Monday, October 31, 2022

Celebrating Halloween

A particularly wonderful yard sculpture.

Update: overnight the strange pumpkin-head bagged a skeleton.

Burns Park School Parade, Halloween 2022


Burns Park School Halloween Parade, 1951

Archive photos from the Ann Arbor District Library


Trick or Treats

Blog post © 2022 mae sander

In My Kitchen and in the World

Global food insecurity from "The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World"
Published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 2022.

In all the kitchens of the world, cooks are worried about food scarcity, higher prices, and short supplies of favorites, and even of necessities. Food insecurity is increasing, on a global scale. One reason is deteriorating conditions for growing crops in many places. Climate change is accelerating food supply problems and cooperation  among nations to take effective measures against the warming planet are not going well. Here’s the unfortunate and inconvenient fact:

"With each fraction of a degree of warming, tens of millions more people worldwide would be exposed to life-threatening heat waves, food and water scarcity, and coastal flooding while millions more mammals, insects, birds and plants would disappear." (New York Times, October 26,2022)

Declining food production is already occurring in some places, and hunger — even starvation — is already widespread in some parts of the world. Besides climate change, the war in Ukraine has caused higher prices of grains and cooking oil. Though not as disastrous as was first expected, the situation is volatile. The impact of the war on global food supplies and prices is very important and also complicated. I have not addressed it in this post: the issue needs much more space and attention than what I have written here.

Thinking about people around the world and their problems obtaining healthy food, or in fact any food, is often on my mind. I’m also thinking about how current issues are directly affecting my kitchen and kitchens like mine. For this blog post, admittedly centered on the American kitchen of the moment, I’ve chosen just a few examples of foods in my kitchen that almost everyone in the US depends on, but that are affected by the variables of a warming planet. I definitely know that I’m privileged, but these details are part of a big picture of the state of the whole world’s kitchens. 

Processed Tomato Products

From my pantry: this can of tomato sauce says “Organic California Roma Tomatoes.” Ninety- five percent of processed tomatoes for US consumption are grown in California. Pizza sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, catsup…we Americans depend on these products for many of our favorite dishes.

In 2022 the tomato harvest is coming in much smaller than usual, as “rising interest rates, inflation, and the crushing drought squeezed farmers who saw their margins sliced and diced. While the cost of growing tomatoes continues to rise, it’s ultimately hitting consumers in the wallet as well.”

The drought has vastly decreased the farmers’ access to irrigation water, and many farmers had to leave their fields standing fallow. Some farmers weren’t even able to plant any crops at all, and others have switched from tomatoes to less water-intensive produce.  (CNN, October 17, 2022)

Prices will go up, even if imported produce can replace some of the US farm products. Unfortunately, this is not solely due to inflation, but to actual reduction in supplies of food.

Fresh Vegetables

While California produces most tomatoes for canning, Florida is a major producer of fresh tomatoes and also other vegetables such as the green onions in my photo. Green onions, which normally come from Florida, were hard to find here for a while, and the ones in the photo are from California. However, there are problems with harvests, planting, rain (too little or too much), and many other aspects of the farms where many such vegetables grow. 

The tomatoes in the photo were grown in Ontario, Canada, which is a local supplier in our area (it’s only around 70 miles from here to the tomato-growing farms and greenhouses along Lake Erie). Florida is also a major fresh tomato growing area: from October to June, Florida supplies over half the fresh tomatoes for the US. At other times, we rely on the declining capabilities of California agriculture. Again, a climate issue is disrupting supplies:

“Because Hurricane Ian made landfall three weeks later than Irma, almost all of southwest Florida’s tomato seedlings were planted when the storm arrived, meaning that many acres will need to be replanted after basic services are restored in Lee and Charlotte Counties, counties hit hard by Ian.” (source)

Far more food supplies than tomatoes and green onions have been disrupted by the hurricane. Farms in Florida produce citrus fruit, field crops, and  also raise cattle and produce honey. “Across Florida, Hurricane Ian trampled through about 4 million acres of farmland, according to the latest figures from the Agriculture Department for the affected counties.” (source)

More from my refrigerator: cucumbers from Canada; lettuce, celery, and carrots from California, 
and fresh ginger from an unnamed source.

California has a different set of problems with the many vegetables it supplies to American consumers, including lettuce, broccoli, and more. In fact, California provides Americans with  the majority of their almonds, artichokes, celery, figs, garlic, grapes, raisins and quite.a few other fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Most of these have also become more expensive recently, for a variety of reasons. For example, the California lettuce crop is in trouble, as heat waves intensify problems from plant diseases. As of earlier in October the situation was this:

“For three years, Central Valley lettuce and leafy greens growers have battled Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV), which is a plant pathogenic virus. Hot weather three weeks ago really activated INSV damage. But the influence of the disease begins with the outset of summer. In mid-October, yields were down as much as 50% below full production … ‘the industry is reaching some peak pricing.’” (source)

Many other countries and other parts of the US beyond California and Florida are growers of agricultural products, and their supplies are not necessarily as troubled as these major producers. But even if alternate agricultural areas can offer more produce to be imported to the US and supplied to other countries, many issues of international supply, demand, and rising price are looming ahead of the planet. 

I’ve only discussed the issues for well-off consumers in the US, but for poor people and for countries that don’t have the resources of the US and Europe the increase in prices and the decline in supplies have even worse consequences. Don’t misunderstand: I know that people in my situation have more choices and are more fortunate. 

Sriracha Hot Sauces

Last summer, Huy Fong foods, California maker of the famous Sriracha hot sauce, was “forced to suspend production of its iconic spicy sauces — Sriracha, Chili Garlic and Sambal Oelek — due to a lack of chili peppers.” (source)

An unprecedented crop failure last spring of the chiles that are grown in California and Mexico just for Huy Fong was the cause of the interruption in production: another consequence of the widespread drought. Another non-climate factor: a large judgement against the company in a lawsuit brought by the chili grower in California also may have had some impact on the corporation.

In the photo, in my kitchen, you can see my supplies of Sriracha hot sauce and chili garlic sauce. I just purchased the new jar of chili-garlic sauce last week. The Korean and Indian specialty shops where I shopped seemed to have ample supplies of the product in several sizes. I’m not sure of the details, but I think that supplies of Sriracha products, which were scarce over the summer, have now returned to normal. Still, this drought-related interruption in supply is another example of the way that food supplies in our time are unpredictable.

Orange Juice: No More “Florida’s Natural”

“Florida’s Natural” Labels:
(photos are from supermarket websites)
Let's talk about orange juice. Until recently, the juice you would find in my kitchen was often from the growers' coop "Florida's Natural." Not any more! 

Look carefully at the old label on the left and the new one on the right. I've always avoided packaged juice that is reconstituted from concentrate; the quality is just not the same. I’ve found other brands are still not from concentrate, and I hope that will continue.

The sad fact is that production of oranges in Florida’s citrus groves is no longer adequate to supply American OJ-drinking habits. Diseases of the trees, insect pests, and disastrous weather events have devastated the citrus crops for several years. After decades of emphasizing that all their juice was grown in Florida, the Florida’s Natural growers now explain 

"Unfortunately, the Florida orange crop has been declining for decades while our fans continue to buy more and more Florida's Natural orange juice. The Florida orange crop can no longer meet our consumer demand, so we are adding in only the best Mexican Valencia orange juice."

Besides all the other problems, hurricane Ian resulted in a total loss of this year’s crop for many citrus farmers in its path, and up to 30% of their trees may be lost. “Even before the storm, the USDA had predicted the Florida orange crop would be down by a third this year.” (NPR, October 14)

Sweetness for a Warming Planet 

Throughout the world, in kitchens everywhere, you can find a variety of food supplies affected by heat, drought, fires, and exceptional storms. Honeybees in the US have suffered from “colony collapse” which is probably a result of decreased availability of pollen sources, due to climate change. Another source of sweetness: the sugar-maple groves in Michigan, Vermont, and Canada; these trees have become less productive because of unpredictable weather in spring, when the sap is gathered for maple syrup. Sugar cane cultivation has also been affected by storms and heat waves. Also food for thought: unlike many other crops, cane sugar production is a major producer of greenhouse gases that drive climate change.

In my kitchen: sugar, honey, maple syrup.

An article "Turkey's Honey Apocalypse is a Warning to the World" (in the Atlantic, published October 28) summarizes how unprecedented heat and fires are affecting beekeepers in Turkey, California, Morocco, India, and Australia, diminishing the number of productive hives in a number of ways. The importance of bees as pollinators of other crop disrupt agricultural success. The article is specifically focused on the way that wildfires of exceptional intensity destroyed large numbers of honey-producing beehives in Turkey and Greece in 2021. One of the local Turkish favorite types of honey is now virtually unavailable.

On a global scale, the article points out: "bees are an integral part of our ecosystems, and the destruction of bees and their habitats can affect the pollination of plants that produce almonds, coffee, and more. As heat waves and fires sweep through North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, sweetness and sustenance are too often reduced to ash."

No Matter How Bad Things Are, Have a Happy Halloween!

Don’t worry, we do have something other than vegetables in the house.

In fact, we are ready for the trick-or-treaters. I promise not to eat any before 6 PM.
Candy prices have gone up a lot, but that’s yet another discussion!

Blog post © 2022 mae sander. 
Shared with Sherry’s In My Kitchen Blog Party 
and with Elizabeth’s weekly tea party.


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Murals from Pompeii


In the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology of the University of Michigan is a stunning set of murals copied
from the originals in the Villa of Mysteries in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. (Museum Website)

The founder of the Kelsey Museum was Francis W. Kelsey, a professor of Latin with an interest in Roman Antiquities. In the 1920s and earlier, Kelsey arranged for the University of Michigan to sponsor archaeological expeditions to obtain materials for teaching; at the time, archaeology projects would split their finds between Italy and the sponsors of the dig. These materials would become the collections of the university’s new museum, which opened in 1928, shortly after his death. The museum was renamed in his honor in 1953. 

In 1924, Kelsey commissioned Maria Barosso, an established Italian artist to copy the colorful murals, which had been discovered in 1909 in a villa just outside the city of Pompeii. Color photography of the murals at that time was not feasible, so these large copies were an important way to ensure their preservation and to have copies for the museum he was founding.

Pompeii and the surrounding area had been buried under lava and volcanic debris in the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 of the current era, and were remarkably well-preserved by the debris for almost 2000 years. The Villa of the Mysteries was one of many Roman gentlemen-farmers’ lavish vacation homes in the countryside around Pompeii on the beautiful slopes of the volcanic mountain. The building had been damaged in an earlier earthquake, and was not in use at the time of the eruption except perhaps for storage or wine-making. 

The name “Villa of the Mysteries” (Villa dei Misteri) was invented by the modern discoverers. It refers to the scenes in the murals, which are a mystery to modern scholars; the scenes seem to be related to the mystery worship rituals, or mysteries, of the god Dionysus. After Barosso copied the original murals, they fell into disrepair because they were left exposed to the elements; however, they were restored in 2013-2015, and are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Barosso worked for 18 months to create the watercolor copies of the villa’s frescos. They were first exhibited in Rome in 1926, and then shipped to Ann Arbor, where they were kept in storage until 2008, when a new wing of the museum was built. A special room was created in which to display them in a setting similar to their original location. Prior to this installation, a major conservation project restored the murals so that they can be safely displayed in the museum.

The Kelsey Museum is located in a historic building from 1891. (Source: the University of Michigan).

Because we live very close to the Michigan campus, we often stop at the museum and enjoy looking at these murals.

Blog post and photos by mae sander, © 2022

Friday, October 28, 2022

“Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver

Charles Dickens was a genius, especially in his creation of vivid characters that are simultaneously general human types and perfectly individualized human beings. He was also a genius at highlighting the evils of  the conditions of life for ordinary people in his time. David Copperfield,  published in 1849, contains some of the most memorable of these accomplishments, especially the portrayal of characters such as Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, Uriah Heep, and David Copperfield’s nurse Peggoty. The book is famous for its penetrating treatment of issues of child welfare, exploitation, poverty, and desperation in England of that time. Along with Oliver Twist, the novel has in fact created a lasting perception of the painful realities of that era. The situations and personalities of these novels are unforgettable, an indelible part of modern culture. Both books have been turned into films and other dramatic re-creations in our time. Dickens’ deeply felt emotion at the pathos in these characters combines with satiric humor and penetrating insights into humanity to produce an unforgettable narrative. He could make a reader cry and laugh, almost at the same time.

In her new novel Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver has created modern parallels to a number of the characters from David Copperfield, as well as adopting some of the plot elements from the novel. Her invention involves a modern American setting and appropriate sociological observations of a town in western Virginia: a rural community full of victims who have been devastated by the loss of mining jobs, the decay of the community, and the lack of education or meaningful social services. 

The character of Demon Copperhead obviously is channeling Dickens’ title character.  Many other Dickens creations are also reproduced in modern guise, including a couple named McCobb who are just as hapless as the original Micawbers. Kingsolver creates a suitably slimy figure similar to Dickens’ really icky Uriah Heep. Murdstone, the stepfather in Dickens becomes Stoner — equally bad. Kingsolver depicts the women who are beloved by Demon Copperhead as parallels to the original Dickens women, and she includes several other modern versions of characters from the classic novel. 

The American social problems that drive Kingsolver’s plot include the heartless American foster-parent system for orphaned children, as well as the utter destruction caused by the prescription drug epidemic and the drug companies and reps that pushed many people into horrific addiction. The desperation of first pain and then addiction are depicted with great sympathy and poignancy, and this substantial part of Kingsolver’s writing is truly powerful. The characters’ awareness of the greed and shamelessness of the drug companies creates a very socially conscious narrative, which is a strength of the novel.

While I have enjoyed and admired many of Kingsolver’s novels, including this one, I don’t think she was able to come anywhere near Dickens’ genius at observation of details, creation of vivid individuals, his deep feelings for the fate of the characters, or his amazing dialog that in my opinion stuns the reader with its brilliance. The comparison would be unfair, if it had not been demanded by the author.

It’s been quite a while since I reread the original novel — so I’ll say no more until I read it again and can make more apt comparisons.

Review © 2022 mae sander.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

More Autumn Scenes in My Neighborhood

In the park.

The Great Pumpkins

A few days ago, the Great Pumpkins arrived at their usual home.

Carving the pumpkins happened earlier than usual this year: a whole week before the holiday.

The owner of the pumpkins posed next to the tallest pumpkin they have ever had,
though she says it’s not the heaviest of all time. She and her husband have displayed giant pumpkins
 for over a decade for every Halloween, and they set the tone for the whole neighborhood.

Smaller Pumpkins and other Creatures

Blog post by mae sander for maefood dot © 2022 

Monday, October 24, 2022

What's On Streaming?

Iceland in the Age of Magic

After two visits to Iceland, we are very intrigued by TV shows that are set there. Some of the naturalists on our trip there last summer were enthusiastic about the very recent film, "The Northman." We watched it last week.

A drama full of violence and pathos. The similarity to Shakespeare’s Hamlet
becomes less and less important as the film goes on. Plot summary:
Prince Amleth is the son of the king. His mother and uncle conspire to kill
the king, marry each other, and take over. Rest of story: REVENGE.

Much of the action is set in 9th century Iceland. There’s lots of black magic, witches, and the like.

I think the costumes, sod houses, boats, and armor are pretty accurate.

Iceland is a ravishingly beautiful location, and the film captured lots of great vistas.


We found ourselves literally trapped by the Icelandic police procedural titled "Trapped." The first season dates from a few years ago. We binged all 10 of the episodes in around two days. Insane!

Andri, Chief of Police in an Icelandic fishing village, is challenged by numerous murders. 
He has lots of quirks — the best-known being that he drinks milk.

The burly and brooding Andri is played by actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson.

Hinrika, Andri's brave & competent partner in the
investigation, is played by Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir. 

The fishing village where Andri is Chief of Police. Who would  think it would be a hotbed of crime!

Map showing the location of the real village where the filming was done.

Most of all in “Trapped” I loved the Icelandic scenery and the long shots of the fishing village. The series was filmed mainly in the fishing village of Siglufjörður, North Iceland, which is very picturesque. Since it takes place in mid-February, the characters experience the worst of winter: specifically, a blizzard is blocking all the roads during the first several episodes. Numerous murders and other crimes create an absorbing plot, though there's sometimes an overdose of cruelty, including several violent deaths (I sort of lost count).

Classified as “Icelandic Noir” this crime drama is both very Icelandic and very very Noir. In fact, the shortness of days in the far north mean that there are a lot of night scenes, and if it wasn’t already dark enough, an avalanche takes out the village's power plant, so there are a number of interior scenes lit only by candles and flashlights. Now that’s noir!

The Great British Baking Show: Wrong Again

Ridiculously unAmerican s'mores from the Great British Baking Show.

As you see: we've been watching a lot of TV. Every Friday morning for 10 weeks we are watching a newly-released episode of the Great British Baking Show. This series isn't as good as it used to be, but still is nice mindless fun. The latest episode included an American "pastry" — s'mores. I would never have considered this childhood campfire treat as "pastry," but the judges made the contestants bake their own graham crackers: in Britspeak that would be "Digestive Biscuits." I've never heard of a normal American who has baked graham crackers from scratch for other than religious reasons. Nabisco Honey Grahams are the prescribed choice for s'mores.

Still more ridiculous: the bakers had to make their own marshmallows and some kind of fancy chocolate confection to substitute for the customary Hershey Bar. And the judges’ method won’t work. They required the bakers to make marshmallows that were equal in size to around 4 commercial American marshmallows, which meant that the contestants couldn't possible toast them correctly so they were gooey, as you should for s'mores. Of course they also required using a kitchen torch, not a campfire, but that’s a detail.

In case you don’t know it: this is a real s'more with a gooey toasted marshmallow melting the chocolate. (source)

One contestant did torch his marshmallows long enough to make them gooey, and Prue’s reaction was to make one of her dismissive sniffy noises and say that his marshmallows shouldn’t be so soft, and the chocolate isn't supposed to drip down.

Dear Prue and Paul: Drippy chocolate and very soft hot toasted marshmallows are authentic features of s'mores. The word “gooey” even appears in the first published s’mores recipe in the1927 Girl Scout Handbook (see it here). If America were a third-world country, you'd be guilty of cultural appropriation and ethnic insensitivity like what you did on Mexican Week recently. I'm sorry you have run out of variations on Victoria Sponge and are resorting to all kinds of foods that you don’t know much about.

Miss Marple.


More British than the Great British Baking show is “Marple” one of many interpretations of the work of Agatha Christie over the 100+ years since she began writing mysteries. "Marple" originally ran from 2004-2014, and is currently available for streaming. We are watching this slowly. I especially like Geraldine McEwan, one of the two actresses who plays Miss Marple in this series. Of course there are many cups of tea!

Blog post © 2022 mae sander. 
Shared with Elizabeth’s blog party celebrating drinks like Andri’s milk.