Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ali Farka Touré

I first heard of Ali Farka Touré on Ry Cooder's seminal Talking Timbuktu album in 1995. His guitar work and vocals are so mournful that I swear you can hear the soul of Africa. The song below Amandrai is a particular favorite of the blackfamilyo. We (I) made up our own English words while driving in the UK on vacation some years back. They go something like "I'm a Dry Cleaner Man......bring me your linens, your linens are dirty" and so on. His guitar in the live version below is so good I get goosebumps. The guy playing with him is Bassekou Kouyate, a noted ngoni player (a calabash with a stretched goat skin for a soundboard). This is live from the Segou festival in Mali, in Feb 2005.

Sadly Ali Farka Touré died in 2006 of bone cancer. He was a good man, and spent his money to improve the lives of the poor of Mali. In 2004 he became mayor of Niafunké and spent his own money grading the roads, putting in sewer canals and fueling a generator that provided the impoverished town with electricity.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Not All Parties are Dreadful

I been know to give the religious a hard time. Deservedly, I might add, most of the time. But there are some exceptions. It was Jeremy's (Jo's ex catering partner) son Barak's Bar Mitzvah party tonight. And it rocked. They threw the bash at Jem's Beer factory, which Jeremy recently opened. The food (even the veggie food) was good, the beer fresh and tasty, and the music, well the band rocked. They had an excellent live band called
Yood. They're sort of ZZ Top lookalikes, playing Cream style rock. Oh and they're religious, with long beards and ztitzit (check them out on their myspace page. Well they rocked and sang the Jewish blues. All in all one of the better Bar Mitzvah parties I have been to. Thanks and Mazal Tov.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's in the Bag

So like most men I am useless at seeing things. Say I'm looking for the leftover curry in the fridge. There is just no way I would find it unless I ask blackwifeo. She will spot it in an instant. The same will happen when looking for the can opener. I will open the kitchen drawer, gaze inside and the can opener will camouflage itself until bwo comes over - then it will decloak and be plainly visible. We spent a lot of time cooking this weekend and I must have asked bwo a dozen times for things that were clearly visible to her, but not me.

So I got to thinking. How come women have this vastly superior eagle eye item isolation ability. Then it came to me. It's because of their handbags! Have you ever tried to find anything (even a ringing phone) in your wife's handbag? Impossible. The mere thought is so terrifying that it took at least 20 years before I even dared to look inside. But now, well into my third decade of marriage, I am immune to danger, and I scoff at fear. Still, I have never managed to find anything in her bag. Ever. My wife's bag is one of those mysterious distortions in the space-time continuum. It is way, way larger inside than it looks. She carries a complete cosmetics store, a fully stocked pharmacy, enough keys to embarrass a jailer and a thousand miles of Kleenex. To find anything in her bag, one needs laser beam focus and light speed optical discrimination, and she can zero in and find her credit card or her non-fade lipstick in nanoseconds. Clearly, finding curry in a packed fridge or can openers in stacked drawers is child's play. Trivial compared to finding that ringing cell phone.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tel Lachish

The city of Lachish held a very strategic position in biblical times. Situated on the plain and protecting the southern and south-western approaches to Jerusalem, it eventually became the second city in the kingdom of Judah. During the Judean revolt against Sennachrib and his Assyrians in Hezekiah's reign (701 BCE), Lachish was captured and "reduced". Later the town reverted back to Judean control. Finally it fell to Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonians during his campaign against Judah (586 BCE).

Clearly it was a large city. The top picture is of the drainage ditch that ran along the main street of the city and out the main gate, which is now the entrance to the site.

I managed to convince blackwifeo that she wanted to come with on this excursion. We set out at 6am on Friday (not Saturday as usual, as we had a Bar Mitzvah to attend and a dinner to prepare). She was perfect company and even seemed to enjoy herself (she would never admit it though). Tel Lachish is next to Kibbutz Lachish and while there are a lot of ruins and it is a National Park, it is not one of the rebuilt and popular sites and it's free. There are a lot of remains of dwellings and buildings. It is rather overgrown but there is a nice path between the various sections and even a few signs. The Tel itself is bordered on three sides by steep drops. On one side the remains of the ram built by the Assyrians can be seen. It is an imposing place and the view of the surrounding area brings home the strategic value of the ancient city.

There are the remains of storehouses, a palace on the hill, with large carved stone column bases.

Like all ancient sites, water was a problem. This well, set into the side of the Tel, is apparently about 45M deep. It's another impressive example of the work ethic of the city's residents. Just as lugging the huge stones that make up the outer walls could have been no picnic.

Kibbutz Lachish is famous for it's grapes. All around and on all sides the grape vines are beautifully green.

There is a lot of information on Lachish in academic publications. A number of excavations have taken place starting in the 1890s through till today and quite a lot is known about the city and its inhabitants. Just google Lachish and you will get a wealth of information.

South African Crunchies

Background: After last week's nut tart disaster, I decided I needed to make something within my skill range. Every South African grew up eating "crunchies". These cookies (biscuits we called them back in the old country) were a staple at tea time. Their oaty goodness makes them seem almost healthy. Best of all they are really easy to make.

1 1/2 cup flour.1 cup oats (not quick cook).
1 cup sugar1 cup ground coconut
125g butter1 TB golden syrup (Lyles)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

I, of course, bought quick cook oats, these are finely cut and absorb more of the liquid and make the crunchies a bit too crumbly. They were still good. The syrup must be golden syrup, we get Lyles here in Israel - this is not maple syrup, O.K.

First mix the flour, oats, sugar, coconut together in a big bowl. Melt the butter, syrup and bicarb.in a small pan and add this to the flour mixture. And mix together well.

The mixture is rather crumbly, so flatten it out onto a baking paper lined baking pan, pressing it down very well. The pressing down is key. Don't be shy:
Now bake in a 150 degree C oven for 30 minutes. This stuff wants to burn so you need to watch it and take it out as soon as you see it starting to look charred around the edges.

Cut squares into the still hot pan. It doesn't cut well when it cools, so do this as soon as you take it out of the oven. Careful with those hands though (I talk from experience). Remove the individual cookies from the pan once it has cooled.
See that was not at all hard and they taste great.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Segev Lunch

A week or so ago was our anniversary. I took my lovely young wife of 22 years to lunch at the exclusive "chef's restaurant" Segev. The lunch deal at Segev is not too terrible (115 NIS, less if you remember to use your lunch card, I didn't). I love their food. I had my favorite salad in Israel, which is saying a lot because there are a lot of decent salads around the Holy Land. This one is a stylish mix of all sorts of sprouts and other root vegetables in a spicy sauce. It's very tangy and crunchy and fresh. They then made to order a veggie plate with some sort of giant gnocci for me, while Jo had the smoked eggplant and some sort of fish. All through the meal they brought refills of the wonderfully freshly baked bread. The lunch is actually worth it for the bread alone.

We always sit up at the top so we can look down on the kitchen. They make everything while you wait and it's completely fascinating. The attention to detail is remarkable. The wait staff spoiled us with little icy drinks between courses (special non alcoholic ones for the wife) and even laid on a bite sized dessert to celebrate our whole anniversary thing. I have to say my food was well over 80% and the service was of equal quality. But never fear, the 80% always rears it's ugly head, even at the better restaurants.

We noticed two spelling mistakes on the English menu (golden leave instead of gold leaf and carry instead of curry). There are those that would say only two spelling mistakes on an Israeli English menu is near perfection. But we expected more. Jo let them know as we were leaving and they ooohed and aaahed and pretended that they will change it immediately. We shall see.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

No Blog Today

No post today. I'm just too tired. I know that's totally lame, but this is the 80% blog after all and what could be more 80% than a post about not posting. Go off and read a book instead. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sufjan Stevens

John Wayne Gacy Jr. was executed in 1994 for the rape and murder of 33 boys and young men. Twenty seven of these he buried in a crawl space under the floor of his house. He dressed up as a clown and threw parties for his neighbors in Chicago. Sufjan Stevens' brilliant 2005 concept album Illinoise, has what has to be one of the best songs about a serial killer out there. I have yet to find an authorized Sufjan Stevens clip anywhere. The video below is something someone (Claire Carre) created using educational films from the 50s and some family footage. I think it's quite good.

Another great song off the same album is Casimir Pulaski Day in which the singer's adolescent love dies of cancer. This video of the song, simply made by someone driving around on a snow day, is strangely fitting with the song's melancholy mood.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Random Visual Stuff

Sometimes its necessary to post a bunch of different and often unrelated things. First there's these signs all around Raanana.
At first I thought that the religious fanatics had blacked out the girls in their undies, but on closer inspection it turns out it's all part of an advertising campaign for a lingerie store in the mall. Quite clever.

Then on my walks yesterday and today I had a chance to smell the roses. First a beautiful sunset over the fields and then the amazing bright red tree in the park near our house. Spectacular.

Finally, Alon posted a link to this amazing example of "sandart" on FB, it's worth watching. I only wish I understood what it's all about.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Oh, My Hat!

Blackwifeo pointed out this article, while I was in the midst of a post about my lovely walk and I feel I must rant. Our wonderful Haredim have mobilized against an anti-fur bill in the Knesset, aimed at preventing the import of fur or textiles made from dogs, cats or rabbits. These religious fanatics claim that by banning the import of these furs, the shtreimel industry (those funny black fur hats they wear) will basically go to the dogs. MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (of United Torah Judaism), check him out he looks like someone's kind old grandfather (with a red hat he could be Santa), expounded the following drivel:"It would be unthinkable to support a bill that forbids the import of products for such important, clearly religious purposes. We are not in the Middle Ages, when wearing pronounced Jewish symbols was prohibited". These idiots walk around dressed up exactly as if they are in the middle ages. These hats have nothing at all to do with the Jewish religion. I thought the bible taught us to be good to animals, why kill just to make silly hats? I bet the shtriemel industry donates heavily to United Torah Judaism. According to Wikipedia (the font of all knowledge), shtriemels cost anywhere from $1000-$4000. They are usually given to the bridegroom as a wedding present by the bride's father. There's obviously big bucks in black fur hats.

So last week we had them stoning a parking lot, this week they're up in arms about their hats. These guys are totally getting out of hand. If you want a good laugh read some of the talkbacks that have been posted on the article in ynet.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Beit She'arim

Beit She'arim, in Kiryat Tivon, near Yokneam, is newer (and closer) than most of the sites we have visited recently. The city reached it's peak in the 3rd and 4th centuries C.E. so it's almost modern by Israeli archeological standards. After the Bar-Kochva Revolt (132 C.E.) the Sanhedrin (highest judicial and ecclesiastical council in the land) eventually ended up in Beit She'arim. At the head of the Sanhedrin was the venerable Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi. He died in 220 C.E. after the Sanhedrin had moved to Zippori, but he was buried in Beit She'arim. The desire to be buried near him turned Beit She'arim into "the place" to be buried during the 3rd and 4th century, for locals from the land of Israel and abroad.

Beit She'arim is an amazing place. It's spectacular and it's a wonder I have never been there before. The burial caves are reputed to be one of the best examples of a necropolis (City of the Dead) around. 30 caves have been excavated, some are huge and have over one hundred coffins and sarcophagi some are smaller. The coffins are stone and most are decorated with themes of the living world, bulls, eagles, lions, fish and the like. Some have Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions. All the caves had been robbed, so no valuables remain.

I took dozens of pictures. None of which can really capture how wonderful a place this is. Gilad and I arrived at 8am and as usual were completely alone during our stay. It's foolish not to visit, but for some reason it's not as popular as one might think. For more info look here.

The skillful stonework can be seen everywhere. There is a little museum that has examples of some of the carvings.
All the tombs had doors. Many had been broken by tomb robbers.

This is the entrance to the "Cave of the Coffins". It's huge (75 meters in each direction). It's filled with hundreds of coffins and amazing carvings. The tombs interconnect and the air is still and cold. There are many images of beasts and symbols. I liked these lions (?) as seen through a break in a tomb wall.

There are niches in the tomb walls that probably held valuables or bones. They are all empty. The coffins (or sarcophagi) are wonderfully decorated. They are also huge and must have taken some work to get into the caves. Check out this scene of the ark. This menorah was carved into the wall, deep in the cave.

There are many smaller caves. These were not really lit up, but I now remember to take a flashlight with and the boy and I explored, making believe we were Indiana Jones. Here you can see what a typical cyrpt looks like. Once inside, looking towards the entrance you can see the stone door that has been pushed in.

Some of the tombs had been carved out of the mountain side and their sarcophagi left exposed. You can see the holes that the grave robbers used to enter the tombs. Typically they broke open the top of the door and went in through this hole.

We both enjoyed every moment exploring the caves at Beit She'arim. The necropolis in on the northern side of the ancient city. The ruins of the city are open to visitors and we climbed around a bit, but did not explore completely as the boy was tired after a hard night's gaming. And to be honest, broken walls and stones are a bit of a let down after the incredible caves. We did come across the synagogue, with this impressive arch.

So what are you waiting for. Go visit Beit She'arim. It's worth the 20 Sheks.

Friday, June 19, 2009

How to Screw up Granny Omi's Nut Tart

A guest post by Jo.

Petero's mom, Granny Omi, makes the best nut tart in the world. It's famous- Just ask anyone in Port Elizabeth. It is creamy, crunchy and toffee like all at once. The nuts are perfectly toasted and are a wonderful textural contrast to the fudgy filling.

A few weeks back, petero decided that he would bake/cook a different recipe for his Friday blog post. As we all know,
The man is just (slightly obsessive-) so he takes this kind of commitment very seriously. Even though we are married 22 years we nearly divorced last week over the biscotti.
So petero calls Granny Omi yesterday and asks if it would be ok to post her secret recipe to his blog. "Ok"- says she, (once it was established that it was really him on the phone and not Arnie) "As long as no one in Houston see it!!!!!" Hmmm.

Well, I don't know how he did it, but he totally managed to mess up this perfect tart royally. Looks yummy in the picture, but the proof is in the pud
ding. (photo: before baking)
Make a very sweet pastry using flour, a huge amount of butter, a lot of sugar, one egg, baking powder and 1 tsp of vanilla essence.

It's really important that you mis-measure the sugar and double the butter. The almonds should be raw cause god forbid, they actually over cook. Melt the sugar and butter together, add the nuts and boil gently for 5 mins. Definitely do not cook the caramel for longer than the 5 minutes. Add vanilla and pour into pre-baked pastry shell. Instead of a standard pie dish, make sure to use a pyrex that is too small and much too deep. Then bake it for 9 minutes less than the recipe calls for. (30 minutes, but it was overflowing apparently, hence the cutting of the time)
Cut into a nice wedge, and enjoy with a cup of strong coffee (to cut the sweetness)

My darling, I love you, but please, please, stop this Friday cooking obsession. Life is just too short to eat bad nut tarts.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happy 22

Twenty Two years ago my wife dragged me kicking and screaming to the altar. Actually it was more vomiting and shaking (with "nerves") to the chupah under the trees at Gan Oranim. As usual she knew what's best for me. Marrying Jo was without doubt the best thing I have ever done in my life. No matter how many times she loses her credit card, leaves her phone at home, puts her junk on my side of the bed, leaves food in the room and believes that this time the dish washer will clean her unwashed dishes. No matter how much stuff she salvages from other people's discards on the sidewalk, or how much meat she leaves in our vegetarian fridge. No matter how many times she tells me "it's not what you say, it's how you say it that's the problem", or how many times she will tell me to stop shouting, when I'm responding in a calm and thoughtful manner, or how often she needs to be reminded that she can say NO to other people beside me - My wife is the still the best thing that ever happened to me in my life.

Jo, I love you. You truly are the better half. The last 22 years are just the start, I want to grow old with you. Happy Anniversary.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Shrug

The opposition in the Knesset is on strike. I have tried for a few days to understand why (all I ever hear is that it's "political"), but it's beyond me. Haaretz, my Israeli newspaper of choice, has not reported this at all. The Jerusalem Post (not my favorite), has a semi-coherent article about the walk out, but I still don't get it. Surely we pay these politicians to do their job. They supposedly work (or more exactly don't work) for us. How can they go on strike? What is weird is no one here, except me, seems to give a damn. Everyone I have spoken to about this says the same thing, "they do nothing anyway, so who cares". The answer is always accompanied by that Israeli shrug that raises the eyebrows along with the shoulders.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

John Martyn

John Martyn died in January of this year. I first heard Solid Air when I was around 13 or 14 and all through my teens his songs were often covered at the PE Folk Club. I followed his career closely and have nearly every album he made. Solid Air is still my favorite and May You Never one of the best songs on the album. This version is from the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973. These kind of clips are the reason YouTube is a wonderful thing.
But I have to say my personal all time best John Martyn song is Spencer The Rover, it's a traditional tune and can be found on his 1975 album Sunday's Child.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Festivid 2009

Tonight was Festivid 2009 at the kid's school, where high school kids studying video arts showed their goods. There were 18 videos ranging from the annoyingly loud to the deeply insightful, some were very good indeed. Today's kids are very lucky that they have access to these type of classes and the necessary equipment. Blacksono won a honorable mention for best special effects and an award for the best sound. It was extremely enlightening looking at school life through the eyes of high schoolers. I have become completely disconnected. Most videos were pretty dark and connected in some way with death. It seems its as torturous to be in high school now as it was way back when I was in school.

One of the videos featured the Israel Parkour Team. Parkour and Freerunning are forms of urban acrobatics. The awesome example below was posted by John to his facebook page a while back.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Accra Wagon

As I walked home from work today I noticed once again just how many varied pieces of art line the route I take. It's not along main streets, but through the Industrial Area, over the train tracks and through the residential neighborhoods of Herzliya. All along the way there are bits of art. There is a lot of topiary (hedges cut into shapes), statues blowing horns, there's some weird shapes made out of old electric posts, and then there is the "wagon city" above that sits on a median between the station and the mall. I've always liked this little mobile city so today I decided to take its picture. I stopped on the walking path, unslung my backpack and took out my camera. As I was positioning myself for the shot, I felt someone walk up. He was a very dark man, a shadow in the bright daylight. Big, but with a huge smile and shining teeth. "Where do you think that city is?", he boomed in English. "I don't know", I replied "it's probably Jerusalem". "No, no, no", he responded, shaking his bald head, "that's Accra, in Ghana. I know, because it's my home". He smiled once more and walked on towards the station. I always liked that rusty bit of iron because it looks real, but not. I never realized that it really says way more, like how we drag our home towns behind us wherever we go in this world.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


We went searching for Ekron this morning. It's called Tel Mikne (or Miqne) in Hebrew and it's one of the five cities of the Philistine "Pentapolis" (along with Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Gaza). During the Iron Age (1300-600 BCE), Ekron was a border city on the frontier between Philistia and Judah. It was originally a Canaanite city but burned down around 1300 BCE before being rebuilt by the Philistines around 1200 BCE. It's mentioned in the old testament (2 Kings 1:2) as a noted sanctuary of the god Baal (actually the Baal Zebul, connected with Beelzebub). In 712 BCE Sargon II (the Assyrian king) laid seige to Ekron (depicted in one of the wall reliefs in his palace near Mosul in Iraq). The city was instrumental in Sennacherib's (Sargon II son and heir) attack of Judah and Jerusalem (where Hezekiah was king). The Assyrians were incensed by a revolt in Ekron and the expulsion of Padi, then governor of Ekron, who was sent to Hezekiah in Jerusalem. Sennacherib attacked Judah and enforced Padi's reinstatement.

The site was identified as Ekron in 1996 by the recovery of this tablet. It now lives in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

One would think that an archeological site of this importance would be well cared for and well marked. Well it's not. I googled and searched on maps. Finally I found a reference on a satellite map on google - but it seemed clear that the way was not signposted nor paved. So we marked out the way on the map and figured we would try find it. A Hebrew site gave us a key hint that the way to the site follows a nature trail marked with white, red, white chevrons.

The boy and I set out at with the birds and bikers at six. We found the exit from route 3 with no real problem and then proceeded to take the Prius through a dirt road adventure. The way was not too bad and using the satellite map we found the site without much trouble.

The site is actually in the middle of a wheat field. It is completely overgrown and requires some serious bush bashing. We started out on the southern end and actually found an old sign pointing out the oil presses. Once we uncovered the remains of the oil presses, we scrambled around avoiding thorn bushes and ticks. There must have been a serious oil producing industry as the remains were numerous.

Besides the oil presses all that's visible are really just a bunch of half buried boulders. Not even the walls of buildings are exposed. It's very overgrown. What completely amazed me was we found piles of discarded pottery and shards. These piles were obviously left by various excavation teams. It's incredible that in some parts of the world a single piece of pottery is of enormous relevance, but here they're just left in discard piles. . We couldn't help touching and feeling various pieces, they were hand made by craftsmen thousands of years back. Pure magic.

On our way back to the car, we nearly fell over what I think is the remains of an outer wall.

Both the boy and I loved today's excursion. Nick Cave's music provided the perfect backdrop for the trip out and for bumping over dirt roads. On the way back we continued our listen of Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point". I'm a lucky chap.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mulligatawny Soup

Background: Since the days of the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld I've always been interested in Mulligatawny Soup. I don't remember ever ordering this in an Indian restaurant, but I usually like all Indian food and I have an open mind. So when my friend Jocelyn (she runs the Jewish world in the D.C. area) sent me this recipe I thought I would give it a bash. "Try it first", she urged. "Naaah", I said, "I like all Indian food. I'm sure I love this". "Oh and I'm going to blog it", I said. She gave me a long suffering stare through email.

Well I made it. And unless blackwifeo is able to do something to save this, I clearly don't really like Mulligatawny Soup. For some reason it gets this "plefka" (that horrid film on the top of boiled milk or custard, I shiver just to think of it) on top as soon as you stop stirring, and it has a dry, lentily taste that needs help. But it's cool to make. And not hard.

1/4 cup vegetable oil.3 cups chopped onions.
5 chopped garlic cloves1 1/2 TBL garam masala
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander1 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper2 bay leaves
2 cups dried red lentils8 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 cups diced veggie chicken (tivol)1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice2 cups cooked basmati rice
lemon wedges

Of course, I couldn't find garam masala anywhere in this area. I know you can get it in Tel Aviv, but there's a limit, so I made my own. Google has about a hundred different recipes, I used this one from Ochef. Now.

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy large pot. Add the onions and cook until golden brown (15 mins). Add the garlic an saute for another 2 minutes. Now add the garam masala and the other 4 spices (coriander, tumeric, pepper and bay leaves and stir for no more than a minute. This is what my spices looked like:Now you need to add the red lentils. Stir them well until they are completely coated. It looks nice:Now add the chicken broth (I used chickenless, MSGless, Saltless power). Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until the lentils are very soft and mushy. Then fish out the bay leaves. Next you puree the soup. I used this hand blender, it works like a charm and I want to bend everything in sight. Here is what it looks like post blending:Once it's blended stir in the fake (or real) chicken, the coconut milk and the the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve over rice and garnish with lemon wedges (if you have, we don't).

Note: Once bwo gets home and fixes it, I will post her additions.