Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lunch time

I've been a stay at home mom for a few months now, a very new and educational experience for me. Although I've spent long maternity leaves with each of my children, there was never a doubt that I'll go back to work. For years my kids spent the lunch hours at various child care facilities and babysitters, while I would usually eat my lunch in front of the computer at the lab, trying not to let my sandwich drip on the keyboard. I welcomed the change in my employment status because I finally had an opportunity to spend more time with the kids and pay them a lot more attention. At first they were ecstatic about the fact they will go home after school and not to any of the child care places but then when they realized that the supervision on TV time, homework and piano practice got a lot tighter the enthusiasm waned.  One of the most important issues is of course their diet, and as one of my daughters has celiac and the other is lactose intolerant we have to be creative and very meticulous about what we feed them. Now that I'm home I find it challenging trying to prepare them tasty and healthy food every lunch. The following pasta dish is a great success. It's an adaptation from a recipe by Beth Elon (an Israeli cookbook writer). The best thing about this recipe is that it's very easy to make. Only a few months ago I took pride in the fact that the only thing I cook is hardboiled egg and now the fact that I cook this dish on regular basis to my household liking, is pretty miraculous in my view.   
No pasta sauce can be complete without onion (Yahud Ashkenazi market)

1 package of gluten-free pasta (we use the whole rice one)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 medium size onions chopped
2 grinded carrots
2-4 chopped garlic cloves
800gr of pureed tomatoes (either fresh or canned)
2 table spoons of tomato paste
Salt, pepper, a few chopped basil leaves
Place the oil in a medium size cooking pot and add the onion, garlic and carrots. Sauté the vegetable till the onion softens.
Add the tomatoes and paste and boil the sauce on high flame for 15 minutes than lower the flames to the lowest fire and let it simmer for an hour.
Add a pinch a sugar and the basil.
Take the sauce off the fire and mash it using a hand blender, turn the fire on again and let it simmer for 10 more minutes while adding the salt and pepper.
Cook the pasta as instructed on package and serve.
Bon appetite!

Monday, June 13, 2011

On the road to nowhere

2 minutes before sinking in the sand
The car made a bizarre "woosh" sound and stopped. We were stuck. All the attempts to step on the gas pedal resulted in sinking deeper in the sand, and raising clouds of dust. The temperature outside was hitting 40 centigrade. After frantic digging in the scorching sand, we had to admit: we're going nowhere. Were we to 
spend the rest of Shavuot Holiday stranded a few meters from the Jordanian border?

It all began when we decided that we don't want to spend Shavuot holiday at home when our eldest daughter is away in Paris with her grandma. We wanted the younger kids not to be too jealous and have fun while their sister will ride rollercoasters in Euro Disney. Though Israeli summer is already here and the heat is on we decided we'll head south to the desert. I've already confessed here my affection and deep connection to the wilderness so it seemed natural to me, instead of Paris, The Arava region.
Lovely view of the desert and ibexes

We booked a guest room in Moshav Hatzeva. Hatzeva is an agricultural community not far from the Jordanian border. The settlers in the area found earning a living solely out of crop growing difficult so they turned to tourism and many have guest rooms for hire. The place we booked was lovely, a cute rustic styled room with comfortable beds and a kitchenette. There was a big yard that was arranged like a Bedouin tent with colorful rugs and cushions, a bit tacky but picturesque. We all found ourselves relaxing, slowing down to the pace of the desert. It was too hot to do anything.
Guest rooms complex "Shvilim Bamidbar" in Hatzeva

Once the air started to cool we went to some hiking in the area. We walked a short walk to Ein-Yorkeam, a wadi where naturally occurring water cisterns create a pretty oasis. The cisterns were still full of water though it's already the height of summer.
Tristram's grackle 
 From there we continued to fill bottles with colored sand and ended the day at the view point watching The Small Crater (Maktesh Katan). Going back to the room we stopped in the middle of road (it was very empty) and watched a herd of ibexes climbing the cliffs above the motorway.My kids reminded me of the notion that my name assign me a mystical connection to these animals (ibex in Hebrew is Yael) because whenever I travel to the desert I'll always see an ibex. We ended the day with a great meal cooked by my Dear Husband and went to sleep like farmers at nine pm.
Lessons in composition on The Peace Road

We woke leisurely the next day and since the heat outside kept rising our solution was the Moshav's swimming pool. The water slide provided a most satisfying substitute to Disneyland's rides.  After lunch we headed back home but we decided not to drive on the main road but rather take a scenic route called the Peace Road.  The Peace Road is actually a service road the farmers of the area use which passes through the hothouses and fields. Since the peace treaty with Jordan it was renovated by the JNF and was added with viewpoints and scenic hiking routes. Like in the famous poem we took the road less traveled by and drove north on the Peace Road. There was really nice desert scenery, and in one of the turns we decided to get off the paved route and drive what seemed to be a fine dirt road. At first all was great, the views were exciting, I shot some pretty pictures, the kids were asleep at the back, and suddenly "whoosh" and we stopped. 
After 15 minutes of futile attempts to rescue us, my Dear Husband spotted a tractor in the distance driving towards the fields. He run and yelled to them like a madman, but it worked. The blue tractor driven by a Thai worker and a Landcruiser driven by his boss pulled us out to safe ground. All this time the kids sat in the air-coned car munching crisps, amused by all the occurrences.  They had something interesting to tell in class.
The voyage home was very conventional, no more adventures off the beaten track with a company car.
Views of the Dead Sea

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Landwer's coffee, the way it was meant to be

Coffee fruit

For the first time in my blog welcome my best friend and co-blogger: Sarah Melamed in a guest post about coffee. Sarah is usually the herbal tea type while I am the devoted espresso drinker but now and then she enjoys a good cappuccino. Here are her impressions about one of Israel's leading coffee factories.

After a visit to Landwer's coffee factory in Holon my hair and clothes were  infused with the aroma of deep, rich espresso. When I stepped out I was surprised people didn't speak to me in Italian, mistaking me for a barista "Un caffè, per favore!"
Indeed, the only place you'll find a comparative espresso is in a café in Rome, where coffee is not just a drink but a ritual of life.  In recent years Israel has emulated Italy's coffee culture with many new cafes opening around the country as well as numerous products, from coffee makers to a variety of grinds, for those who prefer to drink at home.  The Israeli consumer has become increasingly selective, appreciating the stronger brews which were once considered unpalatable.
Roasting coffee beans

At the forefront of the Israeli coffee scene is Landwer, established in 1919, providing quality coffee both for the home brewer and in coffee houses throughout the country.
The Landwer facility supervises the coffee making process from the selection of the beans, roasting, grinding and finally vacuum packaging. Each of the steps is done in a highly controlled environment essential to develop and retain the complexities and flavor locked in the coffee bean. Stringent quality control follows the entire process to ensure the integrity of the product.
Quality control and experimental lab at the Landwer Factory, would love to work here!

The best part of the visit was making my own cappuccino using their industrial coffee machine. A barista I am not but now I fully appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making a beautiful cup of coffee. Even if you start out with the highest quality ingredients and state of the art equipment, it is completely possible to make a mess of things. The number one enemy is air which oxidizes the coffee, zapping its flavor and blunting its taste. This means that the speed is essential to outwit those pesky oxygen molecules to ensure a full bodied espresso with crema, a layer of foam that is the hallmark of well prepared coffee.
The baristas make a cup of espresso

And even if the espresso is "perfect" from bean to cup, there are those who will dislike it for being overwhelmingly strong. Recognizing this Landwer offers several products that cater to different tastes. For black coffee aficionados there are three flavors to choose from, the mellower morning flavor, original and the stronger espresso style black coffee. For professionals and also what is served at Landwer coffee houses throughout the country there are two varieties available, Espresso Classic and Espresso Ristretto. In the coming months Espresso Supremo will also be available with its new retro packaging.
from left to right: Morning, Orignal and Espresso flavored black coffee

A few weeks ago I visited a Landwer café in Rehovot with my friend Yael for leisurely breakfast and cappuccino. Although there are numerous coffee bar chains in Israel, Landwer is the only company that believes in individuality and this extends to its coffee houses as well. Every establishment has its own décor and atmosphere and not an industrial clone of the other. What you can experience in all of them, however, is some truly excellent coffee.
Landwer Cafe in Rehovot, outdoor seating
Coffee Trivia:
·        Coffee is the second largest commodity in the world. What's the first?
·        Coffee is indigenous to Ethiopia
·        The term "Turkish coffee" in Hebrew originally referred to the grain size not its origin. Which makes sense since tea is very popular in Turkey.
·        Landwer coffee moved to Israel in 1933 from Germany and opened its first shop on Allenby road in Tel Aviv.
·        The coffee fruit ripens from green to bright red and its seed (bean) is a shade of olive green before roasting.
·        There are two major varieties of coffee, Arabica and Robusta which are often combined to make a blend.
·        The espresso machine was invented by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy in 1884