Sunday, October 01, 2023

Street Art in Baltimore

We spent just one day in Baltimore to visit with Miriam, who is now living here. She guided us around town, and we managed to see quite a few really enjoyable neighborhoods and interesting places, including her local farmers’ market, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill Park, and a couple of very nice restaurants. As we walked and drove around the city, I saw an amazing number of really wonderful murals, street paintings, and other forms of street art. I got a few quick photos, which I’m sharing today. 

Quite a few food trucks around the farmers’ market are painted in fantastic styles.

In Miriam’s neighborhood, many row houses are painted in very vivid colors.

 Blog post and all photos © 2023.
Shared with Sami’s Monday Murals.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

In My Kitchen, September 2023

Outdoor cooking: the grill is part of our kitchen!

Because the days are growing shorter, we’ve put away the grill until spring.

Using Local Fall Produce

Although we are predicted to have a warm, dry winter, our beautiful autumn weather may soon be over, and the fantastic local tomatoes, peaches, lettuce, eggplant, corn-on-the-cob, green beans, broccoli, and lots more will soon be a winter dream. In September, we tried to enjoy this bounty while we could, and we tried to shop at the local market that sells only locally grown or locally processed products. Time to transition to apples, potatoes, onions, squash, and other winter produce. Plus as always, we’ll be using the packaged products and imports that we get at the supermarket!

Even the eggs come from a local farm! Only the tuna is from far away.

Making pizza — the basil is fresh from our herb garden.

Locally grown eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers. Our own herbs. 
Sorry, but canned tomatoes are more reliable so I use canned.

The best fall treat: cake made with the most wonderful fall fruit.
Some years I make plum cake. This year it was peach cake. Recipe here.

A few new packaged foods

I think these are a TimTam knockoff!

Where We Are NOW: Baltimore, MD

From September 29 to mid-October we are taking a trip to various points on the East Coast.
I’ll be posting updates about what we’re doing.

What might be good in October, kitchen-wise?

We hope this year's Great British Baking Show, which starts in the US Sept. 29, will be better than
last year's show. At least they have promised no travesties on international cooking!

Blog post and photos © 2023 mae sander
Shared with Sunday Salon at Readerbuzz and with  Sherry at In My Kitchen


Monday, September 25, 2023

“The Last Devil to Die”

The Thursday Murder Club is at it again, with a new novel, which begins at Christmas just last year. You know it was last year because two of the characters watched the king’s Christmas speech. That would be King Charles, whose first Christmas as king it was. They thought he did a good job.

The Last Devil to Die is full of amusing tidbits, just like the previous three volumes in the series. Numerous cups of tea are drunk, numerous cakes baked and eaten, especially by Murder Club member Joyce — though there’s also a Battenberg baked by one of the suspects.

A Battenberg from the Great British Baking Show.
Joyce’s bakes remind me of this quintessentially British food show!

“I am going to make a pavlova later. But with mangoes,” Joyce writes. (p. 349) 

“You can’t rely on the food,” says Joyce, unpacking a Tupperware box of chocolate hazelnut brownies.” … “Is it true that Pauline puts marijuana in her brownies?” asks Joyce. “She does,” says Ron. “Marijuana and coconut.” (p. 324) 

“It will be Joyce, and she will have cake, Bob,” says Ibrahim. “I am sure of it.” (p. 219) 

“I’ll be round with a lemon meringue and a notepad,” writes Joyce about a new neighbor. (p. 53)

While hunting for the murderer of one of their friends, these pensioners are always having meetings that involve light refreshments. Their choices are sometimes trendy; for example, when an intruder looks in Joyce’s refrigerator he sees  “Almond milk. Joyce moves with the times.” Although usually not very domestic, Elizabeth on one occasion makes tea at Joyce’s apartment; she uses the almond milk, but is dubious about its appropriateness. Joyce’s daughter, when asked about using almond milk, calls her mother “officially a hipster.” (p. 161 & 348)

Author Richard Osman drinks a mug of tea (source)

Richard Osman’s version of the cozy mystery genre appeals to me because it's done with such a light, humorous touch. Along with the tea and cake, Osman does serve some grizzly violence and lots of danger, which offsets the cuteness. The four original members of the Murder Club — Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim — search for the vicious killer of their friend as more bodies pile up somewhat mercilessly, but they don't lose their analytic skills or their taste for a mug of tea. They follow the evidence and search for a mysteriously missing cache of heroin, several desperate drug dealers, and some unscrupulous antique sellers and art forgers. Plenty of action.

The satiric nature of this novel is offset with passages of heavy pathos, deep grief, and genuine tragedy. As in each of the previous books, several chapters consist of Joyce’s diary, which is very insightful and often leads to solutions to the crime puzzles the group is working on. But also in her thoughts we learn of Joyce’s deep mourning for her late husband, who had died several years earlier. 

In each of the Thursday Murder series, Elizabeth’s beloved husband Stephen is sinking deeper and deeper into dementia. In The Last Devil to Die, his condition, which has become unbearable, is described in great detail -- very painful reading! This book sees a kind of conclusion and a very great amount of suffering for everyone, especially the brilliant and usually resourceful Elizabeth. Some readers might find the detailed descriptions of a man losing his sense of identity and his memory of himself and of his friends and even of his wife to be a bit mawkish, but I thought it was done with skill and a fair amount of tact.

If you liked the earlier books, I think you’ll like this one. The mainstream publications I read haven't yet reviewed this just-published book, so I can't compare my reaction to that of the professionals!

Review © 2023 mae sander. Photos as credited.
Shared with Elizabeth’s blog.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Around Me

 Finally: New Bridges at the Botanical Garden

New handrails on a small bridge at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

For three years, this bridge has been closed, cutting off easy access to the prettiest trails in the gardens.
At last, the funding was secured, the bridge was built, and it’s open for us to enjoy.

A Fall Iris

Near the Library Downtown

Photos © 2023 mae sander

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Chinese Restaurants Everywhere


Chinese restaurants serve more or less adapted meals to people in amazing places throughout the world. In a recently published book titled Have You Eaten Yet? Cheuk Kwan, an author and TV presenter, described quite a few of them. Kwan’s memoir describes his journey to many out-of-the-way places in the course of making a documentary series on Chinese food for Canadian television. I’ve found that the original TV shows are available on Youtube; I will watch some soon, I hope. 

Although the travel and research for the TV series that forms the basis for the book took place 20 years ago, this memoir was written in 2021 and just published in Canada in 2022 and in the US in 2023. I really don’t understand why it took around two decades for the author to write a book based on such old information: it seems to have no recent observations or experiences in it, which makes it a bit disappointing and frustrating to read. So much must have happened since then!

Where are the Chinese Restaurants?

Havana, Cuba; Tamatave, Madagascar; Istanbul, Turkey; Darjeeling, India; São Paulo and Manaus, Brazil, inside the Arctic circle in Tromsø, Norway; Haifa, Israel; and a number of other locations — each place Kwan visited had distinctive Chinese restaurants whose owners shared their fascinating personal and family histories, sometimes for several generations. 

“Have you eaten yet” is the way Chinese people often say “How are you?” — perhaps reflecting a past where food wasn’t abundant, and perhaps just reflecting the shared value of a well-prepared meal. Despite the enormous and varied population of China and the unimaginable extent and long history of the Chinese diaspora, Kwan makes us see how many characteristics remain in common throughout this very large part of the human race. He also makes clear that although his focus is on restaurant people, there are many many other Chinese professionals throughout the world as well.

The book is full of fascinating details about the restaurant owners and workers, and about the many ways they have invented Chinese food to please customers wherever their restaurants may be. While the adaptations are fascinating, I was also interested in the numerous times that the author says the food is fully authentic and equal in quality to that in the most renowned restaurants in Hong Kong. Although the author clearly knows that there are many cuisines practiced by the billion people in China, and many adaptations and inventions of Chinese food in restaurants worldwide, he does a good job of showing its unity in the many restaurants he visited and the many people he interviewed. 

So much to learn! I was fascinated by the many places (on several continents and islands) where Chinese chefs specialized in fish from the local waters, creating traditional Chinese fish dishes with local spices. I had no idea that a Chinese community had lived in Cuba since 1857. I learned that China had a very long cultural influence on the east coast of Africa, with trade routes for Chinese ships established around the first century BCE, and a visit from a fleet in around 1418. I was interested to hear about fusion dishes combining Chinese and Indian food, Chinese and Peruvian food, and a few others. But as I say, I wish there had been some updates for the last 20 years, especially about the major changes that have occurred recently in Hong Kong, the author’s reference city for the best of Chinese cuisine.

And Here at Home —

Of course reading this book made me want Chinese food from our currently-favorite local restaurant, Bao Space, which opened earlier this year. Bao, a type of delicious filled and steamed buns, are the star of their menu. The owners, Jessie Zhu, the main chef, and her husband, Raphael Zhu, came to Ann Arbor from Shanghai. Their roots are in Northern China, where they say bao originally came from. 

I’ve posted about Bao Space a few times, but here’s a bit more…

 This is the Bao Space kitchen, which is visible from the window where orders are placed.

Dough for the bao buns is freshly made with flour, yeast, and milk.

Our order: bao buns, sesame-noodle-cucumber salad, and two cups of lemonade.
The menu is simple: just bao, dumplings, a few soups & noodle bowls, and soft drinks.

One bao filled with pork. Other fillings include chicken, beef, and several vegetarian options.

Review and photos © 2023 mae sander