Showing posts with label Sukkot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sukkot. Show all posts

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mahane Yehuda Market - Cooking Tour (Sukkot Activities)

Over the holiday season in Israel (September/October), there are many things to do all over Israel.  Although many Israelis go on vacations outside the country, many families have visitors during this time period.  In our circle of friends, a few families had parents and siblings visiting this year.  Some of the families were looking for activities that would make a suitable outing for a whole family with a wide range of ages.

Inside Mahane Yehuda
One of our friends suggested a walking/cooking tour of the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.  This sounded like fun to us, so we agreed.  We wound up with four families participating, a total of 19 people on a beautiful October day during Hol Hamoed Sukkot.

There are several different companies that offer these types of tours but our organizer chose Abraham Tours, a group that operates its tours and its kitchen out of a hostel that adjoins the Mahane Yehuda market.  The company website offers a regular cooking tour on Tuesdays for 80 N.I.S. per person.  Since our tour was a private tour, the cost was somewhat higher - 130 N.I.S. (or about $42).

Mahane Yehuda is a bustling market that includes outdoor, partially covered areas as well as parts that are indoors.  Vendors sell fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, fish and many other items.  It can be quite crowded but it is almost always very lively.  Walking through the market anytime is a multi-sensory experience.  There are food aromas of many different types, the sounds of people haggling in different languages (though mostly Hebrew, with an array of different accents) and a wide-ranging mix of Israelis and tourists, religious and non-religious alike from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Our tour was set up as a guided tour through the market with stops to purchase a preset list of ingredients.  We would then take the ingredients back to the hostel kitchen and whip up a fresh, quintessentially Mideastern meal guided by an experienced chef/ tour leader and her colleague.

We had arranged to start at 9:30 a.m.  This meant leaving Ra'anana at about 7:45 a.m.  In heavy traffic, this drive can take longer than 1.5 hours but, for some reason, during Hol Hamoed Sukkot there was less traffic than usual.  We were at the market by 9 a.m. and even had time to grab a morning coffee before starting.

Our tour guide, an outgoing and friendly young woman, had grown up in the U.S. before moving to Israel.  Our group had opted to take the tour in English so there were no language issues.  We were provided with a fairly short introduction to the market and a bit of history about it.  We were then off on our shopping expedition.

For the next hour or so, we made our way through different parts of the market, stopping at various stalls to collect ingredients.  It was fairly early in the morning so it was not too crowded when we first started.  But it is a bit challenging to keep a group of 19 together, particularly when the group includes some younger children.  Mainly, this was a shopping trip rather than a guided tour of the market.  We picked up a few pointers along the way (like how to buy the perfect eggplant - look for one that is very light, we were told) and we stopped at some out of the way vendors who we may not have otherwise found (like the vendor whose booth consists mainly of products made with etrogs).  I confess that I sampled an etrog-qat-triple berry fruit concoction and it was quite good.

Along the way we picked up some really nice produce.  The fruits and vegetables were wonderfully fresh - much more tasty than many of the fruits and veggies that are available in Canada or the U.S. most of the year.  We were preparing an all vegetarian meal.  Along the way, we collected tomatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, kohlrabi,  kale, coriander leaves and many other items.  Our guide purchased all of the items and we all shared the schlepping back to the hostel.

By about 11:00 a.m. we made our way over to the hostel kitchen.  This was not a kitchen that would be confused with the film studio set for the Emeril cooking show.  Rather we were in the midst of an operating hostel, with hostel guests coming in and out of the kitchen.  There was a reasonably well equipped kitchen  and a decent amount of counter space.  There were a range of heavily used, cooking implements, pots and pans from many different backgrounds (much like the market itself).  But the emphasis here was on functionality rather than luxury or even convenience.  I also note that the kitchen is not kosher certified which is one of the main reasons that our group had opted for the vegetarian option.  There are probably a number of different groups that operate tours like this in strictly kosher kitchens but we compromised with this setup.

Putting together a full meal for twenty people in an hour and a half can be reasonably challenging.  Certainly it is something that my wife does regularly (with the assistance of her trusty sous-chef) but here we had lots of helpers.  The key is organization and our tour leader was quite organized.  She delegated tasks in an orderly fashion and in no time the kitchen was filled with the sounds of greens being washed, onions and garlic being chopped and other veggies sizzling on the stove.

Tomato Arugula Bryndza Cheese
The food was absolutely delicious.  All of the ingredients were very fresh.  The emphasis was on the Middle Eastern kitchen so we prepared a fairly healthy selection of aromatic culinary delights.

I'm not going to give away all of the tour secrets (we were provided with a full list of recipes at the end of the tour) but I think a bit of a look the menu should be fine.

This salad was quite tasty.  It featured cherry tomatoes, arugula and bryndza cheese (a feta-type cheese).  Fairly easy to put together.

Roasted Eggplant with Lemon Juice and Tehini
One of my personal favourites was the roasted eggplant dish.  Once again, the preparation was not particularly complicated.  It involved roasting a bunch of whole medium-sized eggplants and then peeling them and adding lemon juice, tahini, spices, feta cheese and olive oil.  The combination of the tastiness of these well chosen eggplants as well as the perfectly matched blend of spices made this a mouth-watering delicacy. 

We also prepared a roasted cauliflower dish, a middle eastern rice mixture, cooked with pre-mixed spices that we had picked up in the market and a fennel-kohlrabi-kale salad with mint leaves.  For dessert we prepared dates with walnuts, which was also a fairly healthy way to end the meal.

Green Shakshuka
One other main dish that we prepared was a green shakshuka featuring a mixture of pan cooked green vegetables that was then baked with strategically placed eggs and feta cheese.  The dish was a success both from an aesthetic point of view and for its taste.  It was also reasonably easy to make and seems like it would be a great dish to serve at a brunch (though brunches seem to be somewhat less common in Israel because of the six day work week).

Overall, I think all of the adults on the tour had more than enough food to eat and enjoyed most of the different dishes.  If some of the people were not thrilled with certain ingredients, for example coriander leaves or fennel (with its distinctive anise taste), there were enough other choices to still provide for a decent meal.

It probably would have been nice to have had an appropriately paired Israeli wine with the meal and maybe a nice fruit salad to go with the dates for dessert.  We could have also enjoyed a sampling of the Iraqi/Yemenite or other distinctive breads to accompany the tehini (instead of plain pita) and maybe we should have put together a big bowl of humus.  A fish dish of some sort might have also been interesting using one of the local fish.  We added in a couple of jars of green and red hot pepper sauce (Zhoug) that were not part of the menu and that we purchased separately to go with the tehini.  I personally enjoyed all of the dishes, other the fennel salad, which is just not my thing.  But some humus or fish would have added in a bit more protein.

Of course, some obscenely decadent chocolate souffle could have interested the kids but that would not have fit the Mideastern motif.  Not that my waistline would have necessarily benefited from that type of dish...

Unfortunately, for many of the kids that were with us, this was not a dream meal.  Some of them had a felafel or a shwarma after the meal in the market area.  Some were wondering when we were going to bring out the burgers and french fries during the meal.  But the kids still had fun on this trip, especially since there was a piano in the room, a billiards table and a few other activities to keep them busy (when they weren't helping with the cooking or cleaning up).  They enjoyed the socializing and sampling some of the items that we tasted as we walked through the market.

Overall, it was a fun activity and a great way to spend a day with some friends and family while the weather was still nice and just before the chaggim came to an end.  It also added some interesting dishes to our cooking repertoire which we hope to try at home soon.







Monday, October 13, 2014

Sukkot 2014 and Tulip Winery

There is little doubt that the holiday of Sukkot is about the best time to be in Israel, whether as a visitor or a resident Israeli.  Known in Hebrew is "z'man simchateinu" - "the time of our happiness," Sukkot is really quite a special holiday.

There are festivals across the country geared to a whole range of different demographic groups, from children's music to wine and beer festivals.  A quick glance at the newspaper shows a Yemenite Culture festival in one city (B'nei Ayish), a wine and beer festival in Ashdod, an Uzi Hittman sing-a-long event in Tel-Aviv and many other events in towns and cities all over Israel.  Many are free, city sponsored events.  For example, Israeli singer Eli Botner performed a free concert at the city centre stage (Yad L'Banim) in Ra'anana last night.  We dropped in to watch some of it.

Students of all ages have lengthy school breaks.  Many go on camping or hiking trips with different youth movements.  Two of our children participate in Noam (the youth movement affiliated with Conservative Judaism - "Masorti" in Israel).  This year, they are on a two day trip to the Negev - camping, hiking along or through rivers and enjoying the outdoors - in terrific weather conditions.

Before the tiyulim began, we managed to squeeze in a five family sukkah hop starting on shabbat afternoon, which was quite fun.  Each family was charged with preparing one course of the meal.  All of the sukkot were located in Ra'anana though in some cases the walk from one sukkah to the next was more than a half hour.  While many families try to put these events together in other countries, the conditions are often less than ideal.  (We once spent the night in our Sukkah in Toronto when it was close to 0 C).  Here in Israel, the weather was perfect for this type of event. The families were close enough to each other to allow for walking from one place to the next and the atmosphere all over Ra'anana was quite conducive to this type of celebration.  As we walked from stop to stop, we passed by hundreds of sukkot all over the city.

During Sukkot, many people also travel to other places around the country for visits to all kinds of different attractions, including national parks, wineries, nature reserves and other tourist spots.  We decided to visit the Tulip Winery yesterday.  Tulip is in Kiryat Tivon, about an hour north of Ra'anana.

Tulip is one of my favourite Israeli wine producers.  It was founded in 2003 by the Yitzhaki family. The winery was built in Kfar Tikvah ( the "village of hope"), a community for special needs adults.  The winery employs many residents of Kfar Tikvah and helps integrate them into the community.  Tulip has an annual production of approximately 220,000 bottles.   The Tulip visitor centre also features a range of products that were made by Kfar Tikvah residents. 

Tulip Winery
The visitor centre staff were knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.  They were also quite generous with tasting samples of a whole range of Tulip wines.  Almost all of the wines we tasted were delicious.  Starting with a white wine, White Franc, we worked our way through a tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Cabernet, Reserve Shiraz, Mostly Cabernet Franc and two of the winery's finest blended wines including a special anniversary edition called "DNA 2011."  All of the wines were quite good.  The visitor centre was featuring a "buy three get one free" promotion, so we picked out four interesting bottles.  The prices ranged from 60 N.I.S.-100 N.I.S. for most of the wines (about $20 to $30) to 210 N.I.S. for the DNA 2011 (about $65).  We were tempted, but decided not to take a bottle of the DNA.

Tulip does not offer a daily tour though arrangements can be made in advance for groups.  But the winery really does offer a unique mix of social responsibility and excellent wine, which makes it a very highly regarded and popular institution and one that seems to me to deserve support.  The wine is certified kosher by the circle K organization as well as several Israeli kashruth authorities.  (The story of the process the winery underwent to receive kosher certification in a fascinating story by itself but one for another time). 

The holiday of Sukkot continues for two more days in Israel before culminating with the joyous festival of Simchat Torah.  That will bring the holiday season to a close as well as the annual cycle of Torah reading.  Sukkot marks the official start of rainy season in Israel (in theory, at least), just after harvest season ends. 

So we have two more days to enjoy eating meals in the Sukkah, waving the lulav and etrog and, of course, sharing the appropriate mid-Sukkot greeting - "mo'adim l'simchah" -  (Times of happiness), to which the little known but proper response is "chaggim u'zmanim l'sasson" (Festivals and times of joy). 

A happy and healthy new year to all and - "moadim l'simcha"...


Monday, April 23, 2012

Mezuzah in Connecticut Causes a Stir: Condo Board Backs Down


There is a you tube video making the rounds about an incident in Stratford, Connecticut. A condo resident, Barbara Cadranel, was ordered by her condo association to remove her Mezuzah from her door or face a fine of $50 per day. Other condo residents had crosses and Easter decorations on their doors, but they claimed that the Mezuzah had to be removed because it was actually on the door post rather than the door. Isn't it incredible how petty and nasty some people can be? Is there really any reason for insisting that someone remove a religious object from their door other than anti-Semitic or some other Xenophobic prejudice? At least in this case, the matter was resolved without litigation about one week letter. Various sites, including CTpost.com have reported that Ms Cadranel was able to keep her Mezuzah on her door without any further issues.



In Canada, a more complicated issue went all the way to the Supreme Court a few years ago. Can condominium residents put up Sukkahs on their balconies during the festival of Sukkoth, despite a condominium rule that prohibits balconies from having any kind of structure? Incredibly, there was so much hostility in the condominium complex that the parties fought this issue out at three different court levels. Perhaps even more incredibly, the Sukkah dwellers lost in the Quebec Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal. It took a narrow 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada to find that people have the right to carry out a week long religious practice provided that it does not cause any interference or problems for the other condominium dwellers.

The majority of Canadian Supreme Court judges provided a practical and reasonable explanation of their decision. If the minority religious practice causes minimal disruption and does not create any harmful effect, then the rights of the members of the religious minority should trump any other right such as "private property rights." This will permit them to practice their religion and feel welcome in the country, even as a minority. Of course if the condo members wanted to erect a permanent structure or carry out a disruptive, noisy or unruly practice, the Court might have seen things differently. There are limitations as to what one can do on the basis of minority religious practice.

In a bitter dissent, the minority of the Supreme Court judges argued that a person who moves into a condo unit should be bound by whatever rules that condo happens to have in place. This logic raises more than a few questions. If they have a rule that says "no vehicles or moving objects of any kind in the condo" does that mean that residents confined to wheelchairs must move out? Can the condo board have a "no hat" policy? Or can the condo simply say no Jews, no blacks, no gays or whatever else it wishes to put into its condo rules? Not in Canada. In Canada, unlike most U.S. jurisdictions, human rights legislation is intended to govern some places that might be considered "private." So a golf club, condo board or other quasi public institution must not operate with discriminatory rules or even rules that have a discriminatory effect.

The real issue that both of these types of cases raise is the juxtaposition between minority religious practices and the rights (or prejudices) of the majority. Every liberal democracy that has a significant minority population is wrestling with and will continue to struggle with this issue. In France, one example has been the rule against the wearing of religious symbols in schools. In Israel, Jerusalem has seen a great deal of public debate over the use of gender-segregated buses, operated by ultra-religious groups or that run through ultra-religious communities. Other countries have enacted or tried to enact bans of Kosher slaughter of animals or of ritual circumcision.

There may well be some disputes that are not easily resolved. Some religious practices may well have a significant effect on others. These issues are the difficult ones that will make their way through various court systems. But prohibiting someone from putting up a Mezuzah on their doorpost? That should certainly not be seen as an issue that requires any serious reflection. Fortunately, the condo board in Connecticut agreed without having the matter percolate through the court system.