This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for August, 2010

Favourite Photos of May 2010

Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 9, 2010

I just realised that I haven’t done a “favourite photos” posting for months! I was in the doldrums about this blog for a while, I admit, and I was going through a difficult period.

On May 5, I finally succeeded in photographing the rising sun lined up with the twin towers of Amman, Jordan.

Twin Towers of Amman

May 12 was Jerusalem Day. Because my son’s band was playing on one of the floats for the Flag Dance, I went to photograph the crowds. This guy’s motto must be “More is more …”

Jerusalem Day, 2010

Panorama photo of the crowds waving flags on King George Street near the Sheraton Plaza hotel.

Jerusalem Day 2010 Panorama

My son’s band, moving towards the Dung Gate, with the Temple Mount in the background. If you think it’s tough shooting low-light images, try shooting something that’s moving! My son is bending over, on the lower left side of the photo. The boys had been playing for 2.5 hours  and were knackered.

Jerusalem Day, 2010

I also took a few photos of flowers and plants. Caper flower, taken with my husband’s Samsung point-and-shoot. (Don’t underestimate those cheap little cameras; often they have pretty decent macro functions.)

Caper Flower

Hammock spider on a rosemary bush, photographed with the same camera.

Step into my parlour....

Faded rose, photographed with my DSLR (must have been repaired by this time):

Faded red & white rose

Cycad in the setting sun. There’s something about those primitive plants that attracts me.

Cycad: Shadow Angles

A chance photo of a palm tree in the late afternoon. The sun was at just the right angle.

Palm Trunk

Tiny myrtle flower with an even tinier crab spider camouflaged in the center. Photo taken with the Samsung 639.

Tiny Flower, Tinier Spider

Posted in photography | 1 Comment »

Henna by Sienna

Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 9, 2010

A garden of pomegranates

Photo by Henna by Sienna: “Garden of Pomegranates,” based on Song of Songs 4:13. Design from Noam’s upcoming book

When I was at the Bezalel Arts Fair I met Noam Sienna, a henna artist from Toronto. Noam is an anthropology student at Brandeis and the focus of his study is Jewish henna traditions. I couldn’t chat with him for long (impatient husband in tow), so we exchanged emails and I took a few photos.



Cheryl Stone applying a henna design. (Cheryl learned henna art from Noam.)


Close-up of Cheryl at work.

Rather than paraphrase Noam’s background, I’ll quote it from his emails:


I’ve been working as a henna artist for about three years. I started in freshman year of college (at Brandeis) after seeing henna done at an Indian party… After doing it for a while I began to discover the Jewish uses of henna, I began researching it, and I’ve been obsessed ever since then! I’ve spent the past year researching and documenting Jewish henna traditions (focusing on the pre-wedding ceremony) in Israel, and this coming year will be devoted to writing an undergraduate thesis analyzing Jewish henna traditions for my BA in Anthropology.

I observed henna ceremonies performed today, I spent hours (and hours) in the library gathering information on traditional henna ceremonies, and most importantly, I recorded interviews with elderly women (and some men) describing the traditional henna ceremony (when I say ‘traditional’, I’m referring to the way the henna ceremony was done in the ‘old country’, as opposed to the way it’s done in Israel today, which is far from traditional). All in all, my research encompasses over 25 different Jewish ethnic groups, stretching from North Africa, across the Middle East, through Central Asia, to India and China.

The designs I’ve learnt simply by studying, copying, and practicing. There are traditional styles and motifs, differing from region to region, that you begin to recognize the more you practice. Once you get the hang of it you can create your own patterns within a traditional style.

I’ve also spent a good deal of time researching and reconstructing the henna patterns used in various Jewish communities, which have essentially completely died out – this is something that nobody else (to the best of my knowledge) has done. While some old people from henna-using communities (I’m talking about people in their 80s and 90s) might still remember the patterns being done, the younger generation – even their own children – has no idea that patterns were ever done, much less what they were. I am hoping to publish a book of Jewish henna patterns… It may have to wait until after my thesis, but it’s on its way.
courtney hands

Photo by Henna by Sienna: Courtney’s hands, North African and Indian design

Henna in Jewish tradition

Henna use in general is a tradition that goes far back into prehistory; it is impossible to tell when or where the first people started using henna. The first definite records of henna come from the area of the Middle East (Egypt and Canaan) from the fourth-second millenia BCE (between four to six thousand years ago). Traces of henna have been found on mummified bodies from Egypt, hennaed wigs were found in Jericho, and henna is mentioned in medical texts from Egypt and Canaan. A fragment of an Ugaritic myth describes henna use as part of a victory celebration.

Henna is mentioned in the Bible, in the Song of Songs, as a sweet-smelling plant; it is not known if henna was used as body art by the ancient Israelites, but it is likely. By the time of the Mishna [= first to second centuries CE (or AD)], we know that henna was grown and used in the Land of Israel, from mentions in both Jewish and non-Jewish texts from the period. After the Roman Exile in the first-second centuries CE, Jewish henna use spread with the Diaspora. By the eleventh century CE, henna was an important economic export that Jewish merchants brought from its growing fields in North Africa to the Jewish and Muslim communities of southern Europe: Portugal, Spain, southern Italy, and Sicily.

Henna use is mentioned in Hebrew poetry from this period, and we see for the first time mention of Jewish henna ceremonies, in medieval ketubbot [marriage contracts]. After the expulsion from Spain, Sephardi Jews continued their henna traditions in their diaspora in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire, joining the already-present indigenous Jewish communities of North Africa and the Middle East, who also had their own henna traditions, as did the Jewish communities of Asia (Yemen, Iraq, Kurdistan, Persia, and India).

It is hard to pin-point one particular place of origin for henna use in general or Jewish henna use specifically. Henna use is confined generally to the geographic growing range of the henna plant, which includes North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia east to northern India. Typically, in these regions, henna is a cultural phenomenon shared by all religions and groups living in that region. While the earliest records of henna use point to Egypt/Canaan, it is probable that henna use evolved independently in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as well. The spread of Islam in the seventh/eighth centuries CE brought henna use to many regions and strengthened already-present traditions in others.

Traditions of Jewish henna art have almost completely died out. While some older people still remember the traditional patterns, they are not done in Israel today. In some places, the tradition died out with the aliya to Israel and thus the memories are relatively fresh, while in other places modernization had been weakening henna traditions since the nineteenth century, and we must rely on historical sources to reconstruct them.

The patterns and techniques differed from community to community, and were often completely different than the henna patterns of the surrounding non-Jewish culture. Jewish henna patterns have been documented in the modern period among the Jews of North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya), Yemen, Kurdistan, Persia, and India. In some communities, there were professional Jewish henna artists, while in other communities the task was not specialized and the patterns were done simply by women of the community.

Travelers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries recorded henna patterns among the Jews of Morocco and of Syria, but that appears to have died out at the beginning of the twentieth century. While the patterns of some Jewish communities (Yemen, for example) have been recorded in scholarly work, others have never been documented or recorded in published literature, to the best of my knowledge. A large and important part of my work is recording the memories of these traditions and documenting them before they vanish completely.

Many of these patterns have already disappeared from the awareness of the Israeli public and even from the community itself. It happened more than once that I would be interviewing someone, and as they were describing the henna patterns they once did, their own children would exclaim in surprise, “I never knew you did patterns! You never told me that!”. I urge anyone reading this, if they know someone who has memories of Jewish henna traditions (patterned or not), record them now! If you would like more information, please contact me.

Henna in Israel

In Israel, there are very few true henna artists. Look carefully for an artist using real, natural henna (see the health warning in the next section), and drawing the patterns by hand and not with a stencil. The price range should be somewhere between 25 to 50 shekels for a hand-drawn design. In Jerusalem, feel free to contact Cheryl Stone. [Note: Noam mentioned that Cheryl may be taking a break in August 2010 but should be back at the Bezalel Arts Fair in September.]

Health Warning

Real, natural henna poses no health risks. Please avoid “black henna” at all costs. True henna is reddish-brown; black “henna” is never real henna, and is often dangerous chemicals. “Black henna” can cause allergic reactions, blisters and burns, and can leave scars (sometimes for life!). Please stay away from “black henna”. True henna is perfectly safe, including for people who have had a reaction to “black henna”. Always ask the ingredients before allowing an artist to henna you and make sure that they know the difference between safe, natural henna and dangerous chemicals.

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

A Glass of Red Wine …

Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 8, 2010

A glass of red wine a day ...

… is good for the heart, right?

Posted in photography | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Chicken Salad Improv

Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 5, 2010

The time: Shabbat morning
The weather: Bloody hot
The menu: Um, can we change the subject?

Chicken Salad Improv

My original plan was to heat some chicken for Shabbat lunch but it was just too hot. So I threw together this chicken salad using ingredients I had in the fridge and served it with rice. It was very popular and I’ll definitely make it, or a variation on the theme, again. This salad was made with the hind quarters of a roasted chicken.

A couple comments : Don’t forget to remove the bits of gristle and cartilage from the chicken. I recently ate a chicken salad made by someone who chopped the ingredients without removing the inedible bits. Everyone was chewing very carefully…

Do take the time to chop the carrot and pepper finely. It gives a much better texture to the salad, even though it’s more work. Raw carrot, in my opinion, is too coarse in a salad if the pieces are large.

Curried Chicken Salad

4 servings

1 1/2 cups diced chicken
1 1/2 tbs. mayonnaise
1 medium carrot, peeled finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 cup raisins

Combine ingredients and chill.

Variations (what I would have added if I’d thought of it or had them in my fridge): 2 finely sliced green onions. A sprinkling of chopped pecans or slivered almonds would add a nice crunch, but then I’ll eat almost anything if it’s covered with nuts. I adore nuts on almost everything. Maybe everything.

Posted in Food, recipes | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Wheat, Beet, and Walnut Salad

Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 3, 2010

Wheat, Beet, and Walnut Salad

Note to self: Take photo of food before breakfast, not after.

This salad was splendid with a big dollop of plain home-made yogurt. Unfortunately, I only remembered to take the photo after  I had eaten the last of that batch of yogurt, so I had to settle for a photo of the unadorned version.

As far as I know, this is my own invention. It’s very much a “according to your taste” recipe, so if you prefer lots of walnuts or lemon, feel free to alter the quantities.

Wheat, Beet, and Walnut Salad

1 cup coarse bulgur wheat (can substitute couscous)
2 cups boiling water
2 large beets, cooked and diced
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
5 tbs. olive oil
4 tbs. lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Note on walnuts: I don’t honestly expect you to crack them yourself but do try to find a reasonably fresh bag of shelled walnuts. If they’re stale or rancid, you’ll notice the off flavour a lot more readily in this recipe than you would in a pan of chocolate brownies.

Soak bulgur wheat in boiling water until water is absorbed (about half an hour). Whisk olive oil and lemon juice together and pour over wheat. Stir in diced beets and walnuts just before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I recommend adding the beets and walnuts just before serving because if you mix them ahead of time, the salad will be very red and the walnuts won’t be quite as crunchy. If that doesn’t bother
you or your family, then mix it ahead of time.

Variations: Plain yogurt is very good with this salad. If you want something salty to offset the sweetness of the beets, a few cubes of Feta or Bulgarian cheese would work.

This salad is perfect for the heat wave we’re having in Israel this week. Jerusalem has been in the 90s during the day. It’s even hotter in Maale Adumim where I live. I’ve been sleeping in front of the air conditioner. Everything seems to slow down when it’s this hot.

My son left yesterday to accompany a Bnei Akiva trip as some kind of medic. He’s a Magen David youth ambulance volunteer, which means he gets a lot of experience taking blood pressure, pulse, and filling out forms. I nagged him to take sunscreen. I hope he remembers to drink plenty of water.

Last Thursday his band went to Ashkelon to play for a Bnei Akiva dance and spent the night there (the drummer lives in Ashkelon). In the morning, at 8:30, a Grad missile was fired at Ashkelon from Gaza. He took cover in a shelter at his friend’s house  — a tight squeeze with the kids, parents, and grandparents. They heard the Grad land and the house shook. He forgot to mention it to me when he came home and I only heard about it at Friday night dinner when my husband asked him where he was when the missile fell.

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

Sometimes I need a really big cup of coffee….

Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 2, 2010


Posted in photography | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Puncetto Valsesiano, Part 2 – The Stitch

Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 1, 2010

In my last posting on the subject, I gave a short introduction to Puncetto Valsesiano.

In this posting I will show you how to make the basic stitch.

Puncetto Valsesiano is worked back and forth in rows (or rounds, if you are making a circular doily or working around the outside of a square piece). The work is never turned over and the same side always faces you. The needle is held pointing away from you.

Puncetto Valsesiano is not worked on the edge of a piece of fabric unless you are working an edging. Motifs and doilies usually are started with a loop of thread, but it is easier to show the back-and-forth movement of the stitches with a firm base, so I used a folded piece of fabric. (In the next lesson I will show you how to make a “ladder” base, which is used for starting square and rectangular motifs.)


  • Crochet thread. Any smooth, mercerized cotton thread suitable for crochet can be used. Perle 8 is fine for a beginner. Later you may want to try something finer like size 30 or 50.
  • Needle. I used a needle with a sharp point in the photos below because I was working through the edge of fabric, but I recommend a fine, blunt tapestry needle. Size 26 would work well. Just make sure that the size of the needle is proportionate to the weight of your thread. Don’t try to force a thick needle through fine stitches.

Working Left to Right

1. Thread a needle and hold the tail on the fabric, near the edge.

Puncetto Valsesiano 1

2. Insert the needle, point facing away from you, through the edge of the fabric. Note that the thread that you are holding with your left thumb passes in front of the needle.

Puncetto Valsesiano 2

3. Wrap the thread behind the needle, from right to left, forming a loop.

Puncetto Valsesiano 3

4. Grasp the needle with your right hand and draw it through the loop.

Puncetto Valsesiano 4

5. Carefully draw the needle through the loop and tighten the knot. This forms the first stitch or knot.

Puncetto Valsesiano 5

6. Insert the needle to the right of the first stitch.

Puncetto Valsesiano 6

7. Loop the thread around the needle again, left to right, then behind the needle and right to left.

Repeat until you have a row of stitches. Now look carefully at the stitches. You will see loops of thread between each knot. These loops are used for working the next row of knots.

Puncetto Valsesiano 7

Working Right to Left:

These instructions presume that you have already worked one row from left to right. Do not turn the work.

1. Insert the needle under the first loop.

Puncetto Valsesiano 8

2. Wrap the thread in front of the needle, from right to left, and then behind the needle, from left to right, so that it forms a loop.

Puncetto Valsesiano 9

3. Grasp the needle with the right hand, draw the needle through the loop, and tighten the knot.

Puncetto Valsesiano 10

4. Insert the needle under the next loop of the previous row, wrap the thread around the needle, and draw the needle through the loop to form the stitch.

Puncetto Valsesiano 11

That is how you work horizontal rows in Puncetto Valsesiano. This stitch is also used for filling in the solid squares and pyramids. Try not to work it too tightly or you will end up with a very stiff, dense lace.

Posted in Crafts, needlework, Puncetto Valsesiano | Tagged: , , | 25 Comments »