Saturday, August 29, 2009

Amsterdam Falafel, Washington D.C.

I love falafel when it's crunchy and fresh, with really good tahini and salad on really good pita. Amsterdam Falafel Shop on 18th Street NW makes it exactly the way I like it! I asked exactly which middle eastern country their falafel came from. The answer was completely evasive: they studied falafel in Amsterdam, and came up with their recipe. Customers come from a variety of embassies in the neighborhood (Adams-Morgan). Some may be mutual enemies. So the management strictly refuses allegiance to any single source of falafel -- except Amsterdam.

I said, oh, "World Peace Falafel" -- yes, that's it. I liked it as well as the falafel in Tel Aviv and on Rue des Rosiers in Paris -- that is, Israeli falafel, maybe Israeli-Yemenite falafel. But this is pan-middle-eastern falafel.

And not far away are various African art shops with many beautiful masks and carvings for sale.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Doll Food

Doll food was our craft project yesterday -- Miriam, Alice, Len, and I are just hanging out while Evelyn is at work this week. They set up the doll store that I brought, and we made salt dough with various food colors. It dried overnight, and is now baking to dry out completely. This seems to dull the colors, so I guess another project will be to paint every little plum, orange, bagel, basket, and loaf of bread that we made.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not enough time

Just a few jars of compote -- that's today's accomplishment. Summer is going by so fast, I've hardly had time to go to the farmers' market or farm stands for peaches, tomatoes and all the things I love to cook. I managed just this one little effort. I wonder if I'll get to make any slow-roasted tomatoes, gazpacho, or rattatouille.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Best Seller

Julia Child, my all-time favorite cookbook author, has made it big, says the New York Times:
Julia Child Finally Has a Big Best Seller

Almost 48 years after it was first published, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” is topping the best-seller list.

My copy of the book dates from 1964. It was my second cookbook because a friend had already given me the Larousse Gastronomique as a wedding present. So I didn't just learn to cook French food from Julia Child -- I learned to cook from Julia Child. Believe me, you can't learn to cook from the Larousse! It assumes you know everything except a few details. We had just returned from a long stay in France (on Len's post-graduate Fullbright fellowship) so we knew we wanted to eat French food; the timing was perfect.

I have memorized many of the recipes, and over the years have bought most of her other books as well. I loved her autobiography, My Life in France, which I read when it was published. Now I just have to see the movie.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tropical fruit trees


Lilikoi (Passion Fruit)


Ohelo Berries, sacred to Pele

These photos were taken during our vacation in Maui last week. The cashew tree was in the "Garden of Eden" on the road to Hana. The lilikoi and banana trees grow at the Surfing Goat Dairy. The Ohelo berries were in Haleakala National Park.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Every evening, Sansei restaurant is packed, with lots more people waiting on the few benches along the parking lot of its strip mall. In sight are two restaurants with virtually no tables occupied. We waited forever to get a table, but the other restaurants looked really pathetic, and we wanted a good farewell dinner.

Sansei has an innovative version of Japanese restaurant cooking. The sushi rolls are varied and delicious -- you can see a rainbow roll, a spider roll, and a classic ahi tuna roll in the picture above, and sushi of unagi/eel and ahi tuna below.

Presentations are impressive as well: below, a duck breast with accompaniments. The tempura seemed perfectly battered -- I tried one spear of Evelyn's asparagus, which was lovely. A pasta dish included large scallops and shrimp with a fusion of Japanese spicing.

On the lanai this morning, the air is very humid and smells of tropical flowers, mainly the plumeria aroma from the large bushes on the lawn. The clouds in the west are still a tiny big pink, and I don't think the sun is yet over the mountain, Haleakala, house of the sun. The sunlight has reached Lanai, the next island over, that's visible across the strait. The ocean is flat and still looks grey, as always in the early morning. I don't think we are going to get an early start for snorkel and beach, but it's been fun and I'm sorry to have to leave tonight on the red-eye.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dinner at Roy's

I believe that Roy, founder of Roy's restaurant chain, was one of the originators of Pacific Rim cuisine around 20 to 30 years ago. He expanded and became a personality (I haven't seen him on food TV but I think he's there). His restaurants throughout the islands and on the mainland still deliver a very enjoyable version of this fusion cooking, which we ate last night. We shared a Dragon Roll with eel, a couple of kinds of fish, and three or more sauces artistically piped onto the plate.

Lenny ordered the trio of Hawaiian fish: ahi, ono, and one other with an "o." It was stacked on thick slices of boiled redskin potato.
I had monchong, a type of amber jack, which was garnished with shrimp. I noticed that ALL of the sauces are quite sweet, though pleasantly good with the fish. The tendency of some restaurants that imitate this cuisine is to put in way too many ingredients -- this isn't overdone at Roy's.
We didn't want to wait half an hour for the hot desserts, so we had a mac nut tart topped with ice cream and Lenny's birthday dessert -- puff pastry, pastry cream, and whipped cream with fruit, sort of a Napoleon.

Monday, August 17, 2009


After a long day of driving and hiking at Haleakala National Park, we ate a very late lunch at the Kula Lodge. The pizzas we ordered came out of the outdoor wood oven very fast, while the other food was rather slow, but we enjoyed it all. Exotic flowers from the nearby flower shop decorate the table. I liked my salad of local greens (another picture of a salad would indeed be boring though)

The fantastically varied landscapes of the park are always impressive. The winding road begins in wooded areas where cows graze, and winds up through low scrub. The hike nearest to the entrance of the park includes a forest of native and introduced trees including redwoods. It's populated by several native birds. We saw the little red birds called apapanis and others, and three NeNe geese flew over us. The native plant called silver sword is preserved by diligent efforts of the park service -- it was almost extinct thanks to non-native grazing animals, imported insects, and people collecting or damaging the plants.

The most extraordinary sight is the gigantic erosion crater. Long after the original volcanic peak was eroded to dust, the crater filled up with small cones from a new series of volcanic eruptions. The visitor center looks over this crater and beyond to the blue mountains of the Big Island.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Surfing Goat Dairy

Goat cheese is made from the milk of this herd of around 300 goats at the Surfing Goat Dairy. Everywhere on the farm I caught the goat scent in the air, which really to me seems similar to the special flavor of goat's milk, goat yogurt, or goat cheese. Goats definitely have odd eyes and hooves -- can't help thinking of how they inspired people to envision the devil. Though these goats seem quite nice-tempered.

The milking tour was fun for all of us. First Miriam and Alice fed some hay to a few baby goats -- they are quite gentle and have had their horns removed. Along with a couple of dozen other tourists, we then walked down to the field where the milk goats were grazing, and along with several herding dogs, we walked them up to the milking shed.

The goats willingly climb up on the milking platform because of the troughs of delicious grain mixture that they are allowed to eat while being milked. They kneel on their front legs, making the udders accessible to the goat girl (or whatever she's called). She showed us how to milk the first row of goats -- including the leader of the herd, who almost always gets in line first.
Then each tourist took a turn milking a few presses. Finally, she milked them with the machine, which pipes the milk into the dairy. After we left she had another hour or so of work to milk the remaining goats who had been standing patiently in the holding area waiting their turn.

The milk from this afternoon was to be pasteurized and then made into classic soft goat cheese, which will be flavored with herbs, fruit, or vegetables. Surfing Goat cheeses have won prizes at a variety of food fairs. We have tasted it before, and tasted it again after our final stop with some of the non-milk goats in the dairy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fish Tacos

Several months in San Diego brought home to me what a fad fish tacos are right now. Every Mexican diner, food stand or restaurant claims to have the best fish tacos, or at least offers them as their signature taco. They always come with cole slaw, and the fish is usually breaded and then deep fried -- whether it's fresh or out of a frozen box. By the time it's been in the deep fryer, it doesn't much matter what kind of fish it is. Sadly, fresh fish isn't any longer really easy to obtain in San Diego.

I've been asking myself: why couldn't fish tacos have other taco ingredients? More appealing fish? Today at Milagros Food Company in Paia, on the east side of Maui, I found the fish taco of my dreams. Really fresh-tasting tortillas filled with generous portions of poached ahi tuna from the sea. Guacamole, shredded lettuce, and salsa were garnished with just a hint of shredded cheese. The standard side of rice and beans filled the other half of the plate -- but these were good ones. (Alice said it was her favorite kind of rice.)

I'm bored of photos of my daily order of Hawaiian fish, so no photo of this paragon of tacos, nor of the ono on a bun, the ono on a tortilla, or the quesadilla that the rest of us ate.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hey Dude!

Len and Evelyn went diving. The huge turtles were on either side of the flounder -- which is so camouflaged you really can see it mainly when it moves. Lots of fish also posed for great photos. Thank goodness people have given up eating turtles!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hawaii Food

At Fred's Mexican restaurant, I ate a burrito that looked bigger than my head -- as Miss Piggy warned not to! Here's Miriam with her enchilada.

Fresh fish again and again -- I never get tired of it! The photo above is ahi with oriental salad from a place called Cafe O'Lei (ouch). It gets great reviews, and I liked my lunch, but dinner there later was a big disappointment to Evelyn and Tom.
Another lunch we ate at a place called Ma'alenea -- on the water. Below is Alice's post about that lunch, which she dictated for the story blog:

We went to a restaurant in front of the harbor.
Here I am waiting to order. I had fish and chips. The fish was called mahi-mahi. I liked it. Except for it was a little hot. If I didn't put too much tartar sauce, I liked it.

I had mint chip and a cookie sandwich at Hula Cookies and Ice Cream. It was really good!

Miriam had some kind of strawberry. She liked it too. My Dad had a really good ice cream. I think he got pineapple and coconut.
-- by Alice

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Fresh Fish!

Pita Paradise is owned by a fisherman. So there are fresh Ahi pitas, among other lovely foods. It's tiny with just a few tables and a counter for ordering, and behind one of the old-style tourist malls with little stalls offering local and asian products.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"All is soup!"

The Nonexistent Knight is a good story. Calvino plays with words, and does a lot of things that I would call "meta," but he makes his story readable, using humor, suspense, and lots of good detail along with a kind of word play, irony, and self-referential stuff.

Agilulf is a nonexistent knight -- a suit of white armor with nothing visible inside. Agilulf walks around Charlemagne's war camp, enforcing the formal rules that only he knows, and doing highly chivalrous acts. Such a knight, you might say, is nonexistent. Right.

Agilulf gets into a shipwreck, sinks to the sea floor, and walks to the destination port, his armor conveniently coated with protective goo. Such a knight, you might say, is nonexistent. Right.

Somehow, Calvino fleshes this character out, despite his lack of flesh. He has ideals, desires, and thoughts. He doesn't eat, but plays with food that's served to him. Calvino does it all with subtlety and creates a plot that gets the reader interested.

The narrator is a nun. She gets engrossed in the process of writing. She draws maps and finds out where the characters are by looking at her own maps. She speculates in odd ways. But she's somehow likeable and the final revelation about her is a nice surprise. This meta stuff doesn't spoil a good story, just adds to the amusing nature of the tale.

Chalemagne gives Aigilulf Gurduloo as his squire. The nonexistent knight is the master of his opposite: Gurduloo (who also goes by many other names) is entirely engulfed in physical reality. In the shipwreck that his master walks away from, he can't tell if he's in the sea or the sea is in him. Somehow this saves him. When he eats soup, he's in the soup and says "All is soup!" Somehow his odd existence is captivating.

In one scene, Charlemagne sat down to a banquet before the proper time and "began to pick at bread or cheese or olives or peppers. ... The courses were the usual ones in a military mess: stuffed turkey roasted on the spit, braised oxen, suckling pig, eels, gold fish." When Agilulf ate, he asked for "fresh crockery and cutlery, plates big and small, porringers, glasses of every size and shape, innumerable forks and spoons and knives that had to be well sharpened." Then he played with the food. Another scene involves tribute from peasants to the Knights of the Grail: "goats' cheeses, baskets of carrots, sacks of millet and young lambs."

Do we readers care that peppers, turkey, forks, and carrots are anachronisms? No, it's the vivid details that work here. Nothing about the writing can be critiqued for consistency. It's a game. If you don't get it, the joke's on you, I think.

Note: Calvino's book If on a winter night a traveler made it onto the L.A.Times book blog list of postmodern novels, where there's also a list of postmodern characteristics that might be relevant here. See this:
61 essential postmodern reads: an annotated list

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Tea Ceremony

Yasunari Kawabata's Thousand Cranes takes place in Japan soon after World War II. The central character is a 25 year old man whose late father was a collector of rare old tea ceremony objects and a practitioner of the traditional tea ceremony. Quite a few of the key scenes take place in the now-mildewing tea-ceremony cottage in the family garden, and the collected objects play a major role in this psychological drama.

The focus of the book is the young man's relationship with his father's two mistresses and the daughter of one of them. An unnamed maid and another young woman are the only other characters in the book: it's almost like a stage play with only a very small cast.

Several times, there is an enactment of the tea ceremony or some part of it, at a critical emotional point. Water boils. A tear falls on the iron kettle. The choice of rare and special water vessels, tea bowls, and decorative objects creates atmosphere and they become symbols to the characters and to the story. Sometimes a meal is served.

Nothing, basically, is ever said about the characters' tasting the tea, eating the food, or even noticing what food is being served. The tea ceremony is all about ritual and proper behavior. The way it affects the characters is important in the drama of their interaction and their individual problems. However, I find it very telling that the actual content of the tea vessels is not part of this drama, as I believe it would be in an actual tea ceremony. Savoring the tea is listed in documentary books as part of the ritual -- personally I find the tea at tea ceremonies unbearably bitter, and couldn't appreciate it.

I'm not able to tell if this lack of sensual participation or tasting the small snacks or the meal of tea time would be a meaningful symbol for a Japanese reader. It may be too late to know this, as the traditions described in the book are much rarer now than they were 50 years ago when the action took place.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Bad Salmon Run Again

I read a seriously bad story about this year's salmon run in Alaska:
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Yukon River smokehouses should be filled this summer with oil-rich strips of king salmon — long used by Alaska Natives as a high-energy food to get through the long Alaska winters. But they're mostly empty.

The kings failed to show up, and not just in the Yukon.

One Alaska river after another has been closed to king fishing this summer because significant numbers of fish failed to return to spawn. The dismally weak return follows weak runs last summer and poor runs in 2007, which also resulted in emergency fishing closures.

The disappearance of salmon is a bad sign for the health of the oceans and fish stocks. It's a disaster for the economies of the Alaskan native towns as well. "That means instead of making between $20,000 and $30,000 in the 1970s, fishermen are making just a few thousand dollars now, and that in villages where fuel costs $8 a gallon, milk is $15 a gallon and a T-bone steak costs $25."

From "King salmon vanishing in Alaska, smokehouses empty," Yahoo News.