Okay, we’ve reached the final, and I mean final, stage of this sometimes endless chagim period. Over here, those of us who are religiously observant, don’t have three days straight of chag-into-Shabbat, like our diaspora brethren. They’ve had three weeks of that, on Rosh Hashanah (we had that too), and then again on Sukkot and this week, for Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzeret. We sort of have it, with Wednesday-into-Thursday, but Fridays off. Then again, Fridays get used for preparing for Shabbat. So we don’t have three days straight of shul, meals and shul again, but knowing that you have to shop and cook, yet again, is pretty exhausting.
Which brings me to today, the last Friday of this month of chagim. We had a simple plan, going out for dinner Friday night and a few friends coming over for lunch on Shabbat. I even had a meal plan, which included a simple saucy chicken for Shabbat lunch, accompanied by rice, perhaps some lubia beans and a course of salads to start. Dessert? Give in and buy some sorbet and cookies. I mean, there have to be some benefits to living in a town where there are bakeries everywhere, even if they’re not so great.But, there were no chickens to be had. Literally. I won’t say that I made an exhaustive search of all the southern Jerusalem supermarkets, but I heard and I saw in a number of butchers and counters that there were really no chickens to be had, thanks to the weeks of consecutive holidays and Shabbatot. There were, to be fair, frozen trays of pargiyot, the boneless dark chicken that’s really delicious, but kind of expensive. And I knew I had a frozen chicken in my freezer, but it would be a pain to defrost and it’s never a perfect solution to quick-defrost, at least not in my experience.
So I came up with a new plan: Corned beef, braised cabbage and potato kugel, the last item to be purchased. I had a moment of panic when there didn’t appear to be any corned beef in the supermarket freezer, but my butcher friend Suleiman came up with a few from his back freezer. And, to be expected, there were no potato kugels left in the city, really, but that’s a quick item to make at the last minute.
A fast internet search offered some new ways of preparing the corned beef, but I stuck to my tried and true recipe, although I will try this method another week, when I have more time. As for potato kugel, my favorite food blogger, Smitten Kitchen, uses this recipe, and it’s looking good in my oven. Finally, I use my pressure cooker to prepare braised purple cabbage, and I tossed in a leftover quince that I had sitting around, in addition to the green apples called for in the recipe.
It’s Irish eats for us this weekend.
I shouldn’t be stating this here, on a blog that should be touting everything Israeli. But let’s face it, to say that the deli meats here bite the big one means you’re actually able to take a bite. Which is kind of incredible, we’re a country of Jews, and kosher deli and Jews go together like pastrami on rye with mustard.
So after being away in the US for a full month, I couldn’t think of a better present to bring back to my long-suffering wife, deprieved of both me for a month and good deli for 20 some years, a pound of fresh corned beef from our favorite kosher deli – Rubin’s in Boston. Call me a hopeless romantic.
Actually, I’ll explain why it’s a better present than a diamond ring. Way back when, when we were both in college in Boston, my wife worked the Sunday waitress shift at Rubin’s. I’d drive and pick her up in Brookline at the end of her 12 hour shift, and she’d come into the car carrying various delicacies like knishes, stuffed cabbage and, of course, some fresh deli, and her uniform would be entrenched with the aromas of a day’s worth of food. I could hardly wait to jump on her, but first we’d go home and pig out – in a kosher way.
Since most of my visits back to the US have been solo recently, we always joked about me bringing her back a taste of the past. But I never thought it would be possible, given the 24-hour door to door travel and the logistics of bringing a pound of beef through the homeland security glare.
But last week, I threw caution to the wind, and after feasting on a pastrami sandwich with a side of potato salad and a Dr. Brown’s, I bought the pound of corned beef, threw it in the trunk of the car in the 35 degree weather and dashed the two hours back to my brother’s home in Maine. Then straight to the freezer with the fragile treasure.
On the morning of my flight, I packed the corned beef with an ice pack, wrapped it in plastic and placed deep in the oversized army knapsack I borrowed from my daughter. 22 hours later, in my kitchen in Israel, the corned beef was thawed, cool, and heaped high on some pita (hey, we’re in Israel). My wife was in heaven, and later, we remembered the aphrodisiac qualities that good kosher deli provides.
For the culinarily curious, Israel is heaven on earth. With Israeli immigrants – who know how to cook – hailing from all over the world, you could eat a different ethnic/national cuisine every day for a month. Not to mention feasting on the staples of Israeli cuisine – falafel, grilled meats, and the rest (note to those looking for an arguement – tabbuleh and humus were perfected by Jews from Syria and Lebanon, who brought them here when they got thrown out of their host Arab countries! But that’s for a different post.)
You can even get “American food” in Israel – fast food, of course, but there are also restaurants, many of them kosher nowadays, that specialize in burgers, barbecued wings, chili, etc. And deli – they have that here, too, with pastrami, corned beef, and the like available at an increasing number of restaurants, takeout places, and butchers.
There’s only one thing missing – an American style bread bakery. There’s a good place in Jerusalem for brownies and seven layer cake, if you’re in the mood – but bread is something else. In recent years, bagels have become an in thing among Israeli foodies – but they’re not the bagels you remember from the “appetizing store,” as we used to call it in the old country. Here the bagels seem to be baked, not boiled – definitely not what any self-respecting H&H frequenter would call a “bagel.” And don’t even ask about bialies!
Forget the bialies – I’ll settle for a Jewish-style rye loaf. But it just hasn’t been available in Israel. Rye bread lovers are forced to settle for “black bread” (“lechem shachor”), a poor substitute. Somehow, among the pitas, pretzels, “lachuch” (Yemenite style sponge bread), and all the rest, that New York Jewish staple – rye bread – got lost in the shuffle.
Until this morning, that is – when the Saidel Bakery opened for business in the Ginot Shomron neighborhood of Karnei Shomron (a Jewish community in Samaria, inside the security fence, about 15 minutes from Kfar Sava). Les, the chief baker (pictured standing in front of what he said was “the largest brick oven in the Shomron”) works all night turning out sublime New York style rye bread, rolls, and bagels – which is really an accomplishment, since he’s from South Africa!
A refugee from the dot-com world (he used to design web sites), Les has been baking since he was a kid, taking an example from a rebbe of his, who used to bake whole wheat bread with his students, as an educational, social, and relaxation activity. Les refurbished the bakery area (in the back of his house) and built the display cases – and the oven – himself. A real renaissance man! Baking bread is a tough business, as anyone who has spent time around commercial bakeries and restaurants knows – so it’s clear that the goods this bakery produces are not just food, but a labor of love.
And the taste – fantastic! Les hopes to expand his offerings and supply stores in the area as well, but for now, the only place in the country to get a real Jewish rye is in this pleasant but a bit out of the way community over the Green Line. Naturally, the fact that the bakery is in the Shomron will prevent some Israelis from enjoying Les’ bread, hesitating to come out here because of their political views. They certainly have a right to feel that way – but I can’t say I’m too sorry. Fewer of them means more rye and bagels for us!