Bella Italia


My  husband and I just returned back from 11 glorious days in Italy. We flew to Milano and stopped in Bergamo on our way to Verona for two nights, then we drove to Bologna for a few hours on our way to Colle di Val d’Elsa for one night, then to Siena for the day and then went to Monte Santa Maria Tiberina in Umbria for a week where we drove around the beautiful region of Umbria and saw Citta di Castello, Umbertide, Montone, Gubbio, Perugia, Spoleto and Assisi.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing about the places we visited and providing a recipe to go along with the blog entry. Hope you enjoy the trip.

Sur le Pont D’Avignon

Sur le pont d’Avignon
On y danse, on y danse
Sur le pont d’Avignon
On y danse tous en rond

On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there, we all dance there
On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there in a ring

My last installment on our trip to Provence is in Avignon, the seat of the Catholic papacy from 1309 – 1377 . Avignon is a beautiful walled city on the Rhône river.

It has tree lined boulevards and very interesting architecture.

It is also famous for the Le Pont St Benezet which originally spanned the Rhône River between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon on the left bank. It was built between 1171 and 1185, but it suffered frequent collapses during floods and had to be reconstructed several times. The bridge was partially destroyed by a great flood in 1668. Now only four of the initial 22 arches remain intact today.

We did not stay in a fancy hotel in Avignon. I used my Holiday Inn points and we stayed two nights at a Holiday Inn Express outside of the old city. It was brand new. There is safe underground parking near the Le Palais des Papes and we parked there and explored the old city.

Our first day in Avignon, we went straight to the tourism office and got a map of the city. Then, we headed straight for the Le Palais des Papes, which is about a 2 hour self-guided tour. We bought a combination ticket that included Le Pont St Benezet. Both of these monuments have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The first documented Jewish community in Avignon existed in the 12th century. The first Jewish quarter, or carrière, faced the pope’s palace. By the early 13th century, the carrière was where the present-day synagogue stands. This tiny area, barely 100 square yards, was home to over 1,000 people. There were many restrictions on Jewish life within the carrière. Walls surrounded it and three gates restricted Jewish activity. The Roman Catholic Church collected tolls, and selling kosher meat outside the quarter was forbidden. We saw the outside of the synagogue at night and were unable to take a good photograph, but it looks similar in style to the synagogue in Carpentras (shown in the picture above).

We had a lovely dinner at Basilic Citron, 4 Place de la Principale . It has a wonderful space for romantic outdoor dining in the courtyard and the decor inside the restaurant is also very romantic. There were strolling musicians to entertain us throughout the meal.

A three course dinner for two with a bottle of wine was 90 euro. This was the most expensive meal of our entire trip. The food was delicious: we loved the entire meal, but we both really loved the tuna. We definitely recommend this restaurant.

Our first courses were:

Thon brulee aux epices, reduction de vinaigre balsamique aux agrumes
Fresh tuna with spices and a reduction of balsamic vinegar and citrus

Asperge vertes et blanches du pays, vinegrette a l’huile de noisette torrefies
Local green and white asparagus with a vinaigrette of roasted hazelnut oil

Second courses:

Tranche d’espadon poelee, tians de legumes, bearnaise aux pistils de safran
Sauteed swordfish steak with a vegetable tian and a saffron flavoured bearnaise sauce

Pave de caillebaud aux herbes fraiches vapeur, chartreuse d’aubergine a la tomate
Piece of cod filet steamed with fresh herbs and an aubergine timbale stuffed with tomato

Dessert courses:

Millefeuille a la pistache, marmelade de griotte acidule
Pistachio napoleon with sour morello cherry jam

Tartare de fraise du pays, sorbet cactus/citron vert
Fresh local strawberries with a cactus and lime sorbet

Plume, Cote de Luberon, white wine

After dinner we went window shopping and saw a lovely confectioners shop that made caramels and candied fruits, a Provencal speciality.

We definitely want to go back to Provence. It is a beautiful region full of history, scenery, art and architecture.

St. Paul de Vence – Something to Wet Your Whistle

St. Paul de Vence is a very picturesque town which is famous for its beauty and also is the final resting place of Auguste Escoffier and Marc Chagall. It has narrow winding streets with small squares tucked in between. This is definitely a village for romance, whether you want to propose to someone, go on a honeymoon or just spend a romantic vacation with the one you love. I would recommend staying at Le St. Paul. Everyone wants to be at the Colombe d’Or because of its amazing collection of paintings and sculptures and because every movie star known to man has stayed there. The hotel is therefore always crowded with curious tourists. The Le St. Paul hotel is tucked away in the middle of the village, is beautiful and tranquil, and has an amazing view of the valley below.

A number of painters, founders of the 20th-century schools, flocked to Saint-Paul: Matisse, Soutine, Chagall, Renoir, Signac, Modigliani, Dufy… not to mention writers including Gide, Giono, Cocteau and Prévert.

In July 1964, the Fondation Maeght was inaugurated by André Malraux. It was the joint creation of Aimé and Marguerite Maeght and artists including Giacometti, Chagall, Miró and Calder. The museum and grounds are beautiful. If you like modern art, then it is a must-see.

There are a number of art galleries and other specialty shops. One that caught our eye was a shop that sold various liqueurs and olive oil.

The name of the shop is Les Trois Etoiles de St. Paul and it is owned by a lovely man named Horst.

Horst has a very interesting selection of liqueurs, such as honey, plum, peach, limoncello cream, strawberry, blackberry and pear, as well as several types of balsamico and local olive oil. He certainly believes in letting potential buyers try out his wares; we must have had about eight tastings before we chose a plum liqueur and lemoncello cream to take home as part of our swag.

The House that Escoffier Built

I tend to do a lot of research when planning a trip. I always buy a guidebook and look for interesting places to visit on the internet. I spent weeks collecting information for our trip to Provence, including printing out maps on the Michelin website. It was quite helpful and we used those maps for our various day trips that we made.

One of those places that I insisted on visiting was the village of Villeneuve-Loubet, because it is the childhood home of Auguste Escoffier and his birth home contains the Musee de l’Art Culinaire, or Museum of Culinary Art.

This museum is dedicated to Auguste Escoffier, “King of Chefs and Chef to Kings”, the creator of the famous Peach Melba, strawberries Romanoff and who, according to his obituary in a British newspaper, “put frogs’ legs on the West End menu.”

The museum has eight rooms that display souvenirs, objects, sugar sculptures and utensils from his time, a collection of menus and a number of photographs and articles.

One of the museum’s eight exhibit rooms features the fireplace and spit used by the Escoffier family.

A photograph of the Australian opera star Nellie Melba is signed “A Monsieur Escoffier avec mes remerciements pour la creation Peche Melba,” (To Monsieur Escoffier with my thanks for the creation of Peach Melba) and dated 1914.

The museum has menus from his days at the Carlton and at London’s Savoy Hotel, as well as menus for the coronation dinner honoring King George V.

I recommend stopping and seeing this interesting museum and walking around the beautiful village.

I know I should show you a picture of the Peach Melba or Strawberries Romanoff I made, but I haven’t made either one. However, in keeping with the ice cream that you serve with the peach melba, I thought I would give you a recipe for a luscious coffee ice cream with a warm ganache sauce.

Coffee Ice Cream with Warm Chocolate Ganache

Serving Size: 4

For the ganache:

1 cup finely chopped premium bittersweet chocolate

1/2 cup heavy cream

For the ice cream:

1 cup whole Italian-roast coffee beans

2 cups whole milk

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 cups heavy cream

8 large egg yolks

For the assembly:

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped


Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat the cream over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Whisk the mixture until the chocolate has completely melted and forms into a thick sauce. Use immediately or keep warm over a hot water bath on very low heat until ready to use.

Ice cream

Crush the beans into coarse pieces by placing them in a ziploc bag and smashing them with a rolling pin. Add the crushed beans, the milk, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 cup cream into a saucepan . Place the saucepan over medium heat and slowly bring the milk mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat as soon as bubbles break the surface. Steep the coffee beans in the milk mixture for at least 1 hour. Strain the mixture and set aside. Discard the coffee beans.

Have ready a large bowl filled with ice water. Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 3/4 cup sugar until the mixture becomes pale yellow and forms a ribbon.

Reheat the coffee-flavored milk mixture, bringing it to a simmer. Immediately remove it from the heat, and with the mixer on low speed, slowly add 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the beaten eggs and sugar. While mixing, add the remaining hot milk mixture in a slow, steady stream until incorporated. Scrape the mixture from the sides and the bottom of the bowl mix well, and pour through a sieve into another bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup cold cream and stir well to combine.

Place in the ice bath. Stir until the mixture has completely cooled. Transfer the mixture to a covered container and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or until ready to churn.

Churn the ice cream and place in the freezer for about 1 hour.


Place two scoops of ice cream in a bowl and pour the hot ganache over the ice cream, top with whip cream and the chopped hazelnuts.

Provence and the Cote d’Azur

My husband and I went on a lovely 12-day vacation last June to the Cote d’Azur and Provence. We stayed in a beautiful villa on Cap d’Antibes for 10 days and a hotel in Avignon for two days. We travelled to Haute de Cagne, Nice, Tourtour, Villecroze, Salernes, Flayosc, Vence, St. Paul de Vence, Villeneuve-Loubet, Grasse, Villefranche sur le Mer, Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Marseille, Cassis, Avignon, Orange, Carpentras, and Aix en Provence.

We were fortunate enough to have been invited to stay at a family friend’s home in Cap d’Antibes. We had the house to ourselves.

The house was 75 meters from the sea and had a rooftop terrace which has a magnificent view of the bay. We spent several romantic evenings on the rooftop sharing a bottle of delicious Provencal rose watching the sunset over the bay.

We were in heaven. The house is decorated beautifully. I could have moved right in. If I am fortunate enough to design my own home, I am going to have a staircase just like theirs….

The three panels were made by a local artist and depict scenes from life in Provence. I would love to have some made with three scenes in Israel.

Here are a closeup of the three panels:

A cafe scene,


And, the game of Pétanque.

We had breakfast and dinner at the house almost every evening. We grilled sardines, sebaste, trout, red gunard and emperor bream. The fish was outstanding. We were really looking forward to having red mullet, but it cost three times what we pay here.

We did not eat out a lot because most of the restaurants were very expensive and since we had a kitchen in the villa, we took full advantage of cooking with beautiful fresh ingredients. The reason I say expensive is because 1 Euro was approximately 5.50NIS.

We drank a lot of wine while we were there and were amazed at how little they cost. We had:

  • Les Orfevres Vignerons, Sainte Victoire Cote du Provence 2004, Rose
  • Golfe de Saint Tropez Merlot, Vin de Pays du Var
  • Montcigale Beaucaire, Coteaux d’ Aix en Provence 2005, Rose
  • Chateau de Sablet Bordeaux 2005
  • Domaine Francois Gerbet Bourgogne 2004, Rose
  • Chateau Minuty Gassin, Cuvee du Bailly 2004, Rose
  • L’Arnaud 2005, Rose
  • Les Vignobles Choisis 2004, Cotes de Provence

We also ate a number of cheeses:

  • Le bleu des Basques
  • Saint Nectaire
  • Pyrenees Montsegur
  • Brie
  • Dry chevre, don’t remember the name

We came back with some nice goodies:

Two Provencal salt mixes, walnut oil and Basque paprika

Calissons (we also bought dark chocolate covered), olives (didn’t eat them there) and chestnut honey

Creme de Prune and Creme de Lemoncello from a lovely shop that I will tell you more about in St. Paul de Vence

Wanted to bring back more wine, but alas we have a limit.

I also bought some beautiful Provencal fabric for three cushions that I am having made as a headboard for our bed.

Next post: The man that put Villeneuve-Loubet on the map.

Chag Sameach!

I hope that all of you have a joyous Passover full of peace and love.

I am going to be very busy the next couple of days preparing for the seder and will be back with more stories and photos to share with you this coming week.

Here are a couple of teaser photos for a series of upcoming posts. We are going to travel to France.

Any idea who lived here?

Your Great-Great Grandfather’s House is Still Standing!

These are the words of an email that I read in shock last April.

I received an email via JewishGen from a man from my paternal great-grandmother’s hometown, Giershagen, Hochsauerland, Nord Rhein-Westphalia, Germany. He asked if he could be of assistance and I wrote him back. We exchanged a few emails and after I explained who I was and which relative lived in Giershagen he proceeded to tell me that my great-great-grandfather’s house and the synagogue that he attended are still standing. I cried. I lived in Germany for two-half years, rather close to Giershagen and never went there. Okay, I was young and stupid.

Since my job takes me to Germany every 3-4 months, I decided on the next trip I would drive up to Giershagen. Fortunately, my husband was able to join me for the weekend.

David and I drove for almost 3 hours to the beautiful Hochsauerland village of Olsberg and stayed at a lovely hotel recommended by our host, Wolfgang.

Olsberg is 30km from Giershagen. While we were driving on dark winding roads at night, my husband remarked, “Leave it to your family to live in the middle of nowhere!”, but when he woke up the next morning and saw the beauty of the area, he said that he understood why our family lived here. It is green and hilly and really picturesque.

Wolfgang met us at our hotel for breakfast and then our journey began. First, at his lovely home, where he showed me letters, newspaper clippings and photographs of the area. Some of the letters were quite humorous. One of them was from a woman originally from Giershagen who heard from a distant relative that one of my great aunts had grown very fat! It reminded me of living in my hometown.

We then stopped in the village of Padberg to see the synagogue where my great-great grandfather, nicknamed Chicken Opa, prayed and had to walk 7km one way to get to. I found out that he would walk to synagogue and walk right back. Walking 7 km was “no big deal” back then. We walk 2 km to our synagogue.

The synagogue is the oldest half-timbered (fachwerk) synagogue in Westphalia, first mentioned in 1751, and is on the property of a local farmer. The Jews in Beringhausen, Giershagen, Helminghausen, Madfeld, Messinghausen and Roesenbeck were all members of the Padberg synagogue.

The synagogue is so tiny. Maybe 30 men could sit on the ground floor and 15 women on the top floor. It was quite emotional being in the synagogue, I could almost see people praying there…I felt their presence. The synagogue survived Kristalnacht in 1939 because the building was sold in 1932 when the congregation could no longer get a minyan together. The synagogue was made into a memorial and small museum in 1999. Some of the prayer books, a mezuzah and other artifacts are on display.

After looking at all of the pictures, architectural drawings and prayer books in the synagogue we headed to the cemetery in Beringhausen where some of my family are buried. The cemetery is located on a hill in the middle of the forest. It is a beautiful resting place.

The cemetery has 38 tombstones dating from 1862 to 1932. Some of the tombstones were turned over during the war, but the town of Marsberg put the stones in their proper place after the war.

Our first stop in Giershagen was to see the Jewish path. The 7 km path through forest and up and down hills to the Padberg synagogue. It wouldn’t have been fun to walk that in the rain or snow, but I want to go back and do the walk. It must be a beautiful walk in good weather. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any photos of this. There is even a marker at the beginning of the path that says Judenpfad or Jewish Path.

We went to visit a neighbor of Chicken Opa who was about 6 or 7 when my great-great grandfather left in 1937. Chicken Opa baby-sat him from time to time while his parents tended their fields. He had nothing but fond memories of going to his house. He told us that Chicken Opa had the largest apple tree in the village and that he could play and make as much noise as he wanted, except when Opa was praying. He also told us that when the house was sold to someone else, he went over and got a sausage hanging rack that Opa used to hang the beef sausages he made.

He then asked to be excused for a minute and he came back to the room with this:

He explained that Chicken Opa bought a Leica camera before he left Germany and he gave him the box with some money before my great-great grandfather, one daughter and my grandparents left for Alabama in December 1937. I was quite moved that he still had this box. It was all I could do to keep from crying. I was speechless. He was also teary when he told us how sad he and his family was when Chicken Opa left. He then gave me a glass with the crest of Giershagen on it and we said good-bye. It was really a lovely meeting and I hope to spend more time with him the next time I go back.

Then, we left his house and stood in the street and saw the one thing that brought me here in the first place, the house:

The house has been completely renovated and looks nothing like the original one in the picture below, but I know that the heart of the home is still there and Chicken Opa is smiling somewhere knowing that I went back to see where his life began.

Solomon Freibaum, a.k.a Chicken Opa, left his home and all his possessions at the age of 81 to go to a country where he didn’t speak the language, that didn’t have kosher food for him and didn’t pray like he did. But he lived to the ripe old age of 88. My grandfather told me a lovely story about him. Chicken Opa was Orthodox and he always wore a kippah and a hat when he went to synagogue in Germany. The first time he went to the ultra-reform (at the time) synagogue in my hometown he wore his kippah and hat. He noticed that no one was wearing a kippah let alone a hat and he removed them. My grandfather said, “Opa, it is ok; you can keep your hat on.”, to which he replied, “Child, I pray with my heart, not with my hat.”

Baby It’s Cold Outside…Soup and Socca

It snowed in Jerusalem this morning and we had hail this afternoon in central Israel. Spring has not sprung yet. Jerusalem gets snow about once a year, but yesterday it didn’t stick.

I like visiting Jerusalem. I think it is a romantic city with all of the Jerusalem stone buildings and the skyline of the old city. The best way to get an overview of the old city is to climb on the roofs of the houses there. The view is amazing.

I really like going to outdoor markets. They are full of sights, sounds, smells and are also a great place to people watch. You can find some amazing faces in the market, like the amba man and the juice man. Their faces are timeless….just put another period costume on them and it could be the market 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem.

Mahane Yehuda market is just the market to see all of the things I described above. It has also revamped itself with chic cafes, restaurants and other shops. I was always afraid to go there because of the bombings. I only went there last summer, for the first time since I moved to Israel over six years ago.

The market is always busy, but it is very crowded on Thursday night and Friday morning. Everyone is busy finding things to prepare their Shabbat meals.

I found chickpea flour at the market. My husband and I went to Provence last summer for a glorious vacation and every since we tried the Nicoise specialty, socca, we wanted to try and make it at home. We had our first socca at Lou Pilha Levain Nice.

They prepare theirs on a copper pan. They specialize in serving Nicoise dishes and they do a wonderful job.

They have delicious gargantuan tourte de blette (upper left corner of the above photo), which is a sweet tart filled with swiss chard, raisin and pinenuts and sprinkled with icing sugar. Typical tourte de blette are not as thick as theirs.

Socca is a type of savoury pancake made of chickpea flour and water. It is dead easy to make, but not always easy to reproduce. You need to cook it at a very high temperature for a short period of time. It is typically cooked on a large round copper pan over a very hot wood fire or gas flame.

Of course we don’t have the big round copper pan and open fire they have to make this, but I thought I would give it a try with our cast iron plancha in the oven.

The other night, my husband made a delicious pot of minestrone con ceci (chickpea minestrone). He is refusing to give up the recipe. It is basically the farmers market, sans the fruit, in a bowl. Suffice it to say it was delicious and gave me an idea to try to finally make socca so we could say we had a ceci or hummous festival at our house. I decided to add fresh chives and fresh thyme to mine. It reminded me of Nice, but that is for another posting…..

Chive and Thyme Socca

Serving Size: 4 to 6

300g (1 cup + 5 tbsp) chickpea flour

500ml (2 cups) cold water

1 tsp salt


2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp chopped fresh chives

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

Heat a cast iron skillet in a 240C/475F oven.

Mix together all of the ingredients above and whisk until you have a smooth batter. The batter should be thinner than crepe batter.

Socca batter

Brush a generous amount of oil on the pan. The oil should be smoking. Pour the batter on the hot plancha and cook with the oven door slightly ajar for the first couple of minutes and then turn on the grill (broiler) to maximum so that the socca can get crisp on top.

Socca on the Plancha

Keep an eye on it as it bubbles and rises, but make sure that it doesn't burn. It should only be slightly brown.

It should be slightly crisp on the outside, but creamy on the inside even though it should be about 1/8 of an inch or 3mm thick.

Cut it into squares.

I tried making it on the stovetop and it works, but you have to cook it like a crepe and turn it over. I prefer the oven method.

Socca with Chives

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