Sunday, April 30, 2023

In My Kitchen in April

Two new dragon eggs, just starting to hatch. Evelyn’s latest creations.
I’m starting my kitchen wrap-up with these great ceramics though they are actually in the living room!

What’s new in my kitchen in April?

Magnets from my visits to the African American History Museum and Mount Vernon: American Heroes.
George and Martha Washington, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King.
Also magnets from Lancaster and Longwood Gardens: everywhere we went in April.

One of two small bowls Evelyn made.

Inside our new kitchen cabinet.

A new rack for skillet  lids and a new insert that
makes our biggest pot into a steamer.

New ceramic-clad skillet (as Consumers’ Reports recommends).
In the skillet: salmon croquettes.

Ever-Green Vietnamese by Andrea Nguyen.
Newly published cookbook! We hope it re-energizes our
vegetable-focused cooking efforts.

New storage containers in place of the repurposed cookie
boxes I’ve been using. Recommended by the NYT (link)

From our kitchen: food and drinks

Mushrooms in red wine with new potatoes. A great non-meat dish!

Mushrooms cooking in our new ceramic-clad skillet.

Asian shrimp, bok choi, and rice. And some nice wine.

Kung-pao chicken. Another dish from Len’s Asian recipe adventures.

A leg of lamb ready for the oven, coated with mustard sauce and rosemary leaves. Our favorite roast!
This is Julia Child’s recipe from the original Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
The lamb and broccoli were served at our Passover dinner.

West-Indian lamb curry. Using lamb from the leg of lamb in the previous photo.

Steamed eggs made in the new steamer. The recipe comes from Fuchsia Dunlop’s cookbook.

Vegetarian baked spaghetti with cheese/crumb topping.

Drinking: LaCroix from Costco.

In Carol's Kitchen

Carol's Indian chicken (from a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook), Jason's spinach paneer, and Carol's rice.
Good food for a family celebration of a cousin's graduation.

Celebrating a Michigan graduation: the father of the graduate made an unbelievable mousse cake
decorated with the Michigan "M."

Before the cake was cut.

Recycling and Composting in my Kitchen

Kitchen garbage such as fruit and vegetable parings, coffee grounds, and bones can be placed in
compostable bags (like the one in the photo) and collected with garden waste. Now that our weekly
compost collection has resumed this spring, we are trying to comply with local garbage rules..

MOTIVATION: “In the U.S., food waste is responsible for nearly 3 percent of the country’s emissions, according to the EPA—and that’s before considering the methane that leaks from landfills, where food waste is the single largest category of material that gets dumped. Diverting even some of that waste is a win for everyone involved, and more cities across the U.S. are at least trying to persuade people to separate their scraps from their trash.” (source)

We also respect the recycling rules!

Cans and bottles in Michigan have a deposit
of 10¢ — a very good law!

In my kitchen retrospective, which I publish on the last day of each month, I try to select an issue of importance to me and to society. April, is a celebration of the Earth, with Earth Day and all, so I’ve chosen to highlight my efforts to handle kitchen waste responsibly. Fortunately, Ann Arbor, where I live, has very enlightened trash disposal practices, and allows composting and recycling where possible.

Blog post & photos © 2023 mae sander
Shared with Sherry at her monthly blog party In My Kitchen.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Downtown Ann Arbor Street Art

We were gifted with one pretty day in a long month of April showers, and took a walk
downtown, where I noticed a few interesting murals and this painted utility box.

Inside the shop Bongz and Thongz: hand-blown water pipes and a mural depicting a few cultural icons.
Bongz and Thongz has been in business since 2011.

More art work inside Bongz and Thongz

This is the door of Bongz and Thongz. I didn’t need any water pipes, but went in to see the art work.

Blog post and photos © 2023 mae sander
Shared with Monday Murals at Sami’s blog.


Friday, April 28, 2023

My Garden In Spring

 A Bluejay is building its nest.

Many trees are flowering.

At the bird feeder and on the fence.

All photos © mae sander 2023

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Bao Space: A Very Pleasant Restaurant

"Northern Chinese street food has hit N. Main St. in the form of the steamed, stuffed buns known as baos. Following a lunchtime soft opening during December, Jessie Zhu’s Bao Space launched in early January .... At six to eight dollars a pair, the fist-sized buns are an affordable addition to the city’s ethnically diverse dining scene." (Ann Arbor Observer)

We found this rather new restaurant in Ann Arbor quite delightful. The food is delicious and light, and the dining space is very informal and pleasant -- just a few tables! On the walls are paintings of food, such as a steamer with bao, a tea pot, a bowl of soup, or other Chinese foods. 

Here's a link to the menu: Bao Space. We tried three items for lunch: pork bao buns, vegetarian bao buns, and fried dumplings. All very very good!

From the menu: an image of the dumplings we tried:

And an image of the owner's hands making the bao:


Blog post © 2023 mae sander

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Medieval Women Were Powerful!

Would it surprise you to learn that during the Victorian era, historians (all men) revised the historic record to support the theory that great men are the only important actors of significance in the past? It shouldn’t be a surprise — but it is definitely interesting to read a book about the actual details of the lives of the great women in Medieval times. The accomplishments and often the power and economic advantages of these women were denigrated or just erased from the historic works of the 19th century, and remained forgotten until fairly recently. Though she is not the first recent writer to restore them to the history books, their portrayals make a very interesting subject for Janina Ramirez’s recent book. 

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages Through the Women Written Out of It
by Janina Ramirez. Published 2022.

Ramirez begins most of the chapters in the book with a description of a modern discovery or event that relates to the medieval woman featured in the chapter. For example she might present an archaeology dig that was done under an old English shrine, a revealing DNA test of a seemingly male Viking woman’s skeleton, the issues involved in restoring the Bayeux Tapestry, or even the discovery of a copy of a lost medieval book in a closet in an English country house. She then usually describes a scene in the medieval town where the woman lived or an event they experienced, for background. She continues with a portrait or biography of the featured woman and her life circumstances in as much detail as is historically available.

An archaeology dig often reveals a skeleton or an artifact linked to a fascinating story of a women's life in the early Middle Ages. Sometimes as I read I was thinking about Ruth Galloway, the fictitious archaeologist and amateur detective in the long series of books by Elly Griffiths. Ruth Galloway lives, digs, and detects in the town of King's Lynn, which also happens to be the home of one of the women featured in Femina: the writer and mystic Margery Kemp (b. 1373), “an ordinary married woman, mother to fourteen children.” Ramirez convinces me that such discoveries are much richer than the fictional ones. She makes the reader see the unexpected parts of history, the parts about women and their vigorous and active role in the times when they lived, and especially the way they traveled. Margery went all over, even to the Holy Land!

I was fascinated by several of the subjects of Ramirez's book, especially the Viking women who sometimes dressed as men and may have been warriors, and of several other women who overstepped the expectations for women of the time. I. have written summaries below of a few of the places and people I learned about while reading Ramirez's book, illustrated with some of her pictures. The Kindle edition has only black and white images, but I've found colored versions on the web, because color is often important in her descriptions. I've only excerpted a very small part of each of these discussions, and only chosen a few of the many fascinating portraits in the book.

The Lichfield Angel

"The Lichfield Angel"

This is a limestone carving of an angel dated 800 CE, excavated in 2003, from the shrine of Saint Chad (d. 672), first Anglo-Saxon Bishop of the Mercians of Lichfield. The town of Lichfield was very briefly important in the 8th century, in the reign of King Offa and Queen Cynethryth of Mercia, one of the English kingdoms in the era before William the Conqueror.  The angel was found in an archaeological exploration underneath the modern shrine in 2003. Ramirez uses the sculpture as an example of the fine craftsmanship of the time, pointing out that traces of color on the stone show that sculpture then was painted, not left white. The style echos classical art that was still a big influence in this era. Offa and Cynethryth perceived themselves as cultural rivals of Charlemagne, then the ruler of much of Europe.

The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is in fact a work of embroidery, not tapestry, which is made by weaving. The work "is an extraordinary medieval survival, depicting the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings of 1066, culminating in William the Conqueror’s defeat of King Harold." (Femina, p. 132). While it is held in the city of Bayeux, France, it was probably made in Canterbury, England. Its huge size shows that it had to be embroidered by a team of women working together to a central plan. Ramirez discusses the work from a variety of points of view, both as a work of women’s art, a historical document, and a former decoration for a very large cathedral. A reconstruction of how it looked in the church is shown above. Ramirez also discusses one panel of the textile:
Queen Edith at the deathbed of her husband, Edward the Confessor.
From one panel of the huge Bayeux Tapestry. Edith is the only identifiable woman portrayed in the work.

Queen Edith survived her husband and managed to retain wealth and power despite the death of her brothers and the conquest by William the Conqueror. She commissioned a book about her late husband and her family, and may have also been at least partly responsible for the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry, which is a highly important source of information about the era. Her early life: she came from a rich and powerful family, and is compared to an earlier powerful woman named Emma:

"Edith was a patron of the church and of the arts. She gave lands to the abbey in Abingdon and the see of Wells, and sponsored artists in her role of tending to the king’s regal presentation. She commissioned items of clothing and jewellery, keeping a goldsmith as one of her tenants. Through her expansive land-holding, ruthless decision-making and political engineering she overtook Emma, becoming by the time of the Norman Conquest the richest woman in England and the fourth-richest individual after her husband, her brother and the Archbishop of Canterbury." (Femina, pp. 165-166). 

After the conquest:

"Edith spent most of the latter part of her life in her dowry city of Winchester, where she had access to manuscript art, and at Wilton, where a team of skilled embroiderers could have been developed. She is recorded as having been an excellent embroiderer herself and certainly knew a good deal about working fine fabrics, since she commissioned and oversaw the production of high-status clothing for her husband. She was also witness to scenes depicted on the tapestry and would have had first-hand accounts of the battle in which she lost three brothers – all of whom are memorialised in its stitches. The events of 1066 were incredibly disruptive for English women, many of whom lost male relatives and lived in fear of being forcibly married to Norman incomers. The number of nuns swelled as women sought sanctuary in convents. This would have provided Edith with a growing body of skilled, dedicated embroiderers capable of completing a project as demanding as the Bayeux Tapestry. The argument is compelling, but once again, it is not possible to say with any certainty that Edith was involved in the creation of the tapestry. True, she is the only identifiable woman stitched onto its scenes, and she had good reason to produce it. But the arguments in favour of Odo as patron remain strong. Ultimately, all we can confidently deduce is that her influential position means she was capable of such an undertaking, and reminds us that eleventh-century women could be patrons and producers of art. Emma, Edith and the women who embroidered the Bayeux Tapestry played a large but mostly uncredited part in the male-orientated accounts of dukes." (pp. 167-168).  

Saint Jadwiga's Purse

Purse made in France in 1340, used for alms by Saint Jadwiga of Poland.
The front and back of the purse illustrate part of the story of Tristan and Isolde.

Where artifacts exist, Ramirez tells us about them and about their significance. Jadwiga (or Hedwig) was "the one and only female ‘king’ of Poland. In fact, she and her sister Mary, who was declared King of Hungary, are two of the only women in Europe to have held the title of ‘Rex’ rather than ‘Regina’. But Jadwiga has been misunderstood, misrepresented and misused down the centuries." (p. 246). Her beautiful purse is held in the Wawel cathedral of Kraków. Ramirez views Jadwiga's life story as it is related to the chivalrous tale of Tristan and Isolde. Here is this real-life tale:

"Jadwiga’s love life has all the elements of a tragic romance. As a toddler she’s told she will marry William, heir to the Austrian dynasty. At five years old, she takes part in a glorious chivalric ceremony where her eight-year-old fiancé declares he will marry her in front of the most important leaders on the world stage. This was no doubt a terrifying situation for a young girl to find herself in, but the glamour, riches and ritual could not have been lost on her. The knowledge that she would eventually marry this boy dictated her early years. She lived in his court in Vienna, developing into an educated and courtly child, fluent in many languages and educated in matters of church and state. She read romances, in which beautiful princesses fell in love with powerful knights and pursued an idealised courtly love which morally enriched both parties. But after her father’s death everything changed. She could only become King of Poland if she became a resident of Kraków and accepted her advisers’ choice of husband. And they had their eyes on someone else." (pp. 255-256).

Political considerations made the nobles of Krakow prefer for this female heir to the throne to marry Lithuania’s Grand Duke Jagiełło. However, before they can be married, William shows up to claim his betrothed, and she forces her way out of the castle: 

"Having escaped her watch, the teenage Jadwiga reunited with William and the couple danced together one last time in the refectory of St Francis’s Monastery in the city. But ultimately Jadwiga turned him away, choosing instead to follow the advice of the decision-makers of Poland." (p. 257). 

Jadwiga's life after she eventually married Jagiełło involved politics, wars, and above all overseeing the conversion to Catholicism of his still-pagan land, Lithuania, and the subduing of the order of Teutonic Knights who had been trying to convert them violently. After a somewhat wild youth spent as a famous part of a romantic triangle, she became a devout Catholic, and continued to be admired and supported in her efforts by the Pope, and she founded various church institutions in Poland, and did many other things while reigning as King of Poland. Objects that she used or donated to the church include the purse, a manuscript, and a famous large cross that still hangs in the cathedral. She lived only to age 26, and died in 1399, shortly after giving birth: death as a result of childbirth was excruciatingly common for women in that era.

The piety and success that Jadwiga exhibited in promoting Catholicism was the motivation for her being made a saint in 1997 by Pope John Paul II. The story of how her identity and memory have been used and manipulated by Polish patriots and other political actors in history is complicated and her sainthood is a kind of culmination of many such factors, but her actual life is much more interesting, as shown in Ramirez's account.

Overall, a Good Book!

There are so many stories about women in the Middle Ages, how they lived, how they were remembered over time, how they were forgotten or their stories repressed, and how they have been rediscovered in our time. And I didn’t even get around to the Viking women, who were so wonderfully colorful and lived such daring lives.

                                                                                    Blog post/review © 2023 mae sander.