Cookbook Review: Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark

Melissa Clark dropped by Politics and Prose last week in honor of her latest cookbook, Dinner: Changing the Game. It’s the 38th book she’s written or collaborated on.  Since her last book tour, in 2011, she’s been making videos with the New York Times, so she was relaxed and engaging in her conversation with Bonnie Benwick of the Post.

Melissa Clark and Bonnie Benwick in Conversation

Melissa Clark and Bonnie Benwick in Conversation

Melissa’s had a lot of practice putting books together, and the new one is nothing less than expected: lucid  exposition of her theme; creative combinations of protein and complementary vegetables, seasonings and condiments; beautiful illustrations (by photographer Eric Wolfinger); and no, I repeat NO, dreaded overleaf transgressions.

And there’s a reason for that:  all the recipes are intended to be simple and easy enough to throw together after the family’s busy wage-earners return from a day’s work, or after a weekend day outside the house, while remaining delicious.  And for the most part, they succeed.

There’s a little more than the collection of recipes: instructions on roasting a chicken, and a list of pantry staples to not be without.  These run to the fairly exotic for those without access to ethnic food resources (think Aleppo pepper, preserved lemons, sambal oelek), but she does give substitutions and work-arounds for many of them.

As she said during the book event, She’s not worried about “harissa in the heartland.”  Times have changed since her mother had to save up and freeze chicken livers one by one to make pate.

Many of the recipes will be familiar to those of us who have followed her column in the New York Times.  She makes the magic look easy with her offhand mastery of ingredients and methods, not to mention the ease with which she produces a new idea, or reworking of an old idea, every week.  But at the event she burst that bubble with tales of video outtakes and rushes to meet deadlines.  No, no, Melissa, let me keep believing!  And you’re still thin and pretty, too!

That said, she is guilty of a sin many Times and other cookery writers commit: she calculates the “total time” for many of the recipes to be far shorter than even an experienced cook (me) can execute, without a sous chef at their beck.  Beware, reader, if you try to produce Shrimp Banh Mi in 25 minutes, unless you start counting after you have shredded the carrots, sliced the radishes, seeded and diced the peppers (two kinds), peeled and grated the ginger, peeled the garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped the lemongrass, peeled and deveined the shrimp, and split and toasted the baguette.

And to be fair, she had a plausible explanation when I asked her about this very peeve.  “It’s the Times‘ convention to start timing the recipe after all the mise [en place] is done.” Well, OK then, but shouldn’t the home cook be warned?

As for the recipes, I cooked four: Roasted Sausage and Cauliflower (excellent, but you’ll want to double the quantity of white sauce), Fusilli and Roasted Cauliflower with Capers (you have to love capers; fortunately, we do), Winter Vegetable Hash (did not assume the promised cake-like aspect, and the quantity made was far too little to feed 4 to 6 as a main), and Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Soup (very similar to Melissa’s Times recipe subbing carrots for squash; that one said to puree only half the soup, which would IMHO improve the book’s recipe).  On the whole, minor tweaks needed to achieve perfection are not that big a problem.

Sausage and Caulifolwerjpg4

Roasted Sausage and Cauliflower

One last comment: all those pictures and heavy, glossy paper result in a book that weighs in at three and a half pounds.  If you don’t already have one, I recommend investing in a cookbook holder.

Dinner: Changing the Game

Dinner: Changing the Game

Dinner: Changing the Game, by Melissa Clark, Clarkson Potter, New York, 2017.

 

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Everything You Need and More: The USBevX Trade Show

USBevX is a conference and trade show for Eastern and Midwestern beverage producers.  The conference sessions address a plethora of in-the-weeds topics about producing and marketing alcoholic drinks; the trade show collected about fifty vendors of products and services who would be delighted to facilitate that production.

Entering the ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, I was prepared for an interesting variety of purveyors, but the fifty-odd booths beggared my imagination.  There were those I expected: suppliers of bottles, labels (and label-makers), kegs, equipment, and raw materials.  And those more far-fetched: software, banking services, marketing, laboratory analysis, additives, sewage systems, web services, tchochkas.  Everything the modern winery, brewery, and cidery could ask for!  Oh, and some very friendly folks from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (AKA, revenuers).

One of the first folks I talked to was Harris Goldstein, of Gravotech, Inc., who was pleased to demonstrate how anyone could custom-etch glassware and other items with his engraving machines.  I now possess a unique pen advertising Catillation.com – I will treasure it forever!

Mr. Goldstein and His Etching Machine

Mr. Goldstein and His Etching Machine

My Pen!

My Pen!

I was struck by the contrast between the shiny, modern equipment on display

Shiny Vat

Shiny Vat

Be Heart, My Still

Be Heart, My Still

and the antique cider press at Kauffman’s Fruit Farm and Market stall.  Also, Tim Kauffman, who didn’t look like the stereotypical Amish man from Bird-in-Hand, PA.  He had been adopted during an evangelical visit to South America, but could extol the merits of his family’s fruit juice as well as any of his relatives.

Mr. Kauffman and Cider Press

Mr. Kauffman and Cider Press

Tim’s stall was next to Chaddsford Winery, which uses Kauffman apple juice to make their hard cider.  We have been drinking Chaddsford wine for years, but I didn’t know that they had begun cider production.  I tasted some, courtesy of Corey Krejcik, who explained that it was made in the style of early Colonial days, cold-fermented and unfiltered.  It was delicious.  I could imagine it would be refreshing very cold, on a hot summer’s day.

What else was new to me?  Canned wine, of which there was a selection.  The selling point is that one can take it where bottles would be inconvenient – swimming pools, the beach – but no one expects it to age well (or at all).

Yes, Canned Wine

Yes, Canned Wine

But the company that supplied the canning line was bullish!  Brendan Pevarski of Lucky Clover Packaging in Elkton described his plans to take his portable canner on the road, to service small breweries and wineries.

Brendan Pevarski's Portable Canning Line

Brendan Pevarski’s Portable Canning Line

And now I must confess to plans to pervert two of the products to my own purposes.  Amoretti purees are meant to be used for cocktails.

Alex Wiebelhaus at the Amoretti Booth

Alex Wiebelhaus at the Amoretti Booth

And  Oakwise is supposed to add that smoky, oaky taste to wine, but Brian Spillane allowed as how it might bear a certain resemblance to a product that was always in my mother’s refrigerator: Liquid Smoke.

Oakwise for Wine

Oakwise for Wine

So stay tuned, as I might be reporting on certain experiments involving other than spirits in my kitchen.

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Icy Bikers, Homemade Booze, Black Russians: The 2016 Bazaar Roundup

For this year’s round of bazaar eating, we decided to try some new ones in addition to our old standbys.  We discovered a new favorite or two, and one that would become a favorite if it weren’t so darned far away.

In addition to revisiting those described in last year’s report, we went to the Ethnic Food Festival and Bazaar at St. Mark Orthodox Church in Bethesda.  The social hall’s smaller rooms were filled with crafts, but our attention was focused on the food offerings.

There was a large room, down the hall from the hot food being dispensed from the kitchen, filled with baked goods.  Breads, pastries, cookies, and other sweet things from all over Eastern Europe were presented in tempting arrangements, complete with descriptive cards decorated with  matryoshka dolls.

The Very Popular Bakery

The Very Popular Bakery

 

Some Tempting Goodies

Some Tempting Goodies

Many Breads

Many Breads

We got the distinct impression, from the helpful volunteers, illustrated menu posted on the wall, and handouts filled with descriptions of the food on offer, that they had refined the process over years of acquainting non-Eastern European patrons with the various dishes.  Indeed, the handout noted that it was the 45th year of the bazaar.

We had dropped by after visiting another lunch event, so decided to get some hot food to go and reheat it for dinner.  We bought Blini filled with ricotta, Halupki (stuffed cabbage), and Halushki (cabbage and noodles).

Dinner (and Dessert)

Dinner (and Dessert)

Excellent Tortes

Excellent Tortes

 

And a Black Russian Cake.  And a Raspberry Torte.  And…stop! Pace yourself!  Conclusion: the hot food is good, but the real star of this bazaar is the bakery.

The Winterfest of the Church of the Resurrection in Burtonsville hosts over 100 crafters, a silent auction, raffles, a cork pull (a game of chance to win bottles of wine), and some unremarkable but agreeable food – hot dogs, hamburgers, Italian sausage, and an almost-authentic Philly-style cheesesteak.

Dinner Crowd at Winterfest

Dinner Crowd at Winterfest

But what made it special, gastronomically speaking, were two tables in the back purveying Home Brew Beer and  Mike’s Homemade Wine.

Brewers (Pat) Ryan and Ryan (Ferris)

Brewers (Pat) Ryan and Ryan (Ferris)

The brewers, Pat Ryan and Ryan Ferris, went for a minimal presentation – just a homemade sign and a keg, but Michael Stempihar’s table conveyed the full ambiance of wine-making.

A Festival Unto Himself

A Festival Unto Himself

Their products belied the advice of the old song (The Alcoholic’s Anthem: “So steer clear of homemade beer, and anything that isn’t labeled clear…”)  Just one more example of bazaar serendipity!

And finally, a brand new (for us) nationality: the Icelandic Christmas Bazaar in the American Legion Post deep in the wilds of Fairfax.  We don’t generally venture into Virginia for bazaars, but we’ve been wanting to experience Iceland for several years now, so we strapped on our mukluks and slogged across the river.  We were glad we did, at least once.

For some reason, the Iceland bazaar attracted a group of bikers.  Are there Icelandic bikers?  Or are bikers attracted to Icelandic food?  It remains a mystery.  One of them really enjoyed the loaded hot dogs, for which Iceland is justly famous.

A Man and His Dog

A Man and His Dog

These hot dogs come with many interesting condiments.  In addition to the usual ketchup and relish, there were frizzled onions, remoulade sauce, and the most delectable mustard I’ve come across in years.  Pylsusinnep, identifiable in the picture by the rather fetching hot dog on the bottle, was the great discovery of this event for me.  Unfortunately, no one could tell me where to get it around here – but Google is my friend.

Load 'em Up!

Load ’em Up!

There was also a buffet line of open-faced sandwiches, a common feature at the Nordic bazaars.  And the uncommon: excellent smoked lamb sandwiches and flatbreads (similar but not matching), and cream-filled crepes (delicious).  The bikers liked them too!

Open-Faced Sandwiches, Cheerfully Served

Open-Faced Sandwiches, Cheerfully Served

Friendly servers wearing traditional costumes made an amusing contrast to the denim jackets and many Icelandic sweaters on display.

Icelandic Native Costumes

Icelandic Native Costumes

And Many Sweaters in the Crowd

And Many Sweaters in the Crowd

Another terrific feature: free coffee and hot cocoa.  We drank both with our full plates of excellent food.

Delicious!

Delicious!

There was also a selection of vendors offering wool, sweaters, jewelry, gnomes, and culinary specialties for homesick Icelanders.  Dried fish, anyone?

Icelandic Candy and Dried Fish

Icelandic Candy and Dried Fish

And Inescapable Gnomes

And Inescapable Gnomes

But no pylsusinnep for sale.  How could they have been so negligent?

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My Slanted Opinion and the Jade Night Market

There we were out in Portland, Oregon, on a eating and sightseeing jaunt, back in 2015, on the way to Spokane.  We made a special effort to visit a street market in an Asian neighborhood, and it was well worth it.

The Jade International Night Market is an annual event, held in the Jade District of east Portland, not far from our B&B at an urban farm (yes, how Portland can you get?)  There were many food vendors, community groups, friendly neighborhood people, and, headlining the entertainment lineup, a local group called the Slants.  You may have heard of them by now.

Taiko Drum Corps Entertains

Taiko Drum Corps Entertains

Two Asian Fiddlers Played Creditable Bluegrass

Two Asian Fiddlers Played Creditable Bluegrass

dim sumjpg5

Our Dinner Came From the Dim Sum Stand

But There Were Also East African Offerings

But There Were Also East African Offerings

Filipinos Cooking in a Giant Wok

Filipinos Cooking in a Giant Wok

And Even a Taste of Transylvania!

And Even a Taste of Transylvania!

Children's Games

Children’s Games

And Community Groups. Vietnamese Immersion in the Public Schools - How Portland!

And Community Groups. Vietnamese Immersion in the Public Schools – How Portland!

The Slants’ case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court.  The question, of course, is whether the band’s name is too derogatory to be registered as a trademark.  The ironic nature of choosing the name for an ethnically Asian rock band to “take back” a racial slur is apparently too subtle for the Trademark Office to appreciate, and I would be in wholehearted support of their efforts to justify it, were it not for Washington’s football team.  If the Slants win their case, we will have the Redskins to kick around for, I guess, ever.

The Slants Greeted Fans at Their Booth

The Slants Greeted Fans at Their Booth

And Sold Merch

And Sold Merch

Of course the Slants can call themselves whatever they want.  There have been way more offensive rock band names, both self-descriptive and not (NWA, anyone?), but the court case is about registering the name as a trademark, and permission to sell merch without smirch.   And, how many self-identified members of the ethnic group have to be offended; and how many of everybody else?

Here’s my (admittedly short-term, but! how! elegant!) solution for the Redskins: change the mascot to a potato.  Everybody’s happy – until, of course, the tuber-Americans get offended.  And as for the Slants, I wish them well, both in the court case and as musicians.  And, oh, yes, there’s a food connection (this IS a food article, right?): they gave me a snack, a special Slants edition of an excruciatingly healthy Left Coast product.

The Slants Are Crunchy

The Slants Are Crunchy

And So Good For You

And So Good For You

A portion of your payment goes towards their legal fees.  So, go buy some, and Good Luck, Slants!

 

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Review: Dutch Treats: Heirloom Recipes from Farmhouse Kitchens by William Woys Weaver

Here is a book by a food historian which goes far beyond a collection of recipes, resembling not so much a cookbook as an ethnography through food.  Many recipes are presented with variations of their ingredients and methods over time, or little capsule biographies of their contributors and histories of their sources, providing a fascinating picture of the history of the Pennsylvania Dutch as an evolution of culture in the New World.

Dr. Weaver Speaks About Folks and Food

Dr. Weaver Speaks About Folks and Food

And Institutions: The Famous German Village Restaurant

And Institutions: The Famous German Village Restaurant

The book (and Dr. Weaver in person, a few months ago at meeting of the Culinary Historians of Washington) explains how the settlers adapted their baking to American ingredients, while preserving legends and folkways from Europe.  Breads, cakes, cookies, pies, and puddings – and Datsch cakes, a kind of flatbread – each have a chapter.  Pretzel recipes and lore are scattered throughout the book in such profusion that they really merit a chapter – or book? – to themselves.

Then there are artifacts of the New World: “Whoopie Cake (Greischlikuche)” invented in Massachusetts in 1926 and now ubiquitous in Dutch Country bakeries; and surprising ingredients such as saffron (raised in Pennsylvania since the 1730’s) and mango schnitz.

The copious photographs of cooking implements and examples of the baked goods produced in them are an added attraction to this material girl.  And to a Philadelphia native, the bit of history explaining the origin of the name “Shoofly Pie” was precious.  Shoofly the Boxing Mule was locally famous in the 1880’s, and the gooey, molasses-laden confection that I grew up eating was named in his honor (also, schuflei means “little crumb” – with which the pie is topped).

And Cookies

And Cookies

And Shoofly!

And Shoofly!

And Pie

And Pie

Now, how about those recipes?  Only two or three are subject to the dread overleaf transgression.  Sometimes, measurements are mixed.  In the recipe I tried, the ingredients list has two separate lots of sugar, one measured in tablespoons and one in ounces. Fortunately, Metric conversions are given for all, so confusion is minimized; still, it seems like a simple thing to avoid.

A more serious problem: on that same recipe (Cinnamon Rolls or “Snails” Schnecke), a suggestion for a variation for the filling refers the baker to a recipe for the poppy seed filling of a cake which has no filling, poppy seed or otherwise.

The Cinnamon Roll bake was a foray into unfamiliar territory for me, as I don’t attempt yeast-raised breads very often.  I have to report that my results were not worth the time (two risings) or mess generated by the process.   But that was probably just me, being inept.

snails-uncookedjpg3

Snails Before Cooking

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

Part of the Mess (Neatened Up)

Part of the Mess (Neatened Up)

But please don’t be put off by my lack of success with one recipe!  This book is compelling reading for its historical depth and obvious scholarship, without being fusty about it.  The back matter alone is proof of academic virtue: a glossary of baking terms and tools, bibliography, ingredients source list, index, recipe list, and contributors list.  And a wonderful illustration of Shoofly, the Boxing Mule.

dutch-treats-cover

Dutch Treats: Heirloom Recipes from Farmhouse Kitchens by William Woys Weaver, St. Lynn’s Press, Pittsburgh, 2016.

 

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The Business of Yum: YUMpreneurship at the University

How’s this for synergy: the business school of the University of Maryland stages an event to showcase local food entrepreneurs, providing an opportunity for b-school students to plan and promote it for course credit, and rising businesses to show off what they’ve got?  And, BTW, to let the public frolic among delicious food samplings for a small price?  Sounds like a win-win-win.  And it was.

The YUMpreneurship Showcase at the Universities at Shady Grove filled a very large room with rows of tables laden with food and drink.  On registering, samplers were given a bingo card listing all the food participants.  In theory, only one sample per business per person was to be given, to ensure that the most popular food didn’t evaporate while other samples were neglected.   This principle was honored variously in the breach and in the observance.

But first, there were opening ceremonies.  Professor Oliver Schlake welcomed the hungry crowd and described the Entrepreneurship Fellows Program.  Then all the entrepreneurs present lined up to introduce themselves.  One of them, Sophia Maroon, we knew from the Bethesda Green Incubator, another admirable institution for budding entrepreneurs.

Professor Schlake and Appropriate Shirt

Professor Schlake and Appropriate Shirt

Entrepreneurs Line Up

Entrepreneurs Line Up

Dressed-Up Ms. Maroon

Dressed-Up Ms. Maroon

I have found that the more unusual offerings at these events are often more rewarding than the commoner ones.  Avoiding the long lines at the hot dog stand,  I made a beeline for the Korean bowls of Mashi Market (our friends from the Olney Farmers Market), and went on to try the wares at Jimmy’s Seafood and Java Cove. All delicious.

Before the Crush: On One Side of the Room

Before the Crush: On One Side of the Room

And the Other Side

And the Other Side

mashi-2jpg9

Mashi Market Table

Protein needs fulfilled, I went on to the sweets and drinks.  There were many cupcake outlets; that fad has yet to run its course!  A welcome trend of new local breweries and distilleries was represented by Dragon Distillery, of Frederick.  But alas, no samples; this was a dry event.

Dragon Distillery's Vodka and Soap

Dragon Distillery’s Vodka and Soap

One neat, and possibly unique, thing about Dragon: they make soap from their left-over flavorings.

The food products ranged from probiotics to decadent, sugary treats.  Gnarley Drinks produces a delicious, hibiscus-based tipple.  Hacienda Tres Angeles imports excellent coffee from their own estate in Puerto Rico.  Milk Cult was dishing up ice cream in exotic flavors of pistachio and Chinese five spice.  Patisserie Manuel had a bingo-card Nazi, so I was limited to only one sample of macaron among their several sweets (cruel!), but they did have a very photogenic cake on display.

Cake Just For Show

Cake Just For Show

The room filled up with ravenous (mostly) students.  It wasn’t long before the food started to be depleted.  Even so, we were sufficed.  We left the stacks of pizza boxes, provided just in case anyone was still hungry after sampling the wares of fifty exhibitors, to the younger generations.

Crowded Now!

Crowded Now!

The proceeds from the event were donated to the Manna Food Center, an organization dedicated to ending hunger in Montgomery County through food redistribution.  I hope the students and entrepreneurs profited as much as those who came to eat and drink!  I know I’ll look forward to next year’s event.

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Smithsonian Food History Weekend 2016: Bigger and Better, With Foodie Celebs – Part 2, Saturday: Food History Festival

“Deep-Dish Dialogs” was a fitting title to the Saturday program, with five intriguing personalities (and possibly a sixth, but I skipped the “Food on Film” talk to catch the rest of the festival).

Jane and Michael Stern, authors of the bestselling Roadfood and many other books, presented an illustrated history of their lives and travels.  I have been listening to them on The Splendid Table since forever, so it was a real treat to meet them and hear about how they began their odyssey “to review every restaurant in America – and we’re still working on it!”

Paula Johnson with Michael and Jane Stern

Paula Johnson with Michael and Jane Stern

After graduating with two “useless degrees,” they had to invent jobs for themselves.  They seem to have done it well.  Aside from their restaurant mission, they have amassed a collection of outsider art and ephemera.  They love to visit prison gift shops (who knew there even were such things?)

Their unique career was not without hazards. They have been thrown out of restaurants for taking notes and pictures of the food. Near the Menninger Clinic in Kansas, Jane excused Michael’s behavior by claiming that he was certifiably insane.  They believed her.

In some places, they assumed Jane was Amish because she was wearing New York black.  They won a live sheep once, in Navajo Country.  They kept us in stitches!  Even Paula almost lost her professional composure once or twice.

And one pic in their ephemera collection made me sit up in my seat.  They flashed a copy of the program book for the 20th World Science Fiction Convention (Chicago, 1962) on the screen.  Although I am too young to have attended that one, I know folks who did.

Worldcon Program Book, on Right

Worldcon Program Book, on Right

After their talk, they signed.  I took the opportunity to buy their joint autobiography, Two for the Road.  And I met Kelly Camille Paterson and Paul Spencer of the Velveteen Lounge Kitch-en, in wonderful matching outfits.

Sterns and Fans

Sterns and Fans

The Velveteens

The Velveteens

The next Dialog took place between two folks who had been talking to each other for a long time.  The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, produce Hidden Kitchens for NPR.  They played audio clips from their new series.  The variety of stories relating to food and culture ranged from “Weenie Royale,” a dish invented in the Japanese internment camps of World War II, to the George Foreman Grill.

The Kitchen Sisters: Davia and Nicki

The Kitchen Sisters: Davia and Nikki

And here’s their standout pic (for me and my fellow caffeine freaks): a rifle from the Civil War with a coffee grinder built into the stock.  It’s from the aptly named “War and Peace and Coffee” episode. Because:  “Nobody can soldier without coffee.”  Or function at all, sez I.

Coffee Grinder Rifle Stock

Coffee Grinder Rifle Stock

So I bugged out on “Food on Film” (which I later heard was very good) to see some of the other festival sights, and get some lunch.  In light of my underwhelming lunch the day before, I decided to explore other options, specifically, the line of food trucks on Constitution Avenue in front of the African-American History Museum.

Food Truck City

Food Truck City

And it was a party out there!  A lively crowd was having a good time, eating and hanging out on the sidewalk.  I surveyed the variety of trucks, and decided to have a sweet potato pie for lunch.  It was delicious, and very reasonably priced.

I went back to the NMAH to visit the Victory Garden, which was hosting activities similar to those at last year’s festival: flower pounding, seed saving, and wandering through the garden taking pictures.

Victory Garden from Above

Victory Garden from Above

Hop King Sans Hops

Hop King Sans Hops

Bean Teepee

Bean Teepee

The Hop King from last year was there, but the hops had already been dealt with.

Inside, I visited Julia’s kitchen just to say hello.  On the way, I noticed the Greensboro Lunch Counter attracting attention.

Hello, Julia's Kitchen!

Hello, Julia’s Kitchen!

Greensboro Lunch Counter

Greensboro Lunch Counter

But upstairs, near the activities in the Flag Hall, the gift shop was having a Star Trek moment.

Hello, Captain Kirk!

Hello, Captain Kirk!

Back downstairs I went, for the last Dialog of the day.  Jessica Carbone interviewed Julia Child’s great-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, about his new book, The French Chef in America.

Jessica and Alex

Jessica and Alex

 

It’s about what happened after Julia returned from France: testing recipes for Volume II of Mastering the Art, filming the first television series, being parodied by Dan Ackroyd on Saturday Night Live…  And the show that didn’t happen: Thirteen Recipes for Thirteen Colonies, for the bicentennial year of 1976, with James Beard.  I’d have loved to see that!

Next year’s Weekend is planned for October 26-28.  Can’t wait!

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Smithsonian Food History Weekend 2016: Bigger and Better, And With (a Little) Food – Part 1, Friday: Food History Roundtables

I’m happy to report that there is now some food at the Food Weekend.  Those dedicated enough to attend the Friday Roundtables got a nice bonus: a reception with beer, wine and munchies at the end of the day.  Some of the panelists from the day’s program were there.  That was nice.

The Sign By The Signup Table

The Sign By The Signup Table

This year’s event was even better than last year’s, because of the new series of talks on Saturday, even though I missed every last one of the chef demos (and these were heretofore my favorite part!), because they were scheduled concurrently.  I also felt compelled to at least skim the other parts of the Festival.

But let’s take the weekend in order – well, not quite, as I still haven’t cracked the Gala on Thursday night.  Never mind.  On Friday, the Roundtables, a series of panel discussions, focused on Politics on Your Plate, just in case we all weren’t already heartily sick of the whole topic even before the election.

The Politics of Food: Charles, Miller, Nestle, Belasco

The Politics of Food: Johnson (at Podium), Charles, Miller, Nestle, Belasco

The first panel included one of my sheros, Marion Nestle.  After brief opening remarks by Paula Johnson, food history curator at NMAH, the panel settled down to a discussion of The Politics of Food through American History, from “the Indians and Colonists thought each other’s food was disgusting” to food as a tool of dissent during the Viet Nam war protests and the Civil Rights movement.

Afterwards, there were book signings.

Marion Nestle Signing

Marion Nestle Signing

The Politics of Farm Labor: Loza, Medina, Castaneda, Fitzgerald

The Politics of Farm Labor: Loza, Medina, Castaneda, Fitzgerald

The participants of Panel 2, The Politics of Farm Labor, assured us that, although mechanization has changed farm labor, it has not made the remaining labor easier.  Nor are the jobs of sorters, packers, and others any better.  And then there is the question of the treatment of workers who generate the huge flow of produce over the border from Mexico.

When everyone was suitably radicalized, we adjourned for lunch in the Stars and Stripes Cafe.  Last year, there was a special menu coordinated with the Food Weekend; not so this time.  I had some overpriced, indifferent barbecue, accompanied by mac and “cheese” that had no discernible cheese taste.  The coleslaw was passable.

The Politics of Labeling: Strasser, Mayne, Halloran, Moss

The Politics of Labeling: Strasser, Mayne, Halloran, Moss

The program recommenced with The Politics of Labeling.   Experts in nutrition and public policy discussed what we see and don’t see on food labels, and why the front content can be so different from the nutrition label on the back (hint: the front label can be read as the food industry’s tracking of consumer concerns).

The Politics of Health: Veit, Harper, Wansink, Hoover

The Politics of Health: Veit, Harper, Wansink, Hoover

And lastly, The Politics of Health panel discussed food gardens in poor areas; access to healthy food as opposed to fast food (with all its hidden costs); and incorporating elements of precontact, traditional diets into modern indigenous people’s diets.  A spirited defense of the Standing Rock pipeline’s protest elicited spontaneous applause, as did a plea to bring back teaching Home Economics in schools.

Would it be Philistine of me to suggest that the best part of the day was the reception?  The finger food was interesting: tiny lady apples (some of the strawberries on the fruit plate were bigger), literally green cheese, grilled veggies, cured meats, and free-flowing wine and beer.

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Finger Food

And the schmoozing was good.  It was a very nice coda to the day.

Next entry: Saturday: Food History Festival

 

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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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