Sunday, July 31, 2016

July in my Kitchen

Summer fruit and vegetables are the best! I buy as many as I think we can eat, and keep them at room temperature
for best flavor!
I made focaccia in my new Kitchen Aid mixer that I call Cthulhu
because it called to me like H. P. Lovecraft's ancient monster.
Cthulhu making pizza dough with the dough hook.
Ready for the oven: the dough came out much crisper than my usual.
Crisp pizza, served on the new ceramic plate that I bought at the Ann Arbor Art Fair.
When she came to visit, my sister brought her crepe maker and prepared fabulous blintzes. Here: making the crepes.
My sister also baked a peach pie during her visit.
That was fun, delicious -- I posted quite a few photos an earlier post.
A very old ice can!
My freezer compartment isn't very large, so I've decided not to keep this antique ice can frozen all the time. It's really old, but might be a collector's item -- I suspect that I'll be recycling it, though.

It's been a very enjoyable month, with lots of other kitchen activities as well.

We also rearranged our African and Afro-Caribbean masks in the living room.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Paris in July: Films set in Paris

The wrap-up of Tamara's blog event "Paris in July" is this weekend, obviously. I haven't been writing about Paris much this month, as I wrote quite a lot when I was there in the Spring. However, the theme this week is Paris in film, so I've decided to repeat a post from a few years ago when I also participated in her annual Paris festival. Here goes:

Hundreds of films feature action that takes place in Paris. I think you could do an entire tour of the city. I find that the following stick in my mind the most:
  • “Charade” (1963) Chase scene in the Palais Royal with Audrey Hepburn.
    The Palais Royal July 1, 2013: 
    the Buren column installation 
    is very different from what was in the movie. 
    That's me, not Audrey Hepurn, by the way.
  • “Hugo” (2011) Living inside the old Gare de Montparnasse and the 1930s neighborhood.

    Film publicity shot
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (many films) Featuring the cathedral in one form or another.
  • “Last Tango in Paris” (1972) An apartment near the metro station Passy, as well as many other Paris scenes. I think of the two apartments with towers flanking the station whenever I ride past:
    Wikimedia commons
  • “Midnight in Paris” (2011) Scenes from the life of Gertrude Stein and her cohort from the fantasy of Woody Allen.

  • “Night on Earth” (1991) Scenes from infrequently featured areas of Paris.

  • "Ratattouille" (2007) A rat’s point of view of Paris.

    Film publicity shot
  • "Sous les toits de Paris" (1930) I wanted to see it then, still haven't managed:

  • "Zazie in the Metro" (1960) She never got to ride the metro.

    “Louis Malle shows us the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, Franz Liszt Square (10th arrondissement), the train station of ‘gare de l’Est,’ a bistro, the flea market of Saint-Ouen, the romantic bridge of Bir-Hakeim, the Galerie Vivienne, the passage Choiseul (2nd district), the banks of the Seine, a cabaret in Pigalle and of course the Eiffel Tower.” (See this post.)

Free Delicious Gelato: Happy Anniversary, Iorio!

Along with quite a few other people, we had a free dish of gelato
today in honor of Iorio's Gelateria's five years in business in Ann Arbor.
Scooping the gelato is fun to watch. Upper right: Mary and Nick Lemmer, owners of Iorio's. Mary invited me to the event.
I not only enjoyed a free small dish of key lime pie gelato and lemon blueberry gelato, I also tasted a number of flavors including sassafras (tastes like root beer), Earl Grey tea (tastes mostly like bergamot), whiskey with something, vanilla-rum, and a few others. I'm very enthusiastic about these flavors and what I tasted at Iorio's today. So glad they held this promotion and invited me to join in!

It's not often that I receive something free that I want to blog about, but recently (before I heard about the free gelato day at Iorio's) I was trying to inform myself about the FTC rules for endorsing products that you get for free. The rules are pretty clear: today I wasn't actually required to "disclose" anything: "If you mention a product you paid for yourself, there isn’t an issue. Nor is it an issue if you get the product for free because a store is giving out free samples to its customers." 

The FTC makes one thing extremely clear: "Truth in advertising is important in all media, whether they have been around for decades (like, television and magazines) or are relatively new (like, blogs and social media)." There are quite a few situations when "full disclosure" is needed, and it's not always given. Some of the blogs I read follow FTC rules scrupulously, while others aren't particularly careful about admitting that they promote products that they get for free.

Here is an FTC guideline that I think we all could live by when accepting a gift, no matter how small:
The question you need to ask is whether knowing about that gift or incentive would affect the weight or credibility your readers give to your recommendation. If it could, then it should be disclosed. For example, being entered into a sweepstakes or a contest for a chance to win a thousand dollars in exchange for an endorsement could very well affect how people view that endorsement. Determining whether a small gift would affect the weight or credibility of an endorsement could be difficult. It’s always safer to disclose that information. 
Also, even if getting one free item that’s not very valuable doesn’t affect your credibility, continually getting free stuff from an advertiser or multiple advertisers could suggest you expect future benefits from positive reviews. If a blogger or other endorser has a relationship with a marketer or a network that sends freebies in the hope of positive reviews, it’s best to let readers know about the free stuff.
For a detailed list of questions and answers about blogging or using other social media in exchange for free stuff, see this document from the FTC: "The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Improving My Food Photography

Just before I eat, I sometimes take a picture of my food. Just before my family, guests or fellow diners in a restaurant start eating, they sometimes have to wait for me to make a few quick shots. Eating, however, is always more important than taking pictures, which means I depend on luck more than patience a lot of the time.

Most of the bloggers I read include photos of their creations. Some include step-by-step photos of the cooking process with their recipes. Some are quick snapshots of a dish that's going to be eaten while others are styled the way that glossy magazines do -- for looks not necessarily for taste. Some are much better than others, naturally.

Curious if I could improve my skills, at least improve my skills at quick pre-eating photos, I looked at a few tutorials and articles online. Here's the key: eating and photographing often have conflicting goals, especially when it comes to timing. Real professionals spend hours moving food around on a plate, brushing it with oil or sugar syrup to make it shine, trimming it with scissors, tweezing bits of herbs onto the surface, adjusting the lighting -- well, isn't this obvious? Want a really great photo of your beautiful plum tart? Better not expect to eat it while it's at its best!

Here are three sites whose food photography ideas I would use if I wanted to be more professional:
Screenshot: "The Serious Eats Guide to Food Photography"--
examples of camera angles.
  • The Serious Eats Guide to Food Photography -- a detailed guide to the subject: how to "compose an appealing image and the confidence to execute your vision." You want to make your photos "evoke the food's best traits and its inherent deliciousness."

    The article includes suggestions for effective lighting, camera angles and composition, and reviews a number of technical photography concepts and how to use them in taking food photos.

    I think the ideas for lighting could be applied to the just-before-dinner photo shoots that I do. Also, even though I take the pics in a hurry sometimes, there are good tips for arranging food and isolating the subject from too much background!

    Screenshot: "Food-Styling 101": backgrounds for a plum tart!
  • Food-Styling 101: Pro-Tips to Step Up Your Game -- a follow-up to the guide described above. Working with just one example, a plum tart, an accomplished photographer takes you through a number of possible steps to creating a beautiful and well-composed image.

    "... there's more to food photography than just, well, photography: professional stylists play an integral role in making magazine-quality shots look as viscerally appealing as possible. That can range from doing the actual cooking and plating to selecting cutlery and arranging an entire table spread."
Screenshot: "We Shot... with iPhones."
  • We Shot Our March Magazine Issue with iPhones: this article appeared in Bon Appétit last winter. The photographers who were hired to shoot the stories in the March issue were instructed to stick to iPhones.

    First, they said how surprised and possibly disconcerted they were when they got this extension to their assignments. Then they described what accessories they bought to accomplish the task such as:
  • "I went to Best Buy to get a selfie stick and an attachment that would fit the iPhone to my tripod, so it would be still and straight like a DSLR." 
  • "In the car on the way over, we were joking that we should take the portrait with a selfie stick. And somehow the prop stylist had a selfie stick that she bought at a drug store to us within 10 minutes of that idea…at 8:30 a.m." 
    The greatest difficulties these professional photographers experienced with iPhones were problems with lighting, depth-of-field, overall control of the iPhone camera, and distractions because the iPhone not only was taking photos but was trying to give them messages and notifications!
I'm hoping that I can remember some of these ideas when I next take pictures of what I'm about to eat or serve to guests. I have no plan to start baking or cooking just in order to take pictures, so much of this advice will not help me much, but I think I have some new ideas. Since my husband and I own a variety of DSLR cameras with many lenses and options, and we also have iPhones, I should be able to take advantage of this advice if I apply myself!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More on Food Fraud as covered at FiveThirtyEight

Where I buy olive oil: Whole Foods. I wonder how good it really is! these days is posting frequent updates to their Presidential election coverage, and I've been looking at it often -- sometimes hourly -- to see their prediction. Today, besides the election, they are covering one of the topics I read and wrote about yesterday: food fraud!

"Most Of Us Are Blissfully Ignorant About How Much Rancid Olive Oil We Use" by Anna Maria Barry-Jester is even more severely scary about the low quality of most US-purchased olive oil than the book Real Food/Fake Food that I have been reading. Regulatory efforts try to ensure that bottles labeled "olive oil" actually contain oil that comes from olives, and that claims to be "extra virgin" are accurate. These efforts are in fact being stepped up by Congressional directives to the FDA.

The problem, however, remains that "most people in the U.S. can’t tell fusty and musty from pungent and fruity." The article explains:
"'We call the U.S. the world’s dumping ground for rancid and defective olive oil. We don’t know the difference,' said Sue Langstaff, a sensory scientist who consults for the beer, wine and olive oil industries, among others. Studies have shown that even frequent olive oil consumers in the U.S. don’t know what the extra virgin or cold pressed designations mean, let alone have the ability to taste the difference. And in blind taste tests, consumers often prefer lower-quality olive oils.

"Rancidity, for example, isn’t generally a sought after quality in edible products. And yet, when it comes to olive oil in the U.S., people like it. Why? Partly, because rancid olive oil is less bitter than the good stuff. But also, likely because it’s what many of us know and grew up with. It’s what we think olive oil is supposed to taste like."
The article's principal suggestion is that American consumers should inform themselves about the taste of wholesome, unspoiled olive oil by learning to recognize and name the flavors that should be present and also those that should be avoided -- footnotes to the article define quite a few of these terms, if you're curious. The conclusion: "For most of us, the first step to experiencing great olive oil is probably learning the language that defines it, and the flavor of those descriptors."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Real Food/Fake Food -- Reading the Book

The other day, I mentioned a plan to read Real Food/Fake food, a recently published book by Larry Olmsted. I've now read it, and find much of interest. He describes a number of frauds that leave me wondering whether people may even like to be fooled. One big question in my head: are there actually people who get something, some satisfaction, out of knowing there are counterfeits? Not just make money by counterfeiting, but who like to see someone else fooled? Does it do something for their egos?

Many of the foods under discussion have a great deal of status in the realm of fine dining and also in the realm of food snobbery. The bizarre thing here is that often, it's the snobs who are fooled the most, and the only people who could be taking any satisfaction are the people who perpetrate the frauds and make money at their expense. I'm really enthusiastic about this book because it confirms many of my suspicions about "foodies."

Wagyu Beef (similar to Kobe beef) that we ate in Tokyo in 2011.
Just being aware of the high reputation of Kobe beef, for example, might make someone feel like a food expert. Olmsted describes the raising of the special breed of cattle in Kobe and the taste of Kobe beef as he's tried it in certified restaurants in Japan. He also describes how widespread and falsified Kobe beef offerings are in the US -- it's easy to know which products are falsified in these places because the actual Japanese product is NOT AVAILABLE here. Basically the word "Kobe" has been applied to so many US products that it doesn't mean anything here except an unjustifiably higher price.

Similarly Olmsted discusses truffle oil, which is another status symbol that justifies excessive prices and appeals to people who want to seem expert in food matters. Actually, he explains, you can't really infuse truffle flavor into oil, it doesn't work that way. Truffle oil is made with artificial chemicals, and gets its appeal from the fact that virtually no one in the US has ever tasted real truffles. Another con game!

One major strength of the book is its deep interest in what the author calls "Real Food," by which he mainly means foods and also wines or spirits that are grown, prepared, and produced with serious and traditional work in specified locales. He explains much about the fundamentals of the following foods:
  • Scotch Whiskey which must be produced and bottled only in Scotland.
  • Certain fortified wines; for example, Port, of which the Real version must be from Portugal.
  • Luxury meats such as Kobe beef and Parma Ham only raised and aged in Parma Italy, there called prosciutto di Parma.
  • A number of types of regional cheese from France, Switzerland, and Italy; especially Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Parma, Italy.
  • Olive oil. The Real olive oil comes only from olives, which must be pressed without heat and which must be handled and bottled correctly. And often is not as advertised!
  • Fish and shellfish. A Real fish is simply a fish that's properly identified by its species and in many cases by its geographic origin. Real tuna, real lobster, real red snapper, real shrimp, and so on -- sounds pretty simple. Well, not so much -- you can only be sure if you make a DNA analysis, as Olmsted explains. Read it and as usual, weep!

In the US, according to Olmsted, sushi is one of the biggest con games. I'm glad we have managed to eat sushi in Japan a couple of times. For example on the 2011 trip, we sat at the sushi bar in a tiny restaurant while this chef made us sushi -- he bought this amazing piece of tuna at the Tsukuji market that morning. According to Olmsted, it's extremely unlikely that "tuna" is the real thing in an American sushi restaurant -- even in the best of New York.

In each case, you can learn about the real food, and also about the frauds in its name, if any. Interestingly, there don't seem to be any fake Scotch Whiskeys, according to Olmsted, but there are definitely fake Port Wines at unbelievably HIGHER prices than the original, fake Champagne and other fake wines, fake cheeses of many types, and incredible frauds in the olive oil market. He tries to explain the half-witted explanations that the perpetrators use to kind-of justify their misdeeds, but it's always clear we're talking about fraudsters. If this type of fraud interests you, you should read the book, because he does an excellent job exposing the widespread con game!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Continuing with the Great British Baking Show

This season of the Great British Baking Show (in England titled Great British Bake Off) has been a lot of fun so far. I've watched 6 of the 8 episodes, and have seen lots of really appealing bakery goods, especially on the last one the frangipane tarts and vol-au-vents filled with fascinating and flavorful choices. I'm looking forward to the final episodes that will become available next week.
Screen shot of some of the Frangipane Tarts made on Episode 6. From the PBS website.

Nadia as she appears on
the show, from PBS website.
Because of the enormous publicity about the winner when the BBC show originally aired in England last year, I've known all along that it was Nadiya Hussain, child of Bengali immigrants to England. It's especially impressive to know in advance that she won, because there were so many early episodes of the show where she did rather poorly and even ended in tears. Though she always had wonderful ideas for flavor combinations (I wish I could taste them!) she often struggled with the very tight time limits on the show.

Photo of Nadiya from the Guardian article.

Nadiya has remained in the news ever since. I just read an interview about her background in the Guardian titled "Nadiya Hussain: ‘I have a senseless love affair with cheese’ --The Bake Off winner recalls childhood curries and explains why she didn’t get into baking until she was a teenager."

Here are some interesting things from the Guardian that I learned about Nadiya that I didn't know -- in her words from the interview:

  • "Dad was a chef with his own Indian restaurant ... – although he wouldn’t admit it – [he'd] make quite Anglicised curries. Whereas for Mum everything was simple-simple, stripped back and traditional. She’d never do bulk cooking, whereas he’d buy a whole sheep every Friday."
  • "The concept of dessert doesn’t exist in Bangladeshi cuisine.... When I got into baking it was a big surprise; no one could fathom it."
  • "I also have a senseless love affair with cheese. My mother never bought any because there was none in Bangladeshi cuisine..... I seem to fall in love with things I wasn’t brought up with. Sometimes there’s nothing better than finding another cuisine and loving it differently."
  • "I first met my husband on the day we got married, when I was 20."

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ann Arbor Art Fair

The remarkable artist Marvin Blackmore -- we've bought his works before, but not today.
Along with Elaine and Larry, visiting from West Lafayette, we had a great time walking around the art fair this morning. The heat is pretty intense, but as Elaine says, it was like that every day wen we were growing up in St.Louis and we never had air conditioning. There are four independently run art fairs all simultaneous from Thursday to Sunday this week, occupying the entire campus and downtown areas. We mainly looked at the one called the "Street Art Fair."
Crows were a surprisingly common theme of the art work this year.
For lunch we went to Ben & Jerry's and simply ate ice cream and enjoyed the A/C.
We passed up the opportunity to try the food trucks like the "Sirloin Steak Tips." It would sometimes
be pleasant to sit in the shade of umbrellas by the Milles Fountain, but today it's too hot. 
The Potters Guild is in its usual spot.
Elaine in an amusing booth (I can't quite imagine buying one of these jacks!)

Did we find rare Pokemons? I guess not.

Lots of other artists did Sci Fi type work too.

What we finally purchased: a photo print from an artist named Dick Dokas. I'll post more about what I bought later.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Real Food/Fake Food" -- Most Wanted New Book

Soon-to-be available at Larry Olmsted's book Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don't Know What You're Eating & What You Can Do About It.

I've seen reviews and one excerpt that really make me want to read it soon! It fits perfectly with my interest in food safety and food frauds, as well as in cooking wholesome food. I'm afraid there's too much fakery going on to fit in just one book, but this looks like a good start.

From Olmsted's excerpt of his own book in "Eater":
"Food fraud is a sophisticated $50 billion annual industry, according to Michigan State University's Food Fraud Initiative, and while many of the nation's scams occur in grocery store aisles and retail shops, what has surprised many readers of my new book Real Food/Fake Food the most is the Wild West of restaurant menus. There’s a perception that spending more or visiting 'name' chefs is an insurance policy against counterfeits, but that’s not really true. Food deceptions are institutionalized in the food-service industry: Some occur further up the supply chain, and many are in fact perfectly legal, even if morally outrageous. ...

"Besides aggressive adjectives, Kobe beef, organic seafood, and red snapper, the other huge red flag is truffled anything. Real truffles, especially the prized black and white varieties from Alba, are one of the world’s most prized — and rare — foods. Shaved in front of you over risotto, these are heaven for many diners. But truffle oil has nothing whatsoever to do with truffles. It is a made up substance, manufactured just like perfume, entirely fake and chemical.

"It’s not like before some chemist invented the inaccurately named truffle oil your corner bistro was shaving fresh truffles over fries, mashed potatoes, and popcorn. Like priced too-good-to-be-true "Kobe" sliders, these recent "truffled" comfort food fads exist only because of the cheap bottled solution. The presence of such dishes on the menu suggests a willingness to take low quality shortcuts and play fast and loose with food descriptions. This calls everything else on the menu into doubt, and given the recent evidence, that’s saying a lot." -- from "How to Avoid the Most Common Fake Foods on Restaurant Menus" by Larry Olmsted, July 14, 2016
From a review in the New York Post:
"Fraudulence spans from haute cuisine to fast food: A February 2016 report by Inside Edition found that Red Lobster’s lobster bisque contained a non-lobster meat called langostino. In a statement to The Post, Red Lobster maintains that langostino is lobster meat and said that in the wake of the IE report, 'We amended the menu description of the lobster bisque to note the multiple kinds of lobster that are contained within.'...

"Unless your go-to sushi joint is Masa or Nobu, you’re not getting the sushi you ordered, ever, anywhere, and that includes your regular sushi restaurant where you can’t imagine them doing such a thing, Olmsted says. Your salmon is probably fake and so is your red snapper. Your white tuna is something else altogether, probably escolar — known to experts as “the Ex-Lax fish” for the gastrointestinal havoc it wreaks. 
"Escolar is so toxic that it’s been banned in Japan for 40 years, but not in the US, where the profit motive dominates public safety. In fact, escolar is secretly one of the top-selling fish in America. 
"'Sushi in particular is really bad,' Olmsted says, and as a native New Yorker, he knows how much this one hurts. He writes that multiple recent studies 'put the chances of your getting the white tuna you ordered in the typical New York sushi restaurant at zero — as in never.'" -- from "Everything we love to eat is a scam" by Maureen Callahan, July 10, 2016
You can see what I mean about this book! Thanks to my friend Gene at Motte and Bailey for the link to the NYP article!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

German Food: Guest Post by Evelyn

Fresh strawberries!
"German food definitely has a bad rep in culinary circles, and I would say undeservedly," writes Evelyn from Augsburg, where she and her family are spending the summer with her in-laws. She continues:

Yes, wurst, potatoes, schnitzel, and spaetzle are common dishes, but the unsung German emphasis on fresh unadulterated ingredients, and the willingness to place those ingredients front and center of a meal are exactly what the entire slow food movement is based on.

Germans view strawberry fields the way Americans view cupcake shops - the place is full of them. We were thankful to end a hot dehydrating run next to a strawberry field. If you can't make it to a strawberry field, then you can buy your strawberries from one of the popup strawberry stands in the shape of a strawberry that appear every couple of miles all over the country in season.


This time around, we missed white asparagus season, but people go crazy for it. My first experience was many years ago when a cousin got a tip on a farmer who was about to harvest his white asparagus. He took orders from all the aunts, uncles, and cousins in the family, drove to the farm before sunrise -- if it is not harvested before sunrise, the asparagus turns green and chewy rather than pristine white. He spent the rest of the day on family deliveries. I was told that pretty much every stalk of white asparagus in the country is coveted in this way. (Illustration from a previous trip in season by Mae.)

Munich, the Viktualienmarkt  

Chanterelle mushrooms: Pfifferlinge.
The Viktualienmarkt in Munich contains many stands featuring chanterelle mushrooms: Pfifferlinge. Every traditional German restaurant and Gasthaus has an added seasonal Pfifferlinge section of the menu.
Spices and other good things in a shop window.
Olives at the market.
Prepared food counter at the market.
Bakery counter.
We got our sandwiches from Nordsee, a chain featuring seafood dishes. At two for 4 Euro, I chose pickled herring on a baguette (known as a Bismarck Bagette) and smoked salmon with hard boiled egg slices and aoli. For an extra Euro, I picked up a water flavored with lemon and fresh mint.

Cheaper than water.
One just has to live with the fact that ordering tap water is not a legitimate option. One might be calmed by knowing:
  • Tips are 10%, so overall the price will be less inflated by water cost than in the US and
  • Most restaurants have an exclusive contract with a local brewery, implying that beer is literally cheaper than water.
Munich brew pub.

Home Baking

Home-made cake in Augsburg.
Perhaps the cakes already have the reputation they deserved. In the last two days, we have had home baked rhubarb cake (photo), apple tart, and a "bee sting cake" - a cream filled cake topped with almonds and honey.

My personal favorite cake is a prune plum cake called Zwetschgendatschi. It is a local specialty only available in this particular region and only in the prune plum season. Every local person seems to have their own special recipe. 

Zwetschgendatschi is of sufficient importance that it features prominently in the children's story Der Räuber Hotzenplotz, in which two children must go on a quest to retrieve a grandmother's stolen coffee mill. If they are unsuccessful, the grandmother threatens that she will never make another Zwetschgendatschi.

Dining outdoors with cousins.