This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for October, 2009

Basket-Weaving at the Belly-Dancing Studio 2

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 30, 2009

Basket-weaving at the belly-dancing center

The second session of Nuni’s basket-weaving class met last night and we started making egg baskets. I can’t say I had a great time. I cut my thumb slicing the birthday cakes in the morning and the wet splints re-opened the cut. Masha dropped the class, so there wasn’t anyone for me to talk to and I’m not good at chatting in Hebrew. The splints I was using started splintering, I don’t like the colours I chose, one end came undone and will have to be glued down. Maybe I can colour the basket when it’s finished with markers to hide the splintering, but this basket, a two-session project, is turning into an expensive mistake. Oh, well.

A belly-dancing class was in session at the same time, so I took some photos through the door, using the mirror on the wall.

The bee hive:


Nechama. I discovered that she’s the daughter-in-law of a neighbour and friend, Sara Shor.


The belly-dancing class, photographed in a mirror. Looks like a lot of fun but I wouldn’t be able to follow the Hebrew that fast.



My basket…. The green was a mistake. I chose it because someone said that I was using the same colours as I had for the first basket, so I tried to choose something different.



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Birthday at Work (and Some Recipes)

Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 30, 2009


It’s our birthday! When Masha, my office mate, and I discovered that we had the same Hebrew birthday, we decided to bring in cakes for our co-workers. Masha brought a cheese cake and tiramisu and I baked a chocolate-walnut and a whole wheat apple-raisin cake.

It wasn’t easy getting work done with people stopping by all day to wish us “mazel tov” but it was fun.


I received several requests for recipes, so here they are. They’re easy, no-brainer recipes, good recipes to keep around when you need to whip up something fast and you want something that is almost fool-proof (I’m assuming that you know the basics of baking, like not opening the oven or practicing your Irish dance steps next to the stove).

Side note: I ready yesterday on the Web that someone started a blog just to organize their recipes. Interesting idea! Blog postings can be tagged, categorized, and searched, and one can add photographs of the finished dishes.

Whole Wheat Apple Raisin Cake

Yield: 4″x10″ loaf pan (may be doubled for 9×13 pan)

1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 apples, cored, peeled and diced
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 C).

Grease a 4×10 loaf pan (Israelis call this an “English cake” pan).

Beat oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract (you can use a mixer but I use a wooden spoon because I can’t be bothered washing the beaters) until smooth. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir in apples and raisins.

Bake for 50 minutes. Cool for 1/2 hour in the pan, then turn out on a rack to finish cooling so that it doesn’t get soggy.

Chocolate Walnut Cake

Yield: 4″x10″ loaf pan (may be doubled for 9×13 pan)

1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup water or juice (almost any fruit juice will work)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).

Grease a 4×10 loaf pan.

Beat oil, sugar, eggs, and juice. Sift flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients, mixing until combined. Stir in chopped walnuts.

Bake for 50 minutes. Cool for 1/2 hour in the pan, then turn out on a rack to finish cooling so that it doesn’t get soggy.

You’ll notice that the methods and proportions are very similar. Most of cooking is based on standard ratios and methods. Once you understand them, you’ll hardly ever need to consult a cookbook unless you want to make something unusual or unfamiliar.


That reminds me of a couple books:

  • Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. I heard a review of this book on an episode of the Splendid Table podcast. The author, Michael Ruhlman, shares his recipe for warm tomato vinaigrette. It sounds easy and delicious.
  • Healthy Helpings: 800 Fast and Fabulous Recipes for the Kosher (or Not) Cook I highly recommend this book if you want healthy recipes that don’t require hours in the kitchen and just plain taste good. (I suggested it yesterday to a coworker who confided that his wife bought a “healthy” cookbook and served the family an inedible pineapple tofu pie. When a dessert is so bad that people can’t finish a serving out of politeness, well, that’s not one for the files.) Norene’s recipes are thoroughly tested, clear, and delicious. This is one of the very few cookbooks where I can imagine making almost every recipe. Although she doesn’t say that she’s a method cook, if you study her recipes, it’s clear that this is her approach. Each recipe includes nutritional information, variations, freezing info, and a large helping of corny humour, which I happen to like.

  • I think I’ll include Ruhlman’s vinaigrette recipe here, to remind me to try it.


    Warm Tomato Vinaigrette, from Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking

    This is a basic vinaigrette only instead of being cold, it’s mixed together in a medium hot pan, which intensifies the flavor of the tomato and the sweetness of the shallot. This is a great sauce for white fish, halibut or cod or tilapia (and would do wonders for the ubiquitous boneless chicken breast). But it also it works well with boiled new potatoes, salt cod, or a combination of boiled new potatoes, or other root vegetables, and salt cod or smoked trout.

    1/2 cup seeded, diced tomato
    salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
    1/4 cup sliced shallot
    1 teaspoon minced garlic
    1 tablespoon canola oil
    1 ounce sherry vinegar (2 tablespoons)
    1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
    2 1/2 ounces olive oil (5 tablespoons)

    Toss the tomatoes with the salt to begin drawing out their moisture and flavor. Sauté the shallot in canola oil over medium high heat until translucent. Add the tomato and any liquid that’s leached out to the pan and cook stirring for a minute or so to heat the tomato and reduce some of the liquid. And the mustard and vinegar and stir to combine. Whisk in the oil until incorporated then remove the pan from heat. Taste for seasoning, add salt or vinegar as needed. Spoon over chicken, fish or vegetables.


    Posted in Food, recipes | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

    Irish Crochet Leaf – We Got Ridges!

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 28, 2009

    Irish crochet leaf

    I worked at this leaf, crocheting, ripping, crocheting, ripping, until I finally got a nice ridged effect like a picture I saw on the Web. Here’s the basic pattern. You can make it longer, work more rows, etc., to suit your needs.

    Irish Crochet Leaf

    Ch = chain
    SC = single crochet

    Row 1: Ch 15.
    Row 2: SC into 3rd stitch from hook. SC into next 11 stitches. 3 SC into last stitch of starting chain. Continuing along the other side of the starting chain, SC to end of chain. DO NOT TURN. You will have a long, skinny oval. The stitch at the very end of your funny shape is the “end stitch.”
    Row 3: 3 SC into end stitch. SC into following stitches until 3 SC from end of long oval. Ch 1 (if you want pointier leaf tips, ch3). TURN.
    *Row 4: SC into every stitch until you reach the “end stitch.” 3SC into end stitch. Continue SC into every stitch until you are 3 stitches from the end. Ch 1. Turn.*
    Continue Row 4 until you have as big a leaf as you want (usually 2 times will be plenty). For last row of leaf, work half of row 4, that is, stop at the “end stitch” and fasten the end.

    Now my discovery: work into the back of the stitches in the row below, even when it seems counter-intuitive. The vertical offset caused by working into the back of the row below causes an accordion effect. That’s how you get the nice ridges!

    Unfortunately, my favourite Irish Crochet book, Clones Lace, by Maire Treanor, appears to be out of print. Try Abebooks but be aware that they can be rather pricey.

    Dover produces very affordable reprints of older patterns.

    These books I recommend because they teach you how to DO Irish crochet, as opposed to following patterns:

  • Masterpieces of Irish Crochet Lace: Techniques, Patterns, Instructions (Dover Needlework Series) Dillmont’s work will teach you just about everything you need to know about Irish crochet lace. The newer books like Treanor’s have more accessible and modern interpretations of traditional patterns, but Dillmont’s book has all the basic motifs, stitches, and grounds.
  • Irish Crochet Lace: Motifs from County Monaghan Eithne D’Arcy’s strong point is the wonderful assortment of bizarre and baroque Irish crochet motifs. Forget shamrocks. Some of these motifs you’ll find nowhere else.
  • If you prefer something in the “slow lane,” these books have pretty patterns:

  • Favorite Irish Crochet Designs (Dover Needlework Series) Traditional doilies.
  • Creative Crochet Lace: A Freeform Look at Classic Crochet I don’t own this book but I’ve heard good things about it. Myra Wood’s emphasis is on larger-scale Irish crochet, adapted for clothing. A good thing, since not many of us have the stamina to work an entire blouse or wedding gown in size 100 thread with a .65 mm crochet hook!
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    Posted in Crafts, crochet | Tagged: , | 19 Comments »

    One of those Israeli Moments

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 26, 2009

    I was on the company minibus riding to work this morning when a woman I hardly knew sat down beside me. To be honest, I knew her name and face, but had never had a conversation with her.

    Searching for something friendly to say, I waved my hand at the mall as we were driving by and said, “Do you know Dr. T? I’ve been trying to get an appointment with her for a week and all I get is her voice mail.” She pulled out her cellphone and said, “I’ll call Dr. T’s secretary. She’s a friend of mine.” She called her friend, chatted a bit, then told me that Dr. T is booked until December, so she’s slow about returning calls but she does return them eventually. Nice!


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    Free-Lensing Again

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 25, 2009

    I took this shot with my 50mm f1.4 lens this morning while waiting for my ride to work. I like the abstract quality.


    Couple more flower shots

    Red flowers

    White bougainvillea


    Posted in free-lensing, photography | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

    Basket-Weaving Class at the Belly-Dancing Center

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 23, 2009

    Nuni's baskets

    Earlier this week, my Russian office-mate Masha asked me if I would come with her to a basket-weaving course at Arabesque, the center where she studied belly-dancing for several years. It is located on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University. I’ve always wanted to learn how to make baskets, so I jumped at the chance. Our first meeting was last night.

    Eight of us showed up. The teacher, Nuni Yavnai, is an Israeli woman who learned how to make baskets in Asheville, NC, at Earth Guild. By the way, if you want to get in touch with her to set up a basket-weaving workshop or whatever, she has given me permission to post her contact details here. Her email is and her cellphone number is 050-9112434. I also found a site (in Hebrew) about a workshop she offered in Pardes Hannah.

    Basket-weaving class at the belly-dancing studio

    Nuni shows Shira how to weave in the “chasing” technique with two reeds around an even number of spokes.


    We soaked 1/2″ flat reeds, pinned them to the table, and began the base with narrow round reeds. This is the half-completed base of my basket.

    My basket base

    One thing that struck me was how everyone’s baskets seemed to match their clothing! I think this woman’s name is Tamar but I’m not sure. I just liked this photo.

    Basket-weaving class at the belly-dancing studio

    My basket on the left, Masha’s on the right, just before we learned how to put on the finishing edge.

    Baskets in progress

    Baskets make interestng hats. Masha took this shot of me wearing the base.

    Wearing my basket base

    Masha modeling her basket in the car.

    Masha and her basket

    Here is my finished basket. I’m so proud of it!

    My first basket

    My first basket


    Posted in basket-weaving, Crafts | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

    On Desserts and Deserters: A Note on Victorian Banquets

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 19, 2009

    I was catching up on some old episodes of one of my favourite podcasts, A Splendid Table, “the show for people who love to eat” (that certainly describes me!). The host, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, posted a trivia Q&A: “What does the last course of a meal have in common with an army wrong-doer?” The answer: both are related to the old French déserter, “to undo.” The last course of the meal was called dessert because your table was cleared away to make room for the last course (usually fruit and nuts).

    But I had trouble swallowing one thing — that extra “s” in dessert. If you pursue a degree that requires 4-8 foreign languages, unexplained letters will bother you, too. I looked up both words and their etymologies and found that deserter comes from déserter, “to abandon.” Dessert comes from desservir, “to clear the table.” Similar words but not the same.

    The verb desservir suddenly clarified for me the Victorian term “remove.” It’s a little tricky to wrap one’s mind around the concept of a “remove” in Victorian literature because it is a term from service à la française. Service à la française, a very elaborate buffet-style food service, was superseded by service à la russe (the basis for our modern style of eating in courses) so long ago that it’s difficult to imagine the quantity of food or logistics involved in the old days.

    Antonin Carême

    Marie-Antoine (aka Antonin) Carême (ca. 1744-1833) was the “king of chefs and the chef of kings.” Born at the height of the French Revolution, he cooked for everyone who was anyone: Napoleon, Talleyrand, Alexander I of Russia, George IV of England, finally ending up with the Rothschilds. He wrote and published a number of books in his lifetime with illustrations of his banquets and pièces montées, elaborate centerpiece confections. His drawing below illustrates the complexities of service à la française.

    Careme, Service a la francaise

    Drawing by Antonin Carême of an elaborate, tiered buffet, originally published in Maître d’hôtel in 1822 (Kelly, pp. 118-119).

    Carême’s drawing depicts a formal dinner. The serving dishes were cleared away and replaced by different dishes during the same meal. Each change of dishes is a “remove” because the dishes are literally removed from the table. The Victorians didn’t have an appetizer table, a main course table with lots of chafing dishes, a salad bar, and a dessert table. Those came much later. In private homes, the buffet was literally moved to the table itself but the same principles applied.

    Imagine that I am serving a shabbat dinner for 8 people. Not content with chicken soup and gefilte fish for appetizers, I would serve chicken soup, gaspacho, potato soup, gefilte fish, Moroccan fish, smoked tuna, and tuna salad. The soups would be different in colour and texture to accommodate different tastes.

    The soups and fish dishes would be arranged on the table so that they would occupy symmetrical places at opposite ends of the table. The empty space in between the soup and fish dishes would be filled with little dishes of olives, pickles, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, etc. (they were called “side dishes” because they literally filled the sides of the table. Dickens’ David Copperfield uses the term “corners” to refer to little dishes that the hero buys to feed his friends in his lodgings. “Corners” and sides were used to fill the table so that the whole surface would be covered with food.

    Back to my imaginary dinner… After my family and guests taste whatever dishes takes their fancy (but NOT all of them — that would be time-consuming and greedy), I would remove all the dishes, thus setting the stage for the second remove. The second remove would be a brisket, a roast chicken, and a lamb stew, symmetrically arranged at the ends and the center of the table. I would place platters of different salads between each of the meat dishes and probably more pickles and roasted vegetables in the sides and corners. My guests would choose a main course and whatever side dishes they desired.

    Assuming I still had energy (and a few servants loitering in the scullery), I would remove these dishes and proceed to the dessert course, most likely fruits and nuts arranged beautifully on pedestal dishes with an imaginative centerpiece in the middle. How long would such a gargantuan meal take? Oh, about an hour. Service à la française meant that one prepared a full buffet in stages. No one would (or could) taste every one of the dishes. It was meant to offer as wide a choice as possible.

    Of course, it also led to tremendous waste, so some frugal households held parties two nights in a row. The most important guests would be invited to the first party and the B-list guests, like Thackeray’s Major Pendennis (Flanders, p. 285), would be served the leftovers the following night. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management provides an example of a menu and table placement for 18 guests (this text uses the modern terminology, “courses,” but the Victorians would have called them “removes”).

    For large groups, even state dinners, the food was served from a buffet. On February 21, at the Odéon theater in Paris, the Garde Nationale gave a dinner for 3000 people. Carême designed a buffet with nine tiers of food, similar to the one depicted in his drawing above. Nine tiers! Not too surprisingly, there were many complaints about accessibility and not a few guests went home hungry. In contrast, service à la russe was a model of simplicity and frugality because the food brought to the table in courses. It involved far less waste and it was easier on the cook and servants.  But old habits die hard and in 1861 Mrs. Beeton thought it was only feasible if you had a footman to pass the dishes around.

    Through the Looking Glass

    Bit of trivia from Judith Flanders (p. 275). In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, published in 1871, Alice says to the Queen, “May I give you a slice [of mutton.” This was the formula for the hostess when carving for service à la française. The host and hostess served the meat themselves and the guests passed around the other dishes. The rest of the meal, however, was service à la russe, with the dishes appearing in courses. This was the transition period between the two styles of food service.


  • Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management The classic!
  • Judith Flanders, Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England Fascinating, readable, and entertaining description of Victorian life. The book is organized by the rooms of the house (food service is in the chapter on kitchens) and from birth to death. The mourning customs, mainly binding on women, were astounding. It was just black dresses, not by a long shot!
  • Ian Kelly, Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme, the First Celebrity Chef The astounding achievements of French pastry-makers, the hard and dangerous life of a chef, and why chefs wear those funny white toques. Beautifully illustrated with many of Careme’s sketches of his dessert follies.
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    Posted in Food | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

    Unusual Knitting Commission

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 15, 2009

    This is definitely one of the stranger things I’ve been asked to knit but I will be well paid for it. Someone wants me to knit a pair of pants (Brit: trousers) for an extremely overweight, docile cat. It’s intended to be a joke birthday present for the cat’s owner.

    Watch this space…..


    At least I don’t have to measure the cat myself! It will present some interesting shaping challenges.


    Posted in knitting, needlework | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

    Orenburg Shawl Update

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 14, 2009

    It always takes me a little while to get back to the craft projects that have to be put aside for Sukkot and Passover. Washing the accumulated laundry and packing away sukkah decorations takes priority. I snapped a quick photo of my shawl in progress, from The Gossamer Webs Design Collection.

    The main part of the shawl is about 3/4 finished. I haven’t decided how to attach the lace edging to the diagonal edge. The instructions specify Russian grafting, which always makes me nervous because it’s a long chain of linked stitches. If the yarn breaks at some point down the road, the whole edge will part company with the edging. Luc C. knitted the edging to the body as he went along, so I may try that method.

    Orenburg shawl in progress

    Posted in knitting, needlework | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

    Mall Improvement

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on October 13, 2009

    Yesterday I walked over to the tiny mall near my workplace to buy a new hairbrush. (My son managed to break my relatively new hairbrush by brushing against it so that it fell to the floor and broke in half, which suggest that it wasn’t such a great hairbrush to begin with.) The Park Center is a run-down fleapit. A friend described it as “slummy,” which is accurate. When I walked inside, I snapped three quick shots for a possible HDR picture.

    Here’s an ordinary exposure of the mall. Note the cheap, corrugated plastic roof. You can’t see all the pigeon droppings at this distance. This atrium must be one of the most depressing buildings in the entire industrial park during a rain storm because this yellow roof is its only source of light.


    Here’s the HDR version. It looks like it would be a pleasure to shop there. Or receive transmissions from outer space.

    I don’t think I ever noticed before that the staircase goes higher than the main landing. Next time I will check it out for an overhead shot.

    Park Center, Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem

    Maybe I can get a job with the Ministry of Tourism or local real estate agents. 🙂

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