Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Visit to a Tofu Factory

As I was writing the post about savory baked tofu, I remembered a piece I wrote for the Ethicurean about a visit to a local tofu factory (original post URL).  With the Ethicurean archives being inaccessible, I thought it would be worthwhile to update the original piece and post it here. My visit was in 2010, so it is possible that there have been some changes to their procedures, but the piece still gives a good overview of tofu making.

Farmers markets are far more than a source of good food and a place to build a stronger community. They can also serve as incubators for food businesses — places where entrepreneurs can try selling prepared foods on a small scale or where experienced market participants can try out new products or recipes.*

One of the many food businesses incubated by farmers markets is Hodo Soy Beanery, a tofu-making company based in Oakland, California.  The company was started in 2004 because the founders wanted better tofu than they could find at local stores, and figured that many others were also looking better tofu, so they started making their own.

The initial launch pad was a single farmers market.  The next steps were additional markets and multiple restaurant accounts, like San Francisco's Slanted Door.  In recent years, they have been selling in many supermarkets and have landed some major accounts (like supplying tofu to Chipotle to use in their sofritas offering). Alas, this success led to their withdrawal from farmers markets — the markets weren't worth the effort.

Soybean cooking equipment at Hodo Soy Beanery
Soybean cooking equipment
Several years ago I toured the Oakland facility. It reminded me of a cheese factory, with stainless steel vats, tanks, and molds, but without the yeasty, cultured aroma that you find in a cheese factory. The equipment similarity is not surprising, because tofu is basically a soy cheese made by heating, curdling, and pressing. Although one could probably adapt some of the cheese equipment for tofu, the equipment in Hodo's plant was designed and built in Asia specifically for soy milk and tofu making.

Dry soybeans are the starting ingredient for all of Hodo's products. The beans are soaked in water for several hours to rehydrate them, then cooked under pressure. The cooked beans are finely ground and passed through two levels of filtration to separate the solids from the liquid. The resulting liquid is soy milk; the solids are generally known by the Japanese word okara. The soy milk can be bottled and sold or made into tofu or yuba.  The okara is generally sold to livestock farmers (for much more about okara, see this post on Mental Masala).

Tofu making equipment at Hodo Soy Beanery
Forming large blocks of tofu
To make medium or firm tofu, the hot soy milk is transferred to a vat. Coagulant is added to start the curdling process; in Hodo's case, it's calcium sulfate, a naturally occurring mineral that has been used by the Chinese for centuries. The mixture is stirred, allowed to curdle, and then the curdled mixture is poured into a cloth-lined porous mold. The whey goes down the drain.**

The curds are pressed to remove excess water using a weight appropriate for the grade — medium tofu gets one weight, while the firm tofu goes into a special machine for some serious squeezing. After the pressing is complete, the tofu is cut into blocks and transferred to cool water baths for storage until it is packaged for sale or transferred to the in-house kitchen to be made into one of Hodo's prepared foods, like edamame tofu salad or spicy braised tofu.

The process for silken tofu is slightly different because it is so fragile: soy milk and the coagulant are mixed in the consumer containers (e.g., pint-sized plastic tubs) and allowed to naturally set without any pressure. This process creates a smooth, delicate texture.

Photograph of yuba making at Hodo Soy Beanery
Hanging sheets of yuba
Yuba is the most distinctive product made by Hodo. It's a thin, rippled, pale-yellow, somewhat elastic sheet that is composed of soy proteins and lipids. To make the sheets, an array of shallow containers are filled with soy milk and steam heat is applied to the bottom.  A skin forms on the cooled upper surface. After a short time, the skin can be removed by hand and hung to dry before packaging.

Yuba is subtle and delicate: some call it the "sashimi of tofu," and it was the inspiration for a piece in the New York Times Magazine by San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson (Coi, LocaL and other Bay Area restaurants).  It is versatile, serving as a wrapper for a savory filling, as a pasta analogue, and as an addition to soups or salads, to name a few uses.

Although I'd love to see Hodo branch into other soy products like tempeh or soy sauce, they would need to make those items in a different facility because the organisms that drive the tempeh and soy sauce fermentation process could colonize the factory and cause all sorts of trouble for the soy milk and tofu production lines.

Further reading about tofu and the Hodo Soy Beanery:
*  Has anyone compiled a list of food companies that were incubated at farmers markets?  Another Bay Area incubation success that I can think of off the top of my head is Tacolicious, a group of San Francisco Bay Area restaurants that got their start as a taco vendor at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. 
** Okara and the whey from the tofu-making process are apparently useful as green cleaning agents. Tofu Cookery by Fusako Holthaus notes that okara can be used to polish floors and woodwork. The book recommends wrapping okara in a cloth and applying vigorously to a surface, but is short on details — should the okara be dry or moist? What kind of cloth is recommended? The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi notes that the whey can be used as a soap, and that they have heard of tofu shops using the whey to clean tofu-making implements and workers' hands.

Random link from the archive: Making up for travel by buying political activism instead of 'offsets'

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Recipe: Baked Tofu

Making tofu at Hodo Soy Beanery
Making tofu at Hodo Soy Beanery (2010)
One of my favorite things to cook is also one of the most unphotogenic dishes I know: the savory baked tofu from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant*. Although it has a monotone and bland brown hue, its taste is much more exciting: tofu's subtle flavor in the background,  and a foreground of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, vinegar and sesame oil.** 

The dish is quite easy to make:  put the sauce ingredients into a baking dish, slice some tofu, add it to the pan, and bake.  Sometimes I add sliced carrot or wedges of Satsuma sweet potato (a variety from Japan) to the pan and let the vegetables roast along with the tofu.  Although it seems like a good idea at the time, it is rarely successful because the baking times are mismatched.  

You could probably just set the tofu block into the baking pan and wind up with an OK result, but you'll get much better flavor if there is more exposed surface area to roast and absorb the sauce.

As I thought about describing how I like to slice the tofu, my descriptions soon became hopelessly confusing, so I made simple drawing to help explain.  The drawing below roughly replicates the dimensions of a standard piece of tofu, with the primary dimensions represented by 1, 2 and 3***.  I prefer the pieces of tofu to be relatively thin, so I like to make one cut on side 1, two cuts on side 2, and two cuts on side 3 to give 18 rectangles. Of course, more pieces means more turning. 

Recipe:  Baked Tofu
Adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant

16 ounces (453 g) tofu, firm or extra firm, cut into rectangles, triangles or other shapes
3 T (45 mL) soy sauce
1.5 T (22.5 mL) rice vinegar
1.5 T (22.5 mL) sake or rice wine
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
3 t (15 mL) grated ginger
4 T (60 mL) water
3 t (15 mL) sugar
1 T (15 mL) toasted sesame oil

Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C).

Combine all of the ingredients except the tofu in a shallow baking dish [8" x 8" or larger (20 cm x 20 cm)].  Add the tofu pieces and turn a few times to coat the surface.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning the pieces every 10 minutes.  There is no fixed point when the dish is "done," so you can decide that it is done based on how much sauce is left, the color of the tofu, or that it is time to eat.  

* Some other great recipes in Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant include Groundnut Stew, Capetown Fruit and Vegetable Curry, Beurek with Parsley-Cheese Filling, Berbere (a spice mixture), Niter Kebbeh (spiced clarified butter), and the two W'ets (Ethiopian stews that use the Niter Kebbeh).
** Good, but not good enough or original enough to submit to Food52's best tofu recipe contest
*** Most blocks of tofu seem to be the same size.  How long ago was that dimension chosen, and how was it chosen?  Might there be a centuries-old Chinese or Japanese specification that was adopted by makers in the U.S.?

Random link from the archive: Tempura at Ten-Ichi

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Mr. Monk and the San Francisco Goofs

It's time again for some digressions about obscure television topics.

The long-running series "Monk" from USA Network was set in San Francisco but it was rare that an episode had a strong connection to the city. That was probably in part by design since it was primarily filmed across the Los Angeles area (an urban back-lot at a studio, Long Beach, the Santa Monica pier, LA's Union Station, etc.), with strategic stock footage of San Francisco and rare location shoots in San Francisco.  When there was something specific to San Francisco, it was often weird.

The Newscast Background
Early in "Mr. Monk and the Wrong Man" (S6E8, IMDB page), there is a shot of a San Francisco newscast with a picture of the northeastern part of the city projected behind the news reader that shows the Transamerica Pyramid on the left and the Ferry Building and Bay Bridge on the right). When I rewatched this episode recently, I thought: "That doesn't look right." Here's a screenshot from that newscast:

Screenshot from "Mr. Monk and the Wrong Man" (S6E8)

Something isn't right about that background. While you try to identify the flaw, let's switch to the subject of Richmond (or The Richmond District).

The Bad Girlfriend's House in Richmond (or The Richmond District?)
"Mr. Monk and the Bad Girlfriend" (S6E4) has some confusing geography. Captain Stottlemeyer's girlfriend (a wealthy real estate agent named Linda Fusco) supposedly lives in city of Richmond (at 12:41, Lt. Disher points to the city of Richmond on a map to indicate Linda's city of residence). During a visit to Linda's house, the Captain arranged to have an illegally parked truck in front of her house towed away. Later in the episode, we find that the truck has been towed not to a Richmond lot, but a San Francisco Police Department lot. Why would the city of Richmond tow a truck across the Bay to a city of San Francisco lot?

Linda is a key suspect in the episode's marquee crime, and her alibi is based on timing: she claims to have been too far away to have committed the crime. Therefore, the time it would take Linda to travel from her house (in Richmond or the Richmond District) to the city of Novato (north of S.F. in Marin County) was so important that the writers had Mr. Monk and Natalie recreate the journey. The annotated USGS map below shows the locations:

Using Google Maps to get directions from the two Richmonds to Novato, they appear to be more or less the same, given random effects of traffic and traffic lights:
  • Richmond City Hall to Novato:  26 minutes, 22 miles (35.9 km)
  • San Francisco's Richmond District (Park Presidio and Geary) to Novato:  29 minutes, 25.6 miles (41.47 km)
When you start from the Richmond District, however, you get to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, which is always a thrill (the scenery around the Richmond-San-Rafael Bridge is quite nice, but the bridge is oppressively utilitarian).

My guess is that the writers were thinking of San Francisco's Richmond District — a mostly residential area between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio — and that there was some confusion during prop preparation and/or filming. On most maps (like the one above), the text for the city of Richmond is much larger than the text for the Richmond District (if it is even marked).  Linda is supposedly a superstar real estate agent, so I'm not sure why the writer's didn't pick a elite and well known San Francisco neighborhood like Pacific Heights or Nob Hill instead.  Perhaps Richmond is an inside joke like Vinton Street?    

Richmond Train Routing
"Mr. Monk is Up All Night" (S6E9, IMDB page) has a quick mention of Richmond as Monk is waiting in the "Caltrain Station" while searching for a mystery woman (it's actually Los Angeles' Union Station — San Francisco doesn't have any grand train stations). There's a strange broadcast over the station's speakers: "Local service for Richmond and Burlingame, Track 12" (24:33). That's a weird broadcast, because there is no Caltrain that makes that run (Caltrain doesn't go to the East Bay), there is no Amtrak that makes that run (Amtrak runs on the eastern shore of S.F. Bay with bus connections to S.F.), and BART goes from the Peninsula to Richmond but not as far south as Burlingame (Millbrae is the southern terminus).

Dumpling Digression
Coincidentally, as I was writing an early draft of this post, the food scene in the Bay Area had Jonathon Gold fever, as the documentary City of Gold was playing and Gold was making several appearances in the area. In a quick interview with Eater S.F., he made a similar Richmond / The Richmond slip-up, though in this case he actually was referring to a place in the City of Richmond: "Daimo has the best wontons anywhere in the U.S. It’s in that Chinese mall in the Richmond. It’s pretty good, but [the restaurants in there] switch around a lot." Perhaps this one was a transcription error.

Back To the Newscast
Have you figured out what is wrong with the newscast background?  The image is reversed!  When looking at San Francisco from the north, the Transamerica Pyramid will be to the right of the Bay Bridge, not to the left like the newscast background shows.  It's weird — perhaps an intentional "Easter Egg" for viewers? Or a necessary tweak to allow the inset photo to appear on the right side of the screen while maintaining a full view of the Transamerica Pyramid?

San Francisco from Alcatraz Island, from Paul Kelly on Flickr
San Francisco from Alcatraz Island, from Paul Kelly on Flickr

"Between the Bridges," from Images by John 'K' on Flickr
"Between the Bridges," from Images by John 'K' on Flickr

To further see for yourself, point Google Earth to 37°48'31.93" N 122°24'08.86" W, eye altitude 625 ft; or go to Google Street view, drop the viewer on Alcatraz Island, and spin around until you can see San Francisco; or take a look at a few more photos from Flickr: by Mike Lewis, by Doug Sandquist, by Harvey Quamen.

Image credits

Random link from the archive: The Temper-Spoon, a device for temperature measurement while stirring

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Recipe: Seed and Oat Cakes

Flax flowers from Ranchita Vida's Flickr collection
Back in February, the San Francisco Chronicle's Food+Home section had a feature article about using seeds in the kitchen. Written by Amanda Gold, the article recommends looking at seeds as a healthy and tasty addition to your diet, in savory and sweet applications.

Always looking for healthy, homemade snacks, one of the recipes caught my attention:  multi-seed cakes made from a blend of seeds mixed with oats, honey and oil, then baked into clusters.  I had all of the ingredients in my pantry so I gave the recipe a try.  The mixture didn't stick together — it was like trying to form cookies using damp granola — so I was apprehensive.  Will these hold together?  But almost miraculously, something happened during baking and cooling that turned the loose blobs into self-supporting cookie-like objects. (What exactly is happening to hold everything together? There is no egg, no water, nothing binder-like.) 

Since making the recipe a few times, I've learned that it's essential to let the cakes fully cool on the baking sheet before trying to remove them — they firm up as they cool, turning from mush to crispy cakes. 
Sunflower by Anselmus de Boodt
I imagined that I could simply production by spooning the mix into a muffin tin. Production was certainly simpler, but the results were poor:  the bottom burned and/or stuck, while the top didn't brown properly because there was too little heat circulation to the top of the cakes.  (I haven't tried a silicone muffin container yet, which might eliminate the sticking problem, but might not improve the tops.)

The seed and oat cakes are becoming one of my favorite snack foods.  They are healthy, delicious (crunchy, toasty, just a little bit sweet), almost of the ingredients can be bought in bulk (thus reducing packaging waste), and are proving to be highly adaptable. The last time I made them I was short on some of the seeds, so I swapped in peanuts and finely shredded coconut with great results. Now I'm adding a few tablespoons of coconut to each batch.

I like to use a scale when baking, so my key contribution to the recipe's evolution 'in the wild' is to add weights for each ingredient so that making the mixture can be a "pour and tare" operation.

Recipe:  Seed and Oat Cakes
Adapted from San Francisco Chronicle's Seed and Oat Cluster recipe (which uses the Super Seed Raw Blend)

50 g shelled pumpkin seeds / pepitas (4.5 T)
60 g sunflower seeds (4.5 T)
20 g chia seeds (2 T)
25 g flax seeds (2.5 T)
25 g sesame seeds (2.5 T)
100 g rolled oats (1 cup)
1/2 t kosher salt (2 g / 2.5 mL)
25 g oil
84 g honey
Optional: 3/4 cup dried fruit (175 mL)

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).  Prepare a baking sheet with a non-stick liner like Silpat or parchment paper.

Stir the seeds, oats, salt, honey and oil together (plus dried fruit), being sure to fully coat oats with the oil and honey.  Spoon onto the lined baking sheet, about 2 tablespoons each. Push loose seeds and oats into the blobs, then press lightly to hold together.  Bake 15-20 minutes.  Cool completely before removing from baking sheet.

Image credits

Random link from the archive: Choc-ing the Rubicon

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Three More Old Postcards of San Francisco: the Golden Gate, Fort Point and Sutro Baths

This post has a few more old San Francisco images from the New York Public Library Digital Collections. The first two of postcards were taken before the addition of a major landmark, and the last was taken before the destruction of a major landmark.

Before the Bridge
The first photo is an undated postcard from the early 20th century, the pre-bridge Golden Gate glows at sunset. Unfortunately, the image is not terribly distinctive and to be honest, it doesn't jump out to me as the Golden Gate — it could be any stretch of coastline.  Even Ansel Adams' famous photo doesn't shout "Golden Gate!" I think that's the power of the bridge — it became such a critical part of the landscape that it's hard to think of the setting without it.   (The Golden Gate wasn't named for the gold fields that lay to the east of San Francisco, but after the "Golden Horn" in Turkey. For the full answer, see my earlier post called How the Golden Gate Got Its Name).

Golden Gate before the bridge
Postcard showing the Golden Gate, early 20th century (NYPL Digital Collections)

The next photo, marked "Copyright 1904", is a view of Fort Point with Marin County in the background (today part of the Marin Headlands section of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area).  These days, the Golden Gate Bridge towers over the fort, giving Fort Point a unique vista of the bridge (it might be the only piece of land where the public can be somewhat underneath the bridge).

Postcard of Fort Point, San Francisco
Postcard of Fort Point and the Golden Gate, early 20th century (NYPL Digital Collections)

Inside Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate Bridge

Sutro's Baths: A Long-Gone Swimming and Amusement Palace
The next image shows Sutro Baths, a massive entertainment complex located on the western edge of San Francisco (roughly at the end of Geary Blvd).  In the early 20th century, the Sutro Baths were one of San Francisco's top attractions, with several huge public swimming pools (somewhat like the "plunge" to which Buster Keaton brings a date in The Cameraman) and museums of curiosities and wonders. As time went on, popular tastes changed and expenses far outran revenues (it took a lot of energy to heat the frigid Pacific Ocean to a tolerable temperature), leading to its closure.  During demolition in the 1960s a massive fire destroyed what remained.  Today the site is a modern-day ruins that is open for exploration as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (and also serves as a starting point for a trail along San Francisco's northwestern coast). In recent years the most exciting event at the ruins was the appearance of a river otter ("Sutro Sam") in the ponds. 

Detail of a postcard of Sutro Baths (NYPL Digital Collections)

Plenty of history about the baths has been written or filmed, like a page at the National Park Service, the film Sutro's: The Palace at Lands End (highly recommended), and several books (e.g., Sutro's Glass Palace and Lost San Francisco).

Ruins of Sutro Baths, 2012 (from Flickr user jtu, CC-2.0)

Advertisement for Sutro Baths and Museum,1923 (California Historical Society)

Image Credits

Random link from the archive: Learning to control my temper: making dipped chocolates, part 2

Sunday, May 08, 2016

When "Emergency" Filmed in San Francisco

As a child, I sometimes watched the TV series "Emergency", which ran from 1972 to 1979. Even though it featured crises and injuries that could easily happen to me or my friends or family, the show must have had some kind of attraction. Perhaps it was all of the heavy equipment or the explosions.

With the launch of Cozi TV and other channels that specialize in vintage television, "Emergency" has new life. While channel surfing one day, I happened upon an episode where the two main characters — paramedics John Gage and Roy DeSoto — pay a visit to San Francisco to see how the local firefighters and paramedics operate (the "Emergency" team was based in Los Angeles, the paramedics' base seems to be around Marina del Rey, the fictional "Ramparts Hospital" appears in aerial shots but I don't know Los Angeles well enough to place it). At the time I surfed to the Cozi TV channel, the emergency was a major fire on Pier 5 along the Embarcadero, just north of the Ferry Building.

Now I needed to watch the whole thing. Streaming services don't have it, so I resorted to buying it on DVD in a package called "The Final Rescues." It turns out that the San Francisco fire episode was part of a batch of made-for-TV movies after the series ended, not regular episodes, and that might explain why they don't appear in steaming collections.

In "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing...?", Gage and DeSoto ride along with local crews, observing or helping with rescues and injuries, like a worker on the Golden Gate Bridge who is injured above Fort Point when he falls (and is fortunately wearing a safety harness), or a visiting businessman who has a heart attack in a club with exotic dancers.

The episodes are highly unsatisfying: forced backstories (if you are dating one of the firefighters or paramedics, you will be caught up in a disaster); ignoring huge pieces of the story (e.g., letting the death of a governor in a plane crash happen without any reaction by local officials or the press in "Survival on Charter 220"); plodding and unexciting direction of the rescues and fires (somehow fighting a fire becomes dull); a lot of talk around policy and the law, e.g., the medical duties of paramedics, some of which is valuable, like the exploration of gender roles in this episode (one of the plot lines revolves around whether women should be paramedics, or if it is too dangerous. In the end, the women all perform superbly, putting to rest most concerns). Whatever the faults, though, you can't deny that at times the show really brought the boom.

Big Booms on Pier 5
In this episode, like in many other episodes, poor housekeeping led to disaster. As a decommissioned old ship is being disassembled with cutting torches, loose sparks ignite a pile of oily rags below deck. The flames spread to nearby flammable liquids and soon it's a full-blown conflagration. Unfortunately for the fire crews and those in the area, the pier was storing dozens of drums of flammable liquids and other hazardous chemicals ("enough to level half of San Francisco," says one character).

The filmmakers did not hold back, setting sizeable fires on Pier 5 that created fireballs and turbulent plumes of black smoke. First, a shot from the air or a nearby building:

Here's one of the explosions after the fire spread from the ship to the pier:

Next is a long shot of the fire — note the now-gone two-level Embarcadero Freeway between the City and the waterfront (For contrast, two pictures of post-freeway Embarcadero from Flickr: day and night). In the lower right you'll find the northern edge of the Ferry Building.

Some of the shots capture the disaster along with scenic views of San Francisco, like the next photo, which I annotated. In the background you'll see the Ferry Building, One Market, a Hyatt hotel (the setting of key scenes in Mel Brooks' High Anxiety; it also has spectacular Christmas lights in the atrium). There is also a 55 gallon drum flying into the air — I don't know if that was intentional or accidental (there are several flying barrels during the fire sequence). Other shots have Treasure Island in the background (sometimes with a commuter ferry sailing by).

Emergency's Producers Vs. Clean Air
When I first saw the show on TV, I wondered if the local newspapers had any coverage of the filming. So I went digging in the newspaper archives at the San Francisco Public Library. After a painful search through bound indices made of paper (gasp!), I found an article in the San Francisco Chronicle from Saturday, March 11, 1978, page 8. This short piece, "An 'Emergency' on the Wharf" notes that the production company was cited for violating local air pollution rules. "It's an illegal burn, no question about it," said a spokesperson from the Bay Area Air Pollution Control District, noting that open burning is only allowed for a limited set of agricultural purposes. "Nothing in our regulations say you can burn to add reality to a TV show."  (A still unanswered question: did the filming make it into Herb Caen's column?)

Was the fine worth it? Could the Emergency team have effectively created high drama on the San Francisco waterfront without lighting huge (controlled) fires? I think the answer is yes: sticking with piers and ships, a structural collapse on a ship that trapped a few people in the hold could have been a dramatic situation that required calling out a variety of rescue crews without major fires.

Big Booms in Compton
In the second movie in the Final Rescues collection ("Survival on Charter 220") a small private airplane clips the wing of a passenger jet, causing both to crash in Los Angeles. The pilot of the small plane and his passenger/lover/business partner had been fighting about money and infidelity during the flight, leading to a loss of concentration and thus a failure to see the charter jet. I think they even turned off the plane's radio so their fight wouldn't be interrupted by air traffic control. A bad idea.

The jet crashes into a residential area in what looks like central Los Angeles. And as I said before, the Emergency team knew how to bring the boom:  huge explosions from buildings and aircraft wreckage.  Naturally, Gage and DeSoto are on call in the neighborhood when the plane crashes and are temporarily trapped inside an apartment.

Although the setting is generic medium- to low-density housing that covers much of central Los Angeles, in some shots there is a landmark in the background: a tall white building. I didn't recognize it, and there are probably a dozen similar buildings in the Los Angeles area, but thanks to an internet coincidence, I learned its identity.

In March 2016, the KCRW Good Food blog had a post about a trio of women who are training for the Hollywood Half Marathon by designing training runs around the metropolis. Their runs have two key benefits:  varied scenery and a prominent restaurant destination. One of the runs was in Compton, with the food goal being Bludso's BBQ. Along the way, they stopped at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Compton. A photo of their visit shows a tall white building in the background — the building in the Emergency episode. It's Compton City Hall (E. Compton Blvd near S. Willowbrook Ave.) and since the fire was on the opposite side of train tracks, I am guessing that the fire scenes were shot in a location that currently hosts a shopping center. This guess is confirmed by footage at 58:43, where a street sign makes it into a shot: LAUREL and LOWBROOK. The left side of the LOWBROOK sign is covered with black tape, probably covering up WIL.

Perhaps the fires were used to simultaneously earn some money for Compton, destroy buildings to make way for the shopping center, and provide live-fire training for local fire crews. Someday I might go digging into the Los Angeles newspaper archives to see if there was any coverage.  Perhaps the film crew was cited by the local air quality district like they were in San Francisco. Or, perhaps, the air quality district in Los Angeles issues permits for television- and film-related open burning.

Here are a few screenshots from the episode (starting at around 57 minutes).  The last one shows  Compton City Hall with the railroad crossing in the foreground.

Image Credits
The first four images are from Emergency's "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing...?", air date June 26, 1979 (IMDB page). The last four images are from Emergency's "Survival on Charter 220", air date 25 March 1978 (IMDB page).

Random link from the archive: Recipe: Rice and Vegetables in Achiote Broth

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Mmmmm...Rye Bread Ice Cream, or Solving the Mystery of "Ice Cream, Bisque of Black Bread"

Updated, June 2016

Sometimes I see something so mysterious and compelling — like "Ice cream, bisque of black bread, a la Delmonico" — that I need to track down its story. Most of the time, I lose interest or have no hope of finding the answer, but sometimes lightning strikes and I find the answer.

One of these lightning strikes happened recently with the bisque of black bread. This mysterious item was on the menu of the infamous whale meat luncheon at the American Museum of Natural History in 1918.  When I first saw the menu item, I wondered "What the heck is a bisque of black bread? That sounds bizarre."  But as I think about it more, I recall bread and chocolate, bread pudding, the use of rye flour in sweet pastries in Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain, so perhaps it isn't such a bizarre idea.

My initial internet searches came up empty. Soon, though, my luck changed, thanks to some old "old media." I was sorting through my collection of old Saveur magazines (preparing to give most of them away) and one of the covers announced "Dinners from Old New York." As luck would have it, the article — "Grand Cuisine" by Richard Horwich  — was all about the long-gone New York restaurant called Delmonico's.  Delmonico's, as in the a la Delmonico part of the bisque of black bread menu item.

In his article, Horwich mentions a famous cookbook written around the end of the 19th century by a long-time Delmonico's chef named Charles Ranhofer. This book — The Epicurean — has been digitized by Google Books and the full text is available at Hathi Trust. After a lot of clicking and waiting for pages to load, I found the recipe on page 987! It is called Pumpernickel Rye Bread Ice Cream and mysteriously grouped with cinnamon and ginger ice cream.  Here's is a scan of the page (the plain text of the recipe is in the reference section):

Cinnamon, ginger or pumpernickel ice cream from the Epicurean by Charles Ranhofer

I am guessing that they renamed the dish on the whale meat menu to align with the food conservation message, i.e., to contrast it with the white bread that was discouraged during the war.

The ice cream appears to be straightforward: rye bread in an unflavored ice cream base. Although it sounds a little odd to me, it must have been a flavor favored by the diners of the day because Delmonico's had a reputation as a palace of fine dining. I was curious to see if perhaps this flavor was popular in Delmonico's era, and so I searched the New York Public Library's menu collection for a little while.A ll I found was a rye bread ice cream" on a 1900 menu for Edward F. Lang's Ladies' and Gent's Lunch Room and Restaurant (139 Eighth Street bet. Broadway and 4th Ave., New York).

Have you ever seen a rye bread-flavored ice cream in a cookbook or ice cream shop? I have never seen such a flavor; the closest I have seen is a reference to burnt toast flavored ice cream from the brilliant team behind San Francisco's Bar Tartine in a Saveur 100 issue.  If I ever see it offered, I will certainly try it, even though there's a good chance I won't like it — caraway seeds are one of my few absolute disliked flavors. But with a caraway-free dark bread like the Finnish Rye that I wrote about a while ago, perhaps it could work.

Update, 6/11/2016: At the 2016 Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley in early June, one of the booths was all about the Ice Cream Travel Guide, with the author, Jennifer Ng, on hand to talk and sign books. I asked her if she has ever seen rye bread ice cream and she said no. The closest flavor she recalled was a brown bread ice cream in Ireland. Unfortunately, if she told me how it tasted, I've forgotten what she said.

More on Delmonico's and Ranhofer
Delmonico's restaurant occupied at several different buildings during its long run in Manhattan, moving to find better spaces or to follow the money. The restaurant's peak was the mid- to late-19th century, when it was a favorite of the elite: mayors, titans of industry, theatrical stars, writers and other notables like Samuel Morse and Charles Dickens (here is the menu for his dinner). Finally located at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, it closed in 1923, a victim of changing tastes and prohibition.

Cover page of the Epicurean by Charles RanhoferRanhofer's book is monumental: over 1,000 pages, more than 3,000 recipes, and at least 500 menus that cover nearly every combination of meals, number of people and time of year (for example, a supper in May, a luncheon in January, an August garden picnic for 100 people, a sideboard for 800 persons at a wedding). Ranhofer was quite attentive to the seasons, offering tables showing when vegetables, fruits, meat and fish were in season, and when they were hothouse-grown or imported from Europe.

Not everyone was a fan of Ranhofer's work. In A History of Old New York Life and the House of the Delmonicos, by Leopold Rimmer (1898), Mr. Rimmer wrote:

The only mistake that ever was made against the interest of the Delmonicos' business was Mr. Charles Rauhafer's cook book, which gave away all secrets of the house, and every Tom, Dick and Harry, who calls himself a chief cook, and had learned his trade in Delmonico's kitchen, can cook and make up the finest dinners on record, with that book, which tells him everything he don't know. There is hardly one hotel in New York to-day whose chef did not learn his cooking at Delmonico's, every one of them. The book gave all the secrets to the world —the market, what is in season, where to get it, and what is the correct thing to eat every day, and all the year around. 

The Epicurean: A Complete Treatise Of Analytical And Practical Studies On The Culinary Art, by Charles Ranhofer, full text available at Hathi Trust, Hotel Monthly Press (Chicago), 1920. Public domain.

The recipe in plain text:
Pumpernickel Rye Bread. — Grate half a pound of rye bread and pass it through a coarse sieve or colander; pour into a vessel and throw over a pint of thirty-degree syrup. Break twelve egg-yolks in a tin basin. add eight ounces of sugar, mix well with a pint of boiling milk; cook this on a slow fire without boiling, remove and when cold strain through a sieve, freeze, adding the rye bread when nearly frozen and two quarts of whipped cream (No. 50)
Additional books by a former chef at Delmonico's:  The table: how to buy food, how to cook it, and how to serve it, by Alessandro Filippini (full text at Hathi Trust);   The Delmonico cook book : how to buy food, how to cook it, and how to serve it, by Alessandro Filippini (full text at Hathi Trust).

Image Credits
Bread + ice cream image made by the author using a bread image from the Internet Book Archive, page 195 of The pride of the household; the bakers' complete management (1900), and a detail of an ice cream advertisement from The National Archives UK, The Sydney Mail, March 23, 1932, CO 1069-607-41 (part of a great photo album about the opening of the Sydney Harbor Bridge).  The Epicurean illustration is from the full text version at Hathi Trust.
The ice cream image is a detail of an advertisement for Peters Ice Cream. If you look at the full page, you'll see text to the right that reads

The Health Food of a Nation
Manufactured almost entirely from the Primary Products of AUSTRALIA

Ice cream as the nation's health food, and an ad boasting about Australian content has a company name of American Delicacy...

Random link from the archive: Ancient Folktales above a Los Angeles Street