Haman rears his ugly head

Ahamadinajad, Assad and Nasrallah - a summit of the villains with humous. (Photo: AP)

Maybe because it’s Purim, and we Jews are obsessing with bad guys trying to annihilate us, but didn’t the photographs of Syrian President Bashir Assad, Iranian President Ahmadinajad and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah sitting around a goodies-laden table at the end of the week in Damascus evoke a shiver down your spine?

It was like one of those scenes Batman or Austin Powers where the idiosynchratic but well-costumed villains stage an evil summit to hatch new plans for world domination. There’s some eerie synchronicity going on – we’re gathering to hear the Megilla reading in Israel and around the world, being reminded of Haman’s plan to wipe out the Jews. And generations later, these anti-Israel professionals – one, Nasrallah, actually in his best Penguin meets The Joker garb – are gathering around humous and eggplant salad to discuss the very same thing.

We’ve sat down at the peace table with some unsavory folks in the past – Yasser Arafat anyone? But even that was within the realm of possibility, as he talked about making peace with Israel and living side by side, even if his actions didn’t resemble his words. And King Hussein and Anwar Sadat always seemed like level-headed leaders, even when they were our enemies, so it was no great leap to find commond ground with them when the time came.

But what about the terrible trio of Assad, Ahamadinajad and Nasrallah? Are we ever going to be able to sit around the humous table with them? Or is it going to play out like a Purim story, where one side has to triumph over the other? Stay tuned, same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Purim 2010

If I had my act together, would be delivering the Indian mishloach manot in tiffin boxes, but it'll have to be alternative packaging

Purim’s approaching for the Jerusalemites — we’ve got ‘walled city’ status because of the Old City walls — so we celebrate on Shushan Purim, which is tonight and tomorrow, and not last night and today, like the rest of the country. But in any case, the signs are all around. People are already posting their Purim costume revelry on Facebook, local restaurants are advertising various Purim seudah deals, the paper goods stores are packed as folks prepare their mishloach manot packages and I’m about to start on my mishloach manot cooking.

I tend to focus on mishoach manot on Purim, rather than a specific costume or a Purim seudah, the festive meal that’s served on the day of Purim, which is more of an Israel thing, given that the whole country has the day off. (Even the banks are closed, which has my mother wondering if her automatic payments for various bills will happen tomorrow, March 1, or on Tuesday, when the banks reopen.) Anyway, I’ve had a wide variety of themes over the years, from homemade gnocchi and sauce, which I prepared with my friend Clare to molten chocolate cakes and whipped cream or homemade Devil Dogs, painstakingly prepared with my stepdaughters. It’s also always fun to see what everyone else is delivering, and we’ve gotten some great selections, from chocolate milk and rolls at six a.m., bagels, lox and OJ to, one of my personal faves, a container of a very special cucumber salad made by one of my sister’s good friends and for which I had repeatedly requested the recipe from my sister, but never received. Needless to say, I now have the recipe.

I’m on my own this year — Daniel tends to focus more on costumes, less on mishloach manot (except for handling most of the deliveries) — as the girls are older and doing their own thing, and I’ve decided to go with an Indian theme, given our newfound love for cooking Indian food this year.

Without revealing everything, I’ll just say that each mishloach manot package will contain three Indian meal elements, including chapati, which are flatbreads made with whole wheat flour and fried — without oil or butter — in a griddle pan. They don’t necessarily come out perfectly round the first few times you make them, but they are incredibly easy to make. Really.

Here’s one recipe, and I’m adding a note at the bottom:

Whole Wheat Flat Breads

Mix together:
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
about 3/4 cup warm water (enough for a kneadable dough)

Knead the dough, cover, and leave aside for at least 1/2 hour or, ideally, up to 2 hours. After about 1 hour (or right before rolling out), punch the dough and knead again without any more water.
Make 10-12 1 1/2″ balls and roll out into thin, 6″ circles. Place a flat, ungreased griddle on the stove at medium-high heat. When hot, place a rolled-out chapati “right side” down on the griddle. (The “right side” is the one facing you when you roll it.) When bubbles are visible, turn over and cook until tiny brown spots appear on the side facing the griddle.
If you have a gas stove, hold the chapati with a pair of tongs, and place it directly over the burner flame for a few seconds, until the chapati puffs up. Turn and repeat on the other side. (NOTE: This is much easier than it sounds, and offers the right finishing touch. — JS)
If you have an electric stove, keep the chapati on the griddle. With a wadded up paper towel to protect your fingers, press gently all around the chapati. Flip the chapati and press gently around the other side. This procedure should make the chapati puff up. (If you press too hard, the chapati will become too crunchy.)
Remove the chapati from the heat, and buter with ghee on the “right side.” (NOTE: Tastes great, but you don’t have to add the butter.)

Purim costumes

February 27, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: coexistence, General, History and Culture, Holidays, Life, Religion 

Purim is here, and amid the remains of a lightning-filled 48 hour winter storm, we’re headed out to hear the Megilla at our local havurah gathering.

It’s interesting to be part of – and the instigators – behind an egalitatrian minyan in a community where most people are either secular or orthodox, and where the chief rabbi of the city is a Conservative and Reform-hating Jew. We sort of have to keep things under the radar and it’s a little paradoxical that the religious pluralism American Jews – for instance – enjoy as a matter of fact is not available without a fight in the Jewish state.

Costumes, as usual, are last-minute. The young son is going as a Man-in-black Secret Service type, the teenage son was going to go as a soldier until he decided to stay home instead.

My wife chose a mix and match American football player motif, while I decided to be somewhat timely. I’m wearing a tennis outfit with tennis raquet and sunglasses. Can anybody guess who I am?

I guess the ‘Dubai’ sign sort of gives it away…
Happy Purim!

Foto Friday – Ancient Masks and Rattle Relics

February 26, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Foto Friday, General, History and Culture, Holidays 

Growing up as daughters of a rabbi, biblical scholar and part-time archeologist, my sisters and I never questioned the historical roots of Purim. So, I find it both amusing and disturbing that most people regard the Purim story as a myth or fairytale when it really is a docu-drama. Or, as my father put it, it is the story of a clash of empires that actually occurred and in which the Jews played a pivotal role.

Here is what Dr. David Neiman z”l thought: “The story of Purim is an account of the historical events related in the Scroll of Esther. Biblical scholars have always had a problem with this story and other biblical narratives which are beautifully written. It is as if the perfection of the literary work leads them to doubt its historical accuracy.” A portion of his audio lecture, The Politics of Purim is available online.

Our Purim traditions — masquerading, using noisemakers and getting drunk — are rooted in pre-Biblical pagan rites and our region’s archeological sites yield historical proof. In honor of the Purim holiday, the Israel Antiquities Authority has posted an online exhibition of ancient masks and rattles.

There is no clear historical moment that divides between the use of masks for ritual and for theater. But given their era, the masks presented by the IAA were definitely intended for ritual use.

Mask – image of a man, from Akhziv. Photograph: Miki Koren, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Mask from Nahal Hemer cave. Photograph: Nahum Selpak, courtesy of the Israel Museum.

Grotesque mask from Akhziv. Photograph: Miki Koren, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Ancient rattles are known from the third millennium BCE to the first century BCE. It is believed they were used primarily for ritual purposes. Clay rattles that contain small stones or other materials for making noise have been found in archaeological excavations all over the country.

Rattle from the City of David. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Rattle from Hazor. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

For more on the historical background of the Jews of Persia, The Book of Esther and life in ancient Persia – including the best pony express in the ancient world:

The fruit of passionfruit

January 31, 2010 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Food, General, Holidays, Immigrant Moments, Israeliness, Life 

Just in time for Tu B’shvat, I picked a huge bowlful of passionfruit from the vine in our yard, all perfectly brown, wrinkled and ready for eating. Such a sense of satisfaction, to have a bowl of fruit in your home, ripe for eating, and from your very own garden.

I had been kind of cursing the passionfruit, courtesy of my sister Sarah, who’s been warning me that the vine will take over all growth nearby, including the bougainvillea and mini peach tree. I had even considered cutting the whole thing down come spring, and putting in a new vine, something floral, scented, easy.

But then, Yossi, the gardener, came for one of his monthly-to-six-week visits. After ridding the garden of the vociferous winter weeds that I can’t keep up with these days and doing some general cleanup, he told me to come outside with a bowl and gather the passionfruit. I have to admit, I’ve been so out of touch with my garden that I wasn’t expecting much, a few, maybe several passionfruit for snacks.

Instead I ended up with a bumper crop of some 25 passionfruit, and good advice from Yossi to keep the vine, but just cut it back come spring.

Now I had to figure out what to do with the passionfruit, since there’s just so much spooning out of the yellow stuff that I could do, given that I’m pretty much the only one in the house who eats it. Enter Nigella Lawson, Brit foodie chef extraordinaire. I remembered seeing a recipe for passionfruit curd in “How To Be A Domestic Goddess,” and as I always aim for domestic goddess status, was excited to try it out.

I’m happy to say that the recipe is flawless and the results stupendous. As per Nigella’s suggestion, I smeared some on plain cake, a shortcake that I happened to have in the freezer. Truly luscious. And there really is no greater satisfaction than having a jar of passionfruit curd sitting in your fridge.

Recipe details

Great to slather over a thick slab of white bread for a morning breakfast.

Ingredients

* 11 Passionfruit
* 2 large eggs
* 2 large egg yolks
* 150 g caster sugar
* 100 g unsalted butter
# Put the seeded pulp of 10 of the passionfruit into a processor and blitz just to loosen the seeds. Strain into a jug or bowl.
# Beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together.
# Melt the butter over a low heat in a heavy-based pan, and when melted stir in the egg mixture and the passionfruit juice, and keep cooking gently, stirring constantly, until thickened.
# Off the heat, whisk in the pulp – seeds and all – of the remaining passionfruit, let cool slightly, then pour into a clean jar. Keep the jar sealed in the fridge.

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