Tuesday, December 31, 2013


At En Fuego, Del Mar, California
The delicious aroma of fresh warm chips and hot salsa!

Friday, December 27, 2013


At Rosa Mexicano (that's a glove that the guacamole chef used to keep it pure)
After a beautiful day at the Getty Center, we had a delicious dinner: crab enchiladas, duck in tortillas, fish tacos, carne asada, salmon in mole, shrimp skewers. Some of us found it a little too hot. I loved my duck!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Fun

Christmas Dinner at Gastro Pub "The Pikey"
Lunch on the beach (unfortunately it took 1 hour for food to arrive
as there was some sort of meltdown in the kitchen. But it was good.
Special dinner at The Pikey: goose pie. Under the mashed potatoes:
a ragout of goose neck.
Trout in a delicious lemon sauce with cooked radishes and chantarelles.
Pasta with pork
Fish and Chips
Dessert: Pot de chocolate and sticky toffee pudding
One more photo from earlier in the day: turns out the temperatures were nearly record highs
(thanks, Elaine for sending that info!)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Have a Happy Christmas!

Christmas decorations at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh.
Lower right: Miriam


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Dinner

Arny took some photos with his new camera:
Roasted fingerling potatoes with other vegetables:
the fingerlings came in a package with an
amazing blurb about how special they were!

Pork roast
Arny says "it didn't just look good, it tasted great."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Poverty in America

A few things have been making me think about hunger and poverty in America. First, I've recently evaluated many appeals for charitable contributions and decided among them and written checks. This included several organizations that help homeless and hungry people, particularly our local food bank, social work organizations, and homeless shelter.

Also recently I've read a number of articles about the working poor people and also the unemployed in our country. For example, an article in the Washington Post about the relationship of poor diet and obesity in extremely poor people, "Too much of too little A diet fueled by food stamps is making South Texans obese but leaving them hungry."

One particularly interesting article in the Atlantic was "The Past and Future of America's Social Contract" by Josh Freedman and Michael Lind. The authors describe the historic progression from an American social contract beginning in the New Deal. For many years, employers provided a number of social services (especially health care and retirement income). We have moved on, say the authors, to a more modern "low-wage" social contract, in which workers earn little but are supposedly helped by lower-priced goods: often imported, often sold at Wal-Mart.

They write:
"It is true that tax credits and cheap goods have boosted the standard of living for otherwise impoverished workers. Yet, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account wage subsidies and additional costs like taxes and medical costs, almost 10 percent of the total working population still lives in poverty. This includes roughly 5 million Americans who work full-time, year-round. 
"A key reason for this is that the low-wage social contract does not do much to help families in the areas they need most. Clothing, food, and other items found at Wal-Mart might be cheap for low-wage workers. But other necessary services—health care, daycare, eldercare, and college—have simultaneously become less affordable and more important as most mothers work outside of the home and the wage premium for college remains high. In 1960, the average family spent about $12,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars on childcare, education, and healthcare over the course of 17 years raising a child. Four decades later, the average family spends almost $63,000 per child. Medical out-of-pocket expenses now push more people below the poverty line than tax credits can lift above it."
The authors believe that "we need to shift once again to a system more suited to the current economy and needs of workers and citizens." They believe that the government should supply the services that are essential and out of the reach of the poorest Americans, and suggest starting "by raising the federal minimum wage closer to a true living wage and expanding public early education, both of which are widely popular proposals."

Sadly, I don't see that our current government is likely to embark on a program of this sort. I see too much hostility to workers and poor people on the part of legislators -- in fact, too much contempt for the poor, the unemployed, and others who are simply unfortunate. Cuts in food assistance from the federal government are one of the worst insults, as there seems to be acceptance for the idea that poor people don't even deserve to eat.

Some of our politicians seem more heartless than the "let them eat cake" caricature of Marie Antoinette. My recent reading of Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution brought to mind a variety of parallels between modern times, especially in America, and various events in that era. I'm not sophisticated enough to write about such parallels, but my reading made me think about "aristocratic" attitudes towards poor people here. I have no real hope of things getting better. I'm aware that I should be writing upbeat things about the wonderful holiday season, but this is what's on my mind.

Note: I'm also posting this on my other blog, maetravels.blogspot.com

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bread, Sugar, Coffee

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama is an enormous book. I read it during the past week because I wanted to know more about the French Revolution than "Let them eat cake." Well, I did know more, but I wanted a lot more. The old cliche about Marie Antoinette does reflect accurately that the masses of people in pre-Revolutionary France struggled to get enough to eat. The first half of Citizens depicts the increasing misery of the people due to harvest failures in the 1780s, among many other trends and events. In this little tiny discussion of a brick-sized book, I'm going to explore just a few ideas on food and the Revolution.

Tax farms, not agricultural farms, presented a major problem for Louis XVI. Despite the problems of bad conditions for food production, on the whole France was prosperous; however, the tax farmers who collected taxes under contract were reaping most of the benefits of trade and economic growth. Many of the changes that led up to the Revolution represented efforts to contain financial difficulties, including the convening of delegates in various assemblies of old tradition.

Vigee Lebrun's portrait of Calonne
Louis' early efforts included the appointment of a series of ministers to straighten out his numerous financial problems. One was Calonne, who had a reputation for prodigality and opulence that didn't help with Louis' own poor public image. Schama describes Calonne's chef Olivier, who presided over a vast staff of "specialists of the table." He writes:
"There were three servants alone to look after the roasted meats, with their own assigned kitchen boy called Tintin. Calonne had a weakness for truffles, partridge and, more surprisingly 'macarony de Naples' eaten with Parmesan or Gruyère, a dish which one would have thought incompatible with lace cuffs." (p. 235 -- I read this tome in a paper book as there's no Kindle edition!)
Meanwhile, of course, the king and his vast court ate very well also, while poor and even middle-class people were facing rapidly rising prices. Even when incarcerated in the Bastille, the well-off could bring in high-quality food -- beef, chicken, fresh fruit and vegetables. Common prisoners were still fed decently, though; those imprisoned for participating in "flour war" riots in 1775 were fed "gruels and soups, sometimes lined with a string of bacon or lardy ham." (p. 392)

In contrast to Calonne, one subsequent finance minister, Necker, was widely believed to be capable of controlling this inflation; he was "a bringer of cornucopias: the man who would make solvency from bankruptcy, create work where there was unemployment and bring bread where there was famine." Necker had even "put up his personal fortune as collateral for a grain shipment" from abroad.
Necker with cornucopia
"The notion that famines were caused not by the climate but by conspiracy had a long pedigree in France. But it was never more widely shared nor more angrily expressed than in 1789. If bakers and millers who withheld their stock from the market to drive prices even higher were the immediate villains, behind them lay an even more sinister aristocratic cabal." (p. 372)
Louis dismissed Necker in 1789, also dissolving the National Assembly, infuriating those who had believed in him and had confidence in his policies and his integrity.

What I found interesting in Schama's detailed social and economic history is that during the Revolution, as before, rich people who didn't flee still ate well, while prices of bread, sugar, coffee, meat and many other commodities important to the middle and lower classes continued to rise rapidly, perhaps even more than before. Poor harvests were made worse by disruptions to the peasants (like abolishing the church and persecuting the clergy). Tropical imports like sugar and coffee became scarce when French colonies also revolted. Imports of supplementary grain for bread and imports of any still-available exotic foods were cut off by lack of function in ports caused by various Revolutionary actions and policies. The poorest people, as always, suffered the most.

A major concern during the Revolutionary period (Schama's book covers up to 1794) was hoarding, whether by farmers, dealers, shopkeepers, or ordinary citizens. During the Terror, the Convention adopted the death penalty for hoarders.  They defined "goods of the first necessity" including the basics: "bread, salt and wine," and also "butter, meat, vegetables, soap, sugar, hemp, wool, oil and vinegar. Anyone possessing stocks of this market basket was required to make a formal declaration to the authorities." Both wholesalers and retailers could be ordered to sell goods at any time. Throughout the era, and indeed in pre-Revolutionary times as well, efforts at price control met with a similar lack of success. (p. 757) Long lines for food were a reality of the day, and those with political power were able to take the best for themselves. (p. 862 and elsewhere)

As the Revolution proceeded, another responsibility of the new leaders involved supplying the large armies that they were amassing to defend France against foreign troops opposing them. This required major efforts at procurement and even production, as well as "inspirational propaganda." A soldier's daily ration theoretically was "a pound and three quarters of bread, together with a few ounces of meat, beans, or some other dried vegetable and wine or ale. If they were lucky they might get an onion and a slab of cheese, and where there was no brandy, gin or tobacco to start the day, the officers could expect trouble." (p. 765)

Festival of Reason
Food was always a necessity and present throughout various symbolic events. At a festival to rename Notre Dame de Paris the "Temple of Reason" an opera singer played the role of Liberty, seated on a bank of flowers. One writer described the smell of herrings at a similar festival in Saint-Gervais, while at Saint-Eustache "he was horrified to see 'bottles, sausages, andouilles, pâtés and other meats'" around the choir of the former church. (p. 778)

What most struck me about this quite fascinating book was one general point: that many changes that took place during the revolution were in fact very lasting, especially the economic restructuring that altered the role of the nobility and obliterated many of the remnants of feudalism, turning "lords" into "landlords" or removing nobility entirely from the economic picture, replaced by new upper class types. This change persisted even when royalty was restored.

Note: Images are from Wikipedia.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Happy Cupcake Day

Louise's Cupcakes Made for Cupcake Day
I've read about several cupcake celebrations today for National Cupcake Day. Some pundits or food celebrators celebrate alternate Cupcake Days in October, August, or February, but my go-to food blogger Louise is celebrating cupcakes today, and uncharacteristically  she's even been baking cupcakes (she usually sticks to historical topics).
Cupcake wine box in my laundry room

One cupcake celebration that I read about is really appealing -- a tour of New York by Cupcake Cellars, makers of Cupcake wines. Most of the time, I'd rather have a glass of wine than a cupcake anyway. I'm glad they are celebrating. I checked our cellar but we seem to have drunk all our Cupcake wines. All I could find was a Cupcake Cellars box that I'm using to store surplus clothing hangars for future laundry needs. Such is life. Well, it's early afternoon, maybe by dinner we'll buy a bottle of Cupcake.

HuffPost's weirdest cupcake
with smoked salmon and asparagus
For Cupcake Day, in keeping with their staying on top of any fad including the cupcake fad, the Huffington Post offered a tour of bizarre cupcake creations. Their article, "15 Cupcakes That Need To Calm Down Immediately," says: "Cupcakes are classics. If you hate cupcakes, you probably hate The Beatles AND The Rolling Stones. We are not those people."

Then they show a number of cupcakes that I would say are off the deep end; for example, three kinds of meatloaf cupcakes.

I only hate cupcakes when they have too much icky frosting; that is, frosting made with Crisco, not real butter. A lot of cupcakes are really too sweet and often they sacrifice taste to cuteness. Usually they aren't my first choice of a snack: I don't actually hate them, just don't particularly like them.

In short, the cupcake fad that started a few years ago left me pretty cold. Let it be said that I love the Beatles AND the Rolling Stones. I don't know which people that makes me.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Great Events of Fifty Years Ago

As 2013 draws to a close, I'm thinking about various anniversaries that have taken place during the past nearly 12 months.
SNCC Sit-in, Atlanta, Georgia, ca. 1963
The year 1963 saw a major effort in favor of civil rights for Americans of all races. In the spring of 1963, the sit-in above took place at a Tottle-House diner. While twenty-first century diners, with their exaggerated menus and retro juke boxes, evoke nostalgia in their younger patrons and may seem to embody the good things of a bygone era, not everything about them was really wonderful. The 1960 sit-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro NC is perhaps more famous than that of 1963. There were many others: Nashville, Arlington VA, and more.

Martin Luther King, Washington DC, August 28, 1963
At the March on Washington, he gave the famous speech "I have a dream."
During 1963, the civil rights movement was widespread and very active, notably the March on Washington. Sadly, the year also saw violence against peaceful demonstrators, as well as extreme attacks on black people, especially the murder of Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963 and the vicious church bombing in Birmingham on September 15, 1963.

Needless to say, the most significant and lastingly important event of 1963 was the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22. Last month's commemoratives of the event were numerous and moving, so I need not say more. And in 1964, Lyndon Johnson managed to have major civil rights legislation passed, satisfying many of the goals of the movement, though certainly not changing everything that was wrong. We still have far to go in fairness and equality for all, even 50 years onward.

One book about the civil rights struggle published in 1963 was An Education in Georgia by Calvin Trillin and Charlayne Hunter-Gault. I believe it was the first book Calvin Trillin wrote. Since he later became one of the most wonderful food writers I know, I think it's appropriate to mention it here. I've never read it, but I have read Hunter-Gault's autobiography, In My Place, which includes a fascinating account of her struggle as a very young woman to be one of the first blacks to study at the University of Georgia, another big step in the struggle for civil rights.

But now for a completely trivial food fact from 1963: according to the Food Timeline, this was the big year for the introduction into American cuisine of the Black Forest Cake. While based on a German original, the Black Forest Cake was newly popular in many upscale restaurants and the subject of American recipe versions.

Random current image of a Black Forest Cake from this blog
"While the ingredients and general method of Black Forest Cake can be traced through hundreds of years, food historians generally agree this recipe belongs to the 20th century," states the Food Timeline. "We find no evidence of anything close to Black Forest Cake, as we know it today, in our small collection of 19th-20th century German-American cooking texts. The earliest recipes we find are dated 1960s." This source particularly cites a recipe from The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton, published in 1963 -- I couldn't find any images that claimed to use her recipe, though.

Two other trends of 1963: Beatlemania, or enormous love of the Beatles was just beginning. And a wave of enthusiasm for Mona Lisa was inspired by her visit early in 1963 to the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, thanks to the diplomacy of Jacqueline Kennedy.
Mona Lisa visits the US: the painting is now too fragile to travel,
so this was probably her last trip out of Paris.
Note: I've added a duplicate of this post to my other blog, maetravels.blogspot.com .

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Great Events of 1913

It's almost the end of 2013. Time for an illustrated but not totally reverent retrospective of events of 1913, events whose 100th anniversary was in the past year. Especially, I want to celebrate one anniversary that takes place today.

First let's commemorate the most significant food anniversary that took place around a month ago:
Mallomars were introduced November 13, 1913.
But is this as significant as the year 1912, when Oreos were introduced?
A BIG event took place 100 years ago today:
After the theft of Mona Lisa from the Louvre, August 21, 1911,
commemorated in these antique postcards in my collection,
she was returned on December 11, 1913.
The thief, as depicted on one of my postcards.
Other centenaries:
New York, February 17 - March 15, 1913
Infamous Armory Show presents Duchamp’s 
“Nude Descending a Staircase"
(here shown for a change with Nancy's head)
Paris, May 29, 1913 -- Premiere of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps."
Paris, November 14, 1913 --
Publication of first volume of Proust's 
Remembrance of Things Past.

AND one poem:
"Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
"It's with O'Leary in the grave." -- W.B.Yeats, "September, 1913"

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Garden of Beasts

Elaine's Table: Stollen, Lebkuchen, German Cheese, etc.
Center: Kichel, a very light traditional Jewish cookie
Last night my book club discussed In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson , a story of 1933-1934 Berlin and the rise of Hitler and the early impact on Berlin and its inhabitants. Therefore our hostess, my friend Elaine, served a combination of German and Jewish foods, as shown above. As usual, we had a very free-ranging discussion about the book and ideas that came up in connection with the book, such as the role of Churchill in recognizing the reality of Hitler's rise, and the conditions in America at the time. Below are some of the themes that we discussed and things I've thought about the book.

William E. Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany is the center of In the Garden of Beasts, along with his family. The book also describes in some detail the antics of his daughter who inappropriately was having affairs with both Nazis and with a Soviet agent. Larson's choice of Dodd as a focus allows Larson to describe early Nazi success from the point of view of a historic individual who didn't know how things would turn out. Dodd's and his daughter's central roles make the book read like a novel, though it's completely based on historical research.

Before Roosevelt appointed him as ambassador, Dodd was a professor at the University of Chicago, trying to finish his life's work: a book on the Old South. He wasn't political and he wasn't connected to the elite circles of high-society, wealthy, ivy-league, anti-semitic white men who ran the State Department. His conflicts and problems with them and with his similarly-connected subordinates in Berlin are one of the interesting topics of the book. Particularly, as he had no fortune, he was determined to live and entertain on his salary -- in total contrast to the usual ambassador types.

As a more open-minded and academic thinker than the standard State Department officials, one area of conflict was Dodd's clear-headed ability to see just what the Nazis were up to: how they were enforcing their wish that ordinary Germans to go along with their program. At one point, for example, we get sudden insight into how far things have gone: Dodd sees a swastika embossed on a cough drop that one of the Nazi contacts offers him. I had a lot of sympathy for Dodd as he found it harder and harder to exert normal diplomatic relations with Hitler's officials, whose actions were increasingly heinous. Dodd began to refuse to attend Nazi rallies and other events that were so hysterical in the way they worked up crowd mentality and attacked Jews -- leading to more criticism and back-biting in Washington.

After finishing Larson's book, I started rereading a novel about wartime Berlin that book club read last summer: City of Women by David Gillham. The two books, set at different times in Nazi history, seem to work together in my mind to give a picture of how the Germans were corrupted and bullied into compliance with Nazi thought. The impoverishment of the ordinary Germans, who were on very tight rations and found almost nothing in the shops, and the outright denial of food to the hidden Jews in Gillham's book provides a food theme, or rather a starvation theme.

Both Berlin books are painful to read -- Larson says (in the afterword and in some interviews we discussed last night) that he found the research for the book terribly depressing and horrifying. Larson's earlier book was Devil in the White City about the Chicago World's Fair, a previous book club selection which I wrote about here. Although in it Larson describes the horrible actions of a serial killer who was preying on women who came to the fair, Larson said he didn't find that anywhere near as difficult as learning about Hitler, for whom he developed an overwhelming hatred. I also found the World's Fair a much lighter topic than Hitler and prefer the earlier book.