This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for July, 2009

Jewelry and Scarf Organizer

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 28, 2009

Homemade necklace holder

I made this organizer out of a cheap rubber-covered rack that I bought at a housewares store. Usually they’re used to keep a plastic dish tub above the bottom of the sink so that water can drain out. (This is an important gadget if you are trying to keep your dishes kosher in a non-kosher place or you can’t kasher your sinks for Passover.) I tied a ribbon to the top and hung the rack on a nail hammered into the wall. The whole thing hangs behind the bedroom door.

Currently I don’t use it for jewelry. I developed a really bad nickel allergy, so I wear very little jewelry these days. I do, however, wear a lot of scarves, so now all my scarves are threaded through this handy gadget.

Posted in organization | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Spider Reflections

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 27, 2009

This critter is a wolf spider (lycosa) in a plastic food box:

Spider Reflection Revisited

Spider Reflections

He’ll be set free eventually. My office mate, Yinnon, is a serious spider collector. He used to have about 700 spiders but now has about 300. He has been selling them because he doesn’t have much time to take care of them, given that he works two days a week as a programmer and has started a Ph.D. in neurobiology (octopi, specifically, and how they make decisions) at the Hebrew University. People bring all sorts of interesting finds to our office, mostly local spiders and scorpions.

“Shall we dance?”:

Shall we dance?

A co-worker found this wolf spider in his bedroom in Pisgat Zeev, a suburb of Jerusalem. Come to think of it, about a month ago he found a scorpion in his dry laundry. If I were his wife, I might consider moving… 😉

I photographed this wolf spider with a 50mm prime lens. I liked the reflections on the inside of the box, so I cropped the photos accordingly.

Actual size of spider is about 2″ or 5 cm, diagonally. Yinnon tells me that spiders are either measured by leg span (in this case) or by body length (0.5 cm or 3/4 inch).

Posted in Israel, photography | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Photo Shoot: “Raw” Bruschetta

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 23, 2009

My neighbour, Chana Rachel, of Israel Gone Raw, emailed me a few weeks ago to ask whether I would photograph a recipe that she was contributing to a “raw foods” cookbook. I was hesitant because I’ve never photographed food for a book before but I was willing to give it a try. We worked out a deal, bartering my photos of her “raw” bruschetta and a small portrait (for the contributors’ page) in exchange for her Mexican combo meal. I have to say that although I am not a “raw foods” enthusiast, her food was delicious. I hope she is as happy with her photos as I was with my dinner last night.

Improvised Lighting

Super Professional (ahem) Photo Light

I didn’t have time to buy a lamp, just a piece of white cardboard to use as a reflector. My fluorescent desk lamp was too dim. I asked my husband to find the light that we hang up in the sukkah every year. It’s just a light socket attached to a long electrical cord. I made a reflector with a disposable aluminum pie plate and stuck in a 100 watt bulb. I didn’t have a stand or extra tripod, so my son suggested that I tape it to the shade of the desk lamp. It worked quite well.

Bruschetta Photo

"Raw Foods" Bruschetta with salsa and basil

People who are part of the Raw Foods movement don’t use conventional cooking techniques. I’m not sure of the recipe but I think the main component of the bruschetta “toast” was ground almonds held together with flaxseed and then put in a dehydrator for a few hours. It was quite tasty, I might add. In this photo it’s topped with salsa and basil leaves.

We tried a different set-up at first, with the plain bruschetta arranged around a small bowl of salsa, garnished with basil leaves. Unfortunately, it reminded me of what my son once said of my oatmeal cookies: “It looks like something that came out of the back end of a horse.” It’s not easy to make brown, grainy lumps look good, even with good colour saturation, so I decided to use this shot instead.

I used my 50mm prime lens, f/6.3, and 1/13 of a second exposure. I shot RAW and corrected the exposure and colour cast with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional 3.4 (the free program that came with the camera; I don’t have Aperture or Adobe Camera Raw).

Portrait of Chana for the Contributors’ Page

Chana Rachel

Chana turned out to be more photogenic than I expected. Her eyes sparkle in all the shots but I thought her smile was nicest in this photo. This is not the shot I sent to her for the book. I added a soft focus effect around her eyes because I thought it was more flattering, but I didn’t want to add any photo effects for a contributors’ page because it might stand out too much. I also left more room for cropping in the one I gave her because her editor had not specified the dimensions.

Posted in Food, photography | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

50mm Prime Lens and My First Experiments

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 21, 2009

A new toy arrived in the mail yesterday, a Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. I had read the reviews and knew this wasn’t the best 50mm I could buy, but, hey, the f/1.4 lens is four times the price! I think what finally pushed me into shelling out the shekels for the lens was a Prajneet Singh’s posting, The 50mm f/1.8 — Small Wonder, on Digital Photography School.

My first photos yesterday were a disappointment. OK, I have the lens. Now how can I photograph a plum so that the edges are sharp, not just the spot in the center? Oh, duh! Move further away or change the aperture. How hard could that be?

This morning I took my camera out on my morning exercise walk. I didn’t get much exercise, though. I was like a dog stopping at every lamp post for a sniff (“Oh, look! A flower! Look! Another flower!”). When I realised that I needed to get back in time to get ready for work, I stopped shooting everything that crossed my path. Here are some of shots I took.

“Depth of Field.” A municipal bench in a playground. I took several shots with different aperture settings and I could really see the depth of field in this one (f/2).

Depth of Field

Another shot of a globe thistle. Because the aperture can be opened to f/1.8 (but focus gets a bit soft at the extreme ends), it does really nice bokeh. I never get tired of these flowers. They remind me of exploding Death Stars. Actually, this one was taken at f/5, so I must have been using programmable mode.

Globe Thistle

Sun shining through playground equipment:

Blue circles

Insect eggs on a caper plant pod:

Very tiny picnic

Red bougainvillea with that lovely, shallow depth of field. I find bougainvilleas tough to photograph because they have few differentiating characteristics in their petals. They don’t have prominent veins or markings, so the petals often meld into a big pink or red, oversaturated blob of colour. Maybe it was the morning sun that helped in this shot.

Red bougainvillea

Tomorrow I’m shooting a neighbour’s raw food recipe and her contributor’s photo for a cookbook. If I feel sufficiently comfortable with manually focusing (one of my biggest shortcomings, because my eyesight is so poor) on her eyes, I may use it for the portrait shot. It took some getting used to not twirling the zoom ring to get closer to a subject. I actually had to use my feet for a change. Hmmm. Maybe I will get more exercise this way!

Posted in photography | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Fish Mola

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 21, 2009

Framed mola

What are molas?

Molas are reverse-appliqued panels made by the Kuma Indians of the San Blas Islands in northeastern Panama. Originally part of the traditional Kuma woman’s costume, molas were made in pairs and adorned the front and back of a blouse. During the 70s, the Peace Corps introduced treadle sewing machines in a well-intentioned attempt to speed up the production process, which led to large-scale production of poor-quality molas for the tourist trade.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, the mola tradition is only about 100 years old and probably evolved from the custom of body-painting. The Smithsonian site shows an old mola that can be rotated for viewing (you need to have the QuickTime plug-in installed) and an extensive bibliography on the Kuna Indians and their mola art.

My Mola Quest

I’ve always loved molas. I really wanted to own one but Jerusalem is a long way from Panama….

Every August, the Jerusalem municipality sponsors Hutzot haYotzer, an international arts and crafts festival. There is live music, dance performances, scores of local Israeli artists, and dozens of international pavilions. Despite the crowds and generally high prices, I went last year in August, 2008, and found that there was a booth selling things from Panama!

The Panama booth had piles of machine-made molas, not of very high quality. They were machine-sewn, with exposed raw edges and untrimmed threads hanging from the finished design. After looking half-heartedly through all the piles, I was about to give up. Then I looked up and saw a mola sewn into a cheap canvas bag, the kind you get as a freebie at high tech conferences, tacked high on the back wall. Wow! A hand-made mola!

I asked the sellers, who spoke no Hebrew and very little English, whether they had other hand-made molas. They repeated, several times, “All our molas are made by hand by the Indians.” I tried pointing to the machine stitching of one mola and the hand stitching of the other, but I got the same answer. So I bought the bag, which cost four times (approximately $35 US) as much as the unmounted molas, and hoped that the mola hadn’t been made into a bag because of cigarette burns or bug damage.

Mola Recovery

This is what the mola looked like when I bought it, mounted on the outside flap of a shoulder bag (below).

Mola mounted in a canvas bag

I dismantled the bag and carefully unpicked the stitches of the binding (below).

Removing the mola from the bag

I was delighted to find that the mola was intact. Not even the edges of the applique triangles had been damaged by the mounting process, although they were trimmed rather close.

Mola removed from bag

The stitching is mind-boggling. There are 32 chain stitches per inch and 24 applique stitches per inch, as you can see in the photo with the ruler below.

Close-up of stitches

The mola shows signs of wear on the back, indicating that it was cut from a blouse when its maker grew tired of it or needed the money. The fine stitching and the fading also indicate that it was not produced for the tourist industry.

I like the idea that this mola was proudly worn by its maker years ago. I’m glad it didn’t end up as the outside flap of a bag. Although molas are quite durable, the embroidery stitches and old fabric would not stand up to that kind of treatment for long.

Here is a photo of the back of the mola:

Back of mola

This is a two-layer mola, which makes it a fairly simple example, although the workmanship is outstanding. If it were three or more layers, it would be worth more. The blue layer is the base layer. The red cloth is the second layer, slashed and stitched to show the blue background.

The other motifs, triangles and stripes, are small pieces appliqued to the blue or red layers. Its style seems to indicate that its age is about 20-30 years, since embroidered embellishment was a fairly late development. Also, the fish design indicates that it is not an old mola. The oldest molas were not embroidered and tended to have geometric patterns. The animal and tree patterns were more popular among tourists, so most modern molas reflect this preference.

More sources of information on molas

Posted in needlework | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Summer Riots in Jerusalem

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 16, 2009

I took these photos from a minibus on my way to work.

Burning taxi being extinguished by firefighters on Golda Meir Blvd, Jerusalem.

Torched taxi, Golda Meir Blvd, Jerualem

Torched taxi, Golda Meir Blvd, Jerualem

Overturned (but not burned) garbage bins blocking traffic, at Sanhedria intersection of Golda Meir Blvd, Jerusalem

Burned Garbage Bins, Golda Meir Blvd, Jerusalem

It’s summer and the rioting has started again. No, not the Carta parking lot opening on Shabbat. This time it’s the very sad case of a woman suspected of starving her son. If you don’t live here, it’s hard to understand why this would lead to rioting. The Jerusalem Post has been covering this story extensively.

Rabbi Lazer Brody has posted some sane comments from the religious perspective on his blog, Lazer Beams.

Posted in Israel | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Video 2: Purim, 2009

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 15, 2009

This video is an anomaly. It is by far the most popular video I’ve made (1,349 views as of today), but it’s also the least ambitious. It was the second video I tried making, when I barely knew how to hold the camera straight (in fact, you can see that it is quite wobbly). Production was minimal — no editing except a starting point at the beginning of the song and a cut at the end.

The close-up shot of the kid handing a couple sticks of cotton candy to the bus driver was a lucky accident, but it turned into the central point of the video. The minute I saw that sequence, I knew that I had to turn this clip into a video. Most video clips of street festivals have the pacing of a live newscast — no plot or movement, just vignettes and short scenes. This video starts with the song, the young teenagers dancing, and then the bus enters the action.

I think the simple reason for this video’s popularity is that it makes people feel good. Jewish kids are celebrating a Jewish festival and giving mishloah manot to a patient bus driver. It’s one of those “Only in Israel” moments.

Posted in Israel, videos | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Basher Fromagerie, the Best (Not Kosher) Cheese in Town

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 12, 2009

It seems presumptuous for me to blog about a place that I only visited for a few minutes, last Thursday, but I don’t think I will ever forget it. And it will not be my only visit.

If there’s a kosher cheese heaven, it must be Basher’s Fromagerie in Mahane Yehuda (53 Etz Hayim Street, the covered shuk, midway between Yaffo and Agrippas, 02-625-7969).

Basher's Fromagerie

Eli Basher and his brother Dudi are Mahane Yehuda veterans (or vatikim, as we call them). Their grandfather and father ran a successful restaurant in the shuk for many years. Now Eli Basher has a shop that carries over 700 kinds of kosher cheeses. Actually, I read one article that claims 850 cheeses, but I’ve never counted. Maybe I’ll ask next time I’m there.

Basher's Fromagerie

The staff know their cheeses and will press upon you any number of free samples.

Basher's Fromagerie

My moment of capitulation arrived with the Gruyere. I like Gruyere and always thought of it as a nice, mild, nutty cheese for making fondue, among other things. Goes well with dry wines. Remember that scene in “Confessions of a Shopaholic” where the heroine, deeply in debt, sees the perfect green scarf and decides that she MUST have that scarf? That’s what happened to me when I tasted the Gruyere. The flavour was so deep and penetrating, the texture so smooth and melting, that I knew I had to purchase that cheese. I hadn’t planned to buy anything, just take pictures. A tiny wedge cost more than a whole chicken. I had to have that cheese.

Basher's Fromagerie

I used only 50 gms of that wedge of cheese to make a tomato and gruyere quiche. The other 50 gms are carefully wrapped and stored for my next inspiration.

I found an article on the Web that describes Eli and Dudi’s wine and cheese shop, Wine & More (New Industrial Zone – Rishon LeZion, G-compound, Yaldei Teheran 3 Street), in Rishon LeZion. No idea whether it’s kosher. It probably isn’t.

A co-worker told me that the kosher cheese industry received a boost, indirectly, from the outbreak of mad cow disease. Many European cheese-makers switched to microbial rennet, which made it much easier to receive kosher certification. (Kosher cheeses can be made with animal rennet, but most are made with synthetic rennet. The OU site has a clearly written, somewhat technical, article that explains kosher dairy products.)

Update (July 2011): I’ve heard reports that not all of Basher’s cheeses are kosher, so check the wrapper first! If you’re buying off the block, as to see a wrapper or certification. It’s still fabulous cheese but you can’t assume that it’s all kosher or chalav yisroel, etc.

Update (January 2012): Basher’s has no kosher supervision. Sorry! What a pity….
See Jerusalem Kosher News for details.

Posted in Food, Israel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Tomato and Gruyere Quiche

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 10, 2009

I made this quiche this morning with the plum tomatoes and Gruyere cheese that I bought yesterday at Basher’s Fromagerie, in Mahane Yehuda. The Gruyere was expensive that I used only 50 gms (a little less than 2 ounces) but I can smell it through the whole house. In fact, after I grated the cheese, I had to cover it because the smell was making me so hungry. The original plan was a tomato and Gruyere tart, but at the last minute I converted it into a quiche because I decided I wanted something slightly more substantial for a Shabbat lunch. My measurements below are a little quirky because I don’t use a recipe for my pastry. I just use the 1:2 ratio (by weight) of butter to flour and butter is sold in 100 and 200 gm blocks in Israel.

Note: If you’re substituting a cheese of lower quality or (gasp!) Israeli “yellow” cheese, you will probably need a lot more to get any flavour at all.

Tomato and Gruyere Quiche
Yield: 11″ quiche

200 gm flour
1 tsp salt
100 gm butter, chilled and cut into pieces
5-6 tbs ice water

1 tbs mustard ancien (Dijon with seeds)
6 plum tomatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
50 gm Gruyere cheese, finely grated
salt and fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).

Combine the flour and salt. Cut the chilled butter pieces into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives. Sprinkle just enough water and toss with a fork until the dough barely holds together. Press into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours.

Roll pastry on a floured board until it is a 13″ round. Carefully fit it into an 11-inch quiche pan. Prick all over with a fork, cover with foil, weight with beans, and bake blind for 12 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350 F (180 C).

Cool pastry shell slightly. Spread mustard thinly on base. Fill shell with single layer of plum tomato slices. Season with salt and pepper. Beat eggs with milk and pour over the tomato slices into the shell. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese on top. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden. Cool in dish on rack.

Update (Jan 2012): Basher’s has no kosher certification. 😦 See Jerusalem Kosher News for details.

Posted in Food, Israel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Teller’s Bakery in Mahane Yehuda

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 9, 2009

Who doesn’t like fresh baked bread? I visited Teller’s Bakery in the Mahane Yehuda market, Jerusalem, this morning with two co-workers, one of whom is a neighbour of the owner, Avishai Teller. The bakery is not an old family business — Avishai took a course and then opened his bakery a few years ago on Agrippas street. His sourdough and baguettes are wonderful.

Bakery front


Bakery owner Avishai Teller slashing baguettes:
Avishai Teller slashing baguettes

A conveyor belt with adjustable height, to accommodate the different oven compartments, moves the raw baguettes into the oven. I assume that they are removed with a peel. Interestingly, baguettes were not proofed after being shaped. Avishai shaped the loaves, slashed them, and put them into the oven. (If you click on the photo and view the large version or original, you can see that he’s holding the lame (bread-slashing tool) in his teeth.)

Conveyor belt moves the raw baguettes into the oven


In the main room of the bakery, workers cut a huge mass of dough into pieces, weigh them, and shape them very quickly into round loaves. This particular batch is “Health Bread.” Working with bread while listening to the Beatles doesn’t seem like a bad way to make a living.

Cutting and shaping loaves

At one point I photographed the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor, who makes sure that the baked goods are kosher). He came over to us and asked, “Are you Jews? Do you observe the Sabbath?” Then he turned to me and said, “Would you like to perform the mitzvah of separating challah? It’s an important mitzvah for women.” So I dipped my hand in flour and grabbed a handful of sticky dough out of the mixer. I almost never perform this mitzvah at home because my oven is too small to hold the minimum quantity of dough required, so the rabbi helped me with the blessing. He told me that many women come to the bakery solely to perform this mitzvah.

Taking challah

Chart indicating when challah was taken and by whom:

Hafrashat Challah chart


In a smaller room, devoted to making the danishes and other pastries, a man was mixing chopped apples, sugar, a little lemon, and cinnamon. He opened the refrigerator and took out a large slab of folded puff pastry, informing us that this dough was 50% butter. Wow. He cut the dough in half and then rolled it back and forth through an electric rolling machine, which works like a pasta machine. Shelves at either end caught the ends of the dough, as the strip became longer and thinner. The finished sheet was about half a centimeter in thickness.

Rolling dough for danishes

The pastry maker cut rolled about half the dough around a huge rolling pin and transferred it to the work surface. He picked up a gadget that looked like an expanding trivets. It was an adjustable dough cutter, which he used to cut the dough into squares.

Cutting dough for danishes

The filling was squirted into the squares from a plastic bag used like a pastry bag.

Filling apple danishes

He folded the pastry squares into plump envelopes at lightning speed.

Shaping danishes

The finished product:


Update: Sept. 25, 2009.

Teller’s kashrut certification is Jerusalem Rabbinate Mehadrin. Yehiel Spiro has posted a copy of the hechsher (kashrut certificate) on his site, Jerusalem Kosher News. I presume that Rabbi Lublin was the man in the photo above.

Posted in Food, Israel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »