Showing posts with label coronavirus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label coronavirus. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Hunger in Our Society: What’s happening now?

Source:  Food Gatherers’ Website
“Scenes of crowded food banks have provided some of the most arresting images of the pandemic and brought hunger issues a rare spotlight. A recent Census Bureau survey found that, over the previous week alone, 8.4 percent of adults said their households ‘sometimes’ lacked enough to eat and 2.3 percent said they ‘often’ did. That translates into 23 million hungry adults, plus millions of children.” — (source)

The pandemic made many of the problems of our society more obvious and more pressing than they were before last year. Food insecurity, in particular, has been an issue here in America for a long time, and the large-scale loss of jobs a year ago definitely made it much worse and also more visible. Who doesn’t recall the photos of long lines of cars queued up to receive food boxes and other help from a variety of organizations. Throughout the year, I have been following both the national problems and the actions of Food Gatherers, the food bank in Ann Arbor where I live, and I wanted to explore what’s happening now.

Several changes in the national situation recently have offered a cause for optimism:

At the moment, there is a better outlook for employment. Jobless claims were at a pandemic-era low at the end of March. Specifically: “The unemployment rate edged down to 6.0 percent in March. The rate is down considerably from its recent high in April 2020 but is 2.5 percentage points higher than its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. The number of unemployed persons, at 9.7 million, continued to trend down in March but is 4.0 million higher than in February 2020. (source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Coming soon or already in place: better benefits and direct help from the federal government are being enacted into law. The New York Times reports: “With more than one in 10 households reporting that they lack enough to eat, the Biden administration is accelerating a vast campaign of hunger relief that will temporarily increase assistance by tens of billions of dollars and set the stage for what officials envision as lasting expansions of aid.” (source)

Throughout  the past very difficult year, charitable organizations have been improving their organizations and distributing more food to those in need —“The people who run America’s charitable food banks take pride in what they’ve accomplished over the past year, and the numbers justify it: They distributed roughly 50 percent more food in 2020 compared with 2019, a considerable portion to first-time visitors. They served millions of people even as they dealt with supply-chain interruptions and health risks for their volunteers and employees.” (source)

Although there is a resurgence of coronavirus cases in Michigan, and a “fourth wave” of infections may be underway, the vaccination programs throughout the country are also a cause for optimism. As more people become able to go to work, to eat in restaurants, and to enjoy a more normal life, and as children and students of all ages return to school, the root causes of increased food insecurity may become less drastic, and the new approaches to the general well-being of Americans may help solve some of our problems. 

I wrote about some of this a few weeks ago, and I wanted to update that post here. My previous post:

There are still many problems with the rest of the world — especially the fact that distribution of vaccine is not anywhere near as effective elsewhere, and the disease is still spreading. The challenges facing any approach to world hunger are drastic, and the changes needed globally are frightening. I can’t begin to grasp the scope of what’s needed globally. We have to face the consequences of climate change and destruction of resources — two potential causes of increasing poverty and unimaginable want. As we also have to face incredible public health problems. 

blog post © 2021 mae sander

Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Year of Feeding Those in Need

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the coronavirus lockdown; that is, the moment when many jobs were first lost and when food and essential products suddenly became hard to find. This table shows how the need for food in our community -- Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the surrounding area -- has grown in the year of the coronavirus. The yellow line shows food distribution totals by Food Gatherers, the Ann Arbor Food bank, from March, 2020, through February, 2021. The green line shows the previous year. The need has been very great, and Food Gatherers’ effectiveness in collecting food and distributing it through their own and through end-user social work organizations has been a huge task.

Food Gatherers writes:
“Since the pandemic began, Food Gatherers has distributed between 700,000 and one million pounds of food each month, a significant increase over the same months in the previous year.”
Our total this year [2020] is an 18.7% increase from last year and the average distribution per day was 21,542 pounds of food!
Hunger in our community, in our state, in the USA, and throughout the world is a great concern, mine as well as that of many others. As the pandemic began and continued, more and more people lost their jobs, increasing their dependence on social services from private and public sources in our community. I have been following these issues, and I have been writing from time to time about the challenges to our society as hunger stalks our land. I have tried to support Food Gatherers and their partner organizations with donations of money. 

I have hope for the near future. Many workers are beginning to find jobs again. Vaccination is providing safety for more people to work and to resume normal lives. School re-openings have given children better access to feeding programs as well as better education. We have a new administration in Washington with a better will towards human needs and with a strong new law offering financial support for those who need it. However, our society still has a lot of work to do in helping the weakest of our communities.

I hope those of my readers who have the means to help others will continue to do so in the coming months. Update to this post: modern food banks have several ways to purchase food at favorable prices. So contributing money, if you can afford to do so, helps them a great deal. In some ways cash contributions are more effective than donating canned and pantry goods, though food banks also welcome food contributions from both individuals and businesses. When more people can safely do so, food banks also have many jobs for volunteers. There are many ways to help!

I wish you safety and good health.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

From here to immunity?

A happy Valentine for this weekend: we managed to find appointments to get covid vaccine on Friday and Saturday. 

Waiting for covid vaccine: two ladies with their noses outside their masks.

We were among the lucky ones who scored a vaccine appointment when Rite Aid received a shipment yesterday. The available appointments were in Wayne, MI, around 20 miles from our home, not a problem. This is pretty much the farthest from home that we have "traveled" in the past year!

We now need to make an appointment for dose 2 in four weeks, but we are amazingly relieved. The vaccine situation in our county is very problematic, but increased shipments seem to be on the way. We hope things will improve quickly throughout the country.

We caught sight of this great mural in
Romulus, Michigan, on the way to the freeway.

The Upscale Warehouse Lounge.

Blog post and all photos © 2021 mae sander.


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, January 27, 2021

Hunger, Food Safety, and Food Justice

-- New York Times
"On Friday, President Biden signed an executive order that would increase both the amount of federal food assistance for about 12 million people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (also known as food stamps), and the grocery money given to families with school-age children. He has also included more money for food stamps and other federal feeding programs in his proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package."

During the pandemic, I've been extremely aware of many pressing food issues: above all, the skyrocketing food insecurity throughout the country and terrible conditions for workers in meat-packing plants. An article in today's New York Times, "How America’s Food System Could Change Under Biden" by Kim Severson discusses the changes that are already beginning to affect these issues.

The terrible abuse of workers in many industrial food processing plants has concerned me so painfully that we have stopped buying red meat. The disastrous toll of the disease on workers in the huge meat-packing plants that supply most of the meat that's sold in supermarkets in the US is shameful. This issue, "protecting Agriculture Department employees and people who process the nation’s food from the virus" tops the list priorities of Tom Vilsack, who appears to be Biden's choice for Agriculture Secretary (but isn't officially designated).

Hunger relief, along with fighting for social justice and addressing climate change, are among Biden's big issues as well. School lunch programs, support for food pantries, distribution of food boxes to needy families, and many such issues have become especially important as the pandemic has greatly increased poverty: "The number of Americans who face hunger rose by some estimates to more than 50 million in 2020, from about 34 million in 2019." Help for farmers, such as equitable farm subsidies and policies, is another big issue, including support for regional agriculture and improvements in policy regarding organic agriculture. 

All the challenges require improving the situation of the workers at the Department of Agriculture, which has been politicized and made less effective by intentionally destructive policies in the former administration. Agriculture has "a budget of $153 billion and nearly 100,000 employees," and it "runs 29 agencies and offices whose jobs range from feeding the poorest Americans and regulating what public schoolchildren eat to managing forests and helping farmers sell commodities like soybeans abroad." 

Fixing all these problems is a big deal!

For months, I've been worrying about these and other food issues that were made worse by the double impact of terrible government policies and the pandemic. I have new hope!

Blog post © 2021 by mae sander, photo and quotes from article, as attributed.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Dorah Sitole (1953-2021)

Today, I learned for the first time of a very intriguing author: Dorah Sitole, known as South Africa's "first black food writer and a celebrated food personality." (source)

Dorah Sitole, 40 Years of Iconic Food.
This book is not yet released in the US.
Dorah Sitole was born in Soweto, South Africa, in 1953. She overcame many challenges of living in that oppressive and racist regime, and became an author. She wrote: "I travelled to 19 countries across our incredible continent, and to all the provinces within South Africa, in order to capture the essence of our indigenous food. The result was Cooking from Cape to Cairo, published by Tafelberg Publishers in 1999." (source)

In October, 2020, Dorah Sitole published a new book: 40 Years of Iconic Food. She felt that she had just entered "her encore years." Alas, on January 4, 2021, she tragically died of Covid.

Reading her obituaries and the reviews of the book which just appeared, I felt very sad that I had never heard of her or read her work; I have searched for available copies of her books, but have not found a good source so that I can obtain them. I will persist!

From one of the obituaries:

"In a foreword to her book [40 Years of Iconic Food], Sitole wrote that she’d also included the two decades that prepared her for the 'path I was to walk'. 'I truly believe my relationship with food was formed by my childhood experiences. And with my encore years, this story spans six-and-a-half decades!'

"It should not be glossed over that the racial divide was present in the food writing and publishing industry, and those of us who were exposed only to the white food writers were the poorer for it; also missed was the opportunity to unite us through shared culinary heritages. Heritage Day, for instance, had everything to do with food for Sitole, as she wrote: “Marked by a kaleidoscope of colours and flavours, Heritage Day is a day many South Africans proudly celebrate. Across the country, tables will groan with food for friends and families. The base ingredients are often the same: meat, starches and vegetables. But cuisine isn’t fixed: every individual brings their history and themselves to the kitchen." (source)

I'm hoping that her new book will be released in the US so that I can read it. Ordering it from South Africa is prohibitively expensive.  

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Waiting for Immunity

We still have to wear masks (and maybe work puzzles).
This was my great Christmas present.

Will the herring I ate New Year's Eve really bring me luck?
We are impatiently waiting for vaccine.
It's hard to keep being careful.

We're still getting orders via curbside delivery from By the Pound, the great bulk food store.

Whole Foods groceries: ordered through

On the corner near my house: the local cafe has plastic geodesic domes for outdoor coffee drinking.
I'm not convinced that this is safe, but I like the look. I must keep waiting and staying home!

What are other people in my town doing while waiting? Most of the people we know are, like us, staying indoors, shopping remotely or as little as possible, and connecting with friends and family by computer or phone. Friends and neighbors who are working are doing as much as they can remotely. Some of our neighbors have created safe spaces in their yards or on their porches, with blankets, distanced seating, and various types of heating units. We had a delightful Sunday afternoon on our neighbors' porch where they have a propane heater, a fire pit, and heated blankets to make for comfortable and safely-distanced conversation and snacking.

Our library also provides some valuable ways to spend time alone -- they offer books, films, TV series recordings, music, art works, and a selection of tools for check-out, which can be requested and checked out with no contact. In January, they are adding board games and puzzles. I was particularly interested in the top nonfiction books requested at the Ann Arbor District library in 2020:
  1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
  2. White Fragility: Why it's so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
  3. A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  4. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
  5. How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  6. Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas
  7. Too Much and Never Enough: How my Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump
  8. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  9. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
  10. Maybe you Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, her Therapist, and our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
The full list of the top twenty items in each of seven categories is here: AADL's Most Requested Items of 2020. 

I'm afraid the wait for vaccine is going to seem very long.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

One Tragedy at a Time

Nameless, faceless death totals in California. (L.A.Times)

"The already critical situation in Los Angeles County hospitals is expected to worsen in the coming weeks as patients sickened during the Christmas holiday need treatment, leaving officials desperate for ways to increase capacity and triage care to focus on the sickest patients." (LA Times, January 4, 2021, "L.A. hospitals race to discharge patients to make room for COVID victims but can’t keep up")

The tragedy that our country is facing is happening one person at a time. So hearing of the death from Covid of my distant cousin Chuck, who died last month in Los Angeles, represents a personal tragedy and also one death of many in Los Angeles where the pandemic is raging more than almost anywhere in our country. Although I was not close to Chuck, his death is emblematic of the big picture of loss and sadness everywhere.

Chuck, whose health had been declining in recent months, contracted Covid in a nursing home at the time when the disease was spreading uncontrollably in California. I've seen Chuck only once since we were children, and that occasion was the only time I ever met his wife, who died a few years ago. We enjoyed a very nice dinner in a deli in Los Angeles where they lived and where we were visiting. So I'm sad to hear that he is gone. And overall, I'm very sad for us all, living through this very tough time.

University City, Mo. The Loop, 1950s.

I have no photos of Chuck, either as a child or as an adult, but here's a photo that connects us; it's a photo of our home town, University City, MO. He and I both grew up in this suburb of St. Louis, where our grandparents/parents had settled after immigrating, and where our families lived throughout much of the twentieth century. In 2006, I included this archive photo in a blog post; Chuck was searching for images of St. Louis streetcars, and found my post. He realized that I was the author, and he wrote to me: our first contact since we were both kids. We stayed in touch a little bit ever since then, including our one meeting. Some mutual cousins were kind enough to let me know of his passing.

When we were young, our families occasionally got together on Sunday afternoon or some other time, always informally. Chuck's parents, along with him and his sister, would just "drop in" to see our family: a way of socializing that doesn't seem to happen any more in my adult life. Chuck's parents would bring us a bag of White Castle hamburgers, which they particularly liked (and which my parents didn't particularly approve of). Or my mother would just offer them supper, improvising on whatever we were going to eat that night. Eggs? Sandwiches? I can't remember what she would come up with. By the time we were in high school, we didn't participate in our parents' spontaneous family gatherings so much any more. Chuck's family wasn't as close to us by then, though my sister remembers talking to him at a later date. My memories are distant, but I just was thinking of them.

As I say, a global tragedy is happening one life at a time.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Another Backward Look at 2020: Rich and Poor

In thinking about social and economic issues that became more critical during the pandemic, I've tended to focus on hunger. New and terrible levels of food insecurity in the US resulted from widespread unemployment. During lockdown, employment dropped because consumption dropped. Reducing consumption had always seemed to be a good idea, but like an evil genie's gifts, having this wish granted didn't turn out the way it was hoped. Reduced consumption caused vast loss of jobs and thus dire poverty among those whose jobs became unnecessary. 

Somehow, as the poor became poorer, the rich also became richer. Is this an economic law, not just an old saying? Two articles published today summarize this reality.  "Amid surging worldwide poverty, planet's 500 wealthiest got $1.8 trillion richer in 2020" by Julia Conley writing in puts it this way:

"The Bloomberg Billionaires Index recorded its largest annual gain in the list's history last year, with a 31% increase in the wealth of the richest people. The historic hoarding of wealth came as the world confronted the coronavirus pandemic and its corresponding economic crisis, which the United Nations last month warned is a "tipping point" set to send more than 207 million additional people into extreme poverty in the next decade — bringing the number of people living in extreme poverty to one billion by 2030. Even in the richest country in the world, the United States, the rapidly widening gap between the richest and poorest people grew especially stark in 2020."

Also today, Robert Reich in The Guardian wrote about "Seven Ways 2020 Left America Exposed." At the top of his list: "Workers keep America going, not billionaires." He writes:

"American workers have been forced to put their lives on the line to provide essential services even as their employers failed to provide adequate protective gear, hazard pay, or notice of when Covid had infected their workplaces. Meanwhile, America’s 651 billionaires – whose net worth has grown by more than $1tn since the start of the pandemic – retreated to their mansions, yachts and estates.

"Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, sheltered in his 165,000-acre west Texas ranch while Amazon warehouse workers toiled in close proximity, often without adequate masks, gloves or sanitizers. The company offered but soon scrapped a $2 an hour hazard pay increase, even as Bezos’ wealth jumped by a staggering $70bn since March, putting his estimated net worth at roughly $186bn as the year came to an end."

These views look at the top and the bottom of our economic spectrum, but people on all the rungs in the middle of the economic ladder have also been affected, as summarized a few days ago in a New York Times "Upshot" column, "The Year Inequality Became Less Visible, and More Visible Than Ever" by Emily Badger:

"This year, many Americans left the places where it was still possible to encounter one another. White-collar workers stopped going downtown, past homeless encampments and to lunch counters with minimum-wage staff. The well-off stopped riding public transit, where in some cities they once sat alongside commuting students and custodial workers. Diners stopped eating in restaurants, where their tips formed the wages of the people who served them.

"Americans also stopped broadly sharing libraries, movie theaters, train stations and public school classrooms, the spaces that still created common experience in increasingly unequal communities. Even the D.M.V., with its cross-section of life in a single room, wasn’t that anymore. 
"Instead, people who could afford it retreated into smaller, more secure worlds during the pandemic. And that has made it harder to see all the inequality that worsened this year: the unemployment that soared even as the stock market did, the eviction threats that grew as home prices hit new highs."

Surely most people feel helpless. What can you change if your health depends on living in isolation and working from home? How can you change if your job has been eliminated and your government benefits have disappeared? How can you change if your only job possibility forces you to meet people and take risks? The defiant people who refuse to wear masks and insist on drinking in bars are not changing the distribution of wealth and poverty, only making things worse. 

My thoughts are incomplete and incoherent. I feel lost.

Luxury? The Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.
This was luxury a century ago. Luxury for the billionaires today
is never visible to ordinary people.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander. Quotes as credited.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: A Memorable, Miserable Year

In my kitchen this year I've been aware of many consequences of the terrible global coronavirus epidemic, some with direct and some indirect impact on my personal life. On the whole, I'm among the luckiest of people so far. I wouldn't even characterize 2020 as my year of Zoom, Doom, and Gloom, because I didn't do very many electronic meetings (only with family, often very small), because I was able to go with Len for walks and drives in the countryside outside my home, and because we tried to keep an upbeat attitude, fostered by lots of cooking and baking, throughout it all. Here is a summary of what's happened in my kitchen during this year of extremes.

Food Politics in Mind

My most pressing thought for the end of the year in my kitchen is not about myself but about 50 million Americans -- including 17 million children -- who are facing hunger due to the economic conditions in our country. The new wave of poverty caused by the pandemic created a horrendous increase in hunger and want that will persist even after the vaccine allows many workers to return to work. Recovery from months of unemployment could leave many people still struggling, even when their jobs return.

Symbolically, these people are with me in my kitchen where Len and I are alone. It has become my habit to donate to organizations that help those in need. I've especially donated money to the local food bank, Food Gatherers, whose delivery van is pictured (from their newsletter). Food Gatherers is able to buy food efficiently from the nationwide organization Feeding America and other sources, and distributes food through several food pantries that directly serve the local community.

Political misdeeds are ongoing in Washington, preventing the deployment of adequate help for the most vulnerable members of our society from the Federal government. The calloused postponement of signing the relief bill was the last of many insults and injuries. Cruel delay in funding for those in need -- as well as many other events -- made me angry and sad, but I'm not going to discuss the matter further. I have high hopes that the situation will improve with the new and more humanitarian administration.

Food Politics in My Kitchen

Masked meat packers on the processing line.  (source)

Vegan curry with cauliflower, bell pepper, tomatoes,
potatoes, red lentils. This is becoming one of my go-to recipes.

Food politics also have had a direct impact on my kitchen decisions. I've worked around the shortages and challenges of shopping without entering the stores. But most pressing: I've worried about disruptions and objectionable practices in the food supply, including the terrible treatment of food workers, the problems for farmers, and the shortages of packaging materials, especially for flour. 

In response to the cruel behavior of meat packing plant owners, who caused large numbers of workers to become infected (and many to die), we reduced meat consumption and avoided all meat from American industrial packing plants. Some sources say that these essential workers will be prioritized for the vaccine: I hope so!

I've done many experiments in vegetarian cooking during the year -- just one is in the picture. Red lentils were completely new to me! For a while, besides actual vegetables, we also experimented with various fake meat options, like Beyond Burgers. Eventually, I decided that I really didn't find them that appealing. I'm not sure they are better for the environment, for food workers, or for one's health than actual meat -- and they aren't cheap! On the whole, I prefer small-scale farmed local meat. It's been a few months since we had fake meat, and I don't think I will use it in the future.  

My Pantry During the Pandemic

My pantry with a new shelf for the many canisters of flour and
 jars of spice that we need for all the baking and cooking
we have been doing during lockdown.
Treading a fine line between becoming a hoarder and being prudent with available shopping options has been challenging. I've learned to deal with remote ordering of food and kitchen tools. No shopping! No personal selection of produce! (With a few exceptions during the summer when there were outdoor markets).

Grocery stores, having experienced many supply chain problems, aren't offering as wide a variety of products as before. They are making fewer innovations, which also affects what's new or different in all of our pantries. "Stocking shelves with innovative new products is less of a priority than stocking shelves, period." (source)

My spice shelf in December.

I bought the orange-lidded jar of Hawaij spice blend -- labeled only in Hebrew --  in Israel a few years ago. It's really good: I used it up. I was unable to find a replacement for a while, but now has a selection of the spices from the same Israeli company, so I have the new, purple-lidded replacement.

No More Coke: That Is, Diet Coke

July, 2020: one of my last Diet Cokes.
One item no longer appears in our kitchen thanks to the vast changes in our lives. It's insignificant but I'm just going to mention it. As it became so difficult to shop in March, we felt it was too much trouble to ask people to bring us our usual quantities of soft drinks. We switched to water (filtered, from our refrigerator).

We sparingly drank our remaining cans of Diet Coke throughout the summer, and by the time we could more easily have ordered more through the improved grocery delivery systems that had emerged, we had lost our taste for it.  Thinking of this is a reminder of the complete breakdown of grocery shopping we experienced in the first weeks of lockdown, and how so many businesses have adapted to new conditions!


New vegetarian recipes in Ottolenghi's
latest book have been an ongoing experiment
in my kitchen for the last several weeks.

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

Finding new ways to enjoy kitchen activities has been one of my important ways of handling a safe and isolated life as required during the pandemic. My experiments with spice and vegetarian meals have been a response to the meat supply problem described above. Another way to deal with it: buying gadgets. 

The pancakes are in an image from the November, 2020 In My Kitchen post.


Throughout the year, Len's baking has progressed and become an increasingly important part of our lives. He's tried many sourdough recipes, breads from a variety of ethnic cuisines, and more. Some of the bread books have been on our shelves for years, but many of them  are new, especially The Rye Baker.

Sharing the loaves of bread with friends -- which can be accomplished with a safe level of contact outdoors -- has also become an important result of Len's baking. We have several friends who have become "testers" of his experiments -- they are very enthusiastic! He's also shared his sourdough starter with a few people, and another generation of the starter (shared onward by his recipients) has even happened in a couple of cases.

Shared Cooking

We miss events like this dinner in the backyard with family in August, 2019, and many dinners around our dining room table. Cooking for a crowd while sharing the kitchen with friends and relatives is one of the forbidden activities we miss the most, along with travel and actually seeing others!

My kitchen contains numerous unused items that I hope I'll be able to bring back by sometime in 2021. Covered cake plates and hot-dish carriers for potlucks, large serving bowls and platters for dinner parties, and similar equipment has stayed on the shelf. No doubt this is true for everyone, and we all hope to cook for a larger crowd some time soon.

Hunger Stalks the Globe

To end where  I began: my most pressing concern is for the many people in our country and throughout the world who have been impoverished by the economic effects of the pandemic. In my kitchen is thus heightened awareness of hunger that stalks our country and the globe. 

We hope that the vaccine will soon be distributed. We hope that our own situation and that of many others will improve. However, we have enormous concern for those who remain vulnerable due to poverty and poor health. Our concern for our society is enormous. Our kitchen is only one small place in a huge world, and difficult times make us all the more aware of this.

For all my fellow bloggers and other readers: I hope your New Year, 2021, is much better than 2020. Above all, I wish you good health. And I thank you for offering descriptions of your kitchens and your lives throughout the year.

Blog post © 2020 mae sander.
Shared with Sherry's In My Kitchen blog event.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Christmas and the Wassail Song

A silver and mother-of-pearl wassail bowl from 1650-1700.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (source)

Most of us have heard and even sung the Christmas Wassail Song. It seems very ancient, referring to the English custom of caroling from house to house, expecting to be treated with drink or food, or with gifts of money.  The usual wassail drink was some type of mulled wine or mulled cider, presented in a special wassail bowl. Caroling and wassailing still continue, though like many traditions, will be curtailed this year by our terrible health crisis. Let's hope that by next Christmas time the vaccine will allow us to go back to old customs.

The familiar verses of the Wassail Song tell us that the wassailers were friends and neighbors who visit as well-wishers in the spirit of the season:

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbors' children,
Whom you have seen before. 

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year

The wassail custom and the wassail bowl have a very long history in England. In Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, historian Ronald Hutton writes of the earliest recorded Christmas custom centered around the wassail bowl or cup:

"The custom connected with it was first described by Peter de Langtoft, writing in the 1320s; the leader of a gathering took it, and cried ‘wassail’, Old English for ‘your health’. That person was answered ‘Drinkhail,’ drank from it, and passed it to the next of the company with a kiss. Each then repeated these actions. The custom may not, in fact, have been much older than Langtoft’s time. From the famous eighth-century poem Beowulf to the fourteenth-century conduct-book of Robert of Brunne, the word ‘wassail’ appears as a toast: it is simply Anglo-Saxon for ‘be of good health’. The bowl is first mentioned by Matthew Paris in the thirteenth century, as one in which cakes and fine white bread were communally dipped." (p. 13). 

Hutton describes a long tradition of precious metal wassail bowls beginning in medieval times.  He summarizes how there were many carols and songs, some meant to accompany dancing, associated with the wassailing customs -- not just the best-known song that I quoted. The wassailers not only received food and drink, but sometimes money or gifts. Even the kings observed wassailing customs until the sixteenth century:

"The wassail bowl is apparently not heard of at the royal court after the time of Henry VIII, but is reported at all other levels of society in the years 1600-30. Jonson portrayed it as a brown bowl decorated with ribbons and rosemary. Payments to ‘wassailers’ feature in gentry household accounts throughout the late Stuart and Hanoverian ages. During the same years the domestic wassail continued as well: around Leeds, in Yorkshire, during the 1780s, a cup of ale with roasted apples in it was passed round after supper on every Twelfth Eve. Each person spooned out an apple and wished the company a merry Christmas and happy New Year. The date was known locally as ‘Wassail Eve.'" (p. 22).
19th century Wassail bowl from Swansea Museum.

Christmas wassailing continued throughout English history -- a quote from a writer in 1831 described a household on 12th night:

"seated round a huge oaken table, with the yuletide log blazing on the fire, and the wassail bowl with its contents (generally sugared ale, toast, etc., and sometimes enriched with eau de vie) sparkling, the large sirloin of beef… smoking on the board, the old harper increasing the mirth with the melodious strains of his harp and ‘the joke and jest going round’" (p. 64). 

Don't you get a warm feeling from this description of a truly old tradition that continues into this century, and perhaps has made its way into our currently troubled lives? I'm sharing this little historic look at a traditional beverage with Elizabeth and other bloggers who write something about a drink each week.

If you want to make a wassail bowl to serve during your own celebration, the web offers many recipes. From The Spruce, a summary of the ingredients:

“The earliest recorded recipes of wassail included warmed mead, an ale brewed with honey, which was then brewed with roasted crab apples. Later, the beverage became a mulled cider made with sugar and various spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Today, wassail recipes are abundant, with home cooks putting their personal twists on the traditional historical drink. Modern recipes can begin with wine, fruit juice, or mulled ale with brandy or sherry added. Fresh apples or oranges are often added to the brew.”

A completely different, parallel tradition in some parts of England involved "wassailing" to invoke good harvests and healthy trees or other agricultural good fortune. Sometimes this custom is confused with Christmas wassailing and caroling, but it's actually a separate tradition.   

Blog post © 2020 mae sander. Image of carolers from Historic UK

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"The Best American Food Writing 2020"

"The world has changed so much so fast since the pieces in this volume were written and published that I’m convinced the book will read like a time capsule." -- Silvia Killingsworth, Foreword to The Best American Food Writing 2020, published November 2020.

Reading this year's Best American Food Writing is indeed like looking at a time capsule. The book has a lot of great articles, though I was frustrated by the large number from the online magazines Eater and Serious Eats because I have already read them. Although it's a very good collection, it really does reinforce my sense that I am in some kind of terrible purgatory, alienated from the world that I have known most of my life.

The republished essay that most totally brought home my alienation was about grocery stores, and an effort (pre-pandemic, of course) to make them more attractive to shoppers. Many people have been switching to big-box stores like Walmart, to farmers' markets or boutique-type shops, to online shopping, or elsewhere, and store owners feel the pressure to do something. Author Joe Fassler wrote "The Man Who’s Going to Save Your Neighborhood Grocery Store" about Kevin Kelley, an architect who was redesigning the grocery-store concept for a few ambitious grocery owners. Fassler explained the challenges to the traditional grocery business -- for example how "Americans started cooking at home less and eating out more" (p. 86). Then he described how Kelley proposes to save their bacon. First, a summary of experiential shopping in a variety of venues:

"Kelley says, grocers can’t be satisfied with providing a place to complete a chore. They’ll need to direct an experience. Today’s successful retail brands establish what Kelley calls a 'brand realm,' or what screenwriters would call a story’s 'setting.' We don’t usually think consciously about them, but realms subtly shape our attitude toward shopping the same way the foggy, noirishly lit streets in a Batman movie tell us something about Gotham City. Cracker Barrel is set in a nostalgic rural house. Urban Outfitters is set on a graffitied urban street. Tommy Bahama takes place on a resort island. It’s a well-known industry secret that Costco stores are hugely expensive to construct— they’re designed to resemble fantasy versions of real-life warehouses, and the appearance of thrift doesn’t come cheap. Some realms are even more specific and fanciful: Anthropologie is an enchanted attic, complete with enticing cupboards and drawers. Trader Joe’s is a crew of carefree, hippie traders shipping bulk goods across the sea. A strong sense of place helps immerse us in a store, getting us emotionally invested and (perhaps) ready to suspend the critical faculties that prevent a shopping spree." (p. 92).

There were a number of descriptions of what shoppers experience in a variety of stores from big chain grocery stores to a smaller regional ones. I wondered if I could really remember what it's like to go shopping in person for groceries or anything else. Of course I remember it, but there's a dimming quality in the memory, sort of like remembering my trips to Paris or Hawaii, where I've been many times but not recently. Not the same as thinking about what I do at least once a week. Like the Cowboy Caviar and Corn Chile at Trader Joe's -- I've almost forgotten them.

Am I real? Frequent grocery shopping maybe contributed to my sense of being real. Yes, grocery stores may have to change, but before the predictions started to materialize, most of us found ourselves unable to shop anywhere, because of the pandemic. Fassler writes: 

"The world existed before supermarkets, and it won’t end if they vanish. And in the ongoing story of American food, the 20th-century grocery store is no great hero. A&P— the once titanic chain, now itself defunct— was a great mechanizer, undercutting the countless smaller, local businesses that used to populate the landscape. More generally, the supermarket made it easier for Americans to distance ourselves from what we eat, shrouding food production behind a veil and letting us convince ourselves that price and convenience matter above all else. We let ourselves be satisfied with the appearance of abundance— even if great stacks of unblemished fruit contribute to waste and spoilage, even if the array of brightly colored packages are all owned by the same handful of multinational corporations. But whatever springs up to replace grocery stores will have consequences, too, and the truth is that brick-and-mortar is not going away anytime soon— far from it." (p. 103).

Doesn't this seem odd and alien in our current situation with its abrupt changes to all shopping? 

Certainly the articles in Best American that describe various restaurants should also seem unreal and unrelatable. To me they don't seem all that disconnected from my current reality because famous food writers like the ones represented here write about restaurants that I would never patronize anyway (the only exception is a description of Sparky’s in Hatch N.M. a famous diner where I once ate a chili cheeseburger). My favorite writers in this collection deal with the concept of “authenticity,” and what it really means, which I might write another post about. Articles about appropriation of ethnic foods by profit-seeking and better-funded mainstream entrepreneurs are interesting as well, and I wish I could go to a nice Mexican restaurant somewhere in the Southwest, or to an Asian restaurant in Fairfax, VA. But it’s going weekly to grocery stores that I really miss. 

It's only been a few months since I read The Best Food Writing 2019, edited by Samin Nosrat, and I had much the same feelings about it. (Blogged here:  Best American Food Writing 2019)

The year 2020 really is like no other!

blog post © 2020 mae sander.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Murals in the News


New York City: dining at Veselka, a Ukrainian restaurant, which seems to be surviving the pandemic closures. In business for decades, Veselka has been a celebrity favorite: "If it weren’t so popular, Veselka (Ukrainian for rainbow) would be a cult hangout." Source: "The Bittersweet Tale of a Diner, a Toy Shop and a Changing New York," New York Times.

At left is another view of the Veselka mural on their patio. Their menu sounds fantastic! I wish I could eat there. (Image from Veselka website here.)

Shah Alam, Malaysia. "A doctor collects a swab sample outside a clinic." Photograph: Lim Huey. Source: "The Nutcracker and a canine mascot: Thursday's best photos" in the Guardian. Reading articles in other news sources, I've seen several other photos of this clinic mural with different people in front of it.

Paris, France. "Brothers Rudy (left) and Joël Lainé, pictured in the dining room of New Soul Food-Le Maquis" from an article about several new American soul food restaurants in Paris. See: "The New Soul Food of Paris Black chefs are exploring 'Afropean' identity and building on American soul food’s long history in the European dining capital" by Alexander Hurst, Eater online magazine.

Bristol, England: "People photograph a mural by the British artist Banksy titled Aachoo!!" Photograph: Geoff. Source: "Rescued puppies and a sneezing Banksy: Friday's best photos" in the Guardian. Bansky, the mysterious artist whose works seem to appear out of nowhere, and whose identity is a secret, acknowledged responsibility for this work in an Instagram post. The value of the house is supposed to have skyrocketed, as a Bansky mural is worth something like millions of dollars.
Mitchell, South Dakota. Annie Gowen in the Washington Post reports that people there ignored the coronavirus for months and went about their lives normally, unmasked and undistanced. Recently, however, the infection rate and the death rate became very high, and the city council considered a mask mandate. The meeting took place at the 19th century Corn Palace, the landmark of the town. I was very interested in the article and also in the historic murals in the photo. The caption: "Residents — some in masks, some not — speak during the city council meeting at the Mitchell Corn Palace on Nov. 23." (KC McGinnis for The Washington Post)

I'm a big fan of public art, and I'm lucky to live in a town where murals are valued and artists supported. I also keep my eyes open for murals in news photos from distant places. Sometimes the murals are a backdrop for scenes of daily life, but often, they have a meaning for the news that's happening in the photos where they appear.