Sunday, November 23, 2014

Patrick Modiano: "Missing Person"

When Patrick Modiano won the Nobel prize last month, I -- like most ordinary readers of English -- had never heard of him. His books were so obscure that immediately ran out, or maybe they hadn't even had them in stock. I was very curious to read this obscure French author, so I patiently waited until amazon shipped me a copy of Missing Person, with the Nobel-winner sticker affixed.

The narrator of Missing Person is a man with amnesia. He begins with the sentence "I am nothing," and painfully and slowly tries to reconstruct his identity by finding strangers who may have known him before his loss of memory. Obviously, the book is about a much broader sort of quest for memory and identity, indicated by the history of the narrator.

Paris geography is the underlying reality of the story. The narrator meets his previously unknown informants in cafes, apartments, churches, restaurants, and bars with completely specific names and addresses in the city. His recall of similar locations (or of old experiences at the same locations) becomes a set of clues to the specific events that caused the loss of his name and past, events that took place during the war in the 1940s. The unreality of his amnesiac life is built through all kinds of very specific details. Instead of places of memory -- lieux de mémoire as French philosopher Nora called them -- he seems to have places of no memory.

Yes, food and drink are part of his experience. In cafes, he drinks with the stranger/informants, and in restaurants he eats with them. In a restaurant in Porte de St-Cloud they eat galantine, wine, sweetbreads. In a cafe near Rue Chardon-Lagache he watches a taxi driver eat a pâté sandwich with beer. In one of several photo collections the strangers give him he sees Russian dinner parties from 1914. At the Bar-Restaurant de l'Île he has Baltic herring, mineral water, cucumber and a banana for dessert. The cafe "A la Marine" on the Quai d'Austerlitz has a "smell of lard in the air." He remembers, or almost remembers, once being with a little girl eating "green and pink ice cream." At a wine bar/grocery store he sees shelves with "exotic food products: teas, Turkish delight, rose-petal preserves, Baltic herring." (pages 8, 17, 26, 29, 92, 96, 123)

Even one of the photo collections comes in a cookie box labeled "Biscuits Le Febre Utile-Nantes." He seems to be partial to the liqueur Marie Brizard, but desperately tries to recall the name of a particular cocktail, thinking that if he only could remember, "it would awaken other memories, but how?" (p. 63, p. 109)

In particular, one of his informants is a "gastronomical columnist" who is "always obliged to eat." At their meeting the critic has to eat sweetbreads, fish bouillon, meat pies, salad, and a piece of fruit. He complains of having "just returned from the Golden Tripe competition ... I was one of the judges. We  had to swallow a hundred and seventy pieces of tripe over a period of one and a half days." And in the conversation, he does manage to offer some very good information that the narrator is seeking. (p. 50)

In a recovered memory, at last dredged up by all his contacts and travel with strangers, the narrator recalls the terrible experience that probably led to his forgetfulness. During a stay at a chateau near the Swiss border, he had spent quite a bit of time with a number of the people whose identities have emerged from his long series of interviews and researches into archives and other sources -- I won't spoil the ending completely by telling the rest. One part of the memory: "Gay Orlov made borscht for us every day." (p. 147)

Food is just one of the many types of details that build the fascinating atmosphere and suspense of this novel, but I find the choices really captivating, and I ponder what the very specific foods might mean. They aren't exactly typical French food, but provide a glimpse into the types of people that were emerging as the narrator's lost friends -- particularly as they were all from other places including Russia and South America.

I feel that the Nobel committee has presented me with a new and fascinating writer. I have also read the stories in the newly-published Modiano book Suspended Sentences, an exploration of many of the same themes of lost memory and identity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Food Poetry: "Perhaps the World Ends Here"

I had other blogging ideas today, but I started reading the Poetry Foundation's list of Thanksgiving poems, and actually enjoying some of them. I'm not much of a poetry reader unless they really grab me!

Here's one that I really liked:

Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Source: Poetry Foundation

Doris Lee, "Thanksgiving" (1935)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

California Cooking from Sunset Cookbooks

I know some food snobs don't take Sunset cookbooks seriously. I'm not a food snob, and over time, I have learned a lot from Sunset! Above are two books that I found very useful when I bought them in the 1970s. My favorite recipes from the Mexican cookbook were Picadillo Turnovers and Bread Pudding:

You can see by the markings that it's a favorite!
I don't know if I ever made Green Goddess Salad from the salad book, though I made quite a few others. I'm including it because it seems very vintage.

First Sunset Cookbook
from Google
Sunset magazine published its first cookbook in 1933. The magazine, always focused on the West, had already existed for decades by then. From the beginning and up to the present, it included not only food, but also travel, do-it-yourself projects (most famously, a back-yard adobe oven), and Western architecture articles. I grew to love reading it while living in California at various times. My introduction to Mexican and Asian flavors and foodways was through ethnic restaurants in California, and my introduction to cooking them was Sunset, both the cookbooks and the magazine.

When a new Sunset cookbook with 1000 recipes was published in 2010 the New York Times reviewer wrote:
"Before Alice Waters picked her first Little Gem lettuce and Wolfgang Puck draped smoked salmon across a pizza, California cuisine meant something else. The other California cuisine was being served on a million patios in the Golden State by relaxed cooks who grilled thick cuts of beef called tri-tip and built salads from avocado and oranges. They used red chili sauce like roux, ate abalone and oysters, and whipped sticky dates into milkshakes. It was the food of the gold rush and of immigrants, of orchards and sunshine. ... 
"There to chronicle it — and help create it — was Sunset magazine, the stalwart regional publication that Southern Pacific Railroad executives began in 1898 to lure Easterners to the untamed West." (Source: "The Original California Cuisine, Courtesy of Sunset Magazine" by Kim Severson)
Sunset magazine still publishes a magazine of Western food, home styling, architecture, travel, and various activities. Their website is
More of my vintage Sunset cookbooks -- back then "Oriental" was an ok word. I guess.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What I'm not having for Thanksgiving

A terducken is the most complicated recipe I can imagine. At Serious Eats, there's a multi-step illustrated recipe, "The Ultimate Terducken," for boning the chicken, stuffing it with sausage, rolling it up and cooking it, then boning the duck, stuffing it with the chicken, cooking the stuffed duck, then boning a turkey (leaving the legs so it will look like a normal turkey when you slice it), stuffing it with the duck stuffed with the chicken stuffed with the sausage, and then finally cooking the turkey. Whew! I wondered how it would ever all get fully cooked through; this is the answer. Here are two pics from the recipe:

The boned turkey being stuffed with the duck stuffed with
the chicken stuffed with sausage.
I admit, it looks delicious when carved.
A google search reveals many other recipes and offers of fully ready terduckens.
In some recent conversations about the terducken that we aren't roasting for Thanksgiving, my memory was triggered. Something from my childhood kept nagging me. OH YES:

"The Churkendoose" was a children's book by Ben Ross Berenberg, published in 1946. It became a hit song sung by Ray Bolger. I think kindegarten teachers must have been reading it to their classes for years. For all I know they might still do so, but I doubt it as the copies of the book on amazon are pretty rare.  Here's a verse:
Well, I’m not a chicken and I’m not a duck
I have more brains than I have luck
I’m not a turkey, and I’m not a goose
Goodness me! I’m a churkendoose.

Poor little hybrid guy, he had all kinds of trouble with being accepted. The other barnyard fowl finally see what he's worth because he's so strange he scares a fox away. A moral tale indeed. I hope no one cooked him for Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Let's help families in need."

In November and December, many organizations dedicated to helping needy families normally sponsor food drives. I wanted to write a little bit about two such agencies that serve residents of the city and county where I live: Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County, Michigan. I hope that other food bloggers will join me in thinking about food needs in their communities.

At the Fitness Center where I go for yoga classes, a sign labeled "Let's help families in need" appeared this week. It lists a variety of items that a local social service organization, SOS Community Services, would like more fortunate people to share with their clientele. Next to the sign are several collection boxes, which happily are filling up fast.

At the top of the list: "Frozen whole turkeys." A little add-on sign explains that donated turkeys must be brought in only on one afternoon just before the  holiday. Other listed items are all traditional for Thanksgiving dinner: requests include cans of vegetables, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, fruit, cream of chicken or mushroom soup, broth, fried onions, and pie filling. Many other contributions are needed too: boxed or packaged pie crust, marshmallows, macaroni and cheese, stuffing mix, mashed potatoes, gravy, bisquick or corn muffin mix, sugar, and flour.

SOS, located in our neighboring town of Ypsilanti, runs a food pantry where their clients can select the items that they need for their kitchens, items they know they want to use. They offer these foods to people who can cook Thanksgiving dinner, but don't have the means to buy the ingredients. Enabling families to cook a traditional holiday meal that they are otherwise unable to afford seems to be a very helpful way to improve their lives, and I find this a generous approach.

The SOS website states:
"The food pantry helps people facing hardships stretch their limited budgets. The program makes sure that parents do not have to choose between feeding their children and keeping them housed. SOS has a choice pantry, which means that consumers have the option to choose the food and personal care items they want and will use. The pantry provides a day’s allotment of food (three meals) for each person within the household. This service is offered to each consumer, by appointment up to four times per year, plus one holiday. Families can access fresh produce weekly without an appointment." (from SOS website)
People who want to contribute to SOS can donate food to their seasonal and ongoing food drives like this one, and can also give them money. Besides providing their clients with the food from the food drives, SOS is a distribution point for Food Gatherers: "the food rescue and food bank program serving Washtenaw County. Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community."

Food Gatherers collects surplus food, garden produce, and donated food from a number of sources and gives appropriate foods to "150 non-profit agencies and programs providing direct food assistance in the form of hot meals, nutritious snacks or emergency groceries to low-income adults, seniors and children in Washtenaw County."  (from Food Gatherers Website).

Unfortunately, there are many people facing food insecurity in Washtenaw county. SOS clients, who may receive other social services as well as food aid, are allowed access to the food pantry no more than five times per year. SOS also runs several programs to assist the homeless in finding both temporary and permanent shelter. Other local programs of course exist to provide hot meals for those without the resources to prepare food, and other forms of assistance.

Writing and thinking about food, always having enough to eat, living without fear of food insecurity: these are luxuries that I and many food bloggers and our families enjoy. I'm concerned for those who go hungry -- in Michigan 17.9% of the population sometimes suffers from food insecurity, in the US as a whole, 16.4%. I'm thinking of these local social service organizations who try to help, and also thinking about hunger throughout the country and around the world. To quote Food Gatherers: "We believe that food is a basic human right."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Australian Cookbooks

Suppose that you wanted to cook a kangaroo. Or a goanna (Australian lizard). What if you had some unfamiliar small native Australian fruits, what could you do with them? Bush Food: Aboriginal Food and Herbal Medicine by Jennifer Isaacs presents detailed information on Australian native foods and how the Aboriginal tribes cultivated, hunted, or gathered them, processed them, and cooked them.

This book, which I bought at the bookshop of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, is not exactly a cookbook, but it could serve that purpose if you wanted to live on native foods the way Aborignal people once lived. The author explains:
"There are different techniques for preparing and cooking each food. The most common methods are roasting on the coals, cooking in the ashes, steaming in a ground oven and boiling. Some foods, such as turtles, stingrays and sharks, are cooked by a process unique to themselves." (p. 51)
Specialized knowledge enabled the natives to produce safe and tasty food. For example, cooks had to know which species of wood made good fires for cooking, and which produced bad tastes or even toxic smoke. Many plant foods required soaking or other preparation to remove toxins as well, and traditional knowledge of processing enabled the use of many otherwise poisonous items. Bush Food describes many of these procedures.

An important technique for native cooking involved using a ground oven -- a pit lined with hot rocks. Vegetables, fish, or meats wrapped in paper bark or leaves were covered with hot sand and steamed or roasted in the covered pit. Each tribe had its own special methods for building these ovens, and knowledge about how long to cook each type of food. Ground ovens are sometimes still used, according to the author, though aluminum foil often replaces the traditional wrappers. Also, hardware-store covered billies (pots) made from modern materials now offer a much more efficient way to steam foods over a campfire.

"Aboriginal people have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Australian plants and animals and of seasonal changes in the Australian environment," the author points out. These traditions are little known among European and Asian immigrants who have largely displaced the original inhabitants from their long-time lands and replaced native species with often-harmful imports. "Most Australians have never even tasted bush foods." (p. 13 & 11)

Doyle's Fish Cookbook in my collection is full of really nice-sounding recipes.
It was a gift long ago from my niece Ellen who ate shrimp at Doyle's.
Australian waters are full of wonderful fish and shellfish,
which I remember eating on our two visits to the Great Barrier Reef.
The 200 years: History of Australian Cooking, a more conventional cookbook in my collection, embodies the view that Australian food consists of borrowed dishes from all the immigrant cultures that arrived there from 1788 until 1988 when the book was published. It's definitely an example of ignoring native knowledge and native foods. As I understand it, this view has been changing in the years since the book's publication, and more nuanced views have emerged.

Searching for a better overview of really Australian foods, I found that CNN once published a list of 40 Australian foods. These mostly don't appear in The 200 years. Some examples: Australia's native Macadamia nuts, now grown in many other places; emu and kangaroo meat; a number of fish and seafood dishes made from the local catch; the Pavlova, a meringue and cream cake (disputed for origin between New Zealand and Australia); and several other favorite commercial and home-made pastries.

Number 1 on CNN's list of typical Australian dishes is a hamburger served with a large slice of beetroot. "Vegemite on Toast" is number 10 -- "As Australian as it gets." And item number 40 is Witchetty grubs, labeled the "most authentic of bush tucker." The article explains: "The grub is a nutty-flavored bite that has been enjoyed by indigenous Australians for thousands of years. The wider Australian nation has often struggled with eating it raw, but two facts remain -- it actually tastes good and it belongs to the land."

Recommended Reading

The three Australian cookbooks that I own are quite limited in their reflection of Australian cooking, as I acquired them years ago without making systematic choices. Therefore I asked two Australian food bloggers, Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe and Gaye at Laws of the Kitchen, for their recommendations.

They both suggested one Australian classic of culinary advice: The Cook's Companion: The complete book of ingredients and recipes for the Australian kitchen by Stephanie Alexander. It's available, though quite expensive, from online booksellers in the US and Australia. Johanna also recommended a series of cookbooks from the Australian Women's Weekly. There are dozens of them, on many topics, published over at least the last 20 years.

Covers from a few of the Australian Women's Weekly
cookbooks listed on
"My fave Australian cookbook is The Margaret Fulton Cookbook (Margaret is a legend)," wrote Gaye. Amazon's description of this cookbook: "Margaret Fulton is credited as the woman who taught Australians how to cook with the first edition of her revered volume, published in 1968." Fulton's book has been updated recently, and is available in paperback, hardcover, or Kindle edition.

Gaye also wrote: "A favourite from my grandmother's era was The Schauer Australian Cookery Book." Editions of this book are now rare. "Miss Schauer's excellent book first appeared in 1909 under the title of 'Theory of Cookery', and went into 12 editions, with a facsimile edition published in 1991," says another book dealer, adding the following:
"Amy Schauer taught cookery at the Brisbane Technical College, gave classes in invalid cookery at the Mater Hospital, and, during the 1914-18 war gave courses in basic field, camp and invalid cookery. ... Practical, public-spirited, involved in many charitable activities, she ended her days at Strathfield, Sydney, dying in in 1956."
My selection of Australian cookbooks today celebrates Cookbook Wednesday, invented by Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations, and joined now by several other food bloggers.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Picnics in Australia

Upper left: Murray and Bruce, our hosts, building a fire. Right: Emus approach the cooks, hoping for a handout.
Lower left: The picnic. Note emu, waiting in the center of the photo. 
Another picnic, this time without emus. Hosts: David and Edie.
Thinking about Australian food, I've been fondly remembering two picnics at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra with our various hosts on our two visits there. Most memorable were the emus that approached us hopefully as our hosts roasted our hot dogs. I wasn't quick or careful enough, and an emu did in fact steal mine -- fortunately there were many more of them.

We did quite a bit of sightseeing on both occasions. The reserve includes two historic sites that I mentioned yesterday: the Birrigai Rock Shelter (oldest known Aboriginal site in the ACT region which contains evidence of occupation dating back to the last ice-age 21,000 years ago) and the Bogong Rocks (a Bogong moth resting site with evidence that the moth was an important seasonal food source for Aboriginal people). I remember visiting a cave with early cave paintings, and we saw quite a bit of wildlife.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Moth Eaters

"Moth Hunters of the Australian Capital Territory: Aboriginal Traditional Life in the Canberra Region" is a brief booklet written by Josephine Flood. It includes several photos of the last tribesmen of the territory, who unfortunately died out approximately 100 years ago.*

The long history of these native people began when the caves, mountains, and open lands of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) became their home, at least 21,000 years ago. Human habitation of the Australian continent began in the north, around 50,000 years ago.

In an ACT archaeology site called the Birrigai rockshelter, anthropologists like Flood have found stone tools and remnants of their campfires dating to the earliest times. More recent evidence documents their continued presence until the arrival of the Europeans, who arrived in the 19th century. Introduction of European farming practices, grazing animals, cities, and diseases quickly and brutally disrupted native plants and animals and ended the aboriginal way of life.

In their early days thousands of years ago, the aboriginal tribes adapted to the mountain landscapes of the area, exploiting a wide variety of potential foods from trees, grasses, birds, reptiles, marsupials, and insect life. A few European eyewitnesses and native oral histories described one of the most interesting of their foodways: the hunt for swarms of Bogong moths.

During migration, these moths fly from their breeding areas in the plains up to the mountains. They spend the summer in a semi-dormant state on the walls of caves or rock shelters, an activity called estivation (in the Australian spelling, aestivation).

The moths leave their breeding grounds in late September or October, that is, in the Australian spring. During the summer, these areas are hot and dry, and appropriate food becomes scarce. Moths thus go up into the mountains where they search for "the coolest, driest, darkest crevices on the western, windward side of the granite tors, .... In late summer, about March, those which have survived predators and parasites commence the return flight to the breeding grounds" (p. 12-13).

Members of the aboriginal tribes who lived in the area watched for the annual moth aggregations, especially hoping for high density of moths. Abundance varied considerably, according to Flood. Moths were nutritious and easy to collect -- especially compared to the effort that these stone-age people had to exert to kill large prey like an emu or a kangaroo.

When observers who lived close to the mountains saw that the moths were arriving, the local tribe sent runners with message sticks to far-flung tribes, who came from as much as 300 kilometers away. As they gathered, an advance party climbed up to the summit to check for the settled swarms. At the right time, they signaled to those waiting below with bull-roarers: instruments which they whirled around their heads on a string to make a "weird high-pitched whining noise." The gathering of tribes could include 500 people, who enjoyed eating their fill of roast moths, and who also engaged in "initiation ceremonies, arrangement of marriages, coroborees and exchange of goods" (p. 14).

Observers in the 19th century mentioned that during moth-eating season, the usually thin and undernourished aboriginal people became plumper and healthier looking. The moths were rich in fat and protein, and evidently tasted deliciously like chestnuts or maybe almonds. Since moths covered the rock walls in enormous numbers, gathering them was as simple as scraping them off the walls with a stick into a collecting dish or net. A heated stone on which a blazing fire had been set would be ready for roasting them -- "about a minute on each side" (p. 13).

Some sources mention that the hunt was limited to men; evidently the women waited in the valley for their return. Roasted moths could be ground up with round grinding stones, making a paste into "moth cakes" to bring back from the hunt. These round stones have been identified with campfires dating back as much as 1000 years, so the hunts were customary for a very long time. "Ceremonial stone arrangements on mountain tops adjacent to moth aestivation sites in the ACT bear vivid testimony to the links between ritual life and moth hunting." The last recorded moth hunt was in 1865 (p. 17).

*Joanna at the blog Green Gourmet Giraffe wrote this comment: "As for the claim that the Aboriginal people died out 100 years ago, I am not sure because there is an Aboriginal community in the NT. When I was a child I saw a film about the last of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and was quite surprised years later to be working with a number of people with Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage. So I wondered when this booklet was written as I know attitudes have changed over time." Answer: the booklet dates to the 1980s, and claims that the 500 people of the moth-hunting tribes died out.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Caribbean Cookbooks

Logo from Louise, who invented
Cookbook Wednesday
Along with Caribbean memories of spectacular coral and colorful reef fish, I also have memories of interesting foods I once ate there. These memories include delicious fish dishes, unfamiliar tropical fruits, exotic spice combinations, and interesting breakfast breads. Although our hotels often served primarily standard hotel fare, we looked for local specialties when we could.

A savory cornmeal pudding called funchi served with fried plantains was a delicacy in a beach restaurant where we ate in Puerto Rico. We ordered stewed iguana and local fish at a restaurant at the far end of Curaçao. Keshi Yena, a Gouda cheese stuffed with picadillo-type meat filling is special to Bonaire and Curaçao, reflecting the islands' Dutch, Portuguese, and African roots. At a food stall in Bonaire, we once had a barbecued goat sandwich.  In Saint Lucia we tried local freshwater crayfish. On another visit there, we enjoyed roti, an East-Indian-influenced dish, and we also visited a farmers' market at Christmas. I think we have tasted breadfruit, but it's rarely on tourist menus. We've also eaten conch chowder occasionally.

Over time, as I've learned about one island after another, I've acquired a few Caribbean cookbooks, which I'll tell you about now for Cookbook Wednesday.

"What's Cooking in St. Lucia," a pamphlet lacking any title page information, says "The St. Lucians can dazzle you with baked lobster, stuffed breadfruit, and mangoes with ice cream. Delight you with banana bread or fried plantain. Surprise you with pumpkin soup and boiled cucumber." I've tried the pumpkin soup, and it's very nice. (I always try pumpkin soup recipes.)

Pumpkin Soup from "What's Cooking in St.Lucia" -- Caribbean pumpkins have a different look from ours.

The Complete Book of Caribbean Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz -- a professional cookbook writer -- is a compendium of recipes from many islands, including four recipes for Keshy Yena (the spelling varies) with chicken, meat, or fish. She describes the dish as "a baked Edam or Gouda cheese with a variety of fillings. It originates in Curaçao and the name... is in Papiamento, the patois of the Netherlands Antilles.... Curiously, enough, the dish has been adopted by Chiapas and Yucatan in Mexico where it was probably introduced some time in the nineteenth century by Dutch and German coffee men. It is called queso relleno there." (p. 388)

Ortiz's cream of pumpkin soup from Jamaica calls for Pickapeppa hot sauce, a condiment from Jamaica that I've grown quite fond of. She included five recipes for West-African-inspired Callalou -- from Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Martinique, Haiti, and Trinidad. And many, many other recipes -- the book runs 400 pages!

Recipes from the Jewish Kitchens of Curaçao was published by the historic Jewish congregation there. This Jewish community began in the 1650s, when the Dutch settlers included Jews who had come to Amsterdam fleeing the Portuguese Inquisition. The synagogue itself is often visited by tourists. The building has been in continuous use since 1732.

Curaçao's Jewish community has a complicated history. I'll just mention that the recipes in the book reflect both the Sephardic Jewish traditions and many other Jewish and non-Jewish Caribbean traditions, right down to a classic tuna-macaroni casserole no doubt reflecting the influence of North Americans who worship there (though the recipe does call for raisins and Tabasco sauce as well as canned tuna and the usual ingredients).

Two pages from the cookbook:
Because beef or chicken-filled Keshi Yena would violate Jewish dietary laws, the version in this cookbook calls for tuna or salmon. Codfish for "Bakiou" comes from the Atlantic, salted and dried: this ingredient is popular throughout the Caribbean, as it needs no refrigeration.
Here is a recipe for Nasi Goreng, the Dutch dish influenced by Indonesia where they also had colonies. The drawing shows a dock-side market offering produce from a small inter-island boat. Other recipes include various curries, introduced to the Caribbean by immigrants from India, and many dishes to be made especially for Jewish holidays.
Island Cooking: Recipes from the Caribbean by Dunstan A. Harris unfortunately doesn't identify which island each recipe comes from. Though not as long as the Ortiz book, this book includes a wide selection of dishes with numerous ethnic origins, including roti (a type of curry), paella, pepperpot, breadfruit pudding, various ways to use salted codfish, and many more.

In Harris's introduction, he describes the history of the region and of several of the individual islands. I found it fascinating that pineapples are native to the region. "Columbus came across them in 1493 on the island of Guadeloupe" (p. 2). And that papayas, called paw-paws there, are also of Caribbean origin.

The three cookbooks (but not the St. Lucia pamphlet) are all still available from amazon sellers, if you are interested in them.

At the time that I was buying these books, I found it hard to locate books about Caribbean food history and recipes. In contrast, I've recently seen reviews of several new Caribbean cookbooks and food histories that would probably fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I don't know if I'll actually ever read them, but here's my wish list:
  • Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity by Cruz Miguel Ortíz Cuadra. The review at says this book is "a magisterial history of the foods and eating habits of Puerto Rico [which] unfolds into an examination of Puerto Rican society from the Spanish conquest to the present."
  • The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors and History by Ana Sofia Pelaez. A profile of the author recently appeared in the New York Times: "Sweet and Savory Memories, Caramelized in Exile: Restaurant-Hopping With the Author of ‘The Cuban Table’"
  • Food and Identity in the Caribbean by Hanna Garth: a collection of essays on the anthropology of island food.
  • Congotay! Congotay! A Global History of Caribbean Food by Candice Goucher.
  • According to the summary the book includes "foodways, Atlantic history, the slave trade, the importance of sugar, the place of food in African-derived religion, resistance, sexuality and the Caribbean kitchen, contemporary Caribbean identity, and the politics of the new globalization."

Further Thoughts on Caribbean Cooking and Travel

When I consider cooking tropical island recipes at home in Michigan, I'm challenged by the wide variety of perishable ingredients needed. Numerous ethnic groups who settled in the islands in their first few hundred years displaced or extinguished the local Indian populations, but continued to cultivate some of their produce. A huge variety of fruits, vegetables, spices, and domestic animals from northern Europe, Iberia, the Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia came in with the immigrants; above all, many foods and cooking methods came with enslaved people from Africa. While colonial masters may have tried to eat as if they were at home, local cooks fused a variety of tastes and ingredients into distinctive dishes.

Two photos from my visit to the market in
Soufriere, St.Lucia (blogged here)
Each island has developed its own distinctive style, depending on its political history, on the range of available products, and on local economic factors. Sugar cane plantations, established soon after Columbus first landed, exhausted once-fertile lands, wrecked the water table, and disrupted local flora and fauna. Spice plantations and tropical fruit groves also altered the landscape. The most brutal slavery in the New World supported the sugar industry, with many lasting tragic consequences.

By mid-19th century, the once-flourishing Caribbean region became a backwater. A few islands, like Haiti, were self-governed; others were governed by various indifferent European powers with no motive for redeveloping their economies. Quite a few of the islands suffered from centuries-long abandonment and near-starvation after the land became useless for producing export commodities. Some islands are still governed by European countries; many are now independent.

Today much food has to be imported from larger countries -- especially provisions for the hotels and tourist restaurants. However, on banana boats, local fishing boats, and other inter-island boats, as well as by plane, people still share foods among various islands.

Tourism, oil refineries, off-shore banking, and other 20th-century efforts to restore failed economies have met with varied success, little of it trickling down to the native residents. Poverty and food insufficiency are problems for the worst-off residents of benevolently-ruled Dutch Curaçao, for many citizens of independent Jamaica, for most of those living under the broken government of Haiti, for the residents of Communist Cuba, and for those on many other islands.

We have chosen Caribbean vacations in the past because diving and snorkeling on many of the islands used to be a fabulous adventure. Unfortunately, in the last 20 years or so, environmental changes have very much decreased the beauty of the coral reefs. Hurricanes have demolished some of the shallow reefs where a snorkeler could once see the coral just a few feet below the surface. Construction projects on some islands have caused muddy run-off water during heavy rains, and the mud smothers the coral near the shore. Warming sea waters have resulted in coral bleaching, a sad destruction that's shared by many other places on earth. I am happy with memories and underwater photos, while sad for the recent deterioration and especially sad for the many threatened species of underwater life.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

"Breaking Bread in Galilee"

Breaking Bread in Galilee: A Culinary Journey into the Promised Land by Abbie Rosner is a fascinating study of agriculture and gathering wild foods. Rosner is an American who moved to Israel over 25 years ago and decided to study the small remaining Arab and Bedouin population who maintain some traditional foodways. Any book about Israeli Arabs by a Jewish-Israeli-American is fraught. The author made what I consider to be a wise choice: she acknowledged, but did not explore, the political and historic issues about Israel and the Palestinian people. She sticks to her topic: food.

"I have chosen to approach food as a means of bringing people together instead of keeping them apart," she wrote in her introduction. "If using food as a bridge between individuals from either side of the conflict can help overcome suspicion and promote mutual understanding, even on the most modest scale, then something very significant can be achieved."

Abbie Rosner and her friend Balkees from a review on the website
Peace X Peace: Raise Women's Voices, Build Cultures of Peace
The Galilee, where Rosner lives with her husband and family, is a rich agricultural region. It also includes uncultivated lands that produce wild vegetables and herbs. Rosner found people with deep roots on the land who continue to forage for wild plants and to raise traditional crops. She introduced many quotations from the Bible, relating both the foods and the practices to ancient ways. I have no idea if her comparisons reflect modern scholarship on the issue, but they are highly enjoyable to think about.

For each type of plant or food, Rosner had a story. She met and befriended a variety of people, some in villages or on farms, some who have moved to bigger cities such as Nazareth. Many of them invited her to accompany them on foraging trips, or to share coffee and sweets or entire meals made from their own produce or their gatherings. Each story is very engaging.

Many of the wild plants Rosner described are unfamiliar to Americans, so her introductions and explanations of the tastes and uses of the foods are very interesting. The word zaatar may be familiar as a spice blend. I have some on my spice shelf, and I love to sprinkle it on yogurt or on pita bread with olive oil: the traditional ways, as Rosner points out. Zaatar is also a plant in itself, and can be gathered in the Galilee, she explained.

While I had heard of freekeh, green wheat that is roasted or "parched;" and I've eaten the various forms of white cheese like jibni, leben, and labaneh, other plants she mentioned are completely unfamiliar. I liked her descriptions of hubeisa (mallow), jarjir ha nahal (wild cress), elsaina, selek (wild spinach), wild asparagus, and malukhiya (jute). She described the cultivation and preparation of olives, okra, eggplant, grape leaves, grains, and other old-world foods, as well as mentioning some new-world foods, like potatoes and tomatoes, that now play a role in the local cuisine. Rosner included recipes for some of the foods she mentioned; I have not tried them, and I'm not at all sure that I can obtain the necessary ingredients in an authentic or fresh form.

The unusual nature of Rosner's endeavor is powerful. Again from the introduction to the book: "In Israel today, Jewish and Arab societies exist with very little interaction between them." Israelis seldom exchange visits with Arab people, only eating Arab food in "formulaic" restaurants. "Traditional Arab home cooking is not found in restaurants," she says. "The kitchens of Arab restaurants are run by men, just as the kitchens at  home are the domain of women." One of her accomplishments in the book is bonding with Balkees, a woman whose baked goods are so popular that she is able to sell them to many people in her community in Nazareth. At the end of the book, Rosner and Balkees agree that each has begun to see the world through the other's eyes, and has changed as a result of their friendship. (p. 235)

For an interesting description of a tour of Nazareth that Rosner leads, with photos of some of the foods from the book, see this blog post: Bridging cultures through food in Nazareth. For an article by Rosner, see Roasting Green Wheat in Galilee.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or Treat

Everyone knows that it's hard to get a candle to stand up inside a pumpkin jack-o-lantern. Today I decided to try making a lighted jack-o-lantern with a clementine that I was eating for lunch. It took much longer than the 10-minute carving job I did on a good-sized pumpkin this morning.

My 10-minute carving job, attractive to the squirrel, who made
Jack look as if he is crying.
My pumpkin is a lot bigger than my tiny little clementine. But nobody has jack-o-lanterns bigger than our neighbor on the next block:

The Great Pumpkins of Burns Park, Ann Arbor, a couple blocks from here.
Great Pumpkins around 5 feet tall: bigger than last year! (This is link to post from last year)
Our Treats: Ready for 150, but the weather was mean and cold, so it
was a particularly quiet Halloween.
Lots of good costumes... here's an Egyptian Princess with her friends

Only three of the 100 or so Trick-Or-Treaters came dressed as devils. I was especially looking for them since I did all that posting about devilish foods. Other costumes included Captain Underpants, Batman, Night Hunters,
Princesses, Formal Dress for boys (don't know why), and many more. Quite a few costumes were covered by coats.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Devil's Choice: Print Cookbook or iPad App?

New iPad App, old print cookbook.
To make a classic recipe, Devil's Food Cake, I looked in a classic cookbook -- The Joy of Cooking. Perfect for Cookbook Wednesday (though I baked it Sunday morning). As it happens I have a very old copy of the printed book as well as a copy of the Joy of Cooking App for my iPad.

Devil's Food Cake ingredients all ready to go: egg whites in mixer,
flour, sugar, chocolate mixture, egg yolks, milk, butter.
Devil's Food Cake continues my theme of devil-titled foods for Halloween.
Examining the instructions for the same recipe from the two different formats offered me a chance to compare the standard, in fact old-fashioned, cookbook with the app. The cookbook wins for several reasons, though these are not intrinsic problems with using apps, just with the way this one is implemented.

To begin with, the cookbook instructions are all on one page, while the app requires scrolling with your sticky, floury hands. A smeary iPad screen will be annoying a few hours later when you try to do Sudoku, check email, or read on your Kindle app. But if you touch the page of the old book or splatter it with batter, you get a permanent stain on the recipe which is kind of amusing as the years go by.

Both versions of this recipe call for the same ingredients and essentially the same method, but the old cookbook seems to think you know more about baking. For example, the print version says to sift the flour, add salt & soda, and resift (which I did). The app version says sift the flour, put it in a bowl, and then thoroughly stir in the salt and soda, which takes more time and probably isn't as good a way to do it.

It's easier to find things in the old-fashioned print index. If the iPad app has an index like this, I haven't been able to find it. At left: the entries for "Deviled" foods in the printed Joy of Cooking. It takes a while to locate a recipe in the electronic version. It shouldn't be that hard.
• I don't have anything against e-recipes in general. I typed in most of my own recipes starting on a very early Macintosh in around 1990, and now use them on the iPad. I also find many cooking ideas and recipes online. My remarks about e-book issues are specifically about the Joy of Cooking App.
• For much more information on the history of the original Joy of Cooking, there's a biography of its two authors, Rombauer and Becker. I reviewed the book, here: Stand Facing the Stove.

About Devil's Food Cake

A piece of the cake I baked, as we served it for dessert at Nat's house.
According to the Food Timeline: "Recipes for rich, chocolate cakes similar to devil's food were fairly common in late 19th century cookbooks, but they were not named such. They were typically listed under the generic name 'chocolate cake.' Recipes titled devil's food proliferated, sometimes with interesting and creative twists, in the first decades of the 20th century. Red Devil appears in the 1930s. ...How this chocolate cake came to be called devil's food no one knows although it may have been a play on opposites: it was as dark and rich as angel food was light and airy."

The traditional difference between just a chocolate cake and a devil's food cake is more chocolate. "When the larger amount of chocolate is used, it is a black, rich Devil's Food," said the first Joy of Cooking (1931 p. 236, cited in the Food Timeline). For a selection of mid-twentieth century recipes see this post at Dying for Chocolate.

1950 Devil's Food Cake Mix ad
from Swans Down
Devil's Food was a natural for cake mixes, though I'm not sure when the very first mix for Devil's Food Cake was introduced. Mixers and cake mixes both became very popular in the early 50s -- though both had existed as less widespread products prior to that. My mother started using both of them at that time.

One time in the early 1950s, our neighbor (who worked for a survey outfit) recruited my mother to bake several cakes from unmarked boxes of cake mix and fill out a questionnaire about how she liked each one. I've always wondered if my mother contributed to the cake mix makers' belief that women prefer a mix that requires the addition of real eggs. At about this time, Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, Swans Down and the rest formulated most cake mixes to require 2 or 3 eggs instead of including powdered eggs with the other powdered ingredients.

As I baked on Sunday, I was thinking how much work it would have been to bake even a mix without an electric mixer! These two convenience products obviously made cake baking much easier.

While devil's food cakes and cupcakes are often featured for Halloween, they are obviously well loved all year around. Not like pumpkin!

Main Course: Poulet Diable

We took my cake to Nat's house Sunday night, for dinner with Nat and Carol. To complement the Devil's Food Cake, Carol prepared a recipe for Poulet Diable; that is, chicken with a piquant sauce of Dijon mustard, shallots, white wine, and cream. I think she used Dorie Greenspan's recipe.

Devilish Dinner: Carol's Poulet Diable and two Devil-Themed Wines at Nat's house. Followed by the cake.
Poulet Diable, in some form or other, seems to be a classic -- as illustrated by several French cookbooks. In celebration of Cookbook Wednesday, I also give you this list of references to the dish from cookbooks published between the 1930s and 1960s:
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking has a recipe for Poulet Grillé à la Diable: chicken halves or quarters broiled with mustard, herbs, and breadcrumbs. (Beck, Bertholle and Child, p. 265).
  • Both the Larousse Gastronomique entry for "Devilled" and the glossary of Raymond Oliver's La Cuisine define the method of cooking chicken called à la Diable to consist of slitting the bird along the back, spreading it out flat, and grilling it with various spices or sauce. In the "Sauce" entry, Larousse also provides three recipes for a Sauce Diable for grilled chicken, with vinegar, shallots, thyme, cayenne pepper and other ingredients.
  • In his cookbook Ma Gastronomie the very famous chef Fernand Point gives a recipe for Poulet Grillé à la Diable. He calls for a chicken cut as described above, with a sauce made from vinegar, parsley, peppercorns, tarragon, egg yolk, and butter (p. 170).  
I wondered why the name of the dish was "à la Diable." I found out that it's short for à la façon du Diable; that is, in the manner of the devil. There are various derivations for this expression, but none of them have anything to do with Halloween customs. Like devil's food cake the dish would be good at any time of year!