Thursday, November 30, 2017

Aromas and Smells in My Kitchen

My kitchen is full of aromas and smells -- one of the best things about home cooking! You can really use your sense of smell to make sure that your stew is spiced right. You can tell if something is burning. You can tell if something needs more garlic (and also will know if you have put in too much and it's too late). "Wake up and smell the coffee" is almost a proverb. Your own pizza in the oven smells divine. Toast some seeds like cumin or sesame in a frying pan and enjoy the smell. You just don't get the same sensations with take-out.

Coffee: one of the most recognizable aromas in our lives,
along with peanut butter, chocolate, beer, and some non-foods.
My sister-in-law Jean used to make an amazing brisket recipe years ago. Everyone loved it. I asked her about it, and she hasn't made it for ages, but offered this:
"I think I sprinkled it lightly with pepper & garlic after I coated it with ketchup.  Then heavily put dried onion flakes and a lot of raw carrots. Seal in foil -- not heavy duty foil but the cheap stuff. Bake at 350 degrees till it smells good. Then add water periodically till it smells delicious and it’s done." 
When she gave people this recipe they were always puzzled, but then they tried it and said oh, I see what you mean about smelling delicious.

I was thinking about this recipe in contrast to the iPhone app that lets you write a set of instructions for those faddish Instant Pots. Via Bluetooth, you can command this over-designed device about timing and temperature -- but even a very smart pot has no sense of smell. No way could you program it to make Jean's brisket recipe. In my kitchen: no instant pot! I'll stick with my old slow cooker: it keeps smells in until you lift its lid, which by-the-way, you're not supposed to do.

Aromas play a big role in my kitchen and no doubt in all kitchens. Obviously, they help when cooking and they make us want to eat, but they do much more also. Some fruits don't produce a truly intense smell unless they are overripe, like peaches, which I love, or bananas, which I hate. We all know how foods smell if they aren't tip-top, like turned milk or aging fish or overcooked cabbage.

Then there are foods that just have a wonderful aromatic character, like the following examples from my kitchen. I hope you can almost smell these --

Cinnamon.
Peppermint -- this is also the time of year for red and white peppermint
candy canes, peppermint-and-chocolate coated cookies, etc.
Rose Water is incredibly aromatic.
Use more than a few drops and you'll regret it!
Caraway seeds, enlarged.
Sage from our garden, which I hung up to dry. Smells so nice!
All the allium family have a strong aroma, especially garlic and shallots.
Onions and garlic are essential for many recipes. I feel sorry for people
who are unable to eat them.
I love lemon! Citrus zest is very aromatic.
There's nothing like a whiff of of Thanksgiving dinner cooking in the oven. This year's Thanksgiving wasn't in my own kitchen,
but I'm including it anyway. We enjoyed preparing, cooking, smelling, and eating all the traditional foods this year.
At the end of each month, many bloggers of my online acquaintance post a collection of photos and descriptions of new or newly-employed ingredients and gadgets in their kitchens. It's near the gift-giving season, so kitchen gadgets are also in the news, such as that Instant Pot (a fad since last Christmas, still going) and the "smart fork" which tells you if you are taking too many bites per minute.

Pizza: first you smell the bubbling yeast as it dissolves.
Then the dough smells so good as it rises.
Finally herbs, tomato sauce, and garlic fill the
kitchen with delicious aromas as it bakes.
In my kitchen at the moment, nothing is new. During November, I cooked almost all of our dinners, but always using ingredients and equipment that I've used before, often for many years. I made a pumpkin stuffed with wheat berries for dinner guests who don't eat meat. I baked pizza from scratch (shown at right). I pan-fried steak; made tuna salad; toasted some cheese sandwiches; concocted chili from leftover meatloaf; and made many other meals. And I enjoyed Thanksgiving Day with everyone cooking dinner in Joel and Aparna's kitchen. But nothing new! So I decided to tell you what aromas, odors, and smells are in my kitchen.

One more thing about the blogger event titled "In My Kitchen" -- some of the participants openly review items they've been "given" by manufacturers in exchange for their supposedly objective opinion. Of course they almost always like what they obtain for free, but sadly, they never say how these gifts compare with other available products. As a result, one never knows if it's worth spending actual money on them. Some of these reviews are interesting, though a few bloggers are just shills, wanting something for nothing. About those blogs that exist only to get free stuff for the bloggers: I won't even look at them!

To see about all the great new things in my blogger friends' kitchens, check the list at Sherry's blog -- link here -- she posts news about her own kitchen each month, and many other bloggers add links to their "In My Kitchen" posts. It's fun to hear about new ingredients from people around the world including Australia, the US, Wales, and other interesting places.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

New Mona Lisa Items

Sighted in the Carnegie Museum Shop: paper models of heads belonging to famous art works. Had to have the Mona Lisa head.
I'm not sure I'll be opening and assembling this.
60 minute estimate is probably way too little time!
Notice that it says 169 multi-shape polygons,
put together with tabs and slots. I could see that the
ones at the shop were taped, suggesting that
this is not a project I want to do.

A book I've been meaning to read. 

This is almost wordless Wednesday, but I didn't quite stay entirely mute.

UPDATE: I read the book by Alexander Lernet-Holenia -- amusing fictional story about Leonardo and Mona Lisa, but not particularly enlightening or historically relevant.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Happy French Toast Day!


I can't imagine why we are celebrating this, but the announcements of this "holiday" made me want French Toast.

Monday, November 27, 2017

"Bad Rabbi"

The fat guy was named Martin "The Blimp" Levi. He weighed 600 to 700
pounds, and was a sensational wrestler. You can also learn about his promoter,
who specialized in publicity for all kinds of freaks. Wow!
Suppose you want to read news items about sensational divorces and bigamy cases, bizarre sports figures, petty but colorful crimes, tales of pimps or their victims, neighborhood brawls, violent murders and family fights, religious zealots trying to force others to obey their rules, anti-religious people fighting back, or other diverse facts? You'd go right to your favorite click-bait locale on the internet, right?

Suppose you want to read about the same types of mindless and entertaining stuff that happened in Jewish Warsaw or Jewish New York in the early part of the 20th century? You can go to Eddy Portnoy's recently published book Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press. Obviously, if you can read Yiddish, you can go find microfilms of the various Yiddish newspapers of that era for yourself, but how likely is that? I'm telling you: read Bad Rabbi! Nothing has changed except the language. And you'll enjoy the illustrations taken from the original papers.

Bad Rabbi offers all kinds of dirt that was dished by the resourceful journalists of New York and Warsaw. These stories were published alongside very serious journalism about society, politics, etc. in the Yiddish papers. Illicit lovers pushed their paramours out of windows. Fistfights broke out at ritual circumcisions, at weddings, and at other usually innocent events. A habitual criminal failed to steal a side of beef from a delivery truck because the delivery men chased him down the street. In 1929, we learn, all sorts of readers in Warsaw -- those who followed both the Yiddish and the Polish press -- were fascinated by the "Miss Judea" contest, eventually won by a girl named Zofia Oldak. A criminal who worked under the pseudonym Urke Nachalnik (meaning: "brazen master criminal") wrote a popular autobiography in 1933, and later wrote other successful works. For a while, he studied criminal lingo in documents at the pre-war version of YIVO, but he got in big trouble with his fellow criminals who thought he was betraying their secrets.

Sadly, as we read, we are often reminded of the coming fate of the Jews who stayed in Warsaw, but they didn't know what was coming. For example: "No one seemed to know what happened to Zofia Oldak. An octogenarian cousin of hers who lived near Tel Aviv said she couldn't remember if Oldak went to Australia or to Treblinka. But she was pretty sure Miss Judea ended up in one of those two places." (p. 142) And the criminal/linguist Urke Nachalnik joined the underground, tried to organize reprisals against the Nazis, and sabotaged rail lines to Treblinka. He "was eventually caught by the Germans in 1942 and as he was being led in shackles to his execution... he attacked his guard and nearby soldiers shot him to death." (p. 114) Another colorful character, it's said, "went up in smoke." Literally.

The Rabbinical divorce court in Warsaw was a popular place for journalists to uncover these sensational bits of human interest. For example, there's the story of Rivka Tsadik, who wanted a divorce because her husband didn't like her cooking: "If she cooks him potatoes and egg drop soup, he yells that he'd rather have potatoes and borsht. If she cooks him potatoes and borsht, he'd rather have potatoes and egg drop soup. In short, they start fighting and the husband eventually runs out of the house with an empty stomach." Rivka was willing to take an exam "to see if she can cook a good lunch or not." It seems that we'll never know if she passed her exam or not -- she went home to wait for the rabbis to call her back. (p. 159-160)

Bad Rabbi has lots of good blurbs by quite famous writers.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday: At the Carnegie Museum

A work of conceptual art: Mel Bochner's "Measurement: Plant (Palm) 1969."
Today we enjoyed several hours in the Carnegie Museum, where we particularly looked at the Renaissance art, the Impressionists, and quite a few rooms of modern art. The work titled "Measurement..." is made of black tape on a white wall. According to the documentation, this work exists "only as a set of directions when not on display." When it's time to display it, the directions are applied to the "architectural features of the display space."

Read it for yourself!

Besides seeing the works from the museum's very impressive permanent collections, we enjoyed two special exhibits:
Thornton Dial, detail from "The Soul of the Tiger," 1991.
Shown in the "20/20" exhibit.
  • "20/20: The Studio Museum in Harlem and Carnegie Museum of Art" which is at the museum from July 22 to December 31, 2017, described thus: "Conceived at a tumultuous and deeply divided moment in our nation’s history, 20/20 offers a metaphoric picture of America by mapping the many ways in which artists respond to the social and political conditions that shape our lives. Featuring a diverse array of makers, including many artists of color, the exhibition’s thematic sections consider our democratic ideals, histories of labor and economy, the social and physical landscapes of our country, spiritual introspection, and forms of resistance." (link)
  • "William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography" on view from November 18, 2017 to February 11, 2018. This exhibit shows 30 works from one of the inventors of photography. Talbot invented the process of producing multiple prints from a photographic negative. We were amused that he seemed to know every possible use for photography that still exists today. He made household inventories, photos of his kids, selfies (see the photo at right), nature and landscape photos, artistic photos, and more. (link)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

How to Cook for Thanksgiving: Vintage Ads Tell Us!

My mother did make pumpkin pie with canned pumpkin and Pet milk. She also made
a stellar apple pie, which I believe my sister is going to make for us on Thursday!

McCormick has been packaging and advertising spices since 1889.
Our family dinners long ago used most of these spices. Also now!
Most of us really don't much like pumpkin pie these days.
From 1902: another brand of seasoning. I found many ads for Thanksgiving
menu items on the web and in my old magazines. Most of the ads (except
this very old one) make me think of the Thanksgiving dinners of the
past and how our tastes have changed without giving up the classics.
This ad from 1924 illustrates how long American cooks have been making sweet
potato casserole topped with marshmallows. (Actually it started quite a bit earlier!)
My aunts used to make this for Thanksgiving, but we've moved on to a more
savory sweet potato recipe with garlic, cilantro, and no added sugar.
Another random ad from the internet.
Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce is an old-time
classic. Some time ago, I started making several cranberry
recipes from scratch instead of just slicing it up.
This ad could appear right now and no one would think anything of it.
Unless you are actually supposed to recognize the name Margaret Rudkin (google doesn't).
From our local food corporation, Chelsea Milling Company, comes the
corn muffin mix used in the Thanksgiving favorite corn casserole.
Jiffy Mixes aren't advertised much, so I didn't actually find an ad for this.
This ad really looks unappetizing -- and pathetic. Not so vintage, either.
I feel sorry for anyone who eats like this! We always make our own gravy.
I don't remember this classic green bean casserole as a family tradition,
but it sure does get a lot of attention in food histories and recipe collections.
Campbell's introduced it in 1955. It seems to have swept the Nation.
Whatever.
This ad really makes me sad, reminding me of how normal smoking once was.
My father smoked Camels for most of his life: until it was too late.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Starvation in the life of a slave

"Want of food was my chief trouble ... . I have often been so pinched with hunger as to dispute with old 'Nep,' the dog, for the crumbs which fell from the kitchen table. Many times have I followed, with eager step, the waiting-girl when she shook the table-cloth, to get the crumbs and small bones flung out for the dogs and cats. It was a great thing to have the privilege of dipping a piece of bread into the water in which meat had been boiled, and the skin taken from the rusty bacon was a positive luxury." (p. 13) 
So wrote Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) about his first experience as a slave child of around 8 years old. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass was the last of three autobiographical works by this remarkable thinker and leader in the times leading up to the Civil War.

Douglass was separated from his mother as an infant, and recalls
that the last time she came to see him she tried to see that he
would receive a better portion of food.
As I read, Douglass's description of his life as a child and young man in slavery in Maryland in the early part of the 19th century seemed somewhat as familiar material. I think this is because anyone who has subsequently about slavery must have this amazing account in mind. He offers not only a description of the horrifying treatment he received at the hands of his owners (and in particular at the hands of a man whose specialty was breaking the will of young slaves by being their temporary master).  He also offers an account of his own mental process of grappling with exactly what it meant to him, even as a small child, to be owned

The determination to read (which was illegal) and Douglass's use of reading to gain insight about his position are very fascinating. Later, when he was an effective orator in the cause of abolition, his first-hand descriptions of his experience in slavery and all its evils were an important influence on public opinion of slavery, which wasn't always as negative as we might now expect. He also documented the terrible racism that was prevalent in both South and North, and how it affected him.

Descriptions of how he chose to take the extreme risk of fleeing to the North, and to freedom, are enlightening, no matter how much one has already read about slavery. In 1838, his efforts were successful; his feelings are thus described:
"During ten or fifteen years I had, as it were, been dragging a heavy chain which no strength of mine could break. I was not only a slave, but a slave for life. I might become a husband, a father, an aged man, but through all, from the cradle to the grave, I had felt myself doomed. All efforts I had previously made to secure my freedom, had not only failed, but had seemed only to rivet my fetters the more firmly and to render my escape more difficult. Baffled, entangled and discouraged, I had at times asked myself the question, May not my condition after all be God's work and ordered for a wise purpose, and if so, was not submission my duty? A contest had in fact been going on in my mind for a long time, between the clear consciousness of right and the plausible make-shifts of theology and superstition. The one held me an abject slave--a prisoner for life, punished for some transgression in which I had no lot or part; the other counseled me to manly endeavor to secure my freedom. This contest was now ended; my chains were broken, and the victory brought me unspeakable joy." (p. 162). 
The use of hunger as one of the many ways of humiliating and subjugating human beings was something I had not contemplated, though I guess there's not much that could actually shock me about slavery. Douglass is insistent on the way that slavery corrupted both masters and slaves: "Everybody in the South seemed to want the privilege of whipping somebody else." (p. 21).

There's too much in the book for me to write a full review, and though it's new to me, it's obviously not at all a new book. So I'm going to offer one long passage that illustrates how Douglass worked on his audience: in contrast to the near-starvation he experienced, he gives this view of the life of the master:
"THE close-fisted stinginess that fed the poor slave on coarse corn-meal and tainted meat, that clothed him in crashy tow-linen and hurried him on to toil through the field in all weathers, with wind and rain beating through his tattered garments, and that scarcely gave even the young slave-mother time to nurse her infant in the fence-corner, wholly vanished on approaching the sacred precincts of the "Great House" itself. ... The table of this house groaned under the blood-bought luxuries gathered with pains-taking care at home and abroad. Fields, forests, rivers, and seas were made tributary. Immense wealth and its lavish expenditures filled the Great House with all that could please the eye or tempt the taste. Fish, flesh, and fowl were here in profusion. Chickens of all breeds; ducks of all kinds, wild and tame, the common and the huge Muscovite; Guinea fowls, turkeys, geese and pea-fowls; all were fat and fattening for the destined vortex. Here the graceful swan, the mongrel, the black-necked wild goose, partridges, quails, pheasants, pigeons and choice waterfowl, with all their strange varieties, were caught in this huge net. Beef, veal, mutton, and venison, of the most select kinds and quality, rolled in bounteous profusion to this grand consumer. The teeming riches of the Chesapeake Bay, its rock perch, drums, crocus, trout, oysters, crabs, and terrapin were drawn hither to adorn the glittering table. The dairy, too, the finest then on the eastern shore of Maryland, supplied by cattle of the best English stock, imported for the express purpose, poured its rich donations of fragrant cheese, golden butter, and delicious cream to heighten the attractions of the gorgeous, unending round of feasting. Nor were the fruits of the earth overlooked. The fertile garden, many acres in size, constituting a separate establishment distinct from the common farm, with its scientific gardener direct from Scotland, a Mr. McDermott, and four men under his direction, was not behind, either in the abundance or in the delicacy of its contributions. The tender asparagus, the crispy celery, and the delicate cauliflower, egg plants, beets, lettuce, parsnips, peas, and French beans, early and late; radishes, cantelopes, melons of all kinds; and the fruits of all climes and of every description, from the hardy apples of the north to the lemon and orange of the south, culminated at this point. Here were gathered figs, raisins, almonds, and grapes from Spain, wines and brandies from France, teas of various flavor from China, and rich, aromatic coffee from Java, all conspiring to swell the tide of high life, where pride and indolence lounged in magnificence and satiety." (pp. 34-35). 

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass is one of the books on the list by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the article: "Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War" (in the Atlantic dated November 1, 2017). Of the passage above, Coates says: "The chapter depicting the bounty of food on which the enslavers feasted while the enslaved nearly starved is just devastating."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday Night Supper: Meatloaf

Meatloaf is something I rarely make, but tonight I decided to do it. I also made green beans with mushrooms.
I was thinking of meatballs, but I decided to find and follow a real meatloaf recipe!
I chose the recipe in the Dooky Chase Cookbook by Leah Chase.
I substituted red bell pepper for green pepper, and keffir for Pet milk.
Otherwise I made the recipe pretty much as it appears on the page above.
It's hard to take a photo of a meatloaf in a baking dish! But it was quite tasty.
Leah Chase's restaurant in New Orleans is famous for its cooking, as well as for having
been a gathering place for Civil Rights activists over the years. I've written about her,
about the cookbook, and about the restaurant before.