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.

Birthdays Rain or Shine

Remember back when I said that the beautiful weather we were having was bound to be temporary? Well it was true. The weather around Seattle has pretty much reverted back to fall weather, except that it’s daytime for about twice as long. I’ve been keeping myself busy though–mostly going to birthday parties.

About this time 2 years ago, I was spending a bit of time with tiny babies. We had several friends who all had babies within about 2 weeks of each other, and it was very exciting because we had just announced that we ourselves were going to be having a baby in October (Lilli’s originally expected birth-month).

And at this same time just last year, I was preparing to launch this baby–the blog you are reading now. (Big plans for that birthday–not all of them cake related!)

And the list goes on with a whole bunch of other May birthdays in our family: the births of both my mom (57 yrs ago) and my dad (56 years ago), Joe’s mom (60 years ago), the twins’ mom (32 years ago) and also the twins themselves (9 years ago).

With so many birthdays this month, we have been busy indeed. Busy making cards and birthday treats. Busy picking out the perfect children’s books as gifts for our youngest friends, busy painting wrapping paper especially for them. There has been brunch parties and dinner parties, kid parties and grown up parties. Who doesn’t love a month full of parties?

Of all the treats I made this month, probably my favorite was a set of cookies for one of those young friends. It was a glorious sunny day when we were planning to spend the afternoon celebrating the birth of Niko, and I wanted to make a special treat for him. I had some gingerbread cookie dough saved in the freezer from when Lilli was on an “I’m the gingerbread man” kick the week before, so I took out the last of it and cut out one cookie for each of the letters in his name. I baked them just right, and then I let them cool.

I frosted them with a thick, lemony, and not too sweet icing and dipped each one in a rainbow of sprinkles. The sprinkles are the key. Bright and cheerful and fun, they make just about any birthday treat that much better.

The best part about these cookies is you don’t even really need a recipe. Just use any dough that would be rolled out and cut, and decorate with a thick frosting that dries hard–I used about 1 cup of powdered sugar turned into a thick paste with the juice of about 1 lemon. Dip the cookie frosting side down into a dish full of whatever sort of sprinkle you want and let it harden before you pack them up.

It’s easy enough that you can do it even if you have 100 birthday parties to go to all at once and they made exactly the statement that I wanted them to make: that I took my time and made something special just for the birthday boy.