Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Note on the Weather

We ate our artichokes on the back patio this evening, in glorious sunshine. I'm not sure we have ever been able to do this in March before. It was so enjoyable I didn't even think of taking a photo. The predictors tell us to expect a few more days of weather about 70 degrees!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Passover Dessert

Strawberry-Apple or Rhubarb Macaroon Crumble

7 oz almond paste (about 1 cup) crumbled
1 cup sugar
2 large egg whites
½ cup matzoh cake meal
¼ tsp. salt

Fruit mixture:
3 lbs tart apples peeled, cored, sliced & sprinkled with lemon OR equal amt of rhubarb thin-sliced & blanched
1 lb strawberries, rinsed, hulled, sliced
1 ½ tbsp potato starch (or other starch or matzoh cake meal)
1 Tbsp sugar (or more as you like it)

• In food processor, whirl almond paste & sugar. Add egg whites, cake meal, and salt. Process until mixture resembles wet cookie dough.

• Toss fruit ingredients in large bowl. Obviously you can combine any equivalent quantity of rhubarb, strawberries, and apples as desired.

• Spread fruit mixture in shallow 2 ½ to 3 qt. baking pan, greased. Pat topping over fruit.

Bake at 350 degrees until topping browns, 40 to 45 minutes. Allow to stand before serving.

The Seder

Abby's Seder Plate, Wine, and Matzot:
Salt Water, Greens, Charoset, Horseradish, Bone, Egg

Gefilte Fish and Egg with Horseradish

Matzoh Ball Soup

Brisket and Vegetables

"True Flavors"

This sketch of vegetables titled "True Flavors" is painted on a piece of scrap styrofoam -- I wonder if it was part of a cheap picnic ice box. We saw this painting in a beautiful exhibit of the author's work at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

The artist, Chang Ku-nien (1906-1987), had a delightful way of placing modern objects in classical Chinese paintings. One very long scroll depicted a typhoon that hit Taiwan in 1959, showing a train the artist was riding that almost derailed when the bridge was blown out. A winter scene shows a classical landscape, but two tiny figures at close inspection turn out to be skiiers. Paintings of autumn and winter in Michigan and of the Yellowstone Falls show how the artist's vision could turn American scenes into what appear to be Chinese landscapes.

"True Flavors" does the opposite: places a Chinese painting on a modern object!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ayaka Restaurant

We had lunch at this little place with a nice sushi bar and freshly made tempura served with udon. The decor was tasteful and appealing. It also looked very practical and inexpensive. Plastic chairs, plastic benches and dark formica tables could be easily wiped down -- and were spotlessly clean-looking. Ordinary tableware. But a much nicer atmosphere than a diner with similarly practical and inexpensive furnishings and decor.

A poem to think about

"Ice cream!" Sun. Light airy cakes.
A clear glass tumbler of water, icy cold.
Our dreams take flight, into a chocolate world
Of rosy dawns on milky Alpine peaks.

But as the teaspoon tinkles, it is sweet
In some little summerhouse amid the dry acacias,
To gaze, then take gratefully from tearoom Graces,
Little whorled cups with crumbly things to eat...

The street-organ's playmate suddenly appears,
The ice-cream cart, with multicolored covering --
The chest is full of lovely frozen things;
With greedy attentiveness, a small boy peers.

And what will he choose? The gods themselves can't say:
A diamond tart? A wafer filled with cream?
But under his slender spoon the divine ice,
Glittering in the sun, will soon melt away.

-- Osip Mandelstam

Victoria Sponge

I recently read in the Atlantic food section about the famous Victoria Sponge cake. The cake featured in an article by Tejal Rao about the even more famous Victorian cookbook Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management. The article describes the Victoria cake recipe from the book:
Beeton originally documented the recipe as a perfect 4:4 ratio of a baker's go-to ingredients: butter, eggs, sugar, and flour. Most English cooks still follow that guide, as do many non-English cooks, because the Victoria Sponge is England's most well-traveled cake, visiting her old colonies and never leaving. It still turns up at boarding schools in Kenya and home kitchens in India, and other places too. As a girl guide in England, I had to bake a Victoria Sponge for a stranger and serve it to him with a pot of tea to acquire my hostess badge—which they've since retired or renamed, I imagine.
The technique of weighing eggs and then using equal weights of the other ingredients is one I had heard of but never tried. This time, I decided to do the experiment -- as there are only two of us, I started with two, rather than four eggs. I weighed butter, sugar, and flour; creamed the butter and sugar; added the egg, then the flour; and baked my single layer in an 8 inch pan. It took a little longer than the 25 minutes in the recipe, which did not specify pan size. Although I had raspberry jam, which the recipe suggests, I used lemon curd between the layers.

Not-so-Victorian tricks: I softened the butter in the microwave oven, and used my electric mixer for beating the cake. My oven has a thermostat and an on-off switch, which no Victorian oven had. Also a modern advantage: I cleaned up with running water and a dishwasher. Eat your heart out, Mrs. Beeton.

We ate the cake for dinner, with tea. It's a dense cake, and tasted good. It's true: we had nothing but cake for dinner. How nice.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Billy's Pan Pizza

If you've read Stieg Larsson's second thriller The Girl Who Played With Fire, you'll recognize the amazing character Lisbeth Salander's favorite food: Billy's Pan Pizza. In her millionaire's apartment, purchased with money she obtained in the course of the first thriller, she has a dream kitchen with "a shiny French gourmet stove with a gas oven as the focus" and a Jura espresso machine, "the espresso equivalent of a Rolls-Royce." But Salander shops at 7-Eleven and other convenience stores and she eats only ready-to-microwave food or ready-made cheese sandwiches while chasing nearly superhuman public enemies and working for truth and justice. When she has time, she makes coffee. Otherwise, a few gulps of water from the tap keep her going. And going.

Living on odd bits of instant food, of course, is only one of Salander's amazing capabilities. She's a mathematical genius (including her achievement of the utterly improbable discovery of Fermat's own solution to the famous theorem). She has a photographic memory. She can hack into any computer on the planet. She's brave and honest and agile, out smarts the wiliest criminals, and wins hand-to-hand fights with men several times her size. But the fact that she eats a nerd's diet is indicative of how the late, great Larsson put together his portrayal of this remarkable character.

PS -- It's a good read. Both of the books are. But I'm suspicious of the mathematical elements of the second book.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gefilte Fish

Once a year we have a Seder for Passover -- it's coming up next week. And thus once a year, we eat gefilte fish. The jar from which I get the fish hasn't changed since my childhood, when my mother also served gefilte fish once a year for the Seder. I think of it as much in the list of ritual foods as its garnish of horseradish -- symbol of the bitter lives of the Israelite slaves in Egypt. As symbolic as the matzo with charoset or the parsley dipped in salt water. Much more traditional than the recently introduced orange, which symbolizes women being equal in all respects.

Gefilte fish is the paradigm of Jewish food, and among the observant, was traditional for Friday night Sabbath meals as well as holidays. Although minced fish balls may play a role in other cuisines (such as quenelles in France) the preparation is mainly unknown in American non-Jewish households, and elicits a very dubious response from the uninitiated. Well, it does taste a bit fishy. But what does it symbolize? I wondered.

Searching for how this dish acquired its ritual status I did a bit of reading. Obviously the word "gefilte" (which means "filled" as in mincing the fish with bread or other starch and stuffing the preparation back in the skin) has a Yiddish or German origin. Under other names, though, Jewish minced fish has a much older history.

In the aftermath of the fall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, many of the Jewish customs for celebration of the Sabbath were established and documented in the Talmud and other commentaries. In this era, two reasons emerged to eat fish. First, based on traditions from Syria and from various mystery cults, fish was associated with the coming of the Messiah (a tradition later reflected by Christian symbolism). Second, fish was associated with fertility, "Jacob gave his children a blessing that they should multiply like fishes." Eating fish, however, conflicted with the commandment to rest on the Sabbath. Removing fish bones was considered unacceptable "work." During Talmudic times, therefore, minced fish served in a pie became a common Friday night dinner choice. (Cooper, p. 64-65)

Fish, especially minced fish, continued to appear in Jewish history. In the 13th century, a Sabbath song declared "without fish there is no Sabbath." Medieval Jews in Spain prepared holiday and Sabbath fish with egg-lemon sauce. In the 16th century in Spain and Mexico, secretly-practicing Jews ate fish on Friday night; in 1488, the Inquisition accused a Jewish woman of making fish pies for Sabbath -- evidence of Judaizing. Modern Sephardic Jews in Turkey preserve some of these recipes. (Shostak p. 72, Gitlitz p. 232, Cooper p. 130)

The carp was the traditional Jewish fish in eastern Europe: "it has been suggested that Jewish traders along the silk routes assisted in the dissemination of the carp throughout southern and eastern Europe. ... the really poor Jews in eastern Europe were offered cheap river fish, such as roach, tench, and chub, for the Sabbath, or even a piece of salted herring." In Germany, Jewish carp recipes appear in the late 18th and early 19th century -- including a reference by Heinrich Heine to his aunt's Friday-night carp in brown raisin sauce. (Cooper p. 171, 177)

By the early 20th century, eastern European Jews had developed many recipes for what they now called gefilte fish. The dish was sometimes sweet, sometimes not. The use of sugar "followed the same boundaries as did the Polish-Lithuanian Yiddish dialects... there was a geographic belt of sweet gefilte fish wherever Hassidic communities settled." Pomiane, the observer of Polish Jews in the 1920s said, "On the Sabbath every observant Jew eats river fish." He described fish balls among other Jewish fish preparations -- he found them tasteless and added horseradish. (Roden p. 107, Pomiane p. 123 & 135)

German and eastern European Jews brought these customs to America. A recipe for fish balls appeared in the first Jewish cookbook in America by Mrs. Esther Levy. During the early part of the 20th century, Jewish women evidently bought a fish every Thursday, kept it in the bathtub overnight, and turned it into gefilte fish on Friday. My grandmother and great-grandmother are said to have done this. Some time in the 1940s or 50s, kosher canned and bottled foods using Eastern European recipes appeared in American grocery stores. Families who retained the custom of Friday night family dinners thus had the option of traditional foods -- especially gefilte fish -- made instantly. Further, Jewish Americans now reflect their local food customs in the way they spice and prepare gefilte fish, though the fish balls may actually come from a jar -- for example, Southwest style gefilte fish served with salsa. (Levy p. 20, Nathan p. 144, Diner p. 195-196)

My mother usually bought Manischewitz brand fish, though occasionally maybe one of the other brands. Her cousin had a kosher canning factory where one of the early mass-produced gefilte fish preparations were made in the 1940s or maybe earlier, which may have been the start of her choice to buy rather than make it. Exactly once, she made it herself. I remember her standing by the stove with a boiling pot. She didn't feel that the result was worth the effort, as I recall. Maybe my father didn't like it that much.

I'm thinking about gefilte fish as I prepare for Passover, and also as I write my talk about "Who won the war between gefilte fish and chop suey?" The Jewish traders' role in bringing carp from China to Europe is a very interesting piece of information for this endeavor.

Sources: John Cooper, Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food; Hasia R. Diner, Hungering for America; Gitlitz & Davidson, A Drizzle of Honey; Mrs. Esther Levy, The first Jewish-American Cookbook; Joan Nathan, Jewish Cooking in America; Edouard de Pomiane, The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes; Claudia Roden, The Book of Jewish Food; Patti Shosteck, A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gardiner Museum, Toronto

First, the Gardiner Museum has a special exhibit: "From the Melting Pot into the Fire: Contemporary Ceramics in Israel." This sculpture by Mirvat Issa is titled "Our Daily Bread." Obviously, it consists of ceramic pita breads freshly puffed in the oven. The exhibit is very tuned to life in Israel in a very positive way; depictions of buildings, dancers making ceramics while dancing, and reflections on ancient and Biblical history.

Of course most of the ceramic works on display were intended as vessels for serving, cooking, or dining -- intensely food related. But some of the works also made direct reference to food.

From the Chinese collection: a plate from the era 1625-1645 depicting the manufacture of salt. In my experience, this is a very special piece because it represents essentially a peasant activity.

From the modern collection: "Garden Armchair"

"Cabbages and Kings"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Farmer's Chop Suey

"Jewish Chop Suey... is our own name for a mixture of diced scallions, cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, and whatever else you like mixed with heavy sour cream." -- from Modern Kosher Meals by Mildred Bellin, 1934, p. 27.

"Farmer's Chop Suey: No one knows how this simple dairy salad came to be, but it has been a hot-weather favorite in Jewish-American kitchens for at least a century. Served with good pumpernickel or rye bread, it is a light, satisfying summer lunch." -- Blue Plate Specials by Jane and Michael Stern, 2001, p. 137

Similar recipes for the same salad, under the name Farmer's Chop Suey, appeared in The Jewish Sentinel Cook Book in 1936, and in Love and Knishes in 1956. "Our family made it with cottage cheese," said my cousin Merilyn. "I remember my mother making it," said my brother-in-law Jack. Both were thinking of the 1930s. My parents ate chopped vegetables with cottage cheese and sour cream too, but I never heard that name for it.

Why would this obviously Eastern-European dish acquire a name like "Farmer's Chop Suey"? Its only resemblance to standard Chop Suey is that there are chopped vegetables.

I heard of Farmer's Chop Suey while working on a talk I'm going to give next month titled "Who won the war between gefilte fish and chop suey?" It's about the popular topic of Jews and Chinese food, subject of various jokes, wisecracks, Yiddish puns, recipes, cookbooks, and annual articles about eating Christmas Dinner in a Chinese restaurant. My interest is in the interaction of two immigrant groups in America: the Jews and the Chinese, and in general in the history of Chinese food in America.

Surprisingly, I learned that the Jewish love of Chinese food goes back almost to the beginning of American Chinese restaurants in the 19th century and early 20th century. At this time, Chop Suey was virtually a synonym for Chinese food; as late as the 1950s, Chinese restaurants were often called Chop Suey Houses.

The book Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States by Andrew Coe describes the origins of his title food -- contrary to popular impressions, the dish wasn't a joke played by the Chinese on Americans, but an honest reinterpretation of Cantonese home cooking. It was native to many of the early immigrants, and eventually adapted to the taste of American restaurant goers. Its popularity came and went for around 100 years. In the 1890s eating Chinese food was a sign of modern adventurousness. During prohibition, Chop Suey Houses offered live music and dancing -- alcohol had never been integral to Chinese food so it wasn't missed.

As a side effect of this popularity, all kinds of dishes became "so-and-so's Chop Suey." There was "Polish Chop Suey," "Italian Chop Suey," "American Chop Suey," etc. These were ethnic dishes that hardly resemble the Chinese dish. No one claims to remember exactly when or how a traditional Jewish chopped salad acquired the name "Jewish Chop Suey" or the maybe politer name "Farmer's Chop Suey," but it doesn't seem hard to imagine. But the existence of this dish speaks to the early adoption of Chinese food into Jewish life.

The 1934 book Modern Kosher Meals by Mildred Bellin included a wide variety of non-Jewish ethnic foods, as well as traditional ones. I mentioned the recipe for "Jewish Chop Suey." She also gave a recipe for standard Chinese Chop Suey, including soy sauce and water chestnuts; and one for "Chinese Soup," which is egg-drop soup. She wanted her readers to keep kosher without being old-fashioned; Chinese food was familiar enough for kosher cooks to want to make some at home. Adaptations of non-Jewish foods appear in many kosher cookbooks -- there are even a few exclusively kosher Chinese cookbooks, just as there are surprisingly many kosher Chinese restaurants. It's an interesting subject.

Maybe one of the strangest references to Farmer's Chop Suey is in the narrative of an elderly woman about a subject that fascinates some people: the death of the world-famous Houdini. The author was the widow of Dr. Daniel Cohn, who treated Houdini in a Detroit hospital during his last illness. Years after the event (which occurred in 1926) she wrote:
"Houdini told Daniel he was born in Hungary and was brought to the U.S. by his mother whom he adored all his life and his father, a rabbi. They settled in Appleton, Wisconsin where he and his siblings were raised.

"One evening while talking about his favorite foods, he said, 'I have a yen for Farmer's Chop Suey.' Farmer's Chop Suey, a dish familiar to most Jewish families, is made of chopped raw vegetables combined with sour cream. Daniel walked to a nearby delicatessen, returned with two portions and while they were eating, Houdini reminisced about his life. 'If I die, ' he said, 'don't be surprised if phony spiritualists declare a national holiday!' His disagreements with spiritualists had taken the form of many public battles." -- From "Houdini and My Husband"

In short, 75 to 100 years ago the identification of a Jewish dish as "Chop Suey" probably was one of many indications of widespread Jewish interest in Chinese food. The increasing frequency of Jews eating in Chinese restaurants reflected Jewish assimilation into American life and American foodways. While some Jewish leaders found the trend away from Jewish and kosher food alarming, by 1928 when a Yiddish journalist wrote an article titled "The War Between Chop Suey and Gefilte Fish" it was probably too late to do anything about it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pi Day pies and other round food

Breakfast: a round omelet, round tomato slices

Lunch: 2 Pi inches as measured along the edge of the 8 inch pita bread

Dinner: Chicken Pie with a mashed potato crust AND the Pi Day masterpiece --

Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie

Pi in the Kitchen

Happy Pi, Day!

In honor of Pi Day, I'm going to use pi to solve a frequent baker's problem: what size baking pans are equivalent? While actual pie pans have sloping sides, no one bakes a pie crust in a square or straight-sided pan if they can help it, because the crust will get wrinkly. So the problem occurs with straight-sided pans for baking cakes, and with how much filling goes in a pie.

Obviously, if you want the same depth of batter when you change pans for a cake recipe, you need to find a substitute pan with close to the same number of square inches of area. (The amount of frosting also scales something like that, but would vary depending on if you iced the sides of the cake. OR used jam between the layers.) In any case, what we need to start with is the number of square inches per pan type.

First the basic calculations. The area of a circle is π times the radius squared. So:

8 inch round pans have diameter 8, radius 4 so they have 3.14 x 4 x 4 = 50 square inches of area
9 inch round = 63.5 sq. in.
10 inch round = 87.5 sq. in.
8 inch square = 64 sq. in.
9 inch square = 81 sq. in.
9 by 13 inch = 117 sq. in.

Some equivalents:
  • An 8 inch square and a 9 inch round are virtually identical.
  • A 9 inch square and a 10 inch round are less than 10% apart.
  • Two 8 inch squares are very close to a 9 x 13 inch rectangle.
But here's another important consequence of this arithmetic: if you make the right amount of filling for a round pie in one size (8- 9- or 10- inches in diameter), it will be really wrong for a pie only one inch different in diameter. The sloping sides of most pie pans make the difference even worse: a 10 inch pie probably holds close to twice as much filling as an 8 inch pie. The consequence also applies to the amount of pie crust that is needed. Not intuitive, exactly, unless you are one of my many mathematician readers.

Did you wonder why today is Pi Day? Because π = 3.14 and today is March 14. Actually 22 July (22/7) is a better Pi Day as well as being my birthday. I always felt kind of transcendental. And the best Pi Minute will be in a few years at 3/14/15 9:26 AM. I guess the best Pi Day ever would have been back in the Renaissance before sufficiently accurate clocks --
3/14/1592 6:53 AM

Thanks to my whole family for long discussions of this important Day.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

10% Local Food?

A movement is afoot called "10 Percent Washtenaw" -- the purpose, to encourage people to look for food grown here in Washtenaw County, Michigan. The quantitative goal is to expand both growing facilities and purchasers, and in 10 years have 10% of the food budget of county residents going to local food. (It's now around 1%.)

Not only mentioning the benefits of local food, but also setting real goals, seems like a good idea to me. I like to shop at the Ann Arbor farmer's market -- one of my most recent fall trips is illustrated in these photos. However, I can't say I keep track of what I spend here there or anywhere. Budgeting my food purchases isn't really in my routine. But I'd be willing to try to keep track for a good reason.

What I also like about this idea is the wide number of reasons given that local food is a positive thing. An increase in local purchases would sustain the local economy. Though individual results differ, more local purchasing ultimately could reduce the total "carbon footprint." Local produce offers better quality and freshness. The initiative encourages organic production, and brings people together in a positive way.

Some of the benefits would be multiplied as more people committed to local buying. The hope: more produce farmers, egg and chicken farmers, producers of honey and maple syrup, fish-farmers, and raisers of lamb, beef, pork and even buffalo. Maybe we could get a legal slaughterhouse. Maybe more people would shop in smaller stores, allowing the prices to come down. The long view of this initiative seems very intelligent to me!

Here's what they say:
To get to 10% we are going to need major changes to our food system including buy-in from institutional players and major inroads to our current supply system. Change has to happen from where we currently are...while we're waiting for our leaders to catch on, let's look at things that we can do immediately and as individuals to ignite this change!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Johnny Appleseed Day

John Chapman, shown in the photo, is a friend of ours, and a physicist. Everyone calls him just "J" -- you will see why in a little while.

J's great-great-great-grandfather Frank Chapman was a seed farmer. He grew seeds and dried them to sell to other farmers to plant and grow crops.

Frank was born in Massachusetts. After he grew up, he moved to a new farm in Maryland. Frank had a brother who sometimes came to visit him in Maryland. His brother's name was John Chapman, just like our friend.

The brothers Frank and John Chapman lived a long time ago, when the American land was being turned into farms called homesteads. Farmers wanted to plant good things on their new farms. One of these good things was apple trees. John Chapman sometimes got apple seeds from his brother Frank's seed farm. He planted apple seeds on his own farms, and sold young trees to these homesteaders.

You can probably guess what everyone called John Chapman? He was known as Johnny Appleseed. The J. Chapman we know calls him Great-great-uncle John. The stories about Johnny Appleseed start on the frontier in the year 1797. (He lived from 1774 to 1847.)

During Johnny Appleseed's life, a lot of people were moving west from places like Maryland and Massachusetts. Frank's family moved west too. They kept on working as seed farmers, selling lots of kinds of seeds so that other farmers could plant crops. Our friend J's great-grandfather -- Johnny Appleseed's nephew -- lived in Indiana. He was also a seed farmer and also named Frank. Sometimes Johnny Appleseed came to see his nephew in Indiana.

When Johnny Appleseed was an old man, he came to see the Chapman family for the last time. A year later, Johnny Appleseed died in Ohio.

Many of the stories about Johnny Appleseed are true: throughout his life he traveled around, planting apple seeds, growing little trees, and selling the little apple trees to homesteading farmers. Johnny Appleseed didn't live in just one place, and he liked to wear old clothes. He made money, but he seems to have given it to people that needed it. He helped a lot of people. If he visited a farmer, sometimes he planted some apple trees or some seeds to say thank you for a good breakfast or dinner and a place to sleep. He also knew a lot of Indians who lived on the frontier, and he was their friend too.

Our friend J says that the oldest son in his family is always named John. Johnny Appleseed was the oldest son in his family -- his brother Frank and his many other brothers were younger. J's father and his son are also named John. So you see why he is called J -- that way he knows when people are talking to him, not to one of the other men and boys named John. But his real name is exactly the same as Johnny Appleseed. They are both named John Chapman.

March 11, the date Johnny Appleseed died, is celebrated as Johnny Appleseed Day. I posted this information a few years ago on my children's story blog, so it's a simple story. If you want a complicated version, see Michael Pollan's book The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Even Weirder

  • Bruschetta
  • Gnocchi
  • Gyro
  • Huitlacoche
  • Pouilly-Fuisse
  • Mole
  • Paczki
  • Pho
  • Prosciutto
  • Sake
These are the "top-ten mispronounced foodie words" according to an article linked by my friend Jens. The pronunciation is here. I always mispronounce gnocchi and bruschetta, but I'm ok with Pouilly-Fuisse. And I learned about paczki from actual Detroit Polish people, so I had no idea about how it was spelled, and didn't recognize it when I first saw it written. And Gourmet Sleuth says "Huitlacoche [wee-tlah-KOH-cheh] (also spelled cuitlacoche) is a fungus which grows naturally on ears of corn (Ustilago maydis)."

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Annals of the Weird: A Cookbook

“I will start with meats, fish, eggs, soups and sauces, sandwiches, vegetables, the art of French frying, desserts, how to dress game, how to properly sharpen a knife, how to make wines and beer, how to make French soap and also what to do in case of hydrogen or cobalt bomb attack, keeping as much in alphabetical order as possible.”
So begins George Leonard Herter’s Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, published in 1960. In a 2008 review, "The Oddball Know-It-All," NY Times writer Paul Collins includes this quote and characterizes Herter's cookbook as "one of the greatest oddball masterpieces in this or any other language."

I learned of Bull Cook and its highly weird author in this post at The Neglected Books Blog. The blog author has plenty of comments about his reaction to Herter; for example, "I know I for one am relieved that someone finally thought to include nuclear attack survival tips just after the recipes for Prunes Maxim’s and 'How to Make Puff Paste or Flaky Pastry Dough.'"

I'm not at all sure that I need to look up this loony volume, but I definitely wanted to share my new awareness of its existence.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Waldorf Salad Day

Louise tipped me off with her usual list of great and small events in food history. Today's event: “Oscar at the Waldorf” invented Waldorf salad on March 8, 1893. This familiar salad is made from apples, celery, walnuts or pecans, lemon juice, mayonnaise, and in some versions, lettuce, grapes, raisins, or maraschino cherries. It was definitely a classic of my childhood, and I remember that it tastes better with tarter apples than with the mealy sweet kind such as the ubiquitous Delicious Apples.

If I have all or most of the ingredients on hand I still make Waldorf Salad. It's a very likable and forgiving classic. Sometimes I use dried cherries, which obviously date from the late 20th century so they couldn't be authentic to Oscar's version. Sometimes I skip the celery. My major variation is to add bite-sized pieces of cooked chicken breast to the salad, making it into a main course. Not bad at all. Good use for leftovers.

And what about the Waldorf Hotel? I've never been there, but their website says "
The Waldorf stands as a unique dining destination, with four distinctive restaurants, three lounges, and of course, 24-hour room service." So it's not just a memory, not just recalled by the Muppets Statler and Waldorf!

Inspired by Louise, I might post other memories associated with food anniversaries this month, just for fun.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Goodbye Florida

White Ibis behind Jean & Jack's condo
Yesterday we went to another wildlife refuge -- disappointing because the birds were only sporadic instead of crowding all over like they do in the Everglades. We took a walk on the beach, where the waves were pretty gentle considering how windy it has been. A few gulls and terns acted as if we were part of the scenery, letting us come up almost next to them. All in all, the birds have made a remarkable adjustment to the fact that their habitat is now much occupied by gated communities of humans.

Here are Jean and Jack at Snapper's Restaurant where we all had fish and shellfish.

Our farewell meal at the airport whose wireless I'm now using was unspeakably bad. Dirty tables. Slow service with the usual long airport wait for the food to be prepared. Stale salad. Well, what do you expect. It's been a nice trip and the sendoff is hardly unexpected.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Kitchen at the Morikami Museum

The museum displays change from time to time. Today there were several rooms from a typical Japanese house, such as this kitchen. Note that visitors are told to open the refrigerator and cupboard doors to see (behind plastic shields) the contents that might be present in a Japanese house.

For more photos of this museum see The Morikami Gardens.

The Norton Museum

Mervin Jules: "Dog Wagon" (1940)

Wayne Thiebaud, "Neapolitan Pie"

Ming Dynasty: Tomb furnishings for the dead to eat

Quing Dynasty: Bit of a carved lacquer screen
Note teapot!

We spent a couple of hours yesterday at the excellent Norton museum in Palm Beach. The Chinese collection included many beautiful jade, lapis, and quartz vessels, ancient bronzes, Han Dynasty and other horses, and porcelain representing all the colors. The Impressionist collection was small but remarkably representative of most of the painters. The 19th and 20th century American collections were delightful. What a wonderful surprise! I selected the above works because of the food themes. Needless to say, most of the works were not food-themed!

AND of course, dinner, which we ate at a Greek restaurant with Jean, Jack, and their friends Barbara and Jerry.