May 262018
 

Today is the birthday (1913) of Peter Wilton Cushing OBE, an English actor known to successive generations for roles in the Hammer Productions horror films of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, as well as his performance as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars in 1977. In the latter, he was by far the best known of the cast at the time, and the highest paid (based on weekly rates). His acting career included appearances in more than 100 films, as well as many television, stage and radio roles.

Cushing was born in Kenley in Surrey and made his stage debut in 1935 after a completely undistinguished time in school in various places. He spent three years with repertory theater in London before moving to Hollywood to pursue a film career. Cushing made his motion picture debut in the 1939 film The Man in the Iron Mask, in a minor role, although he was originally hired as a stand-in for scenes that featured both characters played by Louis Hayward, who had the dual lead roles of King Louis XIV and Philippe of Gascony. Cushing would play one part against Hayward in one scene, then the opposite part in another, and ultimately the scenes were spliced together in a split screen process that featured Hayward in both parts and left Cushing’s work cut from the film altogether. Although the job meant Cushing received no actual screen time for those roles, he was eventually cast in a bit part as the king’s messenger.

Cushing began to find modest success in films in the U.S. before returning to England at the outbreak of the Second World War. Despite performing in a string of roles, including one as Osric in Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation of Hamlet (1948), Cushing struggled to find work during this period and began to consider himself a failure. His career was revitalized once he started to work in live television plays, and he soon became one of the most recognizable faces in British television. He earned particular acclaim for his lead performance in a 1954 adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Cushing gained worldwide fame for his appearances in twenty-two horror films by the independent Hammer Productions, particularly for his role as Baron Frankenstein in six of their seven Frankenstein films, and Doctor Van Helsing in five Dracula films (by minor coincidence, today is the anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Draculahttp://www.bookofdaystales.com/bram-stokers-dracula/ ). Cushing often appeared alongside actor Christopher Lee, who became one of his closest friends, and occasionally with the U.S. horror star Vincent Price.

Cushing appeared in several other Hammer films, including The Abominable Snowman, The Mummy and The Hound of the Baskervilles, the last of which marked the first of many times he portrayed Sherlock Holmes throughout his career. Cushing continued to perform a variety of roles, although he was often typecast as a horror film actor. He played Dr. Who in Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) when William Hartnell, the original Dr Who for the television series was unavailable. The physical resemblance between the two actors was useful, but the mannerisms onscreen of the two were markedly different. Both movies were eminently forgettable.

Cushing probably gained the highest amount of visibility in his career in 1977, when he appeared as Grand Moff Tarkin in the first Star Wars film. Since the film’s primary antagonist Darth Vader wore a mask throughout the entire film and his face was never visible, George Lucas felt a strong human villain character was necessary. This led Lucas to write the character of Grand Moff Tarkin, a high-ranking Imperial governor and commander of the planet-destroying battlestation, the Death Star. Lucas felt a talented actor was needed to play the role and said Peter Cushing was his first choice for the part. However, Cushing has claimed that Lucas originally approached him to play the Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, and only decided to cast him as Tarkin instead after the two met each other. Cushing said he would have preferred to play Kenobi rather than Tarkin, but could not have done so because he was to be filming other movie roles when Star Wars was shooting, and Tarkin’s scenes took less time to film than those of the larger Kenobi role. Although not a particular fan of science fiction, Cushing accepted the part because he believed his fans would love Star Wars and enjoy seeing him in the role.

Cushing joined the cast in May 1976, and his scenes were filmed at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood. Along with Alec Guinness, who was ultimately cast as Kenobi, Cushing was among the most famous actors at the time to appear in Star Wars, as the rest of the cast was still relatively unknown. As a result, Cushing was paid a larger daily salary than most of his fellow cast, earning £2,000 per day compared to weekly salaries of $1,000 for Mark Hamill, $850 for Carrie Fisher and $750 for Harrison Ford. Like Guinness, Cushing had difficulty with some of the technical jargon in his dialogue, and claimed he did not understand all of the words he was speaking.

Cushing got along well with the entire cast, especially his old co-star David Prowse (who played Darth Vader) and Fisher, who was appearing in her first major role. The scene in which Tarkin and Princess Leia appear together on the Death Star, just before the destruction of the planet Alderaan, was the first scene with major dialogue that Fisher filmed for Star Wars. Cushing consciously attempted to define their characters as opposite representations of good and evil, and he purposely stood in the shadows so the light would shine on Fisher’s face. Fisher said she liked Cushing so much that it was difficult to act as though she hated Tarkin, and she had to substitute somebody else in her mind to muster the feelings. Although one of her lines referred to Tarkin’s “foul stench,” she said he actually smelled like “linen and lavender,” something Cushing attributed to his tendency to wash and brush his teeth thoroughly before filming because of his self-consciousness about bad breath.

When Star Wars was first released in 1977, most preliminary advertisements touted Cushing’s Tarkin as the primary antagonist of the film, not Vader. Cushing was extremely pleased with the final film, and he claimed his only disappointment was that Tarkin was killed and could not appear in the subsequent sequels. The film gave Cushing the highest visibility of his entire career, and helped inspire younger audiences to watch his older films.

For the 2016 film Rogue One, CGI and digitally-repurposed-archive footage were used to insert Cushing’s likeness from the original movie over the face of actor Guy Henry. Henry provided the on-set capture and voice work with the reference material augmented and mapped over his performance like a digital body-mask. Cushing’s estate owners were heavily involved with the creation which took place over twenty years after his death. This extensive use of CGI to “resurrect” an actor who had died decades ago created a great deal of controversy about the ethics of using a deceased actor’s likeness. Joyce Broughton, Cushing’s former secretary, had approved recreating Cushing in the film. After attending the London premiere, she was reportedly “taken aback” and “dazzled” with the effect of seeing Cushing on screen again.

Cushing continued acting into his later years, and wrote two autobiographies. He was lovingly devoted to his wife of twenty-eight years, Helen Cushing, who died in 1971. Cushing himself died in 1994 due to prostate cancer.

Cushing was a lifelong vegetarian and this site gives clues into his eating habits — http://watchinghorrorfilmsfrombehindthecouch.blogspot.it/2011/05/happy-birthday-peter-cushing.html

In his own words, “As to my favourite recipe: I am a strict vegetarian, and enjoy greatly wholemeal bread toast with butter and Olde English Marmalade, served with a pot of Typhoo tea with milk and sugar! Simple, but delicious.” Otherwise, he particularly enjoyed beetroot and celery, and the site gives this recipe:

4-6 medium beetroots, scrubbed
2 sticks celery, scrubbed
2 large onions, roughly chopped or 8-10 pickling onions, whole
2 large potatoes, pre-boiled for 10 minutes
sunflower oil
freshly ground black pepper

Dice the beetroot and finely slice the celery. In a large pan sauté the onion until just turning brown. Add the beetroot and celery. Turn down the heat and cook for 2 minutes. Chop the potatoes into chunks and add to the pan. Season with pepper. Cover and cook on a very low heat until the potato is tender, stirring every few minutes to prevent sticking.

May 252018
 

Today is the birthday (1803) of Ralph Waldo Emerson, an essayist and lecturer who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century in the United States. He was a champion of individualism and a critic of the prevailing pressures of society at the time which he disseminated through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay “Nature”. Following this work, he gave a speech entitled “The American Scholar” in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr called “America’s intellectual Declaration of Independence”. Emerson wrote most of his important essays as lectures first and then revised them for print. His first two collections of essays, Essays: First Series (1841) and Essays: Second Series (1844), represent the core of his thinking. They include the well-known essays “Self-Reliance”, “The Over-Soul”, “Circles”, “The Poet” and “Experience”. Together with “Nature”, these essays made the decade from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s Emerson’s most fertile period. Emerson wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenets, but developing certain ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for humankind to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. Emerson’s “nature” was more philosophical than naturalistic. Emerson took a kind of pantheistic or pandeistic approach to nature by rejecting views of God as separate from the world.

Emerson’s work remains among the linchpins of the American romantic movement, and it has greatly influenced the thinkers, writers and poets who followed him. I could give you whole biography and long assessment of his oeuvre, but I’ll provide some of my favorite quotes instead. You’d think the man was born to be a meme maker’s inspiration:

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

Every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.

The only way to have a friend is to be one.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.

People do not seem to realise that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.

You become what you think about all day long.

Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting some on yourself.

Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.

Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.

Beware what you set your heart upon. For it surely shall be yours.

Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.

For today’s recipe I turn to this quote from Emerson:

There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.

I suppose that to be thoroughly Emersonian you should do nothing more for your recipe than find a perfectly ripe pear and enjoy it to the fullest. But I can be a bit more less telegraphic than that. Here is a classic New England recipe for pears poached in red wine.

Poached Pears

Ingredients

2 cups red wine
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1 whole cinnamon stick
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1 whole bay leaf
6 ripe pears, stems on

Garnish: raspberries (optional)

Instructions

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the wine, sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, orange zest and juice, lemon zest, and bay leaf. Stir them together until the sugar dissolves.

Peel the pears carefully, leaving the stems intact. Cut ¼ inch off the bottom of each pear to allow the pears to stand upright for serving. Add the pears to the liquid in the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring gently, until a paring knife pierces the pears easily (about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and let the pears cool in the liquid.

When cool, remove the pears from the liquid with a slotted spoon and place in a small container. Cover and refrigerate until chilled through (about 2 hours).

Pour the poaching liquid through a sieve set over a second saucepan. Discard the solids. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook until reduced to a thick syrup (about 20 minutes). Let cool to room temperature.

Arrange the pears on a platter or individual plates and drizzle the poaching liquid over them. Garnish with raspberries if desired. I like to add a little sour cream as well, but you can also use whipped cream if you wish.

May 242018
 

On this date in 1683 the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford in England opened as the world’s first university museum. Its first building was erected in 1678–83 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University of Oxford in 1677. Ashmole’s original collection was made up of an odd assortment of objects which he had collected himself as well as from the gardeners, travelers, and collectors John Tradescant the elder and his son, John Tradescant the younger. The collection included antique coins, books, engravings, geological specimens, and zoological specimens—one of which was the stuffed body of the last dodo ever seen in Europe. However, by 1755 the stuffed dodo was so moth-eaten that it was destroyed, except for its head and one claw. The museum opened on this date with naturalist Robert Plot as the first keeper. The first building, which became known as the Old Ashmolean, is sometimes attributed to Sir Christopher Wren or Thomas Wood.

After the various specimens had been moved into new museums, the “Old Ashmolean” building on Broad Street was used as office space for the Oxford English Dictionary. Since 1924, the building has been established as the Museum of the History of Science, with exhibitions including the scientific instruments given to Oxford University by Lewis Evans (1853–1930), amongst them the world’s largest collection of astrolabes.

The present building dates from 1841–45. It was designed by Charles Cockerell in a classical style and stands on Beaumont Street. One wing of the building is occupied by the Taylor Institution, the modern languages faculty of the university, standing on the corner of Beaumont Street and St Giles’ Street. The main museum contains huge collections of archaeological specimens and fine art. It has one of the best collections in the world of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, majolica pottery, and English silver. The archaeology department includes the bequest of Arthur Evans and so has an excellent collection of Greek and Minoan pottery. The department also has an extensive collection of antiquities from Ancient Egypt and the Sudan, and the museum hosts the Griffith Institute for the advancement of Egyptology.

 

The interior of the Ashmolean has been extensively modernized in recent years and now includes a rooftop restaurant and large gift shop. In 2000, the Chinese Picture Gallery, designed by van Heyningen and Haward Architects, opened at the entrance of the Ashmolean and is partly integrated into the structure. The gallery was inserted into a lightwell in the Grade 1 listed building, and was designed to support future construction from its roof. Apart from the original Cockerell spaces, this gallery was the only part of the museum retained in the rebuilding. It houses the Ashmolean’s own collection, but is also used from time to time for the display of loan exhibitions and works by contemporary Chinese artists. It is the only museum gallery in Britain devoted to Chinese paintings.

The Sackler Library, incorporating the older library collections of the Ashmolean, opened in 2001 and has allowed an expansion of the book collection, which concentrates on Western classical history, archaeology and art history. On 26 November 2011, the Ashmolean opened to the public the new galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia. This second phase of major redevelopment now allows the Museum to exhibit objects that have been in storage for decades, more than doubling the number of coffins and mummies on display. The project received lead support from Lord Sainsbury’s Linbury Trust, along with the Selz Foundation, Mr Christian Levett, as well as other trusts, foundations, and individuals. Rick Mather Architects led the redesign and display of the four previous Egypt galleries and the extension to the restored Ruskin Gallery, previously occupied by the Museum Shop.

In May 2016, the museum opened new galleries dedicated to the display of its collection of Victorian art. This development allowed for the return to the Ashmolean of the Great Bookcase, designed by William Burges, and described as “the most important example of Victorian painted furniture ever made.”

As much as for any other reason, this post gives me an opportunity to give my opinion about museums, university or otherwise. In brief: I hate them. As someone who publishes in anthropology and archeology you may find this sentiment odd, but it is really straightforward. Museums house objects out of context, one way or another. In the case of museums like the Ashmolean, they house objects that were stolen from their original owners and cultures, and in many cases they want them back. Starting in the 17th century, and reaching a climax in the heady colonial period of the 19th century, English explorers, who called themselves archeologists, loaded wagon after wagon with antiquities and sent them back to England, either for display or for storage in dusty basements. Until recently, the great bulk of items stored by the Ashmolean (and the British Museum, etc etc.) never saw the light of day (and were generally so poorly cataloged that even serious researchers had trouble finding them). It’s true that they may not fare a whole lot better in their “home” cultures, but that is where they belong. Just last week I was wandering around antiquities in Rome, and the week before that in Istanbul. In some parks and museums there I saw piles of broken statues and columns and the like lying outside in heaps. This may not have been the best use for them, but at least they were at home: they were in a more natural context than in a basement in England (or even on display in England). They are not English !!!

The second way in which items are out of context in museums, is that by displaying them, as opposed to using them, they are dead. Every amphitheater in Italy I have visited is still used for performances. I’m glad they don’t throw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome any more – that’s taking context a bit too far. But they do still hold concerts there routinely. People live in apartments in Diocletian’s summer palace in Split in Croatia. These structures are an important part of modern people’s lives and heritage. The museum at my university once held an exhibit of traditional quilts – stretched flat on starkly lit walls. Quilts don’t belong hung on walls. They belong on beds. At least if you must display them, put them on beds in a gallery where you must walk around them, see the natural folds they make and how these folds impact how you see them, and use natural light which changes as the day progresses, creating endless patterns of light and shadow.

The only general exception I make for this grumpiness is for art paintings. They were painted to be displayed on walls, and even though they might be more natural in a living room or dining room, having them in museums allows more viewers. I still prefer to see them in some form of appropriate context. Here in Mantua you can see thousands of Renaissance and Baroque paintings commissioned by successive members of the Gonzaga family on display in their old residences. That is as good a context as any.

The Ashmolean now has a rooftop restaurant for visitors, and I could give you a recipe from their menu to be as out of context as the museum is. From what I can tell from reviews, the menu is eclectic (with a heavy dose of modern Italian) and is generally overpriced. Reviews of the dishes range from stellar to garbage. I never see this as a good sign. When half give a restaurant one star and half give it five, my immediate instinct is to believe the people who have given it one. They tend to be the people who know what they are talking about, and the people who tend towards the 4/5 end are easily impressed and don’t know what good food really is. Chances are the food at this restaurant is probably around 2/3 (that is, highly average – and overpriced). Let’s instead go with something 17th century in honor of Elias Ashmole himself. I’ve mentioned The Accomplisht Cook (1st ed. 1660) by Robert May before. It’s a strange compilation in that it is highly eclectic (as is the Ashmolean’s collections), drawing on recipes from Medieval times, as well as from different parts of Europe. There are 24 chapters, dividing the recipes according to May’s somewhat original classifications system. I am drawn to chapter III “Heads” for no other reason than that I am quirky also.

This recipe appeals to me greatly and I would replicate it for you if I had a calf’s head and oysters to hand:

To roast a Calves Head with Oysters.

Split the head as to boil, and take out the brains washing them very well with the head, cut out the tongue, boil it a little, and blanch it, let the brains be parbol’d as well as tongue, then mince the brains and tongue, a little sage, oysters, beef-suet, very small; being finely minced, mix them together with three or four yolks of eggs, beaten ginger, pepper, nutmegs, grated bread, salt, and a little sack, if the brains and eggs make it not moist enough. This being done parboil the calves head a little in fair water, then take it up and dry it well in a cloth filling the holes where the brains and tongue lay with this farsing or pudding; bind it up close together, and spit it, then stuff it with oysters being first parboil’d in their own liquor, put them into a dish with minced tyme, parsley, mace, nutmeg, and pepper beaten very small; mix all these with a little vinegar, and the white of an egg, roul the oysters in it, and make little holes in the head, stuff it as full as you can, put the oysters but half way in, and scuer in them with sprigs of tyme, roast it and set the dish under it to save the gravy, wherein let there be oysters, sweet herbs minced, a little white-wine and slic’t nutmeg. When the head is roasted set the dish wherein the sauce is on the coals to stew a little, then put in a piece of butter, the juyce of an orange, and salt, beating it up together: dish the head, and put the sauce to it, and serve it up hot to the table

May 232018
 

Today is the birthday (1934) of Robert Arthur Moog (rhymes with “vogue”), a US electronics and mechanical engineer who is best known as the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. Moog was not a musician, but he knew how to work with innovative musicians to showcase and push the boundaries of his inventions. The two most famous are probably Walter/Wendy Carlos and Keith Emerson. I have to say that I very much miss the days when the Moog synthesizer was brand new (late 1960s to early 1970s), and still play the early records (although I no longer have my original vinyls because of my many moves). Nowadays, anyone with a laptop and computer can generate a host of synthesized sounds and they all sound artificial and dull to me. Moog’s first synthesizers were gritty and it took real artistry and technical knowledge to put them through their paces.

Moog was born in New York City and attended the Bronx High School of Science, graduating in 1952. He earned a B.S. in physics from Queens College and a Masters from the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1957. He received his Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University in 1965. In 1953 at age 19, Moog founded his first company, R.A. Moog Co., to manufacture theremin kits.  He produced his first theremin in 1948 from circuit diagrams, and then went on to refine the electronics and then manufacture and market the kits based on his design. During the 1950s, composer and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott approached Moog, asking him to design circuits for him. Moog later acknowledged Scott as a major important influence. The Moog synthesizer was one of the first widely used electronic musical instruments. Early developmental work on the components of the synthesizer occurred at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, now the Computer Music Center. While there, Moog developed the voltage controlled oscillators, ADSR envelope generators, and other synthesizer modules with composer Herbert Deutsch. Moog created the first voltage-controlled subtractive synthesizer to use a keyboard as a controller and demonstrated it at the AES convention in 1964. In 1966, Moog filed a patent application for his unique low-pass filter U.S. Patent 3,475,623, issued in October, 1969. He is a listed inventor on ten US patents.

Moog had his theremin company (R. A. Moog Co., which later became Moog Music) manufacture and market his synthesizers. Unlike the few other 1960s synthesizer manufacturers, Moog shipped a piano-style keyboard as the standard user interface. Moog also established standards for analog synthesizer control interfacing, with a logarithmic one volt-per-octave pitch control and a separate pulse triggering signal. The first Moog instruments were modular synthesizers. In 1971 Moog Music began production of the Minimoog Model D, which was among the first synthesizers that was widely available, portable, and relatively affordable.

Walter (later Wendy) Carlos was one of Moog’s earliest musical customers, and he credits Carlos with providing feedback valuable to further development. Through his involvement in electronic music, Moog developed close professional relationships with artists such as Don Buchla, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, John Cage, Gershon Kingsley, Clara Rockmore, Jean Jacques Perrey, and Pamelia Kurstin.

Moog was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor on April 28, 2005, and died at the age of 71 in Asheville, North Carolina on August 21, 2005.

Quite a number of classically trained musicians objected to Switched on Bach and other presentations of classical music on the Moog synthesizer, and I think that Carlos’ response was quite apt (although a touch disingenuous). It heart he said words to the effect that if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. His basic point was that his use of the Moog synthesizer to play Bach, Mozart, Purcell, etc. did not destroy the originals. You can still play them as they were originally written – even on period instruments if you want. All that performing these pieces on the Moog did was add a different set of possibilities to what already existed, and continues to exist. Here is Carlos rendition of Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary – used by Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange:

All right – so maybe you don’t like this rendition. You’ve still got this one:

You can shut your ears to the first and listen only to the second, if you wish. I prefer to listen to both. As far as I am concerned, they both have merit. In any case, the world of music is always changing, even when performers want to replicate the sounds of the past. No matter how much research you do into performance styles, period instruments, and whatnot, you are never going to duplicate the sounds of past musicians, or know exactly how composers conducted their own music. It’s always interesting to experiment, but, for my money, it’s also interesting to try new things.

In the world of cuisine, electronic engineers have made some significant strides. For centuries, professionals in culinary arts and perfume production have had to rely on the services of “noses” – rare and well-trained individuals with a highly developed sense of smell, who can analyze and synthesize complex tastes and odors. Since the 1980s, electronic devices have been designed and tested that can mimic – to a degree – the human sense of smell. These machines are particularly useful in detecting the deterioration and spoilage of food products for market. What they cannot do, of course, is mimic human aesthetic sensibility associated with smell and taste.

A really interesting new development if the use of electronics in manipulating taste (akin to the way Moog manipulated sound is described in this article: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/10/13/diet-cutlery-electronic-spoons-which-make-food-taste-sweeter-on/

A team at the University of London is developing an apparatus called the Taste Buddy. It sends signals to taste receptors in the tongue that stimulate specific areas making you think you are tasting something quite different from what you are actually eating. The apparatus is in prototype stage at the moment and is quite big. The hope is to miniaturize it using microchip technology so that it can be inserted into cutlery, such as forks and spoons. That way, when you eat something using a spoon with a Taste Buddy in it, the spoon will trick your tongue. So far they are able to make foods taste sweeter than they are naturally. However, the claim that they will be able to make cabbage taste like chocolate or tofu taste like ice cream seems far-fetched to me. Most flavors concern receptors in the nose more than those on the tongue, and they are very complex. In fact, flavor chemists have not yet been able to isolate all the taste components of items such as chocolate and coffee. They seem to contain thousands of aromatic components and they cannot be duplicated adequately yet. So, I expect they can make cabbage taste sweeter than it is naturally, but making it taste like chocolate is surely a pipe dream. Still, the idea of a Moog spoon does seem intriguing. Like Moog and his synthesizer, I would not want the Taste Buddy spoon to replicate flavors from the natural world, any more than I would want an electronic keyboard to sound like a pipe organ. I’d want to use the Taste Buddy spoon to make funky new flavors that cannot be produced naturally. That would be original.

May 222018
 

Today is designated as International Day for Biological Diversity (or World Biodiversity Day) by the United Nations: a day for the promotion of biodiversity issues. The International Day for Biological Diversity falls within the general scope of the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals. In this larger initiative of international cooperation, the topic of biodiversity concerns stakeholders in sustainable agriculture; desertification, land degradation and drought; water and sanitation; health and sustainable development; energy; science, technology and innovation, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building; urban resilience and adaptation; sustainable transport; climate change and disaster risk reduction; oceans and seas; forests; vulnerable groups including indigenous peoples; and food security. The critical role of biodiversity in sustainable development was recognized in a Rio+20 outcome document, “The World We Want: A Future for All”.

From its creation by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly in 1993 until 2000, Biodiversity Day was held on December 29 to celebrate the day the Convention on Biological Diversity went into effect. On December 20, 2000, the date was shifted to commemorate the adoption of the Convention on May 22, 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, and partly to avoid the many other holidays that occur in late December. The theme of the Day in 2018 is: Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity

Coinciding with the observance of International Day for Biological Diversity, on May 2011 the Indonesian Forestry Minister inaugurated the Ciwalen Canopy Trail that is 120 meters (390 ft) long and 60 metres (200 ft) wide at an elevation of 30–40 meters (98–131 ft) above the ground at Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, West Java, to accommodate five to ten people in one trip to experience biodiversity first-hand.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), biodiversity typically measures variation at the genetic, the species, and the ecosystem level. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth, and is richest in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10% of earth’s surface, and contain about 90% of the world’s species. Marine biodiversity tends to be highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future.

Rapid environmental changes typically cause mass extinctions. More than 99.9% of all species that ever lived on Earth, amounting to over five billion species, are estimated to be extinct. Estimates on the number of Earth’s current species usually range from 10 million to 14 million, of which about 1.2 million have been documented and over 86% have not yet been described. More recently, in May 2016, scientists reported that 1 trillion species are estimated to be on Earth currently with only one-thousandth of one percent described. Think about it for a minute: it’s possible that only .001% of all living species have been documented. I hope that boggles your mind. It is tribute to the vast ocean of ignorance about living things that we swim in, yet we claim to be oh-so-knowledgeable. Maybe in future centuries this period will be known as The Age of Scientific Ignorance (assuming Homo sapiens survives that long).

The Earth is about 4.54 billion years old. The earliest undisputed evidence of life on Earth dates to at least 3.5 billion years ago, during the Eoarchean Era after a geological crust started to solidify following the earlier molten Hadean Eon. There are microbial mat fossils found in 3.48 billion-year-old sandstone discovered in Western Australia. Other early physical evidence of a biogenic substance is graphite in 3.7 billion-year-old meta-sedimentary rocks discovered in Western Greenland. More recently, in 2015, what were called “remains of biotic life” were found in 4.1 billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia.

Since life began on Earth, five major mass extinctions and several minor events have led to large and sudden drops in biodiversity. The Phanerozoic eon (the last 540 million years) marked a rapid growth in biodiversity via the Cambrian explosion—a period during which the majority of multicellular phyla first appeared. The next 400 million years included repeated, massive biodiversity losses classified as mass extinction events. In the Carboniferous, rainforest collapse led to a great loss of plant and animal life. The Permian–Triassic extinction event, 251 million years ago, was the worst; vertebrate recovery took 30 million years. The most recent, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, occurred 65 million years ago and has often attracted more attention than others because it resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The period since the emergence of humans has displayed an ongoing biodiversity reduction and an accompanying loss of genetic diversity. This reduction, called the Holocene extinction, is caused primarily by human impact, and if I were to put my finger on the single most important event I would name the Industrial Revolution as the villain of the piece. The reduction in biodiversity can be attributed to a number of causes such as increased pollution, climate change, destruction of habitats etc., but they all lead to one principal cause: the expansion of industrialism. Fossil fuels used in industry and transport pollute and produce greenhouse gases, habitats are constantly destroyed in the service of agribusiness monoculture and industry, and so forth.

The Industrial Revolution had a gigantic impact on all world cultures in a cascading domino effect. For example, factories in Britain in the 19th century needed raw products for manufacture which led to massive global colonization and imperialism, which, in turn led to slavery and enforced labor, deforestation, land clearing, and other impacts that caused the destruction of habitats – not to mention the fact that the factories consumed millions of tons of fossil fuels which polluted the air and created significant carbon dioxide emissions. Soon the rest of the world was following Britain’s lead, and we are living in the wake of that fundamental shift in vision of how we want the world to be. This means that individual efforts to reverse the trends that are causing a loss in biodiversity are feeble – at best – and probably (in my ever-humble opinion) doomed to fail in the long run. We want to eat our cake and have it. We want all the modern technology we have now – and more – and yet we want to (somehow) not pay for it with non-renewable resources. I do not see how that is possible. My dismal prediction is that Homo sapiens will be one of the species driven to extinction along with the millions of others, but, of course, I have no idea when that will come about.

Certainly, we should do our level best to convert to renewable energy sources, shift to sustainable foods, and the like, as much for ethical reasons as anything else. But I do not believe that these changes will have a lasting effect on the inevitable outcome. To put it bluntly: Homo sapiens is not a sustainable species. In other posts, I have spoken many times about thinking holistically when making decisions about what to eat or wear, what energy sources to use, and all the rest of it. You can’t avoid eating meat because of the cruel ways that farm animals are raised, but drink coffee produced by slave labor. You can’t avoid wearing animal products, but wear synthetic materials that can be as damaging, if not more so, to the environment. In any case, this is not a matter for individual change, but for cultural change on a global level: and that is simply not going to happen. As long as some people are making piles of money from processes that are destructive of the environment and biodiversity, nothing will change until it is too late (if it is not too late already).

All that said, there is no need to contribute to species extinction personally, even if the final outcome is unavoidable. We can still take personal responsibility for our actions. Therefore, I strongly advocate eating organically produced foods (if they are genuinely organically produced, and not simply claimed to be by devious marketers, as they are so often in the US), which do not use pesticides that endanger a number of species; to avoid eating species that are endangered, or whose consumption endangers other species (as in the case of Pacific mackerel and tuna); and to be aware, holistically, of the effects of certain diets.

The food groups that are underused in the West, seaweeds and insects, are frequently vaunted as “sustainable” but I want to raise a note of caution here. No species is by definition sustainable.  If a particular insect or a particular seaweed is suddenly touted as “nutritious and sustainable” and there is a run on it because it has become a new fad, it is quite likely that global stocks will be depleted in short order, causing shock waves throughout the food chain. Seaweeds and insects have not been hanging about for millennia waiting for some human cultures to discover them as food. They have been eaten by other species for that time as their major food sources. They are also invaluable environmentally. It has recently been shown that seaweeds absorb more far more carbon dioxide than terrestrial plants, and, therefore, overusing them would have as significant an effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as deforestation.

Rather than give you a recipe today, in light of these warnings, I am going to suggest a fundamentally important rule, namely, to maintain biodiversity, diversify your diet. You do not need to eat the same foods all the time to maintain your usual balance of fats, protein, and carbohydrates. I hope this blog has already made you aware of the incredible diversity of ingredients in the world. Today’s challenge, therefore, is to eat something today that you have never eaten before. It doesn’t have to be spiders or grasshoppers or kelp. It can be goat or squab or wild mushrooms. You can even use your normal recipes, just with different main ingredients. The point is to break out of eating the same foods all the time because by doing so you are contributing to a reduction in biodiversity. There are tens of thousands of edible species in the world, most of which are more readily available than you might think. Take advantage of them all.

May 212018
 

Today is the birthday (1780) of Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney), an English prison reformer, social reformer and philanthropist. Fry was a major driving force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she was supported in her efforts by Queen Victoria.

Elizabeth Fry was born in Norwich in Norfolk, England into a prominent Quaker family, the Gurneys. Her childhood family home was Earlham Hall, which is now part of the University of East Anglia. Her father, John Gurney (1749–1809), was a partner in Gurney’s Bank. Her mother, Catherine, was a member of the Barclay family who were among the founders of Barclays Bank. Her mother died when Elizabeth was 12 years old. As one of the oldest girls in the family, Elizabeth was partly responsible for the care and education of the younger children, including her brother Joseph John Gurney, a philanthropist.

She met Joseph Fry (1777–1861), a banker whose uncle founded the Fry’s chocolate company, who was also a Quaker, when she was 20 years old. They married on 19th August 1800 at the Norwich Goat Lane Friends Meeting House and moved to St Mildred’s Court in the City of London. Elizabeth Fry was recorded as a minister of the Religious Society of Friends in 1811. Joseph and Elizabeth Fry lived in Plashet House in East Ham between 1809 and 1829, then moved to The Cedars on Portway in Forest Gate, where they lived until 1844. They had eleven children, five sons and six daughters.

Prompted by a family friend, Stephen Grellet, Fry visited Newgate Prison in 1813. The conditions she saw there horrified her. The women’s section was overcrowded with women and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. The prisoners did their own cooking and washing in the small cells in which they slept on straw. She returned the following day with food and clothes for some prisoners. She was unable to personally further her work for nearly 4 years because of difficulties within the Fry family, including financial difficulties at the Fry bank, which Elizabeth helped extricate her husband from. Put simply, she had a strong sense of business, and her husband had hardly any. Fry returned to Newgate in 1816 and was eventually able to fund a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their mothers. Rather than attempt to impose discipline on the women, she suggested rules and then asked the prisoners to vote on them. In 1817 she helped found the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. This association provided materials for women so that they could learn to sew and knit and then once they were out of prison they could earn money for themselves. This led to the eventual creation of the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners in 1821 She also promoted the idea of rehabilitation instead of harsh punishment which was taken on by the city authorities in London as well as many other authorities and prisons.

Elizabeth Fry also campaigned for the rights and welfare of prisoners who were being transported. The women of Newgate Prison were taken through the streets of London in open carts, often in chains, huddled together with their few possessions. They were pelted with rotten food and filth by the people of the city. The fear was often enough to make women condemned to transportation riot on the evening before. Fry’s first action was to persuade the governor of Newgate prison to send the women in closed carriages and spare them this last indignity before transportation. She visited prison ships and persuaded captains to implement systems to ensure each woman and child would at least get a share of food and water on the long journey. Later she arranged each woman to be given scraps of material and sewing tools so that they could use the long journey to make quilts and have something to sell as well as useful skills when they reached their destination. She also included a Bible and useful items such as string and knives and forks in this vital care package. Elizabeth Fry visited 106 transport ships and saw 12,000 convicts. Her work helped to start a movement for the abolition of transportation. Transportation was officially abolished in 1837, however Elizabeth Fry was still visiting transportation ships until 1843.

Elizabeth Fry wrote in her book Prisons in Scotland and the North of England that she stayed the night in some of the prisons and invited nobility to come and stay and see for themselves the conditions prisoners lived in. Her kindness helped her gain the friendship of the prisoners and they began to try to improve their conditions for themselves. Thomas Fowell Buxton, Fry’s brother-in-law, was elected to Parliament for Weymouth and began to promote her work among his fellow MPs. In 1818 Fry gave evidence to a House of Commons committee on the conditions prevalent in British prisons, becoming the first woman to present evidence in Parliament.

Elizabeth Fry also helped the homeless, establishing a “nightly shelter” in London after seeing the dead body of a young boy in the winter of 1819/1820 on the streets. In 1824, during a visit to Brighton, she instituted the Brighton District Visiting Society. The society arranged for volunteers to visit the homes of the poor and provide help and comfort to them. The plan was successful and was duplicated in other districts and towns across Britain. Elizabeth Fry also used her influential network and worked with other prominent Quakers to campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.

After her husband went bankrupt in 1828, Fry’s brother became her business manager and benefactor. Thanks to him, her work expanded. In 1838 the Friends sent a party to France: Fry and her husband, Lydia Irving, and abolitionists Josiah Forster and William Allen. They were there on other business but despite the language barrier Fry and Lydia Irving visited French prisons.

In 1840 Fry opened a training school for nurses. Her program inspired Florence Nightingale, who took a team of Fry’s nurses to assist wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.

In 1842, Frederick William IV of Prussia went to see Fry in Newgate Prison during an official visit to Great Britain. The king, who had met Fry during her previous tours of the continent promoting welfare change and humanitarianism, was so impressed by her work that he told his reluctant courtiers that he would personally visit the gaol when he was in London.

Queen Victoria admired Fry’s work and granted her an audience a few times before she became queen, and contributed money to her cause after she ascended the throne. Robert Peel was also an admirer, and passed several acts to further her cause including the Gaols Act 1823. The act was largely ineffective, because there were no inspectors to make sure that it was being followed.

Fry died from a stroke in Ramsgate, England, on 12th October 1845. Her remains were buried in the Friends’ burial ground at Barking. More than a thousand people stood in silence during the burial at the Ramsgate memorial. Following her death, a meeting chaired by the Lord Mayor of London, resolved that it would be fitting “to found an asylum to perpetuate the memory of Mrs Fry and further the benevolent objects to which her life had been devoted.” An 18th-century town house was purchased at 195 Mare Street, in the London Borough of Hackney and the first Elizabeth Fry refuge opened its doors in 1849. Funding came via subscriptions from various city companies and private individuals, supplemented by income from the inmates’ laundry and needlework. Such training was an important part of the refuge’s work. In 1924, the refuge merged with the Manor House Refuge for the Destitute, in Dalston in Hackney, becoming a hostel for girls on probation for minor offences. The hostel soon moved to larger premises in Highbury, Islington and then, in 1958, to Reading, where it remains today.

I searched Mrs Beeton and found this anecdote on prisons and punishment, rather typical of Victorian humor, followed by her recipe for baked ham, which I think would make a fine dish in honor of Elizabeth Fry (although I would love to sneak in a bar of Fry’s Turkish Delight in honor of her husband’s uncle).

  

HOG NOT BACON. ANECDOTE OF LORD BACON.—As Lord Bacon, on one occasion, was about to pass sentence of death upon a man of the name of Hogg, who had just been tried for a long career of crime, the prisoner suddenly claimed to be heard in arrest of judgment, saying, with an expression of arch confidence as he addressed the bench, “I claim indulgence, my lord, on the plea of relationship; for I am convinced your lordship will never be unnatural enough to hang one of your own family.”

“Indeed, replied the judge, with some amazement,” I was not aware that I had the honour of your alliance; perhaps you will be good enough to name the degree of our mutual affinity.”

“I am sorry, my lord,” returned the impudent thief, “I cannot trace the links of consanguinity; but the moral evidence is sufficiently pertinent. My name, my lord, is Hogg, your lordship’s is Bacon; and all the world will allow that bacon and hog are very closely allied.”

“I am sorry,” replied his lordship, “I cannot admit the truth of your instance: hog cannot be bacon till it is hanged; and so, before I can admit your plea, or acknowledge the family compact, Hogg must be hanged to-morrow morning.”

TO BAKE A HAM.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Ham; a common crust.

Mode.—As a ham for baking should be well soaked, let it remain in water for at least 12 hours. Wipe it dry, trim away any rusty places underneath, and cover it with a common crust, taking care that this is of sufficient thickness all over to keep the gravy in. Place it in a moderately-heated oven, and bake for nearly 4 hours. Take off the crust, and skin, and cover with raspings, the same as for boiled ham, and garnish the knuckle with a paper frill. This method of cooking a ham is, by many persons, considered far superior to boiling it, as it cuts fuller of gravy and has a finer flavour, besides keeping a much longer time good.

Time.—A medium-sized ham, 4 hours.

Average cost, from 8d. to 10d. per lb. by the whole ham.

Seasonable all the year.

May 202018
 

Today is called the Day of Remembrance in Cambodia, formerly called (in English) the National Day of Hatred, which is a mistranslation of the Khmer name ទិវាចងកំហឹង – Ti Veer Jrong Komhuoeng  — which literally means “Day of Tying Anger” but is perhaps better translated as “Day of Maintaining Rage” that is, a day for maintaining the sense of anger at the genocide against Cambodians perpetrated by Pol Pot. The day has changed names, and fluctuated in importance over the years since Pol Pot was formally defeated by communist Vietnamese, because the Khmer Rouge has maintained a continuous presence in Cambodia, with waxing and waning fortunes. The Day of Remembrance (as I shall refer to it), was first launched in the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) on May 20th  1984. The commemoration was initiated by a September 12, 1983 conference in Phnom Penh of around 300 intellectuals and clergymen. The date was selected since it marked the initiation of mass killings in Democratic Kampuchea on May 20th 1976. It was also the date that the Khmer Rouge had initiated forced collectivization in southern Takéo in 1973.

Under the PRK, the full title of the event in English was ‘Day of Hatred against the genocidal Pol Pot-Ieng Sary-Khieu Samphan clique and the Sihanouk-Son Sann reactionary groups’. The Day was an important holiday in the PRK, and the Kampuchean United Front for National Construction and Defense mobilized Kampuchean mass organizations to ensure popular participation. Under the PRK, the policies of the United States (dubbed as imperialist) and the People’s Republic of China (dubbed as expansionist) were also targets of dislike during the Day of Hatred. The 1983 conference had made as the objective of the National Day of Hatred the mobilization of international public opinion against the Khmer Rouge, their allies and their foreign backers. In particular, the issue of the representation of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea in the United Nations was highlighted.

(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The Cambodian genocide killed somewhere between 1.5 and 3 million Cambodian people from 1975 to 1979. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge changed the name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea. In order to fulfill their goals, which were a particular blend of nationalism, Stalinism, and Maoism that was designed to create a monoethnic and deliberately uneducated agrarian society, the Khmer Rouge emptied the cities and forced Cambodians to relocate to labor camps in the countryside, where mass executions, forced labor, physical abuse, malnutrition, and disease were prevalent. This resulted in the death of approximately 25% of Cambodia’s total population. People perceived as the opposition were taken to the Killing Fields, where they were executed and buried in mass graves. The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia ended the genocide by defeating the Khmer Rouge in 1979. Things did not end there, however, because the Khmer Rouge remained an active presence for many years, and were recognized internationally as the legitimate ruling party, while the world turned a blind eye to the genocide.

The Vietnamese were especially troubled by the Khmer Rouge because their genocide targeted ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia. The border between the two countries has always been fluid – especially around the Mekong Delta because control of that region is critical for trade and defense. On December 3, 1978, Radio Hanoi announced the formation of the Kampuchean National United Front for National Salvation (KNUFNS). This was a heterogeneous group of communist and noncommunist exiles who shared an antipathy to the Pol Pot regime and a virtually total dependence on Vietnamese backing and protection. The KNUFNS provided the semblance, if not the reality, of legitimacy for Vietnam’s invasion of Democratic Kampuchea and for its subsequent establishment of a satellite regime in Phnom Penh.

In the meantime, as 1978 wore on, Cambodian bellicosity in the border areas surpassed Hanoi’s threshold of tolerance. Vietnamese policy makers opted for a military solution and, on December 22nd, Vietnam launched its offensive with the intent of overthrowing Democratic Kampuchea. A force of 120,000, consisting of combined armor and infantry units with strong artillery support, drove west into the level countryside of Cambodia’s southeastern provinces. Together, the Vietnamese army and the National Salvation Front struck at the KR on December 25th. After a 17-day campaign, Phnom Penh fell to the advancing Vietnamese on January 7th, 1979. Pol Pot and the main leaders initially took refuge near the border with Thailand. After making deals with several governments, they were able to use Thailand as a safe staging area for the construction and operation of new redoubts in the mountain and jungle fastness of Cambodia’s periphery, Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders regrouped their units, issued a new call to arms, and reignited a stubborn insurgency against the regime in power as they had done in the late 1960s.

For the moment, however, the Vietnamese invasion had accomplished its purpose of deposing an unlamented and particularly violent dictatorship. A new administration of ex-Khmer Rouge fighters under the control of Hanoi was quickly established, and it set about competing, both domestically and internationally, with the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia. Peace still eluded the nation, however, and although the insurgency set in motion by the Khmer Rouge proved unable to topple the new Vietnamese-controlled regime in Phnom Penh, it did nonetheless keep the country in a permanent state of insecurity. The new administration was propped up by a substantial Vietnamese military force and civilian advisory effort.

As events in the 1980s progressed, the main preoccupations of the new regime were survival, restoring the economy, and combating the Khmer Rouge insurgency by military and by political means. The UN General Assembly voted by a margin of 71 to 35 for the Khmer Rouge to retain their seat at the UN, with 34 abstentions and 12 absentees. The seat was occupied by Thiounn Prasith, an old colleague of Pol Pot from their student days in Paris and one of the 21 attendees at the 1960 KPRP Second Congress. The seat was retained under the name ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ until 1982 and then ‘Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea’ until 1993. Pol Pot continued as nominal ruler of Cambodia until 1997, and died in 1998.

On 2 January 2001, the Cambodian government established the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, to try the members of the Khmer Rouge leadership responsible for the Cambodian genocide. Trials began on 17th February 2009. On 7th August 2014, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were convicted and received life sentences for crimes against humanity during the genocide. As of 2009, the Cambodian NGO Documentation Center of Cambodia has mapped some 23,745 mass graves containing approximately 1.3 million suspected victims of execution. Direct execution is believed to account for roughly 60% of the full death toll during the genocide, with other victims succumbing to starvation or disease.

The effects of Pol Pot’s policies, including, but not limited to, genocide cannot be overstated, and have left an enduring legacy in Cambodia. Virtually the entire urban population was displaced, educational and religious institutions were ravaged, and the whole culture was turned upside down. On the surface, Cambodia seems like other SE Asian cultures to the casual visitor, but if you live there for any length of time it is obvious that the culture is far from “normal.” There is still a general undercurrent of suspicion of strangers, particularly foreigners, and key institutions, such as universities and temples, are still essentially rudderless and ill staffed.  It will take at least a generation before Cambodia can be said to be a stable nation.

All that said, Cambodian cuisine marches on regardless. I’ve talked about Cambodian dishes several times already, and given my usual caution that for authentic dishes you need to travel to the country. As the chameleon cook, I routinely cook Cambodian dishes at home because the ingredients are readily available and I know the basic principles. Sour and spicy/hot are the most common elements along with sweet/fruity, salty, and bitter (not unlike the Chinese ideal, although the flavors are different.

Kuy teav (គុយទាវ) is one of my favorite morning dishes whether I make it at home, or get it from a market stall. It’s better at market stalls because they have constantly simmering vats of broth that are enriched over the morning with the ingredients that are cooked in them. Kuy teav  is a noodle soup consisting of rice noodles with pork stock and toppings that is generally assumed to be of Chinese origin. In Khmer, kuy teav is formally pronounced IPA: [kuj t̪ieʋ] but is often elided to IPA: [kə t̪ieʋ] (Romanized as k’tieu, katieu, kateav, etc.) due to the sesquisyllabic nature of the Khmer language. It is impossible to learn Khmer pronunciation from books. When I learn a new phrase and then practice it on the streets, all I get are puzzled looks, because I am putting too many syllables and consonants in. You almost never hear a final consonant, even though it is there in the written text and complex vowel sounds and diphthongs are drastically simplified from what books teach.

Kuy teav is prepared with partially dry thin squarish rice noodles cooked by quickly immersing the noodles in boiling water. The noodles are then strained, placed into a bowl, and moistened with a nutty, caramelized garlic oil. After dressing with a sticky brown liquid made of oyster sauce, soy sauce and a pinch of sugar, the bowl is then filled with a clear broth made from pork bones, dried squid, and sugar, and seasoned with a bit of fish sauce. Then the meat toppings are added, which may include a variety of different types of meat, such as pork loaf, minced pork, pork belly, duck, seafood or offal. When I order from a market stall I just ask for a little of everything on offer. It usually varies from day to day. Only once in a while will I ask for one ingredient only. This is not unheard of, but is not normal.

When the dish is served, you have a wide choice of garnishes and aromatics to customize the dish. The pork broth is tasty and complex, but also subtle, so you add what you want to adjust it to your taste. I usually add the Cambodian trinity of garlic, fresh lime juice, and hot peppers. Garnishes can include lettuce leaves, bean sprouts, fresh herbs (sawtooth coriander and holy basil), crushed black kampot pepper, and chopped green onion.

May 192018
 

Today is the birthday (1925) of Malcolm Little who became known to the world as Malcolm X when he became a member of the Nation of Islam, but also took the name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz after he went to Mecca for the Hajj in 1964, but was, and still is, best known as Malcolm X. For most of his public career he was known as the public voice of the Nation of Islam which, under leader Elijah Muhammad, preached radical racism and separatism, along with violent rebellion when necessary. This is the persona that many people in the United States remember him for. Both his criminal background before the Nation of Islam, and his fundamental change of heart after his break with the Nation of Islam have largely been forgotten, although there are several movies concerning his life that accentuate this period. The best reference point is The Autobiography of Malcolm X which was actually written by Alex Haley based on numerous taped interviews with Malcolm between 1963 and his death in 1965, and published posthumously. It was one of the first books I taught as a brand-new assistant professor in a Freshman Studies program in 1980, and I found it completely mesmerizing. Back in the 1960s (when I was living in Australia), the images we got of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States were limited and extremely one sided. Malcolm’s murder in 1965 seemed like yet another political murder in a bloody decade that included two Kennedys and Martin Luther King along with Malcolm. I had not the remotest idea what it was all about. Reading the Autobiography set me straight in so many ways.

My simple suggestion is that if you want to understand Malcolm X you should read the autobiography. It is crafted, of course. All autobiographies are. In this case it is crafted as much by Haley as by Malcolm himself, but Haley does use Malcolm’s own words and does follow the general thread of his life through his development as a criminal in Boston and New York, after being more or less orphaned in Michigan, how he had something of an awakening in his 6 ½ years in prison which crystallized when he came under the tutelage of Elijah Muhammad, but which he then put behind him when he converted to Sunni Islam and embarked on a much more universalistic call for human rights that set aside the violent separatism of the Nation of Islam. This final period was tragically short, cut short because he was murdered by members of the Nation of Islam, most likely under direct orders from Elijah Muhammad, although the details may always remain shrouded in obscurity. Three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of the murder, but only one, Talmadge Hayer, admitted guilt. The other two protested innocence and Hayer also refused to point the finger at them. He claimed that other members of the Nation of Islam were involved but initially he would not name them. The police did not re-open the case, when Hayer in the late 1970s filed sworn affidavits naming four men – not those convicted – of being complicit in the murder; nor did the FBI even though they had undercover agents working with the Nation of Islam. It has even been suggested that the FBI was aware of the Nation of Islam’s intent to kill Malcolm but did nothing to prevent it, nor to warn him.

The inherent problem with assessing Malcolm’s philosophy is that it changed dramatically after his journey to Mecca when he became aware of what traditional Islam was about, as opposed to the heavily politicized and contorted version that Elijah Muhammad had created. For most of Malcolm’s public career he was little more than the charismatic mouthpiece (he called himself, the “ventriloquist’s dummy”) for the doctrines of the Nation of Islam. These doctrines included the belief that black people were the original people of the world, and that white people were a race of devils who were created by an evil scientist named Yakub. The Nation of Islam believed that black people were superior to white people, and that the demise of the white race was imminent. When questioned concerning his statements that white people were devils, Malcolm said: “history proves the white man is a devil. Anybody who rapes, and plunders, and enslaves, and steals, and drops hell bombs on people … anybody who does these things is nothing but a devil.”

Malcolm called Islam the “true religion of black mankind” and that Christianity was “the white man’s religion” that had been imposed upon African Americans by their slave-masters. He said that the Nation of Islam followed Islam as it was practiced around the world, but the Nation’s teachings varied from those of other Muslims because they were adapted to the “uniquely pitiful” condition of black people in the United States. He taught that Wallace Fard Muhammad, the founder of the Nation, was Allah incarnate, and that Elijah Muhammad was his Messenger, or Prophet.

While the civil rights movement fought against racial segregation, Malcolm advocated the complete separation of blacks from whites. The Nation of Islam proposed the establishment of a separate country for African Americans in the southern or southwestern United States as an interim measure until African Americans could return to Africa. He also suggested the United States government owed reparations to African Americans for the unpaid labor of their ancestors. He also rejected the civil rights movement’s strategy of nonviolence, advocating instead that black people should defend themselves. In these days he was a vocal opponent of Martin Luther King and his non-violent protests.

In the early 1960s tensions between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad arose, almost certainly because Elijah Muhammad perceived Malcolm as a threat to his leadership, but also because Malcolm became disillusioned with Elijah Muhammad. In the 1950s Malcolm was by far the most important force for recruitment for the Nation of Islam – by one estimate increasing its membership from 500 to 25,000 in a matter of years. He was responsible, for example, for the conversion of the boxer Cassius Clay, who became Muhammad Ali on conversion, which, in turn inspired more converts. Malcolm’s increased public prominence in relation to his own certainly sparked jealousy in Elijah Muhammad, but Malcolm also began to question Elijah Muhammad’s authority. For one thing, Elijah Muhammad was suspected of improper sexual relations with a number of his secretaries which he ultimately admitted and justified by pointing to the habits of the patriarchs. This did not sit well with Malcolm’s strict ethical code, nor did Elijah Muhammad’s efforts to be conciliatory to Martin Luther King’s movement. After Malcolm made imprudent remarks about the assassination of JFK and was ordered silenced for 90 days by Elijah Muhammad, he split from the Nation of Islam and became an orthodox Sunni Muslim.

In keeping with standard Islamic tradition, in April 1964, with financial help from his half-sister Ella Little-Collins, Malcolm flew to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, as the start of his Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca obligatory for every Muslim who is able to do so. He was delayed in Jeddah when his U.S. citizenship and inability to speak Arabic caused his status as a Muslim to be questioned. He had received Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam’s book The Eternal Message of Muhammad with his visa approval, and he contacted the author. Azzam’s son arranged for his release and lent him his personal hotel suite. The next morning Malcolm learned that Prince Faisal had designated him as a state guest. Several days later, after completing the Hajj rituals, Malcolm had an audience with the prince. Malcolm later said that seeing Muslims of “all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans,” interacting as equals led him to see Islam as a means by which racial problems could be overcome.

This transformed Malcolm was not the man that many people came to know. He was perceived as a traitor by the Nation of Islam, and the mainstream press continued to characterize him as a violent black supremacist. Throughout 1964, as his conflict with the Nation of Islam intensified, Malcolm was repeatedly threatened. In February, a leader of Temple Number Seven ordered the bombing of his car. In March, Elijah Muhammad told Boston minister Louis X (later known as Louis Farrakhan) that “hypocrites like Malcolm should have their heads cut off”; the April 10 edition of Muhammad Speaks featured a cartoon depicting Malcolm’s bouncing, severed head.

On June 8, FBI surveillance recorded a telephone call in which Betty Shabazz was told that her husband was “as good as dead”. Four days later, an FBI informant received a tip that “Malcolm X is going to be bumped off.” (That same month the Nation of Islam sued to reclaim Malcolm’s residence in East Elmhurst, Queens, New York. His family was ordered to vacate but on February 14, 1965‍—‌the night before a hearing on postponing the eviction‍—‌the house was destroyed by fire.) On July 9 Elijah Muhammad aide John Ali (suspected of being an undercover FBI agent) referred to Malcolm X by saying, “Anyone who opposes the Honorable Elijah Muhammad puts their life in jeopardy.” In the December 4 issue of Muhammad Speaks, Louis X wrote that “such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death”. The September 1964 issue of Ebony dramatized Malcolm’s defiance of these threats by publishing a photograph of him holding an M1 carbine while peering out a window.

What might have become of his nascent new movement that was true to Sunni Islam, and opposed to the violent, separatist rhetoric of the Nation of Islam is anyone’s guess. It was cut short by his murder, although certainly its seeds can be seen in the Autobiography which, again, I highly recommend (despite its own limitations).

Malcolm was true to standard Islamic dietary practices in avoiding pork, and was generally opposed to Soul Food, not only because it is rich in pork fat, but because he thought of it as generally unhealthy. By all accounts, his favorite dish was roast chicken, steamed kale, and rice. I scarcely need to remind you that when I roast a chicken I cook it on the highest heat possible – 500˚F/260˚C. I usually cook kale by washing it thoroughly in several changes of water, and then placing it in a pot with only the residual water from washing, and steaming on medium-high heat for about 30 minutes.

May 182018
 

According to pre-Conquest tradition from Winchester, today is the feast of Saint Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, also known as Saint Elgiva (d. 944). She was the first wife of Edmund I (r. 939–946), and bore two future kings, Eadwig (r. 955–959) and Edgar (r. 959–975). I’d like to honor her today as much because of her name as anything else. In Anglo-Saxon Ælfgifu means “elf gift.” Admittedly, Anglo-Saxon names were quite often given without special regard for their meaning, but their meanings were at least clear and straightforward to speakers of Anglo-Saxon.

Her mother, Wynnflæd, appears to have been closely connected with Shaftesbury although her identity is not entirely clear. The clue comes from a charter of King Edgar, in which he confirmed the grant of an estate at Uppidelen (Piddletrenthide, Dorset) made by his grandmother, Wynflæd, to Shaftesbury. She may well be the nun or vowess (religiosa femina) of this name in a charter dated 942 and preserved in the abbey’s chartulary. It records that she received and retrieved from King Edmund a handful of estates in Dorset, namely Cheselbourne and Winterbourne Tomson, which somehow ended up in the possession of the community.

Her father and siblings are not known directly from primary sources, so further speculation on Ælfgifu’s background has largely depended on the identity of her mother, whose relatively uncommon name has invited further guesswork. Some historians suggest that she was the Wynflæd who drew up a will, supposedly some time in the mid-10th century, after Ælfgifu’s death. This lady held many estates scattered across Wessex (in Somerset, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, and Hampshire) and was well connected with the nunneries at Wilton and Shaftesbury, both of which were royal foundations. On that basis, a number of relatives have been proposed for Ælfgifu, including a sister called Æthelflæd, a brother called Eadmær, and a grandmother called Brihtwyn. Much of the issue of this identification hangs on the number of years by which Wynflæd can plausibly have outlived her daughter. In this light, it is significant that on palaeographical grounds, David Dumville has rejected the conventional date of c. 950 for the will, which he considers “speculative and too early.”

The sources do not record the date of Ælfgifu’s marriage to Edmund. The eldest son Eadwig, who had barely reached majority on his accession in 955, may have been born around 940, which gives us only a very rough terminus ante quem for the betrothal. Although as the mother of two future kings, Ælfgifu proved to be an important royal consort, there is no strictly contemporary evidence that she was ever consecrated as queen. In a charter of doubtful authenticity dated 942-946, she attests as the king’s concubine (concubina regis). but later in the century Æthelweard the Chronicler styles her queen (regina).

Much of Ælfgifu’s claim to fame derives from her association with Shaftesbury. Her patronage of the community is suggested by a charter of Æthelred, dated 984, according to which the abbey exchanged with king Edmund the large estate at Tisbury (Wiltshire) for Butticanlea (which is unidentified). Ælfgifu received it from her husband and intended to bequeath it back to the nunnery, but this did not happen (her son Eadwig demanded that Butticanlea was returned to the royal family first). Ælfgifu died before her husband in 944. In the early 12th century, William of Malmesbury wrote that she suffered from an illness during the last few years of her life, but there may have been some confusion with details of Æthelgifu’s life as recorded in a forged foundation charter of the late 11th or 12th century. Her body was buried and enshrined at the nunnery at Shaftesbury.

Ælfgifu was venerated as a saint soon after her burial at Shaftesbury. Æthelweard reports that many miracles had taken place at her tomb up to his day, and these were apparently attracting some local attention. Lantfred of Winchester, who wrote in the 970’s and so can be called the earliest known witness of her cult, tells of a young man from Collingbourne (possibly Collingbourne Kingston, Wiltshire), who in the hope of being cured of blindness traveled to Shaftesbury and kept vigil. What led him there was the reputation of “the venerable St Ælfgifu […] at whose tomb many bodies of sick people receive medication through the omnipotence of God.” Despite the new prominence of Edward the Martyr as a saint interred at Shaftesbury, her cult continued to flourish in later Anglo-Saxon England, as evidenced by her inclusion in a list of saints’ resting places, at least 8 pre-Conquest calendars, and 3 or 4 litanies from Winchester.

Ælfgifu is styled a saint (Sancte Ælfgife) in the D-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (mid-11th century) at the point where it specifies Eadwig’s and Edgar’s royal parentage. The text attributes her healing power both to her own merits and those of her son Edgar. It may have been due to her association that in 979 the supposed body of her murdered grandson Edward the Martyr was exhumed and in a spectacular ceremony, received at the nunnery of Shaftesbury, under the supervision of ealdorman Ælfhere.

Ælfgifu’s fame at Shaftesbury seems to have eclipsed that of its first abbess, king Alfred’s daughter Æthelgifu, so much so perhaps that William of Malmesbury wrote contradictory reports on the abbey’s early history. In the Gesta regum, he correctly identifies the first abbess as Alfred’s daughter, following Asser, although he gives her the name of Ælfgifu (Elfgiva), while in his Gesta pontificum, he credits Edmund’s wife Ælfgifu with the foundation. Either William encountered conflicting information, or he meant to say that Ælfgifu refounded the nunnery. In any event, William would have had access to local traditions at Shaftesbury, since he probably wrote a now lost metrical Life for the community, a fragment of which he included in his Gesta pontificum:

Nam nonnullis passa annis morborum molestiam,
defecatam et excoctam Deo dedit animam.
Functas ergo uitae fato beatas exuuias
infinitis clemens signis illustrabat Deitas.
Inops uisus et auditus si adorant tumulum,
sanitati restituti probant sanctae meritum.
Rectum gressum refert domum qui accessit loripes,
mente captus redit sanus, boni sensus locuples

For some years she suffered from illness,
And gave to God a soul that it had purged and purified
When she died, God brought lustre to her blessed remains
In his clemency with countless miracles.
If a blind man or a deaf worship at her tomb,
They are restored to health and prove the saint’s merits.
He who went there lame comes home firm of step,
The madman returns sane, rich in good sense.

It is minimally possible that William confused the names Æthelgifu (Alfred’s daughter) and Ælfgifu, but the two names would have been much more distinguishable to him than to a modern English speaker. Æthelgifu means “noble gift” in Anglo-Saxon; quite different from “elf gift.”

In Anglo-Saxon times in Dorset, noble households would have feasted primarily on roast meats served with bread and washed down with ale or mead.  You can certainly replicate this at home to celebrate Ælfgifu’s feast if you want. Otherwise, you can search this blog for the numerous Dorset recipes I have given. For today I want to suggest something new, using one of my favorite cheeses, Dorsetshire Blue Vinny. Before railways were built from London to Dorset, milk could not be transported to the city before it spoiled. So, Dorset farmers made butter from local milk which fetched premium prices in London. They then used the skimmed milk to make a soft crumbly blue cheese: Blue Vinny. Production of Blue Vinny continued into the 20th century, but died during the Second World War. When I was a boy, my father regaled me of tales of Blue Vinny he used to enjoy in the 1930s when he was a midshipman in the Royal Navy stationed on the South Coast, but lamented that it was no more. I was, therefore, delighted to discover that along with the general revival of interest in British regional foods, Dorset Blue Vinny was being produced again. It is now quite readily available in the UK, and via web groceries internationally. It is a good melting cheese, so melted Blue Vinny on toast would be a fine celebratory dish for Ælfgifu. However, I recommend a heartier dish – Blue Vinny Rarebit – like Welsh Rarebit but with the Dorset cheese rather than Cheddar.  I also recommend using a hearty country cottage loaf for the bread slices.

Blue Vinny Rarebit

Ingredients

225g crumbled Blue Vinny
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp flour
pepper
4 tbsp milk
4 slices crusty bread

Instructions

Put the cheese, butter, flour and pepper to taste in a saucepan, add the milk and mix well. Stir continuously over low heat until the cheese has melted and formed a rather thick sauce. Let the sauce cool slightly.

Toast the bread on one side only.

Spread the rarebit over the untoasted side and brown it under a hot grill.

Serve immediately.

 Posted by at 9:32 pm
May 102018
 

Today is the 5th birthday of this blog. Time certainly does seem to fly by. Each year it seems I am in a different country. 1st was Argentina, 2nd was China, 3rd was Italy, and 4th I was leaving Italy for Myanmar. This year I am in Nepal, although I actually live in Cambodia. It’s amusing to me to look back at each birthday. Last year I posted an omnibus album http://www.bookofdaystales.com/4th-birthday/ and promised more of the same this year. Well . . . I am going to cheat a little and post only a few birthdays because I want to focus on Marcel Mauss this year. He is certainly an important figure in the history of social and cultural anthropology, and I am an anthropologist, after all.

Karl Barth was born on this date in 1886. He was a Swiss Reformed theologian whose influence expanded well beyond the academic realm to mainstream culture, leading him to be featured on the cover of Time on April 20, 1962. Barth’s work had a profound impact on twentieth century theology and figures such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer – who supported the Confessing Church – Thomas F. Torrance, Reinhold Niebuhr, Jacques Ellul, Stanley Hauerwas, Hans Küng, Jürgen Moltmann, and novelists such as John Updike and Miklós Szentkuthy. Barth’s unease with the dominant theology which characterized Europe led him to become a leader in the Confessing Church in Germany, which actively opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. In particular, Barth and other members of the movement vigorously attempted to prevent the Nazis from taking over the existing church and establishing a state church controlled by the regime. This culminated in Barth’s authorship of the Barmen Declaration, which fiercely criticized Christians who supported the Nazis.

Ariel Durant was born on this date in 1898. She was a Russian-born US researcher and writer, and the coauthor of The Story of Civilization with her husband Will Durant. She met her future husband when she was a student at Ferrer Modern School in New York City. He was then a teacher at the school, but resigned his post to marry Ariel, who was 15 at the time of the wedding, on October 31, 1913. The wedding took place at New York’s City Hall, to which she roller-skated from her family’s home in Harlem. The couple had one daughter, Ethel Benvenuta, and adopted a son, Louis. The Durants were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1968 for Rousseau and Revolution, the tenth volume of The Story of Civilization. In 1977 they were presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Gerald Ford, and Ariel was named “Woman of the Year” by the city of Los Angeles. The Durants died within two weeks of each other in 1981 and are buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Ariel told Ethel’s daughter, Monica Mehill, that it was their differences that made them grow.

Marcel Mauss was born on this date in 1872. First, let’s talk about the pronunciation of his name. He was from Lorraine which, with Alsace, is culturally torn between France and Germany, as well as politically for the better part of two centuries. In 1871 it was ceded by France to Germany after the Franco-German War. It was then returned to to France in 1919 after World War I. It became part of Germany again in 1940 during World War II, and was given back to France in 1945 after the war. Many residents of Lorraine have family names of German origin, but prefer to pronounce them in a French manner to show their allegiance to France, not Germany. So Mauss should be pronounced /mohs/ (like “most” without the /t/) and not like “mouse.” Mauss straddled the contemporary border between sociology and anthropology, as did his uncle Émile Durkheim, who has been considerably more influential in the general development of the social sciences. Mauss is more often cited in anthropology than in sociology these days, particularly with respect to his analyses of topics such as magic, sacrifice, and gift exchange in different cultures around the world. Mauss had a significant influence upon Claude Lévi-Strauss (also pronounced in the French manner), the founder of structural anthropology.

Mauss was born in Épinal, Vosges, to a Jewish family, and studied philosophy at Bordeaux, where Durkheim was teaching at the time. He passed the agrégation in 1893. He was also first cousin of the much younger Claudette (née Raphael) Bloch, a marine biologist and mother of Maurice Bloch, who became a noted anthropologist. Instead of taking the usual route of teaching at a lycée following college, Mauss moved to Paris and took up the study of comparative religion and Sanskrit. His first publication in 1896 marked the beginning of a prolific career that produced several landmarks in the sociological literature. In 1901 Mauss took a chair in the ‘history of religion and uncivilized peoples’ at the École pratique des hautes études (EPHE), one of the grandes écoles in Paris. It was at this time that he began drawing more on ethnography, and his work began to develop characteristics now associated with formal anthropology. In 1931 Mauss took the chair of Sociology at the Collège de France. He actively fought against anti-Semitism and racial politics both before and after World War II. He died in 1950.

In his classic work The Gift, Mauss argued that gifts are never truly free. Rather, human history is full of examples of gifts bringing about reciprocal exchange. The famous question that drove his inquiry into the anthropology of the gift was: “What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?” The answer is that a gift is a “total prestation” imbued with “spiritual mechanisms” engaging the honor of both giver and receiver (the term “total prestation” or “total social fact” (fait social total) was coined by his student Maurice Leenhardt after Durkheim’s “social fact”). Such transactions transcend the divisions between the spiritual and the material in a way that, according to Mauss, is almost “magical”. The giver does not merely give an object but also part of himself, for the object is indissolubly tied to the giver: “the objects are never completely separated from the people who exchange them”. Because of this bond between giver and gift, the act of giving creates a social bond with an obligation to reciprocate on the part of the recipient. Not to reciprocate means to lose honor and status, but the spiritual implications can be even worse: in Polynesia, failure to reciprocate means to lose mana, one’s spiritual source of authority and wealth. Mauss distinguished between three obligations: giving, the necessary initial step for the creation and maintenance of social relationships; receiving, because to refuse to receive is to reject the social bond; and reciprocating in order to demonstrate one’s own liberality, honor, and wealth.

An important notion in Mauss’ conceptualisation of gift exchange is “inalienability”. In a commodity economy (such as ours), there is a strong distinction between objects and persons through the notion of private property. Objects are sold, meaning that the ownership rights are fully transferred to the new owner. The object has thereby become “alienated” from its original owner. In a gift economy, however, the objects that are given are inalienable from the givers; they are loaned rather than sold and ceded. It is the fact that the identity of the giver is invariably bound up with the object given that causes the gift to have a power which compels the recipient to reciprocate. Because gifts are inalienable they must be returned; the act of giving creates a gift-debt that has to be repaid. Because of this, the notion of an expected return of the gift creates a relationship over time between two individuals. In other words, through gift-giving, a social bond evolves that is assumed to continue through space and time until the future moment of exchange. Gift exchange therefore leads to a mutual interdependence between giver and receiver. According to Mauss, the “free” gift that is not returned is a contradiction because it cannot create social ties. Following the Durkheimian quest for understanding social cohesion through the concept of solidarity, Mauss’s argument is that solidarity is achieved through the social bonds created by gift exchange. Mauss emphasizes that exchanging gifts resulted from the will of attaching other people “to put people under obligations,” because “in theory such gifts are voluntary, but in fact they are given and repaid under obligation”.

While Mauss is best known for several of his own works – most notably The Gift – much of his best work was done in collaboration with members of the Année Sociologique, including Durkheim (Primitive Classification), Henri Hubert (Outline of a General Theory of Magic and Essay on the Nature and Function of Sacrifice), Paul Fauconnet (Sociology) and others.

Lorraine is home to a wealth of great dishes, including quiche Lorraine, which I have made mention of before. There are also renowned cheeses, such as, Carré de l’Est, Brouère, Munster-géromé, and Tourrée de l’Aubier. Lorraine was one of the first regions of Europe to start cooking with potatoes in the 17th century and there are several characteristic dishes using potatoes. The Mirabelle plum is the emblematic fruit of the region used in pies, desserts, and liqueurs. A treat for the would-be forager is dandelion salad with hot bacon dressing, which is immensely popular in the region. Some cooks in Lorraine add halved boiled eggs to this salad. If you want to do this, boil the eggs right before serving, and peel them and add them, whilst they are warm. First a note about dandelion greens. Chances are that if you have a big lawn you also have dandelions. They are delicious but there are a few cautions. Don’t use dandelion greens from a lawn that has been sprayed or treated with fertilizer or pesticides. Choose only the youngest of leaves. Old, large leaves are tough and bitter. Remove all stems before washing the leaves in several changes of water, and patting them dry. You can refrigerate them before making the salad. The essence of this dish is that it combines hot and cold ingredients.

Dandelion Salad with Warm Vinaigrette

Ingredients

1 lb tender, young dandelion greens
5 bacon slices
3 boiled eggs, warm
1 ½ tbsp finely chopped shallot
1 ½ tbsp cider vinegar
salt and pepper

Place the dandelion greens in a large serving bowl.

Cook bacon in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, reserving the fat in the skillet. Finely chop the bacon.

Whisk together the shallot, vinegar, and salt, and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Pour the mix into the hot bacon fat and whisk vigorously to form a warm emulsion. Toss the greens with enough of the warm dressing to coat. Added halved, warm boiled eggs (if using), sprinkle with the bacon, and serve immediately.