Corn Maiden, Gummy Man, Swpeepish Chef: AVAM Encounters Food, and It Is Us

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, Director of the American Visionary Art Museum, is energized: “This is our first major show with all our artists still alive,” she explained, and many of them were having a good time schmoozing with each other, there for the opening weekend.  They came from as far away as Cuba, and as close as Fells Point.

The AVAM is a mother lode of whimsy in the heart of Baltimore.  Its contents are the physical embodiment of the Ig Nobel Awards’ motto: to “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The exhibit is organized into serious categories: Food and Climate, Food as a Weapon of War, Fat – and then each section is filled with surprise and delight.

At the media preview tour of Yummm! The History, Fantasy and Future of Food, I learned something right away – that the cutouts at the corners of signs for restaurants, that have always seemed like just a nice decorative element, derive from the ancient practice of leaving the corners of fields unharvested for the benefit of poor gleaners.

The Yummm Sign and Rebecca Alban Hoffberger

The Yummm Sign and Rebecca Alban Hoffberger

Lunchboxes and PostSecrets

Lunchboxes and Posted Post Secrets

Then along the hallway, vintage lunchboxes were mounted over a display of Post Secrets, leading up to one of the exhibit’s showstoppers.

Wendy and Her Wonderful Mandala

Wendy and Her Wonderful Mandala

More Wendy, Less Mandala

More Wendy, Less Mandala

Wendy Brackman’s Brackman’s Botanical Bonanza!  is a wall-filling, revolving mandala made from paper plates.  Wendy was there to explain how she developed her craft making paper-plate art for parties.  Like many visionary artists, she was unsure that what she does can be considered worthy of a museum, but Rebecca assured her that “at AVAM you are an artist!”  I don’t think anyone would disagree.

In discussing Judy Tallwing’s painting of the Corn Maiden, a goddess revered throughout the Southwest for giving the people a staple of their diet, Rebecca described how art can be at the forefront of environmental activism.  A previous painting of Judy’s helped stop a pipeline through pristine rain forest.  And, speaking of corn, Americans now have more corn in their hair, by chemical analysis, than Mexicans.  Corn and corn products are ubiquitous in our diet.

Judy Tallwing's Corn Maiden

Judy Tallwing’s Corn Maiden

Bobby Adams spoke about his small constructions focusing on the male body image.  He has had a long struggle with obesity, and relates that to American diet.  The museum is showing Sugarman, a film he made with Steve Parker, adapted from Bobby’s essay on the insidious role of added sugar.

Bobby Adams Explains His Art

Bobby Adams Explains His Art

The walls of the exhibit are decorated with food-related aphorisms.  I think this one is my favorite:

Miss Piggy's Wisdom

Miss Piggy’s Wisdom

There were several large-scale works.  The seven-foot-tall Swpeepish Chef, artist Christian Twamley explained, was made with four thousand Peeps for the Carroll County Arts Center’s Easter Peep Show.  Camilla the chicken approved.

Twamley, Camilla, Swpeepish Chef

Twamley, Camilla, Swpeepish Chef

Book-ending the large room, and creepily echoing the Chef, a life-size sculpture of Wayne Coyne, of the psychedelic rock band Flaming Lips, loomed menacingly from his Plexiglas bubble.  A bilious green, he was as scary as the chef was comforting, and made entirely of Gummy candy.

Co-Curator John Lewis and the Gummy Man

Co-Curator John Lewis and the Gummy Guy

It’s possible that Rebecca had some second thoughts about having the artists along on the tour when Jerry Beck gave us fifteen minutes of stand-up comedy/description of his work bringing art to inner-city kids through bread-related works.  By the time we reluctantly had to move on from the 2016 Community Bread Art Wall Project, we had heard many stories about his life, art and family.  My favorite was his Nana winning the Miami Jewish Museum’s Yeast of Eden contest with a six-foot chopped-liver alligator.

It's a Bready Question

It’s a Bready Question (Jerry’s in the Hat)

So many artworks!  And only one which admittedly made my gorge rise, if only just a little: a video of a man knitting meat.  Knitted Steak is just what it sounds like, for 34 seconds.  Is it because of a juxtaposition of unexpected elements?  Like Lady Gaga’s meat dress, it provokes discomfort by flauting convention.

Meat Knit

Meat Knit

We joined some of the artists and docents for lunch upstairs in the museum restaurant, Encantada.  I had an overwhelmingly large portabella on a bun (I had to use a knife and fork, it was too big and messy to pick up), with irresistible sweet potato fries.  Afterwards, they kindly opened the terrace so we could get a close-up look at the giant whirligig in the courtyard.

Sweet Potato Fries, Lower Left

Sweet Potato Fries, Lower Left

Patty and Joe Bello with Whirligig

Patty and Joe Bello with Whirligig

The exhibit is open until September 3, 2017.  There is a wonderful accompanying catalog produced by Matt Craft.  Go see it, and be provoked, amused, and sated.

 

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It’s Greek to Me (In a Good Way): A Taste of Greece and The Greeks Exhibit at the National Geographic Museum

The National Geographic Society is eclectic in its areas of expertise: photography, geography, exploration, science…they demonstrated their mastery of meteorology by having an outdoor event showcasing the Greek food of the Washington area on the least humid and most zephyric evening of July.  It was one of many events around the Nat Geo’s major attraction of the summer, the Greeks Exhibit.

A Line of Food Booths

A Line of Food Booths

View from the Stairs

View from the Stairs

Reflecting Rocks

Reflecting Rocks

More Reflecting

More Reflecting

The courtyard of the Museum was filled with booths dispensing food and drink, and people consuming same.  The street entrance was guarded by a huge wooden structure with a horse’s head and tail attached – just in case you had any question about what might be found inside!  The horse was unimaginatively named Troy, but this was not the fault of Nat Geo.  The structure was built to frame the subway stop exit near the Field Museum in Chicago.  It was shipped here along with the exhibit.

Troy, The 19-Foot Horse

Troy, the 19-Foot Horse

View Through the Other End

View Through the Other End

About two dozen booths were offering little bites of one or two courses.  As mezze is a big section of most Greek restaurant’s menus, this was right up in their wheelhouse.  I managed to taste the offerings of each booth, and then waddled into the museum to marvel at the exhibit.

And since any event these days is tragically unhip without a signature cocktail, Radiator was mixing up a libation called Persephone’s Return, which of course included pomegranate juice.

Mixing Drinks

Mixing Drinks

The Drinks Were Pretty, Too

The Drinks Were Pretty, Too

And there were two nymphs in service to Bacchus dispensing Blue Valley Vineyard wine.  They had matching circlets, very fetching.

Theresa and Shannon, the Nymphs

Theresa and Shannon, the Nymphs

Zaytinya, one of Jose Andres’ restaurants, offered dolmades and apricots with Greek yogurt.

Zaytinya Booth

Zaytinya Booth

At Mykonos, it was a family affair.

Mykonos Mom

Mykonos Mom

But the best dish, in my totally subjective opinion, was the octopus at Kellari Taverna.

Kellari's Octopus

Kellari’s Octopus

Octopus and Cookies at Kellari

Octopus, Cheese and Cookies at Kellari

The exhibit covers artifacts from the Neolithic to Alexander the Great – 5,000 years of history.  There were many food-related artifacts, both ceremonial and functional.  An amphora of the type that would be filled with olive oil and awarded to winners in the Panathenaic Games in Athens was placed next to an interactive part of the exhibit – one could practice scraping oneself with a replica strigil, as athletes did.

The Amphora is on the Left

The Amphora is on the Left

There was a wonderful silver drinking cup with the head of Silenus, foster father of Bacchus, inside.  Maybe related to those nymphs in the courtyard?

Surprise!

Surprise!

Exiting through the gift shop, I noticed a whole fixture full of food and cookbooks for sale.

Maybe Some Honey, or Olive Oil?

Maybe Some Honey, or Olive Oil?

The exhibit closes October 10.  Go see it!  Even without an appropriate feast beforehand, it is totally worth it.

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The Weekend of the Books: Two Festivals, Too Much

What genius decided that the National Book Festival would take place on the same weekend as the Baltimore Book Festival???  Friday’s heat and Saturday’s concrete floors darn near did me in, even as I limited my attendance in Baltimore to Friday (the first day of the three day festival).

But good news lurks on the horizon, for it was announced that next year’s NBF will be returning to the first weekend in September, where it belongs, whereas the BBF will remain on the fourth.  Hurrah!

Now that the rant is out of the way, I can report that both festivals were a real treat for anyone who never has enough bookcases (guilty).  I did, however, notice a reduction in food-focused books in Baltimore.  On Friday, the demos were sponsored by the Royal Sonesta Hotel and several Baltimore area breweries – with no mention of books at all!  On the other two days, the Food for Thought Stage held a mix of cookbook authors, nonbook-related events, and a panel on sustainable seafood followed by an oyster-shucking and tasting.  Oh, how it hurt to miss that!

But I can’t really complain about the demo by Chef Lloyd Titus, Executive Chef of the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Hotel, and his sous.  Although he’s only recently arrived in Baltimore, he’s already bought into the mystique of Old Bay.  The samples of Maryland Bouillabaisse and Charm City Chocolate Smashed Potato Cake were generous and delicious.

Chef Lloyd Titus Cooks

Chef Lloyd Titus Cooks With Old Bay

Come and Get It!

Come and Get It!

Seafood Sample

Seafood Sample

Dessert Sample

Dessert Sample

The audience was encouraged to line up for the food.  Chef Lloyd had a good word for everyone.  May his restaurant tenure be as successful as his demo was auspicious!

The bulk of the afternoon was occupied by Chef Egg, who cooked many dishes, all using a different local beer as a featured ingredient.  A professional chef who has turned to culinary education through classes and video, Chef Egg maintained a high energy level through several hours of cooking and audience interaction.  Fun, and tasty.

Chef Egg and a Big Green (Avocado) Egg

Chef Egg and a Big Green (Avocado) Egg

Chili Beef with Beer

Chili Beef with Beer

It was a lovely afternoon of cooking, but I wish there were more attention paid to books at what was, after all, a Book Festival.

Down at the Washington Convention Center, there were big-name authors, lots of media, several football fields worth of exhibit hall, and many rooms full of authors speaking to enthusiastic fans.  I had neglected to request a ticket for Stephen King, but caught a few minutes of his talk on the video projected throughout the venue.  A nice touch!

But I did get in to see Sarah Vowell.  She isn’t particularly food-oriented (despite having written a book called Take the Cannoli), but I enjoyed her radio appearances on This American Life and keep meaning to read some of her history books.  I had no idea she was so popular that she could fill the smaller ballroom (the one right next door to Mr. King’s).

Big Hall with Sarah Vowell In It

Big Hall with Sarah Vowell In It

And Mary Roach, also somewhat peripheral to cooking but not to viscera, discussed her new book, Grunt.  She loves to talk about the most disgusting of subjects with great gusto.  She refers to possible topics for research as those which might be “Roached.”  I was hoping someone would ask about the relationship of her name to her passion for stomach-turning subjects, but no.

Mary Roach, Interviewed by Tim Smith

Mary Roach, Interviewed by Tim Smith

Over in the Food and Home Room, Adam Gopnick, whom I had known previously only by reputation, impressed me so mightily that I went down to the bookstore in the cavernous depths of the exhibit hall and bought his book.  He discoursed on preference for rare vs. well-done meat and its impact on marriages (and specifically, his).  “When you meet a person who prefers well-done steak, you assume it’s a joke.”  And his wife did so prefer.  They resolve the problem by switching, at home, from sauté to braise; in restaurants, his wife now orders “medium.”

Segueing from the personal to the general, he discussed food having great importance for the continuity of civilization; the ethical responsibility of whole-animal eating; the invention of the restaurant; and finally revealed that the secret of life is in the book.  I can’t hardly wait to read it! (The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food)

Adam Gopnick Discoursing

Adam Gopnick Discoursing

Deborah Holtz spoke charmingly about her book, Tacopedia.  But first, she offered a political statement: Donald Trump does not know what a taco is!  (Personally, I feel that a taco truck on every corner would be a distinct improvement of many corners.)  She then treated us to a lesson in the history and manufacture of tacos, with a side of salsa and guacamole.  She comes down firmly on the “no peas” side of the guac controversy.  Take that, New York Times!

She included a scary slide of insect tacos.  This doesn’t faze me; I have already indulged in entomophagy.  Probably Mary Roach has written about it.

Deborah Holtz, Taco Maven

Deborah Holtz, Taco Maven

Open Wide!

Open Wide!

I took a brief tour of the Pavilion of the States.  This is an area in the exhibit hall filled with booths, staffed by cheerful denizens of this great nation, determined to show festival goers that culture exists even in the most far-flung provinces.  They are usually showing off their local authors, libraries, and other literary trappings.

And so it was with New Mexico.  And to attract the kiddies? Alien-head deely boppers.  Remember them?

And What Is A lien?

And What Is A lien?

 

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Return to Armenia: The Soorp Khatch Armenian Church Food Festival

Last year in December, we dropped by the Soorp Khatch Armenian Dessert Festival.  There will be another of those later this year, but meanwhile, this very weekend they are hosting “A Taste of Armenia,” which includes food you can eat before the sweet indulgences of the pastry table, with some candy and canned goods thrown in for fun.

Magic Meringue Mushrooms

Magic Meringue Mushrooms

There is a choice of three special plates of kebobs with pilaf, salad and bread, but we found that the more interesting choices lurked among the a la carte offerings.  I assembled a lunch of four side dishes, and found them more than satisfying.  A bar with beer and Armenian wine on offer rounded out the festive offerings.

Helpfully Labeled Side Dish Display

Helpfully Labeled Side Dish Display

Beef Shish Kebob Plate

Beef Shish Kebob Plate

My Side Dish Choices

My Side Dish Choices

Cheese filo boreg, imam bayeldi (baked eggplant), lahmajun (spiced meat spread on flatbread), and sarma/yalanchi (stuffed grape leaves) were all delicious.  Armenian coffee with our dessert of kedayif (shredded filo [phyllo] stuffed with cheese and nuts) and a baton sale each (a specialty of the Lebanese Armenians) guaranteed that we would not be hungry again for quite awhile.

Dessert and Coffee

Dessert and Coffee

The scene in the hall for lunch was lively, but nothing compared to dinner service on the weekend – at least according to my informant, Irene, who brought our coffee (made to order).  We had come on the first day (Thursday) because this weekend is overflowing with other events.  Unfortunately, that meant we did not get to see the added attractions promised for the weekend, a merchant’s mall and arts and crafts among them.

Irene with Coffee

Irene with Coffee

The Scene in the Hall

The Scene in the Hall

But there were Attic Treasures in the main hall, and among them I found an old chef friend, Maro Nalabandian.  She has been away for a year, but is back in the area.  What a nice surprise!

Shakeh and Malo and Attic Treasures

Shakeh and Malo and Attic Treasures

The festival runs until 9 p.m. today (Thursday), from 12 to 9 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.  Go and eat!

 

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Playing Hooky Results in Celebrity Sighting

Last Sunday, I sneaked out of school and visited another farmers market.  I know, egregious, right?  That’s what it felt like!  But I had a good reason, and there was no chef demo to shepherd at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market (OFAM), so I didn’t feel so horribly guilty as I might have.

We ankled down to Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market to support some fellow Culinary Historians of Washington (CHoW) members, who presented a program similar to the two enjoyed by OFAM patrons earlier in the season. Beverly Firme, the mastermind behind “CHoW Goes to Market,” envisions it as outreach, to connect with possible new members, and spread insights into historical origins of our foodways.  And because, delicious.

And as none of us are bone-weary of politics yet this year, she decided that the theme would be Election Food.  Yes, this is, and more importantly, has been, a thing, and for quite a long time, in this great country of ours.  CHoW member Shirley Cherkasky’s collection of political fundraising cookbooks enabled Beverly to assemble recipes from different eras and political perspectives. (See the CHoW website, where they are posted along with much more information about the organization.)

There is, for instance, Election Night Fruit Cake from Ruth Finney, of the Scripps-Howard Newspaper Alliance, published in the National Press Club’s Second Helpings in 1962.  “…on election day before the polls close, I find there is a big vacuum.  The job of preparing and mixing the ingredients for this fussy cake is a good way to fill it.”  You know that’s historical, because so totally obsolete.

From The Gray Panthers Cookbook  (1984), comes Banana Sweet Potato Bread.  I remember the Gray Panthers, an advocacy organization that confronts ageism and other social justice issues, from when it was founded in 1970.  I didn’t think I would fit the membership profile then, but I do now!  Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that the Gray Panthers are still going strong today.

Reaching a little further back in history, and attempting to be politically nonjudgmental, Citizens for McCarthy (published in 1948 so you know it’s not Eugene they mean) is the source for The Vote Getters Coffee Cake.  Balancing the demagoguery is a recipe from Eleanor Roosevelt in The Val-Kill Cookbook (1984) for Pear Bread.

Beverly, Laura Roler, and Mark Collins demonstrated mixing the Banana Sweet Potato Bread and Pear Bread while keeping the audience entertained with historic anecdotes, then passed out samples.

Mark, Beverly and Laura Demo at Dupont Circle

Mark, Beverly and Laura Demo at Dupont Circle

The Audience Gathers Around

The Audience Gathers Around

chow-members-mark-collins-beverly-firme-and-laura-roler-demonstrate-historic-recipes-at-dupont-circle-farmers-market

Delicious Little Bites

Then, as the demo was wrapping up, there was Chef Jose Andres, shopping for his family.  Guess what?  He has an interest in historic cookbooks, and even owns a copy of the second edition of Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-Wife (1824).  We chatted happily for several minutes, then he graciously posed for a picture with all of us.

CHoW Members, Chef Jose, and Chef's Daughter Ines

CHoW Members, Chef Jose, and Chef’s Daughter Ines

All in all, a highly satisfactory day.  Dupont Circle, the biggest and busiest market in these parts, is certainly exciting to visit, but I prefer the more relaxed vibe of Olney.  If that sounds like what the rubes say about New York City, then so be it!

 

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Review: Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens by Pati Jinich

Bless Pati’s heart.  She’s a wonderful cook and teacher, and her winsome personality shines in conversation and on the small screen.  However, the design of her latest cookbook is maddening.  Let me explain.

There are the expected beautiful pictures of food in the current informal, slightly messy food styling mode.  There are engaging descriptions and reminiscences for most dishes, which make this an intensely personal and engaging cookbook.  There are recipes that sound so good you want to rush right out, buy the ingredients, and cook them (providing you have access to a good mercado).  There are many informative asides  – and that’s where one of the problems crops up.

The “Cook’s Tips” and other little teaching moments, as well as many chapter introductions, are negative-printed on dark backgrounds with white type.  Many use a very small typeface.  Now, I may be showing my age here, but I find these very hard to read.  And another thing: many recipes are continued on overleaf pages, so the cook has to flip the page mid-process to continue following the recipe.  All of them could have been avoided with some thoughtful layout design.

But enough complaining.  How do the recipes cook?  Very well, actually, clear and precise, and the ones I tried, delicious.  Pati’s version of the common Mexican street food Esquites (Simmered Shaved Corn with Chiles and Epazote) is not only easy and delicious, but gave me a chance to use my backyard epazote in something other than bean and egg dishes.  It’s so good, it has already become a staple way to cook fresh corn in my repertoire.

Her chapter introduction story on tacos (fortunately printed in black on a light grey background) inspired me to fill warm corn tortillas with sliced avocados and avocado honey (which I happened to bring back as a souvenir from a trip to San Diego).  The orchard ambiance, alas, was unavailable; imagination had to substitute picnic tables for my kitchen furniture.  Even so, they were delicious with the Esquites.

Esquites and Avocado Tacos

Esquites and Avocado Tacos

The Open-Faced Mexican Gravlax Sandwiches (Sandwiches Abiertos con Gravlax Estilo Mexicano) appealed to me as a new twist on a personal favorite.  I make gravlax as often as I can find salmon fillet at a reasonable price, so Pati’s spicing and sugar substitutions were intriguing.  (But another annoying quirk surfaced: the prep time of 15 minutes could be accomplished only with the piloncillo already grated, the cilantro chopped, the cumin ground, the lime zested and squeezed, the salmon scaled and de-pin-boned, and the avocado chopped.  Those of us without at least a sous chef will have to budget a little longer!)

But they were delicious.  The gravlax seemed a little salty when sampled after it emerged from the brine, but in combination with the avocado crema and dark bread, it was sublime.  Another keeper – if only I could get someone to grate that piloncillo for me!

Gravlax Sandwiches

Gravlax Sandwiches

I had a chance to sample the Morelia-Style Savory Fruit Salad (Gazpacho Moreliano), another popular Mexican dish, during the event at WAMU in June, so I know that recipe is also a winner.  I look forward to exploring this book further.  I just wish my eyesight was a little better!

Pati Jinich, Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, New York, 2016.

 

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Faces Made For Radio: In the Studio Audience at The Kojo Show

I was, as usual, listening with half an ear to the house ads and teasers on WAMU-FM, when I sat right up: there was an announcement of the chance to be in the audience for a live broadcast of Kojo Nnamdi’s Wednesday food show, when his guest would be Pati Jinich.  And more – Pati would do a demo just before the show.  Needless to say, I signed right up.

We arrived at the new WAMU headquarters on Connecticut Avenue on a beautiful day at the end of June.  The waiting room was already full of fellow Kojo fans.  This would be the first live studio-audience show from their basement broadcasting theater.  We were led downstairs to the bright, cheery space fitted with a demonstration kitchen, set with cafe tables and decorated with Mexican paper flowers and garlands.

The staff seemed as excited as the audience.  WAMU’s general manager, J.J. Yore, was there, and the local host, Matt McCleskey, served as foil for Pati as she prepared a dish from her new cookbook.  Gazpacho Moreliano, or Morelia-Style Savory Fruit Salad, she explained, is not Spanish-style gazpacho, and many restaurants in Morelia (in Michoacán state) claim to have the original recipe.  It includes cotija cheese, onions and chile along with mixed fruit and jicama.  It sounds a little improbable, but is delicious.  Pati mentioned that it could be made with other white cheese, but she prefers cotija for its “barnyardy” taste.

Pati and Matt At the Demo Kitchen

Pati and Matt At the Demo Kitchen

Move Over Jicama!

Move Over Jicama!

Pati's Audience

Pati’s Audience

Station interns passed out samples, and Pati took questions.  Then it was time to file into the studio for the broadcast.  And there was a surprise – Kojo and Pati were joined, not just by Mariano Ramos, chef and instructor at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, but by Paula Johnson, curator of the FOOD Exhibit at the National Museum of American History.

Kojo, Pati, Mariano, Paula

Kojo, Pati, Mariano, Paula

During the show, Pati told tales of food in her life, including the time she got weepy over a Mexican hot dog, her first after twenty years away.  She was filming for her TV show.  The powerful emotional impact of food!

Chef Mariano pointed out that humans are the only animal who uses heat to cook food.  Kojo asked each of them what is their favorite kitchen tool?  Mariano loves his blow torch (there’s a theme here).  Pati prefers her blender.  Paula, joining for the last segment, described how the NMAH exhibit traced the history of Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex cuisines.  The topic of tortillas came up.  In answer to the question, “What can you eat on a tortilla?” Pati replied, “You can taco anything!”  And that was the last word.

After the show, there were door prizes.  I didn’t win, but I did get Pati to sign my copy of her new book, Mexican Today.  I’ll be reviewing it here soon.

Mexican Today

Mexican Today

J.J. Yore Gives Out Door Prizes

J.J. Yore Gives Out Door Prizes

Pati Signs Her Book

Pati Signs Her Book

Only Crumbs Left on the Tabletop

Only Crumbs Left on the Tabletop

After the program, we needed lunch.  We didn’t have to go far; there were several food trucks lined up across the street.  A Jamaican truck had an oxtail platter special.  One to split between the two of us, a Jamaican ginger beer, and a picnic table in Rock Creek Park – a perfect coda to a foodie morning.

Oxtail Alfresco

Oxtail Alfresco

 

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Conserver of a Great Tradition – Review: Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields

Have you ever picked up one of those spiral-bound cookbooks published by a community group, expecting to find it full of recipes redolent of the culture or region of its origin, only to discover it contains only a single section of “specialties,” with most of the book padded out with generic stuff?  Me, too.  This book is the antithesis of that.

The 25th Anniversary Edition of Chesapeake Bay Cooking marks the culmination of John Shields’ career as proponent and practitioner of the cuisine of the mid-Atlantic region.  From Baltimore to Virginia, the domination of the great Bay is recognized as the major influence on the ingredients, with the mix of immigrant cultures, history, and personalities contributing to a unique way of life that was disappearing even as the first edition was published.  Now, when one reads about the great shad runs of the past, or the many tons of oysters pulled from the Bay each year, or the skipjack fleet, or the crab-picking houses that were the life-blood of small towns lining the Eastern Shore, the feeling of regret for the feckless exploitative  profligacy is almost overwhelming.

But this is not John Shields’ brief.  His tone is not elegiac but celebratory.  He has not updated the book to be a wake for what is lost, but continues to rejoice in what remains.  Many recipes are prefaced by an attribution to one local character or another, interspersed with vignettes of people and places, all told in the folksy, down-home voice that he comes by honestly, as a local boy.

And speaking of Baltimore, the crab section (the very first and largest in the book, a full 51 out of 325 pages) includes a contribution by Senator Barbara Mikulski, “Senator Barb’s Spicy Bay Crab Cakes.” She is described as “an east Baltimore gal through and through.”  I wonder if she would be flattered?

The recipes are easy to follow, well-written (with the caveat that a few run to the overleaf), and not at all “cheffy” (even those contributed by professional chefs).  They are written in the direct style one imagines the contributors used as Chef John collected them.  Many have the patina of age, an air of having been proven by generations of watermen and their wives.

There are also new ones added for the 25th Edition, such as Neopol Smoked Rockfish Chowder, from the Neopol Savory Smokery in Baltimore (their smoked garlic is addictive).  Recipes from the German community add diversity, and an authentic recipe for Brunswick Stew includes squirrel meat.

I can vouch for the delectability of “Miss Lorraine’s Barbecued Chicken” and “Smoked Country Ham and Blue Cheese Pie,” although I substituted generic ham for the hickory-cured ham called for.  Don’t attempt to count the calories in this one!

I also had the chance to taste two other dishes from the book, thanks to Chef John’s appearances at the Gaithersburg Book Festival and the Farmers Market at River Hill.  Crab Soup (there are two of them in the book, but I think it was the one attributed to the Cross Street Market) and Back Creek Inn’s Crab Quiche were both worthy of their sapidus ingredients.

Chef John Signs A Previous Edition For A Fan At River Hill

Chef John Signs A Previous Edition For A Fan At River Hill

The Demo Quiche

The Demo Quiche

Chef John Cooks In Gaithersburg

Chef John Cooks In Gaithersburg

John Shields, Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields, 25th Anniversary Edition,  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.

 

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History and HerStory: Legal Eats: Food and the Culture of the U.S. Supreme Court

What would you like to know about the eating habits of the Supreme Court? A peek behind the bench was revealed earlier this month when the Smithsonian Food History Program collaborated with the Supreme Court Historical Society to present a panel on that topic at the National Museum of American History.  The two bona fide historians were beside the point – everybody was there to be in the same room as the two Justices.  For a foodie in this town, it was thrilling.

These Are the Justices You're Looking For

These Are the Justices You’re Looking For

L to R: John Gray, Clare Cushman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Catherine Fitts

L to R: John Gray, Clare Cushman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Catherine Fitts

Secretary Skorton

Secretary Skorton

The program was introduced by David J. Skorton, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, and John L. Gray, the NMAH Director.  Appropriate for the level of company!  On stage along with the Justices were Catherine E. Fitts, the Curator of the Supreme Court, and Clare Cushman, Director of Publications of the Supreme Court Historical Society.

It transpired that Justice Ginsburg had made a study of Supreme Court history.  In addition, her late husband, Martin, was a consummate cook.  The SCHS has published a collection of his recipes as a tribute.  Justice Sotomayor?  “I love food!”  We have something in common there!

Among the interesting historical facts: Justice John Marshall’s court lived and dined together in a boardinghouse – sometimes alone, sometimes with the other boarders.  At the time, the Court’s normal practice was to issue unanimous opinions.  That broke down when the Justices moved out of the boardinghouse.

In those early days, the rule was to drink only “when it’s raining or for medicinal purposes” – but, as Justice Ginsburg said, “Somewhere in the world, it’s raining!” Justice Marshall and Thomas Jefferson were both partial to Madeira.

Until Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Court building had a Ladies Dining Room for spouses.  It has been renamed.  Here’s the funniest historic tidbit: sometimes during oral arguments, the Justices would slip behind a partition and eat lunch, while the proceedings continued.  When, in 1898, a Champagne cork sailed over the partition, the Court initiated a lunch break for all.

The audience listened politely to the history discussion, but really appreciated the nuggets of personal and current information revealed by the Supremes.  Justice Sotomayor’s clerks have an “other duty as assigned” – to scout out restaurants she might like.  She brings candy back from trips, even though she’s diabetic and can’t eat it.  Why?  It attracts people to come and talk.

The Chief Justice will bring a bottle of wine for a toast on each Justice’s birthday.  There are formal dinners for each Justice’s appointment and retirement.  The Justices often eat lunch together, and the topics of conversation do not include current cases.  They have guests: Heads of State, Justices from the EU and the Court of Human Rights, other high-level personages.  Alan Greenspan and James Wolfensohn are both favored guests.  Why?  They can both eat and speak at the same time.

Justice Ginsburg does not cook.  Her daughter fills her freezer with lunches for her.  Justice Sotomayor wants something different every day.  Salads, sushi, Indian carryout, sandwiches.  “Eating is sacred.” A woman after my own heart.

Tales out of school: Justice John Paul Stevens had a cheese sandwich every day, with the crusts cut off.  Justice David Souter ate nothing but plain yoghurt for lunch.  You should have seen the look on Justice Ginsberg’s face at that!  “And sometimes an apple later!”

Justice Sotomayor, by her own admission, is not a bad cook, but not of Puerto Rican food, because her mother and grandmother were such good ones.

One More - Because, Why Not?

One More – Because, Why Not?

And the last question (though not, alas, from the audience; that might have been too undignified): who would you most like to have lunch with, living or dead? Justice Ginsburg: John Marshall.  Justice Sotomayor: also John Marshall, and Thurgood Marshall, “who never told the same story twice.”

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Cuisine and Coincidence at the Embassy Chef Challenge 2016

Where can one find tastes of eighteen countries’ best dishes in one impressive light-filled atrium?   At the Embassy Chef Challenge, an annual event sponsored by Events DC and Cultural Tourism DC, the folks who bring you the Embassy Open Houses every year.  If you are tired of hearing me declare that there are events that could only happen in Washington, DC, then skip to the next paragraph now – because this is yet another example of the genre.

The event is always a visual feast.  The Ronald Reagan Building’s atrium space  was filled with colorful displays from each country, interesting people, and some appropriately international entertainment.

The Way In

The Way In

Selfies Abound

Selfies Abound

Marilyn!

Marilyn!

A Shot From The Stairway

A Shot From The Stairway

Posing In El Salvador

Posing At El Salvador

Of course, the food provided its own entertainment.

Czech Duck With Cherries

Czech Duck With Cranberry Sauce

Czech Wine

Czech Wine

Ecuador's Shrimp Ceviche Had My Vote

Ecuador’s Shrimp Ceviche Had My Vote

I remembered Chef Andrzej Bielach from 2014

I remembered Polish Chef Andrzej Bielach from 2014

The Uzbekistan Table Was A Work Of Art

The Uzbekistan Table Was A Work Of Art

And The Plov Was Delicious

And The Plov Was Delicious

There were drummers, dancers, then more dancers, then more dancers.

African Drummers

African Drummers

Chinese Dancers

Chinese Dancers

Brazilian Dancers

Brazilian Dancers

Panchamama Dancers

Pachamama Dancers

This is the eighth annual Chef Challenge.  New this year (at least to me, as I missed last year’s event), extra points were awarded for pairing drinks with the small bites.  Thus, the night’s two winners both had tasty alcoholic tipples to drink with their food – the Barbados chef, winner of the Judges’ Award, even managed to infuse rum into the Barbadian Seasoned Pork to go with the Tamarind Ginger Infused Rum Sour.

Barbados Chef Creig Greenidge Handing Out Pork

Barbados Chef Creig Greenidge Handing Out Pork

The People’s Choice Award was won by the Philippines’ Chef Claude Tayag with Bringhe (seafood rice), paired with a special cocktail by Enzo Lim.  And guess what?  The minimal description of bringhe neglected to mention the secret ingredient – it was topped with crab fat.  Dynamite.

Philippines Chef Claude Tayag

Philippines Chef Claude Tayag

Philippines Drink Display

Philippines Drink Display

Bartender Enzo Lim

Bartender Enzo Lim

And then there was the coincidence: one of the chefs at the Dominican Republic table looked familiar.  Sure enough, the two Compres brothers, with their mother, run Los Hermanos  restaurant in Columbia Heights.  I had been there in April with a group of adventurous eaters, enjoying their oxtail, among other authentic Dominican delights.  This place is an unpretentious hole-in-the-wall with delicious food served in generous portions.  What a nice surprise to see them serving their mofongo (plaintains with garlic and meat)!

Dominican Brothers

 The Compres Brothers

 

At the end of the night, all the chefs and judges posed for a group photo, and the winners of the Challenge were announced.   They were presented with Golden Pineapples.  The Ambassador of Barbados and his wife couldn’t have been more pleased and proud!

Chefs and Judges

Chefs and Judges

The Ambassador's Wife, Chef Creig Greenidge, the Ambassador,  H.E. Mr. John E. Beale

 Chef Creig with the Ambassador,  John E. Beale, and His Wife

Both Winning Chefs With Their Pineapples

Both Winning Chefs With Their Pineapples

Everyone else was happy, too.

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