Showing posts with label bread. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bread. Show all posts

Monday, April 05, 2021

Home Again

Here we are back home. We bought some Lithuanian bread
at the Russian Gourmet in Fairfax and will be trying it tonight.
We miss Alice, who made us a beautiful salad to go with dinner
last night. 
We drove from Fairfax to Ann Arbor today. 
The spring flowers there are considerably more advanced than here.
Dinner on our last night in Fairfax: vegetables, scallops, and fish cooked on the grill.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander

Saturday, February 13, 2021

A Meditation is not History

"Bread followed paths that took it through space and time, memory and oblivion. It is hard to say where these journeys begin and where they end. Most often they moved from east to west, following the sun. Sometimes the paths returned the same way, at others they took a different route, all the while crossing plains, scaling mountains, roaming deserts. Grain was transported across seas and along rivers by ship, and on land by carts and packhorses, and even on the shoulders of men and women. Travellers, merchants and caravans all passed through these crossroads, evoked by prophets, preachers and poets. Futile though it often is, let us try to imagine what the past was like in prehistoric times, for memories of those times have been preserved in stories and legends." -- first paragraph of Our Daily Bread. 

Our Daily Bread by Predrag Matvejević is subtitled "A meditation on the cultural and symbolic significance of bread throughout history." While the book is full of references to historic events and to literature and religious teachings about bread, it is most definitely not a history book. 

As I read Our Daily Bread, I had to get used to its highly subjective and religious point of view. The chronological consistency that normally appears in a historical document is not maintained here, although the presentation sometimes gave me mistaken expectations about a seemingly scholarly work. This book is a meditation, not a history and not an analysis. 

There are passages, for example, where history and fiction are cited as equals, and where time and place are all mixed up, such as this:

"In old Cordoba, on the banks of the Guadalquivir, there was a bakers’ quarter known in Arabic as Rabad ar-rakkakin. It was said that this was where the best bread in Andalusia could be found. It was near a 'sweet basil shop,' khavanit ar-reihan, just a few steps away from the 'garden of wonders,' Munjet al-adjab. Cordobans came here to get good bread. Before tasting it, they would first wash their hands and rinse their mouths with fresh water at one of the surrounding fountains. They did not cut the bread with a knife, rather they tore off pieces, eating them one by one. During the reign of the Umayyads, Cordoba numbered some twenty quarters along the banks of its great river before it was destroyed in the month of shawwal in the year 633 of the Hijri (1236 ce). The bakers’ quarter was famous, and everyone knew about it and that the way to enter was through the gate of Saragossa, bab Saraqusta. Ebu-l-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmed Muhammad ibn Rushd walked the streets: 'it would take a hundred years for that long name to become Averroes,' twentieth-century author Jorge Luis Borges remarked in his short story 'The Aleph.' He reminded us that the philosopher’s ancestors had come from the dry deserts of Arabia, and therefore liked to listen to the gurgling sound of water, especially when it came from a fountain in a hidden courtyard. Averroes knew about the neighbouring bakeries, where another frequenter was Ha-Rav Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides. This Jewish philosopher and physician, a native of Cordoba, wrote Commentary on the Mishnah in Arabic. In times of yore, the legends of Arabs and Jews, both Semites, converged around a loaf of bread. Cordoba was a prime example of this; perhaps that is why it was destroyed."

This passage illustrates several characteristics of  Matvejević's writing style besides the mixture of historic fact with openly fantastic fiction and mythic beliefs. He LOVES to use obscure foreign words! He drops names of famous and not-so-famous characters from the past. And he jumps around in locale and in time periods. I didn't edit the above: it's really all one continuous paragraph. The last phrase: "perhaps that is why [Cordoba] was destroyed" can only be interpreted as a religious belief.

The author sometimes admits to his choice of a pastiche, not a historical disciplined narrative: "for this occasion it might be best to resort to the literary methods known in Formalism as montage and citation in order to present them, that is to listing facts and quotes and summarizing them according to need and purpose," he says on one occasion. Or "Literature has preserved bread as something real and something imagined." Definitely not the method of a scholar. Also, he doesn't use citations, and in his final chapter when he lists his sources, they are sources of inspiration, not sources for his "facts" -- which aren't always facts anyway.

Here's a funny example of "facts" -- he mentions that ancient Egyptian beer "was sometimes seen as liquid bread, since both were made with barley. Presumably, not enough hops grew near the desert!" A quick fact-check reveals that the earliest use of hops was in the 9th century of the current era; that is, a couple of thousand years later. So his explanation is a bit strange. 

Matvejević's love of words and derivations is also rather mystical. As I pointed out, he loves to quote obscure terms from obscure languages, and to quote ancient speculations on word derivations, never quoting modern linguistic science. He cites Arabic words "teeming with consonants: bdsh, hts, pzn, dpt. Although nobody knows how they were pronounced." Presumably he's literally ignorant, or perhaps willfully ignorant, of the fact that Arabic orthography doesn't use any vowels, which explains this mystery. In exploring words for various types of bread in another single-paragraph digression he ranges from very ancient Egypt to Herodotus, who lived a thousand years later.

"The historical approach questions and scrutinizes, while the theological reveals and believes. Christ, whose historical existence has been proven, cannot be measured against the idea of Christ in the Christian faith," Matvejević writes. As a Christian book Our Daily Bread reflects the author's faith. For example, he adopts the fundamentalist view that Jewish religious ritual has remained unchanged for the last 2000 years. Thus in discussing the Last Supper, he cites the Haggadah, which dates from the 10th or 11th century after the founding of Christianity, so doesn't actually apply to the Last Supper if you are a literalist. He also cites modern Orthodox Jewish rituals for matzoh-making (which are maybe 100 years old) when discussing the customs of Biblical times, which is a religious, not a historical choice on his part. Similar non-historic passages are also present in regard to other subjects. Or maybe these are  just the choice of a writer who can't be bothered to look things up. Sometimes this annoyed me, but I tried to be tolerant. 

Predrag Matvejević (1932-2017) was a literary scholar who had academic appointments in Zagreb, Paris, and Rome. His list of publications is long. He was born in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the area that now belongs to Croatia, and his ethnic background included Russian, Yugoslav, Croatian, Hertzegovinian, and Ukrainian elements. Our Daily Bread was first published in Croatian in 2009. The English version, published in 2020, was translated by Christina Pribichevich-Zorić. 

I have read a number of books on bread, all of which I would recommend more highly than this one. I have found very few reviews of this book, and the other readers were very impressed because of all the "facts" and quotations, and because they see it as poetic. My reaction is different.

Review © 2021 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

In the Kitchen in January

Political events and unfounded hopes for covid vaccinations have preoccupied my thoughts during January. Because isolation is still necessary, in fact increasingly necessary, we have continued to cook and eat all our meals at home, but without a lot of novelty. New items we have purchased include things like different face masks rather than different kitchen gadgets! The best I can do for "In My Kitchen" is a summary of what we ate during the month.

Len's experiments in baking from The Rye Baker have continued, with lots of delicious rye breads as well as pizza dough and crusty sourdough loaves. As he creates sourdough discard, I try to use it up by making pancakes, both sweet and savory. I've posted plenty of photos of these breads in the past -- here are a few more.

One of Len's great rye breads served with anchovy butter.

Salad and tangerines accompany the bread.

Fresh out of the oven!

A loaf made from light rye flour and "first clear"
wheat flour: new ingredients this month.
Rye bread, eggplant with stir-fry noodles, and grapes for dessert.

Ottolenghi's many fascinating recipes continue to be a favorite choice for adding new flavors and flavor combinations to our diet.
From Ottolenghi's book Jerusalem:
a sheet pan dish: chicken with fennel and tangerines.
The only chicken I cooked in January.

The chicken dish, served with rice. (Recipe here)

From Ottolenghi's Flavor: potatoes and eggs
with gochujang sauce and miso.

Grocery delivery and a few items picked up by a friend continue to be our source of all food. In January, we didn't even order any take-out food -- we ordered from Whole Foods via and we cooked it all in the kitchen. Unfortunately, although the Whole Foods ordering continues to be reliable, Amazon has discontinued Prime Pantry, and the products I was buying from that service are now much more expensive on Amazon, if available at all. In the following photo you can see the last Pantry box awaiting recycling. 

Amazon Prime Pantry:
formerly a great way to get many brand-name foods
like V-8 juice and Hellman's mayo.

Soup has been a welcome lunch food as the weather descends into its most wintery period, though luckily, we had a relatively mild December and first half of January, with snow at near-record lows. Soup is about the least photogenic food I know of, so no pics!

A more cheerful subject: Valentine's Day is coming soon! At the end of the month, we added some Valentine placemats and decor to our table. It's nice to see them during the worsening weather as we fret because the Michigan distribution of vaccine is very slow and uncertain.

On the table: placemats that say "I Love You"
and some bright heart-shaped fairy lights.

The Valentine decor with an exceptional meat meal:
mashed potatoes, yogurt sauce, condiments, AND
lamb chops that I had in the freezer before the pandemic began.
(OK, I should have used them sooner, but they were fine.)

Savory pancakes containing corn and onion, with avocado salad.
Valentine decor again.
"I love you" placemats once more, with salad, rice, and shrimp.

To conclude with a happy thought: one of the flocks of robins that spend the winter in wooded areas
came to our neighborhood last week, and feasted on the berries in a nearby garden.

This blog post © 2021 mae sander, to be shared with “In My Kitchen” hosted by Sherry’s blog.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Scenes from my life

. '

Cranberry bread.

Bison (yes, like on the great plains). These live in Ann Arbor along with Canada geese.

A hawk in a tree.

A book I read but didn’t write about:
The Flower Master by Sujata Massey

Travel? The farthest place I've been is the many strange worlds of
the HBO series "His Dark Materials," which I've now finished watching.

Blog post and original photos © 2020 mae sander.

Monday, November 30, 2020

In My Kitchen, November 2020.

What's new and nifty in my November Kitchen?

A large selection of German Lebkuchen: this is one of the many selections in
a gift box from Evelyn. A favorite:  “Dominoes” which have three layers, gingerbread, 
almond paste, and jelly, and are covered with chocolate. (Irresistible!)

A new butter and cheese dish with a slot for the knife.

Also new: tongs to replace a broken pair: useful & boring.
We also bought some new spatulas -- also boring but useful.

Round proofing basket for Len’s bread making.


During the month of November, as we've done for months during out long dark lockdown, we ate almost every meal at our own table, just the two of us, having cooked the food for ourselves. As the pandemic statistics rose to new heights, we even stopped going into the one or two little markets where we felt safe for a while. All our groceries came from deliveries or curb-side pickup.

We tried various combinations of new flavors.

We made frittata with Asian flavors, and finished the top with the 
kitchen torch rather than under the broiler.

The frittata had eggs (of course) and broccoli, onions, mushrooms, and
Asian condiments; garnished with cilantro, soy sauce, and hoisin sauce.

Wild-caught gulf shrimp with fresh vegetables.

We constantly make new kinds of pancakes from sourdough discard.
Here: pancakes with raisins and dried apricots with a side of fried apple slices.

Kitchen Essentials

Essential kitchen item: Vlasic dill relish!
Tuna salad without it is impossible.

Essential to have on hand: wine. The beverage for Elizabeth's
weekly blogger get-together.


Some good things we ate: mushroom gravy, pumpkin with garlic and cilantro, and a chicken with dressing made from wild rice, white rice, cranberries, and green onions. Then on Saturday night, we had a great gift: leftover duck and sides reserved for us from the Thanksgiving dinner of some relatives who quarantined for 2 weeks to be able to get together with each other.

Carving the chicken on Facetime, as we shared our
Thanksgiving dinner with Evelyn and her family.

Down the street, Kathy’s Bear also enjoyed 
a turkey dinner.


For Thanksgiving, Len baked apple bread (shown) and rye-raisin bread.
We ate some and gave some to several friends.

Strangest Food Read of November

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata has some of the weirdest and most disturbing food scenes that I've ever read. I liked her first book, Convenience Store Woman (blogged here), but this new one was really horrifying! Both books are about characters that reject Japanese society in eccentric ways, but I think Murata has gone off some kind of deep end now!

This concludes my kitchen roundup for the busy, though isolated, month of November. I’m sharing with a number of bloggers at the event “In My Kitchen” sponsored by Sherry’s Pickings.

Blog post and photos © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving Preparations

Early this morning, Len started making apple bread for Thanksgiving Dinner.
We plan to eat some for dinner, and give some to friends. Earlier this week, he made rye-raisin bread for friends.

The loaves are now rising, and will be baked later this morning.

A turkey would be too large: we will be roasting this chicken, 
which is currently dry-brining in the refrigerator.

Stock for gravy is simmering: using up the meat trimmings
and vegetable trimmings is one of our annual Thanksgiving chores.

Despite being alone, we are preparing a pretty traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and as I often have done, I'm writing blog posts about our cooking progress. We miss all the usual people with whom we normally cook and share our Thanksgiving dinner, but we will meet with them later on e-chats. We've sent and received Thanksgiving greetings with a few friends all around the country.

Our usual co-cooks are busy in their own kitchens, making food for just their own families. Evelyn has already made candied pecans, making them on the stovetop rather than in the oven as we usually do. Elaine writes that she's saving candied pecans for another day: "We'll just have cranberry bread and apple pie and cranberry chutney (already made) as sweets. I'm stuffing a chicken and mashing sweet potatoes (omitting the cilantro, which we like OK but not enough to have a whole bunch minus a bit rot in the refrigerator."

Also, a friend wrote me this interesting note: "We had a dinner with just two for our first Thanksgiving in 1961. Back then I was able to find a five pound turkey! I made a chestnut stuffing using chestnuts in the shell. That was a lot of work. I soon learned to buy dry chestnuts without the shells. Today I will use a turkey breast as there is no such thing as a small turkey."

Blog post and photos © 2020 mae sander.