Friday, July 24, 2009

The Swiss Girls

Did I ever tell the story about the Swiss Girls who we met at the Dead Sea in Israel? I don't think that I did, because I don't think that I told many stories at all about Israel. Our stolen luggage really soured the trip more than I wanted it to, and that tends to be what I focus on when recalling our time there. But we have some great stories, and this is one of them.

The Swiss Girls

Okay, so here's the story:

Richard and I went to the Dead Sea after a long hike in Ein Gedi. We were on our way back to the hostel in Masada and saw two girls sitting in the bus shelter at the side of the road. Richard slowed the car down (he admitted afterward that it was because he was trying to figure out why they were sitting in a bus shelter in the middle of the desert) and they walked over to us. Realizing that we had just unintentionally offered to give them a lift, we asked where they were going and they told us that they were headed to the same hostel as us. So we picked them up and drove them to the hostel, and when we got there and the kitchen was closed we invited them to come into a nearby town with us to get some dinner.

Rebekka spoke better English than Miriam, so she did most of the talking. They were visiting her cousin who lives in Jerusalem and decided to go on a day trip on the bus, which was how they ended up at the Dead Sea. They were going to Jerusalem on the same day as us, so we offered to give them a lift. We told them about our stolen luggage and they said that they'd wake us up for our 4am hike up Masada because they had an alarm clock and we didn't.

So we hiked up Masada the next day with the Swiss Girls and then later that day we drove to Jerusalem with the Swiss Girls. Richard impressed them with his knowledge of German (which he learned from Baba Luba, who speaks Yiddish), and they taught us some funny words in Swiss German. The Pope was in Jerusalem that day and traffic was terrible. We finally pulled into the first parking lot we found and parked there. Miriam got so excited when she got out of the car: We were parked in front of the Swiss Embassy! She went over and talked to them and they promised to keep an eye on our car for us.

We parted ways with the girls shortly after that. They took a bus to Rebekka's cousin's place. Before they left they tried to give us money, which we refused because it didn't cost us anything to help them out and we enjoyed their company too much to feel that they were a burden in any way. Miriam told us "You saved us! We're going to send you SO MUCH Swiss chocolate!"

Today, Richard called me at work to say that he got a big package in the mail. When he opened it there was SO MUCH Swiss chocolate inside!

Chocolate from the Swiss Girls we met in Israel
Tons of chocolate! Plus a bag of coffee. :)

"Made in Switzerland" was circled just in case we were curious.
On every single bar, they circled "Made in Switzerland". Haha.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A foodie interlude.

In Toronto every year at around this time all of the foodies go crazy over these sweet Pakistani mangoes. Last year we went looking for them in Little India but couldn't find any.

This year, I went searching for mangoes alone. To be honest, Little India scares me a little bit. And this year Little India was even less appealing than I remember it. The garbage strike probably has a lot to do with that. Some areas of the city are worse than others and the few blocks of Gerrard street that Little India occupies are some of the worst that I've seen so far. We're about 5 weeks in now, which means that no garbage has been collected from the public waste bins in that long. Just imagine! The regular streetcar stop had been moved one lamp pole west because the bin beside the normal stop was stuffed full and had fallen open and was overflowing onto the street. The smell is not pleasant.

Still, I toughed it out because R seemed really keen to try these special little mangoes. I finally found a store selling them in 3kg boxes (apparently they're so popular that there's no point in selling them individually) and picked through them to find what I thought was the best one. I took it into the store to pay and the owner of the store took me back outside and looked through all of the boxes with me again. It was pretty obvious to me that he wanted to make sure that I got a good first impression of these things. He told me that once I've had these mangoes I'll never want to eat the ones from Mexico again. Guaranteed! He found me a better box and I paid him my $16. Yes, $16 for 8 mangoes. Twice what I'd pay for the Mexican ones. I left the store thinking: These had better be good.

Honey Mangoes from Pakistan

I immediately loved the packaging. I adore the very 1970s Indian looking box with bold colours (I want to keep it to use it for storage!), and each of the mangoes has a sticker with ribbons coming out of it. Really cute.

So... How did they taste, you ask? Well, they didn't smell any different than regular mangoes so I didn't have very high expectations. I cut one open and it looked like a regular mango on the inside, but it was a little juicier. I put it in a bowl and brought it to R, but he let me have the first taste.

I was completely blown away! I've never tasted a fruit that was so naturally sweet. It was completely amazing. We've been making mango lassis with them every night since then, but with these mangoes you don't need to add any sugar at all.

The guy in Little India was right. I never want to eat another Mexican mango again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


On Sunday, R and I had my dad and his girlfriend over for Father's Day. We took them for a bike ride at one of our favourite spots and then cooked them a barbecue dinner: Mengal style! We made skewered chicken, Israeli salad, and (of course) fresh hummus.

I'll admit that R took care of almost everything this time around. I tried to help, but he's become the barbecue expert in our household. It's just one of those stereotypical male roles, I guess. I plan on learning more about how to prepare the shish-kebabs (or, as the Israelis call them: shishleek), because the marinade looks really simple and they taste delicious.

Today I've got a recipe for hummus to share with you. I love warm hummus with pita bread! It's the perfect snack when you're too lazy to make a real dinner (which is pretty often during the summer). It also tastes great as a dip for those shishleek I was talking about.

Homemade Hummus

Juice of 1 whole lemon
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)
2 cups cooked chick peas with a bit of their water*
1 cup tahina
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

1. Drop everything in the food processor and blend until creamy.
2. Enjoy. Best served warm with a pool of olive oil in the middle and paprika sprinkled 'round the outside.

*Canned chickpeas work for this too, but we've just started cooking dried ones in our slow cooker and it's a cinch. Just put 2 cups of dried chickpeas in 6 cups of water and heat on low overnight or all day (about 8 hours). No soaking required.

My first interview!

Lex, the brains behind the new online store Uptown Avenue, recently interviewed me for her blog. Check it out HERE. There are lots of cute things in her store too, so don't forget to take a look around! Don't you just love this adorable USB hub?:

I've got a great recipe for hummus coming up this week, so check back soon. R has been recipe testing for weeks and finally made the perfect batch!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lychee cupcakes with coconut glaze

Lychee cupcakes with coconut glaze

Yes! I baked last night! It was a good feeling. It's been a long time since the Kitchenaid mixer and I have bonded.

A while ago I bought Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World for one simple reason: Vegan=pareve! This is a book of dairy free cupcakes that can be brought to any dinner without worrying about whether or not the host is serving meat as the main course. Brilliant!

Yesterday I found canned lychees AND canned coconut on sale! Then I got inspired and decided to give my own spin to the lychee cupcake recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World:

Pareve Lychee Coconut Cupcakes

2 cups cake flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup coconut milk
4 ounces (1 can) lychee fruit, drained and chopped, syrup reserved
1/4 cup lychee syrup

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.
2. In a large bowl sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
3. In a separate medium bowl, beat eggs. Add oil, coconut milk, chopped lychees, and lychee nectar to the eggs and mix to combine.
4. Add wet mixture to the dry ingredients, mix to combine. Fill cupcake liners full.
5. Bake 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Coconut glaze (optional):
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup coconut milk

Mix powdered sugar and coconut milk until smooth. Drizzle over completely cooled cupcakes.

Note: Malee Brand Canned Lychee In Syrup is OK Kosher certified. If you can't find a kosher can of lychee, substitute 4 ounces of fresh lychee and 1/4 cup of lychee juice or nectar. If you can't find kosher coconut milk, there are directions here for making your own.

Friday, June 5, 2009

“...the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away...” (Job 1:21)

So, how was the Hold Land? Everybody has been asking us since we returned and I'm faced with a difficult decision every time they do.

Do I tell them the most interesting (and disappointing) part? Or do I focus on the good things and leave that bit out?

The truth is that while we were in Israel, at noon on our 3rd day in the country, all of our luggage and bags were stolen from the trunk of our rented hatchback car. We went to see the ruins in Caesaria on our way from Tel Aviv up to the Golan and when we returned to the parking lot everything was missing, but there wasn't even a scratch on the car itself! The thieves were clearly experts. They jimmied the lock very carefully and took off with our bags without leaving more than a few fingerprints for the cops to use to find them. The only thing they left was our bag of dirty laundry. We were left with nothing but that bag and the clothes on our backs. I had my camera with me of course, so that wasn't stolen either. But my laptop, my wallet, and my passport were all in the backpack that we had decided to leave in the car (after all, we were only going to be gone for an hour). So they were all gone. We had to spend the rest of that day filing a police report, and all of the next day at the Canadian consulate in Tel Aviv to apply for a replacement passport for myself. I learned quickly that the Hebrew word for passport is "darkon".

I tried really hard to enjoy the trip anyway. We bought new clothes and carried on as if everything was fine. We stayed in Rosh Pina for 3 nights. The couple who owned the guest house were so sweet. We told them what happened and they offered to make us dinner that night, then gave me a pair of shoes (I was wearing sandals the day our luggage was stolen) and gave R one of their son's old army t-shirts. They offered to wash our dirty laundry for us so that we could have clean underwear. The day that we left they gave us one of their old suitcases.

Everybody who heard our story offered to give us something or help us out. The police officer who filed our report gave us a hat from a special even that he attended - It has the Israeli police logo on it and R wore it hiking so it was put to good use. The officer even offered to put us up for the night in his parents' house if we didn't have a place to stay (but we did). The security guard at the Canadian consulate offered to make tea for me while I was waiting to apply for my passport. Complete strangers let us use their cell phones and laptops. It made us feel so much better, after everything that had happened, to know that people cared about us and wanted to help.

Now that we're home everything is more or less back to normal. I have shoes and underwear again! We filed a claim for insurance and now we're just waiting to find out how we can get our things replaced. I haven't had a laptop for a month now. This is the longest I've been without my own computer since I was 17!

So is that a good reason for not updating at all in May? I sure hope so. I'm hoping to do some more cooking and baking soon, but in the mean time here are a few photos that you might enjoy:

The western wall at night.
The Western Wall at night.

Jerusalem at night.
Jerusalem at night, from the Hebrew U campus.

Marching to the Western Wall
A group of kids were following behind these drummers, chanting in Hebrew. It was an emotionally exhilarating trip to the Western Wall with these people behind us!

Richard, looking down the Snake Path up Masada.
The snake path, which we took to the top of Masada at 4am to catch the sunrise.

Sunset in Tzfat
Sunset in Tzfat (Safed).

I'll post about the good bits of our trip next, because there really were some great things about Israel, and it was a very different experience this time because I'm so close to being finished my conversion to Judaism. I'm working on a recipe for shakshuka (a great tomato/egg thing that they make in Israel for breakfast), so when I get a chance I'll share that too!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Deconstructed Hummus

Okay, my goal was to post here three times a month at the LEAST, but I think that I've been pretty bad at keeping my promise to do that.

But to be fair, I've been busy! R's sister AND brother both had babies last month and since his sister lives in Calgary and had a baby boy, we flew to Calgary for thebris. Happily for us, the bris was a day before Passover, so we got to spend Passover with all of R's family and extended family. Sadly for any readers I may have out there, that means that I didn't make anything for Passover and thus have no tasty Passover recipes to share.

Let me tell you though: I love Passover seders. I love chicken soup with matzoh balls and I looooove horseradish on matzoh. And of course I love brisket. Who doesn't? And this year I had some absolutely addictive chocolate toffee matzoh, which I will definitely post a recipe for next year. The bread of affliction has never been so delicious!

Anyway, I feel guilty for my neglect lately. So while I can't share any Passover recipes, I will share this snack that I like to make when I'm too busy to make a real lunch. It's like hummus, except that there's no fatty tahina (sesame oil) and there's no need to find pita for dipping. All you need is a fork!

Deconstructed Hummus

1 can of chickpeas, drained
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp parmesan cheese (not all parmesan cheeses are certified kosher, but it is possible to find ones that are)
1 clove of garlic, pressed (or garlic salt if you're in a real hurry)
shake of salt
shake of pepper

Combine all ingredients in a tupperware container. Shake it up. Eat it at room temperature. That's it!