Rockets Hit Tel Aviv

November 16, 2012 3 comments

I keep up with Israeli news mainly via the BBC. Wednesday afternoon I’d heard about escalating rocket fire coming from Gaza. I didn’t think much about it until I saw a Facebook post from a friend indicating the air raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv. That was completely unheard of while I was living in Israel. Ashkelon yes, but not Tel Aviv.

I literally have chills as I write this. The BBC reported sirens in neighborhoods where my friends live. Sirens that had only been used for test drills or on national Memorial days for the last 20 years. I hope they can find a way to end this soon. I won’t address the politics of it because I just don’t feel qualified to do that. There’s just nothing like knowing people you care about are in real danger.

When I think of Tel Aviv I want to think of paddling with my dragon boat team on the Yarkon, going out to dinner with friends, being invited for Shabbot, my kite nearly missing a paraglider… Right now I cringe at the images that are coming from my one-time temporary home. These are the images (and the people) I keep in my heart:

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Comfort Food: Sweet Potato Turkey Pot Pie

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

US Thanksgiving is only a week away. Do you know what you are doing with your leftover turkey? Fall is my favorite time of year and Thanksgiving Dinner is the ultimate comfort food, but it does get old after a few days.

My favorite way to use leftover turkey is in a pot pie. I’d made a couple of turkey breasts for bunco a few weeks ago and froze the leftovers for future pot pie yumminess. Today’s last minute discovery was that I’d used all of the potatoes on Roasted Veggie Night, so sweet potatoes saved the dish.

I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. While living in Israel last year we had sweet potatoes all the time in restaurants and at home. One of our favorite restaurants added them to Massaman Curry. It was wonderful.

So here is my recipe for Sweet Potato Turkey Pot Pie. If you aren’t crazy about sweet potatoes, just sub white ones. Disclaimer: I rarely measure things when I cook unless I’m baking. I’m guessing at amounts here, mostly, I just add until it looks right. I encourage you to do the same if it doesn’t look right.

Sweet Potato Turkey Pot Pie
(Feeds 3-4)

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced sweet potatoes
1/2 cup sliced baby carrots
1/4 to 1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 package Trader Joe’s Condensed Cream of Portabella soup (or sub any Condensed Cream of Mushroom soup)
1.5 cups cooked, cubed turkey
Garlic sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
Cooking spray
1 tube crescent rolls

Process:
Heat oil to med high. Add sweet potatoes and carrots. Saute, stirring occasionally until tender. Add white wine, peas, corn, soup and turkey. Add garlic sea salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then lower to a simmer for five minutes.

Set oven to 350F (177C) and spray a baking dish with cooking spray. Transfer yummy, bubbly mixture to the baking dish, arrange crescent roll dough flat over the surface. Bake for ~15-20 minutes, until crust is cooked through and golden brown on top. When I use my toaster oven I cover the dish with foil for about five minutes to prevent over-browning.

Comfort Food: Roasted Vegetables

November 11, 2012 1 comment

I love roasted vegetables any time of year. Somehow, colder temperatures really beg for roasting and I’ve answered the call. I made an entire meal of roasted veggies tonight. Years ago my husband and I giggled at the concept of “slow food” but now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This is prime season for Brussels sprouts. I’m seeing them everywhere on-the-stalk and have been toying with the idea of trying this Trader Joes recipe. The stalk continues to feed them and keeps them fresh. It looks a bit weird  but totally worth it. They break off easily then you can trim them. I always cut them in half before roasting. I use a bit of olive oil or canola spray, fresh ground garlic sea salt, and fresh ground pepper and roast at 350 for about 20 minutes.

I first tried Brussels sprouts about four years ago in a restaurant. The menu described them as “sauteed in butter with bacon”. I figured butter and bacon could make even cardboard taste great so I’d give it a try. I was in love. I tried to replicate the dish at home and nearly succeeded. I’ve found over time that roasting is just as good, and frankly, easier.

I usually give potatoes the same oil/garlic sea salt/pepper treatment at 350 for about an hour, depending on how small I cut them. I also like to add fresh rosemary to them.

Some other favorite roasting combos:

  • Brocolini, red peppers, and mushrooms
  • Asparagus in butter, sea salt, and pepper with mushrooms
  • Mixed red- and sweet potatoes
  • Green beans and mushrooms and/or sliced almonds
  • Sausage, onions, peppers, and potatoes

What are your favorites?

The Most Horrible Thing Ever

July 26, 2012 3 comments

I dropped my smart phone in the toilet. I feel physically ill. I’m terrified. And I want to eat an entire chocolate cake all by myself.

If this has never happened to you it feels something like this:

My phone is submerged in dry rice right now. I’ll tell you more about that later. I’m embarrassed to admit I know exactly what to do if you drop a smart phone in water. I once dropped my iPhone in the bathtub while my geeky-smart husband was out of town so I had to figure out what to do on my own. I know what you are thinking. “She shouldn’t even be allowed to have a smart phone.” You are probably right. My husband knows exactly how whiny and despondent I’d be without my apps, so it’s clearly worth it to him.

Yes, I realize what a first-world problem this is, but can you imagine what would happen if all the smart phones in the US stopped working? We’d be a whiny mess.

So, this is What to Do If You Drop Your Smart Phone in Water.

  1. Open it up, remove the battery and SIM card, dry everything with a towel.
  2. Submerge the phone and battery in a bowl of dry, uncooked rice.
  3. Walk away for 48 hours*
  4. Try turning it on again 48 hours later. If you are lucky and it didn’t get too wet, it just may work again.

*This is the hardest part. Seriously, step away. Don’t peek. Don’t turn it on to see how it’s doing. If you experience heart palpitations call 911. I suggest watching movies continuously for 48 hours to distract you from the situation. I know, it feels like a loved one is in the ICU. Just let the rice do it’s job and stay out of the way.

Hydrangea Inspiration

July 23, 2012 4 comments

Hydrangeas are my favorite flower. They are always in bloom on my birthday, they make great easy bouquets, and they are pretty low maintenance. They also remind me of special times and places. Below are the hydrangeas that make my summer.

Blue hydrangeas in my lightship-style basket always remind me of Nantucket.

The blue ones come from my neighbor Alison’s yard. She has this incredible “Endless Summer” blue that just blooms and blooms.

These start out white and mature to pink. I love them in this hand-thrown vase.

 

This bush grew from one of those gift pots you can buy at the grocery store. It didn’t bloom the year after I planted it, but now it’s four feet tall and just as wide.

This is my “Lady in Red”. She blooms late, but has these fantastic dark red stems. The leaves also turn red before they fall off in autumn. The red stems look great bare in the winter too.

Alcan Dragon Boat Festival

June 22, 2012 2 comments

photo by Ildikó Tóth

My first ever dragon boat race was Alcan in 2011. It was an amazing introduction and I couldn’t wait to return this year. Hosted at False Creek in Vancouver, BC Canada, Alcan is a very immersive dragon boat experience.

There were 96 Mixed Division (coed) teams. We were pleased to be ranked in Competitive B again this year.

photo by Ildikó Tóth

The Racer’s Village is an amazing site. There are hundreds of teams in the village, camped out for the weekend. It is the ultimate tailgate party. I love walking through the isles of tents to see the great set-ups teams have. The women’s teams always seem to have the best catering! The blind teams have a great sense of humor. They have names like Vision: Impossible, Out of Sight Dragons, and Blind Ambition. They are a great inspiration to all paddlers.

photo by Tracy Ross

Every team has their warm up ritual. Some are very elaborate or intimidating. Others look like Jazzercise. The DJ keeps the beats going to make it fun.

photo by Tracy Ross

This year we were hosted by Dragon Hearts Ultimate. The Anniemaniacs hosted them last year at the Portland Dragon Boat Festival and plan to do so again this year. We’ve developed a nice relationship with them and they took fantastic care of us. They fed and watered us. They even invited us to dinner at a wonderful Asian grill.

photo by Annie Duong

2012 is the year 4709 by the Chinese calendar and the year of the Water Dragon. That was evident on Saturday. It rained All. Day. Long. We were freezing and miserable. We managed to keep our sense of humor and hunger to win even if we couldn’t keep dry.

photo by Tracy Ross

In our first heat we took first at 2:12.5 (500 m). Our second heat was against the other 1st place teams in earlier heats. We came in 5th at 2:17.46. I have no idea where we picked up that extra 5 seconds. The cold must have seeped into our bones. It was really disappointing.

photo by Ildikó Tóth

Sunday lived up to it’s name. there was a light drizzle in the morning followed by a beautiful day. We finished our first heat of the day in 4th place at 2:13.19. Our tiller actually had to slow us down at the finish to keep from tipping in the wake. 4th wasn’t great, but the time showed that we were getting back on track. We enjoyed lunch together in the festival food court and fueled up for the final battle: Comp B finals.

Sticky rice with ground pork + Jamaican Island Mix smoothie = YUM!

Annie gave us a fantastic pep talk. “This is why we come to Alcan,” she said. We had fresh memories of what it felt like to stop at border control on the way home and reply, “Yes, we do have something to declare–VICTORY!” as we held up our Comp B 3rd place medals in 2011. We felt like we had something to prove and were eager to race.

photo by Ildikó Tóth

As we approached the start line there was a strong tail wind and all of the teams had difficulty holding the boats. We struggled to gain alignment, then Madam Racecaller asked us to reset the start to keep things fair. It was very frustrating to circle all of the boats back around again. It’s like loading horses into the starting gate, then saying, “Oh, they aren’t straight, let’s take them all out and reload.” You can imagine what that does to your adrenaline. We finally achieved alignment and we were off.

The Portland Fire Dragons blew away the rest of the field with a time of 2:00.00. The rest of the finishers were in tight competition and it was impossible to know our place. We finished seven of eight in Comp B at 2:05.48, making us the 15th best team of 96. Not too shabby, though it was a drop from 11th last year. To demonstrate how tight the field was:

Making Comp B also qualified us for Guts & Glory, a 2000 m race with 3 turns. There are no medals for Guts-n-Glory, only bragging rights. It is a staggered-start race with the last place team in Comp B starting first, and the first place team in Comp A starting last. Each boat is timed individually. “Like Nascar, only with boats.” one of my teammates said. We got to start second, won the right of way on the first turn, blew past the first boat after the second turn, and took a definitive lead to cross the finish line first. We finished 3rd of the Comp B teams, 10th over all, and we were faster than one of the Comp A teams! Not too shabby indeed.

A Expat Adventure in Israel

May 27, 2012 1 comment

This post is reblogged from my company blog site.

I recently returned from an eight month expat assignment in Israel. Technically, it was my husband’s assignment, but since my organization also has a presence in Israel I had the opportunity to work there as well. It was a wonderful opportunity to immerse ourselves in another culture, expose our five-year-old son to some amazing experiences, and expand our professional skills. We lived in Netanya, 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv. My husband worked in Yakum and I split my time between Haifa and Petah Tikva.

People often ask about the experience, wondering about what distinguishes Israeli culture from American culture. My best answer is that it is a culture of juxtaposition. It is a very young country in a very ancient land. A landscape of lavish beaches and harsh desert. A society steeped in technology and old world mysteries. It is also a country that treasures and loves children. Real family values are supported here: high quality early childhood education for all, flexible work schedules so parents can care for children. I even heard a rumor that nannies are better paid than doctors!

The Israel that most Westerners see on the television is one of rockets fired from Gaza and protests in Jerusalem. While that is certainly a reality, what isn’t shown is the day-to-day lives of Israelis. Name any major high-tech, sports apparel, or pharmaceutical company. They have a presence in Israel. There are creative minds everywhere solving the problem of coaxing the most out of the “Land of Milk and Honey.” Huge strides in agriculture and water management are being made all of the time. When the rockets do fall, they pick them selves up and carry on. The way they celebrate their Memorial and Independence Days is very symbolic of this. A day of mourning is followed by a day of celebration.

I should add here that I felt very safe living in Central Israel. We were far from Gaza and knew what to do in an emergency. Our family policy for safety included:

  • No traveling to or through the West Bank
  • No traveling within missile range of Gaza
  • No border crossings into neighboring Arab countries
  • Avoiding large crowds
  • Avoiding public transportaion

Shopping in Israel is a real challenge for an American. They don’t have what we consider to be a full size department store like a Macy’s or even a Target. You have to shop in much smaller stores with limited and specialized inventory. I had to go to three different stores to get everything on my son’s school supplies list. That doesn’t sound too bad until I tell you that there were only six  items on the list. Add to that the parking nightmare that is Israel and it all becomes very overwhelming. You learn very quickly when the best times to shop are and where to get what. Israel certainly made me a better cook. You can’t find canned soup there. If you need broth for a recipe, you have to make it. Making a traditional American Thanksgiving meal was a challenge. There was wonderful amount of fresh produce available. In the absence of my usual brands, we ate significantly less processed food. Most everything was fresh or frozen. I’ve continued those shopping and cooking habits at home in the US.

Israel is a land of good eating. There is always an abundance of fresh produce in the supermarkets and shuks. There are spices in a rainbow of colors, thick fluffy pita, fresh falafel, flavorful shawarma…  I guarantee the best pita and breads in the world come from a vendor who sets up a table in Canyon Poleg on Fridays only. The braided challah is to-die-for-melt-in-your-mouth delicious. There is, however, a striking shortage of Mexican restaurants.

The (very) direct communication style of Israelis can be misinterpreted as pushy or rude. The Hebrew language is very concise with one word often having up to 3 meanings. Israelis don’t mince words. They don’t beat around the bush. There aren’t enough words in the Hebrew language to do that. They get to the point quickly. They are also some of the friendliest and most helpful people you will ever meet. If they realize you need help they will stop what they are doing and stay with you until they feel you have what you need. Then they will “cut” in front of you in a line. Lines don’t work quite the same there as they do in the US. 🙂 They take care of each other too, in an everyday no-big-deal way that you only see in small towns in the US. They are also bound by the experience of the Holocaust. Israel is the only country that pauses for 2 minutes of silence for Holocaust Memorial Day. It was the most profound emotional experience I have had since 9/11.

Israelis all seem to know each other. There are 7.8 million people living in a space the size of New Jersey (not nearly as much of it is as inhabitable as New Jersey), but two Israelis who meet for the first time will ask each other questions until they figure out how they are connected. Where did you grow up? What school did you go to? Where do you work? This will go on until they can come up with a mutual acquaintance. This actually happened to me the first week we were there. I participated in the first annual Israeli Dragon Boat Championship with a local team. We won first place in the women’s division. I proudly wore my medal to lunch after with some friends and a stranger congratulated me, mentioning that he had friends on the Haifa Lions team (not racing that day). I said, “Oh yeah, I know a couple of them through facebook.” and instantly we identified a mutual friend.

As I alluded above, were able to chase some personal passions during our time there. My husband found a roller hockey team in Netanya to play with. I found a dragon boat team in Tel Aviv. Both teams welcomed us with open arms and weekly tried to convince us to make aliyah and move to Israel for good. Israelis are proud of their country and encourage others to make a life there. Being a young nation, they are constantly trying to “recruit” talented people to make Israel a stronger country.

The biggest adjustment, really was the Sunday through Thursday work week. It takes a while to adapt to the flow of weekly life and the fact that (depending where you are) most things shut down between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. Liberal cities like Tel Aviv never shut down, while very Religious cities like Tiberias completely shut down. It was always a thrill to remember I had Fridays off, but such a bummer to realize on Saturday night that I had to go to work in the morning. When my colleagues in the US would come into the office on Monday, I had already put in two full days of work. Then there was the concept of Tuesday as “hump day”. That was weird. The worst part was when people in the US would forget the differences and schedule a 6:00 PM meeting on my Thursday night… which would be the equivalent of scheduling a Friday night meeting for US attendees. Friday night (beginning of Shabbot) is a night  for staying in with your family, eating a big meal, and playing games. For all but the orthodox, Saturday (Shabbot) is a day for road trips with your family, visiting parks and zoos, and going to the beach. At sundown on Saturday, Shabbot ends and an hour later, shops, restaurants, and places of entertainment reopen. Everyone emerges to go out again.

My five year old son returned to the US nearly fluent in Hebrew… and in love with his teacher’s daughter, Rikiya. He will tell you that his favorite place in Israel is Masada. He loves riding the cable car to the top of the fortress and climbing the ruins. My favorite place is Caesaera.  I love spending an afternoon there or just going for lunch. It was only a 20 minute drive from my house so I was able to visit very often. I found myself wishing I could go there just this week. 😦

This assignment was an incredible opportunity for my family. It certainly wasn’t without its challenges, but I would absolutely do it again. Each of us brought back a little bit of Israel in our hearts, and left a little of ourselves behind as well.