In your own backyard, naturally

New treasures are waiting to be discovered very close to home.

Etz V’Mayim  (photo credit: Danny Goldberg)
Etz V’Mayim
(photo credit: Danny Goldberg)
The hills of Jerusalem are full of age-old mysteries and hidden secrets. As it turns out, those same hills are also home to newer treasures just waiting to be discovered. I recently explored a few of those treasures, and I’m willing to give away the identifying details.
Actually, when it comes to the Kadum ceramics studio, there are few identifying details to divulge. The studio is unremarkably set among a winding road of old warehouses at the edge of Moshav Aminadav.
It does, however, have a remarkable view of the wadi across the way. As kadum means “ancient,” the studio does not even have an address or a website to give it away.
The earth-tone ceramics created there by Eliezer Ehrlich are inspired by the Dead Sea area, where he worked in agriculture for some three decades. Rather than consider his work as art, Ehrlich focuses on the shape and functionality of his pieces – which is not to say they aren’t attractive. They are fired at incredibly high temperatures in order to improve their durability and make them both dishwasher and microwave safe. While Ehrlich does sell his work, his passion is to teach others to make their own ceramics. He offers lessons at his studio.
Not too far away, in Jerusalem, is another enterprise with strong connections to the earth and to Israel’s pioneers. The three hectare organic Tur-Sinai Farm is all that remains of the more than 120 hectares purchased by the Tur-Sinai and Torczyner families in 1952. Inspired by Zionist ideology, the families built up their farm and provided work for some 200 families in the area. They were the first to “import” nectarines to Israel. The founder’s young grandson was encouraged to smuggle the fruits back with him from a summer in Fresno, California.
Some 50 years later, that boy is the sole Tur-Sinai still on the land. Oded Tur-Sinai bought his way into the family business, and he was the only one who didn’t sell off his share during hard times in the 1980s.
Today, the Tur-Sinai Farm still grows many of the fruits it brought to Israel, such as cherries, plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines, though it no longer supplies the same 25 to 30 percent of the country’s fruit production. The farm has been entirely organic since the 1980s; according to Oded, organic produce simply tastes better than non-organic produce.
Oded Tur-Sinai retains that idealist spirit that his forebears brought with them to Emek Ha'arazim. He emotionally expresses his hopes for peace in the country, where everyone can coexist – just like his various fruit trees live in harmony, species intermingled one next to the other. The farm plays host to group getaways and activities, as well as bar mitzva celebrations and weddings. It now houses the first handful of vacation cabins, soon to be joined by dozens more. The cabins are nestled among the trees, and they are very well appointed.
The fresh smell of lumber abounds, and amenities are aplenty. Beyond the view, wildlife and comfort, the farm comes with a good story.
For a slightly smaller family enterprise, head over to Mevaseret Zion. There, Roni and Sharon Calderon run Hashahar Brewery out of their home. Established in 2007, the boutique brewery began as a course paid for by Sharon as a birthday gift to Roni.
They served their own beer at their wedding and have since perfected a number of different brews: dark ale, wheat beer, stout, IPA, spiced ale and Belgian Tripel, each named for a family member. The Omer (the stout) won the gold medal at the international BIRA competition. All the beers are of the ale variety, and they’re made with no added flavors or spices (except the spiced beer).
Visits are arranged in advance and can include anything from stopping by to purchase a few bottles (a six-pack is NIS 89, a single bottle costs NIS 17), to a tasting accompanied by homemade bread made from the barley left from brewing, to a full meal.
And speaking of homemade bread, nearby in Beit Zayit, Omer Sela has a new home-based bakery. With a history of restaurant management behind him, Sela has taken on the task of providing made-to-order organic, sourdough breads to customers.
The rustic loaves come in a few varieties.
The Shula is whole wheat, flax, sunflower seed and oat bread; there’s a TumTum loaf made with thyme and sesame; a rye; and a spelt. Aside from being attractive and healthful, the bread has notably good crust – and this coming from someone who used to pass her crusts to her father.
While the ingredients are kosher and halla is taken, the bread is not kosher-certified.
Orders should be placed two days in advance. Prices run NIS 20-25 per loaf, and an extra NIS 5 is charged for delivery.
For something even more unusual in Beit Zayit, head over to Etz V’Mayim. Set overlooking the moshav’s seasonal lake, the spa offers watsu treatments and a hot tub, along with swimming lessons for tots. The facilities are laden with wooden decks, breathtaking views and landscaped gardens.
For those unfamiliar with watsu, it is a combination of shiatsu and hydrotherapy in which the therapist floats and stretches the client in a warm pool. The treatment is quite relaxing for those able to let go of the fact that a total stranger is holding them. The therapists at Etz V’Mayim take extra effort to make their clients feel comfortable, and the option to use the hot tub afterward certainly advances their goal.
Candlelight at sundown can provide an intimate, romantic experience.
So it seems the hills around Jerusalem are alive with creativity. From those producing wholesome food for the body to those feeding the soul, it seems only natural that these secrets be brought to light.
Where to eat:
Café Itamar is situated in a somewhat unconventional location: within a plant nursery. Launched six years ago, the café and nursery serve as a memorial to Itamar, the brother of one of the owners, who was killed by terrorists. The flowers, life and food brought together at the edge of Moshav Ora are meant to keep Itamar’s memory alive through growth and continuity.
The eatery recently underwent an overhaul thanks to a new chef, Nadav Elbaz. Although he began his kitchen training in the army, he has come a long way since then. He revamped the menu entirely and has made a shift toward restaurant and away from café. On my recent breakfast-time visit, I was pleased to find more adventurous offerings than are typically available in local cafés. The food was presented attractively, if only ever so lightly seasoned.
My dining partner and I managed to sample a range of breakfast options. Under the small breakfast options, we tried the bruschetta Niçoise (NIS 48), which was a surprisingly tasty toast topped with vegetables, small sunnyside- up eggs and red tuna; and cauliflower masabcha (NIS 48), which came with tzatziki, chickpeas, pickled hot peppers, tomato, hardboiled egg, feta, parsley and focaccia. My dining partner fell hard for that one.
Other selections we tasted included the Boker B’Mashtela (NIS 64), which was an unexpectedly delightful combination of sunny-side-up eggs atop asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, halloumi cheese and salad; and the Boker Pinuk, a fabulous eggs Benedict- like dish with poached eggs over smoked salmon, a spinach-Parmesan cream and potato rösti.
As it was still chilly out, we sat indoors, enclosed by many windows and surround ed by flowering plants. On nice days, the outside seating is inviting – both on the deck and among the trees. The option to sip mimosas made with freshly squeezed orange juice and cava (NIS 25) made breakfast into more of an event than a meal. For a break from the city but not far at all, Café Itamar is a good option.
Run by the same owners as Café Itamar, Derech Hagefen is like the café’s fancier cousin. With its rustic décor, exposed wood beams and wood-burning stove, the restaurant creates a special atmosphere. Like its cousin, it, too, is surrounded by gardens and plants and has a greenhouse-like seating area in addition to the more traditional part.
The dinner menu created by Ilan Niv boasts many fish options, salads, risotto, pasta and pizza. Niv’s path to the kitchen began as a dishwasher in a restaurant, as Hollywood as that sounds.
Among the starters that we sampled were a lemony cured salmon carpaccio with a touch of horseradish (NIS 46), an amazing dish of tender grilled asparagus topped with Parmesan sauce (NIS 36) and a fresh, lively tuna ceviche with tomatoes, yogurt and parsley (NIS 48). Meanwhile, the beet gnocchi (NIS 35/62) filled with goat cheese on creamed baby spinach and garlic sauce was more standard, although the sauce was tasty.
A surprising standout dish was the Beit Zayit salad (NIS 59). Comprised of mushrooms, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, candied pecans and Parmesan sauce on a bed of lettuce, the salad instigated a fight over who got the last bite. The juicy, flavorful mullet kebab (NIS 45) came on a bed of tzatziki, tehina and sumac, and it packed a little punch – in a good way.
In terms of pasta, the tortellini porcini (NIS 62) was filled with mushrooms and mascarpone and came in a tomato-butter sauce, but somehow the only flavor really detectable was Parmesan. We also sampled the beet spaghetti al olio (NIS 48), which was oddly pleasing and a little spicy.
For a fish main, we tried the grilled sea bass on a stew of gnocchi, carrots, Portobello mushrooms and corn in a butter, turmeric and caper sauce (NIS 98). While the stew combination might sound a little strange, it was a successful combination. The fresh fish was quite good as well.
When it came time for dessert, we tasted the hot chocolate cake (NIS 32), which would have done well with some whipped cream; a special, fun Krembo-like coconut cream mound filled with marshmallow in a pool of tangy passion-fruit sauce; and katayef (NIS 34), an Arab dessert consisting of folded, fried pancakes – in this case, one was filled with malabi, and the other with a cinnamon-nut mixture. It was served with vanilla ice cream and proved an interesting dessert, if not overwhelming with flavor.
Derech Hagefen is not your typical Jerusalem- area restaurant. The menu is more creative, and the setting is more intriguing. It’s a good place to go for a change of scenery.
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.
Kadum Studio Ha’arava Street, Moshav Aminadav Eliezer Ehrlich: 052-384-0965
Tur-Sinai Farms 1 Ze’ev Tur Sinai Street Emek Ha’arazim, Jerusalem (02) 654-0702
Hashahar Brewery 53 Rehov Hashalom Mevaseret Zion 052-359-4779
Omer Sela’s Bread Bakery Moshav Beit Zayit 054-677-3050 Etz V’Mayim 278 Derech Ha’agam Street Moshav Beit Zayit (02) 533-2395
Café Itamar
(Kosher) dairy Meshek 46, Moshav Ora Tel: (02) 642-4093 Derech Hagefen (Kosher) dairy 1 Derech Hagefen Moshav Beit Zayit Tel: (02) 650-2044