Thursday, March 6, 2014
Alice Herz-Sommer died on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at her home in London, at the age of 110. She was the oldest known survivor of the Holocaust.
Mrs. Herz-Sommer was a concert pianist in her native Czechoslovakia before the war, and said that it was Frédéric Chopin who had “fed” both her and her audiences in over a hundred concerts she gave in her two years in the ghetto-concentration camp in Theresienstadt. She spent most of her time perfecting Chopin’s Études, a set of 27 solo pieces known for their technical innovation and sheer mechanical difficulty. Chopin became her food; it nourished her soul.
In Theresienstadt, her son would often ask her, “Mother, why don’t we have anything to eat?” She believed human beings don’t need food when they have something spiritual. “The concerts, the music was our food.” But wasn’t it painful to not have food? “No, I was always laughing,” although she slept on a stone slab floor with no covers and no pillow.
If she could play the piano, she was happy. She was glad to be alive with her son; her concerts ensured that she and her son would survive. Her secret to happiness was to be thankful, thankful for everything. Thankful for seeing the sun, for seeing a smile, for a nice word from someone. Everything we experience is a gift; we have to be thankful for it all, was her philosophy.
She learned Bach by heart. When she got cancer at 83, her doctor told her that knowing Bach by heart was more healing than all the pills she could take.
Sometimes she was thankful to have been at Terezin. “We all learn from mistakes.” Bad has to exist, she said with a smile, always a smile. I lived my life backwards, looking back at all the beautiful and wonderful things I have had.
And she learned from the bad, saying hatred eats the soul of the hater. Reminiscent of the Dalai Lama, she said complaining is a waste of time. “I know about the bad, but I only look at the good things.” Everything you receive is a present and arises out of how you look at the world.
Wealth is of the spirit, she told The Guardian.
She never hated, not even the Nazis, saying that we all do wrong sometimes: forgiveness of the ultimate sort.
Until virtually the end of her life, she practiced for three hours every day, and it is what helped her survive the death of her son Raphael in 2001.
Music was the food of her soul, and her music fed the souls of so many. It kept them living when they had no food to eat. Her music continues to resonate, as does her example as a human being. She continues to nourish us, even though only in spirit.
Why don’t we have anything to eat, Mommy? Not to worry, we have music. Paraphrasing Shakespeare, “if music be the food of life, play on.”
Sources: A Few Precious Moments with Alice Herz-Sommer,Alice Herz-Sommer, 1903–2014: remembered by Ed Vulliamy, Alice Herz-Sommer, Who Found Peace in Chopin Amid Holocaust, Dies at 110, Oldest-Known Holocaust Survivor Dies; Pianist Was 110, Alice Herz-Sommer: Practice the Chopin Études, they will save you
Friday, February 28, 2014
The Many Names for Tamales
by Lenny Karpman
Now that Christmas and the New Year have passed, my neighbors here in Costa Rica are putting away lights, ornaments, Styrofoam snowmen, straw reindeer and faux pine trees. For the family Sunday mid-day meal many are dining on tamales.
Tamales are stuffed cakes of corn dough, masa harina, wrapped and steamed. In Costa Rica, they are an art form as well as a common food. Tamale making is a seasonal family affair. Multiple generations of family cooks assemble pork or chicken, vegetables – mostly carrots and peas, and herb fillings artistically in rectangular packets of freshly made cornmeal, wrap them in folded plantain leaves and tie them decoratively with reeds or twine. They are traditionally given to neighbors at Christmas. It is an economical and egalitarian way for friends to exchange similar thoughtful gifts without the adversarial “can you top this” attitude that pervades gift giving in some other cultures.
In Colombia and Venezuela, they are called hallacas and may contain raisins or olive pieces. In Mexico, they are wrapped in dry corn- husks. Cuban tamales are fluffier and spicy. When the same ingredients are layered and baked without a wrapper, the result is tamale pie. Tex-Mex tamale pie usually is laced with red and green chili peppers.
Tico (Costa Rican) tamales freeze well. They are most often tied together in groups of four. Tamales are steamed or simmered before eating, but they can go from freezer to table via the microwave in about two minutes and rekindle holiday warm fuzzy feelings and a delicious sense of community. Buen provecho and a happy and healthy 2014.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
A weekend in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome lets you live and feast like a real Roman, if only for a short time. It is rich in history and culture, and plenty of fun and good food to boot. A little hotel we’ve found near Piazza Santa Maria will let you melt into this hidden corner of Rome.
A Little History about Trastevere
This side of the Tiber was Etruscan, until the Romans claimed it around the 6th century B.C. It was incorporated into the city of Rome’s 14 quarters by the Emperor Augustus with the “Trans Tiberim.” Thus the name, which means “across the Tevere,” the Roman name for the Tiber.
It was a plebian quarter, where the servants and laborers and the free citizens of Rome’s as well as sailors, fishermen, Phoenicians and Jews lived. It would be the principal Jewish quarter of Rome until the end of the Middle Ages, when the Ghetto, across the river from Trastevere, became the residential area to which Jews were henceforth restricted.
Renaissance Romans began building more noble villas around the edges of the ancient quarter, but the Trastevere of today retains its medieval, labyrinthine layout, full of narrow, winding alleys. It remains a working class neighborhood, with children playing soccer in the street, old people sitting on their stoops, and families gathering around a table in the street to visit.
Trastevere lies between the western banks of the river Tiber and the Janiculum hill, one of Rome’s storied seven hills, that looms above it. It’s but a short 15-minute walk across the Tiber to the ruins of ancient Rome, the “salon” of Rome with its extravagant fountains, and only a little bit further by foot to St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican.
One of the liveliest gathering places is the square in front of the church of Santa-Maria-in-Trastevere, construction of which began early in the 3rd century with the church completed in the mid-4th century, and ultimately completed in Romanesque style in the 12th century, then converted in several other centuries, giving it an unusual combination of Ancient Roman details and varied architectural features from later periods.
The octagonal fountain in the piazza is an ancient Roman fountain restored and enlargened in the 17th century by Carlo Fontana.
What to See and Do in Trastevere
The Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria in Trastevere is undoubtedly the oldest church in Rome, and deserves several visits if you want to appreciate its full architectural and historical depth. Most of the mosaics date from the 12th century. They are illuminated at night, and the golden light of the façade fills the piazza with a warm glow.
The 22 granite columns lining the nave are said to have come from the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla; the capitals are adorned with the heads of female pagan deities.
Numerous Roman funeral inscriptions can also be found in the church.
Eating and Nightlife
There is no shortage of reasonably priced osterie, trattorie and restaurants that serve authentic Roman food in a no-frills setting. The neighborhood is timeless, with its mix of historical architectural periods and lively local residents; it remains quintessentially Roman. If you want to pretend you’re Roman for a weekend, this is the place to do it.
Old cellars and stables have been converted into bars, discos and cafés, providing a lively nightlife scene, with customers spreading out into the streets when the weather is fine.
Signs like this demonstrate the colorful character of the locals, and offer contrast to our notion of contemporary, ultra-chic Italy.
Sidewalk cafés and restaurants preserve the romantic character of Old Italy, spilling out onto the streets.
My favorite source of restaurants in Rome is David Downie’s Food Wine Rome. David is half Roman, and sees food through the eyes of a Roman. His recommendations are all about the authentic and the unpretentious, and you’ll seldom find tourists in the places he recommends.
While the Hotel Santa Maria is located in the very heart of the vibrant Santa Maria neighborhood just steps from the piazza, within the walls of this converted 16th-century convent, it’s so quiet and peaceful that you may think you’re staying in a remote Tuscan country house.
The renovation is simple, but tasteful, with classic Roman terracotta floors and well-fitted bathrooms. Bedroom furnishings are tasteful, solid-wood reproductions. Almost all rooms are on the ground floor and give onto the courtyard. The few that do have a room above them (near the rooftop terrace) are not so quiet due to the tile floors. Otherwise, the clientele is quiet and respectful.
One enters the hotel courtyard through a large, locked iron gate, so security is good. The L-shaped convent-cum-hotel with an inner courtyard enclosing a small orange grove boasts wrought-iron tables and chairs for leisurely sitting in the sun or eating breakfast when weather permits. The breakfast room is in a converted cellar, with breakfast consisting of an international and Italian buffet with something to suit everyone, offering freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee from a professional espresso machine.
Courtyard with orange trees where you can eat breakfast or have a drink
The small rooftop terrace is furnished with chic wooden lounge chairs and armchairs. It’s a great place to have a drink before dinner, read in the early evening, or sunbathe during the day. The view of the surrounding rooftops and balconies of Trastevere is a photographer’s dream.
All rooms have satellite television and air conditioning, as well as Wi-Fi, which can sometimes be unstable.
Bikes are available for rental at the reception.
How to Get There
If you’re flying, take the train from the Fiumicino Leonoardo da Vinci airport station to the Trastevere station, about a 30-minute train ride, then take a cab, which should take about 10 minutes. This should cost around 15 Euros all-inclusive, versus approximately 50 Euros with tip for a cab direct from the airport. A cab ride from the Termini train station to the hotel should cost around 15 Euros.
The hotel is lost in a winding street and difficult to access by car. Even taxi drivers get confused with all the one-way and dead-end streets. Study your map and know the names of the surrounding streets and squares, because the driver may be forced to let you off in another street around the corner from the hotel.
Vicolo del Piede 2 – 00153 Rome – Italy
Tel. (39) 06 5894626 – Fax: (39) 06 5894815
Click here for map:
Map to Hotel Santa Maria
Monday, February 3, 2014
Food Art: Still Life with Mouse, by Giovanna Garzoni (Italian Baroque Era Painter, 1600-1670), Rome
Garzone was one the first women painters to paint still lifes. Collectors loved her work, and she was able to immediately sell all she produced at just about any price she named. Garzone painted on vellum. She worked mainly for aristocratic patrons, such as the Medici family, and often took decorating commissions in their villas and palaces. She was most likely influenced by Jacopo Ligozzi, who was a botanical and zoological painter for the Medici court. Garzoni bequeathed all her work to the painters’ guild in Rome, the Accademia di San Luca, in exchange for the right to be buried there. Source: Getty Museum
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Gareth Jones is In Search of Taste
Gareth has an incredible network of people who follow his every move. His whole family – and most of his friends — share his fervor for food. His dedication to an honest cuisine is matched by few. He is the epitome of what the French call “passionné”: unfaltering in his eternal search for the best quality ingredients at a fair price; willing to go to distant places and lose countless hours of sleep to find the perfect products. Whether it’s cooking and scrubbing pans with a Nonna in a hidden corner of Italy or crossing the Channel on a Sunday morning to buy fresh shellfish in Boulogne – to be served up fresh on his lunch table in London — his devotion to his “cause” is virtually boundless.
But Gareth’s blood can run hot when it comes to food and his vision of it. He is lucid about what he likes and what he doesn’t like and his sense of ethics and justice make him look on this world like the Egyptian goddess Ma’at with her scales of justice, weighing the “hearts” of products to decide whether they are balanced and good enough to go to his version of food heaven.
Gareth Jones’s tastes were not formed overnight. He grew up on a farm in Wales, in the middle of fragrant orchards and gardens. The surrounding woods and pastures were his playground. He is a man of the earth. The scents, tastes and sensory experiences of these days gone by make up an essential part of who he is and how he relates to the world, in particular to food: rustic yet refined, never losing sight of his roots.
Gareth lives through his senses. Proust may put some to sleep, but no one better describes the degree to which all the senses awaken when recalling taste http://www.theramblingepicure.com/full-sensory-taste-and-proust/. As Scott Horton http://harpers.org/blog/2009/06/proust-memory-and-the-foods-of-childhood/ points out, Proust explored this long before neurogastronomy even existed, and so did Gareth Jones, in the woods and fields and pastures of his happy hunting ground called Wales.
When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.
Yet again I had recalled the taste of a bit of madeleine dunked in a linden-flower tea which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long await the discovery of why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old gray house on the street where her room was found, arose like a theatrical tableau…
–Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann (1913) in: À la recherche du temps perdu vol. 1, p. 47
Gareth is a living temple of Proust’s perception of the sensory experience that is life, with food as its altar. His devotion is boundless, and he surrounds himself with writers who share his zeal and dedication. There’s no better recipe for editing a food magazine.
Yet, there’s a lot of country gentleman mixed into his formula, which takes him a long way from Proust’s decadence. Thus the term he coined, “Blue Collar Gastronomy,” inspired by a visit to the Leclerc supermarket in Boulogne-Outreau – “often frequented by working class people the majority of whom are below average education and a town where unemployment is in the high teens if not +20%,” says Jones. As he was filling his trolley, he noted how intelligently and carefully the locals were filling theirs. You might never have known it was a poor, run-down, even sad, place if you looked at the contents, fit for a minor Roman feast.
The smells and tastes of the world have indeed been poised for a long time in Jones’s mind, but time has not been lost. His life has been a fine weave of the senses and food, which makes for dishes that have real taste, that are authentic and lacking all pretentions. He is a master at finding the crème-de-la-crème for even the simplest food purchase, even a chicken carcass for making soup and broth. In the words of Pete Seeger, “Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” And this is what Gareth Jones has understood and mastered.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Swiss Food: Fribourg-style Cuchaule: Saffron Bread to Eat with Your Bénichon Mustard
From the archives
In my article, Bénichon Mustard, A Fribourg Specialty to Welcome the Cows Coming Home a few days ago, I talked about the brioche-like saffron bread cuchaule which is traditionally eaten with Bénichon mustard during the Bénichon fall fair in Fribourg, Switzerland.
I translated this recipe from the Delimoon site from the French and adapted it.
Photo courtesy of Moja Kuchnia with authorization.