Wednesday, January 20, 2021
|Three bluebirds in a tree.|
"Insects caught on the ground are a bluebird’s main food for much of the year. Major prey include caterpillars, beetles crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders. In fall and winter, bluebirds eat large amounts of fruit including mistletoe, sumac, blueberries, black cherry, tupelo, currants, wild holly, dogwood berries, hackberries, honeysuckle, bay, pokeweed, and juniper berries. Rarely, Eastern Bluebirds have been recorded eating salamanders, shrews, snakes, lizards, and tree frogs."
|A cold and wintery day.|
|On another walk: the stream not yet frozen.|
|And a somewhat more exciting bird on another walk: a Merlin,|
which is a type of falcon.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
"Each volume of the Almanach des Gourmands contained, besides articles of interest to gourmands on the subject of different foods or furnishings for the table, some gourmand literature and a guide to the restaurants and food shops of the capital. In this last essential part of the work Alexandre-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière was the spiritual forefather of any modern reviewer from Egon Ronay to Messrs Gault and Millau." -- A Palate in Revolution: Grimod de La Reynière and the Almanach des Gourmands by Giles MacDonogh (p. 66).
|Gault & Millau, a respected restaurant guide, charges €348 for|
a "Plaque Restaurant," available only to those recommended in the guide.
(Screenshot of the plaques and prices from their website)
"Any traiteur or restaurateur who had been granted a legitimation could, at a cost of 1.50 francs, obtain a signed and sealed document to that effect (extra copies came at 1.25 francs). The recipeient could then display the certificate in the window of his shop or restaurant." (p. 70)
Grimod de La Reynière was the first writer to do a lot of things, but somehow someone always came along shortly after him and did it better! He's not completely forgotten by history, but everything about him seems to be a pale shadow of what someone else did!
- Brillat-Savarin and Grimod (who published first) are jointly credited with the creation of culinary essay-writing. Brillat-Savarin's treatise on food, The Physiology of Taste: Or, Transcendental Gastronomy, is much more famous than Grimod's work, and still in print in a number of editions in French, English, and other languages. Try to find a book by Grimod: the bulk of his works have never been translated into English. They are expensive and hard to find in French, though it's possible to get them from amazon.fr -- I'm afraid this is because they just aren't as interesting or readable as the works of Brillat-Savarin.
- Alexandre Dumas took up Grimod's project of a Grand Dictionary of Cuisine, and wrote a much better one. Grimod never finished his dictionary, but gave Dumas the idea. Let’s face it, Dumas was a more clever and imaginative writer!
Grimod belonged to an aristocratic and wildly rich family, who made huge amounts of money as tax farmers before the revolution. While his father's family had bought their way into the aristocracy, his mother was from a very ancient noble family (but of course rather poor by comparison). Because Grimod was born with a birth defect -- deformed hands -- his parents were very ashamed of him and sort of acted like he didn't exist, but he persisted. Grimod hated their pretensions and as a young man was very disrespectful of his elders. He gave parties at their palace that were irreverent and loony. To try to control their son, they used the famous method of a Lettre de Cachet to disinherit him and have him locked up or exiled. They also tried to declare him insane. It's a long complicated story that soon became entangled with the events of the French Revolution. Somehow, Grimod just sort of plodded onward until he was freed.
During the French Revolution, Grimod escaped the Terror and did not face the dramatic fate of many similarly placed aristocrats. This was partly because of his exile, and partly because he wasn't fully credentialed as an aristocrat, thanks to his parents' embarrassment. Mostly, his escape from the Terror seems to have been by chance and luck -- not heroic or clever or full of suspense. He just wasn't in anyone's way! It may have been the best of times and the worst of times, as Dickens wrote, but for Grimod it was one day after another. While he had been unobtrusively exiled in the provinces, his had father lost all his money to a con man, and died a natural death. Even with everything against him, Grimod managed to get back their palace on the Champs-Élysées and subsequently live there in genteel near-poverty, eventually making a living as a kind of (let’s face it) hack writer.
|A shop sign for the fine grocer Corcellet in Paris.|
The man in the picture is said to be Grimod.
This sign is now in the Carnavalet Museum in Paris.
Grimod loved the theater, and especially loved actresses. When he needed to make money after the Revolution, he became a theater critic, but his works were censored because he also included remarks about politics. What could he do? He started writing about food, especially the food on the menus of the new dining establishments. These newly emerging restaurants were serving high-end meals to non-aristocrats who had become rich during the upheavals of the revolution. It was at this point that he invented the food review, and founded the club for testing out the best the new restaurateurs had to offer.
|Page from one of Grimod's books. (wikipedia)|
My source for most of this information about Grimod's life comes from the book A Palate in Revolution: Grimode De La Reynière and the Almanach des Gourmands by Giles MacDonogh (published 1987). Grimod lived from 1758 to 1837 -- thus through the end of the French Old Regime, through the Revolution and the Napoleonic Era, and well into the next phase of French government. There's a lot of fascinating material in the book, but unfortunately the author treats it in a way that I would describe as very pedantic and often dull. Maybe it's appropriate, as Grimod himself seems to have always come close to being really innovative and interesting, but there was always someone moreso.
- "DIETS AND DIETING PEOPLE: Beware of people who don't eat; in general they are envious, foolish or nasty. Abstinence is an anti-social virtue." (p. 175)
- "KITCHENS: It is as difficult to put together a kitchen as to create a library." (p. 192)
- "THE REVOLUTION: Had the reign of the vandals lasted longer we should have lost even the recipe for chicken fricassée." (p. 205)
- "THREE THINGS TO AVOID: 'A little wine which I bought directly from the grower'... a dinner which is described as '...just among friends,' and amateur musicians." (p. 213)
Monday, January 18, 2021
Last week I wrote about orange juice and its role in American life, now declining (blog post here). Today I'm posting photos from random web searches, illustrating various juice squeezers that have been used to squeeze juice by hand. I also found a few vintage orange juice serving sets and glasses from the olden days when people drank a small glass of juice almost every day -- these come up for sale on eBay, Etsy, and similar sites.
|This Foley juicer/strainer was a classic. It fit over a container such as a|
Pyrex measuring cup, so the juice you squeezed could be measured out.
|A classic for squeezing juice by hand: still available.|
You have to strain the juice or pick the seeds out.
|Older version, maybe Depression Glass.|
|My old but still working citrus juicer.|
I use a wooden reamer for lemons, but not for oranges.
If you are interested in buying a juicer, here's an article for you: "The 8 Best Citrus Juicers of 2021." Prices range from $7 for a wooden reamer to $295 for a powerful electric juicer.
Juice Glasses from the Fifties and SixtiesNote that most juice glasses held 4 to 6 ounces of juice. They were often decorated with fruit motifs in various styles.
|There's nothing like this available new these days!|
|Kraft Pimento Cheese Spread in a glass|
Sunday, January 17, 2021
|Walking down Packard Road, a major street near my house, I enjoy|
looking at a wide variety of colorful buildings. I don't walk there often
because there's much more traffic than on residential streets.
|A mural signed Eva Rosenfeld.|
You can see we still have a remnant of dirty snow.
|The ice machines at Stadium Market are painted with icy designs.|
|Gas pumps -- which I usually don't notice -- have colorful logos.|
Saturday, January 16, 2021
Today, I learned for the first time of a very intriguing author: Dorah Sitole, known as South Africa's "first black food writer and a celebrated food personality." (source)
|Dorah Sitole, 40 Years of Iconic Food.|
This book is not yet released in the US.
Reading her obituaries and the reviews of the book which just appeared, I felt very sad that I had never heard of her or read her work; I have searched for available copies of her books, but have not found a good source so that I can obtain them. I will persist!
From one of the obituaries:
"In a foreword to her book [40 Years of Iconic Food], Sitole wrote that she’d also included the two decades that prepared her for the 'path I was to walk'. 'I truly believe my relationship with food was formed by my childhood experiences. And with my encore years, this story spans six-and-a-half decades!'
"It should not be glossed over that the racial divide was present in the food writing and publishing industry, and those of us who were exposed only to the white food writers were the poorer for it; also missed was the opportunity to unite us through shared culinary heritages. Heritage Day, for instance, had everything to do with food for Sitole, as she wrote: “Marked by a kaleidoscope of colours and flavours, Heritage Day is a day many South Africans proudly celebrate. Across the country, tables will groan with food for friends and families. The base ingredients are often the same: meat, starches and vegetables. But cuisine isn’t fixed: every individual brings their history and themselves to the kitchen." (source)
I'm hoping that her new book will be released in the US so that I can read it. Ordering it from South Africa is prohibitively expensive.
Friday, January 15, 2021
|What I'm reading: Arsène Lupin: Gentleman Burglar|
by Maurice Leblanc.
Arsène Lupin: Gentleman Burglar by Maurice Leblanc is one of twenty four books about the fictitious criminal named Arsène Lupin, a series that began in 1905. There are a huge number of editions of these books with a wide variety of covers, usually featuring Lupin with his gentlemanly top hat. In France, it remains as popular as the contemporary Sherlock Holmes stories in England, or as the slightly later novels by Agatha Christie, though now that I've read one, I understand why Arsène Lupin is not as popular in English-speaking countries as these stories.
I read this book out of curiosity after watching the five available episodes of the new Netflix series "Lupin." Unfortunately, I don't think the original is as enjoyable as the reinterpretation, featuring a twenty-first century gentleman thief who models his exploits on the very popular original. The plot is complicated, but not very suspenseful, there are too many servants and policemen, the Paris local color is lacking (although it is set in Paris), and the dialog is stilted. Here's a sample:
"'That power of fascination which some men exercise on women is one of those mysteries which science should investigate before it does anything else,' said the Duke, in a reflective tone." (p. 148, Kindle Edition).
In the new "Lupin" series, the elusive burglar is shown laboriously creating his elaborate and ingenious disguises by using makeup and false facial features. The original Lupin can change his appearance in seconds with no clear effort, which isn't very convincing. Food scenes (which I always look for in detective fiction) are disappointing as well. The author includes little detail: "Jean took two bottles of wine, a rich-looking pie, a sweet, and carried them to the drawing-room." (p. 62). Or at the end, after Arsène has been running away from the police all night, this is all we learn:
"He fell upon his breakfast with the appetite but not the manners of a wolf. ... Victoire hovered about him, pouring out his coffee and putting sugar into it.
"'By Jove, how good these eggs are!' he said. 'I think that, of all the thousand ways of cooking eggs, en cocotte is the best.'" (p. 196).
|I like this one better, even though the food scenes are also not detailed.|
Review © 2020 mae sander.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
"Common Redpolls are energetic little birds that forage in flocks, gleaning, fluttering, or hanging upside down in the farthest tips of tree branches. Like many finches, they have an undulating, up-and-down pattern when they fly. To keep order in flocks, redpolls have several ways of indicating their intentions. When quarreling with flockmates, a redpoll fluffs its plumage, faces its adversary, and opens its bill, sometimes jutting its chin to display the black face patch. ... In winter, some redpolls roost in tunnels under the snow, where the snowpack provides insulation and stays much warmer than the night air."
We feel lucky to have such a nice birding opportunity, as there aren't many birds to watch in Ann Arbor in winter.
Like most of the people in the country, we are mainly staying in the house and watching TV while waiting for the vaccine to release us. We have been binge watching two previous seasons of "American Gods" on Starz (from 2017 and 2019), and when we finish the earlier episodes, we will probably watch the new season which is starting this week.
The Neil Gaiman book American Gods is one of my favorites, which I've read 3 times. The TV series missed a lot of the best parts, such as Gaiman's witty and humorous observations about middle-American life. Disappointingly, the TV treatment also skips the food scenes from the novel -- though it does deliver "a surreal drama that truly earns its TV-MA rating. There's frequent brutal violence, with onscreen deaths by decapitation, stabbings, slashings, bludgeonings, with spouting blood, lingering shots of gore, dead bodies, and disembodied limbs." (source of this warning: Common Sense Media)
Much more enjoyable: the new Netflix series "Lupin," released last week. Produced by Gaumont Télévision in France, it's is a fabulous crime and revenge tale, set in Paris. I'm enjoying the plot and also the many beautiful scenes of Paris boulevards, interiors of restaurants and cafes, and famous monuments, along with images of less affluent parts of the city. The scenes in and around the Louvre in the first episode are especially wonderful (of course there's a shot of the Mona Lisa). A great Paris scene involves a getaway car crashing through the skylight (inverted pyramid) into the underground shopping mall attached to the Louvre.
The hero of the series, played by actor Omar Sy, is a lovable thief and a seeker of revenge. He gets his ideas for brilliant crimes from his favorite detective novels -- the tales of Arsène Lupin, which were written by Maurice Leblanc in the early years of the twentieth century. We've really liked the first 5 episodes. We can't wait for more to be released, but Netflix has not announced a date for this. Meanwhile, there are lots of other things to watch on Netflix, like "History of Swear Words," which is ok, not great.
In the Kitchen
|Ottolenghi’s potatoes and eggs with gochujang paste.|
From the book Flavor, but the recipe also appeared in
The Guardian here.
|Here's a new dish I tried: Ginger-Miso Glazed Eggplant. I served it|
with a salad and chopped scallions (recipe here).
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Monday, January 11, 2021
Orange juice from Whole Foods Market (screen shot January 8, 2021)|
My preference is for half-gallon cartons of pasteurized orange juice.
Throughout the pandemic, I've been ordering Whole Foods orange juice through the above page at amazon.com. Evidently, a lot of people are drinking orange juice this year. While sales of orange juice in the US had been declining for years, in 2020 they increased by around 10%, partly because there's a general belief that orange juice improves one's health -- which everyone is worried about. Also, more people have been eating breakfast at home, including more orange juice. (Source: Citrus Industry Magazine, January 8, 2021)
McPhee wrote about consumers who had gladly switched over from squeezing oranges to reconstituting the syrupy stuff from the frozen cans. He discussed the sociology of orange-juice drinking: the blue-collar families of his day were still buying canned juice, while the educated consumer had embraced the frozen, and hardly anyone still squeezed their own. Neither the juice box nor the pasteurized OJ that's now most popular had yet been invented.
Researching his book, McPhee traveled the byways of rural Florida -- remember, before Disney. He observed that even the remaining roadside orange juice stands that he found were serving reconstituted juice concentrate. Further, his interviews with growers, pickers, and factory owners revealed that many orange groves were being cleared for new land use: the NASA facility at Cape Canaveral was in the process of being built on former groves. Finally, he wrote about the frenzy of effort to create new chemical orange juice surrogates. Add water to some crystals they were inventing -- they thought you would get orange juice. (I think they were actually creating Tang, but that was still in the future and they were optimistic.)
|My orange juice for breakfast almost every day.
The Whole Foods orange juice carton has a new design.
My mother, like many people, switched from squeezing oranges to reconstituting frozen juice when this innovation became available in the 1950s. Some time in the 1970s, fresh-squeezed juice became a kind of a fad. Small markets or restaurants would have juice squeezers so they could make fresh juice on demand for their customers. Soon, bigger beverage bottlers began to offer fresh juice for the refrigerator aisles in the grocery store. This was much better-tasting than frozen juice. Then the orange processing industry developed pasteurized juice, which was less expensive and had a longer shelf-life but still tasted good. I continue to purchase and drink it. I guess I’ve been a very conventional consumer all my life!
Samuel Tolkowsky. (link)
Sunday, January 10, 2021
The Guardian article includes a series of around 20 photos of these intriguing murals, with brief descriptions of the work, the artists, and their influences. The photos in the article were from a recent book, Beijing Graffiti, by Liu Yuan Sheng (the photographer) and Tom Dartnell (a graffiti artist), published last month by Schiffer Publishing.
"A complex and contradictory graffiti culture has been brewing over the last few decades in one of the least expected settings—China’s capital. Through an unparalleled collection of one local photographer’s images, as well as interviews with 25 prolific artists, see how Beijing has developed its graffiti movement against the backdrop of the once-secluded nation’s rise to global economic might. While Beijing graffiti artists take their cue from the subculture’s Western origins, the local scene has also been highly influenced by both foreign visitors and traditional Chinese art and culture. Profiles of significant artists explore the dynamics of creative self-expression in such a perceivedly authoritarian setting, including the surprising amount of freedom they have to make their art undisturbed compared to Western counterparts. A must for graffiti enthusiasts, Sinophiles, and anyone interested in how this colorful subculture is still growing half a century after it emerged."
Saturday, January 09, 2021
"As I wrote this book, I established a set of rules for my writing. One of the first rules was that I had to name specific sums whenever I talked about money. Another rule was that I had to talk about money. These rules were a direct refusal of what I understood to be the rules of polite conversation around money: 1) Don’t talk about it. 2) If you do talk about it, don’t be specific. 3) Minimize what you have. 4) Emphasize that you’ve earned it. 5) Never forget that work is the story we tell ourselves about money." (p. 284).
The house Biss owns, where she lives with her husband and son, has a big role in her thoughts. It seems both a mystery and a miracle to her. She describes her feelings about having enough money to own this house, on Chicago's South Side, while in earlier times of her life she had barely had the money for a deteriorating apartment. She thinks about the Diggers in the 1960s in San Francisco, as described by Joan Didion. They "wrote and published for themselves, printing broadsides that critiqued the hippies. They were the counterculture to the counterculture. The Diggers would go on to provide free health care in the Haight-Ashbury and run a free bakery and stock free stores with things that had been discarded but were still good." (p. 115). Also, as she worries about the topics of class and ownership, she looks back at many historic moments, such as the original "Diggers" --
"In 1649, Gerrard Winstanley led the Diggers in an act of protest, the digging and planting of a patch of vacant land outside London. Their plan was to give the food they grew to anyone who worked with them, and to forge a new economy— not feudalism and not capitalism either." (p. 266).
Obviously, many economists have written about money -- Biss describes her readings from these men (I don't think she included any women) including Karl Marx. Here's a sentence that kind of sums up her views about them: "Three men won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2013...— two of them for theories that directly contradicted each other." (p. 53).
For the most part, the essays in Having and Being Had are personal. Biss feels that she has almost escaped from the class of people known as the "precariat." What class is that? --
"'Everybody, actually' is the economist Guy Standing’s answer to his own question, 'Who enters the precariat?' By everybody, he means potentially anybody. Illness or disability can force somebody into the precariat, as can divorce, war, or natural disaster. The precariat is composed of migrant workers and temp workers and contract workers and part-time workers." (p. 235).
Joan Didion, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Czesław Miłosz, Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas, among others, all wrote at least a bit about money and its role in society, and I especially enjoyed the way Biss makes use of their thoughts. The views are apparent both in their writings and in their life stories.
On Virginia Woolf, she cites the book Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury by Alison Light, and also Woolf's A Room of One's Own. There are contradictions, she shows, between Woolf's ideals about her own life and the way she treated her faithful and vastly underpaid cook Nellie.
Alice Toklas enabled Gertrude Stein to be Gertrude Stein by acting as her servant and helper, a role that fascinates Biss. She wrote:
"Gertrude had some fun with a photographer who wanted to take pictures of her doing everyday tasks like packing a suitcase or talking on the telephone. She couldn’t do those things, she told the photographer, because Miss Toklas packed her suitcase and Miss Toklas handled her calls. Miss Toklas also typed her manuscripts. Finally, the photographer asked her what she could do, and she told him she could remove her own hat and drink a glass of water." (pp. 141-142).
As is now well-known, Gertrude Stein's family treated Alice Toklas very badly after Stein died. Although they had lived as a married couple, the law and Stein's relatives allowed Alice nothing of Stein's estate, and she was thus impoverished (but to the benefit of posterity because she had to write her cookbook to make money). I enjoyed reading what Biss wrote about Stein and Toklas, though I wish she had also discussed the essay "Money" where Stein asked "Is money money or isn't money money." (source)
About Emily Dickinson we learn:
"Dickinson never owned any property herself. She died in her father’s house, the house he willed to her brother. And her garden was worked by a man her father hired to dig for her. I had some things that I called mine, she wrote of the garden, And God, that he called his. The garden was hers until frost killed the plants in the fall, when her domain was reclaimed. The lesson being, James Guthrie writes, 'that ownership of all kinds is a precarious business at best, or at worst, a form of self-delusion.'" (p. 122).
I really liked this book. Strange personal note: I've always been fascinated by the Diggers in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960s. When we left Berkeley, we were clearing out all our stuff -- and I gave all my unwanted clothing to the Diggers, including a creepy fur thing (the kind with little paws and glass eyes) that my great-aunt had insisted I take from her, but which I couldn't stand. A funny memory.
This review © 2021 mae sander.