Saturday, June 25, 2016


We took a brief walk in the Sloan Preserve near Dexter, MI, this morning. It's a short distance from the small parking lot to the creek. It's one of a few preserves in the area that keep some space open but walkable, without being a full-service park.

You can walk across the creek on the rocks. After this short walk, we drove into downtown Dexter, where we looked briefly at the very small Dexter Farmers' Market. Fresh vegetables, pots of herbs, jams and home-made cookies, and massages are all available.

Just down a stairway from the market is a beautiful hiking and biking path that goes along the same creek we saw earlier, but quite a bit downstream from there. The path goes under the old railroad tracks and on through wooded areas and hillsides and fields with many flowers.

In the afternoon we went to a garden center and bought several outdoor plants, including this rather strange looking hanging basket for our porch. These flowers remind me of the blossoms on a bottle-brush tree:

Late this afternoon we went to the home of one of Len's fellow birdwatchers. The garden faces the Huron River and is filled with bird feeders and native plants. A hummingbird landed on this feeder several times:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Yoo-hoo, Cthulhu

After sporadic participation for two years in a writing group where everyone is pretty much dedicated to genre fiction, I decided to join the crowd. I've started by reading a few tales by H.P.Lovecraft (1890-1937) about the secretive and threatening interstellar people who live among us, especially in various places in New England. Their leader or god or some such being is named Cthulhu, which I gather is pronounced "Ka-thu-loo." Or "Khlûl’-hloo" (see note).

The Cthulhu worshippers have a lot of other gods and leaders too. Sometimes they live under the sea and sometimes they fly from outer space into mountainous areas like the Himalayas or Vermont. They always smell bad and look scary; details vary. Sometimes they want to kidnap humans and take their brains. Sometimes they intermarry with humans and produce a new and creepy hybrid race. The stories I read were always about someone who tries to learn too much about them and then escapes and tells his story. Whatever the story line, they are VERY VERY scary and make us think of all the alien types of humans that we hate. After all, the genre here is horror. This special case of horror was invented by Lovecraft. Other writers have been imitating or adapting Lovecraft's creations for something like the last 80 years.

Before this new influence in my life,
I knew the name H.P.Lovecraft as a rock band,
but that hasn't been relevant since the 1960s.
Anyway, I have been reading anthologies of stories by Lovecraft and his followers. Despite the hype, I think he's a pretty good author, and I like some of the imitations too.

Food in literature is always a filter that I like to use to figure out what an author is up to. In Lovecraft's tales, terrorized researchers always seem to be working alone in scary places to find out about the Cthulhu cult. From time to time, they get hungry, but they definitely have a minimalist attitude about food.

For example, the informant in the story "The Shadow over Innsmouth" arrives in the New England town of Innsmouth where the mysterious creatures live in order to learn about them and about his own family from there.

Towards the beginning he writes: "For some reason or other I chose to make my first inquiries at the chain grocery, whose personnel was not likely to be native to Innsmouth. I found a solitary boy of about seventeen in charge, and was pleased to note the brightness and affability which promised cheerful information. He seemed exceptionally eager to talk, and I soon gathered that he did not like the place, its fishy smell, or its furtive people. A word with any outsider was a relief to him. He hailed from Arkham, boarded with a family who came from Ipswich, and went back home whenever he got a moment off. His family did not like him to work in Innsmouth, but the chain had transferred him there and he did not wish to give up his job."

Making an effort to exist in Innsmouth he says: "Disliking the dinginess of the single restaurant I had seen, I bought a fair supply of cheese crackers and ginger wafers to serve as a lunch later on."

And on his final night when he is about to face off against the monsters and make his exciting escape the narrator: "looked around for a dinner of some sort; noticing as I did so the strange glances I received from the unwholesome loafers. Since the grocery was closed, I was forced to patronise the restaurant I had shunned before; a stooped, narrow-headed man with staring, unwinking eyes, and a flat-nosed wench with unbelievably thick, clumsy hands being in attendance. The service was of the counter type, and it relieved me to find that much was evidently served from cans and packages. A bowl of vegetable soup with crackers was enough for me, and I soon headed back for my cheerless room at the Gilman; getting an evening paper and a flyspecked magazine from the evil-visaged clerk at the rickety stand beside his desk."

Not to belabor the point, but the absolutely ordinary and featureless cuisine of Innsmouth is one of the big contrasting features with the local horror show going on with its residents! (Quotes from The Cthulhu Mythos MEGAPACK, Kindle Locations 4892-4836).

The monsters too may need food. So we learn from this sentence in the story "The Whisperer in Darkness" which is set in the unsettled mountains of Vermont: "They could not eat the things and animals of earth, but brought their own food from the stars." (MEGAPAK, Kindle Locations 9864-9865).

The Cthulhu Mythos MEGAPACK included orignial stories by Lovecraft (such as the ones I've quoted) and also related stories by other authors. The second book I've been reading, New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, contains Lovecraft-influenced stories: one from 1929, the rest from the twenty-first century. Many of the authors mention hunger, foods, and use eating in a many ways too varied to generalize.

Food is really not a bad way to frame horror, actually. For example, this analogy by the narrator of the story "Pickman's Other Model" (1929) by Caitlín R. Kiernan: "'Very well, Lily,' I said, moving the glass ashtray on the table closer to her. She scowled at it, as though I were offering her a platter of some perfectly odious foodstuff and expecting her to eat, but she stopped tapping her ash on my floor." (New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, Kindle Locations 491-493).

I'm finding these stories quite enjoyable, though they do not horrify me as some other stories or poems or music has in the past done. In particular, I think Neil Gaiman is the scariest novelist in my reading experience. The Graveyard Book and Coraline are eerie! And those are supposed to be for kids!

However, for the purest and most beautiful horror I can imagine, I recommend Jesse Norman's recording of Der Erlkönig, poetry by J.W.von Goethe, music by Franz Schubert. (If like me you can't follow the German words, both the original poem and a translation appear here.)

Norman's portrayal of the various voices of the song -- the father, the son, the supernatural elfin King and his daughters, and the narrator, are incredible. The drama and horror are incredible. That's all I can say!


The two story collections that I've been reading are:
  • New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, edited by Paula Guran with stories by Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and several more.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos MEGAPACK ®: 40 Modern and Classic Lovecraftian Stories edited by John Gregory Betancourt and Colin Azariah-Kribbs with stories by by Lovecraft, T.E.D. Klein, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and several others.
On the name of the creature:
  • Lovecraft once explained  how to pronounce Cthulhu: "The name of the hellish entity was invented by beings whose vocal organs were not like man’s, hence it has no relation to the human speech equipment. The syllables were determined by a physiological equipment wholly unlike ours, hence could never be uttered perfectly by human throats... The actual sound – as nearly as any human organs could imitate it or human letters record it – may be taken as something like Khlûl’-hloo, with the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness." (from "Ten things you should know about HP Lovecraft")

On the Youtube video:
  • Youtube videos sometimes disappear and no longer show up as embedded videos -- if that happens to the one I've embedded above, I recommend that you google "Erlkonig Jesse Norman Youtube" for a replacement.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Paula Wolfert Recipe

Paula Wolfert's recipes for desserts and pastry appear very challenging, for the most part. Though they sound fabulous, they demand both skill and time from the cook or baker. I now have two of her cookbooks, one on Moroccan cooking, one on the Southwest of France. Though I would love to taste her delicious-sounding desserts, I don't seem to have the courage to try making them.

The orange salad that I made today is much simpler than her other recipes. The ingredients are peeled & sliced oranges, cinnamon, powdered sugar, and a tiny bit of rose water. I made the dish as specified, but I included some raspberries because they looked very good. In fact, I do not know of any uses of raspberries in Moroccan cuisine, so I kept them somewhat separated. The recipe is from Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco (originally published 1973; this edition 2001; recipe p. 82).

A very similar version of this dish was served in the Moroccan restaurant in Avignon, France, where we ate last April (shown at right), though it may have used orange-flower water rather than rose water. It included a few strawberries, which were in season then.

This was my first time ever using rose water, though I believe I have tasted it in North African and Middle Eastern dishes in restaurants. It has an incredibly intense and very rose-like aroma, and as I have read to do, I used it very sparingly. After we ate, I offered my guests each the opportunity to savor the aroma from the rose-water bottle.

Here's the not-at-all-ambitious first course for the dinner we served to guests this evening.
Our dinner was very simple and ordinary though good. The main course was marinated beef and vegetables cooked on skewers over charcoal and served with potato salad: not at all Moroccan. I'll be exploring more recipes by Paula Wolfert, especially tagines -- though maybe not the pastry!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Où est le Garlic" -- French Cooking Codified

Do you ever think about a topic (say, French cooking) and feel as if you could boil it all down to a few simple principles -- a flowchart or two, a basic explanation of the equipment and materials needed, a few simple examples that would enable someone to grasp everything? In other words, one of those moments when everything is clear and your mind is enlightened?

Then do you wake up?

Two Deighton spy novels -- the first ones I found on our
bookshelves this morning. I admit that I haven't read them.
Reading Où est le Garlic: French Cooking in 50 Lessons by Len Deighton made me think of this kind of fantasy. Much better known for his spy novels, Deighton, in this short book, purports to tell you everything -- yes, EVERYTHING -- you could possibly need in order to be a skilled French home cook. "The really important things are all here," he says, though "some steps will require practice and sometimes the first attempt will be short of perfection." (page 8)

To me, the title tells you a lot about the author's attitude. It's so pretentious! The words "Où est le" are in student-level French, while the word garlic is English (the French word for garlic is ail, pronounced like the pronoun ). Ouch.

The central approach of the book is to codify French techniques and recipes into a series of comic-strip lessons and summaries, along with text explanations, notes, and even flow charts. The illustrations were published as a newspaper column prior to being collected as a book. I think they would have been amusing when they appeared a few bits at a time. As a book, the whole comes across to me as vastly overreaching -- one of those fantasies that suddenly everything makes sense!

Some Sample Pages

Everything you need to know about French cooking equipment.
How to make choux pastry.
This one might work! You know, as easy as boiling water?
In addition to the mushroom hunting techniques he lists here, Deighton recommends that you buy a book
"that has coloured pictues to give you confidence." He warns "Most of the ones listed as inedible are
merely unpleasant to eat ... (but it's true that there are poisonous mushrooms)." Oh my!
I recently bought a copy of this book, which is long out of print since its publication in 1977. I'm curious about cookbooks by authors who wrote in very different genres, especially by mystery authors.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Preserved Lemons from the Middle Ages to the Present

My preserved lemons some time last
year before I used most of them.
In the book Hesperides by Samuel Tolkowsky, published in 1938, there are virtually no recipes, just a thorough history of citrons, oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruit  (my review here). One exception is a recipe for preserved lemons from the author Ibn Jamiya, "which has been widely used throughout the Middle Ages and right up to modern times" --
"take lemons that are fully ripe and of bright yellow color; cut them open without severing the two halves and introduce plenty of fine salt into the split; place the fruits thus prepared in a glass vessel having  a wide opening and pour over them more lemon juice until they are completely submerged; now close the vessel and seal it with wax and let it stand for a fortnight in the sun, after which store it away in a cool place for at least forty days; but if you wait still longer than this before eating them, their taste and fragrance will be still more delicious and their action in stimulating the appetite will be stronger."
Indeed, this recipe is nearly identical to many recipes for preserved lemons that one finds by searching the Web -- except of course that modern canning jars have lids so we don't need wax!

Paula Wolfert, expert in Moroccan cooking, gives almost the same directions in recipes quoted at Epicurious and by Julia Moskin in the New York Times. Author Julia Moskin says: "The brightness of this pickle has lately elbowed its way out of Morocco’s tagines. New York chefs add the minced peel to salads and garnish fried seafood with it; the cured-lemon flavor is particularly friendly to salmon, carrots, olives, parsley and potatoes. The lemony brine is great in a bloody mary."

When I made preserved lemons last year, I followed Paula Wolfert's directions; I've enjoyed them in small quantities for a number of different recipes including salads and tagines.

Ibn Jamiya's best-known work was titled "Treatise of the Lemon." Written in the twelfth century, it was eventually published in a Latin translation in the sixteenth century. The author's full name was Abu'l Asher Khibat-Allah ben Zeyn-ed-Din Muwaffeq ed-Din, a Jewish physician from Cairo "who was personal physician to the sultan Salah ed-Din (A.D. 1171-1193) -- the Saladin of the Crusaders and Richard Lionhearted's opponent in Palestine." His book also contains many recipes for drinks and syrups made from lemons and other fruits. "There is a ring of modernity in Ibn Jamiya's dissertations on the lemon, and he might aptly be called the theorist of the art of the preparation and use of lemonades."

All quotes in this post are from S. Tolkowsky, Hesperides, pages 132-134.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Boring Breakfast

My breakfast this morning. Boring! Easy! Wheat Squares, juice, and coffee.
Cereal used to be every American's breakfast. Lately, national consumption figures have decreased. "Since the late 1990s, its popularity has been slowly fading. Sales, which totaled $13.9 billion in 2000, dipped last year to about $10 billion," wrote Kim Severson in the New York Times earlier this year. (See: Cereal, a Taste of Nostalgia, Looks for Its Next Chapter

For years, beginning in my childhood, my favorite cereal was Kellogg's Sugar Smacks, which at later times have been called Honey Smacks or just plain Smacks. I don't buy them any more because they don't taste the same. Maybe they changed the formula when production left Battle Creek, Michigan, and transferred to Mexico. (At least I think that's what happened. At one time, the boxes specified the place of manufacture, but Kellogg's doesn't disclose that any more.)

For a while in the last few years I enjoyed Trader Joe's lightly sweetened puffed wheat, which was similar but much less heavily sugary. It uses agave syrup which sounds good, but either nutritionally or taste-wise agave syrup isn't very different from sugar syrup or honey. TJ's just didn't overdo it, and didn't add sort of a chemical aftertaste that I detected in Smacks. Recently my local TJ's  hasn't been stocking this cereal anyway.

My view is that cereal is no work at all when it comes to breakfast preparation. Severson, however, says: "Almost 40 percent of the millennials surveyed by Mintel for its 2015 report said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it." Go figure!

I do remember this: years ago we visited European friends in France at their vacation home in a very obscure village in the south of France. We arrived with a supply of our favorite breakfast cereals, which we shared. At the end of our stay our friend said she was hooked -- now she would no longer have to get up and go downstairs from their Paris apartment to the nearby bakery to bring croissants to her children then around 8 and 3 years old. They would be happy with cereal. I've probably told this story before, but I can't resist repeating it.

My cereal shelf. In plastic box: Wheat Squares purchased in large-ish
quantity from Costco. Also TJ's corn flakes, granola, and bran flakes.
And Cheerios.
OK, we too eat cereal less often these days. Sometimes we eat an omelet. Or toast and butter and jam.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

"Hesperides" -- A Very Obscure Book

Library copy of Hesperides.
Hesperides: A History of the Culture and Use of Citrus Fruits by Samuel Tolkowsky is hard to find, though fortunately for me, I have checked out the library copy shown above.

Title page.
I find the obscurity of this book surprising, as it's full of fascinating and useful information. John McPhee cites it in his book Oranges; in fact, I think he used a variety of information from it in his historical section. Tolkowsky begins in ancient times, with the origins of citrus trees on the slopes of the Himalayas and in the boundary areas between India and China, and a grapefruit-like fruit in the Malay archipelago. The earliest written records of citrus are in China in a compendium dated around 500 BCE, including a number of older works that refer to the fruit. (p. 6)

Citrus spread through Asia and North Africa, and eventually to Europe, as Tolkowsky documents in several chapters. I found the descriptions of the introduction of citrus fruits into ancient Israel especially interesting. Tolkowsky traces the customs of the holiday of Succoth -- the Feast of Tabernacles -- to the influence of the Persians during their exile in the sixth century, and the introduction of these customs when they returned thanks to the decree of Cyrus. At this point, as the citron was as yet not known in Babylonia, the fruit that served in the ritual was not an etrog (citron), but a cedar cone, which appears in a number of images from that era.

By the second century of this era, the Jewish writings in the Mishnah definitely interpret the ritual fruit as an etrog; the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus also says this, saying "it was the 'Persian apple' that was used by the Jews during the Feast of Tabernacles." Tolkowsky continues the story: "The very earliest documentary evidence of the citron in Jewish sources is found in the representation of this fruit on coins struck by Simon the Maccabee in the fourth year of the 'Redemption of Zion,' that is, in 136 BC. If citrons were extensively grown in Palestine at the time, it seems probable that the center of the industry was at Jaffa." (p. 53)

Simon the Maccabee issued copper coins (above) bearing the picture of a citron
together with the bundle of myrtle, willow and palm branches prescribed
for use at the Feast of Tabernacles.  
Because Simon the Maccabee was the only Jewish ruler who depicted the etrog on his coins, Tolkowsky believes that Simon was the one who introduced the citron in place of the cedar cone.
Above: a bronze seal with Jewish symbols including an etrog. Below: a decorated glass vase including
an etrog and other fruits. From the Roman era.
Citrons were the earliest citrus fruits introduced into Europe, and Tolkowsky includes several chapters describing how later, oranges and lemons arrived in Roman times. Tolkowsky's illustrations include many Roman mosaics and other art works depicting oranges and lemons.

A detail of a mosaic from Pompeii.
Several chapters describe the ways that citrus fruits appear symbolically and literally in European art and literature from Roman times until the Renaissance and early modern period. The development of culinary uses for the fruits are very interesting also. Hesperides is rich in historical information that's not easy to find.

Some notes on Tolkowsky:

I managed to find a brief memoir of Samuel Tolkowsky and his family in Raphael Patai's memoir Journeyman in Jerusalem: Memories and Letters, 1933-1947. Patai (a well-known author) describes the "at home" Fridays at the home of Samuel Tolkowsky and his wife, beginning in 1933. Patai, a young man newly arrived in Jerusalem, met the family in 1933, when Samuel Tolkowsky was 47 years old. Tolkowsky, Patai says, was born in Belgium to Polish-Jewish parents, served as a member of the Zionist Political Committee under Chaim Weizmann in London during World War I, and settled in Palestine in 1919. During World War II, he headed the Citrus Control and Marketing Board set up by the British government there. Patai eventually married Naomi, the Tolkowsky's daughter. (source)

family tree posted at Geni gives Tolkowsky's dates as June 27, 1886, to December 19, 1965, and lists his parents, wife, and children.

Tolkowsky was the author of a number of other books that are even more obscure than Hesperides. Examples from google book search: The Gateway of Palestine: A History of Jaffa (1925) and The Jewish Colonisation in Palestine, Its History and Its Prospects (1914).

Even Wikipedia seems to have nothing about Hesperides or its author! Several years ago, Hesperides was listed in but no longer seems to be there, as I guess they never had a copy come up for sale. A few years ago one sold at Bonham's for £312 (US$ 443), according to the Bonham's website.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Mysterious Orange

Know’st thou the land where lemon-trees do bloom,
And oranges like gold in leafy gloom;
A gentle wind from deep blue heaven blows,
The myrtle thick, and high the laurel grows?*

This poem by J.W.von Goethe, published in 1795, expresses the longing of a person from the north for the beauties of Italy and the Mediterranean climate. Why did Goethe use citrus fruits as the exotic image of the far-off places being dreamed about?

From the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cluny Museum, photo taken 2016.
Oranges always seem to have mythic significance.
Beginning in Classical Antiquity, lemons and oranges have taken on a variety of meanings in art, religion, literature, and cuisine. Citrus trees were raised for their beauty in climates where they couldn't bear much fruit. Orange or lemon juice was used as a sour or bitter condiment before sweet varieties of oranges were cultivated and eaten raw. Dishes like duck with oranges have been popular since the Renaissance.
Ottolenghi's creation of chicken with clementines and fennel
is in the spirit of historic dishes combining citrus with duck or other fowl.
Citrus history is full of mysteries. Just when did each variety of lemon, lime, shaddock, grapefruit, sweet orange, blood orange, bitter orange, navel orange, tangerine, clementine, manderin, satsuma, kumquat, bergamot, or citron appear, and who distributed the fruit and planted the trees? Each variety has its own history, beginning with the origins of citrus in the Himalayas at least 2,000 years ago. Some varieties date from these early times; others originated as recently as the late 19th century. Tracing the names used at different times in various languages helps to learn the history, but speculation is often the only response to such complex questions.

The Orangerie at Versailles, photo taken 2013. Orange trees were loved
for their beauty in gardens, and cultivated for appearance as well as for fruit.
In northern climates, oranges and other citrus fruits were always scarce, and normally only available to the richest people. Palaces and chateaus often had an orangerie, where citrus could be grown out of season; the one at Versailles was particularly large. Royal gardeners grew citrus trees in large boxes, requiring huge numbers of laborers to care for them and move them indoors and out depending on the season.
The large fruit is a citron that grew in Janet's garden in Israel.
 With the citron: lemons from the market. Photo taken 2016.
In the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, oranges were associated visually with images of the Madonna,** and often appear in icons painted for churches or private use. Pious Jewish citrus merchants, beginning as early as Roman times, supplied citrons for the fall holiday of Succoth -- the citron had replaced the cedar cone (a similarly-shaped fruit) during around the first century before the common era. By the early modern era, these dealers were influential in creating markets for citrus, as well as supplying citrons for ritual use.

Orange groves around the Mediterranean in Spain, North Africa, Jaffa, and Italy constantly grew in economic importance. English crusaders first saw oranges when they embarked from their ships in Jaffa. Columbus brought orange trees to the Caribbean on one of his later voyages. Early modern travelers like Goethe dreamed of lemons and oranges in Italy while travelers in the 19th century saw them at exotic places like the Alhambra. By the beginning of the 20th century, oranges were sold at Christmas even for middle class buyers, and soon the railroads and cargo ships brought citrus to European and American cities year-around.

1920s orange crate label.
Orange groves in California and Florida developed as big agriculture starting in the late 19th century. Rail transport and cargo ships made it possible to deliver large quantities of citrus to American consumers in cities, and oranges became the miracle fruit for almost all classes, not just the well-off. Canned juice, then frozen juice, then fresh-pack juice were developed as essentially industrial products, with widespread advertising campaigns to create demand and convince the public of the great health benefits of drinking orange juice. Labor as always is an issue, with orange pickers working long hours for little pay.

My culinary history reading group discussed John McPhee's book about the history of oranges in Florida in the twentieth century, and I went back to read three other books about the history of oranges. Our group particularly admired John McPhee's style and his captivating way of portraying the many people in the orange growing business in Florida. His sketches of the lives of advertising men, grove owners, fruit pickers, and many others enlivened his description of the history of citrus in Florida. Though out of date (the book has not been revised since its publication in 1966) the book brings a lot of the business of citrus to life. We wish there would be an update to tell us about modern issues like labor challenges, water consumption, climate change, and changing demand from consumers of orange juice.

Booklist on which I based my very brief summary of millennia of citrus history:
  • John McPhee, Oranges. Published 1966. (I wrote about it here.)
  • Douglas Cazaux Sackman, Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden. Published 2005. (I wrote about it here.)
  • S. Tolkowsky, Hesperides: A History of the Culture and Use of Citrus Fruits. Published 1938.
  • Pierre Laszlo, Citrus: A History. Published 2007. (I wrote about it here and here.)

*For anyone who is more knowledgeable in German than I am the original is:
Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht, 
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht? 
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn.

**Below is the painting "Madonna of the Victories" by Mantegna, where the Virgin is surrounded by garlands of oranges and lemons. (Left, the painting; right, a detail of the garlands.)

"The Banh Mi Handbook"

My new cookbook: The Banh Mi Handbook by Andrea Nguyen.
My first taste of a banh-mi sandwich was last month at a Vietnamese diner in Provo, Utah. I was hooked! The idea is French-Asian fusion cuisine originally from the long French colonial era in Vietnam, recently made popular by Vietnamese cooks in the US. French bread, French pâté, Asian condiments and pickles, fresh vegetables -- lots of flavor, lots of crunch.

Wanting to try making these simple and delicious sandwiches, I bought the book in the photo. Author Nguyen, who has also written several other cookbooks, offers recipes for the bread, the filling, the condiments, and the pickles, and a basic formula for putting them all together. Here's my first effort:

I assembled our sandwiches on crusty French rolls. The pickled carrots and pork roast were home made.
The rolls & pâté were from Trader Joe. I hollowed each roll out a bit and
lightly toasted it as the instructions suggest.
The sandwich.
I'm sharing my new cookbook with Louise's Cookbook Wednesday.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ancient Egyptian Beer, Bread, and other Ancient Foods

Kneading dough for a beer starter: 2100-2000 C. BCE
In the ancient Middle East, including Egypt, people discovered how to ferment dough made from grain, and thus to brew beer and bake bread. By the time this wooden statue was carved, brewing and baking were old news, probably several thousand years old already.

According to The Food Timeline:
"No one has yet managed to date the origins of beer with any precision, and it is probably an impossible task. Indeed, there are scholars who have theorized that a taste for ale prompted the beginning of agriculture, in which case humans have been brewing for some 10,000 years...Most archaeological evidence, however, suggests that fermentation was being used in one manner or another by around 4000 to 3500 B.C. Some of this evidence--from an ancient Mesopotamian trading outpost called Godin Tepe in present-day Iran--indicates that barley was being fermented at that location around 3500 B.C....We know that not much later the Sumerians were...making beer...At approximately the same time, people of the ancient Nubian culture to the south of Egypt were also fermenting a crude, ale-like beverage known as bousa."--Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple & Conee R. Ornelas [Cambridge University Press:Cambridge] 2000, Volume One (p. 620)
Closeup of kneading trough. Both beer and bread were made in similar ways.
Egyptian depictions of food processing are very intriguing, and I found this statuette in the Israel Museum extremely interesting. Also of interest:

A man bearing provisions for an offering. Egypt 2600-2500 BCE.
This limestone relief from a tomb bears an inscription with a magic formula.
It looks as if he has grain and small birds and animals for the offering.
Another bearer of offerings, with flour and a duck.
Painted wooden figurine, Egypt 2100-2000 BCE.

In Ancient Israel

My favorite ancient figurine: a woman holding a butter churn on her head.
Chacolithic era from the sanctuary of Gilat in the Negev in Israel.
Dated 5500 to 6500 years ago.  
How milk was churned in these vessels: they were hung up and shaken
back-and-forth, as shown. The figurine above, and others in the sanctuary,
also used churns for an unknown symbolic meaning in grave goods.
I like to try to imagine the lives of the people who lived in this long-ago time, visualizing their possessions based on the wonderful collections of the museum. At this time, farmers and herdsmen seemed to be developing processes for making butter and cheese from the milk of their animals. The museum's documentation about the Copper Age or Chacolithic Period 6500-5500 years ago explains: 
"The population of the Land [Israel] grew dramatically in this period, largely thanks to increased food production. People lived in planned villages built near water sources, dwelling in houses, caves, and subterranean rooms. Everyday objects exhibited little variety, especially in comparison to the richly decorated ritual items produced with sophisticated techniques.
"The climate of the Negev was considerably wetter then, making floodwater farming possible, and systems of channels and dams were constructed to ensure optimal utilization of rainfall for irrigation. Agriculture and animal husbandry formed the basis of the economy. For the first time, animals were exploited not only for their meat and hides, but also for their milk and wool."

Saturday, June 11, 2016


Yesterday I wrote about things I wanted to cook. Today I did cook, along with Carol and Len. We made things in the spirit of our recent dining adventures in Israel. In the photo collage above, you can see bread, hummus, roasted eggplant with tomatoes, vegetable skewers on the grill, Carol's grape leaf pie (lower left), grilled chicken, lamb meatballs, and our strictly American dessert: rhubarb sauce served over ice cream. Carol's pie used grape leaves from her garden in her interpretation of an Ottolenghi contribution to the Splendid Table. 

Rhubarb sauce: one of the things I planned to make, and
now I've made it.