Friday, July 31, 2020

A Quiet Month in My Kitchen

What a quiet month July has been! Here in Michigan, many restaurants and businesses tried to go back to some sort of normal. However Len and I have remained isolated because the coronavirus isn't really disappearing. What's worse: the consequences of contracting the disease are turning out to be more severe and long-lasting than was first believed. So we're still eating every meal at home, having almost all groceries delivered, rarely getting take-out food, and keeping away from even our relatives -- though many people have started going out again. We did invite friends for a distanced outdoor visit once or twice.

But to get to my kitchen, where we are doing our own cooking, still avoiding most beef and pork purchases, still eating little chicken, and not changing much that's been true for the last 3 months. So what can I tell you about? We bought one new thing: a set of storage containers for flour: not interesting enough for a photo. The food we've cooked & eaten this month was not very different from earlier months of lockdown, but here are a few pictures:

Local tomatoes are best... we can't always get them
because safe shopping options are limited.
Pizza dough from Len's sourdough starter.
We defrosted one piece of beef, bought before we swore off.
We grilled it along with sweet potatoes made in the grill pan.
We bought one chicken, which we also grilled.
Len made cinnamon rolls. What a treat!
Pasta with sugar snap peas and herbs.
More vegetarian food: packaged squash ravioli cooked in butter
and sage leaves, served with mushrooms and green salad.
Savory pancakes with fresh garden herbs, a fried egg, and salad --
as usual, these use up the starter discard.

Vegan curry with cauliflower, bell pepper, tomatoes,
potatoes, red lentils. This is becoming one of my go-to recipes.
Carrot, raisin, and lime salad to go with curry.
Blondies: bars made with brown sugar, chocolate chips,
pecans, etc. Hard to get a clear photo!
This is a long-time favorite recipe.

What I feel in my kitchen...

In my kitchen, I feel sad. A variety of food news is very depressing (other news too, but that's not for this post). I am very sad for the restaurant owners and for the food-service workers whose livelihoods are so endangered. The restaurant industry before the pandemic was 10% of the work force, so that's a lot of people suffering! I feel sad for the farms that supplied restaurants, I feel sad for the meat packing workers who have repeatedly been forced to work in dangerous contagion (which is why I'm not buying meat), and I feel sad for the workers on fishing boats who have been exposed or infected. I feel sad for the many people who are challenged to put food on the table.

In my kitchen, I feel gratitude, because we have enough to eat, plenty of choices, a variety of food delivery options, friends who bring us food, and many other things to be grateful for. But we are lonely in the kitchen for the friends and relatives who often visit and cook with us or bring food for potluck meals.

We had take-out once during the entire month, and definitely did not go to any restaurants, even to eat outdoors with tables widely separated. Too risky! We virtually never go to bars anyway, so this is a great time to keep staying away from them. A lesson to us: Michigan has the distinction of having suffered a record number of cases at Harper's Bar in Lansing:
"To date, 144 patrons – average age 21 – who visited Harper’s from June 12 to June 20 have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Ingham County Health Director Linda Vail, who said that eight-day span qualified as a 'super spreader' event. Another 44 people caught the virus from those patrons later on, she said." (link)
In sum: my kitchen this July is a lucky place, with summer produce, home-cooked food, Len's great bread and rolls, and our great fortune to have enough to eat. However, it's a sad place, especially thinking of the huge number of people whose lives have been turned upside down by job loss, by poverty, by children out of school, and by disease. I'm sharing this with Sherry at the blog Sherry's Pickings and with the other bloggers who also share their kitchen stories each month.

Blog post © 2020 mae sander for maefood dot blog

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Book List: Wrapping Up Paris in July

Participants in the blog event Paris in July have been busy all month describing a variety of recipes, books, book shops, music, personal experiences in Paris in the past, aspirations for future travel, and many other impressions of Paris. I've been enjoying all their posts, and thanks to some excellent reviews, I've discovered a few new authors. To see the final wrap up posts, check out Tamara's blog.

Among the books I learned about, I recently read a police procedural by Fred Vargas: The Chalk Circle Man, translated by Siân Reynolds. The book's blurb explains:
"Fred Vargas was born in Paris in 1957. A historian and archaeologist by profession, she is a number-one bestselling author in France. She is the author of eight novels featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptise Adamsberg, including Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand and This Night’s Foul Work. Her books have been published in thirty-eight countries and have sold more than four million copies.
I found The Chalk Circle Man different from English and American police procedurals that I'm used to reading. I was somewhat surprised by the extreme quirkiness of Commissaire Jean-Baptise Adamsberg and his fellow detectives, as well as of the suspects, and eventually the perp. These characters reminded me a little of the exaggerated personalities created by Boris Vian in his ever-popular French cult classic L'écume des jours, published in 1947. Right up front, we learn that Adamsberg "had solved, one after another, four murders in a way that his colleagues had found uncanny, in other words unfair and provocative." (p. 14). There are various bon mots like "a caress is no substitute for a good cup of coffee." Or "Mathilde sat up and pushed her dark hair back with both hands. Right, she thought, I’m just having a little attack of metaphysics and it will pass."

At the start of this book a mysterious set of events is occurring in Paris: someone is drawing chalk circles in the streets, and in each one appears a strange bit of trash or some object of no apparent meaning. Commissaire Adamsberg finds this odd sequence of actions significant. He demands that the police force pay attention. He collects people who seem to know something about the chalk-circle man, and they are eccentric too. As he interviews these possibly knowledgeable people, he always seems a bit inattentive and distracted, and he has a habit of making sketches of the people in the room. For example:
"Then she looked at Adamsberg, who was not drawing but was sitting with his legs outstretched, one hand in his trouser pocket, the other holding a cigarette in his fingertips and seeming so disorganised and nonchalant that it was hard to know how to approach him. But Mathilde sensed that he was quite capable of doing his job, even looking like that, or perhaps especially when looking like that."(p. 130).
Smells play a role also, in what seems a strange way:
"‘A thousand witnesses, a thousand noses,’ he added, smiling and spreading wide his long arms. ‘A thousand noses, a thousand different interpretations. A thousand interpretations probably add up to a thousand childhood memories. One person thinks of rotten apples, another vinegar, and tomorrow we might have people talking about what? Nutmeg, furniture polish, strawberries, talcum powder, dusty curtains, cough mixture, gherkins . . . The circle man must have a smell that reminds people of their childhood." (p. 145).
I was a little disappointed in the final resolution of the mystery, but no spoilers here. I might read another book by Fred Vargas, and I'm glad that Lisbeth at The Content Reader recommended her.

Other Finds from Paris in July

The Woman Who Didn’t Grow Old by Grégoire Delacourt, translated by Vineet Lal was reviewed by Annabel (AnnaBookBel). She wrote:
"If you enjoy the books of Antoine Laurain or Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, you’d probably enjoy Delacourt too." 
Intrigued by her review of this author, who was new to me, I read his book The First Thing You See, which I reviewed last week (link). It was very enjoyable! Eventually I think I'll read other books by this popular French author.

Lisbeth at The Content Reader also introduced a favorite thriller writer, Michel Bussi with the book Time is a Killer. She writes:
"Michel Bussi is a professor of geopolitics and one of the most popular French authors today. He has written numerous novels. I have earlier read After the Crash and Black Water Lilies. They are both excellent. I enjoy thrillers and mysteries that have an interesting story. Bussi provides this in all his books. The stories are often very sad, and the murderers become killers by pure accident."
I hope to try one of his books soon.

Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes, translated by Frank Wynne also was reviewed by Annabel (AnnaBookBel):
"There is nothing like this trilogy to capture the Zeitgeist of recent years, Despentes (and Frank Wynne’s wonderful translation) captures the despair and frustration, the polarisation and depression, and makes the reader feel part of it. Yet amongst all this negativity, there is friendship and some cause for optimism."
While I had heard of the TV series, this review gave me much much more information about the three books of the series. I probably won't read these or watch the TV series, but I'm glad to be more informed about them.

Finally, I'm intrigued by The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, which was reviewed by vvb32reads, who recommended several other interesting books. Also, Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life recommended Didierlaurent’s book The Rest of their Lives. And I thank my fellow bloggers for lots more very tempting reviews of French books and films that have been posted this month.

As a lover of Paris, I have visited there many times. I hope that the world situation will clear up so that I can go back again some day not too long in the future. Meanwhile, I've enjoyed the many virtual visits to Paris that I took in my own blog and on other blogs this month, Paris in July.

This review copyright © 2020 mae sander.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

"The Night Tiger" by Yangsze Choo

The Night Tiger, published 2019.
Yangsze Choo's novel The Night Tiger is a highly enjoyable novel. The author combines historic fiction with magical realism and folklore in a very exotic setting -- a little-known province of Malaya; that is, present-day Malaysia. In the novel, multiple cultures interact: Chinese people from different areas of China, English colonials, and local natives. The excellence of the book comes from the vivid characters, profound dream sequences, complex relationships, a colonial setting rather long ago in 1931, and a fascinating plot.

Ji Lin is one of the five central characters in the novel. At the beginning we learn about her name:
"The Ji in my name wasn’t commonly used for girls. It was the character for zhi, or knowledge, one of the five Confucian Virtues. The others were benevolence, righteousness, order, and integrity. Chinese are particularly fond of matched sets and the Five Virtues were the sum of qualities that made up a perfect man. So it was a bit odd that a girl like me should be named for knowledge." (p. 15).
The other four central characters, it turns out, possess names that incorporate the other four Confucian Virtues. In the course of the novel, the reader is made to understand how these names determine the characters' fates. Doesn't this sound contrived? That's the absolutely amazing thing in the book: it's not contrived at all! However, it's very suspenseful so I will not give away any spoilers.

The chapters of the book alternate between a first-person account by Ji Lin and an omniscient narrator telling about the other characters, especially the life story of a very young kitchen boy named Ren and his two masters, both English doctors. Each household has a number of personalities including servants, and in addition there are many other characters who are connected to the hospital where one of the doctors works.

Ji Lin leads a kind of a dual life at home with her mother, step-father, and step-brother; at her work as an apprentice dressmaker; and at her better-paying secret job as a dance hall girl. Her occasional descriptions of making and wearing stylish clothing contributes to the exotic atmosphere of the story; for example, she wrote about going to a funeral: "The only suitable dress I had was a plain grey Mandarin-collared cheongsam that I’d made as part of my apprenticeship. A cheongsam is an unforgiving, formal Chinese dress to tailor." (p. 46).

In both narratives, I was delighted to read many descriptions of the local fruit and vegetables, the local cuisine, the more exotic Chinese cooking done in the kitchens of the story, and the odd combination of English and local foods eaten by the colonial doctors and their friends who are a main part of the story. For me, the food descriptions are a delightful reflection of the multiple cultures that intersect in the complex and wonderful plot. Besides food, the story is full of the supernatural. Especially there's much folklore about tigers and about people who are really tigers or tigers who are really people.

I want to share some of the food quotes from Ji Lin's narrative:
"I brought a treat to make up for the fact that I wasn’t homesick at all. Today it was rambutans, the hairy, red-skinned fruit that snapped open to reveal a sweet white interior. They’d been selling them by the bus stop, and I’d bought a bundle wrapped in old newspaper. As I sat on the bus I rather regretted it, as the rambutans were crawling with ants." (p. 27).
"Going to the wet market had always been one of my favorite errands. You could buy almost anything there: piles of red and green chilies, live chicks and quail, green lotus seed pods that resembled shower sprinklers. There were fresh sides of pork, salted duck eggs, and baskets of glossy river fish. You could eat breakfast, too, at little stalls serving steaming bowls of noodles and crispy fritters." (p. 46). 
"Dinner that night was a silent affair, despite the luxury of a whole steamed chicken rubbed with sesame oil. It sat, expertly chopped into bite-sized pieces, on a large platter. None of us had touched it." (p. 33).
"At the canteen, I wanted to try the exotic Western food— sardine sandwiches, chicken chops, and mulligatawny soup— listed on the blackboard." (p. 114). 
"Koh Beng sat down and started eating. Noodles again, with thin succulent slices of pork liver ladled on top of the steaming hot soup. I wished I’d ordered that as well. “Want some?” he asked." (pp. 153-154). 
"I sat on her bed. “Are you working tonight?” I’d hoped that she was free to have dinner at one of the roadside stalls that grilled stingray wrapped in banana leaves, but she was clearly getting ready for an evening out." (p. 172).
"... both locals and expatriates came to drink at the long bar and order Western dishes prepared by a Hainanese chef: sizzling steaks and chicken chops, washed down with icy beer." (p. 175).
"They’d brought an enormous bag of mangosteens and a tiffin carrier of steamed pork buns, as though we might starve before reaching Singapore. It would be a long journey south: four hours to Kuala Lumpur, then an overnight sleeper of eight hours to Singapore. A total of about 345 miles— farther than I’d ever been in my life." (p. 363). 

And I want to share some quotes from the omniscient narrator: 
"Since William is at the hospital, Ah Long has put together some simple noodles in broth. Shredded chicken and boiled greens are piled on top, with a gloss of fried shallot oil. Ren notices that Ah Long has given him a larger portion than usual, with extra meat." (pp. 43-44). 
"... the monthly party, a much anticipated social event where people dine on canned food sent from Europe— peas, lobster, tongue— drink too much, and congratulate each other on having a wonderful time out in the Colonies. It’s his turn to host, and he must remind Ah Long to lay in extra wine and spirits and discuss the menu. William would rather eat fresh local food than something that has died and been sealed in a can, like a metal coffin. He shudders at the thought and quickens his pace to catch up with Rawlings.  
"The hospital cafeteria is an open, airy space with a thatched roof and a poured concrete floor. The daily menu includes both Western and local food. Rawlings stands in line at the counter and demands a kopi-o, strong black coffee with sugar, and a slice of papaya in his deep bass. Queuing behind him, William asks for the same." (p. 90). 
"'TUAN, are you going to church?' asks Ren. While William ate breakfast, he polished his master’s shoes with brown Kiwi shoe polish, purchased yesterday in town, till they were bright. William inspects them and says they remind him of ripe chestnuts, though Ren has no idea what he’s referring to. Some kind of fruit, he thinks, though he can’t imagine a fruit that looks like shoes."  (p. 139).  
"Three plump chickens are in the wooden coop at the back. They’ll be made into chicken cutlets and Inchi Kabin, crispy twice-fried chicken served with sweet-and-spicy sauce. Local beef is tough and lean, and comes from water buffalo, so Ah Long will make beef rendang, slow-cooked dry curry with coconut, to round out the main dishes." (p. 164).
"Ah Long is already busy in the kitchen, stirring a large pot of beef rendang, slow cooked with coconut milk, and aromatic with kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, and cardamom.  ... dessert comes out. Sago gula Malacca, pearls of tapioca drizzled with coconut milk and dark brown coconut-sugar syrup, and kuih bingka ubi, that fragrant golden cake made from grated tapioca root." (pp. 199- 205).
I'm grateful to Carol for recommending this book!

This review copyright © 2020 by mae sander. 

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Streaming TV In Our Living Room

Street Food Latin America

The new Street Food Latin America is fabulous! David Gelb never disappoints us, never insults us, and most important always respects the cooks and customers in the countries that he writes about. Ever since Jiro Dreams of Sushi, released in 2011, he's been great. We've watched two of the new series, and I'm looking forward very much to the remaining episodes.


We can't stop watching this creepy mash-up of clichés which retells the Arthur legends in a sort of modern fanfic style.

Pluses: Good production values. Well-done graphic art sequences to advance the action. Creative casting using actors of various races, though this could also be interpreted as a negative in various ways. The characters are haphazardly borrowed from a wide variety of earlier retellings of the stories, sometimes a bit strangely, sometimes sort-of creatively. For example, Gawain IS the Green Knight.

Minuses: Horrible dialog that sometimes sounds like a parody of "Clueless" and sometimes sounds like a parody of the 19th century novels of Sir Walter Scott. No character development worth mentioning. Spotty acting techniques -- some pretty good, some awful. Very little plot, overall.

Ambiguous: At first I thought that the relentless anachronisms and inconsistencies were a negative feature, but I decided that they didn't matter. No effort seems to have been put forth for anything but a science fictiony setting where anything goes. For example, a Dutch-style windmill appears in one repeated landscape. If Arthurian England was in the Dark Ages, then what's a considerably later technological innovation doing there? Or a mention of the Minotaur? Or characters with sci-fi makeup that look like they were found on a planet explored in Star Trek? Never mind.

We have watched most of the episodes, though at times they put me to sleep. We will probably finish though I suspect they'll leave lots of loose ends for an infinite number of additional seasons of the show.

Classic Movies

Our rather recent HBO+ subscription includes lots of historic films, including classic Hollywood, French New Wave, the Studio Ghibli films, and more. Most recently watched: eternal classic The Maltese Falcon. 

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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Tea in Paris

In a shop dedicated to tea and nothing else:
Dammann Frères, Paris, Place des Vosges.
This is the last week of July and the 1,000,000th week of coronavirus lockdown. The blog event Paris in July (link) has inspired me to revisit earlier trips to this beloved and beautiful city while I'm unable to go more than a few miles from home. And the blog event "T is For Tuesday" (link) has given me the idea of looking at tea from a Paris perspective. It's fun to see what other people are doing to keep their equilibrium during these challenging summer days, and to share experiences from the past with them. Looking at tea...

Dammann Frères, Paris, November 2018 (photo by Tom).
This shop has been in business since 1692. Several other Dammann shops
are in other neighborhoods in the city. Other specialist tea-sellers
also have shops in various areas of Paris.
We visited Dammann Frères during Christmas season, so it was busy.
Their variety of single-origin teas from around the world is endless.
They also blend tea with many aromatic herbs, dried flowers, leaves, and other flavors.
Evelyn is the tea drinker in the family, and she bought a few packages of tea.
Customers inside the shop (photo by Tom).
The shop is in the arcades that line the Place des Vosges.
(Photo by Tom).
Before we went into the tea store, we looked around the Place des Vosges. Miriam and Alice are just to the left of the statue.
An amusing shop window elsewhere in Paris showed some clever tea pots.

"Patisserie Salon de Thé" (photo by Evelyn).

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

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Weekend Off

Like Kathy’s Bear I am taking the weekend off. No blogging except this.
See you tomorrow!

Friday, July 24, 2020

On the Water

Finally -- a photo of us on the Huron River in our kayak. I begged a passer-by to take out
picture with her cell phone and send it to us, and she very kindly did so. What a nice lady!
Pushing off.
Getting ready to go. Len uses a battery-operated pump, and then a couple of
strokes on a hand pump. The whole kayak folds up into just part of our car's trunk.
Blog post © 2020 mae sander.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Two Essential Paris Books

"If...the first requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite, the second is to put in your apprenticeship as a feeder when you have enough money to pay the check but not enough to produce indifference to the size of the total. ... The optimum financial position for a serious apprentice feeder is to have funds in hand for three more days, with a reasonable, but not certain, prospect of reinforcements thereafter. The student at the Sorbonne waiting for his remittance, the newspaperman waiting for his salary, the freelance writher waiting for a check that he has cause to believe is in the mail -- all are favorably situated to learn. (It goes without saying that it is essential to be in France.) ... The clear-headed voracious man learns because he tries to compose his meals to obtain an appreciable quantity of pleasure from each. It is from the weighing of delights against their cost that the student eater (particularly if he is a student at the University of Paris) erects the scale of values that will serve him until he dies or has to reside in the Middle West for a long period." (Between Meals, pp 51-52)
Two essential books about Americans in Paris:
Between Meals, published 1959.
The Gourmand's Way, published 2017.
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling is one of my favorite food memoirs. It covers a broad range of topics about Liebling’s life in Paris, especially during his student year there in 1926-1927. I have read it several times, and mentioned it often, but I’ve never written a real review of it until now.

I've started this review with the first paragraph from the chapter titled "Just Enough Money" because the topic of money is always relevant to Liebling's discussions of food in Paris. As a student, he had enough, but no surplus, and describes how he often had to choose how to order to conserve funds: with six francs, for example, he could have "a half bottle of Tavel supérieur, at three and a half francs, and braised beef heart and yellow turnips, at two and a half" or he could opt for "a contre-filet of beef, at five francs, and a half bottle of ordinaire, at one franc."

Besides the freedom to choose the most expensive options, a richer man might never go into the small and unpretentious but excellent restaurants where Liebling learned about real French food in the 1920s. For example, he discovered a wide variety of fish and how to cook them, not just the ones that are served at expensive and opulent restaurants. A rich man's options would be limited by always eating in higher-class places. "A diet passed chiefly on game birds and oysters becomes a habit as easily as a diet of jelly doughnuts and hamburgers." A rich man would seldom see even the pot-au-feu, "the foundation glory of French cooking." On the other hand, a really poor man would have no chance at gastronomic education at all.

Note that it's always a man. Liebling views women as a sort of convenience or acquired taste more or less the same as the food. His century-old attitudes are obviously out-of-date: he often invited young women to eat with him in exchange for their company at meals and then later in the evening. I prefer to pretend I didn't see this part of the book, even though it's just as amusing as the food parts. There's no way to be sure of the actual perspective of the girls that didn't (he suggests) have quite the depth of feelings and grasp of life that he had.

A.J.Liebling (source)
Liebling the student was always able to find perfect little mom-and-pop restaurants where the cook was superbly talented and the traditions of France were perfectly maintained. If he's creating a mythic version of Paris, it's a myth that we can all believe in -- or would like to. His view of a golden age of Paris in reach of a young man with just enough money is irresistible! But after a year receiving his father's generous monthly checks so that he could "study," he had to return to Providence and a job as an apprentice newspaper writer.

Twelve years later, in 1939, Liebling had established himself as a very successful journalist. He was writing for the New Yorker, which assigned him to write the Paris newsletter normally produced by Janet Flanner. For several months, during the "phony war" or "drôle de guerre" before real fighting began, he covered the early days of World War II. Most Parisians had already fled when he arrived, but the restaurants were still serving glorious meals, and he had a generous expense account that allowed him to eat and drink at the best and most famous restaurants in Paris, and at the small less famous but marvelous ones as well.

For example, at a small restaurant owned by the "Bouillon" family, he was told that business was dead for lack of customers, but the markets were full of "game, shellfish, anything you like." The daughter of the family "could make a soufflé Grand Marnier that stood up on a flat plate." He became a regular at the restaurant and sometimes accompanied M. Bouillon to Les Halles where they bought "oysters, artichokes, or pheasants" and drank Calvados or Pouilly-Fumé.  (pp 133-135)

In addition to the meals he enjoyed in 1939, Liebling documented his realization that the golden age of French gastronomy had ended before he had even arrived in the 1920s. The women were better before the first war, too, but let's drop that subject. By the time he wrote his memoir, long after the war, the end of the apprentice system meant that chefs were no longer being trained in the old traditions, and he foresaw the end of the great tradition soon. Did it really end? How will we even know?

The Liberation of Paris, 1944 (source)
In 1944, as the horrendous war was finally ending, Liebling accompanied the US forces as they entered Paris. By chance he was one of the few reporters present at the formal surrender of the German Commandant Dietrich von Choltitz to the French General LeClerc. His dramatic trip through Normandy and into Paris is the subject of the first chapter of Justin Spring's book The Gourmand's Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy.  (blogged here)

Justin Spring's book, like Liebling's, is essential reading for modern-day Paris lovers because it so clearly asks the question of how Americans (and other non-French people) came to see France and French cuisine as an important and central gastronomic wonder of the world. Of course I don't think that the incomparable uniqueness of Paris is only a myth, but it's intriguing to ask why France has such an exalted place in our imaginations.

To wrap up this review, and to share a very important and relevant thought with other participants in the ongoing blog party Paris in July (link), here is the beginning of New Yorker piece that commemorated the 100th anniversary of A.J.Liebling’s birth in 1904. He died in 1963, so this was written long after his death.

A. J. Liebling at one hundred.
“From the start of the American republic, the most tantalizing means of indulging a youthful desire for escape and re-creation has been the sojourn in Paris. It’s a long tradition, amply described. The literature begins with the decorous engagements in the letters of Benjamin Franklin and Abigail Adams and leads soon enough to the earthier liaisons in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Tropic of Cancer.” Much is promised to the prospective traveller: if not a passage of enlightenment or erotic adventure, then at least a taste for boiled innards and string beans done right.” (source)
It seems to me that this paragraph -- like Liebling's and Spring's books -- captures the very long tradition of the American longing for Paris and the vast number of accounts of how this longing has been satisfied. These many accounts are clearly a great influence on me and on the other participants in Paris in July.

This review © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com. 
Illustrations as credited.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Wildlife in my Neighborhood

One of the many residents of our front yard.

In the Fairy's Garden

Who owns all this? I guess it's the neighbor a few blocks from us. Or a nearby fairy village.

A Prehistoric Garden

Here is an unexpected resident down the street from us, who evidently heard the governor's
executive proclamation about wearing masks.

The owners of this property were asked if people stole their dinosaurs.
In fact, they say, they count them every year when they bring them in for
the winter, and always find more of them than they put out in spring.

And a strange reptile with Kathy’s Bear...

Blog post and all photos © 2020 mae sander.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"A Long Petal of the Sea," Review Part 2

During the Spanish Civil War in 1938, the fascists, illegitimately trying to overthrow the recently-elected government, made sure that everyone suffered from shortages of food and other goods. They especially punished everyone in the Republican strongholds that were defending the legitimate government. These hardships are described through the lives of characters in A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende, which I reviewed in detail in my previous blog post here.

In this post I want to explore the way that Allende uses food descriptions to highlight the experiences of her characters. In addition, I am including a few photos I found that were taken during the war and its aftermath; these are not illustrations from the book, but ones that interested me.

The elderly, women and children evacuating Barcelona
under heavy bombardment by fascist planes. (source)
As the novel begins, the character Roser, and her adoptive parents the Dalmaus, were struggling to find food at their home in Barcelona while Victor Dalmau and his brother were serving in the Republican army at different locations in Catalonia. The first chapters in the book depict the deteriorating conditions in the city and on the battlefields. At this time, Roser worked in a bakery near the family home in Barcelona where she was paid in bread. The family also managed to stand in line or struggle for a few additional provisions:
"Rations of lentils had been reduced to half a cup per person per day; there were no cats or pigeons left for stews. Roser’s bread was a dark, heavy block that smelled of sawdust; oil had become a luxury item, and was mixed with engine oil to make it go further. Many people grew vegetables in their bathtubs or on their balconies. Family heirlooms and jewels were traded for potatoes and rice." (A Long Petal of the Sea, p. 42). 
As Roser and the family dealt with these shortages, Allende changes the scene to the luxury ship where a family from the Chilean upper class were traveling to Europe. They planned a long vacation combined with business -- the author presents their indulgent life on the voyage in contrast to life during the Spanish Civil War. Here's a daily vignette of life on shipboard, as experienced by Laura, the spoiled wife, whose only worry is that she's getting to fat to wear her evening gowns:
"Although the Reina del Pacifico could not compete in terms of luxury with the Normandie, it was more than adequate. Laura took breakfast in bed, then dressed around ten for Mass in the chapel, after which she went to get some fresh air on the top deck in the chaise longue reserved for her, where a waiter brought her oxtail broth and bread rolls. From there she went in for lunch, which consisted of at least four courses, and soon it was time for high tea, with sandwiches and cakes. She barely had time to take a nap and play a few rounds of canasta before she had to dress for cocktails and dinner ...While the orchestra took a break, the passengers were served a midnight snack of foie gras, caviar, champagne, and desserts. She abstained from the first three, but couldn’t resist the sweets. The previous night the chef, a gargantuan Frenchman, had served up an orgy of chocolate in different shapes, crowned with an ingenious fountain that spouted melted chocolate from the mouth of a crystal fish." (pp. 90-91).  
Back in Spain, as Franco defeated more and more Republican forces, deprivation was the lot of his victims, sent to prisoner of war camps. The former soldiers tried to maintain discipline despite the appalling conditions:
"They divided the camp into streets with poetic names, outlined absurd squares and ramblas like those in Barcelona in the sand and mud, created the illusion of an orchestra without instruments to perform classical and popular music, and restaurants with invisible food that the cooks described in great detail while the others savored the tastes with their eyes closed." (p. 122).  
Victor Dalmau, imprisoned in this camp, remained dedicated to helping those in need of medical attention; he "was as skinny and weak as the rest of the men in the camp, but didn’t feel hungry, and more than once gave his ration of dried cod to someone else. His comrades said he must have been eating sand." (pp. 123-124).

After the final victory of Franco and his forces, the persecution of Republicans and their sympathizers was ruthless. Allende's narrative poignantly describes the terrible plight of these victims as they were driven from their homes in Madrid and Catalonia, deprived of all their possessions, and desperately seeking a place to go. Many ended up crossing the border into France where they were forced into concentration camps unless someone would take them in.

Refugees fleeing from Spain to France, 1939. (source
Women and children fleeing from Madrid. (source)
Some of the Spanish refugees, including Victor and Roser, were eventually allowed to board a special ship bound for Chile, where they were to be given a place to live and work. On board this ship, life contrasts to the opulent life on the luxury vessel, as well as being a complete change from the utterly deprived life in the camps:
"Coming, as most of the passengers did, from wretched conditions and near starvation, they thought this was paradise: they had not had a hot meal in months. On the boat the food was very simple but tasty, and they could have second helpings of as many vegetables as they liked." (p. 138).
At the end of the voyage, Victor and Roser settled in Santiago, Chile. Needing a means to make a living, and they decided to start a tavern where Spanish refugees could feel at home, and where they would introduce local people to the customs of Catalonia:
"They found a cook capable of preparing Catalan sausages with diced eggplant, anchovies and squid with garlic, tuna with tomato, and other delicacies from the old country, and soon had a faithful clientele of Spanish immigrants." (p. 172).
Again the details of food contribute to the well-rounded descriptions that Allende supplies throughout the novel. I want to share one final food scene: the way that Victor celebrated his birthdays at the end of his life with Roser, after they had returned from exile in Venezuela and resumed life in Chile:
"In honor of this sentimental legacy, the day before his birthday he would go down to the Mercado Central in search of the ingredients for the fumet, and fresh squid for the rice. Catalan through and through, Roser used to say. She herself never collaborated in the homespun creation of this festive dinner, instead contributing a piano recital from the living room or sitting on a kitchen stool to read Victor verses from Neruda, often an ode with a marine flavor, such as in Chile’s tempestuous sea lives the pink conger, that giant eel with snow-white flesh. It was pointless for Victor to inform her time and again that the dish in question didn’t contain conger, the king of aristocratic dinner tables, but the humble fish heads and tails of a proletarian soup. Or while Victor fried the onion and pepper in olive oil, then added the peeled and sliced squid, cloves of garlic, a few chopped tomatoes, and the rice, ending with hot stock that was black with squid ink and the obligatory fresh bay leaf, she would share gossip with him in Catalan in order to refresh their mother tongue, grown rusty from all their wanderings."

This review by mae sander copyright © 2020.