Wednesday, September 29, 2010

For $15 at the Farmers Market

Here you see this morning's purchases at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

I enjoyed my walk around the market and around Kerrytown as well.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Food from the Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter is a tightly-constructed study of guilt and revenge, as anyone who went to high school more than around 30 years ago well knows. Before the main plot begins -- that of Hester Prynne, her ornate scarlet letter of shame, and the two men she was involved with -- Hawthorne provides a long and rather rambling introduction. He goes on about life in the old custom house at the time he was writing -- the 1840s. His sketches of custom-house workers are rather detailed, and I found myself rushing to get to the main story.

Nevertheless, I was struck with his long paragraph about an elderly man with a great "ability to recollect the good dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his life to eat." American food before the Civil War is an interesting subject, and this discourse offers quite a few specific examples of how Hawthorne and his contemporaries viewed the subject.

He writes of this old gentleman:
"His gourmandism was a highly agreeable trait; and to hear him talk of roast meat was as appetizing as a pickle or an oyster. ... it always pleased and satisfied me to hear him expatiate on fish, poultry, and butcher's meat, and the most eligible methods of preparing them for the table. His reminiscences of good cheer, however ancient the date of the actual banquet, seemed to bring the savour of pig or turkey under one's very nostrils. There were flavours on his palate that had lingered there not less than sixty or seventy years, and were still apparently as fresh as that of the mutton chop which he had just devoured for his breakfast. I have heard him smack his lips over dinners, every guest at which, except himself, had long been food for worms. ... ghosts of bygone meals were continually rising up before him ... : a tenderloin of beef, a hind-quarter of veal, a spare-rib of pork, a particular chicken, or a remarkably praiseworthy turkey, which had perhaps adorned his board in the days of the elder Adams, would be remembered ... . The chief tragic event of the old man's life, so far as I could judge, was his mishap with a certain goose, which lived and died some twenty or forty years ago: a goose of most promising figure, but which, at table, proved so inveterately tough, that the carving-knife would make no impression on its carcase, and it could only be divided with an axe and handsaw."
Of particular interest here is the emphasis on meat. The old man seems never to have seen a vegetable he found memorable -- or at least Hawthorne sets his focus on meat alone. The CDC study I was reading yesterday about Americans skipping the produce aisle may reflect a deep American propensity!

Mark Twain's imagined favorite meals receive a lot of attention as primary descriptions of the best food from the end of the 19th century, for example: Twain's Feast: Forgotten Foods Worth Bringing Back. Hawthorn's passage takes us back another half-century, and in recollection as much as another 100 years.

Note: I read the Scarlet Letter on my new Kindle, and took the passage from Project Gutenberg, so I cannot provide a page number. What would my high school English teacher say? Maybe that I waited an awfully long time to reread this quite enjoyable classic.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nutrition News

"Despite two decades of public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables." So says the New York Times -- Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries.

How did they know? I wanted to see the original article and learn how they concluded that Americans were eating too few servings of vegetables and fruit, and that consumption had scarcely changed despite many efforts. I had a terrible time finding the article from the minimal reference information in the Times. Finally I located "State-Specific Trends in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Adults -- United States, 2000--2009" dated September 10, 2010, in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC study is a report of an annual survey attempting to learn if the CDC's published nutritional guidelines are being met throughout the country. Random phone dialers call people in every state and then ask them "How often do you..."
  1. "...drink fruit juices such as orange, grapefruit, or tomato?"
  2. "Not counting juice, how often do you eat fruit?"
  3. " green salad?"
  4. " potatoes, not including French fries, fried potatoes, or potato chips?"
  5. " carrots?"
  6. "Not counting carrots, potatoes, or salad, how many servings of vegetables do you usually eat?"
The article is a summary of these results for 2009 with a comparison to prior years. Only slight changes have been detected: "From 2000 to 2009, the overall prevalence of consuming fruit two or more times per day decreased slightly, but significantly, from 34.4% to 32.5%. Slight but significant increasing linear trends for fruit consumption were observed in four states, decreasing trends in 22 states and DC, and no significant change in 24 states."

Campaigns to encourage vegetable consumption, repackaging vegetables, and efforts to change children's views and habits have not moved the results of this survey. Note: the CDC goal is "increasing to 75% the proportion of persons aged ≥2 years who consume two or more servings of fruit daily and to 50% those who consume three or more servings of vegetables daily."

The article summarizes the various limitations to the conclusions, including the possibility that people without land lines have different consumption patterns and that people exaggerate their compliance with healthy norms. But there it is. I wish the Times would give references/links when they cite articles. But I can't fault their reporting.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chocolate Mona Lisa

$24 is the price of a 6 oz. chocolate bar with Mona Lisa computer-printed onto it (or any art work, for that matter). A curiosity. If you have an extra $24 lying around you can get it here. I thank Aparna for the link!

There's a lot of Mona Lisa stuff on this blog from Birmingham, MI -- in fact, I shopped this gallery several years ago, and have purchased many of the items they are selling. The owner saw a Smithsonian article about the Mona Lisa fan club in Paris which mentioned one member in Ann Arbor MI (that would have been me). So the owner advertised in an Ann Arbor publication, and some friend (I wish I remembered who) saw the ad and sent me there. And here again is someone directing me to see it. Fate? Nooo.

For a couple of dollars at Wegman's you can get a cartoon version on a wrapper:

For more on this subject see: What Mona Lisa Didn't Eat.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What did Colombo eat?

Colombo, the 1970s TV detective played by Peter Falk, always seemed to be a bumbling and ineffective investigator -- but then, "Oh, just one more thing." With those words he'd ask the question that proved the guilt of his suspect or put key information in perspective. Now the series is a classic of TV detective fiction.

The episode "Murder Under Glass" begins with a look at a preposterously arrogant film critic and TV food star named Paul Girard. Besides posturing about his extensive food knowledge, Girard is obviously engaged in some type of dubious finances, and within minutes of the beginning of the episode, he prepares a vial of toxin from the notorious blowfish -- the Japanese fugu.

When a restaurant owner dies of poison, we -- and Colombo -- know that Girard did it. But HOW? The poison was in a bottle of wine that had not yet been opened when Girard left the victim. Why was the restaurant owner furiously angry with Girard just before his death? What was the motive? Colombo's job is to discover all.

Colombo's investigation involves interviews with a number of other restaurant owners, learning how they too were being victimized by the critic's extortion racket. At each step of the investigation, Colombo is offered delicious and showy delicacies. Galantine of duck with pistachios. A Chinese tea lunch (then unusual, now completely recognizable as Dim Sum.) A Japanese Kaiseki dinner complete with accompanying Geishas -- and then unusual sushi, including fugu. Mushrooms stuffed with crab and bechamel sauce. Eggs in aspic. A beautiful coffee cake. You get the picture: the most over-the-top restaurant dishes of the 1970s were recreated for this purpose. And Colombo appreciates every bite.

After all these interviews, the restaurateurs, Colombo (in a tux instead of his usual ratty raincoat), and Girard all attend a formal banquet for restaurant owners and food writers. A whole series of such dishes are paraded out of the kitchen: a suckling pig, a large platter of lobsters, whole small birds, fish in jellied sauce and many more. Pictures from this scene appear at left.

The final confrontation between Colombo and Girard takes place as Colombo himself prepares an elaborate veal scallopini, explaining each step as he tightens his case and Girard squirms suavely. Girard opens another bottle of wine and tries to repeat his murder scheme. Of course that scheme fails. Colombo switches the glasses and explains to him (and to us, the audience) exactly how the original murder was done.

It's a wonderful visual journey through high level restaurant culture of the 1970s. Before the Food Network. Before New Cuisine of all sorts. Before sushi was available in every small town in America. And before Anton Ego the critic as arrogant as Girard encountered Remy the Rat in Ratatouille. What fun!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Apple Crumble

Among the hundreds of recipes for apple crumble, I tried a slightly different one tonight.

Notable: I used my new vanilla powder in the topping -- vanilla extract is not suitable for dispersing into the dry ingredients, so this allows a slight flavor variation, meant to go with French Vanilla ice cream.

Using a fork and a sharp knife, I mixed/cut the topping ingredients together until the butter was in olive-sized pieces.

Then I filled up my baking dish with sliced apples and a few orphaned strawberries, sprinkled the fruit with lemon juice, and topped with the topping. I baked it for around 50 minutes at 375° -- after a bit of cooling, it thickened up nicely. My baking dish is an odd size, but this would work in a 9 by 9 inch pan.

For the topping, I used:
1 cup classic Quaker oats
1 cup brown sugar (compact)
1/3 cup flour
1 stick butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
a handful of walnuts (around 1/2 cup)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Using Local Produce

Okra and peppers from the Farmers' Market:


Okra omelet recipe in The New Orleans Cookbook by Rima and Richard Collin:


Apple cake made with Michigan apples:


Thomas Jefferson's Vegetables

Exotic and ordinary vegetables grown at Monticello in Thomas Jefferson's lifetime included: "asparagus bean, sea kale, tomatoes, rutabaga, lima beans, okra, potato pumpkins, winter melons, tree onion, peanuts, 'sprout kale,' serpentine cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussells sprouts, orach [a type of spinach], endive, peanuts, chick peas, cayenne pepper, 'esculent Rhubarb,' black salsify, sesame, eggplant." The grand total was "330 varieties of eighty-nine species of vegetables and herbs, 170 varieties of the finest fruit varieties known at the time."

So I learned in a recent article about Jefferson's agricultural activities: "Thomas Jefferson's Legacy in Gardening and Food" by Peter Hatch, Director of Gardens and Grounds for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Many new food preparations and traditions got a start in the Monticello kitchen and garden, possibly including: "French fries, peanuts, Johnny-cakes, gumbo, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pudding, sesame seed oil, fried eggplant, perhaps such American icons as potato chips, tomato catsup, and pumpkin pie."

According to the author, "The Jefferson legacy supporting small farmers, vegetable cuisine, and sustainable agriculture is poignantly topical today."

I had only a vague idea of Jefferson's work as a promoter of farming and wine culture. This article fills in some gaps about vegetables.

Saturday, September 11, 2010



At the farmers' market today I bought ingredients for trying out recipes from my new Dooky Chase Cookbook. (See my post on the book from a couple of days ago: Leah Chase, New Orleans Princess).

From Ernst Farm I bought chicken gizzards, from other favorite market stalls I bought green pepper, onion, and corn. I didn't find celery or other chicken at the market, but bought them elsewhere -- and above you can see that I made the very exotic dish "Giblet Stew" (p. 35). It was delicious, spiced with thyme, paprika, and parsley.



I have some okra from the market in reserve for another of Leah Chase's Creole recipes. And earlier in the day, for lunch we had a more usual salad of red and yellow tomatoes, basil, and yellow pepper from the market. We have apples, a disappointing melon, and some leeks that I already made into leeks vinaigrette. The Ann Arbor Farmers' Market strikes again!

Ann Arbor Farmer's Market Today


Here's the market stall for the famous Tantre Farms as seen in this weekend's New York Times magazine: Field Report: Will Work for Food By CHRISTINE MUHLKE.

Also, walking around the Ann Arbor Farmers Market this morning I saw lots of beautiful apples, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, onions, potatoes, and one little basket of raspberries (which I didn't buy). Lots of people too:





Above: I didn't recognize these -- Chinese squash and bitter melon.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Leah Chase, New Orleans Princess

The Dooky Chase Cookbook documents the life and recipes of Leah Chase, owner of the Dooky Chase restaurant in New Orleans. Her father-in-law, "Dooky" Chase, founded the restaurant in 1941, at a time when black people in New Orleans had few places other than home where they could sit down to a meal -- after years of selling lottery tickets door-to-door, Dooky Chase opened a "meager po'boy stand" where he sold both lottery tickets and food. She writes:
"With 'Dooky,' Sr., being so popular with the lottery and his wife, Emily, being such a good cook, before long they were outgrowing the little corner. Five years later the lottery passed from the scene but the shop was still a popular place to go. It was the only place of its kind for black people at the time." (p. 7)
Leah Chase's involvement with the family business started years later, but eventually she became the soul of the restaurant: owner, chief cook, and important local personality. During the Civil Rights era, the restaurant became a meeting place for activists as well as being popular with New Orleans establishment figures. Recent high-profile visits to Leah at her Dooky Chase Restaurant by George Bush and Barack Obama, and her long struggle to reopen after Hurricane Katrina are part of the story, but those events were long after she wrote the book. I enjoyed reading her description of her girlhood and her food memories, which interspersed with detailed recipes, which I look forward to trying.

Vegetables, for example, were the main dish for most family meals in the country atmosphere where she grew up. The family just couldn't afford much meat, though her mother loved fishing for perch and similar fish in local waterways, which were far from the sea.

"Coming up in the depression days," she wrote, "Daddy always planted everything. He planted greens, okra, and onions." The kids in the family had a lot of work to do, and she was often unhappy when her Daddy insisted on giving away tomatoes or onions that she had worked hard to cultivate. She's anything but nostalgic for her early labor:
"If you have ever grown vegetables yourself, you don't care if you grow another one in your life. I'd just as soon go down to the French Market and buy it off some vendor. Some of my sisters still grow herbs for me, but I don't care if I never grow another thing. Farming has got to be the hardest thing in the world. Having grown vegetables does make you more conscious of the quality of the things you are buying, though. There is nothing like fresh vegetables." (p. 168)
Since the original publication in 1990, Leah Chase has written another cookbook and also has been interviewed as a model for Disney's Princess Tiana, whose dream of owning her own New Orleans restaurant is a key plot item in the movie. Leah Chase is credited with one of the recipes in the tie-in cookbook -- which to our great surprise is actually a fantastic source of recipes:

For my previous posts on New Orleans cooking see: New Orleans Cookbooks, Alice's Birthday Cake, and What do princesses eat?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

My Parents' Markets

Recently, I've posted photos of some of the markets where I shop these days. I was browsing a collection of historic photos of places I've lived, and found two photos of the markets where my parents frequently shopped when I was in elementary school. Above is a market called Schenberg's. I don't recall quite so much merchandise stacked outside. My father (who did most of the grocery shopping) preferred it to most others, until later when he switched to A&P. In fact these small independent stores weren't really able to compete with the big chains.

Below is the Loop Market, which my parents definitely didn't like much, though I recall going in there from time to time when I was sent to buy something. In the background of this photo you can see the distinctive octagonal City Hall of University City. At right you can see the streetcar tracks and just a bit of a streetcar making the "loop" around the building, from which it would then return to downtown St.Louis.

I was also very excited to see a photo of the Dime Store that I shopped in as a child -- including a typically dressed family being helped by a friendly policeman, just like in the beginning readers. My friend Dorothy and I would go there and look at dolls and doll clothes. She had money for doll clothes, and so her dolls were better-dressed than mine were. Later, we shopped there for jewelry and for makeup.

UPDATE: Here is a photo of Moll's Market, where my mother shopped in my early childhood. We had no car, and I remember walking several blocks from our apartment with my sister in her Taylor-Tot (a type of stroller). This is the only photo I can find, and it's very little, but you can see the displays of produce on the sidewalk. It was quite a luxury market, with an in-store bakery with glass cases full of beautiful cakes. The family favorite was a really delicious lemon layer cake, sold by the slice. I've never had anything quite that good.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Saturday, September 04, 2010


Chocolate waffle. Banana pudding. Not shown: key lime pie, white chocolate bread pudding. And a variety of grilled fish, shrimp, and so on before dessert. We love Coastal Flats.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Miriam's Guest Post: The Trouble with Children's Menus

Miriam says:
"The trouble with children's menus is that these are the most common things that are always on them: macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwich, PB & J, cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, and that's all. The sides are always mashed potatoes, carrots, salad, fries, apple sauce, chips, and that's all. But the thing that I don't like about kids' menus is that they're always the same and there's nothing very tropical about kids' menus.

"I always have been ordering chicken nuggets or other things, and they are getting very boring. For instance, I am getting really bored of chicken nuggets, so I usually want to order something like shrimp. If only there was something tropical (exotic) on a kids' menu like shrimp and grits that I had tonight or mussels that I had in the past."