Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Who was Svengali?

A Svengali is "a person who manipulates or exerts excessive control over another." Curious about the history of this intriguing and rather unusual word, I looked it up and learned that Svengali was a character  in the novel Trilby by George Du Maurier (published 1894). Subsequently the novel was made into several stage plays and movies. The dictionary explains:
I read the Oxford World's Classics edition, which
is unabridged and highly annotated.
"Svengali's maleficent powers of persuasion made such an impression on the reading public that by 1919 his name was being used generically as a term for any wickedly manipulative individual." (Merriam-Webster definition)
Curious about the origin of this intriguing word, I decided to read the novel. What I did not expect: Du Maurier's creation Svengali is a casually antisemitic portrayal of an Eastern European Jew, with a stereotyped appearance, problematic personality, strong accent in both English and French, and lack of humanity. These hateful features were typical of antisemitic writings of the late 19th century, and you may recognize them because they are being reactivated by modern violent white supremacists in our society right now.

I found it very painful to read this book. It was agonizingly familiar to see such descriptions as they were over a century ago and as they are returning to public discourse now. In fact, I regretted deciding to read it. However, because I have done so, I feel that I should look carefully at these stereotypes. First, there's the appearance of Svengali:
"He was very shabby and dirty, and wore a red beret and a large velveteen cloak, with a big metal clasp at the collar. His thick, heavy, languid, lustreless black hair fell down behind his ears to his shoulders, in that musician-like way that is so offensive to the normal Englishman. He had bold, brilliant black eyes, with long heavy lids, a thin, sallow face, and a beard of burnt-up black, which grew almost from under his eyelids; and over it his moustache, a shade lighter, fell in two long spiral twists." (p. 11).
His face and his attitude both bore out these stereotypes: "He was so fond of making fun of others that he particularly resented being made fun of himself— couldn’t endure that any one should ever have the laugh of him." (p. 19). Not to mention his "long, thick, shapely Hebrew nose" (p. 240) and "bold, black, beady Jew’s eyes." (p. 44).

And his devious and disgusting ways: "And here let me say that these vicious imaginations of Svengali’s, which look so tame in English print, sounded much more ghastly in French, pronounced with a Hebrew-German accent, and uttered in his hoarse, rasping, nasal, throaty rook’s caw, his big yellow teeth baring themselves in a mongrel canine snarl, his heavy upper eyelids drooping over his insolent black eyes." (p. 92).

Many features of the character Svengali, especially his skill in manipulating the innocent Trilby, heroine of the novel, were already commonplace racial slurs in the 1890s and have never gone away. By association, Jews were under attack at the time: two notable contemporary events were the Dreyfus affair in France (1894-1906) and the rise of the antisemite Christian Democrats under leader Karl Lueger in Vienna during that decade. Pushback was also beginning, for example the novel Children of the Ghetto by Isidore Zangwill (1892-93) and The Jewish State by Theodore Hertzl (published 1895), but it didn't stop the haters. Antisemitism in word and deed inspired Hitler who was born in 1889 and very much partook of the hatred of Jews expressed in word and deed during the late 19th century.

But let's return to Trilby! Most of the novel is actually dedicated to the irresponsible, self-indulgent, possibly appealing, and also very stereotyped antics of a few British/Scottish aristocrats and would-be artists. The author is flippant and sometimes condescending about the characters, who are living a bohemian life in Paris in the 1850s. There are many interesting cultural references to popular poems, foods, and habits: without the racism it would be fun to read and learn what was popular then. (Of course the racism IS part of that era's popular culture.) Trilby was kind of a historical novel about the era previous to when it was written -- though the author says outright that he's not seriously interested in historical accuracy because "history is always repeating itself." (p. 165).

Svengali joins this circle of friends, which also includes Trilby, the beautiful and open-hearted girl who gives the novel its name. Trilby works as an artist's model, a specialty laundress who washes fine clothing, and perhaps as a kind of 19th century version of an escort. One of the artistic circle, a very talented young man called Little Bilee, would like to marry her, but she knows she's beneath his family's expectations, and his mother shows up and puts a stop to it. Most of the book concentrates on the comic antics of the Englishmen, and on the tragic doomed love of Little Bilee and Trilby.

More than halfway thorough the  book, the break-up with Little Bilee drives Trilby into the clutches of Svengali. Surprisingly, there is really not that much detail about the process by which Svengali overwhelms the character of Trilby and creates in her a musical sensation of extraordinary popularity; it's not at all a psychological thriller, though the book's subsequent reputation makes it seem so.

Svengali and Trilby, illustration by the author.
Under the mesmerizing spell of Svengali, Trilby's singing conquers audiences in virtually all the major concert venues in Europe, singing as she stares into his evil eyes. Only in the last few pages does the reader learn how his hypnotic skill controlled her and forced her to perform far beyond her almost non-existent talents. Finally the reader understands why her magic singing took place in a trance which she could not recall while awake.

In any case, when Svengali dies of a heart attack in mid-concert, she's unable to perform any more. Obviously, she dies tragically. (This is a spoiler but you aren't going to read the book anyway.)

Mostly, the book stresses the lighter -- one might say trivial -- side of life. The members of Trilby's circle of self-indulgent Englishmen especially love the famous and wonderful food of Paris. A few examples from the many food descriptions in Trilby:
Cooking in the apartment in Paris where the Englishmen live: "Near the stove hung a gridiron, a frying-pan, a toasting-fork, and a pair of bellows. In an adjoining glazed corner cupboard were plates and glasses, black-handled knives, pewter spoons, and three-pronged steel forks; a salad-bowl, vinegar cruets, an oil-flask, two mustard-pots (English and French), and such like things— all scrupulously clean." (p. 4).
Dining out: "If it was decently fine, the most of them went off to dine at the Restaurant de la Couronne ... Good distending soups, omelettes that were only too savoury, lentils, red and white beans, meat so dressed and sauced and seasoned that you didn’t know whether it was beef or mutton— flesh, fowl, or good red herring— or even bad, for that matter— nor very greatly cared. And just the same lettuce, radishes, and cheese of Gruyère or Brie as you got at the Trois Frères Provençaux (but not the same butter!). And to wash it all down, generous wine in wooden brocs — that stained a lovely aesthetic blue everything it was spilled over.." (p. 25). 
Strolling on the streets of Paris: "Then, still arm-in-arm and chatting gaily, across the courtyard of the Louvre, through gilded gates well guarded by reckless imperial Zouaves, up the arcaded Rue de Rivoli as far as the Rue Castiglione, where they would stare with greedy eyes at the window of the great corner pastry-cook, and marvel at the beautiful assortment of bonbons, pralines, dragées, marrons glacés— saccharine, crystalline substances of all kinds and colours, as charming to look at as an illumination; precious stones, delicately-frosted sweets, pearls and diamonds so arranged as to melt in the mouth; especially, at this particular time of the year, the monstrous Easter-eggs of enchanting hue, enshrined like costly jewels in caskets of satin and gold...." (p. 26). 
French pastry, including Madeleines mentioned decades before Proust's famous passage: "The cakes were of three kinds— Babas, Madeleines, and Savarins— three sous apiece, fourpence-halfpenny the set of three. No nicer cakes are made in France, and they are as good in the Quartier Latin as anywhere else; no nicer cakes are made in the whole world, that I know of. You must begin with the Madeleine, which is rich and rather heavy; then the Baba; and finish up with the Savarin, which is shaped like a ring, very light, and flavoured with rum. And then you must really leave off." (p. 58).
Back in London, still wishing for French food: "First of all they dined together at a delightful little Franco-Italian pothouse near Leicester Square, where they had bouillabaisse (imagine the Laird’s delight), and spaghetti, and a poulet rôti, which is such a different affair from a roast fowl! and salad, which Taffy was allowed to make and mix himself; and they all smoked just where they sat, the moment they had swallowed their food— as had been their way in the good old Paris days." (p. 161). 
Trilby is a very weak novel compared to works of other authors who wrote about society and social issues in the 19th century; for example, Zola, George Eliot, and Dickens. It's quite understandable that Trilby has pretty much been forgotten, except for the character Svengali. The antisemitism in the novel is even more painful when you consider how Du Maurier didn't really expect readers to take anything seriously, not the characters, not the thoughtlessly hateful attitudes, and not the mistreatment of little Trilby.

NOTE: A few interesting articles about the impact of the character Svengali:
This blog post copyright © Mae Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com
and for hero-or-antihero.blogspot.com
If you are reading this at a different website or at a different host than blogspot, you are reading a stolen version.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Julia Child: The Last Interview

"Well, we don't have an average viewer. We have people who want to learn how to cook, which is quite different from people who just want to be amused by cooking. But our shows are definitely teaching shows, and they're not going to look at a teaching show unless they're interested in the subject. I don't think -- at least, I would direct myself to people who want to learn to cook. And that's quite different than just being, having fun." -- Julia Child in an interview on June 25, 1999. From Julia Child: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, p. 134.
Loving Julia Child as I do, I was interested to read this slender book of interviews conducted at various times during her career as a cookbook author. I photographed my copy in front of the shelf with a few of my other Julia Child books. I've been using these books for my entire life as a cook.

The quote above is, to me, a perfect explanation of how Julia Child's approach to TV differed from that of the Food Network, and by extension differs from almost all food shows on any network right now. Child's personality was always so strong that one forgets that her main force was as a teacher, and that was how she always identified herself throughout the interviews.

A number of topics came up in the several interviews dating from 1961 through 2004. These included Child's political views, her work in the Far East for the US government during World War II, her very loving and admiring feelings for her husband Paul Child, and of course many memories of her creation of a new kind of cooking show, beginning in 1963 and continuing for nearly 40 years. 

I suspect that biographers -- who have written quite a few volumes about Child -- used these interviews, because I found much (maybe most) of the material to be pretty familiar. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the book. I would especially recommend it to a reader who has enjoyed Child's cookbooks or reruns of her many TV shows, but who hasn't read biographies of her. I also recommend her own memoir, My Life in France (published posthumously in 2006).

This blog post copyright © 2019 by Mae E. Sander for mae's food blog.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Friday, October 11, 2019

Baking at Zingerman’s

Zingerman's Bakehouse offers over 70 classes on how to bake almost everything.
They host the classes in very beautiful classrooms in this building, near the outdoor
seating area where you can drink coffee and eat pastry from the retail bakery.
In the classroom Len and other students were preparing for the rye bread class, which lasted 4 hours.
A wonderfully well-equipped space for learning to bake!

Nikki, the instructor.


Lots of bread and other good things for sale in the bakery, which is
definitely one of the most famous places in Ann Arbor!
Specialty bakeries that combine traditional ingredients and methods with reasonable innovations have been growing in popularity for the last 25 or 30 years. Zingerman's Bakehouse started in 1992. and was definitely a leader in the trend away from boring soft white bread! Just this week, the Guardian had a long article, "Flour power: meet the bread heads baking a better loaf" by Wendell Steavenson about current research that may lead to better bread by developing better wheat.


At the end of class, participants take home their bakes: two loaves of onion rye, two loaves of pumpernickel, and
a flatbread called Vorterkaker, which is a Norwegian 100% rye.

For our dinner: open-faced sandwiches on the three breads.
Vorterkaker with cream cheese and cilantro sprigs. Pumpernickel with butter, tomato, and smoked salmon.
Onion rye with butter and hard-boiled egg slices. What great breads!
Although he's tried quite a few bread recipes and has been making bread frequently, Len found this class enjoyable and a good learning experience. Classes at Zingerman's are very popular and sell out quickly. Some of Len's fellow students had taken classes there before: one had taken over 20 classes! For more information see the class description of "Rockin' Rye Bread" on Zingerman's website.

This blog post © 2019, maefood dot blogspot dot com.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Kwame Onwuachi's "Notes from a Young Black Chef"

"At that time [1946, when the Culinary Institute of America was founded] being a chef was still a vocation, a blue-collar trade not unlike that of welder or electrician. Chefs were not seen as artists. It took nearly fifty years for cooking to become the exalted career it is today." (Notes from a Young Black Chef, p. 152)
From Newsweek right now, an article on Kwame Onwuachi.
The book is a current best-seller. (Photo from the article.)
Is cooking an exalted and artistic career? Or is it still a trade, a type of skilled manual labor? In the opinion of Kwame Onwuachi, a chef who has reached the peaks of achievement on food TV and in the restaurant business, there's no question at all that his profession requires artistic creation of the first order. Notes from a Young Black Chef, his bestselling memoir, explains how he reached these heights swiftly and despite the major obstacles of poverty and racism.

The type of food that's best-loved on the Food Network was Onwuachi's goal from his childhood in New York, when he loved to watch cooking contests on TV. At age 10, he was deprived of TV and all his urban life because his mother sent him to live with his father's family in rural Nigeria for around 2 years; among other things, he learned about Nigerian cooking. Although his parents were well-educated, his mother struggled to make a living as a caterer, and once he returned home to New York, he joined the kids from one of the tough and difficult "projects."

During high school and in a doomed few months at college, Onwuachi dealt drugs to make money. In an effort to get away from this environment he joined his mother, who by then had moved to New Orleans. There he worked low-end, poorly paid cooking jobs; to make more money, he took a job cooking for the crew on an oil-slick-clean-up boat in the Gulf. His goal was always to return to New York to establish a high-end catering business and to excel as a creator of fine food. He credits his mother with helping him launch his catering operation, and then he kept it going to earn the money to attend the Culinary Institute of America. As part of the CIA curriculum, he was an apprentice at Per Se, probably the most famous restaurant in New York, owned by famous chef Thomas Keller.

Onwuachi presents the descriptions of his early life and early success in a clear-headed and coherent way, sticking to two themes. First, everything he experienced contributed to his love of food and his dedication to the idea of being a chef of the type he saw on TV, a creative chef who combined food trends into incredible high-end menus with unusual and very expensive ingredients. Second, whenever he tried to enter the world of food and restaurant cooking, he experienced prejudice and outright hostility because he was a black man.

As you may know, I have read many food memoirs and other memoirs as well. Compared to many of them, Onwuachi presents his story with a very interesting "sense of urgency" (a term he quoted from Thomas Keller). I wasn't entirely surprised at the ugly bigotry he often encountered from gate keepers to culinary success, who often stated that the only appropriate food for a black chef to cook is the food of black people, whether from the American South or from Africa. I find especially depressing the un-surprising portrayal of racism in the kitchens of fine dining establishments. A major example of this racism occurred when Onwuachi called out a racist word used by a fellow employee at Per Se and was told "black people don't eat here anyway." After the book's publication, Per Se denied this (not too convincingly) to the New York Times. (source)

The author's life story is very similar to many stories of kids who grow up in disadvantaged areas of New York, with parents who struggle to get by, like his mother, and parents who are abusive and distant, like his father. So for me, there were many chapters that frankly seemed a bit boring, as if I had read it before.

That said, the author's success at getting funding for a very upscale and extremely expensive restaurant in Washington, D.C., was impressive. His qualifications at the time were sketchy, but he managed to find financing. I was a little suspicious that there was more to the story than I read in the book, as he says that the financial backers of the restaurant told him they had unlimited money -- who does that!? In any case, the restaurant ran out of money so quickly that it was only serving meals for 11 weeks.

This fiasco was the last thing covered by the memoir. According to updates in the reviews and the many other articles about him, Onwuachi ended up poor but with a fantastic reputation that enabled him to receive several major honors. He did manage to have his own restaurant. And all in the short time since he completed the book.

I'll close with a quote that captures for me the complex and ambiguous nature of Onwuachi's success. He was filling out an application to work at another famous New York restaurant: Craft owned by chef Tom Colicchio:
"It was a standard application, but aside from biographical information... the last question was 'If there was one dish you could eat right now, what would it be?' ... I knew it was a loaded question. What did I want to eat, and how honest did I want to be about it? What I really wanted was the comforting warmth of my mom's gumbo. The last time she cooked for me was a farewell feast the last night before I left Louisiana. Her small apartment kitchen in New Orleans was filled with the pepper-tinged seafood smell of gumbo, the faintly chlorinated scent of shrimp, and the spicy meatiness of andouille. But that's not what I wrote. 
"Instead, I came up with the most sophisticated and fancy-sounding combination of ingredients I could. Drawing on the knowledge gleaned from years of watching cooking shows and reading food magazines, from the menus of the places I had been that summer, I wrote: 'Foie gras crostini with white truffle and black garlic.'" (p. 140-141)
It's a reasonably good book, though considering all the similar ones I've read, I really can't quite understand why it's such a terrific best seller! Or why this particular memoir has been chosen as an upcoming movie. I'm glad it is the selection for the next meeting of my culinary reading group, and I'm looking forward to the discussion next week.

This review is © 2019 Mae Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com. 
 If you read this elsewhere it's been stolen.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Ford Lake, Ypsilanti

Another beautiful photo by Evelyn. © 2019 

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Lunch at Slurping Turtle

On a football Saturday in Ann Arbor, you have to be very mindful of the huge crowds and traffic. We thought it would
be safe to go with our guests to Slurping Turtle restaurant and sushi bar -- as long as we walked both ways!
The game was about to start, so things were very quiet when we got to the restaurant.


All the food was delicious --

Fried dumplings.
Poke made from ahi tuna, avocado, rice, and flavorings.
Stir fry with rice batons and tofu.
A pork bun.

Walking home...

A brief stop to visit the mammoths at the Natural History
Museum. These skeletons were found in Michigan, where
there were once large numbers of these now-extinct animals. 
"The Rock"
Thanks to Evelyn for taking all these great photos of our lunch and our visit. We're so happy to have Evelyn, Tom, Miriam, and Alice here for the weekend! Although we aren't big football fans, we're glad that Michigan won today.

Friday, October 04, 2019

"Meathooked" by Marta Zaraska

"From our earliest days on the Paleolithic savanna, when our ancestors were showing off their kills to form alliances and gain social position, meat has always stood for luxury and for riches." (Meathooked, p. 112)

Do you want to learn about the history of creatures eating other creatures' flesh? From the earliest single-cell creatures to modern omnivores and herbivores? Marta Zaraska's book Meathooked: The History and Science of our 2.5-Million Year Obsession with Meat (published 2016) covers this huge time span. It seems highly relevant to this week's blockbuster news about food -- that meat eaters might not be taking risks as big as they've thought up to now. (For a summary see: Is eating beef healthy...)

My impression of this book: it's half good and half not so interesting. I'm sorry to say that I wasn't impressed much by the earlier chapters covering the first one-celled organisms that started eating each other and then quickly moving onward with the role of meat in human evolution. The author provides much information about the ways that a vegetarian or even in some cases a vegan diet can provide fine nutrition, and that meat-heavy diets can cause various health problems (obviously a few years ago when the author was writing, this was the mainstream view). But there's kind of a boring side to the way she makes her point. There are many many books that do a better job with this subject.

The later chapters were much more interesting, because the author tried to understand why humans love meat so much, and she especially explored the reasons why the vast and varied efforts to promote vegetarian diets have failed in America and in Europe ever since the earliest efforts in the 19th century. Her main point was that promoters of vegetarianism like Sylvester Graham and John Harvey Kellogg also hated strong tastes and made sure that the diets they proposed were very uninteresting to eat. Vegetables and grains were overcooked and spices were prohibited along with meat. And she repeatedly points out -- MEAT TASTES GOOD!!

Throughout the world today, more and more meat is being consumed: Meathooked has very interesting chapters on how and why this transition is happening. In China the rate of increase is enormous. Even in India with its tradition of a plant-based diet, more and more of the rising middle class are choosing to eat meat, even eating beef (which they sometimes say is water buffalo not sacred cow meat). Rising Indian technology workers and other educated Indians are rejecting the traditional food although it's almost ideal for complete protein without meat, and the taste is great -- "vegetables stewed with spices were served on scented rice, followed by dishes of flavored curd, saffron caramel, and sweet cakes with pomegranates and mangoes." (p. 121)

The health of the planet is very much a matter of concern in the final chapters of Meathooked. The author could easily be working with the current protest movement against the vast human activities that are accelerating disastrous climate change. The way she puts it is that if the growth of meat consumption continues as it seems to be going, we'll need another planet to grow the feed and raise the animals that are required to feed everyone on earth the amount of meat that Americans now consume.
Blog post copyright © 2019 Mae E. Sander for maefood dot blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Two Authors' Stories: Haruki Murakami and Ocean Vuong

This week I read two autobiographical works: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, a novel by Ocean Vuong, a writer whose career has just begun, and "Abandoning a Cat: Memories of my father,"
by Haruki Murakami, the extremely famous author of at least 30 well-received publications. Murakami is seventy years old. Vuong is thirty, and has published only one other work, a volume of poetry.

I have been reading Murakami's novels and stories for many years, quite a few in The New Yorker where this new work was just published. I eagerly await each new Murakami novel, and have read many of them as soon as they became available. I have just heard of Ocean Vuong because he received a MacArthur grant this week.

Illustration for "Abandoning a Cat: Memories of my father,"
by Haruki Murakami, The New Yorker, September 30, 2019.
Murakami writes in the genre known as magical realism, which he does in his own unique way. "Abandoning a Cat," however, is a completely realistic autobiographical sketch about his relationship with his parents and his early life. It documents his efforts to understand his father, who was a soldier in World War II, and who participated in some of the Japanese wartime activities that are now seen as shameful. Murakami describes what he knows in a very matter of fact way, not elaborating on the judgement of history, only on his own childhood memories. Consider this:
"My father had been studying, no doubt conscientiously, to become a priest. But a simple clerical error had turned him into a soldier. He went through brutal basic training, was handed a Type 38 rifle, placed on a troop-transport ship, and sent off to the fearsome battles at the front. His unit was constantly on the move, clashing with Chinese troops and guerrillas who put up a fierce resistance. In every way imaginable, this was the opposite of life in a peaceful temple in the Kyoto hills. He must have suffered tremendous mental confusion and spiritual turmoil. In the midst of all that, writing haiku may have been his sole consolation. Things he never could have written in his letters, or they wouldn’t have made it past the censors, he put into the form of haiku—expressing himself in a symbolic code, as it were—where he was able to honestly bare his true feelings.
"My father talked to me about the war only once, when he told me a story about how his unit had executed a captured Chinese soldier. I don’t know what prompted him to tell me this. It happened so long ago that it’s an isolated memory, the context unclear. I was still in the lower grades in elementary school. He related matter-of-factly how the execution had taken place. Though the Chinese soldier knew that he was going to be killed, he didn’t struggle, didn’t show any fear, but just sat there quietly with his eyes closed. And he was decapitated. The man’s attitude was exemplary, my father told me. He seemed to have deep feelings of respect for the Chinese soldier. I don’t know if he had to watch as other soldiers in his unit carried out the execution, or if he himself was forced to play a direct role. There’s no way now to determine whether this is because my memory is hazy, or whether my father described the incident in intentionally vague terms. But one thing is clear: the experience left feelings of anguish and torment that lingered for a long time in the soul of this priest turned soldier."


Vuong's novel is highly poetic, but everything in it is very real. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is written in the form of a letter to Vuong's mother, a Vietnamese immigrant to the US.  He offers her rather detailed descriptions of his adolescent sexual experiences with another boy, and how he felt years later when that boy died of a drug overdose. He writes:
"They have a pill for it. They have an industry. They make millions. Did you know people get rich off of sadness? I want to meet the millionaire of American sadness. I want to look him in the eye, shake his hand, and say, 'It’s been an honor to serve my country.'"  (p. 232). 
Vuong talks quite a lot about the terrible damage that addictive painkillers were doing to his community, both immigrants and long-term Americans. He also depicts the poverty and desperation of his mother and grandmother, such as his mother's painful job as a manicurist in a Vietnamese nail salon. Consider this:
"The salon is also a kitchen where, in the back rooms, our women squat on the floor over huge woks that pop and sizzle over electric burners, cauldrons of phở simmer and steam up the cramped spaces with aromas of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, mint, and cardamom mixing with formaldehyde, toluene, acetone, Pine-Sol, and bleach. A place where folklore, rumors, tall tales, and jokes from the old country are told, expanded, laughter erupting in back rooms the size of rich people’s closets, then quickly lulled into an eerie, untouched quiet. It’s a makeshift classroom where we arrive, fresh off the boat, the plane, the depths, hoping the salon would be a temporary stop— until we get on our feet, or rather, until our jaws soften around English syllables— bend over workbooks at manicure desks, finishing homework for nighttime ESL classes that cost a quarter of our wages." (pp. 99-100).
Murakami addresses his millions of readers, informing them of his background which he can be sure they want to know. Vuong addresses only his mother, hoping that he can make her understand two things about him: what it means to him to be a writer, and what it means to him to be a gay man. Murakami assumes that his millions of readers will understand him. I think Vuong fears that his mother will not understand him; however, since his book is "a novel" he tacitly assumes that another audience is reading and learning about his life and his pain.

Murakami has many memories of his father, though many of the memories are incomplete or paradoxical. Vuong has almost none:
"I remember walking with you to the grocery store, my father’s wages in your hands. How, by then, he had beaten you only twice— which meant there was still hope it would be the last. I remember armfuls of Wonder Bread and jars of mayo, how you thought mayo was butter, how in Saigon, butter and white bread were only eaten inside mansions guarded by butlers and steel gates. I remember everyone smiling back at the apartment, mayonnaise sandwiches raised to cracked lips. I remember thinking we lived in a sort of mansion." (p. 246). 
I appreciated the open and direct way that these two authors shared their lives with readers. It is sheer coincidence that I read both works in the same week, but somehow I find that they resonate in my mind as revealing much more than I would think I could understand about two men so utterly different from me.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

A Retro Dinner: Beef Stroganoff

"Public health officials for years have urged Americans to limit consumption of red meat and processed meats because of concerns that these foods are linked to heart disease, cancer and other ills.  
 "But on Monday, in a remarkable turnabout, an international collaboration of researchers produced a series of analyses concluding that the advice, a bedrock of almost all dietary guidelines, is not backed by good scientific evidence." -- New York Times, Sept. 30, 2019
It's been a while since I wrote a blog post about cooking a meal. Here's a quick description of a recent dinner, meat and all -- just in time for the startling revelation that red meat isn't nearly as risky for health we've been hearing for years. Unfortunately the evidence that meat may be bad for the health of the planet still stands.

Beef stroganoff is a dish I haven't made for a while, though I used to do it
often. In fact, I guess I must have done it many times because I seemed to
remember each step of the way, beginning with sautéed onions & mushrooms.
I decided to broil the meat to save time and limit the grease spatters on the stove.
The newly published research that eating red meat doesn't increase your
odds of sickness or death is nice to hear!
Using some home-made stock and seasonings, I made a brown gravy for the
mushrooms and onions, added the meat, and garnished with sour cream.
While it was quite tasty, it didn't quite make a photogenic presentation.
The side dish, roasted delicata squash with rosemary, was a bit more presentable.

I have to consider the following reason, stated in the article on this new research, why we should decrease beef consumption:
"Questions of personal health do not even begin to address the environmental degradation caused worldwide by intensive meat production. Meat and dairy are big contributors to climate change, with livestock production accounting for about 14.5 percent of the greenhouse gases that humans emit worldwide each year 
"Beef in particular tends to have an outsized climate footprint, partly because of all the land needed to raise cattle and grow feed, and partly because cows belch up methane, a potent greenhouse gas. 
"Researchers have estimated that, on average, beef has about five times the climate impact of chicken or pork, per gram of protein. Plant-based foods tend to have an even smaller impact."
Much additional material has been published about these studies since I wrote this last night, and much more is likely to be said. An editorial in the journal summarized the articles very clearly in scientific but non-technical terms:
https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2752329/meat-consumption-health-food-thought 

This blog post and photos © 2019 Mae E. Sander for mae's food blog

Monday, September 30, 2019

Our Kitchen at the End of Summer

Who remembers drinking from jelly glasses?

This caramel mousse from Costco comes in re-usable drinking glasses. I haven't seen such a thing in ages, but here it is in my kitchen, along with a variety of produce and a few other things that seemed special this month. 

I'm sharing this post about my September kitchen with Australian blogger Sherry, who hosts a collection of links to blog posts from all over the world telling about our various kitchens: 

Maybe the last plums and peaches...


Though it's late for these fruits, I found a few plums, peaches, green heirloom zebra tomatoes, and sweet peppers at the Argus Farm Stop consignment market where farmers bring their produce. Will we find them even one more time? Or will we be eating only autumn and winter vegetables?

Also from Argus: garlic, bacon, broccoli, and lettuce --

I love the garlic from the local garlic farms.
Bacon that was raised and smoked at a farm near us, and frisée lettuce.
Crisp bacon, frisée lettuce, and tomatoes make a great salad.
Broccoli, egg, and pepper salad with not-so-local olives.
After a few days we ate all the produce, and went back for more. This time besides tomatoes (red), peaches, plums and
peppers, we chose delicata squash, apples, and pears. But we know the summer isn't going to last forever.



Baking...

Pull-apart cinnamon rolls inspired by Bread Week on the 2019 Great
British Baking Show where they did a variety of pull-apart breads.
Len made these because I love them!
Another pull apart: dinner rolls with a combination of black & white sesame seeds.
Len also baked sourdough bread several times. Delicious (though not new).
I've finally settled on a pancake recipe using the sourdough discard. It can
be made sweet or savory. Pancakes in the photo were stuffed with cheese.
I also made a batch with roasted corn and peppers.

On the Refrigerator...

Following my usual habit, I came back from California with a few magnets and post cards.
They will adorn the refrigerator for a few weeks, then I'll move on to some other decoration.

Best Meals in September...

Our most ambitious meals this month did not come from our own kitchen.
We ate them during our trip to California. In this photo:
local sand dabs, a flatfish from the waters of Half Moon Bay.
Also delicious: fish tacos with guacamole, rice, and black beans.
Beyond the dinner plate you can see the shells of Monterey oysters that we
ate as an appetizer. Wonderful!

AND the year 5780 starts today:



All photos and text in this post are copyright © 2019 by mae's food blog: maefood dot blogspot dot com. 
If you read this elsewhere it's been pirated.