Boulangerie at Home

Harper Collins

I may have found the perfect winter quarantine book. This is a mechanic’s handbook to creating perfect boulangerie–croissants, brioche sucre, apple tarts, vienna rolls, and all sorts of bread loaves. Those delicious things you used to enjoy in the bakery when we all went outside. The treats you could enjoy over an afternoon coffee in the cafe with a friend. Remember all that?

If it’s any comfort, you can re-create them at home, though it will take time–but you’ve probably got that. Also get some flour. And get then get started.

But first understand that you will be an apprentice in your own kitchen. Landemaine worked with Pierre Herme and Paul Bocuse, at Lucas Carton and Le Bristol. He has since opened his own chain of Parisian bakeries an his watchwords are work, excellence and pleasure. Humble yourself and start kneading.

The book begins with the building blocks of bread–various starters and basic doughs–each one with an explanation of the ingredients and how they work together as well as some baker’s tips about shelf life, when it’s ready, and how you can use it.

After the basics, you graduate to the recipes–the twists and cuts to shape, the fillings and finishes that make them perfect. I have begun my devotion with Vienna dough, a milky and just barely sweet that is what white bread should be. It can be fashioned into baguettes, a cheese bread, a seeded bun, or speckled with dried fruit. I’m envisioning quiet breakfasts and a calm table.

I’m hoping that the recipe will become second nature but that I’ll never lose my attentiveness.

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Cleaning Out the Basement–Prohibition Punches

Prohibition Punches by Roxana B. Doran
first printing, August 1930, Dorrance & Company, Inc

Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

–Benjamin Franklin

It just seems hopeless when government tries to ban something that is fundamental to human culture.

Of course, that doesn’t mean government won’t try to legislate who and how we love, when and how we have families, and how we drink.

Luckily, we can look back on Prohibition as a mistake, an overreach, a cup of unintended consequences.

I found this book at the St. John’s Opportunity Shop, a storefront Aladdin’s cave that regularly reveals new treasures.

This book was a good faith effort to make appealing drinks for every time of day and type of gathering and, in the our time of mock-tails, actually offers a bit of inspiration.

Some of the drinks are more like dessert: raspberry ice, vanilla ice cream, orange ice, and strawberry preserves. Others are more like a salad–tomato wedges, asparagus tips dressed with ketchup, worcestershire, and lemon juice, crabmeat optional. Lemons step in to cut through sweet fruit juices and the strongest mixer is tea.

The preface, by a Dr. Harvey Wiley, describes the book as “a very fine thing” and the Eighteenth Amendment as a “permanent part of our Constition” and promises these drinks “will make for a healthier and more contented mental attitude…”. You know the history–no further comment needed.

The recipes come from various college home economics departments and from various women identified only by their husbands names and titles (this is Washington after all where your spot in the bureaucracy is noted). Laura Volstead Lomen shares a recipe for fruit punch that calls for fresh fruit and a quart of sugar. Somehow the author manages to discern which recipes are suitable for children and offers a recipe from Mrs. John B. Henderson of Henderson Castle on Washington’s 16th Street, known as “the playground of diplomats.”

Apparently Mrs. Henderson decided “that liquor, even the best of it, is injurious to the health of an individual and worse than detrimental to the life of a nation. Without more ado, she ordered the contents of her extensive wine cellar–rated one of the finest in Washington at the time–poured down the gutters outside her castle walls.”

I can only imagine what Senator Henderson had to say.

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Local Dirt

Local Dirt, Seasonal Recipes for Eating Close to Home
by Andrea Bemus, Harper Collins 2020

Here’s how it started with this book. At first I thought, sure, eating local is easy if you live and work on a farm, But as I flipped through the seasonal recipes I remembered those few leaves of kale and the two purple potatoes left over from my latest CSA delivery. More kale–it can be dispiriting.

So I followed Andrea Bemis’s advice to “localize it” and swapped the parsnips for potatoes in her recipe for Cozy Lentil Stew with Kale and Parsnips. The warm spices–cumin, pepper, and smoked paprika–were just the thing for the first nippy night of the changing season.

I’m ready to “localize” Pumpkin Honey Bread, swapping, as Bemis suggests pumpkin for acorn squash and honey for maple syrup. This approach makes cooking and eating with local ingredients realistic and creative.

Bemis, who farms in north central Oregon and suggests asking three questions about your food–is it good for you, good for the planet, and good for your community. An occasional bag of cheetos isn’t the end of the world, but getting more local food into your diet can improve your health, lower pollution created by producing and shipping industrial-scale food, and can provide local jobs and maintain local communities. Kale–even a lot of it–is a good thing!

She’s been through a thoughtful food process, moving away from meat and dairy, and then returning to them, when they are farmed locally and responsibly. Instead of thinking of eating locally in terms of challenges and limitations, Bemis finds herself and her table rooted in the community and the seasons. 

Amid stories of outings with day-boat albacore fisherman, a ranch lunch with cattle farmers who can’t afford to eat their own grass-fed beef, raising their own pigs, and searching out raw milk, Bemis offers seasonal recipes, which, she reassures readers, are “very forgiving and were created with the idea that you can make them your own with what you’ve got.”

She advises sharing bulk purchases with friends or storing stocked up basics in the freezer. Ask questions when you can’t find an ingredient–the farmer might know. Keep it simple and plan ahead. When it’s berry season, enjoy them, freeze them, preserve them. 

After a chapter of basics like stocks, broths, and herbs, Bemis starts the year of recipes in the fall, with pot pies, slaw, soups, and stews–a mushroom hunter’s stew, honey and cider baked beans, and a Sausage and Sage Frittata. Winter warrants biscuits and gravy, a luxurious, waste-not chicken liver pate, and comforting Baked Apple Oatmeal. 

Spring must begin with eggs, here another frittata, green with herbs. Salads and strawberries make an appearance as do lamb kabobs on the grill. It always seems easier to get up earlier in the summer, especially for Huckleberry Cornmeal Pancakes or even a slice of savory Tomato Pie.

And kale gets it due–in that savory stew, in pesto, green eggs and ham, and stirred into a Pumpkin Pot Pie. Who could complain? 

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CHoWline: Soul Food

Have an American meal on this Independence Day–chips and salsa, pizza, hamburger–it’s a big table with room for everyone.

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CHoWline: Food in the Gilded Age

In the 1980s there was a Texas congressman who was skeptical that there were hungry people in the US–poor people looked too fat to be hungry. He was an idiot. Just because there is “food” doesn’t mean it’s healthy, a reasonable part of your budget, or nearby. And this isn’t just a poor people problem. Our food system harms the environment and all our health. I don’t want to be a scold–I love an occasional bag of Cheetos–but small decisions have big impacts.

You can get a copy of this book here and visit the CHoW website to keep up with our meetings and speakers, likely to be zoomed this upcoming season.

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CHoWline: The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery

Have you had that odd jolt yet when you realize you are part of history? Talking to someone in their 20s about the Allman Brothers? That making a shopping list is suddenly considered a life hack? Watching jeans styles go around and around, in and out of fashion?

Take a look at this new version of Foxfire–the voices are as bright and sharp as ever, as are the recipes and techniques. Time has only added patina and appreciation.

 

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Healthy Bones

cover image

Healthy Bones, Sheilah Kaufman and Paul Jacobsen

Let food be your medicine

–Hippocrates

I’ve been reading Twyla Tharp’s latest book, Keep it Moving, a bracing look at aging. Too often we think of fighting aging with hair dye, expensive cosmetic potions, even surgery, but recasting it as simply another phase of life, with its own pleasures and perils, is far more energizing.

Of course, Tharp is a dancer and movement is her lens, but her book’s larger message is to not stop;  accept aging, but assess and adjust. Goals, energy and enjoyment don’t end at any age.

And with this book, there is plenty of healthy enjoyment to be found at the table. Sponsored by the National Osteoporosis Foundation and written by the cookbook pros and Cookbook Construction Crew, Sheilah Kaufman and Paul Jacobsen, the book begins with some medical information with recommendations for exercise and medication. Their most reassuring message is that osteoporosis is not an inevitable result of aging.

Before the recipes, the book supplies larger diet information, which can be summed up pretty simply–eat a lot of different real food, avoid sweet and salty junk food, and limit the alcohol and caffeine. This is advice that makes it easy to eat healthy–there’s so much choice!

The recipes taps into that choice with a broad selection of dishes (including one from me–Sicilian-Style Pasta with Sardines–an excellent off-the-shelf quick dinner). The recipes range through the menu and across cultures. Begin the day with Cannoli French Toast, made rich and healthy with ricotta cheese and for an after dinner dessert try Bittersweet Chocolate Loaf Cake made with good-for-you dark chocolate. For Asian Flavors try Curried Shrimp with Apples or Chinese Steak with Pea Pods. The Mediterranean diet has long been touted as a healthful way to eat, and this book offers Moroccan Lamb Meatballs, A creamy yogurt-based Tzatziki, and Garlic Sautéed Rapini, among many others.

In fact, the book is a perfect balance between new flavors and easy techniques, which you can enjoy even more knowing the dishes are good for you.

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Feast of the Seven Fishes

Feast of the Seven Fishes, A Brooklyn Italian’s Recipes Celebrating Food and Family, Daniel Paterna, Powerhouse Books, 2019

I like reality that tastes like bread.

Jean Anouilh

Enough with the jokes about garlic and overeating. Its time to recognize Italian home cooking, Italian-American cooking, not as coarse overabundance but for its subtle sparking of flavors, its seasonal sensibility, and its generous expression of love.

This book is a loving scrapbook to the author’s family–particularly his energetic mother who juggled job, family, and kitchen–and to his neighborhood that keeps food traditions vital.

Paterna takes on the stereotypes of both Italian-Americans and of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn where he grew up. His mother had a 30-year career as a bank teller (reminds me of my grandmother who was sharp with numbers and well-respected at her publishing company office). He points out that the neighborhood is more than mafia stereotypes. Its shopkeepers are skilled artisans using old machines to roll out pasta dough and coal-fired ovens to bake bread, keeping alive generational techniques of food production. And shops that keep a connection to Italian culture with imported groceries and music.

If you can take a field trip, make sure there’s a cooler in the trunk of your car. You won’t want to go home without fresh mozzarella from Lioni Latticini, Faicco’s hot fennel sausage, and Villabate Alba’s hand-painted marzipan.

If it’s a subway visit, pick-up a submarine sandwich assembled a la minute at Papa Pasquale’s or visit Coluccio and Sons for the ingredients to make Paterna’s recipes–Arrancini, Parmigiana di Melanzane, Pomodori Ripieni, or Gamberi Fra Diavolo. The recipes are mostly simple, relying on attention to small details and excellent ingredients.

And Paterna capture the Italian genius for making something out of nothing. Who would guess that stoccofisso, dried, salted cod or squirming eels and octopus could be transformed into dishes that you wait all year to eat. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a symbolic meal served on Christmas Eve, said to represent the seven sacraments or the seven days of creation, but now its own ritual of family.

Like the holiday meal the book is named for, Italian American cooking takes a particular savor from the family and seasonal associations that attend to dishes and ingredients. The food, just like this book, is a labor of love and attention.

 

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Lost Farms and Estates of Washington, D.C.

In this book local historian Kim Prothro Williams finds traces and tells the stories of the farms, estates, and plantations that lie beneath the capital’s monuments and official buildings. Sheep and wine grapes in the hills of Northwest, African American farms in Chevy Chase, and a plantation on Roosevelt Island.

This review appeared in CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC–an excellent group!

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Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C.

Examining how we use words, in this case “food desert,” makes us see people and places in new ways–more complex and complete. In this book, Ashante Reese examines a single DC neighborhood and finds agency in food that might otherwise be overlooked, and that might be a model for ways to address equitable food access.

This review appeared in the September issue of CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC–a group you should check out!

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