jammin’ in HaMeginim Square late at night. image-klezmer-festival-safed image-klezmer-festival-safed

I heard the hypnotic, dancing beat – there were at least four different drums going – as I stood in a friend’s courtyard down the road. Since no one could see me and the rhythm was exactly right, I started singing Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” into the soft darkness. I have to admit, I was amused when neighbors sitting out on balconies started looking around to find the singer. But I did not reveal myself. No, I am too modest.

Down the coast to Acco, where an entire Crusader fortress stands. It was like stepping into a time warp ca. 1230.

The impressive hall where knights and travelers gathered to dine.


Some of the great halls have perfect acoustics. It’s worth singing a refrain or two for the thrill of hearing your magnified voice rebounding along the ceiling and walls.

The headstone of a knight’s tomb. This Peter had been an important administrator. image-crusader-tombstone-acre I viewed Peter’s pious attitude with a cynical eye. Was he one of those good knights who leaped off the ships and began enthusiastically slaughtering every non-Christian in sight?

Crusader latrines, built over the tidal wash that runs under the grounds twice daily. image-crusader-latrines

These latrines looked very much like the ancient Roman ones in the Beit Shean archeological park. Well, now I know something about Crusader plumbing.

I stumbled upon a house surrounded by whimsical sculptures. Indeed I thought it was an art gallery, and started photographing. It’s actually a private home. But I liked these storks, maybe put on the lawn to celebrate the annual stork migration over the Galilee. The big birds sometimes stay overnight. A friend in Tsfat once told me she woke up and found them perched everywhere in her garden. image-stork-sculpture

That sourdough batter is light and bubbly by now. Think I’ll go and make some pancakes. See you later!

Jul 292011

image-cooky craze

Lone Tree Brewery beers are produced in a small facility in Gush Etzion. I had tasted them at the national beer event in Tel Aviv last winter, and like them very much. So when brewmaster David Shire invited the food bloggers and writers to  the microbrewery last Friday, I was excited to go.

Bloggers Liz Steinberg, Emily Segaland Mirj Weiss. Other writers and bloggers were present and eagerly tasting as well – in all, about 30 visitors.

It was a rustic display of Gush Etzion’s gastronomic goodies. Some manufacturers are just starting out and sell mostly in the Gush. Others routinely distribute around Israel, and some sell their products abroad.

There was plenty of chocolate and plenty of liqueurs.


Yekev Lavie produces black and white chocolate liqueurs, coffee cream, honey, cherry, caramel, and crème de cassis.
kosher medhadrin; some dairy varieties
Liqueurs are available in Israeli wine stores.

In friendly rivalry was Chocoholique, a boutique liqueur manufacturer who describe their product as “drinking chocolate.” They offer 8 varieties of chocolate-based liqueurs, some of which are unusual here in Israel, like their peppermint, chili pepper, and peanut butter ones.
Kosher mehadrin, pareve
Orders: Marc Gottleib +972-2-991-9443


Itamar of the Beit Lechem Bakery put out a sample of their extremely delicious breads. They have whole wheat, sourdough, and spelt breads – all natural, no chemicals.

image-beit- lechem-bread
Beit Lechem Bakery
Itamar, Tel. 054-4769-464
Breads available in Jerusalem health food stores.

Like fancy cookies? The amusing bouquets (first photo on this post) and business cards printed onto cookies caught my eyes. David and Suzie Gross of The Cookie Crave also bake amazingly good tarts and cakes. Hard to resist noshing!

The Cookie Crave
Kosher Mehadrin, pareve
Tel: +972-2-9933178
Kosher mehadrin, pareve
Local distribution; ships world-wide

We weren’t done with chocolate yet. Zev Stander of Holy Cacao fascinated us with his story. He’s the only one in Israel who imports cocoa beans (some from his own plantation in Peru) and makes the finished product from scratch. The quality of Holy Cacao chocolates is exceptional. And Zev practices fair trade with his cacao suppliers.

Click on the link to Facebook below to view photos of these out-of-the-world chocolates.

Holy Cacao
Zev Stander
Tel: 054-804-1326
Order via Facebook page:

Ferency Winery is my kind of winery. Small, producing 10,000 bottles yearly at this time, and all-organic. Gershon Ferency is vineyard master and winebrewer, making Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and a blend of the whites that I found particularly refreshing. I liked Gershon’s attitude towards wine-making: going against the current trend of designing the wine to fit a particular profile, he “lets the wine speak for itself.”

I agree. The winemaker really only manages fermentation: the character of the wine will emerge from the grapes themselves.


Kerem Ferency


I have to confess. I’ve always disliked herring. I know – I know. How could I possibly survive a kiddush at shul without tasting the herring? But I always sort of snuck past it.

At the Gush gathering though, was Mordechi Zucker of Kiddush Club. Based in Efrat, Mordechai brines and smokes the most delicious gravelox and herring. I loved his salty herring. Sweet, I can still live without. Yes, lovers of traditional sweet herring will jump down my throat. I am resigned. Mordechai makes 7 different varieties.

Another boutique food manufacturer with slow-food ideas, Mordechai is dedicated to old methods of preserving fish that are vanishing today. When asked, he said that he smokes his fish on his apartment porch. “I give lots of samples out to the neighbors!”

Kiddush Club
Mordechai Zucker
Tel: 057-315-4794
By order only.

Let’s finish with more wine.
At the end of the event, six or so of us traveled on to the Gush Etzion Winery, where we were offered a tour and tastings of their Nahal HaPirim and Emek Bracha series. The winery is located at the Gush Etzion intersection and is well worth the visit.

Apart from Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Gwwurtztaminer, Riesling, Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier – as if the wines weren’t enough – there is a lovely dairy/fish restaurant.

We feasted on hot quiches and egg dishes and a huge variety of salads (Mirj was especially taken with the chickpea/lemon salad). The menu offers a very large variety of dishes, including a red mullet tajine that I’d love to order next time I’m in the Gush.


Gush Etzion Winery

Click on the “restaurant” tab to see all the options in English.
Tel: 02-930-9220

What with the high mountain air and beautiful views and good food and drink, that was one of the best Fridays I’ve had in a very long time. Many thanks to David Shire of Lone Tree Breweries and all who helped him get the event together.


Lone Tree Brewery

Kosher mehadrin, pareve
To order beer:
Susan 054-234-5439
David 050-530-6036

To know more about David (who speaks with an intriguing Scots accent) and the brewery, see an interview with him on Foodbridge.

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