If You Happen To Be In Berlin

The phased opening of Humboldt Forum, a museum in Berlin, includes this exhibit, and of course a beautiful book to boot.

An interesting feature, in the form of an editorial on the museum’s website can help put this exhibit in context. The goal of this museum is anti-colonial, among other things, according to the museum’s editorial:

According to the people behind the project, the partial reconstruction of Berlin’s historic palace was an expression of the power to mend, to repair the urban fabric and the historical associations enshrined in the space it occupies.

Which is unusual for a well-funded museum in a wealthy country to say. So, this book looks interesting from multiple angles, and the text describing the book is a hint at that:

The elephant is an admired but also endangered animal. In all times and cultures, the ivory of its tusks has been sought after. What kind of material is it, how is it used in history and the present, and what can be done today to protect the largest land mammals from poaching? This richly illustrated volume undertakes a cultural-historical journey and a current positioning. Ivory fascinates  and polarises. Continue reading

Mysterious Appearances Of Non-Migratory Birds

Andrea Mantegna’s “Madonna della Vittoria” was completed in Italy in 1496. Art work from © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

Rebecca Mead, whose last appearance in our pages was referred to just yesterday, explores a five-century old mystery involving birds that is a fun half-hour read, especially but not exclusively for bird nerds:

Where Did That Cockatoo Come From?

Birds native to Australasia are being found in Renaissance paintings—and in medieval manuscripts. Their presence exposes the depth of ancient trade routes.

Madonna della Vittoria,” by the Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna, must have looked imposing when it was first installed as an altarpiece in Santa Maria della Vittoria, a small chapel in the northern-Italian city of Mantua. The painting, which was commissioned by the city’s ruler, Francesco II Gonzaga, was completed in 1496, and measures more than nine feet in height. A worshipper’s eye likely lingered on its lower half—where the Virgin, seated on a marble pedestal, bestows a blessing on the kneeling, armored figure of Francesco—instead of straining to discern the intricacies of its upper half, which depicts a pergola bedecked with hanging ornaments and fruited vines. In the late eighteenth century, Napoleon’s forces looted the painting and transported it to the Louvre, where it now occupies a commanding spot in the Denon wing. Continue reading

Do You Believe Coffee Has Health Benefits?

Short answer: yes. Explanations and caveats follow.

Coffee cherries that I harvested in January on the onetime coffee farm that we are rehabilitating. I am biased enough to enjoy the process of picking coffee, washing it and preparing it for planting.

I believe coffee has health benefits. Do I have them memorized? No. Do I fully understand the ones I can recall? No. But even with changing scientific findings over the years (e.g. findings from decades ago about coffee’s negative health effects were confounded by the fact that smoking and drinking coffee were highly correlated in study participants) I am inclined to listen to and trust findings from credentialed scientists.

A friend sent me the above video a couple of days ago, asking if I believe the contents. I just watched it. In six minutes a medical expert delivers more scientific findings than I could possibly digest. Upon first listening I am inclined to believe that coffee is better for me, in ways I had not been aware of, than I had previously considered.

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During the early days of the pandemic, staying in isolation, I experimented with hot-brewed and cold-brewed coffee trying to come up with a new way to enjoy it that would also boost my immune system

That said, I am also willing to believe that for every finding of the health benefits, there could be findings of health penalties that I simply have not come across. Or maybe I have willfully avoided coming across them.

I am inclined to bias on this topic for at least two reasons. First, because I enjoy drinking coffee as much or more than the average person. Stated less politely, I might be a coffee junkie. And related to that, maybe because of that, my primary entrepreneurial activity now is selling coffee. I try to keep my enthusiasm in check, and rarely reference the health benefits of coffee unless I feel I truly understand the scientific findings.

Gracia Lam

Just after watching the video my friend sent, I came across this, so will make a rare exception and recommend both these summaries of information about coffee’s health benefits. Jane Brody, the Personal Health columnist for the New York Times since 1976, recently reviewed decades of scientific findings, including plenty of overlap with the medical expert in the video above, and with this quick read you can judge for yourself:

Americans sure love their coffee. Even last spring when the pandemic shut down New York, nearly every neighborhood shop that sold takeout coffee managed to stay open, and I was amazed at how many people ventured forth to start their stay-at-home days with a favorite store-made brew. Continue reading

Indigenous Peoples & Nature Conservation

The National Bison Range in Montana, now managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. DAVE FITZPATRICK / U.S.FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Thanks to Jim Robbins, as always, for this look into How Returning Lands to Native Tribes Is Helping Protect Nature:

From California to Maine, land is being given back to Native American tribes who are committing to managing it for conservation. Some tribes are using traditional knowledge, from how to support wildlife to the use of prescribed fires, to protect their ancestral grounds.

In 1908 the U.S. government seized some 18,000 acres of land from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to create the National Bison Range in the heart of their reservation in the mountain-ringed Mission Valley of western Montana.

While the goal of protecting the remnants of America’s once-plentiful bison was worthy, for the last century the federal facility has been a symbol to the tribes here of the injustices forced upon them by the government, and they have long fought to get the bison range returned. Continue reading

The Human Touch

The Economist offers this brief thinkpiece on what to make of the recent uptick in interest in craft-made products (unless you are a subscriber to the magazine you will need to sign up for free limited access to the magazine’s website):

Can human creativity prevent mass unemployment?

The market for artisan goods is likely to grow. But organised craft could lose its charm

In “THE REPAIR SHOP”, a British television series, carpenters, textile workers and mechanics mend family heirlooms that viewers have brought to their workshop. The fascination comes from watching them apply their craft to restore these keepsakes and the emotional appeal from the tears that follow when the owner is presented with the beautifully rendered result. Continue reading

One Culture’s Delicacy Is Another’s Punchline

Having had more than my fair share of delicacies that I did not find appetizing, the concept of this museum is not lost on me. I can laugh, even when the humor is problematic. But of all the museums in all the towns in all the world,  I doubt I will visit this one. After yesterday’s post, this article by Jiayang Fan seems particularly well-timed:

The Gatekeepers Who Get to Decide What Food Is “Disgusting”

At the Disgusting Food Museum, in Sweden, where visitors are served dishes such as fermented shark and stinky tofu, I felt both like a tourist and like one of the exhibits.

In the spring of 2019, Arthur De Meyer, a twenty-nine-year-old Belgian journalist, toured the Disgusting Food Museum, in Malmö, Sweden. As with the Museum of Sex, in New York City, and the Museum of Ice Cream, in San Francisco, the Disgusting Food Museum is conceptually closer to an amusement park than to a museum. There are eighty-five culinary horrors on display—ordinary fare and delicacies from thirty countries—and each tour concludes with a taste test of a dozen items. De Meyer, the son of a cookbook author and a food photographer, told me that he’d always been an adventurous eater. As a reporter, he also prided himself on his ability to maintain his composure. “But the taste test was war,” he said. “The kind where you’re defenseless, because the bombs are going off invisibly, inside of you.” Continue reading

Respect For Insects In Human Food

The old joke that begins “waiter, there is a fly in my soup” was already stale. Now it is long past its sell-by date. We have been selling this protein bar, made in Costa Rica, for long enough now to say without reservation: insects are not repellant. These bars compete alongside dozens of other snack products we offer, and have become a surprise best-seller.

I had expected occasional curiosity-driven sales, but instead they have outsold more established protein bar brands and other snack options. Insects have already earned more respect as a food source than I had imagined. Thanks to the Guardian for this partial explanation of the phenomenon, and its potential:

A bug’s life: inspecting the produce at Ÿnsect’s lab. Photograph: Reuters

If we want to save the planet, the future of food is insects

Fried crickets on the school menu, milk made from fly larvae and mealworm bolognese for dinner? These are the environmentally friendly meals we can look forward to. Bon appetit!

My first attempts at feeding insects to friends and family did not go down well. “What the hell is wrong with you?” asked my wife when I revealed that the tomato and oregano-flavoured cracker bites we had been munching with our G&Ts were made from crickets. Continue reading

Smoke’s Soulful Side

Much thanks to Gastropod for reminding us of culinary considerations:

Where There’s Smoke, There’s … Whiskey, Fish, and Barbecue!

As anyone who’s spent time by a crackling campfire or a barbecue pit can attest, the scent of smoke is unmistakable—and surprisingly mysterious. Smoke clings to clothing but vanishes in the breeze. Continue reading

Cherry Blossoms & Public Policy

UNITED STATES – March 30: Visitors gather to watch the sunrise under blooming Japanese cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the original gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington in 1912. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In Washington, D.C. the cherry blossoms came early this year. Plenty was said, including on Texas Public Radio, about the implications related to climate change. Elizabeth Kolbert has this to say, pivoting from cherry blossoms to both environmental and economic policies in the USA:

Biden’s Jobs Plan Is Also a Climate Plan. Will It Make a Difference?

The Administration has an ambitious vision for combatting global warming, but it’s only a start.

Illustration by João Fazenda

The first known reference to Japan’s cherry blossoms comes from the country’s oldest surviving text, the Kojiki, completed in 712. Japan was trying to shrug off the influence of its more powerful neighbor, China, and cherry blossoms became a symbol of Japanese identity, in contrast to the plum blossoms of the Chinese. By the early ninth century, the practice of cherry-blossom viewing had become so well established that the date of the peak bloom appeared in Japanese poems and other literary works. Continue reading

Tasting Costa Rica In Mead

Today we start a “taste of place” series with Costa Rica Meadery as our first artisanal showcase. And the first beverage we will be tasting is this best-selling mead that celebrates Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast. A fusion of a mead, a “chicha”, and a local drink called “agua de sapo.” Made with multifloral honey, ginger, native corn malt, and spices from the north. Very refreshing, light-bodied with a strong aroma and taste of ginger and citrus.”

The idea is to taste all that with a small portion and a brief discussion, and then onward to four other mead products. Come taste the place!

Taste Of Place Experiences In Costa Rica

While bee populations have waned throughout rural America, urban hives are thriving in cities such as Detroit, producing honey that’s reminiscent of mint, clover or goldenrod. Photo by Patricia Heal. Prop styling by Martin Bourne

Terroir is a word that has appeared often in these pages. Taste of place, a phrase with related meaning, likewise has appeared plenty of times. This phrase is a tag line used frequently in our work, based on an experience I had in Paraguay in 2005. We will begin weekly “taste of place experiences” for guests in both Authentica shops tomorrow; starting with mead, followed by chocolate, then honey, coffee and so on. Every week an artisan will present how they source ingredients, how they make their product, and how the taste of it reflects the particular location in Costa Rica where sourcing is done. So, great to see this about urban taste of place movement in our neighbor to the north:

The Growers, Bakers and Beekeepers Embracing the Terroir of American Cities

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

Long celebrated in France, the concept of place-specific tastes is spurring the revitalization of neighborhoods and communities.

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

For centuries, the French have used the word “terroir” to describe the environment in which a wine is produced. Going back to the Latin “terra,” “earth,” it’s rooted in a traditional vision of the countryside and has become more fervently embraced as our agrarian past recedes. Continue reading

Forest Solitude, A Germanic Tradition

With forest making up around 33% of Germany’s land area, woodlands have become a central part of German culture (Credit: Westend61/Getty Images)

Thanks to the BBC for this article about the Germanic tradition of waldeinsamkeit:

Waldeinsamkeit is an archaic German term for the feeling of “forest loneliness” (Credit: Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images)

Everybody is at it in Germany. They’re doing it in the trees in the Black Forest. Out in the magical Harz Mountains. In the national parks of Bavaria when silhouetted in the moonlight. And in the city centre woodlands of Berlin and Munich. Continue reading

Bookshop Versus Goliath, aka Amazon

Amazon can afford to take a loss on books. Small independent bookstores cannot. Illustration by Owen D. Pomery; Source photograph by Danny Caine

We have respect for any merchant who takes the time, and has strong logic on their side, to explain why their prices are not as low as Amazon’s. Any time the opportunity arises to read Casey Cep on the subject of bookshops, take it; especially when she is writing about a bookshop’s pricing relative to Amazon’s. Be sure to read far enough to where she touches on the impact of bookshop.org on the marketplace for books, which on its own makes reading this essay worth the time:

A Kansas Bookshop’s Fight with Amazon Is About More Than the Price of Books

The owner of the Raven bookstore, in Lawrence, wants to tell you about all the ways that the e-commerce giant is hurting American downtowns.

If you know anything about the Raven bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, then you know that it charges more for books than Amazon. Advertising higher prices is an unlikely strategy for any business, but Danny Caine, the Raven’s owner, has an M.F.A., not an M.B.A., and he talks openly with customers about why his books cost as much as they do. Continue reading

Todo Bajo Del Sol, Reckoning With Mass Tourism

One of the early images in Todo Bajo el Sol shows a group of fishermen hauling their boat on to a beach that will eventually be given over to the towels and umbrellas of foreign holidaymakers. Photograph: Penguin/Random House

Thanks to the Guardian for this review. I had not even heard of this novel yet, let alone had a chance to read it. But since my last 25 years have been dedicated to helping places avoid the pitfalls of mass tourism, I look forward to reading it:

Todo Bajo el Sol: Spanish graphic novel explores history of mass tourism

Ana Penyas’s book tells story of three generations of a family whose lives reflect Spain’s socioeconomic transformation

Alfonso, one of the novel’s protagonists, is rewarded for his hard work as a waiter. The box contains a souvenir plate that reappears at the end of the book. Photograph: Penguin/Random House

The opening pages of a new graphic novel charting Spain’s long, profitable and often counter-productive relationship with tourism show four fishermen hauling their boat on to a Mediterranean beach already in the early stages of occupation by the new breed of foreign holidaymakers.

While the fishermen, rendered in monochrome to reflect their looming obsolescence, heave their boat ashore, a tourist, drawn in colour, sits beneath the shade of his beach umbrella and prepares to study a guidebook produced by the Franco regime. Continue reading

Erewhon’s Multiple Identities

Nearly four years ago I mentioned Harrington Ham in a post, but did not mention that in 1978 and 1979 I worked as a stock clerk in the Harrington’s shop in my hometown. In addition to the most amazing hams, my employee discount allowed me to purchase all kinds of food items I otherwise would not have known from the A&P and Grand Union grocery stores where we otherwise shopped. Erewhon Organic was one of the brands carried, providing my introduction to “health food.” Which led to my discovery of this book, which I scarcely recall, but which instilled in me a curiosity about utopia, and an appreciation of anagrams.

Erewhon, an upscale organic grocery store and cafe, has six locations in the Los Angeles area. Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

Today, reading of this retail operation in California with a similar name, I took the opportunity to find out what happened to that old Erewhon brand; it is still out there, but has been reduced in scale and variety to producing only organic cereals. The retail Erewhon, almost as old as the brand I remember, looks like it is on a good trajectory for a long and prosperous life:

How Erewhon Became L.A.’s Hottest Hangout

With a little help from celebrities and influencers, the health food store became the place to see and be seen.

Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

Angelenos have long known that health is wealth, and the healthiest and wealthiest among them shop at Erewhon, the upscale organic grocery store with six locations throughout Los Angeles County.

Last year, after the coronavirus pandemic forced bars and nightclubs across the city to shutter, supermarkets were among the few places where people could still see and be seen. Erewhon, with its outdoor dining areas, became the unofficial hangout for the young, beautiful and bored. Like a moth to a nontoxic flame, the store drew Instagram flâneurs in droves — but also plenty of grimaces and eye rolls from locals. Continue reading

Remembering Books Not In Libraries

A few years ago, during a work visit in Athens, Amie and I made a last-minute decision to book a flight to Istanbul. We had both long wanted to visit, the flight was inexpensive, and we had a few days to spare. A primary impetus for the visit was to experience this museum. My memory of Istanbul is mainly my memory of the museum. And it is one of my strongest travel memories in a life full of travel. Reading about this “club” I realized there are more shrines for bibliophiles than I had imagined:

The Grolier Club: Celebrating the Art & History of the Book Since 1884

Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. Named for Jean Grolier (1489 or 90-1565), the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library with friends, the Club’s objective is to promote “the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper.” Through the concerted efforts of an international network of over eight hundred men and women—book and print collectors, antiquarian book dealers, librarians, designers, fine printers, binders, and other artisans—the Grolier Club pursues this mission through its library, its public exhibitions and lectures, and its long and distinguished series of publications.

The story of America can be told through the story of its periodicals. Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty

And the only reason it came to my attention was thanks to Nathan Heller, whose subject likens magazines over earlier centuries to the social media of today in his cultural comment essay What Are Magazines Good For? Tickets to New York are inexpensive, which makes a visit tempting for this one reason, but it will have to wait:

…“The best way to think about magazines is as the analog Internet—they’d foster communities of people, just like on social networks,” Steven Lomazow, a seventy-three-year-old New Jersey neurologist who created the exhibition from his personal collection of more than eighty-three thousand magazine issues, said the other day. Continue reading

Anne Samat At Asia Society

Anne Samat, Follow Your Heart Wholeheartedly, 2020. Rattan sticks, yarn, rakes, washers, plastic swords, toy soldiers, beads, metal and plastic ornaments. Left: H. 98 x W. 48 x D. 7 in. (249 x 122 x 17.8 cm). Center: H. 131 1/2 x W. 141 3/4 x D. 11 3/4 in. (334 x 360 x 30 cm). Right: H. 105 x W. 48 x D. 7 in. (266.7 x 122 x 17.8 cm). Front: H. 84 1/4 x W. 26 3/4 x D. 12 3/16 in. (214 x 67 x 31 cm). Courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist. Photograph courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist. This work was commissioned by Asia Society Museum, New York, for the inaugural Asia Society Triennial: We Do Not Dream Alone. Location: Asia Society Museum

If you are out and about in New York City, this may be for you:

Anne Samat is a contemporary artist from Malaysia who works with fiber and weaving techniques from archipelagic Southeast Asia. Continue reading

Natural Corks Perform Ecosystem Services

Thanks to Sarah Kennedy and ChavoBart Digital Media for this story at Yale Climate Connections:

The surprising link between wine corks and climate change

Give a toast to cork forests, which store a great deal of carbon pollution.

If you open a bottle of champagne or wine this New Year’s Eve, take a look at the stopper.

In recent years, plastic stoppers and screw tops have come on the market as alternatives to natural cork, but cork can be better for the climate.

Cork is harvested in the Mediterranean from the bark of cork oak trees. The process does not harm the tree, and the bark regrows. But the first harvest cannot begin until the tree is about 25 years old. Continue reading

2020 Goldman Prize Winners

Nemonte Nenquimo led an indigenous campaign and legal action that resulted in a court ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest and Waorani territory from oil extraction. Nenquimo’s leadership and the lawsuit set a legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other tribes are following in her footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction.

The last time we mentioned a Goldman Prize winner was also the only time we have done so. What explains that? Nothing, really. Just a missed opportunity each year to celebrate things we care about. Today we share the news on one of the six prize winners for 2020:

Guardians of the Amazon Rainforest

Despite its relatively small area, Ecuador is one of the 10 most biodiverse countries on Earth. It contains pristine Amazon rainforests with rich wildlife, complex ecosystems, and significant populations of indigenous communities. Long protectors of this territory, the Waorani people are traditional hunter-gatherers organized into small clan settlements. Continue reading

A Classic Dish, A Keeper

Restaurant 51, Xandari Harbour. Photo Credit: Architectural Digest India

The photo to the right shows an interior view of the restaurant we named 51, one of our favorite accomplishments of seven years working in Kerala, India. The painting on the wall shows a traditional onion keeper, and it came to mind when I read these lines in a recipe-essay by Gabrielle Hamilton:

Photograph by Heami Lee. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Rebecca Bartoshesky.

…and, of course, the onion tarts. We were steeped in his cooking and his thinking, and it was an excellent exercise to prepare the dishes of a long-ago iconic restaurant, and to see whether they stood the test of time without becoming museum pieces. Every one, especially the onion tart, was still pitch perfect….

The notion of “not becoming museum pieces” is the evocative part of the essay. Envisioning what 51 should look like, as with the entire exercise of developing Xandari Harbour, we constantly repeated that our goal was to be respectful of history without being a slave to it. By which we meant we wanted the heritage to be clear while also showcasing the new directions of Kerala’s culinary culture. And with all due respect to museums, this was to be a lively eatery.

The recipe-essay stirred another memory, from 1988. We celebrated the second anniversary of our marriage by having dinner at Lutèce. Somewhere in our stored papers is the menu from that evening, signed by André Soltner. Having worked for a chef who inspired me to see a lifetime career in hospitality, this dinner was a perfect mark on the map moving in that direction.