Friday, December 31, 2010

Commissario Brunetti Eats Lunch

Delightful meals eaten during a crime investigation are among my favorite features of detective novels. For Christmas, I received a cookbook based on the novels of Donna Leon and her detective Guido Brunetti of the Venice police. I could make the delicious meals that Brunetti's wife cooks, such as veal liver with polenta (p. 210) -- which sounded so good in Death in a Strange Country. Or see if I could do better than Paola and Guido's daughter Chiara, who struggled to make mushroom-filled ravioli (p. 85) in A Noble Radiance.

I wasn't familiar with this series, so I purchased and read several of Leon's novels on my Kindle. Learning about the detective's favorite food before I read about the detective is really a total reversal! I'm so grateful to my friend Sheila who thought of this gift. Now I have both a Venetian cookbook and a new detective series to love.

Brunetti's wife Paola makes food to rival the French home cooking of Madame Maigret, Simenon's detective. I think her cooking sounds better than the food made by Nero Wolfe and his chef. Brunetti's lunches and snacks in typical little Venetian lunch-counters and bars are different -- but make me recall the local color in Whataburger, where Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn eat in the novels of Tony Hillerman. Leon's novels are a bit mannered but nowhere near the exaggerated style of Robert Parker, whose detectives' food habits come close to parody.

Food in detective fiction -- a glorious tradition!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year


We're back in Ann Arbor, where little birds do not share our breakfast. And we are planning a nice New Year's Eve dinner with a retro menu.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Soufriere Market

The market in Soufriere, the town closest to us (population around 11,000) offers local produce from very small farmers -- mainly people who grow a few vegetables in their back yards. Farmers with more land sell at the larger markets in other towns. Some of the market sellers have just a small piece of cloth with a pile of yams or green onions; others have tables with umbrellas; I did not see any stalls as large as those at the market at home. The most crowded time was early in the morning, we were told, but there were still many sellers and buyers when we arrived at around 8 AM yesterday morning.




A few people were bringing animals to be cut up by a butcher with a machete. The crowds were especially dense around this area, buying goat meat, pork, and fish. Normally the market is on Saturday, but today is Christmas so the market was yesterday instead; we think that meat was especially popular for the holiday.



While we were walking around the market with Bonny, our cab driver, there was a heavy rain shower that made everyone gather under the one or two large open-air shelters; when the rain slowed down, they all went into the open air again. The market is right by the sea, and of course one can see the tall volcanic piton, St. Lucia's most distinctive landmark, beyond the bay from there.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Who loves the food here?

The birds love our breakfast -- especially cheese and butter. We like it too.

In fact we have found the food really exciting. Tonight we had Indian-Caribbean fusion cuisine again. Last night was a big buffet:


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lunch at Anse Chastanet


The waitresses all wear this plaid costume.


The food is delicious. Today for lunch we had fresh grilled kingfish served in small pieces, each one on a slice of potato with a curry flavored sauce.

Our dinner was at an Indian-West Indian restaurant, also belonging to the resort. On the back of the menu is a fascinating summary of immigration from India to the Caribbean, which this brief history points out had a big influence on the cuisine -- despite being seven generations ago and much more. Sadly, indentured Indian laborers were the immediate replacement for the slaves, whose import was stopped in 1838.

On each trip to the Caribbean, we relearn what a complex history these small islands have -- and how thoroughly they have been forgotten. Today we heard about a hurricane that hit here at the end of October, killing several people, and wiping out roads and bridges. They've recovered now. We were amazed since American media didn't seem to cover these events at all: the man who told us about it said he was surprised to find no coverage on CNN, so I don't think we just ignored the news. It just wasn't there.

We haven't eaten lobster, but...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

St. Lucia

We're in St.Lucia -- check for more information and ongoing reports.

As for food: last night after a long day of travel, we ate in the Continental dining room, one of 4 restaurants at our hotel. I'm sure we'll also try the others: a vegetarian cafe, a West-Indian dinint room, and a grill.

The restaurant offers a different selection each night: I ordered fish with potatoes mashed with "salt fish" -- which I recall from reading Cod by Mark Kurlansky is a bit of irony. Salt cod, once was the cheapest type of food; fishing boats in the North Atlantic scooped up huge shoals of cod and dried and salted them for distribution to all parts Europe and European colonies. The lowest quality salt cod was imported to the Caribbean plantations for the slaves (who were sometimes also allowed to grow a few vegetables for their own use after their unthinkable work in sugar cultivation and other tasks, a long sad story). Salt cod and other salt fish have always been among the staples in post-colonial Caribbean cuisine, for many reasons. Now cod have almost been fished out of existence. And one finds salt fish as an ingredient at an elegant tourist restaurant here at Anse Chastanet on a beautiful hillside with a stunning beach. St. Lucia of course is a land of free men and women, slavery a distant memory; but I remember something.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Local Eating

The snow is deep this morning, the roads are slippery, and everything is frozen. Thinking about local produce seems very wishful. However, I've just read a study about greenbelt farming in our local area, which treats a question I often ask myself: if a large number of people wanted to eat local food, would there be enough for them to all make that choice? I am thinking about how the statistics in the article affect my own decisions.

Here are some statistics about the state of Michigan, excerpted from this article:
  • Agriculture is the number 2 industry in Michigan.
  • 56,000 farm parcels cover over 10 million acres of Michigan farmland.
  • In diversity of commercial agriculture, Michigan ranks second to California.

So in terms of eating produce from Michigan, quantity isn't really a problem. In terms of my own experience, one challenge is knowing which products are actually from the state. Dairy products, corn, beans, and fruit are at the top of Michigan farm sales, but Michigan corn, wheat, and soybeans are commodity crops, sold on the national and international market. Some of the corn goes into Ethanol, but I hope that folly will soon be corrected. As a result, we may see manufactured food items that contain Michigan content but have been made non-local by commoditization.

Even in winter, though, I often see Michigan potatoes and apples in the markets. Michigan cherries -- a big crop for the state -- are mainly canned or dried and shipped around. And I always thought that Kellogg's cereals were local: but the last time I purchased Special K the small print (which I read at breakfast) said "Made in Mexico"!!

What about still more local products, from here in Washtenaw County and its immediate neighbors? Of course there's always Jiffy Mix, made right down the road in Chelsea (too bad I don't bake much). Corn, wheat, and soybeans are the largest crops in the immediate area, but local farmers also grow hay, livestock (for meat or dairy), vegetables, fruit, popcorn, and maple syrup. Much is for sale at the farmers' market, which I often write about. The total number of farm operators in the county is 1,984 -- this sounds like a large number, but includes proprietors of all-sized farms.

The progress of the Greenbelt initiative is creating a protective situation for the farms nearest to us, and I am encouraged to know about the way this initiative is working to keep farmland from being made into tracts of houses.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

More on the proposed hummus boycott

From the Forward:

"Where are the principled human rights advocates when it comes to the moral crimes of the Arab world? Boycotts and divestments, we are told, are essential game changers. Yet advocacy groups and college students won’t apply them equally wherever human rights abuses are found.

"Why aren’t the activists who criticize Israel calling for a boycott of Persian rugs from Iran? What about Egyptian cotton, oil from Saudi Arabia and whatever it is that Syria makes other than trouble?

"Now activists are busy using hummus to spackle over the double standards that are abundant when it comes to the Middle East.

"Delegitimization can take many forms — some serious, like the denial of Israel’s existence; and others bizarre, like accusations in recent years by some Lebanese that Israel has stolen their traditional hummus recipes. Apparently, Israelis have no authentic connection to the chickpea, which is just a short culinary step away from saying that they have no connection to the land."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Politics of Falafel and Hummus

I read recently that Israel haters who are promoting boycotts and other actions are campaigning against the Sabra brand of hummus. They accuse its American manufacturers of donating money to Israeli military efforts. This is part of a broader campaign on college campuses which combines old-fashioned antisemitism with modern Israel-baiting.

  • At Princeton, a student referendum to ban Sabra hummus failed with 1,014 students against and 699 students voting for the referendum.
  • At DePaul University in Chicago, Sabra hummus was removed from the campus dining table at the request of the anti-Israel groups, but last week the school requested that their food service reinstate its sale.
The New York Times, reporting on these efforts, quoted Michael Kotzin, of the Jewish United Fund:
“As trivial as the determination of what hummus to serve to university students might seem, there are serious ramifications to this issue. It is clear that this action, following on earlier boycotts of Israeli culture and Israeli academics around the world, is but one component of a global assault on the legitimacy of the State of Israel itself.”
A few years ago, there were flaps over falafel. A false but widely repeated news story stated that the FBI was tracking falafel stands because they were a hotbed of radical terrorism. The FBI website responded with denial: "We at the FBI were surprised to read about a supposed FBI program to monitor the sales of Middle Eastern food products in the San Francisco Bay area in support of counterterrorism intelligence gathering."No one in the FBI had heard of this supposed endeavor, which was widely covered in the press. (I wrote about it in more detail here.)

Further, there's an ongoing dispute over who invented falafel and which Middle Eastern country owns hummus. In a world of so much bad will, even mashed chick peas (fried or dipped) can become completely political.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sausage and Politics

Don't miss this wonderful article in today's New York Times:

If Only Laws Were Like Sausages


The author doesn't merely quote Bismark:
“If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

In other words, the legislative process, though messy and sometimes unappetizing, can produce healthy, wholesome results.

He interviews sausage makers about how their process differs from that of Congress:
“I’m so insulted when people say that lawmaking is like sausage making,” said Stanley A. Feder, president of Simply Sausage, whose plant here turns out 60,000 pounds of links a year.

“With legislation, you can have hundreds of cooks — members of Congress, lobbyists, federal agency officials, state officials,” Mr. Feder said. “In sausage making, you generally have one person, the wurstmeister, who runs the business and makes the decisions.”...

At Simply Sausage, the bones and other inedible, indigestible, unsavory parts are dumped in a big garbage pail and discarded. On Capitol Hill, stale old ideas are recycled year after year.
I'm inspired by new confidence in sausages. But as the article says, I'm afraid that "The legislative meat grinder turns out many strange products."

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Refrigerator Memory

This GE refrigerator with a motor on top and room to sweep underneath was introduced in 1927, but when I was a small child that's what still stood in a corner of the kitchen in my parents' one-bedroom apartment. I may have mentioned it before, but I just noticed the photo on the GE appliance history website. Inside, the tiny freezer compartment could make a few ice cubes, but ice cream wouldn't stay frozen there.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Follow Up Thanksgiving Photo


Joel was missing from the set of Thanksgiving photos I posted before. So here are our hosts, the turkey chef and banana cream pie maker: Joel and Aparna.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Molecular Gastronomy Comes to Ann Arbor



Last night I had a nitrogen shake. At tableside, the waiter stirs liquid nitrogen into a hot ice cream preparation (such as you might put into an ice cream maker, I think). The result is a cold mixture of chocolate and other flavors that you drink with a straw, consistency of a milkshake. I guess nitrogen is tasteless, otherwise we'd smell it all the time when we breathed. I thought when molecular gastronomy reached Ann Arbor I would hate it -- but in fact it was fun. The taste? Not much different from most milkshakes.

My previous posts on molecular gastronomy: