Dec 312016
 

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Almost every culture celebrates the turn of the year at some point in some way, and these days the turn of the Gregorian calendar year is an almost universal turning point even though many cultures use other calendars as well. This state of affairs creates a little bit of confusion in some cultures, but only a little. In China, for example, the turn of the Gregorian year has its importance, but the lunar New Year is still much more important. In the Jewish Diaspora things are a bit more complicated. Rosh Hashanah marks the Jewish New Year, and has its importance, but it vies much more earnestly with the Gregorian New Year.  All told, we can say that every culture, perhaps every individual, has multiple turning points in the year. For me birthdays are critical turning points when I reflect on the previous year and look forward to what is to come.  But I still cling to New Year’s Eve as a critical turning point for several reasons. First, it’s a communal celebration. Second, there are real secular changes that happen. Third, I’m in the habit of doing special things on this day.

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I could rabbit on about how anthropologists view cycles, the passing of the year, etc., but I’ll spare you. Some of it is interesting, some is challenging, but most of it is fairly straightforward common sense  which you already know at some level. Maybe you’d like to learn why January 1st is the beginning of the new year? Well . . . look it up. Most of the online historical sources are accurate – to a degree. You can dismiss all the “origins” nonsense, but the basic facts concerning when Europeans switched to January 1st are not controversial. You might be a bit surprised though.

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I always take the time on New Year’s Eve to reflect on the past year in a personal way. I go through each month, step by step, and look at successes and failures, with an eye to learning something useful. I don’t make resolutions as such, but I do hope to learn from the year’s mistakes. Obviously this practice can be ongoing, but taking stock once a year is useful too.  My first job as a teenager was working in a light engineering factory on Slough Trading Estate as a stockroom clerk. Most stockrooms in those days took inventory once a year, but this firm had what they called “perpetual inventory.” That is, when the workload for the clerks was light they were supposed to do a bit of inventory, so that in the course of a year they had checked all the stock drawers twice. Of course that never happened. Everyone hated doing inventory, so it got put off until it had to be done all at once. That’s how I wound up with my summer jobs – doing inventory. From a factory point of view I don’t think it matters whether you do inventory all at once or a little at a time – all the time. Life is different. It’s good to take stock of your life daily. I do. It’s ridiculous to put it off. On my commute on the way to work and again on the way home I give thought to how my life is going, and how the day went. It looks an awful lot like staring out of the window, but I’m musing. What will the day bring and how will I manage? What worked? What didn’t work?

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For cooking on New Year’s Eve I fluctuate between traditional Japanese food, and fish of some sort. For many years Japanese dishes were my norm – especially soba which is very traditional. Soba means buckwheat in Japanese, but usually also means buckwheat noodles. I’ll make soba tonight. There are many, many varieties of hot soba. Soba is also often served as a noodle soup in a bowl of hot tsuyu. The hot tsuyu in this instance is thinner than that used as a dipping sauce for chilled soba. Popular garnishes are sliced long onion and shichimi togarashi (mixed chili powder).  These are various possibilities.

 

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Kake soba 掛け蕎麦: Hot soba in broth topped with thinly sliced scallion, and perhaps a slice of kamaboko (fish cake).

Kitsune soba きつね蕎麦 (“fox soba”, in Kantō) or たぬき蕎麦 Tanuki soba (“raccoon dog soba”, in Kansai): Topped with aburaage (deep-fried tofu).

Tanuki soba (in Kantō) or Haikara soba ハイカラ蕎麦 (in Kansai): Topped with tenkasu (bits of deep-fried tempura batter).

Tempura soba 天麩羅蕎麦: Topped with tempura, a large shrimp frequently is used, but vegetables are also popular. Some of soba venders use kakiage for this dish and this often is called Tensoba.

Tsukimi soba 月見蕎麦 (“moon-viewing soba”): Topped with raw egg, which poaches in the hot soup.

Tororo soba とろろ蕎麦 or Yamakake soba 山かけ蕎麦: Topped with tororo, the puree of yamaimo (a potato-like vegetable with a mucilaginous texture).

Wakame soba わかめ蕎麦: Topped with wakame seaweed

Nameko soba なめこ蕎麦: Topped with nameko mushroom

Sansai soba 山菜蕎麦 (“mountain vegetables soba”): Topped with sansai, or wild vegetables such as warabi, zenmai and takenoko (bamboo shoots).

Kamonanban 鴨南蛮: Topped with duck meat and negi.

Currynanban カレー南蛮: Hot soba in curry flavored broth topped with chicken/pork and thinly sliced scallion.

Nishin soba 鰊(にしん)蕎麦: Topped with migaki nishin 身欠きニシン, or dried fish of the Pacific herring.

Sobagaki 蕎麦掻き: A chunk of dough made of buckwheat flour and hot water.

Dec 302016
 

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Today is Rizal Day in the Philippines, a national holiday that commemorates the execution of patriot José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, popularly known as José Rizal, on this date in 1896 by Spanish colonial authorities. He was a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement which advocated political reforms for the colony under Spain. His sole “crime” was that of writing in opposition to Spanish rule. I am a great admirer of rebels like Rizal; they show how powerful writing can be, and how much writers are to be feared by the corrupt and inhumane. Guns, tanks, bombs, police brutality etc. etc. are certainly things to be mortally afraid of, but it is the words of the poet that endure.

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Rizal was born in 1861 in the town of Calamba in Laguna province. He had nine sisters and one brother. His parents were leaseholders of a hacienda and an accompanying rice farm owned by the Dominicans. Both their families had adopted the additional surnames of Rizal and Realonda in 1849, after Governor General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa decreed the adoption of Spanish surnames among the Filipinos for census purposes (though they already had Spanish names).

Like many families in the Philippines, the Rizals were of mixed origin. José’s patrilineal lineage could be traced back to Fujian in China through his father’s ancestor Lam-Co, a Chinese merchant who immigrated to the Philippines in the late 17th century. Lam-Co traveled to Manila from Amoy in China, possibly to avoid the famine or plague in his home district, and more probably to escape the Manchu invasion. He finally decided to stay in the islands as a farmer. In 1697, to escape the bitter anti-Chinese prejudice that existed in the Philippines, he converted to Catholicism, changed his name to Domingo Mercado and married the daughter of an indigenous Philippines resident. On his mother’s side, Rizal’s ancestry included Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Tagalog blood. His mother’s lineage can be traced to the affluent Florentina family of Chinese mestizo families originating in Baliuag, Bulacan.

From an early age, Rizal showed a precocious intellect. He learned the alphabet from his mother at 3, and could read and write at age 5. Upon enrolling at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, he dropped the last three names that made up his full name, on the advice of his brother, Paciano and the Mercado family, thus rendering his name as “José Protasio Rizal”. Of this, he later wrote: “My family never paid much attention [to our second surname Rizal], but now I had to use it, thus giving me the appearance of an illegitimate child!” This was to enable him to travel freely and disassociate him from his brother, who had gained notoriety with his earlier links to Filipino priests Mariano Gomez, José Burgos and Jacinto Zamora (popularly known as Gomburza) who had been accused and executed for treason.

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Despite the name change, José, as “Rizal” soon distinguished himself in poetry writing contests, impressing his professors with his facility with Castilian and other foreign languages, and later, in writing essays that were critical of the Spanish historical accounts of the pre-colonial Philippine societies. In 1891, the year he finished El Filibusterismo, this second surname had become so well known that, as he writes to another friend, “All my family now carry the name Rizal instead of Mercado because the name Rizal means persecution! Good! I too want to join them and be worthy of this family name…”

Rizal first studied under Justiniano Aquino Cruz in Biñan, Laguna, before he was sent to Manila. He took the entrance examination in Colegio de San Juan de Letran but he then enrolled at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and graduated as one of the nine students in his class declared sobresaliente or outstanding. He continued his education at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila to obtain a land surveyor and assessor’s degree, and at the same time at the University of Santo Tomas where he did take up a preparatory course in law. Upon learning that his mother was going blind, he decided to switch to medicine at the medical school of Santo Tomas specializing later in ophthalmology.

Without his parents’ knowledge and consent, but secretly supported by his brother Paciano, he traveled alone to Madrid in May 1882 and studied medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid where he earned the degree, Licentiate in Medicine. He also attended medical lectures at the University of Paris and the University of Heidelberg. In Berlin, he was inducted as a member of the Berlin Ethnological Society and the Berlin Anthropological Society under the patronage of the famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow. Following custom, he delivered an address in German in April 1887 before the Anthropological Society on the orthography and structure of the Tagalog language. He left Heidelberg a poem, “A las flores del Heidelberg”, which was both an evocation and a prayer for the welfare of his native land and the unification of common values between East and West.

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At Heidelberg, the 25-year-old Rizal, completed in 1887 his eye specialization under the renowned professor, Otto Becker. There he used the newly invented ophthalmoscope (invented by Hermann von Helmholtz) to later operate on his own mother’s eye. From Heidelberg, Rizal wrote his parents: “I spend half of the day in the study of German and the other half, in the diseases of the eye. Twice a week, I go to the bierbrauerie, or beerhall, to speak German with my student friends.” He lived in a Karlstraße boarding house then moved to Ludwigsplatz. There, he met Reverend Karl Ullmer and stayed with him in Wilhelmsfeld, where he wrote the last few chapters of Noli Me Tángere.

Rizal’s amazing multifacetedness was well known. He was an ophthalmologist, sculptor, painter, educator, farmer, historian, playwright and journalist. Besides poetry and creative writing, he dabbled, with varying degrees of expertise, in architecture, cartography, economics, ethnology, anthropology, sociology, dramatics, martial arts, fencing and pistol shooting. Rizal’s life is one of the most documented of 19th century Filipinos due to the vast and extensive records written by and about him. He wrote in several languages and translated many for publication. Overall he was fully conversant in 22 languages. He was also well traveled. He lived and worked in various parts of Asia and Europe, and also visited the United States.

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Rizal’s two most famous novels were originally published in Europe:  Noli Me Tángere, published in Berlin in 1887, and El Filibusterismo, published in Ghent in 1891. These works angered both the Spanish colonial elite and many rich, educated Filipinos. Among other things,They are critical of Spanish friars and the power of the Church. Rizal’s friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, an Austria-Hungary-born professor and historian, wrote that the novel’s characters were drawn from real life and that every episode could be repeated on any day in the Philippines.

Blumentritt was the grandson of the Imperial Treasurer at Vienna in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and a staunch defender of the Catholic faith. This did not dissuade him from writing the preface of El Filibusterismo after he had translated Noli Me Tángere into German. As Blumentritt had warned, these books (and many other published essays on conditions under Spanish rule) resulted in Rizal’s being prosecuted as the inciter of revolution. He was eventually tried by the military, convicted, and executed. This act triggered an enormously adverse reaction in the Philippines and helped fuel the Philippine Revolution of 1896 which ended Spanish rule.

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Moments before his execution on December 30, 1896, by a squad of Filipino soldiers of the Spanish Army, a backup force of regular Spanish Army troops stood ready to shoot the executioners should they fail to obey orders. His last words were those of Jesus Christ: “consummatum est”, – it is finished. He was certainly a deliberate martyr. Rizal was arrested in Spain en route to Cuba and transported back to Manila for trial. During the return journey he was given ample opportunity to escape but refused to take it. He was 35 years old when he was executed.

He was secretly buried in Pacò Cemetery in Manila with no identification on his grave. His sister Narcisa toured all possible gravesites and found freshly turned earth at the cemetery with guards posted at the gate. Assuming this could be the most likely spot she made a gift to the caretaker to mark the site “RPJ”, Rizal’s initials in reverse.

His undated poem, “Mi último adiós” believed to be written a few days before his execution, was hidden in an alcohol stove, which was later handed to his family with his few remaining possessions, including the final letters and his last bequests. During their visit, Rizal reminded his sisters in English, “There is something inside it”, referring to the alcohol stove given by the Pardo de Taveras which was to be returned after his execution, thereby emphasizing the importance of the poem. This instruction was followed by another, “Look in my shoes”, in which another item was secreted. Exhumation of his remains in August 1898, under US rule, revealed he had not been buried in a coffin, and whatever was in his shoes had disintegrated. Now he is buried in Rizal Monument in Manila.

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In his letter to his family he wrote: “Treat our aged parents as you would wish to be treated…Love them greatly in memory of me…December 30, 1896.” He gave his family instructions for his burial: “Bury me in the ground. Place a stone and a cross over it. My name, the date of my birth and of my death. Nothing more. If later you wish to surround my grave with a fence, you can do it. No anniversaries.”

This last request was not honored. Rizal Day was first instituted with a decree from President Emilio Aguinaldo issued December 20, 1898 and celebrated December 30, 1898 as a national day of mourning for Rizal in Malolos, Bulacan and all victims of the Spanish colonial rule of the Philippines. Daet, Camarines Norte was the first town to follow the decree, building a monument designed by Lt. Col. Antonio Sanz, led by Sanz and Lt. Col. Ildefonso Alegre, and financed by the townspeople of Camarines Norte and the rest of the Bicol Region.

With the victory of the US over Spain in the Spanish–American War, the US took control of the Philippines. In an effort to demonstrate that they were more pro-Filipino than the Spaniards, the US Governor-General William Howard Taft in 1901 named Rizal a Philippine national hero. A year later, on February 1, 1902, the Philippine Commission enacted Act No. 345, which made December 30 a public holiday. To underscore the solemnity of the event, President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act No. 229 into law on June 9, 1948 that prohibits cockfighting, horse racing, and jai-alai every December 30. The law also requires that flags across the country remain at half staff throughout the day.

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Adobo is an obvious dish to celebrate the life and work of Rizal. I gave a recipe for chicken adobo here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/araw-ng-kasarinlan-independence-day-philippines/ Now it’s time for pork adobo. This is not just a change in meats, but in cooking style in general. Although the name adobo is taken from Spanish, the cooking method has evolved from techniques indigenous to the Philippines. Cooking meat in vinegar and salt dates back to before the Spanish conquest and was used for both pork and chicken. When the Spanish colonized the Philippines in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, they encountered this cooking process. It was first recorded in the dictionary Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala (1613) compiled by the Spanish Franciscan missionary Pedro de San Buenaventura. He referred to it as adobo de los naturales (“adobo of the native peoples”). Dishes prepared in this manner eventually came to be known by this name, with the original term for the dish is now lost. Chinese traders introduced soy sauce which has replaced salt in the dish. However, there are adobo purists who continue to use salt in their adobo.

There are, of course, numerous variants of the adobo recipe in the Philippines. The most basic ingredient of adobo is vinegar, which is usually coconut vinegar, rice vinegar, or cane vinegar (although sometimes white wine or cider vinegar can also be used). Almost every ingredient can be changed according to personal preference. Even people in the same household can cook adobo in significantly different ways. Adobo without soy sauce is known as adobong puti (“white adobo” or “blond adobo”), which uses salt instead, to contrast it with adobong itim (“black adobo”), the more prevalent versions with soy sauce.

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The following is just a suggestion from the hundreds of possibilities. The kind of vinegar you choose makes all the difference. I use rice wine vinegar which is not very traditional, but I prefer the flavor to harsher vinegars.

Adobong Puti

Ingredients

2 lbs (1 kg) pork belly, cubed
1 cup white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1  bay leaf
1 tbsp kosher salt
5 (or more) black peppercorns, cracked
cooking oil (for deep frying)
1 tsp sugar

Instructions

Combine the pork, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns, and 1 cup of cold water in a large stock pot. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the pork is tender (at least 1 hour).

Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork from the broth and leave it to dry on the surface. You can pat it with paper towels if need be.

Heat the oil to 350°F/175°C and deep fry the pork in small batches until it is golden on all sides.

Return the pork to the broth and simmer until the liquid has been reduced by a half. Add the sugar and adjust the seasonings to taste. I often add a little extra minced garlic and some freshly ground black pepper at the end. Simmer a few minutes longer.

Serve hot in deep bowls with rice and a tomato salad.

Serves 6

Dec 292016
 

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Today is the birthday (1800) of Charles Goodyear who was a self-taught chemist and manufacturing engineer who developed vulcanized rubber, for which he received patent number 3633 from the United States Patent Office in 1844. Although Goodyear can be credited with the development of a specific process for vulcanizing rubber, he was far from the first person to invent a method for using rubber in stable form. Ancient Mesoamericans used stabilized rubber for balls and other objects as early as 1600 BCE.

Charles Goodyear was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Amasa Goodyear, and the oldest of six children. His father was a descendant of Stephen Goodyear of London, one of the founders of the colony of New Haven in 1638. In 1814, Charles left his home and went to Philadelphia to learn the hardware business. He worked industriously until he was twenty-one years old, and then, returning to Connecticut, entered into partnership in his father’s business in Naugatuck, CT where they manufactured not only ivory and metal buttons, but also a variety of agricultural implements.

In August 3, 1824 he married Clarissa Beecher. Two years later the family moved to Philadelphia, and there Charles Goodyear opened a hardware store. This is where he did most of his work. His specialties were the agricultural implements that his firm had been manufacturing, and after the initial distrust of domestically made goods had faded — all agricultural implements were imported from England at that time—he was able to create a successful business for a while although it ultimately failed and his health broke down.

Between the years 1831 and 1832, Goodyear began investigating what was called “gum elastic” (natural rubber). The Roxbury Rubber Company, of Boston, had been for some time experimenting with the gum, and believed it had found means for manufacturing goods from it. It had a large plant and was sending its goods all over the country. It was some of Roxbury’s goods that first attracted Goodyear’s attention. Soon after this, Goodyear visited New York, and his attention went to life preservers, and it struck him that the tube used for inflation was not very effective nor well-made. Therefore, upon returning to Philadelphia, he made tubes and brought them back to New York and showed them to the manager of the Roxbury Rubber Company.

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The manager was pleased with the ingenuity that Goodyear had shown in manufacturing the tubes. He confessed to Goodyear that the business was on the verge of ruin, and that his products had to be tested for a year before it could be determined if they were perfect or not. To their surprise, thousands of dollars worth of goods that they had determined to be of good quality were being returned, the gum having rotted, making them useless. Goodyear at once made up his mind to experiment on this gum and see if he could overcome the problems with these rubber products.

However, when he returned to Philadelphia, a creditor had him arrested and imprisoned. While there, he tried his first experiments with India rubber. The gum was inexpensive then, and by heating it and working it in his hands, he managed to incorporate in it a certain amount of magnesia which produced a beautiful white compound and appeared to take away the stickiness. He thought he had discovered the secret, and through the kindness of friends was able to improve his invention in New Haven. The first thing that he made was shoes, and he used his own house for grinding, calendering and vulcanizing, with the help of his wife and children. His compound at this time consisted of India rubber, lampblack, and magnesia, the whole dissolved in turpentine and spread upon the flannel cloth which served as the lining for the shoes. It was not long, however, before he discovered that the gum, even treated this way, became sticky. His creditors, completely discouraged, decided that he would not be allowed to go further in his research.

Goodyear, however, had no intention of stopping his experiments. He sold his furniture and placed his family in a boarding house, and then went to New York and in an attic, helped by a friendly druggist, continued his experiments. His next step was to compound the rubber with magnesia and then boil it in quicklime (calcium oxide) and water. This appeared to solve the problem. Almost at once he received international acclaim for this innovation and he seemed on the road to success, until one day he noticed that a drop of weak acid, falling on the cloth, neutralized the alkali and immediately caused the rubber to become soft again. This proved to him that his process was not yet completely successful. He therefore continued experimenting, and after preparing his mixtures in his attic in New York, would walk three miles to a mill in Greenwich Village to try various experiments.

In the line of these, he discovered that rubber dipped in nitric acid formed a surface cure, and he made many products with this acid cure which were held in high regard, and he even received a letter of commendation from Andrew Jackson. Exposure to harsh chemicals, such as nitric acid and lead oxide, adversely affected his health, and once nearly suffocated him by gas generated in his laboratory. Goodyear survived, but the resulting fever came close to taking his life.

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Together with an old business partner, he built up a factory and began to make clothing, life preservers, rubber shoes, and a great variety of rubber goods. They also had a large factory with special machinery, built on Staten Island, where he moved his family and again had a home of his own. Just about this time, when everything looked bright, the panic of 1837 came and swept away the entire fortune of his associate and left Goodyear penniless.

His next move was to go to Boston, where he became acquainted with J. Haskins, of the Roxbury Rubber Company. Goodyear found in him a good friend, who lent him money and stood by him when no one would have anything to do with him. He was also assisted by a Mr. Chaffee who not only lent a kindly ear (and money), but also helped resolve a problem that Goodyear had with the solvent he was using by inventing a machine for doing the mixing of the rubber and chemicals.

Goodyear used this new method for making rubber shoes and received a patent which he sold to the Providence Company in Rhode Island. However, a method had not yet been found to process rubber so that it would withstand hot and cold temperatures and acids, and, in consequence, the rubber goods were constantly growing sticky, decomposing and being returned to the manufacturers.

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Several years earlier, Goodyear had, however, started a small factory at Springfield, Massachusetts, to which he moved his primary operations in 1842. The factory was run largely by Nelson and Henry Goodyear, Charles’ brothers with financial backing from Goodyear’s brother-in-law, who was a wealthy woolen manufacturer. The work of making the use of rubber practical continued. In 1844, in Springfield, the process was sufficiently perfected that Goodyear felt it safe to take out a patent. The first vulcanization of rubber is considered one of the major “firsts” that contributes to the City of Springfield’s nickname, “The City of Firsts.”  In 1844, Goodyear’s brother Henry introduced another mechanical mixing process in place of the use of solvents.

In the year 1852 Goodyear went to Europe, a trip that he had long planned, and saw Thomas Hancock, then in the employ of Charles Macintosh & Company. Hancock claimed to have invented vulcanization independently, and received a British patent, initiated in 1843, but finalized in 1844. In 1855, in the last of three patent disputes with fellow British rubber pioneer, Stephen Moulton, Hancock’s patent was challenged with the claim that Hancock had copied Goodyear. Goodyear attended the trial. If Hancock lost, Goodyear stood to have his own British patent application granted, allowing him to claim royalties from both Hancock and Moulton. Both had examined Goodyear’s vulcanized rubber in 1842, but several chemists testified that it would not have been possible to determine how it was made by studying it. Hancock prevailed.

Despite his misfortune with patents, Goodyear wrote, “In reflecting upon the past, as relates to these branches of industry, the writer is not disposed to repine, and say that he has planted, and others have gathered the fruits. The advantages of a career in life should not be estimated exclusively by the standard of dollars and cents, as is too often done. Man has just cause for regret when he sows and no one reaps.”

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Goodyear died on July 1, 1860, while traveling to see his dying daughter. After arriving in New York, he was informed that she had already died. He collapsed and was taken to the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City, where he died at the age of 59. He is buried in New Haven at Grove Street Cemetery. In 1898, almost four decades after his death, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company was founded and named after Goodyear by Frank Seiberling.

Rubber used to be common for kitchen utensils but it is now mostly replaced with various rubber-like synthetics. My rubber spatula has always been an indispensible tool when dumping doughy ingredients from a bowl to a cooking vessel, for example, because its flexibility ensures that nothing is wasted. Much to my constant and instant regret, I don’t use rubber gloves enough (i.e. at all) when I am cutting up hot peppers. You’d think I’d learn. I’ve had a few rubber moulds that I thought would be great because of their flexibility in unmoulding, but in actual experience rigid moulds are better (for me).

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Thinking about rubber spatulas puts me in mind of cake recipes, and Goodyear’s home of Connecticut reminds me of a favorite Connecticut cake recipe: election cake. It’s unusual in that yeast is the rising agent. Folklore has it that the cake was originally made for election day in 18th century Connecticut as a special treat  because holidays such as Christmas were outlawed by the Puritans, yet people still wanted celebratory occasions. I’m skeptical, but it’s a good cake. This recipe comes from Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book  (1844).  The quantities are typically large for period recipes. I would halve it and make two cakes.

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Old Harford Election Cake

Five pounds dried and sifted flour.

Two pounds of butter.

Two pounds of sugar.

Three gills of distillery yeast, or twice the quantity of home-brewed.

Four eggs.

A gill of wine and a gill of brandy.

Half an ounce of nutmegs, and two pounds of fruit.

A quart of milk.

Rub the butter very fine into the flour, add half the sugar, then the yeast, then half the milk, hot in winter, and blood warm in summer, then the eggs well beaten, the wine, and the remainder of the milk. Beat it well, and let it stand to rise all night. Beat it well in the morning, adding the brandy, the sugar, and the spice. Let it rise three or four hours, till very light. When you put the wood into the oven, put the cake in buttered pans, and put in the fruit as directed previously. If you wish it richer, add a pound of citron.

 

Dec 282016
 

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On this date in 1836 South Australia was officially proclaimed as a new British colony near The Old Gum Tree in what is now the suburb of Glenelg North. The event is commemorated in South Australia as Proclamation Day. I grew up in Gawler, South Australia so today has something of a resonance for me. I’ve not returned since 1965 but around this time of year I sense the urge to visit once again and get a little nostalgic. Proclamation Day used to be a public holiday, but it was never important for my family because we were on school summer holidays anyway. Still, the founding of South Australia is an important event, rarely noted in the histories (not even in my own history classes), because it was overshadowed by the eastern colonies and cities – Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales, etc. – and the eastern explorers.

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A group in Britain led by Edward Gibbon Wakefield was looking to start a colony based on free settlement rather than convict labor. Wakefield suggested that instead of granting free land to settlers as had happened in other colonies, the land should be sold. The money from land purchases would be used solely to transport laborers to the colony free of charge; they would be responsible people and skilled workers rather than paupers and convicts. Land prices needed to be high enough so that workers who saved to buy land of their own remained in the workforce long enough to avoid a labor shortage.

In 1830 Charles Sturt explored the Murray River and was impressed with what he briefly saw while passing through Lake Alexandrina, later writing:

Hurried ….as my view of it was, my eye never fell on a country of more promising aspect, or more favourable position, than that which occupies the space between the lake (Lake Alexandrina) and the ranges of the St Vincent Gulf, and, continuing northerly from Mount Barker stretches away, without any visible boundary.

Captain Collet Barker, sent by New South Wales Governor Ralph Darling, conducted a more thorough survey of the area in 1831, as recommended by Sturt. After swimming the mouth of the Murray River, Barker was killed by aboriginees who may have been suspicious of him because of contact with sealers and escaped convicts in the region. Despite this, his more detailed survey led Sturt to conclude in his 1833 report:

It would appear that a spot has at last been found upon the south coast of New Holland to which the colonists might venture with every prospect of success ….All who have ever landed upon the eastern shore of the St. Vincent’s Gulf agree as to the richness of its soil and the abundance of its pastures.

In 1834 the South Australian Association, with the aid of such figures as George Grote, William Molesworth and the Duke of Wellington persuaded British Parliament to pass the South Australia Colonisation Act 1834. The Act stated that 802,511 square kilometers would be allotted to the colony and to be convict-free. The plan for the colony to be the ideal embodiment of the best qualities of British society, that is, no religious discrimination or unemployment. The province and its capital were named prior to settlement. The Act further specified that it was to be self-sufficient; £20,000 surety had to be created and £35,000 worth of land had to be sold in the new colony before any settlement was permitted. These conditions were fulfilled by the close of 1835.

While New South Wales, Tasmania and (although not initially) Western Australia were established as convict settlements, the founders of South Australia had a vision for a colony with political and religious freedoms, together with opportunities for wealth through business and pastoral investments. The South Australia Act  reflected these desires and included a promise of representative government when the population reached 50,000 people. South Australia thus became the only colony authorized by an Act of Parliament, and which was intended to be developed at no cost to the British government. Transportation of convicts was forbidden, and ‘poor Emigrants,’ assisted by an Emigration Fund, were required to bring their families with them. Significantly, the Letters Patent enabling the South Australia Act included a guarantee of the rights of ‘any Aboriginal Natives’ and their descendants to lands they ‘now actually occupied or enjoyed.’ These noble intentions were not fulfilled of course.

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The western and eastern boundaries of the colony were set at 132° and 141° East of Greenwich, and to the north at the Tropic of Capricorn, (23° 26′ South). The western and eastern boundary points were chosen as they marked the extent of coastline first surveyed by Matthew Flinders in 1802.

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In 1836, the John Pirie and the Duke of York of the South Australia Land Company set sail for South Australia to establish the first settlement on Kangaroo Island. Royal Navy Rear-Admiral John Hindmarsh was selected to be South Australia’s first governor. The first settlers and officials set sail in early 1836. A total of nine ships consisting of 636 people set sail from London for South Australia. The ships in the fleet included the Cygnet (carrying Colonel William Light’s surveyors), Africaine, Tam O’Shanter, Rapid, and HMS Buffalo (carrying Hindmarsh). After an eight-month voyage around the world, most of the ships took supplies and settlers to Kangaroo Island. They landed at Kingscote to await official decisions on the location and administration of the new colony.

Surveyor Colonel William Light was given two months to locate the most advantageous location for the main colony. He was required to find a site with a harbor, arable land, fresh water, ready internal and external communications, building materials and drainage. Light rejected potential locations for the new main settlement, including Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln, and Encounter Bay. Light decided that the Adelaide plains were the best location for settlement. Most of the settlers were moved from Kangaroo Island to Holdfast Bay with Governor Hindmarsh arriving on 28 December 1836 to proclaim the province of South Australia.

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The date 28 December as a public holiday in South Australia was modified to the first otherwise working day after the Christmas Day public holiday (i.e. usually 26 December). Formal ceremonies involving the most senior current officials and politicians, followed by public celebrations, continue to be held at the still-extant Old Gum Tree at Glenelg on 28 December.

A Christmas bombe is an entirely suitable treat for this day. When I lived in South Australia my mum used to make a full roast dinner for Christmas followed by Christmas pudding, all of which would make the kitchen (where we ate), an absolute furnace. But for my mum tradition was tradition even though it sometimes topped out at 100°F(38°C) and we had no air conditioning; not even a fan. Even so it would have been unthinkable for her to deviate from her British traditions.

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When I was raising a family in New York I usually made a traditional British Christmas dinner, but ice cream at Christmas was actually a Victorian favorite, especially chestnut ice cream — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/w-s-gilbert/ — so sometimes I made a bombe. You can make your own ice cream for this, or use store bought. You’ll need a large mould.  I used to use a flat-bottomed metal bowl, the same one I used to boil my puddings.

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Over the years I made two different kinds of bombes. My original attempts were simply tri-colored bombes. All you need is ice cream of three nicely contrasting colors. Butter the mould well and line it with plastic wrap. Soften one ice cream so that it spreads easily. Then coat the base of the mould with it. Set up the ice cream in the mould in the freezer for several hours. Soften the next color of ice cream, then remove the mould from the freezer, spread the second ice cream inside the first leaving a hollow in the center, and return the mould to the freezer. When the second ice cream has set up, soften the last ice cream. Then fill the hollow with the third flavor, smooth off the bottom, and let the whole set up. To serve, have a basin of warm water handy. Dip the mould in the warm water to release the bombe. Turn it out on a plate, remove the plastic wrap, and serve sliced. If you want you can give guests a fruit syrup. It depends on the flavors of the ice cream.

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If you are adventurous you can make mincemeat ice cream with brandied cherries. This takes all of Advent to prepare. First, around 6 weeks before Christmas, fill a large mason jar with pitted bitter cherries and pour good quality brandy over them. Seal the jar and set aside. Every day or so invert the jar so that it spends half the time on its base and half on its lid. Make the bombe 2 or 3 days ahead of time. I always made my own vanilla ice cream and mincemeat for this recipe but you can use store bought if you want. My vanilla ice cream recipe is here, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/helen-keller/ and my mincemeat recipe is here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/first-sunday-advent/

Soften the vanilla ice cream and mix it well with mincemeat. The proportions are entirely up to you but I would not overdo the mincemeat. Butter a mould and line it with plastic wrap. Fill the mould with the ice cream and mincemeat mix, and let it set up overnight. To serve, unmould the ice cream on to a serving platter, and spoon the brandied cherries with some of the flavored brandy over the top.

Dec 272016
 

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Today is the birthday (1901) of Marie Magdalene “Marlene” Dietrich, a German actress and singer who held both German and US citizenship. Throughout her unusually long career, which spanned from the 1910s to the 1980s, she maintained popularity by continually reinventing herself. She was one of my teenage loves in the 1960s which made me something of an oddity among my friends who thought of her music as well past its prime by that time. I think of her singing of the 1930s and ‘40s as enduring classics although the love affair is long past. The more I know about her life, the less inclined I am to be enamored, but I still admire her war efforts and her screen presence. I saw her once in performance in  1972 when I was still in love, but she was rather a faded bloom by that time. You can read her autobiography as well as the biography by her daughter if you want all the details. I’ll just hit some key spots for me.

Dietrich was born on Leberstraße 65 in the neighborhood of Rote Insel in Schöneberg, now a district of Berlin. Dietrich’s mother was from an affluent Berlin family who owned a jewelry and clock making firm. Her father was a police lieutenant who died in 1907. His best friend, Eduard von Losch, an aristocratic first lieutenant in the Grenadiers, married Wilhelmina in 1916, but he died soon afterwards from injuries sustained during the First World War. Von Losch never officially adopted the Dietrich girls, so Dietrich’s surname was never von Losch, as has sometimes been claimed.

Dietrich studied the violin and became interested in theater and poetry as a teenager. Her dreams of becoming a concert violinist were dashed by a wrist injury, but by 1922 she had her first job, playing violin in a pit orchestra that accompanied silent films at a cinema in Berlin. She was fired after only four weeks.

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Her earliest professional stage appearances were as a chorus girl on tour with Guido Thielscher’s Girl-Kabarett vaudeville-style entertainments, and in Rudolf Nelson revues in Berlin. In 1922, Dietrich auditioned unsuccessfully for theatrical director and impresario Max Reinhardt’s drama academy, but he hired her as a chorus girl and to play small roles in dramas. She made her film debut playing a bit part in the film The Little Napoleon (1923).

She met her future husband, Rudolf Sieber, on the set of Tragödie der Liebe in 1923. They were married in a civil ceremony in Berlin on 17 May 1923 and her only child, daughter Maria Elisabeth Sieber, was born on 13 December 1924. They never divorced but separated after 5 years, yet appeared to remain close until his death. After separating (and even before) Dietrich had a string of affairs with both men and women, many of them simultaneously, the list reading like a Who’s Who of the celebrity world. She also developed into an alcoholic. All of this was carefully shielded from the public until after her death when her daughter published a frank biography. Mostly I find this sad and disappointing, suggesting that deep happiness eluded her and that her screen persona of the superficial femme fatale is more than a little accurate.

Dietrich continued to work on stage and in film both in Berlin and Vienna throughout the 1920s. By the late 1920s, she was also playing sizable parts on screen, including roles in Café Elektric (1927), Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame (1928), and Das Schiff der verlorenen Menschen (1929). Also in 1929 she landed the breakthrough role of Lola-Lola, a sexy cabaret singer who causes the downfall of a respectable schoolmaster (played by Emil Jannings), in UFA-Paramount co-production The Blue Angel (1930). Josef von Sternberg directed the film and thereafter took credit for having “discovered” Dietrich.

In 1930, on the strength of The Blue Angel‘s international success, and with encouragement and promotion from Josef von Sternberg, who was already established in Hollywood, Dietrich moved to the United States under contract to Paramount Pictures. The studio sought to market Dietrich as a German answer to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Swedish sensation, Greta Garbo.

Dietrich starred in six films directed by von Sternberg at Paramount between 1930 and 1935. Sternberg worked effectively with Dietrich to create the image of a glamorous and mysterious femme fatale. In Morocco (1930), Deitrich was again cast as a cabaret singer. The film is best remembered for the sequence in which she performs a song dressed in a man’s top, hat, white tie, and tails, and kisses another woman – both acts provocative for the era. The film earned Dietrich her only Academy Award nomination.

Morocco was followed by Dishonored (1931), a major success with Dietrich cast as a Mata Hari-like spy. Shanghai Express (1932), which was called by the critics as “Grand Hotel on wheels”, was Sternberg and Dietrich’s biggest box office success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1932. Dietrich and Sternberg again collaborated on the romance Blonde Venus (1932). Dietrich worked without Sternberg for the first time in three years in the romantic drama Song of Songs (1933), playing a naive German peasant, under the direction of Rouben Mamoulian. Dietrich and Sternberg’s last two films, The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935)- the most stylized of their collaborations- were their lowest-grossing films. Dietrich later remarked that she was at her most beautiful in The Devil Is a Woman.

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Sternberg is noted for his exceptional skill in lighting and photographing Dietrich to optimum effect. He had a signature use of light and shadow, including the impact of light passed through a veil or slatted blinds (as for example in Shanghai Express). This combined with the scrupulous attention to set design and costumes makes the films they made together among the most visually stylish in cinema history. Paramount fired Sternberg, so the two never worked together again.The collaboration of one actress and director creating seven films is still unmatched in cinema history.

Extravagant offers lured Dietrich away from Paramount to make her first color film The Garden of Allah (1936) for independent producer David O. Selznick, receiving $200,000, and to Britain for Alexander Korda’s production, Knight Without Armour (1937), at a salary of $450,000, which made her one of the best paid film stars. While both films did respectable box office, her vehicles were costly to produce and her public popularity had declined. By this time, Dietrich placed 126th in box office rankings, and US film exhibitors proclaimed her “box office poison” in May 1938, a distinction she shared with Greta Garbo.

While she was in London, officials of the Nazi Party approached Dietrich and offered her lucrative contracts, should she agree to return to Germany as a foremost film star in the Third Reich. She refused their offers and applied for US citizenship in 1937. She returned to Paramount to make Angel (1937), a romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch; the film was poorly received, leading Paramount to buy out the remainder of Dietrich’s contract.

Dietrich was known to have strong political convictions and the mind to speak them. In interviews, Dietrich stated that she had been approached by representatives of the Nazi Party to return to Germany but had turned them down flat. In the late 1930s, Dietrich created a fund with Billy Wilder and several other Germans to help Jews and dissidents escape from Germany. In 1937, her entire salary for Knight Without Armor ($450,000) was put into escrow to help the refugees. In 1939 when she became a US citizen she renounced her German citizenship. In December 1941,  when the U.S. entered World War II, Dietrich became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.

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During two extended tours for the USO in 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, the UK and France, then went into Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton. When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometers of German lines, she replied, “aus Anstand”—”out of decency”. Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower. Her revue, with Danny Thomas as her opening act, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw (a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s) and a pretend “mindreading” act. Dietrich would inform the audience that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, “Oh, think of something else. I can’t possibly talk about that!” US church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of Dietrich’s act.

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In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project, musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Dietrich, the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use, recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including “Lili Marleen”, a favorite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Major General William J. Donovan, head of the OSS, wrote to Dietrich, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for us.”

Dietrich received the Medal of Freedom in November 1947. She said this was her proudest accomplishment. She was also awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French government for her wartime work.

After the war Dietrich never fully regained her former screen success, but she continued performing in motion pictures, including appearances for such distinguished directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, and Billy Wilder in films that included A Foreign Affair (1948), Stage Fright (1950), Rancho Notorious (1952), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), and Touch of Evil (1958), and my personal favorite, No Highway in the Sky (1951). The full movie is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYlU-IQo5mg

For Dietrich it has to be a dish I once loved, but no more, with both German and US accents. That’s a tough order. The hamburger fits the bill but I’ve covered that territory. Ditto, the frankfurter (hot dog), although to tell the truth I still eat them as a quick snack. On that same line there is bratwurst which used to appeal to me but doesn’t any more. Even so I can give you a decent recipe for Wisconsin beer brats.

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Bratwurst was popularized in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin in the 1920s. In general, each local butcher shop would take orders and hand make bratwurst fresh to be picked up on a particular day. The fat content of the sausages was substantial, making daily pick up necessary to avoid spoilage. The originals no doubt emulated their German forebears which are varied and complex. Recipes for the German sausage vary by region and even locality; some sources list over 40 different varieties of German bratwurst, many of the best known originating in Franconia and adjacent areas. How the sausages are served is also locally different, but most commonly they are regarded as a snack served with or in a white bread roll made from wheat flour and eaten with mustard. As a pub dish, it is often accompanied by sauerkraut or potato salad and sometimes served with dark, crusty country bread made predominantly from rye flour, less commonly with a Brezel (pretzel). It is a very popular form of fast food in German-speaking countries, often cooked and sold by street vendors from small stands.

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The US bratwurst is a pallid cousin to the German original, but can serve as a good alternative to hot dogs at a cook out. Before grilling immerse the brats in a pilsner-style beer with some chopped onions and simmer gently for about an hour (or more). Drain the brats and let them cool (and dry off). Then grill them over charcoal so that they are nicely seared on the outside. I eat them in bread with sauerkraut and mustard, but you can follow German tradition if you like.

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Dec 262016
 

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Today is the birthday (1537) – O.S. January 7 – of Yi I (Hangul: 이이; Hanja: 李珥one of the two most prominent Korean Confucian scholars of the Joseon Dynasty, the other being his older contemporary, Yi Hwang (Toegye). Yi I is often referred to by his pen name Yulgok (“Chestnut valley”). He is not only known as a scholar but also as a revered politician and reformer.

Yi I was born in Gangneung, Gangwon Province in 1537. His father was a Fourth State Councillor (jwachanseong 좌찬성) and his mother, Shin Saimdang, was an accomplished artist and calligraphist. He was the grand nephew of Yi Gi, prime minister from 1549 to 1551. In his early years he was the student of Baik In-geol, successor to the master Jo Gwang-jo. It is reputed that by the age of 7 he had finished his lessons in the Confucian classics, and passed the Civil Service literary examination at the age of 13. Yi I secluded himself in Kumgang-san following his mother’s death when he was 16 and stayed for 3 years, studying Buddhism. He left the mountains at 20 and devoted himself to the study of Confucianism.

He married at 22 and in the same year passed special exams with top honors with a winning thesis titled Cheondochaek (hangul:천도책, hanja: 天道策, “Book on the Way of Heaven”), which was widely regarded as a literary masterpiece, displaying his knowledge of history and the Confucian philosophy of politics, and also reflecting his profound knowledge of Taoism. He continuously received top honors in civil exams 9 times in a row. His father died when he was 26. He served in various positions in government from the age of 29, and visited the Ming Dynasty as seojanggwan (hangul: 서장관, hanja: 書狀官, document officer) in 1568. He also participated in the writing of the Myeongjong Annals and at 34, wrote Dongho Mundap, an eleven-article political memorial devoted to clarifying his conviction that a righteous government could be achieved.

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Due to his vast experience in different offices over the years, Yi I was able to establish a wide vision of politics and with the deep trust of the king, became one of the central figures of politics by the time he was 40. His many documents and theses were presented to the royal court but when political conflicts escalated in 1576, his efforts proved fruitless and he returned home. Following his return, he devoted his time to studies and education of his students and wrote several books.

He returned to office at 45 and while holding various ministerial positions, wrote a great deal to record crucial political events and show his efforts to ease the political conflicts that were rampant at that time. However, King Seonjo was noncommittal in his attitude and it became difficult for Yi I to remain in a neutral position in the conflicts. He left office in 1583 and died the following year.

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According to legend, he had a pavilion built near the ford of the Imjin River in his lifetime and instructed his heirs to set it ablaze when the king had to flee northward from Seoul, to provide a guiding beacon. This took place during Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea at the Imjin war.

Yi I was not only known as a philosopher but also as a social reformer. He did not completely agree with the dualistic Neo-Confucianism teachings followed by Yi Hwang. His school of Neo-Confucianism placed emphasis on the more concrete, material elements; rather than inner spiritual perception, this practical and pragmatic approach valued external experience and learning. Unlike Yi Hwang, who suffered through tumultuous times and did not enjoy being in politics, Yi I was an active official who thought it important to implement Confucian values and principles to government administration. He emphasized learning and self-cultivation as the base of proper administration. Yi I is also well known for his foresight about national security. He proposed to draft and reinforce the army against a possible Japanese attack. His proposal was rejected by the central government but his concerns proved to be well-founded soon after his death, during the Imjin war.

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To celebrate Yi I I am going to wax lyrical about kimchi for a spell. Kimchi ( 김치), also spelled kimchee or gimchi, is, for me, the quintessential Korean side dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings, and I like to keep some on hand at all times although in some places where I have lived in recent years it is not always easy to get hold of. Commercially available varieties work well enough, but they do not reflect the huge variety and complexity of products available in Korea. In traditional preparations, kimchi was stored underground in jars to keep cool and unfrozen during the winter months. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made from napa cabbage, radish, scallion, garlic, ginger or cucumber as the main ingredients.

The term ji was used until the pre-modern terms chimchae, dimchae, and timchae were adopted in the period of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. The word then was modified into jimchi, and is currently kimchi. Red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru) are now used as the main ingredient for the flavor and heat for many varieties of kimchi. In the 12th century, other spices, creating flavors such as sweet and sour, and colors, such as white and orange, were added.

Kimchi is, hands down Korea’s ultimate national dish. During South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War its government requested U.S. help to ensure that South Korean troops could obtain it in the field. South Korean president Park Chung-hee told U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson that kimchi was “vitally important to the morale of Korean troops.” It was also sent to space on board Soyuz TMA-12 with Yi So-yeon after a multimillion-dollar research effort to kill the bacteria and lessen the odor without affecting taste.

Kimchi varieties are determined by the main vegetable ingredients and the mix of seasoning used to flavor the kimchi. The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul has documented 187 historic and current varieties of kimchi. Ingredients can be replaced or added depending on the type of kimchi being made. The most common seasonings include brine, scallions, spices, ginger, chopped radish, garlic, saeujeot (새우젓, shrimp sauce), eoriguljeot (어리굴젓, oyster sauce), and aekjeot (액젓, fish sauce).

Kimchi can be categorized by main ingredients, regions or seasons. Currently there are over 180 varieties of kimchi. The most common variations are baechukimchi (배추김치, napa cabbage kimchi), baechugeotjeori (배추겉절이, unfermented napa cabbage kimchi), bossam kimchi (보쌈김치), baekkimchi (백김치, white kimchi), dongchimi (동치미, water-based kimchi), chonggakkimchi (총각김치, chonggak radish kimchi), kkakdugi (깍두기, radish kimchi), oisobagi (오이소박이, cucumber kimchi), and pakimchi (파김치, green onion kimchi).

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Kimchi from the northern parts of Korea tends to have less salt and red chili and usually does not include brined seafood for seasoning. Northern kimchi often has a watery consistency. Kimchi made in the southern parts of Korea, such as Jeolla-do and Gyeongsang-do, uses salt, chili peppers and myeolchijeot (멸치젓, brined anchovy allowed to ferment) or saeujeot (새우젓, brined shrimp allowed to ferment), myeolchiaekjeot (멸치액젓), kkanariaekjeot (까나리액젓), liquid anchovy jeot, similar to fish sauce used in Southeast Asia, but thicker.

Saeujeot (새우젓) or myeolchijeot is not added to the kimchi spice-seasoning mixture, but is simmered first to reduce odors, eliminate tannic flavor and fats, and then is mixed with a thickener made of rice or wheat starch (풀). This technique has been falling into disuse for the past 40 years.

White kimchi (baek kimchi) is baechu (napa cabbage) seasoned without chili pepper and is neither red in color nor spicy. White radish kimchi (dongchimi) is another example of a kimchi that is not spicy. The watery white kimchi varieties are sometimes used as an ingredient in a number of dishes such as cold noodles in dongchimi brine (dongchimi guksu).

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Different types of kimchi were traditionally made at different times of the year, based on when various vegetables were in season and also to take advantage of hot and cold seasons before the era of refrigeration. Although the advent of modern refrigeration — including kimchi refrigerators specifically designed with precise controls to keep different varieties of kimchi at optimal temperatures at various stages of fermentation — has made this seasonality unnecessary, Koreans continue to consume kimchi according to traditional seasonal preferences.

Traditionally, the greatest varieties of kimchi were available during the winter. In preparation for the long winter months, many types of kimjang kimchi (김장 김치) were prepared in early winter and stored in the ground in large kimchi pots. Today, many city residents use modern kimchi refrigerators offering precise temperature controls to store kimjang kimchi. November and December are traditionally when people begin to make kimchi. Women often gather together in each other’s homes to help with winter kimchi preparations. “Baechu kimchi” is made with salted baechu filled with thin strips of radish, parsley, pine nuts, pears, chestnuts, shredded red pepper, manna lichen (석이 버섯), garlic, and ginger.

After that little discourse you are on your own. Find whatever you can. My common habit is to eat kimchi with rice, or make it into a soup or stew (kimchi-guk or kimchi jjigae). It’s your choice whether to make it with or without pork. I usually don’t but it makes a hearty meal with it. Without the pork I just heat all the ingredients in water for a few minutes and garnish with green onions.

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Kimchi Jjigae

Ingredients

2 cups chopped kimchi
½ lb pork shoulder (or pork belly), cut into bite sized pieces
2 tbsp hot pepper paste
1 tsp sugar (optional)
2 green onions, chopped
14 oz tofu, cut into bite sized cubes

Instructions

Place all the ingredients except the tofu and green onions in a heavy stock pot and cover with cold water. Simmer until the pork is tender (40 minutes to 1 hour).

Add the tofu and continue simmering until it is warmed through (10 minutes or less).

Serve in deep bowls garnished with green onions and accompanied with rice.

Dec 252016
 

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It’s Christmas Day – of course. This year let me add my voice to the chorus of nonsense about the day. Maybe mine won’t be quite as stupid and ill informed as most. One can hope. My central theme is that Christmas is a CHRISTIAN feast – not pagan, Roman, druidic, or whatever. It is purely Christian at heart. Certainly it has accrued a mountain of stuff from other midwinter celebrations, but that does not alter its core idea.

Let’s begin with the date because exploring that path uncovers a multitude. There is no evidence that a celebration of Jesus’ birth existed on the Christian calendar before the 4th century. There was a great deal of debate about possible dates and also a certain amount of skepticism about the wisdom of celebrating a birth in general. In the 3rd century, the date of birth of Jesus was the subject of both great interest and great uncertainly. Around 200 Clement of Alexandria wrote:

There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20] … And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].

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Other contemporary writers argued for May 20, April 18 or 19, March 25, January 2, November 17, and November 20 as possibilities.  Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) argued for a winter solstice date which by his time had found some favor within the church:

Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.

Early Christian writers show no knowledge of Christmas. Irenaeus (died c. 202) and Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240) omit it from their lists of feasts, and in 245 Origen, commenting on Leviticus, says that Scripture talks about sinners celebrating their birthdays – such as Pharaoh, who then had his chief baker hanged (Genesis 40:20–22), and Herod, who then had John the Baptist beheaded (Mark 6:21–27) – and talks of  saints cursing the day of their birth – such as Jeremiah  (Jeremiah 20:14–15) and Job (Job 3:1–16).

The earliest known mention of Christmas as (possibly) being celebrated on the 25th of December is recorded in a 4th-century manuscript compiled in Rome. This manuscript is believed to record a celebration that occurred in 336. It was prepared privately for Filocalus, a Roman aristocrat, in 354. The reference in question states, “VIII kal. ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeæ”. This reference is in a section of the manuscript that was copied from earlier source material. It’s taken as a kind of confirmation that Christmas was celebrated on that date but the reference is too scant to be sure.

In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany, which in western Christianity focused on the visit of the magi. But the medieval calendar was dominated by Christmas-related holidays. The forty days before Christmas became the “forty days of St. Martin” (which began on November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours). The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. King Edmund the Martyr was anointed on Christmas in 855 and King William I of England was crowned on Christmas Day 1066.

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In the High Middle Ages, the holiday had become so prominent that chroniclers routinely noted where various magnates celebrated Christmas. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten. Caroling also appears in the records of this time. The first records is of a group of dancers who sang. The group was composed of a lead singer and a ring of dancers who provided the chorus.

Throughout the Middle Ages across Europe various aspects of non-Christian midwinter celebrations got added into the mix: holly, ivy, mistletoe along with feasting, drinking, gambling, dancing, and sporting, along with elaborate masques, pageants, and plays.

Following the Protestant Reformation, many of the new denominations, including the Anglican Church and Lutheran Church, continued to celebrate Christmas. Martin Luther helped turn Christmas festivities into something specifically German which then spread to the rest of Europe and North America. The Dutch Reformed Church also celebrated Christmas as one of the principal evangelical feasts. However, in 17th century England the Puritans strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the “trappings of popery” or the “rags of the Beast.” The calendar reform became a major point of tension between the Anglican party and the Puritan party.” King Charles I of England directed his noblemen and gentry to return to their landed estates in midwinter to keep up their old-style Christmas generosity, but following the Parliamentarian victory over Charles I in the English Civil War, England’s Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647.

Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans. The Vindication of Christmas (London, 1652), argued against the Puritans, and makes note of Old English Christmas traditions, dinner, roast apples on the fire, card playing, dances with plough-boys, old Father Christmas and carol singing.

The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban, but many Calvinist clergymen still disapproved of Christmas celebration. As such, in Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland discouraged the observance of Christmas, and though James VI commanded its celebration in 1618, attendance at church was scant. The Parliament of Scotland officially abolished the observance of Christmas in 1640, claiming that the church had been “purged of all superstitious observation of days”. It was not until 1958 that Christmas again became a Scottish public holiday.

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In Colonial North America, the Pilgrims of New England shared radical Protestant disapproval of Christmas. The Plymouth Pilgrims put their loathing for the day into practice in 1620 when they spent their first Christmas Day in the New World working – thus demonstrating their complete contempt for the day. Non-Puritans in New England, however, deplored the loss of the holidays enjoyed by the laboring classes in England. Christmas observance was outlawed in Boston in 1659. The ban by the Puritans was revoked in 1681 by English governor Edmund Andros, however it was not until the mid-19th  century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region. I mention all of this by way of pointing out that the contemporary (false) claim by evangelicals and the right wing in the US that there is a War on Christmas while not remotely the case nowadays was certainly true in the past – and the perpetrators were their own ancestors.

As I have been at pains to point out in this blog as well as in my professional writing in general, the supposed “origins” of customs are a complete red herring, but in the case of Christmas there is no question that it started as a Christian celebration. The fact that it accrued bits and pieces from Saturnalia, yule, etc. is neither here nor there. Christmas did not originate in these other customs. Furthermore, it is an evolving and diverse festival.

Christmas dinner has always been very important to me and in previous posts I’ve talked about mincemeat, pudding, roast goose etc. These past few years I’ve been alone without an oven, so I’ve had to be creative. Here’s a little gallery from those times.

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Now I have an oven, so I’m roasting a duck this year for the main meal. Same rules apply as always – roast as hot as the oven will go. It makes a lot of smoke but the meat is juicy and the skin crisp.

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Dec 242016
 

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Today is the Feast of the Seven Fishes in some parts of the Italian-American community. It is a Christmas Eve celebration, although it’s not called by this name in Italy and is not a “feast” in the strict sense of “church holy day” but, rather, a blowout meal. Strictly speaking, Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the abundance of seafood reflects the Catholic tradition of abstinence from red meat until the actual feast of Christmas Day itself. Today in the Italian-American community Seven Fishes is a meal that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. It originates from (mostly) Southern Italy, where it is known simply as La Vigilia (short for Vigilia di Natale).

The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence from meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and (in the Latin Church) Saturdays, as well as during Lent and on the eve of specific holy days. The thing is that this supposed fast often transformed into an absolute feast of fish – especially in the Middle Ages, and beyond. Nowadays Christmas Eve dinner in Catholic countries in general can be an extremely lavish meal. In Argentina, for example, it is the main Christmas meal sprawling from about 10 pm to 4 am or longer. In Italy in general it is the time to (sometimes) go to Midnight mass, but always involves a special meal without meat. In Mantua, where I am now, the highlight is tortelli di zucca (with butter and sage) and maybe fish.

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It is unclear when the term “Feast of the Seven Fishes” was popularized. The meal may actually include seven, eight, or even nine specific fishes that are considered traditional. However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen different seafood dishes. “Seven” fishes as a fixed concept or name is unknown in Italy itself. In some of the oldest Italian-American families there was no count of the number of fish dishes. Dinner began with whiting in lemon, followed by some version of clams or mussels in spaghetti, baccalà, and onward to any number of other fish dishes without number. Seven is a nice lucky number, though.

The most famous dish for Southern Italians is baccalà (salted cod fish). The custom of celebrating with a simple fish such as baccalà reflects customs in what were historically greatly impoverished regions of Southern Italy, as well as seasonal factors. Fried smelts, calamari and other types of seafood have been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years.

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Salt cod goes on sale in Italy well before Christmas. It keeps forever, so you can buy it well in advance.  You also need to begin preparation at least 3 days in advance. It must be soaked for 3 days or more to remove the salt and soften the flesh. This recipe is for baked baccalà which is less common than the normal method of simmering, but I prefer it.

Baked Baccalà

Ingredients

1 ¼ lb dried salt cod
2 large potatoes, sliced in thin rounds
1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
3 tbsp butter, chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
crushed hot pepper (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Soak the baccalà in cold water for at least 3 days prior to cooking.

Preheat your oven to 375˚F.

Rinse the cod for a last time; dry it well and cut it into small pieces. In a shallow casserole dish, toss the potato rounds and onion slices with the butter and olive oil. Add the baccalà and gently toss. Season with crushed red and black peppers. Cover the casserole with foil and place into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add a bit of water, about 2 tablespoons, if needed, during cooking; continue to stir while cooking, but gently to avoid breaking the fish. Season with salt, if needed.

Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Dec 232016
 

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On this date in 1947 the transistor was first demonstrated at Bell Laboratories. The invention of the transistor is one of the great milestones in electronics, completely revolutionizing the field from radios to calculators and computers. The transistor not only miniaturized electronic circuits but also saved power and dramatically reduced the production of heat.

The forerunner of the transistor was the thermionic triode, a vacuum tube invented in 1907 which enabled amplified radio technology and long-distance telephony. The triode, however, was a fragile device that consumed a lot of power. Physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld filed a patent for a field-effect transistor (FET) in Canada in 1925, which was intended to be a solid-state replacement for the triode. However, Lilienfeld did not publish any research articles about his devices nor did his patents cite any specific examples of a working prototype. Because the production of high-quality semiconductor materials was still decades away, Lilienfeld’s solid-state amplifier ideas would not have found practical use in the 1920s and 1930s, even if such a device had been built.

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From November 17, 1947 to December 23, 1947, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain at AT&T’s Bell Labs in the United States performed experiments and observed that when two gold point contacts were applied to a crystal of germanium, a signal was produced with the output power greater than the input. Solid State Physics Group leader William Shockley saw the potential in this, and over the next few months worked to greatly expand the knowledge of semiconductors. The term transistor was coined by John R. Pierce as a contraction of the term transresistance. Shockley had proposed that Bell Labs’ first patent for a transistor should be based on the field-effect and that he be named as the inventor. Having unearthed Lilienfeld’s patents that went into obscurity years earlier, lawyers at Bell Labs advised against Shockley’s proposal because the idea of a field-effect transistor that used an electric field as a “grid” was not new. Instead, what Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley invented in 1947 was the first point-contact transistor. In acknowledgement of this accomplishment, Shockley, Bardeen, and Brattain were jointly awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics “for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect”.

In 1948, the point-contact transistor was independently invented by German physicists Herbert Mataré and Heinrich Welker while working at the Compagnie des Freins et Signaux, a Westinghouse subsidiary located in Paris. Mataré had previous experience in developing crystal rectifiers from silicon and germanium in the German radar effort during World War II. Using this knowledge, he began researching the phenomenon of “interference” in 1947. By June 1948, witnessing currents flowing through point-contacts, Mataré produced consistent results using samples of germanium produced by Welker, similar to what Bardeen and Brattain had accomplished earlier in December 1947. Realizing that Bell Labs’ scientists had already invented the transistor before them, the company rushed to get its “transistron” into production for use in France’s telephone network.

The first high-frequency transistor was the surface-barrier germanium transistor developed by Philco in 1953, capable of operating up to 60 MHz. These were made by etching depressions into an N-type germanium base from both sides with jets of Indium(III) sulfate until it was a few ten-thousandths of an inch thick. Indium electroplated into the depressions formed the collector and emitter.

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The first “prototype” pocket transistor radio was shown by INTERMETALL (a company founded by Herbert Mataré in 1952) at the Internationale Funkausstellung Düsseldorf between August 29 and September 9, 1953.  I discovered transistor radios in around 1964 when they started becoming popular with teenagers in South Australia but I did not get one until 1965 after I had moved to England. Back then pop music was not played on the BBC but there were pirate stations such as Radio Caroline and Radio London that I listened to when I could get a signal, along with the ever popular Radio Luxembourg in the evenings.

For a seasonal treat here’s Alan Sherman’s 12 Days of Christmas parody that mocks Japanese transistor radios:

Radio cooking shows were very popular of course, and famous chefs on television often got their start on radio.  Here’s a well known Christmas radio recipe (HINT: the bottle of Irish whiskey in the ingredient list is very important).

Dec 222016
 

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On this date in 1135 Stephen of Blois (c. 1092/6 – 25 October 1154), known in Norman French as Étienne de Blois (then Étienne d’Angleterre) – grandson of William the Conqueror – became king of England. For me for many years, because of the shamefully biased way I was taught history, Stephen existed only in lists of monarchs, and I barely remembered that England even had a king named Stephen. Yet his reign was very turbulent, and extremely important for what came later. He was the last of the kings styled “Norman” (the dynasty founded by William I). After Stephen came the Angevins (Henry II, Richard I, and John) whose rule (and territories) marked a major shift in English history. Stephen’s reign was dominated by what historians usually call “the Anarchy,” a perhaps polite term for civil war. I can’t understand why historians want to speak of the 17th century war between Parliament and the Monarchy in England as THE Civil War. There were many civil wars in England, notably the Wars of the Roses, and the war between Stephen and the Empress Matilda, his cousin. All left an indelible mark on the country.

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One point that is not stressed nearly enough by English historians, is that one cannot strictly call England an independent nation at this time, although patriots like to think it was. To do so is to succumb to a species of what is usually called “Whig history” – that is, past events are always seen in terms of where we are now. So . . . England is an independent nation now, therefore it is fitting to talk about it as an independent nation from the time of William the Conqueror. This is fallacious nonsense. William did, indeed, unite the lands of previous Anglo-Saxon (and Danish) leaders into one polity, but it was not distinct from his holdings in Normandy: it was a province. Subsequent rulers felt that way also because they held lands on the continent as well as England, and spent more time abroad than in England (Richard I being a prime example). Until John, English was not their native language, and they certainly did not think of themselves as English.  It is well past time to get over the idea that the piece of real estate that is now England has been waiting in the wings to become a nation-state from time immemorial. Stephen and his kin saw England as part of a fluid conglomeration of provinces to be fought over in a neverending game of chess.  I don’t have space to explore Stephen’s reign in detail. Here’s some highlights.

Stephen was born in the County of Blois in France. His father, Count Stephen-Henry, died while Stephen was still young, and he was brought up by his mother, Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. Stephen became part of the court of his uncle, Henry I of England, rose in prominence and was granted extensive lands. He married Matilda of Boulogne, inheriting additional estates in Kent and Boulogne that made the couple one of the wealthiest in England.

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Stephen narrowly escaped drowning with Henry I’s son, William Adelin, in the sinking of the White Ship in 1120. The White Ship was a newly refitted vessel captained by Thomas FitzStephen, whose father Stephen FitzAirard had been captain of the ship Mora for William the Conqueror when he invaded England in 1066. Thomas offered his ship to Henry I to use to return to England from Barfleur in Normandy. Henry had already made other arrangements, but allowed many in his retinue to take the White Ship, including William Adelin; his illegitimate son Richard of Lincoln; his illegitimate daughter Matilda FitzRoy, Countess of Perche (not to be confused with the Empress Matilda); and many other nobles. Stephen begged off at the last minute and that spared his life. Because of reckless, possibly drunken, navigation, the ship, in attempting to beat Henry’s ship to England, struck a rock and sank with almost complete loss of life of those on board.

William Adelin’s death left the succession of the English throne open to challenge. When Henry I died in 1135, Stephen quickly crossed the English Channel and with the help of his brother Henry of Blois, a powerful ecclesiastic, took the throne, arguing that the preservation of order across the kingdom took priority over his earlier oaths to support the claim of Henry I’s daughter, the Empress Matilda. He was probably right in principle (despite less honorable motives) given that the English, by and large, were not ready to have a queen as monarch even though her claims to the throne were stronger than Stephen’s.

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The early years of Stephen’s reign were largely successful, despite a series of attacks on his possessions in England and Normandy by David I of Scotland, Welsh rebels, and the Empress Matilda’s husband, Geoffrey of Anjou. In 1138 the Empress’s half-brother Robert of Gloucester rebelled against Stephen, threatening civil war. Together with his close advisor, Waleran de Beaumont, Stephen took firm steps to defend his rule, including arresting a powerful family of bishops. When the Empress and Robert invaded in 1139, however, Stephen was unable to crush the revolt rapidly, and it took hold in the south-west of England. Stephen was captured at the battle of Lincoln in 1141 and was abandoned by many of his followers and lost control of Normandy. Stephen was freed only after his wife and William of Ypres, one of his military commanders, captured Robert at the Rout of Winchester, but the war dragged on for many years with neither side able to win an advantage.

Stephen became increasingly concerned with ensuring that his son Eustace would inherit his throne. He tried to convince the Church to agree to crown Eustace to reinforce his claim but Pope Eugene III refused, and Stephen found himself in a sequence of increasingly bitter arguments with his senior clergy. In 1153 the Empress’s son, Henry FitzEmpress, invaded England and built an alliance of powerful regional barons to support his claim for the throne. The two armies met at Wallingford, but neither side’s barons were keen to fight another pitched battle. Stephen began to contemplate a negotiated peace, a process hastened by the sudden death of Eustace. Later in the year Stephen and Henry agreed to the Treaty of Winchester, in which Stephen recognized Henry as his heir in exchange for peace, passing over William, Stephen’s second son.

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Stephen’s decision to recognize Henry as his heir was, at the time, not necessarily a final solution to the civil war. Stephen might potentially have lived for many more years, whilst Henry’s position on the continent was far from secure. Although Stephen’s son William was young and unprepared to challenge Henry for the throne in 1153, the situation could well have shifted in subsequent years—there were widespread rumors during 1154 that William planned to assassinate Henry, for example.

Certainly many problems remained to be resolved, including re-establishing royal authority over the provinces and resolving the complex issue of which barons should control the contested lands and estates after the long civil war. Stephen burst into activity in early 1154, travelling around the kingdom extensively. He began issuing royal writs for the south-west of England once again and travelled to York where he held a major court in an attempt to impress upon the northern barons that royal authority was being reasserted. After a busy summer in 1154, however, Stephen traveled to Dover to meet the Count of Flanders; some historians believe that the King was already ill and preparing to settle his family affairs. Stephen fell ill with a stomach disorder and died on 25 October at the local priory, being buried at Faversham Abbey with his wife Matilda and son Eustace.

Today’s date is also famous because of the acts of another king – Alfred the Great, who was not really king of England, as such, but did style himself king of the English (or Anglo-Saxons). On this date in 877 Alfred the Great passed a law that no servant should work for the 12 days following the winter solstice. This was in the days before Christmas was a widespread holiday.

Alfred is the only king of the English (or England) to be called “the Great.” His lot (Ethelred, Aelfric, etc.) all tend to be forgotten in the school history books except for simple children’s stories like Alfred (or should I say Ælfrǣd) and the burnt cakes. REAL English history apparently starts in 1066. Any fule kno that. (The latter is a test to see how old you really are). Another pathetic example of Whig history.

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The story of Alfred and the cakes is, of course, apocryphal – a Victorian invention that has the merit of being a story we can all relate to. Oh, the pots I have burnt! Supposedly he was in hiding and plotting his next attack on the Danes when he was taken in by a peasant woman who asked him to watch her cakes cooking whilst she attended to other things. The poor man got lost in his battle plans and so let the cakes burn, which earned him a tongue lashing from the woman who was unaware that he was her king. I’m not sure whose side I’m on. The smell of smoke emanating from the kitchen whilst I am lost in my writing is painfully familiar. Fortunately I live alone . . . and those who know me well know that cooking and smoke are not strange bedfellows in my house. In any case, here’s a recipe for cakes that may be like Alfred’s, and are certainly seasonal. They are similar to scones.

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King Alfred’s Cakes

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp ground nutmeg
3 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup raisins, dried apricots, prunes or other dried fruit, cut into pieces
1 large egg
⅛ cup heavy whipping cream
⅛ cup orange juice

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. (I use a food processor for speed). Stir in the fruit.

In a small bowl, mix the egg, cream, and orange juice.

Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until all is moist. Turn on to a floured surface and knead gently. Then break the dough into small cakes and shape them with your hands to form rounds.

Place the cakes on a greased baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden. DO NOT LET THEM BURN !!!

Serve warm with butter.