July 14, 2020

Caviar and Chow-chow to tickle your taste buds

In my quest to keep my palate amused, I have been experimenting with yet two more new food products, chow-chow and caviar.

When I first saw the term chow-chow in a food column, I thought, what the heck is that? My husband whose mother was from the south informed me it is a Southern condiment which is basically a pickle relish.

Being raised in the Tater Tot Casserole belt of the Midwest, this pickled condiment was unknown to me. I am now enlightened and a fan of chow chow, especially the varieties sold by Mrs. Campbell’s.

The sweet southern version of chow-chow I bought features cabbage, vinegar, sugar and red bell peppers. Other recipes can have red and green tomatoes, carrots, beans, asparagus, cauliflower, peas with some southern varieties being exclusively made with cabbage. Chow-chow may vary according to U.S. regions such as Northern, Southern, Pennsylvania or even Canadian. The name chow-chow may be a nod to the relish’s European origin as “chou” means cabbage in French.

The relish is great with hamburgers, mashed potatoes, hot dogs, fish cakes as well as egg, tuna or chicken salads.

I had a Proust madeleine moment when a memory of my aunt’s caviar pie appetizer dish popped into my head. Doubting whether my local grocery store would carry caviar, I summoned an Amazon page of caviar in glass jars. Sticker shock hit me with many selections being over a hundred dollars. Thankfully, I found a Black Lumpfish caviar product billed as Iceland’s Finest; a mere $22 for three small jars.

Creme fraiche, toast points, hard boiled eggs, finely chopped onions and lemon are some of the traditional accompaniments to caviar, but you can add it to pastas, risottos, soups and sauces as long as you do not cook the delicate fish eggs. You must add caviar as a condiment after the dish is already cooked.

If you are adding alcoholic beverages to your little indulgence, you can serve ice-cold vodka shots, crisp champagne or a dry white wine. Prost and Bon Appetit!

The Bureau French tv series on Sundance Now

If you are up for a French tv show that has some similarity with Showtime’s Homeland, The Bureau or Le Bureau des Légendes on Sundance Now may be your cup of cafe au lait.

Guillaume Debailly (Mathieu Kassovitz) is an undercover agent with France’s DGSE (General Directorate of External Security), the French equivalent of our CIA. He has been posing as a French teacher in Damascus, Syria and falls in love with an Arab woman who is college professor. Their relationship and its complications is the main through line of Season 1. We are also introduced to Marina Loiseau (Sara Giraudeau), a newbie spy who is embedded as a seismologist in Iran to shed light on that country’s nuclear program.

Ancillary characters are other French agents along with their bosses and handlers, CIA operatives, Kurds, terrorists, politicians and business people from different countries, kidnappers, imams and family members of the main players. There are brutal scenes with French captives so this is not a show for the faint of heart.

What you will get with The Bureau is whip smart plotting, memorable characters and a greater sense of the stakes in the Middle East. This is not light entertainment, but you will be immersed in a world that is, hopefully, unlike your own.

All four seasons of Le Bureau are available on Sundance Now.

Downton Abbey – the Movie

I was sad to see the tv series Downtown Abbey broadcast its last episode of season six in 2015. Small wonder that a movie revisiting these beloved characters was welcomed in the fall of 2019.

The original series was set over several years in the early 20th century, including World War I. The film continues with the characters in 1927 when the King and Queen of England pay a brief visit to the Downton Abbey residence.

Lord Grantham and his wife are much the same. Widower Tom Branson and Lady Mary now jointly manage the Downton Abbey property. Sybil is living life as an aristocratic mother and wife at a nearby estate. Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham embroils herself in a fight over a relative’s inheritance.

In the servant quarters, romance and marriage continue to be a driving force. Daisy is reviewing her marriage prospects. Mr. Carson, now married to Mrs. Hughes and in retirement, is commandeered to manage the Royal couple’s visit. Butler Thomas Barrow, meets a new friend and possible love interest. Tom Branson, an Irish hybrid of both upper and lower classes, saves the king from an assailant and falls for a maid traveling with the royal retinue.

Although not as engrossing as the original tv series, Downton Abbey (the movie) makes for a charming evening of entertainment. May Julian Fellowes continue to write about these memorable characters as they traverse the ever-changing 20th century.

The 2019 film is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

Truffle Ketchup and Peppery Radish Sprouts

My palate has become a little bored with my very basic cooking, so I have been seeking out some food enhancements. One of my newest discoveries, thanks to chef Carla Hall, is Truffle Hunter Black Truffle Ketchup. A 7-ounce jar of this wonderful stuff arrived in time for a Memorial Day barbecue. Truffle Ketchup has the tart taste of tomatoes with a kick of smoky truffles. I can’t wait to try it with sweet potato fries or hot dogs.

I ordered Truffle Hunter Black Truffle Ketchup from Amazon, but you can go directly to the Truffle Hunter web site which offers other Black Truffle flavored items such as Crisps, Cheddar Cheese, Tagliatelle Pasta and Butter.


Another food item that has added some zing to salads and sandwiches are radish sprouts. My plastic container sports the name Hometown Acres’ Peppery Radish Blend and was purchased in the refrigerated case at a local Chicago produce store, but your locality may have a similar product. Radish sprouts supposedly have up to 40 times the nutrients of fully-grown adult radishes. Funny to think of food from infancy to adulthood, but there you have it.

Based in Carpenterville, IL, Hometown Acres grows a variety of micro greens as sprouts from seedlings. I have previously purchased their crunchy Pea Shoots when I have needed a departure from lettuce and spinach. Hometown Acres also produces Sunflower Shoots and Hemp Microgreens which I look forward to trying.

Hometown Acres does not bill its products as organic, but they use no pesticides, insecticides or herbicides. The products are distributed locally so they are literally delivered hours after harvest.

The web site is a hoot with pithy quotes, nutritional info, musings on the food industry and an invitation to contact Farmer John from the web site.

The tag line under the product title says “Crazy Healthy, Crazy Local, Crazy Fresh.” My kind of company. If you are in the Chicago area, ask for Hometown Acres by name. If you live elsewhere, perhaps you can ask your local produce store to stock locally sourced micro greens.


Great Big Story on CNN and as a downloadable app

When all of the negative and scary news starts to get you down, consider visiting the Great Big Story initially launched by CNN.

Short documentaries on various POSITIVE topics might just keep you from slipping over the edge. I especially like to have these clips playing when I exercise, cook or clean.

The link I included will send you to a Great Big Story on Hungarian piano-maker David Klavins who is veering away from Steinway, Fazioli and Bosendorfer in a big way.


The Great Big Story site hosts short films on a myriad of topics that will amaze and uplift you. For kicks, type “Paris,” “London,” “China” or “Italy” in the subject line which will bring up short films for those of us who would prefer to be traveling the world right now.

Politics, illness, floods and bad economic news will become background noise, at least for a few minutes.

You can download Great Big Story from your app store or go to the GBS link:


McMafia on Sundance Now

I am still on a crime drama tv-watching spree and McMafia on Sundance Now has fed that yen with international style. A co-production with the BBC, AMC and Cuba Pictures, the tv series is based on the 2008 non-fiction book by reporter Misha Glenny, McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

James Norton plays Alex Godman, son of a Russian mafia don who is trying to go straight in England. Alex and his British fiancee get drawn into the international skullduggery. Vadim Kalyagin (actor Merab Ninidze) shows up as the arch nemesis crime boss still in Russia who threatens the entire Godman family.

Almost all of the major male characters have attachments to family members or friends who become their points of weakness. A grey-bearded David Strathairn as shady Israeli businessman Semiyon Kleiman and Antonio Mendez (actor Caio Biat) as a handsome liaison for a vicious Mexican drug cartel are some of the bad guys who make use of these relationships. Wives, daughters, mothers and girlfriends are, for the most part, collateral damage in this serious-as-death global game.

The show intro shows a red map line extending from Mumbai, to Prague, to London to Moscow with exotic stop-overs that include Tel Aviv, Cairo and the Cayman Islands. The cinematography can be stunning and the cultural glimpses intriguing.

McMafia, co-created by Hossein Amini and James Watkins, is a smart international crime show that is all the more frightening when you consider its inspiration was a non-fiction book. Season 2 has been ordered. Release date pending.

Cara Cotton Gloves

I have been seeing discarded plastic medical gloves on sidewalks and in gutters. Wanting to come up with a hand-covering that is reusable and more organic, I purchased white cotton gloves in a package of 24. I use them once and then throw them in with the other white laundry items. Hot water, bleach and soap is purported to clean and sterilize them.

The gloves come in all different sizes and you don’t necessarily have to buy them in bulk, but if you have multiples, you are less tempted to reuse them after out-of-home use.

People may see your white-gloved hands and think you are a mime, but we just may start a current day fashion trend.


Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Breathing exercises are not for everyone, but if you are having trouble calming your nervous system or suffer from insomnia, here is a technique worth trying.

Dr. Andrew Weil, the noted alternative medical doctor, based his relaxing 4-7-8 breathing technique on the ancient yoga practice called pranayama. It may be done sitting, standing or prone. It is particularly useful to create a state receptive to sleep.

Here are some basic pointers in commencing a daily breathing routine:

1. First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.

2. Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.

3. Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath (the most critical part of the exercise).

4. Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.

5. You can do the breathing sequence up to 4 times per session.

6. You may work up to doing the 4 breath sequence up to 8 times, spaced throughout the day.


The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherford

A friend was moving to California and gifted me with three door-stopper sized books before his departure. All three tomes are by historical fiction author Edward Rutherford and depict centuries worth of Irish history. The shelter-at-home time has been the perfect opportunity to tackle the first 800-plus page volume, The Princes of Ireland.

Rutherford has the amazing talent of making history come alive by creating fictional story lines which are woven into mention of real people, places and recorded events.

From the early time of druids and human sacrifice, to the arrival of the Vikings, St. Patrick and the English to the Emerald Isle, we become invested in the personal stories of warriors, farmers, priests, wives and children. Romance runs through the chapters as characters find and then lose love or miss it altogether due to historical fate.

The other two large volumes Rutherford has written about Irish history are Dublin Foundation and The Rebels of Ireland. Even those with no Irish blood might find these historical fiction books edifying as well as entertaining.

I previously wrote a blog post on Edward Rutherford’s excellent book entitled Paris.
Here is the 2015 blog post link:


Genius & Anxiety by Norman Lebrecht

This has certainly been a time for book-lovers to get immersed in history and large novels. While some book reviewers have suggested picking up War and Peace or One Hundred Years of Solitude, I chose books to learn more about Jewish and Irish history.

Norman Lebrecht has written a jam-packed history book entitled Genius & Anxiety – How Jews Changed the World, 1847 – 1947. Freud influenced how we view sex and psychology. Einstein pioneered concepts of time and physics. Marx mapped out the elements of communism versus capitalism. Kafka and Proust changed how we view literature. Sarah Bernhardt revolutionized acting and celebrity.

Less well-known people also contributed to our modern world. Karl Landsteiner helped make blood transfusions and major surgery a reality. Paul Ehrlich helped formulate chemotherapy. Rosalind Franklin paved the way for genetic science. Siegfried Marcus may have created the first motor car.

Lebrecht frequently writes about music so there is ample mention of seminal composers like Mendelssohn in the 19th century and Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein in the 20th. He highlights Korngold and Eisler on the West coast and Leonard Bernstein in the east. In truth, what would Hollywood or Broadway look and sound like without Jewish creativity? Name three famous American composers and one reels off George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Bernstein.

The book’s brilliance is particularly in Lebrecht’s description of what was happening in the world as he profiles these creative people. Industrialization, the World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the rise of the Nazis, the McCarthy era, the creation of the state of Israel, all figure into this expansive canvas. Lebrecht does not argue that Jews are genetically smarter and more talented than others but that they have a strong tradition of culture and education. Historically being outsiders may have also caused them to think “out of the box” and push new ideas in everything from science, politics, business and the arts.

Genius & Anxiety is the type of book you could either absorbingly read cover to cover, or skip around in, according to your tastes.