Dec 212016
 

cw1

Today is often treated as the birthday of crossword puzzles because on this date in 1913 Arthur Wynne, who had created a page of puzzles for the “Fun” section of the Sunday edition of the New York World, introduced a puzzle with a diamond shape and a hollow center, the letters F-U-N already being filled in. He called it a “Word-Cross Puzzle.” Although Wynne’s invention was based on earlier puzzle forms, such as the word diamond, he introduced a number of innovations (for example, the use of numbered horizontal and vertical lines to create boxes for solvers to enter letters). He subsequently pioneered the use of black squares in a symmetrical arrangement to separate words in rows and columns. A few weeks after the first “Word-Cross” appeared, the name of the puzzle was changed to “Cross-Word” as a result of a typesetting error.

By the 1920s crosswords were appearing in British newspapers with a certain amount of criticism from the high and mighty. In fact, on both sides of the Atlantic some viewed the crossword puzzle with alarm, and some expected (or hoped) that it would be a short-lived fad. In 1924, The New York Times complained of the “sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport… [solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development.” A clergyman called the working of crossword puzzles “the mark of a childish mentality” and said, “There is no use for persons to pretend that working one of the puzzles carries any intellectual value with it.” In 1925 Time magazine noted that nine Manhattan dailies and fourteen other big newspapers were carrying crosswords, and quoted opposing views as to whether “This crossword craze will positively end by June!” or “The crossword puzzle is here to stay!” In 1925, the New York Times noted, with approval, a scathing critique of crosswords by The New Republic, but concluded that “Fortunately, the question of whether the puzzles are beneficial or harmful is in no urgent need of an answer. The craze evidently is dying out fast and in a few months it will be forgotten” and in 1929 declared, “The cross-word puzzle, it seems, has gone the way of all fads….” In 1930, a correspondent noted that “Together with The Times of London, yours is the only journal of prominence that has never succumbed to the lure of the cross-word puzzle” and said that “The craze—the fad—stage has passed, but there are still people numbering it to the millions who look for their daily cross-word puzzle as regularly as for the weather predictions.” The New York Times, however, was not to publish a crossword puzzle until 1942. Ironically, both The Times (London) and the New York Times now publish crosswords of considerable notoriety and fame.

cw2

The crossword evolved rather differently in Britain and the United States, both in basic form and in the nature of the clues. The usual US crossword allows for a word to be filled in completely by filling in all the words that intersect with it, but British ones do not. In addition, US crosswords typically rely on synonymy whereas the British evolved the cryptic crossword which is now the more common form in the UK.

I don’t care for US-style crosswords at all. On the other hand, I have had phases in my life in which cryptic crosswords have held my attention – The Times daily crossword being my favorite because the setters are always fair in their clues, and the clues are usually solvable with average mental effort. In essence, a cryptic clue leads to its answer as long as it is read in the right way. What the clue appears to say when read normally (the surface reading) is a distraction and usually has nothing to do with the clue answer. The challenge is to find the way of reading the clue that leads to the solution.

A typical clue consists of two parts, the definition and the wordplay. It provides two ways of getting to the answer. The definition, which usually exactly matches the part of speech, tense, and number of the answer, is in essence the same as any ‘straight’ crossword clue, a synonym for the answer. It usually appears at the start or the end of a clue.

The other part (the subsidiary indication, or wordplay) provides an alternate route to the answer (this part would be a second definition in the case of double definition clues). One of the tasks of the solver is to find the boundary between definition and wordplay and insert a mental pause there when reading the clue cryptically. This wordplay gives the solver some instructions on how to get to the answer another way. (Sometimes the two parts are joined with a link word or phrase such as “from”, “gives” or “could be”.)

There are many sorts of wordplay, such as anagrams and double definitions, but they all conform to rules. The crossword setters do their best to stick to these rules when writing their clues, and solvers can use these rules and conventions to help them solve the clues.

Because a typical cryptic clue describes its answer in detail and often more than once, the solver can usually have a great deal of confidence in the answer once it has been determined, that is, the clues are ‘self-checking’ which is why most solvers fill in the crossword in ink. This is in contrast to non-cryptic crossword clues which often have several possible answers and force the solver to use the crossing letters to distinguish which is intended.

Here’s a simple cryptic clue:

Glittering light and boom upset deer (7)

At the outset you have to figure out which part is the straight definition and which part is the subsidiary indication. Here “glittering light” is the definition, and “boom upset deer” is the wordplay. You have to be careful with wordplays; they often rely on double meanings. Here “boom” is not a sound, but a part of a ship’s sailing gear, a synonym of which is “spar.” “Upset” indicates that the remaining part should be spelt backwards and an elk is a kind of deer. Spell it backwards and you have “kle.” Put the two halves together and you have SPARKLE.

The challenge with cryptic clues is that sometimes the whole clue involves a double definition or a pun of some sort instead of having just a straight definition plus wordplay. My favorite of this sort is:

Medicine hat. (4,3)

The answer is “pill box”

Another favorite is:

Double dutch. (8)

You’ll need to know English slang to understand why the answer is “bigamist.”

The fact that you cannot solve UK-style crosswords by filling in all the intersecting words if one word fails you can be infuriating. I got The Times crossword finished one day except for one clue. The letters I had were _L_H and the clue was “sacred flower.” Should have been easy, but I was a novice at the time, and I was mystified all day. The secret is in the word “flower” which does not mean “blossom” but “something that flows” (i.e. a river). The sacred river in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” is ALPH !!!

I’ll leave you with:

Hair style with comb in it? (7)

I could give you a hint by suggesting that you use honey in today’s celebratory recipe. I could also (but I’m not going to) give you a slew of cryptic clues for today’s recipe, such as:

Shortening for a recipe. (4)

This site has a ton of recipe-related crosswords — http://www.whenwecrosswords.com/crossword/advanced_soups_and_sauces/35060/crossword.jsp and below are the clues for one of them.  You’ll have to go to the site for the diagram.

 

Across Down
2 Flour mixed with fat
4 Used in Indian curries, Moroccan tagines, and pickles
9 A spice that is spicy
11 This heightens the spices aroma before grinding them
13 Dried herbs should last this amount of time
14 This mother sauce has a brown stock and brown roux
16 This herb has a sweet, fresh, floral, woody, and intense flavor compound
17 Consists of diced carrots, onions and celery
18 Dried herbs are best stored in this kind of container
21 Bouillon is French for this
22 Debris from soups that settles to the top and simmers
23 Flour mixed with water
 
1 Mrs. Ashford hates this herb from the carrot family
3 Whole seeds will stay aromatic in this time
5 This sauce is almost like a stew and is typically served with pasta
6 Fragrant leaves or plants
7 Dill is a member of which family
8 We made this type of roux in the breaded chicken recipe
10 This recipe uses a sauce that incorporates egg yolks and melted butter
12 Soup base made from bones
15 Rich smooth soup that are pureed, strained and then smoothed with some cream
19 After they are ground spices begin to produce this flavor
20 What climate do most spices come from

As a final footnote I’ll mention that one of the essay questions on my entrance exam for Oxford University was “Why do crosswords?” and my answer greatly amused the examiners who commented on it very favorably when I went for my interview. It included stories I concocted such as one of a prison where a group of prisoners shared one newspaper per week, and each of them filled in the crossword mentally to avoid spoiling it for the others.

Dec 202016
 

vdg1

Today is the birthday (1901) of Robert Jemison Van de Graaff, a US physicist, noted for his design and construction of high-voltage Van de Graaff generators. When I was studying physics in England in the 1960s my school’s Van de Graaff generator was one of my favorite “toys” although I was not aware that at the time its inventor was still alive. It seemed rather Victorian. These generators can produce well over one million volts, but they are not necessarily dangerous because the current (amperage) is weak. The high voltage is, however, useful in certain applications in physics.  I will also note that today is the birthday of physicist David Bohm who I wrote about 3 years ago http://www.bookofdaystales.com/david-bohm/  Definitely a physicists’ day.

vdg8

The Van de Graaff generator uses a motorized insulating belt (usually made of rubber) to conduct electrical charges from a high voltage source on one end of the belt to the inside of a metal sphere on the other end. Since electrical charge resides on the outside of the sphere, it builds up to produce an electrical potential much higher than that of the primary high voltage source. Practical limitations restrict the potential produced by large Van de Graaff generators to about 7 million volts. Van de Graaff generators are used primarily as DC power supplies for linear atomic particle accelerators in nuclear physics experiments. Tandem Van de Graaff generators are essentially two generators in series, and can produce about 15 million volts.

vdg5

The Van de Graaff generator is a simple mechanical device to build. Small Van de Graaff generators are built by hobbyists and scientific apparatus companies and are used to demonstrate the effects of high DC potentials. Even small hobby machines produce impressive sparks several centimeters long. The largest air insulated Van de Graaff generator in the world, built by Van de Graaff himself, is operational and is on display at the Boston Museum of Science. Demonstrations throughout the day are a popular attraction. More modern Van de Graaff generators are insulated by pressurized dielectric gas, usually freon or sulfur hexafluoride. In recent years, Van de Graaff generators have been slowly replaced by solid-state DC power supplies without moving parts. The energies produced by Van de Graaff atomic particle accelerators are limited to about 30 MeV, even with tandem generators accelerating doubly charged particles. More modern particle accelerators using different technology produce much higher energies, thus Van de Graaff particle accelerators have become largely obsolete. They are still used to some extent for graduate student research at colleges and universities and as ion sources for high energy bursts.

vdg2

Van de Graaff built his first  generator in 1929 at Princeton University on a fellowship, with help from colleague Nicholas Burke. The first model used an ordinary tin can, a small motor, and a silk ribbon bought at a five-and-dime store. After this initial success he went to the head of the physics department requesting $100 to make an improved version. He did get the money, but with some difficulty. By 1931 he could report achieving 1.5 million volts. According to his first patent application, it had two 60-cm-diameter charge-accumulation spheres mounted on borosilicate glass columns 180 cm high. The apparatus cost $90 in 1931.

In 1933, Van de Graaff built a 40-foot (12-m) model at MIT’s Round Hill facility, the use of which was donated by Colonel Edward H. R. Green. One of Van de Graaff’s accelerators used two charged domes of sufficient size that each of the domes had laboratories inside – one to provide the source of the accelerated beam, and the other to analyze the actual experiment. The power for the equipment inside the domes came from generators that ran off the belt, and several sessions came to a rather gruesome end when a pigeon would try to fly between the two domes, causing them to discharge. (The accelerator was set up in an airplane hangar.)

vdg4

In 1937, the Westinghouse Electric company built a 65 feet (20 m) Van de Graaff generator capable of generating 5 MeV in Forest Hills, Pennsylvania. It marked the beginning of nuclear research for civilian applications. It was decommissioned in 1958 and was demolished in 2015.

A more recent development is the tandem Van de Graaff accelerator, containing one or more Van de Graaff generators, in which negatively charged ions are accelerated through one potential difference before being stripped of two or more electrons, inside a high voltage terminal, and accelerated again. An example of a three-stage operation has been built in Oxford Nuclear Laboratory in 1964 of a 10 MV single-ended “injector” and a 6 MV EN tandem.

vdg3

By the 1970s, up to 14 million volts could be achieved at the terminal of a tandem that used a tank of high-pressure sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) gas to prevent sparking by trapping electrons. This allowed the generation of heavy ion beams of several tens of megaelectronvolts, sufficient to study light ion direct nuclear reactions. The highest potential sustained by a Van de Graaff accelerator is 25.5 MV, achieved by the tandem at the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Static electricity is not much use for cooking except under very special circumstances. This, and dozens of videos like it, is fake:


Static electricity can generate millions of volts, but it’s not just voltage that matters. You have to have a current as well. Without a current you can’t cook much of anything. Use your microwave and make some popcorn to celebrate Van de Graaff.

Dec 192016
 

po1

Today is the birthday (1940) of Philip David “Phil” Ochs, a US protest singer (or, as he preferred, a topical singer) and songwriter who was known for his sharp wit, sardonic humor, earnest humanism, political activism, insightful and alliterative lyrics, and distinctive voice. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and 1970s and released eight albums. Ochs is not remembered much these days and was never as important in the UK where I was living through most of the Vietnam War as he was in the US, where he was definitely a major voice for protest. People like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez captured (and continue to capture) more of the spotlight, but for my money Ochs was a more heartfelt voice of protest, and – on this day at least – he deserves not to be forgotten.

Ochs performed at many political events during the 1960s counterculture era, including anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies, student events, and organized labor events over the course of his career, in addition to many concert appearances at such venues as New York City’s Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. Politically, Ochs described himself as a “left social democrat” who became an “early revolutionary” after the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago led to a police riot.

I’ll begin with, arguably, his best known protest song. That is, if it is remembered at all.

Where is this voice now?

Phil Ochs was born in El Paso, Texas, to Jacob “Jack” Ochs, a physician who was born in New York and Gertrude Phin Ochs, who was born in Scotland. Jack, drafted into the army, was sent overseas near the end of World War II, where he treated soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge. His war experiences affected his mental health and he received an honorable medical discharge in November 1945. Suffering from bipolar disorder and depression on his return home, Jack was unable to establish a successful medical practice and instead worked at a series of hospitals around the country. As a result, the Ochs family moved frequently: to Far Rockaway, New York, when Ochs was a teenager; then to Perrysburg in western New York, where he first studied music; and then to Columbus, Ohio.

As a teenager, Ochs was recognized as a talented clarinet player; in an evaluation, one music instructor wrote: “You have exceptional musical feeling and the ability to transfer it on your instrument is abundant.” His musical skills led him to play clarinet with the orchestra at the Capital University Conservatory of Music in Ohio, where he rose to the status of principal soloist before he was 16. Although Ochs played classical music, he was interested in all manner of styles from Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. He also developed an interest in movie rebels, including Marlon Brando and James Dean.

po2

From 1956 to 1958, Ochs was a student at the Staunton Military Academy in rural Virginia, and when he graduated he returned to Columbus and enrolled at Ohio State University. After his first quarter he took a leave of absence and went to Florida. While in Miami, Ochs was jailed for two weeks for sleeping on a park bench, an incident he would later recall:

Somewhere during the course of those fifteen days I decided to become a writer. My primary thought was journalism … so in a flash I decided — I’ll be a writer and a major in journalism.

Ochs returned to Ohio State to study journalism and developed an interest in politics, with a particular interest in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. At Ohio State he met Jim Glover, a fellow student who was a devotee of what was called “folk” music. [Hint: Dylan, Baez, Seeger et al are not folk singers]. Glover introduced Ochs to the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and The Weavers. Glover taught Ochs how to play guitar, and they debated politics. Ochs began writing newspaper articles, often on radical themes. When the student paper refused to publish some of his more radical articles, he started his own underground newspaper called The Word. His two main interests, politics and music, soon merged, and Ochs began writing topical political songs. Ochs and Glover formed a duet called “The Singing Socialists,” later renamed “The Sundowners,” but the duo broke up before their first professional performance and Glover went to New York City to become solo singer.

Ochs started performing professionally at a local club called Farragher’s Back Room and was the opening act for a number of musicians in the summer of 1961, including the Smothers Brothers. Ochs continued at Ohio State into his senior year, but dropped out in his last quarter without graduating. Instead he followed Glover to New York.

Ochs arrived in New York City in 1962 and began performing in numerous small nightclubs, eventually becoming an integral part of the Greenwich Village music scene. He emerged as an unpolished but passionate vocalist who wrote pointed songs about current events: war, civil rights, labor struggles and other topics.

Ochs described himself as a “singing journalist” saying he built his songs from stories he read in Newsweek. By the summer of 1963 he was sufficiently well known in folk circles to be invited to sing at the Newport Folk Festival, where he performed “Too Many Martyrs” (co-written with Bob Gibson), “Talking Birmingham Jam”, and “Power and the Glory”—his patriotic Guthrie-esque anthem that brought the audience to its feet. Ochs’s return appearance at Newport in 1964, when he performed “Draft Dodger Rag” and other songs, was widely praised. But he was not invited to appear in 1965.

Ochs recorded his first three albums for Elektra Records: All the News That’s Fit to Sing (1964), I Ain’t Marching Anymore (1965), and Phil Ochs in Concert (1966). On these records, Ochs was accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. The albums contain many of Ochs’s topical songs, such as “Too Many Martyrs”, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”, and “Draft Dodger Rag”; and some musical reinterpretation of older poetry, such as “The Highwayman” (poem by Alfred Noyes) and “The Bells” (poem by Edgar Allan Poe). Phil Ochs in Concert includes some more introspective songs, such as “Changes” and “When I’m Gone.”

po5

During the early period of his career, Ochs and Bob Dylan had a friendly rivalry. Dylan said of Ochs, “I just can’t keep up with Phil. And he just keeps getting better and better and better.” On another occasion, when Ochs criticized “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” Dylan threw him out of his limousine, saying, “You’re not a folksinger. You’re a journalist.”

Ochs deeply admired President John F. Kennedy, even though he disagreed with the president on issues such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the growing involvement of the United States in the Vietnamese civil war. When Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Ochs told his wife that he thought he was going to die that night.

In 1967, Ochs left Elektra for A&M Records and moved to Los Angeles. He recorded four studio albums for A&M: Pleasures of the Harbor (1967), Tape from California (1968), Rehearsals for Retirement (1969), and the ironically titled Greatest Hits (1970) (which actually consisted of all new material). For his A&M albums, Ochs moved away from simply produced solo acoustic guitar performances and experimented with ensemble and even orchestral instrumentation, “baroque-folk,” in the hopes of producing a pop-folk hybrid that would be a hit.

None of Ochs’s songs became hits, although “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends” received a good deal of airplay. It reached #119 on Billboard’s national “Hot Prospect” listing before being pulled from some radio stations because of its lyrics, which sarcastically suggested that “smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer.” It was the closest Ochs ever came to the Top 40. Joan Baez, however, did have a Top Ten hit in the U.K. in August 1965, reaching #8 with her cover of Ochs’s song “There but for Fortune” which was also nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Folk Recording”. In the U.S. it peaked at #50 on the Billboard charts—a good showing, but not a hit.

po7

A lifelong movie fan, Ochs worked the narratives of justice and rebellion that he had seen in films into his music, describing some of his songs as “cinematic.” He was disappointed and bitter when his onetime hero John Wayne embraced the Vietnam War with what Ochs saw as the blind patriotism of Wayne’s 1968 film, The Green Berets:

Here we have John Wayne, who was a major artistic and psychological figure on the American scene, … who at one point used to make movies of soldiers who had a certain validity, … a certain sense of honor [about] what the soldier was doing…. Even if it was a cavalry movie doing a historically dishonorable thing to the Indians, even as there was a feeling of what it meant to be a man, what it meant to have some sense of duty…. Now today we have the same actor making his new war movie in a war so hopelessly corrupt that, without seeing the movie, I’m sure it is perfectly safe to say that it will be an almost technically-robot-view of soldiery, just by definition of how the whole country has deteriorated. And I think it would make a very interesting double feature to show a good old Wayne movie like, say, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with The Green Berets. Because that would make a very striking comment on what has happened to America in general.

po9

Ochs was involved in the creation of the Youth International Party, known as the Yippies, along with Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Stew Albert, and Paul Krassner. At the same time, Ochs actively supported Eugene McCarthy’s more mainstream bid for the 1968 Democratic nomination for President, a position at odds with the more radical Yippie point of view. Still, Ochs helped plan the Yippies’ “Festival of Life” which was to take place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention along with demonstrations by other anti-war groups including the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Despite warnings that there might be trouble, Ochs went to Chicago both as a guest of the McCarthy campaign and to participate in the demonstrations. He performed in Lincoln Park, Grant Park, and at the Chicago Coliseum, witnessed the violence perpetrated by the Chicago police against the protesters, and was himself arrested at one point.

The events of 1968—the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the police riot in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon—left Ochs feeling disillusioned and depressed. The cover of his 1969 album Rehearsals for Retirement eerily portrays his tombstone.

po1

At the trial of the Chicago Seven in December 1969, Ochs testified for the defense. His testimony included his recitation of the lyrics to his song “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”. On his way out of the courthouse, Ochs sang the song for the press corps; to Ochs’s amusement, his singing was broadcast that evening by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.

In August 1971, Ochs went to Chile, where Marxist Salvador Allende had been democratically elected in the 1970 election. There he met Chilean folksinger Víctor Jara, an Allende supporter, and the two became friends. In October, Ochs left Chile to visit Argentina. Later that month, after singing at a political rally in Uruguay, he and his American traveling companion David Ifshin were arrested and detained overnight. When the two returned to Argentina, they were arrested as they got off the plane. After a brief stay in an Argentine prison, Ochs and Ifshin were sent to Bolivia via a commercial airliner where authorities were to detain them. Ifshin had previously been warned by Argentine leftist friends that when the authorities sent dissidents to Bolivia, they would disappear forever. When the airliner arrived in Bolivia, the American captain of the Braniff International Airways aircraft allowed Ochs and Ifshin to stay on the aircraft, and barred Bolivian authorities from entering. The aircraft then flew to Peru where the two disembarked and they were not detained. Fearful that Peruvian authorities might arrest him, Ochs returned to the United States a few days later.

Ochs was personally invited by John Lennon to sing at a large benefit at the University of Michigan in December 1971 on behalf of John Sinclair, an activist poet who had been arrested on minor drug charges and given a severe sentence. Ochs performed at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally along with Stevie Wonder, Allen Ginsberg, David Peel, Abbie Hoffman and many others. The rally culminated with Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were making their first public performance in the United States since the breakup of The Beatles.

Although the 1968 election had left him deeply disillusioned, Ochs continued to work for the election campaigns of anti-war candidates, such as George McGovern’s unsuccessful Presidential bid in 1972. In mid-1972, he went to Australia and New Zealand. He traveled to Africa in 1973, where he visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. One night, Ochs was attacked and strangled by robbers in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which damaged his vocal cords, causing a loss of the top three notes in his vocal range. The attack also exacerbated his growing mental problems, and he became increasingly paranoid. Ochs believed the attack may have been arranged by government agents—perhaps the CIA. Still, he continued his trip, even recording a single in Kenya, “Bwatue.”

po6

The Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. Ochs planned a final “War Is Over” rally, which was held in New York’s Central Park on May 11. More than 100,000 people came to hear Ochs, joined by Harry Belafonte, Odetta, Pete Seeger and others. Ochs and Joan Baez sang a duet of “There but for Fortune” and he closed with his song “The War Is Over.”

Ochs became increasingly erratic. In mid-1975, Ochs took on the identity of John Butler Train. He told people that Train had murdered Ochs, and that he, John Butler Train, had replaced him. Train was convinced that someone was trying to kill him, so he carried a weapon at all times: a hammer, a knife, or a lead pipe. Unable to pay his rent, he began living on the streets. After several months, the Train persona faded and Ochs returned, but he continued drinking heavily and talking of suicide.

In January 1976, Ochs moved to Far Rockaway, New York, to live with his sister Sonny. He was lethargic; his only activities were watching television and playing cards with his nephews. Ochs saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed his bipolar disorder. He was prescribed medication, and he told his sister he was taking it. On April 9, 1976, Ochs committed suicide by hanging himself in his sister’s home.

Years after his death, it was revealed that the FBI had a file of nearly 500 pages on Ochs. Much of the information in those files relates to his association with counterculture figures, protest organizers, musicians, and other people described by the FBI as “subversive.” The FBI was often sloppy in collecting information on Ochs: his name was frequently misspelled “Oakes” in their files, and they continued to consider him “potentially dangerous” after his death.

po4

Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D. New York), an outspoken anti-war activist herself who had appeared at the 1975 “War is Over” rally, entered this statement into the Congressional Record on April 29, 1976:

Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, a young folksinger whose music personified the protest mood of the 1960s took his own life. Phil Ochs—whose original compositions were compelling moral statements against war in Southeast Asia—apparently felt that he had run out of words.

While his tragic action was undoubtedly motivated by terrible personal despair, his death is a political as well as an artistic tragedy. I believe it is indicative of the despair many of the activists of the 1960s are experiencing as they perceive a government which continues the distortion of national priorities that is exemplified in the military budget we have before us.

Phil Ochs’ poetic pronouncements were part of a larger effort to galvanize his generation into taking action to prevent war, racism, and poverty. He left us a legacy of important songs that continue to be relevant in 1976—even though “the war is over”.

Just one year ago—during this week of the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War—Phil recruited entertainers to appear at the “War is Over” celebration in Central Park, at which I spoke.

 It seems particularly appropriate that this week we should commemorate the contributions of this extraordinary young man.

po8

When I think of Ochs these days I think of the 60s. I think of his humanism, dedication, and faith along with his wit and sarcasm. In tribute I present this classic taste of the 1960s with my own hint of irony – Lipton Onion Soup dip. This was a perennial favorite at parties because it was easy to make and generally enjoyed – I guess. No need for more than the most rudimentary of recipes. You’ll need 1 envelope of Lipton® Recipe Secrets® Onion Soup Mix and 16 ounces of sour cream. Whip the two together and refrigerate for an hour or so. Serve with your favorite chips or raw vegetables.

Dec 182016
 

dsc_0076

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Peace. This completes the Sundays in the Advent season, and I like to think of the coming days until Christmas as akin to Holy Week in Lent. This analogy is apt this year (2016) because Christmas is on a Sunday. But it’s possible for the 4th Sunday of Advent to be on Christmas Eve, in which case there is no gap between it and Christmas Day. Usually there’s at least a few days between the two, and these are the days when I get more in the swing of Christmas proper. I do my Christmas baking, buy presents, send Christmas cards, and play a lot of traditional carols.

On this Sunday we light the fourth of the colored candles on the Advent wreath which makes the room feel a lot more festive than when we began with one solitary candle four weeks ago. You will see (if you have been paying attention) that my Advent wreath is more colorful now. I add bits and pieces in the Advent season.  Only the white Christ candle remains unlit. I’ll light that at midnight on Christmas Eve.

The paired readings for today from the Common Lectionary are Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25.  The salient verses are Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:22-23. Let’s start with Matthew:

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Matthew is asserting that Jesus was born of a virgin, and the rest of the passage in the gospel is about the problem that arose when Joseph found out that his wife-to-be was pregnant. The passage explains that Mary conceived through the Holy Spirit, and Joseph was not the father (but he accepted the reality). It also says that Joseph and Mary did not have sex until after Jesus was born (but the implication is that they did later).

advent1

Matthew does not go into the whole Bethlehem thing, that’s Luke’s bag, but he does pick up on Isaiah’s prophesy. If you’ve been following my general logic from previous posts you’ll know that my basic argument is that a lot of passages in the gospels are worded so as to make the direct connexion between Jesus and the foretold Messiah. The gospel writers’ huge problem was that Jesus did not match very well with prophesy and so a certain amount of (fictionalized) explaining had to happen. The prophet Joel says that the Messiah was from the house and lineage of David and would be born in Bethlehem, but Jesus was from Galilee. So Luke gives us this ludicrous story of a census decree issued by Augustus that required everyone to return to their ancestral villages to be counted, meaning that Mary and Joseph had to trek to Bethlehem while she was pregnant. There was no census. Jesus was born in Galilee.

Let me also put to rest all the endless attempts to figure out when Jesus was “really” born. All of these attempts are based on Luke’s fiction to begin with. Some people assert that he was born in the summer because the shepherds who visited the manger were out tending their flocks when the angel told them of the birth, which means it must have been summer. You buy this? The narrative itself shows no understanding of pastoral practices in Judah 2,000 years ago. Adult men did not sit around in groups watching their sheep at night. They went to bed. They might have stayed up in the lambing season, but they would not have been all clustered together. Even Luke knew nothing about keeping sheep – he was a city boy (and was not a Jew).

Others try to calculate the timing of the birth based on the Visitation of Mary which links the timing of the birth of John the Baptist to the birth of Jesus and also to the timing of Temple events. You’ll get my opinion of all of that here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/visitation-mary/  Same story. Luke made all this up (or borrowed it) to help fit in with his beliefs. But there’s more to it than that.

advent2

Matthew and Luke did not have a good grasp of the Hebrew used by the prophets. My considered opinion is that the prophecy from Isaiah in question here was written some time in the 7th century BCE and is an indirect reference to king Josiah – who was purportedly in the Davidic line and made great strides in revitalizing Judah and Jewish religion with the hope of restoring the former glories of the kingdom. That is, Isaiah is not referring to Jesus at all, but to Josiah. Josiah was the great hope of Judah at the time, but unfortunately he was killed in battle, and eventually Judah was crushed by Babylon. So the Messianic hopes died with him. But they were revived in Jesus’ day, even though so many questions remained – Why was Jesus not from Bethlehem? What do we do with people who think John the Baptist is the Messiah? Why was the Messiah crucified? etc. etc. The gospels try to provide the answers.

The thing is that by Luke’s and Matthew’s time the Hebrew of the prophets and the Torah was already archaic and not properly understood. Matthew may have spoken Aramaic which is related to Hebrew, but Luke spoke Greek. Neither was particularly conversant with scriptural Hebrew, nor were many Jews at this time – especially those living outside the general region of Israel. That’s part of the reason that Matthew gives the gloss “God with us” for Immanuel. Anyone conversant with Hebrew would not need this translation. It’s obvious – ‘im (with) anu (us) el (God).

advent4

The full text of Isaiah contains another important misunderstanding by Matthew:

יד  לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא, לָכֶם–אוֹת:  הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה, הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן, וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ, עִמָּנוּ אֵל.

The word הָעַלְמָה (ha-‘almah) is critical here. Matthew translates it as “virgin” but it could simply mean “young woman” (including a newly married young woman). That is now the more normal English translation, and is the scholarly consensus. The Virgin Birth is an unnecessary confusion that simply muddies the waters. It came about because Matthew’s Hebrew was not very good and so he assumed that Isaiah was saying that the promised Messiah would be born of a virgin, rather than from a newlywed young woman.

advent3

For new readers who do not know that I am an ordained minister (as well as for those who do), let me explain that getting rid of such non-historical rubbish does not undermine the spiritual power of the Bible for me. Nor is Christmas diminished in its effects on me, even though it is based on a fiction. The Christmas story is deeply rooted in Western tradition and has immense value spiritually even though the literal story is nonsense. What I’m trying to do is rescue Christmas from the crass materialism that dominates it, and inject some spirituality back into it. Today we should reflect on the notion of peace in the world and in our lives.

dsc_0078

I asked my youngest students this week what they do for Christmas. Almost all of them mentioned arrosto (roast) as a part of the Christmas meal (cooked by nonna). They had trouble explaining what they meant in English because “arrosto” is sort of understood without saying what meat you mean. Unfortunately, also, “arrosto” is a cut of meat, not a method of cooking. So there was a lot of confusion. Some of them said that they had the meat roasted, some braised, some boiled. It was a good exercise in vocabulary building – not to mention cultural exchange.

One common Christmas dish is either arrosto di vitello (veal) or arrosto di pollo (chicken) – usually al forno (in the oven).  In Lombardy a festive roast is first boned, then tied, and wrapped with prosciutto. Then it is roast (perhaps with potatoes) in much the same way as you would normally do.  Here’s mine for today:

dsc_0080

Italians typically don’t make a gravy for the meat. I can’t say that I find this terribly appealing but I went along with the practice for today. The meat was very juicy partly because it was a rather fatty cut, and also because the fat from the prosciutto based the meat. In turn the prosciutto was crispy and delicious.

I also made some sausage rolls just to feel at home.

dsc_0079

Dec 172016
 

hd2

Today is the birthday (1778) of Sir Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet PRS MRIA FGS, a Cornish chemist and inventor whom I remember chiefly as the inventor of the Davy safety lamp for miners, but who had an illustrious career as a chemist.  He isolated a series of elements for the first time – potassium, sodium,  calcium, strontium, barium, magnesium and boron, as well as discovering the elemental nature of chlorine and iodine. He also studied the forces involved in these separations, inventing the new field of electrochemistry. Besides the Davy Lamp he invented a very early form of the incandescent light bulb.

Davy was born in Penzance in Cornwall but his family moved to Varfell, near Ludgvan, when he was 9, and in term-time Davy boarded with John Tonkin, his mother’s godfather. After Davy’s father died in 1794, Tonkin apprenticed him to John Bingham Borlase, a surgeon with a practice in Penzance. In the apothecary’s dispensary, Davy became a chemist, and he conducted his earliest chemical experiments in a garret in Tonkin’s house. Davy’s friends said: “This boy Humphry is incorrigible. He will blow us all into the air.” His elder sister complained of the ravages made on her dresses by corrosive substances.

His Quaker friend and mentor Robert Dunkin remarked: ‘I tell thee what, Humphry, thou art the most quibbling hand at a dispute I ever met with in my life.’ One winter day he took Davy to a river to show him that rubbing two plates of ice together developed sufficient energy by motion, to melt them, and that after the motion was suspended, the pieces were united by regelation. Later, as professor at the Royal Institution, Davy repeated many of the ingenious experiments he learned from Dunkin.

Through a mutual friend he met Dr Edwards who was a lecturer in chemistry at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts). He permitted Davy to use his laboratory and possibly directed his attention to the floodgates of the port of Hayle, which were rapidly decaying as a result of the contact between copper and iron under the influence of seawater. Galvanic corrosion was not understood at that time, but the phenomenon prepared Davy for subsequent experiments on ship’s copper sheathing.

Thomas Beddoes and John Hailstone were engaged in a geological controversy on the rival merits of the Plutonian and Neptunist hypotheses. They traveled together to examine the Cornish coast for evidence of their competing theories and made Davy’s acquaintance. Beddoes, who had established at Bristol a ‘Pneumatic Institution,’ needed an assistant to superintend the laboratory. After prolonged negotiations, mainly by Gilbert, Mrs Davy and Borlase consented to Davy’s departure, but Tonkin wished him to remain in his native town as a surgeon, and altered his will when he found that Davy insisted on going to Dr Beddoes.On 2 October 1798, Davy joined the Pneumatic Institution at Bristol. It had been established to investigate the medical powers of factitious airs and gases, and Davy was to superintend the various experiments. The arrangement agreed between Dr Beddoes and Davy was liberal and enabled Davy to give up all claims on his paternal property in favor of his mother. He did not intend to abandon the medical profession and was determined to study and graduate at Edinburgh but he soon began to fill parts of the institution with voltaic batteries. While living in Bristol, Davy met the Earl of Durham, who was a resident in the institution for his health and became close friends with Gregory Watt, James Watt, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, all of whom became regular users of nitrous oxide, to which Davy became addicted.

hd7

James Watt built a portable gas chamber to facilitate Davy’s experiments with the inhalation of nitrous oxide. At one point the gas was combined with wine to judge its efficacy as a cure for hangover (his laboratory notebook indicated success). The gas was popular among Davy’s friends and acquaintances, and he noted that it might be useful for performing surgical operations. However, anesthetics were not regularly used in medicine or dentistry until decades after Davy’s death. Davy conducted numerous experiments on himself with nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, and with respiration at considerable risk.

In 1799, Count Rumford had proposed the establishment in London of an ‘Institution for Diffusing Knowledge’ that is, the Royal Institution. In 1801 Davy left Bristol to take up a new post at the Royal Institution as assistant lecturer in chemistry, director of the chemical laboratory, and assistant editor of the journals of the institution.  On 25 April 1801, Davy gave his first lecture on the relatively new subject of ‘Galvanism’. The first lecture garnered rave reviews, and by the June lecture Davy wrote to John King that his last lecture had attendance of nearly 500 people. “There was Respiration, Nitrous Oxide, and unbounded Applause. Amen!”

hd3

Davy’s lectures also included spectacular and sometimes dangerous chemical demonstrations for his audience, a generous helping of references to divine creation, and genuine scientific information. Not only a popular lecturer, the young and handsome Davy acquired a huge female following around London, and nearly half of the attendees pictured in Gillray’s cartoon of the Royal Institution are female. When Davy’s lecture series on Galvanism ended, he progressed to a new series on Agricultural Chemistry, and his popularity continued to skyrocket. By June 1802, after just over a year at the Institution and at the age of 23, Davy was nominated to full lecturer.

In 1802 Davy had what was then the most powerful electrical battery in the world at the Royal Institution. With it, Davy created the first incandescent light by passing electric current through a thin strip of platinum, chosen because the metal had an extremely high melting point. It was neither sufficiently bright nor long lasting enough to be of practical use, but demonstrated the principle. By 1806 he was able to demonstrate a much more powerful form of electric lighting to the Royal Society in London. It was an early form of arc light which produced its illumination from an electric arc created between two charcoal rods.

hd8

Davy was a pioneer in the field of electrolysis using the voltaic pile to split common compounds and thus prepare many new elements. He went on to electrolyze molten salts and discovered several new metals, including sodium and potassium. Davy discovered potassium in 1807, deriving it from caustic potash (KOH). Before the 19th century, no distinction had been made between potassium and sodium. Potassium was the first metal that was isolated by electrolysis. Davy isolated sodium in the same year by passing an electric current through molten sodium hydroxide. Davy discovered calcium in 1808 by electrolyzing a mixture of lime and mercuric oxide. He worked with electrolysis throughout his life and was first to isolate magnesium, boron, and barium.

Chlorine was discovered in 1774 by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who called it “dephlogisticated marine acid” and mistakenly thought it contained oxygen. Davy showed that the acid of Scheele’s substance, called at the time oxymuriatic acid, contained no oxygen. This discovery overturned Lavoisier’s definition of acids as compounds of oxygen. In 1810, chlorine was given its current name by Humphry Davy, who insisted that chlorine was in fact an element.

Davy later damaged his eyesight in a laboratory accident with nitrogen trichloride. Pierre Louis Dulong first prepared this compound in 1812, and lost two fingers and an eye in two separate explosions with it. Davy’s own accident induced him to hire Michael Faraday as a co-worker.

In 1812, Davy was knighted, gave a farewell lecture to the Royal Institution, and married a wealthy widow, Jane Apreece. (While Davy was generally acknowledged as being faithful to his wife, their relationship was stormy, and in later years he travelled to continental Europe alone.) In October 1813, he and his wife, accompanied by Michael Faraday as his scientific assistant (and valet), travelled to France to collect a medal that Napoleon Bonaparte had awarded Davy for his electro-chemical work. While in Paris, Davy was asked by Gay-Lussac to investigate a mysterious substance isolated by Bernard Courtois. Davy showed it to be an element, which is now called iodine. The party left Paris in December 1813, traveling south to Italy. They stayed a while in Florence, where, in a series of experiments conducted with Faraday’s assistance, Davy succeeded in using the sun’s rays to ignite diamond, proving it is composed of pure carbon.

Davy’s party continued to Rome, and also visited Naples and Mount Vesuvius. By June 1814, they were in Milan, where they met Alessandro Volta, and then continued north to Geneva. They returned to Italy via Munich and Innsbruck, and when their plans to travel to Greece and Istanbul were abandoned after Napoleon’s escape from Elba, they returned to England.

hd1

After his return to England in 1815, Davy experimented with lamps for use in coal mines. There had been many mining explosions caused by firedamp or methane often ignited by open flames of the lamps then used by miners. In particular the Felling mine disaster in 1812 near Newcastle caused great loss of life, and action was needed to improve underground lighting and especially the lamps used by miners. Davy conceived of using an iron gauze to enclose a lamp’s flame, and so prevent the methane burning inside the lamp from passing out to the general atmosphere. Although the idea of the safety lamp had already been demonstrated by William Reid Clanny and by the then unknown (but later very famous) engineer George Stephenson, Davy’s use of wire gauze to prevent the spread of flame was used by many other inventors in their later designs. George Stephenson’s lamp was very popular in the north-east coalfields, and used the same principle of preventing the flame reaching the general atmosphere, but by different means. Unfortunately, although the new design of gauze lamp initially did seem to offer protection, it gave much less light, and quickly deteriorated in the wet conditions of most pits. Rusting of the gauze quickly made the lamp unsafe, and the number of deaths from firedamp explosions rose yet further.

There was some discussion as to whether Davy had discovered the principles behind his lamp without the help of the work of Smithson Tennant, but it was generally agreed that the work of both men had been independent. Davy refused to patent the lamp, and its invention led to his being awarded the Rumford medal in 1816.

In January 1819, Davy was awarded a baronetcy. Although Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Isaac Newton had already been knighted, this was, at the time, the first such honor ever conferred on a man of science in Britain. A year later he became President of the Royal Society. Davy’s laboratory assistant, Michael Faraday, went on to enhance Davy’s work and would become the more famous and influential scientist. Davy is supposed to have even claimed Faraday as his greatest discovery. Davy later accused Faraday of plagiarism, however, causing Faraday (the first Fullerian Professor of Chemistry) to cease all research in electromagnetism until his mentor’s death.

hd6

Davy spent the last months of his life writing Consolations in Travel, an immensely popular, somewhat freeform compendium of poetry, thoughts on science and philosophy. Published posthumously, the work became a staple of both scientific and family libraries for several decades afterward. Davy spent the winter in Rome, hunting in the Campagna on his 50th birthday. But on 20 February 1829 he had a stroke. After spending many months attempting to recuperate, Davy died in a hotel room in Geneva on 29 May 1829.

He had wished to be buried where he died, but had also wanted the burial delayed in case he was only comatose. He refused to allow a post-mortem for similar reasons. But the laws of Geneva did not allow any delay and he was given a public funeral on the following Monday, in the Plainpalais Cemetery, outside the city walls. Jane organized a memorial tablet for him, in Westminster Abbey shortly afterwards.

hd4

In the spirit of Davy’s experiments the Royal Institution’s website gives a recipe for microwave cupcakes (or mug cakes) and suggests ways to experiment, http://www.rigb.org/families/experimental/microwave-cakes Here’s the basic recipe slightly edited.  The point is to make the original first, and then play around with the ingredients and see what happens. RI asks the following questions:

What do you think will happen if we don’t include the egg?

How could we find out?

What do you think will happen if we don’t include the oil?

What do you think will happen if we don’t include the baking

powder?

Microwave Mug Cake

Ingredients:

4 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
¼ tsp baking powder
1 small/medium egg
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp water

Instructions:

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a mug

Break the egg into the mug and add the oil and water

Stir vigorously with a fork

Zap the resulting mixture in your microwave at full power for 2 minutes

 

Dec 162016
 

lp2

Today is the official beginning of Las Posadas in Mexico and the US Southwest, although actual timing may vary. The 16th of December is 9 days before Christmas, a novena that can represent numerous things – including the 9 days of Mary’s pregnancy. La Posada is Spanish for “lodging” and is used in the plural because the celebration often involves activities on several days, or because it involves visiting numerous places that are potential lodgings.

The classic Las Posadas that I am familiar with from New Mexico and northern Mexico involves a candlelit procession of townspeople from designated house to house led by a young couple dressed as Mary and Joseph (often with Mary on a burro). At each house the couple sings a song which is responded to by the homeowner. There are many variants, of course. This is a simple sample:

Afuera:

En nombre del cielo
Os pido posada
Pues no puede andar
Mi esposa amada

[Outside

In the name of heaven
I request you grant us shelter
Given that she cannot walk
She my beloved wife]

Adentro:

Aquí no es mesón
Sigan adelante
Yo no puedo abrir
No sea algún tunante

[Inside:

This is not an Inn
Please continue ahead
I can not open
Don’t be a villain]

lp6

The procession continues from house to house with different answers from inside, until eventually a designated host lets Mary and Joseph in and there is a re-enactment of the Nativity scene with food and drink laid out for the crowd.

lp3

In Santa Fe, where I last attended Las Posadas about 25 years ago, the event is staged in the main plaza. Instead of going from house to house, Mary and Joseph go to the four sides of the square. At each side a devil appears at a top balcony and turns the couple away. The procession then veers off the square to a Nativity. As the couple and crowd journey around the square carrying candles, the crowd sings Spanish carols which continue at the Nativity.

lp4

Las Posadas has been recorded as a tradition in Mexico for about 400 years, probably rooted in European traditions of re-enacting significant gospel events for a largely illiterate population who had only vague ideas about what Christian events, especially Christmas and Easter, represented (not helped by the fact that the Bible and the mass were available only in Latin, and congregations were actively dissuaded from reading the Bible).

In Mexico, the Aztec winter solstice festival had traditionally been observed from December 7 to December 26. According to the Aztec calendar, their most important deity, the sun god Huitzilopochtli, was born during the month of December (panquetzaliztli). The parallel in time between this indigenous celebration and the Christmas celebration lent itself to a merging of the two traditions. In 1586, Friar Diego de Soria obtained a papal bull from Pope Sixtus V, stating that a Christmas Mass (misa de Aguinaldo), be observed as novenas on the nine days preceding Christmas Day throughout Mexico.

lp7

Although Las Posadas is a distinctly Mexican tradition it has analogs in various parts of the Spanish Diaspora. In the Philippines the Posadas tradition is represented by the Panunulúyan pageant. Sometimes it is performed right before the Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass), or on each of the nine nights. Mary and Joseph sing lines requesting for accommodation and the lines of the potential “innkeepers” may be sung or spoken. Usually the lyrics are not in Spanish but in one of the local languages, such as Tagalog. There was also a Las Posadas tradition in Nicaragua which older generations remember, but for unclear reasons it had died out by the 1960s.

lp9

Cuba has a vaguely similar celebration at this time of year called Parrandas (though Parrandas has more of a Carnival atmosphere). The tradition began in the 19th century when Father Francisco Vigil de Quiñones, the priest of the Grand Cathedral of Remedios, in order to get the people to come to midnight masses the week before Christmas had the idea to put together groups of children and provide them with jars, plates and spoons so they could run around the village making noise and singing verses. The idea persisted over the years and gained in complexity so that it is now a street parade and festival.

Biscochitos are common festival food for Las Posadas in New Mexico, and you can find my recipe here – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/san-lorenzo/ . Let me talk about empanaditas instead. Some empanaditas are just miniature versions of empanadas, with the same savory fillings, but some are made with sweet fillings – empanaditas dulces. Empanaditas dulces make excellent party food at Christmas. You can use pretty much any sweet filling that you want. Fruit jams are very common. I usually bake my savory empanadas in the Argentine fashion, but I fry my sweet empanaditas. Being truly eclectic, at this time of year I use mincemeat for a filling.

lp8

Empanaditas Dulces

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
salt
8 oz/225gm (2 sticks) butter, cut into 16 pieces
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp cold water
fruit filling
powdered sugar
oil (for frying)

Instructions

Mix the flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl or food processor.

Add the butter, eggs and water and mix until a clumpy dough forms.

Remove the dough from the bowl or processor and knead it for a few minutes.

Divide the dough into 2 balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough into a thin sheet and cut out round disc shapes for the empanaditas. I usually use a drinking glass as a cutter.

Place a little filling in the center of each circle. Do not use too much or they will leak when fried. Fold over the circle to form a semi-circle. Press down the edges firmly so that there are no holes, and crimp the edges with a fork.

Heat oil for shallow frying in a wide skillet to 350°F.  Fry the empanaditas in small batches, first on one side, then flipping them with a spatula when the underside is golden. When cooked on both sides, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on wire racks. While still warm, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

I prefer to serve them warm with whipped cream.

lp10

Dec 152016
 

itd8

Today is International Tea Day which, on the surface, sounds like a day to celebrate tea drinking. We can, of course, and I will talk about tea consumption in a minute. But the day was originally created as a way to raise awareness about the problems surrounding tea production and how tea plantations, small tea growers, and consumers are impacted by the global tea trade. Simply put, global tea prices are too low to be able to provide workers worldwide with living wages and to prevent child labor without significant global regulation and monitoring. Potentially, therefore, if you drink tea and are not mindful of the source of your product, you may be contributing to world poverty. I have a very simple solution – I don’t drink tea (or coffee, which suffers from the same problems). If you do drink tea, one step forward is to ensure that your tea is produced in an ethical and sustainable way. The Fairtrade Foundation http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/what-is-fairtrade/who-we-are is one organization that can help you. What follows is largely drawn from their website.

Since 2005, International Tea Day has officially been observed on 15 December, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the impact of an industry that millions of farmers and workers across the globe depend on for their livelihood.

itd4

The tea sector faces many challenges: unsustainably low prices and wages, the undervaluing of tea as a commodity and changing climate patterns that impact yields, to name just a few. Simply put, tea is too cheap and not enough value goes back to the farmers and workers who depend on it for their living. It’s an issue that the whole industry needs to tackle together, and one that Fairtrade, and the Ethical Tea Partnership, which brings together tea producers, tea companies, certification schemes including Fairtrade, NGOs, and others in the tea industry, are working to address, so that the long-term future of the tea industry can be more sustainable.

Fairtrade’s work in the tea sector aims to enable producers to have more control over their livelihoods. Certified producers receive the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their tea sales as well as the Fairtrade Premium, an extra sum to invest in their communities and businesses as they choose. For smallholder tea farmers, Fairtrade can also open up opportunities to develop knowledge in good agricultural practices, income diversification and climate change adaptation. For workers on tea plantations, Fairtrade Standards aim to ensure decent working conditions and the protection of workers’ rights.

itd5

There are an estimated 285,000 people involved in Fairtrade tea production as smallholder farmers or as workers on Fairtrade certified tea plantations. Kenya, one of the largest exporters of tea to the UK, has 117,000 of these producers alone. Sireet Outgrowers Empowerment Project Company (Sireet OEP), a small producer organization in the Nandi Hills region of Kenya, is an example. Sireet has been Fairtrade certified since 2006 and has been able to implement changes that have brought wide-reaching benefits for its members and their communities.

Sireet OEP considers issues in production such as gender equality, fair business investments, and adapting to climate change. Since Fairtrade certification, the membership of women farmers has gone up from 2.7% to 24%. Investing the Fairtrade Premium on its certified products to support the purchase of transport trucks and its own processing factory has enabled the organization to move up the value chain and created a sustainable model of investment. The dividends from the 12.8% share of the factory purchased by the premium are reallocated into the premium fund each year, to be continually invested in social and environmental projects.

These social projects are chosen by their communities and include a range of initiatives, from school bursaries to health care facilities and water tanks. These community investments not only relieve the immediate burdens but can also have a positive impact on household income of farmers. Workers on Fairtrade certified estates also benefit from Fairtrade Premium. Workers choose themselves how the premium money is spent, through a committee of elected worker representatives, putting the control in their hands to invest in projects that they feel will improve their lives.

We have to face certain harsh realities, however. Certified tea estates are a small percentage of the total of tea producers, and the largest producer of tea by far – China – is not involved in fair trade at all. My way of solving the ethical dilemma – not drinking tea at all – is not really much of a solution. Tea workers need to live, and therefore need consumers. Better to buy only fair trade tea if you drink tea.

itd3

If I get started on the history of tea drinking and tea culture worldwide, this post will never end. Let me confine myself to one simple but important fact. Tea comes from the leaves of one plant: Camellia sinensis. The multitudinous varieties of teas result, not from genetic variety in the plants themselves, but in the modes of growing, picking, and processing. Everything from the fine green powders used in the Japanese tea ceremony to the hard black bricks of Yunnan ultimately come from the same plant. Weather and soil conditions have an impact, so do the quality of leaves picked, and the methods of processing. There are six basic types of tea based on how it is processed:

White: wilted and unoxidized;

Yellow: unwilted and unoxidized but allowed to yellow;

Green: unwilted and unoxidized;

Oolong: wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized;

Black: wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized; called (called 紅茶 [hóngchá], “red tea” in Chinese tea culture);

Post-fermented: green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost (called 黑茶 [hēichá] “black tea” in Chinese tea culture).

itd6

One of the great linguistic mysteries of the world is the incredible simplicity of the words used for tea in a range of languages. Cognates of “cha” or “te” are virtually universal and ultimately derive from Chinese. The Chinese character for tea is 茶, originally written with an extra stroke as 荼 (pronounced tú), and acquired its current form during the Tang Dynasty. The word is pronounced differently in the different varieties of Chinese, such as chá in Mandarin, zo and dzo in Wu Chinese, and ta and te in Min Chinese. One suggestion is that the different pronunciations may have arisen from the different words for tea in ancient China, for example tú (荼) may have given rise to tê. Historical phonologists however argue that cha, te and dzo all arose from the same root with a reconstructed pronunciation dra, which changed due to sound shift through the centuries. There were other ancient words for tea, though ming (茗) is the only other one still in common use.

When I drank tea, lapsang souchong was my favorite. Lapsang souchong (立山小种lìshān xiǎo zhǒng) is a black tea originally from the Wuyi region of the Chinese province of Fujian. It is more commonly named 正山小种 – in Simplified Chinese characters, (zhèng shān xiǎo zhǒng) and 正山小種 in traditional Chinese characters. It is sometimes referred to as smoked tea (熏茶). Lapsang is distinct from all other types of tea because lapsang leaves are traditionally smoke-dried over pinewood fires, taking on a distinctive smoky flavor, that is an acquired taste for many.

itd7

Cooking with tea covers the waterfront. You can use your favorite tea as a simmering liquid in place of stock, or you can use tea as an ingredient. Japanese matcha is a favorite for recipes from meat rubs to ice cream. For example:

Matcha and White Chocolate Biscuits

Ingredients

¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon plus 2 Tbsp. matcha
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
1½ tbsp honey
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3 oz white chocolate, chopped

Instructions

Whisk ½ cup granulated sugar and ½ tsp matcha in a small bowl. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons of matcha in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter, brown sugar, honey, and remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add egg, egg yolk, and lemon zest and mix until very pale, about 4 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and, with the motor running, add the flour mixture. Mix thoroughly until no dry spots remain. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix in the white chocolate.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Scoop the dough by the scant tablespoonful on to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1” apart. Or, portion the same amount of dough into the cups of a mini muffin pan coated with nonstick vegetable oil spray.

Bake, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the bottoms and edges are barely golden and cooked (top will no longer look wet), 8–10 minutes.

Immediately—but gently—toss the biscuits in the reserved matcha sugar and place on wire racks to cool.

Dec 142016
 

ra1

On this date in 1911 a Norwegian team under the leadership of Roald Amundsen became the first group of humans to reach the South Pole. For most of my life this achievement was overshadowed in my mind by the tragic events of Robert Scott’s competing team who not only arrived at the Pole weeks after Amundsen but died on the return journey. That’s because I went to English and Australian schools where the story of Scott’s ill-conceived but heroic failure was lauded above Amundsen’s success. http://www.bookofdaystales.com/robert-falcon-scott/  In hindsight this now seems dreadfully unfair to me. In the 20th century there were scores of challenges (most of which I’ve covered here) – Everest, first flight, Manetic North Pole, etc. etc. These were races to be the first. Someone had to win, meaning someone else had to be runner up. That’s how it works. Amundsen won, Scott was runner up. But judging by the way I was taught in school and via media, you’d swear that Scott was the real winner and Amundsen was the runner up even though “technically” he won – i.e. got there first. Well . . . he was a sneaky Norwegian so his accomplishment does not really count. In the British version of the tale Amundsen is merely a footnote to history: Scott saw the Norwegian flag at the Pole and was disappointed.  End of the Amundsen side of the story. Let’s redress that wrong.

ra2

There are numerous accounts of Amundsen’s expedition, including his own, so I don’t need to go into detail. I’ll just point out some salient features. First, Amundsen was torn between North and South Poles. Both were being approached by rival teams. Amundsen joined in as one of several. Amundsen made his plans public on 10 November 1908, at a meeting of the Norwegian Geographical Society. He would take the ice ship Fram (which Fridtjof Nansen had used in 1893 to get very close to the North Pole), round Cape Horn to the Pacific Ocean. After provisioning in San Francisco the ship would continue northwards, through the Bering Strait to Point Barrow. From here he would set a course directly into the ice to begin a drift that would extend over four or five years, either passing over the Pole or allowing a land trek.

In March 1909 it was announced that Shackleton had reached a southern latitude of 88° 23′ which was 97 nautical miles (180 km) from the South Pole—before turning back. Amundsen observed that in the south “a little corner remained”. He was unreserved in his praise for Shackleton’s achievement, writing that Shackleton was the south’s equivalent of Nansen in the north. Following this near miss, Scott immediately confirmed his intention to lead an expedition (what became the Terra Nova Expedition) that would finally claim the prize for the British Empire.

In September 1909 newspapers carried reports that Cook and Peary had each reached the North Pole, Cook in April 1908 and Peary a year later. Asked to comment, Amundsen avoided an outright endorsement of either explorer, but surmised that “probably something will be left to be done”. He saw immediately that his own plans would be seriously affected. Without the allure of capturing the pole, he would struggle to maintain public interest or funding. “If the expedition was to be saved … there was nothing left for me but to try and solve the last great problem—the South Pole”. Thus Amundsen decided to go south; the Arctic drift could wait “for a year or two” until the South Pole had been conquered.

ra4

Amundsen did not publicize his change of plan, however. His expedition’s public and private funding was earmarked for scientific work in the Arctic and there was no guarantee that his backers would understand or agree to the about face. Furthermore, the altered objective might cause Nansen to revoke the use of Fram, or parliament to halt the expedition for fear of undermining Scott and offending the British. Amundsen concealed his intentions from everyone except his brother Leon and his second-in-command, Nilsen. This secrecy led to awkwardness; Scott had sent Amundsen instruments to enable their two expeditions, at opposite ends of the earth, to make comparative readings. When Scott, in Norway to test his motor sledges, telephoned Amundsen’s home to discuss cooperation, Amundsen would not take the call.

ra3

Make of this what you will. Critics, especially the British, see this as underhand dealings on Amundsen’s part. To me it looks like pragmatism. He was being funded to carry out scientific exploration. This was not simply an exercise in adventuring, and Amundsen’s South Pole work was very profitable scientifically. For starters, he charted an entirely new route to the Pole (which was one of the main reasons he beat Scott, who used a more traditional route that landed him in trouble). Furthermore, Amundsen’s careful researches led him to design better polar clothing for his men than Scott’s, to the use of dogs rather than the ponies and motor sledges for haulage that Scott used, and skis for personal travel rather than foot slogging.

ra8

Scott was, without question, a brave man, and his literary skill has earned him a place as a genuine martyr to a worthy cause. But Amundsen was, hands down, the better polar explorer, and his achievement should not be diminished by sentiment. Amundsen did not understand the apparent aversion of British explorers to dogs: “Can it be that the dog has not understood its master? Or is it the master who has not understood the dog?” he later wrote. Following his decision to go south he ordered 100 North Greenland sledge dogs—the best and strongest available. Besides their durability as pack animals, dogs could be fed to other dogs and could provide fresh meat for the men in the polar party.

ra6

The party’s ski boots, specially designed by Amundsen, were the product of two years’ testing and modification. The party’s polar clothing included suits of sealskin from Northern Greenland, and clothes fashioned after the style of the Netsilik Inuit from reindeer skins, wolf skin, Burberry cloth, and gabardine. The sledges were constructed from Norwegian ash with steel-shod runners made from American hickory. Skis, also fashioned from hickory, were extra long to reduce the likelihood of slipping into crevasses. The tents—”the strongest and most practical that have ever been used”—had built-in floors and required a single pole. For cooking on the march, Amundsen chose the Swedish Primus stove rather than the special cooker devised by Nansen, because he felt the latter took up too much space.

ra7

From earlier polar experiences, Amundsen was aware of the dangers of scurvy. Although the true cause of the disease, vitamin C deficiency, was not understood at the time, it was generally known that the disease could be countered by eating fresh meat. To neutralize the danger, Amundsen planned to supplement sledging rations with regular supplies of seal meat. He also ordered a special kind of pemmican which included vegetables and oatmeal: “a more stimulating, nourishing and appetising food it would be impossible to find”. The expedition was well supplied with wines and spirits, for use as medicine and on festive or social occasions. Mindful of the loss of morale on previous expeditions, Amundsen provided for leisure time with a library of around 3,000 books, a gramophone, a large quantity of records and a range of musical instruments.

As an anthropologist I can’t help but see Amundsen’s success and Scott’s failure as a clash of cultures. The Norwegian knew about Arctic conditions and Arctic peoples from cultural experience and took advantage of that knowledge with no sentimentality about cooking dog paw stew and the like, as well as benefitting from the longstanding wisdom of indigenous Scandinavians who lived year round in ice and snow. The Englishman saw pit ponies as (literally) workhorses, whereas dogs were family friends that could not be exploited. In the end ponies and machines failed and dogs succeeded.

My recipes for polar survival foods can be found on these posts:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/north-magnetic-pole/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/antarctica-alexander-island-discovered/

Giving recipes for penguin or seal require a trip to Antarctica in all likelihood. A recipe for dog paw stew might be more practical but may have few takers. Even in Asia, where dogs are not intrinsically taboo as food, they are fast loosing popularity and are becoming harder and harder to find. He re instead is a wonderful video about preparing and cooking caribou head in a traditional way. Be careful if you are squeamish.

Dec 132016
 

nus1

Today is Nusantara Day in Indonesia. It is not an official holiday but it is an important anniversary because on this date in 1957 the official boundary of the Indonesian archipelago was declared in the Deklarasi Djoeanda which eventually led to the recognition of the principles of the Nusantara in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982. The point is that in no sense is the nation of Indonesia a unitary state except politically. Geographically, culturally, and linguistically it is a highly diverse and hard to define entity. The concept of Nusantara is an important binding element for Indonesia in the modern age, with long roots. In my experience, foreigners (especially non-Asians) have only the vaguest idea of what (or where) Indonesia is as a nation. They just know that it is “over there” somewhere, and would be hard put to name the constituent islands or talk intelligently about its history.

Nusantara is a preferred contemporary Indonesian term for the Indonesian archipelago.  It originated in Old Javanese (strictly speaking in Kawi) and literally means “outer islands.” It comes from the terminology of the Majapahit Empire which peaked in the 14th century, centered on the island of Java. The original meaning of Nusantara was rather different from the modern meaning, however; the term was appropriated and redefined in the 20th century.

nus2

The word Nusantara was taken from an oath by Gajah Mada in 1336, as recorded in the Pararaton (Book of Kings) and Nagarakretagama. Gajah Mada was a powerful military leader and prime minister of Majapahit who was credited with bringing the empire to its peak of glory. Gajah Mada delivered an oath called Sumpah Palapa, in which he vowed not to eat any food containing spices until he had conquered all of Nusantara under the glory of Majapahit.

Today, Indonesian historians believe that though the word Nusantara was coined by Gajah Mada for the first time in 1336, the idea is older. In 1275, Kertanegara of Singhasari used the term Cakravala Mandala Dvipantara for roughly the same region. Dvipantara is a Sanskrit word for the “islands in between,” the slight synonymy with Nusantara lies in that both dvipa and nusa mean “island.” Kertanegara envisioned the union of Southeast Asian maritime kingdoms under Singhasari as a bulwark against the rise of the expansionist Mongol Yuan dynasty in mainland China.

According to the Majapahit concept of state, the monarch had the power over three areas:

  1. Negara Agung, or the Grand State, the core kingdom. The traditional or initial area of Majapahit on Java during its formation before entering the imperial phase. This included the capital city and the surrounding areas where the king effectively exercised his government.
  2. Mancanegara, areas surrounding Negara Agung — traditionally refer to Majapahit provinces in East and Central Java. This area covered the eastern half of Java, with all its provinces ruled by the Bhres (dukes), the king’s close relatives. These areas were directly influenced by Javanese Majapahit court culture, and obliged to pay annual tributes.
  3. Nusantara, areas which did not reflect Javanese culture, but were included as colonies and had to pay annual tribute. They enjoyed substantial autonomy and internal freedom, and Majapahit did not necessarily station their officials or military officers here. However, any challenges to Majapahit oversight might draw severe response. These areas included the vassal kingdoms and colonies in Malay peninsula, Borneo, Lesser Sunda Islands, Sulawesi and Maluku.

The name disappeared subsequently until the 20th century. In 1920, Ernest Francois Eugene Douwes Dekker (1879–1950), who was also known as Setiabudi, introduced a new name for a proposed independent country that would be the successor state of colonial Dutch East Indies — which unlike the name “Indonesia” — did not contain any words etymologically inherited from the name of India or the Indies. His new proposed name was Nusantara. This is the first instance of the term Nusantara appearing after it had been written used in the Pararaton manuscript.

The definition of Nusantara introduced by Setiabudi was different from the 14th century definition of the term. During the Majapahit era, Nusantara described vassal areas to be conquered. Setiabudi didn’t want this aggressive connotation, so he re-defined Nusantara as all the Indonesian regions from Sabang as far as Merauke. These days, in Indonesian, Nusantara is synonymous with Indonesian archipelago or the national territory of Indonesia, and in this sense the term Nusantara excludes Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines.

nus4

Finding a dish suitable for all of Indonesia is difficult given that the nation-state covers a multitude of different cultures and languages. Nonetheless I think nasi goreng fits the bill – sort of.  Nasi goreng translates literally as “fried rice” but it is distinguished from other Asian fried rice recipes by its aromatic, earthy and smoky flavor, owing to generous amounts of caramelized sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) (sweet soy sauce) and ground powdered shrimp paste (terasi), and the taste is stronger and spicier than Chinese fried rice. That said, nasi goreng is hardly a uniform dish throughout Indonesia even though it is often spoken of as the national dish.

nus3

In most parts of Indonesia, nasi goreng is cooked with ample amounts of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) that creates a golden brownish color and the flavor is mildly sweet. However, in other places such as Eastern Indonesia (Sulawesi and Maluku), the sweet soy sauce is replaced by bottled tomato and hot chile sauce, creating reddish-colored nasi goreng. This variant is called nasi goreng merah (red fried rice) or nasi goreng Makassar after the South Sulawesi capital. Some variants of nasi goreng, such as salted fish or teri Medan (Medan’s anchovy) nasi goreng, do not use sauces at all creating a lighter color similar to Chinese fried rice or Japanese chahan.

The most common nasi goreng usually incorporates chicken and egg, however, some variants are named after their additional ingredients, such as nasi goreng kambing (with goat meat), nasi goreng pete/petai (with green stinky bean), nasi goreng jamur (with mushroom), nasi goreng sapi (with beef), nasi goreng udang (with shrimp), nasi goreng seafood (with seafood, such as squid, fish and shrimp), nasi goreng ikan asin (with salted fish), nasi goreng teri medan (with Medan’s anchovy), etc. Other specific nasi goreng recipes include nasi goreng kampung and nasi goreng Jawa (Javanese fried rice). While nasi goreng amplop is fried rice “enveloped” inside thin omelette skin, almost identical to Malaysian nasi goreng pattaya.

Dec 122016
 

em2

Today is the birthday (1863) of Edvard Munch, Norwegian artist who is commonly remembered for his painting “The Scream” and little else these days. Certainly the painting is emblematic of Munch’s life, and representative of much of his work. But there is more to him than that. I don’t have space to go into great detail, so I’ll content myself with a few highlights (as I see them).

Munch was born in a farmhouse in the village of Ådalsbruk in Løten, and the family moved to Christiania (renamed Kristiania in 1877, and now Oslo) in 1864 when his father was appointed medical officer at Akershus Fortress. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1868, as did Munch’s favorite sister Johanne Sophie in 1877. After their mother’s death, Munch and his siblings were raised by their father and by their aunt Karen. Munch was often ill for much of the winters and kept out of school. To keep himself occupied he would draw by himself, and was tutored at home by various family members.

Munch wrote, “My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious—to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born.” One of Munch’s younger sisters, Laura, was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Of the five siblings, only Andreas married, but he died a few months after the wedding. Munch wrote later, “I inherited two of mankind’s most frightful enemies—the heritage of consumption and insanity.”

Munch’s father’s military pay was very low, and his attempts to develop a private side practice failed, keeping his family in genteel poverty. They moved frequently from one cheap apartment to another. Munch’s early drawings and watercolors depicted these interiors, and the individual objects, such as medicine bottles and drawing implements, plus some landscapes. By his teens, art dominated Munch’s interests. At 13, Munch had his first exposure to other artists at the newly formed Art Association, where he admired the work of the Norwegian landscape school. He returned to copy the paintings, and soon he began to paint in oils.

em10

In 1879, Munch enrolled in a technical college to study engineering, where he excelled in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. He learned scaled and perspective drawing, but frequent illnesses interrupted his studies. The following year, much to his father’s disappointment, Munch left the college determined to become a painter. His father viewed art as an “unholy trade”, and his neighbors reacted bitterly and sent him anonymous letters. Munch wrote his goal in his diary: “in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.”

In 1881, Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania, one of whose founders was his distant relative Jacob Munch. His teachers were sculptor Julius Middelthun and the naturalistic painter Christian Krohg. In 1883, Munch took part in his first public exhibition and shared a studio with other students. His full-length portrait of Karl Jensen-Hjell, a notorious bohemian-about-town, earned a critic’s dismissive response: “It is impressionism carried to the extreme. It is a travesty of art.” Munch’s nude paintings from this period survive only in sketches, except for Standing Nude (1887). They may have been destroyed by his father.

em11

During these early years, Munch experimented with many styles, including Naturalism and Impressionism. Some early works are reminiscent of Manet. Many of these attempts brought him unfavorable criticism from the press and constant rebukes by his father who eventually refused to advance him any more money for art supplies. Munch also received his father’s ire for his relationship with Hans Jæger, the local nihilist who lived by the code “a passion to destroy is also a creative passion” and who advocated suicide as the ultimate way to freedom. Munch wrote, “My ideas developed under the influence of the bohemians or rather under Hans Jæger. Many people have mistakenly claimed that my ideas were formed under the influence of Strindberg and the Germans…but that is wrong. They had already been formed by then.” At that time he began the binge drinking and brawling of his circle.

em16

After numerous experiments, Munch concluded that the Impressionist idiom did not allow sufficient expression. He found it superficial and too akin to scientific experimentation. He felt a need to go deeper and explore situations brimming with emotional content and expressive energy. Under Jæger’s commandment that Munch should “write his life”, meaning that Munch should explore his own emotional and psychological state, he began a period of reflection and self-examination, recording his thoughts in his “soul’s diary”. This deeper perspective helped move him to a new view of his art. He wrote that his painting The Sick Child (1886), based on his sister’s death, was his first “soul painting”, his first break from Impressionism. The painting received a negative response from critics and from his family, and caused another “violent outburst of moral indignation” from the community.

em9 emm1emm4emm3emm2

By 1892 Munch had formulated his characteristic aesthetic, as seen in Melancholy which he produced in several versions. Melancholy was exhibited in 1891 at the Autumn Exhibition in Oslo. In 1892, Adelsteen Normann, on behalf of the Union of Berlin Artists, invited Munch to exhibit at its November exhibition, the society’s first one-man exhibition. However, his paintings evoked bitter controversy (dubbed “The Munch Affair”), and after one week the exhibition closed. Munch was pleased with the “great commotion”, and wrote in a letter: “Never have I had such an amusing time—it’s incredible that something as innocent as painting should have created such a stir.”

In Berlin, Munch became involved in an international circle of writers, artists and critics, including the Swedish dramatist and leading intellectual August Strindberg, whom he painted in 1892. During his four years in Berlin, Munch sketched out most of the ideas that would comprise his major work, The Frieze of Life, first designed for book illustration but later expressed in paintings. He sold little, but made some income from charging entrance fees to view his controversial paintings. Already, Munch was showing a reluctance to part with his paintings, which he termed his “children”.

em6 em3 em7

The Scream exists in four versions: two pastels (1893 and 1895) and two paintings (1893 and 1910). There are also several lithographs of The Scream (1895 and later). The Scream is one of the most recognizable paintings in all art. Munch wrote of how the painting came to be: “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.” He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, ‘The Scream?’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”

em4

The original German title given by Munch to his work was Der Schrei der Natur (“The Scream of Nature”). The Norwegian word skrik usually is translated as “scream” but is cognate with the English “shriek”. Occasionally, the painting has been called The Cry.

Munch hated to part with his paintings because he thought of his work as a single body of expression. So to capitalize on his production and make some income, he turned to graphic arts to reproduce many of his most famous paintings. Munch admitted to the personal goals of his work but he also offered his art to a wider purpose, “My art is really a voluntary confession and an attempt to explain to myself my relationship with life—it is, therefore, actually a sort of egoism, but I am constantly hoping that through this I can help others achieve clarity.”

em5

In 1896, Munch moved to Paris, where he focused on graphic representations of his “Frieze of Life” themes. He further developed his woodcut and lithographic technique. Munch produced multi-colored versions of “The Sick Child” which sold well, as well as several nudes and multiple versions of Kiss (1892) Many of the Parisian critics still considered Munch’s work “violent and brutal” but his exhibitions received serious attention and good attendance. His financial situation improved considerably and in 1897, he bought a summer house facing the fjords of Kristiania, a small fisherman’s cabin built in the late 18th century, in the small town of Åsgårdstrand. He called this home the “Happy House” and returned here almost every summer for the next 20 years. It was this place he missed when he was abroad and when he felt depressed and exhausted. “To walk in Åsgårdstrand is like walking among my paintings—I get so inspired to paint when I am here”.

In 1899, Munch began an intimate relationship with Tulla Larsen. They traveled to Italy together and upon returning, Munch began another fertile period in his art, which included landscapes and his final painting in “The Frieze of Life” series, The Dance of Life (1899). Larsen was eager for marriage, and Munch begged off. His drinking and poor health reinforced his fears, as he wrote in the third person: “Ever since he was a child he had hated marriage. His sick and nervous home had given him the feeling that he had no right to get married.” Munch almost accepted marriage, but then fled from Larsen in 1900, also turning away from her considerable fortune, and moved to Berlin.

The good press coverage gained Munch the attention of influential patrons Albert Kollman and Max Linde. He described the turn of events in his diary, “After twenty years of struggle and misery forces of good finally come to my aid in Germany—and a bright door opens up for me.” However, despite this positive change, Munch’s self-destructive and erratic behavior involved him first with a violent quarrel with another artist, then with an accidental shooting in the presence of Tulla Larsen (who had returned for a brief reconciliation), which injured two of his fingers. She finally left him and married one of Munch’s younger colleagues. Munch took this as a betrayal, and he dwelled on the humiliation for some time to come, channeling some of the bitterness into new paintings. His paintings Still Life (The Murderess) and The Death of Marat I, done in 1906-7, clearly reference the shooting incident and the emotional after effects.

em17

In the autumn of 1908, Munch’s anxiety, compounded by excessive drinking and brawling, had become acute. As he later wrote, “My condition was verging on madness—it was touch and go.” Subject to hallucinations and feelings of persecution, he entered the clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson. The therapy Munch received for the next eight months included diet and “electrification” (a treatment then fashionable for nervous conditions, not to be confused with electroconvulsive therapy). Munch’s stay in hospital stabilized his personality, and after returning to Norway in 1909, his work became more colorful and less pessimistic.

Munch spent most of his last two decades in solitude at his estate in Ekely, at Skøyen, Oslo. Many of his late paintings celebrate farm life, including several in which he used his work horse “Rousseau” as a model. Munch occasionally left his home to paint murals on commission, including those done for the Freia chocolate factory.

To the end of his life, Munch continued to paint unsparing self-portraits, adding to his self-searching cycle of his life and his unflinching series of takes on his emotional and physical states. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labeled Munch’s work “degenerate art” (along with that of Picasso, Paul Klee, Matisse, Gauguin and many other modern artists) and removed his 82 works from German museums.

In 1940, the Germans invaded Norway and the Nazi party took over the government. Munch was 76 years old. With nearly an entire collection of his art in the second floor of his house, Munch lived in fear of a Nazi confiscation. Seventy-one of the paintings previously taken by the Nazis had been returned to Norway through purchase by collectors (the other eleven were never recovered), including The Scream and The Sick Child, and they too were hidden from the Nazis.

Munch died in his house at Ekely near Oslo on 23 January 1944, about a month after his 80th birthday. The city of Oslo bought the Ekely estate from Munch’s heirs in 1946; his house was demolished in May 1960.

em12

When I look at a platter of Norwegian open-face sandwiches I am vaguely reminded of a Munch painting. However, I’ll turn my attention to pinnekjøtt. Pinnekjøtt are lamb or mutton ribs that are prepared in a way that was originally traditional in northern and western Norway but is now popular throughout the country, especially at Christmas. I can’t give you a genuine recipe because you need to get the ribs in Norway, but I can give the idea.

em14

The preparation of pinnekjøtt uses traditional methods for food preservation, curing, drying and in some regions also smoking as means of inhibiting the growth of micro-organisms. In home preparation of pinnekjøtt, racks of lamb or mutton are cured in brine or coarse sea salt. Once sufficiently cured, and when the weather is cold enough, the racks are hung in a cool, dark, well ventilated place to dry. In some regions, particularly in parts of Hordaland, the fresh racks are smoked prior to curing. Traditionally this was done in order to prevent mold growth during the drying process and some food historians assert that this method was inherited from the Vikings.

Before cooking, the racks are separated into individual ribs by cutting them apart with a sharp knife between the bones. The ribs must then be soaked in water in order to rinse out the salt and reconstitute the meat. Today pinnekjøtt is available in most supermarkets before Christmas, smoked or unsmoked, ready cut and sometimes also soaked, ready for cooking.

em15

After soaking, the ribs are steamed over a little water in a large saucepan. A layer of birch twigs or strips may be placed in the bottom of the saucepan instead of a metal steamer. The name pinnekjøtt (literally: stick meat) is disputed. It may refer to the birch twigs of the cooking process, but the word ‘pinne’ in Norwegian slang is also used to refer to single ribs.