Thursday, October 31, 2019

October: Spice Month

And no, I don't mean pumpkin spice. I'll leave that to Trader Joe's (where one of the clerks told me that a staff joke is that even pumpkin spice toilet paper would sell out fast -- if they stocked it). Admittedly, I'm not really a fan of pumpkin spice, especially its ubiquitous presence in so many foods in October. I'll take Halloween candy instead, thank you.

In my kitchen in October, I've had lots and lots of herbs and spices other than pumpkin spice. I also bought an intriguing book titled Herbs and Spices: The Pursuit of Flavor, edited by the food writer Waverley Root in 1980. Root offered a selection of articles by various writers on recognizing, growing, using, and enjoying spices -- especially a couple by Paula Wolfert, a cookbook writer I'm fond of. And of course we have Halloween candy.

The last garden herbs.

Just a few more left in the pots, which are now put away.

Drying the herbs in my pantry. You can see one of my Mona Lisa mugs behind them.
Several predictions of frost pressed me to harvest the spices in my garden. The expected frosts did not happen, and each time, the plants sprouted a few more aromatic leaves. Now we have gathered all that we want, and have put away the flower pots for the season.

New Penzey's Spices and more.

My shipment of 6 jars of spice from Penzey's: ground cardamom, celery seed,
peppercorns, tarragon, and fennel seed. And a free packet of pepper mixture.
I had a good reason to order spice from Penzeys: their owner is running an ad campaign to encourage people to support impeachment, and to communicate their support to their congressmen and senators. First Penzey's received quite a lot of publisity because they spent more in one week on pro-impeachment ads on Facebook than all but one other advertiser. The next weekend, Penzey's offered to use all proceeds from new customers to buy more ads encouraging impeachment. That's when I put in my order!

As the New York Times said: "Penzeys Spices, a family-owned company in Wauwatosa, spent nearly $92,000 on Facebook advertisements related to impeachment from Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, according to data from a communications agency that tracks political spending.  (That was eclipsed by Mr. Trump and his campaign, which spent more than $700,000.)" (Source: New York Times, October 11, 2019).

And from a new jar of Ras El Hanout.
From Trader Joe's: pepper in its own grinder.
I had used up my previous supplies of these spices.

It's also Cauliflower Cheese Month.

A comfort food recommended by bloggers around the world!
This is my dish of cauliflower with white sauce and cheese topping.
Inspired by Johanna at the GGG Blog from Australia, I steamed a locally grown and purchased cauliflower and made what I call cauliflower au gratin, and what British-origin bloggers call cauliflower cheese. Johanna's post showed pasties filled with cauliflower in cheese sauce, with a list of her many ways to make cauliflower cheese. The blogger at The Veg Hog, who identifies as a "vegetarian hobby cook and urban gardener born in Finland, currently living in Denmark," also made this dish in October. I wonder how many others around the world are making this dish!

And in my kitchen: Halloween, best holiday of the year!

What trick-or-treaters will get when they come to our door.
Note that I did find some Kit Kat with glow-in-the-dark wrappers!
At the end of each month, I write up what's been happening in my kitchen and share it with like-minded bloggers on Sherry's website: -- check this site for links to lots of kitchen blogs, titled "In My Kitchen" or IMK.

The IMK logo.

All photos and text here are copyright © 2019 by Mae Sander for mae's food blog, 
hosted at Google's blogspot dot com. 
If you are reading this elsewhere, you are reading a pirated version.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Great Pumpkins Have Arrived

The biggest pumpkin our neighbor has ever had: 1900 pounds!
A farmer in nearby Dundee, MI, tries to grow the biggest pumpkin
in the area (or maybe in the whole state) every year.
Carving a pumpkin with a 15 inch shell is very hard work!
The farmer removes the seeds before delivering the pumpkins -- obviously, he plants them
in the spring to try to raise even bigger pumpkins! 
The pumpkin carver as seen through the eye of the Great Pumpkin.
Another great pumpkin from Dundee. Larger but not as heavy.
Happy Halloween!

Blog post copyright © 2019 by mae sander for maefood_dot_blogspot_dot_com.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Devil's Food

From the 1970s: Devil's Food Twinkies.
Still sometimes sold in "selected markets."
Devil's Food Cake. Deviled Ham. Deviled Eggs. Deviled Crab. A menu for Halloween? Sounds good to me! Never mind all those pumpkin and pumpkin spice dishes! Give me chocolate, mustard, and hot pepper! I wrote these words in 2014, when posting about Halloween, and I've decided to re-post this because it's still quite interesting.

I wondered if devil-themed foods might have anything to do with Devil's Night. Looking into it, I learned that most of my information about Halloween customs and Devil's Night was inaccurate. Urban legends and speculations, I found: just what you might expect about a holiday celebrating myths and ghosts.

American Jack-o-Lantern, 1867 (IBTaurisblog)
The Halloween Devil reflects fears of ghosts and hauntings: Halloween is at its root a festival celebrating the dead. Catholics for centuries honored saints and deceased members of their families for the first two days of November, solemnly visiting graveyards and attending religious services. They prayed that their loved ones were with the saints and not with the Devil -- but feared the worst, especially when visiting graveyards at dusk.

In Ireland, a variety of customs arose as a sort of opposite to the solemnities, including dressing up in costume, carving lanterns out of large vegetables, doing mischief of various kinds, and begging for food (which was a custom on other holidays as well, including Valentine's Day and the Wassail part of Christmas). Irish immigrants brought those customs to America in the mid-19th century.

These traditions appeared to have their roots in ancient Celtic customs. Many writers, beginning in the 19th century and continuing with current believers in Paganism claim that ancient Celtic rites were the basis for the Irish celebrations that eventually came to America. If you read anything about Samhain, the Celtic holiday (sometimes attributed to Druids, in even less historically accurate speculations) you'll see all kinds of parallels presented -- this Halloween origin story is still widely believed. However, the supposed evidence for the Celtic connection was often circular: where scholars couldn't find good descriptions of early customs, they filled in with information from their own experience or the recent past, which meant the parallels were very convincing. In fact, too good to be true.

In particular, a historian named Ronald Hutton in Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford University Press, 1996) demonstrated that the usual claims about early Celtic practices are not verifiable. The evidence for the "development of the feast and of its associated days of All Saints and All Souls," he says is "intractable and ambivalent." (p. 360) Writer David Emery summarizes: "It seems reasonable to conclude that the connection between Halloween and Samhain has, at the very least, been overstated in most modern accounts of the holiday's origin."

Finally: Devil's Night. I always thought this was the accepted name for the riotous and disorderly side of the holiday. I remember having to drive through Detroit one late fall evening in the mid-1980s for a job interview, without realizing it was Devil's Night. From the freeway I heard police helicopters and sirens and saw smoke rising from burning buildings. Detroit's Devil's Night festivities then were at their most destructive, and hundreds of houses were being torched and other vandalism done. A few years later, with a lot of effort from the authorities, things calmed down.

What I did not realize until now, looking up information for this post, is that Devil's Night was a name used almost uniquely in Detroit, and the vandalism was never as severe or systematic anywhere else. Yes, the Irish had Goblin Night or Mischief Night, but not Devil's Night. And bonfires were an old British-Isles tradition, but not insurance fires!

Well, what about the food? 
Deviled eggs, deviled ham, Julia Child's poulets grillés a la diable, deviled crab cakes, and similar dishes are devilish because of their spiciness -- though they make a perfect choice for Halloween menus. Deviled tongue and deviled kidneys, now obsolete at polite luncheons where they once would have been popular, might enhance the Halloween spirit in more ways than one! And devil's food cake, named not for its taste but for being the opposite of pure white angel food cake, is a very popular Halloween dessert.

The term "deviled" for spicy originated long ago. "The first known printed mention of ‘devil’ as a culinary term appeared in Great Britain in 1786, in reference to dishes including hot ingredients." (source: History of Deviled Eggs)

More and more dishes with "deviled" in their name appeared in the 19th century. In Mrs. Beeton's 1861 Book of Household Management, the term comes up in reference to turkey, of which the legs "appear only in a form which seems to have a special attraction at a bachelor’s supper-table, - we mean devilled: served in this way, they are especially liked and relished." (Household Management) Mrs. Beeton also recommended a deviled sauce made of vinegar, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and cayenne; as well as chicken with deviled butter made with chutney, anchovy paste, and of course cayenne pepper. Beyond Mrs. Beeton:
"In The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Amanda Hesser includes an 1878 recipe for deviled crabs, saying that today’s deviled eggs are the mild-mannered cousins of deviled crab and kidneys, which 'were meant to be spicy and bracing, the kind of food you had after a long night of drinking.' She also notes that in David Copperfield ..., 'Mr. Micawber saves a dinner party by turning undercooked mutton into a devil,' covering the slices with pepper, mustard, salt and cayenne and cooking them well, then adding mushroom ketchup as a condiment." (Lisa Bramen, Smithsonian)
Above: Underwood Devil Logo, 1921.
Below left: 2014 Devil; right: original 1870 Devil
Underwood's Deviled Ham was first sold in 1870. Underwood's devil logo is the oldest trademark in continuous use (left). Their deviled ham is still available, though I can't say I want to eat any of it.

To make things even more complicated, in France there's an earthenware or cast-iron pot called a "diable" (devil) that allows cooking a whole chicken without added fat -- this utensil also gives its name to dishes cooked in it.

I'm afraid the original Halloween tradition was a lot more bland, not even as much fun as the candy that we'll be giving out next week. Oat cakes called "soul cakes" were offered to visitors or beggars in seventeenth century Shropshire, Lancashire, and Herefordshire for All-Souls Day. Those who received the cakes said "A soule-cake, a soule-cake, Have mercy on all Christen soules for a soule cake." Or "God have your soul, bones and all." In Wales, the gifted food was bread and cheese, and later on the beggars asked in rhyme for apples, pears, plums, or cherries as well as soul cakes. (Hutton, p. 374-375)

Besides food names, many common plant names begin with "devil." Some are spices or foods -- but some are poisons. Devil-in-a-bush, Devil's horn, Devil's stinkpot, devil's milk, Devil's apple, Devil's dye, Devil's butter, Devil's coach-wheel, Devil's curry-comb, Devil's garters, Devil's night-cap, Devil's fingers, Devil's claws, Devil's eye, Devil's guts, Devil's head, Devil's darning-needle, Devil's dung, Devil's walking-stick, and many more were listed in an article in 1890 in American Notes and Queries, Volume 5.

Enjoy Halloween treats all week!

This blog post © 2014, 2019 by mae sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Ann Arbor Murals

"The Ann Arbor African-American Heritage Mural Project"
This mural of the pioneers of Ann Arbor's African-American community, was designed and painted by Community High School students in 2016. From left to right, the people depicted are: Rev. C. W. Carpenter, Dr. Albert Wheeler (former mayor of Ann Arbor), Bryan Westfield, Coleman Jewett, Judge Nancy Wheeler, Rev. John A. Woods, Richard Blake, Rosemarion Blake, Richard Thompson, and Dr. Willis C. Patterson. For more information about this mural, see this article: "How Murals Celebrating Ann Arbor's African Americans Create Dialog" by Mike Mosher.

Mural that recently appeared on a high-rise building downtown.
The entire mural appears to be tossed out of the little
man's bucket.
Signature on the mural.
The Pretzel Bell Mural, painted recently. I like the pretzel in the painting, as well as the edgy style!
When I read that a new mural had been painted on the Pretzel Bell building, I assumed that the writer was talking about the building that houses the current restaurant by that name. Evidently, people have a long memory: this mural is on the building formerly belonging to the original Pretzel Bell, founded in 1934. For nearly half a century, students went to have their first legal drink on their 21st birthday. The current Pretzel Bell owners bought the name from some trademark merchant, and it has little to do with the many original traditions that are fondly recalled by at least some former students. 

The Pretzel Bell was the site of a historic Ann Arbor fable:
"The restaurant at Fourth Avenue and Liberty Street also served as an inspiration for U-M Professor Donald Glaser. Observing the action of bubbles in glasses of beer at the Pretzel Bell helped him develop the bubble chamber. In 1960, while a professor at Berkeley, he would win the Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention." (source: Michigan Alumnus)
This claim may be exaggerated, but one of the physicists we knew who remembered Glaser's time at UofM said that the inspiration may or many not have come from these particular bubbles, but that Glaser was known to have had adequate opportunities to observe them. Do any of the interesting sections of the mural refer to this fable? I can't tell.

Signature of the Pretzel Bell artist.
Text and photos copyright © 2019 Mae Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Stranger Stranger

If you took introductory French language in college or in AP classes, you probably read The Stranger by Albert Camus.* The exaggeratedly simple language of this existentialist writer is perfect for language teachers and learners who want some substance for discussion, as well as an accessible text. Camus' book (published in 1942), is a classic of literature and philosophy.

I've reread the book from time to time, and always admired its brutal simplicity in creating a totally affectless man. The relationship of Meursault, the narrator, to the pre-independence environment in Algeria really never came to my mind very much until this week when I read The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, an Algerian journalist based in Oran (published in 2013).

Daoud's book retells the story of The Stranger from the point of view of the younger brother of "The Arab" who is murdered by Meursault, Camus' narrator. Of course Camus' book is fiction, but in the retelling, it was an actual occurrence, of great importance to Daoud's narrator, who wants to make the Arab victim into as real a person (or character) as Camus' Meursault.

One key to Daoud's story: Camus never even names this victim, but only calls him, "The Arab." I confess that I never really noticed this nor comprehended the attitude it indicates, and that I accepted the word of critics who suggested that this is part of the existential nature of Camus' text. But it's also part of the colonialist text -- and Daoud doesn't use a critical voice, but shows you the meaning of this by creating his own character, the brother of "The Arab," who was a small child at the time of Camus' events (1942) and is an old man when he tells the story 60 to 70 years later. The man and his mother are like the ghosts of Meursault and his mother in The Stranger.

As I started the book, I thought it was just a kind of screed about how European writers ignore the humanity of the citizens (or in Algeria, subjects) of colonial powers. I read:
"I’m going to outline the story before I tell it to you. A man who knows how to write kills an Arab who, on the day he dies, doesn’t even have a name, as if he’d hung it on a nail somewhere before stepping onto the stage. Then the man begins to explain that his act was the fault of a God who doesn’t exist and that he did it because of what he’d just realized in the sun and because the sea salt obliged him to shut his eyes." (The Meursault Investigation, pp. 5-6).
The more I read, the more I admired the accomplishment of this author in illuminating just what the people of Algeria suffered before, during, and after their struggle for independence. Or what one reviewer called "a specifically Algerian version of the absurd condition, a commentary on post-colonial failures... For its incandescence, its precision of phrase and description, and its cross-cultural significance, The Meursault Investigation is an instant classic." (The Guardian, June 24, 2015),

Daoud's approach to showing these attitudes is impressive and powerful. For example, his narrator describes his childhood during colonial times --
"I still have memories from that period: an old priest who would sometimes bring us food, the jute sack my mother made into a kind of smock for me, the semolina dishes we’d eat on big days. I don’t want to tell you about our troubles, because back then they were only a matter of hunger, not injustice. In the evening, we kids would play marbles, and if one of us didn’t show up the following day, that would mean he was dead — and we’d keep on playing. It was the period of epidemics and famines. Rural life was hard, it revealed what the cities kept hidden, namely that the country was starving to death. I was afraid, especially at night, of hearing the bleak sound of men’s footsteps, men who knew that Mama had no protector. Those were nights of waking and watchfulness, which I spent glued to her side. I was well and truly the uld el-assas, the night watchman’s son and heir." (The Meursault Investigation, p. 29.)
Eventually, Daoud's narrator shows you how his humanity was removed by the conditions of colonialism and also by the conditions of the struggle for independence, where Algerians expelled the French, took their houses (which he himself and his mother also did), and then in a way, turned on one another. Near the end, he wrote:
"I’ve lived like a sort of ghost, observing the living as they bustle about in this big fishbowl. I’ve known the giddy feeling that comes with possessing an overwhelming secret, and that’s how I’ve walked around, with a kind of endless monologue in my head." (The Meursault Investigation, p. 138). 
*Note: A quick google check offers information on the use of Camus' The Stranger in AP classes right now, so I think at least some students are still reading it in elementary French, as we did in my distant past.

This review copyright © 2019, Mae Sander for mae's food blog at

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Autumn Colors

Ghostly dancers by day...
And by night.

All photos taken in walking distance of my house. Photos copyright © Mae Sander for maefood dot blog spot dot com -- if you read this at another site, it's been pirated.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Paul Hollywood's "Moroccan Pie" on the Great British Baking Show

Bastilla. B'stilla. Bisteeya. These are variations on the name of a traditional Moroccan pie, encased in very thin layers of flaky dough called warqa pastry, and filled with a mixture of chicken, cinnamon, sometimes almonds, and various other spices. It combines sweet and savory flavors in a delightful way; I've only tasted it once, and would love to have it again.

On the most recent episode of the Great British Baking Show, released on Netflix October 18, judge Paul Hollywood set the contestants a challenge of baking "A Moroccan Pie" in 2 hours. Only one of the contestants had ever even heard of the dish -- on the travel channel, he said. The GBBS didn't use the Arabic name that I mentioned above, but it still was very exotic to all of them. In fact, none seemed at all familiar with Moroccan traditional spices or pastry, which they made by trial and error. I'd say this challenge was a bit of a travesty, though a very good-natured travesty! Here are some screen shots of the episode from this very popular show.

The model pie, presumably made by Paul himself or one of his staff.
Hearing the challenge.

Making the filling.

One contestant's pie fell apart a little bit. Others "exploded."
Judging the pies: they were supposed to slice into nice pieces.
This one didn't make it.
The judges and the comic commenters examine the contestants' pies and grade them from worst to best.

We are big fans of the Great British Baking Show, though I have virtually never seen them bake anything that I would feel confident to try at home! Maybe not this one either, though I did make some soup with similar Moroccan spices. I did look for actual recipes, though: here are some links to recipes for this intriguing dish. Some of these use purchased filo dough, which would make it a lot easier than it was for the contestants!

This post was written by Mae Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com. 
If you read it elsewhere, it's been pirated!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Eating and Sleeping in Ann Arbor

Where our guests stayed: Ann Arbor Bed & Breakfast:

During our reunion with our friends, they all stayed at the Ann Arbor Bed & Breakfast, which is in the
center of Ann Arbor and right next to the University of Michigan Campus. This B&B is well known for its
large displays of blow-up sculptures for every holiday. You can see some of the Halloween decor in this photo,
along with a few of us.
The reunion ended this morning, with an hour or so to visit while everyone but us was preparing to return home (well, all right, we drove the mile back home too). In this wrap-up post, I'll show a few of the really nice Ann Arbor restaurants and the B&B that provided hospitality during this very fun get-together, including some group photos and some photos with just a few of us. If you are planning a visit to Ann Arbor, I recommend these places!

Visiting around the table after breakfast this morning at the B&B.
The decor of the B&B is highly amusing. I loved this M&M dispenser! And the colorful
vintage glassware.
Saying goodbye.

Friday night: Dinner at Miss Kim:

Friday night I reserved the big and beautiful table in the main dining room of Miss Kim, a Korean and Asian Fusion restaurant in Kerrytown in Ann Arbor. 
We ordered several salads to share at the beginning of our meal.
They are artfully arranged on half the plate, I wonder why.
The ingredients are often unusual combinations: this one is
apples and radishes with hot(ish) spicing.
At Miss Kim, the art work on the walls is very jazzy!
One of many dishes we enjoyed at Miss Kim: pork ribs.

Dinner at Logan:

Saturday night: we gathered again at Logan, a restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. The food at Logan is
"New American Cuisine with a Modern Edge."
I find this cuisine very appealing. This is avocado and crab toast, an appetizer.
Another main course: very tender and enjoyable spare ribs.
Conversation during dinner at Logan.


From our lunch outside at Zingerman's, to our much fancier dinner, 
and our visits to the Detroit Institute of Arts and the 
Motawi Tile factory, it was a great weekend!
So goodbye to the B&B and all its decor, goodbye
to friends, til our next reunion!
Text and photos copyright © 2019 Mae Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com.