Monday, July 31, 2006

Maybe not a paradox: a little bit of mental travel in the realm of French food

I have visited France more than any other foreign country, beginning in 1964. French is the only language besides English that I have ever been able to read even moderately well. This is my first post about many trips to France. I intend to continue with many other memories of travel there.

An article in today's LA Times made me think about one element of my lifelong fascination with France and above all with French food. Here's the core of the article, which has lots of very excellent summaries of research about the effect of alcohol on health:

"The folks who wag warning fingers over the dangers of trans fats, and hail the benefits of leafy greens, are silent on alcohol. These public health messengers — who remind us to quit smoking, eat fresh fruits and vegetables and exercise every day — are not about to tell people to start drinking.

"Their reluctance comes even amid growing evidence that moderate drinking is beneficial. A study last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that light to moderate alcohol consumption in people age 70 to 79 is associated with significantly lower rates of cardiac events and longer survival. A week earlier, researchers reported in the July 18 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that moderate alcohol consumption may help ward off development of heart failure.

"Those studies join dozens of others showing that a drink a day for a woman, two for a man, is good for heart health. Studies from at least 20 countries in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia consistently show that moderate drinkers have rates of heart disease between 20% and 40% lower than abstainers or heavy drinkers, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism."
FROM LA Times Online: "A DRINK A DAY: Alcohol can be good for
the heart
... " By Susan Brink, Times Staff Writer, July 31, 2006

Lots of people go on and on about how French people have lower heart disease rates, which wouldn't be predicted by the French diet. In our many trips to France we have noticed that besides very prescribed eating habits, French people have (or had in the past) a characteristic way of drinking with meals, usually wine in moderate quantities. Our French friends' view of American puritanism was as uncomprehending as the American view of their drinking. Now science is vindicating the old-style French pattern of leisurely meals accompanied by wine.

As the article so clearly says, American medical practice is still puritan: "Most doctors err on the side of caution, believing that the risk to the few outweighs the benefit to the many. They fear that some people encouraged to drink moderately will end up going too far."

Illustrating my point: in 1989, along with everyone in France, we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. Friends of ours invited everyone they knew to their house deep in the countryside: "La France Profonde." Most guests slept in tents, showered under a hose, and enjoyed the outdoor life. From early afternoon till dinnertime, all together spit-roasted a lamb and prepared a real feast. The photo was taken towards the end of the meal: note the line of bottles on the table:

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Elaine tells all...

Elaine has created a blog for Theo, who wanted to hear true stories:

  • Real Story

  • Here are two photos that illustrate her real stories. The first is Elaine in her Taylor-Tot. The second is our parents and the two of us.

    Label on back: "Mae & Elaine, June 1947"

    Label on back: "The four Feldmans Aug 18, 1948"

    From now on, I will also publish real stories on my other blog of real stories.

    Friday, July 28, 2006

    More on the War in Israel

    The Europeans have an increasingly anti-Israel stance in most of the online news and comment sources that I read. The BBC calls it "the Lebanon crisis" and shows a preponderance of images of Lebanese civilian refugees and casualties, nearly ignoring the constant bombardment targeting Israeli civilians of all faiths and ethnic groups. The Guardian is a little more balanced than the BBC in the range of opinion pieces, but shows bias against Israel in its own editorials and news coverage, as far as I'm concerned.

    Joschka Fischer, who was Germany's foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has a much different point of view from the British. In a commentary which apppeared in the Guardian, Ha'aretz, and elsewhere, titled "Now is the time to think big", Fischer said "The current war in Lebanon is not a war by the Arab world against Israel; rather, it is a war orchestrated by the region's radical forces - Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iran - which fundamentally reject any settlement with Israel. ... By firing missiles on Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, a boundary has been crossed. From now on, the issue is no longer primarily one of territory, restitution or occupation. Instead, the main issue is the strategic threat to Israel's existence."

    Here are more of his words: "Israel has a key role to play here. Twice, it withdrew its troops unilaterally behind its recognized borders, namely from southern Lebanon and Gaza. Both times, Israel's land-for-peace formula resulted in land for war. Now, with the existence of Israel under threat, peace with its Arab neighbors seems a more distant prospect than ever.

    "I believe today's war in Lebanon can open up a new opportunity for peace. The sooner the guns are silenced in Lebanon, the better. But let's not forget the war's starting point: the clash within Hamas over whether to recognize Israel. And let's not forget the attitude of moderate Arab governments toward this war and to the hidden intentions of those who sought it."

    Here is the final paragraph: "Now is the time to think big! This applies not only to Israel and its neighbors, but to the U.S. and Europe as well. This war offers a chance for lasting peace. We must not let it slip away."

    I recommend that you read the article in full, though I can't guarantee how long it will be available at any specific news site. I hope Fischer's optimism is really predictive of a future that I find more and more depressing.

    Thursday, July 27, 2006

    Los Alamos, NM, October 2004

    Farmers' market stall where I bought spices and posole. In the morning, when I explored the market (actually a reserved part of a city parking lot where farmers set up tables), the day was chilly, but it warmed up.

    Doorway at Taos Pueblo. The pueblo homes retain their original design. Most residents also own a house outside the Pueblo elsewhere on the reservation, where they enjoy running water and other modernizations.

    Santa Fe, NM, January, 2005

    Looking backwards, I especially remember trips to New Mexico, most recently during a cold snap last January. Streams of water in fanciful outdoor fountains had frozen. Nativity scenes still sat near the altars of historic chapels and churches. The few Indian craftsmen selling their wares on the Plaza bundled up against the cold, some in Indian blankets, some in less picturesque padded coats.

    I like the food in New Mexico. On a more distant visit to Los Alamos, I stopped at the Farmer's Market, and bought chili powder from the women who grew and ground the chiles. From her, I also bought a packet of spices and dried corn with a recipe for posole dried corn-pork posole stew. There is much more to Santa Fe food than the Coyote Cafe, though I have enjoyed a few meals there.

    Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    Images from Ha'aretz Today

    "Rescue workers examining the Maghar house where a 15-year-old was killed in a Katyusha rocket strike on Tuesday." -- Ha'aretz

    "Teen girl killed, at least 16 wounded as Hezbollah rockets slam into northern cities"

    The rockets are falling on people that we met. Here are news stories:

    July 25, 2006:
    "A 15-year-old girl was killed and over a dozen people were wounded Tuesday as Hezbollah gunners renewed their bombardment of villages and cities across northern Israel, launching an estimated total of 90 rockets. In Maghar, Da'a Abbas was killed when a rocket directly struck a residential home in a Muslim neighborhood in the Galilee village. Magen David Adom medical crews reported that the girl's 30-year-old brother was seriously hurt and her 12-year-old sister was moderately wounded. Two more rockets landed in the village, lightly wounding two people; 20 more people suffered from shock. Village residents said they are not looking to blame anyone, but call on both sides to end the fighting. 'This situation cannot go on,' a resident said."

    From Ynet: "A 15 year-old girl was killed Tuesday afternoon when a rocket fired from Lebanon hit the northern Druze village of Mrar, near Carmiel in the Galilee region. According to reports, the rocket landed near the village’s mosque. One man was seriously injured in the attack, a girl sustained moderate injuries, and two boys were lightly injured. Some 20 people suffered from shock."

    Mrar (also spelled Maghar) is the village that we visited two months ago. See "Mrar, a Druse Village" my post of May 24, 2006.

    Monday, July 24, 2006

    Travel to Israel

    Every day I travel to Israel by reading Ha'aretz and Ynet news, the Israeli English-language news sources. Places I visited in May are being bombarded with rockets. People I met are surely hiding in bomb shelters. I saw the funeral of a Druse soldier, and thought of the Druse village we visited. I saw the iconic image of a challah on a table surrounded by broken glass. No Jewish person in the world could see this without thinking of the pogroms of the last two centuries. And wondering what this century will bring. Here are three photos of war scenes from these sources.

    Sunday, July 23, 2006

    Two Magic Mountains

    In Burns Park, March 2006, Miriam and Tom at the top of "Magic Mountain" -- this mountain is nearly 20 feet high. The story is that in the 1920s, a racetrack occupied the space where the park playing fields are now. The central mound was leveled, the resulting dirt piled up, and a promise was made to come back and remove it. However, Michigan is so flat that children began to use it as a sledding hill, a climbing hill, and a fun, magic place.

    Here is an up-to-date view, illustrating the size of the Burns Park Magic Mountain (note the tennis court fence just behind it):

    In the Alps, July, 2006, Alice and Evelyn. You can see that Tom knows about REAL magic mountains!

    Saturday, July 22, 2006

    Ann Arbor Art Fair

    Attendance at the annual art fair seems rather low this year. Well, as one friend with ceramics to sell put it -- gas is so expensive people don't want to drive, and there's a war on. "Several wars," Lenny replied.

    Sparse crowds make easier walking along and checking out the booths and also easier picture taking!

    Thursday, July 13, 2006

    Fairfax, Virginia

    We spent almost a week on a trip to Fairfax to visit Evelyn, Tom, Miriam, and Alice.
    The first two photos illustrate the George Mason Math Club shirt: "Keeping it Real..."

    We drove the ridge road through Shenandoah National Park. It's nice but I'm afraid it doesn't compare to the national parks out west.

    Here is the birthday cake that Tom and I shared for our upcoming birthdays:

    New picnic table in use:
    (Too bad the weather is so hot in Fairfax)

    The big activity of the week: Evelyn and Lenny built a playhouse. Here it is partly finished, in test mode:

    At the National Gallery of Art:

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    Midsummer Garden

    The azaleas, lilacs, and magnolia bloomed while we were in Israel. The day lilies and astilbe have almost finished now, leaving the garden mainly green. This morning, I added more mulch. Only the impatiens are colorful -- but they are behind the bushes in this photo.

    Saturday, July 08, 2006

    A visit to Sweden?

    An Ikea Mystery
    I searched the Ikea website for a picture of our new purchase. It did not appear in the online catalog, so I googled "ikea bekvam step stool" and found that almost all the hits were in Japanese, with a few examples for sale used in England. Maybe this is a very new or very out-dated product! Or perhaps the minimal distinction between the bekvam step stool and the bekvam kitchen cart requires the umlaut over the a in bekvam. Can you google an umlaut?

    Anyway, this is what our new Bekvam step stool looks like in our pantry, assembled and placed among dust mops, saved bags and other junk, returnable cans and bottles, and other pantry-floor material. I am ready for safer access to the high shelves.

    Though we have been to Ikea in Virginia, this was our first visit to the very recently opened store in Canton, Michigan, 20 miles from our house. We are now supplied with decorative paper napkins for the foreseeable future. We will return for Swedish meat balls in the restaurant when the crowds dissapate.

    ANOTHER Ikea Mystery

    It's widely agreed that the true mystery of Ikea is the meaning of the names of the products. If you are also baffled, I recommend the website

  • "The Ikea Game"

  • -- a new game each time you go to the site, testing your knowledge of product names like SAFTIG, ANTILOP, TROGEN, and SOLFRED. (These are among the random questions on one try at the game, anyway.)

    Note to Yiddish speakers: SAFTIG is not a product with generous hips. According to the game's answers page, SAFTIG is cutlery.

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    Utah, 2003

    One of our most enjoyable days on our trip through Utah in 2003 was a river trip through a small part of the enormous Canyonlands National Park. The start of the trip was quite close to our motel in Moab, Utah, the logical place to stay while visiting Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. First we drove on rough, off-pavement trails barely wide enough for the SUV provided by a local tour company: Tag A Long Expeditions.

    The driver/guide during the first half day was remarkably skilled at navigating, as well as highly informed about the geology, history, and terrain of the park. At many points we looked directly from the car window down into an abyss with the river far below.

    We also looked up or down at birds and animals, the only residents of this incredible, desolate space. Note the mountain goat, protectively colored:

    We stopped often, once at the top of a flat-topped arch, the same type of formation that gives its name to Arches N.P. The narrow stretch of rock that I'm walking on -- gingerly -- was above this arch:

    During both the morning drive and the aftenoon boat trip, we also stopped at several Indian locations, where we saw grain storehouses, cave dwellings, and petroglyphs from the early Indian nomads and village dwellers.

    Above: an ancient grainery.

    Above: petroglyphs on the rock face.

    In the course of the conversation, the guide (whose main job is as a high school teacher) told us many things about the town of Moab, the history of the area, and the students and families he has met, particularly the back-country Mormons, who often have large and only somewhat acknowledged polygamous families. As a result of their customs, many Mormons in Utah are quite poor, and the children suffer for the decisions of their parents and the pressure on them to marry young.

    At the bottom of the trail, the road seemed to dive straight down into the river canyon. At this point we met the boat and new driver. The two guides prepared our picnic lunch, and we boarded the riverboat while the driver returned overland with the SUV. The bottom of the canyon was as dramtic as the roads above it. For a while, we stripped to our bathing suits and jumped into the cool, swift river. A thunder storm boiling on the cliff tops provided some excitement while we were tubing downstream.

    Above: at the end of the trip, we and the others on tour (shown here) disembarked and took a shuttle bus back to the outfitters' office in Moab.

    At my request, the first guide recommended a few books about the terrain, its people, and its history. I have read these books since we returned from Utah, and found all of them as fascinating as the guide himself:

    Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire
    Wallace Stegner's Mormon Country
    John Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven : A Story of Violent Faith

    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    Reading and Eating around the world

    We're still in town, but I'm doing some culinary travel experiments. It's summer, so vegetables are in great supply, and very fresh at my favorite stores. I've been trying out some recipes from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. I bought it last fall, but have just started trying recipes. I especially liked "Corn with Ginger" which included fresh kernels removed from the ears, hot chile pepper, cumin, fresh ginger, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro leaves.

    I've also been experimenting with ready-made, frozen breads (like parathas) from the Indian grocery store. And I tried a new apricot-mango chutney recipe selected from a randomly chosen website because I had apricots and mangos. Put together, these make some very flavorful meals.

    Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian : More Than 650 Meatless Recipes from Around the World

    Related reading -- a food book that isn't really a cookbook:

    Curry : A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

    The author's point is that curry exists around the world, has a long history, and has many meanings to many different groups of people.

    And another recent favorite, about a country that I haven't visited recently:

    I really loved learning about Julia Child's experiences in France from which she developed into the most famous cookbook author and the inventor of food TV. (No, I don't hold her responsible for its excesses, either.)

    And in another food-book-space: I recently finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma -- about eating in America. I also followed the author's several weeks of blogging, recently published as New York Times premium content. I hope he decides to continue a blog somewhere else.

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Agrigento, Sicily, July 2002

    Three views of the ancient Greek city: Agrigento, Sicily.

    Saturday, July 01, 2006

    An Inconvenient Truth: Places that you can't go any more

    This afternoon we went to see Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. I would not have expected any movie (least of all Al Gore's) to make a scientific presentation so interesting, compelling, even amusing.

    From my travel point of view, one big sadness of global warming is the loss of many places that I could have gone to see before they disappeared. Or won't see as they were before. Coral reefs bleach from warmer waters. The fish die. Glaciers melt. Snow-capped peaks become bare rock. Lake beds in Asia turn to parched mud. Africa is more of a desert, resulting in disasters both human and ecological. Birds disappear: only half the usual number of migrating birds on the way back from Africa to Europe arrived this year, reported bird-counters in Eilat, Israel today. Worse things are coming.

    Al Gore says: don't go from denial to despair without trying to do something about it. But there really isn't much I can do, I'm afraid. At the end there were little snippets of advice between the credits -- like "recycle." They seemed really pathetic compared to the point of the film.

    We went to the film with our friends Elaine and Bob to celebrate her birthday. She's four years younger than I am. Four years ago, for my birthday, we were at Agrigento, Sicily, an ancient Greek city. It was one of our best trips. I'll have to find and post some photos from there.