Thursday, April 24, 2014

What I learned

Passover has a message for the conscience and the heart of all mankind. For what does it commemorate? It commemorates the deliverance of a people from degrading slavery, from most foul and cruel tyranny. And so, it is Israel's - nay, God's protest against unrighteousness, whether individual or national."
Rabbi Morris Joseph
The day after Pesach

I have not posted anything since before Pesach.

Before the chag, I began to write about shopping for the week, but I started to cry, so I stopped.

I also began a blog about cleaning and who cleans the most obscure areas of the house, but I started to cry so I stopped.

There was one where I wrote about the minutiae of the laws of the holiday, but I started to cry so I stopped.

Ditto recipes, menus, resting during the week off work (yeh, right!), and the delights of a full house (hahahahahha).

So now I’m after Pesach, and life is slowly returning to normal. I found the regular salt and pepper shakers ‘neatly’ put away before the chag, and that’s always a good sign. Here are two things I can’t find: the icing decorator doohickie, and the funnel I use to pour sugar into a bottle of homemade lemonade or ice tea, neither very essential items. Except, obviously, this week is my son’s birthday and I have to decorate a cake for him, and I when I went to make some ice tea as a pick-me-up after putting away four boxes of dishes and I spilled the sugar all over the counter.

Three days after the hoopla, I can look back and assess.

This is what I did:

  • I spent 4,382 hours in the kitchen making mock chopped liver and 72 cakes (two were left over). 
  • We went to Tel Aviv and got stuck in traffic. 
  • I crossed off things from my lists (a feeling of great satisfaction).
  • I watered my herb garden. 
  • I spent time with my kids
  • I played with my grandson.
  • I was honored to host several guests for seder, four of whom I met for the first time. I now have four new friends. 
  • I was blessed to be surrounded by my family. 
All in all, I suppose not bad. 

Yay me!!!
This is what I learned:
  • 72 cakes might be too many.
  • Cumin is kitniyot
A few years ago, we were hosted by our good friends M&J for seder. They introduced us to the concept of having a ‘theme’ for the seder, where every attendee must come up with some sort of dvar Torah based on the decided theme. That year, their theme was to connect a Jewish historical figure with some part of the haggada. It was a great success; my kids wrote a play based on a performance by the Marx Bros, and my husband wrote about Henry Kissinger. I paraphrased the words of the great Jewish song writer Robert Zimmerman:

How many Matzot must a Jew eat tonight, before you can call him a Jew?
And how many veggies must a Jew eat tonight, and how many is too few?

Yes and how many times must a Jew dip tonight pretending he just doesn’t see?
Yes and how many times does a Jew have to lean before he’s allowed to be free?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Since that year, my family has happily adopted the theme idea. Two years ago, we had to connect some part of the haggada to a movie (I took Gone With the Wind, but I can’t remember the connection – something about what Gerald said about the Land). Last year was popular songs, and this year we went all out. We had to bring an object of some sort to the table and explain the connection. Some guests brought the ten plague puppets, my youngest brought her older brother’s old T-shirt, which she now wears, to show how, during Bnei Yisrael’s 40-year sojourn in the desert, their clothes never wore out, my other daughter brought a cosmetician’s practice hand complete with beautiful nails to show G-d’s ‘strong hand and outstretched arm’ when He took us out of Egypt. Hubby brought a piece of garlic, a piece of the Iron Dome (which had fallen on our house during last year’s Pillars of Defense operation), a map of Israel, and a stuffed Lemur. I’ll let you figure those out.

My oldest wouldn't cooperate in being a model for the plague of the slaying of the first-born, so I brought a clipboard.

There is a passage in the Haggada that states “I (G-d) and not an angel, I and not a seraph, I and not a messenger,” referring to who redeemed the Children of Israel from Egypt.

That it is stated so emphatically that it is G-d who redeems us teaches us two things:

1. A good manager (as symbolized by the clipboard) delegates jobs and responsibilities. When there is a big project (such as freeing a people from slavery, or cleaning for Pesach), it is far more efficient if there are more people participating in the work. But when it came time to free Bnei Yisrael, it was G-d alone who was responsible. This teaches us that when an injustice is witnessed, we, as a people and as individuals, are responsible to right the wrong – I and not my secretary, I and not some government official, I and not ‘someone should do something about this’.

2. It was G-d himself who took us out of Egypt. Today, scientists try to explain the plagues, saying that they were natural phenomena, and the story is a myth. But through the text we know that it was G-d who took us out: Not a messenger (i.e., Moshe), not an angel (i.e., strong winds; muddy, blood-like waters; disease; overpopulation), not a seraph (i.e., fear; social responsibilities). G-d took us out of Egypt for a purpose: to give us the Torah and to bring us to the Land to live a Torah life in the Land. In the same way that, now, in the 20th-21st centuries, G-d Himself has brought us to the Land and protects us, not a messenger (i.e., the sochnut, or the government, or El Al) and not an Angel (i.e., the IDF; the IAF; Iron Dome; bomb shelters), and not a seraph, (i.e., anti-Semitism, Zionism, economic problems). G-d Himself wanted us out of Egypt/Europe/Asia/Africa/America/Australia and has brought us here to our Land.

In the next six weeks, the Jewish people will be commemorating/celebrating the following holidays:

Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG'vurah (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה; Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day) 28 Nisan, April 28 - Postponed one day because of the Sabbath.
Cars stop at 10 AM for a memorial siren
Yom Hazikaron l'Chalalei Ma'arachot Yisrael v'l'Nifgaei Peulot Ha'eivah  (יום הזיכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל ולנפגעי פעולות האיבה‎, Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism) 5 Iyar, May 5 - Postponed one day because of the Sabbath.
Ceremony at Kotel for fallen soldiers
Yom Ha’azmaut (יום העצמעות; Israel Independence day) 6 Iyar May 6. Postponed one day because of the Sabbath.) 

Pesach Sheni (פסח שני; Second Passover) 14 Iyar 14 May 

What? again??

Lag B’Omer  (ל"ג בעומר) Iyar 18 May 18 

Yom Yerushalayim (יום ירושלים Jerusalem Day) 28 Iyar May 28 

Shavuot  (שבועות) Sivan 6 , June 4 

All these holidays (as are all Jewish holidays) are special to the Land.

This year, let G-d bring you home and celebrate with us.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

And these are the ordinances that you shall set before them

And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore shall ye observe this day throughout your generations by an ordinance for ever.
Exodus 12:17

It’s a well-known axiom that the day after you wash your car, it will rain.

Of course, here in Israel, where rain is considered a major blessing, this doesn't happen. In fact, one can find people washing cars every day in the hope of seeing a bit of precipitation. Can’t but hope, but it doesn't usually help.

Instead, this being Israel, where miracles happen, we live by a different axiom: the day after you wash all your windows before Pesach, there will be a major sandstorm.

True picture of my plants
Never fails.

(There are actually several such weather-related laws in Israel: a heat wave on Yom Kippur, rain on Purim, and heavy winds on Lag B’Omer, but I digress.)

After much research (20 minutes of talking on the phone to my friend E), I discovered a few more hard and fast rules pertaining to the observance of Pesach in Israel. I feel I should share in case some people believe that these things happen only to them. Here they are (in no particular order):

1. Children who won’t eat pasta year round suddenly develop a craving for it – 1 to 2 hours after giving away the last package to the local charity.

2. Those same children lose the craving approximately 10 seconds after you buy more pasta, which is on sale at the supermarket—six packages for 15 NIS. You are now stuck with six packages of pasta minus four noodles.

3. A cheap can opener bought on the principle that you can ‘get by’ with it as it only has to open about five cans a year will, by the end of the holiday, break down and refuse to open the one last can you need. 

4. When, because of the above, you are forced to open that last can by using a can punch left over from the old days when you opened cans of juice, the jagged edges created will cut your hand and make you bleed into the can of mushrooms.

5. If, after cutting your hand on the jagged edge of a can for 25 years, you finally break down and buy the most expensive and ginormous can opener you can find with plastic ergonomic handles, a stainless steel blade, and its own little box to store it, it will never work.

6. A key piece of equipment (e.g., a knife, spatula, wooden spoon) that you bought especially for Pesach will hide itself and won’t be found, even after you've cleaned the entire house – again. It can only be found in one of two ways: buy another, or wait to the end of the holiday and it will magically appear when you put all the Pesach stuff away.

7. The last box of cornflakes is always finished three days before the holiday, leaving you to eat leftover salad and stale crackers for breakfast.

8. Even when, on a normal basis, you expertly separate eggs, the one time a bit of yellow gets into the whites so that the whites don’t whip up is the time you are making a cake for your in-laws.

9. After spending about 20,000 NIS on food and cooking for 72 straight hours, there will be at least one person in the house who will open the fridge and announce, “I hate Pesach, there’s nothing to eat!”. 

nothing to eat
10. It’s impossible to remember the tunes to the songs in the Haggada that you sang last year, but you remember the ones you learned in school 40 years ago, which are NEVER the ones your spouse/hosts know.

11. Nobody ever remembers exactly how to kasher the microwave.

12. Every year, resolutions are made to be more organized / to get help / to take advantage of more or not to buy any pre-packaged food (depending on the household) / to plan better/ to have more time to enjoy the holiday. This never happens.

Feel free to let me know what laws I've missed out on so that I can celebrate Pesach to its fullest!

In the meantime, enjoy, appreciate, have fun, and relax.
And don't worry about the sandstorm. Dirt is not Chametz.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Key is Being Organized

Housework can't kill you, but why take a chance?
Phyllis Diller

The Hebrew word ‘erev’ means evening. You say erev tov when you meet someone walking after the sun has gone down.
Erev also means eve, as in erev Shabbat (the day preceding the Sabbath). In that context, erev can be used for any special day.

However, like all things Jewish and Israeli, erev has taken on its own special connotation. In traditional Jewish homes, erev means the time it takes to prepare for the special day.

So while erev Shabbat might start on Thursday afternoon, erev Chanuka or Purim might start about a week before that holiday, depending on how organized the particular household is, and how many soofganiyot and/or hamentashen one has to bake.

In contrast, Erev Pesach can start anywhere from one month to 363 days before the holiday, depending on how hysterical I feel.

This can be used both positively and negatively.
For example, that kitchen drawer that attracts various fliers, teachers’ notes, charity solicitations, obsolete phone chargers, old x-rays of someone’s broken arm, stamps, bits of colored paper with scribbled unnamed phone numbers, unfinished soduko puzzles, artwork from kindergarten (the artist is now 19), pens with green ink, old calendars from an insurance company, photographs of unknown people in an unknown place, a map of the Maldives, and paperclips need not be organized right now. Its almost Erev Pesach; it can be done then!!

Or – and this is my favorite – “I can’t cook tonight – it’s Erev Pesach”. I've been known to say this in January.

On the other hand, jitters have been coming earlier and earlier each year and the house grows bigger and bigger as the holiday approaches faster and faster and I have to face the inevitable truth: There are more cupboards to clean, more furniture to vacuum, and more floor to wash each year. Erev Pesach gets longer and longer. 

However, I have it down to a science. Over the years, I have devised a system so that I don't go into a cleaning-fume-induced delirium by trying to get everything done at the last minute. 
There are several stages to preparing for Pesach.

The first stage is mentally preparing myself for what lies ahead. This stage, which can take anywhere from a week to up to six months, comprises staring at walls, muttering, walking in circles, crawling into bed and weeping, and, occasionally, banging my head against the nearest wall and cursing the day I was born.

The next stage is what I call the action stage. Others might call it the list stage, but that’s because they don’t understand the action it takes to make lists. I like to make lists. Lists calm me. Lists anchor me into reality. Making lists leaves me with less time to bang my head against any wall.

First, I make a list of the lists I need to make. This in itself can be quite exhausting, especially if I include the list of the foods my guests don’t eat, a list of gifts I would like to receive, a list of all the stuffed animals we have in the house, a list of books I need to read (by author) and movies I would like to watch but can’t find online, and a list of different ways in which I can procrastinate.

I then list all the rooms of the house by size, and then list what there is to clean in each room. I look over the lists and cross out half and write ‘dirt isn't chametz’.

I list all the windows in the house. I hand that list over to someone else. Someone else throws the list in the garbage.

I list all the things I have to buy for the holiday: cleaning supplies, food, wine, clothes, a fridge, new tiles for the bathroom wall, a sheep, and cotton balls. 
My dream list

Listing complete, I begin the next stage of cleaning.

I organize my lists in order of priority. First on my list, obviously, is a trip to the bookstore. Then I can really get down to business. 

My problem with Pesach cleaning is that I've barely finished preparing, making, and cleaning up for the holiday, when boom, ten months later I have to start thinking about it all over again.

I’m going to have a cup of tea. 


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Proud Mother's Purim

The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honour.
Esther 8:16

Whenever anyone asks me why I made Aliyah, I give the standard Zionist Israel-is-the-only-place-for-Jews answer. But really, the answer is much simpler. In Israel, you only celebrate one seder on Pesach, but you have two birthdays.
There is also a two-day Purim. On the 14th of Adar, most of Israel celebrates the joyous holiday, but on the 15th, it is celebrated in Jerusalem. So, if you plan ahead, and play your cards right, you can actually manage to get out of the whole thing and not bother with the whole bash at all.

It’s not that I don’t love Purim. Of course I do, I'm not a grinch! Not liking Purim would be akin to not liking kittens, or babies. Oh. Right. 

It’s just that, no matter how carefully I prepare and plan, Purim always seem to end in tears. Usually mine. When the kids were young, they would request a specific costume; a bird, a pirate, superman. I would go to the fabric store, purchase the required shiny material in different colours, painstakingly glue feathers on an old sweatshirt, lovingly sew capes and hats, and even cover sword-shaped bits of cardboard with aluminum foil. And I would do it all as if I didn't have anything better to do, like finally clean out the storeroom, or scrape off the soap stains from the top of the washing machine, or begin the 500-page opus I planned to write if only I didn't have to sew Purim costumes all the time.

And the night before the gala school Purim carnival, the kid(s) would look at the dreamy costume I had whipped up and nonchalantly tell me that that wasn't what s/he wanted. “Make another one, this time in green.”  Tears would ensue. The kids would hand me tissues, but stood their ground.
One year, everyone had to have a cape. I had four different capes in three different colors. Two had lining. And then, to piss me off, they all exchanged capes. Superman had a BLACK cape, and the magician thought he could fly. Frodo’s Dracula cape (with the red lining and a cardboard collar that stood up – what a genius I was!) dragged on the floor. Wasn't that a hoot.

Sometimes, I considered buying a costume. Little-girl costumes were easy. Everyone was a queen. There were costumes for a queen of hearts, a queen of daisies, a queen of roses, a queen of all the flowers, a queen of wolves, a queen of cookies, a Spanish queen, a Chinese queen, and the queen of strawberries. But my girls were much too sophisticated to be a queen. The queen of gnomes was not for them, nor the queen of butterflies. They were too worldly, too practical, too snooty to be a queen. 

No, my girls wanted to be vampires! Zombies! A person murdered in their nightgown with blood dripping out of their mouths!!! How cool is that!

Of course, once the girls got older, THEN they wanted to buy an available costume. Most of the costumes for tweens (what a stupid word) were cultural; a Spanish flamenco dancer, or a Chinese farm girl. But all these girls, according to the costume, seemed to also work nights. So you would have a Dutch working girl with wooden shoes, or a Japanese kimono-clad working girl, or even an American working girl who played baseball during the day….

One year, one very young child told me the night before Purim after I made a lovely clown costume, that, simply, he wouldn't be caught dead going out of the house in the costume but he wanted to be a thpathe alien. Looking at my gorgeous-to-die-for little baby, his almost blonde hair falling into his eyes, his head tilted at an angle, my heart melted and I told him “no chance, buster." 
"Mom", said this three year old who had watched ET 23,457 times, “I need to be a thpathe alien.”

As it happened, the very next day, I happened upon a tiny space alien costume that was on sale for very little money – like 20 NIS ($5), so I bought it. It was the first, and remains the only, time I bought a costume. I brought it home and showed my son, who was so excited it was worth every bit of the 20 NIS. Finally, I was going to have a satisfied child.

The only problem was, the costume made him look not so much like a space alien, but like a giant frog. And sure enough, next to the tag that said ‘WARNING! This costume is liable to spontaneously combust when exposed to strong winds’, there was another tag that said ‘Frog Prince’. I’d been had. 

This brings me to mishloach manot – those gifts of food that families give to one another, usually made up of cookies, candies, and chocolates. These gifts make the day almost nightmarish with all the yelling and pushing.

“That chocolate is MINE! You can have the toffee!”
“I saw that cookie first! It’s not fair!”

And that was just me and my husband. You should have heard the kids.

Admittedly, it’s a bit creepy that we've named a special Purim cookie after the villain (he-who-must-not-be-named except in cookie form) — hamantashen in Yiddish means Haman’s pockets, and Oznei Haman in Hebrew means Haman’s ears. (There’s no English word for this particular treat.) Eating a hamantashen symbolizes the destruction of Haman (may his name be blotted out!) much the same way we blow whistles and rattle graggers and stamp our feet every time his name (may it be blotted out!) is mentioned during the reading of the Megillah. 
But it’s like naming a frosted doughnut ‘Bin-Laden’s Beard’ or a chocolate bar ‘Stalin’s Mustache’ (may their names be blotted out!). 

Purim is truly a magnificent and joyous holiday. May we be blessed to celebrate in health and joy and with the selfless love of Queen Esther, that the way should be paved for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the coming of the Masiach, bimheray be'yamenuh.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Lime of My Life

A friend never defends a husband who gets his wife an electric skillet for her birthday.
Erma Bombeck

Cooking is among my top 287 things to do, just above waking up in the middle of the night to swat mosquitoes, and just below holding a poopy baby.

Actually, cooking and I have a very complicated relationship, mostly because I love to eat. I’ve met women (it’s always women) who utter such gibberish as “I forgot to eat lunch” (Whaaaaa? That’s like forgetting to breathe. I forget my kids’ names, birthdays, and genders more than I could ever forget to eat. Of course, I forget their names, ages, and genders more often than I forget to buy parsley, which is always), or “I don’t know why, but I’m just not hungry. Ever.” (Some people are meant to be put out of their misery. Early and fast.)

When I was a kid, my mother would allow me (under strict supervision) to ‘help’ her in the kitchen. This help usually meant grinding nuts and washing dishes. When I was a bit older, I would take advantage of any absence of my mother – usually when she went food shopping, which, because of my and my siblings’ love of eating, was fairly often – to quickly burn some pans and fill up the kitchen with smoke. This did not endear me much to my mother, who would usually banish me from the kitchen, if not from the house completely, and I would then have to take refuge in my basement lair, aka my bedroom where I would dream of what's for supper.

I did a bit of cooking when I was in University because my mother was not around. But the kitchen in the dorms – shared by about 50 girls, none of whom had their mother around – was the size of a card table (folded) and was not exactly conducive to elegant cookery. Also, any food left out for more than 15 seconds was stolen, usually by the boys who also didn’t have their mothers around. Of course, my food was safe after the first time when it was returned with a note: ‘OK, you got me! Good one!'.

It was only when I got married that I began to cook for real. My new husband not only worked 15 hours a day, but thought that salt was an adventurous spice and pepper(!) was really out there! The cooking – if I wanted to eat, which I did – fell to me.
Me in the early days. Yeh, right
I took my responsibilities seriously. I looked up recipes in cookbooks. I did the shopping carefully, looking for bargains. I tried new foods, new spices, new combinations, new taste sensations! However, my enthusiasm was dampened pretty early on. First, as previously noted, my husband worked 15 hours a day, coming home well after I was already starving and not caring what was on the table. Second, he was a bread eater. Before he ate any ‘real food’, he would partake of three or four slices of bread topped with butter and cream cheese, yellow cheese, or Marmite (shudder). Then, he wouldn't have much room left over for the main course. He ate bread with everything; vegetables, pasta, casseroles. He would stick a piece of bread into a pita, or just eat a bread sandwich.

Once the kids were born, enthusiasm dropped even further, because they ate, well, nothing. Really. Some kids are picky eaters, I understood that. But my kids seemed to be non-eaters. They didn't eat fruit, vegetables, cereals, meat, poultry, or dairy products. Nary a cornflake or cheerio crossed their lips. They didn't eat pasta, soup, or mushed up apples, not juice, fish, or beans.  No humus, or raisins, or jam. Not even Marmite.

But, of course, they had to eat something, or they would have died, right? Everyone (my mother) assured me that as soon as they were hungry enough, they would eat.

It turned out that they were secret eaters. They were actually consuming vast quantities of mud, leaves, pen tops, Barbie doll heads, Fisher Price people, and, their special favorite, elastic bands. 'Chewy', they would say when asked why they were eating elastic bands.
Lunch is served

I was told (by my mother) that they would grow out of this, eventually. And of course they did! As they got older, they began to eat some of the main food groups, if the main food groups are all made out of sugar.

Whatever; my cooking enthusiasm waned.

Other family members didn't help. One close family member ate, – in contrast to my kids – well, anything that was put in front of him. He would have no idea what he was eating. I could (and did – using the kids' leftovers) put a bowl of mud with live worms in front of him and he would dive in. “Chewy” was all he’d say.

On the other hand, his wife was a somewhat picky eater. “Don’t go to any trouble”, she would tell me, “I eat anything”. Except broccoli. And cauliflower. And chunky soup. And unpeeled fruit and vegetables. And peeled fruit and vegetables. And fried onions. Oh, and salted pickles. And chicken breasts, which she sure is delicious but are really too dry for her. And sushi, spicy food, grapefruit, squash, and cola. And gazpacho is not her cup of tea. (‘Of course it’s not your cup of tea’, I once pointed out to her, ‘Your cup of tea is in the tea cup next to you. That’s gazpacho’. I suppose I don’t blame her for not liking me very much.) 

Not a cup of tea
 Already dampened and waned, my enthusiasm came to a screeching halt.
Cooking and I just didn't get along anymore.

Which is why, I have to admit, I was less than delighted to be invited to a ‘Cookbook’ party by my good friend B. I like parties, and I love B, so I said I would go despite the fact that a poopy baby somewhere needed to be held. 

The idea of a cookbook party is that all the invitees bring a dish chosen by the hostess from a particular cookbook. This way, you can try out several recipes from the cookbook without actually cooking them all and see if you want to buy the cookbook. Isn't that a lovely idea? 
It also meant that I was going to have to make an untried dish and serve it to other people none of whom were related to me. 

Ah, well. 

The dish chosen for me was "Raw Root Vegetable Salad" made with fresh, uncooked root vegetables. 
"To get the look of this salad, you have to use a mandoline to slice your veggies paper thin, or as thin as humanly possible."
Now, not only did I have to look up what's a root vegetable (don't all vegetables have roots??), I had to look up 'mandoline'. I always thought it was a kind of instrument (like a bouzouki or a lute), or was it the former president of South Africa?

I continued perusing the recipe. (Isn't peruse a lovely word? My friend A taught me to use that word in everyday speech. It means read, but why use a simple word when I can look vastly more educated and snootier by using words nobody uses ever? I'm practicing.)

  • 2 Carrots – check
  • ½ C Olive oil – I have a bit left so check
  • 2 Tbsp Sesame oil – I’m going to misread that and think it's Canola oil, so check
  • 1 Fennel – ick, but ok, I’ll have to go buy one. 
  • 1 Red beet – I also have to buy, but not a problem. 
  • 1 Golden beet – Sorry, what? What the heck is a golden beet? It sounds like something in a fairy tale; The Farmer Who Planted the Golden Beet. I went with turnip (it’s a root vegetable, I looked it up), so check. 
  • Zest and juice of one lime – um. Oh dear. Israel grows approximately 1846 different kinds of fruit and vegetables, enough to feed, not only the population of the State, but also half of Europe. This list includes ridiculous fruits such as patayas, loquats, koubo, persimmons, passion fruit, and pomelo. You can even get, in season, blueberries and raspberries—berries that was simply unattainable in Israel until very recently. What Israel does not grow are: coconuts, pineapples, and limes. Imported coconuts and pineapples, however, can be purchased in most large supermarkets. Limes cannot be gotten for love or money. As I didn’t have either love or money,  a lemon was going to have to do. And yes, I know, a lemon isn't a lime. My kid suggested I pour Sprite onto the salad. You choose. 
  • Sprinkle the whole mess with chopped hazelnuts and pistachios. Sorry, almonds.....
Israel is a lime-free zone
Armed with a lime-free raw root vegetable salad that was bleeding beet juice all over my shoes (“Who’dja kill”? asked my husband when he saw the beet-splattered counter top. “The woman from work who forgets to eat”, I answered placidly. It turns out that a lute doesn't cut vegetables very well), I set off to B’s house to meet the other women bringing the other food.

One by one, the women arrived with their offerings. Eggplant caviar, three-colored humus, rice with basil and apples, citrus chicken wings, carmelized fennel chicken and a beautiful cranberry and rosemary flavored challah were just some of the delicacies on the groaning table. Even though I don't know what carmelized means, and beet juice seemed to be flowing freely, the meal was superb. The table looked elegant, the wine was marvelous, the company peerless, and the conversation erudite.

Dessert was cake. Of course it was cake. Julia Child, a famous chef and author of many cookbooks, and an obviously very wise woman once noted: “A party without cake is just a meeting”.
The cake was 'sweet potato something something cake' and though it was truly delicious, sorry B&E, cake with vegetables in it - unless the vegetable is the cocoa bean - is not the same.

Despite the lack of chocolate cake, the evening was wondrous.

This is what I learned:

  1. When a group of women come together, the combined energy, strength, and power is formidable;
  2. Women appreciate one another, and by appreciating another, we can appreciate ourselves;
  3. Women have the ability to empower one another;
  4. Women know instinctively that the more love one gives, the more love one has to give;
  5. Getting together with ‘sistahs’ (as my friend J called us and what my mother used to call 'the girls') is essential to my emotional health.

So, while my enthusiasm for cooking hasn't improved, my overall enthusiasm has.

I don't know really how to end this blog, so I'll end with this, dedicated to all my extraordinary, life-affirming sistah friends (you know who you are - you're reading this, aren't you) (oh, and my real sisters too):

You and I are sisters. Remember, that if you fall, I'll pick you up. As soon as I finish laughing. 

My world-famous lime-free raw root vegetable salad made with the former Pres of South Africa

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pools of Sorrow Waves of Joy

And how can you achieve such concentration? By recognizing that everything you do is important to God, and is one vital piece of the larger picture of your life.
Rebbe from Lubavitch

Last week was a rather disheartening week for me. Nothing too important, just personal stuff that did not go well and caused me to search for justification for my entire existence. You know, that blah blah stuff like: what’s the purpose of my life? Why am I here? And that most funnest of all thoughts: what do I want to be when I finally grow up?

We all know that life isn't always fair. Lynn Anderson declared that nobody is promised a Rose Garden. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans, said John Lennon (just before he was murdered). "Cheer up", my Dad (z"l) would tell me, "things could be worse"! (And I would cheer up and sure enough, things got worse...). Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht, (Man proposes, God disposes) my mother always said. I could go on, but my mother likes to have the final word.

But, I sometimes wonder, can’t anything ever go the way I would like?

Of course, there are lots of very good things in my life, but…. Always the but.

Over Shabbat, I realized I had to get over myself and cheer up. Yesterday was Rosh Chodesh Adar. Mi she’nichnas Adar, marbim b’simcha. When Adar enters, our happiness should increase. So say our sages. But sometimes it’s hard.

Purim is in two weeks. Purim is one of the few holidays I happen to love, mostly because there’s not that much cooking. I also love the story of Purim, the action, the costumes (on the kid TV shows), and most especially the characters.

Several years ago, I wrote a very short comparison between the two queens of the Purim story, Vashti and Esther. I’m not going to include the whole thing here but this is what I wrote about Esther:
Orphaned, separated from her people, Esther begins her lonely existence in the palace, forsaken, it seems, even by G-d, for no miracle ever comes to save her.
The miracles and salvation of Purim happened through Esther, but not to her. She lived out her life in the seclusion of the monarchy, far from her people.

If a miracle did not save heroic, righteous Esther, why am expecting something to happen to me?

We know, of course, that G-d did not forsake Esther; that her name and her deeds have lived on for 200 generations. But Esther did not know that then.

We can’t always see why things happen. Neither can we see what contribution we are making to the world around us. We might feel useless, unneeded, even disliked (I’m writing in the royal ‘We’ here, but really it should be ‘I’). 
But we also don’t know what a word in the right direction might do to another person. We don’t know how far one small act of kindness, like ripples in water, can spread. 
That is where we can always find our joy. Then our joy can increase by increasing our good words, our acts of kindness, our tolerance, our decency, our love. 

There is no doubt that at times we fail. At times we feel like failures.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe also says if you did things right, celebrate that you have a G‑d who appreciates your good work. And if you fell on your face, celebrate that you have a G‑d who does not abandon you when you fall. 
Wishing all of Am Yisrael a joyous month and may we be blessed and united with the boundless love of Esther; that the way should be paved for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the coming of the Mashiach, speedily, and in our days. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Countdown to Success

Any chametz or leaven that is in my possession which I have not seen, have not removed, and do not know about, shall be annulled and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth. 
Passover Hagadah

For most of the past winter, my Facebook page has been awash (no pun intended - well maybe a little bit) with pictures of snow. My friends and relatives in the Old Country graphically tell me that it's been the coldest winter in history. Of course, here in the Capitol of the Negev, spring is just around the corner. The almond trees are blooming, the calaniyot (anemones) are carpeting the western Negev in red, and the thermometer has reached well over 20 degrees (hahahahahaha Old Country!).

The Old Country - courtesy of my sister hahahahahahaha

Spring is one of my four favorite seasons. The weather is perfect; the sun is shining (of course the sun shines here about 363 days a year, so sunshine does not exactly personify springtime), the air is clean (er than usual), and flowers bloom in the most unlikely spots (the back of my fridge). 
In southern Israel, spring lasts almost two days. Some years, however, we're lucky to have spring pay us a half hour visit before summer comes barging in. All in all, spring is simply a delightful time of year that is almost guaranteed to lighten anyone's mood after a cold rainy winter (which I'm sure exists somewhere - oh right! in the Old Country hahahahahahaha - but certainly not here). 

The only thing about spring that fails to lighten my mood is Pesach. Pesach (aka Passover, aka Spring Holiday, aka Festival of Unleavened Bread, aka Festival of Freedom, aka Festival of Redemption, etc.) commemorates the freedom from slavery of the ancient Israelites and their Exodus from Egypt. As a quick remedial: To mark the holiday, Jews are commanded to eat Matzah (unleavened bread) to recall their hasty midnight departure. According to Jewish Law, Jews are not allowed to even own any bread, or bread-like foods (chametz) during the week-long holiday. To make sure there isn't any bread in one's house, it is customary to clean the house to rid it of chametz. Some people take advantage of this spring cleaning to paint the walls, retile their floors, buy new appliances, add an extra room, dye their hair, and go abroad. 

Cleaning for Pesach doesn't really bother me. Too much. No, really, it doesn't. I always scream in late March. It's good for the lungs. 


It's the getting rid of the chametz that gives me trouble. There is a loophole whereby you can 'sell' you chametz to a non-Jewish person (who, of course, has no prohibition of owning chametz during Pesach). And that is what we do every year as I could never get rid of everything on time and certainly not the whiskey that seems to expand with age that we have in the cupboard. This year, though, I decided that I AM going to get rid of as much as I possibly can. I started early; the day after Sukkot.  

I counted the weeks until Pesach (28 - it's a leap year), counted the bags of pasta (damn that four bags for 10 NIS sale), packets of crackers (remind me why I have 16?), boxes of cereal (this took me MUCH longer than it ought to), bulgur, oatmeal, semolina, barley, and flour. (Don't get me started on the kitniyot.)

I was ready. 

I figured out how many times a week we had to eat mac 'n cheese and googled different recipes. Ditto for bulgur salad and cracker crumbs (delicious on ice cream).

What I found, to my horror, was that getting rid of chametz was much like eating a bowl of cereal and milk. 

You know how sometimes, in the middle of your bowl of cereal, you realize that you have more milk than cereal, so you add cereal, and then a few spoonfuls later, you realize that you have too much cereal and not enough milk, so you add just a few drops - really! - of milk, but lo! too much and now you have to add more cereal, but what happened to all the milk? more milk. There have been occasions that I'm still eating my bowl of cereal when it's already time for my mid-morning snack. 

Consuming chametz was just like that. 

I decided that making bread was an excellent way of getting rid of some of the bags of flour. We had recently obtained a nifty bread-maker, so I simply had to toss the ingredients into the machine, push a few buttons and voila! about 4 hours later, we had a bullet-shaped loaf  the width of a paperback and the weight of a medium-size dog. But it got rid of the flour. Except that I had to buy yeast. And then there was yeast left over, so I had to buy more flour to use up the yeast, and then I had too much flour and so I bought more yeast. Etc. etc. 

The pasta was worse. I had to make sauce with the pasta, didn't I? You can take it from here. 

By Chanuka, with only 19 weeks to go, I was well on the way to a Chametz-free house. But the kids wanted to make traditional donuts for the holiday. "Donuts!!! What's the matter with you guys!" Don't you know it's almost Pesach!"  

We are now seven weeks before Pesach (egad). My house is down to a bag of barley, two packets of couscous (that's a dangerous one - too many vegetables, not enough couscous), a jar of popcorn, and a half dozen sprigs of dried mint in the back of the fridge (left over from the bulgur salad - don't even think it).
But there are plenty of vegetables to make a chametz-free soup. 

Good thing the supermarket has a sale of four bags of soup nuts for 10 NIS.