A Weekend of Birthday Fun

I had the greatest weekend. I got to celebrate Noah’s BIRTHDAY!! We had a full weekend of activities. First, we had a couple friends over for Shabbat dinner and games on Friday.

Homemade challah and a pear/blueberry tart:

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Saturday was Noah’s actual birthday, so we had birthday cake!!:

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I got an ice-cream cake from J.P. Licks (Noah’s and my favorite ice cream place!) and hid it in the freezer before Noah’s birthday. This card served as the perfect intro…

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…and then Noah knew just where to look because we’ve talked about wanting a J.P. Licks ice cream cake for a long time. 🙂

That night, we went out to dinner at Picco – a pizza and homemade ice cream place in the South End. They don’t take reservations for parties of less than 5 people, and when we got there it was a two hour wait for a table! Luckily, we were able to get spots at the bar after waiting only a few minutes.

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We ordered a pizza (with sauteed onions, garlic, mushrooms, and gruyere) and a calzone (with peppers, mushrooms, and spinach) to share:

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And since it was a celebration…a brownie sundae with homemade peanut butter chip and caramel swirl ice cream was in order:

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Wow wow wow – so good!

Sunday was the main birthday activity (yes, Noah’s birthday lasted all weekend). Noah and I have really enjoyed having succulents in our apartments in Jerusalem and Cambridge, and I discovered an activity called Plant Nite. It’s like the paint and wine nights that are becoming popular…except instead of making a picture, you make a terrarium with succulents! I seriously couldn’t believe this activity was a real thing, but I was really excited when I saw it because I thought we would have a lot of fun.

The event was held at a bar/restaurant in Boston. When we walked in, all the tables in the Plant Nite area were equipped with terrarium bowls and green tablecloths:

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We found a two-person table and snagged it right away because we only like talking to each other (joking…sort of). Excited to start:

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We made “winter wonderland” terrariums – which are like regular terrariums except with more sand art. Hard at work:

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Once the sand art was done, we could layer some soil in the pots (succulents have very shallow roots so you don’t need much soil):

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The final touch was accessorizing with rocks, moss, and figurines:

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Mine included an ironic rock:

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Plant Nite was a lot of fun, although I will say that the dudes in Boston really need to step it up because Noah was one of the only guys at this event!

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The final activity as part of the birthday celebration that I’ll mention is a game of X-wing that incorporated one of Noah’s birthday presents:

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Noah has really been enjoying X-wing lately. X-wing is a game that involves flying Star Wars ships, dodging meteors and trying to blow up the other person’s ships. As you can tell, the sophistication of my understanding of the game is still a little surface level – but I enjoy playing with Noah! I got him the play mat pictured above for his birthday since without it he needs to measure the appropriate amount of space to play on out every time. Let the games begin…

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Idan Raichel Concert and Cinema City in Jerusalem

Last week was full of great entertainment for me here in Jerusalem- woohoo!

Here is a quick recap of the highlights:

1) The Idan Raichel Project Concert at the Jerusalem International Convention Center

Idan Raichel is an Israeli musician who’s been somewhat of a cultural/national icon for many years. He performs with a group called the Idan Raichel project, and the music is a blend of Middle Eastern sounds. The Jerusalem International Convention Center is in the north of the city near to the Central Bus Station, and it was a huge building with lots of interesting artwork that I hope to have more time to look at in the future. People streaming in for the concert:

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The concert was awesome. Something that I liked was that Idan Raichel wasn’t at all centerstage the whole time – primarily he sat to the side of the stage on the piano and other members of the group took a central focus:

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If you have the opportunity, I would definitely recommend seeing the Idan Raichel Project in concert! (if you want to check out some of his most famous songs, look here, here, or here!)

2) Hosting “balls” Shabbat!

On Friday night, Noah and I had a group of people we play basketball with over for Shabbat dinner. Since we are united by basketball, it seemed appropriate to give the dinner a ‘balls’ theme – ie, food in the shape of balls! It was a lot of fun and – needless to say – hilarious. The menu included lentil balls, meatballs, cherry tomatoes, small potatoes, and rice with peas:

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3) Cinema City in Jerusalem

Imagine if Disney World and Times Square had a baby…okay, got it?!

That’s Cinema City in Jerusalem! Noah and I had heard about this movie theater/mall/phenomenon since coming to Israel, and it is truly quite an experience. We decided to go there for a movie and dinner this past Motzei Shabbat (after the end of Shabbat on Saturday night), and it was pretty impressive! In these pictures, the place is just coming alive because Shabbat recently ended:

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Something you don’t see everyday…

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When you walk in, the upper level is where you can buy tickets and there is a mall of sorts with lots of shops and restaurants. Then, there is a lower level with theaters and an impressive concessions stand (serving Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!):

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We saw the movie American Sniper (in English, Hebrew subtitles):

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I thought the movie was very good, although the intense content of the film left me feeling somewhat on edge afterwards. If you want to see something lighter, they are also showing 50 Shades currently…

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4) Days of Togetherness!!

‘Days of Togetherness’ is super cheesy but also amazingly fun. I first read about the idea on Carrots ‘N’ Cake, and I thought it sounded super cute/nice. Noah and I did it last year, and we decided to do it again this year! Carrot does it for 24 days leading up to Christmas, but we’ve done it pretty much whenever seems like a good time! Here’s how it works…

– choose a number of days (we’re doing 28 this year) and think of that number of activities that you would like to do with your partner
– write each activity on a separate slip of paper
– put all of the papers in a container of sorts
– every day, draw and activity and do it!
super easy. super fun.

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So far, we have drawn the following activities: write a note, send a snapchat of a mystery item, play Dominion, play a game (unspecified), and find a recipe for the other person to make for dinner this week.

And…I’m actually just about to go on a walk for today’s activity so, bye. 🙂

 

Sweet Lentil Loaf and Shabbat dinner

Noah and I hosted dinner last Shabbat, and there were a few vegetarians coming, so I wanted to make something that would serve as a main dish for vegetarians but still a side dish for the meat eaters. I settled on making a lentil loaf, inspired by this recipe.

*full recipe below

I started by putting up 3 1/3 cups lentils with 4 cups water to boil and cooking for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I shredded 2 carrots and 1 apple in a bowl and then added 1/2 cup raisins and 1 cup chopped celery:

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On the stovetop, I cooked 2 small chopped onions and 4 cloves garlic in a little olive oil. Once the onion started to color, I added the veggie/fruit mixture:

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I cooked for about 10 minutes and then combined in a separate bowl with the cooked lentils, 1/2 cup oats, 4 eggs, and dried thyme:

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Once mixed, I put the mixture evenly in a baking pan and prepared the topping (the best part!!). Meatloaf is probably my favorite comfort food (although I hardly even eat it!), and I think the reason I like it so much is primarily because of the traditional glaze on top. For the lentil loaf, I made a glaze out of 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup honey, and 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar.

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I cooked for 45 minutes at 350º, and it came out great!

Sweet Lentil Loaf, serves 10
Ingredients
 - 3 1/3 cups dry lentils
 - 4 cups water
 - 2 onions, chopped
 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
 - 1 apple, grated
 - 2 carrots, grated
 - 1/2 cup raisins
 - 1 cup chopped celery
 - 4 eggs, beaten
 - 1/2 cup oats
 - 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
 - 1/2 cup ketchup
 - 1/4 cup honey
 - 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Method
- combine lentils with 4 cups water and
simmer for about 45 minutes
- cook onions and garlic in a pan until
onions begin to color
- add apple, carrots, raisins, and celery
cook for 10 minutes
- remove veggie/fruit mixture from stove 
and combine with cooked lentils, oats,
thyme, and eggs
- push firmly into a baking pan
- mix ketchup, honey, and balsamic vinegar
and spread on top of lentil loaf 
- cook for 45 minutes at 350º

For the rest of the menu I made hummus-crusted chicken, avocado potato salad, and Israeli salad. Guests brought challah, wine, salatim, quinoa, a veggie side, and dessert.

The avocado potato salad was really easy and would be especially good for a summer recipe and/or bbq. I chopped and boiled 5 potatoes for about 10 minutes until soft and then set in the fridge to cool. Meanwhile, I mashed 1 avocado and combined with a cucumber, tomato, and 1/4 red onion:

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I added the cooled potatoes to these ingredients along with 2 tablespoons lemon juice and served cold:

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The Shabbat table all set:

the Shabbat table!

 

Tahana Rishona

The Tahana Rishona (First Train Station) is a historical site that has now become a center for culture, music, and socializing in Jerusalem. Service on the train tracks that used the First Station ended in 1998, and after that it stood abandoned until renovation started to open it as a cultural center in 2013. Part of the initiative was also turning the train tracks into the rekevet pedestrian and bike trail. As planned, in 2013, the station – called The Tahana for short – reopened and has since become a great location for both Israelis and tourists to soak up Israeli culture, enjoy a good meal or drink, or even go to the ‘beach’ (there is a sandy area with a volleyball court and wave simulator!).

The Tahana features several full-service restaurants as well as places to get a drink, an ice cream shop, and a smoothie/juice joint. A couple weeks ago after Shabbat ended, I went with some friends to Fresh Kitchen for some coffee drinks and cookies.

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Fresh has a lovely outdoor seating area and a broad menu with lots of appealing dishes – so appealing, in fact, that I went back for a real meal last night.

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The Tahana also features a rotating schedule of events for people to enjoy fitness, music, and dancing. Every morning there is yoga, Friday mornings there is a running team, on Sunday and Wednesday nights there is dancing, Tuesday nights feature a live Jazz Trio, Thursday nights there is Zumba, and every Friday at 5:00pm there is a musical welcoming of Shabbat!

Last Friday, I went to the Tahana’s musical welcoming of Shabbat to see the prayer/music group, Nava Tehila. The group playing Shabbat music at the Tahana rotates each week, but I assume that – similar to how it was with Nava Tehila – it is generally a lively playing of Shabbat songs with lots of singing along and dancing from the audience. This past week, there was quite a crowd for the welcoming of Shabbat, and it was a lot of fun to see all the people and families there – happy to enjoy the music and excited for Shabbat!

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Beyond the music and events, the Tahana also features rotating art exhibits…

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…stores where you can by Jerusalem gifts, jewelry, and knick-knacks…

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…and, during the summer, a daily arts and crafts fair as well as a farmers’ market on Fridays:

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Overall, the Tahana is a great spot for pretty much any activity, and I’m definitely planning on visiting more of the restaurants and taking advantage of more of the cultural activities in the near future!

 

Pirot v’yerakot: adventures in Israeli Dining

Oh Israel, your food is a splendor.

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Here’s the breakdown…

Foods that are better in the USA: pizza, yogurt, plain black coffee

Foods that are better in Israel: everything else

No, I am definitely not using hyperbole. Just look at this banana:

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I rest my case. 

One of my great Israeli adventures so far is venturing to pirot v’yerakot (fruit and vegetable) stands, selecting a few things I’m unfamiliar with, taking them home, putting them in my mouth, and consulting google to learn what I’m eating.

Last week I shared my encounter with prickly pears. This week, I mystery grabbed these:

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Turns out this is what a passionfruit looks like! I had only ever had passionfruit as part of a juice or smoothie – not on its own. You can eat it by scooping out the insides with a spoon (don’t lose the precious juice!). The outside shell is hard and relatively easy to separate the fruit from:

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Salatim (salads) are also a great part of Israeli cuisine. Salatim doesn’t refer to simply the mix of lettuce that we Americans refer to as salad. In Israel, salatim refers to a wide array of appetizer-like spreads, dips, pickled vegetables, and overall deliciousness. Nearly every Supersal (a large grocery store chain), mikolets (smaller grocery stores – almost like convenient stores), and small specialty shops (cheese, meat, bread, etc.) sells a selection of salatim that you can buy in various sizes. This week, I picked up a few salatim to try:

Matbuha (a spicy tomato dip, also sometimes called Turkish Salad):

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Eggplant with tahini:

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And I am now on my first second third tub of hummus (also considered a type of salatim). In defense of my hummus consumption, however, I will point out that one entire tub was consumed by Shabbat guests on Friday night. I had a group over for Shabbat dinner where I got to break out my kiddush fountain (you pour wine from the main kiddush cup into the ‘fountain’ which distributes the wine into several smaller cups):

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And purchased challot from the popular Jerusalem bakery, Marzipan:

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Also before Shabbat, I popped into a shop near my apartment that sells prepared meats, salatim, and side dishes. Observant families don’t cook on Shabbat, which requires a lot of preparation in advance for the weekly holiday. As a result, it’s common for many families to buy some prepared food to lighten the amount of preparation that’s required.

When I say prepared food, I’m not talking frozen meals or processed faux-meats. There are freshly cooked meats, vegetables, appetizers, and soups. I decided to buy a mystery foil-wrapped cylinder because for once in my life I don’t have to worry about what sort of meat could be inside (halleluyah for kosher everywhere!!).

When I got home, I opened up the foil and discovered this:

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It was some sort of phyllo dough encased ground meat/potato/onion dish. I cooked it in the oven for about 30 minutes and this is what came out inside…

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Yum! I had it with some very delicious (and long) green beans as well as the aforementioned salatim.

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And…what is more appropriate to close out my Israel food rave than Tim Tams?

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Okay, so they come in a package. And they’re actually made in Australia. And they are a far cry from any semblance of healthy. But ask anyone who has participated in an Israel summer program, Birthright, or school trip, and you will quickly learn that Tim Tams are an essential part of the Israel experience. The double-layered wafers with a chocolate cream center can be found on the front shelf of each Supersal, mikolet, and every other food-selling establishment. But, the magic of Tim Tams goes far beyond chocolate or cookie. The true love of a relationship with a Tim Tam comes in the consumption.

There is really only one right way to eat a Tim Tam.

Step 1: Get a glass of milk. Coffee is also acceptable and tea might do in a pinch.

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Step 2: Take a small bite from one corner of the Tim Tam:

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Step 3: Take a small bite from the opposite corner of the Tim Tam:

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Step 4: Dip one open corner into the milk/coffee, and put the other open corner into your mouth. Use the Tim Tam as a straw and suck until you taste the milk.

Step 5: Eat the Tim Tam – whose chocolately wafer has now absorbed the milk and become oh-so-juicy-and-delicious.

Step 6: Ecstasy

And, because I am not completely oblivious to the state of the world, some brief comments about life in Israel over the last week.

The mood was very heavy at the beginning of last week. Last Tuesday was Tisha B’av, an annual Jewish fast day that is described in the Torah as a day of crying and misfortune for all generations. This damnation is in response to the report of 12 spies who were sent to take a peek at the promised land and report back to the newly-freed-from-Egypt Israelites. While the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey, the spies came back with a negative report, saying that the people in the land were great and fierce and the Israelites should just turn back now since they would surely never be able to truly enter the land. Furious that the Israelites would so easily fall into grief and despair when the land had, in fact, been promised to them, God decreed that the Israelites would not enter the promised land until that generation died out, leading to the subsequent 40-year wander in the desert. The tragedy of the day – the 9th (tesha) day of the Hebrew month of Av – would also continue indefinitely through all generations. Hence, Tisha B’av. 

Interestingly enough, the day truly has been one of great sorrow for the Jewish people throughout history. It is on this day that both the first and second temples were destroyed in Jerusalem (some 657 years apart), Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and Spain in 1492 (Columbus sailed the ocean blue…no? different theme?), Germany entered WWI in 1914, formal approval was received for the Nazi “Final Solution” in 1941, and mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began in 1942.

Clearly, it’s not a good day. The mourning of the day is also intensified because of safety concerns resulting from the day being used as a target for terrorist attacks in recent years. This past Monday, just before the start of the fast, there were two attacks in Jerusalem including one that involved a stolen tractor plowing over a bus and killing one person. Monday also marked the day that Hamas resumed rocket attacks on Israel, breaking yet another ceasefire and resuming the war that many Israelis had hoped and believed was coming to an end. Beginning tonight at midnight, another ceasefire is supposed to go into effect…hopefully this will last.

In closing, I recommend this op-ed by the always brilliant and ever insightful Thomas Friedman.

“3,000 years with no place to be and they want me to give up my milk and honey. Don’t you see, it’s not about the land or the sea, not the country but the dwelling of his majesty. Jerusalem, if I forget you, fire not gonna come from me tongue. Jerusalem if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.”
– Matisyahu