Thursday, February 29, 2024

February in the Kitchen

In the dolls’ kitchen: a new Whole Foods shopping bag.

What’s new in my kitchen this month? I’ll start with a few items that we brought back from our 10-day trip to Virginia, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. While visiting our relatives, we also cooked for our hosts, and enjoyed foods that they cooked for us. I’ve already posted about most of the trip and the kitchens where we visited. I’m sharing this post with Sherry’s In My Kitchen and other bloggers who also share kitchen stories each month.

In My Kitchen

Magnets from the National Museum of the American Indian and from an Alexandria craft shop.
I try to bring home a few magnets from each trip, and retire the older ones as the new ones arrive.

New placemats: a gift from Arny and Tracy. We had artichokes for the first time in ages.

New tablecloth, also a gift from Evelyn & family.

New mugs: a gift from Evelyn, Tom, Miriam, and Alice.

New Foods

Condiments from the market in Lancaster, PA

Seriously, a new flavor of Cheerios? It’s unexpectedly good.

The “cosmic creme” to me tastes just like the white mystery filling in ordinary Oreos.

At least they were a bargain!

Instant dinner after a 9 hour car trip home. The broccoli quiche was much better than the spinach quiche.

Quiche from Trader Joe’s.

Cooking at home and while visiting

Prep for sheet pan green-beans with olive oil, onion, garlic, and cheese.

Bread-baking tools and dishes.

The loaf of bread.

Steaming the artichokes in my silicone steamer.

Smoked salmon, pimento cheese, and veggies. A nice meal.

Frying vegetables and sliced deli roast beef.

At Arny and Tracy’s house: Tracy made mushroom pasta and salad.

White beans, chicken, and peppers. Vegetable garnish. A great chili!

From the New York Times Recipe Archives

In February, we made four new-to-us recipes from the New York Times cooking archives. I’ll give you a hint from our recent experiments with NYT recipes: we always feel that there should be more sauce. We now double the sauce ingredients for recipes from this source. Here are the recipes that we made:
  • Roast Cauliflower and Garlic Soup was bland and disappointing. I added several items, including pepper flakes, feta cheese, and white beans, to improve the leftovers. (Recipe here but not recommended as written: Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup Recipe.)
  • Mark Bittman’s Vinegar Chicken was delicious and quite different. We used the mushroom and lettuce garnish from a different version of Vinegar Chicken, which is a Lyonnaise dish made popular by Paul Bocuse. (Vinegar Chicken Recipe)
  • Adobo Chicken — which Len made at Evelyn’s house — was a good recipe that Len had wanted to try. The NYT calls it “the national dish of the Philippines.” (Chicken Adobo Recipe)
  • Pasta Puttanesca, an Italian classic, was very tasty, thanks to lots of anchovies, garlic, and other good flavors. (Pasta Puttanesca Recipe).
Note: NYT recipes are behind a paywall, but I  have included the links for completeness.

“America today is truly a factory farming nation.”

I like to look at the big picture of food and farming from time to time in my end-of-the month blog post, but understanding the statistics is a burdensome challenge. A recent article in the Guardian, “America is a factory farming nation’: key takeaways from US agriculture census” (link) explains the recently released data about American agriculture. The subtitle summarizes the result of this vast survey: “Small farms and Black farmers are going out of business, while corporate-controlled farms are booming, raking in subsidies.”

A Michigan farm around a century ago (source).
In 1920 US farms numbered 6.5 million. In 2020: two million.

One of many important facts about meat production:

“In the past five years, the US lost 34% of dairy farms, 9% of hog farms and 7% of beef cattle farms but the livestock numbers stayed more or less constant. That means fewer, but much larger, concentrated lots – which are linked to an array of harms including water and air pollution, poor animal welfare, labor abuses and climate impacts.”

Blog post © 2024 mae sander

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Voting Day in Michigan

Early voting started last week, and I have voted.


Monday, February 26, 2024

Pasta Puttanesca and a Book About Pasta

“Is it possible to sit down to a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce and reflect on the meaning of roots, identities, and origins? That is what I have tried to do in these pages” (A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce, p. 9)

Reading Massimo Montanari’s book A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce (first published in Italian in 2019, translation in 2021) I was delighted with his brief histories of all the key ingredients and how they came to Italy: pasta, tomatoes, cheese, olive oil, capsicum peppers, garlic, onions, basil leaves. Although I have read about these ingredients before, I enjoyed Montanari’s perspective on how the dish, which is seen as so quintessentially Italian, took a long time to become the iconic symbol of Italian food. He reminds the reader who thinks she knows it all: “in the history of cooking there is very little that is obvious, or maybe nothing.” (p. 35)

I enjoyed Montanri’s descriptions of the components of this dish to look for insights into culture and history, not only of food, but of the relationships among peoples and cultures over centuries and even millennia. Starting with a discussion of the long history of pasta, Montanari writes: 

“The Italian pasta tradition has been influenced by other histories, other ‘roots,’ which evoke other cultures and other regions of the world. The search for ‘origins,’ in this case, takes us to the Fertile Crescent, the Middle Eastern regions to the east of the Mediterranean, where, ten to twelve thousand years ago, the agricultural revolution began, and with it, the culture of wheat and its derivatives—first among them, bread, which became the symbol of that revolution.” (p. 19)

Tomatoes, too have a long history: 

“Original to the western coasts of South America, where it still grows wild, the tomato enjoyed an extraordinary success among the Maya and the Aztecs. It was in Mexico that it met up with the Spaniards of Hernán Cortés, when they occupied the country between 1519 and 1521. It was immediately taken to Spain and that’s how the tomato came to be grafted onto the gastronomic culture of Italy. Naturalists and botanists are the first to mention it, starting with Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1544) who cites it in his commentary on the pharmacological text of Pedacio Dioscoride. … In 1548, Cosimo de’ Medici received a basket of tomatoes from the Florentine gardens of Torre del Gallo, and this is the first evidence from the ‘field’ of an Italian interest for the new plant.”  (pp. 55 & 57)

The Aztecs invented tomato sauce, among other things. A traveler to the New World was one Francisco Hernández, physician at the court of Philip II of Spain. During his travels from 1570-77, he wrote sixteen volumes concerning American plants and their uses. He wrote about a Mexican dish: “a delicious sauce or intinctus (dip) that ‘is prepared from sliced tomatoes and chili pepper, which enriches the flavor or almost all dishes and almost all foods, and reawakens the appetite.’” (p. 60)

However, tomato sauce took a long time to become the classic accompaniment to the highly traditional pastas of Italy. Author Ippolito Cavalcanti finally mentioned pasta with tomato sauce in the 1839 edition of his influential cookbook: a first! “The sauce is made from crushed ripe and deseeded tomatoes, placed to cook in a casserole together with their juice (acquiccia) and stirred continuously until, once cooked, they will be milled and cooked down ncoppa a lo fuoco (over the fire). At the end, salt and pepper are added and the sauce is ready, very simple and truly ‘popular.’” (p. 64)

Pellegrino Artusi, author of the most important 19th century Italian cookbook, provided a recipe for tomato sauce “seasoned with onion, garlic, celery, basil, parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper.” He wrote that it would “lend itself ‘to innumerable uses’… It will be good with boiled meat,… but above all it will be ‘excellent when served with cheese and butter on pasta.’” Artusi’s recipe is also the first instance of using onion and garlic in the tomato sauce! (pp. 66 and 76)

Going onward to other ingredients, Montanari describes how peppers quickly became a staple ingredient of European food after their import from the New World. He explains that olive oil has been made since early antiquity, but its use in pasta is startlingly recent: “Dressing pasta or tomato sauce with olive oil became ‘normal’ only in the second half of the XX century.” (p. 75)

Similarly basil was long considered to be inedible; it became accepted as a culinary herb in the 16th or 17th century. Along with other herbs, it was included in the 19th century recipes cited above. “Over time, basil has become an inevitable ingredient of our dish, an identifying element, to the point of acquiring in the iconography of the media an immediately understandable symbolic value.” (p. 79)

In his conclusion, Montanari summarizes how the iconic plate of spaghetti that seems to represent Italy and the Italian identity actually has a variety of multi-cultural roots. “The history of our plate of spaghetti, the search for its origins and its roots—economic, social, political, cultural—has forced us to travel to multiple lands and to come to terms with eating habits, ways of production, and culinary procedures distant from each other in time and space. A long series of innovations, developed in different times and places, have contributed to creating this tradition so typically Italian.” (p. 82)

Our Pasta Dinner

Obviously reading about the history of spaghetti with tomato sauce made me wish to eat some. So I followed a recipe for a particular variety of pasta with tomato sauce: that is, Pasta Puttanesca, which includes the classic ingredients along with anchovies, olives, and capers. This dish does not include the cheese that’s a traditional part of the more usual version, probably because it’s not customary to include both fish and cheese at the same time. Note that the name Pasta Puttanesca means prostitutes’ pasta. There are many explanations for this interesting nomenclature.

These are the basics for Puttanesca tomato sauce along with canned tomatoes as well as fresh.
Note that the wine is to be drunk with the meal, not used in the dish.

Pasta, garlic, tomatoes, anchovies, olive oil, pepper flakes, olives, capers, and basil for a garnish.
I mainly followed the New York Times recipe by Mark Bittman (link), adding the fresh tomatoes.

Review and photos © 2024 mae sander

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Early Spring: Red-Winged Blackbirds in the Park


At Kensington Park we saw quite a few Red-Winged Blackbirds today.
Easiest to photograph: those that were eating seeds provided by people who feed the birds.

From the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology: a map of Red-Winged Blackbird habitation,
We are on the edge of the territory where they breed but do not spend the winter.
In other years, I’ve seen my first blackbird of the year in March, so it’s time!

Art Everywhere

My favorite mural! We caught sight of it while driving on a city street in Lancaster, PA.

More Lancaster Murals

One from Alexandria

Mural we saw from the car on the way out of Alexandria (from previous blog post).

“For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.” 
— Amanda Gorman

And one from the highway

 Blog post and all photos © 2024 mae sander

Saturday, February 24, 2024

February Videos, Murder Mysteries, and Other Reading

February has been so busy that I didn’t have time to write very many reviews. For today’s Sunday Salon (at Readerbuzz), I decided to say a few words about the books I’ve read this month, and the one streaming video series I watched. What is the Sunday Salon? It’s a place to link up and share what a group of bloggers have been doing during the week plus it's a great way to visit other blogs and join in the conversations going on there.

On PBS Masterpiece

A PBS Masterpiece Mystery: Magpie Murders (from 2022)
Two interlocking mysteries become strangely unified! Really entertaining.

Crime Fiction

Police Inspector Peter Diamond detects in Peter Lovesy’s novel Bloodhounds.
Notable: a mystery-reading society debates a vast list of classic crime fiction.
Then the crimes begin! Which member pulled off this locked room mystery?

Three novels by Icelandic Noir author Lilja Sigarðardóttir in one volume. 
I’ve read the first one, Snare, and it’s good. The focus is on the criminals.
I’ll be reading more.

Miscellaneous Reading

An early dystopian novel by Colson Whitehead: Zone One.
I’m still trying to get into this one, but it puts me to sleep.
Too bad, I liked Whitehead’s more recent books.

A fascinating essay by Japanese writer Tanizaki: In Praise of Shadows (1933).

Tanizaki described the impact of electricity on the shadowy traditional Japanese homes, as well as the effect of modern plumbing and other innovations. He wrote:

“I always think how different everything would be if we in the Orient had developed our own science. Suppose for instance that we had developed our own physics and chemistry: would not the techniques and industries based on them have taken a different form, would not our myriads of everyday gadgets, our medicines, the products of our industrial art—would they not have suited our national temper better than they do?” (In Praise of Shadows, p. 52)

Amusing and ostentatiously philosophical, food historian
Massimo Montanari presents A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce.
I’ll have more to say about this one!

The history of Italian pasta has its roots in Roman, Greek, Arab, and Jewish cuisines in the Mediterranean region, which Montanari documents in detail. (He notes that pasta in China had an equally long but completely independent origin, with no influence on Europe.) The history of tomato sauce begins in Mexico long before the Europeans arrived there, and it reached Italy via Spain. The now-classic dish became totally Italian only in the 19th century. Very interesting food history! Montanari writes:

“In reality, products … never work by themselves. Cooking mixes them and puts them into play, making them interact. Basil is exquisite, but nobody eats basil by itself. Chili peppers are exquisite, but nobody eats just chili peppers. Pasta is exquisite, but nobody eats pasta without sauce. To be sure, cooking starts with ingredients but, above all, it relies on recipes. … Even the most autochthonous recipes, the ones based on ‘local’ products, are never so completely local as to exclude contributions from diverse origins.” (Montanari, p. 13)

A preachy warning? Literary Theory for Robots

Already Reviewed

Two Oz books, reviewed here: Wandering around in the Land of Oz

A book and a film, reviewed here: Reading and Watching

A book full of intriguing ideas, reviewed here: Algorithmic!
Watch out: I have another post coming about this book.

Blog post © 2024 mae sander