Tuesday, October 31, 2023

In My Kitchen, October 2023

Obviously in my kitchen in October is Halloween candy!

For more than half the month of October, we were out of town and eating mainly in restaurants, so not much has happened in my kitchen lately. Therefore this wrap-up will be short. I'm sharing my kitchen thoughts with the many other bloggers who summarize new foods and gadgets each month and link up at Sherry's Blog.

New from Trader Joe's: a nice French snack.
I had it waiting in the freezer for when we arrived home after a day in the car.

Brought back from our visit to Fairfax where there's a Wegman's.

On every trip, I get some new magnets and retire the previous batch from my refrigerator door.
These are from Monticello, Cape May, the National Zoo in Washington, and the Baltimore museum.
Also, Alice brought me a Daruma magnet from her trip to Japan. (I wish I had been there too!)

We've been eating simple meals, often made from pantry staples. For example, for this lunch, we had
sardines (from a can), sliced cheese, lettuce, olives, and stuffed grape leaves (another Trader Joe item).

Simple classic: roast chicken, bread dressing, cranberry sauce.

Len’s latest bread, with raisins and dried cherries.

Food Waste

In my kitchen is a new trash can. The old one was broken, so we had to get another one for household trash that can't be recycled or composted. Very unexciting, but it reminds me of an issue that’s getting a lot of attention these days: FOOD WASTE.

Potential mulch.
From start to finish, we are told, there is unnecessary waste at every step of the food chain. The wasted food represents an unproductive expenditure of energy. Piles of rotting garbage then produce methane and other by-products, and thus accelerate global warming. One household doesn’t make much garbage, but there are millions of us!
"According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), approximately 31% of the available food supply is wasted, with 21% occurring in households and 10% in consumer-facing businesses....About 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to food loss and waste." (source)

Here in Ann Arbor, compostable household garbage is collected with the garden waste (like raked-up leaves) and is turned into usable compost. Nationally, around 27% of the US population has access to a program for composting food waste. (source)

A few big actions lead people to waste food in their own kitchens. Homes with children have many challenges with wasted food for a lot of reasons. In particular, if parents follow general advice on having children try new foods several times, waste is inevitable. Adult families create waste when we over-supply our refrigerators and pantries with food we don’t need or don’t manage to use. Whether the unused food goes to landfill or to composting facilities, it's still wasted.

What are people doing that results in so much waste?
  • Buying too much at the grocery store, especially produce, and then not using it in a timely way. You get a good deal: 20 pounds of potatoes and 10 pounds of onions at Costco. What happens to them?
  • Cooking a big quantity and not using the leftovers. Trying a new food and not liking it. Or just overfilling your plate: especially an issue at restaurants. Abundance is our enemy in fighting waste.
  • Purchasing unusual ingredients when planning to cook a complicated recipe and it doesn't happen — so you never need the materials. Or buying a big package/bottle/box of an exotic Asian sauce or special condiment that you only use once and throwing it away a year later.
  • Over-reacting to “sell by” and “best by” dates on packaged and processed foods. These labels encourage people to throw away still-usable food. We are now told that other than deli meats and a few other things, most foods are still fit to eat (if they don’t smell bad) for quite a while after the date on the package. I partly believe this, and try to make responsible trade-offs between eating something that might be too old, and tossing something that might be fine.
  • And just a seasonal note: in my experience, any leftover Halloween candy should be thrown out just before Valentine's Day. (For a more nuanced view on candy shelf-life see eater.com.)
Maybe you grew up hearing that you should clean your plate because there were starving children elsewhere in the world. (The exact spot where these children lived varied throughout the 20th century.) Maybe your mother or teacher said these hypothetical children would be thrilled if they were offered what you were rejecting. I have no idea if this ever made any difference in any child’s behavior.

Starving children are unfortunately still with us now, but I think we adults in the 21st century can find more useful motives for trying to be more responsible. If we want to combat global or local food insecurity, there are better ways than cleaning our plates!

Maybe it’s too late to undo global warming, or too depressing to think about it very much. No doubt though: global warming is clearly leading to crop failures and to starvation in Africa and other parts of the world. Overwhelming, isn’t it?

Neighborhood Update: Decorations at Night

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Blog post © 2023 mae sander

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Devil’s Food and Other Halloween Treats


Pumpkin: in season at Trader Joe’s.

From the 1970s: Devil's Food Twinkies. 
Still sometimes sold in "selected markets."
Devil's Food Cake. Deviled Ham. Deviled Eggs. Deviled Crab. A menu for Halloween? Sounds good to me! Never mind all those pumpkin and pumpkin spice dishes! Give me chocolate, mustard, and hot pepper! Here is my history post for the holiday, redone once again with a few new Halloween thoughts and current events.

I wondered if devil-themed foods might have anything to do with Devil's Night, the pre-Halloween mischief night. Looking into it, I learned that most of my information about Halloween customs and Devil's Night was inaccurate. Urban legends and speculations were more common than real history: as you might expect on a holiday celebrating myths and ghosts.

American Jack-o-Lantern, 1867 (IBTaurisblog)
The traditional Halloween Devil reflects fears of ghosts and hauntings: Halloween is at its root a festival celebrating the dead. Catholics for centuries honored saints and deceased members of their families for the first two days of November, solemnly visiting graveyards and attending religious services. They prayed that their loved ones were with the saints and not with the Devil -- but feared the worst, especially when visiting graveyards at dusk.

In Ireland, a variety of customs arose as a sort of opposite to the solemnities, including dressing up in costume, carving lanterns out of large vegetables, doing mischief of various kinds, and begging for food (which was a custom on other holidays as well, including Valentine's Day and the Wassail part of Christmas). Irish immigrants brought those customs to America in the mid-19th century.

These traditions appeared to have their roots in ancient Celtic customs. Many writers, beginning in the 19th century and continuing with current believers in Paganism claim that ancient Celtic rites were the basis for the Irish celebrations that eventually came to America. If you read anything about Samhain, the Celtic holiday (sometimes attributed to Druids, in even less historically accurate speculations) you'll see all kinds of parallels presented -- this Halloween origin story is still widely believed. However, the supposed evidence for the Celtic connection was often circular: where scholars couldn't find good descriptions of early customs, they filled in with information from their own experience or the recent past, which meant the parallels were very convincing. In fact, too good to be true.

A historian named Ronald Hutton in a book titled Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford University Press, 1996) demonstrated that the usual claims about early Celtic practices are not verifiable. The evidence for the "development of the feast and of its associated days of All Saints and All Souls," he says is "intractable and ambivalent." (p. 360) Writer David Emery summarizes: "It seems reasonable to conclude that the connection between Halloween and Samhain has, at the very least, been overstated in most modern accounts of the holiday's origin."

So what is the story of Devil's Night? I always thought this was the accepted name for the riotous and disorderly side of the holiday. I remember having to drive through Detroit one late fall evening in the mid-1980s for a job interview, without realizing it was Devil's Night. From the freeway I heard police helicopters and sirens and saw smoke rising from burning buildings. Detroit's Devil's Night festivities then were at their most destructive, and hundreds of houses were being torched and other vandalism done. A few years later, with a lot of effort from the authorities, things calmed down.

I did not realize until doing this research, that Devil's Night was a name used almost uniquely in Detroit, and the vandalism was never as severe or systematic anywhere else. Yes, the Irish had Goblin Night or Mischief Night, but not Devil's Night. And bonfires were an old British-Isles tradition, but not insurance fires!

Well, what about the food? 

Deviled eggs, deviled ham, Julia Child's poulets grill├ęs a la diable, deviled crab cakes, and similar dishes are devilish because of their spiciness -- though they make a perfect choice for Halloween menus. Deviled tongue and deviled kidneys, now obsolete at polite luncheons where they once would have been popular, might enhance the Halloween spirit in more ways than one! And devil's food cake, named not for its taste but for being the opposite of pure white angel food cake, is a very popular Halloween dessert.

The term "deviled" for spicy originated long ago. "The first known printed mention of ‘devil’ as a culinary term appeared in Great Britain in 1786, in reference to dishes including hot ingredients." (source: History of Deviled Eggs)

More and more dishes with "deviled" in their name appeared in the 19th century. In Mrs. Beeton's 1861 Book of Household Management, the term comes up in reference to turkey, of which the legs "appear only in a form which seems to have a special attraction at a bachelor’s supper-table, - we mean devilled: served in this way, they are especially liked and relished." (Household Management) Mrs. Beeton also recommended a deviled sauce made of vinegar, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and cayenne; as well as chicken with deviled butter made with chutney, anchovy paste, and of course cayenne pepper. Beyond Mrs. Beeton:
"In The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Amanda Hesser includes an 1878 recipe for deviled crabs, saying that today’s deviled eggs are the mild-mannered cousins of deviled crab and kidneys, which 'were meant to be spicy and bracing, the kind of food you had after a long night of drinking.' She also notes that in David Copperfield ..., 'Mr. Micawber saves a dinner party by turning undercooked mutton into a devil,' covering the slices with pepper, mustard, salt and cayenne and cooking them well, then adding mushroom ketchup as a condiment." (Lisa Bramen, Smithsonian)
Above: Underwood Devil Logo, 1921.
Below left: 2014 Devil; right: original 1870 Devil
Underwood's Deviled Ham was first sold in 1870. Underwood's devil logo is the oldest trademark in continuous use (left). Their deviled ham is still available, though I can't say I want to eat any of it.

To make things even more complicated, in France there's an earthenware or cast-iron pot called a "diable" (devil) that allows cooking a whole chicken without added fat -- this utensil also gives its name to dishes cooked in it.

I'm afraid the original Halloween tradition was a lot more bland, not even as much fun as the candy that we'll be giving out next week. Oat cakes called "soul cakes" were offered to visitors or beggars in seventeenth century Shropshire, Lancashire, and Herefordshire for All-Souls Day. Those who received the cakes said "A soule-cake, a soule-cake, Have mercy on all Christen soules for a soule cake." Or "God have your soul, bones and all." In Wales, the gifted food was bread and cheese, and later on the beggars asked in rhyme for apples, pears, plums, or cherries as well as soul cakes. (Hutton, p. 374-375)

In 2023, English Heritage — which manages many historical properties, is reviving this tradition: “Visitors to 13 sites across England from Tynemouth Priory to St Mawes Castle, can knock on the door after hours and they will receive a soul cake – while stocks last – to commemorate the dead.” (The Guardian, October 26, 2023 — includes a recipe)

Soul Cakes from English Heritage, 2023.

A Halloween Cocktail

The Black Devil Martini from the BBC food channel.
There are dozens of Halloween drink recipes!

© 2014, 2019, 2023 mae sander for maefood.blogspot.com
Shared with Sunday Salon at Readerbuzz and with Elizabeth's weekly blog party.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Halloween at the National Zoo

The National Zoo was preparing for this Halloween event when we were there recently.
Along the walkways we saw many amusing Halloween displays, as shown in these photos.
Promoted for kids age 4 to 12, the sold-out event included trick or treats for the animals and kids,
and special evening access to some of the buildings. Must have been fun!


To share with Sami’s Monday Murals

The National Zoo is really great! All to be shared with Eileen’s Critters.

Photos © 2023 mae sander

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

"Wellness" by Nathan Hill

When I read Nathan Hill's earlier book, The Nix, it often made me laugh out loud -- at least the first 2/3 of it did. Hill’s new book, Wellness, is pretty good, but not laugh-out-loud good. In this review, I can save you from almost 700 pages of disappointment.

The larger-than-life funny characters of Hill’s first book are replaced in Wellness by much more serious characters. Occasionally there’s a shred of humor, but not enough. Many of the themes are the same in both books, but Wellness is a book with a long scholarly bibliography, meaning it’s trying to explore in fiction what social science and psych researchers do with experiments on human subjects. Further, there are many passages where descriptions and narratives are WAY too long for what they contribute to the book. In The Nix, computers and the internet are funny. Here they are explained to death. (Wellness needs editing!) 

Even when it comes to food, satiric depictions of characters with food fixations work well in The Nix, but to me fall kind of flat in Wellness. Here’s an example of a passage that I find less-funny in Wellness, and what I find a more funny passage from The Nix:

From Wellness: “When Jack first met him, Benjamin had the gaunt, pale, sunken look of devoted malnourishment and vitamin-indifference. Now he was rugged, ripped, a man who ran half-marathons and did Tough Mudders, who led meditation classes every morning out of this very office, who was fanatical about ingesting only organic and natural and authentic foods and supplements, refusing to put in his body anything that was in any way processed or manufactured or artificial or advertised or publicized. It was like his college-era antiestablishment stance had, over the years, radically narrowed, and now pertained strictly in the area of his diet. His skin had the enameled quality of inveterate moisturization.” (Wellness, p. 60)

From The Nix: “See, what's important for me is to be frugal. I'm saving up. Do you know how expensive that organic health food stuff is? A sandwich is seventy-nine cents at the gas station but like ten bucks at the farmer's market. Do you know how cheap, on a per-calorie basis, nachos are? Not to mention the Go-Go Taquitos or Pancake and Sausage To-Go Sticks or other food that have no organic equivalent that I get for free at the 7-Eleven down the street. ... Of course eating these food items is not what I might describe as pleasant, since they're tough and scorched and moistureless from their all-day cooking on high-temperature rollers. Sometimes biting through a burrito's thick tortilla casing can feel like chewing through your own toe calluses." (The Nix, p. 224) 

Maybe read this instead!

Although the author tries at times to keep it light, the result in Wellness is a pretty ponderous book…so in sum I don’t recommend reading it, but if you missed The Nix, you might like it.

Review © 2023 mae sander

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Big Skeletons

Quite a few giant skeletons and other giant figures have appeared in our neighborhood this year. I think most of them are dressed up versions of the Home Depot 12 foot skeleton, which sells for $299. The variety of presentations of this phantasmagorical figure is very impressive!

Addendum; a big ghost.
Addendum: a big werewolf.

In yesterday’s post, I showed the smaller, but still very imaginative, displays from our neighborhood.

Photos © 2023 mae sander