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Sep 272019
 

Today is Pchum Ben ( បុណ្យភ្ជុំបិណ្ឌ) in Cambodia, a major religious festival and public holiday, culminating in celebrations on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar, at the end of the Buddhist lent, Vassa.

The day is a time when many Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives of up to 7 generations. Monks chant the suttas in Pali language overnight (continuously, without sleeping) in prelude to the gates of hell opening, an event that is presumed to occur once a year, and is linked to the cosmology of King Yama originating in the Pali Canon. During this period, the gates of hell are opened and ghosts of the dead (preta) are presumed to be especially active. In order to combat this, food-offerings are made to benefit them, some of these ghosts having the opportunity to end their period of purgation, whereas others are imagined to leave hell temporarily, to then return to endure more suffering; without much explanation, relatives who are not in hell (who are in heaven or otherwise reincarnated) are also generally imagined to benefit from the ceremonies.

In temples adhering to canonical protocol, the offering of food itself is made from the laypeople to the (living) Buddhist monks, thus generating “merit” that indirectly benefits the dead; however, in many temples, this is either accompanied by or superseded by food offerings that are imagined to directly transfer from the living to the dead, such as rice-balls thrown through the air, or rice thrown into an empty field. Anthropologist Satoru Kobayashi observed that these two models of merit-offering to the dead are in competition in rural Cambodia, with some temples preferring the greater canonicity of the former model, and others embracing the popular (if unorthodox) assumption that mortals can “feed” ghosts with physical food.

Pchum Ben is considered unique to Cambodia, however, there are merit-transference ceremonies that can be closely compared to it in Sri Lanka (i.e., offering food to the ghosts of the dead) and in its broad outlines, it even resembles the Taiwanese Ghost Festival (especially in its links to the notion of a calendrical opening of the gates of hell, King Yama, and so on).

Num ansom – sticky rice cooked in bamboo leaves is a common dish served at this time in Cambodia. The following video is in Khmer but you may get the basic idea.  Also, I have included a link to a step-by-step recipe in English. Between the two, you should be able to figure it out.

https://www.atraveldiary.com/cambodian-dessert-recipe-num-ansom-chek/

Sep 232019
 

Today is Kyrgyz Language Day, a celebration initiated by the government of Kyrgyzstan to encourage use of the language in the aftermath of Soviet occupation when there was a concerted effort to replace local languages in nations within the Soviet Union with Russian. I gave an account of Kyrgyzstan in this post http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kyrgyzstan/ when I was there last year for the World Nomad Games – another government effort to promote Kyrgyz national and ethnic identity.

Kyrgyz is a Turkic language spoken by about four million people in Kyrgyzstan as well as China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Russia. Kyrgyz is a member of the Kyrgyz–Kipchak subgroup of the Kypchak languages and modern-day language convergence has resulted in an increasing degree of mutual intelligibility between Kazakh and Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz was originally written in Turkic runes, gradually replaced by a Perso-Arabic alphabet (in use until 1928 in USSR, still in use in China). Between 1928 and 1940 a Latin-script alphabet, the Uniform Turkic Alphabet, was used. In 1940 due to general Soviet policy, a Cyrillic alphabet eventually became common and has remained so to this day, though some Kyrgyz still use the Arabic alphabet. When Kyrgyzstan became independent following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, there was a popular idea among some Kyrgyzstanis to switch to the Latin script, which is still common in some small pockets of the countryside, and to make the Latin script the country’s official national script (using a version closer to the Turkish alphabet rather than the original alphabet of 1928–40). Although the plan has not yet been implemented, it remains in occasional discussion.

The first people certainly known by the name Kyrgyz are mentioned in early medieval Chinese sources as northern neighbors and sometime subjects of the Turkic steppe empire based in the area of Mongolia. The Kyrgyz people were involved in the international trade route system popularly known as the Silk Road no later than the late 8th  century. By the time of the destruction of the Uighur Empire in 840 CE, they spoke a Turkic language little different from Old Turkic, and wrote it in the same runic script. After their victory over the Uyghurs, the Kyrgyz did not occupy the Mongolian steppe, and their history for several centuries after this period is little known, though they are mentioned in medieval geographical works as living not far from their present location. In the period of tsarist administration (1876–1917), the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz both were called Kyrgyz, with what are now the Kyrgyz subdenominated when necessary as Kara-Kyrgyz “black Kyrgyz” (alternatively known as “The Great Kyrgyz”).

In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of president Akayev’s staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for “Kyrgyzification” of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. However, in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official language alongside Kyrgyz, marking a reversal of the earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev. Nowadays, Russian remains the dominant language in the main cities, such as Bishkek, while Kyrgyz continues losing ground, especially among the younger generations.

I gave a recipe for Beshbarmak in the post I cited. Now I will turn to plov or paloo (палоо), a rice based dish, versions of which can be found all over Asia. The Kyrgyz version of plov has meat and carrots with dried fruits and nuts occasionally added, as in some other Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan. Carrots are not commonly used to make plov other than in Central Asia. Carrots and meat dominate in Kyrgyz plov. The Central Asian plov is almost always cooked with fatty chunks of meat and bones. Generally red meat is used (mutton or beef) but chicken plov is also found. Small warning: getting plov right takes decades of experience. Simpler to take a trip to Bishkek, where wonderful plov is plentiful.  I was instructed by a local cook.

For authentic Kyrgyz plov the variety of rice used is probably difficult to find in Europe. The rice is colored brick red, when you wash it the water turns red and streaks of red remain on the rice, even after cooking. The rice is thicker than long grain. Its thickness is comparable to calrose/arborio but longer and not as starchy. The rice remains firm even after cooking.

This recipe is more about proportions than absolute quantities.  That is, the ingredients are for ONE (generous portion, that is, 1 part meat, 1 part carrots, and two parts rice, by weight. Typically, plov is made in giant batches to feed an army.  The rice used is grown locally and has a special red tinge.  Good luck finding it outside of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz Plov

Ingredients

100-150 grams beef or mutton cut into 2cm cubes
1 large carrot, cut into strips
½ medium sized onion, peeled and diced
1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped
50ml rice, thoroughly washed
75 ml water
2 tablespoons oil
salt

Instructions

Heat the oil over a medium flame in a large cooking pot. Add the meat, carrots, onion and salt to taste and cook until the meat has browned, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the water and garlic, cover, and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the rice and cook covered until the rice is done, about 25-30 minutes. Writing the last instruction is simple; getting it right is not.

Serve a large ‘mountain’ of plov scattered with chunks of meaty bones and a whole bulb of steamed garlic sitting on top

Sep 152019
 

Today is the birthday (1890) of Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (née Miller) who is generally known for her detective fiction, particularly those works revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I have posted on the world’s longest-running play that she wrote, The Mousetrap, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mousetrap/ and also on Murder on the Orient Express https://www.bookofdaystales.com/orient-express/ . Therefore, I am going to limit my remarks here to her mysterious disappearance in 1926, with bits of context to flesh out the post. I will note that Guinness World Records lists Christie as the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly 2 billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world’s most-widely published books, behind only Shakespeare’s works and the Bible. According to Index Translationum, she remains the most-translated individual author, having been translated into at least 103 languages. And Then There Were None is Christie’s best-selling novel, with 100 million sales to date, making it the world’s best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time. I wonder who remembers the original title? It comes from the nursery rhyme that is the backbone of the murders in the story which was not called Ten Little Indians originally (the name the book and subsequent play had for a period).  I am old enough to remember.

Christie was born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon. Before marrying and starting a family in London, she had served in a Devon hospital during the First World War, tending to troops coming back from the trenches. She was initially an unsuccessful writer with six consecutive rejections, but this changed when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring Hercule Poirot, was published in 1920. During the Second World War, she worked as a pharmacy assistant at University College Hospital, London, acquiring a good knowledge of poisons which feature in many of her novels (and in the recipe at the end of this post).

She met Archibald Christie (1889–1962) at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford at Ugbrooke, about 12 miles (19 kilometres) from Torquay. Archie was born in India, the son of a barrister in the Indian Civil Service. He was an army officer who was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1913. The couple quickly fell in love. Upon learning that he would be stationed in Farnborough, Archie proposed marriage, and Agatha accepted. With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Archie was sent to France to fight. They married on the afternoon of Christmas Eve 1914 at Emmanuel Church, Clifton, Bristol, which was close to the home of his parents, while Archie was on home leave.

Rising through the ranks, he was eventually stationed back to Britain in September 1918 as a colonel in the Air Ministry. Agatha involved herself in the war effort. After joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1914, she attended to wounded soldiers at a hospital in Torquay as an unpaid nurse. She performed 3,400 hours of unpaid work between October 1914 and December 1916. On qualifying as an “apothecaries’ assistant” in 1917 and working as a dispenser, she earned £16 a year until the end of her service in September 1918. After the war, Agatha and Archie Christie settled in a flat at 5 Northwick Terrace in St. John’s Wood, northwest London.

Christie had long been a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and The Moonstone, as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories. She wrote her own detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring Hercule Poirot, a former Belgian police officer noted for his twirly large “magnificent moustaches” and egg-shaped head. Poirot had taken refuge in Britain after Germany invaded Belgium. Christie’s inspiration for the character stemmed from real Belgian refugees who were living in Torquay and the Belgian soldiers whom she helped to treat as a volunteer nurse in Torquay during the First World War. She began working on The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1916, writing most of it on Dartmoor. Her original manuscript was rejected by such publishing companies as Hodder and Stoughton and Methuen. After keeping the submission for several months, John Lane at The Bodley Head offered to accept it, provided that Christie change the ending. She did so, and signed a contract which she later felt was exploitative. It was finally published in 1920.

Christie, meanwhile, settled into married life, giving birth to her only child, Rosalind Margaret Hicks, in August 1919 at Ashfield, where the couple spent much of their time, having few friends in London. Archie left the Air Force at the end of the war and started working in the City financial sector at a relatively low salary. Her second novel, The Secret Adversary (1922), featured a new detective couple Tommy and Tuppence, again published by The Bodley Head. It earned her £50. Her third novel, Murder on the Links (1923), again featured Poirot, as did short stories commissioned by Bruce Ingram, editor of The Sketch magazine. In order to tour the world promoting the British Empire Exhibition, the couple left their daughter Rosalind with Agatha’s mother and sister. They traveled to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.

In late 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. He had fallen in love with Nancy Neele, who had been a friend of Major Belcher, director of the British Empire Mission, on the promotional tour a few years earlier. On 3rd December 1926, the Christies quarreled and Archie left their house, in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress in Godalming, Surrey. At around 9:45 pm, Christie disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car, a Morris Cowley, was found at Newlands Corner, perched above a chalk quarry, with an expired driving license and clothes.

The disappearance caused a public outcry. The home secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, pressured police, and a newspaper offered a £100 reward. Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and several aeroplanes scoured the rural landscape. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave a spirit medium one of Christie’s gloves to find her. Crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers visited the house in Surrey and used the scenario in her book Unnatural Death. Christie’s disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times. Despite the extensive manhunt, she was not found for 10 days. On 14th December 1926, she was found at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate, Yorkshire, registered as Mrs Teresa Neele (the surname of her husband’s lover) from Cape Town.

Christie’s autobiography makes no reference to her disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia, yet opinion remains divided as to why she disappeared.  She was known to be in a depressed state from literary overwork, her mother’s death earlier that year, and her husband’s infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative, supposing a publicity stunt or an attempt to frame her husband for murder.

I was not aware of Christie’s disappearance episode until it was featured on Dr Who in “The Unicorn and the Wasp” (17 May 2008), with Fenella Woolgar, in which her disappearance is the result of her suffering a temporary breakdown owing to a brief psychic link being formed between her and an alien wasp called the Vespiform.  A strange way to be introduced to history, but it did make me look up historical references. I am not a big Christie fan, but I imagine that her disappearance is old news to those who are, and speculation around it is endless.  I’ll leave that to you.

French writer Anna Martinetti  wrote the cookbook Creams and Punishments based on the works of Agatha Christie. In the collection are recipes for dishes in which the protagonists of novels and stories of Agatha Christie added the same ingredient – poison. Here is a video for a version of fish in oil from the novel Sad Cypress, a  dish to which the murderer added strychnine. I’d be inclined to leave it off your ingredient list.

Sep 142019
 

This date in 786 CE is known as the Night of the Three Caliphs, because on this day Hārūn al-Rashid became the Abbasid caliph upon the death of his brother al-Hadi who had a short reign as caliph, and Hārūn’s son al-Ma’mun was born today, and he succeeded his father. For now I will focus on Hārūn, and give a video recipe for fried, salted fish from the Abbasid empire at the end.

Under Hārūn ar-Rashīd Baghdad flourished into the most splendid city of its period. Tribute paid by many rulers to the caliph funded architecture, the arts and court luxuries. In 796, Hārūn moved the entire court to Raqqa at the middle Euphrates, and spent 12 years, most of his reign, there. Subsequently, he visited Baghdad only once. Several reasons may have influenced the decision to move to Raqqa: its closeness to the Byzantine border; its communication lines via the Euphrates to Baghdad and via the Balikh river to the north and via Palmyra to Damascus were excellent; rich agriculture land; and strategic advantage from Raqqa over any rebellion in Syria and the middle Euphrates area. Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani pictures in his anthology of poems the splendid life in his court. In Raqqa the Barmekids, who had been original supporters of the Abbasids, managed the fate of the empire, and both heirs, al-Amin and al-Ma’mun, grew up there. At some point the royal court relocated again to Al-Rayy, the capital city of Khorasan, where the famous philologist and leader of the Kufan school, Al-Kisa’i, accompanied Hārūn with his entourage. When al-Kisa’i became ill, while in Al-Rayy, it is said that Hārūn visited him daily. It seems that the Hanafi jurist Muhammad al-Shaybani and al-Kisa’i both died there on the same day in 804. Hārūn is quoted as saying: “Today Law and Language have died.”

Hārūn made pilgrimages to Mecca several times: 793, 795, 797, 802 and last in 803. Tabari concludes his account of Hārūn’s reign with these words: “It has been said that when Hārūn ar-Rashid died, there were nine hundred million [silver] dirhams in the state treasury.”

Hārūn was influenced by the will of his incredibly powerful mother in the governance of the empire until her death in 789. His vizier Yahya the Barmakid, Yahya’s sons (especially Ja’far ibn Yahya), and other Barmakids generally controlled the administration. The position of Persians in the Abbasid caliphal court reached its peak during al-Rashid’s reign. The Barmakids were a Persian family (from Balkh) that dated back to the Barmak a hereditary Buddhist priest of Nava Vihara, who converted after the Islamic conquest of Balkh and became very powerful under al-Mahdi. Yahya had helped Hārūn in obtaining the caliphate, and he and his sons were in high favor until 798, when the caliph threw them in prison and confiscated their land. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari dates this in 803 and lists various accounts for the cause: Yahya’s entering the Caliph’s presence without permission; Yahya’s opposition to Muhammad ibn al Layth, who later gained Hārūn’s favour; and Ja’far’s release of Yahya ibn Abdallah ibn Hasan, whom Hārūn had imprisoned.

Both Einhard and Notker the Stammerer refer to the envoys traveling between Hārūn’s and Charlemagne’s courts, amicable discussions concerning Christian access to the Holy Land and the exchange of gifts. Notker mentions Charlemagne sent Hārūn Spanish horses, colorful Frisian cloaks and impressive hunting dogs. In 802 Hārūn sent Charlemagne a present consisting of silks, brass candelabra, perfume, balsam, ivory chessmen, a colossal tent with many-colored curtains, an elephant named Abul-Abbas, and a water clock that marked the hours by dropping bronze balls into a bowl, as mechanical knights—one for each hour—emerged from little doors which shut behind them. The presents were unprecedented in Western Europe and may have influenced Carolingian art.

When the Byzantine empress Irene was deposed in 802, Nikephoros I became emperor and refused to pay tribute to Hārūn, saying that Irene should have been receiving the tribute the whole time. News of this angered Hārūn, who wrote a message on the back of the Roman emperor’s letter and said “In the name of God the most merciful, From Amir al-Mu’minin Hārūn ar-Rashid, commander of the faithful, to Nikephoros, dog of the Romans. Thou shalt not hear, thou shalt behold my reply”. After campaigns in Asia Minor, Nikephoros was forced to conclude a treaty, with humiliating terms. Hārūn  established an alliance with the Chinese Tang dynasty after he sent embassies to China. He was called “A-lun” in the Chinese Tang Annals. The alliance was aimed against the Tibetans.

Because of his appearance as the protagonist in many tales in Thousand and One Nights, Hārūn ar-Rashid turned into a legendary figure obscuring his true historic personality. In fact, his reign initiated the political disintegration of the Abbasid caliphate. Syria was inhabited by tribes with Umayyad sympathies and remained the bitter enemy of the Abbasids, while Egypt witnessed uprisings against Abbasids due to maladministration and arbitrary taxation. The Umayyads had been established in Spain in 755, the Idrisids in Morocco in 788, and the Aghlabids in Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia) in 800. Besides, unrest flared up in Yemen, and the Kharijites rose in rebellion in Daylam, Kerman, Fars and Sistan. Revolts also broke out in Khorasan, and ar-Rashid waged many campaigns against the Byzantines.

Ar-Rashid appointed Ali bin Isa bin Mahan as the governor of Khorasan, who tried to bring to heel the princes and chieftains of the region, and to reimpose the full authority of the central government on them. This new policy met with fierce resistance and provoked numerous uprisings in the region. A major revolt led by Rafi ibn al-Layth was started in Samarqand which forced Hārūn al-Rashid to move to Khorasan. He first removed and arrested Ali bin Isa bin Mahan but the revolt continued unchecked. Hārūn al-Rashid became ill and died very soon after he reached Sanabad village in Tus and was buried in Dar al-Imarah, the summer palace of Humayd ibn Qahtaba, the Abbasid governor of Khorasan. Due to this historical event, the Dar al-Imarah was known as the Mausoleum of Hārūniyyeh. The location later became known as Mashhad (“The Place of Martyrdom”) because of the martyrdom of Imam ar-Ridha in 818.

Al-Rashid virtually dismembered the empire by apportioning it between his two sons al-Amin and al-Ma’mun (with his third son, al-Qasim, being belatedly added after them). Very soon it became clear that by dividing the empire, Rashid had actually helped to set the opposing parties against one another, and had provided them with sufficient resources to become independent of each other. After the death of Hārūn al-Rashid, civil war broke out in the empire between his two sons, al-Amin and al-Ma’mun, which spiraled into a prolonged period of turmoil and warfare throughout the Caliphate, ending only with Ma’mun’s final triumph in 827.

Here is a fish dish from an Abbasid cookbook.  The video is in Arabic, but there are English subtitles:

Aug 282019
 

Today is the birthday (1908) of Roger Tory Peterson, a US naturalist, ornithologist, artist, and educator who is perhaps best known for his series of field guides, beginning with the guides to North American birds. He is also a founding inspiration for the 20th-century environmental movement. I used his field guides for many years when I was an active birder, and found them to be singularly insightful in the identification of species. More on that later.

Peterson was born in Jamestown, on the western fringe of New York state. At the age of 11, Peterson’s passion for birds exploded. His seventh grade teacher, Blanche Hornbeck, enrolled her students in the Junior Audubon Club, taught them about birds, and often walked them to a nearby forest where she used nature to teach writing, art, and science. It was during that year on an April morning that Roger had an experience that shaped the rest of his life. While hiking with a friend at nearby Swede Hill, the boys spotted a seemingly lifeless clump of brown feathers on a tree, very low to the ground. Although merely sleeping, the boys thought the Northern Flicker was dead. Later, Peterson described the experience:

I poked it and it burst into color, with the red on the back of its head and the gold on its wing. It was the contrast, you see, between something I thought was dead and something so alive. Like a resurrection. I came to believe birds are the most vivid reflection of life. It made me aware of the world in which we live.

During the summer of 1925 Peterson painted furniture at the Union National Furniture Company for eight dollars a week. He created decorative motifs of intricate Chinese subjects on exquisite lacquer wood cabinets made there. The head of the decorating department, Willem Dieperink von Langereis, gave Peterson his first encouragement about being an artist and insisted that he go to art school. For the next two years, he worked and saved his money. He left Jamestown for the Art Students League in New York City in 1927. In 1929 he advanced to the National Academy of Design. While working and saving money for art school, Peterson studiously practiced art and photography, using birds as his subjects. Two of his earliest published photographs included Northern Cardinals in the 1925 Jamestown High School Yearbook, and Black-capped Chickadees in the 1926 Yearbook.

In 1931, Peterson became a science teacher at Rivers Country Day School, a private prep school for sons of “gentlemen” in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Harvard. In Boston, Peterson became a member of the oldest ornithological organization in the US, the Nuttall Club. Here he encountered Francis H. Allen, an editor at Houghton Mifflin. In 1934 Houghton Mifflin published his seminal Guide to the Birds, the first modern field guide. One of the inspirations for his field guide was the diagram of ducks that Ernest Thompson Seton made in Two Little Savages (1903).

Peterson wrote:

My identification system is visual rather than phylogenetic; it uses shape, pattern, and field marks in a comparative way. The phylogenetic order, which is related to evolution, is not emphasized within families. Similar-appearing species are placed together on plates and the critical distinctions are pointed out with little arrows.

This is simplicity itself. You see a small bird with yellow and brown feathers, so you turn to a page of similar looking yellow and brown birds and look to see what specific field markings distinguish them. Then you look back at the bird to see its field markings, and in short order you have identified it.  In later additions he added silhouettes in flight from below, because sometimes you catch nothing more than that as the bird flies over you. Even with that little to go on (plus size and location), you can often identify the bird.

Giving a recipe for some kind of poultry to honor Peterson would be a tad too ironic, even for me, so let’s turn to the place where he first got his passion for birding. He was raised in Chautauqua county which is well known for a number of things, including the Chautauqua Institution which sponsored public education programs in a variety of areas up until the 1940s. It still houses numerous practical and educational events and one of these involves cooking. Here is a Chautauqua recipe for Concord grape and blueberry tart (both locally available ingredients in abundance). Concord grape pie filling is available at the usual online outlets if you cannot find it in your supermarket.

Concord Grape and Blueberry Tart

Ingredients

Crust

2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp almond extract
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
¼ cup finely ground almonds

Filling

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
16 oz Concord grape pie filling
3 tbsp water

1 cup (approx.) fresh blueberries

Instructions

Pulse the crust ingredients in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse sand and the ingredients begin to stick together. Turn out on to plastic wrap, wrap tightly, and chill in the refrigerator for one hour. Then place the chilled dough on a large sheet of waxed paper, lay another sheet on top, and roll out the dough so that it fits a 9” pie pan lined with parchment paper. Trim off the edges and roll them over to make a neat border. Bake the tart shell blind for about ten minutes at 375°F, making sure that it is cooked through, but not overly brown.

Beat the eggs in a stand mixer until light in color. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat until the mixture is slightly thickened. Add the grape filling and water and beat until thoroughly mixed. Pour the filling into the pre-baked shell. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.

Cool the pie in the pan on a wire rack. Arrange fresh blueberries on the top, pressing them lightly into the cooked filling.

Note: some cooks add blueberries to the filling before baking.

Aug 252019
 

Today is the feast day of several saints who all have cognate names, and many scholars believe that they are all the same person (or the same fictional person). They do have somewhat different legends associated with them.  The most prominent of the three is Saint Genesius of Arles (French: Saint Genès), a notary martyred under Maximianus in 303 or 308. Then there is Saint Genesius of Rome who was a comic actor, martyred under Diocletian (late 3rd century). Finally, there is Saint Ginés de la Jara (also known as Ginés de la Xara, Ginés el Franco, Genesius Sciarensis), an obscure Spanish saint associated with the region surrounding Cartagena. Let’s take them in turn.

The Acta Santorum, attributed to St. Paulinus of Nola, states: “Genesius, native of Arles, at first a soldier became known for his proficiency in writing, and was made secretary to the magistrate of Arles. While performing the duties of his office the decree of persecution against the Christians was read in his presence. Outraged in his ideas of justice, the young catechumen cast his tablets at the feet of the magistrate and fled. He was captured and executed, and thus received baptism in his own blood.” His veneration must be very old, as his name is found in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (4th century). A church and altar dedicated to him at Arles were also known in the 4th century. A 5th-century vita in the form of a sermon, Sermo de vita Genesii, is sometimes attributed to Hilary of Arles.

According to Serafino Prete, the spread and popularity of Genesius’ cult in other cities of Gaul and beyond gave rise to the multiplication and “localization” of his cult, so that the saints Genesius of Alvernia, Genesius of Béziers, Genesius of Rome, Genesius of Cordoba and Genesius Sciarensis (Ginés de la Jara) are actually variations on the same saint and saint’s cult.

Genesius of Rome was said to be the leader of a theatrical troupe in Rome. One day he was performing before the Roman emperor Diocletian, intending to expose Christian religious rites to ridicule and pretending to receive the sacrament of Baptism. As the play continued, however, Genesius suddenly lay on the stage as if very ill. Two performers asked what was wrong. Genesius said he felt as if a weight were on his chest and he wanted it removed. Two actors, dressed as a priest and exorcist, were called on stage. He said he had had a vision of angels bearing a book listing all of his sins. The “priest” asked, “My child, why did you send for me?” Genesius said he could still see angels and asked to be baptized right there. The “priest” did so. Enraged, Diocletian had him arrested and sent to Plautia, prefect of the praetorium, to be tortured. Despite his agonies, Genesius persisted in his faith, and he was finally ordered to be beheaded.

Genesius is said to have been buried in the Cemetery of St. Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina. His relics are claimed to be kept in San Giovanni della Pigna, Santa Susanna di Termini, and the chapel of St. Lawrence.

No definite dates regarding the birth and death of Ginés de la Jara exist. However, a set of legends surrounding him arose. He is believed to have sailed from France around 800 and to have been shipwrecked on the Murcian coast, where he established a monastery. Another legend made him a kinsman of the Frankish military leader Roland. After his death, the coffin bearing his remains were brought to France. However, they were miraculously empty when they arrived there; the relics remained near the Mar Menor.  Additional stories state that he went on a pilgrimage to Compostela, having various adventures on the way. He then remained on the hill known as Cabezo del Miral, he remained until his death. His fame grew and his sepulcher became a place of pilgrimage.

A legend that appears in a manuscript dating from 1243, Liber Sancti Iacobi, states that Genesius of Arles was buried at Arles but that his head was transported miraculously “in the hands of angels” to Cartagena. This may represent an attempt to explain the existence of the cult of the same saint in two separate locations. An additional variation on the legend states that after Ginés was decapitated in southern France, he picked up his head and threw it into the Rhône. The head was carried by sea to the coast of Murcia, where it was venerated as a relic.

I think it is safe to assume that Genesius of Arles is the progenitor of the other saintly legends, so let us focus on Arles for our recipe today. Saucissons d’Arles are as legendary as Genesius.  They are made from lean pork and beef, pork fat, and various spices.  They are left to cure in controlled temperature and humidity for several months before eating.  Here is a video on the process.  It’s in French, I’m afraid, but you’ll get the gist even if you are French challenged:

 

Aug 232019
 

Today is the birthday (1926) of Clifford Geertz, a US anthropologist who is remembered mostly for his strong support for and influence on the practice of symbolic anthropology. His Interpretation of Cultures was one of the pillars of my doctoral training in the 1970s, and he was certainly of monumental importance in pushing anthropology away from reductionist analyses. Both “Thick Description” and “Balinese Cock Fight” were instrumental in guiding cultural anthropology towards interpretive approaches to field data. His training in philosophy as an undergraduate led him to incorporate key directions in analytic philosophy into his anthropological studies. In this regard I am both sympathetic to and critical of his work.

Geertz was born in San Francisco. After service in the US Navy in World War II (1943–45), he received his B.A. in philosophy from Antioch College in 1950. After graduating from Antioch he attended Harvard University from which he graduated in 1956, as a student in the Department of Social Relations. This interdisciplinary program was led by Talcott Parsons, and Geertz worked with both Parsons and Clyde Kluckhohn. Geertz was trained as an anthropologist, and conducted his first long-term fieldwork, together with his wife, Hildred, in Java. He studied the religious life of a small, upcountry town for two-and-a-half years, living with a railroad laborer’s family. After finishing his thesis, Geertz returned to Bali and Sumatra. He earned his Ph.D. in 1956.

At the University of Chicago, Geertz became a champion of symbolic anthropology, a framework which gives prime attention to the role of symbols in constructing public meaning. In The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Geertz outlined culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.” He was one of the earliest scholars to see that the insights provided by common language, philosophy and literary analysis could have major explanatory force in the social sciences. Geertz aimed to provide the social sciences with an understanding and appreciation of “thick description,” an idea he took from the philosopher Gilbert Ryle. Geertz applied thick description to anthropological studies (specifically his own ‘interpretive anthropology’), urging anthropologists to consider the limitations placed upon them by their own cultural cosmologies when attempting to offer insight into the cultures of other people.

Max Weber’s interpretative social science was also a strong influence on Geertz’s work. Geertz himself argues for a “semiotic” concept of culture: “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun,” he states, “I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after, construing social expression on their surface enigmatical.”

Geertz argues that to interpret a culture’s web of symbols, scholars must first isolate its elements, specifying the internal relationships among those elements and characterize the whole system in some general way according to the core symbols around which it is organized, the underlying structures of which it is a surface expression, or the ideological principles upon which it is based. It was his view that culture is public, because meaning is public, and systems of meanings are what produce culture, because they are the collective property of a particular people. We cannot discover the culture’s import or understand its systems of meaning, when, as Wittgenstein noted, “we cannot find our feet with them.” Geertz wants society to appreciate that social actions are larger than themselves; they speak to larger issues, and vice versa, because “they are made to.”

It is not against a body of uninterrupted data, radically thinned descriptions, that we must measure the cogency of our explications, but against the power of the scientific imagination to bring us into touch with the lives of strangers.

The goal of the semiotic approach to culture is to converse with subjects in foreign cultures and gain access to their conceptual world.

His often-cited essay “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” is the classic example of thick description. Thick description is an anthropological method of explaining with as much detail as possible the reason behind human actions. Individual human actions can mean many different things, and Geertz insisted that the anthropologist needs to be aware of this. The work proved influential amongst historians, many of whom tried to use these ideas about the ‘meaning’ of cultural practice in the study of customs and traditions of the past.

Geertz himself was aware of the critical weakness of interpretive anthropology, namely, there is no yardstick to measure its validity by. You have to judge the success of an interpretive study by its believability, but, as he points out, a con man is believable. I would add the question, “To what extent are his thick descriptions legitimate analyses by local standards?” When he argues that such-and-such action in Bali has these seven meanings locally, to what degree would locals agree with him?

In any case, the Balinese cockfight gives us an avenue into today’s recipe: Balinese shredded chicken.

Aug 212019
 

Today is Ninoy Aquino Day is a national non-working holiday in the Philippines observed annually, commemorating the assassination of former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. He was the husband of Corazon Aquino, who was later to become Philippine President. They are treated as two of the heroes of democracy in the country. His assassination led to the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos on February 25th, 1986, through the People Power Revolution. In 2004, the commemoration ceremony for the holiday was held and events were attended by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Fidel V. Ramos. Unlike other dates reserved for national heroes of the Philippines (like Bonifacio Day, Rizal Day, Araw ng Kagitingan, and National Heroes Day), the date is not a “regular holiday” (double pay for working nationals) but only a “special non-working holiday” (premium of 30% for working nationals).

Aquino was a well-known opposition figure and critic of the then-president Ferdinand Marcos. Due to his beliefs, he was later imprisoned for about eight years after martial law was declared in the country. Even in prison he sought a parliamentary seat for Metro Manila in the Interim Batasang Pambansa, under the banner of the Lakas ng Bayan (LABAN). He eventually led in the opinion polls and was initially leading the electoral count but eventually lost to the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) slate led by First Lady Imelda Marcos.

Imelda Marcos

Aquino remained in prison but continued to fight for democracy in the country and against the oppression of the Filipino people. After suffering from a heart attack in March 1980, he and his family moved to the United States for medical treatment, eventually leading to his self-imposed exile for about three years. There, he continued his advocacy by giving speeches to the Filipino-American communities. Later, he planned to return to the islands to challenge Marcos for the parliamentary elections in 1984. Though some did not feel this was a good idea, he still did so in 1983. Upon returning to the Philippines at the Manila International Airport (now renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport in his honor), he was shot and killed on August 21st, 1983 as he was escorted off an airplane by security personnel. This led to several protests at his funeral that sparked snap presidential elections in 1986, which led to the 1986 EDSA Revolution, catapulting his wife, Cory Aquino, to the presidency.

The holiday was created by Republic Act 9256, which was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on February 25th, 2004, twenty-one years after his death and eighteen years after the People Power Revolution., and was sponsored by Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose de Venecia. A commemoration ceremony was held at the People Power Monument which was attended by presidents Arroyo and Aquino, the Aquino family, and government officials such as members of the cabinet, top police, and military brass.

The holiday was included in president Arroyo’s program of “holiday economics”, adjusting the observance of the holiday to the nearest Monday in order to boost the tourism industry with long weekends. In 2010, it was moved back to its original date by Aquino’s only son, president Benigno Aquino III.

One of my favorite Filipino dishes is papaitan, which is a tripe soup.  Remember that I am a tripe aficionado!!! I have not ever made it myself, but I have eaten various versions, both in Manila and in Filipino restaurants in New York.  Here’s a video for you:

Aug 162019
 

On this date in 1945, Indonesia formally declared its independence from Japan, and, by extension, from the Netherlands (although not a fait accompli at the time). Sukarno read the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence (Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia) at 10:00 in the morning of Friday, 17th August 1945. The wording and declaration of the proclamation had to balance the interests of conflicting internal Indonesian and Japanese interests at the time. The declaration marked the start of the diplomatic and armed resistance of the Indonesian National Revolution, fighting against the forces of the Netherlands and pro-Dutch civilians, until the latter officially acknowledged Indonesia’s independence in 1949.

Hatta

Indonesia was under colonial rule by the Dutch in some parts for 300 years. Resistance to Dutch rule was met with imprisonment and exile. The fight for independence in the 20th century included Mohammad Hatta and Sukarno, who established the Indonesian National Party in 1927, which advocated for independence from the Dutch. The invasion of Indonesia by the Japanese during the Second World War added a new dynamic to the fight for independence. The Japanese defeated the Dutch in 1942 and moved into Indonesia. There were uprisings against Japanese rule as there had been against the Dutch, because farmers and other workers were exploited by the Japanese. Furthermore the Japanese had tried to limit Islam. Nonetheless, during the war Sukarno delivered speeches saying he believed independence could be achieved with the assistance of Japan. Hatta also worked with the Japanese. Sjahrir, another figure in the nationalist movement, focused on establishing an underground support network. Many educated youths influenced by Sjahrir in Jakarta and Bandung started establishing underground support networks for plans of Indonesian independence following Japan’s defeat.

The end of the war on August 15th further expedited the process for independence. Youth leaders supported by Sjahrir hoped for a declaration of independence separate from the Japanese, which initially was not supported by Hatta and Sukarno. However with the assistance of a high ranking Japanese military officer Tadashi Maeda, the declaration of independence was drafted.

The draft was prepared only a few hours before its reading on the night of 16th August 1945,[36] by Sukarno, Hatta, and Soebardjo, at the house of rear-admiral Tadashi Maeda, 1 Miyako-dōri (都通り). The house which is located in Jakarta is now the Formulation of Proclamation Text Museum situated at Jl. Imam Bonjol No. 1. Aside from the three Indonesian leaders and Admiral Maeda, three Japanese agents were also present at the drafting: Tomegoro Yoshizumi (of the Navy Communications Office Kaigun Bukanfu (海軍武官府)); Shigetada Nishijima and Shunkichiro Miyoshi (of the Imperial Japanese Army). The original Indonesian Declaration of Independence was typed by Sayuti Melik. Maeda himself was sleeping in his room upstairs. He was agreeable to the idea of Indonesia’s independence, and had lent his house for the drafting of the declaration. Marshal Terauchi, the highest-ranking Japanese leader in South East Asia and son of former Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake, was however against Indonesia’s independence.

While the formal preparation of the declaration, and the official independence itself for that matter, had been carefully planned a few months earlier, the actual declaration date was brought forward almost inadvertently as a consequence of the Japanese unconditional surrender to the Allies on 15th August 1945. The wording of the proclamation had been discussed at length and had to balance both conflicting internal Indonesian and Japanese interests. Sukarno drafted the final proclamation which balanced the interests of both the members of the youth movement and the Japanese. The term ‘TRANSFER OF POWER’ was used in Indonesian to satisfy Japanese interests to appear that it was an administrative transfer of power, although the term used ‘pemindahan kekuasaan’ could be perceived to mean political power. The wording ‘BY CAREFUL MEANS’ related to preventing conflict with members of the youth movement. The wording ‘IN THE SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME’ was used to meet the needs of all Indonesians for independence.

PROCLAMATION

WE THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA HEREBY DECLARE THE INDEPENDENCE OF
INDONESIA. MATTERS WHICH CONCERN THE TRANSFER OF POWER AND
OTHER THINGS WILL BE EXECUTED BY CAREFUL MEANS AND IN THE
SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME.

DJAKARTA, 17 AUGUST 1945

IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA

SOEKARNO/HATTA

Initially the proclamation was to be announced at Djakarta central square, but the military had been sent to monitor the area, so the venue was changed to Sukarno’s house at Pegangsaan Timur 56. The declaration of independence passed without a hitch. The proclamation was prevented from being broadcast on the radio to the outside world by Yamamoto and Nishimura from the Japanese military, and was also initially prevented from being reported in the newspapers. However Shigetada Nishijima and Tadashi Maeda enabled the proclamation to be dispersed via telephone and telegraph. The proclamation at 56, Jalan Pegangsaan Timur, Jakarta, was heard throughout the country because the text was secretly broadcast by Indonesian radio personnel using the transmitters of the Jakarta Broadcasting Station (ジャカルタ放送局 Jakaruta Hōsōkyoku).

The Domei news agency was used to send the text of the proclamation to reach Bandung and Jogjakarta. Members of the youth movement in Bandung facilitated broadcasts of the proclamation in Indonesian and English from radio Bandung. Furthermore the local radio system was connected with the Central Telegraph Office and it broadcast the proclamation overseas. Moreover Sukarno’s speech that he gave on the day of the proclamation was not fully published. During his speech he discussed the continued need for the independence of Indonesia from Dutch as well as Japanese rule.

I have been a fan of Indonesian (primarily Javanese) cooking for decades.  If you search this site you will find recipes for my favorites, including soto ayam and nasi goreng.  To ring the changes, here is a video of making Pia Pia, shrimp fritters that are common village and street food.

 

Aug 112019
 

Today is the birthday (1921) of Alexander Murray Palmer Haley, an African-American writer who came to prominence for his 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family which ABC adapted as a television miniseries of the same name, aired in 1977 to a record-breaking audience of 130 million viewers. I knew him better for his first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published in 1965, a collaboration through numerous lengthy interviews with Malcolm and published after his murder. Prior to the release of the book, Malcolm was grossly mischaracterized in the media, and I, like most of my contemporaries, had no idea about his life story. I’d say that Haley was a complex mixture of astute writer, huckster, and innocent.

Alex Haley was born in Ithaca, New York, the oldest of three brothers and a half-sister. Haley’s father was Simon Haley, a professor of agriculture at Alabama A&M University, and his mother was Bertha George Haley (née Palmer). Haley always spoke proudly of his father and the obstacles of racism he had overcome. Haley was enrolled at age 15 in Alcorn State University, a historically black college in Mississippi and, a year later, enrolled at Elizabeth City State College, also historically black, in North Carolina. The following year he returned to his father and stepmother to tell them he had withdrawn from college. His father felt that Alex needed discipline and growth, and convinced him to enlist in the military when he turned 18. On May 24, 1939, Alex Haley began what became a 20-year career in the United States Coast Guard.

Haley enlisted as a mess attendant. Later he was promoted to the rate of petty officer third-class in the rating of steward, one of the few ratings open to African Americans at that time. It was during his service in the Pacific theater of operations that Haley taught himself how to write stories. During his enlistment other sailors often paid him to write love letters to their girlfriends. He said that the greatest enemy he and his crew faced during their long voyages was not the Japanese forces but boredom. After World War II, Haley petitioned the U.S. Coast Guard to allow him to transfer into the field of journalism. By 1949 he had become a petty officer first-class in the rating of journalist. He later advanced to chief petty officer and held this rank until his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1959. He was the first chief journalist in the Coast Guard, the rating having been expressly created for him in recognition of his literary ability.

After retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard, Haley began another phase of his journalism career. He eventually became a senior editor for Reader’s Digest magazine. It was his interviews for Playboy magazine that earned him notoriety. His first elicited candid comments from jazz musician Miles Davis about his thoughts and feelings on racism that appeared in Playboy’s September 1962 issue. That interview set the tone for what became a significant feature of the magazine. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Playboy interview with Haley was the longest he ever granted to any publication.

Throughout the 1960s Haley was responsible for some of the magazine’s most notable interviews, including one with George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party. He agreed to meet with Haley only after gaining assurance from the writer that he was not Jewish. Haley remained professional during the interview, although Rockwell kept a handgun on the table throughout it. (The interview was recreated in Roots: The Next Generations, with James Earl Jones as Haley and Marlon Brando as Rockwell.) Haley also interviewed Muhammad Ali, who spoke about changing his name from Cassius Clay. Other interviews include Jack Ruby’s defense attorney Melvin Belli, entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., football player Jim Brown, TV host Johnny Carson, and music producer Quincy Jones.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) was Haley’s first book (although at the time he was not credited). It describes the trajectory of Malcolm’s life from street criminal to national spokesman for the Nation of Islam to his conversion to Sunni Islam. It also outlines Malcolm’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism. Haley wrote an epilogue to the book summarizing the end of Malcolm’s life, including his assassination in New York’s Audubon Ballroom. The book was based on more than 50 in-depth interviews he conducted with Malcolm between 1963 and his murder in February 1965 http://www.bookofdaystales.com/malcolm-x/ . The two men had first met in 1960 when Haley wrote an article about the Nation of Islam for Reader’s Digest. They met again when Haley interviewed Malcolm for Playboy.

In 1976 Haley published Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a novel based on his family’s history, going back to slavery days. It started with the story of Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped in the Gambia in 1767 and transported to the Province of Maryland to be sold as a slave. Haley claimed to be a seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte, and his work on the novel involved twelve years of research, intercontinental travel, and writing. He went to the village of Juffure, where Kunta Kinte grew up and listened to a tribal historian (griot) tell the story of Kinte’s capture. Haley also traced the records of the ship, The Lord Ligonier, which he said carried his ancestor to the Americas.  Unfortunately, large sections of Roots were plagiarized, and the research is sketchy – at best.

Roots faced two lawsuits that charged plagiarism and copyright infringement. The lawsuit brought by Margaret Walker was dismissed, but Harold Courlander’s suit was successful. Courlander’s novel The African describes an African boy who is captured by slave traders, follows him across the Atlantic on a slave ship, and describes his attempts to hold on to his African traditions on a plantation in America. Haley admitted that some passages from The African had made it into Roots, settling the case out of court in 1978 and paying Courlander $650,000.

Genealogists have also disputed Haley’s research and conclusions in Roots. The Gambian griot turned out not to be a real griot, and the story of Kunta Kinte appears to have been a case of circular reporting, in which Haley’s own words were repeated back to him. None of the written records in Virginia and North Carolina line up with the Roots story until after the Civil War. Some elements of Haley’s family story can be found in the written records, but the genealogy going back to Africa is entirely unverified.

Although Roots has only a passing resemblance to actual history, it did trigger an interest in genealogical research in the African-American community, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X turned the spotlight on the many ways in which the African-American community hurt itself – especially when it came to diet.  The Nation of Islam owned restaurants that followed some of the tenets of Halal cooking – including a prohibition against eating pork – and advocated a healthier diet than the proverbial soul food.  Bean pie was a much loved favorite. This recipe makes two pies.

Bean Pie Recipe

Ingredients

2 cups cooked navy beans (cooked)
1 stick butter
1 14-oz. can evaporated milk
4 eggs
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp flour
2 cups sugar
2 tbsp vanilla

2 pie shells

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place the beans, butter, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, and flour in a food processor and process on medium speed for 2 minutes. Mix in the sugar and vanilla and stir well.

Pour the mix into pie shells and bake for around an hour until golden brown. Check the filling periodically with a toothpick inserted into the center.