Thursday, September 25, 2008

Return to School 2008

I know I said I wouldn't talk about the return to school but I just couldn't resist.

I worked Sunday so I was free for the 'Welcome to 1st Grade!' ceremony on Monday morning - both
my son and daughter were playing in the orchestra. In addition my daughter and the other vavs (6th graders) taking part in the actual ceremony.

To start the ceremony there is the entry of the first graders to lots of singing, flag waving and clicking of camera shutters. They do a round of the basketball court, in the style of a mini-Olympics, either looking scared and tearful or waving happily to their parents.

Once they are seated there are the speeches (why oh why does every single event involves speeches?) by the Headmaster, the chairman of the local council and the chair person of the parents' committee.


Luckily it is election year so the chairman of the local council kept his speech to the bare, boring minimum. Normally he arrives half an hour late then spends forty minutes thanking his cronies and telling us all the wonderful things he is doing for our town, in general, and our children, in particular. Brilliant for insomniacs.

After the official speeches there is always a kind of rhyming prose poem, an Israeli specialty, about the delights of returning to school.
Each child reads a line or two, which involves some complicated shuffling of the microphone and a lot of unintelligible mumbling, until they reach the end of a row: about half a dozen children. Then there follows an interlude with dancing and singing to badly amplified music.
Lather, rinse, repeat four or five more times until all the participants have either danced or spoken.

This year participation in the entertainment was allocated according to gender with the boys speaking and the girls dancing. Although one group of boys from a lower class gave a short display of their gymnastic ability.

Throughout the ceremony the class teachers do their best to keep the lower classes quiet as they wriggle in their seats. But by far the greatest disturbance comes from the parents.

When the first graders make their entrance their parents are so totally overwhelmed with emotion they run amok, squeezing both cheeks and shutter buttons with almost hysterical enthusiasm.
After a few minutes of patient waiting the headmaster, a stickler for discipline, calls them to order. Setting a great exa
mple for their children the parents ignore him. After several more minutes, with the help of a few teachers and judicious use of the microphone, the parents are herded to the back of the crowd.

In my day, oh so many moons ago!, parents sat on chairs while children sat crossed-legged on the floor. Not so in today's Israel. The chairs are all reserved for the children while the parents must stand at the back, shuffling round in the semi shade, straining to hear what is being said and doing their best not to miss their progeny's 15 seconds of 'fame'.
As time wears on they become more and more restless until they huddle in groups discussing in muted, and not so muted tones, various subjects only marginally related to their children's education and bemoaning the waste of a morning's holiday from work. A few give up altogether and go to sit under a shady tree.

Finally it is all over, the children disperse into their classrooms, the mothers of the first graders blow kisses and shed a few tears and the rest of us hurry off to be getting on with whatever it is we get on with.

Parents milling around the school gates

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rosh HaShanah Approaches

I'm not sure why but Israeli holidays always seem to sneak up on me.

It might be the slightly schizophrenic nature of the Israeli calendar where business life, doctors' appointments and the long summer holiday are calculated according to the dates of the Gregorian calendar. But the yearly cycle of festivals, minor school holidays and family celebrations is lived in harmony with the Jewish lunar calendar.

At least now we attend synagogue regularly the prayer of thanks for Rosh Hodesh (the beginning of the month) gives me some sense of my bearings as I make my annual trek through the seasons.

Another welcome sign that the holidays are imminent is my husband arriving home with gifts from work.
In England I remember people hoping for a Christmas bonus and there were always the staff parties but that was it.
In Israel it is traditional, even if your workplace is so small you are the only employee, to receive gifts from your employer at both Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

My husband's employer is quite generous and in addition to the gift vouchers which provide some welcome wiggle room in a budget well stretched by festive meals, they also send him home with a gift basket which maybe not be as useful as the vouchers but is much more exciting.(Did I ever mention that I just love opening presents?)

When my son asked 'what's that?' as he opened the door for my husband I knew there were goodies to be had.
After the usual greetings hubby carefully placed the box on the coffee table and I positioned myself as master of ceremonies.
Once we had thoroughly inspected the various delights and sampled some of the chocolates the children became fascinated by the hive shaped honey pot and wooden honey spoon.They filled the pot and spent the evening twirling the spoon in the honey and then letting it drip onto their tongues, I permitted this hedonism with the excuse that the honey was medicinal as an antidote to sore throats brought on by the autumnal night temperatures.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Baking Buns

I thought I would start the season by blogging about the return to school. But so many other bloggers seem to have had the same idea and this year has been relatively sane if a little busy for us.

As we glide towards the end of September and Rosh Hashanah I am, as usual, totally fed up with the heat. I feel sick most of the time and have non-specific food cravings (basically, I crave anything but what I am actually eating)

My very sweet GP diagnosed it as 'an allergy to the Israeli Summer' and thinks the cause is psychological rather than a dietary deficiency. At least Goldstar makes me feel better and the Doc approved it as a treatment!

However, with a job and children to look after consuming large amounts of beer during the day is not an option and if I can't have beer baked goods make a decent substitute.
Unfortunately, our friendly local baker has moved his bakery to a location at the entrance to Shlomi, not within a distance I fancy walking in this heat. Over priced, over sweet synthetic cakes from the supermarket just don't do it for me.

So, during a momentary lapse of reason, in the middle of +30C temperatures I decided it would be a good idea to use up some ripe plums by making Marzipan Plum Buns
There was a major problem - The recipe involves
yeast dough.

Now I am fine at baking basic bread and have even purchased a
Kenwood Patissie
r to aid me in my endeavours. However I never seem to have the time or patience for bread and can rarely roll it thin enough for cakes and cookies, resulting in an item that is all bread and little filling.

The rolling seems to be more successful if I make bread while annoyed. The kneading and knocking back take on the function of a punch bag. But I have to be rather intensely irritated for my bad humour to last through the hour of waiting for the dough to rise and I'm concerned that if my children only get to eat baked goods when their mother is feeling belligerent they will be scarred by some irreversible childhood trauma. - Do I really want them to hyperventilate whenever they encounter a doughnut?

So I was in a relatively pleasant mood when I made the dough and left it to rise. Then I stoned the plums and soaked them in wine. Once the dough had risen, I drained the plums. They were already suspiciously soft and I began to have m
y first serious doubts.
I was not reassured when I tried to 'stuff' them with pi
eces of marzipan and even the slightest squeeze turned the fruit flesh into puree.
Determined not to be defeated I knocked back the dough and divided it into sections.

Now I will be the first to admit that I am a failure at measuring by eye - size, weight, length, speed - I do not have the foggiest.
Luckily uneven portions are not a problem in this household where we all have slightly different appetites, but it can leave to more than a slightly hotchpotch effect when I am baking things in batches.

Such considerations aside I divided the dough as evenly as possible, rolled out each section, popped the marzipan stuffed plum on to the dough, and tried to massage it back into a bun shape.

This is where everything came unstuck - literally. The plums were so soft and wet they slid around on the dough which refuse to stick to itself. When I gently tried to shape the dough plum juice leaked out everywhere.

Eventually I had to fold the dough over the plum filling and pinch the edges into adhesion.

The doughy disaster cooked up quite quickly though most of the plum juice leaked out without making any attempt to soak into the dough and impart some flavour. Worst of all when I finally tasted the buns the marzipan, my main reason for endeavouring to bake these buns, was non-existent.

This plate was actually full a few minutes before the photo was taken

I have to admit that although I was disappointed with the results of my baking my daughter and husband were more appreciative. They consumed quite a quantity before I remembered to take a photograph and in the evening my husband begged me to hide them after he had already eaten half a dozen