Thursday, March 05, 2015

Crock Pots, Bagels, and Bundt Pans

Jewish food inventions, you would think, must have their source in New York. At least New York's promoters give themselves a lot of credit for the strength of their cultural influence. Some Jewish food contributions to mainstream American life, however, originated in the midwest: the slow cooker, the bundt pan, and the Americanized bagel.

I started thinking about these yesterday, when a question about my slow cooker post led me to look up a bit of history. The Rival brand Crock Pot, first of its type, became widely popular in the early 1970s, but its earlier history, I learned, links it to a very traditional Jewish Sabbath practice and a Chicago inventor. I had already read about the Bundt Pan, created for a Jewish women's group in Minneapolis. The bagel, once an obscure ethnic item, became a mainstream nosh in the Midwest.

As I thought about these innovations it hit me: New York isn't the only source of Jewish food trends!

The Invention of the Slow Cooker

Screen shot of google images of Rival Crock Pots
Chicago, 1936. Self-educated inventor Irving Naxon patented a slow-cooking, energy efficient appliance he called the "Naxon Beanery."

Naxon's daughter provided the background of the device:
"My Dad, Irving Naxon, invented the crock pot, then-called Naxon Beanery. He retired in 1971 and sold his business to Rival Manufacturing. They streamlined the design, renamed it the crock pot, and the rest is American culinary history. But what was his inspiration for its creation in the first place, you might ask?
"My grandmother Tamara Kaslovski Nachumsohn, grew up in a small 'shtetl' in Lithuania. She told my dad, when he was a young child, that when she was growing up back in the old country, each Friday afternoon her mother would send her to the local bakery with their pot of prepared but yet uncooked  'cholent.' There it would be put into the oven for a full day, while the family observed the Sabbath and the hot oven cooled to warm while not in use for that same period. At sundown she would go to the bakery and bring the family their delicious pot of steamy stew. 
"Dad remembered the story and was inspired to find a way to create a heating element that surrounded the pot in the same way that an oven would have. He wanted to find a low cost, low electricity use solution."

The Origin of the Bundt Pan 

Minneapolis, 1950. A chapter of Hadassah, a Jewish women's charitable organization, approached the head of a company, Nordic Ware, that manufactured metal cookware. They needed special fluted pans, which they called bund pans, to make traditional cakes for bake sales. The company owner, H. David Dalquist, developed a version of a ceramic cake pan that one of the members had inherited from her grandmother:
"Dalquist, whose motto was 'If you can sell it, you can usually make it,' produced the pan in cast aluminum for the Hadassah members. He also made some to sell in department stores and called this early model a bund pan, borrowing a German word that means an alliance or bond. Later, in order to trademark it and perhaps avoid association with the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization active in the 1930s and 1940s, he added a T."  
In 1966, the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest winner was a chocolate cake named "Tunnel of Fudge" which was baked in one of Dalquist's bundt pans. The immense popularity of the recipe led to very widespread use of these pans, especially for Pillsbury recipes. Bundt cakes became totally American mainstream. Over time, Dalquist donated pans to be sold by the chapter of Hadassah that had inspired him, allowing them to make money for the support of hospitals in Israel.

This information comes from Dalquist's obituary in the L.A.Times. Other sources have alternate explanations for the spelling of bundt.

The Americanization of Bagels

Troy, New York, 1983. Nord Brue and Mike Dressell founded Bruegger's Bagels, a specialty shop which baked fresh bagels for everyone -- not only for Jewish customers. Bruegger's, which soon became a nation-wide chain, and other bagel shops turned the formerly Jewish bagel into an all-American favorite, not just an ethnic curiosity that some people bought frozen in plastic bags. Yes, Lender's bagels came from New York, and they were moderately popular before the spread of bagel shops, but they were not really what you could call mainstream.

"Until the 1960s," said a New York Times article, "bagels were little known outside large Jewish communities in major cities. In 1951, The New York Times, in an article about a bagel bakers’ strike, thought it necessary to provide a pronunciation guide ('baygle') and define it as a 'glazed surfaced roll with the firm white dough.'"

During the 1980s, bagel shops spread to cities and towns all over America. By 1999, Americans ate more bagels than donuts -- though that may no longer be the case. As bagels became more popular, you could even buy them at Dunkin' Donuts. You could get green bagels for St.Patrick's day. Ham and cheese on a bagel lost its irony, even for Jews who had grown up eating bagels with lox and cream cheese for Sunday brunch. McDonald's Steak, Egg & Cheese Bagel Sandwich and other bagel items date from 1999 or earlier.  Over time, bagels became more user-friendly: softer and easier to bite, larger, slower to get stale, and easier to slice without losing a finger. (Some people bemoan the changes: I'll refrain from commenting on them.)

Most of my adult life I've lived in Ann Arbor, MI, home of Zingerman's Deli and Bakery, where bagels have been fetishized into a gourmet treat. However, I grew up in a predominantly Jewish suburb of St. Louis, MO, that just happens to be the home of Panera Bread, originally called the St. Louis Bread Company. Panera's now-mainstream bagels, though gigantic compared to the ones we ate when I was a kid, might just be related to the ones I ate back then. That was when ONLY Jewish people knew what they were and ONLY the few Jewish bakeries baked them. In fact, cookbook author Joan Nathan wrote that her father tested new neighbors to see if they were Jewish by offering them bagels and checking their reaction: puzzlement or recognition.

In sum, the general view of bagels has changed so much that buying bagels from a Panera at a rest-stop on the Ohio turnpike or from a Korean franchise owner in San Diego now seems natural to me.

Most bagel histories concentrate on the bagel's early existence in Poland in the Middle Ages, and on New York immigrant history, when the bagel bakers' union was powerful. I think the bagel's metamorphosis into a food that most Americans don't even recognize as ethnic is as interesting as the earlier history.

For more on bagel history, see Joan Nathan's article A Short History of the Bagel.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Your Mother's Slow Cooker

Visiting my daughter Evelyn, I noticed this cookbook on her shelf.
In the course of my visit to Fairfax last week, Evelyn and I each cooked something in the slow cooker. I made Texas chili with my granddaughter Alice. You can see the video, including the slow cooker, here: A Bowl of Texas Red in Virginia. Evelyn made a delicious lamb stew with white beans and lots of vegetables. This slow-cooker thing transcends generations! Next we'll need Not your Grandmother's Slow Cooker.

In looking over Not your mother's ...  I was intrigued by this recipe:


I love to make plum chutney in the fall when I get good Italian plums, but I've never tried using the slow cooker. I think I might try this chutney recipe some day. But if I find any Santa Rosa plums I'll eat them right up: they are rare and too delicious to use in cooking! Anyway -- my usual recipe for plum chutney and other chutneys is here: Chutney Recipes.

Another slow-cooker book from Evelyn's shelves.
This IS Evelyn's mother's slow-cooker book: that is, mine.
The image of a tiny cooker on the cover reveals how
the size of slow cookers has grown over the years!
My slow-cooker book is dated 1975, which is approximately when I got my first slow cooker. After I had followed some of the recipes in this book, my slow-cooker technique took off. I figured out how to adapt favorite stews and soups to be slow-cooked. Eventually I realized that this "invention" actually duplicated the obsolete conditions of cooking on the back of an old wood or coal stove before modern ovens and ranges were perfected. Therefore, I tried to do old-fashioned recipes that had evolved for that type of situation.

One of my favorites is "ABC" stew: a slow-cooked dish containing Apricots, Beef, and Carrots (see below). Another favorite is lamb shanks, which must be cooked slowly or they'll be too tough to eat. And after Thanksgiving dinner, we put all the turkey bones in the slow cooker with some vegetables and water and make our stock for turkey soup.

Making bones into stock, a perfect slow-cooker task, also conforms to a trend mentioned in Tuesday's New York Times: avoiding waste whenever possible, and reducing the large quantities of food that end up in the garbage. “If we leave the recipe behind and get back to technique cooking,” said one expert on the subject, “kitchen waste will go away.” See Starve a Landfill.

Thinking about these cookbooks I realize that there's a lot more that I could do with the slow cooker!


RECIPE: ABC STEW

This classic recipe, which I adapted for slow cooking, comes from South America but has middle-eastern influences. As a result, if you enormously reduce the meat and increase the fruit and veggies, you have something very much like the Passover traditional dish, Tsimmis.

In a frying pan, in small batches, sauté the following and scrape into your slow cooker:
3 LB lean beef, pref. chuck or top round sliced yourself into 1 x 1 x 2 inch cubes
1 medium-sized chopped onion
1 clove garlic
1 medium-sized carrot (or more), sliced

Add to the pot:
1 package (11 oz.) mixed dried fruit, large pieces cut up, or equivalent amount of dried apricots
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water

Slow cook on low for a day (7:30 a.m. until dinner). Or on high for half a day. Or overnight, to be refrigerated and then reheated at dinner time. For storing/reheating, place stew in baking dish and heat in oven -- slow cooker will not work for reheating or storing food. You can thicken the sauce with flour blended into 1 tablespoon of butter if the sauce seems thin, or pour the sauce into a small pot and boil it down. Or just enjoy it as it is. ABC stew may be served with rice.

Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations has reinstated Cookbook Wednesday. Today is Wednesday, and I had something to say about these cookbooks anyway, so I made this new cookbook post.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Brownie Pudding Cake

Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations recently posted about brownie pudding cake, and I decided to make it with Alice, who loves to cook.
Pudding cake in the oven.
Ready to eat. We ate it so fast there aren't any photos of the presentation --
but we did top each piece with a scoop of ice cream.

Brownie Pudding Cake Recipe
Louise's clipped recipe -- Louise experimented, but we made it just as written here!

Pudding cake has been a family favorite for a long time, especially with my sister. I was glad to return to this treat! Alice hopes to make it again. So do I.
Wrapping up our trip to Fairfax: here's Alice at the American Indian Museum yesterday...
... and here are the rest of us (except me, behind camera) at the museum

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Villa Mozart, Fairfax

Last night we enjoyed dinner at Villa Mozart in downtown Fairfax, VA.
We began with several appetizers, including a platter of salumi. 
It was our anniversary. Last year on our anniversary we were on the way to Panama for our National Geographic cruise, but we actually had our anniversary dinner in a Burger King in the Miami airport. Last night's celebration was a do-over, according to Evelyn. (I didn't write a post about that dinner!)

Miriam and Alice waiting for dinner. 
Main courses included stuffed quail (above)
and rack of lamb with small timbales of polenta,

Tiriamisu: imaginatively presented.
"Finnoccio" -- tiny carmel topped pana cottas with a little
scoop of ice cream, sauces, and slivers of fennel.

Earlier in the day we were again at the National Gallery of Art. Miriam and Alice were not very interested
in the only DaVinci painting in North America, visible just behind them.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gadsby's Tavern, Alexandria, VA

By chance, we parked our car in front of Gadsby's Tavern
in Alexandria and decided to eat lunch here.  We were
attracted by the Colonial ice house which is preserved and visible
through a window under the building.
"Salamagundi" 
Look! Behind Len's shoulder is a portrait of George Washington,
who ate here.


The spelling is Colonial. The food itself is pretty modern.
Reuben sandwiches weren't on George Washington's menu for sure!
Before lunch, we were watching birds on the icy Potomac River.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Freer Gallery of Art

At the Freer Gallery: "Breakfast in the Loggia," 1910.
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Detail, "Breakfast in the Loggia"
I wonder where these women were, and what they were having for breakfast just over 100 years ago. This painting was hanging in one of my very favorite museums: the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C.,  which is part of the Smithsonian. The Freer Gallery houses the collections of Charles L. Freer, a Detroit industrialist and art collector who donated a fabulous collection to the Smithsonian when he died in 1919. Freer's collection was particularly strong in Asian and American arts, especially in the works of James McNeill Whistler. The Sargent painting hangs in a hall near rooms filled with amazing Chinese and Japanese art.

Fruit Stall (1879-1880), Whistler,
from series of etchings of Venice
In the print room this week were a series of etchings of Venice by Whistler. Freer purchased one of each of the entire series of etchings, which the artist printed himself on ancient Chinese paper (if I recall the exhibit documentation correctly). Interestingly, the University of Michigan art museum also owns this series of etchings, which were purchased by a friend of Freer under his influence, and later donated to the Michigan collection.

The Freer Gallery collection is so large that most of the rooms rotate various objects from the collection at various times. The Peacock Room, which was decorated by Whistler, is permanently on display, a remarkable ensemble. He painted elaborate peacocks and other designs directly onto the leather wall-coverings of a Renaissance room with shelves to hold blue-and-white Chinese vases.

I love to go back to the Freer whenever I can, to see new and old favorites.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"The Longshoremen's Noon" and Other Paintings

A workingman's lunch pail from John George Brown (1831-1913):
"The Longshoremen's Noon," 1879
Corcoran Collection now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
These workingmen eating lunch and socializing reminded me strongly of
the books I've been reading about food in America 100 years ago or so.
"The Longshoremen's Noon"
John Sloan, "Yeats at Petitpas'," 1910-1914
Another painting showing diners during the era I've been reading about.
Corcoran Collection, now at the National Gallery. 
The story of John Sloan's painting surprised me: "In 1909 Sloan became close friends with John Butler Yeats, father of the poet. The following year Sloan painted Yeats (second from left) and a group of others around the table in the backyard at Petitpas's, the boarding house where Yeats lived. The French flag above Yeats's head marks the nationality of the three Petitpas sisters who ran the boarding house at 317 West Twenty-ninth Street." -- from "Seeing the City: Sloan's New York."

Picasso: "Le Gourmet," 1901.
National Gallery of Art.
Cezanne: "The Peppermint Bottle," 1893/1895.
National Gallery of Art.
I enjoyed a beautiful visit to the National Gallery of Art yesterday, and as always searched for paintings that go along with my interests in food. The Corcoran Gallery has recently closed and turned its collections over to the National Gallery.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"How the Other Half Ate"

"Any question about cooking was also a question about women’s role in society," wrote Katherine L. Turner in How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working-Class Meals at the Turn of the Century (p. 122). The book documents how the poorest layer of American society in the late-19th and early 20th century ate. I learned a great deal about the rise of industrial food, how the poor obtained food, how their kitchens were equipped, and how they prepared meals to be eaten at home or taken to work or school. While immigrants found America a land of plenty, especially a land of abundant meat, the book shows how hunger was often a problem for the poor in the era under discussion.

The author makes parallels between our time and the past quite explicitly: especially the efforts of well-meaning upper-class people to change the diet of the poor, and above all in the way most people saw women's skills and commitment to home cooking "through a prism of gender and morality that obscured the nature of cooking as labor." (p 128)

Attitudes towards food prepared outside the small and inadequate kitchens of the era is interesting. In the 19th century, baking bread was considered a housewife's duty and "baker’s bread was considered 'poor- folksy.'"(p 67) Canned foods were originally very expensive luxuries, allowing rich people to eat out-of-season or rare dishes; eventually they became commonplace or even markers of lower status.

Although it's only one of many themes of the book, I was especially interested in the discussion of how industrial food affected the poor, and especially in the implied and specific comparison to the ongoing problems that still exist. "Industrialization," Turner writes, "served to eliminate the work that men (and children) had once been assigned to do, while at the same time leaving the work of women either untouched or even augmented. Men were released from household work to wage work; women remained behind with their traditional tasks, which were lightened but not materially changed by urban amenities." (p. 125)

As in today's world, industrial food and ready-to-eat food -- often prepared in other women's small-scale kitchens or purchased from pushcart vendors -- made women's work easier. In some communities, less burdensome cooking freed women to earn money outside the home or by doing piecework or taking in boarders inside her home. However, the downside of industrial food was even worse in some communities. Refined white flour or milled cornmeal were seen as luxuries, but were a disaster for nutrition in the South:
"...effects of industrialization on the diet of all rural southerners, and especially on mill workers with poor diets, was the loss of nutrients caused by refining grains. By 1907 the flour and cornmeal that had previously been stone-ground in small local mills was being milled by large commercial roller mills and refined to remove all the germ and bran. The resulting refined flour or meal was extremely popular but caused an epidemic of pellagra. ... Pellagra hit the poorest folks hardest because they lacked a varied diet and depended almost entirely on the refined flour and cornmeal as a source of calories. Pellagra was also worse among the nonworking members of mill families — mothers, young children, and old people — because they received a smaller share of the family’s food." (p. 107)
Piece work in the kitchen.
Turner's chapters on urban food and cooking among the poor and immigrants were also very interesting. The comparison of the middle class and upperclass kitchen to the kitchens of poor people around 100 years ago or more is especially important. In middle and upper class homes, inhabitants desired a separation of the kitchen from the public areas of the home, especially shunning the odors of cooking. Poor families, living in crowded spaces, used the kitchen as the center of life. Among the fascinating photos of early tenement kitchens that illustrate the book, one saw cookstoves, washtubs, beds, home sewing work, and sitting areas all in one room.

I was especially intrigued by How the Other Half Ate because of my recent visit to the New York Tenement Museum, and my recent reading of Robin Shulman's book titled Eat the City and of Laura Shapiro's book: Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century, a history of home economics and the Settlement House movement. My culinary book club recently discussed Shapiro's book, as well.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

New York Food Revisited

Puerto Rican immigrants to New York often left back-breaking and overwhelming jobs harvesting or processing sugar cane. Though their lives may have improved, they remembered the taste of cane and many sayings about sugar cane ... a girl is "like sugar cane in February... when the cane is barely mature and the sweetest for plucking.... His machete is blunt, one might say of someone dull. That's worse less than the chaff. He's stingier than the knot of the cane. ... May your cane juice be always sweet."

Sugar played an incredible role in New York City history, not just in the lives of Puerto Ricans, but of many other people who worked in the Domino sugar factory, or much earlier were involved with the sugar trade from the islands to Europe, as well as the well-known distilling of rum from molasses.

A few days ago I wrote about Arthur Schwartz's enjoyable romp through high-end restaurant history in New York -- see my post "The Snob's Guide to New York City Food."

To follow up, I read Robin Shulman's book titled Eat the City: a tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Bee Keepers, Wine Makers, and Brewers Who Built New York. Obviously, it covers more or less the reverse of Schwartz's book. It's just what I had in mind when I said I was hoping to learn about "supplying food in such a huge city and about just what the people ate and how they cooked it." The sugar cane quotes illustrate how imaginatively this author works with materials on New York's food history (from p. 172-173).

Shulman interlaces two threads in each chapter: long-ago food history and tales of present day artisans. In the past, New York processed its own food -- up until the mid-20th century, for example, cattle and pigs were brought live into the city to a large number of slaughterhouses that served New Yorkers' demand for meat. The original Dutch settlers and their immediate successors raised wheat, wine grapes, vegetables, and many more foods in Manhattan, Long Island, and other areas that now are totally urban. The Diamond sugar factory, large-scale breweries, and other industrial food processors were large employers with customers far beyond the city.

Present-day New Yorkers have resumed bee-keeping, beer-brewing, raising grapes for home-made wine, growing vegetables -- and even sugar cane -- on windowsills, or slaughtering an occasional pig or chicken. Fishing, eeling, or shellfish-gathering, even in waters full of industrial pollution, is something New Yorkers never gave up. Upscale trendy examples of new-type foodies doing things like bee-keeping or winemaking are easy to find. Shulman also covers the way poorer members of minority or immigrant communities supplement their diet by growing food in cans or on rooftops, by fishing and ignoring warnings about the danger of pollutants, and how Harlem residents for a while turned large tracts of burned-out land into vegetable gardens (now mainly reclaimed by developers). The details for each activity are compelling, and I enjoyed every chapter!

Above all, I enjoyed Shulman's treatment of New York's transition from an industrial city to a what is now. New York was "the country's manufacturing center." By mid-19th century Manhattan was
"rimmed with meatpackers, coal yards, gasworks, ink factories, ribbon makers, iron works, breweries, bottling plants, bone boilers, dairies, slaughterhouses, glue factories, stockyards, tar dumps, garbage transfer stations, rubber factories, masonry yards, flour mills, icehouses, lumberyards, sugar houses, distilleries, oil refineries, plumbing supply houses, and elevator and dumbwaiter manufacturers." (p. 236)
The pollution from these now-departed industries stays with New York despite efforts to clean up. The reality of present-day New York is extremely different from that of the past. Now few heavy industrial or manufacturing activities remain -- most people are in white collar, financial, or service jobs. The comparison that emerges from the perspective of raising and foraging foods in this ultra-urban setting makes fascinating reading.

While I was in New York last month, ironically, I missed the discussion of this book by my culinary book club -- but I hear that they all liked it too.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Bowl of Texas Red in Virginia

Ellen and Alec sent us packets of chili spice this year, as they often do. I come close to making their Texas chili recipe -- "a bowl of red" -- though I change it a little each time I make it. This time I made it with Miriam and Alice in their Fairfax, Virginia kitchen, and Alice made a video of the process:



Ellen and Alec's "Texas Red" Chili -- Modified Version
2 to 3 lb. lean beef cubes: trim off fat if necessary
2 chopped onions
3 cloves chopped garlic
Several fresh chopped chilies (such as jalapenos) or 1 can Old El Paso chopped chili peppers
1 to 4 tablespoons of chili spice
8 oz tomato sauce and 8 oz water
1 lb can of tomatoes, cut in pieces or crushed tomatoes

Brown onion and garlic. Add fresh peppers (if using fresh). Remove from pan and put in slow cooker. Add beef and brown. Drain excess fat. Place meat in slow cooker.  In frying pan heat tomato sauce, water, and tomatoes, and canned peppers if using canned. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Serve with grated cheese. Never beans, I promise.

I wrote about the chili spice in 2006, here: Texas Red.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Best Chocolate Pudding

I wasn't going to bother with another chocolate pudding recipe, but yesterday I made one that was so outstandingly chocolaty I feel the need to share. I tweaked it from a couple of ideas on the web.


Great Pudding

1⁄2 cup brown sugar, packed
4 tbsps cornstarch
3 tbsps cocoa (like Hershey's)
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
dash salt
2 cups skim milk (or any milk)
2 oz. chopped chocolate or chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

In a microwaveable container, whisk together milk, brown sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, coffee, and salt.

Microwave on medium-high power in 2 minute increments until mixture comes to a boil and starts to thicken, whisking every 2 minutes. Add chocolate chips and vanilla to hot pudding and whisk until melted -- no further microwaving needed.

The pudding after we ate most of it and
realized the recipe was a keeper. Anyway,
you can see the 2 qt. microwave container.


Chill pudding for 4 hours or more, if you can wait to eat it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Snob's Guide to New York City Food

Food is something New Yorkers eat in a restaurant.

A legendary recipe originates with a famous restaurant chef.

History means, among other things, setting the record straight about who invented famous dishes. Like a Reuben sandwich, Waldorf salad, or chocolate lava cake.

These definitions are central to Arthur Schwartz's book New York City Food: An Opinionated History and More Than 100 Legendary Recipes (2004).

More burning questions:
  • Who invented Vichyssoise? 
  • Who popularized Crème brûlée? 
  • When did Delmonico steaks and porter house steaks get their names? 
  • Who invented the egg cream? 
  • Why is Manhattan clam chowder red and New England clam chowder white? 
  • What's a black and white? (Hint: Schwartz says it's NOT a cookie. And usually not very tasty.)
  • About the Reuben Sandwich -- evidently, it was invented in Omaha in the 1920s, not at Reuben's Restaurant!
  • And if you aren't from New York, how important is any of this? (Hint: Schwartz doesn't address this question.)
New York City Food begins with a fascinating summary of the foods of the Indian tribes who lived in Manhattan and Long Island and a summary of cuisine and agriculture in the Dutch colonial era. Most of the book then describes restaurant trends from the 19th to the beginning of the 21st century. Schwartz profiles famous restaurateurs and chefs, describes their establishments, and gives cameos of the wealthiest and glitziest people who ate there. He describes the lives and works of other food writers -- Craig Claiborne, James Beard, Barbara Kafka. He talks a little bit about middle class people, as long as they could afford some sort of restaurants. Food fads through the centuries aren't entirely without interest, and I enjoyed anecdotes about the diners and chefs. But my principal impression is of unimaginable snobbery.

Occasionally Schwartz, a former restaurant reviewer and writer of several cookbooks, acknowledges home cooking, or at least discusses trends like ethnic bakeries, Korean produce stands, or butcher shops. But he's really fixated on dining out and every aspect of restaurant life, not on food as a life-sustaining force or as a means of creating cohesion among families and social groups. That's just not his topic, which I recognize and respect. Consistently, most of the recipes are based on famous New York restaurant dishes, not on home cooking. By the way: I actually read all the way through this book, including the intros to most of the recipes.

I bought this book when I came back from a brief visit to New York City last month, because a tour of the Tenement Museum made me wonder about supplying food in such a huge city and about just what the people ate and how the cooked it. I didn't learn much on this topic from Schwartz.

The people who lived in the tiny 3-room apartments on Orchard Street shopped at pushcarts nearby, and cooked as best they could on coal stoves making their small rooms filthy, smoky, and in summer unbearably hot. The building originally had no indoor plumbing of any kind: there were pit toilets and one water tap in the back yard, shared by over 100 people.

Meanwhile, as I learned from Schwartz's book, wealthy people were eating oysters, steaks, fancy desserts, and many interesting luxury foods at restaurants whose names are still quite famous. I'll have to find another book to learn about poor and even lower-middle-class people. The book I read just isn't the book I hoped for, which isn't the author's fault.

Our guide at the door of the tenement house, built in the 1860s and
inhabited by large families until the 1930s, when it was declared a fire hazard.
The apartments were uninhabited until the museum acquired the building.
The hallway just beyond the door. Two shared toilets in this hallway
were installed after the building had been in use for a number of years. 
The hall is now lit with electric lights. For most of the years when the 
building  was a dwelling, the hallway was lit only by candles or 
lanterns carried by the inhabitants.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Kofta by Ottolenghi

Jerusalem, the cookbook by Ottolenghi has many wonderful recipes.
Tonight I made beef and lamb kofta, that is, meatballs with lots of wonderful spices, onions, garlic, and pine nuts.
Here you can see my nutmeg grater and jars of allspice and cinnamon.
The jars are very old: I refill them from bulk spice shops, and keep track of the date.
Ready for the oven. Rather than fry the meatballs I bake them at 475º F.
Toasted pine nuts and parsley, ready to garnish the meatballs. 
Out of the oven...
Into the tahini and lemon sauce...

And ready to serve, along with some stuffed grape leaves from Trader Joe's.
I made this recipe a couple of years ago and have been meaning to return to Ottolenghi!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine Customs Old and New

2015 Candy Hearts from the Atlantic article
Little chalky-tasting Valentine candy hearts have their messages updated every year, I read this week in an article in the Atlantic. I remember candy hearts from elementary school. They never tasted good, but were a permanent part of the class Valentine party. Also, Raggedy Ann had one sewn inside her chest, giving them extra significance.

The centerpiece of the class Valentine party in my schooldays was a decorated Valentine box made of a cardboard hat box (something that doesn't exist any more). The box had a slot cut in the top, and everyone would put in personally addressed Valentines, which were distributed during the party. Besides the chalky hearts we had lots of home-made cookies.

I think classroom celebrations are still pretty much the same now except the kids probably decorate a box from amazon.com -- hat boxes being even more obsolete than the hats that were sold in them. Also, in some parts of the country, sweets aren't allowed at school parties, so I guess they can't have candy hearts or homemade cookies either.

I looked up the history of Valentine customs in England in Ronald Hutton's definitive book Stations of the Sun, A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. The earliest Valentine traditions weren't about human lovers, but about birds, who in Chaucer's time were believed to pick their mates on Valentine's Day. Sweet!

For a long time, people picked someone to be their Valentine, but the choice was made randomly. Beginning in the mid-18th century, children in some parts of England went from house to house asking for treats, much like the Halloween custom.
Morrow, morrow, Valentine,
I'll be yours if you'll be mine,
Please to give me a Valentine.
Rhymes like this became part of the tradition: in the morning, children would say the rhymes and receive presents from their families. In some places in the 19th century, the presents were given by "the Valentine Man" or "Father Valentine" an anonymous figure who left "sweets, fruit, pencils, or a book for each child on a window-sill or inside a hallway." (Hutton, p. 149)

Valentine cards became extremely popular in the early 19th century, with the post offices handling traffic far in excess of every-day demand. Towards the end of the century, "mocking, insulting, or 'indecent' Valentines" became popular, driving the more romantic and pretty cards out of favor. By 1914 the tradition of sending cards almost died out, but was revived in the 1920s with influence from America, and Valentine cards have remained popular in England ever since, according to Hutton.

Oh, and the New York Times, in an article in "The Upshot" says that those chalky hearts are "3,777 percent more likely than normal" to be eaten on Valentine's Day than any other day of the year. Champagne, oysters, strawberries, and many things dipped in chocolate are also consumed in larger-than-usual quantities. Sounds good to me. I hope you enjoy your celebration.


Friday, February 13, 2015

"Paris in the Fifties" by Stanley Karnow

All the beautiful Paris myths are embodied in Stanley Karnow's book Paris in the Fifties. Existentialists, journalists, politicians both left and right; criminals, their trials, and those that punish them (even the famous operator of the Guillotine), and many other colorful Paris residents populate the chapters of this book. His mother-in-law was writer Nathalie Sarraute He interviewed Hemingway. He sort of rubbed elbows with Sartre and his circle. In fact, Karnow was quite a name dropper!

The New York Times, reviewing the book in 1997, was unenthusiastic:
"Time (the magazine) seldom ran any of Karnow's dispatches as he wrote them, and time (the entity) has been no kinder to his material. Despite the sometimes interesting experiences he chooses to record, most of his reporting is dated. Some is merely superficial (as in his overview of French literature through the ages), some (as in his commentaries on French politics) needs more interpretation than Karnow gives." -- See "American Abroad"

Because he wrote in the 1990s, Karnow chose themes that had lasting relevance, and though I generally agree with the reviewer, I found some things about the book still interesting. Paris in the news in 2015 includes the terrorist murders of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo and Jews at the Kosher supermarket, the trial of Dominique Strauss-Kahn for participating in a prostitution ring, and of less significance, the release of the newest edition of the Michelin guide. Reading what Karnow had to say made me see deep roots for these events.

For example, his chapter on Poujadism, a now-forgotten right-wing, antisemitic, populist anti-tax movement is interesting. But particularly interesting: that one of the enforcers who worked for the movement was a thug named Jean-Marie LePen, and that that type of political bullying remains a constant in France.

The low birthrate and declining workforce that was of concern then caused France to have increased immigration from its former colonies -- a matter of great concern now, as decaying public housing is crowded with disaffected Muslims. The antisemitism of the right has been overshadowed by direct terrorism against Jews, most recently the murder at the Kosher supermarket.

Most disappointing to me was Karnow's treatment of food in Paris in the fifties. Yes, he documents in detail the menu at events, especially at politicians dinners. He interviewed the nearly 80-year-old food writer Curnonsky and gave a rather unimaginative history of restaurants in France. He lists the names of restaurants where famous people ate. But it's sadly not very vivid.

All in all, Karnow knew what stereotypes readers would bring to a book with this title, and he tried to satisfy their expectations. His earliest chapters about being a poor student and getting to know late-1940s Paris have some appeal, but somehow the book seems flat. Or as the Times reviewer says: "routine and ordinary, perilously close to boring."

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Julia Child's Clafouti

Julia Child's famous recipe for clafouti, which she also calls
fruit flan... no fresh cherries in February so I used a jar
of Trader Joe's Dark Morello Cherries, product of Germany.
I love Mastering the Art of French Cooking!
The cherries -- and using the immersion blender to make the batter. 
Out of the oven, waiting for sprinkles of powdered sugar. 
Ready to serve.