Tulip Winery: not just a business

Tulip Winery Sign

Tulip Winery, located in Kfar Tikva (Village of Hope), was established in 2003 by the Itzhaki family. The youngest son, Roy Itzhaki, established the Tulip Winery with a family investment. “I come from a family that works in construction and real estate, and we are wine freaks,” he says. “Seven years ago, we visited a wine exhibition at the Scottish House, and we saw someone sell 1,000 bottles he made at home. I started doing some research and found out that for 15,000 NIS, you can make two barrels of wine at home. Because it’s a messy process, I told my parents, ‘Let’s rent a place.'”

Kfar Tikva, which is close to the Itzhaki’s home, was already established as a long-term home for people with special needs, and had a small, experimental winery for its working residents. “The village had financial difficulties at the time, and they were trying to privatize a few of the occupational departments,” recalls Itzhaki. “I went to see it and they told me the winery was for sale. So I discussed with the family and we decided to buy it.”

Tulip Winery’s vineyards are located at Kfar Yuval and below Keren ben Zimra, in the North, where they grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes. They have also have vineyards in the Judean Hills near Jerusalem at Moshav Matta and Karmei Yosef where they grow Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Petit Verdot grapes.

Tulip Winery Exterior

Tulip Winery employs Kfar Tikva residents in harvesting, bottling, and packaging the wine as well as welcoming guests in the visitors’ center. The winery also promotes joint activities with Kfar Tikva, including the sale of crafts made by the community members. During the holidays the winery offers holiday gift packages that include artworks created by the members, with revenues donated directly to Kfar Tikva and its members.

Michal Negrin Tulip Winery Bottles

Notwithstanding the emphasis on contributing to the community, Tulip Winery’s main goal is to produce top quality wine that not only tastes good but also looks good in the bottle: for example, one series had labels designed by the well-known Israeli jewellery and fashion designer Michal Negrin. Even the normal series pay serious attention to the aesthetics of their labels in order to catch the buyers’ eye, something that is now typical of Israeli boutique wineries.

Tulip Wines

The range of grapes that Tulip uses is a little more varied than most Israeli boutique wineries: only a few others, for example, have a Cabernet Franc, a grape that produces wines with a powerful and chunky taste that is difficult to balance. But what’s perhaps more unusual is that in a country where the climate and soil — and habit — make red wine far more popular than white (and where rosé is mainly very new), this winery has also developed what it calls White Tulip, a blend of Gewürtztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc that combines the fruitiness of both varieties without the natural sweetness of the Gewürtztraminer and so is suitable both as an aperitif and for drinking throughout a meal.

Tulip Winery Interior

The irony is that although Itzhaki calls himself and his family ‘wine freaks,’ their whole enthusiasm for wine started out of ignorance: his father was dining at a top restaurant in Paris, he told Israeli daily Haaretz in a profile article, and aroused the staff’s disdain by ordering beer. The result was that father Itzhak was given a swift education in drinking wine with gourmet food, and then passed on his newly-acquired knowledge to Roy and the rest of the family. But from the establishment of the winery in 2003, success didn’t take long to arrive: they already received silver medals at the Finger Lake competition in the USA for their 2004 Syrah Reserve and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; the 2005 vintages of the same wines were recommended by international guru Robert Parker in the Wine Spectator. Virtue, it appears, does get rewarded, at least when accompanied by skill.

Tulip Winery’s Visitors Center
Open every Friday 10:00-13:00 and every Saturday 11:00-16:00
Now Kosher (as of end of 2010)

Best Ice Cream Shops in Israel (Part 2) – Vaniglia and Shaked

Vaniglia Gelateria

Brothers Nitzan and Itay Rogozinski opened their first branch of the Vaniglia ice cream boutique in 2001 at Basel Square in Tel Aviv. Anything that goes into the ice cream is made on the premises, from cheesecake to poppy seed cake. They use pistachio paste from Sicily, truffle oil from Umbria, orange flower petals from Turkey, camomile flowers from Egypt, tonka beans from Guinea and vanilla from Madagascar; to mention but a few.

Vaniglia in a Cup

Vaniglia offers a nice selection of sorbets with a very high percentage of fruit (over 70%). The dairy ice creams are delicious too, and they are also producing a new line of 100% organic ice creams made with rice milk or soy milk, and a line that is sugar-free.

I visited the new Hod HaSharon branch that is located in a cute little “house” that was built for the ice cream shop. It might look small from the outside, but this branch offers a good selection, such as the following highly recommended flavors:

  • Yogurt with orange flower water, Sicilian pistachios and apricot compote
  • Yogurt with honey and pine nuts
  • Plum sorbet
  • Valharona chocolate with an infusion of cocoa beans and chocolate crunch
  • Sicilian pistachio
  • Coconut
  • Mango sorbet
  • Blackberry sorbet
  • Oh, just try them all!!!

Vaniglia has several locations:

22a Eshtori Hafarchi Street (off Basel Street)
Tel Aviv

98 Ibn Gvirol Street
Tel Aviv

HaTachana
Tel Aviv

18 Derech Ramatayim
Hod HaSharon

Shaked Gelateria

Shaked Gelateria (pronounced Sha-Ked) was originally started as a pizzeria in the leafy town of Ramat Gan, just next to Tel Aviv, then turned into a cafe, and eventually branched out into homemade ice creams. Today, Shaked also has a branch in the entertainment zone of the old Tel Aviv Port, which is also a cafe, even though it is better known for its ice cream (something which obviously appeals to the patrons of the toy shop strategically located next door).

Shaked in a Cup

Shaked offers some interesting flavors of ice cream, such Kremschnitt, sabra (prickly pear) sorbet, olive oil and za’aatar (hyssop), tehina and humous. They also produced a special for the World Cup, which is no longer available: beer ice cream with sunflower seeds! Unfortunately, they didn’t have some of these flavors on offer when I visited the Tel Aviv Port location, but I do recommend the following:

  • Frutti di Bosco (Forest Fruits)
  • Chocolate sorbet
  • Cheesecake
  • Mango
  • Limoncello

Shaked Gelateria has two locations:

Hangar 7, Tel Aviv Port
Tel Aviv

40 Aluf David
Ramat Gan

Best Bourekas in Israel

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The food-culture diversity in Israel was born from the influx of immigrants from around the world. And because of this, certain foods have become “Israeli” dishes. It doesn’t mean that we now own these dishes like some would have you believe, but we have grown to love them just like their countrymen who brought their beloved recipes with them. Everyone likes to bring the flavours of home with them where ever they may roam.

Turkish and Balkan Jews who came to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s brought their country’s rich Ottoman recipes of long ago. One of these popular foods is the bureka (in Israel), börek (in Turkey), and byurek (in Bulgaria).In Israel, bourekas are typically served with a hard-boiled egg, a Jewish idea that has now become an Israeli custom. In Jewish communities, such as in Turkey, Bulgaria and Iraq, bourekas were served for a late breakfast on Shabbat, when the men returned from prayer in the synagogue, and the hard-boiled eggs that had been cooked in a slow oven, below the hamin, were a natural accompaniment. Sometimes the larger bourekas are split in half and filled with a little salad and a hard-boiled egg.

These flaky pastries were invented in Central Asia by nomadic Turks and became a popular element of Ottoman cuisine.

According to Ayla Algar’s book, Classical Turkish Cooking:

Börek was an established part of Ottoman cuisine by the time of the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. At least two varieties of it were prepared for Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The position of chief börek maker in the palace kitchens was always an important one. Numerous apprentices labored under his watchful eye rolling out the dough on huge marble slabs. Evliya Çelebi (1611-1682), a Turkish traveler who journeyed through the territory of the Ottoman Empire and neighboring lands over a period of forty years, tells us that Istanbul in his time had no fewer than 4,000 börek shops — interestingly enough, a figure four times higher than he gives for baker’s shops.

Here are some of the best bourekas shops in Israel. Is your favorite one of these or do you have another favorite?

Leon and Son

Julie Cohen and her family came from Bulgaria in 1948 and set up a phyllo production to make a living. They were the first and only people who did this in Jaffo. They used to stretch the phyllo on their beds. People would come from all over Israel to buy their phyllo and people still flock to their store for their delicious pastries. Leon, her son, joined the business, and then Leon’s son’s Avi and Eli.

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Leon and Son’s Turkish Bourekas shop in Jaffo sells a variety of Turkish and Balkan savory and sweet treats. Make sure you try a selection of their bourekas. Take home their baklava which is not too sweet, and the long pastries filled with sweet cheese and raisins. The truth is, you will have a hard time walking out without buying everything. And for the skilled baker, you can buy fresh phyllo and kadaief to make your own treats.

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Leon and Sons Bourekas
17 Olei Tzion Street, Jaffo
(03) 683-3123
Kosher

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Moshe Pinchas is a third generation Turkish-Israeli who follows a tradition set by his maternal grandfather, who sold bourekas in Istanbul. In Yehud, a town southeast of Tel Aviv with many Turkish immigrants, he doesn’t do the baking himself, but has two Turkish bakers who come in early every morning: one of them, master baker Mehmet Kazelrak, has been doing it nearly all of his life after leaving school at the age of eight to apprentice with a master baker in city of Urfa, in southeastern Anatolia, famous for the birthplace of Abraham.

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Turkish Delicacies is a meat and dairy shop that makes bourekas stuffed with cheese, potato, and spinach and also make Turkish water börek (su böreği), which is stuffed with spinach or cheese.

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Make sure you try the Anatolian pide, which is shaped like a torpedo and stuffed with cheese, spinach and topped with an egg that is “soft-cooked” when it bakes.

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They also make lahmacun (pronounced lahmajoun), a flat pide that is covered with a spicy lamb filling, Anatolian pide stuffed with lamb filling, and pide stuffed with vegetables. Don’t leave here without trying at least one pide and one boureka, and be sure to take home several pieces of kadaief stuffed with walnuts.

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Turkish Delicacies
10 Zvi Yishai Street, Yehud
077-546-6830
Kosher

Photo by Sarah Melamed

The small stand of the Original Turkish Bourekas is in the heart of the Ramle market. Haim Kulo’s father, who immigrated from Istanbul, started selling these flaky and mouthwatering delicious pastries in 1957. Today the third generation is proudly selling their bourekas. The “original” also has branches in Ramat Gan and Jerusalem, but the original wagon and the old-fashioned lemonade siphon make those bourekas taste that much better.

Photo by Sarah Melamed

Original Turkish Bourekas
3 Jabotinsky Street, Ramle
(08) 925-5911
Kosher

In a neglected municipal market built in the 1950s, is a boureka shop that is hidden in an alley behind a blue tarp. You would never imagine that you would find some of the best spinach bourekas in Israel among the crumbling buildings. The Hazan family uses an heirloom spinach called Galilee spinach (sbanach) to make these delicious treats. Sbanach, which you can buy at the shuk, are vibrant green leaves that make an appealing and flavorful addition to salads, and hold up well when cooked. Be sure to try the bourekas with an eggplant filling that is slow-cooked instead of being grilled.

Hazan Bourekas
Ashkenazi Market, Ashkenazi Street, Yehud
A few doors down from the fruit and vegetable stand. Look for the blue tarp.
(03) 536-1649
Kosher

Honey for a Sweet Year, and a Fruitful One Too

Bee sculpture

A guest post from my other half, Mr. BT:

One of the great pleasures of living in Israel is the country’s agricultural riches, something that already led to the Land of Israel being described in the Bible as eretz zavat chalav u’dvash – ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’ The milk in this description was probably more from sheep and goats than cows; and the ‘honey’ was almost certainly the sweet syrup of the dates that grow all over the country, not bee honey. Nevertheless, the historical image of honey as an integral part of the country’s agricultural tradition remains strong within Jewish culture, and especially so at this time of year, the early autumn, when we celebrate Rosh Hashana, the New Year.

Like Pesach in the springtime, when Jewish tradition dictates that we place on the Seder table, and eat, certain foods with symbolic religious significance, we put on the Rosh Hashana table foods with symbolic importance. But unlike the Seder, where we eat bitter herbs and unleavened matza to remind ourselves of the Children of Israel’s suffering as slaves in Egypt before the Exodus, and hasty exit without having time to let our dough rise, the symbols on the Rosh Hashana table are all about the sweetness and success we wish upon ourselves for the coming year.

Of all the culinary symbols – which according to tradition include pomegranates, a fish, courgettes, and carrots – the most important, and the ones most associated with the festival, are apples and honey. We sprinkle honey on the challah or other festival bread to express our hope for a sweet year, instead of the salt that is traditionally used on Shabbat; we eat slices of apple dipped in honey as well; and the blessings over all these foods reflect our desire for success, fertility and sweetness. And of course, we keep on using honey during the following three weeks of festival period to reinforce the message.

Honey Making Factory

It’s not only the honey itself that it important in Jewish culture. The honeybee, too, has a special significance in Jewish history: the name of the Biblical prophetess and judge Dvora (Deborah) – the Jewish people’s only woman leader until Golda Meir, and a pretty feisty leader in her own right – means ‘bee,’ and her name is still popular among Jewish and non-Jewish girls alike.

Simon's Honey Shop

It’s hardly a surprise, then, that when Baroness Tapuzina and I go shopping during the whole month before Rosh Hashana, every supermarket, grocery and stall in the shopping malls is crammed with jars of honey waiting to be consumed during the holiday period, and all of it locally produced. But, like pretty well everything else in Israeli food culture today, we have a tremendous variety of honey: from eucalyptus blossoms, thistle, clover, citrus, avocado and more. Not only that, but on top of the mass-market labels, there is a good variety of artisanal honey from small producers all over Israel.

To celebrate this wealth, the Baroness and I decided to visit a couple of local producers during the annual honey festival shortly before Rosh Hashana, both to taste a good selection, and to learn more about the Israeli honey industry.

Simon's Bee Farm Shop

Our first stop was at the shop of Simon’s Bee Farm in Kfar Sirkin, a moshav (agricultural village) just on the edge of highly urban Petach Tikva. Simon’s is special for two things in particular: one is that they sell all the output from their hives, which are scattered around most of the country, whereas most Israeli beekeepers sell at least part of their output to large companies, in particular the Yad Mordekhai label (originally owned entirely by the kibbutz of that name, but now owned by the Strauss food conglomerate). The other is that they have ten different varietals, including a honey that comes mainly from onion flowers, one from avocado and mango blossoms, and a Jordan Hills honey that the bees gather from avocado and lychee blossoms. Although we’re familiar with most of the other types, we had never tried these three before: I liked the onion honey more than the Baroness did (she found the oniony flavour off-putting), but we agreed that the other two were delicious, and bought a jar of each one.

Orna Simon

Unlike in the United States, where honey is usually pasteurised and therefore remains clear and liquid, Orna Simon explained to us that none of the Simon’s honey is pasteurised, so some of it becomes thick and even crystallises in the jar. But she says that for many of their customers, especially the Russian immigrants, this is a sign of high quality.

Bee Keeper's Outfits

From Kfar Sirkin, we went on to another moshav not far from our own called Tsofit (we do have beehives on the moshav where we live, but their output isn’t sold in the village). Here at Tsofit, beekeeper Yanay Sachs has a small factory at the back of his house, not only to produce and package the honey from his hives, but also to educate Israeli children about bees and honey.

Honey Comb

Yanay showed us a very cute film (made mainly for children) about beekeeping and how honey is extracted from the hives, and then took us on a tour of the production facilities. Here, the beeswax seals covering the hexagonal cells in each frame are scraped off with a broad mechanical knife, so that the honey can flow out into a separator (where any solid bits of dead bees are removed) and then to large storage containers, from which the jars are filled.

Yanai Sachs

Yanay doesn’t have the same wide selection of varietals as the Simon family bee farm, but he says that in the case of honey, as opposed to wine grapes, talking about varietals “is a bluff, because the bees fly to all the flowers within a range of three kilometres, and you don’t know where they’ve been.” A former head of the national beekeepers council, he also dismisses other beekeepers’ marketing of organic honey as a gimmick, saying that “organic honey is no more organic than anything else.”

Honey Extractor

However valid Yanay Sachs’ comments may be, we Israelis certainly like our honey: some 400-500 beekeepers around the country, of whom 100 are full-time professionals, own 90,000 hives, each one of which produces 30-40kg of honey every year. But this isn’t all for the sake of satisfying the national sweet tooth. Agriculture is still a central part of Israeli life just as it was part of the history of the Jewish people going back more than 3,500 years, and all the honey that Israelis consume during Rosh Hashana, and the rest of the year, is just a by-product of the bees’ real work: pollinating the country’s crops and ensuring the country’s multi-billion-dollar agricultural sector continues to produce all our wonderful food.

Trains and Balkan Water Börek

I used to love to go to the train station in my hometown. My father would take us there every once in a while to see the trains and we would always try to get there early so he could put a penny on the rails and have the train run over them. As soon as the train was safely out of harm’s way, he would retrieve the misshapen pennies for us to take home as souvenirs of our adventure.

So when I found out that the Tel Aviv municipality had painstakingly renovated an Ottoman-era train station, now unoriginally called HaTahana (The Station) near Neve Tzedek, I couldn’t wait to go and see it. And I must say, they did a beautiful job with the restoration.

The train station was inaugurated in 1892 and was the first railway line in the Middle East. The rail line went from Jaffa to Jerusalem and the length of the journey took 3-1/2 to 4 hours. The line was eventually extended to Lod and Haifa, and in 1921 the train travelled to Al Qantarah El Sharqiyya, Egypt, approximately 160km (100 miles) from Cairo. The station was closed in 1948 and only reopened as an entertainment complex this year.

There are several restaurants and cafes to choose from to sit and have a leisurely coffee with your favorite someone, such as Cafe Tahana in the original railway building.

Or sit on the roof of Shushkashvilli Beer Bar and Tapas, which is in a beautiful old Arab house that stood in the neighborhood called Manshiya, built by the Turks in 1892 to house Egyptian laborers working on the new railroad.

The Wieland Villa, built in 1902, was owned by a German Templar named Hugo Wieland, who built his home and a factory building and agricultural materials next to the railway station with the intention of shipping the goods throughout what was then Palestine and around the Middle East. The family remained in the house until the 1930s when they left and eventually moved to Australia.

HaTahana also has some lovely boutiques and art galleries in the surrounding stone buildings that will appeal to all sorts of shoppers.

The train tracks are quiet now, but HaTahana is abustle with people enjoying the lovely cafes, restaurants, art exhibitions every Thursday evening, and the real reason Mr BT and I got up early to go there: the Orbanic market, which is the new organic farmers market, open only on Fridays.

After visiting the old Ottoman station, I was inspired to make a Water Börek, which is a cheese or meat bureka, made with boiled warka leaves. Instead of going to all the trouble of making my own warka, I bought Moroccan cigar wrappers at the supermarket. Since most of my readers in the US and Europe will not be able to find cigar wrappers so easily, you can use egg roll wrappers. You can serve this for breakfast, afternoon tea, or a light supper with a big salad.

Water Börek - Su Böregi

Serving Size: 6 to 8

1 pkg (500g or 1lb) Moroccan cigar wrappers (thawed) or large egg roll wrappers

100g butter, melted or 1/4 cup olive oil

250g (1/2lb) Bulgarian or Greek Feta

1 log of plain goat's cheese

1 egg

1 cup fresh parsley or 1/2 cup parsley and 1/2 cup dill, chopped

2 green onions, sliced thinly

Several grinds of black pepper

Butter a 22cm (9 inch) deep-dish pan.

Mash the feta and goat's cheese together until well combined. Add the egg, parsley, green onion and black pepper and mix well. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).

In a large pot of boiling water, place one cigar sheet or egg roll wrapper in the pot and cook for 1-2 minutes. Scoop out the sheet with a wire mesh skimmer and place in the pan. Don't worry if you can't straighten the sheets out, just try to smooth a few out so they will go up the sides of the pan. Repeat until you have one layer of the sheets.

Brush butter or olive oil on the sheets and cover with half of the cheese mixture. Place another layer of boiled cigar sheets, brush them with butter, and add the rest of the cheese mixture. Place a final layer of cigar sheets, fold over any sheets that are hanging off the side of the baking dish, and brush with butter. Bake for 1 hour or until lightly brown. Serve hot or a room temperature.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2010/06/16/trains-and-balkan-water-borek/

Schwartzman Dairy – Cheese Made with Love

I am so lucky to live in a small country where I have the opportunity to meet so many interesting people. I especially enjoy meeting people who take pride in their work and make products with love, like Ziv Schwartzman does.

Early in our courtship, Mr. BT invited me to go away on our first weekend trip to the North. He booked a lovely zimmer in a sleepy village, known for its history, called Bat Shlomo, which is not far inland from Zichron Yaakov. Bat Shlomo was founded in 1889 and is one of the earliest Jewish settlements of the modern period. The original village consists of one charming street that contains beautiful stone houses with terracotta tiled roofs; the one above is my dream house.

However, we didn’t  manage to visit Bat Shlomo’s most important attraction during that trip because we were busy visiting other places and friends who lived in the area. It took us eight years before we had a chance to go back during working hours and make up for the missed opportunity.

When you enter the archway to the courtyard of Schwartzman Dairy, you are transported back in time to a period when the early settlers built the country with their hands, and cutting stones and setting them into walls was still backbreaking work.

The family has done a lovely job of decorating the courtyard with old pots, sewing machines, cartwheels, and plows in every nook and cranny.

The store, where you can taste and purchase all of their cheeses on offer, also serves as a museum displaying family photographs from 100 years ago, documents from the Turkish and British era, farm tools, household utensils, and family heirlooms.

The storefront brought a smile to my face and reminded me of the old dry-goods stores that were in most small towns in the United States. Okay, they didn’t sell labane and olives, but still.

Ziv Schwartzman is a third generation cheesemaker, olive grower, and producer of olive oil. He wants you to love his cheese as much as he loves making it, and you can’t help submitting to his enthusiasm, because all of his organic cow and goat cheeses are delicious, have depth of flavour and make you want to take some home, which of course we did.

We left with a bag full of goodies, including delicious labane with herbs, and black raspberry jam.

We also brought home a Tzfatit with herbs, Tomme, and a Chevrotine.  The cheese at the bottom of the picture is an English cheddar with cranberries that we purchased elsewhere.

We also sampled their delicious homegrown olives, olive oil, and jams.

They also sell a variety of spices, pickled vegetables, and bottles of soda pop from days gone by.

You can order a cheese platter and other goodies to eat on the premises and wash it down with their hot cider or if you’re lucky enough you can try their orgasmic malabi with carob and date honey, which Ziv graciously gave us to taste. I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of the watery malabi with fake raspberry syrup, and the even worse parve version with fake chocolate syrup and coconut that you find in restaurants; but as Ziv said, “This is not Tel Aviv malabi!”. This, my friends, is the best damn malabi I have ever had and I am sure he will not part with the recipe. It is milky, silky, and not too sweet; the combination of date honey and carob honey is a perfect marriage and I am going back very soon to have another one.

Israeli Food Bloggers Event at Mazzarine Patisserie Artisanale

This past Thursday, six of the some of the more interesting (okay, I am biased) Israeli food bloggers got together:

Irène of Irène Sharon Hodes
Liz of Cafe Liz
Miriam of Israeli Kitchen
Sarah of Foodbridge
Yael of Apples and Honey

We had fun learning about each other. Some of us talked about whether we should only focus on one genre of food such as raw food, kosher, vegetarian or Middle Eastern/Kurdish, others talked about concentrating on the promotion of their food writing for professional gain, and some of us just enjoy writing and learning about cultures they are not familiar without thinking about whether it will turn into something like a cookbook or freelance articles. The most important thing we all agreed on was that we want to try and meet once a month at a different locations, and also arrange field trips to wineries, shuks, dairies, and other interesting food-related jaunts.

We met at the lovely Mazzarine Cafe on Montefiore 42 in Tel Aviv. When you walk into the cafe, you feel like you have  just walked into a chic Parisian cafe. I love the way they designed the space, with several different rooms to choose from: the front of the cafe with a constant view of the beautiful pastries on offer; the main room with a lovely view to the garden room, which gives you a feeling of sitting in a botanical garden; and the private room, with a beautiful wooden table that reminded me of my cousin’s French farm table in Holland. We had reserved the private room.

The cafe was founded by Chef Pâtissier Alon Goldman who started his culinary career working at the legendary and sorely missed Keren restaurant owned by one of my favorite Israeli chefs, Haim Cohen. There he fine-tuned his pastry skills and after a year he decided to move to France to expand his professional knowledge. He studied at the famous Lenôtre Culinary and Pastry School in Paris. While in France he worked at several Michelin starred restaurants such as the beautiful Burgundian restaurant at the late chef Bernard Loiseau’s Relais Bernard Loiseau and at the famous Ladurée pâtisserie. He also studied Mediterranean pastry at the famous and mouthwatering Karaköy Güllüoğlu (some of the best baklava I have ever had!) in Istanbul, Turkey, and was head pastry chef at Taboon restaurant in New York before fulfilling his dream of opening his own cafe.

The staff at the Montefiore location were very nice and excited about the food bloggers visiting their cafe. They all understand the items that they are selling, which is very refreshing for an Israeli cafe. But, really, how could you not be enthusiastic about selling beautiful looking cakes and pastries.

The menu has an array of sandwiches, salads, pasta, and main dishes to choose from. Most of us ordered from the specials on offer:

I choose a delicious soup made from a mushroom and vegetable base with perfectly pink-centered salmon and pasta designed with flat-leaf parsley.

Yael chose a vegetable quiche and salad.

Sarah and Irène chose a grilled tuna with Chinese pancakes, jasmine rice and a soy reduction. The tuna was also medium rare as I like it. My only issue with it is that the soy reduction was a little too salty, but I would definitely order it.

I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of Liz’s Caesar salad and Miriam’s gnocchi with artichokes and roasted cherry tomatoes, but I did taste Miriam’s and the gnocchi were light as they should be and the sauce was very nice. Another dish I will have to order.

Mazzarine’s very charming chef, Sharon Artzi, who only joined the restaurant a week ago, came to greet us with one of his new and very interesting dishes, gnocchi stuffed with prunes and served with roasted eggplant and a tehina-portabello mushroom sauce.

I know that it sounds quite strange and maybe too many flavours, but it worked and I thought it was delicious. He explained that he is going to change the entire menu in the coming weeks. I think there is great promise from this chef and I look forward to dining there again.

Of course we couldn’t leave without trying some of Chef Alon’s lovely pastries:

Sarah and I chose Zen – a tart filled with chocolate crème brûlée and covered in dark chocolate, which is perfect for a chocolate lover.

Miriam chose the eclair with cream and strawberries.

Irène chose Ebony, which is topped with 70% chocolate mousse,  filled with chocolate crème brûlée and covered in dark chocolate with an almond macaroon on the side.

The truth is that although the tarts and cakes were, or looked, wonderful, I would have liked to see more of them based on fruit, which is certainly not lacking in Israel during the winter. For that matter, I would have liked to see more Middle Eastern influence in the traditional French and Austrian pastries in the confectionery cabinet, which would have been a good marriage to the new chef’s main dishes. I highly recommend a visit to Mazzarine: where you will not be disappointed.

If anyone would like to come to our next event in March, please send me an email on my Contact page above and I will add you to the list.

Home Away from Home – The Final Day

On the last day of our vacation, we had a leisurely breakfast at the treehouse and then drove to Kibbutz Yechiam to go to the annual Renaissance Festival at  Yechiam Castle.

Probably built by the Templars in the late 12th century, Yechiam was destroyed by the Mamluke Sultan Baybars of Egypt and Syria in the late 1200s. Its ruins were rebuilt in the 18th century by the local Bedouin warlord, Sheik Dahr El-Omar.  Today, the castle is open for visitors and is used for private events, concerts and festivals.

The kibbutz is famous for Deli – Yehiam, a kosher meat factory specializing in deli meats. Today, Deli – Yehiam has 20 percent of the local Israeli sausage and deli meats market, and exports their products to the US and Europe.

We went to the Renaissance Festival to hear our friend Myrna Herzog’s ensemble, Phoenix, perform songs from the Portuguese Crypto-Jews and from the Sephardic tradition;  Spanish music by Diego Ortiz, Francisco de la Torre, Luiz Narváez, Juan del Encina and Diego Pisador, and music from the Colombina song-book. Phoenix is always a joy to hear and see; the audience was moving and swaying to the early music with a South American beat.

We stayed to listen to a performance of madrigal singers, which normally we would have enjoyed had it not been for the unbelievably rude people sitting all around us. They talked loudly throughout the entire performance and the ones behind us did not shut up until I asked them why they were there. The rest of the Renaissance Festival was rather disappointing, but maybe it is unfair of me to try and compare it to the Georgia Renaissance Festival that I used to attend when I lived in Atlanta.

After the two performances, we decided to stop somewhere for a late lunch and head back home.

We decided to stop in Kfar Rama to try a highly recommended restaurant called Ezba, which is run by Chef Habib Daoud and his wife Minerba. I have to tell you that when we saw the faded sign in the middle of a grotty industrial area next to the highway, and no cars in the narrow and quite steep driveway, I did not have high hopes that the restaurant was still in operation. The building looked abandoned, but Mr BT insisted that we stop and he went to the front door to see if anyone was there. He waved to me to park the car and come inside.

And when we entered, the decorations looked like someone’s house, but this time we were actually eating in a restaurant.

The restaurant specializes in dishes of the Arab cuisine from the Galilee. Chef Daoud uses herbs and spices from the area and offers a unique opportunity to taste the simple and mouth-watering delicacies that are traditionally served in the homes of local Arab families. The dishes vary according to the season and to what nature has to offer in the immediate surroundings.

After our warm greeting, we were served a cabbage salad like I have never had before. It did not have a sour pickled flavour which I really dislike, but tasted more like sauteed cabbage. It was delicious, as were the local olives.

As we studied the menu, I saw a dish that I had always wanted to try, Akoub, which is cardoons. Cardoons are sold at the shuk, but they are very expensive because they are difficult to harvest. You also have to be very careful when trying to prepare them because each stalk is covered with small, nearly invisible, spines that can cause enormous pain if they are lodged in the skin. Mr. BT and I decided to share an order as an appetizer. They were delicious,  tasted like a cross between an artichoke and broccoli, and were served in a flavourful broth over a rice and toasted vermicelli mixture.

After a few minutes of being the only ones in the restaurant, one car after another started arriving until the restaurant was completely full with excited guests anticipating a good meal.

For my main course, I ordered kubbeh siniyeh, which is made from the same mixture of bulgur and minced meat as in the normal torpedo-shaped kubbeh, but baked in a ceramic dish.

Mr BT ordered Beef with Freekeh, toasted young wheat which when cooked looks like green bulgar and has a distinct smokey flavour. According to legend more than 2000 years ago, before leaving in retreat, soldiers who had attacked a village in Lebanon set the fields on fire in order to destroy the wheat, condemning the local people to ruin. Instead, trying to save whatever they could, the locals collected the burnt grain from the fields and after cleaning it, they discovered a toasted grain that was green and very nutritious. Because it is harvested while it’s still young, Freekeh contains more protein, vitamins, and minerals than mature wheat and most other grains. It is also low in starch and high in fibre–up to four times the fibre of brown rice.

The main dishes were accompanied by a nice fresh Arab salad with pomegranate seeds.

We washed the meal down with fresh lemonade with pomegranate seeds.

As we were finishing our meal, three women in their early 60s entered the restaurant a bit unsure if they should stay. They discussed it in a huddle for a minute and proceeded to sit at the table behind Mr BT. One of them sat opposite the other two for a few seconds and then decided to move to the other side of the table. They were now all sitting on the same side of the table. One of the other women asked why she had move, that now it would be more difficult to carry on a conversation. The woman said, “I don’t want to face the wall!” With that, and please do not send me any hate mail for saying this because you have to live in Israel to understand this, I knew one or more of them were of Polish origin. They all three started examining the glasses, silverware, and plates to make sure they were clean. Two of them started to wipe the glasses, silverware and plates. I thought I was going to burst out laughing, but I composed myself. I couldn’t tell Mr BT what I was witnessing because they were directly behind him. I was afraid they would understand what I said if I spoke to him in German. Then, they started looking at the menu, one of them, I will call her Miss Adventurous, was excited about the menu and decided she wanted to order Akoub. The other two asked why they didn’t have schnitzel on the menu and hoped that they at least had some chips. At that point I wanted to walk over and tell them to get out, that they didn’t deserve to try this wonderful food, and they should just go to Burger Ranch for lunch, but we got up, very happy from the lovely meal we had just had and headed home with wonderful memories of an unforgettable three day getaway.

I am so lucky to have Mr BT as my life partner and travel companion. I can’t think of anyone else I would like to go with on a travel adventure.

Home Away from Home – Day Two

After the lovely experience in Shtula we had lovely dreams and awoke to birds singing in the little tree house in the North. The sun was shining and the view from the zimmer was the valley below.

The members of my family have a tradition of taking pictures of whatever view they happen to have from their hotel room. This was our spectacular view. The air was clean and fresh, with a wonderful atmosphere of peace, even though the rather unpeaceful Lebanese border was only a few hundred yards away.

Northern Israel always relaxes me and I feel like I can breathe when I am there. Don’t get me wrong, I live in a quiet little village, but I really feel like I have flown out of the country when I travel to the North. It is a different way of life up there.

The zimmer did not include breakfast, but they gave us a beautiful loaf of homemade bread, six eggs, two different kinds of homemade jam (mango and fig), butter, milk, fresh lemonade with fresh mint, a jug of water, coffee, and a selection of teas. They also had a beautiful pot of fresh sage to use for your morning omelet, to say nothing of lots of other fresh herbs growing right outside our cabin, such as za’atar, thyme and mint.

The zimmer is beautifully decorated . This lovely door leads to the loo: the inside view is even better.

There is a nice sitting area in the living room which contains a wood-burning fireplace and the kitchen nook. It was too warm to try out the fireplace, so we will have to find an excuse to come back in the winter.

They had several interesting items in corners of the living room and bedroom. One corner contained a cute lamp with a basket of various teas and another contained a slanted shelf with a covered bowl full of candy. In a nook near the jacuzzi there was a “genie” bottle filled with homemade ‘cherry sherry’ and two glasses. The sherry was delicious and was a perfect close after we got back from our Kurdish dinner.

After breakfast we headed to the ancient city of Tzfat, but about 4 kilometers from there we saw a sign for a winery in the village of Or HaGanuz. This spiritual-Kabbalistic settlement was founded in 1989. The name of the village means Hidden Light, and is derived from the kabbalah which refers to the original light described in the Bible that was the first act of creation (see Genesis 1:2). We had never heard of this winery, but we find it hard to pass up a chance to have a taste of wine. There are several signs that guide you directly to the winery and you can’t miss the large replica of an ancient amphora (an earthenware jug for oil or wine) at the front of the building.

We were greeted by a friendly face whose accent immediately gave away that he was a French speaker. It turned out he was originally from Tunisia, but his family is originally from Livorno, Italy. I joked that we could be related since I have some relatives who lived in Livorno. Giovanni Affricano, the winemaker of this winery, studied wine-making in France and Italy.  He originally worked in education and decided to move to the North after he became religious and fulfill his dream of making wine.

After the tour of the winery, Giovanni let us sample five different wines, Sahar (Cabernet Sauvignon Premium), Glilee (Merlot), Torr (Sangiovese Cabernet), Nadiv (Cabernet Sauvignon) and a sweet dessert wine. All of the wines have a Mehadrin kashrut certification. Different types of Mehadrin certification for wine and food basically means that they are checked even more carefully for any non-kosher contaminants. In the case of Mehadrin slaughterhouses, the animals are checked more carefully than in normal kosher slaughterhouses for blemishes, especially of the lungs, that could make them unfit.

As for our wine tasting, we very much liked the Torr and Nadiv and bought a bottle of each. We thought the Glilee had too much tannin and the dessert wine was little too sweet for our taste. We are going to wait six months to a year before we open the wines we bought.

Tzfat  is considered to be one of Judaism’s four holiest cities. It is known as the center of Jewish mysticism or kabbalah, not Madonna’s kabbalah, but the real thing, which is far from the commercialized version she adopted.

It is a poor city that is full of hippies, artists, followers of kabbalah (some who are sane and some who have lost their way), the deeply religious, and a smattering of secular people. It is a place which,  if I stay too long,  gives me an eerie feeling; a feeling of ancient ghosts who have yet to find their resting place. For others, it is a place of spiritual awakening.

We didn’t come to Tzfat this time to walk along its ancient streets, but rather to visit a museum that we just discovered in a guidebook; a museum that is near and dear to my husband, the Memorial Museum of Hungarian Speaking Jewry. I am constantly teasing Mr BT about how crazy the Hungarians are and I was afraid if I entered the museum that the crazy dust would begin to cover him and make him crazier than he already is ;-).

The museum, which is in a side building of the old Ottoman saraya, or police station, was established by two of the many Hungarian Jews who ended up in Tzfat after the Holocaust and is managed by Ron Lustig, their son. What is unusual about the Hungarian Jews is that the community has been there since the days of the Roman colony of Pannonia, centuries before the Magyars under Attila the Hun swept in from Central Asia. That made the Jews feel more Hungarian than the Hungarians, which resulted in their tremendous contribution to the country’s economic and cultural life from the mid-19th century until the Holocaust; but it also meant that they mistakenly didn’t feel threatened by the growth of Fascism from the 1920s and Admiral Horthy’s eventual alliance with Hitler. In fact, Horthy protected the Jews until 1944: even though they were forced into a ghetto, the Jews of Budapest continued a very active cultural life there, including theatre, a symphony orchestra and an opera house, in which my mother-in-law was one of the leading soloists. It was only after Horthy decided in early 1944 to switch sides because he foresaw Hitlers impending defeat that the Germans invaded the country and started deporting the Jews en masse,  both to labor camps and to Auschwitz.

The museum includes artifacts from 18th century Jewish life onwards up to the time of the Holocaust, most of them the gifts of Hungarian Jews living all over the world. The most touching of all is a braid of blond hair cut from the head of a young girl a few days before she and her mother were sent to Auschwitz to be murdered there. Ron told us and some other visitors that he received the braid, together with a few other keepsakes of the girl and her mother, from the father who had survived the Holocaust, with a letter saying “this is the whole of my life.” Ron wrote back to thank the donor, but received a reply from someone else saying that the donor had died only two days after sending the letter, perhaps knowing that he had only enough time left to leave his memories of his beloved wife and child to the museum.

Mr BT was happy to discover that the museum’s extensive computer system included an entry for his grandfather, who was a distinguished pedagogue in Hungary, and that the museum also had a copy of his semi-autobiographical novel The Five Books of Aaron. There was also a photograph from 1939 of a class at the Jewish high school in Budapest, in which Mr BT thinks he identified his grandmother, who was one of the teachers there.

After the very moving and sometimes tearful visit to the museum, we decided to have a light snack in the Druze village of Hurfeish before heading back to the zimmer to rest before heading out for dinner.

Hurfeish, pronounced Khurfeish, is situated in the heart of the Galilee just to the north of Mount Meron. The site is from the Byzantine era and the current village has existed for about 500 years. The origin of the town’s name is unknown, but it is assumed that it is derived from the family of Al-Khrafsha that settled there. It is a lovely village with a popular stand called Sambusak HaArazim. They take dough and roll it out in a thin circle, fill it with lamb or tuna, or labane and za’atar, fold it half and bake it in a large gas-fired oven. They are delicious and I highly recommend making a stop here. You may not be able to stop at one: I had to stop Mr BT from ordering another one. I was so hungry at that point, I forgot to take a picture of the stand and of the sambusak.

After a couple of hours of rest, we drove back to Hurfeish for dinner (this time taking the main road instead of the gravel track between the hills from the back of Hurfeish to Matat). We thought we were going to a Druze restaurant, but just like the previous night, we discovered that the restaurant was actually our host’s living room. This time our host was Nimr Nimr, a retired Druze teacher, who now works as a tour guide. Nimr Nimr, by the way, is Arabic for Leopard Leopard: names like this are quite common among the Druze, another one being Assad Assad, which means Lion Lion.

The Druze are ethnic Arabs who broke away from Islam to form their own religion at the beginning of the 11th century and are regarded by Muslims as heretics. They live mainly in Lebanon, Syria and Israel, although there are emigre communities in the United States and South America. In Israel, the Druze do national service in the Army, some rising to very high ranks.

Dinner was delicious, the usual combination of meze, salads, and grilled meat. But what was special was the hospitality, something for which the Druze are rightly famous. It wasn’t just the warm welcome that we received from Nimr and his wife Samiha, but the amazing tennis match of conversation that I thoroughly enjoyed watching between him and Mr BT, which ranged from Druze history to modern Middle Eastern politics to literature to Israel’s social problems. Although pretending to just be an ordinary man, Nimr is obviously educated way beyond the average for Israelis of any background or religion: he was quoting from Shai Agnon, the first Israeli to win a Nobel Prize (for literature), and in Aramaic from the Mishnah, and from time-to-time would jump up to pull a book from his very well stocked library to illustrate a point. I could have stayed on for hours just to gorge on the fresh figs and homemade maamoul filled with walnuts that Samiha brought to the table; Mr BT could have easily stayed on all night talking to Nimr. It is an evening I will never forget.

Home Away From Home – Day One

Everyone needs a break, a vacation, an opportunity to charge one’s batteries. Mr BT and I decided that Sukkot was the best time for us to recharge ourselves. As a former meeting organizer, I love to plan our trips. I like to find interesting places to stay, see, and eat; and I am forever looking for those interesting out-of-the-way places. Israel is a small country, but it is full of nooks and crannies that most people do not look for in a vacation. The unplanned theme for our three-day vacation was “home away from home”. No, we didn’t stay with relatives, we just found places with a homey feel in more ways than one.

Baron de Rothschild coat of arms

We began our three-day weekend by driving to Zichron Yaacov to visit a friend  and also to see the beautiful Ramat Hanadiv Gardens, Heights of the Benefactor gardens. The benefactors of these gardens were the Baron and Baroness Edmond James and Adelaide de Rothschild.

Cascade Garden

One of the must sees is the Cascade Garden, with its terraces that face the Mediterranean Sea, lined with dragon trees and large cypresses.

The Rose Garden is a formal garden with a variety of roses that includes six pools with fountains, representing the Rothschild family. The large pool represents the founder of the family, Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) while the five small pools represent his five sons, whom he sent to major European cities in order to found the branches of the family business. It isn’t really rose season at the moment, but I am sure this garden is beautiful when all of the roses are in bloom.

The Palm Garden, located on the eastern side of the park, includes a small selection of the world’s 2800 palms.

The Fragrance Garden was designed for the visually impaired and is one of my favourite areas of the gardens.

It includes fragrant sweet smelling plants and herbs such as rosemary, thyme, za’atar, basil, cardamom, lavender . The fragrances are intoxicating. Visitors are encouraged to touch the plants in this section, where plants are clearly labeled in Braille, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic. It was the first time I had ever seen a cardamom plant.

We left Zichron and headed straight for the zimmer we booked in a moshav on the border of Lebanon called Matat. The word “zimmer”, which means “room” in German, was adopted into Hebrew to mean little cabins that have sprung up all over moshavim and kibbutzim, especially in the Galilee for townies to spend a few days in nature and get away from it all.

The moshav was founded in 1980, and currently 35 families are living there. One of them is the famous baker and chef, at least here in Israel, Erez Komarovsky, former owner of the Lehem Erez bakery. He sold his bakery and moved to the northern Galil. Now he conducts cooking classes on everything from bread making to fish to beef. I would love to take a bread-making class from him. Unfortunately, he had just returned from a trip abroad on the day we left. So, I didn’t get to “accidentally on purpose” run into him.

By the time we arrived to Matat, it was already dark, so we couldn’t see much of the moshav. However, the drive up to Matat was breathtakingly beautiful and Mr. Moon greeted us full, big, shiny, and bright. The surrounding area will remind you of Provence. We stayed at the beautiful and romantic zimmer called Eretz Bereshit, which means the Land of Genesis.

Because Matat is built at the top of a steep hill and the land allocated to each householder basically starts at the top of the hill and goes all the way down to the valley at the bottom, the houses are nearly all at or just below the brow of the hill and the zimmers that some of the owners built, including the one where we stayed, are about half-way down and can only be reached by a long flight of steep steps. Fortunately, we knew about this ahead of time and the steps were also lit at night to ensure that we didn’t break our necks.

We hadn’t made any firm plans for dinner before arriving, but I had a list of interesting possibilities to choose from. One of them turned to be an emotional  and frankly speechless experience that I hadn’t had in a long, long time. On my list, I had found a Kurdish restaurant in a moshav called Shtula that is a 15 minute drive from Matat. We both love Kurdish food and assumed that a restaurant on a predominately Kurdish moshav can’t be bad, so we called to make sure they were open. A pleasant voice answered the phone and said sure, come on over. We called when we arrived at the entrance and the woman instructed us where to go. We parked in front of a large home and realized that we would be dining in someone’s home, not at a restaurant. We knew this was going to be interesting.

Ora Hatan greeted us at the door and told us to sit down at the dining room table. There were already some lovely meze waiting for us on the table to enjoy

with Kurdish flatbread made on a saj, which is like an upside down wok heated over charcoal. It is very thin and crispy.

She then brought us kubbeh soup. Kubbeh, in different regional variations across Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Kurdistan, is made by taking a ball of moistened semolina mixed with water, sticking your finger into the middle to hollow it out and filling it with a meat mixture: some types are made with a mixture of bulgar and minced meat that is then filled with meat. This was some of the best kubbeh I have ever had. The soup was tomato-based and quite flavourful.

The meal continued with aubergines, onions, and courgettes stuffed with a rice and meat mixture.

Then, she brought out hand-minced lamb kebabs. These were seasoned with herbs and were absolutely delicious. She served them over softened Kurdish flatbread.

As we sat down to eat, an elderly lady with bright eyes and lovely smile came out from the back of the house, said good evening to us, and went to sit down in the living room to watch TV. As she came out, I thought to myself that she looked familiar, but then said “naaah, that can’t be her”. When Ora came back from the kitchen we told her that we had seen a very interesting documentary about a Kurdish moshav on Israel Channel One and we didn’t remember which moshav they were filming. It featured a wonderful lady who was herding her goats on the Lebanese border and she told of her life there. Ora got a big grin on her face and said, “It is about our moshav and the woman is my mother, Sarah.” She called for Sarah to come to the table and thus began the most interesting part of our meal.

Sarah reminded me of my great-grandmother, Ina Nathan; they had similar smiles. She told us that she was from Koya, Kurdistan and emigrated to Israel in 1951, almost 9 months pregnant, with her husband and the first two of what would eventually be fourteen children. She said that it was very difficult when she first came here; for the first few years, they lived in absorption camps that were unfortunately the fate of many new immigrants in the 1950s, there was very little food and they had to build everything from scratch.

She then told us that she traveled alone to Kurdistan 12 years ago on a mission to bring back a Torah scroll that belonged to her family for generations. They had left the Torah scroll with a family anticipating that they would come back to get it someday. She flew to southeastern Turkey and then hitched a ride across the border all the way to Koya. By chance, she was given a ride by the local mayor who asked her where she was from: when she said she was from Israel, he welcomed her and did everything in his power to help her in her mission. With his assistance, she discovered that the Torah scroll was being held by a local qadi (Muslim religious judge). She told the qadi that she had come specially from Israel to retrieve the scroll and asked for it back. When he refused, she offered him money, and then more money, but he continued to refuse explaining that he and his fellow Muslims believed that the scroll gave them divine protection and that he wasn’t willing to give it up. Eventually, she discovered that the qadi and his family had moved to Sweden, taking the scroll with them.

We were then served cinnamon tea and extraordinary figs that had been poached and served in their juice. This was truly the food of the gods. She also served us homemade date cake and some biscuits.

After dessert, Ora took us out to the balcony which overlooks the Lebanese border, a couple of hundred meters away and showed us a couple villages on the other side of the fence that had become Hizbollah strongholds.

When we staggered, stuffed with wonderful Kurdish food, back to the car, I was just in tears, not just from meeting such lovely people but from Sarah’s story of her life and especially her first trip back to Kurdistan. Weren’t you afraid of being in Kurdistan while Sadaam Hussein was still in power in Iraq, Mr BT had asked Sarah. “No, I just had faith in G-d.”

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