Leo Tolstoy’s Family Recipe for Mac ‘N’ Cheese

In 1874, Stepan Andreevich Bers published The Cookbook and gave it as a gift to his sister, countess Sophia Andreevna Tolstaya, the wife of the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy. The book contained a collection of Tolstoy family recipes, the dishes they served to their family and friends, those fortunate souls who belonged to the aristocratic ruling class of late czarist Russia. Almost 150 years later, this cookbook has been translated and republished by Sergei Beltyukov.

Available in an inexpensive Kindle format ($3.99), Leo Tolstoy's family recipe book features dozens of recipes, everything from Tartar Sauce and Spiced Mushrooms (what's a Russian kitchen without mushrooms?), to Stuffed Dumplings and Green Beans à la Maître d'Hôtel, to Coffee Cake and Viennese Pie. The text comes with a translation, too, of Russian weights and measures used during the period. One recipe Mr. Beltyukov provided to us (which I didn't see in the book) is for the Tolstoy's good ole Mac 'N' Cheese dish. It goes something like this:

Bring water to a boil, add salt, then add macaroni and leave boiling on light fire until half tender; drain water through a colander, add butter and start putting macaroni back into the pot in layers – layer of macaroni, some grated Parmesan and some vegetable sauce, macaroni again and so on until you run out of macaroni. Put the pot on the edge of the stove, cover with a lid and let it rest in light fire until the macaroni are soft and tender. Shake the pot occasionally to prevent them from burning.

We'll leave you with bon appétit! -- an expression almost certainly heard in the homes of those French-speaking Russian aristocrats.

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Note: This post first appeared on OC back in 2014.

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How to Cook Like Frida Kahlo & Georgia O’Keefe

It’s a myth that starving artists don’t eat.

They do, just not often or well. Their meals rarely rate recipes, let alone cookbooks.

Those cookbooks do exist though....

The mostly conceptual Starving Artist Cookbook put together by EIDIA (aka artists Paul Lamarre and Melissa Wolf) comes close to the spirit of sustaining life through meager ingredients… like spaghetti or 4 pages of shredded Pravda.

Not so this other title, which approaches cute overload with an abundance of Instagram-worthy illustrated fare—mojitos, an unstructured berry tart, a “manly” burger....

Do "starving" artists no longer fear being outed as posers?

Successful artists may not worry about that, as they eat whatever and however they want.

Andy Warhol had the taste of an eccentric child.

Marina Abramović takes the ascetic route.

Many have glady traded the candle in the chianti bottle for the most rarified restaurants in town.

Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo, PBS Digital Studios’ series the Art Assignment informs us, took cooking—and eating—seriously.

So seriously, their culinary efforts led to cookbooks, which the Art Assignment’s host, curator Sarah Urist Green, tries out on camera.

O’Keefe, who grew up in Wisconsin on homemade yogurt, homemade cheese, and plentiful homegrown produce, ground her own flour in order to bake daily loaves of whole wheat bread.

Green treats viewers to a brief overview of O’Keefe’s life and work as she struggles with the grinder. (You might get the same, or better, results if you take a $5 bill to a good bakery right at opening.)

She also tackles the wheat germ Tiger's Milk smoothie advocated by Adele Davis, a nutritionist whom O’Keefe  admired, and Green Chiles with Garlic and Oil and Fried Eggs, using recipes from the cookbooks A Painter’s Kitchen and Dinner with Georgia O’Keefe.

Before attempting the same, you might want to watch the Kahlo-centric episode, above, in which Green discovers a much better method for roasting the poblano peppers she haplessly substituted for New Mexico chiles in O’Keefe's egg dish.

Here, they’re used for Chiles Rellenos, a dish whose pronunciation the self-effacing Green butchers, along with a multitude of other Spanish phrases, a fact not lost on the video’s Youtube commenters. They also take issue with the presence of plantains, her preparation of the Nopales Salad, and her cooking skills in general. No wonder Green—a self-proclaimed wussy where serranos are concerned—seems so eager to reach for a shot of tequila as dinner is finally served.

Green chose the dishes for this episode from Frida's Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo by Marie-Pierre Colle and Kahlo’s stepdaughter, Guadalupe Rivera.

Kahlo herself learned to cook from her mother’s copy of El Nuevo Cocinero Mejicano, and from husband Diego Rivera’s first wife, Guadalupe (leading one to wonder if some of that cookbook's recipes aren’t misattributed to the more famous cook).

As with the O’Keefe video and the cookbooks cited herein, there’s a wealth of vintage photos and reproduced artwork on display.

Even though Green alludes to Kahlo's dark side, sensitive stomachs might have trouble with the inclusion of the graphically violent Unos Quantos Piquetitos. Another painting, My Nurse and I is at least related to eating, if not cooking and recipes.

Those with stomachs of steel on the other hand can continue on to another Art Assignment—the supremely gross Meat Sculpture from the Futurist Cookbook.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Discuss Emily Dickinson with her informally at Pete's Mini Zinefest in Brooklyn this Saturday. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Oldest Unopened Bottle of Wine in the World (Circa 350 AD)

Image by Immanuel Giel, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s an old TV and movie trope: the man of wealth and taste, often but not always a supervillain, offers his distinguished guest a bottle of wine, his finest, an ancient vintage from one of the most venerable vineyards. We might follow the motif back at least to Edgar Allan Poe, whose “Cask of Amontillado” puts an especially devious spin on the treasured bottle’s sinister connotations.

If our suave and possibly deadly host were to offer us the bottle you see here, we might hardly believe it, and would hardly be keen to drink it, though not for fear of being murdered afterward. The Römerwein, or Speyer wine bottle—so called after the German region where it was discovered in the excavation of a 4th century AD Roman nobleman’s tomb—dates “back to between 325 and 359 AD,” writes Abandoned Spaces, and has the distinction of being “the oldest known wine bottle which remains unopened.”

A 1.5 liter “glass vessel with amphora-like sturdy shoulders” in the shape of dolphins, the bottle is of no use to its owner, but no one is certain what would happen to the liquid if it were exposed to air, so it stays sealed, its thick stopper of wax and olive oil maintaining an impressively hermetic environment. Scientists can only speculate that the liquid inside has probably lost most of its ethanol content. But the bottle still contains a good amount of wine, “diluted with a mix of various herbs.”

The Römerwein resides at the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer, which seems like an incredibly fascinating place if you happen to be passing through. You won’t get to taste ancient Roman wine there, but you may, perhaps, if you travel to the University of Catania in Sicily where in 2013, scientists recreated ancient wine-making techniques, set up a vineyard, and followed the old ways to the letter, using wooden tools and strips of cane to tie their vines.

They proceeded, writes Tom Kingston at The Guardian, “without mechanization, pesticides or fertilizers.” Only the organic stuff for Roman vintners.

The team has faithfully followed tips on wine growing given by Virgil in the Georgics, his poem about agriculture, as well as by Columella, a first century AD grower, whose detailed guide to winemaking was relied on until the 17th century.

Those ancient winemakers added honey and water to their wine, as well as herbs, to sweeten and spice things up. And unlike most Italians today who “drink moderately with meals,” ancient Romans “were more given to drunken carousing.” Maybe that’s what the gentleman in the Speyer tomb hoped to be doing in his Roman afterlife.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Bob Dylan Potato Chips, Anyone?: What They’re Snacking on in China

They sound tasty. The rub? You have to travel to China to get them.

And now a question for any readers fluent in Chinese. Can you translate the text on the bag? We would be curious to know what's the pitch for these chips. Feel free to put any translations in comments section below.

via @stevesilberman

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An Animated History of Tea

Self proclaimed tea geek, Shunan Teng’s knowledge of her chosen subject extends well beyond the proper way to serve and prepare her best-loved beverage.

Her recent TED-Ed lesson on the History of Tea, above, hints at centuries of bloodshed and mercenary trade practices, discreetly masked by Steff Lee’s benign animation.

Addiction, war, and child labor---the last, a grim ongoing reality…. Meditate on that the next time you’re enjoying a nice cup of Darjeeling, or better yet, matcha, a preparation whose Western buzz is starting to approximate that of the Tang dynasty.

Even die-hard coffee loyalists with little patience for the ritualistic niceties of tea culture can indulge in some fascinating trivia, from the invention of the clipper ship to the possible health benefits of eating rather than drinking those green leaves.

Test your TQ post-lesson with TED-Ed’s quiz, or this one from Tea Drunk, Teng’s authentic Manhattan tea house.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Baking, Cooking & Other Daily Activities Help Promote Happiness and Alleviate Depression and Anxiety

Image by Beth MacKenzie, via Flickr Commons

Most healthy people practice at least some form of what we call these days “self-care,” whether it be yoga, meditation, running, writing, art, music, therapy, coloring books, or what-have-you. And if you’re functioning tolerably well in the madness of our times, you’re probably dipping regularly into the well of at least one restorative discipline, in addition to whatever larger beliefs you may hold.

But perhaps you feel at loose ends—unable to find the time or money for yoga classes or painting, feeling too restless to sit motionless for half an hour or more a day.... The activities that sustain our psyches should not feel unattainable. One need not be a yogi, Zen monk, marathoner, or Impressionist to find regular fulfilment in life. Perhaps regular, ordinary activities have the power to make us just as happy.

Recent research suggests that tasks such as “knitting, crocheting and jam-making” can “work wonders for wellbeing,” writes Tom Ough at The Telegraph, as can other creative practices like “cooking, baking, performing music, painting, drawing, sketching, digital design and creative writing.” All may have profound effects on emotional health. This list might expand indefinitely to include any hands-on activity with measurable results, from woodworking to beekeeping.

A 2016 study of 658 students at New Zealand’s Otago University found that engaging in small creative pursuits on a daily basis produces enthusiasm and feelings of “flourishing”—“a mental health term describing happiness and meaning.” The results of, say, making a loaf of bread or a scarf, don’t simply benefit us in the moment, but carry over into the future. As the study’s lead author Tamlin Connor notes, “engaging in creative behaviour leads to increases in well-being the next day, and this increased well-being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day.”

The more we bake, the more we’ll want to bake, the happier we’ll feel.

Does focusing our attention on small, achievable daily tasks lead to the kind of metaphysical fulfilment most people seem to crave—what Viktor Frankl called “man’s search for meaning”? Not necessarily, no. “Recent research suggests,” notes Daisy Grewal at Scientific American, “that while happiness and a sense of meaning often overlap, they also diverge in important and surprising ways.” Frankl may not be wrong about the need for meaning, but even he admitted that seeking it out is not identical to the pursuit of happiness.

In a 2013 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Aaker, and Emily Garbinsky found that happiness, “flourishing,” or emotional well-being correlate strongly with “satisfying one’s needs and wants” as well as with “being a giver rather than a taker.” Philosophy, politics, religion, and art may seek truth or coherence, but while “concerns with personal identity and expressing the self contributed to meaning,” they have little lasting effect on happiness, as many a philosopher, priest, or poet may tell you. On the other hand, while having comfortable economic means does measurably improve happiness, it does not contribute significantly to a sense of larger purpose (that which, Frankl argued strenuously, can save our lives in times of crisis).

Baumeister and his colleagues obtained their findings by surveying around 400 American adults over a period of three weeks, during which time the participants monitored a variety of daily activities. In one reading of the Otago University study, Daisy Meager at Vice focuses specially on baking as a means to ward off a “shitty mood.” It may be a matter of taste---some may prefer making sauces to cakes. The effects are the same, "a common cure," writes Danny Lewis at Smithsonian, "for stress or feeling down."

Meager points to work done by Julie Ohana, a “culinary therapist” who uses the kitchen to help patients combat “depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.” Vice's Jackson Connor describes his personal experience of how cooking “alleviates symptoms of stress and anxiety almost immediately,” as well as over time. And no less an authority than food theorist Michael Pollan makes the persuasive case for "how cooking can change your life" in the short animated video below (see his full talk at the RSA here).

Further arguing, however, for baking as a special form of “flourishing,” Julie Thomson at HuffPo describes the act as “a productive form of self-expression and communication" and consults with experts like Ohana and Donna Pincus, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, who told Thomson, “Baking has the benefit of allowing people creative expression.” People who may not be natural artists, writers, or musicians. Yet baking is also a kind of problem-solving as well as a creative act, and “actually requires a lot of full attention.”

You have to measure, focus physically on rolling out dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction.

The reference to mindfulness is apt. (Go ahead and read about a course on “Breaditation,” make fun of it, then try it at home.) I know not a few people who swear they cannot meditate to save their lives, but who will happily spend a couple hours on a Saturday evening baking brioche or plates of cookies. But there’s more to it than the meditative absorption that comes from mindful activity. Baking, says Pincus---and cooking in general---is a form of altruism. “The nice thing about baking,” she ways, “is that you have such a tangible reward at the end and that can feel very beneficial to others.”

So the research suggests that---whatever activities one gravitates toward---finding happiness on a daily basis involves more than using Pinterest boards and magazines to craft a cozy, stylish new life. Though any sustained creative activity may do the trick, we approach closer to lasting happiness as well as greater fulfillment—to meaning—when we direct activity to a “connection with other people” through generosity.

via Scientific American

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Teeny Tiny Japanese Meals Get Made in a Miniature Kitchen: The Joy of Cooking Mini Tempura, Sashimi, Curry, Okonomiyaki & More

Every time I go to Japan, I marvel at the artificial sandwiches, omelets, bowls of noodles, and parfaits displayed outside even the humblest shopping-arcade cafés, all made to give the customer a more vivid sense of the dishes on offer than would any two-dimensional photograph. But while those fake foods, made to scale with polyvinyl chloride and other inedible materials, do reflect Japan's long tradition of high-quality hand-craftsmanship, they don't reflect some of the culture's other virtues: the advanced Japanese skills of miniaturization (remarked upon by even the earliest Western visitors to the once-closed country), not to mention the deliciousness of actual Japanese food.

At a stroke, the Youtube channel Miniature Space combines all of those into a single project: its creators replicate a variety of classic Japanese, Western, and Japanese-Western dishes like shrimp tempura, curry, and okonomiyaki on video, all at what seems an impossibly small scale. Not only that, but they use only miniature kitchen tools, right down to wee knives, spatulas, and rolling pins as well as tea candle-powered stoves.

Some of these, writes iDigitalTimes' ND Medina, "come from Re-Ment, a Japanese company noted for the impressive detail of its miniatures. However, many of the tools used have long been out of production, like anything by Konapun, a brand which made fun miniature cooking sets for kids to experience the joys of cooking."

Miniature cooking at this level of rigor requires not just considerable manual dexterity but a certain knack for creative substitution: toothpicks instead of standard skewers, quail eggs instead of chicken eggs, special shrimp from the aquarium supply store small enough to fit inside one's thimble-sized cooking pot. Though aesthetically satisfying on many levels and technically edible to boot, these mini-meals wouldn't satisfy any normal human appetite. Nevertheless, watching enough Miniature Space videos in a row will almost certainly get you hungering for a regular-sized grill of yakitori, bowl of spaghetti, or plate of pancakes — and leave you with some of the know-how needed to make such dishes, even in a non-miniature kitchen.

You can view a playlist of miniature Japanese cooking here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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