Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fighting Obesity One Treat at a Time

From Calorie Lab:

Halloween treats that won’t contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic

You want to hand out something to the youngsters, but something that won’t contribute to their weight. Allow us to offer a few helpful suggestions.

  • Sugar-free gum. Stores sell it right alongside the candy, so it qualifies as such, but with zero calories or fat.
  • Tums. They look enough like rolls of Lifesavers to pass, and after the kid has eaten the first pound or so of Milky Ways and Kit-Kats and Gummi Bears, they might actually come in handy.
  • Popcorn balls. Unbuttered popcorn has the same approximate caloric, sugar and fat content (not to mention taste) as styrofoam. The trick here is not to form it into balls using the traditional melted caramel, but to substitute library paste, which in itself is one of your first and second grader’s favorite snacks already.
  • Rye-Krisp. It’s as devoid of sugar and trans fats as it is of flavor, and if you run out, just cut some cardboard into strips, salt lightly and distribute.
  • Cocktail olives. In the dark, the kids will probably just take them for jawbreakers or milk chocolate balls.
  • Eggplant pate on melba toast. Low-cal, nutritious, and a guarantee that the kids won’t bother stopping at your house next Halloween.
  • Shares of GM stock. As handouts go, they’re actually cheaper than most Hershey products these days.

(By Robert S. Wieder for CalorieLab Calorie Counter News)

Really Fudgy Brownies

I tried a new brownie recipe a week or so ago -- found by googling around, of course. These brownies are REALLY RICH! They have twice as much chocolate and butter as I remember from the recipe I learned on, in seventh-grade home ec.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped -- I used Trader Joe's
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 ounces walnut pieces, coarsely chopped (1-1/2 cups)
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 9-inch square baking pan (2 inches deep).
  • Melt butter and chocolate in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Or microwave – medium heat – until melted.
  • Combine flour, baking powder, and salt & sugar in a small bowl.
  • Whisk together eggs and vanilla in a large bowl, then pour in cooled chocolate mixture, whisking until combined well. Stir in flour mixture, then walnuts. Transfer batter to baking pan.
  • Bake until top is shiny and set and sides have begun to pull away slightly (a wooden pick or skewer will not come out clean), about 45 minutes, for fudgy brownies; or until wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, up to 1 hour total, for cakey brownies. I made fudgy.
  • Cool brownies completely in pan on a rack and cut into squares. Store them in a cookie tin.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Inspector Montalbano Identifies Himself

Inspector Montalbano is a Sicilian detective in the series by Andrea Camilleri. Montalbano loves Sicilian food. He appreciates the culinary skills of his housekeeper Adelina and of the neighborhood restaurant owners. Dishes that he consumes in the course of the novel The Terra-Cotta Dog -- which I just read -- are named and lovingly described at every chance: "pasta with tomatoes, basil, and black passuluna olives that gave off an aroma to wake the dead"; pasta al forno; a snack of roasted chickpeas, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds; fresh anchovies baked in lemon juice, and on and on.

Montalbano definitely following the gourmet tradition of many other detectives, and he knows it. Near the beginning of The Terra-Cotta Dog this is indicated directly:
He [Montalbano] took his two courses, a bottle of wine, and some bread to the table, turned on the television, and sat down to dinner. He loved to eat alone, relishing every bite in silence. ... It occurred to him that in matters of taste he was closer to Maigret than to Pepe Carvalho, the protagonist of Montalban's novels, who stuffed himself with dishes that would have set a shark's belly on fire. (p. 42)
I've read many of Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret books, and know all about how the inspector loves to eat, especially the cooking of Madame Maigret. This is the first I've heard of Pepe Carvalho and his author Montalban, for whom I gather Camilleri named his character Montalbano. How interesting to find the fictional detective comparing himself to other fictional detectives! I must read a Pepe Carvalho mystery soon.

I wrote about another Inspector Montalbano book that I read here:
"The Snack Thief"

Smarter than you think!

Early reports about the negative effect of calorie labeling underestimated people's intelligence -- and also employed questionable sampling techniques. Now read this: Menu-labeling laws are changing food purchases in New York City, study finds

With the exception of Subway diners, where a special promotional offer made the larger size more appealing, customers who read the calories averaged smaller calorie counts:

Paying attention seems to be the biggest factor in whether people choose less caloric offerings. Customers who said they saw and acted on posted calorie information purchased 106 fewer calories than those who did not notice or did not use the information.

The city agency surveyed more than 10,000 customers at 275 locations of 13 different fast-food and coffee chains throughout the city in the spring of 2007 and over 12,000 in 2009, nearly a year after the requirements began.

Calorie labeling is not intrusive, doesn't pick on anyone because of their body type or other prejudicial factors, and evidently gives some people information that they wish to act on. I'm glad the earlier claims have been contradicted.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

GE Toast-R-Oven

Most of my appliances are pretty recent, but my toaster oven is an antique. Black & Decker acquired GE's appliance business some time in the early to mid 1980s. So that really dates this little beauty, doesn't it? Well, it works for what I need.

I don't just make dry toast, I usually put something on the bread. Maybe butter and cinnamon-sugar. Maybe pizza stuff. Maybe a bagel instead of bread, or a roll. Tonight I had good bread (from the famous Zingerman's bakery) with some great sliced grilled steak, herbs, and swiss cheese to be melted on top. Sort of like the late night ads for some fast food thing, but with a crucial difference in materials.

Anyway, my toaster oven works. I know it won't last forever but I can't see why I should replace it while it's still functioning. Such a simple device. No computer chips being heated all the time. No computer chips at all.

You get the picture.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weird Food and not for Halloween

Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong features Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai police. Two cases are assigned to the inspector: finding a clever deviant serial murderer and supporting the authorities in a corruption trial. Both cases highlight the rapidly changing cultural and economic conditions in Shanghai -- the contrast between traditional restaurants and Starbucks coffee shops provides one of the cultural benchmarks. Because 1999 is the date of the first Starbucks in China, this mystery story obviously takes place recently, but the roots of the mysteries go back to the 1960s and the devastating atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution.

One dining sequence is the culmination of the book and its detective's psychological approach. He chooses a menu of "cruel dishes." The first four cold dishes: "Fried sparrow tongues, wine-immersed goose feet, stewed ox eyes, ginger-steamed fish lips." (p. 265)

Later came dancing shrimp, a dish that had already played a role earlier in the book. Live shrimp are brought to the table in a glass bowl along with a glass pot and a miniature stove. "The shrimps were immersed in a mixed sauce, but under the bowl lid, they still squirmed energetically. Within the stove there was a layer of pebbles, burning red above the charcoal at the bottom. ... In a hissing steam, the shrimps were jumping and turning red." (p. 70)

The final production of this cruel menu is a turtle being boiled alive. The slow torture of the turtle accompanies the intensifying pressure that Chen is putting on the suspected murderer. The psychological tension is heightened for the reader as well as for the suspect as the turtle struggles in a horrifyingly detailed descriptive passage.

It's one of the weirdest food themed passages I've ever experienced in a mystery story.

I wrote about another book by Qiu Xiaolong here: Dining with Exotic Policemen.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Checkmark of Shame

Food writers all over have recently commented on the shameful food industry initiative to create a recommendation for the front of packaged foods. The inclusion of Froot Loops as a "smart" choice was so outrageous that it stood alone as the emblem of this deceptive effort, though plenty of other disgraceful choices also characterized the endeavor. I know that not all my breakfast cereal choices are impeccable: you can see here the logo from my own packages of Special K and Quaker Life*.

Poetic justice for once has struck: The New York Times reports:
Under pressure from state and federal authorities who feared consumers would be misled, the food industry on Friday started backing away from a major labeling campaign meant to highlight the nutritional benefits of hundreds of products....
Kellogg’s, which makes Froot Loops and other sugary cereals that received the program’s seal of approval, said that it would begin phasing out packaging bearing the program logo as its inventories ran out.

Officials with the program said that Smart Choices would suspend most of its operations while they waited for the Food and Drug Administration to devise regulations for package-front nutrition labeling. Those rules could differ from the program’s criteria.
The article, Food Label Program to Suspend Operations, quoted a spokesman for better nutrition: “The ironic thing is, their device for pre-empting government involvement actually seems to have stimulated government involvement.” Michael F. Jacobson, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, had resigned as a participant in the Smart Choices enterprise when its real nature became apparent.

In non-food consumer news, another indirect admission of deceptive labeling:
The Walt Disney Company is now offering refunds for all those “Baby Einstein” videos that did not make children into geniuses.

They may have been a great electronic baby sitter, but the unusual refunds appear to be a tacit admission that they did not increase infant intellect.

Two strikes for poetic justice in one day. Too bad that's kind of an anomaly.

*A note on Quaker Life: as we were standing in front of a cereal display deciding between Life, Cheerios, and Wheaties I said "I'm tired of Life." A man pushing a cart nearby came over and said he was relieved that I meant Life the cereal -- "You looked healthy," he said. I explained that they had run a lot of specials last summer and that I had been eating it all the time. I don't know if it was a smart choice, but it's definitely an attention getter to be tired of Life.

Friday, October 23, 2009


We ate at the very pleasant Totoro restaurant near the campus this evening. Foreground: my chicken teriyaki. Opposite side of table: Len's tuna sashimi on rice. A lot of sushi now is served at fusion restaurants -- with a side of pretension that multiplies the cost. Note that I have no comment about something called authenticity.

This time I hope they mean it!

From today's L.A.Times, Bill giving FDA new powers to oversee food supply has wide support --
Legislation granting the Food and Drug Administration new powers to oversee the nation's food supply has elbowed its way onto Congress' crammed calendar with bipartisan support and rare agreement between consumer groups and an industry stung by product recalls.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), would require the FDA to step up inspections of food facilities and to issue new rules to improve the quality of imported food and to combat contaminants in fresh produce. The measure also would give the agency authority to recall products on its own, instead of relying on industry cooperation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pizza for the Pope

Italian pizza is usually attributed to the cuisine of Naples, and said to be a peasant dish. Bartolomeo Scappi, cook to the Popes of sixteenth century Rome, offered several pizza recipes in his comprehensive cookbook* which I talked about yesterday. His pizza has a pastry base. That's about the only similarity to 20th century garnished tomato-cheese pies with a bread-dough base. Here's a sample pizza recipe from his book:
Get two pounds of fine flour and make up a dough with six ounces of Parmesan cheese that has been ground in a mortar, moistened with a fat broth and rosewater and strained; add in three ounces of sugar, six egg yolks, three ounces of breadcrumb soaked in a fat broth, half an ounce of cinnamon and half an ounce of cloves and nutmeg together. Knead the dough for an hour and make a thin sheet of it. Brush melted butter on it and make a twist of it with the sheet rolled in four layers lengthwise; brush it with melted butter that is not too hot. With that twist make several small cakes, fry them in butter or rendered fat and bake them in an oven in a tourte pan [illustrated, right, top 2 rows] just as twists are done. Serve them hot with sugar over them. (p. 493)
Scappi's other pizza recipes are also made with a sweet, layered dough and various fillings. One is introduced "To prepare a tourte with various ingredients, called pizza by Neapolitans..." Ingredients for this include almonds, pinenuts, dates, figs, raisins, egg yolks sugar, cinnamon, musk-flavored Neapolitan mostaccioli, and rosewater. (p. 488)

These are elaborate dishes for a refined, wealthy household: that of the Pope. The intended audience of the book seems to be other noblemen and their cooks or household staffs. Recent food scholars are of course aware of Scappi's recipe -- Gillian Riley in her books The Oxford Companion to Italian Food and Renaissance Recipes specifically cites his book and pizza recipes. But in popular concept, Renaissance Popes eating pizza are a bit of a discrepancy. Another myth busted? I think maybe so.

*The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro Cuoco, translated and with commentary by Terence Scully, 2008.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Dirty Business

I am reading a translation of the cookbook by Bartolomeo Scappi, head cook for several popes and prelates in the sixteenth century.* Descriptions and engraved illustrations present much information about cooking equipment, about the kitchens and associated prep- and store-rooms where he worked, and about the raw materials available for the large-scale endeavor. Scappi thus provides a comprehensive vision of just how he and his numerous staff prepared the meals for his employers.

The level of effort required and the constant need to carefully select, clean, and process foods is quite a surprise to me. Some details are just amazing: one recipe calls for eggs that have been laid on the same day, another for day-old eggs. Food history authors do not usually dwell on this aspect of Renaissance food preparation.

Each meat recipe describes in detail how to clean and prepare the meat prior to cooking: most recipes include multiple steps such as aging, simmering, soaking, and spit-roasting. Some parts of animals had to be cooked immediately or they would spoil. Others had to hang for a while to tenderize the meat. In the illustration of the scullery (above right) animals are hanging up so that the meat will age. It's evident that what came into the kitchen was whole, unprocessed carcasses, freshly slaughtered.

Scappi's recipes constantly warn against using rancid, dirty, or spoiled ingredients. Even salt and sugar must be inspected for contamination, and much of the work involved appears tedious and unpleasant beyond anything in a modern kitchen. Excerpts:
  • "...stick [a calf's loin] with lardoons of pork fat that is not rancid" (153),
  • "With the hair removed and the [suckling calf's] head clean, take out the tongue...tie up the snout... If you want it skinless, though, when all the dirt has been cleaned off it you can optionally replace the tongue with prosciutto but not blanch the head." (147)
  • "Cook two pounds of very clean rice..." (225),
  • "Split [a goat's head] in half, washing it in several changes of water, especially those little passages that are often full of mucous. To stuff it, dig out the brains..." (174),
  • "...a bit of prosciutto or else a large sausage that is not rancid" (148),
  • "Get a thrush in its season... That bird must especially be fresh to be good. Pluck it dry, without drawing it, and sear it on the coals... Spit it crosswise between bay leaves and slices of pork fat or sausages." (203)
  • "Get a casserole pot with a pound of clean water..." (273)
We assume so much when we cook now -- from clean water to already-plucked birds! Not to mention refrigeration and what it offers us.

Detailed description of each type of fish available include what seasons it was caught, regional names and variants of the species, and where the best ones came from. Sometimes preparation sounds beyond challenging. For example: "Get young lamprey and kill them in a sweet white wine. Take them out of the wine, remove the slime on them in warm water and wash them. Then drain their blood, catching it and setting it aside mixed with orange juice so it will not coagulate." The lamprey then have to be soaked in oil, pepper, salt, and vinegar or verjuice for a quarter of an hour. Afterwards they can be grilled and basted, and served with a sauce or rolled up and sauteed. A really large number of people must have labored in that multi-room kitchen.

Many of the preparations and recipes are somewhat familiar. A few resemble dishes that are still popular in Italy; others are frequently described by food historians. I plan to post more about the dishes that are described in this very interesting work.

*The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro Cuoco, translated and with commentary by Terence Scully, 2008.

What did Dracula eat?

Today's entry at the blog "Months of Edible Celebrations" has a fantastic post on food in Bram Stoker's Dracula -- with recipes! Louise, the blogger, quotes several passages from the diary of the narrator, who is of course describing his first impressions of Transylvania, for example:
I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was "mamaliga", and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call "impletata".
followed by recipes for Mamaliga and Rumanian Stuffed Eggplant. Louise, I love it!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pumpkin Soup

I'm very fond of pumpkin soup, and have a pretty big collection of recipes for it. Tonight we had soup with pumpkin, potatoes, peppers, bacon, onion, and spices. I toasted the pumpkin seeds to make a garnish. The vegetables were all from the Farmers Market and the bacon was Trader Joe's uncured bacon, if you want to know.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Spice Voyages

Pepper and Pirates by James Duncan Phillips documents the 19th century pepper trade in which ships sailed from Salem, Massachusetts, to the pepper farms of Sumatra. The trade began in the late 1700s and lasted until the mid-19th century. Salem merchants and seamen made large amounts of money, charted unknown coastlines, and had a variety of adventures.

Pepper itself was simply a valuable commodity to Phillips. He said little about its use, less about its global economic impact. He writes:
"The pepper trade in its prosperous years in Salem ran into millions of pounds, but it must not be assumed that the pepper was used to any great extent in Salem or even in America. It was reshipped...not only by Salem merchants, but by merchants from other ports in America who came to Salem to buy it." (p. 39)
The drama of the book consists of exploring the unknown geography, trading with native merchants and pepper producers, negotiating with rajahs of varying character, and fighting off a variety of attackers classified generally as Malay pirates. For example, the story -- with illustrations (top left) -- of the Malay capture and eventual release of a ship called the Friendship.

The Friendship went to "insignificant little port" called Quallah Battoo where "a couple of bumptious rajahs had built five mud forts.... These people had a poor reputation for honesty or good behavior, but they had lots of pepper...." (p. 80) Many details followed about good-faith attempts of the ship's captain to buy pepper, and the attack by Malay pirates armed with the terrible Creese, a murderous dagger.

Another story concerns a native Malay agent named Libbee Sumat: "a double-dyed rascal if ever there was one." Sumat was trustingly employed by Captain Charles Wilkens, who had "a peculiarly beautiful ship named the Eclipse." Instead of working for his employer, Sumat told his brother Libbee Oosoo a number of details about how the Eclipse was vulnerable. "These two rascally brothers at once came down to the ship... ostensibly with pepper to sell." After drinking tea with Captain Wilkins, "the Malays stabbed the second mate and a boy named Babbage. The captain ran toward Oosoo as he could not believe he was hostile, but the brute stabbed him three or four times and killed him." The Malays drove off the other men on board and looted the ship. (p. 107-111)

Occasionally, Pepper and Pirates gives a hint of meals that the voyagers had to eat in the various exotic locations they visited -- usually quoted from original narratives. An 1850 voyager described a visit on shore at the fort of Pomlooma Bunda, where the host "gave us some chicken curry. I thought it was very nice although the dishes were not very clean." (p. 122) Or in 1801, on a very early visit to Nagasaki, the only Japanese port open to foreign traders, some shipmen from Salem were entertained by a merchant. He gave them a repast of "pork, fowls, meso, eggs, boiled fish, sweetmeats, cake, various kinds of fruit and sacky and tea. The lady of the house was introduced, who drank tea with each of us, as is the custom of Japan. She appeared to be a modest woman." (p. 23-24)

Phillips, who was born in 1876, wrote the book in 1949, but in style and in his feel for the material he seems amazingly close to those early American sea captains from his home Salem. Their names still represented the best families of his home town: Peele, Peabody, Endicott, and of course Phillips.

In contrast, I read a much less entertaining history of the spice routes in the area of Sumatra, the Spice Islands, and the voyages of exploration that supported the spice trade beginning in Roman times. The Spice Route: A History by John Keay, published in 2005, is scholarly, dry, and much less amusing. Of course I learned a lot more general history of things like the Chinese explorations that took place just before the Emperors closed off the entire country. It's a much more modern book in every way, including the illustrations. Just not as obscurely amusing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What did Marcel Duchamp eat?

"Marcel took very little alcohol or food; he would simple eat what was given him. No one gave him a lot because everyone knew he didn't eat very much -- two or three peas and one bit of meat. But he did smoke cigars." (from "John Cage on Marcel Duchamp: an Interview" by Moira Roth and William Roth, 1973)
Hmm. Was this one more example of Marcel Duchamp's famous posturing? Or maybe he didn't like to eat American food, having been brought up in early 20th century France. He was indeed very skinny.

I've been posting things about Marcel Duchamp on, my other blog, for around a week, inspired by my visit to the Indiana University art museum. These thoughts on Duchamp are here:
The only other Marcel Duchamp-food relationship I can find is the "Chocolate Grinder," which Duchamp remade at least three times, as a readymade (an actual kitchen tool for grinding chocolate, displayed as a work of art), as a painting, and as a sketch. It appeared once on a Dada magazine cover. Duchamp described it as a bachelor machine: "The chocolate of the rollers coming from one knows not where, would deposit itself after grinding as milk chocolate... The bachelor grinds his chocolate himself..." (From The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, ed. Sanouillet and Peterson, p. 68)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ernst Farm Eggs

Another item from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's a WheatBerry?

Among the items I bought from Ernst Farm at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market Saturday was a package of wheatberries. My motive: curiosity. So I googled around to find out what to do with my $1 investment. I did know and could see that these were the unhulled, unmilled, unground wheat grains.

Above you see a 3-grain salad, result of my research. I used roughly equal parts of wheatberries, rice, and wild rice (total: 1 cup of grain), tossed in hot oil for a bit with a chopped small onion (also from the market), slowly steamed for 1 hour in chicken broth with frequent stirring and additions of water as the grains swelled and toasted on the bottom of the no-stick pot. Then I let the pot cool a bit and tossed the grain with dried fruit (total 3/4 cup) and vinaigrette dressing, and topped the salad with some toasted walnuts. It was very nice: chewy but seemed fully cooked.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Once more from the farmers market

What did I make with the cornmeal from Ernst Farm? Here it is:

1 cup Ernst Farm stone-ground cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces cheddar or similar cheese
3 small skinny medium hot peppers from the farmers market (or jalapenos)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan.
  • Remove seeds from the peppers. Mince 1 of the peppers. Slice the other 2 peppers.
  • Grate cheese & divide it into 2 parts, one 4 ounces, one 2 ounces (approximately)
  • Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and 4 ounces of the grated cheese in a medium bowl; mix well.
  • Combine the 1 minced pepper, eggs, milk, oil, in a small bowl; mix well.
  • Add the milk mixture to the flour 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.
  • 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.

For my other spicy cornbread recipe see this post from last year.

Pumpkins: from Mae's Real Stories

Two farmers market pumpkins are in the picture. The dark orange one is for eating. The hard, orange pumpkin flesh inside the skin will be sweet and good when I cook it. I will also toast the pumpkin seeds. The white pumpkin is for decoration. It would be ok to eat it, but maybe it wouldn't be as sweet as the orange one.

American Indians had pumpkins long ago before the rest of us came across the ocean to America. They cut pumpkins in long strips and dried them to save food for winter. In summer and fall they cooked pumpkins over their open fires.

Now most Americans use pumpkin only for jack-o-lanterns at Halloween and for pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes people use a pumpkin as a container for soup or other food. For Thanksgiving last year, we had a pumpkin baked with savory bread-and-cheese pudding inside, as well as the other Thanksgiving foods like turkey and vegetables.

Lots of people from far away countries like pumpkin too. In Africa and in the Caribbean islands people make pumpkin soup or stew with lots of spice. I have eaten pumpkin soup in England, Australia, and other places too. In Italy good cooks make pumpkin-filled ravioli or sweet pumpkin tortes with lots of different ingredients. In France we once tried beef stew with pumpkin in it. Our friend Marianna makes a Hungarian pumpkin dish with strips of sweetened pumpkin.

Do you like pumpkin? Or do you just like jack-o-lanterns?

Cross posted from my story blog, -- "Pumpkins"

End of the season for cooking outside

Here's Len barbecuing the farmers market chicken outdoors -- wearing a down coat. We put onion and sage leaves under the skin to flavor the chicken, and had an all-farmers-market dinner with fried sage and honeycrisp apple slices, and green salad with dressing containing farmers market honey.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Michigan Harvest Time

8:15 AM: Breakfast at Sweetwater's inside Kerrytown

Shopping at the market for me includes appreciating the beauty of foods whether you are going to buy them or not. I've been thinking about all the different reasons why I like the market because of silly critics. They forget -- or never experienced -- a lot of the most fun things. Like meeting friends and talking to strangers while waiting to buy from lots of different vendors. The silliest critics are currently at large in the Freakonomics Blog in the New York Times. They focus on the most exaggerated claims about what markets and local foods can do, and then blame the markets for not living up to the exaggerations.

Kapnik Orchards has been run by the same family at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market since 1938.
The market has been in business for 90 years.
Does it build community? You bet!

Mrs. Ernst phoned me yesterday to say that she had the chickens that people had preordered. Along with one fresh and one frozen chicken, we also bought beef, eggs, cornmeal, and wheat berries from Ernst farm. At other stalls we bought tomatoes, lettuce, napa cabbage, fresh sage, onions, arugula, apples, potatoes, peppers, plums, pears, and pumpkins.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Around the world with corn mush

The blog "Gherkins and Tomatoes" has a wonderful post today about corn meal mush in food cultures around the world: A Rogue’s Gallery: The Many Faces of Polenta.
Photos and even videos of corn meal in the cuisines in Italy, South America, the Caribbean, eastern Europe, and Africa create a great photo essay.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Philosophical Burrito Seller

Laughing Planet, Bloomington, IN

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Our very own SecretBurgers?

"The secret of SecretBurgers was that no one knew what sort of animal protein was actually in them: the counter girls wore T-shirts and baseball caps with the slogan Secret Burgers! Because Everyone Loves a Secret! ... The meat grinders weren't 100 per cent efficient; you might find a swatch of cat fur in your burger or a fragment of mouse tail. Was there a human fingernail, once?" (Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood, p. 33)
I particularly was thinking about Atwood's horrific imagined burgers when I read a NY Times article about hamburgers -- which many food writers have since been talking about. Trail of E. Coli Shows Flaws in Inspection of Ground Beef points out that actual non-secret burgers, from Cargill, which sickened people recently, were "a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria." Another article pointed out that meat from as many as 400 cows (some maybe sick) could be in a single hamburger.

The Year of the Flood includes many seemingly idealistic characters. The most sympathetic ones try to maintain an organic food and generally green lifestyle in the face of a deteriorating, and eventually catastrophic, environment. Many of them take a vegetarian vow, thanks to the food supplies that they have available. But wait: this is a distopian future, not a book about reality.

Maybe. Ursula LeGuin in a review of the book points out that Atwood refuses to classify her works as science fiction. Instead, Atwood claims: "everything that happens in her novels is possible and may even have already happened, so they can't be science fiction." Well, maybe it's so. Especially about SecretBurgers?

Sushi at Bluefin Bistro

Eight of us had a very enjoyable time at this midwestern US/Asian fusion restaurant. Or at least that's how I'd describe it. It followed the trend for more and more sushi-combination rolls with more and more ingredients in each one (sometimes good...) The desserts were definitely American although the not-so-rich ice cream was labeled "gelato."

Elaine's Dinner

We arrived in West Lafayette Saturday afternoon. Elaine had made a beautiful Julia Child-type boeuf bourginon, including the last-minute sauteed mushrooms. You can see the steam rising from the hot noodles and beef. And also see that I'm not the only one who really makes these classic recipes.

She also had a plum cake all ready for dessert.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Experiment: Broccoli Frittata

Are you shocked to learn that this is the first time I ever made a frittata? Well, it's not that different from a tortilla espanol or a crustless quiche. Eggs, parmesan, milk, beaten up, mixed with steamed chopped broccoli; poured over some butter with a bit of lightly cooked garlic, genoa salami, and red pepper; baked at 375 for 40 mins, browned under the broiler .... I just haven't ever done it this way. As everyone knows, it's very convenient for using up the vegetables before we go away for the weekend.