Monday, May 22, 2017

What I've Been Cooking

We are spending the week in Fairfax with the family, and I'm cooking for them. Here are some of the things I've made:

Potato Salad with oil-and-vinegar dressing.
Beef and lamb meatballs (for later this week).
Lettuce and tomato salad.
Tuna salad with celery, bell pepper, and mayo.
Tabouli salad for lunch boxes.
Green beans with bell peppers; bok choi with oil, soy sauce, and spices -- served with pork
tenderloin (not shown) and rye bread from a good bakery.
Egg salad -- it's sprinkled with paprika.
Rugula looked very good at Wegman's -- but we had poppy seed rugula
on Saturday from Balducci's, another wonderful store. So didn't buy it.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Along the C & O Canal, Potomac, Maryland

This is Lock 22 and the lockhouse beside it in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Potomac, Maryland. We spent a few hours this morning strolling slowly along the canal towpath, which is still maintained for recreational use. We enjoyed occasional vistas of the Potomac River, which runs well below the level of the canal.

There's quite a bit of history in Lockhouse 22, which was originally constructed in 1832, and now is available for people to stay in. It's known as the Pennyfield Lock because George and Charlie Pennyfield, father and son, tended it from 1890 until 1924 when the canal closed. During this time, President Grover Cleveland liked to go fishing from this lockhouse. (He was President for two disjoint terms, 1885 – 1889, and 1893 – 1897.)

The website for the lock (link) states:
"The Potomac River is rife with obstacles that thwart water transportation. Rapids and waterfalls, products of the river’s elevation change, prompted C&O Canal visionaries to invest in a flat-level water route to run alongside the river. The idea was simple, but the construction quickly proved to be arduous. To bypass many of the geological obstacles, canal engineers devised unique structures such as aqueducts, lift bridges, incline planes, tunnels, and lift locks. These required the special skills of the stone cutters and masons whose work produced masonry marvels still appreciated today. Lockhouse 22 at Pennyfield reflects the early phase of canal construction, because of its lift lock and proximity to Dam 2 and its guard lock."
Both people and wildlife were enjoying the park as we strolled along this morning, having come from Fairfax where we are visiting. Herons, egrets, flycatchers, cardinals, and other birds were flying around, wading in the canal, or hiding in the foliage of the tall trees. Insects were flitting around, several turtles were coming up for air, and one water snake was rapidly swimming downstream. Bicyclists, fishermen, joggers, kayakers, and other birdwatchers were all doing their thing.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Zweig's Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman by Stefan Zweig, is a fascinating study, bringing together Zweig's expertise in historical research with his enjoyable skills as a writer of fiction. First published in 1932, Marie Antoinette has recently been re-published -- as have many of Zweig's other books. I enjoyed reading it and seeing the illustrations, such as the one above.

Zweig was in eclipse for quite a long time after his death in 1942, and my interest in him started shortly before this renaissance, when I read his autobiography, The World of Yesterday. It pleases me that his stories and histories, which I could then find only in an academic library in quite old editions, have now become completely accessible: for example Marie Antoinette, which I purchased as an e-book, and Magellan, which I read a few years ago (link).

Although I have read a bit about the French Revolution and what led up to it (in historic works like Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama or fiction like City of Darkness, City of Light by Marge Piercy) I was surprised at how little I knew of the central role that Queen Marie Antoinette actually played during the complex events of her time.

Marie Antoinette's character development -- as Zweig documented and brought it to life -- was portrayed in a most fascinating way. In the early years of her reign, she was a self-indulgent, pleasure seeking, irresponsible adolescent and young woman. As the Revolution began to threaten her husband the king, she developed a sense of responsibility. or as Zweig writes: "Too late, Marie Antoinette had grasped in the very depths of her soul that she was destined to become a historical figure, and this need for transcending the limitations of her own time intensified her forces to an extreme." (Kindle Locations 6223-6225).  By the end, Zweig shows her as a completely different, and highly self-aware and dignified victim.

Zweig, in my reading experience, always seems to present quite a bit about what his characters ate -- a subject I find especially interesting. Though there are many fascinating things in the book, I'll present a few of the food passages.

The illustration above, for example, shows the royal family at their dinner when their real imprisonment in a former Knights' Templar fortress in Paris called "The Temple." Zweig explains how their provisions were arranged:
There was a liberal supply of food and drink. No less than thirteen persons were appointed to minister to the pleasures of the table! At his midday meal there were at least three soups, two entrĂ©es, two roasts, four entremets, compotes, fruits, malmsey, claret, and champagne — so that in less than three months the expenses of the royal kitchen mounted up to no less than thirty-five thousand livres." (Kindle Locations 8392-8396). 
The abundance of food in their prison may have been modest compared to life in the palace, but the king was incredibly fond of good food, and never lost his appetite, even just before his inevitable death. For example, the royal family were well-provided with food during a failed attempt to flee the Revolution somewhat earlier, when a huge carriage tried to take them away from Versailles:
"The liberally stocked food baskets were opened, and a hearty breakfast was eaten off silver platters; the bones of the chickens and the empty wine bottles were disposed of through the carriage windows; the worthy guardsmen were not forgotten." (Kindle Locations 6921-6923).
On this aborted voyage, the king and queen and their children were intercepted, and returned to captivity in Versailles:
"On this June 21, 1791, Marie Antoinette, in the thirty-sixth year of her life and in the seventeenth year of her reign, for the first time entered the house of a French bourgeois. That was the only interruption of her progress from palace to palace and from prison to prison. She had first to pass through the shop, smelling of rancid oil, sausage, and spices. Then, by a sort of companion ladder, the royal party — Madame la Baronne de Korff as ostensible chief, the Queen as governess, and Louis as a bewigged servant — mounted to the first story, where there were two rooms, a bedroom and a parlor, low-ceilinged, poor-looking, and dirty." (Kindle Locations 7043-7049).

Marie Antoinette was even well-provided for during her final imprisonment in a damp cell in the Conciergerie, after the king had been beheaded and her children taken from her. As did many of her guards and jailors, the woman assigned to her in this cell was taken with her queenly behavior:
"As far as prison rules were concerned, all that the head warder’s wife had to do for the ex-Queen was to clean out her room and provide her with rough meals. This good woman, however, cooked the most dainty food she could procure; she offered to dress Marie Antoinette’s hair; every day she procured from another quarter of the town a bottle of drinking water which Marie Antoinette found preferable to that supplied in the prison." (Kindle Locations 9240-9243). 
As she was taken away to the Guillotine, Marie Antionette seemed uninterested in food, eating a few sips of soup out of politeness and sympathy for her jailor. Zweig portrays the crowds waiting to see her death, including a description of how they passed the time waiting for the spectacle: "Between times, for refreshments, one bought lemonade, rolls, or nuts. The great scene was worth a little patience." (Kindle Locations 10211-10212).

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Butter: A Rich Discussion at Culinary Book Club

Wednesday night, my culinary reading group met and talked about Elaine Khosrova's book Butter: A Rich History. Mostly, we all liked the book, especially the science of how cream turns into butter. We enjoyed the breadth of the book, including the historic chapters and the parts about the spiritual meaning of butter in early days. When people did not understand the sudden transition from cream to butter, they thought it was magic -- as they did with other food transformations by chemistry or by fermentation.

We observed that many books about the history and science of common foods are being published. While not all of them are uniformly good, we agreed that this is one of the good ones. Though there has been a trend towards these one-food-books recently, quite a few existed earlier. We mentioned, for example,  Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History by H. E. Jacob, originally published in 1944 and republished several times.

I had a few things to say about Khosrova's book last week at these two posts:

• Tempering
• More about "Butter"

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wordy Wednesday: "Treason"

From Merriam-Webster entry "Treason" --

treason Synonyms

All the words above are linked to their dictionary definition.

This is wordy Wednesday. I wish it were simply Wordless Wednesday.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Eggs McMuffin -- Not

Much hyped: Egg McMuffins. I was always slightly curious about them. Finally one day last week, we were out in the early morning (looking for a rare bird, of course), and had the inspiration to try Egg McMuffins for a late breakfast. I was disillusioned when I bit into mine. The egg was a bit rubbery and overcooked. The muffin was a bit dry and not toasted or even warm. The American cheese slice wasn't melty at all. Should I have been surprised? Don't answer that.

We ended up wishing for a better egg sandwich. So...

Eggs, bread, ham, cheese -- on the way to a sandwich. OK, I know you don't get tomatoes with an Egg McMuffin.

Ready to eat -- melted cheese, ham, eggs over easy, good pan-toasted bread. Tomato lightly warmed. Not bad.

I also thought about fried-egg sandwiches when watching a Netflix episode of "Mind of a Chef" -- a series we've been catching up on. The featured chef, Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant in New York, reminisced on camera about her early life in New York City with her friend Daniel Boulud, a French chef who owns several famous restaurants in New York and elsewhere. In the episode, she introduced him to a cheap sandwich that sustained her when she was poor and new in New York City -- specifically, to the deli specialty called "egg on a roll," which looks like a very classy cousin of the Egg McMuffin.

Eggs frying on a New York bodega grill, in preparation for a
classic "egg on a roll" ordered by Gabrielle Hamilton.
After they buy their sandwiches the two chefs sit on a
stoop to eat them, re-living her earlier habits.

Screen shots from "Mind of a Chef," Episode 4, Season 4. 
This "Mind of a Chef" episode featured several other really delicious looking creations involving fried eggs with perfect soft yolks -- some in Hamilton's restaurant, some in a restaurant she visited in Rome. I plan to watch more episodes. My culinary history group once read her memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Weekend Birding

Today we spent several hours at Magee Marsh near Toledo and around an hour from us, and Len took lots of photos.
It's world famous among birders for the spring migration. Right now is the big week of the entire year there.
At Magee Marsh today: one of the many species of warbler that stops there on the way north for the summer.
Yesterday, a bit east of town, we saw this sandhill crane among the spent dandelions.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Fascinating Painting

"Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market," is a painting by John Lewis Krimmel (1786 – 1821). Krimmel was born in Germany, and immigrated to Philadelphia, where he painted this work in around 1811. "In the 1790s Philadelphia became a refuge for Afro-Caribbeans fleeing war in Haiti. Cooking inexpensive local foods with Caribbean spices, Haitian immigrants helped create a unique Philadelphia cuisine. This included pepper-pot, a thick, spicy soup made of vegetables and tripe, ox-feet, or other cheap meats, sold by street vendors for a few pennies." (source)

I learned of this painting in the book Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots along the Pepper Trail by Kurt Michael Friese, Kraig Kraft, and Gary Paul Nabhan, in their chapter on the peppers grown in rural Maryland and nearby locales. They trace these peppers to Afro-Caribbean slaves who were brought to the area in the eighteenth century, linking a preparation called picalilli to the Caribbean peppers called pilipili. In this painting, and in the pepper-pot dish depicted, they find a combination of history, language, food ways and culture --
"Pilipili, it turns out, is the name for red peppers in Swahili, Zulu, and Lingala dialects from sub-Saharan Africa, but it is entomologically related to berebere, fulful, and filfil. Those terms were first used for black pepper in North Africa and the Middle East, and later applied to red peppers or chiles. ... The name might have arrived in Maryland with West African slaves or, more likely, with their descendants .... 
"The slaves brought up from the Caribbean could have also carried along in their heads a recipe for a spicy fish, pork, or chicken dish historically called pepper pot.... still occasionally prepared in the metro Philadelphia area just to the north of rural Maryland.... Pepper pot is still served in the Caribbean made with the locally available meats of chicken and pork. These dishes seem to be a derivative of the West African dish known as callaloo, a spicy vegetable stew." (Chasing Chiles, pp. 155-156)
The existence of this very interesting painting is one of many things I learned while reading Chasing Chiles, which was published in 2011The three authors spent a year exploring the regions where a number of very specific chile peppers are grown, searching for evidence of how farmers and local users of chile peppers are adapting to a variety of changes in conditions for growing these rather sensitive crops. Increased or decreased rainfall, violent storms and hurricanes, unexplained pests and plant diseases, advances in industrial agriculture and seed production, and changing demand for their products all affected these small-scale agriculturalists. The book is full of details about various chiles and their history and use, including a few recipes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


"Smooth-textured butter is the result of manipulating the structure and ratio of fat molecules in cream, which are either hard and crystalline or soft and fluid. By warming and cooling the cream -- a process known as physical ripening or tempering -- the consistency of its fats can be remodeled to create a more spreadable butter." (from Butter: A Rich History, p. 127-128)
This is the beginning of one of many discussions of the processes of butter-making in the book Butter: A Rich History, published 2016. The author, Elaine Khosrova, a food writer and former pastry chef, has written a most interesting discourse on butter. History, chemistry, physics, anatomy (of cows), culture (of many butter-making peoples), agriculture, technology (both primitive and industrial), and cuisine are all combined in a very readable way.

While I already knew quite a bit about the uses of butter in world cuisine, I learned a lot about the other topics. One of the new things: I was intrigued by the discussion of tempering cream to be made into butter, which continues:
"Naturally hard milk fat, which is typical from cows on winter feed, has a lot of crystalline saturated fat and short-chain fatty acids; it will yield a rock-solid, stiff butter if not tempered. On the other hand, cream high in soft, unsaturated fat will result in loose, greasy butter. This is often the case with milk fat in summertime if cows are feeding on fresh grass. ... Overall, the aim is to have 40 to 45 percent of the milk fat crystallize so there's some rigidity in the butter, but not so much that it's a brittle product." (p. 128)
This description made me curious about the process of tempering and the word temper, both as a verb and a noun. I'm familiar with tempering as a process in manufacturing steel, glass, chocolate, and now butter and looked for more information. Here's an explanation from Epicurious of why and how to temper chocolate:
"Tempered chocolate has a shiny, flawless appearance. It feels firm and breaks off with a snap when you bite into it and it melts smoothly in your mouth, allowing you to fully enjoy the flavor. Slowly heating and cooling melted chocolate while stirring puts it into temper. If chocolate is not tempered properly, the cocoa butter crystallization is uncontrolled and uneven, which results in an unattractive chocolate that is dull or has white streaks running through it." (link; see also this recipe from Jacques Torres)
The word temper comes from a Latin word meaning time, which came to indicate something in balance. If you lost your temper, or got out of temper, you lost this balance. Similarly, the chocolate texture can become "uncontrolled and uneven" if it's not put "into temper." If you are bad-tempered, of if the chocolate is "not tempered properly" that balance is lost. Temper is related to words and expressions like temperature, tempus fugit (time flies), temperament, well-tempered (a musical term), and temporal. The noun also means "the degree of hardness and elasticity in steel or other metal." Example sentence: "The blade rapidly heats up and the metal loses its temper."

"The noun originally denoted a proportionate mixture of elements or qualities, also the combination of the four bodily humours, believed in medieval times to be the basis of temperament, hence temper." Historically, the verb to temper came to mean "to make (steel) hard and elastic" by the late 14th century. The sense of "tune the pitch of a musical instrument" dates from around 1300. In contrast, tempering butter seems to be a process invented for modern industrial production, and tempering chocolate -- if I recall my previous reading -- was developed around 150 to 200 years ago when chocolate began to be made into candy rather than just used as a beverage. (Sources: Oxford Dictionary and Online Etymology Dictionary.)

 Some Old Butter Photos 

Thanksgiving-themed butter sculpture, 2013.
Miriam and Alice made their costumes --  butter boxes -- for Halloween in 2010.

If this were wordless Wednesday, I'd just post the old photos. But this is wordy Wednesday, so I talked about the word "tempering." I posted about Butter: A Rich History yesterday, and next week I will have more to say about this enjoyable book, which is the selection for my culinary reading group.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

More about "Butter"

Reading about butter in Elaine Khosrova's book Butter: A Rich History -- it's the next selection for my culinary book group. I enjoyed the historical accounts of butter and the mythology of butter in earlier times, such as in Ireland, and descriptions of using and making butter in India, France, 19th century America, and many other times and places. I was thinking about a few other areas where very early people made butter.

Here are a few photos showing some of my butter-themed thoughts --

My favorite ancient figurine: a woman holding a butter churn on her head.
Chacolithic era from the sanctuary of Gilat in the Negev in Israel.
Dated 5500 to 6500 years ago. (Israel Museum, Jerusalem, my photo.) 
How milk was churned in these vessels: they were hung up and shaken
back-and-forth, as shown. The figurine above, and others in the sanctuary,
also used churns for an unknown symbolic meaning in grave goods. (My photo)
Similar Chacolithic churn (Haifa Museum, Wikipedia)
And in contemporary culture...

Last year's Minnesota Butter Princess and her sculpted head in butter. We saw the butter sculpting a number of years ago.
Note that she's wearing a coat: the sculpting is done in a very cold glass kiosk where passers-by can watch. The princesses
are the daughters of Minnesota dairy farmers, and they get to keep their own sculpted head, I believe. (link)

Smen: a butter product from Morocco,
which I have not tried but would like to.

My favorite source of butter-rich recipes! (link)

Saturday, May 06, 2017


Experimenting with spices: I roasted a chicken with cumin, tarragon, a bit of preserved lemon, and smoked paprika.
I basted it with apple juice. At the end I added lemon juice and more tarragon to the sauce. It's not really Moroccan,
but it blends in some of the Moroccan spices that I've also been trying out.

Carved and ready to serve. The sauce is at lower right.

On the table. The lentils were flavored with ras-al-hanout and onion -- another Moroccan spice.
We also had some very early peaches (origin: Mexico) that I dribbled with a tiny bit of rosewater.
Where I've been this week: visiting my sister in Indiana. We watched a
few birds singing in the Celery Bog near her house in West Lafayette.
Not far from the Celery Bog: another natural preserve called
Mulvey Pond, where we saw a few ducks and geese.
We ate several delicious meals at my sisters's. As an
experiment we got out her very old electric percolator
and made coffee to check what it would taste like if you
made percolator coffee from freshly ground good beans
instead of from horrible grocery store coffee!
It's not bad at all.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

"Jacaranda" -- a Favorite Word

"Jacaranda is a genus of 49 species of flowering plants in the family Bignoniaceae, native to tropical and subtropical regions of Mexico, Central America, South America, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and the Bahamas." -- Wikipedia

A jacaranda tree, Santa Barbara, May 3, 2014.
One of my favorite words is jacaranda. I've been in a few places where splendid jacaranda trees bloom in May, so I'm thinking about them now, as the month of May begins. This post is dedicated to just one word: jacaranda. A beautiful sound for a beautiful flower.

I've heard that the jacarandas are especially beautiful in Brazil, but I have never been there. I assume they bloom in October or November, in that hemisphere. Because their blossoming time is rather short, I've only seen them in a few places; I have not traveled much during the short blooming season of this beautiful tree. Here are a few more photos from those trips:

Santa Barbara, May, 2009
Rehovot, Israel, May, 2006.
Rehovot, Israel, May, 2006
Rehovot, Israel, May, 2006.
This might be Wordless Wednesday if I had posted photos without writing much. I guess it's Wordy Wednesday: depends on your point of view.

I thought poets might also like the word jacaranda so I searched for poetry that included the word. I found quite a few poems. Some only mentioned jacarandas, and some were quite detailed about the way they were characteristic of springtime in specific places -- Australia, South Africa, California, Mexico. I think most of the poets were more captivated by the beauty and color of the trees than by their name.

Here's my favorite poem, from the Poetry Foundation:

Learning to love America

Related Poem Content Details

because it has no pure products

because the Pacific Ocean sweeps along the coastline
because the water of the ocean is cold
and because land is better than ocean

because I say we rather than they

because I live in California
I have eaten fresh artichokes
and jacaranda bloom in April and May

because my senses have caught up with my body
my breath with the air it swallows
my hunger with my mouth

because I walk barefoot in my house

because I have nursed my son at my breast
because he is a strong American boy
because I have seen his eyes redden when he is asked who he is
because he answers I don’t know

because to have a son is to have a country
because my son will bury me here
because countries are in our blood and we bleed them

because it is late and too late to change my mind
because it is time.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Zingerman's Sandwich -- Not!

Zingerman's is famous for creative sandwiches. The following menu choice was tried with enthusiasm on our last visit there:
Turkey breast, fresh avocado spread, Wisconsin muenster cheese, tomato & plenty of Zingerman's Russian dressing on grilled farm bread.
Needless to say, I have no idea who the eponymous Tarb might have been except that he doubtless worked behind the sandwich counter at Zingerman's at some point.

Before dinner this evening, knowing that I had a package of sliced deli turkey in the fridge, I looked for the description of this item on the Zingerman's website. I put together the necessary ingredients and toasted one sandwich for each of us: one is shown above. Total cost was quite a bit less than two times $17.99.

Russian dressing and avocado spread were easy, and we had some deli pickles: Zingerman's sandwiches ALWAYS come with a
pickle! I chopped up a red bell pepper because I didn't have tomatoes. I also substituted imported Gruyere cheese
for the Wisconsin munster -- not bad substitutions, I would say. We enjoyed the sandwiches for dinner!

If you need ideas for sandwich combos, I recommend the Zingerman's online menu (link here) for dozens of ideas. The menus are conveniently organized by principal ingredient, so you can look for ways to use what you already have on hand, if that's convenient.

It's also fun to eat at Zingerman's deli, if you happen to be in Ann Arbor.

Our main accomplishment today was a trip to Ikea for a garden bench, where we are now keeping a few pots of herbs.
I'm looking forward to making delicious use of tarragon, chives, sage, and mint when they have a chance to grow.