Wednesday, April 24, 2019

"Ritz & Escoffier"

A ritzy affair... puttin' on the ritz... OK it's not the Ritz... the name "Ritz" means luxury: the most extreme and showy type of luxury. The words ritz and ritzy convey an attitude as well as a sense of high living. A very nice word for this Wordy Wednesday!

In the high-living era of the 1890s, César Ritz (1850–1918) created a new concept in luxurious hotel living, and his name became synonymous with this grand style -- inspiring the creation of this word. Ritz's partner, Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) was responsible for the food at Ritz's most famous hotels: first the Savoy in London, owned by the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844 -1901); second the Ritz in Paris which he owned; and third, the Carleton Hotel in London. All three hotels provided new thrills for their extremely wealthy and often titled clientele, the high-living international upper classes of the last decade of the 19th century -- the famous or maybe notorious fin de siècle.

Ritz and Escoffier: The Hotelier, the Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class by Luke Barr relates the story of the partnership between these two famous and flamboyant historic figures. It describes the frenzied commitment of Ritz to creating new types of amenities in hotels. He designed every detail to create a new type of hotel atmosphere. Some of these innovations we today take for granted, such as elevators, electric lights, a bathroom for every hotel room, and an early form of cooling that involved blocks of ice with electric fans. However the level of personal service in Ritz's hotels would be a bit unusual today -- his novelty was to make it unnecessary for his wealthy clients to bring their own staff of servants!

In London, the Savoy hotel was especially unusual because aristocrats and common-status customers were equally welcome -- provided they could afford the astronomical prices. Previously, the aristocrats socialized at private clubs and in their homes, not in public spaces. At the Savoy, newly-wealthy common people, even including Jews and Americans, dined at tables in the same dining room. Though the Prince of Wales had private rooms in the early days, at the end of the era, even he ate in dining room at the Carleton Hotel. Before Ritz created the new atmosphere at the Savoy, hotel dining rooms did not even serve patrons other than guests in the hotel. Ritz invented a huge number of new luxury concepts.

Barr describes the culinary genius and imagination of Escoffier in bringing French cuisine to England. The chef was constantly inventing new dishes and incredible presentations to please famous people -- dishes that were light and delicious and crammed with very expensive ingredients. Escoffier's patrons included the singer Nellie Melba, for whom he named peach melba; the divine Sarah Bernhardt; the Prince of Wales, a lover of French food, especially that of Escoffier; the pretending French Royal Family that were exiled from France because they might try to get the throne back; American titans of industry like Vanderbilt; and many others.

Celebrities who loved the restaurant and appreciated the food obviously drew more and more customers to the hotel and especially to the restaurant. I especially liked the story of how Escoffier created a special preparation called “Cuisses de Nymphes a l’Aurore” (Nymphs' Thighs at Dawn) — a cold dish with a beautiful sauce, served on a block of ice — which he presented to the Prince of Wales. What was it?  Frog’s legs in a sauce flavored with paprika and tarragon. The Prince’s guests were shocked, but he laughed, ate it, and later ordered it again. It’s not clear if this totally overcame the English prejudice aganst frog legs, but it shows what Escoffier was capable of.

After a number of years, Escoffier, along with Ritz, was fired from his job at the Savoy because he had been taking large "commissions" from suppliers of food to the hotel restaurants that he managed, and had been engaged in other questionable financial deals. The two of them bounced back quickly, and Escoffier not only continued cooking in Ritz's new unimaginably high-end hotels, but also wrote a very classic treatise on French cuisine. Barr makes this story very fascinating!

The partnership of Ritz and Escoffier lasted until the coronation of the new king, Edward VII, in 1901. On the day of the Coronation (which was suddenly postponed due to the king's having an emergency appendectomy), Ritz suffered a blackout and a total breakdown, and he never recovered his health enough to continue to manage his famous hotels. Escoffier remained productive for another 20 years, until his retirement.

A few months ago I reviewed Escoffier's memoirs, including much more about his recipes:

Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot 
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Monday, April 22, 2019

A Life of Milton Hershey

"In the early twenties, two professors at New York University surveyed more than a thousand people to discover the power of product names. In chocolate Hershey was first; other category leaders were Kellogg in cereal, Ford in cars, and Ivory in soap." (p. 177)
The slightly strange cover of D'Antonio's book.
Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams is an excellent biography by Michael D'Antonio. Milton Hershey (1857–1945) was very much a man of his time, and D'Antonio's book contains much of the social history of his era as well as the story of Hershey's childhood, his minimal education, his first job as a young teenager working in an ice cream and candy store, his earlier failed efforts to found a candy company -- and then his spectacular success manufacturing chocolate bars.

An icon: the Hershey Bar
Every American alive today has almost certainly tasted the products of the Hershey chocolate company. We all have a mental image of the deep brown wrapper with the silver-grey word "HERSHEY'S" on it -- and this has been true for well over a century.

We all know the Hershey Kiss.
Hershey and a few employees developed the industrial technique for making chocolate bars, though a few manufacturers in Switzerland and England had also created similar candies. The smooth mouth feel of this candy, the milk-and-chocolate flavor, the slight crunch when you bite into it, and the way it melts on your tongue were all absolutely new to Hershey's early customers. They loved it (who doesn't). Using a variety of marketing techniques, the Hershey Corp. managed to distribute chocolate products throughout the country.

Hershey's insight into the potential for small wrapped chocolates allowed him to be the first in the American market, and the small price of a Hershey bar -- once just a nickel -- allowed his business to survive not only in boom times, but also in economic downturns and through the Great Depression.

The most surprising characteristic of Milton Hershey, I found, was his love of gambling -- roulette, betting on horses, and similar pastimes. He liked to go to casinos in Monte Carlo, in Cuba (where he also owned sugar mills and plantations to supply his candy-making), and to horse-racing tracks like Saratoga, N.Y. Author D'Antonio frequently states that Hershey, the competent executive who managed the chocolate factory, lived in a relatively modest home, and did not engage in conspicuous consumption when in Hershey, PA, became a different person when he traveled. Interestingly, Hershey did not gamble with his core business -- in 1929, he was not one of the many people who had gambled by buying stocks on margin. In fact, he seems to have helped out several Hershey Corporate executives who had gambled on the stock market before the bottom dropped out.

In comparison to other great businessmen of the Gilded Age, such as Carnegie and Rockefeller, Hershey stands out because he was fair and generous to his workforce. He donated his great wealth to a charity home for disadvantaged children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the town he built alongside his enormous chocolate factory. It was basically the only idealistic, nearly utopian, town to be truly loved by workers and other inhabitants. The social and economic conditions in which he founded the factory and the town, and ran it as a sort of benevolent dictator for close to 50 years make very interesting reading in this very readable book, which dates from 2006.

Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot 
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Sunday, April 21, 2019

An Elephant Mural

In an alley in Lafayette, Indiana. Perfect for a rainy day.

Sharing this with Mural Monday at Colorful World:
Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot 
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Friday, April 19, 2019

Happy Passover!

We are having a very minimal Passover Seder this year. Here is a photo of our sweet and bitter herbs (lettuce salad and horseradish), our haroset (traditional with apples, honey, raisins, and almonds) and our very special Matzo. We hope all who celebrate have a wonderful holiday, and we hope that peace will soon bless all men and women.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Food in Paintings

On our recent visit to the St.Louis Art Museum, two paintings of food particularly impressed me. The first is "Banquet Scene with a Lute Player" by Nicolas Tournier (1590–1639). It depicts a variety of food on a dining table where several men and a woman are eating. One of the men is shown in the act of drinking from a wine glass. Documentation about the painting suggests that the woman is a courtesan, entertaining the men.

A closeup of the food in the Banquet Scene -- little roast birds with their heads and feet still on; bread, and something served
in slices -- maybe some sort of sausage? (Source of images: St. Louis Art Museum.)

Celery in a Still Life. (Source: St. Louis Art Museum)
The second painting that seemed to me to depict an unusual choice of food was "Still Life with Chianti Bottle and Celery" by Max Beckmann (1884–1950). I can't remember any still life that I've seen in the past including celery! 

Beckmann, one of the most admired of the early-twentieth-century German painters, has a special relationship to St.Louis and the Art Museum, which owns the largest collection of his works in existence. From 1948 until his death in 1950, Beckmann lived in St.Louis and taught at the art school of Washington University. A very rich art collector in St.Louis, Morton D. May (you know, the May Company Department Stores!), bought many of his paintings, including this one, which was painted in 1949.

Max Beckmann Self Portrait, 1950. (source)
Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot 
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Quaker Oats Company Has Stopped Puffing!

"We’re sorry to inform you that Quaker Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat cereals have been discontinued. ...
Given how proud we are of the history and legacy of these products, this was a very difficult decision for us to make. We know how disappointing this news must be to a loyal consumer, like you mom, and we appreciate how much it will be missed. We’ll be sure to share your feedback with the Marketing Team. We hope that, in time, your mom will find another one of our products to enjoy just as much." -- Statement on Facebook from the Quaker Oats Social Media writer.

At breakfast during our visit to my sister earlier this week, we were eating Arrowhead Mills Puffed Rice. We were wondering if the Quaker company stopped making puffed wheat and puffed rice -- we haven't seen it recently. Naturally, we turned to the great GOOGLE for answers.

Exhibit A: There's a link to a web page for Puffed Rice at -- but it's a dead link:

Exhibit B: At, there are pages for Quaker Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat...

... but the ordering information for both pages is: "Currently Unavailable -- Want us to email you when this item becomes available?"

Exhibit C: On, many vintage cereal boxes, advertisements, and so on are on offer. Many even have the old familiar "Shot From Guns" slogan. No actual cereal is available.

An empty cereal box offered at ebay.

Exhibit D: At the Walmart web page, "Out of stock" --

Finally more and more searching revealed an obscure Facebook interchange beginning in 2016, where Quaker's social media experts received more and more inquiries from frustrated consumers, and repeatedly answered that there were "Production Delays." 

Finally, just a few weeks ago, they admitted: "We’re sorry to inform you that Quaker Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat cereals have been discontinued."

One of the FB writers had this response:
SHAME ON QUAKER for discontinuing a cereal that many people LOVE! You're just pandering to the newer generations and have no regard for those of us that have bought Puffed Rice for the last 50+ years and helped you build your business! I am very disappointed and the consequence of your actions is that I will no longer purchase ANY Quaker products! If you feel that way about your long term customers (and some newer ones), then you don't deserve my continued business!

Link to the interchange, at least until Quaker removes it: (

UPDATE for the curious: Puffed Rice was invented by a scientist named Alexander Anderson (1862-1943). He introduced this novelty food as a snack at the St.Louis World's Fair in 1904. Soon afterwards, the Quaker company bought the rights and began to manufacture and sell puffed rice and then puffed wheat as breakfast cereals.

Carl Milles in St. Louis

"The Meeting of the Waters" at Union Station

As we drove out of St.Louis heading east towards Illinois (and then Indiana), we stopped to see the famous fountain
by Carl Milles in front of the old Union Station where once hundreds of trains arrived and departed each day.
The fountain dates from 1939.

The water jets were turned off, but we enjoyed looking at the sculpture.
The fountain, titled "Meeting of the Waters," was a favorite of my mother's.

Milles at the Missouri Botanical Gardens

Several Milles sculptures are also installed in reflecting pools at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, which we visited Sunday.
I find these sculptures to be more graceful than the ones at Union Station. I also wrote about
the sculptures at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina recently.
At left, you can see the famous "Climatron," a geodesic dome built in the garden in 1960. R. Buckminster Fuller's
invention of the geodesic dome was shortly before this, and this structure was the first conservatory using the invention.
Author of this post is Mae's food blog: maefood dot
All my posts on Carl Milles are at
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Monday, April 15, 2019

Thinking of Notre Dame de Paris

As we saw Notre Dame last November. I am so glad that we stood in line and
visited the interior of the cathedral then, with Miriam and Alice.
Inside Notre Dame. All the wood has been destroyed by
the horrendous fire today. We were there during a mass: you can see the priest.
This magnificent screen cannot have survived the fire.
Participants and onlookers at the mass. Far right: Miriam.
I hope the treasures had been removed. There were so many  riches
on display, it's really hard to contemplate the loss.
And will all the incredible stained glass survive. I'm afraid to hear more.

Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot 
First three photos are by Evelyn and Tom, used with permission, from our
trip there in November, 2018. Rest are by Mae.
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The Art Museum

Bird from a late Roman Bird Mosaic. We enjoyed the art from Greece,
Rome, ancient Roman Egypt, and the Byzantine era.
The Saint Louis Art Museum has been a favorite of mine since my early childhood when I was growing up here. This weekend, we mainly visited relatives, but we did spend several hours in the museum, enjoying many works of art that we didn't remember from our many earlier visits. Here are just a few... when I return home, I'll do more posts on our visit.

We liked this Viennese tea set dated 1901-1902.
Designer: Jutta Sika (1877-1964).
The twentieth-century collections of the museum are wonderful!
We also saw art from Africam, Oceanian, pre-Columbian Americams,
and Native American artists, including weaving, pottery, metalwork, etc.
This mask is recent, from Nigeria.

Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot 
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Sunday, April 14, 2019

New Paintings at Graffiti Alley, Ann Arbor

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Missouri Botanical Garden Photo

We think of the Missouri Botanical Garden as "Shaw's Garden" -- its original name. We took a beautiful walk through the gardens this morning, enjoying sculptures, birds, the Chinese and Japanese gardens, and more -- photos of them will come later.  This photo shows Chinese Witch Hazel.

Author of this post is Mae's food blog: maefood dot
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Friday, April 12, 2019

Just Drove Into St. Louis!

Author of this post is Mae's food blog:
maefood dot
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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Victoria Makhew is Stealing this Blog

Someone named Victoria Makhew is stealing every blog post from my blog. Even my photos. Even claiming a copy right! What do you think of that?

I have turned off RSS feed to see if this makes Victoria's fraudulent blog stop stealing my posts. From now on, at least for a while, I will be linking each blog post to mae's food blog -- Maefood dot blogspot dot com. Victoria is redirecting this.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Food Trucks: Washington, D.C.

Photos from our visit last month, for Wordless Wednesday.
Author of this post is Mae's food blog:
maefood dot

Monday, April 08, 2019

Sesame Cookies

Sesame cookies using the Nigella (black sesame) I brought back from Israel.
Yesterday we decided to have foods with Israeli flavors for dinner. I made several dishes that reminded us of our trips there: dates stuffed with ground meat (blogged here), chopped tomato salad, eggplant in tomato sauce, and stuffed grape leaves made by Trader Joe. The preparations included several spices often used in Israeli food: the spice mix baharat and the fresh herbs cilantro, parsley, and mint. Len made pita bread. For dessert, I baked some sesame-flavored cookies, which were very crumbly and nice. I used a combination of white and black sesame seeds.

The cookies had a flavor that reminded me of Israeli sweets.
Recipe from Epicurious (link).