Monday, August 3, 2020

Six meals that changed the world

Curious Minds, via Hot Docs, was offering a lecture series on Six Meals that Changed the World. Usually the lectures happen during business hours at the movie theatre, but due to Covid, transitioned online, where I joined the table May through June. Just polishing my notes off now.

I see at least one theme for a future Epitourist get together!

Dr. Laura Carlson was the presenter. She is a professor and host of the podcast The Feast, about meals that changed history. Each lecture caught a moment in time, from Ancient Egypt to America in the 1960s. What's on the menu? Who's seated, who's cooking, and who's serving? Where have the meal's ingredients originated?

I'll admit I haven't yet made the recipes that were included as part of the series, but it's on my 'to do.' This was a fascinating look at how food, culture, agriculture, trade, history and society become essential ingredients at the dinner table.

King Tut's Final Feast (~ 1343 BC ) 
Recipe to try: dates soaked in honey

Provisioned for the afterlife and his final journey, archeologists found the young Pharaoh's tomb well stocked. Not only with food, but with servants nearby to prepare it in the style he was accustomed. 
  • Fermented spirits were often safer to drink during this period than water. Unfiltered beer, date wine, palm wine, grape-based wine. Wine was enjoyed by more elite classes, while everyone drank the beer, including kids.  One theory is that beer jars were communal and people would use their own reed straws to sip. Some craft beers are reviving ancient tastes, such as Dogfish Head" from Maine.
  • Bread was made from the same grains as beer, with emmer wheat and barley. Teeth of mummies show lots of wear, so it's thought the bread was fairly gritty and not finely milled. Many kinds of bread were available, and yeast was used by bakers to help bread rise.
  • Protein included fowl (duck and pigeon); hedgehog; mice; antelope; beef; chickpeas; eggs; cheese; lentils.  Chicken wouldn't be available for a couple more centuries. There wasn't any pork or fish either, and in some circles it is hotly debated whether that is because the food was taboo or simply not available.
  • Vegetables included the period's aphrodisiac: lettuce! Also cucumbers, radish, leek, garlic, and onion. Raw onion was a common snack.
  • Dessert: dates soaked in honey.
After King Tut's reign, new trading partners from Greece would bring olive oil, chicken, rice, pistachio, beet, asparagus, walnut, and citrus.

Last Meal of Pompeii (79 CE) 
Recipe to try: Asparagus Pie or Flatbread and Goat Cheese

Pompeii was a prosperous port town and a very fertile region, so there was an abundance of food to sample and enjoy. Different cultures would meet here to trade, including the Persian and Greek.

A dig revealed the last great feast of the noble Poppei, in the House of Menander.  Mussolini would host a dinner at the same location, 2000 years later. Considered one of the finer homes in all of Pompeii: 19K square feet, 200 years old, gorgeous fresco. 

Dinner was served by slaves in the Triclineum, a room "of the three couches", where guests would recline and converse. Nine was considered the ideal number. Lower status, if invited, would not be served or spoken to by the host as often. Who knows who these final guests were, but after Vesuvius erupted, the house was buried 20 feet under over a period of 36 hours.

According to Seneca, the Republican State began to decline when dishes were created to rouse the appetite rather than satisfy hunger. This being the Republican period, a more simple approach with three courses would have been served: appetizer (fresh cheese, herb, egg, perhaps an asparagus pie); main (sauce based dishes: mussels with wine; chicken stuffed with pork; lamb or crane with turnips);  dessert (honey served with a light fruit dish or fried dough).  

Romans loved their bread. In Pompeii there were at least thirty different bakeries. Archeologists found carbonized loaves made with walnuts and eggs; Virgil's Moretum describes a recipe for cheeseball with homemade bread.

Thanks to Project Gutenburg, Apicius de re coquinaria  the ancient book of cookery and dining, is available online and contains recipes.
Ancient Rome had their fast food joints too, offering snacks heated over fire at thermopolium. Roman recipes courtesy of PBS

Other modern sources for this period's recipes come from the culinary archeologist Farell Monaco and her online blog The flatbread and goatcheese were specifically recommended. 

Montezuma's Last Meal (1519 AD)
 Recipe to try: Shrimp and Cactus Salad

Cortes and his retinue were received grandly by Montezuma's court, who toured them through the golden city of Tenochtitlan. The Spanish were repulsed by the human sacrifice of the temples, and later used it to justify their own slaughter throughout the kingdom. Aztec's were a highly advanced civilization and Bernardino de Sahagún and collaborators catalogued some of what they saw in the Florentine Codex. “It was all so wonderful,” said conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo “that we do not know how to describe the first glimpse of things never heard of, seen, or dreamed before.”

The floating city of Tenochtitlan became capital of  'New Spain' and later Mexico City. Although the Aztec civilization would disappear, its food spread throughout the world. 

Aztecs introduced both turkey and hot chocolate to Europe, along with corn, cactus, and tomato.
Mexican cooking as we know it —moles, carne asada, burritos, cafe con leche, loads of melty cheese—would have been unrecognizable to the Aztecs. They didn’t have cows, pigs, sugar, cheese, butter, cinnamon, or wheat. They did, however, have an abundance that astonished the Europeans who arrived in the 1500s: corn of many colors, beans, chiles, chocolate, cactus, avocados, tomatoes, lake fish and shrimp, fowl of every description, agave nectar, intoxicating pulque, even dog, grasshopper, and worm. Of squash alone there were 760 kinds.  The Getty

The Getty also offers instructions on How to Cook your own Aztec Feast, including turkey and hominy stew; guacamole; and shrimp and cactus salad. (No recipes based on human sacrifice!!!)

The Last Potatoes of Paris (~1765)
Recipe to try:  Pomme Parmentier 

Parmentier is France's Johnny Appleseed. With political savvy, he adapted to royals, revolutionaries and republicans. Louis the 16th congratulated him, saying "France will not forget you found food for the poor." After the French revolution Parmentier retained his hero status and later, Napoleon would grant him the Legion of Honour.

The pharmacist studied agriculture and made the humble potato into a personal crusade. To help make the potato more fashionable, marketing efforts included epic banquets at the royal court to celebrate potatoes. Notable attendees included Jefferson and Ben Franklin who took recipes back to America.

Famines were widespread throughout Europe, as the population was growing rapidly and farming techniques were not keeping up. Between 1500 and 1800 in France alone there were more than 40 famines, with at least one per decade. England had 17 national famines between 1523 and 1623. Prussia was faring no better.

Prussia was at war with France and during this time Parmentier was captured FIVE times during battles. This is where he became a fan of the humble tuber. King Frederick was also waging his own war on famine and promoting potatoes by growing them on palace grounds.
Although potatoes had been around for a long time and cultivated in other parts of the world such as Inca and Peru, they were thought inedible and disdained even by starving peasants. Parmentier made it his mission to promote the potato as safe, even potentially healthy. A "nourishing vegetable that in times of necessity could substitute for ordinary food."

I remember visiting Père-Lachaise when in Paris and coming across a gravesite adorned with potatoes, not really understanding the significance.

Last meal on the Titanic (1912)
Cocktails to try: The Bronx
Recipe: Barley broth with whiskey

6,000 meals had to be prepared each day. The ship's manifest recorded 15,000 bottles of beer; 12,000 dinner plates; 6,000 pounds of butter; 1000 pounds of grapes. The galley would serve meals that would compete with the best restaurants of the time, with Escoffier trained staff.

The chef was the highest paid staff after the Captain. Dinner really was the evening's entertainment, with courses served 6 pm to midnight.  No expense was spared to recreate the finest dining experience for first class passengers. The Verandah Cafe and Aquitania Grill were restaurants on board for those that wanted service a la carte.

Even third class ticket holders dined well in Edwardian style, with table service and fine linen. 

Navy biscuits were in the ship's hold as a remedy for seasickness and to settle stomach. Hard tack is baked twice, and aptly named, it needs to be soaked in milk or alcohol to even take a bite.  Traditionally taken to sea as an emergency food, it keeps very well..... so well that one of the Titanic navy biscuits sold at auction 70 years later in 2015 for 15,000 pounds.

Other resources

Dinner in Camelot (1962)
Recipe to try: Beef Wellington

What a night that must have been, with 49 Nobel Prize winners gathered with prominent writers, scientists, and thinkers of the day. The guest list included Robert Frost, Pearl S. Buck, James Baldwin, Oppenheimer, Schlesinger, and the widows of Hemingway and Marshall. It came to be known as 'The Brains' dinner, and a book published in 2018 recounts all the fascinating details, including the After Party at Schlesinger's house in Georgetown. 

Jacqueline Kennedy had hired Rene Verdon to serve as the Whitehouse chef. He was classically trained in France, and that night would prepare American dishes done in the French style. Although the recipes from the night don't exist, the menu does:

Some of Verdon's recipes can be found at, including Chicken with Pink and Green peppercorns.  

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Sailor Moon

Last night was very cloudy, and the distant shot of the moon peeking through the clouds didn't do it much justice. Photos never really do.

My friend Janine texted me saying "Social distancing for sailors is a breeze." So true. Caroline and Alex & Aldo are also here in Waupoos. They have their own separate bubble going, which is okay as we still see them often and shuttle the occasional supplies back and forth.

To start my two week holiday, I only had to drive 3 hours to get to Waupoos and hop on board Yondering. Rob sailed here ahead, and it took him 4 days to arrive. We anchored the first two nights but are tucked in at the marina tonight, expecting a bit of weather.

Moon is officially full August 3rd, 11:59 am

Tuesday, July 7, 2020


July began with a sailing staycation on Yondering. Really, the first extended change of scene since months of lockdown at home. Such a sense of ease, of freedom, and open space!

On a windless morning we motored over to Toronto Island and dropped anchor at the water filtration plant for our first over nite. There were a lot of boats on the wall, but not as many as we expected to find. Spaces were opening up here and there every couple of hours, so those with patience could eventually land a spot.

The next morning, a dinghy ride along hidden shoreline to visit the island's resident blue heron, and then a walk on Centre Island's familiar paths. The Pier and gardens felt quite deserted. Although a few people had ventured over on the ferry, not many were afoot and the lifeguard was left alone to ponder the horizon from his high lookout.

A quick motor over to Ward island beach. Calm water and low wind meant we were able to stay overnight - a special treat. I managed my first swim of the season off the boat. Then, a beautiful return sail to Bluffers Park as the winds picked up.

Saturday and Sunday nights we anchored closer to home, right by the Bluffs. Between 4-8 pm on both days there was almost intolerable jet ski and powerboat traffic, tearing up the shore with noise and wake. Thankfully the stinkpots eventually relented. Swinging on a hook with Caroline on Ruby Tuesday and Aldo and Alex on Alcione. 

Moonrise was idyllic, the lake so calm. Sunrise a gift to start the day.

What joy! 

We didn't find out until May 20 that there would be a launch on June 20. Shakedown sail on June 27 and get away July 1 - July 6.

Rob has made some improvements that help make Yondering more comfortable. New cockpit cushions make for enjoyable lounging and travelling. Getting rid of the heater in the cabin creates more space because we can hoist up the table and get better access to shelves port side.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Rose Moon - July 2020

Enjoyed watching the full moon rise out of the lake. Spectacular! We were anchored just east of Bluffers with Caroline on Ruby Tuesday; Alex and Aldo on Alcione. A perfect summer evening, only slight ripples on the water. Aldo took this photo and shared it with me later - my phone had dunked in the lake and I was without a camera.

Often known as Thunder Moon, Honeymoon or Hay Moon. Another European name is the Rose Moon, (although some use this name for the June full Moon). Some sources indicate the name "Rose Moon" comes from the roses that bloom in late June. Others report that the name comes from the color of the full Moon this time of year. It certainly had a rosy glow.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

French Grille

The Epitourists got together at Kaarina's for a French Grille.


When the theme was named I did some quick research before settling on French Bistro Steak, a triple-tested recipe I found online from Canadian Living. Dijon, thyme and tarragon vinaigrette poured over grilled steak and lightly roasted vegetables, with soft-boiled egg on the side. Ease-y! What surprised me was the lack of a marinade, something I always assumed was essential for this cut of meat. A little more poking around revealed there is a school of thought to marinade proteins after you grillbecause the moisture and sugar in most marinades can actually cause a protein to simultaneously steam and burn without ever truly searing.

I also brought a selection of Italian cheeses. Why? "Leftovers" from our February visit to Eataly. We were so stuffed at our vegetarian feast we couldn't manage another bite; of course, I didn't really save them, I don't have that much self control! So I pre-ordered from Alex Cheese Farms, doing my best to match our Eataly selections. Over the phone, I would name the cheese and then he would describe what was on hand. Oh, how I wanted to taste! He laughed and explained they weren't offering counter tastings in the store either. When I asked him to pre-cut into one ounce portions so I could minimize food handling, he gladly complied. On the plate: bosco tartufo with truffle (sheep and cow), montasio (cow), taleggio (buffalo), and pecorino moliterno (sheep and goat).

For an elegant dessert Karrina whipped up some creme to accompany fresh cherries and strawberries.

Moules Grillées
Asperges Grillées avec Sauce Maltaise
Carre d’agneau Pistou avec Poireaux Vinaigrette
Bistro Salade de Steak
Cerises et fraises avec crème
Sélection de fromages italiens