George Rector: M.F.K. Fisher’s Dirty Old Uncle

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We struck gold in the depths of the library the other day when I dug up Dine at Home with Rector: A book on what men like, why they like it, and how to cook it, by George Rector, c.1937.

Rector (1878-1947) was a restaurateur and popular author. This book is ostensibly a cookbook–I don’t know what else it would be–but it doesn’t have recipes per se. Instead, he just mentions how to cook things as he’s steaming along. I’m in love with the hardboiled yet strangely comforting prose (though I do have to ignore the casual sexism and racism of the period).

Seems most cookbooks these days range from bland to, at best, passionately sincere. Old George is just in it for the fun. The pleasure of reading him is filed in my brain alongside the pleasure of reading M.F.K. Fisher, though he’s more like her dirty old uncle. Which is to say you’d happily read either them even if you have no intention of ever cooking anything ever again.

Speaking of casual sexism, I’m particularly fond of the chapter titled “When the Wife’s Away”, which steps befuddled menfolk from the basics of grilling a steak (“Steak is a good thing to begin on; don’t be scared off because it’s one of the aristocrats of the cow kingdom…”), to how to scramble eggs over a double boiler (“that’s the dingus Junior’s cereal is cooked in…”) to making “that noble experiment known as Rum-Tum Ditty” for the boys when they come over for cards. Rum-Tum-Ditty, I have to say, defies explanation. Let’s just say the ingredients include whipped egg whites, a pound of cheese and a can of tomato soup.

Speaking of befuddled menfolk, Erik is quite fond of this passage about making Hollandaise sauce (from the chapter titled “A Touch of Eggomania”), not least because it has introduced the term “hen fruit” into our lives:

For eggs Benedict, you need Hollandaise sauce, an additional contribution of the hen fruit to the pleasures of the palate, and to the confusion of cooks. Hold on to your hats and we’ll round that curve. Add four egg yolks, beaten to the thick, lemon-colored point, to half a cup of butter melted in a double boiler. Stir as you add the eggs and keep stirring–stir with the calm and temperate perseverance of the mine mule making his millionth trip down the gallery. That’s the secret–that and getting the water in the bottom hot as blazes without ever letting it come to a boil. Just before the mixture gets thick–timing again–put in a tablespoon of lemon juice and cayenne pepper to taste, and I hope and believe you’ll have a crackajack Hollandaise. Which is something to have, because it’s cantankerous stuff, as the tears shed by millions of cooks down the ages all testify.

How to polish your silver effortlessly–with Science!

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Tarnished flatware waiting for a bath

Here at Root Simple, we live high on the hog. We eat off of silver spoons every day. It’s true. I inherited a set of silver flatwear and utensils from my mom’s side of the family, and instead of saving them for Christmas and Thanksgiving, I use them every day.

This is fairly revolutionary, as I come from a family of Savers. Recently, I unearthed a set of six snowy white damask dinner napkins from the family treasury, painstakingly ironed into perfect squares, centered on a cloth covered board and wrapped in a lace cloth and tied with a ribbon. They’re so perfect it’s clear they’ve never been used.

These may have been a part of my grandmother’s wedding trousseau, or maybe even my great-grandmother’s. But whoever gathered them together so carefully, they never thought any dinner party in their entire life was special enough to use them.

Well, this attitude ends with me. Erik and I don’t have kids, and we’ve hit middle age, so I’m burning the bridges behind us. Everything must be used. No more squirreling and saving. Which brings me back to the silver.

We use silver every day, but it gets tarnished. It’s used too frequently to get that  heavy black tarnishing which afflicts unused silver pieces. Instead, our forks and knives and spoons turn a sort of purplish grey. It’s not real pretty.

Hand polishing the lot of it would only be fun if I could do it in the butler’s pantry in Downton Abbey while gossiping about the gentry upstairs. So I looked up that “foil trick” that was half-lodged in the recesses of my mind, and I discovered its a real thing, and it works like a charm.

Tarnishing happens when the silver combines with sulfur in the air and forms silver sulfate. The black stuff, the tarnish, is silver sulfate. When you clean silver by hand, using silver polish, you are physically rubbing off the tarnish–and some of the silver. When you do this trick with the foil, you are actually reversing the chemical reaction–turning the silver sulfide back into silver. In other words, you become a wizard. And I ask you, would you rather be a wizard or a scullery maid?

The caveat: This process strips away tarnish very effectively–too much so, say connoisseurs of fine silver and the gentle patina of age. It will strip all of the tarnish out of all the patterns and nooks and crannies on your silver objects, rendering the surface somewhat flat and new looking in its universal brightness. Just so you know.

The incredibly easy process:

My primary reference for this was this lecture demonstration from the chemistry department of The University of Massachusetts. There are many versions of this trick on the Interwebs, but some of them are unnecessarily complex or persnickety. You do not need vinegar! You do not need batteries!

This linked information is straightforward, and being from a chem department rather than some random blogger (like myself), it’s reliable. It also explains the science if you’re interested–seems like it’s an oxidation and reduction process? As an art major, I’m just waving my hands around at this point.

You’ll need

• A non-metal container to hold the silver to be cleaned. For flatwear, a glass or enamel baking dish works well. You want to be able to spread everything out.  (I hear you can also use an aluminum baking pan, like one of those disposable roasting pans. In this case you can skip the foil.)

• Aluminum foil

• Baking soda (sodium carbonate)

• Salt

• Hot water

1.Line your dish or other container with foil.

2. Arrange your silver in the container.  All the pieces should touch foil and be completely submerged. Don’t crowd them too much.

2. Stir a small amount of salt and soda into hot water. How much salt and soda? How much hot water? I don’t think exact quantities matter a whole lot except that you should use equal amounts of salt and soda, and don’t dilute it to a crazy extent.  Let’s say use a tablespoon each of salt and soda per quart or two of hot water. UMass used rather less, but this is what worked for me.

3. Pour the hot soda/salt water into the container and watch the magic!

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A minute or two into the bath–the color change comes quickly

You should see some changes right away. My not-so-tarnished flatwear only took a couple of minutes total.  A more heavily tarnished piece will take longer, maybe up to 10 minutes or so.

4. Remove the clean pieces of silver from the water and rinse with clean water and dry with a cloth. You could opt to further bring out the shine with some polish or a polishing cloth.

The solution is non-toxic, so you don’t have to worry about wearing gloves, and you can pour it down the sink without guilt.

Just FYI, I was able to do three consecutive batches of flatwear in the same water bath, although I could see some weakening of the effect by batch #3.

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Flatwear in the rinsing bowl, looking much better!

Soil Positive or just Soil Curious? Join Nancy Klehm For a Workshop on Soils

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Our friend and soil guru Nancy Klehm is coming back to town soon, and will be teaching an awesome day-long “soil truthing” workshop for a small group of lucky people. Come to learn about soil health, life and remediation via compost and mushrooms and mulch. In this era of climate change, healthy soils key to resilience, carbon sequestration and water conservation, so come and learn!

Soil Truthing – A Hands-On Workshop

When: Saturday, February 6th

Hours: 10am – 4pm

Where: Silver Lake, address provided upon registration

Cost: $75

Class size: 6 – 15 people

Facilitator: Nance Klehm, Director of Social Ecologies , www.socialecologies.net  (See bio below)

Class Plan:

1. introductions and bio-remediation presentation

2. landscape reading exercise in neighborhood

~potluck lunch

3. compost bin and soil tour of root simple front and back gardens

4. three soil installations – TBA

What you will learn:

– basic soil structure and biology

– qualitative methods of assessing soil health

– how to sample soil for a lab

– landscape reading skills

– backyard-scale bioremediation strategies including compost, mulch and working with fungi

Participants should:

Bring food to share at the potluck and their own water bottle

Wear work clothes and bring a pair of gloves, a notebook and a pen

Registration Information

Register via Paypal using “Register” button below. Your payment is registration.

First come, first serve: 15 people maximum

Refunds and cancellation: Full refunds available up to 48 hours prior to class, 50% refund within 48 hours.

Email us at [email protected]




Your Paypal invoice will say “Los Angeles Bread Bakers.”

About Nancy Klehm

Nancy Klehm is a steward of the earth. For over two decades she has designed landscape, taught ecological systems and built food systems in collaboration with others. Her approach is one of instigation and activation of already existent communities, and her work demonstrates her commitment to redefining the way human populations coexist with plant and animal systems on this planet.

Nancy has worked on projects for the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago Park District, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Annenberg Foundation, Heifer Project International, The Center of Land Interpretation in Los Angeles, The Edible Schoolyard (Berkeley), LearningSite (Copenhagen), GiveLove Haiti (Port au Prince) and other private, public, and institutional clients.

She has lectured/taught courses at UCLA, Northwestern University, The Hammer Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Canadian Centre for Architecture (Montreal), The Graham Foundation, Archeworks, MICA, U of Cincinnati, University of Illinois at Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Dartington College of Arts (UK), Jutland Kunstakademi (Arhus, DK), Machine Project (LA), City Repair (Portland) and a multitude of community groups.

More boneheaded plant representations from Hollywood

not poison sumac

Writing about the Star Wars Romanesco cameo reminded me of a truly egregiously bad plant representation I saw on TV recently. I have to admit that these rants probably only serve to illustrate how trashy my taste in entertainment actually is–so I have to admit that I pretty much deserve to be disappointed. Yet I cannot remain silent in the face of such horror.

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In the deeply unpromising pilot to the YA series The 100, a group of handsome teens are walking through a stand of ferns in a redwood forest-type biome. The ferns (and, indiscriminately, the adjacent moss tufts) have been studded with purple pansy heads by the set designers. Nevermind that ferns don’t flower. One kid picks a pansy head and tucks it behind his love interest’s ear. A smarty pants kid watching this interaction notes that they’ll be sorry, because, he says, the plant is poison sumac. He’s not joking or positioned to be wrong–his character is written as somebody who knows plants.

I ask you:

Would James Bond engage in a high speed chase in a 1995 Toyota Corolla?

Would the makers Friday Night Lights have the high school football players carry basketballs instead of footballs in the game scenes, because after all, a ball is a ball?

Would Carrie Bradshaw slip on a pair of Crocs and call them Jimmy Choos?

No, no and non.

We’d never make mistakes like that justify them as being unimportant because they were just small details in a silly movie or TV show. Details matter a lot when the objects have cultural significance, as designer shoes and footballs do. This is why it is fine to be  stupid about plants, because nobody cares about plants, and we have lost every last vestige of plant literacy.

I don’t think this is a case of me being picky. I’m not being a plant geek here, pointing out some minutiae of botany. I’m talking about the misuse of really common plants that people do know, or should know.

Ferns, for example, are a plant that even the most determinedly uninterested person will still be able to identify as a fern. If you can only identify five plants, a fern would be one of them, along with grass and roses. Pansies are not as easily nameable as ferns, though they are incredibly common. Even people who don’t know what a pansy is called will still probably recognize them as a flower they’ve seen in flower beds. So why mix ferns and pansies and call the resulting Frankenplant poison sumac? This combination of laziness and arrogance takes my breath away.

More, it’s sorta dangerous. Bear with me here. In this degenerate world, no one needs to know the name of any plant to get by day to day (food plants excepted), but if a person ever intends to go outside (optional, I know) they’d better know how to identify local plants which cause contact dermatitis. Like poison sumac.

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is a shrub or tree which grows in wet spots in the Eastern parts of the U.S. and Canada. It looks nothing whatsoever like a fern. Or a pansy. It is apparently even more toxic than its itchy relatives, poison oak and poison ivy. Any teen who thinks to romp in those woods should know the difference between a fern and a poison sumac bush, and The 100 is doing a real disservice to its young audience by misrepresenting that plant. May the producers be looking at their iPhones the next time they sit down at a picnic, and miss that patch of poison ivy. My curse be upon them.

Romanesco broccoli cameo lights up Star Wars film

Romanesco_Broccoli

So, who spotted the Romanesco broccoli and — bonus points here– the blurry kiwano in the latest Star Wars movie? We did, as did reader Wayde, who dropped us a note about it. It appears as a pub snack on that inexplicable Angkor Wat vacation planet, with light alien reggae stylings in the background.

I’ve discovered that the Romanesco, being a food geek favorite because of its fractal structure, did get some high level notice in the media–including Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Village Voice.

We make it a hobby around here to spot the use and misuse of plants in Hollywood. This one is interesting, because while the Romanesco is presented as a food, as it should be–as opposed to ivy vines being presented as a food crop in Maze Runner– it is an Earth food, so it’s interesting that the film makers decided to include it as part of the scenery. The only other edible in the movie is special effect-based alien food–I won’t be spoilery and say any more about that.

The Star Wars world isn’t posited as our future world, as the Star Trek world is–it’s a mythic world, somewhere long ago and far away. I doubt we’d ever see Han Solo noshing on a hot dog, for instance, whereas I can totally imagine Kirk doing so, standing by a future-utopian hot dog stand (and flirting with the sexy alien behind the stand). But a hot dog in Star Wars would be very wrong, because it’s a thing too much of our world. Its presence would collapse the fantasy. But apparently they decided Romanesco and kiwano would not. Why? Because they figured most people had never seen these foods.  I don’t know if they were right about that. And also, maybe they also realized that they could work for weeks in their art studios and never invent anything as cool looking as a Romanesco or a kiwano.

On the up side, maybe parents now have the leverage to foist healthy cruciferous veggies on a whole new generation of movie goers. The Romanesco growers must be ecstatic.