Friday, September 30, 2022

In My Kitchen, September 2022

My one new kitchen tool in September.

Kitchen Challenge

Most kitchen posts are about cooking, baking, and acquiring new foods and cooking devices. Today I’m going to start with something completely different: fighting stuff that gets tracked in through the kitchen door. Everyone has to keep the floor clean, but nobody talks about it! September starts the season here when trees are constantly dropping little seeds and things… October and November the trees are dropping leaves… then there will be slush and snow. 

On the ground outside my kitchen for most of the month:
Hundreds of maple twirlers

Everywhere on the tile floor: maple twirlers.

What to do?

Most of you probably have a mini-vac just like I do.
Mine is hanging beside the flour canisters in the pantry.

Fall Produce in the Kitchen

As the leaves get ready to drop, September is also approaching the end of the growing season for many great fruits and vegetables in Michigan, like peaches, plums, apricots, lettuce, bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. Happily, the season for apples and pears is just starting. And onions and potatoes last through the winter.

First frost date for the lower 48 states. Alaska has frosts virtually all year.
Hawaii has frosts only at high elevations. (Source)

By the end of September, the first frost here in southeastern Michigan is not far off — if it hasn’t happened already. The current forecast gives us another two weeks before it happens this year. Fresh produce is a big deal for many of us, but much depends on the weather; above is a map showing what we could expect. In my experience the frost is often a bit earlier than the map indicates, though I guess that the warming of the planet is giving us a few more days of ripening tomatoes. 

Some of the last local orange and red tomatoes, peaches, and plums… and an early apple.
I think the ripening tree fruit is more related to the length of the day, and yes, days are getting shorter.
My fresh produce comes from two stores that sell local produce: The Produce Station, a retail market,
and Argus Farm Stop, a farmers’ consignment market.

I did not freeze or otherwise save any fall produce this year,
except for this one little bag of plums, frozen for a plum cake next winter.

From Argus Farm Stop: fantastic local corn. I always husk corn outdoors.

Very fresh large duck eggs, raised by Webbed Foot Pines and sold by Argus.

You can see how fresh the eggs are by the way the yolks
stay very spherical and don’t flatten out.


I baked a white pizza.

Len baked croissants, which I documented in an earlier post.

 New book, published this month: Ken Forkish,
Evolutions in Bread

The new book features breads made with
early strains of wheat, like eincorn.

A gluten-free challah that Len made for our neighbor, using a recipe from the web.

Coming soon…

Halloween candy is everywhere, and I’ve had some already.

One by one, leaves begin to color and to drop.

I’m sharing my September kitchen summary with the blog event “In My Kitchen” hosted by Sherry at her blog Sherry’s Pickings ( This post © 2022 by mae sander.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Moshkeleh the Thief

Moshkeleh Ganev wished that his fellow Jews in the village of Mazepevke would be more respectful of him, and call him Moshke, the way the non-Jewish residents did. He wished they would skip the word Ganev, which meant thief — even though being a thief was in fact how he made a living. 

In a few short chapters, Moshkeleh and his fellow villagers are introduced: vivid and highly individual. The innkeeper and his very beautiful daughters, Moshkeleh’s fellow Jewish horse thieves and pickpockets, the very handsome visiting government official (not Jewish, of course), and Moshkeleh’s own father, also a petty criminal. Moshkeleh himself is a handsome and appealing man, but no girl would have him because of his profession. Then Moshkeleh saves the girl he secretly loves from converting and running away with the non-Jewish official. He does so in a resourceful and surprising way, as is always the case in stories by Sholom Aleichem.

The character Moshkeleh and the Ukrainian village Mazepevke reflect the humor and creativity of Sholom Aleichem, perhaps the most famous Yiddish author. He wrote the novella Moshkeleh the Thief in 1903, when it was published serially. Somehow, this story did not appear in the author’s collected works, and was recently translated into English for the first time. What fun to read it!

Who isn’t thinking about the current state of Ukraine right now, as the Ukrainians fight the invasion of their country by their much bigger neighbor Russia? My mother’s family came from a village in Ukraine, which of course I’ve always thought would have resembled the villages in Sholom Aleichem’s stories. I think my great grandmother even made bootleg liquor which was probably sold in a tavern like the one in the story. Sholem Aleichem created a vision of these villages, which have nothing at all to do with the current situation. We know why there were 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine in 1939 and today there are less than 10% as many. But Sholem Aleichem allows us to imagine what was once a world in itself.

Review © 2022 mae sander

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ai Weiwei

"Never forget that under a totalitarian system cruelty and absurdity go hand in hand." Ai Weiwei. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows (p. 137)

"In China, if you try to understand your country, it’s enough to put you on a collision course with the law." (p. 147)

"Young people in China today have no knowledge at all of the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and if they knew they might not even care, for they learn submission before they have developed an ability to raise doubts and challenge assumptions." (p. 204)

"It’s a mistake to always take me seriously. (p. 217)

Ai Weiwei's story begins with his father's birth. It's a story of China for just over 100 years, during unimaginable changes from rule by the Emperor to rule by Mao to the totalitarian state of the present. It's both a personal and an intellectual history, set against the background of war, conquest, persecution, and Ai Weiwei's personal development as a startling avant-garde artist in our own time.

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows on one level is the story of just two people: Ai Weiwei and his father, Ai Quing, who was a popular poet. In 1938, Ai Qing wrote “Toward the Sun,” a lyric poem about north China, where he had witnessed "both China’s miseries and its people’s stubborn vitality. It soon became a staple at poetry readings; as evening fell, students would read it aloud around a bonfire, the light illuminating their faces, and the poem’s passion and confidence would warm their hearts." (Ai Weiwei. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, p. 59). 

Before reading Ai Weiwei's memoir, I had virtually no knowledge of Ai Quing, and only broad outlines about the struggle of the Communist party led by Mao to defeat the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek. His father's life is a study of ups and downs, including rejection in China and fame outside of China (for example, a friendship with Chilean poet Pablo Neruda). Sometimes he was an acknowledged leader, at other times, because he stuck to his principles, he was sent to prison camps or far-flung exile. Here is how his life began.

"In 1910, the year my father was born, my grandfather had just turned twenty-one. The Qing dynasty was nearing the end of its 266-year rule, while in Russia the fall of the czars and the advent of the Soviet regime were just seven years away. It was the year that Tolstoy and Mark Twain died, the year that Edison invented talkies in faraway New Jersey. In Xiangtan, in Hunan, seventeen-year-old Mao Zedong was still in school; his first wife, selected for him by his parents in an arranged marriage, died a month before my father was born. But Fantianjiang, like so many other Chinese villages, slumbered on, unremarkable and anonymous." (Ai Weiwei. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, p. 17).  

Ai Weiwei's father's status varied from early recognition as a national poet in Mao's inner circle to suffering in the a rehabilitation camp for dissidents and other intellectuals in the Cultural Revolution. I really enjoyed reading about his first meeting in 1941, where he has an informal meal with Mao in his army camp, long before his military success. Near the start of the book, we read about one of the worst times: an account of the starvation that was the fate of the inhabitants of the rehabilitation camp many years later.

"In this era of dreary routine and material scarcity, the kitchen served as the focus of people’s imagination, even if little changed from one day to the next. Each morning the cook would mix cornmeal with warm water and place the dough into a meter-square cage drawer, then stack five such drawers inside an iron pot and steam them for thirty minutes. When the lid was lifted off, the whole kitchen would fill with steam, and the cook would carve up the corn bread vertically and horizontally, each square piece weighing two hundred grams. To show his impartiality, he would weigh the blocks publicly. This same corn bread would be served from the first day of the year to the last, except on May 1 (International Workers’ Day) and October 1 (National Day), when the corn bread would acquire a thin red layer, made up of sugar and possibly jujubes. If someone was lucky enough to find a jujube in their corn bread, this would always stir some excitement. The company had large expanses of cornfields, but we never once had fresh cornmeal to eat, only 'war-relief grain' that had been in storage for goodness knows how long: it scraped your throat roughly as you swallowed, and reeked of mold and gasoline." (p. 12).

Eventually, Mao had no more use for intellectuals: "the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957... marked the end of intellectuals as a force in society. From that time on, Chinese intellectuals were confined to a marginal position, and they have been there ever since." And it still burdens the freedom of thought of Ai Weiwei: "Ideological cleansing, I would note, exists not only under totalitarian regimes—it is present also, in a different form, in liberal Western democracies." (p. 83-84)

After describing the experiences of his father, Ai Weiwei continues with his own story. He was born in 1957, when his father was 47 years old, and he lived in exile with his father for a major part of his childhood and youth. Wanting a broader education the young Ai Weiwei managed to get to Philadelphia to go to college. Here, at the famous art museum, he encountered one of my favorite artists: Marcel Duchamp, who along with Andy Warhol became a critical influence on his development as a conceptual and otherwise off-beat artist -- for me one of the most fascinating aspects of the book.

"In one of the galleries, a bicycle wheel was mounted on a wooden stool; two large panels of glass, one above the other, each splintered and cracked, invited you to contemplate the relationship between the “Bride’s Domain” above and the “Bachelor Machine” below." (p. 168).


Ai Weiwei's description of his development as an artist and his view of art make up a major part of the rest of the book. He explains:

"Art had long been a consumption commodity, a decoration catering to the tastes of the rich, and under commercial pressures it was bound to degenerate. As artworks rise in monetary value, their spiritual dimension declines, and art is reduced to little more than an investment asset, a financial product." (p. 176). 

Along with his self-invention as a political activist as well as being an artist, he used provocative actions (or "little acts of mischief") as a way of public expression, influenced by Warhol and others including Alan Ginsberg. Adapting to the modern age, Ai Weiwei became a blogger with a huge following; when the Chinese authorities shut down and destroyed his blog,  he became a Twitter user, always advancing his views of art and political issues with bravery in the face of the repressive Chinese authorities.

Finally, the government subjected Ai Weiwei to 80 days of imprisonment with brutal policemen constantly questioning and badgering him for 24 hours a day. After his release he was not allowed to leave the country for several years, and his artistic endeavors were disrupted. He cultivated attention to his mistreatment in a variety of ways, and was finally released. He has now moved to Europe, where he continues to be a productive artist.

The memoir is illustrated with sketches by the author. The bicycle basket action was photographed
every day, and posted on Instagram as a symbol of his lost freedom.

An Exhibit of Ai Weiwei's Art

A number of very famous works by Ai Weiwei have been exhibited in well-known museums; in particular at the Tate Modern in London, he spread 102.5 million ceramic sunflower seeds on the floor of the great hall. These realistic seeds were created under his direction by a ceramic studio in China. They were in part a memorial to the thousands of children who died in the poorly built schools that crumbled in the earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, but also they meant much more.

While I didn't see the more famous exhibits, in 2017, I did see a beautiful and exciting exhibit of Ai Weiwei's sculptures at the Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In 1995, one of Ai Weiwei's public actions was to drop and shatter a Han-Dynasty urn.
This was the subject of one room of the exhibit in Grand Rapids.

Among Ai Weiwei's very political activities was a campaign to remember by name the thousands
of children who died in the earthquake in 2008 because of poorly-built schools. 
The authorities did everything they could to stop him! This sculpture, titled "Porcelain Rebar,"
recalls the tangled metal rebar visible in the rubble of the schools.

Review and photos © 2017, 2022, mae sander.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Honey from a Weed


Do you like to read recipes for dishes that you will almost certainly never get to cook or even to taste? Recipes for wild game that’s now protected or vanishingly rare? For wild plants and mushrooms that people don’t gather any more? Recipes for cooking in primitive kitchens without running water or a consistent supply of cooking fuel? Dishes to cook at an open fire over twigs and weeds and aromatic gathered plants? What about fish that can no longer be found in their original habitat? What about wine that has no name, that’s just made in small batches by men only, who crush the grapes that grew in their vineyards with their bare feet, and have no pretensions? Drinking wines like “the golden muscat wine, Ugentine… and a dark red wine.” (p. 283) 

Patience Gray’s memoir and cookbook Honey from a Weed tells many thing like this, with various details of her life, and of her very interesting relationships with the villagers where she lived. Among the strangest and most unlikely recipes I’ve selected some of the most extremely strange and unlikely. These are given as entire recipes with all the details, including digressions on the sizes of mortars for pulverizing ingredients, or the materials to use for cooking pots. I suspect that these instructions really could not be followed now:

 “This is called the fishermen’s romesco. … First of all, take a plane to Barcelona, then drive to Calafell, then find your fishermen and go with them about four o’clock to Villanova and get them to choose the fish as it is landed… In a large upright saucepan (marmite) brown twelve cloves of garlic in oil …. put in two of the chili peppers, opened but whole of which you have removed the seeds. After two or three minutes add the slice of bread… pound very fine in a mortar….” The cut-up fish is added several steps later! (p. 112-113)

“Donna Adeline’s fig jam. Pick in the early morning some small butter-yellow figs, the ones that ripen at the end of August, often growing in the wild, having insignificant seeds. Choose only those figs that show a little bead of nectar at the opening, then sit down in the shade and carefully peel them, putting the peeled fruits unbroken in an earthenware pot. Pour over them an equal quantity of sugar, cover, and leave to make some syrup in a cool place until the next day. Put figs and syrupy sugar in a preserving pan and cook on a lively heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.. Add some dried fennel seeds 2 bayleaves, the zest of lemon cut into tiny strips and its juice…. This is nectar.” (p. 306)

“Here are the recommendations given to me by an old anarchist in Carrara for cooking a fox: A male fox, shot in January or February. Skin it and keep the carcase in running water for 3 days, or otherwise, hang it up outside in the frost. Clean it and cut it up into joints like a rabbit, then put it in a lidded pot with some olive oil on a slow fire … add 3 unpeeled cloves of garlic, slightly crushed, raise the heat and brown the pieces, sprinlking them with mountain herbs… Add a little salt… The ‘preliminaries’ are vital, since they remove the rather bitter ‘foxy’ taste.” (p. 241)

For years, I’ve been meaning to reread Honey from a Weed, which was first published in 1986. The book describes Gray’s experiences in several Mediterranean villages during the 1950s through the early1980s, when the local people were quite isolated from modern life, modern cooking equipment, or a large supply of foods other than what they grew or gathered. She sketches the lives of people whose children and grandchildren were already moving on to a different and probably urban life, and whose knowledge is most likely now lost. At the end she writes:

“The recipes in this book belong to an era of food grown for its own sake, not for profit. This era has vanished. If cooking and eating were all I had had in mind when writing them down, the pleasure they might afford would be largely nostalgic.” (p. 326)

I finally bought and read a copy of the book this week. When I read it in the early 1990s (from the library), I had read very few food books, and nothing similar to this. In fact, Honey from a Weed still stands out in my reading experience. More recent best-selling memoirs of rustic life in France or Italy are rather pale and indulgent in comparison.

Honey from a Weed — Illustrations by Corinna Sargood

I chose this image including a wine bottle and a
water bottle to share with the bloggers who
each week celebrate drinks of all sorts.

Who was Patience Gray? 

She was a writer of just a few books, born in 1917, died 2005. Honey from a Weed is her best-known work, a kind of a foodie cult classic.

Patience Gray and her partner Norman Mommens who shared the experiences that she related in Honey From a Weed. She refers to him throughout the book as “The Sculptor,” and their choice of places to live was driven by his need to be near one of the famous marble quarries in the area to obtain material for his art. (Photo source: New York Times)

Review © 2022 mae sander for maefood dot

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Downtown Ann Arbor Street Art


Saturday walk: new graffiti, this time with a stencil.

This artist is reusing the stencil.

From Last Week…

From a walk we took downtown … murals to share with Sami’s weekly blog celebration of murals and street art throughout the world. Have I seen these before? Maybe! 

© 2022 mae sander.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Great British Baking Show is At It Again!

New today: the second episode of the 2022 Great British Baking Show. It’s lots of fun to watch and the contestants this year seem quite creative. The judges (same as the last few years) seem to enjoy the flavors and textures of most of their productions.

The first challenge: macarons made to look like something else.
The baker named Rebs made them look like her cat Branston.

The Showstopper: A Mask Displayed on a Stand

Waiting for the judges’ announcement: Who will be Star Baker? Who will go home?

 Blog post for mae’s food blog — maefood dot blogspot dot com

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Thursday Murder Club Again

“Morning has broken at Coopers Chase. From the window of Elizabeth’s flat you can see the dog-walkers, and a few latecomers rushing to Over-Eighties Zumba. The air hums with friendly greetings, and the sounds of birdsong and Amazon delivery vans.” (p. 27)

The Bullet that Missed: Another great story from Richard Osman’s highly entertaining group of friends that meet on Thursdays in the jigsaw room of Coopers Chase, their retirement community! By the end of the novel, these exceptional characters have once again solved a cold case and brought several miscreants to justice, while providing us, the readers, with lots of fun. 

At the center of their investigation are a famous but aging TV news presenter and a make-up artist who helps him stay good looking. Some of the club members are a bit star struck, so they chose to re-open the unsolved murder of a colleague of this minor celebrity in order to get to meet him. This seems especially amusing when one knows that TV presenting of this sort was the author’s earlier claim to fame. If the reader is supposed to recognize real people in this story, though, I am deficient, as I know nothing about British TV stuff.

Osman’s characters are as good as ever. Elizabeth, the former high-level spy never disappoints! Joyce, the most naive member of the group, as always records in her diary the progress of their investigation as she sees it, and at the same time, reflects her domestic concerns. For example, she writes:

“Sitting on my sofa, watching a program about trains, is a man called Viktor Illyich. He’s a former KGB agent. He’s Ukrainian. I told him I wanted to write my diary and he laughed and said I had plenty to write about today. I have left him with a glass of sherry and a slice of cherry-and-dark-chocolate cake. I saw it on Instagram and thought it had Ron’s name all over it. But, as it turns out, Viktor is getting the first slice, which goes to show how plans can change. The rest is in Tupperware for Ron though. … Viktor says the cake is very good. I know he would say that anyway, but he’s had the whole slice, so let’s assume he’s telling the truth. I don’t normally like dark chocolate, as a rule, but it really works here. It has Kirsch in it too, so that helps.” (p. 149)

As in the earlier books in the series, two low-level police officers are also involved, though never anywhere as effective at solving crimes as the retirees. They are investigating a mysterious crash of a van, which I think is left as a loose end when the main mystery is resolved — would someone tell me if they’ve read the book and I am wrong about this? Some of the criminal characters from an earlier book are also involved in this one. Chris, one of the two partners in the police team, is still trying to eat healthy food. 

He has “lost a stone and a half in weight. He recently bought himself a T-shirt in size L, instead of his usual XL, or occasional, shameful XXL. He eats salmon and broccoli now. He eats so much broccoli he can spell it without looking it up. When was the last time he had a Toblerone? He can’t even remember.” (p 31)

Suspense builds very effectively in The Bullet that Missed. You can tell from the title that there are guns in the story, and that’s really important for a story set in England where there aren’t guns in almost every household the way there are here. (OK, it’s only 40%, but still…) The characters are brave, resourceful, and very clever — but I’m not going to tell you more and spoil the mystery. How wonderful that these stories keeps being fun to read — as always I’m grateful to my sister who gave me the first novel in the series.

Review © 2022 mae sander


Wednesday, September 21, 2022


Is this a lot of spatulas? Believe it or not, I have more than I showed here..

A spatula is an essential kitchen tool, as everyone knows. They come in a number of shapes and sizes, with variations in size, in the form of the handle, and in the design of the turning surface. Metal spatulas are best because the thin edge of the blade easily slips under whatever you are turning or lifting. They are perfect if your hamburger or your frying egg has slightly adhered to the cooking surface, or if your cookies have cooled a bit and are stuck to the cookie sheet. BUT if your frying pan or cookie sheet is treated with a no-stick surface, the metal will scratch, and you’ll regret it. Non-stick spatulas are often too thick to slide under a delicate egg with a still-soft yolk, or whatever.

I once had the perfect non-stick spatula but it wore out. I have bought many replacements, never perfect. My latest one was recommended in a spatula review. (There are MANY spatula reviews in places like Wirecutter from the New York Times, New York Magazine, or in The Spruce Eats, which recommended this one recently. And I bought it:


Why is it called a spatula?

Besides finding spatulas irresistible, I also love the word spatula. It’s such a weird-sounding word. In an article titled “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Spatulas” I learned that the derivation is from a Greek and Latin term for a long, broad sword. The word was “first used in the early 16th century to refer to a range of implements with broad, flat blades used not only in cooking, but also in medicine (i.e. a tool to spread ointments), and masonry (i.e. a tool to spread or mix solutions).” Though the word was invented then, similar tools had been made and used since the beginning of the iron age, when technology enabled their manufacture. Other words derived from the same Greek/Latin root are spade, spay, and the fencing term épée. (source)

Weird Al Yankovitch once created a fake ad for a warehouse outlet called “Spatula City” with thousands of types of spatulas. Too bad it’s fake, I could fill my whole kitchen! 

Blog post © 2022 mae sander.