November 28, 2007

Archaeology FAQ

I realize that despite the fact that this blog is supposed to be about archaeology and baking, (however those two things may intersect...if they do at all), it's been pretty heavily weighted toward the baking end of things. So in an effort to focus a little more on archaeology, hopefully without completely boring those of you who are more interested in what I bake, I'm going to start from square one and present to you a little Q & A about archaeology. Here are many of the questions that I am often asked myself, along with a few I just made up.

What is archaeology?
Archaeology is the study of past human culture based on material remains. In other words, it is a way of learning about the lives of humans in the past by looking at what they left behind. We use many tools in this study, from written records, to artifacts (objects created or manipulated by humans), to preserved plant and animal remains.

So you guys just go out and dig in the dirt all day, right?
Not exactly. Excavation is only a small part of archaeology. In fact, the vast majority of archaeological work is done in the office, library, or laboratory and is much less glamorous than popular culture makes it seem. Most of the time archaeology looks like this:


Before an archaeologist can dig, he or she has to do a great deal of preliminary research. And after the excavation is over, there are artifacts to deal with, data to analyze, and reports to write and publish.

And when we're "out in the field", archaeologists do more than just dig. Mapping, surface survey, and remote sensing (survey with fancy machines) are all ways that archaeologists gather data. Digging is just one of many methods we can use.

Is archaeology a real job? I thought it was just something you study in school.
Believe it or not, you can make a living as an archaeologist. Most archaeologists in the United States work in cultural resource management (CRM). CRM is a field devoted to the protection and management of our nation's cultural resources (archaeological sites, artifacts, historic properties, etc) in the face of a growing and expanding population and rampant development.

Many other archaeologists are educators- teachers and university professors. In addition to teaching courses, they also research, write, and do fieldwork. And of course some archaeologists work in museums, as curators, educators, and exhibit designers.

Do archaeologists dig up dinosaurs?
No. Those are paleontologists.

But I thought--

What does archaeology have to do with baking?
Very little, as far as I can tell. They are just two of my favorite things, and I like to talk about them both. I guess I could study what people baked in the past, or bake ancient recipes (or brew ancient beer), or eat really old food...but let's not get crazy here.

I hope our little conversation has been helpful. I'm always open to more questions, so feel free to ask. And if you're looking for some more interesting archaeology-related stuff, here are some links:

Archaeology education

Archaeology 101 from the Archaeological Institute of America: A good introduction to archaeology, plus a handy glossary, bibliography, and review of archaeology-related tv shows and movies.

Archaeology Magazine's Interactive Digs
: Black Sea shipwrecks, Civil War prisons, George Washington's distillery (!), and more!

Archaeology Education from Ohio State University: A basic, but thorough, introduction to such topics as archaeological survey, excavation, and Greek history and archaeology.


My pal Bill's blog started out this summer as a chronicle of his archaeological project on Cyprus, so look at the early posts if you want to know what it's like to plan and implement this kind of project. Now he blogs about everything from Byzantine churches to travel in Greece to the history of the University of North Dakota.

Shameless plug: Read about my adventures on an archaeological project in Greece this past summer.

Archaeology & Food

The Trouble With Blood: Julie Powell takes on ancient cooking (full article not available online, unfortunately- but the recipes are! I dare someone to make the lamb liquor.)

Moche Foodways Archaeological Project

November 24, 2007

Pie update

Ok, so the pumpkin didn't turn out so well, but this apple pie, made with the very same crust, on the very same morning, turned out beautifully. I used Cooks Illustrated's much talked-about vodka pie crust recipe, which, while kind of a pain to work with, did in fact produce the flakiest pie crust I've ever had. So all is well.

Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone!

November 22, 2007

I don't want to talk about it.

Behold, the saddest pie in all the land.

November 15, 2007

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Mmmm...pumpkin. Can you tell it's fall? Can you tell that despite LA's unnervingly consistent and unending sunny weather, some Midwestern instinct deep within me is screaming "Pumpkin! Cinnamon! It's fall-- now bake, woman!".

Fall doesn't really happen here, but I can live in denial and pretend that the air is getting cold and crisp, the leaves are changing, and it's time to break out the hats and mittens. This bread pudding helps me live in my fantasy world a little bit longer.

The recipe is originally from Gourmet (October 2007), but I used Deb's version, which boosts the flavor by doubling the spices and adding some bourbon. The secret to really tasty bread pudding, I've discovered, is to use challah, preferably homemade, but even not-so-great storebought challah can be transformed into fantastic bread pudding.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

1 1/2 cups whole milk or half-and-half
3/4 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
5 cups day-old challah, cut into 1-inch cubes

1. Preheat oven to 350°F

2. Whisk together pumpkin, cream/milk, sugar, eggs, yolk, salt, spices and bourbon, if using, in a bowl.

3. Put bread cubes in an 8-inch square baking dish and pour pumpkin mixture over top. If you have time, let it sit for a half hour or more (can even do this overnight, for an easy weekend breakfast) to let bread soak up liquid.

4. Bake until custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes.

November 12, 2007

When a friend gives you pumpkins...

Make pumpkin pie! A friend brought me a nice, big sugar pumpkin back from her recent romantic getaway to the pumpkin patch (?), and I knew I had to make a pie out of it. I had to try, at least once in my life, to made a pumpkin pie completely from scratch.
The verdict? Well...

The results were mixed. The finished product tasted pretty good, but there were a few bumps along the road to pie-ville.

Here's what I did to make the fresh puree:
-I cut the pumpkin in half, removed the stem, and scooped out the innards (saving the seeds for toasting).
-Then, I put the pumpkin halves on a baking sheet and baked them at 375 F for about an hour. However, this wasn't quite enough time, I realized, so although baking time ultimately will depend on the size of your pumpkin, I would recommend baking the it for longer than an hour- the pumpkin should be really really soft and darken a bit in color.
-I let the pumpkin halves cool a bit, then separated the skin from the flesh (I just scooped it out). I pureed the pumpkin with an immersion blender until it was pretty smooth.
-Then, I lined a strainer with a (sturdy) paper towel, placed this over a bowl, and put the puree in the strainer to drain for a few hours. This is important. You want a pretty thick puree, or the pie won't set right.

I then used the puree to make a pie. I used Dorie Greenspan's recipe for Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie, as well as her pie crust. The filling was excellent, but-- I really should have either blended the puree more or put it though a fine mesh strainer, because the texture of the finished pie was not as smooth as I would have liked.

I had plenty of filling left over, so I poured it into ramekins and baked them alongside the pie- voila! Pumpkin pots. Serve with some fresh whipped cream.

So would I do it again? Probably not. While the pie made from fresh pumpkin was certainly quite good, it tasted pretty similar to those pies I've made with canned pumpkin and the whole roasting, pureeing, and draining process was kind of a pain. But, now I know.

November 4, 2007

Parsnip, Carrot, and Potato Soup

It's been a while since I've posted, and I'd like to blame that on being super busy with work, but the truth is I think I've hit kind of a creative slump. I'll begin to write a post, then either be at a loss for words, or finish the post and not be satisfied enough with the final product to hit "post".

Hopefully I can get back into the swing of things soon. In the meantime, here is a recipe for my new favorite soup. I realized the other day that I like parsnips. It really was a dramatic moment of realization- cartoon light bulb over my head and everything. Parsnips are a vegetable that I hadn't really thought about much- just enough to assume that I wouldn't like them. But I was wrong. Who knew?

This isn't a very exact recipe- more like a guideline for soup-making. It can be altered in any number of ways without seriously harming the soup.

Heat a large pot on medium-low heat. Cut 2 slices of bacon into 1/2-inch pieces (optional). Fry bacon until crisp (but not burnt...oops). Reduce heat to low. Add 1 medium onion, finely chopped, to pan and saute until translucent, about 7 minutes (if not using bacon, add a few tablespoons oil before adding onions). Add 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped. Cook for 30 seconds more. Add 2 large parsnips, 2 large carrots, and 1 large potato (or 6-8 small ones), all coarsely chopped. Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes (add a little oil if needed).

Add enough chicken or vegetable broth to cover veggies, about 2-3 cups. Add about 1/2 tsp dried thyme, and 1/2 tsp dried tarragon, more or less. Bring soup to a boil, then turn down heat and let simmer, partially covered, for 30-35 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked through.

Remove from heat. Puree soup with immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender. Add milk or cream until soup is desired consistency (1/2 to 1 cup...). Stir in some shredded cheddar cheese, if you want (highly recommended). Taste soup, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings.