November 25, 2012

Baking bits

I want to bake. I am at this very moment looking for an excuse to bake: it's Sunday - lets bake, we have guests this afternoon - lets bake, it's eleven in the morning - lets bake, and my favorite - we have carrot juice - lets bake. It's my favorite because it works with everything - we have yeast that need using, we have 3 egg whites etc. You get my point. Also it usually works because Hidai hates throwing food or portions of food or things that could be turned into food. So he usually joins me in the "yes of course we have to bake" mantra and then I feel all justified.
But today the Hidai is strong. He does not give in to anything. There are 14 more days to Hannuka. 14 more days to get skinny and then get eating.
So I am going to write about baking instead of actually doing any (I am going to sneak in a carrot cake with chocolate chips because it's called a ginger cake with freckles. And who can say no to that?!).
In the last month or so I discovered the apparently very big differences between Israeli baking and British one. It is the first time I have British baking books. I bought the British Bake Off books and read them cover to cover, and wes frankly amazed how different is everything. I guess it's a taste thing, but it's really weird to me.
First of all, the british books, they don't think it's important to put a photo of every recipe. Why? Looking at the photos is half the fun (and also the ability to see if what you got in the end resembles what you should have baked...). But I think my biggest grievance with this books is - everything needs double (or triple) the amount of sugar they write. Seriously people - it's CAKE. it's supposed to be SWEET. Not semi-sweet, almost sweet or nearly sweet.
If that's not enough, I went for the French recipes. Not sure why. I blame it on the Bake Off. It made me want to try things. Shame on them. I tried three recipes for Brioche breads, 2 for Macaroons, 2 for Croissants, and after that I broke down. I needed some good old-fashioned cake / cookies baking.
So, you know, obviously that's what I did :).
My conclusion from all this French-British-Israeli baking was, naturally, that I need a French baking book, so all I want for Christmas is Eric Lanlard's book Home Bake (hint, hint).
Not perfect Croissants
Other, less significant, conclusions include -
Stop watching baking shows, reading baking blogs and buying baking books. They make you crazy.
There are not enough people in Hidai's work that are willing to eat cakes.
Baking doesn't make you fat. Eating makes you fat.
The temperature outside right now is ideal for slow-proving dough (just like the fridge...)
Sticky buns are to die for.
Macaroons are no fun at all to make (very fun to eat though).
I did not master the Croissants making process yet.
Brioche is yummy (especially if you feel it with cinnamon & sugar, or with creme patisserie & Nutella).
I don't really like vanilla cakes.
Perfect macarrones 
Jokes aside, I find it hard to bake British style. I changed every recipe I tried (except the sticky buns, but I now have a better idea for the sticky part with maple syrup and things. Never mind), to make it more what I'm used to - add more sugar, cream the cake mixture differently so it's more airy, different proving times, etc.
Also, as a not really related side-note, I really find it hard to get used to the whole it's more important how it looks than how it taste sub-culture that's going strong here right now. I get the whole creating something  and the art portion of baking. But in the end it's cake. It's supposed to look good but taste heavenly. And that whole trend is what makes it really hard to get good quality ingredients. Like fresh yeasts. Do you know how hard it is to find yeast?! ridiculous.
Sticky bun (I know my food photography needs improvements. Trust me, it was delicious)
Have to say, this whole writing about baking and trying to remember everything I baked over the last month or two really made me hungry and now I want to bake even then before, so I will leave you all to ponder the difference between British and Israeli baking, and go bake me some cake!

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November 24, 2012

Almost Thanksgiving

Ron doesn't believe in magic anymore. Hidai said it's magic that we got him to believe this far. I just don't get it. How can you not believe in magic? I told him, everyone needs a bit of magic in their lives. But nothing. Fairies aren't real because it's absurd that people can fly,  Harry Potter is just an actor, and he doesn't need money so no teeth fairy anymore. No witches and no wizards also. He said 'oh, fine' to Santa and the Easter Bunny because they bring him things, but it was quite clear he doesn't believe in them too. How is he related to me?
I still have Yon. Maybe he will believe. One more chance to fix this serious error we made in educating the young.
All this discussion came about because we were walking home from the doctor's office (Ron got the last of his vaccinations. That's it for the next 10 years. Thank god), and we saw a house with a Christmas tree full of lights and decorations. So I told them about one of our neighbours who already had her tree up on November 20th, because she said her life is need of some fairy lights. Truth be told, I am totally ready for some fairy lights and a Christmas tree, maybe some Christmas songs, and definitely some Christmas treats. There is just something so... I don't know... Happy, or maybe hopeful in Christmas, Hannuka and all the festive season.
Halloween is officially the beginning of the festive season, and we did try to have a good Halloween this year, so we found ourselves organising a mini Halloween party downstairs in the common area for the kids - we couldn't decide if we want to take the kids treat-or-tricking or not, so we asked if we could do it in the complex, and ended up with organising something for parents and kids who wanted to come. We actually had around 9 parents and their kids (a huge turn-out for this building apparently). The kids had fun and that's what important, but I found myself missing our lovely Treat-orTricking in Gib with Laura & Mick.

Unfortunately there is a very big gap between Halloween and Christmas, and add to that the fact that we are not so festive at the moment. It's mostly the whole keeping a diet thing. Not baking is not festive. We find ourselves walking around the house mumbling "we want doughnuts... We want chocolate... Why is there no cake in THIS HOUSE!!!!"
15 more days to Hannuka, and believe me I am counting each and every hour until it's officially doughnuts, latkes and candles time.

So today in order to introduce some festive feeling we made our vegetables in an "American Thanksgiving" style. I made mashed-potatoes (everyones favourite), maple-glazed sweet potatoes, sweet cooked carrot (not really American but it seemed fitting), mushroom pie (with diet fitting filo pastry but still), steamed vegetables, and of course - pumpkin pie, and some mixed fruits crumble. My aim was to use all the veg and fruits I had in the house. Mission accomplished. It took me around 5 hours to cook and clean-up, and it took them around 15 minutes to eat.
I had my Thanksgiving.

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November 20, 2012

Lemon Tree

A couple of weeks ago I started writing this post about what happened in our lives over the half-term and Halloween and how everything is going kinda fine.
And then something weird happened - in about three days it became really really clear that everything is a lot of things, but fine is definitely NOT one of them.
You know the whole "when life gives you lemons...", "everything's for the best", "what doesn't kill you..." and the classic "you only gets trials you are strong enough to triumph" and all that cr^&%$p? I know them all by heart. They are what I teach the kids, what I tell myself when things are not going as planned and all. I found myself saying them a lot last year. And more than that, I believe in them. But fuck it, sometimes it seems like life are just out to throw more and more crap at you, and every time you feel you conquered the hurdles and are finally moving forward, Bam. You get a fresh batch.
The last year wasn't easy on us. In fact, to tell the truth, it was hard as hell. It left us with so many scars. Licking so many wounds, financial ones and emotional ones. Some years are like that, but London was supposed to be our healing place. It was (and still is) supposed to give us the peace and quite we so need right now, to be a happy place for the kids, a place for growth. But starting over is always so hard, and starting with so much baggage is bound to be even harder. The thing is, knowing it's going to be hard and actually dealing with the hardship are two very different things, and they intensify by the layers of anxieties, uncertainties and fears we managed to accumulate over the last year.
So it seems that that though we knew everything will take time and won't go smoothly, it's harder and more difficult than we thought.

This time it started with a back pain. Which led to me being bed-ridden for almost a week (unprecedented), and to Hidai working from home and being in-charge of kids and all. And then the minute I could finally move again without the horrible pain and the even more horrible side effect of the pain-killers, Yon got the flu. It's such a small thing - flu, and Yon had it lightly and for only about 24 hours, but it started a chain of events, with Ron being the second to be ill. Ron never ever gets sick. He has Hidai's immune system, and he hasn't been really sick for years. He usually miss up to 1 day of school for being sick... He did not take well to being sick and wanted to go to school, so he was miserable at home and tended to not say when he was feeling worse because he was afraid we won't let him go to school, and because he was really sick we had to keep Yon at home also because there was no one to pick him up from school. Ron was on-off from school for a week, until he finally felt better on Sunday (day before yesterday). Kids being sick automatically leads to me being sick, so that happened from around Wednesday, and then unexpectedly (never ever happens) Hidai caught it too (mildly but still) which did not help the mood or the getting back to normal thing.
And then, because he was considered healthy enough, Yon got a vaccination shot (2 actually) to get him up to date on his vaccination. Of course he had a fever that night. We still have to go through the same thing with Ron this week, because he is missing one shot. One of the perks of moving countries - the vaccinations are ALWAYS different.

If that's not enough, because of course it's not, it never is, we gained weight. Somehow in the midst of all the baking craze and sickness, we gained about 2 kg each (4.5 pounds) and more important than that, we got used to eating such crazy amounts of sweets and baked goods that did not bode well with the fact that December (also known as the eating month) is upon us. So Weight Watchers here we come! (well, actually it's just me. Hidai doesn't have to do anything to lose weight. Nobody loves him) We started the new regim a week and 2 days ago (but who's counting?), and it's been, as usual, hell on earth. Don't get me wrong, Weight Watchers works, if you eat according to the points system you lose weight and still enjoy eating moderate (okay small) portions of everything (except veg and fruit. you find yourself eating unmoderated quantities of those). I know, because I've been there, and it did work, and really, it's not the food, or the unimaginable amounts of fruit & veg. I'm fine with all of those. Don't care. I am a vegetarian, and I actually don't really eat a lot anyway. But the sweets. and the Chocolate. And the baking. It's killing me. I am addicted to the chocolate and sugar. Believe me, I'm not using that word lightly. I am addicted. nowadays they are responsible for around 75% of my daily nutrition, and like all junkies, I need increasing amounts of them to get my fix. So I need the diet mostly to get back to being able to eat one cube of chocolate, or 13 M&M's a day, as opposed to the whole damm pack. And that is why the first week is also, for me, the week with nothing sweet and especially chocolate. I actually always try to go for 2 weeks, but never succeed. It is a week of withdrawal, and I actually get the headaches, dizziness, nausea and depression associated with it. This week started better, but I am still not where I want to be in terms of chocolate-craving.

Then the war in Israel started, and sent us in to a constant state of worry. And dragged up some memories we would have preferred to keep buried from our last war and our way of life in Israel. It's crazy what you take with you from a childhood like ours. Things and ways of life that we considered as normal, are in fact not considered normal anywhere else in the world... I have no intention to write my political views or what I think of this latest war. It doesn't really matter and anyway I don't believe I have a right to express any opinion. I don't live in Israel anymore (wars being a big part of the reason why), and as someone who chose not to live there I am not entitled to an opinion that sends other people to die (being that in the war or in the constant firing from Gaza). I don't think I'm entitled to an opinion about anything that goes on in Israel. I find it infuriating when people, from the comfort of their New York home, tell the whole world what they think should be done, and as it usually fight, send other people and other people's kids to die so they could keep on working in the New York Hi-Tech industry. I do think I can have my memories about living in Israel and my personal opinion about life as I remember them there. Nothing new though (and no. We are not going to vote these coming elections. For the same reasons). It's just that damn worry. And the news. It only takes a minute to make you a news junky again, reading, watching, listening to everything you can get your hands on. And then we had to explain it to Ron, about wars, and missiles, and the Arab-Jew situation. He is so removed from it all, he doesn't remember wars, or the sirens, he doesn't have the fear, or the knowledge a boy his age has in Israel about the situation there. I deferred the question to hidai who explained about Israel being a coveted place, Jewish and Palestinians not sharing and the lack of a grown-up to take charge of the situation. And then we had to assure him nobody we know died. And that the muslim kids in his class are not related to any of this. And then we sent him to school hoping we were right... Not our proudest moment as parents.

Then on Friday we ran out of money. I guess it's not as bad as it sounds now, but for around 24 hours from midday Friday it was. We had some unpleasant inconsistency with this month paycheque that we were not expecting and did not catch until it was too late and the guy from Sainsbury called to say that the card is refused. Fun times. It's fine now (how is it fine? I don't know. It's just is), we took the money from the last of our dwindling reserves, and sat down for a serious "this is our budget. let's stick to it" conversation. It did not go well. Budgets sucks. There. I said it. nobody likes to live according to a tight budget. And before Christmas. Sucks.
It's not that we weren't aware of our whole situation. We knew very well we will need time to recover from last year and all it entailed, and the move here (so so so expansive to start anew. Just the restocking of the kitchen is a small fortune). But we were intending to start on January. not to ruin Hannuka and Christmas, which we won't be able to save all of now. Sucks. So we went for a second budget conversation, which went better, downloaded an app (Toshl) for budget control, managed to save some of Christmas (not Hannuka though...), made some cuts, and started a new budgety year a month and a half in advance. Like I said - sucks.
And then we had to explain some of it to Ron, who apparently hears everything and assign the meanings for himself. We explained about the mistake at work, and that we needed to find a solution and that we got upset, but that of course we found one, everything is fine, and he doesn't need to worry. Not a great moment. And of course he does worry.

Which led us to Monday, where the cleaning lady who was supposed to come for the last time came late, left early and cleaned worse than Yon, Ron was very distracted in Football and cried twice, the grocery shopping I re-ordered again did not arrive (not really clear as to why), Hidai had to stay late at work, and then we got a note saying there is a package/letter waiting at the concierge. The kids refused to go with me, so I decided not to fight them but in my mind, and in accordance with the way things are going I just knew it was a formal letter revoking our right to live in the UK.
Hidai picked it up at 10 p.m when he got home.
It was the movie Narnia I ordered for Ron for Christmas.

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November 4, 2012

Jews at 10

I am actually waiting for Jews at 10 to start, and am feeling only slightly ashamed for it :).
I have to say I sometimes find it surprising just how Jewish we are. I mean, obviously we are Israelis, and Jewish, and it's important to us, but usually when we think of ourselves it will be as Israelis, but not as Jews. You don't really think of the meaning of the Jewishism (I know it's not an actual word), and the difference between Jewish and other people. I was shocked at how many times I found myself nodding while watching the show, and how many times I said "wow. So that's a Jewish thing?". But Seriously, I had no idea that British people don't take Friday night dinner as a serious family meal. They go to the pub. And all those mummy issues. They are NOT only Jewish. Are they? and the constant critique of everything? Jewish? Really?
So yea, I have to admit I enjoy the show immensely, and am waiting for the last episode today about Jewish food.
One of the things I like the most is the fact that the show touches issues that for us as Jews who chose to live outside of Israel are important and relevant (even though, unlike many of the participants in the show, we are by no mean strict Jews, and the fact that we are somehow ended up organising a Halloween party tomorrow can attest to that).
The thing is, keeping a Jewish or an Israeli way of life and traditions outside of Israel is hard. It takes a lot of work, and some hard life choices that frankly we always said we won't make. I guess the thing is you have to move a bit more to the extreme in order to get what you take for granted in Israel. And as much as it was hard in Gibraltar, it just got harder with the move to London, mainly I think because of our decision not to live in a Jewish or Israeli community, together with the fact that the kids are getting older, the fact that the English and the British education system are becoming more prominent in our house, and the sad sad fact that local holidays (and no, not Christian, just local) are so much more... Well, fun.
When we moved to London our aim was to live somewhat in the north (as it is a known fact that the more Jewish areas in London are to the north), with an easy access to synagogues and Jewish facilities (like a Sunday school or shops) if we want, but without the suffocating feeling of living in an Israeli / Jewish community. What we ended up with is living somewhat up north, but by no means in a close proximity to Israeli / Jewish facilities. The fact of the matter is, in Ron's school he is the only Jewish child (I don't know about Yon's nursery. It's just that the head teacher told us about the school), and although I am quite sure we are not the only Jews in our neighbourhood, we have yet to hear Hebrew anywhere here. It's mostly fine with us, as it was after all our choice, but sometimes it's just weird. What is even weirder is that you get so used to the non-Hebrew state of things, that it takes your brain a minute to register the Hebrew when you hear it, and then you just can't tune it out like you can with the English. Last time we were in Israel it took us a few days to get used to it and stop listening in on everyone's conversations...
So we try to find our way to raise Jewish children in a non Jewish society. We are well aware that the kids will not be Israelis since they were so very young when we left, and I guess you are where you grow up, but we would like to keep the Jewish pride alive and well. To give them some sort of roots, of connection to their tradition, and maybe more than that - to us. This is our tradition, our history, our way of looking at the world. And we want them to have some of it.
But be that as it may, Judaism does not make it easy on you. Now I know I am an overprotective parent. Truly, I am aware of that. But I still don't like telling my kids about wars, death, Hitler, you know everyday life in Israel. And I know all the reasoning behind all the holidays, and I grew up like that and turned out fine (mostly), but even when I did live in Israel I found it a terrible decision. I am not ashamed to say I want my kids to stay kids. For as long as they can. To believe in good and in fairy tales for as long as they can. Before the reality of grown-ups destroys every shred of that belief. Combine that with the fact that I cannot, for the life of me, understand how I am supposed to say to a child that goes to school with so many kids from different countries - we hate all X nation because they tried to kill us, and we celebrate this holiday because Y nation didn't succeed in killing us, and so on and so forth. I don't really see it as a point of pride that most of our holidays are war related. That's why we try and soften the stories or make our own holiday explanations. It's nearly impossible in Passover but works fine with all other holidays with the kids. With the grown-ups we usually go for the (apparently very acceptable) explanation of "someone tried to kill the Jews. Didn't succeed, let's eat".
Because the food, the food is great. And I know I'm biased but it's true. The fact is, when we go to Israel we usually spend ALL of our time eating, when my parents visits us they bring food with them, and once a month we go to Golders Green to buy Israeli food.
The first time I went to Golders I was shocked. I was used to the two very small and not very well stocked shops in Gibraltar, I was not expecting to walk into a bizarre combination between an Israeli and a British street, filled with bakeries, religious Jews, Israelis, and supermarkets filled with Israeli food. I can't help it, my first reaction was checking that I know where the bus-stop is. That I have an escape route. I don't do that anymore, but that is just because I know where it is... Once you are inside Kosher Kingdom though, if you ignore all the Jewish pressure outside, it's like a heaven filled with all your favorite I-am-at-home food, at an almost reasonable prices. And we buy (that's why it's a once-a-month thing). How can you not? We missed the food so much when we were in Gibraltar (though I do have to say the Gibraltarian stores did improve over time), and though we did get used to the British food, there are things that just don't have a proper replacement. Like Hoummus. Or pitta bread. Or Cottage cheese. These things you can't even make at home. I mean of course you can, but the whole point is getting the authentic store-bought taste.
I have been to Golders four times by now, and even signed up for a loyalty card for Kosher Kingdom, but I still don't feel at home there. Truth be told, I don't feel particularly at home anywhere anymore, it is a price we pay for our way of life, the not belonging to anywhere or any place. I think that's why people live near others from the same place, keep or buy a house in the country they came from, and talk about going back all the time. We have none of those things. We don't have a house in Israel anymore, or plans to go back. We don't live in a Jewish or Israeli community. We don't even know if London (or the UK) is our last stop (probably not). Where does it leaves us? with trying to establish our own traditions. I think this is why it's so important to us that the kids will have some of our culture, so we try to merge our culture with theirs. That is why we insist on keeping the Friday night dinner (another great show by the way) tradition, including baking the Challa and lighting the candles, why we celebrate every holiday (okay, almost every holiday, but definitely more than we did when we were in Israel), and do it correctly (more or less), while adding the local holidays for the kids.
Identity is a weird thing, we don't even realise at first how much of it is related to where we come from, where we live. Somewhere along the way and the moves I guess we lost parts of ours, and as the kids grow up their identity is connected to a different culture, a different place. So we adjust, we try and build new parts, find new things to belong to, and fill the gaps that are developing between us and the kids.

I have no songs or words of wisdom with which to end this post. Every Israeli family we ever met outside of Israel struggled with these questions and difficulties. There are moments with the kids (different for everyone) that breaks your heart, that you feel like you are losing them to a different world. It was never a conscious price we chose to pay. But it is a price we pay anyway.

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