Friday, July 20, 2018

When I Have a Cold

Since the humidity is high, we sleep with the A/C on all night. I felt my throat being cold and 2 days later, I woke up with a cactus in it. I barely finished the work day at the office with all the symptoms of a head cold: aching throat, ears, head and general weakness, and decided to listen to my body and stay home the next day to recuperate. Before going to bed, took two Acamol pills and shared the picture of the Acamol package with all my friends on Facebook, to let them know how miserable I feel.

After a mostly sleepless night, got up and got thinking. Since only my head is sick, I can do something useful with the rest of my body and not let this day be a complete waste. Decided to undertake a small project: cleaning our bedroom and on-suite bathroom. If you follow me on Facebook, you know my cleaning person went back to his country and we are now cleaning the house on our own, me being totally useless with such activities. I was lucky enough to have it done for me all my life and nobody ever taught me how to clean efficiently. I can do basic stuff, quite awkwardly though.

I remember my mom always complaining about me not helping around the house, but she didn't actually teach me, she expected me to take initiative and copy her, or maybe she tried teaching me and I wasn't interested, I really can't remember, it was very long ago. At least I'm a good cook, and even my mom said my cakes are tastier than hers. But that's because I use mixers, real ingredients and an electrical stove, none of which she ever had.

Cleaning is not one of my many talents, but how difficult can it be, right? Let's just say that a video shoot of me cleaning, would win the "clumsiest cleaner" comedy award. I started by taking out the vacuum cleaner and by the life of me, I couldn't piece it together, to use its attached tools. I was too embarrassed to admit I need to read the manual or watch a youtube video. Me? A manual? I just write them, who says I should also read them? Like in the old joke "why do cops always patrol in pairs? - because one of them can read and the other write" - I'm the one who writes.

I managed to connect the pieces in contrast to their idiot-proof design, I forgot to select the cleaning mode with the knob (I applied my "logic", without reading the small print next to the icons), but figured out (after a while!) where the on-off button was (it's foot operated!). I wondered at the many types of cleaning products we own, some with heavy, unpleasant smells. The glass shower refused to become  transparent even after many attempts, so I just gave up on that one, but the rest I was pretty happy with. With the utensils already out, I also cleaned the other toilet, vacuumed the big rug in the living room and mopped around.

By the time I finished and put everything back in place with a throbbing head, I concluded that in contrast with how effortless it looks in TV ads, cleaning is mostly an unpleasant, tiresome task and I need more practice to work out an efficient methodology. In our next episode: figuring out how to empty the vac's dust bin. Oh, and since you asked, yes, I have a robot, but it's useless for anything that is not a large area of floor or carpet.

Back to the kitchen.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Boycotts

Following the recent Barkan Winery Kosher certificate affair, some of my friends proposed to boycott the Badatz or the winery.

When individuals or organizations abroad boycott Israel, we are all up in arms, as we should be, trying to explain the underlying injustice, stupidity and antisemitism. So let me remind those quick to boycott friends the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated.

Also, when you boycott someone, there are always innocent "bystanders" who get hurt. If you boycott a manufacturer (by refraining to buy their produce) because of business practices that are against your principles, to teach them a lesson and show that you stand up for your values, the manufacturer will eventually go bankrupt and a lot of good people will join the ranks of the unemployed. Demanding the CEO to resign is IMHO a much better move as it will only punish the policy maker, not the hard working, decent people. "Business is business" is unacceptable, so do your business (pun intended) elsewhere, Mr. CEO.

When boycotting the Badatz (by not buying produce with their kosher certificate), a lot of manufacturers may get hurt. I understand the intention to make businesses refrain from applying for this certificate as it would hurt their business (Badatz consumers are only a small group of Israeli society). If no such certificate will exist, the ultra-orthodox will either find a way to eat food with regular certificates or manufacture their own food (not such a bad idea, as it would make them contribute to the Israeli economy). However, this can be a very long process. Until then, manufacturers will lose business, lay off people and we are back to the previous scenario, but on a larger scale.

The regular milk carton we bought today in the supermarket has no less than 4 certificates. And who do you think pays all these kashrut supervisors? The consumer. And in my case, the consumer doesn't need even one, but is willing to pay for one only as a tax for living in a Jewish country.
Boycotts are like war and hatred, they have a beginning, but often no end. You can reach a stage of everybody boycotting everybody else for one reason or another until standstill. Society will look like a busy Tel Aviv junction 2 minutes after the traffic light goes off.

Let's drink some wine to fighting for our universal values in the parliament, the courts, the streets, but not in the supermarkets. And if I may chose the wine, I'd go for Golan's 2T - my new favorite. Cheers!


Friday, April 6, 2018

Food Microstories

Last week, Tom came to my office and we lunched at a Japanese restaurant. During my childhood, I had no idea what Japanese food is, or any other food that was not cooked at home. I don't remember ever going to a restaurant with my parents. Different times, different place.


We used salt, pepper and paprika as condiments. Sometimes bay leaves. I remotely heard about allspice and ginger. In Israel, a culinary heaven with so many different cuisines and endless fusion possibilities, I have and use a few dozen spices, sauces and herbs. The weirdest is Moroccan pickled lemons. At first I didn't understand the concept. Pickling is actually souring, but why sour something that is already sour? I learned that this flavorful mixture is the key ingredient in many excellent dishes.


I love to experiment in the kitchen and try out new foods, even when having guests for meals. In fact, I cook new dishes every single week. I plan the menu by reading my favorite food blogs and deciding on dishes that fit well together. Then I send the shopping list with ingredients to hubby. Friday morning, 3 boxes with groceries greet me in the kitchen. We have breakfast, and let the magic (actually hard work) begin. The variety is great, but I end up with leftovers of exotic ingredients that have a minimal chance to be used before their expiration date.


I hate wasting food. In restaurants, you pay for the waste (and even then I hate it), but in home cooking, every edible leftover is used. All the famous chefs preach using those flavor-packed juices at the bottom of a pot. They are great for making couscous or rice, for example. I am always sorry to throw out food left on plates. Many years ago, in a guesthouse, I took a serving of something that looked delicious, but it turned out to be something else and totally not tasty. I left it on the plate. The host told me off in front of all the other guests for my wasteful behavior. I felt like a reprimanded child.


One of the traditional Passover foods of my childhood was beetroot soup. Because of its color, I mistakenly took my first bowl of beetroot soup for cherry soup. It tasted awful. Did not touch beetroot soup for years, until it occurred to me that the reason for the bad experience was my expectation for something else. Once I understood that, I started enjoying beetroot soup.


Expectation for taste or texture can also come from a dish's name. People with dietary restrictions or culinary preferences sometimes replace unhealthy ingredients with others, but keep calling the dish by the same name. The taste is usually disappointing. Why not call the dish by a different name or even better, why not create new dishes containing only healthy ingredients? Oh, did I mention I drink my coffee with almond "milk"? If "milk is a white liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals", then what mammal produces soy milk or rice milk?

Unnatural food colors put me off. I would not eat blue food, for example. But oddly enough, I also dislike the idea of cute looking or too beautiful food. It's time consuming and wasteful, in short decadent.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Should You Go on a Cruise?

If you haven't been on a cruise yet, you should definitely go. Unless you are an extrovert who enjoys small talk and befriending new people at every possible occasion, I recommend going with friends.

I have just returned from an 11-day Caribbean cruise (Fort Lauderdale - St. John's, Antigua - Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe,  Bridgetown, Barbados - Fort-de-France, Martinique - Castries, St. Lucia - Basseterre, St. Kitts - Half Moon Cay, Bahamas - Fort Lauderdale), that I'm trying to summarize for my undecided readers. It was a new and definitely positive experience, without the slightest motion sickness I was a bit concerned about before leaving.

The best part for me was enjoying the view, especially approaching an island, observing the land getting closer and the behemoth ship maneuvered in reverse with millimetric precision to the pier and anchored.

The Caribbean beaches with their turquoise waters and white sand pictured in brochures don't tell the full story (excluding the Half Moon Cay private island). The part they usually miss is the poor conditions in which the local population lives. Add the hot and humid climate (with occasional hurricanes), perceived lack of personal security in a tumult of taxi drivers/guides and merchants invading your private space (a western notion) and the island visits can be quite unpleasant. BTW, taxi prices drop dramatically, the further you walk from the port. 

Some practical pre-cruise advice: make sure to arrive to the starting port a couple of days before embarkation to avoid any unforeseen flight cancellations or delays. These couple of days came in handy for us as our luggage was not on the first flight, due to a sudden airport luggage strike on the first leg. For any flight, not just pre-cruise, pack one day's essentials in your hand luggage - we didn't do this and needed to shop for underwear and toiletries right after arrival. Not that there is anything wrong with underwear shopping, but there might be more interesting sites to visit than a shopping mall.

And while we are at packing, I want to refute the common belief of needing lots of elegant attires on board. The cruising industry is undergoing a major change from old world classic elegance, decor and service, to a more modern concept that appeals to younger generations it is [successfully] attracting. The industry is expanding and will continue to do so according to various analysts. So, if you are not an evening gown/black tie person, just bring whatever clothes you feel comfortable wearing, and a few elegant outfits for formal dinners (that you can BTW avoid completely, although I recommend against).

A major aspect of any cruise experience is the food. It is tasty, diverse, tempting and always around you. You will definitely gain weight, even if you have the strongest will power to avoid temptations. However, you can work out in the well-equipped gym with a fabulous view, unless you prefer the treadmill monitors instead (don't). They offer various classes as well. In addition to the many food options included in the cruise price, you can also dine in high-class restaurants, or go to coffee shops and bars.

Entertainment on board was one of my most pleasant surprises. All the performing artists were really good, be it bar pianists, classical ensembles, singers, dancers or comedians. Turns out that entertainment jobs on cruise ships are very sought-after. The on-board productions were rich and well-choreographed, with advanced use of video technology blending in the theme. 

Cruises are well-oiled machines for extracting as much money as possible from guests, a captive crowd for expensive products offered on-board, such as jewelry, art (not to my liking), alcohol, perfumes and expensive clothing. Also some on-board lectures are sales-oriented. You can gamble in the casino, get body treatments or go on shore excursions. Alternatively, you can spend time around the pool and Jacuzzis, where you will probably consume cocktail, beer or coffee.

We took two group excursions: one to rum distilleries in Barbados (guess who wanted this one) and a dolphin encounter activity in St. Kitts (the preference of yours truly). Local shopping is either in tourist-only areas or in local markets and shops, where the offering is usually [made-in-China] souvenirs, foodstuff, clothing and costume jewelry. Makes you think that the beads given to the natives by the colonialists in exchange for gold are now sold back to them for dollars and euros.  












Saturday, August 12, 2017

Optimizers

I was in the car with my family and we were debating the subject of the fastest way to the train station, based on the green light duration of en-route traffic lights. And then it hit me. We are optimizers, obsessive optimizers. We want to know the best or most cost effective approach for everything, no matter how big or small. We want to know which appartment is the best for our needs (one's biggest expense in life) and what is the fastest route for a 5-minute drive.

It makes us happy to know that with a modest input (time, money, effort), we achieved the best possible output. We got a lifetime of career based on X academic years, a great trip for a reasonable price, floorplan modification ideas that gave us the most living space, you name it.

Although in retrospective the results look rewarding, the process is quite tirsome. Optimizers dilligently gather and [over-]analyze data, and try to understand the big picture (processes), as well as the details. This task is run continuously by our minds, we rarely turn it off. Even concious decisions to let petty things go unoptimized are based on yet another optimization algorithm that wheighs the enjoyement of letting go against the perceived loss. We even optimize the size of built-in loopholes (made possible by increased personal means) in the optimization process.

But where does this all come from? A long-stretch explanation could originate in Tikkun Olam (perfecting the world), a known concept in Judaism, or the resourcefulness needed to survive and better ones's situation in adverse conditions during 2000 years of diaspora, or the competitive nature of Israelis who are always improving positions (the Hebrew source לשפר עמדות is a known phrase), or even our own struggles related to returning to our ancient homeland.

I agree, these are generalizations. You are welcome to offer additional explanations.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Teeth

I have good, strong teeth, so how come I have fillings, caps and now an implant? When and where I was a little girl, there was very little awareness of dental maintenance (and healthcare in general). Using the same toothbrush for years was common practice, while flossing, dental hygenists and periodical checkups were unheard of. People went to the dentist if they felt pain, usually after procrastinating for a while.

I seeked dental treatment usually when the cavity was already large. Dr. Ackerstein was very patient, but he injected anesthetics with thick, reusable needles. That was the available technology at the time, and treatements were painful. So I was (and still am) afraid of treatements in general, and needles in particular. Up until very recently, I even managed to evade a full mouth X-ray status (taken 2-teeth at a time, quite unconfortable with one retch).

Old people, like my grandmother, had dentures. She never got used to them though, so she would only put them on for meals and when people came around. In general, her Austro-Hungarian ladyship dealt with grace with old age issues, such as her dentures, weakened eyesight and severe foot pain.

Dental treatement in Israel was never actually painful, but my fear of it sticked to me throughout the years, like chewing gum to a shoe sole. And although I did all the right things, with time I needed various dental treatements. BTW, did you know that most people here go to a dentist originating from the same country as theirs? That's what my modest statistics show, anyway.

In February I had a tooth pulled out and it took me till October to be taken (!) for a CT scan needed before the implant (not painful) and schedule the implant procedure for November. I was particulary afraid of the procedure, as I've never done it before. So, if you are also afraid and looking for reliable info about the procedure, here goes. Like all dental treatements, it starts with injecting anesthetics, this time more than for a usual treatement, so that the patient won't feel a thing (my doctor reasurred me I won't feel pain). Actually, one of the shots was a little bit painful. Then, I was requested to rinse my mouth with anti-bacterial lotion for 30 seconds.

During the treatement, there were 4 X-rays taken, to make sure the nearby nerve is not touched. The hardest part was taking a glimpse at the intruments used (immediately afterwards I closed my eyes), hearing the noise and imagining what is going on in my gum. Not only I couldn't turn that off, I also knew that reality surpasses my wildest imagination. Only once Dr. L touched a painful spot, but immediately stopped when I winced. During the entire procedure, the doctor's assistant used the sucking pipe to suck blood and I-don't-want-to-know-whatever-else from my mouth, while giving me encouraging looks.

After the implant went in, my dentist brought a long piece of string and started stiching that unimaginable thing in my mouth. "It's like heming a dress" she said, trying to calm me. After about 45 minutes, the assistant wiped my face and gave me a pack of ice to hold it to my face near the wound. Then I went into Dr. L's office and got instructions for the next few days.

On that day, hold the ice pack in place for as long as you can, to minimize swelling and the appearance of bruise marks. I recommend asking somebody to drive you home, especially if you have a long drive like mine (taking Ayalon south, during rush hours). Eat only cold and soft foods (ice cream!), do not brush your teeth and do not rinse your mouth. Take 2 antibiotic pills. When (not if!) you feel pain, usually after the anesthitics wear off, take a regular painkiller. Frankly, I didn't do anything else that day, except for wallowing in self-pity and waiting for pain to kick in.

Starting the next day, take 3 antibiotic pills a day untill you finish the package. Rinse your mouth with 10 ml of anti-bacterial fluid, twice a day. The next day, I couldn't open my mouth properly, and could only take small bites of food (excellent for your diet). Today is the second day and I can't yet move my tongue properly as the place is still very sensitive, but I can certainly blog about it. However, I could open my mouth better and courageously see the wound in the mirror.

The discomfort will decrease by the day and the stiches will get absorbed. Three more sessions (I was told) and a few thousand shekkels later, you have a new tooth in place, that looks just like your own. All that remains to do is fight the bureaucracy of the insurance company to try and get a refund. Good luck with that!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Short Visit to Hungary 2016

A while ago, I was found on Facebook by a woman who was collecting stories for a memorial book for the Karcag Jewery. Karcag is a small town in Hungary, where one of my grandfathers came from. I sent text and pictures and when the book was ready, the communitvy there decided to launch it in a festive way. They invited the families, dignitaries and an instrumental ensamble.

We thought it was a nice pretext for a short vacation, combining the book event with meeting friends and family and having fun in Budapest. And so we bought UP tickets online. For some odd reason, buying 2 separate tickets was cheaper than buying 2 together, and this of course impacted the seating arrangement.

After landing, the rep of the car rental company waited for us by holding a sign with our name  - a first for me. They took us by our future rented car (WW UP) to their office (2 km away), where we signed the papers and headed towards the hotel. If you plan to rent a car in Budapest, I recommend this cheaper option (the space further away from the airport is cheaper for the rental companies). However, only there I realized that the automatic shift stick was a robotical one, which was quite annoying for drivers like me used to the smoother version.

The 4-star hotel was decent, just the room looked straight out of the 70s. According to our freind P, who met us there with a local SIM card, the decor made him expect comrade Kadar Janos to welcome us in person. The location (the main reason we booked a room in this hotel) was excellent, close to a small park and public transportation. Later on we also found out it was close to shopping facilities. You can't return from Hungary without Pick salami.

That same day, our friend P giuded us through downtown Budapest and we had lunch at one of the restaurants in Gozsdu Udvar. What could be a better way to start a visit in Hungary than eating gulyas soup? As the weather was really windy, we met our friend K at a pastry shop where we had coffee and cake.

The next morning we headed towards the village of Kaposmero (a 2 hour drive) to meet friends, who live there with their talented dauther, five cats, a friendly dog, rabbits, many chicken and a rooster. They showed us around their farm and we had a nice lunch in this idylic setting, with chery petals snowing all over. After spending a lovely time there, we headed back to meet my cousin and her daugther for dinner at the hotel.

Lilac flowers have an incredeble smell
Samuel the Rabbit
The next day was dedicated to visit friends in another village (this time just a one hour drive away) on a Danube island. There I immediately felt at home (this was my second visit there) and started cutting up vegetables for salad. Just sitting on the swinging bench on their balcony felt like heaven on earth. Of course I realize how much work they invest in gardening so that the place feels like heaven for us, short time visitors. After a copious lunch, we returned to Budapest to see an operetta in the beautiful Operetta Theater (and I don't care what the cultural snobs think about this genre). Operetta and Budapest are inseparable. The shallow libretto sprinkled with old world nobility, the ear candy music and beautiful costumes transport you into a dreamland where all endings are happy. Add a glass of champagne in the intermission and the experience is complete.

The last day was dedicated to the book launch event (another long drive) in Karcag. We got there by noon, and were invited for lunch at the all-you-can-eat self-service resturant near the thermal bath. The simple, authentic food was cheap and tasty. We toured the tiny Jewish cemetery, strolled a bit on the beautiful main street and had coffee in a small ice cream parlor before the event began. After the introductory speeches, I was pleasantly surprised by the musical part. I expected a local klezmer group, but got the Budapest Festival Orchestra instead.
Karcag Town Hall

Full Synagogue in Karcag
A regional rabbi also spoke, mostly about hope and The Hope (Israel's national anthem), but the event ended without it being played or sung (although the Israeli flag was displayed along the Hungarian one). I felt disappointed, like there was no proper ending to the ceremony. Later I asked the rabbi why they didn't play Hatikvah. He explained in a roundabout way (a.k.a. a pile of excuses) that he was not in charge of the program and something about a minsiter being present. They weren't even sure the minsiter would have minded, but the organizers were afraid to upset the authorities.
Stained Glass Window
in the Karcag Synagogue
And that my friends is why I live in Israel, where the authorities are mine and I don't need to worry about upsetting them with my Jewishness. After the ceremony, all attendees enjoyed deleicious flodni slices (Hungary’s most famous Jewish cake). 






Hubby and Eva in the Karcag Synagogue
Jewish Cemetery in Karcag

Eva in the Cemetery
The next morning, we packed and drove to the rental office, from where they drove us to thre airport. I expected the regular security questions, but we were also asked what is the relationship between us. Told them we are married for 36 years, but the security person was not satisfied. She went on and on with questions about our aliya, place of birth etc. I managed to stay calm, but when she passed her suspicions on to her superior and he started all over again, I lost it. I always tell visitors to Israel to expect improper security questions and stay calm, but apparently it's not that easy. Of course I understand why they ask these questions and I don't want my plane to be blown up, but when they ask you personal questions, it just gets to you.

Lesson learned: next time we need to drive less and relax more.