Gem in the Galilee

My dad and my husband have this routine:

My dad, an archaeology enthusiast, always keeps his eyes peeled for the undiscovered artifact when he visits Israel. My husband always ribs him, “They’ve already found everything there is to find, Paul.”

I take my dad’s side on this one and whenever archaeologists make a big discovery in our area in the Lower Galilee, I’ll usually send the article to my husband and my dad with the subject line: “So there’s nothing left to find in Israel…”

I am reminded today, too, how much there is still yet for me to discover here in this region — not ancient artifacts, necessarily, but unexplored paths, little known attractions, charming exhibits and people.

I wasn’t the one to stumble upon Hemdatya, a particularly special bed and breakfast in the Lower Galilee; my husband (the one who says there’s nothing left to find) did. Ilaniya, the historic community on which the b & b is located, is across the street from where he works and the company often recommends the place to out-of-town visitors.

My husband was so charmed by Hemdatya and by the owner, Atalia, when he was there recently with his colleague, he invited me to breakfast  there to see exactly what a gem in the Lower Galilee it is.

I was smitten.

Atalia (l) owner of Hemdatya Bed and Breakfast, and me

Atalia (l) owner of Hemdatya Bed and Breakfast, and me

With Atalia, yes, who was a gracious, sweet and entertaining hostess (not to mention an amazing chef!). But with the grounds themselves, and more so with her vision for Hemdatya, which is a haven for any traveler interested in ecotourism, organic agriculture, or permaculture. It’s also a charming, potentially romantic retreat for both foreigners and locals looking to get away for some low-key relaxation.

Hemdatya is located on a historic Israeli village about 15 minutes from the Sea of Galilee called Ilaniya, originally a farming community and agricultural training center for long-ago pioneers. The stone buildings of the b & b —  renovated with both historic conservation and sustainability in mind —   are constructed much from nearby materials.  Hemdatya installed and employs a system for collecting rain water and recycles gray water throughout the site. The water from the rooms (bathrooms and kitchens) drains into a biological purification system and from there irrigates the orchards that grow vegetables, fruits, and grapes for wine.

We ate in the main kitchen — a traditional Israeli breakfast of breads, salads, cheese, and shakshouka. The cheese was from goat milk; gifts from the local goats. And the eggs in the shakshouka were from the local chickens.

Breakfast at Hemdatya

Breakfast at Hemdatya

Many tzimmerim in Northern Israel can claim goats and chickens, but not many can claim the fruits and veggies grown not just organically, but according to the ethics and principles of permaculture. No pesticides in her gardens, says Atalia. No need.  Using permaculture, the gardens grow in harmony with the “pests.”

After breakfast, Atalia gave us a tour of the five guest rooms (each with a small kitchenette and eco-friendly bathroom) which are so delightful in their decor, you can tell attention was paid not just to construction and conservation, but also to aesthetics. I gushed to Atalia (and I meant it), “I am sure all of your visitors are as struck as I am at how enchanting these rooms are.”

Last, we toured the grounds. Vegetables grow everywhere, from little gardens in front of the farm-house guest rooms

Peppers grow on Hemdatya in Israel

Peppers grow on Hemdatya in Israel

to the grape vines that overhang the entrance to the jacuzzi room.

Grape vines at Hemdatya in Israel

Grape vines at Hemdatya in Israel

The gorgeous stone pool sealed the deal and I am already planning in my mind a getaway in the near future:  a writer’s retreat, let’s say, just me, my laptop and my thoughts. Or a birthday weekend.

Hint, hint. 

 

 

 

 

 

Organically-grown foodie

Okay, I’m a little sneak. I previously wrote and published this post on February 6 for my wellness-related blog, The Wellness Bitch. However, its connection to Israel is clear and relevant, and has much to do with my making Aliyah. I even added a special little something to this version.

Some people mistake my interest in food for an interest in food.

By that, I mean just because I am constantly thinking and writing about food, people who don’t know me well automatically assume that I like to cook, enjoy food preparation, and think it’s groovy to come up with surprising new ways to prepare root vegetables.

This is not true. In fact, until I was practically forced to cook for my family when I realized that most of Trader Joes’ frozen meals were cross-contaminated with peanuts (a food my son is severely allergic to), I preferred to reach into the freezer for dinner, not the vegetable crisper.

I am not a foodie.

I do not enjoy watching anything on The Food Network, save for Ace of Cakes (I’m amused by the ingenuity and wit of Duff’s crew) and the occasional Jamie Oliver (because he’s so darn cute and an activist, to boot.)

I arrange food on plates with as much creativity and intention as a lunch lady. And I really, really hate the aftermath of preparing lovely meals — dishpan hands.

However, I have to admit since I started buying organic produce from a local farm, and my husband is closely watching whether or not this budget line item is worth it, I’ve become a lot more playful in the kitchen.

The first week I received the basket I discovered the many uses of cabbage. Shredded cabbage salad. Sauteed cabbage with onions, tomato, and garlic. And this dish I used to love to get from my local Ethiopian restaurant in South Orange, NJ.  I suddenly transformed into a little Jewish Julia Child, which I guess would make me a mini Joan Nathan, since she is already the Jewish Julia Child.

This week, I’m exploring fennel and peppers for a very simple reason: I need to make room in my refrigerator. There are so many peppers and fennel bulbs that I can’t reach the hummus.

When I lived in New Jersey, very close to a Whole Foods Market, I bought plenty of organic fruits and vegetables. But, despite the advice and urging from many of my foodie friends, I stuck with the stuff I knew, loved, and could be sure my children would eat. In the vegetable category, this left me with broccoli, spinach, and kale.  None of which has made an appearance in my weekly organic delivery basket. Are my kids enjoying the cabbage and fennel, too?

No, they are not. And this is the very reason I didn’t join a co-op or CSA in the States. However, as my access to organic food here is significantly limited, and gas is extremely expensive, this is the most practical and affordable option for our family right now.  (To learn more about why I choose organic for my family, please read more of The Wellness Bitch, or talk to the folks here in Israel who work on non-organic farms to learn about the unfortunate incidence of cancer among their co-workers.)

I seek comfort, though, in the knowledge that my children eat Israeli salad for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and that I brought the Jessica Seinfeld cookbook with me instead of selling it at my yard sale.

If I am really lucky, perhaps she has a trick for hiding fennel.