What I’m Reading: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Thought I’d start a new series about what I’m reading each month – although I may still be reading this book next month and, let’s face it, the month after – because George Eliot’s Middlemarch is l-o-o-o-ng!

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s not hard going or dull in any way. It’s just that weighs in at a hefty 785 pages and my reading time is limited these days, usually to about 10 minutes each night before I look at the clock and realize that it’s fast approaching midnight.

So, a few words about Middlemarch! It’s considered by some to be the best novel written in the English language and I should mention that this is the third time I am reading it. Yes, you read that correctly. What can I say, it’s just so fricking good! The first time I read it was when I was studying it as an English Literature undergraduate as part of a Victorian literature course. Now I’m just reading it for pleasure. 🙂

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Mary (Rachel Power) and Fred (Jonathan Firth) in the BBC adaptation of Middlemarch

Its length hints at the richness of plot: the story follows five or so main characters and their intertwining fates over several years, all in the small English parish of Middlemarch. There’s Dorothea, young and idealistic, fired up, not only with ideas about how she can better the world, but with a love of God that verges on the mystical. There’s the new doctor in town, Lydgate who, despite his brilliance and ambition, makes a bad decision which sets him on the road to ruin. Then there’s the beautiful and self-centered Rosamund Vincy, the intense artist Will Ladislaw and the amusing pairing of Fred and Mary, childhood sweethearts who you just can’t wait to see get married at the end.

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George Eliot, aka Mary Anne Evans

The characters are fascinating and it’s all thanks to Eliot’s writing. I remember reading Middlemarch for the first time and being struck by how real these characters are, how contradictory. There are no heroes or villains here and, though there’s one character that I found myself hating passionately at certain points in the novel (I can get very emotionally involved in books!), Eliot always shows us the characters’ virtues and flaws equally so that it is hard to completely withhold sympathy from anyone. When scientists claim that reading literary fiction improves empathy, Middlemarch is the book I think of. I actually think that reading it has helped me be more understanding and less judgmental of others.

Have you read Middlemarch? Or do you also struggle to find time to read? We’d love to hear in the comments!

Coconut Cream Malabi

Malabi. I’m willing to bet that there isn’t a single trendy Tel Aviv restaurant that hasn’t got its own version of Malabi on its dessert menu at the moment. Certainly this post was inspired by all the various delicious Malabi (Malabis? Malabim?? Help, grammar gods…) I’ve daintily dipped my spoon into recently (by which I mean, attacked with an amount of energy and gusto that usually requires hydraulics).

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If you’ve never come across it before, Malabi, or Muhallebi, is a cold custard-like dessert, similar in texture to Pannacotta or Blancmange. It’s very popular in Israel, but can be found all over the Middle East and North Africa. Though the main ingredients (cream, sugar and cornflour) are fairly standard, the flavourings and toppings can vary. I’ve eaten Malabi flavoured with vanilla, rosewater, orange flower water, cardamom… I’ve devoured it topped with rose syrup, strawberry syrup, date syrup, pomegranate syrup… I’ve scoffed it sprinkled with cinnamon, powdered with peanuts, anointed with almonds, covered with coconut and pimped with pistachios. So far I’ve not had it with all of the above all at the same time. But tomorrow is another day.

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I had the perfect opportunity to crack the Malabi code when we had Mr Olive’s family over for dinner recently. Since my sister- and brother-in-law are vegan, I went ahead and replaced the cream with coconut cream. Almond or other non-dairy milks could also be used, but then the result would be less creamy. And we all like creamy.

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I adore both rosewater and orange flower water so choosing between them was pure agony (I never ever exaggerate) but in the end I went for the more classic rosewater. I figure this is only the first of many Malabis (Malabies? Ick, no, that sounds like a disease) I’m going to make so there’ll be plenty of time for all the other variations 🙂

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And then I decided to throw vanilla and cardamom in there too because I simply couldn’t bring myself to give up on either of them. Perish the thought!

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For toppings, I chose date syrup, known in Israel as Silan, since it reminds me of the marvelous Malabi Mr Olive and I used to scarf down at Hummus Bros in London’s Soho. It can usually be found in whole food shops. Then, toasted desiccated coconut (because it’s traditional and because it’s yummy), and chopped almonds (because they’re delicious and nutritious) and pistachios (because I can’t resist that pop of green).

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And I almost forgot to mention how easy Malabi is to make. It’s basically as easy as throwing a few things together in a pot, bringing them to the boil and stirring them. Then pouring the lot into jars and sticking them in the fridge for a few hours. Ta-da: a new fancy summertime dinner party dessert… that your guests will go nuts for! Pretty sweet!

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Coconut Cream Malabi

SERVES 4-6

4 HOURS, 20 MINS

PREPARATION TIME: 20 MINUTES

CHILLING TIME: 4 HOURS, OR OVERNIGHT

Ingredients

Malabi

3 cups / 710 ml coconut cream,

5 tbsp corn flour,

3 tbsp rosewater,

5 tbsp white sugar,

1 tsp vanilla extract,

1/4 tsp cardamom seeds, ground or crushed,

Toppings

Date syrup to taste (I used 2 tbsp per serving),

1-2 handfuls of almonds,

1-2 handfuls of pistachios, shelled,

Approx 4 tbsp dessicated coconut,

Method

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk half a cup of the coconut cream with the corn flour, rosewater and vanilla until smooth.
  2. Put the remaining 2 1/2 cups of coconut cream in a small saucepan together with the sugar and cardamom and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the corn flour mixture, reduce the heat and simmer, whisking vigorously, for about 1 minute, until the Malabi thickens and there are no lumps.
  4. Pour into serving dishes or small glass jars and bring to room temperature. Then chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
  5. While the Malabi is chilling, prepare the toppings. Toast the almonds and pistachios in a dry frying pan over a low heat. Watch them closely so they don’t burn!
  6. Place the toasted nuts in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped.
  7. Toast the desiccated coconut gently in a dry frying pan over a low heat, stirring often so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the pan as soon as it starts to turn golden (if your kitchen didn’t already smell amazing, it will now).
  8. When you are ready to serve, top each Malabi with a couple of tablespoons of date syrup, and a teaspoonful or so each of coconut and nuts.
  9. Yum!

The Olive Branch: February and March

Golly gosh, where is the year going? My aim was to write an Olive Branch update at the end of every month but somehow February got away from me and now it’s already the first week of April! Time for a bumper edition!

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Back in February, we took an overnight trip to the one place in Israel where you can count on seeing snow in the winter: Mt Hermon. As you can see, we weren’t alone there. Yup, Israelis get pretty excited about snow…

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We shared a DIY for a Kids’ Art Wall Collage. Also a great way to spruce up and repurpose an old picture frame! Mmmm, look at the nice tidily-arranged toys and books (it never really looks like that).

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Sophie performed in her ballet show and I was so proud I could burst! I guess ballet love must be hereditary…

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We went on a spring almond-blossom hunt. Every year we take a trip to the Sataf, an agricultural site in the Jerusalem Hills, where they experiment with growing vegetables and orchard trees as they were grown in biblical times. So pretty!

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Yup, still working on that scarf! Pretty slow going, but it is my first knitting project after all. Hope to finish it by next winter! I’ve joined a knitting group and we meet every Thursday. Wouldn’t even have managed one row without those lovely girls…

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I finally dug out my pasta machine, which had been languishing decadently in its box for the last four years, and proceeded to make tortellini, which didn’t take very long at all. I lie, it took A WHOLE DAY! Avoid making all my newbie mistakes by checking out our post: How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips!

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Was it worth spending a whole day learning how to use a pasta machine! Absolutely it was! Especially when the result was Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter. Check out our recipe and I defy not to lick the bowl at the end!

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I made a wig. Not a very realistic-looking hairpiece, I admit, but one that was befitting of a little mermaid all dressed up for Purim. For anyone unfamiliar with Purim, it’s often described as the Jewish Halloween: kid-centered, fancy dress costumed, too many sweets… you get the idea. I gave Sophie a deadline for deciding what costume she wanted and then held her to it. Although I did somewhat modify her initial request to dress up as an ‘evil mermaid’. What the heck?

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Purim was an insane week of costume making, egg decoration (not just for Easter, apparently), goodie basket prep and multiple parties. Super fun and rather knackering! Here are Sophie the Mermaid and Tom the Pirate just before we headed off to Mr Olive’s office Purim party.

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Current obsession: The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees. This is a book which is basically a step by step system for discovering your own personal style and curating the perfect wardrobe of clothes to meet your style and lifestyle needs. I’ve worked through most of the exercises and am now on the section about working with outfit formulas. Doing the exercises in this book is basically what I would prefer to be doing over almost anything else at the moment and I’m already feeling so much more confident in how I dress. Did I mention I’m obsessed?

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Last but not least, my parents and brother came from the U.K. to visit for a week so I went all quiet on social media so I could focus on really being with them. It was so wonderful having them here and getting to share my Levantine life with them! We did beach walks, hummus lunches, extended family gatherings, road trips… ah, missing them  so much already…

All that plus a baby shower, a Mums’ karaoke night, closing on a kindergarten for Tom for September, and house hunting. LOTS of house hunting.

Sometimes it feels like time is moving so swiftly without much being achieved so it’s fun to look back and see how much we really did in these months! How is spring treating you so far?

Love Em xx