Thursday, April 30, 2020

Cooking Every Meal at Home

While we've thus far been fortunate during this challenging pandemic and lockdown, we are very concerned about people throughout the world who are less fortunate in any number of ways. We are very grateful to all the workers who produce and package our food and work in all the essential shops.

Question: where do we get food to cook our kitchen?
Answer: We do curbside pick up at a small local market called The Produce Station. They have been great!
We also rely on friends and relatives, other curbside pickup places, and
In my kitchen this month, we have prepared every meal, three per day. We have obtained our food without entering any market or other public space since March 13. It's now the end of April and time for a backward look at what's been going on here, to share with a group of food bloggers from many places throughout the world who document what's happening in their kitchens each month. These posts documenting the past month should be very interesting, as everyone has the same challenges in avoiding infection and dealing with erratic shortages during the pandemic.

You can find links to this collection of posts here:

Nothing much is new in my kitchen this month -- only one water pitcher, ordered online.

Food is our focus! We've received several grocery orders by doing curbside pickup from The Produce Station. as in the photo, as well as from a bulk food store called By The Pound. Wonderful friends and relatives have bought us needed items while shopping for themselves, as they were already committed to stand in the long lines at big supermarkets. A few amazon orders have supplemented our larder contents.

During this time of isolation, I've been especially grateful to fellow bloggers who described their own challenges and documented the foods they made to cope with one or another of the inconveniences of the lockdown. As I collected images of the foods that I've made in my kitchen this month, I have tried to give a shout-out to bloggers that inspired me, entertained me, comforted me, or that featured similar recipes.

Passover: A Family Holiday without Family 

In mid-April, we managed to celebrate Passover, as I wrote a few weeks ago. Passover is a family holiday, celebrated at home with a ritual meal. For most families, it's a communal celebration, often with one's dining table extended to the max, and maybe another table in the living room. This year throughout the world, many families had to celebrate with only a few or even one person present, though there were large numbers of electronic gatherings. Here are a couple of photos of our Passover food.

Our Seder Plate for Passover.
Matzo ball soup -- extreme close up!
For the Seder plate, we had most of the symbolic items on hand: salt water, horseradish, a bone, fresh green herbs, an egg, and apples for charoset. We had no matzo, but we received one in the mail just as we were about to celebrate. Matzo balls are made from matzo meal, which we did have in the pantry. Matzo ball soup is not part of the ancient ritual (as written down around 1000 years ago), but has become an expected part of the celebration, almost as much as the ritual items.

Many bloggers described how they celebrated Easter during lockdown. Blogger Johanna in Melbourne described her Easter cake that she shared with her daughter, unable to join her extended family as usual. Jeanie from Lansing, Michigan, blogging at The Marmelade Gypsy described her imaginative Easter decorations as well as how she celebrated; see the post Easter Week.


To continue with a description of our kitchen activities this month -- Len has been baking twice a week. Originally this "In My Kitchen" blog post included photos of a number of his bakes, but the result was too long, and has now been published as a separate post. Read it here: Baking Bread in April.

Kaiser rolls, a real treat!

New Recipes for Curry

The taste of curry powder, hot pepper, cardamom, coriander, cilantro, cumin, fennel seeds, and more appeal to me enormously, and I've been trying new recipes with this array of flavors. 

Naan bread, served with the red lentils, and cucumber in yogurt.
A different red lentil curry, with eggplant and coconut milk.
Hard boiled eggs with curry sauce. Yes, I have been
experimenting with curry flavors a lot! I've also made
a couple of curried chicken dishes.
At the blog Almost Italian, blogger Francesca, who lives in Australia, has been posting about her curry recipes throughout April. In the post Muttar Paneer, My Favorite Curry, she discussed the meaning of the word curry, which she begins by defining as: "the anglicised form of the Tamil word kaṟi meaning ‘sauce’ or ‘relish for rice.'" Very interesting reading!

Chutney from By The Pound, to go with the curries.

Many More Flavors!

All through the lockdown, we have been cooking new things for fun, trying different spices and recipes, and in some ways forming new eating habits -- never going out to a restaurant, obviously! I made several of my standard Mexican-flavored dishes, which I've featured before, as well as some new ones.

Carrot soup in a tureen; apple slices for dessert.
Inspired by Shaheen at A2K blog (link).
My carrot soup contained orange juice, chicken broth, and dried tomato.
It was garnished with raw tomato and parsley. 
Soup is great for times like these, especially as our weather in April was often cold and dreary. At the blog Kahakai Kitchen, blogger Deb in Hawaii hosts a blog event called Souper Sunday. See this post on her Hungarian Mushroom Soup with links to other bloggers' soup adventures. Another blogger, Judee at Gluten Free A-Z has many interesting posts on vegetarian cooking; see her tempting recipe for Carrot Cumin Soup. Tandy Sinclair's Lavender and Lime from South Africa and Iris Flavia's oddly named blog Double-Half or One Ten without Ham from Germany are also among my go-to blogs. And each Saturday, I enjoy following a number of bloggers who link up at Weekend Cooking on the blog Beth Fish Reads.

Ready to roast: a chicken. I spatchcock the chicken and use the backbone for stock along
with celery tops, parsley stems, etc. Stock from one such chicken went into the carrot soup.
Sesame noodles with tuna and all the vegetables in the crisper drawer.
This was a makeshift lunch the day before one of our orders was ready.
Red cabbage and carrot salad: a recipe that I make often. These ingredients
keep well, so they're good for this time of limited food shopping.
I used up the red cabbage and bought a huge head of green cabbage!
Mushrooms, sautéed and seasoned with ras el hanout,
a Moroccan spice blend.
Mushroom omelet with the ras-el-hanount mushrooms.
Dessert: tangerine and avocado salad with rose water
and a touch of cinnamon.
Well, even after breaking this into two posts, I did write a lot this month, didn't I? I hope you don't mind! Next month, besides cooking, we hope to order take-out from some of the interesting restaurants in our town, which will give us some new flavors. So I'll have some new foods to write about.
Sherry's New In My Kitchen Logo.
Blog post and all photos © 2020 mae sander. 
This is published at mae food dot blog spot dot com. If you read it elsewhere it's been pirated.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Too Cozy?

Michigan’s lockdown orders are particularly strict because the coronavirus is especially bad here.
Sadly, some young people aren’t abiding by the letter or the spirit of the order.
This is in the Diag, the center of the currently-closed campus of the University of Michigan.
Some of the hammocks were occupied by more than one person --
not very good social distancing!
Last week, I took a photo of one of these popular hammocks hanging in a tree at about the level of second-story windows, and used it as an example of isolation. This week, the same hammock, different message!
Blog post & photos © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Baking Bread in April

Throughout the month of April, all during the lockdown that started in mid-March, Len has been baking around twice a week, trying new recipes and techniques. This summary of only some of the bread and other baked items he made began as part of my post "In My Kitchen in April." However, that post grew too long, so I've split off the part about the bread, creating this separate post.

Part of the fun of baking a lot is having good bread to eat. Also, we have enjoyed giving some of his bread and rolls to people who are helping us stay isolated by doing some of our grocery shopping.

Our neighbor found two bags of flour on one of his shopping trips!
We also bought some bulk flour. We hope this good luck continues.
And hope that the shortages are soon over.
Len's sesame semolina bread. One loaf for us, two for friends.
Sesame semolina bread accompanying pork with apples.
Len's Lavash crackers with salad. These are yeast-raised crackers, very good!
Lavash cracker dough being sprinkled with seeds and paprika.
Fougasse: a French Provençal bread. We drove one loaf across town to a friend
who had purchased some groceries for us. By the time we got back home,
he texted that he and his family had eaten and enjoyed the entire loaf.
Needless to say, when we were dropping off the bread, we stayed far away from one another!
Round loaves bake in a dutch oven.
Numerous other bloggers have also been baking loaves of bread while isolating themselves. For example, at the blog Eliot's Eats, I enjoyed reading a recipe from a fund-raising cookbook that "Eliot's" grandmother sent her 30 years ago: French Bread -- as well as a description of her shopping adventures during the lockdown. Also, Tina Culbertson of the blog Squirrel Head Manor, baked rye bread to go with "orphan" soup made from orphan vegetables in her fridge. Reading blogs from around the globe, and learning how the whole world is handling the pandemic, has helped me cope with the isolation that we must endure.

As for baking experiments: Len also tried a recipe for bagels, which he found less difficult than he expected. He also made kaiser rolls, and I hope he will do it again. I loved both the bagels and the rolls -- they came out just the way I remember them from my childhood.

Bagels are a totally new recipe and method:
first boiled, then baked.
What to do with sourdough discard?
Skillet-baked naan bread to go with curried lentils.
 Also, I make pancakes from Len's discard.
Coming on April 30: the rest of my kitchen wrap-up for the month of April. While Len baked, I tried quite a few new flavors. And Len now has identified several more new recipes to make from his sourdough starter, as well as more recipes for me to make from the discard from the starter -- so I'll have more bread to document in May.

Blog post and all photos © 2020 mae sander. 
This is published at mae food dot blog spot dot com. If you read it elsewhere it's been pirated.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

"Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat" by Janet Poppendieck

"A breadline knee-deep in wheat is obviously the handiwork of foolish men." 
 -- James Crowther, 1932 (cited p. xv)                

Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance
in the Great Depression
by Janet Poppendieck.
Here's a book that's all-too reminiscent of the current emergency of unemployment, hunger, and social dislocations. The expression "breadlines knee-deep in wheat" embodied with sadness and irony a paradox of want in the midst of plenty in 1930. Throughout America, families were starving and at the same time farmers were destroying bounteous harvests. Vegetables were plowed under to rot in the fields. Wheat was ending up in government warehouses where vast surpluses were piling up. Apples and oranges were soaked in kerosene and burned. Dairy farmers poured milk onto the street. Hog farmers killed their sows and piglets because the market value was so low. And meanwhile there were breadlines -- starving people waiting for pathetic handouts of any food they could get. Sound familiar?

Janet Poppendieck's book documents the long political struggle to bring prosperity back to the US. Legislators and the president had to balance several constituencies, a struggle that began in around 1929 or earlier, and lasted until World War II (unless you take a bigger look, and say it never ended).

The interest groups pressuring the government as the Depression began included the nation's farmers. Naturally, they wanted to get a fair price that covered their production expenses and enabled them to plant the next year's crop; economic collapse left them unable to earn a living or pay their debts. Commodity farmers were often unable even to feed their families. Food processors  and middle-men opposed food being "given away" -- even to the poorest people who couldn't pay for it -- because the food industry feared erosion of their profits. State and city governments ran out of money and tried to convince Washington to pass bills to help them do something for their desperate citizens. Ideologues and puritans said everyone should earn his bread, no giveaways, no charity that would be a destroyer of the human spirit. Hungry unemployed and impoverished people, both on farms and in cities, didn't care how they got food, they just wanted starvation to end. And yes, children and adults really died of malnutrition in this terrible era.

The complexity of all the different interest groups was a major topic of the book. For example, the FSRC (Federal Surplus Relief Corporation), formed to address these problems, was
“ accountant’s nightmare, it was a politician’s dream, it promised something for everyone.The diets of the unemployed would be improved .... Farmers would benefit both by direct government purchase of their unsaleable crops and by improved prices for the remaining portions. Processors could expect contracts to convert raw commodities into forms suitable for relief use .... Budget balancers presumably, could anticipate reduced overall relief costs due to bargain prices and economies of scale, and both the public and the New Dealers would be relieved of the discomfort caused by contemplating waste amid want. ...surplus commodity distribution seemed to promise loss nowhere and gain everywhere.” (p. 135-136)

Somehow in spite of all the politics, new programs began to function soon after Roosevelt became president. Job programs like the WPA and CCC began to provide money so that people could buy food and other essentials, and could pay their rent. Farm programs worked out. Unfortunately, no program was free of political fights.

Hard Times weren’t necessarily over, but within a few years, the worst of the problems of the early 1930s began to be handled. The book deals with all the ins and outs of policy negotiations; ideological reasons for choosing to give people make-work jobs, sometimes with a good will towards the victims of the economic disaster, sometimes not; outright grants of money, or assistance in kind (such as distribution of farm surplus to stop hunger). The sum total of Roosevelt’s New Deal alleviated hunger and poverty for several years, until in 1938, the decision was made to spend less on the many relief programs — and the country was back in a “recession,” if not an all-out depression again. The details in the book are interesting but I felt very overwhelmed by the time I was finished reading about these efforts

Policies and programs were put in place have lasted virtually until now, despite various revisions throughout successive administrations with many ideologies about welfare, food programs, school lunch programs, and farm subsidies. It’s tempting to see that undermining of these very programs during the last decade has forced us to repeat many of the hardships during the current challenging situation, though obviously the causes are totally dissimilar. As in 1930, the lack of solid programs to fight poverty has made our society less able to deal with the sudden widespread unemployment and want caused by the pandemic. For this reason, Breadlines Knee Deep in Wheat is that much harder to read today but astonishingly timely.

UPDATE May 1: article about farm produce rotting in fields and efforts to donate it to food banks, the twenty-first-century reenactment of breadlines knee-deep in wheat:

Review © 2020 by mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.
If you read this at another site, it's been stolen.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

What’s Growing in Your Garden?

It's too early to plant herbs outdoors, so Len planted some seeds inside.
He's using a lamp to encourage them with a bit of warmth.
Walking through the neighborhood, we saw a few vegetable gardens waiting
 until the nights are a bit warmer and danger of frost is over.
I suspect this will be a vegetable garden soon.
Many people plant in raised boxes. I hope the current lock down of garden
stores will be over in time for everyone to buy whatever plants they need.
See the squirrel?

The crop here appears to be dinosaurs.

Michigan's stay-at-home orders were extended today, as the virus is still spreading. We hope there will soon be a safe time to return to more activities, but we think the governor is making necessary choices. Meanwhile, we are allowed to take walks, along the streets or in parks. Everyone is very careful to stay far apart, though sometimes the parks are too crowded.

Blog post © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Friday, April 24, 2020


In Detroit, less than an hour's drive from Ann Arbor, where I live, cars line up in huge numbers to receive food distributions
from The Gleaners Community Food Bank. Source: "These Photos Show the Staggering Food Bank Lines Across America."

Hunger and disease are two of the traditional and tightly linked horsemen of the apocalypse. While struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus throughout Michigan, as well as in most other states, state governments out of necessity and prudence have shut down productive industries, retail businesses, restaurants, entertainment venues, schools (including many school lunch programs), and government endeavors. Despite being considered essential, other industries have shut down because of high rates of illness spreading among the workers: notably in meat processing plants. Several million people in the United States who were earning a living one month ago are now jobless, and emergency funds allocated by the federal government have not to date been effectively distributed. Hunger and disease haunt our land.

From the Food Gatherers' twitter feed
Start with my own town, Ann Arbor. The high incidence of coronavirus in Michigan has hit the state very hard, despite recognized success in keeping the disease at bay through severe shutdowns. Our county, Washtenaw County, with approximately 1000 cases, is less affected than the neighboring Detroit area, but there's plenty of suffering throughout our area.

Ann Arbor's local food bank, Food Gatherers, is experiencing very high demand. Food Gatherers partners with the nationwide organization Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the United States, from which it obtains bulk purchases of food. It also receives food and other necessities from  local businesses and food drives. Food Gatherers supplies many local food pantries and welfare organizations, which distribute the food to their clients. Volunteers who staff Food Gatherers in normal times include many retirees, whose risk is too high to allow them to continue to work in the warehouse or other jobs. Members of the National Guard have been assigned to work at the warehouse to ensure that shipments of food are stored and distributed in a timely way.

From an article published in Common Dreams online news: "As Food Banks Face Shortages and Fresh Produce Rots,
Pandemic Spurs Calls for Sustainable Supply Chain." A picture of a volunteer with a Detroit mobile food pantry. 

Ann Arbor is very close to Detroit, where the food emergency is very much worse, as Detroit is extremely hard-hit by the pandemic, and already had a high rate of food insufficiency. An article in Bridge, a website representing Michigan nonprofit organizations was titled "Detroit food banks overrun by coronavirus demand."  From the article:
"Tens of thousands of residents show up each day at a growing number of food sites, with many going away empty-handed because there still isn’t capacity to meet the profound needs. 
"'There is so much of that going on,' said Phil Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan. 'The need is huge all across our service areas. And we serve all of Michigan’s 83 countries,' The Lansing trade association represents seven major food bank suppliers in the state. Those regional food banks supply more than 3,000 sites in Michigan where residents get food, from soup kitchens to schools to senior citizen centers."... 
"In Washtenaw County, the donations from local grocers have dropped by half while requests for food has tripled, said Eileen Spring, president and CEO of Food Gatherers food bank. 
"Donations by grocers have nosedived partly because retailers are having enough trouble keeping stores stocked for buying customers, said Knight, ...'Another stress point is retailers are struggling with logistics and transportation,' of getting more food delivered to them, Knight said. 'There is enough food. It’s not getting to people in the time we are used to-- because so many things are fluid. It’s unprecedented.'"
Pam Smith, president and CEO of the Washtenaw/Ann Arbor United Fund, a source of funding for Food Gatherers and other partner non-profits was interviewed by MLive, the closest thing we have to a local newspaper:
"There is exceptional need in the county, Smith said, saying over 37% of households were already struggling to afford basic necessities and the pandemic only exacerbated the problem. Even in Ann Arbor, there are pockets of poverty, she said, citing a 22.1% poverty rate in the city." (link)

The cascade of consequences of the rapid increase in want and poverty among the unemployed is overwhelming to think about. I have been trying to grasp the enormity of this situation, as it's depicted in the press. In this post I have only tried to explore what's going on in food banks and food pantries near me. The shocking waste of farm produce due to the closure of restaurants is another horrifying part of the picture. On a national scale, want and desperation is scaled up many times, so that I can hardly grasp the massive suffering. I have found numerous articles detailing what's happening throughout the country, but have tried to grasp only this little part of the picture.

As for me, I'm shut down in my home; on fresh-air walks I only see my own neighborhood and a few parks that I judge to be empty of people. As a result of being locked down, I have no first-hand observations of anything. I'm not even going into the grocery store. All I can do is read the news and look for images on the web.

Don't worry about me: I am able to afford what I need. We can buy food from stores with curbside pickup, order online, or ask generous friends to do our shopping for us. But I'm really worried about my fellow human beings whose resources are drained. The only thing I can do is to send a check to Food Gatherers in hopes that they will continue to have sources for purchasing quantities of needed food. Dear readers, if you have the means, I hope that you too will contribute to your local food bank.

This blogpost copyright © 2020 by Mae Sander. Photos are credited in the captions.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


"Spices lose their flavor over time but few as quickly as paprika, which starts out tasting of pepper and sunshine but deteriorates in but a few months to sawdust and bitterness."
On my spice shelf: three types of paprika.
Sweet paprika, hot paprika, and smoked paprika from Spain offer a nice variety of flavors for meals that I've been cooking while we are in isolation at home, avoiding the pandemic. I recently ordered this trio of paprikas because I was out of sweet paprika, which we have been sprinkling on Len's home-made crackers, among other things. I use the hot or smoked varieties in chili or other dishes where I want an alternative to cayenne or other very hot peppers -- still hot, but not TOO hot. When fresh, all three of these spices have a pleasing and distinctive aroma and flavor.

Vintage paprika bottle.
In my mother's kitchen and in kitchens throughout mid-twentieth century America, a bottle or a can of paprika almost always appeared on the rather sparsely stocked spice rack (maybe with similar containers of ground pepper, cinnamon, poultry seasoning, "pickling" spice, and one or two others). We used paprika to add color to pale foods such as deviled eggs, but we believed that it had no flavor. What we didn't know was that it had once had flavor, long ago, when it was purchased, but that time had obliterated the taste.

Vintage paprika tin.
A little bit of spice goes a long way, so the contents of those tiny containers -- somewhere between half an ounce and 2 ounces -- would last for years and years. Meanwhile, the essential oils that give spice its aroma and pungency would fade away. And our deviled eggs were sprinkled with an odorless, tasteless red powder whose lost capabilities we didn't even realize.

Paprika is made from a few select varieties of capsicum peppers, which are grown and processed in Spain, Hungary, California, or Mexico. The capsicums, native to the New World, include a vast number of varieties from blow-your-head-off new strains of habanero pepper like "ghost peppers" to the mildest of bell peppers. The paprika pepper and the tomato pepper -- two strains of long, mild red peppers -- are dried, ground, and made into several flavors of paprika. 

The original location of Spain's capsicum pepper cultivation was the La Vera region of Extremadura. Farmers there began growing peppers soon after Columbus brought New World produce back to show to Ferdinand and Isabella. The region continues production of smoked paprika, according to Smithsonian Magazine --
"Pimentón de la Vera Co-op [is] a group of 17 brands and family-owned businesses creating Protected Designation of Origin-certified smoked paprika in Spain. The La Vera region of Spain, in the Cáceres province in Extremadura, is the ideal place to produce this type of paprika, thanks to its subtropical climate, salt-free water and soil with high organic matter content. Planting begins in May and June, and the ripe red peppers are harvested in September and October. Then the smoking begins." (link)
Hungarian paprika box,
from article in
Szeged, Hungary is another famous center of paprika production. The Hungarians began to grow and use paprika within 100 years of the European exploration of the New World, and eventually developed the strain of peppers used for Hungarian paprika. Chicken paprikash is probably the most famous and popular Hungarian dish using their signature paprika. Although just one or two flavors of Hungarian paprika are generally available in US markets, there are actually eight of them used for different dishes in Hungarian cuisine. (See this article or this article for a list of the eight flavors as well as many other facts about paprika.)

I wonder if paprika is the only spice to figure in Nobel-prize-winning research. Albert Szent-Györgyi, a Hungarian scientist, won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1937. His early research, isolating the chemical now called vitamin C, took place at Cambridge University in England and at the Rockefeller Institute in New York. In 1930, he accepted a position at the university in Szeged. Continuing his research, Szent-Györgyi used the famous local Szeged paprika as one of his sources for vitamin C. He demonstrated the specific effect in scurvy prevention of the chemical he had isolated. (linklink)

Hungarians eat around one pound per year of paprika so I imagine they buy it in somewhat larger containers than we do, and use it up before it fades into flavorless red powder. Also, maybe the higher level of consumption enables them to get actual health benefits from the vitamins in paprika, while it's doubtful that Americans -- in the fifties or even now -- would receive a useful amount of vitamin C from the decoration on their deviled eggs.

This blog post copyright © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.
Antique spice box images are from auction sites on the web.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


Taking a walk in my neighborhood, I noticed a hammock hanging high in a tree.
We're all in isolation these days, but if someone is sleeping up there, they have taken isolation to an extreme!
I've seen people using similar hammocks in parks and various remote places, but this seems to be a novel location.
I wonder how they get up to the hammock. Here's the other side of the tree.
No ladder here now. Maybe it's in the house.
Isolation has lots of meanings in this time of fear and avoidance. For me, it means a lot of reading and cooking and writing. My reading this week has been Tana French's book Broken Harbor, the fourth in the Dublin Murder Squad series, published in 2012. I found it a bit extreme, especially the way French explored (by coincidence) the theme of isolation. In Broken Harbor, isolation was the fate of a family victimized by the economic crash in Ireland a decade ago. Nevertheless, it speaks to our circumstances, perhaps too intensely.

Collectively, the motive to maintain our isolation is powerful. We talk to other people only at a distance. Many of us are wearing masks or bandanas over our faces. We are avoiding all public spaces, and most of them are closed down in any case. Here in a tree, I thought, is another way to be isolated.

Isolation -- my word of the day for Wordy Wednesday!

Blog post and photos © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.