Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The only Christmas I ever saw


Tropical orchids in the Singapore Botanical Gardens

-          Is this snow?
-          Where?
-          Over there, at the entrance to the Tanglin Mall.
-          It can't be snow, its 27c degrees outside.
-          But look! It's all white!
-          I think it's only a foam making machine.
-          Oh. Well it does seem weird to have a white Christmas in Singapore….
This bizarre dialogue was carried out between my husband and me while riding our car from our home to Orchard Road, the center of Singapore. It was December 2002 and we had already lived in Singapore for 6 months and it was Christmas time. Up till then I've never seen Christmas celebration anywhere. As a born and bred Israeli Jew who never lived anywhere else, Christmas was only something I saw in movies and sappy TV shows.  Living in Singapore was my first and only experience as an ex-pat, and it was quite an extraordinary one.  
One of the major sports in Singapore is shopping. The island is shoppers' heaven. No matter what you like: electronics, gadgets, high fashion, bags, shoes, toys, and cosmetics, you name it they have it and on sale. I've never seen so many malls and shopping centers as in Singapore. Orchard road for example is a long street compiled from one huge shopping centre after another: The Tanglin Mall followed by The Forum followed by The Paragon followed by the shrine of shoppers The Takashimaya.  Come December we were amazed to see the amount of effort invested in decorating and adorning the entire Island. Orchard road and all the malls became fantasy land of light and sparkle. We were awe struck by the size of the tree that was put in the entrance to the Takashimaya center, and were quite amused by the snow machine at the entrance to the Tanglin. My then 3 year old child thought it was an amazing sight.
The Singapore river on New-Year Eve 2003

I think that in Singapore the main meaning of Christmas are more sales and having free time to do more shopping because the majority of the population is not Christian. There was defiantly a surreal quality to reindeer images, and huge fir trees in a tropical island sitting near the equator.  We were amused by the scenery. The only Christmassy gesture we performed was exchanging presents with our Austrian-Nigerian neighbours before they went to their skiing vacation in Europe.
We on the other hand celebrated Hanukkah with Israeli friends and our family that came to visit from far away.  We got some great stuff in huge discounts, it was on sale!
The year after that, we were back in Israel and Christmas was again only another date in the calendar that is mentioned in TV specials from abroad.
Happy New Year to us all! May 2011 will be a wonderful year. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gluten-free life in Israel

This post was published before in the site Flavours of Israel. Unfortunately "Flavours" is no more. Lately I've been asked about gluten-free way of life by some of my friends and acquaintances so I'm posting it again. It is not as well edited as the one published in "Flavours" but still very informative. Inna this one's for you:

Since we discovered my oldest daughter has Celiac we've grown accustomed to a new way of eating and cooking, not very different from our old ways but still sometimes it feels like we've passed through The Looking Glass where things are similar but not quite the same as before.

Celiac 101
Celiac is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages from infancy onwards.  It is not as often assumed by people, a food allergy or intolerance. Celiac disease is caused by a reaction to gliadin, a protein derived from gluten (wheat protein), and by similar proteins found in barley, rye and other grains. Upon exposure to gliadin the immune system cross-reacts with the intestine tissue to cause inflammatory reaction. This inflammation causes interruption in the ability of the intestine to absorb nutrients and thus causing a myriad of symptoms that can include: abdominal pains and bloating, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting and in young children weight loss and growth impediment (as was the case of my daughter), anemia, lack of vitamin D and calcium absorption and even in some cases skin rash. Celiac is now easily detected by a simple blood test that identifies the antibodies involved in inflammation. A positive result requires confirmation by endoscopy and biopsy of the intestine. The treatment is extremely simple:  lifelong gluten free diet. There are no medications and no effective way to prevent gluten to react and cause bowl inflammation.
The Diet
As simple as it may sound gluten is a major part of our diet in the Western world and getting rid of it is sometimes requires alertness because many products contain gluten without even resembling bread like hotdogs, meat balls and even soy sauce. But today since the law requires food manufacturers to label the products with warning for allergens, one can almost immediately check a product for gluten presence.  The gluten free diet relies on flour produced from other grains such as corn, rice, quinoa, tapioca, on potatoes' starch and legumes based flour such as soy or chick peas.
In order to let my daughter live as normal as possible, we tried to find her favorite food in its gluten free version:
Bread,  pocket pitas, buns and bagels: we buy the kind made by Bar-El bakeries  that is based on soy flour. Their products are available in every organic/nature store such as Anis shops found now almost in every shopping mall throughout the country, Nitzat Haduvdevan, at the new organic supermarkets Eden Teva Market , and at the oldest and one of the best places for gluten-free products of any kind Duchan Gan-Shmuel.  There are other brands that make bread such as AAK Oranim and Natural Cakes but after a long try and error, Bar-El is my daughters' favorite. The gluten-free breads are not subsidized and are not cheap. We tried baking at home many times and many types of breads (corn, rice, mixed gluten-free flours) but our result were always quite poor in taste and texture.  Baking bread once or twice a week is also very time consuming for parents that have full time jobs.
Pasta: we buy a corn based brand made in Rumania, imported by Willi Food and can be found at the regular super-market chains. Same goes for ordinary rice noodles. This enables us to cook any sauce our daughter likes (mushrooms, Bolognaise, Puttanesca, cream and tomato paste), lots of stir fried foods she likes and keep diversifying her menu. If there's a future to this section recipes may be provided. For Asian based cooking we found a soy sauce gluten-free Akita Sauce Soya imported from Canada and found in Duchan Gan-Shnuel as mentioned above.
Breakfast cereals: there are several brands gluten-free like Nature Path Envirokids brand our favorite are the Gorilla and Kuala tastes. These are available at the nature and organic food stores mentioned above. We've recently discovered that Post Cocoa Pebbles which are available in most super-markets are gluten-free so a new option was added to the menu  We are aware that most cereals are made of corn but most brands add malt to improve the crunchy texture and thus add gluten.
Chocolate home made macaroon (gluten-free)

Pastry and frozen foods: a lot of times we indulge ourselves with cakes and pastry that we bake at home and is gluten-free, easy to make and very tasty, like a chocolate cloud cake  or pancakes  and other recipes we've modified successfully.  Sometimes we buy pastry like frozen pizza and burekas that are available from Natural Cakes or from a local brand in the area of Modiin called Or Ve Kinammon (no web site) that is baking very high quality gluten-free goods including cookies, éclairs, quiches and more.
These are the main products that as a gluten-free family we consume. Today living with celiac became a lot easier and many options are available. You can also check the site of the Israeli Society for Celiac  that provides (with payment)  a booklet with all the products from sausages to chocolate, that are gluten free.  You can contact me through the site with any question about gluten free living you come up with.
I want to end this post with the words of our gastro specialist Prof. Wilschanski that said: "I wish you didn't have any troubles, but if you got troubles, Celiac is a minor one…."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

FFGF (Fried, Fun, Gluten-Free)

Gluten-free latke

Hanukkah came and went but some things are memorable. Like the great carrot fritters we made for our Hanukkah party. I think we fried more then 100 latkes (potato fritters) that night but it was lots of fun. They were all a great success because we were left with about only 10 at the end of the party. The famous food blogger Foodbridge honoured us with her presence and to her request (who would refuse) I'm putting here the recipes for gluten-free latkes, and gluten-free carrot fritters. I have to confess that I know Foodbridge since forever (my university days) and I always enjoy having her and her lovely family over.

Carrot fritters
4-5 grated carrots
1 grated potato squeezed from liquids
2 eggs
2 tables spoons cornflour
1 tea spoon baking soda
salt, pepper, turmeric
optional 100gr Feta cheese crumbled
Frying oil

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Heat  oil in a pan for semi-deep frying.  Using a spoon put dollops of the mixture in the pan, fry till golden and turn-over, keep frying till golden on the other side as well and then take out and put on a tray covered with paper towel in order to absorb excess oil. Makes about 20.

Eat with sour cream garnished with chopped chives.
Traditional potato latke (Our style)
4-5 large potatoes thinly grated and squeezed
1 large onion thinly grated
2-3 eggs
2-3 tablespoon cornflour
1 tea spoon baking soda
Salt, pepper
Frying oil
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Heat  oil in a pan for semi-deep frying.  Using a spoon put dollops of the mixture in the pan, fry till golden and turn-over, keep frying till golden on the other side as well and then take out and put on a tray covered with paper towel in order to absorb excess oil. Makes about 30.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stormy weather

I've often expressed my yearning for real winter in this hot country. Oh, how I love wearing those chunky sweaters, wool coats, knee-high boots and listening to Nick Drake. Well, you know the cliché "be careful with what you wish for?" The past 3 days a storm was raging through the country. The winds reached 100kph. Yes, winter has arrived with a vengeance.

Last night we went to sleep under our down comforters feeling warm and happy listening to wind and rain falling outside the house. I was quite surprised to wake-up at 2 in the morning and find the rain inside our house. The house was FLOODED. The drain pipe in one of the porches was clogged and the heavy rain caused the water level to rise and enter through the door. There was lot of water entering! I was shocked for a second and then immediately woke the Husband and we both got into action. Usually it takes my brain ages to jump start after waking-up but I guess the sense of emergency rendered me very focused and efficient. The water flooded the top floor and a gentle waterfall was created down the stairs flooding the hall and kitchen. We sprang to action: my husband went outside to the storm to try and open the block while I tried to fight the flood with a mop. The water covered our feet and just kept coming. I felt like a character in one of those movies where the poor family sleeps in a shack and the rain is entering through every crack in the house. My brave husband finally managed to partially fix the drain and we switched roles: he took the mop and I went to calm down our youngest son and put him back to sleep after he realized his bed is actually an island. The damage was very minor, a few wet shoes, a wet carpet and some books that were left on the floor.  After an hour of vigorous mopping and sweeping the water the house was dry.
The pump!

First thing we did this morning was calling the guy with the pump (you can see the magical device in the picture).  I must confess that my image of a winter night was much more romantic than waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of water dripping inside my house.
But I am still very happy it rains, and here is a Nick Drake song for a wintry week. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A not so happy Hanukah

A lot was written in the past week about the great fire that consumed a big part of the Carmel ridge nature reserve. The scale of the event was huge even for this country so accustomed to disasters.  43 dead, is an inconceivable number.  The public outrage will haunt the politicians and the media for a long time. I've cried in front of the TV for 3 straight days but couldn't help thinking that leaders of this country invested billions in the most advanced fighter jets but couldn't be bothered to spend 10 million on a fire fighter plane; we had to call the Greek fire fighters for that.  The fire could spread so easily because the trees and bush of the Carmel were subsequently dry after 8 months without rain. The irony is that once the fire was under control after 72 hours of enormous efforts, winter finally decided to drop by.
We live in the center of the country, an hour drive from the Carmel so the fire didn't reach our home; our daily lives weren't affected by the disaster. We just carry a nagging feeling that citizens of this country are abandoned by the authorities. It's easier for leaders to frighten us with an Iranian missile in the future then to face the truth about the state of health, education and social gaps currently.
Having said all that, we still celebrated Hanukah.  We lighted the candles every evening on at least 3 menorahs (there is always the one the kids make in kindergarten), we invited a lot of friends over and were invited in return, and there was a frenzy of fried food.  It was my son first Hanukah pageant but he refused to perform in front of all the parents instead we got a private show when he got home.  Hanukkah has always been my favorite holiday. Despite the news I had a lovely time with my family and good friends. We're now only left with the hope that this was the last disaster we'll witness and that winter is finally here. It's raining. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Basic training

The pretty girl peeping behind the tree is my eldest daughter. And the tree is a palm. It's a burnt palm tree that we stumbled upon while wondering around the area of Ein-Mata. There we found the curious sight not typical at all to this area: a palm plantation. Actually the palm trees were only slightly scorched because the fire didn't harm them just singed their bark. So a curious pattern emerged of orange bark with black scorching marks, an opportunity for some "artistic" photos.  

Ein Mata is a small fountain in the Judean Hills not far from Beit-Shemesh. It is an area of the country that we consider our back yard and go hiking there quite a bit (check out http://yaelruder.blogspot.com/2010/01/weekend-of-food-and-comfort.html), so in one of those hot and sunny November Saturdays we went hiking to that little fountain. I liked the spot because it enabled us to take my youngest son, not yet 3 years old for a training hike. Finally he got down from the baby carrier. We are attempting to turn him into a trekker with his own tiny back pack and walking boots. Since hiking is one of our favorite activities I'd want my boy to like it as much as I do.
This specific track suited us perfectly, because it's just a short walk down a slope and then up again. A huge eucalyptus tree bent over the fountain was a great playground and there were even water running that made my son very happy because he could throw stones at them.

Usually the area in this time of year should be lush and green but because there was hardly any rain and the weather keeps being dry, a lot of the trees were consumed by fires. But here and there we could encounter flowers, overwhelmed by the strange weather but still holding on. The little hike ended with a lavish picnic in a nearby forest with a panoramic view of the Judean Hills.
I wish next Saturday we won't be able to step out of the house because there would be a raging rain storm.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kangaroos, Koalas and Good Food

It is the middle of November and the temperature didn't go down below 25c since August. Personally I find this fact more than a little depressing but there is nothing to do against the forces of Nature. So if you can't make it rain, have fun. Last Saturday was a warm, sunny day with no hint of it ever raining in our area. We decided to take advantage of yet another beautiful day and take the kids to Gan-Guru. It is a zoo near the Kibbutz of Nir-David in the north/east of Israel. It is a very special zoo where only Australian originated animals are presented and one can pet and feed kangaroos and very lovely parakeets.  It turned out to be both fun and educational way to spend the Shabbat.  Of course kangaroo petting was the the kids' favorite. The koalas were sleepy and looked like a stuffed animal stuck on a tree, they didn't get a high score form the kids.

Sleeping koala

A very sleepy kangaroo

The park is not very big but it's spacious and even though the place was packed with people it wasn't bothersome.  We fed the parrots with apples and my youngest was almost bitten by a very eager cockatoo. It just made him laugh.

Have an apple

Modelling for the camera

Feeding all those animals made us very hungry. We continued to a lovely place in the Jordan Valley just off road 90, called Rutenberg. it is a tiny bistro in the historical site of Gesher Hayeshana (old Gesher). The bistro is named after Pinhas Rutenberg, the pioneer of electricity production in Israel. 

Rotenberg restaurant: lovely bistro on the border with Jordan

We had a very good meal that included crab bisque and lamb burgers among other very tasty dishes. The place and service were very pleasant and the view of the moon rising above the Jordan Valley was enchanting.
We even met a couple from Germany who informed us that the rain just doesn't stop where they live. 
No justice on the world is there? 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Biofilms on the Kinneret shores.

The research poster

In my short scientific career I've only presented my research in small conferences most of them here in Israel. I've recently presented my research just last week, when I participated in a small scientific conference in Genosar, on the shores of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The main subject of the meeting was biofilms. Biofilms are a complex aggregation of micro-organisms growing on a solid substrate for instance water pipes.
I researched biofilm that accumulates on pipes transferring freshwater. To make a long story short my aim was to determine the bacterial communities that compose the biofilm. The research was partly funded by the Israeli Ministry of Trade. It is a part of a larger scientific effort to find ways to prevent development of biofilm interfering with pipe and water transfer maintenance.
My research was performed on environmental biofilm that was sampled from the pumping site in Genosar.  There are many biofilm types though and some were presented in the conference. Including the biofilm that resides on our teeth and causes cavities.
The conference was very short (only one overnight) and very intense (many lectures and very short breaks) but I rather enjoyed it.  I even got to discuss and present my poster to some people. I went to sleep early and slept a whole night through which for me was a real treat, (my youngest son still wakes up at least once a night).  But still sitting more than 2 straight hours listen is very tasking so I went for a walk to soak my feet in the water of the Kinneret.
My main impression from the whole conference was actually the poor state of the lake that is the main water source of Israel. Years of draught pushed the coast line more than 200 meters. I was very saddened by the site and it only left me more hoping for rain.

Legs in the water
Where the shore used to be.....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Run like the wind

When I was a teenager I hated sports. I sucked in it too. Every sport class we had I tried to do my absolute worst.  Most of all I hated running. It seemed like the ultimate torture.  Luckily I was a skinny teenager no weight issues at all (but of course I hated the way I looked, we women are mental in this sense). Even in the army when you have no choice but to run, I really hated performing this sort of duty for my country.  In University I started to like swimming. Swimming was nice especially in a hot place like Israel because you don't sweat when you swim. During those years I hated running I had no problem walking and hiking. That was fine, hiking was always a great pleasure for me and in my teens and early twenties I walked everywhere. 
The way I feel when I run

When I got pregnant with my first child I gained a lot of weight. Over 21kg! I was so enormous, people called me "a whale" to my face. But surprisingly enough all the weight was gone with no special effort some months after I gave birth. This is a serious advantage having babies when you're young.  During my second pregnancy gaining a lot of weight was hazardous because I developed symptom of diabetes.  I needed to do sports. I started walking again and it was no trivial matter walking in the horrible weather of tropical Singapore. But it worked. I didn't get too gigantic and more important didn't get diabetes.  Then I learned that doing sports does have a direct effect on your health. I was mildly surprised.
When my second child was 4 months old we came back home and here I was back in Israel with two kids and a post-natal over weight. I subscribed to the local gym. That was a onetime experience. I spent a fortune on all sorts of classes that I disliked. Just like high-school all over again. I spent so much money on activities like spinning. What is the sense in cycling with 30 other very sweaty people and not reaching anywhere? I felt ridiculous doing that. I don't get all the machinery involved in weight lifting. These rooms full of metallic equipment seem to me like some middle ages torture basement.  I had to find some sport that is cheap, useful and doesn't require special gear. Walking was the sensible option but it wasn't challenging anymore.  So I decided I'll start running. At first I almost fainted after only 200 meters. But I hated the fact that I'm letting myself of the hook so easily. I challenged my character and own lazy tendencies. So the running distance grew. 200 meters became a kilometer. One Km became 2 and 3 and suddenly I could run 5km! I run 2-3 times a week. I am in shape. I got thinner although not as skinny as I'd liked to be. I was amazed, sports works. And you even don't have to pay for it. Just lace up those trainers and run. Nothing is simpler. I jog for several years now with some breaks during pregnancy and breast feeding.  I've run the Nike Night Run for 10km each year for the past 4 years and although it wasn't easy it was fun. And I'm proud of myself for facing the challenge.

As an aspiring runner I was delighted to read Haruki Murakami's book "what I talk about when I talk about running". Murakami is one of my favorite authors, and I learned he is also an amateur runner, but in a much higher level than I am, the guy does 2 full Marathons a year. In this book which is a personal memoir he tries to give the reader a glimpse on to what motivates him to run and to write. He writes about the first Marathon he ran that was in Greece from Athens to Marathon (the original Marathon was the other way around), he writes about running an ultra Marathon of 100 (!!!)km but not from the professional aspect of how to train and what to eat but rather what were his thoughts and how he felt during those very long runs. Most of the time you don't really understand why he runs but I think that is because he himself doesn't have a specific reason. He states in the book that he begun to run for no special reason, one day suddenly he started running and he didn't stop. I don't think I am made from the stuff people like Murakami are made of, he's diligent, hard working and committed to whatever he chooses to do either running or writing. I'm so lazy that every time I accomplish a task I feel like I finished an ultra-marathon myself. The book is very charming Murakami is a very talented writer. Now when I run I keep in my mind one of the best sentences I read: "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional". Amen.
Murakami running to Marathon

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I told you I'll be back after the holidays

Hello, I'm back. Trying to find my way back to the ever growing blogosphere with my tiny blog about my tiny life. I hope my 3 readers are happy to read me.
As you can see I changed the site quite a bit. It took a while to come up with a new title but "Microscopes and diapers" is not so relevant any more. My youngest son will soon be potty trained although it will cost me a mini nervous breakdown with him marking his territory all over the house. I'm also taking a break from microscopes and going to rethink my career paths and opportunities. But I always hope and wish for rain living in this arid corner of the world. The last  summer was one of the hottest ever measured in the country and I felt like a wilting pot. I am a wintry person who likes clouds, wind, rain and snow. I adore scenery of mountains and forests. I hate the sea and detest bathing suits. So it is obvious I was born in the wrong place (Alaska would suit me so much more) but I'm trying to do the best with I have. Usually it means sleeping with the air-con on.
So, we're in the beginning of October the temp is supposed to drop and I had quit a job that made me very unhappy. The future stretches before me to fill it with words. 
Word telling stories from life, about books that I read, about blogs that I visit, about music and nature and whatever comes to my mind. Yes, lots of blah, blah and maybe an occasional gluten free recipe. The weather report talks about chances of local rain on Friday. I really hope it will rain.
Sunset in Akziv beach at the last week of August

Monday, June 14, 2010

I say goodbye

This will be my last post in this format. I need to think thoroughly what i want to focus my writing upon and to decide on some sort of message to deliver. the recent format of just telling small stories about my life seems very boring, at least in the way i currently write it. i know that i am my worst critic but if i don't like something that i do, i have to stop doing it. I'll try to figure out what i do want to write about and how. this is time consuming and requires a creative energy that for now i need to invest in my work and family. I'm not happy with the design of my blog as well so i will play with it for a while to see what suits me best.
so thanks my devoted readers and supporting followers. i hope to come back, maybe somewhere in October after the Jewish holidays.
Farewell and Bye-Bye

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Happy Earth Day Everybody.

We celebrated Earth Day in Israel mostly in the dark, but I'll begin in the beginning. As a family we're trying to make our little efforts in help keeping this planet a pretty and hospitable place to us humans. Are efforts in green living are completely non-heroic and not dramatic I'm afraid, but we think that these are reasonable things that we can do. We recycle our plastics containers, glass bottles and paper. We changed many lamps in our house to fluorescent lights that are more economical, we planted trees in our back yard and on all our porches, and we try to sustain our back yard with the minimum possible amount of water and without chemicals. I'm afraid that I still use regular detergents when I wash the kids clothes, the environmental friendly washing powder is no match to the stains children under the age of 12 inflict on their clothes.
On the last week of April it was announced that Israel will celebrate Earth Hour, and some 15 cities will ask their citizens to turn off the lights for an hour, between 8 to 9PM, in order to reduce the amount of fossil fuel based energy consumed. We decided that we will make a nice family event of the occasion. At 8 PM of that evening, we turned off all the electricity in the house, including all the appliances that are usually in Stand-By mode. We lighted candles and the kids ate dinner by candle light.

When they finished eating, we sat on the sofa in the living room, with a head flash-light and read stories. It was very funny. The ambiance actually was very peaceful and quiet, as if turning off the power reduced the background noise, although we left the fridge turned on and humming the whole Earth hour. In our neighbourhood there were several other houses who turned off the lights but the majority of the people couldn't care less.

Of course we know that the effect of cutting our power for only an hour is ridiculous. We still use huge amounts of fossil fuel based energy every day. But it was fun to spend an hour with the kids in the magical light of candles and show them that once people lived like that, with no electricity. To me this hour demonstrated how very dependant we are in technology. After an hour and a half by candle light and a LED flash-light, I was happy to turn on the lights and computer.