Friday, May 28, 2010

Shipboard Food

Our cruise boat has very nice food, served frequently. When I get home I'll post some photos. Meanwhile, watch for a few wildlife photos -- my favorite is penguins.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Iguana eating beach plants

The land iguanas on Plaza Island (visited yesterday) eat beach plants, which store water in this season. The plants are very beautiful: some red, some green some with yellow flowers, which the iguanas especially like. Sounds better than their normal diet of cactus to me! See for much more.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lunch onboard the Eclipse

Note: we drank coke with our lunch.

Galley of the Eclipse where they actually cooked our food

For pictures of some of the wildlife we saw today, see: Santa Fe Island.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Today's Breakfast

After our own breakfast we walked back to the Darwin Research Station up the hill, and saw the same turtles as before -- eating breakfast. We also caught a glimpse of Lonesome George, the last of his species, who lives in the reserve with two females that don't interest him at all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Begging at the Fish Market

These must be fantastically fresh fish. But what really struck me was the baby sea lion begging -- and the fisherman (or fish monger, I don't know which) actually tossing him one. A big crowd of pelicans were also begging.

Eel for breakfast?

On a beautiful walk this morning, I saw a most unusual sight: a heron who had a large eel in his beak, and was pecking and eating it. My excellent guide had never seen such a thing before. Along the 2 km trail to the wide sandy beach I also saw many beautiful birds, especially finches (see Beach walk, more birds at

Eel for breakfast?

On a beautiful walk this morning, I saw a most unusual sight: a heron who had a large eel in his beak, and was pecking and eating it. My excellent guide had never seen such a thing before. Along the 2 km trail to the wide sandy beach I also saw many beautiful birds, especially finches (see

Monday, May 17, 2010


The tour I took today had lunch at a small cafe on the island of Floreana, pop. 110, electricty entirely solar, maybe with more tortoises than humans. These fritters were quite nice.

For much more interesting photos of wildlife and so on, see for more posts later today.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Silly Post: Airplane meal

We have arrived in the Galapagos. Airplane meals are so scarce, I took a photo of this one. Mostly, I'll be posting photos of wildlife and whatever we see at my other blog, ... so far I documented the trip from our plane window here:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blintzes for Shavouth

After making blintzes, I began to wonder how and when this dish and many other dairy foods became associated with the early summer festival of Shavouth. I posted some of my findings a while ago, but I've been reading further, so this is an expanded post.

According to John Cooper's book Eat and be Satisfied, the tradition of dairy foods for Shavouth began in Europe in the Middle Ages. He quotes a thirteenth-century philosopher who said that the appropriate food for the festival was milk and honey, to commemorate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, subject of the celebration. In Provence in the fourteenth century, a special honey cake was baked in the shape of a ladder.

In the later Middle Ages, an abundance of milk in this season led to dairy products being chosen for the festival. Also, dairy dishes were the food for the Christian festival of Whitsun, or Pentecost, occurring at the same time as Shavouth -- and Jews may have been influenced by their neighbors. In the fifteenth century, Jews baked a big floden cake made with milk and raisins, called Sinai Cake.

Blintzes -- pancakes filled with farmer's cheese -- were related to similar dishes in Ukrainian and Russian cooking called blini, according to Cooper. Claudia Roden says they are of Hungarian origin. In the shtetls of Eastern Europe, milk was also abundant in late May or early June. The traditional Shavouth dairy meal included a saffron-glazed challah, as well as blintzes, beet borscht with sour cream, babkas, and other dairy dishes.

The Jews of Arab countries had a wide variety of celebrations of the festival. In Persia and North Africa, it was associated with roses or other flowers, and worshipers were sprinkled with rose water. Dairy products are used throughout the Jewish world: "in Kurdistan a meal is made of wheat ground in sour milk and rissoles filled with cheese and butter instead of meat. In Afghanistan the Jews cook rice in butter, pouring a specially prepared thin yoghurt over it. In the Ladino-speaking communities of the Middle East large seven-tiered challah filled with sweetmeats is baked." (Lilian Cornfeld, Israeli Cookery, p. 262-264)

Cheesecake was the tradition in some European Jewish communities. I read: "Italian Easter cheesecake, which is made with citrus rind and fragrant orange blossom water ... is now served in Italy for Shavuot. Israelis eat a light and creamy mousselike cheesecake made with gvina livana, or white cheese. Cheesecakes in France are most often made with fresh farmer’s cheese or savory goat cheese, while Greek cheesecake recipes call for feta or for Greek yogurt." (The Great Cake Debate: A Taste of History Behind a Shavuot Tradition)

Another explanation of the dairy tradition -- an article titled Cheese blintzes wrapped in tradition for Shavuot -- is more folkloric:
While no one knows for sure what the ancient Israelites ate after receiving the Torah, historians speculate that they didn’t keep kosher until encountering the dietary laws found in this sacred scroll. Because they couldn’t immediately change their ways, their only option was to eat a dairy meal until they could make kosher their cooking utensils and meat.
TABLET online magazine had a complete description of the holiday, including this about dairy food:
Delicious dairy products. Cheesecakes are big. If your ancestors hail from the Tri-State area—Poland, Russia, Ukraine—so are blintzes.

The rational explanation is that the Torah was given on the Sabbath, and as no animals could be slaughtered to celebrate the happy occasion, the Israelites likely shrugged their shoulders and collectively agreed to nosh on some brie. More mystical Jews—you know, Madonna—believe that the numbers speak for themselves: Dairy in Hebrew is chalav, and if you sum up the numerical value of the three Hebrew letters that make up that word you get 40. Which is a number you’d remember if you had to wander in the desert for as many years.
Joan Nathan wrote in another Tablet article that all dairy-making cultures use milk products in their spring festivals. She also associates cheese with Mount Sinai, where Moses received the 10 commandments on the first Shevouth:
As for Mount Sinai, it’s known by other names: Mountain of God, mountain of Bashan, and mountain of peaks (Har Gavnunim) all mentioned in the 68th psalm. Gavnunim means “gibbous, many-peaked,” but the word has the same root as g’vinah, meaning cheese. Accordingly, cheese consumption at this time of year is a reminder of the giving of the Law. And, throughout the Bible, Israel is repeatedly referred to as the land of milk and honey.
So there are lots of explanations of those blintzes. Too many.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Julia Child Lives

Just a note to say that I made a Julia Child recipe for dinner, accompanied by the sides she recommended. A ragout of duck in which the sauce contained a whole head of garlic, accompanied by rice with mushrooms and steamed broccoli. A baguette from the store. Simple. Delicious.

But I didn't take any photos. My recipe came from the book Julia Child & Company, but she also made the same dish on one of her shows with Jacques Pepin. In fact, I was motivated by a rerun of the Jacques Pepin-Julia Child show that was shown recently on the Create channel from PBS.

She's still my favorite cooking teacher and recipe writer.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

This is my present. Miriam and Alice picked it out for me on a visit to the Smithsonian. I bet they are cooking something for Evelyn this morning! Such thoughtful little girls.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Fascinating Languedoc

In this week's New York Times travel section is a very wonderful article about the Cathars and the area where they lived in southern France. A number of years ago we visited this area, and I remember the mysterious and beautiful narrow winding roads in the rugged mountains.

The author writes about the food of these medieval heretics:
The historian René Weis records how two Cathar sages called the Authié brothers had a fondness for exotic spices, as well as fish terrines, local cheeses, honeys and “good wine.” One of their hosts, concealing the brothers in his home from the Inquisition, set up to hunt down and purge the remaining Cathars, went forth “in search of a better and more renowned wine than the one he kept in his own residence,” at considerable personal risk.
See the entire article here:
The Châteaux de Lastours, where Cathars fought a church attempt in  the 13th century to  destroy them for heresy.
The Châteaux de Lastours, where Cathars fought a church attempt in the 13th century to destroy them for heresy.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

I knew by the aroma that it was my mother's blintz recipe

I knew by the floury, eggy smell when I whisked the crepe batter that this was really my mother's blintz recipe that I was making. The smooth, bland and very thin mixture was made from just water, flour, and an egg -- as called for in the recipe that you can see at left, in my mother's handwriting. (Click on the picture to see a larger image.)

I've had this recipe for many years, but for some reason, I have never tried making blintzes until today; I've watched my sister do it (pictures here: Blintzes), but never have made them on my own.

On Tuesday, a friend invited me to watch as another friend of hers made a large batch of blintzes in anticipation of the Jewish holiday Shevouth, which is in a couple of weeks. (They planned to freeze the blintzes until that date.) The recipe was different in several ways from my mother's recipe, as the friend uses a French crepe recipe with milk in the batter. When I finished watching (and helping a bit to make the crepes), I decided that I finally had to do it.

Today I started at the grocery store, where I was able to buy the only difficult-to-find ingredient: Farmer's Cheese, which is a sort of dry cottage cheese. The other ingredients are mainly pantry/refrigerator staples: flour, eggs, oil, sugar, cream cheese, sour cream.

My mother had no electric appliances such as food processors or blenders, so she beat the batter with an egg beater and blended the filling with a wooden spoon. I preserved this tradition, making the batter with a wire whisk, and making the filling with a wooden spoon.

My ingredients:

My mother used Crisco for greasing the pan, which in her case was a small, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. I admit that I used a no-stick frying pan greased with a bit of butter to make the crepes. My mother called these very thin skins bletlech, their Yiddish name, which I guess means little leaves. I tried to make thin ones by tilting the pan as I poured in the batter. I think my mother and sister could make them thinner -- I need practice. Usually, you only cook one side, because you fry them again after filling them and folding them "like envelopes" -- says my mother's recipe.

Here are my bletlech, with a blob of filling, ready to fold:

Here are the finished blintzes, after I fried them in more butter:

Look good?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Garden Radishes

Radishes came up in Miriam and Alice's garden and grew into delicious readiness without anyone doing anything this year. Did they reseed themselves? Overwinter? No one knows. The girls harvested them for lunch on Saturday. They were delicious.

Dinner at The Wine House

Last Friday we decided to go to dinner in downtown Fairfax. Here's Alice putting her car seat in our new car, and then Alice and Miriam in the back seat.
The Wine House is in a courtyard in a beautifully designed modern building. Several other restaurants offer seating there as well -- and children play while their parents are finishing up. Here's Alice just as we sat down.

And Miriam:

We ordered a variety of items from the menu. I enjoyed the small plate of duck breast with arugula and lentil salad. We had several plates of bread with tapenade (a nice version with dried tomatoes as well as the traditional olives) and cream cheese and also crackers and various hard cheeses. The wine and atmosphere were very pleasant.