Zucchini is the bane of many gardeners — it grows fast, seemingly doubling every time you turn around, quickly turning from flavorful to bland pulp — and so it has a slightly bad reputation. I have memories of huge home-grown zucchini and the struggles to use them. These days, though, my source of zucchini is the farmers market, where the vegetable is far more petite, and sometimes even the tiny “baby” kind, so I actually look forward to zucchini season, which means zucchini fritters, ratatouille, and various Mexican dishes (like this stew of zucchini, tomatillos and corn). This summer, I added another tasty vegetarian stew with Mexican flavors: seared zucchini in a spicy tomato sauce, with frozen tofu for texture and protein.
One of my summer dessert favorites is zucchini bread, something that could be called zucchini cake if it was baked in a shallow cylindrical pan instead of a loaf pan. It’s something I seem to only bake in the summer when zucchini is at the farmers markets, even though it would take an exceptionally skilled taster to determine that the zucchini was at its peak when I baked it, so imported winter zucchini would be fine.
The recipe I share below has been in the family for a few decades. It’s reliable, easy to assemble, and creates a moist and flavorful bread/cake. I suspect that the use of liquid vegetable oil instead of butter as the fat could help — while vegetable oil is 100% fat and a liquid at room temperature, butter is an emulsion of fat and water, and can small create problems with breaking, difficulty in incorporation, and so on.
Before magazine designers and editors could use lots of photos to enliven their pages, they needed other methods. In the late 19th Century, Good Housekeeping used decorative initials at the start of each article. Unlike typical initials, these weren’t simply larger or more ornate, but were creative depictions of letters that related to the magazine’s themes, like a wisp of steam above a cup of tea that looks like a W, or a table that looks like a T.
I first ran across these while searching Google Books for drink recipes that use burdock and dandelion, and was reminded more recently when looking for vintage kale salad recipes (I found one in the July 24, 1886 issue of Good Housekeeping).
The gallery above has a few of the more creative initials that I found in the May 15, 1886 issue, as well as the W that I found earlier in an 1889 issue.
As printing technology changed and design decisions evolved, the thematic letters turned plain: 1903 issue has plain initials, but then in a 1909 issue they are mostly decorative (e.g., an I with botanical flourishes around it). The next issue I could find was 1922, which had plain initials.
Kale salad — superfood in a bowl, a nutritional powerhouse, a bold canvas for bold flavors — has been a major trend in recent years. A recent article in Food52 — A New Genius Salad from the Chef Who Started the Kale Salad Craze — notes that it was introduced to a wide audience in late 2007:
But back in October 2007, Melissa Clark was introducing the concept to many for the first time in The New York Times: “If a chef dares to offer something as unappealing as, say, a raw kale salad, chances are it’s fantastic,” she wrote in an article titled If It Sounds Bad, It’s Got to Be Good. This article was all about the curious, addictive raw kale salad at Franny’s in Brooklyn (also published in Saveur the same month), which seems to mark the launch point for kale salad to catapult into the food trend hall of fame.
After reading the Food52 article, I wondered if there were earlier versions of kale salad, and what they looked like. To get the long view, I headed over to one of my favorite quick-research tools — Google Books — to look for much older versions of “kale salad.” I was not disappointed, finding a handful of recipes from 100 years ago and more. And I also found some old books that could be at home on bookstore shelves today (after a lot of updated design and new photographs).
One of my favorite genres of art is the 19th century Japanese landscape print, especially the works by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), who is best known as the creator of several series that showed famous scenes from around the nation, like “53 Stations of the Tokaido” and “Famous Views of the 60-Odd Provinces.” The subjects of the prints in the series vary between the long and medium view — for example, a rainbow over a the sea, or travelers passing over a bridge. So when I saw a series of Hiroshige fish prints appear in a Creative Commons CCSearch result, my curiosity was piqued. What was the story behind the series?
It turns out that prints of animals, fish and plants were relatively rare: in Hiroshige’s 40 year art career, he designed over 10,000 single sheet prints and several hundred book illustrations, with only around 500 having an animal or plant as the subject [the statistics are from Birds and Flowers, a book in the reference list below].
After reviewing a few books about Hiroshige at the local libraries, I found the answer to my question, and it turned out to be straightforward: a poetry guild called Kyokashi hired him to make ten fish illustrations to accompany their poems. During the design and printing process the poets gave their poems to the woodblock carvers, who added the lettering to a block so it would appear on the final print.
Updated, 8/30/17: changed “cricket flour” to “cricket powder” because powder is a more accurate and preferred term.
Every six months I visit several websites that sell pure cricket powder so I can update the prices in my “cricket powder price tracker.” The July update day occurred recently, so my post from 2016 has July 1, 2017 price data. Despite all of the hype about crickets as human food and about cricket companies scaling up to produce more product, the retail prices on July 1 were exactly the same as they were in January. Here’s a static version of the new chart:
My cricket powder price tracker post has the chart which is somewhat more interactive, as well as more details about the project.
One of my favorite posts featured a set of chocolate chip cookie charts, which built on an idea from Megnut’s Mean Chocolate Chip Cookie post. For her “mean” post, Meg collected a bunch of chocolate chip cookie recipes, calculated the mean (average) for each ingredient to create a new recipes, and then baked cookies. Her result: “These cookies were pretty damn good!”
I didn’t bake the recipes, I charted them: butter versus sugar, chocolate chips versus sugar, and so forth. At that small scale, it was a fun project, but not exceptionally revealing. You probably can’t learn much from a dozen not-carefully chosen recipes.
Collecting Lemon Curd Recipes
Meyer lemon meringue pie is one of my favorite desserts, with its rich crust, tangy filling, and sweet and airy meringue. My go-to recipe is from Chez Panisse Desserts, a rather haphazardly written recipe*, but one that has resulted in delicious lemon curd over the years. For some reason, lemon meringue pie and the cookie charts recently collided in my thoughts, and my impulse was to collect recipes and make some charts. Food charts can be fun, and perhaps I’d also learn something about lemon curd. So I dug into cookbooks, cataloged the ingredients, processed the data, and built some charts, which I share below. But first, a little bit about curds, custards, and creams.
The Golden Gate Bridge is a global icon, a triumph of engineering, and a work of art. In American terms, it was shaped by the City Beautiful movement, the Progressive Era, and the Great Depression. More mysteriously, the Bridge expresses those forces that science tells us constitute the dynamics of nature itself. Like the Parthenon, the Golden Gate Bridge seems Platonic in its perfection, as if the harmonies and resolutions of creation as understood by mathematics and abstract thought have been effortlessly materialized through engineering design.
That’s the opening to Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge, a concise examination of one of the wonders of the modern world by Kevin Starr (1940-2017). It’s a slim volume, less than 200 pages — a sharp contrast to Starr’s greatest legacy, his monumental 7-volume Americans and the California Dream — that takes an expansive and slightly non-traditional look at this magnificent structure and site. In eleven chapters with one word titles (“Icon,” “Site,” “Money”, etc.), Starr looks beyond concrete and steel to bigger topics like the geological formation of the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay, how the Golden Gate stayed hidden from the Spanish for years*, and its cultural and artistic meanings — the Bridge as an Icon, as a driver of local commerce, as a catalyst for metropolitan prosperity.
A segment on potatoes with author Raghavan Iyer on the May 13, 2017 episode of Good Food, got me wondering about potato statistics: Where are the world’s potatoes grown? Which country eats the most potatoes? Who imports and exports potatoes?
I went looking for answers at the amazing FAOSTAT website, which is a statistical database about food and agriculture from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. They have data for numerous crops, and I quickly found data for potato production, “supply” (the quantity available for human consumption), export and import, and plugged it into Tableau Public to make the maps shown below. The maps should be interactive — move your mouse over a symbol to get its information, zoom in or out, or do other pan and zoom operations (click the right pointing triangle for these). If the blog-sized maps aren’t working for you, I also created an auto-sized version that can be accessed on the full size Spud Stats page.
I was browsing through the amazing digital archives of the New York Public Library recently, looking for fun stuff to pin to my Slices of Blue Sky Pinterest boards, and I ran across an old postcard from Los Angeles that caught my attention. The photo isn’t much — it’s a pretty big Spanish-style house — but the name in the caption is huge in Los Angeles history: Harrison Gray Otis. I remembered it from somewhere…cue the harp…. oh yes, it was mentioned in my book review of Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles.1