Thursday, May 31, 2018

The New and the Old in my Kitchen in May

New in May: our second Dutch oven for baking bread. Now two round loaves can bake at the same time.
The cast iron frying pan on the lower oven rack helps to keep the oven temperature even when the door is opened.
In my kitchen this month: Len is the bread baker here, and has been experimenting mainly with rye bread. While the Dutch oven is new, the frying pan is very old -- it belonged to my grandmother and then to my mother. It's been out of service since I bought a smooth-top range, and has now found a new use. Although the blogger event "In My Kitchen" is normally about what's new in peoples' kitchens, I'm also going to talk about some old and repurposed items.

Old and new: a large glass bowl in use for folding bread dough.
Originally this was a punch bowl, but we haven't used it for many years. If we ever have a large party again, no punch will be served.


The bowl has now been repurposed as a dough tub; the dimensions are exactly the recommended size for use in baking. The straight sides enable the baker to measure just how much the dough has risen. In the photo is the newly-made dough, which rose to more than 3 times the original volume.


Len is using several books as a source of recipes, ideas, and methods. Above: The Breads of France by Bernard Clayton, Jr., a 1978 compendium of bread recipes from many bakeries in France which has been on our shelves for many years. We're newly interested because of the bread-baking project.

Two newly-purchased baking books: Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish and The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.
The internet is another source of recipes. However, Len's most successful breads so
far have come from recipes in Flour Water Salt Yeast.
Also repurposed: plastic flour storage box originally from Costco biscotti.
A small rye loaf was the first attempt, but the rise was not satisfactory.
This not-so-successful bread, from an online King Arthur Flour recipe, was baked on a pizza stone that my sister gave us as a gift last winter. More repurposing: a wooden place mat becomes a peel for the loaf. After this first attempt, Len soon chose a different recipe from Flour Water Salt Yeast -- it was beautiful:

Len's successful rye loaves, baked in the new and old Dutch ovens, were delicious, with a perfect crumb and crust.
Another success: overnight wheat bread, same source. 

Also in the Kitchen in May: A Low-key Celebration of the Royal Wedding


We didn't eat much while watching the wedding since it started at breakfast time. But the day before the wedding, I tried an appropriate recipe for lunch: Coronation Chicken. This dish was served at the coronation of Elizabeth II. Basically it's chicken with fruit, usually mango and apricots, in a curry mayonnaise. Shown here: the fruit mixture and the sautéed and spiced chicken breast cubes, ready to be tossed together.

OK, a wedding is not a coronation, but I thought it was in the spirit of the celebration. I know some people baked elderflower-flavored cake to be like the royal wedding cake, but that's not my kind of thing.

Coronation chicken, garnished with parsley.
On the plate with plum chutney and mango chutney.
I'm really not much of a collector of memorabilia, but here are a few choice items commemorating British royalty that happen to be in my kitchen:
Wrong wedding! I didn't have any souvenirs of the current one.
This tea cannister was a gift from Evelyn.
Among my many British tea towels, I thought this was a very appropriate one.
I don't iron my tea towels. Sorry. Please don't judge me.
The Royal Yacht Britannia on another tea towel, also a gift from my
wonderful friend Sheila. The yacht was in service from 1954-1997,
and was used for four royal honeymoons including Charles' and Diana's.

One more royal souvenir: a Wedgwood sugar bowl commemorating a 1939 visit to Canada of King George and Queen Mary, the great-grandparents of the current royal bridegroom. This was originally a wedding gift to Elaine's mother-in-law. Elaine gave it to me a few years ago because I have a tea pot in the deep-blue Wedgwood pattern, though not a commemorative item.

"In My Kitchen" is brought to the blogging community by Sherry, who blogs from Australia at Sherry's Pickings. WHY "SHERRY'S PICKINGS"? she asks. Her reason: "I am Picking out all the best things in life." To see the best things that Sherry and other bloggers throughout the world have in their kitchens this month, link here: http://sherryspickings.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Zora Neale Hurston's "Barracoon"

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," a newly published work by Zora Neale Hurston, tells a horrifying story. In 1927, Hurston spent many days with Cudjo Lewis, whose original name was Kossola. He was born in Africa, and at that time was the last surviving former slave to have experienced the passage from Africa to the United States. Shockingly, the voyage that brought Kossola to Alabama actually occurred during the Civil War when the institution of slavery was in the process of being abolished.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was an anthropologist and novelist, writer of several successful and still-classic books. Unfortunately, publishers rejected this work, and it's just been released for the first time this month.

The first thing I learned while reading Barracoon was the definition of the word in the title. This word, barracoon, very poignantly embodies the cruelty that slavery implies. Here is the definition given at the beginning of the book:
"Barracoon: The Spanish word barracoon translates as 'barracks' and is derived from barraca, which means 'hut.' The term 'barracoon' describes the structures used to detain Africans who would be sold and exported to Europe or the Americas. These structures, sometimes also referred to as factories, stockades, corrals, and holding pens, were built near the coast. They could be as insubstantial as a 'slave shed' or as fortified as a 'slave house' or 'slave castle,' wherein Africans were forced into the cells of dungeons beneath the upper quarters of European administrators. Africans held in these structures had been kidnapped, captured in local wars and raids, or were trekked in from the hinterlands or interior regions across the continent. Many died in the barracoons as a consequence of their physical condition upon arrival at the coast or the length of time it took for the arrival of a ship. Some died while waiting for a ship to fill, which could take three to six months. This phase of the traffic was called the 'coasting' period. During the years of suppression of the traffic, captives could be confined for several months." (Kindle Locations 14-22). 
Kossola, or Cudjo, told Hurston his story of his life as a boy in an African village, his subsequent capture by men from Dahomey, the trek through the jungle, his confinement in the barracoon, how he was shipped across the ocean, his life as a slave in America, and the challenges of life as a free man after the Civil War. She transcribed his accented English phonetically, and followed his wishes to tell the story in the order that he chose, beginning with the life of his grandfather.

I find his narrative of imprisonment in the barracoon and then crossing the ocean so moving and vivid that I'm just going to quote a long passage of excerpts without trying to comment:
“When we git in de place dey put us in a barracoon behind a big white house and dey feed us some rice. 
“We stay dere in de barracoon three weeks. We see many ships in de sea, but we cain see so good ’cause de white house, it ’tween us and de sea. 
“But Cudjo see de white men, and dass somethin’ he ain’ never seen befo’. In de Takkoi we hear de talk about de white man, but he doan come dere. 
“De barracoon we in ain’ de only slave pen at the place. Dey got plenty of dem but we doan know who de people in de other pens. Sometime we holler back and forth and find out where each other come from. But each nation in a barracoon by itself. ... 
“Dey takee de chain off us and placee us in de boats. Cudjo doan know how many boats take us out on de water to de ship. I in de last boat go out. Dey almost leavee me on de shore. But when I see my friend Keebie in de boat I want go wid him. So I holler and dey turn round and takee me.
“When we ready to leave de Kroo boat and go in de ship, de Many-costs snatch our country cloth off us. We try save our clothes, we ain’ used to be without no clothes on. But dey snatch all off us. Dey say, ‘You get plenty clothes where you goin’.’ Oh Lor’, I so shame! We come in de ’Merica soil naked and de people say we naked savage. Dey say we doan wear no clothes. Dey doan know de Many-costs snatch our clothes ’way from us. ...
“Our grief so heavy look lak we cain stand it. I think maybe I die in my sleep when I dream about my mama. Oh Lor’!” (Kindle Locations 815-867). 
Illustration from Barracoon titled: "The 'Door of No Return' at La Maison des Esclaves
(House of Slaves) at Gorée Island in Senegal, West Africa.
Above the entryway: 'Lord, give my people, who have suffered so much,
the strength to be great' (Joseph Ndiaye)." (Kindle Location 261)

Barracoon is a remarkable book. I find it amazing that it took so long for publication. While reading it, I am constantly thinking about how the horrors of slavery continue to haunt our society, how the legacy of inhumanity and racism keeps inspiring vicious attitudes and degrading behavior in a painfully large percent of our citizens.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day

Our host Nat with BBQ ribs for a quiet Memorial Day. We also had corn, potato salad, and ice cream with strawberries.

Len's bread was my contribution, although he's away and wasn't at the picnic.
The lake was tranquil as usual, although unusually many people were boating today, as is always true for Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

"Gourmet Rhapsody" by Muriel Barbery

A childhood memory of a meal in Morocco:
"I will, at least, have had the opportunity to recall this: the grilled meat, the mechouia salad, the mint tea and the cornes de gazelle. I was Ali Baba. The cave of treasures: this was it, the perfect rhythm, the shimmering harmony between portions, each one exquisite unto itself, but verging on the sublime by virtue of the strict, ritual succession. The meatballs, grilled with the utmost respect for their firmness, had lost none of their succulence during their passage through fire, and filled my professionally carnivorous mouth with a thick, warm, spicy, juicy wave of masticatory pleasure. The sweet bell peppers, unctuous and fresh, softened my taste buds already subjugated by the virile rigor of the meat, and prepared them for the next powerful assault. Everything was there in abundance. ... When at last we were sated and somewhat dazed, we would shove our plates away and look in vain for a back to the bench so that we might relax; the waiter brought the tea, poured it according to the established ritual, and on the table, which had been only haphazardly wiped clean, he set down a plate of sugar-covered crescents, the cornes de gazelle. No one was the least bit hungry anymore, but that is precisely what is so good about the moment devoted to pastries: they can only be appreciated to the full extent of their subtlety when they are not eaten to assuage our hunger, when the orgy of their sugary sweetness is not destined to fill some primary need but to coat our palate with all the benevolence of the world." (Gourmet Rhapsody, Kindle Locations 160-172). 
Vivid food descriptions like the one quoted above are the center of interest in Muriel Barbery's novel Gourmet Rhapsody. These passages represent the inner thoughts of a dying man; the specific memory above concerned his childhood meals while visiting relatives in his mother's native country, Morocco, which is also the birthplace of the author.

As a radical and influential food critic, this character had spent his life expressing thoughts about what he ate. On his deathbed, thoughts of many things that he had enjoyed eating rushed through his head as he tried to imagine one special taste from his past. Each chapter of the book represents one stream of consciousness from his mind or from the mind of another character that is somehow connected to him and to his immanent death; no character is aware of the inner thoughts of any other. What a strange premise for a novel!

The dying food critic also recalls many tastes and food experiences from his life in France and his adventures as a professional eater. Another of this character's memories:
"I bit into the fruit, I bit into the tomato. In salads, baked, in ratatouille, in preserves, grilled, stuffed, cherry, candied, big and soft, green and acidic, honored with olive oil or coarse salt or wine or sugar or hot pepper, crushed, peeled, in a sauce, in a stew, in a foam, even in a sorbet: I thought I had thoroughly covered the matter and on more than one occasion I wrote pieces inspired by the greatest chefs’ menus claiming that I had penetrated its secret. ... 
"Sugar, water, fruit, pulp, liquid or solid? The raw tomato, devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one’s mouth that brings with it every pleasure. The resistance of the skin— slightly taut, just enough; the luscious yield of the tissues, their seed-filled liqueur oozing to the corners of one’s lips, and that one wipes away without any fear of staining one’s fingers; this plump little globe unleashing a flood of nature inside us: a tomato, an adventure." (Kindle Locations 440-452). 
Could this only be written by a French person? Impossible to say, but stereotyping of French attitudes would lead to this idea. In fact, I came across this novel when pursuing my current project of finding out what French people read and write when they read and write about food. I'm looking at it as a source of insights into a perhaps different mindset than that of Americans who write lovingly about Paris restaurants and Provencal romantic getaways.

Muriel Barbery became famous around a decade ago for her novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which takes place in a Paris apartment building. This apartment building on rue de Grenelle in Paris is also the site of Gourmet Rhapsody.  As I've been reading this earlier novel I've enjoyed Barbery's perspective on many things and her skillful and terse way of portraying characters from their inner thoughts. She's an interesting author, whose work obviously appeals to readers in many countries.

Friday, May 25, 2018

French Food Books


Cookbooks, history books, and memoirs about French cuisine are popular and fascinating, and I've read and cooked from quite a few of them. The majority of these works, however, were not written in French or written by French people. I've challenged myself to find books on the history and culture of food written in French by and for French readers -- and thus to learn what French people read when they want to read about food. I hope to find some books that will be appropriate for future reading in my culinary history reading group, to whom I've suggested that we try to read some actual French sources rather than just Americans.

Using google.com, google.fr, amazon.com, amazon.fr, and the bibliographies of books I've read, I have identified some such books, though I've mainly located academic sources rather than books written for a general reading public. Quite a few of these are very general histories of food in human history or of French food throughout all of French history, while I would like to find more specific histories comparable to those popular in the US. Also, I haven't yet found many very recent ones, although I've searched the best-sellers in amazon.fr -- a few sound interesting but do not seem to have appeared in English translation.

The photo above shows some of the French food books, other than cookbooks, that I own. I have read several of them, and have already written about a few on this blog. This is a preliminary list of French food books translated into English.
  • Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste: or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy.
  • Alexander Dumas, Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, translated into English under various names, usually abridged.
  • Madeleine Ferrières, Sacred Cow, Mad Cow: A History of Food Fears.
  • Jean-Louis Flandrin, Arranging the Meal: A History of Table Service in France.
  • Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari, Food: A Culinary History, collection of essays.
  • Prosper Montagne, Larousse Gastronomique: The Encyclopedia of Food, Wine & Cookery. (Obviously not a book to be read for a single discussion!)
  • Anka Muhlstein, Balzac's Omelette.
  • Jean-Robert Pitte, French Gastronomy.
  • Edouard de Pomiane, Cooking with Pomiane. (I did a big project on Pomiane a few years ago.)
  • Jean-François Revel, Culture And Cuisine: A Journey Through The History Of Food.
  • Herve This, Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor and other books on molecular gastronomy.
  • Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, A History of Food.
There will be more ... I hope!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What did Balzac eat?


Balzac's Omelette is a delightful study of the food that nineteenth-century French author Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) described in his many novels and stories, as well as his own rather eccentric eating habits. Author Anka Muhlstein, a native of Paris, provides just the right amount of background, as well as additional information about food as depicted by later French authors such as Flaubert and Zola. I really enjoyed reading it, and I suspect that the quality of this book is also due to the translator, Adriana Hunter. I'm only writing a very brief review here.

The following passage about a dishonest landlady in one of Balzac's novels illustrates Muhlstein's approach:
"Sadly, Cousin Pons and his friend Schmucke lack this attention to detail and knowledge of current prices when they try to keep an eye on their conceirge, Madame Cibot, who cooks their meals and, in so doing, leads them to ruin. She boasts to her husband that she has amassed two thousand francs in eight years thanks to her cunning and talent. In fact, rather than going to a butcher, she rummages through the stalls at a regrattier, who buys leftovers from nearby restaurants. With a fiercely discerning eye, she choose the best-looking debris of chicken or game, fish fillets, or even boiled beef, which she dresses up with finely sliced onion. Using this technique, she cooks such strong-smelling sauces that her lodgers never complain, and she makes them pay three francs 'without wine' for these dinners, a sizable sum if we consider that, in a modest but acceptable restaurant, a meal with a small carafe of wine cost a maximum of two francs." (p. 111)
You can see how Muhlstein selects food details to show a great deal about the landlady/concierge who serves repurposed food as if it were fresh. The entire book is full of captivating retellings of just the foodie parts of Balzac's great novels, offering lots of insight into how he used food to make his characters vivid.

One thing about this passage is the wonderful word regrattier: a dealer in leftover food from restaurants or from receptions or dinner parties in wealthy or aristocratic homes. This is strictly a French word, but I think we need to borrow it in English. I'm including it for Wordy Wednesday because it's such a great word.

Unlike in 17th and 18th century Paris, today's redistribution of previously offered foods is usually the work of organizations for feeding the needy. For example, Ann Arbor's Food Gatherers began in 1988 when volunteers "borrowed a van and collected 50 pounds of vegetables, bread, milk, and eggs from half a dozen grocery stores and restaurants. The food was quickly re-distributed to hot meal programs in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti." (link) Today Food Gatherers still collects unused or nearly-out-of-date food, though it has many more sources including people's gardens and nationwide warehouses of food for this purpose.

Balzac's Omelette, which was published in 2011, includes some delightful illustrations. Here are two of them in color (though in the book the reproductions were in sepia tones).

Les Halles, 1893, by Leon Lhermitte.
Shopping in Paris markets, especially Les Halles, was a topic of quite a few of the authors mentioned in the book.
The Oyster Eaters, 1825, by Louis-Léopold Boilly.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

May Flowers

In the Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor.

The peony garden in the Arb has an exceptional collection of early 20th century peony types as well as masses of azaleas, rhododendrons, and flowering trees. In May the tree peonies bloom, as shown in the photo. The more usual types of peonies bloom in June -- you can see their buds in the foreground  here. Throughout the season, the garden is very popular with photographers such as this one.

Spring violets -- a favorite.
Many types of wild flowers bloom in the wooded area of the Arb.
At Matthaei Botanical Gardens Bonsai display: a flowering fruit tree in bloom.
Both the Arb and the Botanical Garden belong to the University of Michigan.
Flowering tree in my backyard.
Lilly of the Valley: another backyard favorite, though some think they are weeds.


Dandelions growing in the ponds at Howard Marsh Metropark near Toledo, Ohio. Everyone thinks they are weeds!
These photos have been taken throughout the month of May -- you couldn't get all these images simultaneously, as each flower and tree is in bloom only for a few days. Poets get all emotional about how spring blossoms are so ephemeral. But I accept that we must move on to the season when dandelions will be more or less the only spring flower that keeps on blooming.

It's hard to stop looking at flowers. Now the irises are just beginning to bloom, but I've used Van Gough's for variety.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Lingonberry Jam: Swedish Food Beyond Ikea


Do you think of lingonberry jam as the condiment on your Swedish meatball plate at the Ikea restaurant? Or do you think about the jar of "Ekologisk SYLT LINGON" in the food shop just after the Ikea checkout lines? That’s what lingonberry jam meant to me until I read a study of lingonberry consumption in Sweden. This study, “The Red Gold of the Forest: Lingon Berries,” appeared in the book Man, Food And Milieu: A Swedish Approach to Food Ethnology by Nils-Arvid Bringéus, published 2001.

The author explains the development of mass lingonberry cultivation and the economics of buying and selling lingonberries in Sweden a century ago. In particular, he writes, large-scale lingonberry gathering and money-making was not ages old:
“The extensive felling of the forests in southern Sweden around 1900 led to large clearings which, because of the plentiful light, were an excellent habitat for the berry-bearing shrub Vaccinium vitis-idaea, known in English (especially American English) as lingonberry.” (p. 183)
Much more interesting than early 20th century berry economics is the study of how Swedish people ate lingonberries, which had been gathered on a smaller scale for centuries. Bringéus questioned people who lived in small towns in the southern regions of Sweden about how they ate lingonberries. He also read accounts of food customs from the 18th and 19th centuries; for example, tenant farmers had to provide lingonberries to the owners of their land according to a document dated 1742. A recipe for lingonberry syrup appeared in a cookbook in 1837.

"As a traditional Swedish dish," Bringéus writes, "pride of place is undeniably occupied by meatballs. This has also given lingonberry jam a major role as an accompaniment .... Pickled gherkins are also used as an accompaniment here."  

There's much more! In south-west Sweden, lingonberry jam was "an accompaniment to fried herring." In some regions, it was eaten with any fish other than salmon. It's also "a frequent complement to cabbage pudding and stuffed cabbage rolls." Lingonberry jam is also used as a condiment with dried bacon or diced bacon pancakes, fried smoked bacon and fried potatoes, blood sausage or blood pudding, liver, and other roast or fried meats. "Before the arrival of ketchup, lingonberry jam was also eaten with macaroni, according to an informant from Siljansnäs." 

Bringéus quotes several individuals who described how their families ate lingonberries for dessert.  The author interviewed one man who remembered eating "lingonberry jam with milk and hard bread, known as beta bröd, when there was no dessert." It's great with pancakes, he says, especially for those who thing strawberry jam is too sweet. Lingonberry juice was and still is popular. One chef rather recently invented a lingonberry mousse. (Quotes are from Man, Food And Milieu, pp. 189-193)

I was equally interested in the many other essays about Swedish food and food customs in Man, Food And Milieu. Sources of information include wide-ranging ethological research that began in the 1960s, and informants often remembered experiences of themselves and their relatives going back to the late 19th century. Also, the author's personal memories enrich his writings. As I knew very little about Swedish cuisine, other than Ikea, I found this to be a remarkably informative book.


Once I started thinking about Swedish food beyond Ikea, I noticed some recent articles about the subject. For example, a recent article in the New Yorker, "How to eat candy like a Swede" by Hannah Goldfield, offered this interesting observation:
"Nordic countries, in general, are crazy for candy. On a trip to Iceland a few years ago, I was amazed by the wide selection of sweets sold by the pound at even the most average-looking gas stations. But if any one particular country knows from candy, it’s Sweden, whose residents, according to a study by the Swedish Board of Agriculture, eat more per year per capita—more than thirty pounds per person each—than the citizens of any other nation. In Sweden, every Saturday is effectively a national holiday, called lördagsgodis, which means “Saturday candy.” Every corner store has a wall of pick-and-mix bins. The history of how this tradition came to be is surprisingly dark: in the nineteen-forties, in conjunction with several candy corporations, the Swedish government performed tests on patients in a mental institution to explore the hazards of consuming sweets. When it was determined that too many would make your teeth rot, lördagsgodis was born—Swedish citizens were urged to have as much candy as they liked, as long as they limited their consumption to one day a week." (source)
Also, a current article in The Economist reviews Japanese and Asian-fusion restaurants in Stockholm:
"Stockholm has kept innovating and has increasingly fallen under the influence of another food culture – Japan. This makes sense. Scandinavian seafood is excellent and abundant, which makes it perfect for eating raw. And both the Japanese and the Swedes have a way with fermentation. ... There are excellent traditional Japanese restaurants in Stockholm, such as Sushi Sho and Shibumi, but the standout dining experiences are found in the places where Nordic meets Nippon." (source)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Onion soup made according to the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.
Browning the onions takes 45 minutes or more.
Julia Child's original recipe says to simmer the soup for another 30 minutes.
I prefer the cheese toasts to be added to the soup, rather than the alternative of covering the soup with
cheese and heating it under the broiler. The latter method always results in my burning my tongue!
Today's soup was inspired by Len's bread, perfect for toasting with cheese. Or with butter and jam.
Len's overnight whole wheat loaf. What a beautiful crust! And delicious.
I've linked this post to Deb in Hawaii's soup linkup for this week!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Early Spring Produce

Rhubarb is among the first produce to be harvested in Michigan. Though technically a vegetable, it features, of course,
in sweet dishes. Yesterday I bought rhubarb at Argus Farm Stop, sourced from Wolfe Orchards and Schwartz Family Farm.
In the photo -- rhubarb at Argus Farm Stop next to some wheat grass.
The rhubarb sauce that I made yesterday.
Rhubarb bubbling away in the pot. Sugary foam forms on the sauce.
Asparagus, another early vegetable, also just arrived at Argus from Kapnick Orchards. Most of these farms
are within 45 minutes drive. They deliver their produce to Argus as well as selling at the Ann Arbor Farmers' market.
Lunch: roasted asparagus, mushrooms, easy-over eggs, tomato.
I'm eagerly awaiting local tomatoes, but that will be a while!
Here's the very scenic route from Argus Farm Stop to Wolfe Orchards. I live half a mile from Argus, and usually walk there.