Dec 312017
 

On this date in 1853 a celebrated New Year’s Eve dinner was held in the mold of the Iguanodon being used at the time in the construction of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs. It was immortalized in an image in the Illustrated London News (above). Following the closure of the Great Exhibition in October 1851, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace was bought and moved to Penge Place on Sydenham Hill, South London by the newly formed Crystal Palace Company. The grounds that surrounded it were then extensively renovated and turned into a public park with ornamental gardens, replicas of statues and two new artificial lakes. As part of this renovation, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was commissioned to build the first-ever life-sized models of extinct animals. He had originally planned to just re-create extinct mammals before deciding on building dinosaurs as well, which he did with advice from Sir Richard Owen, a celebrated biologist and paleontologist of the time. Hawkins set up a workshop on site at the park and built the models there. The models were displayed on three islands acting as a rough timeline, the first island for the Paleozoic era, a second for the Mesozoic, and a third for the Cenozoic. The models were given more realism by making the water level in the lake rise and fall, revealing different parts of the dinosaurs. To mark the launch of the models, Hawkins held a special dinner on New Year’s Eve 1853 inside the mold of one of the Iguanodon models, although the exact location of the dinner has been disputed. The mold does not appear to be big enough to accommodate all the invited guests, but there may have been some seated in the mold and some beside it.

Specially engraved invitations were sent out bearing the following:

Mr Waterhouse Hawkins requests the honour of — at dinner in the mould of the Iguanodon at the Crystal Palace on Saturday evening December the 31st at five o’clock 1853 An answer will oblige.

The scene shown in the Illustrated London News depicts a collection of gentlemen sitting around a table inside one of the Iguanodon models under construction over the winter 1853-54. In the image, waiters deliver dinner. On the floor are pieces of the mold used to cast the model. Different reports put Richard Owen at the head of the table and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins standing center and facing the viewer. The model is surrounded by a tent decorated with a chandelier and four plaques honoring famous paleontologists (William Buckland, Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen, Gideon Mantell). Because the Iguanodon model stood so tall, a stage was required for waiters and guests to get inside.

This picture in Illustrated London News was based on a drawing made by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, preserved in the Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University. This drawing was meant to be a report to the geologist Joseph Prestwich, but Waterhouse Hawkins intended it for wider circulation. At the time, much was made of the fact that Professor Richard Owen was placed at the head of the table – quite literally, sitting where the brain was located. Waterhouse Hawkins’ drawing was accompanied by a small report.

THE DINNER IN THE MOULD OF THE IGUANODON

Given by Mr. B Waterhouse Hawkins

To Prof R Owen, Prof Edward Forbes, Mr Joseph Prestwich and 18 other Scientific and literary gentlemen at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham on the 31st of December 1853

The Restoration of the lguanodon was one of the largest and earliest completed of Mr Waterhouse Hawkins’ gigantic models measuring thirty feet from the nose to the end of the tail, of that quantity the body with the neck contained about fifteen feet which when the pieces of the mould that formed the ridge of the back were removed the body presented the appearance of a wide open Boot with on enclosed arch seven feet high at both ends. The arch in the head of the animal was occupied by Prof R Owen the celebrated Palaeontologist who with Prof Edward Forbes liberally aided Mr Waterhouse Hawkins with counsel and scientific criticism during the whole time occupied by his unique, arduous and successful undertaking. The wider arch at the opposite end was filled by Mr Francis Fuller the Managing Director of the Crystal Palace with Prof Edward Forbes on his right and a musical friend on his left whose delightful singing greatly increased the pleasure of a memorable evening. The two sides contain nine seats each that in centre of left was occupied by Mr Hawkins as host and Chairman, was supported on his right by Mr Joseph Prestwich one of his earliest pupils & constant friend during the previous twenty five years. Mr John Gould FRS was on his left.

There was an eight-course dinner, details of which we know from copies of the menu card:

Soups: Mock Turtle, Julien, Hare

Fish: Cod and Oyster Sauce, Fillets of Whiting, Turbot à l’Hollandaise

Removes: Roast Turkey, Ham, Raised Pigeon Pie, Boiled Chicken and Celery Sauce

Entrées: Cotolettes de Moutonaux Tomates, Currie de Lapereaux au riz, Salmi de Perdrix, Mayonnaise de filets de Sole

Game: Pheasants, Woodcocks, Snipes

Sweets: Macedoine Jelly, Orange Jelly, Bavaroise, Charlotte Russe, French Pastry, Nougat à la Chantilly, Buisson de Meringue aux Confiture

Dessert: Grapes, Apples, Pears, Almonds and Raisins, French Plums, Pines, Filberts, Walnuts &c, &c

Wines: Sherry, Madeira, Port, Moselle, Claret

Many newspapers reported the event in the following days. All press accounts followed the tongue-in-cheek spirit of holiday celebrations. For example, Punch reported “Fun in a Fossil” (1854 volume 26 page 24),

The world of scientific gastronomy will learn with interest that Professors Owen and Forbes, with a party of other gentlemen, numbering altogether 21, had an exceedingly good dinner, the other day, in the interior of the Iguanodon modelled at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. We congratulate the company on the era in which they live; for if it had been an early geological period, they might perhaps have occupied the Iguanodon’s inside without having any dinner there.

The London Quarterly Review asked,

Saurians, Pterodactyls all! . . . Dreamed ye ever . . . of a race to come dwelling above your tombs and dining on your ghosts.

Hawkins benefited greatly from the public’s reaction to the dinosaurs, including the publicity generated by the dinner in the Iguanodon. He was able to sell sets of small versions of the dinosaur models, priced at £30, for educational use. But the building of the models was costly (around £14,000 each) and in 1855, the Crystal Palace Company cut Hawkins’s funding. Several planned models were never made, while those that were half finished were scrapped, despite protests from sources including the Sunday newspaper, The Observer.

With progress in paleontology, the reputation of the models declined. In 1895, the US fossil hunter Othniel Charles Marsh scorned the inaccuracy of the models. The models and the park fell into disrepair as the years went by, a process aided by the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace itself in 1936, and the models became obscured by overgrown foliage. A full restoration of the animals was carried out in 1952 by Victor H.C. Martin, at which time the mammals on the third island were moved to less well-protected locations in the park, where they were exposed to wear and tear. The limestone cliff was blown up in the 1960s.

In 2002, the display was totally renovated. The destroyed limestone cliff was completely replaced using 130 large blocks of Derbyshire limestone, many weighing over 1 ton, rebuilt according to a small model made from the same number of polystyrene blocks. Fiberglass replacements were created for the missing sculptures, and badly damaged parts of the surviving models were recast.

The menu for the meal gives you ample scope for celebratory dishes, and might inspire a New Year’s Eve feast of your own.  Here’s Isabella Beeton’s recipe for Charlotte Russe, which would be perfectly in keeping with the times. If you like, you can add a topping of seasonal fruits. I’m fond of berries. Beeton’s cautions about unmolding the dessert are well taken. I butter a spring-form pan, line it with greaseproof paper, and set the lady fingers in right-side-up. Then fill with the cream mix, let set in the refrigerator, then loose the spring-form. Molding upside-down in a fixed mold, and turning out by inverting is a recipe for disaster.

CHARLOTTE RUSSE.

(An Elegant Sweet Entremets.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—About 18 Savoy biscuits, 3/4 pint of cream, flavouring of vanilla, liqueurs, or wine, 1 tablespoonful of pounded sugar, 1/2 oz. of isinglass.

Mode.—Procure about 18 Savoy biscuits, or ladies’-fingers, as they are sometimes called; brush the edges of them with the white of an egg, and line the bottom of a plain round mould, placing them like a star or rosette. Stand them upright all round the edge; carefully put them so closely together that the white of the egg connects them firmly, and place this case in the oven for about 5 minutes, just to dry the egg. Whisk the cream to a stiff froth, with the sugar, flavouring, and melted isinglass; fill the charlotte with it, cover with a slice of sponge-cake cut in the shape of the mould; place it in ice, where let it remain till ready for table; then turn it on a dish, remove the mould, and serve. 1 tablespoonful of liqueur of any kind, or 4 tablespoonfuls of wine, would nicely flavour the above proportion of cream. For arranging the biscuits in the mould, cut them to the shape required, so that they fit in nicely, and level them with the mould at the top, that, when turned out, there may be something firm to rest upon. Great care and attention is required in the turning out of this dish, that the cream does not burst the case; and the edges of the biscuits must have the smallest quantity of egg brushed over them, or it would stick to the mould, and so prevent the charlotte from coming away properly.

Time.—5 minutes in the oven.

Average cost, with cream at 1s. per pint, 2s.

Sufficient for 1 charlotte. Seasonable at any time.

Dec 302017
 

Today is the birthday (159 CE) of Lady Bian, also known as Empress Dowager Bian, and formally known as Empress Wuxuan, empress dowager of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China. She was the wife of Cao Cao, a warlord who rose to power in the late Eastern Han dynasty and laid the foundation of Wei. She gave birth to Cao Pi, who ended the Han Dynasty and founded Wei in 220 after his father’s death. Lady Bian is especially noted for her wisdom in action, as well as her kindness and humility at a time when rulers were cruel and ruthless.

Lady Bian was born in 159 in Bai Village (白亭), Qi Commandery (齊郡; in present-day Shandong) although her family was registered in Langya Commandery (琅琊郡; in present-day southeastern Shandong). Because her family was poor, she became a courtesan in a brothel when she was young. When she was 20, Cao Cao took her as a concubine.

In 189, when Cao Cao fled from Dong Zhuo at Luoyang, Yuan Shu spread rumours that Cao Cao had died. Lady Bian refused to believe them and persuaded Cao Cao’s followers not to desert him. When Cao Cao returned, he was impressed by her conduct. She had four sons by Cao Cao – Cao Pi, Cao Zhang, Cao Zhi and Cao Xiong. After the death of Cao Cao’s eldest son Cao Ang, Cao Cao’s wife Lady Ding  left him, never coming back even after he asked for forgiveness many times. Lady Ding was not actually Cao Ang’s biological mother; she had adopted him as her own. Cao Cao then made Lady Bian his principal wife. Lady Bian still treated Lady Ding kindly afterward, however. In 219 (after Cao Cao had been made the king of Wei in 216), Emperor Xian of Han made her the Queen of Wei. She was known for her wisdom and humility. She was particularly praised for refusing to celebrate lavishly (as her attendants had suggested) when her son Cao Pi was made heir in 217.

Cao Cao

After Cao Cao died in 220, Cao Pi inherited his title as the king of Wei, and later that year forced Emperor Xian to abdicate in his favor, ending the Han dynasty and establishing the state of Cao Wei. Queen Dowager Bian became empress dowager. She was not much involved in her son’s administration or in his campaigns against Cao Wei’s rival states, Eastern Wu and Shu Han. She, in particular, refused to grant her family excessive wealth or titles, setting an example for the rest of Cao Wei’s history. One incident that in which she engaged herself happened in 226, when Cao Pi wanted to execute Cao Cao’s cousin Cao Hong due to previous grudges between them. She, remembering the contributions that Cao Hong made – including one occasion when he personally saved Cao Cao’s life – rebuked Cao Pi sufficiently that he spared Cao Hong’s life, although Cao Hong’s offices and titles were still stripped from him.

Cao Pi

After Cao Pi died in 226, his son Cao Rui became emperor, and he honored his grandmother as grand empress dowager. In 227, she was inadvertently insulted by her granddaughter-in-law Princess Yu – Princess Yu had been Cao Rui’s wife when he was Prince of Pingyuan, but after he became emperor, he did not make her empress, but made his concubine Lady Mao as empress instead. She was upset, and Empress Dowager Bian tried to console her, and her response was, “the Caos have a tradition for favoring dishonorable women,” forgetting that Empress Dowager Bian was formerly a courtesan. Empress Dowager Bian was greatly offended, but did not punish her further than having her sent back to Cao Ruis’ princely manor house.

Empress Dowager Bian died in 230, and she was buried with honors due an empress dowager, with her husband Cao Cao. Lady Bian now appears from time to time in modern card games as well as in online RPGs.

The Qimin Yaoshu (齐民要术) is the most completely preserved of the ancient Chinese agricultural texts, and was written by the Northern Wei Dynasty official Jia Sixie. The book is believed to have been completed in the 2nd year of Wu Ding of Eastern Wei, 544 CE, while another account gives the completion between 533 and 544 CE. The text of the book is divided into ten volumes and 92 chapters, and records 1500-year-old Chinese agronomy, horticulture, afforestation, sericulture, animal husbandry, veterinary medicine, breeding, brewing, cooking, storage, as well as remedies for barren land. The book is not really in our time period but it quotes nearly 200 ancient sources including the Yiwu Zhi (written by Yang Fu (fl. 210s–230s), courtesy name Yishan, who was an official of the state of Cao Wei).  It also quotes agricultural books such as Fàn shèng zhī shū (氾勝之書) and Sì mín yuè lìng (四民月令) from the Hàn and Jìn Dynasties which are also now lost, providing some insight into farming and cooking in Lady Bian’s era. There are 280 recipes in the text.

This site, http://brewing.alecstory.org/2017/02/a-few-cooking-recipes.html gives both text and translation of some of the recipes which I will quote verbatim. The ancient Chinese is not easy to translate. Furthermore, the quantities given are obscure, although it should be noted that quantities are given, which was not true of recipes in the West of the period, or even later.

There are quantities here that I should explain before we dive in.

Weight

1 jin = 16 liang

 A reasonable guess of the weight in this period and locality in modern units is that 1 jin is 440 grams.
Volume
1 dan = 10 dou

1 dou = 10 sheng

1 sheng = 10 ge

A reasonable estimate of the volume in this period in modern units is that 1 dou is 3 liters.

臛法第七十六 Chapter 76: Methods for Stew and Broth.

《食經》作芋子酸臛法:To Make Taro Seed Sour Broth:

「豬羊肉各一斤,水一斗,煮令熟。 “One jin each of pork and sheep meat, one dou of water, boil until cooked.
成治芋子一升——別蒸之——蔥白一升,著肉中合煮,使熟。 One sheng of ripe taro seeds — separately steamed — one sheng of the whites of scallions, add it to the meat and boil together, until cooked.
粳米三合,鹽一合,豉汁一升,苦酒五合,口調其味,生薑十兩。得臛一斗。 Add three ge of polished non-glutinous rice, one ge of salt, one sheng of the juice from fermented beans, five ge of bitter wine, to taste.  Add ten liang fresh ginger [this is a ton of ginger, 30% ginger by weight in the recipe.  Maybe just one liang].  Yields one dou.”

There you go! Have at it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernest Hemingway’s Favorite Hamburger Recipe

Dec 292017
 

Today is the feast of king David in a few Western Christian traditions. The theology is a bit murky here, but celebrating David within the Christmas season makes sense if you follow the logic of the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Jesus was the Messiah (anointed one) in 1st century Christian tradition which means that he had to be descended from David, and born in David’s birthplace, Bethlehem. One puzzle that the patristic fathers had to solve was whether people born before Jesus was born could become saints, that is, ascend to Paradise. After all, they could not confess him as Lord and Savior, because they were dead. If you make that confession a criterion you are stuck having to do what Dante did in the Inferno, assigning them to limbo for eternity – neither heaven nor hell. Limbo is sort of like earth without all the pain and death stuff. Plato and Aristotle are there too, according to Dante. Patristic fathers solved the puzzle by asserting that Jesus went down to hell on his death and before his resurrection and saved all the souls there. Case closed. This is the stuff that theologians come up with when they accept the Biblical narrative as it stands, but then use Aristotelian logic to sort out the problems. David presents us with just as many historical problems, starting with the fact that he may not have existed, and the splendid kingdom that he, and his son Solomon, ruled over almost certainly did not.

David is described in the Hebrew Bible as the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah. In the biblical narrative, David is a young shepherd who first gains fame as a musician and later by killing Goliath. He becomes a favorite of king Saul, first king over the united tribes of Israel, and a close friend of Saul’s son Jonathan. Worried that David is trying to take his throne, Saul turns on David. After Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle, David is anointed as king. David conquers Jerusalem, taking the Ark of the Covenant into the city, and establishing the kingdom founded by Saul.

As king, David arranges the death of Uriah the Hittite to cover his adultery with Bathsheba. According to the same biblical text, God denies David the opportunity to build the temple and his son, Absalom, tries to overthrow him. David flees Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion, but after Absalom’s death in battle, he returns to the city to rule Israel. Before his peaceful death, after a lifetime of troubles with his sons, he chooses his youngest son Solomon as his successor. He is mentioned in the prophetic literature as an ideal king and an ancestor of a future Messiah, and many psalms are ascribed to him.

Historians of the Ancient Near East agree that if David existed at all it was around 1000 BCE, but that there is little that can be said about him as a historical figure outside the Biblical narratives. There is no direct evidence outside of the Bible concerning David, but the Tel Dan Stele, an inscribed stone erected by a king of Damascus in the late 9th/early 8th centuries BCE to commemorate his victory over two enemy kings, contains the phrase ביתדוד (bytdwd), which most scholars quite reasonably translate as “House of David” (beyth dawid). Ancient Near East historians, following archeology, generally doubt that the united monarchy as described in the Bible existed, but, instead, is a construct of 6th century priests – the Deuteronomists.

One Biblical history of Israel and Judah is called Deuteronomic history by many modern Biblical scholars because it has the hallmarks of one continuous narrative making a strategic political/theological point. These books are called Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy and Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel, and I & II Kings in the Protestant canon, and flow from Moses and the exodus, the desert wandering, and the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, into the period when the 12 tribes were individual nations with their own territories and rulers, forming a loose confederation that was united occasionally under Judges (שופטים šōp̄əṭîm/shoftim). The Judges united the tribes for as long as necessary, and then went back to being regular guys. Saul changed that when he confronted a number of enemies, especially the Philistines, and instead of going back to normal life, became king of the tribes. David eventually overthrew him and established a dynasty in the kingdom of Judah that is described in detail in II Kings. The final king in that line was supposed to be Josiah, whom the Deuteronomists believed was the new Messiah (anointed king) in the line of David, who would overthrow the oppression of Judah by Egypt and Babylon and establish a glorious kingdom to rival David’s and Solomon’s. Unfortunately, Josiah was killed in the battle on the plain of Megiddo the Hebrew of which gives us the English word Armageddon. From that point on the propaganda had to be rethought.

We will probably never know what sources the Deuteronomists used; most of them may have been oral. The Tel Dan Stele that mentions the House of David is likely referring to a dynasty of the kingdom of Judah which traced its ancestry to a founder named David. Anthropology can step in here. We’re pretty good with kinship and genealogy. Both the temple priests and the Deuteronomists (as well as Luke and Matthew) used genealogy as the skeleton on which to hang their histories. As all anthropologists know well, the person who is at the head of a specific genealogy gives his character to all the people who follow in his line. Jacob was a cunning, but Godly, man who wrestled with an angel (or God) and almost won. His name was changed to Is – ra – el which in Hebrew sounds like “the man who contends with God.” His sons became the sons (tribes) of Israel, and they too were all cunning and contended with God. The founder is the spirit of the nation.  Judah’s putative dynastic founder was David who came from one of Israel’s youngest sons, and was, himself, the youngest son, as was his successor Solomon.  There’s a key point here. Typically, the eldest son inherits, but throughout the Torah and into Deuteronomistic history, it’s the youngest who inherits.  Why?  The simple answer is that at one time, the supposed Davidic era, Judah was nothing but an insignificant hill country backwater. But its (related neighbor), Israel, was rich and powerful.  However, Israel was eventually destroyed by Assyria, and much of the population was deported and lost to history (the lost tribes of Israel). Judah (the poor young relative) survived, by paying tribute to Assyria rather than fighting. The youngest survived by being smart.

What I’m getting at is that genealogical history is designed to fit the propaganda narrative, not the historical facts. If David existed at all he would have been a tribal leader, in Hebrew a nagid (leader or prince), rather than a melek (king). In fact, David is often referred to as a nagid. Legends undoubtedly accrued to him and were embellished and amplified through oral tradition, until we end up with the propaganda hero whom Josiah is meant to emulate. Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians will take me to task over my interpretation. Let them. You can believe what you want to believe. The Deuteronomists did. It all has to do with how you see your identity. I’m not going to debate such issues: it’s a waste of time – mine and theirs. Cooking is more productive.

For David I’ve chosen a dish that may well have been common in 10th century Judah. It’s certainly very common throughout the Middle East and North Africa now.  That is, mulukhiyah, (or mloukhiya, molokhia, molokhiya, mulukhiyya, malukhiyah, or moroheiya (Arabic: ملوخية‎, Hebrew: מלוחיה), the leaves of Corchorus olitorius, commonly used as a vegetable in soups or stews that give their name to the whole dish. It is popular in Middle East, East African and North African countries. Mulukhiyyah is rather bitter, and when boiled, the resulting liquid is a thick, highly mucilaginous broth. Traditionally mulukhiyyah is cooked with chicken or at least chicken stock for flavor and is served with white rice, accompanied with lemon or lime.

The Standard Molokhia dish in the Levant is prepared by cooking a meat of some sort in a separate pot by boiling. Later onions and garlic are cooked to a simmer, then water and chicken stock cubes are added to form a broth. After boiling, the cooked chicken or meat and Molokhia leaves are added and further cooked another 15 minutes. Palestinians will serve Molokhia on a bed of rice topped with vermicelli noodles, and lemon juice and flat bread on the side. Palestinian Bedu ( بَدَوِي ) have an old tradition of cooking a different version of the dish. A whole chicken is cut open, the intestines removed, and the innards stuffed with herbs, spices and raw rice then sewn shut with thick thread. The chicken is then boiled to create the broth for the Molokhia soup which, after preparation, is served as five separate components: The Molokhia soup, Arabic flat bread, the chicken (stuffed with flavored rice), additional plain rice and a small bowl with a mixture of lemon juice and sliced chile. The soup is mixed with rice and lemon juice according to taste, while the chicken is eaten on a separate plate.

I’d wager that you are not going to find mulukhiyah in your local supermarket, but you might be able to get it frozen online. You can also get seeds online to grow it yourself, but that won’t be much help for cooking any time soon.  Here’s a good recipe anyway, in case you luck out. Some Middle Eastern cooks are assessed locally according to their ability to make a good mulukhiya. The key is to make sure not to overcook the mulukhiya. If you do, the leaves will sink to the bottom and the soup/stew will be heavy.

Mulukhiya

Ingredients

1 kg mulukhiya
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
½ tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
5 cardamom pods
6 boneless chicken breasts
olive oil
20 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp dried coriander
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Instructions

If you have frozen mulukhiya, let it thaw thoroughly. If you have fresh leaves, parboil them in a large pot of fresh water.

In a separate pot, place the onion, chicken, and bay leaf. Cover with chicken stock and add the cardamom pods tied up in a muslin or cheesecloth bag. Add salt to taste. Bring to the boil and simmer until the chicken is just tender (25 to 30 minutes).

Remove the cardamom pods and bay leaf and discard. Remove the chicken breasts with a slotted spoon. Cut them into strips and then fry them in batches in olive oil in a clean skillet until they take on a little color.

Meanwhile use a slotted spoon to take the onion out of the soup, mash it and return it to the soup along with the fried chicken strips.  Add the thawed, or parboiled, mulukhiya and simmer for about 5 minutes. Do not overcook them. They must remain floating at or near the top.

Mix together the crushed garlic and the dried coriander and fry it in the olive oil left from frying the chicken until it is barely golden. Add to the boiling mulukhiya and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.

Serve hot in deep bowls with flatbread.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Dec 282017
 

Today is the birthday (1903) of John von Neumann (born, Neumann János Lajos) legendary mathematician who could well lay claim to being the greatest mathematician of all time, if I were given to superlatives. He made major contributions to a number of fields, including pure mathematics (foundations of mathematics, functional analysis, ergodic theory, representation theory, operator algebras, geometry, topology, and numerical analysis), physics (quantum mechanics, hydrodynamics, and quantum statistical mechanics), economics (game theory), computing (Von Neumann architecture, linear programming, self-replicating machines, stochastic computing), and statistics. Quite a mouthful. Next to von Neumann, the iconic genius, Einstein, who had an office down the hall from von Neumann at Princeton for many years, was second rate. Yet von Neumann tends to be forgotten in the popular mind these days, except perhaps indirectly when people refer to a “zero-sum game” which was a small part of the game theory he invented.

Writing something both interesting and useful – as well as being brief –  about von Neumann is a real challenge. I won’t say too much about his mathematical genius except to say that he was the rare person, indeed, who could see mathematical problems in their totality almost instantly, and could solve them almost as fast, because, unlike most other mathematical geniuses, he usually did not have to wade through calculations to find a solution, but could see the big picture with paths leading in and out intuitively. Such a mathematical mind does not come along very often.

Georg Pólya wrote that von Neumann was,

The only student of mine I was ever intimidated by. He was so quick. There was a seminar for advanced students in Zürich that I was teaching and von Neumann was in the class. I came to a certain theorem, and I said it is not proved and it may be difficult. Von Neumann didn’t say anything but after five minutes he raised his hand. When I called on him he went to the blackboard and proceeded to write down the proof. After that I was afraid of von Neumann.

I’m not sure whether I would include von Neumann on my list of people (alive or dead) I would like to have dinner with.  By all accounts he had a decent sense of humor, and was a good storyteller, but he could also be crudely insensitive, and tell off-color jokes without concern that he might offend.  His interest in women was strictly sexual, and the secretaries at Los Alamos had to put cardboard modesty screens on the front of their desks because he would quite blatantly ogle their legs when he was in the room even though he was a married man. I would go as far as to say that despite being an exceptionally intelligent man, he had little grasp of certain fundamental principles of living. In fact, he acknowledged as much on many occasions.  This famous quote may be the most telling:

If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.

An interesting quote to parse on many levels. There is no doubt that van Neumann found mathematics simple, even mathematical problems that stumped great minds. By comparison, he thought that life was much more complex, and, by implication, cannot be reduced to mathematical models. At one point he said:

There probably is a God. Many things are easier to explain if there is than if there isn’t.

Von Neumann took Pascal’s wager when he was near death and embraced Catholicism, while being overtly agnostic all his life (even though he was baptized in 1930 after his father’s death and before he married, for convenience only). Pascal argued that if death is the end, then you lose nothing by being a Christian. But if death leads to heaven or hell, it would be much better to die a Christian than not. Either way you win. The small trick here, which von Neumann apparently did not allow for, is that you have to be a believer, not just a Christian according to the letter of the law. Naturally he chose Catholicism for his church, presumably knowing that the Catholic church (overtly) places higher value on correct action over correct belief. This stance led to the Protestant Reformation, so, as an ordained Calvinist minister, you know what I think of von Neumann’s “conversion.” On the other hand, I don’t see it as a great sin.  If it brought him peace at the time of his death, it was worth it. As far as I am concerned, dogma, whether it be Catholic or Protestant, is worthless.

Von Neumann was born Neumann János Lajos to a wealthy, acculturated and non-observant Jewish family. His Hebrew name was Yonah. Von Neumann was born in Budapest, then in the kingdom of Hungary, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, Neumann Miksa (English: Max Neumann) was a banker, who held a doctorate in law. He had moved to Budapest from Pécs at the end of the 1880s. In 1913, his father was elevated to the nobility for his service to the Austro-Hungarian Empire by Emperor Franz Joseph. The Neumann family thus acquired the hereditary appellation Margittai, meaning from Marghita (even though the family had no connection with the town). János became Margittai Neumann János (John Neumann of Marghita), which he later changed to the German Johann von Neumann.

Von Neumann was a child prodigy. As a 6 year old, he could divide two 8-digit numbers in his head, and, reputedly, could converse in ancient Greek. Formal schooling did not start in Hungary until the age of 10. Instead, governesses taught von Neumann, his brothers and his cousins. His father believed that knowledge of languages other than Hungarian was essential, so the children were tutored in English, French, German and Italian. By the age of 8, von Neumann was familiar with differential and integral calculus, but he was particularly interested in history, reading his way through Wilhelm Oncken’s 46-volume Allgemeine Geschichte in Einzeldarstellungen.

Von Neumann entered the Lutheran Fasori Evangelikus Gimnázium in 1911. This was one of the best schools in Budapest, part of a specialized education system designed for the elite. The school system produced a generation noted for intellectual achievement, that included Theodore von Kármán (b. 1881), George de Hevesy (b. 1885), Leó Szilárd (b. 1898), Dennis Gabor (b. 1900), Eugene Wigner (b. 1902), Edward Teller (b. 1908), and Paul Erdős (b. 1913). Collectively, they were sometimes known as Martians. Wigner was a year ahead of von Neumann at the Lutheran School. When asked why the Hungary of his generation had produced so many geniuses, Wigner, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, replied that von Neumann was the only genius.

Although his father insisted von Neumann attend school at the grade level appropriate to his age, he agreed to hire private tutors to give him advanced instruction in those areas in which he had displayed an aptitude. At the age of 15, he began to study advanced calculus under the renowned analyst Gábor Szegő. On their first meeting, Szegő was so astounded with the boy’s mathematical talent that he was brought to tears. By the age of 19, von Neumann had published two major mathematical papers, the second of which gave the modern definition of ordinal numbers, which superseded Georg Cantor’s definition. Von Neumann entered Pázmány Péter University in Budapest, as a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics in 1923, even though his father tried to steer him towards chemical engineering as a more profitable career. For his doctoral thesis, he chose to produce an axiomatization of Cantor’s set theory. He passed his final examinations for his Ph.D. in 1926 and then went to the University of Göttingen on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to study mathematics under David Hilbert. He completed his habilitation on December 13, 1927, and he started his lectures as a privatdozent at the University of Berlin in 1928, being the youngest person (24 years old) ever elected privatdozent in its history in any subject. By the end of 1927, von Neumann had published 12 major papers in mathematics, and by the end of 1929, 32 papers, at a rate of nearly one major paper per month. In 1929, he briefly became a privatdozent at the University of Hamburg, where the prospects of becoming a tenured lecturer were better, but in October of that year a better offer presented itself when he was invited to Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1933, he was offered a lifetime professorship on the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, which is separate from the university, and had been founded 3 years earlier. He remained a mathematics professor there until his death.

Von Neumann’s personal values are pretty much an open book. He liked to eat and drink, and his second wife, Klara, said that “he could count everything except calories”. He enjoyed Yiddish and crude humor (especially limericks). He was a non-smoker. At Princeton he received complaints for regularly playing extremely loud German march music on his gramophone, which distracted those in neighboring offices, including Albert Einstein, from their work. Von Neumann did some of his best work in noisy, chaotic environments, and once admonished his wife for preparing a quiet study for him to work in. He never used it, preferring the couple’s living room with its television playing loudly. Despite being a notoriously bad driver, he nonetheless enjoyed driving—frequently while reading a book—occasioning numerous arrests, as well as accidents. When Cuthbert Hurd hired him as a consultant to IBM, Hurd often quietly paid the fines for his traffic tickets. Von Neumann once said,

I was proceeding down the road. The trees on the right were passing me in orderly fashion at 60 miles per hour. Suddenly one of them stepped in my path.

The paradox that intrigues me concerns his work on the Manhattan project. He was called in, for several weeks at a time, to help solve the problem of getting the fissionable material in a nuclear bomb to explode. Without von Neumann’s equations on implosion it is unlikely that the Manhattan project would have been successful, certainly not at the rate that it was. Without getting too technical the problem is fairly easy to state simplistically. To get fissionable material to set off an explosive chain reaction it has to be of a certain shape, mass, and density. Von Neumann worked on the concept of an explosive lens that, via conventional explosives, would cause the fissionable material to implode, forcing it into a compact spherical shape that would trigger a nuclear explosion.  As best as I can tell, von Neumann saw this as a technical problem, and was not particularly concerned about the lives that would be lost should the bomb be detonated. Indeed, he was present at several experimental explosions set off in the New Mexico desert, and it seems likely that his exposure to radioactive material is what caused the cancer that killed him.

After the war he became what many see as the prototype for Dr Strangelove in that he advocated stockpiling nuclear weapons in the arms race to create what he called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) between the Soviet Union and the United States. His reasoning was that MAD, through stockpiling weapons, would guarantee that they would not be used, rather than the opposite. No rational leader would initiate a first strike if the result would be not just the destruction of the other party, but one’s own destruction also. This reasoning is based, in part, on game theory (which he created), and assumes that the participants in the “game” are rational. That might have been true in von Neumann’s time, but I’m not sure about now. Not least, there are many more countries stockpiling nuclear weapons these days, so the “game” has become considerably more complex.

In 1955, von Neumann was diagnosed with what was either bone or pancreatic cancer. He was not able to accept the proximity of his own death very well, and he invited a Roman Catholic priest, Father Anselm Strittmatter, O.S.B., to visit him for consultation. Von Neumann reportedly said, “So long as there is the possibility of eternal damnation for nonbelievers it is more logical to be a believer at the end,” essentially saying that Pascal had a point. Father Strittmatter administered the last rites to him. On his deathbed, Von Neumann entertained his brother by reciting, by heart and word-for-word, the first few lines of each page of Goethe’s Faust. He died at age 53 on February 8, 1957, at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., under military security lest he reveal military secrets while heavily medicated.

Von Neumann’s wife noted: “He likes sweets and rich dishes, preferably with a good nourishing sauce, based on cream.  He loves Mexican food.  When he was stationed at Los Alamos… he would drive 120 miles to dine at a favorite Mexican restaurant.” This gives you a lot of options to celebrate the man, but I’ll go with pollo a la crema, a classic Mexican dish. You’ll need crema Mexicana, but if you cannot find it, use a mix of half and half heavy cream and sour cream. Crema Mexicana is a cultured cream with a sour, tangy taste, used in sauces.

Pollo a la Crema

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 onion, peeled and sliced
½ cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
½ cup green pepper, seeded and cut into strips
½ tbsp Spanish paprika
½ cup rich chicken stock
1 cup crema Mexicana

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the chicken strips, peppers and onion until the chicken is cooked on the outside and the onions and peppers are soft. Add the cream, mushrooms, paprika and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, uncovered, and simmer for about 5 minutes, or the chicken is tender. Do not overcook. The sauce may be a little thin, but it should be creamy.

Serve hot immediately with refried beans, rice, and flour tortillas.

Dec 272017
 

On this date in 1836, the worst avalanche in English history happened in Lewes in Sussex, on the south coast. I know that initially you want to say, “WHAT !!!! An avalanche in England – on the south coast ???? Are you kidding me?” No, I’m not. Sussex is not in the Alps, it’s true, but the avalanche happened, and 8 people died in it. Not surprisingly, it remains, to this day, the deadliest avalanche on record in the United Kingdom.

The town of Lewes (pronounced /Lewis/) is about 7 miles north of the Sussex coast, on the River Ouse in a gap in the South Downs, and is known in Sussex for its steep hills. I’ve visited Lewes a number of times on my travels in Sussex. I lived in Sussex for 5 years as a small boy, and my mother and her sister were born there. So, I go back once in a while to see old friends, and mooch about. Lewes is a picturesque town, loaded with local historic sites and good places to eat. Hills rise above the town to the east and west, with Cliffe Hill to the east rising to 538 feet (164 meters) above sea level. The hill has a precipitously sloping western edge which dominates the eastern panorama from the town. In 1836, a row of 7 flimsily constructed workers’ cottages called Boulder Row, on South Street, stood immediately at the foot of Cliffe Hill. The total number of inhabitants of Boulder Row is unknown, but contemporary reports indicate that 15 people were in the cottages when the avalanche struck.

The winter of 1836–1837 was exceptionally severe across the whole of Great Britain, with heavy snow, gale force winds and freezing temperatures being recorded in locations all around the country from the end of October 1836 until  April 1837. Very heavy snowfall began across South East England, and in particular over the South Downs, on 24th December 1836, and continued unabated over the Christmas period. Strong winds at the same time created blizzard conditions, with reports of snowdrifts over 10 feet high in some areas of Lewes. Unknown to the inhabitants of the town, the accumulation of snow at the top of Cliffe Hill, driven by a particularly severe gale on Christmas night, had been forming into a large cornice overhanging its almost sheer western edge. On the evening preceding the disaster, a significant build-up of snow was observed falling from the top of the hill into a timber yard close to Boulder Row. The inhabitants were warned that they could be at risk and were advised to leave their homes until the danger had passed, but for their own reasons they chose to ignore the warning.

At 10.15 on the morning of Tuesday 27 December the cornice collapsed more extensively, producing an enormous avalanche of accumulated snow directly on to Boulder Row. The Sussex Weekly Advertiser, reporting the testimony of eyewitnesses, stated: “The mass appeared to strike the houses first at the base, heaving them upwards, and then breaking over them like a gigantic wave. There was nothing but a mound of pure white.” A rescue operation by townspeople succeeded in pulling 7 survivors from the wreckage before hypothermia or suffocation could claim them, but 8 other individuals were found dead. Their names are recorded on a commemorative tablet on the inside wall of South Malling parish church, one mile away, where their funerals and burials took place. The fatalities included people with the family names Barnden, Bridgman and Geer, while survivors included a young laborer Jeremiah Rooke, a middle-aged woman named Fanny Sherlock (or Sharlock) and a two-year-old child, Fanny Boakes, believed to be Sherlock’s granddaughter (the 1841 census records two people matching these names and ages living at the same address in South Street). In the aftermath of the tragedy, a fund was set up by prominent townspeople to provide financial assistance to the survivors and families of the deceased.

A public house called the Snowdrop Inn was built in South Street on the site once occupied by Boulder Row, and still trades under the same name today. The name is testament to the stalwart but black sense of humor of Sussex people. I’ve been to the pub a few times with an old friend from Ferring who enjoys hurtling over the South Downs in antique convertibles, and I humor him. There’s a certain macabre wonder to drinking a pint of Harvey’s (from Lewes brewery), in the location of the deadliest avalanche in UK history. The white dress being worn by Fanny Boakes when she was rescued was preserved and is now in the Anne of Cleves House museum in Lewes.

Lewes is an excellent place for good traditional Sussex cooking at its many pubs, including the Snowdrop, and puddings of all sorts are high on the list of Sussex favorites. Sussex pond pudding is a classic, and I’ve already given a recipe. Sussex bacon pudding is another favorite of mine. It’s a steamed suet pudding, but, unlike its kin, it is not meat surrounded by suet crust; instead, the bacon and suet pudding are all mixed together and steamed. It’s a treat for a snowy day.

Sussex Bacon Pudding

Ingredients

4 oz/125 gm all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
2 oz /50 gm shredded suet
1 onion, finely chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 tsp powdered sage
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
milk

Instructions

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, suet, onion, bacon, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the egg and fold all the ingredients together to make a soft dough. Add a little milk if necessary, but do not make the dough too moist.

Grease a 1 pint (600 ml) pudding basin and lay cheesecloth or greaseproof paper inside and overlapping the edges. Put the pudding mixture in the basin, and cover the top with the excess cheesecloth or greaseproof paper. Cover the top with foil, and either tuck it under the rim or secure it with string.

Place the basin in a steamer and steam for 1 ½ hours. When I don’t have a steamer I put a saucer in the bottom of a saucepan, place the basin on top, fill with water to come halfway up the side of the basin, and let the water simmer with the pot covered. Make sure to check the water level every 15 minutes or so. Keep a kettle boiling nearby in case you need to replenish your pot.  Do not let the water go off the boil.

It is traditional to serve this pudding with a white parsley sauce.

Dec 262017
 

Today is the birthday (1891) of Henry Valentine Miller, a US writer who often lived in Paris, and known for breaking with existing literary forms, developing a new type of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association, and mysticism. He was inspiration for the beat generation writers, among others. His most characteristic works are Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Tropic of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, which are based on his experiences in New York and Paris (all of which were banned in the United States until 1961). Miller went through much the same accusations of obscenity as D.H. Lawrence did in Britain over Lady Chatterley. Small minds simply cannot distinguish descriptions of (loving) sex and pornography. In fact, to many, sex is, by definition, obscene. This very notion is the true obscenity, and I suspect stems from lascivious minds. Miller also wrote travel memoirs and literary criticism, and painted watercolors.

Miller was born at his family’s home, 450 East 85th Street, in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, New York City. He was the son of Lutheran German parents, Louise Marie (Neiting) and tailor Heinrich Miller. As a child, he lived for nine years at 662 Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, known at that time (and referred to frequently in his works) as the Fourteenth Ward. In 1900, his family moved to 1063 Decatur Street in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. He attended the City College of New York for one semester only.

Miller married his first wife, Beatrice Sylvas Wickens, in 1917. They divorced in 1923. Together they had a daughter, Barbara, born in 1919. They lived in an apartment at 244 6th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn.[14] At the time, Miller was working at Western Union, where he worked from 1920-24. In March 1922, during a three-week vacation, he wrote his first novel, Clipped Wings. It has never been published, and only fragments remain, although parts of it were recycled in other works, such as Tropic of Capricorn. Clipped Wings was a study of twelve Western Union messengers, which Miller called “a long book and probably a very bad one.”

June

In 1923, while he was still married to Beatrice, but in the process of divorcing, Miller met and became enamored of a mysterious dance hall dancer who was born Juliet Edith Smerth but went by the stage name June Mansfield. She was 21 at the time. They began an affair, and were married on June 1, 1924. In 1924 Miller quit Western Union in order to dedicate himself completely to writing. Miller later describes this time – his struggles to become a writer, his sexual escapades, failures, friends, and philosophy – in his autobiographical trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion.

Miller wrote his second novel, Moloch: or, This Gentile World, in 1927–28, initially under the guise of a novel written by June. A rich older admirer of June, Roland Freedman, paid her to write a novel. She would show him pages of Miller’s work each week, pretending it was hers. The book went unpublished until 1992. Moloch is based on Miller’s first marriage, to Beatrice, and his years working as a personnel manager at the Western Union office in Lower Manhattan. A third novel written around this time, Crazy Cock, also went unpublished until after Miller’s death. Initially titled Lovely Lesbians, Crazy Cock (along with his later novel Nexus) told the story of June’s close relationship with the artist Marion, whom June had renamed Jean Kronski. Kronski lived with Miller and June from 1926 until 1927, when June and Kronski went to Paris together, leaving Miller behind, which upset him greatly. Miller suspected the pair of having a lesbian relationship. While in Paris, June and Kronski did not get along, and June returned to Miller several months later. Kronski committed suicide around 1930.

In 1928, Miller spent several months in Paris with June, a trip which was financed by Freedman. One day on a Paris street, Miller met another author, Robert W. Service, who recalled the story in his autobiography: “Soon we got into conversation which turned to books. For a stripling he spoke with some authority, turning into ridicule the pretentious scribes of the Latin Quarter and their freak magazine.” In 1930, Miller moved to Paris unaccompanied. Soon after, he began work on Tropic of Cancer, writing to a friend, “I start tomorrow on the Paris book: First person, uncensored, formless – fuck everything!” Although Miller had little or no money the first year in Paris, things began to change after meeting Anaïs Nin who, with Hugh Guiler, went on to pay his entire way through the 1930s including the rent for an apartment at 18 Villa Seurat. Nin became his lover and financed the first printing of Tropic of Cancer in 1934 with money from Otto Rank. She wrote extensively in her journals about her relationship with Miller and his wife June. A great deal of what we know about Miller’s personal life comes from Nin’s journals, and the two continued a (now famous and celebrated) relationship for many years. Late in 1934, June divorced Miller by proxy in Mexico City.

In 1931, Miller was employed by the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune as a proofreader, thanks to his friend Alfred Perlès who worked there. Miller took this opportunity to submit some of his own articles under Perlès’ name, since at that time only the editorial staff were permitted to publish in the paper. This period in Paris was highly creative for Miller, and during this time he also established a significant and influential network of authors circulating around the Villa Seurat. At that time a young British author, Lawrence Durrell, became a lifelong friend. Miller’s correspondence with Durrell was later published in two books. His first published book, Tropic of Cancer (1934), was published by Obelisk Press in Paris and banned in the United States on the grounds of obscenity. The dust jacket came wrapped with a warning: “Not to be imported into the United States or Great Britain.” He continued to write novels that were banned.  Along with Tropic of Cancer, his Black Spring (1936) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939) were smuggled into the US, building Miller an underground reputation. In 1939, New Directions published The Cosmological Eye, Miller’s first book to be published in the US. The collection contained short prose pieces, most of which originally appeared in Black Spring and Max and the White Phagocytes (1938).

In 1939 Durrell, who lived on Corfu, invited Miller to Greece. Miller described the visit in The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), which he considered his best book. One of the first acknowledgments of Henry Miller as a major modern writer was by George Orwell in his 1940 essay “Inside the Whale”, where he wrote:

Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses.

In 1940, Miller returned to New York; after a year-long trip around the United States, which was to become material for The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, he moved to California in June 1942, initially living just outside Hollywood in Beverly Glen, before settling in Big Sur in 1944. While Miller was establishing his base in Big Sur, the Tropic books, then still banned in the USA, were still being published in France by the Obelisk Press and later the Olympia Press. There they were acquiring a slow and steady notoriety among both Europeans and the various enclaves of US ex-pats. As a result, the books were frequently smuggled into the States, where they proved to be a major influence on the new Beat Generation of American writers, most notably Jack Kerouac, the only Beat writer Miller truly cared for. By the time his banned books were published in the 1960s and he was becoming increasingly well-known, Miller was no longer interested in his image as an outlaw writer of “dirty” books, but he eventually gave up fighting the image.

In 1942, shortly before moving to California, Miller began writing Sexus, the first novel in The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, a fictionalized account documenting the six-year period of his life in Brooklyn falling in love with June and struggling to become a writer. Like several of his other works, the trilogy, completed in 1959, was initially banned in the United States, published only in France and Japan. In other works written during his time in California, Miller was widely critical of consumerism in the US, as reflected in Sunday After The War (1944) and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945). His Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, published in 1957, is a collection of stories about his life and friends in Big Sur.

In 1944, Miller met and married his third wife, Janina Martha Lepska, a philosophy student who was 30 years his junior. They had two children: a son, Tony, and a daughter, Valentine. They divorced in 1952. The following year, he married artist Eve McClure, who was 37 years his junior. They divorced in 1960, and she died in 1966, likely as a result of alcoholism. In 1961, Miller arranged a reunion in New York with his ex-wife and main subject of The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, June. They hadn’t seen each other in nearly three decades. In a letter to Eve, he described his shock at June’s “terrible” appearance, as she had by then degenerated both physically and mentally.

In February 1963, Miller moved to 444 Ocampo Drive, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California, where he would spend the last 17 years of his life. In 1967, Miller married his fifth wife, Hoki Tokuda. After his move to Ocampo Drive, he held dinner parties for the artistic and literary figures of the time. His cook and caretaker was a young artist’s model named Twinka Thiebaud who later wrote a book about his evening chats. Thiebaud’s memories of Miller’s table talk were published in a rewritten and retitled book in 2011.

Only 200 copies of Miller’s 1972 chapbook On Turning Eighty were published by Capra Press, in collaboration with Yes! Press, it was the first volume of the “Yes! Capra” chapbook series and is 34 pages long. The book contains three essays on topics such as aging and living a meaningful life. In relation to reaching 80 years of age, Miller explains:

If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power.

Miller died of circulatory complications at his home in Pacific Palisades on June 7, 1980.

Here’s some quotes, some from Miller’s novels and some personal. It’s hard to tell the difference anyway. I’ve interspersed a few of his watercolors.

Without a Coca-Cola life is unthinkable.

To be joyous is to be a madman in a world of sad ghosts.

I have found God, but he is insufficient.

There is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy.

What holds the world together, as I have learned from bitter experience, is sexual intercourse.

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.

I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.

Finding a recipe for Miller is no small matter. Miller himself, and others, mentioned repeatedly how much he loved eating. Here’s Miller:

‘Life,’ said Emerson, ‘consists in what a man is thinking all day.’  If that be so, then my life is nothing but a big intestine. I not only think about food all day, but I dream about it at night.

Nin wrote in her diary that Miller had two primal needs: sex and food. They were, indeed, famous for frequenting the cafes of Paris, and nowadays you can go on a tour of their most popular haunts – many decorated with their photos and other memorabilia. Miller was also legendary in giving dinner parties.

The biographer of Miller’s last years, Barbara Kraft wrote:

The house bore the face of the man. The walls were covered with his paintings, posters, memorabilia, photographs of friends and the famous framed lists. Lists of places he had been, list of places he hadn’t been, lists of all the women he never slept with — but no lists of those he had, lists of favorite foods, of favorite piano music — Ravel’s virtuosic Gaspard de la nuit comes to mind . . .

All good to know. But, what about the actual food in his list of favorites? Or what he ate when dining with Nin? Nothing. Not a word. I’ve gleaned her diaries, as well as Miller’s writings and come up empty – except for this:

Henry was eating red beans for lunch. Heavy red beans. When I met Betty Ryan at the Dôme I told her about the red beans and ordered Vichy. How we laughed!

It’s a start, I suppose, but not much of one. She might have been talking about a cassoulet or a hundred other ways of cooking beans. Why did they laugh? Anyway, you can go with a dish of red beans if you wish, but make it heavy. Here’s a recipe for croque Monsieur which has been a popular favorite in Parisian cafes for many years. If you are a good cook you don’t need a recipe, just the idea. Croque Monsieur is a grilled sandwich of Parisian ham and Gruyere cheese, smothered in a cheesy béchamel and baked. I expect Miller enjoyed it on occasion.

Croque Monsieur

Ingredients

2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus extra
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese, plus 8 slices
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 thick slices crusty bread
12 slices Parisian ham
Dijon mustard

Instructions

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat, and whisk in the flour to make a blond roux. Add the milk slowly, stirring all the time. Bring to a simmer, whisking all the time until the sauce thickens. Add the grated cheeses and remove from the heat. Keep whisking until the cheeses are completely melted and the sauce is smooth.

Generously butter the bread slices on one side only. Put half the slices, buttered side down, in a heavy skillet. Layer each bread slice with 2 slices of Gruyere and 3 slices of ham, with the Gruyere on the outside. Spread the Dijon mustard on the unbuttered sides of the remaining bread slices, and put each on top of a sandwich, buttered side up.

Put the skillet over medium-high heat and cook the sandwiches until golden on each side. If the cheese melts well, flipping them with a spatula should be easy. I help the melting process along by covering the pan, or weighting down the sandwiches with a large plate.

Place the sandwiches in a baking dish and divide the béchamel evenly between them, spooning it generously over the top. Broil the sandwiches until the sauce is bubbling and golden.

Serve immediately. I like to serve this sandwich with buttered, steamed asparagus spears.

Serves 4

Dec 252017
 

Last Christmas Day I debunked a great deal of rubbish spouted about the celebration of Christmas. This year I’d like to treat the day as I sometimes treat special birthdays, by reviewing births, deaths, and special events that happened on Christmas Day, in an omnibus post. I will not include events and births I have posted in previous years. Let’s get started.

Events

Most Brits were taught in school that William the Bastard had himself crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066 (top photo from the Bayeux tapestry). They may not have been taught that the Conquest (capital “C”) was not over, by a long shot (or bow, or whatever). They were probably also not taught that William was not the great uniter of the history books, but, rather, the great divider. England had been a nation under the likes of Alfred the Great, but when William came along, England was divided between rich Norman nobility and poor Anglo-Saxon peasants. William made England a province of France, and it would not return to English nationhood until king John, the first king of England to speak English as his first language since Harold Godwinson (loser at Hastings), and the first king since Harold to see England as his prime kingdom (largely because he lost all his Angevin holdings in France). He was born on Christmas Eve.

Lots of other coronations (popular day!!):

800 – The Coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, in Rome.

1025 – Coronation of Mieszko II Lambert as king of Poland.

1076 – Coronation of Bolesław II the Generous as king of Poland.

1100 – Baldwin of Boulogne is crowned the first King of Jerusalem in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

1130 – Count Roger II of Sicily is crowned the first king of Sicily.

Births (or Baptisms)

You’ll note that Noël is an obvious name for people born on Christmas Day.

1583 Orlando Gibbons, English virginalist, organist and composer.  Here’s his Magnificat for the season.

1628 – Noël Coypel, French painter and educator (d. 1707). Here’s his nativity:

1771 – Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William and poet in her own right (d. 1855)

1810 – L. L. Langstroth, (d. 1895) who discovered the “bee space,” the exact amount of room bees need to move in their hives, and invented the Langstroth hive, which is still in use. It has detachable honeycombs for ease of removing honey.

1870 – Helena Rubinstein, Polish-American businesswoman and philanthropist (d. 1965). Reputedly the first female millionaire in the world through her cosmetics empire.

1878 – Louis Chevrolet, Swiss-American race car driver and businessman, co-founded Chevrolet (d. 1941). Known as “the Daredevil Frenchman.”

1878 – Noël, Countess of Rothes, philanthropist, social leader and famed heroine of the Titanic disaster (d. 1956). She steered her lifeboat away from the sinking Titanic, helped row for 5 hours until they reached a rescue ship, and then took care of steerage passengers on board the rescue ship until they safely landed.

1899 – Humphrey Bogart (d. 1957)

1936 – Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, who is the queen’s first cousin, and the “celebrity” who opened my infant school in Eastbourne when I was in my first term. Her visit was a BIG DEAL, but even bigger was that she actually spoke to me in class when I was painting. The dialogue is in memory, but I’ll leave it there.

Deaths

Dying on Christmas Day feels a bit to me like dying on your birthday, which is to say, I’d be all right with it, although I might prefer the day after. Actually, dying on your birthday has a certain symmetry to it, whereas dying on Christmas Day seems a bit disappointing, and leaves friends and family with sad memories of Christmas. The following people mostly need no introduction. I’ve tried to give them a Christmas theme.

1946 – W. C. Fields, American actor, comedian, juggler, and screenwriter

1977 – Charlie Chaplin, English actor and director (b. 1889)

1983 – Joan Miró, Spanish painter and sculptor (b. 1893)

2006 – James Brown, American singer-songwriter (b. 1933)

2008 – Eartha Kitt, American singer and actress (b. 1927)

I’ll give you a gallery of my Christmas dinner this year, as I try to do every year in place of a recipe. This year was rather old fashioned English

Appetizer was Norwegian smoked salmon and sausage rolls:

 

Cock-a-leekie soup:

Roast beef with roast potatoes, steamed spinach, Yorkshire pudding, and spicy cream gravy:

First dessert was mince pie with whipped cream:

Second dessert will be Christmas pudding, but it is not dark yet, and I serve it flaming.

 

Dec 242017
 

On this date in 1777, captain James Cook sighted Kiritimati and named it Christmas Island. It should not be confused with Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean which is an Australian external territory. The name “Kiritimati” is a respelling of the English word “Christmas” in the Kiribati dialect of Gilbertese, in which the combination /ti/ is pronounced /s/, and the name is thus pronounced /kəˈrɪsməs/. Kiritimati was first discovered by Europeans when the Spanish expedition of Hernando de Grijalva found it in 1537, and named it Acea. At the time it was uninhabited. This discovery was referred to by a contemporary, the Portuguese António Galvão, governor of Ternate, in Tratado dos Descubrimientos of 1563. Cook visited on Christmas Eve 1777, but did nothing more about it. It was claimed by the United States under the Guano Islands Act of 1856, though little actual mining of guano took place. Permanent settlement started by 1882, mainly by workers in coconut plantations and fishermen but, due to an extreme drought which killed off tens of thousands of coconut palms – about 75% of Kiritimati’s plant stock – the island was abandoned between 1905 and 1912.

 

The island has the greatest land area of any coral atoll in the world, about 388 square kilometers (150 square miles). Its lagoon is roughly the same size. The atoll is about 150 km (93 mi) in perimeter, while the lagoon shoreline extends for over 48 km (30 mi). Kiritimati comprises over 70% of the total land area of Kiribati, a country encompassing 33 Pacific atolls and islands. It lies 232 km (144 mi) north of the Equator, 2,160 km (1,340 mi) south of Honolulu, and 5,360 km (3,330 mi) from San Francisco. Kiritimati Island is in the world’s farthest forward time zone, UTC+14, and is one of the first inhabited places on Earth to experience the New Year. Despite being 2,460 km (1,530 mi) east of the 180˚ meridian, a 1995 realignment of the International Date Line by the Republic of Kiribati moved Kiritimati to west of the dateline.

Upon Western discovery, Kiritimati was uninhabited. As on other Line Islands there might have been a small or temporary native population, most probably Polynesian traders and settlers, who would have found the island a useful replenishing station on the long voyages from the Society Islands to Hawaiʻi, perhaps as early as 400 CE. This trade route was apparently used with some regularity by about 1000 CE. From 1200 onwards, Polynesian long-distance voyages became less frequent, and had there been human settlement on Kiritimati, it would have been abandoned in the early-mid second millennium CE. Two possible village sites and some stone structures of these early visitors have been located. Today, most inhabitants are Micronesians, and Gilbertese is the only language of any significance. English is generally understood, but little used outside the tourism sector.

Many of the toponyms in the island date back to Father Emmanuel Rougier, a French priest who leased the island from 1917 to 1939 and planted around 800,000 coconut trees there. He lived in his Paris house (now only small ruins) located at Benson Point, across the Burgle Channel from Londres (today London) at Bridges Point where he established the port. Joe’s Hill was named by Joe English, who served as plantation manager for Rougier between 1915 and 1919. English was left alone on the island for a year and a half (1917–19), with two teens, when cholera broke out in Papeete and transport stopped due to the First World War. English was later rescued by Lord John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, admiral of the British Fleet. English, still thinking the war was in effect and that the ship was German, pulled his revolver on the British admiral, causing a short standoff until some explanation defused the situation. Upon his rescue, English’s adventures were later chronicled in the Boston Globe.

Kiritimati was occupied by the Allies in World War II. US troops took over the island garrison, allowing Australian troops to be used for mainland defense. The first contingent of US troops was a company from the 102nd Infantry Regiment, a National Guard unit from New Haven, Connecticut. The Island was important to hold because if the Japanese had captured it, an airbase could have been constructed that would have allowed obstruction of the main Hawaii-to-Australia supply route. The first airstrip was constructed then for servicing the US Army Air Force weather station and communications center. The airstrip also provided rest and refueling facilities for planes traveling between Hawaii and the South Pacific. There was also a small radio-meteorological research station operated by the Kiribati Meteorological Service. In 1975 the Captain Cook Hotel was built on the former British military base.

During the dispute over the Carolines between Germany and Spain in 1885, arbitrated by Pope Leo XIII, the sovereignty of Spain over the Caroline and Palau islands as part of the Spanish East Indies was analyzed by a commission of cardinals and confirmed by an agreement signed on 17th December. Its Article 2 specifies the limits of Spanish sovereignty in South Micronesia, being formed by the Equator and 11°N Latitude and by 133° and by 164° Longitude. In 1899, Spain sold the Marianas, Carolinas and Palaus to Germany after its defeat in 1898 in the Spanish–American War. However, Emilio Pastor Santos, a researcher for the Spanish National Research Council, claimed in 1948 that there was historical basis, supported by the charts and maps of the time, to argue that Kiritimati (or Acea as in the Spanish maps), and some other islands, had never been considered part of the Carolines. Thus, Kiritimati was not included in the description of the territory transferred to Germany, and therefore was not affected, on the part of Spain, to any cessation of transfer and theoretically Spain should have had the only jurisdiction and right to the island. Pastor Santos presented his thesis to the Spanish government in 1948. In the Council of Ministers of Spain on 12th January 1949, the Minister of Foreign Affairs declared that the proposal had passed to the first stage of public attention. The Cabinet of Diplomatic Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs circulated the following note:

The Minister of Foreign Affairs informed the Council of Ministers of the situation in which we find ourselves in view of information and public commentary in the press and because of the requests made of the Spanish administration. The Ministry recognizes that it is a certain fact and historic truth due to Article 3 of the Treaty of 1 July 1899, that Spain reserved a series of rights in Micronesia and for another thing, the specifications of the territories which Spain ceded in 1899 leaves apart certain groups of islands in the same zone.

However, no Spanish government has made any attempt in this respect, and this case remains as a historical curiosity related to Kiritimati.

During the Cold War there was some nuclear weapons testing in the Kiritimati area. The United Kingdom conducted its first successful hydrogen bomb test at Malden Island on 15th May 1957; Kiritimati was the operation’s main base. In fact, this test did not work as planned, and the first British H-bomb was successfully detonated over the southeastern tip of Kiritimati on 8th November 1957. Subsequent test series in 1958 (Grapple Y and Z) took place above or near Kiritimati itself. The United States conducted 22 successful nuclear detonations as part of Operation Dominic here in 1962. Some toponyms (like Banana and Main Camp) come from the nuclear testing period, during which at times over 4,000 servicemen were present. By 1969, military interest in Kiritimati had ceased and the facilities were abandoned and for the most part dismantled. Some communications, transport and logistics facilities, however, were converted for civilian use and it is due to these installations that Kiritimati came to serve as the administrative center for the Line Islands. Islanders were usually not evacuated during the nuclear weapons testing, and data on the environmental and public health impact of these tests remains contested.

The natural vegetation on Kiritimati consists mostly of low shrubland and grassland. What little woodland exists is mainly open coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) plantation. There are three small woods of catchbird trees (Pisonia grandis), at Southeast Point, Northwest Point, and on Motu Tabu. The latter were planted there in recent times. About 50 introduced plant species are found on Kiritimati. They are most plentiful around settlements, former military sites and roads. Beach naupaka (Scaevola taccada) is the most common shrub on Kiritimati; beach naupaka scrub dominates the vegetation on much of the island, either as pure stands or interspersed with tree heliotrope (Heliotropium foertherianum) and bay cedar (Suriana maritima). The latter species is dominant on the drier parts of the lagoon flats where it grows up to 2 m (6.6 ft) tall.

More than 35 bird species have been recorded from Kiritimati. Only the bokikokiko (Acrocephalus aequinoctialis), perhaps a few introduced Rimitara lorikeets (Vini kuhlii) – if any remain at all – and the occasional eastern reef egret (Egretta sacra) make up the entire landbird fauna. About 1,000 adult bokikokikos are to be found at any date, but mainly in mixed grass/shrubland away from the settlements. On the other hand, seabirds are plentiful on Kiritimati, and make up the bulk of the breeding bird population. There are 18 species of seabirds breeding on the island, and Kiritimati is one of the most important breeding grounds anywhere in the world for several of these.

The local cuisine of Kiribati is what you would expect, fish, shellfish, bananas, and coconuts predominate, cooked in Polynesian fashion.  This website gives the basic idea: https://www.internationalcuisine.com/category/kiribati/ I’ll go with pumpkin and coconut soup because it’s very common, but is also easy to prepare practically anywhere these days. The soup can be served hot or chilled

Kiribati Pumpkin and Coconut Soup

Ingredients

2 lbs pumpkin, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
1 13.5 fl oz can coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
coconut oil for frying
chives to garnish

Instructions

Heat the coconut oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the pumpkin and ginger and cook until the pumpkin is soft, but not browned. Cover the pumpkin with water, bring to the boil, and simmer until the pumpkin is cooked and easily mashed with a fork.

Drain and then mash the pumpkin with a fork, or use a food processor. Add the mashed pumpkin back to the pot with the coconut milk and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Either heat through to serve warm, or chill in the refrigerator to serve cold.

Serve garnished with chives.

Dec 232017
 

Today is the birthday (1812) of Samuel Smiles, was a Scottish author and government reformer who campaigned on a Chartist platform, but who became an almost overnight celebrity for his book Self-Help (1859), which promoted thrift and claimed that poverty was caused largely by irresponsible habits, while also attacking materialism and laissez-faire government. In some ways it was a testament to Victorian morality.

Born in Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland, Smiles was the son of Janet Wilson of Dalkeith and Samuel Smiles of Haddington. He was one of eleven surviving children. While his family members were strict Reformed Presbyterians, he was not religious. He studied at a local school, leaving at the age of 14. He apprenticed to be a doctor under Dr. Robert Lewins. This arrangement enabled Smiles to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1829. There he also developed an interest in politics, and became a strong supporter of Joseph Hume (a strict fiscal conservative in Parliament). During this time, he contracted a lung disease, and his father was advised to send him on a long sea voyage.

His father died in the cholera epidemic of 1832, but Smiles was enabled to continue with his studies because he was supported by his mother. She ran the small family general store firm in the belief that the “Lord will provide.” Her example of working ceaselessly to support herself and his nine younger siblings strongly influenced Smiles’s future life.

In 1837, he wrote articles for the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle and the Leeds Times, campaigning for parliamentary reform. In November 1838, Smiles was invited to become the editor of the Leeds Times, a position he filled until 1842. In May 1840, Smiles became secretary to the Leeds Parliamentary Reform Association, an organization that held to the six objectives of Chartism: universal suffrage for all men over the age of 21; equal-sized electoral districts; voting by secret ballot; an end to the need of MPs to qualify for Parliament, other than by winning an election; pay for MPs; and annual Parliaments.

As editor of the Leeds Times, he advocated radical causes ranging from women’s suffrage to free trade and parliamentary reform. By the late 1840s, however, Smiles became concerned about the recommendation of physical force by Chartists Feargus O’Connor and George Julian Harney, although he seems to have agreed with them that the movement’s current tactics were not effective, saying that “mere political reform will not cure the manifold evils which now afflict society.” In 1845, he left the Leeds Times and became a secretary for the newly formed Leeds & Thirsk Railway. After nine years, he worked for the South Eastern Railway.

In the 1850s, Smiles abandoned his interest in parliament and decided that self-help was the most important avenue to reform in society. In 1859, he published Self-Help; with Illustrations of Character and Conduct. The origins of Self-Help lay in a speech he gave in March 1845 in response to a request by a Mutual Improvement Society, published as, The Education of the Working Classes. In it Smiles said:

I would not have any one here think that, because I have mentioned individuals who have raised themselves by self-education from poverty to social eminence, and even wealth, these are the chief marks to be aimed at. That would be a great fallacy. Knowledge is of itself one of the highest enjoyments. The ignorant man passes through the world dead to all pleasures, save those of the senses … Every human being has a great mission to perform, noble faculties to cultivate, a vast destiny to accomplish. He should have the means of education, and of exerting freely all the powers of his godlike nature.

The newly founded Routledge publishing house rejected publishing Self-Help in 1855. Twenty years later Smiles was seated next to George Routledge at a dinner, and he said to him, “And when, Dr. Smiles, are we to have the honour of publishing one of your books?” Smiles replied that Mr. Routledge already had the honor of rejecting Self-Help. Although John Murray was willing to publish Self-Help on a half-profits system, but Smiles rejected the offer. In 1859, he self-published the book, retaining the copyright, while he paid John Murray a ten percent commission, for distribution, I presume. It sold 20,000 copies within one year of its publication. By the time of Smiles’s death in 1904 it had sold over a quarter of a million copies. Self-Help brought almost instant celebrity status and he became a much-consulted pundit. He was also deluged with requests to lay foundation stones, sit for his portrait, present prizes to orphan children, make speeches, and so forth, but he declined them all.

Smiles wrote articles for the Quarterly. In an article on railways, he argued that the railways should be nationalized and that third-class passengers should be encouraged. In 1861 Smiles published an article from the Quarterly, renamed Workers Earnings, Savings, and Strikes. He claimed poverty in many instances was caused by habitual imprudence:

Times of great prosperity, in which wages are highest and mills running full time are not times in which Mechanics’ Institutes and Schools flourish, but times in which publicans and beer sellers prosper and grow rich … A workman earning 50s. to 60s. a week (above the average pay of bankers’ clerks) was content to inhabit a miserable one-roomed dwelling in a bad neighbourhood, the one room serving as parlour, kitchen, and sleeping-room for the whole family, which consisted of husband, wife, four sons, two cats, and a dog. The witness was asked: Do you think this family was unable to get better lodgings, or were they careless? They were careless, was the reply.

In 1866, Smiles became president of the National Provident Institution, but left in 1871, after suffering a debilitating stroke. He recovered from the stroke, eventually having to learn to read and write again. In 1875, his book Thrift was published. In it, he said that “riches do not constitute any claim to distinction. It is only the vulgar who admire riches as riches.” He claimed that the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 was “one of the most valuable that has been placed on the statute-book in modern times.” He also criticized Victorian laissez-faire:

When typhus or cholera breaks out, they tell us that Nobody is to blame. That terrible Nobody! How much he has to answer for. More mischief is done by Nobody than by all the world besides. Nobody adulterates our food. Nobody poisons us with bad drink. Nobody supplies us with foul water. Nobody spreads fever in blind alleys and unswept lanes. Nobody leaves towns undrained. Nobody fills gaols, penitentiaries, and convict stations. Nobody makes poachers, thieves, and drunkards. Nobody has a theory too—a dreadful theory. It is embodied in two words—Laissez faire—Let alone. When people are poisoned by plaster of Paris mixed with flour, “Let alone” is the remedy. When Cocculus indicus is used instead of hops, and men die prematurely, it is easy to say, “Nobody did it.” Let those who can, find out when they are cheated: Caveat emptor. When people live in foul dwellings, let them alone. Let wretchedness do its work; do not interfere with death.

In 1877, the letters young Smiles wrote home during his teenage sea voyage and the log he kept of his journey to Australia and America between February 1869 and March 1871 were published in London in book form, under the title A Boy’s Voyage Round the World.

In 1881 he claimed that,

Labour is toilsome and its gains are slow. Some people determine to live by the labour of others, and from the moment they arrive at that decision, become the enemies of society. It is not often that distress drives men to crime. In nine cases out of ten, it is choice not necessity. Moral cowardice is exhibited as much in public as in private life. Snobbism is not confined to toadying of the rich, but is quite as often displayed in the toadying of the poor… Now that the “masses” exercise political power, there is a growing tendency to fawn upon them, flatter them, speak nothing but smooth words to them. They are credited with virtues they themselves know they do not possess. To win their favour sympathy is often pretended for views, the carrying out of which is known to be hopeless. The popular agitator must please whom he addresses, and it is always highly gratifying to our self-love to be told that someone else is to blame for what we suffer. So it rarely occurs to these orators to suggest that those whom they address are themselves to blame for what they suffer, or that they misuse the means of happiness which are within their reach … The capitalist is merely a man who does not spend all that is earned by work.

Karl Marx he was not. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw the rise of New Liberalism, Keynesian economics, and socialism, all of which viewed thrift unfavorably. The New Liberal economists, J. A. Hobson and A. F. Mummery in their Physiology of Industry (1889), claimed that saving resulted in the underemployment of capital and labor during trade depressions. Over time Smiles fell out of vogue and now he is mostly seen as a Victorian curiosity although some of his ideals are still valuable. Certainly the self-help movement is alive and well.

On 16 April 1904, Samuel Smiles died in Kensington in London and was buried in Brompton Cemetery. Shortly before his death, he was reportedly offered a knighthood, which he declined to accept.

Mrs Beeton sounds almost like Smiles in the following passage, down to vaunting the Scots over the English for their legendary thrift.  If you are not a Brit you probably don’t know that the English make fun of the Scots for their frugality.

  1. IT HAS BEEN ASSERTED, that English cookery is, nationally speaking, far from being the best in the world. More than this, we have been frequently told by brilliant foreign writers, half philosophers, half chefs, that we are the worst cooks on the face of the earth, and that the proverb which alludes to the divine origin of food, and the precisely opposite origin of its preparers, is peculiarly applicable to us islanders. Not, however, to the inhabitants of the whole island; for, it is stated in a work which treats of culinary operations, north of the Tweed, that the “broth” of Scotland claims, for excellence and wholesomeness, a very close second place to the bouillon, or common soup of France. “Three hot meals of broth and meat, for about the price of ONE roasting joint,” our Scottish brothers and sisters get, they say; and we hasten to assent to what we think is now a very well-ascertained fact. We are glad to note, however, that soups of vegetables, fish, meat, and game, are now very frequently found in the homes of the English middle classes, as well as in the mansions of the wealthier and more aristocratic; and we take this to be one evidence, that we are on the right road to an improvement in our system of cookery. One great cause of many of the spoilt dishes and badly-cooked meats which are brought to our tables, arises, we think, and most will agree with us, from a non-acquaintance with “common, every-day things.” Entertaining this view, we intend to preface the chapters of this work with a simple scientific résumé of all those causes and circumstances which relate to the food we have to prepare, and the theory and chemistry of the various culinary operations. Accordingly, this is the proper place to treat of the quality of the flesh of animals, and describe some of the circumstances which influence it for good or bad. We will, therefore, commence with the circumstance of age, and examine how far this affects the quality of meat.

I’ve picked rumbledethumps as the dish to honor Smiles, partly because it’s Scottish, partly because it is a thrifty dish, and partly because I love the name. Rumbledethumps is a traditional dish from the Scottish Borders. The main ingredients are potato, cabbage and onion. It is similar to Irish colcannon, and English bubble and squeak, either served as an accompaniment to a main dish or as a main dish itself. I’ll also follow Smiles in recommending that you employ a little ingenuity in working out how to make rumbledethumps. You don’t need a recipe, just the idea (and I’ll give you a photo too).

Begin by shredding some cabbage and slicing an onion. Also boil some potatoes.  Fry the onions and cabbage in butter until they are soft. Mash the potatoes with a little butter plus salt and pepper to taste.  Combine all three well and place in a baking dish. Covered with shredded melting cheese of your choice, and bake in a hot oven until the top is golden and bubbly.

Dec 222017
 

On this date in 401, Innocent I was installed as pope and served until his death in 417. He was quite something of a stabilizing influence on the church at a time of doctrinal turmoil, with a wide-ranging influence on Catholicism that is still alive and well in the Catholic church today. Among other things, he is reputed to have been the son of the previous pope, putting the papacy on the path to being a dynasty (which never materialized, of course). That notion was short lived for all kinds of reasons. Celibacy was not actually the main issue at the time. From the beginning of his papacy, Innocent set himself up as the general arbitrator of ecclesiastical disputes in both the East and the West. He confirmed the prerogatives of the Archbishop of Thessalonica, and issued a decretal on disciplinary matters referred to him by the Bishop of Rouen. He defended the exiled John Chrysostom and consulted with the bishops of Africa concerning the Pelagian controversy. He was also the pope when the issue of the Biblical canon was settled for good. Until Innocent’s papacy the question of what books belong in the Bible and which ones do not was a hot topic. Pardon my dribble, but I do feel the need to write about the controversies that Innocent was involved in. They concern church dogma which is a sore spot with me. Spoiler alert: DOGMA SUCKS (says the ordained minister). I’d get into trouble with my presbytery if they read that remark. But I don’t care. I defended Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam during my examination for ordination, and they ordained me anyway. So, they knew what they were getting. In any case, I’m not a member of my presbytery in New York any more. I belong to Buenos Aires presbytery and most of them can’t speak English. Furthermore, they never showed any interest in me when I lived in Argentina, and I’m sure they care even less now that I live in Asia. I could, in theory, join a newly formed presbytery in Cambodia, but that seems a bit excessive. I’m retired from pastoral work, and the last thing in the world (anywhere in the world), I want to do is attend presbytery meetings.

We know very little about the early life of Innocent, and the sources are deeply conflicting. According to his biographer in the Liber Pontificalis, Innocent was a native of Albano Laziale (now a comune in the city of Rome) and the son of a man called Innocentius, but his contemporary St Jerome referred to him as the son of the previous pope, Anastasius I, a unique case (as far as we know) of a son succeeding his father in the papacy. According to Urbano Cerri, Innocent was a native of Albania (which sounds to me like a misidentification of Albano – but maybe it’s the other way around).

Innocent I was a vigorous defender of the papacy’s right to be the ultimate resort for the settlement of all ecclesiastical disputes, and he set the stage in that regard for centuries to come. His communications with Victricius of Rouen, Exuperius of Toulouse, Alexander of Antioch and others, as well as his actions on the appeal made to him by John Chrysostom against Theophilus of Alexandria, show that opportunities of this kind were numerous and varied. I’ll spare you the drama associated with Chrysostom. It has little to do with church dogmatics, and much more to do with politics in the empire, and power struggles in the church in the east. Pelagius is another matter.

Pelagius was a Celtic monk who was accused by Augustine of Hippo and others of denying the need for divine aid in performing good works. They understood him to have said that the only grace necessary was the affirmation of the law of God. He was further accused of saying that humans were not wounded by Adam’s sin and were perfectly able to fulfill the law without divine aid. More importantly, Pelagius denied Augustine’s theory of original sin, that is, all humans (with the exception of Mary and her mother) bear Adam’s sin and have to be baptized to remove the sin, otherwise they are denied entry into heaven. Well in my oh-so-humble opinion, the doctrine of original sin is nonsense. The doctrine, along with a whole raft of dogma clung to by the Catholic church, is the result of theologians like Augustine applying the logic of Aristotle to the Bible. When you start applying logic, spirituality goes out the window and you are left with dogma. I’ll go with spirituality.

Pelagius wrote two major treatises which are no longer extant, On Nature and Defense of the Freedom of the Will. In these, he defends his position on sin and sinlessness, and accuses Augustine of being under the influence of Manichaeism by elevating evil to the same status as God and teaching pagan fatalism as if it were a Christian doctrine. Manichaeism stressed that the (human) spirit was created by God, while material substance (the body) was corrupt and evil. St Paul probably believed this, so I’m not sure that all the shouting was about. Pelagius held that everything created by God was good, therefore, he could not see how God had made humans fallen creatures. (Augustine’s teachings on the Fall of Adam was not a settled doctrine at the time the Augustinian/Pelagian dispute began.) The view that humans can avoid sinning, and that we can freely choose to obey God’s commandments, stand at the core of Pelagian teaching. Pelagius stressed human autonomy and freedom of the will. Of course, as always in the case of teacher and disciple, there is a difference between what Pelagius taught, and what his followers believed. Most theologians now believe that Pelagius was completely orthodox in his teachings.

Pelagianism was condemned at the 15th Council of Carthage in 411. Afterwards, Augustine and four other bishops wrote a letter urging Pope Innocent I to condemn Pelagianism which he did. He also confirmed the decisions of the synod of the province of proconsular Africa, held in Carthage in 416, confirming the condemnation which had been pronounced in 411 against Cælestius, who shared the views of Pelagius. He also wrote in the same year in a similar sense to the fathers of the Numidian synod of Mileve. Augustine was shocked that Pelagius and Celestius were not denounced as heretics, however, and called the Council of Carthage in 418 (one year after Innocent’s death) and laid out nine points of dogma which Pelagius was accused of denying:

    Death came from sin, not man’s physical nature.

    Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.

    Justifying grace covers past sins and helps avoid future sins.

    The grace of Christ imparts strength and will to act out God’s commandments.

    No good works can come without God’s grace.

    We confess we are sinners because it is true, not from humility.

    The saints ask for forgiveness for their own sins.

    The saints also confess to be sinners because they are.

    Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

If I were you, I’d read the list, laugh, and forget about it. If you want to put it in a nutshell, Augustine and his ilk are saying that humans are bad through and through, but are saved by God’s grace. Otherwise, they will just be pure evil. Your free will is no help. Furthermore, if you are not baptized (properly – by a priest), you can’t go to heaven. Where’s my rubbish bin?

It is accepted that the canon of the Bible was closed c. 405 by Innocent, when he sent a list of the sacred books to a Gallic bishop, Exsuperius of Toulouse, confirming the list approved by the Councils of Rome (382), Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), and identical with the much later pronouncements of the Council of Trent (1545-63), except for some uncertainty in the manuscript tradition about whether the letters ascribed to Paul were 14 or only 13, in the latter case possibly implying omission of the Epistle to the Hebrews (which actually makes no claims to Pauline authorship anyway). Innocent’s canon is the current Catholic Bible which contains 73 books. Innocent did no more than assert that he was the final authority, and it was time to move on. Protestants later excluded 7 of the books that Catholics included (and Luther wanted to exclude many more). Like it or not, you have to accept the fact that the Bible was created by humans, with a great deal of debate about what should be included and what excluded, for several centuries. Innocent ended the debate for Catholics, but that should not be the end of the matter if you have a brain and actually use it. The supposed “authority” of the Bible – in ALL matters if you listen to some people – rests on accepting the decisions that clergy made over 16 centuries ago according to their ideas of what Christianity is, and should be. If you believe that their decisions were guided exclusively by the hand of God, you put more trust in them than I do.

Innocent died on 12 March 417. Accordingly, his feast day is now celebrated on 12th March, though from the 13th to the 20th century he was commemorated on 28th July. In 846, Pope Sergius II gave approval for the relics/remains of Innocent to be moved by Duke Liudolf of Saxony, along with those of his father and predecessor Anastasius, to the crypt of the former collegiate church of Gandersheim, now Gandersheim Abbey, where they now rest.

Gandersheim is in Lower Saxony, so I’ll go with a popular recipe from the region rather than a 5th century Roman recipe recreation (for variety’s sake). If you want to visit Innocent’s relics you have to visit Gandersheim, and you should try out the local specialties. They’re all based on peasant dishes and are hearty rather than refined (in the haute cuisine sense). I’ll go with Steckrübeneintopf (turnip stew). Despite the name, meat is an important part of this dish, but you can use almost all kinds of meat. You can use chicken, lamb, beef or pork, and local sausages may also be included, such as Bregenwurst, Kohlwurst, Pinkelwurst. In the recipe ingredient list I’ve just put 1 lb of meat. You choose, either one kind or a mixture.  “Turnip” (Steckrüben) here means swede or rutabaga.  You can cook this dish in a casserole in the oven after browning all the ingredients if you prefer, or use a slow cooker. I’m a stovetop kinda guy because it gives me more control. Cooking times will vary enormously depending on the meat that you choose.

Steckrübeneintopf

Ingredients:

1 lb meat, cut into serving pieces
8 oz bacon, chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
¼ cup butter
5 cups broth (approx)
2 ½ rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery root, peeled and diced
1 lb potatoes peeled and diced
2 tsp chopped fresh marjoram
5 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh savory
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Instructions

Melt half of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot and sauté the bacon until lightly browned. Add the meat and continue cooking until it is browned on all sides, stirring regularly. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Set aside the cooked ingredients from the pot, melt the rest of the butter in the same pot, add the vegetables and sauté until soft.

Add back the cooked meats and onions, plus the broth to cover, and herbs. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer, lid on, for about an hour and a half. Check the seasonings and make sure the meat is cooked through. Add cream if you wish, stir, and garnish with parsley. Serve in the cooking pot.