I’m now officially back for the summer! Back from where, do you ask? The Holy Land! I had an incredible 10 full days in Israel with 38 other American college students and 7 Israeli soldiers on a free Birthright trip. I could go on and on about it, but in an effort to be relevant to my blog, I’ll just write about some notable food experiences I had. Basically, I learned that the Israeli diet is much healthier and more sustainable than the American diet — not a big surprise, usually anyone’s is.
An abundance of vegetables: The first night at our hotel, we ate dinner, and oh boy, was it different than what you’d see at an American hotel. There was, of course, a hot buffet of your typical meat, potatoes, rice type of dishes, but just a few feet away were multiple tables of the most beautiful spread of vegetables I’ve ever seen- salads of dressed cooked carrots, eggplant, roasted peppers (drool), zucchini, cabbage, and more, plus your normal salad bar and hummus (chickpea spread), tahini (sesame seed paste), and baba ganoush (delicious spread made from eggplant and tahini). I quickly learned this was typical Israeli fare and I ate it up (figuratively and literally). Why can’t we have this at home??
Falafel: That’s a picture of the first one I had in on the trip — I had many more after that. This classic Israeli street food is everywhere. If you don’t know, falafel are balls of fried chickpeas that have been ground up with herbs, lemon juice, etc. To make a meal out of it, you stuff it in a pita along with hummus, tahini, and your choice of a variety of diced vegetables like cucumber, tomato, onion, cabbage, pickles, parsley, and the BEST eggplant I’ve ever tasted. I love that this vegan meal is so satisfying and so common all over the country. While falafel is fried, this Israeli “fast food” is REAL food, much better than anything you could get at McDonald’s.
Salad for breakfast: You heard right, folks. Unlike the often sweet, carb-centered American breakfast of bagels, muffins, pancakes, fruit, oatmeal, etc., Israelis will eat an assortment of raw vegetables and eggs. I was really amazed to see salad on the breakfast buffet at our hotels. I tried it one morning, but decided I preferred my more American breakfast. I did eat a lot of shakshuka though, an Israeli dish of eggs baked in tomato sauce. It’s delicious, and I plan to try making it this summer. Disappointingly, there was usually no fruit at breakfast, but I do love the idea of getting your veggies in first thing.
They eat seasonally: I found this out because I could not for the life of me find a banana. At home I usually eat a banana every day, because of course American grocery stores get them from warm places far away where they can grow them year round. Bananas are grown in Israel, funnily enough, but because they weren’t in season when I was there, they weren’t really available. It is much more sustainable to eat based on what can be grown locally by season, but I guess I’d have to get used to a lot fewer bananas.
A REALLY cool organic farm: I totally forget what the place was called, but lucky for me, we actually had a scheduled visit to this awesome organic farm. They explained all these really cool techniques they use to keep pests out without using chemical pesticides, like growing their tomatoes in these tent-like structures.
It was so unfortunate that I can’t stand raw tomatoes, because they had an incredible variety that everyone could taste. We also tried orange, yellow, white and purple carrots. They all tasted like normal carrots, but they had me dreaming about rainbow roasted carrot dishes. Fortunately, I love strawberries:
They grow them above ground and in the tent thingy to minimize pests! Take note, American industrial agriculture!
Their farmers markets rival any I’ve seen in the States: Just take a look
Above is halva, a kind of cake make from sesame seeds — it’s sweet, but takes some getting used to.
And that above is the best chocolate rugelach I have ever tasted, at Marzipan, a renowned bakery in Jerusalem.
Phew! And that was just the food! I was so sad to leave (a lot because of the food, mainly because of the people on my trip), but now I’m back home and on to my next endeavor, Jillian Michaels’s BODYSHRED workout program.
For those of you who don’t know, Jillian used to be a trainer on The Biggest Loser. She has a podcast that I listen to every week, not just about fitness and nutrition, but about healthy mind-body living in general, confronting your demons and how to be your best self and all that. I know it sounds really corny, but what I love about her is that she’s so down-to-earth. She makes no ridiculous claims about a miracle low effort way to get in shape or lose weight; she says this is going to be brutal but it’s going to be effective. I’ve been a cardio fiend since I started working out, always neglecting strength even though I preach how important it is. I decided to do BODYSHRED so I could get out of my comfort zone and get really toned and strong, while still keeping up my aerobic stamina. It’s an 8 week program: 6 workouts per week with one rest day. The workouts vary from day to day and week to week so you don’t strain any one muscle group and so you continue to challenge yourself. I’ve done four days of it so far, and it is the most grueling thing I’ve ever done, even though each workout is only 30 minutes long! After the first day I was unbelievably sore, and I really questioned whether I wanted to continue. But then I remembered that the point of this was to get out of my comfort zone. So I’m gonna kick and scream through it, and I promise before and after pics at the end. All I gotta say is, after all this I better be friggin shredded.