Sunday, March 31, 2024

In My Kitchen March 2024

Our Life In March 

Spring is coming, and this is the best reason to celebrate the end of March. We did have pie for Pi Day (but not home made) and we enjoyed St. Patricks Day (but no special food). It’s the end of the week and also the end of the month, so I’m sharing my thoughts and photos with Sherry’s In My Kitchen, Deb’s Sunday Salon, and Elizabeth’s Tuesday Tea Party. I wish everyone a very beautiful April with beautiful weather, no matter which climate zone you live in.

My Peeps in my kitchen: Happy Easter!

What we cooked

Here are some of the things we cooked in March. We each made some of these dishes.

This dish was a disappointment. We added several more ingredients
to the leftovers to give it more flavor.

Recipe from “The Kitchn

Made from scratch (not from Ikea). Both wine & water to drink.

From Evelyn’s kitchen: Hamantaschen for Purim. I wish I had been there to eat some!

Fun Stuff in the Kitchen

New dish towel

One more good ready-made dish from Trader Joe’s.

And a good sweet thing, also from Trader Joe’s

Some of the enjoyable jam, preserves, jelly, etc. in my refrigerator.


Len’s latest rye bread was awesome!

New dough whisk that Len used when combining ingredients for the rye bread.

Remembering Four Years Ago

In the beginning of March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic seemed to be a distant rumor. By the end of March, there were cases in every state, and the government had shut down virtually all non-essential activity in businesses, schools, recreations, public performances, and many other areas. Emergency rooms were overwhelmed, and hospitals were overflowing with very sick patients. Essential commodities and those that people thought would become scarce were all out-of-stock as people hoarded shelf-stable foods, frozen foods, and household goods. The resulting toilet paper shortage lasted several months. 

The effects of the pandemic still echo through our society. From the New York Times this week:

“Elected officials, strategists, historians and sociologists say the lasting effects of the pandemic are visible today in the debates over inflation, education, public health, college debt, crime and trust in American democracy itself” (source)

Injustices became apparent as the pandemic left some people working at their own risk to do essential jobs, and left others without a livelihood. The situation is no better today:

  • According to the Washington Post this week: “Nearly 1 in 5 people in the essential workforce — people who cleaned hospitals during the pandemic, who provided home health care and child care, who kept food coming to our tables, who built temporary clinics — do not have permanent legal authorization to live in this country.” (source
  • The Baltimore Key Bridge disaster last week brought home how vulnerable immigrants work on our essential infrastructure. The bridge workers who were killed and injured were all immigrants from Central America. (source)
  • Farmworkers are especially vulnerable: “According to data from Farmworkers Justice, there are an estimated 2.4 million farm workers employed on American farms and ranches, the large majority of whom are immigrants. Foreign-born workers make up 68% of the workforce (the USDA cites a slightly lower number at an estimated 60%) and approximately 36% lack authorized work status under current U.S. laws. (source)

The pandemic left us with a lot of thinking to do: one essential question is why we continue to deny legitimacy of residence to workers who are clearly essential to our nation.

From IMK, March 2020: What’s really important?

Reading my blog posts from the start of the pandemic is interesting: we decided to isolate ourselves, not knowing how long we would be without social contacts. Our isolation ended a year later when the remarkable vaccine became available to us. This is what I wrote four years ago:

“My food thoughts are not just with my own needs, but with the vast numbers of people who are fearing or already experiencing hunger. I'm thinking of those whose jobs have suddenly ceased, and who don’t know how they will afford food. I worry about children who were dependent on school lunch programs but whose schools have closed, and about college students without meals or shelter after dorm closures. I'm mindful that homeless people and refugees everywhere are subject to increased uncertainty. People already living in poverty in the US and throughout the world will be suffering even more now than in the past.

“Even more pressing than the challenge of getting food to those in need, our society has enormous problems with protecting health care workers and providing care for the sick. Compared to the vast numbers of people with limited resources, to those who are already suffering from coronavirus, and to those mourning the victims, I'm extremely fortunate and grateful, and I do not want to sound like I'm complaining.”

Graffiti on a park bench in March, 2020.


Blog post and photos © 2020, 2024 mae sander.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

“Regeneration: Black Cinema”

“Regeneration: Black Cinema 1891-1971” — on view until June 23. 

A wonderful exhibit is on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts: “Regeneration.” It includes a remarkable collection of movie posters, props, costumes, and above all numerous film clips: many from forgotten or lost films from the past. The exhibit documents  “the legacy of African American filmmakers and actors from the dawn of cinema, through the golden age, and into the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. Inspired by and named after an independent 1923 all-Black-cast movie, Regeneration seeks to revive lost or forgotten films, filmmakers, and performers for a contemporary audience.” (source)

In the first room of the exhibit is this installation by Kara Walker.

We liked seeing the posters and other film memorabilia, but we most enjoyed the film clips,
and watched every one that was available. Quite a few viewing rooms showed loops with these excerpts.

Beyond the Exhibit

“Quilting Time” by Romare Bearden: a tile-mosaic mural near the entrance to the exhibit space.

On the Way to the DIA

“The Big Tire” has been next to US 94 in Allen Park, MI since 1966.
It is 80 feet high. This is perfect street art, isn’t it?

Blog post © 2024 mae sander;
All photos taken during my visit to the DIA.
Shared with Sami’s Monday Murals.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Of Bats and Book Reviews


One of the twenty-six bat species in Cuba (source).

Thinking of bats makes me very curious. Mammals that have evolved to be able to fly and to navigate by speaking in high-pitched sounds that echo back to their sensitive ears for echo-location is just amazing. Can we humans ever imagine what a bat’s life feels like? Cuban bats play a role in the recent book Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez, so I decided to look them up. Some bats really look creepy, others just look like flying mice.

The plot of this recently-published  novel is so suspenseful that I’m not going to write about it because it would spoil it if you decide to read it (which I strongly recommend). Fortunately, I didn’t read any reviews before I read it so I loved the many surprising insights it offers about the challenges faced by American immigrants, about the huge egos of artists, and about the life of a college student from an immigrant family.

For example, the reviewer in the New York Times gave away too much of the plot: she (he?) didn’t like the book because it asked too much of the reader. Luckily I didn’t read this clueless review until after I read and very much liked the book. Xochitl Gonzalez, a writer I already liked, didn’t ask too much of me!

Review © 2024 mae sander

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Another tale of the Promised Land

‘Although I wrote Kantika as a novel, I played with the line between fact and fiction and drew on the experiences of some real people, most centrally my maternal grandmother, Rebecca (née Cohen) Baruch Levy (1902–1991).” (From the author’s Acknowledgements, Kantika, p.283)

Kantika by Elizabeth Graver is a story of a family with deep roots in one place: Turkey. After the first World War, Turkey experienced major changes in government and policy. The long-enduring Sultanate was overthrown by nationalists, and thus minority communities were abused, persecuted, and expelled or driven to flee. The most extreme victims of this extremist nationalism were the Armenians: between 600,000 and 1.2 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1916 in what is now viewed as the first genocide of the twentieth century. 

A historic Jewish community in Turkey also suffered from the emerging policy. Kantika is the story of just one family from this community, told through the experiences of Rebecca, the author’s grandmother. Rebecca’s parents belonged to the Sephardic-Iberian Jewish community that had lived in the Ottoman Empire since their ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492. They proudly identified as Turkish Jews and as long-term residents of Istanbul. Her father’s thoughts: “This city, the ground beneath his feet, here where he was born and his parents are buried—is his homeland.” (p. 39)

Rebecca’s father had a factory, and the family were well-off, able to pay for their children’s education (and not to rely on charity schools). They had a solid and respected position in the community, and a fairly luxurious house. Because the novel is presented from Rebecca’s point of view as a child and very young woman, there’s not an excess of historic or socio-political detail. Just this: her father loses his factory, and sees that he can no longer make a living under the increasingly hostile new regime. He can find nowhere to take the family except Barcelona, Spain, where there’s a very small Jewish community to which they can move. Somehow, her father was unable to find a way to go to much more promising places that other members of the community were managing to emigrate to: specifically, to Cuba or New York. 

Kantika follows Rebecca as she adapts to life in Barcelona, learns to make a living as a dressmaker, and marries an unreliable man who abandons her and her children. Her struggles and her optimism are fascinating to read: it’s not the broad events of history and politics that make this book relatable — it’s the way she deals with her circumstances. The way she realizes that she must conceal her Jewish identity. The way she deals with many setbacks. Spain in the 1920s was becoming a less and less safe place, so she agrees to an arranged marriage with a man from their original community in Turkey who has successfully immigrated to New York and become a citizen. 

Thus, by the mid-1930s, Rebecca is living in New York. Her story continues as she adapts to living in the US, managing to bring her two sons from Spain, and having three more children, besides the child of her husband and his first, deceased wife. One of the final chapters vividly describes her son's experiences in combat in the Pacific during World War II.

A fairly typical immigrant story? Yes, but it’s not the story, it’s how you tell it. The characters and events in Rebecca’s story, and above all, Rebecca herself, are in one way undistinguished, ordinary, and quite similar to many others in stories of how we American descendants of immigrants all got to where we are. But the telling: that’s special. The author loves these people — all her own relatives and their peers. And reading this, one gets to love them too. 

review © 2024 mae sander

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Miss Marple Carries Her Purse (I mean Handbag)

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in the BBC series from 1987.
I love the way she carries her handbag! 
Corrected because it’s been pointed out to me that in England it’s a handbag, not a purse.

Joan Hickson (1906-1998) is my favorite portrayer of Miss Marple, the seemingly invisible old lady in Agatha Christie’s detective novels who always figures out who committed the crime, how they did it, and why. Joan Hickson’s acting suggests that Miss Marple was dotty and did not know what was going on — but meanwhile she was observing everyone and figuring out their motives and methods. The character’s sharp grasp of human nature was developed by watching the people in her little town, Saint Mary Mead, where she classified her fellow inhabitants by their type, and applied these observations in her successful career as a clandestine detective.

“At Bertram’s Hotel,” based on the 1965 novel.

“At Bertram’s Hotel” takes place at a hotel in London, beginning as Miss Marple and several other people are checking in at the counter in the beautifully retro hotel lobby, full of comfortable leather arm chairs, a fire burning in a fireplace, and lots of uniformed servants. Guests are constantly having tea with wonderful traditional sweets like “seed cake” — a dryish caraway-flavored cake whose popularity dates to the 18th century (source).

Miss Marple mentions that as a child she had once stayed at Bertram’s with her aunt — and that nothing has changed there since that moment. Watching this drama, you are thus aware of at least three eras in the past: the 1980s when the series was filmed, the 1960s when the action takes place, and perhaps the pre-World-War-I era when Miss Marple remembers her first visit there. Very amusing!

Ultimately, Miss Marple realizes that the retro atmosphere is faked, like a magician’s misdirection, concealing a deep criminal plot, and also becoming the scene of a crime of passion. She helps two police detectives to bring the criminal gang to justice, and solves the other mystery as well, ending with the statement:

“I learned what I suppose I really knew already — that one can never go back, that one should not ever try to go back—that the essence of life is going forward. Life is really a one way street, isn’t it?”

This week we also watched two other dramatizations of Miss Marple novels, both with Joan Hickson.

I also read one volume of an Elly Griffiths series,
The Vanishing Box It’s not as good as her Ruth Galloway books.

It’s definitely been a week of mysteries!

Winter is back. Poor daffodils!

Blog post © 2024 mae sander


Friday, March 22, 2024

Street Art in Detroit

Last weekend after visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts, we stopped to look at several murals as we were driving towards the freeway to return home to Ann Arbor. This neighborhood near Trumbull Avenue appears to be undergoing quite a lot of rebuilding and rehab. Some of the older murals have been covered up by newer structures built in front of them. Generally, though, the murals seem to have been respected as art works, and they show very few defacing graffiti. I do not have any information about the murals I photographed, but here they are.

"Francios" by Chelsea Overton.

Blog post and all photos © 2024 mae sander
Shared with Eileen’s Saturday Critters and Sami’s Monday Murals

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The Japanese Sherlock Holmes: Inspector Hanshichi

“But in retrospect, I realize that this piece of detective work was mere child’s play for Hanshichi. There are many more adventures of his that would astound and amaze people, for he was an unsung Sherlock Holmes of the Edo era.” (From “The Ghost of Ofumi” in The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi)
Edo-era Samurai armor from the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

This suit of armor and matching helmet were made for a samurai in the 19th century by the workshop of Mitsusada. Until 1869, the samurai had very special privileges under the rule of the Shogun, although by this time, the samurai no longer went into battle. Rather, they wore their elaborate armor on ceremonial occasions.  

Samurai families from that era are featured in the early twentieth century stories that appear in  The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi by Okamoto Kido. Although Kido (1872-1939) wrote these stories between 1917 and 1937, his fictional detective, Inspector Hanshichi, was active before the end of the Shogun era in 1869: each story specifies the year when it took place. This novel combines very ingenious detective fiction with fascinating detail about the life of people in several classes, including the samurai, in several neighborhoods of the city of Edo (modern Tokyo). 

The English translation of these selected stories dates to 2006.

These masterpieces of clever detecting are extremely delightful to read, and I like them for various reasons: 
  • The mysteries in each tale are very inventive, and the character Hanshichi is very clever at solving them. He’s also modest in telling the narrator about them when they get together many years later.
  • The author has adapted the conventions of Western detective stories in his time to the earlier era in Japan. Some of his stories repurpose plot elements of his sources in interesting ways — for example, in one story, the culprit is a monkey, clearly a reference to Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
  • The stories are intentionally crafted to convey what life was like in Edo/Tokyo before the Meiji restoration of the Emperor. The author carefully highlights many details of family relationships, how women were treated and viewed, how police work was done, what people ate and wore, and how the society was very unequal, with the Samurai and nobles having many privileges not extended to commoners. 
  • The author is meticulous at showing the lives of murder victims, witnesses, bystanders, detectives, and criminals.
The result is a collection of stories that are very readable for a modern reader, but also offer a fascinating look at an obscure historical era.

Locations in old Edo/Tokyo Play a Large Role in the Tales

Each tale is set in a particular area of the old city of Edo, which was renamed Tokyo when the Emperor was restored to power in 1869. The author wants the reader to be aware of the characteristics of the city long before he was writing. Society and government had already been greatly altered by the early 20th century when the author was writing. There were several subsequent causes of change, including a great earthquake and fire in 1923, the devastation of World War II, and repeated modernizations. For a reader in 2024, the author’s vivid portrayal of the 1850s and 1860s is thus fascinating.

Quite a few of the places mentioned remain very famous, if different. One example of a place featured in the stories is the area around the Asakusa temple complex, which is still  today maintained in traditional form. Another example is the area near the shogun’s palace, where nobles were allowed to live in large compounds with extended families and many servants; as far as I know, nothing remains of this aristocratic compound in twenty-first century Tokyo, though the current Emperor still lives in this palace. A third example is the area near the Sumida River; while the river remains, I believe the area to now be totally different.

The Sumida River, as depicted in this print by the artist Houkusai (1760-1849) is often mentioned in the stories.
For example: “A gray mist hung over the waters of the Sumida River, and far downstream the pale light reflected from
their surface heightened the feeling of cold.”

A bridge on the Sumida River from our trip to Tokyo in 2011.
There are many mentions of the bridges in the detective stories: obviously it’s changed vastly.

A description of the river from the story “The Mansion of Morning Glories” —

“The winter night had still not ended when the trio crossed Suido Bridge. As though frozen in place, a solitary pale star twinkled among the upper branches of a dark pine. Enveloped in a grayish mist, the surface of the river flowing from Ochanomizu reflected not a glimmer of light. The frost seemed to be especially thick in that spot, lying like a blanket of snow over the withered reeds growing along the high riverbank. From somewhere they heard the mournful cry of a fox.”

Food in the Tales

Let me just show you a few descriptions of the food that Inspector Hanshichi eats during the course of investigating some of the mysteries.

“It was the time of year when baked sweet potato vendors set up their stalls at night, hanging out lanterns that glowed in the darkness and were inscribed with the words, in big, fat brushstrokes: ‘As sweet as roasted chestnuts.’” (from “The Mystery of the Fire Bell”)

“The day before yesterday, at lunchtime, Otoku had ordered one serving of weatherfish cooked in a pot from the local eel restaurant, and yesterday she’d asked the fishmonger to prepare sashimi.” (from “The Haunted Sash Pond”)

“He found the bar the guard had mentioned and peeked in through the entranceway. He saw a young man in the garb of a house servant nibbling on a dish of spicy peppers and sipping with obvious pleasure from a square wooden cup of saké.” (from “The Mansion of Morning Glories”)

The Samurai

To end this review, I’ve collected  a few quotes about the varied circumstances of samurai and their privileges. These are long, but very interesting, I think:

“Uncle K’s house lay inside the gate of an old daimyo estate, and long ago it must have been the residence of a senior retainer, steward, or some other high-ranking samurai. At any rate, it was a free-standing house with a small garden attached, surrounded by a roughly woven bamboo fence.” (from “The Ghost of Ofumi”)

“Now during the Edo period the second and third sons of samurai — even samurai of the highest rank who served the shogun — were, generally speaking, idle loafers with no responsibilities. An eldest son, of course, had the duty of succeeding his father as head of the family, but younger sons had virtually no prospects in the world, save for two: either to receive a special appointment from the shogun in recognition of some extraordinary talent or to be adopted into another family. Most simply lived under their elder brothers’ roofs, passing the time without any work worthy of a full-fledged samurai.” (from “ The Ghost of Ofumi”)

“Usually, anything that occurred within a samurai’s household would be settled in private, but in this case, Kuronuma decided to announce the incident publicly and seek the assistance of the city authorities in resolving the matter.” (from “Hiroshige and the River Otter”)

“One was not considered a full-fledged samurai until one had demonstrated the ability to read through the texts without stumbling over the words. Samurai families were grouped according to rank, and one month before the exam an application had to be submitted to the head of one’s group, whereupon a notice would be sent out telling the child to appear at the school by nine o’clock on the morning of the day. Each year there would be anywhere from a couple of dozen to as many as several hundred boys taking the exam. On the appointed day, the boys would arrive at the South Hall of the school, where one by one they would be called before the board of examiners, headed by Chief Scholar Lord Hayashi. There they would sit at a long, Chinese-style desk and be asked to read passages from the classics. The highest-scoring pupils received prizes of silver bars or bolts of cloth of a material befitting their rank.” (from “The Mansion of Morning Glories”) 

Note that I could also collect quotes about the lives of common people, shopkeepers, and women of various classes, but this would make my long post even longer. 

My thanks to Emma of Words and Peace who found me this great author!

Blog post © 2024 mae sander