Monday, May 23, 2016

"The Frugal Meal" and other Utah Art

Rose Hartwell: "The Frugal Meal" (1903) depicts a modest family eating spaghetti. 
Detail from "The Frugal Meal." I find the subject matter very interesting.
Perhaps the scene reflects Hartwell's experience as an art student in Italy.
I wouldn't have expected to see pasta on the table in 1903 in Utah.
At the Brigham Young University Art Museum today I saw two extraordinary temporary exhibits about art in the Western United States, and I learned about two very interesting Utah women artists.

Rose Hartwell (1861-1917) was the daughter of early Utah pioneers; though born into the Mormon faith, she left the LDS church at an early age. According to information from the museum:
"After her father took a second wife, Rose’s mother took her ten children and left the Church. In her early twenties, Rose began studying art under two well-established Utah artists, J.T. Harwood and J. Willard Clawson. With their encouragement, she traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, a progressive art school that was the first to enroll female students. After a trip to Italy, she returned to Paris and in 1903, entered her first painting in the Paris Salon." (source)
Minerva Teichert (1888-1976), a Utah painter trained in New York, was also new to me. Her work was featured in one of the two exhibits I saw today, as well as in the permanent collections.

Minerva Teichert: "Moving South" (1949)
A Western scene that echoes the imagery of Hollywood Westerns.
"Branding the American West: Paintings and Films 1900-1950" was a compelling exhibit interspersing paintings from the New Mexican Taos Society of Artists; the California-based artist, Maynard Dixon; and several Utah painters whose works are in the museum's collections, including Teichert. Clips from a few early films were shown alongside works that echoed the filmic version of Western scenery, American Indian life, and cowboy culture from both fiction and reality.

WPA poster for Zion National Park.
Finally, I spent quite a bit of time viewing the art works in "Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks," the museum's other special exhibit. It included a number of posters for travel in the National Parks. This included posters for the railroads as well as several from the WPA series that have recently been rediscovered.

The exhibit included many very impressive paintings and a few photos of Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and other parks. Early paintings, especially those painted before the parks were founded were impressive, but there were also quite a few very nice modern images included. I especially liked the wide variety of painting styles that were represented in the exhibit.

As I learned at Dinosaur National Monument, this year is the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson's signing of the act creating the National Park System, so there are many commemorations including this.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Stunning Rock Art

The most spectacular and perfectly preserved petroglyphs I've ever seen are at the McConkie ranch in the Dry Fork Canyon. around half an hour from Vernal, Utah. This morning we took the very steep climb, and rather long walk along narrow ledges that allows one to view them, some from incredibly up close, others by looking up the cliff face. The Utah Historic Site sign at the ranch, which is private property, states that the petroglyphs there are "Classic Vernal Style rock art, characterized by elaborately decorated anthropomorphic figures. This style may be affiliated with the Fremont Culture and probably dates to the period A.D. 1 to 1200."

Climbing up the trail.
Rock art at this site includes both animals and human figures.

A few of the petroglyphs include colored-in areas.

A modern example of rock art up the road from the McConkie ranch,
originally begun in 1899.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bones, Boulders, Blossoms

The Dinosaur Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument was the first place we stopped today! A large hillside with many half-buried dinosaur fossils is preserved in a large building. It was once part of a gigantic dig that started around 100 years ago. I've wanted to visit here for ages.

Many dinosaurs in museums today, including the familiar one in the Michigan Natural History Museum in Ann Arbor, came from this dig. Eventually the park management determined that a major area should be preserved to show visitors how the bones look before the dinosaur skeletons are restored.

One femur bone.

Around 149 million years ago, the area was a tropical forest with dinosaurs of all sizes. During a period with many floods, the bones of the largest dinosaurs were swept into the riverbed, preserved in mud, and fossilized in a large bone pile-up.

The park also contains many appealing landscapes, including the wide rushing Green River, the interesting Split Mountain, and both smooth dome-like hills and jagged or craggy peaks. We followed an itinerary that took us to a number of such sites. I was particularly interested in the boulders on which Native Americans carved petroglyphs or drew pictographs on the rocks.

As we walked in various areas of the Monument to see birds, rocks, petroglyphs, historical homesteads, geological formations, and other features of the varied landscape, we also saw a number of varieties of wildflowers blooming -- even a prickly pear cactus with deep red blossoms.

Utah is full of remarkable natural wonders, and I've previously visited quite a few of the National Parks and other parks here such as Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reefs, and more. Though the landscape in this part of the state isn't as outlandish as the Hoodoos at Bryce or as impressive as the arches at Arches, and though the Green River valley isn't as remarkable as the canyon that goes through Zion, the landscape here is very appealing. I'm thrilled that I finally have seen the dinosaurs!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ottolenghi Cooks for Friends

Yotam Ottolenghi has many fans, including me. I often read his cooking column in the Guardian. Currently in the New York Times: an article -- including recipes -- about a dinner he prepared for friends. Times writer Sam Sifton includes Ottolenghi's suggestions for making the food look good, making it taste good, and making sure the food arrives at the table in good shape for optimum enjoyment.

Here is the very intriguing first paragraph:
"The first thing Yotam Ottolenghi did before he began cooking a late-afternoon feast for family and friends — before sliding the lamb into the oven, before building four salads, before assembling an immense layer cake, before he even started to sort through the mountain of ingredients stacked on the kitchen counters — was to take a look at the china on which the food would eventually be served. 'Food styling is what I do best,' he said. 'So I start at the end, with the plates and platters. And then I start to cook.'"
A very nice article!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

On Not Using Cookbooks

Last night's lasagna from a recipe from website Epicurious, modified a few ways.
When I want a recipe, I often skip my hundreds of cookbooks and go online instead.
It's Cookbook Wednesday again, but my meandering thoughts have taken me to another world: a world without cookbooks. As you might guess, I mean the World Wide Web and all its wonders. Youtube. Allrecipes. Epicurious. Online magazines. Food blogs!

To start off: here's a screen shot of the top page of, probably the most popular recipe site on the web:

A recent article, "If You Are What You Eat, America Is Allrecipes" by Nicholas Hune-Brown, summarized Allrecipes and its approach to cooking:
"While rival website Epicurious culls recipes from Bon Appétit and the now-defunct Gourmet, Allrecipes takes crowdsourced creations from home cooks and then writes them up in standardized form. In the era of the ornate food description, Allrecipes favors a house style shorn of ostentation. ... And at a time when readers of aspirational food websites are used to images of impossibly perfect dishes—each microgreen artfully placed by some tweezer-wielding stylist—Allrecipes offers amateur snaps of amateur meals."
The article explains how Allrecipes carefully cultivates their down-home unpretentiousness, and also how the site makes sure that its recipes come up on top of google searches. The folks at Allrecipies know how to please home cooks, and they know how to game the search engine!

In my own experience, when I check the web for a recipe I definitely see Allrecipes near or at the top of the screen most of the time. While I am very careless about noticing where any particular recipe comes from, I'm sure I've tried some from Allrecipes -- as much as I ever try a recipe exactly. Let's say, I reinterpret their recipes from time to time. Specifically, when I wanted to make lasagna, the Epicurious recipe looked quite a bit more appetizing than the Allrecipes one.

Youtube no doubt offers millions of hands-off cooking demos -- you watch, your hands stay clean. In fact, Youtube cooking videos -- notably those from Buzzfeed -- are always full of hands doing things even though your own hands are not involved.

On the slim chance that you are unaware of Buzzfeed's "Tasty" videos,
here's a screen shot of a pair of hands holding food from one of their videos.
Maybe "Tasty" videos are in fact teaching cooking, or maybe they're just providing entertainment. My granddaughter Alice, who has been watching real instructional Youtube cooking videos since she was around 9 years old, says she watched "all of them" in one great binge. Recently, the Washington Post did kind of a sendup of "Tasty" and other speeded up cooking videos: "Hands and bowls and melty cheese! Why does every Web recipe video look the same?" by Maura Judkis. She says:
"The videos, all shot from directly overhead, alternate between fast and slow motion, never show more than the cook’s hands, and annotate each step in bold typography. They use jangly, royalty-free music, but work just as well without sound. They typically last only a minute or less, to capture fickle attention spans ... Foods are stuffed inside other foods, then frequently described as a “bomb.” Cheese is a major player. ... And don’t forget the rainbow sprinkles. In the case of the Tasty videos, they all end with the phrase 'Ohhh yesss.' 
Of course there were once long ago other ways to get recipes without cookbooks. You could watch the Food Network or PBS food shows. Or read women's magazines or the now-defunct Gourmet. How retro!

And you could always ask an actual person for a recipe. My mother, for example, made a habit of telephoning friends that she thought were good cooks when she wanted to make something new. I have a folder of her very yellowed notes with recipes frequently including the name of the person who gave her the recipe.

Before the telephone, I've heard that people even learned to cook by just watching their mothers or grandmothers make things. Oh, wait, that's what I love to do with my granddaughters, and what I did with my daughter. Some things might be eternal, including cookbooks and lots of others.

Cookbook Wednesday is a blogging event organized by Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations. I still love cookbooks, buy new special ones frequently, read them as if they were narratives or novels, enjoy cookbook reviews that other bloggers write, and even sometimes make recipes from them. But I also get a lot of new ideas from the new sources.

Cookbook Wednesday

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mark Kurlansky's "Paper"

Mark Kurlansky is best known for his single-topic food books such as Salt: A World History, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, and Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man. He's credited with popularizing and partially inventing a style of histories centered on a single food. I've enjoyed these books, and have now turned to his just-published book Paper: Paging through History.

Paper starts by exploring the origins of writing and the various media used for recording -- clay and stone tablets, wax tablets, animal skins/parchment, papyrus, and paper. Although I have only read part of the book, I'm finding it very enjoyable.

One passage about early writing and paper use especially struck me: a discussion of food books, cookbooks, and food writing in the ancient and medieval eras:
"Food was a favorite topic in the Arab world. Literary anthologies often contained a few pieces on culinary topics. Many poems, often commissioned by aristocrats, were written about the subject, and certain poets became celebrated food poets. Prose writing on food was also common. In fact, some intellectuals complained that there was too much of it. The eighth-century Abd al-Quddus... once complained, 'If you write about fish and vegetables, you garner much merit in [the public's] eyes, but if you expound truly scientific subjects, they find it irksome and boring.'" (p. 62-63)
It's always fun to see that new ideas are really old!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

At Home Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise is a French classic. Julia Child wrote my favorite recipe for it. I've ordered it in restaurants and bistros in Paris and in its place of origin, Provence. During our recent trip, I ate Salade Niçoise at a tiny restaurant in the midst of the Camargue in the Rhone Delta, with its salt marshes and vast open spaces. It's where we saw flamingos, many other wild birds, black bulls, white horses, and rice paddies.

The Salade Niçoise there included all the classic components: potatoes, green beans,
tuna, anchovies, boiled egg quarters, olives, tomatoes, and in addition a decorative
piece of toast and radish flower. The real classic uses canned tuna!
And now for the version I made for dinner tonight:

I used the same basic ingredients, arranged on glass plates atop lettuce leaves.
This was the first time I've used the placemats that I bought in Arles at a beautiful shop
with a large selection of very good quality Provencal textiles. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Chili and Cornbread

This is American food! Not French food.
And probably not Mexican food either.
I had some leftovers from the other night from a chicken roasted with some of my new Provencal salt and herb mixture inside. This made a good basis for white chili, including corn, white canellini beans, onions, chili spices, flour-thickened sauce, and a can of medium-hot peppers. The white-chili recipes I found -- surprisingly -- start with raw, not leftover, chicken, so I just guessed at how to do it. The result was quite nice. I also made cornbread; though I've given a nearly-identical recipe before, I'll include it here anyway.

Cornbread Recipe

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4-6 ounces of cheddar or similar cheese, grated & divided into 2 oz and 4 oz parts
3 small medium hot peppers from the farmers market (or jalapenos or bell peppers)
¼ cup chopped onion (optional)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter an 8-inch-square baking pan.

Remove seeds from the peppers. Mince 1 of the peppers. Slice the other 2 peppers. Or prepare the bell peppers similarly.

Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and 4 ounces of the grated cheese in a medium bowl. Combine the 1 minced pepper & optional onion, eggs, milk, & oil, in a small bowl; mix well. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir just until blended. Pour into the prepared pan.

Arrange the pepper slices evenly on top of the batter and sprinkle with the remaining 2 ounces of cheese (this extra cheese may be omitted). Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Turn oven to broil and briefly finish browning the cheese on top. Serve warm or room temperature.

Makes 8-12 servings.

And a Walk in the Woods

Now that we are home, our walks are in local parks. Today we discovered a new natural area under the curatorship of the Natural Area Preservation group in Ann Arbor. It's called "The Bluffs." It's pretty, though there are other prettier walks in the area. A few photos:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Paris Yesterday

From the newspaper Libération.
From the New York Times. Teargas at Les Invalides.
Putting political problems out of one's head in Paris is actually a greater temptation than eating too much pastry! My impressions of Paris from last week were of lovely weather, people quietly strolling in the streets and enjoying themselves, parks available for calm relaxation, shop windows full of beautiful clothing and food, and overall tranquility. Of course these impressions are misleading, and it's much too comfortable to pretend that everyone is happy.

A day of demonstrations in the streets took place yesterday. In a story titled "France’s Socialist Government Survives a Vote, but Remains Fractured" NYT reporter Adam Nossiter wrote about François Hollande, President of France:
"Anti-government demonstrators, tear gas and police sirens filled streets again in Paris and other French cities on Thursday, with protesters voicing their opposition to the centerpiece of Mr. Hollande’s domestic agenda, legislation intended to make it easier for employers to hire — and fire — workers. ...
"Mr. Hollande’s smile, like that of the Cheshire cat, may soon be all that is left of him. His government survived a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly Thursday evening, two days after it resorted to a little-used power to force through the sharply contested labor law over opposition from some Socialists and others on the left. But with Mr. Hollande’s support in the presidential race at 13 percent and unemployment still above 10 percent, his chances of re-election, or even of making it to the final round of voting, seem to most analysts to be vanishingly slim."
I didn't describe our interactions much, but we had meals with Parisian friends four times during our trip. We discussed the current French political situation in various conversations with these friends. Dissatisfaction with the current situation and particularly with Hollande is widespread, going into elections next year. The rise of the extreme right and their potential to gain many votes is quite disturbing. If only one could remain a carefree tourist all the time!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Delicious Paris

Molten chocolate cake is on the menu at many restaurants this year, both in Paris and in Provence.
I ate at least a couple of them, and saw other people eating them: they can vary but all are delicious.
Though I didn't photograph every meal we ate, I still had a lot of pictures I haven't posted yet. We ate so many fabulous things in Paris last week! So this is a catch-up post that just randomly illustrates a few more great meals and great food-watching activities.

Duck with pureed vegetables in a restaurant near Place Monge.
A croque-monsieur at the restaurant of the Centre Pompidou.

At an open-air market near Montparnasse.

Goat cheese garnished with herbs, peppercorns, cranberries, or raisins.

Salads at a random restaurant on the Right Bank.

At our last dinner at the Bistro du Dome near our Hotel.

These grilled sardines were amazingly good.
Skate wing with caper sauce.
And every good meal ends with coffee.