Friday, August 31, 2018

Fresh local produce and fresh bread

August has been a quiet month. Most of our meals have been eaten at home, with all the local produce that we could easily find: peppers (red, yellow, green and the purple one above), tomatoes, peaches, melons, herbs, corn, squash, and more. Along with the produce, we've been enjoying Len's fresh-baked loaves of rye, whole wheat, and white bread. In my kitchen this month, there are thus two themes: Len's bread baking and fresh produce.

Two New Items for Baking Bread

New items: a book and a dough tub for Len's more and more successful bread:

The new bread book is The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We can't imagine what is meant by the title's "5 minutes," as the instructions are clear in requiring far longer times to form, rise, and bake the bread!

Besides the book we have a new, bigger dough tub with a lid:

The recipe for this bread comes from one of the books we purchased earlier: The Bread-Baker's Apprentice.

Fresh, Local Produce Won't Be Available for Long!

We've purchased our produce at the Farmers Market, the Argus Farm Stop, the Produce Station, and even Whole Foods. While Whole Foods in past years managed to find good local suppliers, this year it's had very little local produce. Most disappointing: the new Amazon regime at Whole Foods offers only hard, tasteless, industrially grown tomatoes, while in former years they bought vine-ripened ones from local farmers. Sad!

So... in my kitchen this month, here are some of the local foods (well, mostly local foods) we've eaten:
Watermelon with feta. Garnish: mint from the garden.
Local tomatoes with chives. The feta is from France.
Gazpacho made in my big pyrex measuring cup from fresh tomatoes.
Peach crisp. Or you can call it crumble.
From the farmers market: a locally-made curry sauce, fantastically fresh eggs, and Michigan tomatoes.
The freshest and most beautiful eggs are definitely the ones I buy directly from the farmer.
A bowl of vegetable curry with eggs and tomatoes.
Dinner: roasted eggplant with feta cheese, fresh vegetables (including farm tomatoes), and grilled steak.
The eggplant was flavored with zatar and olive oil.
More Michigan peaches. My favorite summer flavor!
Delicata squash, patty pan squash, and onions, with rosemary from our garden.
Roasting squash and onions in the grill basket.
Grill-roasted squash and onions.
Grilled peaches and lamb chops for the two of us. (Sorry but the lamb is from Costco!) The roasted squash was the side dish.
From a previous post: corn with salad and Michigan peaches.
We've had corn several times. And peaches all the time!
And one meal from a restaurant kitchen: a poke bowl from Slurping Turtle.
There were plenty of sushi-tuna cubes under the veggies! 
To see what other bloggers have in their kitchens this month, check out the In My Kitchen post at Sherry's Pickings HERE.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Seven Continents

Did you ever think about Antarctic cuisine? The other six continents each have quite a few cuisines, some well-known, some obscure. Lots of islands have their own cuisines as well. But how can Antarctica have a cuisine when there's no population that lives there for more than a brief tour of duty? No agriculture is possible there, as it's virtually 100% covered with snow. And there's hardly ever been a place where food, so essential for staying alive, was harder to get in adequate amounts. Or where the possibility of enjoying food was less likely.

It's not surprising that my collection of cookbooks and food books includes examples of cuisines from the other six continents but never before this week have I owned a book about food in Antarctica!

Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine (published in 2012) describes the food challenges of Antarctic life beginning with the explorers in the late 19th century, and continuing through the personal experiences of its author Jason C. Anthony from the 1990s until around 2002.

Early twentieth-century explorers attempting to reach the South Pole were very famous for their dangerous exploits -- heroes of their time. Anthony describes the extreme conditions under which these men traversed the continent. Note that when I say "men" that's because the first women to go on an expedition to Antarctica weren't included until 1947, and were highly unusual until American research stations of the late 20th century.

Throughout the history of Antarctic exploration and research, food rations were chosen for a high quantity of calories to the lowest possible carrying weight, as they or their sled dogs had to transport everything that was required. If you read Anthony's book, you'd better not be sentimental about animals, because they often ate these sled dogs when the dogs were no longer sufficiently useful. They also ate the cute, lovable penguins, the impressive large sea birds, the seals, the baby seals, and any other type of wild meat that came their way.

The early explorers carried pemmican (a compressed cake of meat, fat, and sometimes berries or vegetables), canned vegetables, biscuits -- fresh if they were lucky but usually in various frozen or stale states. Chocolate was available but never enough! The most common method of preparation of their rations, especially pemmican, was to thaw and then boil it into a kind of stew using a small portable stove that was often very inefficient. The result was known as hoosh. A wooden spoon was the best implement to eat with -- metal might become dangerously cold before you put it in your mouth. A scary place, Antarctica!

Extreme cases of scurvy, various types of severe malnutrition, and even death from starvation were frequent among early explorers. The air temperature and humidity are both incredibly low in the frigid climate and at the high altitude of the South Pole and much of the continent. Thus every exertion there requires a huge amount of energy. Moreover, cooking at the lowered boiling point (due to the altitude) is very slow and fuel-intensive. A century ago, it was extremely challenging to carry and then thaw and heat enough food to eat: and in that climate, it was always frozen! The usefully portable foods of the early explorers often lacked vitamin C, which prevents scurvy. (Vitamins are now available in powder form, so that's a solved problem).

Melting enough snow to cook with and to drink, and thus prevent dehydration, was also a serious challenge. Just breathing -- warming the air that comes into one's lungs -- requires a huge amount of energy and thus an even higher caloric intake.  The calorie needs of a man trekking across Antarctica and carrying the bare minimum of food and fuel for his needs requires "more energy per day than competing in the Tour de France." (p. 79)

Many of the early expeditions had a cook or even a chef, whose responsibility was to plan meals, cook under extremely difficult circumstances, and in some cases to distribute very scarce resources to desperate men. Sometimes this responsibility was rotated among the participants rather than being assigned to one person. Some of the chefs managed to produce memorably good food, others to create memorably terrible meals.

In the late 1950s, many countries cooperated in building elaborate and carefully supplied research stations in Antarctica. The author did a number of tours of duty as a support person during the summer season, and thus worked at several outposts both large and small. His descriptions of the kitchens, the cooks, the government contracts for food, and the supply methods are very interesting, as are the meals he remembered.

Anthony also discusses a new challenge to expedition planners: garbage disposal. Up until the 1990s the expeditions just left trash -- including disabled vehicles -- and food garbage on the edge of the ice shelf, so that it could fall in the ocean when the ice broke off. This was creating an intolerable mess, so very elaborate means of containerizing and shipping out the refuse were devised. One of the most amusing passages of the book describes the semi-accidental dumping on the snow of a huge quantity of spoiled chickens, which were set upon by huge flocks of carrion-eating skuas. These large sea birds grabbed what they could and fought over it, thus dropping rotten chicken over much of the settlement, to everyone's disgust.

In the appendix to Hoosh are recipes -- "Savory Seal Brains on Toast," "Jugged Shag," (shag is the British term, Americans call them cormorants), "Escallops of Penguin Breasts," expedition biscuits from the 1922 Amundsen-Scott expedition, and several others (p. 253 ff). Except for the biscuits, these are only imaginary recipes as it's no longer legal to hunt or eat the wild animals of the Antarctic. For the modern reader, these dishes are as much a fantasy as the imaginings of the starving men who dreamed about favorite and unavailable foods (as do many victims in starvation situations).

Admiral Richard Byrd (1888-1957) for example was forced by circumstances to spend months in a solitary hut with only canned and packaged food: "Having dined at 'a thousand banquets,' he imagined lobster thermidor and 'squabs perched on triangles of toast,' but ate burnt flapjacks instead." After months of isolation, Byrd was rescued from his sordid circumstances, but was "emaciated, hollow-cheeked, weak and haggard." (p. 104-105)

Even in the modern, very-well-supplied research stations, workers could grow tired of the food, especially the lack of what they called "freshies." For example, a worker named Jim in 1982:
"Jim and his friends continued the Antarctic tradition of fantasizing about better food: 'With the remains of a leathery steak and powdered mashed potatoes on our trays, we'd talk about what fresh food we missed the most.' Jim imagined sitting down with a whole watermelon for himself, 'scooping out spoonful after spoonful of the sweet, juicy meat. Or I'd describe the sensation of biting into a plump ripe peach and having the juice run down my chin.'" (p. 150)

Here: a few of my food books about the cuisines of Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, South America, and Australia.
Maybe a martian foodie would view Europe as having just one cuisine, but I don't really have any books that do so.
I picked Six Thousand Years of Bread as the closest choice for one European cuisine. I have very few African food books.
And I selected books on the native cuisines of North America and Australia to indicate my issues in classifying cuisines.
Author Rachel Lauden, on her fascinating blog "A Historian's Take on Food and Food Politics" recently offered a working definition of a cuisine. Requirements for what is a cuisine, which are expanded in her post, include "a unifying culinary philosophy," "a preferred set of dishes, meals, and ways of eating," and "a supporting system of preparing and processing raw materials, agriculture, and distribution." The food consumed in the tents, in the huts, or under the overturned lifeboats providing makeshift shelters to early explorers, or the air-dropped food in the modern military-style outposts of more modern scientific expeditions satisfies none of these criteria.

To quote the review of Hoosh published in 2012 in the New York Times, which illustrates how many different cuisines have contributed to the food consumed in Antarctica:
"Anthony, who spent eight recent seasons with the United States Antarctic Program, also furnishes us with some delicious stereotypes — the pragmatic, rightfully smug Norwegians, who usually got everywhere first, and in better shape, with enough surplus food to throw a feast; the pigheaded, tragically patriotic Brits, especially Scott, who arrived at the pole only to find that Amundsen had beaten him, and whose entire party starved to death on the return trip; the larky Yanks, who, at Prohibition-era Little America, concocted a brew of medicinal alcohol with anti-scurvy meds, which they christened 'Blowtorch.' And of course the French, whose chef on a 1903 expedition managed to bake 'bread three times a week and perfect croissants on Friday and Sunday' — and whip up a mean crème brûlée out of cormorant eggs. Predictably, the French refused to die hungry." (source)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wordy Wednesday: Aretha's melisma and names for the winds

This week I noticed several very interesting and unfamiliar words in my reading. First, I learned the names of three varieties of chocolate in Kristy Leissle's book Cocoa:
"Beyond the trinity of Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario, cocoa in fact has many varieties – called strains, varietals, types, or cultivars – that have distinct characteristics." (p. 228).
In the same book (which I reviewed here earlier this week), I discovered the name of a wind, the harmattan, as well as learning a new word about the cocoa plant:
"West Africa’s harmattan [is] the windy season that occurs from around late November through March. Harmattan winds originate in the Sahara Desert and blow southwards across the Sahelian semi-desert region, filling the air with dusty grit all the way to the Atlantic coast. ... In particular, the 2015–16 harmattan was the strongest in thirty years. It began early and, just at the point when it would typically end, the winds strengthened, destroying delicate cocoa flowers and cherelles (baby pods)." (Cocoa, p. 142 & 145).
In the photo of a cocoa tree, a cherelle is circled. This image comes from a very interesting website that defines all of the terms used in growing and harvesting cocoa. See: "The cacao tree and its fruit." LINK HERE.

"Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you."

Besides the harmattan, which affects the cocoa growing regions south of the Sahara Desert, I am fond of names for other winds throughout the world. I've felt the mistral blowing in the south of France -- a strong, often cold wind that gives people headaches or even drives them crazy. Or in Venice, the bora -- "a northern to north-eastern katabatic wind in the Adriatic Sea." Katabatic is another great new word. It means "a wind that carries high-density air from a higher elevation down a slope under the force of gravity." There's also a katabatic wind in Greenland called a piteraq. 

Another wind name is the sirocco, a dusty or rainy wind that blows hot, dry desert-air from North Africa towards the Mediterranean. Long ago, I learned the word sirocco because it was the name of a popular perfume.

It seems that there are many other winds that are remarkable enough to have names -- the chinook winds of the Canadian prairies; the shamal winds in Iraq and the Persian Gulf; the tehuantepecer, or tehuano, winds in Mexico; a williwaw or sudden blast of wind in the Strait of Magellan and elsewhere; and the brickfielder, a summer wind in the desert of Southern Australia. I learned about them from googling, of course.

Note: I haven't read the book titled The Name of the Wind. But I love the little poem "Who has seen the Wind?" by Christina Rossetti. And finally: wind gods gave their names to the winds in many cultures, like the Greek god Zephyr --  as obsessively collected HERE.

Aretha Franklin and Melisma

In a completely different context, during the past week I read many wonderful obituaries for Aretha Franklin, who died last Thursday. A word that's new to me gives a name -- melisma -- to her characteristic way of singing a whole group of notes to just one single word of text:
"In the end, though, it was Franklin’s brilliant musicianship that allowed her to shape her talent and her ideas into an epochal body of work. Her music was always soulful, whether she was singing a call-and-response gospel number or a spun-sugar confection aimed at the pop charts. Her use of melisma was impeccably tasteful — always just enough, never too much. She told stories in a way that made you dance, cry, love, laugh, even try to sing along." (Eugene Robinson, "The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen." Washington Post, August 16, 2018.)
"Another trademark vocal tic was her use of melisma, or gospel or church runs, where she’d dance around a note or a syllable, pushing it to the point of perfection, playing with it until it said what she needed it to say." (Lucy Jones, "Aretha Franklin death: The agony and ecstasy of the Queen of Soul," The Independent, August 16, 2018.)
"With her church-bred voice, the “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” singer brought gospel-style melisma to the pop world. Those vocal runs you hear everybody trying to do on “American Idol” and “The Voice”? That’s all Aretha." ("How Aretha Franklin changed music forever," New York Post, August 16, 2018.)

For more interesting exploration of new and unusual words, check the Wednesday blog posts of Bermuda Onion HERE.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

American Home Life, 1880-1930

American Home Life, 1880-1930: A Social History of Spaces and Services (published 1992) explores the development of American houses and how each room or space took on its modern meaning during the specified time period. Each chapter is the work of a specialist in a particular area of material culture and history.

Chapters cover the design and layout of the rooms in middle class houses, the expectations of what types of activities would take place inside the home or elsewhere, and quite a few other social and economic features of life in one's home. The sense of what parts of family life took place in the "public" or the "private" spaces of the home changed during this era, with one result being that the room known as the parlor more or less disappeared, replaced by a somewhat different functional space known as the living room.

Changing attitudes affected the floor plan and arrangement of rooms in family homes. For example, the way people viewed children affected architecture of houses. At the beginning of this time period, children usually shared an adult's bedroom, but by the end of the era, children were given special nurseries, play rooms, and personal spaces. The book is full of interesting examples of changing attitudes.

Illustration and its caption from Chapter Three: "Children in the House, 1890-1930," by Karin Calvert. (p. 88)
Household technology above all changed dramatically during this era:
"In the forty years between 1890 and 1930, the equipment with which housework was done underwent a veritable industrial revolution. The phrase 'Industrial Revolution' rarely conjures up images of domestic appliances.... Nonetheless, the washing machine and the bathroom are as much products of industrialization as the railroad and the factory -- and they are just as full of social portents." -- From Chapter Nine: "Coal Stoves and Clean Sinks: Housework between 1890 and 1930" by Ruth Schwartz Cowan (p. 211)
Electricity for light and home appliances, gas heat instead of coal or wood stoves, modern cooking ranges, refrigeration, indoor plumbing, and changes in other building products all were important innovations. Building methods had to change to accommodate electric wiring for appliances, electric lighting fixtures, central furnaces with duct work or radiators to deliver heat to each room, and water and sewage pipes. Houses, which formerly had been essentially stand-along buildings, thus developed connections to centralized utilities such as electric plants, water works, and sewage treatment plants.

Color version of an advertisement used to illustrate Chapter One:
"The Modern Look of the Early Twentieth-Century House"
by Candace M. Volz. (p. 29)
Labor-saving devices became more and more common during this time. For example, the vacuum cleaner made it much easier to clean floors. Flush toilets meant no more cleaning of chamber pots. Central heating and the replacement of gas or kerosene lamps with electric lighting removed a terrible source of dirt and grime in homes, and thus meant less time needed for house cleaning. Modern cooking equipment required much less constant attention than tending a coal stove. Electric sewing machines made mending and sewing less time-consuming (though other trends were also at work in respect to clothing and household textiles). 

Household servants were almost an automatic part of middle-class home life at the beginning of this time period, and were becoming less and less common by the end of the era. The slow reduction in immigration during the era meant that immigrant girls were no longer available as servants -- and in 1924, the near-total cessation of immigration put an end to this frequently-used source of domestic workers. Further, factory jobs and retail jobs for women (whether native or immigrants) paid more and offered better working conditions than domestic service. The authors of these studies do not say definitively whether the reduced labor market inspired invention of more labor-saving devices or whether the new ease of housekeeping provided an incentive to households to stop employing as many domestic workers. The two trends seem to have reinforced one another.

The chapters of American Home Life document amazingly many changes in domestic arrangements and in the design and building of houses that still remain in our lives today. Radios and Victrolas (early record players) changed the way that people amused themselves, and thus the way they used spaces in their homes. Even the telephone affected home design. Before the telephone, there was an expectation that people would make a personal call at one's house. This changed to the expectation that prospective visitors would make a telephone call instead. This seems to have ultimately changed the way that the front door and reception area of a home might be designed, since you didn't have to be prepared for frequent unexpected visitors at your door.

Some of the life-cycle events that formerly took place in a private home were appropriated by public institutions during this time. For example, one life event that was usually held in the very formal and rarely-used parlor of a Victorian home was the funeral of a family member. Though we no longer have parlors in our homes, the term "funeral parlor" retains the memory of the former custom.

Jessica H. Foy and Thomas J. Schlereth, the editors of this volume assembled a wonderful selection of articles on a subject that really interests me. Many of the house styles that are illustrated in the book are still visible as I walk around my neighborhood, which was mainly built in the 1920s, and in nearby neighborhoods that are somewhat older. Reading this book gives me some new insights into what I'm seeing and how people are still experiencing home life.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was an influential architect of this era. Here: a household library of his design.
Color version of an illustration in Chapter Four: "Home Libraries: Special Spaces, Reading Places"
by Linda M. Kruger. (p. 110)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cocoa: Who cultivates it? Who processes it? Where does it come from?

"Five companies – Mars, Mondelēz, Ferrero, Nestlé, and Hershey – sell more than half the world’s branded chocolate by value... Just three – Barry Callebaut, Cargill, and Olam – grind nearly two-thirds of the world’s beans." Kristy Leissle, Cocoa (p. 25). 
Above: cocoa pods on a tree in the greenhouse of the botanical garden in Ann Arbor.

Chocolate, as most of us know, comes from cocoa beans that develop in the pod of a tropical tree. Few of us know about the farm workers who tend the trees and harvest the beans. Fewer still know about the economics and trade issues for this luxury food.

Cocoa and chocolate are major commodities. The view of food as a resource or as a commodity is different from viewing its culinary qualities. Kristy Leissle's book Cocoa (published 2018) treats the subject of cocoa as a resource and a commodity, and it explores the conditions in which African, South American, and Asian farmers work to produce this valuable product.

Chocolate is unlike foods that we might see in our own or a neighbor's garden or in a corn field beside an interstate highway. "Nothing about the tree suggests a relationship with industrial chocolate," Leissle writes. Fresh from the pod, cocoa beans "can be bitter and nauseating to eat, even in small quantities." (p. 60 & 63).

Chocolate, obviously, is highly processed. Steps from harvested beans to a candy bar from Hershey, Cadbury, or a boutique brand include removing the beans from the very tough pod, fermenting and drying them, shipping them to a processor, grinding, cooking, and tempering the chocolate, adding ingredients such as sugar and milk, and forming the chocolate mass into familiar shapes. These processing steps almost always take place in several places in the world: fermentation and drying sometimes are done on the farm or in the country of origin of the beans. Grinding, cooking, and tempering are usually done in factories of the major processors, listed in the quote at the beginning of this post. The final steps of making confections are sometimes done by the major industrial processors, sometimes by small-scale artisans.

Cocoa as a commodity has the potential to yield a lot of profit at each step of production. Thus:
"From the earliest records of its uses among the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations, cocoa has always been politicized. In comparison with other food commodities, cocoa has a wide range of values – social, cultural, economic, psychological, physiological, emotional, and so forth – and this book explores many of them. But no matter how else it is valued, cocoa is always a political tool." (p. 37).
The politics of cocoa as a commodity are rooted in the fact that it grows only in the tropics, and is thus a crop from some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world, as illustrated in the graph in the illustration (from Cocoa, page 25).

Chocolate is a luxury product consumed by inhabitants of the industrial regions of the world, the author points out, while its production can only be accomplished by these poor, rural, tropical farmers. Ghana's farmers for example, experience "unreliable electricity, insufficient sanitation facilities, poor schools, and inadequate housing." The cause of these problems is not "that farmers weren’t producing enough cocoa to fund improvement of all those things – it was that the government was not reinvesting cocoa taxes in farming communities." (p. 210).

Cocoa farmers are not privileged to consume chocolate: many have  never even tasted it, and most have not developed a taste for it, except perhaps a thin beverage made from less-processed beans. The author writes:
"While growers in Ghana may not want to eat chocolate regularly, many expressed the desire for chocolate to be available, as a sign of Ghana’s participation in value addition. Chocolate’s inaccessibility was a reminder that, though they fed the industry with its most necessary input, farmers remain marginalized from the realm of the finished product." (p. 86).
I was fascinated by the author's discussions of the lives and challenges of cocoa farmers, especially in the two highly productive African countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana. The political side of this history is that these governments tax and often exploit the cocoa growers, who receive such a small share of the world price for their highly-desirable commodity.

The poverty of the farmers, the fact that women and children on the farms are in an even worse situation than the men, the predatory practices of the governments, and many other aspects of third-world politics are all presented in interesting detail. The author makes every effort to demonstrate that child labor and other things that westerners criticize may be different for people in vastly different environments, and especially that improvements in their lives require very complex thought and appropriate solutions. She writes:
"Singling out cocoa as a sector that uniquely endangers children exposes the cognitive dissonance that results from wanting to eat chocolate – a luxury associated with romance, holidays, and happiness – while not wanting to harm children. Because consumers in the Global North do not benefit from child labor in, say, domestic service in Ghana, chances are they do not experience the same personal conflict upon learning that such exploitation is happening. But were an initiative to make it impossible for children to grow cocoa, there is every chance they would be absorbed into other industries where conditions are as likely to be harmful." (p. 228). 
Finally, Leissle says: "We are used to paying only a little for chocolate and balk at higher prices for what has long been an affordable luxury. This is not to say that shoppers are consciously acting unethically when buying low-priced chocolate. Rather, that low price is part of what sustains an unjust system in which consumers play a role." (p. 228).

I read about this book in the blog "Food Politics," written by Marion Nestle, who says: "If you wonder why food is worth talking about, Cocoa is an excellent illustration of how even something used to make candy connects to many of the most important social, economic, and political issues faced by today’s world." (source)

Friday, August 17, 2018

“White Fragility”

White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin Diangelo is a challenging book full of thought-provoking anecdotes and discussions. It’s currently a best-seller, and I hope that means people will be influenced by the difficult ideas and concepts that the author presents, and will seriously think about the implications of her definition of racism as a feature of society rather than a feature of an individual. Her starting point:

  • “Let me be clear. If your definition of a racist is someone who holds conscious dislike of people because of race, then I agree that it is offensive for me to suggest that you are racist when I don’t know you. I also agree that if this is your definition of racism, and you are against racism, then you are not racist. Now breathe. I am not using this definition of racism, and I am not saying that you are immoral. If you can remain open as I lay out my argument, it should soon begin to make sense.” (p. 13-14)
I hope many people will not only buy, but also read this book with an open mind and willingness to consider the author’s way of seeing our society.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wordy Wednesday: What is authentic? What is mahoosive?

For the next meeting of my culinary book club, I'm rereading Haiming Liu's book From Canton Restaurant to Panda Express: A History of Chinese Food in the United States. On second reading, I am again finding many insights into American history, Chinese history, and more. See this earlier blog post for my review.

One idea that comes up often in Liu's book is authenticity. You'll hear people say often that one or another version of Chinese food is more authentic than another. Above all is the question whether chop suey was even a Chinese dish at all. Liu discusses these questions in a very interesting way.

Liu begins his discussion of authenticity with the earliest Chinese restaurants. These were founded during the Gold Rush and era of the forty-niners in San Francisco, and for the early years had mostly a Chinese audience. Chinese cooks also made Western meals for miners and city people, who didn't seem to want to eat Chinese food. Prejudice against Asians forced many Chinese immigrants to establish either laundries or restaurants because they were excluded from most other trades or professions.

The rising popularity of Chinese food, especially chop suey, dates to the visit of diplomat Li Hongzhang to the US in 1896. In response to the publicity he generated: "The Chinese restaurant businesses made a rebound in the form of chop suey houses. ... Chop suey became an imagined authentic Chinese dish. Chinese immigrants quickly capitalized on the legend. They changed chop suey’s ingredients, flavor, and method of preparation to fit the palate of Americans." (p. 2-3).

Chop suey, the imagined authentic Chinese dish, contrasts to Liu's definition of authentic Chinese food: "In Chinese culinary culture, authentic food means regional cuisines." However, complex issues with authenticity remain: "food authenticity is a fluid and flexible concept. This is especially true considering how Chinese cuisine has become a global phenomenon." (p. 4-6).

Although Americans continued to enjoy chop suey, and were rarely aware of other Chinese foods, by the 1920s they became more aware that chop suey was "only an imagined authentic Chinese food." Specifically, "In 1924, the Los Angeles Times carried an article entitled 'China Has Most of the Things Chinese, But Chop Suey Isn’t to Be Found There.'" The article explained, "China has played a little joke on the world. Its citizens in America have popularized chop suey as if that dish were characteristically Chinese. It is not. It is unknown in China." The New York Times, in 1928, "also noted that the dish was virtually unknown in China." (p. 66).

American consumers continued to view chop suey as the only Chinese food until the 1970s. At this point, interest in actual regional Chinese dishes awakened, especially in New York and Los Angeles. Cooks who had immigrated from Mainland China to Taiwan and then to the US were opening more ambitious restaurants, and the new tastes caught on. Before they came to the US, these refugees fled from the Communist regime in mainland China to Taiwan, bringing with them authentic regional foods: "Customers could find Sichuan spicy beef noodles, Hunan stir-fried chicken, Shandong steamed buns, Shanxi’s hand-sliced noodles, Beijing boiled dumplings or hotpot, Shanghai steamed dumplings, Mongolian roasted mutton, or Yunnan’s rice noodles soaked in burning hot chicken soup, called 'bridge-crossing.' The rapidly growing translocal restaurant business quickly made Taipei a famous tourist destination." (p. 95).

At Peng Garden Restaurant in New York, Chef Peng, one of the Taiwanese/refugee chefs, began to serve Hunan cuisine, especially a dish of his own invention, General Tso's Chicken, which he had invented in Taiwan. Over time, this dish was adapted to American taste, with a sweeter sauce and with broccoli, a vegetable unknown in China. "This contradictory character of General Tso’s chicken or other Hunan dishes made in Taiwan helps us understand the nature of Diaspora Chineseness. Chinese food does not exist in a social vacuum. Authenticity in food culture is often a flexible concept." (p. 101).

Other regional Chinese cuisines, introduced via Taiwanese/refugee chefs of the time, also achieved recognition among Americans. "However, few American customers knew that those Hunan, Sichuan, Mandarin, or Shanghai restaurants were operated by immigrants from Taiwan rather than from mainland China, which did not have diplomatic relations with the United States and could not send immigrants until after 1979." (p. 86).

In 1960s Los Angeles, according to Liu, Chinese immigrants created another new type of Chinese restaurant, with both food and atmosphere designed to attract Chinese customers rather than Westerners. For example, "At the Golden Palace, non-Chinese were ushered to one side of the restaurant, decorated with plush black banquettes and dim lights, and Chinese to the other side, which has a more authentic décor, full lighting, and simple square tables and chairs."  (p. 111).

Trader Joe's soup dumplings. Liu has a long description of the transfer of
this dish from its Shanghai origin to the transplanted community in Taiwan.
Very recently, these dumplings became a fad in the US. Obviously they've
made it all the way to Trader Joe's and my freezer. What's authentic?
At about the same time, "Cecelia Chiang was probably the first restaurateur in San Francisco who wanted to introduce authentic Chinese cuisine with a variety of regional flavors. She opened her first Mandarin Restaurant on Polk Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1962." The Chiang family ran the restaurant for many years, and eventually her son became a partner in the successful and widespread chain P.F. Chang's. He struggled to convince American consumers to accept his more authentic menu, but Liu says his determination succeeded in selling "authentic Chinese food rather than the old-fashioned chop suey type of meals....The inspired concept of this place is to fuse authentic Chinese cooking with the amenities of a fine Western restaurant.” (p. 129-131).

Another example of serving authentic (or almost authentic) Chinese regional dishes to Americans is the fast-food chain Panda Express. Liu points out that their adaptation of Asian flavors is meant to please Americans in shopping malls, university food courts, airports, and other places where the chain competes for customers. He admires their success! But he adds, "It is difficult to say if Panda Express serves authentic or somewhat Americanized Chinese food." (p. 138).

I was very interested the exploration of the questions about authenticity throughout this thought-provoking book. Authenticity can be a perplexed question. Food writers and critics in general talk not only about "authentic" Chinese food but also about "authentic" pizza, "authentic" tacos, "authentic" bagels, "authentic" sushi, and lots of other foods. Usually, they are complaining because the recipe for these items varies from one city or country to another -- or from artisanal to industrial -- and they have a favorite, which they consider to be the real thing. Like Chinese food, these items have often migrated from one culture to another with various ethnic or refugee groups, and comparisons often ignore the natural changes that happen, for better or worse, when people adapt to new circumstances.

According to Jonathan Gold: the world's best pizza. (source)
The late, great Jonathan Gold, for example, was a skeptic on "authentic" pizza, which in some views has authentic versions in Naples, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires (link), and lots of other places -- even Tokyo (link). He wrote: "The words 'authentic,' 'New York' and' pizza' in conjunction mean nothing but trouble... If you ask me, the best New York pizza is made 90 miles north at Pepe's in New Haven, but as a Californian I don't have a vote." (source) Anyway, that didn't mean Gold had no opinion on the world's best pizza. He said "the modernized Margherita made famous by Franco Pepe, whose pizzeria in Caiazzo, north of Naples, is considered by some people (including me) to be the best in the world." (source)

There's really a lot to say about this one word: authentic. And since it's Wordy Wednesday I will share another random word that's entirely new to my vocabulary:


It means very huge. Maybe it applies to authenticity. A mahoosive issue?

Friday, August 10, 2018

What’s for lunch?

Where can you buy fresh local food for lunch? At the Ann Arbor Farmers Market! We went early and were rewarded with
a very close parking space -- parking is scarce. The market is on Wednesday and Saturday -- we chose the less-busy Wednesday.
Corn cooking for lunch just a few hours after we bought it from one of the farmers at the market.

Lunch: corn with salad and Michigan peaches.

Earlier in the week: a tortilla Espagnol (Spanish potato omelet).
Made with local new potatoes and local eggs.
Farmers' Market eggs are remarkably colorful.
Another day: the simplest lunch is cottage cheese with vegetables.
And a bit of home-baked bread.
Muffins with Michigan blueberries. Made in silicone baking cups.
Only muffins for lunch? Decadent!