Thursday, July 31, 2008

BBQ Technique

All summer, ever since we replaced our ancient Weber grill with a new one, we (mainly Len) have been working on barbecue techniques.

A meat thermometer is one of our new devices -- it is extremely effective. We actually bought it to use for the espresso machine, to see that the foam comes up to the right temperature (also Len's department).

Google helped too. We found a handy table of meat types and required temperatures here. You can see that the lamb steak in the picture has not yet reached 125ยบ -- shortly after the photo, we ate it very rare and it was delicious! Len says next time he will poke the sensor in closer to the bone, for better measurement.

For the record: before we cooked the lamb, I basted it with hoi-sin sauce, soy sauce, and a bit of lemon juice for around an hour. And we used the chimney-like lighter to get the hardwood charcoal going. That's all the new techniques from last night.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Dollhouse Kitchen

Sometimes the dolls keep a lot more food, dishes, and utensils out in their kitchen and pantry. Right now, it's pretty bare, but you can see their 1920s style refrigerator and sink, their wood stove, and behind the stove, the old pie safe.

The last photo shows a kitchen from a 1950s doll house like the one I had as a child.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Thomas Jefferson's Kitchen at Monticello

Thomas Jefferson is famous for his love of food and especially wine. When he returned from his stay in France, he brought back 86 crates of kitchen equipment, and completed a state-of-the-art kitchen in 1809. A long cooking surface, heated from beneath, occupies one wall, with workspace and storage in the remaining areas of the room. (The current materials on display represent a 2004 reconstruction.)

The wine world recently was shocked when it appeared that some wine claimed to have once been in Jefferson's cellar -- and sold at predictably high prices -- was actually a fake. The wine was not even old, much less ever owned by Jefferson.

At the Monticello website, you can learn about Jefferson and his home. To see the kitchen, which was attached to the main building as a "dependency" pull down the "House" tab and pick "South Dependency/Kitchen." The site explains that dependencies were independent buildings used for service, and connected to the main residence by cellars underground. I hope to go and tour Monticello some day. Meanwhile, the website offers a lot to explore!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Even caves have kitchens...

... or at least they have dining rooms!

Monday, July 21, 2008

From Alice's Kitchen

Last night my friends Alice and Ellen made a wonderful dinner to celebrate various important things. For a starter, Alice made a remarkable melon soup. It was lightly flavored with cooked onion and white wine and garnished with prosciutto. I didn't photograph the main course of beef, asparagus, and barley pilaf. For dessert, Ellen brought a cake from Zingerman's bakery.

Alice's kitchen:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Eating Local Foods

For breakfast this morning we had blueberries from yesterday's trip to the Farmers Market. Lunch yesterday was buttered corn and a plate of sliced tomatoes and radishes, all from the market. Dinner: a tabouli salad that used parsley and tomatoes from the market, and some French-style eggs with mayo. We also snacked on red and yellow cherries from Traverse City via the market.

(Full disclosure: we ate the cherries with home made brownies while watching 6 of the 12 episodes of the rediscovered Gene Autry sci-fi series "The Phantom Empire," from 1935. Autry and other cowboys from Radio Ranch meet the inhabitants of the deep-underground Empire Murania, including robots in tin fedoras. The cowboys defeat both the underground enemies and a group of evil scientists trying to obtain Murania's valuable radium supplies.)

Still to be eaten this week: peas, lettuce, and the first peaches of the year. And there were so many things we didn't buy!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Corn is getting cheaper

Ten days ago when I photographed the corn from this farm, it was 75¢ an ear. Oddly, the Farmers Market was much less crowded today than on my most recent Saturday trip. Not all the stalls were occupied today, while several weeks ago every one was taken and many were in the parking lot. Fewer buyers, easier parking: altogether quieter. Wednesdays, when I have been going more recently, are always less busy.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Art Fair Food

I am fond of the Ann Arbor Art Fair. I spent two mornings this week browsing many booths. The one thing I do not find at all appealing is the food. What a pity that all they have is trailers with the least-common-denominator of carnival food. I'm in a minority on this one: I know a lot of people who love corn dogs and funnel cakes!

See also: "Art Fair Dolls"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mona Lurks in the Kitchen

In 1911, an Italian workman stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Two years later, with great fanfare, she was returned from Italy -- where he had been keeping her in his house. Many Mona Lisa parodies and sketches spun off from this event. The artist Gary Kelly painted this imagined view of Mona Lisa in the kitchen of the thief.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Gabi's Kitchen, Ann Arbor

"Midcentury Modern" Kitchen in the L.A. Times

If you are amused by over-the-top 60's decor, don't miss this article in today's L.A.Times:
Home of the Week: Swinging '60s pad in Hancock Park.

Especially don't miss: Photos: Midcentury Modern
-- the image at right shows the kitchen (of course) in the photo essay.

If you can afford it the asking price is $2,695,000.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My imaginary kitchen in Medieval England

While we were in Cambridge some years ago, we had delicious meals in various inns, such as the Swan, which is in a village not far from Cambridge (High Street, Clare, Sudbury, Suffolk). These institutions preserve historic signboards as pictured below: The Swan claims to have the oldest signboard in England. Most of them serve a modern version of old English food: often roasts, Yorkshire pudding, and retro desserts like sticky toffee pudding. They very often have a big, open hearth fireplace that a person could stand in, and a selection of antique cooking tools, benches, and chairs around the fire.

These inns present one with an opportunity for fantasy about life in a medieval home. I've looked up a few things about what it must have been like. The fireplace and chimney were innovations, for one thing -- in early medieval homes, a fire was made in the middle of the main room, vented through a hole in the roof. The resulting air quality probably compared to that beside a modern freeway.

Early English cooking equipment supported boiling, spit-roasting, and toasting over the open fire. An iron pot or cauldron hung by chains on a stand over the fire for stews or soups. Cooks used long-handled spoons to stir the pot or to whack the kitchen boy. Skimmers and fork-like flesh hooks served to tend the pot and pull out pieces of meat. Additional kitchen and dining utensils included wooden bowls and spatulas, ceramic and copper vessels, and iron or copper trivets, plates, lidded drinking vessels, and flat spoons. When a metal or ceramic item began to wear out, a tinker could mend its holes with solder or an iron plug.

Fire was always a danger with a floor strewn with rushes in a house made from wood and thatch. Servants or cooks who tended the fire took careful measures to avoid dangerous bursts of sparks. At night, a family member or servant inverted a heavy ceramic fire cover with handles and small vents over the hearth, to prevent the embers from either going out or causing a fire. This fire cover was called a curfew, and the law dictated that it was to be in place when the evening bell — also called the curfew — sounded at around 8 PM. To start a new fire, a medieval Englishman or woman struck a flint on a fire steel, or brought some embers from another fireplace in a ceramic firepan. Utensils like these appear in museums, as well as in inns like the Swan.

My temporary kitchen in Cambridge, England

Several years ago, we spent some time visiting Cambridge, England. We lived in an apartment building named Mordell Court, around half an hour bicycle ride from the Isaac Newton Institute where Len was working.

The kitchen was modern, basic, and I suspect typically English. For one thing, available working space was enlarged by the fact that the refrigerator was under the counter (to the left in the photo). Of course, this meant that some normal-sized containers wouldn't even fit into the refrigerator, and that one couldn't stock up on any perishable items. Nevertheless, I cooked quite happily while we were living here.

For completeness, I'm including photos of the outside of the building and the living room:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Vera Weizmann's Kitchen: Rehovot, Israel

Vera Weizmann was a physician who spent most of her adult life in England while her husband, Chaim Weizmann, a highly accomplished chemist as well as a political activist, traveled widely promoting the foundation of Israel, and became its first president. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, was the site of their final home, designed by the noted German architect Erich Mendelsohn in the late 1930s. When I toured the home in 2006, I was especially impressed by the kitchen. The GE refrigerator -- still in the kitchen -- is said to have been the first refrigerator in Israel!

In her autobiography, Vera Weizmann (1881-1968) recalled her childhood home in Rostov on Don, where her father, after serving in the Tsar’s army, was exceptionally allowed to live. She notes: “on the wall in our dining room…[was a lithograph] of the ‘good Jew’ Sir Moses Montefiore who had been to Damascus to refute the gross forgeries in which Jews were accused of using sacrificial Christian blood at Passover” (p. 5; a litho of Montefiore is at right.)

For more details see these posts: The Chaim Weizmann House, Rehovot, Israel, Study, Weizmann House, Living Room, Weizmann House. Vera Weizmann's autobiography: The Impossible takes Longer. (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1967).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Monet's Kitchen at Giverny

Monet’s house at Giverny embodies the French dream of what a country house should look like. His kitchen and dining room must have been the scene of many country lunches on quiet Sunday afternoons. There were certainly meals on the terrace — you can see them in paintings at the Musee d’Orsay.

I have lost track of the photos that we took on our visit to Giverny; however the cookbook Monet's Table by Claire Jones has some beautiful photos of the house, so I've appropriated them to show you this wonderful kitchen. The book also contains Monet's own recipes that he made in that kitchen and others.

In my experience with Sunday lunch at country houses outside Paris, at a distance similar to Giverny, French people find the kitchen to be the real heart of the house. An open fireplace (such as that in Michelle's house in Cotignac), is often the central appeal, though as in Giverny, not always. Before lunch, a group of women -- often several generations -- often gather in the kitchen to prepare the meal. In beautiful weather, the table is usually set outside, but often with formal china, tableware, and serving dishes from indoors.

I suspect that the French families who line up at Giverny on Sunday afternoon, presumably after such a lunch, are fantasizing about how their family would use this beautiful and tasteful house, as well as looking over the garden where Monet painted the famous water lilies.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Cherries, Berries, Cauliflower, Corn

Delicious produce at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market again this week! The Kapnik girls are the fourth generation of their family to sell produce from the family farms and orchards! I bought cherries and raspberries. I'm planning to make Cauliflower Soup. My most important purchase today was flowers -- see for a photo of the garden.

Carol's Kitchen

Here is Carol's kitchen in Bloomfield, MI. She's in the middle of adding a line of decorative tile to the backsplash, so in the future we may have a picture of the finished product. As a bonus, she sent a picture of a tiny teapot that she made -- it's no bigger than an egg!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Michelle's Kitchen in Cotignac, Provence

Our friend Michelle, who lives in Paris, for many years spent vacations at her grandparents' farmhouse in Cotignac, a small town north of the French Riviera. It was an idyllic place surrounded by vineyards and a few olive trees. Michelle told us many stories about her grandparents, who had farmed this land, and her early stays on the farm.

Michelle is one of the best cooks in the world; when we visited we would go into the town markets, where she knew the proprietors, and purchase fabulous fish brought up from the Mediterranean, local produce, and other fantastic things, which she would cook for us.

At the time of our earliest visits, the old farmhouse kitchen included an open hearth for spit-roasting, and few appliances. Plumbing and electricity were relatively recent introductions. Later, Michelle and her family put on a large addition with a modern tiled kitchen, new bedrooms, and modern bathroom.

Both kitchens were beautiful and to me were examples of the way French people cook. Many French people, in fact, dream of owning such a rooted family home. The first photos, dating from 1977, show Michelle cooking in the original kitchen, the hearth, the outside of the house, and -- for a change from kitchens only -- one of the bedrooms.

The bed, which had a straw-stuffed mattress, and the rush-seat chair reminded us of Van Gogh's painting of his room in Arles (which is across the Rhone River from the Cotignac area).

On our visit in 1994, we enjoyed delicious meals cooked in the new kitchen, and we stayed in one of the rooms in the new addition. The photos show the kitchen, dining room, and the vineyard outside. More recently, Michelle and her sister and brother decided to sell the house, which required a great deal of upkeep, so I'm sorry to say that I'll never visit there again.