Planting an Israeli-Style Garden

If you’ve been to Israel, some of your favorite memories, like mine, probably center around greenery – maybe you picked oranges straight from the grove, marveled at the massive Eucalyptus forests, rested under the shade of a fig tree, planted a tree yourself, or hiked in the Golan.

Tel Dan Fig
Me sitting under a fig tree, eating in a fig in one of my favorite places ever Tel Dan in Israel.

Growing plants and trees found in Israel at your own home is a gorgeous and delicious way to bring Israel home. I didn’t come up with this idea myself. My mom did. She’s creating a “little Israel” in our backyard.

Part of my mom’s garden. Yes, I’m bragging on her. Tooey tooey tooey.
You know what these awesome tomatoes will make? A delicious Israeli salad.
And her drip irrigation method – made in Israel. :)

A great place to start is with the Seven Species. Mentioned in the Torah and still growing abundantly across Israel are pomegranates, dates, olives, figs, wheat, barley and grapes. Clearly, some of these are easier to grow than others, but give it a go.

Israel is also famous for its fresh fruits and vegetables. I sometimes joke that if American veggies tasted like Israeli ones, we’d eat them for breakfast too! My mom grows veggies galore, but for beginners, I suggest starting with a fig tree. Not only is the taste divine, so is the smell! It’ll take your right back every time you go to grab a snack, plus they produce like crazy – people come with baskets to collect figs from my mom’s trees.

Baby figs on my mom's fig tree.
Baby figs on my mom’s fig tree.

Next herbs. Israel enjoys a Salad Culture, and I’m not talking about your standard house salad or Ceaser. Beet salads, eggplant salads, tomato salads and more fill the table tops of Israeli meals. Dotting these dishes are green specs. These emerald freckles are fresh herbs chopped up into teensy pieces. Apartment dwellers, this is your best bet. Cilantro, rosemary, basil and mint will look beautiful in your window box, and liven up your salads and teas.

A typical Israeli salad spread.
A typical Israeli salad spread.

Lastly, wild flowers! The beautiful calaniyot, part of the poppy family, is the national flower of Israel. In the Golan, fields of these red, wily blooms stretch as far as the eye can see. It’s really something. You can purchase Israeli wildflower seeds online and bring Israel’s national flower home.

Israel’s national flower.

I’d love to see pictures of your garden! So, play in the dirt, make an Israeli-style garden, and do your inner kibbutznik proud!

This is Srulik, the little cartoon character that represents Israel. Here he is in his Kibbutznik hat, holding a calanit flower.
This is Srulik, the little cartoon character that represents Israel. Here he is in his kibbutznik gardening hat, holding a calanit flower.
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Bringing Israel Home: Dorot Makes Healthy Easy & Yum

On a recent trip to my local Glatt Mart­—post-workout, fetchingly bedraggled—I ran into my friends (of course) who were also grocery shopping at 9pm for some reason.

During our mid-aisle schmooze, we checked out each other’s carts and shared our respective food staples.

My cart looked pretty LA that day, I have to admit, and it’s true that I aim for healthy and do a fair amount of cooking. But to keep things from getting boring, I spice up the ordinary with sauces. “Oh, have you tried these?” Daniella asked, walking into the frozen food section.

Dorot_JoyishOf course I had heard of Dorot frozen herbs, but sauces?

The abridged version: I tried them, I love them, I’m telling you about them. Gluten free, sugar free, raw, yes!  Plus, the way they’re packaged you can use some without the rest spoiling in your fridge. And most satisfyingly, they’re produced in Israel—at Kibbutz Dorot near Sderot, to be specific—so when you buy them you support the family and the land.

I’ve tried two flavors—so far, so delicious. I recommend. To your health!

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Creating a Window(Box) into Israel

Taking bets, taking bets now! Anyone want to wager how long I’ll be able to keep my plants alive?

I love the idea of gardening. I love freshly picked fruits and veggies. There’s nothing more decadent than visiting the orchards in Israel and plucking produce straight from the source. And I think to myself, “I want this all of the time. I want a keenly green thumb too. I could totally make it happen.” Yet tragically, duality exists between my ability to execute such a plan without executing my plants.

Grim track record be damned. Off I go to create a window into Israel through a window box of my own, soon-to-be overflowing with fresh herbs and a few sprightly flowers for a lick of color.

Problem #1: I do not have a garden. I live in an apartment.

My green-thumbed friend Roy once grew Momotaro tomatoes so gorgeous, they inspired me to give them a photo shoot of their very own. Roy noticed my interest and so gifted me with a window box on my birthday, even pre-installing it with…straw or squashed tumbleweeds. (I’m not sure what this stuff is, but it helps stop the water from completely leaking out of the bottom.)

Solution #1: I will employ said window box.

The unsuspecting victims in the top left are rosemary, basil, cilantro and Alyssium flowers. Be sure to free the roots before the planting like I did in the top right picture. This way, the plants can soak up all the water they’re allegedly getting. At the bottom, the window box’s ‘before’ picture.

Problem #2: I do not really like dirt or worms.

My mom, also gifted with a glorious green thumb, assures me I should face few wriggly critters atop an urban apartment building.

Solution #2: I shall persist and commit myself to regular manicures.

Rosemary, cilantro and basil in their new home. Alyssium will fill in the gaps, as we see in the bottom photo. And what Israeli-inspired garden would be complete without a flag to dance in the breeze?

Problem #3: I famously forget to water plants. (If only they would bark when they need something!)

I always feel bad for the plants I buy, for they face an uncertain fate. Perhaps I could install an innovative irrigation system like the ones Israelis creatively employ to make the desert bloom! (A bit much for a 2-foot long window box?) Alas, with only my watering can and forgetful memory to save them, my plants too often remain dry as the Negev.

Solution #3: I will set an alarm on my phone…and try to remember not to ignore it.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” With any luck, this latest garden will be the seed of a new green-thumbed future that would even make the kibbutznikim proud.


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5 Tips for Guilt-Free Shabbat Dining

On Shabbat and most Jewish holidays, we’re encouraged to eat, drink and celebrate. But weekly feasts can all-too-easily slip into overeating, causing guilt, physical discomfort, and post-meal narcolepsy.

Kidding aside, this scenario hits close to home. After working in the entertainment industry for many years, I internalized the infamously impossible beauty standards that business demands. The result: while trying to eat as little as possible, I drank the Kool-Aid in large gulps.

At a certain point, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I gave up dieting and embraced intuitive eating, slowly learning to listen to and trust my body’s hunger and satiety cues.


Here are a few strategies I’ve developed over the years that allow me to participate in and enjoy holidays, without killjoy food drama.

  1. ­­­­­­­­Scope and pacing. How many times have I filled up on the first course, not realizing three more were coming? Ask your host what’s being served. Knowing the entire menu in advance will allow you to make informed choices. If you know her famous noodle kugel awaits, you might opt against a second helping of gefilte fish.
  2. Take one plate of whatever you want. I love trying new foods and usually want to taste everything. I recognize though that however extensive the food spread, my body only physically needs one plate of food. So, I fill my one plate with whatever I want and grant myself permission to enjoy. In this way, I get to sample and participate, while enforcing a gentle boundary that protects me from overdoing it.
  3. Only eat what you love. At my grandparents’ house growing up, my brother and I would put our plates on our heads after finishing all of our food. Ta da! Albeit cute, I’ve now excused myself from the “clean your plate” club. These days, I eat food that my body and I both love. I used to express appreciation to my hosts by eating more, even if I found the food mediocre. Now, rather than stuff myself to accomplish this, I use my words to say thank you.
  4. People are the point. Shabbat allows us to stop and connect with Hashem and each other. That’s the whole idea. But, measuring and monitoring, and focusing on food kept me in my head and removed from the moment. Let food play a supporting role in the Shabbat scene and instead, prioritize people.
  5. Ask for leftovers. Sometimes, you get a dish that’s particularly delish. When that happens, the inclination is to take more—seconds (and thirds!) The logic goes, “Who knows when I’ll have this awesome concoction again? I better eat it all while I can.” Here’s the thing, if you’re at a Jewish function especially, your host likely made too much, and she’s stressing about what to do with the leftovers. Ease her mind and yours by asking to take some home with you for later. Not only will you compliment your host’s cooking, you’ll spare yourself the impulse to overeat, knowing you can have more once you’re hungry again.

These tenets serve me in many food-oriented scenarios. Not only do they reduce inner dissonance and stress, they provide flexible guidelines that support healthy relationships with others and, most importantly, yourself.

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Bringing Israel Home—Beet’ayavon Salad

If you ask anyone what constitutes Israeli food, they’ll immediately say falafel and hummus. And while Israelis do harbor deep chickpea appreciation, these foods are to Israelis what burgers and fries are to Americans—treats, comfort food…I dare say, junk food.

Real Israeli food, in my opinion, are salads. Salads and salads and more and more salads. A sea of salads greet me at Israeli restaurants and homes. A heaping side of veggies accompany every meal, even breakfast, alongside warm pita, which I use to soak up every last drop of dressing, and to chase skittish bites around my plate.

Before visiting Israel, I thought of salads as “boring health food.” I certainly don’t anymore. In fact, as a wannabe Israeli, I’ve taken it upon myself to incorporate Salad Culture into my life, and become a Master Salad Maker. I must be doing something right, because I am always charged with salads after asking what I can bring to meals or gatherings.

One easy way to bring Israel home is with SALADS. I made this one for Shabbat, using yummy, seasonal winter/spring ingredients.

Beet’ayavon Salad
Salad Ingredients:

  • Baby Spinach
  • Baby Arugla
  • Persian Cucumbers
  • Baby Tomatoes
  • Purple Onion
  • Beets
  • Mandarins
  • Handfuls of Walnuts

Dressing Ingredients:

  • Rice Vinegar
  • Pink Himalayan Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Dijon Mustard (my favorite is Trader Joe’s Whole Grain Dijon)
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • Honey

To start, combine all of the salad ingredients in a large, fabulous bowl. I eat with my eyes as much as with my mouth, so if a meal looks beautiful, I’m already halfway to delicious.

I use pre-washed, bagged spinach and arugula. Look at this green. No color enhancement here. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of us.

Joyish Salad Beginning

For cucumbers, I like to peel part of the skin off the cucumber. Totally bare, it looses some of its crunch and taste. But full peel-on, it’s a little too dominant for me.


Mandarins are so easy and add so much. Simply peel and cut the individual slices in half. No need to get particular about removing all of the membrane.


The salad before dressing. Nothing boring about this.

Beet-ayavon Salad_JoyishThe amount of each salad-dressing ingredient will vary, depending on the size of your salad, so forgive me for not having exact amounts listed. Just use the vinegar as your base and add the rest, letting your eye and taste guide you. What’s also nice about this dressing is that you can find all of the ingredients in a non-kosher grocery store.

The finished product looked and smelled wonderful. A dressed salad shines, the glossiness finishing off the vegetables like a lip-gloss completing a look.

I think they liked it.


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