Monday, July 31, 2017

In My July KItchen

Cookies from Australia: Tim Tams, a favorite there since 1964. Purchased at Kroger's supermarket.
Blogger Johanna goes as far as to say: "I think I might claim that Tim Tams are Australia's answer to Oreos."
My friends from Australia sometimes mention Arnott's Tim Tams in their blogs, where they mention not only liking them, but also as an ingredient in other treats like brownies, donuts, and ice cream. So I wanted to share a picture of the package containing my first ever taste of this exotic item, a chocolate-covered crunchy biscuit. We ate almost the entire 7 oz package immediately after opening it, and found Tim Tams quite delicious. However, I suspect we are lacking the right childhood memories that lead to the lifetime of Tim-Tam-love that the Australians seem to lavish on them. The commercial home page for Tim Tams modestly says:
"Go anywhere in Australia and you’ll feel it. That deep, raw, unbridled passion Aussies have for their Tim Tam® biscuits."
These Australian friends speak to me through their blogs -- I haven't met them in real life. I am especially familiar with their food thoughts from the once-a-month blogging event called "In My Kitchen." To see what these bloggers are featuring in their kitchens this month, check their links in Sherry's blog here. And let's continue with what's new or different in my own kitchen at the end of July.

In my kitchen I have this new moose-decorated tea towel from Maine.
Beside it is an older tea towel with a map of London.
Also from Maine: a pot holder with a lobster theme.
And tea from the famous Jordan Pond House, which is better known for
popovers and other breakfast items. 
Evelyn and Miriam brought me the tea towel, potholder, and tea,
as well as this little bluebird tea-bag holder. They spent a week in Maine.
During July, I cooked and prepared food quite a lot. For example, these deviled eggs.

Lots and lots of fresh produce arrives in July -- here's just one plum.
In season, though not necessarily local to Michigan: red & yellow heirloom tomatoes, peaches, avocados.

Chopped tomato & avocado, ready to put on toast to make bruschetta.
Salad including a yellow heirloom tomato, avocado, cilantro, tuna, garlic croutons, bell pepper,
garbanzo beans, Moroccan spices, and a spoonful of tahini.
Fresh ripe peaches baked into a crumble. We have had a few local early-variety peaches already, though most are
from further south or from California. One farmer's market vendor also had a few apricots early in July.

Not in the kitchen, but at the beach -- my sister's peach pie. What a treat!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Not a Classic Film

We interrupted our streak of classic films tonight to go and see "Wonder Woman." The plot was a little thin, but the special effects were very good. We liked David Thewlis, who to us is Remus Lupin the part-werewolf in "Harry Potter." I would tell you more about this character but it would be a spoiler. I took the moody screen shot from the online trailer.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Grilling Chicken Under a Brick and another Classic Film

Cooking experiment of the evening: grilling chicken breasts under a brick -- which had been washed (of course) and covered with foil earlier in the day. Result: delicious.

Here it is: chicken cooked under a brick, painted with a little hoisin sauce and lemon juice -- ready to eat.

You can see the bricks on the small table at the left, and the dining table close up.
Before grilling it, Len marinated the chicken in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and spices, according to his grilling bible, How To Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques, by Steven Raichlen (page 244-246).

AND: this evening's classic film is "West Side Story."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"My Fair Lady" -- Another Classic Film

Such wonderful and familiar songs! "My Fair Lady" is one classic that we've watched rather often. We love the performance of Stanley Holloway as Alfred Doolittle. And Audrey Hepburn's costumes were so glamorous. However, nothing beats the hats in the scene at the Ascot Races!

Our list of classic films to watch with Miriam keeps growing, and we may never run out. According to Wikipedia (source of all knowledge) -- "As of June 2017, IMDb has approximately 4.4 million titles (including episodes)." I don't know what percent are classics, but I think quite a few.

Oh, wait! This is a hat from the Ascot Races in real life -- a very old tradition!
From "The Most Bizarre Hats at the Royal Ascot Races," Time Magazine, June, 2011.

Chilled Pea Soup with Mint

Sautéed onions, vegetable broth, peas ... simmered for a little while...
Next: fresh mint & parsley...A little lemon juice ...
Mixture puréed  with the immersion blender...
Chilled and garnished with sour cream and chives. Very fresh-tasting and enjoyable.
Sheila's inspiring photo of chilled pea soup.
I was inspired to find a recipe for chilled pea soup with mint because my friend Sheila sent me a photo of this dish from a wonderful London restaurant. Len also had last month it in a very fine restaurant in Santa Fe (link here for more details). I decided that it was time for me to try making it.

The preparation would be quite simple, except that I made the vegetable stock from scratch rather than using stock mix or stock from a can. This could be a vegan dish if you used oil instead of butter for the sautéed onions, and chose a different garnish.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Classic Film for the Day: "Some Like it Hot"

Nothing I can say that hasn't been said about this one.

"A Gentleman in Moscow"

What is an aristocrat? I think this is the essential question of the novel A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

The book begins in 1922 with a trial. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov -- descendant of many counts and other nobility, product of a genteel upbringing by his oh-so-proper grandmother, graduate of elite Russian schools, and all-around member of the czar's upper crust -- is condemned to permanent house arrest in a grand hotel in Moscow. He thus becomes a "former person." In the new Soviet state, there's no place for him, but thanks to some poems he had written in youth, the court has judged him not to deserve a death sentence.

Count Rostov spends more than thirty years in the hotel, years that the author creates in an amazing and rich way. Perhaps the count is sometimes bored, but as a reader I was never at all bored by the narrow venue in which the Count is forced to spend his days and nights. Though forgotten by the authorities and by many of his former friends and schoolmates (that is, those who survived) he succeeds in creating a series of responsibilities for himself within his limited environment. The hotel offers him more stimulation than one would expect, as it continues to some extent to preserve its former luxury and to house visitors from abroad. He even manages to preserve "the Rostovs’ long-standing tradition— of gathering on the tenth anniversary of a family member’s death to raise a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape." (p. 84)

The count, with his knowledge of the wider world, is able to speak to them in their own languages and meet them on their own terms. Though he eventually takes a job as a waiter in the hotel's fine dining room, the Boyarsky, he retains his aristocratic dignity forever. Here's how he does his job:
"At 5:45, with his five waiters standing at their stations, the Count made his nightly rounds of the Boyarsky. Beginning in the northwest corner, he circulated through the twenty tables to ensure that every setting, every saltcellar, every vase of flowers was in its proper place.  
"At table four a knife was realigned to be parallel with its fork. At table five a water glass was moved from midnight to one o’clock. At table six a wine glass that had a remnant of lipstick was whisked away, while at table seven the soap spots on a spoon were polished until the inverted image of the room could be clearly seen on the surface of the silver. 
"This, one might be inclined to observe, is exactly how Napoleon must have appeared when in the hour before dawn he walked among his ranks, reviewing everything from the stores of munitions to the dress of the infantry— having learned from experience that victory on the field of battle begins with the shine on a boot."  (p. 203)
The count is not the only fascinating character in the book: there are many, both men and women. I wondered about both the characters and the hotel itself and especially about its kitchens and head chef Emile Zhukovsky:
"Along the wooden tables the junior chefs are chopping carrots and onions as Stanislav, the sous-chef, delicately debones pigeons with a whistle on his lips. On the great stoves, eight burners have been lit to simmer sauces, soups, and stews. The pastry chef, who seems as dusted with flour as one of his rolls, opens an oven door to withdraw two trays of brioches. And in the center of all this activity, with an eye on every assistant and a finger in every pot, stands Emile Zhukovsky, his chopping knife in hand.  
"If the kitchen of the Boyarsky is an orchestra and Emile its conductor, then his chopping knife is the baton. With a blade two inches wide at the base and ten inches long to the tip, it is rarely out of his hand and never far from reach. Though the kitchen is outfitted with paring knives, boning knives, carving knives, and cleavers, Emile can complete any of the various tasks for which those knives were designed with his ten-inch chopper. With it he can skin a rabbit. He can zest a lemon. He can peel and quarter a grape. He can use it to flip a pancake or stir a soup, and with the stabbing end he can measure out a teaspoon of sugar or a dash of salt. But most of all, he uses it for pointing." (p. 175). 

How did the author manage to create this historic ambience full of such vivid characters? Amor Towles' web page explains some of the matters that intrigued me. Above all: he imagined! "None of the novel’s central characters are based on historical figures, or on people that I have known," Towles states. I also wondered about the factual basis for the hotel.

Towles writes:

The dining room of the hotel from Amor Towles' website
"The Metropol is a real hotel which was built in the center of Moscow in 1905 and which is still welcoming guests today. Contrary to what you might expect, the hotel was a genuine oasis of liberty and luxury during the Soviet era despite being around the corner from the Kremlin and a few blocks from the head quarters of the secret police.
"Because the Metropol was one of the few fine hotels in Moscow at the time, almost anyone famous who visited the city either drank at, dined at, or slept at the Metropol. As a result, we have an array of firsthand accounts of life in the hotel from prominent Americans including John Steinbeck, e. e. cummings, and Lillian Hellman." (Amor Towles Q & A)

I've read one of this author's books before: The Rules of Civility (my review here). I found the historical reconstruction in that book less than perfectly convincing. I find the reconstructed situation in A Gentleman in Moscow much more convincing and compelling,

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Woody Allen's Robot Makes Pudding

Another classic film: "Sleeper." Woody's character Milo was cryogenically frozen in 1973 (around the time the film was made) and wakes up in a strange dystopia 200 years later. Chased by the cops of this totalitarian society he disguises himself as a domestic robot and imitates the behavior of the advanced technological humanoids that wait on the elite of the future.

Ordered to serve food and drinks from an automated kitchen, Milo-as-robot tries to make pudding for his boss -- that is, Diane Keaton's character Luna the rather dumb poet with a PhD in oral sex.

"Sleeper" is full of memorable lines and sight gags. I guess Woody Allen just couldn't resist putting in the clumsy cops being hit over the head with large bat-like things or the scene where Milo slips on the peel of a banana the size of "a canoe." The line that we have quoted over and over through the years is what Milo says when threatened with being mentally reprogrammed: "My brain! That's my second-favorite organ."

We were laughing out loud throughout the whole film. We're totally educating Miriam in the classics. No, "Citizen Kane" is not on our watch list.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Things to do at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

Eat at Angelo's Diner, an Ann Arbor landmark.
Listen to Mr.B play his piano-on-wheels.
Meet Evelyn's friend at her Art Fair booth.

Eat pizza on the sidewalk on South University Ave.
Look at the artists' work.
This one paints food pics!

Buy African masks from Ibrahim, who comes to the Art Fair every year and rents commercial space.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"We'll Always Have Paris"

Just watched "Casablanca." Including the great line in this classic scene: "We'll always have Paris."
I've seen "Casablanca" quite a few times before this. Such a classic! Full of lines that people quote all the time. Of course the real line (maybe the most famous one of all) is just "Play it, Sam, play 'As Time Goes By.'" Not "Play it again, Sam." But also: "Round up the usual suspects." And: "I'm shocked, deeply shocked." Not to mention: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." Above all: "We'll always have Paris."
We just bought this Blu-Ray disc.

Paris haunts this film. I had forgotten how many Paris images there were in the flashbacks envisioned by Rick (Humphrey Bogart). It's painful to imagine how these scenes must have affected the audience at the time the film was released (1942), the moment when Paris was occupied, war was raging, and freedom was utterly threatened.

In the flashback, Rick recalls his few happy moments in Paris with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). Outside a cafe, newspaper headlines stated that Paris was an open city -- that is, undefended. From the room where Rick and Ilsa were meeting, they heard cannons -- the Germans were only 35 miles away, said Rick. Quickly tanks rolled into Paris, circling the Arc de Triomphe.

Ilsa agreed to meet Rick to escape on a train to Marsailles. He waited in a desperate crowd on the station platform in the rain. Sam (Dooley Wilson), the piano player, handed him a note: she wasn't going with him, would never see him again. And the flashback is over; the film returns to Rick's present life in Casablanca.

But almost at the end, when he gives her up so that she can stay with her husband the resistance fighter, Rick says "We'll always have Paris."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Very Experimental Food: a New Yorker Video

For the moment, this amusing video is available here: Watch An Experimental Feast. I don't know how long the New Yorker will keep it available. The video presents the experimentation of three collaborators:

  • A sculptor of unusual objects -- like spoons that feed several people at once.
  • A chef, David Kinch, who invented foods to eat with and on the inventions.
  • And a group of diners, who tried out the foods and tools.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Restaurants, Bars, Dives, and Cafes in "Midnight in Paris"

Almost at the beginning, Gil, the central character and his unlikeable fiancee dine in a fancy Paris restaurant in 2010.
His dream is of the 1920s, and mysteriously, he's quickly whisked off to the nightclub scene back then.
He meets Zelda & Scott Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and many more.
He takes up with an obscure girlfriend of Picasso. Here they are in a nightclub.
Gil's trips to the past are always at night, often in clubs and bars. Lots of alcohol, not much to eat.
At a wine tasting in 2010. Gil's fiancee's friends are wine snobs and every other kind of snob.
Meeting Toulouse Lautrec in Montmartre, time travel to the Belle Epoque. Another era traveled to.
Gil thinks the 20s is the Golden Age, but the girl from the 20s thinks she's missed the best time. So on they go!
Maxim's famous restaurant in La Belle Epoque. 
Back to Paris, 2010. Everyone goes to Shakespeare and Company, now and ever since the 20s.
It's not what it used to be in the 20s, 60s, or 80s -- another age was always the Golden Age.
"Midnight in Paris" is a wonderful movie, full of the most iconic Paris scenes from several eras.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Garlic Scapes

On the Grill... 2 minutes. Olive oil, lemon juice & zest, and a few tomatoes tossed with the grilled scapes. 

I had never tried these before, though I've seen them at markets. Other recipes say to stir fry them... maybe next year when they are in season I'll try one of those recipes. They do taste a little like asparagus and a lot like garlic, but mild.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bruno, Chief of Police Defeats More Evildoers

Martin Walker's new police thriller, The Templars' Last Secret, is the latest in his series about Bruno Courrèges, chief of police of the small imaginary town of St. Denis in the Périgord region of France. The plot is exciting, beginning with the mysterious death of an unknown woman at a private chateau with connections to the medieval Templars. The plot links to various aspects of the local tourist attraction, the famous prehistoric caves of Lascaux. Excitement comes from several violent confrontations with very dangerous terrorists. However, no spoilers here!

Bruno is a superhero. He's irresistible to the ladies (two of his former girlfriends play a role here, along with a new Dark Lady, though no love scenes this time); he's extremely brave (won the Croix du Guerre); he always connects the dots, no matter how obscure, to solve his case; he thinks fast and shoots straight when threatened; he can learn new things (in this book, the Dark Lady shows him the vast potential of Facebook and Twitter); he knows how to manage the higher-ups who send orders from Paris; he's a humanitarian who helps the kids and working people of his town; he loves his dog Balzac; and above all, he is a fantastic cook who avails himself of the fantastic regional produce of his region. Not to mention that he's a connoisseur of the regional wines.

A cave painting from Lascaux, much discussed in the novel.
-- Wikipedia
I'm not going to repeat what I said about this series of novels last summer when I read the 2016 book -- my post here: "Fatal Pursuit." Instead I'm going to give you a passage that shows how Bruno cooks and where he gets his materials. Sometimes I suspect the reality of the idyllic rural atmosphere of little St. Denis. It's the town every urban French person wishes to find, but not likely that it has survived into the twenty-first century.

The descriptions I picked deal with one meal that he prepared for friends. First, Bruno goes to market to buy the materials that he doesn't have on hand:
"The weekly market of St. Denis would soon be celebrating seven centuries since its foundation by royal charter, and as he gazed around the familiar stalls, Bruno wondered how different today’s wares might be from the offerings of those initial markets. Ducks and chickens, eggs and spices, fish, fruit and vegetables would have been sold just as they were today, he guessed, although there wouldn’t have been either tomatoes or potatoes in the centuries before Christopher Columbus set off to find the New World."  (p. 80).
Once at home -- after a bit more police business -- Bruno goes back and forth to the kitchen, preparing local and hand-picked ingredients and after the guests arrive, serving one incredible dish after another. The guests are continually discussing the various police matters that occupy them. Fortunately, they are also appreciative of his amazing culinary skill. The meal goes on for several pages, so I've left out quite a bit!
"Bruno took the cheese from his fridge, and from his freezer removed the stock for the fish soup, which he’d made with the discarded shells and heads of shrimp from an earlier meal. He peeled a half kilo of shallots from his garden and put them in a saucepan with a little butter. He did the same with a half kilo of button mushrooms he’d bought in the market. He cut the kilo of veal into cubes and put them into his largest saucepan, covered the meat with water and put it on to boil before peeling a medium-sized onion and pushing into it four cloves. He then jumped into the shower and changed into jeans and a sweater. He fed Balzac, put the frozen fish stock into the microwave to thaw and paused to consider. He planned fish soup, followed by blanquette de veau with rice, salad with cheese and pears poached in spiced wine for dessert. ...
"The veal was starting to boil, so he turned down the heat, skimmed off the surface fat and then dropped in a chopped carrot, a rib of celery, the onion with its cloves and one of the bouquets garnis he made every few days. ...
"He checked his watch. Usually he would simmer the meat for as much as two hours to get it really tender, but this was Oudinot’s veal, the best in the valley, from milk-fed calves raised with their mothers. The meat would be deliciously tender anyway, and his guests would be arriving within the next fifteen minutes. ...
"Finally from the freezer he took the vacuum bag with the last of the basil he’d picked last autumn. And when he saw Balzac’s ears twitch and the dog move to the door, Bruno knew his guests were about to arrive. Balzac always heard the sound of an engine coming up the road a good half minute before his master. He opened the door so that Balzac could bound out and give the arrivals his usual noisy welcome. Before he followed Balzac, Bruno added another glass of white wine to the fish soup, tasted it and smiled to himself. It was good. ...
"Once inside, the guests settled in his sitting room with glasses of champagne. Bruno excused himself and went into the kitchen to check on the food. He added some lemon juice to the fish ... . He opened a can of his own venison pâté....
"Bruno poured out the rest of the champagne, invited them to move to the table and went back to the kitchen to check the seasoning and toss some chopped parsley onto the fish soup. He opened the white wine and took it to the table, then brought in the tureen....
"He gathered up the bowls and went to the kitchen, stacking them in the sink and turning on the hot water. Then he tasted the veal and nodded; it was time to make the blanquette. He drained the sauce from the meat over a measuring cup and put the meat aside, removing the bouquet garni and the carrot and celery. He poured the sauce into a separate large saucepan and left it over a low flame. ... Slowly, making sure the flour was fully absorbed, he added four tablespoons and then began to pour in the juice from the veal, continuing to whisk to ensure it was fully blended. He turned up the heat and brought it to a simmer, still stirring until it began to thicken. Then he added the veal, ... 
"Quickly, he peeled the fat pears he had bought, put them into a saucepan and poured in red wine until they were just covered. He added two cloves, some cinnamon and some grated nutmeg. Finally, he poured in half a glass of his own vin de noix and left it simmering. ...
"'There may be one more treat in store for us all this evening,' Bruno said, bringing in the dessert, adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a splash of cognac to his poached pears." (pp. 109-117)
Update July 25: The New York Times has an article titled "The Delicious World of Bruno, Chief of Police" -- including a slide show of where author Martin Walker lives in Perigord.