Tuesday, June 30, 2020

New and Old in My Kitchen in June

In my kitchen in June, there are a few new things among the old faithfuls.

It's the season for lots of good vegetables that we haven't
enjoyed since last summer. Here's new corn served in a
very old serving dish.
Penzey's Spices is always a good source of new flavors
as well as replacements for spices I've used up.
Here you see my order from earlier this month, including
Bouquet Garni, Tellicherry Peppercorns, and more.
Grilling in the back yard -- which is symbolically part of my kitchen -- is something I've documented often. Grilling vegetables without meat is new, though I've mentioned our reasons for avoiding beef and pork this year. I'll tell you a secret: we have a few packages of meat from before the pandemic and we will be grilling them during the summer!

Cauliflower, eggplant, and red bell pepper on the fire.
The eggplant became babaganoush.
Cauliflower and red pepper salad.

A Retro Style

On the table: new ceramic plates and new cloth dinner napkins, with very classic
Dansk design place mats and Dansk salt & pepper shakers that I've had for a very long time.
In my kitchen, all glasses for water or wine or anything else are the cheapest possible because I'm a terrible breaker of glassware! My recent favorite sources: Ikea and Target. There seems to be a shortage of paper goods, so we have transitioned to mostly washable cloth napkins -- the new ones are from amazon.com, where I'm doing almost all my shopping during lockdown.

Dansk -- meaning Danish -- was the trademark for a wide variety of table
linens, cookware, dishes, furniture, and household accessories. It was very popular
in the fifties and sixties, and now is a retro collectible. 

New and Old Rolling Pins and Other Baking Tools

My mother's rolling pin dates from the 1950s. Before she had this one, she used a bottle to roll out pie dough or cookies.
For some of his bread recipes, Len wanted a French style rolling pin -- his new one is very useful. 
Another practical purchase: three glass mixing bowls, which will be
handy for many bread-making tasks, among other uses.
One of the new bowls in use for making sourdough starter.
The result: a rye-raisin bread from the Poilâne book (reviewed here.)
One of several successful bakes that Len has done this month. 
This month, I also baked a couple of sweets — I talked about
this pan of brownies a few days ago.
I also baked peanut butter cookies from the recipe
in the Joy of Cooking. A classic worth keeping!

"In My Kitchen" is a blog party hosted each month by Sherry, who lives in Australia and blogs at
http://sherryspickings.blogspot.com/ To see what's new in a number of other kitchens belonging to bloggers around the world, check out her post for this month!

Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot blogspot.com. © 2020.
Note copyright on photos.

This is the real header of Mae's one and only food blog.
If you are reading this post somewhere else, it's been stolen!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Summer, Continued

The first monarch butterfly I have seen this year.

... and other insects.


The herbs on our patio are producing delicious shoots and leaves!
Mushrooms with some of the herbs. 
Spaghetti with tomatoes and tarragon.
Summer fruit with mint, rosewater, and honey.
Recipe idea from Claudia Roden’s Arabesque.
Mint: delightfully prolific!

Blog post © 2020 mae sander

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Food Insecurity (Again)

Food insecurity is a topic I've written about, but there's no way to finish with this topic! For a very large number of Americans the economic crash that resulted from the Covid 19 pandemic was a catastrophe. "Due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 54 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, including a potential 18 million children. (FeedingAmerica.org) There's plenty of data to show that hunger in third-world countries is much worse than here, but in this post, I'm only going to explore what's happening in the USA, and try to understand the results of our crashing economy, irresponsible national leaders, and unprecedented demand on social services.

At the beginning of the pandemic, food banks and social welfare programs were overwhelmed with people in need. Long lines of cars formed at food distribution sites. Donations of surplus food to the food banks disappeared as panic buying emptied the shelves of food markets and donations from restaurants ended as the restaurants shut down almost everywhere in the country. Although the dramatic events have become more manageable, and thus less news-worthy, extreme food insufficiency still exists in many parts of our society, with several times as many people needing food aid than did before the pandemic. Long lines still form at many distribution sites, and food packages run out while people are still waiting.

To say it simply: many children are going hungry, many adults are going hungry and many families are suffering deeply. Of great concern: it's about to get worse. Government measures to help the suddenly unemployed and newly poor citizens are about to expire at the same time as untimely opening of public accommodations and businesses drives Covid 19 numbers upward again.

About the economy, Paul Krugman wrote a summary on Twitter on June 27:
"Wage and salary income fell $800 billion (at an annual rate) between Feb and May, but this was more than offset by $1.2 trillion in unemployment benefits. This kept lockdown of contact-intensive sector from spilling over into a much wider slump. 
"But expanded benefits are set to expire at the end of next month, and for technical reasons will actually vanish for most workers on 25 July. There was supposed to be OK because of a rapidly recovering economy — but the failure on virus control means slow recovery instead. 
"In effect we're set to impose devastating austerity on an economy not remotely ready to handle it — and to head that off we'd need major policy action in *less than a month*. With the White House still in denial, what are the odds of that happening?"
Unemployment benefits have been difficult to secure, thanks to dysfunctional application systems and bureaucracies, but by now a large number of unemployed people have received payments and many are now going back to work, though new increases in the number of Covid 19 cases may disrupt the apparent progress. Further, as Krugman points out, the special benefits seem likely to expire, thus leaving many people without the means to put food on the table. Adding those who will lose benefits to those who didn't qualify for benefits is a scary prospect.

For example, many families relied on school lunch programs for much of their children's nutrition before the pandemic. Many shut-down school districts managed to supply meals to students although no actual classroom teaching was going on. Now summer vacation is putting new stress on social service organizations that normally provide summer replacements for the school meals. I've tried to find out how they are coping this year.

In my local area, I'm aware of SOS Community Services in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the next town over from Ann Arbor where I live. This organization and many others like it organize summer meals for children who rely on school lunches during the school year. Food for the SOS programs to cook and serve is provided by the county's central food bank, Food Gatherers. This summer, however, the need for social distancing makes their usual approach of communal meals impossible. Under special regulations of the Michigan Department of Social Services, "Each week, sites will distribute bundles of free, to-go meals (breakfast and lunch), to provide 14 meals/week for each child. Parents/guardians may pick up the food." (source)

A major source of food for low-income people is the Federal program SNAP. Of course SNAP has experienced major increases in demand since the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Obtaining SNAP benefits has always been difficult, even when a huge surge created new problems and when hunger was an emergency for many people. Efforts are slowly being made to improve the roadblocks. From the website Food Bank News:
"The notoriously difficult process of applying for SNAP — involving pages of documentation and even face-to-face interviews — is finally entering a more modern age, as mobile applications optimized for ease of use start to become more widely available. For example, GetCalFresh, a mobile app developed by the non-profit Code for America, makes it possible to submit an application for California’s version of SNAP in a matter of minutes. 
"In the face of crushing demand, improvements to the SNAP application process cannot come quickly enough. GetCalFresh processed 115,000 applications in March, compared to only 40,000 in February." (Source
Another US Department of Agriculture program, initiated last April and still growing is the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program (link).  More than 20 million food boxes have been distributed since the start of the program, though there's much about it that isn't clear, and I'll be trying to learn more. Marion Nestle writes that the benefits to farmers and to end-recipients have not been well-documented, and she lists a lot of open questions about the program (source).

Hunger, especially, haunts the black community along with racism, which has received particular attention recently, as everyone knows. Combine civil unrest, fear of police violence, widespread illness, job losses, difficulties applying for social benefits, and yet more problems -- Black Americans are disproportionately affected by all the problems in our society, including this:
"African American households face hunger at a rate more than twice that of white, non-Hispanic households. And getting enough to eat is a consistent struggle for 1 in 4 African American children." (source)
Poverty, food insufficiency, and diseases of poverty lead to worse risks and worse outcomes for those infected with the virus. Per 100,000 members of the Black community, there have been 178 hospitalizations due to Covid 19; for the non-Hispanic white community, the comparable number is 40. (As of June 13, per the CDC.)

What can we do -- those of us who are mainly locked down because of high risk from the virus? Various organizations have suggestions such as this one from Feeding America: "How to help your neighbors get by this summer and beyond."

Every stratum of our society has been affected by the pandemic, and the more I try to find out, the more I suffering I see. Economic pain, poor health, and social problems are all worse than ever.  The impact of the coronavirus reaches every part of the food chain. Farmers, food processors and packers, grocery workers, food preparation professionals, restaurant workers, food banks, transport workers and any other part of the chain you can think of all have new problems which all have an impact on food insecurity. There's just too much to cover in a short post like this!

This blog post © 2020 by mae sander and written for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Everyone needs chocolate!

We recently finished the chocolate candy supplies that we laid in earlier in the pandemic when everyone was panic buying. On amazon.com, at that time, I found my favorite York Peppermint Patties, but they are all now eaten up. We have also eaten all our Hershey bars and Snickers, and most of our Milanos. Slowly, I might add.

So I baked brownies, using up the last unsweetened chocolate in the house. They are good but a bit ooey-gooey!

Black Forest Brownies, that is brownies with cherries
in them, inspired by Green Gourmet Giraffe (link).
I followed the classic recipe and added the cherries.
All chocolates having been eaten, I searched amazon.com for chocolate baking supplies. I have a feeling that prices are going up, but I found one good deal:

The good luck part: yesterday was a pretty cool day, so the chocolate didn't melt in transit. The package of chocolate chips was just sent in an ordinary bubble-wrap mailing envelope, no temperature control, and delivered by one of the amazon trucks which seem to make several tours a day thorough our neighborhood delivering everyone's Amazon and Whole Foods orders. Summer is not a good time to order chocolate candy this way!

At any rate, many people need to avoid grocery stores, which has been an incredible boon to amazon -- but the other way to look at it is that Amazon and Whole Foods were ready for an emergency, but they just didn't know what emergency they were ready for. As a result, they made it possible for a lot of people to keep safe. Every time I see a (masked) Amazon driver I say thank you: from a distance, of course.

Maybe I will find more chocolate to buy in my next Whole Foods order -- but they are too pure to sell Snickers. Yesterday I wrote about a very serious subject, so today's post is very trivial!

Blog post © 2020 mae sander.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Spain, the Old and the New

"The Inquisition Tribunal" by Francisco Goya. (Google Arts & Culture)
In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain decreed that the Jewish religion could no longer be practiced in their realm. The Jews who lived there were instructed either to convert or to leave. If they did neither the penalty was death. This absolute ban on Judaism followed a century of persecution, exile, and forced conversions of Jewish residents of Spain.

The short-term consequence was vast suffering for those Jews who decided to leave, abandoning everything they had. The already-working Spanish Inquisition then invented new ways to persecute those who stayed and converted. The Inquisitors habitually targeted sincerely converted Christians as well as those who were not sincere but only attempting to continue their lives in Spain. Inquisitors and their willing lay collaborators were often motivated by the law that the property of the accused Jews became the property of their accusers.

Spain exiled or persecuted a very productive sector of their population, and lost the contributions of tens of thousands of skilled artisans, entrepreneurs, and knowledge workers. In the long term, this gap in skills and education contributed to the eventual decline of Spain from being a major world power to its current status -- although the immediately subsequent conquest of the Americas and the exploitation of native populations and resources postponed the consequences.

In exile, many communities of Spanish refugees maintained the memory of their origin in Spain, as well as speaking Castilian Spanish. The traditional name of Spain used by the Jews was Séfarad, and thus they have always been known as Sephardic Jews.

Retour à Séfarad, published 2018.
Pierre Assouline, in his memoir Retour à Séfarad, includes a very detailed account of this history, along with his personal story. His ancestors left Spain in the earlier persecution in 1391. They spent 600 years as members of the Sephardic community of Morocco. In the 1950s, the Arab countries of North Africa drove out their Jewish communities. As a result, Assouline and his family settled in France and he obtained a French education. He became a well-known journalist and author of a large number of biographies, novels, and other works.

In about 2016, Assouline decided to respond to a decree by the current King of Spain stating that descendants of the Jews from the expulsions 500 years ago could now be granted citizenship in modern Spain. Retour à Séfarad documents the obstacles Assouline encountered as he tried to become a Spanish citizen. He was assigned mountains of paperwork to prove his roots, he had to navigate a variety of bureaucrats in person and online, he was required to become fluent in the language and history of Spain, and he had to take courses and pass examinations to prove his competence. He also experienced many other challenges.

The memoir also includes descriptions of the author's travels in Spain, checking into the 500-year-old history of Jews in a number of locales. Assouline describes the attitudes towards this history among the residents in the modern communities where Jews once lived. He gives character sketches of a number of contemporary Sephardic Jews, as well as  their family histories. As he discusses his situation, he explores the meaning of personal identity and how people form their own identities. Of course he inevitably includes comparisons between the expulsion of 1492 and the Holocaust of the 1940s. Although the book covers an amazing variety of topics, I found it interesting and coherent. In particular, before I read Retour à Séfarad, I was already familiar with most of the Spanish-Jewish history covered there; however, I totally appreciated the way Assouline wrote it and the many details that he included.

Assouline is a very wide-ranging consumer of books, films, music, art, and more. Thus Retour à Séfarad is absolutely full of references to high-brow, middle-brow, and low-brow culture, both French and international. He describes visits to various museums, connecting his thoughts on history to various painters such as to Francisco Goya -- for example, the work depicted at the start of this post. He mentions Cervantes and his creation Don Quixote often. But there's also Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, William Faulkner, George Eliot, Philip Roth, André Schwartz-Bart, André Breton, James Joyce, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Elias Canetti, Amos Oz, Al Capone, Charles Dickens, Lawrence of Arabia, Henri Cartier-Bresson and many more ... so many allusions!

I enjoyed reading this book. One reason I liked it is that I have been to the places he described, often trying, as he did, to find places with remnants of the long-lost Jewish residents. I have read many of the authors he mentions, so I could connect to what he was saying. I am proud to say that I read the book in French as there is no available translation. I've read one other book by Assouline: An Artful Life: A Biography of D. H. Kahnweiler 1884-1979 (blogged here).

As I read the history of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in Retour à Séfarad, I was thinking a lot about the price that Spain paid for expelling a whole community so brutally and pointlessly. I have been thinking of the similarity of the historic injustice with the current actions of our own government, the United States of America. What we are doing to our own immigrant communities now, in 2020, is equally unjust and potentially as destructive to the future of both the current citizens and of the immigrant communities that we threaten with expulsion. We don't even offer them an option to "convert"!

Review © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot.com.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Little World Around Me

The shore of Barton Pond, part of the Huron River.
Sandhill cranes at Four-Mile Lake. Last year this flock was joined by a single Whooping Crane.
Hungry red-winged blackbird?
Walking along the paths near Barton Pond and visiting various nature areas, we don't see too many people -- except on weekends, when we stay home! Mostly the weekday walkers maintain a safe distance and many wear face coverings. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Coffee in Paris: Looking Forward to Paris in July

Coffee in a cup marked with the brand "Cafes Richard" --
breakfast at a café in Paris some years ago.
"Paris in July" is an amusing blogger event hosted each year by Tamara at https://thyme-for-tea.blogspot.com/ -- she's really a great sport to do this again for 2020. This year more than ever I wish I could be in Paris instead of locked down at home in Michigan, where we are trying to avoid the pandemic. But that's how it is. For all these months, I've been trying to live in the present, and not pine for what I can't have and where I can't be.

Now it's time to think about past trips to Paris, isn't it?

A set of hand-made coffee cups displayed at an outdoor ceramics fair near Saint Sulpice.

For my first thoughts about far-away Paris this year, I've looked through past blog posts for images of coffee in Paris. Sitting in a café having coffee and a croissant for breakfast -- what a dream! Looking in shop windows or art exhibits to see old and new-style coffee cups -- how divine that would be!

Breakfast coffee
Coffee and pastry on signature china at the very famous restaurant
Le Dome. (Hemingway ate here)
Long before coffee: medieval cups, flask, and pitchers at Musee de Cluny.

Outdoor lunch dessert: my indulgent sorbet dwarfs Len's little cup of coffee 
Another cup of coffee for breakfast near our hotel
Breakfast near an outdoor market.
Croissant, juice, and morning coffee.
Afternoon coffee with a crepe at the famous Josselin Creperie.
I'm also linking this post with Altered Book Lover's virtual party called T is for Tuesday, where many bloggers share images of beverages along with other thoughts, especially about art and creative work.

Window-shopping: a souvenir item I did not buy -- a Mona Lisa coffee cup.
French cup and saucer, about 1785. Sèvres Manufactory. (Detroit Inst. of Arts)
Photos copyright © 2013-2020 mae sander. Blog post © 2020.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

"Taste The Nation With Padma Lakshmi"

Beautiful chiles and tomatillos on a grill in Texas, from the first episode of a new food TV series!
New on Hulu streaming video: "Taste The Nation With Padma Lakshmi." We have watched three episodes, and like some better than others. Padma is of course a fantastically beautiful woman with an uncanny ability to take a seemingly large bite of some exotic food and then assume a dramatic expression of ecstasy!

Padma Lakshmi
Padma travels from one city to another, interviewing a variety of cooks, restaurant owners, food manufacturers, shop keepers and others to show how American food has evolved from many immigrant sources. Sometimes the interviews come across as a little like infomercials, for example about a sausage factory in Milwaukee or about a rather pretentious restaurant in San Antonio. But basically, I think it's an intriguing series, and I'll be watching at least a few more of the 10 episodes!

Our favorite episode so far explores Padma's family's Indian cuisine, including interesting interviews with her mother, with the very famous cookbook writer (and actor) Madhur Jaffrey, and with Preet Bharara, former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Padma cooking and tasting with Madhur Jaffrey whose cookbooks made Indian food popular in England.
Dosas in New York City with Preet Bharara. Sitting on a park bench, they discuss issues about American attitudes and
their own family experiences as immigrants.
A very large number of reviews of this series have already appeared in mainstream and online journals, though I have the impression that some of the writers haven't actually watched all of the episodes! I was especially interested in the review in the Washington Post because it has so much information about Padma's entire life and previous accomplishments: "With a new series of her own, Padma Lakshmi is at the top of her game" by Tim Carman. He writes:
"She visits immigrant and Native American communities and asks them to share their stories with a country that has frequently ignored or demonized them. Over the course of 10 episodes, Lakshmi cooks with immigrants from Mexico and Iran, learns to make beer with a German home-brewer, investigates how Native Americans are reclaiming their ancient foodways, and even spends time in the kitchen with her idol, Madhur Jaffrey, the Indian-born actress who would blaze the trail for subcontinental cooking in America."
If you are a Hulu subscriber, I think you will want to check this out. Or maybe get a trial subscription to Hulu and see if you like it. That's my opinion! From mae at maefood dot blog spot dot com, author of this review; © 2020 mae sander.