Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mona Lisa in my Kitchen

Mona Lisa in my kitchen and in my life is a work in progress. I've been collecting all sorts of Mona Lisa materials for many years, and I have posted quite a lot about this collection here on my blog. You may recall my Mona Lisa winkie from last mont's post (right) -- she's still winking!

Despite my interest in Mona Lisa, I've never presented much about her to my friends at the once-a-month blog event called "In My Kitchen," which this month is hosted by Sherry, a blogger in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. To learn about her and about this event see THIS POST.

Now for more Mona Lisa imagery .....

Here's my pantry shelf (a high one) with Mona Lisa mugs. And one candle.

Among my refrigerator magnets now: just one Mona.
At some point I had many, but from time to time, I restart my magnet array.
And now for some kitchen and food Monas from past blog posts:

How one mug works: first you see the mustache -- add coffee and there's no mustache.
Mona Lisa lunchbox (I don't have it because it's crazy expensive).
From one of my condo kitchens in Hawaii: Kona Lisa Coffee
and Kona Lisa mug -- from the farm that we visited.
Mona Lisa olive oil -- which I haven't seen in a long time.
Mona Lisa Chocolate (one of many).

Mona Lisa wine, Mona Lisa cocktail napkins, Mona Lisa mugs (again).
And one of my favorite ever Mona Lisa advertisements, collected in the 1980s.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Spring Pleasures

Chocolate chip cookies... one of the most perfect foods, no?

I made them from the recipe on the Toll House Chocolate Chips package.
The eagles at Magee Marsh on Lake Erie east of Toledo are raising eaglets again this year. Warblers are just returning.
We enjoyed a beautiful day with friends, birdwatching, fleeing a downpour, eating in Toledo, and going to the museum.
I brought some of my chocolate chip cookies to share with the friends (not with the birds).

... the eaglet's head popped up now and then as I watched the nest.

Spring flowers at West Lake Preserve near Chelsea, MI.
That's what I've been doing this week!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wordy Wednesday: How long have we called them "Caramelized Onions"?

Recently, the topic of caramelized onions came up in a conversation which led me to wonder when that phrase came into common use in restaurant reviews and menus, recipes, and cooking literature. You probably know that in current cooking vocabulary, especially online recipes, the term "caramelized onions" is now very commonly used for several methods of slowly cooking onions until they melt into a very small quantity and turn a color from deep gold to deep brown. But I was sure that the term was not always used for those methods -- I felt that it had appeared some time after I started cooking. In fact, I have learned, the usage originated some time in the 1980s. Here's how I found out.

Caramelized onions from a google image search.

To begin my efforts, I tried google search and google book search to find references to caramelized onions at specified dates, going earlier and earlier. I also searched my own memory. For example: Julia Child's onion soup recipe in the original Mastering the Art of French Cooking -- first published in 1961 -- describes a process of cooking onions slowly with salt and sugar. However, the book does not use the term "caramelized onions." Under "caramelized," the index has only "caramelized almonds." *

When I ran out of ideas for online searching, I recalled that in the book Word by Word, lexicographer Kory Stamper mentioned that you could write to Merriam-Webster and get answers to questions about words. So I did. Filling in a form on the Merriam-Webster website, I submitted the following query:
Question: When did the term "caramelized" first apply to cooking onions?  I can find it in New York Magazine articles by Gael Greene in the late 1980s, but online searches (google, google book search) don't seem to turn up instances prior to that -- maybe one reference. I don't think Julia Child, for example, used the term in her early books when cooking onions that way.
I'm gratified to report that I received a very interesting answer from Emily, Associate Editor, Merriam-Webster Inc. (Her full name was included, but I don't know if it would be ok to post it here.) She emailed me:
Hi. Your message was forwarded to me, and I am happy to reply. You have asked an interesting and complex question. We are never able to identify exactly when a word was first used, especially because words are often used first in spoken language before they are written. It can be even harder to pin down a new or shifting sense of an existing word. We trace the earliest known use of "caramelize" in general back to 1842, but, as you have observed, the use relating to browning onions developed much more recently. In our own extensive citational database I found instances of this use dating back to 1980. 
That said, we do have one earlier citation that may reveal a shift towards this new use. (Note the British spelling.)
                 "The sugar helps caramelise the onion, but do not allow it to catch and turn black."
                 "A Sweet Breath of Garlic"
                 by Jane Grigson
                 OBSERVER MAGAZINE
                 May 12, 1974 
 I hope that this information is helpful.
I found it rather exciting to get email directly from the Dictionary, at least from one of the writers of the dictionary! What a great service. And I was relieved to find out that my impression was correct: the term "caramelized onions" did come into use in my lifetime. This was not my imagination and not an example of the "recency illusion."

* Mastering the Art of French Cooking: onion soup, p. 43; caramelized almonds, p. 583

If today had been Wordless Wednesday, I would have just posted this image of an azalea about to bloom in my garden.
But it's Wordy Wednesday here at my blog, so I also talked about words.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Gaiman's Norse Mythology

I am a great lover of the books of Neil Gaiman, and I found his newest, Norse Mythology, very enjoyable. Most of what I know about the Norse gods comes from Gaiman's book American Gods anyway, so I constantly thought about the personalities that this inventive author had given them in that book. In the new book, Gaiman doesn't invent any new traits or exploits for the gods, but in simple prose retells the stories that he found in ancient Norse literature -- or so he says. I think his own style and interests come through anyway in these retellings. He's a master of storytelling.

I especially liked passages about the foods of the gods. They liked large quantities of meat and mead: no Olympian detachment or any of that ambrosia nonsense! Thor, especially, was a master of eating huge amounts and drinking even more impressive quantities -- for example the time a trickster dared him to empty a drinking horn that was connected to the seas, and Thor almost emptied the entire ocean.

Here's a fun passage from a story featuring Thor's great appetite. The background: beautiful goddess Freya had been promised to a giant named Thrym against her will. Instead of Freya, Thor dresses as a bride and goes to the wedding at the giant's home. Thor is heavily veiled and very uncomfortable; he is accompanied by Loki, a shape-shifter who has transformed himself into a young woman, and who has to do all the talking to avoid tipping off the giants. Thor and Loki were seated at the bridal table:
Thrym clapped his hands and giant serving men came in. They carried five whole roast oxen, enough to feed the giants; they brought in twenty whole baked salmon, each fish the size of a ten-year-old boy; also they carried in dozens of trays of little pastries and fancies intended for the women. They were followed by five more serving men, each one carrying a whole cask of mead, a barrel huge enough that each giant struggled beneath the weight of it. 
“This meal is for the beautiful Freya!” said Thrym, and he might have said something else, but Thor had already started to eat and to drink, and it would have been rude for Thrym to have talked while the bride-to-be was eating. 
A tray of pastries for the womenfolk was placed in front of Loki and Thor. Loki carefully picked out the smallest pastry. Thor just as carefully swept the rest of the pastries up, and they vanished, to the sound of munching, under the veil. The other women, who had been looking at the pastries hungrily, glared, disappointed, at the beautiful Freya. But the beautiful Freya had not even begun to eat. 
Thor ate a whole ox, all by himself. He ate seven entire salmon, leaving nothing but the bones. Each time a tray of pastries was brought to him, he devoured all the fancies and pastries on it, leaving all the other women hungry. Sometimes Loki would kick him under the table, but Thor ignored every kick and just kept eating. Thrym tapped Loki on the shoulder.“Excuse me,” he said. “But the lovely Freya has just polished off her third cask of mead.” 
“I’m sure she has,” said the maiden who was Loki.  “Amazing. I’ve never seen any woman eat so ravenously. Never seen any woman eat so much, or drink so much mead.” 
“There is,” said Loki, “an obvious explanation.” He took a deep breath and watched Thor inhale another whole salmon and pull a salmon skeleton out from under his veil. It was like watching a magic trick. He wondered what the obvious explanation was. 
“That makes eight salmon she’s eaten,” said Thrym. 
“Eight days and eight nights!” said Loki suddenly. “She hasn’t eaten for eight days and eight nights, she was so keen to come to the land of the giants and make love to her new husband. Now she is in your presence, she is finally eating again.” (Kindle Locations 922-940)
Norse Mythology is highly entertaining and very readable. And by the way, Thor kills all the ogres and giants at the banquet with his infallible hammer.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ann Arbor March for Science, Earthday, 2017

A few minutes before the Ann Arbor March for Science, April 22, thousands of people gathered on the University of
Michigan Diag to hear an hour of speeches. I found the speeches quite good. Most of them were given by scientists and
researchers in bio-medical and neuroscience fields. Physics, chemistry, mathematics, and other areas of biology were
not represented, which I found strange.

Signs were many and varied.

After the speeches, the participants marched from the campus to downtown. It took them almost half an hour to
march past this point.

Some of the participants were wearing pink hats from the women's march, but I was especially amused by
several "brainy" hats that people evidently made for this event.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"In Morocco" by Pierre Loti: Good things to eat in Morocco in the 1880s

A current French edition of Loti's book.
I read an old translation into English
in a Kindle Edition.
Riding a horse through the deserts and wild places of Morocco, French author Pierre Loti (1850-1923) was accompanied by a large number of men to serve and protect him. Loti, an emissary from the French government to the Sultan of Morocco, described the trip in vivid detail in his book In Morocco, published in 1890.

Camels carried the baggage on the twelve-day trip from his entry point across from Spain to Fez, and on a later trip continuing through the country. As they stopped each evening, their food came from local villages, courtesy of a custom called the mouna. He explained:
“The appearance of the mouna is always the most important event of the close of a day's march. It comes usually in the twilight, in long procession, to be deposited finally on the ground before the tent of our Minister. I ask pardon for this Arab word, but our language does not possess its equivalent : mouna is the tithe, the ransom, which our quality of embassy gives us the right to levy upon the tribes through whose territories we pass. Without this mouna, commanded long in advance and brought sometimes from a great distance, we should risk dying of hunger in this country without inns, without markets, with scarce a village, almost a desert.” (Pierre Loti, In Morocco, Kindle Locations 326-331).
Illustration from the English edition of In Morocco. Obviously Loti's attitudes
do not necessarily follow current norms for describing other ethnic groups, 
but there's quite a lot of fascinating material in the book.
Loti described several of these evening meals. Sometimes the tribal villagers would bring cooked food in large containers, almost always including couscous. Often they brought live sheep, chickens, and other animals to be slaughtered and cooked by the members of Loti's entourage. He also described in interesting terms the way that his attendants would put up the tents for camp each night, and quickly take them down in the morning.

Here are some of the descriptions of the meals that were brought by the tribal villagers:
"The first ten men carry large earthen amphorae full of butter; then come jars of milk, baskets of eggs, round wicker cages filled with fowls tied by the legs; four mules laden with loaves of bread, lemons, oranges ; and, finally, twelve sheep, led by the horns—which enter reluctantly, poor beasts, into this foreign camp, as if already their fears misgave them." (Kindle Locations 334-337). 
"Under these esparto roofings are large earthenware tubs, filled with viands heaped up in pyramids; a sweet couscous; a savoury couscous, crowned with an edifice of chickens; a roasted sheep ; and a pile of those highly spiced tarts known in Morocco as 'gazelles' hoofs.'" (Kindle Locations 627-629).  
"After we have supped, a new procession appears in the moonlight, bringing this time sixteen sheep, a respectable number of fowls, of loaves and jars of butter." (Kindle Locations 496-497). 
"It is our mouna coming to us, slow and grave as ever: a milk couscous, a sugar couscous; a live sheep and a number of chickens in cages. Willingly would we send back the poor beasts, were such a course permissible to us; but they must needs be delivered up to the knife and the voracity of the men of our escort." (Kindle Locations 2888-2890).
For a recipe for "gazelle's horns" see this post by
food writer Christine Benlafquih.
In a town called Czar-el-Kebir, Loti was entertained by two local dignitaries. Inside their houses he found "interior courts, colonnaded, and paved and panelled with mosaics." The refreshments began with a type of pastry that had already been mentioned, "gazelle's hoofs," which are a type of sweet, horn-shaped sweet, still made and in current English called "gazelle's horns" --
"... we are offered 'gazelles' hoofs,' in large dishes, and tea in microscopic cups, as in China—tea which is brewed on the ground in silver samovars, and is very sweet, and strongly flavoured with mint, anise and cinnamon. Coffee is scarcely ever taken in Morocco—tea always and everywhere. And it comes from England, as do also the samovars in which it is made and the gilded cups from which it is drunk." (Kindle Locations 688-691).
Food descriptions throughout In Morocco are fascinating, especially when they show the character of the people Loti encountered; for example:
"The luncheon, too, with this old chief, is savage, like his territory, like his tribe. On the ground, on the carpet of yellow flowers, at a chance spot in the midst of the boundless plain, he offers us a black couscous, with sheep roasted whole, served on large wooden platters. And while we are tearing, with our fingers, fragments of flesh from these huge joints, come suppliants again to sacrifice before our Minister a ram, which ensanguines the grass around us." (Kindle Locations 1006-1010).
When Loti reached Fez, he was given native clothing and assigned to live in a seemingly modest house with terraces on the roof from which he sees the women of the town. He looks although he knows it's not really allowed. The neighbor who lives in another part of the house is a rich man, and he hears and sometimes sees his neighbor’s family:
“The noise I hear so regularly every morning and every evening—it aroused my curiosity not a little— I find is the pounding of sugar and cinnamon bark to make sweets for his children, who are very numerous.” (Kindle Locations 1955-1956).
In his official capacity, Loti is invited to various court functions in Fez; he writes:
The state dinners will not commence till next week ; so far there are only luncheons, but luncheons worthy of Pantagruel, such as were those of our ancestors in the Middle Ages. On tables, or on the ground, are set large tubs of European or Japanese porcelain, heaped with fruits, shelled nuts, almonds, ‘gazelles' hoofs,’ preserves, dates, saffroned sweetmeats.” (Kindle Locations 1762-1764).
In Morocco describes Loti's impressions in great detail. The colors of the landscape with its carpets of spring flowers, the distant mountains, the many people he met were fascinating to read about. I especially appreciated his descriptions of aromas and odors, and I'll leave you with this description of a smell: Camels, wrote Loti, “have an indefinable odour, sweet and musty, midway between a stench and a perfume; and they leave a trail of it behind them, even long after they have passed.” (Kindle Locations 2763-2764).

NOTE: I downloaded this book in Kindle format from the Internet Archive. Link:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Honey, Olives, Octopus

"Rita is the most cheerful person I've ever met," wrote Christopher Bakken in his memoir of life in Greece -- especially life in isolated villages on little-visited islands. His description of Rita is an example of what my culinary reading group found so charming about Bakken's book Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table. He continues with more about Rita, a maker of a particularly valued cheese:
"When she laughs, she throws her whole body into it, scrunching her shoulders forward, clenching her fists, and nodding her unnaturally reddish curls up and down, all the while emitting a high-pitched whinny. She has a prodigious nose and thick arms strengthened by years of farmwork, and I have to suppress an urge to hug her (we've only just met). 
"She leads me into a foyer lined with shelves of homemade delicacies: salted caper berries, dried tomatoes, limoncello, raki, and spoon sweets made from quince, tangerines, and green walnuts. There's also a refrigerator full of cheese. Rita has eighty goats and a hundred sheep, which she milks in a pen adjacent to her kitchen." (p. 161)
Both the description of Rita's mannerisms and the description of her food are enjoyably vivid, we thought. A major strength of Honey, Olives, Octopus, indeed, is the vigorous portrayal of the people who live in rural Greece, motivated by the author's incredible love of the country, the local foods, and the people who produce them. Being an academic, as well as poet and translator of poetry, Bakken also connects his modern observations to historic memories of ancient Greece and its literature.

As we discussed our reactions to the book we came back often to the beauty of the writing, but we especially liked Bakken's admiration for the people who took such good care of their land and worked hard to create delicious flavors from their produce. Most of the individuals the author got to know worked at several types of jobs. One person might grow vegetables and grapes, make wine, catch fish in the nearby sea, and run a small restaurant where the fish, wine, and produce are served. Beyond work, though, the people valued their freedom to take time off for activities that they found satisfying, putting quite a few things ahead of just making a living.

Bakken is emphatic about the exceptional generosity and hospitality that these rural Greek people showed him. They were willing to allow him to come along fishing in a rickety boats; to help out with grape picking and wine-making; to learn how to catch, kill, and tenderize an octopus that would become a delicious menu item; or to come into their kitchens and find out how a favorite dish was prepared. Descriptions of such pursuits are a strong point of the book.

In my own reading of Honey, Olives, Octopus, I was somewhat bothered by a sort of disorganization or tendency to digress from the topic of each chapter. The other participants in the book discussion felt that these digressions were a valuable part of the author's self-expression, and enjoyed the messiness that reflected the varied lives of the people in the book. I concede this point. It's a very satisfying book to read.

You Need a Lot of Pasta Recipes!

Pappardelle Pasta with turkey meatballs, tomato sauce, and cheese-crumb topping.
I made the meatballs from scratch, and cooked the sauce with onions and garlic.

Monday we ate pancakes for dinner and I posted my simple all-purpose pancake recipe. Tuesday we ate pasta for dinner, and I was thinking about the huge number of pasta recipes that even a modest American cook would potentially follow. Spaghetti and meatballs -- baked with cheese, as in the photo or simply tossed together. Red lasagne. Pumpkin lasagne. Linguini with oil and garlic. Macaroni with home-made cheese sauce or even something as simple as Kraft Dinner. Lots more.

The Italians have so many types of pasta that there's a whole Encyclopedia of Pasta! From Abbotta Pezziende to Zizziridd' and Zugolotti and Zumari, pasta scholar Oretta Zanini de Vita documents 310 varieties of pasta from all over Italy. Some pasta shapes were native to small villages where tradition has died out and the pastas are no longer made. My Pappardelle (which in fact are from Trader Joe's) are number 174. They are identified as native to northern and central Italy, where they in fact figure in somewhat different preparations than the one I did. The subtleties of this collection are overwhelming.

The first two entries from the Encyclopedia of Pasta.
Each entry presents several categories of information titled: ingredients, how made, also known as, how served, where found, and remarks. Many entries include illustrations showing the shape of the pasta, and sometimes illustrating how it's made. The encyclopedia also includes several scholarly articles.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Only Pancake Recipe You'll Ever Need

Dinner: corn and scallion pancakes drizzled with Sriracha sauce. Served with tuna salad from leftover baked tuna steak.
Tonight's pancakes were made from my simplest pancake recipe, which is very flexible. This recipe works for either sweet or savory pancakes, using ingredients that I usually have on hand. I've posted a more complicated corn pancake recipe before: link. But this is easier!

On the griddle, side one.
On the griddle, side two. Food experts say my pancakes would look
smoother if I didn't butter the no-stick surface of the griddle.
But everything tastes better with butter, including pancakes, doesn't it?

The Only Pancake Recipe You'll Ever Need

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole grain flour (buckwheat, cornmeal, oatmeal, whole wheat flour...)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 4 tablespoons sugar, depending on your taste and the other ingredients you choose
2 to 4 tablespoons oil or melted butter
1 cup milk, yogurt, or kefir
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Up to 1 cup of fruit or vegetables -- see *ADD ONS below
For savory pancakes add a dash of hot sauce if you like

Stir dry ingredients together. Add liquids all at once or one by one, whatever is convenient. Batter will be fairly thin. Heat griddle until very hot, and melt some butter on it because butter makes the pancakes taste better. Drop around 3 to 4 tablespoons batter onto buttered griddle for each pancake.

Recipe makes around 12 thin pancakes. Amounts can easily be scaled up for more people. Two of us can nearly finish the 12 pancakes.

* ADD ONS --
  • For savory pancakes use your choice of one or more of these: chopped onion, scallions, bell peppers, hot peppers, corn kernels (fresh, frozen, or canned), or similar vegetables. 
  • For sweet pancakes add your choice of grated apple, blueberries, dried apricots, raisins, nuts, or similar fruits. I haven't tried chocolate chips but they'd probably work too. 
Recommended: serve the sweet pancakes with maple syrup or your favorite sweet pancake topping. Serve the savory pancakes with salsa or hot sauce.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Zingerman's Sandwich

World-famous (we think), Zingerman's deli and other food businesses are very popular here.
The bread is from Zingerman's bakehouse. Candy bars from the Zingerman's candy maker. Cheese from the cheese shop...

Yes, President Obama did eat at Zingerman's. We did too.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Happy Passover!

Our Seder table last night. In front: a special hand-made matzo.

From above, you can see the symbolic foods that remind us of parts of the Passover story of the Jews exodus from Egypt and escape from slavery to freedom:
  • Matzo, because the Jews had no time to allow their bread to rise, so we eat unleavened bread.
  • Charoset, a fruit paste that symbolizes the mortar that the enslaved Jews used to make the pyramids.
  • Salt water, reminding us of the tears they shed, missing their freedom.
  • An egg and parsley because this is a spring festival of renewal.
  • A lamb bone commemorating the Pascal lamb, sacrificed by the Jews to warn the Angel of Death to spare them when the angel came for the first-born of Egyptian families (the final plague). 

Traditional matzo ball soup with carrots.
For a main course for the meal, I made a chicken dish from Ottolenghi's website.
Above: before and after photos of the chicken.
Link: Chicken with prunes, potatoes, and pomegranate molasses.

Sunday, April 09, 2017


Festifools is a very informal parade in Ann Arbor, featuring huge hand-made puppets and a variety of people in costume. 
Miriam, Alice, and I enjoyed watching the parade on a
glorious sunny afternoon. 
More Festifools. 
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor with his official Festifools puppet likeness.
Update: our photo from the Ann Arbor News online.

After the parade, we stopped at Iorio's for gelato.
Earlier in the day, we had pancakes and waffles for brunch at Common Grill in Chelsea.

Miriam and Alice at one of the murals in an alleyway in Chelsea.
First thing in the morning, before brunch in Chelsea, we went on a salamander
walk in Hudson Mills park. First we saw some captive salamanders
and learned a little about their unusual life cycle.
Here's a salamander that our expedition found under a log in the park. Most of the year these amphibians hide deep
in the ground, but they come up for two or three weeks to breed in small spring ponds where their larvae will
be safe from predatory fish. There are several species of salamander in the park. This was all new to us. Quite a Sunday!