Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Ball Dropped at 8:15

New Year's Party down the block with kids:
the ball drops at 8:15 PM and then bedtime!

Michigan Cookbooks and Happy New Year!

First, I hope everyone will have a wonderful year in 2015, 
with lots of truly wonderful experiences cooking, eating, and living happily.
Now for some Michigan cookbooks:

Seasonal Samplings (1991) from the Michigan Cancer Society,
The Woodland Herb Farm Condiment Cook Book (1982).
The farm, founded in 1976, continues to operate.
Cooking at Chimney Corners (1979)
Chimney Corners is a resort on Crystal Lake where we enjoyed very quiet lakeside vacations many
years ago. The food was very good, and the recipes were passed down from mother to daughter
along with the business. It's still there, I think under the fourth or fifth generation of women --
but we haven't visited lately.
One of my favorite recipes from Chimney Corners: this makes a HUGE cake!
Unfortunately, I'm a little unsure of using the raw egg in uncooked frosting.
As this page explains, Chimney Corners has a very long history.
Ann Arbor Fresh (1998) was written by my friend Lois Kane and a collaborator.
Cookbook Wednesday is inspired by
Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Idealized Farmers?

Dust Bowl scene from PBS special, looks just like the ones in "Interstellar"
I was thinking about the stereotype of the farmer reflected in the movie "Interstellar." The main character, Cooper, is a farmer in a vast dust bowl where the only crops left are corn and okra, and okra is in trouble. His children are being programmed to a life of more farming by a pathetic and unimaginative educational system, teaching a revised, untrue, and vile version of history.

In the early scenes of the movie the usual cliche -- nobility of farming in extreme and challenging conditions -- seems set-off against the unexplained chase after a drone where Cooper runs his truck (with flat tire) through huge fields of corn.

Soon after this, Cooper finds a clandestine underground NASA space program and meets the secret NASA scientists. We learn that he despises farming and always wanted to return to his original occupation as a space pilot. Presumably the endangerment of okra was to get our attention and make us see what a travesty farming has become in this post-apocalyptic world. Everyone is eating okra? OK. Being a farmer is beyond depressing, not so noble at all in the coming disaster, thanks to negligence on the part of current humanity. Social relevance!

Although the key to the situation is that humans are facing starvation, in fact there isn't much actual eating (presumably of corn and okra) in the movie except for a sort of around-the-table-in-the-farmhouse scene and one meeting where Cooper and the chief scientist have a cup of coffee in the secret NASA headquarters. The piloting mission Cooper accepts is to find a well-watered temperate planet where the remnants of the human race can avoid mass starvation -- sort of like the settlement of Australia in the early 1800s. Humans have ruined this world and he and a few stalwart comrades must find them another.

The romance of farming continues to be questionable in the lives of the two Cooper children, the very bright daughter Murph who becomes a scientist and actually seems to sort of save humanity and the unimaginative son Tom who in fact loves farming even though it's so blighted. Flashbacks to the dust-bowl days of the early part of the movie all echoed the testimonies of actual 1930s farmers interviewed on the PBS American Experience special "Surviving the Dust Bowl."

Farmers have a big role in popular movies, even when there's really very little going on with the actual process of farming. Like in Star Wars where we meet the good honest protective farm family of Luke Skywalker (with the retrospective explanation of who they all were, given in the prequels). We all want to see heroes live like the Ingalls family in "Little House on the Prairie."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Two Classics

First, a classic sandwich:
BLT for lunch
Second, the scientific answer to a classic mystery:

Why spaghetti shatters into more than two pieces when you try to snap it to fit in the pot -- a question that Feynman tried to answer but failed. More on that here: -- but this only confirms that Feynman looked at the problem, their answer isn't as clear as the one in the video.

(Note: you might have to click "skip the ad.")

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Beautiful Food in 2014!

The New York Times food writer Pete Wells has posted his 9 favorite restaurant dishes for 2014. I am unlikely ever to see (or taste) them but I find them just beautiful. I'm surprised at the number of classic dishes depicted, including gratinéed French onion soup, a pizza (though with potato carbonara), a pasta dish, and a prime rib dish.

Beautiful roast beef sandwich from the slide show.
Several other newspapers have showcased best dishes of the year, but mainly more unusual. For example Eater, the Miami Herald, the Denver Post -- all very exotic choices.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Chinese Dinner and Movies for Christmas

Christmas Eve: "Interstellar."
We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Elaine and Larry who are visiting from Indiana. Of course our plan was movies and Chinese food, which we quite enjoyed. At 2:30 PM on Christmas Eve we went to a theater to see "Interstellar," which some of us liked a lot, some liked a little, and one hated. On Christmas Day we watched two movies on streaming video, took a walk in the park despite the gloominess and damp, and cooked and ate some Chinese food.
Christmas Morning: "Laura" (1944). Beautiful visuals in this film noir.
Christmas afternoon: "Insomnia." Rather strange movie.
Cooking Chinese Christmas dinner. You can see the package of Trader Joe's
pot stickers at left, and the rice cooker at right.
Stir-frying vegetables.
Pot stickers.
Stir-fried vegetables with roasted salmon.
Zingerman's gingerbread cake after we ate most of it.

English Christmas Dinner

Wishing everyone a very happy Christmas!

At Rules, a restaurant in London.
My friends Sheila and John in London shared their beautiful photos of a Christmas celebration at Rules, a restaurant in London where they live. The pictures were so beautiful and Christmas-like that I asked if I could repost them here, for Christmas.

Eel Salad 
Wild boar & mushroom pie

Mince pies

Decorated for the holiday

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Last Night of Chanukah

Latkes, sour cream, smoked salmon, red cabbage salad,
apple kugel, cranberry-applesauce.

Hershey's 1934 Cookbook

My new-old Hershey's 1934 Cookbook
When she was in Middle School (or as it was called then, Junior High), Evelyn was very interested in cooking. Actually, she still is. For her birthday one year we gave her a copy of Hershey's 1934 Cookbook, which had been re-released a few years earler. She still has it. Recently I was looking over her cookbooks and realized that I wanted to have a copy for myself. Here it is, from an reseller! Some pages that I love:

Today may be the last time Louise sponsors Cookbook Wednesday -- unless she decides to extend it in 2015. I'll still have lots of cookbooks to blog about even if it's not a shared event. Meanwhile, this new-old cookbook seems perfect for Christmas! And I hope everyone has a chocolate-themed holiday.

Cookbook Wednesday is inspired by
Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Bad Monkey"

I am fascinated with the role of food in detective fiction, as I have often blogged about. Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen has some the most bizarre food themes of any detective story I've read. It's also a very amusing and reasonably suspenseful tale of some pleasingly eccentric characters.

Bad Monkey centers on Yancy, a disgraced detective in the Florida keys. He had misbehaved and therefore had been removed from the police force. In place of the inspector's job he loved, he's given "roach patrol." That is, he's assigned to be a restaurant inspector. Instead of savoring gourmet meals (as do fictional detectives like Nero Wolf, Spenser, or Brunetti), or eating macho meals (like V.I.Warshawski) or just eating frequently during investigations (like Elmore Leonard's characters), poor Yancy is so disgusted with food that he practically stops eating at all. Instead of enjoying the delicious seafood delicacies on offer throughout the Keys, he begins obsessing about the revolting conditions in restaurant kitchens where he had to count the roaches and smell the rot.
"Yancy received his first bribe offer at a tin-roofed seafood joint ... called Stoney's Crab Palace, where he had documented seventeen serious health violations, including mouse droppings, rat droppings, chicken droppings, a tick nursery, open vats of decomposing shrimp, lobsters dating back to the first Bush presidency and, on a tray of baked oysters, a soggy condom. ... 
"Working for the Division of Hotels and Restaurants was the worst job he'd ever had. His appetite had disappeared the first morning, and in three weeks he'd lost eleven pounds. It was demoralizing to see how many ways food could be defiled. His first sighting of maggots put him off rice pudding forever. The opening of lobster season brought no joy ... all he thought about, day and night, was salmonella." (p. 36-37)
A monkey like the one in Bad Monkey
(from my trip to Costa Rica last year)
The central plot of Bad Monkey involves Yancy's efforts to identify the perp of a deeply bizarre murder and fraud case, and bring several villains to justice in strange and entertaining ways. For this he travels to Andros Island in the Bahamas, where he encounters several very colorful characters, particularly the monkey in the title. The monkey becomes addicted to deep-fried snacks, which make him more and more unhealthy. Another very very weird food themes.

 Eventually a beautiful and talented girl friend manages to cook for Yancy and tempt him back to eating, but as his investigation unfolds, he keeps being forced to return to Stoney's and confront his wiggling, maggoty demons.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Julia Child's Daube de Provence

Julia Child books from my library.
My favorite recipes almost all come from Julia Child's many cookbooks. Yesterday I decided to go back to the original recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking and make Daube de Provence. I followed the recipe pretty faithfully, and we'll be eating it tomorrow. It contains bacon, beef, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, stock, red wine, garlic, carrots, herbs, and later more garlic and capers (though I plan to omit the anchovies this time). The ingredients are layered in a casserole without browning, covered with liquid, and simmered for several hours, creating a wonderful aroma throughout the house.

Some other favorite Julia Child recipes: pommes a l'huile, salade Niçoise, leg of lamb with mustard sauce, ratatouille, roast duck, omelette (from the TV show), and a couple of menus from Julia Child & Company. I've written about Julia Child many times in past blog posts, of course.

The Daube recipe is two pages long, including the addition on Daube de Provence.
Click to see an enlarged image.

Daube waiting in my refrigerator, next to my preserved lemons from my Moroccan cooking adventures.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

More Moroccan Cooking

 As I've written (Tagine, Tagine) my first experiment with cooking in a tagine was a disaster from the point of view of the cookware -- but the food was delicious. And I can see that any recipe can be made with the cooking equipment that I already own.

Thus I decided to continue with my plan to buy one or more Moroccan cookbooks. My favorite book dealer (Motte and Bailey) had this wonderful French-language book on the cuisine of the Jews of Morocco by Viviane and Nina Moryoussef. My next possible purchase will be one by Paula Wolfert.

I'm not sure when I'll be trying new recipes, but I'm already really enjoying reading them and looking at the gorgeous illustrations.
Preserved lemons and other condiments as shown in my new cookbook.
"Boulettes de Poisson Sauce Tomate" --
definitely a recipe I hope to try.

Friday, December 19, 2014

"The Language Hoax"

I have just read John McWorter's book The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language. I enjoy reading about language, and particularly enjoy books by angry linguists.
McWhorter isn't exactly angry, but he gets close sometimes, about the issue at the center of his book. In fact, the first thing he says is:
"This book is a manifesto. I will oppose an idea about language that took hold among certain academics starting in the 1930s, and of late has acquired an unseemly amount of influence over public discussion as well. This is the idea that people's languages channel the way they think and perceive the world." (p. vii)
McWhorter is particularly angry about the misuses of scholarly research in sensational or even just ordinary journalism. Often, he points out, research finds very subtle and essentially trivial results, but if these results resonate with popular culture, their significance is vastly overstated, even by supposedly responsible journalists.

Commonly repeated overstatements that McWhorter cites include the idea that speakers of languages where there is only one word for the color range from blue to green can't distinguish colors in that range. Or that languages with strong grammatical genders have a strong effect on ideas about real gender, or an exaggerated idea of the "maleness" or "femaleness" of objects of that gender. Research shows no such connection. One example is a language with almost no grammatical gender: common misconception about language and thought might expect the speakers to be very egalitarian about men and women, but in fact, their culture is rife with mistreatment of women.

One way he states his point is this: "Crucially, a connection between language and thought does exist. The problem is how that connection has percolated into public discussion." (p. xiv)

In order to try to capture a little of the sense of the book, I'm going to pick his examples of (what else?) food. McWhorter's mentions differences in the way various languages talk about eating. He uses them to demonstrate that many differences in various languages do not meet a "need," which would support a strong connection between language and thought, but arise for essentially random reasons, and do not in fact limit the speakers' ability to express ideas. He writes:
"In New Guinea, for instance, it is quite common for a language to have one word that covers both eat and drink (and sometimes also smoke). Yet what 'need' does this address? It is unlikely that anyone would propose that dozens of separate tribes on this massive island are actively uninterested in the differences between foods ... . Descriptions of such groups' take on food in fact regularly include a wide variety of foodstuffs and preparations, with feasting as a regular aspect of communal life.  
"This then sheds light on what we might make of a superficially more auspicious situation. Navajo takes things to the opposite extreme: how you say eat depends on whether you are just eating in general or whether what you are eating is hard, soft, stringy, round, a bunch of little things, or meat. Future research could determine how the place of food differs in Native American cultures versus ones in New Guinea? Perhaps, but what do we make of the fact that an Aboriginal group across the water from New Guinea in Queensland, the Dyirbal, having lived lives over millennia that New Guineans would find thoroughly familiar, have three different eat verbs for eating fish, meat and vegetables? Or that an Amazonian group called the Jarawara, living lives also quite like those of New Guinea folk, say eat differently depending on whether you have to chew something a lot or a little, whether you have to spit out its seeds, or whether you have to suck on it? 
"All of this is neat, but not in showing us anything about what people need in their language. A speculation about how something in a language 'must' reflect something essential in its speakers is incomplete without considering the distribution of that something in languages worldwide." (p. 45-46)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Italy: Ancient, Renaissance, and Modern Cookbooks

A dozen Italian food books on my shelf.
I have many Italian cookbooks, featuring regional cuisines, Italian-American foods, historical studies, and encyclopedic treatments of pasta and of Italian cooking in general, all in English. Today for Cookbook Wednesday I want to describe -- briefly! -- three cookbooks representing three vastly different eras of Italian food.

A Taste of Ancient Rome by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa (1992), a book reconstructing the food of antiquity.

Was Roman food the prototype for the now-famous Mediterranean diet? Perhaps somewhat, says Giacosa, except that many elements of modern Italian cuisine use new-world products like  tomatoes, turkey, peppers, and polenta made from maize, as well as other more-recently introduced foods like eggplant, most citrus fruits, and even pasta. All these and more were absent in Roman times. Further, the very common Roman condiment called garum, a salty fermented fish sauce, hasn't retained its popularity.

Roman writers created quite a lot of material showing just what foods they ate, how they grew and prepared these foods, their styles of dining from simple meals to lavish banquets, and how Roman meals changed during 1000 years of history. Roman authors particularly important for their food information include "Cato, Columella, Apicius, Petronius, Martial, and Juvenal," according to Giacosa.  From these sources come the detailed food descriptions and reconstructions of recipes included in A Taste of Ancient Rome.

The Fruit, Herbs & Vegetables of Italy by Giacomo Castelvetro (1614), an impressively beautiful edition, translated by Gillian Riley from the original Latin. 

This volume is full of reproductions of Renaissance paintings of food, markets, gardens, wine-makers, apothecary shops, and kitchen scenes, along with the author's descriptions of vegetables and suggestions for preparing them.

Castelvetro lived in England for a time, as well as in several other Italian and continental cities. He wrote this book towards the end of his life, to encourage English people to imitate the Italians, who valued eating fruits and vegetables. His approach seems close to many modern food writers. From the introduction by Riley:
"Castelvetro did not intend to write a recipe book. He must have known the works of Vicenzo Cervio, Bartolomeo Scappi and Giovanni Rosselli, describing the elaborate banquets of the courts of the Italian nobility, and felt passionately about a very different gastronomy.... With tact and good humor Castelvetro expounded his own ideas of luxury -- exquisitely fresh vegetables, simply prepared, using the finest ingredients.... He does give recipes when necessary, to explain how to use a particular fruit or vegetable, but the simple approach is what Castelvetro wanted to get across. The basic method for so many dishes could hardly be called a recipe: cook your vegetables simply in salted water and serve them tepid or cold with oil, salt and pepper and bitter orange or lemon juice." (p. 28)

La Cucina di Lidia: Recipes and Memories from Italy's Adriatic Coast by Lidia Bastianich and Jay Jacobs (1990), a book of wonderful memories of Italian foods and recipes.

Although in her childhood, Lidia and her family became refugees from their native town in Yugoslavia near the Italian border, she shared some happy memories of their time in Trieste, Italy. She also described her transition to New York and her enjoyment of what I think it's ok to call the American Dream -- becoming a restaurateur, successful cookbook author, and eventually hosting TV shows.

Lidia's TV programs are broadcast on the very laid-back Create channel (or did appear there when I had that channel on my TV, don't know about now). In various episodes she demonstrated recipes, traveled through Italy, described her past and present experiences, and introduced various friends and members of her family. These included her quite elderly mother and her young grandchildren, who all joined her in the TV kitchen. I call her Lidia because these programs make me feel as if she's a friend!

Cookbook Wednesday is inspired by
Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tagine, Tagine

My new tagine cooker, preserved lemons, and spiced lamb, ready to go.
Recently I decided to try Moroccan tagine cooking. Around a month ago, I put up some preserved lemons, which are now ready to use. I also bought a tagine -- quite a beautiful piece of ceramic cookware. After it arrived (from, I realized that I also needed a heat diffuser for my smooth-top stove. When that arrived, I spent several hours painstakingly following the instructions to season the tagine in preparation for cooking -- soaking it, oiling it, baking it in the oven, simmering water in it on the diffuser. Finally, this morning I bought all the ingredients for lamb tagine with couscous, and got everything ready.

More ingredients.

A sorry sight!
I was heating the lower cooking vessel part of the tagine slowly on the diffuser, following the instructions. Suddenly I heard a loud crack. It split in two. I had not yet added the meat to the pot so only some oil was lost -- making a mess on the stovetop. Luckily, the heat was low per the instructions so it didn't burn. It's all cleaned up now, and I had to make the lamb in an ordinary pan. I plan to try to return this defective item to, as I did everything with it exactly as I was told to do.

Using a skillet to cook the lamb.

Happy ending: the result was delicious! You can see the preserved lemons and also the apricots in the couscous.

Lamb Tagine
2 lamb leg steaks (around 1.5 lb total)
1/4 cup olive oil
1.25 cups water
1/2 cup grated onion (around 1 medium onion)
2 cups chopped onion (1 to 1.5 medium onions)
1 cup green and/or black olives, pitted & cut in pieces
2 preserved lemons, rinsed, pulp removed, cut in julienne
1/2 cup Italian parsley and coriander leaves, stems removed

Spices, blended together in a mortar:
1/2 tsp mixed saffron & turmeric
1.5 tsp ground ginger
1.5 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp salt

Cube the lamb and toss with the spice blend and the grated onion. Allow to stand for up to an hour. Heat oil on medium heat (ideally you would use a tagine cooker, but as I unfortunately showed, a regular skillet big enough to hold the lamb is fine too). Toss the spiced lamb in the heated oil until light brown. Add the water and cover tightly. Bring to very low simmer and cook for 1 hour; then add the remaining onion. Cook very slowly until meat is tender, adding water if necessary, but it probably won't be necessary.

10 minutes before serving add the olives and preserved lemons and bring to medium simmer. Garnish with the parsley and coriander leaves. Serve with couscous.
-- adapted from the pamphlet that came with the tagine from

1 cup water
2 tsp butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup couscous (used Trader Joe's whole wheat couscous)
2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/3 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
flat-leaf parsley & cilantro leaves for garnish

Bring water, butter, and salt to a boil in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in couscous and coriander, cover pan, and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes.

Fluff couscous with a fork and stir in oil, apricots, and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with herbs.
-- adapted from an internet recipe and the couscous package