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The Pounamu Prophecy - birth of a book Two women, two cultures and an ancient Maori prophecy that will change their lives. That's the tag line for The Pounamu Prophecy - my first novel. It has been a slow process, interrupted by moving...

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Can I eat mussels if I have high cholesterol?Can I eat mussels if I have high cholesterol? The short answer is yes - you can eat mussels if you have high cholesterol. Mussels are low in kilojoules, cholesterol and fat. The little fat they do have is mostly healthy unsaturated fat with plenty...

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Bran MuffinsBran Muffins These bran muffins (adapted from a recipe by Alison Holst) are super filling - a great snack when you are trying to control your weight. Enjoy these muffins with a cup of tea but don't expect to absorb...

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Beat the flu with Chicken Noodle Soup It’s Queen’s Birthday holiday today in New Zealand and thank goodness, the sun is shining. I’m sitting in a sunny room writing this post, sheltered from the icy wind blasting up from Antarctica....

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My nanna's recipe for homemade Rewena (Maori) bread Rewena Bread Step 1 1 c flour 1 tsp sugar 1 potato Peel and cut potato into small pieces. Place in pot with 1 cup water, lid on, and simmer to mashing consistency. Mash, cool and when luke...

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Hummus, Sabih and other food from Israel

Posted on : 22-08-2017 | By : Cindy | In : Uncategorized

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Sabih. Photo from ‘Jerusalem’ recipe book.

I love my butcher! Almost every week since returning from Israel I have asked him for the same thing: 300 grams of finely chopped lamb shoulder.  It can’t be run through the mincer; it has to be chopped with a knife and it takes time. If I had to do it myself I would not be so frequently making this delicious meal of hummus topped with spiced pan fried lamb, green chilli lemon sauce and pinenuts. The recipe I follow (and the picture of it above) is from Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Jerusalem’ cookbook.

Our first dinner out in Tel Aviv I didn’t recognise the hummus smeared around the plate. It was smooth and pale unlike the coarse, coloured version I have always made (see Hummus recipe post). We had lined up with all the locals at a trendy outdoor food bar pumping with cool music and ordered several dishes without really knowing what they were. We ended up with a delicious spread of hummus with chickpeas, hummus with lamb, salads and thick fluffy pita bread – far too much for three of us!

This Israeli style hummus is so easy to make. In a food processor blend 400g can of chickpeas, 200g light tahini, 4 tablespoons lemon juice, 4 garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon salt. With machine running gradually add about 100ml iced water until the hummus is pale and creamy. You can adjust the quantities to suit – I like lots of garlic and lemon juice, and less salt.

The next day we were in Jerusalem walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel – a 550 metre narrow and often claustrophobic tunnel constructed over 3000 years ago with such perfect engineering that experts still today have not figured out how they did it! It was packed with people including a group of schoolkids, one of which, as we walked through the ankle deep water guided by torchlight and bending our heads at the low parts, lit up a cigarette!

Then it was off to the famous Mahane Yehuda market where the smells were infinitely better – fresh peaches, cherries, dates, figs, delicate saffron and rosebud tea. There were olives, cheese, meats, nuts and seeds including roasted sunflower seeds, a favourite Israeli snack food. There were huge rounds of halva, Turkish delight in rose, green and orange, men pouring syrup over rows of baklava and others offering samples of tahini straight from the enormous stone wheels that were crushing the sesame seeds.

Just outside the market we stopped for lunch – ‘the best Sabih in Israel’ according to our Israeli guide. It was amazing – fresh pita bread stuffed with eggplant, hard boiled egg, finely chopped tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, tahini sauce, mango sauce and zhoung – a spicy, chilli, parsley, coriander sauce.

Wandering back through the market, we finished our lunch with a thumb sized cup of thick Turkish coffee and a tiny triangle of baklava – heaven!

I loved how every meal came with a salad – cucumber, tomato, herbs and often chickpeas or seeds. The salad pictured below was at an amazing hummus restaurant somewhere between Caesarea and Megiddo. It was a small, nondescript building tucked in behind a service station – a place only a local would know about – and judging by the queue, they did! The pita bread was still warm from the oven, the food deliciously fresh and the Turkish coffee afterwards flavoured with cardamon.

Trying the local food has got to be one of the best things about travel. Can’t wait for the next trip!!

 

Book research in Samaria

Posted on : 05-08-2017 | By : Cindy | In : Uncategorized

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I was in Israel to research my latest novel – the Bible account of the Samaritan woman at the well – and get a feel for the land where, over the centuries, a host of different cultures and religions have jostled uncomfortably against each other.

‘Did you hear about the Jewish man who was attacked and his car smashed with rocks?’ I asked Eli, our excellent Jewish tour guide. It was a hot June afternoon in Samaria and the road we were driving down looked awfully like one I had seen on the news the week before.

‘Yes, it happened just up here,’ he replied as though pointing out another scenic spot. ‘Don’t worry, I brought my gun today!’

We passed by the checkpoint guarding the way into the Palestinian-only area of Nablus, turned left and wound our way up Mount Gerizim to the Samaritan community who live at its summit. In the first century around one million Samaritans lived in this region, including the main character of my novel. Today they number just eight hundred and live either on Mount Gerizim or in a community near Tel Aviv.

Samaritans follow strictly the first five books of the Bible and believe that Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, is the true holy mountain. This difference of opinion over which mountain to worship on caused great animosity between Jews and Samaritans in the first century, so much so that most Jews walking to Jerusalem from northern Israel would take an extra day just to avoid going through Samaria.

‘I can’t take you into Nablus,’ Eli had told me when I asked to visit Jacob’s well. ‘But I will find a Palestinian who can.’ It seemed not much had changed in two thousand years – Jews were still not particularly welcome in Samaria.

We left Eli on Mount Gerizim and went with Nasser, a Palestinian Muslim, down the other side of the mountain through the dusty, narrow streets of Nablus. At the base of the mountain, tucked between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal was Tel Balata – the ruins of the ancient city of Shechem. It was here that Abraham first stopped in the land of Canaan and where the Lord first promised him the land (Gen. 12:6-7). As we wandered around the stone altar, still standing after all these thousands of years, I wondered if it was the same site where Abraham had built his altar to the Lord.

As we picked up sherds of patterned pottery and white plaster, scattered amidst wild olive trees and half exposed stone walls, I wondered if what we held in our hands were perhaps once part of a plastered wall or an ornate water jug. Had the first century children of nearby Sychar also combed these ruins for treasure? Had the woman at the well ever come here? After all it was only a five minute walk to Jacob’s well (built by Abraham’s grandson) where the women of Sychar came each day for water, and where weary travelers refreshed themselves on their long walk north to Sebaste and Galilee or south to Jerusalem.

Our five minute walk to Jacob’s well wound through the back streets of Nablus. A group of young men stared suspiciously as we passed them; I was glad to be with Nasser. He seemed to know everyone, including the man who was caring for Jacob’s well and the Greek Orthodox church that is built over it.

 

‘The priest is in Greece on holiday,’ he said. ‘So it is a Muslim who will show you through the Christian church!’ The man praised the priest and the work he has done over the years to make the church so beautiful.

‘You can take photos up here but not of the well,’ he said as we walked down stone steps to a small, low ceilinged room.

We drew water from the deep well and drank; it was sweet and cool. I placed my hand on the stone, telling myself that Jesus touched this same stone all those years ago. This was the well where he rested after a long day’s walk and spoke with a Samaritan woman – an outrageous thing for a Jewish rabbi to do, both because she was a woman and a Samaritan.

As we walked back through the church I thanked Nasser’s friend, giving him an Australian key ring as a tiny gift. ‘For that,’ he said, smiling broadly, ‘would you like to take a photo of the well?’ We hurried back down. This was the one thing I had most wanted on the trip and I was so thankful I had bought the arguably ‘tacky’ present at the airport.

We wound our way back up Mount Gerizim. It was on this mountain that the Israelites, after forty years of wandering, promised to follow the ways of the Lord. Six tribes stood on Mount Gerizim to pronounce the blessings of obedience, and six tribes stood on neighboring Mount Ebal to pronounce the curses if they did not follow God. (Josh. 8:33)

‘See how everything grows on this mountain and not on the other,’ said the Samaritan priest who escorted us through the Samaritan museum. He pointed through the window at the lush growth outside, and beyond to the barren slopes of Mount Ebal. As we left, the Samaritan priest made a final, heartfelt statement: ‘Without God, you have nothing.’

We all nodded emphatically in agreement – Samaritan, Muslim, Jew and Christian. It was a moment of connection, something we all deeply believed. It was a moment I will treasure.

 

Since then I have pondered the dichotomy of people who believe in God but disagree with each other, sometimes to the point of hatred and violence. Is it that each religion follows a different human explanation of who God is? The Samaritans follow the teachings of Moses; the Jews follow Moses plus the Prophets; Christians follow Jesus – a Jew who said he was the son of God – the Messiah who the Jews and Samaritans were waiting for. He said that he came not to abolish, but to fulfill the law of Moses and the Prophets. (Matt. 5:17)

The woman at the well clearly struggled with this when she spoke to Jesus at the well: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus declared, “Believe me woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:20-24)

When the religious leaders tested Jesus by asking him what was the greatest commandment he replied, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-39)

Perhaps in loving God some of us forget to love those who think differently to us; perhaps in loving others some of us forget to love God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silk from the Land of Han and cherishing beautiful words

Posted on : 18-05-2017 | By : Cindy | In : Uncategorized

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In my latest novel the main character, Leah, imports exquisite silk from the land of the Han. The Han dynasty spanned four hundred years from 206BC – 220AD and actively traded with the Roman empire along the so-called Silk Road. So on my recent visit to China I was excited to see the ancient Shu style of embossed silk (above) that most likely traveled along the Silk Road, and to visit the Three Gorges Museum to see artifacts from the time of the Han.

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This amazing rhinoceros shaped copper belt hook inlaid with jade caught my eye. Imagine how big you would have to be to wear such a solid thing at your waist! I can imagine it being carried by horse and camel across the treacherous mountains and vast deserts of the Silk Road, being traded for dates, pomegranates, spices or glass and finally ending up resting on the ample girth of a Roman general or senator.

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The language used in the museum displays was fascinating, displaying a fluidity in use of words that made me at times laugh and at other times sigh with delight. Some of the students in my writing workshops used language in the same loosely poetic way. I loved it!

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For centuries the Chinese have valued the written word. So much so that in Chengdu I found an ancient ‘burning tower’ from the Qing dynasty. The inscription read: ‘In ancient times, people cherished every word greatly and all papers with words or drawings shall be burnt in the tower together to show respect.’

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Finally, as we were about to board our flight I found, in the tiny snack shop, Sun Zi’s ‘The Art of War’ printed on silk pages and written in ancient Chinese with English translation! Although written 2500 years ago, it is still today studied throughout the world by both military and business students. My son will be reading it for the wisdom of strategy and leadership while I will be marveling at the ancient words, the beautiful Chinese characters and running my fingers over the silken pages.

art of war

 

Spanakopita

Posted on : 28-11-2016 | By : Cindy | In : Uncategorized

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‘Oh no, not the same salad again!’ complained my teenager the other day. ‘Can’t we have something different?’ Obviously he’s been far too spoilt with interesting meals during his childhood and so the past six months of the same old thing every week has taken its toll!!

For these past months my mind has been immersed in first century Samaria as I finished the first draft of my novel. Like running a race, the end is the hardest and I had no creativity left in my brain to expend on something as trivial as interesting dinners. Every week it’s been pretty much the same: Sunday – leftovers and salad, Monday – frozen fish and salad, Tuesday – chicken curry, Wednesday – steak and salad, Thursday – lentil vegetable soup, Friday – Thai takeaway, and then finally to Saturday where at last we had something interesting – Spanakopita.

 

spanakopita-2Every Saturday morning I head off early to the local market to stock up on homemade hummus, labneh, olives, and fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables. Even there I have a set route, racing around to gather what I need before my spin class. Then it’s home for a relaxed coffee and a bagel on the balcony before I finally enter the kitchen for the one meal a week that I actually enjoy spending a bit of time on.

I love pulling out the lush bunches of spinach, dill and mint – all that green makes a dietitian’s heart sing! And knowing that this is a guaranteed way to get my husband to eat spinach only adds to the enjoyment of making this dish. It is very easy: simply pan fry onion and garlic, add the chopped spinach and once wilted, add chopped herbs, eggs and feta. Then pile it into the filo pastry laced with extra virgin olive oil and bake. I serve it with that ‘same’ boring salad of the sweetest grape tomatoes, baby cucumber, avocado and capsicum dressed with plenty of balsamic vinegar. Delicious.

 

 

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1 large onion, finely chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 bunches spinach, chopped

1 bunch mint, chopped

1 bunch dill, chopped

2 eggs, beaten

200g feta cheese, crumbled or chopped (I use Dodoni feta)

8 sheets filo pastry

Extra virgin olive oil

 

Gently fry onion and garlic in olive oil until clear. Add spinach and cook on medium heat until wilted. (Don’t over cook or you will lose that lovely green colour.)

Remove from heat and add eggs, mint, dill and feta.

Smear a large baking dish with olive oil. Lay over two sheets of filo. Smear with a little olive oil. Lay over two more sheets.

Pile spinach mixture into dish and top with two more sheets of filo, olive oil and a final two sheets. Smear top with a little olive oil.

Bake at 180C for 40 minutes.

 

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