Escape room or not?

The invitation to my 26th escape room arrived from an unexpected source – a bloggers event hosted by Questomania to present the new trends in the field including hands-on experience.

Our fourth escape room was one of Questomania’s and it was a disappointment, especially their handling of the issues we encountered, so to be honest, I did not expect to ever return, however I decided to give it a chance.
After light refreshments we settled down to a short yet comprehensive presentation given by the owner – Michael Safran.
2 years ago there were a handful of companies with about 10 rooms (rooms #6 and #7 were opened by Questomania). Today, there are over 300 rooms in Israel, many companies competing to carve out their niche, and an ever growing community of escapers. Questomania has chosen to branch out into additional activities other than “regular” escape rooms including:
* Portable escape rooms which enable building quests on site and using them as tools for training and organizational development
* Games in the dark
* A street quest pending final approval by the Tel-Aviv municipality
* Future plans for culinary quests

By the time Michael completed his presentation our numbers had grown to 20 so we split into 2 groups. Our group started with the “portable escape room”. Out of 5 available games we were given the Retro, classified as medium difficulty.
Well, it is not a room, and you don’t need to escape from it. Other typical escape room characteristics such as multiple spaces, decor, and light & sound effects are also lacking, so it is definitely not an “escape room”. However it is a certainly a quest, with many recognizably elements (such as locks, puzzles, riddles, ultraviolet flashlight and even some technological gadgets) that can be found in escape rooms.

Our biggest challenge was the size of our group – 10 people, most of whom had just met for the first time. The quest is parallel and not linear but it was not designed for more than 6 at the most. Unlike classic escape rooms, the gamemaster is more than just a voice and his physical presence changed the nature of communication. He was quite good and helped in synchronizing the 10 of us. We completed the quest fairly quickly – only 37 min. and in my opinion it should be classified as easy. However it was nice and is certainly suitable for beginners who are not familiar with the concept. The mobility is certainly a great advantage as it can be taken to the workplace, schools or private homes.

The noise (shouts of joy?) emanating from the room the 2nd group was in, could be heard very clearly. So we waited patiently, some of us nervously, for our next challenge.
In the first game we played 5 against 4 as it is forbidden for pregnant women (and men too). In fact you have to sign a disclaimer of liability before you enter. The purpose is to find gold treasure hidden in the room and transfer it to your team’s vault. The first team to reach 15 wins. The game takes place in total darkness with helmets and protective goggles.
The duration of the game depends on the players, but a typical game lasts 15-20 min.
Deciding on a strategy is nice, but when you cannot see anything, you have no idea where you are or where your team’s vault is, and you are trying to figure out if the person you just bumped into is on your team or not – your plans evaporate into thin air. Most of us had a lot of fun, I think one quit in the middle. Also, my team won so 🙂
For the 2nd game only 5 of us remained (a darkness overdose?). I was one of 2 catchers with glowing signs on their helmets who needed to tag 3 hiders with 2 coins each. Whenever a catcher tags a hider, he takes 1 coin. The objective is to collect all the coins in 15 min. Unlike the previous game, this one was silent except for the background music that helped the hiders. After 15 min. we had only collected 5 of the 6 coins so we lost but nevertheless it was great fun.
There are similar games that can be played in the dark so unlike an escape room or quest you can return with a different group to share the fun. Not necessarily suitable for everyone, but I enjoyed myself.

To cap: Questomania has a variety of interesting options for small and large groups and there is no doubt that after such games you will be more familiar with those who played with you 🙂

 

 

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Shall I light up?

I have been meaning to try it myself for years, you must admit it is intriguing. I have talked about it with friends, read about it on the internet and even watched some TV programs about it, but I have not yet tried it myself.
Overseas it is already an accepting thing, but until recently it was not very popular in this country. However this has slowly been changing and it has become more popular, so I plucked up my courage and decided to give it a shot myself.
Why shouldn’t I? It is my turn now and I want everybody to know all about it. Who knows, maybe one of my readers is also deliberating and I could help them take the plunge?

Whoever thinks I have been talking about smoking weed or pot simply does not know me very well, or maybe has been doing some smoking themselves. The joints I am talking about smoking are joints of meat (and the same goes for cuts – meat/fish only :-)).

The first step was to go out and get myself a smoker, I could have gone to a bar and looked for someone lighting up, but I suspect that would have pointed me in the direction of the other type of smoking. instead, I embarked on an Internet journey after defining my exact needs – a dual purpose device suited for barbecues (Independence day is coming up) as well as smoking, not too large and not expensive. The internet provided me with some useful information but my next call was to an expert who pointed me in the right direction. A compact grill/smoker that a friend of his had recently began importing, which he had fondly nicknamed RD2D.It arrived in a rather small cardboard box, a neat feat of packaging which I set out to build with my 5 year old who had great fun handling real nuts, bolts and washers.
It cost all of 550 NIS and can be purchased from the following link.
We promptly left our new robot in the middle of the house and went out to enjoy our last day of the Passover holidays before returning to school.

The following day I took the smoker outside and decided to begin with a little chicken, so I hopped over to the local supermarket and bought some coals and chicken thighs (as well as some marshmallows for Independence day). I already had a stock of wood shavings from a tiny smoker I once used to tinker around with.

Important: You can buy wood chips for smoking or use what you find in nature but beware, not all wood is suitable – for example never use conifers, and certainly do not use processed wood that contains chemicals. You do not want to end up with a ghastly flavor or poisoning yourself – so do your homework on this topic!

I placed the chicken thighs in a mix of 2 good barbecue sauces and proceeded to light the coals (approx 1 kg) in the bottom tray.

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It took the smoker a while to reach the required temperature of 105-110°C (225°F) and then it was time to put the bowl of wood shavings in place (there is no point in putting in in place right after lighting the coals as the meat is still in the kitchen and your wood shavings will literally just be going up in smoke), and place the chicken on the top rack.

Now all that was left for me to do was wait and occasionally make sure the temperature did not vary too much. You have limited control over the temperature by controlling the smoke flow out of the lid, and you can add coals via the bottom door if necessary.
Chicken thighs take approx. 2 hours to cook and you can also measure the internal temperature, with a suitable thermometer, which should reach 75°C (165°F).

And here are the beautiful results

 

 

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Barcelona lessons – Spanish Omelet

Eggs are not my favorite food. It is one thing when they are hidden in a quiche or a mousse, in a meringue or in ice-cream. I can even handle a yolk when it is fried with bacon, but hard-boiled eggs, soft-boiled eggs or omelets are not for me, that is unless it is a Spanish omelet (Tortilla Espanola or Tortilla de Patatas) – another dish we learned how to cook in Barcelona

?So what is the difference between a regular omelet and a Spanish one
It is like the difference between tomato soup and Gazpacho – i.e. something completely different.

Ingredients (for 4)
4 medium sized potatoes
1 onion
4 eggs
Olive oil
Salt

Preparation (copied from our cooking class)
1. Peel and rinse the potatoes. Cut them in halves and dice them thinly. Peel and cut the onion.
2. Fry the potatoes on a low heat for 10 mins. Then add the onions and fry it all together for 10 mins more. Drain them and set aside.
3. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and mix them with the drained potatoes and onions and season it with salt.
4, Pour the mixture into a heated pan and cook it for 2-3 mins. Flip it over with a plate and cook it for 2 mins more. Flip it again and serve.

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Can be eaten hot or cold, on a plate or in a sandwich
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Barcelona lessons – Gazpacho

During our trip to Spain last month, my son & I attended a cooking class in Barcelona, one of the dishes we learned to prepares was Gazpacho (4 weeks ago to the day) – a cold soup from the southern region of Andalusia. A refreshing dish suitable for the summer months, or a hot November day in Israel. There are many Gazpacho recipes online, but I have chosen to stick with the one taught daily in Spain 🙂

Ingredients
6 tomatoes
1/2 a cucumber
1 garlic clove
1 small green pepper
1/2 a red pepper
300 ml water
1 slice of dry bread
2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt for seasoning

Preparation (verbatim from the cooking class)
1. Firstly grate the tomatoes and cut up all the vegetables.
2. Then set aside about 50g of the cucumber, green pepper and red pepper and dice them very finely to garnish the gazpacho.
3. Soak the bread in the water and the vinegar. Then, in a bowl, mix all the vegetables together and pour the soaked bread in and blend while adding olive oil to emulsify.
4. Refrigerate it for at least 1 hour. Garnish and serve.

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Additional dishes will follow…

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Ribbed animal wanted

Ribbed animal wanted
for Saturday lunch

Correction
Animal ribs wanted

Separate the ribs with a knife – just the meat, leave the bones connected
Coat with honey and then with mustard
Place rosemary sprigs between the ribs
Brush with a little soy sauce
Place in a roasting pan and cover with aluminum foil

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Cut potatoes into wedges
Coat with olive oil – use your hands the oils is good for the skin
Sprinkle with “Tuscany” herb blend (coarse salt, ground black pepper, garlic crystals, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, sweet paprika, rosemary)

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Place both pans in a pre-heated oven at 175 C
After 30 min. remove the aluminum foil from the ribs
Cook for another 15-30 min.

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Enjoy the food then take a nap 🙂

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I need to de-liver

“May I have some chicken liver?”
“Are you sure? It is Shavuot now everyone is into milk”
“Don’t worry, I will take milk products too”
“So what is it you wanted?”
“Some of these livers, yes the darker ones, not the light brown ones”

When I got home, I chopped a little onion and placed it in a heavy frying pan.
I added a generous quantity of olive oil so it would not burn and set it simmering.
When the onion began to turn translucent, I ground some black pepper from above.
No, it is not yet time for the salt 🙂

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I pushed the onion aside leaving the center of the pan free and placed 4 beautiful pieces of liver in the middle, listening to the sounds…

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The colour started to change from the bottom up and when it reached midway and they began to bleed, I turned them over gently.
No, it is still not time for the salt 🙂

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I gave the pan a gentle shake to mix the liver and onions

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I poured a little brandy over them, if you wish you can also flambé.
1-2 minutes to let the alcohol and extra liquid evaporate and straight to the plate!

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Now is the time for the salt 🙂

Enjoy your breakfast!

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Who died?

“I have a new Kurt Vonnegut book for you”
“Isn’t he dead?”
“I think he is, maybe it has only just been translated”
“Let’s see what it says in the book”
Translated 2011
Written 2009
Died 2007

So is he too writing from the grave?

vg.jpg download 

Look at the Birdie is a collection of 14 short stories (first published according to the jacket), however some sounded rather familiar, but this could be due to Vonnegut’s unique style. Look at the Birdie is also the name of the 12th story which I think is the best of the bunch due to its brilliant and original underlying idea – I like ideas that switch the cause and effect and take advantage of opportunities (the legendary Phillip K. Dick had many such ideas too).
The phrase “Look at the Birdie” sounded familiar but even though I know Vonnegut’s works I could not recall where exactly I had seen it before, neither was Google any help.

One of the things I like best about his writing is that the stories are timeless, and even though they do have a set time & location, they could just have easily occurred elsewhere and elsewhen, which makes them great for any time. When your idea is good, you are not too dependent on the details surrounding you.

Translating Vonnegut is quite a challenge and Nadav Dror has stood up to it nicely though I do intend to lay my hands on an English copy some time (&place).

 

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20 years later

When I was a student in Ben-Gurion university in Beer-Sheva, we used meet on Fridays at lunchtime and drive to the market in a car or two (most of us did not yet own cars) for our weekly shopping.
The main volume or our purchases was of course fruit & vegetables, but we made it a habit to stop at the pickle stand and also get some cheeses, as well as pita bread, and once every few months we also visited the spice store.
We usually ate meat at the University canteen or on the weekends when we traveled back home.
The canteen served great couscous  every Tuesday, and an amusing dish that was often chalked on the board was “Beef & beens” 🙂

Our weekly visit to the market was always fun, there was always an abundance of fruit & vegetables that changed according to the seasons, and the later it got in the day, the lower the prices dropped, we once bought a whole sack of artichokes for a song.
Often we would meet again in the evening to cook dinner together. At the beginning not everyone knew how to cook, but by the time we graduated, we managed to teach a few more students that cooking can be fun.

Last week, after a 20 year break (published in 2011), I returned to the market, Beer-Sheva has changed significantly in the past decade, ring roads, new neighborhoods, large shopping centers etc. but none of this progress seemed to have reached the market which had actually shrunk in size with many shops empty, and those that were open were a mixture of fruit & vegetable stands next to fish and meat stalls, a lot less cheese stalls than in the past and a lot more garbage – sad 🙁

However it was an opportunity to take some photos, some undercover (due to resistance) and some with consent. After the visit to the market we drove to “Carl Berg” (a Russian mini-market) with a number of amusing signs too.

It is a pity memories cannot be preserved like Qucumbers 🙂

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Whose soup is this?

Everyone’s recipe lists have recipes with names like Jane’s apple pie, aunt Betty’s rice etc.
So to celebrate the winter that has arrived, I decided to go back in time 20 years to Ronen’s tomato soup. it is the type of recipe that consists of many ingredients, but few quantities or any exact measurements – so please accept my apologies 🙂

Ingredients (for soup)
– 2 medium sized onions – finely chopped
– 1 small hot red pepper / ground white pepper
– Butter
– Olive oil
– 1 can crushed tomatoes + 3 fresh tomatoes (or 6 fresh ones)
– 2 tbsp. soup powder
– Salt (tbsp. or less)
– Water as needed
– ½ a ground nutmeg (or less)
– A little sugar (no more than 1 tbsp.)
– ½ cup of rice
– 250 ml rich cooking cream (or less)

Ingredients (for serving)
– Fresh basil leaves
– Olive oil
– Grated cheese (in a serving bowl)
– Croutons (in a serving bowl)

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Preparation
1. In a large saucepan, fry the onion & pepper in the butter & oil.
2. Chop all the tomatoes in the blender, add to the onion and bring to the boil.
3. Add the soup powder, salt, water, nutmeg and sugar and cook for 15 min.
4. Add the rice and cook for a long time until tasty.
5. Add the cream 10 min. before serving.
6. Serve in bowls and decorate with basil leaves & olive oil.

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They taste so good

A long long time ago (in January) Elinoar Rabin published a great recipe for Cheddar Biscuits. The word Cheddar was enough to set off my mouth watering, I recalled childhood memories of various cheese biscuits, and remembered a backpacking hike to Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England some 25 years ago, which also has many other interesting things to see other than great cheese.

All these memories got me thinking that I should really do something with this recipe.
Last time we cooked together Elinoar told me that she feels obligated to change something in every new recipe she makes, so acting on her advice and given the fact that I did not have all the required ingredients, I proceeded to do the same.

I called Alon and together we set to work:

 

The modified recipe
Ingredients
1 cup flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cumin
100 g butter at room temperature
100 g grated yellow cheese
50 g grated Parmesan (this time some real Parmegiano Regiano)
1 egg yolk
“Tuscany” herb mix (coarse salt, ground black pepper, garlic crystals, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, sweet paprika, rosemary)

Preparation
Mix the flour, salt & cumin in a bowl
Mix the butter, cheese & yolk in a 2nd bowl
Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ones and knead into a uniform dough
Roll the dough into a sausage shape, cover in cling film
Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours

Heat the oven to 175ºC
Pad 2 baking trays with parchment paper
Slice the dough sausage into thin slices (3-4 mm thick)
Place slices close together on baking trays
Sprinkle the herb mix on top
Bake for 13 min. or until golden
After biscuits cool, place in airtight container

Can last for 2 weeks if nobody is home to eat them 🙂

 

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