Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Memorable Meals of 2015

It's about time to celebrate the New Year, and to think about the old year. Here are some favorite meals I had in 2015, all documented in earlier blog posts --

January: Jack's 95th Birthday Dinner at an Italian restaurant in Boynton Beach, Fla.
January: Oysters at Aqua Grill, New York
February: Gatsby's Tavern, Alexandria, VA.
George Washington ate here -- see photo behind Len's head.
March: Tiramisu at Villa Mozart, Fairfax, VA, celebrating our anniversary.
April: Sparky's in Hatch NM for a Green Chili Cheeseburger.
May: Spike's Bar and Grill, Grayling, MI, with our friends Phyllis and Ed who joined us in the
search for the Kirtland's Warbler
June: reindeer barbecue on our cruise to Svalbart on the National Geographic Explorer
July: Miriam enjoying her sandwich at the Coffee Shack, Captain Cook, HI. And my Eggs Benedict with fresh tuna.
August: Delicious fish at Merriman's in Waimea, also on the Big Island of Hawaii.
September: Shrimp raised in an indoor shrimp farm in Indiana, and
cooked at Elaine and Larry's house in West Lafayette.
October: Cape May Scallops at Lobster House, Cape May, NJ
November: Thanksgiving Dinner in Fairfax, VA
December: Celebrating Chanukkah with Elaine and Larry in West Lafayette.
December: So many favorites! We had latkes in Ann Arbor and Indiana,
Bavarian sausage and potato salad for Christmas Eve, and
Polish Christmas Dinner. Here's the sausage!
It's been a wonderful year full of delightful meals with friends and family. We had lots of good meals alone at home, as well as many out. Thanks to everyone who shared with us! And Happy New Year to all.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Humboldt's New World, a fascinating book

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf portrays a remarkable and fascinating man. Humboldt was an explorer, a scientist, and a nature writer. Despite his great accomplishments and his acquaintance with the great thinkers of his time, I was quite ignorant about Humboldt. This blog post is only a few notes on what I found interesting, not a full book review, as Wulf's book -- like Humboldt's career -- is very rich and varied.

Humboldt's expedition to South America at the turn of the 19th century was important in a number of ways. I was interested in the supplies that he packed in preparation for one leg of the long trek across a continent little known to Europeans of that time:
"The boat they had acquired in San Fernando de Apure was launched ... on 30 March [1800], heavily loaded with provisions for four weeks -- not enough for the entire expedition, but all they could fit into the vessel. From the Capuchin monks they bought bananas, cassava roots, chickens and cacao as well as the pod-like fruits of the tamarind tree which they were told turned the river water into a refreshing lemonade. The rest of the food they would have to catch -- fish, turtle eggs, birds and other game -- and barter for more with the indigenous tribes with the alcohol they had packed." (p. 64)
During the expedition, Humboldt catalogued a huge number of botanical species. He climbed in the Andes mountains and was the first to describe the climate zones at various altitudes on mountain ranges. He also made anthropological observations and became friends with a variety of people such as Simon Bolivar who would later become a key figure in Latin American history. Later he wrote a number of books based on this travel. He developed remarkable and innovative ways to present scientific information in graphic or visual formats.

Humboldt stood in firm opposition to slavery and expressed a belief that "there were no superior or inferior races. No matter what nationality, color, or religion, all humans came from one root... 'all are alike designed for freedom'" said Humboldt. He visited Thomas Jefferson, then President of the new United States, and argued his case against slavery. Later in life he also held forward-looking political ideas, sometimes in opposition to the reactionary post-French-Revolutionary times when he lived. (p. 108)

Several of the final chapters of The Invention of Nature explain Humboldt's influence on later thinkers: Darwin, Thoreau, John Muir, and others. These chapters were especially effective in illustrating how Humboldt shaped the approach of later nature writers and naturalists, as well as showing his creation of new scientific ideas and his invention of the concept now known as ecology. The existence of America's National Parks, for example, has some roots in Humboldt's new ways to look at the natural world and its variety.

I was particularly amazed at the many geographic features and land and sea creatures named for Alexander von Humboldt. He didn't necessarily discover or describe all of these, nor even travel to their locations. Rather, later scientists and communities named many places and species in his honor.

Some of the creatures named for Alexander von Humboldt: the Humboldt penguin, the
Humboldt squid, and Humboldt's hog-nosed skunk (native to Patagonia).
Some of the global geographic features named for Humboldt: Humboldt Falls in New Zealand, Humboldt peak in Colorado,
the Humboldt (or Peru) current off South America, and Humboldt County, California.
Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, founded by Alexander von
Humboldt's brother Wilhelm in 1810, and named for both brothers.

-- photos from Wikipedia and Humboldt County promotions

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"The Buffet is Open... All You Can Eat... and it's free!"

At Kensington Park the little birds eat out of your hand!
"The buffet is open," Alice called to the birds. "All you can eat."
This titmouse listened to her.
This nuthatch was very talkative as it walked down the tree trunk towards Miriam's hand.
Chickadees were the most numerous patrons of the free buffet.

Though Saturday was rather grey, we enjoyed our walk, especially these sandhill cranes beside the path.
We also saw a wild turkey and quite a few woodpeckers.
And a few days ago, Len saw tundra swans...

covepoint 1

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Polish Christmas Dinner

Fish in aspic, the first of several delicious courses at our friends' house for Christmas Dinner.
Beet borscht with mushroom dumplings.
Bigos -- hunter's stew, made from three meats, cabbage, sauerkraut, and other ingredients.

Our hosts and some of us.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Christmas at the Henry Ford Museum

Note the actual airplane behind the Christmas tree.
Christmas decorations in the model train display.
We visited the Henry Ford Museum on Wednesday.

Christmas Eve at Home

Bavarian tradition: sausages and Bavarian potato salad.
Dessert: Buche de Noel from Zingerman's Bakery with a few raspberries. I had always wanted to try a Buche de Noel.

Star wars Lego!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Gingerbread Houses

Elaine in the gingerbread house in the Purdue Union last weekend.

A giant Christmas tree stood nearby. 
The roof of the house. What a tour-de-force!
I don't know who made the giant house, but nearby were a number of
gingerbread creations made by students in various dining halls. All impressive!
I tried to find a similar display here in Ann Arbor -- no luck. The only house I saw was a tiny do-it-yourself at Whole Foods.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" is a documentary film by director David Gelb. It features the sushi chef Jiro Ono and his 10-seat restaurant in Tokyo. When the film was made in 2010, Jiro was 85 years old and working hard every day. His restaurant at that time had 3 Michelin stars and a long wait for reservations. His oldest son was second in command at the restaurant, while his younger son had his own sushi restaurant. 

The film describes Jiro's impoverished childhood, his daily life, and his relationship with his sons, apprentices, and customers. Jiro is given credit for innovations in sushi preparation, though I was disappointed that the narrative mentioned no very specific examples of his inventions.
The scenes of sushi-making are fascinating, as are many descriptions of
how the fish are prepared (some cooked, some raw) and the special nature of the rice.
Having just read a book about the Tsukiji Fish Market, I loved the scenes set
at the market and the interviews with the vendors who sell to Jiro's son.
Jiro himself stopped going to the market when he was 70 years old.
As the film wraps up, there's an acknowledgement that fish are becoming scarce,
especially the big tuna that are a central element in a sushi restaurant.
For my recent reading of Bestor's book Tsukiji, link here.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Eight Nights of Chanukah

Celebrating with Elaine and Larry in West Lafayette. Here: the 6th night.
This year we celebrated more times than ever before that I can remember!
Ready for roast chicken and roast vegetables, and about to light candles
for the 5th night.
The third night of Chanukah: latkes in my oven here in Ann Arbor, along with Carol's brisket which was warming up.
Candles and latkes for the third night.
Carol and family, ready to eat.
(We also had a celebration for the first night, but no photos!)
Candles for tonight, home for the last night. Happy Chanukah!