Epic kosher fail

Oh friends, I tried. I tried hard and I gave it my best swirl. I even got the kids involved in the making of what was supposed to be my first kosher no-bake cheese cake. I hate getting the kids involved in baking, for obvious reasons, such as the fact that there’s never anything left to bake by the time they’ve finished licking the various utensils. Speaking of utensils…You see, there was a build up to this baking event, which I intended to be the glorious kind of interim summit of my friendship with our “modern orthodox” friends from upstairs.

Almost every Friday there’s a knock on the door and then a smiling face offering us treats of Shabbat goodies; cakes, stuffed wine leaves, bread, all home made and delicious. The other day, when I had suggested we do tea together, we thought they would come down and drink tea with us but they thought we would come up and they fed us tea, cake, ice creams…in glorious manner and on a white table cloth.

That particular day’s cake caught my attention, as it was a no bake cheesecake using biscuits for a base that I had previously bought and enjoyed myself. The cake tasted like a giant fluffy oreo. It was yummy and fulfilling and I thought I could do it too and for once return the favour.

I even plucked up the courage to invite our friends and promised no bake cheese cake with kosher ingredients. The lady of the house played along with it and indulged me. She came to my door and explained that in order for it to be kosher the cheesecake would need to be prepared in their bowls and made with their utensils. So we arranged that I could use all of these, in my kitchen. After I had obtained the lot and got to work I was so proud of myself and my persuasive skills. You see, only weeks previously, her husband had said this to me with a very wide grin: “We know it’s very unfair that we never give you the chance to reciprocate our hospitality…but we really don’t care.” So this felt like the ultimate victory: They would come, eat my food, from their own plates and be my guests.

So, Shabbat came and we were all a bit giddy for our friends’ arrival and for the cutting of the massive cheesecake which is a very rare occurrence in our home.

And: it was a disaster. It started with their eldest rejecting it after the first bite. Ok, I think, fussy eater, never mind, I can pull something else out the bag. Oh, man, even just the memory of the event unravelling now is very painful. Because, wait for it, even my own son, otherwise known to devour all things edible, rejected the cheesecake. That is when I knew something was going seriously wrong. Seriously. This is the point when in a tiny flat, filled with the energy and honesty of six young children and four well behaved, but slightly nervous adults things begin to get mixed up and the hostess senses the adrenaline rush that comes with losing control. “Flapping”, a good friend of mine used to call this. But flapping I wasn’t…yet. I still had the guts to cut a piece and offer it to my friend. She asked whether I had used any sugar. I think I slowly began to realise I really couldn’t sell this particular cheesecake to anyone. Focusing back on the little people I tried to make them happy with the ice lollies I had prepared especially the day before, so they would be kosher by being frozen before Shabbat. Water melon with strawberry yoghurt. That’s ok, right? They came flocking, only to put my labour of love down after literally the first lick. My children, I’ll say it again, otherwise known to…EAT WHATEVER THEY CAN GET, dutifully followed suit. At this point I’ve got six massive ice lollies melting away and being ever the proud domestic queen, I try it all, just to make sure I’m not having my leg pulled. While also thinking frantically about what else I might be able to offer. After all, these were my best guns. That I had spent a substantial amount of time preparing. And it wasn’t going down well. The nightmare of any host.

The great thing is, it really wasn’t a nightmare. We all laughed it off, and some of the replacement food, the watermelon and nuts, got eaten. Our friends genuinely enjoyed themselves on my account. And isn’t that all that matters when you have people over?

What we figured out had happened was that I had bought “the wrong cream cheese”; quite a sour sort, which here they call Labaneh. Labneh, if you ever go and eat Lebanese. It doesn’t work for those of us with a sweet tooth. And it’s one of the bi-prodcuts of not being able to read when you go shopping.

I managed to eat a whole piece of the cake, perhaps just so I could prove to myself that all my efforts hadn’t been in vain. I would have continued to eat it the following week, but, perhaps thankfully, norovirus struck in the middle of the night. And for the first time ever, almost a whole cake I had made went into the bin.

But love was still felt between us on that Shabbat afternoon, as we went on to wander to the park together and do what friends do on a lazy afternoon. It continued to be felt the next Friday, when our friend knocked on the door, with a quarter of a cake. Mmmhmmm, more cheesecake. It went down very well and I’m learning to accept my role as guest in this country.

A bit better.

Its gone a bit quiet on the table front, as we’ve hit a few weeks of challenge. The post below I didn’t intend to publish at the time of writing, because it rang a little on the negative side, but now that I feel I can update positively on some of the issues I’m giving it to you anyway.


Challenge came in many forms. Culture stress was the underlying buzz. For someone who loves to be in charge it just was a bit too debilitating not to know how to win over official people on the phone, communicate your point when looking for lost property or deal with holiday opening (and closing!) times that nobody grasps the rationale for. There are a lot of public holidays in Israel in the spring term. Who thought they’d even stop the country running on Election Day! Add on to that a few unexpected personal situations that cause you to wonder how the next few months will pan out, and you just feel a little over the edge as opposed to riding on it bravely.


I’m not sure that we’ve come out the other end of all of that; culturally, we’re only just starting (at least though we now know that when they keep asking you for ID and perform their security checks on you, it’s better not to argue about it, but make small talk; I really enjoyed my little informative chat with an officer the other day and felt like I’d been let in on the hot talk with the cool guys wearing guns). Our language skills are dire. We literally learn about a word per week. Our own fault, I know.


But the sun is shining a lot now, we have finally got a car and are mobile to explore places that take our breath away and meet with stunning people we could not otherwise have done. We’ve floated on the dead sea, celebrated Passover, which coincided with Easter this year, at Lake Galilee and even did a little archaeology (well, we listened to a wonderful, spirit filled archaeologist) at Qumran and Masada. In short, we managed to enjoy the good life a little and as a result, I can now smile back at the lifeguard who still graciously pulls out my private pool owned swimming cap each time his duty coincides with my swims. I’ve not seen the aqua-joggers again, though, so I need to check the pool timetable for a good fix of water swag. And only to mention the best things last, my Korean friend from upstairs has been teaching me to make Kimchi. More about that next time.

A bit annoyed

This week I’m feeling what I’ve been waiting for since day 3, really. The adverse effects of being somewhere entirely different. Culture shock. D2. Whatever you might call it it’s good to recognise it and try to take it in good humour.
Like today, when at the pool, I am being made to wear a cap because of my “long hair”. It is so frustrating that I have no way of explaining to the male life guard the injustice that all those men in the pool who have chest hair like grizzlies which they pull along with them don’t have to wear a full body wet suit. I exhaust myself and give him the full lecture anyway, but of course he doesn’t understand me in my heightened state of angst and anger and only replies “toda” – thank you.

At least I try to make myself laugh at the fact that “the office” for our dorms make every effort to keep us aware of the (completely irrelevant) fact that should we wish to reserve housing for next academic year, we will need to come on the list now. They e-mail, they call, they even send someone round with a print out of the e-mail, all on one and the same day. They still haven’t told us how much the rent is for staying here, but they do want us to know that it’s time to reserve housing now. But then, when I call the number they say to call for further information, the man on the phone just shouts at me, as what I should have done is send an e-mail?! I am so angry, it transpires into how I view every other Israeli man I come across. I get annoyed at their kippas, even, they seem to symbolise a different thing for anyone who wears them, but I would never know what, and I feel that urge to say “what are you trying to tell me with that kippa, that you can’t say to my face!” But of course I could never say that.

I rage at the silly fact that I can’t distinguish a price tag that tells you the price of strawberries in pounds from that of kilos and so I have to pay twice what I think I should pay (and what they cost last week).

In short, my aversion levels feel acute. And I just want to hear someone say something like “tea?” and then not need to explain that I’d quite like some milk in it. At least my husband is a proper Brit (and can make that sort of cuppa). I miss the rest of you lot.

Just a simple market town

Since I first wrote the below post I went back to the market several times each time unable to take a picture that captures what I mean…But markets are something to behold, which is why I share now, from a couple of weeks ago…

As we begin to normalise life in our flat – having cooked three week’s of evening meals ourselves and enjoyed most of them, and realising that with only four months until we leave left, who needs a bin or a dustpan – we also started venturing out into the city.
We’ve got to know our local bus route, the 68, and how much quicker it is to walk the extra five minutes to the light rail station, headed to Mount Herzl and past Avner’s quickly established favourite spot, “the ‘Mascus Gate”.

The experience of Mahane Yehuda (The Jewish market of mainly fresh produce and some meat, bread and fish, as opposed to the Arabic Souk with its textiles, gold, ceramics and leather wear) stays nothing short of the cliche of any oriental market.
Smells, colours, shoves and sounds to make you feel you’re a jungle animal rather than a tourist. But a tourist you still are and all the wishing that you’d been here hundreds of times previously like the mummies, seniors and even hipsters who know where to get the best price for nuts and the nicest flat breads won’t help. You’ve got to experience it yourself. So I vow to come at least once a week, just so I can savour each individual wonder: Apple sized radishes, dried watermelons, cheesecake like New York City’s never seen, beetroot as big as a head, mountains of plump strawberries, flatbreads, rolls, bagels, giant bagels, oval bagels, pittas plain, dark, with onion and cheese or the evergreen za’atar. Why do I even bother doing price comparisons, I asked myself? To see and then take home treasures like these is a privilege and not a cost.

But price comparison is my second name and so I indulge the compulsion to wander the stalls. As exhaustion hits i give in to one of the luxury flatbreads with cheesy onion and paprika chilly. But my soft white onions, one for each evening meal, I’ve bought at good price and take them home as a token of a Jerusalem love at first sight that might never be rivalled regardless of what else we’ll do and see. I might sneak back tomorrow. It’s only 20 minutes on the tram.

A splash of older age

Today I accidentally ended up in an aqua fit class of about 12 ladies in their 60s and 70s, a gentleman of that same generation and, well, me. The instructor was welcoming enough of me as a punter and of course, from swimming in the pool nobody can tell that I speak no Hebrew. So she kept throwing encouraging comments my way and I just kind of felt too awkward to leave. It was great exercise and I hope to be that active when I’m 65.

It cheered me up because I realised once again that body language really is universal and anyone can follow the moves of a half decent fitness instructor. Its especially unembarassing when nobody can really see what you’re doing under the water. And if I hadn’t been able to count till four in Hebrew yet, I’d have easily learnt it in that class.

I also loved the experience of watching those Israeli ladies moan about the shower queues and eye each other up in the changing facilities, taking whole trays of toiletries with them everywhere they went – from changing cubicle to shower to mirror. Whatever their body shape, they took pride in their appearance. It was liberating to tag along. And by the end of it I’m not sure what made me happier, that one of them scolded me in Hebrew for putting my towel in the wrong place or that another one took the time to comment on how my attendance caused a considerable drop in the group’s average age. That this is still possible at my age…

Shabbat, totally normal

From last Saturday, a half a lifetime ago.

As the saga of hospitality continues here on the “French Hill” we also reflect on a day that was so windy it promptly smashed two windows in our flat, and so cold that the brief view of Jerusalem’s golden hall mark three kilometres away felt enough of a promise of what’s to come. Instead of venturing in we remained roaming around our own pad. Laughing at endless arrays of dodgy cats and comparing types of palm leaves.
Avner led me into a devotion on the beginnings of Christ’s passion:
“And when he had arrived on his donkey Jesus went into a house, broke the bread (hat es kaputtgemacht) with his friends and drank some wine as the blood he gave for them. He then went into the garden to pray for God and then he was all alone.”

If you have kids I’m sure you’ve experienced he wonder and joy that comes upon you when you suddenly see that they have realised something astonishing about God. It was all I needed today but there were more treats from heaven.

We knocked on our muffin baking neighbours’ door to see what the three boys and their toys were like. 8, 6, and 4 years old, with their kippa and prayer beads immediately recognisable as observing Jews, they opened the door and we had to wait for their Ima to get her head covered before she could welcome us in.
And a welcome it was. Hot chocolates, biscuits, games and conversations between children and adults in snippets of Hebrew, German and English. The boys worked tirelessly to get our kids involved and the adult conversation felt so free and relaxed, chatting German Jewish history, Israeli politics, religion even…

It ended in an invitation to participate in the traditional formal blessing that marks the end of Shabbat. Candles, bitter herbs, wine, song and prayer to comfort the soul as „she“ separates from the Sabbath day.

We went home packed with toys and the promise of borrowing Purim costumes for the children.

We are so amazed and hope that the delightful boys we met today won’t bang the doors again at 6 am tomorrow morning.

Should I mention that more new friends called in later to bring more food and goodies and to help with fixing the broken window?

Shabbat is over. What is next?


They say Hospitality in the Middle East is legendary…


And we’ve been overwhelmed by its extravagance in such an unlikely place.

The building and our flat are old, there are two bomb shelters and bulgy rubbish skips outside, which dodgy cats have made into their home.

Our flat is morbidly filthy and yet I’ve never felt so blessed, because into this ugly place some friends who we’ve never met before have lavished on us generosity, beauty, and the sheer will to turn the tables on this first impression. And so we’ve had our table prepared with heaps of chicken, rice and greens, with kebabs and bread and cake and fruit and wine and the same on repeat for the next three days at least…

And doesn’t the knock on the door by a new neighbour with a plateful of muffins and the offer of play dates with his three sons just make your heart leap too?

We had already been drenched in love by those who’d sent us off with cards, visits, prayers, airport lifts, childcare and cleaning services…and arrived in a place of such grace.

The chidren have moaned, yawned, giggled and gasped their way trough this day, have gobbled down gifts of strawberries and juice, indulged in palm tree sightings and views of the beach and musings of a David in the bible “who called his soldiers brothers” (Avner), “why are all the ElAl machines so big” (Eliyah) and “Keren cuddled the cat” (Orli).

What them and we don’t yet understand about the depth of spirit in this place, we’re determined to mine out…

Extravagant hospitality where it’s most needed and least deserved, that’s certainly our starting point. Hallelujah


We’ve temporarily relocated our table to a small flat in some University dormitories on French Hill/Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. It’s Tabula Rasa, you might say. But if you’d like to share the adventure, I’d love you to. My heart is overflowing with wonder, perhaps it can spread across a few national boundaries.

Make your Mondays count.

So, here’s an observation I’ve made this week when someone served me a beautiful burger with all the extras – as much salad, tomatoes and fried mushrooms as I could care to pile on to my plate, nice quality ketchup and even home made steak cut fries. It was delicious. And it was only Monday. Usually, burgers with extra treats, such as the above abundance in greens and healthy add ons, are more known as a weekend treat. But because I ate this on a Monday lunch time it seemed as though the joy of an unexpected luxury unlocked a whole treasure chest of hope for the rest of the week. So, it got me thinking about the purpose of Monday. And its role within the make up of the week. And more and more I convince myself that Monday is there to set us up strong. To remind us that the glory of Sunday still shines on despite the next weekend feeling far away. Because Mondays can trigger a lot of mixed emotions. Excitement for the new possibilities ahead, relief that the mess of an unstructured weekend is over or dread, as I just have no clue how to make it through the week.

My burger experience brought home to the simple self help truth that a nice meal on a Monday night helps to get me into the groove. Something that’s cost a tiny bit more effort or includes a special or rare ingredient, like a nice cheese with some fresh bread, a lasagna or even a glass of wine left over from the weekend somehow help to absorb the shock of the new working week, which just slapped itself into my face.

With grey and rainy days approaching fast, why not make your Monday nights an oasis of hope for the week. I, for one, am going to make my Mondays count.

Ignore what I’ve said so far

-because I now admit it. I’m one of those people who obsess about the content of children’s foodstuffs consumption. We are having the healthy stuff, please. Enough greens, enough lean protein, enough whole foods, limited amounts of sugar.
If you know what I was like a couple of years ago (poor eldest child!), you know that I’ve come a long way already, they now are allowed some sweet snacks, some days. And sometimes I might even say yes to the request for “nother one hokelade”. That’s a lot of progress for me.

I still care a lot that they also eat the really good stuff alongside the things that all children love. Hence why I came up with that weird beetroot porridge recipe I devised and nobody told me that it was ridiculous and completely over the top! Except they did. In their own polite ways. Middling (the greediest one) would still finish his bowl, nevertheless hasn’t held back the professions of his dislike for beetroot at other meal time scenarios. Cooked, raw, roasted, he rejects the earthen carrot. So no more pretty – and pinctified porridge on a Saturday. After all, I do care about my reputation with them. Eldest (most diplomatic) child sometimes expresses polite concern when it’s my turn to make the Saturday “treat” breakfast…”Is it the healthy banana pancakes, mummy?” And so I sigh and give in. And let them have what really does feel like a treat.

I even went and bought some fries from Macdonalds, from a drive through the other day. It was just one bag full and we had it with our vegetable dinner, but it still did feel very wild. I let oldest child have a sip of my coke and he now knows it’s not “a type of coffee” and of course, loves it. Next, he’ll be allowed chewing gum, another one of those things I was able to keep within the adult only realm, that I’m willing to surrender. And while I realise that the tight reign of food consumption may be my own particular challenge on the road to a lifestyle that’s free from mummy’s urges and controlities, I also think that perhaps the learning curve isn’t just my own? Letting go or giving in might just take us all to the next level, right?

Hopefully, there’ll be a nice icecold and sugary coffee shake waiting there.