Entrepreneurial Conservation & Armenian Foodways

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Motal cheese is a fresh goat’s milk cheese made primarily in remote mountain areas in Armenia. Cross of Armenian Unity/Ruslan Torosyan

We are on the lookout for stories that combine our interest in topics such as conservation, and entrepreneurship, and traditional foodways, and innovation (among other things) and this story touches on several of our favorite themes. Thanks to the salt team at National Public Radio (USA):

Armenia’s Ancient Motal Cheese Makes Its Way Into The Modern Age

In the mountains of eastern Armenia, about 75 miles north of the capital Yerevan, motal means change.

Motal cheese is like a business card for our region,” says Arpine Gyuluman, who owns Getik Bed and Breakfast in Gegharkunik. “[Because of it], we’re seeing more and more visitors annually.”

Motal is a white goat cheese flavored with wild herbs that is similar to homestyle country cheeses in Iran and Azerbaijan. Motal is prepared in locally made terra cotta pots sealed with beeswax ― a method that dates back at least 5,000 years. A little more than a decade ago, it was in danger of disappearing. That is, until a local university student named Ruslan Torosyan embarked on a personal crusade to save motal. Continue reading

Poisson d’Avril Redux Two

It’s a rare occasion that we republish one of our posts on this site – but April 1st is a special day, is it not? And as the weather warms, a little bit of lighthearted Spring frolicking won’t go amiss.

It was unlike me to have missed acknowledging the Vernal Equinox last week but please note that it wasn’t forgotten. In much of the northern hemisphere spring began sprouting all over the place, sometimes unseasonably early, and the first day of spring was observed in all its glory in Crist’s Holi series.

So I’m being careful not to miss April 1st and in the spirit of that celebration am sharing some of artist Ken Brown‘s collection of turn of the century (the 19th to the 20th that is!) French fantasy postcards that celebrate “Poisson d’Avril”, the French equivalent of April 1st or April Fools’ Day. Continue reading

Coffee, Journeys & Yemen

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CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times

This review, thanks to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, has my attention on The Coffee-Flavored American Dream of a young man with about as improbable a mission as I can imagine.  Returning to the coffee fields of Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region in a few days, I also plan to cross the Central Valley to see the latest mission accomplished of another coffee dreamer, the choice of Dave Eggers for his latest book topic is much appreciated.

A few years ago I traveled with a group of friends from the southern Yemeni port city of Aden to the capital of Sanaa in the north, taking the long coastal road that twists and curves around the bulge of Yemen’s southernmost tip. After passing the Bab el Mandeb strait, the road stretches along the seashore. Under a clear bright sky, the waters of the Red Sea shimmered and the sand glowed a warm ocher, the monotony interrupted only by an occasional fisherman’s shack, a small nomadic settlement or a bleached one-room mosque. Flat-topped trees looming in the distance suggested an African landscape.

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CreditLorenzo Gritti

Ahead of us lay the port of Mokha, or Al-Mukha in Arabic, where from the 15th century onward ships set sail with precious Yemeni coffee bound for Istanbul, London, Amsterdam and eventually New York — so much coffee that the word “mocha” became synonymous with it. Continue reading

Yesterday’s Curry

Fish curry inflected with coconut is a staple dish in the coastal Indian state of Goa. It’s usually eaten accompanied by unpolished rice, fried fish and a dab of pickle. Once all the fish has been eaten up, the leftover curry is reheated over a low flame until it condenses and thickens. At that point, it is reborn as Kalchi koddi, which literally translates to “yesterday’s curry.” Joanna Lobo

Local food-ways have long been an interest on this platform, especially when spice is involved. Thanks, once again, to the Salt and Joanna Lobo for sharing this story.

Podcast Proliferation

VoxPodNearly one month ago, Vox launched a new way for us to source stories. We have sourced from their website when the story fits our mission. For us to scan the news daily and link to at least one article or book review or other media that seems consistent with our mission, we increasingly bump up against the fact that producers of and channels for accessing relevant information seem to be increasing faster than we can possibly keep up.

Today we sampled from their sonic venture, a story about changes way up north, wrought by climate change, geopolitical ambitions, head in the sand-ism and other intrigue. Finding an episode like this one stretches our horizons in a healthy, productive manner:

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There’s a new Cold War being fought in the North Pole between the United States and Russia (but also China, Finland, Norway, Canada, Greenland and more). Fueling the battle is the melting Arctic, which just had its warmest winter in recorded history. Vox’s Brian Resnick gives us the science before Yochi Dreazen takes us to the war.

It must also be mentioned that having outlets we trust recommend other outlets is a must. And here is an example of one we appreciate:

“Today, Explained”: An Edgy New Vox Podcast to Compete with “The Daily”

By 

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Hosted by Sean Rameswaram, the Vox podcast “Today, Explained” feels funny, knowing, and energetic—which, in this news climate, isn’t easy. Photograph by James Bareham / Vox Media

Podcast-wise, 2017 was arguably the year of “The Daily,” the beautifully produced, gently voiced narrative-news offering from the Times, hosted by Michael Barbaro, which started last January and quickly became indispensable. The show, which parses a different news story in each episode, through a conversation with a reporter or other guest, then delivers a brief news roundup, has sufficient perspective and empathy that it produces in its listeners an intoxicating, if temporary, feeling of sanity; by now, its theme song alone cues in me a Pavlovian calm. The show garners 4.5 million unique listeners each month; in April, it will expand to public-radio syndication. Continue reading

Geothermal Cooking, Just Because

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Jon Sigfusson, the chef at Fridheimar, a restaurant in Reykholt, Iceland, picking herbs for cooking lamb. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times

Thanks to Peter Kaminsky, who helps answer the question Why Cook Over an Icelandic Geyser? and does so with gusto:

REYKHOLT, Iceland — Standing in the mud of the Myvatn geyser field in northern Iceland, Kolla Ivarsdottir lifted the lid of her makeshift bread oven. It had been fashioned from the drum of an old washing machine and buried in the geothermally heated earth. All around us mudpots burbled and columns of steam shot skyward, powered by the heat of nascent volcanoes.

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Mr. Sigfusson, left, and Kjartan Olafsson, a restaurant critic and fish exporter, putting food into the communal geothermal oven. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times

Ms. Ivarsdottir, a mother of three who sells her bread in a local crafts market, reached into the oven and retrieved a milk carton full of just-baked lava bread, a sweet, dense rye bread that has been made in the hot earth here for centuries. She cut the still-hot loaf into thick slices. It is best eaten, she said, “completely covered by a slab of cold butter as thick as your hand, and a slice of smoked salmon, just as thick.” We settled for bread and butter — still a supernal combination. Continue reading

Progress In Mongolia Looks Like This

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Odgerel Gamsukh has a started a company to create a green community in the unplanned and polluted sprawl outside of Ulaanbaatar. Katya Cengel for NPR

My one visit to Ulaanbaatar was in 1984, so I have outdated perspective, but I do recall the haze. I did not know it was from coal, associating it more with the Soviet gloom that I grew up believing was a permanent shadow on those lands. The military guards patrolling the train station were ominous at first sight. And one of them walked up to my buddy, grabbed his camera and ripped the film out of it. Yikes. No photo ops for us. But when our train, the Trans-Siberian, left the station I saw that Mongolia is one of the most blessedly beautiful landscapes I had seen, or have seen since. Multiple rainbows alway on the horizon. Thanks to Katya Cengel and NPR for this reminder that the sun is always shining somewhere in Mongolia:

To Fight Pollution, He’s Reinventing The Mongolian Tent

It takes the taxi driver three tries to find the neighborhood and at least another three wrong turns on narrow unpaved roads before he locates the company’s front gate. Each time he gets turned around the driver reaches for a cell phone. On the other end of the line Odgerel Gamsukh directs the driver to Gamsukh’s garage door business. Neither man seems bothered by the multiple interruptions and resulting delay. Mongolians are used to it taking a little extra time to get around, especially in the ger areas of Ulaanbaatar.

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Gamsukh’s designs are displayed on his desk.
Katya Cengel for NPR

If street addresses mean little in the city center, where residents commonly give directions based on landmarks instead of street names, they mean even less in the surrounding ger areas, named for the circular felt tents in which many residents live. In these neighborhoods, the route that takes you from one place to another is sometimes a grass-covered hill. That is because the government has yet to catch up with the city’s rapid growth. Sixty years ago only 14 percent of Mongolia’s population lived in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, the country’s largest city. Today it is approximately 45 percent, more than one million people. The majority of them, 60 percent, live in ger areas that often lack basic services such as sewer systems, running water and trash collection. The coal that area residents burn to warm their homes is the main cause of winter air pollution that now rivals Beijing’s. Continue reading

Progress Through Yeast

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Fresh and dried yeast. It might not look like much, but it has shaped the way we eat and live, according to a new book. Maximilian Stock Ltd./Getty Images

Thanks to Menaka Wilhelm:

The Rise Of Yeast: How Civilization Was Shaped By Sugar Fungi

An imagined conversation between two yeast cells appears in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions. “They were discussing the possible purposes of life,” Vonnegut writes. If that’s not absurd enough, their existential discussion takes place against a weird, dismal backdrop, “as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement.” Little did they know, their little yeasty lives had an important, human-centric purpose. “Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.” Continue reading

Rice Rediscovered

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Upland red bearded rice, which grows in the Moruga district in Trinidad, turned out to be a missing culinary link between enslaved people in coastal Georgia and a group of slaves who were able to buy their freedom by fighting for the British in the War of 1812. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Indonesian Seaweed Farming

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Seaweed harvesting in Takalar, Indonesia. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

The subject of seaweed farming, which we sometimes refer to as kelp farming, is of keen interest to us because of the relationship to conservation; our thanks to Tiffany Waters at Cool Green Science:

Seaweed Farming: A Gateway to Conservation and Empowerment

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Seaweed seedlings. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

“What does your husband do while you’re working on the seaweed lines?”, we ask. She laughs and says in Bahasa, “He does the cooking and the cleaning.”

It’s day 6 of our field visit to Indonesia and we’re in Takalar visiting our fifth island and third seaweed farm of the trip. On the brink of the ‘extreme season,’ stifling hot is an understatement, but the light breeze from the Flores Sea provides a welcome break from the three flights and 2-hour van trip that brought us here. Continue reading

A More Virtuous Tea

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Tea pickers stand in the scorching sun, hand-plucking the tea leaves for about eight hours a day. Furkan Latif Khan/NPR

Thanks to Julie McCarthy and her colleagues at National Public Radio (USA) for this story posted from our old neighborhood:

Tea Farmer In India Leads Charge For Organic, Evades The Charge Of Elephants

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Tenzing Bodosa is a tea grower and a staunch practitioner of organic farming. He stands in his small tea estate beside the nature preserve he has cultivated.
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As you clutch a cuppa for a bit of winter warmth, spare a moment to consider the elaborate process that goes into producing that seemingly simple sip of tea.

In the biggest tea-growing region in India, the hazards alone range from red spider mites to herds of wild elephants.

Grower Tenzing Bodosa, a native of Assam, fights the former and unusually invites the latter.

From the large Bodo tribe and widely known by his first name, Tenzing stands beside the vermilion flames of a brick oven that provides the heat for a drying contraption erected in his backyard. Continue reading

Salt & Pepper, Understood

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In European cooking, salt reigned supreme, and pepper was one of many spices used in heavily seasoned dishes. When they met, they were destined to be. Or, rather, it was destined that they would meet. Theo Crazzolara/Flickr

For this story, thanks to Natalie Jacewicz, a science writer based in New York City, and to National Public Radio (USA) whose attention to foodways is always welcome:

Salt and pepper shakers are so omnipresent on tabletops that adding a dash of the white or black stuff (or both!) is almost a dining rite. The seasonings pair well with just about everything and they go together like — well, salt and pepper. Continue reading

Understanding Oregon Rancher Culture’s Concerns

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If, like those of us who contribute to this platform, you had been following the standoff mentioned in this article, and following the Bundys as a sidenote, this article is worth a read. The author Jennifer Percy gives full voice, as far as we can tell, to the concerns of the people from that region and specifically their opposition to all aspects of the federal government other than the military. The last three paragraphs of the article are particularly chilling but getting there is a worthy journey:

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The landscape of eastern Oregon has little in common with the state’s Pacific Coast. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

I took the eastern route from Idaho, on a day of freezing rain, over the Strawberry Mountains, into the broad John Day River Basin, in Oregon. I was used to empty places. Most of my childhood was spent in this region of eastern Oregon, in remote areas of the sagebrush desert or in the volcanic mountains with their jagged peaks and old-growth forests. My family moved away just before I entered high school, and I never returned; I’ve felt in romantic exile ever since. This part of America that had once belonged to my childhood became the spotlight of national news in the winter of 2016, when the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — an old childhood haunt — became the scene of a cowboy takeover. The takeover began as a protest in the town of Burns after two ranchers were sentenced to prison for arsons on federal land. The ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, caught the attention of the Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, who thought the punishment unfair. Bundy and a crowd of nearly 300 marchers paraded through Burns, and a splinter group eventually took over the Malheur headquarters. For 41 days, they refused to leave, protesting federal ownership of public lands, which they considered unlawful and abusive. I didn’t understand what had happened since I left, why so many people seemed so disillusioned and angry.

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Joe Cronin on his ranch in the Malheur National Forest, in October. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

The ground was snow-covered when I visited John Day last winter and the temperature below freezing. I was there to attend a meeting organized by Jeanette Finicum, the widow of LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher who was shot and killed by government agents a year earlier. LaVoy was a leader of the Malheur occupation. He left the refuge for a speaking engagement in John Day with plans to return, but he was shot three times at an F.B.I. roadblock. For that reason, his widow was calling this event “The Meeting That NEVER Happened.” Continue reading

Flour Tortillas Praised & Decolonized Diet Delineated

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Recent Mexican immigrants deride them as a gringo quirk. Foodie purists dismiss them as not “real” Mexican food. But good flour tortillas can be revelatory. Photograph by YinYang / Getty

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If culinary etymology is your cup of chai, you may appreciate Gustavo Arellano’s post in praise of flour tortillas. Among the reasons to thank him is this book (click the image to the right to go to the source) that we had not been aware of:

More than just a cookbook, Decolonize Your Diet redefines what is meant by “traditional” Mexican food by reaching back through hundreds of years of history to reclaim heritage crops as a source of protection from modern diseases of development. Continue reading

The Etymology of Tea/Chai

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Most of us have either ordered a chai latte at a café before, or at least a cup of tea. I, for one, always assumed that chai was just the Hindi word for tea, and that in the US this always meant tea with certain spices, versus “normal” tea being plain old green or black tea leaves. But instead of getting into semantics, I want to share some of the etymology behind the two words, tea and chai, that I learned from an article in Quartz by Nikhil Sonnad:

“With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say ‘tea’ in the world. One is like the English term— in Spanish and tee in Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi.

Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before ‘globalization’ was a term anybody used. The words that sound like ‘cha’ spread across land, along the Silk Road. The ‘tea’-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.”

Continue reading

Taste The Place, Yemen & Coffee In Michigan

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A traditional pot of Yemeni coffee, mixed with cardamom and ginger, is served with a Yemeni sweet honey bread at a new Yemeni coffee shop in Dearborn, Mich. Owner Ibrahim Alhasbani sees himself as part entrepreneur, part cultural ambassador for his home country. Zahir Janmohamed

The salt, at National Public Radio (USA) has a story today about coffee, entrepreneurship and cultural illumination that is about tasting the place, a once and future key theme of our pages:

The 35-year-old owner of a new Yemeni coffee shop in Dearborn, Mich., never imagined he would enter the coffee business. Ibrahim Alhasbani was born in Yemen and grew up on a coffee farm outside the country’s capital city of Sana.

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A view inside Qahwah House, a Yemeni coffee house in Dearborn, Mich. The city has a high concentration of Arabs and Arab Americans (qahwah means coffee in Arabic). Zahir Janmohamed

“I had enough coffee in my life,” Alhasbani says. “But when I moved to America and the problems started back home, I told myself I have a chance to show that Yemeni coffee is really good and that Yemen is more than just violence and war.”

A couple of months ago, he opened Qahwah House in Dearborn, a city with a high concentration of Arabs and Arab Americans (qahwah means coffee in Arabic). Continue reading

The Craftwork Of Small Organisms

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Bacteria are responsible for the delicious taste of salami, although industrial microbes do not yield as tasty dried sausages as wild microbes. Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Fermented meat does not have the sound of mmmm to it, but we learn something new each day:

Actually, You Do Want to Know How This Sausage Gets Made

When you slice into a salami, you are enjoying the fruits of some very small organisms’ labor.

Like other dried sausages, salami is a fermented food. Its production involves a period where manufacturers allow microbes to work on the ground meat filling to create a bouquet of pungent, savory molecules. Traditionally, the bugs find their way to the sausage from the surrounding environment. But these days, industrial manufacturers add a starter culture of bacteria to the meat instead, much the way a bread baker adds a packet of yeast to her dough. Continue reading

Crowdfunding Conservation

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The ruined castle of La Mothe-Chandeniers in central western France. The crowdfunding site Dartagnans organized an effort to buy the chateau for 500,000 euros. Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this signal that trust, the cement of civilization, is alive and well in some quarters:

7,500 Strangers Just Bought A Crumbling French Chateau Together

It’s late 2017. By now, crowdfunding has been used to finance filmsboard gamesclassical musicscientific research and infertility treatments.

Dart.jpgAdd this to the list of things bought with collective purchasing power: A chateau in the French countryside, complete with moat.

Mais oui!

The platform used to raise the funds announced on Friday that the castle had been purchased by milliers d’internautes – that is, thousands of Internet users, who each paid at least 50 euros (about $60) to “adopt” the chateau and help restore it. In just 40 days, the site raised the 500,000 euros it needed to buy it. Continue reading

Cacao, Spices & Imagination

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Left, a ripe cacao pod. Right, truffles from Midunu chocolates contain spices and flavors from all over Africa. Midunu Chocolates

Thanks to Amy E. Robertson and National Public Radio (USA) for telling the story of Midunu, a brief excerpt of which is sampled below:

One Woman’s Quest To Tell ‘The African Story Through Chocolate’

…While working in Senegal, Atadika joined forces with two more food-loving friends, and created a pop-up restaurant that was wildly popular. After dipping her toes in the culinary world for a couple of years, she finally took the plunge. In 2014, Atadika resigned from the UN, moved back to her native Ghana and began cooking full time.

Atadika started with catering and pop-up dinners. “It wasn’t my plan to do chocolates,” she says. “But whatever I do in food I look at in terms of adding value, and chocolate just kind of popped in, because we have this cocoa but we weren’t really processing it at the level we should be.” Midunu Chocolates was born. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In Mexico City

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A jar of dye and some red yarn colored by cochineal, part of the Mexico City show. Credit Marco Ugarte/Associated Press

Colors used in dyes and paints in earlier centuries came from various organic and inorganic sources, and this particular red comes from an insect. An exhibit with this “Mexican red,” highlighting the relationship between nature’s sources, artists and their patrons, strikes us as as good a reason as any to curate a show:

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Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles, Third Version” (end of September 1889), which uses cochineal. The artist likened the color to the “red of wine.” Credit Musée d’Orsay, Paris

MEXICO CITY — Along with silver and gold, the first ships that sailed from the New World after the Spanish Conquest carried another treasure: a natural dye that produced a red so intense that European artists quickly embraced it as their own.

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“Bonjour, Monsieur Gauguin” (1889), by Gauguin, is on display in “Mexican Red,” though its use of cochineal has not been confirmed. Credit Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

The trade in this dye reaped vast riches for the Spanish crown and supplied the crimson palette that would color the sacred and secular art of Europe for more than three centuries.

An exhibition that runs through Feb. 4 at this city’s Palace of Fine Arts, “Mexican Red, the Cochineal in Art,” traces the journey of the color from the highlands of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica to Europe. There, it became increasingly associated with the projection of power in the 17th and 18th centuries. Cochineal fell into decline in the 19th century, as synthetic dyes were introduced, but was sought out later by the Impressionists. Continue reading