Archive for November 7th, 2012

Shehechiyanu

For the Jewish holidays of  Rosh HaShana and Sukkot it is customary to eat a “new” fruit (one that hasn’t been consumed yet that season) so one may say the “Shehechiyanu” blessing (blessing and thanking G-d for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this occasion).  It is said not only over new fruit, but any first-time, momentous, and/or joyful experience.  Alas, most of the fruit in my hometown market was stuff I had already tried.  So I decided to head to the Asian market, which is filled with all kinds of interesting foodstuffs.

I was not disappointed, just overwhelmed.  Imagine a supermarket filled with produce, canned goods, sauces, deli, meats and seafood, but 90% of the goods are unfamiliar, and almost all the signs are in Korean!  The store is filled with Koreans, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Laotians, East Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, and Hispanics, but few speak English and no one is sharing recipes or cooking tips.  I overheard the one other white person in the store, who was strolling with his African-American girlfriend, saying, “Gosh, I’ve never felt like such a minority before!”

I did bravely ask an oriental woman how one exotic vegetable was supposed to be cooked, and she scowled at me.  “How I sposed to knaw?” she said in heavily accented English. “I Korean! Not Indonesian!”  Well, excuse me!  I guess it was the equivalent of asking a Yemenite Jew how to make gefilte fish.

Completely flustered, I took out my cell phone and started taking pictures of all the weird and wonderful stuff.  I went home and looked everything up on the Internet, and then started searching for recipes.  Mostly things sounded pretty complicated, or I couldn’t get kosher versions of certain necessary ingredients in the recipes.  But there were a few that sounded doable and intriguing, so I returned to the market and went on a weird food shopping spree.

This is called Indian Bitter Melon. It looks like a cucumber but it has sharp spikes all along its surface.

Twian Squash. I still have no idea how one prepares it.

Nagaimo Root comes packed in sawdust. The recipe I looked up noted its slimy texture, good for slurping, and that was as far as I got.  At least it was labeled in English!

Banana Flower is just what it says: the flower of the banana plant before it turns into a banana. According to recipes I found on the internet, it is unfortunately extremely delicate and is quite a potchke to prepare, so I passed on this one.

Rambutan is a weird but beautiful fruit.

I had seen dragonfruit before, when I went to shuk Machane Yehuda in Israel.

Galangal Root is from the ginger family. I sauteed it with various vegetables and it added a lot of flavor.

This is Durian fruit. It is very large and heavy (like a small watermelon in size) with a thorny husk. But oh, the smell! It is so noxious that it has been banned from several transportation systems in Southeast Asia, yet it is considered a delicacy. Let’s just call it an acquired taste.  Watch this youtube video to get a sense of just how smelly it really is.

Lotus Root turned out to be a wonderful discovery. It is similar in taste to jicama root and has a potato-like texture. Peel it and then slice it; it has a beautiful, showy pattern. It’s great in soups, but I also loved it when sauteed and cooked with onion, garlic, soy sauce, honey and hot peppers, from a recipe I got online (“Stir-Fried Lotus Root with Sesame and Green Onions”)

Longhan berries are hard to find, but when you do, stock up! They don’t have much of a shelf life, but you will eat them so fast it won’t matter. Their taste is similar to lychee nuts. You peel the exterior (which resembles a less fuzzy, kumquat-sized kiwi) and the inside looks something like a peeled grape, although it is a translucent milky white color. Inside the flesh is a large, inedible pit. The only downside is that the peeled fruit resembles an eyeball – hence its English name, Dragon Eye.

And the winner for our shehechiyanu was Jackfruit, from the Caribbean. These mamas weigh 10 – 40 lbs. each and are 18″ – 24″ long. When you slice it (a machete is the tool of choice), you see pods and seeds. It’s the pods that are edible. They have a very intense taste, kind of like pineapple combined with tutti-frutti – – think Juicy Fruit Gum. You can click on this link to see a youtube demonstration on how to cut it.

What I learned:  sometimes we get set in our ways, because things that are familiar to us are most within our comfort zone.  But HaShem has created a glorious universe, and He created it for our benefit!  It is there for us to sample, to try, to savor and appreciate.  As our world gets smaller, things that previously would have been inaccessible to us from the other side of the globe are practically at our doorsteps.  So get out there and discover the multitude of gifts that are part of HaShem’s world!  And don’t forget to say “Shehechiyanu.”

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Kezar Lake

The tourists are gone and Kezar Lake is buttoned up for the approach of winter.  I knew I was running out of time to go kayaking, so last week I went to the boat landing just up the road from my house, for a last, short afternoon paddle.  It’s a good thing I did.  Rain, snow and sleet are expected this week and the temperature tonight will be 16 degrees F.  Soon the lake will be iced over, but even now the frigid water makes paddling treacherous due to the possibility of hypothermia.  While I wasn’t expecting to capsize, I did stay awfully close to shore.  Other than a lone loon that followed my kayak for a few minutes, I had the lake to myself.  The penetrating quiet and glassy water made every stroke seem significant and exaggerated.  I had no destination in mind, and I was not in a hurry.  It was just about breathing in the fresh, crisp air; soaking in the golden, fading light; enjoying the moment; and savoring peace. 

Scenes From Evans Notch

Living an hour from major conveniences can have its disadvantages.  When I need the oil changed and the tires rotated on my car, there are plenty of local (and honest!)  mechanics.  But when I had a complicated electrical problem on my car and I also found out about a recall, I had no choice but to take my car to the nearest dealer, which is about 40 miles away on slow mountain roads through Evans Notch.  I can’t complain, though:  when is the last time you’ve had such a pleasurable ride to get your car fixed?  The ride took a long time because I kept pulling to the side of the road to take pictures.   I didn’t have my camera with me, so all these photographs were taken with my cell phone! (Click to enlarge)

The Calm Before the Storm

Sorry I didn’t get this posted in a timely manner . . .

I live near forest road “FR9” (that is to say, a dirt road maintained by the Forest Department) and it is only seasonally maintained.  At the first sign of winter, its entry and exit are sealed to motor vehicles (hikers, horses, and snowshoers are permitted) with swinging metal gates that are locked until late spring or early summer, depending on how fast the snow melts.  Usually at the end of July, if their budget permits, they will lay a new layer of gravel, re-grade it, and so it is maintained until the following late fall or early winter.

With the coming storm, I knew the forest road would be closed, and once it’s closed, they never reopen it until May or June, even if the weather improves in the meantime.  So this was our last chance to meander along FR9, and I wanted to take full advantage of it since the sky was clear and the temperature was warm.  There are several hiking trails off of FR9, but I wanted to reach Rte. 113, which is the paved road that winds up and down Evans Notch, crossing several times  back and forth from New Hampshire into Maine.  Evans Notch is arguably one of the most beautiful notches in the White Mountains, and probably the least traversed, although its road (also only seasonally maintained) is always in excellent condition.  But it is out of the way for most tourists who visit New Hampshire, and they often visit only Franconia Notch, Pinkham Notch, or Crawford Notch on their way to Mt. Washington.  By going on a scenic drive through FR9 and 113, it was a sort of  last hurrah to summer and early fall, and I wanted to make the most of it.

After you drive north through Evans Notch on the 113, you come to Rte. 2, which is a main highway.  If you go right (east), you enter Maine, but if you go left (west), you enter New Hampshire and eventually Vermont.  Several times in the past I had passed a small parking area off of Rte. 2 that looked intriguing.  A small sign said it led to the Appalachian Trail, the famous hiking trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine.  The library is full of books by people who have hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, and the pages are filled with adventure stories both funny and sad, and lots of complaints about sore feet.  I had a hankering to walk a tiny part of the AT just for fun.

So Rattle River Trail was our destination.  A sign had been posted at the trailhead warning hikers not to attempt hiking during Hurricane Sandy, but that was several days away and for now, conditions were perfect.  A 1.6 mile walk took you to an Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) shelter, where we planned on picnicking.

Note the warning at the bottom of the message board, posted by the Forest Service about Hurricane Sandy (click to enlarge)

What I wasn’t prepared for was just how easy and beautiful it would be.  The very very gradual incline made the walk (I would not even call it a hike ) a pleasure; it was suitable for anyone ages 2 – 92.  In only took 40 minutes to reach the shelter, which was cabin-sized.  Inside was a notebook filled with thru-hikers’ comments and tales, and some hikers had left unwanted camping accessories that they no longer needed or were sick of carrying in their backpacks for the benefit of others (part of a book; some sterno fuel; a knife sheath without the knife; a laundry bag).

The AMC shelter at Rattle River

The AMC Shelter

At the bottom of the knoll where the shelter sat was Rattle River, a magnificent cascade, with swimming holes, rushing waters, small waterfalls, and a flume surrounded by  huge boulders and woods.  Our dog Spencer had a great time running around alongside the water and in the fallen leaves.

Stupidly, I had neglected to bring my camera, but I did borrow my husband’s inexpensive point-and-shoot camera and had some pretty good results.

Water cascading down boulders leads to a deep, clear swimming hole at the bottom

If there was any lesson learned by today’s walk it is this:  while it’s great to be challenged and achieve victory (completing a difficult hike, or getting through a trial by fire), we don’t always need difficulties to nevertheless overcome tribulations, to  appreciate and value the important things in life.  I didn’t enjoy today’s trip any less because it was easy.  Don’t underestimate the small victories in life just because they are “mundane.”

When we returned to our car, we decided to take a scenic route into No. Conway, and went down Pinkham Notch past Mt. Washington and the Ellis River.  Once in No. Conway we went to the supermarket to restock our dwindling supply of fresh produce and whatever else we might need before Hurricane Sandy hit our neck of the woods.  Since most people in these parts are well prepared for emergencies due to our oft-challenging weather, there was no panic buying whatsoever, and there were plenty of flashlights, batteries, bread, milk and toilet paper to be had.  I only saw one guy who had loaded up his cart for the storm, and it was full of ice, water, and booze, but no food.  I guess we know how that fellow is going to ride out the hurricane!

Today we went to the library, checked out some books and dvds, and picked up our mail at the post office.  We’ve filled our cars with gas, brought firewood into the house, put yard tools in the garage, taken down our flag and bird feeder, ensured that our phones, computers, and house batteries (which control our house’s electrical power when we’re off the grid) are fully charged.  Our well pump will work off the batteries or generator, so water isn’t a problem.  We have plenty of food.  The one thing I forgot to do was get money out of the ATM (credit cards will not work if there is no electricity and cash talks) but there will still be time tomorrow morning.  Not that I’m planning on going anywhere in the next several days, but you never know.  Actually, CNN has a pretty good disaster checklist that I found helpful.

Right now, it truly is the calm before the storm.

Postscript:  Sandy fizzled by the time it reached Maine.  We had a lot of rain and wind, but not more so than any other mountain storm we experienced in the past.