Return From the East

Well, we survived our trip. Israel was a whirlwind of delicious food and kind hearts. Ten full days of heat and love.

We got back a week ago and since then I’ve harvested honey, made 20 quarts of pickles and even more of jam. It’s only a fraction of what we’ll need once the truck starts rolling so it’s back to work soon enough. But I wanted to share some highlights from our trip and give you some leads in case you’re working out your menu for Rosh Hashanah like I am.

We spent the first half of our trip in Jerusalem, staying in an apartment in a mostly residential neighborhood. It delighted Lillia to see so many kittens everyday, and the pigeons and doves were never safe from a good chase no matter how hot and sweaty she got. We spent time walking in the neighborhoods and parks and markets, and did a little bit of shopping but nothing extreme. Neither Joe or I are good at haggling so I usually just walk away empty handed rather than attempt to haggle and then get overcharged. I’m working on it though. Next time…

Since we were there for my sister-in-law’s wedding, we did have obligations but not many. Lillia was the flower girl, which only required her to be cute–something she pretty much never fails at. We had family meals some nights, and one night we were there we celebrated my 30th birthday with pizza and pasta and tiramisu.

The wedding itself was held in the gorgeous desert hills of the West Bank. We danced all night, drank and ate our fill, all while the sun set and the moon rose and the warm wind washed over us.

For the second half of the trip we were in the north part of the country–the beautiful Galilee region–on Kibbutz Sasa, where the groom grew up and his family still resides. It was glorious. A bit cooler than the city, and with a pool who could complain? We visited with animals, ate pomegranates right off the tree, and took a day trip to the coastal city of Acre–Akko in Arabic. It’s a city with a large harbor and a long history, and it was blisteringly hot.

We had most of our meals in the chadar ochel–the dining hall–and the rest in small Arab or Druze towns neighboring the kibbutz, so I never cooked. The food was of course spectacular. Salads beyond count, partnered with multitudes of olives, dips, spreads and fresh cheeses. Pita like you’ve never had here in the states. Savory meats and rices and pastas.

I’m missing it all, contenting myself with plates of cut veggies slathered in tahini. But it’s the pomegranates on the tree I am wishing for now. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday where that food is eaten by tradition, and how much better would the many seeds taste if I had picked them myself?

For this year’s festive meal, we are eating at our house. We won’t be enjoying the meal surrounded by breathtaking views of the dessert, but I wanted to include a lot of flavors inspired by our time in Israel, as well as the traditional foods of the holiday–honey, pomegranate, apple. It’s usually a meat meal, so I am sticking with that and making a humongous pot of meatballs like ones we had while staying on the kibbutz. And, since the holiday is a herald of the Autumn season that is slowly making it’s way to our doorsteps, I’ll be including those foods too.

Sunday I’m missing yet another cookbook club meet-up to host dinner and attend services, so I’m using recipes from Ottolenghi’s book Plenty which is the book for this month’s meeting. It’s perfect actually, since he developed his palette growing up in Isreal and uses a lot of middle eastern flavors in his dishes. I’m making a crisp bean salad and tender pumpkin slices coated in a crackly panko breading. I may grace the table with an eggplant dish too, but haven’t decided yet for sure.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your holiday meal, there are lots of good recipes to be found on the web. Some I’ve been looking at from The Shiksa in the Kitchen‘s Tori Avey, and some from kosher cooking guru Jamie Geller‘s site Joy of Kosher. But the NY Times has the best. They’re mouthwatering to look at and I’m thinking I can squeeze a couple onto our sure to be overloaded sideboard.