Archive | April, 2011

Tripping through Tzippori

24 Apr

Main Street, Tzippori

Main Street, Tzippori (click image to view more photos from Tzippori)

Mona Lisa of the Galilee

Mona Lisa of the Galilee (click image for more photos of Tzippori)

What to do on Easter Sunday in the Holy Land? Though tempting as it may sound, Brad and I decided not to go to any of the religious services held in Jerusalem or other nearby towns. We knew those sites would be mobbed. We thought we’d explore one of the National Parks in Israel, in particular, Tzippori, located in the central Galilee region, about an hour and a half drive from us. It was a lovely day for our excursion, sunny and breezy. And even though there was a Biblical connection (it is said to be the birthplace of the Virgin Mary) Tzippori was not crowded.

Tzippori was once a thriving settlement in the Central Galilee region dating back to biblical times. Today Tzippori is an Israeli national park containing the ruins of the town that underwent several periods of rule: Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Ottoman, and others. According to Wikipedia: Tzippori of the time of Jesus was a large, Roman-influenced city and hotbed of political activism. Archaeological evidence supports the idea that Jesus, while living in Nazareth, did most of his business in Tzippori.

Most remarkable of all the remains, at least for me, are the numerous mosaic floors that have survived. Most of the mosaics are left exposed to the elements with a flimsy rope barrier to keep tourists from walking over them. An elaborate roof has been erected over mosaic floors of the Nile House and a modern structure has been erected to protect some of the more sophisticated mosaics belonging to the dining room of a Roman villa. We also saw the remains of an ancient Roman amphitheatre and a Crusader fortress. The amphitheatre has been partially restored and we were able to climb to the top of the fortress for panoramic views of the area. It was a bit hazy but we were able to see nearby Nazareth and, much further away, Haifa.

Aside from the ruins and mosaics, the local flora and fauna were also a delight to see. We walked under what must have been ancient olive trees with wide gnarled trunks. Yellow flowers were ubiquitous in the nearby fields. As we walked through the ruins we could now and again see lizards scurrying from one spot to another. And Brad got a chance to see and hear the European Bee-eater.

While we were there we picked up the guide to the National Parks and Nature Reserves of Israel. Tzippori was wonderful and deserves another visit, but there are so many other sites to see…

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Ra’anana Flower and Garden Design Show

22 Apr

Flower Arrangement with Lemons at Ra'anana Flower and Garden Show

Flower Arrangement with Lemons at Ra'anana Flower and Garden Show

Display with Bell Peppers at Ra'anana Flower and Garden Show

Display with Bell Peppers at Ra'anana Flower and Garden Show

Flower Arrangement with Artichokes at Ra'anana Flower and Garden Show

Flower Arrangement with Artichokes at Ra'anana Flower and Garden Show

Today I went with a friend to Israel’s first flower and garden show. It was held in Ra’anana, a town very close to Herzliya with a name I love to say. Ra’anana. It just rolls off the tongue. I’ve been to a few flower shows, especially while living in England, and though I enjoyed the show in Ra’anana, I felt the garden designs were a tad amateurish. There were several designs with obvious far eastern influence, but very far from the level of quality that you’d see in Japan. The flower arrangements, however, were superb. Very inventive use of veggies in the arrangements. And so many flowers  that I’ve never seen before. Really a delight to behold.

I was disappointed that there were not many plants or flowers for sale. And hardly any of the freebies that you usually see at shows like this. But I realize this is their first show ever of this type. I’m sure each year there will be improvements. And, all in all, it was a wonderful first effort. And a perfect way to spend Earth Day.

Flight of the Bee-eaters

21 Apr

European Bee-eater

European Bee-eater

I stepped outside late this afternoon to place our garden waste on the sidewalk for pickup when I heard some distinctive bird calls. I looked up to see some unfamiliar bird silhouettes circling overhead. I went back home and grabbed the binoculars. Wow. I saw a bright yellow neck, turquoise underparts, long thin beak, chestnut head and back and a tail with a single long point in the center. A new bird for my list of birds in Israel! They are European Bee-eaters. According to my bird guide, they are in passage possibly from India (where they winter) to North Africa or Southern Europe (where they breed).

I put the telephoto lens on my camera and tried to get some photos of them without much luck. It was dusk and they were perched fairly high up a tree. My digital SLR refused to focus on the birds in the tree, but zeroed in on the branches instead. Even with the manual focus setting it was a problem. I finally managed a half-way decent shot by focusing first on a branch further out and then moving the lens onto the bird.

I feel pretty fortunate to have caught a glimpse of these colorful birds.

No Bread For A Week!

20 Apr

Plastic sheeting blocks off aisles containing foods that are not kosher for Passover

Plastic sheeting blocks off aisles containing foods that are not kosher for Passover


If it isn't kosher for Passover, you can't buy it!

If it isn't kosher for Passover, you can't buy it!


The only cookies in town: Haggadah biscuits and macaroons

The only cookies in town: Haggadah biscuits and macaroons


I never realized that Passover is a week-long holiday. This year, the first day of Passover fell on Monday, April 18 and the last day will fall on Monday, April 25. In Israel, the first and last days of Passover are national holidays and most stores and businesses will be closed on those days. The days that fall in between are also part of Passover but it’s business as usual on those days. With one rather important exception. Grocery stores do not sell bread at all during the entire week of Passover. This restriction is extended to other foods like cookies (but you can get all kinds of macaroons!), soy sauce and pasta which apparently have some sort of leavening in them or are fermented (as I’m guessing is the case with soy sauce).

I went to my local natural foods store today and sure enough, several aisles of the store containing the forbidden foods of Passover were covered over by large sheets of plastic. Same thing at the regular supermarket down the street. It felt strange to be in the supermarket today. Even though there were a few people shopping, it was eerily quiet. And I am so unused to seeing large sections of a store completely blocked off to consumers.

I’d heard about the fact that I would not be able to find bread in the stores during Passover and bought some extra and put it in the freezer. Sure hope I bought enough.

Our First Seder

20 Apr

The Seder Plate

The Seder Plate

Yesterday Brad and I went to a “community” Seder hosted by the Deputy Chief of Mission TA for members of the diplomatic community — mainly for those of us who have never been to a Seder or have not been invited to an Israeli-hosted Seder. We fell into both categories. In the past few weeks I’ve been learning about the Passover traditions observed by Jews from around the world. It was a real treat (literally!) to take part in the Seder last night.

There were 33 of us in all, spread out around four round tables. Our hostess led us through the recitations, songs and rituals of the Seder. Mixed in with this were Passover-related games for the kids. It took quite a while to go through the entire service. I was impressed at the symbolism of the ritual and that services similar to the one we took part in are performed in Jewish homes around the globe.

This is the event for which I practiced how to make matzoh ball soup. Well, the practice paid off as I got lots of compliments from guests and a thumbs up from the Ambassador himself! There was plenty of good food at the table. I discovered I don’t mind gefilte fish at all, but I don’t like that it is served cold. And  love charosset — a kind of apple chutney. Must learn how to make that as well.

Heating Up

17 Apr

Pelicans in the lake at Ra'anana

Pelicans in the lake at Ra'anana

Yesterday was the first day it felt hot enough to go outside in a sleeveless top, shorts and sandals. Today we hopped in the car to go for a nice Sunday drive and I watched in disbelief as the thermometer in the car indicated temps rising from 79F to 97F in a matter of minutes.

I’ve been hearing a lot about the heat of summer here in the Tel Aviv district and it seems to have finally arrived. Well, almost. It was not that humid today and with my hat on and a nice breeze blowing, I was not too uncomfortable outside. Plus, the weatherman predicts we will go back down to highs in the 70s later this week.

Our Sunday drive took us to Ra’anana, deemed to have the highest quality of life in Israel and to be the safest city in the Middle East (according to Wikipedia). We spent most of our time in the park, the largest urban park in our region. It’s a pretty park, clean, well-manicured and definitely designed for family outings, judging by the whimsical “sea creatures” we saw floating in the man-made lake. One was a dragon with a body made of mesh. Inside the mesh the belly of the dragon was filled with plastic bottles. On the opposite shore was a prefab alligator (or was it a crocodile?). These creatures shared the lake with an assortment of water fowl, including black swans and pelicans.

Later this month I plan to attend Israel’s first ever flower and garden show at the park.

Matzoh Ball Soup From Scratch

15 Apr

matzoh ball soup

I made it myself!

This coming Tuesday I’ll be attending a community Passover Seder at which 20 people will be in attendance. The hosts will be providing the main course but everyone else is to bring a side dish. I volunteered to bring matzoh ball soup.

I love to have matzoh ball soup when I visit New York but I’ve never made it myself. I decided I’d better make a batch before the Seder to make sure I’ve got the technique and ingredients right. I scoured the internet for recipes, made my shopping list and headed to the grocer’s. I had been warned not to go near the large supermarkets in the few days running up to Passover as they will be mobbed. I figured if I went to my local grocer it would be okay…and it was.

There is matzoh mix available here from Knorr but I got whole matzohs instead and ground them up in the food processor. You cannot find chicken broth in the stores here, so I bought a whole chicken and had the butcher cut it up so I could make my own broth. I wanted to go traditional with this recipe.

I think it paid off as the soup was delicious. Just a mite salty but I’ll fix that when I make a new batch of broth. Remember, I’m cooking for 20 people. The matzoh balls were so easy to make! They plumped up like magic while cooking in the broth. Brad kept raving about how good they were.

Yay! Another dish to add to my repertoire.