Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Paris in July Reading Goals

Paris in July is now getting started at the blogs Thyme for Tea and Readerbuzz. I'm definitely planning to participate as much as I can! I'm looking forward to seeing what Paris themes other bloggers share as they read, cook, watch, dream about, or show Paris in writings, in images, and in photos. Thinking about Paris is such a wonderful distraction from our troubled world (blogged here: What's wrong with the world?) that I have decided to share my very enjoyable plans now, not wait until we really get to July!

My goal this year, as I have said in a previous post, is to read books by French-language writers who lived in Paris, and try to get a French point of view, rather than the view of a tourist or an ex-pat. It's hard to do; so many Americans and other non-French writers have loved Paris and still do, and so many people love to read these authors' books. 

I've given my plan more thought now than I had done in my earlier post. Realistically, I can't possibly read all the books that meet my ambitious goals. However, here are some areas that I hope to explore, with links to some articles about the authors I would like to read:
  • Oulipo, a literary association of experimental writers and mathematicians, founded in 1960, offers all sorts of possible reading projects! I have read a few works from the early days of Oulipo, and I wrote about Raymond Queneau's book and film Zazie dans le Metro (here). On the blog to date I have only mentioned the works of Oulipo writer Georges Perec, whom I hope to go back to. I would also like to learn more of what has been done by Oulipo writers recently. Michele Audin, a current Oulipo member, is one example. 
    https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-absolute-originality-of-georges-perec
Georges Perec
Simone de Beauvoir
  • Mystery novels written in French are intriguing. Currently, author Fred Vargas writes police procedurals about Commissaire Adamsberg. I have read three of them. 
    https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/fred-vargas/ 
    Also, I would like to read more of the Inspector Maigret books by Georges Simenon, written between 1931 and 1973. Almost all of them at least begin in Paris at the central police station.
  • French cuisine is always my favorite. French home cooking has evolved over the years I've been cooking and eating French food. To see what's new, I might read some current French food magazines like Marie Claire/ Cuisine et Vins de France.  https://www.marieclaire.fr/cuisine/
  • Foreign immigrants to Paris have their own special experiences -- as I have mentioned, I would like to read novels about them. In my search, I especially learned about Faïza Guène, author of six novels about immigrant life in the Paris banlieus. The latest one was just published, and I have now read it and will post a review. A 1950s immigrant writer was  Driss Chraïbi. He wrote Les boucs (1955), but I don't think I would like it.
  • Hip adolescents have had their own French literature. Beloved books now and in the past fascinate me. I would like to find out what books French students are passionate about now. For this project -- I don't know how to begin! Two examples that were popular for a long time (which I've read before) are: Le Grand Meaulnes byAlain-Fournier, published shortly before the author was killed in the first month of World War I, and L'Écume des jours by Boris Vian (1947), which was highly popular for at least two generations. 
    https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/whimsy-war-boris-vian-two-minds https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2007/dec/10/borisvianstillspittingfrom https://www.linternaute.fr/biographie/litterature/1775154-boris-vian-biographie-courte-dates-citations/

  • Two recent novels in French that look interesting: The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter (2021) and  The Anomaly by Hervé le Tellier (a best-seller in 2021). 
  • Paris Metro Tales, translated by Helen Constantine (2011) is a collection of French stories linked to various Metro stops, which I've started to read.

Blog post © 2022 mae sander
Photos from web.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

What's wrong with the world?

"At least 15 dead after Russian strike on shopping mall." (source)
Are we growing calloused towards news of brutal civilian killings?

Ten interconnected things that are wrong with America and the world:

  1. Hunger worldwide. Global food insecurity and even famine are bad and growing worse for many reasons, especially because of war, also because of climate change and economic instability.
  2. War in Ukraine. The struggle drags on, causing unimaginable suffering there. One international consequence is the threat to global food supplies because Ukraine is a major food producer, as is Russia, and agriculture and shipping capabilities there are disrupted, especially that of Ukraine.
  3. More war coming. Russia is also threatening to confront or even to attack other countries on its borders, leading to more and more unstable situations and fears. Other European powers may be retreating from confrontation, emboldening the Russians. Other hot spots exist and may flare up.
  4. Human Rights Violations. In he US, the now fully right-wing Supreme Court, drunk with power, has cancelled one established right (a woman's right to make her own health decisions) and threatens a whole list of other rights, especially for women and minorities, including religious, racial, and gender minorities. For a few years recently in the US people seemed to care about these rights, but a sense of futility is setting in, reducing the will to improve the situation. In many other countries, basic rights are also endangered. In some countries, human rights have never existed.
  5. Guns. Possession of guns is out of control in the US and the situation is likely to get worse. Laws controlling guns are one of the Supreme Court's targets, and with one damaging decision already this session. Death at the hands of a crazy gun user is a constantly increasing risk for all citizens, especially children.
  6. Unjust law enforcement. In the US, public trust in the police has deteriorated -- for good reasons. Police malpractice affects minority rights, gun control, and many other areas of civic life. Good policing exists at times, but the injustices of police actions are too frequent and too much targeted at minorities.
  7. The economy in trouble. In the US, rising prices of essential products and services lead to insecurity in many families, Poverty, hunger, job losses, homelessness, and inequality are increasing. Worldwide, economic disruptions are also causing much suffering, and economic refugees are numerous. This is complicated. 
  8. Threats to Democracy. In the US, voters seek irrational solutions to the country's economic insecurity and other real or imagined problems, thus increasing the danger of democracy's demise and the takeover by demagogues or worse. This is combined with the rampant disrespect for majority values by the Supreme Court. The Electoral College and the disproportionate representation of underpopulated states makes this even more of a threat. Gullible and vulnerable people don't make sensible voters, they cling to religion, guns, and republicans. Globally, in several other democratic or formerly democratic countries, democratic political systems have been undermined or even totally destroyed, replaced by repressive tyrants. Totalitarian governments, meanwhile seem to be increasingly powerful and unlikely to change.
  9. Emerging Diseases and Pandemics. We aren't done with covid, and there may be other epidemics yet to come. 
  10. Climate change: the biggest! Climate disruption is the root of many other problems throughout the world. Fires, crop failures, rivers tearing out of their banks, hurricanes, and other disasters are more and more clearly due to climate change. As the world warms measurably and undeniably there are many consequences. Flooding overwhelms some areas while others are destroyed by drought. Previously hospitable areas have become uninhabitable. Global warming might mean that some of the other things on the list won't look so bad.
Sometimes the thought of all that's wrong makes me feel really depressed and hopeless. Will the world really become worse and worse as this century progresses? I'll try to keep these thoughts away from my blog, and try to be more upbeat. 



Blog post by mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com. © 2022.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Dinner Party

We invited two other couples to come to dinner at our house. We have always enjoyed having people sit around our table, eat and drink, and have a conversation. For the last couple of years, for obvious reasons, we've mostly had only small groups or we have entertained outdoors. So we had fun doing this.

Len baked two types of French bread.
Left: a mixed rye-wheat bread called Meteil, traditional in Auvergne.
Right: Fougasse, a ladder-shaped olive bread from Provence.

On the table: the Fougasse, with a bottle of olive oil to serve for dipping.

A mixed green salad with the Fougasse.

...with water and wine to drink.

Next course: turkey cutlets in sour-cream and mayonnaise, and an orange-almond salad.

Dessert: home-made chocolate chip cookies (one of the only things I know how to bake)
served with some cut-up figs and peaches.
Blog post and photos © 2022 mae sander.

Friday, June 24, 2022

American Food

Norman Rockwell, "Boy in Dining Car," 1946. (Source)

James D. Porterfield' book Dining by Rail: The History and Recipes of America's Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine brings to life what it must have been like to travel by train during the 100 years or so of the glory days of rail travel. His focus: the evolution of the dining car, and all the ingenuity that went into its technology, particularly the role of the Pullman company in inventing and leasing the cars to the major rail lines. The extraordinary hard work done by the chefs, cooks, porters, and other RR employees also has a major role in this history.

Dining cars were especially notable on the Western routes of the great train companies. Railroad management made a commitment to ensuring high quality of meals, impeccable service by uniformed waiters, and the luxury of elegant tableware and linens in their well-appointed dining cars. Such amenities were a key factor in competition for passengers on the various railway lines with common destinations. I learned -- to my amazement -- that meal service was always provided at a loss to the rail line; for $1 that a passenger paid the railroads would spend as much as $1.85 (though mostly not quite that much). 

The cost of labor was the main factor in the expenses of a dining car. Porterfield provides a very interesting study of the men -- and rarely women -- who prepared, served, cleaned, planned, and ordered the provisions. All cooking, all bread-baking, and all washing-up was done on the moving train, in very close quarters, with the cooks subject to the extreme heat of the tiny dining-car kitchens. Unlike in restaurants, every employee had several duties including all types of cooking, dishwashing, sorting linens, polishing silverware, and other work in the kitchen or dining room.

Because of a variety of circumstances, the majority of these workers were Black. The fact that they had good, long-term jobs had a role in Black American history; however, that's not my subject for today.

As I read both the historic part of Dining by Rail and also the cookbook part of the book, I felt more and more that these foods, these recipes, these experiences embody the answer to the repeatedly asked question: 

What is American Food?

If any cuisine was ever AMERICAN, this is it: American ingredients made for primarily American travelers. The dining cars obtained their major supplies from the endpoints of their routes -- cities like Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, and cities on the West Coast, as well as some purchases along the way. Rail lines on the east coast, the south, and Canada were handled similarly. Fresh fish and game, as well as fresh produce and meat, played a central part in railway cuisine. Each regional railroad company (and there were many) had its own special style and recipes, as did individual chefs on some of the lines, often reflecting the dishes of the region.

"In an age when caloric intake was not a consideration, a typical dinner menu might offer sirloin, tenderloin, porterhouse, or venison steak, prairie chicken, snipe, quail, golden plover, blue-winged teal, woodcock, broiled pigeon, mallard, widgeon, canvasback or domestic duck, wild turkey, veal, mutton, chicken, roast pork, sixteen relishes, eleven clam and oyster dishes, five fish dishes, fifteen kinds of bread, as well as many soups." (p. 148)

Dining car menus were extraordinarily long, with many choices of appetizers, entrees, desserts, wines, and breakfast specials. Porterfield offers a number of recipes for one particular breakfast favorite: French toast. He includes the French toast of the Northern Pacific line, where the cooks first made a special bread for the French toast. Also, the French toast recipe from the Soo Line, from the Pennsylvania Railroad, and from the Union Pacific. Most famous was that of the Santa Fe Railway, as perfected by Fred Harvey chefs in 1918. They all sound delicious, and despite the term "French," they are very definitely American. When you read about the dining car breakfasts, you can clearly see how the now-popular menu of the modern diner descends from railway cuisine.

As I read through the recipes in the book, I recognized the American style of food that is relatively simple, though influenced by techniques from haute cuisine in France and New York. Restaurant dining wasn't as common a pastime in the mid-19th century when restaurant cars were first introduced, so the menus had to please sophisticated customers and also those who had no familiarity with the ordering procedure and service of the dining car. Further, space was often limited, so the luxury of eating slowly and having time between courses was not available -- at times, there many people waiting a turn at the table. In fact, customers would fill out an order form at their seats in the train in advance of their arrival, so that the kitchen could have their meals ready to serve as soon as they were seated at their table. This all worked because of the high number of very skilled personnel who staffed the dining cars.

For the cookbook part of Dining by Rail, Porterfield chose among thousands of recipes that survived in the archives of the railroad lines and in published books or articles. Obviously, he only included foods that were available to modern cooks: for example, he offers no recipes for antelope steaks! No recipes for cooking birds that can now be seen only by birdwatchers -- like prairie chickens, a once-common game bird that's now only found in a very few locations (how I would love to see one)! But I digress; the variety in the choice of recipes in this book is amazing, as are the recipe titles, which reflect both American regional cooking and influence from abroad.

Favorites included dishes that remain just as popular today, like many ways to make apple pie. There are recipes for pumpkin pie, stuffed ducks and other roasts, a variety of gravies, donuts, chicken pie and other meat pies; tourtieres, a Canadian pork pie served on the Canadian railways; baked or fried ham, fried chicken,  deviled crabmeat, classic salads, special versions of the stuffed baked potato, cinnamon buns, potato rolls, and many more. For example, I'm intrigued that Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific fudge was special to the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific railroad. 

Recipes often had regional or ethnic names that would be recognizable to the dining car customers, such as "Creole," "Mexican style," "Irish lamb stew," "Wisconsin," "Illinois," "Curried Chicken Colombo," "Puget Sound Clam Chowder," "Chesapeake Bay Oysters," and "Indian Pudding." These all had a pretty specific meaning in American cuisine in the golden age of railroad dining!

Recipes with an exotic flare often used a foreign place-name to signal a particular ingredient. "Hawaiian" as you would expect, usually means the dish contains pineapple. "Arabian Peach Salad" contained dates. The ethnic confusion of "Terrine of Ragout à la Deutsch" may have had a specific meaning that I don't recognize, all I know is that it was beef, veal kidneys, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms in brown sauce. There were dishes labeled "Bretagne," "Venetian," "Normandie," "Spanish," "Pourtagaise [sic]," "Romanoff," "Athens," "Parisienne," "Hungarian," "Hong-Kong style," "Roman dressing," the "Cuban Sandwich," and more -- but as far as I can see from the lists of ingredients and cooking methods, the influence of all these far-away places was small, and the actual foods would have tasted familiarly American.

The more I read the recipes, the more I became convinced that this is a menu of truly American food, made according to the best recipes and techniques that our country still has to offer. The skill of the chefs and cooks, who often spent many years working for the same railway company, was legendary -- and deserved to be legendary. Indeed, I'm sure that railroad cuisine and the romance of the dining car left its mark on American food ways.

An early dining car kitchen. (Source)

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Railroad memories are profound and inspiring, especially many people's memories of eating in the dining car -- or by now, impressions left by older family members or friends who described such meals. Collectors of dining car menus, flatware, silver, and china are numerous. Actually, people were collecting this stuff during the glory days: in fact, one railroad printed especially attractive menus that the diners could take home, in  hopes of distracting them from stealing the silverware! (p. 189)

Besides the cuisine, the railroad dining car established new concepts of eating in a hurry. Time constraints on a train resulted because too many passengers wanted to eat in the dining car at each meal. Train timetables and scheduling demands meant there was always time pressure. In response to these requirements, the rail dining cars, café cars with less extensive offerings, and station lunch counters were the first "fast food" or "quick lunch" outlets in American history. The techniques of preparing a large number of meals quickly in a crowded space was worked out by rail employees with the technology developed by Pullman.  

As I've mentioned, the still-popular diner with its speedy service and traditional menu is the descendant of railway dining cars: the original diners. There were various other unexpected innovations due to the dining car and its personnel. For one example, a railroad chef in charge of baking developed a method of pre-blending flour, shortening, and other ingredients before mealtime rush in order to serve hot biscuits to order at lunch or dinner. A General Mills employee observed this preparation technique, and he then developed the product Bisquick: the first such commercial mix, introduced in 1931. (p. 142)

When Amtrak took over the passenger lines in the 1970s, fine dining was phased out and replaced by disgusting packaged food, a trend that was getting worse in 1993 when Porterfield published Dining by Rail. By now, Amtrak has a long and tedious history! For several years, there have been no dining cars whatsoever; however, this year, 2022, has seen the reintroduction of dining cars on several long-distance Amtrak trains in the West, and two lines in the East. They plan to offer high-end dining car service, especially for first-class passengers; I have seen no reviews of how it's going. For details see: "Updated Dining Options on Amtrak Long-Distance and Acela Trains."

If you have the least interest in social history, railroad history, or American cuisine, Dining by Rail is a good read! It was first published in 1993, republished in 1998, and is still in print, which shows its staying power as a good history book.

Review © 2022 mae sander

Thursday, June 23, 2022

In My Back Yard

On my back doorstep.







 Photos © 2022 mae sander

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

"Gastronativisim"

Gastronativism: Food, Identity, Politics by Fabio Parasecoli is a new book: publication date July 5, 2022, but available already. Based on the title, I expected it to be an interesting and comprehensive study. Unfortunately, I found the book to be about what I would consider to be a rather old subject, for which the author has coined a new word -- the book's title, gastronativism. He also coined other words like gastronationalism and gastrodiplomacy. But that doesn't mean, in my opinion, that he actually has much new to say. 

Parasecoli's book is full of buzzwords like globalism, nationalism, colonialism neoliberalism, multiculturalism, elitism, patriarchy, hegemony, identity, tradition, cultural heritage, cultural capital, authenticity, appropriation, community, migrant culture, environmentalism, autonomy, national cuisines, ethnic cuisines, and many more. The author loves the word exclusionary. All this jargon makes for tedious reading.

Getting past the jargon, I found much of the book to describe the behavior of people who have the upper hand because of money or social privilege or political advantages, and who exploit others, have contempt for them, steal their land or livelihood, etc. In connection with such behavior, the word gastronativism refers to a sense of superiority among members of a such a group, a social class, or a national group and how they judge or put down the food ways and food choices of another group such as a racial or ethnic minority, an immigrant group, or a conquered people. 

"Gastronativism tends to be exclusionary when it is based on the tangible and emotionally charged defense of the status quo against internal and external forces, trying to limit access to the perceived privileges that come with belonging to a community. White supremacy in the U.S., anti-immigrant movements in Italy, conservative identity politics in Poland, and Hindu hegemonic efforts in India find enemies not only outside of the country but also inside." (p. 21).

Thus strong communities have frequently forced their food ways on the weak, one way or another for centuries. This is not news. It's been discussed over and over. Recently, globalization has been creating another go-round of this trend, as first-world food corporations force their manufactured products on third-world and underclasses, and force out the foods that are traditionally grown and processed by the unlucky members of other societies: "When it is the focus of exclusionary gastronativism, food can become a symbol of national sovereignty, cultural purity, or social unity, depending on the context." (p. 37) 

Parasecoli does make a good case for the cynicism of many politicians and other privileged people in exploiting food attitudes. Specifically,  these demagogues succeed in creating irrational support for political ventures through invoking food taboos, fears of multinational corporations, and fear of food insecurity. I would have appreciated it if he had made his examples more detailed, and curtailed some of the wordy generalizations.

Various examples of efforts to make native or traditional foods into tourist attractions provides another way to look at the relationship of privileged people (like tourists) to less privileged people (like natives) -- gastrotourism. It seems as if this would be the opposite of gastronativism, but the two abuses go hand in hand, in exploiting differences among cultures for the profit and even the amusement of the privileged.

Conversely, immigrant groups and colonial subjects have continually introduced new foods to societies and classes of people who were more powerful, while the underprivileged victims are often forced to give up their methods of cultivating food and the native foods of their culture. 

"What is at stake here are not only matters of international trade, comparative advantage, or even economic protectionism. The political debates that food-related incidents provoked in Japan, Taiwan, and Italy suggest that those concerns are accompanied and supported by deeper fears regarding the survival of one’s community. If the nation is the immediate horizon for the perceived threat, its ultimate cause lies in something broader, less easy to understand, and definitely tougher to keep at bay: the unregulated dynamics of globalization, which, on the one hand, facilitate exports and is supposed to endure food security but, on the other, force countries to partly give up their protections, their internal policies, and their autonomy." (pp. 146-147). 

Not really a new idea, but Parasecoli makes a big deal out of his observations of how this form of abuse has worked out in the past and how it goes along with other isms and class structures and modern efforts at food justice and respect for differences in food ways. Many of the specific examples are pretty well known, like the French contempt for people who eat couscous (even though the French eat it themselves) or the English people who hate curry (even though the English eat it themselves) and many other not very startling phenomena, including the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage which "protects" such concepts as the Mediterranean diet. 

The biggest example of conquerers adopting the food of conquered people, appropriating foods from disadvantaged people, and simultaneously changing the food ways of the conquered is far from new. It began around 500 years ago. Parasecoli writes: "The isolation between the Old and the New World came to an end in the late fifteenth century with the Columbian exchange: corn, tomatoes, beans, and peppers were adopted from Spain to China, while olives, grapes, wheat, and onions were brought to the Americas." (p. 77) Not a new idea at all -- the historian Alfred Crosby began using the term "Columbian Exchange" and documenting this history in the 1970s. 

An example of Peruvian-Japanese fusion food (Food & Wine Magazine).
A google search provides pages of articles on this subject:
another example of his not having much new to say.

Here are some things I think the author missed or glossed over: he mentions fusion food, but doesn't say anything new about this much-discussed subject. He doesn't go into the way so-called traditional food is always changing, for example via the invention of new recipes that quickly seem to be a long-term part of traditional cuisine -- like tiramisu and ciabatta bread, both introduced in Italy in the second half of the 20th century. He is vague about the constant arguments about appropriation vs. honest adoption. He is also vague about trends of absorbing the food of the poor into the food of the rich (like polenta in American trendy restaurants). Feeding the victims of natural and human-caused disasters is currently a big endeavor in our global world. For example, José Andrés, whose efforts to provide sustenance that's culturally right are so effective in Haiti, Puerto Rico, and right now in Ukraine. But this isn't part of Parasecoli's story either. He loves to generalize vaguely, not to show how specifics support his ideas.

Mostly, I am very turned off by the pretentious jargon in which the book is written. Here's a passage from the book with my translation into normal English:

Quote from Gastronativism: "Culinary competence operates in four conceptually distinct but often overlapping dimensions: the personal, communal, collective, and institutional spheres of migrants’ social life. The personal dimension is the most immediate and idiosyncratic. Individuals find themselves at the juncture of necessity, external inputs, and their inner world of feelings, memories, desires, and instincts. Eating forces them to interact physically, emotionally, and cognitively with the new environment. Reactions may vary enormously in terms of involvement with foreign culinary practices, ranging from enthusiastic embrace and participative negotiation to active resistance—all the way to total refusal." (p. 164). 

My translation: "When people move to a new country, they react in various predictable ways to the food of the new place. Many but not all of them learn to eat new foods."

Marion Nestle, whom I respect, mentioned that she would be interviewing the author of Gastronativism, which I took for a recommendation, so I bought it. Sadly, I'm disappointed in this book despite her endorsement. I haven't found any professional reviews, I guess the book is too new.

UPDATE June 24. Marion Nestle's review: Weekend reading: Gastronativism

Review © 2022 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com. 


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Cauliflower in Red Sauce


The other night for dinner I was thinking of making cauliflower cheese, the British favorite of cauliflower cooked in white sauce with cheese. But I wanted something that was lighter — so I made up a dish out of what I had on hand. Above, you can see that I cooked cauliflower in a tomato sauce with bell peppers and other vegetables. I wrote down what I did, because Len said he REALLY didn’t want me to forget this one the way I always do, making up something and never doing it again. So here it is.

Cauliflower in Red Sauce

1 head cauliflower divided into bite-size florets
1 bell pepper, sliced into 1" pieces
1 onion, cut in small wedges
1 can tomato sauce (15 oz)
1 can classic Ro-Tel
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon Italian herbs
8 oz. fresh mozzarella (other meltable cheeses would probably be ok)
2 Tb. olive oil for sautéing
Salt to taste.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Cook onion and 1/2 the bell peppers until just brown. Add spices and aromatize in the oil for short time while paying attention so they don't burn. Add tomato sauce and Ro-Tel and heat to simmer. Add cauliflower, and simmer for 20 minutes. 

Add second half of peppers and simmer for 10 more minutes. Stir in order to mix the vegetables together. 

Slice the mozzarella and place on top of the vegetables. Keep simmering a few minutes until the cheese is melty.

Serve this dish in a bowl as there is a lot of liquid which is quite nice
Question: What is Ro-Tel? 
Answer: Canned tomatoes and chiles.
Updated to answer the question!


The finished dish, ready to serve right from the pan.
This blog post and photos © 2022 mae sander.

 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Today is Juneteenth

 "Food and drink play an essential role in independence celebrations the world over. For many Black Americans, Independence Day is celebrated on June 19, or 'Juneteenth' — the day in 1865 when residents of Galveston, Texas, learned that slavery in the United States had been abolished, two months after the end of the Civil War and 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Today’s Juneteenth celebrations take place everywhere: backyards, parks, as well as at large festivals and parades. And Congress finally got in on the action last year, declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday." (source: Washington Post)

Hibiscus Tea from the
Washington Post article.
Although Juneteenth just became a federal holiday last year, the event, with its theme of freedom and rights, has been celebrated for centuries, sometimes despite the risk to the people who were celebrating, as their rights were not always respected. A variety of food and drink was included in the celebration, especially red food and drink. Red foods had a long history: "the color red is often associated with ancestral reverence in West African traditions." Added to this tradition: "Juneteenth gatherings customarily feature red foods, which are used to symbolize resilience and joy." 

Some writers also associate the color red with the blood shed by the slaves. For example in the TV series "High on the Hog" a descendant of people who were freed on the original Juneteenth explained about red food: "It was a reminder, in a lot of ways," Eugene Thomas said. "Of the blood that was shed prior to the Emancipation, by all those that came before us that did not get the chance to taste the freedom that we're tasting right now." (source)

Traditional African hibiscus ginger tea was a red beverage that continued to be popular among the enslaved Americans and then among their free descendants, and it has recently been popularized again as an import from the Caribbean. In the past, many red beverages were enjoyed, including in many families, drinking red Kool-Aid! The book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time by Adrian Miller presents a detailed exploration of how red Kool-Aid relates to traditional African beverages. For a detailed history of how the African hibiscus plant was imported from Africa to the American South, and how it influenced many American red beverages, see "The History of Hibiscus Drinks in the African Diaspora."

For many recipes and ideas for Juneteenth food traditions, like this drink,
see 
The Soul Food Pot, "12 Juneteenth Red Foods."

Celebrating Juneteenth in the past has had challenges, as well as joys. Author Melanie McFarland, writing at Salon.com, says: "History tells us that the earliest Juneteenth celebrations were joyful, but they took place under threat of violence – which also made celebrating the holiday an act of defiance. Surely our ancestors dreamed of many of the freedoms and opportunities Black folks take for granted today." (source)

Honoring history by learning the facts about traditional foods is exciting for many people -- including me. Author Michael Twitty has written a great deal about his research into the African-American food of his forebears, honoring them through his efforts. I particularly enjoyed his book The Cooking Gene: reviewed here

In an interview, Twitty was asked what he hoped to learn by studying what his ancestors ate and drank, and he replied:

"It’s not just a question of what did they eat, it’s a question of how did they take agency and ownership over their lives, over their food supply. When you open up the average American textbook you never, ever see the enslaved Black person as thinker. They make us look like pets. They make us look like people who simply didn’t have any sort of agency, ownership, curating, caretaking of their own reality. It’s also about acknowledging that in a lot of cultures, especially where there is oppression and marginalization, it’s a gesture of love. Anything that gives you pleasure, happiness, joy in your culture, it’s a gesture of love. Especially in Black traditions, sharing a beverage, sharing food—especially food that’s rare, seasonal, a delicacy—it’s love." (source)

Blog post © 2022 mae sander. Quotes and photos as attributed. 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The New, Expanded Argus Farm Stop

Spring/summer murals on the windows of the original Argus Farm Stop.
This shop opened a few years ago, and sells on consignment from local farmers. 
Produce, dairy products, meat, and hand-made items are available, as well as a café.


The enlarged café area.

Entrance of the newly added store front, with much more produce.
The two stores are in the same block, but not side-by-side.


Inside the new store: a very large rooster.


Best of all: locally grown strawberries! We ate almost a whole quart of them for lunch.

 Photos © 2022 mae sander.
Murals to share with Sami's Monday Murals.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Paris in July 2022

 

Coming soon: the ultimate blogger party of the year, an entire month of "Paris in July." Paris is surely my favorite tourist destination, and I've been lucky to visit there and even live there a number of times. This year the blog sponsors are Tamara at Thyme for Tea and Deb at Readerbuzz. Participants can write about any Paris topic — food, travel experiences, travel wish lists, books, films, TV shows, magazines, personal experiences or whatever their imagination comes  up with. Each week, Tamara and Deb will write a summary of the week’s activities. If you are a lover of Paris, with or without experience, you can be part of the fun — see “It's coming - Paris in July 2022.”

My Reading Plans

This year, I hope to read some books in French, and some books translated from French — and of course, write about them. Above all, I want to read books that have a French point of view, especially about Paris, and to read some of them in the original language. I have been looking at a number of lists of books that fit my goals. Here are a few that I hope to read and to write about:

Kiffe Kiffe demain by Faïza Guène, published 2010
So far I have read 2/3 of it in French.

Marie by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, published 1943.
I have ordered a copy of this obscure classic,
which was translated in 1997.


Le Larousse du Pain by Eric Kayser, published 2019.
Len has begun baking bread from the many recipes here:
so far so good, in fact delicious!

Possibilities -- If I'm Ambitious!

Georges Perec. A book written in 1975 about watching the
Place de Saint Sulpice in Paris. I'm not sure whether I will
try to read this in French or in translation. Or if I even have the
courage to try it! Perec’s books are challenging in any language.

One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin,
published in French in 2014.

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda,
published in French in 2004.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Owls

Owls are fascinating and hard to see when bird watching. I love it when we find one. Their eyes are very strange and a bit frightening. Owls must have always seemed strange to people, as illustrated by the large number of symbolic meanings and legends that have been attached to them in many cultures. Here are four ways of looking at an owl, depicted in paintings from the Dutch Golden Age of painting.

"Malle Babba" by Frans Hals, 1633 (Wikipedia)
This owl may illustrate the Dutch proverb "Drunk as an Owl."

"The Wise Owl" by Cornelis Bloemaert, 1603-1684. (Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston)
The owl symbolizing wisdom appears in many cultures. 


"A Eurasian eagle-owl with other birds in a landscape,"
 Dirk Valkenburg, 1675–1721 (ARTVEE)
A realistic depiction of birds by a minor wildlife painter.

Rembrandt van Rijn, “The Flute Player,” 1642. (Christies)
The owl on the flute player’s shoulder suggests the proverb “To play Eulenspiegel’s flute.”
That was a reference to the trickster Til Eulenspiegel, whose name means owl.
The flute player in this painting is playing a trick: looking up the skirt of the shepherdess.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

"A Jewish Refugee in New York"

A Jewish Refugee in New York: A Novel, by Kadya Molodovsky is a new translation from a serialized Yiddish publication that ran in the New York Yiddish newspaper Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal), beginning in 1941. It consists of the entries of a fictitious journal of a girl called Rivke Zilberg. She relates the first 10 months of her life in New York, between December, 1939, and October, 1940. Rivke had escaped from Lublin, where the Nazis were just beginning to execute their plan to destroy the Jewish communities and their residents in Eastern Europe. She lives first with her aunt and uncle, and then with generous strangers who help her find work and some independence.

A question that has troubled me all my life is this: How much did American Jews know about what was happening to the Jews in Europe during the war? Over time, I have learned that from the earliest days of the war, there was no mystery about the ongoing destruction of Jewish life there. This book makes that perfectly clear. 

Often, I also wonder what was life like for a "greenhorn" -- the mocking term which the more assimilated Jews applied to newcomers. My mother's family arrived in the US in 1905, and she was born a few years later, and went to American school from kindergarten through college. So she was never subject to this treatment, but her sisters remembered the arrival of their cousins in the early 1920s. Their adjustment was swift but it must have been painful. In the 1990s, one of the immigrant sisters still complained because she said someone treated her "like a greenhorn."

A Jewish Refugee in New York offers a variety of insights into the thoughts and experiences of a refugee from Hitler as she joins an assimilated community and tries to learn English and not be a burden to others. Rivka's journal entries tell a fascinating story. After all these years, this book has just been translated for the first time by Anita Norich, who says: "It is the story of a young woman shaped by historical crises, trying to make sense of her place in a bewildering, threatening world." (Kadya Molodovsky. A Jewish Refugee in New York: A Novel, p. vii). 

Rather than reviewing the book, I'm going to quote passages that make clear how it illuminates the life of a 20-year-old woman.

Far away from New York: Quotes from A Jewish Refugee in New York

"Today, I read in the newspaper about what is being done to Jews in Lublin. Even though I already knew about it earlier, it was upsetting. Yesterday I dreamed that I saw my brother Mikhl standing deathly pale, and suddenly he jumped wildly as if he was in great pain."  (pp. 24-25). 

"My father writes that he’s living at Krasulye’s and Krasulye is no more. I received the letter this morning and read it aloud to my aunt and uncle. My aunt said, 'So, thank God, at least they have a roof over their heads!' She thought that Krasulye was someone’s name, but when I told her that it was the name of our cow and that my father and brother were now living in Krasulye’s shed, she stopped thanking God. I wept uncontrollably. The letter was mailed in January, in the coldest weather. Where are they living now? And what’s happened to our home? Has it burned down? Did the Germans take it away? Who knows?" (p. 47). 

"I dreamt about my father last night. He was lying in Krasulye’s stall, on the ground, with his back against the wall, and I saw how cold he was, how he held his hands under a mound of straw. It tugged at my heart, and I jumped up wide awake." (p. 50).

"I want to know what’s happening in Lublin. What’s happening with my father and brother? The newspapers say that they’re sending all the young men away to be slaves in Germany." (p. 98). 

"I was at the wedding, but I was seeing Lublin, my father in Krasulye’s stall, Chatskel, and poor, blind Janet [other relatives who had not escaped Europe]. It was as if they were all standing near me, behind a curtain." (p. 171). 

American Life from A Jewish Refugee in New York

"Everybody says something different about America. The laundress says you have to take America with aspirin in the beginning, and Mendl Pushcart says that you can’t take the measure of your headache here. Maybe he’s right. Should I be upset just because I’m tired? Maybe it’s all not so hard. I just thought . . . and then my heart ached again because I saw how alone I was on Grand Street. Will I be able to bear it? What will become of me? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know anything." ( p. 101).

"Awlriyt is the kind of word that always comes in handy. Awlriyt means good. But if you say it twice—awlriyt, awlriyt—it means leave me alone! Enough already! Awlriyt also means I understand you fully. And that must have been what Eddie’s awlriyt meant." (p. 90). 

"So, despite the fact that my grandfather, Reb Mottele, lived in the forest near Lublin, and despite the fact that he’s been dead for about ten years, and even despite the fact that he probably never gave a single thought to New York, he’s still more important in New York than I am, even though I’m already able to ride the subway. Rebbe Finkl and Mrs. Rubin both thought it mattered a great deal that I was Reb Mottele Zilberg’s grandchild." (p. 120). 

Food in A Jewish Refugee in New York

"My aunt made blintzes for Shavuos." (p. 131).

"When I got home, I found my aunt pickling herring. The smell of vinegar and cloves was all over the apartment. It smelled like Purim." (p. 50).

"All of New York called us up on the phone because of the Purim ball. My aunt heads the table committee, so the phone never stopped ringing. Mrs. Rabkin, the new vice president, called up to say that she had a kayk, and what a kayk. She didn’t say what she meant by 'what a cake.' All she said was, 'You have to see it.' Mrs. Erlich called to say that she was bringing fifty hamantaschen and a poppy seed cake to the ball. She also reported that Mrs. Rubin had gotten a hundred bottles of Coca-Cola. Mrs. Sunshine called to say that she had twelve bottles of Carmel wine." (p. 55). 

"We drank a few cups of coffee, and I ate the sendvitch she offered me. I’m not so fond of eating sandwiches. As soon as I try to take a bite, either cheese or salami or some other filling falls out. Americans make a big deal of a sendvitch, but I think of it as three separate things that should remain separate." (p. 30). 

"No matter what’s going on, there are sendvitches. It’s really something, these sandwiches. You can always find them on a walk, at a party, or at a wedding. We had dairy sandwiches and meat ones. Mrs. Shore made two cheese sandwiches, so my aunt made two with chopped liver. Mrs. Shore made two with eggs, so my aunt made two with salami. Mrs. Shore made two with herring, so my aunt made two with chicken. Mrs. Shore made two with lox, so my aunt made two with meatloaf. Mrs. Shore made two with mayonnaise and green peppers, so my aunt made two with chicken gizzards. And whether the sandwich was dairy or meat, every one came with half a cucumber covered in salt. I looked at that mountain of sandwiches and saw Chatskel and Janet  before me, dragging themselves around who knows where and who knows how long it’s been since they’ve had any food in their mouths." (p. 139). 

A neighbor tells Rivke: “When my Harry gets a little crazy, it doesn’t matter to him who he fights with. He just has to find an enemee. He fights with whoever he finds.... Do you know what I do then? I make potato pancakes! My Harry really likes them. No matter how angry he is, if I bring in a plate of potato pancakes, he makes up with his enemee right away. I don’t know how we’d live if there were no potato pancakes in the world." (p. 42). 

Afterthought

Remember: A Jewish Refugee in New York was published at the very beginning of World War II, long before many the worst atrocities of the Holocaust happened, and before many other more famous Holocaust books were written! If you have been reading recently published novels that try to create a "feel good" attitude towards the Holocaust or purporting to create moral lessons from the fate of the Jews, you might consider reading A Jewish Refugee in New York -- or even consider reading a real first-hand account of life and death in wartime Europe. For more on this, see Dara Horn's book People Love Dead Jews, which I reviewed here.

Blog post © 2022, mae sander.
Q
uotes from A Jewish Refugee in New York as attributed.