Friday, May 29, 2009

Earlier in the month, Astronave wrote on her blog about living on limited income in the twenty-first century. Her piece inspired me to ask our father, on his most recent visit, to talk about growing up during the Great Depression. He was born at home in 1931 in a Milwaukee immigrant neighborhood and entered his teens during World War II.

I asked my father how his family and community made ends meet during lean times. As with Astronave's experience, creativity, determination, and entrepreneurial spirit are required. Below are some of my father's memories.

Fun and Games
Without television, radio brought news and entertainment for free to most homes during the Great Depression. And boxing was second only to baseball as American's favorite sport. In the photo above, from the late 1930s, my father (left) and his brother Tony (right) box for the camera as their sister Vi referees in the background.

Billy Conn, known as the "Philadelphia Kid," debuted as a professional boxer in 1934 and won the world Light Heavyweight title in 1939. He went on to fight Joe Louis in 1941, a match my father still remembers. Billy Conn was his man.

Gotta Have Wheels

Americans of my father's generation were not as mobile as we are in the twenty-first century. But motorized traffic was well established by the 1930s. The photo above shows downtown Milwaukee in the early 1940s.

On weekends, my father borrowed the neighbor's transit pass to ride the city's streetcars (transit map booklet below). He could be gone the whole day, riding wherever he wanted and at no expense to him.

Scooting Around

With no money for new bikes or scooters, kids in my father's neighborhood scrounged for empty orange crates and 2 x 4 planks. They nailed the crates in an upright position onto the boards, then disassembled skates for the wheels, which they nailed onto the bottom of the planks. Wooden handles were optional, and voila. Homemade scooter for free (above).

In 2009 you can buy one of these orange-crate scooters (above)--made to order--from Mountain Boy Sledworks in Silverton, Colorado. Hold your hat. They cost $120! Plus shipping.

Toys on Loan

If you couldn't make a scooter, kids could borrow one from
toy-lending centers around town (logo at left). Milwaukee had twenty of them. Toy-lending centers around the country accepted toy donations from residents of more means. They gave ice skates, dolls, doll houses, steam shovels, miniature cars you pumped with your legs, scooters, and other popular playthings of the era.

The County Delivers

My father had nine siblings (four sisters and five brothers). To feed the family, my grandparents relied, in part, on assistance from the county. They went to food distribution centers, which were organized to give away surplus agricultural products subsidized by the federal government to keep farmers solvent. Depending on what was in season, families would get rations of raisins, prunes, ring bologna, white flour, butter, lard, honey, barley, sugar, peanut butter, potatoes, and canned peas, carrots, and string beans.

The county distributed milk directly to homes. In Milwaukee, the Golden Guernsey dairy delivered daily in my father's neighborhood. But unlike the photo above of a Golden Guernsey delivery truck from 1938, the dairy delivered via horse-drawn wagons, such as the one pictured below from the mid-1940s.

Gotta Have Caffeine!

Coffee is a must in Sicilian families, and to stretch the supply of A&P Eight O'Clock brand, my grandmother--Rosaria DeNicola--reused coffee grounds. She dried them in the sun on newspaper and then percolated a new pot of coffee, adding a small amount of fresh grounds to the old ones. (The ad pictured at left is from an April 1940 edition of Woman's Day magazine.)

Music Man
During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) supported music and the arts in a variety of ways. In Milwaukee, my grandfather--Vincenzo--played the tuba for the WPA orchestra. They played at events all over town, and the salary he earned allowed him to supplement the family's diet with 20-pound boxes of spaghetti, wooden crates of anchovies, olives and olive oil, and Genoa salami.
The poster below from the Illinois WPA orchestra is representative of the era.

Fuel for the Body
Music fuels the soul, and according to advertisements of the 1940s (below), candy fuels the body. When my father was growing up, all the kids in town knew where to get a Baby Ruth candy bar for free--at the gospel tabernacle near the downtown movie theater. In truth, they weren't exactly free. You had to stay for a 15-minute sermon, after which the candy bars were put out--just in time for the first showing of the afternoon movies.

For more information about the Great Depression and World War II years, the Internet and historical societies around the country are great resources. The Minnesota Historical Society, for example, recently launched a comprehensive exhibit called Minnesota's Greatest Generation: The Depression, The War, the Boom. The companion website is a rich trove. Check out your local historical society for more information about your community and its history.

Friday, May 22, 2009

It's a beautiful spring morning. The sky is clear, the sun bright. The flowering crab (picture above from last week) outside the window by my computer is no longer in full bloom, but the scent of lilacs and lilies of the valley is wafting through the house, in competition to see which will dominate the olfactory senses. I can see from my neighbors' gardens that iris will be blooming next, and that means that my birthday flower--the peony--is not far behind.

Lilies of the valley were in bloom in Paris earlier in the month. I know because I occasionally check Paris Daily Photo. Blogger Eric lives in the 9th somewhere and posts a single photo every day from somewhere in the city. It's a great way to keep up on events in Paris and to feel, at least for a moment, that you're in the city. Give it a peak!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Create a taste test for yourself while you're in Paris. For example, one year my father and I went around town looking for the best financiers (small bite-sized almond cakes). Another year, we were on the hunt for the best baguette. On yet another trip, we stopped in every patisserie we passed to try their tarte citron (lemon tarte; photo above).

Last week, SJG and I hosted former colleagues and now friends for a spring dinner. We started with asparagus soup with a dollop of creme fraiche in each of the big white serving bowls. Then came grilled lamb chops and spring greens topped with roasted pecans, blue cheese, and slices of red pears. I used the honey balsamic vinegar our neighbor brought us from Oregon at Christmas to make a light vinaigrette dressing for the salad. And for dessert? French tarte citron!

My lemon tarte recipe is adapted from Paule Caillat's, of Promenades Gourmandes fame. She's become a friend over the years, and it is she who introduced me to the best tarte crust ever . It's also the easiest crust recipe I've run across (as long as you use a fluted, two-piece tarte tin; the type where you can separate the bottom from the side ring), and it works equally well for sweet and savory affairs.

When my father and I first made lemon tarte with Paule, we agreed it was the winner in our search for the best lemon tarte in Paris. Try it. It wowed the dinner guests last week!

Lemon Tarte
1 parbaked tarte crust (photo above) a la Paule Caillat
(See this recent entry on David Lebovitz's blog devoted entirely to making Paule's crust. It's a perfect introduction to the how-to of it.)

For the filling:
3-1/2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup (75 grams) sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
zest of one lemon
powdered sugar for serving

1. Melt the butter.

2. Beat the sugar into the egg yolks until the mixture becomes almost white. This happens quickly (a minute or two).

3. Slowly add the melted butter, then the lemon juice, then the zest.

4. Beat the egg whites until stiff and then gently fold them into the batter.

5. Pour filling into the parbaked tarte crust. Bake the tarte for about 23 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

6. The tarte is done when the top is lightly browned and the filling is set. Depending on your oven, that may be a little more or a little less than 23 minutes, so check the tarte after 20 minutes and go from there.

7. Allow the tarte to cool for about 30 minutes before removing the side ring and placing the tarte on a serving plate (don't bother to remove the bottom of the tarte tin).

8. Just before serving, sprinkle the tarte with a little powdered sugar (by passing the sugar through a small sieve for a fine dusting). I sometimes add a spring of fresh mint in the middle for color contrast, although I didn't this time. The recipe serves about 6-8 people.

Bon appetit!

Friday, May 08, 2009

There's nothing like a massage to relieve aching muscles and the fatigued spirit after a long transatlantic flight to Paris. If I'm staying at least a week, I like to schedule a massage for the day after arrival and another one for the day just before departure.

Paris offers a variety of options for massage. Treat yourself to one of them!

Espace France-Asie
Founded in Paris by master masseuse Micky Suwanachoti, Espace France-Asie (France-Asia Space)is a center for Thai massage just around the corner from the Madeleine. The EFA center offers a range of options, from traditional Thai massage to Swedish massage and aromatic herbal treatments.

Micky and her staff are bilingual (actually trilingual, since most of the staff is from Thailand), and all of them have been trained by Micky. She also offers regular courses in the techniques of Thai massage to the general public.

When you arrive for your massage, you are invited to relax on wooden chairs in the lobby and to sip a cup of tea amid flowering orchids. The massages take place on futons in small, wooden "cabines" (private rooms) as soft instrumental music floats over the sound system. The atmosphere is quiet, relaxed, and gentle.

My father and I have been to EFA so many times that we now get the "bise" (cheek kisses) from Micky when we arrive. Check out the website for more information. You'll want to go back too!

Hammams in Paris
Another fabulous way to relax is to treat yourself to a massage and steam bath at one of the many hammams (Turkish-style steam baths) in Paris. This can be a much less expensive way to enjoy a massage, and it's a wonderful opportunity to try something that's not so easily available at home.

For example, the hammam at the Grande Mosquee de Paris (Grand Mosque of Paris, photo above) is very close to the Jardin des Plantes (conservatory) in the 5th. The entrance fee is 38 euros, which includes a 10-minute massage, a scrub, all the time you want in the steam bath, and tea. Women's days are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Men go on Tuesdays and Sundays.

Check out this article for more information about hammams throughout the city.

Friday, May 01, 2009


Popcorn: 1/4c pcorn in sm papr bag; close w/1 stple. Mcrowv pcorn set x 2. Salt.

How about that for a recipe? I learned of it from a colleague, who found it some time ago in a Mark Bittman column in the New York Times. I was inspired to create the haiku version after reading an article in the Times Dining In food section on April 22. It highlighted a woman named Maureen Evans and her penchant for tweeting recipes. She's a master. Take a peak at the article and try it yourself.

Oh, and the popcorn recipe is: ez hi-fbr snk 4 wrk.

Experiential Paris will be back next Friday!