Lights On In Baltimore: Food Lab@Light City 2017

Climbing the stairs to the second floor space of IMET Columbus Center, on a pier of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, I was worried that this event would be a generator of monotonous visuals – just one set of folks talking after another.  It was, after all, a conference about food in Baltimore, with a program of mostly panels full of knowledgeable but possibly not optically varied folks. Might it be like others I have attended: interesting in the moment, but hard to transform after the fact into an article full of pictorial interest?

Well, silly me!  This was part of Light City Baltimore, the annual extravaganza of installations, fireworks, and illumination (in all senses of that word).  The venue was all tarted out with a stage backdrop that flashed, glowed, enlarged, and projected.  No boring pics here.

Pre-Conference Light Show

Pre-Conference Light Show

 

And speaking of pics, selfies were the order of the day.  The organizers started out with one.

Dionne Joyner-Weems, Vice President of Marketing, Visit Baltimore; Jamie McDonald, Founder, Generosity, Inc. & Co-Chair, Light City; Al Hutchinson, CEO, Visit Baltimore

Dionne Joyner-Weems, Vice President of Marketing, Visit Baltimore; Jamie McDonald, Founder, Generosity, Inc. & Co-Chair, Light City; Al Hutchinson, CEO, Visit Baltimore

Then Chef Jeff Henderson, a former drug dealer who became a Food Network chef and author, cooked Crab and Andouille Maque Choux while relating his inspirational story of how cuisine became his way up from prison.  “The kitchen has always been the place of transformation for me.”  His food was delicious.

Chef Jeff Cooks

Chef Jeff Cooks

And the Stove Has a Close-Up

And the Stove Has a Close-Up

We Eat Chef Jeff's Maque Choux

We Eat Chef Jeff’s Maque Choux

And speaking of inspiration and transformation, the next two speakers had some to spare: the Reverend Dr. Heber Brown III on the beneficial effect of a garden in his church’s front yard, and then, expounding on growing the scale of those gardens and other urban agriculture, was Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank.

Rev. Brown's Church Garden

Rev. Brown’s Church Garden

Ms. Neirenberg and Mr. Huffman

Ms. Nierenberg and Mr. Huffman

Just before lunch, Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen told us about the meal we were about to consume.  It was produced for about the price of a typical school lunch, and Spike had the spreadsheet to prove it.

Spike Rocks the Spreadsheet

Spike Rocks the Spreadsheet

Then we ate that lunch.  It was a bowl full of good things: grain, radish kimchi, eggs, spicy cabbage, microgreens.  Even the kale was rendered edible.  And peach cake for dessert.

Lunch and Lunch Menu

Lunch and Lunch Menu

Giselle, Ready to Serve Peach Cake

Giselle, Ready to Serve Peach Cake

If the cake wasn’t dessert enough, there was ice cream by Baltimore’s own Taharka Brothers.  They’re very badass, and make delicious ice cream.

Badass Taharka Ice Cream

Badass Taharka Ice Cream

After lunch, I have to admit I wasn’t in the mood to sit for another bunch of panels, so I roamed around the venue a little.  There was a balcony, for a nice change of perspective, and two great views out the windows.  Also some interesting sights inside the hall.

Spike Gjerde and Others on Balcony

Spike Gjerde and Others on Balcony

Distracting Vista from Balcony

Distracting Vista from Balcony

The Ship Next Door

The Ship Next Door

Light City Volunteer's Light-Up Sneakers Charging

Light City Volunteer’s Light-Up Sneakers Charging

Foodie Sweater

Foodie Sweater

Drawing my attention back to the presentations, Antonio Tahhan, a Fulbright scholar and Syrian-American food blogger, talked about the cuisine of Aleppo.  Pomegranates, Aleppo pepper, quince, pistachios – and “War is the opposite of food.”  A profound motto.

He had food to sample, as well: tahini and grape molasses served with pita.

Mr. Tahhan In Background, Samples in Foreground

Mr. Tahhan In Background, Samples in Foreground

And then, the undisputed star of the show – Chef Marcus Samuelsson.  The energy from both chef and crowd was high as Chef Marcus butchered a salmon and smoked a fillet on stage, while he chatted about his life and philosophy, and a continuous loop of stills played in the background.  Sampling the fish was a high point of the conference.

Chef Marcus Cooking

Chef Marcus Cooking

As a Background to Selfies

As a Background to Selfies

Addressing the Salmon

Addressing the Salmon

Showing the Audience the Fish

Showing the Audience the Fish

A Nice Piece of Fish

A Nice Piece of Fish

And Who's This Guy?

And Who’s This Guy?

After the conference ended, he stayed around to sign autographs and pose for selfies.

Chef Marcus Signing

Chef Marcus Signing

And Yet More Selfies!

And Yet More Selfies!

The day wrapped up with a public tasting and purchasing opportunity for local food businesses.  The quality varied, as one would expect at such an event, but it was a fitting close to a day full of insights and ideas about food issues in Baltimore and beyond.

Food Innovators Happy Hour

Food Innovators Happy Hour

Neat Nicks Products on Photogenic Display

Neat Nicks Products on Photogenic Display

Planning for the 2018 Labs@Light City is now underway.  More information is here.

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Review: Rasika: Flavors of India Stories by Ashok Bajaj; Recipes by Vikram Sunderam; Coauthored by David Hagedorn

Many consider Rasika the best Indian restaurant in Washington, DC.  For years, the crispy spinach (palak chaat) dish has been the subject of constant requests for the recipe by patrons.  It has now been revealed, along with many others, in a new cookbook by Rasika’s owner and chef.  They had help from David Hagedorn, a veteran local food writer.

In the introductory notes, Sunderam writes: “Above all, [Bajaj] and I wanted to present the recipes in a way that would inspire all cooks, including…those unfamiliar with, or perhaps daunted by, Indian cooking, to give it a go.”  A laudable goal, but I’m afraid the book falls a little short.  Sumptuously produced and beautifully photographed as it is, the recipes are mostly a little bit intimidating for those not already familiar with Indian cookery.

It opens with a section of thirteen Basic Flavorings and Sauces.  Anyone intending to cook extensively from this book would be well advised to start by stockpiling a few or many of these, since most of the following recipes use one or more of them.  This approach keeps those recipes from containing endless lists of ingredients (and of course echoes a common restaurant prep strategy), but it also means that most of them fall victim to the stacked-recipe fallacy, which can be deflating for the cook looking for something involving a little less commitment.  Some – such as Pan-Seared Red Snapper with Shrimp Balchao – contain three levels of reference.  Also, there are many examples of dread Overleaf Fallacy, which I find far less forgivable.

So what’s a reviewer looking for a recipe or two to try out, just to test how well they are written, without having to invest hours and dollars in a new cuisine, to do?  Well, I did manage to find a way or two in.  In fact, one recipe was possibly the tastiest version of butternut squash I have ever made (and I’ve made a LOT of squash!).

Butternut Squash Bharta is a variation of the traditional Indian Baingan (Eggplant) Bharta.  Should any ultra-traditionalist be shocked at this unorthodox variation, there is a footnote giving the procedure for making the dish with eggplant, if desired.  It only contains one level of reference, and that to the simplest of spice preps – Toasted Cumin Powder – which is just exactly what it sounds like.  It was accompanied by a detailed headnote about variations in moisture content and tenderness of squashes.  I just made one minor adjustment: I cut the prescribed amount of oil in half, from 6 tablespoons (a cheffy vestige in my opinion) to 3.  The result did not suffer.

this one

I also made Cauliflower and Peas with Cumin  (Jeera Gobi Mattar), as traditional an Indian dish as ever there was.  It was just OK, nothing special.  Possibly I should have used hotter peppers.  I have to confess that all the meat, fish and poultry dishes seemed to demand far too much commitment for this humble reviewer.

So, bottom line, the audience for this book is that segment of the Washington population that are fans of Rasika and Ashok Bajaj’s other restaurants, and wish to duplicate those dishes at home.  It helps if they are already familiar with Indian cooking, or really, really want to be.  I think I’m going to stick with my collection of Madhur Jaffrey’s books for go-to Indian dishes – except for that Squash Bharta.  That’s in my repertoire to stay.

P.S.: A friend suggested that, as Indian grocery stores are filled with ready-made spice and sauce mixes, using these could be a big time-saver.  I myself (because this is the kind of casual Indian food I usually cook) have a packet of MDH brand “Baingan Bhartaa masala – Spice blend for roasted aubergine” in my pantry.  I wouldn’t use it to review the book, of course, but attempting to match up the recipes in the book to the products in the store would be an interesting exercise.

Rasika: Flavors of India, Stories by Ashok Bajaj; Recipes by Vikram Sunderam; Coauthored by David Hagedorn, Harper Collins, New York, 2017.

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Stranger Things in Sandy Spring

The Thanksgiving holiday has caused the following thing to happen (apologies Washington Post):

The Turkey That Ate Sandy Spring

The Turkey That Ate Sandy Spring

An apparition has popped up in an otherwise tasteful front yard in Sandy Spring.  Opinions vary as to the genesis of this beast.  One theory holds that tongue depressors (or possibly Popsicle sticks) suddenly became overdosed on growth hormone and assembled themselves into this fowl collage.  Supporting this hypothesis: the house is next to a dentist’s office.

I submit that an unfortunate Adirondack chair met a farmer with a hatchet – it certainly wasn’t hatched!  Supporting this?  Cherchez the fowl feet, fashioned from a saw-toothed farm implement, clearly visible in the close-up.

Gobbler Up Close

Gobbler Up Close

Can’t wait to see what they do for Christmas!

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Wish I’d Been There! “Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party” Exhibit

Who doesn’t love the French Impressionists?  And one of the best-known and beloved of their paintings is right here in Washington, DC: Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.  The Phillips Collection has organized an exhibition around their pride and joy, which will be on view until January 7, 2018.  “Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party” is a visual feast.

The exhibition considers various aspects of Renoir’s relationships to the painting’s subjects.  Many of them were fellow artists, so their works are on display.  Other pictures depicting the population of Luncheon are here, too, by Renoir and other artists (it was a small circle of friends).

Curator Eliza Rathbone Speaks About the Boating Party

Curator Eliza Rathbone Speaks About the Boating Party

Some pictures show the joys of the riverside life, especially boating and restaurants with lovely viewing patios.  I had always assumed that the “party” would have arrived at the restaurant on a single boat, but no, the pleasure fleet on the Seine was composed of small boats, carrying three or four people each, so they would have rowed or sailed separately and rendezvoused at the restaurant.

Early Photographs of River Life

Early Photographs of River Life

And what about my hope that there would be some enlightenment about the Luncheon itself?  (As I try to justify relating this article to food or cooking!) Alas!  There were only two food-related pictures, both of asparagus.  Nicely rendered asparagus, and with a story to boot: Charles Ephrussi, an art critic and collector who appears in Luncheon wearing his top hat, paid Edouard Manet more than Manet expected for A Bunch of Asparagus.  Manet was so grateful for the unexpected bonus that he painted another picture, of a single stalk, as lagniappe.

The Asparagus Paintings

The Asparagus Paintings

To be fair, Luncheon only shows the dregs of the meal’s last course.  Still, there are aspects of Paris fashion (including an interactive game and a darling display of hats), so it might not have been too much to hope for a study of what these folks might have been noshing on during their enviable afternoon!

Hats on the Feed

Hats on the Instagram Feed

But, as part of their extensive investigation of the canvas, we can see that there was repainting of the table area, and an interactive part of the exhibition shows those changes.  Was it because Renoir was concerned with the proper placement of glassware?  No, more likely it was coincident with the replacement of one of the original women sitting at the table with Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife (the woman holding the little dog).

Despite the lack of food focus, the exhibition is a real treat for Impressionist lovers.  I recommend it highly.

Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party” at the Phillips Collection thru January 7, 2018.

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Alice, Let’s Write – Review: Coming To My Senses, by Alice Waters

Here is a book written by the mother of the farm-to-table movement in this country, founder of the fount of garden-derived cuisine and high priestess of French-influenced but American-driven  gastronomy.  A reader would expect it to be overflowing with culinary gossip.  If one reads it in the hopes of finding secrets of how Alice Waters developed the dishes and overall sensibility that led to such outsize influence in this country’s cooking culture, one will be disappointed; but approaching it to learn her family’s eating habits (the Automat! yes!) and her early friendships and trips through Europe, and finally how her habit of feeding the various congeries of friends and lovers (“Alice, you must open a restaurant,” they chorus) led her to open Chez Panisse, then you will be entertained if not deeply enlightened.

“I’m not a reflective person by nature,” she writes in the preface, and perhaps inevitably for a “with” book, there are no reflections on existential angst, no soul-defining secrets revealed.  One has a feeling of skating on the surface of Alice’s life.  We are told about her relationships with her parents, siblings, lovers, and friends, how she was involved with the Free-Speech Movement in Berkeley in the 60’s, what the French art-house films of Marcel Pagnol meant to her.

Every so often, the stream of linear autobiography is interrupted by a few paragraphs of forecasting.  These are almost always an opportunity to drop famous names, and describe Alice’s relationships to them.  Julia Child, Paul Prudhomme, Madhur Jaffrey, Bill Clinton – all figure in small, sparkling vignettes inserted into the narrative.  These snippets only whet one’s appetite for what could be a whole book of more interesting encounters; they are told in much sprightlier prose than the plodding narrative style of the book they are embedded in, like plums in pudding.

Some examples of inspiration are noticeable when Alice is describing ingredients:

If a particular grape varietal is planted on a certain hillside and is tended in a certain way, you get a transcendent result. I was thinking there must be a similar Premier Cru for peaches. There’s a terroir for peaches, where if the right varietals are planted in the right spots, they can be the greatest peaches of all – like a Suncrest peach in August from Mas Masumoto’s farm in the foothills of the Central Valley, or an O’Henry peach from Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood.

If only there were more passages like that!  Well, perhaps there will be a sequel.

Coming To My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, by Alice Waters with Cristina Mueller and Bob Carrau, Clarkson Potter, New York, 2017.

Alice Waters Book Cover

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Food and Design and Food and Spain and Food: Eat Spain Up!

An Exhibit and Series of Events sponsored by SPAIN arts & culture

For the cover of a book by Freud, two walnuts skewered on an awl.  For the cover of Andre Gide’s Fruits of the Earth, a portrait of Gide formed by grains of wheat.  For Saki’s short stories, quail feathers escaping a set of silver spoons.

The award-winning graphic designer Manuel Estrada has built his career on combining disparate elements into one elegant, often breathtaking image.  Many of them use food ingredients or implements to express metaphors.  They are on display now and until October 29, in a series of posters and vitrines, as Estrada Design Kitchen at the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain.

Sr. Estrada Introduced by María Molina, the Spanish Cultural Counselor

Sr. Estrada with María Molina, the Spanish Cultural Counselor, and Gloria Rodriguez, Director of Eat Spain Up! 

Images from the Traveling Exhibit Locations

Images from the Traveling Exhibit’s Locations

Sr. Estrada Interviewed in Front of a Poster

Sr. Estrada Interviewed in Front of a Poster

In the Vitrines: Sketches of Process, and Final Book Cover

In the Vitrines: Sketches of Process, and Final Book Cover

Sr. Estrada talked about his creative process during the press breakfast and  evening opening reception for the exhibit.  Designers work by commission, he maintained, unlike artists who work by inspiration.  This did not prevent him from producing such striking images as “Carmencita,” the updated logo image of a spice company. He replaced her hair curl with a red pepper.

Carmencita, Gloria Rodríguez, Carmencita

Carmencita, Gloria Rodríguez, Carmencita

An Image of the Original Curl Girl Logo

An Image of the Original Curl Girl Logo

And after the talk, there was food to sample.  Spanish restaurants provided bites of their specialties, and Spanish wine and beer flowed.  I’ve never had Spanish beer before, and was delighted to discover that it was to my taste, not overly hoppy – but the food was the main attraction.  To begin, there was a table of Spanish cheeses and sardines.

Cheese and Sardines

Cheese and Sardines

Jaleo had the best bites, IMHO, with little cones filled with trout roe and salmon tartare (or, for you non-pescetarians, La Serena cheese and quince paste).  Second place was a tie between Boqueria’s salpicon (marinated seafood) and the octopus and potato sticks (Galician style) at Taberna del Alabardero.

Jaleo's Table

Jaleo’s Table

Salpicon

Salpicon from Boqueria

Octopus and Staff

Octopus and Staff of Taberna del Alabardero

On the other hand, there was the Jamón Iberico being carved by Alex Velez. I asked if he worked for a restaurant?  “I’m a freelancer,” he replied.  There’s a profession for you – free-lance ham carver.  Have knife, will travel.

Shaving it Thin

Shaving it Thin

There is another exhibit, also part of Eat Spain Up!, presenting large-format photographs of gastronomic icons (Spain’s Eleven), which is nice but overshadowed by the Estrada Design Kitchen.   Also, and these I am really looking forward to, events spotlighting aspects of Spanish food culture at the Former Residence, and pop-up tastings at Union Market.  Details are available at the link above.  Stay tuned for further reports!

 

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Book Review: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, by Laura Shapiro

When I start in to read a book that I plan to review, I have a few tools I like to use.  A notepad and pencil, of course, and a set of colored sticky signals, to mark the pages with the juicy or illustrative quotes that liven up a review.  More than just  aides-mémoire, these devices provide the necessary critical distance for thoughtful consideration of each book.  I duly gathered them when I began reading What She Ate.

And then I forgot about them, and surrendered to the pleasure of her prose.  From the opening pages of the Introduction, Shapiro captured me and kept me enthralled until I had finished the entire book.  (And it was a surprise to me to discover, by looking through the back matter, that there are footnotes! No obtrusive numbers to interrupt the flow, no, she referenced the text in the notes by quoting phrases.  So thoughtful.)

The six women profiled in these pages couldn’t be more different, in their lives, accomplishments, and most of all, their attitudes towards food.  The intersections of life with their appetites are explored for insights into character and motivation.  Some of those insights are surprising.

In researching these lives, Shapiro aims to resurrect that which has been lost by (male) historians’ erstwhile attitude that food preparation and consumption is irrelevant to history.  By asking what each woman ate and why, by going “food first” into biography, she casts a new light on every prospect.  Consider her original inspiration for the book: a reference to a supper of black pudding from Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary, a signal of the start of her decline from a useful life as facilitator of brother Williams’ poetic profession to her later years as an addled, obese invalid.

The chapter on Rosa Lewis’ career as caterer and hotelier in Edwardian London is the only one focusing on a food professional.  Shapiro uses it to explore the attitudes of society towards working women and culinary fashions of the time. And she debunks Eleanor Roosevelt’s reputation for being indifferent to what she ate – the White House was infamous for its bad food during her reign as First Lady, not because she didn’t care, but because, perhaps, it was Eleanor’s revenge on Franklin for his unfaithfulness.

Shapiro’s most surprising choice must be Eva Braun.  Hitler’s mistress – what could be creepier?  But even the descriptions of meals in the orbit of the Fuhrer become a source of eerie fascination.  It does seem as if this was the least fruitful research subject of the lot, however – the distance between Eva and us is never breached, not least because she never ate much, seeking to maintain her slimness to please the man in her life.

By contrast, Barbara Pym, the British writer, can be cozied right up to.  Her novels were full of food descriptions, and her career spanned the years from post-WWII rationing through the 1970’s.  Shapiro gives us a survey of the British food scene in real life and as reflected in Pym’s work.

Lastly, Helen Gurley Brown.  Her relationship towards food was complicated by a desire to be forever thin.  Eternally dieting, she was consumed by one goal, which she articulated in every issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine: to have fun, you must attract men; to attract men, you must be skinny.  It was a twisted, pre-feminist attitude which she held all her life.

And as if the stories of these women were not enough to send you searching for this book, Shapiro wraps up with a little autobiographical sketch of her own adventures in cooking as a new bride in India.  I can identify with her initial desperation, and then her eventual coping.  She writes with equal grace about all of it.

The Seventh Remarkable Woman: Laura Shapiro Reading at Culinary Historians of Washington Meeting

The Seventh Remarkable Woman: Laura Shapiro Reading at Culinary Historians of Washington Meeting

What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, by Laura Shapiro, Viking, NY, 2017; available July 25.

WhatSheAte Cover

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More Wisdom from Joan Nathan – Review: King Solomon’s Table

In her last book, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, Joan Nathan discovered the breadth of international influences on the cooking of one ethnic group in one country.  Now, she has expanded her range to include the entire world.

Joni Sesma Assists Joan Nathan with a Demo at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

Joni Sesma Assists Joan Nathan with a Demo at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

Joan Poses with a Fan at a Signing at Moti's Market

Joan Poses with a Fan at a Signing at Moti’s Market

In King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, she searches out dishes that have been cooked by members of the Diaspora for hundreds (even thousands) of years, many using ingredients that could have been brought to ancient Israel by the bevy of wives that famous monarch married to cement alliances – by some counts, seven hundred wives and three hundred mistresses!

Not only did the spices come in by marriage, but the king fed his other appetites by sending traders to the ends of the known world, bringing materials to build his great Temple and enriching the lives of his subjects with the imported products.

And, centuries later, after the Babylonian exile and return, when the Romans forced the Jews to disperse, they took those foodways with them.  Across the miles and years, the exiles adapted their food to local ingredients, always constrained by the rules of kashrut: one may eat only cloven-hoofed animals that chew their cud; no shellfish allowed; and cooks must separate milk-based dishes from meat.

Before we reach the wide-ranging treasury of recipes, there is a fascinating history of the Jews and their food, beginning with Babylonian cuneiform tablets from 1700 BCE, the earliest known recorded recipes.  Alas, Joan does not transcribe any of these for us, but she does include a reference in the book’s extensive bibliography.

And those recipes, how cookable are they?  Very, for she has adapted them for modern methods, and includes suggestions for substitutions.  Each one includes a story about its source and a description of how she has changed it, if necessary.  As they are grouped by conventional categories (Morning, Starters, Salads, Soups, etc.), the temporal and geographic threads of history are obscured, and dishes from various continents and centuries are bunched up together.  Still, each sounds tastier than the next.  It was hard to decide what to try, but my method devolved to the following: I went with what I happened to have on hand.

I had a little sample bottle of argan oil, and the recipe for “Green Salad with Baby Lettuce, Flowers, and an Argan Oil Dressing with Shallots” was just the thing.  I discovered that argan oil has a delicious, nutty taste that come through in the dressing, even mixed with olive oil, rice vinegar, and garlic; and, bonus, it emulsifies immediately and doesn’t separate (at least for the short while between mixing and dressing).

“Tunisian Carrot Salad with Cumin, Coriander, and Caraway” was delicious up until the addition of the harissa, which made it hot, hot, hot!  So, caveat eater.

Carrots, Harissa on the Side

Carrots, Harissa on the Side

No such warning need be given for the “Couscous con le Sarde: Sardines with Fennel, Onions, Currents and Pine Nuts over Couscous,” which I made with flounder, following Joan’s suggestion to substitute whitefish for the sardines.  I found this made the dish a little bland, but adding more lemon juice and salt perked it up.

Couscous Sans le Sarde

Couscous Sans le Sarde

The best dish I tried was the “Indian Chicken with Cardamom, Cumin, and Cilantro.”  I was delighted to discover that I had all of the 14 herbs and spices called for in my pantry, refrigerator or garden, and here’s a picture of some of them:

Indian Chicken Spices

Indian Chicken Spices

Ready the Condiments!

Ready the Condiments!

It was delicious, and well worth the trouble to get them all together.

And now for the quibble: the book weights 3 1/2 pounds. You need a cookbook holder to prop it up, and some of the recipes suffer from DOT (Dreaded Overleaf Transgression), which would make it No Fun to try to cook them while flipping the pages.

But this is a small price to pay for the stories, recipes and vision of a people surviving, deliciously, for thousands of years.

King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, by Joan Nathan, Knopf, New York, 2017.

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Into the Wild Garlic Yonder

Way out on the outskirts of Olney, behind an unassuming, suburban house, lurks a vampire’s worst nightmare: the backyard garden of Jim and Mary Nupp, the demon garlic-growers of Brookeville.

Debbie Amster, one of our favorite farmers market demo chefs, and a holistic health counselor, introduced me to her friends and suppliers.  Is there a healthier food than garlic?   I was invited out to the farm for a tour during scape season.  When the new crop of heads is harvested (September 3), there will be a garlic cooking demo at OFAM.

We went out there on the one rare clear day during a week of Spring rain.  Going though the house, we were greeted with the unmistakable odor of the stinking rose.  Mary had warmed up some garlic butter for us to sample.  To say that she chops up garlic and melts a stick of butter would be to oversimplify the process by which she arrived at the ideal mix of garlic varieties for this recipe.

Jim with Pictures of his Garlic Process

Jim with Pictures of his Garlic Process

Mary Bashing Garlic with the Twist

Mary Bashing Garlic with the Twist

Jim and Mary have done a lot of work to determine the best varieties, from the 10-12 Jim grows, for each of the applications they have developed.  They sell many products at two garlic shows they attend each year.  Raw dried granulated garlic is their most popular item, but Mary has developed a line of jewelry using dried cloves that is essential for the garlic enthusiast on your holiday gift list.  Also, garlic turkeys, angels, and pumpkins.

Mary's Garlic Handicrafts

Mary’s Garlic Handicrafts

They also sell a nifty gadget called the Garlic Twist, essential for the chef who wants to keep that smell off his/her fingers.  It will produce perfectly minced garlic without the touch of human hands.

Jim is versed in garlic’s history and cultivation.  A milestone in the modern American garlic era occurred in the early 1990’s, with the opening of the Iron Curtain and the release of hundreds of Soviet-cultivated varieties to the West.  The US Department of Agriculture checked the DNA of many varieties, and now Jim is raising garlic labeled Romanian Red and (my personal favorite name) Transylvanian, in addition to Xi’an, Kettle River Giant, Red Janice, and Bull.

The Garlic, Seen From the Porch

The Garlic, Seen From the Porch

And In Closeup

And In Closeup

Transylvanian: Vampires Beware!

Transylvanian: Vampires Beware!

A Box of Scapes

A Box of Scapes

His garlic plot was green with new shoots and scapes.  The scapes are the flower stalks, which must be trimmed off so the plant will concentrate its energy in growing the bulbs.  Farmers used to throw them on the compost heap or keep them for themselves, but lately they have been recognized as a tasty Spring vegetable in their own right.  They have a mild garlic flavor, and can be cooked or eaten raw, wherever you would use bulb garlic or another allium.

Chives, Just a Sideline

Chives, Just a Sideline

And speaking of alliums, a patch of chives near the house yields chive vinegar from Mary’s versatile kitchen.  What else might be in store on September 3?  I can’t wait to find out!

 

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Two Queens, The Governor, and Soft-Shelled Crabs: The 2016 Governor’s Maryland Buy-Local Cookout

Once again, the 2016 Governor’s Cookout was the place to be for the finest interpretations of our amazing local ingredients.  Even the July evening was temperate for the time of year.

There were opportunities to schmooze with interesting characters and eat really good food.  This event is held annually to promote our terrific Chesapeake-area products.  There are old friends, and surprises, every time.

Eating and Schmoozing

Eating and Schmoozing

Governor Hogan took the occasion to issue a Proclamation.

The Secretary of Agriculture, Joe Bartenfelder, and Gov. Hogan Proclaim

The Secretary of Agriculture, Joe Bartenfelder, and Gov. Hogan Proclaim

With Yumi Hogan

With Yumi Hogan

Afterwards, there were selfies.

Smile, Governor!

Smile, Governor!

I saw two Queens in the crowd – Miss Maryland Agriculture and the Mar-Del Watermelon Queen.  The MDWQ had an appropriate fashion accessory.

Two Queens Pose

Two Queens Pose

I heard a rumor that the Maryland Dairy Princess was also there, but I didn’t see her.  There were many other interesting folks, however.  Foremost among them was the Bee Lady.

Talking About Bees,and Offering Tastes of Honey

Talking About Bees,and Offering Tastes of Honey

Sue Langley, a member of the Maryland State Beekeepers Association, cares for the hives sited on the Government House grounds.  The honey produced was used in a dessert served at the tent hosted by none other than the Governor’s wife, Yumi.  Also featured: her famous bulgogi.

Yumi Hogan (r) at Government House Tent

Yumi Hogan (r) at Government House Tent

Dessert with Government House Honey

Dessert with Government House Honey

Ms. Langley had a good view of the action.

View From the Bee Table

View From the Bee Table

For other local color, the Naval Academy was represented by Ensign Wiechec.

Mr. Wiechec Represents

Ensign Wiechec Represents

There was a guy with a tea towel on his back – and not one of Maryland, either!

Where's His Maryland Pride?

Where’s His Maryland Pride?

Luckily, the other patrons and vendors had plenty of Maryland spirit to go around – for instance,  Chad Sargent and his helper, of Chad’s BBQ in Edgewater.  His motto: “Good barbecue comes from experience, and experience, well, that comes from poor barbecue.”

State Pride on Display

State Pride on Display

There were tables full of Maryland wine, and tables full of Maryland spirits (the alcoholic kind).  In fact, there has been explosive growth in local distilleries lately (there’s a post coming about that – stay tuned).

Also, there was watermelon art.

Watermelon With State Pride

Watermelon With State Pride

As for the food on offer, it was the usual excellent use of local products.  My favorites were the oysters and the soft-shell crabs, although everything else was so good, it was hard to choose.

Shucking Oysters

Galway Bay Crew Shucking Oysters

Oyster Still Life

Oyster Still Life

Pat Mahoney of Wild Country Seafood and George Betz of Boatyard Bar and Grill

Pat Mahoney of Wild Country Seafood and George Betz of Boatyard Bar and Grill

Close-Up on the Soft Shell BLT

Close-Up on the Soft Shell BLT

Black Bottom Farms, of Galena (where is that? in Kent County, on the Eastern Shore), had a display of beautiful exotic mushrooms.

Totally Photogenic Mushrooms

Totally Photogenic Mushrooms

Each year, the Maryland Department of Agriculture produces a cookbook with the recipes featured at this event.  You can find it here.

 

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