Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bat Mitzvah

Our daughter has her bat mitzvah coming up soon.
As we are active members of our local Reform congregation our daughter will be leading the congregation in the Friday night Kabalat Shabbat service and on Saturday she will read from the Torah (Bible).

Because we regularly frequent our synagogue the religious aspects of the bat mitzvah have been no surprise to us or our daughter (I did my own bat mitzvah in 2006). She has settled happily into her study sessions with the Rabbi and can focus most of her attention on her Torah portion as she is well acquainted with the songs, prayers and order of service. She has already taken part in our yearly Rosh HaShanah Youth Service where, in addition to reading, she and her brother played on the flute and trumpet accompanied by the Rabbi.
As a rehearsal, this month she assisted the Rabbi in leading the Friday Night service and read the drash(sermon) she had written (with a little help from her mother.)

But there are more banal aspects to a bat mitzvah:
There is the celebratory party. For most bnei mitzvah this is a large party in a local wedding hall. I can't remember the last time I went to an 'aliyah l'Torah' (reading from the Torah scroll) of a bnei mitzvah who wasn't a member of our congregation but we are frequently invited to such parties. There is food, music, dancing and lots of guests. Normally resulting in a fat overdraft for the parents.

The only times we have organised large, fancy parties in a wedding hall was for the brita and brit after the birth of our children. Both times we felt both over- and underwhelmed. (as well as exhausted and broke!)

Luckily for us Daughter decided to pass on a fancy party as she preferred a trip to England.
Last time were in England, in fact the last time we went abroad, as a family was in 2001. The children were quite young and remember very little. Daughter is intrigued by my mother's stories of friends and family and ever year, when my mother return from visiting the UK, the daughter asks when we will be going.

Apart from the trip to England there is still plenty of planning to be done - friends and family will be invited to services so lists must be made and invitations printed. I also need to provide kiddush snacks after Friday evening service and a light brunch for after Saturday service.

And then there are the clothes. We may not need party clothes but this is a major life cycle event and Daughter will expect us to be looking our best. However Israeli we maybe, this time jeans and a t-shirt will not do.

First and foremost we have the question of clothes for the bat mitzvah herself. Her wardrobe is surprisingly thin on party clothes which is a good excuse for some retail therapy.
For the boys of the family we must check they have smart trousers and matching shirts, neatly ironed and ready to be worn.
For me - well, can I justify buying new clothes? Do I have anything suitable in my wardrobe? When did I get so old that shopping for party clothes became a chore?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Election Day

Today is Election Day in Israel.

Tuesday is always a day I work from home and my husband getting a day off work would require some kind of miracle or the outbreak of war.
However the children are home as their school is being used as a polling station - our polling station to be specific.

The sky is grey and there is a strong wind bending the branches of the tree outside the window and for the first time in my life I'm almost reluctant to vote.

Polling stations have already been open for nearly 4 hours and although I'm pretty sure who I will vote for I'm not sure it is the right choice.
My husband and I frequently discuss our political choices, agreeing to disagree at times and using these discussions to cement our opinions in a non-adversarial forum.
But our lack of decision this time has left us listing who and why we wouldn't vote for this or that candidate rather that any positive belief in a certain party or politician.

Normally we are deluged with telephone messages from the candidate but I received one from Bibi and two from Benny Begin (!!): an English version more than a month ago and Hebrew last week.
Both hubby and I got surveys. His was from Barak while mine, which I refused to answer because I truly believe it should be a secret ballot, was from Bibi.
We have watched the various party political broadcasts but more for their entertainment value than as valid political information. Some of them were in Russian and some in Arabic, not all with Hebrew subtitles, and several seemed more suited to Youtube. The most amusing was Gil Kopatch as a shepherd for the Green Leaf Party and they must have be smoking something to think up this combination.

But after the laughter there is a serious decision to make.

I have been politically aware since I remember being aware. Politics was always an open subject for discussion in our house, amongst ourselves or with friends and I knew enough to be concerned when I saw the National Front on the news.
My mother always took me with her into the polling booth with her - showing me who she voted for and explaining why, even trying to explain why my grandmother voted differently.

I can well remember the general elections of 1979 and during the elections of 1983 I spent hours discussing politics with my school friends and teachers (I didn't go to a UK state school where it was generally considered taboo for teachers to discuss politics).

By the elections of 1987 was 18 and not only did I vote but I joined a party and actively campaigned.

In 1988 I moved to Israel where they were also holding general elections and as an Israeli citizen I had the right to vote. I decided against it as, isolated by my lack of Hebrew and living on a kibbutz, I felt unable to make a considered decision.

In 1992 Israel went to the polls again . I had moved house after the elections rolls were filed so I had to return to the area where I had lived during the army. Having only stayed there for a couple of hours every weekend I had no idea where my polling station was. Luckily I was met by a friend who gave me a lift in his car and another friend who was working for the elections was able to direct me to the correct ballot box.
In 1992 there were also elections in UK and although I had definite views about who I wanted in government I decided that I had no right to dictate the government in a country where I wasn't a resident.

This being Israel I have voted in many elections since then but despite many hard decisions I have never been so undecided.

Enough procrastination - I must go and vote!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Good Morning

is the sound that woke me up this morning almost immediately followed by 'Eeemma!' - Mummy in Hebrew.
Before I was fully conscious or even had my eyes open I bounced out of bed and yelled at my daughter to run into the security room, more commonly known as my son's bedroom.

Yes, this morning I was snuggled under the cover trying to ignore the annoying rooster alarm tone from my mobile phone that does its best to irritate enough to get us out of bed every morning.
Today it wasn't having much success. Both yours truly and son were tucked under the covers though my daughter had managed to get up and dressed.
The thought was just passing through my dreams that if I didn't move soon the children would be late for school when a great cracking noise ripped across the sky above us.

I had no problem recognising that sound having heard similar almost every month since we moved to Shlomi in 1996 and with a much greater intensity during the summer of 2006.

My body leapt into action even before my brain was able to process the recognition.
Of course, my body was still in my nightclothes and I hopped around my dark room trying to drag on something decent while yelling at my concerned daughter that she must stay in the security room and I would be with her soon.
After a while I realised much of my clumsiness was due to the fact that I had forgotten to put on my glasses or switch on the light.
Finally, after a couple of extremely long minutes I joined my children sheltering behind 55cm of reinforced concrete. Then I texted my husband and phoned my parents so they would know we were OK.

Everything was so familiar from 2 and a half years ago: exiting the safety room after waiting the required amount of time, phoning friends to check they are alright, checking the news on the internet and TV, trying to recognise where the missiles have landed from news photos.

My daughter stayed calm by phoning all her classmates to exchange a few words of comfort while my son relaxed with the Sims.

After I had contacted my local friends and compared notes with my parents about the people they had contacted I received a call from my father in law who had just stepped out of the shelter at his work in Naharia. He joked that my phone had been busy all morning.

Then I began to reassess our plans for the day.
School was cancelled so I insisted the children tidy their rooms.
I work at the local library which was closed and nobody had phoned me so they obviously didn't expect me to take part in any emergency measures. Despite this I felt perversely guilty about staying at home!

I warmed up a snack to replace the breakfast the children had missed in all the confusion and then prepared lunch. I made an effort to tackle the laundry that has piled up since our broken dryer and the damp weather had combined to make drying laundry Mission Impossible.
Basically a normal day at home except for our dash into the security room when the sirens went off just before midday

Then there were our plans for the afternoon. Obviously I wasn't going to be walking around Naharia in the company of my children in order to visit friends but before Lebanon II there were frequent 'love' missiles from Hizbollah and after an hour or so we would all return to our routine.
Was the new reality that we now expected every 'booming' to turn into Lebanon III?

Not quite - life still goes on in a limited fashion; ballet was off, the bat mitzvah party was on.

So as soon as I finish writing this I need to get ready for a party

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hanukah Cookout Part III

I was always brought up to waste not, want not and after the sfinge I still had half a packet of yeast left over. So I decided to try my hand at making doughnuts (No insanity does not run in my family) 
I didn't have any particular recipe in mind so I turned to my favourite solution - the internet. 
I found several interesting recipes which didn't require yeast and they will be saved for later. However most yeast doughnuts seemed essentially the same and I decided to follow this one.
3 cups of flour seemed a little excessive to me and in fact, when I mixed up the dough 2½ cups was more than enough.

I left the dough to leaven but there was a problem. Although Israel is in the middle of winter, we live in a well-insulated apartment and as we hardly suffer the sub-zero temperatures we having no need for any form of central heating. This means that while our flat is not cold for a human being in a warm sweater it is a little chilly for yeast doing it's darnedest to leaven. Especially when it's a cloudy day and there is no sunbeam to lie in. What I mean to say is that the yeast didn't seem to active.

Meanwhile I decided that the lady I was visiting
 later that afternoon would appreciate something sweet and fluffy - Chocolate Mousse.

Chocolate Mousse is one of my standard recipes because it is easy to remember and the ingredients can almost always be found in my kitchen.
It is also popular with my guests, though its popularity can lead to its downfall as making enough can be an expensive proposition! 

Chocolate Mousse

4oz (125g) bittersweet chocolate
4 eggs

Melt chocolate in a bain-marie or in the microwave. Cool.
Separate eggs. Beat whites until stiff. Beat yolks until thick and creamy. 
Mix chocolate into yolk mixture, stirring thoroughly so the warmth of the chocolate doesn't cook the egg... When chocolate is mixed into yolk so there are no streaks of colour carefully fold in egg whites. Mix carefully until there are no streaks of colour.
Chill in fridge for a couple of hours. It may be necessary to padlock the fridge door.

As far as possible I like to make my cakes and desserts non-dairy as I make them for Shabbat and holiday meals which are normally meat. However if you are eating dairy or keeping kosher does not play a part in your lives the yield of this recipe can be almost doubled by adding cream. It also makes it, surprisingly, less rich.

Take 4floz (125ml) of whipping cream, beat it until stiff and then add it to the chocolate mixture before the egg whites.

After that short chocolaty interval, back to the doughnuts.
Actually it was a good thing I had been nibbling (well I call it nibbling...:0) on some mood uplifting chocolate because my dough hadn't uplifted much at all.

Despite that fact, the dough still seemed quite light so I fired up the fryer.

I rolled two walnut sized balls of dough and dropped them in the oil. The seemed to brown much more quickly than the sfinge and, as I suspected, when I performed the obligatory taste test the centre wasn't properly cooked. 
I turned the fryer to its lowest temperature setting and tried again. After a second taste test, and this time I was also joined by my daughter, I concluded that the problem had been solved. 

Hanukah Cookout Part II

Buoyed up with my success at latkes I decided to take on sfinge - I'm half Sephardic and live in a Moroccan development town. It is almost a moral imperative.
However, I was still nervous about that recipe.
To be honest, with recipes I know well I do cook in the 'throw in a bit of this and that' style. But I have suffered several yeast baking disasters in the last couple of years and wanted to commence this endeavour with a feeling of confidence.

If I want to get started, I had to buy the Shimrit. Shimrit is the name of the dry active yeast sold in Israel. It is sold in 50g packets, which can get confusing when US recipes say to use one packet of dry yeast - in US dry yeast is sold in 1/4oz-8g packets. Big Difference :0)
I bought the packet of yeast and it has a picture of doughnuts on the front and on the back is a recipe for sfinge! Great, now I at least had an idea of relative quantities.
The yeast packet said 'Take 1 pkt of yeast, 1 kilo of flour....'. Even with my limited experience, I know that this amount of flour makes enough sfinge for a platoon of hungry soldiers. 
I used ½ the yeast, ½ kilo of flour and it made 2-3 dozen smallish sfinge. 

The day was sunny if cold and the dough leavened quite happily in the light of a sunbeam shining through our window. 

The next thing was the deep-frying. I have a pathological fear of deep-frying. Don't ask me why, it is illogical. 
When I lived at home there was almost no deep-frying - Fish and Chips came from the local Take Away (It was also the Chinese Take Away. The batter was unusual but tasty) and any other chips were those new-fangled oven-chips.
After my Dad trained as a chef he became a little braver with the boiling hot oil than the rest of us but I never deep-fried in my own home, though there was that short stint at McDonalds and the months on the kibbutz when I worked the diet corner of the kitchen and had to fry chips everyday.
For us at home a compromise would be an electric deep fryer but we have never got round to buying one. 
The other day I got on to the subject of cooking with one of my English students and when she heard I hadn't got a fryer she offered me hers. She no longer needed it now her grandson had grown up and was out of his chips craze.
At first I went crazy making falafel, egg rolls and chips with every meal but this was the first time I was going to make doughtnuts.

I pulled down the fryer and set it on the marble counter top. That was when I encountered a major problem - No oil  :0(
We hummed and hahhed as the nearest open shop was a 10-15 minute drive away. 
Then we had a brainwave and asked my parents to buy some on their way back from an ice-skating trip with my children.
The final result were quite delicious sfinge which due to our total inability to stop eating them have contributed to the latest increase in obesity statistics.

My Recipe
25g dry yeast
1/2 kg plain flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 cups (16 floz) water
Put all ingredients except water in a bowl. Mix. Add water slowly. Mix until dough is smooht 5-10 minutes. Leave to rise for 2-3 hours.  Shape dough with oily hands.  Deep fry at same temp used for chips until brown on both sides. Enjoy!

Hanukah Cookout Part I

Every year as we approach Hanukkah I plan to fry up fabulous batches of latkes and doughnuts. Using the holidays as an opportunity to display to my children the mixed delights of Hanukah and cooking.
But then some how my plans go awry. 
The first two candles of Hanukah the children are still at school and their evening time is taken up with parties and rehearsals and visits to friends. And even once they are holidays from school after school activities plough on regardless so that is two evenings wiped out and Saturday evening is spent with the in-laws.
Then the Hanukah holiday frequently falls near the end of December when my husband is busy with preparations for stocking in addition to the usual end of the month rush and I have 'end of month', 'end of quarter', 'end of year' and 'plain badly scheduled' financial reports to churn out. 
My children are quite happy to sit at home vegging in front of the TV or trying out the news games they have received as Hanukah 'gelt' and my parents normally dream up some trip to take them on so I don't suffer too much parent guilt for letting my children turn into couch potatoes. But that doesn't leave much time for a family frying adventure.

Considering that, in contrast to previous years, I now work outside the house 2 mornings and 2 evenings a week a Hanukah frying fest this year did not seem likely but then, as my mother will tell you, I always like to be contrary.
First of all I now possess a deep fat fryer which is great as I have a phobia of deep frying.
Second I shelved the idea of cooking with the children. My kitchen is small, my children are restless and we are dealing with hot oil.....
Thirdly I just seem to be in the mood - the weather is cold and I actually got to wear my hat and scarf a couple of times, even gloves.

So we come to Monday evening - second candle of Hanukah. My children, as part of the local orchestra, had been asked to perform at a Hanukah 'do' for the local council. (I will not dwell of the irony of wind instruments and a gathering of local government!)
Well the local council did their usual inconsiderate best keeping the children waiting for over an hour while each council member in turn pontificated on the wonders performed by himself and his fellow council members. 
Blah, blah, blah 'Aren't we doing fantastic things for Shlomi!', blah, blah, blah, 'Forget about the corruption and nepotism!', blah, blah, blah, 'Vote for me!'
The conductor was furious (Go Reuven!) and threatened to send the children home without performing. Most of us parents sat outside making snide comments about the council gas-bags and reviewing the various types doughnuts and sfinge offered as festive refreshment.

Sfinge, being a traditional Moroccan recipe, has an oral traditional - perfect conversation fodder for a group of restless residents, in a town started by Moroccan immigrants, with no way to pass the time except chat ie I was told the recipe by one of the women I work with as we were waiting.
A transcript of our discussion 
Her: You take 1-11/2 kilos flour, a packet of shimrit and a hand full of sugar (holds out a cupped hand to give me an idea of the quantity). Mix. Add at least a teaspoon of salt, be generous with the salt it adds flavour. Add water. Mix until smooth.
Me: How much water? 
Her : I don't know. Enough. You need quite a soft dough. Let it rise for at least an hour. Also if you add some alcohol it makes them better!!! 

Invigorated with enthusiasm for Hanukah baking I decided to make .....
(Look to the top of this post. It says something about me being contrary:0)
Actually I was going to make both doughnuts and latkes but I remembered to buy potatoes and forgot the yeast!
Latkes frequently suffer from my lack of patience as I grab them from the pan when the potoatoes are still cruncy and almost totally uncooked.
So I watched a couple of videos on making latkes to relax. 
I grated my potatoes and onions, mixed in the flour and egg and then set my timer set at 3 minute intervals while I glanced at the TV through the kitchen doorway treating the latkes sizzling in the pan with a certain nonchalant disregard instead of my usual method of staring at them intently, hoping by force of will to make them to cook at Mach 3.
They were really tasty and after munching through a kilo of latkes my family decided they didn't need any supper. 
Latkes for the win!
Unfortunately I was being so nonchalant I forgot to take a photo!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Yes, five weeks until Hanukkah and the doughnuts are already in the shops! Yes, yes I'm sure folks from the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have already spied doughnuts in their bakery. Maybe for them doughnuts, or even donuts, are available year round but here in the BOB (back of beyond) doughnuts are a seasonal delicacies - OK so they are not delicacies rather a sugary lump of fried dough, but round here they are normally only seen at Hanukah.

As soon as I stepped off the bus in Naharia the warm sugary aroma assailed my nostrils. I was virtuous and instead of dashing into the nearest bakery, I entered the health food shop to buy nuts as per my shopping list. Well, the shopping list had actually been forgotten at home but the part about nuts I remembered (the part about raisins I did not!)

Across the road from the health food shop is the most recently opened, and possibly most fancy, conditoria in Naharia. Dudu's shop is all dark wood, glass display cabinets and romantic lighting, and his prices are considerably more fancy than anywhere else in town. Though I feel obliged to admit that the cream cheese cake on chocolate brownie base was ridiculously delicious which another reason why I hurry past the shop safely on the opposite side of the road.

When I first moved into this area the most renowned conditoria in Naharia was Lahmi. On special occasions, such as my release from the army, my father-in-law would order one of their gateaux. Not only was the cake delicious and light but these were the first cakes I encountered in Israel that contained real cream. The added bonus was that the dedication on top of the cake was always piped onto a thin disc of marzipan. Yum marzipan. As other conditoria moved in to town Lahmi went commercial, the shop closed and they now produce an exclusive, read expensive, range of biscuits and cakes to be sold in supermarkets.

The first conditoria to challenge Lahmi was Pie. I heard the name and dreamed of all the delicious pies they might offer: Pies being a staple of the British menu but a rarity in Israel. Naturally, I soon discovered that in that peculiar Israel way Pie sold everything but: Cakes, biscuits, mini pizzas, even fruit tarts but no pies. However, I mustn't complain as thorough the years Pie has provided me with several very yummy, 40-portion, chocolate cakes for my children's birthday celebrations.

As it happened, my way through Naharia went right past Pie front door. And I confess I succumbed. The soft, sugary aroma was too much for my will power to resist. Like all bakeries they had developed a range of glazed doughnuts in order to circumvent the government price control on Hanukah doughnuts ,(yes that is Israel's socialist past you see peeking its head round the corner) however my taste doesn't run to these colourful confections and I chose a sugar-coated, price-controlled, jam-filled doughnut.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Local Elections

Today I voted in the local elections. At first I was worried that my husband wouldn't be able to vote as is out of the house from 6am to 8pm. However, a quick phone called assured me that the election station would be open until 10pm.
I didn't have to ask where we would be voting even though my husband managed to misplace the election cards. My children had a holiday from school today because it is the local election station and it is where we have always voted, at least since we have lived here.

In previous years I was an active participant in the election, after showing an interest in certain issues I was recruited to the campaign. I stood on street corners, visited various members of our community and spent several hours of election day hanging around in the booth near the election station with other volunteers who were there to arrange transport for those who had difficulty arriving, explaining to people exactly how to vote for us and generally chit-chatting about the day's progress.

Today when my husband got home from work we drove up to the school. As usual the place was packed and
there was a festive atmosphere. There were banners for the various candidates hung on fences and posts for several hundred metres in every direction and there were ballot papers all over the ground. There are also the booths, recycled Succot booths, were the various candidates' supporters hang out. Someone had parked there car at the side with the doors wide open and the radio turned up as loud as possible belting out Mizrahi (Eastern) music.
The gate was surrounded by a herd of people chatting with the guard but we had no problem getting through.

Inside the school gate it was a little calmer: the ground
was clean of papers and there was a plant smell of coffee as the inspectors stood, chatting quietly cups in hand, around the entrance to the election stations. A chubby, middle age guy lounging against a wall was in charge of the election lists and told us exactly where we needed to vote.
A man at the door checked we were at the correct place and let us in one by one. I went in, presented my id card to the panel, and in exchange received two envelopes, then I stood behind the screen and choose two pieces of paper - one for each envelope. I double-checked there was only one paper in each envelope, closed the enveloped returned to the panel placed my envelopes in the sealed box, retrieved my id card and exited.
Outside we chatted to a previous mayor for a while and then made our way home.

Elections in Shlomi tend to be rather emotional affairs. It is a small community and the electorate are often personal friends or relatives of the candidates.
This year, as in previous years, there have been physical altercations between the supporters while small forests and vats of ink have been sacrificed to create flyers making claims and counter claims of incompetence and even criminal misdeeds.
There is also no doubt that the 'reign' of the present incumbent has been coloured by alleged dodgy dealings and nepotism. In addition to all the officially printed posters and flyers there was a home printed flyer that appeared all over Shlomi in the last week.

It says "The Second Lebanese War: We won't forgive or forget" Despite the fact that two years have past since the war, it is clear to anybody who was resident in Shlomi at the time that this flyer refers to general resentment about the way the local council behaved during the war. Probably this issue will have most effect on how people voted today. Tomorrow we will know just how much of an effect it had.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Holiday in Eilat

When my husband started planning a holiday for the end of October, I wasn't too sure. We were going to Eilat so there was no worry about the weather and the off-season meant the price was right. Also, my husband and his work colleagues had managed to organise that we would be a large group as we had intended. It just seemed that the end of October was an awkward date, in the middle of nowhere.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have realised that the end of October is the perfect date, giving us a few days away to recover after the craziness of the holidays.

At first, I thought it was just me, feeling the pressure of working outside the home, particularly as I was working extra hours to compensate for the holidays and to cover for my colleague who was ill. I was also recovering from a nasty bout with the flu but unlike my colleague, I didn't have the option of retiring to bed until I felt better.
Now it seems that everyone has found this holiday season particularly difficult. The problem is the timing of all the holidays - they all fell mid-week.

Personally, I hate it when the holidays fall on a Saturday - I feel cheated - all that extra preparation and no extra day off work. Strictly according to the law employers are supposed to give an additional day for every holiday on a Saturday but my husband is unable to take full advantage of the holiday time he already had=s so that doesn't help much.

Holidays that fall on a Friday or Sunday are good as they extend the weekend. Holidays on Thursday or Monday can be fabulous if there is a 'bridge', ie the employer decided that bringing the workers in for only a half day on Friday or Sunday is not worthwhile, resulting in a 3 day weekend!

For those of you wondering what the heck I mean by half days - In Judaism a day starts at sunset. On holidays and Shabbat after a quick trip to the synagogue, we return home to a festive meal. Because work, lighting of fire and therefore cooking is forbidden on Shabbat or religious holidays the home and the meal must be prepared before hand thus requiring that on Shabbat or holiday eve there is only a half day of work . Or rather paid work - cooking and cleaning the house seems like more than enough work to me!

But this year was neither the disappointment of a holiday on Shabbat or the joy of a 3-day weekend. This year the holidays were mid-week giving us just enough time to fit in a few days of work on either side. It became a treadmill of work, cook, holiday, work, cook, Shabbat, work cook, holiday, work, cook, Shabbat. Exhausting.

For the last few years the factory where my husband works has giving us a weekend in Tel Aviv as a 'birhtday present.'
We would ensure that we were booked for the same we
ekend as his friends and I soon had made great friendships with the wives.
This year they chose to oofer us a contribution towards any holiday we chose. Some poeple went their own way but a large group of us decided we wanted to be together. Someone organised a deal with a family hotel and everyone booked.
We will be about 30 couples plus children.

So tomorrow, no today, we are leaving the house at 5am to drive to Eilat.