This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for March, 2010

Countdown to Seder

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 29, 2010

Bi'ur Chametz (Burning the last of the leavened food)

Now we really are on the home stretch! This morning we burned the last of the chametz, around 11 a.m. My husband’s dried out lulav (palm branch) and hadass (myrtle branches), left over from last Sukkot, are burning on top of a few pita breads. There are several fires in our neighbourhood. People will be coming and going for a few hours to bring the last of their bread and crackers to burn. A few stalwarts will stand around until the end, to make sure that all the bread is burned completely and the fire doesn’t spread.

My home is completely ready for Passover. All the old dishes have been put away, the oven and stove and counter are ready, the fridge has been cleaned and stocked with food for Passover, vegetables and fruits are washed and rebagged, table cover changed. Most of the cooking has been done. Because we eat so much matzah and maror (lettuce) and charoset during the Seder before we get to the meal itself, no one is all that hungry, so I keep the menu simple. I’m baking apricot chicken at the moment.

We had one small mishap this year — my son accidentally bought a parsnip instead of a horseradish. I told him it looked like a white gnarly carrot and forgot about the fact that our minimarket sometimes sells parsnips (called a “white carrot” in Hebrew). Fortunately, there was still time to send him back to the store.

Here’s a “sort of” recipe for Sephardi-style charoset. I call it Sephardi-style because it’s my own version and I’m not Sephardi, and it’s different from the usual Ashkenazi charoset made with raw grated apple, walnuts, and sweet wine. It’s not very photogenic but here’s a picture anyway.

Charoset

Sephardi-Style Charoset

Makes about 1 cup

8 large, juicy dates; pitted
1/4 cup red wine (I use dry because that’s what we have around the house)
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch ground ginger

This is very much a “too taste” recipe. If it’s too thick, add more wine. If it’s too thin, add a couple more dates or cook longer. Increase the nuts if you want. Just remember that it needs to be a thick paste.

Charoset

Simmer the dates with red wine in a small pot, mashing from time to time with a spoon, until smooth and thick. Let the mixture cool.

Charoset

Chop the nuts in a food processor. Fold nuts into the cooled date mixture. Chill.

A kosher and happy Passover to everyone!

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More Passover Preparations

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 28, 2010

Seder night is tomorrow! Tonight we do bedikat chametz (checking the whole house for leavened foods) when it gets dark. In the meantime, I’ve been doing little else other than preparing for the holiday with all the cleaning and shopping to be done. Fortunately, I have a strong teenage son to help with the heavy work while my husband is at his new job.

Can you believe that this is what my kitchen looks like now? Everything has been put away or cleaned. Last night, after Shabbat finished at 7:32 p.m., I scrubbed the counter, cupboards, drawers, and taps, so this is the only photo I had time to take. Tonight, after bedikat chametz, my husband will kasher the counter and sinks with boiling water.

Preparing for Passover

The kashering stand outside my house was in full swing today, so I sent my son down with the stove grates and kiddush cups. The service is provided by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. There’s no set payment but there is a voluntary donation. People have been lining up since 9 a.m., with their pots, pans, cutlery, and other metal things that need to be dipped in boiling water or heated with a blow torch.

Kashering Dishes for Passover

A father and daughter are toiveling (dipping in the mikveh) new dishes.

Kashering Dishes for Passover

Student volunteers from local yeshivas immerse the pots in boiling water. Afterwards the pot is dipped into cold water on the left. It’s not pleasant work, working in the heat and noise from the propane torches. I heard the torches in my flat starting at an early hour and I will hear them until this evening.

Kashering Dishes for Passover

Kashering Dishes for Passover

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More Flash Experiments – Asparagus and My Son

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 26, 2010

Asparagus

More water dripping on vegetables! This week’s victim is asparagus. Photo was cropped and contrast was increased so you see less of my yucky sink. No sharpening applied.

We’re almost finished Passover preparations, at least the ones that can be done before Shabbat. My son had finished all the essential chores, so I gave him a non-essential one, tidying the linen closet. He refolded all the sheets and towels, pillowcases, handkerchiefs, and tablecloths so that they are in neat stacks.

Here’s a photo taken with the built-in flash of my camera:

Built-in Flash

And here’s one taken with the Speedlite 580, bounced off the ceiling, no diffuser. What a difference! Neither photo was post-processed or cropped.

External Flash

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Local Kashering Station

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 25, 2010

Preparing for Passover

Certain dishes (mainly metal, but not clay or wood) can be kashered, that is, made kosher for Passover. Because the job often requires boiling water or blow torches, many people prefer to bring their dishes to neighbourhood “kashering stations” staffed by yeshiva students. I took these photos from my third-floor balcony at night, so the quality isn’t great. In the photo above, a woman has brought a couple stove-top grates (on the table) and several pots and pans. The pots are dipped in boiling water (photo below) before being plunged into cold water, in the tank to the left of the boiling water. The stove grates are heated with a blow torch (not visible in this photo because a tree was blocking the view) until they glow red.

Preparing for Pesach

I’ve cleaned the six-drawer freezer, oven, and most of the cupboards. My husband will do the refrigerator/freezer on Saturday night, after the end of Shabbat, and I will do the stove top on Sunday. Menu planning gets very tricky because one needs to make enough for the next few days, before Passover, but not too much because leftovers will have to be thrown out on Monday morning. At the same time, I have to buy enough meat, vegetables, and all the bits and pieces for the Seder on Monday night, such as lettuce, horse radish, ingredients for charoset, wine, matzah, meat, grape juice, parsley, etc. Getting ready for Passover is a real test of one’s organizational skills!

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Sharpening and Post-processing

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 22, 2010

Someone asked me recently whether I had sharpened the pepper and water photos (or some of my other photos). The honest answer is I do sharpen if that’s the only way to save the image but generally I prefer to use a light hand in post-processing. Obviously, I’m not talking about HDR, which is heavily post-processed. For ordinary photography, I crop and often increase contrast but usually that’s all that’s needed. I’m not a total purist about getting everything exactly right in the camera, especially if I’m taking a grab shot on the run, but if the pixels aren’t there, well, all the Photoshopping in the world isn’t going to bring them back!

Here’s a photo that needed sharpening badly. I took it while walking by and in relatively dim light, so it wasn’t very clear. But the subject matter interested me enough that I thought it was salvageable, so I cropped,lightened, and sharpened it. Oh, one bit of advice I picked up: Do the sharpening last. It messes with the pixels, so you don’t want to do it too early in the processing.

Zaatar (Hyssop)

In bright light my chances of getting a sharp photo are much higher, not too surprisingly. This photo of the Dome of the Rock was taken from the roof of the Aish haTorah yeshiva with a Canon 55-250mm lens, handheld. 250mm, f/8, 1/500 sec. The distance between me and the building? 850 meters, or about half a mile. Yet, you can still see the logo on the TV satellite dish and the chips on the tiles.

Dome of the Rock (original)

To view it full-size, click the photo to go to the Flickr page, click All Sizes, then click Original. It would have been sharper with a tripod, no doubt about it, but I was running around without a tripod that day.

Below is a processed version. I cropped out the antenna, straightened the photo, and increased the contrast slightly using Picasa. This is a downsized version (1600×1067, since it takes me too long to upload full-size photos).

Dome of the Rock

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HDR in the Old City, Jerusalem

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 21, 2010

What can you do with a site that’s been photographed a million times? Well, if you happen to show up during a tsunami, that’s one option. Or the building of the Third Temple — that’s another but rather hard to mark in your calendar. I decided to try a little HDR.

This view of the Old City was taken on a slightly cloudy day (love those clouds for HDR!) from the roof of the Aish haTorah yeshiva building. I used three exposures.

Old City of Jerusalem

This photo of the Kotel (Western Wall) was generated from a single RAW file because it was the only way I could deal with all the movement, in this case, all the people walking through the plaza. Sure, it looks quite unnatural. I chose the surreal look because the Kotel has been done so often.

Western Wall, Jerusalem

The Dale Chihuly glass installation in the atrium of Aish haTorah was done with three separate exposures. I post-processed it to look a bit more natural, so you can actually see the colours, shading, and texture of the glass that would otherwise have been obscured by the shadows.

Chihuly Installation

For the sake of comparison, here’s an unprocessed photo of the installation.

Chihuly Glass Installation

All three photos were processed with Photomatix 3.0. Camera was hand-held.

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Red Pepper

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 19, 2010

Pepper and Water

Playing with my new Speedlite 580 EXII. Because I spend a good part of Friday in the kitchen I tend to photograph vegetables. They’re handy, they’re photogenic. I’ve taken pictures of cauliflower, fennel, beets, and probably others I’ve forgotten. I made stir-fry vegetables to go with the chicken, so the red pepper was today’s candidate. I cut it in half, stuck in a bowl, and turned on the tap.  The grey background below is my medium non-stick frying pan.

Pepper and Water

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Double Rainbow

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 18, 2010

Double Rainbow

Yesterday my husband and I took the day off and ran around Jerusalem. I’m glad that we went out on Wednesday, when the weather was balmy and pleasant, because this morning the weather was windy and rainy. At one point I looked out the window and saw a beautiful double rainbow. I ran outside, wearing my nightgown, to the balcony with my camera to photograph it. It was really windy. At one point the wind blew my nightgown around. I was profoundly grateful that (a) no one was home, (b) the balcony walls are solid, and (c) we live on the top floor.

The photo below is a panorama stitched with Photoshop from three shots. The match isn’t perfect because I wasn’t using a tripod or manual settings. Just pointed my camera in three directions and took the photos!

Almost forgot to add that I used a polarizing filter, which really makes the colours pop and increases the cloud definition.

Double Rainbow Panorama

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Spinning Cotton by Hand

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 16, 2010

Although I do own a spinning wheel, I chose to spin my cotton by hand because there was such a small quantity and because at the moment I need portable projects. All but the first photo were taken at work. I spun during lulls at work.

The Fiber

Natural brown cotton and tahkli
I grew this cotton myself in pots on a balcony. It’s brown naturally coloured cotton. The lint from two plants came to about 19 grams. I tried several methods of preparing the cotton, including beating it with a forked stick, but in the end I carded it v-e-r-y gently with a pair of Ashford wool cards. The resulting mass could be considered a tight rolag or a loose puni.

The Tahkli

Tahkli and some spun cotton
A tahkli is an Indian supported spindle. To be honest, I’m not sure whether it’s from India or American-made. I rest the pointed tip of the spindle on my desk (with a piece of paper underneath to provide some friction so that it doesn’t run around my desk) and spin the tahkli with a quick flick of my right hand. My left hand holds the cotton and drafts it so that the spin enters the drafting zone.

Winding Off

Improvised Nostepinne
When the tahkli gets full, I have to wind off the spun cotton. I didn’t have a nostepinne at work and — for a change — someone had actually changed the empty toilet paper rolls in the ladies’ room so I couldn’t harvest any cardboard tubes. I used a disposable plastic cup and wound the tahkli round and round to wind off the single ply of cotton.

Plying

Spinning cotton
When I had wound the tahkli off four times onto two plastic cups, I started spinning on my plying spindle. It’s a top-whorl fimo spindle that someone made for me years ago. It’s become slightly unbalanced because it got chipped on the edge. Also, the central shaft is varnished, which makes it a bit slippery for rolling along the outside of my thigh to insert the twist. It will never be one of my favourite spindles but it’s more than adequate for plying.

Plying with 2 cups holding the singles was NOT a lot of fun. They’re very light, so there was a lot of twisting back on itself. I had a couple breaks where the singles were too thin. Also, when the plying spindle started to get full I had to break the yarn, wind off the plied cotton onto a paper cup, and start plying again with an empty spindle.

Almost Done

Spinning cotton
Only two more rolags to go! The paper cup holds the yarn I’ve plied so far. The plastic cup on the left holds the single that was left over. The tahlkli is empty. When I’ve spun the remaining cotton, I’ll wind it off onto the other plastic cup and finish plying with the larger spindle.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with the finished yarn. It’s a bit too fine to use in a Weavette, so perhaps I’ll crochet something small. Any suggestions?

Did I mention that I have a bag of home-grown green cotton that I have to spin? It’s about half the quantity of the brown, so it shouldn’t take very long but I think I’ll use a lazy kate for the plying.

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Finished Blue Cotton Vest

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 11, 2010

Blue Cotton Vest

Yay–I actually finished something! This is the third incarnation of this yarn. It’s a surprisingly heavy, dense cotton, part of someone else’s unfinished project, so this might actually be its fourth or fifth incarnation.

The first attempt was a short-sleeved top with a blue/grey variegated ribbon yarn in a stranded stitch pattern. The swatch that I knitted was beautiful. I knitted the bottom half of the front and then abandoned the project because I got bored. It sat in a plastic bag for about five years.

The second attempt was an adaptation of a design in Vicki Square’s Knit Kimono. I quickly discovered that a kimono style was unsuitable for such a heavy cotton yarn. Anything that drooped would become twice its normal length. Also, the weight of even a small sweater was not negligible!

To show off the best qualities — mainly luster, good stitch definition, and crunchy texture — of this densely spun yarn, I needed a simple, classic design in an interesting but not overwhelming stitch pattern.  The finished garment had to be close-fitting.

The vest pattern is from The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs in Multiple Sizes & Gauges. This great little reference book that will tell you how to knit hats, mittens, gloves (yes — gloves!), socks, vests, and sweaters in almost any gauge and size. I concur with what Ann Budd says in her introduction: This is the book I wish I’d had years ago.

If you’re a knitter or spinner, there are times when you need a “blank canvas” pattern to turn into what you have in mind. And if you’re like me, you’d rather dive straight into the project than sit down with a calculator and figure out the armhole shaping (unless you happen to have sweater design software). I particularly like the fact that her sweater pattern has a fitted sleeve cap. Drop-shoulder sleeves and raglans are a breeze for any experienced knitter to figure out but fitted sleeves are a pain. It’s nice to have someone else do the math for you.

The stitch is “Mistake Stitch Rib”: *K2, P2* on an odd number of stitches, which eliminates the need for ribbing at the bottom.

Here I am wearing the vest. The fish-eye mirror on my computer monitor doesn’t produce the most flattering reflection because it makes me look shorter and wider than I really am. However, I didn’t want to hike over to the ladies’ room, with the full-length mirror, on the other side of the building. Why do I have a fish-eye mirror stuck on my monitor? Because I sit with my back to the door and a couple times I’ve been startled by co-workers sneaking up on me. I really like my co-workers but engineers are not renowned for their maturity….

Wearing my new vest

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