The Fondue Whisperer.

The other day my friend Dani and I went out into the crisp Tel-Aviv night for a refreshing walk, having spent the whole day indoors studying.

Spent the day staring longingly out the window....must.....study...

 Strolling down King George street, we were lured down a narrow passageway  by the sound of Frank Sinatra crooning “Fly me to the moon”….not your average club song. The music led us to one of those hidden treasures that everyone hopes to find. The passageway opened up into a garden; an exquisite flower of a bar called “Par Derriere”. We stood there dumbly, taking it in, when a waitress timidly asked us if we wanted to be seated at a table. Her question jolted us back to reality.

“Hell yes, we’d like a table!”

(ok, I didn’t actually say the hell part but I was thinking it)

Ordering was easy. Fondue. Melting cheese and wine and butter. The holy trinity of decadence. All the ingredients of happiness dipped in bread. Dani, who hails from Australia, erupted into squeals of excitement when she saw an Australian Shiraz on the wine list. So we ordered that too.

Nothing like some robust Aussie vino to go with Fondue.

The fondue arrived in it’s fondue pot. Our waitress, concerned for our fondue-experience, worriedly checked the pot every couple of minutes to make sure the flame underneath hadn’t gone out. At one point, she announced that the fire was too low to maintain the proper heat. Rushing back from the kitchen, she knelt down and fiddled with the pot, replacing the defective flame with a fresh one, while Dani and I smiled stupidly. We’d had a lot of wine and butterwine cheese by then.

Finally the waitress got back up from her kneeling position by the fondue pot.

“I think it should be fine now.” she said, giving it an affectionate pat.

“You are like The Fondue Whisperer” I said to her.

Dani smiles for the instagram, cheesy bread en route to her mouth....

She smiled but I don’t think she knew what I was talking about.

Six- Step Recipe for a Great Dinner Party.

Good dinner parties are like making good bread. Get the steps right, be patient, and the final result will blow you away (as anyone who has successfully made homemade bread will attest). Friday night in Jaffa I was lucky enough to be a guest at the table of a master baker, a Dinner Party Expert named Hila.

Hila, a lovely Australian woman, runs a private company in which she hosts and caters meals for intimate groups of visiting Congress people, dignitaries, and other important folk. Her food is Glatt Kosher, and she runs the whole thing from her own home. Once a month or so, she invites a bunch of people  from different backgrounds (mainly native English speakers) and hosts a shabbat dinner party out of the goodness of her heart.

15 people, 5 hours, 6 courses and about 12 bottles of wine later the dinner party came to a close. Hila made it look easy. Here are some basic ingredients towards making a successful dinner party that I learned  from her.

1) PEOPLE.

Invite 6 people you know. Then have them each invite one other person that they know. This causes stimulating conversation, not the same old topics you’d be talking about if you invited only people you know. Different backgrounds, ages, professions means there will always be some interesting pairings going on:

A deep discussion over the merits of instagram is taking place here.

2) PLACE

Don’t underestimate the power of a place setting. Make the environment pretty. This gives a festive, special vibe to the party and enhances the flavor of  whatever food you make (stuff just tastes better when you eat it off a tablecloth-it’s a fact.)

There's no food on it yet but the table itself looks good enough to eat.

3)BOOZE

Alcohol is important. With alcohol, a dinner party ( like good wine) will only get better as it ages. We had pre-dinner aperitifs of cranberry liquer, a middle course of basil sorbet with a vodka shot* and a steady consumption of red wine throughout the meal.

This was the wine table. We just kept replacing the emptys with the full ones.

4) FOOD

Food. Lots of it. Doesn’t have to be  fancy, it just has to be good. Hila spoiled us- we dined on: carrot soup, assorted bruschetta, Polish cucumber salad, spinach salad, chicken liver pate with stewed fruit, Basil sorbet, hummus, challah, roast chicken with oranges and cinnamon, polenta, individual apple crumble, lemon curd pie and quince sorbet…phew. I would of taken pictures but I was too busy eating. And eating.

I barely had the strength to click the shutter by the time the meal was over.

5) GIVE/RECEIVE HELP

Dinner Parties are better for the guests and the hosts if everyone chips in to help out. Help clear dishes between courses, assist in food distribution, open wine. Don’t let the host be the waiter/chef/busboy. Helping together also strengthens the bonds of dinner guest-ship.

Be active in offering the host your assistance.

6) TOASTS

Make many toasts! Not the bread,I’m talking about the declarations that everyone drinks to. Frequent toasts throughout the meal are a further opportunity for table unity and a chance to be funny, meaningful, thought-provoking and  appreciative of the gift of dining on good food with pleasurable company. We toasted to our host,  to our jobs, the beauty of a stormy sea, to snails (inside joke), to love.

L'Chaim!

So have a dinner party. You won’t regret it.

*About the basil sorbet- It is used as a palate cleanser between the courses. I don’t know how Hila made it (there is a good-looking recipe here ) but her innovation was brilliant. Serve the sorbet in a shot glass with a shot  of chilled vodka next to it. Eat the sorbet, and as you finish the last bite exhale, and on the exhale take the shot of vodka (don’t breath in between the exhale and the shot!). The result is the feeling that your entire body was refreshed with a cooling wave from the inside. Try it!

Loving v.Virginia: Valentine’s Day, The Supreme Court and Romance.

 Fifty-four years ago, Richard Perry Loving (of Virginia)  married Mildred Delores Jeter (also of Virginia) in the District of Columbia. Their decision not to marry in their home state wasn’t a matter of personal preference, it was a matter of law; the state of Virginia regarded interracial marriages as a felony crime, punishable by 1-5 years of prison time.  For seventeen years the Lovings fought the courts, finally overturning the law in a landmark Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia.

I came across this story reading an article regarding an upcoming exhibition of photographs to be held at the International Center of Photography. I have always viewed Valentine’s day with a mixture of bemusement and indifference; the most notable thing I can remember is when my high school banned the bringing of balloons to school after a couple of dangerous mishaps involving masses of bright red heart-shaped cellophane and crowded hallways.

Israel, not wanting to miss out on this capitalistic bonanza, removes the sketchy christian basis of the thing (there is so little information regarding St. Valentine that the Catholic Church removed his commemoration from the General Calendar) and more aptly renames it “Yom Ahava” (Day of Love). It is fitting then, to  reflect on the Lovings’ fight for their right to marry  on this day set aside to celebrate those we love and cherish.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

© Estate of Grey Villet

Superbowl on the Mend.

It’s hard to get excited about the superbowl in a country that doesn’t care (or even know the proper definition of) football. It remains up to the Americans out there to crowd the few bars showing the game, guzzle Israeli beer and feel at home for a few hours. Alas, the time difference alters the scene a little bit. Instead of settling down for an evening ’round the television around six pm, those wishing to see those superbowl commercials in real time must wait until 1AM for the game to start. In past years I have gone out with my friends to Mike’s Place or Bourbon Street, both great American bars where we cheered the teams until well past 4AM. None of us are real football fans in our daily lives, but it feels good to be a part of something that we know is uniting Americans everywhere.

This year I am taking it easy- Having just recovered from a nasty stomach bug, I am in no shape to drink and yell into the early morning hours at a bar. Instead, I am staying in with my mom (visiting from New York) where we will watch the game sipping Virgin Bloody Mary’s and munching on homemade buffalo wings, cheering our home team on.