The Olive Branch: April

Spring is swiftly moving towards summer and today (in mid-May) we’ve got temperatures of 36 celsius! Better have a quick look back at April before spring becomes a far-off memory and I forget what the colour green looks like (Israeli summers have a rather yellow/brown tint!).

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This and the first pic are from a little hike we did up Napolean Hill in an area called Rosh Tzipor (Bird Head) in north Tel Aviv. I love these little pockets of wild nature in the middle of the city.

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We celebrated Passover with Tom’s kindergarten by going on a trip to Sharon Beach just up the coast. It was a lot of fun and a little bit wacky as we all dressed up as Moses and his followers and pretended to be fleeing Egypt. Tom made just about the cutest little Moses I’ve ever seen 🙂

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I enjoyed using these vintage bone china dessert plates my parents brought over when they visited. They used to belong to my Nan so they’re very special to me. Just one look at those blue cornflowers and I’m back in my grandparents’ dining room with the net curtains and the electric organ in the corner, drinking tea and eating trifle!

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We shared a recipe for Coconut Cream Malabi, a traditional Middle Eastern dessert which is very trendy in Tel Aviv at the moment. It’s ridiculously easy to make and absolutely delicious! This version is vegan too…

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My little dreamer…

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We went on an epic camping trip in the desert with old friends. There was running through sprinklers, ibex and camel spotting, TWO glorious desert water holes, a bedouin tent, barbecues and toasted marshmallows… but most importantly amazing company. Miss you already, Jess and Jo!

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And finally, I picked up Middlemarch again – a book which I can honestly say has made me a better person, as well as being a jolly good read. Click through to find out how much this book means to me!

What else? A new haircut, a new capsule wardrobe, a karaoke night, a LOT of school holiday (tiring!) and lots of house viewings (but I think we might have found the one…).

How was your April?

Love Em xx

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

 

Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter

Mr Olive and I go out on a date every couple of weeks and our favourite type of date consists of heading into Tel Aviv to eat at one of the city’s amazing restaurants. Sitting and chatting in a cool venue over a selection of delicious and surprising dishes and a yummy cocktail is basically our idea of the best quality time ever. Mr Olive’s mother often rolls her eyes at us: “There are so many things you could do on a date!” she says. “Go and see a film or a concert for a change!” She has a point but, in the end, as a couple with young kids and real face-to-face time at a premium, we’d much rather be interacting with each other than looking at something else or staring at a screen (we do quite enough screen-staring as it is!).

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A month ago we went for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants: Dalida, in south Tel Aviv. Named after the Egyptian-Italian singer popular throughout the 60s and 70s, the restaurant describes itself as a European khmara, where ‘khmara’ is the Arabic word for a drinking den – a cave of pleasure where people gather late into the night to eat, get drunk and talk nonsense. While a little scuzzy, the khmara is also joyful and fun. It’s a distinctly Levantine concept. A Middle Eastern stereotype. Presumably, the ‘European’ part of Dalida’s claim alludes both to the food and to the atmosphere of urbanity and self-awareness that lies alongside that down-to-earth khmara vibe. In practice, Dalida is not a dive, but a cozy bar-restaurant, very hip and vintagey, which serves an exciting fusion of European and Middle-Eastern cuisines.

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One of the dishes we ate was described on the menu thus: ‘Tortellini. Inside: Ricotta, chard, cranberries, pistachios. Outside: Fresh shiitaki, scorched cherry tomatoes, sage-lemongrass butter, vegetables, parmesan.’ Um, what? Cranberries and pistachios stuffed inside tortellini? Shiitaki with parmesan? Sage-lemongrass butter? Oh. My. God.

The dish was one of the most moreishly umami concoctions I have eaten in a long time. That hint of sweet and salty crunch inside the pasta, mixed with the powerful (and weirdly complimentary) flavours of shiitaki and parmesan. And the tomato juices mingling with the fragrant notes of lemongrass and sage. It was so good. It was so good that I had to recreate it. Even if that meant dusting off the unopened box in which my pasta machine had been sitting for the last four years. That good.

So I made tortellini from scratch for the first time in my life (that time back when I was in my 20s and didn’t have a pasta machine so I used a rolling pin and each tortellini emerged resembling a baseball mitt? We don’t mention that time). And it was soooo worth it. I may have stuck my face into the bowl and licked it clean at the end. Ok, I definitely did.

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If you are experienced at making fresh pasta, this will be easy peasy for you. I am not so I can’t deny that it took me a while. However, the only actual challenging part was getting the hang of the pasta machine so, if you’re also a newbie pasta maker (or even if you just haven’t done it in a while) I highly recommend that you check out our previous post, How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. I learned a lot while using my machine for the first time and next time it will be much quicker and easier! And I think the next time is going to be very soon…

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Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter

MAKES APPROX 36 TORTELLINI / SERVES 4

PREPARATION AND COOKING (INCLUDING DOUGH RESTING TIME): APPROX 2 HOURS

Inspired by the Tortellini served at Dalida Bar-Restaurant, Tel Aviv.

Pasta dough recipe based on the one in Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef. I used a food processor to make the dough, but you could also use a stand mixer, or do it by hand in a big bowl.

Ingredients

Pasta Dough

250g / 2 cups strong pasta flour (Tipo ’00’)

2-3 large free-range eggs

1/2 tsp turmeric

Lots of semolina flour for dusting

Tortellini Filling

100g / 3.5 oz swiss chard, roughly chopped

100g / 3.5 oz roasted, salted pistachios, shelled

50g / 1.75 oz dried cranberries

200g / 7 oz ricotta

3 tbsp lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

To Serve

20g / 0.75 oz dried shiitake mushrooms

Cooking oil spray (I used a coconut oil based one)

400g / 14 oz cherry tomatoes

50g / 1.75 oz unsalted butter

White part of a stalk of fresh lemongrass (usually the bottom third)

20 sage leaves

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

25g / 0.9 oz grated parmesan

Method

  1. First make the pasta dough. Put all the dough ingredients, except the semolina flour, in the food processor and turn it on. At first, as the dough starts to come together, it will look similar to breadcrumbs, which will then start to stick together to form a larger ball of dough. When this happens, take it out of the processor and see how it feels. Remember that eggs can differ in size and different flours can have different absorbencies, so squeeze and knead the dough a little bit and, if it feels too wet and gloopy, return it to the processor with some more flour. If it feels too dry and not stretchy enough, return it to the processor and add another egg. The final consistency should be smooth, silky and elastic, similar to bread dough.
  2. When you’re happy with the texture of the dough, remove it from the processor (it should leave the bowl clean) and knead it for 2-5 minutes until it’s soft and stretchy. I usually put on some music and knead for about the length of an average pop song. This time my musical accompaniment was this 😉 Wrap the dough in plastic and put in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.
  3. While the dough is resting, clean the bowl of your food processor and put the shiitake mushrooms to soak in a mug of lukewarm water.

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  1. Make the tortellini filling. Put the chard, pistachios and cranberries in the food processor and pulse until roughly chopped and combined.
  2. Add the ricotta, lemon juice and some salt and pepper and whiz until the mixture is a similar colour and texture to guacamole. Taste to check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.

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  1. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and spray with cooking oil. When the pan is very hot add the cherry tomatoes and leave them to sear for 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure they don’t stick. After 5 minutes they should have some brown sear marks on them. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
  2. Sit down, have a cuppa and, if you haven’t already, read this post: How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. Clamp your pasta machine to your work surface.
  3. When the dough has rested for an hour, take it out of the fridge and divide it into 2 balls. Re-wrap one ball in plastic while you work with the other one.
  4. Dust your work surface with semolina flour and then flatten the ball of dough with your hand. Run it through the pasta machine on the lowest (widest) setting until it becomes a thick sheet. Dust both sides generously with semolina flour.

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  1. Fold the two short ends of the pasta sheet into the middle and run through the rollers at the thickest setting 2 or 3 more times, folding the ends into the middle each time – this creates a more rectangular sheet of pasta which is also the full width of your pasta machine. Dust with flour each time!
  2. Continue, running the dough through each of the width settings until the pasta sheet is 1-1.5mm thick. On my machine (the Marcato Atlas 150) this was setting 6.
  3. Repeat the process for the 2nd ball of dough.
  4. Making sure your work surface is well-dusted with flour, cut your pasta sheets into 8 x 8 cm (3 x 3 inch) squares.

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  1. Taking one square at a time, place a teaspoon of tortellini filling in the centre of each square. With a clean pastry brush and some water, brush evenly around the edges of the square. Make sure you use enough water so the tortellini will stick together properly.
  2. Fold the pasta square over the filling diagonally (see pic above) and press the edges together firmly. To get rid of any trapped air you can hold the triangle in the palm of your hand and squeeze it gently. Fold in the two flaps and press them together to join. You’ve just made tortellini! Repeat for all the remaining pasta.

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  1. Cook the tortellini for 3-4 minutes in boiling, well-salted water, then drain. While it’s cooking, drain the mushrooms and finely chop. Save a few sage leaves for a garnish, and finely chop the rest, along with the lemongrass.
  2. Using the same large frying pan you used for the tomatoes, melt the butter on a low heat, then add the mushrooms, lemongrass, sage, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes.
  3.  Add the drained tortellini to the pan and toss gently. Add the seared cherry tomatoes and squash them slightly with the back of a spoon so that some of the juice runs out to mingle with the butter.
  4. Sprinkle over the grated parmesan, toss again and check seasoning. Garnish with the reserved sage leaves and serve with extra parmesan. Lick the bowl clean with abandon. 🙂

The Olive Branch: January

So the first month of 2017 has come and gone and if the photos I’ve taken this month are anything to go by, it seems like our January was mainly filled with baking sweet treats, eating aforementioned treats and then hiking in the countryside to make our bodies think the sweet treats never happened.

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At the beginning of the month I shared my go-to cookie recipe: Chocolate Chip Raisin Oat Cookies. Yummy, simple to make and not even really all that bad for you (ignore the butter, ignore the butter… what? Of course I wasn’t trying to send you a subliminal message). Bake up a batch and then you won’t have to offer your guests your kids’ Pez sweets as refreshment.

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Also, I tidied up Sophie and Tom’s shared bedroom so I could share this Kids’ Room Tour and it stayed tidy from the exact moment I finished tidying it until the exact moment the kids entered it. Sisyphus, I feel ya.

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We took a couple of lovely trips out of the city. This one was our hike at Yaqum Lake in the centre of Israel. It’s a lake that only exists in the winter, after the rains begin. Tom enjoyed scanning the wide skies for airplanes.

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I bought a new plant! Such an indulgence, I know. It’s a Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sanseviera) and here it is peeking out from behind the lamp. Apparently it’s one of those ones that’s impossible to kill. We’ll see. Already this month we had some crazy strong winds which literally dislodged our window boxes and smashed them onto the ground below (we live on the fourth floor). Only the lemon geranium survived… sniff sniff.

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We did another trip up to the Carmel region to Ramat Hanadiv, a nature park with formal gardens and a separate wilder section with hiking trails. We loved the rose garden, which was in full bloom – it’s always funny for me to see flowers and plants that I associate with summer thriving in the Mediterranean winter! By the way, the pink roses smelled the sweetest. No surprise there then. #ihavethisthingwithpink

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In important family news, Mr Olive’s sister gave birth to their first baby and I’m so looking forward to all the cuddles! I baked this Vegan Chilled Chocolate Torte with Toasted Hazlenut Crust to celebrate (my sister-in-law and her husband are vegan so we eat a lot of plant-based food in our family). I based the recipe on one from the first Oh She Glows cookbook (which was a gift from Ave, incidentally ♥ ♥ ♥ ). Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to post the recipe!

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And finally, right at the tail end of the month, I finally got round to posting the recipe for Savta Clara’s Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup. It’s a winter warmer that packs a lemony peppery punch and it’s an old family recipe passed down by Mr Olive’s granny. Generations of soup-lovers can’t be wrong!

Apart from that I went on a girls’ karaoke night, had a date night with Mr Olive, added a few more rows to a scarf I’m knitting (first ever knitting project – wish me luck!), signed a fair few petitions – no need to guess the subject 😦 – and, as always, did a sh*tload of laundry!

So how about you? How was your start to 2017?

Em xx

Savta Clara’s Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup

Back in November I posted a recipe for Savta Shifra’s Vegetable Soup, the best vegetable soup out there, in my opinion! Now, as promised, I’m back with a soup recipe from a different Savta (‘savta’ means ‘granny’ in Hebrew). Savta Clara was Mr Olive’s granny on his mother’s side and her famous winter soup is a winner: a zingy combination of tomato, carrot and rice with an energizing hit of lemon, pepper and fresh herbs.

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Forget your sweet cloying Cream of Tomato (although I do have a soft spot for the Heinz tinned kind!); Savta Clara’s tomato soup is an entirely different beast. Despite the satisfying addition of rice, this soup feels light, invigorating, rejuvenating. I kind of see it as the vegetarian equivalent of the classic clear chicken noodle soup. If you’re suffering from the winter woozies and you’re not a chicken soup fan, THIS is the soup recipe you need to get you high-kicking again. I’m actually eating a bowl of it as I write this, and, wow, is it ever clearing my sinuses!

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A little background on Clara: she was born in 1917 in Bacău, a town in the east of Romania. She was a mischievous child and, by her own account, rather tested her parents’ patience. “If they threw me out the door, I’d come back in through the window,” she said. “And if they threw me out the window, I’d climb back in down the chimney.” Clara always loved to travel and she first visited Israel in her early 20s. While there she studied agriculture under the Meshek Hapoalot scheme, which prepared young immigrant women for their new non-traditional roles as farm labourers in the kibbutz and moshav communities.

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On finishing her program, she returned to Romania, where she married her hardworking and good-hearted husband, Itzchak, and gave birth to their first daughter, Nurit. But in 1950 Clara returned to Israel with her family, this time for good. They lived first in the north of the country before eventually settling in the vibrant city of Tel Aviv. They had a wide social circle, mostly composed of other immigrants from Romania, and every Friday evening they would meet with friends to listen to music, dance and play cards.

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Clara was known for her ‘golden hands’ and her ability to excel at all kinds of crafts including sewing, knitting and embroidery. My mother-in-law, Irit, describes her as a serious but sweet and loving mother with exceptional organizational and culinary skills, and she and Mr Olive often recall their regular Saturday meal at Savta Clara’s, when she would serve borsht, peppery schnitzel and kasha.

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And, of course, this Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup. Warming and comforting, with a kick of citrus, this is the soup that Mr Olive requests on dark rainy winter days, especially when he’s got a touch of the Man Flu. And now you can enjoy it too! Sniffles optional 🙂

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Savta Clara’s Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup

MAKES 1 POT

PREPARATION AND COOKING TIME: 35-40 MINS

Thanks to my mother-in-law, Irit, for passing this recipe down to me and for sharing stories of her mother, Clara.

Ingredients

3 medium carrots

1 medium onion

2 tbsp olive oil

One large handful each of fresh parsley, dill and celery leaf, including stalks (do not chop the herbs)

500 ml / 2 cups tomato juice

100g / 1/2 cup white rice

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt, black pepper and sugar to taste

Method

  1. Boil the kettle.
  2. Coarsely grate one of the carrots and slice or finely chop the other two.
  3. Finely chop the onion.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the vegetables, cover, and sweat on a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Pour boiling water into the pot, to about the halfway mark.
  6. Add the bunches of parsley, dill and celery leaves and cover.
  7. Bring to the boil and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Then, using kitchen tongs, remove the herbs and discard.
  8. Add the tomato juice and bring to the boil again.
  9. Add the rice, cover, and simmer on a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until the rice is cooked.
  10. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar. You can afford to be generous with the lemon and pepper, since the citrus and heat are what gives this soup so much zing and pep!
  11. Treat yourself to a big bowlful on a dark and rainy winter day.

 

 

Kids’ Room Tour

I was, frankly, a little terrified about moving Sophie and Tom into their new beds. I was afraid of things that go bump in the night – nothing supernatural, just the telltale sound of a child falling out of bed and crashing to the floor. I was also filled with trepidation, imagining being woken in the witching hour by a toddler gleefully galloping around the house having realised that his new toddler bed is much lower to the floor and rather less confining than his cot was.

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But Tom, who, at two, can occasionally take a rather cavalier approach to health and safety, was starting to enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to climb out of his cot and up onto the changing table. And Sophie, at the age of four, was definitely ready to move out of her toddler bed and into a big girl bed.  It was time. Room makeover, baby!

Mr Olive and I went bed shopping and chose a classic white single bed for Sophie, locally made by HouseIn, a company that specializes in ‘healthy’, environmentally friendly solid wood furniture, free from toxic chemicals. Apparently, even their glue is based on soya protein. Yum! (Just kidding – don’t eat glue, friends!) We’re really pleased with the purchase and with the room restyle which, I think, has resulted in a simpler, less cluttered and more functional space.

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The room is a decent size but not exactly cavernous so it was important for us to keep the beds up against the walls and maintain the floor space in the middle of the room for playing.

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The ‘It’s a Jolly Holiday’ banner is a DIY via this tutorial and is a tribute to our family’s Mary Poppins fixation. The goatbells hanging from the curtain rail were picked up by Mr Olive on his hiking trip in Greece last autumn.

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The Four Bears canvas print was a gift from my cool sister-in-law. The little wooden train at the front with the Hebrew letters was also a gift from friends and spells out ‘Tom’.

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The paper cranes mobile was a DIY and the red dress hanging on the back of the door was a gift brought back from Singapore by my other cool sister-in-law (is it the job of sisters-in-law to be cool or what?).

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The shelving unit is the IKEA Lerberg, which I spray painted white. It’s great for stacking boxed toys. I also love large glass jars (placed safely out of reach) for all of those little plastic doodads the kids seem to magnetically attract – the jars corral it all, it actually looks kind of cute, and if the kids want something specific from a jar they just ask.

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We kept the existing colour scheme, a bright and gender-neutral combo of red, yellow, blue and pink. So far the kids haven’t had too much input into how the room is decorated (too young to give a monkey’s, basically) but I can feel that starting to change. Sophie’s new bedding was a surprise Christmas present but I knew she would love the fairytale unicorn design. And, boy, does she! Almost every night she asks me to keep the light on for one more minute so she can admire her duvet cover one last time. So cute!

The kids have shared a room since Tom was about seven months old and, altogether, it’s worked well. They wake each other up occasionally, but since Sophie generally acts like she’s trying to win a gold medal in competitive sleeping, it’s not usually a problem. I also think that room sharing supports sibling closeness and they do really seem to enjoy being together.

I’m super happy with the room’s new(ish) layout and a good side benefit is that it has forced me to do some toy purging and reorganization too. First world problems, I know. But most importantly, Sophie and Tom love their new beds, nobody has fallen out (yet) and, hey, if they get really hungry at night there’s always that soya protein bed glue to chew on. KIDDING!

OTHER PRODUCT SOURCES: Wall art – Society 6; Book display unit – IKEA hack; Curtains, white chest of drawers, mirror, white fluffy rug, pink flower light – IKEA; woven rug – Fox Home; pink unicorn bedding – ASDA George

Chocolate Chip Raisin Oat Cookies

These are my go-to cookies. I can make them without even looking at the recipe. Well, almost. Actually, I always look at the recipe. I’m pretty bad at remembering quantities of things. And counting. Let’s just say that I’ll never give Fermat a run for his money. Not at maths, anyway. I don’t know how he was at baking.

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The recipe in question comes from Julia Suddaby, one of my favourite artists, who also happens to be a delightful person and my mum’s best friend. I remember first eating (far too many of) these cookies as a child while visiting with Julia and her family at their home in the Essex countryside. They were such a hit with us kids on that visit that my mum copied down the recipe and started baking them for us. Now I bake them for my kids, for any kindergarten event where refreshments are required, for leaving parties, for unexpected guests, for expected guests, and just generally all the time, for no reason. Nobody ever gets bored of them and somebody always asks for the recipe.

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Julia’s original recipe source was Joy of Cooking, which she says was her favourite escapist reading material while living on a Belgian commune in 1975. She told me that the nostalgia of reading about 1950s American cocktail parties was the perfect balance to the environment in which she was then living, which she describes as, “the bohemian world of 1970s travellers and artistic Belgian aristocracy”.

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Despite not being very aristocratic, there are so many things to love about these cookies:

  1. They are absolutely, positively, unquestionably scrummy. Chocolatey, fruity, chewy, a little bit cakey, a little bit crumbly, and extremely satisfying without being overly rich or sweet.
  2. You don’t need any special equipment. Just a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon and a baking sheet.
  3. You are quite likely to have all or most of the ingredients in your cupboard already, which means you can have a batch baked and cooling on your counter (and smelling heavenly) within about 25 minutes. This is obviously a boon when you have people coming over for coffee in half an hour and nothing to offer them but Ninja Turtle Pez sweets. (This has never happened to me. Ok, this has definitely happened to me). Which brings me to…
  4. Even if you don’t have all the ingredients, the recipe is pretty forgiving. You can use just chocolate chips or just raisins or neither. You can sub nuts, seeds, desiccated coconut or whatever you fancy. I’ve made the cookies with flax egg and non-dairy butter for a vegan version. And I’ve made them with half self-raising and half all-purpose flour and they came out totally fine. Hooray for lenient cookie recipes!
  5. While they do contain a ton of butter (not literally – that would be gross), I would say they are on the healthy cookie spectrum. Only a half cup of brown sugar AND vast quantities of oats. In fact, you can rest safe in the knowledge that, while the butter may not be doing anything great for your cholesterol levels, the oats (as well as enhancing your immune system, providing wholegrain fiber, and protecting against heart disease) definitely are. So it all evens out in the end. Right? Right!

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The recipe has gone through a couple of changes on its journey from ’50s America to ’70s Europe to my little kitchen in Tel Aviv today. My original note-book scrawled recipe (entitled simply, ‘Cookies’, as if to emphasize that you really don’t need any other cookie recipe in your life), calls for margarine. I don’t tend to buy margarine and I like the rich flavour that butter brings to baking, but feel free to sub a trans-fat free margarine if that’s what rocks your casbah. I added a pinch of salt and some vanilla extract to the recipe because, you know. I give a quantity guideline here for the chocolate chips and raisins, although my original notes are unspecific and, to be honest, I usually just eyeball it.

And that’s it! If you don’t already have a go-to cookie recipe, then try these – maybe this is the ONE! And if you already have a go-to cookie recipe, then try these anyway! Because they are freaking delicious.

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Chocolate Chip Raisin Oat Cookies

MAKES APPROX. 16 COOKIES

PREPARATION AND BAKE TIME: 25-30 MINS

Ingredients

100g / 1/2 cup / 3.5 oz brown sugar

175g / 3/4 cup / 6.17 oz butter at room temperature

2 free-range eggs

128g / 1 cup / 4.5 oz self-raising flour

192g / 1.5 cups / 6.75 oz jumbo rolled oats

Pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

117g / 2/3 cup / 4.12 oz dark chocolate chips

100g / 2/3 cup / 3.5 oz raisins

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C (356F / Gas Mark 4).
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and butter, using a wooden spoon, until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs, flour, oats, salt and vanilla and mix until just combined.
  4. Add the chocolate chips and raisins and mix again. (Not too much.)
  5. Put rounded tablespoons of the mix onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes.
  6. Let cool for 10 minutes before gobbling them all up. The cookies will keep in an airtight container out of the fridge. I can’t say how long for because ours always mysteriously disappear before I have a chance to carry out my research. 😉

 

 

Vancouver Island Travel Guide: Nanaimo

You know how when one of your dreams comes true and you actually do something that you’d been dreaming and scheming about for years? And then, even months after you’ve done it you still can’t believe that you really did it and how amazing it was? That’s how I feel about our trip to Canada. Earlier this year our family spent a month travelling in Canada: two weeks on Vancouver Island, B.C., and two weeks Winnebago-ing around the Rockies. You can read my travel guide to charming Victoria, capital of British Columbia, here. But today I’m here to tell you about our escapades travelling up the east coast of Vancouver Island and hopefully impart some useful hints and tips along the way. Let’s go!

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View from the Malahat

Starting in Victoria and driving the Trans-Canada Highway up the east coast of Vancouver Island, you pass through the Cowichan Valley region, known for its lush vineyards and wineries. Sophie and Tom, being only 4 and 2 years old, are not big wine-drinkers, so we decided to skip the wine-tasting and focus on getting to our next destination, Nanaimo!  Nanaimo is about 1.5 hours drive north of Victoria and on the way it’s definitely worth stopping at the Malahat, a sacred mountain lookout point located on Malahat Drive, a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway 27km north of Victoria. The 356m high viewpoint is named after the Malahat First Nation for whom the mountain is a holy place. Legends tell that the mountain is the home of the Thunderbird and other supernatural beings venerated by the Salish People of the Pacific Northwest. The view from the lookout is spectacular and takes in the Salish Inlet and and the Salish Sea below.

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Graycliff Cottage B&B
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Graycliff Cottage Garden

In Nanaimo, we stayed at Graycliff Cottage Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast in Lantzville, a sweet suburb north-west of the town centre, conveniently close to the Woodgrove Shopping Center (for picnicking supplies and White Spot lunches – more about that in a minute!). The B&B is indeed located right on the oceanfront: the header image for this post shows the unobstructed sea view from the B&B’s backyard at dusk. The accommodation was probably the nicest of our entire trip – just the right combination of comfort, privacy, cute decor and cozy homeliness. The catloving owners, Jan and Warren, made us feel very welcome and cooked us yummy pancake breakfasts in the mornings. We chose to go crazy and take both of the Garden Suites so we had plenty of space for the four of us. The garden was lovely and filled with plum and apple trees and flowers (by the way, if anyone can identify the plant pictured above, I’d be mighty grateful – so far it falls into the category of ‘Enigmatic North American Plant that Nobody Recognizes’).

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Westwood Lake

Once we’d dropped off our luggage at the B&B we headed straight to beautiful Westwood Lake, west of downtown Nanimo. I’d remembered bathing there as a kid on visits to my grandparents’ when I’d loved the fresh water and the natural setting, with forest stretching right down to the water. Our return visit didn’t disappoint. It was a baking hot day at the beginning of August and I spent some time kicking myself on the shins about having left my bathing suit back at the B&B. But I guess someone had to stay on the beach with Tom, who was snoozing in his buggy. So I sat and sweated and gazed longingly at Sophie and Mr Olive as they splashed about in the cool water. When Tom woke up (extremely grouchy) we had a picnic and Sophie met a mermaid (well, a girl wearing one of those mermaid tails you can actually wear swimming), with whom she was greatly enamoured and still talks about four months later.

The next morning we found a playground a short walk from our B&B so that kept us amused until lunchtime (clarification: it kept the kids amused and them being amused kept us amused. Mr Olive and I are, unfortunately, past the stage where we can get turned on by slides and see-saws. Even if they are in the shape of airplanes and zebras). We had a lunch date with my grandma and aunt at the famous Canadian chain restaurant White Spot. While I must clarify that, in my normal life, I’m not big on the kind of fast food commonly served at North American chain restaurants (pizza doesn’t count, right?), I developed a bit of an obsession with White Spot while we were in Canada, which Mr Olive teased me about ceaselessly. The food was decent (we enjoyed the Candied Salmon Spinach Salad) but I think that my warm fuzzy feeling about the restaurant may also have been due to eating there with my elderly grandma and my aunt, who I hadn’t seen for years. Also, the fact that Sophie was spotted eating a hamburger there. Not just the bun. The actual burger. (I’m not saying she’s a picky eater, but…).

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View to mainland Canada from Pipers Lagoon Park
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Lovely red-barked Arbutus in Pipers Lagoon Park

Tom fell asleep on the drive back to Graycliff Cottage and I spent his naptime pretending to be a pirate trying to capture a mermaid called Sophie. Then it was off to wild and beautiful Pipers Lagoon, halfway between Lantzville and downtown Nanaimo, for a sunny windy walk along the shore, a short climb up a rocky hill and along a shady path winding between Garry Oaks and stunning Arbutus trees. Of course we kept our eyes peeled for mermaids along the way (you may be sensing a theme here…).

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Colourful lanterns hanging from the ceiling in Coombes Old Country Market

The next morning dawned rainy and we packed our bags and continued on up the coast towards Campbell River (all about Campbell River in our next travel post!). But on the way we stopped off at the famous Coombes Old Country Market. In my opinion, no visit to Vancouver Island is complete without a visit to the market, or just ‘Coombes’, as we like to call it (since the settlement seems to grown up around the market, rather than the other way round).

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Goats on the roof!

There is a whole complex of shops, restaurants, stalls, and covered areas, but the highlight is the market itself with its famous grassy roof on which goats graze. Yup, there are goats on the roof. The roof is covered with sod from which the grass grows, an idea inspired by Norwegian homes that are built directly into the hillside, where the sod roof becomes an extension of the hill itself. This is an environmentally sustainable way of building since the sod and grass provide insulation in winter and evaporation in summer. And you can put some goats up there too. So, like, win-win-win.

The market is a delightful cozy cavernous place filled with all kinds of interesting gourmet and exotic grocery items, a bakery, a coffee shop, a restaurant and a vast array of beautiful gift items, both locally made and imported. There is a particularly good selection of wooden toys, kind of a Waldorf wonderland. We ended up buying a little string of felt dwarves as a gift for Sophie’s Steiner kindergarten.

And let’s not forget the Nanaimo Bars! For those who have never encountered these delectable squares of sin, a Nanaimo Bar is essentially a three-layer cake bar consisting of a bottom Graham Cracker crumb layer, a middle layer of custard-flavoured buttercream and a top layer of chocolate. Basically an endorphin injection in bar form. We bought a bunch of ’em and proceeded to use them to alter the moods of our children over the next few days. Just kidding. But not really.

Nanaimo is my mum’s hometown and, for that reason alone, it will always hold a special place in my heart. I had many wonderful childhood visits there and our return trip this summer brought back lots of memories. I only wish we could have stayed longer! Till next time, Nanaimo…

Next stop: Campbell River!