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Monday, December 20, 2004

Fresh

While puttering around the kitchen this past week making chopped liver, I couldn’t help but marvel at the incredible freshness of the ingredients I was using.

Some of you may remember a journal entry I wrote about the freshness of Israeli eggs. But while poking around the kitchen, I started taking stock of how lucky I am to live in such a tiny country.

For those who need a frame of reference… Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey. This means that even if you are in one of the most remote communities in the country… you are probably less than 4 hours from the source of all the fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fish, eggs, poultry and other natural products that your family consumes.  We live very near the geographic center of the country, so that estimate can probably be cut in half. 

Our eggs come from a farm 30 minutes south of us and are delivered fresh to our door. We get fresh squeezed orange juice delivered every Thursday evening from another local supplier… again, right to the door.

Many people in our neighborhood grow a nice assortment of the herbs and spices they use most frequently, and while the selection on an American supermarket spice shelf may be dazzling in its scope… there is something amazing about an Israeli spice department (yes, an entire supermarket department) which contains countless overflowing burlap bags and heaping canisters of the freshest, most fragrant spices imaginable!

The fruits and vegetables we eat are almost all local (meaning Israeli) grown, and therefore the selection varies with the seasons. In Connecticut I had grown accustomed to having South American summer produce during our winter months, and didn’t give a moment’s thought to what was 'in season'.  If I had a taste for something, I could usually find it.  I also didn't think too much about how far the produce had traveled to reach me or how much time had elapsed since it had been picked. But with my present frame of reference, I can safely say I'd much rather have 'just-picked' flavor in my produce and not have as wide a selection year-round.

There is also a growing organic food industry here in Israel, and according to an article in this past weekend’s Jerusalem post, organic aint just for hippies anymore!

Each week I see trucks on the road taking chickens and turkeys to be ‘shechted’ (slaughtered), and I know when I walk into my butcher that the poultry couldn’t be any fresher if I raised it myself

While there are several good bakery options within a few minutes of my door, every local store and makolet has shelves of fresh baked bread that was delivered from the baker that very morning. Much of it is left unwrapped because it is too warm to package when it arrives. Larger supermarkets almost all bake their own bread and rolls on the premises.

I'll admit that after 18 short months, my longing for a few specific American products has not abated much, but I can say without hesitation that most of what I miss are the processed products, and not the fresh foodstuffs.

Friends and family often accuse me of gushing about how great things are in Israel… and I admit that I do this maybe a little too much. But it isn’t a dig at where I came from... only an ongoing indication of happiness at where we are.

Zahava and I picked up our kids and moved to Israel largely for ideological reasons. We did so knowing full well that Ideologues tend to live lives of deprivation... always sacrificing for their beliefs. We came expecting to have to ‘do without’ and instead have been amazed at how very much is now ours for the asking.

I guess what I am trying to do when I carry on this way is to reassure people I care about (and those who care about us) that we’re doing just fine here, thankyouverymuch.  But if you happen to think of it, could you bring some Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder and some real vanilla extract from Trader Joe’s next time you come for a visit?

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Posted by David Bogner on December 20, 2004 | Permalink

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David! You can get real vanilla extract here! Olam Hatavlanim on Agrippas in J-town makes their own with real vanilla beans and its stellar!

Posted by: harry | Dec 20, 2004 3:04:04 PM

Harry... Thanks, I know you can get it here, but it's EXPENSIVE! I also know a few people who make their own using vodka and vanilla beans. But we use a lot of it in our baking, and it is nice to have a cheap, abundant supply on hand.

Posted by: David | Dec 20, 2004 3:18:12 PM

You can buy Ghirardelli on line. I have no idea to where they'll ship, though. Would it be expensive for an American friend to mail you a Ziplock bag full of cocoa powder? My wife and I are saving for a trip to Israel in Channuka 2005, and we'd be happy to pack some for you, but that's a long time to wait. "No, officer, that's a baggy of cocoa for an Israeli blogger. What do you mean, 'cavity search'?" Have you considered evaporating the contents of a bag of Shoko? :-)

Oy, organic food! You're such a smart, nice guy who hasn't been exposed to nearly enough right-wing propaganda (I mean, information). It's not just for hippies; it's largely for rich liberals. Do a search in National Review (what? you don't read National Review?!!) for "organic food" and you'll find lots of articles detailing its quackery. The funniest is this one.

OK. I promise, no more politics...

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Dec 20, 2004 4:41:29 PM

One of the things I miss about Israel is the smell of spices in markets. A Scandinavian like myself can't do much else than admire them though, since I'm not really used to anything besides salt and pepper. Before going to israel I had never even heard of oregano!

Posted by: Hatshepsut | Dec 20, 2004 4:46:55 PM

Ah, that magnificent spice store on Agrippas Street. What a pleasure to pass by there while taking a deep, deep breath.

Posted by: Rahel | Dec 20, 2004 5:43:31 PM

Doctor Bean... I can have nearly anything under the sun shipped here - provided I don't mind paying an arm and a leg for shipping and then paying nearly the face value again in Israeli taxes. Like I said... there is very little we miss and can't get here... but it's nice when friends and family arrive bearing gifts.

I go back and forth on the whole organic thing. My opinion on the subject usually reflects the reasoning in the last article I've read. :-)

Hatshepsut... I didn't say I knew what to do with most of the spices! :-) Zahava is actually the one in the family that likes spicy and strong flavoring. I like more bland seasoning. However, the look and smell of all those fantstic spices (I don't even know what most of them are) makes me want to experiment a little bit.

Rahel... I know just the shop you're talking about! Every time I walk past I enjoy the smells. It's neat, though, that a typical supermarket has almost as good a selection of fresh spices as the Souk these days.

Posted by: David | Dec 20, 2004 6:26:25 PM

MMMMMMMM... and powdered/dried sage, and chili powder (think good ole-Texas style chili NOT mizrachi seasoning -- which, btw, is delicious but doesn't quite work with my chili recipe), and hot cocoa mix.... Give me a bit of time and I KNOW I can come up with more that I can't find here (at least without having to mortgage our first-born! LOL)..... :-)

Posted by: zahava | Dec 20, 2004 7:06:20 PM

Ah David, your mention of spices makes me smile. There are so many different and good smells in Israel. It is one of the things that I always associate with my time there.

As for Ghiradelli chocolate and Trader Joes you have alluded to two of the more pleasurable items in my life. You clearly have good taste, even if your cooking requires a sidearm to swallow. ;)

Sorry, I am hung up on the gun thing, just too funny.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 20, 2004 7:10:28 PM

Jack... That's right... it smells like... victory. :-)

Posted by: David | Dec 20, 2004 10:39:40 PM

Hey David, I'll make you a deal- I'll send you some TJ goodies in exchange for some of those amazing spices or other treats indigenous to your area.

Posted by: Bayou | Dec 21, 2004 2:25:59 AM

Yeah, that's all well and good. Except during shmitta.

Posted by: ball-and-chain | Dec 21, 2004 3:07:58 AM

Bayou... anything you want I'd be glad to send you (really, I mean it), but sending stuff here is problematic. Incoming goods (even from private parties) are taxed at nearly their face value. Otherwise I would be having stuff sent from abroad all the time. I appreciate the thought, though.

Seriously, if there is a spice or ingredient that you'd like to try, just send me an e-mail and I'll be happy to send you a package.

Ball-and-chain... There are always loopholes to get around shmita. Yes, it is harder (and more expensive) to find good produce during the 7th year, but that is also part of the charm of living here.

Posted by: David | Dec 21, 2004 8:38:30 AM

OH! And after Yonah's first-failed (miserably so!) birthday cake HOW COULD I FORGET: UNSWEETENED BAKER'S CHOCOLATE???????

Posted by: zahava | Dec 21, 2004 9:07:44 AM

One of the things I love about Southern California is the fact that much of the produce is locally grown. That's not to say we don't get fruit shipments from Mexico, but the best stuff is, of course, local produce in season. Oxnard strawberries in the height of strawberry season is pretty close to ambrosia and I'm not even a huge strawberry fan.

Personal gardens are, of course, the best, but I'm too lazy to keep one going. I will say that one of the best salsas I ever had used ingredients from the gardens of my neighbor and myself, though we used basil instead of cilantro.

I'd offer to send y'all stuff, too, but I wouldn't want you to go in debt over it.

Posted by: Carol | Dec 21, 2004 9:54:36 AM

Carol... Thanks for the offer... it's the thought that counts. :-) I'm hoping that by the time the spring rolls around we will have a nice patch of our yard cleared and ready for a nice garden. I'm sure there will be mention of it here and there on treppenwitz.

Posted by: David | Dec 21, 2004 11:17:25 AM

You're so right, David, and what is more fruit and vegetables are darn cheap here. One doesn't usually stop to make the double conversion from kilos to pounds and shekels to dollars, but one can get a good approximation by dividing by 10, and the results are surprising. From my last supermarket bill: apples 65 cents/pound; onion 29 cents/pound; oranges 37 cents/pound; potatoes 35 cents/pound; chilli peppers 76 cents/pound, kiwi 60 cents/pound etc.

Posted by: Simon | Dec 22, 2004 8:28:17 AM

Simon... quite true, but then you have to factor in that Israeli salaries are a fraction of what they would be in the U.S. When you figure out what percentage of your income is used to purchase groceries, it ends up at least as expensive as in the states. :-)

Posted by: David | Dec 22, 2004 8:34:47 AM

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