Lemon Bars Recipe – Pucker Up Perfection

Once I perfected this in America. Bringing this to Israel, it has become a work in progress. This is my disclaimer for working with butter that I can’t quite decipher as being salted or not from the packaging (though I don’t think it matters much), an oven where the symbols for different functions has been rubbed off, baking with C conversions that just don’t reflect the F counterparts on this oven with uneven temperature increments….and so here is the basis, experiment in your own makeshift kitchen/oven that might be available to you if you’re lucky enough to have an oven in your apartment! Yes, in Israel the simplest things are always a challenge, that’s why we love Israel! :) Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS
Crust:
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (4.5 oz) all-purpose flour

Filling:
1 cup sugar *if using meyer lemons, use 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar instead
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp finely grated lime or lemon zest
1/2 cup strained fresh lime or lemon juice
powdered sugar for dusting

DIRECTIONS FOR BAKIN’
1. Place a rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 F.
2. Line 8” square baking pan with aluminum foil
3. In a medium bowl, combine melted butter with sugar, vanilla, and salt
4. Add flour and mix just until incorporated. press dough evenly over bottom of pan
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the crust is fully baked, well browned at edges, and golden brown in center
6. While crust is baking, stir together the sugar and flour in a large bowl until well mixed, whisk in eggs, stir in lemon or lime zest and juice
7. When the crust is ready, turn the oven down to 300 F. Slide the rack with the pan out and pour the filling onto the hot crust bake for 20-25 minutes longer or until the topping no longer jiggles in the center when the pan is tapped.
8. Set on a rack to cool completely in the pan.
9. Lift up the foil liner and transfer the bars to a cutting board. if the surface is covered with a thin layer of moist foam (not unusual), you can blot it gently to reveal the zest.

Note: This recipe was passed on from a friend, the actual source comes from Alice Waters. Not sure if the recipe has been modified from her original. I own one of her books and everything in it looks amazing. Too bad the book is still in CA while I’m in Israel. Yes I live in two countries and have an identity crisis.

Buy Fish at the Shuk

Zài shìchǎng mǎi yǔ…

Peìqǐ: Nǐ hǎo. Wǒ yào mǎi yī xiē yǔ. Nǐ yǒu guīyǔ ma?

Yǔ xiǎofàn: Yǒu, zài zhèlǐ(er).

Peìqǐ: Dūo shǎo qián?

Yǔ xiǎofàn: Yī jīn qīshíwǔ xièkèěr.

Peìqǐ: Sì piàn dūoshǎo qián?

Yǔ xiǎofàn: Bāshí xièkèěr.

Peìqǐ: Hǎo. Wǒ yào mǎi. Xièxiè.

Kong Xin Cai Recipe (a.k.a. Ong-Choy, Water Spinach)

Kong Xin Cai literally means “hollow vegetable”. Kong by itself means “empty”, Kong Xin together means “hollow”. I finally got that clarified with mom, otherwise, I always grew up thinking this vegetable was “hollow heart” or “hollow stem”. If I looked at the Chinese characters, I could only recognize Xin to be heart, so it was hollow heart. If I looked at the vegetable, the eye-brain-mouth processing resulted in my calling it the hollow stem vegetable since that was its defining attribute. Regardless, if I walked into a disorganized Chinese market with mismatched, unlabeled or undecipherable labels, that was how I found this vegetable. But enough on the moniker since wikipedia explains it all under ipomoea aquatica. Now onto the easiest recipe ever for making this dish…

Servings: Approximately 4-6?

Prep and Cook Time: ~ 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch Kong Xin Cai (as bunched from the market)
  • 5+ garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • oil
  • salt

Directions:

1. Wash the vegetable and get rid of bugs, bad leaves, dirt, etc.

2. Chop the vegetable into ~2 inch segments, separate the stems from the leaves for cooking.

 

3. Heat the garlic bits in a nice drizzle of oil that easily coats the pan and then collects a little at bottom of pan.

4. When garlic and oil are nice and hot to the point where garlic is just beginning to maybe brown, throw in the stems and cook down slightly, sprinkle with some salt.

5. Add the leaves to the stems and cook all together, sprinkle more salt all over and mix it all up. Stir every so often til everything is cooked through, plate and serve.

This is the simplest and healthy way to pretty much cook lots of different Chinese vegetables. Practice and adjust your cooking time until your stems still retain a nice little crunch and the leaves don’t become a gooey mess, but to each his own. Good luck!

One question remains though, does this vegetable exist in Israel? If not, is it possible to start an Asian vegetables kibbutz?

Pick olives in Italy – Fragneto Monforte, Compania

Would you rather pick olives in America or Italy? After weighing the options, I vouched for Italy and found myself in Fragneto Monforte, a small little village (paesce) with family friends, Tina and Michael. I thought all I would do was come pick olives and study my Hebrew textbook, but my two weeks here were better than I ever imagined, and didn’t get to as much of the Hebrew as I had hoped.

After 24 hours of travel from California to Chicago to Munich-Germany to Naples and then a long drive to Fragneto Monforte, I got up the next day, watched Tina (the Chinese-Italian Mama) make an amazing seafood pasta, and went olive picking on the nearby farm. There I met the Venditti family, a fun-loving warm-hearted bunch who embraced me with their big smiles and jovial laughter, and so the adventures began.

Over the course of 12 sunny days, when I wasn’t learning to make Italian cuisine, I joined them almost every day and helped pick olives (cogliere olive). It was hard work, but being out in the brisk mountain air, it was a refreshing experience and I picked olives to my heart’s content. Every day they asked me if I was tired. With the biggest smile, I would always reply, “Nope, not tired! That was fun! See you tomorrow!”

Pretty quickly, I learned lots of Italian words and it all started with my first lesson from Maria “Non lo so. Non ho capito. Ripeti, per favore.” (I don’t know. I don’t understand. Repeat, please.) Every day I learned new phrases and could converse simply by the end of 2 weeks.

But this is what it’s like to pick olives in Fragneto Monforte, Italy. An amazing and unforgettable experience!! I hope I can return some other October and learn how to make wine with the grape harvest. Civediaaaaaaaamooooooo….

Only one way to get to the farm.

Almost at the farm where "work" can begin.

Santino and Giovanni - the dynamic duo.

Black olives, silvery leaves.

Nicola works in the treetops.

So many olives!!

What's a farm without a dog? Diana was really our supervisor.

I picked a whole crate of olives (ok, Maria helped). :)

Santino sends down the treetops and we continue to pick.

I finally graduated from ground floor and got to use the ladder.

Everyone has an olive to pick.

Every so often, it's ok to chill.

Fold the tarp and let's go home.

After the day's harvest, sometimes you find a few lost olives around the far edges of the tarps.

Every day's reward after picking olives. Ci vediamo domani...

After ~30 crates, you spend a day to remove the branches and leaves.

After olives are cleaned they can be sent to the press.

The old farmhouse - storage for olives before they go to the press.

Picking olives is always more fun with friends.

Leaving the farm...until next time.

Why is Munich white sausage (weisswurst) white?

I read over 10 sites that came up on Google search about why Munich white sausage is white. None of them really told me the answer, but they did tell me how to eat this traditional meal. I obviously did not know the way to eat it properly (you either cut the casing lengthwise and eating the inside, or you cut the tip of the casing and suck out the meat bite by bite). I ate it by cutting it into bite-sized pieces like how I eat my good ol’ American hot dogs. It tasted ok, but I think I would prefer the usual pan-fried brats over this one that was cooked with hot water. Nevertheless, I was left with one question: What makes these white sausages white?

I went olive picking today and met an older Italian man named Giovanni from Germany who said white sausage is white because it is made from the meat scraped off closest to the bone. But it’s also unhealthy for you and he only eats it maybe once a year. I always thought pork was just pork and any part of the pig would be the “other white meat.” Unless anyone else has ideas, I’ll leave the story be, but one thing I do know — I think I met my sausage quota for the year.

The pretzel (breze) was also a traditional Munich side to the sausages, salty, crusty on the outside and super soft on the inside. The way they should be!

White Sausages

Munich White Sausages - the one interesting thing I felt I should try while wandering the Munich airport on a 5 hour layover.

Rice Krispie Treats Recipe – Remembering Grandma

I was talking to an Israeli while living in Israel for 10 weeks and he’s never heard of rice krispie treats! Hmm, I sense a new market niche for this snack in Israel and I think it’d be pretty easy to make them kosher. :) I should open up a cafe in Israel and introduce these to Israel.

Every time I think of these delectable treats, I’m reminded of my grandma as she’d often stay up late and help me make rice krispie treats for bake sales when I was a little girl. Grandma was a truly amazing woman and on October 29, 2012, she went to be with the Lord after 91 years of life on earth.

The story of her life is truly remarkable - a simple village girl, widowed at 22 while pregnant with her second son (grandpa died on the battlefield during WWII), she had little money of her own, no education, and raised two sons who became doctors, bravely traveled the world, moved to a new country in her 50s, adapted easily, became the ultimate Taiwanese-American grandma, became Christian, and had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met and took care of her grandkids and relatives and friends with the same love and concern as she had for her sons, never asked anything of anyone in return, a farmer’s market extraordinaire, she cooked and cooked and cooked, and the stories go on.

Today, we had a memorial service to remember her. I am deeply humbled and thankful to have had such a grandma (or ah-ma as I always called her) and every time I make rice krispie treats, I will always think of her.

So here’s the recipe for how I like to make Rice Krispie Treat Balls:

 Step 1: Follow the recipe printed on the marshmallows bag or rice krispie treats cereal box.

Step 2: Dump out the final mixture onto a big sheet of wax paper or similar unsticky surface (i.e. silpat).

Step 3: Wear plastic disposable gloves and pull golf-ball sized handfulls of rice krispie from the pile you just made and form it into little balls. Make sure to lightly handle and just form them so they stick together. If you compact them too much, they will be become like rocks.

And there you have it, rice krispie treat balls that are easy for guests to eat!

I love you grandma.

DIY: Paint Projects

When I’m not traveling, I like to paint and find it most therapeutic. I love how in the moments when paint and canvas meet, all the craziness of life seems to fade away, my being finds calm, my thoughts are silenced and then it’s just me and the paint. Perhaps in sum, I’ve had maybe one year of art training in the 4th grade and am no expert by any means, but I like to think it doesn’t matter how much formal training you’ve had. Art is a wonderful outlet for the soul and there’s an artist within every person.

An exploration into acryclic paints with wedge sponges.

But most recently, I was apprenticed in the commercial painting trade and had the opportunity to hang out on rooftops and felt kind of like Tom Sawyer, except instead of whitewashing and conning people to paint, I got to play with spray paints and thick flat paint and enjoyed every minute of it. And if I could do this, I think anyone could do it. Here are two DIY paint projects.

DIY Project 1: Poop-covered, rusty vent hood.

After steps 1 - 3.

Step 1: Brush off all the dirt and poop, lightly sand down every surface, brush off the sanded paint. Be sure to wear a dust mask.

Step 2: Spray all the rusty parts with rust-oleum. Wear a mask.

Step 3: Spray over the rust-oleam with a white primer if painting with a light color or else the brown rust-oleam color will show through the light paint. Wear a mask.

Step 4: Roll/brush on two coats of paint.

Project 1 complete.

DIY Project 2: Prevent wooden boards from splitting. (The backing to a decorative part of the building.) 

Project 2: Before

Ready to scrape away.

Step 1: Scrape of all the old paint with a wire brush. Wear a dust mask and protective eyewear. You don’t want to breathe in paint chips or get a chip lodged in your eye, or else it’s a trip to the ER.

Step 2: Sweep off all the dust. Wear a mask.

Cut in at edges with a brush and roll everything else.

Step 3: Paint the edges with a brush and roll as much as you can of the rest. Load up the roller real good and squish in the paint into ever nook and cranny in the wood.

Hard at work in the mid-day heat. Not an easy job.

Step 4: Apply a second coat.

Project 2: After

Step 5: Do it all over again for the next building over. Even if you get stung by paper wasps that made their home behind the wooden boards. (I guess they didn’t like me trying to beautify their home. At least I found out I’m not allergic to wasp stings but it sure hurt and swelled up.)

Lessons Learned:

  • Stretch every day or you are going to be hurting after all that crouching.
  • The most important part to any paint job is in the preparation of surfaces to be painted. It’s not the fun part though and takes the most time.
  • Rooftops are another one of my favorite places to hang out.

What is kosher in Israel?

Practically anything and everything you’d want or need is kosher in Israel. Today we learned in Hebrew class that even the postcard stamps in Israel are kosher. In Israel (and only in Israel) they use kosher glue on the back of their stamps just in case you use your spit to place the stamps on your mail. That is definitely a detail I would have never even considered! Sbaba! (hebrew slang definition: cool!)

Moving to a new place – what Frommer’s and Lonely Planet doesn’t tell you.

With every move to a new country, state, city, or wherever, it takes time to make the transition, but so far, coming to Israel from America has not been too difficult of an adjustment. Nevertheless, it does take some getting used to…and successful and smooth transitions are perhaps determined most by how QUICKLY you adapt; you have to do your best to stop thinking about where you came from and enjoy where you are.

Actually, post-undergraduate years, the longest I’ve lived in any one place has been the last 3 years I spent in Irvine, CA before coming to Israel. Apart from that, I have been on the move almost every year or two years for well, probably the past decade (sometimes I can’t believe I can count in decades!).

There really needs to be a guide book about moving to a new country. I haven’t found any, and Frommer’s or Lonely Planet only tell you about how to be a tourist and not so much a resident. Maybe it’s a rite of passage to experience a lot of stress in moving to a new place, but I say, why not minimize the stress of that by preparing yourself for the transition so you can actually enjoy it and that way, the transition is not as scary or shocking to the system.

From my experience, here are some tips to ease out of and into any new situation, be it the next city over or to the other side of the world. Feel free to take or leave any of it, or leave me your experiences and tips in a comment, but here’s what I’ve learned about moving to a new place:

My life for 6 months and 3 seasons in 2 suitcases and a backpack. On the way to Israel with a pitstop in London.

1. Bring basic necessities to sustain you for at least 2 weeks. (This cuts out the stress of being a royal mess and not being able to take a comfortable shower after schleping around suitcases, boxes, etc. into cars and up stairs, down halls, and every other possible maze to get yourself and your stuff to the new place. You feel much happier if you can clean yourself up after a long day of moving. If you have the ability to pack a roll of toilet paper, do that too. Pick up a travel pack of antibacterial wipes from the local Target and give your new place a once-over before unpacking everything else. Bottom line is, the more basics you can pack that doesn’t exceed weight/size restrictions/limitations, try and bring as much as you can with you and pack those last to make sure they’re easily accessible as they’re the first things you can use when you get to your destination to start setting yourself up for your new life.)

2. Take a stroll around the neighborhood and find the closest markets, banks, etc. (I suppose you can always give yourself a GoogleMaps tour, but if you don’t have that luxury, it’s time to use your feet (or bike, car, etc. if available) and get your bearings about you.)

3. Survey what’s in the local markets for your easily consumable foods and life staples – water, bread, yogurt, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. (In Israel, I couldn’t read any signs and have no idea why it says 1.5% or 3% on the yogurt labels, but just throw your “must have nonfat or 2% or only greek yogurt” thoughts out the window and just be happy you identified which items in the dairy section are yogurt. If you made a mistake and bought cream cheese, cottage cheese, or sour cream before you found the yogurt, it’s ok…just laugh a little and know that the 50 shekel investment was all part of the learning).

4. Take a break from feeling like you have to understand everything and stressing about the transition. Absorb the culture for a few days, eat out at the local restaurants with some new friends you may have met, then reevaluate what you need as far as necessities and then enjoy the adventure of finding that one pot or pan you need to cook some real food in and one good knife and cutting board. As much as you might not want to spend your money on kitchenware, you have to figure out for yourself how to do this so you don’t break the bank by eating out all the time (unless you’re one of those special people who happen to have untold wealth hidden away…but that’s not so much my reality). So, remember to budget for the higher costs of eating out a lot within the first week or so and don’t stress about having to do that and give yourself a huge pat on the back on the first day you’re able to make yourself a home-cooked meal, even if it’s your own assemblage of pita, hummus, cucumber/tomato salad, and later, adding pasta and meat to the menu).

Now that’s not to say that this American gals’ move to Israel hasn’t been without its adventures and that I haven’t gone through some culture shock…but I’ll have to save that for future blogs on the moving series. Stay tuned. :)

 

There are pigs in Israel.

In response to my last post, I am happy to report that I found some pigs in Israel. They came from London…and somehow border control didn’t catch them.

I totally forgot about these tasty gummies that can only be found at Marks & Spencer in the London. But for Percy Pig, it’s not just about a cute little pig trademark logo. It’s all about the pork and for those who can’t handle the pork, they feature a kosher “veggie” version where the gelling agent consists of pectin versus pork gelatine.

Having somewhat of a gummy fetish and being a huge fan of Haribo and all things gummy, I never really thought about where gelatine comes from. Haribo never labelled their ingredients so specifically and starts off with corn syrup, sugar, gelatine…. Percy Pig’s ingredients are sugar, glucose syrup, sugar, pork gelatine…. For some reason, reading “pork gelatine” in the ingredients makes my tummy feel a little funny and now I’m more inclined to eat the kosher version. Perhaps deep down I have some Jewish blood in me after all and I’m reminded why ignorance is bliss. (At least my dentist will be happy to hear that I may end up cutting down on the gummy intake after all this.)

Upon further investigation, it turns out Percy Pig has his roots in Germany. Now that makes you wonder if it’s really about the pig or if there’s more to this story…maybe I’ll head to the pig-farming kibbutz in Israel and do some further investigations.

Percy Pig