Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just peachy

Beautiful day for a tiyul.  Stopped in Kfar Shamai's peach orchards for a picture.

Blue poppies.

Pink Poppies.  For decoration only, not intended for "medicinal" use.

Fig trees are lovely in all seasons, from the lonely silver branches of winter
to the vibrant greens of spring's buds and summer's foliage and fruit.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is G-d a He or She?

It was a beautiful day in Tzfat.  I caught a ride halfway, took a bus the other half.  The fact that I was on my way to a job interview didn't stop me from from casually strolling through the city's winding streets.  I paused to admire the view between buildings.  At 800-900 meters above sea level (varies depending which street you are on), Tzfat has incredible panoramic views of the surrounding forests.

In the Artist's colony I stumbled upon many rare treasures.  Colorful musical instruments, matzah plates, paintings and jewelry.  I thought of the story of the angel flying over the earth with bags of souls to distribute.  In short, the bag of stupid souls got caught on a mountain peak and they all spilled out into Chelm.  He must have been holding a leaky bag of creative souls when flying over Tzfat.  There are galleries on every corner, overflowing with every imaginable art medium.

I gave myself more time than necessary and--even with my wanderings--arrived at my destination about an hour early.  Livnot U'Lehibanot offers programs for English-speakers where participants learn, hike, work, live and explore Judaism together.  I first came across their organization some years ago when my husband, who had a sound business at the time, did a pro-bono gig with Naftali Abramson at a retirement home in Jerusalem.

I was enjoying the time out of the house--without a diaper bag--for the first time in a month, and lingered in the visitor's center.  There is an archaeological dig behind the campus buildings where volunteers have excavated.  Discovered artifacts are on display.  You can also read about famous personalities of ancient Tzfat or buy a walking tour map in English for a couple of shekels.

I came across a neighbor who works in a nearby gallery and we walked together, talking and laughing, until it was time for me to turn off in the direction of the shuk.  In Jerusalem, I used to bump into friends on every trip.  I didn't realize how much I've missed that since moving up north and it's nice to see familiar faces again when I'm out and about. 

The shuk was bustling.  Fighting the crowds, I picked up socks for Hemdiya, a one shekel treat for Teneya and Puriel, and fresh produce: cucumbers, tomatoes, a giant head of crisp romaine lettuce, fragrant mint leaves for tea, bananas and three pounds of strawberries for making jam.

Barely missed the bus and had to wait 25 minutes for the next one.  Sometimes I miss having a working car, but we do save a lot of money and "reduce our carbon footprint" by walking and using public transportation.  Made it home in time to hang laundry and organize the gemach before a few customers came in the afternoon.

The day was flying by and dinnertime was nearing.  My husband made whole wheat flour tortillas from scratch and chopped vegetables for a salad while I mixed tehina and set the table.  We are adjusting to living in the same house, the same country, again.

Many have asked the question, is G-d a "He" or a "She?"  In Hebrew, we use plural names to refer to G-d, though the pronoun used is the singular "He."  Everything has a gender in Hebrew, whether it is a book, a tree or a shoe and "he" is also the generic pronoun for when we don't know the gender.  But there is a feminine side of G-d, the Shechina (divine presence).  When G-d created the first "man" it was a complete being "in His image," but very lonely.  So He split Adam in two and it's only when a man and woman are unified do we actually represent the image of G-d.  This is also portrayed in the numerical value of the words אהבה (love) and אחד (one, unified), which each equal 13 (aleph = 1, bet = 2, gimel = 3 etc.) and together these equal י - ה - ו - ה (the name of G-d, numerically 26).  So G-d is both, and neither, and if we want to be a conduit of G-d's light in this world, then we have to get along with our spouses.

May we all be blessed with shalom bayit (peace in our homes) and love for all of Am Yisrael (the people of Israel). 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eating weeds

Yellow flowers are mustard
Pinkish ones are red clover
I like to eat weeds.  They're cheap (free!) and very easy to "grow."  Some of the most readily available weeds in Merom HaGalil are mustard, red clover, asparagus and anise.

Mustard belongs to the brassica family, along with broccoli, radish and cabbage.  The older leaves are prickly, but the young ones add a spicy kick to salads and soups or may be steamed and chopped like spinach in lasagna and quiche.  The delicate yellow flowers are edible too and, bearing a similar flavor to broccoli sprouts, are decoratively sprinkled over food or tucked into sandwiches.  Its seeds can also be collected and sprouted in the summer when the pods are dry.

I've heard all kinds of uses for red clover, from fighting cancer and balancing hormones to clearing congestion and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.  At any rate, if you live in northern Israel you don't have to buy expensive bottles of the herbal capsules because it grows wild and makes a wonderful tea.

Coaxing life from the rocky, clay soil
The frost and hail storms destroyed many of the wild plants in my yard.  I was relieved to see that my spinach, though slightly yellowed from the frost, was hanging in there.  It's a very hardy vegetable, tolerating cold much better than the heat of summer when it simply bolts.  We've enjoyed so many salads from our greens, which are high in calcium and iron.

An island of life in
a sea of desolation
There were a few other plants scattered here and there, untouched by the bitter chills of early spring.  I can't help but stare and wonder, why are some spared while others perish?  And I'm not just talking about plants.  My garden gives me so many thought to ponder.

As a preteen, I found my green thumb when I was given a backyard project because no one else in the family could keep the poor plants alive.  I threw myself into it, talking to the plants because I heard they like it and ripping out weeds with a fury to blow off steam (and once planting them in the car of someone who was really bothering me).  The plants became k'ilu my children and I was so proud of them as they grew up and bore their fruit.

Thyme doesn't need seeds to propagate.
Just halfway bury a few shoots and they'll sprout new roots.
Dig up carefully, detaching from the "mother" plant
with sharp, clean scissors, and replant elsewhere.
Later on, I learned about seed-saving and the tragedy of altered plants with infertile seeds.  I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but if genetically modified seeds won't bear a next generation of usable seeds it means a lot of repeat customers for the seed companies.  I've moved too many times to keep all of my seeds (and customs officials have confiscated what I didn't give away), so I am on the lookout for more of what Bereshit (Genesis) 1:12 describes as "vegetation yielding seed after its kind."

I hear there's going to be another big seed swap in Jerusalem this summer.  I went to it in 2005 and traded radish and calendula for yellow pear tomatoes, sweet corn and three types of kale.  Are there seed swaps where you live?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Riding in a police truck

Yesterday I took a ride in the rear seat of a police truck.  A police officer drove up to my house and invited me in, right as my sister-in-law and mother arrived for a visit (embarrassing!).  It seems he mistook me for the wife of a notorious thief who has recently moved into our area, so it wasn't a long ride.
Even pulling weeds can be relaxing when you
have a view like this from your garden.
Once I was home again, we had a wonderful "ladies day in;" filled with pulling weeds, hanging laundry, shopping in the gemach, and creating a gourmet lunch, which was served on my shiva'at haminim (seven species) Armenian pottery.  Don't you just love how even the most mundane or tedious tasks can be fun when you have someone to do them with?

Today is my last day alone.  My husband comes home tonight after a full month in El Salvador.  So excited!  I'll have a few pictures and stories to share from that in the coming days.

All the women around here have started talking about Pesach cleaning.  Me?  Well, I try to make a division between the cleaning for spring and Pesach, which I've found makes the two feel less overwhelming (since they come around the same time of year).  I've slowly starting my spring cleaning already as the weather has been warming up.  You know, shaking out and airing the heavy blankets, going through the kids' clothes and "donating" whatever doesn't fit to my gemach, cleaning out the dust bunnies from under the bedroom dressers, etc.  It's a natural instinct in me, like the cleaning bug that hits in the final trimester of pregnancy.

One woman asked me if I'm worried about the clothes on my porch making a problem for Pesach.  I answered that I check the pockets of coats and purses (though admittedly for coins and the old tissues that might gross out my customers) but that I don't need to be concerned about someone eating the lint out the pockets on the jeans they'll buy.  People just don't do that and that's what bitul chametz is for anyways (basically labeling dust as being nothing more than dust).

Drink plenty of water, eat well and rest whenever
you can to keep your strength up.  If you get
sick because of ignoring your body's needs it
will make your preparations much more difficult.
Honestly, we clean our homes every week, if not every single day, and it's really only the kitchen, dining and maybe living rooms that need a good Pesach cleaning.  Don't even start this more than one week before or you'll go crazy trying to keep it chametz-free until the holiday begins.  It's important to give our children good memories about the holiday and to go into it rested enough to participate in the seder.

Right now, if you haven't started yet, try to work on one spring cleaning task each day until you're done.  Be realistic with your goals; this might not be the time to work on home-improvement projects...even if you would like to show them off to visiting family and friends.  You'll be surprised to learn that you have a break of a week or more after finishing spring cleaning before you have to clean for Pesach.  The only other preparation that you need to start this week is working away at the chametzy foods that you bought too much of in bulk after last Pesach.  Also, start brainstorming about non-Jewish families you know who would appreciate your remaining chametz, because you shouldn't have to burn more than a few crumbs.

I'll have more to recipes to share and lessons learned from past holidays over the next three weeks.  What is your favorite "Kosher for Passover" recipe?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thank you!

It's the three week anniversary of my blog and I want to say thanks and send spiritual hugs to all of you! 

I am absolutely blown away by all of the encouragement and support in this new endeavor from family, friends, and former strangers.  I never imagined that, in this short time, I would have over 1000 hits from 19 countries (USA, Israel, Canada, El Salvador, Mexico, China, Switzerland, Indonesia, Sweden, South Africa, Australia, Japan, Germany, Hungary, South Africa, UK, Russia, Argentina and Iran).  Again, THANK YOU!

This was a trial run, but I definitely want to continue.  I would love to hear which posts are your favorites, what you would like to see more of.  Feel free to let me know in the comments section below (or in my FB comment box).  In order to continue writing consistently, I may need to (for the first time ever!) hire some help once a week to keep up with the house.  This past month--with my husband working overseas especially--I've hardly slept, trying to balance it all.  I also devote time to helping him in his efforts to assist and educate returning benei anusim.  Donations made via Paypal or US/Israeli check (write to me at shaynarehberg [at] gmail [dot] com for mailing addresses) would be sincerely appreciated.  Use the button on the right to give online.  There is no set minimum because every dollar makes a difference.  This will also help provide employment for a mother in my town who has a cleaning business and teenaged girls to clothe and feed (and we all know how expensive that is).  I promise that 100% of any amount received beyond what I need to pay her will go to feed hungry children in Israel...namely mine, who seem to be hungry every 5 minutes.  Last week, after breakfast when we were about to leave for school, Puriel told me, "My tummy asked two times nicely for food, but I told him to wait a minute."  This is progress coming from the hobbit-like child who has to be stopped before biting into a fourth banana at Second Breakfast.

How wonderful that the warmth and green of spring has returned!  Flowers are so easy to photograph.  There's no huddling together and trying to get everyone to "look this way and smile.  No, a real smile," I have to add when taking pictures of my children.  "Please put your hand down...look at me...stop smothering her...put your skirt more, just hold still."  This is my favorite time of year and pretty soon it will be one of my favorite holidays!  Wondering why I say that about Pesach (Passover) when it feels like so much work to prepare?  Keep reading and you'll find out....

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cake for breakfast

It's true.  Every once in a while, that's what we have.  But it's not real cake.  It's actually an undercover, well-rounded way to start the day.  Let me explain...

Eggs, like people, come in a variety
of shapes, sizes, and even colors
Unless you set the table in the morning with hot cereal made from wheat berries or steel-cut oats, locally produced eggs, fresh fruit and calcium-rich milk, you're probably eating something less healthy than my breakfast cake.  Maybe it's cereal from a box that doesn't expire for three years because it has no nutritional value on its own so it had to be doused with spray-on vitamins?  A pastry that has so much sugar it could send a diabetic into a coma?  Maybe frozen waffles with ingredients that you can't pronounce?  Or perhaps you didn't have time to make anything so you just skipped the most important meal of the day?

This easy, versatile, original recipe was recently requested by my sister, Deborah.  Now you all get to have it:

Mash 2 large or 3 medium very ripe bananas with a fork in your mixing bowl.  You don't want big chunks, but it doesn't have to feel like baby food.  Add up to 1/2 c. canola oil and 1 tsp. vanilla.  Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time until smooth.
In a separate bowl, blend 2 c. real whole wheat flour* with 1 tsp. baking powder1/2 tsp. salt, and any spice or blend of spices that you like.  My favorite is 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. cardamon, but sometimes I use nutmeg, ginger or cloves.  Add dry to wet and stir until the lumps are out, then pour in 1 c. milk and stir (not too hard or you'll splash!) until smooth.  Pour into two long loaf pans, lightly greased and floured or lined with parchment paper.  Chop at least 1/2 c. almonds or walnuts and sprinkle evenly over the top.

Almonds are a good source of protein, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium...

Bake at 325 F/160 C until knife inserted in middle comes out clean.  It takes 20-35 minutes in my very old oven, depending on the type of pan I'm using and whether or not Hemdiya played with the temperature knob while it was baking.  It's a forgiving cake though and you should be able to smell when it's done.  The milk, fruit, and almonds already give it plenty of natural sweetness, but you can add sweetener when you are mashing the bananas to make this a dessert cake.  Date syrup will make the cake very moist, so make sure you don't forget the salt (natural preservative) or your cake will spoil quickly.  Honey will make the cake drier and cause it to brown more in the oven, but you can add extra milk to compensate.  Freezes well if you're single; waste of time trying to freeze if you have a medium- to large-sized family.

Someday I plan on publishing a cookbook.  When you make this, please post your baking time in the comments section so I can give a narrower range, averaged out from a variety of ovens (and include which kind of pan you used: glass, non-stick metal, foil, etc.).  Thanks!!

*The whole wheat flour that you'll find in a paper sack is either white flour dust with bran added back in (and usually way too much to make up for the missing germ) or else it has probably gone rancid from the oil in the germ souring at room temperature.  "Real" whole wheat flour is not shelf stable and is highly susceptible to insect infestation, making it necessary to purchase frozen or vacuum sealed if you can't grind it yourself.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Like the poppies

Kfar Shamai with Tzfat barely visible across the valley
The weather has been in a fickle mood lately.  Yesterday started out with a cheerfully sunny morning but then clouds settled into the valley below and played peek-a-boo with the sun, quickly rising in the sky.  I went to the shuk (open-air market) in Tzfat to stock up on fruits and vegetables and was constantly taking off my sweater and putting it back on as the sun did the same with its heavenly grey garments.

Now there is hail, hurled from the sky by dark, angry clouds.  The hail has ceased, the clouds are parting, and birds are singing again already.  As the old saying goes, "If you don't like the spring weather, just wait a minute."

Even though the sun was shining all afternoon, yesterday darkened considerably as news spread of rockets smashing into Beer Sheva and an explosion in Jerusalem.  A woman, a British tourist around my mother's age, was murdered by the terrorist who planted a bomb near the central bus station in Israel's crowded capital.  It's amazing how much thought goes into terror attacks; these are no crimes of passion, carried out in the heat of rage over injustice.  It takes a team, working together on a plan for some time, pouring countless hours into their efforts to kill and maim as many children, men, and women as possible.  They picked a Wednesday because that is the day that large numbers of women are usually out shopping for Shabbat.  Had I still been living in Tekoa, I'm sure I would have been at the market in Jerusalem that very day instead of the one in Tzfat.

These flowers are on the endangered species list.
Sometimes it feels like we might also be, eventually.
Paramedics and police arrived after the explosion to find
about this many people injured, stained red like the poppies.

But we keep pressing on.  Tamar Fogel, after loosing most of her family in a horrific attack almost two weeks ago, decided to come out and talk to the world.  It is at the same time devastating and uplifting to hear her speak about her past, her future.  "K'ilu," a word she uses often, is the Hebrew equivalent of "like" and is one of the few clues to the fact that she is only 12 years-old.

Shimshon Moshe, owner of the twice-bombed kiosk in Jerusalem, leads the way with the strength and determination that has become characteristic of Israelis, "Tomorrow morning we’ll return to clean and set up and do what we need to and return to work.  Nothing will overcome us."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The meat we eat

Last year I bought the book Judaism and Vegetarianism for a friend at a moving sale.  It's the 1982 edition and apparently didn't look very interesting to her, so it sat in my bookcase for a whole year untouched.  I finally read it because I thought, poor neglected book, somebody has to.  I agree with many of the ideas presented; that we should avoid tza'ar ba'alei chayim (causing animals to suffer), that excessive meat consumption takes a toll on our health and the environment, that modern "agrobiz" is ruining the world, etc.  But I cringed at a few of the overly propagandist paragraphs ("Do not commit suicide!") and couldn't stomach most of the recipes: millet pie, iceberg lettuce soup, and vegetarian nut loaf.

I really try not to go to the extreme in any direction, on any matter.  "Everything in moderation," is my motto. When I first started keeping kosher at age 17, I was a vegetarian.  Not only for the ease of one set of dishes and people being less offended by me not eating from their unkosher kitchens, but also because I was interested in having fewer artificial hormones and antibiotics entering my system.  I felt healthy and energetic and my iron level was fine even though anemia runs in the family.  During my first pregnancy though it dropped very low and I started craving meat, so I gave in to my unborn daughter's desires but usually only ate it on Shabbat.

Sitting on my in-laws' patio, it's a beautiful day to...gut a chicken?
That smile only showed up when the camera did.  Spring 2005

When our oldest was still a baby, we made a trip back to see family in New Mexico and Texas and ran across the problem of finding kosher meat.  My husband, having recently learned sh'chita (kosher slaughtering) located a cousin of sorts in Albuquerque (he's related to half the city) that raises chickens and we were set for Shabbat meals for the first few weeks.  In San Antonio, we flipped through the newspaper and found a goat farm.  A very dear friend of mine helped with transportation and soon--from one little goat--we had kosher meat not only for ourselves, but three other families as well.  She told me half-jokingly that she "wanted to go on pretending that meat grows wrapped in cellophane on trees" and couldn't bring herself to eat it because she had looked it in the eyes.  She even gave the goat a name.

Shortly after we came to Kfar Shamai, one of our neighbors was changing out the laying hens in his coop and offered us as many as we wanted before a truck would come in the morning to turn the old birds into animal feed.  My husband went out with his knives while I put the kids to bed and then we sat on our porch together into the wee hours of the night cleaning and packing the birds for the freezer.  They weren't the most tender, but they were free, and we had crock-pot meals every week without needing to buy any meat for the next couple of months.

These experiences really opened me up to what meat-eating used to be in the days before supermarkets, stocked so full of meat that they have to constantly throw away what isn't sold in a timely manner.  If you "get to know" the animals and you have to get your hands dirty, it makes you appreciate the fact that a living being has given up it's life for you to eat it.  I understand why Jewish culture and writings, while incredibly concerned for the well-being of all G-d's creatures, have an emphasis on meat for holidays and weddings...because that's the only time it was eaten!

So, I don't believe that the only solution to the evils of modern animal-breeding factories (which can barely be called farms) is to stop eating meat completely.  No more than the solution to lowering carbon emissions would be to stop driving cars completely.  Everything in moderation.  But, if you want to minimize your contribution to the damages caused by inhumane slaughterhouses, maybe you should check in your area to see if family farms and private shochets are available to provide you with better meat options.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ten children in my house

Sponge Bob and Forest Ranger stop to sample the goods
Israel is the best place to be for the holidays, and Purim is no exception.  Dressing up, parades, parties, and mishloach manot out the wazoo.  Normally it rains on Purim, but we had a lovely spring day instead and went for a tiyul (walk), giving and receiving treats while getting to know more of our neighbors.

Queen Esther and her Butterfly friend
We live in a "mixed" town, which means we have a potpourri of religious, traditional and non-religious Jews.  Even so, nearly everyone participated in the festivities on some level.  One woman confided that this year was the first that she had given mishloach manot and that she really enjoyed it.

After a few houses, Teneya found some of her friends and they went together to the community center for games and face-painting.  The day ended with a musical parade.

Today there were ten children in my house.  I was only babysitting two, three are mine, three are half of my next door neighbor's and come by at least once a day anyways, and the rest figured there must be some kind of party going on here but left after a while when they realized there wasn't.  There is no school today because of Shushan Purim, even though we're rather far from Jerusalem where it's being celebrated.

Life has given me a lot of lemons this year.
How much lemonade can a person really drink?

I rallied all of those little hands to the lemon tree where they happily picked fruit for over an hour.  For once, I didn't mind one bit that they were taking their sweet time to finish a "task."  Meanwhile, I organized my gemach, the second-hand store that has taken over my front porch.  My customers are usually mothers or new immigrants and today I went on a treasure hunt with a neighbor in all my piles and boxes, finding warm-weather clothes for her four children.

The second-most popular store in town,
right after the only other one: the grocery store

Hemdiya is teething, poor thing, and has a fever so I sent Teneya to the store to buy milk.  When did my little girl get so big?  We are missing Aaron, my beloved husband who gave his sparkling blue eyes to all three of our little ones.  He is in El Salvador for one more week, helping a community of benei anusim start a Sunday school for their 80+ children.  Being a "single" parent for the past three weeks hasn't always been easy, but then what is?  On Thursday, my rabbi-hubby shechted a calf which fed the whole community for the holiday weekend.  My mind is still chewing on this style of meat consumption and may have something more to say about it tomorrow.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


After havdalah, saying goodbye to another Shabbat, the kids slipped into their costumes and we started up the hill to hear the book of Esther read at our synagogue.

Wow, I thought, the moon looks so big and bright tonight!  I was grateful for the brilliant illumination as I wheeled the stroller through a forest trail in the middle of our town and tried to keep up with Puriel and wait for Teneya at the same time.

It made me think of the initiative, in memory of the slain members of the Fogel family, to "unite and increase the light" by encouraging women all over the world to participate in kindling Shabbat candles.  It's as if the moon was reflecting those precious lights right back at us.

Below you'll find a short video about the "Super Moon"by NASA.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Haman's tasty ears

For nearly a whole week, all of the talk at the table has been centered around Purim.  "My friend is going to come to school on Friday as Spiderman."  "Ima, have you finished fixing my dress?"  "Let's make oznei Haman!"

Oznei Haman is Hebrew for "Haman's ears."  I'm not sure if we really know what his ears looked like, but the name probably came from poking fun at the official villain of this holiday: "Haman was so stupid, he got hung on his own gallows...and he was ugly too!"  The Yiddish term for the cookie is Hamantaschen, meaning "Haman's pockets" and is a reference from the third chapter of the book of Esther to all the money that must have been jingling around inside of them. 

The metamorphosis of a three-sided cookie
We made our triangular treats today.  I cracked the eggs, Puriel poured in the sugar and stirred.  Everything was going great...and then he added some discarded orange pulp to the bowl of batter.

"What did you do?!?" I cried out in surprise.  Next came a short lecture on following directions which produced an apology, which then made me give one of my own.  "I'm sorry for yelling, Purieli.  I'm trying to work on not yelling, because it really isn't nice, is it?"

"It's not," he agreed, "but I know that even if you yell sometimes, you still love me all the time."

We fished out the pulp and continued with our family recipe, passed down through four generations so far.  It goes like this:

2 eggs
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. oil
1/2 orange, juice and rind
2 3/4 c. flour

Mix eggs and sugar. Add oil, vanilla and orange juice with rind. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl, then add to wet ingredients.  Roll as thin as you can without it falling apart (easier if dough is chilled, even 20 min. in freezer if you're in a hurry).  These cookies will puff up a lot and force their fillings out if they are too thick. Cut into rounds with a glass dipped in flour (a great time to involve the kids again). Place spoonful of filling in center. Form a triangle by pinching together at top and sides.

Bake at 325 F/160 C.  For me they were done in about 10 minutes, but everyone's oven has a mind of its own.  Also, I doubled the recipe and used 4 c. whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 c. white with extra for dusting the counter.  I still have over 100 cookies left, after letting the kids sample them and share with their playmates.  I'll be making another batch tomorrow...

For the filling, grind 1 c. poppy seeds (apx. 100g) in your food processor until they look like ground pepper.  Dump into saucepan with 2 c. water and bring to a boil (it will look milky).  Add 1 c. golden raisins, coarsely chopped, and 2 T. candied etrog peel, finely minced.  If you can't get your hands on that, substitute 1 T. lemon rind plus 2 T. sugar.  Chop 1/2 c. blanched almonds (soak almonds overnight and the skins will slip right off) and add along with 2 T. canola oil.  Cook until thick, sweeten to taste, add 1 tsp. vanilla and let cool.
Cookie monster gets caught

This may seem a little labor intensive for just a filling, especially in our age of pre-packaged everything.  But trust me, there is nothing like poppy seed filling, a.k.a. "mohn" when it's homemade.  This is also a fabulous filling for a yeast cake or rugelach.  If I can't manage to make the filling though, I have been known to use: chopped dates (with or without walnuts), chocolate chips, or chopped fresh strawberries boiled in a bit of water and honey (instant homemade strawberry jam).  I don't like the store-bought jams because the sugar content is so high that not only is it unhealthy but burns more easily in the oven.  Either that or it's a really expensive jam without sugar that I can't bring myself to spoon into 250 cookies.

Although I enjoy creating and eating healthy food, I try not to be too radical about it.  You'll notice there are modest amounts of [gasp!] salt and sugar in my recipes.  These two ingredients are natural preservatives (less food wasted is good for the planet, right?) and in small amounts won't be any more damaging to your overall health and well-being than a sour mood will, IMO.  I use sea salt from the Dead Sea which contains many important minerals and light or dark brown sugar which is slightly less processed (plus it costs more, which helps motivate me to use less).  In most commercial baked goods the flour and sugar are used in equal amounts.  A few really awful products even have more sugar than flour.  If you are starting to eat better, make sure that the sugar content is not more than half of the flour and once your taste buds have adjusted you can reduce it even more.

Pre-Purim Carnival at Puriel's preschool / Photo credit: Sara Raschti
Wishing you a very happy, healthy and safe Purim!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It's almost Purim and the festivities have already begun.  On Monday, we went to a children's art workshop in our moshav where my two older kids crafted masks and noise-makers while I chased baby around the room to keep him out of the paint and glitter.  Puriel has come home with his face painted each day this week and will join his class on Friday as they visit an assisted living center to bring cheer to its residents.  It's a good thing that most of them are hard of hearing.

There are four special elements of Purim which we look forward to each year, all starting with "M"...
  1. Megillah:  Reading the book of Esther.  Includes lots of booing and cheering and possibly ruining a good pair of shoes by writing the name of the vile Haman on the bottom of them.
  2. Mishteh:  A festive meal in honor of the holiday.
  3. Mishloach Manot:  Gifts of food.  At least two packages, each containing at least two ready-to-eat items.  Some keep it simple, others create elaborate gift baskets. 
  4. Matanot L'Evyonim:  Monetary gifts to the poor.  No matter how little you have, there are always those who have less.  Find them and make their Purim a happy one.
Tomorrow we'll be working on our mishloach manot and I'll have a special recipe to share with you.  Have an easy fast.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Swinging moods

Children are simply amazing.  Mine have the supernatural ability to lift me out of the darkness, into their world of smiley-faced stickers and stuffed animals who emit bodily noises but always say "excuse me" afterwards.

This morning, my five year-old asked me, "Is anybody sick here, Ima?  If you were sick, I would hold your hand and take you home.  Maybe I could even carry you."

I told him for the millionth time that he is the sweetest soul with the biggest heart that I have ever met and he thanked me with a kiss.

Then I completely forgave him for throwing that awful fit under the table 20 minutes earlier.

Their mood swings come and go faster than mine do, but then we're all just human beings trying to navigate a world full of surprises.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A loss of humanity

I can't stop crying.  Today there is no desire to eat, sleep, talk or write.  All I can think about is Rabbi and IDF tank unit officer Udi Fogel, 36, his wife Ruth, 35, and their children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and three month-old Hadas.  A faction of the "moderate" Fatah group had the nerve to claim responsibility for breaking into their home on Friday night and brutally murdering them, only a few weeks after a nearby checkpoint had been evacuated.  The Fogels were among more than 8,000 Jews expelled from Gaza nearly six years ago.

Three of their children survived; the 12 year-old daughter was at a friend's house and the eight and two year-old boys went unnoticed, covered by their blankets.  I simply cannot imagine being in the shoes of young Tamar who was the first to discover what had befallen her family when she came home that night.  Couldn't bring myself to look at the pictures floating around online.  What does a preteen do with those images in her head?  Does she feel that she must be both mother and father to her younger brothers?  Will she be able to have healthy relationships with other people as she matures?

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu noticed, "The international community that so quickly rushes to condemn Israel over a building here or there, for some reason takes its time in condemning this savagery, this brutality..."

What kind of person stabs a preschooler in the heart and slits the throat of a sleeping infant?  I agree with President Shimon Peres' statement that this tragedy  “indicates a loss of humanity. There is no religion in the world or any faith that allows these kinds of horrible acts. There are no words of consolation in the face of this devastation. Our hearts are with the orphans and with the community of Itamar during this extremely difficult time."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Double portion

So, it's been two days and you're probably all thinking that I had fallen off the edge of the earth...or finally stopped writing long enough to take care of the laundry.  It was a little of both, really.

Everyone likes to help...
When the young nation of Israel wandered the desert, they were given a portion of manna each day.  Just enough for that one day.  The only exception to this was Friday.  Since on Shabbat, no malacha (certain types of creative work; different from avoda which is the kind of work you do to make a living) could be done, a double portion of manna would fall on Friday and Moshe Rabeinu (Moses, our teacher) told us to do all of our cooking ahead of time (Exodus 16:23).  So in honor of Shabbat, we have a double portion of food, but the day before we get a double portion of work.  Still worth it, I think.

...with preparing for Shabbat
We were invited to have Shabbat lunch with a Yemenite family of eight.  They were so warm and hospitable that Teneya refers to each of their four daughters, aged seven to nineteen, as "my friend."  We feasted on a rich chicken soup with kubane, a fluffy yet spongy bread that is cooked in a pot, torn into pieces and dropped into the broth, fresh vegetables and nuts for snacking, and the infamous hilba.  It's a paste made from fenugreek, garlic and cilantro.  Why infamous?  Because no deodorant known to man can compete with the fragrance that you will sweat after consuming it.  I passed on the bitter green delicacy but enjoyed half a glass of wine that my host had made himself.

Shabbat sort of is like falling off the edge of the earth.  Completely unplugged and detached from the daily business of life.  For a workaholic like me, it can be hard sometimes to let go and let G-d run the world for an entire day without my help.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tea and (pan)cakes

Sitting in my quiet kitchen, I'm sipping lemongrass tea and nibbling on a crumbly carrot-raisin muffin while leafing through a new cookbook (all thanks to my new sewing friend).  I read cookbooks like novels and this one is a real page turner.

There is hail falling outside for the second time today.  This time is better than the first, because now I have electricity again.  All of that spring energy seems to have left me, and on days like these I feel the need for a warm and hearty breakfast.  One of my favorites is:

Semolina Pancakes

2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour

2/3 c. semolina

1 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. (or 1 packet, for those in Israel) baking powder

1/2 c. canola oil

2/3 c. date syrup (silan) or brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla (or 1 packet vanilla sugar)

2 eggs

2 1/2 c. buttermilk (or regular milk w/juice of 1/2 lemon)

In a large bowl, whirl it all together.  Don't worry about the lumps.  Let sit for a few minutes to soften the semolina while your skillet is warming.  If it's too thick, add a little more milk.  Ladle the batter into the skillet.  My kids like a lot of little pancakes so that they can brag about eating a dozen or more, so I cook three or four at once.  Spoon yogurt on top or drizzle more of the date syrup.  Take two pancakes and slap some cheese or peanut butter with banana slices between them for breakfast on the run.

Sorry, no pictures this time.  They all disappeared too fast.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What gives you pleasure?

The question was posed to us at my village's Rosh Chodesh (new moon festival) celebration earlier this week.  It can be something spectacular like "my granddaughter just got married" or something simple like "I ate ripe strawberries for lunch."  For me, today, it was the latter.

Strawberries remind me of Switzerland.  When I was an aupair (nanny) there, we ate strawberries nearly every night for dinner--with cream and either omelet-like crepes or hearty bread--for weeks on end in the spring.  Years later I learned that many of Europe's first strawberries of the season are imported from Israel.  I'm just glad we don't ship all of them away.

Everyday has its pains and pleasures.  Sometimes the pleasures are so subtle or prosaic that we gloss right over them in our thoughts at the end of the day, remembering only the most uncomfortable or demanding moments.

What has given you pleasure today?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Creative juices

View out my front door this morning
Despite the foggy, dreary day, I feel energized!  Spring is on its way in and the creative juices are flowing.  There's an idea that's been stewing since I moved to the forest that finally spilled out of me onto paper this week.  I would like to create a series of postcards from pictures I have taken/will take that capture the forests of Israel and expose them as a breeding ground for, not only environmental awareness, but coexistence as well.

Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, Druze and Bedouins--so many different people groups that make up this tiny sliver of the Middle East known as the State of Israel.  In the big cities you'll see some mingling, but out here each group mostly keeps to itself; there are separate towns, schools, malls and bus companies.  Even some of the various Jewish groups band together away from the rest.  For example, there's a town just down the hill that is specifically for non-religious vegetarians.

One of 240 million trees planted by the JNF
Our national forests are some of the few places that we all share.  During the spring and fall, students are brought from diverse schools to clean up the forest together.  They learn from a young age to treasure and protect our green spaces while putting names and faces on a people group that would otherwise just be "them."  On certain holidays, whole towns empty into the forests for picnics and hikes.  For some citizens, a chance meeting in the forest may be the only meaningful, multicultural interaction they'll have all year.

Can it succeed?  Will it make a difference?  Should I go for it?

Spring is on its way...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Your little heart will turn black

Something happened in the kids' bedroom.  Something small.  Completely insignificant, really.  What bothered me is that when I asked who did it, all I got was "not me" in stereo.

I've been running into this problem more often lately.  Everyone denies everything and there is no one to take the blame, receive punishment, have a talk with, and learn not to repeat the offense.  But in the middle of the morning rush, with breakfast to make, school lunches to pack, diapers to change, baby to feed, dishes to wash...I may have shelved the problem with a "harumph" a couple of times and forgotten to address it later.

This time, I decided, the case would be solved.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The trouble with rules and restrictions is that you have to enforce them.  That's probably the number one reason why little terrors exists; the parents just didn't find the time and energy to enforce their boundaries.

I forbade movies, sweets--anything I could think of--until the guilty person stepped forward.  I use every plea and threat in the arsenal of a mother and yet they both continued to deny any part in it.  After three days, I felt crazy.  Should I just give up?  Will they think they can get away with lying to me?  Am I being obsessive?  Do they still love me?  Do they think I'm insane?

I couldn't give up.  Yes, I really am that stubborn.  But I was at the end of my rope, so I sat them down and promised a window of opportunity to come out of this without being punished for the lying.  "The most important thing," I told my blue-eyed munchkins, "is that you are honest with me and that I can trust you."


I thought of my dear mother-in-law and her famous saying that seems to be responsible for making my husband the incredibly honest man that he is.  So I added, "You know...if you tell a lie, your little heart will turn black."

After pondering these words for a moment, tears started welling up in Puriel's eyes.  "Will it really?" he asked.  "That's what Abuelita always said," I answered carefully.  He confessed.  We hugged, reconciled, and had a wonderful evening playing together on the living room carpet and laughing over Dr. Seuss' silly stories.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Just an average morning in the Israeli countryside

The kids are up early.  But then, mine always are.  After a dozen reminders to "take another bite" breakfast dishes are cleared and everyone grabs a coat because the mornings are still rather chilly.

"Have a pretty day!" Teneya and I wish each other with a quick kiss and a giggle at our little inside joke.  This ritual started a few months ago when she was saying goodbye and jumbled up her words a bit.  At six "and three quarters!" my big girl walks herself to the bus stop.

Puriel, who just turned five, pushes the stroller out the door with Hemdiya, 14 months, strapped inside for our daily walk to his preschool.  We're greeted by our cheerful lemon tree, still exploding with fruit as it has been every week since we moved here in September.  If you come to visit me, you'll have to take some home with you.

We plug our noses and make silly faces as we pass one chicken coop and then another.  We pause to watch two horses munching on weeds, pause again because Puriel has found some interesting leaves and again to enjoy the fragrant smell of honey coming from the almond blossoms.

On my way home I rest my gaze on the nature reserve of Nahal Amud and think of my grandfather, Arthur Margolin z"l, who raised funds for the Jewish National Fund (JNF/KKL).  I feel very connected to him when I am in this country's forests.

Home again and it's time for dishes, laundry, playing with baby (who has just started walking) and continuing my spring cleaning.  It feels so good to throw open the windows and let the fresh air in.

I'm reading Every Day, Holy Day by Alan Morinis, a present from my sister.  The chapter is Joy, and how appropriate that is for Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet!  משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה  When the month of Adar enters, joy increases (Ta'anit 29a).  We are coming to the end of a "pregnant year," as it is called in Hebrew, which means that we have two months of Adar so that Pesach will come in the spring as it should.  The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar and solar cycles and we have a few new year's days, but that could fill a whole post by itself.

"Delight and joy must accompany your every spiritual endeavor.  Only when you delight and rejoice in each fine and positive deed will you have the enthusiasm to act in the most ideal manner..." writes Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook on page 20.

I want to bless you with a lot of joy, laughter, and positive deeds...this month and always.  That the dreariness of winter will be chased away by the new life sprouting up all around us.  Chodesh tov!  Have a good month!