Chinese tourists got all excited when I started cooing to this cutie in Mandarin
Kitty @ Rm of the Last Supper
Kitty chillin’ in Jerusalem
Jerusalem pair. Blurry because they were not cooperative
It always makes me sad to see stray animals…probably because in my family the pets are spoiled absolutely rotten and by consequence are sleek fuzzy dictators that will never know serious want in their entire lives.
But the street kitties in Israel at least appear to be doing okay. They look a little less hungry and dirty than is the norm–probably because the locals appear relatively friendly at the many streetside cafes that were by my hotel in Haifa. The kitties are somewhat skittish, as can be expected, but still comfortable enough around humans to come forward for skritchies. A pretty little calico stuck by my table for about an hour one day, begging for scratches and food (I happily obliged), and a lovely long haired dark tabby got it’s chin scratched by another table at dinner. In Jerusalem, I also was able to say hello to two pretty long-hairs sitting on a wall, as well as the super friendly strays in the Old City.
Israel also appears somewhat kitty-friendly…or at least a quick search on the internet engine brought up the Israel Cat Lover’s Society and a Cats of Israel photo blog quite quickly. They also banned declawing a couple years ago! So I felt a little better and could resist the urge to sneak a live meowing souvenir into my suitcase 🙂
Miriam in Brooklyn has a large meze selection for dinner and prices them super-attractively: $4 per meze, or you can get four meze dishes for $14. My friend and I sized up the menu, realized we could get basically three-fourths of the meze list between us for $28, and went for it.
Taste-wise, it ranged from mediocre to excellent. The greenish sauce in the photos was essentially the same bland, boring “green goddess” tahini sauce (supposedly containing cilantro and parsley, but I didn’t taste a bit of those); you’d do better to go with the fruit-based sauces, such as the deliciously sweet-sour sauce that accompanied the meatballs. [Click on photos to see the numbers]
- Ground lamb sausage, the night’s meze special. Somewhat underseasoned, tasting mostly of cumin, but juicy.
- Babaganoush. Deeply smoky, with a velvety texture. Could have used a little more salt.
- Watermelon and feta tartare with mint. One of the simplest and best dishes, with the sharp salt of the feta and the coolness of the mint playing off the sweet watermelon to heighten its refreshing lusciousness.
- Merges: Basically, mini lamb meatballs in a pomegranate sauce. Tiny, tiny things, smaller than a ping-pong ball, but packing a punch.
- Kadaif-wrapped shrimp: Shrimp with a fried coating similar to very thin noodles, crunchy, nongreasy and juicy. Came with a harissa-spiked aioli that had a pleasantly garlicky edge to it.
- Fried eggplant and breaded cauliflower. The fryer here knows their stuff. Breading on both was light and lacking in grease, and stayed crisp for several minutes–yet the eggplant was juicy and meltingly soft, and the cauliflower was cooked all the way through. Nothing worse than biting into half-cooked brassica.
- Labaneh cheese: This was the most interesting dish. It looks like whipped cream, but it has a real sour, lemony bite to it. The olive oil pool is absolutely necessary to balance the acidity of the cheese.
- Spicy Moroccan sausage: Decent sausage, not especially spicy, and well-cooked. Nothing special, but a welcome, homey mouthful on a cold night.
View of Jerusalem
Kitty statues in Jerusalem
Hot Sahlab–warm rose pudding with cinnamon, saffron and orchid
Jerusalem was AMAZING. Coming from the US, my perceptions of age are off–when the tour guide says that the “new” city wall is 400 years old, which is almost twice as old as your home country, well…that tells you something.
We had a driver pick us up from Haifa to our hotel in Jerusalem…unfortunately, he misunderstood which hotel he was supposed to take us to and we ended up driving around very crowded, hilly, narrow streets for another hour in the middle of the afternoon while we tried to convince him that yes, we have Google Maps and can give you better instructions than the random people you are asking on the street (the driver had no English). The Jersusalem hotel wasn’t as cute and quaint as the one in Haifa, but perfectly decent.
We spent most of our time in the Old City, which is now a fraction of the size of the modern city. Wish we’d had more than a day…even with our own tour guide, it felt rushed. But we did manage to hit most of the big ones, like the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, King David’s tomb, and the Room of the Last Supper. We also spent most of the morning in the tunnels underneath the city, where the original, now 2000 year old walls are. Which you can touch. Actually, you can touch a LOT of things in Jerusalem, which was a surprise–I was expecting more of a museum mentality, as in “Lookie but no touchie.” I’m not religious but I do have to admit to geeking out a little bit at touching the Wailing Wall, and where Jesus’s body was supposed to have laid.
The Old City is still a living city, and still very much alive with lots of street vendors. Make sure you bargain with them. That scarf? Sorry, not handmade, and they mark the prices up ridic amounts, especially if they can tell you are a tourist. You get the best deals if you physically walk away.
At the border
The Rosh Hanikra Caves are these caves by the sea right near the border between Israel and Lebanon. Really near, as we were able to take pictures at the border. There is also a school competition with other MBA students for the best pic with the Michigan flag, so please excuse all the flag pictures. I know we look excessively Michigan Mad.
The caves were pretty awesome and required a lot more athleticism than I thought–being carved by the sea, the waves still crash through at various parts and you need to step lively to keep from getting splashed.
Today I stopped in at Grand Central’s Japan Week for lunch. Clustered inside Vanderbilt Hall was a double line of stalls, about half shilling for travel companies and half selling Japanese delicacies. And one larger stall, the ekiben stall for bento boxes specially designed for easy portability and storage, as they were originally intended for sale at train stations. Each bento, which went for around $15-18 including tax, was supposed to represent the cuisine of one Japanese region.
We showed up at 12:30 pm, but by then half of the ekiben options had already sold out. Still, we snagged two, the Ronin box (left), representing Hiroshima, and the Megu box (right), representing Hyogo/Kobe. Of the two, the Megu box was visually more appealing, but I found the Ronin tastier–perfectly cooked eel, not drowned in overly sweet sauce for once, with seriously pickled vegetables (I like my vinegar/sour). The Megu box had lots and lots of little tidbits, with a variety of techniques (fried, pickled, sushi, grilled), but they all seemed to fall on the same narrow spectrum of taste. Namely, safely bland like steamed chicken breast. But I do appreciate the effort taken to make it an attractive display. Garnishes, decorative paper, and the box itself was sturdy enough to survive a couple mashes into an overhead compartment. I’d pay the extra charge to get this kind of food on an airplane.
Odd statue outside of Café Café, a nearby coffee shop
First in a series of posts about my recent trip to Israel. I, along with a team of other MBA students, are doing some consulting work with a Israeli medical startup so we took a trip to meet and work with our “client/partners” face to face.
All I will say about the plane ride is that it was long and very uncomfortable. Passing through security and customs at the Tel Aviv airport was pleasantly painless though (no doubt helped by the multiple letters of purpose given by the university and our Israeli partners) and we got picked up to be driven to Haifa.
Haifa is a nice little city less than 2 hours north of Tel Aviv, with a more laid back vibe. There is a nightlife, but its less intense and a little harder to find. Definitely feels more residential than metropolitan. Quite a few stray cats around, which I will comment on in another post. It also is a holy site for the Ba’hai faith, resulting in quite a few lovely gardens, one within walking distance of our hotel.
We stayed in the Colony Hotel, which is a quaint little boutique place in the center of downtown Haifa. Pros: unique rooms (no two have the same layout), nice details like all tiled floors, free-standing tubs, ample closet space, free water, very comfortable beds and chocolates on the pillow every night. Cons: thin walls. I managed to tune this out after the first night, but you can easily hear the street outside.
Ba’hai garden near Haifa
View from Ba’hai gardens near the hotel
Absinthe Fairy from Shutterstock
La Fee Verte — “The Green Fairy” or Absinthe. I got my first taste of this last week while on a trip to Haifa, though I understand the US does now allow certain types of the green spirit. At first I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about–it had a smooth, black licorice-ish taste (actually anise) at first. But then the burn set in and the drink turned into candied lighter fluid.
Of course, that didn’t stop me from rather stupidly agreeing to a bet to down two shots of the stuff in rapid succession. My throat took two days to recover, but I made my bones with my MBA teammates, who took a video. They were, as you might guess, all male so perhaps this influenced my stupidity. But they did helped me back to my hotel room to flop down, and were extremely impressed. So I guess it was worth it, but definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
This past weekend was the first time since winter started that I saw houseplants on sale at the Union Square Greenmarket. I’ve been dying for some flowers and picked up a $1 pansy for my favorite pot, which has sadly been empty all winter for lack of a decent plant (I’m not big on succulents, or those odd, spidery air plants, and that seemed to be all that the garden shops near me had during the cold months).
I bought this pot in Taipei, in a massive open-air garden market held under a highway overpass, and yes, carried it home in my luggage. Because I love it that much. I love the unevenness of the glaze, the way it seems to ripple when you look at it, the clean lines of the flared lip, and I love the simple yet eye-catching flower design etched into one side. That market had tons of this sort of thing, stuff that wasn’t expensive yet didn’t have the boring uniformity of mass manufacture. I don’t know why you can’t find anything like this in the U.S. You go into any number of knickknack shops and they’ll sell you all kinds of cool, unique mugs, but all the flowerpots look like they come from the same, single factory.