Nov 062014


Today is the birthday (1854) of John Philip Sousa, composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, known primarily for U.S. military and patriotic marches. Because of his mastery of march composition, he is known as “The March King” in the U.S. and the “American March King” owing to his counterparts in other nations. Among his best-known marches are “The Liberty Bell”, “The Thunderer”, “The Washington Post”, “Semper Fidelis” (Official March of the United States Marine Corps), and “The Stars and Stripes Forever” (National March of the United States of America).

Sousa’s father was of Portuguese ancestry but born in Spain and his mother of Bavarian ancestry. Sousa began his career playing violin and studying music theory and composition under John Esputa and George Felix Benkert. His father enlisted him in the United States Marine Band as an apprentice in 1868. After departing the band in 1875, Sousa learned to conduct. From 1880 until his death, he focused on conducting and the writing of marches and the writing of operettas. He eventually rejoined the Marine Band and served there for 12 years as director.


On leaving the Marine Band, Sousa organized his own band. He toured Europe and Australia and help develop the sousaphone, a large brass instrument similar to the tuba. On the outbreak of World War I, Sousa was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander and led the Naval Reserve Band in Illinois. Following his tenure, he returned to conduct the Sousa Band until his death in 1932.

I don’t have much interest in patriotic and military music in general, although there are some stirring tunes that have always been part of my life one way or another. Growing up in Australia and England meant that Sousa was not terribly in evidence at parades and so forth. But you’d be hard put to find a Brit of my generation who does not know “The Liberty Bell” because of its indelible association with Monty Python.  As I was composing this post I was listening to the march and laughing at the memories from the 60’s and 70’s

“The Liberty Bell” was written for Sousa’s unfinished operetta “The Devil’s Deputy,” but financing for the show fell through. Shortly afterwards, Sousa and his band manager George Hinton attended the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As they watched the spectacle “America”, in which a backdrop depicting the Liberty Bell was lowered, Hinton suggested “The Liberty Bell” as the title of Sousa’s recently completed march. Coincidentally, Sousa received a letter from his wife, saying their son had marched in a parade in honor of the Liberty Bell. Sousa agreed. He sold “The Liberty Bell” to the John Church Company for publication, and it was an immediate success. The march is played as part of an exhibit in the Liberty Bell Center.

The United States Marine Corps Band has played “The Liberty Bell” march at four of the last six presidential inaugurations: the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton, the 2005 inauguration of President George W. Bush, and the 2009 and 2013 inaugurations of President Barack Obama.

“The Liberty Bell” is also the official march past of the Canadian Forces Public Affairs Branch.

The march follows the standard form of AABBCDCDC. The trio (section C) typically uses tubular bells to symbolize the Liberty Bell ringing in the distance, but occasionally (as here) other bells are used. The bells usually begin during the first breakstrain, but some bands use them at the first trio.

Monty Python’s use of the melody is ironic. Terry Gilliam, the only US Python, decided to use the theme. He has said the piece was chosen because the troupe thought it could not be associated with the program’s content, and that the first bell strike and the subsequent melody gave the impression of getting “straight down to business.” It was also chosen because it was in the public domain and free from royalties, as there was no budget for theme music copyrights.

The Monty Python mode of presenting the tune was with a single strike of the bell, lifted from the third section and increased in volume, followed by a strain of each of the first two sections, followed by the famous stomping foot and a noticeably flatulent “splat” sound reminiscent of a whoopee cushion (though the first episodes used a “hiss”). At the end of Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl, the entire march was played over the closing credits.

“The Liberty Bell” was used by the Foot Guards before it became associated with the television series, after which they chose another march. Nevertheless, the march remains popular with British military bands. The association with Monty Python is the main reason for its popularity there, other Sousa marches being generally too linked with US patriotism.


The classic USMC breakfast is S.O.S. (you probably know what that means) – creamed beef on toast. A number of years ago (back in the 70’s), San Francisco’s own Marine Artillery General (Brigadier) Tiago, requested/ordered that a recipe for the Marine Corps’ famous creamed beef on toast be developed so that it could be served to a small group of about eight people. This way the general could have his wife make it at home. The official recipe for the mess halls serves 300 or more. This challenge was taken up by his chief field artillery cook, M/Sgt Bernie Parker. After many tries and a few mistakes “Top” Parker came up with the following recipe.  The knowledgeable will note that this is made with ground beef and not chipped beef.


Recipe for “Marine Breakfast”

(Serves 8 or two hungry Marines)

½ lb. ground geef (ground chuck for flavor)

1 tbs. bacon fat (lard/Crisco or butter)

3 tbs. Flour

2 cups whole milk (add more milk if you want it thinner)

1/8 tsp. salt

pepper (to taste)

8 slices of dry toast

Using a large skillet (12″-14″), crumble and brown the ground beef with the fat and salt, remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.

Mix in the flour until all of the meat is covered, using all of the flour. Replace the skillet on the heat and stir in the milk, keep stirring until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens (boil a minimum of 1 minute).

Serve over the toast. Salt & pepper to taste. “Semper fi”

Nov 022014


Today is All Souls, the last of a trio of days, Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls, associated with honoring departed souls. One year I will get round to talking about them, but this year I want to celebrate All Souls College at Oxford, officially, “The Warden and the College of the Souls of All Faithful People Deceased in the University of Oxford,” certainly the oddest college at the university, and maybe at any university.

There are no undergraduate members of the college, and all of its members automatically become fellows (full members of the College’s governing body). Each year, recent graduates of Oxford and other universities are eligible to apply for Examination Fellowships through a competitive examination and interview process (once described as “the hardest exam in the world”).


The College was founded by Henry VI of England and Henry Chichele (fellow of New College and Archbishop of Canterbury), in 1438. The Statutes provided for the Warden and forty fellows – all to take Holy Orders; twenty-four to study arts, philosophy and theology; and sixteen to study civil or canon law. The College’s Codrington Library, completed in 1751, was built through the bequest of Christopher Codrington, one time governor of the Leeward Islands. Today the College is primarily a graduate research institution supported by its endowment.

Although the college now has no undergraduate members, there were times when it did, especially in the early 17th century, on the instigation of Robert Hovenden (Warden of the college from 1571 to 1614), in order to provide the fellows with servientes (household servants). The admission of undergraduates for this purpose was abandoned in the 19th century, although four Bible Clerks remained on the foundation until 1924.


The chapel was built between 1438 and 1442 and remained largely unchanged until the Commonwealth. Oxford, having been a largely Royalist stronghold, suffered under the Puritans’ wrath. The 42 misericords date from the Chapel’s building, and show a resemblance to the misericords at Higham Ferrers. Both may have been carved by Richard Tyllock.

Christopher Wren was a fellow from 1653, and in 1658 produced a sundial. This was originally placed on the South wall of the Chapel, until it was moved to the quadrangle (above the central entrance to the Codrington Library) in 1877. During the 1660’s a screen was installed in the Chapel, which was based on a design by Wren. However, this screen needed to be rebuilt by 1713. By the mid-19th century the Chapel was in great need of renovation, and so the current structure is heavily influenced by Victorian architectural ideals.

Around 500 Oxford undergraduates who have received a first class honors degree, and students from other universities with equivalent results during the previous three years, are eligible to apply for Examination Fellowships (sometimes informally referred to as “Prize Fellowships”) of seven years each. Several dozen typically do so (although this figure has climbed steeply in recent years). Two examination fellows are usually elected each year, although the college has awarded a single place in previous years, and made no award on rare occasions.

The competition, offered since 1878 and open to women since 1979, takes place over two days in late September, with two examinations of three hours each per day. Two are on subjects of the candidates’ choice. Options include Classics, English Literature, Economics, History, Law, Philosophy, and Politics. Candidates who choose Classics as their subject have an additional translation examination on a third day.Two are on general subjects. For each general examination candidates choose from a list of three questions, such as:

“‘If a man could say nothing against a character but what he could prove, history could not be written’ (Samuel Johnson). Discuss.”

“Should the Orange Prize for Fiction be open to both men and women?”

“Does the moral character of an orgy change when the participants wear Nazi uniforms?”

Before 2010, candidates also faced another examination, a free-form essay on a single, pre-selected word. This has since been discontinued, much to the dismay of many members of the university at large. Oxford entrance examinations in general usually have a few questions that are a bit off the wall and are meant to test your wit and imagination as well as intellect. For my entrance exams I did some standard papers, such as European history, Greek and Latin translation, and Latin composition. But there was a fourth on general topics. One question that got me especially high marks was “Why do crosswords?” (the English cryptic kind).


Essay words for the All Souls exam have included, water, style, integrity, innocence, and bias. This essay was dropped because the examiners felt that it was not a good test of the candidates’ potential to pursue worthwhile research. I find this a little hard to fathom given that undergraduate education at Oxford (certainly in my time), tends to be on the narrow side, and the one-word essay was a chance for the examiners to see a broader side of the candidates. Four to six finalists are invited to a viva (oral exam), then dinner with about 75 members of the college. The dinner, in theory, does not form part of the assessment, but is supposed to be simply a reward for those candidates who have reached the latter stages of the selection process. However, a friend of mine, who was a fellow for many years, told me that the candidates are informally judged on their quality as dinner companions. Whether this is decisive or not, I do not know. During this discussion he also passed on a legend that at one time the dessert was cherry pie – a test to see what the candidates did with the pits.

About one dozen Examination Fellows are at the college at any one time. There are no compulsory teaching or research requirements; they can study anything for free at Oxford with room and board provided. As “Londoners” they can pursue approved non-academic careers if desired, with a reduced stipend, as long as they pursue academia on a part-time basis and attend weekend dinners at the college during their first academic year. As of 2011 each Examination Fellow receives a stipend of £14,842 annually for the first two years; the stipend then varies depending on whether the fellow pursues an academic career.


Every hundred years, and generally on 14 January, there is a commemorative feast after which the fellows parade around the College with flaming torches, singing the Mallard Song and led by a “Lord Mallard” who is carried in a chair, in search of a legendary mallard that supposedly flew out of the foundations of the college when it was being built. During the hunt the Lord Mallard is preceded by a man bearing a pole to which a mallard is tied – originally a live bird, latterly either dead (1901) or carved from wood (2001). The last mallard ceremony was in 2001 and the next will be held in 2101. The precise origin of the custom is not known but it dates from at least 1632, when the archbishop of Canterbury chastised the fellows for drunken rioting at the feast.


Here’s a sterling English recipe for cherry pie. Make sure you include the pits!



Nov 012014


Today is Independence Day in the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, an island nation in the Leeward chain bordering the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Antigua was first settled by archaic foragers called the Siboney or Ciboney. Carbon dating has established the earliest settlements started around 3100 BCE. They were succeeded by the Ceramic Age pre-Columbian Arawak-speaking Saladoid people who migrated from the lower Orinoco River.

The Arawaks introduced agriculture, raising, among other crops, the famous Antigua black pineapple (Moris cultivar of Ananas comosus), corn, sweet potatoes (white with firmer flesh than the bright orange “sweet potato” used in the United States), chiles, guava, tobacco, and cotton.


The indigenous West Indians made excellent seagoing vessels which they used to sail the Atlantic and the Caribbean. As a result, Caribs and Arawaks were able to colonize much of South America and the Caribbean Islands. Their descendants still live there, notably in Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia.Most Arawaks left Antigua around 1100 AD; those who remained were later raided by the Caribs. The Caribs’ superior weapons and seafaring prowess allowed them to defeat most of the West Indian Arawak nations.

The island of Antigua, originally called Wa’ladli by Arawaks, is today called Wadadli by locals. Caribs possibly called it Wa’omoni. Christopher Columbus, while sailing by in 1493, may have named it Santa Maria la Antigua after an icon in the Spanish Seville Cathedral. The Spaniards did not colonize Antigua because it lacked fresh water and because the Caribs were extremely aggressive towards them.

The English settled on Antigua in 1632; Sir Christopher Codrington settled on Barbuda in 1684. Slavery, established to run sugar plantations around 1684, was abolished in 1834. The British ruled from 1632 to 1981, with a brief French interlude in 1666.


The islands became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations on 1 November 1981. The Right Honourable Vere Cornwall Bird became the first Prime Minister.

Antigua and Barbuda cooking is like much of the cooking of the West Indies, but with its own quirks. The national dish is fungie (pronounced “foon-jee”) and pepper pot. Fungie is a dish that’s similar to Italian polenta, made mostly with cornmeal. Other local dishes include ducana, seasoned rice, saltfish and lobster (from Barbuda). There are also local confectionaries which include: sugarcake, fudge, raspberry and tamarind stew and peanut brittle.

Although these foods are indigenous to Antigua and Barbuda and to some other Caribbean countries, the local diet has diversified and now includes local dishes of Jamaica, such as jerk meats, or Trinidad, such as Roti, and other Caribbean countries. Shawarma, an Arab dish has become popular as well, beings sold out of Arab shops along with kebabs and gyros. Chinese restaurants have also begun to become more mainstream. The supermarkets sell a wide variety of food, from American to Italian. Meals may vary depending on household income levels.

Breakfast dishes include saltfish, eggplant, eggs and lettuce. Lunches typically include a starch, such as rice, macaroni or pasta, vegetables and/or salad, an entree (fish, chicken, pork, beef etc.) and a side dish such as macaroni pie (baked macaroni and cheese), scalloped potatoes or plantains. On Sundays many people in the country go to church and afterwards prepare a variety of foods at home. Dinner on Sundays is often eaten earlier (around 2:00 pm) because people are often off from works. Dinners may include pork, baked chicken, stewed lamb, or turkey, with rice (prepared in a variety of ways), macaroni pie, salads, and a local drink. Dessert may be ice cream and cake or an apple pie (mango and pineapple pie when in season). Antiguan Butter Bread is also a main stable of Antuguan cuisine, it is a soft buttery loaf of bread that needs no butter added once baked. Many locals enjoy fresh baked butter bread and cheese for breakfast and throughout the day. There are many homes in neighborhoods all over Antigua that have small bakeries built on to them, where locals can go and purchase these fresh baked loaves. They are coupled with cheese, sardines, and a bright red sausage that locals sometimes call salami. They also have what is called “provisions” with most meals. Provisions are foods that are usually a root or starch like potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, eddo, etc. During Carnival time, souse a very spicy soup with pigs’ feet, pigs’ knuckles, and tails with lots of onions is a popular snack, sold by vendors on the side of the road. Black pudding (blood sausage), a well seasoned sausage made with rice, meat, and pigs’ blood is also enjoyed by locals. Here’s a recipe for Antigua pepper pot. Pepper pot is found throughout the West Indies, and, like most such recipes is more or less cook’s choice. It is typically served with fungie.


Antiguan Pepper Pot


¾ lb pork, cubed

2 onions, chopped

2 lbs spinach

10 okra pods

4 cups beef broth

1 hot pepper, chopped fine (or more) Scotch bonnet is best

2 cloves garlic, chopped fine

salt and pepper to taste

2 tsps fresh thyme

1 tbsp cooking oil


Heat the oil over high heat in a heavy pot and brown the pork and onions.

Add the broth, bring to a boil and simmer for one hour.

Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer one hour more.


Oct 312014


Today is the day on which Protestants commemorate the anniversary of the day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, thus sparking the Protestant Reformation. The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences ( Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum) were written by Martin Luther in 1517 and are widely regarded as the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. The disputation protests against clerical abuses, especially nepotism, simony, usury, pluralism, and, most especially, the sale of indulgences.

The Theses reject the validity of indulgences, that is, pardons that were sold for the forgiveness of sin. Luther argues that the sale of indulgences was a gross violation of the original intention of confession and penance, and that Christians were being falsely told that they could find absolution through the purchase of indulgences.

All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg where the Ninety-Five Theses famously appeared, held one of Europe’s largest collections of holy relics. These had been piously collected by Frederick III of Saxony. At that time, pious veneration of relics supposedly allowed the viewer to receive relief from temporal punishment for sins in Purgatory. By 1520, Frederick had over 19,000 relics, purportedly “including vials of the milk of the Virgin Mary, straws from the manger [of Jesus], and the body of one of the innocents massacred by King Herod” – without doubt, all frauds sold by unscrupulous dealers.


As part of a fund-raising campaign commissioned by Pope Leo X to finance the renovation of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest, began the selling of indulgences in the German lands. Albert of Mainz, the Archbishop of Mainz in Germany, had borrowed heavily to pay for his high church rank and was deeply in debt. He agreed to allow the sale of the indulgences in his territory in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. Luther was apparently not aware of this. Even though Luther’s prince, Frederick III, and the prince of the neighboring territory, George, Duke of Saxony, forbade their sale in their respective lands, people in Wittenberg traveled to purchase them. When these people came to confession, they presented their plenary indulgences for which they paid, claiming they no longer had to repent of their sins, since the document promised to forgive all their sins. Luther was outraged that they had paid money for what was theirs by right as a free gift from God. He felt compelled to expose the fraud that was being sold to the people. This exposure was to take place in the form of a public scholarly debate at the University of Wittenberg. The Ninety-Five Theses outlined the items to be discussed and issued the challenge to any and all comers.


Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as ‘into heaven’] springs.” He insisted that since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.

On 31 October 1517, Luther posted the ninety-five theses, which he had composed in Latin, on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, according to university custom when a scholar wished to initiate a debate. On the same day, Luther sent a hand-written copy, with honorable comments appended, to the archbishop Albert of Mainz and Magdeburg, who was in charge of the indulgence sales, and to the bishop of Brandenburg, Luther’s superior at the time. Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had no intention of challenging the church but saw his dispute as a scholarly objection to church actions, and the voice of the letter is accordingly “searching, rather than doctrinaire.” Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undertone of confrontation and dispute in several of the theses, especially in Thesis 86, which poses the question: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of Saint Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”


Within two weeks, copies of the Theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe. In January 1518 Christoph von Scheurl and other friends of Luther translated the Ninety-Five Theses from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied them, making the controversy one of the first in history to be aided by the printing press.

On 15 June 1520, Pope Leo X issued a rebuttal to Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, a papal encyclical titled Exsurge Domine (“Arise, O Lord”), from its opening words. This document outlined where the pope believed Luther had erred, and firmly asserted that the pope was the sole authority on these matters.

As early as 29 October 1521, the chapel at Wittenberg began to turn away from private masses, that is, masses paid for by the wealthy for themselves and dead relatives to limit their time in Purgatory. In 1522, much of the city began celebrating Lutheran services instead of Roman Catholic services. Luther’s popularity grew rapidly, mostly because the general Roman Catholic church members were dissatisfied with the corruption and worldly desires and habits of the Roman Curia.

As the Reformation progressed, another element drew adherents to the ideas and practices that gradually became known as Lutheranism. Luther and others had urged that greater balance be observed in the attention given to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures versus the long-accepted sources of tradition and reason in the formation of doctrine. This concept, called “sola scriptura,” offered a basis for querying the tight hold Catholic prelates then had over both the content of faith and over practices such as the sale of indulgences. As availability of the recently invented movable type printing press spread, literacy also began to grow among a wider population that was increasingly getting exposed to books and began to hear the Bible read aloud in the vernacular at church. The laity, now able to read and examine traditional Catholic doctrine, was encouraged to test its faithfulness to Scriptures, resulting in a new emphasis on personal faith and piety instead of relying on the priesthood to interpret scripture. Thus arose a need for informed interpretation of the Scriptures, so that attendance at public preaching and lecturing events grew. Individuals became more invested in understanding and living out their faith. Naturally the church, whose stranglehold on doctrine had been complete, were deeply threatened.

By disseminating his theses, Luther was acting as the spokesman for a general shift that was taking place throughout Europe, where the general authority of the pope and the church were being challenged. Luther’s movement had many forerunners, most especially Jan Hus and John Wycliffe a century earlier, but they failed to take hold owing to their brutal suppression by a church tha had no intention of giving up wealth and power. Luther, and Lutheranism, succeeded because he had the support of rulers who wanted to rid themselves of papal authority in their states and were willing to go to war for their freedom.

Wittenberg lies on the Elbe River in what was then Saxony and is now Saxony-Anhalt. The cuisine of the region is similar to German cuisine in general but with distinctive dishes as well. Fishing was once prominent in the Elbe River, which contains 33 of the 40 species of fish caught in the region. Sadly however, mercury, hexachlorobenzene, DDT, musk compounds and heptachlor have severely polluted the river and in consequence commercial fishing has been banned since 1989. Fortunately there are other favorites besides river fish, such as, Leipziger Allerlei (Leipzig mixed vegetables), Ochsenschwanz (oxtails), Pfefferkuchen (gingerbread), Fürst Pückler Eis (Count Pückler ice cream), Schwemmklösschen (dumplings), Eierschecke (lemony cheesecake), Bienenstich (“Bee Sting” cake), and Dresdener Christstollen (Dresden Christmas cake).


Leipziger Allerlei


2 cups beef broth
½ lb. baby carrots
½ lb. asparagus, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 small cauliflower, separated into rosettes
2 cups fresh green peas
½ lb. mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. flour
½ cup cream
salt, white pepper, nutmeg to taste
2 tbsp. chopped parsley



Bring the broth to a boil in a large pot.

Add the carrots and simmer 5 minutes.

Add the cauliflower, peas, and asparagus and simmer 8 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and simmer 10 minutes.

Drain the vegetables and reserve the broth.

Make a white roux by melting the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat and slowly whisking in the flour. Do not allow it to take on color.

Turn off the heat and slowly whisk in the reserved broth. Let the mixture gently heat and then add the cream, salt and pepper to taste, and nutmeg.

Add the cooked vegetables back into the sauce and serve garnished with parsley.

Oct 302014


“The War of the Worlds” is an episode of the American radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938, and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by actor and future filmmaker Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds (1898). It became famous for supposedly causing mass panic, although the extent of this panic is debated.The first two thirds of the 62-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to some listeners that an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a sustaining show (it ran without commercial breaks), adding to the program’s realism, and that others were primarily listening to Edgar Bergen and only tuned in to the show during a musical interlude, thereby missing the introduction that clearly stated that the show was a drama.

In the days following the adaptation, there was widespread outrage in the media. The program’s news-bulletin format was described as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers (which had lost advertising revenue to radio) and public figures, leading to an outcry against the directors of the broadcast and calls for regulation by the Federal Communications Commission. Despite these complaints—or perhaps in part because of them—the episode secured Welles’s fame as a dramatist.

H. G. Wells’s original novel relates the story of an alien invasion of Earth. The novel was adapted by Howard E. Koch for the 17th episode of the CBS Radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air, broadcast at 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, October 30, 1938. The program’s format was a simulated live newscast of developing events. The setting was switched from 19th-century England to contemporary Grover’s Mill, an unincorporated village in West Windsor Township, New Jersey in the United States.

The first two-thirds of the hour-long play is a contemporary retelling of events of the novel, presented as news bulletins interrupting another program. This approach was similar to Ronald Knox’s satirical newscast of a riot overtaking London broadcast by the BBC in 1926, which Welles later said gave him the idea for “The War of the Worlds.” A 1927 drama aired by Adelaide station 5CL depicted an invasion of Australia via the same techniques and inspired reactions similar to those of the Welles broadcast.


Welles was also influenced by the Columbia Workshop presentations “The Fall of the City,” a 1937 radio play in which Welles played the role of omniscient announcer, and “Air Raid”, a vibrant as-it-happens drama starring Ray Collins that aired October 27, 1938. Presenting a drama in a news broadcast style was not new for The Mercury Theatre on the Air; Welles had chosen a newscast format for “Julius Caesar” (September 11, 1938), with H. V. Kaltenborn providing historical commentary throughout the story. “War of the Worlds” broadcast employed techniques similar to those of The March of Time, the CBS news documentary and dramatization radio series. Welles was a member of the program’s regular cast, having first performed on The March of Time in March 1935.3 The Mercury Theatre on the Air and The March of Time shared many cast members, as well as sound effects chief Ora D. Nichols.

The beginning of “The War of the Worlds” is credible but intentionally dull, with mundane bulletins and colorless interviews interspersed with unspectacular musical interludes. Over Houseman’s protests Welles restored lines that had been cut in rehearsal, to extend these slow movements to the point of tedium. When Houseman protested further, Welles extended them all the more. “He was right,” wrote Houseman:

Herein lay the great tensile strength of the show; it was the structural device that made the whole illusion possible. … In order to take advantage of the accepted convention, we had to slide swiftly and imperceptibly out of the ‘real’ time of a news report into the ‘dramatic’ time of a fictional broadcast. Once that was achieved — without losing the audience’s attention or arousing their skepticism — once they were sufficiently absorbed and bewitched not to notice the transitions any more, there was no extreme of fantasy through which they would not follow us.

To create the role of reporter Carl Phillips, actor Frank Readick went to the record library and played the recording of Herbert Morrison’s radio report of the Hindenburg disaster over and over. Working with Bernard Herrmann and the orchestra that had to sound like a dance band fell to Paul Stewart, the person Welles would later credit as being largely responsible for the quality of “The War of the Worlds” broadcast:

To get Benny to conduct the dance songs I had suggested (including “Stardust” and “La Cumparsita”) was almost an impossibility. He didn’t understand the rhythms at all. I said, “Benny, it’s gotta be like this” and snapped my fingers — and he got very upset. He handed me the baton and said, “You conduct it!” I got up on the podium. All the musicians understood Benny’s personality, so when I gave the downbeat they played it just the way I wanted it. I said, “Now that’s how to do it!” I handed the baton back to Benny, who was crestfallen. The moment in the broadcast when Herrmann conducts “Stardust” with the symphony orchestra is one of the most hysterical moments in radio.

Welles wanted the music to play for unbearably long stretches of time. The studio’s emergency fill-in, a solo piano playing Debussy and Chopin, was heard several times. “As it played on and on,” Houseman wrote, “its effect became increasingly sinister — a thin band of suspense stretched almost beyond endurance. That piano was the neatest trick of the show.”

The program seamlessly transitions into a slightly ominous bulletin from the Government Weather Bureau, and then to a musical interlude from the Meridian Room of the Hotel Park Plaza. A symphonic rendition of “La Cumparsita” performed by Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra (actually the CBS orchestra under the direction of Bernard Herrmann) is interrupted by news flashes about strange explosions on Mars. Welles is heard for the first time as world-famous astronomer and Princeton professor Richard Pierson, who dismisses speculation about life on Mars in an interview with reporter Carl Phillips (Frank Readick).

The news grows more frequent and increasingly ominous as a cylindrical meteorite lands in a farm field in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. A crowd gathers at the site. Reporter Carl Phillips relates the events. The cylinder unscrews, and onlookers catch a glimpse of a tentacled, pulsating, barely mobile Martian inside before it incinerates the crowd with Heat-Rays. Phillips’s shouts about incoming flames are cut off in mid-sentence.

Regular programming breaks down as the network struggles with casualty updates, firefighting developments, and the like. A shaken Pierson speculates about Martian technology. The New Jersey state militia declares martial law and attacks the cylinder; a message from their field headquarters lectures about the overwhelming force of properly equipped infantry and the helplessness of the Martians in Earth’s gravity until a Tripod rises from the pit.

The Martians obliterate the militia, and the network returns, now describing the Martians as an invading army. Emergency response bulletins give way to damage reports and evacuation instructions as millions of refugees clog the roads. Three Martian tripods from the cylinder destroy power stations and uproot bridges and railroads, reinforced by three others from a second cylinder as gas explosions continue. An unnamed Secretary of the Interior advises the nation; actor Kenny Delmar’s voice is reminiscent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

A live connection is established to a field artillery battery. Its gun crew reports damaging one machine and a release of black smoke — poison gas — before fading into the sound of coughing. The lead plane of a wing of bombers from Langham Field (sounding much like Langley Field, where the Army Air Corps stationed the 2d Bombardment Group) broadcasts its approach and remains on the air as its engines are burned by the Heat-Ray. The pilot (Howard Smith) chooses to make a suicide dive on the invaders. Radio operators go active and fall silent, most immediately after reporting the approach of the black smoke. Bombers have destroyed one machine, but the network receives reports that cylinders are falling all across the country.

This section ends famously. A news reporter (Ray Collins), broadcasting from atop Broadcasting Building, describes the Martian invasion of New York City – “five great machines” wading across the Hudson River, poison smoke drifting over the city, people running and diving into the East River “like rats”, others “falling like flies” – until he, too, succumbs to the poison gas. After a period of silence, a ham radio operator is heard:

2X2L calling CQ

2X2L calling CQ

2X2L calling CQ New York

Isn’t there anyone on the air?

Isn’t there anyone on the air?

Isn’t there anyone?

2X2L —


After a period of silence comes the voice of announcer Dan Seymour:

You are listening to the CBS presentation of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre of the Air in an original dramatization of The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells. The performance will continue after a brief intermission.

The last third of the program is a monologue and dialogue. Welles returns as Professor Pierson, describing the aftermath of the attacks. The story ends, as does the novel, with the Martians falling victim to earthly pathogenic germs, to which they have no immunity.

After the play, Welles assumes his role as host and tells listeners that the broadcast was a Halloween concoction: the equivalent, he says, “of dressing up in a sheet, jumping out of a bush and saying, ‘Boo!'” Popular mythology holds this disclaimer was hastily added to the broadcast at the insistence of CBS executives as they became aware of panic inspired by the program; in fact, it had appeared in Koch’s working script for the play.


Producer John Houseman noticed that at about 8:32 p.m. ET, CBS supervisor Davidson Taylor received a telephone call in the control room. Creasing his lips, Taylor left the studio and returned four minutes later, “pale as death.” During the sign-off theme the phone began ringing. Houseman picked it up and the furious caller announced he was mayor of a Midwestern town where mobs were in the streets. Houseman hung up quickly: “For we were off the air now and the studio door had burst open.”

The following hours were a nightmare. The building was suddenly full of people and dark-blue uniforms. Hustled out of the studio, we were locked into a small back office on another floor. Here we sat incommunicado while network employees were busily collecting, destroying or locking up all scripts and records of the broadcast. Finally the Press was let loose upon us, ravening for horror. How many deaths had we heard of? (Implying they knew of thousands.) What did we know of the fatal stampede in a Jersey hall? (Implying it was one of many.) What traffic deaths? (The ditches must be choked with corpses.) The suicides? (Haven’t you heard about the one on Riverside Drive?) It is all quite vague in my memory and quite terrible.

Paul White, head of CBS News, was quickly summoned to the office — “and there bedlam reigned”, he wrote:

The telephone switchboard, a vast sea of light, could handle only a fraction of incoming calls. The haggard Welles sat alone and despondent. “I’m through,” he lamented, “washed up.” I didn’t bother to reply to this highly inaccurate self-appraisal. I was too busy writing explanations to put on the air, reassuring the audience that it was safe. I also answered my share of incessant telephone calls, many of them from as far away as the Pacific Coast.

Because of the crowd of newspaper reporters, photographers and police, the cast left the CBS building by the rear entrance. Aware of the sensation the broadcast had made but not its extent, Welles went to the Mercury Theatre where an all-night rehearsal of Danton’s Death was in progress. Shortly after midnight one of the cast, a late arrival, told Welles that news about “The War of the Worlds” was being flashed in Times Square. They immediately left the theatre and, standing on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street, they read the lighted bulletin that circled the New York Times building: ORSON WELLES CAUSES PANIC.

Historical research has strongly suggested the panic was less widespread than newspapers had indicated at the time. “[T]he panic and mass hysteria so readily associated with ‘The War of the Worlds’ did not occur on anything approaching a nationwide dimension”, American University media historian W. Joseph Campbell wrote in 2003. He quotes Robert E. Bartholomew, an authority on mass panic outbreaks, as having said that “there is a growing consensus among sociologists that the extent of the panic … was greatly exaggerated.”

This position is supported by contemporary accounts. “In the first place, most people didn’t hear [the show]”, said Frank Stanton, later president of CBS. According to the C. E. Hooper company, the main radio ratings service at the time, only 2% of the people it called up while the program aired said they were listening to it. Many more people were listening to The Chase and Sanborn Hour, long the most popular program in that timeslot. Further shrinking the potential audience, some CBS network affiliates, including some in large markets like Boston’s WEEI, had pre-empted the broadcast in favor of local commercial programming.

Ben Gross, radio editor for the New York Daily News, wrote in his 1954 memoir that the streets were nearly deserted as he made his way to the studio for the end of the program. Producer John Houseman reported that the Mercury Theatre staff was surprised when they were finally released from the CBS studios to find life going on as usual in the streets of New York. The writer of a letter the Washington Post published later likewise recalled no panicked mobs in the capital’s downtown streets at the time. “The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast”, media historians Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow wrote in Slate on its 75th anniversary in 2013; “Almost nobody was fooled.”

Many listeners sued the network for “mental anguish” and “personal injury”. All suits were dismissed, except for a claim for a pair of black men’s shoes by a Massachusetts man, who spent his shoe money to escape the Martians. Welles insisted the man be paid.

You can download the original broadcast here:

The Mercury Theatre Online

Welles was legendary in Hollywood for his gargantuan appetite (and size). At one point he had to go on a diet to play Shakespeare’s portly Sir John Falstaff !! I’ve read numerous accounts of his eating habits, however, and do not find much to suggest that he was a particularly discerning or adventurous eater. Admittedly he could be fussy about the quality of the food he was served, but it was mostly of the “U.S. meat and potatoes” variety. One favorite of his, for example, was 2 large steaks, 2 baked potatoes, a whole pineapple, and a giant dish of pistachio ice cream. Sheer quantity of a meal does not amuse me. Reminds me of various sickeningly large food challenges found in restaurants across the U.S. where the one who succeeds gets the meal free and a picture on the wall (and probably a bucket 5 minutes later – shades of Monty Python).


However, my old favorite cookbook author, Robert Carrier in Great Dishes of the World, has a wonderful recipe for choucroute garnie which he claims is fit for “hearty trenchermen.” The name itself – garnished sauerkraut – is a joke in that the “garnish” is a boatload of meat. In principle, there is no fixed recipe for this dish – any preparation of hot sauerkraut with meat and potatoes could qualify – but in practice there are certain traditions, favorite recipes, and stereotypical garnishes that are more easily called choucroute garnie than others. Traditional recipes call for three types of sausage: Frankfurt sausages, Strasbourg sausages, and Montbéliard sausages. Fatty, inexpensive or salted cuts of pork also often form a part of choucroute garnie, including ham hocks, pork knuckles and shoulders, back bacon and slices of salt pork. Other recipes call for pieces of fish or goose meat, but this is far less typical.

The sauerkraut itself is usually heated with a glass of Riesling or other dry white wines or stock, and goose or pork fat. In some recipes, it may also be cooked with chopped onion and sliced apples. Food writer Jeffrey Steingarten attempted to catalogue the composition of an authentic recipe in 1989. He writes that every traditional recipe includes black peppercorns, cloves, garlic, juniper berries, onions, and potatoes; most include bay leaves and wine.

Like cassoulet, pot au feu, and so many other examples of France’s regional cuisine, its origin is in a traditional, inexpensive dish, but grand versions (such as Choucroute Royale, made with Champagne instead of Riesling), and grand ingredients (such as foie gras and wild game) are mentioned both in traditional sources and in recipes from contemporary chefs and restaurants.

I heartily recommend this dish for a winter dinner party when big eaters are your main guests.

Oct 292014


On this date in 1959 Asterix or The Adventures of Asterix first appeared in the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Pilote. It was written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo until the death of Goscinny in 1977. Uderzo then took over the writing until 2009, when he sold the rights to publishing company Hachette. As of 2013, 35 volumes had been released. I have loved Asterix since I was a teenager and am glad to honor the strip today.

The series follows the exploits of a village of indomitable Gauls as they resist Roman occupation. They do so by means of a magic potion, brewed by their druid called Getafix in the English translations, which gives the recipient superhuman strength. The protagonist, the titular character Asterix, along with his friend Obelix have various adventures. The “ix” ending of both names (as well as all the other pseudo-Gaulish “ix” names in the series) alludes to the “rix” suffix (meaning “king”) present in the names of many real Gaulish chieftains such as Vercingetorix, Orgetorix, and Dumnorix. Many of the stories have them travel to foreign countries, though others are set in and around their village. For much of the history of the series (Volumes 4 through 29), settings in Gaul and abroad alternated, with even-numbered volumes set abroad and odd-numbered volumes set in Gaul, mostly in the village.

Prior to creating the Asterix series, Goscinny and Uderzo had previously had success with their series Oumpah-pah, which was published in Tintin magazine.


Astérix was originally serialized in Pilote magazine and in 1961 the first book was put together, titled Asterix the Gaul. From then on, books were released generally on a yearly basis. Their success was exponential; the first book sold 6,000 copies in its year of publication; a year later, the second sold 20,000. In 1963, the third sold 40,000; the fourth, released in 1964, sold 150,000. A year later, the fifth sold 300,000; 1966’s Asterix and the Big Fight sold 400,000 upon initial publication. The ninth Asterix volume, when first released in 1967, sold 1.2 million copies in two days.
Uderzo’s first sketches portrayed Asterix as a huge and strong traditional Gaulish warrior. But Goscinny had a different picture in his mind. He visualized Asterix as a shrewd small sized warrior who would prefer intelligence over strength. However, Uderzo felt that the small sized hero needed a strong but dim companion to which Goscinny agreed. Hence, Obelix was born. Despite the growing popularity of Asterix with the readers, the financial backing for Pilote ceased when Pilote was taken over by Georges Dargaud.


The main setting for the series is an unnamed coastal village in Armorica (present-day Brittany), a province of Gaul (modern France), in the year 50 BCE. Julius Caesar has conquered nearly all of Gaul for the Roman Republic. The little Armorican village, however, has held out because the villagers can gain temporary superhuman strength by drinking a magic potion brewed by the local village druid, Getafix. His chief is Vitalstatistix.

The main protagonist and hero of the village is Asterix, who, because of his shrewdness, is usually entrusted with the most important affairs of the village. He is aided in his adventures by his rather fat and dull-witted friend, Obelix, who, because he fell into the druid’s cauldron of the potion as a baby, has permanent superhuman strength. Obelix is usually accompanied by Dogmatix, his little dog. (Except for Asterix and Obelix, the names of the characters change with the language. For example, Obelix’s dog’s name is “Dogmatix” in English, but “Idéfix” in the original French edition.)

Asterix and Obelix (and sometimes other members of the village) go on various adventures both within the village and in faraway lands. Places visited in the series include parts of Gaul (Lutetia, Corsica etc.), neighboring nations (Belgium, Spain, Britain, Germany etc.), and far away lands (North America, Middle East, India etc.).

The series employs science-fiction and fantasy elements in the more recent books; for instance, the use of extraterrestrials in Asterix and the Falling Sky and the city of Atlantis in Asterix and Obelix All at Sea.

The humor encountered in the Asterix comics often centers on puns, caricatures, and tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of contemporary European nations and French regions. Much of the humor in the initial Asterix books was French-specific, which delayed the translation of the books into other languages for fear of losing the jokes and the spirit of the story. Some translations have actually added local humor; in the Italian translation, the Roman legionaries are made to speak in 20th century Roman dialect and Obelix’s famous “Ils sont fous ces romains” (“These Romans are crazy”) is translated as “Sono pazzi questi romani,” alluding to the Roman abbreviation SPQR. In another example: Hiccups are written onomatopoeically in French as “hips,” but in English as “hic,” allowing Roman legionaries in at least one of the English translations to decline their hiccups in Latin (“hic, haec, hoc”). The newer albums share a more universal humor, both written and visual. In spite of (or perhaps because of) this stereotyping, and notwithstanding some alleged streaks of French chauvinism, the humor has been very well received by European and Francophone cultures around the world.

All the fictional characters in Asterix have names which are puns on their roles or personalities and which follow certain patterns specific to nationality. Certain rules are followed (most of the time) such as Gauls (and their neighbours) having an ‘-ix’ suffix for the males and ending in ‘-a’ for the females, for example, Chief Vitalstatistix (so called due to his portly stature) and his wife Impedimenta (often at odds with the chief). The male Roman names end in ‘-us’, echoing Latin nominitive male singular form, as in Gluteus Maximus, a muscle-bound athlete whose name is literally the butt of the joke. Gothic names (present-day Germany) end in “-ic”, such as Rhetoric the interpreter. Greek names end in “-os” or “-es”; for example, Thermos the restaurateur. British names end in “-ax” and are often puns on the taxation associated with the later United Kingdom, such as Valuaddedtax the druid and Selectivemploymentax the mercenary. Other nationalities are treated to Pidgin translations from their language, like Huevos y Bacon, a Spanish chieftain (whose name, meaning eggs and bacon, is often guidebook Spanish for tourists) or literary and other popular media references, like Doubleosix (a reference to James Bond’s codename 007). Most of these jokes, and hence the names of the characters, are specific to the translation, for example, the druid Getafix is Panoramix in the original French and Miraculix in German.


The recipe for the magic potion is, of course a secret, but some ingredients are alluded to:

Mistletoe (Asterix the Gaul)
Fish (Asterix and the Great Crossing)
Rock oil, also known as petroleum/black gold (beetroot juice can be substituted) (Asterix and the Black Gold)
Four-leaved clovers of the tamarind tree (Asterix and the Big Fight)
Lobster (for flavor) (Asterix the Gaul)
Strawberry (for sweetness) (Asterix the Gaul)
Garlic (Asterix in Corsica)
Salt (Asterix and the Goths)

I think I’ll pass on this. Lobster and strawberries seems like a nouvelle cuisine recipe that is best forgotten – much like the monstrosity of chicken livers and blueberries. I’ve already given you a recipe for wild boar, Asterix and Obelix’s favorite (see ), so I’m going to be a little more adventurous. Their village is in ancient Armorica in the Gallic region now known as Brittany. No ancient Breton recipes survive but there is plenty of evidence that latter day Breton cuisine has its roots in the ancient Gallic world. Here is a recipe for a little-known Breton dish, kig ha farz, a buckwheat pudding that is boiled in a muslin or cheesecloth bag in the broth of a stew, such as pot-au-feu, along with the meats. Buckwheat has been a staple pseudo-cereal (it’s not a grass), for millennia in Europe – originating in SE Asia. It can also be boiled on its own and served as a side dish with melted butter. My suggestion is to make the wild boar stew in the post above, but omit the barley and increase the amount of liquid so that there is enough to cover the pudding bag.

Kig Ha Farz


2 large eggs
¼ cup (125 ml) whole milk
4 tbsp (60 gr) melted butter (salted or unsalted)
1 ¾ cups (250 g) buckwheat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp coarse sea salt


Whisk together the eggs, milk, and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and whisk again so that the ingredients are thoroughly blended.

Add the buckwheat flour slowly (about ¼ cup at a time), mixing well until you have a moist, but firm, dough.

Place the mixture in a muslin cooking bag, or wrap it securely in several layers of cheesecloth, tied up tightly with string, leaving a long tail so that the pudding can be pulled from the liquid. Leave the bag about ¼ empty (or more) to allow the pudding to swell as it cooks. Otherwise the bag will split and you will have an ugly mess.

Place the bag in the simmering liquid of the stew. It should cook for about 2 hours, but timing is not critical. Longer will do no harm.

When the stew is ready to serve, pull the pudding bag from the pot, empty out the contents on to a warm serving platter, break it into clumps, dot with butter, and serve it alongside the stew.

Oct 282014


Today is the birthday (1846) of Georges Auguste Escoffier, French chef, restaurateur, and culinary writer who popularized and updated traditional French cooking methods. He is a legendary figure among chefs and gourmets, and was one of the most important leaders in the development of modern French cuisine. Much of Escoffier’s technique was based on that of Marie-Antoine Carême, one of the codifiers of French haute cuisine, but Escoffier’s achievement was to simplify and modernize Carême’s elaborate and ornate style. In particular, he codified the recipes for the five mother sauces. He was referred to by the French press as roi des cuisiniers et cuisinier des rois (“king of chefs and chef of kings”—though this had also been previously said of Carême), Escoffier was France’s preeminent chef in the early part of the 20th century.

Alongside the recipes he recorded and invented, another of Escoffier’s contributions to cooking was to elevate it to the status of a respected profession by introducing organized discipline to his kitchens.


Escoffier published Le Guide Culinaire, which is still used as a major reference work, both in the form of a cookbook and a textbook on cooking. Escoffier’s recipes, techniques and approaches to kitchen management remain highly influential today, and have been adopted by chefs and restaurants not only in France, but throughout the world.

Escoffier was born in the village Villeneuve-Loubet, today in Alpes-Maritimes, near Nice. The house where he was born is now the Musée de l’Art Culinaire, run by the Foundation Auguste Escoffier. At the age of thirteen, despite showing early promise as an artist, he started an apprenticeship at his uncle’s restaurant, Le Restaurant Français, in Nice. In 1865 he moved to Le Petit Moulin Rouge restaurant in Paris. He stayed there until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, when he became an army chef. His army experience led him to study the technique of canning food.


During the summers, Escoffier ran the kitchen of the Hotel National in Lucerne, where he met César Ritz (at that time the French Riviera was a winter resort). The two men formed a partnership and in 1890 accepted an invitation from Richard D’Oyly Carte to transfer to his new Savoy Hotel in London, together with the third member of their team, the maître d’hôtel, Louis Echenard. Ritz put together what he described as “a little army of hotel men for the conquest of London”, and Escoffier recruited French cooks and reorganized the kitchens. The Savoy under Ritz and his partners was an immediate success, attracting a distinguished and moneyed clientele, headed by the Prince of Wales. Gregor von Görög, chef to the royal family, was an enthusiast of Escoffier’s zealous organization. Aristocratic women, hitherto unaccustomed to dine in public, were now “seen in full regalia in the Savoy dining and supper rooms.”

At the Savoy, Escoffier created many dishes for the famous. In 1893 he invented the pêche Melba in honor of the Australian singer Nellie Melba (see ), and in 1897, Melba toast. Other Escoffier creations, famous in their time, were bombe Néro (a flaming ice), fraises à la Sarah Bernhardt (strawberries with pineapple and Curaçao sorbet), baisers de Vierge (meringue with vanilla cream and crystallized white rose and violet petals) and suprêmes de volailles Jeannette (jellied chicken breasts with foie gras). He also created salad Réjane, after Gabrielle Réjane, and (although this is disputed) tournedos Rossini.


In 1898, César and Escoffier both left the Savoy. Ritz and Escoffier were allegedly implicated in the disappearance of more than £3400 of wine and spirits, but this was never proven. By this time, Ritz and his colleagues were already on the point of commercial independence, having established the Ritz Hotel Development Company, for which Escoffier set up the kitchens and recruited the chefs, first at the Paris Ritz (1898), and then at the new Carlton Hotel in London (1899), which soon drew much of the high-society clientele away from the Savoy. In addition to the haute cuisine offered at luncheon and dinner, tea at the Ritz became a fashionable institution in Paris, and later in London, though it caused Escoffier real distress: “How can one eat jam, cakes and pastries, and enjoy a dinner – the king of meals – an hour or two later? How can one appreciate the food, the cooking or the wines?”

In 1913, Escoffier met Kaiser Wilhelm II on board the SS Imperator, one of the largest ocean liners of the Hamburg-Amerika Line. The culinary experience on board the Imperator was overseen by Ritz-Carlton, and the restaurant itself was a reproduction of Escoffier’s Carlton Restaurant in London. Escoffier was charged with supervising the kitchens on board the Imperator during the Kaiser’s visit to France. One hundred and forty-six German dignitaries were served a large multi-course luncheon, followed that evening by a monumental dinner that included the Kaiser’s favorite strawberry pudding, named fraises Imperator by Escoffier for the occasion. The Kaiser was so impressed that he insisted on meeting Escoffier after breakfast the next day, where, as legend has it, he told Escoffier, “I am the Emperor of Germany, but you are the Emperor of Chefs.” This was quoted frequently in the press, further establishing Escoffier’s reputation as France’s pre-eminent chef.

Ritz gradually moved into retirement after opening The Ritz London Hotel in 1906, leaving Escoffier as the figurehead of the Carlton until his own retirement in 1920. He continued to run the kitchens through World War I, during which time his younger son was killed in active service. Recalling these years, The Times said, “Colour meant so much to Escoffier, and a memory arises of a feast at the Carlton for which the table decorations were white and pink roses, with silvery leaves – the background for a dinner all white and pink, Borscht striking the deepest note, Filets de poulet à la Paprika coming next, and the Agneau de lait forming the high note.”

In 1928 he helped create the “World Association of Chefs Societies” and became its first president. Escoffier died on 12 February 1935, at the age of 88, in Monte Carlo, a few days after the death of his wife.

I do not know which of several recipes for agneau de lait (milk-fed lamb) The Times article is referring to, but here is one for boned and rolled saddle of lamb dedicated to King Edward VII, in the original French and with my rough translation. I’m not sure of the meaning in a couple of places. “Couennes” usually means pork rinds, which are often used as a flavoring in dishes such as cassoulet. I’m also not sure what “son état naturel” (its natural state) means, but I assume you wrap the lamb around the foie gras. The bit about degreasing with boiling water is also a little obscure to me. Given that my French is not up to par, any and all comments are welcome.


Selle d’agneau de lait Edouard VII

Désosser entièrement la selle par en dessous, de façon à laisser l’épiderme intact ; assaisonner l’intérieur ; placer au milieu un beau fois gras, clouté de truffes et mariné au vin de Marsala.

Reformer la selle dans son état naturel ; l’envelopper dans une mousseline en la serrant bien; la déposer dans une casserole où elle puisse tenir juste et dont le fond sera garni de couennes fraîches, bien dégraissées et blanchies.

Mouiller à couvert avec du fonds provenant d’une noix de veau braisée; ajouter le Marsala qui a servi à mariner le foie gras.

Pocher pendant 45 minutes environ.

Cependant, avant d’arrêter la cuisson de la selle, s’assurer si le foie gras est bien cuit.

La selle étant cuite, retirer la mousseline; disposer la pièce dans une terrine ovale qui soit de justes dimensions pour la contenir; passer dessus le fonds de cuisson, sans le dégraisser, et laisser refroidir.

Lorsque la selle est bien froide, enlever soigneusement la graisse avec la cuiller d’abord, et avec de l’eau bouillante ensuite.

Servir tel quel, dans la terrine, et très froid.

Completely debone the saddle leaving the skin intact; season the inside; put in the middle a nice foie gras studded with truffles that has been marinated in Marsala.

Reform the saddle in its natural state; wrap it in gauze pressing it well; place it in a saucepan where it fits snugly, placing pork rinds that have been degreased and blanched on the bottom.

Cover with veal stock made from ­­braising veal; add the Marsala which was used to marinate the foie gras.

Poach for approximately 45 minutes. Make sure the foie gras is well cooked before stopping the cooking of the lamb.

When the lamb is cooked, remove the muslin; put the saddle in an oval terrine that is just big enough to hold it; pour in the reduced stock, degrease, and cool.

When the saddle is cold, carefully remove the grease first with a spoon, and then with boiling water.

Serve as is, very cold, in the terrine.

Oct 272014


Today is Independence Day in Turkmenistan, formerly known as Turkmenia, one of the Turkic states in Central Asia. Turkmenistan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the northeast and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west. Present-day Turkmenistan covers territory that has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. In medieval times Merv (today known as Mary) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world, and an important stop on the Silk Road, a major highway used for trade with China until the mid-15th century. Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia. In 1924, Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR). It became independent upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

I have certain loose policies about the subject matter of my posts, one of which is that I generally avoid celebrating nations with poor human rights records. Turkmenistan has one of the worst in the world today. But just as I occasionally post about wars because they marked major turning points in history, I am celebrating Turkmenistan today because human rights issues there are not representative of the population as a whole nor of the nation’s overall history, and because the country is probably not well known in the West, and should be.


In the 8th century CE, Turkic-speaking Oghuz tribes moved from Mongolia into present-day Central Asia. Part of a powerful confederation of ethnic groups, these Oghuz formed the basis of the modern Turkmen population. In the 10th century, the name “Turkmen” was first applied to Oghuz groups that accepted Islam and began to occupy present-day Turkmenistan. There they were under the dominion of the Seljuk Empire, which was composed of Oghuz groups living in present-day Iran and Turkmenistan. Turkmen soldiers in the service of the empire played an important role in the spreading of Turkic culture when they migrated westward into present-day Azerbaijan and eastern Turkey.


In the 12th century, Turkmen and other groups overthrew the Seljuk Empire. In the next century, the Mongols took over the more northern lands where the Turkmen had settled, scattering the Turkmen southward and contributing to the formation of new communities and associations. The 16th and 18th centuries saw a series of splits and confederations among the nomadic Turkmen, who remained staunchly independent and inspired fear in their neighbors. By the 16th century, most of these groups were under the nominal control of two sedentary Uzbek khanates, Khiva and Bukhoro. Turkmen soldiers were an important element of the Uzbek militaries of this period. In the 19th century, raids and rebellions by the Yomud Turkmen group resulted in their dispersal by the Uzbek rulers.

Russian forces began occupying Turkmen territory late in the 19th century. From their Caspian Sea base at Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi), the Russians eventually overcame the Uzbek khanates. In 1881 the last significant resistance in Turkmen territory was crushed at the Battle of Geok Tepe, and shortly thereafter Turkmenistan was annexed, together with adjoining Uzbek territory, into the Russian Empire. In 1916 the Russian Empire’s participation in World War I resonated in Turkmenistan, as an anti-conscription revolt swept most of Russian Central Asia. Although the Russian Revolution of 1917 had little direct impact, in the 1920’s Turkmen forces joined Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks in the so-called Basmachi Rebellion against the rule of the newly formed Soviet Union. In 1924 the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was formed from the tsarist province of Transcaspia. By the late 1930’s, Soviet reorganization of agriculture had destroyed what remained of the nomadic lifestyle in Turkmenistan, and Moscow controlled political life. The Ashgabat earthquake of 1948 killed over 110,000 people, amounting to two-thirds of the city’s population.

During the next half-century, Turkmenistan played its designated economic role within the Soviet Union and remained outside the course of major world events. Even the major liberalizing movement that shook Russia in the late 1980’s had little impact. However, in 1990 the Supreme Soviet of Turkmenistan declared sovereignty as a nationalist response to perceived exploitation by Moscow. Although Turkmenistan was ill-prepared for independence, and communist leader Saparmurad Niyazov preferred to preserve the Soviet Union, in October 1991 the fragmentation of that entity forced him to call a national referendum that approved independence.

The Turkmen people have traditionally been nomads and equestrians, and even today after the fall of the USSR attempts to urbanize the Turkmen have not been very successful. They never really formed a coherent nation or ethnic group until they were forged into one by Joseph Stalin in the 1930’s. Rather they are divided into clans, and each clan has its own dialect and style of dress. Turkmen are famous for making Turkmen rugs, often mistakenly called Bukhara rugs in the West. These are elaborate and colorful rugs, and these too help distinguish between the various Turkmen clans.

The Turkmen are Sunni Muslims but they, like most of the region’s nomads, adhere to Islam rather loosely and combine Islam with pre-Islamic animist spirituality.


A Turkmen can be identified anywhere by the traditional telpek, large black shaggy sheepskin hats. For national dress men wear the telpek and red robes over white shirts. Women wear long sack-dresses over narrow trousers (the pants are trimmed with a band of embroidery at the ankle). Female headdresses usually consist of silver jewelry. Bracelets and brooches are set with semi-precious stones…

Outside the capital, the national language of Turkmen is the most widespread. In Ashgabat, it would be hard to find a person who does not speak Russian, however with recent efforts to revive the ancient culture of Turkmenistan, Turkmen is quickly regaining its place as the chief language of the state.


A few centuries back, almost all Turkmen rugs were produced by nomadic clans almost entirely with locally-obtained materials, wool from the herds and vegetable dyes or other natural dyes from the land. They used geometrical designs that varied from clan to clan; most famous are the Yomut, Ersari, Saryk, Salor, and Tekke. Irregularities — considered part of the charm by many rug collectors — were fairly common since natural materials vary from batch to batch and woolen warp or weft may stretch, especially on a loom that is regularly folded up for transport and set up anew at another camp.

More recently, large rug workshops in the cities have appeared, there are fewer irregularities, and the technology has changed some. Since about 1910, synthetic dyes have been used along with natural ones. The size of nomadic rugs is limited to what can be done on a nomad’s portable loom; larger rugs have always been produced in the villages, but they are now more common. Using cotton for warp and weft threads has also become common.

The rugs produced in large numbers for export in Pakistan and Iran and sold under the name of Turkmen rugs are mostly made of synthetic colors, with cotton warps and wefts and wool pile. They have little in common with the original Turkmen rugs. In these export rugs, various patterns and colors are used, but the most typical is that of the Bukhara design, which derives from the Tekke main carpet, often with a red or tan background. Another favorite is derived from the Ersari main carpet, with an octagonal elephant’s foot design.

Turkmen cuisine, is similar to that of the rest of Central Asia. Plov (pilaf) is the staple, everyday food, which is also served at celebrations. It consists of chunks of mutton, carrots and rice fried in a large cast-iron cauldron similar to a Dutch oven. Manti are dumplings filled with ground meat, onions or pumpkin. Shurpa is a meat and vegetable soup. A wide variety of filled pies and fried dumplings are available in restaurants and bazaars, including somsa, gutap (often filled with spinach), and ishlykly. These are popular with travelers and taxi drivers, as they can be eaten quickly on the run, and are often sold at roadside stands. Turkmen cuisine does not generally use spices or seasonings, and is cooked with large amounts of cottonseed oil for flavor.


Shashlyk, skewered chunks of mutton, pork, chicken, or sometimes fish, grilled over charcoal and garnished with raw sliced onion and a special vinegar-based sauce, is served in restaurants and often sold in the street. Restaurants in Turkmenistan serve mainly Russian fare such as pelmeni, buckwheat (grechka), golubtsy, and a wide variety of mayonnaise-based salads. Lagman, an Uyghur noodle dish, can also be found in some areas.

I have not been to Turkmenistan but I am familiar with Turkic Eurasian food from trips to the general region. I find it a bit too bland and stodgy for my tastes in general, but I like the soups. Shurpa, variously called chorba, shorba, shorwa, ciorbă, shorpa, shorpo, and sorpa, is one of various kinds of soup or stew found in national cuisines across the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East. I suppose the basic recipe is – bung some meat and onions in a pot, stew them until the meat is tender, then add vegetables, cook until they are soft, and serve with bread. Turkmeni shurpa is commonly made with lamb or mutton, and the choice of vegetables depends on what is seasonally available. I like it because it is spicier than most dishes of the region.


Turkmeni Shurpa


¼ cup olive oil
1½ pounds stewing lamb, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup onions, chopped
10 cups beef stock
1 large turnip, peeled and cut into a ½-inch dice
1 large zucchini, cut into a ½-inch dice
2 carrots, cut into a ½-inch dice
2 big green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into strips
1½ pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (or use canned tomatoes, chopped)
1½ tsp cumin
½ tsp hot pepper flakes
1 tsp ground coriander
1 lb cooked chickpeas
3 tbsp white vinegar
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro



Heat the oil over high heat in a Dutch oven and brown the meat and onions thoroughly. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer gently for about 1 ½ hours, or until the meat is tender. Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to prepare the soup, remove the layer of congealed fat and return to a boil. Add the vegetables, chick peas, and seasonings (except for the vinegar and cilantro), cover and simmer until the vegetables are cooked (20-30 minutes).

Remove from the heat, stir in the vinegar, and cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Serve in deep bowls with a generous garnish of cilantro.

Oct 262014


Today is the anniversary (1881) of what has come to be known as The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a 30-second gunfight between outlaw Cowboys and lawmen that is generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Wild West. The gunfight took place at about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 26, 1881, in Tombstone in the Arizona Territory. It was the result of a long-simmering feud between Cowboys Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury, and opposing lawmen: Town Marshal Virgil Earp, Assistant Town Marshal Morgan Earp, and temporary deputy marshals Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran from the fight unharmed, but Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed. Virgil, Morgan, and Doc Holliday were wounded, but Wyatt Earp was unharmed. The fight has come to represent a period in American Old West when the frontier was virtually an open range for outlaws, largely unopposed by law enforcement who were spread thin over vast territories, leaving some areas unprotected.


The gunfight was not well known to the U.S. public until 1931, when author Stuart Lake published a largely fictionalized biography, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, two years after Earp’s death. Published during the Great Depression, the book captured the public imagination. It was also the basis for the 1946 film, My Darling Clementine, by director John Ford. After the film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was released in 1957, the shootout became known by that name. Since then, the conflict has been portrayed with varying degrees of accuracy in numerous Western films and books. I’m rather fond of Tombstone with Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday even though the portrayal of these two shows them in a better light than is warranted by historic documents of the period. There is a great tendency to portray the lawmen as the “good guys” and the Cowboys as the “bad guys” because traditionally Wild West fiction likes white hats and black hats. The primary sources tell a much greyer tale.


Despite its name, the historic gunfight did not take place within or next to the O.K. Corral, but in a narrow lot next to Fly’s Photographic Studio, six doors west of the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral on Fremont Street. The two opposing parties were initially only about 6 feet (1.8 m) apart. About thirty shots were fired in thirty seconds. Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday, but they were eventually exonerated by a local judge after a 30-day preliminary hearing, and then by a local grand jury.

The gunfight was not the end of the conflict, and on December 28, 1881, Virgil Earp was ambushed and maimed in a murder attempt by the outlaw Cowboys. On March 18, 1882, Morgan Earp was shot through the glass door of a saloon and killed by the Cowboys. The suspects in both incidents furnished solid alibis and were not indicted. Wyatt Earp, newly appointed as Deputy U.S. Marshal in the territory, took matters into his own hands in a personal vendetta. He was pursued by county Sheriff Johnny Behan, who had a warrant for his arrest.

It’s well worth reading the transcripts of the inquest to get the viewpoints of both sides. Ike Clanton’s can be found here:

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Our crowd did not expect an attack until some one told us; at the time they made the attack I had no arms; the Earp brothers had my arms [Editor’s note: The arms had been left earlier that day at the Fountain Saloon, in the Grand Hotel, by Virgil Earp.]; Virg Earp had them; it was a six shooter; It was two days prior since I saw Billy or Frank McLowry until that morning; had never had a word of conversation with either of them in my life; I don’t know whether the party had a shotgun; Virgil Earp was about six feet from me; they were three or four feet distant when, they fired; I did not see my brother or either of the McLowrys fire a shot. There were four or five shots fired before I left the ground; at the time the Sheriff was talking to us; Billy Clanton and Billy Claiborne were standing together; the McLowrys and myself were standing five or six feet to the left; the Clantons came up from Antelope Springs for a load of freight, that is, the McLowrys; I don’t know how near Claiborne was to me at the time of the shooting; I don’t know whether Morgan Earp or Doc Holliday fired first; It was a nickel-plated pistol by one of them; their weapons were down when they came up; the Sheriff, after he had orderred us to give up our srms I did not think we were under arrest; he said it was all right if we left town; Behan had a conversation with Frank McLowry; I know where the Sheriff’s office is, we could not have gone up to the Sheriff’s office after he left us before the Earps came up; the Sheriff told us to stay where we were until he came back; I would not have staid there had I not orders from the Sheriff; after I saw the Earps armed; the Sheriff was with us about four, five or six minutes.

Wyatt Earp’s testimony can be found here:

An excerpt:

We came up on them close-Frank McLowry, Tom McLowry and Billy Clanton standing all in a row against the east side of the building on the opposite side of the vacant space west of Fly`s photography gallery. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne and a man I did not know were standing in the vacant space about halfway between the photograph gallery and the next building west. I saw that Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry and Tom McLowry had their hands by their sides and Frank McLowry’s and Billy Clanton’s six shooters were in plain sight. Virgil said, “Throw up your hands. I have come to disarm you.” Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry had their hands on their six shooters. Virgil said, “Hold I don’t mean that; I have come to disarm you.” They—–Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry—commenced to draw their pistols, at the same time Tom McLowry threw his hand to his right hip and jumped behind a horse. I had my pistol in my overcoat pocket where I had put it when Behan told us he had disarmed the other party. When I saw Billy and Frank draw their pistols I drew my pistol. Billy Clanton leveled his pistol at me but I did not aim at him. I knew that Frank McLowry had the reputation of being a good shot and a dangerous man, and I aimed at Frank McLowrv. The two first shots which were fired were fired by Billy Clanton and myself he; shot at me, and I shot at Frank McLowry. I do not know which shot was first; we fired almost together. The fight then became general. After about four shots were fired Ike Clanton ran up and grabbed my arm. I could see no weapon in his hand and thought at the time he had none, and so I said to him, “The fight has now commenced go to fighting or get away.” At the same time I pushed him off with my left hand. He started and ran down the side of the building and disappeared between the lodging house and the photograph gallery. My first shot struck Frank McLowry in the belly. He staggered off on the sidewalk but first fired one shot at me. When we told them to throw up their hands Claiborne held up his left hand, and then broke and ran. I never saw him afterwards until later in the afternoon, after the fight. I never drew my pistol or made a motion to shoot until after Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry drew their pistols. If Tom McLowry was unarmed I did not know it. I believe he was armed and that he fired two shots at our party before Holliday who had the shotgun, fired at and killed him. If he was unarmed there was nothing to the circumstances or in what had been communicated to me, or in his acts or threats, that would have led me even to suspect his being unarmed. I never fired at Ike Clanton, even after the shooting commenced, because I thought he was unarmed and I believed then, and believe now, from the acts I have stated, and the threats I have related, and other threats communicated to me by different persons, as having been made by Tom McLowry, Frank McLowry and Isaac Clanton, that these men, last named, had formed a conspiracy to murder my brothers Morgan and Virgil, and Doc Holliday and myself. I believe I would have been legally and morally justified in shooting any of them on sight, but I did not do so or attempt to do so; I sought no advantage. When I went as deputy marshal to help disarm them and arrest them, I went as a part of my duty and under the direction of my brother the marshal. I did not intend to fight unless it became necessary in self defense, and in the performance of official duty. When Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry drew their pistols. I knew it was a fight for life, and I drew and fired in defense of my own life and the lives of my brothers and Doc Holliday.

I’d love to get hold of this book for a recipe du jour: Instead here is a recipe from this site:


The recipe shows, like the U.S. southwest in general, a strong mix of influences from indigenous peoples, Spain, and Mexico. The recipe seems incomplete, however. I imagine the cheese is added on top of the corn mix before it is baked.

Mexican Corn

3 cups raw tender corn (cut off the ear)

2 cups tomato puree

1 onion (minced fine)

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoon Chili powder

1 tablespoon lard

1 tablespoon finely chopped celery

¼ cup grated cheese

salt and pepper

Fry the minced onion in the lard, then add puree, celery, Chili powder, melted butter, salt and pepper and corn. Mix well and pour in baking-dish. Cook 1 hour in moderate oven.”

The National Cookbook: A Kitchen Americana, Sheila Hibben [Harper, New York] 1932 (p. 189)