Friday, 22 March 2013

Noam's Artichokes

Not long ago someone posted a message on my local community email list about Noam's Artichokes, an artichoke farm located in Nir Banim, a moshav in south-central Israel, about a 40 minute drive from where I live. The poster suggested a Friday (or Shabbat) morning visit to taste the delicious artichoke-based food and to take a tour of the farm. Now, a morning spent out in the fresh air, eating what sounded like delicious food, was too tempting for me. It's my favourite kind of day out! The hubbie kindly obliged and booked a table as a surprise for me. He did well!
Artichokes are in season from November until May and at their peak during March and April. Noam's Artichokes was one of the first farms to grow the vegetable in Israel and now has three generations of farmers living and working there.
We arrived at 10am and the platters of rich artichoke-based foods had just been laid out. We had a full hour before the farm tour left to eat as much, or as little, as we wanted, and were soon munching on a range of artichoke salads, fresh homemade bread, incredible artichoke soup (even at 10am!), roasted artichoke, artichoke quiche, artichoke shakshouka... the list goes on. For 65NIS each person we ate well!
After an hour we took a tour of the farm. Noam, the owner, took his time to tell us about the history of the moshav and about the early days there, when the State of Israel was still new. The walk to the artichoke fields was accompanied by explanations about the fruit tree groves - the peach and nectarine trees were blossoming and looked beautiful - the olive trees, wheat fields and the greenhouse full of parsley and dill.

Noam told us about the wonderful qualities of the artichoke and how they are good for diabetes (apparently artichokes can be used to decrease or eliminate the need for insulin), for liver problems, and to treat hangovers! He picked a globe artichoke straight from the field and encouraged us to try it raw. I can't say that it did anything for me, though others seemed keen.
Back at the 'restaurant' - long benches set up outside his home -  new guests were just digging into their artichoke soup whilst I picked out half a box of beautiful, fresh looking artichokes to take home. Noam assured us that they could be kept for up to three weeks in the fridge if they are put into a sealed plastic bag. I never found out if that is true because they didn't last that long! Boiled until tender and then cooled in a little cold water and drained, we ate them dipped in butter and lemon juice. Delicious!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Bar Mitzvah Boys

My eldest son is in his Bar Mitzvah year and it seems to be all we talk about at the moment! I am sure there will be plenty of posts about our own celebrations as we approach the date, but in the meantime I seem to be busy with Bar Mitzvah cards, invitations and albums for his friends and other customers with boys of the same age.
Amir's Mum requested a special card for her son's big day. She wanted me to show him doing all the things he loves: playing basketball, the guitar and using Facebook on his computer. I was a bit baffled by his blue guitar at first and assumed that is must be an electric one, but Amir's Mum told me that he has a regular blue guitar and so, with a little Photoshop work, I was able to pick up the blue pattern and create a paper version of it. The Hebrew greeting on the card says "To Amir, blessings on your Bar Mitzvah".
'Mum' sent me the most wonderful message after she had seen the card. "You're a champion" she wrote. "It came out great. Thank you very much." Well, actually she wrote all that in Hebrew but since many of my readers don't understand Hebrew, I've translated it for you.
As well as several large customised cards, I've also been making a whole bunch of my regular sized cards recently too. We are lucky to have some lovely friends who include us in their sons' Bar Mitzvah celebrations and I am always pleased to make these boys one of my cards, even though it's usually their Mums who get more excited about it!
These particular cards - a favourite design at the moment - show the tallit (prayer shawl), a kippa (skullcap) and a Sefer Torah (a long scroll containing the entire text of the Five Books of Moses: the biblical books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). On the first Sabbath of his thirteenth year the Bar Mitzvah boy is called up to read the weekly portion from the Torah. He wears the tallit and kippa whilst reading, so I included all these elements on the Bar Mitzvah cards. 
I have written a personalised greeting for each boy underneath.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Matan's Bar Mitzvah

A lovely lady who has become quite a regular customer of mine asked me to create an image to use on her son's Bar Mitzvah invitations and birkonim (a booklet of prayers based around a particular event, in this case, the Bar Mitzvah). My customer explained to me that it was important to her that I capture the Bar Mitzvah boy's great smile, his lovely blue-green eyes, but that I also show him with his metallic blue walker. They also wanted him to have tefillin (phylacteries) on and were keen for me to show his tzitzit peeking out from under his shirt too.
(Tefillin are cubic black leather boxes with leather straps containing four hand-written texts from the Bible which Orthodox Jewish men wear on their head and their arm during weekday morning prayer. Jewish men start wearing tefillin just before their Bar Mitzvah. Tzitzit are specially knotted fringes worn by observant Jews at the corners of their clothes as a reminder of God's commandments.)
The Bar Mitzvah boy loves swimming, drawing and also working on maths sums. His youth movement group is called Crocodiles and apparently he loves flamingos too! He also loves playing solitaire and using his iPod Touch.
A few sketches later and it was clear that something had to give! Fortunately my customer was a delight to work with and didn't insist on me fitting everything in. She was happy to let me lead the way and we soon agreed on a design showing her son wearing the required religious apparel, and with some pencils and a paper showing some of his (real) maths sums in his left hand (Mum loved that!). His right hand is gripping his blue walker - Mum assured me that he doesn't need both hands on the walker - which gave me the space to include some more of his hobbies. His iPod is in his shirt pocket.
The only real change I made along the way was with the tefillin. My initial sketch showed him wearing them in one direction on his hand, but the Bar Mitzvah boy's Dad noticed that it wasn't the way that he puts them on and asked if I could illustrate them the Chabad way: just one strap instead of the upside down letter ש shape. Fortunately he sent me a photo to explain what he meant!
I finished off the design with the boy's name and the word Bar Mitzvah in both English and Hebrew in big red letters.
When my customer received the artwork in the mail she wrote to tell me that both she and her husband were delighted with how the design turned out. She told me that there was great excitement in the house when they opened it and that they both felt that I had really managed to capture something special.
I was pleased to have worked on such a special piece.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A Beatles Fan

A new customer asked me to make a Customised Papercut Picture for her sister's 40th birthday. Her blond-haired sister is Mum to a 15 year old boy and 2 year old twin girls. She loves The Beatles and the radio programme The Archers. She teaches Jewish Studies and likes to leyn (the ritual chanting of readings from the Hebrew Bible in synagogue services) for people who don't know how to. She also knits and makes beaded jewelry.
My customer was careful to give me thorough details of the hair and eye colour of everyone in the family! The birthday girl's husband and son have darker hair, but the girls are all blond and blue-eyed. She wanted the boys in the family to be wearing kippot (skullcaps) and specified that the young man should wear a red one, in favour of Liverpool FC, and that Dad's should be blue for Tottenham Hotspur.
I incorporated all of Rina's hobbies into the picture. There are some pastel coloured balls of wool and a beaded necklace on the right of the picture, whilst a torah scroll and silver yad (a Jewish ritual pointer) represent the Jewish Studies and Bible reading. The Beatles and The Archers logos were each just a few centimetres wide and, yes, I cut each tiny letter by hand! Dedicated or slightly mad? I'm not sure...
Fortunately my eye-straining handiwork was totally worth it because my customer wrote to tell me that her sister loved the picture!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Brimmed Hat

Israel is bursting with wild flowers at the moment. The wonderful scent of spring and Passover approaching is in the air. Knowing that there would be a lot of lovely flowers to see, the youngest son and I went for a walk on Titora Hill, a popular historic beauty spot within our city. I've written about it before, both here and here.
Titora Hill is an easy walk from our home. It is an archaeological and botanical sanctuary in the middle of our small city, and during the spring there are over 80 different types of wild flowers on the hilltop. We found Palestine Iris and an abundance of Red Anemone, or Calanit as they are known locally. We spotted beautiful pink wild Cyclamen, Rakefet, and my son happily posed for pictures next to some tall Common Asphodel, or Irit Gedolah. The almond trees were in full bloom and the Sabra fruit, a form of cactus known as 'prickly pear', were almost falling off the bushes. There were just so many flowers to photograph. I was in my element!
Palestine Iris

Red Anemone, or Calanit

Titora Hill has enormous historic value. Evidence has been found which suggests that it may have been inhabited since the Chalcolithic period, between 4,000 and 3,150 BCE. Archaeologists have found artifacts from the First Temple period, whilst further remains indicate that the Hasmoneans lived on the hilltop in about 165 BCE. There is also evidence that it was used as a hideout during the time of Bar Kochba, who died in 135 CE. At the top of the hill the remains of a Crusader fort can be found. My son loves to climb it, even though he has done it one hundred times before.
The original name of the hill, 'Tantara', was adapted in Arabic to 'Tanturah' and the Hebrew to 'Titora' (meaning brim of a hat).
Ever since the city was built there have been constant threats from the Housing Authority to build on Titora. Recently plans were put forward to build 770 housing units there but fortunately a large and vocal number of residents objected to the plan. The current mayor supports the preservation of Titora and so, for the time being, this lovely area will stay as it is - a great place for my son and I to take a stroll and enjoy the natural beauty around us, especially at such a lovely time of year. 
Common Asphodel, or Irit Gedolah
Wild Cyclamen, or Rakefet

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Simply Red

This sweet boy receives one of my customised cards every birthday and this year he made a whole list of what he wanted on the card! His Mum told me that his big interest at the moment is the carpentry class he goes to. At the age of 7 he hammers, saws and knocks nails in to wood. How wonderful! He has already made a newspaper rack, a tray and lots more, so the theme of the card became 'Daniel the carpenter'. I showed him sawing wood, surrounded by the recently made tray and newspaper rack, and his tools.
His Mum told me that the card was "another great success" and that "Daniel loved it!."
I was definitely 'seeing red' when I made these cards, with the very best of intentions of course! Another customer asked me for a birthday-themed card for a man so, starting with a lovely red background as the base, I added some balloons, stars and a big slice of cake. Barrie wasn't turning 1, as the candle indicates, but hey!
This was another card, below, that was to have a simple birthday theme. This time I added some presents, music notes and a little bunting. I love bunting and would hang it all around the house if my husband agreed...
The colours weren't planned to be matching on all these cards but I like how they work together.
I love the colour red. Simply red.