Monday, January 9, 2012

Fresh Local Strawberries in January

A pleasant surprise in the dead of the Jerusalem winter is the sweet, abundant, candy-colored strawberries. Israel has two strawberry seasons every year - one in summer, one in winter. The double harvest doesn't dilute their flavor a bit. The strawberries are so aromatic, that once entering any supermarket or shuk, I am overpowered by their perfume. This amazing strawberry scent is the same flavor that bursts into my mouth. Honey-like, plump, with a bit of a bite. Ahh, perfection. All these cold days will pass a little easier with these gracing my breakfast table every chilly morning.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Making Spelt Bread on a Jerusalem Morning

Today was one of those lovely long early mornings. I woke up an hour earlier than usual, watched the sun rise until the sky was so bright that I had to put sunglasses on inside. Though I could have done a myriad of other things, the golden morning had me feeling very nostalgic about home. Wherever that may be. And so, I decided to be homey. I baked bread. Spelt bread, to be exact.

Spelt makes amazingly delicious breads and pancakes. The flour is a bit more silky with a higher protein content than other wheat substitutes. I love the stuff, and I wouldn't have known about it or how to cook with it if I hadn't had a gluten intolerance when I was living in the US.

I never wanted to jump onto the anti-gluten bandwagon, particularly since I grew up eating tons of wheat and had no trouble. Also because I [wrongly] associated the anti-wheat fiends with housewives with too much time on their hands. But for the couple years that I lived in San Francisco after moving back from China, I noticed more and more that every time I ate a few too many things that contained gluten, I'd get sick.

I proceeded to learn all about delicious wheat substitutes such as quinoa pasta, a host of breakfast cereals made from oats and rice, Bragg's soy sauce, etc etc. Eventually I was totally off gluten and feeling pretty good.

Then, I went on my honeymoon to India. We really had no choice but to eat very hot, simple foods to avoid food poisoning. I threw the gluten question out the window, and proceeded to eat naan, paranthas, and other amazing fresh breads no less than three times a day. I spent three weeks in India eating like this. Never did I have a stomach ache.

When we moved to Israel, I kept up eating glutinous foods like pasta, pretzels and pita galore. No stomach aches.

It occurred to me, maybe something's up with the wheat flour in the US. Maybe it's been overly genetically modified to incorporate too much gluten. And just about when that occurred to me, this article appeared in the Huffington Post. Apparently, the wheat flour in the US is overly genetically modified. And the modification has affected pretty much every type of wheat flour on American grocery store shelves. Not so in other countries where the phenomenon of stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth white bread never really gained traction.

Despite the fact that I can eat wheat flour here in Israel without any problem, I've learned to love spelt. Thank you Wonder Bread for introducing me to so many delicious alternatives!

Here's how to make these nutty, chewy spelt buns.

5 grams yeast
warm water
pinch of sugar
500 grams stone ground spelt flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
sesame seeds
olive oil

Proof yeast in a small bowl with a pinch of sugar (I use brown sugar) and about a third cup of warm water. Mix salt and flour together in a larger bowl and set aside. When the yeast mixture has formed bubbles which should take about 5 minutes for instant yeast and up to 15 minutes for fresh yeast, add it to the flour mixture. Slowly mix with a spoon, adding additional warm or cool water to the dough until all of the flour is well incorporated and it's a bit sticky. I used about 2 cups of water total. No need to get your hands dirty kneading this (unless you want to). Set aside in a bowl covered with a moist towel in a warm place for about an hour or until the dough doubles in size. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Coat your hands with olive oil, and pull off lemon-sized pieces from the dough. Shape into a ball and place onto the baking sheet, keeping buns 2 inches away from one another. Brush the buns with egg, and sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top. Bake for 20 - 22 minutes. Let cool on a rack.

These made yummy sandwiches on our picnic lunch today :)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Gender Issues in Israel

Every time I open a news site about Israel, at least one of the top stories is about gender segregation and the growing extremism of the orthodox here. I live in Jerusalem, and though I haven't spent much more than three weeks here so far, I haven't yet noticed anything out of the ordinary. And believe me, I'm looking. Gender issues make me irate. I had dinner with a few couples a few days ago, and asked about the buses where women are forced to sit in the rear. Everyone shrugged, claiming they had never seen such a thing in all their years in Jerusalem, that this was just sensational news for self-hating Jews and the rest of the world that wants more ammunition against Israel. Meanwhile, the stories continue to accelerate, and I wonder what is going on ...