Chanukah in the Holy Land

Sufganiya: a filled doughnut, traditionally filled with jelly and enjoyed during Chanukah

Sufganiyot: plural form

Sufganiyot in Israel: a culinary event taking place during the month of Kislev when bakeries and eateries across the country make every variety of filled doughnut conceivable to man, all to be slowly savored, greedily gorged on, and reviewed time and again by journalists and civilians alike, hoping to finally, FINALLY determine once and for all who makes the best sufganiyot in this holy land.

From Roladin:

From Roladin

From English Cake:

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From Cafe Ne’eman:

From Cafe Ne'eman

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Yes, ’tis the season. But this year, no Christmas undertones or – as it were – overtones in my neck of the woods.

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And I have been a total sucker for participating in the mainstream holiday celebration.

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Noah and I bought this beautiful new menorah for our Chanukah in Israel…

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…and we’ve also been to some great Chanukah parties. In addition to sufganiyot, Chanukah is the holiday to eat all-things-fried (in honor of the miraculous event that the holiday commemorates when one cruse of oil lasted eight days). Party highlights included latkes (fried potato pancakes), delicious food, and a white elephant gift exchange.

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One of the parties was also a fried-food fest for the ages. Equipped with a boiling pot of oil, we proceeded to fry every candy, baked good, and vegetable we could get our hands on:

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At least some small piece of my yearning for the Minnesota State Fair has been satisfied:

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My favorite thing about spending the holiday in Israel has been being able to be feel – and take part in – the holiday excitement as part of an overall cultural and social climate. For example, gelt (lit: money, a chocolate version is often given as small gifts during Chanukah) shows up on your coffee and other treats…

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…hotels display chanukiyot for guests to light and see…

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…and people gather together in lobbies to share the joy of lighting the candles together:

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Tonight’s the eighth and final night of Chanukah, and I am definitely sad to see it go. I’m sure I’ll remember this Chanukah in Israel for a lifetime. 🙂

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Hapoel Jerusalem

This week, I went to a professional basketball game in Jerusalem. Given my family’s (and, in particular, my father’s), love for basketball, I’ve been fortunate to go to quite a few NBA games in the states, but I’ve never been to a professional sporting event in another country.

The game I went to this week was between Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Eilat. Both are professional basketball club teams that are members of the Israel Premier League – the Jerusalem team is also part of the Eurocup. In fact, it’s been rumored that Amare Stoudemire might join Hapoel Jerusalem after his contract with the Knicks expires in 2015.

The game took place at the brand-spanking-new Jerusalem Pais Arena. The arena can seat close to 12,000 people, and it only opened this past September. I went with a group to the game, and we arrived to the game early and got a good look at the arena before there were any other spectators around:

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The arena was really nice – very similar to a professional sports arena in the U.S.!

The group I went with was lucky to have a special session with Tamir Goodman, an American-Jewish former basketball player who now works for Hapoel Jerusalem. Tamir has a pretty incredible story. He was raised (and remains) an Orthodox Jew, and his dream was always to play Division I college basketball. As a high schooler, he had success as a player, ranking as the 25th best high-school player in the U.S. during his 11th grade year. While he was in high school, Sports Illustrated wrote an article about him, calling him the ‘Jewish Jordan.’

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In spite of his success as a high school athlete, it was difficult for Tamir to find somewhere to play in college because he could not play or practice on Shabbat. He made a verbal commitment to the University of Maryland after an agreement that they would accommodate his religious needs. The agreement, however, didn’t work out and he ended up going to Towson University. At Towson, he was the first freshman to earn a starting spot on the team in 11 years, and he had a successful season during that year. After his freshman year, the coaching staff changed and the new coach was less willing to accept Tamir’s religious needs. Tamir left the team in the middle of his sophomore year after being allegedly assaulted by the coach. Although his college career had a disappointing ending, he later moved to Israel where he had a brief career in the Israel league before retiring due to injury.

Tamir talked to our group for about 30 minutes:

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His story was fascinating, and it was amazing to hear all of the challenges he had to navigate in order to become a Division I athlete while still observing all of the traditional religious laws. He is definitely a role model for holding onto one’s values and working hard to achieve goals.

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After talking with Tamir, we went out to the arena’s main lobby (which had really cool decorations!) to check our the swag shop:

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While the arena itself was similar to an American sports venue, the food offerings were severely lacking. Like many European sports venues, there is no alcohol sold in Israeli arenas. Also, there was basically only one stand that sold hot dogs, pretzels, nachos, popcorn, drinks, and a couple bagged snacks. I think I’ve gotten way too used to American arenas that have everything from freshly shaved roast beef sandwiches to chocolate-dipped cheesecake…I guess this probably says something about the American entertainment/food industry!

Eventually, we made our way into the arena which was crowded although not entirely full. The warm up was underway and there was A TON of energy from the fans. There were a lot more young people at the game than what I generally see at NBA games. I suspect this is in large part a reflection of the ticket prices. At the Hapoel game there were lots of teenagers who looked to be in high school, and there seemed to be a school band and student section that cheered like crazy the entire game.

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The game ended up being quite the nail-biter. Jerusalem was down by three with only 14 seconds to go…

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They had possession and hit a three-pointer right away to make it a tied game with only 10 seconds left. The Eilat team lost the ball on the other end and Jerusalem quickly called a time-out. With four seconds left, Jerusalem inbounded the ball from the side court on their offensive side – BUT THE PERSON WHO THE BALL WAS BEING PASSED TO TURNED AWAY AND STARTED RUNNING THE OTHER DIRECTION SO THE BALL HIT HIM IN THE BACK! An Eilat player scooped it up right away, fast-breaked down the court, and scored a lay-up as the buzzer sounded to win by 2. Ridiculous ending to an exciting game – I sure felt bad for the Jerusalem player who got hit in the back though. He must have felt rull bad.

Nonetheless, this was a SUPER DUPER fun evening. I would definitely like to go to another game while I’m here…maybe even check out some soccer. I hear soccer fans get pretty wild. 🙂

Jerusalem Cafes: Round 5

Continuing my Jerusalem Cafes series, here are a few more places I’ve been to in the last several weeks. Enjoy the pictures of delicious food…where do you want to go out to eat next?

First, I tried a cafe on Emek Refaim called Ben Ami. I had heard several times that Ben Ami serves allstar drinks and desserts and also has a nice ‘real’ food menu. To drink, we ordered sahlab (an Arabic drink made with flour from a orchid, rose water, milk, often topped with coconut, cinnamon, and nuts, and popularly sold during the winter months in Israel) and a hot apple/wine cider.

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For the meal, we shared toast (in Israeli menu jargon, this means an open-faced sandwich) with pesto and mozzarella and a potato dumplings dish:

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Next up was Colony. Colony is a restaurant tucked off of Derech Beit Lechem near the entrance to the rekevet. The burgers coming out of their kitchen looked amazing, but I ended up ordering homemade gnocchi instead. How could I resist this?!

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My dining partner ordered a pesto stuffed chicken breast, and we shared a dish of mushrooms in puff pastry:

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Since I’ve been living here long enough to have some *favorites*, I also returned to a couple places I’ve posted about before.

Kalo on Derech Beit Lechem is only a few short minutes from my apartment, and it is delicious for any meal of the day! You can see my post from a previous visit to Kalo here. Their outside patio area is bursting every Friday morning (and most mornings besides!), and I am personally a huge fan of the delicious grain bread they bring to the table with every meal. Noah and I went to Kalo for dinner a few weeks ago and ordered an eggplant focaccia and salad (with fried cheese, beets, apples, and walnuts) to share:

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I also returned to Caffit on Emek Refaim. I think Caffit is now tied with the Grand Cafe for my most-visited restaurant. I posted about Caffit before here, and Noah and I liked it so much we went there for Noah’s last breakfast before he left for a big trip a few weeks ago (yes, I have been ALONE!!!). Noah went for the Israeli breakfast:

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Classic.

I ordered a toasted bagel sandwich filled with hard-boiled egg, cheese, zaatar (a mediterranean spice with a distinctive green color) and veggies:

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I also ordered a lemonana (a blended lemonade and mint beverage that’s popular in Israel – nana means ‘mint’ in Hebrew):

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If you missed them, check out my other Jerusalem Cafe posts here:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4

Warmth in Jerusalem

One might think that being in Jerusalem would feel warmer than much of the rest of the world right now…especially other places I might be living:

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Not the case. I think it’s a combination of Jerusalem stone buildings and no insulation, but I honestly think it’s colder in my Jerusalem apartment these days than it ever was in my Minneapolis apartment…yes, even when it was -30º. I am just thankful my apartment has some form of heating – no matter how inadequate – instead of just space heaters like many people use.

In other news, a little Jerusalem humor to brighten up the cold day:

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But, if misdirected text messages aren’t enough to warm you up, check out the joyous gathering that was my Thanksgiving last week.

Thanksgiving in Jerusalem, you say? Well, in a country of immigrants, there are a lot of uprooted Americans, and Thanksgiving makes itself known. Many of the grocery stores (especially those in anglo parts of the city) have pumpkin and cranberry sauce appear on shelves in mid-November. The week of Thanksgiving itself, stores get in turkeys – but do your shopping early or you might have to fight someone for the bird you want!

My Thanksgiving day started with a siyum (closing) in my Chumash (five books of Moses, ie, the Torah) class. We have a siyum every time we finish a parasha (weekly Torah portion). Last week, we finished Parashat Noach – the story of Noah and the ark and the flood…maybe you’ve heard of it? 🙂 Since the timing coincided with Thanksgiving, we decided to have the best of both worlds and make it a ‘Noah on the Mayflower’ party:

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For the big festive meal, I joined together with about 30 others and enjoyed probably my most extravagant Thanksgiving meal to date. I guess if 30 people contribute to a meal, things get reallllll fancy. The table was dressed to impress and there were so many dishes we had to cycle the food through since it couldn’t all fit:

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The hosts cooked a whole turkey…if you dare, locate the neck in the remains below:

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And, in closing, PIES!

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I also brought the applesauce brownies mentioned in this post as my contribution to the meal.

Desserts from around the web

I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing dessert to Shabbat meals. This has served as a perfect excuse to make several of the dessert recipes that have been sitting on my ‘sweet things’ Pinterest board for days months years. It’s problematic to make an entire pan of brownies or a cake for myself, so Shabbat is the perfect opportunity to make a mouth-watering dish of sugar-chocolate-sweet-love (take your pick).

Here are a few highlights of desserts made in the last month. I didn’t make up any of the recipes, so I just link directly back to the original recipe source.

I made this flourless chocolate cake from Satisfying Eats. I had a slight mishap because I accidentally bought a can of straight coconut cream as opposed to canned coconut milk, so I had to dilute the cream with water to make it more milky…nonetheless it came out well.

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It may have been my cooking errors, but this wasn’t a cake that held together (don’t expect to eat it with your fingers!). I served it warm and gooey, eaten with spoons. This would be absolutely divine with some vanilla ice cream!

Next up were applesauce brownies from Something Swanky. Although they are advertised as healthy, they do not have ANY of that these-are-brownies-but-taste-sort-of-like-health-food thing going on. They are rich and dense and seriously delicious.

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I made two pans: one topped with chocolate chips and one topped with walnuts. This was my contribution to last week’s Thanksgiving meal. 🙂

While both of the previous two desserts were quite good, this next one is a whole other level. This is a gooey pumpkin spice latte chocolate pudding cake from Oh She Glows. Seriously, the name says it all. This cake is made in an unusual way; You make the batter, pour it into the pan, and then dump some hot coffee on top of it. It will look like something has gone terribly wrong and this will never be anything that tastes good:

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But, somehow, a miracle will occur when you put it into the oven and it will turn into this:

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In my opinion, this recipe was TOP NOTCH. For anyone who likes chocolate or pumpkin or things-that-taste-good, I suggest cooking this ASAP.

And, finally, the biggest crowd-pleaser I made were these oatmeal chocolate chip cheesecake bars from Lovely Little Kitchen. They were a bit labor intensive to make because there were a lot of layers (crust, cheesecake, chocolate topping), but overall it was totally worth it.

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These bars were a HUGE hit. In fact, several people have mentioned them to me again since that meal. So, if you are looking for something that will make people happy, I would suggest this recipe as a good candidate.

And one last food shot of what I’m baking right now….

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No desserts in the oven for this Shabbat, just some good old-fashioned challah. 🙂