Thursday, November 30, 2023

November Kitchen Thoughts

Not a kitchen: beautiful skies over the Woodrow Wilson bridge to Washington, DC.
The highlight of our month of November was a week’s visit for the Thanksgiving holiday.

November in Michigan

In my kitchen in Michigan this month, there’s been much less activity than we enjoyed over Thanksgiving week in Evelyn and Tom's kitchen in Fairfax, Virginia. I’m sharing two kitchens with the bloggers who link up at Sherry’s “In My Kitchen” each month and with Deb’s Sunday Salon at Readerbuzz.

At home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Watering my plants, 2 ice cubes each.

Three new fridge magnets from our visit to the National Gallery of Art:
Top: Leonardo's Ginevra (1478)
Lower left: Vermeer's A Lady Writing (1665)
Lower right: Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance (1664)

Food at home: rather simple.

Huevos rancheros with black beans, egg, and yogurt on a tortilla with a bit of chopped cabbage and a lime wedge.

Len’s treat for breakfast.

Salad with peanut dressing.

Israeli Feta Cheese from Trader Joe’s. Thinking of Israel all the time.

In Evelyn and Tom’s Kitchen

Thanksgiving action photos in addition to the many from last week.

Beyond Thankfulness: Some thoughts for November

While celebrating Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about how fortunate we are, but also what responsibility our good fortune means to us. For example, consider this statement from the introduction to The Best American Food Writing 2023, editor Mark Bittman:

“Everyone with unlimited access to some kind of food—the majority of people in this country—takes it for granted. We live five minutes from a banana or a Slurpee or a cheeseburger and we consider that normal, even though everything it takes to bring us those things is part of a deeply flawed and destructive system.” (p. xv)

Along with feeling gratitude, we can also try to remember the social and environmental cost of what we are grateful for. A similar thought is in an article by Yvon Chouinard, founder and former owner of the outdoor goods supplier Patagonia. He offered some insight into the need to be responsible when acauiring the goods for which we feel thankful. 

“Since 1999, humans have far surpassed — by billions of metric tons — the amount of Earth’s resources that scientists estimate we can sustainably use. The culprit: our overconsumption of stuff, from shoddy tools to fast fashion that is trendy one day, trash the next.

“Obsession with the latest tech gadgets drives open pit mining for precious minerals. Demand for rubber continues to decimate rainforests. Turning these and other raw materials into final products releases one-fifth of all carbon emissions.

“The global inequality that benefits some and persists for the many, ensures that some of the poorest people and most vulnerable places bear the social and environmental costs of international trade. Research links demand for goods in Western Europe and the United States to the premature deaths of more than 100,000 people in China because of industrial air pollution.” (Source: "The High Stakes of Low Quality," New York Times, Nov. 23, 2023)

The climate crisis is a looming issue that should affect our consumer decisions. According to the Guardian: “The year 2023 will be remembered as a critical year in the escalating extinction, climate and nature emergencies – not least because it looks certain to be the hottest since records began.” 

Every day the news is full of examples of products we buy and use (or items that are integrated into products we use) that seem innocent, but threaten the environment, the workers, and the civil order of the countries where they are produced. Here’s one example from numerous possible impending disasters: the production of palm oil. An article in the Guardian titled “Deadly harvest: how demand for palm oil is fuelling corruption in Honduras” described how growing and harvesting oil palms creates jobs for desperate workers and high rewards for the rich by destroying the natural forests:

“Palm oil, especially from the oil palm’s fruit, has become an essential export business in Honduras, used in the food industry, in beauty products and as a biofuel. Its low production costs make it a cheap substitute for most oils, such as sunflower and olive, significantly lowering manufacturing costs in global markets.” 

Planting of oil palms by small agriculturalists in Honduras destroys stands of essential old-growth mangroves and other trees in areas that the government has set aside as protected national parks. A few rangers are assigned to police millions of acres of parkland, while opportunists are destroying the natural plant life to grow oil palms, and collusion between the rich entrepreneurs and the judicial establishment makes enforcement hopelessly dangerous.

How are Americans like me involved? According to the Guardian article, palm oil accounts for about 40% of global demand for vegetable oil as food, animal feed and fuel — so we are surely using it whether we are aware of it or not — I read the label of a favorite Trader Joe’s cookie, for example, and it contained palm oil! 

Globally, oil palm cultivation is endangering wildlife and forests in many other parts of the world, not merely in Honduras. Not to mention that it’s not very healthy to eat foods made with palm oil, which is used in especially large quantities in cheap, highly-processed foods. Honduras is one small example among many producers of the oil, and palm oil is only one of the many destructive products we unthinkingly buy and use.

I feel helpless.

Blog post and photos © 2023 mae sander

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Endangered Eating

Endangered Eating: America’s Vanishing Foods by Sarah Lohman is a very readable account of the efforts to preserve several cultural culinary treasures. Inspired by the organization titled Slow Food International, and their endeavor called the Ark of Taste, Lohman selected a few very interesting American traditional foods, and described their current state, their cultural significance, and some recipes that use them. In addition, she presented the history of the owners of these foods. I really enjoyed reading this book.

Foods that are covered:

  • A few special varieties of dates from the Palm Springs, California, area
  • Native Hawaiian sugarcane now raised only by a few descendants of the original Polynesian inhabitants of the islands
  • Navajo sheep, a special breed that’s become quite rare
  • A specialized type of salmon fishing practiced by natives of the Puget Sound area in the Pacific Northwest and nearby Canadian islands
  • Wild rice from the Great Lakes region (now being replaced by cultivated forms of the native marsh crop)
  • Heirloom apple varieties once used for making cider, now almost lost
  • Louisiana Filé Powder, traditionally gathered by native Americans and used for making gumbo
  • Carolina runner peanuts, a small and flavorful variety that was almost lost because they were not good for mechanized processing.
As I read many of the chapters, I thought about the way I had visited the locations that Lohman describes, and how I had heard about some of the rare and endangered foods she discusses. This made me especially enjoy reading these chapters. Here are a few of my memories.

Santa Barbara: Dates from a Farmers’ Market

At a California Farmers’ Market: empress dates and honey dates (source)

The first chapter of Endangered Eating is titled “Coachella Valley Dates.” As I read, I recalled the date vendors from the Coachella and Palm Springs area who came to the Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market where I shopped during several long visits there in the past. I particularly remember the incredible variety of dates, and the way the vendors offered samples so that one could decide which were the most delicious. 

Lohman writes:

“Although the Coachella Valley primarily grows commercial date varieties like Medjools and Deglet Noors, several small farmers still carry on the tradition of growing unique date varieties that were developed in the area a century ago. It’s these rare American dates, grown nowhere else on the planet, that have been onboarded to the Ark of Taste: Empress, Abada, Blonde Beauties, Brunette Beauties, Honey, McGill’s, Tarbazal, and Triumph.” (p. 2)

Although as Lohman points out, few trees with these special date varieties still are growing in California, it’s interesting that they can be tasted at least from a few sellers at the farmers’ markets of the area. I’m curious as well about the dates we tasted at a date farm in Israel, where we also encountered a number of different and interesting date flavors.

Santa Barbara Farmers' Market Date Vendor with his samples (2011)

Maui, Hawaii: Sugarcane and Native Agriculture

Early Hawaiian agriculture shown at Iao Valley State Park (2009)

Sugarcane first reached Hawaii with the original Polynesian colonists, centuries before the famous voyage by Captain Cook. This variety of cane was kupuna kō or Hawaiian legacy sugarcane. It was cultivated by the native people along with their traditional crops including coconut, taro, breadfruit, Hawaiian purple sweet potato, and Kalua pig, sometimes known as “canoe foods” because they were brought on the canoes of these early settlers. I wrote about this native agriculture here: Native Species and Canoe Foods.

Now, in the twenty-first century, Lohman visited a few farmers who are growing the native variety of sugarcane. She writes: “The Ark of Taste has five entries for Hawaiian sugarcane, chosen to represent the over forty varieties of legacy kō that have been identified as unique to the Hawaiian Islands.” (p. 38)

Native sugarcane is different from the variety imported by Europeans and cultivated in destructive, farming operations and refined in huge industrial refineries (which entirely ceased production in 2016). Her chapter on native Hawaiian sugarcane explores the current efforts and the history of sugar in the islands. One interesting fact is that sugarcane cultivation had two distinct histories: one with the Polynesian settlement of the islands in the Pacific, and the other with its spread to the west via Arab and European merchants and then to the New World, where it was cultivated in the Caribbean and the American South.

A sample of native foods that I tried at a festival on the Big Island in 2013. 

New Mexico: Navajo Sheep

Near Sandia, New Mexico (2015)

I’ve been on Navajo reservations more in Arizona than in New Mexico, the subject of Lohman’s chapter on the endangered species of sheep that are precious to the Navajo people for their wool and for meat. Thanks to the Tony Hillerman novels and their sequels by his daughter Anne Hillerman, I feel as if I am very very familiar with the people on the New Mexico part of the area!

Lohman describes the sheep and their special wool, which makes very beautiful weavings: 

“Navajo-Churro have an inner coat of lustrous wool and a shaggy outer coat that can reach up to 14 inches in length. The low lanolin content of the wool means that very little water is required to wash it, which is ideal in desert conditions. The wool is perfect for hand weaving because it is remarkably straight, strong, and durable. And it comes in over a dozen different natural colors, ranging from dark black to pure white as well as heather gray, tan, peach, and a light reddish-brown. Navajo-Churro wool is so recognizable and connected to Diné weaving that in the Art of Native America gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a Diné chief’s blanket dating to 1840 is labeled “handspun undyed and indigo-dyed Churro fleece.” The sheen of the wool in the blanket is unmistakable.”

I love learning about Navajo art and history, so this chapter was especially interesting to me.

A Navajo weaving — “Two Grey Hills” — in my home.

Traditional Salmon Fishing in the Pacific Northwest

Graffiti in Alert Bay, Canada (2018)

A few years ago, we traveled on a National Geographic cruise to see the Puget Sound and many islands and towns in Washington state and Canada. The cultural specialist onboard the ship introduced us to many historic facts about the Native Americans who lived in the area, and he especially talked about a tribal group called the Lummi, who employed a traditional type of salmon fishing with nets. He described. how this method had been lost but was being reintroduced. (My blog post about this is here.)

Lohman’s chapter called “Sxwo’le Straits Salish Reefnet Fishing” describes this exact restoration of a nearly forgotten fishing technique, and describes the struggles of Native Americans in both the US and Canada to recreate their traditional practice.

Reefnet fishing (Sxwo’le) is an ecologically responsible method of trapping the salmon on their run up one of the rivers where they go to spawn. It’s non-destructive of by-catch, and humane to the salmon. It uses a net called a reef. Lohman’s description:

“The reef is a web of rope which guides salmon both up from the ocean floor and in toward the net, like a funnel. The reef starts with two 200-foot rope lines that extend upstream from the platforms; the lines float with the help of buoys. The ends of these lines are about 80 feet apart at the upstream end, and narrow to the width of the net between the two floating platforms. Ropes are tied at intervals horizontally between these two main lines. At the upstream end, these horizontal ropes are anchored 80 feet below the surface of the water, nearly at the bay’s floor. Gradually, the ropes slope upward until their depth matches the opening of the net strung between the platforms. 
“Onto these horizontal ropes are tied blue or green plastic ribbons that shimmy in the tide and look like underwater plants. The ribbons trick the salmon into thinking that they are swimming safely on the ocean floor up a shoal, a natural shallowing of the bay.” (p. 111)

There are no illustrations in Endangered Eating, but I found this image helpful in trying to imagine the activity, involving several boats and a large system of nets:

Reef netting near Point Roberts, ca. 1940 (source)

Blog post © 2023 mae sander
Photos by mae sander or as credited


Sunday, November 26, 2023

The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The first painting we wanted to see in the National Gallery was Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra.
Located in a temporary gallery during a remodeling project, it’s first visible through this doorway.

Ginevra de Benci

People looking at Ginevra.

The Modern Art Building of the National Gallery

Walking through the permanent collections, I especially liked this painting: 
“The Flag is Bleeding” by Faith Ringgold.

Special Exhibit: The Land Carries Our Ancestors:
Contemporary Art by Native Americans

We enjoyed the special exhibit of work by Native American artists.

“Curated by artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation), this exhibition brings together works by an intergenerational group of nearly 50 living Native artists practicing across the United States. Their powerful expressions reflect the diversity of Native American individual, regional, and cultural identities. At the same time, these works share a worldview informed by thousands of years of reverence, study, and concern for the land.” (source)

“Fire Water Woman” by Rose Powhatan

Mural Installation by John Hitchcock (link)

“World Traveler” by Melissa Cody

“Edward Curtis Paparazzi: Chicken Hawks” by Jim Denomie

These art works by Native American painters seemed to me to link very closely with a book I’m reading: Endangered Eating: America's Vanishing Foods by historian Sarah Lohman, in particular the chapter titled “Manoomin: Anishinaabe Wild Rice.” The struggles of Native Americans to stay connected and preserve traditions are documented both in the art works in the National Gallery and in the descriptions of the determined way that tribes in the Great Lakes region struggle to preserve native varieties of wild rice (as opposed to the industrially cultivated and mass-marketed cultivars of this native plant). 

Key passages from Endangered Eating that seem to me to connect to the ideas of the artists:

“Tribes of the Anishinaabeg and their neighbors, the Sioux (Dakota and Lakota), are the only two contemporary Native groups that harvest wild rice. They collect it in the waters of upstate Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and in parts of Canada bordering the Great Lakes. In Minnesota alone, Native peoples consume an average of 350,000 pounds of wild rice annually, about six pounds per person per year. It is the most commonly consumed traditional food. But manoomin is a spiritual food as well, essential to mino-bimaadiziwin, the concept of living a good life. It’s the first solid food fed to Ojibwe infants and it is one of the foods present at funeral ceremonies.” (Endangered Eating p. 140)

“In 2018, the White Earth Nation passed the Rights of Manoomin to protect the remaining wild rice. The law was modeled after the work of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal: much like the legal rights given to corporations under US law, the Rights of Nature grant a natural resource guaranteed rights as a living entity. Under the Rights of Manoomin, wild rice is guaranteed the right to clean water, free from industrial pollution; the right to a ‘healthy, stable climate free from human-caused climate change impacts;’ and the right to be free from patenting and GMO cross-pollination.” (p. 166)

And a Nana by Niki de Saint Phalle

On the balcony outside the exhibit: a sculpture by artist Niki de Saint Phalle.
Her delightful characters are all called Nanas. This is “Yellow Nana.”

The National Gallery of Art is so full of masterpieces that the few hours we had were nowhere near enough to see all of the works we would like to contemplate. We saw just a few of the works from the Dutch Golden age (such as Rembrandt and Vermeer), a very brief look at the wonderful collection of impressionist works, and a quick look at more of the modern art. We’ve been there many times, never enough.

“Still Life with Peacock Pie” by Pieter Claesz

Blog post and photos by mae sander © 2023
Shared with Sami’s Monday Murals


Saturday, November 25, 2023

Thanksgiving Vacation

Things we have done with the family this holiday —

Watching “Oppenheimer.”

Catching up on “The Great British Baking Show.”

We had a drink at the bar at China Chilcano in Washington, DC.

And we had a fabulous dinner at China Chilcano, a José Andrés restaurant with Peruvian/Japanese cuisine.
Andrés  is also the founder of a remarkable organization for providing food to victims of wars and natural disasters:

Dessert: a dulce de leche custard with passion fruit sorbet. Superb!

Going to the National Portrait Gallery to see the famous portrait of President Obama
by Kehinde Wiley. The Gallery has portraits of every President since Washington!

Bill Clinton by Chuck Close.

John F. Kennedy by Elaine de Kooning.

Abraham Lincoln by W.F.K.Travers (link)

Photos by mae sander © 2023
Shared with Deb at Readerbuzz.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanksgiving Dinner and Dessert

For dinner: carving the two ducks.

On the table: duck, stuffing, roasted vegetables, sweet potato soufflé, mac and cheese casserole, cranberry sauce,
gravy, and Beaujolais Nouveau wine. We have made many of these dishes for prior Thanksgiving dinners.

Sweet potato soufflé topped with candied pecans:
 a new recipe this year.

Ready to eat!

After all the meat is off the bones, making duck stock for soup for another day.

Dessert: Key Lime Pie

Whipped cream goes on the pies.

The Pie!

Local mango-flavored beer that (mysteriously) goes with Key Lime Pie.

Photos © 2023 mae sander