Monday, June 01, 2020

Six Feet Distanced

Snacks for our friends. Food shared -- but not shared. Bread, cheese with a clean knife,
a bowl of cherries, washed. All to be touched only by our friends. We had our own tray of snacks.
After a few months of isolation, we decided that in the beautiful weather we're having it would be safe to invite friends for a distanced but in-person visit. "Don't share food" is advice that appears when authorities talk about slowly returning to normal social life. I thought about it: sharing chips and dips is unsafe for sure. Sharing some peanuts or crackers means everyone's hand goes into the bowl. Sharing a salad involves touching utensils. We decided to prepare two identical trays of snacks, one for us and one for our friends who are also isolating together. First, of course, I washed my hands very clean!

Our friends sat over 6 feet away from us, at a separate
table with their own tray. We weren't too close, but it
was far more friendly than an e-chat.
We wrapped the bottles in a napkin to wipe them off after each pour.
And each of us poured our own wine in order to stay far apart.
Another not-shared snack idea: individual goldfish packs.

Together Apart

On a walk in the park we saw various examples of social distancing, like this couple.
Also 6 feet apart.
This group appear to be standing at the corners of a large square for their face to face meet-up.
Walking down the sidewalk not too close together?
Not quite 6 feet apart, though.

Besides maintaining my social distance on walks and participating in a family e-chat, I did a bit of reading this weekend: The Trespasser by Tana French, one of the Dublin Murder Squad series of mystery novels. I've enjoyed her books, but I find them somewhat longer than they need to be. This is no exception -- it drags in the middle though it picks up again at the end.

Tana French is adept at describing smelly places, for example: "The squad room has come alive. The printer is going, someone’s phone is ringing, the blinds are open to try and drag in the half-arsed sunlight; the place smells of half a dozen different lunches, tea, shower gel, sweat, heat and action." (p. 76)

Unlike in most mysteries that I favor, food in the Dublin police officers' lives is usually unappetizing. The woman detective narrator, for example, eats while doing several other things at home after work: "I should throw some dinner into me and crash out, but I hate wasting time on sleep even worse than I hate wasting it on food. I stick some pasta ready-meal thing in the microwave... . The microwave beeps. I take the pasta thing and my coffee to the sofa and open my laptop. ... The pasta thing has gone cold and slimy. I shove down the last mouthful anyway." (p. 167-169)

I really don't have enough to say about this book to write a real review.

Blog post and photos © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

My Kitchen in May: Eating Less Meat

A meatless Beyond Burger from our grill. It was delicious!
A meatless "Beyond Burger" from our grill. It was delicious! Sesame-semolina bread baked by Len.
In our kitchen this May there is one big change: we are eating less meat. News stories have covered the coronavirus disasters throughout the meat packing industry: one plant after another has been closed because the working conditions, which were already terrible before, have now become hotbeds of contagion. Indifference to the health and safety of workers is so pervasive in this industry, that they don't have a clue what to do about the new dangerous situation. Beef and pork are the most affected, but chicken processing plants are also a dangerous place for workers -- we have eaten chicken once or twice, but no beef or pork. There are other issues with meat, but it's the workers' plight that pushed us to do this.

These are very challenging times. And as I have said repeatedly, we definitely know how lucky we are to be confined to a beautiful and comfortable location where we have ample food to eat. We have enormous sympathy for people who are in need, who are homeless, who are sick, whose jobs put them at risk, and who are mourning the victims of the terrible pandemic. We also remain aware of the way that people of color and underprivileged ethnicities are being abused in our society. I feel helpless in the face of the great problems of our era. Food provides an escape from dark thoughts.

At the end of each month, I look back on what's been cooking in our kitchen. This month, I'll talk about some of the ways we have cooked vegan, dairy, egg, and fish meals to comply with our new effort. Many of these meals involve unfamiliar ingredients and recipes that I've never tried before. I was grateful to Jason and Katrina for suggestions about vegetarian eating.

We have tried two meat substitutes:

Beyond Burgers on the grill. Their resemblance to beef
was a surprise.
A sandwich of fried Seitan with lettuce and tomato. Seitan is a wheat gluten substitute for meat
that was new to me. Jason and Katrina brought it to us. Unlike the Beyond Burger, it was just ok. 


I found a new recipe for canned cherry tomatoes marinated
in oil and citrus peel, which I served over pasta.
By dumb luck, I had bought canned cherry tomatoes!
It's a really good dish! (Link to recipe)
Pasta with cauliflower, peas, and cheese sauce.
Cabbage, carrot, and soba noodles.
New recipe recommended by Jason and Katrina -- A big thank you to them.


Pancakes are a favorite of mine, so I've made both old and new variations. Besides creating a filling non-meat dinner, the recipe I've been following uses up sourdough discard! I've made both sweet and savory pancakes, for example, pancakes with blueberries which we ate with citron jam, and regular sweet pancakes with maple syrup. 

Savory pancakes with peanut sauce and cabbage salad.
Pancakes with red pepper, corn, herbs,
and cheese stuffing. Lots of calories but very good!

Salads, Eggs, Soups

Soup and salad is a classic combination. Eggs and salad make a great non-meat lunch or dinner as well. Various curry dishes are more solid than soup, but I'm putting their photos in this category. Because Indian and other South Asian cuisines feature many vegan and vegetarian dishes, they are perfect for the type of cooking I'm trying to do, as are Israeli dairy recipes and traditional foods from other cuisines where meat is not always the center of the meal.

My usual favorite French cuisine offers rather few vegetarian dishes. During the month, I prepared French leeks vinaigrette and leek soup. I remember a conversation with a French friend who was a vegetarian; she described her challenges dining in Paris restaurants, where she often had to just eat a few side dishes, no main course.

Here are a few of the lunches and dinners from the past month. Oddly enough, we very rarely eat sandwiches! When Len makes bread (which I've documented quite a bit in other posts) we usually just eat it with the meal, or sometimes by itself with just butter. 

A plate of salad with a roll and deviled eggs...
serving the deviled eggs, artichoke hearts, salad.
Tabouli salad with packaged hummus and
Wasa cracker-bread.
A salad plate with yogurt and a packaged soup ready to be heated.
A hearty dinner soup: squash, corn, white beans,
onion, and tomato with herbs de Provence.
Sweet potato & garbanzo bean curry with peanuts and rice.
Curry-flavored red lentils with mushrooms.
Curry was the featured new flavor last month,
and I've continued to experiment with it.
Bread, tomato soup, hummus.
Tomato, red pepper, and goat cheese salad.
Classic egg salad.
Raita of yogurt, cucumber, and herbs.
Vegetarian chili with added Seitan.

About my Vegetarian Efforts

I don't know how long we will continue the new way of eating. Last month, I wrote that in May we were considering take-out restaurant meals for consumption at home, but we still feel it's safer to cook all of our own food. Friends continue to shop for us when they do their own shopping, though I try to limit how much I ask for. Happily, we are finding that it's becoming easier to get appointments for delivery or pick-up of food, especially from Whole Foods. Access to Whole Foods means we can have more not-canned fish — the Whole Foods fish department stocks only responsibly obtained fish. It also means we can buy ice cream!

In the photo above, you can see one of my vegetarian adventures: in the pot is a vegan stock about to boil. I used scraps from leeks, green onions, carrots, celery, cilantro, and parsley. Later the stock was used for potato-leek soup. On the other burner I was making rhubarb sauce, which I do every spring.

A Few Fish Dinners

Tuna croquettes made from canned tuna, and served with mashed potatoes
and peas -- a non-meat dinner straight out of my childhood!
We also consumed one jar of herring this month: another food from my childhood.
Good old-fashioned tuna salad with hard boiled egg.
Wild-caught shrimp with tomato sauce. Farm-raised shrimp
are terrible for the environment, the workers, and your health.
I hope I will find wild-caught shrimp again soon.
I'm sharing this post with Sherry at -- each month a number of bloggers write about what's going on in their kitchens and link up with Sherry, and I'm happy to connect with them. I also enjoy frequently sharing with other bloggers at Weekend Cooking hosted by "The Intrepid Reader" and at the Tuesday blog event hosted by "Bluebeard and Elizabeth." All the images in this post are my own copyrighted photos, and if you see them other than at my blog, you are reading a pirated version. Post © 2020 mae sander.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Almost Indian?

Tonight Len made naan bread based on sourdough starter. The texture is very bread-like and chewy — really good!

Salmon, potatoes, and peas with a blend of seeds and spices: cumin, coriander,
fennel, turmeric, chili flakes, and nigella — what I made to go with the naan.
The beautiful spice blend was suggested in today’s post at the blog Almost Italian:

Friday Night Indian Potatoes

The original spice blend was “panch phoran — a blend of 5 whole seeds including cumin, fennel, mustard, nigella and fenugreek seeds,” as well as turmeric and chili flakes, and the original recipe was for just potatoes, to be served with fish. Len says I never actually follow a recipe, and that was true in this case. I’m grateful to Francesca whose blog Almost Italian I always enjoy very much, as well as more photos she posts on Instagram.

The sourdough naan recipe came from this website:

Text and photos in this blog post © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blogspot dot com.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Peony Garden

The peony garden at the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor contains a historic collection of cultivated peonies. At the moment, the tree peonies are blooming, while only a few of the peony bushes in the many garden beds have begun to open. Along a hillside path, vividly colored azaleas and rhododendrons are also in bloom.

The rhododendrons back up to the fence of the adjacent cemetery.

In normal times, large numbers of visitors usually walk among the beds of peonies and along the paths, but this year people are being encouraged to stay away to avoid crowds — one more of the sad restrictions of the current pandemic. Because the peak season for the spectacular display of blossoms  isn’t for a few weeks, there were very few people in the garden when we were there. The actual sign warning people away is at the entrance nearest the parking lot, and we came in from the other side after a long walk from another entrance, so we didn’t see the “Please come back another year” sign until we had already walked through the gardens.

We followed the footpaths through the woods and the meadows on the way up the hill to the formal gardens. The wildflowers are blooming everywhere. I’ve written about the Arboretum and the peony gardens many times throughout the years, but it seems new and wonderful each time I go there!

Blog post and photos © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Bruno, Chief of Police Once more

Published yesterday: The Shooting at Château Rock by Martin Walker, latest in the wonderful series of mysteries featuring Bruno, Chief of Police. Walker hasn't lost his magic touch and I loved reading this book. Yes, it's brand new, and I read it in 24 hours.

As do all the books about the amazing Bruno, this book has a well-crafted plot full of suspense and drama and coincidences (but not too many to stay believable). It has a bit of romance: Bruno and his lover the much more successful officer Isabella, who has a high placed position in Paris, still find any imaginable future to be unattainable. It has lots of love for dogs and horses and riding in the splendid French countryside, and lots of interaction with the local inhabitants.

Above all, The Shooting at Château Rock has delightful descriptions of purchasing, cooking, and savoring the foods of Bruno's region, the Périgord and the amazing produce of his idyllic town St. Denis. Idyllic, that is, except for the unusually high rate of murders and international intrigues, but that's what you pay for being in such wonderful books, isn't it?

A full review of the plot and so on seems silly to me. If you love Bruno, you will read it. If you don't know this series of novels, but have any taste for mystery stories at all, you should read all of them. It's the food writing that really stands out -- when Bruno cooks, you could almost follow his recipe. Well, you could follow the recipe if you could obtain the remarkable fresh local French ingredients! Like this:
"Bruno had brought Pamela a dozen eggs from his chickens when he arrived to exercise the horses, and Miranda had hard-boiled them before rounding up the children for their bath. In the kitchen Bruno peeled the eggs, cut them in half and spooned out the solidified yolks. He chopped some allumettes, thin strips of smoked bacon, and fried them in their own fat while Pamela passed him some mayonnaise she’d made. He used a fork to crumble the hard egg yolks, added salt and pepper and two spoonfuls of Dijon mustard and then stirred in the bacon bits and the mayonnaise before spooning portions, the size of walnuts, into the halved egg whites. He set them out on a large plate and sprinkled a small amount of paprika onto the oeufs mimosa before taking them out to the terrace and putting the dish in the center of the table. He draped a dishcloth over the bowl to keep away any flies." (Kindle Locations 554-560). 
I love the way the characters in the novel play a role when Bruno cooks. It's also delightful when he eats in a restaurant, and the owner and his employees are a vital part of the description of the food, including their background and how they became familiar with the recipe and the ingredients. Here's a very long passage where Bruno's relationships with the local village people are involved with the choices he makes for a delectable meal:
"Bruno always took his cooking seriously, but the Monday night dinners for his friends at the riding school were special. Sometimes he wondered whether the rotation of the role of chef brought out in him some spirit of competition to outdo the others. This time he planned to begin with fresh asparagus from his garden, then follow with a dish he’d encountered at the home of Momu, the math teacher at the local collège. Despite his Algerian heritage, Momu was more French than most people Bruno knew, reading Le Monde every day and always being the first in St. Denis to read the Prix Goncourt winner’s book. Although Momu and his family usually ate French food, he was proud of his Middle Eastern heritage. The dish he’d shared with Bruno was a classic— lamb shanks with walnuts and pomegranate. Momu said he had learned how to make it at his mother’s knee, and Bruno had found it delicious and tantalizingly different.  
"Bruno had started on Saturday grinding together the spices with his pestle and mortar. He had then mixed together in a bowl one and a half teaspoons of ground cinnamon, the same amount of ground turmeric, a teaspoon of ground cumin and half a teaspoon of ground cardamom. The spices were then rubbed into three kilos of trimmed lamb shanks, one for each of the eight adults at dinner with small ones for the children. He left the spiced meat in his fridge for the rest of the day. After his return from the retirement home on Sunday, Bruno had browned the shanks in olive oil over a medium-high heat, drained them on absorbent paper and cleaned the pan. Then he began gently to fry three thinly sliced onions, adding salt and freshly ground black pepper, until they were soft and transparent. 
"Next he added six sprigs of thyme, six crushed garlic cloves, three wide strips of lemon zest and two bay leaves, stirring everything into the onions for two minutes. He sprinkled into this two tablespoons of all-purpose flour and stirred until all the flour was absorbed. Then came a large glass of Bergerac red. He brought the dish to a simmer and stirred until it thickened. Then he slowly poured in a liter of chicken stock, a quarter liter of pomegranate juice and half that amount of pomegranate molasses that Momu had said he would find in the local health-food shop. Bruno let it all simmer for five minutes. He arranged the lamb shanks in a deep roasting pan and poured the onion, stock and pomegranate mixture over them to reach three-quarters of the way up each shank. He covered the pan with foil and put it in the oven, turning the shanks occasionally, for an hour and forty minutes, until the meat was almost falling off the bone. He removed the pan from the oven and let it cool. He ran the braising liquid through a sieve into a saucepan and added a quarter kilo of shelled walnuts before simmering the liquid over medium-high heat until it had been reduced by a third. He tasted it and added a little more ground pepper. Were he serving it that day, he’d have arranged the lamb on a warm platter and then spooned the walnuts and sauce over the shanks. But Bruno knew from Momu that lamb improves if braised a day ahead, and it also makes it easier to skim off the fat. So he left it overnight, planning to take the dish to Pamela’s the next day for supper." (Kindle Locations 1674-1698). 
This passage continues as Bruno creates a fantasy dessert of cherries in a cloud of cream. Another scene in the book involves making a vast quantity of gazpacho. Or an evening when he creates a mouth-watering dinner of chicken in fresh tarragon sauce. Bruno's garden always has some remarkable produce, the town market offers still more choices, and his larder always contains home-made duck stock, local truffles or fois gras, a selection of rare wines, and other amazing and expensive materials.

It's very sad that the cookbook that Walker wrote has been published only in German, not in English, and that he's about to publish a second one, also in German, which for some reason can't find an English language publisher either. We can only hope for a future edition of this book in English! (I wrote about the first Bruno cookbook here: )

This review © 2020 by mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Art and Real Life

Real dandelions with stencil-like shadows.
Dandelion stencils on a bridge support in the
park where we very often walk.
More stenciled dandelions on the bridge.
A tree growing in the rocks at the foot of the bridge support.
Tree stencils.
Reality in our world on Memorial Day. Social distancing? Not. Observing other people's lives can be frustrating!
My estimate: one person in 20 in the park had any type of face covering. Other walkers on the paths were however polite.

This blog post © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.
If you read this at another site, it's been pirated.