Jul 202017
 

Today is International Chess Day, as proposed by UNESCO because the International Chess Federation (FIDE) was founded on this date in 1924. It has been celebrated on this date since 1966. FIDE, which has 181 chess federations as its members, organizes chess events and competitions around the world on this day. A 2012 Yougov poll showed that “a surprisingly stable 70% of the adult population has played chess at some point during their lives.” The claim is that “the adult population” includes people “in countries as diverse as the US, UK, Germany, Russia, India.” I wouldn’t exactly call these countries “diverse” (with the possible exception of India) but I get the point. If the statistic holds true for my readership I don’t need to spend much time talking about how the modern game of chess works – not that I want to do that, anyway. Instead I’ll talk about some peripheral matters such as the historical antecedents to the game, its near and distant relatives, and some novel chess pieces.

Chess as we know it is generally believed to have evolved in Eastern India, c. 280–550, in the Gupta Empire, where an early form (in the 6th century was known as chaturaṅga) (Sanskrit: चतुरङ्ग), literally “four [military] divisions”  – infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry, represented by the pieces that would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively. From India the game spread eastward and westward along the Silk Road. The earliest physical evidence of a chess-like game (that is, actual game pieces) is found in the nearby Sassanid Persia around 600, where the game came to be known by the name chatrang.

Chatrang was taken up by the Muslim world after the Islamic conquest of Persia (633–44), where it was then named shatranj, with the pieces largely retaining their Persian names. In Spanish “shatranj” was rendered as ajedrez (“al-shatranj”), in Portuguese as xadrez, and in Greek as ζατρίκιον (zatrikion, which comes directly from the Persian chatrang), but in the rest of Europe it was replaced by versions of the Persian shāh (“king”), which evolved into the English words “check” and “chess.” The phrase shāh mat (“the king is dead”) became “checkmate.”

The oldest archaeological artifacts, believed to be actual chess pieces, were excavated in ancient Afrasiab (modern Samarkand), in Uzbekistan, and date to about 760, or possibly older. The oldest known chess manual was in Arabic and dates to 840–850, written by al-Adli ar-Rumi (800–870), a renowned Arab chess player, titled Kitab ash-shatranj (Book of Chess). The original manuscript is lost, but it is referenced in later works. The eastern migration of chess, into China and Southeast Asia, has even less documentation than its migration west. The first reference to chess, called Xiang Qi, in China comes in the xuán guaì lù (玄怪录, “record of the mysterious and strange”) dating to about 800. A few scholars contend that modern chess evolved from Xiang Qi (Chinese chess) or one of its predecessors, but this is not the majority opinion.

Chess reached Western Europe and Russia by at least three routes, the earliest being in the 9th century. By the year 1000, it had spread throughout Europe. Chess was Introduced into the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors in the 10th century and is described in a famous 13th-century manuscript covering shatranj, backgammon, and dice  entitled el libro de los juegos (the book of games).

Around 1200, the rules of shatranj started to be modified in southern Europe, and around 1475, several major changes made the game essentially as it is known today. These modern rules for the basic moves had been adopted in Italy and Spain. Pawns gained the option of advancing two squares on their first move, while bishops and queens acquired their modern abilities. The queen replaced the earlier vizier chess piece towards the end of the 10th century and by the 15th century had become the most powerful piece; consequently modern chess was referred to as “Queen’s Chess” or “Mad Queen Chess.” Castling was also introduced, derived from the “kings leap” usually in combination with a pawn or rook move to bring the king to safety. These new rules quickly spread throughout western Europe. The rules concerning stalemate (a draw when the king cannot move safely) were finalized in the early 19th century. Also in the 19th century, the convention that White moves first was established (formerly either White or Black could move first depending on chance). Finally, the rules concerning castling were standardized – variations in the castling rules had persisted in Italy until the late 19th century. The resulting standard game is sometimes referred to as Western chess or international chess, particularly in Asia where other games of the chess family such as xiangqi are still prevalent. Since the 19th century, the only rule changes have been technical in nature, for example establishing the correct procedure for claiming a draw by repetition.

The increased interest in the game of chess, particularly in international play during the late 18th century and early 19th century, brought about a renewed demand for a more universal model for chess pieces. The variety and styles of the conventional form, begun in the 15th century, had expanded tremendously by the beginning of the 19th century. Conventional types popular during the period included the English Barleycorn chess set, the St. George chess set, the French Regence chess set (named after the Café de la Régence in Paris) and the central European. Most pieces were tall, easily tipped and cumbersome during play, but their major disadvantage was the similarity of the pieces within a set. A player’s unfamiliarity with an opponent’s set could alter the outcome of a game.

By the early decades of the 19th century, it was all too clear that there was a great need for a chess set with pieces that were easy to use and universally recognized by chess players of diverse backgrounds. The solution, first released in 1849 by the purveyors of fine games, John Jaques of London, sport and games manufacturers, of Hatton Garden, London England, was to become known as the Staunton chess set after Howard Staunton (1810–1874), the chess player and writer who was generally considered the strongest player in the world from 1843 to 1851. Although Nathaniel Cook has long been credited with the design, it may have been conceived by his brother-in-law and owner of the firm, John Jaques.

A few variants of classic chess pop up now and again although they don’t have a lot of popularity.  Three-dimensional chess has a certain following, notably among fans of the original Star Trek series where a fake version of the actual game was featured once in a while.

There’s also four-handed chess which I’ve played a few times in college in my first year because one of my friends was a rabid fan of all manner of games and had groups of us up all night indulging his passion.  Whatever we played he always won.  Four-handed chess is essentially all against all, but you can form temporary alliances. When one player’s king is placed in checkmate, that player’s pieces are frozen, but they can be freed by another player capturing or moving one of the pieces creating the checkmate.

Xiangqi ( 象棋), known as “Chinese chess” in the West, is very popular in parts of China and the Chinese diaspora.  When I lived in Hong Kong I constantly passed games in the street surrounded by crowds of men constantly and loudly voicing their opinions of moves to each other and to the players. The game represents a battle between two armies, with the object of capturing the enemy’s general (king). Distinctive features of xiangqi include the cannon (pao), which must jump to capture; a rule prohibiting the generals from facing each other directly; areas on the board called the river and palace, which restrict the movement of some pieces (but enhance that of others); and placement of the pieces on the intersections of the board lines, rather than within the squares.

Chess pie is a pretty obvious choice for my recipe du jour even though there’s nothing to connect the game to the recipe other than the name. No one has a clear idea as to why the pie is called “chess” pie although there are plenty of ridiculous speculations. Southern gentry used to eat it before (or after) playing chess on their plantations, for example. The basic chess pie is very simple to make and is too sweet for my tastes. Common varieties include lemon chess pie and chocolate chess pie.  Here’s the basics:

Chess Pie

Ingredients

½ cup butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp cornmeal
¼ cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
9” unbaked pie shell

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 425˚F/220˚C).

In a large bowl (or stand mixer), cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Mix in the eggs, then beat in the cornmeal, evaporated milk and vinegar until smooth.

Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Then reduce the heat to 300˚F/150˚C) and bake for another 40 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack.

Serve slices cold with whipped cream.

Jul 122017
 

Today is the feast day of Saint Veronica, a pious woman of Jerusalem who, according to Catholic tradition, was moved with pity when she saw Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha and gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead. Jesus accepted the offering, held it to his face, and then handed it back to her—the image of his face miraculously impressed upon it. This piece of cloth became known as the Veil of Veronica.

The name Veronica is a Latin form of the Greek Berenice (Βερενίκη, Berenikē), a Macedonian name, meaning “bearer of victory.” A false theory of the origin of the name emerged in the Latin West. Since the Latin word for “true” or “authentic” is “vera”, it was thought, wrongly, that the name is derived from the Latin phrase “true image” — vera icon. This theory still persists in some quarters.

There is no reference to the story of St Veronica and her veil in the canonical Gospels. The closest is the miracle of the woman who was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’s garment (Luke 8:43–48). Her name is later identified as Veronica by the apocryphal “Acts of Pilate”. The story was later elaborated in the 11th century by adding that Christ gave her a portrait of himself on a cloth, with which she later cured the Emperor Tiberius. The linking of this with the bearing of the cross in the Passion, and the miraculous appearance of the image only occurs around 1380, in the internationally popular book Meditations on the life of Christ. The story of Veronica is celebrated in the sixth Station of the Cross in many Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Western Orthodox churches.

The Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus was eventually approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1885 with Veronica’s feast commemorated on 12 July. Numerous purported “true” images of the face of Christ are venerated throughout the world, many predating the famous shroud of Turin.

The most common pass with the cape in bullfighting is called a “verónica.” The matador does not move as the bull passes, but simply swirls his cape (metaphorically brushing the bull’s face much as Veronica wiped Jesus’).

The dish for the day has to be sole Veronica, a simple but tasty dish of sole poached in grape juice and grapes. Make sure you use 100% pure, unadulterated white grape juice without added sugar. Sole is a delicately flavored fish, and grapes make a subtle complement.

Sole Veronica

Ingredients

4 sole fillets, 4 oz/100 g each
8 fl oz/ 250 ml grape juice
salt and pepper
40 grapes (approx.), seeded

Instructions

Place the fillets in a single layer in a wide pan or skillet. Pour over the grape juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the fish is barely cooked. Add the grapes and warm through for a further 2 or 3 minutes.

Serve one fillet per dish with the sauce and grapes divided between them, and with boiled new potatoes.

Serves 4

 

 

Jul 112017
 

Today has been designated the day of the bandoneon in Argentina by official law of Congress.  This date was chosen because it is the birthday of (1914) Aníbal Carmelo Troilo, much loved and revered bandoneon player, composer, and orchestra leader in the 1930s and 1940s in the heyday of tango in Buenos Aires.  The bandoneon is the quintessential tango instrument even though it was invented in Germany and produced there exclusively until the 1940s. Subsequently classic bandoneons became rarer and rarer in Argentina and helped contribute to the slow death of traditional tango.  Here’s a link to a documentary that, in my opinion, is the best single review of the history and current status of the bandoneon in Argentina. It follows the fortunes of a young woman who is attempting to join an orquesta tipica (tango band) and learn from one of the masters.  It also talks about the slow demise of the bandoneon in Buenos Aires and has interviews with famous older players (as well as many full-length performances and discussions of playing style).  It is around 90 minutes long, so I have not embedded it here for the sake of conserving disc space. It is in Argentine Spanish with English subtitles and is well worth your time if you want a really comprehensive understanding of the instrument:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5a6SJOH2-A

Here is Troilo playing his own composition“Sur” in rare live footage:

The bandoneon is named for its inventor, Heinrich Band (1821–1860), and was originally intended as an instrument for religious and popular music of the day, in contrast to its free reed predecessors the concertina and the button accordion which were largely used for folk music. Around 1870, German and Italian emigrants and sailors brought the instrument to Argentina, where it was adopted into the nascent genre of tango music which was slowly emerging as a distinct musical and dance form at the time, particularly (but not exclusively) in the docklands of my old barrio, san Telmo.

By 1910 bandoneons were being produced expressly for the Argentine and Uruguayan markets, with 25,000 shipping to Argentina in 1930 alone. However, declining popularity and the disruption of German manufacturing in World War II led to an end of bandoneon mass-production. Bandoneons were never produced in Argentina itself despite their popularity. As a result, by the 2000s, vintage bandoneons had become rare and expensive limiting prospective bandeonistas. In 2014, the National University of Lanús announced their development of an affordable Argentine-made bandoneon, which they hope to market for one-third to one-half of the cost of vintage instruments.

The bandoneon is like a concertina in that it has buttons on the left and right hand, but it has many more than a typical concertina so that it can play completely chromatically over a number of octaves. Typically bandoneons are bisonic, meaning that each button produces one note when the bellows are pushed, and a different note when they are pulled.  Here’s a fairly standard layout (click to enlarge):

The bandoneon is not an enormously difficult instrument to play if all you want to do is bang out a simple tune with a few chords. That was its original intention. But to master the instrument for tango is a lifetime’s occupation, and very few people succeed. You really have to start at 5 or 6 years old, and even then, with constant practice, you are not ready to join an orquesta until your 20s at the earliest. The bandoneon in this respect is like any classical orchestral instruments. It’s not just a matter of playing the notes, but of understanding the subtleties of rhythm and intonation that are unique to the instrument and to tango itself.

As Argentina modernizes, classic tango and bandoneon playing are seen as old fashioned, and, consequently, are dying as younger people embrace pop, rock, and hip-hop. To my mind, and to the minds of many Argentinos, this state of affairs is a tragedy because tango is truly Argentine grown. It has some roots in European musical style, to be sure, but what it evolved into is uniquely Argentino. Even attempts to modernize it by the likes of Ástor Piazzolla, (who played with Troilo before branching out), weaken the spirit of tango, in my oh-so-humble opinion, by introducing elements of blues, jazz, etc. which are not Argentine products at all. For me, nuevo tango is simply not tango. Most foreigners don’t get it because they don’t know real tango to begin with. If you go to plaza Dorrego in san Telmo on a Sunday afternoon, chances are you’ll run into one of my favorite tango orquestas, playing down a side street opposite iglesia san Pedro. They are young enthusiasts keeping the tradition alive.

Over 4 years of posting I’ve pretty much covered the waterfront when it comes to Buenos Aires cooking.  There’s not a whole lot to it to begin with. Some regional recipes find their way into Capital’s kitchens, however.  Here’s a recipe for Patagonian Carbonada Criolla which I’ve had once or twice made by local cooks. Its origins in European stews are obvious but the ingredients are a little different – especially the dried apricots. Argentine beef is best of course. Even stewing beef is a lot tenderer there. You may have to adjust cooking times if you use your local beef.

Carbonada Criolla

Ingredients

⅓ cup olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ lbs stewing beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 28 oz can stewed tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 white potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tbspn sugar(optional)
1 large winter squash, peeled and cubed
7 oz dried apricots, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
2 ears sweetcorn, sliced in 1” rounds

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the peppers and onions until they are lightly golden.

Add the beef and brown on all sides.

Add the stewed tomatoes, beef broth, potatoes, sugar (if used), squash and apricots plus salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow simmer, cover and cook for an hour. Check periodically to make sure the stew is not too dry.  If so add a little more beef broth. Simmer longer is the beef is not tender.

Add the corn and cook for 15 minutes longer.

Serve hot in soup dishes.

Jul 102017
 

Today is the birthday (1856) of Nikola Tesla (Никола Тесла) a Serbian inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist who was virtually unknown to the general public from the time of his death to the 1990s when he achieved a kind of semi-mythic status in the science fiction, comic book, and fantasy realms. Tesla is one of the numerous real scientists who worked for Thomas Edison who reaped both the credit and profit for things they invented. Tesla is now best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system although he made many other discoveries in, and improvements to, electrical systems.

Tesla was born and raised in the Austrian Empire to Serbian parents in what is now Croatia. He received an advanced education in engineering and physics in the 1870s and gained practical experience in the early 1880s working in telephony and at Continental Edison in the new electric power industry. He emigrated to the United States in 1884, and eventually became a naturalized citizen. He worked for a short time at the Edison Machine Works in New York City before he struck out on his own because of severe disagreements with Edison who continued to hold high hopes for the commercial possibilities of direct current even though Tesla’s alternating current was clearly superior for transmitting electricity over long distances. With the help of partners to finance and market his ideas, Tesla set up laboratories and companies in New York to develop a range of electrical and mechanical devices. His alternating current (AC) induction motor and related polyphase AC patents, licensed by Westinghouse Electric in 1888, and became the cornerstone of the polyphase system which Westinghouse marketed and is to this day the industry standard.

Tesla also conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. Even though he was quite deliberately asocial (anti-social is too strong), Tesla became well known as an inventor and demonstrated his achievements to celebrities and wealthy patrons at his lab, and was noted for his showmanship at public lectures.

Throughout the 1890s Tesla pursued his ideas for wireless lighting and worldwide wireless electric power distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs. I’m a little surprised he didn’t electrocute himself along the way. In 1893, he made pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices. Tesla tried to put these ideas to practical use in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project, an intercontinental wireless communication and power transmitter, but ran out of funding before he could complete it.

After Wardenclyffe, Tesla went on to try and develop a series of inventions in the 1910s and 1920s with varying degrees of success. Having spent most of the money he earned from the AC patents, he lived in a series of New York hotels, leaving behind unpaid bills. The nature of his earlier work and the pronouncements he made to the press later in life earned him the reputation of an archetypal “mad scientist” in US popular culture. Tesla died in New York City in January 1943. His work fell into relative obscurity following his death, but in 1960, the General Conference on Weights and Measures named the SI unit of magnetic flux density the tesla in his honor.

I strongly urge you to look up more details about this man who was an intriguing personality. He stood 6’2” tall and weighed a scant 142 lbs all of his life: quite noticeably tall and thin for his era. He was also notably reclusive when not conducting experiments or giving public lectures. Here’s some of my favorite quotes from Tesla:

My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.

Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.

The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane

The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.

What we now want is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth, and the elimination of egoism and pride which is always prone to plunge the world into primeval barbarism and strife… Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment.

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.

If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.

From childhood I was compelled to concentrate attention upon myself. This caused me much suffering, but to my present view, it was a blessing in disguise for it has taught me to appreciate the inestimable value of introspection in the preservation of life, as well as a means of achievement.

Tesla was Serbian although born in what is now Croatia. Serbs and Croats share many cultural similarities with minor differences, although it’s probably a good plan to keep this idea to yourself when traveling in the region. Serbian and Croatian languages, for example, are mutually intelligible, but Serbs use Cyrillic script and Croats use the Roman alphabet. Their cuisines are also quite similar although the Dalmatian coast of Croatia has a distinctive set of dishes relying on seafood. Both Serbs and Croats historically were fond of tripe, especially goat and lamb tripe, but these dishes are falling into disfavor nowadays. Oh well !!! Here’s a classic recipe found in both Serbia and Croatia.

Škembići

Ingredients

2 lbs cooked tripe cut in bite-sized pieces
1 lb onions, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
vegetable oil for frying
ground black pepper
powdered red paprika
2 bay leaves
⅓ cup dry white wine
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp vinegar

Instructions

Heat a little vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and then sauté the onions, stirring frequently until they are a deep golden.

Place the tripe, onions, ground pepper to taste, bay leaves, paprika to taste, crushed garlic, and white wine in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.  At this point I like to let the pot rest and cool for several hours. It can also be refrigerated overnight to marry the flavors.

Reheat the pot when about ready to serve and add the tomato puree and vinegar towards the end, stirring well to combine thoroughly.

 

Jul 092017
 

Here I am back again after my move from Mantua to Mandalay. I’m not sure I can get back in the swing of daily postings right away because I am still navigating deep and treacherous waters with a new job and new living situation in a country where I speak one phrase of the local language — မင်္ဂလာပါ which means “hello.” After that, all bets are off.  But today is the birthday (1858) of Franz Boas, often called the Father of American Anthropology, and I am a professional anthropologist in the Boasian tradition, so I have to honor him today. In the profession he’s sometimes known as Papa Franz, and any American Anthropologist trained in the Boasian tradition can trace a lineage back to him, through doctoral supervisors. My doctoral supervisor was James Peacock, his was Cora Du Bois who took courses with Boas at Columbia as an undergraduate but did her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley under Alfred Kroeber, who was a doctoral student under Boas. Three short generations and I am back to Boas. Boas really revolutionized anthropology in the US, and because I have spent a lifetime teaching and writing in the Boasian tradition I could obviously write volumes on his influence. I’ll try to pare it down to some simple, salient facts.

Franz Boas was born in Minden, Westphalia. Although his grandparents were observant Jews, his parents were educated, well-to-do, and free thinking, not liking dogma of any kind. Because of this background Boas was allowed to think for himself and pursue his own interests. Early in life he displayed a passion for both nature and natural sciences. He wrote:

The background of my early thinking was a German home in which the ideals of the revolution of 1848 were a living force. My father, liberal, but not active in public affairs; my mother, idealistic, with a lively interest in public matters; the founder about 1854 of the kindergarten in my home town, devoted to science. My parents had broken through the shackles of dogma. My father had retained an emotional affection for the ceremonial of his parental home, without allowing it to influence his intellectual freedom.

From kindergarten on, Boas was educated in natural history, a subject he enjoyed. In gymnasium, he was most proud of his research on the geographic distribution of plants. When he started his university studies, Boas first attended Heidelberg University for a term followed by four terms at Bonn University, studying physics, geography, and mathematics at these schools. In 1879, he hoped to transfer to Berlin University to study physics under Hermann von Helmholtz, but ended up transferring to the University of Kiel instead for family reasons. At Kiel, Boas studied under Theobald Fischer and received a doctorate in physics in 1881 for his dissertation entitled “Contributions to the Understanding of the Color of Water,” which examined the absorption, reflection, and the polarization of light in seawater. Although technically Boas’ doctorate was in physics, his advisor Fischer, a student of Carl Ritter, was primarily a geographer and thus some biographers view Boas as more of a geographer than a physicist at this stage. For his part Boas self-identified as a geographer by this time, prompting his sister, Toni, to write in 1883 “After long years of infidelity, my brother was re-conquered by geography, the first love of his boyhood.”

In his dissertation research, Boas’ methodology included investigating how different intensities of light created different colors when interacting with different types of water, however he encountered difficulty in being able to objectively perceive slight differences in the color of water and as a result became intrigued by this problem of perception and its influence on quantitative measurements. Boas had already been interested in Kantian philosophy since taking a course on aesthetics with Kuno Fischer at Heidelberg. These factors led Boas to consider pursuing research in psychophysics, which explores the relationship between the psychological and the physical, after completing his doctorate, but he had no training in psychology. Boas did publish six articles on psychophysics during his year of military service (1882-1883), but ultimately he decided to focus on geography, primarily so he could receive sponsorship for his planned Baffin Island expedition.

Hence, Boas took up geography as a way to explore his growing interest in the relationship between subjective experience and the objective world. At the time, German geographers were divided over the causes of cultural variation. Many argued that the physical environment was the principal determining factor, but others (notably Friedrich Ratzel) argued that the diffusion of ideas through human migration is more important. In 1883, encouraged by Theobald Fischer, Boas went to Baffin Island to conduct geographic research on the impact of the physical environment on native Inuit migrations. The first of many ethnographic field trips, Boas culled his notes to write his first monograph titled The Central Eskimo, which was published in the 6th Annual Report from the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1888. Boas lived and worked closely with the Inuit peoples on Baffin Island, and he developed an abiding interest in the way people lived.

In the perpetual darkness of the Arctic winter, Boas reported, he and his traveling companion became lost and were forced to keep sledding for twenty-six hours through ice, soft snow, and temperatures that dropped below −46 °C. The following day, Boas penciled in his diary,

I often ask myself what advantages our ‘good society’ possesses over that of the ‘savages’ and find, the more I see of their customs, that we have no right to look down upon them. We have no right to blame them for their forms and superstitions which may seem ridiculous to us. We ‘highly educated people’ are much worse, relatively speaking.

He went on to do field work with the indigenous cultures and languages of the Pacific Northwest which became the core of his ethnographic studies, even though he never published a proper ethnography of the peoples. His massive collections of Northwest art and artifacts are still housed in a special exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York City where he worked as a curator before taking up a professorship at Columbia university in 1899 where he remained for the rest of his career. Boas’ first task at Columbia was to organize a department of anthropology by pulling together experts from different departments who were anthropologists of one stripe or another according to Boas’ ideals. He saw the study of humanity as embracing all manner of scientific disciplines that when collected together gave a rounded, holistic understanding of the human condition.

Many of Boas’ doctoral students went on to found anthropology departments and research programs inspired by his ideas, and, as such, Boas profoundly influenced the development of American anthropology. Among his most well-known students were Alfred Kroeber, Ruth Benedict, Edward Sapir, Margaret Mead, Melville Herskovits, Ruth Bunzel, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Boas was one of the most prominent opponents of the then popular ideologies of scientific racism, the idea that race is a biological concept and that human behavior is best understood through the typology of biological characteristics. In a series of groundbreaking studies of skeletal anatomy he showed that cranial shape and size were highly malleable depending on environmental factors such as health and nutrition, in contrast to the claims by racial anthropologists of the day that held head shape to be a stable racial trait. Boas also worked to demonstrate that differences in human behavior are not primarily determined by innate biological dispositions, but are largely the result of cultural differences acquired through social learning. In this way, Boas introduced culture as the primary concept for describing differences in behavior between human groups, and as the central analytical concept of American anthropology. The concept of culture remains his enduring legacy, even though, like so many pivotal ideas of the early 20th century, it has yet to penetrate to the popular level. It has been demonstrated repeatedly and convincingly time and again that the popular conception of race has ZERO basis in biology – I mean zero. But the idea that biological races exist will not go away.  My simple definition of a racist: “Anyone who believes that biological races exist.” Period. People are people, and what unites and defines them are cultural behaviors not biological traits. Hence, nowadays anthropologists in the Boasian mode (including myself) speak of “ethnicity” and not “race.”

One of Boas’ main contributions to anthropological thought was his rejection of the then-popular evolutionary approaches to the study of culture, which saw all societies progressing through a set of hierarchic technological and cultural stages, with Western European culture at the summit. You probably know some version of this such as, stone age, bronze age, iron age. Lewis Henry Morgan in the US and E. B. Tylor in Britain had published widely accepted theories of general cultural evolution that pegged all world cultures on a fixed scale from most primitive to most modern. Boas argued that culture developed historically through the interactions of groups of people and the diffusion of ideas, and that consequently there was no process towards continuously “higher” cultural forms. This insight led Boas to reject the stage-based organization of ethnological museums, instead preferring to order items on display based on the affinity and proximity of the cultural groups in question.

Boas also introduced the ideology of cultural relativism which holds that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or lower, or better or more correct, but that all humans see the world through the lens of their own culture, and judge it according to their own culturally acquired norms. For Boas the object of anthropology was to understand the way in which culture conditioned people to understand and interact with the world in different ways, and to do this it was necessary to gain an understanding of the language and cultural practices of the people studied. By uniting the disciplines of archaeology, the study of material culture and history, and physical anthropology, the study of variation in human anatomy, with ethnology, the study of cultural variation of customs, and descriptive linguistics, the study of unwritten indigenous languages, Boas created the four-field subdivision of anthropology which became prominent in American anthropology throughout the 20th century.

The four-field approach still exists in theory, but not in practice. When I was a doctoral student in the early 1970s I was expected to be minimally competent in all four fields and for my M.A. I had to take coursework in all four. Furthermore, I taught Introduction to General Anthropology, the basic anthropology course for undergraduates, which was evenly divided between the four fields. But even then the four fields were an atavism, and no one was seriously expected to do research in all four. For a time, in fact, doctoral candidates became highly specialized in their sub-disciplines to their detriment. At my graduate university the archeologists and the cultural anthropologists occupied completely separate parts of the building and rarely spoke to one another. The pendulum has been swinging back the other way for some years now as specialists in the different disciplines see the merits for their long-term goals of embracing a more holistic outlook. Archeologists, for example, who were once content to dig up and classify projectile points and broken bits of pots postulating sequences and time lines, now see the benefit of studying cultural anthropology to give these artifacts a broader context which allows them to theorize more widely about the cultural patterns to which the artifacts testify.  I don’t do any physical anthropology, but my own research and writing embraces archeology, linguistic, and cultural anthropology fairly evenly, and I see the holistic approach to culture and history as essential in understanding behavior.

Boas’ fieldwork with the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest was eye opening in that it showed that people without domesticated plants and animals (commonly called foragers) need not necessarily live in small egalitarian bands as is the norm among the majority of foragers. The Kwakiutl gathered, hunted, and fished in an environment that was abundant with natural resources, and, in consequence developed an extremely complex, hierarchical system of social organization that revolved around feasts known as potlatches whose rules of protocol and etiquette (Who sits where; what portion of an animal each receives based on social rank; the method of cooking food for different ranks; and so forth) were so complicated that key informants themselves had to spend days discussing them among themselves to make sure they had them correct before reporting them to Boas. Here’s a very small sample of his notes:

The hair seal teaches the common people [bEgwil] their place; for chiefs receive the chest, and all the chiefs in rank receive the limbs. They only give pieces of the body of the seal to common people [bEgwil] of the tribes and they give the tail of the seal to people lowest in rank [bEkwaxa]. Therefore trouble often follows a seal-feast and a feast of short and long cinquefoil roots; for when a man who gives a seal feast with many seals hates another man, he gives him a piece of blubber from the body, although he may be of noble descent; and they do the same with the short cinquefoil roots.

Salmon was caught by the Kwakiutl in abundance in local rivers and was commonly roasted over an open fire on a cedar plank.  This has become a popular method for chefs in Washington state and British Columbia.  The cedar imparts a delicate flavor to the fish which, unfortunately, too many cooks these days overwhelm with marinades and such.  There is no need for complexity here.

Soak a thick untreated cedar plank in water overnight. Prepare a hot bed of coals (or use your grill if you have to). Place the cedar plank over the coals, and when it begins to smoke place thick salmon fillets on it. Let them cook through without turning or disturbing in any way. You can test for doneness by trying gently to pry open the fillet. Serve the salmon on the plank. It will continue cooking at the table.

Jun 202017
 

Two anniversaries significant to the development of rocketry can be celebrated on this date. To start, the V-2 rocket became the first artificial object to cross the boundary of space with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on this date in 1944.  Second, on this date in 1945, Edward Reilly Stettinius, United States Secretary of State approved the transfer of Wernher von Braun and his team of Nazi rocket specialists to the U.S. under Operation Paperclip. I like to think of Operation Paperclip as the US part of the “first space race” – a race by both US and Soviet agencies to capture and expatriate German rocketry scientists and technicians to their respective countries to build rocket programs there.  These men had all been working, one way or another, on the initial stages of a space program in war-time Germany, and had varying degrees of loyalty to Hitler and the Nazi Reich. The US and Soviet governments turned a blind eye to their Nazi affiliations in their greed to enhance their own space programs which were practically non-existent before the arrival of the Germans. Henceforth the US and the Soviet Union were locked in a race, first for space, then for the moon, that became emblematic of the Cold War. Sputnik was the first score for the Soviets; the moon went to the US.

The V-2 (Vergeltungswaffe 2, “Retribution Weapon 2”) technical name Aggregat 4 (A4), was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile. The missile with a liquid-propellant rocket engine was developed during the Second World War in Germany as a “vengeance weapon” to try to reassert dominance at a time when the Axis powers were daily, and consistently, losing ground to the Allies. Nazi Germany was at a severe logistical disadvantage, having failed to conquer the USSR with Operation Barbarossa (June–December 1941), the Siege of Leningrad (September 1941 – January 1944), Operation Nordlicht (“Northern Light”, August–October 1942), and the Battle of Stalingrad (July 1942 – February 1943). The failed conquest had depleted German resources, and its military-industrial complex was unprepared to defend the German Reich against the Red Army’s westward counterattack. By early 1943, the German government began recalling from combat, a number of scientists, engineers, and technicians, many of whom had been relegated to menial jobs to keep them out of the way; part of the general Nazi distrust of intellectuals. The recall from frontline combat included 4,000 rocketeers who were put together as a research force in Peenemünde, in northeast coastal Germany.

Dieter K. Huzel in Peenemünde to Canaveral notes:

Overnight, Ph.D.s were liberated from KP duty, masters of science were recalled from orderly service, mathematicians were hauled out of bakeries, and precision mechanics ceased to be truck drivers.

The Nazi government’s recall of their now-useful intellectuals for scientific work first required identifying and locating the scientists, engineers, and technicians, then ascertaining their political and ideological reliability. Werner Osenberg, the engineer-scientist heading the Wehrforschungsgemeinschaft (Military Research Association), recorded the names of the politically cleared men to the Osenberg List, thus reinstating them to scientific work.

Research into the military use of long range rockets had previously begun in Germany when the investigations of Wernher von Braun into rocketry in the 1930s attracted the attention of the German Army. His research got a huge boost in 1943 when the government assembled its team of specialists at Peenemünde.  A series of prototype rockets culminated in the A-4, which went to war as the V-2. Beginning in September 1944, over 3,000 V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets: first London and later Antwerp and Liège. According to a 2011 BBC documentary, the attacks from V2s resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel, and a further 12,000 forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners died as a result of their forced participation in the production of the weapons.

As part of continued research into rocket capabilities, the V-2 research team built its version MW 18014 which was launched on 20 June 1944 at the Peenemünde Army Research Center. It was the first artificial object to reach outer space, attaining an apoapsis of 176 kilometers, which is above the Kármán line (the currently accepted boundary of Earth’s atmosphere, at 100 km above the surface). It was a vertical test launch and although it reached space, it was a sub-orbital flight and therefore returned to Earth and crashed.

As Germany collapsed, teams from the Allied forces—the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union—raced to capture key German manufacturing sites and technology. Wernher von Braun and over 100 key V-2 personnel surrendered to US troops. Eventually, many of the original V-2 team ended up working at the Redstone Arsenal. The US also captured enough V-2 hardware to build approximately 80 of the missiles. The Soviets gained possession of the V-2 manufacturing facilities after the war, re-established V-2 production, and moved it to the Soviet Union.

Operation Paperclip, originally Operation Overcast, was the secret United States Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) program which brought more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians (many of whom were formerly registered members of the Nazi Party and some of whom had leadership roles in the Party), including Wernher von Braun’s rocket team, to the United States for government employment from post-Nazi Germany. By comparison, the Soviet Union was even more aggressive in recruiting Germans: during Operation Osoaviakhim, Soviet military units forcibly (at gunpoint) recruited 2,000+ German specialists to the Soviet Union in one night.

The original intent of Operation Overcast was simply to interview designated scientists, but what was learned in th process changed the operation’s purpose. On May 22 1945, Colonel Joel Holmes sent a telegram to the Pentagon urging the evacuation of German scientists and their families, suggesting they were crucial to the Pacific war effort. After capturing them, the Allies took them from Peenemünde (which was in what was to become Soviet controlled East Germany) and initially housed them and their families in Landshut in Bavaria, in southern Germany.

In order to harness German war technology the United States created the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS) which targeted scientific, military and industrial installations (and their employees) for their know-how. Initial priorities were advanced technology, such as infrared, that could be used in the war against Japan; finding out what technology had been passed on to Japan; and finally to halt the research. A project to halt the research was codenamed “Project Safehaven”, and it was not initially targeted against the Soviet Union; rather the concern was that German scientists might emigrate and continue their research in countries such as Spain, Argentina or Egypt, all of which had ties with Nazi Germany. In order to avoid the complications involved with the emigration of German scientists, the CIOS was responsible for scouting and kidnapping high profile individuals in order to deprive nations outside the US of their abilities.

Much U.S. effort was focused on Saxony and Thuringia, which by July 1, 1945, would become part of the Soviet Occupation zone. Many German research facilities and personnel had been evacuated to these states, particularly from the Berlin area. Fearing that the Soviet takeover would limit U.S. ability to exploit German scientific and technical expertise, and not wanting the Soviet Union to benefit from this expertise, the United States instigated an “evacuation operation” of scientific personnel from Saxony and Thuringia, issuing such orders as:

On orders of Military Government you are to report with your family and baggage as much as you can carry tomorrow noon at 1300 hours (Friday, 22 June 1945) at the town square in Bitterfeld. There is no need to bring winter clothing. Easily carried possessions, such as family documents, jewelry, and the like should be taken along. You will be transported by motor vehicle to the nearest railway station. From there you will travel on to the West. Please tell the bearer of this letter how large your family is.

By 1947 this evacuation operation had netted an estimated 1,800 technicians and scientists, along with 3,700 family members. Those with special skills or knowledge were taken to detention and interrogation centers to be held and interrogated, in some cases for months. A few of the scientists were gathered up in Operation Overcast, but most were transported to villages in the countryside where there were neither research facilities nor work; they were provided stipends and forced to report twice weekly to police headquarters to prevent them from leaving. The Joint Chiefs of Staff directive on research and teaching stated that technicians and scientists should be released “only after all interested agencies were satisfied that all desired intelligence information had been obtained from them”.

On November 5, 1947, the Office of Military Government of the United States (OMGUS), which had jurisdiction over the western part of occupied Germany, held a conference to consider the status of the evacuees, the monetary claims that the evacuees had filed against the United States, and the “possible violation by the US of laws of war or Rules of Land Warfare”. The OMGUS director of Intelligence R. L. Walsh initiated a program to resettle the evacuees in the Third World, which the Germans referred to as General Walsh’s “Urwald-Programm” (jungle program), however this program never matured. In 1948, the evacuees received settlements of 69.5 million Reichsmarks from the U.S., a settlement that soon became severely devalued during the currency reform that introduced the Deutsche Mark as the official currency of western Germany. As a consequence, the United States put some of Germany’s best minds on ice for three years, therefore depriving the German economic recovery of their expertise.

I don’t think I need to say more on the ethical problem of rounding up thousands of Nazi scientists and technicians (no questions asked) and shipping them off to the US or the Soviet Union. Some, like von Braun, went quite willingly, seeing the opportunity for continued advancement.  Many would have preferred to stay in Germany and resume their careers after the war in their homeland. Both the arms race and the space race that followed during the Cold War between the US and the USSR were driven by men who had once been collaborators in Germany.  Capitalists and Communists were equally welcoming to former Nazi enemies.

No need to think twice about a recipe ingredient for today. It has to be rocket, the old fashioned English name for Eruca sativa, variously known as arugula, rucola, rucoli, rugula, and Roquette (which Anglicized becomes “rocket”). I use rocket in sandwiches in place of lettuce often because it adds an interesting flavor note that lettuce doesn’t. I also use it in salads either in place of lettuce or mixed with it.

In Italy, rocket (rucola) is often added to pizzas just before serving so that it will not wilt in the heat. It is also used cooked in Apulia, in Southern Italy, to make the pasta dish cavatiéddi, coarsely chopped rocket added to pasta seasoned with tomato sauce and pecorino.”  In Rome, Italy rucola is used with special meat dish called straccietti that are thin slices of beef with raw rocket and Parmesan cheese In the Slovenian Littoral, it is often combined with boiled potatoes, used in a soup, or served with the cheese burek, especially in the town of Koper.

Use your imagination.

Jun 192017
 

Today is World Sauntering Day (aka International Sauntering Day), a holiday created in 1979 by W.T. Rabe in response to the growing popularity of jogging. It is believed to have begun when Rabe stayed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan, USA. The Grand Hotel has the world’s longest porch at 660 feet (200 m). The idea behind the day was to encourage people to slow down and appreciate the world around them.  Well . . . as with other special days, including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc., I don’t approve of having 24 hours set aside for something that should be ongoing 365. But, like these other “special” days I can get in the spirit here.

To saunter is to walk at a leisured pace (which I rarely do). I also rarely saunter through life. I’m not identified as a driven soul for nothing. In my defense I am driven as the ancient mariner is driven, not like some rabid middle manager stuck in a mindless job trying to get on in the world and always falling behind.  I know how to saunter when the time is right. For one thing, I can keep this post short and take time off this morning to walk by the lake in the cool of the morning.  Meanwhile, I’ll muse on slow food for a bit.

Fast food is not quite the travesty it is commonly made out to be. Certainly, fast food as served up by the well-known multinational chains is dismal on all levels. But not all fast food is, by definition, bad – not even commercial fast food.  I’m a big fan of Cincinnati chili which is about as fast as it gets.  Order a 3-way and it’s in front of you before you can blink. This deceptive, however. The chili (which is the part I love – not the spaghetti and cheese), has been slow cooked for hours before it is placed on a heater on the serving line to keep hot. I’ve spent many a wasted hour trying to replicate Gold Star and Skyline, not to mention the family-recipe chili you get in pokey Greek diners in hidden places.  No luck.  Giving you a recipe would be a complete waste of time.  Skyline sells packets of chili mix to add to simmering ground beef if you start hankering – miles from southern Ohio (or northern Kentucky). It’s a fair simulacrum, but not the same. The only solution is to get on the road.  My first stop when I visited (my in-laws were from the region) was Skyline for a bowl of plain – then another – and possibly a third.

Enough about fast food. In the spirit of sauntering through the day (which might get confused with laziness) I am going to do something I have never done before: repeat a recipe. This comes from my post on Cardinal Richelieu; a recipe for classic French meat glacé which is incredibly useful.  To make it you must cook it for 24 hours, continuously, and the whole process takes about 36 hours. But . . . you have to do very little during those 36 hours. A recipe to saunter through. When I first posted this a friend noted the instruction that begins, “While sleeping . . .”

Glacé de la Viande

Ingredients

5 -6 lbs (2.5-3 k) beef bones, leg bones, cut in 2 to 3 inch lengths
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
3 -4 lbs (1.5-2 k) chuck roast, cut in large chunks (or other stewing beef)
2 -3 large onions, unpeeled, quartered
5 -6 cloves garlic, unpeeled, lightly crushed
3 -4 stalks celery, with leaves, cut in 2 inch pieces
3 -4 large carrots, scrubbed and cut in 2 inch pieces
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 cups dry white wine
1 bunch parsley
4 -6 large bay leaves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns

Instructions:

Place a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the broiler on high or preheat oven to 500°F/260°C

Lightly rub the marrow bones with olive oil, and place in a roasting pan. Place in the oven, and broil or roast until nicely browned on all sides, turning regularly, and watching closely so they do not burn.

Remove from the oven, and pour any grease and olive oil from roasting pan into a large (at least 12 quart) stock pot, adding more olive oil as needed, and setting the bones aside.

Heat the pot over high heat, add all of the vegetables, except the tomatoes and parsley, and cook until surfaces are browned and charred in places. Add the tomatoes, and cook 2-3 minutes longer.

Reserve the vegetables with the bones.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary, and brown the pieces of roast on all sides. Add the bones and vegetables  to the pot, and fill three-quarters full with cold water.

Heat the roasting pan on the stovetop, and add the white wine to deglaze, scraping up all browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add this to the stock pot.

Add the parsley, bay leaves, and peppercorns to the pot, and bring to a slow boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface.

Add more water to bring the level to 1″ from the top of pot, and return to a boil.

Partially cover  and adjust the heat so the stock stays at an active simmer or very slow boil (should be bubbling lightly).

Simmer for at least 24 hours, adding more water every couple of hours as needed.

While sleeping, just reduce the heat slightly, cover completely, and go to bed; top up with water, increase heat, and return to a slow boil in the morning.

When done cooking, skim as much grease as possible from the surface, and strain the broth into another container, pressing gently on the solids to extract as much stock as possible. Discard the solids and refrigerate the broth until the fat solidifies on the surface.

Scrub the pot well, and return it to the stove top. Remove the fat from the stock and return the stock to the pot. You should have 4-5 quarts of stock at this point.

Bring to a full rolling boil, and reduce by about 90% (until only 2-2½ cups of thick syrup or paste remains).

You only have to pay close attention to the reducing stock for about the last 15-20 minutes to ensure the pot doesn’t burn dry.

Allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until solidified, then freeze until needed.  The most convenient way to freeze is to pour the glace into an ice cube tray, freeze solid, then pop the cubes out and store in the freezer in a Ziploc bag.

Yield: 2-2 ½ cups

 

 

Jun 182017
 

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo in 1815, arguably one of the key defining moments in European and world history – inasmuch as any single day or battle can be said to be such. Longtime readers know that I don’t like to celebrate battles in and of themselves, but I do take note of a few that stood at turning points in history. I don’t want to talk about the battle itself, you can look those details up. I want to talk about the implications of the decisive victory of the Seventh Alliance (United Kingdom, Netherlands, Hanover, Nassau, Brunswick, and Prussia) under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, over Napoleon’s French Empire which put paid to the Napoleonic Wars once and for all, but led to a slew of problems, many of which are still with us 200 years on.

Let’s dispense with a bit of English jingoism first. Wellesley was in charge and the honor of the victory was given to him in England, launching a political career that landed him as Prime Minister – reminiscent of Eisenhower in the U.S. To set the record straight, the army that Wellesley commanded at Waterloo was an ALLIED army that consisted of approximately 73,000 troops, 26,000 of whom were from the UK, approximately 30% of whom were Irish conscripts who were probably more sympathetic to Napoleon than to England. So around 18,200, that is, about 25%, were English, Scots, and Welsh volunteers. They would not have been much use by themselves against Napoleon, but if you study history in England you get the impression that the English won the battle of Waterloo with a little help from the Prussians. The battle of Waterloo was, in actual fact, the culmination of the Waterloo Campaign in which 116,000 Prussian troops were deployed.  The Prussians didn’t just help out a little. Without them the English would have been destroyed.

Popular history is marvelously myopic. Washington got a tiny bit of help from the French and Spanish empires in the American Revolution, and Eisenhower had a few allies to “help” him as he stormed the beaches of Normandy; but to hear tell of these famous engagements in the US you’d believe that the US secured victories all alone. In fact, at the beginning of the American Revolution, the Colonial troops were seriously outnumbered, underequipped, and poorly trained until the French joined in (purely to weaken England). The notion that savvy backwoods militias from the colonies won the day due to their cunning and experience as skilled hunters who knew how to attack stealthily and handle a musket, is pure modern-day patriotic nonsense, but it is incredibly widespread (not least because it fuels a rampant desire to keep gun ownership alive via the 2nd Amendment).  But . . . I digress.

The Congress of Vienna had actually begun in September 1814, after Napoleon had been defeated and exiled to Elba, but was interrupted when he escaped and returned to France to take up arms again. The final Treaty of Vienna was actually signed on 9th June 1815, 10 days before Waterloo, but took effect in practical terms (with a few minor revisions), after Waterloo.  I’ve discussed the century-long (and more) ramifications of this treaty in another post: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/congress-vienna/  No need to repeat myself. Europe (and the rest of the world with it) took a marked left turn after Vienna, leading to ethnic conflicts, revolutions, tyrannical governments, the unification of Italy and Germany, and a near-maniacal concern with radical Industrialism within Europe which, coupled with Colonialism, fueled major trade wars, as well as real wars between European powers outside of Europe – notably in Asia and Africa.

Waterloo left an indelible mark on popular consciousness in Britain spawning tales and ballads.  Here is an old favorite ballad of mine, “The Plains of Waterloo,” which I first heard sung by June Tabor around 1970 at Oxford’s Folk Club, Heritage. She was a relatively unknown librarian who liked to sing in the clubs in those days.  Here she is:

She self-parodied this ballad some years later with “The Trains of Waterloo” (Waterloo is a well-known commuter station in London), on the hilarious album Oranges and Lemmings.

Trains of Waterloo
(Les Barker)

As I was a-walking one midsummer’s evening,
All among the brick-red of surburbian sprawl,
I met a young maid making sad lamentation,
And it seemed all Basingstoke heard her sad call,

She walks the street lined with small maisonettes,
The semi-detatched, the town houses too.
Crying day it is over, executives come home again,
But my Nigel’s not returned upon the Trains of Waterloo.

I stepped up to this fair maid and said my fond creature
Oh, May I make so bold as to ask your true love’s name
It’s I have done battle in the Cannon Street rattle
And by some strange fortune I might have known the same

Nigel Clegg’s my true loves name, Merchant Banker of great fame
He’s gone to the wars out on platform two
No-one shall me enjoy but my own darling boy
No Milkman, and the Postman, and the Man from the Pru

If Nigel Clegg’s his name a commuter of great fame
Then we fought together the daily campaign
His brave brolly poking invaders at Woking
He was my loyal comrade on the five-thirty train

We fought with our Guardians we fought with our Filofax
Our rolled umbrellas our telegraphs too
We fought every evening all down the platform
And back through the night on the Trains of Waterloo

Dear lady I bring you the saddest of tidings
The five-thirty train it was cancelled you see
And Nigel not looking he went to step onto it
Straight into the path of the five-thirty-three

Your poor Nigel Clegg I have brought you his leg
And so sadly she gazed at the limb she once knew
And fondly she browsed on one half of his trousers
Oh My Nigel’s not returning on the trains of Waterloo

The suffix /-loo/ got detached from /Water/ and applied to other bloody events – in particular the Peterloo massacre in Manchester http://www.bookofdaystales.com/peterloo/   –  much as /-gate/ has been detached from Watergate in the US and applied to various political scandals.

I’ll give you beef Wellington for today’s recipe, not because it was named in honor of Wellington and Waterloo, but because everyone thinks it is, and they are wrong. It’s my tribute to false history. By the time Wellington became famous, meat baked in pastry was a well-established part of English cuisine. Some claim that the dish’s similarity to the French filet de bœuf en croûte (fillet of beef in pastry) was renamed “beef Wellington” as a “timely patriotic rebranding of a trendy continental dish.” There are, however, zero records of a dish called beef Wellington throughout the 19th century. The name first appears in the early 20th century.

I’m just going to give you some pointers here but I’ll start with a video of Gordon Ramsay giving a fairly standard treatment (with a few twists):

Some of the tips here are fine; some I diverge from. The essence of beef Wellington is layers of flavor so choose the layers to suit your palate (not someone else’s):

  1. Choose the most succulent filet of tenderloin of beef you can find.
  2. Sear it quickly in a very hot, dry pan. I don’t like to use oil at this stage. You are looking for a good sear for flavor, not fat.
  3. Slather with prepared horseradish. I just love the combination of beef and horseradish. English mustard is OK too, but for me, horseradish is king.
  4. A duxelles of mushrooms is pretty standard. Ramsay’s chestnuts are a distraction for me. Make a paste of crimini (or other well-flavored mushrooms) with a little garlic, and fry it off in a dry pan to remove the moisture.
  5. An Italian ham, such as prosciutto, is a common final layer, but pâté (conventionally pâté de foie gras) is more classic. I have moral objections to foie gras so I use a highly seasoned pâté (sometimes of my own making).
  6. You’ll occasionally see recipes with a crêpe as the final layer before the pastry goes on, “to seal in moisture.” In my humble opinion this is a complete waste of time. The crêpe gets soggy, and seals in nothing.
  7. Use cling wrap to encase the beef in the same way Ramsay does but spreading a layer of pâté down first instead of the ham. Using the cling wrap is essential to get the layers all around the beef. Chilling afterwards is also essential to set up the roll for encasing in pastry.
  8. Using cling wrap for the puff pastry is also useful, but I make a regular parcel of the pastry (like wrapping a package), not Ramsey’s toffee roll. Refrigeration overnight is also key to setting up the shape.
  9. I too bake at 200°C/400°F for about 30 minutes, because I like the beef to be rare. If you want it more well done you well have to cover the pastry with foil after it has browned and lower the oven temperature. If you do that don’t expect me to show up for dinner.
Jun 172017
 

On this date in 1631 Mumtaz Mahal, second and favorite wife of Shah Jahan, died in Burhanpur, Deccan (present-day Madhya Pradesh) giving birth to her fourteenth child, a daughter named Gauhara Begum, prompting Shah Jahan to commission the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for her (and later as his also). I’ve never been there and probably never will, although you never know.  India is not high on my agenda. Nonetheless I do want to pay tribute here to a famous symbol of undying love, which might inspire me to visit one day (perhaps when I leave Myanmar). In my experience, actually visiting famous monuments that are well known from stock images can alter your perspective markedly. Machu Picchu and Easter island were certainly that way for me.

Mumtaz Mahal was born Arjumand Banu Begum in Agra to a family of Persian nobility. She was the daughter of Abdul Hasan Asaf Khan, a wealthy Persian noble who held high office in the empire, and the niece of Nur Jahan, the wife of Emperor Jahangir and the power behind the emperor. She was married at the age of 19 on 30 April 1612 to Prince Khurram, later known by his regnal name, Shah Jahan, who conferred upon her the title “Mumtaz Mahal”. Although betrothed to Shah Jahan since 1607, she ultimately became his second wife in 1612. Mumtaz bore her husband fourteen children, including Jahanara Begum (Shah Jahan’s favorite daughter), and the Crown prince Dara Shikoh, the heir-apparent, anointed by his father, who temporarily succeeded him, until deposed by Mumtaz Mahal’s sixth child, Aurangzeb, who ultimately succeeded his father as the sixth Mughal emperor.

The Taj Mahal tomb is the centerpiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall. Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The Taj Mahal complex in its entirety is believed to have cost approximately 52.8 billion rupees (US$827 million) in modern currency. The construction project employed around 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.

The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Persian and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur, progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand), Humayun’s Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb (sometimes called the Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan’s own Jama Masjid in Delhi. While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.

The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. It is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin.

The base structure is a large multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners forming an unequal eight-sided structure that is approximately 55 meters (180 ft) on each of the four long sides. Each side of the iwan is framed with a huge pishtaq or vaulted archway with two similarly shaped arched balconies stacked on either side. This motif of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on the chamfered corner areas, making the design completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth facing the chamfered corners. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are at a lower level.

The most spectacular feature is the marble dome that surmounts the tomb. The dome is nearly 35 metres (115 ft) high which is close in measurement to the length of the base, and accentuated by the cylindrical “drum” it sits on which is approximately 7 metres (23 ft) high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The top is decorated with a lotus design which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of the dome is emphasized by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners, which replicate the onion shape of the main dome. The dome is slightly asymmetrical. Their columned bases open through the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base walls, and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial which mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements.

The minarets, which are each more than 40 meters (130 ft) tall, display the designer’s penchant for symmetry. They were designed as working minarets—a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same decorative elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. The minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that in the event of collapse, a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period, the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.

The exterior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the finest in Mughal architecture. As the surface area changes, the decorations are refined proportionally. The decorative elements were created by applying paint, stucco, stone inlays or carvings. In line with the Islamic prohibition against the use of anthropomorphic forms, the decorative elements can be grouped into either calligraphy, abstract forms or vegetative motifs. Throughout the complex are passages from the Qur’an that comprise some of the decorative elements. The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.” The calligraphy was created in 1609 by a calligrapher named Abdul Haq. Shah Jahan conferred the title of “Amanat Khan” upon him as a reward for his “dazzling virtuosity”. Near the lines from the Qur’an at the base of the interior dome is the inscription, “Written by the insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi.” Much of the calligraphy is composed of florid thuluth script made of jasper or black marble inlaid in white marble panels. Higher panels are written in slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below. The calligraphy found on the marble cenotaphs in the tomb is particularly detailed and delicate.

Biriyanis are well known in the Deccan region. They represent a blend of the cooking of medieval Persia and the Mughal empire. Kachchi (raw) biryani is prepared with meat marinated with spices and then soaked in yoghurt before cooking. The gosht (meat) is sandwiched between layers of fragrant long-grained basmati rice, and cooked by steaming over coals, after sealing the handi (vessel) with slack dough. This is a challenging process because it requires meticulous attention to time and temperature to avoid over- or under-cooking the meat that is acquired only by long experience. My skills are so-so in this regard. I can’t honestly recommend this recipe if you do not have the necessary experience with slow cooking rice – blind. The list of ingredients is lengthy and many are difficult to obtain in the West.  In general home cooks in India these days do not bother cooking biriyanis from scratch in this way, nor do most Indian restaurants. It’s way too much trouble, even though the results are superb. Normally Indian cooks use prepared powders and pastes.

Kachche gosht ki biryani

Ingredients

750 gm lamb, mutton, or goat cut into 2”pieces
1½ cups basmati rice, rinsed and soaked in cold water and drained
2 tbsp raw papaya paste
vegetable oil (for frying)
4 onions, peeled and sliced
1½ cups plain yoghurt
salt
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 green chile, sliced thin
1½ tsp red chile powder
1½ tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp garlic paste
2 tsp rosewater
½ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp garam masala powder
3 green cardamom pods
1” stick cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 black cardamom pod
8 black peppercorns
1 tsp kewra water
3 tbsp pure ghee
½ tsp powdered caraway seed
2 -3 strands saffron
2 tbsp whole milk
2” fresh ginger cut into thin strips
wheat flour slack dough (to seal)

Method

Place the mutton pieces in a deep bowl, add the papaya paste and mix well so that all the mutton pieces are covered with the paste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

Heat some vegetable oil in a deep heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onions and deep-fry until well browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain in one layer on wire racks.

Remove the mutton from the refrigerator and uncover. Add the yoghurt, green chile, salt to taste, turmeric powder, red chile powder, ginger paste, garlic paste, half the fried onions, half the fresh mint, half the fresh coriander, and garam masala powder and mix well. Cover the bowl again with cling film and keep it in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Half cook the rice in plenty of water. Sprinkle the green cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves, black cardamom, peppercorns, half the kewra water, rose water, two tablespoons of ghee, and caraway seeds over the rice and mix well.

Warm the milk slightly and steep the saffron in it. Take a non-stick deep pan with a cover and spread the marinated mutton over the bottom, then top it with the rice. Sprinkle over the top the remaining fried onions, remaining kewra water, fresh mint, fresh coriander, saffron milk, milk, remaining ghee, remaining rose petals and ginger strips. Cover the pan with a lid and seal tightly with the wheat flour dough.

Place the pan over low heat and cook for about 60 minutes.

Let the pot stand for fifteen minutes before opening the lid. Serve hot with A biryani is usually served with Dahi chutney (yogurt, mint, and onion), baghara baingan (roasted Eggplant), a salad of onion, carrot, cucumber, and lemon wedges, and chapatis or roti.

 

 

Jun 162017
 

Today is the birthday (1890) of Stan Laurel (born Arthur Stanley Jefferson), an English comic actor, writer and film director, most famous for his role in the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. He appeared with his comedy partner Oliver Hardy in 107 short films, feature films, and cameo roles. He is one of my favorite comedy actors of all time.  Buster Keaton said at his funeral: “Chaplin wasn’t the funniest, I wasn’t the funniest, this man was the funniest.” Amazing praise by a world famous comic. The main point is that Laurel, unlike Chaplin and Keaton, was able to make the transition from stage to silent movies to talkies and finally to color movies without missing a beat, constantly adapting yet keeping all the styles he accumulated along the way.

Laurel began his career in English music hall (like Chaplin), where he adopted a number of his standard comic devices: the bowler hat, the deep comic gravity, and the nonsensical understatement. His performances polished his skills at pantomime and music hall sketches. Laurel was a member of “Fred Karno’s Army,” where he was Charlie Chaplin’s understudy. With Chaplin, the two arrived in the United States on the same ship from the United Kingdom with the Karno troupe. Laurel began his film career in 1917 and made his final appearance in 1951. From 1928 onwards, he appeared exclusively with Oliver Hardy. Laurel officially retired from the screen following Hardy’s death in 1957. That fact in itself shows the character of the man.

Before you read on, here’s a sampling of his comedy to enjoy:

Laurel was born in his grandparents’ house at 3 Argyle Street, Ulverston in Lancashire. His parents, Margaret (neé Metcalfe) and Arthur Jefferson, were both active in the theater, and, in consequence, moved a great deal. In his early years, Laurel spent some time living with his maternal grandmother, Sarah Metcalfe. He attended school at King James I Grammar School, Bishop Auckland, County Durham and the King’s School, Tynemouth, Northumberland. He moved with his parents to Glasgow where he completed his education at Rutherglen Academy. His father managed Glasgow’s Metropole Theatre, where Laurel first began to work. His boyhood hero was Dan Leno, one of the greatest English music hall comedians. Laurel gave his first professional performance on stage at the Panopticon in Glasgow at the age of 16, where he polished his skills at pantomime and music hall sketches.

He joined Fred Karno’s troupe of actors in 1910 with the stage name of “Stan Jefferson” where he acted as Chaplin’s understudy for some time. Chaplin and Laurel toured the US with Karno before both went their separate ways. From 1916-18, he teamed up with Alice Cooke and Baldwin Cooke, who became lifelong friends. Amongst other performers, Laurel worked briefly alongside Oliver Hardy in a silent film short The Lucky Dog (1921). This was before the two were a duo.

It was around this time that Laurel met Mae Dahlberg. Around the same time, he adopted the stage name of Laurel at Dahlberg’s suggestion that his stage name Stan Jefferson was unlucky, due to it having thirteen letters. The pair were performing together when Laurel was offered $75 a week to star in two-reel comedies. After making his first film Nuts in May, Universal offered him a contract. The contract was soon cancelled during a reorganization at the studio. Among the films in which Dahlberg and Laurel appeared together was the 1922 parody Mud and Sand.

By 1924, Laurel had given up the stage for full-time film work, under contract with Joe Rock for 12 two-reel comedies. The contract had one unusual stipulation: that Dahlberg was not to appear in any of the films. Rock thought that her temperament was hindering Laurel’s career. In 1925, she started interfering with Laurel’s work, so Rock offered her a cash settlement and a one-way ticket back to her native Australia, which she accepted.

Laurel next signed with the Hal Roach studio, where he began directing films, including a 1926 production called Yes, Yes, Nanette. He intended to work primarily as a writer and director. Oliver Hardy, another member of the Hal Roach Studios Comedy All Star players, was injured in a kitchen mishap in 1927, and Laurel was asked to return to acting. Laurel and Hardy began sharing the screen in Slipping Wives, Duck Soup (1927), and With Love and Hisses. The two became friends and their comic chemistry soon became obvious. Roach Studios’ supervising director Leo McCarey noticed the audience reaction to them and began teaming them, leading to the creation of the Laurel and Hardy series later that year.

Together, the two men began producing a huge body of short films, including The Battle of the Century, Should Married Men Go Home?, Two Tars, Be Big!, Big Business, and many others. Laurel and Hardy successfully made the transition to talking films with the short Unaccustomed As We Are in 1929. They also appeared in their first feature in one of the revue sequences of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and the following year they appeared as the comic relief in the lavish all-color (Technicolor) musical feature The Rogue Song. Their first starring feature Pardon Us was released in 1931. They continued to make both features and shorts until 1935, including their 1932 three-reeler The Music Box, which won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject.

During the 1930s, Laurel was involved in a dispute with Hal Roach which resulted in the termination of his contract. Roach maintained separate contracts for Laurel and Hardy that expired at different times, so Hardy remained at the studio and was teamed with Harry Langdon for the 1939 film Zenobia. The studio discussed a series of films co-starring Hardy with Patsy Kelly to be called “The Hardy Family.” But Laurel sued Roach over the contract dispute. Eventually, the case was dropped and Laurel returned to Roach. The first film that Laurel and Hardy made after Laurel returned was A Chump at Oxford. Subsequently, they made Saps at Sea, which was their last film for Roach.

In 1941, Laurel and Hardy signed a contract at 20th Century Fox to make ten films over five years. During the war years, their work became more formulaic and less successful, though The Bullfighters and Jitterbugs did receive some praise. In 1947, Laurel returned to England when he and Hardy went on a six-week tour of the United Kingdom, and the duo were mobbed wherever they went. Laurel’s homecoming to Ulverston took place in May, and the duo were greeted by thousands of fans outside the Coronation Hall. The Evening Mail noted: “Oliver Hardy remarked to our reporter that Stan had talked about Ulverston for the past 22 years and he thought he had to see it.” The tour included a Royal Command Performance for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London. The success of the tour led them to spend the next seven years touring the UK and Europe.

In 1950, Laurel and Hardy were invited to France to make a feature film. The film was a disaster, a Franco-Italian co-production titled Atoll K. (The film was entitled Utopia in the US and Robinson Crusoeland in the UK.) Both stars were noticeably ill during the filming. Upon returning to the United States, they spent most of their time recovering. In 1952, Laurel and Hardy toured Europe successfully, and they returned in 1953 for another tour of the continent. During this tour, Laurel fell ill and was unable to perform for several weeks.

In May 1954, Hardy had a heart attack and cancelled the tour. In 1955, they were planning to do a television series called Laurel and Hardy’s Fabulous Fables based on children’s stories. The plans were delayed after Laurel suffered a stroke on 25 April, from which he recovered. But as the team was planning to get back to work, his partner Hardy had a massive stroke on 14 September 1956, which resulted in his being unable to return to acting.

Oliver Hardy died on 7 August 1957. Laurel was too ill to attend his funeral and said, “Babe would understand.” People who knew Laurel said that he was devastated by Hardy’s death and never fully recovered from it. He refused to perform on stage or act in another film without his good friend, although he continued to socialize with his fans. Laurel was always gracious to fans and spent considerable time answering fan mail. His phone number (OXford-0614) was listed in the telephone directory, and fans were amazed that they could dial the number and speak to him directly.

Laurel was a heavy smoker until suddenly quitting around 1960. In January 1965, he underwent a series of x-rays for an infection on the roof of his mouth. He died on 23 February 1965, aged 74, four days after suffering a heart attack on 19 February. Just minutes away from death, Laurel told his nurse that he would not mind going skiing right at that very moment. Taken aback, the nurse replied that she was not aware that he was a skier. “I’m not,” said Laurel, “I’d rather be doing that than this!” A few minutes later, the nurse looked in on him again and found that he had died quietly in his armchair.

Laurel had said in hospital: “If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to him again.” Dick Van Dyke gave the eulogy at Laurel’s funeral, as a friend, protégé, and occasional impressionist of Laurel during his later years. He read “The Clown’s Prayer” the last verse of which is:

And in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
“When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile.”

Can’t leave without this; one of my favorite scenes:

Laurel’s daughter Lois was once asked about Stan and Ollie’s favorite foods.  She wrote, “My father’s favorite was prime rib. Second, it would be liver, bacon, and onions. Third, fish and chips.” Very English. Let’s go with liver, bacon, and onions. I’m quite fond of this dish too, but only if it is cooked right. Most cooks destroy it in any one of a dozen ways. The first important point is that you should use young calf’s liver, not old ox liver. Second, you should barely cook it. Most cooks like to fry liver until it is tough, grainy, and dry. A few minutes on high heat is all it takes. We can begin with Mrs Beeton since Laurel was born in the Victorian era and would certainly have had this dish as a boy:

CALF’S LIVER AND BACON.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—2 or 3 lbs. of liver, bacon, pepper and salt to taste, a small piece of butter, flour, 2 tablespoonfuls of lemon-juice, 1/4 pint of water.

Mode.—Cut the liver in thin slices, and cut as many slices of bacon as there are of liver; fry the bacon first, and put that on a hot dish before the fire. Fry the liver in the fat which comes from the bacon, after seasoning it with pepper and salt and dredging over it a very little flour. Turn the liver occasionally to prevent its burning, and when done, lay it round the dish with a piece of bacon between each. Pour away the bacon fat, put in a small piece of butter, dredge in a little flour, add the lemon-juice and water, give one boil, and pour it in the middle of the dish. It may be garnished with slices of cut lemon, or forcemeat balls.

Time.—According to the thickness of the slices, from 5 to 10 minutes.

Average cost, 10d. per lb. Sufficient for 6 or 7 persons.

Seasonable from March to October.

There are no onions here, however, so you are missing an important component. This is what I do:

Fry off the bacon over medium-low heat in a dry skillet until it is crisp and the fat has been rendered. Set aside the bacon in a warm (not hot) oven.

Slice the liver thinly and sauté over high heat very quickly (in batches) in the bacon fat. Certainly don’t overcook the liver. If anything leave them slightly underdone. As the liver pieces are cooked add them to the bacon in the oven to keep warm.

Add a whole onion thickly sliced to the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté until they take on some color. Add 1 tablespoon of flour to the skillet and stir it around with a wooden spoon to make a dark roux with the bacon fat. Add cold beef stock a little at a time, whisking vigorously, to make a dark gravy.

Serve the bacon, and liver with mashed potato and the onion gravy poured over.