Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Aromas of Aleppo"

Our hostess for dinner this evening created a fabulous and very interesting meal from the book Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews. Each course was both beautiful and delicious.

To start, we had hand-made hummus flavored with red pepper, olive oil, and fresh garlic. Both crisp and soft pita bread was just right with this.

A thick, tasty soup included meatballs made from meat and rice. The cookbook author's description of Syrian Jewish food, our hostess explained, indicated that this cuisine was particularly meat-centered.

Next, a bulgar wheat salad had pine nuts and tamarind flavors; a chopped salad was similar to Israeli salads -- not surprising, since the Jews of the Ottoman empire (which included Syria) were a big influence on current Israeli food traditions. Also home made from the book's recipe: zatar-sprinkled flat breads with olive oil. These, too, are similar to traditional Israeli pita breads.

Although it was a rainy and rather cold evening (spring has definitely NOT come to Ann Arbor this year!) our dedicated hostess cooked the chicken and pepper kabobs over charcoal outdoors -- another success from the book.

Finally, for dessert, she made Syrian crescent cookies rolled around date, apricot, and poppy seed fillings and served with fresh fruit.

The cookbook, which was published last summer, is very large and filled with beautiful photos. It's been on my list for a while, but I'm not brave enough yet to try these recipes.

Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews
Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews by Poopa Dweck, Michael J. Cohen, and Quentin Bacon

Friday, March 28, 2008


For dinner I made an amazing soufflé, following a Julia Child recipe. I managed to serve it to our guests before it deflated. For a second course, we had grilled trout with mushrooms. It was fun to make something a little more ambitious than usual.

Broccoli mixed with arugula and cilantro was a garnish/side for the trout. My ambition did not extend to baking for dessert: we had cookies from Whole Foods and some fruit.

American Agriculture

Gourmet magazine online this month has published a very informative article about Federal agriculture policies and how they affect a few farmers in South Dakota: Betting the Farm by Sam Hurst.

By implication, the author suggests how these policies affect consumers as well as farmers, but the emphasis is on agriculture. In Walworth County, South Dakota, most of the farms grow vast tracts of industrial, genetically modified grain. According to the author, "farming in South Dakota could not endure without industrial methods. The landscape of Walworth County, shaped by 75 years of federal policy, is a vast, flat expanse of high-tech agriculture, where grain is not so much food as a standardized unit of production, and where growers keep afloat by participating in the farm program."

One farm family differs from the rest. The Stiegelmeier family farm is 4,000 acres. Three generations of Stiegelmeiers live there now; their ancestors on this land go back 120 years. "In this bastion of industrial agriculture, where people are quick to tell you that heavy machinery, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified seeds, and the federal safety net make farming possible, Matthew [Stiegelmeier]’s family has gone back to an old-fashioned, diversified, organic family farm. While Congress, President Bush, and lobbyists are trapped in a vitriolic debate about capping subsidy payments to the nation’s richest farmers, the Stiegelmeiers are asking a totally different question: How do we use the land?"

This family grows no corn. Their crops are "organic spring and winter wheat, flax, rye, barley, and buckwheat" as well as "a herd of registered British White beef cattle" and "a small herd of sheep." They use "age-old ways to fight weeds and fertilize the soil. They certified their pastures as organic and grew alfalfa" for animal feed. They do not receive the vast subsidies that go to the industrial farms all around them.

The article poses the question: does the future of American farming like with family organic farms and dedicated farm families like this one? or with subsidized big agriculture. A very interesting article.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Worldwide Hunger

I acknowledge that my food interests that I write about here are a luxury and self-indulgent. Today many newspapers are running an AP article: Food Prices Soaring Worldwide. The author, Katherine Corcoran, documents the reasons why food is suddenly scarce and expensive, and describes the situation of people around the globe. The poorest people are suffering unbearably as they become unable to feed themselves and their children. Individuals and populations are at risk of slipping further and further into poverty and desperation.

I hope you read the article for yourself. But here is one example: "... hunger has had a ripple effect. Haitian food vendor Fabiola Duran Estime, 31, has lost so many customers ... that she had to pull her daughter, Fyva, out of kindergarten because she can't afford the $20 monthly tuition. Fyva was just beginning to read."

Update: in the N.Y.Times, dated March 29, 2008: High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest -- "The price of rice, a staple in the diets of nearly half the world’s population, has almost doubled on international markets in the last three months. That has pinched the budgets of millions of poor Asians and raised fears of civil unrest."

ANOTHER update from the N.Y.Times, March 31: As Jobs Vanish and Prices Rise, Food Stamp Use Nears Record -- "“People sign up for food stamps when they lose their jobs, or their wages go down because their hours are cut,” said Stacy Dean, director of food stamp policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, who noted that 14 states saw their rolls reach record numbers by last December. One example is Michigan, where one in eight residents now receives food stamps."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Why do I eat at Red Hawk?

Dear Red Hawk Bar and Grill,

Some people don't understand what I see in you. Do I seek your comfort food? Your predictability? Your strong but ordinary flavors augmented by several bottled hot sauces? Good ingredients, like the quality meat in my burger tonight? Your offering of several kinds of garnish on the burger (shown -- guacamole, salsa, tomato-lettuce; other possibilities -- grilled onions or peppers, several kinds of cheese, bacon...). Your sides of fruit or slaw instead of french fries, for years your default side dish -- does that make me come back? Do I like various textures such as the pulled pork on cornbread? Do I like other possibilities -- grilled chicken, tuna salad, or reuben sandwiches; quesadillos or burritos; salmon, omelets, crab cakes, or caesar salad; faddish pizzas; pretty standard beer and wine choices?

I don't know. But when we want a plain meal without challenges we go to you, Red Hawk. Your atmosphere is especially nice on an evening like this because the noise level isn't too high. On weekends, it's pretty loud even though you always mute the TVs above the bar. I like to sit by the big windows looking out on State Street. I like daylight, night light, and passers by.

I don't seem to mind if your waiters are a little forgetful sometimes, I remind them to check the kitchen for my food and later to pick up the credit card receipt instead of watching the TV. I forgive your mediocre coffee. I never have room for dessert -- lucky, since you usually don't have more than one or two.

We always think of you, Red Hawk, and everything about you gets more familiar every time. Why do we keep coming back to you? It can't be love.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lamb from New Zealand

For dinner we had some really delicious lamb rib chops from New Zealand. They were very small with only a small layer of fat.

While New Zealand has converted much of their old sheep-raising farmland into vineyards, we did see a few lambs on the hoof during our trip last December, as illustrated in the second photo.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Excess in pursuit of coffee

Considering that we just bought a new espresso machine, we read with amusement an article in this week's Guardian by Tim Hayward:
Espresso In pursuit of the 'God shot'

Admittedly, while shopping for our new machine, I only found it amusing that at Williams-Sonoma, prices for expresso machines ranged from $399 to $3659.99 -- the latter is a price which so astounded me that I carefully committed it to memory. Not to mention peripheral devices. We bought our new machine at Target for a fraction of the smallest price.

In our circumstances, the article, with its tale of one gadget after another, was doubly amusing. Favorite quotes:

"The ideal espresso (according to the Instituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano) is a 25ml beverage extracted from around 7g of finely ground coffee, using water at a temperature of 88C, passing through the grains at a pressure of 9 bar. See, dead easy. It should be thick-textured, having emulsified many of the oils, retain most of the volatile aromas and flavours of the bean and be capped with a thick colloidal foam layer - "crema" - reddish, creamy and flecked. Each one of those factors is minutely variable, potentially causing thinness, bitterness, under- or overextraction or - the ultimate humiliation - a thin or patchy crema." ...

"Today, my kitchen bench looks like a Bond villain's lair. I have invested hundreds of pounds and countless hours only to produce average coffee inconsistently. And what do the Nerds have to say? Apparently, the real pros are drifting away from espressos to experiment with syphon pots, those things resembling two spherical glass vases stuck together that put so many 1950s hostesses into the burns unit.

"I've learned a painful lesson. When Giovanni Gaggia filed a patent for an espresso machine in Milan in 1947, it was designed to make coffee in industrial quantities at serious speed. Professional baristas get results because they use huge machines that deliver a thousand shots a day. The hand processes like tamping become consistent after the first hundred. To become barely competent could take me years. The boys in the chatrooms will denounce me as a heretic, but I now know that, for me, the best espresso will always come from an Italian standing coolly behind a big machine, not an obsessive Englishman throwing money at a small one."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Salmon to be Scarce

Individual examples of ecological trouble may not be isolated. It's hard to tell what each one may mean, and tempting to see each new small disaster as a segment of a bigger one. In the news lately is word of the collapse of salmon fishing on the west coast. Is it isolated? A portent?

The following paragraphs from the NY Times article Chinook Salmon Vanish Without a Trace lay out the problem:

"The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations — and coming up dry.

"Whatever the cause, there was widespread agreement among those attending a five-day meeting of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council here last week that the regional $150 million fishery, which usually opens for the four-month season on May 1, is almost certain to remain closed this year from northern Oregon to the Mexican border. A final decision on salmon fishing in the area is expected next month.

"As a result, Chinook, or king salmon, the most prized species of Pacific wild salmon, will be hard to come by until the Alaskan season opens in July. Even then, wild Chinook are likely to be very expensive in markets and restaurants nationwide."

On one trip up the California coast, I ate salmon in every restaurant. I ate smoked salmon and fresh salmon, breakfast salmon and dinner salmon. I loved crossing the big viaducts in sight of the ocean, where the freeway spanned the streams coming down from the hillsides above us. I suppose that the fish swam up these waterways to spawn. That was years ago, and the fishing seemed innocent, not threatening the environment.

The puzzle of the articles I've read about this collapse is that even now, they don't know if the source of the problem is fishing, if it's something about the way the environment has been treated, or if it's some combination of fatal events. We humans must be at fault: but we may never know the details.

UPDATE: see also Gourmet magazine --
Salmon Collapse by Barry Estabrook

Monday, March 17, 2008

Poilane Bakery

The Poilane Bakery in Paris is not a legend. Here to prove it is a photo I took at the Blvd. de Grenelle Poilane in 1976. You can see croissants, apple turnovers (that is, chaussons -- divine!), and little nut rolls. Outside the window, you can see the elevated Metro line, which we suffered to hear outside the window of our apartment across the street. Below are scans of the two halves of a bread bag (too big for one scan) from that era:

Several years after our stay, I bought the book by Lionel Poilane, Guide de l'amateur de Pain par Poilane.

Here you can see an illustration from the book, as well as the cover. The wood-fired oven, which was in the basement of the building, kept the whole shop warm. Sometimes we saw truckloads of wood for the oven being delivered to a trap door that led down to the basement. Paris bakers -- as shown here -- dressed in shorts because they kneaded heavy dough in overheated workspaces near hot ovens, whatever the fuel.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Food of a Nation

From today's Guardian:

"Recipes, like birds, ignore political boundaries. Just as the British empire still has a culinary pulse, beating in a curry in Scotland or in the mug of builder's tea with sugar and milk you are handed in some roadhouse on the Karakorum Highway; just as the Ottoman empire breathes phantom breaths in little cups of muddy coffee from Thessaloniki to Basra; so the faint outline of the Tsarist-Soviet imperium still glimmers in the collective steam off bowls of beetroot and cabbage in meat stock, and the soft sound of dollops of sour cream slipping into soup, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Japan and, in emigration, from Brooklyn to Berlin."
Read all about the originally Ukranian dish and its continued presence in the Former Soviet Union:

The story of borshch
It's just a bowl of beetroot and cabbage in meat stock, but it was the common denominator of the Soviet kitchen. So what's happened to the dish? James Meek reports

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mark this date...

First Dairy Queen of the year -- following a sushi dinner. The Packard Road DQ opened around a week ago. It's the old-fashioned kind, with only two windows for customers to line up and a picnic table for anyone who doesn't want to eat in the car. (We ate ours in the car. The weather is warm, but not that warm.)

They replaced the old menu board with its modular letters this year. Now they have a lighted sign with the logos of all the oreos, heath bars, butterfingers and other Blizzard contents.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Food Bookshelves, Second Part

On this shelf:
  • Delos, The World of Cognac
  • Parker, Wine Buyer’s Guide
  • Larousse, Wines and Vineyards of France
  • Parker, Wine Buyer’s Guide
  • Wine Album (filled in with wine we drank long ago)
  • Johnson, Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine, 2000
  • Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
  • Water, Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook
  • Spang, The Invention of the Restaurant
  • Laszlo, Citrus
  • Wechsberg, Blue Trout and Black Truffles
  • Clark, The Oysters of Locmariaquer
  • Corson, The Secret Life of Lobsters
  • Bestor, Tsukiji
  • Six Haggadahs
  • Reichl, The Gourmet Cookbook
On this shelf:
  • Lying on its side: Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles
  • Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses
  • Wansink, Mindless Eating
  • Nabhan, Why Some Like it Hot
  • Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (proof copy)
  • Pollan, In Defense of Food
  • Pollan, The Botany of Desire
  • Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
  • Jordan & Brady, eds, The World is a Kitchen
  • Barnes, The Pedant in the Kitchen
  • Simieti & Grammatico, Bitter Almonds
  • Ortiz, The Book of Latin American Cooking
  • Moosewood Collective, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home
  • Palermo Tourist Bureau, Palermo Provincia: Cooking History and Traditions
  • Hsiung, Chinese Regional Cooking
  • Roden, A Book of Middle Eastern Food
  • Stacey, Consumed: Why Americans Love, Hate, and Fear Food
  • Hobhouse, Seeds of Change
  • Sahni, Moghul Microwave
  • Jaffrey, World Vegetarian
  • Singh, Indian Cookery
  • McGee, On Food and Cooking
  • Algar, Classical Turkish Cooking
  • Yazgan, ed. Specialities of Turkish Cuisine
  • Riley, Painters & Food: Renaissance Recipes
  • Barry, Old English Recipes, Classic Recipes from English Country Houses

And on this shelf:
  • In front: Hannah Montana Valentine from Miriam
  • Sideways: Westervelt, Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes
  • Argyriou et. al. eds: The 200 years History of Australian Cooking
  • Isaacs, Bush Food: Aboriginal Food and Herbal Medicine
  • Yood, Feasting: A Celebration of Food in Art
  • Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food
  • Child, Baking with Julia
  • Child, Julia Child & Company
  • Child et. al. Mastering the Art of French Cooking
  • Child et. al. Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. Two
  • Child, From Julia Child’s Kitchen
  • Child, My Life in France
  • Child, The French Chef Cookbook
  • Johnston, The Cuisine of the Sun
  • Beck, Simca’s Cuisine
  • Oliver, La Cuisine
  • Toklas, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook
  • Poilane, Guide de l’amateur de Pain
  • Clayton, The Breads of France
  • Claiborne, The New York Times Cookbook

Saturday, March 08, 2008

New Machine

Here you see our great new espresso machine. It's much smaller and better than our previous Gaggia gadget! In Lenny's skillful hands it makes a beautiful cup of coffee with perfect crema on top. We haven't tried steamed milk yet.

As usual, we are following Evelyn's lead, but she has the dual-purpose version that also makes filter coffee. We are satisfied with our system of filtering into a vacuum jug, so decided on this model.

Anyone around here want a perfectly functioning Gaggia espresso machine?

If you are curious, the toaster oven in the back is a very OLD gadget -- maybe around 25 years old. It has a GE logo, and GE sold that line of appliances to Black and Decker more than 20 years ago; I don't even know if B&D still owns the line now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Jocondologie, or Mona Lisa Everywhere

You know I love La Joconde, AKA Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

Back to the Fortune Cookie Chronicles

I was an early fan of the newly-published book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee. Last night I watched the author's interview on The Colbert Report. What fun. She made her point that most Americans eat Chinese food more frequently than apple pie -- so maybe it's more American. Colbert, of course, immediately claimed to eat an apple pie for breakfast daily. So he goes.

I read a proof copy of the Chronicles last year. See these blog posts:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

One Book Shelf

The amazon editors' blog Omnivoracious has invited readers to submit a photo of their bookshelves with a list of the books. I love the idea. I'm sure that this big-time website will never get around to my books, though, so I think I'll start blogging them myself.

I'm starting with some foodie books, which I'll do here on the food blog -- later if I don't lose interest, I'll do other books on my other blogs. The shelf in the picture represents about one-tenth of my food books (which are a fraction of all the books in the house). I don't guarantee that I'll ever finish the project. Be sure to click on the photo for a close-up!

About this shelf: as you see, in front of the books one of my other reading interests has sneaked up in the form of three plastic Shakespeare toys. Behind the cartoony Shakespeares, are the following books:
  • George Lang, The Cuisine of Hungary.
  • Andras Koerner, A Taste of the Past: the Daily Life and Cooking of a 19th-Century Hungarian Jewish Homemaker.
  • Kay Shaw Nelson, The Eastern European Cookbook.
  • Joza Brizova, The Czechoslovak Cookbook.
  • Karoly Gundel, Gundel's Hungarian Cookbook.
  • Joan Nathan, Jewish Cooking in America.
  • Ladies Auxiliary of Jewish Home for Aged of Worcester County, Jewish Home Cookbook.
  • Mrs. Esther Levy, The First Jewish-American Cookbook.
  • Colette Rossant, Apricots on the Nile.
  • Rebeca Levin, Cocina Judia: Memoria y Tradicion.
  • Pati Shosteck, A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking.
  • John Cooper, Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food.
  • Cara De Silva, Ed. In Memory's Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin.
  • Claudia Roden, The Book of Jewish Food.
  • David M. Gitlitz & Linda Kay Davidson, A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews.
  • Greenspoon, Simkins, & Shapiro, eds. Food & Judaism.
  • Sherry Ansky, The Food of Israel.
  • Angelo Pellegrini, The Unprejudiced Palate.
  • Irma S. Rombauer & Marion Rombauer Becker, Joy of Cooking.
  • Carolyn Dille & Susan Belsinger, Classic Southwest Cooking.
  • Junior League of Baton Rouge, River Roads Recipes.
  • Rima & Richard Collin, The New Orleans Cookbook.
  • Mimi Sheraton, The Bialy Eaters.
  • H.E.Jacob, Six Thousand Years of Bread.

Michael Pollan perceives a movement

On his book tour for In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan reports, he's observed a new, more widespread interest in food issues: "I'm convinced that we're witnessing the rise of a new movement around food in this country--one of the most exciting and hopeful political developments in my lifetime."

Pollan, whose books I've enthusiastically read, describes a variety of opinions and actions he has encountered. He concludes that in America today there is "a drive to repair our broken, dangerously unsustainable, brutal, and unhealthy food system, and replace it with a shorter, more legible food chain based on the principles of equity, sustainability, and health--but health in the broadest sense of the word, a conception of health that recognizes that our personal health is in fact indivisible from the health of the land, the plants, the animals, and the workers who together comprise the food chain that sustains us. We're at the beginning of something big."

Vote with Your Forks! where these words appeared, is the last of several blog posts Pollan has recently written for Omnivoracious, the editor's blog at Amazon.

When I read Pollan's books, I wrote the following blog posts: "Eat Food", Very Interesting Articles on Food and Slow Food.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Recipes for foods in a novel

In my recent post, I discussed the many food references in The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak. I quoted several lists of Turkish foods enjoyed by both the Armenian-American family and by the Turkish family in the novel.

Binnur -- writer of -- helped me to identify some of the recipes for the favorite foods of the characters in the novel, and correct my mistakes. When I've tried Binnur's recipes, I find them easy to follow, with delicious results. Each recipe in Binnur's blog also has a mouth-watering photo.

To get the idea of what the characters are eating in the book, here is a key with links to Binnur's recipes:
  • Fassoulye pilaki (fasulye pilaki). Fasulye means beans. This dish has kidney beans, pepper, onions, and other vegetables. For the recipe see: Kuru Fasulye Pilaki.
  • Kadin budu kofte -- see Kadinbudu Kofte -- this is beef kofte with onion, egg, rice, and parsley, served over egg noodles.
  • Karniyarik is eggplant stuffed with a ground beef mixture.
  • Churek (corek -- in Turkish written çörek). Binnur writes: "it is a pastry, there is more than one corek recipe in Turkey. It changes from one region to the other, but it is certainly not pide." For her favorite recipe see: Turkish-style Breakfast Buns (Kahvalti Corekleri).
  • Bastirma (pastirma) is a Turkish pastrami.
  • Burma is a dessert like baklava.
You can buy Binnur's cookbook in printed copy or Kindle editions as well:

Binnur's Turkish Cookbook: - Delicious, healthy and easy-to-make Ottoman & Turkish recipes
by Binnur Tomay