Friday, July 30, 2010

Saugatuck Farmer's Market


Before breakfast (served at 9 by our B&B) we walked up the hill towards the bridge across the Kalamazoo River to Douglas. Saugatuck has a farmer's market on Friday mornings -- we stopped to look around -- it seemed deserted. Later, our B&B hostess explained the lack of customers: the yacht owners show up at 8:00 to buy flowers, and the locals come at 11:00 to buy vegetables. Since we were there just after 8, we saw no one but the farmers. Each one seemed to have his or her own specialty -- blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, corn, flowers...




We ended our 24 hour getaway with around an hour sitting on Oval Beach -- one of the world's most beautiful beaches. See: Oval Beach, Saugatuck MI

Marro's Restaurant



Marro's in Saugatuck has been serving American-Italian food for 40 seasons, and they do seem very popular with the crowds of tourists in the picturesque town. After our bike trip to the dunes, we wanted a relaxed dinner -- nothing pretentious (if you want pretentious, Saugatuck can oblige). We also shared a piece of cheesecake, which the menu says is the best in the history of the world. It was good cheesecake, though perhaps age-old global superiority is a stretch.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


1twin oaks inn
Twin Oaks Inn was our destination this morning. After an easy drive from Ann Arbor to Saugatuck without traffic surprises, we checked in at around 11:00, feeling that we had retreated!

We walked around, looked at the old-fashioned and very old chain ferry and all the yachts in the harbor. The ferryman cranks a crank that pulls the boat across the Kalamazoo River via an underwater chain.


Sadly, the Kalamazoo River is currently threatened by an oil pipeline breach upstream, but the water here is not yet affected, and we hope the oil can be contained.

We had lunch on the waterfront.


After lunch Len got our Bike Fridays out of the car -- they both fit in the trunk along with all our luggage. We discovered that a superb bike path has just opened that goes from just outside the town of Saugatuck to the Dunes State Park. It's wide, paved, and has wooden bridges where it goes over swampy creeks. The wood is so new that the bridges still smell like sawdust.


We locked the bikes to a tree in the park and walked over to the beach.


After a dip in the perfect-temperature water of Lake Michigan and a long time napping on the beach, we walked back over the dune and started back towards town.


I heard frogs singing on my bike. Groucho would ask: what were the frogs doing on your bike? Never mind. The four or five miles of bike path are beautiful, as there is a lot that you see from a bike and not from a car.


Our last bike stop was for Kilwin's ice cream. Lots of fun things to eat between activities here. Before we end our 24-hour stay we hope for dinner somewhere in town, breakfast made by our hospitable hostess Willa, and maybe even an early lunch.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Here's a really neat NYT slide show about Korean tacos, truly imaginative fusion food.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Bruschetta originally meant "slices of toast with things on them, depending for success on the quality of the bread and olive oil," according to The Oxford Companion to Italian Food by Gillian Riley. During earlier, less prosperous times, Italian farmworkers and laborers spread salt, oil, salami or cheese on stale bread. Today "the concept has been turned upside down, and small, exquisitely put-together morsels are served with wine to stimulate jaded appetites ... . Bruschetta was known and loved in Lazio before its current popularity, as well as in Tuscany and Umbria." (p. 79)

As I said about Crudités, recipes change, and definitions change, just as words change. What Italian farmworker eating his meager snack would have dreamed of the Jack-in-the-Box brand Bruschetta Chicken Ciabatta Sandwich with 660 calories and 26 grams of fat? He might have loved it. (I haven't tried it, as I never eat at that chain.)

I decided to make a version of bruschetta for a first course to take to a friend's house last night. My first experience with this dish was partway through its Americanization process -- the garlic-and-olive-oil flavored toast is spread with chopped tomato and basil Maybe this is the trendy Italian version. Here's my product, in progress, and on the table:

We all spread our own tomato mixture on the bread, which was sliced from a Zingerman's baguette and browned in good olive oil and crushed garlic.

The morphing of bruschetta has in fact taken one really odd turn. At some restaurants in California, they serve the chopped tomatoes -- but not the bread! In one little cafe where I ate last year, in DelMar (near La Jolla), the waitress apologized profusely, when we considered ordering the dish, explaining that she had lost the argument with the chef when she tried to convince him that there should be bread. He was essentially serving bruschetta as a breadless salad. But as Riley says, "Definitions are best not agonized over."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Five Fish

"Nick ... made his way up the creek... At the pebbly shallow stretch he caught two small trout. they were beautiful fish, too, firm and hard and he gutted the ... fish and tossed the guts into the stream, then washed the trout carefully in the cold water and then wrapped them in a small faded sugar sack from his pocket. ...

"He had his fire made and the skillet resting on it and he was laying strips of bacon in the skillet. ... Nick was cooking the trout now. the bacon was curled brown on a fresh-cut chip of wood from the piece of fallen timber they were using for the fire and they both smelled the trout cooking in the bacon fat. Nick basted them and then turned them and basted them again." ("The Last Good Country," Hemingway, The Nick Adams Stories, p. 111-116)

"With wild fish we have chosen, time after time, to ignore the fundamental limits the laws of nature place on ecosystems and have consistently removed more fish than can be replaced by natural processes. ... We eat more fish every year, ... pausing only (and only briefly) when evidence surfaces of the risk of industrial contaminants in our seafood supply. ... And in telling the story of four fish, for which the collision of wildness and domestication is particularly relevant, I shall attempt to separate human wants from global needs and propose the terms for an equitable and long-lasting peace between man and fish." (Paul Greenberg, Four Fish, p. 13-14)
Hemingway's story, set in northern Michigan before the First World War, describes the boy Nick Adams fishing for trout to make supper over a campfire for himself and his sister. Idyllic. I chose The Nick Adams Stories as nice summer reading after our recent trip to Traverse City, in country somewhat like the area where Hemingway's family summered around 100 years ago. It's still beautiful, mainly rural and full of beautiful little streams.

Nick Adams, one of Hemingway's alter-egos, was aware of the precious quality of the woods where he fished -- most famously in the story "Big Two-Hearted River." In this story, Nick returns to Michigan escaping a lot of bad experiences that are mostly told through allusions. Fishing allows him to find a kind of happiness, mainly implied by Hemingway's spare prose.

On the whole in the modern world, there might be a few trout in Michigan's streams, but fish more generally are in trouble. The four fish of Greenberg's title are salmon, tuna, seabass, and cod, all ocean species that have provided large supplies of food in the past. All are at risk, as he explains in his combination of natural history and biotechnology history. Fish farms are productive, but full of problems. Wild fish are so scarce that one can only have illusions about sustainable fisheries for them. I'm not sure why I was inspired to read such a depressing book, but the reviews were really intriguing.

I couldn't help making the connection between Hemingway's idyll and Greenberg's modern dilemma of how we are depleting and polluting the oceans. (And he wrote prior to the disaster in the Gulf). Greenberg calls fish "the last wild food," but describes the challenges of fish farming, and the increasingly reduced supplies of any wild fish. I like this connection and the contrast between the two books I've been reading.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Art Fair Food (that which I didn't eat)


The most beautiful art work at the Ann Arbor Art Fair might just be the Milles Fountain in front of the Michigan League. This morning the water sparkled in the slanting sunlight, already baking the tables set up there for those buying food at the food stalls along the side of the building. Art Fair food comes from those trailers that go from carnival to carnival or other event with some approximation of fast food. It doesn't actually appeal to me much. I know I'm in a minority on this -- the lines were really long when my companions bought their Gyros sandwiches, not here, but in front of the Union.


The smoothie booth is colorful. Too bad I hate bananas.


Fusion stir-fry. Whatever. I had a large diet Pepsi from the fast food court in the Union & sat with my friends as they ate their Gyros. Later I had Almond Joy ice cream from the local shop Stucchi's. I'm just not a fan of carnival food. Not Greek Salad. Not Funnel Cakes. Not hot dogs. Sorry, I'm just not into that.


After walking around and looking at the artists' work, we stopped to hear Mr. B. play boogie-woogie on his piano-on-a-bicycle. I bought a painting, a mug, a ceramic dish for butter or cream cheese, and a tee shirt. I'll photograph them when I bring them home from campus. Somehow I did not find any artists' booths that I felt compelled to photograph -- maybe later in the week I will.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Crudités is a French word meaning raw vegetables. Both words and culinary dishes have a habit of changing. We used to order crudités in small, inexpensive restaurants in France, and we have a fond memory of them. Both the word and the dish have changed over time.

Last night I tried to make something like the remembered dish -- tomatoes, grated carrots, lightly marinated mushrooms, cucumbers in cream, grated cabbage... Cru means raw -- crudités are simple, raw vegetables.

Crudités do not appear in any of my cookbooks, not in American-French (like Julia Child) nor in translated or untranslated French cookbooks like Madame Maigret's Recipes that I described yesterday. Crudités were too simple and obvious. Who needs a recipe for raw vegetables? Only Ginette Mathiot's 1955 La Cuisine Pour Tous suggested "Hors D'Oeuvres Cru" with a list of possible elements in this dish, to be served by themselves or in combination.

The word crudités has been completely adapted into English, meaning any preparation of raw vegetables, from something like the French tradition to a plate with carrot sticks, celery sticks, bell pepper strips, and ranch dressing as a dip. On some French websites I even noticed a reference to guacamole as a dip. Dipping food into a common bowl would have seemed very unFrench at the time we were eating crudités in little restaurants -- but as I say, both words and dishes can change. I wonder how much change has happened to madelines -- now available everywhere thanks to Proust's passage making them so famous.

Monday, July 19, 2010

French Cookbooks from Caliban Book Store, Pittsburgh

The Caliban Bookstore in Pittsburgh offered a delightful and tempting selection of cookbooks and food books, and I bought several. I have been reading and enjoying them.

Who was Madame Maigret?

Madame Maigret's Recipes by Robert Courtine reviews many of the memorable meals that Georges Simenon's fictional character Inspector Maigret enjoyed (in some detail) while investigating murders and other crimes. Maigret often stopped to eat in small neighborhood restaurants or, when appropriate, in somewhat grander restaurants. When he could, he went home for a midday meal of Madame's excellent home cooking.

Courtine provides recipes for all of these types of food as they would have existed in Maigret's lifetime -- or that of Simenon. Many of the Inspector Maigret books date from the 30s to the 60s, though Simenon, born in 1903, lived until 1989. The cookbook was published in translation in 1975.

I've always loved following Maigret's adventures in both food and detection. Once while wandering around in Paris, I stopped for lunch at a brasserie quite near the police headquarters where Maigret worked, and pretended that I was eating in the same place as he had eaten. In fact, the Paris where Maigret lived and worked was already vanishing when I spent time there, and by now it's probably unrecognizable.

The book itself is enjoyable. Courtine's recipes are accompanied by nice line drawings of food or ingredients. The instructions appear quite detailed and useful.

However, many of the products he used would be very difficult to find today -- I was especially intrigued by the above illustration of songbirds ready to grill on a skewer (as well as the recipe on how to do it). Virtually no American would choose to eat such a thing now, and hunting songbirds is illegal in France. However, I imagine a few are still clandestinely snared and secretly consumed in those mysterious French farmhouses and summer vacation houses you can see on side roads in Provence and Roussillon. I admit that at a restaurant in a remote village I once tried some lark pate, but that was very long ago.

Who was Christian Guy?

Christian Guy sure sounds like a pseudonym, but I've been unable to google up any information about this author or his book, An Illustrated History of French Cuisine, which I also bought at Caliban. Dated 1962, this book represents a very obsolete style of writing. For one thing, there are no references whatsoever: even the illustrations are credited to the photographer who reproduced them, without information about the artist, source, or date.

As I read, I felt as if everything that was said was rather suspect -- my bullsh!t detector kept going off. (Do they scan these blogs for bad words? I'm not taking any chances.) I don't think there was much differentiation between myths and reality. Sample illustration:
Notice that there is a caption on this picture, but no information about its origin. All in all, it's a most frustrating work, with little to say for its grandiose claims about French cuisine and its minor anecdotes about gourmets, historic food events, and chefs.

The most suspect part of the book was was some great praise for the author of Les Amanachs gourmands de L'Action Française -- Marthe Allard, wife of a journalist who promoted the politics of L'Action Française. As you may know, this was an extreme right and antisemitic organization, founded during the Dreyfus affair to work against him, evolving with post-World-War I fascism, and continuing as a pro-Nazi force through the end of World War II. So I really wonder: who was Christian Guy? What was he promoting when he wrote this odd work.

Once more I'm taken by the idea of French food as I remember it from years in the past. I'm planning a little not-too-ambitious French appetizer to take to a dinner party tonight. If I remember to take a photo, it will appear here later on.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Food Politics

I often read about the ongoing political debates about food guidelines, food regulation, school-cafeteria food, and issues of food additives. I don't comment about these subjects much because others are more expert in evaluating what is going on. Today I read two articles of interest in this broad area.

First, the Fairfax County Public Schools' nutrition program was named best in the country by the nonprofit School Nutrition Association. (Washington Post article here.) Miriam and Alice only buy lunch at their Fairfax school occasionally because Evelyn thinks the food is not so healthy and not very good quality. Is this really the best there is?

Second, Marion Nestle's blog Food Politics recently had a summary of some testimony before the Federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, currently performing its 5-year review and revision of food recommendations. I was especially struck by the summary of special interests, as expressed by their lobbying groups. Here is what she said:
  • National Pork Producers say: “Urging Americans to shift to a more plant-based diet and consume only moderate amounts of lean meat implies they should decrease consumption of this vital, complete protein.”
  • Egg Producers say: “The average American could increase egg consumption and still be within the egg-a-day limit.”
  • The Sugar Association says that advice to reduce sugar is “impractical, unrealistic and not grounded in the body of evidence.”
  • The Salt Institute testifies: “Encouraging consumption of low-salt foods will encourage Americans to eat excessively to make up for the lack of taste….The guidelines have become far more a reflection of ideology than sound science.”
How can anything be done when special interests dominate like this? Maybe truly salt-free foods would be unpalatable -- but many fast food meals that can easily be eaten by an adult or child contain more salt than an individual's entire recommended daily intake. Maybe meat is healthful, but surely you can get too much of a good thing -- and people do. I wonder what the corn syrup folks are saying! Nestle's blog has much more about these issues.

Maybe I don't write about nutritional politics and food safety much because it is too depressing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Zingerman's Creamery and some truffles

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We were testing our old GPS and comparing it to the instructions on the iPhone, and decided a good place to go was Zingerman's Bakehouse and their Creamery, which are somewhat tricky to find. The downloaded "sync-my-ride" directions on the iPhone were better than the GPS.

When we got there, we started tasting cheese. We also bought a San Francisco dry sausage, and from the Bakehouse, sourdough bread. On the way back -- map mode only and we didn't really need it -- we went to the Produce Station for tomatoes and fruit. Lots of good things to do in Ann Arbor -- we didn't buy any of these:


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fascinating history of Greek food

In the Atlantic food section, a very interesting historic view of Greek food and when it originated -- especially moussaka. I always thought that Greek food (at least as I experienced it in American restaurants) was closely related to Turkish food -- which I think is wonderful. But it has other influences as well, and according to this author, has been the subject of efforts to purify it of Turkish influences. Says the author:
"Moussaka, pasticcio, Greek salad, and maybe youvetsi (baked lamb with orzo in tomato sauce) are the dishes most non-Greeks consider to be the epitome of Greek cooking. Yet most of these dishes have very little to do with traditional foods. They were developed, or drastically revised, by professional cooks and restaurant owners who were particularly interested in pleasing the Athenian upper class of the early 1900s. The cosmopolitan Greeks of Smyrna (Izmir today) and Alexandria, in Egypt, were brought up eating mainly French-inspired foods in these prosperous cities of the Mediterranean, and thus favored tamed, sweet-and-creamy combinations of traditional favorites like the eggplant casserole, dishes that also pleased the palates of European and American visitors."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pittsburgh Museum



Honore Daumier's caricatures titled "Types Parisiens" (around 1840) include some wonderful depictions of restaurant scenes and chefs. Quite a few of his works were on view today when we visited the museum in Pittsburgh. We spent the late afternoon here with Aparna, Delia, Elaine, and Larry.

Of course there are also plenty of still-lifes that show all sorts of food from many times and places, like this one from the 19th century:


Delia seemed to enjoy it:


I found a lot to like, such as this conceptual art work:


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Markets Where I Shop

I'm a mad mad grocery shopper! I love to get fresh food, but I also love lots of other things. I have a nice big pantry, but I don't keep a vast oversupply of stuff onhand, probably because I like to shop and to plan meals only a day in advance, or even just a few hours before I do the cooking. I like to pick the nicest fruit and vegetables I can find, the best-looking meat, or fish that's on sale (usually that's because it's freshest and most abundant, and indeed I'm devastated by what's happened in the Gulf). Is the weather nice? I can get something to barbecue. Is it cold and rainy? I'll make a stew. But let me to to the store and decide just in time.

So I've been posting on my favorite markets.

Whole Foods:


The Ann Arbor Farmers Market:


The Produce Station:


Trader Joe's:


and Hiller's -- I'm flattered that Lydia has included my choice to kick off her market series: see The Perfect Pantry for July 10, 2010.


Friday, July 09, 2010

Traverse City Food

At the Red Mesa Grill before dinner one night during this past few days in Traverse City, we admired the large collection of hot sauces illuminated by the setting sun.


We also admired the box of "fudge" the size of an automobile on top of one of the many fudge shops in the area. I have no idea whether Northern Michigan invented this particular style of fudge, including the invitation to watch it forming under the wooden paddle wielded by a teenager on summer vacation and to try a teensy sample. However, I once entered a similar fudge shop on the High Street in Cambridge, England, right near the world-famous King's College, and was told that it originated in "Mitchigan" which is how the name of our state is pronounced over there.

Traverse City was having a Cherry Festival, but we chose to visit the more scenic attractions instead. We spent a day exploring the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, where I believe there are some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere. Unfortunately their beauty is best appreciated on summer days such as we enjoyed, and these days are very rare.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

What is good at Trader Joe's?


Sometimes I think Trader Joe's is an emporium of pseudo-healthy junk food. Organic high calorie snacks. Appetizer pastries that you see at parties and pot-lucks all the time. And they are effusively friendly as illustrated by this welcoming sign and all the employees in Hawaiian shirts. Our TJs is pretty small compared to the ones where I shopped in LaJolla and Santa Barbara, too.

TraderJoe3214 Irresistible candy and other sweets are the most appealing thing at TJs. Bargain prices for Belgian chocolate. Cocoa almonds, candy-coated dried fruit, great lemon curd in a jar...

TraderJoe3211 Sometimes I find bargains. These veggie burgers are cheaper than the same brand at Whole Foods. But mostly, Trader Joe's has its house brands.

And sometimes I think Trader Joe's is a wonderful place to get a meal when I don't really feel like cooking. Gyozas (a.k.a. potstickers). Ready-to-microwave meatballs with a jar of ready-to-serve sauce. Chicken breasts and sausages to put on skewers and cook outdoors on the grill. Pita bread, hummus, torillas, little bite-sized cheeses, tasty crackers. Not expensive.

Even at the huge TJs in California, one couldn't make it the sole source of groceries. There just isn't enough variety or basic materials. Olive oil, ok. Spices, almost none at all. If you want to make Asian food, just buy the ready-made version. This is not ok all day every day. And the produce is very disappointing -- cheap, but not local and not always as fresh as I would like. I also prefer the wine selection elsewhere.

The store is around 6 blocks from my house, so I'll probably keep picking up one or two things and a bunch of candy there from time to time. Yup.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

I just don't undersand

Ice cream flavors listed in an idol-worshipping article in the NY Times:
  • "Secret Breakfast" -- bourbon and toasted cornflakes
  • "Elvis" -- banana ice cream with bacon peanut brittle
  • Salted Licorice
  • Chocolate Smoked Sea Salt
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Hibiscus Beet
  • Foie-gras ginger-snap ice cream sandwiches
  • Fetal Kitten -- the proprietor's idea of a joke, like it's the only one that's not truly on the menu.