Saturday, March 31, 2018

Happy Passover


Kiryat Ono, Israel. Our Passover Seder with our cousins Janet, Ethan, and Avigail, and several others. Above: the Seder plate with all the traditional items that are part of the ritual readings, prayers, and songs. What a beautiful evening! I didn't photograph every single dish that we ate, but here are a few.

Matzoh, haroset, the Seder Plate, and two pomelos from Janet's garden.
A 20th century tradition is to add an orange to the Seder plate to represent
the fact that women play an active role in modern Judaism. We used the
two pomelos for this symbol.

Preparations

A 5.3 kilo salmon, about to be poached in the large fish poacher.
On the back of the stove: a pot of chicken soup.
Hard boiled eggs, a standard part of the menu.
One roasted egg appears on the Seder Plate.
Ethan preparing the dishes.
Special  Passover rolls and at right, komish bread for dessert.
Also for dessert: meringues.
In the kitchen: preparing sauce for the fish.
Sabbath candles, lit as part of the Passover ritual because the Seder was on Friday night this year. All Jewish holidays
are "moveable" feasts because the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar. Outside the window you can see the flower boxes.

Chicken Soup with Matzoh Balls


A Whole Roast Salmon

Janet carves the salmon, our main course after the ritual foods, the eggs, chopped liver, nut spread, and soup.
The salmon: to be served with lemon sauce and kumquat chutney.
After all was carved, eaten, and put into a large dish for another day.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Janet's Passover Kitchen

Last night there was a wonderful confluence of aromas here in Janet's house in Kiryat Ono, a suburb of Tel Aviv, where we are spending the week preparing for Passover. From her kitchen came the aroma of chicken fat -- the traditional schmaltz -- being rendered for one of the many dishes for the Seder tomorrow night. From the garden came the amazing perfume of a citrus tree, the pomelo, blooming in this mild climate. A very unexpected combination.

Right now, the aromas from the kitchen dominate: an enormous pot of chicken soup is bubbling on one burner, as you can see in the photo.

A pot of kumquat chutney is simmering on the other burner. Janet harvested the kumquats this morning from another tree in the garden, and I spent at least an hour cutting them up and taking out their seeds. We both worked on the other ingredients. Janet loves to make chutney from the produce of her own tree.

Who would have guessed that such tiny fruits nevertheless have seeds the same size as those in an orange or a tangerine!
Kumquats, garlic, and ginger being prepped for chutney.
Hot peppers for chutney -- other ingredients include onion, orange juice,
sugar, vinegar, star anise, pepper, and salt.
Chutney simmering in a big pot, which is used only for Passover food.
Janet has lots more plans for our seder dinner tomorrow night. She's been shopping and cleaning for days. All the year-round dishes have been stored away, all the normal food is eaten up or will be discarded, and fresh Passover food and one-week-a-year dishes have replaced everything in the newly-cleaned shelves and drawers of her kitchen.  As I said before, it's quite a production!


Now for some photos of the wonderful greengrocer where Janet bought many of the ingredients for the soup and many other planned dishes. She has other sources for meat, fish, and so on.

Years ago, she says, this small but amazingly stocked store sold fruit and vegetables grown nearby, but the city has overwhelmed the farms that used to occupy land in this area, and now the owners bring in produce from other places. Beautiful produce!


So many colors of little tomatoes!

Quite a big selection of spices. I bought a few to take home.
I was amused to see the same brand of olive oil that I buy at home at Whole Foods.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Three Floors Up"

During our quiet time in Tel Aviv at our cousin Janet's house I have been doing two things. First, I'm helping Janet clean her house in preparation for Passover. This is an activity I've often heard and read about, but I have never participated in doing it. Quite a production!

When I have a bit of time, I've been reading a novel set in Israel titled Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo, published in Hebrew in 2015 and in English in 2017.

Three Floors Up takes place in a three-floor apartment building in Tel Aviv. I am surrounded by similar buildings of various heights, but full of people that I imagine to be similar to the families in the three stories in the novel: one for each floor of the building. Each story is told by one person, as a confession, because each character is experiencing a kind of personal (and maybe existential) crisis.

The first story, by a husband and father on the first floor, is told to a friend who is a novelist, as a desperate confession of some very irrational behavior towards a neighbor, triggered by fear of the well-being of his 9-year-old daughter. The second story, by the mother of two children on the second floor, is a letter calling for help from a long un-contacted friend who had supported her during an adolescent crisis. Finally, a retired woman court judge, who lives on the third floor, records messages on an answering machine where she finds a message from her late husband. Though he had died a year earlier, she speaks to him as if he were still alive and referring to their long life together.

A significant passage from the widow on the third floor to her late husband:
"The Encyclopedia of Ideas helped me remember that the first floor, which he called the id, contains all our impulses and urges. The middle floor is the ego, which tries to mediate between our desires and reality. And the uppermost level, the third floor, is the domain of His Majesty, the superego, which calls us to order sternly and demands that we take into account the effects of our actions on society. 
"I hear you asking in that tone of yours, which hints that you know the answer quite well: Is there any proof whatsoever of that theory? Has it been tested, proven scientifically?" (p. 211).
You can read the three narrators' confessions as an allegory of the id, the ego, and the superego, but I prefer to see them as three stories of very troubled individuals, not as "types." The internal struggle of each one is emotionally vivid. But besides enjoying the human element of these stories, I found the book to be wonderfully connected to the travel experience I had last week and to my continued stay in Israel in a residential neighborhood like the one where the characters live.

In the final story, the retired judge who is "talking" to her late husband agrees to go on a trip to the south of Israel, where she finds herself on an agricultural kibbutz near the Jordanian border. We went birdwatching on a kibbutz that is no doubt very similar. So I'll end with a few photos of the agriculture and kibbutz life that we saw as we looked for birds.

A bird on the irrigation system above the fields at a kibbutz where we were birding.
Surprisingly, the owners seem very friendly to birders.

We birded in a pumpkin field...
And birded in an onion field. A character in the novel was developing a new
type of bell pepper to grow on her kibbutz.
Looking across the fields towards the residences and agricultural buildings on the kibbutz.

We stayed at guest houses on two kibbutzes. The woman under the tree is
Krista, who was reading Three Floors Up and told me about it.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Images of Israel

An ibex under a tree in the Negev Desert.
A bluethroat. Appropriately named! At the bird research center, Eilat.
Last night was the end of our birdwatching tour in Israel, and we're about to spend some more relaxed time with a cousin in Tel Aviv. I've made a very haphazard selection of some photos from our trip so far, just as kind of a wrap-up of what we saw and did as we traveled from Tel Aviv down into the Negev, spending 2 nights on a kibbutz in the desert. Then, in Eilat, we spent 4 days exploring birds in the surrounding area (including our visit to the mountain watch-site for migrating raptors). We traveled up the Rift Valley to the Dead Sea where we spent 2 nights, and finally back to the same hotel in Tel Aviv last night. These photos are in no particular order, because they're chosen just because I like them.
View from Isrotel Hotel, Tel Aviv.
Just after the release of a banded bird at the Jerusalem bird refuge.
Several children were watching, learning, and releasing the birds.
Banding of course was done by an expert.
One of many wheatears on a tree in the desert.
View of Aqaba, Jordan, from the beach of Eilat, Israel. The palace in the photo belongs to the king of Jordan.
We were watching for sea birds as the sun was setting.
Sunset near Eilat. Many birds were flying around, especially some bitterns. Along with around 100 other birdwatchers,
we watched at this pond for a special type of sand grouse that often come to drink here just after dark.
Unfortunately, the sand grouse were no-shows. Like many very good places for birds to drink in this desert area, these are the ponds of a sewage treatment plant. Around 80% of wastewater in Israel is treated adequately to be reused for agriculture, so the treatment ponds are often pretty clean -- though the smell is often noticeable. As we watched, a rep of the SPNI (Society for Protection of Nature in Israel) told us that the owners of the area and the conservationists have created a plan to better protect and encourage the wildlife in this area.

Random people looking out over Makhtesh Ramon, the huge erosion crater in the Negev Desert.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Lunch in the town of Abu Gosh

Abu Gosh is an Israeli-Arab town just outside Jerusalem on the road to Tel Aviv. Restaurants there are very famous.
Here's one of the chefs cooking the kabobs, which are a featured menu item after the many salads and appetizers.

Making coffee.
Our table was completely loaded with small dishes containing falafel, hummus, tahini, tabbouli salad, french fries,
baba ganoush, tomato salads, eggplant salads, and several other appetizers. Then came the kabobs!
Falafel.
The Arab logo for Coca-Cola. I haven't noticed the Hebrew logo on the many
diet Cokes I've had this week, but maybe I somehow missed it.
Our best bird of the day: a water rail, which lives in a small nature reserve next to the Israel Knesset and Supreme Court.
I have several more photos of the bird refuge, including more on bird banding, that I'll post separately some time.
Later we stopped at Park Canada where we saw this cyclamen
and many other wild flowers in bloom.

Our tour is now ending. Tour guide Doug (right) and the rest of the birders will have dinner together once more tonight, while our other tour guide, Eran (shaking his hand,) went home after lunch today. We plan to remain in Israel for another week, though the tour is over.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Camels and Dates

A camel was tethered by the restaurant near the Dead Sea where we ate lunch today. If you go to Israel,
you really should not miss seeing at least one camel. We saw two: the other was parked at the next restaurant.
I ordered these stuffed dates.
The stuffing for the dates was lightly-spiced ground meat. Garnishes included slivered almonds, fried onions, and "Silvan" or date syrup, decorating the plate. It was delicious! On the menu was also a dish with chicken, dates, and lemon.
We've seen quite a few date orchards, especially near Eilat. In this photo,
you can see the large machines that harvest the dates, and the mesh bags
used for ripening them.
Date palms near Eilat.
Today's lunch included hummus, of course: in this case served with kabob meat. 
Alas! No falafel today. The restaurant had run out of it. After lunch we had Magnum bars, but as it's a kosher meat restaurant, we were required to eat them outside. That was ok: a large number of buzzards, kestrels, storks, and eagles were flying over, migrating from Africa northwards.

A strange mural was on the restaurant wall, along with many
music and film posters and photos from the 1950s.
Birding: we saw this little clamorous warbler in some reeds at a refuge near the Dead Sea.