Read Allegedly The Birthplace of Kouign Amann by David Lebovitz (David Lebovitz)
Anyone who uses iPhoto probably remembers your first thrill of plugging in your digital camera and magically, with no effort at all, having your photos automatically downloaded for you. Then they're neatly filed on your computer so you can view, cut, or paste your memories until your heart's content. It's great for the first few times, but once you've hit a certain number of photos,
Listened to Moxie Bread, Louisville, CO by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Turkey red wheat seedsAndy Clark left Massachusetts in 1994 and wormed his way into one of the iconic bakeries of Boulder, Colorado. After that, he spent 15 years running bakeries for Whole Foods Market. All the while, he was squirreling away ideas and thinking of his own place, where he could focus on 30 great loaves a day, instead of 30,000 for The Man. The result is Moxie Bread Co in Louisville, Colorado, as warm and welcoming a place as I have ever had the pleasure to visit. We talked about bread, and grain, and about creating a welcoming experience. Oh, and perhaps the most decadent pastry I have ever tasted.

kouign amann pastry

That pastry is the kouign amann, an impossibly delicious amalgam of yeasted dough, butter and sugar that comes originally from Brittany in northern France. All the write-ups of Moxie agreed that their kouign amann was out of the world, and I was somewhat miffed that I had never heard of the things.

Now that I have …

Notes

  1. Huge thanks to Andrew Calabrese for making the introductions and the arrangements. What a great day.
  2. Also to our family and friends in Colorado for their friendship and hospitality.
  3. Moxie Bread Co is, of course, online.
  4. To learn more about kouign amann, I turned first to David Lebovitz, for a recipe and some alleged history.
  5. Eater turned to David Lebovitz too, for its informative piece about The Obscure French Pastry Making it Big in America.
  6. There’s apparently even a National Kouign Amann Day, on 20 June. If I can find one, I’ll be eating it.
Ah! The kouign amann! I hadn’t heard of it myself until the last year or so when it turned up on an episode of the British Baking Show, but even there it was featured as a specialty and rare dish (in a technical challenge if I recall, which makes things harder if you’ve never seen or eaten one). I’ve yet to see any in pastry shops here in the LA area, but I have pulled off a few myself at home and they are quite lovely. Sadly most home bakers are unlikely to work with heavily laminated dough much yet a yeasted version.

For the lost, here’s a short segment from BBS with a quick introduction:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S179EYnsGwM

Listened to Food and diversity in Laos by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Today’s guest, Michael Victor, has spent the past 16 years living in Laos and getting to know its farming systems and its food. To some extent, that’s become a personal interest. But it is also a professional interest that grew out of his work with farmers and development agencies in Laos. Most recently, he’s been working with The Agro-biodiversity Initiative, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The idea is to make use of agricultural biodiversity in a sustainable way to reduce poverty and improve the livelihoods of people in upland regions. One thing the project has done is to collect all the information it can about agricultural biodiversity and make it available online. When Michael visited Rome recently, I grabbed the chance to find out more about Lao food and diversity.

Notes

  1. The Pha Khao Lao website is available in English and Lao.
  2. think that the restaurant Michael mentioned is Thip Khao in Washington DC. Duly noted for next time. Any reports gladly received.
  3. I seem to be way behind the times on riverweed. A couple of years ago even BBC Good Food had tried it. (Scroll down.)
  4. Banner photograph by Periodismo Itinerante from Flickr
Some interesting tidbits here, particularly about a society seemingly on the cusp of coming and greater industrialization. I can’t help but thinking about Lynne Kelly’s thesis about indigenous peoples and cultural memory. I suspect that Laotians aren’t practicing memory techniques, but because of technological and cultural changes they are loosing a lot of collective memories about their lifeways, food, and surrounding culture that have built up over thousands (or more) generations.
Bookmarked Food Forward - Southern California's Largest Urban Gleaning Nonprofit (Food Forward)
Food Forward fights hunger and prevents food waste by rescuing fresh surplus produce, connecting this abundance with people in need, and inspiring others.
I saw this organization featured on tonight’s episode of PBS NewsHour. Definitely worth looking into. I’m curious if they sell to the general public? Maybe interesting to set up a company that does garde manger?
Read INTERVIEW: Knife Skills Illustrated by Catherine Jheon (Food Network)

I loved the discussion sparked by What Kind of Knife Do You Use? post. So when Knife Skills Illustrated: A User’s Manual by Peter Hertzmann arrived on my desk, I thought, what great timing. From knife anatomy and care, to proper techniques for cutting vegetables and meats, the book provides a comprehensive guide to that most essential kitchen tool. I spoke to Peter Hertzmann, a self-taught expert on Chinese and French cuisine and the man behind à la carte website, last week in Toronto.

Bookmarked How to Cook Without Recipes by Glynn Christian (Portico)

Gone are the days when cooking skills were handed down through the family. Recipes, which were originally memory aids, have become a set of measures and rules to follow slavishly, whether we understand them or not. And while people have been inspired by up-beat and accessible celeb chefs, they're nearly all restaurant chefs rather than home cooks. The art of cooking, in short, has been lost. How to Cook Without Recipes is all about setting the home cook free. This wonderful little book will teach you to understand the recipes you follow, why they sometimes go wrong, and how to cook independently to make better use of them and invent their own. Glynn Christian begins by taking the reader on a fascinating journey through the history of recipes, and explains how a useful aide memoire became a set of shackles for would be cooks. He explains how to learn to taste, and to understand what ingredients go together, giving you the tools to create your own recipes. And if you still insist on using your cook books, he explains how to 'read' the recipes of the big names where you should take notice of them, and where you should do your own thing. How to Cook Recipes A cook book, in every sense, with taste.

Book cover of How to Cook Without Recipes
Referred to by Peter Hertzmann in a paper about food communication.
Read Modern Recipes: A Case of Miscommunication by Peter HertzmannPeter Hertzmann (dl.hertzmann.com)
Chef and food instructor takes a look at the history of recipes and how they're frequently misinterpreted.
(Hat tip to Jeremy Cherfas and his excellent Eat This Podcast episode Making sense of modern recipes: It’s not your fault; even professional chefs encounter problems for directing me to Hertzmann’s paper; some of my favorite episodes feature Jeremy interviewing him.)

Keep in mind that the paper which is highlighted and excerpted here is a draft version and not for direct citation or attribution.

recipe is simply ‘a statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making something’.2 There is no guarantee implied or stated that the cook will understand either the statement of ingredients or the procedure.

–November 24, 2019 at 02:41PM

Fourteenth-century recipe collections that have survived to today, such as Viandier pour appareiller toutes manières de viandes, Libre de sent sovi, Daz bûch von gûter spîse, and Forme of Cury, were written by professional cooks to use as an aide-mémoire for themselves or other professional cooks.

–November 24, 2019 at 02:42PM

Le Ménagier de Paris, written near the end of the century was arguably the first cookbook written as a set of instructions for a second party to use when managing a third party, in this case, for the young wife of an elderly gentleman to use as a guide for household management including supervising the cook.

It’s not indicated well here in the text, but this was written in 1393 according to the footnote.

Le Ménagier de Paris, 2 vols (Paris: the author, 1393; repr. Paris: Jerome Pichon, 1846)
–November 24, 2019 at 02:43PM

The suggested alternative cooking technique ignores that braising is performed slowly, with low heat, and in a steam environment.

–November 24, 2019 at 03:15PM

Lincoln suggested that all volumetric measurements required an adjective such as heaping, rounded, or level.2

I’ve heard of these, but not seen them as descriptors in quite a while and they always seemed “fluffy” to me anyway.
–November 24, 2019 at 03:25PM

Kosher salt: This salt should in practice be referred to as koshering salt, its original purpose. U.S. chefs started using Diamond Crystal-brand Kosher Salt in the 1990s because it was the only coarse salt commonly available to them. Rather than specify a brand or coarseness in their cookbooks, they chose the unfortunate term of ‘kosher salt’. Kosher salt is not purer than other salts, and all kosher salts are not equal. When measured volumetrically, all kosher salts have different amounts of salt. Nonetheless, many authors insist on specifying a volumetric amount of kosher salt—‘1 teaspoon kosher salt’—but do not identify the brand being used.36

The only author I’ve known to differentiate has been Michael Ruhlman, but even he didn’t specify the brand and essentially said that when using “Kosher salt” to use twice as much as specified compared to standard table salt, presumably to account for the densities involved.
–November 24, 2019 at 03:38PM

This is to say, the ingredients and the quantities thereof are indicated by pictures which most illiterate persons can understand and persons with poor vision can see; and which are readily grasped by the minds of those who are not in the above classes.

an early example of accessibility UI in a cook book.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:00PM

Further, as stated, by merely glancing at the pictorially indicated recipe of the present invention the cook can ascertain at a glance the required ingredients, can ascertain whether such ingredients are on hand, and, if not, the needed articles will be more easily remembered in purchasing the days supply of groceries, etc.

an example in the wild of visual memory being stronger than other forms.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:02PM

The book goes closer to teaching the reader to cook than most modern books.

My thoughts as well. Ratio is a fantastic cooking book.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:04PM

At least one, somewhat successful, cookbook has been published claiming to teach cooking without recipes.40

Bookmark to read in future: Glynn Christian, How to Cook Without Recipes(London: Portico Books, 2008).

The numbering of the annotations is slightly off here….
–November 24, 2019 at 04:05PM

Most modern cookbook authors claim to meet the conditions for a ‘good recipe’ as described by Elisabeth Luard:42

A good recipe is one that first encourages the reader to cook, and then delivers what it promises. A well-written recipe takes you by the hand and says, don’t worry, it’ll all be okay, this is what you’re looking for, this is what happens when you chop or slice or apply heat, and if it goes wrong, this is how to fix it. And when you’ve finished, this is what it should look and taste like, this is what to eat it with. But above all, take joy in what you do.

In reality, most authors fail to meet the above conditions. It would probably be better if authors tried to match the writing of earlier recipe authors from the first half of the twentieth century when less space was given to fancy illustrations and more words were given to how to cook.

–November 24, 2019 at 04:09PM

Mount: A cooking technique where small pieces of butter are quickly incorporated in a hot, but not boiling, sauce to give bulk and a glossy appearance.

A definition I don’t recall having ever seen before.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:17PM

The technical term for the zest is the flavedo.

flavedo is a new word to me
–November 24, 2019 at 04:27PM

Chickened Why are chicken eggs different colors? (MSU Extension)
According to Michigan State University Extension, egg color is determined by the genetics of the hens. The breed of the hen will indicate what color eggs she will produce. For example, Leghorn chickens lay white eggs while Orpington’s lay brown eggs and Ameraucana produce blue eggs. An Olive Egger, a chicken that lays olive green eggs, is the product of a cross between a hen and rooster that are from a brown egg and a blue egg laying breed. An interesting tip is to look at the chicken’s ear lobes; typically those with white ear lobes produce white eggs.
TIL: the color of a chicken’s egg is highly correlated with the color of its ear!
Acquired White Lily Self Rising Bleached Flour - 80 oz
  • One 5 lb bag
  • White Lily had been helping southern cooks make great biscuits since 1883
  • 100% pure red winter wheat with a lower gluten content than typical flours
  • Best for biscuits, pastries and quick breads
  • A regional product not generally available in the West and Northeast
White Lily Flour
Purchased some red winter wheat with a lower gluten content to make some fluffier Southern-style biscuits for the coming holidays!
Listened to Porridge: Not your usual all-day breakfast by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Kahlova cafe in EstoniaPorridge, for me, is made of oats, water, a bit of milk and a pinch of salt. Accompaniments are butter and brown sugar or, better yet, treacle, though I have nothing against people who add milk or even cream. So, while I’ve been aware of the inexorable rise of porridge in all its forms, I’ve been blissfully ignorant of the details. When I make, or eat, a risotto or a dal, I certainly don’t think of it as a porridge. Maybe now I will, and all because Laura Valli took the trouble to send me a copy of her research paper Porridge Renaissance and the Communities of Ingestion.

We had fun chatting about porridge, about how she helped start the only porridge cafe in her native Estonia, and about her participation in the World Porridge Making Championship last year, in Carrbridge, Scotland. As a result of which, despite the fact that I am usually the last person in the world to know about the international day of this, that or the other, I’m totally ready for Thursday 10 October and World Porridge Day.

Notes

  1. Thank you Laura for getting in touch and for your photos.
  2. On the spurtle, I welcome further details on why you should use one. In the meantime, I note that Neal Robertson, two time winner of the Golden Spurtle, despite having a quiver-full of spurtles to his name, uses a spoon in this video demonstration
  3. More on the 26th Annual Golden Spurtle® World Porridge Making Championship® and World Porridge Day
  4. NPR had a great article about Norway’s Traditional Porridge last year.
  5. Music adapted from bagpipe shredding by zagi2.
A podcast episode that answers many burning questions I’ve long had about spurtles. I remember a few years back reading the back of a package of Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut oats and their extended story of winning the Golden Spurtle which was almost written as ad copy in the style of the J. Peterman Company. Upon looking, I notice that Bob’s website has a Golden Spurtle specific tag, and honestly what self-respecting website wouldn’t? In any case, god bless Jeremy for digging into the science behind the spurtle, though it’s painful remiss that he didn’t link to any of his sources there. My only additions on the speculations about spurtles are:

  • From a historical perspective, having been made in the 1500’s when cooking fuel was at a higher premium and people may have been more likely to cook in larger/deeper pots over fire, a long thinner spurtle would have been somewhat easier to spin around in a deeper pot, particularly with more viscous porridges compared with soups which may be easier stirred by spoon. 
  • From a manufacturing perspective in the 1500’s, it’s far easier to turn a piece of wood into a decorative cylindrical spurtle, than it is to make a spoon. 
  • Without a flat spoon-like eating surface, using a spurtle makes it more difficult for passing family members to  sample the porridge as it’s cooking.

I’m not sure Jeremy got to the root of his question about why porridge was hip and trendy, but I suspect that some of it goes down to the whole grain movement and the rising popularity of “exotic” grains like quinoa, which I recall he’s commented on before. Of course, many restaurants I visit will have at least a simple oatmeal on their breakfast menu, often for $10 or more and there’s nothing that will make food seem more mod than a 1000+% mark up on its fair market value. That combined with the comfort food aspect seems to get people every time, particularly when it’s difficult to mess up a porridge.

I will admit I’ve been eating a lot more porridge over the past few years, but part of it is the fact that I acquired a rice cooker which has a workable porridge setting that allows my grains to soak overnight and then automatically cook so that breakfast is waiting when I rise. My favorite is generally brown sugar with ripe strawberries and a splash of cream.

I was disappointed not to find Laura Valli’s paper Porridge Renaissance and the Communities of Ingestion linked to in the show notes, but apparently it’s because it either isn’t yet published or available online.

I note that Neal Robertson, two time winner of the Golden Spurtle, despite having a quiver-full of spurtles to his name, uses a spoon in this video demonstration.

Jeremy buries the lede here that Neal is also sporting a serious arm tattoo that reads “World Porridge Champion 10.10.10”! Though I do wonder where he keeps the golden spurtle?

I will also admit that as I was making breakfast this morning, my choice of podcast was a bit biased.

Blue bowl of oatmeal with treacle and blueberries
Today’s breakfast.
Listened to How capuchin monkeys learn about food And what that might teach us by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Cover artwork of female capuchin and young infant. She is holding a rock to crack nuts.When chimpanzees were first seen stripping the leaves off slender branches and inserting them into termite nests to fish for the insects, people marvelled. Our nearest relatives, using tools to get nutritious food. Imagine, then, the surprise among primatologists when capuchin monkeys, not nearly as closely related to us, proved equally adept at tool use. Capuchins select stones that can be half as heavy as they are and carry them long distances to use as nutcrackers.

Elisabetta Visalberghi is a biologist based in Rome, who published the first scientific observations of tool use in capuchins. That is just a part of her far-reaching investigations into how capuchins, which are omnivorous, go about deciding which foods are worth eating and which are best avoided.

The results may surprise you.

Trailer: The Bearded Capuchin Monkeys of Fazenda Boa Vista from Cognitive Primatology_ISTC on Vimeo.

Notes

  1. Cover photo of Chuchu and her infant by Elisabetta Visalberghi.
  2. The video I mentioned in the show is The bearded capuchin monkeys of Fazenda Boa Vista, available from the CNR Primate Center in Rome. There are some other videos on Vimeo.
  3. The CNR Primate Center website.
  4. Cashews really are a problem from the people who have to process them. This article is very recent.
  5. Banner from a photo by Allan Hopkins
  6. How about making a donation to show your love for the show?
This is so fascinating from an anthropological and even socio-economic perspective.
Listened to Hoptopia How the Willamette valley conquered the world of tasty beer by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Brewers have long appreciated the value of hops from the Pacific northwest, but it was Cascade, a variety practically synonymous with craft brewing, that made the area more generally famous among beer drinkers. Cascade was named for the Cascade Range, which runs down the west coast of North America. The home of the Cascade hop is the Willamette valley, roughly halfway between the mountains and the coast. Cascade was released in 1972, but the history of hops in the Willamette valley goes back to the 1830s. The industry has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs, all examined by historian Peter Kopp in his book Hoptopia.

The whole question of changing tastes in beer, and how that affects the fortunes of different hops, is fascinating. If you’ve been a listener forever, you may remember a very early Eat This Podcast, about the rediscovery of an English hop known prosaically as OZ97a. Deemed too hoppy and abandoned when first tried, the vogue for craft beers resurrected its fortunes. It’s a fun story, though I say so myself.

Notes

  1. Peter Kopp’s book is Hoptopia: A World of Agriculture and Beer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
  2. Cover photo is Ezra Meeker, the early grower of hops in the Willamette valley who pioneered the global marketing of Oregon hops. The booming hop business made him the territory’s first millionnaire, and perhaps also its biggest bust. Hop King: Ezra Meeker’s Boom Years chronicles that part of his long, rich life.
  3. Banner photo of hops by Paul on Flickr.
I know I’d listened to this a while back, but it is so dense it has a lot to unpack on so many fronts.