Jun 172011
 

image-pickled-cherries
I had a crucial role in my high school production of The Taming of The Shrew. Before the curtain rose, I and two other girls in Elizabethan peasant costume strode through the audience, carrying wicker baskets  of plastic fruit and calling “Blackberries! Strawberries! Che-e-e-ries!”

That was it. Oh no, wait, at the last scene, when all the characters crowd onto the stage to witness Kate’s new, humbled attitude, I was there too. Cool, eh?

Well, I don’t know how they would have managed without me. But till today, whenever I buy cherries the echo of that old vendor’s call rings in my mind. Che-e-e-ries!

Pickled Cherries

printable version here

Recipe from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking

Ingredients:

500 grams – 1 lb. morello cherries

3/4 cup white sugar

1.5 cup wine or apple cider vinegar

6 whole cloves

Method:

Rinse and drain the cherries, discarding any damaged ones and leaving the stems on. Pack them in a clean, dry jar.

Bring the vinegar, sugar and cloves to a boil. Lower the heat and allow the liquid to boil gently for 10 minutes. Allow it to cool in its pan. Pour the cooled vinegar over the cherries and put the lid on the jar. Store in a cool, dark place for 1 month before opening and eating.

The recipe may be multiplied as many times as you like. Don’t worry if at first the liquid doesn’t cover the cherries: just shake the jar a little for a few days. As the fruit releases its juice, the liquid level will rise and the fruit will submerge.

image-pickled-cherries

As you see, plastic wrap works to keep dust and flies out of the jar. Best is to close the jar properly of course.

Eat the cherries as you would olives, as part of an appetizer or as a nosh. The remaining liquid makes fabulous salad dressing, with olive oil, salt, and a touch of garlic.

I look forward to putting some of  these sweet-sour cherries on the table come Rosh HaShanah. They also make great Purim gifts. You’ll have to hide a few jars away if you want them that far ahead.

Once cured, the cherries will keep up to a year.

image-pickled-cherry

Apr 062011
 

image-boeuf-bourgignone

Yes, of course I took the recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book, in two volumes, was a gift from my journalist sister Dina when I visited her in Calgary. The sales lady had to search the store for the complete set because there’s been a run on Volume I since the Julia and Julia movie was released. Well, I wanted both books, to work my way slowly through the kashrut-adaptable recipes. Which might take years.

Meantime, I’m with boeuf. It’s a handsome dish for Shabbat or a major holiday like Rosh HaShanah, and I’m thinking that substituting fine (cake) matzah meal for the flour, it will be an excellent dish to serve on Passover.

Julia Child would have OK’d the changes I made to her recipe, I think. Reading her autobiographical My Life in France, a sense of her warmth and humanity rises from the pages like the scent of good cooking. I’m sure she understood about kosher dietary restrictions. And after all, that’s how Jewish cuisine evolves, by adapting local recipes to kosher standards.

If you want to be historically accurate, boeuf bourguignon must be cooked with bacon. That’s no option for kosher cooks, but there is an umami-contributing alternative: shmaltz. (Here’s how to make that wonderful, fragrant, old-world shmaltz.)

Other flavorful ingredients in this potchkeyed recipe include soy sauce and dried mushrooms. More garlic than Julia called for, but then, I must have a constant high level of garlic in my bloodstream or I start feeling…pale. Or something.

Notes:

  • Use beef with some fat running through the flesh. I buy shoulder. Here in Israel it’s the no. 5 cut.
  • While Julia’s recipe instructs you to drain the bacon fat, I find that you should keep the shmaltz to brown the vegetables. The dish is not at all greasy, although you can certainly draw a couple of paper towels over the surface when it’s done to get rid of  fat.
  • I use an entire bottle of  dry red wine as the cooking liquid. The classic recipe calls for veal stock but since I cook so little beef, I don’t keep it around. Sometime, I might try chicken or turkey stock, but meantime, wine makes a rich, flavorful sauce. Only dry red wine, please, and while it shouldn’t be plonk, it shouldn’t be an expensive bottle either.  (Israelis -most  Segel brand wines are inexpensive yet drinkable  – I usually use one of those  or another in a comparable price range.)
  • I don’t strain the sauce, although maybe I should. Nobody’s complained yet.
  • If you leave the soy sauce out and substitute fine (cake)  matzah flour, this is an impressive and easy dish to serve on Passover.
  • Alright, so I usually leave out the classic fresh sautéed mushrooms and cooked whole small onions that go into the pan almost just before serving. But if you want to, cook 18-24 pearl onions in stock and sauté 500 grams – 1 lb. fresh, thickly sliced mushrooms in olive oil. Add them to the pan after step 7.

What I can say is that everyone who eats this dish likes it. And after you’ve made it once, you’ll see how easy it is. Putting it together takes maybe half an hour, then the oven does all the work. It’s delicious re-heated too.

Kosher Bœuf Bourguignon

printable version here

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 kg. – 2.2 lbs. beef, cut into large cubes

2 tablespoons shmaltz

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large carrot, peeled and thickly sliced

1 large onion, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

2 tablespoons flour or fine matzah meal

1 750-ml. bottle of dry red wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup dried, sliced Porcini or other mushrooms

1 tablespoon Tamari soy sauce

2 bay leaves

1 large sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

4 cloves garlic, minced

Method:

Preheat oven to 450° F – 220° C.

1. Pat the beef chunks with paper towels to dry surface moisture.

2. In a large, heavy pan, melt the shmaltz. Add the olive oil. Let the fats get quite hot.

3. Sauté the beef chunks in the hot fat, a few at a time. Turn them over so that all sides brown.Remove the browned beef from the pan to a platter. I use tongs for this.

4. Sauté the onion and carrot in the same pan for about 5 minutes. Return the beef to the pan and sprinkle salt and pepper over everything. Mix with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the flour over all and mix again.

5. Put the uncovered pan in the oven for 5 minutes. Mix the meat and brown it again for another 5 minutes. Place the pan on the  stovetop, over medium heat, and turn the oven down to 325° F – 160°C.

6. Pour the wine into the beef and vegetables. Add tomato paste, garlic,  soy sauce, and dried mushrooms. Stir to dissolve the tomato paste. Simmer the stew for 5 minutes. Place the bay leaves and thyme on top of the beef and push them in a little with a spoon so that they flavor the cooking liquid.

7. Cover the beef and put it in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, then check to see if it’s fork-tender. Let it cook 1/2 hour longer if needed.  When you judge it’s ready, take the stew out of the oven and skim the fat off if liked. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Add optional onions and fresh mushrooms now.

Garnish the stew with a little parsley and serve with plain boiled potatoes, rice, or noodles. Mighty good.

 

Dec 152010
 

image-home-made-olives

Long ago and far away, a friend and I would drive up to the Meron hills and pick olives from abandoned trees there. But since moving to the center of the country, I buy raw olives in the shuk. Any shuk. This past September, it was the Ramleh shuk.

image-raw-olives

image-ramla-market

It’s a long process, curing olives, but not a lot of work. The first thing you have to do is find yourself a good rock.  A rock with a good heft, one that the hand closes around comfortably.

It’s for cracking the olives. I found a likely one in a field near my building and brought it home to wash. It looks like a loaf of sourdough bread, but it’s a rock, and it crushes my olives fine. (The white bloom on it appeared after I poured boiling water over it and then rinsed it with vinegar).

image-raw-crushed-olives

My usual recipe calls for simply packing the olives in brine, but I was curious to try Sarah Melamed’s method with vinegar, so that’s what I did. The result was a little too vinegary for my taste, but after a second brining with fresh herbs, the olives, with only a hint of vinegar, the olives were a savory treat.

You’ll only need a big jar and water the first week. So get yourself a clean rock and a kilo or two of raw green olives to start. Look for signs of ripening among the olives you buy – some will have turned darker.

Rinse the olives and drain. Discard any spoiled ones. Crush them with your handy-dandy rock, a few at a time, and put them in the jar.  Some will escape and fly around the kitchen, of course, but just pick ‘em up, rinse again, and keep going. Take it easy, though – the weight of the rock should be enough to just crack the olives, not smash them to bits.

Actually, you don’t have to do the rock thing. If you have a meat-tenderizing mallet, that’ll work fine.

Cover the fruit with water. Make sure there are none floating – weigh them down with a small saucer or drape plastic wrap over the surface of the water to keep them under. Change the water every 24 hours. Do this for a week.

The olives will lose their bright color and take on a drabber, khaki shade. This is good – it means that their bitterness is leaching out. When the olives are uniformly darker, taste them to judge if they’re ready for brining. If they’re still bitter, soak them and change the water for another few days.

Once the olives are ready, drain them and put them in a large bowl while washing out their jar. Make a brine. This is:

10 grams of salt for every 100 ml. of water or  7 tablespoons of salt per half-cup of water.

For every 4 cups of brine, add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. Mix well.

Replace the olives in the clean jar. Pour the salt/vinegar brine over all. Add 1 sliced lemon or lime,  hot red peppers,  garlic cloves, sprigs of rosemary or thyme, black pepper, bay leaves, allspice, or grape leaves – to taste and depending on what you have in your kitchen at the time.

Cover the olives with plenty of olive oil to exclude air and prevent spoilage. Close the jar. Leave it alone for a month, then taste an olive every week or so till you’re satisfied. For me, it took 8 weeks. If you like them the way they are, serve them as is. If, like me, you prefer a salty taste to vinegar, drain them, make a new brine as above without the vinegar, and put them back in the jar with fresh herbs and a new layer of olive oil to cover them. After a week or two, they’ll be ready, and just keep improving over time.

image-home-made-olives

Keep your olives in a cool, dry place.  How to serve them?

  • Eat them alone, as a nosh or appetizer.  A little fresh, chopped parsley, cilantro, or basil, mixed into the bowl of olives you intend to eat right away, is a very nice thing. Or:
  • Chop some into dishes that use chopped meat, like picadillo, meat loaf, or hamburgers
  • Add whole olives to braised chicken 10 minutes before serving
  • Or to potatoes
  • Or  to rice
  • Or add some chopped to an omelet…the world is yours with these olives.

image-olives

Nov 092010
 

image-glass-of-wine

Last night, four food-blogging ladies hit Israel’s major wine exhibit, Sommelier. Set in the enormous rooms of Heichal HaTarbut, Tel Aviv, the exhibit offered food and wine professionals tastings of over 200 wines.

I can’t say I tasted all of them. Noooo…some weren’t kosher.

Like this grappa. But the bottles looked so beautiful, I photographed them anyway.

image-grappa-bottles

My three friends Sarah Melamed, Yaelian, and Liz Steinberg,  and I did our very best to explore the possibilities. As group elder, I advised eating against all reasonable standards – lots of fat and starches – in order to taste and yet stay sober. Which we did. Eat, I mean. Sobriety, we’ll talk about later.

There was a stand displaying a gourmet brand of olive oil, which we would have been wise to taste first.

image-olive-oils
Only later did I remember a piece of folk wisdom from Jerusalem’s Bucharian community:  to manage a couple or three shots of vodka on Shabbat morning, line your stomach with a quarter-cup or so of melted fat – sheep’s tail fat – from the cholent.

With all due respect – euw. But the principle is sound. Line your stomach with fat. Olive oil works fine; forget the sheep’s tail fat.

Instead of being wise, we were carefree. Platters of fine kosher cheeses, and crackers, stood on low tables everywhere. We picked at the plates but eventually ordered a platter, gathered around, and noshed. It was great that the platter and forks were made of biodegradable paper.

image-cheese-platter

I bought some wonderful, sharp goat’s cheese once I located the dairy (Jacob’s farm). It was almost as delicious this morning at breakfast as it was last night. But then, everything delicious tastes more so with wine.

image-cheeses-Yacovy

We circulated, accepting sips of this organic Merlot, that mellow Chardonnay, the other well-blended combination of Cab, Merlot, and Syrah.

Image-bottle-galil-wine

As always, my heart went to the Dalton winery, and my taste buds rejoiced in their Merlot D.
image-dalton-barrel
We all fell in love with a pomegranate wine from the Granada boutique winery. It’s free of the sweet-sour taste common to other pomegranate wines, very good and light.

image-pomegranate-wine

Yael is the white wine lady. For every sip of my Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, she sipped a Viognier or Chardonnay. Being Scandinavian, she soon felt the heat as the rooms started to fill.

image-sommelier-event
Liz and Sarah were open-minded and tried white and red equally.

We all loved the new Tabor 562 red and white Brut wines, which are dry and bubbly. They’re fermented under pressure in closed containers to retain the C02 – a new, and effective method. This isn’t fine champagne, but it’s a fun wine. Sarah commented, ” This is a wine for the outdoors,” and I agree. Having 11% alcohol, it’s lighter than many other Israeli wines; great to take on a picnic.

image-brut-562

Our friend, wine steward Irene, told us that Israeli wines are usually higher in alcohol than most American and European wines. Many have as much as 15% alcohol by volume. Here Irene is showing us the Golan Heights organic Merlot from the Odem vineyard.

image-odem-wine

In general, there seems to be a trend moving towards more natural and even organic wines. Several winery managers, notably Reuven Rubin of the Golan Heights winery, gave us examples of green consciousness: recycling production water to irrigate crops; spreading the used-up grape skins on the vineyard soil as mulch; getting part of their energy needs from windmills; recycling all plastic bags and cardboard boxes.

There were few totally organic wines, but they were very good. Golan Height’s organic Odem vineyard produces a light, fruity Merlot that was a delight.

Another growing wine trend is kosher wines. The religious community has acquired a palate. The industry has woken up to that fact. New numbers of kashrut-observant Jews want to fine wines, and we’re getting them.

image-kosher-wine

The owner of one boutique winery confessed,

“It’s good business to go kosher, and as of next vintage, all my wines will be. But as a non-observant Jew, I’ll have to stand to one side with my arms folded while everyone else will be doing the work. That’ll be hard.”

I can understand that. But I’m sure he’ll like the revenues.

It was fun to circulate, sipping a new wine every few feet – and picking at great cheese when tempted. The most fun was being “in a pack,” as Liz said. Much more fun with girlfriends than going alone. It also gave us the freedom to just start conversations with strangers with friends observing from a distance and ready to join if it looked really interesting. Here Yael and Liz photograph a cheese platter in one of the resting nooks.

image-resting-nook

The Tishbi winery offered a display of delicious jams made from wine.
image-wine-jams

I hate to tell you how many hours we were at the exhibit. But I will anyway. We spent five hours walking around, tasting, resting once in a while in one of the many nooks created just for tired visitors-
image-resting-corner

- chatting with each other and with friends (and total strangers) that we found there. All of us, I am sorry to say, felt somewhat…altered, after a while.

But the atmosphere was pleasant and we were comfortable till the hall became too crowded, towards night.

image-wine-bottles
It’s amusing how by the last hour or so at these events,  everyone – visitors and staff and managers – is walking around with a big, mellow smile on their face. We broke up at about 7:00 and went home to dinner.

It had been, as Sarah said, “awesome fun.”

image-wine-barrels

Sep 202010
 

use up your leftover wine

The wine was good, but dinner’s over and there’s just a little left in the bottle.  What can you do with it?

Keep it. Even a little wine does magic things to your cooking.

1. Make your own wine vinegar. It’s easy. You’ll need a clean glass jar and a bottle of commercial vinegar with the “mother of vinegar” – wisps of original vinegar-making material in it. Organic vinegars work best.

  • Pour the bottle of vinegar into your jar. Add any leftover wine to it. You can mix wines if you want, but the vinegar does taste better if you keep separate jars for white and red.
  • Cover the jar with cheesecloth or a paper towel. Secure it with a rubber band.
  • Store at room temperature, away from any open bottles of wine. You don’t want vinegar bacteria getting into your drink.
  • Stir once daily and start tasting after a week. Some vinegar will evaporate, so keep adding leftover wine.
    Don’t be startled if a new “mother” starts forming at the bottom of the jar. This is a sign of good health. Once it’s firm, you can pick it out of the jar with tongs and give it away, compost it, or use it to start a fresh supply of vinegar.
  • Start using the vinegar when it’s gotten sour enough to suit you.

2. Blend up a wine vinaigrette. Leftover white wine makes an elegant, fresh-tasting salad dressing or sauce for fish, chicken, or vegetables.  You’ll need:

1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons)
1 teaspoon honey – if the wine is dry. If using a sweet wine, omit the honey.
1/4 teaspoon  salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup olive oil

  • Blend the wine, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Still blending (either with a fork, whisk, or the blender), add the oil, slowly.
  • Mix again just before serving.

That’s it. The vinaigrette will keep up to a week refrigerated.

3. Poach pears in wine. This dessert makes a welcome light ending to a rich meal. Use red or rosé wine. Follow this link for the recipe.

4. Marinate beef, chicken, fish, or tofu in wine. Use your judgment; red wine for red meat, white or rosé for chicken, white for fish or tofu. Keep in mind how the color of the wine will affect the look of the finished dish: will you mind if your chicken looks purple?

A simple marinade:

1 cup leftover wine, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 thinly-sliced onion, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, ½ teaspoon ground or freshly-grated ginger, a strip of orange peel as long as your forefinger, 1 bay leaf.

  • Lay the raw meat (or fish, or tofu) in the marinade. Refrigerate immediately till you’re ready to cook the dish. Note: Meat, chicken, and tofu may be marinated ½-hour to overnight in the fridge. Fish will “cook” and fall apart if left longer than ½-hour in the marinade.
  • Turn the ingredients over half-way into the marinating time so that they will absorb the flavors evenly.
  • Remove the marinaded ingredient from the liquid. Now grill, sauté, or roast your dish.
  • Don’t throw the marinade liquid out either.  You can cook it down in a saucepan till it’s thick and spoon it over the finished dish for yet more flavor.

5. Use leftover wine as part of the liquid in tomato sauce or gravy. The perceptible “winey” flavor will cook out, but the sauce will take on a richness and depth that wasn’t there before. On the other hand, if you stir the wine in just a few minutes before you intend to serve, the the sauce will have a delicious winey top note to harmonize with the deeper, rich notes of cooked vegetables.

6. Freeze your leftover wine.Use sealable bags to store your leftover wine, even quarter-cupfuls, in the freezer. You can then break off however much you think you’ll need, as you need it.

Use up or freeze your leftover wine within a day if it’s been left out, or a week if it’s been re-corked and kept in the fridge. Wine that’s old and tastes unpleasant is only fit to be poured down the drain.

I love the taste of roast-lamb gravy enriched with a last-minute dollop of red wine. My grandmother, who studied the art of sauces at the Cordon Bleu (back in the 1950s), used to make roast lamb with wine gravy – and when I cook it like she did, vivid memories of summertime dinners at Grandma and Grandpa’s house come back to me.

Aug 082010
 

crowd2

It was as I’d anticipated. Jerusalem, with its unique energy. Cool night air, lots of happy people milling around with wine glasses in their hands, gravel crunching underfoot, a good band, and the aroma of wine everywhere.

pouring wine

But…nobody walked up to me and asked, “Are you Mimi?” I had to give all my chocolates away to total strangers instead of to readers. I gave some to Baroness Tapuzina and Mr. B.T. too. We’d all driven up together and parked under the same friendly olive tree as last year.

And did I drink as much as last year? I hate to be a party pooper, but I had sips of this and that, amounting only to one glassful. I guess it’s because unlike last year, there was no full moon. Or I’m one year older and wiser.

But the music was fine, and the wine mighty fine, and altogether, we had a pretty good time.

band

We warbled along with the singer’s  slow, jazzy “Guantanamera.”

There was an artist drawing caricatures.
caricature

And sushi, although not being fond of it, I didn’t check its kashrut (or lack of).

Sushi

There was a big stand with delicious cheeses for sale by the platter (you chose how many of each you wanted) or by weight.

cheese table

And wine, wine, lovely wine. All the good kosher wineries were well represented, plus a few that aren’t kosher and some that will be by next year. Guess the religious crowd has caught on to the taste of good wine, and the merchants have caught on to a profitable new market. There were noticeably more religious folks present this year than last.

image Or HaGanuz winery

The crowd was happy and peaceful. Most folks came with friends and circulated around in sociable clumps. At no time were there friction, loud voices, or anything resembling unpleasantness. Maybe the NIS60 entrance fee filters out aggressive types, or the cultured location spooks them.

By 11:00, the event closed and we regretfully left Jerusalem, clutching our big new wineglasses. I washed and put mine away next to last year’s. I hope there will be a third and a fourth and more, in peaceful years to come.

Sep 222009
 

“Please, come in,” I said. Two Hassidim in long black coats and round, black felt hats walked in and sat down, looking shy. Behind them came Tuvya, a wine crony of mine from the grape purchase co-op, in a white shirt showing some purple splashes. He had a big, pleased grin on his face.

He said, “How’re ya doing?” and extracted a bottle of wine from a backpack. “Brought some Merlot from two years ago.”

Tuvya and I get together about twice a year: once at the grape crush, and then once again sometime later at his house or mine. We compare our wines from the previous year and talk shop. He’s unusually relaxed about socializing with me, a woman not his wife. Partly because he knew my parents – we also have friends in common – but partly, I think, because my interest in homebrewing  sort of makes me one of the guys. I had entered the co-op on his introduction.

“Great, welcome to the new apartment,” I said. “I’ll bring a corkscrew and some glasses.”

The two others were Yechezkiel, an American baal-teshuva of many year’s standing, and his son Brumy (Avraham). They came to return the grape press they’d borrowed earlier – again, through Tuvya. Because of moving house, I didn’t make wine this year so my equipment was free.

I could tell the father and son felt uncomfortable in my house, which must not look at all like the homes they’re used to. They didn’t remove their big black hats and sat at a modest distance. Although well-mannered and pleasant, they didn’t  address me directly at first. They talked  to Tuvya instead. That was fine. Everyone has a set of mores to live by, and I don’t judge. I thought it quite forthcoming of them to bring the press back themselves.

Maybe a glass of this good Merlot  will put them a bit more at ease, I thought (it was fruity, with mellow oaky tannins, just soft enough).

I have to admit, I do get a kick out of being the only woman in this group. At the crush, some of the men don’t know what to make of me. Religious women don’t drink wine, right? Much less make it. Most, though, are just busy getting the work done. Weighing out the grapes, loading them into the crusher, sealing the big plastic barrels full of crushed grapes and juice. I’m the one that brings the scales, the hydrometer to measure the alcohol, the sanitizing materials.  The guys provide the muscle and call me “Rebbetzin.”

Two years ago at the crush, Yechezkiel and I had chatted briefly about making soap, his eyes never meeting mine out of modesty. It turns out that he buys a ton of olives every year and gets them crushed for oil. That intrigued me. I love olive oil. We discussed, not very seriously, making soap from his excess oil, then forgot about it in the business of the grape crush. Now he and his son were drinking wine at my table, talking about olives and olive oil.

“I’m not optimistic about the quality of the olives this year,” Yechezkiel said. “We’ve had early rainfall, and that’s not so good. The olives fill up with water instead of oil.”

“Same problem with grapes,” I said. “But there’s a kibbutz in the Negev that irrigates their olive groves with salt water, and their olive oil is delicious.

“I love the olive tree,” I went on, risking becoming personal. “Everything about the olive is noble. The tree itself is beautiful, the wood hard and good for carving, the leaves are medicinal, and the fruit makes the best oil.”

Behind their round glasses, Yechezkiel’s eyes lit up with understanding. “I’m planting a small grove on my property,” he said. “To please my wife, I’ve already put in lemons, figs, and pomegranates – a small grapevine too – but I really want to grow at least a quarter of a ton of olives.”

“Where do you crush your olives?”

“I buy them at a moshav up north and get them crushed there in a modern mill. I’m looking for somewhere else to crush them, though. I want it done the old-fashioned way, between two mill-stones. That way I can see everything that’s going on, and I can be 100% sure that the oil will be kosher all year round and for Passover.”

We have something in common, I thought. I’m another who loves to handle raw materials, make everything from the most basic scratch. Possibly because I find ancient, historical methods romantic. But that’s not a word I would use to this black-clad man with his distinction and his air of having just stepped out of the yeshivah.

Brumy, who had remained silent till now, gently said, “A drop of wine is rolling down the bottle – it’ll stain your white tablecloth.”

“This boy has a good mother,” I said, wiping the bottle, and everyone chuckled.

The magic of wine and of olives! The strangers had become, in a strange way, friends.

Nov 302008
 

The Anjou pears of The Colors of November were pretty, but rather dry and not very sweet. Looking around the kitchen, I saw a bottle of summer fruit wine that was half-full. To use everything up, I made a wine syrup and made Poires au Vin, and everyone was glad I did.

Pears in Wine

6 servings

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

6 large, firm pears

3 cups dry or semi-dry wine

1 1/2 cup white sugar

1 stick of cinnamon

Method:

Choose a pan into which the pears will fit with a little room to spare. In it, pour the wine and the sugar. Add the cinnamon. Simmer the wine and sugar for 10 minutes, uncovered.

Meanwhile, peel the pears, leaving the stem on. It just looks pretty that way.

Gently place the pears in the wine syrup. Cover the pot and tilt the lid to let the steam escape. Cook the pears over a low fire for 30 minutes or till tender, turning them over 15 minutes into the cooking so that they absorb the syrup all over and come out colored evenly. If you use a red wine, they will be almost burgundy.

Chill the pears and serve each one in a small bowl with some of the syrup.

Even small children like this simple fruit dessert.

Nov 172008
 

I’m pleased to see that wine is now being made in Downtown, USA. This article from the NY Times online reports the appearance of local wines made in big cities, just a bus ride away from the consumer.

Readers of this blog know that I make my own wine at home. I buy the grapes in a co-op purchase;

watch them go through a crusher set up in someone’s parking lot or backyard;

and take them home to my apartment. The other co-op winemakers do the same. I wrote a poem about it a while ago. Of course, my family has to tolerate two big barrels in the living room for several days.

Then there’s a holy mess in the kitchen when I press the juice out of the grapes.

And there are the carboys, taking up space around the house but providing a conversation starter when receiving guests (“And how’s the wine coming along?”).

I love traveling to visit wineries, as a recent post shows. But most are only accessible by car, which means planning a few hours to get there, do a little tour, taste some wine, choose a bottle or 6, and take it home. I easily admit that my home-made wine doesn’t nearly reach the excellence of professionally-made wine, but it’s still pretty good, and worth the effort to make. I also love to know that other people here are making wine at home.

Now if only there were more urban wineries in Israel…I hear there’s a good one in Ramat HaChayal

Oct 232008
 

Towards the end of Sukkot, Baroness Tapuzina asked me if I’d like to drive out with her and Mr. Baroness T. There was a regional wine festival promoting the wineries of the Judean Hills, and they proposed to travel and taste. Drive through those cool, hilly roads and go tasting from winery to winery? Sure I wanted to go. We thought it would be fun to blog the event in our separate ways, so be sure to click the link above and see the event from the Baroness’s viewpoint.

The Baroness drove, and Mr. Baroness, holding the map, directed. They bickered gently up front, and I lolled happily around in the back seat. So good to get away from the round of shopping, cooking, and washing up that consume the holidays when Yom Tov falls in the middle of the week. Never mind all that – our picnic lunches were carefully packed, the day was sunny and mild, and we were in a mood of pleasant anticipation.

At first we talked about the things that fill our heads and keep us compelled all day – work, colleagues, travel, politics, the economy. The cities and highways fell behind. Soon we were driving through higher country, traveling on roads that ran among vineyards and plowed fields. The talk fell into an easier, relaxed mode. We retold old stories, argued about this and that, touched on the ever-absorbing topic of food, got lost and found the way again. Eventually we arrived at Kibbutz Tzora, parking near the pub.

That bale of hay amused and baffled me. Why park a bale of hay in front of your pub? Maybe someone just thought it looked cute.

Anyway, there is also a kosher winery on the pleasant grounds, with a grape arbor covering the entrance walkway. To the right there were several wooden tables, covered in attractive red tablecloths. No doubt the winery arranges evening tastings, or meals where you can sit with friends and while the time away over glasses of that good wine…

The visitor’s center was small, but well-lit, clean, and friendly. The kashrut certificates were easy to spot:

I bought my one bottle there: a full-bodied, single-vineyard Merlot called Shoresh. I’m glad I bought my wine there because it was the best winery we were able to visit that day. Apart from the Merlot, I tasted a delicious Rose and a white dessert wine that was too sweet for my palate, but which Mr. Baroness enjoyed.

The hostess was much cuter than the bale of hay, so I asked her to pose:

And then we went on our way.

The next winery on our trail was Mony. This one intrigued us because it is on the grounds of the Dir Rafat Monastery. It was bought from the monks by a private family, and the wines have, strangely enough, been kosher since 2005. It has earned 3 stars from the respected wine critic Daniel Rogov, but I found the wines, at least the kosher ones I tasted, pretty awful. Others present, tasting the pre-kosher vintages, assured me that they were better. I’ll take their word for it.

What was interesting to me was the tasting/party room. It was a cave where at one time, the monks had covered the floor with straw, and grown mushrooms.

Apart from wine, there were hand-pickled olives, jerrycans of olive oil, honey, and vinegar for sale.

Since it was chol ha mo’ed (the week of Sukkot), some of the wineries we planned to visit were closed. I was disappointed that Tepperberg was closed for renovations, and so was Katlav. In fact, we visited no more wineries. But we did see a spectacularly happy sukkah:

…and settled down for a picnic in a woods. A few picnic tables, some trees and rocks with lizards sunning themselves, and three hungry winos. Baroness Tapuzina and Her Better Half had sandwiches of Corsican Basil Bread, which looked divine. The recipe is on the Baroness’s blog. (I looked kind of measly with my few slices of cheese in a pitta.) They brought crisp potato chips. I brought vegetable soup in a thermos. Sliced cucumbers, green and black olives, and bottled water, and that was the sum of it. It wasn’t splendid, but it did the trick. The only thing really missing was some coffee. I had thought of making tehina cookies, but the holiday cooking had worn me out, so I didn’t. The funny thing was, the Baroness had also thought to make tehina cookies, but didn’t, for the same reason. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we’d both brought. More cookies for us!

This area was set up for campfires. It must be fun, on Lag B’Omer, to sit around on those stone benches and gaze into the leaping flames.

We sighed, stretched ourselves, and piled back into the car. It was time to go home.

What a relaxing day – at least for me, who didn’t drive. I am keeping my bottle of Shoresh from Tzora for a while, to get over the travel shock before I open it. Something nice to look forward to, and a pleasant souvenir of my day on the wine trail.

With a Baroness, no less.

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