Dec 112016
 

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Today is the third Sunday in Advent, commonly called Gaudete Sunday. The day takes its  name from the first word of the introit of this day’s Mass:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

[Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.] (Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1)

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One of the candles surrounding the Christ Candle in the Advent wreath is rose colored, for Gaudete Sunday (Joy Sunday). Likewise, in churches that worry about such things, priests have the option to wear rose vestments instead of the normal violet or blue for the Advent season. Being a reasonably ardent Protestant pastor (with cynical edges), I don’t care about vestments at all. But colors matter in some ways. My congregations liked to have different colors on the pulpit for different seasons in accord with Presbyterian rules for worship, and I went along. Purple is the Advent color, and I always had a candle-lighting ceremony at the Advent wreath (which I wrote myself and had various families carry out) at the beginning of each Sunday service. It was a nice ritual touch.

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The lectionary readings for Gaudete Sunday deal with Christian joy as well as the mission of St. John the Baptist and his connexion with Advent. In my oh-so-humble opinion the John the Baptist bit is spurious – an attempt by the gospel writers to bring two disparate communities of disciples together. The focus on joy is another matter. Theologians have spilt considerable ink discussing joy, and its radical difference from happiness. You might want to read Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis to get a feel for the issue. I have very little time for Lewis’s general Christian apologetics which seem lame, to me, at best. But this book is different. It really does wrestle with the idea of JOY as a product of spiritual awakening, which Lewis quite evidently experienced personally. Oddly, the book is not about his meeting with the love of his life, Joy Davidman; it was written before they met. Her name is just a pleasant coda to the narrative. The title comes from Wordsworth:

Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?

Joy is an elusive emotion, rather different from happiness. It resides on another plane of experience, and cannot be described. You either know it or you don’t. It’s also alarmingly transient.

The word Gaudete is now inextricably linked with the carol of the same name that was popularized by Steeleye Span in the 1970s. That’s how I first ran into it, but then some years later when I was doing research on early church music I discovered that Steeleye had changed the music considerably from the 16th century original. Here’s a halfway decent attempt at recreating the original, with notation for the musically literate:

The harmonies for the refrain part are modern, but the verses are in  unison, as would have been normal, with no measures marked by bar lines, just notes. I gave the original notation to my church organist when I was devising a Christmas concert, and she had to draw bar lines in for guidance, even though they are unnecessary.

I’ve just fed my puddings with brandy for the third successive Sunday. They’re coming along nicely – redolent of brandy and spices, with the bags they are in getting messier by the week as the brandy they are soaking in gets dark and syrupy. Now I must focus on a suitable dinner for Joy Sunday.

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I had no idea what to make, so I went out to the market to get some ideas. By chance I found a piece of meat called “reale di vitello” which is obviously veal, but I had no idea what cut. A lot of digging eventually uncovered the fact that “reale,” which can mean “real” or “royal,” is a cut of veal similar to chuck in beef. So I treated it the same way with slow braising. To make it suitable for Christmas I used a braising stock laced with allspice and ginger. For accompaniment I made lentils with the usual additions – mushrooms and leeks – but I added sultanas, as well as some allspice, ginger, and hot pepper. It’s just a spur of the moment thing, but may give you some ideas.

Dec 102016
 

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Today is Human Rights Day celebrating the proclamation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, in clear language, the fundamental human rights that are to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages. Sadly, the resolution was non-binding, making the United Nations a rather toothless tiger. But it was a start for a fledgling world body to come together under a common banner with a common goal. The full text of the declaration is here: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

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Ancient cultures had complex legal systems, but, despite spurious claims by some scholars that documents such as the Cyrus Cylinder are declarations of human rights, the concept as it is understood now, was not formulated until the development of humanist thinking and Protestant ideology in the West beginning with what we now call the Renaissance and the Reformation. Its ideals crested in Enlightenment philosophy in the 17th century and in key documents such as the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution (1791).  Preceding documents such as the Constitution of Medina (622), Al-Risalah al-Huquq (659-713), Magna Carta (1215), etc., all contains germs of the idea, but the notion that a person is born with inalienable rights regardless of gender, color, creed, or religion does not emerge full blown until the late 17th century. However, even the documents I have cited are equivocal. The U.S. Bill of Rights, for example, was passed by slave holders, but it put the principles in place.

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The word “Man” is troublesome. The documents cited seem to be a bit vague in this regard. Are they using the word “Man” to mean Homo sapiens, or just men (and not women)? You can waffle all you like; they meant men, and the word when used now is still sexist, even if unintentionally. I don’t use the word to mean humans; I use the word “human” – end of story. These are HUMAN rights, not the Rights of Man. It’s not difficult to say “human” rather than “man” or “humankind” rather than “mankind.” A few extra letters won’t hurt you. If you need convincing look at these sentences:

In prehistoric times man was a hunter.

Man is the only species that menstruates on a 28-day cycle but is receptive to sex all the time.

The first sentence seems all right, but the second one looks odd. Why? Both show gender bias, but the first gets a free pass and the second gets a question mark. The first is fair enough in that both men and women have participated in hunting historically, but . . . hunting is (and was) predominantly a male activity in forager societies. Thus “Man the Hunter” seems all right and has been used as the name of a classic text in anthropology. “Man the Menstruator” doesn’t sit well.  Case closed. Talk about HUMAN rights.

It would be nice if traditional musicians would get the memo. The “Rights of Man” is a classic Irish hornpipe that is very popular at music sessions. Irish tunes in general have catchy titles that have nothing to do with the music. That said, I will rename this the Human Rights Hornpipe:

There is a basic human right to food.  This is subsumed under the basic human right to life. Food, water, and shelter are the most basic of human needs to support life. What form food comes in is not relevant as long as it is free from harmful contaminants and is plentiful enough to avoid hunger or malnutrition. This means that there is no human right to banquets or fancy dishes. In fact there are a lot of people (and cultures) in the world that are not interested in diversity in food. I don’t understand people who want the same food all the time, but I respect their habits. The domestication of plants led to cereals being primary staples worldwide with wheat, barley, corn, and rice topping the list. In many world languages the word for the local staple is also the general word for food. The Lord’s Prayer asks: “Give us each day our daily bread.”  The word “bread” here means food, and “daily bread” means enough food for the day. The basic character in Chinese, 饭, is pronounced fan (4th tone), and can mean rice in particular, or a meal in general.

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So, frankly, I don’t know what to present as a recipe du jour. The times in my life when I have had almost no money to live on (too many for comfort), I’ve usually resorted to a bowl of rice per day. It’s a bit bleak but I’ve always found ways to dress up plain rice. Stalls that sell bowls of rice in Asia always have condiments of some sort – sauces or pickles. I usually opt for a fiery hot sauce and some pickles.

Dec 092016
 

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On this date in 1960, Coronation Street, a British soap opera created by Granada Television, was first aired on ITV. On 17 September 2010, Coronation Street entered Guinness World Records as the world’s longest-running television soap opera after the US soap opera As the World Turns concluded. William Roache was also listed as the world’s longest-running soap actor, having played in the show since the first episode. The show centers on Coronation Street in Weatherfield, a fictional town based on Salford (near Manchester), featuring typical Northern urban industrial terraced houses, café, corner shop, newsagent’s, building yard, taxicab office, hairdresser, textile factory, and pub. In the show’s fictional history, the street was built around 1901 and named in honor of the coronation of King Edward VII. The show currently airs five times per week (with some repeats). Originally it was twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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I was living in South Australia when Coronation Street was first aired in England, and it took a little while to reach us. But it did get shown in Australia in 1961, back to back with Peyton Place from the U.S., and was an instant success. I watched the first few episodes, but was never engaged. I was 10 when it first appeared and its basic themes held no interest for me, nor did I relate to the culture of northern England. My family watched regularly though. My mother was a fan, but was grossly offended by the fact that South Australians saw it as representing English culture as a whole, rather than the working-class culture of the north, which was about as alien to her as South Australia was. She came from a legendarily high-toned seaside resort town on the South Coast. She did note on a trip to England in 1962 to visit her mother, however, that the streets of her home town were deserted for the 30 minutes that Coronation Street aired (twice a week).

The show was conceived in 1960 by scriptwriter Tony Warren at Granada Television in Manchester. Warren’s initial kitchen sink drama proposal was rejected by the station’s founder Sidney Bernstein, but he was persuaded by producer Harry Elton to produce the show for 13 pilot episodes. Within six months of the show’s first broadcast, it had become the most-watched program on British television, and is now a significant part of British culture (going by the nickname Corrie). The show has been one of the most financially lucrative programs on British commercial television, underpinning the success of Granada Television and ITV.

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The first episode was not initially a critical success. Daily Mirror columnist Ken Irwin said that the series would only last three weeks. Granada Television had commissioned only 13 episodes, and some inside the company doubted the show would last beyond its planned production run. Despite the criticism, viewers were immediately drawn into the serial, won over by Coronation Street‘s down-to-earth characters. In particular, the show made use of Northern English language and dialect which was unheard of on British television of the time. Common local slang terms like “eh, chuck?” “nowt” and “by ‘eck!” were heard on television for the first time.

Here’s a scene from the first episode of Coronation Street featuring Ken Barlow (William Roach), who still plays on the series:

The early episodes involved, among many others, the story of how Ken Barlow had won a place at university, which was highly unusual for working-class boys and girls at the time. The vast majority left school at 16, or earlier, and began working. I well remember overhearing a conversation on a bus in England between two working-class mothers in 1965, and one was complaining to the other that her daughter wanted to stay on at school past 16. They were both upset and could not understand the girl’s choice. I am not talking about university here, just staying on at school until 18.  Ken’s acceptance at university was a main thread that pointed up class problems in England at the time, as evidenced in the above clip.

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Ken’s character was one of the few to have experienced life outside of Coronation Street. In some ways this thread predicted the growth of globalization, and the decline of similar working-class communities in the north. In an episode from 1961, Barlow says: “You can’t go on just thinking about your own street these days. We’re living with people on the other side of the world. There’s more to worry about than Elsie Tanner and her boyfriends.”

At the center of many early stories, there was Ena Sharples (Violet Carson), caretaker of the Glad Tidings Mission Hall, and her friends: Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant), and Martha Longhurst (Lynne Carol). The trio were likened to the Greek chorus, and the three witches in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as they would sit in the snug bar of the Rovers Return pub, passing judgment over family, neighbors and frequently each other. Headstrong Ena often clashed with Elsie Tanner, whom she believed had a dauntlessly loose set of morals. Elsie resented Ena’s interference and gossip, which most of the time had little basis in reality.

In March 1961, Coronation Street reached No.1 in the television ratings and remained there for the rest of the year. Earlier in 1961, a Television Audience Measurement (TAM) showed that 75% of available viewers (15 million) tuned into Coronation Street, and by 1964 the program had over 20 million regular viewers, with ratings peaking on 2 December 1964, at 21.36 million viewers.

In spite of rising popularity with viewers, Coronation Street was criticized by some for its outdated portrayal of the urban working class, and its representation of a community that was a nostalgic fantasy. After the first episode in 1960, the Daily Mirror printed: “The programme is doomed from the outset … For there is little reality in this new serial, which apparently, we have to suffer twice a week.” By 1967, critics were suggesting that the show no longer reflected life in 1960s Britain, but reflected how life was in the 1950s. Granada hurried to update the program with the hope of introducing more issue-driven stories, including Lucille Hewitt becoming addicted to drugs, Jerry Booth being in a storyline about homosexuality, Emily Nugent having an out of wedlock child, and introducing a black family, but all of these ideas were dropped for fear of upsetting viewers.

Well, since the 1960s Coronation Street has gone through numerous changes, of course. Somehow it has managed to stagger on into the internet age with a respectable viewership that continues to anchor Granada and ITV. More power to them, even though I have zero interest in the show. Someone is still watching even though over the decades they have had to compete with edgier and more contemporary soaps and dramas. I am reminded of the BBC radio soap, The Archers, which has been on the air continuously since 1951 and holds all manner of world records. Some British media institutions just won’t die.

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Another great British institution is the Eccles cake which comes from a village near Salford, the model for Coronation Street. I’m not much of a baker, so when I am in England I usually just buy an Eccles cake if I feel in the mood. But they are not all that difficult to make, and homemade is generally superior unless, by some rare chance, you can get one fresh and warm at a local baker’s. Day old and cold they remind me of eating flaky cardboard and lard with a fruity aftertaste.

Eccles Cake

Ingredients

2 tbsp butter
1 cup dried currants
2 tbsp chopped candied mixed fruit peel
¾ cup demerara sugar
¾ teaspoon mixed spice (allspice, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg)
frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg white, beaten
caster sugar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220° C. Grease a baking sheet.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the currants, mixed peel, demerara sugar and mixed spice. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and fruit is well coated. Remove from the heat.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to ¼” thickness. Cut out 8 (5” ) circles, using a saucer as a guide. Divide the fruit mixture evenly between the circles. Moisten the edges of the pastry, pull the edges to the center and pinch to seal. Invert filled cakes on the floured surface and roll out gently to make a wider, flatter circle, but do not break the dough.

Brush each cake with egg white and sprinkle generously with caster sugar. Make three parallel cuts across the top of each cake, then place them on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven 15 minutes, or until golden.

Dec 082016
 

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Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman Catholic tradition and is an extremely important day in the church and in Catholic countries in general. Here in Italy and in Argentina it is a national holiday, and it is a day of obligation in the church. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, Mary could not have been worthy of the Virgin Birth unless she herself was free of Original Sin. That means that, although Mary was conceived in the normal way, her conception was “immaculate” (i.e. free from sin). This makes no sense to me whatsoever, but I understand why it is an important dogma for the church. It’s what happens when people start applying logic to faith. Personally, I think the dogma of the Virgin Birth (let alone the whole Bethlehem tale), was invented by the early church to make sense of actual events versus Hebrew prophecy. The Immaculate Conception is one more brick in the wall.

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The Immaculate Conception is commonly mistaken to be the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb which is a complete misunderstanding of the dogma, which refers only to Mary and her mother. Although the belief that Mary was sinless and conceived immaculately has been widely held since Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not dogmatically defined until 1854, by Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.

A feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God was celebrated in Syria on 8 December perhaps as early as the 5th century. Note that her Greek title of achrantos (spotless, immaculate, all-pure) refers to her supposed perpetual holiness, not specifically to the holiness of her conception. Mary’s complete sinlessness and concomitant exemption from any taint from the first moment of her existence was a doctrine familiar to Greek theologians of Byzantium. Beginning with St. Gregory Nazianzen, his explanation of the “purification” of Jesus and Mary at the circumcision (Luke 2:22) prompted him to consider the primary meaning of “purification” in Christology (and by extension in Mariology) to refer to a perfectly sinless nature that manifested itself in glory in a moment of grace (e.g., Jesus at his Baptism). St. Gregory Nazianzen designated Mary as “prokathartheisa (prepurified).” Gregory likely attempted to solve the riddle of the Purification of Jesus and Mary in the Temple through considering the human natures of Jesus and Mary as equally holy and therefore both purified in this manner of grace and glory. Gregory’s doctrines surrounding Mary’s purification were likely related to the burgeoning commemoration of the Mother of God in and around Constantinople very close to the date of Christmas. Nazianzen’s title of Mary at the Annunciation as “prepurified” was subsequently adopted by all theologians interested in his Mariology to justify the Byzantine equivalent of the Immaculate Conception. The public celebration of the “Conception of St. Ann [i.e., of the Theotokos in her womb]” was becoming popular. After this period, the “purification” of the perfect natures of Jesus and Mary would not only mean moments of grace and glory at the Incarnation and Baptism and other public Byzantine liturgical feasts, but purification was eventually associated with the feast of Mary’s very conception (along with her Presentation in the Temple as a toddler) by Orthodox authors of the early 2nd  millennium (e.g., St. Nicholas Cabasilas and Joseph Bryennius).

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Enough theology. Today is a big day in the church as well as in the secular culture of Catholic countries. I get a day off work, and in Argentina today was the official start of Christmas celebrations in Argentina, even though we are well into Advent. Here’s a gallery from Immaculate Conception 2013 in Buenos Aires. The church of the Immaculate Conception was just a few blocks from my apartment in san Telmo, and each year they have an evening mass on this day preceded by a procession around the church carrying an image of the Virgin and accompanied by an assortment of people, including young girls in white and street musicians.

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In Buenos Aires on this date I always made the Argentine/Italian lentil stew guiso de lentejas. You really don’t need a recipe; I never use one. The main thing is that the lentils have to simmer with at least one pig’s foot. Pork is not common in Buenos Aires most of the year because beef is king. But at Christmas pork is traditional (including whole roast pig on Christmas Eve). Start by soaking some lentils overnight in cold water. Drain them and put them in a pot with at least one pig’s trotter. Bring to a boil and simmer until the lentils are almost fully cooked. Then add chopped bell pepper, chopped onions (or leeks), a can of whole tomatoes, and season with oregano, salt, and pepper. You should also add a few pork sausages of your choice. Continue simmering for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables and sausages are cooked. The thing about this soup/stew is that the meat and vegetables should be served as is with the lentils in deep bowls. Don’t cut any of the meats up. It’s meant to look like a traffic accident. My pictures tell the story.

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Dec 072016
 

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Today is Quema del Diablo (Burning the Devil) in Guatemala, an intrinsic part of the preparations for Christmas that has the usual unverifiable speculation about “origins” associated with it. But there is obviously a nugget of truth in these speculations. On this date people in cities throughout Guatemala build bonfires and burn effigies of the devil at around 6 pm. Traditionally this marked the beginning of the Christmas season (which climaxes on Christmas Eve – not Christmas Day – as is true throughout Latin America).

The underlying idea seems to be that this is the moment to cleanse everything in preparation for the Christmas season. Tomorrow (December 8) is the feast of the Immaculate Conception which, in much of Latin America signals the beginning of Christmas (or did, at one time). So the eve of the feast is the perfect time to get rid of the old and welcome in the new. I am a little reminded of Mircea Eliade’s Myth of the Eternal Return in which he argues that the turn of the year happens at different times in different cultures, but the underlying principle is the same everywhere whether the turning point is Halloween, Shrovetide, or New Year’s Eve – get rid of all the old stuff that burdens you and welcome in a fresh, clean start. In the Western Christian calendar, the first Sunday in Advent is the start of the new ecclesiastical year. The church colors change from green to purple, the lectionary Bible readings begin a new cycle, and so forth.

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The long practice in Guatemala has been to symbolize this cleansing of the old by getting rid of all the clutter and garbage in the house, putting it on the street, and burning it on a big bonfire. People still do this although it is more of a token than an actual cleansing, building fogarones (burning fires) as they are called in dialect. Somewhere along the line, effigies of the devil were added to the mix and this is now the usual custom.

A generation ago the burning of the devil was a very big deal, and older people look back on their childhood memories with  great fondness. This website is typical – http://growingupbilingual.com/2012/latino-parenting/la-quema-del-diablo-the-death-or-transformation-of-a-guatemalan-tradition/

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Every year, as a child, I would look forward with excitement to December 7th. On that day we would gather old newspapers, magazines and cardboard boxes that we had been collecting in the garage for months and make a big pile on the street next to the curve. We would wait for my father to come home from work and go out to buy a bright red devil piñata, cuetes and ametralladoras (firecrackers and long strings of firecrackers 6 or 8 feet long) from one of the street vendors that had set up wooden stands on Avenida de las Americas and all around the city.

We would then come home and put the devil at the top of the pile of trash, get out the garden hose and an antique hay fork that belonged to my grandfather and wait for 6pm to arrive. As we stood on the sidewalk and looked down and up the street we could see many families gathered outside in front of their piles of trash, some with devils some without.

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At six everyone would light up their pile. We would watch as the devil piñata caught fire, sometimes we would strategically place some firecrackers inside of it other times we would just throw firecrackers into the huge bone fire and watched as garbage and devil where consumed by the flames. In December nights are starting to get chilly in Guatemala and the whole family would gather together on the sidewalk, one of us venturing closer to the big fire to throw firecrackers or use the heavy pitch fork to push the trash together into the center of the fire.

Every year we tried to make the pile bigger and it had become somewhat of a competition. We wanted to have the biggest fire on the block and some years my mom would even buy two or three hay bales to add to our pile if we didn’t have enough trash. As the years went by we had our share of what I then considered exciting memories and now look back on as pretty scary situations that could have gone bad. One year we made the fire too close to a tree and the tree caught fire. In Guatemala firemen are only called for life or death emergencies and a tree on fire did not qualify so we quickly got the garden hose and my parents put out the fire while we ran around excitedly screaming and pointing a the poor tree. After that we started making the fire in front of the garage and away from the trees and ever since that day the garden hose was always ready in case of emergencies. Did I mention that my parents would sometimes pour a little gasoline on the pile to get the fire started!?

A few days before December 7th stands and kiosks selling devils and fireworks would appear like magic on every corner of main streets and avenues around the city. The devils of all sizes ranging from one foot to 12 made of paper mache and chicken wire hanging and waiting to be bought and burned. After La Quema del Diablo the stands would remain on the streets until New Year, the devils replaced by more fireworks and sometimes holiday wreaths and other Christmas decorations. Most of these vendors came from small towns or from the poor and marginal areas of the city and they turned these makeshift wooden stands into their homes, sometimes bringing along their families, children and all. They would spend the entire holiday season living on the streets, sleeping surrounded by fireworks. Every year there would be accidents, someone would throw a cigarette butt and the fireworks would quickly catch fire, one little shop setting a row of 10 or 15 similar shops on fire and some of these vendors losing their lives.

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Over the years the festivities got a little out of hand in some locations. Some people used the fires to burn car tires, old appliances, and other materials that produced toxic smoke that polluted the cities and endangered the environment. Generally speaking Guatemala is becoming more conscious of the dangers of the festivity in terms of health and safety. In recent years the Ministerio del Medio Ambiente (Ministry of the Environment) has campaigned strongly against the tradition and it has definitely toned down.

In the city of Antigua there is still a very boisterous tradition tinged with political overtones as described here:  http://www.perceptivetravel.com/issues/0210/guatemala.html

In front of Antigua, Guatemala’s Devil is a message from him addressed to his “colleagues.” It is strikingly regretful. It begins, “I dreamt last night that everything was beautiful, that there was a Guatemala without violence, without kidnapping, corruptions, gangs, dictators, extortionists, poverty, and drug addicts.” After continuing to describe the happy, ideal society of his dreams, the devil’s message continues, “But when I awoke, I realized that everything was a sad, crude reality. This is why I live below.” He ends by saying that one reaps what he sows, and although he will burn at six, he also “wants the Guatemala that everyone wants.”

I think we all want what Guatemala wants. Meanwhile, let’s consider stuffed peppers cooked in the Guatemalan style. The peppers are mild, but smaller than Western bell peppers, and stuffed with a mix of meat and vegetables, coated in a whipped egg batter and fried. The egg batter is just eggs that are separated and beaten, then combined and used to coat the stuffed peppers. Here’s a video if you are not Spanish challenged.

To supplement, here’s a good recipe. If you look in the video you will see that Guatemalan bell peppers are smaller than the usual Western ones. Don’t use big peppers.

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Chiles Rellenos Guatemaltecos

Ingredients

1 cup finely diced cooked carrot
1½ cups finely diced cooked potato
1 cup finely diced green beans
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ lb minced cooked chicken meat
1 crushed bay leaf
thyme
6 eggs, separated
1 tbsp flour (approx)
8 bell peppers
oil
salt

For the salsa

10 tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 hot chile pepper, chopped

Instructions

Start by making the salsa. Put the ingredients in a pot and cover with water. Simmer gently for at least an hour. Then cool and pulse in a food processor. Set aside.

Cut off the tops of the peppers and clean out the seeds and pith without damaging the skin. Place them in boiling water and simmer until they are soft, but not too limp. Drain and cool.

Combine the stuffing ingredients – vegetables, meat, and herbs. Stuff the peppers with the mixture being careful not to pack them too tightly.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Sift in the flour and whip to combine. Beat the yolks and then gently fold them a little at a time into the whites.

Heat oil to the depth of about ½” in a deep wide skillet over medium-high heat.

Thoroughly coat the stuffed peppers with the egg mixture by dipping them in the mix. Place them in the hot oil and sauté on one side until browned, then flip and cook the other side. Do this in batches.

Serve hot with the salsa. They are also good as the filling for crusty buns with some fresh lettuce and onions.

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Dec 062016
 

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Quito, current capital of Ecuador, was moved to its present location and re-founded on this date in 1534 by 204 Spanish settlers led by Sebastián de Benalcázar. If that sounds complicated, it is. Let me explain.

Quito’s origins are reputed to date back to the first millennium CE, when the indigenous Quitu occupied the area and eventually formed a commercial center. According to Juan de Velasco in Historia del Reino de Quito (1767) the Quitu were conquered by the Caras, who founded the Kingdom of Quito about 980 CE. For more than four centuries, Quito was ruled by kings (shyris).

The Caras and their allies were narrowly defeated in the epic battles of Tiocajas and Tixán in 1462, by an army of 250,000 led by Túpac Inca, the son of the Inca emperor. After several decades of consolidation, the Kingdom of Quito became integrated into the Incan Empire. In 1534, the Caras/Quitu people were conquered by the Spanish.

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Indigenous resistance to the Spanish invasion continued during 1534, with the conquistador Diego de Almagro founding Santiago de Quito (in present-day Colta, near Riobamba) on August 15, 1534, later to be renamed San Francisco de Quito on August 28, 1534. The city was later moved to its present location and was re-founded on 6 December 1534 by 204 settlers led by Sebastián de Benalcázar. The forces of the Inca resistance general, Rumiñawi, and Benalcázar met at the Battle of Mount Chimborazo, where Rumiñawi was defeated. However, before the Spanish forces defeated the Incas, treasures stored in Quito were secreted away and never recovered. The capture of Rumiñawi effectively ended any organized resistance. Rumiñawi was tortured by the Spanish, but never revealed the location of the treasures and so was executed on January 10, 1535. Rumiñawi is now regarded in Ecuador as a hero with 1st December reserved in his honor.

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On March 14, 1541, Quito was declared a city and on February 14, 1556, was given the title Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de San Francisco de Quito (“Very Noble and Loyal City of San Francisco of Quito”). In 1563, Quito became the seat of a Real Audiencia (administrative district) of Spain and became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, until 1717 after the Audiencia was part of a newly created Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada. Its administration on both Viceroyalties remained to Quito. (see Real Audiencia de Quito)

As with other places colonized by the Spanish, the colonizers promptly established Roman Catholicism in Quito. The first church (El Belén) was in fact built even before the city had been officially founded. In January 1535, the San Francisco Convent was constructed, the first of about 20 churches and convents built during the colonial period. The Spanish converted the indigenous population to Christianity and used them as labor for construction.

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In 1743, after nearly 300 years of Spanish colonization, Quito was a city of about 10,000 inhabitants. On August 10, 1809, an independence movement against Spanish domination started in Quito. On that date, a plan for government was established that placed Juan Pío Montúfar as president with various other prominent figures in other positions of government. However, this initial movement was ultimately defeated on August 2, 1810, when colonial troops came from Lima, killing the leaders of the uprising along with about 200 settlers. A chain of conflicts concluded on May 24, 1822, when Antonio José de Sucre, under the command of Simón Bolívar, led troops into the Battle of Pichincha. Their victory marked the independence of Quito and the surrounding areas.

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Ecuadorean cuisine has many variations because of the extreme range in geographical zones, especially as concerns altitude, which dramatically affects farming conditions. Goat is popular in the mountainous regions, and seco de chivo (goat stew) is a common festival dish. The poaching liquid was traditionally chicha, a mildly alcoholic, fermented corn drink, and tart fruit juices were added as well. Naranjilla, guanábana, and granadilla, are indigenous, but any tart juice will make an adequate substitute. Locals now often use beer in place of the chicha. Piloncillo (or panela) is unrefined brown sugar in a hard block.

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Seco de Chivo

Ingredients

2 lb goat meat, with bones
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp achiote powder (or sweet paprika)
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cups seeded and chopped tomatoes
2 cups chicha de jora (or beer)
2 cups tart fruit juice (or stock)
2 tbsp grated piloncillo (or brown sugar)
salt and pepper
small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Instructions

Wash the goat meat in cool water, drain and pat dry. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides in the hot oil. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Add more oil to the pot if needed and stir the achoite powder (or paprika) to color the oil. Stir in the onion and bell pepper and sauté  for 3 or 4 minutes, or until the onions are cooked down and translucent. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes.

Add back the reserved goat and stir in the chicha (or beer), fruit juice, piloncillo (or brown sugar) and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered for 2 or more hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Add water as necessary to keep the seco from drying out.

Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro. Serve hot with a side of arroz amarillo (rice colored yellow with turmeric or achiote), platanos fritos (fried plantains) and slices of avocado.

 

Dec 052016
 

Werner Heisenberg

Today is the birthday (1901) of Werner Karl Heisenberg, a German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics. He published his seminal work on quantum mechanics in 1925 in a breakthrough paper. In a subsequent series of papers with Max Born and Pascual Jordan, in the same year, this matrix formulation of quantum mechanics was substantially elaborated. In 1927 he published his uncertainty principle, upon which he built his philosophy and for which he is best known publicly, even though it is not necessarily his most important contribution to physics. Heisenberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1932 “for the creation of quantum mechanics.”

He also made important contributions to the theories of the hydrodynamics of turbulent flows, the atomic nucleus, ferromagnetism, cosmic rays, and subatomic particles, and he was instrumental in planning the first West German nuclear reactor at Karlsruhe, together with a research reactor in Munich, in 1957. He was a principal scientist in the Nazi German nuclear weapon project during World War II. He traveled to occupied Copenhagen where he met and discussed the German project with Niels Bohr.

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Following World War II, he was appointed director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, which soon thereafter was renamed the Max Planck Institute for Physics. He was director of the institute until it was moved to Munich in 1958, when it was expanded and renamed the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics.

Heisenberg was also president of the German Research Council, chairman of the Commission for Atomic Physics, chairman of the Nuclear Physics Working Group, and president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Once we get into Heisenberg’s work, particularly on the uncertainty principle, we immediately get embroiled in mathematics, much of which I don’t understand myself (except to know that formulations of the principle in words lack the rigor of mathematical descriptions). Historically, people have confused the uncertainty principle with a different effect in physics, called the observer effect, which notes that measurements of certain systems cannot be made without affecting the systems, that is, without changing something in the system. Originally Heisenberg offered such an observer effect at the quantum level as a physical explanation of quantum uncertainty. It has since become clear, however, that the uncertainty principle is inherent in the properties of all wave-like systems, and that it arises in quantum mechanics simply due to the matter-wave nature of all quantum objects. Thus, the uncertainty principle actually states a fundamental property of quantum systems, and is not a statement about the observational success of current technology. It must be emphasized that measurement does not mean only a process in which a physicist-observer takes part, but rather any interaction between classical and quantum objects regardless of any observer. Here we collide with Schrödinger and his cat, but I’ll leave that subject alone.

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Throughout the main body of his original 1927 paper, written in German, Heisenberg used the word, “Ungenauigkeit” (“indeterminacy”), to describe the basic theoretical principle. Only in the endnote did he switch to the word, “Unsicherheit” (“uncertainty”). When the English-language version of Heisenberg’s textbook, The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory, was published in 1930, however, the translation “uncertainty” was used, and it became the more commonly used term in the English language thereafter.

Today is National Sacher-Torte Day in Austria, so I think that it’s a good day to make Sacher-Torte even though it is Austrian and not German. I do know the difference. However, I’d like to believe that Heisenberg enjoyed this chocolate delight once in a while. It is best savored in a coffee house in Vienna, but you can make a decent copy if you have some baking skills.

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Sacher-Torte

Ingredients

Torte:

4 ½ oz high-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
9 tbsp (1 stick plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour

Assembly:

1 cup Apricot Glaze (see below)
1 small batch Chocolate Glaze (see below)
sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Instructions

To make the torte, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400°F. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment or wax paper. Dust the sides of the pan with flour and tap out the excess.

In the top part of a double boiler over very hot, but not simmering, water, or in a microwave at medium power, melt the chocolate. Remove from the heat or the oven, and let stand, stirring often, until cool.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty standing mixer fitted with the paddle blade on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. On low speed, beat in the confectioners’ sugar. Return the speed to medium-high and beat until light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the chocolate and vanilla.

Beat the egg whites and granulated sugar in a large bowl with a handheld electric mixer on high speed just until they form soft, shiny peaks. Do not overbeat. Stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites, leaving a few visible wisps of whites. Sift half of the flour over the chocolate mixture, and fold in with a large balloon whisk or rubber spatula. Repeat with the remaining flour.

Spread evenly in the pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (The cake will dome in the center.) Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, and invert the cake onto the rack. Remove the paper and re-invert on another rack to turn right side up. Cool completely.

To assemble, using a long serrated knife, trim the top of the cake to make it level. Cut the cake horizontally into two equal layers. Place one cake layer on an 8-inch cardboard round. Brush the top of the cake layer with the apricot glaze. Place the second cake layer on top and brush again. Brush the top and sides of the cake with the remaining glaze. Transfer the cake to a wire rack placed over a jelly-roll pan lined with waxed paper. Let cool until the glaze is set.

Make the chocolate glaze (it must be freshly made and warm). Pour all of the warm chocolate glaze on top of the cake. Using a metal offset spatula, gently smooth the glaze over the cake, allowing it to run down the sides, being sure that the glaze completely coats the cake (patch any bare spots with the spatula and the icing that has dripped). Cool until the glaze is barely set, then transfer the cake to a serving plate. Refrigerate until the glaze is completely set, at least 1 hour. Remove the cake from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving.

To serve, slice with a sharp knife dipped into hot water. Serve with a large dollop of whipped cream on the side.

Small Batch Chocolate Glaze

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
½ cup water
4 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate

Instructions

In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan (no larger than 1 quarts or the mixture will reduce too rapidly and burn before it reaches the correct temperature) over high heat, bring the sugar, water, and chocolate to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring, until the mixture reaches 234°F., about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir to cool and thicken slightly, about 1 minute. Use immediately. When pouring, do not scrape the pan.

Apricot Glaze

Ingredients

1 ¼ cups apricot preserves
2 tablespoons golden rum (or water)

Instructions

Bring the preserves and rum to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Cook, stirring often, until the last drops that cling to the spoon are very sticky, 2 to 3 minutes. Strain through a wire sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on the solids. Use warm.

 

Dec 042016
 

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Today is the second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love. Now we light the second candle in the wreath and the feeling that Christmas is on its way is getting a little stronger.  In church today the reading will be this famous passage from Isaiah:

40:1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.

40:2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

40:3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

40:4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

40:5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

40:6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.

40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.

40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

40:10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

40:11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

This passage has several things to note in it. One is that it was used by Mark in his gospel to speak about John the Baptist:

1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”

1:3 A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’

The astute among you will note the difference between Isaiah and Mark concerning the voice and the wilderness. Of course, the quotation marks in the English translation here are not in the original Hebrew and Greek. If they were in the original Hebrew, Mark would not have made the fundamental mistake he made in his Greek gospel. My question: where is the voice located that Isaiah and Mark mention? Isaiah does not say. Mark says it is in the wilderness (supporting his claim that John – famous for living in the wilderness – is the foretold prophet of the Messiah, crying out in the wilderness). But Isaiah says that a voice cries out about making the Messiah’s path straight in the wilderness. The voice is not in the wilderness, the path is. This ought to alert you to the fact that the gospel writers liked to twist prophecy to suit their purposes. Nonetheless, the passage gives us numerous pieces from Handel’s Messiah that are brilliant. This is possibly my favorite (and one of my favorite renditions):

The thing I like about certain seasons is the sense of familiarity mixed with newness. That’s the great thing about ritual in one’s life. It provides order, but not necessarily sameness. This year Christmas will be a lot like others I have celebrated for decades, but it will also be fresh in numerous ways.

Let’s talk about spices. Christmas, for me, is very much about seasonal spices when it comes to cooking. I like to follow the seasons in general with my cooking, and I am very careful to avoid eating things out of season. In many countries I have lived – especially the United States – I could, if I wished, eat about anything I wanted, any time of the year. If I had wanted strawberries for Christmas dinner I could have found them. But that’s all wrong. Where I lived in the Catskills, strawberries ripened in May and I bathed in them for the month. Then, when the season was over, I put them aside. I eat lamb at Easter, not just because of the obvious Biblical associations, but also because the new lambs of the year are ready to eat at that point. It doesn’t take a lot of pondering to figure out why lamb is the traditional meal for Passover and how it got tied into the Easter story.

Christmas for me smells of allspice.  Actually, Christmas smells of all the sweet spices – nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. But allspice stands out for me. Maybe it’s just my personal quirk, but there’s a strong personal connexion for me. I dump it in my mincemeat and puddings, of course, but I also use it to flavor meat dishes. Last year I first had to figure out the Italian – pepe di Jamaica – and then turn Mantua upside down to find it. I did, in the end, but it was touch and go for several weeks. Now I have a big stash. Today I am making dinner for my girlfriend and allspice will be a prominent player. The pasta course will feature a sauce made with goat meat I found at the market yesterday.

Goat is not a popular meat in the West, largely because goats are not common and because the meat can be tough if not cooked properly. I found some nice meaty leg bones which I browned and then gently simmered for several hours in a stock I made with wild mushrooms and liberally spiced with allspice and fresh ground black pepper. The bones and stock have been sitting overnight in the refrigerator ready for stage 2 today. There was no fat to skim this morning because goat is not fatty.  Here’s the image I have from this morning.

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Today I am going to strip and shred the meat. Meanwhile I’m going to reduce the stock, cook some pasta, reheat the meat in the stock, drain the pasta and add it to the meat, swirl around and serve. I’ll post a photo tomorrow.

 

Dec 032016
 

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Today is Flamenco Guitar Day. I don’t know who invented the holiday or what it really means, but seems like a good thing to celebrate. Let’s be clear, though. It’s Flamenco Guitar Day, not Flamenco Day. Flamenco is an art form that has a number of components — cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), jaleo (vocalizations), palmas (handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping). This post will focus exclusively on toque.

Traditionally, luthiers made guitars to sell at a wide ranges of prices, largely based on the materials used and the amount of decorations, to cater to the popularity of the instrument across all classes of people in Spain. The cheapest guitars were often simple, basic instruments made from the less expensive woods such as cypress. Antonio de Torres, one of the most renowned luthiers, did not differentiate between flamenco and classical guitars. Only after Andrés Segovia and others popularized classical guitar music, did this distinction emerge.

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The traditional flamenco guitar is made of Spanish cypress, sycamore, or rosewood for the back and sides, and spruce for the top. This (in the case of cypress and sycamore) accounts for its characteristic body color. Flamenco guitars are built lighter with thinner tops than classical guitars, which produces a “brighter” and more percussive sound quality. Builders also use less internal bracing to keep the top more percussively resonant. The top is typically made of either spruce or cedar, though other tone woods are used today. Volume has traditionally been very important for flamenco guitarists, as they must be heard over the sound of the dancers’ nailed shoes. To increase volume, harder woods, such as rosewood, can be used for the back and sides, with softer woods for the top.

In contrast to the classical guitar, the flamenco guitar is often equipped with a tap plate (a golpeador), commonly made of plastic, similar to a pick guard, whose function is to protect the body of the guitar from the rhythmic finger taps, or golpes.  Originally, all guitars were made with wooden tuning pegs, that pass straight through the head stock, similar to those found on a lute, a violin or oud, as opposed to the modern classical-style guitars’ geared tuning mechanisms.

“Flamenco negra” guitars are called “negra” after the darker of the harder woods used in their construction, similar materials to those of high-end classical guitars, such as rosewood or other dense tone woods. The harder materials increase volume and tonal range. A typical cypress flamenco guitar produces more treble and louder percussion than the more sonorous negra. These guitars strive to capture some of the sustain achieved by concert caliber classical guitars while retaining the volume and attack associated with flamenco.

A well-made flamenco guitar responds quickly, and typically has less sustain than a classical. This is desirable, since the flurry of notes that a good flamenco player can produce might sound muddy on a guitar with a big, lush, sustaining sound. The flamenco guitar’s sound is often described as percussive; it tends to be brighter, drier and more austere than a classical guitar.

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Flamenco is played somewhat differently from classical guitar. Players use different posture, strumming patterns, and techniques. Flamenco guitarists are known as tocaores (from an Andalusian pronunciation of tocadores, “players”) and flamenco guitar technique is known as toque. Flamenco players tend to play the guitar between the sound hole and the bridge, but as closely as possible to the bridge, to produce a harsher, rasping sound quality. Unlike classical tirando, where the strings are pulled parallel to the soundboard, in flamenco apoyando strings are struck towards the soundboard in such way that the striking finger is caught and supported by the next string, hence the name apoyando (from Spanish apoyar meaning “to support”). At times, this style of playing causes the vibrating string to gently touch the frets along its length, causing a more percussive sound.

Flamenco guitar is commonly played using a cejilla (capo) which raises the pitch and causes the guitar to sound sharper and more percussive. However, the main purpose in using a cejilla is to change the key of the guitar to match the singer’s vocal range. Because Flamenco is an improvisational musical form that uses common structures and chord sequences, the capo makes it easier for players who have never played together before to do so. Rather than transcribe to another key each time the singer changes, the player can move the capo and use the same chord positions. Flamenco uses a lot of highly modified and open chord forms to create a solid drone effect and leave at least one finger free to add melodic notes and movement. Very little traditional Flamenco music is written, but is mostly passed on hand to hand. Books, however are becoming more available.

Both accompaniment and solo flamenco guitar are based as much on modal as tonal harmonies –  most often, both are combined. There have been many guitarists who have become a part of the popularized Flamenco scene, such as Paco Peña, Paco De Lucia, Ramon Montoya, Pepe Romero, and Pepe Martinez. My suspicion, based on what I know about Argentine tango, is that there is a world of Flamenco that the general public does not see, and gets only a little taste from what becomes popular and, hence, mainstream.

Flamenco music uses the Flamenco mode which is a harmonic version of the Phyrgian scale with a major 3rd degree. If you can read music, below is a descending E Phrygian scale in flamenco style, with common alterations in parentheses.

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A typical chord sequence, usually called the “Andalusian cadence,” in E is Am–G–F–E. Of course, guitarists play with the “rules” a great deal, and there’s a great deal of variation anyway.

The compás is fundamental to flamenco. Compás is most often translated as rhythm but it demands far more precise interpretation than any other Western style of music. If there is no guitarist available, the compás is rendered through hand clapping (palmas) or by hitting a table with the knuckles. The guitarist uses techniques like strumming (rasgueado) or tapping the soundboard (golpe). Changes of chords emphasize the most important downbeats.

Flamenco uses three basic counts or measures: Binary, Ternary and a form of a twelve-beat cycle that is unique to flamenco. There are also free-form styles including, among others, the tonás, saetas, malagueñas, tarantos, and some types of fandangos. The 12-beat cycle is the most common in flamenco, differentiated by the accentuation of the beats in different palos. The accents do not correspond to the classic concept of the downbeat. The alternating of groups of 2 and 3 beats is also common in Spanish dances of the 16th century such as the zarabanda, jácara and canarios.

The Bulerías is the emblematic palo of flamenco: today its 12-beat cycle is most often played with accents on the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th beats. The accompanying palmas are played in groups of 6 beats, giving rise to a multitude of counter-rhythms and percussive voices within the 12 beat compás. Here’s a video presentation of the beats for Flamenco Bulerías with emphasis [12] 1 2 [3] 4 5 [6] 7 [8] 9 [10] 11 – also the rhythm for the song “America” from  West Side Story.

Enough of theory. Here’s Flamenco master Sabicas:

To celebrate Flamenco let’s make eggs Flamenco, a classic Andalusian dish. You’ll need ovenproof ramekins.

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Eggs Flamenco

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 red peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g fresh tomatoes grated on a cheese grater
1 tsp smoked paprika
8 eggs
8 slices of serrano ham
8 thin slices of chorizo
1 cup of peas frozen/defrosted or fresh
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Instructions

Sauté the onion and peppers slowly over medium-low heat in the olive oil until they are soft.  Add the garlic. Sauté for a minute or two and then add the tomatoes and smoked paprika. Sauté gently for an additional 10 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the vegetables into 4 ramekins, break 2 eggs on top of each and place 2 slices of ham, 2 slices of chorizo and a handful of peas on top.

Preheat the oven to 395°F/200°C and bake the ramekins for about 10 minutes or until the eggs are set but still runny.

Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4

Dec 022016
 

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Leipzig University (Universität Leipzig)was founded on this date in 1409 by Frederick I, Elector of Saxony and his brother William II, Margrave of Meissen. Since its inception, the university has engaged in teaching and research for over 600 years without interruption (although there were a few glitches at the end of WWII because the buildings were all bombed). Famous alumni include Leibniz, Goethe, Ranke, Nietzsche, and Wagner. The university was modeled on the University of Prague, from which the German-speaking faculty members withdrew to Leipzig after the Jan Hus crisis and the Decree of Kutná Hora — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decree_of_Kutn%C3%A1_Hora . The Alma mater Lipsiensis opened in 1409, after it had been officially endorsed by Pope Alexander V in his Bull of Acknowledgment on (September 9 of that year). Its first rector was Johann von Münsterberg. From its foundation, the Paulinerkirche served as the university church. After the Reformation, the church and the monastery buildings were donated to the university in 1544.

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Like many European universities of the time, the university of Leipzig was originally structured into colleges (Collegia) responsible for accommodation of students (and some lecturers), and collegiate teaching. Among the colleges of Leipzig were the Small College, the Large College, the Red College (also known as the New College), the College of our Lady and, the Pauliner-College. The college structure was eventually abandoned and today only the names survive.

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During the first centuries, the university grew slowly and was a rather regional institution. Today, following major expansion in the 19th century, many aspects of the history of the University can only be found in its Art Collection. Practically no trace is left of the early university’s original buildings, as they were continually being rebuilt in more modern styles and on a grander scale. The oldest college buildings were located in the south-western part of the medieval city, between the Schlossgasse and the Petersstraße, where the city council had allocated buildings for the use of graduates even before the official founding of the university. Later expanded to the “Kleines Fürstenkolleg”, these buildings housed the Faculty of Law from 1508 onwards (first called the “Petrinum” and referred to as the “Juridicum” since 1881). The main university center, however, was situated on the eastern rim of the medieval city, in the “Latin Quarter” between the city wall (now the Goethestraße) and the Ritterstraße. The complex of buildings became the seat of the Faculty of Arts (artes liberales). The new center included the “Großes Fürstenkolleg” complete with dormitories (“Bursen”), a large heated lecture hall (“Vaporarium”), which also served as an assembly hall (“Nationenstube”).

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Leipzig’s most famous food specialty is Leipiziger Allerlei (Leipzig All Things), an originally vegetable dish which is sometimes now also served as a side dish. During the 19th and 20th centuries it gained widespread renown and underwent many modifications, but the history of Leipziger Allerlei” is not entirely clear. One legend, probably false, has it that the dish was originally developed as a ruse to protect the rich residents of the city from tax collectors and beggars in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. These visitors would be served a vegetable dish only to demonstrate that there was no money in the household to buy meat. However, there exists a 1745 recipe for the dish, well before Napoleonic times, but there may still be some truth to the legend.

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These days, versions of “Leipziger Allerlei” can be found in the freezer section of just about any German supermarket but these are pretty pallid offerings. According to the traditional recipe, the ingredients should include morel mushrooms, crayfish tails, and bread dumplings in addition to the assortment of baby vegetables – carrots, kohlrabi, asparagus and cauliflower. Authentic fresh Leipziger Allerlei is served in June, at the start of the asparagus season, when the closed season for crayfish is over and the other vegetables are ready for harvest.

Today some of the ingredients are considered delicacies in Germany, especially the crayfish, because in 1876 a disease, accidentally introduced from North America, decimated the German population and they are now very rare locally. Nowadays, dried morels are usually used in place of the original fresh Lorchel (Gyromitra esculenta) which can cause severe poisoning or be fatal if not cooked properly. Outside of Scandinavia you are unlikely to find fresh Lorchel. The basic vegetable mixture itself consists traditionally of white asparagus, peas, carrots and cauliflower. Originally all the vegetables were individually cooked to preserve their own taste. With a stove with four burners, however, this is hardly possible, especially as bread dumplings and sauce alone require two burners. Krebsbutter is butter flavored with crab shells that can be made at home, but Germans normally buy it. Leipziger Allerlei is a festive dish, that takes time and effort, but is suitable for celebrating the founding of Leipzig University. Here is a traditional recipe:

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Leipziger Allerlei

Ingredients:

20 freshly cooked crayfish
25 g dried morels
200 g fresh white bread in slices, crusts removed
200 ml whole milk
2 eggs
salt and pepper
150 g of butter
180 g fresh peas
400 g cauliflower, cut in florets
12 small, thin carrots, peeled
12 stalks white asparagus, tough stems removed
sugar
30 g flour
1 tbsp Krebsbutter
200 ml of cream
2-4 tbsp dry white wine
fresh chervil

Instructions

Twist off the tails of the crayfish and reserve. Use the bodies for garnish.

Pour warm water over the morels to cover in a bowl.

Chop the white bread in a food processor with the milk.

Separate the eggs. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Whip 50 g of butter until smooth. Add the egg yolks to the butter and mix. Add the egg whites, yolks and butter to the white bread mix, season with salt to taste, mix thoroughly, cover, and chill.

Poach each vegetable in a separate pot. Remove with a slotted spoon when al dente and keep warm. Reserve the cooking  liquids. Mix them and reserve 250 ml.

Form about 20 dumplings from the dumpling dough with moistened hands. Boil in 2 liters of boiling salt water for 8 minutes.

Remove the morels from the water. Squeeze them vigorously and reserve 75 ml of the water.

Make the sauce by creaming 80 g butter with the flour and krebsbutter. Mix the vegetable stock, morel water, and the cream in a small pan. Bring to a slow boil and add the butter-flour mixture, small pieces at a time, stirring all the time. Add the white wine, season with salt and pepper to taste, then simmer for about 2 minutes until thickened.

Heat the crayfish tails and morels in the remaining butter.

Remove the dumplings from the water with a slotted spoon and place them on a preheated plate.  Place the vegetables around the dumplings and pour the morels and crayfish over the vegetables. Pour the sauce over the dumplings and garnish with chopped chervil.