MEXICO, PLAYA DEL CARMEN

November 3, 2014

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The first time I visited Playa Del Carmen was fifteen years ago. After a six-month stay in New York, I had to leave America and come back in order to extend my tourist visa. In New York I met an Israeli girl who had just gotten back from a month in Playa. She said it was an inexpensive heaven, and mentioned that her friend Natalie was still there, if I was interested in going, and that it would be easy to find Natalie because Playa is so small.

So the next day, I walked into an STA travel agency (remember travel agents?) and booked a roundtrip ticket to Cancun (which is about a one-hour drive from Playa).

Old hotels Playa

The shit-hole and the upgraded bungalow

My first night in Playa I stayed in a cheap hotel, an ex-brothel – the same one the Israeli girl had stayed in. Somehow she neglected to mention that it was a complete shit-hole. The next morning, I looked for a better place to stay. Back then, there was only one fancy hotel in town, which I couldn’t afford, and the rest of the places were cheap. A bungalow in Zula was ten bucks more than the first shit-hole, yet ten times better, and actually charming in its own humble way. The bed hung from the ceiling on heavy ropes, like a giant swing covered in mosquito net. The shared bathrooms were inconveniently located outside of the room, but the beauty, charm and tranquility of Playa made this a trivial detail. After I moved myself to Zula and had breakfast, I began to look for Natalie.

I couldn’t find Natalie anywhere. Instead, I found Brian. A handsome and sweet American boy who was at the end of a six-month trek through Central America. Naturally, he jumped at my offer to sleep at my “fancy” bungalow and to act as my bodyguard/boyfriend for the next five days. Fifteen years ago, people knew how to rely on their instincts. I didn’t need to Google Brian to know that he was one of the good guys.

Eventually I did bump into Natalie, who had been partying in Tulum, but we didn’t click like I did with Brian. Besides, who needs a Natalie when you have a Brian?

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Fifteen years later, I came back to Playa with my handsome husband and sons and my best friend, who came from Israel with her husband and two sons. We all stayed in a big, cozy house in Playacar (PaseoUxamel) that we rented through Airbnb.

Playa is no longer the small, humble town I remembered. It’s a big, fat city now. Still charming, though. It’s definitely more expensive now than it was back then. I felt like my wallet was being milked wherever we went. We were constantly accosted by people who wanted to sell us something. Nevertheless, we had a great time together. Continue Reading…

DATES STUFFED WITH WALNUTS DIPPED IN CHOCOLATE

September 14, 2014

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I want to pack these stuffed dates in their lunchboxes for a snack, but I know they won’t eat them. I’ve tried sending dried fruits and nuts before and they didn’t eat them. Alex even accused me of ruining his life. He claims that eating cockroach-looking dried fruit at recess is beyond embarrassing. (I thought bugs were cool?)

I hear you, son. If my mother had tried to send me one of those Moroccan marzipan-stuffed dates in my lunchbox, instead of the ever-popular choco (Israeli chocolate-milk-in-a-plastic-bag), I would be absolutely mortified.

Did I really think that covering the dates with chocolate would make them look less hostile and more appealing to Leo and Alex? The only way to make them more appealing to my store-bought-snack-deprived children would be to commercially package them in some kind of noisy wrapper. They claim that they are the only ones in school who don’t have a real snack. A “real snack,” ironically, means “in a crinkly bag,” like potato chips, Doritos, or a yucky, overly-sweet granola bar. So I say, “Well…When you are eighteen, you can eat whatever you want,” or, “No wonder most of the other kids are overweight.” Continue Reading…

VEGGIE FRITTATAS WITH GREEN CABBAGE AND HERB

August 19, 2014

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Yes, I am alive, and today, after six hectic months, I can finally say, “alive and well.” I survived the move from our two-bedroom – and only one bathroom! –  townhouse to a three-bedroom – and three bathrooms!!! – townhouse. Two-and-a-half bath, technically. Now, we each have our own bathroom, almost.

I survived middle school madness. If you live in LA, you know exactly what I am talking about. Here, if you don’t live in a zone that has a good middle school, you are basically screwed. Unless you get lucky, like we did. Thanks to the universe, Leo ended up getting accepted to the SAS (School for Advanced Studies) program at our local middle school, which is considered to be good, and he also won two lotteries for two good charter schools. We chose to send him to the smaller and closer charter school.

I also survived the twenty-four-hour flight to Mallorca and back. Every time I fly, I swear I will never fly again. Then three months later I find myself again sitting, uprigh and tightly, in a crappy economy seat, cursing my inability to remember how horrible it is and the ants in my pants. I forget how much anxiety and exhaustion a few moments of air turbulence can cause. I know flying is safe (if you don’t fly over Ukraine.) “Safer than driving,” etc., etc. I get it. But somehow when the plane starts shaking and making scary crashing noises, I can’t get away from my terrifying images. (One of them is that my kids are in the middle of the ocean, trying to survive a pack of hungry sharks. And I can’t help them because I am already dead from the heart attack I suffered two minutes before the crash.) Continue Reading…

CHOCOLATE DISCS WITH HAZELNUTS, ROSE PETALS AND MORE

February 4, 2014

IMG_6416 IMG_6348   The inspiration for these rich and flavorful chocolate palettes (rounds) came from a very chi-chi restaurant cookbook called Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook. I’ve never eaten at the restaurant, but I heard from the friend who gave me this book as a present that Eleven Madison Park is one of the most extraordinary, upscale restaurants in NYC. You can tell that the food is exquisite just by looking at the stunning pictures in the book. Next time I’m in New York, I will have to eat there (and take Alex, too; he adores this book even more than I do.) This cookbook is neither typical nor practical. Quite the opposite: the recipes are fancy, exotic and sophisticated. It’s beautiful and inspiring. I actually find it very useful. I have never actually cooked any actual recipe from this book, “by the book,” but I’ve concocted many dishes influenced by the brilliant food combinations, unique flavors, and professional techniques. For me, it’s enough to read the recipe title and scan the picture of the dish to lead me to create my own, simpler version. You could say that simplifying recipes is my specialty. It’s something that I really enjoy about cooking: taking old-fashioned, traditional dishes, then modernizing and simplifying them. Or the opposite: taking a modern, sophisticated dish, and turning it into an easy-to-make, home-cooked dish. That’s exactly what I did with these fancy chocolate palettes.

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DAIRY-FREE BREAD PUDDING

January 27, 2014

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Leo: Mommy, I feel bad saying that my french toast is delicious.

Me: Why?

Leo: Because I don’t want you to feel bad that you can’t eat it.
Me: Thank you, motek (sweetie), but don’t worry, I don’t feel bad at all. I’m extremely happy with my baked french toast. It’s probably better than your french toast.
Daddy: It is.
While my husband made a classic  french toast for the kids and himself, I baked myself a dairy-free french toast, a.k.a. bread pudding. I just discovered that bread pudding doesn’t need milk or cream to be fluffy and delicious and puddingy – just eggs and some liquid. Continue Reading…

DIY HERBAL TEAS

January 6, 2014
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Last night, while gazing at my screen and trying to describe my tea rituals, I heard my husband shouting – or, to be precise, threatening – from downstairs that if I don’t cut Leo’s hair right now, he’ll do it himself. With clippers. Normally I don’t get threatened  easily but this time I was. I immediately stopped doing what I was (or wasn’t) doing. I walked straight to the bathroom and yelled to Leo to come right away before Daddy does something irresponsible.
When it comes to Leo’s hair – which, like my father’s,  is thick enough to cover five full heads – there is too much risk in cutting it short. Our Leo, just like his biblical ancestor, Samson, believes his strength is in his hair. Chop his hair and you chop his power. And he isn’t the only one who believes in the power of his hair. His grandmother (my mother-in-law) also believes that males (at any age) with long hair are powerful. She would be devastated – literally – if we cut off more than one inch of Leo’s mane.
I like his full, shiny hair. I think it’s charming, but that’s not the reason I neglect to trim it, not even an inch off his bangs, which cover his eyes and force him to tilt his head back in order to see anything. The problem is I just can’t stand being trapped in our 3′ x 3′ bathroom with a wriggly worm that growls at me like a bear. “What’s the point of cutting it? It’ll just grow back!” or “You always say five minutes, and then it takes you an hour!” or “Ugh! This hair! It feels like someone taped a sheep to my face!” Now, it makes me smile, but yesterday I was ready to put him on a plane to Israel to live with my mother or father. Or next time let my husband shave it all off!
Now – always – is a good time for a cup of tea. Continue Reading…

PARIS & PASTA

December 23, 2013

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Long time, no write!

Two days ago I arrived back from a stunning week in Paris – a trip my mother, older sister and I have been dreaming about for years. Aunt Shuli tagged along. For my mother and sister, it was the first time so you can imagine how fun it was just to see their reactions. Well, we had the best time of our life until the sixth day of the trip.

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While I gather my thoughts and all the notes I took about my favorite places to eat, I will first share the one “non-magical” moment that almost managed to spoil six euphoric days. Just so I can get out of my system. Perhaps I need to warn you before you visit in Europe.  Continue Reading…

OPEN-FACE VEGAN SHAKSHUKA SANDWICH

November 21, 2013

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I am an on and off vegan. I totally support veganism, mainly for moral and environmental reasons.

Actually, this tomato and tahini thing wasn’t ever meant to be shakshuka. But after a bite or two, I decided that, even without eggs, it tasted very much like shakshuka. The tahini – one of my favorite elements in cooking – tastefully and effectively replaces the eggs.

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Kale & SWISS CHARD SALAD WITH HARISSA

November 14, 2013

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This is the kind of salad my mother would make for shabat dinner but never for a weekday. It’s funny how Moroccan jews are so strict about the distinction between Shabat or holiday food and everyday food – they never eat Shabat food on a yom chol , a weekday – and vice versa. I am the Moroccan culinary rule breaker. I make this salad/mezze whenever I have big leafy greens in the fridge or when I am starving and I need to fix myself quickly something healthy to eat. I’ll eat this salad over a bowl of quinoa or on a piece of toast. Last time I made it I was so hungry I ate it as is. It was spicy but good.

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HARISSA CHIPOTLE

November 6, 2013

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Harissa with a twist – or, as my husband and I call it “Mexican Harissa.” I bought the chipotle peppers at a supermarket in Playa Del Carmen but you can find them in any Latino supermarket. In Los Angeles it’s pretty easy to find them. I Googled them and found them for sell on eBay! (What doesn’t sell on eBay?) Another option is to use a teaspoon of crushed chipotle instead (can be found on William-Sonoma’s website.)   Continue Reading…