27 October 2009

Recipe: Eggplant Wrapped Moussaka

this recipe at Sasha's request!

First, I'd like some credit for cooking something without bacon.  Thanks in advance.
Second, this recipe comes from The New Basics Cookbook, which is quite possibly my favorite out of the many I own.  Jamie Oliver's oeuvre comes in a somewhat-close second, and I use Betty Crocker and Silver Spoon for reference, but this is the cookbook I actually cook from.  This is the cookbook that taught me (and is teaching me) to make soups.  I got it at a Books Not Bombs Used Book Sale I helped organize at SHU and it's followed me around a few rented places and now back home -- it was a 1992 wedding present to a prof and her husband.  This cookbook is from 1989, which could be considered dated (like the recipes Judith Jones includes in The Tenth Muse -- dated recipes and she didn't like Julie Powell!) but actually, I think it was ahead of its time, because the recipes really encourage home- or local-grown produce, and seasonal cooking, among other things that are in vogue right now.
Which brings me to Third, some of the ingredients I used for this recipe came from our garden! Others were grown elsewhere in Pennsylvania! Yay!
Fourth, I am retyping the recipe from the cookbook.  I mostly followed it, but left a few things out (beef stock, fresh mint leaves and currants and mint in the yogurt sauce) and it still was amazing.

So without further adue:

2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup milk
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup sliced almonds with skins
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1 cup homemade beef stock or canned broth
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup dried currants
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1 acorn squash, halved, seeded and cooked until soft
1/2 cup cooked white rice
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Minted Yogurt Sauce (recipe follows)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Lightly grease two baking sheets and a 10-inch round, 2-inch-deep casserole (preferably glass).
  2. Combine the cumin, ginger, paprika, cinnamon, and cayenne in a small bowl.  Blend thoroughly.
  3. Combine the flour, 1 1/3 tablespoons of the spice mixture, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl.  Mix well.  Pour the milk into another shallow bowl.
  4. Dip each eggplant slice first in the milk, letting any excess drip off, and then in the flour mixture, pressing lightly so it is evenly coated.  Shake off any excess flour, and arrange the slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.  Bake until soft, 30 minutes.  Remove the eggplant but leave the oven on.
  5. In the meantime, heat the oil in a large skillet.  Stir in the onion and almonds, and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and the almonds are toasted, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the lamb, raise the heat slightly, and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, until browned, about 10 minutes.  Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet.
  6. Stir the remaining spice mixture into the meat, and cook 1 minute.  Then stir in the tomatoes, stock, apricots, currants, and mint.  Scoop the squash into the mixture in chunks.  Stir in the rice, lemon juice, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt.  Remove the skillet from the heat.
  7. Arrange a layer of cooked eggplant on the bottom and up the sides of the prepared casserole.  Fill with the lamb mixture, and top with the remaining eggplant.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake 1 hour.
  8. Remove the casserole from the oven and allow it to stand, still covered, for 15 minutes.  Then uncover and invert the moussaka onto a serving platter.  Cut it into wedges, and serve with the Minted Yogurt Sauce.
Minted Yogurt Sauce
1 1/4 cups plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 tablespoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Mix it all together and refrigerate covered until ready to serve.

26 October 2009

Kaffirs (and Rusyns?) (and Roma?)

I happened upon this video via @brainpicker, and I'm so glad I did.  As a film, it's produced with love and fine craft, which is rare in these YouTube days.  But what is more important is the content of this film - and for me personally because it raises some questions that I think are also so applicable to the Rusyns.

I'm not going to write too much about the Kaffirs, because I don't know a lot about them and I'm sensitive to spreading misinformation.  But I am going to raise some of the questions raised by the filmmaker Kannan Arunasalam with regard to the Kaffirs that I think we can use as an examination of where we're at within the promotion and development of Carpatho-Rusyn culture. It's nothing new -- because we've been talking and debating Rusyns as a 'museum culture' for years at this point -- which is not unhealthy nor negative in my opinion.  But here are some thoughts:
  • Intermarriage as a way that cultures erode.  Now, I'm not into cultural purity, am really a fan of the creation of new cultures and new traditions, and am the product of an intercultural relationship, so please don't misunderstand me, but let's think about how normal that actually is.  Because Rusyns have always lived around Slovaks, Poles, Ukrainians, Roma, Jews, and Hungarians, and then were thrown into the lovely American melting pot (though I recognize how passé the term is now and use here it in a 19th century context) and ultimately I think this is an attractive thing because it does attract others to the cultural group.  And a culture is made up of people who identify with something, not certainly by pure ethnicity.  But assimilation doesn't necessarily happen nor have to happen.
  • Using music as a way to attract people to a cultural group.  In discussions I've had with other Rusyn friends, while admitting our bias and not intending to diminish neighboring culture's music, it's clear that Rusyn music is soulful and attractive whereas some music of neighboring cultures is less so.  While watching the video about the Kaffirs, I was thinking about the performance I saw yesterday of Slavjane girls singing Roma songs -- they were so into it and obviously having such a good time, and did a great job; but I was also thinking about how many times I've heard people complain about Roma and then say "well, but they do have nice music."  This is one of the most offensive things I think could be said.  So.  Music is a powerful tool for marketing within cultural groups, but I think it needs to be backed up with a lot of substance and infrastructure in the form of a consistent message of education and organization.
  • Language. OMGZ this is critical.  I liked how the Kaffir cultural leaders encourage kids to use their creole words along with the Tamil and Sinhala that they already speak.  It's a start, and could form a modified dialect, similar to Pittsburghese.  It's like what a friend already refers to as the Rusyn-Slovak-Šariš Esperanto of Eastern Slovakia.  Since language is a living thing, it works.
  • "There's a romance about a people on the cusp of disappearing. You see it in Hollywood films about Native Americans."
  • May x (culture) find a permanent, living home in y (country) whereever they live.
But enough of me, please take the time to watch this video!

20 October 2009

Bata Shoe Museum

I guess I should just get the discussion of museum architecture out of the way with this one -- Raymond Moriyama's exterior fits in well with Libeskind's down the street, and the galleries are galleries.

But I still don't know what to think about this museum.  Probably I'm a bit disappointed, because I had different expectations.  I thought I was going to see something very eurocentric (because I am!) and that would discuss the honorable history of the Baťa brand.  Nope.  Not bad that it wasn't completely eurocentric (in fact, that was a great strength) but I was expecting something else.

The exhibits were some of the most designed I've ever seen.  Of course, every exhibit has tons of design involved, and lots of time is spent thinking about it, but this one was designed -- to the extent that it was obviously not done in-house but rather by exhibit design firms.  That's ok, but it lacks the sort of museopunk feel that can be found even in huge museums like the Met or MoMA or Museum of Natural History.

The galleries were dark for preservation purposes - thank God for high ISO.

It was an interesting choice to have the shoes so low - which maybe makes sense because shoes are usually on the ground.

They had a huge emphasis on First Nations footwear, and put non-Western shoes in the same linear time trajectory, which was cool -- and how you have an image of a sculpture of Julius Caesar with the word 'Anasazi' under it.  

My Sperry Top-Sider loafers next to Indira Gandhi's footprint.

The current temporary exhibit Bound for Glory: Cutting-Edge Winter Sports Footwear also had the first Wiis I'd seen in a museum setting.  But I couldn't figure out why they were there and it was an awkward integration.  Edutainment?

Lots of the permanent collection was displayed with an open storage style in mind.  I like this because it deconstructs the museum, shows a lot of objects, and can be used to help visitors understand how museums work.  Again, though, really designed.

Napoleon's socks

some nice Victorian shoes with peacocks - which I admire but would never wear

Conservation Department

It was cool to see the Conservation Department - which also had some great labeling about what they do, how and why (also the preservation v. restoration explanation).  Again, so important, and so great to explain to visitors about the inside of a museum.  I wonder though, if working in a space like this is too much like working in a fishbowl?

My visit was about an hour, which was enough.  Despite it's unusual contents, this is a very professional, serious museum.

19 October 2009

Art Gallery of Ontario

Our visit here was unfortunately entirely too short because we got there close to closing time, but I was happy to see David Altmejd's work again, which I'd seen at the 2007 Venice Biennale.  The goal was to get to the Galleria Italia to see Gehry's work from the inside -- but on the way, one hiccup:

A salon-style hanging seems like a good idea, seems like it works for 19th century art, seems like it transports you back to Paris, etc.  But it doesn't work well if it's not explained, contextualized and somehow labeled.  People now aren't as smart as 19th century Parisians were, but they're no less curious.

It was nice to see some of the Group of Seven's work, albeit briefly, and I plan on this being some focus during my next visit.  Didn't get to see much of the museum, but Frank Gehry omgzfangirlwatchout:

Beautiful -- and it was great at night, but I look forward to visiting it during the day.  And Giuseppe Penone - gorgeous.  And very well-trained gallery attendants: A+.  Now go play with this website.  And since in my previous post I touched upon how negative starchitects can be for a museum, here's an unbelievable positive -- because the architecture didn't compete with the objects, but added to the experience of them -- and not just here in the Galleria Italia, but in the regular, whitewalled galleries of the AGO.  

If the Galleria Italia isn't poetic enough, what about this:

photo: SH

Yes, please.  The staircases we used were oval-spiral, lovely to walk up.

Another museum to return to.

Royal Ontario Museum

So if you're reading this and and are planning on visiting Toronto in the next few months, do go visit the ROM to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.  It does an amazing job of contextualizing the scrolls and explaining that era of Roman/Jewish history, which can get pretty confusing.  My favorite part of the whole exhibit was the part about preserving the scrolls and explaining how they prepared them for exhibition.  Unfortunately, there were no photos allowed so I haven't got any to show about how it was designed. The exhibit is a blockbuster, and as far as blockbusters go, this one was really well done.

They had recently reinstalled their Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth's Treasures and it was beautifully done, with really nice lighting and also a lot of natural light in the galleries.

There were also informational touchscreen kiosks in the gallery, which were cool and nonobtrusive but could have been done without.  Personally, I'm not a huge fan of kiosks in museums, but sometimes they're awesome (Musée des arts-et-métiers, for example).  The really well-done and well-integrated kiosks were part of the ROM's Must-See Treasures - and I'm so glad to see that some of them are available on YouTube:

Visiting the ROM (and also the Bata Shoe Museum) was really good for giving some perspective on how to respectfully handle Native Americans/First Nations in a museum setting, because I think it's possible for American museums to get caught up in NAGPRA and also in the culture the USA has developed in the way it responds to Native Americans, which is still essentially very imperialist and not very ideal - even as so many museum professionals work very hard to honor Native Americans and try to help to improve less-than-ideal situations.  This brings me to the reallyfamous painting at the ROM, which is Benjamin West's The Death of General Wolfe, one of the cornerstones of (North) American Art History.  It is a controversial painting, full of eurocentric meaning and propaganda.  ROM obviously recognizes this, and presents video of the Plains of Abraham, and three critical views: one from Jeff Thomas, a Iroquois Onondaga artist, curator and critic; another from Chantal Hébert, a Canadian political columnist; and finally Arlene Gehmacher, ROM curator of Canadian Art.  It's always nice to see multiple critical views, and it makes me so happy to see labels attributed to specific writers instead of an unseen-omniscient-curator voice in museum labels.

I'd also note here that folks from the USA don't really use the term North American very often, whereas Canadians use it all the time.  This shows how American-centric/USA-centric we are wired to be, when on the other hand Canada has a completely different perspective on the same situation, of course.

Without going into a load of detail, the ROM had some of the best explanation of Greek pottery that I've ever seen.  And let's be honest, we've all looked at a lot of Greek pottery in a lot of museums, but how often are we really helped to understand what we're looking at?  A little bit is all it takes to really appreciate this fine art, and they did a great job.

Just a final comment on the architecture: Daniel Libeskind's addition was at moments unsettling and sometimes competed with the contents of the museum -- when the architecture competes with the objects in a museum setting, then it becomes a question of priorities: which is more important, the contents of the museum or the museum building?  And my response is emphatically that the objects inside are more important.  The chair? Uncomfortable.  The atmosphere in the Spirit House? Also uncomfortable.

Overall, however, we had a great visit - most of the day, a marathon of a museum visit, and like all great museums, screaming to be revisited, because as I write this, I am reminded of all that we didn't get to see.

Rusyn-Italo-American Borscht

Borscht is one of my favorite soups, and I've been wanting to make it for weeks.  Stumbling across this blog and this recipe just made me even more anxious to do it.  On 25 September, the following exchange began on Facebook:
So, finally I'll give some thoughts on the recipe, and you can also read some usually not-punny thoughts on TV and media from my friend Tim.

First off. Vladimir Lavenko: who are you, where are you from, can we please have some more really good Rusyn recipes?? Am totally wanting to make the rice pudding next.

To comment on the recipe: it's soup. I've got most of the ingredients already, but I'm not going to follow the recipe exactly, because it's soup. Variations are the spice of life.

Above are most of my 'fresh' ingredients: bacon, carrot of indeterminate age, red potatoes, and Savoy cabbage.  Regular cabbage is generally not allowed in the Silvestri house -- and once you've had Savoy, it's hard to go back in terms of taste and texture.  The recipe calls for sausage, which we didn't have, but we always have bacon!  And yes, bacon is a vegetable.

So I started out by rendering the bacon in the pot (my signature style is to cut bacon with scissors), and then added a quart of chicken broth and a quart of regular water (recipe calls for 2 quarts of water).  Peeling the beets (from our garden!) was a relative pain, as they were small and squishy.  Instead of shredding them, which could have taken off a slice of my purple digits, I just sliced them really thin and added them to my boiling bacon-y broth.

It takes a long time for the beets to lose their color -- don't know how long, but a while.  The beets had been sitting out on our kitchen counter for a few days waiting for me to get to them, and they were not very consistently textured.  But the beets really do lose their color:

I did follow the recipe in the order in which I added things to the soup.  Beets first, then potatoes and shredded carrots, then the cabbage and tomatoes.  Again, the Savoy cabbage is amazing, and it doesn't lose its bite when it's been sitting in soup for a while.  While I was waiting for the potatoes and carrots to cook, I sautéed some onions in butter, and added those in after the cabbage -- we didn't have any tomato paste, so none of that, but the last thing I did do was to add in some raw garlic along with salt, pepper, and some red wine vinegar.

To finish, I went out to the garden to get some fresh parsley and chopped up some of that -- there will be dill in the garden next summer, I swear!  Plus some sour cream, which is a must with borscht.

Here was the finished result, which I promptly ate three bowls of:

I found it to be very hearty, and very, very tasty.

Since the fresh beets are gone and canned already, and the canned beets are on their way to being eaten really quickly, I'll probably be experimenting over the winter with borscht with not fresh beets, which is sad but may need to happen. 

If you try to make borscht, let me know how it goes!

05 October 2009

Today's Vintage Rusyn Photograph

Lemkos at the turn of the 20th century with Dr. Henryk Ebers