Sunday, July 31, 2022

July in the Kitchen

In Evelyn's kitchen in Fairfax, VA: White Darjeeling Tea.

Time for the wrap-up of what's been happening in my kitchen in Ann Arbor and in Evelyn and Tom's kitchen in Fairfax for the month of July. The first three weeks of July in Ann Arbor were very quiet. Michigan produce came in rather slowly, so we were still buying things like corn and fruit that were grown further south. Then we drove to Fairfax on our way to our next big vacation.

The World is a Kitchen

Very much in my thoughts: the worsening food-supply disaster in the world at large. I sadly read a new report on the increase in global hunger. Also, I contemplate the looming global grain shortage caused by the war in Ukraine and crop failures caused mainly by droughts in many countries. A statement from the head of the UN World Food Program: “ a record 345 million acutely hungry people are marching to the brink of starvation" — a 25% increase from 276 million at the start of 2022 before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The number stood at 135 million before the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.” (source). I'm aware of these human disasters when I think about the bounty of foods available easily in my life.

The world is very large. There’s  a lot of it that I still want to see so far in my life. Starting Saturday, July 30, I’ll be leaving the country and maybe leaving internet access. So I may not be checking comments here very often or reading and commenting on other blogs. I will do my best to be in touch with all my blogger friends in the wide world. If not during the trip, I’ll be back to see all of you at the end of August.

From Evelyn and Tom’s Kitchen

We visited Evelyn, Tom, and Alice in Fairfax, VA. 
Evelyn and Tom made us some fabulous mussels. 

At Home: Grilling

Once in the month we grilled real burgers with special sauce and grilled corn.

Beautifully dark lamb chops with a dish of white beans.

French dishes for Paris in July 

French potato salad (pommes á l'huile).

A rolled omelet that Len made for breakfast.

Cauliflower Cheese with a twist...

British cauliflower cheese is a casserole generally made with steamed cauliflower, white sauce with mild cheddar, and a topping of cheddar and maybe bread crumbs. The casserole is baked in the oven to heat through and brown the topping. 

I changed it a bit. For the vegetable, I used roasted cauliflower (less weepy) with some onion and sweet potato added. For the sauce I made a slightly more robust brown sauce with some spices and mild goat cheese added. For the topping I used pepper jack cheese. I just like things spicier!

Roasted vegetables.

Vegetables, sauce, and melted cheese.

Ready Made Food

New to us: Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken
(not bad at all)

Blog post and all photos © 2022.
Shared with Sherry’s In My Kitchen for August.

Friday, July 29, 2022

“Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight“

“The dappled sunlight is beautiful. It’s like being at the bottom of the sea here. I wonder if this is how fish feel when they look up at the surface. Green rays of light flicker and waver. Three people stand at the bottom of the water, gazing up at the light on the surface. An innocent yearning shines in the eyes of all three, for the faraway surface that cannot be touched. They stare in silence at the unreachable light, at a future that will never arrive.” (Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight, p. 174)

Two narrators alternate this very tense and emotional tale, but they seem to be reading one-another’s thoughts, because the narrative is continuous in time, and in fact lasts exactly one night. This is an incredibly constructed psychological study, where two people make an incredible effort to remember their past, and the result is constant surprises for them and for the reader.

The two at first seem to be lovers breaking up after living together a long time: in other words, a pretty ordinary situation. The man has a new lover, and has already moved his possessions to the place where he will live with her. In fact, the apartment contains almost no furniture, and they spend most of the night using a suitcase as a table for eating and for holding an ash tray. Their alternating interior monologues describe their relationship:

“We often used to go away together, just the two of us. It was a way of making up for the blanks in our past. Wherever we went we had a good time and enjoyed each other’s company. It was refreshing. We didn’t have much money and we both liked walking, so often we simply wandered through strange towns, deep in discussion of all manner of topics. I have a collection of pictures in my mind, like stills from a movie, of our time spent in this fashion.” (p. 40)

Quickly, we learn that the two are not in fact lovers, but are siblings — in fact twins. They share many secrets and anxieties, and they talk and quarrel all night about the meaning of a particular event in their past. Each one thinks the other was responsible for a tragic death of a man that they were with. As the night goes on, they probe their memories, and with occasional searches of the internet, they develop amazing insights about their entire past. I can’t tell you more: it’s a mystery, and that would spoil it.

What I like best about this novel is the interesting way the two narrators think about themselves and their past. Remember, the entire novel is their alternating internal thoughts during one night. Here’s an example: the thoughts of a man returning to an apartment with some drinks and other things to provide for a night of confrontation for the last time with his partner:

“The bag of drinks is heavy. My hand has gone numb where the handles are wrapped around my fingers. Food and drink weigh a lot more than you think. I learned that for myself when I moved out of home after high school and began living on my own. Being a poor student, I used to cook to save money. I never had a taste for fast food like most of my generation. Potatoes, onions, cabbages, apples, salad dressing, canned tuna. This kind of food has weight, like a living thing. Shopping at the local supermarket taught me that, as I gradually got used to getting meals for myself. Luckily I didn’t dislike cooking, and I bought in bulk when possible, so I could experiment with all kinds of dishes. Once, when I was at a friend’s place, I was surprised to learn that practically all he ever ate was instant ramen and prepared food out of a packet. He got a supply of these by playing pachinko, which he was addicted to, and took away his winnings in the form of instant foods.” (p. 18)

 Review © 2022 mae sander


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Where I am now: Fairfax, VA

Here we are in Virginia, first stop on our trip.
The UVa flag is for Miriam and Alice who are both students there.

We drove all day yesterday. This morning we started with a walk around
Evelyn’s neighborhood, where I loved the decorated mailboxes.

Summer flowers and busy bees.

And one great grasshopper from home, before we left.

                                                                                             Blog post and photos © 2022 mae sander.

Forbidden Icelandic Again

Before my review of the novel Night Shadows, which takes place in Akranes, Iceland, here are some photos of the town which I took on our trip to Iceland last year. 

The lighthouse at Akranes, July 26, 2021. Photographed from the window of the National Geographic Explorer.
From the novel: a character sees "the long, sandy beach below them, the grey sea,
the mountain with its twin white summits and the dip in between, and
 the two lighthouses in the distance, apparently rising out of the sea beyond the town."(p. 160).

I was curious to recall what the town looked like because I just read the new police procedural Night Shadows about a murder and police investigation in Akranes, which was just published this week. Eva Björg Ægisdóttir's new book is the third in the Forbidden Iceland series. I reviewed The Creak on the Stairs, the first in the series, here: Icelandic Noir. I have read the second, Girls Who Lie, but never reviewed it. The third book appeared last week, just in time for our next trip to Iceland, this time continuing to Greenland (assuming that nothing bad stops us, like Covid, airline disruptions, Icelandic volcanic eruptions, or disasters of unpredictable nature!)

At the beginning of Night Shadows, there's a horrifying murder, and detective Elma, who also starred in the first two novels, is assigned to investigate. She's level-headed! But she experiences many challenges and dangers as she investigates. Of course she and her supporting colleagues discover all the details of the crime eventually, but it's a tricky process and makes great, suspenseful reading. The action all takes place in the autumn of 2019, so it's recent but also before covid!

Reading the details of the very obscure Icelandic town of Akranes was fun. Here's how Elma saw it as she went to a small house to question some of the people, Fríða and Hrafnkell, who had a connection with the crime:

"Akranes had undergone profound changes since Elma was young. The population had doubled in size, from four thousand to eight thousand, and the urban area had spread out over the flat Skagi Peninsula, spilling over into the surrounding farmland and creeping ever closer to the foot of Mount Akrafjall. Among the orange blocks of flats where Fríða’s boyfriend, Hrafnkell, lived, there was one building that stood out from the rest. It had once been a small, traditional farmhouse with horses grazing in the paddock, but now it looked lost and out of place, swallowed up by the modern developments." (p. 123).

Here are the memories of a young woman whose Icelandic father had once brought her from Amsterdam to visit his native land:  

They "had stayed with her grandparents, played card games like Olsen Olsen late into the evening, gone swimming in geothermally heated pools, and visited waterfalls, hot springs and wide lava fields. She could still remember what it had been like to stand in the middle of the petrified lava flow, feeling as if she were on another planet. In her memory, the trip had been perfect." (pp. 143-144). 

Also, something that in a way made me think of our brief bus trip through the town last year: 

"The houses were mostly single-storey and the ones they were passing appeared rather rundown. The majority were plain, white boxes with A-line roofs, lacking any decoration or aesthetic appeal." (p. 158). 

I also liked the way home-made food played a role in the several families involved in the plot.

A dinner party: "The bottles of Bollinger they’d drunk with the starter, the roast that had melted in the mouth after its long sous-vide cooking, the Hasselback potatoes. Everyone had praised the food, and afterwards they had polished off a bottle of ten-year-old malt that Villi had brought with him."(p. 18).

A nice domestic scene: "Mother and daughters were in the kitchen, seated at a round table that was laid with a plate of pancakes and a tray bearing bacon and fried eggs, as well as strawberry jam, maple syrup and melon slices." (p. 156). 

A simple snack: "Elma sipped her cocoa and felt the hot liquid warming her all the way down to her stomach, then took a bite of her cardamom doughnut." (p. 224).  

A kind-of dinner: "Elma got up and looked in the freezer compartment of the fridge. Rejecting the frozen pizza, she settled for a bowl of muesli and buttermilk instead." (p. 228).

And: "Sævar ... was frying slices of bread with eggs dropped into holes in the middle." (p. 314). 

Like the two earlier books in the series, Night Shadows is very enjoyable to read. Good plot. Good characters. Murderers a bit too cold-blooded, but with well developed personalities. A good mystery in every way, I think.

Review and photos of Akranes © 2021 mae sander.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Wrapping up Paris in July

What I wanted to read about Paris during the month of July

Oulipo and Georges Perec, Paris in World War II, Simone de Beauvoir, Paris mystery novels originally written in French, books by immigrants to Paris, The Anomaly, and Paris Metro Tales were all successful choices from my reading list for this month, and for my participation in the blog event Paris in July. I also added a couple of books that were not on the original list. I read a total of eleven books about Paris, and cooked one very French meal for friends.

I didn't complete my plan to explore the reason why the French love Boris Vian's L'Écume des jours and Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier. Also, there were a couple of other books from my list that I missed. But I think I did a lot, and I feel as if I do in fact have some new insights into life in the Paris of real people, both now and in the past. It's been a great month!

I'm wrapping up my participation a bit early because I have some travel plans for the rest of the month.

Paris Topics from the Other Bloggers at Paris in July 

I really enjoyed reading the blog posts of the other participants who reviewed many books and wrote about other Paris-related topics. Some of my favorites:
  • I appreciated the contributions of Deb at Readerbuzz who was the co-host for this month's events. Deb made me think what to read while in Paris (or while imagining I was there), and made me think about the general topic of street art and graffiti. 
One of Deb’s great Paris street art photos.

  • I enjoyed the book reviews by Emma at Words and Peace. Because she's a native speaker of French, she reads French books in the original versions, which enriches her insights.
  • Jeanie at the Marmelade Gypsy summarized the generic plot of too many Paris books written by Americans. Her summary offers an insight into why I like to read fiction by French authors, who seem to have many more imaginative plots:
"Like dozens of other novels -- young woman decides to divorce her husband and move to Paris to find herself and take over the locksmith shop of her recently deceased uncle [or whatever business her relative left her]. Young woman meets interesting Parisian people, becomes enchanted with the city, deals with Parisian bureaucracy and then discovers a life-changing secret about her own past. Will she stay in Paris or return to California and her unfulfilled life? I think you know the answer."

  • Another Paris in July contribution I enjoyed reading was from Marg at The Intrepid Reader, who wrote about a French Reality TV show, and linked to their YouTube channel:

"The Parisian Agency, or L'Agence as it is known in France, is a reality show which features high end property, predominantly in Paris, although they do occasionally venture further afield to the French countryside and other locations."

  • Kwarkito, a blogger who lives in France, shared many images of his own Paris, which are wonderful. He actually posts pictures and thoughts about Paris every month of the year, not just in July.
All of us who participated owe our gratitude to Deb for co-hosting and especially to Tamara for once again linking all the many posts from bloggers who obviously love Paris!

Blog post © 2022 by mae sander for maefood at blogspot dot com.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Paris is out of mustard!

A mustard field in Alberta, Canada, 2021,
where most Dijon mustard seeds come from. (source)

A few days ago in the New York Times, an article highlighted a very special problem in Paris: "the mysterious disappearance of mustard from supermarket shelves has caused, if not revolt, at least deep disquiet." Dijon mustard is irreplaceable in French cuisine, giving "edge to a steak frites, life to a grilled sausage, depth to a vinaigrette and richness to mayonnaise. " (Roger Cohen, "France Faces a Shortage of Mustard, Its Uniquely Beloved Condiment.")

Leeks vinaigrette I made once: Dijon mustard is essential!
I use lots of mustard but somehow I bought two jars of
Grey Poupon at Costco, so I have plenty right now.

Artichokes vinaigrette. Mustard essential!

Writer David Leibowitz writes from Paris about "la pénurie de moutarde" -- the mustard shortage:

"At first, the shortage was attributed to the war in Ukraine, which seemed odd to me since most of the mustard seeds come from Canada. I don’t know if the mustard companies wanted the public to know that, so perhaps they were blaming the war." (source)

However, the big picture is this:

"A perfect storm of climate change, a European war, Covid supply problems and rising costs have left French producers short of the brown seeds that make their mustard, mustard." (NY Times)

Mustard seeds are obviously the key ingredient in Dijon mustard along with white wine. The mustard crop used to be grown locally near Dijon, the mustard capital, but that's no longer true. If you buy mustard labeled "Burgundy" it's grown there, otherwise, the main source is the west of Canada. For example, Maille Dijon mustard contains 60 percent Canadian mustard seeds.

The word from Alberta, Canada:

"The Canadian prairie provinces, including Alberta, produce 80% of the world’s mustard seeds. Our mustard is used all over the world to produce some of the best prepared mustard products available – from ballpark yellow mustards to France’s famous Dijon mustards. If someone is adding prepared mustard or mustard oil to a dish anywhere in the world, the chances are high that the seeds came from right here in Alberta." (source)

The drought in North America in 2021 had a severe effect on the Canadian mustard harvests, along with harvests in much of the US and Canadian West: "the country's mustard production dropped 28 percent for the 2021-22 marketing year." (source) The French mustard suppliers are searching for alternative supplies, but that's made even more difficult because Ukraine is also a producer of mustard seeds -- and you know what's happening there!

A bottle of wine from the vinyards
nearest to Dijon.
Dijon, France, has a long history as a manufacturer of prepared mustard, going back to the Middle Ages. The Dijon mustard-makers developed the recipes for the Dijon flavors of mustard using both wine and verjus, which is unfermented grape juice -- not surprising since Dijon is also in the center of the wine-growing region of Burgundy. I couldn’t decide which I’m more fond of: the wine or the mustard!

The condiment itself has been around for much longer than that:

"We can thank the Romans for so many things, including mustard. They mixed must (unfermented grape juice) with ground mustard seeds to make mustum ardens—burning must. They used it as a condiment, preserved fruit in it (mostarda) and served it with sausage." (source)

Meanwhile, the grocery stores in Paris have big empty spaces on the shelves where the shoppers and cooks usually find their favorite brands of mustard, including Edmond Fallot, Maille, Amora, and many other brands. The American mustard companies are not having the same problems, so we can easily buy Grey Poupon, which is Dijon mustard made in the USA, as well as our own yellow mustard. Maybe that's because despite our love of mustard on hot dogs, our total consumption of mustard, at 12 ounces per year per person, is far below that of France, where they use 2.2 pounds of mustard per year per person. Also, American mustard is made from yellow mustard seeds, while French mustard uses brown seeds, which are scarcer at the moment. The French do not like American yellow mustard!

Antique mustard pot.

UPDATE July 27: An article in the Washington Post provides some additional information on the shortages of mustard seed, specifically, that the supplies of locally-grown mustard in the Dijon area have been dropping drastically because of increased damage from insect pests. The number of insects is increasing as a result of warmer temperatures due to climate change. The French regulation of pesticide use makes it difficult for farmers to fight against these infestations. "France’s mustard shortage fuels drama and panic in grocery stores"

I'm sharing this with the ongoing blog event Paris in July, and with the bloggers at Elizabeth's weekly party celebrating drinks of all kinds — in this case, wine. Post © 2022 by mae sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Graffiti in our town

On a building wall near the riverside path in Ann Arbor: a big graffiti.
I’ve been thinking about graffiti and street art —
surely this graffiti wasn’t sponsored by the owner of the wall.
To me that’s why it’s graffiti and not street art!

Along the path itself is a beautifully painted retaining wall. Street art!

This chalk graffiti was probably intended as temporary,
but it has not washed away.
On the topic of graffiti: a cartoon by the great Roz Chast.

photos © 2022 mae sander.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

What's cooking in Paris?

Salad suggestions (l. to r.): Thai beef salad with peanuts. Salad of corn, rocket lettuce, crispy ham,  and parmesan. Cobb Salad.
Source: Marie Claire/Cuisine et Vins de France.

France, like most of Europe this week, is suffering from a disastrous heat wave, so the smart-alec answer to what's cooking? would be we're all cooking! And I imagine that family wanting to cook at home in Paris is adapting to the heat by avoiding anything in the oven. I feel very sorry for the overheated continent, and for the people in many other places that are sweltering this summer. 

Looking up a bit of current food advice to connect with the blog event Paris in July, I checked my favorite French cooking magazine, Marie Claire/Cuisine et Vins de France, which is of course now online. They are featuring many salads for hot weather. I recognized corn salad as having once been a favorite in French ready-made food counters called traiteurs -- a good place in Paris to get neat ideas for dinner, even if you just look in the shop windows and then buy some canned corn and veggies instead of paying their high prices. Or if you can afford the prices, these shops offer a great way to stay away from your kitchen.

I found the suggestion of a Cobb salad interesting: Marie Claire calls it an American classic. According to the LA Times, it was invented by Robert Cobb at the Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles. Cobb, one of the restaurant’s founders, was said to have whipped it up “from a grab-bag of whatever happened to be in the restaurant refrigerator one day in 1937.” (source)

More salads (l. to r.): Salad of tomatoes, peaches, burrata, and chimichurri sauce.
Cucumber and peanut salad with honey-chili sauce.
Salad of spinach, strawberry, peas and feta.

Some of these salads look new to me and very interesting. I am fascinated by the number of ideas the writers offer based on the cuisines of other countries like Thai beef salad or like chimichurri, which is from Argentina, with burrata, which is Italian. And of course Cobb salad. Or the spinach, feta, and strawberry salad which had its day in the sun here a couple of decades ago! 

Cuisine et Vins de France was one of my delightful discoveries during my long stays in Paris, and I continued to subscribe for several years afterwards. The magazine was started 70 years ago, and merged with Marie Claire a few years ago. I've written about this in the past, particularly for the annual blog event Paris in July. My most detailed post was:

Cuisine et Vins de France: A Classic French Cooking Magazine

The very first issue I ever bought: March, 1976.
Blog post © 2022 mae sander.


Friday, July 22, 2022

Paris and Ann Arbor in July

A visitor to the Ann Arbor Art Fair, the best summer event in our town

Celebrating Paris and Ann Arbor this week

Today, July 22, 2022 is the publication date for the paperback English edition of The Martins (La famille Martin) by David Foenkinos. It’s also the second day of the huge Ann Arbor Art Fair that extends, they say, for 30 city blocks and offers 1000 booths to 500,000 visitors. In this post I’m arbitrarily combining my experiences with both of these great things — art and literature, you know.

The Martins was published in France in October, 2020, and published here as a Kindle edition in June, 2022.  I read it this week. It's a nice little book about an author (the story’s unnamed narrator) who decides to write a novel about the next person he sees on the street near his apartment. He randomly chooses Madeleine, a woman around 80 years old; in his interview process to create characters from "real" people, he also gets to know her daughter Valerie Martin, Valerie's husband Patrick Martin, and their two adolescent children.

Within a day, the narrator/author is brought into the lives of the five people in the family. Each one asks him to help with some central problem in their life, and he soon takes responsibility for deeply personal problems, or at least tries to help out with tricky situations. In particular, Madeleine confides in him about a passionate affair that she had in her early twenties, ages before she met her husband (Valerie’s father). He had abruptly left her and moved to California. 

The narrator, helpfully, finds the lost lover on Facebook, contacts him and within days accompanies Madeleine to LA to meet him once more after some 60 years. Meanwhile, the narrator is also involved to some extent in straightening out problems of the others, or at least attempting to do so. In the process, he finds plenty of material for the novel he was writing in his unusual information-seeking exercise. It’s a sweet little story — all happy but not fake happy like a lot of ordinary novels. I found it strangely plausible and not phony!

I read The Martins as part of my July reading project, looking for books about Paris by French people, seeking a French point of view about life in Paris. One of the other bloggers participating in Paris in July is Emma who blogs at Words and Peace. She reviewed this book yesterday, and she called the book "a great social window on French society: from Patrick and his crazy boss, to the two teenagers of the family, with a picture perfect of young people and their trauma at that difficult age." Just what I was seeking, though I had almost finished the book when I read her review.

Now for more photos of the Ann Arbor Art Fair. We found that the art works this year weren’t nearly as tempting as they have been in the past. We did not buy from any of the artists. In fact, I didn’t even find much art to take photos of — I concentrated on hats! Here goes:

Art fair photos and review © 2022 mae sander