Monday, January 31, 2022

January Cooking and Reflections on Food Issues

A can of cherry tomatoes.
In my kitchen (and in my overflow shelves in the basement) I have been keeping a lot of canned goods. The new wave of the pandemic caused by the omicron strain has forced us back into a narrowed-down lifestyle. For the past month, I've been confining myself to less supermarket shopping, and trying to keep my pantry well-stocked. Although shortages this time are erratic and temporary, I'm nervous about shopping in person -- what if I can't even go to Costco and Trader Joe's? During the worst of the pandemic in 2020, I resorted to ordering canned goods from -- the cherry tomatoes are among the last of the panicky amazon purchases.

This blog post about my kitchen and kitchen thoughts will be shared with a group of bloggers who contribute their own kitchen thoughts to Sherry's blog event each month ( 

Now for what I did with a can of cherry tomatoes:

Last year, a TikTok fad was baking feta cheese with spices and cherry tomatoes.
It was good (despite the faddishness). Here it is again. In the same oven, I made a tray of roasted eggplant.

I combined the eggplant with the tomato-feta sauce. The leftovers were reheated with pasta.

I cooked many other dishes in January, including both old favorites and new experiments. Most of these dishes, along with my new cookbooks and food reading, have already appeared in my earlier blog posts this month. As we decided in mid-2020, we continue to eat much less meat than we did before the pandemic, and to try new plant-based recipes. 

Old favorites: sardine salad, tuna salad, lettuce & tomato salad.

New in my Kitchen: A Replacement Griddle

I haven't used my new griddle yet. This is the advertising photo of it.
My old griddle gave up the ghost after many years of pancake making.

I wish I could claim to consider the impact my choices have on the environment when I shop for new kitchen items, but this is almost impossible. Environmentally responsible products are a dream that's hard to fulfill. The difficult facts:
"There are very few things you can purchase that are actively beneficial for the climate. Unless you’re buying a tree that will suck carbon from the air, most products require land, water and fossil fuels to produce and use. New stuff — clothes, appliances, bath products, toys, etc. — inherently comes at some environmental cost. ... In many situations, the 'greenest' product you can buy is … nothing" (The Washington Post, 2020)

 Obviously, the best choice is to keep using what I already have — if it keeps working!

The old griddle in use. It blew a fuse and no longer heated up.
Otherwise I would have used it forever.

Our Wine Cellar

Although it's in the basement, our wine is part of our kitchen, and wine shopping is part of our weekly grocery expeditions. I'm including this photo especially to send to Elizabeth's blog and her readers who share images of beverages each week.

The Rest of the World

I'm aware of how lucky I am to have a well-stocked kitchen and plenty of food sources with all kinds of choices. In this context, I'm also concerned about the rest of the world outside my little isolated bubble. Statistically, the pandemic, beginning in 2020, contributed to a significant increase in the number of people on the planet who are affected by hunger. A UNICEF report estimates that there are 768 million undernourished people in the world. 

This diagram, from a UNICEF report, presents the worldwide distribution of hunger: most of the suffering is in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Source: The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all. (Rome, FAO.

That's not to say that hunger is confined to the third world. Is our own country -- my country, America -- doing enough for those who suffer from food insecurity? According to Feeding America, the USDA counts "more than 38 million people, including 12 million children" who are food insecure. I want to reflect on this as I look back on what's in my own kitchen this month, and how fortunate we are. In a recent write-up of the 50th anniversary of the book Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé, writer Marion Nestle quoted this passage:

But I have learned that hunger can exist anywhere, within any society that has not accepted the fundamental responsibility of providing for the basic needs of its most vulnerable members—those unable to meet their own needs. And ours, sadly, is such a society.  I found myself feeling ashamed when I learned that other societies with which we might compare ourselves—France, Sweden, West Germany—demonstrate by their welfare programs that they do accept this social responsibility. In a recent study of social benefits to needy families with children in eight major industrial countries, the United States ranked among the lowest. (p. 101).

Nestle writes: "She could have written this yesterday." (source: Weekend reading: Diet for a Small Planet at 50; Nestle's blog, Food Politics, also directed me to the UNICEF article.)

Blog post and photos © 2020, 2022 mae sander.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Saturday Afternoon Guests!


We’ve been completely isolated — but made an exception for Carol and Nat whom we invited to drop by for a snack and some much welcome conversation!

© 2022 mae sander

Friday, January 28, 2022

For a Gloomy Winter Day

Some New Yorker cartoons from the past and present day, about pessimism, food, and Mona Lisa. And one with critters for Eileen's Saturday Critter blog party. Let's all cheer up whatever the weather!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Library Shelfie Day

A bookcase in my living room.

 A very new celebratory day: Library Shelfie Day. Today for the seventh year, on the fourth Wednesday in January, is a day to celebrate your library shelves with a photo. You can celebrate your Kindle too. When I read about this obscure celebration, I couldn’t resist!

My Kindle bookshelf showing most recently read books.

A corner of my bookcase featuring a recently-purchased reprint of a book by Edouard de Pomiane
which I hope to read soon, and other books by or about this author, some in their early-20th-century editions.

Blog post and photos © 2022 mae sander.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

"Vibration Cooking"

The 2011 edition of Vibration Cooking or The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl
by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor (1937-2016).

In 1970, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor was a stay-at-home mom. She needed money, couldn't work as an actress or doing other things she'd tried. So she decided to write a cookbook. This was a nervy choice for a black woman back then: not many black people had written and published cookbooks. The book begins:

"In reading lots and lots of cookbooks written by white folks it occurred to me that people very casually say Spanish rice, French fries, Italian spaghetti, Chinese cabbage, Mexican beans, Swedish meatballs, Danish pastry, English muffins and Swiss cheese. And with the exception of black bottom pie ..., there is no reference to black people’s contribution to the culinary arts. White folks act like they invented food and like there is some weird mystique surrounding it—something that only Julia and Jim can get to. There is no mystique. Food is food. Everybody eats! 

"And when I cook, I never measure or weigh anything. I cook by vibration. I can tell by the look and smell of it. Most of the ingredients in this book are approximate. Some of the recipes that people gave me list the amounts, but for my part, I just do it by vibration. Different strokes for different folks. Do your thing your way. 

"The amount of salt and pepper you want to use is your business. I don’t like to get in people’s business. I have made everything in here and found everything to be everything and everything came out very together. If you have any trouble, I would suggest that you check out your kitchen vibrations." (p. 1)

In 1970, a cookbook combined with a memoir was a very original idea. I don't know how I've been missing out on reading this now-classic book for so long, but when I finally read it this week, fifty years late, I still find it completely original. The author has a very imaginative way of describing her experiences in South Carolina, Philadelphia, New York, Paris, and other places where she lived, ate, cooked, and worked. Her recipes are highly original (even when based on traditions) and they conform to her description of cooking by "vibration" -- not much more than a list of ingredients and a bit of method. Vibration is her way whether she's making a traditional recipe that she learned in France or one that originates with her family in South Carolina.

In The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, Toni Tipton-Martin, who searched out every American black-authored cookbook in existence, lists six of them that were published in 1970, of which at least one was a fundraising cookbook. Four of them had the word "soul" in the title. Vibration Cooking definitely had a different viewpoint; Tipton-Martin points out that Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor "believed in a universal and globally diverse kitchen: any dish from any country, composed of any ingredients, could be soulful," (The Jemima Code, published 2015, p. 104)

A few passages of Vibration Cooking capture the spirit of fun, mischief, self-awareness, social consciousness, and overall food savvy that make me love this book:

"In Paris I used to eat what they called crepes—a thin pancake. They are very good but I don’t make them.  ...  As for pancakes—go and use Aunt Jemima and they always come out right. ... I never had any success trying to make pancake batter from scratch. Raymond St. Jacques made breakfast for Billie Smith and me a few years ago and he made the most delicious pancakes. Raymond used to live at Twenty-ninth and Park Avenue South on the top floor of the house that used to belong to the 'Girl on the Red Velvet Swing.' The house is gone and there is a parking lot there now but every time I go by I think of those wonderful … 

"PANCAKES SMITH ST. JACQUES [recipe follows] " (p. 16-17)



"Ain’t nothing but swamp turtles. They used to be plentiful on the eastern seaboard. So plentiful that plantation owners gave them to their slaves. Now they are the rare discovery of so-called gore-mays. White folks always discovering something … after we give it up. " (p. 41).


"I Love Dinner Parties 

"I love. I love a lot of people, places and things. I love my tribe and my friends. 

"I love couscous, watermelon, getting up early in the morning, preachers, rivers, music, presents, persimmons, paris, purple, pottery, sun ra, sardines and grits, cherokees, robert, paul laurence dunbar, puerto ricans, sassafras tea, kane, the mediterranean, lace curtains, bustelo coffee, children, getting letters, turnip greens, silver and. …" (p. 103). 


"I got a friend who won’t eat no white bread, drink white milk, won’t use no white flour or white pepper. She only uses black pepper, drinks only blackberry wine, black coffee, chocolate milk, eats chocolate cake, black beans, black bread. She says it is because she is so fed up with black being used in a negative sense, that is to say blackheads, blackball, black list, black out, the black plague, blackhearted. Last time I was at her house she made a delicious 


"Sprinkle the sides of each steak with ground pepper. Let stand for 1 hour. Brush your black skillet with beef suet and heat the skillet. Cook the steaks to your desire and remove steaks to a platter and add butter to the skillet and cook butter until it almost is black. Pour butter over the steaks and serve." (p. 112).   

Read this book! (If you didn't already read it.) But when you do, I strongly suggest that you skip the introduction by Psyche Williams-Forson! It cannibalizes Smart-Grosvenor's writing, which is much better if you read it in the original context. And don't be misled by critics who focus solely on the ethnic aspects of the book: it contains much more than that. 

Review © 2022 mae sander.

Monday, January 24, 2022

"I drink therefore I am"

The famous Monty Python "Philosophers' Drinking Song" 

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table

David Hume could out-consume
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as sloshed as Schlegel

There's nothing Nietzche couldn't teach ya
'Bout the raising of the wrist
Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill
Plato, they say, could stick it away
Half a crate of whiskey every day

Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle
Hobbes was fond of his dram

And René Descartes was a drunken fart
"I drink, therefore I am"

Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed
A lovely little thinker 
But a bugger when he's pissed

Performed first in 1973 by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Edward Palin. 

I've shared this drinking song before, but it seems worth repeating, and I've added some images of the philosophers in the song. I'm sending this to the bloggers at Elizabeth's weekly blog party who share what they are drinking. We can all use a little humor, so it’s fun to revisit the Monty Python oeuvre.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Louise Erdrich: 'The Sentence"

"It was thrilling to be carried along the streets, scant notion where I was going, into neighborhoods inhabited by surprising people. Women in billowing fuchsia robes and purple head scarves roamed the sidewalks. I saw Hmong people, Eritrean people. Mexican. Vietnamese. Ecuadorian. Somali. Laotian. And a gratifying number of Black American people and my fellow Indigenes. Store signs in languages with flowing script and then mansion after mansion—spruced up, decaying, chopped up, gated under floating canopies of trees. Then abandoned areas—train yards, acres of paved fields, dystopic malls. Sometimes I’d see a tiny restaurant I liked the look of so I’d get off at the next stop and go inside, order soup. I took a tour of world soups. Avgolemono. Sambar. Menudo. Egusi with fufu. Ajiaco. Borscht. Leberknödel suppe. Gazpacho. Tom yam. Solyanka. Nässelsoppa. Gumbo. Gamjaguk. Miso. Pho ga. Samgyetang. I kept a list in my diary, with the price of the soup next to each name. All were satisfyingly cheap and very filling." Louise Erdrich. The Sentence (pp. 29-30).   

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich is a magnificent book with a vivid character at the center. Her personality and that of Minneapolis, where the book takes place, are linked in many ways, as illustrated in the above quotation. I read this book in less than 24 hours because I couldn't stop. Five things I loved about the novel: 

  1. The incredible portraits of Tookie, the central character, and her husband Pollux. Erdrich deeply explores the Indigenous identity of Tookie and other characters with native-American backgrounds and experiences. In addition, there's family life, especially the description of the first year of life of Pollux's grandson Jarvis.
  2. The depiction of the 2020 pandemic: the author shows the impact of the pandemic on Tookie, her friends, her family, and her community, making this a very relatable book.
  3. The impact of George Floyd's death: the characters' first-hand accounts bring to life the Minneapolis demonstrations over police violence in the summer of 2020.
  4. A believable ghost story: a real ghost appears in the bookstore where Tookie works. Plus the ghosts of pandemic victims: "The world was filling with ghosts. We were a haunted country in a haunted world." (p. 364). 
  5. Food: the food and food prep descriptions show how food and love combine in the characters' lives. Food integrates with identity, beyond just specific ethnic food choices. For example, wild rice, being native to the Indigenous people in the novel, has many meanings. Even the ghost is involved in culinaria: Tookie sees her "messing around in the Cookbook section—I was pretty sure ghosts missed the taste of food." (p. 354). 
These themes all combine into a great story about a family, a community, a bookstore, the pandemic, and cataclysmic events in Minneapolis. We all know the events in Minneapolis from reading newspapers, but that the novel turns them into a story about individual experiences. 

George Floyd as later portrayed at the site of his death, Cup Foods in Minneapolis.
In the novel, Tookie described her first reaction on learning of the event: 
"Then I watched it too, the video of a police officer with his knee on the neck
of a Black man who cried out and cried out for his mother and then went quiet and then
was silent. This happened at Cup Foods in South Minneapolis. Pollux often stopped there
to pick up a thing or two on his way back from working on the universe.
You can get anything there, and I mean anything, he said about Cup."
(p. 235).

Erdrich's masterful writing also includes a huge number of food and cooking passages: my favorite type of description. While Tookie bakes cookies and cooks fish, the most memorable food passages tell how Pollux cooks for her, and how food expresses their affection and closeness. Pollux prepares both original recipes and native dishes, such as a special potato salad recipe made with bacon and hot pickles. 

Here are a few examples of how Pollux cooks for Tookie:
"He sat me down, and told me not to move until he made me a fried egg sandwich with green chilis. He would make it on an oversized toasted English muffin. ...

"‘What’s crazy is how good this sandwich was,’ I said, staring at my empty plate. 

"‘Split another?’ 

"‘It would be my honor. Let me help you by talking to you while you make it.’" (p. 94-95). 


"Pollux called out. ‘I’m making your scorched corn soup recipe, remember?’" ...

"For the past year, Pollux has been perfecting my favorite soup ...—it is a corn soup. First he caramelizes fresh-cut sweetcorn, toasting it slowly in a heavy pan, adding onions. Then cubed potatoes tossed lightly in butter, to set a crisp. He adds all of this to a garlicky chicken broth with shaved carrots, cannellini beans, fresh dill, parsley, a dash of cayenne, and heavy cream. The scent was making me delirious." (p. 105-106)


"There was a delicious scent. Pollux was browning chunks of squash with onions and garlic. Maybe he would make some sort of spicy curry." (p. 121).


"Turtle Mountainers are big on New Year’s and we were having open house at Louise’s. The day would be celebrated with a meatball soup called boulettes or bullets, and small bites of frybread called bangs. If the night was warm, we’d sit around an outside fire. Pollux made the bangs because he knows how to work with hot grease, while I’m an expert on cold grease. I brought Old Dutch potato chips." (p. 127).

Wild rice, or manoomin, is very important to Tookie and Pollux, and to their friends, who have arguments about which types are best. But it's agreed that: "Real wild rice is grown wild, harvested by Native people, and tastes of the lake it comes from.  ... Native people around here have a specific ferocity about wild rice. I’ve seen faces harden when tame paddy rice, the uniformly brown commercially grown rice, is mentioned, called wild rice, or served under false pretenses." (pp. 105-106). 

The only feature of Erdrich's book that doesn't appeal to me is her long list of her favorite books. Tookie recommends books while doing her job in the bookstore, and in this context, the books help create little portraits of the quirky customers. But Erdrich appends an entire multi-page book list in a chapter at the end (it's not really part of the novel, so this isn't a spoiler). I'm really in favor of loving books as Tookie and her colleagues in the bookstore do, but I found the repeated recommendations to be a little over done: the demand that readers patronize independent bookstores doesn't fit well into a novel, in my opinion. Too much like religion!

Review © 2022 mae sander for mae food dot blogspot dot com.

Friday, January 21, 2022

New Cookbooks and Good Eats

Food happenings in our house this week include two new cookbooks, and some new ingredients that I haven't used before, including chickpea flour, berbere seasoning, and Ethiopian teff. I'm just getting started with these cookbooks, which are both fairly recent and have been widely praised by reviewers. Both of them offer a look at cuisines that are unfamiliar, and that I'm interested in learning about.

Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, &
Southern Flavors Remixed 
by Bryant Terry.
Published in 2014.

From Afro-Vegan: twice-cooked potatoes for
"smashed" potatoes with corn and peas.

The finished dish, with salad. The flavors were unusual, and nice.

Ethiopia: Recipes and Traditions from the Horn of Africa
by Yohanis Gebreyesus, Published in 2019. Kindle edition.
I haven't tried any of the recipes from this prize-winning book yet.

I've been experimenting with spices and ingredients from Africa, but not always with perfect results. For example, I tried making some chickpea-teff patties from a website. The flavor profile was great, but the "patties" didn't stick together and were more like crushed-chickpea hash. So no photos! And hopefully the books will have more reliable recipes.

Baking Bread This Week

Len made two loaves of pain de mie with pepper.
The recipe is from Poilâne: The Secrets
of the World-Famous Bread Bakery
by Apollonia Poilâne

Len also baked a French rye bread from the Auvergne region,
using a recipe from The Rye Baker by Stanley Ginsberg.
We sampled this bread with butter and jam. Delicious!

Ordinary Food

Salmon croquettes made from frozen salmon:
no recipe.

A pot of vegetarian chili: no recipe.

Lime and cilantro to garnish the chili.

Cornbread to eat with the chili.

Classic simplicity: French oil-based potato salad with
herring and tomatoes. We remember eating this often
in a VERY cheap restaurant when we were students:
the menu read "hareng pommes à l'huile."

Blog post and photos © 2022 mae sander.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Mallards

The Mallard Duck is a remarkable creature. Birders rarely give them a second glance or take photos of them, because they are so common. You can see them anywhere, from ponds in city parks to irrigated farmlands or wild marshlands. You can see them on almost every continent. They are native to most of the temperate northern hemisphere, and haver adapted after introductions into many southern hemisphere locations. In North America, the mallard population is over 10 million birds.

From a birder's perspective, mallards are totally boring. Not being a true birder, I see them as remarkable for their ability to live almost anywhere; breed prolifically; eat a variety of insects, plants, and sometimes small birds; and enjoy all sorts of environments. Sort of like humans.

Mallards have a few close relatives -- species that may have mallard ancestors but have become isolated or otherwise estranged from their mallard relatives, and thus evolved into separate species. Below are some of the photos that Len and I have taken over the years, of mallards and their close relatives.

ducksgeeseswans 10  
Mallard Duck, Ann Arbor, Michigan. We have them EVERYWHERE! The male, with his iridescent green head and bright orange feet is actually quite attractive.

Shinobazo Pond, Ueno Park, Tokyo. The remotest place I've seen mallards.

Mallards have many relatives...

Black Duck, Ann Arbor.  The black duck is a related to the mallard. They are comparatively rare; we see them in small numbers in the winter. "Historically, the mallard's close relative, the American black duck, was the most abundant duck in the Atlantic Flyway, and black ducks were once far more numerous in the Mississippi Flyway than they are today. Black duck breeding populations have declined by more than 50 percent since the late 1950s. Habitat loss and competition and hybridization with mallards are believed to be the primary causes of past black duck declines." (source)

Gallup-Arb Bike Path-1-18-22-1

Black Ducks, this week in Ann Arbor.

middlecreek 1

Black Duck, Lancaster County, PA.  The above photo shows the wing patch that identifies them.

Mottled Duck, Merrit Island, Florida. (Photographed with American widgeons.) The mottled duck is another close relative of mallards. Most mottled ducks -- around 600,000 birds -- live along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, but these are members of a smaller population of around 40,000 ducks. "These Florida mottled ducks are typically found in freshwater emergent wetlands, wet prairies, and seasonally flooded marshes. In addition, mottled ducks from the Gulf Coast have been introduced in coastal South Carolina. Important mottled duck foods include rice, moist-soil plant seeds, submerged aquatic vegetation, and invertebrates." (source)


Mexican Duck, Tucson, AZ. Until 2020, the Mexican Duck was classified as a subspecies of mallard, but after further study, the American Ornithological Society confirmed them as a separate species. "After analyzing the duck’s DNA, the organization reclassified the duck as closely related to mallards, black ducks, and mottled ducks, but distinct." (source)

hanalei 5

Hawaiian Duck or Koloa, Hanalei NWR, Kauai, Hawaii.  This is a rare and endangered species, endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, mainly found on Kauai. It is under threat from habitat loss, predation by wild and domestic animals, and interbreeding with mallards. Ongoing efforts at conservation of this rare species may be succeeding in protecting it, particularly efforts to keep mallards out of Kauai and thus reduce hybridization. (source)

Unfortunately, the overwhelming ability of the mallard to hybridize with many other species, such as the Hawaiian Duck, makes them unwelcome and invasive in many places, such as New Zealand, where they are a threat to the New Zealand grey duck, in South America where they threaten various native species, or in Florida, where they threaten the mottled duck.

Unappreciated Species

It's easy to overlook the remarkable persistence of some species as a defining and interesting feature. A while back I wrote about the coot, a very common bird that's often ignored by birders. (See "A Remarkable Bird, The Coot.") There are a few other birds that fascinate me in the same way, for their ability to live in a wide variety of environments and to populate -- or even overpopulate -- the places they go.

Blog post © 2022 mae sander. Photos copyright 2011-2022 by mae and len sander.