Soldier Daughter and Cafe Michael, Tsfat

When we moved to Israel, our daughters understood that when they finished high school they would be called upon to serve their country in some capacity or another. They understood it and they embraced it. This is a huge source of pride for my husband and myself. My oldest daughter has long since finished her National Service and I do believe she received as much as she gave.

My younger two daughters are still in the midst of their service; both of them chose to join the Israeli Defense Forces, with the older one being drafted into the Air Force and the younger into the army.

Being a soldier in the IDF does come with its challenges. Most jobs are not very glamorous; at the end of the day, these kids are kids. And they have to learn to deal with other kids of all different kinds of backgrounds, to deal with authority; and to face situations very unlike they have faced until now. Sometimes it gets to them.

When my daughter called from Tsfat (Safed), where she is stationed, to say she was freezing to death and unhappy with some other events, I felt the need to rearrange my and my husband’s schedule so we could pay her a middle-of-the-week visit.

A two and a half hour drive from our hometown, Tsfat is located in the Galilee mountains and is the highest city in Northern Israel. It is a city of breathtaking views, a mecca for artists and a known center of Kabbalah, or Jewish Mysticism.

We arrived bearing blankets filled with down and groceries, and noticed the difference in climate as soon as we opened the car door. The air was cold and crisp, with a biting wind cutting right through us. The blanket arrived just in time and our daughter was ever so appreciative.

To show her appreciation, she invited us to take her to dinner.

We were happy to oblige.

We were expecting a simple cafe, perhaps something like Greg or Landwer, but instead she took us to an old Tsfat structure. We entered a gate that opened up into a courtyard garden, probably better enjoyed during daylight hours.

tsfathebrew

“You open up Your hands and satisfy all living beings”

When we entered the actual restaurant, I was immediately charmed. As the old wooden floorboards squeaked beneath our feet, we were greeted by a large stone fireplace and a fish tank with stone mermaids entertaining the fish. The walls of the eatery were covered with art, both quirky and serious.tsfatmoses I particularly like the painting of Moses a la Charlton Heston. Isaac liked the paintings of babies. Turquoise and burgundy paint covered the walls, and there were nooks with couches and low tables, as well as bookshelves with assorted tchotchkes and knickknacks.tsfatbaby And there was a small stage where there is an open mike and anyone can belt one out; I thought my daughter was going to have a heart attack when I told her I was going to sing.

 

This place is so captivating that the food could have been horrible, and I still would have told you to go to experience it.

But it wasn’t.

With a varied menu it was hard to decide what to order, but we were all happy with our choices. My husband had the chumus with fresh mushrooms.tsfatchumus The chumus was so smooth, it look like wet pottery on a spinning wheel. Its creamy texture melted in our mouths, and then was followed by chunks of sauteed, earthy mushrooms. My daughter’s linguine alfredo was rich and velvety so much so that she could eat only half of it. My own shakshuka was covered in kusbara, which I love, and topped off with fresh basil, giving it a distinctly italian feel.

And dessert?

Dessert broke me.tsfatdessert.jpg

After being [mostly] off sugar since late September, I just needed to have a taste of the caramel mousse covered in chocolate ganache and the crembo cake, with a flaky chocolate base, moist chocolate cake with a marshmellow filling, all covered in hard chocolate goodness.

Just a couple of small spoonfuls. Heaven.

It was just the right atmosphere for us to be brought up-to-date on what our daughter’s army experience has been like. She didn’t so much need advice, but rather needed a space to just talk, and to be heard.

It was a really good evening.

tsfatkosher

“All our products are Kosher Mehadrin by choice, by will and by faith….under the Supervison of The Creator, who doesn’t charge a shekel”

Cafe Michael does not have a hechsher.  All its food is mehadrin kosher and they are closed on Shabbat. The owners feel they can provide better prices and service without the intervention of the rabbanut.

Our visit to Tsfat accomplished what it was supposed to. We provided our daughter with the warmth she needed–in every way. While it was hard to say good-bye, it felt good to be able to support her and show our love when she needed that extra TLC.

And she picked just the right place for that.

Cafe Michael is located 14 Jerusalem St., Tsfat. Phone number: 050-866-3872. Average price, which included a main dish, a cold drink, a hot drink per person, along with two luscious desserts was 74 shekel (about 19 dollars at today’s exchange rate).  

 

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Ten Shekel Movie Day, Rain and Cafe Greg

Sometimes a day just gels, and last Thursday was just that kind of day.

First of all , it rained. In a country where it hasn’t rained in six, maybe seven months, the first rain of the season is just a big happy deal. The smell in the air, the changing color of the sky, all that dust being washed away.  Later, of course, when the roof starts leaking, the cold sets in and the electricity goes out, we’ll get stressed out .But that’s later. Thursday, we rejoiced.

Then, Ten Shekel Movie Day. Who doesn’t like the movies? And who doesn’t like paying the equivalent of about $2.50 to see one? That’s a bargain by any standard. In Israel Ten Shekel Movie Day has become an annual tradition and this time it motivated me to organize an evening out with friends. We saw Sully, the movie about the pilot who landed a commercial airliner on the Hudson River in New York City. Tom Hanks starred as the pilot and who doesn’t love him?

After the movie, we had no set plans, but we all like to eat, so we just started walking until we ended up at Cafe Greg (also known as Greg Cafe) in Yishpro Center, Modi’in.

Truth is, I wasn’t going to blog about it. Cafe Greg is a nice place to go with friends, but it’s menu is pretty standard, and very similar to Cafe Landver, which I recently wrote about. But like I said, Thursday just came together. After being seated, we were greeted by our waiter, Gil. And Gil made our night.

He was friendly.

He was helpful.

He was funny.

He had good suggestions.

He kept returning to our table to check on us.

We lingered at the cafe. The rain had long since stopped and we were sitting outdoors in the cool night air. Just a bunch of friends, shooting the breeze, laughing and eating.

The food was good. Really good. We had pizza, and “tostim”–the Israeli version of Grilled Cheese. But this evening wasn’t about the food; it was about the service. It was just a pleasure to be there.

Just as we were about to order the check, Gil came over with a beautifully plated dessert. It was Greg’s ‘Belgium Cake’, a hot chocolate number served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.

gregicecream

The chocolate was actually melting onto the plate. And I stuck my finger in it before I remembered to photograph it.

We didn’t order this, but he said that we were so nice he just felt like throwing in something extra. By this time, we had made friends with Gil, knew that he was 28 and single. We invited him to sit down with us. He did and revealed that he was actually one of the owners of this branch of Cafe Greg. He told us what it was like to buy a franchise business, about the risks and rewards and gave us some insight into restaurant industry. He also added that he trains and expects his staff to treat all diners the way he treated us.

I guess the point of this post is fairly obvious. It goes without saying that the food at a restaurant, it’s flavor and presentation are key. But even more important, at least for me, is the atmosphere of the place, the manner in which the meal is served, and the smile on the server’s face. This particular person, Gil, which in Hebrew aptly means joy, enhanced what turned out to be a really great day. And that makes me want to to go back to Cafe Greg.

Soon.

Cafe Greg is located in Yishpro Center, on the outskirts of Modi’in. Phone number: 08-661-8800. Average price, which included a salad, sandwich or pizza–which easily can feed two–and a drink was 65 shekel (about 17 dollars at today’s exchange rate) per person. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Family Trip/Tanduka

Way back in September I announced to my dear family that I expected all to give me one day on Chol Hamoed Sukkot to do a family trip. I could tell that no one was comfortable making a commitment that early.  After all, better offers would probably come along. My youngest pointed out that she may want to go scuba diving in Eilat; my middle one sputtered that she might have to work (not sure but I think she added “I hope”). And my oldest was away, trekking the wilderness of Central America, which I took as a “I’d love to spend the day with you and Abba on Chol Hamoed”.

It’s kind of nice that they’re grown up enough that I don’t have to worry about entertaining them every. single. day. on Chol Hamoed, but I do miss those road trips. I don’t miss the bickering in the car or the constant stops we had to make for sustenance and bathrooms.  Or the mess. Or the “Are we there yet? This is boring.” Or the TELL HER TO STOP TOUCHING/LOOKING AT/LAUGHING AT ME. Or the ‘buy me ice cream-soda-that pencil-a sweatshirt-thing’–well you get the point.

I do however, miss those creation of new memories, so my announcement allowed no room for dissent. And I knew they were hooked when I promised them that we would cap the day at a fabulous restaurant.

We spent the day in Akko (Acre) exploring this beautiful coastal city, rich in history. We visited the Templar Tunnels, the Hospitaller Fortress, the Turkish Baths, the harbor/port and the

jariva-shul

The Jariva (Ohr Torah) Synagogue, said to be one of the most beautiful synagogues in the world. 

Jariva Tunisian Synagogue. We listened to the guide with our headphones (well some of us did anyway), we ate ice cream and drank fresh pomegranate juice and we took selfies (okay, that was mostly me, and my kids hate me for it). We walked our feet off.  We did everything we could to pass the day so we could get to the goal: that fab restaurant.

And Tanduka did not disappoint. Located in the beautiful Yokneam Moshava, my husband kept muttering as he listened to the Waze Lady, “where are you taking us? It can’t possibly be here.”, because it’s not located in a mall or the center of town. That’s the thing. It’s situated in a suburban town of beautiful homes and yards, near a small playground where parents and little ones were enjoying the end of another national vacation day. You wouldn’t just happen on Tanduka, it’s the kind of place someone has to tell you about. And we were glad that someone did.

Entering the rustic eatery, one is taken by the simplicity of the decor. The walls were fairly bare, but I did notice the overhead lighting consisting of reddish lampshades which gave the place a comfortable glow. It was a cozy atmosphere and would have felt more intimate had we not been seated near two boisterous families. On the other hand, we’re not exactly quiet ourselves, so that worked out well.

Tanduka is about the meat, and as meat goes, it was excellent. My youngest and my husband decided to share a Mixed Grill; they were going to go for the cheaper version, but the waitress convinced them that for tandukamixedgrill.jpgonly 30 shekel more they can add entrecote steak. So that’s what they had, along with some mouth-watering lamb kabob, chorisos, wings and pargiot (off the bone chicken thighs). The dish came with a side of some of the most crispy chips I’ve ever tasted (did you know the secret of crispy french fries is refrigerating slightly cooked potato fries for a couple of hours before a quick deep fry?). My middle child ordered what she said was one of the tandukahamburger.jpgjuiciest burgers she’s ever eaten. I did beg a taste and I’d have to agree. The vegetarian among us ordered Denis Fish (Sea Bream) with a lovely saffron rice. And me, well I went a bit out of my comfort zone and ordered chicken livers sauteed with onions and mushrooms on a bed of rice with almonds and craisins, which were spectacular. The livers, cooked to just the right texture, were moist and flavorful and I could just feel the iron coursing through my blood with every bite.

Service was attentive, and because the Vegetarian’s fish arrived late, we were comped with dessert. After a heated discussion we finally agreed on the chocolate souffle with the pareve (but was it really? because it was sooo good) vanilla ice cream. And, really, what exactly could be bad about molten chocolate?

Tanduka is located in the Yokneam Moshava, about ten minutes off Route 6, so if you’re headed north or coming south to the center, it’s an easy stop that will add much to your trip.

Chances are there probably aren’t that many family trips left with just the five of us in our future, but fine [or not so fine] restaurants?–there will always be a time and place for that.

Tanduka is located in the Yokneam Moshava.  Phone number: 053-9366145.  Dinner for five and three soft drinks averaged 90 shekel (about 24 dollars at today’s exchange rate) per person. Tanduka also has a business lunch, which is considerably less expensive, but ends at 5:00, a few minutes before we arrived. Reservations are recommended.

 

 

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Breakfast of champions

When you have three daughters with less than four years between them, it can be hard to find individual time with each of them.  It’s something I’ve worked hard at over the years, and I’m proud of the relationship I have forged with each of my girls. I had a strong bond with my own mother, and miss her every single day, but she wasn’t my go-to person for advice or to talk about my dating life or even to go shopping with. I wanted something different for my own relationship with my daughters and I am blessed to have it. I can’t really tell you how it happened. It’s not like my mother did something wrong in raising me, it was just the way it was between us.  For me it was just dumb luck and I know I am blessed to have three daughters who seem to like me (most of the time, anyway) and value my opinion.

Recently I have found that there is time for one-on-one.  Their schedules are so different, that at different times, someone will be home and available for some me time.  I’ve raised my girls well, and like their mom they just love an outing to a local eatery.

My recent summer vacation (remember that?) found me at home with my eldest, who had a week of downtime between her last final exam at the university and her big trip to Central America.  Downtime included breakfast at a cafe of her choice in our local mall, which is a seven minute walk from our house.  She chose Cafe Landwer, a popular Israeli chain of cafes which was originally the first roaster coffee in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine.  After opening a small coffee bar and roasting facility in Berlin in 1919, Moshe Landwer saw the writing on the wall and moved his business to Tel Aviv in 1933. So this cafe has been around for a long time, although it is only in recent years that that it has branched into the cafe business.

I’ve had the pleasure of being in several of these cafes throughout Israel and all of them have charming decor.  For the Modi’in branch, retro design rules and the cafe is decorated in earthy colors including  caramel-colored high backed booths with space for a small party.  I especially love the old-fashioned “ice box” which serves as a refrigerator and the wooden file cabinet style drawers at the front of the restaurant.  cafelandwerbreakfastSeating can be in the restaurant itself, outside on the mirpeset or in front of the restaurant in the mall. A brick wall adorned with vintage photos further adds to the atmosphere.

My girl and I shared a classic Israeli Boker Zugi, or breakfast for two. Israeli cafes are known for their amazing breakfasts and Landwer did not disappoint.  These breakfast usually come with eggs–any way you like them, a myriad of salads and cheeses, rolls and fresh juice and coffee. Landwer’s included Israeli salad, tuna salad, cream cheese, feta, eggplant spread, labnah with za’atar and chickpeas, halva, yogurt with granola and honey, fruit jam and butter.  Our eggs were basic omelets, but the whole-grain breads combined with those salads and spreads were scrumptious and filling.cafe-hafuch For our cold drinks, we added a few shekel and ordered limonana–crushed ice fresh lemonade with mint.  Topping it off with the ubiquitous Cafe Hafuch–another staple of Israeli life–made the meal perfect.

We left the cafe sated and happy.  A few days later my girl got on a plane to begin yet another adventure in her quest to conquer the globe. I patiently await her return; when she does she will regale me with tales of her travels, hopefully over another enjoyable meal together.

Cafe Landwer is located in the Azrieli Mall, Top Floor, Lev Ha’ir 2, in Modi’in.  Phone number: 08-972-2000.  The breakfast for two was in the hundred shekel range (about 26 dollars at today’s exchange rate).

 

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Better late than never

Our family life is currently in flux.  Used to be we were together a lot.  And by that I mean everyday. Dinner and bedtime. Weekly outings like swimming or the beach or extended family. Annual road trips. Those things rarely happen these days.  With three young adults, we’ve all sort of scattered into various directions, so we don’t actually come together until the weekends, when we find time for meals and board games, conversations and bickering.

And birthdays.  We try to find time to celebrate those together.

In the summers we have two:  O’s is in July, and my husband’s is in August.  Ideally, we’d go to two different restaurants for two different celebrations but these days it’s tough to have everyone be available at the same time so we do the best we can.  This time, brunch was planned for Friday at Carmi’s Italian Cafe/Restaurant in the town that I live in.  When I tried to make a reservation (in Israel, Friday is the weekend and most people don’t work. The cafes get crowded), I was told they don’t take reservations for the busiest day of the week.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in nine years of living here it’s that many times the answer ”No” actually means ”try harder”.

And so I asked again.  And this time I got the response I wanted.

We arrived right on time to an empty restaurant with a big table in the middle with the word ”reserved” on it.  I sat down smugly, satisfied with myself that I had thought to call ahead.  Because you know if I hadn’t, we’d have waited an hour and a half for a table.  Sweet.

Carmi’s used to be Big Apple Pizza and I was pretty bummed when what was the best pizza place in Modi’in shut its doors.  As a cafe it’s been renovated to an airy space, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking its patio for outdoor dining.

I should make it clear right now that I don’t enjoy dining alfresco. Here in the Middle East that would mean dining and sweating 350 days a year or dining in a downpour ten days a year.  So I’d rather not take my chances outside.

Give me climate control anytime of the year and I’m a happy puppy.

We brunched.  The birthday girl and I split a mushroom pizza and a sweet carmis2potato salad. The pizza was tasty, doughy, with the right amount of cheese.  The yams were soft and sweet, the lettuce cut into slightly too-big pieces with a simple dressing.  T. had the mozzarella salad with a pesto dressing that was quite refreshing. L.  had the onion soup, which was slightly sweet and had a nicely toasted crouton with parmesan cheese to contrast with the sweetness of the soup.  Finally, the birthday husband’s focaccacia was smothered in pesto, pine nuts, whole roasted garlic cloves and more mozzarella cheese for sharp-tasting, carb-filled yumminess.

carmis5During the meal I managed to whatsapp a message to T., sitting across from me to order dessert with a sparkler, even though both birthdays were in the past.  Late celebrations are still good celebrations.  The lovely waitress showed  up with two good choices:  Tiramisu and Hot Chocolate Cake.  The chocolate cake literally melted in your mouth and the Tiramisu had just the right coffee creaminess, although it did not have that hit of liqueur that can be so enjoyable.carmis4

Family life changes. Sometimes I feel wistful for the old days and I miss that togetherness. But would we have it any other way?  The girls are off, exploring and learning how to be adults (I hope they share what they learn with me, because honestly, I haven’t really figured it out yet).

As long as we manage  to celebrate every now and then, I’m good.

Carmi’s Italian Cafe & Restaurant is located at Chativat Golani 9 (Solomon Center) in Modi’in.  Phone number: 08-975-6000.  Prices were low-moderate at an average 75 shekel pp (about 20 dollars) which included an entree, drinks, and two shared desserts for 5 adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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