Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Oliving for Chanukah

Technically, my olive-picking morning wasn't for Chanukah -- I just joined with a few neighbors to pick olives because it's fun and I could. But Chanukah begins in 2 weeks and it's the season of olive oil (we often light it, in place of candles) so, if people can get into the Xmas spirit with tinsel and shopping, I can get into the Chanukah spirit with some exercise.

The four of us, 50ish and 60ish ladies, were not equipped for the kind of professional olive-picking that people do when they know what they're doing, but we did manage to find some sticks to beat the trees, and tarps to put under the trees to catch the olives, and all in all, did OK. The trees themselves haven't been pruned properly for a long time so they're high and many of the olives eluded us, but I took home a couple of kilos, about half green and half black (interestingly enough, the same trees had both green and black olives).

Now it's time to cure them. The black ones are the easiest. You just put them in a pillow case or something with salt and let them sit for several weeks. You have to hang the pillow case somewhere where the olives can drip as the salt cures them.

The green ones need a little more attention. For several weeks you soak them in salt water to draw out the bitter taste, changing the water daily.

After about 2 weeks of this you put them in the brine which generally involves salt water, lemons, garlic, bay leaves and any other kind of herb that you want to add (I have fresh rosemary growing right next to my house). It takes about another month until they're ready.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Safed Metzuda

I've lived in Safed for 28 years and have climbed to the Metzuda more times than I can count, but today I saw it from a new angle and caught a glimpse of what it must have looked like to travelers who were criss-crossing the region hundreds of years ago along their trade routes.

The Metzuda is a Crusader Castle -- according to historians, it's the largest Crusader fortress built anywhere in the Middle East. The Crusaders secured their hold on the Upper Galilee with this fortress (there's another one, Nimrod's Castle, in Golan Heights and at least one that I know of in Lebanon, in addition to the massive complex in Akko/Acre). It's so high that, when the Mamlukes captured it from the Crusaders in 1266, they built a 60-meter tower that would allow them to see as far as Akko -- and would, as one historian pointed out, enable the Crusaders who were still in Akko to see the Mamlukes and mull over what was coming.)

The Metzuda is a favorite walking spot for me when I take the dogs for a walk -- it's quiet, has a bit of nature and best of all, is fairly unpopulated by people who would be scared by the dogs. The dogs amble along and I get a bit of exercise as well.

Today I happened to be on a different side of the city and looked up (wasn't I just talking about the need to keep my eyes open?) and saw the metzuda from a whole new perspective. The trees block it a bit in the photos but if you look closely you can see the original walls of the Crusader's fortress (and if you can't, you'll just have to come to Tzfat to see it). 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Menchelech -- Little Men -- On My Street

This story is a reminder that we should keep our eyes and ears open. At least a bit. You never know what may pop out.

I live in Safed's Artist Quarter, a section of Safed's Old City. It's not as old as the Old Jewish Quarter nor does it have the religious and -- for Jews -- historical significance of the Old Jewish Section (a five-minute walk away). But it's still a charming old-world area with old stone buildings that date back several hundred years, arched doors and windows and rooms with old domed ceilings that characterized the construction of the era over the past several hundred years.

Every Friday night (and oftentimes during the week) a local tour guide, David Amiel, leads a tour down our street. He begins his tour at the nearby Rimonim Hotel and provides a lively monologue as he makes his way through the lanes of the Artist Quarter towards the Old Jewish Quarter, relating historical events and points of interest that I've never heard from other tour guides. (David is, in addition to his work as a tour guide, an accomplished historian and has done extensive research into Safed history and has even written a book -- I keep telling him that when it comes out in English, I'll read it).

One of David's first stops is in front of our house. I often catch some of his discussion but I don't hear everything. I know that he points out that this is the area where some Arab families who then went on to a certain degree of infamy (i.e. Marwan Barghouti's clan, etc) lived. I've also heard him talking about the "menchelech" of the area and never had the slightest idea of what that was all about.

Several weeks ago David invited my daughter and her fiancee, who is presently studying to become a licensed tour guide,  to join him for a tour. They came back quite enthused about the tour -- David is an expert and goes above and beyond the standard Safed tour in providing information about many little-known aspects of the city.

After the tour my daughter and her fiancee finally told me what the deal is about the menchelech -- little men. Menchelech are, evidently, tiny metal figurines of little men. They were popular in Germany and could be found on homes in the local Templer farming community of Alonei Abba. (Alonei Abba was founded in  by German-Christians who belonged to the Temple Society. They migrated to Palestine from Germany during the 1860s and established several communities including Alonei Abba). 

These people placed menchelech on the shutters of their homes. If a menchelech figurine was pointing upward, it was a sign that the man of the house was home, and if the menchelech figuring was pointing downwards, it indicated that the man of the house was out. 

There are a couple of these charming  menchelech figurines on the shutters of the home across the street from me. (During the British mandatory period in Palestine, a British officer lived in that house and, from what I understand, obtained a few menchelech which he placed on the shutters of the house).  I had to search hard to identify them -- I've lived in this house for 24 years and never even noticed them before -- but now that I finally understand their meaning, it's kind of cool. 

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Ah, I'm Getting Old.....

My Shabbat was lively, to say the least. My youngest son completed his army service on Thursday so he's now back home, along with my middle daughter and her fiancee. Youngest daughter was, of course, at home. Plus, my niece and her husband and three young kids (aged 4, almost 2 and 5 months) and another niece and nephew.

Over the last few years our home has taken on the atmosphere of a staid home for adults and almost-adults so it was kind of fun to have the action of the kids and the interactions between all of the cousins for the day. I must say, when everyone went home, it was so quiet that I almost didn't know what to do with myself.

After Shabbat I taught the four-year-old how to use "Paint" on the computer and he "painted" a few canvases. At some point I noticed that my browser's tabs had all migrated to the top of the page, which freaked me out a bit, but it turns out that the child didn't actually do anything -- Mozilla decided, on their own, to put the tabs at the top because "it makes more sense. I'm not wild about it -- I don't like change. But after trying to return them to their original spot a few times (the 'help' said that you could) I figured that i'd just get used to the new system.

I made so-so meat patties for Saturday lunch but my Friday night chicken was a hit. Didn't do a whole lot -- just coated it with spiced flour and sauteed it a bit before baking it the process seals in the juices and it was well-received. I also made a sweet-and-sour sauce to pour over it so that was also a bit special.

I made lentil soup as well -- my daughter likes it....the red lentils made with sweet potatos and pumpkin (seasoned with cumin and cinnamon, kind of like an Indian dahl). After I'd made it I realized that it was a. the day after Halloween and b. parshat Toldot, when Esav sells his birthright to Ya'akov for a bowl of lentil soup. So I announced that it was "in honor of..." and didn't mention that these links had only occurred to me half an hour before I served the soup.