Category Archives: Travel

Gray’s Grist Mill

When I first started researching corn, it didn’t take long to realize that there was a lot of ground to cover. I traveled in Mexico, recreated dishes from early colonial history, and looked into who was eating what, where, and when.

One tidbit I picked up early on was that, if you were from Rhode Island and you wanted to make Johnny cakes, you had to make them from Rhode Island Narragansett flint corn. No exceptions. There were mills closer to home that were stone-grinding corn, but a bit of research turned up an outlet that could get me the requisite corn for these early Johnny cakes—from Gray’s Grist Mill in, of course, Rhode Island. Gray’s has been grinding corn for 360 years, so I was getting a bit of history with my history.

In time, the focus of my research narrowed, of necessity, and turned into the book Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. However, I am still in contact with Gray’s Grist Mill, as I wouldn’t want to try to pass of something as an authentic Johnny cake without their stone-ground Rhode Island Narragansett flint corn meal.

Of course, if you’re not making Johnny cakes, you can use a wider range of corn varieties (and I do, as there are a lot more things to do with corn meal than just make Johnny cakes). You can search for local historic grist mills (there are many still operating) or just buy a good brand at the local grocery store. But every once in a while, it’s fun to indulge in something a bit more historic. So, in fact you’re interested, here’s the site for Gray’s: http://www.graysgristmill.com/grays/

And, should you wish to see a bit of what they do, here’s a video of their operation and their current miller at work.

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Corn Silk Tea

Most folks are at least somewhat aware that corn has many uses. But I just encountered a new one (new to me, that is). An article in Plate Magazine reports that New York’s Atoboy Restaurant offers on their drink menu a beverage that is particularly suited to their cuisine: corn silk tea.

The article, written by Amy Cavanaugh, relates that the restaurant’s co-owner Ellia Park says the beverage reflects her Korean heritage. The article notes that the corn silk is dried for three to four days before it’s ready to be brewed, then just steep it in boiling for 10 to 15 minutes. It can be served hot or iced.

Cavanaugh shares Park’s description of the beverage: “There’s a natural nutty flavor with some sweetness.” Sounds nice.

If you like knowing what is going on in the restaurant world, Plate is a great resource. I have had the great good fortune of writing for Plate (a piece on the culinary history of the Caribbean), but I liked them before that. And now I have another reason to like them: they’ve introduced me to something else that can be made with corn.

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Filed under Corn, Food, Travel, Uncategorized

Where to Eat in Chicago

While folks on the coasts sometimes denigrate, or at least dismiss, the Midwest, the Heartland is a glorious region with a rich history. It also happens to be where you’ll find the metropolis that Condé Nast Traveler has identified as the nation’s top restaurant city: Chicago. But with more than 12,000 restaurants, how do you know where to eat? Well, if you want to eat fabulously, from top flight to low-cost gems, you could not do better than to go with Michael Gebert, James Beard Award-winning food writer and videographer. If you’re wondering how you can get Gebert to show you around town, he has already solved that problem, with his dandy little book, The Fooditor 99–a slim but insightful guide book to his 99 favorite Chicago restaurants.

Cuban, Thai, Ukrainian, Japanese, Mexican, French, American, barbecue, small plates, seafood, sandwiches, dim sum, diner, and lots more, are listed by cuisine, by location in the city, and in the order Gebert delights in them. Gebert not only guides you to great places, he even helps you figure out what to order when you’re there. So if you’re interested in grazing your way through some of the most interesting food in the Windy City, The Fooditor 99 is a mighty useful way to explore the glories of the town’s dining scene. Yum.
Cover-Fooditor99.jpg

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DeBoer’s Bakkerij-Restaurant

Part two of the Holland, Michigan, visit was on the way home. I had read about saucijzenbroodjes, a Dutch specialty that translates sausage in bread but which is more commonly rendered “pig in a blanket.” The “blanket” in the case of this dish is wonderful, flaky pastry.

And in case you’re wondering if they take the Dutch presence in the area seriously.

I had found reviews online, and what I’d read was confirmed by folks at Windmill Island: DeBoer’s Bakkerij (Bakery) would be a great place to try this dish.

This proved to be true. The pig in a blanket was tasty, and the split pea soup served with it was the most flavorful, ham-filled pea soup I’ve ever had.

A tasty lunch, and a fun way to reaffirm the continuation of Dutch culture and traditions in the region.

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Windmill Island—back of the organ

In the previous post, I showed the Amsterdam street organ. I mentioned that it was a bit like a player piano, and this video shows the punched “pages” that create the music. Also visible is the electric motor that now runs the machine. Originally, however, it would have been cranked by hand. So a lot more work in 1928 than it is now. Note that the costumed interpreter briefly covers her ears; the organ is surprisingly loud, and that appeared to be the reaction of everyone when it first started playing. But now you’ll know how it works.

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Windmill Island

In April, when a speaking engagement necessitated a drive through western Michigan, I took the opportunity to visit Holland. While the Dutch settled a number of places in the U.S., the greater part of Dutch settlers in the mid-1800s headed for this part of Michigan. I was too early for the tulip festival, but there were still a few things I wanted to check out, including Windmill Island.

Windmill Island is the location of DeZwaan, the only Dutch-built windmill in the U.S. DeZwaan is 250 years old. It was originally built in the Netherlands, where it spent most of its existence grinding grain before being dismantled and brought to Holland, Michigan.

The handsome windmill is the centerpiece of a 36-acre park that is planted extravagantly with flowers (fortunately, many of them blooming in April).

The buildings are not numerous but are all constructed in Dutch style. These offer gifts and food for purchase and history to learn. But the main thing to do is stroll through the gardens and visit the windmill. As I crossed from the entrance to the Post House, I noticed a couple of very interesting trees. A sign identified them as Dawn Redwoods (and looking them up later confirmed this). I loved these odd, many-branched trees.

Dawn redwoods and Dutch buildings

I wandered through gardens filled with daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips, and headed for one of the classic Dutch drawbridges that makes it possible to cross over to the windmill.

DeZwaan across the canal

I mentioned my interest in food history to one of the costumed interpreters at the windmill, and she excitedly said I had to meet Alisa. She phoned the front office and found that Alisa was in, and she headed over to the mill. Alisa is Alisa Crawford, the miller at the windmill. Alisa has the remarkable distinction of being the only Dutch-certified millers in the United States, and the only woman in the Dutch millers’ guild. We spent a fair bit of time talking about food history and Dutch history and her experiences and training.

Alisa is also the author of the authoritative book on the historic DeZwaan windmill. It’s a handsome book, and if I weren’t downsizing right now, I’d have bought it on the spot. (However, if you’re not downsizing, and you’d like to have a copy—it’s titled DeZwaan and the author is Alisa Crawford. Check it out. Some great food history in the book.)

Finally parting company with Alisa, I wandered over to the row of buildings were Delft china and Dutch cookies are for sale, and where one can wander through a recreation in miniature of the Island of Marken in the Zuidersee. Learned that Peter the Great lived in the Netherlands for a while, learning the ship-building trade, to take back home to Russia.

Delft china in gift shop window

I ended my visit with a stop by the wonderful, old Amsterdam street organ. This once popular form of entertainment is something of a cross between a pipe organ and a player piano. A costumed interpreter came out to tell us (me and two other visitors) about the street organ: built in 1928, long used on the streets of Amsterdam, but given to Holland, Michigan after World War II, as thanks for American help during the war. We listened to it play, and I was astonished by how loud it was. But as the guide noted, it had to be heard over the crowds on a bustling city street. Delightful way to end my visit.

Amsterdam street organ

 

 

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St. Louis: Missouri History Museum

The day after my presentation in New Haven (at the wonderfully restored Old School), I was on my way, this time heading an hour west, to St. Louis—and another speaking engagement. Even when I only have a short amount of time in a place, I always try to see something local that is of interest, and on this trip, it was the Missouri History Museum. The front of the museum, as one approaches, is imposing and classical, but as one circles the building in search of parking, the new addition behind this older part of the building comes into view.

The Museum is in Forest Park, which was the location of the 1904 World’s Fair, so it is fitting that one wing in the old building had an exhibit of that fair. The fair celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. One is reminded by photographs and informational posts of what an astonishing feat it was to create the fairground: a river had to be rerouted, an extensive sewer system had to be build, and what was essentially an entire city had to be built. It took 10,000 laborers to construct it all.

A placard informed me that the fair featured “the most extensive representation of goods from the Eastern Hemisphere ever found at an international exposition.” There were more nations represented than at any previous World’s Fair. Everyone wanted to show the world what they had to offer, as the economy was becoming global. The largest exhibit was of the Philippines, covering 47 acres and with a thousand Filipinos on hand. Remarkable.

It was not a huge exhibit, but it was packed with information. I continued on, past Thomas Jefferson and into the main hall, where the Spirit of St. Louis hung overhead. Into a fascinating, temporary exhibit on Route 66, which was “main street through Missouri.” St. Louis was the largest city on Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles.

An interior doorway frames the statue of Thomas Jefferson in the older part of the museum.

The second floor affords a close view of the Spirit of St. Louis.

Then upstairs to the Anheuser-Busch Gallery, which highlights the remarkable and difficult early history of St. Louis. There were fires, cholera epidemics, floods, earthquakes (New Madrid Fault)—all of it even harder for the city’s pre-Civil War slave population. But there were also energy and success, and the city grew. Again, a remarkable amount of information packed quite attractively into the available space. It was a good reminder that everywhere has a rich past, and there is more to know than we will ever be able to take in.

Charred walls and an antique fire wagon are reminders of the Great Fire of 1849 in St. Louis.

Then across to the McDonnell Douglas Gallery, which covers St. Louis from 1904 to 2000, though with a concentration on the ‘50s and ‘60s.

A vintage Airstream Trailer celebrates the increased mobility of Americans after WW II.

Then, feeling wonderfully exhilarated by all I’d learned, but also weary from a busy day, I headed to my hotel, to put my feet up for a while before my presentation that evening. But a good day.

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