Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Pirates Who Will Grill Anything

Piracy itself is ancient of days. The word pirate comes from the same Greek root as “peril” (which seems appropriate)—and you don’t get Greek roots like that without having been around for a long time. It seems likely that piracy in some form dates back to the beginning of transportation by water. There have been Ancient Greek, Roman, Phoenician, and Carthaginian pirates, post-Renaissance pirates, the Vikings, Chinese pirates, Russian pirates, Indonesian pirates, and of course the famously dangerous Barbary pirates—those Muslim marauders who swept out of ports across North Africa for a few hundred years, making the Barbary Coast a byword for danger.

Of course piracy is not relegated solely to the past, as we’ve learned from recent attacks on ships along the coast of Africa. But face it, when we think of pirates we’re probably not thinking of Asia or North Africa or even the current spate of piracy on distant shores. We’re thinking of the New World, and we’re probably thinking pirates of the Caribbean (and we would more than likely have thought of these even before the appearance of those Johnny Depp movies). The era of the New World/Caribbean pirates in fact constituted a “golden age” of piracy, dotted with such legendary figures as Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and Henry Morgan. It inspired its own genre of literature, the best-known example of which is, of course, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The explosive growth of wealth in the New World from the 1600s through the 1800s, along with trying to ship it all back to the Old World, created unparalleled opportunities for those willing to face the downside of this lifestyle. (The average life expectancy of a pirate in those days was about two years.)

So what possible connection could there be between those Caribbean pirates and cooking? Glad you asked. Continue reading


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Turkish Delight

Turkish breadmakers

Women make traditional Turkish breads in an Istanbul restaurant.

Turkey is one of those places where there seems to be almost too much history. This is where the Trojan War and the Battle of Gallipoli took place, where the Byzantine Empire rose and fell, where the apostle Paul was born, where Hittites, Bythinians, Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Turkomans, and Ottomans built cities and empires. It was once called Asia Minor, and it has long been a crossroads for the world.

When I visited Turkey, I was on my own. A friend had recommended a great little hotel in the Sultanahmet section of town. The Hotel Tashkonak (, if you want to see it—see particularly Rooms and Facilities) was lovely and incredibly well located—a five-minute walk from the Blue Mosque, 8 minutes from Haggia Sophia, and 15 minutes from the Topkapi Palace. It is a refurbished, 250-year-old Ottoman mansion, with Byzantine ruins in the garden and a view from the roof of the Sea of Marmara. And the reasonable room rate included breakfast (Turkish breakfast—yogurt, cheese, bread, olives, tomatoes, coffee—yum). Continue reading

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Killer Tomatoes

Okay—so I spent three weeks in Egypt and Jordan, being very careful to not eat anything unwashed or anything washed in tap water or anything leafy that might not be easily washed, and I managed to remain well, despite dire warnings that at least a day or two of illness was inevitable. (I also took acidophilus daily, avoided ice cubes, and drank only bottled water.) And all the precautions were worth it, because I didn’t lose a single day of my trip to the “Pharaoh’s Revenge.”

However, I looked forward to coming home and not having to be quite so careful. Ha! I return to discover that I now have to be careful with tomatoes here at home. Of course, I’m pleased I can go back to having lettuce and other leafy greens, but I was looking forward to my favorite fresh salsa, and now I have to be careful—and I’m not even on vacation.

Well, being the information addict that I am, I looked into the “rules” in effect now that we have questionable tomatoes threatening our health. Fortunately, local farmers’ markets are safe, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC)— —offers a list of places that have not had Salmonella outbreaks, and from which we can safely buy our tomatoes. But what do I do with that quart of fresh salsa I just bought?

Happily, Salmonella is pretty easily killed. The CDC says if I cook my fresh salsa (or raw tomatoes) at 145 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds, it will kill the Salmonella. So this quart of Roma tomato-based salsa is going into soup.

Here are some other guidelines from the CDC to help you steer clear of Salmonella: Continue reading

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