Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hilbe - the WonderSpread of Yemenite Jews

Hilbe, a spread/dip made of Fenugreek seeds or leaves, is a staple of Yemenite Jewish cuisine, and is usually eaten at one or more of the Shabbat meals. It goes amazingly with pita bread. The recipes vary, and can include garlic, lemon juice, and various herbs and spices. 

Fenugreek itself has some wonderful nutritional benefits, being rich in calcium and magnesium - and also some very special health properties. It has a beneficial effect on blood sugar regulation and is known as a milk-supply booster for nursing mothers. I had taken Fenugreek capsules in the past, when I reckoned I needed to build up my supply, and I reckon they helped a bit, but nothing very dramatic. However, after a Shabbat of enjoying homemade hilbe spread in very moderate amounts, I suddenly felt a very prominent increase in my milk supply, something I didn't even think of or aim for (since my baby is now almost one year old and I figured we have a pretty steady supply-demand thing going). I suppose this effect was due to pre-soaking the Fenugreek seeds for a couple of days, thus allowing the special plant components to activate.

I think that's really worth noting, as capsules are so much more expensive - and, apparently, less effective - than the real thing. I'm not sure you can buy Fenugreek anywhere, though. In Israel, the seeds are available in health food stores, and the leaves can be found at certain markets in season. 

Here is the recipe we used:

- about 1\3 cup dry Fenugreek seeds. Place in a bowl of water for 48 hours, changing the water every day. The seeds will swell considerably. 
- a bunch of fresh coriander, about 3\4 cup shredded
- 2 big cloves of fresh garlic
- juice of one lemon
- salt and pepper to taste

Once the Fenugreek seeds are soaked and drained, put everything into your food processor (we have a new one, and this recipe was its stunning debut). Blend thoroughly and add water as needed, to reach desired consistency (thicker/thinner, however you like it). Once finished, it should have a refreshing characteristic smell, and look bright green, sort of like this:

Image taken from here. Our internet connection is so slow I can't even upload a photo of what we made, sorry!

A word of warning: hilbe has a dominant smell; some like it, some don't mind, some wish they could do without it. The smell can later come out in your sweat, or even in your baby's diaper. The Fenugreek capsules don't smell when you take them, but the smell comes out with a vengeance later through all your pores.

Update: shortly after writing this post, I experienced a further increase in my milk supply, up to the kind of engorgement that happens a couple of days after having a baby, when milk "comes in". It was really quite uncomfortable and painful, complete with plugged ducts. Thankfully the plugs dislodged after a night of nursing almost continuously, but the affected area still feels bruised and tender. I can attribute it to nothing but eating the hilbe 24 hours previously, and will be careful with the quantities next time - I plan to restrict myself to 1 teaspoonful (compared to the 1 tablespoonful I had eaten) and see whether it has any influence. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Modern technology and sustainability

In response to my previous post, Beka writes:

"I don't think the past was that simple, especially after researching the pre-industrial era. Rural life may seem idyllic to us, but the reality was often harsh and cruel. Children died from disease and ill hygiene. People worked and got by with so little, sometimes going for days without food to eat. 

Self-sufficient they may have been, but their life was pure drudgery, toiling from dawn to dusk without education or recreation. I don't think the farmhands who ploughed and sickled by hand, enduring blisters,and the women who spent hours lighting fires and scrubbing clothes by hand really appreciated the simplicity of their way of life, haha. People died earlier too!"

Far be it from me to deplore modern technology. On the contrary, I am very thankful for all we have at our disposal today, modern medicine not the least of it. There's no way I'd willingly give up my washing machine, which helps us do our laundry with so little effort; my nifty little grinder, which allows me to prepare freshly ground oatmeal with such ease and efficiency; the ability to control our room temperature with one press of a button; the Internet, which allows me to obtain a wealth of information and connect with like-minded people from all over the world; my cell phone, the ability to travel with relative ease, our refrigerator or any of the countless things we take for granted these days. 

Being free of the drudgery of drawing water from a well or scrubbing clothes by hand frees me up to spend more time with my children, relax, and work on meaningful projects. 

When it comes to people who desire simple living and the connection with earth and nature, I believe technology is actually what makes modern one-family homesteads possible. Things like solar panels, milking machines, incubators and modern agricultural techniques, for example, enable people to go off the grid and start their own small-scale farms.

Furthermore, even when building small-scale, off-grind cabins, people normally use electricity-powered tools such as saws, drills, etc. 

In our neighborhood, we have a farm which is run by a very industrious family. They make delicious cheeses, yogurt, and a variety of other products. They use milking machines, a computerized irrigation system and, of course, extensive refrigerators for all their fresh produce. They work hard, that's for sure, but if they didn't have modern technology there's absolutely no way they would have been able to accomplish all that work on their own, without employing a few workers (which I know they cannot afford). If you read historical novels set on farms, it will strike you how many people it took to do all the work manually, in order to accomplish anything on a serious scale. Most of these people were unpaid or very poorly paid and uneducated. These days, nobody would want to live like that, and that's perfectly understandable. 

It's all great while technology is used as an aid at home; but when the coin flips, and technology controls you - when people are addicted to always having the latest gadget, to over-processed foods, to internet shopping, to online social networks; when people begin to spend a larger and larger portion of their life in front of the screen, that's where I believe we do have a problem. It does take a particular balance to eat the apple, so to speak, and spit out the seeds. And this is precisely what I'm aiming for when I talk about simplifying. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The too much and too fast of today's economy

The more I think about it, the more unnerving it seems to me just how much we rely on foreign, primarily Chinese technology and manufacturing these days, for just about anything - our clothes, electronic devices, household products, toys, all sorts of equipment. Even our food comes from afar. When I first saw Spanish and Italian olive oils in the stores, I was surprised - why should we import olive oil when Israel is full of olive trees? But it turns out, even with the cost of shipping, that the foreign oils are often cheaper. It's hard when you're torn between the desire to buy local and the need to lower your grocery store bill. 

Things used to be different. We used to produce more of our own food, clothes, household tools, etc. Much of it is now imported. Experts say it makes sense economically, but I'm not sure it makes sense from the point of long-term strategy, community ties, and the environment. 

Things used to be of better quality, too. Clothes, toys and equipment were made sturdier, for longer-lasting use. When I look over some clothes that were made before I was even born, I marvel at the quality of the fabric and the seams. Even the colors didn't fade with time. Now half the things we buy at such a fabulously cheap price break down the next day, so we can go on and buy more. The discarded items then pour into our landfills. 

Obviously we can't go back to the days when we all lived on isolated farms where we baked the bread from the wheat we'd grown, drank the beer we brewed, and wore the clothes from the wool we've spun, which came from the sheep we'd sheared. But our current economy seems so impersonal and wasteful it literally gives me the creeps. 

Still, I sometimes think - what if we wake up tomorrow to a reality that makes foreign import no longer possible, or at least not possible to the extent we are used to today? I don't know - a massive civil war in China, perhaps? Obviously we would have to make adjustments, but what if the change is so abrupt our economy can't handle it?

Here is a very interesting (pretty long, but worth the effort of reading) article on over-consumption.  It was written nearly 20 years ago, before the age of massive instant internet shopping, but it's amazing how so much of it as relevant as ever. For example the following quote:

"MANY of us who attended college in the 1960s and 1970s took pride in how little we owned. We celebrated our freedom when we could fit all our possessions -- mostly a stereo -- into the back of a Beetle. Decades later, middle-aged and middle-class, many of us have accumulated an appalling amount of stuff. Piled high with gas grills, lawn mowers, excess furniture, bicycles, children's toys, garden implements, lumber, cinder blocks, ladders, lawn and leaf bags stuffed with memorabilia, and boxes yet to be unpacked from the last move, the two-car garages beside our suburban homes are too full to accommodate the family minivan. The quantity of resources, particularly energy, we waste and the quantity of trash we throw away (recycling somewhat eases our conscience) add to our consternation."

I grew up in an apartment of 56 square meters (about 600 square feet). We had no storage shed, no garage, no balcony. The 56 square meters were all the space we had available for living and storage. Nevertheless, when we moved and I sorted through my stuff, I was amazed at the bags upon bags of junk that came out of my little room. How did I ever accumulate all that clutter?

Today, scrounging through our closets, drawers, storage shed, kitchen cupboards, etc, I'm still amazed at the amount of stuff that somehow sneaks in. Certainly we could live very well without most of it - and with less items to shift, rearrange, dust, organize, pack and re-pack every time we move. 

What I really want is a simple, harmonious home that holds all the essentials and the comforts of family life, but isn't overflowing with stuff. Such a home would be easy to maintain and enable us to live a peaceful, satisfying life in harmony with nature. Getting rid of excessive possessions is just a detail. The big picture is longing for what you can grow, or make, or find, rather than what you can buy. 

We try to do our bit by supporting, as much as we can, local Jewish farmers who grow very high-quality food. We also took to buying second-hand. It isn't just about saving money; when I buy second-hand, I'm not contributing to over-consumption and over-production, because I'm using something someone already bought. If I don't take it, it will go to the landfill. 

I really feel it's such an amazing privilege G-d has given us, that of living in Israel and seeing the rolling hills of the Shomron out of my window every day. We love this land, and hope to do our bit towards keeping it as beautiful as it is today. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Smaller homes, creative solutions

Lately I've been greatly enjoying Teri's blog, Homestead Honey. Teri and her husband live in a charming tiny cabin of 350 square feet (just over 32 square meters) that they had built themselves. They have two children, whom they homeschool. 

How do four people fit into 350 square feet? On her blog, Teri talks about some creative solutions that have enabled them to live in their small space. They have, for instance, an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor shower. And, of course, despite having a storage shed they need to be very selective about which possessions they keep. 

We live in a house of about a 100 square meters, or 1070 square feet. In addition, we have a storage shed of about 15 square meters (about 160 square feet). Our house is by no means huge, but I confess we do have a lot of poorly utilized space. First, our storage shed is filled to bursting with stuff we hardly use. We also have an office and a guest bedroom that are seldom used for their direct purpose, and a lot more for accumulating junk. In addition, we have three bathrooms in our house, out of which one is used very, very rarely, and its shower not at all - I consider it completely superfluous.

So, while it's certainly nice to have a roomy house and lots of space to put our stuff, it's an undeniable fact that a family like ours can downsize and live in a smaller house that is easier and cheaper to heat (or cool), clean and maintain. Also, in Israel, the smaller your house is, the lower the occupation tax you pay. 

Of course, you wouldn't pay occupation tax for an outdoor kitchen, an outdoor shower, a storage shed or a covered front porch/deck/pergola that would enable you to place garden furniture, benches, swings, hammocks, and spend many pleasant hours outside! The only hitch I see in this arrangement are the days when you are confined to the interior of your house - when it's too rainy, windy, stormy, cold or, as more often happens in Israel, too hot.

I do have to be fair and acknowledge that all these wonderful outdoor extensions are only possible if you are living on the land. In city apartments, you just make do with your space (though I've seen some very neat space-utilization practices done in apartments too). But if you have some land, however little, you can work wonders.

We have been married close to eight years now, and we are on our fourth house, so far. Despite my desire to get settled in a permanent home (as much as anything can be permanent in this world), I think it was a blessing in its way, because it did force us to go through our possessions from time to time and decide what we can't do without. When you must pay to have your stuff moved, you'll probably let go of that old broken-down washer than has been sitting in your back yard for years, waiting to be turned into a potter's wheel or some other marvelous engine. Still, we tend to accumulate possessions at an alarming rate, perhaps in part because every house we have moved to has been slightly larger than the one before, and had more storage space.

At this time, we are facing the prospect (though it isn't yet definite as to timing/location) of moving to a smaller house. When it first began to dawn upon me this is a serious possibility, it was daunting. How would I sort through all our things? Obviously we wouldn't be able to keep everything. We'd have to get rid of stuff, possibly a lot of stuff. How would we fit into a smaller space? But now that I've found Teri's blog, and the testimonies of other people who have downsized and are happier for it, I'm not nervous anymore, but rather looking forward to this as a challenge. In the future I hope to post updates of our progress. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Sorry, I'm calling in sick"

This week, we've been sick - not sick enough to call my husband off work (which of course I could have done in the case of a real emergency), but sick enough to feel thoroughly unwell and very much in need of rest. 

The worst part, perhaps, was that the virus had hit us all at once - which meant that I had sick children who needed plenty of attention, while I was unwell myself. So, what are some things you do to get through the day?

Lower your expectations. Obviously, when you have young children, your first and foremost responsibility is to care for them. If you can't do it yourself, you must ask for help. If, upon honest assessment, you decide you can manage, focus on keeping your children safe, fed, hydrated, warm and quietly amused. Everything else can wait. Even if your house is a mess, never mind - you can tackle anything that isn't urgent when you're feeling better. You don't want to exhaust yourself by doing more than you reasonably can.

Take care of yourself. Make plenty of hot tea for everyone, providing the easiest snacks you can get. It's a good thing if you always have something on hand so that a quick meal can be thrown together without much effort (such as a batch of frozen pasta sauce, or frozen chicken so all you need to do is cook pasta or rice). 

Lie down on the couch while your children play next to you. I was able to distribute colorful pens and go take a refreshing nap next to the baby. I believe it really helped me to carry on until bedtime.

Say no to extra commitments. In our neighborhood, we have a second-hand co-op shop, and as the lady who runs it is swamped with work, I repeatedly offered her some help. Well, it just so happened that she asked me for help on the very day we were all sick, and it was a bit embarrassing to say no, but of course I did so anyway. Oh, and we took a couple of days off regular school, and instead chose quiet diversions such as drawing and board games. 

If you're having a cold, most likely it is nothing serious, though it's pretty nasty while it's going on. All you have to do is get through it with some gentle care, and it's almost certain the next day will be better. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

A bowl of popcorn

Now that we're into colder days, I'm going to make popcorn more often. I really can't think of anything more suitable as a snack for all occasions!

It's extremely quick and easy to make - just the thing for unexpected visitors, children and adults alike, when you have no baked goodies on hand. All you need is a handful of corn kernels, some oil, some salt and a suitable pot. Since I make it on the stove, it's great even when there's no electricity. Oh, and it's about the lowest cost imaginable snack, too, because a package of corn kernels costs so little and lasts so long.

This nutritious snack has a tendency to stop quarrels as little ones flock to a large bowl of popcorn in the middle of the table. It's also fascinating for them to watch the kernels pop - I always use a pot with a transparent lid especially for this purpose.

We sometimes have ladies' nights here, and usually everyone brings fancy cakes, homemade granola bars, etc. I cheat by bringing a simple large bowl of popcorn, made 10 minutes before leaving home - and usually it's the most popular snack around, especially among the pregnant ladies who like to have something to munch on, guilt-free.

Making popcorn is very easy once you get used to it, but there are a few tricks. Take a stainless steel pot and pour some oil into it, to just cover the bottom. There's no need to heat the oil in advance. Take a handful of corn kernels and spread them out over the oil, until the bottom of the pot is nearly covered, but not quite. Put the pot on the stove - the flame needs to be strong enough for the kernels to pop, but not excessively so, because otherwise the kernels may burn before they pop. You'll find just the right balance after a couple of tries. Now I've found mine I have only a few unpopped kernels in each batch.

Wait until popping stops, transfer into bowl and shake some salt over your popcorn.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

In the hope of brighter days

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Though the thunderstorms and rains still go on, we are looking forward to sunny days - which are inevitable in Israel, even in winter - and so made this experimental little solar cooker, to try when the sun does shine. 

It's an excellent project to do with kids. There are plenty of variations on the internet, and most likely all you need is already on hand. We roughly followed the instructions here