Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The fountain of beer

Some of the beer taps in Maayan Habira

It was a lovely day at the beginning of May and we planned a great touristy experience in the old city of Akko. It didn't happen. Somehow the whole day went haywire. The traffic was horrible and the prospects of getting to Akko in a reasonable hour went up in exhaust pipe smoke.  We changed our destination and drove to Haifa instead, the northern port city where my dear husband grew up. There were five of us: my DH, "The Three Musketeers"-his three old pals since junior high and me. It was a special occasion since our gang member currently living in Zurich came to visit the homeland. We found it was quite a challenge to be tourists in our own country, at my DH and pals hometown. Finding something new and exciting in the mundane and familiar is not easy.
The Bahai temple in Haifa

Dedicated to our attempt to have a touristic experience we went to the prettiest part of Haifa: The Bahai Temple and Gardens on the slopes of the Carmel Mountain. We all knew in our hearts that the important bit is the lunch that will follow, so we spent very little time among the groomed flower beds. It was clear to us all that we will have hummus for lunch at one of Haifa's famous establishments. But like any plan we made that day this too wasn't going to happen.
A view to the Bahai Gardens, Haifa

The day was getting hotter as Israeli spring usually turns and we were getting thirsty. My DH had a brilliant idea. Why won't we have a beer at the local tavern "Ma'ayan Habira" (The Beer Fountain)? We all agreed especially since we've never been there. Ma'ayan Habira is one of those mythological establishments that exist for decades. It is not a fashionable bar or some trendy restaurant. Strangely enough, though we've been to Haifa countless times I've never been to the place though my DH promised to take me there ever since we started dating.
The entrance to the restaurant

I was pretty shocked when I saw the restaurant's neighborhood. Downtown Haifa is not very aesthetic or eye pleasing. But once you enter the place the atmosphere transforms. "Just one beer and we'll be off to have hummus" we agreed. We sat at the table only to leave two hours later slightly tipsy but in a very good mood. We had to try at least 4 kinds from the 16 types of draft beer the place serves. Of course that all this drinking couldn't be endured on empty stomach, some of the local specialties had to be ordered. We ended up having Eastern European delicacies such as chopped liver, and warm kostitza (a type of smoked ham) alongside pints of Belgian and English beers. There was lots of beer therefore lots of laughter. The hummus was completely forgotten. We ended the feast with Bavarian Creme, a type of pudding that was extremely popular here in the Seventies. 
Some of the food we had: beer, bread (the basics of life), kostitza, chopped liver and Bavarian Creme. 

Ma'ayan Habira was established in 1950 by Nachum Meir (his portraits decorate the restaurant's' walls).
Nachum Meir's portrait.

At first it was a sausage factory. It became a restaurant in 1962 and since then serves and prepares the same type of food. The restaurant is run by Meir's children and grand-children. Their draft beers include among others Belgian ales like Leff (Blond or Brun), English Newcastle brown ale, wheat beers like Hoegaarden and the Israeli made Goldstar, Heineken, and many more.
The bill: served on pieces of cardboard and handwritten. 
The restaurant is a rare institution in Israel where few restaurants survive more than 5 years. The food is simple but tasty, the beer flows like from a bursting fountain so chances are that any visit to the place will leave you feeling happier than you got in.
Maayan Habira
4th Nathanzon Street, Haifa
Open Sun-Thu 9:00-17:00, Tuesday open till 24:00.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Comfort food for hungry farmers

The orange season is here
For the past year I wasn't a very dedicated farmer and I've let my little organic garden wither. I don't even have a proper excuse but I've neglected my planters that once were thriving with tomatoes and eggplants. With the change of seasons I had a change of hearts, I decided I need to rehabilitate my garden and plant new herbs and vegetables that suit the coming winter. I've recruited the whole family for a joint effort. Our main task was to uproot the withered old plants and clean the terrace where the planters stand. My kids were not surprisingly very excited about playing with mud. My youngest son used his little red shovel to dig fiercely whether it was necessary or not. We've planted both flowers and vegetables. I look forward to see how the spinach, broccoli and radishes will turn out. The pansies are blooming beautifully.   
my pretty pansies
After spending most of the morning outdoors making an attempt to be good agriculturalists, come lunch time we were all ravenous. The best food to warm us cold hungry workers was our favorite orange soup of course. It's not made of oranges but from a variety of orange vegetables usually carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes. Each time we get a different soup depending on the ratios between the different vegetables. The secret to a wonderfully tasting soup is roasting the orange ingredients in the oven prior to cooking them. This process is caramelizing the sugar in the vegetables, than we add them to some sautéed onion, add water or stock and let the whole thing simmer for about half an hour. The final stage is mashing with a hand blender the whole mixture till we get creamy, velvety bisque. We love to upgrade the taste with a bit of whole cream and to sprinkle peeled sunflower seeds, the gluten-free option to croutons.

Now I look after my planters on daily basis, I even saw some small shoots already popping from the ground. We had a wonderful weather this week, it rained for days. So the rain started early this year; let's hope it will keep raining. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vote the Dead Sea

My faithful readers are aware of my escapist tendency and my avoidance of any political or actuality issues, but I'm joining the campaign for The Dead Sea. Just last week I spent half a day in the area which is one of my favorite in the whole world. I thought I'll be alone in the desert, enjoying the beauty and serenity of the Ein-Gedi oasis. Well, 5000 people thought the same. But it didn't matter. I still enjoyed myself and took many pictures. All the school kids that saw me wondering around with the Nikon on my neck were so impressed that it was worth the hassle.

I won't bother with you with all the dry facts about the Dead Sea, I will only say it is a wonder of nature that is horribly abused by Mankind. Perhaps it's winning in the official status will help repair and restore this place to what it ought to be.
So, please add your votes in the following link and add The Dead Sea to the list of 7 Wonders of Nature.

View of the Dead Sea from the Ein-Gedi oasis.

Hotels area on the artificial ponds in the southern part of the Dead Sea

Ibex, I always meet them traveling to the desert.
Ein-Gedi oasis, sweet water running in the desert on the shores of The Dead Sea
The vote will close very soon, on Friday the 11.11.2011 but according to recent updates The Dead Sea is among the finalists. Keep up the good work. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Memories of maple

Maple trees and maple syrup from Canada

One of my favorite childhood books was Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. I liked many books in the "Little House" series but the first book had a certain charm that made me read it so many times that at some point I knew whole bits and paragraphs by heart. For an Israeli kid growing up in the city under the harsh Mediterranean sun, the descriptions of endless woods and melting snow were utterly dreamlike. Above all I preferred the chapter "Sugar Snow" I think it still has a magical ring to it. In this episode little Laura's Grandpa and Pa are producing maple syrup.  

I loved the depiction of the way Grandpa hammers the wooden troughs into the trees and the sap flows and fills the buckets. I didn't even know what real maple syrup tasted like till I was a grown-up. In my childhood, maple syrup was artificially flavored simple sugar goo. I know people my age that think to this day that the fake syrup tastes better than the real thing, maybe because it was what they grew-up on. My kids, on the other hand when given the bogus maple, were outraged and claimed it to be disgusting. They've grown up on organic maple syrup imported from Vermont.
Last August in our voyage to Canada, it was clear to me I'll come back with lots of maple syrup. I knew I wouldn’t meet Grandpa as he drill into trees but I thought I might have a chance of seeing something similar to what I imagined so many years ago. When we stayed at the small island of Ile d'Orleans in Quebec I finally saw maple groves. I thought it was beautiful. These days the trees have plastic tubes where the sap pours. But a lot of the process is still as it was 150 years ago, as you can see in the following link:
When we got back home with something like 3 liters of maple syrup we immediately put them to good use.  For example in this salmon entrée, that was the star of our Rosh-Hashana meal.
Maple mustard grilled salmon
4 salmon fillets about 170gr each
1/2 cup (125ml) maple syrup
1/2 cup good quality mustard
Salt and pepper.
Season the fillets with salt and pepper.
Whisk the maple and mustard together in a bowl. Place the salmon in the bowl and marinate for at least 2 hours or even over-night.
Pre-heat a heavy pan, preferably cast iron place the fillets in the pan and braise them 5 minutes on one side and a little less on the other.
Serve at once.
Salmon served with Israeli couscous