A week ago, I had my Israeli relatives to stay: 2nd cousins on my mother’s side. I also had a challenge on my hands!
Mimi and Avi are very frum, (joyously so,) while Alex and I are regular Orthodox, getting by the best we can.
Our first task was the shopping and planning. Mimi’s email had been typically undemanding. She required only a tin of tuna, some salad, olive oil, yoghurt and some cold meat for Avi. (Did I mention that she is a pescatarian, while he loves her meat?) I felt relieved that they asked for so little but as a Jewish hostess, of course I had to offer much more.
Mimi’s list already had a Mediterranean feel to it. My only concern was the cold deli meats, which I usually try to avoid, due to being processed and a risk for diabetes and cancer. However, as a one-off I bought some lean beef pastrami and then set to, clearing the shelves of our kosher deli of most of their stock of wholemeal crackers, made up salads and dips and a few small challahs, as we would be making hamotzi 3 times.
Usually I make most of my salads and dips myself. This is better, as I have control over the content of salt and sugar (none of the latter) and can use a good quality extra virgin olive oil. However, every ingredient needed its hechsher, so as for the cold meat, I decided to be pragmatic rather than nutritionally perfectionist.
Our erev Shabbat supper was a chicken casserole, fresh salmon with zest and juice of a small orange for Mimi and vegetables. Here I struggled again. I waited to the last minute before lighting the candles to put the gas rings on. Still, the result was macerated brownish-green broccoli but well cooked mini sweetcorns. By contrast, our fruit salad dessert was simple and served us well at each meal (even heaped onto my breakfast granola).
My friend Phyllis later told me that she’s learned for Shabbos that it’s easiest to serve either slow cooked root vegetables or else raw veg and salads. She too got fed up of producing overcooked tasteless veggies with their vitamin C boiled out of them.
The rest of our meals were simple by contrast. The salads made regular reappearances, turning this inappropriately into a ‘ground hog day’. They were pepped up with homemade green salad (well soaked and with each leaf checked for bugs,) Waldorf and potato salads, slices of cold chicken, which in my view were far tastier than the plasticky deli meat and a cold salmon, dill and sweet potato frittata (recipe to be revealed on my Facebook page.)
At each meal, except for breakfast, Avi brought out his favourite bottle of ‘Al-Arz’ tahini, which he had brought with him from Israel. It was used as an accompaniment for everything. We all tried it and the flavour was very good. I later watched a promotional video and learned that Ottolenghi imports this tahini to the UK, so he must rate it. It is made from Ethiopian sesame and is produced in a factory in Nazareth, using traditional methods. Sesame is high in antioxidants, it is also rich in polyunsaturated fat (Omega 6) and helps to drop cholesterol and blood sugar.
When our relatives left us, it was with mutual sadness. They had been easy company. Mimi is very cheerful, enthusiastic and optimistic about nearly everything. Avi is naturally funny and gregarious. He has run a small catering business for many years and with a small team of helpers has provided meals for weddings and barmitzvot. I do not know how he has done it. Mimi told me that he has often been awake the night beforehand because of the responsibility of making everything perfect for the hosts and guests. What a mensch!
At the synagogue I had been proud, introducing my relatives like a badge of honour.