The Ugliest Mug in the World.

This, my friends, is The Ugliest Mug in the World. I chanced upon it today while tagging along on a shopping mission at a small home-goods store. I like these small, family-run businesses because you can never really be sure what you are going to find in them. Lord knows I was not expecting this to be hidden among the innocuous flowered mugs sitting on the shelf.

Like an enigma, this mug is puzzling and inexplicable; rife with hidden meaning. Why is the pony singing? Why is it wearing lipstick? Why does it have two sets of back feet?  Is the handle the same pony? Or a mutant cat-pony hybrid? Is the handle pony creeping on the mug pony, or vice versa?  The questions were endless.

I brought the cup over to the saleslady/owner for some answers.

“Do you know where you got this mug?” I asked.

She peered under the mug, searching for  a mark, a symbol, anything to identify this cursed ceramic. Spotless.

Looking slightly perplexed, she shrugged.

“Nope.”

And with the transfer of 12 Shekels (about $3) the mug was mine.

Unwrapping my purchase at home, I realized what had been naggingly familiar about the mug pony’s face. It looked like David Bowie.

This mug has the appeal of a train wreck. It is horrifying and grotesque, yet I cannot look away. I am actually becoming kind of inspired by it; If there is room in the world for a mug with a singing, prancing, David Bowie-esque horse thing and a cat-pony handle,  then surely there is room enough for me.

And so, with the smugness of one who knows she is unbeatable, I challenge YOU, dear reader, to find a mug uglier than this one.

It is a task I do not envy.

 

 

Making the Best of Summertime with Sangria Saturdays.

It can be difficult to recognize the onset 0f the summer months in a Mediterranean climate such as Israel. Gradually though you begin to notice the increasing power of the sun, the warmth of the breezeless nights and  your ever-increasing fantasies about air-conditioning.

Summer in Israel slows things down. Rushing makes you feel hotter, so you just take your sweet time going wherever you need to go. In the oven-heat, it can be hard to imagine doing anything else but finding a shady spot somewhere and lying down, sipping ice water stuffed with mint leaves.

Saturday was such a day. Too hot for the beach, too hot for a walk, too hot for anything but to make a soup-pot’s worth of cold sangria and devour a mess of freshly made  bruschetta under the lemon tree, whiling away the afternoon enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of summer.

Summer Sangria:

Bunch of fruits (I used grapes, apples, nectarines, oranges and cherries)

Brandy/whiskey

Sugar

red wine

red Lambrusco/cava/any sweet carbonated wine

Instructions:

In a large bowl/pitcher, mix the chopped up fruits with a few teaspoons of sugar (more if you like a sweeter sangria, less if you don’t)

Pour over the fruit enough whiskey or brandy to just cover the fruit. Let chill for a few hours or overnight

Pour in your wine; one bottle of red and one bottle of Lambrusco and let chill for another hour or so. Serve in cups over ice.

Tip: If you really want to be fancy, make ahead sangria ice cubes by freezing red wine in ice cube trays, dropping a little bit of chopped apple in each cube.  As the “ice” melts, it will make your drink colder AND stronger.


Simple Summer Bruschetta:

1 package grape tomatoes

Handful chopped basil

1 large red onion

2 cloves garlic

Coarse salt and fresh pepper

olive oil

Balsamic Vinegar

baguette

Instructions:

Slice each grape tomato in half and add to bowl. Finely dice the garlic and add to tomatoes. Finely chop the onion and add to bowl. Sprinkle onions with course salt and fresh ground pepper. Thinly slice the basil and add to bowl. Pour in olive oil, about 4-5 tablespoons and add 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar into the mix. Gently stir the bruschetta with a spoon. Meanwhile, slice baguette into rounds and sprinkle with olive oil. Toast slices in oven until golden brown. Top with bruschetta and eat!

Another Day, Another Protest.

I am no stranger to protests. Last summer I visited the  Tent City that sprung up on Israel’s Rothschild boulevard. This past September I worked a few blocks from the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park. My friends held signs in Times Square.

I don’t know what was going on in Barcelona (I think it had something to do with taxes), and I didn’t try too hard to find out. Maybe that’s bad, but whatever. I was there to eat ham and see Gaudi, not fight the system. But there were protests Every. Day.

Morning, noon or night. It would start with a cluster of police vehicles. Then a street would be closed. Then assorted loudspeaker mumbles and sign waving. Sometimes there was a siren. Then everyone would go home. All in all, the protesters and police seemed to have a mutual understanding; You let us wave our signs and do some chanting, and we will march down the street in an orderly fashion and leave. From what I understand, these peaceful protests were part of a larger series of protests this past year, some of which were more violent.

But for the time I was there, eating crepes and watching the gaily-jacketed group march past, I experienced the kind of pleasure  reminiscent of Disney Land parades.

March on, Protesters. March on.

About the flags; They are the colors of the Catalan flag and they are everywhere. Barcelona, though part of Spain, is part of what is considered an “autonomous community” of Catalonia, with it’s own distinct culture, heritage and language. Catalans have a strong national identity, and they aren’t afraid to show it.

Monument To Catalan Freedom Fighters.

Best Wind Vane Ever.

When The Weatherman Lies.

This morning, the 5 day forecast of my trip to Barcelona looked like this:

But the Weatherman lied.

The 5 day forecast for my trip to Barcelona now looks like this:

This rain is no friendly drizzle, either. It’s RAIN. Torrential RAIN. This rain is annoying. It is wet. It cramps our style. It is destructive. My shoes were supple, watertight vessels when I boarded the plane in Tel Aviv. One day in the Barcelona rain and they look like this:

So tomorrow Maya and I are buying rain shoes. Other than the extreme pruning my feet recieved today, Barcelona is amazing. We did indeed have anchovies for our first meal, as well as our second. Tomorrow, hopefully dry -footed, will bring even more wonders.

Anchovies YumYum.

Spare a Euro?

In a few hours I will take off from Ben-Gurion airport in Israel to El Prat de Llobregat Aeropuerto in Barcelona, Spain. Waiting for me in a restaurant close to the Metro (so I won’t get lost) will be my dear friend Maya. Maya and I will sit down and proceed to eat my first meal in Barcelona, which will hopefully include anchovies.

I’ve realized that November is not the ideal time to go almost anywhere. Last November, in Paris, it was rainy and cold every day-though this was a plus of sorts because there were fewer tourists. Maya told me the weather in Barcelona is relatively pleasant; between 60° to 70° degrees fahrenheit (15°-21° C for the rest of the world).

This is the forecast in Barcelona for the next 5 days:

Not bad. Along with packing, I also exchanged my dollars for euros today. A depressing task. Here are the “have fun in Barcelona dollars” I toiled for all summer to earn:

Baller.

 And here are the “maybe not as much fun as I had thought euros”:

It’s Monopoly Money!

Whats up with the different size bills? Euros don’t even look like real money. They look like toy money. Especially the 5€.

Night Cheese.

“Workin’ on my NIGHT CHEESE!”-Liz Lemon. And sometimes me.

tu·ro·phile, ( n) tu̇r-ə-ˌfī(-ə)l: Cheese Lover.

My favorite Wallace and Gromit* film has always been “A Grand Day Out” where Wallace and Gromit run out of cheese and decide, quite sensibly, to build a rocket ship and fly to the moon. Which is made of cheese.

The reason for this is obvious. I love cheese. Hard cheese, soft cheese, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, moldy cheese, cream cheese. The only cheese I don’t like is low-fat cheese. Low-fat cheese is an offense to cheese. Cut your calories somewhere else; that bite of brie isn’t going to tip the scale. Cheese is tasty. Cheese is comforting. Cheese makes sense. Saying “Cheese” makes me happy, whether I am smiling for a camera or eating a plate of it with some wine for a late dinner (as I did last night).

No Night Cheese is complete without fresh fruit, crackers and red wine.

Imagine my delight, and slight embarrassment, when I saw this clip from an episode of 30 Rock:

So I say, “Let them eat cheese!”. There is no shame in considering cheese as your main protein source, or having 4 different kinds in your fridge at any one time. You can even play Cheese or Font, an online game in which a name pops up on the screen and you, the player, needs to decide if it is the name of a cheese or a font. It’s tricky.

http://cheeseorfont.com/

Two summers ago,  my friends and I became so obsessed with this game that we made up a theme song for playing.

To the tune of Tears for Fears’ song “Take on me”:

Cheese or Font?

Whats it gonna be?

(repeat)

Cheese can also be life saving. The blue mold that gives Bleu (or Blue) Cheese it’s name is actually the cultures of the mold Penicillium, the very same mold which produces Penicillin, the ancestor of all modern antibiotics. *Oh SNAP*

*if you don’t know what I am talking about, check it out here: http://www.wallaceandgromit.com/films/granddayout/about.html 

European Travel.

“It’s easier to travel from America to many places. Like to Mexico. Or Canada.”

Living in Israel as an international student, I’ve become acquainted with the perceptions and customs of other cultures. For one thing, everyone here greets each other with a cheek-kiss. Guys, girls- all receive a kiss as familiar and comfortable as a friendly wave.

Being an international student has also, for the first time, brought me in close contact with Europeans. At first, meeting someone from Italy or France would really impress me, until I realized that my reaction was cultural.

Traveling to Europe from the U.S is a pretty big deal for most people. Its far. Really, really far. And unless you were lucky enough to go back when the dollar meant something over there, it’s really, really expensive.

Europeans don’t get this.

For them, “Europe”  is no big deal. They have fast trains and cheap flights and they use the Euro anyway so what do they care.  Being European means that you are never far away from Europe. To put it in context, when drive seven hours from NYC, I get to Buffalo. When my roommate drives seven hours from Budapest, she gets to Venice.

I find my own attitude changing as well. Travel to Europe from Israel is so…doable. With a little extra cash from a summer job, you can extend a stopover flight on your way home from summer vacation, which is how I spent ten really cute hours with my mom in Rome last year.  Or, if you have friends studying there you can crash in their dorm, like I did last November when I spent five days in Paris.  Next week I am flying to Barcelona for the same purpose (different friend though).

Two years, three European cities. It’s just a drop in the  travel bucket, but  its good enough for me.