Saturday, June 30, 2018

In the Kitchen this June

Throughout June local vegetables have just been coming into season. In this salad early in the month: local lettuce, deviled
eggs, palm hearts from a jar, and a purplish kumato tomato -- this was before local tomatoes started arriving.
In my kitchen for the month of June: new local vegetables in season each week, many from Argus Farm Stop, the consignment market for local farmers. Also, fruits and vegetables from further south where the season is more advanced. It's so great to be able to use these fresh tastes for simple dishes! Besides food preparation using the best and most local ingredients I can find, I also have a few new kitchen items to show you this month.

For other people's kitchen wrap-ups this month, see the blog posts linked at Sherry's Pickings, a blog from Australia that allows many bloggers from around the world to share what's new and amazing in their kitchens in early summer in this hemisphere and at the beginning of winter down under.

White beans with tomatoes, lettuce, and more.
Left: tuna salad. Right: cut up grilled steak with bell pepper, celery and other not-so-local vegetables.
Finally, mid-month: some really tasty tomatoes from a local hoop house.
Local yellow tomatoes, lettuce, and avocado (which is never local).

New: a Kettle and a Ceramic Dish

Our new kettle with a long spout for more convenient pouring.
Ceramics from the Ann Arbor Potters' Guild.
New from the Potters' Guild June sale: a beautiful covered dish, a mug, and a small bowl: all in the same ash glaze. Now I have two almost-alike mugs. The first is from an earlier Potters' Guild sale. The new one is similar, not identical. I prefer a bit of variation in hand-made items. While we haven't used the kettle yet, we  have used the ceramics quite a few times.

Potato salad in the covered dish. Chives are from our garden.
Rice with dried fruit and Moroccan flavoring. Part of a
Moroccan dinner, blogged HERE.
Roast carrots, fennel, and pork tenderloin in a simple brown sauce.
Leftovers went into Cuban sandwiches, blogged HERE.

The Simplest Food: Hamburgers!

Melting the cheese onto the bun is easier than melting it on the burger.

More Simple Food

Roasted cauliflower with almonds and dates.
Sardines and goat cheese on an onion roll with more of those local yellow tomatoes.
What could be simpler than hash-brown potatoes?
We ate them with scrambled eggs. Very very simple.
Michigan strawberry season is only a few weeks long. Such fragrant little berries! And it's all over now.
So in my kitchen this month, I have few new items, and I've been using the season's best fruits and vegetables as much as I can. Have a great July, everyone!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Paris in July: An Annual Celebration

July is almost here, and I'm joining in a group blogging event called "Paris in July." It's an annual event, hosted by the blog "Thyme for Tea."

For my first post this year, I want to share some books that I read recently, much enjoyed, and reviewed on this blog. Reading these books is like an imaginary voyage to Paris and other wonderful places in France. I was celebrating Paris in May and June, not just July, here at this blog.
  • First there's the delightful novel Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery, which I read in May and reviewed HERE. Barbery became famous around a decade ago for her novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which takes place in a Paris apartment building on rue de Grenelle. The same apartment building is also the site of Gourmet Rhapsody. So this earlier novel, published in French in 2000 and in English in 2009, is a perfect book to start an imaginary trip to Paris.
  • Second is the wonderful food memoir When French Women Cook by Madeleine Kamman, first published in 1976. Kamman was a well-known as a chef and cookbook writer. I read it in June and reviewed HERE. Kamman begins with her memories of her own great-grandmother in Paris when she was a small child before World War II. The book is filled with memories of women who made marvelous French food and taught Kamman to cook. So this is a perfect book to continue an imaginary Paris visit.
  • Third, the famous chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) wrote a collection of memoirs about his life as an entrepreneur, an inventor of recipes, and an innovator of new restaurant practices. His heirs assembled this book from his papers after his death; the first English edition was published in 1996. I reviewed it HERE.

  • Most recently, I read A Taste for Vengeance, the nineteenth in Martin Walker's series Bruno, Chief of Police. It was just published in June, 2018. I reviewed it HERE. All of the books in the series take place in the fictitious and idyllic town of Saint-Denis in the Périgord region of France: so not quite in Paris. Still, any of the Bruno books, which are full of amazing food descriptions as well as suspenseful detecting, would be a good choice for an imaginary trip to France.

To help your imagination here is an appreciation of the croissants in Paris compared to those in Bruno's perfect bakery in his perfect provincial town in the provinces. From A Taste for Vengeance:
"'I thought the croissants were pretty damn good in Paris, but this is in a different class altogether,' Hodge said.  
"'Where do you go in Paris?' Bruno asked.  
"'I’m working my way through the ones that won the prizes for the best in the city. My favorites are Poilâne on the rue du Cherche Midi and Blé Sucré, off the rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine. The coffee here is as good too.'"  (Kindle Locations 3211-3214)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture

A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture by Shachar M. Pinsker describes café life in Odessa, Warsaw, Berlin, Vienna, New York, and Tel Aviv, from the 19th century to the era before World War II. As I read, I couldn't help comparing the descriptions with my impressions of cafés I know in the 21st century.

The Romanisches Café in Berlin, 1925, by H. Hoffman. Figure 4.6 of A Rich Brew (p. 178)
"Literary descriptions of the Romanisches Café suggest the essence of the encounter of multilingual Jewish writers with the urban space of Berlin. These writers encountered Berlin modernism within the walls of the Romanisches Café, and their endless hours there left strong marks on their literary and intellectual development." (A Rich Brew, p. 183)

Black Diesel Cafe, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2018. How strange is the similarity of the chairs! Nothing else in this
modern café setting is similar, but as I read, I found myself making all sorts of comparisons.
Cafe des Westens, Berlin, pre-World War I, nicknamed "Café Megalomania."
The Café des Westens, founded in 1897, was frequented by Bohemian writers and artists of the era, notably the expressionists. "The drinks and the homely food there were reasonably priced, and waiters were willing to extend credit. On the second floor ... were free billiard tables and chess boards." (A Rich Brew, p. 163-164.)

Another Ann Arbor Cafe, 2018. I don't know who frequents this space
near my house. Probably not Bohemian artists and writers.
But the rustic and informal style makes an incredible contrast to many
cafés of Europe 100 years ago with their marble-top tables and heavy decor.

Pinsker interestingly explains the way that cafés in these six cities provided a space for writers, artists, actors, dramatists, journalists, and many other intellectuals -- especially Jews -- to meet, to work, to relax, or to see and be seen. Although A Rich Brew is a serious work of social and intellectual history, I found it quite readable and enjoyable, with only a little academic jargon. The illustrations include photos and many sketches and drawings that capture the café atmosphere and depict or make fun of the personalities who patronized them.

The early roots of the cafés in Odessa, Warsaw, and other European cities began at the time when Jewish individuals were escaping from the limited background in ghettos and shtetls, and from the requirement that they practice some type of Jewish religion and participate in Jewish study. For some the new social atmosphere of the café replaced the old study house where men pursued Jewish learning. Like these study houses, the café was almost exclusively for men, though Pinsker tries to explore the exceptional cases where women became part of the picture. It's beyond my capability to summarize or review the subtleties of this deeply presented history.

In most cases, only the price of a cup of coffee (or tea which was often cheaper) was enough to allow a poor writer to work or talk for much of the day. Besides tea, coffee, and sometimes stronger drink, some cafés served food, expanding the time one could stay. For example, Herrick's Café in New York in the 1890s and early 1900s was a gathering place where Yiddish writers and journalists met "nightly at the round tables with their red and black checkered cloths, smoked Russian cigarettes, downed oceans of tea, and consumed pounds of Hungarian strudel." (p. 192) In Goodman and Levine's on East Broadway, members of a group called Di Yunge immersed themselves "in a discussion that went on until early in the morning, fueled by coffee, tea, pancakes, blintzes, cookies, rolls, and cigarettes." (p. 212)

Pinsker's use of eyewitness descriptions of the cafés is intriguing: many of the participants wrote and published journalistic accounts of these experiences. Even more intriguing are Pinsker's summaries of novels, short stories, and even poems that take place in cafés or cite the cafe atmosphere.

Tel Aviv: my beachside lunch, 2016. Pinsker describes how café owners and
patrons in the early days of Tel Aviv were often engaged in the struggle to switch
from their native languages to Hebrew. Now you can use English, no stigma!
As I read Pinsker's description of the beachside cafés of pre-1948 Tel Aviv, I thought about the walks I've taken on that beach, which is still lined with cafés, ice cream shops, and restaurants, as are the streets a few blocks inside the city. I feel that the atmosphere is completely different. Tourists, Israelis on their day off, office workers having lunch, neighbors out for a stroll -- I don't think the people I saw were artists, writers, or journalists writing for small independent publications. But who knows?

At the end of the book, Pinsker cites a poem written by Israeli poet Avot Yeshurun in 1972, titled "January1, night." He points out how the poem captures "the ruptures and absences felt at Tel Aviv cafés" and he offers a long analysis of the poem and how it indirectly invokes both the former café culture and the Holocaust, which is the subject of the Joan Baez song. (p. 297-298). The poem:

In a café by the side of the street.
Those who were here -- are gone. 
He who is numbered as dead
and he who's numbered as slumber.
Playing chess. The coffee
house is full December.
Listening to Joan Baez
singing I Remember.
January 1, 1972.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

What's Cooking?

Cuban Sandwiches

Classic ingredients for Cuban sandwiches: ham, roast pork, dill pickles, cheese, and mustard.
 A Cuban sandwich should be toasted on a panini press, but I used
a frying pan because that's what I have. I used lots of butter!
Served with crudités, mostly locally grown. We definitely enjoyed them!

Cornbread with Bell Peppers and Cheese

Preparation for making cornbread: the dry ingredients, the liquid ingredients, the cheese, bell peppers (barely visible
in blue measuring cup), and the baking dish with butter to flavor the crust. Stir it all together when the oven is ready!

I've also been looking up the history of this type of cornbread. My recipe has pretty much sugar, so it probably is of Southern origin -- in the North, cornbread was savory and usually flavored with bacon fat. Going back further: in colonial times, Europeans preferred wheat to corn, which was considered inferior. Scarcity of wheat often required adding cornmeal to yeast breads which were then called cornbread, though were different from the modern baking-powder versions. Corn pone and similar unleavened dishes were eaten, but wheat was generally the preferred grain. In the 19th century, the development of chemical leavening and then commercial baking powder for quick breads enabled modern type cornbreads. By the 1870s, published cookbooks offered a variety of cornbread recipes. The Jiffy Mix (which I didn't use) was invented in 1930.

Just enough for lunch.
I have written about cornbread a number of times. This week's recipe is HERE. I made a double batch (9 x 13 inch pan rather than 8 inch pan) and used roasted red bell peppers instead of hot peppers.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"A Taste for Vengeance:" The New Bruno, Chief of Police, Novel

In his eighteen earlier novels about Bruno, the chief of police in a small and very idealized town in rural France, author Martin Walker always included lots of details about the food and wine of the Périgord region where the stories take place. A Taste For Vengeance, the nineteenth in the series, was  published this month. In it, Bruno not only cooks for his friends and colleagues and dines in idyllic restaurants, he also participates in a cooking school that his sometime-girlfriend Pamela has established. Pamela has in fact recruited experts from all over town to help out with her new business:
"Bruno would be teaching them to make a pâté de foie gras and also how to get five separate meals from a single duck. The baron would be showing them how to make a stuffed neck of goose and then use it in a classic Périgord cassoulet. Ivan from the bistro was giving up his day off— for a fee— to demonstrate how his desserts were made— crème brûlée, tarte aux noix, pears poached in spiced red wine, sabayon aux fraises. This last, a dish of strawberries in a creamy custard, was a favorite of Bruno’s. Odette from Oudinots’ farm was taking them to find various kinds of mushrooms in the woods and then showing how best to cook them with veal. Stéphane was to demonstrate how he made his cheeses and yogurts. Julien was giving them a tour of the town vineyard and winery, and Hubert was giving them a wine-tasting session. Along with a tour of Bergerac vineyards and a couple of sightseeing trips to the Lascaux Cave and some châteaux, they were in for a busy week, Bruno thought. Pamela and her English friend Miranda had planned it well." (Kindle Locations 258-265). 
Of course the cooking, eating, and teaching are all interrupted by Bruno's need to solve a particularly ugly and violent murder that happens at the beginning of the book. One of the victims, in fact, is a missing student from Pamela's cooking school. International intrigue, exciting confrontations with criminals, and constantly increasing suspense all serve as a background to the remarkable food descriptions that are clearly the main attraction in this enjoyable book.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Evening on the longest day of the year

Grilled lamb chops with cucumber-mint-yogurt sauce --
a simple outdoor dinner on the longest day of the year.
The cucumber-mint-yogurt sauce was inspired by Back Road Journal.

After dinner we watched the Japanese film "Norwegian Wood," which we borrowed from the library. It was in the Japanese film section when we were borrowing a few Miyazaki films.

I'm a fan of Murakami, but I haven't read this book, which dates to 1987. We weren't really that impressed: the film appears to be based on only one part of the novel's plot, which I looked up after watching.

Because Murakami's later novels, like A Wild Sheep ChaseDance, Dance, Dance, and 1Q84, are in the genre of magical realism, I expected this one to be the same, but it wasn't at all. From a few hints in what I read about the novel, there may have been some magical realism that was taken out of the script for the film. Maybe I'll have to read the book, though I rarely read a book after seeing the movie (or see a movie based on a book I've already read -- not counting Harry Potter).

As for food -- the main character ate a number of meals at home and in restaurants in the course of the film, but you never had any clear view of what he and his companion(s) were eating. Sometimes they used forks, sometimes chop sticks. Once one of the women asked him if he liked her cooking. A number of different apartment interior scenes included very interesting retro kitchens. These contributed to the sixties atmosphere of the film, which was made in 2010. You could see small refrigerators, counters, a rice cooker, and in some cases piles of miscellaneous unidentifiable boxes.

The film was so long that it was dark by the time we finished watching it!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Eat Your Vegetables

The Parsnip: A Poem By Ogden Nash

"The parsnip, children, I repeat
Is simply an anemic beet.
Some people call the parsnip edible;
Myself, I find this claim incredible."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday: Wordy and Wordless

At University of Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
The tree's name, ylang ylang, is such a nice word!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Taste of Morocco

"Having slaughtered, plucked, drawn and washed the chicken according to the caïda, or tradition, fill its cavity with a stuffing..." I read these instruction in the recipe "Chicken stuffed with almonds, semolina, and Raisins" in Traditional Moroccan Cooking: Recipes from Fez, p. 105.

Traditional Moroccan Cooking, published 1958.
Arabesque, published 2005.
When I saw these words, I knew that this recipe wasn't quite right for my kitchen. Obviously, it's no trouble for me to buy a chicken that is already dead and clean. However, my chicken from Whole Foods was far too young and tender to be cooked as described in Madame Guisaudeau's sixty-year-old cookbook. The spices and flavors of the recipe, however were tempting, so I combined this recipe with "Roast Chicen with Couscous, Raisin, and Almond Stuffing" in Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden, p. 92. I was very pleased with the result, and it seemed to please my dinner guests too.

One change I made: I substituted rice for the couscous or semolina in the original recipes. The seasonings were saffron, cinnamon, sugar, and orange blossom water. Blanched toasted almonds, raisins, chopped dried apricots (my own addition), and a large piece of butter added to the flavor profile. Following the instructions in the recipe in Arabesque, I steamed the rice separately from the chicken and then tossed it with the other ingredients.

The chicken was first rubbed with olive oil, lemon juice, and the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout. After the first hour of cooking at 400º F, I brushed it with honey to create a nice brown skin. As I often do, I spatchcocked the chicken before roasting, which enables it to cook more evenly than a whole chicken.

The recipe in Traditional Moroccan Cooking suggests actually stuffing the chicken with the semolina mixture, but I think that's more appropriate for roasting the less-tender bird. Although the techniques were somewhat different, I think these are both variants of the same recipe. I've been curious to try some of the recipes in both cookbooks, and this was a very delicious start at using them.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"When French Women Cook"

When French Women Cook, 2002 edition.
Madeleine Kamman's cookbooks have been held in esteem for a long time. Her restaurant in Boston was very highly rated, her several cookbooks received good reviews, and her later cooking school and TV show were popular. However, she was a controversial figure because of her harsh criticisms of others: especially, she was very nasty about Julia Child.

Kamman was born in France in 1931. During World War II, she spent time in various cities in France, visiting relatives or friends while escaping from wartime Paris. She emigrated to Boston in 1960, and spent her career entirely in the US except for a brief and unsuccessful effort to found a cooking school in France.

When French Women Cook, published in 1976, is a memoir of seven women who taught her important cooking skills. She begins with her own great-grandmother in Paris when she was a small child before the war; continues with her World War II experiences, and concludes with a visit to Provence in the early 1970s. I've never been particularly aware of Kamman and her books -- having always been a huge fan of Julia Child -- but finally decided it was time to read this one.

The food descriptions in When French Women Cook are masterful, and the recipes -- which make up the major portion of the book -- are remarkable. At this point, I don't have the patience or the nerve to try them! Kamman says, and I think it's true: "Most of the recipes in this book have never been written down before. " (p. 3)

The brief sketches of the seven women featured in the book are very focused on their ways with food, but I was also very impressed by Kamman's descriptions of the aromas and smells that she experienced as she visited each of them. These quotes illustrate how she conveyed her strong sense of nostalgia for childhood in a much-changed and distant country; a nostalgia that is the principal emotion of the entire book.

Here are some of the aroma descriptions worth noting -- I've isolated them from the rest of the text because they are so unusual.
"The France I left, my France, does not exist anymore; it has disappeared, slowly receding into time past. When I was growing up... The game one hunted for was really wild and I recall fondly the distinct smell of hare pelts and pheasant feathers. ... The air smelled nice; clean, fresh, and permeated wit the happy essences of bread baking, the nostalgic aroma of wood burning, or the earthy smells of cattle ruminating in nearby barns." (Introduction) 
"Every so often, out came a nice side of pork which she washed and rubbed with crushed bay leaf to give it a good smell." (p. 24) 
"I was awakened by the pungent smell of café au lait mixed with steam and coal from the train engine. ... People left the train compartment only to be replaced by others in regional costumes, heavy blue denim smocks for the men, black dresses and white round coifs for the women. I recognized the familiar smells of the country. The pungent homey smells of cows, dairy products, whey, grass, manure were all there mixed and blended, having steeped and seeped into these people's clothes for decades. They were not dirty people; they were people smelling of their profession." (p. 57-58) 
"The room smelled of everything, smoke, bacon, garlic, cows, cheese and lentils cooking in a huge iron pot buried in the ashes of the hearth." (p. 59) 
"The village smelled of fresh grass and of freshwater fish." (p. 96) 
"Every Saturday, the dominant smell of the house was that of red wine in which either a rabbit, a hare, or a piece of pork was cooking." (p. 138) 
"I first visited Château-la-Vallerière in June of 1940 when we took refuge there after the invasion of Paris. I remember a long walk; it is a good two miles from the station to Claire's hotel. We arrived in the middle of the dinner service. The house had that smell of generous, voluptuous food so typical of good French restaurants; it was the rush hour." (p. 173) 
"She learned everything from making galettes aux pommes to Krampoch à la canelle, those two lovely raised crêpes of the Bigouden [in Brittany] country, all fragrant with butter, fresh yeast, and sometimes cinnamon or orange flour water." (p. 269)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Bad Stuff on My Mind: Salmonella in our Food

You know, it seems as if there are way too many outbreaks of food-borne illnesses happening this year. The numbers reported may not seem huge, but for every verified case there are undoubtedly many more that remain unreported and uncounted.

I haven't eaten this cereal for a few years,
but I used to love it. If you have any on hand,
you are supposed to throw it away!
  • The recall last winter of romaine lettuce was what started me worrying: five deaths and around 200 verified cases of e. coli poisoning between March 13 and June 1, 2018, affecting people in 35 states. It's supposed to be over now. (source)
  • Salmonella has been found this week in my childhood favorite cereal, Kellog's Honey Smacks -- "73 victims in 31 states for whom the CDC has information."(source)
  • Salmonella in pre-cut melons last week infected 60 people, including 32 here in Michigan. At least 31 have been hospitalized. A food processing plant in Indiana supplied the melon to be sold alone or in fruit salads at stores including Walmart, Costco, Kroger, Walgreens and Trader Joe’s. (source)
  • 207 million eggs were recalled for salmonella in April in an outbreak now thought to be over. The eggs were distributed in 10 states, and came from a processing and breeding plant that previously had been cited for numerous health and cleanliness violations. (source)
  • "During the past few years, outbreaks of Salmonella illness have been linked to contaminated cucumbers, chicken, eggs, pistachios, raw tuna, sprouts, and many other foods." (source)
Ultimately the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are the major (if not the only) institution that protects and informs us about these outbreaks. Their ability to perform identification, tracing, and recalls for food contamination are critical to the well-being of the American public, whether we know it or not. CDC funding has been jeopardized by current politics, and that worries me more than any of the rest of this information. Widespread anti-government sentiment among many voters, objection to any government regulation, and ability of big businesses to buy their way out of oversight add to my worries.