Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Irises in Bloom


For Wordless Wednesday. © 2023 mae sander

Monday, June 05, 2023

Drinking and Dining with Toulouse Lautrec

Portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec by Edouard Vuillard (Wikipedia)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) was a dedicated drinker, especially of absinthe. He was also a dedicated cook and lover of food, and wrote a cookbook which was published some time after his death. Unfortunately, he had overdone the drinking and died young and alcoholic, after a rather sad life in the glamorous world of Paris: the cafes, bars, and dance halls of Montmartre. 

I suspect that everyone recognizes Toulouse-Lautrec's breathtaking depictions of the famous dancers and their fans! His legacy included an astonishing number of remarkable paintings, posters, and other art works, as well as the cookbook reflecting the cuisine of his time. I was looking through my cookbooks, especially the ones by artists, and took another look at this one.

Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant, The Art of Cuisine.

One of the many illustrations from The Art of Cuisine

Could I cook from Toulouse-Lautrec's book?

Toulouse-Lautrec was a wealthy man, a member of the aristocracy. His cuisine reflected his social position, maybe more than it reflected is life in the artistic circles of Paris. His recipes and menus contrast to the way we eat now; for example, he recommended two courses for each dinner while our custom would be to have just one. 

A sample menu:
  • Veal cutlets on endive
  • Pâté of duck from the Somme in a crust
  • A selection of vegetables, salads, fruits, and perhaps desserts as well. (p. 160)
Many of the recipes in the cookbook are quite tempting, but I see many challenges, starting with the cost and availability of some ingredients. Veal, for example, isn't affordable and mostly has disappeared from contemporary markets because of ethical objections to the way it's raised. In contrast, chicken is relatively cheaper now, but because of mass production, it's very tender and probably lacks the flavor that would have been expected in the past. As a result, the long cooking times and flavor expectations of that era would no longer be appropriate. Beef today is also much more tender, and pork now is much leaner. So beware of those recipes!

In the fish markets of Paris in that era one would have been able to purchase fresh ocean fish and freshwater fish that aren't so easy to find nowadays. Some aren't really obtainable at all, having been fished to near-extinction, and many others are very expensive. In my region, far from the ocean, fish are not as fresh as they need to be for these recipes -- including some that start with a live fish that's not killed til you are ready to cook it. I think there are a few fish recipes that would still be workable, though.

Toulouse-Lautrec's vegetable recipes sound much more appropriate for a modern kitchen. One very fascinating difference is in his recipe for onion soup: for his version, you make concentrated onion broth, which you strain and then pour over layers of bread and gruyere cheese. It might be fun to try that! Some of the vegetable classics are nearly identical to the way I learned them, such as the recipe for the famous potato casserole, Gratin Dauphinoise.

Many recipes for game animals and game birds sound interesting and impossible. Here are a few beginnings of these recipes:
  • "Having killed some September snipe, eat them quite fresh when you come back from the shoot." (p. 78)
  • "Having killed some gray herons, pluck them, skin them,..." (p. 85)
  • "Take an old partridge and at least two tender young partridges..." (p. 85)
  • "Take six to twelve thrushes." (p. 81)
  • "A large wild boar of three hundred pounds having been killed, cut off a leg weighing nineteen pounds, leave it out for three days in the winter air..." (p. 88)
I'm thinking about whether I can try any of the recipes in the book. There are a few that seem plausible. 

Toulouse-Lautrec and his absinthe world: beautiful and tragic

Toulouse-Lautrec with his friend Lucién Metivet drinking absinthe (1885)

An absinthe drinker.

"Absinthe Bar"

"Divan Japonais," a poster by Toulouse-Lautrec.
Review © 2023 mae sander

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Charlottesville and Ann Arbor Street Art

Charlottesville, VA 

Revolutionary Pizza?

Ann Arbor Downtown

Photos © 2023 mae sander
Shared with Sami’s Monday Murals

Dinner and a Movie

A vegan dinner.

Dinner was simple and vegetarian. Then we watched a movie about the excesses of the aristocracy in France just prior to the revolution: "Delicious" (2021). According to the blurb: 

"France, 1789, just before the Revolution. With the help of a surprising young woman, a chef who has been sacked by his noble master finds the strength to free himself from his position as a servant and opens the first ever restaurant."

Really the film is more visual than dramatic, as they say, a feast for the eyes. There's a bit of melodrama, though. Historically it's a travesty; the less said about accuracy the better! 

Some images from the film via IMDB:

The French poster for the film

The French poster for this totally foodie film!
We are grateful to our friends Mary and Marty for suggesting that we watch it.


Saturday, June 03, 2023

Annie Ernaux Buys Groceries

"Here, existing together on three levels, are all the shops and payable services that a given population is likely to need: a supercenter, fashion boutiques, hair salons, a medical center and pharmacies, a daycare center, fast food restaurants, cigarette-magazine-newspaper vendors, etc. There are free restrooms, and wheelchairs on loan.  (Annie Ernaux, Look at the Lights, My Love, p. 10).  

"In the world of the superstore and the free-market economy, loving children means buying them as many things as possible." (p. 21). 

Annie Ernaux won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2022, so of course her minor works are quickly being translated into English. Look at the Lights, My Love is a very short piece of 60 pages, published as a stand-alone kindle book (at full kindle price, by the way). It's a diary of her trips to the superstore, a huge supermarket with much more merchandise than most American supermarkets. She made the observations during the span of roughly a year. When I purchased this book  (at full kindle price, by the way), I was expecting something more but I blame myself for not paying enough attention and then being disappointed. 

I enjoyed one scene where another shopper recognized her as a famous author:

"At the checkout, where quite a few people are waiting, a customer with a wheeled shopping basket offers me her spot. As I vigorously decline (do I look that tired? that old?), she smiles and says she knows my writing. We converse about the store, about the children, plentiful on Wednesdays. Placing my items on the conveyer belt, I think a little uneasily that she is going to look at what I’ve bought. Every item suddenly takes on loaded meaning, reveals my lifestyle. A bottle of champagne, two bottles of wine, fresh milk and organic Emmental, crustless sandwich bread, Sveltesse yogurt, kibble for spayed and neutered cats, English ginger jam. It is my turn to be observed, I am an object. (p. 46).

Even though Ernaux also writes a bit about the parking lot, the book store, the newsstand, and a few other peripheral businesses, this is actually a book about groceries and above all, about her fellow shoppers. It acknowledges that both poor and rich people need groceries, and shop at this store. It mentions that clothing sold in the clothing department included garments made at the sweat shop in India where a large number of people died in a major accident during the time she was journaling her visits there. It comments about the advertising posters throughout the store, for example, one that the claimed a portion of meat was less than 100 grams; she notes that this wouldn't be very satisfying, but would end up being rather expensive for a limited budget. 

A few mentions of famous French writers were amusing:

"I don’t see Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, or Françoise Sagan doing their shopping in a superstore; Georges Perec yes, but I may be wrong about that." (p. 35). 
"Nothing has changed since Émile Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise; women are always the primary—consenting?—targets of commerce." (p. 51). 

I've read a lot of books about grocery stores in the US, but never one like this which is entirely personal experiences. It's interesting but not especially original, profound, or political. I guess. I think I need to read something else to understand why this author won the Nobel.

Review © 2023 mae sander 


Friday, June 02, 2023

Foreign Bodies by Simon Schama


Foreign Bodies: Pandemics, Vaccines, and the Health of Nations by Simon Schama is a fabulous book. I found it very dense -- packed with amazing detail about the history of medicine and science, but also packed with social, political, and international history, as well as presenting biographies of several scientists. The book includes amazing illustrations and early photographs. 

Schama especially concentrates on the nearly forgotten researcher Waldemar Haffkine (1860-1930), who was born and educated in Odessa in its vibrant 19th century Jewish community. With a degree in laboratory science, Haffkine then worked in the Pasteur laboratory in Paris and labs in England, and then went to India where he developed mass-produced vaccine against outbreaks of cholera and plague. He personally administered the vaccine when authorities didn’t fully support his efforts. 

Eventually Haffkine became a victim of petty bureaucratic spite backed by antisemitism, xenophobia, and general political messiness. The enemy he met was “institutional barbarism”. He experienced “the disrespect for science, the unconscionable inattentiveness to illuminating knowledge by those entrusted with public health, and those superior gentlemen who set themselves up as the custodians of imperial duty.” In sum, Haffkine eventually became the victim of “the sovereignty of the ignorant and the lazy over the persevering and the learned.” (p. 348) It’s a fascinating story and two paragraphs here are unbelievably inadequate to reflect the complexity and richness in Schama’s narrative, which covers numerous other scientists as well as Haffkine.

After reading the 400 pages of this amazing book, including the stories of many quests to conquer mass outbreaks of diseases, I feel as if I should immediately begin again and read it a second time. Even if I did reread it, I think I would miss a lot of the richness of detail and human interest. (Simon Schama's other books have made me feel the same way.) I’m baffled by how to review or even summarize such a dazzling selection of varied scenes, personalities, issues, comparisons between historic and modern events, and rivalries and conflicts between experts.

The covid-19 pandemic and the race to provide a vaccine to interrupt the disastrous spread of the disease obviously triggered Schama’s exploration of other pandemics and how science (in whatever form it took in that age) dealt with the challenges. His subject historic diseases are mainly smallpox, cholera, and bubonic plague from the 18th through the 20th century, but he brings in parallels to the successes, mistakes, and political shenanigans of the 2020 covid outbreak and how the epidemic and the vaccine were politicized.

Science in each era included men (and very few women) who were searching for the cause of the emergent or re-emerging diseases, so Schama offers amazingly accessible detail of the work of microbiologists, epidemiologists, and brave doctors and nurses who worked in clinics, laboratories, or just in villages and cities. Over time, they discovered the effecting organisms: viruses, bacteria, or the malaria parasite. In each case, researchers then had to convince establishment medical scientists or (worse yet) bureaucrats with turf to protect. Some of the non-science people held onto different theories, such as the idea that disease was a result of miasmas coming from sewers or marshes rather than from the bites of infected insects. Some of them were simply jealous or willing to steal credit for the accomplishments of others. Some used the situation to manipulate the public for dubious political gain. Never a pretty story, but totally fascinating. As the Kirkus reviewer expressed it: 

“This is a broad canvas, but Schama, a diligent and experienced historian, keeps the narrative on track, and he has a good eye for illustrative anecdotes. It adds up to a strong story that, in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, speaks to us all.” (source)

Foreign Bodies was published last month in England. I think it’s ridiculous that it will not be available in the US for several months, and I ordered a copy to be shipped to me from Blackwells. They offer free shipping if you are sufficiently interested to read it now, when it’s really relevant!

Review © 2023 mae sander
To be shared with Sunday Salon at Readerbuzz

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Food Issues: In My Kitchen Part 2

My kitchen.

Yesterday, I posted a review of what's been going on in my kitchen in May, as I do each month. I also like to think about food in a more general way, and ask how my narrow little world fits into the world at large. Unfortunately this frequently leads me to think about global food insecurity, which is the subject of my follow-up thoughts today.

The border fence as we saw it last February while birding in San Diego.
Can we keep the evils of our world away from us by building higher fences?

Let's get out of our own narrow and mostly fortunate lives and think about the world — even if this thinking depresses us! It's so peaceful and happy in our kitchens that it's hard to see how the world is doing beyond our little lives. Sadly, every month seems to bring new reports about the disasters looming over humanity. The way we eat, the way we drive cars, the way we garden, the way we travel... are we  monsters? 

Desperate refugees are massed at the border of our country, but we don't see one important, underlying reason that drives them to come here: hunger! Such a contrast to our happy and maybe isolated lives, most refugees have fled from their own countries because of changes in political, social, and material stability. They take unimaginable risks because they think asylum in the US is worth the agony of long walks in uncertain conditions, exposure to predatory gangs, living without shelter, uncertain border crossings, and many other dangers. But a major problem where they come from is too often simple: not enough to eat!

José Andrés, a famous chef and also a famous leader of humanitarian programs to feed people after natural disasters and human-caused disasters, wrote a concerning op-ed recently, about the state of the world and the refugees fleeing so many disasters:  "Why Global Hunger is a National Security Threat," May 22, 2023.  He reminds us of this:

"We cannot build a wall high enough to stop the army of mothers with hungry children in their arms."

José Andrés founded a very effective organization, World Central Kitchen, which quickly sets up field kitchens in areas in crisis, and after the emergency situation has past, provides training and help for people to be self-sufficient. World Central Kitchen has brought good, appropriate foods to the people of Puerto Rico, Honduras, and others after hurricanes; to the victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey; to the people of Ukraine during the ongoing war; and to troubled areas in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In creating this organization, Andrés has acquired expertise on issues of hunger and emerging disasters.

Andrés Warns of Global Hunger

A warning from Andrés in the article in the Washington Post paints a bleak picture of the current state of humanity. He writes:

"The scale of the global crisis is so great that hunger now represents a threat to our security, our borders and our projection of power. ... U.S. security agencies predicted a world, right around now, when water shortages and floods would 'risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important US policy objectives.'”

Social disruption and political instability are not just theoretical consequences of climate change in our world: they are affecting millions of people whose lives are now at risk. Refugees on our borders come from a growing number of countries where declining food supplies have contributed to political and social chaos. A severe drought is having a huge impact in Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Shortages of food have increased political and social problems. Large numbers of refugees can see no option except to leave these countries and try to gain admission to a Western nation with better opportunities for them and their children. They dream of what life in America might allow them to accomplish.

Andrés points out that the instability of more and more parts of South and Central America and the humanitarian crisis there is a matter of our national security -- not something we can dismiss or ignore or solve by building a bigger fence. Needless to say, I agree with him that there is also a matter of human decency involved when it comes to these desperate people, who just a few years ago were farmers or workers or even middle-class residents of stable countries that are now in chaos.

When I think about my own security and well-being in our kitchen this month, I'm also thinking about the global problem that José Andrés is describing. He proposes that one solution is more coherent action by the US Federal Government and increased allocations of funds for international food programs that might forstall the coming disasters:

"Food can be the solution to multiple crises: from our health to our climate, from immigration to global security. But only if we think differently and prioritize our food. Our global food systems are broken, and we urgently need structural change. That starts right here in Washington."

Can Anything Save Us? 

I'm not optimistic about any solution to this huge problem being created (especially with our current Congressional gridlock situation). Food insecurity is just one consequence of the rapid changes in climate leading to many terrible situations, beginning with its effect on third-world countries, but also threatening to our own stability. More and more, we are part of one world with a set of emergencies that narrow-minded policies won't ever make better. 

I see the people at the border wall in California, Arizona, Texas... and think: it could happen to us. We need compassion and we need intelligent action. This is what hunger and desperation look like:

-- Source, CBS News

-- Source: Courthouse News Service

Why are the refugees risking so much by coming here?

Another look at the refugees and why they are trying to come here is described in the article "Pessimistic Americans fail to see the dream that migrants chase” by Gabriel Pasquini, in the Washington Post, May 30, 2023:

“The ‘negative’ motivations attributed to migrants have been met with equally ‘negative’ disincentives: threats of expulsion, detention and family separation, which all come at the end of an inhuman trek through a legal no man’s land.

“That ‘negative’ way of looking at migrants omits the most powerful force impelling them to brave the journey: a hope and a dream.”

One hundred years ago my father came to the US hoping for an education and opportunity. One hundred twenty years ago, my maternal grandfather brought his wife, three children, and mother-in-law to this country to seek a better life (and also for the children later born here, including my mother). Along with vast numbers of other immigrants, my relatives took risks for themselves and their descendants. Gratefully, I would say that we all have lived the American dream. When I think of the masses of people at the border, I think of these immigrants from an earlier time, and of the millions whose descendants now make up our country’s people. Can we find room for another generation of immigrants? I don’t know the answer.

Blog post © 2023 mae sander

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

In Our Kitchen in May

The kitchen used to be "my" kitchen, but in the last few months, Len has taken over all the innovative cooking, so it's now our kitchen, not just mine. This is a wonderful change and I'm delighted with his commitment to using new recipes, especially recipes from a number of Asian cuisines. I've mentioned the cookbook authors Fuchsia Dunlop and Andrea Nguyen, whose books he has been going through, and I've mentioned the number of interesting condiments we have obtained for the variety of recipes he has tried.

I’m sharing this with Sherry and the other participants in the blog event titled In My Kitchen. It’s great to see what new gadgets, condiments, packaged food, cookbooks, and recipes everyone has tried each month. Other than trying new recipes, there's nothing new in our kitchen, as we haven't bought any new gadgets or cookbooks. Next month may be different!

Asian Recipes: All New to Us

Szechuan Smoked Tofu, among the many recipes Len tried.
He made the smoked tofu using liquid smoke. 

Grilled salmon with crispy skin, flavored with lemongrass.

Mushroom curry from the special mushrooms at Argus Farm Stop.

Spring rolls in rice paper wrappers and stir-fry snow peas.

Black Pepper Tofu with eggs and a side of bok-choi, recipes by Andrea Nguyen.


A few other meals

Roast cauliflower with parmesan and a big salad for a vegetarian dinner.
Cauliflower recipe from the New York Times.

Israeli Mezze: grape leaves, eggplant salad, olives, spiced chickpeas, and other vegetables and fruits.

Another dish made from the special mushrooms at Argus: a mushroom stir-fry.

Len baked some rye rolls for a Memorial Day Picnic. 
He’s been baking bread for several years, and this is a recipe from a Zingerman’s class he took.

Can Our Food Choices Make A Difference?

Much of the world is experiencing a huge drought, while a few regions have too much rain or very unpredictable rain. Food production suffers globally as a result of the changes. These food shortages affect our prices in the supermarket, but for people in the third world, a result is frequently famine and desperation, with many refugee situations caused by the impact of food scarcity. The consequences are many and of great concern, as I’m sure you know.

One undisputed cause of climate change is human-created Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. While there’s little an individual can do about climate change, at least I think we can be mindful of choices we make, and one choice we make all the time is our selection of food. Here’s a graph of how various food choices impact the atmosphere. How much difference can an individual’s actions make? I don’t know, but I think we can contemplate what our little bit might mean.

Click on the graph to see it full size in your browser.

NOTE: Even if you compare the carbon production per calorie of nutrition in these foods, beef and lamb are still much more polluting than vegetables or grains.

For more discussion of global food issues, see In My Kitchen Part 2.

Blog post and photos © 2023 mae sander

Monday, May 29, 2023

Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan

"Geumbok let out a long stream of smoke and continued. 'People say that money is the root of all evil. But that’s not true. Poverty is the root of all evil.'” (Myeong-Kwan, Cheon. Whale, p. 242). 

Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan was short-listed for the Booker Prize, so I decided to read it. What a strange book! It reads like a fable, but with far more characters and events than most fables that I know, and with a great deal of political content, like the quote above. I didn't find many reviews, but one of them called it magical-realism comparable to Borges. Maybe so. But also a lot of social commentary.

As I read Whale, I kept thinking that it must be an allegory for 20th century Korean history, but I don't know any Korean  history so I couldn't follow what it was about. I felt lost by the parallels I thought I should find, for example in the characters' love of American movies, especially westerns with John Wayne. But there were other things that made the novel readable anyway. The author constantly telegraphs the coming events and disasters that the characters will be suffering, which is also a bit challenging to read.

Whale is full of vivid characters. In some ways, it's too vivid, and there are too many characters. It's bewildering at times, though eventually I think I grasped who they were and how they related to one another. Very poetic passages describe the inner life of characters -- for example, man who loses his vision because of cataracts:

"Though he couldn’t see, memories would often unspool panoramically before him, without any order. It was like looking through a photo album that had recorded his life, from his earliest memory to just before he lost his eyesight. He saw beautiful and peaceful scenes from his childhood, terrible suffering from the battlefield, unfamiliar, foreign sights from when he worked at a brickyard in China, the faces of his family that broke his heart every time, himself making love with Geumbok under the willow tree, the lonely long winters when he stayed at Nambaran all alone—all the joys and sorrows of his life" (Whale, p. 233). 

Whale seems to cover social history, but I was never sure because I'm unfamiliar with the history of Korea. Here's an example:one of the central characters, Geumbok, first tries coffee, which seems to her to be a type of tea. This encounter led her to love to drink coffee, and eventually to make a lot of money running a café. 

"One day, the man with the scar took Geumbok to a café next to the theater. He ordered tea that was arrowroot-black. She took a sip and spat it out immediately; it was too bitter. 

"'What is this?' 

""This is coffee. If it’s too bitter you can put some sugar in it. Like this.' 

"He smiled. It wasn’t too bad once she sweetened it. It was fairly delicious, actually, and after a few sips she fell in love with the taste of coffee. The bitterness that spread on the tip of her tongue and dissipated as it left behind a clean, lingering flavor, the scent that seemed to contain an elegant secret in its sourness—she was reminded of the smell of the wind that blew from the south long ago as she sat on the hill in her hometown.

"From then on she went frequently to the café for coffee. She wondered what it was made of to give the drink such a mysterious taste, and soon learned it came from beans that looked like grains of barley but were as large as peas." (Whale, pp. 85-86).

Whale is also a very brutal book, full of extreme cruelty and torture, especially during the long time when an important character named Chunhui (Geumbok's daughter) is in prison. Giving too much detail (as far as I'm concerned), the author depicts the unspeakable actions of a vicious prison guard and some of the other prisoners. Chunhui is mute, and unable to understand what is happening to her. Several brutal murders and other types of abuse are also part of the plot. This cruelty may be an essential element of the allegory except that I don't know what the allegory is about.

Despite all my doubts and confusions, I got to like the narrative of this novel, and eventually felt that the very strange characters (ALL of them strange) were reasonably relatable. There's Chunhui, a huge woman who can't speak a human language but can communicate with an elephant named Jumbo? OK. There are a couple of entrepreneurs who become rich and meet their fates in very odd ways? OK. There are a pair of twins who exchange identities so much that they don't know which one is the elder and which one is the younger? OK. And more, of course.

The author also has a particular quirk, which I got used to, and eventually liked: he summarizes a situation by saying "this was the law of..." For example: "Taciturn John Wayne calmly killed the Indians one by one, who collapsed like deer. This was the law of Westerns." (Whale, pp. 87-88).

It takes a long time for the essential nature of this novel to emerge, but ultimately, I felt like it was worth the effort it took me to read it.

Review © 2023 mae sander
Shared with Elizabeth's weekly celebration of things to drink

Sunday, May 28, 2023

“Forever in Our Hearts”

The graduation ceremony last weekend, when my granddaughter graduated from the University of Virginia, included many memories of the three victims of a mass shooting on campus last November. Devin Chandler, D'Sean Perry, and Lavel Davis Jr., were members of the UVA football team. Their tragic deaths are remembered in many ways by the students, faculty, and administrators of the university, including Jim Ryan, University President, who spoke of the event in his speech at graduation, as did the other speaker, Carla Williams, Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics.

One memorial to the victims is a collection of graffiti on the bridge shown in these photos: prior to the shooting, students repeatedly replaced the graffiti (as is a tradition on many campuses). Now, after the event, during which the entire campus was locked down and in fear of the at-large shooter, the graffiti reads “Forever in our hearts.” Many small tributes are written all around these words.

“A class that has endured a global pandemic, a mass shooting on Grounds and hate crimes in their final year.”

The team numbers of the three players who were murdered.

Blog post and photos © 2023 mae sander
Shared with Sami's weekly celebration of street art.