In the process of researching the book French Women Don’t Get Fat, I discovered that the author has a website. One of the pages on the site is entitled “M— recommends.” I anticipated a page with tips on sensible eating in and out of the house. Instead, I found an astonishingly pretentious list of recommendations for where to pee away your money all over the world.
It may be true that French women don’t get fat (I can’t confirm or deny this), but I fear, if M— is anything to go by, that cash burns holes in their pocketbooks. So to counter her spendthrift advice, here’s my page of recommendations (sans self-aggrandizing introduction):
Hotels and Restaurants
Most of my travels in Asia and Europe have been grand tours of guest houses, youth hostels, and fleabag hotels. But I have been known, on occasion, to board in more civilized accommodations. Here are a few places I can recommend:
-The King David Hotel, Jerusalem. Actually, I haven’t stayed there (though the smart set usually do), but the food is excellent. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
-The Four Seasons, Vancouver, British Columbia. Fluffy bathrobes with the hotel insignia embroidered on the left breast, and a very satisfying Japanese-style breakfast for all the Japanese businessmen who stay there and can’t abide American morning food.
-Pension Ellie, Island of Naxos, Greece. Like most places in Greece, the cheapest and airiest summer accommodations (though not the most private) are to be found on the roof, where most places have a few cots set up. I highly recommend sleeping on roofs, though earplugs and bug repellent are also necessities.
-Sawatdee Guest House, Bangkok. Off a main thoroughfare and a long walk from the main tourist road in the city, but near major bus lines and the boat taxi that zigzags up and down the Chao Praya River. Roach count: average. An in-house restaurant that’s open whenever you want to eat. Just tell Nan or Net and they’ll go make you a banana shake or a killer chicken-pineapple stir-fry.
-Steakiat Gingi, Jerusalem. Okay, so it’s located in a mall in Talpiot and the seating is out in the foot traffic. No matter. The shipudim (meat skewers), grilled pitot, and array of salads make it some of the best food in the city, and not the most expensive, either. It’s my kids’ favorite place to eat, and one of the few restaurants I’ll consent to take them to since there’s plenty of food that interests them and they love watching the people go by.
Fans and friends from all over the world keep asking where I shop. Well, I don’t generally shop in Israel, since the clothing here is too expensive, trendy, and revealing for me (and my stretch marks), and the quality is chad paami (disposable). I prefer to order things from Lands’ End’s Overstocks online, and either have my mother-in-law bring them when she visits or have my mom send them, detagged, in a box labeled “used clothing.” Am I a sneak or what? But the quality is excellent and the garments never go out of fashion (i.e. they’re sensible, well-made, and frumpy).
Of course, I occasionally have no choice but to set foot inside a store. When this happens, I try to make sure it’s a Michal Negrin jewelry boutique, or the huge Teva Naot store in the industrial area of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion.
The Cap’n and I registered for our tableware at the time of our wedding, and got most of the place settings we wanted from Ross-Simons online. Broken pieces can be replaced at Replacements.com.
That was in the U.S., of course. Here in Israel we’ve found a few places that carry Corningware (Corelle) for a little less than your firstborn, and we’ve expanded our everyday dishes there.
I loved the Kitchen Reject Shop in Cambridge, England. Wonder if it’s still there. Beautiful stuff, only slightly marred, for cheap.
Perfume makes me sick. I hate smelling it on other people, and can’t abide wearing it on myself. Only once did I know someone who wore White Linen and actually found the fragrance pleasant when she walked by.
Call me old fashioned, but I think soap and water does a pretty good job. I like the smell of Tom’s of Maine Calendula deodorant on the Cap’n. And that bewitching fragrance that clings to me and my clothes? That would be sweat, sunscreen, or Bill’s spit-up. Organic, authentic, and priceless.
Manicures and pedicures
Manicures are a waste of money on me. It looks good for a few hours, but as soon as I get into the kitchen or the laundry room, it’s ruined. My nails rarely get long enough for an attractive French manicure, and the idea of fake nails makes me wince. I’d look like a female impersonator.
Pedicures, on the other hand, are a great way to pamper oneself. It takes about an hour, and someone else does all the work. And as slowly as toenails grow, one can keep an attractive pedicure peeping out from one’s sandals for up to six weeks. (Unless you chop broccoli with your feet.) You can spend as much money as you want on these things, but I go to a woman originally from Berkeley, California, who lives in the Zayit (the neighborhood overlooking Bethlehem) and runs her beauty salon out of her bomb shelter. She does a nice facial, too.
I have an assortment of bags, clutches, and purses from over the years. At this point, most of them live in my daughters’ dress-up box in the playroom. I have one primary need in a bag: I must be hands-free. In graduate school, I was usually saddled with a plain, navy blue Jansport backpack. They have an excellent free repair service, and I was even able to get mine fixed here in Israel. The newer ones are prettier than the old style, and I’ve invested in a second, cornflower-blue floral one for more formal occasions.
The bag I’ve been shlepping around lately is a gift from my mother-in-law, a quilted, stringed backpack in a green and black French provincial pattern. It’s pretty, has a few little pockets handy for pens, checkbook, teudat zehut (identity card), and keys, and fits wipes and a couple of diapers in addition to my stuff.
Ahhh, a food group in itself.
Actually, Israeli ice cream sucks. But the American ex-pats who run the pizza joint in our neighborhood in Efrat also sell Ben and Jerry’s in pints and the fancier forms (the ’Wich, bars on sticks, etc.). There is usually a good variety of flavors, and it’s just expensive enough that we are careful not to overeat.
I have seen a few boutique ice cream stores and gelato joints around. There’s a gelato place in a neighborhood shopping center in Modi’in that is heavenly. When I was backpacking through Italy, my Australian buddy and I would only buy our gelato in places where the banana flavor was unappetizingly gray instead of bright yellow; her travel guidebook said that’s how you can tell high-quality, natural gelato from the fake stuff.
In the Boston area, J.P. Licks is our family’s favorite. Lots of flavors, and enough fat content to taste really good without leaving a greasy film around your lips. (I avoid White Mountain for that reason.) For the non-kosher crowd, Toscanini’s (near MIT) and Herrell’s (near Harvard) are the cat’s pajamas.
My favorite mass-produced cheddar in the U.S. was Tillamook, made in my home state of Oregon. Their kosher run was pricey, but much better tasting than anything else (kosher) I could lay my hands on.
There are several small independent cheese-makers in Israel. There are a couple of farms in the Negev and the north that make their own cheeses, usually from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. Some fancy cheeses are sold in boutique shops or at Mahanei Yehudah (the semi-outdoor market) in Jerusalem.
The great advantage to living in Israel, of course, is that kosher cheese is widely available, and even the prepackaged stuff or the stuff in the grocery store cheese counters is very passable.
M— has a section in her list of recommendations where she recommends note cards. I don’t know of anyone who writes them anymore. (When I told the Cap’n about this, he asked, “Three-by-five or four-by-six?”)
My recommendation is not to buy any of these overpriced little things. Just buy ordinary note paper for those occasions when a handwritten note is appropriate (e.g. thank-yous, replies to printed invitations, handwritten invitations) and dazzle your recipient with the fact that you still know how to write by hand.
I’ve never been addicted to caffeine, nicotine, THC, or any other substance. Chocolate, on the other hand, is the single most important thing I put in my body, after air.
When I can, I make sure the chocolate is of high quality. In America, my friend Rhu got me hooked on Scharffen-Berger. For chocolate chip cookies, I loved using Trader Joe’s chocolate chips, though Rhu told me recently that Scharffen-Berger is making those too.
In Israel, the Cap’n and I usually prefer Vered HaGalil over Elite. Elite makes a very good bittersweet 60%, better for baking (according to my foodie friend Ilana Epstein) than the Vered 60% which is a little sweeter and excellent eating (or sniffing or injecting). Vered also makes a wonderful dairy bittersweet, though we are underwhelmed by their standard parve. And Carmit makes excellent 60% chocolate chips (available in the baking section of Supersol Deal).
Boutique chocolates are a nice treat for birthdays, etc. I liked Godiva in America (if only to see my naked ancestress on the packaging). There are some fancy-shmancy places in the German Colony in Jerusalem too. I haven’t been to any of them. Between the rich cakes and cookies I make, and Ilana’s recipe for chocolate peanut butter cups (on the post that my stats show is the runaway favorite on this blog), I don’t really feel a need.
Croissants & Pastries
I don’t eat croissants. I think they’re a staple in France, and snooty-food outside it.
Where I live, good pita is the Israeli croissant. It’s easier here to say where the crappy pitot are to be found than the good stuff, since the good stuff is so prevalent. I recommend avoiding Ma’afiat Yealah in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph. It’s thin and rips when you try to stuff it, and their whole wheat pita tastes like the sawdusty American stuff. When buying pitot, make sure they are soft, thick and puffy. Or better yet, buy the Iraqi stuff, called lafa, that is good for roll-ups.
There is excellent baklava at Mahanei Yehuda. To date, though, I have never found a place that makes good pastries. Avoid English Cake in Jerusalem; I don’t make fun of the English and their culinary skills, but there is nothing special about that bakery. Chiffon, in the Neveh Daniel industrial area, has some good cookies, but as far as cakes, pies, muffins, and most cookies are concerned, I bake my own. If anyone finds something worth recommending in Israel, let me know.
I’m always asking other people where they get their hair done, and then not going where they recommend. I have a kid (he’s half my age) who cuts hair in a little salon he runs with his grandmother in Jerusalem. He’s done my hair a couple of times. He’s good, but expensive (150 shekels) and usually uses my requests as a jumping-off point to do what he wants. My last haircut with him (last August) was a massacre. I looked at it when I got home and said to myself, “This will be a really good haircut in six to eight months.” And by jingo, I was right.
Jenny, on the other hand, who cuts hair at a salon on Washington Street in Newtonville, Massachusetts, does a nice job, exactly what I want, and is more reasonable.
Before I got religion, I never had much truck with flowers. My date to a seventh grade dance gave me a beautiful orchid corsage. (His dad owned a nursery.) I got a rose from my sister’s boyfriend after my nose job, a pretty pink one. And I got a standard-issue bouquet of American Beauties at my high school graduation. But since keeping Shabbat, flower arrangements are more commonly seen in my dining room.
There were a few good florists in our area in the States, though my favorite place to buy flowers was Russo’s produce market in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Here in Israel, we usually buy our week’s arrangements from the toothless old man who sells them outside the supermarket on Friday mornings. Sometimes we give that a miss, though, and buy from one of the kids who shleps buckets of unsold flowers door-to-door around the neighborhood Friday afternoons. They’re usually very cheap (8 roses for 12 shekels) and last at least a week. The neighbor’s kid has had my favorite—yellow roses—for two weeks running. Be still, my beating heart.
Home and Garden
I am no professional when it comes to decorating house or garden. I know what I like, and my house reflects it (for better and worse). I’m big into wooden furniture, bookcases, plums and yellows. While most Israelis are partial to white paint on the walls, I like colors. They elevate my mood, help me tune in to the music of the spheres, and hide scuff marks and fingerprints. I get the kind that resists grime and is easy to wipe off.
My garden in Efrat has great potential, but I think it needs an overhaul. My neighbor, Moishie, is said to be a crack gardener. If you want gardening advice, go to him. Or my mom and dad. They keep up their 10 acres in Vermont with little professional help (though they do lean on my sister’s kids to mow the lawn).
Travel & Leisure
I don’t travel much anymore, and leisure for me these days usually consists of watching a couple of “West Wing” episodes with the Cap’n in the basement on motzei Shabbat after the kids are in bed.
But I did go to the Carmel Forest Spa just south of Haifa last year with three other women. That was an amazing experience. Perhaps when Bill is a little older I’ll manage to escape up there again for the wooded walks, Swedish massage, and incredible food.
I’ve had the same Perry Ellis watch for the last 20 years. It’s only the fourth watch I’ve ever owned, and I dread the day I have to replace it. It’s got a fairly plain face, with Roman numerals and an inner dial with the sun and moon on it to indicate a.m. and p.m. It’s on its fourth watchband, and the glass is pretty badly scratched. But I hate getting used to new things, so please God I’ll have this one for at least another few years.
So there are Shimshonit’s recommendations. Aren’t you glad you asked?