Thursday, June 30, 2016

Another Inspector Galileo Mystery

 Keigo Higashino is "the most widely read author in Japan, with hundreds of millions of copies of his books sold worldwide and nearly twenty films and television series based on his work," according to the author page in my Kindle edition of A Midsummer's Equation. It's the fourth Higashino book I've read, and I continue to enjoy them for the multi-dimensional characters, the clever plots, and the local color and food descriptions. I must say, though, that this, the third available book in the Inspector Galileo series, doesn't have quite as surprising a plot as the first two did.

At the beginning, we meet Kyohei, a fifth-grade boy traveling alone on a train. His parents don't want to bother with him during summer vacation, so they're sending him to a tiny seaside resort where an aunt and uncle have a small hotel. The boy is a major character throughout the story, which in itself is an innovative device in a mystery novel.

Immediately, we find out what Kyohei has for lunch:
"The train lurched into motion. Kyohei opened his backpack and took out a plastic bag with his lunch inside. The rice balls wrapped in aluminum foil were still warm. A small Tupperware container held some fried chicken and grilled egg, both favorites of his. He drank some water out of a bottle and crammed one of the rice balls into his mouth. He could already see the ocean outside the window. There was a blue sky today, and sunlight glittered off the waves in the distance, beyond the white spray closer to shore." (A Midsummer's Equation: A Detective Galileo Mystery, p. 2)
Kyohei's slightly drunk father's promise to him was that the food would be good at his aunt and uncle's place: "The food’s great down there," his father said. "I’ll tell your aunt to stuff you full of fresh fish.” (p. 3).

In fact, the reader finds out quite a lot about the aunt's cooking both for hotel guests and for the family in the course of the novel. Upon Kyohei's arrival, he learns that two guests are staying at the hotel. One is a retired police officer who soon dies a mysterious death. The other is Manabu Yukawa, Assistant Professor of Physics, Tokyo Imperial University, whom we've met before -- he's known to the police, whom he often helps out in investigations, as Inspector Galileo. (p. 15)

The boy and the physicist establish a very nice relationship, as Yukawa takes charge of teaching the boy some science while he's also consulting for a mining company AND helping the police. Quite a character! I was especially amused at several scenes in the middle of the book where Yukawa and Kyohei eat dinner together at the hotel. Yukawa is always served a high-end fresh fish or sushi dinner, while Kyohei has the family meal such as meatloaf, egg over a ball of rice, or pork cutlets. Eventually Yukawa requests to have the family's dinner served to him instead of the food intended only for guests. The aunt's cooking turns out to provide a critical clue in Yukawa's solution of the mysterious death of the police officer and the events from the distant past that were associated with it (but no spoilers here).

Quite a number of police officers and detectives participate in the case of the retired policeman's death, including two competing and not-fully cooperating teams from the local resort town and Tokyo. Several of their discussions take place while they are eating at a variety of restaurants with intriguing Japanese special foods -- the combination of detecting and dining is extremely enjoyable to read!

A woman detective named Utsumi is responsible for quite a lot of the pavement-beating work that's needed to locate information about both victims and criminals. She and Kusanagi, one of the detectives, have one meeting at a restaurant with a special food that's pretty unusual for American readers:
"Utsumi’s favorite spot to grab a late dinner in Asakusa was right next to the Azuma Bridge, a little place on a narrow alleyway wedged in between the main road and the Sumida River. Lucky for Kusanagi, there was a parking lot just across the way.  
The two sat down at a table fashioned from the cross-section of a large log. They both ordered Utsumi’s recommendation: the cow tongue platter.  
"'Well, let’s hear it,' Kusanagi said, pulling an ashtray over and lighting a cigarette. 
"Utsumi pulled a navy-colored notebook out of her shoulder bag." 
She informs Kusanagi of her detecting efforts as they wait for their food.
"'I showed the picture to everyone I talked to, but nothing.' Kusanagi frowned. 'Yeah, that would’ve been too easy.' 
"Their dinner arrived. Each one of them had seven pieces of cow tongue on a large tray, surrounded by a small bowl of grated yam, a bowl of boiled rice and barley, salad, and oxtail soup. 
“This looks fantastic,” Kusanagi said, snuffing out his cigarette."
They discuss the discoveries she's made about the whereabouts of one of the important targets of their investigation and they eat their dinner:
"Kusanagi took a bite of his cow tongue and whistled. The combination of texture and taste was sublime. 'That is good. Dammit. Now I want a beer.'" 
"'Where would he have gone, then? An Internet café?'  
"Kusanagi nodded, pouring his grated yam over the rice and barley. 'That’s where all the drifters, young and old, wind up these days. Cheaper than budget places in Sanya, and they’ve got showers. Wow, this yam rice is amazing too.' 
"'Okay,' Utsumi said, 'I’ll try the Internet cafés tomorrow, then. We still haven’t figured out why Tsukahara was looking for Senba in the first place, though.'" 
"Kusanagi sipped his oxtail soup, gave a little sigh, and reached for his jacket on the chair next to him. He pulled his notebook out of the inner pocket and flipped through the pages." (p. 149-150) 
On a different occasion, an interchange between Kusanagi and a witness took place at a restaurant run by the person he wanted to interview:
"Kusanagi stood outside a restaurant that served okonomiyaki pancakes a short walk from Azabu Juban Station. ... The tables all had hot plates in the middle so customers could cook their own okonomiyaki. ... 
"'How many years were you at Bar Calvin?” Kusanagi asked. “Twelve, exactly. ...,” Muroi said, pouring the batter out on the hot plate in front of them. There was a loud sizzle as drops of oil began to dance on the plate.
As the detective questions the owner about the his long-ago experiences that will help to catch the perp, he also enjoys some of the special pancakes:
"Muroi paused to check how the okonomiyaki was coming along before leaning forward in his chair. 'Actually, I heard a rumor about that.' 
"Muroi flipped one of the pancakes and said, 'It wasn’t just me who saw him. A few of the other guys at the bar were talking about it, wondering why he was so worked up.'"
The questioning and the pancake flipping alternate as the detective learns more and more about the people who interested him. He wraps up when he has all the info he needs:
"'Right,' Kusanagi said, putting away his notebook in his pocket. It was over twenty years ago, as it was. He hadn’t been expecting Muroi to even remember as much as he had.  
"'All done— eat up while it’s hot,' Muroi said, spreading some rich, dark sauce on the okonomiyaki before sprinkling it with seaweed and bonito flakes and cutting it on top of the hot plate. 'Oh, almost forgot the beer.'  
"'Can’t drink while I’m on duty...' " (Quotes are from p. 170 - 174). 
During this interchange, we the readers learn more and more about the motives for murder AND more and more about okonomiyaki, the special Japanese pancakes. (I ate them in an oknomiyaki place in Tokyo once and they were fantastic!)

All things considered, I love the combination of suspense, gastronomy, police rivalries, and clever characters in this novel, though I don't feel the need to summarize the story, just to give these few hints about the way the book is constructed. I'm actually a little surprised that the author, so famous in Japan, isn't better known here.

Not Much Ambition for Cuisine

An apple omelet. And toast with melted cheese and chutney. 
The apple omelet.
I've been making simple food this week -- no recipes, just memories of how to do it. An apple omelet, for example, has these ingredients: eggs, butter, apple slices, sugar. I cook the apples briefly before pouring in the lightly beaten eggs, so there's still some crunch in the fruit. Nice light dinner.

Ready to go in the oven: stuffed mushrooms and brined pork chops
brushed with balsamic glaze. 
Ready to eat! No recipe in either case. The mushroom stuffing was chopped whatever there was in the vegetable drawer
and ready-made breadcrumbs moistened with a bit of vegetable juice and red wine. 
Turkey, mayo, and chicken-liver-spread on a sandwich.
Now I know I'm going to hear from the liver-haters again, and maybe from those who think chicken liver and mayo is a bad combination. I made these chicken livers from scratch, with onions and butter. I pureed the result with my immersion blender. I don't know if Julia Child called for that fine a puree, but otherwise my method was based on my memory of her recipe.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Contemplating Free-Range Britain

Illustration from Bee Wilson's New Yorker Article.
Author Bee Wilson, whom I quite admire, has an article in the current New Yorker about the coming changes in the relationship between Britain and Europe: "What Brexit Means for British Food."

Wilson points out that one of the now-nearly-forgotten motives that drove the formation of the European Union was hunger, as experienced especially during and immediately after World War II. The founders, she writes, hoped "to insure a plentiful food supply for entire populations." Their dream was "for Europe to become as self-sufficient as possible in food."

A number of very interesting points are made in the article, which does not buy the theory that the regulatory effect of Brussels has been negative and damaging. One impact she mentions, is the increase in variety and flavors since Britain joined. Wilson writes:
"The E.U. can’t take sole credit for the fact that the British now know pesto from salsa verde. Probably some kind of food revolution would have happened here anyway, just as it did in the States and Australia over the same period. But to contemplate Brexit is to see the extent to which Britain is not a food island. We eat food cooked by French and Italian chefs using European ingredients. More than a quarter of those working in food manufacturing in Britain are immigrants from within the E.U. We could not eat as we do without them. ... Over all, the impact of the E.U. on the British diet has entailed,... 'cultural exchange on a massive scale.'”
All in all, a very interesting article, which I recommend. I learned about it from a roundup of articles about the result of Brexit in Marion Nestle's blog, "Food Politics." Particularly interesting among her sources is an article in the Guardian titled "Britain's meal ticket? Food and drink at heart of referendum debate" (written before last week's referendum took place).

Nestle writes: "It’s obvious from reading all this that the effects of the Brexit decision are largely unknown. not easy to predict, but unlikely to be good."

Thinking of Istanbul

After every terrorist attack, I mourn for those who have lost their lives, and when the attack is in a place I've been, I think of all the people I know there, and worry about them, though I've not before posted anything about my memories or feelings.

This morning, thinking of Istanbul and our beautiful and welcoming visit there in 2006:

Our friends, shown at left with Len, took us to a market in the neighborhood where family members lived.
They explained how you could  hire a man with a basket to carry your market purchases home for you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Embracing Lord Cthulhu

"Devils so work that things which are not appear to men as if they were real" -- This quotation by the early Christian writer Lacantius appears as the epigraph of the story "The Festival" by H.P. Lovecraft. (The Cthulhu Mythos, Kindle Locations 261-262).
H.P.Lovecraft, 1890-1937 (Wikipedia)

Lovecraft is the perfect reading for this week. As the Brits struggle with their racist voting decision, it's comforting to read about unknown aliens from other planets that make unspeakable threats against the pure human species. The worshippers of the unknowable and maybe unpronounceable Cthulhu speak in unintelligible, harsh, consonant-filled utterances. They say: "Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn.” (The Cthulhu Mythos MEGAPACK, Kindle Locations 5148-5149).

The frightening races of interstellar invaders in Lovecraft's various stories have skin of strange colors, maybe green, maybe dark. They might look like undersea creatures or just malformed humans:
"Into the lands of civilization came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences of electricity and psychology and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude." (Mythos, Kindle Locations 27-29)
Switch out "Nyarlathotep" and put in some actual race of foreigners. It sounds like the "leave" proponents' fantasy. Or maybe like Donald Trump. Build a wall against the swarthy, slender, sinister invaders. Hate the Jews who speak of electricity or psychology.

Writing seventy years ago, Lovecraft was a genuine hater of just about everybody that the majority of British voters expressed their hatred for last week. His extra-terrestrial creep-outs resemble everybody Trump hates. It's not surprising that Lovecraft, an American antisemite, racist, and xenophobe invented a paranoid weird fiction that relates so well to the current paranoia. Of course he wrote during an earlier outbreak of racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism -- but he wasn't commenting on the phenomenon, he was reflecting the spirit of his times. And maybe presaging ours.

"To anyone who’s read all of Lovecraft’s fiction plus even a smattering of biographical material, his venomous racism is self-evident; it’s right there on the page," wrote Laura Miller in Slate in an article titled "It’s OK to admit that H.P. Lovecraft was racist."

OK. Maybe we should just embrace Lovecraft's targets and recognize his prejudices as precursors to the worst feelings of our own time. Instead of identifying with the fearful white Christian small-town Americans who have seen the scary aliens, let's sympathize with the aliens and what they symbolize. Instead of feeling sorry for Lovecraft's lonely ineffective academics that probe the memories of a few surviving witnesses to the minions of Cthulhu, I think I'll just identify with the beasts and dream of an America where minority voters have a real say-so. Cthulhu lives!

"In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” (MEGAPACK, Kindle Location 8158).

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fatal Pursuit

"There was an old Périgord proverb about love being like food: 
it changed with the time it spent cooking." (Fatal Pursuit, p. 32).

Fatal Pursuit is the latest book in the series "Bruno, Chief of Police" by Martin Walker. It was just published on Jun 21. I read it over the weekend and enjoyed every bit of it. I've read almost all the previous ones, and I'm surprised to realize that I've never blogged about them.

Bruno, the central figure of the series, loves life. He loves women: there's a new girlfriend every few books. The one in Fatal Pursuit is beautiful and passionate but not willing to make a commitment -- just like the ones in earlier books.

Bruno loves his dog and his horse and the countryside where he lives near the fictional town of St. Denis in the Perigord region of France. In every book, readers get to know more about his life and also about the permanent residents and their kids, the habitual summer/temporary residents, the local businesses, the dogs and horses, and everything else about St. Denis, which naturally has an immense murder rate to keep Bruno busy. You know, it's kind of like following the news from Lake Wobegone, only more exotic and violent.

Bruno loves to cook with the wonderful ingredients from local sources, including his own garden. He often visits open-air markets where he knows most of the farmers and producers (and sometimes gets them to come up with information about the murders he's solving). His observations of the local market offer various insights about the town and its cuisine:
"Bruno had noticed that most of them [the townspeople] shopped in the order in which they ate: first the olives stall and the organic bread, then the fish or the duck, then the fruit and vegetables and finally Stéphane’s cheeses. Even those he knew to be apartment dwellers paused at the flower stall, the last one before the bridge, picking up seedlings of herbs for their balconies and window boxes. Bruno moved through the stalls, shaking hands and kissing cheeks, tasting a ripe fig and then a fat black olive." (p. 234) 
He also sees how the market changes over time, such as the introduction of Asian foods from the stall of Madame Vinh:
"the lumpia, the prawn curries and rendang beef, for all of which the people of St. Denis had developed a taste. Takeout containers were stacked beside the vast cauldron of pho soup heating on the portable gas stove. It would be empty by noon. In the decade that Bruno had been the town policeman, the usual radishes and cucumbers had been joined by mangoes and papayas, heirloom tomatoes and pomelos. Sausage rolls and Cornish pasties now stood beside the quiche Lorraine. But the cheese and the charcuterie stalls were still the most thronged." (pp. 234-235)
There's also a Night Market:
"... where the local farmers were invited on Saturday evenings in summer to sell their produce from stalls erected around the village square.... It had begun modestly with pâtés, salads and strawberries, foie gras and cheeses, a stall that grilled steaks and lamb chops and another selling wine by the bottle. It proved highly popular with the locals as well as tourists and quickly expanded to include haricots couennes, beans cooked with pork rind, as well as pommes frites, omelettes and soups. Then a local farm began offering snails in their shells with butter and garlic, and the mairie rebuilt the village’s old stone baking oven in the center of the square to produce fresh bread and pizzas." (p. 60)
Open-air market that I visited in Arles, France, in April 2016.
No doubt very much like Bruno's market in St.Denis, where rotisserie chickens are in fact mentioned.
Cooking is Bruno's passion, and he has strong opinions, like this one about one of the famous regional specialties:
"A real cassoulet has to contain stuffed neck of duck and some duck sausage, and I like to add some manchons of duck as well because my grandmother always put those small pieces of duck into hers. A cassoulet is always based on white beans with onions and tomatoes. It’s fine to add some ordinary pork sausage as well, as long as it’s been made with plenty of garlic, but without the duck it’s just a pale shadow of a true cassoulet. It also needs to cook very slowly, which is why I made it this morning and left it cooking in the haybox all day.” (p. 103)
In the course of just this one book, Bruno cooks or shares an incredible number of meals as well as morning coffee with croissants from the local bakery and a variety of carefully chosen wines. Often the details of firing the stove, preparing vegetables, and selecting ingredients are included. Some examples of what Bruno and his friends and helpers ate:
"Cooking a couple of quartered chickens with the carrots, onions and potatoes had made a plain but filling meal for his friends the previous evening. Now with some more vegetables and garlic and a pack of green lentils added, it would provide him and his dog with a hearty stew throughout the week." (p. 2) 
"[A] vineyard dinner of soup, pâté, roast duck, cheese with salad and a piece of walnut tart. As much wine as they wanted was included in the price of their meal, all of it from the town vineyard." (p. 24) 
"Bruno had planned to make dinner for his guests from Alsace, a simple meal featuring some of his homemade pâté, followed by his vegetable stew, cheese and salad, all accompanied by the big round tourte of country bread he’d picked up from the bakery that morning."(p. 59) 
"They [Bruno & friends] were now so accustomed to preparing the meal that they fell automatically into their usual roles. Fabiola polished the wineglasses and set the table, and Miranda’s father decanted the wines he’d brought before starting to slice the big, circular tourte of fresh bread. The baron opened his cans of pâté, explaining that he’d brought one of venison and one of rabbit. Pamela went to the vegetable garden to pick lettuce for the salad while Bruno and Gilles took the big plastic bidons to the spring that burbled from the hillside to bring back some water." (p. 102) 
"[Bruno} took a bottle of Château de Tiregand from his cellar. It went perfectly with the veal escalopes that Odette had prepared with morilles mushrooms that she and her daughter had picked in the woods that day. The first course had been oeufs mimosa from goose eggs, for which Martine had made the mayonnaise. And when Bruno had arrived, she had insisted on champagne anyway...." (Epilogue)
The pace of Fatal Pursuit is leisurely because the local color, copious meals, and various sub-plots are numerous, and though they somewhat advance the plot, they are also present for their own sake. I particularly enjoyed the subplot about Bruno saving the future of a teenage slacker by finding him a job working in a horse-riding school, and seeing that the bully who was tormenting him received a just punishment.

The central murder mystery of Fatal Pursuit involves international money-laundering and very valuable classic racing cars. Bruno's somewhat coerced participation in a fast car race is quite suspenseful. As in many of Walker's books, the nearly-forgotten effects of the local World War II resistance remain enormously important in the 21st century. In this book, Walker uses a true story of a lost Bugatti that disappeared in around 1941 in the region he writes about. All good fun to read!

Walker lives in the region where his stories take place, and clearly the taste reflected in the book is his own. In an autobiographical sketch, he identified himself as an active connoisseur of local foods of the Perigord -- "In 2013, I was made a chevalier of foie gras, in the confrerie of pate de Perigueux, and also an honorary Ambassador of the Perigord, which means I get to accompany the traveling exhibition of the Lascaux cave as it goes on display at museums around the world. I also help promote the wines of Bergerac at international wine fairs, and was chairman of the jury for this year's Prix Ragueneau, the international culinary prize." ( Fatal Pursuit page)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Everyone Knows that Vegetables are Good For You!

Ann Arbor Farmers' Market Last Year
Fruit and veggies! Every American knows that they are good for us. Guidelines tell us how many servings a day we should eat. On average, we don't do it. It's a perplexing subject for quite a few experts, whose research projects have been reported in several recent articles.

Author Julia Belluz in "4 fixes for the astonishing lack of vegetables in the American diet" reports on a recently published study that showed that between 1999 and 2012 in the US:
"while whole grain consumption went up and sugary drink consumption went down, there was no change in total fruits and vegetables consumed. (When Americans do eat vegetables, fully half of them are tomatoes and potatoes — often in the form of sugar-laden ketchup and greasy fries.)"
Belluz asks why people, especially poorer people, don't eat more vegetables. The benefits are especially important to those with diabetes and obesity -- which are more prevalent among poorer people. A big reason: at normal grocery store prices, they cost more per calorie than almost any other food. Here's a chart from her article illustrating that point:

Quite a few reasons and several potential approaches to changing Americans' behavior are summarized in the article, including suggestions for subsidizing healthier foods instead of corn and soybeans, as well as for sexier marketing.

An article in the Atlantic a few months ago suggested another reason why richer people are more likely to actually enjoy and choose fruit and vegetables. "Why So Many Rich Kids Come to Enjoy the Taste of Healthier Foods: When children are introduced to something nutritious, they tend to reject it—which many parents don’t have room for in their budgets." by Joe Pinsker cites studies of how children form food preferences. In order to get to like something new -- say, broccoli! -- kids need to taste the new food between 8 and 15 times. And if they don't like it, it goes to waste, normally. This waste is beyond the budget of poorer families:
"Who can afford that sort of waste? Not parents with tight food budgets. A recently published study looking into the eating and shopping habits of both low-income and high-income parents suggests that the steep up-front cost of introducing foods to children is enough to deter a number of parents from trying. This cost-cutting decision may explain some of the differences between how rich and poor Americans eat."
Pinsker included a graph illustrating his point:

The idea that childhood experience creates different food preferences is a challenge to conventional wisdom: "The reason that more-educated people have healthier diets may not be because they have more of an appreciation for the importance of a good diet, but because to an extent they’re following their palates. This explanation undoes a basic assumption about healthy eating—that for everyone, a better diet is a matter of overcoming the temptation of salty, sweet, and fatty foods."

A third article about the subject of eating vegetables: writer Catherine Saint Louis in the New York Times explores a different side of this question in "Food Banks Take On a Contributor to Diabetes: Themselves" (June 17, 2016). She writes:
"Many who depend on food pantries are not underfed, but are ... obese and diabetic, experts have found. In 2014, one-third of the 15.5 million households served by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, reported that a household member had diabetes. 
"Inconsistent access to food worsens the disease, and so can the offerings at the pantries many low-income people must rely on. Now researchers have begun pursuing innovative new methods to address Type 2 diabetes among people who rely on food banks."
The article describes how some food banks are identifying people with diabetes and encouraging them to take home fresh fruit and vegetables that have been made available for the food bank patrons instead of (or in addition to) packaged and processed foods that are likely to make their problems worse.

Last year I visited two local organizations here in Ann Arbor that are working hard to make fruit and vegetables part of the food pantry staples, though I don't know that they are directly trying to make it more likely for people with diabetes to choose to eat them. I find the topic very interesting, and all the varied attempts to understand the sources of the problem and how it might be resolved seem very interesting to me.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


We took a brief walk in the Sloan Preserve near Dexter, MI, this morning. It's a short distance from the small parking lot to the creek. It's one of a few preserves in the area that keep some space open but walkable, without being a full-service park.

You can walk across the creek on the rocks. After this short walk, we drove into downtown Dexter, where we looked briefly at the very small Dexter Farmers' Market. Fresh vegetables, pots of herbs, jams and home-made cookies, and massages are all available.

Just down a stairway from the market is a beautiful hiking and biking path that goes along the same creek we saw earlier, but quite a bit downstream from there. The path goes under the old railroad tracks and on through wooded areas and hillsides and fields with many flowers.

In the afternoon we went to a garden center and bought several outdoor plants, including this rather strange looking hanging basket for our porch. These flowers remind me of the blossoms on a bottle-brush tree:

Late this afternoon we went to the home of one of Len's fellow birdwatchers. The garden faces the Huron River and is filled with bird feeders and native plants. A hummingbird landed on this feeder several times:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Yoo-hoo, Cthulhu

After sporadic participation for two years in a writing group where everyone is pretty much dedicated to genre fiction, I decided to join the crowd. I've started by reading a few tales by H.P.Lovecraft (1890-1937) about the secretive and threatening interstellar people who live among us, especially in various places in New England. Their leader or god or some such being is named Cthulhu, which I gather is pronounced "Ka-thu-loo." Or "Khlûl’-hloo" (see note).

The Cthulhu worshippers have a lot of other gods and leaders too. Sometimes they live under the sea and sometimes they fly from outer space into mountainous areas like the Himalayas or Vermont. They always smell bad and look scary; details vary. Sometimes they want to kidnap humans and take their brains. Sometimes they intermarry with humans and produce a new and creepy hybrid race. The stories I read were always about someone who tries to learn too much about them and then escapes and tells his story. Whatever the story line, they are VERY VERY scary and make us think of all the alien types of humans that we hate. After all, the genre here is horror. This special case of horror was invented by Lovecraft. Other writers have been imitating or adapting Lovecraft's creations for something like the last 80 years.

Before this new influence in my life,
I knew the name H.P.Lovecraft as a rock band,
but that hasn't been relevant since the 1960s.
Anyway, I have been reading anthologies of stories by Lovecraft and his followers. Despite the hype, I think he's a pretty good author, and I like some of the imitations too.

Food in literature is always a filter that I like to use to figure out what an author is up to. In Lovecraft's tales, terrorized researchers always seem to be working alone in scary places to find out about the Cthulhu cult. From time to time, they get hungry, but they definitely have a minimalist attitude about food.

For example, the informant in the story "The Shadow over Innsmouth" arrives in the New England town of Innsmouth where the mysterious creatures live in order to learn about them and about his own family from there.

Towards the beginning he writes: "For some reason or other I chose to make my first inquiries at the chain grocery, whose personnel was not likely to be native to Innsmouth. I found a solitary boy of about seventeen in charge, and was pleased to note the brightness and affability which promised cheerful information. He seemed exceptionally eager to talk, and I soon gathered that he did not like the place, its fishy smell, or its furtive people. A word with any outsider was a relief to him. He hailed from Arkham, boarded with a family who came from Ipswich, and went back home whenever he got a moment off. His family did not like him to work in Innsmouth, but the chain had transferred him there and he did not wish to give up his job."

Making an effort to exist in Innsmouth he says: "Disliking the dinginess of the single restaurant I had seen, I bought a fair supply of cheese crackers and ginger wafers to serve as a lunch later on."

And on his final night when he is about to face off against the monsters and make his exciting escape the narrator: "looked around for a dinner of some sort; noticing as I did so the strange glances I received from the unwholesome loafers. Since the grocery was closed, I was forced to patronise the restaurant I had shunned before; a stooped, narrow-headed man with staring, unwinking eyes, and a flat-nosed wench with unbelievably thick, clumsy hands being in attendance. The service was of the counter type, and it relieved me to find that much was evidently served from cans and packages. A bowl of vegetable soup with crackers was enough for me, and I soon headed back for my cheerless room at the Gilman; getting an evening paper and a flyspecked magazine from the evil-visaged clerk at the rickety stand beside his desk."

Not to belabor the point, but the absolutely ordinary and featureless cuisine of Innsmouth is one of the big contrasting features with the local horror show going on with its residents! (Quotes from The Cthulhu Mythos MEGAPACK, Kindle Locations 4892-4836).

The monsters too may need food. So we learn from this sentence in the story "The Whisperer in Darkness" which is set in the unsettled mountains of Vermont: "They could not eat the things and animals of earth, but brought their own food from the stars." (MEGAPAK, Kindle Locations 9864-9865).

The Cthulhu Mythos MEGAPACK included orignial stories by Lovecraft (such as the ones I've quoted) and also related stories by other authors. The second book I've been reading, New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, contains Lovecraft-influenced stories: one from 1929, the rest from the twenty-first century. Many of the authors mention hunger, foods, and use eating in a many ways too varied to generalize.

Food is really not a bad way to frame horror, actually. For example, this analogy by the narrator of the story "Pickman's Other Model" (1929) by Caitlín R. Kiernan: "'Very well, Lily,' I said, moving the glass ashtray on the table closer to her. She scowled at it, as though I were offering her a platter of some perfectly odious foodstuff and expecting her to eat, but she stopped tapping her ash on my floor." (New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, Kindle Locations 491-493).

I'm finding these stories quite enjoyable, though they do not horrify me as some other stories or poems or music has in the past done. In particular, I think Neil Gaiman is the scariest novelist in my reading experience. The Graveyard Book and Coraline are eerie! And those are supposed to be for kids!

However, for the purest and most beautiful horror I can imagine, I recommend Jesse Norman's recording of Der Erlkönig, poetry by J.W.von Goethe, music by Franz Schubert. (If like me you can't follow the German words, both the original poem and a translation appear here.)

Norman's portrayal of the various voices of the song -- the father, the son, the supernatural elfin King and his daughters, and the narrator, are incredible. The drama and horror are incredible. That's all I can say!


The two story collections that I've been reading are:
  • New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, edited by Paula Guran with stories by Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and several more.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos MEGAPACK ®: 40 Modern and Classic Lovecraftian Stories edited by John Gregory Betancourt and Colin Azariah-Kribbs with stories by by Lovecraft, T.E.D. Klein, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and several others.
On the name of the creature:
  • Lovecraft once explained  how to pronounce Cthulhu: "The name of the hellish entity was invented by beings whose vocal organs were not like man’s, hence it has no relation to the human speech equipment. The syllables were determined by a physiological equipment wholly unlike ours, hence could never be uttered perfectly by human throats... The actual sound – as nearly as any human organs could imitate it or human letters record it – may be taken as something like Khlûl’-hloo, with the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness." (from "Ten things you should know about HP Lovecraft")

On the Youtube video:
  • Youtube videos sometimes disappear and no longer show up as embedded videos -- if that happens to the one I've embedded above, I recommend that you google "Erlkonig Jesse Norman Youtube" for a replacement.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Paula Wolfert Recipe

Paula Wolfert's recipes for desserts and pastry appear very challenging, for the most part. Though they sound fabulous, they demand both skill and time from the cook or baker. I now have two of her cookbooks, one on Moroccan cooking, one on the Southwest of France. Though I would love to taste her delicious-sounding desserts, I don't seem to have the courage to try making them.

The orange salad that I made today is much simpler than her other recipes. The ingredients are peeled & sliced oranges, cinnamon, powdered sugar, and a tiny bit of rose water. I made the dish as specified, but I included some raspberries because they looked very good. In fact, I do not know of any uses of raspberries in Moroccan cuisine, so I kept them somewhat separated. The recipe is from Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco (originally published 1973; this edition 2001; recipe p. 82).

A very similar version of this dish was served in the Moroccan restaurant in Avignon, France, where we ate last April (shown at right), though it may have used orange-flower water rather than rose water. It included a few strawberries, which were in season then.

This was my first time ever using rose water, though I believe I have tasted it in North African and Middle Eastern dishes in restaurants. It has an incredibly intense and very rose-like aroma, and as I have read to do, I used it very sparingly. After we ate, I offered my guests each the opportunity to savor the aroma from the rose-water bottle.

Here's the not-at-all-ambitious first course for the dinner we served to guests this evening.
Our dinner was very simple and ordinary though good. The main course was marinated beef and vegetables cooked on skewers over charcoal and served with potato salad: not at all Moroccan. I'll be exploring more recipes by Paula Wolfert, especially tagines -- though maybe not the pastry!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Où est le Garlic" -- French Cooking Codified

Do you ever think about a topic (say, French cooking) and feel as if you could boil it all down to a few simple principles -- a flowchart or two, a basic explanation of the equipment and materials needed, a few simple examples that would enable someone to grasp everything? In other words, one of those moments when everything is clear and your mind is enlightened?

Then do you wake up?

Two Deighton spy novels -- the first ones I found on our
bookshelves this morning. I admit that I haven't read them.
Reading Où est le Garlic: French Cooking in 50 Lessons by Len Deighton made me think of this kind of fantasy. Much better known for his spy novels, Deighton, in this short book, purports to tell you everything -- yes, EVERYTHING -- you could possibly need in order to be a skilled French home cook. "The really important things are all here," he says, though "some steps will require practice and sometimes the first attempt will be short of perfection." (page 8)

To me, the title tells you a lot about the author's attitude. It's so pretentious! The words "Où est le" are in student-level French, while the word garlic is English (the French word for garlic is ail, pronounced like the pronoun ). Ouch.

The central approach of the book is to codify French techniques and recipes into a series of comic-strip lessons and summaries, along with text explanations, notes, and even flow charts. The illustrations were published as a newspaper column prior to being collected as a book. I think they would have been amusing when they appeared a few bits at a time. As a book, the whole comes across to me as vastly overreaching -- one of those fantasies that suddenly everything makes sense!

Some Sample Pages

Everything you need to know about French cooking equipment.
How to make choux pastry.
This one might work! You know, as easy as boiling water?
In addition to the mushroom hunting techniques he lists here, Deighton recommends that you buy a book
"that has coloured pictues to give you confidence." He warns "Most of the ones listed as inedible are
merely unpleasant to eat ... (but it's true that there are poisonous mushrooms)." Oh my!
I recently bought a copy of this book, which is long out of print since its publication in 1977. I'm curious about cookbooks by authors who wrote in very different genres, especially by mystery authors.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Preserved Lemons from the Middle Ages to the Present

My preserved lemons some time last
year before I used most of them.
In the book Hesperides by Samuel Tolkowsky, published in 1938, there are virtually no recipes, just a thorough history of citrons, oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruit  (my review here). One exception is a recipe for preserved lemons from the author Ibn Jamiya, "which has been widely used throughout the Middle Ages and right up to modern times" --
"take lemons that are fully ripe and of bright yellow color; cut them open without severing the two halves and introduce plenty of fine salt into the split; place the fruits thus prepared in a glass vessel having  a wide opening and pour over them more lemon juice until they are completely submerged; now close the vessel and seal it with wax and let it stand for a fortnight in the sun, after which store it away in a cool place for at least forty days; but if you wait still longer than this before eating them, their taste and fragrance will be still more delicious and their action in stimulating the appetite will be stronger."
Indeed, this recipe is nearly identical to many recipes for preserved lemons that one finds by searching the Web -- except of course that modern canning jars have lids so we don't need wax!

Paula Wolfert, expert in Moroccan cooking, gives almost the same directions in recipes quoted at Epicurious and by Julia Moskin in the New York Times. Author Julia Moskin says: "The brightness of this pickle has lately elbowed its way out of Morocco’s tagines. New York chefs add the minced peel to salads and garnish fried seafood with it; the cured-lemon flavor is particularly friendly to salmon, carrots, olives, parsley and potatoes. The lemony brine is great in a bloody mary."

When I made preserved lemons last year, I followed Paula Wolfert's directions; I've enjoyed them in small quantities for a number of different recipes including salads and tagines.

Ibn Jamiya's best-known work was titled "Treatise of the Lemon." Written in the twelfth century, it was eventually published in a Latin translation in the sixteenth century. The author's full name was Abu'l Asher Khibat-Allah ben Zeyn-ed-Din Muwaffeq ed-Din, a Jewish physician from Cairo "who was personal physician to the sultan Salah ed-Din (A.D. 1171-1193) -- the Saladin of the Crusaders and Richard Lionhearted's opponent in Palestine." His book also contains many recipes for drinks and syrups made from lemons and other fruits. "There is a ring of modernity in Ibn Jamiya's dissertations on the lemon, and he might aptly be called the theorist of the art of the preparation and use of lemonades."

All quotes in this post are from S. Tolkowsky, Hesperides, pages 132-134.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Boring Breakfast

My breakfast this morning. Boring! Easy! Wheat Squares, juice, and coffee.
Cereal used to be every American's breakfast. Lately, national consumption figures have decreased. "Since the late 1990s, its popularity has been slowly fading. Sales, which totaled $13.9 billion in 2000, dipped last year to about $10 billion," wrote Kim Severson in the New York Times earlier this year. (See: Cereal, a Taste of Nostalgia, Looks for Its Next Chapter

For years, beginning in my childhood, my favorite cereal was Kellogg's Sugar Smacks, which at later times have been called Honey Smacks or just plain Smacks. I don't buy them any more because they don't taste the same. Maybe they changed the formula when production left Battle Creek, Michigan, and transferred to Mexico. (At least I think that's what happened. At one time, the boxes specified the place of manufacture, but Kellogg's doesn't disclose that any more.)

For a while in the last few years I enjoyed Trader Joe's lightly sweetened puffed wheat, which was similar but much less heavily sugary. It uses agave syrup which sounds good, but either nutritionally or taste-wise agave syrup isn't very different from sugar syrup or honey. TJ's just didn't overdo it, and didn't add sort of a chemical aftertaste that I detected in Smacks. Recently my local TJ's  hasn't been stocking this cereal anyway.

My view is that cereal is no work at all when it comes to breakfast preparation. Severson, however, says: "Almost 40 percent of the millennials surveyed by Mintel for its 2015 report said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it." Go figure!

I do remember this: years ago we visited European friends in France at their vacation home in a very obscure village in the south of France. We arrived with a supply of our favorite breakfast cereals, which we shared. At the end of our stay our friend said she was hooked -- now she would no longer have to get up and go downstairs from their Paris apartment to the nearby bakery to bring croissants to her children then around 8 and 3 years old. They would be happy with cereal. I've probably told this story before, but I can't resist repeating it.

My cereal shelf. In plastic box: Wheat Squares purchased in large-ish
quantity from Costco. Also TJ's corn flakes, granola, and bran flakes.
And Cheerios.
OK, we too eat cereal less often these days. Sometimes we eat an omelet. Or toast and butter and jam.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

"Hesperides" -- A Very Obscure Book

Library copy of Hesperides.
Hesperides: A History of the Culture and Use of Citrus Fruits by Samuel Tolkowsky is hard to find, though fortunately for me, I have checked out the library copy shown above.

Title page.
I find the obscurity of this book surprising, as it's full of fascinating and useful information. John McPhee cites it in his book Oranges; in fact, I think he used a variety of information from it in his historical section. Tolkowsky begins in ancient times, with the origins of citrus trees on the slopes of the Himalayas and in the boundary areas between India and China, and a grapefruit-like fruit in the Malay archipelago. The earliest written records of citrus are in China in a compendium dated around 500 BCE, including a number of older works that refer to the fruit. (p. 6)

Citrus spread through Asia and North Africa, and eventually to Europe, as Tolkowsky documents in several chapters. I found the descriptions of the introduction of citrus fruits into ancient Israel especially interesting. Tolkowsky traces the customs of the holiday of Succoth -- the Feast of Tabernacles -- to the influence of the Persians during their exile in the sixth century, and the introduction of these customs when they returned thanks to the decree of Cyrus. At this point, as the citron was as yet not known in Babylonia, the fruit that served in the ritual was not an etrog (citron), but a cedar cone, which appears in a number of images from that era.

By the second century of this era, the Jewish writings in the Mishnah definitely interpret the ritual fruit as an etrog; the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus also says this, saying "it was the 'Persian apple' that was used by the Jews during the Feast of Tabernacles." Tolkowsky continues the story: "The very earliest documentary evidence of the citron in Jewish sources is found in the representation of this fruit on coins struck by Simon the Maccabee in the fourth year of the 'Redemption of Zion,' that is, in 136 BC. If citrons were extensively grown in Palestine at the time, it seems probable that the center of the industry was at Jaffa." (p. 53)

Simon the Maccabee issued copper coins (above) bearing the picture of a citron
together with the bundle of myrtle, willow and palm branches prescribed
for use at the Feast of Tabernacles.  
Because Simon the Maccabee was the only Jewish ruler who depicted the etrog on his coins, Tolkowsky believes that Simon was the one who introduced the citron in place of the cedar cone.
Above: a bronze seal with Jewish symbols including an etrog. Below: a decorated glass vase including
an etrog and other fruits. From the Roman era.
Citrons were the earliest citrus fruits introduced into Europe, and Tolkowsky includes several chapters describing how later, oranges and lemons arrived in Roman times. Tolkowsky's illustrations include many Roman mosaics and other art works depicting oranges and lemons.

A detail of a mosaic from Pompeii.
Several chapters describe the ways that citrus fruits appear symbolically and literally in European art and literature from Roman times until the Renaissance and early modern period. The development of culinary uses for the fruits are very interesting also. Hesperides is rich in historical information that's not easy to find.

Some notes on Tolkowsky:

I managed to find a brief memoir of Samuel Tolkowsky and his family in Raphael Patai's memoir Journeyman in Jerusalem: Memories and Letters, 1933-1947. Patai (a well-known author) describes the "at home" Fridays at the home of Samuel Tolkowsky and his wife, beginning in 1933. Patai, a young man newly arrived in Jerusalem, met the family in 1933, when Samuel Tolkowsky was 47 years old. Tolkowsky, Patai says, was born in Belgium to Polish-Jewish parents, served as a member of the Zionist Political Committee under Chaim Weizmann in London during World War I, and settled in Palestine in 1919. During World War II, he headed the Citrus Control and Marketing Board set up by the British government there. Patai eventually married Naomi, the Tolkowsky's daughter. (source)

family tree posted at Geni gives Tolkowsky's dates as June 27, 1886, to December 19, 1965, and lists his parents, wife, and children.

Tolkowsky was the author of a number of other books that are even more obscure than Hesperides. Examples from google book search: The Gateway of Palestine: A History of Jaffa (1925) and The Jewish Colonisation in Palestine, Its History and Its Prospects (1914).

Even Wikipedia seems to have nothing about Hesperides or its author! Several years ago, Hesperides was listed in but no longer seems to be there, as I guess they never had a copy come up for sale. A few years ago one sold at Bonham's for £312 (US$ 443), according to the Bonham's website.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Mysterious Orange

Know’st thou the land where lemon-trees do bloom,
And oranges like gold in leafy gloom;
A gentle wind from deep blue heaven blows,
The myrtle thick, and high the laurel grows?*

This poem by J.W.von Goethe, published in 1795, expresses the longing of a person from the north for the beauties of Italy and the Mediterranean climate. Why did Goethe use citrus fruits as the exotic image of the far-off places being dreamed about?

From the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cluny Museum, photo taken 2016.
Oranges always seem to have mythic significance.
Beginning in Classical Antiquity, lemons and oranges have taken on a variety of meanings in art, religion, literature, and cuisine. Citrus trees were raised for their beauty in climates where they couldn't bear much fruit. Orange or lemon juice was used as a sour or bitter condiment before sweet varieties of oranges were cultivated and eaten raw. Dishes like duck with oranges have been popular since the Renaissance.
Ottolenghi's creation of chicken with clementines and fennel
is in the spirit of historic dishes combining citrus with duck or other fowl.
Citrus history is full of mysteries. Just when did each variety of lemon, lime, shaddock, grapefruit, sweet orange, blood orange, bitter orange, navel orange, tangerine, clementine, manderin, satsuma, kumquat, bergamot, or citron appear, and who distributed the fruit and planted the trees? Each variety has its own history, beginning with the origins of citrus in the Himalayas at least 2,000 years ago. Some varieties date from these early times; others originated as recently as the late 19th century. Tracing the names used at different times in various languages helps to learn the history, but speculation is often the only response to such complex questions.

The Orangerie at Versailles, photo taken 2013. Orange trees were loved
for their beauty in gardens, and cultivated for appearance as well as for fruit.
In northern climates, oranges and other citrus fruits were always scarce, and normally only available to the richest people. Palaces and chateaus often had an orangerie, where citrus could be grown out of season; the one at Versailles was particularly large. Royal gardeners grew citrus trees in large boxes, requiring huge numbers of laborers to care for them and move them indoors and out depending on the season.
The large fruit is a citron that grew in Janet's garden in Israel.
 With the citron: lemons from the market. Photo taken 2016.
In the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, oranges were associated visually with images of the Madonna,** and often appear in icons painted for churches or private use. Pious Jewish citrus merchants, beginning as early as Roman times, supplied citrons for the fall holiday of Succoth -- the citron had replaced the cedar cone (a similarly-shaped fruit) during around the first century before the common era. By the early modern era, these dealers were influential in creating markets for citrus, as well as supplying citrons for ritual use.

Orange groves around the Mediterranean in Spain, North Africa, Jaffa, and Italy constantly grew in economic importance. English crusaders first saw oranges when they embarked from their ships in Jaffa. Columbus brought orange trees to the Caribbean on one of his later voyages. Early modern travelers like Goethe dreamed of lemons and oranges in Italy while travelers in the 19th century saw them at exotic places like the Alhambra. By the beginning of the 20th century, oranges were sold at Christmas even for middle class buyers, and soon the railroads and cargo ships brought citrus to European and American cities year-around.

1920s orange crate label.
Orange groves in California and Florida developed as big agriculture starting in the late 19th century. Rail transport and cargo ships made it possible to deliver large quantities of citrus to American consumers in cities, and oranges became the miracle fruit for almost all classes, not just the well-off. Canned juice, then frozen juice, then fresh-pack juice were developed as essentially industrial products, with widespread advertising campaigns to create demand and convince the public of the great health benefits of drinking orange juice. Labor as always is an issue, with orange pickers working long hours for little pay.

My culinary history reading group discussed John McPhee's book about the history of oranges in Florida in the twentieth century, and I went back to read three other books about the history of oranges. Our group particularly admired John McPhee's style and his captivating way of portraying the many people in the orange growing business in Florida. His sketches of the lives of advertising men, grove owners, fruit pickers, and many others enlivened his description of the history of citrus in Florida. Though out of date (the book has not been revised since its publication in 1966) the book brings a lot of the business of citrus to life. We wish there would be an update to tell us about modern issues like labor challenges, water consumption, climate change, and changing demand from consumers of orange juice.

Booklist on which I based my very brief summary of millennia of citrus history:
  • John McPhee, Oranges. Published 1966. (I wrote about it here.)
  • Douglas Cazaux Sackman, Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden. Published 2005. (I wrote about it here.)
  • S. Tolkowsky, Hesperides: A History of the Culture and Use of Citrus Fruits. Published 1938.
  • Pierre Laszlo, Citrus: A History. Published 2007. (I wrote about it here and here.)

*For anyone who is more knowledgeable in German than I am the original is:
Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht, 
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht? 
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn.

**Below is the painting "Madonna of the Victories" by Mantegna, where the Virgin is surrounded by garlands of oranges and lemons. (Left, the painting; right, a detail of the garlands.)