Thursday, March 04, 2004

This week has dissolved into a blur. The run up to Purim this year is also the run up to my birthday which means multiple party organisation. Throw in a wedding, regular Monday night football, training for the Jerusalem 1/2 marathon next week and work and it makes for busy times!

I took a stroll up to Machane Yehuda yesterday. Jerusalem's main produce market has always been one of my favourite places to shop and, although the atmosphere has changed as a result of a number of terrorist attacks, it maintains much of its character. Much of what makes it special is down to the people, both the stallholders and the shoppers, some of whom have been haggling over the price of cucumbers for decades. The narrow streets have a history and an attendant charm which I always enjoy. It is a riot of sound and colour. Sellers assault your eardrums, proclaiming their product to be the tastiest and the cheapest or more subtly draw your attention by making sure that their stall is immaculately set out; a work of art with fruit, herbs and spices providing the palette.

My favourite store to visit crams the smell of paradise into a 3 yard shopfront. Boasting a decor of large burlap bags and glass jars, the tiny space is filled with every spice under the sun, dried mushrooms and tomatos, rices, pulses, beans and miscellaneous delights for the pantry. I miss my Waitrose Red label tea and have found that I can squeeze a good cuppa out of the Ceylon Pekoe leaves that he sells loosely from a crate. The smell of the coffee as it comes out of the grinder is heavenly and there is something about having the blend that I want ground specifically for me - I always feel very spoiled by it somehow. Together with these regular purchases this is one of my sources for inspiration in the kitchen. As an amateur cook, I like to try new tastes and usually leave with some new spice and more importantly instructions for its use tucked into my bag.

I was at the market for fun food for my birthday - sweet stuff mainly but also nuts to help chase down the beer. Garinim are not merely toasted sunflower seeds, they are an essential part of the Israel experience. The snack of choice on the terraces at the football, they leave a spore of empty shells littering the floor - I'm hoping that my guests this evening will use an appropriate receptacle instead. After buying salted pistachios and coated peanuts I headed for home in the stunning Jerusalem sunshine - we've had a few glorious days and my short sleeved shirts have been getting an airing.

I was trying to think whether or not I wanted to make a point with this particular post but I think that there is a subtle one intrinsic to what I've written. The picture of Israel presented to the world is one of a warzone, suicide bombings, doom and gloom. If all that's bothering me on a sunny winter's afternoon is which store sells the cheapest penny chews then life here can't really be all that bad can it?

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