Saturday, June 8, 2013

A happy birthday and a recipe for a most decadent cheese cake

The best cheesecake we know

A couple of weeks ago I turned 39. I must confess I wasn't too thrilled about it. Though I never hide my age the passage of time is starting to be cruel. I cannot ignore anymore the signs time is marking on my face and skin. This year I allowed myself a bit of dark, moody brooding before the big day. It didn't last long tough, because we all took a day off and went to celebrate my birthday weekend in the north part of Israel with all my family, parents and brothers included. It was a perfect day. Unpredictable great weather with beautiful deep blue sky dotted with white clouds (we call it The Simpsons sky), empty roads with no traffic jams and an almost completely empty national park. We hiked the short but challenging Arbel cliff that hangs over The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), combining adventurous rock climbing on ladders with history and archaeology. The Arbel is a fort built into the rock like something out of Game of Thrones, which makes it a great place for pretend knight dual or hide and seek. 

The Arbel

Hiking the Arbel mount

thorns of summer

We ended the day in a lovely family gathering at the hotel lobby where we all stayed. We had a cake of course, with only one candle; I think the heat from 40 candles would've caused a fire.  

All together now

Since we've recently celebrated the Jewish holiday of Shavuot every Israeli and Jewish food blog had recipes for cheesecake. Although I was reluctant at first my friend and food blogger Foodbridge convinced me to publish my version for cheesecake.  It is my daughter's favorite because it combines perfectly sweet, savory and sour flavors.

Cheesecake recipe modified from Doram Gaunt's cookbook "A tall man cooks".

A 22cm tin lined with baking paper.

Cake base:
150gr savory gluten-free pretzels (Osem has a special edition for Passover from potato flour) or any savory crunchy gluten-free crackers.
125ml (half a cup) Nutella spread.
75gr butter

The filling:
4 eggs
250ml (1 cup) sugar
500gr 5% white cheese – Quark cheese (gvina levana)
200gr soft ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 table poon corn starch
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Ganache topping (Not necessary)
100gr dark chocolate at least 60% cocoa solids
100ml whole cream

1.       Making the cake base:  In a food processor grind all the ingredients to crumbs. With moist hands take the base and flatten it on the bottom of the cake tin and chill for one hour in the refrigerator.
2.       Heat the oven to 150 centigrade
3.       Prepare the filling: bit together the eggs and sugar (at least 5 minutes in an electric mixer), add the cheeses, and lemon zest and mix. Dissolve the corn starch in the lemon juice and add to the mixture.
4.       Assembling the cakes: pour the mixture on the base and bake for 50 minutes until the cake is stable. Cool the cake for at least 5 hours in the fridge before serving.
5.       If you want to top the cake with ganache, boil the cream, take it off the heat and immediately add the chocolate, mix and cool. Spread carefully on the cake and let it cool for another hour.

Have a bite

Friday, April 26, 2013

The great outdoors

A carpet of tiny Irises covers The Israel Trail near Jerusalem

Tiny iris ( Moraea sisyrinchium)

Recently I met a very interesting person, a tourist from Canada that isn't Jewish and came to visit the area out of curiosity and a sense of adventure.  I got to meet him through a friend we've acquired a couple of years ago on our great tour in Canada. Since the guy arrived just before Passover the DH and I took it upon ourselves to explain our non-suspecting visitor what happens in Israel come Pesach. We met him for beer and conversation in a Jerusalem pub. Although he is Quebecois he speaks very good English, far better than my pitiable French. We had a very nice evening, discussing many issues in history, geography, politics and a lot of explaining about Pesach, especially in Jerusalem. We've also recounted our own visit to Canada. I described to him my awe and wonder from the size of the country. The huge impression all the woods and running water made on me, coming from this arid corner of the world. I tried to explain how liberating it was to be in empty huge wilderness, as I'm not used to so much open space.

He was very attentive but didn't really get what I'm talking about.

He kept traveling here in Israel and in The Palestinian Authority, went to the Galilee and Golan Heights, enjoyed the night life of Tel-Aviv and before he went on in his travels he came to celebrate Independence Day with us. I believe he now understands a lot more about the complexity of the situation here and comprehended better the reality of life here for both Israelis and Palestinians. But what he understood best was the size of the country.  He was amazed that his hike in The Tel Dan National Park ended in an hour and was crammed with people. After telling me that, he said: "I now get the way you feel about traveling in Canada, you live in a very claustrophobic country, no great outdoors."  I just smiled.
Our guest has left for the great Turkey and its splendor. 
We're still here. Yes, it's crowded and there is not much open space left but we are trying to make the best of it. Those past months we went outdoors as much as possible. Not doing great hikes or challenging treks but rather picnicking, relaxing, and taking lots of pictures even in the weirdest of weather. 
There is great beauty even in the smallest of places as hopefully you can see in some of my photos.

Not to mention my DH who is a wonderful cook, in and outside the house.   

Having a picnic at Hirbat Saadim in The Jerusalem Mountains- we were freezing so a nice fire kept us warm

Carpets of cyclamens near Jerusalem

Green almonds

Anemones blooming 

Sunset on Lachis

Strider -Walking Wadi Barak, in the southern part of Israel

Happy campers-having breakfast in Wadi Barak camping site.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Stop and smell the almonds.

My favorite time of year is here again and will disappear shortly. The winter is ending and already we are experiencing hot dry days. The hills around my house are still green and everything is blooming: the trees, the shrubs, and flowers everywhere, an awful time for the allergic among us.  Very soon it will all turn yellow and dusty. So for this short period of grace I'm in photography frenzy especially of almond trees blossoming. I've wrote before about the loveliness of almond flowers and so has my fellow blogger foodbridge. But every year it enchants me again. Just a mere 5 minutes' drive from my home there are almond orchards that transform to fairy wonderland this time of year with trees blooming in white and pink. It is one of my favorite places on Earth. Even the road that leads to the hospital where I work is laden with almond and Judas trees that make the tedious driving a lovely experience.  Although my daily life is very stressful and demanding I do stop, take out my smart phone and photograph the lush beauty of trees and flowers thus remind myself every day that it is a wonderful life and I am fortunate to live them.
My working place

Pink almond tree

The road I drive daily

Stop to smell the almond flowers

 As opposed to most of my posts the photographs here were taken and processed using iphone4. Unfortunately there is yet no way for me to document the lovely scent of the almond tree or other flowers.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A new year with snow

2012 passed so quickly. There was so much to do, so many new things to learn and new people to meet some of which were amazing but not all unfortunately. There were a lot of dead-lines to meet till it seemed sometimes I just moved from one project to the other. There was a lot of good food this year that was mostly home cooked.  The current economics kept us mostly dining home and less in fancy restaurants, even though here and there we treated ourselves to some old favorite places. It was a year filled with happy moments with family, friends and work. I had many challenges to face this year but I think I handled them quite well. I circled the world this year and was in many places abroad not in all of them for recreation and fun. These are experiences that I didn't have time to process yet even though they were emotionally very taxing. 

A new year brings with it contemplation followed by resolutions.  I want to write more and take more pictures this coming year. And I do hope it will be a good year for us all on our lovely blue planet.

The Israel Trail in The Meron Region 

The Israeli symbol- Sabre (cactus) covered with snow

Since the first week of the New Year has begun with a spectacular storm I thought it is a good omen. Not only my hopes for rain were fulfilled but as a bonus it snowed on the top of the mountains here in Israel. As snow is extremely rare in these parts we skipped work and school took the kids and went for our won snow day in the North of Israel. It was an amazing experience, and the first snow my 4.5 old boy ever saw.  
Happy new year.

Rainbow over The Golan Heights

The Golan Heights in the storm

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I'm only happy when it rains

After a very long summer finally we were blessed with stormy weekends. As my loyal readers know, my favorite season is winter. Unlike most Israelis I adore gray sky, thunder storms, wool scarves and sweaters. Most Israelis love the beach at summer but I on the other hand try to avoid it as much as possible. When winter arrives I love to take long strolls on empty beaches taking pictures of the roiling sea. Since weekends are the only time left for hiking and photographing, I wasn't deterred by weather forecasts and went traveling with the family. One weekend was spent in the old Crusaders fortress of Apollonia (near Herzelia) and another in the city of Acre.  I'd like to share with you some of the lovely images of sea at winter.

From Herzelia to Hedera

Tel-Aviv and stormy sea

Acre marina

Cloud over the Old City of Acre

We discovered a small but charming national park in the North. Ein-Affek is an attempt to restore the original marshland ecosystem of the Haifa Bay area. The dried up water holes were filled with water and the fish, birds, and turtles followed. Even buffaloes which once were abundant in the area and disappeared were restored. It's nothing like the rivers and lakes we saw in Canada but it's pretty and it's ours.

Cormorant, buffaloes, water lily and herb tea in Ein-Afek National Park

Sun sets over the Mediterranean 

Going home

Friday, August 24, 2012

How I spent my summer vacation (and a recipe)

Akziv Beach National Park
When I was at elementary school the first day of any school year started with writing the assay: "how did I 
spend the summer holyday".  I want to share with you a bit of what we did this summer. In contrast to last year's summer that we spent in Canada, this year we mostly juggled between work and kids on vacation. This year's summer broke records, we had such long heat waves that air-con became as essential as breathing.  In spite the heat we tried to get out of the house and break the routine. We had a lovely five days break in the Greek island of Crete. While at home we went mainly to movies or museums (yes, especially for the air-con not necessarily or culture) and travelled mainly in the car. We had a nice picnic in the Carmel woods with food blogger   Foodbridge and her family. Somehow between the 
 work, the heat and the long endless vacation we had fun.
.Having said that I'd really like to spend next year's August in a very cool place, The North Pole will be nice

View of the Jordan river south of the Kinneret

Picnicking in the woods

Hot day requires some cold juice in Wadi Nisnas, Haifa

Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Keshet cave in the Western Galilee 

Sunset on Akziv beach

There is still an abundance of summer fruits in the markets and this cake is a wonderful way to use them.
Upside down gluten-free fruit cake
A cake tin 26cm diameter.
Fruit lair
1kg fruits (plums, apricots, peaches etc.) pitted and cut into halves.
Zest from half a lemon
3-5 sugar spoon
10-20gr butter
200gr soft butter
1 cup of sugar
6 eggs
1 tea spoon vanilla extract
2 cups of gluten-free flours dived to 1/3 soy flour, 1/3 corn flour 1/3 tapioca flour.
1 table spoon baking powder
Assembling the cake:
Layer the tin with baking paper, spread butter on the paper. Arrange the fruits densely so that the fruit's inside are upwards.  Spread the sugar and half the amount of the lemon zest.
1. Pre-heat the oven for 160 centigrade
2. Whip together in a mixer the butter and sugar till a soft foamy batter, add the eggs one by one.
3. Lower the mixer speed and add vanilla extract, flour, baking powder till again the batter is unified.
4. Pour the batter on the fruits and bake for 60-70 minutes.

5. Let the cake cool properly and then flip it on a serving dish so the fruits are upwards.

Upside downgluten-free plum cake

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paying it forward

A girl burning glass at Susan's House

Recently I had been fortunate to attend two very different places that have something in common. Both places try and give something back to the community.  I'd like to share the experience with you and try to "pay it forward".

The first place I've visited is the new Yvel Center located at the entrance to Jerusalem. YVEL Company is one of the leading companies in the jewelry industry worldwide and is considered synonymous with grandeur and prestige among savvy. Yvel Company was founded by Orna and Isaac Levy, about 28 years ago. The jewelry company designs have won first prizes in prestigious competitions worldwide, they are marketed in five continents and in more than 650 points of sale in dozens of countries around the world. Famous figures such as Maria Sharapova, Rihanna, Beyonce, Carolina Herrera and Scarlett Johansson are just a small part of a long list of loyal and satisfied customers who wear the desirable pearls of YVEL. In recent years the Levy couple won almost every design award possible.
Photo courtesy of Yvel 
  One would have thought that all this glamour and prestige will take Orna and Yzhak Levy the founders to places easier to live in than Israel. But the couple decided not only to stay here but to help and promote  weak and needed populations. In 2011, after more than 25 years the couple decided to open a new facility, Yvel Design including the production plant, a visitor center and school for jewelry that employs students from the Ethiopian Community. The Levy's decided to establish a school that would train Ethiopian as jewelers and will integrate them in the labor force. Unfortunately the state of Israel that went through great length and brought here the Jewish Ethiopian community didn't continue to support it once they've arrived, and currently they are one of the weakest communities in Israeli society. For Itzik whose family immigrated to Israel from Argentina 50 years ago, it was a form of closure.

About a year after the project was launched and seven graduates have been employed by the company, the Levi couple decided to further develop the school. With the help of Yadid voluntary association they set up a new company called "Megemeria", a business that all its profits are dedicated to the expansion of the school and creating new jobs. Megemeria in Amharic means "Genesis, becoming".  The school named after Andrea Bronfman is located at the YVEL center and currently has 21 students from Ethiopia. In addition to the training each student receives a monthly stipend of 4,000 shekels. A lot of attention is invested in the school and the teachers are leading experts in the field. "Above all", says Orna "We teach students to become proud citizens with equal rights; the country doesn't always remember to do so." At the end of the program students earn a certificate from the Ministry of Industry and some of them are even combined in the factory. A few weeks ago the Collection Megemeria was first exposed in the International Jewelry Exhibition- Jovella, and won enthusiastic compliments.

Photo courtesy of Yvel

My visit to the Yvel center was a fascinating experience. The center is located at a beautiful old house that although renovated kept all its timeworn features. The jewels are spectacular; one understands how the Levys won so many prizes. But what impressed me most was the genuine will to improve the world, to help, to give something back to society.
Go visit Yvel at the entrance to Jerusalem in Moza, admission fee costs 25 shekels. 
You'll see wondrous creations and help support their truly Zionist project.

The second place I've visited is also a project where craftsmanship and art are used to save young people. I was very moved by my visit to Susan's house in Jerusalem. It's story is a sad one but full of hope. It started after Susan Kaplansky, a well-known personality that led many educational projects died of cancer at the age of 38. Her husband, Eyal Kaplansky a jeweler, decided to establish "Susan's House". Wanting to fulfill her dream of helping, habilitating and integrating youth at risk through the art world. Susan's House gathers boys and girls aged 20-15 in risk mostly without any other normative framework.

"Susan's House" is a success story. Youth, who cannot fit in any other work places - can persist as part of "Susan's House" two years or sometimes even more than that. Since its establishment about 500 teenagers worked in "Susan's House". We have heard some of the kids' stories and they were shocking tales of neglect and abuse.  At "Susan's house" the teenagers are trusted to work freely with fire, glass and very sharp cutting blades. Avital, the manager, says the place gives them the tools (self-confidence, maturity, responsibility, and team work), through which children can down the road integrate into regular labor force.  Many of these youngsters began to experiences success, confidence and faith. We met the kids while they're worked and they seemed peaceful, concentrated and content with what they do.  Susan's Home also provides boys and girls added value of hot meals, school enrichment, field trips, talk therapy, and much more.

The youth are the ones who make the products including a variety of  products: Glass jewelry - necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pins, etc., greeting cards from recycled paper; photo albums; key chains and more. The products are incredibly pretty and in high standard. All are handmade by the boys and girls with lots of dedication. The initial design is made by volunteering expert designers. In addition, prices are surprisingly quite reasonable.

The products can be purchased at the store and visitor center of "Susan's House" located at Yad Haruzim 19 ,Talpiot, Jerusalem. Susanart products are shipped to all parts of the country and even abroad, special packs prevent breakage. In addition, you can order the products on the site -
I left the visitor center with some lovely glass jewels. Unlike other places, "Susan's House is a stand-alone independent business where the kids now fight in order to survive. In here they come to realize that together, staff and youth can create, earn and enjoy. 
"Susan's House", a place that saved hundreds of children in and around Jerusalem, is currently under a threat of an economic collapse. In its 12 years the house of Susan helped many.  The state (through the Ministry of Social Affairs) and the Jerusalem Municipality partially funded by the activity. Today it is no longer enough and the house may not celebrate a Bar Mitzvah.
I wrote this post as my way to help to maintain this wonderful project, hope you'll read and join the effort. Let's pay it forward.

* Acknowledgement - The visit was part of a publicity tour organized by Marom Communications.