A couple weeks ago during the fighting between Israel and Palestine I was saddened like many of my friends by what we were hearing and seeing, but more I was worried about my friend Ariella Amshalem and her sweet family in Jerusalem.
Over a series of weeks in 2009 (when I lived outside Boston, MA), Ariella showed me how to make lovely, flaky pie crusts and accomplish a few other confectionary triumphs as the head instructor of a baking course I took at Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. At the end of the program I threw a bake-off and got to know some of my classmates and instructors a bit better. Ariella brought the lightest, most delicious fruit tart. I baked Gina De Palma’s Citrus-Glazed Polenta Cake, and let me tell you I was nervous about her trying it. (Thinking back, I thought it tasted great and if she disagreed she was way too sweet to say anything to the contrary.)
We spent the next year-and-a-half having bagels and coffee talking for hours about life and food. Ultimately, I moved back to Maine and she to Israel. We stay in touch via Facebook, email and our blogs. Ariella’s is the wonderful Ari Cooks, where she posts about cooking and baking from a small Jerusalem kitchen. She came for a visit this past summer with her husband and daughter, which was a real treat.
A few months after Ariella had moved back to Jerusalem there was a bus bombing there, and while I knew the chances she was involved were slim I wrote her immediately to check in and make sure she and her loved ones were safe. That was in March, 2011 and I hadn’t been worried about her safety until recently.
Ariella and her family are safe and sound, wandering the outdoor markets and cooking for family and friends. Life goes on, even when one’s city is being bombed or part of a cease-fire. A terrific post I haven’t been able to get out of my head is one Ariella shared on Facebook during the bombings… ”Coffee with a Side of Rockets” by blogger Liz Steinberg from her kitchen in Tel Aviv, the other largest city in Israel.
Inspired by the delicious sounding post Ariella wrote recently featuring Vegan Jelly Donut Cupcakes, a recipe she slightly adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero’s Veganomicon, I thought it would be thoughtful to have her write a little bit about preparing for Hanukkah in Jerusalem.
Ariella, shelling fresh garbanzo beans
As we head into December here in Jerusalem, the weather has finally turned cold, damp and gray. In the absence of central heating, we are huddled around space heaters and bundled up in sweaters and blankets at home in the evenings. I find more and more excuses to turn on my little oven and bake, reading recipes with my hands wrapped around a cup of hot mint tea. When I pick my daughter up from school, the sun is already low in the sky as we walk through the wet, uneven streets of our neighborhood. She squeals and points at the dozens of cats we pass, at how adorably they are curled up together, at the curb, under cars, trying to get warm and waiting for the scraps of food the old ladies feed them.
In the market – the Shuk – I pull my wheeled canvas cart through the alleys and shops and bump into every local mother I know. After thanking my produce vendor for saving me a box of richly red cooking tomatoes, I join crowds for the walk up the narrow thoroughfare, past bakery shelves piled with sufganiot – Hanukkah doughnuts – filled with jam, chocolate, pastry cream and dulce de leche. We brace ourselves for more cold ahead, tempered for now by powdered sugar-topped treats and the sight of candles in every window. חג שמח
Olives in the shuk
Olive trees in the Valley near Ariella’s home
Pictures by Ariella Amshalem