Thursday, April 28, 2011

As it's meant to be...

Toasted Ravioli

St.Louis Food: toasted ravioli at Pasta House in University City, Mo. Until this dish was copied by Olive Garden, it was a specialty of St.Louis only. I remember eating it at a restaurant called Rinaldi's that went out of business ages ago. We ate there Tuesday night with a number of relatives.


Chips and Salsa

Southwestern Food: real chips and salsa in Albuquerque Old Town. I haven't had such perfectly flavored chips and salsa that was exactly the right heat for a long time! We ate inside the building, one of the oldest in the city, made from adobe of a type from the early 19th century. The tamales, chili rellenos, and other things we ate were all good too. For more about our day: Oklahoma from a moving car.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chinese food for Easter

... Szechuan Garden, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Israeli Markets: an anthropologist's view

Here's a view of markets: Q&A: The Culture of Israel's Markets

In this interview with Nir Avieli, professor of anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, I found the ideas about various Israeli markets quite appealing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cooking for Passover, 1478

I've read several reviews of a display of a hand-illustrated Haggadah from 1478 on display now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Today's New York Times included several illustrations -- this one of two women cooking for the Seder seems especially relevant to my thoughts on holiday cooking of difficult recipes as a way to preserve tradition and allow women to work together.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I've written about Passover and other Jewish holiday food many times. One thought on the subject: there are so many traditional foods for which I use my food processor grating attachment. Grating potatoes for latkes or apples and nuts for charoset is very labor intensive if you don't have an automated device; I wonder how they became traditional. Carol suggested that the women in an extended family would gather to make these foods, thus sharing the labor and also ensuring continuity of the traditions.

Also, grating or chopping allows one to effectively share scarce ingredients. Latkes use grated potato -- the abundant ingredient -- to extend the scarcer eggs. Passover is early in the spring, so any fruit our ancestors had would have been saved from the previous year. Besides resembling the mortar for the pyramids, charoset allowed many people to share a few apples, raisins, and nuts. Tsimmis used root vegetables to allow sharing a small amount of meat and dried fruit, if you had it.

In ancient Israel, Passover was not quite as much a time of scarcity: the spring lambs would already be the right size to be sacrificed in the Temple. Later Passover became a time to give up one food: bread. So I don't think it's outside the holiday tradition to remember how lucky we are to have abundant food, as well as remembering the other messages of the holiday.

Happy Passover!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sticky Toffee Pudding has a history

Today in the Guardian food section: an article about sticky toffee pudding. I ordered it on pub menus a few times in my one longish stay in Cambridge. It's very sweet and sticky indeed, and includes some of my favorite flavors. This cake-with-sauce (remember pudding just means dessert in British English) seemed to be part of the reintroduction of retro desserts into the new and much better English menus we experienced. But now I learn: "as every food nerd will tell you, it was invented in the 1970s by Francis Coulson of the Lake District's Sharrow Bay Hotel." Just like tiramisu, another dish that seemed to go into the eternal past but only goes back partway into the 20th century!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Anne's Kitchen

anne-kitchen 7

Last night our book club met at Anne's house, an amazingly preserved Queen Ann style house with many of the original features, including woodwork and cabinets in the kitchen, a pedestal sink in the bathroom, pocket doors that still work, and a carved screen above an archway between the living room and adjacent sitting area. Recently updated kitchens look very similar to one another, but hers has a very special appearance.

anne-kitchen 6 anne-kitchen 4 anne-kitchen 2 anne-kitchen 1

I've posted many, many photos of kitchens, and I have just been tagging them to make them viewable at the same time. To see them all, click on the label "KITCHENS" at the bottom of this post or in the sidebar.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"When the Killing's Done" by T.C.Boyle

Are vegetarians more ethical than other people? Quite a few vegetarians appear in T.C.Boyle's

When the Killing's Done

Definitely not every one of them is ethical, though they think they are noble.

"Meat is murder," says Anise, girlfriend of the least ethical and most despicable character in the book. "Eggs are murder too." The boyfriend, Dave LaJoy (ironically named as even his vast wealth, luxury mansion in Montecito, and luxury yacht give him no real joy) doesn't eat meat -- he does eat eggs. Meatlessness doesn't help his disposition: he goes into rages when he doesn't get his way, and he becomes more and more vicious and vengeful throughout the book. Professing to love living creatures and want to protect them, he commits a number of really horrific acts. In contrast, Rita, mother of Anise, once lived on the last sheep ranch on Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands; Boyle un-ironically portrays her love of her sheep, her dedication to tending them, and simultaneously, the way she loves to cook and eat their meat.

Alma, the main and much more likable character in the book, is also a vegetarian, but her job involves killing a number of animals. She's an ecologist, and has done research on Guam where the brown snake, introduced accidentally, has proliferated and done incredible damage, utterly changing the environment. Alma wants to save Santa Cruz from similar disasters due to non-native species, so her work requires that she oversee the killing of feral rats and pigs. Dave LaJoy's pretense is that he wants to save these animals from death: his actual motive more and more clearly is some sort of vendetta against Alma. Boyle presents the scientific, ethical, and human issues in this conflict, and though he makes the reader admire and like Alma and despise Dave, I think he leaves the ethics open. Also the question of vegetarianism.

The book has several intertwined themes and stories. Besides the story of Anise and her mother, there are other personal histories. Dave's rise to wealth that gives him no joy is one. Alma's story starts with the boat accident that took the lives of her grandfather and his brother, and the survival of her grandmother who managed to get to shore at Santa Cruz Island. Later, her father also dies in a water accident when his Scuba air supply becomes polluted with carbon monoxide. Humans in this book just have a problem with the sea! There's a lot behind the confrontation between Dave and Alma.

I thought about Santa Barbara as Boyle named streets, landmarks, and businesses that played a role in the plot. I'm looking forward to being there again next month and will think of this book in connection with Garden Street, Anacapa Street, Bath Street, the freeway through town, Stern's Wharf and the Marina, the elaborate tile in the Courthouse, the Lobero theater, and even Lazy Acres, my favorite grocery store, all mentioned.

And here's a photo from our 2003 trip to the Channel Islands. I thought of this trip as I read Boyle's descriptions along with all the action that takes place there:


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Gourmandise or Gluttony?

I just read "The Gourmand" by Mark Gimein, illustrated and with a strong contribution by artist Charlotta Westergren. The author and illustrator link several main themes. First, they ask whether the concept of a gourmand in Brillat Savarin and other historic sources applies to modern times. In the past, straightfoward love of food was often held in contrast to self-advertising through luxurious and ostentatious meals at rich people's tables. In particular, the two authors explore the question in the context of the new book Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold. What I find most interesting is their discussion of classic still-life painting as a critique of gluttony, display of wealth, and excess.

Gimein writes:
"Brillat-Savarin’s grand meals are supposed to test the ability to experience the sublime, but they are also grievously expensive. Even the guest who can’t tell truffles from Cocoa Puffs notices that. The promise of the banquet is transcendence, but its subject is the patron’s wealth."

"In this, Charlotta offers, the Brillat-Savarin banquet is like the classic still life. It’s not for nothing that the Flemish still lifes of masters ... are filled with lemons—the priciest exotic fruit of the time. With the still life the patron shows off his possessions. Or, more subtly, he shows off the richness of his material life while also alleging his indifference to it... . Either way, the invitation of the still life is to transcend luxury by contemplating a luxuriously painted canvas."

And about Myrvold, whose books themselves are unusually expensive? The author's view:
"In the many interviews that have been published with Nathan Myhrvold, my favorite quote is one that he gave to Time magazine: 'I want to empower people to make a better roast chicken.' While Modernist Cuisine does have instructions on how to cook a chicken (with a sous vide machine), this seems to me roughly like a Northern Renaissance burgher insisting that he is just commissioning an illustration of how to polish a goblet or slice an orange. Does anyone believe this?"

The illustrations are especially well-suited to the points made about modern taste. From the article, here is a still life by Charlotta Westergren, illustrating the idea that "the pig is a symbol of gluttony, butterflies mark the transcendence of the soul."

Still Life
-- Charlotta Westergren, La Nature Morte au Cochon, 2008, oil and car paint on aluminum, 24 in. x 54 in.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Is Pez Food?

The other day I posted about Royal Wedding food-themed memorabilia. But this one is even more delicious. As it were. The Pez company has made exactly one set and is auctioning them for charity. See this.

PS -- I remember the Pez Dispenser fad that raged when I was in seventh grade. And a re-run in the 1990s. Did Pez ever go out of style?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Love your work!

From an article about the sale today of the Pringles Potato Chip brand:
"The creator of the famous Pringles can was so proud of his invention that he asked that his ashes be buried in one."
His family stopped by Walgreen's on the way to the funeral. They decided on a can of original flavor. The article didn't say what they did with the potato chips.


"Serve the People"

Do westerners really want to try authentic Chinese food? Jen Lin-Liu's food memoir Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey through China leaves the question open as it discusses the opinions of restauranteurs that she gets to know on her journey.

I enjoyed reading her stories about people she met. Through these people she introduces you to a history of recent events in China and how they affected individuals in the food business, often assigned to work in food prep or service by the indifferent bureaucracy of the Communist era.

I also liked her descriptions of food: "I blew on the noodles impatiently, then risked a first bite amid the steam and burned my tongue," she wrote. "Nevertheless I knew that I was in the presence of the best noodles I had ever eaten. They were thin and chewy: the broth was smooth and slightly spicy. I detected hints of peanut and sesame, which smoothed out the chili-and-coriander flavored soup." (p. 123)

She tastes. Then she works in a small, working-class noodle shop learning to grate the dough. She discovers how much strength and energy a cook must exert. Through her experiences she also makes the reader see how different it is to make dumplings or noodles for home use or make them fast and in enough quantities to make a living at a small restaurant in a huge Chinese city. Recipes in the text underscore the way that ingredients are used in each situation -- I may never try one, but they contributed to my grasp of what I think she was trying to say.

Lin-Liu differs from most westerners writing about Chinese food because she rarely makes comparisons between American mainstream Chinese restaurant cooking and that in China. Her main experiences with Chinese food in the US were with home cooked meals and family memories of holiday food celebrations, such as moon cakes. At home, moon cakes were a seasonal treat filled with lotus root which is extremely sweet and indulgent. Each cake was divided and shared by her whole family. In China she learned that moon cakes had become a status thing, given as gifts or as bribes (with money or other valuable stuff in the wrapping) -- but never eaten. Poor people bought them from the richer recipients and resold them.

The author was raised in California; her parents had immigrated from China via Taiwan. They were amazed when she decided to spend years in China attending cooking school, apprenticing in noodle shops and upscale restaurants, and writing for restaurant guides. The result is a good read!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Falscher Hase

On our recent visit to Fairfax, Tom made us a really delicious meat loaf. Inside it were hard-boiled eggs, giving each slice a very pretty cross-section. (I regret having taken no photos.) I am a meat-loaf lover -- I often order it in retro restaurants and diners -- so I really enjoyed it.

Tom told us that his mother often made this dish, and that it's called "Falscher Hase," or "Fake Rabbit." However, he had no idea why it had this name -- and it's not an Easter-dish, just one that his mother made from time to time.

Franz and Rosi, Tom's parents, subsequently sent this explanation of the dish:

Fortunately, our friend Peter made us this translation:
"Did you know? In days gone by, many a Sunday dinner had for its main course a so-called false hare. That's a meat loaf put in a form that shaped it like a rabbit which usually had an egg filling and had strips of bacon on top. Very tasty --but basically a hard times dish. Since only a very few families could afford an expensive rack of rabbit roast, along came an inventive lady of the house who came up with the idea to prepare reasonably priced ground beef, shaping it so that it looked like a fine rack of rabbit. And so it came about that the plain meat loaf became a dish that looked proper for the affluent folk."
I write with gratitude to Tom for cooking us this great dish, Rosi for being its original author, Franz for the explanation, and Peter for the translation. Thanks, everyone!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Food in Detective Stories

In a conversation today, I mentioned that I had written several posts about food in detective stories, but that the posts were buried among many others. So here's a partial list:
Note: to see all the posts, click on the label "Food in Detective Fiction" at the bottom of this post.