Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cookie Break - The Best Meal of the Day

As promised, an entry dedicated to the nasty food served via a catering company at Kibbutz Mahanayim. The two (kosher) meals for which the caterers were responsible was lunch (meat), served at 2:30 when we returned from the dig, and dinner (dairy) at 7:30. If this were one's only judge of kosher fare, one would remain confused about the definitions and further believe that kosher = nasty. Let's just say that the words of my room-mate, Sonja, summed up the experience very well: how is it possible that these people ruin perfectly good food? And, having eaten fantastic kosher food before, I knew that this was a non-issue regarding flavour. (I'll have to wait till I get home for Inna's brisket, but will never give up hope that one day it will show up in my mailbox here.)

So, some examples of what they fed us: eggs, my favourite food, ruined in a tomato sauce (another fav) because it wasn't hot, nor was any spice of any sort used; grayish mystery meat in a gravy-like sauce; peas and rice (yet again, a fav) but cold and flavourless - you get the idea. Whatever hot food they served was generally cold, as though placed on the tables when we'd left that morning, and spiced with humidity found for free in the air it sat in. When I tell you that hummus was the ketchup on the kibbutz, I'm not joking. Occasionally we'd get meat in a hot dog-like form and there would be red sauce available - but it was sweeter than ketchup. I personally did not try this and stuck with tried and true hummus - I ate it with tomato and cucumber salad, potatoes, rice, beets, soggy lukewarm vegetables, chicken and meat.

On the bright side of the gastronomic offerings, the watermelon, peaches, apples and plums were amazing and twice there was this beef stew that was so yummy. It was no Kickass Guinness Irish Stew, nor was it my Gramma's, but it was tasty. Suffice it to say, I lived for cookie break every morning at 7 on the tel. Chocolate and vanilla and tiramisu and lemon wafers; jammie dodgers; these firm little log-shaped biscuits filled with chocolate or halva; Pims. Cookies became a food group unto themselves for three weeks. Thank goodness the sugar in them was needed to fuel our digging, else I would've ballooned. As it is, I've gone down a clothing size.

On the tel, breakfast was at 9:30. This meal was consistently very tasty (see itinerary in last entry) but I had to modify what I ate. The dairy was not a good idea in the heat combined with a fairly steady stance of being bent over at the waist and doing manual labour... with a pickaxe, sometimes (I love saying that), or hunched over brushing dirt. By the end of the first week, the most I could really stomach at this meal was bread with jam.

And, not all the food is nasty here, just that which was served at the kibbutz. Truly, for the first few days I didn't think it was all that bad, then they served the egg-tomato scary surprise and I was a disillusioned little digger. Thankfully, within a five minute walk of the kibbutz was Mahanayim Junction. There they have restaurants for falafel, tasty pizza, and the best ice cream I've had in a long time. On several evenings, Sonja, Steve, Marion and I - and occasionally some of the others, but always we four - would head for ice cream. Are you ready for the flavours? Are you sitting down? I tried: coconut, chocolate with chocolate crispy bits, date, caramel, kinder egg, oreo cookie, chocolate/vanilla swirl. Total yum. If I could've lived on that, I would've. That and the falafel. Falafel is a thousand times better here - as are the figs. The figs are four times as big as the tiny ones we're sold in Toronto. I don't think I will ever get tired of figs and would seriously consider moving here permanently just for them. Maybe I should marry a fig farmer. Or be a fig farmer. I'd keep all my friends in figs, and you would love me more than you already do, that's how big and beautiful the figs are in Israel.

Speaking of fantastic food, on my first Sunday here, I roadtripped with Jess, Sarah and Joelle to Tsfat. It's a very lovely little town with many artisans, and it was here that I went into my first synagogues. On the way home, we decided to go to Rosh Pinna for dinner to a chocolate restaurant. Restaurants here are either dairy or meat - you can't, for example, get a cheeseburger. So, the choco-resto was dairy. I had eggplant rolled and stuffed with goat's cheese and sundried tomatoes, in a tomato sauce, with more cheeses melted on top and sprinkled with pine nuts - to die for. Flavour! Spice! A treat for your tongue AND your tummy! For dessert, we all shared a chocolate fondue with marshmallows, chocolate croutons and fruit for dipping - apples, watermelon, pears, bananas, and some others whose names I don't know but were soooo delicious. We were going to return with more chocolate desserts, but were very full and had already purchased some chocolate halva in Tsfat. Halva is an extremely rich dessert made from sesame seeds, and though not to everyone's taste, I thought it wonderful in small doses. Sonja and I had it for breakfast the next morning. The fun of being an adult!

After a particularly bad meal, Jess and I discussed returning to Tel Hazor as the cooks for hungry diggers. Then, after this discussion, if I was lying in bed and even remotely wired at 9 pm, instead of counting sheep I'd make meal plans for large groups. They wouldn't have to pay me - just look after expenses and pay someone else to do the cleaning-up. I had just-before-sleeping daydreams of the gratitude of future volunteers and archaeologists; of the latter including me in their list of acknowledgments in publications of their research or of the former telling all their friends that they HAD to come dig at Hazor because the meals made every digging day complete. How much rice would I need to serve You Are So Dirty Rice to 50 people?

And then I think of Deborah. Did she worry about feeding people as she sat beneath her Palm tree, or while she marched in the general direction toward where I spent the better part of the past three weeks? How would she have solved this dilemna - with a glass of milk and a few cookies? (Which is pretty much what we did.) The cookie break was important for me, not only for all that sugar, but also because I sat with her while I ate wafers and drank strong, sweet coffee. I looked at the hills of Naphtali daily which, according to the biblical narrative, was the area belonging to one of the tribes who fought in her war against the Canaanite oppressors who lived in the city I was helping to unearth. How can you top that? That's right: by eating more chocolate wafers with chocolate bits, that's how. Cookies at Hazor go hand in heavy-duty-work-glove.


Richard said...

Kibbutz food is the reason I returned from Israel after 1 1/2 years as a walking skeleton (according to my Mom). Unfortunately, the weight does not stay off permanently!

Anonymous said...

I love your "food" commentaries - the eggplant & goat's cheese, etc. sounds wonderful. When you talk of Deborah and the landscape, I feel I am there with you. All that amazing history and culture. Care package/letter soon will on its way to you! Love always, Mom

Julie said...

I have fig jealousy.

Anonymous said...

I have ice cream jealousy not to mention going down a dress size jealousy. Bijoux