Saturday, September 30, 2017


Toast is new in my kitchen. For years we didn't eat much toast, so we didn't devote valuable counter space to a toaster. Lately, we've been eating more toast, so we have acquired a toaster, which is occupying a space on the high counter where we eat breakfast. The toaster was a gift from Evelyn, who took us to Target and helped us pick it out during our visit with her last weekend.

I enjoy toast with butter, with peanut butter, or with peanut butter and pepper jam. I like it with cheese. I like lots of other kinds of jam. I haven't toasted a bagel yet, but my new toaster has wide slots in order to accommodate bagel halves, and a button that reads "Bagel." I'm still experimenting with the little slider that determines how dark to toast the bread. I wonder how long it will take until I tire of toast!

Toast on google images. So simple!

Toasters have retained their simplicity and they still just consist of the slots with electric coils, the pop-up mechanism, and the darkness selector -- no "feature creep" that dreaded phenomenon that more often happens in computer programs. My new toaster is pretty much like the even-simpler electric device invented in 1893, with the pop-up feature developed in 1919: history here.

The toaster oven, I would say, is a toaster with feature creep. If I want the cheese toasted on top of the bread, or if I want a tuna melt, or if I want to toast a huge sandwich bun, that's a job for my big, beautiful Breville toaster oven. It also reheats pizza or other leftovers nicely, and can bake a two-person casserole or a small tray of cookies. Theoretically, it could broil small items, but I don't want to make a mess in it (my big oven is self-cleaning).

Though a great device, the toaster oven is simply too slow for the basic job: toasting. The toaster takes around 2 minutes to toast 2 slices of white bread. My toaster oven takes 5 or 6 minutes, and although it does more slices at a time, the wait until you can start spreading your peanut butter is something like two times longer. As every user of Microsoft products knows, when designers add a lot of functionality to something simple, it gets less convenient to do what you originally liked it for.

That's all that's really new in my kitchen at the end of September, unless you count the new brand of pepper jam that I bought recently. Or the new jar of Durkee's Famous Sauce that we now have on hand after a long absence -- but I'll write about the Durkee's later.

I'm sharing this post with a group of bloggers who post about numerous new things in their kitchens each month. I feel rather un-adventurous compared to them, since I rarely try really new items from the store, although I try new flavor combinations and new recipes sometimes. To see their much broader selection of new things, check the master list of links at Sherry's blog here: Sherry's Pickings: In My Kitchen. What's new in your kitchen?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Who cooks for you?

"Celebrate cooking, wherever it happens!"

National Cooking Day was earlier this week. The "holiday" doesn't seem to be widely recognized, but the University of California Press posted an interesting short essay by Amy Trubek, author of Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today. Using the above graph from the USDA, she explained that people now spend as much dining outside the home as inside. She wrote:
"We now spend over 50% of our annual food purchases on food made outside the home. Americans cook at home, sometimes, but to find today’s everyday cooks, we might also need to look elsewhere. In restaurants, commissary kitchens, bakeries, school cafeterias, and other locations across the continent, hundreds of thousands of people wake up each morning, go to work, and make our meals (and snacks and side dishes and bread and cakes) every day, rain or shine."
A few moments thought tells me that quite a lot more meals must continue to be eaten in than out: after all, it's more expensive to eat out, so the 50% spent preparing meals at home buys more food. I haven't found any hard data for this; in fact a Business Insider article suggests that there's no hard data available, and that the data on actual cooking and meal prep is hidden in the way expenditures are accounted for: "Americans' three largest food spending categories, roughly 60% of their annual food budget, involve little to no actual cooking." (source)

However, the number of meals eaten outside the home is not that huge: "According to a Boston Consulting Group report, the largest generation in American history [millennials] eats out 3.4 times a week, compared with 2.8 times a week for non-millennials — and they’re more likely to get it to go than to eat at the restaurant." (source)

So as the barred owl says: "Who cooks for you?" I just like the fact that the call of the barred owl is generally interpreted this way. To hear the barred owl, check this video from Youtube--

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Time for Spice!

Two weeks ago, I made plum chutney, as I do almost every fall -- I've posted the recipe more than once (link to my chutney recipes). Home-made chutney needs two weeks for flavors to blend -- so yesterday was the day for sampling it.

To go with the chutney, I made curried chicken and spiced cauliflower, garnishing with chopped tomatoes and cilantro, plain yogurt, lime wedges, and flatbread.

Recipe: West Indian Curried Chicken Roti 

Ingredients for spice blend

2 tablespoons ground turmeric
1 tablespoon crushed dried chili flakes or smoked paprika
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon ground or whole cloves
1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt

Ingredients for curried chicken

1 chicken cut into 8 pieces or equivalent chicken parts
2 Tb, vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 large clove minced garlic
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
A hot pepper, such as Scotch bonnet, jalapeno, or serrano, seeded and finely chopped, or to taste
2 cups chicken broth
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar


Chopped fresh cilantro
Chopped fresh parsley
Diced fresh tomatoes
Unsweetened yogurt
West Indian Bread for Roti -- whole-wheat pita or tortillas seem to be ok.


Measure out and combine the spices for the blend. Heat a large skillet or sauté pan and dry-cook the spice mixture, shaking the pan frequently, until spices are fragrant and just beginning to smoke. Remove spices from the pan and allow to cool completely. While spice is cooling, start cooking the chicken as below. When cool, crush the spices in a mortar or spice mill until very finely ground. Use half the spice mixture in the chicken, and save the rest for another purpose. (I used it for roasted cauliflower, served as a side-dish.)

Quickly add 2 tbsp. oil to the skillet as soon as you remove the spice. Brown the chicken in the oil, allowing some of the spice residue to coat the chicken. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, thyme, hot pepper, salt, and spice mixture. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, and brown sugar and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking at a simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is very tender and falling from the bone and the sauce has reduced enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 1 1/2 hours. Boil down liquid and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Serve with the garnishes or garnish to your taste. For West-Indian style roti, you can ladle chicken and sauce into the center of the roti breads, then fold both sides over the filling and fold the top and bottom ends over the sides to form a neat square package. You can remove the bones or serve the chicken with bones still in.

I don't remember where I got the original of this chicken recipe, but I have added my own changes to the text. It's a bit complicated, but worth it!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Bruno's Cookbook

Martin Walker's series of detective books features Bruno, the chief of police in St. Denis, a fictitious small town in the Périgord region in Southwestern France. I've enjoyed all the Bruno books, from Bruno Chief of Police, published in 2008 through this year's new book, The Templar's Last Secret.

One great feature of these books: they include mouth-watering descriptions of the foods that Bruno cooks, eats, and enjoys. Most of Bruno's cuisine features intriguing products purchased, bartered, or gifted from local farmers and producers (who often also furnish clues about whatever terrible crime he's trying to solve). As a result, trying to recreate these meals in an American kitchen would be a big challenge. But there's a chance to try: Walker has recently written a cookbook.

ALAS! The only publication of this book is in German. I don't know exactly why no English edition seems to be forthcoming -- a long thread on Walker's blog has described for several years the reluctance of English publishers to go through with it. Around a month ago, at the end of this thread, he says he still doesn't know why it's not progressing. The German edition recently won a prize. Walker's blog explains: it won "'World's Best Book on French Cuisine' at the Gourmand International awards, in Yantai, China, home of China's booming new wine industry." (link and link)

I looked through a copy of Brunos Kochbuch that belongs to Evelyn. I definitely would love to have a copy in English! Here are a few photos that I took of the many beautiful pages of this book:

Photos remind one of the delightful communal food events that take
place in the detective novels. Here: a hunter's meal.
Local markets and local producers appear in a number of images.
You can only dream about some of the recipes, such as the ones that use
fresh truffles. Whatever else you read, truffles really don't retain their flavor
after long shipping: even if you could afford the hundreds of dollars they cost.
However, some recipes look quite achievable. With a little help from my German-fluent relatives, I think I'll try this one, for
an onion tart with a goat-cheese custard. I can almost figure out what it says to do!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Eating Locally

Dinner tonight was mostly vegetables that grew quite close to Ann Arbor.
Lettuce and tomatoes: local. Sardines and lemon... not.
These were some of the most wonderful fingerling potatoes I have ever seen.
They had virtually no eyes or dark spots at all, and were very uniform
in size. The taste and texture were perfect.
Potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, and parsley were from local farmers, sold by Argus Farm Stop. The chives grew in a pot in our own garden. Butter for the potatoes -- I have no idea! Unfortunately, the growing season for many good things is coming to an end, and extraordinary simple meals like this will be only a dream.

Monday, September 18, 2017

"In Patagonia"

I've been reading In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin (published 1977). We have signed up for a trip to Patagonia next month, but I doubt that this book will really be much preparation for our trip.

I hope we will see some of the birds he mentions, like "yellow-fronted ibises, big birds with bright pink feet that made a melancholy honking sound;" "a flock of flamingos [that] took off, flashing orange and black and striping the blue water white as their legs lifted clear;" "black petrels ... slicing the swells;" or "Two condors had dived on me. I saw the red of their eyes as they swept past, banking below the col and showing the grey of their backs. They glided in an arc to the head of the valley and rose again, circling in the upthrust, where the wind pushed against the cliffs, till they were two specks in a milky sky." And many penguins -- "Albatrosses and penguins are the last birds I’d want to murder." (p. 31, 53, 199, 140, 87).

The introduction to In Patagonia by Nicholas Shakespeare offers this: "Birds are wonderful. Condors in the cordillera, a black and white vulture, a beautiful grey harrier (also amazingly tame), and the black necked swan which has my prize for the best bird in the world. On the mud flats are flamingoes— these are a kind of orange colour— the Patagonian goose inappropriately called an abutarda, and every kind of duck."

On our upcoming trip, we might hear a little about the early explorers, adventurers, and settlers, or about the original natives, who all figure with importance in Chatwin's travels. For example, Butch Cassidy, famous outlaw, escaped to Patagonia where he was well-known and gave rise to various legends. I bet we'll hear about this!

Mythical birds and animals, as well as prehistoric creatures whose bones are found there, play an outsize role in Chatwin's sketches. As a child, he was fascinated by a souvenir of Patagonia owned by his grandparents: "a piece of skin. It was a small piece only, but thick and leathery, with strands of coarse, reddish hair."  (p. 1). The skin was instrumental in influencing Chatwin to explore modern-day Patagonia.

As a child, Chatwin thought it was from a Brontosaurus, but in fact it was a mylodon, or Giant Sloth. Chatwin traces the identity and history of the man who gave the bit of mylodon skin to his grandparents -- an adventurer with a complicated story. He finally writes a whole chapter on the natural history and discovery of this animal that roamed Patagonia thousands of years ago. I wonder what we'll learn about prehistoric creatures on our much tamer and accompanied tour!

The book includes many flashbacks to the early explorations, misfortunes, and theories about Patagonia. For example: "Until in 1619 the Dutch fleet of Schouten and LeMaire rounded the Horn— and named it, not for its shape, but after Hoorn on the Zuyder Zee, cartographers drew Tierra del Fuego as the northern cape of the Antichthon and filled it with suitable monstrosities: gorgons, mermaids and the Roc, that outsize condor which carried elephants." (p. 111).

As always, I was interested in what Chatwin ate on his trip, often walking long distances and staying with random country people. I'm sure our meals, provided by the tour company and on the large ship (the National Geographic Explorer) will be very different. Chatwin makes food details tell a great deal about the people as he meets them -- here are a few such passages:
"At dinner the waiter wore white gloves and served a lump of burnt lamb that bounced on the plate. Spread over the restaurant wall was an immense canvas of gauchos herding cattle into an orange sunset. An old-fashioned blonde gave up on the lamb and sat painting her nails. An Indian came in drunk and drank through three jugs of wine. His eyes were glittering slits in the red leather shield of his face. The jugs were of green plastic in the shape of penguins." (p. 22). 
"The day was hot. Mrs Powell said: ‘It’s better to talk than work. Let’s have an asado.’ She went to the barn and set a table with a red and white check cloth. Eddy lit the fire and his father went to an underground larder. He cut a side of mutton from a hanging carcass, stripped off the fat and gave it to the dog. He fixed the meat to an asador, which is an iron spit in the shape of a cross, and stuck it in the ground slanting over the fire. Later we ate the asado with a sauce called salmuera, made of vinegar, garlic, chillies and oregano. ‘It takes the fattiness off the meat,’ Mrs Powell said. We drank thin vino rosado and Alun Powell talked about the herbs that grew in the desert." (p. 24).
"As we drove into Esquel, a bush fire was burning on one of the tight brown hills that hemmed in the town. I ate at a green restaurant on the main street. A zinc counter ran the length of the room. At one end a glass vitrine displayed steaks and kidneys and racks of lamb and sausages. The wine was acid and came in pottery penguins." (p. 31).   
"She had been making pastry and the grey dough clung to her hands. Her blood-red nails were cracked and chipped. ‘J’aime bien la cuisine,’ she said. ‘C’est une des seules choses que je peux faire maintenant.’" (pp. 61-62).
"The restaurant was owned by an Arab, who served lentils and radishes and kept a sprig of mint on the bar to remind him of a home he had not seen." (p. 75).  
I think my experiences on a tour and on a boat with 160 passengers will be very different from the independent travels that Chatwin describes.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Pressure Cooker Explodes

Holly Golightly, the Audrey Hepburn character in Breakfast at Tiffany's, is another icon of Hollywood. Originally created in a story by Truman Capote, the film's Holly represents a special sort of free spirit: she refuses to be owned by any man or even by her cat. She is beautifully dressed by Givenchy, super-perfectly coiffed in a frosted up-do, and superbly confident most of the time, despite the fact that she makes a living as a party girl, escort, bearer of messages from a mafia don in Sing Sing, and maybe even as a sex worker before the term was in common use for that type of thing. Also, she's remarkably thin and speaks a very posh version of the English language.

In the course of the film we learn that like Hepburn's other famous character Eliza Doolittle, Holly Golightly started with a very not-posh accent. She was tutored from hillbilly to posh by a movie mogul, who wanted her to be a film star. He also organized the parties at her apartment and maybe helped her meet the men she escorted. Audrey Hepburn lovers may avert their eyes from this possibility and from other not-so-nice aspects of the characters.

Of course Holly Golightly never really has breakfast at Tiffany's, her favorite respite from her rough life in New York, except in the credits where, wearing an elegant evening gown at dawn, she looks through the windows of the closed store while eating a take-out roll and coffee -- a scene that really just seems designed to explain the title and nothing else. This is a clue to something that I find very distressing about the movie: I felt as if we were seeing a character with potential to be very interesting. But our view is through a Hollywood filter that tried to make all the conflicting values seem perfectly reasonable. Hepburn plays the role as if she was simply a well-dressed socialite (that's the word that's often used in describing the film) -- not a person in a rather ambiguous situation, desperate for money and willing to do what it takes to become rich without any real self-awareness.

In fact, the easiest way to watch the movie may be to love love love seeing Audrey Hepburn in one beautiful fashion creation after another, and to see it as a fashion show with a slightly difficult plot line. And to ignore the disconnect between the occasional slapstick (of the sort you see in director Blake Edwards' other films) and Hepburn's depiction of the Holly's cool and serious desperation. Hepburn's acting lacks the humor of Marilyn Monroe's portrayal of various gold digger characters made memorable by her great sense of timing. Hepburn really plays it as a fashion show.

I recalled having read Capote's original story years ago, and couldn't resist rereading it to compare to the film. Both the differences and the similarities astound me: the best parts of the dialog come straight from Capote. The really terrible parts of the film -- like the memorably vulgar racist caricature of a Japanese man played by Mickey Rooney -- are mainly Hollywood inventions. Some parts are exaggerated or just altered to be less good, like the part about Holly's cat. Here's a passage about the cat in Capote's original, which is close to the film but just a bit more subtle:
She was still hugging the cat. "Poor slob," she said, tickling his head, "poor slob without a name. It's a little inconvenient, his not having a name. But I haven't any right to give him one: he'll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don't belong to each other: he's an independent, and so am I. I don't want to own anything until I know I've found the place where me and things belong together. I'm not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it's like." She smiled, and let the cat drop to the floor. "It's like Tiffany's," she said. "Not that I give a hoot about jewelry. Diamonds, yes. But it's tacky to wear diamonds before you're forty; and even that's risky. They only look right on the really old girls. Maria Ouspenskaya. Wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds: I can't wait. But that's not why I'm mad about Tiffany's. Listen. You know those days when you've got the mean reds?" 
"Same as the blues?" 
"No," she said slowly. "No, the blues are because you're getting fat or maybe it's been raining too long. You're sad, that's all. But the mean reds are horrible. You're afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don't know what you're afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don't know what it is. You've had that feeling?" ...
Above all, the Capote story has a voice: it is narrated by Paul, a writer who lives upstairs from Holly Golightly, and who discovers over time just who she is and pretty much what makes her tick. He's not quite an outside observer, but close to that, and the story he tells is dark, not comic. In contrast the film makes him a cute love interest, sort of an airhead, and sometimes a source of comedy. The film, in my opinion, doesn't have a voice, and the Hollywood exaggerations dull even the few places where Capote's imagination could have shone. The film's stereotypes of women, non-whites, Texas hillbillies, and various others, give me the impression that the Hollywood interpretation really doesn't apprehend what Capote was doing. Though he also indulged in a few stereotypes, I admit.

This is a very old film (released 1961; Capote's story was published 1958) and I'm sure lots of detailed comparisons and analyses have been made, so I'll just make a few more comparisons using screen shots from the film.

In the film, Holly cooks for the writer upstairs. He's mostly just an observer or a sympathetic shoulder to cry on in the story.
Holly Golightly isn't much of a house wife in the film, just a playgirl or escort or whatever. In the film, she has a big melt-down when her brother dies, but then she moves on. In the story, she spends months as a subdued character, settling down with a South American diplomat, who moves into her apartment. And she really cooks for him. The passage in the story which I think inspired the grotesque scene above:
A keen sudden un-Holly-like enthusiasm for homemaking resulted in several un-Holly-like purchases: at a ParkeBernet auction she acquired a stag-at-bay hunting tapestry and, from the William Randolph Hearst estate, a gloomy pair of Gothic "easy" chairs; she bought the complete Modern Library, shelves of classical records, innumerable. Metropolitan Museum reproductions (including a statue of a Chinese cat that her own cat hated and hissed at and ultimately broke), a Waring mixer and a pressure cooker and a library of cook books. She spent whole hausfrau afternoons slopping about in the sweatbox of her midget kitchen: "José says I'm better than the Colony. Really, who would have dreamed I had such a great natural talent? A month ago I couldn't scramble eggs." And still couldn't, for that matter. Simple dishes, steak, a proper salad, were beyond her. Instead, she fed José, and occasionally myself, outré soups (brandied black terrapin 19 poured into avocado shells) Nero-ish novelties (roasted pheasant stuffed with pomegranates and persimmons) and other dubious innovations (chicken and saffron rice served with a chocolate sauce: "An East Indian classic, my dear.") Wartime sugar and cream rationing [the original story is set in 1943, the film in around 1960] restricted her imagination when it came to sweets -- nevertheless, she once managed something called Tobacco Tapioca: best not describe it. 
In the film, Paul, the cute writer from upstairs takes her to the NY Public Library and explains the card catalog.
In the story, she goes to the library on her own and he watches her reading.
For a very good summary of what keeps the film popular, especially with young adult women now, I recommend this article in Glamor magazine: "3 Breakfast at Tiffany's Problems No One Ever Talks About" by Elizabeth Logan, December, 2016. She says the reputation of the film as a fashion showcase for a very thin and well-dressed woman may be all that many of its fans really notice. But she points to the following problems that they ignore: that Holly Golightly is a criminal and a call girl; that Paul is a kept man with an older woman who gives him money, and that the film is racist (the Mickey Rooney character). By the way -- the distasteful part about the older woman is in the movie only: NOT in the original story!

Well, my project to watch classic movies continues. I consider this one to be highly overrated.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Inventing Wine"

Traditional wines, it turns out, often are the product of careful research, studiously cultivated public image, and new technology -- "tradition"  in wines is often not much more than a pretense of similarity with what was there before.
"The idea of inventing tradition may seem strange, but many people in nineteenth-century Europe tried to link their rapidly changing modern world to a seemingly stable past. ... As historians have noted, this longing often led them to romanticize, distort, and even fabricate cultural legacies. ... Invented traditions worked precisely because they implied stability.  
"So too with wine. In the nineteenth century, only a handful of the world's wines could claim true traditions, and in at least in terms of style and quality, few of these traditions were very old. Even within grape-growing Bordeaux, only a small percentage of wines were true vins fins." (Inventing Wine, p. 146)
This tale of reinvention is the subject of Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World's Most Ancient Pleasures by Paul Lukacs (published 2012). Lukacs gives a detailed description of many of the developments in wine technology and appreciation, and how they were connected to traditions -- sometimes real, sometimes invented. To summarize:

The taste demanded in fine wine has developed enormously over time, Lukacs explains. The process of fermentation has developed in many ways, such as the 18th century discoveries of how to add sulphur and sugar to prevent spoilage and improve flavor. At the same time, new ways of bottling and aging wine included the introduction of corks, corkscrews, and robust bottles. Pasteur's and other 19th century advances in understanding micro-organisms were central to improving the process.

Advances in refrigeration and temperature control, stainless steel vats, applications of microbiology, and other inventions have more recently changed the wine making process and enabled much higher expectations from both sellers and buyers. Practical wine makers, tinkerers, and academic scientists have participated in creating essentially revolutionary new ways to make and handle wine.

Agricultural practices for growing specific types of grapes have improved, especially in response to epidemics of wine diseases. Attempts in France to designate wine-making standards and to specify standard regions was part of the reinvention of wine. The French definition of "appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC)" has been imitated by other countries such as Italy, Spain, and Germany. In the last 40 years or so the total number of countries and wine-making regions has increased enormously, along with new attitudes and aspirations and many very fine newly-invented wines.

Throughout history, changing level of consumer demands have driven many innovations, with consumers varying from rich connoisseurs to aspiring bourgeoise to poor winos. Growers, shippers, wine merchants and critics have participated in constant reinvention of wine and its meanings throughout history.

While I found the first 100 pages of Inventing Wine a bit tedious and repetitive of material I've read elsewhere, the book picks up as it goes along. I especially appreciated the discussions of how the French ideas of terroir, or the role of local conditions, have given way to a broader view, which Lukacs calls "vision and varietal integrity." (p. 240) There's a lot to like in this book, and I was quite interested to learn that in my lifetime as a consumer of wine, my feeling that things have been changing a lot is not at all mistaken.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Laura Shapiro Strikes Again!

What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women & the Food that Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro is a fascinating book. It was published earlier this year, and I've read several reviews that made me want to read it. I'm quite a fan of Shapiro's food books, including Perfection Salad (about women and cooking 100 years ago) and her brief but wonderful biography of Julia Child.

My reaction to What She Ate begins with the author's ingenuity in choosing subjects: she picked six women who differed so much from one another that it made my head spin. Shapiro avoided obvious choices.

For a writer who was interested in food, she picked Barbara Pym. Not Virginia Woolf! Shapiro writes:
"Barbara was not a food writer, but she saw the world as if she were— as if every piece of cake or even just the crumbs on the plate offered the most enticing clues imaginable to time, place, class, and character."(p. 176).
For a First Lady she picked Eleanor Roosevelt, known less for food than almost any other 20th century President's wife. Shapiro shows that her reputation as a hater of food is inaccurate: 
"An intense relationship with food ran right through Eleanor’s life, darting into her work, her feminism, and her deepest relationships." (p. 91). 
For a cook she picked the obscure Rosa Lewis (1867–1952). Not Alice Waters! Lewis was a self-made English cook, caterer, and eventually owner of a hotel, as the illustration from book at right shows. And guess who turns up again in the story of this successful woman from the lower classes? Bertie, Prince of Wales: he who figured fictitiously in the mystery I read earlier this week. In real life the Prince helped to make Lewis's catering services popular with late-19th century London society hostesses: 
"The most important of her dinner guests was the Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII after Victoria’s death in 1901. ... The prince was a prodigious eater who genuinely appreciated fine food."(p. 53).
Dorothy Wordsworth, born in the 18th century, was unusual in the attention she paid to food in her diary, kept while she tended to the needs of her famous brother William the Poet. For her declining years (something like 30 of them) she was a mental patient whose relationship with food was akin to gluttony. A most startling and interesting choice!

Helen Gurley Brown's not-very-successful
cookbook from 1969. Interestingly reviewed
in What She Ate.
The most recent subject of What She Ate is Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl (1962). Brown's private relationship to food was to avoid it because she cared only about being excessively, obsessively thin. However, her published work was more confused. Shapiro writes: 
"Real food or diet food, splurging or starving— no matter what was on the table, Helen made it a point of honor to cast her public relationship with food in rapturous terms. Everything she ate had to be 'delicious' or 'scrumptious' or 'luscious,' especially when she was evoking a zero-calorie bouillon cube or a breakfast of protein powder stirred into diet orange soda."(pp. 244-245).
For a completely outlandish choice, the author picked Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress. Shapiro shows quite a bit of distaste for this subject and conveys it to her readers, but still makes the chapter enlightening. In the introduction, Shapiro explains this choice:
"Eva Braun’s food story, generated as it was by her devotion to Adolf Hitler, might appear to take place strictly within an appalling realm of its own; and to an extent, it does. But despite the moral distance that separates her from everyone else in this collection, there are elements in her relationship with food that we’ve seen in other chapters. Like Dorothy, she always had her gaze fixed on the man she loved. Like Rosa, she was thrilled by her access to a higher social rank. What emerges most vividly in Eva’s relationship with food, however, is her powerful commitment to fantasy. She was swathed in it, eating and drinking at Hitler’s table in a perpetual enactment of her own daydreams. For propaganda reasons, she was not allowed to appear in public with Hitler, which meant that she had no truly gratifying forum in which to show herself off as the Führer’s chief consort. Only the lunches and dinners he took with members of his immediate circle allowed her to bask in a role for which she had trained by studying movie and fashion magazines. At these meals, her glory visible and her status secure, she treated food as a kind of servant whose most important job was to keep her thin. Indeed, the only aspect of Hitler’s life that she found repulsive was his heavy vegetarian diet. When the mashed potatoes with cheese and linseed oil came around, Eva said a firm no." (pp. 10-11). 
Considerable research clearly went into the story of each woman's relationship with food -- and each one was very different from the others in their food attitudes as well as in general. As far as I'm concerned,  Shapiro's interest in her own subjects, no matter how obscure, makes for delightful and very informative reading.

UPDATE May 15, 2022. Laura Shapiro gave a wonderful Zoom talk on this book to the Culinary Historians of  Ann Arbor. Much about her reasons for making the choices she did, and how she felt compelled to choose only dead subjects, and chose women because she says she doesn't understand men at all. I'll look forward to her next book!

Blog post © 2017, 2022.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Farm to Table

Southwest of Ann Arbor, less than half-an-hour's drive from our house, an area of beautiful farmland remains productive and relatively undisturbed by urban growth. In many cases, farms have been in the same families for several generations. Shopping at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, I've often bought eggs, chicken, lamb, wheat-berries, and other produce from the Ernst family farm in this area. Curious, I drove around there near the address on their food packages and took a few photos.

Beautiful silos, grain cribs, animal barns and fields of corn still stand unchanged, although closer to town, much farmland has been bulldozed for subdivisions and shopping centers. Also among the farms are quite a few barns that have now been turned into wedding venues or other non-farm uses.

This cow seemed to be checking me out as I drove by.
(I wasn't that close -- this is taken with a long lens!)
Ernst Farm products are now available at the new Argus Farm Stop near our house, along with meat from several other local producers and local fruit, vegetables, cheese, and more.

Ernst Farm meats in the Argus freezer -- we bought some brats, and...
After defrosting the brats, we threaded them with scallions on skewers to grill on the barbecue.
Along with the brats, we cooked some portobello mushrooms. If anyone is growing
mushrooms locally, I don't know where they sell them -- not at Argus or the Farmers Market.
We bought these at Kroger's. I'm hoping someone starts a local mushroom farm!
Brats on the grill.
The mushrooms, with garlic slivers inserted in the gills,
were sprinkled with rosemary & basted with oil and balsamic vinegar.
They were quite delicious. Another recipe from Steven Raichlen.
Leftover brats and mushrooms went into a pot of chili with adobo peppers,
black beans, corn kernels, etc.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Bertie, Prince of Wales, Solves a Crime

Peter Lovesey has been writing delightful mystery novels for many years. In the 1970s, he wrote a series of historical mysteries that took place in Victorian England, and featured a detective named Sergeant Cribb. I read a number of these a long time ago.  A year or so ago, I read through all his present-day mysteries featuring policeman Peter Diamond, which he started in 1991. He seems to continue writing a new one once every year or two.

My friend Jeanie Croope, who blogs at The Marmelade Gypsy  just sent me a copy of Lovesey's 1993 novel Bertie and the Crime of Passion -- one of three mystery stories in which detecting is done by quite a surprising figure: Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (1841-1910), known to history as Bertie. Jeanie's package arrived in yesterday's mail, and I read the book by the time today's mail arrived -- really could not put it down!

Bertie and the Crime of Passion takes place in Paris. Many other highly recognizable figures besides the Prince play a role in bringing the murderer of a young man to justice. Throughout the exciting few days of chasing various suspects and defying the complacent head of the Paris police, the world famous actress Sarah Bernhard (1844-1923) accompanies Bertie. She contributes quite a bit to the solution of the crime as she collaborates with him in analyzing the numerous clues and false starts they experience.

Bertie and Sarah Bernhardt visit many famous locations in Paris. These range over many levels of French society. I enjoyed reading about their experiences in the great food market Les Halles, in the streets and insalubrious apartments in Montmartre, at a Medical School in the Latin Quarter, inside a stinking prison cell where a suspect languished, in various low-life establishments, and in mansions where very rich former members of the French nobility live. (It reminded me of some of the descriptions in the books I reviewed earlier this week.)

A Toulouse-Lautrec poster of the Moulin Rouge.
-- Wikipedia
Because the murder took place in the famous Moulin Rouge night club in Montmartre, the artist Toulouse-Lautrec, who was always present and sketching there, must be interviewed. Thus we also meet some of Toulouse-Lautrec's famous subjects such as La Gouloue (Louise Weber), the dancer famous for the Can-Can, and her partner Valentin le Désossé  (Valentin the Boneless, Jacques Renaudin), two fascinating characters whom Lovesey brings into his tale as witnesses to the crime. We also hear mention of Bertie's mother -- Queen Victoria, obviously -- and some of his other relatives. It's all a wonderfully imagined fiction.

Knowing how I love to read about food in mystery stories was one of Jeanie's reasons for sending me this amusing book. I definitely enjoyed the food descriptions as she knew I would.

Lovesey arranges his plot so that Bertie and Sarah Bernhardt stop several times in Paris restaurants, sometimes for lavish meals, sometimes for merely mid-level ones that are also skillfully cooked. Bertie has a huge appetite, and loves his food, while Bernhardt is a picky eater and sometimes barely touches the many courses that Bertie orders for them.

Chapter 5 describes one such meal narrated (as all are) by Bertie. While eating a number of courses, the two discuss the state of their detection so far, and also manage to interview the waiter and the sommelier for information about the crime.

Here's an abbreviated version of the chapter, limited to the food:
"That evening, I dined with Sarah Bernhardt at Magny's, where the cuisine has never failed to please. 
"Over some delicious Ostend oysters garnished with anchovies and radishes, I returned to the vexing question of the murder... 
"She set down her knife and fork and sat back in her chair to meditate on the matter. She had scarcely touched her oysters, but then her appetite is birdlike. 
"'If you're not going to finish those...' said I. 
"'Please do.'... [and he does]
"The fish course I had chosen was salmon trout with white bait... I listened with restraint, finished my fish course, called for the next wine, a Saint-Estèphe... 
"'...I've done this before, Sarah. I'm an expert at lulling the guilty into a sense of security. Now, I think the waiter is approaching with your pheasant and truffles. Let us enjoy the meal'... 
"And, my word, Magny's excelled themselves. The bird was roasted to perfection, those truffles looking like ebony apples.... 
"... I enjoyed a savory dish of quails garnished with peeled grapes, accompanied by Chambertin 1884, followed by some splendid rum babas and chocolate patisseries. Bernhardt had long since placed her napkin on the table, but she joined me in coffee and a small chasse café in the form of a cognac." (p. 65-72)
After all of this -- and quite a number of revelations about the mystery, they discuss the history of crêpes suzettes with the waiter, and Bertie says "a few crêpes suzettes and a little more champagne would not come amiss at the conclusion of this excellent meal. What do you say, Sarah?" (p. 76)

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Three Views of Paris, Especially Walking in Paris

"Paris was a place where one wanted to walk, where to walk— flâner, as the French said— was practically a way of life. ('Ah! To wander over Paris!' wrote Honoré de Balzac. 'What an adorable and delectable existence is that! Flânerie is a form of science, it is the gastronomy of the eye.')" -- The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (p. 31). 

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

Recently, I've read three books about Paris. All three are especially interested in the topic of walking around Paris, for which the French have a special word: flâner.

David McCullough's The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (published 2011) describes the experiences of a number of Americans there during the 19th century. Writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, medical students, and others all found enormous advantages in the cultural and scientific atmosphere of Paris; many remain famous for their accomplishments. One way or another, each one experienced Paris by a version of flânerie.

In the area of the arts, McCullough  especially describes the life of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, creator of many famous monuments that still stand in American cities. Saint-Gaudens found skilled helpers who could make cast bronze statues and perform other tasks that even in New York in the 19th century were unavailable.

There were many cultures in Paris. For example, medical Paris, writes McCullough, was "unmistakably different from fashionable Paris, or political Paris, intellectual Paris, financial Paris, or the visitor’s Paris, not to say the Paris pictured in the minds of so many who had never been there, or the Paris of the desperately poor." (p. 103). Over 700 medical students came to Paris from America before the Civil War to learn in the medical schools, advanced hospitals, and laboratories there. Paris offered far better educational facilities than the US, where most doctors learned from apprenticeships. As these now-professional doctors returned to the US, they improved medical practice at home and contributed to the development of American medical schools.

Interesting photo selections appear in several sections in the book. These include portraits of many of the American visitors (famous and less famous), as well as images of the Paris they experienced; for example the image of American minister to France Elihu Washburne included below.

McCullough often quotes the appreciative response of Americans to the fine dining available in Paris as well as to the fascination of the old and historic elements of the city and how the Americans reacted to history as it was being made. One historic occurrence covered in detail is the famous siege of Paris in 1870-1871.

Elihu Washburne was especially noted for staying throughout the ordeal and helping other Americans to escape. Here's an account of his Christmas dinner in December 1870 and why Americans were able to experience the siege in a different way than their fellow victims:
"For his part, determined not to let Christmas go by unrecognized, he sacrificed two laying hens for a Christmas dinner at home for Wickham Hoffman, Dr. Johnston, Nathan Sheppard, and a few other American friends, in addition to Gratiot. The bill-of-fare included oyster soup, followed by sardines, roast chicken, corned beef and potatoes, tomatoes, cranberries, green corn, and green peas— all but the chicken from Washburne’s supply of canned goods.   
"As Hoffman was to explain, the French were accustomed to shopping for fresh food day-to-day, not only because of their love of fresh food, but because so many lived in apartments with little if any room for stores. Americans liked being well stocked with canned goods, and consequently many Paris grocers had obligingly imported large quantities for the colonie américaine. With the greater part of the colonie having departed by the time the siege began, a quantity of canned fruits, vegetables, oysters, even lobsters, had remained on the market. 'The French knew nothing of these eatables till late in the siege, when they discovered their merits,' Hoffman wrote. 'In the meantime the Americans bought up nearly all there was at hand.' 
"For dessert Washburne offered a selection of canned fruits, in addition to chocolates, of which there was still no shortage in Paris. Indeed, supplies of French chocolate, mustard, and wine appeared to be inexhaustible." (pp. 294-295). 
McCullough described the continually worsening starvation faced by those who were isolated by the siege, including the consumption of dogs, cats (tastier than dogs!), zoo animals, and rats -- "Rat pâté was considered a delicacy," he wrote (p. 296).

I've enjoyed at least one other book by McCullough, and would recommend this to anyone with an interest in Paris, in American history, and in other related topics.

Flâneuse: Women Walk the City... by Lauren Elkin

Several themes of McCullough's book are treated in a different way in Lauren Elkin's book Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London (published 2016). The familiar topic of walking in a city is central to this book -- especially the famous topic of flânerie. 
"From the French verb flâner, the flâneur, or ‘one who wanders aimlessly’, was born in the first half of the nineteenth century, in the glass-and-steel-covered passages of Paris. When Haussmann started slicing his bright boulevards through the dark uneven crusts of houses like knives through a city of cindered chèvre, the flâneur wandered those too, taking in the urban spectacle. A figure of masculine privilege and leisure, with time and money and no immediate responsibilities to claim his attention, the flâneur understands the city as few of its inhabitants do, for he has memorised it with his feet. ... 
"The flâneur, attuned to the chords that vibrate throughout his city, knows without knowing." (pp. 3-4).
Flâneuse: Women Walk the City sometimes seems disorganized, as it shifts among several cities and moves around in the author's own experiences, her sense of place, and her idiosyncratic memories. She mentions many people I've read about -- Gertrude Stein, George Sand, Georges Perec, Alexandra David-Neel, Martha Gellhorn (for whom there's a whole chapter) -- all connected in somewhat unpredictable ways. For example, she says: "I seem to recall Georges Perec writing of one of his walks around the city that he can sense the moment when one neighbourhood gives way to the next without consulting the blue-plated street signs, and that this sets apart the Parisian from the visitor." (p. 222).

Another example of the jumpy and maybe messy organization of the book: there's a long chapter on the film maker Agnes Varda and how Elkin feels about her. I was especially interested in her description of Varda's interest in postcards: "We believe in the connection of postcard to place so deeply that the postcard becomes proof that we have been there." (p. 214).

It's a somewhat difficult book to follow, but with lots of nice detail!

The Other Paris by Luc Sante

The Other Paris (published 2015) is a beautiful book: its topic is the Paris of the desperately poor, as mentioned in McCullough's list of multiple Paris cultures. Sante describes laborers, homeless people, sex workers and street walkers, people with unusual occupations, and a wide variety of eccentrics. He celebrates the many low-life areas that have been cleaned up, torn down, or totally erased in a long sequence of urban remodeling. Often lost, he shows, are the remnants of separate villages that eventually merged into the big urban space.

Like McCullough and Elkin, Sante is very interested in the special meaning of walking all over Paris -- he too finds the term flâneur very special. He writes:
"Paris is sufficiently compact that you can cross it with ease, in a few hours, and it has no grid, forestalling monotony. It virtually demands that you walk its length and breadth; once you get started, it's hard to stop." (p. 19)
One central Parisian focal point was Les Halles, the great food market that stood in central Paris until the late 1970s. I found the following description of specialized jobs there particularly amusing:
"Les Halles employed many hundreds, from the famous forts (strongmen...) to people with very specific occupations: egg candlers, builders of vegetable pyramids, fatteners of pigeons, fish stall display artists, breakers of mutton heads to extract the brains and the tongue (whose workplace was called a massacre), people who flattened ducks' breastbones with a rod to make them look plumper. There were many whose jobs involved some sort of counterfeiting: people who collected ham bones and jammed them into sundry cuts of meat, people who sprayed mouthfuls of fish oil on the surface of a bouillon to make it look fattier, people who painted turkey feet with varnish to disguise the progressive lightening in color that marks the days elapsed since death, and the confectioners of cocks' combs (which were used in ragouts or as trimming) from beef, mutton, or veal palates." (p. 101-102)
No doubt, Sante is somewhat eccentric in selecting his examples!

The book design of The Other Paris is quite interesting, with many illustrations. Sample pages: