Monday, April 30, 2012

Jewish treasure: Rugelach from Marzipan

It’s loud and colorful and full of smells that are overwhelming. Machane Yehuda – that would be the Jewish Market in Jerusalem – is an absolutely happening place and one of the iconic shops pulling in the crowds is Marzipan.

It’s mostly a wide blip in a long walkway, filled with an oven, trays of baking racks, some work tables and mounds of manna – soft and luscious challah, berry-filled pastries, cinnamon rolls and cookies. But it’s the rugelach that takes center stage here, a Jewish delicacy that’s a euphonic blend of cookie and pastry.

Most mornings, especially on Friday with the approach of Shabbat, lines of Marzipan fans start maneuvering for position, waiting for the first batches of rugelach to be pulled from the oven. It’s a special bit of sweetness that is offered up, a gooey bit of goodness filled with chocolate. Forgive my mixing of food groups, but the cookies sell like hot cakes!

I mention all this now because I’ll be returning to Jerusalem this spring and will be paying a pilgrimage to Marzipan. This time I know the rules and won’t be grabbing whatever’s around being offered. Let me explain.
Back in 2009, after reading about the bakery and all that it has to offer, I managed to stumble on the shop. Machane Yehuda was coming to life, hundreds of locals and tourists milling about, shopping for fresh fruit and veggies; spices and sweets; fish, poultry and beef. Oh, and rugelach.
In fact, it seemed that half the city was camped outside the doors of Marzipan, crazed from the sweet smells wafting from its innards. When I finally managed to make it inside, I saw that there were a half-dozen women standing about. I wasn’t certain how to go about placing an order, but it seemed that everyone was deferring to me. Go figure! So I raised two fingers and did a little pointing, handed over a few shekels and walked out with a bag of goodies.
It was only a few moments later when I spotted the baker pulling out yet another fresh tray of rugelach that I realized I had just managed to scarf up the dregs of the last batch. I’m thinking the appropriate cliché is “live and learn”!
Truth to tell, Marzipan’s rugelach is an acquired taste. For some folks, it can be a little too gooey and a little too sweet. There are at least a half-dozen other bakeries in the same area selling versions of the Jewish cookie that’s light and flaky and just this side of the uber sweetness of Marzipan.
A footnote: Despite the foolish belief of some foodie novices, there’s absolutely no marzipan in Marzipan’s cookies; and, for those who care, the iconic cookie is called rugelach, not marzipan. That said, no matter what you call it, don’t forget to call me if you’re in my little corner of the world and happen to have a bag of the stuff.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Who knew chickpeas could be so tasty!

Half the fun of going on vacation is planning it out. That’s how I spent the last few days, checking on things to do in Israel, mostly around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I’ll be jetting off to the Jewish homeland just about the time the weather here in the Land of Cotton hits the scorch setting.

At least Israel is all about a dry heat, lovingly caressed by gentle and cool breezes off the Mediterranean! But I digress. My recent research was mostly focused on good eats of the Middle Eastern persuasion – falafel, shawarma and, the crème de la crème, hummus!
There are shops, large and small, across Israel offering up tasty delicacies with a Middle Eastern accent and most of these take pride in their hummus. Each region, city and, well, neighborhood provide a little twist on this ubiquitous Jewish soul food.

So, say hello to Hummus Mashawa, one of my recent discoveries. It’s a little shop in a special neighborhood in the heart of Tel Aviv on Pinsker Street. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s within walking distance of Dizengoff Center – sort of the Lenox Square of the area – and just a hop, skip and jump away from my hotel.

Chickpeas – that would be the main ingredient of hummus – are lovingly mashed up and mixed with a few special spices and oil next to your table at Mashawa. I’m thinking that nifty operation takes the concept of freshness to a whole new level. The mixture is gently stirred, warmed and served up with fresh pita and salad. This Israeli feast will cost you less than a Big Mac and probably won’t clog up your veins with gunk.

Up next? Fun with falafel!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Obama and Romney: Let the games begin

All is quiet it would appear in the political world – at least for the moment. Perhaps we’re treading water in the calm before the storm; but it seems the candidates and their high-profile surrogates are mostly on holiday or quietly going about the business of reinforcing their political foundations.

For months the Republicans spent their time ripping into one another, doing all sorts of harm to their cause and hopes of regaining the White House in November. Romney, the guy with the really nice hair, seems to have the Republican nomination sewed up, even though two other candidates have yet to call it quits.
A rich menagerie of bloviators, meanwhile, continues ranting about this and that, mostly thumbing their noses at both Romney and the President. But their rants seem to be on auto-pilot, just more of the drivel they’ve been spewing out across the cable landscape for months – Romney can’t attract the Conservative base and Obama is the devil; Romney is too rich and Obama is the devil; Romney needs to get in touch with his inner dude and Obama is the devil.
If you grow bored, all you need do is tweak the remote and you can find a whole new set of commentators – and I use that word oh-so-loosely. The game is the same but the venom is tossed about by a fresh and different cast of characters. Many on-air personalities doing the ranting are toady broadcasters who’ll do anything for a buck, others are political ideologues who are just plain nuts.
What I don’t understand is where do all the low-level surrogates come from and who decides that they’re qualified to speak for the candidates? Do they have to go to some sort of political indoctrination center for surrogates and do they carry sophisticated high-tech gizmos that provide them with special political powers of persuasion?
Given the insatiable appetite of 24-hour news channels, major networks, cable and web programs and podcasts, I get the need for warm bodies to defend and promote the party line. Out of such need comes much hackery, quackery – and big-league problems!
Recall what the veteran surrogate Hilary Rosen had to say about Ann Romney? If not, google Romney and “never worked a day in her life”. Then, just to be fair, search for Eric Fehrnstrom and Etch-A-Sketch. Rosen and Fehrnstrom are both still attempting to remove their feet from their mouths.
I’m guessing there will be more such gaffes along the trail once the presidential campaigns put the pedal to the metal. We can only hope! 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spring in Dixie – chills and coyotes!

Has Mother Nature gone completely mad? Here in the Land of Cotton we woke to a chill in the air, temperatures dipping into the 30s! Afternoon highs weren’t expected to break out of the 60s and a brisk wind throughout the day made it feel like the winter that never showed up this year has finally decided to pay us a visit.

I thought a light jacket was all I needed to stay warm on my morning walk. Wrong! My noggin had goose bumps on top of goose bumps and my hands, nakedly challenging the elements, were chilled and stinging.

My hat and gloves were where you’d expect them to be in mid-April – buried deeply in the hall closet, snoozing with contentment until the first frost of fall. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has been in a bit of a tizzy over the last year, raising the thermostat last winter and offering up a chill this spring. Go figure!
You could hang beef in our den; but that’s fixable. The lovely Miss Wendy has patted off to bed, the perfect opportunity for me to raise the thermostat. Let’s just keep that a little secret between you and me, okay?
After a splendid afternoon – clear, radiant blue skies – temperatures have yet again plummeted into the high 30s tonight. If you get quiet enough, I’m thinking you can hear the piercing whelp of a coyote in the distance. I wonder if it’s too late to dash out and buy a cord of firewood?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What’s hot, groovy and really green?

Having absolutely nothing better to do, I spent the morning cleaning out my closet, sorting through clothes that, in some cases, I haven’t worn since Richard Nixon called the White House home.

In fact, snuggled comfortably in one corner of the closet was the dress uniform that Uncle Sam gave me when he strongly suggested I might want to be part of the country’s military.

I’m holding onto my Dress Greens for sentimental reasons – I’ll certainly never fit into them again – but feel confident I can let go of the bell-bottom trousers, silk shirts and vests that I’m fairly certain put the psyche in psychedelic!

Apparently a few years back – we’re talking the late 90s – I fell in love with Kenneth Cole and a line of dress pants he sold under the “Reaction” label. I can understand buying two or three pairs of pants that fit nicely, are attractive and affordable. What I haven’t been able to recall is why I found it necessary to buy 19 pairs of Kenneth Cole trousers.

Okay, the pants do come in a variety of colors – light brown, medium brown and dark brown – and waist sizes – slim, okay and chubby. But, really, did I have to hold to that ancient Talmudic belief that you can never be too rich, too thin or own too many pairs of Kenneth Cole pants?

Now that it’s been nearly three years – let me repeat that, three years – since I left that place with the printing press and spend most days in jeans or shorts, Kenneth Cole and his Reaction trousers will be finding a new home at Goodwill Industries. So, too, a dozen silk shirts and a half-dozen pairs of argyle socks and the black wingtips they once filled. Add to that mix a half-dozen white dress shirts – who wears white dress shirts, anymore – and a bundle of striped and polka-dotted ties!

There’s still more work to be done. Next to my aging Army uniform is a lime green leisure suit. I bought it in the mid-1970s and last wore it when Elvis was sporting spandex, Jimmy Carter was still in the White House and Iran was our ally. I’m pretty sure it still glows in the dark and will remain radioactive for at least another three decades. For now it will continue glowing in my closet!

Monday, April 16, 2012

And then it flickered and all went black …

Just returned from the computer doctor and, for the moment, I’m back in business. My mostly trusty laptop has been puttering about nicely for several years, but in recent months has been showing its age.

Most recently I’d noticed a little flickering at the bottom of the screen. No problem, right? After all, there’s a little bit of flickering when I look out on the world these days. Unfortunately, the little problem – that would be the computer, not my eyes – became a big issue when the flickering morphed into an expansive black screen.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s not too much you can do with a computer when you can’t see what you’re trying to type. I could tell that the computer – the innards of the machine with all the magic dust – was still functioning and that all manner of neat and nifty things were going on behind the black screen that had taken center stage on my laptop.

For a day or so, I managed to work around the problem by rebooting the system. The screen seemed a-ok each time it came back up to play. But, eventually, all would go black at some point.

What’s worse – or at least as bad – as being told by your neighborhood computer geek that your laptop has gone belly up? How about being told that all seems right with the computer and that if there is a problem it’s gone into hiding.

So, here I am, pounding away, pushing, pulling and shaking my little high-tech toy, daring it to blink. So far, it’s playing along, holding true and offering up a vibrant, colorful screen for my enjoyment. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Matzo, chopped liver, family and friends

I just nibbled away another bagel, my creative way of ridding the house of chametz. While the lovely Miss Wendy and Lauren schmaltzified a batch of chicken livers, then ground the mixture into a thick puree – chopped liver, anyone – I scoured about for bits of bread.

All this effort is a holiday tradition, getting ready for that most wonderful time of year – Passover. We’ll be trekking down south this year, wandering about like our ancient ancestors thousands of years ago. They fled Egypt and make it to Canaan, the Promised Land. We’re hoping to make it to Jacksonville.

We’ll be schlepping a few boxes of matzo, a container of chopped liver, Passover soda, pasta and cereal; holiday cakes, cookies and pies! Most of these goodies look lovely and sweet and taste like cardboard. That’s what happens when you attempt to de-chametz food products that should include flour and yeast. Trust me here; it’s a Jewish thing!

It’s all part of Passover, a week of ritual and suffering, recalling the struggles of the ancient Hebrews. At least God was good enough to provide them with Manna. In our oh-so modern world, we get macaroons, sweet wine, airy desserts, matzo-coated everything and, ultimately, constipation.

We also get a chance to spend time with family and friends, connect with our unique and distant past; figure out yet again how we’re all connected and where we fit in this crazy world that’s constantly changing and moving at light speed.

I’m thinking that’s why Passover remains one of the most observed Jewish holidays; okay, that and the chocolate-covered matzo. You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait”? Parfaits are delicious.

But, ahh, I digress. I’ll simply finish by wishing all my Jewish family and friends Chag Sameach; my Christian friends Happy Easter; and everyone else – that would be you, Bill – a wonderful weekend and that we all live long and prosper!