Saturday, August 31, 2019

August in My Kitchen: A Wrap-up

Summer harvests and outdoor activities -- by August, it seems a bit urgent to enjoy these pleasures before the weather changes and the days get really short. In my kitchen, most of the food preparation this month has involved either fresh produce or cooking on the big Weber grill we bought in July, including a new home-made barbecue sauce (recipe below). Not much new stuff here -- sorry if I've mentioned much of this in the course of this month's posts!

Local Produce 

Peaches and tomatoes and corn: the best Michigan produce of all, as far as I'm concerned! We tried several types of heirloom tomatoes, including sweet zebra tomatoes with green and yellow stripes.

Local tomatoes, corn, peppers, & zucchini. Sometimes we get local lamb, but this is from far far away in Australia via Costco.
Throughout August, I frequently shopped at the local farm consignment shop, as well as at the Farmers' Market. Somehow I haven't done any preserving or freezing this summer. We just buy fruit and vegetables, prepare them, and eat them. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned, it's not a good year for tree fruit, as the severe winter damaged and even killed many fruit trees in this area. Our peaches are coming from across the state or from further south. Local melons are doing ok, however (just didn't happen to take a photo). And on occasion, I vary this menu with a few fruits that don't grow here, like figs or mangoes, which are in season far away.

Salad: red and yellow tomatoes with cucumber, lettuce, & cottage cheese.

Cabbage, carrots, and onions are also grown by local farmers.
A carrot and cabbage salad is good with many of the barbecues.

On the Grill: My Outdoor Kitchen

Of course we had to try making ribs! They cook for two or three hours,
first over the drip pan, then briefly over the hot coals.

A serving of ribs with some rice pilaf and a dipping dish of home-made sauce, recipe below.

A Very Good Barbecue Sauce

From the Meathead cookbook (p. 185), we tried this delicious sauce for ribs or chicken. It has an intriguing flavor that you can't quite identify --

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon chipotle chile powder [I substituted smoked paprika]

Meathead says to combine the sugar and water and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the other ingredients, stir well, and simmer for 30 minutes more. I did it this way the first time; the second time, I just put all the ingredients in a pot, stirred, and simmered for 30 minutes. Both worked equally well. You can tell it's a good recipe since I made it twice in around 2 weeks. 

For a crowd, we cooked both chicken and corn at the same time,
using both the new & old grills. With the BBQ sauce!
You can see the chimney that is used to light the charcoal.

New Kitchen Desk Accessory

One new item: a small organizer for papers and the calendar I keep on the kitchen counter.
The only time I make meal plans is when I have guests, but I need the note pads and so on to do this.

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Photos and text copyright © 2019 by Len & Mae E. Sander for maefood dot

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Melodramatic Gypsy Fiction

Recently, I read The Snow Gypsy by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, which my brother recommended, although he warned me that it was melodramatic. It quite definitely was, as you would expect in a novel about gypsies. He thought I would like it because it was set in a time and in places that I find interesting, which I did, but I still had some critiques. Also I thought the plot included too many coincidences. My brother agreed with this.

I have problems with a lot of historical novels that are popular right now because the authors are really pretty sloppy about research. The characters they portray manage to be a little too conforming to current tastes: like two women in The Snow Gypsy both want independence not marriage. And at least one was nevertheless available for the obligatory breathless sex scenes that publishers of these books demand. The profession of the main character, Rose, also has a lot of appeal for contemporary readers: she was a veterinarian who specialized in herbal cures -- and based on a real woman's autobiography.

I'm aware that the intended audience for books like this does not have high expectations for historical accuracy. Despite this, it sometimes bothers me that they also seem to believe they are learning about history by reading them.

I would love to know if the author's descriptions of food in the book are historically accurate. I really enjoyed them, but don't know whether to trust them -- the stews made by the gypsies and the fruit from the trees in the mountain village do conform to stereotypes, for what it's worth. The dish that was most often mentioned was called migas. Rose, who is learning about life in rural Spain, hears of it because it's a favorite of a child she has taken responsibility for, and they eat it very often throughout the book: "Migas was a dish she’d never heard of before coming to Spain. Breadcrumbs fried in pork fat and garlic, served with whatever else you might have in the larder." (The Snow Gypsy, p. 194). 

I'm not that well-informed about Spain or about the gypsy pilgrimage to Les-Saintes-Maries de la Mer in the Camargues so I can't critique those parts, although I suspect that the descriptions were based on the way those places are now, not on history. I have been to Les-Saintes-Maries and to Grenada, Spain, where much of the action takes place, and my memories did make the reading more enjoyable. As far as I know, the post-Civil-War terrorizing of the population in Spain was quite accurate, as I've read in actual history books like The Assassination of Garcia Lorca by Ian Gibson.

A few historic claims did bother me. The parts about the characters' memories of the deportation and fate of French Jews in World War II didn't work for me. The book takes place in 1946, but the characters all knew way more about the fate of their relatives than I think had been uncovered by that time. A few other details were dubious as well. For example, a doctor treating a child in a remote Spanish village  mentions that he could use penicillin, but didn't think he should. At that time, penicillin was only available in certain military hospitals and other venues controlled by the US/Britain. I wondered: hadn't the author seen the movie "The Third Man" which is exactly about black market penicillin in the late 1940s.

Finally, I was amused when the heroine keeps getting more and more clothing and other things out of her rucksack -- "Crammed into the main compartment were a tent, cooking utensils, and a sleeping bag, along with a few basic toiletries and a small assortment of clothes." (pp. 39-40).  She even had a "nightdress" and some dressing-up items. The author didn't seem to know that tents and sleeping bags were quite bulky before nylon became available for camping gear. Not really important, just perhaps a bit anachronistic.

I think my interest in real history gets in the way of my enjoying a certain genre of "historic" novels like this one, and that most readers, including my brother, just aren't bothered.

The author's descriptions of flamingos and horses near the Gypsy meeting place in the south of France did trigger my
memories... here's a photo I posted during our trip there in 2016.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Recent Reading

Bruno, Chief of Police

First: for this month's culinary reading group, we chose the initial book in Martin Walker's long series: Bruno, Chief of Police: A Mystery of the French Countryside.  Everyone enjoyed reading it, and I was glad to have recommended it: one participant enjoyed it so much that she's reading the entire series.

Briefly: Bruno works in St. Denis, an idealized French village, where all problems can be resolved, even very deep issues left over from the divided loyalties of resistants and collaborators in World War II. There's a lot of good food, and much about local food production. From Walker's introduction to the town:
"From the secretaries and social workers to the street sweepers and tax assessors, the staff of the Mairie would also be at Fauquet’s, nibbling their croissants and taking their the tartes aux citron and the millefeuilles they might take home for lunch along with the essential baguette of fresh bread and scanning the headlines of that morning’s Sud Ouest. Alongside them would be a knot of old men studying the racing form and enjoying their first petit blanc of the day. Bachelot the shoemaker would take his morning glass there, while the neighbor he despised, Jean-Pierre, who ran the bicycle shop, would start his day at the Café de la Libération. Their enmity went back to the days of the Resistance, when one of them had been in a communist group and the other had joined de Gaulle’s Armée Secrète..." (Bruno, Chief of Police, p. 7). 
 I've written about this series before, especially about the most recent one titled The Body in the Castle Well.

Stone Cold Heart

Second: this weekend I read Stone Cold Heart, a police procedural by Caz Frear, sequel to Sweet Little Lies (which I wrote about here). I didn't like it quite as much as the first in the series, though it's not bad, just a little too long-winded. I found the character development in Sweet Little Lies to be more effective as well.

In the first book there were a lot of good wisecracks and punchy observations. This one: not quite so much. But here's one that I liked, a quote from a conversation with the police department shrink:
“I took Gill to Paris last year and she dragged me to the Louvre. Do you know what we saw there? People— and I’m not just talking kids, grown-ups too— taking photos of themselves in front of the Mona Lisa. The most famous bloody painting in the world and folk think they need to put their ugly mugs in front of it. If that’s not narcissism, you tell me what is.” (Stone Cold Heart, p. 240). 


My third recent book, earlier this week, was Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, an account of one family's experience during and after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The hurricane hit the city at the end of August in 2005, and the book was published in 2009.

Zeitoun is a very painful book to read, because the central character, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, was unbearably abused by the FEMA authorities. Jailed for no good reason, he and many others were held without trial and without respect for their constitutional rights. Although his status as a Syrian immigrant was part of the reason why he was so badly treated, many other people of various origins received equally horrible misuse.

The pain and humiliation of Zeitoun's experience was all too real, and the resonance with our current arbitrary imprisonment of immigrants was all too clear. I don't feel like writing more about the details, except to say that it's an extremely well-organized and readable book.
Text copyright © 2019 Mae E. Sander for maefood dot

Friday, August 23, 2019

Family Dinner

Ready to go with bread: wine, goat cheese spread.

An enjoyable summer meal with family! Guests: Len's sister and her family. The menu included a first course, outdoors, of Len's bread, wine, and cheese. Then: grilled corn and spatchcocked chicken, two of our favorite outdoor dishes. We also had a green salad, a wheatberry salad, and brioche with blueberries for dessert. And just the right amount of wine.

Copyright photos posted by Mae at maefood dot blogspot dot com. 
If you are reading this at another blog it's been stolen.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


While others look at birds, I was looking for interesting insects and butterflies. I know nothing about them except that they are very beautiful!

Copyright photos posted by mae at maefood dot blogspot dot com. 
If you read this post elsewhere, it's been stolen.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Nell Irvin Painter, A Fascinating Author

I have just read a fascinating book dealing with the intellectual and social history of the United States. I found it because its author, Nell Irvin Painter, wrote a very enlightening op-ed about the history of Jamestown that's being celebrated this week. The op-ed was "How we think about the term 'enslaved' matters: 400 years ago, the first Africans who came to America were not ‘enslaved’, they were indentured – and this makes a crucial difference when we think about the meanings of our past." (link)

The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter describes the way that Western societies historically created the concept of races and at the same time, developed a wide variety of race prejudice and bigoted, unscientific racial theories. Simultaneously, Painter demonstrates the interconnection of racial theories with the institutions of slavery and social inequality. One reason I liked the book is that it so often highlighted issues that have plagued our country from the beginning; for example, consider this: "The U.S. census of 1850 was the first to collect statistics on immigrants." (Kindle Locations 2242-2243).

The History of White People begins in ancient Greece. The Greeks are relevant not because they invented modern racial consciousness -- they did not -- but because their views of who they were (and who other people were) influenced 18th and 19th century European writers' construction of racial definitions and racial inequalities. In turn, the European theorists provided American intellectuals with a theory of race that supported emerging injustice, exploitation, and abuse of a number of immigrant groups, as well as a justification of enslavement of blacks. While I had heard of many of the European and American thinkers and writers that Painter describes, I had a very naive and unformed view of how their ideas on race influenced American society and prejudice.

Among the many 18th and 19th century Americans Painter discusses, I was especially interested in her portrayal of Ralph Waldo Emerson -- a famous American whose essays I read in high school and who then basically dropped out of my experience with history and literature. Painter writes:
"Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) towers over his age as the embodiment of the American renaissance, but not, though he also should, as the philosopher king of American white race theory. Widely hailed for his intellectual strength and prodigious output, Emerson wrote the earliest full-length statement of the ideology later termed Anglo-Saxonist, synthesizing all the salient nineteenth-and early twentieth-century concepts of American whiteness."(Kindle Locations 2449-2452).
In a later chapter on Emerson she says:
"Without his saying so directly, his definition of American excluded non-Christians and virtually all poor whites. Native American Indians and African Americans did not count. In English Traits, when he tallies up the American population, Emerson explicitly excludes the enslaved and skips over native peoples entirely." (Kindle Locations 3011-3013). 
Painter includes descriptions of many other towering figures in the American development of race-consciousness, race definition, and discrimination against an ever-changing list of "races" such as the Irish, the Jews, the Slavs, the Mexicans, the Chinese, and many more. She describes how each group gradually achieved the status of equality to the mainstream "white" race, obviously always leaving out black people.

She also describes the thinkers who contributed to a change in intellectual support of racist views. One of these was the anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942), an immigrant from Germany. Several of his students including Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Zora Neale Hurston, and others, were important in opposing earlier anthropologists who propagated prejudicial views of races and immigrants. Boas was ahead of his time in challenging contemporary prejudice. Painter writes:
"In 1906 he made another brave gesture toward racial tolerance by accepting an invitation from the pioneering African American social scientist W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) to deliver a commencement address at Atlanta University. Not only was Boas a white scholar willing to go to a black institution; he came with a message of encouragement for young people about to enter a hostile America. Quite amazingly for 1906, he assured them they had nothing to be ashamed of. Other races— the ancestors of imperial Romans and the northern European barbarians— had endured their own dark ages. Now, if educated young black people could understand the 'capabilities of [their] own race,' they could attack 'the feeling of contempt of [their] race at its very roots,' and thereby 'work out its own salvation.'" (Kindle Locations 3715-3721). 
The effect on American attitudes towards race of the two World Wars, the Depression, the New Deal, the post-war GI Bill, and a variety of other government programs are all presented in fascinating detail, but I can't possibly reproduce all of Painter's amazing way to look at 20th century history. One example: the following passage about the New Deal:
"The New Deal coalition, in fact, was as lumpy as could be, with certain parts working against the interests of others. The needs of working-class northern black voters, for instance, took a backseat to the powerful southern Democrats’ obsession with white supremacy and abhorrence of labor unions. Southerners in Congress kept the New Deal segregated, so that black people were largely excluded from policies regarding labor, housing, education. The newly created Social Security Administration, for example, excluded the two largest categories of black workers, those laboring on farms and in domestic service. The military, of course, remained either segregated (Army, Navy) or exclusionary (Marines, Air Force). African Americans got the worst of it, and President Roosevelt also balanced the interests of his Jewish constituencies against the preferences of his Catholics, as in the case of the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin." (Kindle Locations 5540-5547).
Painter's account continues with interesting summaries of the Black Power movement and other trends of the late 20th century. It ends about 10 years ago as the book's publication date is 2011. Unfortunately, many of the offensive ideas from early times that are described in the book seemed to have been put to rest by many events in society, including that when she wrote, we had President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama "whose skin color alone would have condemned her to ugliness in the twentieth century, figures as an icon of beauty and intelligence on the global stage." (Kindle Locations 6195-6196).

Unfortunately, we've now regressed, which makes The History of White People all the more important. On a recent trip to Detroit, I especially thought about how the centuries of mistreatment of Black people documented in this book brought about the terrible living conditions that you see when driving through neighborhoods of derelict homes, boarded-up businesses, and vacant lots. The contrast is painful between these areas and the prosperity visible just over the dividing line with Grosse Pointe. It's a tragic reality.

I think the following sentences make a good summary of the most basic premise of the book:
"In a society largely based on African slavery and founded in the era that invented the very idea of race, race as color has always played a prominent role." (Kindle Locations 2138-2139).
"No consensus has ever formed on the number of human races or even on the number of white races." (Kindle Locations 6103-6104).  

This post is written and copyright © 2019 by Mae E. Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com. 
If you are reading this at another blog, it's been stolen.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"Save Me the Plums" by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl's writing is irresistible. Although her admiration for herself and her accomplishments is justified, and she's convincing about what a remarkable writer, reviewer, editor, and manager she has been, I still find her well-presented ego just a little hard to take. I'm sure she's right that she did a remarkable job of recreating Gourmet magazine, and that the publisher Si Newhouse was wrong to suddenly discontinue publication.

Maybe it's not really name-dropping for her to describe all the famous writers whom she persuaded to write for Gourmet. Maybe she's not showing off by describing a trip to Paris with the Gourmet staff when they stayed at a different luxury hotel every night.

Maybe it's not really snobbish to list numerous famous restaurants in New York where she had once written reviews for the New York Times, and to tell how as editor of Gourmet she ate there with the rich and powerful people who were part of her job. Or to tell how the chefs all worshipped her, and the limo driver begged her to call on him again.

Maybe it's not really egoistic to tell how she fulfilled all her mother's wishes to eat in the most expensive and opulent places in New York. And to belong there as her mother wished to do. I've chosen the following rather long passage to illustrates Reichl's very skillful way of entwining her past as an ordinary kid, her Gourmet experience as one of the highly esteemed leaders of New York, and the atmosphere of one of the most famous and exclusive dining places in the city. Ultimately, what she shows most effectively is how Ruth Reichl is the greatest --
WALKING INTO THE Four Seasons, I couldn’t help thinking of my mother. For months before the restaurant opened in 1959, Mom pounced on every single word written about the luxurious new establishment. “It’s called the Four Seasons because it’s going to change with each season,” she informed Dad and me. “Not just the menu, but the entire décor will be redone every three months!” She regaled us with breathless descriptions of the interior, designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, describing in minute detail the dramatic Richard Lippold sculpture hanging above the bar. “It’s supposed to look like bronze icicles,” she said. But what intrigued her most was the famous Picasso curtain....  
While Mom and Dad nibbled nuts and nursed martinis, I enjoyed the city’s most expensive glass of orange juice. But a single drink, no matter how slowly you sip, can last only so long. Mom sighed when Dad asked for the check, looking wistfully around: She longed to stay for dinner.  
Still, the restaurant’s spell stayed with Mom as we dined on fifty-cent sausages down the street at Zum Zum. Grateful for her continued happiness, Dad picked up her hand, wiped away a spot of mustard, and kissed it. “Someday,” he promised, “I’ll take you to dinner at the Four Seasons.”  
Sadly, he never did. Now, entering a room that still radiated power, I tried seeing it through my mother’s eyes. It was not, I realized, a dining room: It was a kind of living theater. 
I surveyed the captains of industry seated with such easy arrogance at their capacious tables: None of them had come to eat. They were here because they could be seen but never overheard. They were here because the light in the room made everyone look better. They were here to bask in the obsequious sarcasm of the owner, Julian Niccolini, an elegantly attired Tuscan with saturnine good looks, who made sure that meals for these extremely busy people never lasted too long. They were here because no annoying check was ever presented; when lunch was over they simply strolled off. (How Mom would have loved that little detail!) They were here, ultimately, because everybody else in their world was here too. (pp. 134-136). 
Save Me the Plums is a book about how the world of these incredibly powerful, rich, beautiful, and successful people became her world -- at least for a while. And how she deserved it.

I've read Reichl’s three earlier memoirs. I liked Tender at the Bone very much -- it was the first I had heard of her. I loved Garlic and Sapphires, especially because I attended her presentation on a book tour promoting it; she spoke at the original Borders Books. (Later a chain, it was founded here in Ann Arbor, and attracted very good authors in the old days of book tours).

I hesitated to read Save Me the Plums. I was afraid it would be too egotistical. I guess it was, but I couldn't miss it. Maybe the most surprising thing is how much she talked about her mother again -- as she had in Tender at the Bone.

I confess that I was not a reader of Gourmet during her tenure as Editor in Chief there. In the book, when she talks about the readership of the print magazine as she pictured it, I feel that I'm probably not the type of reader she wanted. However, I did read Gourmet's online site, and I enjoyed her description of the struggles she and her staff had to create that website which seemed to be kind of a step-child. Maybe this disqualifies me to review her book. Maybe not.

All content in this post is written and copyright © 2019 by Mae E. Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com. If you are reading this at another blog, it's been stolen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"Savage Feast" by Boris FIshman

Boris Fishman's latest book, published last February, is Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (A Memoir with Recipes). It has quite a few themes and characters in common with his autobiographical novel A Replacement Life -- tormented Russian immigrants in New York, fraught family dynamics, Jewish guilt, and mountains of traditional Russian food. (I reviewed it a few years ago -- link.

The new book has more food and guilt, fewer Russians, and far less of a plot, though there is some character development of the author (narrator), including a lot of details about his struggle with clinical depression. I enjoyed it but I don't have much to say about it. My favorite food passages in the book are almost stereotyped, but not quite:
"My grandmother didn’t know how to set the table for our guest— would Soviet food seem paltry next to the glories to which this former countrywoman now surely had access in American supermarkets? ... In times of uncertainty among kinspeople, lean on the Jewish regimen. Dill-flecked chicken bouillon with kneidels (matzoh balls, from matzoh baked and delivered by secret couriers at night); a chicken stuffed with macaroni and fried gizzards; the neck skin of several chickens tied together and stuffed with caramelized onion, flour, and dill to make a sausage-like item called helzel. For excess, there was deconstructed, or 'lazy,' stuffed cabbage— everything that would have stewed inside a cabbage leaf shredded and shaped into patties instead— and a chicken rulet: a deboned chicken layered with sautéed garlic, caramelized carrot, and hard-boiled egg, then rolled up and fastened for cooking with needle and thread." (Savage Feast, p. 58). 
There's an intriguing description of a soup I didn't really know about:
He was making ukha (oo-HA)— salmon soup; he had the salmon steak cubed and ready to go. Everyone thinks Russians eat borshch, but borshch is the Ukrainian mother soup. Russians eat it, too, but a Russian’s home soup is ukha. Root vegetables are all good, but without freshwater fish— pike, carp, sturgeon— Russia isn’t Russia. (Literally: Siberia survives on pike. There’s so much pike there, it’s dog food.) I had tried to explain to the lox lovers of the Upper West Side and the cedar-plank salmon eaters of the Northwest just what a thing ukha was, but they heard “boiled salmon” and tuned out. It was my mother soup. On a cold night, a bowl of ukha made things right for five minutes. We ate quickly." (pp. 181-182). 
On a visit to a town in Ukraine with Oksana -- the author's grandfather's home aide who becomes a kind of outsider-family member -- he attends a funeral meal for Oksana's mother:
"I felt a prisoner’s hunger. Oksana had made rabbit in sour cream, ribs with pickled cabbage, a radish salad, pickled watermelon, and a waiting table of cakes and profiteroles 'Ukrainian style.' An empty chair had in front of it a vodka-filled shot glass covered with a piece of black bread— a commemorative spot for Oksana’s mother. The in-laws had arrived from their town with gifts from the village: canned river fish, canned zucchini, tomatoes marinated and brined. Also a five-gallon plastic drum of spring water that I belatedly discovered to contain not spring water but moonshine, and a huge jar of beet juice that had been fermenting for more than a week." (p. 244). 
I particularly enjoyed this description of a Russian restaurant in New York:
"One Sunday night, a friend and I went through three rounds at a neighborhood bar and, gin in my head, I forgot to cross to the right side of Delancey Street when we walked past the restaurant. My friend was a Russian non-Russian like me, and we probably thought the same thing: Whatever affectation we’d find inside would at least share nothing with the studied scruffiness of a Lower East Side cocktail den circa 2015. Also, Russian food soaked up booze really well. 
"It was beautiful inside. Blood-red walls, soft light, decorative chaos: a pressed-tin ceiling, blocks of mirrors, photographs hung up with clothespins. And the menu was both familiar and not: bliny, but also cucumber-and-pomegranate salad; borshch, but also pistachio-and-fenugreek shrimp. The restaurant felt like nothing but itself, an elusive commodity in the city that has everything." (pp. 287-288). 
All in all, Savage Feast is a pretty good book, though not as interesting as some of the other books I have read about the Russian-Jewish immigrant experience in the US. It includes many recipes, though some are a bit repetitive, including a repeat of the exact words explaining why you roast a chicken at high heat and also of how you turn pancakes with your fingers. I have not tried any of the recipes, though they might be ok.

Copyright © 2019 Mae E. Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Mission Impossible

The Impossible Burger! 
We wanted to know what it tastes like, this new vegetarian burger that is supposed to blow up the entire food industry (one of these days). So much publicity for a meat-like patty that's made from water, soy-protein concentrate, coconut oil, and bits and bobs of potato protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, modified food starch, soy leghemoglobin, salt, and soy-protein isolate. What's that about ingredients you never heard of? About eating things your grandmother never heard of?

We bought a Burger King Impossible Whopper and an ordinary Whopper.
We each ate half of each one. They look & smell the same.
The beef Whopper's paper was greasier.
The taste is virtually identical. They both need catsup.
I ate mine in alternate bites. Really alike.
So new that they don't appear on the lighted placards above the cash registers!

Friday, August 09, 2019

What is Courage?

"Je n'ai pas peur de la mort; j'aime mon pays et je meurs pour sa libèration, comme l'ont fait mes amis. [I am not afraid of death; I love my country and I die for its liberation, as my friends have done.]" So said France Bloch-Sérazin just before she was put to death by the Nazis on  February 12, 1943. For two years before her capture, France Bloch-Sérazin had used her training as a chemist to prepare materials for the Resistance against the Nazis in Paris. In makeshift laboratories she prepared explosives and weapons to be used to oppose the occupation. The constant risks she took were shared with her husband Fredo Sérazin. During this time, she gave birth to her son and cared for him while engaging in resistance activities. She continued despite her husband's arrest and imprisonment. She died a few weeks before her thirtieth birthday.

These early resistants were members of the French Communist Party, as well as being ardent patriots and anti-Nazis, according to Alain Quella-Villéger, author of the book France Bloch-Sérazin: Une femme en résistance (1913-1943), which was just published last May. Although I had heard about France Bloch-Sérazin before, I was fascinated by the detailed descriptions of how she worked in the resistance, communicated with fellow resistants by arranged meetings in cafes, in the Metro, and in other Paris locations; delivered documents and weapons and led a life that was unimaginably risky.

France Bloch-Sérazin was a Communist by conviction and by family ties: her father, Jean-Richard Bloch (1884-1947) was a famous author as well as a Party member, and several other family members were also highly political and involved in the resistance. In particular, her brother Michel Bloch (1911-2000) and his wife Colette Bloch (1919-2016) carried documents between the occupied and unoccupied French territories, until Michel was arrested and imprisoned for the remainder of the war. In 1989, we met Michel and Collette, who lived in the family home in Poitiers, France. This home also played a large role in Quella-Villéger's narrative of France Bloch-Sérazin's short life. We were moved by their description of their activities and their sister's role in the war, and impressed by the courage that all had possessed. This connection, and our continuing friendship with Laurent Bloch, son of Michel and Collette, led me to read this new book.

France Bloch-Sérazin's death sentence was carried out in secrecy under the Nazi program of punishment of opponents: Nacht und Nebel or Nuit et Brouillard or Night and Fog. Her family knew only of her arrest, and didn't know her fate, or even if she had somehow survived, until they had spent agonizing time searching after the end of the war. They also were searching for information about other family members who had died, particularly Jean-Richard Bloch's mother, who had been deported and gassed at Auschwitz along with hundreds of thousands of fellow Jews from France.

Quella-Villéger especially illuminates the horror of the aftermath of the war in France. As I read, I remembered other accounts of the desperate search for information about those who had disappeared, the emotional climate of a country that had been physically destroyed, the horrendous political divisions by which many French people had collaborated with the Nazi occupation, and for many surviving French people dealing with experience of the deportation of many neighbors and friends.

The memory of France Bloch-Sérazin and other women of courage and conviction who worked to oppose the Nazis in France was little recognized after the war, for a number of political reasons, which the author touches on briefly. He views this as a tragic story, as an incompletely recognized story, and above all as a story of great courage and determination.

Author of this blog post: Mae E. Sander, to be published at my two blogs, maefood dot blogspot dot com and https://hero-or-antihero, Hero-or-Antihero dot blogspot dot com. If you are reading this elsewhere, it's been stolen.

Copyright © 2019 Mae E. Sander

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Colorful Summertime

Lotus are blooming at Lake Erie Metropark, Brownstown Charter Township, MI.
The American Lotus is found in Michigan's marshes and wetlands and near the Great Lakes.

Bonsai, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor. According to the label, this Rocky Mountain Juniper is
800 to 1000 years old. I assume that it's been trained as a bonsai tree for a shorter time than that!
A Henslow's Sparrow in a Washtenaw County wildlife area.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

"Sacred Cow Mad Cow"

Madeleine Ferrières, a professor of social history at the University of Avignon, France, published Sacred Cow Mad Cow: A History of Food Fears in 2001; the English translation was published a few years later. Unfortunately, the early chapters of the book are very boring accounts of the way meat was raised, slaughtered, butchered, and inspected in the medieval and early modern eras. On my second try reading it, I managed to get into the much better chapters about the 18th and 19th centuries!

The book made one thing clear: food fears in the past were almost always fears of the unknown. Before the 19th century research by Pasteur and others, microorganisms caused the most mysterious and frightening effects of food preparation and consumption. Accidental poisoning was another source of disaster and fear, especially lead poisoning, copper-kettle poisoning, and poisoning from dangerous colorants used to improve the look of foods.

I was fascinated by the way people tried to deal with the evidence of these unseen agents in past times, and how terrifying these processes could be. Although the level of detail about food regulation in the medieval and early modern periods is somewhat excessive, the book offers a very fascinating portrait of how people tried to avoid food poisoning and food-borne disease.

A few examples of fear and awe towards effects of microorganisms before science explained them:
  • Contagious diseases that humans could catch from animals quickly, like anthrax, were very frightening. Often no one had any solutions except maybe supernatural explanations like witchcraft.
  • Slow contagion from diseases like TB (which cows definitely suffer from and transmit) were even more baffling, and often led to disfunction such as the belief that milk prevented TB.
  • Catastrophic diseases from spoiled crops, like ergotism in rye bread, were especially alarming. People realized that rye flour could harbor the cause of the disease, but their reactions were often dysfunctional.
  • Above all, many efforts to recognize the causes of contaminated food were partially correct, but often led to difficulty. Especially, farmers were always reluctant to discard potentially dangerous animals or crops. Many people who could afford it attempted to keep all food prep and much of the production under their control. For example, there were milk sheds where cattle lived in cities because people liked to buy milk directly from the cow or goat. Of course this resulted in hygiene disasters in dealing with animal waste inside cities.
  • Even beneficial organisms like the yeasts and lactobacillus that work on bread, beer, and wine, were the subject of much superstition, fear, and ineffective beliefs and practices. 
Little was known about nutrients until the 19th century, and what was known was often incorrect. Scurvy, a recognized risk, could be cured by eating produce, but fresh fruit was not always trusted because, it seems, you can make yourself sick by eating too much green fruit when it first comes into season and you have a vitamin deficiency due to no produce in late winter and early spring. Early analysis of nutritional value was also off track, as they concluded that vegetables and fruits were not worth eating because they were too low in energy/calories. The discovery of vitamins didn't occur until the early 20th century.

In the 19th century, scientists discovered quite a few important facts about nutrients, poisons, and microbiology. However, new inventions like canning and preserving methods or addition of nitrates to salted meats caused new problems. Botulism and other spoilage were a new experience when the invention of canning was applied without full understanding of sterile conditions -- thus new fears! Many new additives were tried, some with bad consequences, especially the addition of verdigris, a copper salt, to make canned foods like peas or pickles look "naturally" green. More fear!

Of course we have our own irrational reactions to new dangers, as well as scientific efforts to understand and curb them -- the book's title refers to the panic over Mad Cow Disease that took place shortly before its publication. We also have our own problems with the state of science in knowing what's good for us: eggs, for example. Harmful or beneficial? Clearly, however, people today have access to much better information for understanding the foods they eat, and regulation of dangerous substances, food processing, and agricultural practices is hopefully based on better science.

One reason I chose to read this book is that its author is French and much of the information in it is about France. (Though there's an interesting discussion of Chicago and the famous book The Jungle.) I've mentioned before that I try to find books that reflect a French point of view on food: so many Americans write about French food, which is fine but not complete.

This post will be shared as a final contribution to Tamara's blog event called Paris in July, which is wrapping up this week. I'm also sharing with Beth Fish's weekend cooking blog event. This review is the work of Mae at maefood dot blogspot dot com. If you are reading it elsewhere, it's been stolen.

Copyright © 2019 by Mae E. Sander.

Friday, August 02, 2019

August Produce

Fruit and vegetables are at their peak right now!
I baked peach crisp from 6 of the 12 ripe white peaches that we bought at Costco.
The corn this year is a bit small, but these ears were very sweet.
On the grill: brushed with butter and fresh chives that grew right
in our back yard.
Len turned the ears of corn and brushed them with the butter several times until they were golden.
I'm looking forward to the produce for the next month or two. The season is really too short!