Shalom! I'm home!
I have gone FAR too long without a posting but to be honest, yall, I got back on Thursday and jetlag KICKED my ass. I've been falling asleep at dinner tables at 8:45pm and waking up bright and early at 4:30am ready to tackle the day. Today is the first day I feel relatively normal so thank you for bearing with me! #israelproblems
ISRAEL! Guys, it was amazing. This was my 8th time there and I started smiling the moment the plane touched down and barely stopped for 10 days.
This being a culinary trip, there was a ton of emphasis on FOOD. A bunch of the participants worked in the food industry - we had several chefs, food photographers, waiters and waitresses, even a food stylist - and EVERYONE was a foodie. I swear I have never seen a group of people so frequently HUNGRY. We'd give them breakfast at 7:00, by 9:30 everyone would demand a snack, at 11:30 there would be cries of "Is it lunchtime yet?!" and at 1:00 desserts were being purchased and passed around.
And the best part is, their enthusiasm and hunger were not limited to food - they were excited and interested in nearly everything we saw and visited, which, as a guide, is incredibly touching and heartwarming. Makes my job so much easier! :) I've been lucky enough to staff trips before - this was my 3rd - and I have to say, I don't know that I've ever had such a fantastic group before.
I took hundreds and hundreds of photos so I'm going to have to spread out my favorites over a couple of posts. Today I want to share some from my favorite things that we did, culinary-wise!
On our first day, we visited Jerusalem's famous market, Machane Yehuda. I love walking through the stalls looking at the huge barrels of spices and fruits and other delicious things:
At home I barely touch rugelah, but Marzipan Bakery in the marketplace makes the MOST delicious chocolate rugelach I've ever had. I bought several boxes and gave one out to each participant so they could all agree with me! Look how tiny and adorable each one is!
This was so cool - one afternoon we toured Shvil Hasalat, which means "The Salad Trail." It's a farm in Southern Israel (right by Gaza actually) where the farmers use untraditional methods to grow delicious fruits, vegetables, herbs, and more. I've been there before, and wasn't expecting anything besides the normal (awesome!) tour of each individual greenhouse, where we got to pick carrots out of the ground, eat strawberries right off the vine, sample edible flowers and different spices and herbs, and taste nearly a dozen different types of tiny tomatoes. So amazing.
Imagine my surprise when after the tour, the farmers announced we were in for a special culinary treat - a "Master Chef" competition! We split the group up into four teams and assigned them a challenge - they had 40 minutes to create an appetizer, entree, dessert, hot drink, and cold drink, using ONLY the ingredients from the greenhouses we had just toured! And yours truly was the judge!
Look at these ridiculous creations the group came up with! How freaking creative are they!?
Other amazing things we did? We spent the morning at the private home of a Druze family in a Druze village, learning about their culture and of course, sampling some of their traditional food. To welcome us into their home, they made us whole wheat pita with labneh, olive oil, and spices - it was right off the oven, piping hot, and absolutely delicious:
We also got to visit a special kosher winery, Dalton Winery! As some of you may know, I don't drink anymore, but everyone loved it and it was so cool learning about each different wine.
At the end of our tour we had a tasting - no need to worry about leftover wine as our tour guide Shachar, who is my dear friend (more on him tomorrow) insisted I sit next to him so he could partake in my glasses :)
But hands down, the coolest thing we did was actually on the very last day of the trip! While in Tel Aviv, we got invited to a very famous chef's restaurant to meet him and taste some of the raw ingredients he uses in his preparations. I had no idea what to expect, but Chef Meir Adoni (of Catit and Mizlala fame) was so kind and welcoming to our entire group of 40-plus people - it was an absolutely amazing experience!
We sat at two long tables (surrounded by plenty of Israeli press, including photographers, videographers, and reports - told you he was famous!) and Chef Adoni's team brought out delicious warm bread followed by bowl after bowl of various dips, spreads, creams, and dressings that he uses to create his dishes. It was unreal - one of the best hours of my life. I was particularly partial to his garlic cream, pickled lemon aioli, and an unassuming bowl of brown dip that I could have eaten for the rest of my life - rumor has it it was his take on salad dressing?! I'll dream of it for the rest of my life...
Later that night, we had a free night out - so I went with a group of participants back to Mizlala for dinner. HOLY MOTHER YALL. This was particularly exciting for me because even though I've had plenty of experience dining in Israel, I had never been to a real "fancy" restaurant - mainly when I'm there, I eat street food or in casual restaurants. Mizlala is on par with some of the gourmet restaurants I eat in Los Angeles or New York - each dish was as delicious and inventive as they were beautiful!
I feel honored to be a part of Birthright and being able to play a part in reintroducing and reigniting Judaism into someone's life. And the best part is, I may be home in Los Angeles and back to my old tricks, but I have 40 new friends and as always, a piece of my heart left on the other side of the world!