the food museum

exploring and celebrating food

Food and Culture: National Eats

Food Music: "Green Tea Farm," by Hiromi

Rose Parade Food: Edibles Float

Cook Your Christmas Goose: Gordon Ramsay

Food and Science: Brussels Sprouts Power This Tree's Lights

"The eight foot sustainably-powered tree was unveiled ( recently), when kids from the City of London Academy flipped the switch to the incredible Brussels sprouts-packed battery. Five power cells make up the battery system, each containing 200 of the bulbous green heads laced with copper and zinc electrodes that create a chemical reaction with the veggie’s natural elecotrlytes. Together, the five power cells produce 63 volts of electricity, enough to illuminate the strands of LED lights hanging on the tree.

The power produced by the chemical reactions within each Brussels sprout is monitored on a separate display and stored until night fall, when the 100 LED lights are turned on. The fresher the Brussels sprout, the more energy it produces; once the veggie starts to decompose, the battery will slowly die. The battery system could use any fruit or vegetable to create power, but Brussels sprouts were chosen because of their look and because they are not very popular amongst children."

Via Inhabitat


Michelle Obama Lunches

First Lady Michelle Obama joins USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack at an Alexandria, VA, school for lunch on January 25. Mrs. Obama was promoting the USDA's new dietary recommendations for public school cafeteria lunches, aimed at lowering sodium, sugars ( we think!) and fat content. 

"The new nutrition standards are largely based on recommendations by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, as part of efforts to curb childhood obesity. Recent numbers show that about 17% of children in the United States are obese."

Via CNN and WaPost/CBS


Meredith and Tom Hughes, founders of, are the radio guests of Chef John Folse, Bastille Day, July 14, discussing some of what they discovered researching their book, "Gastronomie! Food Museums and Heritage Sites of France," published by Bunker Hill.

Soon! Nutritionally Balanced pie.
"Glasgow University Chair of Human Nutrition Professor Mike Lean (nominative determinism at work) has been working with a company called Eat Balanced to produce what they claim are "the only nutritionally balanced pizzas you can buy" – although actually you can't, at the moment anyway. They're currently in negotiation with a major supermarket chain interested in stocking their worthy wares."
Via Guardian   Photo, BBC

Food graphics via Good on Tumblr

Opened June 22, at the NY Public Library, an exhibit called Lunch Hour NYC, featuring an actual automat.

Seven acres of land in Beacon Hill is set to be turned into a permaculture "food forest."

Helsinki's inventive, celebratory Restaurant Day seeks to expand, worldwide.

© National Museum of Wales 2011

Can we really believe that QE2 "enjoys" keeping her cereal in a Tupperware container? Have read this, but cannot quite swallow the fact that larder management is one of her concerns, especially in a Jubilee Year. In any event, we salute the Queen, a savvy woman who has kept her sense of the absurd/humor/weight under control through 60 years of public dining sessions. OMG. 

Her predecessor, Queen Vic was into simple food, apparently.

"Queen Victoria, who was convinced that "things taste better in smaller houses", favoured plain food, a fact that set her against the fashion of the day, when French cuisine was all the rage (she had a French chef herself, in the form of Charles Elmé Francatelli, until he hit a maid and was dismissed). At home, she favoured pies and invalid soups – pearl barley or potato – washed down with her favourite drink, a mixture of claret and whisky.

On the other hand, when she visited Hatfield House, the home of the Marquess of Salisbury, in 1846, her host felt obliged to spend some £75,000 (at today's prices) on food and drink for a three-day visit (£800 on turtle soup alone). She believed, too, in keeping an "imperial" table: one commensurate with her great nation's place in the world. Dinners were elaborate, and, at lunch, curry and rice were always available, served by two Indian servants in elaborate uniforms of blue and gold."

Via Rachel Cooke

Everybody's Fave Fruit Thus Far Into the 21st Century, The Pomegranate

"Few fruits besides the pomegranate have made such a lasting impression as a symbol of hope and eternal life. Jews recognize this ruby jewel as one of the first fruits of the autumn harvest season, and eat it during the high holidays.  In Greek mythology, Hades, the god of the underworld is said to have seduced the goddess of fertility, Persephone, with pomegranate seeds. And while the apple usually takes the blame for humanity’s fall from grace, some biblical scholars have suggested that the forbidden fruit of the Bible wasn’t an apple, but the red beauty known as rimon in Hebrew."

Via Green Prophet

Image via A Note of Friendship

Many of us think the banana is likely to have been the "forbidden fruit," in the apochryphal Garden of  E, but that's another tale. The pomegranate has been a symbol of fecundity--all those seeds erupting!--and even little JC was painted clutching an open p.granate in his infant paw. Likely from Iran, though some say China, the fruit traveled around the Middle East and Asia, and made it to the Americas with the Spanish. The flower of the plant inspired designs used in fabric and in jewelry. The so-called "squash blossom" necklaces created by native silversmiths in the American Southwest were actually pomegranate blossoms, modeled after buttons on Spanish uniforms.

The pomegranate influenced the words "grenade"--a weapon of destruction that burst apart scattering lethal bits--as well as "grenadine," a red syrup originally derived from pomegranate juice mixed with sugar.

Not the easiest fruit to eat---comprised of zillions of tiny seeds which contain its juice-- yet the pomegranate's health benefits apparently are genuine. ( As are those of other fruits, right?) The usually reliable Andrew Weil, MD, points us to a study done by UCLA in July 2006, published in Clinical Cancer Research, indicating the "pom" may benefit men suffering from issues of the prostate.

As Weil puts it, "It’s little wonder pomegranate juice shows such remarkable effects. It is anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants. It contains some of the same polyphenols found in tea, as well as isoflavones found in soy, plus ellagic acid found in berries, which is believed to play a role in cancer cell death."

Meanwhile, Pom Wonderful, a California company that produces and markets pomegranate juice, has been cited by both the FTC and the FDA for making unsubstantiated health claims in its advertising.

Bloomberg report  from May 2011---

"More food makers are making claims that go beyond scientific studies, said Mary Engle, the FTC’s associate director for advertising practices.

“Companies should be on notice,” she told Bloomberg Television. “The FTC is taking a closer look at the claims that have been made for foods, and we’re scrutinizing them more to make sure they can really back up those claims.”"

Take a gander through the company's website and decide for yourself. In July Pom sued Minute Maid for its claims on the amount of p. juice in its drinks, as well as its health effects...



Porcini and Prosciutto Sauce for Lasagna, via Food&Wine

  1. In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Stir in the flour. Gradually whisk in the milk until the sauce is smooth, then bring to a boil over moderately high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook the sauce, whisking often, until no floury taste remains, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the cream and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the proscuitto. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the porcini, season with salt and pepper and cook undisturbed over moderately high heat for 1 minute. Stir well. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until the mushrooms release their juices, about 5 minutes. Continue cooking until all the juices have evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes longer. Add the garlic and cook over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rosemary and season with salt and pepper.



Pic of wine...

Quahogs, aka chowder clams, just dug, to be eaten al fresco in Nantucket this past summer. Quahog is derived from a Naragansett native word which likely means "hard shell clam." The tenacious quahog's shell was turned into beads used as currency, or wampum, back in the day.

"Wampum, the purple and white shell beads fashioned from the quahog or chowder clam were called the “gold” (purple) and “silver” (white) in their roles as the “first money” of New York, its city and state. Created originally for sacred and ritual purposes by Native Long Island Peoples, wampum was also made by the 1600s Dutch of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and across New York State and used as local money. The Dutch also created special wampum for trade."

Via Art Museum Journal


This is February, when three distinguished Americans were born: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Little George was born and raised in a wealthy household served by enslaved Africans, while Abe arrived in a log cabin devoid of outside help, and Frederick Douglass entered his life already a slave in his grandmother's Maryland shack.

These latter two are officially the reason Black History Month occurs in February. But George fits right in. His father, Augustine, born in 1694 in Westmoreland, Virginia, was a slave-holding tobacco planter with 1000 acres.


             The greenhouse, Mount Vernon, and standard slave fare, corn meal and herring.

And yet--when we first revisited both Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello as adults, over 30 years ago, the curators laughed at us--I kid you not-- when we asked about the absence of A-- food plants and B--evidence of slave life. By now, however, both historic homes finally have turned their attention to both topics.


Obviously, much of the history of slaves in America was food-related---they built the kitchens, storehouses, dairies and mills. They planted, tended, and harvested the plants, as well as the fruit and nut trees required for food. They raised, slaughtered and processed the meat. They netted the fish and salted them in barrels.They cooked the meals, and served them up  to their owners. And then they cleaned up.

By the time George Washington had established his own households with Mount Vernon as the hub, all this was taken for granted. Yes, Washington did indeed tend his own seedlings in a special botanical garden he created, and he was a skillful and enthusiastic farmer. But he had help.

"At the height of its development as a plantation, Mount Vernon comprised eight thousand acres divided into five separate farms-- Mansion House, Dogue Run, Union, Muddy Hole, and River--each of which contained a small village of African-born and Virginia-born slaves. By the time of Washington's death in 1799, roughly ninety percent of the plantation's population consisted of over three hundred African American slaves (forty of whom Washington rented from a neighbor); the remaining ten percent were the Washington family, white hired workers, and their families.

The largest slave community, ninety people, lived at Mansion House Farm, many of them artisans who practiced the multiple crafts needed to supply the plantation and keep it running. The group included tradesmen such as bricklayers and carpenters; cooks, dairy maids, gardeners, millers, and distillers, who produced and processed the food; people who made clothes for the other slaves; ditchdiggers; wagon and cart drivers and postilions for the carriages; and the butlers, maids, and footmen who worked in the mansion. The other slave villages ranged in size from forty-five residents at Dogue Run and fifty-seven at River to forty-one at Muddy Hole and seventy-six at Union. Most of the workers on the outlying farms labored in the fields."

Excerpt from "The Private Life of George Washington's Slaves," by Mary V. Thompson

We visited Mount Vernon again last fall and we urge all food history fans to do the same. Much to see--gardens, mill, distillery, kitchens, greenhouse and more. And its website is a treat, so if you cannot get there, check out the on-line exhibits.

Image is of the slave Hercules, Washington's favorite cook. Photos © The FOOD Museum

From the ancient Roman Lupercalian fertility excesses to today's Catholic Church-tolerated Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, have we come all that far? Eat, drink, and then abstain...., just a tad. Don't miss a taste of King Cake, in homage to the Three Kings. Once baked with peas, beans, or coins, inside, for the wary reveler to discover, today's cake often sports a tiny plastic baby. The garish example of a brioche-like enticement pictured here is via Barbara Bakes.


Marmalade shoot

Via Tartelette, an image from a photo shoot for a new book from Running Press, "Marmalade" by Elizabeth Field, to be published Fall 2012. The photographer is  French ex-pat Hélène Dujardin, who lives in Charleston, SC.


Vegan Flake in London

Yesterday I joined 25 friends for Chinese New Year at Imperial China restaurant. I'm really glad I was surrounded by so many people I knew, because when you get in a fight with a waiter you really need backup. 

It's not a good thing when your Chinese restaurant experience is compared to a Seinfeld episode. It's also probably not a good way to start the Year of the Dragon by wishing you could fly over your table of ten, Crouching Tiger-style, to kick your dragon of a waiter right in his dim sum. 

I wish I could say the food made up for it. I ordered the Vegetarian Set Menu, which came with lots of items, none of which I could eat until another waiter could be found to bring me a fork. I've tried, repeatedly, to use chopsticks, but I'm incredibly uncoordinated and it's just not happening for me. 

Chinese food in London is another thing that's just not happening for me. I love Chinese food, at least the kind you get in America, which is probably nothing like Chinese food in China. Which, from what I hear, is a good thing. I've never been to China, and despite my love of travel, it's one place I just don't care to visit. I love my dog too much. 

Chinese food in London always tastes fishy. And it's very vegetarian un-friendly, despite the Vs on the menu and the Vegetarian menu section. I've seen pork listed under Vegetarian, and I've had tiny prawns appear in my supposedly vegetarian noodle dishes, so I'm very suspicious of what passes for vegetarian at any Chinese place here. 

But my argument with the waiter started before we even ordered, which was itself an ordeal—he came over and told us we were talking too much and he wouldn't take our order. 

While he continued to glare at us, someone ordered tea. I asked if they had green tea, and he shifted his glare at me. "It's Chinese tea," he said. "But is it green?" "It's Chinese tea." I really needed to know. Black tea has too much caffeine—it makes my heart race, and I'd already taken cold medicine that morning that upped my heart rate. If I drank black tea I really would pull off a Crouching Tiger table leap, so I asked again: "Is it green tea, black tea, or oolong?" "Not oolong. Chinese tea." 

I returned his glare. "Forget it. I'll have water." 

Look, if someone doesn't know what kind of tea they're serving, they need to find out. If they refuse to tell a customer, they need to be fired. If they can't speak well enough English, they need to seek out someone who does (this didn't seem to be the problem). 

I decided to spend the rest of the time talking, just to spite the waiter. I picked at my food on my tiny plate, served from the lazy susan centerpiece. When I finally got a fork, delivered by a friendlier member of the wait staff, I realized I hadn't missed much. I can make greasy Chinese food in my own kitchen, and it doesn't come off smelling fishy and overly sweet. 

In fairness, at least they did offer vegetarian Chinese food. Another place we went, an Asian food store with a restaurant on the top, replied to my question about vegan food with a curt "No. No vegetarian." While the indigenous diet of rural Chinese people is primarily rice and vegetables, urban dwelling restaurateurs seem to look down on anyone who prefers meatless dishes.

How dare we deny ourselves flesh! And how dare we question the tea. In fact, just don't talk at all.

Happy Chinese New Year. May the Dragon glare at your enemies and the Tiger give you strength.
Tupperware! You tUbe video 




Having just flown into Johannesburg, South Africa, from Tampa, Florida, I did indeed relish my late evening hotel snack of tomato and avocado on toast with a Hunters Dry Hard Cider.  The sandwich was fresh and delicious, especially compared to the flavorless airplane meals.  Airlines apparently assume that vegans-- yes, I am one of those--eschew herbs or sauces or flavorings of any kind, in addition to animal products.  

 On my second day, we travel by car from Joburg to Maseru, the capitol of Lesotho, a small mountainous country surrounded by South Africa. The hotel provided a large, complimentary English breakfast buffet from which  I enjoyed fresh fruit (delivered daily by a cheery fellow with a spotless white van), white beans in tomato sauce, and cracked wheat bread with marmalade.  Overlooked by a huge, sad-eyed water buffalo mounted on the wall behind where I ate, I was glad there was no meat on my plate. 

 The bread was hearty and exceptionally good.  I had read recently a study that cited bread as the top contributor to excessive sodium intake in the US.  ( Eight of the next nine top sources were various meat and/or dairy products.)  The top ten sources together accounted for 40% of all sodium consumption.  Frankly, I thought bread, a staple for me, got a bum rap in the headline.  

 My two Basotho friends and I stopped for lunch at a plaza along the highway. Joking about that terrible “American” influence, they shunned a wide variety of burgers on the menu and had fried chicken and chips instead.  My lunch was a banana and bran muffin pilfered from the breakfast buffet, along with a bottle of passion fruit juice.  

 ( Basotho, incidentally, refers to a cluster of tribes united in the early 1800’s, that comprises two major groups of people, one in Lesotho, and one in South Africa.)

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Gallery Noshing

Barry Avedon, painter, and retired professor of art, may not have realized it, but he's a food artist. At the opening of his new show at C2 Fine Art Gallery in St. Petersburg, Florida, we zoomed in on his "Dinner for One," as well as "Tea Time." ( He's also painted the outside of a cafe, and created a zany kitchen scene...)

Our gaze also was arrested by the foodishly lavish noshables on offer, an attraction that lures all manner of peckish folk, including art lovers.

I am so pleased to begin writing this monthly piece about the making of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum,  an undertaking that stems from my lifelong fascination with food and food culture.  

In introducing myself, perhaps the most important thing to say is that I was born and raised in New Orleans, where we all live to eat.  I was probably nudged further in this direction by being the daughter of a Sicilian mother, and I spent significant time in the kitchen in the company of Sicilian cooks. Raised amidst these two food-loving cultures, affecting me from the cradle, I didn’t stand a chance.  Add to that friends in college who introduced me to the joys of Cajun eating, national and international travels, and a cast-iron stomach, how could I help but love food culture?

 But back in college, I did not understand that I could study food culture. Knowing that I did not want to be a chef, I did the next best thing--- I became a lawyer. Through the years I lived and practiced in different places, gradually accumulating a range of expertise.  I returned to New Orleans and became the CEO of the University of New Orleans Foundation.  When I was serving in that capacity, the Foundation opened the D-Day Museum, (now the National World War II Museum, ) and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.  So I learned on the job how to open a museum. Nudged by my life-long fascination with foodways, I decided that a museum that explored that was just the thing for New Orleans.  The university did not share my enthusiasm, alas, but I couldn’t let the notion go.

 I was the same age as Julia Child was when she began her career in television, so I decided that if I didn’t do it now, I would regret it for the rest of my life.  I left my position at the Foundation, and began putting together a museum. Yes, I had been down that road twice before, but this time I had neither the power of the state of Louisiana behind me, nor the backing of a large institution. 

 Even so, a small group– three of us – to be exact, put our heads together to begin creating this museum. We realized that the principles that applied to the creation of a museum were the same, whether large or small. The difference was our seeming lack of power and of money.  

 Each month I will be telling the story of how the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, SoFAB, began.  What we did to make it happen.  What opportunistic situations we seized.  

 You’ll learn about our false starts, our mistaken assumptions, and how we were thrown for a loop by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  This story is not just mine, I hasten to add.  It belongs to some remarkable people who took a leap of faith, joined us in this wild idea and have helped propel us to the point where today, Saveur Magazine has declared SoFAB one of the five great food museums in the world.

Image Lucy Engleman 

You Make the Call!

Harvard says this: "The Healthy Eating Plate, created by experts at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, points consumers to the healthiest choices in the major food groups. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate, in contrast, fails to give people some of the basic nutrition advice they need to choose a healthy diet. The Healthy Eating Plate is based exclusively on the best available science and was not subjected to political and commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists..."


The USDA is trying, within its traditional constraints, to post thoughtful and useful website material on nutrition, but, ...Come on--there is no soft drink on that place mat!

Read the Harvard take on their plate vs that other one here.

In Keene, NH, Belgian frites via 
Fritz Fries. Said our reporter,
"The fries were crispy and stayed crisp as we chatted. Not like the fries I remember in Amsterdam, however! I like their sign."
Note: Some of us believe Belgian fries are better than those in any other country, including the Netherlands, and that the Belgians truly invented "French fries..."

Via Metrowest Daily:  "It was a hot day in Philadelphia on June 20, 1874. Robert Green ran out of cream he used for his sodas. He borrowed some ice cream from a neighboring merchant and, with a little experimenting, created the ice cream soda we know today.

Green quickly sold his concoction, eventually combining vanilla ice cream with a choice of 16 flavored syrups. It was soon copied by other vendors and spread rapidly along the parched East Coast.

Some areas viewed sodas as requiring control since so many teenagers were attracted to it. They prohibited its sale on Sundays in the Bible Belt, and some banned it outright. The solution was to serve ice cream, called sundaes, which denoted “soda’s day of rest.”

"Tests on the amphorae that were recovered showed they contained pickled fish, grain, wine and oil, reports.

"There are some broken jars around the wreck, but we believe that most of the amphorae inside the ship are still sealed and food filled," Lt. Col. Francesco Schilardi, who led the police diving team told Discovery News."

Via News Oxy       Image via ABCNews

Houston icon, said to be saved, but whereabouts unknown...

"In 1964 John Landy wanted something to make passing traffic stop at his roadside banana stall. He had already heard of the "Big Pineapple" in Hawaii and thought that something big would definitely stop traffic...."
The giant nanner did indeed stop traffic, and the Big Banana remains a tourist attraction today in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia.