Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ginger Muffin Caps

When one thinks of the Middle East, they probably think of things like, the heat, the sun, camels and, unfortunately, uprisings. In my experience so far, the only thing that rings true is the amount of sun. But, it's cold here! Like, colder than San Francisco this time of year. The wind whips through our valley, and whistles at our windows in the late evenings. Though the temperature isn't all that low (about 48 degrees during the day), it still is bone chilling. This I didn't expect.

So, I've shot into winter cooking mode. Our table has featured things like maple syrup roasted butternut squash, stuffed peppers, and baked potatoes. The dish that was really missing, though, was gingerbread. When I think of December, my mind immediately settles on an image of perfectly golden, moist and chewy gingerbread. When my husband requested ginger snaps yesterday, I realized I had the perfect compromise: molasses ginger chew cookies.

The grocery store is an experience in itself here, particularly because I don't speak Hebrew. I managed to find dark brown sugar, but to my chagrin, no molasses. I waltzed back home with my bags of groceries, and set into making a batch of cookies from an online recipe by Paula Deen that had great reviews. Of course, I couldn't quite follow her recipe ... I substituted out the oil for apple sauce, put half the sugar in, added a dollop of honey for some stickiness, chopped in some candied ginger, and competely skipped the whole part about rolling the dough in sugar and placing perfect balls on the baking sheet so that it "looks just like the Starbucks cookies."

What I ended up with was incredibly delicious, but really nothing resembling a cookie, except perhaps in basic shape. They're more like whoopie pies or muffin caps. Or, gingerbread in cookie form. Perhaps this is what happens when you have gingerbread on the brain when you're trying to make cookies.

These are actually delicious. They're a little sticky and get pleasantly glued to your fingertips as you eat them. They'd go very well with a little bit of vanilla ice cream.
Here's the recipe:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 egg
3/4 cup applesauce or plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk the brown sugar and applesauce/yogurt together until well combined. Add the egg, and the honey.

In another bowl, sift the dry ingredients together and combine. 
Add the dry to the wet ingredients, and mix until well incorporated. Add the candied ginger. 

Spoon onto the cookie sheets with a tablespoon, make sure they're spaced at least two inches apart. This should yield about 12 large cookies. Bake for about 14 minutes, then take out to cool for a bit, and when they're cool enough to the touch, remove the cookies from the sheet and place on a wire rack.

Bon appetit!

Once a Swimmer Always a Runner

Last night, I jumped into a heated pool in my newly purchased 80s-style exercise swimsuit, slipped a black swimcap over my knotted bun, adjusted a fresh pair of goggles over the bridge of my nose, dunked myself and pushed off the wall. I unfolded into my first underwater pullout, noticing the calm, gentle fingers of the water stroking my arms and legs as I smoothly passed through its welcoming embrace. The last time I swam was three years ago during a triathlon in a cold mountain reservoir in southern China. The experience was so alarmingly unnerving - the chill, the fear of bacteria, the darkness and unknown depth - that I barely noticed not stepping back into a pool for so many years.

I'm a runner, and like most runners, it is the only sport I have ever excelled at. I had a brief stint in field hockey where I was varsity first-string as a freshman. The only reason for this, though, was that during pre-season tryouts, I could outrun the rest of the girls (most of whom didn't train during the summer). I'd just run up and down the field nonstop, enjoying the smell of freshly cut grass, and enjoying my little kilt flapping in the breeze. I also had a moment of success in college when I rowed for the varsity women's lightweight rowing team. I even got a scholarship. Again, I'm sure that this all came about because the coach was flabbergasted when I could run circles around the rest of the team when doing stadiums and hill workouts. The only other sport I spent much time with was swimming, and in this particular physical activity, no amount of running was going to get me anywhere. I was a flopping, water-hating, utter failure.

I was the kid who was always cold in the pool. I hated getting water up my nose. Having to dive into the pool from a block during swim meets brought me as close to paranoid episodes as a ten year-old can get. So many terrible, embarrassing things could happen - losing goggles, swimcaps flying off, bathing suits suddenly folding over and revealing a breast, brushing the floor of the pool, diving too deep and needing to shoot upwards to the skin of the water to gasp for air. No wonder I tended toward the backstroke; we got to start the race in the pool.

Luckily swimteam ended every August, and during the next nine months, I had the opportunity to prove to my parents that I need not swim - I could excel at other sports. I tried basketball, softball, lacrosse, soccer, even ballet. Nothing quite panned out. Defeated, I'd begin swimteam every summer once again, counting the days until it ended.

Realizing I was a runner eventually released me from the pool's grasp. I stayed a runner forever after that. Regardless of whether I was training with a team, living in Shanghai, China or simply doing a few loops around my San Francisco neighborhood.

So it was with trepidation that when I moved to Jerusalem a few weeks ago, I joined a gym focused primarily on its pool. Running is wonderful pretty much anywhere where there isn't traffic or religious zealots nearby. Unfortunately, Jerusalem has both of these problems, and I wasn't interested in taking them on by foot and spandex.  Nervous about swimming again, I made a big deal about buying appropriate and comfortable gear for the experience. I dragged my husband with me to the discount sports store where I spent an hour trying on strange bathing suits and goggles.

And when the time finally came to join the swimmers at Ramat Rachel, it was as if it was something I had always done and will always do. I swam for a half hour straight, enjoying the weightlessness of my body, moving every single muscle and bone that I have, practicing the old flip turns, and controlling my breathing. It was wonderful. I guess all those years of pain in the cold pool at the Westwood Club had some purpose.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Word Cloud

Taken from this blog - I like this!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fennel and the new smell of home

After hanging laundry on our third floor balcony, I slid open the glass door, and stepped onto the cool, beige marble floor inside. I noticed that our home smelled comfortingly of fennel - an ingredient in today's lunch of sauteed potatoes and vegetables. I made a cup of fresh lemon tea, and ensconced myself the overly-cushioned microfiber couch.

Here I am, finally sitting in one place and enjoying the static view. Facing the balcony, I can see past the valley below - a wadi studded with minarets to tan Jerusalem stone towns, and even further to the hills of Jordan and the Dead Sea. None of these sites are familiar to me, aside from a few trips I've taken to Israel over the past 20 years. Yet, I finally feel like this is home, or at least somewhere where we can pause for a bit.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Introduction to Israel

We went from California to Virginia to India, and ended up in Jerusalem, Israel. Looks like we'll be here for about a year. So far it's been a slogging two weeks of finding an apartment and visiting various government offices to get my residency in order. Sometimes it takes trying to live somewhere else to help you realize how much you liked being where you were.