Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More on Food Fraud as covered at FiveThirtyEight

Where I buy olive oil: Whole Foods. I wonder how good it really is! these days is posting frequent updates to their Presidential election coverage, and I've been looking at it often -- sometimes hourly -- to see their prediction. Today, besides the election, they are covering one of the topics I read and wrote about yesterday: food fraud!

"Most Of Us Are Blissfully Ignorant About How Much Rancid Olive Oil We Use" by Anna Maria Barry-Jester is even more severely scary about the low quality of most US-purchased olive oil than the book Real Food/Fake Food that I have been reading. Regulatory efforts try to ensure that bottles labeled "olive oil" actually contain oil that comes from olives, and that claims to be "extra virgin" are accurate. These efforts are in fact being stepped up by Congressional directives to the FDA.

The problem, however, remains that "most people in the U.S. can’t tell fusty and musty from pungent and fruity." The article explains:
"'We call the U.S. the world’s dumping ground for rancid and defective olive oil. We don’t know the difference,' said Sue Langstaff, a sensory scientist who consults for the beer, wine and olive oil industries, among others. Studies have shown that even frequent olive oil consumers in the U.S. don’t know what the extra virgin or cold pressed designations mean, let alone have the ability to taste the difference. And in blind taste tests, consumers often prefer lower-quality olive oils.

"Rancidity, for example, isn’t generally a sought after quality in edible products. And yet, when it comes to olive oil in the U.S., people like it. Why? Partly, because rancid olive oil is less bitter than the good stuff. But also, likely because it’s what many of us know and grew up with. It’s what we think olive oil is supposed to taste like."
The article's principal suggestion is that American consumers should inform themselves about the taste of wholesome, unspoiled olive oil by learning to recognize and name the flavors that should be present and also those that should be avoided -- footnotes to the article define quite a few of these terms, if you're curious. The conclusion: "For most of us, the first step to experiencing great olive oil is probably learning the language that defines it, and the flavor of those descriptors."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Real Food/Fake Food -- Reading the Book

The other day, I mentioned a plan to read Real Food/Fake food, a recently published book by Larry Olmsted. I've now read it, and find much of interest. He describes a number of frauds that leave me wondering whether people may even like to be fooled. One big question in my head: are there actually people who get something, some satisfaction, out of knowing there are counterfeits? Not just make money by counterfeiting, but who like to see someone else fooled? Does it do something for their egos?

Many of the foods under discussion have a great deal of status in the realm of fine dining and also in the realm of food snobbery. The bizarre thing here is that often, it's the snobs who are fooled the most, and the only people who could be taking any satisfaction are the people who perpetrate the frauds and make money at their expense. I'm really enthusiastic about this book because it confirms many of my suspicions about "foodies."

Wagyu Beef (similar to Kobe beef) that we ate in Tokyo in 2011.
Just being aware of the high reputation of Kobe beef, for example, might make someone feel like a food expert. Olmsted describes the raising of the special breed of cattle in Kobe and the taste of Kobe beef as he's tried it in certified restaurants in Japan. He also describes how widespread and falsified Kobe beef offerings are in the US -- it's easy to know which products are falsified in these places because the actual Japanese product is NOT AVAILABLE here. Basically the word "Kobe" has been applied to so many US products that it doesn't mean anything here except an unjustifiably higher price.

Similarly Olmsted discusses truffle oil, which is another status symbol that justifies excessive prices and appeals to people who want to seem expert in food matters. Actually, he explains, you can't really infuse truffle flavor into oil, it doesn't work that way. Truffle oil is made with artificial chemicals, and gets its appeal from the fact that virtually no one in the US has ever tasted real truffles. Another con game!

One major strength of the book is its deep interest in what the author calls "Real Food," by which he mainly means foods and also wines or spirits that are grown, prepared, and produced with serious and traditional work in specified locales. He explains much about the fundamentals of the following foods:
  • Scotch Whiskey which must be produced and bottled only in Scotland.
  • Certain fortified wines; for example, Port, of which the Real version must be from Portugal.
  • Luxury meats such as Kobe beef and Parma Ham only raised and aged in Parma Italy, there called prosciutto di Parma.
  • A number of types of regional cheese from France, Switzerland, and Italy; especially Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Parma, Italy.
  • Olive oil. The Real olive oil comes only from olives, which must be pressed without heat and which must be handled and bottled correctly. And often is not as advertised!
  • Fish and shellfish. A Real fish is simply a fish that's properly identified by its species and in many cases by its geographic origin. Real tuna, real lobster, real red snapper, real shrimp, and so on -- sounds pretty simple. Well, not so much -- you can only be sure if you make a DNA analysis, as Olmsted explains. Read it and as usual, weep!

In the US, according to Olmsted, sushi is one of the biggest con games. I'm glad we have managed to eat sushi in Japan a couple of times. For example on the 2011 trip, we sat at the sushi bar in a tiny restaurant while this chef made us sushi -- he bought this amazing piece of tuna at the Tsukuji market that morning. According to Olmsted, it's extremely unlikely that "tuna" is the real thing in an American sushi restaurant -- even in the best of New York.

In each case, you can learn about the real food, and also about the frauds in its name, if any. Interestingly, there don't seem to be any fake Scotch Whiskeys, according to Olmsted, but there are definitely fake Port Wines at unbelievably HIGHER prices than the original, fake Champagne and other fake wines, fake cheeses of many types, and incredible frauds in the olive oil market. He tries to explain the half-witted explanations that the perpetrators use to kind-of justify their misdeeds, but it's always clear we're talking about fraudsters. If this type of fraud interests you, you should read the book, because he does an excellent job exposing the widespread con game!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Continuing with the Great British Baking Show

This season of the Great British Baking Show (in England titled Great British Bake Off) has been a lot of fun so far. I've watched 6 of the 8 episodes, and have seen lots of really appealing bakery goods, especially on the last one the frangipane tarts and vol-au-vents filled with fascinating and flavorful choices. I'm looking forward to the final episodes that will become available next week.
Screen shot of some of the Frangipane Tarts made on Episode 6. From the PBS website.

Nadia as she appears on
the show, from PBS website.
Because of the enormous publicity about the winner when the BBC show originally aired in England last year, I've known all along that it was Nadiya Hussain, child of Bengali immigrants to England. It's especially impressive to know in advance that she won, because there were so many early episodes of the show where she did rather poorly and even ended in tears. Though she always had wonderful ideas for flavor combinations (I wish I could taste them!) she often struggled with the very tight time limits on the show.

Photo of Nadiya from the Guardian article.

Nadiya has remained in the news ever since. I just read an interview about her background in the Guardian titled "Nadiya Hussain: ‘I have a senseless love affair with cheese’ --The Bake Off winner recalls childhood curries and explains why she didn’t get into baking until she was a teenager."

Here are some interesting things from the Guardian that I learned about Nadiya that I didn't know -- in her words from the interview:

  • "Dad was a chef with his own Indian restaurant ... – although he wouldn’t admit it – [he'd] make quite Anglicised curries. Whereas for Mum everything was simple-simple, stripped back and traditional. She’d never do bulk cooking, whereas he’d buy a whole sheep every Friday."
  • "The concept of dessert doesn’t exist in Bangladeshi cuisine.... When I got into baking it was a big surprise; no one could fathom it."
  • "I also have a senseless love affair with cheese. My mother never bought any because there was none in Bangladeshi cuisine..... I seem to fall in love with things I wasn’t brought up with. Sometimes there’s nothing better than finding another cuisine and loving it differently."
  • "I first met my husband on the day we got married, when I was 20."

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ann Arbor Art Fair

The remarkable artist Marvin Blackmore -- we've bought his works before, but not today.
Along with Elaine and Larry, visiting from West Lafayette, we had a great time walking around the art fair this morning. The heat is pretty intense, but as Elaine says, it was like that every day wen we were growing up in St.Louis and we never had air conditioning. There are four independently run art fairs all simultaneous from Thursday to Sunday this week, occupying the entire campus and downtown areas. We mainly looked at the one called the "Street Art Fair."
Crows were a surprisingly common theme of the art work this year.
For lunch we went to Ben & Jerry's and simply ate ice cream and enjoyed the A/C.
We passed up the opportunity to try the food trucks like the "Sirloin Steak Tips." It would sometimes
be pleasant to sit in the shade of umbrellas by the Milles Fountain, but today it's too hot. 
The Potters Guild is in its usual spot.
Elaine in an amusing booth (I can't quite imagine buying one of these jacks!)

Did we find rare Pokemons? I guess not.

Lots of other artists did Sci Fi type work too.

What we finally purchased: a photo print from an artist named Dick Dokas. I'll post more about what I bought later.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Real Food/Fake Food" -- Most Wanted New Book

Soon-to-be available at Larry Olmsted's book Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don't Know What You're Eating & What You Can Do About It.

I've seen reviews and one excerpt that really make me want to read it soon! It fits perfectly with my interest in food safety and food frauds, as well as in cooking wholesome food. I'm afraid there's too much fakery going on to fit in just one book, but this looks like a good start.

From Olmsted's excerpt of his own book in "Eater":
"Food fraud is a sophisticated $50 billion annual industry, according to Michigan State University's Food Fraud Initiative, and while many of the nation's scams occur in grocery store aisles and retail shops, what has surprised many readers of my new book Real Food/Fake Food the most is the Wild West of restaurant menus. There’s a perception that spending more or visiting 'name' chefs is an insurance policy against counterfeits, but that’s not really true. Food deceptions are institutionalized in the food-service industry: Some occur further up the supply chain, and many are in fact perfectly legal, even if morally outrageous. ...

"Besides aggressive adjectives, Kobe beef, organic seafood, and red snapper, the other huge red flag is truffled anything. Real truffles, especially the prized black and white varieties from Alba, are one of the world’s most prized — and rare — foods. Shaved in front of you over risotto, these are heaven for many diners. But truffle oil has nothing whatsoever to do with truffles. It is a made up substance, manufactured just like perfume, entirely fake and chemical.

"It’s not like before some chemist invented the inaccurately named truffle oil your corner bistro was shaving fresh truffles over fries, mashed potatoes, and popcorn. Like priced too-good-to-be-true "Kobe" sliders, these recent "truffled" comfort food fads exist only because of the cheap bottled solution. The presence of such dishes on the menu suggests a willingness to take low quality shortcuts and play fast and loose with food descriptions. This calls everything else on the menu into doubt, and given the recent evidence, that’s saying a lot." -- from "How to Avoid the Most Common Fake Foods on Restaurant Menus" by Larry Olmsted, July 14, 2016
From a review in the New York Post:
"Fraudulence spans from haute cuisine to fast food: A February 2016 report by Inside Edition found that Red Lobster’s lobster bisque contained a non-lobster meat called langostino. In a statement to The Post, Red Lobster maintains that langostino is lobster meat and said that in the wake of the IE report, 'We amended the menu description of the lobster bisque to note the multiple kinds of lobster that are contained within.'...

"Unless your go-to sushi joint is Masa or Nobu, you’re not getting the sushi you ordered, ever, anywhere, and that includes your regular sushi restaurant where you can’t imagine them doing such a thing, Olmsted says. Your salmon is probably fake and so is your red snapper. Your white tuna is something else altogether, probably escolar — known to experts as “the Ex-Lax fish” for the gastrointestinal havoc it wreaks. 
"Escolar is so toxic that it’s been banned in Japan for 40 years, but not in the US, where the profit motive dominates public safety. In fact, escolar is secretly one of the top-selling fish in America. 
"'Sushi in particular is really bad,' Olmsted says, and as a native New Yorker, he knows how much this one hurts. He writes that multiple recent studies 'put the chances of your getting the white tuna you ordered in the typical New York sushi restaurant at zero — as in never.'" -- from "Everything we love to eat is a scam" by Maureen Callahan, July 10, 2016
You can see what I mean about this book! Thanks to my friend Gene at Motte and Bailey for the link to the NYP article!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

German Food: Guest Post by Evelyn

Fresh strawberries!
"German food definitely has a bad rep in culinary circles, and I would say undeservedly," writes Evelyn from Augsburg, where she and her family are spending the summer with her in-laws. She continues:

Yes, wurst, potatoes, schnitzel, and spaetzle are common dishes, but the unsung German emphasis on fresh unadulterated ingredients, and the willingness to place those ingredients front and center of a meal are exactly what the entire slow food movement is based on.

Germans view strawberry fields the way Americans view cupcake shops - the place is full of them. We were thankful to end a hot dehydrating run next to a strawberry field. If you can't make it to a strawberry field, then you can buy your strawberries from one of the popup strawberry stands in the shape of a strawberry that appear every couple of miles all over the country in season.


This time around, we missed white asparagus season, but people go crazy for it. My first experience was many years ago when a cousin got a tip on a farmer who was about to harvest his white asparagus. He took orders from all the aunts, uncles, and cousins in the family, drove to the farm before sunrise -- if it is not harvested before sunrise, the asparagus turns green and chewy rather than pristine white. He spent the rest of the day on family deliveries. I was told that pretty much every stalk of white asparagus in the country is coveted in this way. (Illustration from a previous trip in season by Mae.)

Munich, the Viktualienmarkt  

Chanterelle mushrooms: Pfifferlinge.
The Viktualienmarkt in Munich contains many stands featuring chanterelle mushrooms: Pfifferlinge. Every traditional German restaurant and Gasthaus has an added seasonal Pfifferlinge section of the menu.
Spices and other good things in a shop window.
Olives at the market.
Prepared food counter at the market.
Bakery counter.
We got our sandwiches from Nordsee, a chain featuring seafood dishes. At two for 4 Euro, I chose pickled herring on a baguette (known as a Bismarck Bagette) and smoked salmon with hard boiled egg slices and aoli. For an extra Euro, I picked up a water flavored with lemon and fresh mint.

Cheaper than water.
One just has to live with the fact that ordering tap water is not a legitimate option. One might be calmed by knowing:
  • Tips are 10%, so overall the price will be less inflated by water cost than in the US and
  • Most restaurants have an exclusive contract with a local brewery, implying that beer is literally cheaper than water.
Munich brew pub.

Home Baking

Home-made cake in Augsburg.
Perhaps the cakes already have the reputation they deserved. In the last two days, we have had home baked rhubarb cake (photo), apple tart, and a "bee sting cake" - a cream filled cake topped with almonds and honey.

My personal favorite cake is a prune plum cake called Zwetschgendatschi. It is a local specialty only available in this particular region and only in the prune plum season. Every local person seems to have their own special recipe. 

Zwetschgendatschi is of sufficient importance that it features prominently in the children's story Der Räuber Hotzenplotz, in which two children must go on a quest to retrieve a grandmother's stolen coffee mill. If they are unsuccessful, the grandmother threatens that she will never make another Zwetschgendatschi.

Dining outdoors with cousins.

The Pasha's Dinner: Morocco, 1860

“Le Maroc Contemporain” (published 1860) is an account of life in Morocco by Narcisse Cotte, who was an attache to the French Counsel. Cotte’s account is a very thorough description of his experiences traveling through Morocco and visiting many cities as part of his counselor duties. The book is in French – the description below is my effort at a paraphrase and summarize what I read there. As always, I am interested in what people ate, especially including, at the moment, Moroccan food. And as always, I found the Western visitor to Morocco in these early days very much impressed by the extreme differences between local foods and customs and his own.

In the city of Salé near Rabat, the author was invited to lunch at the home of Sidi Mohammed El-Zeneber, the Pasha. Until not long before this visit, this city was hostile territory, home of pirates, but had been pacified by a bombardment, and his visit was part of the peacemaking.
The Bombardment of the City of Salé by Théodore Gudin, 1851 (Wikipedia)

Cotte’s first impression of the lunch was that it was “copious” – twice as much as he had eaten at customary meals. The first dish served was a large earthenware vessel containing four chickens in a sea of nearly-boiling oil. He delicately grasped a thin piece of meat and brought it to his lips.

“Eat,” Zeneber said, and sprayed him with rosewater. The author apologized, noting the lack of forks and knives, which he was used to using. Zeneber ordered one of his officials to help. This man plunged his hand into the boiling oil and took out a chicken, which he divided into twenty pieces with his fingernails.

“Eat,” said the official, putting pieces of chicken into the author’s mouth, making oil drip down his beard.

“Eat,” also said the Pasha with irritating amusement. In every dish that he ate, Cotte tasted rancid oil and strong-tasting butter. Fish, mutton, eggs, and the national dish, couscous were made twenty different ways with sugar, red and green peppers, honey, tomatoes. These were the principal dishes of all the meals he ate, as well as tea infused with mint or lavendar. And table napkins were completely unknown; thus he found the last part of a banquet – the washing up – absolutely necessary.

Leaving the pasha and his very hospitable home, the author was happy to find himself in the open air outside.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Celebrating Marcella Hazan and Paula Wolfert: CHAA Dinner

This afternoon was the summer dinner for the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor (CHAA). Everyone was asked to
bring a dish from a cookbook by Marcella Hazan or Paula Wolfert. Above: my two contributions --
orange salad flavored with cinnamon and rosewater (Paula Wolfert Moroccan recipe) and
peaches, blueberries, and raspberries in Prosecco (Marcella Hazan).
Preparing the dessert table. Some dishes were from other Mediterranean cookbooks.
Turkish pumpkin and walnut dessert: Kabak tatlısı.
Vitello Tonnato (Marcella Hazan)
Baked Pasta with Sardines (Marcella Hazan)
Pita bread with zatar. 
Early view of main-dish table.
More dishes: a cauliflower salad (Marcella Hazan), tagine of chicken smothered in olives (Paula Wolfert),
stuffed grape leaves, and mushroom tart (from other sources).
We enjoyed the potluck very much, both the food and the people. The presentations about each dish were short and very interesting. The flavors were super!

Whose Nutmeg is it Anyway?

Nathaniel's Nutmeg OR The True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History by Giles Milton is the selection for my culinary book club's meeting this coming Wednesday. I've now finished reading it. It's pretty disappointing, although there's some interesting history in it. It looks as if it's been reasonably popular with other readers, since there are many many editions of the book and it gets 4 stars average out of 107 amazon reviews. I'm looking forward to hearing the reactions of my fellow readers.

Although the book depicts the rivalry among European powers to control the important spice trade from around 1500 until the 19th century, it's not exactly a food book. It's about ships, wars, sailors, natives, cruelty, hardships of many sorts, and death. The goal of the expeditions described is spice, especially nutmeg, but it could have been any other commodity. The main topics: power and control!

Throughout the book, the stakes were high in the effort to establish domination over the riches of the South Seas, including efforts to own the territory and often to expel the natives. The goal of each voyage was to get rich by purchasing spice, especially nutmeg, where it was grown and thus cheap, and then managing to get the ship safely back to Europe where spice was very expensive.

The Nathaniel of the title is Nathaniel Courthope, who played a role in trying to keep the extraordinarily tiny spice island of Run in the Banda Islands from being taken away from the English by the Dutch in the early 1600s. The book covers the entire era beginning in around 1500 and including voyages to many other places (such as Henry Hudson's efforts to find the Northwest Passage to attain the Spice Islands). Thus Nathaniel's role in stubbornly holding onto the tiny nutmeg-producing territory while the Dutch were winning seems pretty minor -- he is a major topic only on pages 271 through 308 (when he is buried). He appears only occasionally in parts of the remainder.

The only way Nathaniel Courthope "changed the course of history" was that by chance, a number of years after his death in 1620, the English ceded all claims to Run and the Bandas in exchange for the Dutch ceding all claims to Manhattan. This was not until 1667. You know why that exchange of islands might be made to look important, but in fact, the division of the world among the Europeans was ongoing at the time, and Nathaniel's last stand was only a part of the causes of this treaty.

The memorable parts of the book, unfortunately, are the parts about suffering. English sailors and traders who sailed  for the South Seas had a small chance of survival. Some made more than one voyage, but they suffered and died in many ways. Death came from scurvy and other diseases; shipwrecks, mutinies, pirates, or just being lost at sea; death in skirmishes with various rival ships or on land; too little to eat and too much alcohol when they could get it; and being imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the other side. The scenes of torture of English traders at the hands of the Dutch are horrific. The treatment of the natives of the islands is horrific.

One problem with reading the book, besides its inclusion of a lot of fairly uninteresting detail along with the good stuff, is that the illustrations are maddeningly placed in the wrong parts of the book. For example, on page 257 is a current photo of what remains of the old Dutch Fort Revenge on one of the islands. The caption quotes the English prisoners whose imprisonment is important -- but doesn't come up until page 293. An illustration about Elizabethan times illustrates text about the year 1611, that is over 100 years later (p. 274). There are too many other examples. It's distracting!

In sum: rather than presenting a biography of an interesting character, as implied by the title, the book is a free-wheeling and rather undisciplined historic description of voyages, of many individuals and their quest for power, and of deeds that seemed great at the time.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

My New KitchenAid Mixer: the Call of Cthulhu

My new mixer, dominating my counter space. Luckily there's a big enough space
to store it in my pantry.
Not to go all introspective on you or anything, but there are some questions that I need to ask myself about the new red KitchenAid mixer in my kitchen. I'm answering them to the best of my ability.
  1. Question: Why did you buy a new Professional 6000 KitchenAid mixer with 1 horsepower? Why a mixer that you can't lift and that is much to big to leave on the counter all the time? With enough horsepower to propel a bicycle?
    Answer: Tuesday was Amazon Prime Day, and Amazon had decided that I was going to buy this mixer and no other. The offer was waiting in my email when I got up in the morning. Amazon is a dangerous and mysterious power like H.P.Lovecraft's Cthulhu: when Amazon calls you, or more likely emails you, you obey. 
  2. Q: Was this a completely new idea, buying a mixer? Didn't you already have one? Like, what did you do before Tuesday if you wanted to bake something?
    Ad for my mother's
    Sunbeam Mixmaster, 1950s
    (source: Janet Rudolph blog)

    A: Well, I've been considering a new mixer for a long time. The old one wasn't very powerful and I've had it for more than half my lifetime. The mixer before that was a Mixmaster that had belonged to my mother. She got it when I was around 10 so I learned to bake on it. In other words, my new KitchenAid is the third mixer ever in my life.
  3. Q: Did you really need it?
    A: I admit that I haven't been baking much lately, or using the old mixer much. Actually, I had more or less decided that I wasn't going to get another one. But Amazon decided that I would get it. And it really was a good deal!
  4. Q: What have you mixed in it so far?
    A: For my first bake using the new mixer, I made peanut butter cookies using the recipe from my old printed copy of the Joy of Cooking. It won't be long until I try something else, like pizza. Maybe I'll start baking bread some time.
    My stained old Joy of Cooking, Peanut Butter Cookie page. The check
    by the recipe is from some time in the distant past. As is the "NO GOOD" note.
  5. Q: Why peanut butter cookies?
    A: Because I didn't have any chocolate chips or nuts or whatever for other cookies. The PB cookies were fun, just like I remember from childhood and mixer #1. Especially that criss-cross fork thing.

  6. Fresh from the oven. Crumbly! Like a childhood memory.

  7. Q: How did the mixer do?
    A? It was fabulous. I hail my purchasing overlords. What will I have to buy next?
Old mixer awaiting its fate, which is to be taken to the basement.
Evelyn gave it to me as a Mother's Day present many many years ago.
She forgives me for replacing it.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Dining out in Morocco 110 Years Ago

"'A good supper is known by its odour.' -- Moorish Proverb. 
"There are no more important qualifications for the diner-out in Morocco than an open mind and a teachable spirit. Then start with a determination to forget European table manners, except in so far as they are based upon consideration for the feelings of others, setting yourself to do in Morocco as the Moors do, and you cannot fail to gain profit and pleasure from your experience." (p. 102)
Thus begins the chapter "Dining Out" from the book Life in Morocco and Glimpses Beyond by Budgett Meakin, published in London in 1905. This chapter is credited to the author's wife.  Because I'm about to attend a potluck dinner sponsored by the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor that features recipes by Paula Wolfert, I am curious to learn more about the history of Moroccan food. I found this travel book from the past; this chapter is so interesting that I'm going to give a detailed summary of its 3 pages.

At first the author concentrates on the vast difference in manners expected in Morocco, compared to London back at that time. She remarks on the necessity of removing one's shoes when entering a Moroccan home, and the way that everyone sits on a "mattress" on the floor. Every food and gesture in this description seems extremely exotic to the writer, and I'm sure it must have seemed that way to any Europeans of the era.

Once guests have arrived and removed their shoes: the offering of tea:
"The slave-girl appears with a handsome tray, brass or silver, upon which there are a goodly number of cups or tiny glass tumblers, frequently both, of delicate pattern and artistic colouring, a silver tea-pot, a caddy of green tea, a silver or glass bowl filled with large, uneven lumps of sugar, which have been previously broken off from the loaf, and a glass containing sprigs of mint and verbena. The brass samovar comes next, and having measured the tea in the palm of his right hand, and put it into the pot, the host proceeds to pour a small amount of boiling water upon it, .... 
"He then adds enough sugar to ensure a semi-syrupy result, with some sprigs of peppermint, and fills the pot from the samovar. A few minutes later ... he proceeds to fill the cups or glasses, passing them in turn to the guests in order of distinction. To make a perceptible noise in drawing it from the glass to the mouth is esteemed a delicate token of appreciation. ... Orange-flower water in a silver sprinkler is then brought in, followed by a brass incense burner filled with live charcoal, on which a small quantity of sandal-wood or other incense is placed, and the result is a delicious fragrance which you are invited to waft by a circular motion of your hands into your hair, your ribbons and your laces, while your Moorish host finds the folds of his loose garments invaluable for the retention of the spicy perfume." (p. 103-104)
Then we learn about the meal. The first course may be "puffs of delicate pastry fried in butter over a charcoal fire, and containing sometimes meat, sometimes a delicious compound of almond paste and cinnamon." For the second course: "savoury stews with rich, well-flavoured gravies, each with its own distinctive spiciness, but all excellently cooked. The host first dips a fragment of bread into the gravy, saying as he does so, 'B'i'sm Illah!' ('In the name of God !'), which the guests repeat, as each follows suit with a sop from the dish." (p. 105)

After the stew, "the piece de resistance of a Moorish dinner, the dish of kesk'soo, is brought on." I believe that this means couscous: "This kesk'soo is a small round granule prepared from semolina, which, having been steamed, is served like rice beneath and round an excellent stew, which is heaped up in the centre of the dish. With the thumb and two first fingers of the right hand you are expected to secure some succulent morsel from the stew,—meat, raisins, onions, or vegetable marrow, and with it a small quantity of the kesk'soo. By a skilful motion of the palm the whole is formed into a round ball, which is thrown with a graceful curve of hand and wrist into the mouth." (p. 105) After eating this way, which is explained in more detail, guests are given the opportunity to wash their hands.
"Orange-flower water and incense now again appear, and you may be required to drink three more glasses of refreshing tea, though this is sometimes omitted at the close of a repast. ... For a while you linger, reclining upon the mattress as gracefully as may be possible for a tyro, with your arm upon a pile of many-coloured cushions of embroidered leather or cloth. Then, after a thousand mutual thanks and blessings, accompanied by graceful bowings and bendings, you say farewell and step to the door, where your slippers await you, and usher yourself out, not ill-satisfied with your initiation into the art of dining out in Barbary." (p. 106)
Besides Meakin's intriguing book, I've found several sources with descriptions of agriculture, commodities, and the picturesque souks of various Moroccan cities around 100 years ago, and I may write another post about these topics. Meanwhile, here are images of souks from old postcards of that era from a random web search.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Happy Birthday Dada

"Dada is a new tendency in art. One can tell this from the fact that until now nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it. Dada comes from the dictionary. It is terribly simple. In French it means 'hobby horse.' In German it means 'good-bye,' 'Get off my back,' 'Be seeing you sometime.' In Romanian: 'Yes, indeed, you are right, that's it. But of course, yes, definitely, right.' And so forth. ...

"How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the pawnshop. Dada is the world's best lily-milk soap." (Excerpts from the Dada Manifesto,  July 14, 1916)

Marcel Duchamp with the best-known work of Dada, L.H.O.O.Q., first made in 1919, photo later. (Photo from Wikipedia).
L.H.O.O.Q., of course, is Mona Lisa with a mustache, which Duchamp called a "Remade Readymade" for obvious reasons.
One hundred years ago today the first Dada Manifesto, excerpted above, defined a new art form or maybe just undermined some old ones. The author of this document, Hugo Ball, lived in Zurich where he met with like-minded creative types at a club called Cabaret Voltaire. The New York Times this week commemorated this event in a group of articles titled: "Dada Was Born 100 Years Ago. So What?"

From one of these NYT short essays:
"The smart, discursive and yappy Zurich-Dada manifestoes were creative expressions of anger in a safe space. They implied that all manifestoes were meaningless. They suggested a mode of criticism with a built-in self-destruct button: 'absurd negation that wants no consequences,' as the cultural critic Greil Marcus put it. 
"They seemed to want to disable the bourgeois practice of business-as-usual in culture; they seemed to carry the implicit knowledge that such business-as-usual leads to war, famine, inequality and corniness. Yet they were above politics. Dada wasn’t claiming a tradition. It wasn’t about study or dancing or spiritualism or aesthetic refinement. It didn’t connect with the past or the future. It was a selfish movement. It didn’t provide for its children." (By Ben Ratliff)

"Why Not Sneeze -- Rrose Selavy" by Marcel Duchamp (1921)
As a big fan of Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Eric Satie, and many of the other early Dadaists, I haven't yet thought of a good way to celebrate this birthday. Maybe I should just say dada. Or "why not sneeze?"

Here are my thoughts (from an earlier post) on "Why Not Sneeze." Duchamp's work "Why Not Sneeze -- Rrose Selavy" consists of a number of sugar cubes made of marble, along with a few other things inside of a cage. The reason Marcel Duchamp so named the work may be because of the marble sugar cubes. (I'm not going to try to explain his alter ego and pun Rrose Selavy here.)

You see, he couldn't use real sugar cubes, because art has to last. So he made them out of marble. Which is cold. And gives you a cold. So why not sneeze? There are lots of other "authoritative" versions of why and what this is about also, which goes along with his method of creating an identity for himself and his work. Why not sneeze -- a joke no one can get -- captures the spirit of Dada. When asked about it in one case, his reason was "pour compliquer les choses."

You can find my favorite post on Marcel Duchamp here: Me, Marcel Duchamp, and L.H.O.O.Q. You can find all posts on my travel blog that discuss or mention him at this link AND all posts on my food blog about him at this link.

I assume it's no coincidence that the Dada Manifesto appeared on Bastille Day. I also wish you a Happy Bastille Day.