Sunday, September 30, 2018

September Wrap-Up

September was a short and quiet month in the kitchen, with one trip away from home at the beginning and one at the end. We have continued enjoying the last of the plums, peaches, tomatoes, and other late-summer vegetables from local sources, as well as the early apples, but we know we'll soon be settling for not-so-local choices. During the month, I have shared quite a few photos of our simple meals, but I haven't really made anything new or ambitious. Why would I interfere with the taste of a ripe local tomato, for example!

Honey is one great local item we can get here in Michigan. When you buy it from the bee keeper at the Farmers Market you have a much higher level of confidence that it isn't an adulterated horror show from China!

Although some outdoor chefs cook outside all year, we usually store our Weber grill in the winter. As a last farewell this fall: a new library book has been changing Len's ways of using our grill. Meathead by barbecue chef Meathead Goldwyn (published 2016) has offered all sorts of technical and scientific explanations and suggestions about grilling! A ThermoPop thermometer, which very rapidly registers the temperature of meat on the grill was a suggested purchase inspired by the book. It will also be useful for bread baking.

A Meathead recipe that Len followed with superb results: Marinated Lamb Loin Chops. They were tender and perfectly done. We'll probably end up buying our own copy of the book when it goes back to the library.
The publisher's description lists a number of issues that are included in Meathead -- and they have not disappointed us:
"With the help of physicist and food scientist Prof. Greg Blonder, PhD, of Boston University, he explains why dry brining is better than wet brining; how marinades really work; why rubs shouldn't have salt in them; the importance of digital thermometers; why searing doesn't seal in juices; how salt penetrates but spices don't; when charcoal beats gas and when gas beats charcoal; how to calibrate and tune a grill or smoker; how to keep fish from sticking; cooking with logs; the strengths and weaknesses of the new pellet cookers; tricks for rotisserie cooking; why cooking whole animals is a bad idea; which grill grates are best; and why beer-can chicken is a waste of good beer and nowhere close to the best way to cook a bird." (source)

Besides preparing fresh produce and watching Len use the grill, most of my food activities in September consisted of reading and TV. I posted about several of the food books I read, but not so much about the new Netflix release of the Great British Baking Show.
Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, judges of GBBS.
We binge-watched all 10 episodes of the new GBBS: as always, in the US we are a year behind, so we were watching the 2017 season. It was the first post-BBC season, with new hosts and judges except for Paul Hollywood, but the formula for the show is so standardized, and the three replacements are so similar to the former ones, that I had a feeling that I was just watching it over and over again. But not a bad feeling, just a feeling.

All of the contestants on the first episode of the show. Of course they were eliminated one by one until only three remained.
On every season we have watched you could see the contestants sit like this and wait for judgement at the end of each episode.
It seemed to make sense to just sit down and watch the whole season -- in fact, we did the last six episodes on a single day from 3 PM to 10 PM with a bit of a break for a quick dinner.

The final celebration, GBBS 2017 now on Netflix. Very much like every other final celebration!
We arrived in Seattle Wednesday, September 26, so we're out of the kitchen and into a new no-cooking environment. By the time this post appears on the blog we should be on an expedition to the Pacific Northwest on a National Geographic ship (assuming all goes as planned). We also started the month with some travel to the east coast -- so the month in the kitchen was really very short.

Instead of a kitchen of our own, here's what we have been experiencing for the last few days of September, to complete this wrap-up:

Dinner in Seattle at Duke's Seafood and Chowder: crab cakes and salmon!
Local fish and seafood make a rare treat for us.
Duke's kitchen, not mine!
The kitchen at Daniel's Broiler, showing the salamander where they cook the steaks. 
We ordered our prime rib dinners before they ran out. A huge portion!

The view from our table at Daniel's Broiler, Lake Union, Seattle.
I have scheduled this post to appear on September 30, and will link to Sherry's "In My Kitchen" blog event if I have internet access from the ship, which we board September 29.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Bon Vivant Woodinville Wineries Tour

We spent the day touring Woodinville, Washington, where over 130 wineries are located. The vineyards are in
eastern Washington, as the guide at Chateau Ste. Michelle is indicating in the photo. Some wineries, like Ste. Michelle,
make the wine in Woodinville, while some begin the process near the vineyards and only age the wine in Woodinville.
The operation at Chateau Ste. Michelle, the oldest of the wineries, is massive.
Tasting room at Martedi Wines, a much smaller winery that has
 just one winemaker working in a warehouse rather than a "chateau." 
Chairs custom-made from worn-out wine barrels at Martedi Wines.

At Woodhouse Wine Estates -- another warehouse winery -- we tasted two fabulous Alsatian-style Rieslings.
The winemaker, Jean Claude Beck, talked to us quite a bit. Beck comes from Alsace where his family has been making wine since the 16th century.
Lobo Hills Winery, our last stop -- also in a warehouse.
Lobo Hills Winery tasting room.
Our excellent wine guide and driver Donna from Bon Vivant Tours.
The town of Woodinville is around a half-an-hour's drive from Seattle, while the vineyards are in the  Eastern Washington around 100 miles further away where the climate is favorable to winemaking, unlike the rainy coastal climate. The wineries have chosen the closer location to enable wine tasting and other tourism in the more heavily populated area of the state. We appreciated being able to spend a day there during our visit to Seattle, and to taste the wines and to have a very delicious lunch, and then to return to our hotel without a strenuous trek across the state!

Some wineries own their own vineyards, while others contract with the growers to purchase grapes. The excellent Alsatian-style wine at Woodhouse Wine Estates, for example, is made from grapes grown in exactly the same location each year -- specifically, the same rows of vines. Jean Claude Beck, the winemaker, explained to us how he collaborates with the grower to produce the desired quality of grapes. After the harvest Beck works in a winery near the vineyards, and brings the new wine in casks to the Woodinville warehouse for aging, for wine tasting, and for sales.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Around Seattle

Discovery Park: over 500 acres of woods and shoreline.

We started at the lighthouse and walked through the woods to the Visitor Center. Splendid!

Boats on Lake Union.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Welcome to Seattle!

We flew from Michigan to Seattle this morning, checked into our hotel, and took a long walk past various street art,
street bicycles, and lots of people on the streets. What a young, hip crowd!
Pike Place Market. By the time we got there we were starving!
We ate some raw oysters, crab salad, and deep-fried scallops
at a popular though disorganized lunch counter.
We found an elevator down to the waterfront. Then we had to walk back up.
The first of many stairways was decorated with a large mural.
At the top of the stairs was the Seattle Art Museum, where we spent quite a bit of time looking at the collections
of Pacific Coast Native American art.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Speaking of Pressure Cookers

From E-Bay: my mother's pressure cooker looked pretty much
like this one, including bakelite handles, a jiggly top, and a
metal rack for elevating the food (not shown).
Many bloggers and food publications have been writing about pressure cookers and recipes for using them. Mostly, their pressure cookers are a feature in the latest trendy device, the instant pot. These writers express a lot of surprise and delight -- though there are a few dissenters. Some of the enthusiasts are totally new to pressure cooking, while others have memories of the earlier incarnations of pressure cookers, which were popular in the past.

The Presto Pressure Cooker with a jiggly top that spit out little bursts of steam is the one I most remember from my own childhood. My mother made quite a few dishes in this device, and if memory serves me, she used the appliance manual that's depicted above -- which I conveniently found in facsimile on the website "Hip Cooking."

Unfortunately, my memory of pressure cooking isn't really very nostalgic. Sensations I associate with meals from the pressure cooker:
  • Grey, flavorless food. Except carrots, which stayed orange even when vastly overcooked. 
  • Stringy beef. 
  • Mushy vegetables. Except onions, which became more slimy than mushy.
  • Funny smells.
  • Fear. 
About fear. Would the pot explode? My mother hovered over it watching the steam indicator. She claimed to be waiting for it to finish cooking so she could put it in the sink and run cold water over it according to the manufacturer's instructions from the beginning of the manual. But I think she was really waiting for the catastrophe: green beans on the ceiling. Or worse.

My mother wasn't a bad cook -- I would say the pressure cooker was kind of a lapse. She made really delicious apple pie, classic tuna salad, tasty mashed potatoes, crisp bacon, scrumptious oven-fried chicken, and so on. We ate artisanal bread from a local Jewish bakery, which meant we enjoyed nice toast for breakfast and great sandwiches: yes, I think we made bacon sandwiches on good Jewish rye bread. We sometimes had high-quality T-bone steak -- though it was served well done. I was a lot happier when she discovered frozen vegetables, which were better than either canned or pressure cooked. We liked lots of the foods that were popular in the fifties but may have gone out of fashion -- like Jello and cake-mix layer cake. I guess that the pressure cooked meals were the worst.

To give you an idea of what she would have been pressure cooking, I selected and copied a few recipes from the manual above. I believe my mother made them pretty much as written. I must ask my sister to forgive me for posting these, as I believe she detested them, while I tolerated them without either enthusiasm or disgust.

I'm almost sure she made green beans exactly like this.
I think she followed this recipe except for no green beans. This was a very bland and mushy dish.
After following these instructions, my mother cooked the meat a second time in a sweet-sour sauce.
My father and I liked it. Not so much my sister and brother. My mother never actually told us her food preferences.

Where did the Pressure Cooker come from?

If you ask the Internet this question -- "When was the pressure cooker invented?" -- the answer from the all-knowing Professor Google is:
"In 1679, French physicist Denis Papin, better known for his studies on steam, invented the steam digester in an attempt to reduce the cooking time of food. His airtight cooker used steam pressure to raise the water's boiling point, thus cooking food more quickly."
The National Pressure Cooker Company, maker of Presto cookers, according to Dr. Wikipedia, was founded around the time of the 1939 New York World's Fair where they presented a model similar to the one my mother used in the 1950s. Since then, pressure cookers have been modified and improved several times, mainly with technological safety improvements. Modern ones employ built-in heating elements instead of using the stove top. The current enthusiasts say the new devices also create tastier dishes. I just can't seem to get interested in this extension of my memories.

I eventually gave away both my mother's pressure cooker and the one I received
for a wedding present, as well as the manuals. But now I have an electronic copy.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

J.K.Rowling Strikes Again

I finished reading the latest Cormoran Strike detective tale by Robert Galbraith yesterday. Galbraith, as most people know, is the alter ego of J.K.Rowling, who wanted to start over by using a pseudonym after Harry Potter. She has now published four novels in this series, and I've quite enjoyed them. Dozens of reviews will no doubt be added to those that had already been written before publication, so I'm just going to explore a few things that I really enjoyed in the book.

Lethal White: published last Tuesday.
I love Rowling's sharp eye for detail, for irony, for human weaknesses, and her awareness of how class privilege can create terrible human beings. I love her ear for speech variations, for music (at least in this book where she offers thoughts on listening to pieces as diverse as a Brahms symphony and "Black Trombone" by Serge Gainsbourg), and especially for very odd and wonderfully chosen names of people and places.

Pratt's gentleman's club? Surely, I thought, she made up this wonderful name. No she did not! It's real, and in the acknowledgements, Rowling acknowledges who took her there. However, when Cormoran Strike, in a phone conversation, is invited to meet a client there, his trusty partner Robin says roughly the same thing:
He hung up and returned to the office where Robin was opening and sorting mail. When he told her the upshot of the conversation, she Googled Pratt’s for him.
“I didn’t think places like this still existed,” she said in disbelief, after a minute’s reading off the monitor.  
“Places like what?”  
“It’s a gentleman’s club… very Tory… no women allowed, except as guests of club members at lunchtime… and ‘to avoid confusion,’” Robin read from the Wikipedia page, “‘all male staff members are called George.’”  
“What if they hire a woman?” 
“Apparently they did in the eighties,” said Robin, her expression midway between amusement and disapproval. “They called her Georgina.” (Kindle Locations 1465-1471). 
When he gets to Pratt's (which I Googled too!) he's shown to a dining room by a motherly woman. Through a pass-through he can see a chef carving cold roast beef, and around him:
Here was the very antithesis of the smart restaurants where Strike tailed errant husbands and wives, where the lighting was chosen to complement glass and granite, and sharp-tongued restaurant critics sat like stylish vultures on uncomfortable modern chairs. Pratt’s was dimly lit. Brass picture lights dotted walls papered in dark red, which was largely obscured by stuffed fish in glass cases, hunting prints and political cartoons. In a blue and white tiled niche along one side of the room sat an ancient iron stove. The china plates, the threadbare carpet, the table bearing its homely load of ketchup and mustard all contributed to an ambience of cozy informality, as though a bunch of aristocratic boys had dragged all the things they liked about the grown-up world— its games, its drink and its trophies— down into the basement where Nanny would dole out smiles, comfort and praise." (Kindle Locations 1519-1525). 
His client, Chiswell, a cabinet minister, arrives, a bit late of course:
Once they were seated at the table, which had a stiff, snowy-white tablecloth ... Georgina brought them thick slices of cold roast beef and boiled potatoes. It was English nursery food, plain and unfussy, and none the worse for it. Only when the stewardess had left them in peace, in the dim dining room full of oil paintings and more dead fish, did Chiswell speak again. (Kindle Locations 1552-1555). 
Throughout most of the novel, Strike drinks coffee and beer, eats bacon or deep-fried food -- or tries to abstain in order to control his weight -- and joins friends for Chinese takeout food or a curry. Or this:
Having left in plenty of time, Strike made a detour to a handy McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin and a large coffee, which he consumed at an unwiped table, surrounded by other early Saturday risers. A young man with a boil on the back of his neck was reading the Independent right ahead of Strike.... (Kindle Locations 5068-5071). 
But the wonderfully named (and completely not made-up) Pratt's sets the scene for the novel where Strike and Robin have to deal with many unbearable aristocrats and their vast sense of entitlement. In fact, everything in the book revolves around how their entitlement forms their attitudes and leads them to the crimes that are being detected. In the Harry Potter books, there are wizard families with the same sense of overpowering aristocratic superiority to the more common wizards. Rowling really knows how to use her powers of observation on these rather deficient human specimens, and it makes for very good reading!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wordless Wednesday: From the Farmer’s Market

...with fresh eggs from an Amish farm.

Leeks vinaigrette.

Monday, September 17, 2018

"The House in Smyrna"

Tatiana Salem Levy is a Brazilian writer and journalist who lives in Rio de Janeiro and Lisbon. Her novel The House in Smyrna puzzled me! It won the São Paulo Prize for Literature for best debut novel. It's widely translated and widely praised. I enjoyed it somewhat, but in the last analysis, I don't feel as if I understood it.

Long passages in the novel seem to be really happening to the narrator, but then suddenly they turn out to be her imagination. Or don't!

Sometimes she says she's paralyzed, unable to walk or leave her room. Sometimes she speaks in the first person as herself, sometimes she speaks as her mother, or imagines conversations with one person or another. She can't speak Turkish, but when she is (or imagines herself to be) in Istanbul she suddenly becomes able to talk to people. Then she goes to Smyrna searching for her grandfather's old house, and can't talk to her cousins, who all speak in Ladino. She has long erotic encounters with a boyfriend, but they are often interrupted by thoughts, or maybe just descriptions, of other people and places. I've read books like this, but not so over-the-top!

I do like some of the author's imaginative descriptions about her past, about her grandfather's early life and departure from Smyrna to Brazil, about her parents' ordeal in hiding from the Brazilian dictatorship and their exile to Portugal where she was born. But in the end, I craved clarity -- more clarity in the writing, even if the character herself was confused or demented.

Here's a sample of a passage that I enjoyed -- and could follow!
"Last night I had a strange dream. A nightmare. I arrived at my grandfather’s house in Turkey, a big, beautiful, very old house with ornate walls, like an embroidered dress. ...
"Suddenly, I heard a loud creak. It was the door opening. A man of about my father’s age appeared, inviting me in. It’s here, come inside, come into your house. I was surprised. Why was this man speaking Portuguese? Come, he said again. When I entered, the house was full of people, young and old, and they all had something familiar about them. The men were wearing kippahs, and most — but not all — of the women had white scarves draped over their shoulders. They surrounded me, hugging me, welcoming me: This is your home, they said. The table was laden with bread, honey, apples, matzah, wine, boyos, cheese, bourekas, and almonds. Come, take a seat, we’ve made you some treats.  
"I wasn’t hungry, but the smell was so inviting that I couldn’t resist. I started with the cheese and the eggplant bourekas. But I soon realised that I was the only one eating; in fact, I was the only one sitting at the table. As I ate, they all just stood there watching me, as if I were a strange animal, an exotic jungle creature. I stopped chewing and looked for a face that I recognised. I was afraid. They all noticed and began to laugh. I raced to the door, wanting out, certain that I was in the wrong house. Then I heard a deep voice say: This is your family! I tried to open the door, but it was locked again and now I had no key at all. The laughter grew louder and louder, as I screamed: Where’s the key?  
"I woke up drenched with sweat, lying in my bed, in my room, in my apartment." (Kindle Locations 335-353). 
And another I liked, though I don't know if she was really in Istanbul or just imagining that she was there:
"I was ambling along in Istanbul’s scalding heat when I came across a cucumber stall. An elderly man was skilfully peeling them and selling each one for a few cents. Small, medium, and large cucumbers. Whole, with nothing but salt. I was amazed — it was the first time I’d seen anything like it. At the same time, nothing could have been more familiar: salted cucumbers, to be eaten as rabbits eat carrots in cartoons. When I was a girl, I refused to eat lunch or dinner without first having a cucumber, whole, with salt." (Kindle Locations 649-652). 
 It's good to get out of my comfort zone, and read an unusual author. I've read a few other Brazilian works of fiction, especially several novels by Jorge Amado, Moacyr Scliar, and Clarice Lispector. I should read more of them!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Ann Arbor Railroad Bridges

Driving north on Main Street I've often noticed this castle-like decoration on the rail overpass.
Makeshift stone towers have been erected all over the area too.
Handprints on the trestles.

An ordinary graffiti artist has also been in the area!
On the other side of the river...