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.