Monday, August 31, 2020

In My Pantry

My pantry is one of the best parts of my kitchen. This month, we have installed a new shelf that’s making a big difference in organizing. The new shelf mainly holds canisters of flour and other baking supplies for Len’s bread baking and other baking. Before it was installed, we piled the the lower shelf with canisters one on top of another to fit them in. Some were also in other parts of the pantry. This is much better and freed up more space for other foods. Len had to use some imagination and hard work to fit the shelf into the existing arrangement.

Above the new shelf are my three shelves of spice bottles and cans, and
further above that are my Mona Lisa mugs. It's been a while since a new
Mona Lisa mug arrived in my collection!
Another view of the new shelf.
You can see that my pantry houses many empty jars, as well as several piles of serving platters and bowls, and some small appliances. On the floor are the recycle bin and a stash of grocery bags.

In another part of the pantry, opposite the new shelf, I store a number of metal boxes from Christmas cookies in which I keep nuts, crackers, cookies, dried fruit, etc. In a bin below the shelves I store bags with onions and potatoes. You can also see my semi-organized canned goods, oils and vinegars, and other foods. Some of my reserve canned goods and paper goods are on shelves in the basement. Perhaps I should have more neatly rearranged the pantry for these photos, but I'm showing it to you in its native state.

Asian condiments
One section is reserved for Asian condiments: Thai fish sauce, Maggi seasoning, sesame oil, soy sauce, black vinegar, ponzu sauce, and more. I like to try new ones, but I haven't had the opportunity to shop at specialty markets since the pandemic, so I am using what I already have.

One more view of my pantry. 
Just added: a new supply of goldfish.
Canisters of flour in use for bread-baking.
Yes, all the canisters have labels!

In My Kitchen in August, 2020

At the end of each month, I like to write up what's going on in my kitchen and share it with other bloggers who also post kitchen news at the blog Sherry's Pickings (link). I've been posting about vegetarian experiments, summer produce, and other cooking projects throughout the month (especially in this post last Friday: Food, Wine, Distance), so this month, I'm just telling about my pantry and the one big new change in my kitchen -- the shelf!

In my contribution to Sherry's "In My Kitchen," I also like to reflect a little bit on current events. First and foremost, the terrible ongoing pandemic affects everything, including kitchen life.  The food industry and society have in some ways have acted responsibly to help people in need. But in some cases the lives and health of workers and others have been jeopardized. As I've discussed before, I stopped buying meat from the industrial packing houses where so many workers have been infected by Covid, and I've adopted a more plant-centered diet. My sympathy for food workers also extends to the many restaurant workers and owners whose livelihoods have been disrupted or destroyed by the diminished business or permanent closing of restaurants, a situation that seems to be worsening.

Like many others, I suffer from the isolation and sadness of being locked down, but also feel guilty because I am unproductive. Above all, I am so little able to help those who are less fortunate than I am. I'm thinking of people losing access to adequate food, shelter, and basic human needs, whether from the economic downturn or from the natural and unnatural disasters that have hit several areas of the country. I hope for better times ahead.

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

Sunday, August 30, 2020

"The Salary Man's Wife"

Do you miss your American food? How about a hotto doggu?” 
"'No thanks, I don’t eat meat,' I said, unwrapping the sweet tofu and rice snack. 
"'It’s no good, not healthy. In Japan, we believe in eating thirty different foods every single day! Meat, fish, rice, pickles, soy beans—'"
– The Salaryman's Wife, Kindle Locations 5614-5617). 
The Salaryman's Wife
Published 1997
In  Sujata Massy's mystery novel The Salaryman's Wife, the amateur detective who solves the case is a Japanese-American woman living in Tokyo. Rei Shimura is an English teacher who would like to become an antique dealer. She works in a Japanese home-appliance manufacturing company where, among the humorous interchanges in the novel is an ongoing discussion about whether the company's ads for an espresso maker should call it "caffe latte" or use Japanese pronunciation "caffe ratte."

The novel is suspenseful and fun to read, with lots of local color in a variety of Tokyo settings, and in a mountain guest house with traditional Japanese rooms, baths, meals, and hosts. And of course a murder. I especially enjoyed the way that food was used to reinforce cultural identity of a number of characters, especially Rei.

Here's Rei's first dinner and breakfast at the rural inn:
"My dinner tray looked very promising. Buck-wheat noodles swam in broth that smelled deliciously of garlic and ginger. Small porcelain plates were filled with a jewel like assortment of sashimi, as well as sweet black beans, sesame-flecked spinach, lotus root, and other artistically arranged vegetables. The only foods that made me nervous were tiny dried sardines meant to be eaten whole and paper-thin slices of raw meat I suspected was horse, a regional specialty." (Kindle Locations 221-225).
"It was difficult to enjoy breakfast, even though it was straight out of my Zen vegetarian dreams: zni, a special New Year’s vegetable broth, plus steaming rice and saucers filled with colorful pickled vegetables. On the side was mochi, a glutinous rice cake." (Kindle Locations 537-539). 
Rei has an aunt Norie and cousin Tsutomu "Tom" Shimura on the Japanese side of her family, whose help she enlists in her amateur detecting. Her aunt offers her a meal when she visits their home:
"For lunch, Aunt Norie served scallops au gratin, a cucumber salad, sake-simmered lotus root, spinach-sesame rolls, and pickled eggplant left over from New Year’s. She said, 'Please tell your mother how much we enjoy that vinegar she sent for my birthday! It’s on the salad. But I don’t understand what it is, exactly.' 
"'Balsamic,' I guessed. And too much of it. I had to keep from puckering my mouth as I ate. 
"'I mean to go on a natto diet, but Oksan keeps stuffing me with high-cholesterol meals,' Tom said, not looking like he minded a bit. 'You eat natto? I’m glad I don’t have to work with you.' I made a face at him. The smell of fermented soybeans was just as bad as its stringy texture, although millions swore it was a font of good health." (Kindle Locations 1724-1731). 
Finally, I enjoyed the following description of ceremonial serving of special tea that an antique dealer offers Rei. This exchange illustrates how she has absorbed many things about how to be polite as a Japanese woman, as well as about appreciating Japanese antiques, her hoped-for metier:
"Mr. Ishida laid out a dark red Kutani teapot, cups, and a small strainer. Such special pieces; it was amazing he used them daily. ... My mentor went into the kitchen to take the whistling kettle off the stove. I toyed with the china, looking on the underside for its stamps. 
"When he came out, he poured me the first cup. 
"'Please try it,' he said. 
"'Itadakimasu.' I said grace before sampling the steaming, pale green liquid. 'A little grassy tasting. Fresh.' 
"He looked pleased. 'It is gyokuro, the highest grade of green tea. It comes from a farm that is eight generations old in Shizuoka Prefecture. I brewed it for exactly one minute.'" (Kindle Locations 5055-5062). 
Although this detective story was published some time ago, I found it still very readable: good escape fiction!

Blog post © 2020 mae sander. 

French Lemon Soda

A long time ago in France, the Perrier company invented a lemon drink named for the sound of the carbonated water fizzing when you opened the bottle. The sound... Pschitt

A Perrier ad from 1956.
Pschitt Citron was a really delicious and refreshing beverage, which I liked very much. The bottles were tiny, but so were the other carbonated beverages you could enjoy in a French café on a hot day. Both flavors, my favorite Pschitt citron (lemon) and Pschitt orange, were far less sweet than American carbonated drinks. 

The advertising campaigns for all the Perrier beverages were beautiful and imaginative, and are still widely admired for their innovative graphics. I've looked around the web for examples of the most entertaining of these ads – here's a selection, beginning with the ads from the 1950s.

Here’s an old Tour de France Perrier ad.
The 2020 race was postponed — it’s on right now.
The first stage finished Saturday, and I
hope they all can finish without getting Covid!

The Perrier company sold the Pschitt citron and Pschitt orange brands around 20 years ago, and as far as I can tell, Pschitt sodas are no longer widely sold, if at all. For some reason 😀   Pschitt products were never marketed in the US.

I hope you find this an amusing break from all the highly serious things that I write about. We need some light entertainment, don’t we? I'll be sharing this post with the weekly celebration of beverages at Altered Book Lover, as hosted by Elizabeth and Bluebeard.

Blog post © 2020 by mae sander for mae food dot blog dot com. 
Images from advertising are from the web.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Nature Walk

Between rainstorms, we took a walk at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens Friday afternoon.
The wind was blowing the clouds and the flowers were swaying.

The gardens behind the gate are off limits this year, as are the greenhouses, shop, and restrooms.
Because of the pandemic, only distanced outdoor walks are allowed.
Fortunately, we enjoyed our walk before the rain started again.
Back home, I made a plum cake for dinner. Another sign of summer's end.
Blog post and all photos © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Food, Wine, Distance

Distanced get-together with individually portioned quiche and cornbread. 
Adam at his table. Jason and Katrina at their table. Front: our table. 

New "Birding" t-shirt.  
Another day, a different visitor for lunch on the patio.
Social distancing on our friend Abby's deck.

A Few Things We Cooked Recently

Broccoli salad. Mushrooms ready to be made into pasta.
Broiled tofu, broccoli, and carrots.
Egg salad, stuffed grape leaves, hummus.
Red lentil and sweet potato curry. Recipe from Cooking Light (link).
I used green onions instead of red onions in the garnish.
Eggplant with tomatoes —- Matbucha (link). Bulgar wheat Mejadra with green lentils and onions. (link)
Local peaches whenever we can get them!
Finally, we managed to toast some marshmallows.

Where I feel safe shopping

The Produce Station: local fruit and vegetables.

Our Only Recent Take-Out

Pick-up from picnic table outside the sushi shop.
Sushi Town has never had indoor tables, always has been a take-out place.
Sushi rolls.


A particularly nice wine from 1990.

Lockdown: Days of Wine and Goldfish.

Blog post and photos © 2020 mae sander

Thursday, August 27, 2020

"The Ghost Map" by Steven Johnson

Historian Steven Johnson  begins his study of the 1854 cholera epidemic, The Ghost Map, with a description of the many names and activities of the poor people who picked up the various waste products from 2,000,000 inhabitants of the growing city of London. The focus on these workers is important because cholera is a disease of filth, but the Londoners didn’t have a clue of how to clean up their city to defeat the disease, either by treating patients or by stopping the transmission to new victims.

The Ghost Map, published 2006.
What caused cholera, a terrible and often fatal disease, to infect large numbers of people suddenly and without warning? Johnson's history describes the dedicated quest of the now-famous Dr. John Snow to discover the cause, which turned out to be well water that was contaminated with cholera bacteria. In 1854, the scientific establishment had other theories, all of them wrong and likely to lead to missteps in public health measures. John Snow's insights and diligent research slowly over time became accepted wisdom, and cholera epidemics could thus become a horror of the past.

The specifics of Snow’s observations, as described in the book, led him to identify the most severely contaminated well from which the main number of victims had drunk. It led him to find the breach that caused a cesspool to seep its noxious contents into the well, to show that one cholera victim — the index case — had contaminated that particular cesspool. Snow’s scientific knowledge and reasoning led to his theory that victims would have ingested the infectious agent rather than having breathed foul air as most experts then believed.

Johnson describes Snow’s actions to find the victims and identify the source in great and fascinating detail. He also explains the struggle to convince the authorities of the correct explanation, and to take action to prevent further contamination — famously removing the pump handle from the poisoned well. Despite the outcome being known, the narrative is amazingly suspenseful.

Snow struggled for recognition, and in so doing he created a new scientific method and approach to public health and its response to epidemics. He wrote up his findings in particularly effective ways, particularly in creating a map showing the way cholera cases were distributed in London. (For a quick summary of the map, see this site: Maps of the 1854 Broad Street Pump Outbreak).

Obviously, reading the story of this quest for understanding and success at better public health inspires many thoughts of the current pandemic. Right now, we share the fear and desperation of the Londoners despite our better understanding of microorganisms that cause disease.

This book has been widely reviewed since its publication over a decade ago, so I am not going to do further reviewing. I found the following quotations especially interesting in connection with our current circumstances:
"Most world-historic events— great military battles, political revolutions— are self-consciously historic to the participants living through them. They act knowing that their decisions will be chronicled and dissected for decades or centuries to come. But epidemics create a kind of history from below: they can be world-changing, but the participants are almost inevitably ordinary folk, following their established routines, not thinking for a second about how their actions will be recorded for posterity. And of course, if they do recognize that they are living through a historical crisis, it’s often too late— because, like it or not, the primary way that ordinary people create this distinct genre of history is by dying." The Ghost Map (p. 32).
"You have to be a committed libertarian or anarchist to think that the government shouldn’t be building sewers or funding the Centers for Disease Control or monitoring the public water supply."  (p. 113).
"When the next great epidemic does come, maps will be as crucial as vaccines in our fight against the disease. But again, the scale of the observation will have broadened considerably: from a neighborhood to an entire planet." (p. 219).
In a way this is a very depressing book about the terrible suffering of the Londoners in the cholera epidemic, and about the difficulty Snow had of changing the minds of his fellow medical professionals. In a way, though, it’s also an upbeat book because it gives the reader a sense that humans can open their minds to new ideas that create better lives for people. I have hope that we might now take advantage of scientific understanding to get control of the pandemic that’s currently destroying so many lives. I’m not sure our rationality will triumph over the climate disaster that at the moment is causing vast wildfires in the west, hurricanes in the south, and impending problems throughout the globe. I fear that this book’s optimism will not be sustained.

blog post by mae sander © 2020. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Summer Produce

Time for tomatoes! Jason grew this beautiful eggplant and a large grocery bag almost
full of small and medium-sized tomatoes. We ate some for lunch and they were delicious.
Ratatouille with the eggplant, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, and roasted red pepper.
An interpretation of Julia Child’s recipe, which I’ve made many times.
Blog post and photos © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

"Love After Love," a Novel Set in Trinidad

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (published earlier this year) really is a book about love. Told in first-person chapters by three characters: Betty, her lodger Chetan, and her son Solo, it is both amusing and sad as it develops their story over a number of years. The settings for the book are a town in Trinidad and a poor immigrant neighborhood in New York City. The characters are very vivid and interesting. They talk to the reader in a non-standard English, a version of the local dialect of Trinidad but modified, I assume, to make it completely readable by outsiders like me. The New York chapters offer a very interesting set of insights into American attitudes towards immigrants and how these marginalized people deal with American challenges.

Rather than write a review of this enjoyable novel, I'm going to focus on wonderful food scenes that help create the fascinating atmosphere of this book. The characters' cooking combines traditions from several Trinidadian communities: European, African, and East Indian. Betty and Chetan use local island produce, herbs, and fish and spices along with cooking techniques from India, where their ancestors came from. So their cooking reflects a lot of things, both personal and cultural.

Soon after Chetan moves into Betty's room-for-rent, he begins to make meals for the three of them:
"Two of us coming home from work, same tired, so I took over the cooking three times for the week. As it’s Sunday I decided to do my nice steamed kingfish, callaloo with salt meat, rice, and, just for Solo, a macaroni pie." (Chetan, Kindle Locations 339-340).
Chetan also sets up a garden, growing vegetables and herbs in steel drums:
"By next month-end we should be feasting on our own fried okro with hot sada roti or using it to make callaloo soup. The pigeon peas, pimento, and sweet peppers are already bearing. Two steel drums, cut in half horizontally and laid end to end, have every seasoning you could want. I’m talking thyme, Spanish thyme, rosemary, chive, sweet basil, marjoram, coriander, flat leaf parsley, curly leaf parsley. The chadon beni need a haircut before it takes over."  (Chetan, Kindle Locations 747-750).
Almost an entire chapter narrated by Betty is dedicated to the local fish called cascadoux. Of course I had never heard of it; I found this definition: "an oddball member of the catfish family," with quite a bit of other information about the fish, which is local to Trinidad (source).

Betty buys her cascadoux from a fish vendor, who held it back for her. It's so desirable that another customer instantly offers to pay her double for it! Before starting to cook, she sends her son Solo out to gather herbs from the garden. I'm including quite a bit of her description of how she cooks, because I find it so interesting and also so characteristic of how the novel works:
"It’s been donkey years since I tasted cascadoux. Must be since early marriage. If Sunil saw lines of these mud-covered fish selling by the roadside near Caroni he would buy and bring home. Of course then I had to clean everything myself but as it was so fresh it would eat nice nice. I done know Solo will turn up his nose. Have mercy, this fish seriously ugly for days. If I didn’t know how sweet it does taste I wouldn’t want to eat it either. Only thing is you can’t cook cascadoux now for now. It requires preparation." (Betty, Kindle Locations 883-887). 
"Into the blender I threw the chadon beni, chives, thyme, an onion cut up, and two cloves of garlic. That mix perfumed the whole kitchen. Two chopped-up tomatoes went in the mix. These tomatoes are down to Mr. Chetan. He didn’t take to gardening at first. But he planted them out, checked on them every evening after work, and now we’re eating the sweetest tomatoes grown from seed. I’m not boasting but fact is fact. Tomatoes in the market can’t touch these for flavor. Inside each fish I stuffed the green seasoning and tomato mixture. That will sit in the fridge until it’s time to curry them down in the pot. When cascadoux’s starring nothing must upstage it. Boiled rice to soak up the curry, a little fried plantain on the side, and we good to go. Mr. Chetan will never say no to a piece of fried plantain. I peeled two, cut them in half, and sliced them. Not too thick and not too thin. It must fry without burning." (Betty, Kindle Locations 908-914). 
"In my favorite iron pot, I fried a chopped onion, two-three cloves of minced garlic, and two tablespoons each of curry powder, turmeric, geera, and garam masala. I also threw in a handful of curry leaves, a nice hot pepper, and two pimento peppers sliced up thin thin. Once that began sticking I poured enough water to mix everything. I love that moment when the water hits the pot. It does be like a curry bomb exploding. I wouldn’t be surprised if the neighbor’s house is smelling of curry too. Now for the cascadoux. My ma called this chunkaying the fish— mixing so it’s covered with the curry. I must teach Solo that word or my generation will be the last to know. Fish is a thing that does cook now for now so I watched the pot carefully. Eight minutes later I poured a can of coconut milk and threw in some fresh, boiled pigeon peas. The spicy aroma must have been why Mr. Chetan reached back in my way." (Betty, Kindle Locations 934-940).
Later in the book, Betty tells about a dish called Oil Down, which she discusses with Chetan:
"I do a decent Oil Down if I may say so myself. 
—Okay this Oil Down has a slightly different color from mine and it has a richer taste. How you do that? 
—If I tell you my secret I go have to kill you dead. He smiled. That was more like my darling doux-doux Mr. Chetan. 
—I cook the breadfruit with the dasheen spinach and plenty pigtail but I put in two things you mightn’t use. When I’m throwing in the seasonings and the coconut milk, I add a Maggi cube. Yes, a simple little Maggi cube. Then, five minutes before it’s ready, I stir in a tablespoon of Golden Ray margarine for color and flavor. 
—Well, it’s eating nice. 
I left the curry mango for last. It can only be eaten with your hand. We have knife-and-fork Indians who don’t use their hand but them ain’t my friend. I chewed and sucked the sweet, spicy flesh until it was dry." (Betty, Kindle Locations 3027-3034).

Solo in New York has a lot of adjusting to do as he moves into his uncle's home and adapts to being an illegal resident in a huge city. Here's a little bit:
"Up here they real love their pasta. Three-four times a week I will eat something like lasagna, ravioli, or spaghetti. I texted Mr. Chetan pictures of all the pasta I have been eating and he said at this rate I will turn Italian soon. 
"I can’t help thinking of Sundays at home. You getting baked chicken, stew red beans, vegetable rice, fried plantain, macaroni pie, and green salad." (Solo: Kindle Locations 1614-1617).
These and many other food descriptions were a wonderful way for the author to highlight the character and the ethnicity of Betty, Chetan, and Solo. I can't resist also mentioning that they noticed the birdlife on the island, which is one of the reasons why I really want to visit Trinidad. From Chetan, who was searching for tree branches in a forest because he needed them in order to participate in a voodoo ceremony:
Great Kiskadee from All About Birds
"I heard the great kiskadees before I saw their beautiful yellow feathers in between a mahogany tree. Further, near the pond, was a cashew tree where a blue-gray tanager was nesting. Real pretty. ... As I walked towards the exit— boom— a tropical kingbird showed me a guava tree and my lucky seventh branch." (Chetan, Kindle Locations 2853-2858).

A review of this novel by Sara Collins in the Guardian was titled "Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud – flashes of pure truth" (April 8, 2020). If you want to read a real review, I suggest looking at this! Collins captured what I find most wonderful in the book: "Persaud has a knack for finding the sublime in the ordinary: in her hands the quotidian details of even apparently 'small' lives lead to flashes of pure truth."

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Artichoke Casserole

Like cauliflower cheese, but with artichokes instead.
I didn't know what to cook for dinner, and I hadn't gotten any new vegetables. I was thinking: if you would like to make a nice "cauliflower cheese" but you don't have any cauliflower, you could make the same thing with artichokes. So I made up a recipe, based on what I remembered about cauliflower cheese. What I used for two servings:
  • Around a cup of white sauce made from butter, flour, seasonings, and milk. I used Penzey's shallot pepper, Parisian bonnes herbes blend, salt, and pepper. I cooked it very slowly for around a half an hour, though less time would have been ok too.
  • One can of quartered artichoke hearts drained thoroughly and spread with a touch of Dijon mustard.
  • A topping of sliced cheese sprinkled lightly with parsley flakes and bread crumbs.
I baked the casserole for 30 minutes at 400ºF until the cheese was brown and the sauce was bubbling.

It looked good on the plate!
The seasonings I used. Plus pepper.
Blog post © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.
If you see this at another blog, it's been pirated. Yes, it happens.