Sunday, September 25, 2016

"The Cuisines of Germany"

"We had Dampfnudeln yesterday,
Dampfnudeln again today
We have Dampfnudeln every day,
We like it fine that way.

Dampfnudel hamma gestern g'habt,
Dampfnudel hamma heut
Dampfnudel hamma alle Dag
Weil's uns halt gefreut!

This nursery rhyme about Dampfnudeln (a type of steamed bun) is typical of the little literary touches in The Cuisines of Germany, a book I bought recently. The many regions of Germany each have special ways of making traditional dishes, sometimes reflected in the works of famous German authors and in folklore.

In this interesting cookbook published in 1990, Horst Scharfenberg (1919-2006) collected historic recipes, recipes from restaurants, recipes from home cooks, and literary quotations to demonstrate the wide variety of German dishes and food traditions. His approach reminds me of Waverly Root's books on France and Italy -- but with lots of recipes.

Earlier this summer, I blogged a guest post by Evelyn here: German Food. She agreed with Scharfenberg that culinary critics often underestimate the range and quality of German food. She said: "Yes, wurst, potatoes, schnitzel, and spaetzle are common dishes, but the unsung German emphasis on fresh unadulterated ingredients, and the willingness to place those ingredients front and center of a meal are exactly what the entire slow food movement is based on."

The Cuisines of Germany begins with a region-by-region summary of traditional and twentieth-century German foods including seasonal foods and fresh foods. Each recipe has an introduction, including a description of the sources of the recipes, which sometimes come from quite old cookbooks. Consistent with what Evelyn said, Scharfenberg often refers to Germany's high standards of ingredients and sources, pointing out that many of them originated centuries ago, and that EU regulations at the time he wrote were often less exacting.

The first region discussed in the book is Bavaria, where Evelyn was visiting her in-laws when she wrote her post. Tom, Miriam, and Alice were learning quite a few family recipes during their visit, and they've made us some excellent ones. Scharfenberg is most enthusiastic about Bavarian cuisine. In the course of the book he gives recipes for quite a few special Bavarian dishes Evelyn and Tom have mentioned or cooked for us, such as Bee-Sting Cake, Zwetschgendatschi (damson plum tart), dampfnudln, and Falsche Hase (a meatloaf). Scharfenberg also talks about some Christmas dishes:  poppy-seed pudding, Nurenberger Lebkuchen, and weisswurst, which we have enjoyed with the family.

When we first arrived in Ann Arbor, the main choices for eating out here were several German restaurants -- specifically Swabian restaurants run by members of the German community that had immigrated to this area in the late-19th and early 20th century. Scharfenberg includes recipes for many of the dishes I remember in these restaurants. Some of the foods that I remember most: Maultaschen (filled noodles), spaetzle (a type of dumpling), herring salad, zwiebelkuchen (onion cake), and various types of meatballs. The restaurants we liked the best closed some years ago in favor of brew pubs and other more trendy places, and though some incarnations still exist, I consider them extinct.

Scharfenberg often describes his favorite dishes in a rather colorful way, for example:
"I suspect that Maultaschen would have very good chances in a four-way international competition with ravioli, won tons, and pirogi for the championship of the Roughly Rectangular Pasta with Meat (plus Miscellaneous) Filling division." (p. 130)
Many types of potato salad, cabbage slaws and other cabbage dishes, old-style game dishes, and traditional ways to cook chickens, ducks and geese all show up in intriguing sections of The Cuisines of Germany. Fish dishes include many species of fish caught and eaten in the Baltic areas. Preserved fish such as salt cod and preserved herring are eaten in the land-locked parts of the country. Smoked trout, we learn, came to Germany from America -- European native trout are quite rare and limited to high mountain areas, so American species have been introduced into German streams. Scharfenberg mentioned various recipes and preserved foods that he had not eaten since East Germany became inaccessible, years before he was researching his book.

This is a rather obscure book, long out-of-print. Scharfenberg had a career in German TV and radio food broadcasting, and I believe this is his only work that's appeared in English. Uncomfortably, I learned, he was employed during World War II as a propagandist: "Während des Zweiten Weltkriegs diente er in einer Propagandakompanie als Kriegsberichterstatter," says his German Wikipedia page. The automated translation is "During World War II he served in a propaganda company as a war correspondent." He doesn't seem to have an English Wiki page.

I haven't tried any of his recipes yet, but eventually I hope to do so. And I have often enjoyed the family versions of these dishes.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Update on Traditional and Cultural Native American Food

From Mother Jones: Chef Sean Sherman 
Last week, I wrote about a presentation titled "The People of the Three Fires" about American Indian traditional foods (those consumed before contact with Europeans) and cultural foods (those now in the repertoire because they are familiar from Reservation days).

A new article and podcast, published yesterday in Mother Jones, adds quite a bit to the discussion of traditional food at that presentation. "You Can Get Any Food You Want in America—Except This: Meet the chef trying to revive his ancestors' delicious and healthy vittles," by Maddie Oatman contains details of the efforts of Chef Sean Sherman.

Sherman, according to the article, is attempting "to construct this 'un-modernist cuisine,' as he calls it." His sources for the foods and recipes are "historical documents, cookbooks, foraging manuals, first-person accounts, and even archeological texts."

The article also includes a brief, informative summary of native food history:
"In 1864, the US government forced the Navajos and Mescolero Apaches off their land in Arizona and onto a reservation in remote New Mexico, dragging them on what was soon known as 'the Long Walk.' Stranded on inhospitable desert, the tribes couldn't farm, and were sent canned goods and rations of white flour, sugar, and lard to eat. Frybread emerged as a survival food. As Native American writer and activist Suzan Shown Harjo once put it, 'Frybread was a gift of Western Civilization from the days when Native people were removed from buffalo, elk, deer, salmon, turkey, corn, beans, squash, acorns, wild rice, and other real food.'"
The podcast included an interview with Sherman. To begin, he talked about his rather idyllic childhood on a South Dakota Lakota Reservation, his great-grandparents' homestead on the Badlands, and other memories. His food memories include big family gatherings at his grandparents' ranch (8-10,000 acres) where women cooked familiar festive foods. Kids participated in lots of activities like harvesting "prairie turnips," choke cherries (which his grandmother cooked into sauce), and more.

Choke cherries are among the most delicious food in his experience, he related later in the podcast. They are small and dark black-purple, a bit tannic when just off the tree, but with a unique flavor when cooked down. In old days they were dried into patties for later use. Now in his new traditional cuisine, he slow-cooks them, strains out the pits, and makes an "awesome" syrup. This can make tea or sorbet or be used in other preparations.

Traditional soups and other foods that were cooked at these events echoed traditional foods, but putting things together from these memories is challenging. "Food systems" have been wiped away, and a lot of government canned goods like canned salmon, government cheese, and more became the common foodstuffs. Because his grandparents had a ranch, his own family also had wild game not available to many of the families.

Sherman grew up with frybread, and later bannock (a similar thing) which were thought to be Native American but really were the result of having to eat government food beginning more than a century ago. Since it was the only thing to eat many winters, in a couple of generations that was the food people associated with their grandmothers' kitchens.

The menu development Sherman is doing now includes trying to build "plates" that represent native foods of single regions, researching what he can, consulting every cookbook he can find, and trying to escape from fusion cooking with some traditional ingredients. He's trying to find the food and medicinal values from foraging books, historical and archaeological texts -- trying to piece back together "a shattered pot" that is how he sees native cuisine.

He's already been working on this effort in his food truck, using corn and sumac, turkey, soy-free foods, and more. He makes a cedar and maple tea (not soft drinks), wild-rice salads -- unpretentious indigenous foods. There are efforts to restore old food processing techniques like sun-drying or smoking. He emphasizes trying to keep it simple, like using maple syrup, fruit and berries as sweeteners and other recipes with indigenous foods.

A broad vision encompasses a new restaurant under development, funded by Kickstarter. And beyond that: he hopes there will be more restaurants in other areas, showcasing the local native cuisines. Longer term, he hopes to participate in revitalizing the culture, offering new foods and new meanings to foods, and working with various activist groups who are trying to preserve resources.

For more, I also looked up a recent story in Saveur by David Treuer which describes the food to come from the developing restaurant:
"Sherman’s more straightforward notion of indigenous comfort food includes dishes like smoked turkey soup with burnt sage, bison slow-cooked in spruce boughs, and a sunflower and hazelnut crisp. Using modern combinations and ancient ingredients and methods, he’s after something simultaneously old, and yet new."
From Saveur: the Native American Food Truck discussed in the two articles.
The New York Times also published an article and slide-show about Sherman last month, and many other articles also appear in a google search.

Pondering the Chimichanga

"Where did the chimichanga, the glorious deep-fried burrito, come from anyway?" is the title of an article currently at the top of the L.A.Times column "The Daily Dish." I found both the question and the varying answers quite fascinating. I must admit that I find chimichangas delicious, enormous, and pretty undigestible, so in my experience they are more a memory of something I used to eat than an anticipation of something I might order in a Mexican restaurant any time soon. Maybe that's what inspired me to look around for more about this story.

What's a chimi? On the small chance that you don't know, the L.A.Times writer Margy Rochlin explains that a chimichanga is "a deep-fried burrito stuffed with steak, chicken or what-have-you. By most accounts, the chimi was invented in Tucson and is no less integral a part of the city’s fabric." Being invented in Tucson means that the chimi might be considered fusion food, though in fact the cuisine of southern Arizona in the early-to-mid twentieth century is pretty authentic Mexican.

Here's a screen shot of the google imagery for this dish:

The Times article summarized the two main origin stories for chimichangas, both taking place in Arizona restaurants. One story takes place in the 1920s: a burrito accidentally falling in hot oil elicited a near-curse from the restaurant owner (a curse that turned out to be "chimichanga!" which sounds like some other expression, never explained, in Spanish). Of course the resulting deep-fried burrito was so delicious that the restaurant kept making and serving them. The other story involves a restaurant owner who wanted to use up semi-stale burritos so he deep-fried them. These folklore-like tales also appear in numerous other sources as well -- in the New York Times in 2011, in a Smithsonian-sponsored website "What it Means to be American," in a 2014 article by Gustavo Arellano, and on quite a few sites of restaurants that claim some connection with this history.

The writers who looked into the chimichanga origin story generally agreed that smaller deep-fried snacks appear in the cuisine of Mexican state Sonora, nearest state to Arizona. Arellano, whose book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America I quite enjoyed, suggests (maybe whimsically) that Chinese men who lived in Arizona and Sonora in the early 1900s often married Mexican women, and that the chimichanga is their effort to make egg rolls for their homesick husbands. He even tries to invent a linguistic explanation with a Chinese origin for the name "chimichanga," which I would say is utterly unconvincing!

Arellano warns his readers: "Let me also note that folk etymologies are notoriously inaccurate, that Mexican-food origin stories are frequently ludicrous, and that this mini-essay might be the most ludicrously inaccurate history of a Mexican foodstuff yet."

Friday, September 23, 2016

"Green Onions" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

"Soon O-Kimi saw that they must have turned a corner and now were walking down a narrow back street. On the right-hand side there was a small grocery store open to the street, its wares displayed in piles beneath a bright gas lamp: daikon radishes, carrots, pickling vegetables, green onions, small turnips, water chestnuts, burdock roots, yams, mustard greens, udo, lotus root, taro, apples, mandarin oranges. As they passed the grocery, O-Kimi happened to glance at a thin wooden card held aloft by a bamboo tube standing in the pile of green onions: '1 bunch 4 sen,' it said in clumsy, dense black characters. With prices for everything surging upward these days, green onions at 4 sen a bunch were hard to find. In O-Kimi's happy heart, which until that moment had been intoxicated with love and art, the sight of this bargain instantaneously -- literally, in that very instant -- awoke latent real life from its torpid slumber. Her eyes were swept suddenly clean of images of roses and pearl rings and nightingales and the Mitsukoshi banner. Crowding in from all directions to take their place in O-Kimi's little breast, like moths to a flame, came rent payments, rice bills, electricity bills, charcoal bills, food bills, soy sauce bills, newspaper bills, make-up bills, streetcar fares -- and all the other living expenses, along with painful past experience. O-Kimi's feet came to a halt in front of the grocery store. Leaving the flabbergasted Tanaka behind, she forged in among the green mounds beneath the brilliant gaslight. And then, extending a slender finger toward the pile of green onions among which stood that 'bunch 4 sen' card, she said in a voice that might well have been singing 'The Wanderer's Lament,' 
"'Two bunches, please." (Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, p. 127-128)
This rather long paragraph, for me, illustrates beautifully the way that Japanese author Akutagawa develops tension: in this case, the story "Green Onions," an amusing sketch of a very young woman, O-Kimi, a waitress in a cafe in a "used-bookstore neighborhood of Tokyo" in 1919 -- the time that he wrote the story. (Note: the rest of this review contains spoilers about the very short story.)

The main tension that O-Kimi suffers comes from her worries about money and where her next meal will come from -- all the payments and obligations for rent, food, and daily life weigh her down. The mention of surging prices suggests that there's also tension in society at the moment of this novel, which affects O-Kimi and her reaction to a bargain. Though she's walking with her date, an artist named Tanaka, the sight of green onions stirs in her much less romantic thoughts.

Then there's the immediate tension about Tanaka, whose dubious intentions are much more obvious to the reader, but becoming clear to O-Kimi. We've already learned that she had a crush on him, which reflected her very idealistic and romantic view of life -- her "happy heart ... intoxicated with love and art." And this evening, we've already seen him make an excuse about their original destination -- a circus -- and begin leading her to a dubious neighborhood where he says they will eat dinner. We've seen how the very ordinary sights of the streets and shops they walked past seemed to her "to sing of the magnificent joys of love and to stretch off in splendor to the ends of the earth."

When she buys the onions, the love scene in Tanaka's imagination is also swept away by "the very real stink of green onions -- as penetrating and eye-stinging as real life itself." The implication is that her down-to-earth moment has saved her from Tanaka's intentions to seduce her. But the author is subtle, there's just the tension of the potential danger.

The tension between stark reality and poetic hopes of romantic love in the story is even stronger because the lives of O-Kimi and Tanaka appear within a frame story: the story of a writer (Akutagawa himself?) who has only a single night to write a story and make a deadline, and therefore invents the characters and their background. He's very tense about whether he'll finish the story. So the long descriptions and lists of foods and expenses make it clearer that he's struggling to include all the correct elements and meet the expectations of his readers and even more so the expectations and demands of his editors. And as soon as the two lovers deal with their reality, the author concludes:
"I did it! I finished the story! ... O-Kimi made it back unscathed to her room over the beauty parlor that night, ... All right, that's it, I'm going to stop writing. Goodbye, O-Kimi. Step out again tonight as you did last night -- gaily, bravely -- to be vanquished by the critics!" (p. 129)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Chelsea, Michigan: The Jiffy Plant

In Chelsea, Michigan, this morning: I was getting ready to meet a friend for lunch and a tour of the Jiffy Plant. We learned that in the plant, flour is milled from the grain held in these grain elevators. Wheat and corn for the Jiffy mixes are raised mostly in Michigan. 
The Jiffy grain elevators create one part of Chelsea's distinctive skyline.
Across from the plant, also next to the railroad tracks, the Chelsea clock tower is another distinctive landmark.
Before our tour, we ate lunch at the Common Grill just down the street from the plant. 
It's lobster month in Chelsea, and my friend and I both ordered lobster rolls.
For dessert: Meyer lemon sorbet.
Here's my friend: Jeanie, from The Marmelade Gypsy blog with our Jiffy tour guide. Jeanie drove from Lansing to meet me.
Unfortunately photography wasn't permitted inside the fascinating factory, where close to 300 workers make millions of packages of corn muffin mix and other mixes, as well as 25-pound bags of mixes for hospitals, military cafeterias, and other institutional kitchens.

The noise level is incredible. Sometimes the floor of the plant seems to vibrate or tremble. I loved seeing and hearing the large number of machines and conveyor belts. Some machines assemble the colorful and recognizable little boxes from flat printed sheets of cardboard; other machines fold and insert the wax-paper box liners.

Elsewhere, the newly-milled flour or cornmeal is mixed with shortening, sugar, and other ingredients for corn muffins, apple muffins, brownies, pizza dough, and other mixes. Sometimes the boxes are conveyed overhead as they go from one machine to another, and sometimes they just seem to be circling endlessly around the factory floor. After the boxes of Jiffy mix are filled, they move on to be placed around 24 at a time into larger corrugated boxes. Finally, at the loading dock trucks pick them up for shipment to grocery stores across the country.

I purchased a 12-pack of various mixes, and made some Jiffy cornbread for dinner when I got home. Since the grain is grown in Michigan and the Jiffy plant is right here too, this is definitely a local food!

I added some chopped hot pepper (grown in Michigan) and cheese on top...
Very nice!

Julia Child Lives!

From the New York Times: a slide show about Julia Child's second home in Provence, which is now available from AirBnB -- "In Julia Child’s Provençal Kitchen." Times writer Julia Moskin appears to have enjoyed her stay there, especially cooking in the original kitchen (which may or may not actually have Julia Child's own equipment still in place). She also shopped in the local markets. What a dream vacation!

A slide show illustrates the beauty of the home and its garden. The slide show is HERE.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Murakami's Best Japanese Literary Writers

In his introduction to Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, novelist Haruki Murakami discusses Akutagawa's place in modern Japanese literature. Murakami says:
The stories in this volume are my
current reading project.
"If a poll were taken to choose the ten most important 'Japanese national writers' since the advent of the modern period in 1868, Akutugawa would undoubtedly be one of them. He might even squeeze into the top five." (p. xix)
Murakami lists the top nine writers and then says "Soseki would unquestionably come out at the top. I can't think of a good candidate for tenth place." (p. xxxvi) Perhaps Murakami hopes that place eventually will be his! I'd be in favor of including him, based on my own amateur opinion.

Here's the list in the order that Murakami gives it (arbitrarily adding his name to the list). Names appear Japanese style, family name first:
  1. Atugawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927)
  2. Natsume Soseki (1867-1916)
  3. Mori Ogai (1862-1922)
  4. Shimazaki Toson (1872-1916)
  5. Shiga Naoya (1883-1971)
  6. Tanizaki Jun'ichiro (1886-1965)
  7. Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972)
  8. Dazai Osamu (1909-1948)
  9. Mishima Yukio (1925-1970)
  10. Murakami Haruki (1949- )
The nine writers on Murakami's original list lived and wrote in the fairly distant past. Seven of the writers were born before 1900. In fact, Murakami says that to be on the list, a writer's most representative works "must have the depth and power to survive at least a quarter century after the writer's death." That technically would leave Murakami out, but I decided to add him anyway.

I wonder which writers Murakami would add if he didn't have that quarter-century-after-death requirement. I definitely wonder if any women would make the late-twentieth century or twenty-first century lists! While pre-modern Japanese writers of note include "Lady Murasaki" the semi-anonymous eleventh-century author of the great Tale of Genji and other women as well, there just isn't a single woman writer on Murakami's list.

Some of my books by authors on the list:
Top row: old edition of Kappa by Akutagawa, Botchan by Soseki, The Wild Geese by Mori, The Makioka Sisters by Tanizaki.
Bottom Row: Snow Country and The Izu Dancer by Kawabata, The Setting Sun by Dazai, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea
by Mishima, and South of the Border, West of the Sun by Murakami.
I'm happy to say that over the years, I've read stories and novels by eight of the ten writers, and I've enjoyed these works. Murakami says about the two authors that I haven't read: "With regard to Shimazaki and Shiga, I can only say I have no particular interest in them, I have hardly read a thing of theirs aside from what I found in the school textbooks, and what I have read has left little trace in my memory." (p. xxxvii)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"The People of the Three Fires"

Today's Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor meeting featured a presentation titled "The People of the Three Fires: Food in Celebrations and Ceremonies of the Ojibwa (Chippewaw), Odawa (Ottawa) and Potawatomi Tribal Groups of Michigan." Around 60 people attended the presentation at one of the branches of the Ann Arbor District Library: this was an exceptional size audience for the CHAA, I'm happy to say. I learned a great deal from the speakers.

Speakers Shiloh Maples and Chantel Henry (Golden Eagle Woman)
of American Indian Health and Family Services of Southeastern Michigan
The speakers described several current food rituals that are practiced in the community that they serve. For example, in autumn, families hold "ghost suppers," where they serve food all day to all members of their community and anyone who stops at their homes. Sometimes several families hold these events at the same time or during a chosen weekend, a reminder of their ancestors and a way to serve traditional food. At other feasts, people prepare a "spirit plate" with a small taste of every food that is offered to the spirits of their ancestors.

In their role as social workers, the speakers try to encourage the use of traditional foods from before the Native Americans had contact with Europeans. In addition to encouraging the use of specific foods, they try to create awareness of the original roles that food played in Native American life. Besides providing nutrition, they pointed out, foods could be medicinal. As in many cultures, food could create identity. 

For the Michigan tribes, many foods had a season within the 13-moon calendar -- June was the "Strawberry Moon," August, the "Wild Rice Moon," and early spring the time of maple sugar. Foods had a spirit: along with all creatures, plants were humans' relatives, and were a gift to humans; also, food could be a teacher of values. Through knowledge and awareness of these traditional views, the social workers try to encourage a diet of more native foods, which is both healthy and spiritually satisfying.

Of the many foods that pre-contact Michigan tribes ate, indigenous plants played a large role, but foods from outside the region also had been introduced by trade with other native groups. Wild rice, which was very highly valued, was gathered in certain areas of the Great Lakes such as northern Minnesota and a little in the Upper Peninsula, and traded to residents of other areas. The "three sisters" -- corn, beans, and squash -- were grown in fields together as in many North American Indian tribes. These pre-contact foods are identified as "traditional foods."

Before contact with Europeans, Michigan tribes were semi-nomadic, we learned. They lived by hunting, fishing, foraging, and agriculture. Each group had food camps in settled locations: for example, a sugar bush camp where they gathered maple sap and boiled it down to maple sugar.  An example of change introduced by Europeans is metal kettles that replaced the sealed birch-bark containers originally used in the sugaring process. In Michigan, the speakers pointed out, contact was very early because of the waterways that encouraged trade quite early in the history of Europeans in North America.

Europeans also introduced many new foods, which became an important part of the diet and the identity of Native Americans. Two well-known examples are fry-bread and Indian tacos, which are made from introduced commodities -- wheat flour and shortening, as well as European-introduced meats. These are well-loved foods, which the speakers identify as "cultural foods," in contrast to the "traditional foods." Chantal Henry says she learned to make fry bread from her grandmother, and isn't ready to give it up! However, the speakers agree that wheat flour and canned goods became staples because of the restrictions on life on the Reservations, and there's much evidence that the Reservation diet contributed to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes from which many Native Americans now suffer.

A particular project, the "Decolonizing Diet Project" led by Dr. Martin Reinhardt at Northern Michigan University, explored what could happen when a number of people ate only traditional foods for a period of time. The experiment resulted in improved health for the participants. The speakers also mentioned a "seed library" elsewhere in Michigan for saving the seeds of individual varieties of crops, such as special varieties of white corn, which have become rare and threatened with extinction. Eventually their center in Detroit hopes to create its own seed bank and help local people to grow traditional food plants.

In the presentation, I encountered many other fascinating ideas, and intriguing images. We viewed two Youtube videos and many photos of the activities of the tribes in Michigan. I found the entire presentation quite enjoyable.

Refreshments, provided by the CHAA, included several
cultural foods. The speakers offered traditional sumac popcorn.
Pumpkin-nut crumble was very tasty!

The Lion and the Unicorn

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.

Some gave them white bread
And some gave them brown.
Some gave them plum cake
And drummed them out of town.

Making cake from plums that I bought yesterday at the farmers' market, I was thinking of this old Mother Goose rhyme and of its appearance in Through the Looking Glass.
Alice had seated herself on the bank of a little brook,
with the great dish on her knees,
and was sawing away diligently with the knife.
`It’s very provoking!’ she said, in reply to the Lion....
`I’ve cut several slices already, but they always join on again!’
`You don’t know how to manage Looking-glass cakes,’
the Unicorn remarked. `Hand it round first, and cut it afterwards.’
This sounded nonsense, but Alice very obediently got up,
and carried the dish round, and the cake divided
itself into three pieces as she did so.
`Now cut it up,’ said the Lion, as she returned
to her place with the empty dish. -- Through the Looking Glass


Saturday, September 17, 2016

I am a squirrel.

I am a squirrel because I am saving up delicious things from the fall harvest so I'll have them in winter when such things are scarce. It is said that squirrels don't particularly remember where they bury their harvest -- actually, I do know where my refrigerator is. So unlike a squirrel, I won't have to go digging all over the place to find my hoard.

This morning, my most-wanted item at the farmers' market was a big basket of blue plums so that I could make plum chutney. I've written about making this a number of times before -- for recipes see this post. I started with the plums, apples, and small hot peppers the recipe requires, as well as measuring out brown sugar, spices, and cider vinegar.

When it first goes into the pot, the chutney doesn't look very promising.

After simmering for a couple of hours, it's thick and very deep purple.
I store it in jars in the refrigerator, allowing it to age for around 2 weeks
because the flavor changes quite a lot when it has a bit of time.
A big basket of tomatoes and some fresh basil and sage were next on my list, as I wanted to make slow-roasted tomatoes. As of right now, they have been roasting for almost 10 hours and they have 2-3 hours left. It's a very simple procedure: tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs, and long slow cooking at 200º F.

Left: tomatoes halved, brushed with olive oil, and garnished with fresh herbs.
Right: the tomatoes; another roasting pan ready for the oven; and the tomatoes after several hours of roasting. 
Local fish in Michigan comes from the Great Lakes. The Ann Arbor market has a fish stall called Bayport Fish -- see their very interesting website here. I bought some smoked whitefish, which we ate for lunch.

Sandwiches of smoked whitefish, tomato, and pepper, all from the market,
along with cream cheese and Whole Foods "seeduction" bread.

Fresh basil and mint.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why I hate Jim Harrison's book "The Raw and the Cooked"

Do not read this book!
Jim Harrison is a name-dropper: he likes to show how many famous people he knows in Hollywood and New York, and how many famous cookbook authors he has read:

  • "Recently, at a dinner in Hollywood, I ate far less than Bill Murray ... . We were at the Muse, an odd name for a restaurant said to be favored by Madonna, and I was seated directly across from Winona Ryder, a fetching and intelligent lass who, distractingly enough, was more interested in books than food." (p. 96). 
  • "Later John Huston told me that he and Welles were always trying to stick each other with the tab and once faked simultaneous heart attacks at a restaurant in Paris. (p. 18). 
  • "For duck thighs and legs you need go no further than Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of South-West France, or to Madeleine Kamman. Alice Waters bones rabbit thighs and grills them with pancetta and fresh sage. I prefer my thighs with two wines I got from Waters’s husband, the wine merchant Stephen Singer: any Bandol, or a Chianti called Isole." (p. 74). 
Jim Harrison is pretentious and self-absorbed, and considers himself far above other more ordinary people. So he's very obsessed with the "genuine," the "authentic."

  • "My search for the genuine in the food in my life came about slowly and certainly wasn’t a product of how I grew up in the upper Midwest, a region notorious for its bad food." (p. 2). 
  • "A T-bone has to be better for you than the $28 sea-urchin custard that is all the current rage in Gotham. Mind you, I have eaten versions of this dish in Paris and its alter ego, Los Angeles, and wouldn’t feed it to Donald Trump, Tom Wolfe, or Hitler’s daughter, Gretchen, who may also work for Sony." (p. 61). 

He uses gratuitous stereotypes to show how superior he is to other people:

  • "Hundreds of dweeb bird-watchers" appeared one day near his property in Patagonia, Arizona, and he makes fun of them. (p. 9) OK, I have spent time in Patgonia, Arizona, just in order to see birds, so maybe I'm especially sensitive on this issue. 
  • "The flip side of the Health Bore is, after all, the Food Bully." (p. 17). 
  • "Who are these WASP eco-yuppies?"  (p. 57).
  • "Nowadays a social conscience is a disease you can purportedly cure by sending off a check for the rain forest." (p. 59).
  • "Frankly, I was fasting for wisdom." (p. 65)

His language and metaphors are often trite as well as supercilious. He thinks he's Hemingway. Just talking about how you go fishing in Northern Michigan or Key West, Florida, doesn't make you Hemingway:

  • "After building a fire out of mesquite and iron-wood, we marinated the lamb in garlic, white wine, olive oil, and chopped cilantro and cooked the shrimp. As an afterthought, we made a quart of hot Argentine chimichurri as a sauce to serve with the roasted lamb." (p. 92). 
  • "With ice fishing, you dress up bulky like an astronaut and stare through a round black hole you’ve spudded in the ice." (p. 33). 
  • "Now you can eat better in Key West than in any town I can think of in America fifteen or twenty times its size. Of course, there was a period in the early seventies when one might fly-fish for tarpon on three hits of windowpane acid backed up by a megaphone bomber of Colombian buds that required nine papers and an hour to roll." (p. 34). 

Also, he likes show-off references and generalizations:

  • "Three ounces of Chablis are far less interesting and beneficial than a magnum of Bordeaux." (p. 27). 
  • "But then one of the main reasons I like Lincoln is that it is not Manhattan. On your first visit you will sense a haunting boredom that, on following trips, you will recognize as Life herself without rabid hype." (p. 57).  

He offers long lists of fancy food and recipes just to impress the reader -- including restaurants, cookbook authors, recipes, ingredients, and chefs of note. I'm not impressed:

  • "Posole is a generic dish, and I’ve eaten dozens of versions and made an equal number of my own. The best are to be found in Mexico. Menudo is a similar dish and a fabulous restorative, the main ingredient being tripe. If you are in Chicago, you can eat your fill at Rick and Deann Bayless’s splendid Mexican restaurant, Frontera Grill. I’ve made a good start on the project." (p. 24). 
  • "My wife had preserved some lemon, so I went to the cellar for a capon as she planned a Paula Wolfert North African dish. Wolfert and Villas are food people whom you tend to 'believe' rather than simply admire. In this same noble lineage is Patience Gray, a wandering Bruce Chatwin of food." (p. 19). 
  • "A few weeks ago, while preparing roast quail stuffed with leeks and sweetbreads (served on a polenta pancake with a heavily truffled woodcock sauce), I realized that it was far too late for me to cooperate politically or artistically with a modern sensibility that so apparently demands the cutest forms of science fiction for its soul food." (p. 58). 

In fact, much of what he does seems to be designed to create an impression, not really to communicate anything in particular. His meanderings about his weight problem, his gout, and his ego are all ultimately boring. I admit that there's a faint chance that he's sometimes trying to be funny, but his egomania overwhelms any such effort.

Do you notice that all these quotes come from the first 100 pages or so of the book (which has something like 266 pages)? It's because I am not sure I will be able to keep reading Harrison's annoying, self-aggrandizing, and often trite prose. I'm supposed to read The Raw and the Cooked for my next culinary reading group meeting next week. Maybe I'll make another effort later.

Ironically, my other book club read Harrison's Brown Dog Novellas a year or so ago, and I hated that too. "These novellas did not make me wish to read more of his work," I wrote then in this blog post. I was right.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Classic Cookbook: Olney's "Simple French Food"

1992 Edition of Simple French Food,
which I recently purchased.
Richard Olney's Simple French Food dates from 1974, with a second edition in 1992 and a more recent commemorative edition. It's a famous classic, known to be a favorite of Alice Waters and the source of quite a few of her ideas at her famous restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.

I bought my first copy of this (or any other) Olney book this week. I can't really explain what took me so long, but let's face it, the number of classic cookbooks out there is very large, especially French cookbooks by American authors. Other than my own favorite, Julia Child, I usually tend to stick with cookbooks by actual French authors.

Some of the recipes in Simple French Food actually do appear simple, though in some cases, I think Olney complicates dishes that in actual French homes and restaurants really are simple. Consider cruditès, the simple plate of raw or blanched vegetables that makes quite a lovely hors-d'oeuvre. Olney suggests quite a few embellishments for these that I've never seen in France. But he did live there for almost 50 years, and I have only lived or stayed there from  a week to 12 months on various occasions.

Aside from simple things made more complicated, there's plenty of real complication in Olney's book. The chapter titled "Cold Terrines, Pâtes, Mousses," for example, has recipes that are just as elaborate as any I've seen elsewhere for these scrumptious but labor-intensive delicacies. Take the first recipe, "Rabbit Terrine," which makes 20 portions. It starts with the ingredient "1 rabbit, approximately 3 1/2 pounds, skinned and cleaned;" however, the entire previous page explains the other possible choices, such as domestic ducks, or any "small game, furred or feathered." The preparation requires a marinade (5 ingredients), stock (5 ingredients and 5 herbs/spices), and forcemeat (around 12 ingredients plus a number of spices and seasonings). Not what I would call simple!

Bravely, I tried one of the simplest chicken dishes, Braised Chicken Legs with Lemon, which is said to be borrowed from French Catalan cooking. This requires around an hour of intense prep and cooking, including carefully peeling 25 garlic cloves, and more time for simmering sauce and oven-baking the dish, as well as preparing a rice pilaf to accompany the dish.

20 to 25 large, firm, crisp garlic cloves, peeled without crushing, par-boiled for 5 minutes, and drained
2 1/2 cups veal or chicken stock
4 chicken legs (I used 6)
Salt, pepper
3 tablespoons butter
1 lemon, peeled (all white inner peel removed), thinly sliced, seeds removed
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry white wine

After par-boiling the garlic cloves, you simmer them in the stock for 40 minutes in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, you slowly brown the chicken legs in the butter, and arrange them in a baking dish with the poached garlic cloves (being very careful to keep them whole and perfect) and lemon slices. Then you remove the excess fat from the pan, blend the flour and fat, add the wine and then the stock, and return the entire sauce to the small saucepan to boil down for another 15 minutes or so. After adding the sauce to the baking dish, you bake it in a 400º oven for 40 to 45 minutes. 

Out of the oven. You can see the garlic cloves and lemon slices in the sauce.
The recipe concludes: "The lemon will have almost completely disappeared into the sauce; the garlic cloves should be absolutely intact with a consistency of melting purée; the sauce must be tasted to be believed."

Yes, it was an exceptional dish. I made the recommended rice pilaf to go with it,
and added some undocumented tomatoes for color.
This dish should not be confused with the better-known chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, which is the recipe that follows in Simple French Food. Olney is sometimes credited with inventing this dish, which is mentioned in his New York Times obituary (1999). In fact, the 40-cloves recipe had appeared a couple of years earlier in a James Beard book, and I've also seen a much earlier version in cookbooks by the French author Edouard de Pomiane. Subsequently it's been published numerous times -- a web search turns up a version of chicken with 40 cloves of garlic by almost every chef and TV food personality you can think of -- from Nigella to Betty Crocker!

To conclude, here's a quote from Olney's obituary by Julia Child:
''I think he enjoyed being difficult,'' she said. ''But on the other hand, he could be absolutely charming if you treated him like the genius he considered himself to be.''

"Twinkle Twinkle" by Kaori Ekuni

The book Twinkle Twinkle has a clever dust jacket with cut-outs that
show two of the many faces printed on the actual cover of the book.
The end-papers are also a cartoon-ish design.
Between 1991, the year that the novel Twinkle Twinkle was published, and now, 2016, maybe Japanese marriage customs and expectations have changed. I wonder how much.

Author Kaori Ekuni created an extreme situation to explore how social pressure affected individuals who didn't fit perfectly into the narrow constricted Japanese marriage institution of that time, which probably isn't that different from today.

Mutsuki and Shoko, a recently-married couple, alternate as the narrators of the short book. They live in a pleasant apartment in Tokyo. He's a hospital physician, she sometimes works as a translator from Italian to Japanese, but mostly stays home. Through descriptions of a series of days and nights together and separately, they reveal their efforts to cope with an unusual relationship -- a marriage that's not a real marriage.

Both his parents and her parents are pretty highly involved in their lives, and constantly phone with deeply personal questions and suggestions for how the young couple should act. Obviously parental pressure caused them to decide to marry. And despite their efforts to split up housework and chores in a non-standard way, they are clearly being pressured into a more extreme, Japanese-style set of roles, where the woman stays home and eventually raises children.

Shoko's parents were aware that she was unstable and depended on alcohol, but she didn't tell them why Mutsuki, who seemed a most desirable husband, was willing to marry her. Throughout the chapters Shoko narrates she constantly mentions drinking a wide variety of alcoholic beverages, though she sometimes shares a cup of tea with a house plant in their living room. She has bouts of crying and depression, quarrels with her best/only friend and with Mutsuki, sings songs to a painting, and displays other erratic behavior. Her parents somehow pretend that her mental illness doesn't exist. When she asked for help before, her therapist promised that marriage would solve her problems -- now he says having a child will do it.

Mutsuki's parents are aware of why he didn't want a real marriage: he's gay, with a real soul-mate and partner, a younger man named Kon. And his parents know it. The overall attitude of just about everyone except a few other gay men is extremely negative towards Mutsuki and Kon and towards any form of gay life. Everyone except Shoko and Mutsuki is completely confident that the miracle of marriage will change them, and there's a sense in which they think it might be true.

Mutsuki knew about Shoko's problems before they married. And had a clear knowledge of who he was. Both believed that the marriage, even if it didn't change them, would put them on a more normal footing with society -- particularly, he and his parents felt that he couldn't advance in his profession unless he had a conventional married life, or at least ostensibly had such a life. The surprising thing that happens as the days and nights of terrible drinking and crying by Shoko and deep unhappiness by Mutsuki is that slowly they decide that they actually don't want to give up their odd relationship.

The way that the events of the story highlight the institution of marriage as it was in Japan a quarter of a century ago is very insightful, and I enjoyed reading the book also for the clever characterization of the people in the story, including the several gay friends of Mutsuki. I think the genre "comedy of manners" which some critics apply to the novel is quite apt.

As for the present situation with Japanese marriage compared with 1991: the institution has not changed much, but more and more young people are rejecting it. Perhaps the novel offers a bit of a clue what's wrong. In any case, many young Japanese women currently don't want to be forced into traditional married life and forced out of their careers: "Women are increasingly earning college degrees and pursuing careers, but the country’s policies and company cultures have not kept up. Few employees provide adequate maternity leave or daycare. Women in some companies say it’s impossible to earn a promotion after getting married because bosses assume the woman will soon get pregnant and quit the job." (source)

Statistically, far fewer marriage-age Japanese men and women actually want to get married now, for both social and economic reasons. The percentage of married people in their 20s and 30s and the percentage of unmarried men and women who want to marry eventually are both way down. Consider this study dated June, 2016:
"A study by an affiliate of Tokyo-based Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance shows that the proportion of Japanese men in their 20s who want to marry has slumped to 38.7 percent, down alarmingly from 67.1 percent just three years ago.

"For women in their 20s, the rate fell from 82.2 percent in 2013 to 59 percent." (source)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Girl Detectives

Flavia de Luce, age eleven, is the girl detective in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (published 2009). She's a very precocious child, and narrates her story in a pretty sassy voice. She knows she's smarter than most people -- especially her two older sisters, who are very self-absorbed, one in reading novels, the other in her own appearance. They live in the family mansion, inherited from generations of the aristocratic de Luce family, and all that it symbolizes. The story takes place in the early 1950s, with nice period touches throughout.

Though Flavia never intended to be a detective, she finds a body in her garden and then notices lots of details that the police investigation doesn't turn up. Flavia makes her own opportunities, relies on her considerable ingenuity, makes some excellent guesses, tempts several confidences to be confided in her, shows her intelligence at deducting -- and the result is a really good tale.

Lots of local color and strong characters are among the strengths of this novel. Here is one example, the family cook:
"MRS. MULLET, WHO WAS short and gray and round as a millstone and who, I’m quite sure, thought of herself as a character in a poem by A. A. Milne, was in the kitchen formulating one of her pus-like custard pies. As usual, she was struggling with the large Aga cooker that dominated the small, cramped kitchen." (p. 11)
Needless to say, the pie has its place in the story -- along with its sweetness, but I won't give away any details. So does Mrs. Mullet much, much later:
"MRS. MULLET WAS STILL IN THE KITCHEN with her hand up a chicken. 
"'Mrs. M,' I said, 'may I speak frankly with you?' 
"She looked up at me and wiped her hands on her apron.  
"'Of course, dear,' she said. 'Don’t you always?'" (p. 208)
1930 dust jacket of the first Nancy Drew
mystery. I read them a lot later, but the
volumes I read were often rather antique.
Flavia is a lot more fun than Nancy Drew, the girl detective that got me hooked on detective fiction -- especially, got me hooked on amateur girl detectives. The clues, the risks they take, the villains they face, and their outsmarting or out-detecting the police are a pleasure to read about.

Flavia de Luce, with her intellectualism and her fascination with chemistry (which serves her often as she detects) is in fact much more appealing than plain old American teenager Nancy Drew with her lackluster boyfriend Ned; her two sidekicks, both girls; and her faithful housekeeper. Both girls' mothers had died years before, and both were left by rather distant fathers to make their own life -- a sort-of explanation of why they are so self-reliant and clever. I wonder why that still seems to be necessary after all these years and all the effort to have women and girls be self-reliant even if they DO have living mothers!

Dust jacket of 1993 first edition of
The Wyndham Case.
Imogen Quy (rhymes with Why), amateur detective in The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh, isn't exactly a girl -- she's thirty-one years old. She does in fact live in her parents' home (though they are both deceased), and has a job as the college nurse in one of the historic colleges of Cambridge University, presumably a fictitious one. Imogen's appeal to me has a lot in common with the appeal of Flavia de Luce and the memory of Nancy Drew, who doesn't appeal so much any more.

When a corpse turns up in one of the college libraries, and later another corpse appears in a fountain in the college grounds, Imogen tries to help the official investigation, but like Flavia de Luce, she's soon way ahead of them. For one thing, she's able to elicit trust from the Cambridge students, who all have things to hide and are completely negative in their view of the police.

In the home she inherited from her parents, Imogen has two student lodgers and one faculty tenant. Relationships with these individuals serve her well as she goes after clues and confessions. Imogen offers prospective witnesses tea and digestive biscuits, sometimes chocolate cake, sometimes a whole dinner. (Imogen always dines on a chop with vegetables, evidently because one single chop -- or one for her, one for a guest -- can't be shared because of a hungry stare from the lodgers).

While sharing these meals or snacks, Imogen coaxes her sources to tell her just a little bit, and then a little more. And like all successful detectives, amateur or pro, she has the ability to recognize that a coincidence is often of great importance, that seemingly unrelated events may not be at all disjoint.

The plot of The Wyndham Case is satisfyingly complicated, with just the right number of false conclusions, reversals, and revelations. Imogen Quy is a delightful detective-in-spite-of-herself, and the novel becomes a brain-teaser where she has to determine just what had happened, who was involved, why they acted, and how they succeeded in killing their victims. The resolution is highly satisfactory!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Rivers" by Miyamoto Teru

Miyamoto Teru's book Rivers is my latest reading in Japanese literature. Three short novels appear in one volume: "Muddy River," "River of Fireflies," and "River of Lights." While the translation is fairly new (published 2014), the stories date to 1977 and 1978, and the setting of the stories is in the 1950s and 1960s. The author is little-known outside Japan, where he is very well regarded and popular.

Each story tells about the life of a boy or young man in the poor neighborhoods of Osaka; though the identity of each central character is different, the stories work together to form a unified narrative about life in post-war Japan. A review in the Japan Times states: "The three episodes channel Japan’s rich history of Proletarian literature, with their nuanced, sympathetic depictions of working-class life — echoing Miyamoto’s own upbringing." (Mike Sunda, 2014)

Several strong themes unite the three novels. The echoes of World War II haunt the families in each story. They live in poverty and struggle to survive: each character faces the death or serious illness of one or both parents, and the parents thoughts echo with memories of wartime deaths and hardships. Each of the characters -- one a child, one an adolescent, and one a young man -- is growing aware, during his story, of what their future holds and struggles to gain control. His choice of colorful characters surrounding the protagonists is also very amusing, especially several drag queens in the final story.

Miyamoto strikes me as a writer of very vivid prose, especially his descriptions of sensory experiences: aromas, tastes, sexual feelings, visions like the clouds of fireflies in "River of Fireflies," and more. For example, a description of a woman about to play the samisen (a musical instrument): "The woman bowed her head, then lifted her face toward the ceiling and sat perfectly still for some time. This made Chiyo uncomfortable; to her it looked as if she was reading all the smells in the room." (Kindle Locations 1320-1321).

In "Muddy River" the central figure is a boy around 8 years old, and the time is the early 1950s; his parents run a small cook-shop where working men from the neighboring docks eat. In "River of Lights," set in the late 1960s, several of the characters -- both men and women -- are proprietors of small specialty food shops or nightclubs. Miyamoto's descriptions of the food, cooking, and business concerns in these shops are vivid as well as quite enlightening. The narrative contrasts strongly with the type of food writing that I usually encounter about Japanese cuisine. Sometimes foods that are now high-end very expensive delicacies were back then the food of common people. Sometimes the foods of common people might now seem completely unpalatable. Also, the focus on the commercial motives of food-shop owners is quite interesting.

Quotes that illustrate the interesting use of food in the novel:

  • "Nobuo went to stand next to his father, Shinpei, who was roasting red bean cakes over the stove. ...The boy’s mother, Sadako, was pouring syrup over a bowl of shaved ice." (Kindle Locations 43-45).
  • "It was crowded here, and the air was filled with the aroma of barbecued cuttlefish and the pungent odor of carbide lamps, whose white flames illuminated the stallkeepers’ displays." (Kindle Locations 686-687).
  • "Stationed in the Philippines when the war ended, Takeuchi Tetsuo was repatriated in 1946. For a while he lived in a newly developed area of Kobe, dabbling in the black market among other things, but at the persuasion of an old friend he happened to run into, he returned to Dōtonbori. Osaka was one vast burned-out plain. ... The Dōtonbori district was soon teeming with unfamiliar people who wore their dreams, desires, and ambitions on their sleeves. Smells of food, steam, and shrill shouts constantly arose from the thronging black market there. It did not matter what it was, as long as there was the aroma of food simmering in pots people would step right up." (Kindle Locations 2189-2196).
  • "After that the two of them met several times near the charred ruins of the theater, sometimes venturing all the way to a shop where they could enjoy adzuki bean soup with real sugar in it, or to the stands of black marketeers who sold butter and corned beef obtained from American servicemen. (Kindle Locations 2236-2237).
  • "'It’s not much of a shop, but our blowfish stew is the real thing. Even in the Minami district, there’s no place that serves blowfish like ours. We have lots of customers who come from far away just for what’s on our menu.'"Taking a large container out of a refrigerator, the man asked, 'Shall I roast some fish milt?'

    At Kunihiko’s ambivalent nod, he continued. 'I’ll cook some blowfish milt on a rice cake gridiron. It’s best broiled over a charcoal fire. Try eating it hot, with some bitter orange and spiced grated radish. You won’t find anything that beats it. Citron is good too, but I prefer lots of bitter orange sprinkled on top.'" (Kindle Locations 2784-2789).
  • "In the kitchen she would give nit-picking instructions about the handling of every grain of rice, every drop of soy sauce, and every shred of meat. There were many employees who could not tolerate it and quit, but those who remained with her a long time were all thoroughly disciplined in working with customers, and were quite reliable." (Kindle Locations 2976-2978).
  • "On the next street he found the buildings plastered with shop signs for tripe, bite-size sushi, wonton, hotchpotch, saké, and eel." (Kindle Locations 3731-3732).
  • "Yuki showed up a while later. At a well-known shop on Shinsaibashi Avenue she had picked up three meat and vegetable pancakes, still sizzling hot, and gave one each to Takeuchi and Kunihiko. 'Tea would go better with these than coffee.'" (Kindle Locations 3797-3799).

Monday, September 12, 2016

Peach crumble with oatmeal-brown sugar topping

Interrupting my Japanese food and literature binge, this afternoon I made an Anglo-Saxon favorite: peach crumble, sometimes known as peach crisp. Well, it's a favorite in England and the US, so doesn't that make it Anglo-Saxon?

For the record, I was reading another Japanese novel until I started cutting up some nice ripe local peaches. These were not the peaches I bought last Wednesday because we ate them all by Friday. These are newer local peaches. We had lots of protein for breakfast and lunch, so this was our entire dinner. And here's the recipe:


3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup non-instant rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered vanilla (if you have it)
3/4 stick unsalted butter
Measure the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix together. Add the butter using 2 knives at first to cut it into pieces, then fingers. The butter should be incorporated until it has moistened the dry ingredients and the mixture is in small lumps. Set aside while making filling.

  • Butter should be cold but not frozen. Defrost frozen butter on the "poultry" setting in the microwave, using slightly less time than the default.
  • This topping would also be fine for apple crisp, though I would suggest adding a few walnuts or pecans to topping for sliced apples, and maybe a few raisins.  

Peach filling

3-4 large or up to 6 small peaches (2 to 3 lbs)
1/3 cup packed brown or white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
Fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
Mix sugar and cornstarch in a bowl. Slice peaches and drizzle the slices with a few drops of lemon juice and vanilla extract. Toss peaches with sugar mixture. Spread in 8 by 8 inch baking dish. Cover with topping.

Bake at 435º for 25 minutes. Wait around 20 minutes (or a bit more if you can wait) to allow the crumble set up a little. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whatever you like.

Left: peach crumble just out of the oven.
Right: the peaches in the mixing bowl; the topping; and the peaches in the baking dish before adding the topping. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cult Recipes from Tokyo?

The L.A.Times recently reviewed this cook book: Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota. I seem to be obsessing about Tokyo and Tokyo food (enabled by the L.A.Times).

The current page for the book includes a whole image gallery from its pages, which look as if it would be worth having the book just for the photos -- like the image above! Despite a couple of negative reviews on the amazon page, it appears really appealing because the recipes seem actually doable.

From the brief Times review by Amy Scattergood:
"The cookbook — first published in 2014 and recently out in wider release — combines 100 recipes and handy step-by-steps with a lot of lovely photography by Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle. There are also city detours, highly pictorial stops into Tokyo’s kitchenware district, the famous Tsukiji fish market, and shops selling ceramics, crackers, crepes — and all that fake plastic food. The detours are in the kitchen as well: how to make rice, the many varieties of noodles. The recipes themselves are straightforward, often with annotated drawings or diagrams to pair with all the photographs."
Will I buy it for around $22? Haven't decided yet!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Mosaic Sushi

From "Spoon and Tamago"
From the always-fascinating design blog "Spoon and Tamago" -- a description of a wonderful presentation of sushi that "borrows from the ancient technique of assembling patterns or compositions from smaller materials and is being referred to as Mosaic Sushi." 

I've enjoyed sushi both in Japan (such as on my most recent trip to Tokyo or a former trip to Kyoto) and in several places in the US, including Hawaii. And often seen references to sushi in Japanese novels. But I've never seen it made in this fascinating way!