Sep 212017
 

Today is the feast of St Matthew the Apostle (מַתִּתְיָהוּ‎‎ Mattityahu or מתי‎ Mattay, “Gift of YHVH”; Ματθαῖος Matthaios) who, according to the Greek Bible, was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, according to Christian tradition, was one of the four Evangelists. Well, Matthew the Apostle and the person who wrote the gospel that became the Gospel According to Matthew are without a doubt two different people, but they both get celebrated today (as the same person), so I’ll go with the flow even though I’m more interested in the gospel than in the apostle who is a tad one dimensional.

Matthew the apostle is mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and Matthew 10:3 as a publican who, while sitting at the “receipt of custom” in Capernaum, was called to follow Jesus. Those passages suggest that Matthew collected taxes from the Judean people for Herod Antipas. That’s how he’s characterized in Christian tradition. Matthew is also listed among the twelve, but without identification of his background, in Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13. In passages parallel to Matthew 9:9, both Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 describe Jesus’ calling of the tax collector Levi, the son of Alphaeus, but Mark and Luke never explicitly equate this Levi with the Matthew named as one of the twelve apostles. That’s the sum total of what we know from the gospels.  As such the information is not much of an addition to the gospel story. The gospel attributed to Matthew has much more to offer.

First we must understand that the gospel was originally anonymous and was not attributed to the apostle Matthew until the 2nd century. Scholars usually date it in the period 80 to 90 CE which means it’s highly unlikely to have been written by an eyewitness, let alone an apostle. The gospel itself does not claim to have been written by an eyewitness, and the scholarly consensus is that it, and Luke, were written using Mark as a source book. What is most interesting to me are the parts of Matthew that are not found in the other gospels, and the special spin that Matthew puts on materials it has in common with the other gospels.  I’ll just hint at the complexity here.

That Matthew was written by a Jew is patent from the opening genealogy.  Genealogies were of enormous importance and interest to writers of the Hebrew Bible, and many laypersons tend to skip over the lists of “X begat Y” because they don’t know how to read them.  I am an anthropologist, so I know better.  First question to ask is, “Who begins the genealogy?” This is the person whose identity is critical.  In Matthew the genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham emphasizing that he was one of God’s chosen people destined to inherit Israel. Matthew wants to make it clear with his genealogy that Jesus was a Jew. (By contrast, Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus to Adam, emphasizing that Jesus was a man). Matthew’s genealogy (and other parts of the gospel) tells us, by inference, that the author was a Jew who was intent on proving that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. The rest of the genealogy cements this point, with stress on the fact that every 14 generations there was a key event in Jewish messianic history, thus: Abraham, king David, Babylonian Exile, Jesus.

The nativity of Jesus in Matthew is unique and quite different from the story in Luke (the only other place in the gospels where the narrative appears). Mark and John launch straight into the baptism and the ministry with no childhood tales. Matthew’s version has no manger, shepherds, angels etc. He mentions the Magi (Wise Men from the east), then gives us the slaughter of the innocents and the flight to Egypt. So we can add gold, frankincense and myrrh, plus the star to our Christmas decorations, and if we pay attention (as I do), we add Epiphany, not to mention the 12 days of Christmas into the equation.

For me the centerpiece of Matthew, and Christianity in general, is the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5 to 7).  All you need to know about Christianity is there. Here you’ll find the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, along with a ton of pithy sayings that sum up discipleship and the Christian life.  It is bedrock for me; the place I return again and again. There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus never delivered the sermon as given in Matthew, but it contains original sayings from lists that must have been widely circulated after Jesus died. It’s possible that it’s like the preaching of Jesus even if it is not an exact copy.  We have scores of examples in ancient Greek and Latin texts of speeches given by key people at critical moments that no one expected to be verbatim transcripts. What was necessary was to convey the essence of a speech, not the precise wording. I imagine that that is what Matthew was aiming for.

Our recipe for the day is easily taken from Matthew 14:

13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.  

Bread and fish is a great combination.  Of course, if you want to be hyper-New York Jewish you should have lox (smoked salmon) with cream cheese on a bagel (I like mine toasted). When I am in England I eat buttered bread and smoked fish all the time. It’s easy to find smoked halibut, trout, and (especially) whiting. When I was a small boy (preschool) in Eastbourne, on the south coast, my mother sometimes made me poached whole plaice which she served with brown bread.  For reasons I still cannot fathom, she thought the brown bread would prevent the tiny bones from getting stuck in my throat. Sanity and English mothers are rare companions.

Take this day as your opportunity to experiment with the bread and fish of your choice.

Sep 152017
 

Today is Free Money Day, an annual, global event held since 2011 as a social experiment and to promote sharing and alternative economic ideas, advocated by the Post Growth Institute (PGI).  You can find details about PGI here:

http://postgrowth.org/

Free Money Day is held annually on September 15, the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers’ 2008 filing for bankruptcy. Participants offer their own money to passing strangers at public places, two coins or notes at a time. Recipients are asked to pass on one of the notes or coins to someone else. 68 events were held in 2011. On one past Free Money Day, according to the official website, 138 Free Money Day events were held in 24 countries. The money is given without obligation; it is hoped that the event and the transactions will stimulate conversations about the role of money in society, increase awareness about debt and make people think about their own relationship with money.

This is from the FREE MONEY DAY facebook page:

Our economy can work for everyone!

How? The same way every healthy system works, through good circulation. For the body, it’s blood; for the environment, it’s oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen; for our economy, it’s money.

If your heart stops pumping blood through every part of the body, tissue dies. If vital elements don’t circulate appropriately throughout the environment, our ecosystem collapses. When money accumulates at the top, instead of circulating freely through every economic level, a sick economy is inevitable.

Free Money Day is an opportunity to encourage money to circulate more freely through our economy. Whether you leave a little money with a note on a park bench, or hand money to complete strangers, know that by sharing money more freely you are helping to create a more caring, sharing economy.

I can’t find a reference to it now, but I remember my father telling me a story about a man in the 19th century standing on London Bridge offering free money to strangers (guinea coins, I think), and no one would take them. They assumed they were fake, or there was some kind of catch. Sheer, unadulterated altruism with money just raises suspicion it seems. Getting people to think about their relationship to money is the whole point of the day, and my own experiments over the years have been enlightening to me.  Money is such a fraught subject for so many people.  For some time when I was a university professor I would teach once in a while about the emotions and beliefs surrounding money, and, on occasion, to illustrate a point I would offer a dollar bill to a student – free. It’s hardly a king’s ransom, but you’d be surprised at how few people wanted to take the money.

I’m not rich by any means.  In fact I’ve had times in my life when I have had zero in the bank and had to scrounge a meal.  Once as a young professor I had to collect empty cans on my campus and get the deposit from them just to pay the toll to cross the bridge to drive home.  Nowadays I have enough to live on and not much more, and that’s fine.  If I have a little extra and someone needs help with money, I give it to them. I’ve gathered over the years that that attitude makes me a bit of a weirdo.  So be it. Money is not important to me as long as I have enough to live on. I’m not interested in accumulating wealth.  As far as I can tell, accumulating wealth corrupts people, or, at least, distorts their perspective on life.

One of the most profoundly influential ideas that I got from Marx is the notion of “exchange value” versus “use value.” In monetary terms (exchange value), a dinner that costs $20 and a shirt that costs $20 are equivalent, but if you are hungry a shirt is not much use to you. In that sense, money is a false common denominator, and if you see items in terms of their monetary value instead of their use value you are dehumanizing yourself (as well as those items) by reducing them to a scale that is ultimately meaningless – or, more precisely, has the meaning you bestow upon it because it has no intrinsic meaning, or value. Money has no use value: you can’t wear it or eat it; you can only exchange it for things you can wear or eat. Yet money gets invested with immense power despite its lack of intrinsic worth.

I could not participate properly in Free Money Day today because I live in Myanmar and don’t speak Burmese (even a little).  Consequently, it would have been impossible for me to go up to a stranger, hand him two notes (there are no coins in Myanmar) and explain what I was doing. Instead I chose a teacher at my school and gave her two 5,000 kyat notes (about $4 dollars each) and explained to her about Free Money Day: she could keep one of them and had to give the other one away. Her first response was “Really ?????” and wouldn’t take the money. I had to offer it three times before she would take. Finally, she gave in.  Then periodically throughout the day I added some comments and a few questions.  I told her that she had to give away one note today (my invention to push the issue).  I got “Really ?????” again.

After a while she told me that she was thinking carefully about it, but had made no decisions. The thing is that this is a very strange act for Myanmar. Myanmar is a poor country where most people work long hours for little money. Giving away hard-earned money for no reason is not only unheard of but also completely illogical. Eventually she asked me, “Why did you pick me?” I replied, “Because I like you?” Again I got “Really ?????” Telling people your true feelings is as unheard of in Myanmar as giving away free money: if not more so.

My wife related a story about money her therapist told her that leads to our recipe for the day.  Apparently he was in therapy as a young man, and one day he was really down in the dumps about a lot of things but lack of money topped the list, and at the time he was hungry with no money for a meal. His therapist took him out on the streets and panhandled a little money. Then he went to a convenience store, bought two cups of instant noodles, used the hot water at the store to heat them, then sat on the street with my wife’s therapist, and they ate them.  His simple comment was, “You see, you’ll always have enough if you have faith and a little imagination.”

Your dish of the day, therefore, is a cup of instant noodles. They’re not gourmet food they fill a chink and they teach an important lesson about the value of money and the value of life.

Aug 082017
 

Today, August 8th, can be written 8/8 in both day/month and month/day systems, and in certain languages the words for eight-eight can have punning meaning. In Mandarin Chinese, for example, eight-eight  –  八八 (bābā) – sounds like 爸爸 (bàba – daddy), and so at one time August 8th was father’s day in China. It’s still father’s day in Taiwan and Mongolia, but not in the People’s Republic.

In Swahili, the national language of Tanzania, eight-eight is Nane Nane, which is also the name of an Agricultural Exhibition that takes place every year around this date [8/8] in varying locations of Tanzania. At the Nane Nane Agricultural Exhibition, farmers and other agricultural stakeholders (e.g., universities and research institutes, input suppliers or fertilizer producing industries) showcase new technologies, ideas, discoveries and alternative solutions concerning the agricultural sector.

In English, puns are generally treated as rather low-grade humor, but in many, many cultures and languages puns hold a special place. In Biblical Hebrew, for example, proper nouns, especially personal names, involve complex, often tortured puns. The first man is commonly called Adam in English, but in Genesis, Adam is not his name so much as what he is: a man (referred to in the text simply as ha-adam – the man), which sounds like ha-adamah, “earth” (making a pun out of the fact that “the man” was originally fashioned from “the earth”). Likewise Jacob, founder of the lineages of the 12 tribes of Israel, begins life with a name that sounds like “heel grabber” reflecting that he was the second born of twins who, by grabbing his elder brother’s (Esau’s) heel coming from the womb will ultimately usurp him as leader of a nation. His name is changed to Israel after he wrestles with an angel where is-ra-el puns with ish-ra-el – a man who fights with God. Absolutely every personal name in Genesis has a punning meaning which is lost in translation, but is the core of rabbinical and Talmudic analysis and reflection. Nobody minds that these meanings are puns rather than genuine etymological relationships. Puns have sacred power.

Chinese puns are immensely important in a number of different ways. Chinese puns and homophones work only in spoken language because words that sound identical or similar are easily distinguished by Chinese characters in writing. Nonetheless the Chinese take puns and homophones very seriously. The number 4 is an unlucky number in Chinese culture because the word for 4 () sounds like the word for death (sǐ) – and, by coincidence, a similar pun and superstition holds true in Japanese (even though the Chinese and Japanese words are etymologically unrelated). Consequently, many Chinese high-rise buildings have no floors that have numbers with 4 in them. My first apartment in Yunnan was apartment #4 on the 13th floor, so I felt it had a kind of East meets West misfortune about it. Nothing bad happened there, I’m glad to say.

It is common in China for a bride and groom to exchange gifts of chopsticks because the word for chopsticks, 筷子 (kuàizi) puns with 快子 (kuàizǐ) which means “to have a son quickly.” Conversely, it is very bad luck for couples to give gifts of shoes because “shoes” (鞋 xié) in northern Mandarin is a homophone of “evil” (邪 xié). Similarly, it is bad luck to share a pear with your lover because “to share a pear” (分梨) is a homophone of “separate” (分离), both pronounced “fēnlí” in Mandarin.

The image of a carp swimming around lotuses is a common depiction of good fortune in China because “carp” (鲤, lǐ), “fish” (鱼, yú), and lotus (莲, lián) are near homophones with “profit” (利, lì), “surplus” (余, yú), and “successive” (连, lián) respectively.

Instead of a recipe today here are a few food puns. Sorry !!!

The wedding was so beautiful, even the cake was in tiers.

Lettuce not panic. Romaine calm.

Jul 172017
 

Today is International Firgun Day. The term “firgun” (Hebrew: פירגון) is an informal modern Hebrew term and concept in Israeli culture, which describes genuine, unselfish delight or pride in the accomplishment of the other. It can also be used to mean a generosity of spirit, an unselfish, empathetic joy that something good has happened, or might happen, to another person. The concept does not have a one-word equivalent in English, probably for good reason: that is, the idea is rather alien in the English-speaking world. The infinitive form of the word, “Lefargen”, means to make someone feel good without any ulterior motives. This absence of negativity is an integral part of the concept of firgun.

The word can be traced back to the Yiddish word “farginen” (a cognate of the German word “vergönnen. The word was initially used in the 1970s in Hebrew, and gained momentum in subsequent decades. The thing about firgun is that it’s not just about giving compliments, the feelings expressed must be authentic and without agenda. Scholars suggest that the concept of firgun can be found in Talmudic Hebrew as “ayin tova” — “a good eye” – a phrase not commonly used in modern Hebrew.

In 2014, Made in JLM (Jerusalem), an Israeli non-profit community group, set out to create “International Firgun Day”, a holiday celebrated yearly on July 17, where people share compliments or express genuine pride in the accomplishment of others on social media.

Here’s what they say on their website:

יום הפרגון הבינלאומי נחגג גם השנה, זה הפעם הרביעית, ב-17 ביולי ואתם מוזמנים להצטרף מכל מקום בעולם ולחלוק את ערך הפרגון. מה עושים? בוחרים אדם/עסק/ארגון שמגיע לו #פרגון, מוסיפים את התמונה שלו ולמה הוא נבחר, ומתייגים 3 אנשים נוספים שמתבקשים לפרגן את זה הלאה. אנו תלויים בכם- אנא הזמינו חברים, שתפו ופרגנו! אין לכם רעיונות לפרגון? כנסו לפירגונטור, מחולל הפרגונים האוטומטי: www.firgunator.com

My modern Hebrew is not stellar, but this is the gist:

International Firgun Day is celebrated this year, for the fourth time, on July 17th, and you are invited to join from anywhere in the world and share the value of your empathy. What do you do? Choose a person / business / organization that deserves a #firgun, add its image and why you selected it, and tag 3 additional people and ask them to forward it. We depend on you – please invite friends, share and distribute! Don’t have any ideas for good wishes? Go to the Firgunator, the automatic firgun generator: www.firgunator.com

So . . . International Firgun Day is a virtual event. Get on it everyone !!! Send a kind word to or about someone for no other reason than that you feel it.

As it happens, there’s a certain amount of firgun in my cooking. I cook because I enjoy making people happy, not because I want compliments. I write this blog to spread happiness. Ulterior motives ruin everything.

I entered “cock-a-leekie” (one of my favorite dishes) into the Firgunator and got:

Cock-a-leekie, I would have definitely protected the earth from the aliens with you. Your words are so sophisticated, I have no idea what you are saying.

Jun 212017
 

I am choosing today as a personal Turning Point for a variety of reasons. Today is the June solstice, a natural turning point in the solar year:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/solstice/

Of course, it is the summer solstice (longest day) in the northern hemisphere, and the winter solstice (shortest day) in the southern hemisphere:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/willkakuti/

People who live on the equator don’t have much to write home about on this day, but those north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle have 24 hours of daylight or 24 hours of darkness respectively, so it’s a reasonably dramatic turning point for them.  Between the tropics and the Arctic/Antarctic Circles, worldwide, the solstice is a milder, but nonetheless important, turn of the year for all cultures.

Because in 1986 the June solstice and the Full (Strawberry) Moon fell on a Saturday, my wife (RIP) and I chose it for our wedding day:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/june-wedding/

Generally at this time of year I start traveling and call a halt to this blog for a few weeks because I don’t have time for daily posts.  This year I am leaving Mantua for Mandalay where I will be teaching for the next 8 months, so why not take today as my Turning Point? I’ll be gone from posting here for a few weeks as I adjust to a new culture and a new timetable.

Tonight I’m having a dinner party for a few friends to mark the day as a transition point for me.  It’s stiflingly hot in Mantua right now, so I’m making an entirely cold meal, and I am following standard Italian norms: antipasti, i primi, i secondi, dolci. This is my last chance before I get immersed in Burmese cuisine.

My antipasti are prosciutto, tomino Langherino, and smoked salmon:

First course is pasta primavera:

Second course is chicken breast in olive oil and lemon over a bed of mixed salad:

Dessert is a Margherita cake with apples, glazed with fruit sauce and filled with frutti di bosco (optional whipped cream):

A dopo amici.

 Posted by at 11:32 am
Jun 052017
 

Another major coincidence day.  Today is the birthday of two monumentally influential economists: Adam Smith (1723 OS) and John Maynard Keynes (1883). If I set my mind to it I would be writing for days about their respective theories, comparing them, and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. I’m not going to, however. Even though it may look otherwise, this is, first and foremost a RECIPE blog and I want to stay that course even though I am patently easily distracted by history.  I’ll paint in very broad strokes before I get to my recipe and you can delve the mysteries of economics on your own if you are interested. I make no apologies for being overly simplistic.  It is a sad fact that most modern-day politicians are also overly simplistic when it comes to economics. I claim the right to be so because I am not making policy decisions that affect millions. Politicians ought to be more educated.

Smith’s magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally referred to by its shortened title The Wealth of Nations, was first published in 1776, but went through many major revisions. Wealth of Nations presents considers such basic issues as what builds a nations’ wealth, the division of labor, productivity, and free markets. It is today a foundational work in classical economics. Smith’s thought is severely limited by the fact that he was writing at the extreme beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and so takes no account of the impact on macroeconomics of the factory system, mass industrial production and consumption, nor mass media and advertising.

Smith is sometimes best remembered for his concept of the “invisible hand” (which he called AN invisible hand), even though he used the term only three times in his voluminous writing. The idea is implicit throughout, however. Smith argued that when left with substantial freedom, economic systems are able to regulate themselves. The ability to self-regulate and to ensure maximum efficiency, however, is limited by externalities, monopolies, tax preferences, lobbying groups, and other “privileges” extended to certain members of the economy at the expense of others.

Smith’s most basic hypothesis is that rational self interest ultimately leads to an economy in which all benefit. Take a hypothetical man blessed with a ton of money.  What should he do with it? Assuming he is self interested he will want to make a profit. He has a choice between hiring hundreds of (unproductive) servants or hundreds of (productive) workers.  For comfort he might hire some servants but they produce zero profit for him. He is much better off hiring as many productive workers as he can.  They have jobs, he makes a profit – seemingly win-win.  Without regulation the system achieves a balance via the forces of supply and demand. Of course it’s not as simple as that, nor did Smith suggest it was.  But that’s the core. It’s also the basis of Reaganomics or “trickle down” economics: make the rich richer by leaving them unfettered by taxation and whatnot and their wealth will naturally filter down to the benefit of everybody. I think we all see the inherent flaws in that mode of thinking.

Keynes produced his most influential work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money during the Great Depression in 1936, challenging the ideas of the neoclassical economics of the time that held that free markets would, in the short to medium term, automatically provide full employment, as long as workers were flexible in their wage demands. He instead argued that aggregate demand determined the overall level of economic activity and that inadequate aggregate demand could lead to prolonged periods of high unemployment. Keynes advocated the use of fiscal and monetary policies to mitigate the adverse effects of economic recessions and depressions. Classical economic theory had natural swings from boom to bust built in, and Keynesian models sought to flatten out these curves in the system through enlightened regulation.

From the end of the Great Depression to the mid-1970s, Keynes provided the main inspiration for economic policy makers in Europe, the US, and much of the rest of the world. While economists and policy makers had become increasingly won over to Keynes’s way of thinking in the mid and late 1930s, it was only after the outbreak of World War II that governments started to borrow money for spending on a scale sufficient to eliminate unemployment. According to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith (then a US government official charged with controlling inflation), in the rebound of the economy from wartime spending, “one could not have had a better demonstration of the Keynesian ideas.”

The “Keynesian Revolution” was associated with the rise of modern liberalism in the West during the post-war period. Keynesian ideas became so popular that some scholars point to Keynes as representing the ideals of modern liberalism, as Adam Smith represented the ideals of classical liberalism. After the war, Winston Churchill attempted to check the rise of Keynesian policy-making in the United Kingdom and used rhetoric critical of the mixed economy in his 1945 election campaign. Despite his popularity as a war hero, Churchill suffered a landslide defeat to Clement Attlee whose government’s economic policy continued to be influenced by Keynes’s ideas.

As a not inconsequential side note Keynes thought that the pursuit of wealth for its own sake was a pathological condition, and that the proper aim of work was to provide leisure. He wanted shorter working hours and longer holidays for all. Keynes was interested in literature in general and drama in particular and supported the Cambridge Arts Theatre financially, which allowed the institution, at least for a while, to become a major British stage outside London.

Keynes’s personal interest in classical opera and dance led him to support the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and the Ballet Company at Sadler’s Wells. During the war, as a member of CEMA (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), Keynes helped secure government funds to maintain both companies while their venues were shut. Following the war, Keynes was instrumental in establishing the Arts Council of Great Britain and was its founding chairman in 1946. Unsurprisingly, from the start the two organizations that received the largest grants from the new body were the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells.

Not only do Smith’s and Keynes’s ideas clash in government policies these days – head on – a host of other economic models vie for ascendancy. In the end, however, the unregulated free market versus enlightened regulation lie at the heart of the matter for the vast majority of people, including policy makers (none of whom appear to think very deeply about these matters).

As an anthropologist I can’t help but notice that the role of culture is almost entirely absent from the theories of both men. Terms such as rational self interest, supply and demand, profit motive etc. are not culture-free terms. Max Weber, for example, pointed out that what counts as self interest is influenced by cultural factors. He noted that in modern economies higher wages could stimulate higher productivity whereas in what he called “traditional economies” the opposite is the case.  The issue comes down to whether a culture works on the assumption that “more is better” or “enough is enough.” Weber argues that in modern economies the majority will always work more because the people want more, whereas in traditional economies people have a sense of when they have enough for their needs, and so will work only sufficient hours to get what they need. If you pay people higher wages in a traditional culture they will work less.  It comes down to whether a culture is driven by need or desire. Their economies will be very different.  Of course, for the West desire trumps need almost all the time. Gracias a dios, I escaped the endless desire for more and more a long time ago.  Sure a Ferrari will get me from A to B very efficiently and I will look good to others in the process. But a Fiat will get me from A to B also; so will a bus or a bicycle. Nowadays you’ll usually find me on a bus when I need to travel – taking photos or reading a book.

The economics of food shopping is by no means a trivial matter.  I am always acutely aware of the price of various items. It’s not that I cannot afford to pay a lot for certain things, but generally I am not going to – except on special occasions. This is the main reason that I cook the way locals cook for the most part. This is not a rigid rule of course.  I mostly cooked using Argentine staples when I lived in Buenos Aires, but I did make the occasional trek to barrio Chino to stock up on Asian foods because Argentine cooking is dreadfully bland. For me food shopping requires balancing three variables: 1. What I can afford (or what I am prepared to pay).  2.  What I need for a healthy diet. 3. What I am in the mood for. On good days I can juggle all three nicely.

Right now I’m preparing to leave Italy so another variable has entered the picture – part of the supply side. I have to use up a kitchen full of non-perishable foods such as rice, beans, lentils, pasta etc. or get rid of them.  The canny wee Scot in me will not countenance throwing them out or giving them away, so  my daily recipes feature a lot of rice and beans.  But I don’t want to be dreary.  I go to the market almost daily and hunt for special offers – especially overstocks of perishables that have reached their sell-by date. Supply and demand work to my benefit most days. This does mean that I cannot eat what I want, when I want, without paying the price.  I live with that because I can always make something tasty with what I have.

I could give you a recipe for my Stick Everything in a Pot Soup recipe I suppose, but the name pretty much says it all. The thing is that “everything” does not literally mean “everything.” It does mean putting things together that you do not normally think of as going together – for the sake of using them up. You can make an awful mess if you are not careful.  Timing is paramount (as it is with markets). Meat, onions, and other seasonings go in first.  Dried beans and pulses also need a lot of time to cook. Generally I don’t find that rice and pasta work well together in a soup. You can use one or the other, but their cooking times need to be carefully gauged so that they do not overcook. Same for vegetables.  Usually I plan about 2 hours to cook this kind of soup and carefully plan (on paper) when I will add each ingredient so that I end up with a soup in which every ingredient is perfectly cooked, and not overcooked.

 

May 102017
 

HAPPY 4th BIRTHDAY to my blog!!!! How time flies when you’re having fun. Since I began in 2013 I’ve posted from 3 continents with all the complications that arise from being in different time zones.  In Argentina I had to be posted by 8 pm or I missed the server’s deadline (which is on GMT). In China I had the luxury of posting all the way until 4 am the next day, so I frequently posted in the early morning hours (very confusing for Facebook). Now that I am in Italy we are more or less in sync, but things will get muddled again when I move to Myanmar (or wherever) this summer. Posting will also get a bit erratic in July as I follow the Silk Road east through central Asia. No matter. The food should be great, and I will have tales to tell.

For aficionados, here’s all my May 10th posts. The first was charmingly short and sweet – very unusual for me (the “short and sweet” bit — I am always charming !). I had not yet hit my stride. Now I fear they are too long.

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/micronesia-day/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/tomahtotomayto/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/2nd-birthday/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/3rd-birthday/

Here’s the current top 10 list – always something of a mystery (with hyperlinks in case you care to check them):

Arthur Rackham
Mondrian
Cleopatra and the Asp
The Little Prince
Coca-Cola
Madagascar Independence Day
Madame Tussaud
Botswana
Darwin and the Galápagos Islands
Nauru Independence Day

I’m in the process of trying to find a publisher for a related cookbook. It’s not going too well at the moment, but one press may be interested. You’ll be the first to know if I am successful. Most on the top ten list will make it into the book.

On my actual birthday I post other anniversaries and birthdays, so let’s do the same today.

On this date in 1869 the golden spike (also known as The Last Spike) was driven by Leland Stanford to join the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.

The Roman Catholic church celebrates the Hebrew Bible figure of Job on this date, while other denominations use different dates in May.

Romanians celebrate today as Independence Day or King’s Day either to recall the victorious independence war against the Ottoman Empire in 1877-1878, concluded with the recognition of Romania’s independence, or the crowning of Carol I as its first king, as well as all the kings of the Romanian monarchy.

On this date in 1774 the dauphin of France, Louis-Auguste, became king of France on the death of his grandfather, Louis XV (his father had died in 1765).  Things did not go well for Louis XVI.

In 1801 a little known war, the First Barbary War (1801–1805), also known as the Tripolitanian War and the Barbary Coast War, the first of two Barbary Wars, broke out between the United States, Sweden and the four North African states known collectively as the “Barbary States.” Three of these were nominal provinces of the Ottoman Empire, but in practice autonomous: Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis. The fourth was the independent Sultanate of Morocco.

Notable birthdays:

1838 John Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

1872 Marcel Mauss, French sociologist and anthropologist whose major work, The Gift, still has considerable influence within the social sciences.

1899 Fred Astaire. Just remember that the taps and other sounds are dubbed in !!! Not bad, though.

1946 Donovan, who first came to my attention with this song.

More anniversaries and birthdays next year – I promise.

A birthday cake is appropriate as a daily recipe, of course, but I don’t like cake very much. I’m going to roast a chicken and make an apple and berry pie. I’ll put some candles on the pie and take photos later today. I’ll update as I can, but now I have to get ready for work.

Addendum:

I did make the pie yesterday evening. It’s of a kind I make a lot these days.  I start with a large circle of flaky pastry which I place in an earthenware casserole with the excess hanging over the side.  Fill with apple slices and wild berries. Fold the pastry over the fruit, dot with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden. Easy-peasy. 4 candles for effect.

May 072017
 

Today, the first Sunday in May, is World Laughter Day. The first celebration was actually on January 10, 1998, in Mumbai, and was arranged by Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of the worldwide Laughter Yoga movement. Now there are special World Laughter Day events in at least 105 countries worldwide. Kataria, a family doctor in India, was inspired to start the Laughter Yoga movement in part by the facial feedback hypothesis, which postulates that a person’s facial expressions can have an effect on their emotions. There is also some scientific evidence that laughter is medically helpful. Kataria’s speculation is that it does not matter whether laughter is forced or natural to have a beneficial effect. I can understand the hypothesis although I have no evidence to support it other than anecdotal. It is, of course, fundamental to yoga that body posture influences mental state. I think that this is unquestionably true, but whether it applies to deliberate laughter is not clear to me. However, I see no reason why we can’t deliberately provoke actual laughter. If I want to laugh I can watch this video, for example. It cracks me up – every single time.

Why this particular cat fail clip should make me laugh so reliably is not clear, and brings up the whole question of the nature of humor which has been studied endlessly and with little profit. Incongruity is one facet of humor, as in this case. The cat so clearly wants to jump up on the shelf, and fails. But . . . it does not jump and miss; its “jump” is not even worthy of the name. It just falls off the table. It is the combination of obvious desire and epic failure that appeals to me; that, and the fact that I know cats and their desires very well.

As a graduate student I wrote a paper on incongruity in comic strips for my sociolinguistics class. My (lame) hypothesis involved showing that sometimes cartoonists tried to be funny by making their characters say things that were grossly out of characters, such as, children being wise well beyond their years, or, conversely, adults talking like children. The latter is the stock in trade of the immensely popular television series The Big Bang Theory, which I detest precisely for that reason. The premise that highly intelligent men typically act like children in their social lives annoys me beyond words. First, the premise is demonstrably false, and, second, seeing grown men acting like boys does not amuse me.

Although some animals, especially non-human primates, exhibit physical behaviors that look like laughter, I find it highly unlikely that animals are capable of actual laughter. Chimpanzees and orangutans sometimes display laughter-like behavior when they are enjoying themselves, but human laughter extends well beyond simple enjoyment. It is much more complex. Much of human laughter comes from language, and this is outside of non-human capability.

There is no question that laughter can be infectious. This classic English music hall song, The Laughing Policeman, relies on infection for success (or failure):

I’ve always enjoyed provoking laughter from my students when I teach. It’s not a deliberate strategy; I can’t help myself. I see the funny side of things. In fact I see the funny side of just about everything when I am with other people. But there’s the thing. For me laughter is sociable. If I watch a movie by myself that amuses me, I don’t laugh, but if I am with other people, I do. Back in my college days no one had a television, but we had a television room and we would pack it on certain occasions, such as when Monty Python came on. The place would be in hysterics from start to finish, and I would laugh along with the others.

This point reminds me that laughter is intensely culturally specific. I had many colleagues in the US who did not find Monty Python funny in the slightest. On the other side of the coin, when I was in China I could not for the life of me figure out what Chinese jokes were all about, and they were perplexed at my humor. There was also the complication that Chinese university students generally think it is impolite to laugh out loud in class.

I had two separate ideas for recipes today. The first was to talk about “joke” dishes, that is, dishes that look like one thing but are actually another. Here, for example, is a “grilled cheese” sandwich that is actually toasted pound cake slices with a yellow icing for filling:

However, I’ve covered this idea before several times. So, instead I want to look at amusing recipes. I found this online (click to enlarge).

It’s a recipe generated by a computer program trying to emulate the activity of neural networks – that is, getting a computer learn how to think the way humans think. They were produced  by Janelle Shane using char-rnn, an open-source program on GitHub that she (and others) can customize to build their own neural networks. She gave it a cookbook to analyze and then asked it to produce new recipes. Granting computers human intelligence has a long way to go. I think we’re safe from a robot takeover for a while. Or . . . maybe they are already ingenious enough to know how to chop beer. Frightening.

Here’s another recipe that will keep you guessing:

Pears Or To Garnestmeam

meats

¼ lb bones or fresh bread; optional
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon vinegar
¼ teaspoon lime juice
2  eggs

Brown salmon in oil. Add creamed meat and another deep mixture.

Discard filets. Discard head and turn into a nonstick spice. Pour 4 eggs onto clean a thin fat to sink halves.

Brush each with roast and refrigerate.  Lay tart in deep baking dish in chipec sweet body; cut oof with crosswise and onions.  Remove peas and place in a 4-dgg serving. Cover lightly with plastic wrap.  Chill in refrigerator until casseroles are tender and ridges done.  Serve immediately in sugar may be added 2 handles overginger or with boiling water until very cracker pudding is hot.

Yield: 4 servings

Apr 252017
 

Today is celebrated as the anniversary of the founding of the Red Hat Society by members. In 1997, Sue Ellen Cooper, an artist from Fullerton, California, bought an old red fedora for $7.50 from a thrift shop during a trip to Tucson, Arizona. When a good friend was nearing her 55th birthday, Cooper was inspired to buy her a red hat as a present by the Jenny Joseph poem, “Warning”, which begins “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” Cooper wanted to encourage her friend to grow older in a playful manner.  She repeated the gift on request several times, and eventually several of the women bought purple outfits as well and held a tea party on April 25, 1998, at which the Red Hat Society began. The idea spread, first by word of mouth and then through the internet and publications, so that now there are over 20,000 chapters in the US and numerous others in 30 countries worldwide.

I came across a Red Hat Society function about 10 years ago in New York. They’re hard to miss. The members all had on very elaborately decorated red hats. At the time I had no clue what it was all about, but got the basic drift from the members at the event, and then looked it up afterwards on the internet. What I found most noticeable is that the aims of the Red Hat Society and Jenny Joseph’s poem are a little at odds with one another. Here’s the full poem:

Warning

Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
And say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings,
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens,
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,
Or only bread and pickle for a week,
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats
and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
And pay our rent and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple!

Jenny Joseph wrote this poem in 1961 when she was approaching 30. I can see how Sue Ellen Cooper was inspired by the poem – especially the first lines – but what Jenny Joseph is proposing is rather different from what the Red Hat Society became. I think that’s just fine; the poem is not a constitution nor some kind of founding document in total. My general mantra is that if people are having fun (and they are not being insanely destructive), it’s none of my business what they are doing even if it is not to my taste. What I will say is that the poem and the society are a little at odds in their stated aims.

Jenny Joseph wrote “Warning” in the post-war years in England when life could be very drab. Rationing continued well into the 1950s and the country was trying to rebuild itself in the aftermath of absolute calamity. Conformity to certain ideals of “success” were very much the norm. Good job, nice house, smart clothes, thrifty lifestyle etc. were the hallmarks of the successful life, and Jenny Joseph found all of this rather dreary and confining. She wanted to break free, but knew she couldn’t. Instead she fantasized an old age liberated from the strictures of youth, modeled on eccentric old English women, of which there were, and are, an abundance. A mere 2 years ago I spent a fascinating afternoon with a friend of mine in the cottage of a comfortably well off old woman in Oxfordshire who chain smoked, drank whisky, and kept a pet sheep in her kitchen. Her house was an utter riot of random clutter. She had asked my friend to come over to help her with her lawn which was overgrown and choked with weeds and wildflowers, because she wanted to use it for some kind of dog show that I never fully understood.

Jenny Joseph is, in fact, an old lady these days (she was born in 1932), and I have no idea what she is up to now apart from reading poetry now and again.  For a while she was a journalist in South Africa and then worked teaching ESL in London. She is certainly one of the most widely acclaimed living poets and has received numerous honors. I hope she is retired, but I wonder whether she spits, swears, and spends her pension on brandy and summer gloves.  The point of the poem is to stress a desire to break free from the norms of society, but, of course, since 1961 things have changed enormously. There was the decade of the 1960s, to begin with, which turned so many (not all) social norms on their heads. Many people, men and women, stopped wearing hats, for example, and the general rules of everyday street wear went south.  Were it not for the Red Hat Society, a woman wearing a purple dress and a red hat would go completely unnoticed these days

The Red Hat Society was inspired by Jenny Joseph’s poem, but its aims are hardly the same. First, the privilege of wearing a red hat begins at age 50, not the retirement age for women in England in the 1960s which was 60. That’s the kind of age Jenny Joseph was thinking of — or older. Sue Ellen Cooper was imagining something quite different in the US of the late 1990s. She was looking at what was expected of women in their 50s at that time and balking. It’s true that Joseph’s and Cooper’s underlying philosophy is the same –  break the rules and have fun – but what breaking the rules looks like is rather different for each woman. The Red Hat Society is called a “dis-organization” but it looks pretty organized to me. Go to their website https://www.redhatsociety.com/ and you’ll find plenty of organization including a very extensive online store. Nonetheless, I imagine meetings for tea vary enormously from group to group. The thing is that I know full well as an anthropologist that every social rebellion, large or small, sooner or later gets codified and co-opted by the society it is rebelling against. If ONE old woman wears a red hat and a purple dress it could be considered eccentric; if tens of thousands of them do it, it’s another way of conforming. No matter; I’m sure the members have fun in their own way.

If you are going to break the rules, afternoon tea is a good place to start. I’ve talked about afternoon tea several times in my posts, including the annoying misuse of the term “high tea” for afternoon tea in North America. In England high tea (sometimes just referred to as “tea”) is a full meal, whereas afternoon tea consists of dainty sandwiches and little cakes, that was first popularized in Queen Victoria’s court as a stopgap between lunch at noon and dinner at 7. Regular working people (myself included) typically have a full meal after work, rather than having a tea time followed by a later dinner. In my family we referred to our evening meal as tea when I was growing up, and we had it at around 5 o’clock.

I suppose you could “eat three pounds of sausages at a go, Or only bread and pickle for a week” but Joseph’s more basic point is that you should eat what you want without respect for the standards of a healthy diet. When I was a schoolboy in England in the 1960s I was always the first home, and, because I was hungry I would often eat a tinned steak and kidney pudding plus toast and jam with clotted cream and some chocolate to tide me over until dinner time. Nowadays that would be a full meal for me, but when I was a teenager my stomach was bottomless.

So what are you going to have with your cup of tea this afternoon? Three pounds of sausages might be OK, or bread and pickles — or both. They would be unconventional enough for afternoon tea time. But your limit is your imagination. I’ll take steak and kidney pudding — only not tinned.

 

 

Mar 092017
 

The fashion doll Barbie, manufactured by the U.S. toy company Mattel, Inc. was launched on this date in 1959 so we can celebrate today as Barbie’s birthday. Ruth Handler is credited with the creation of the doll using a German doll called Bild Lilli as her inspiration.  According to the Mattel company’s history, Handler was watching her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls, and noticed that she often enjoyed giving them adult roles. At the time, most children’s toy dolls were representations of infants. Realizing that there was a gap in the market, Handler suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to her husband Elliot, a co-founder of the Mattel toy company but he was unenthusiastic about the idea, as were Mattel’s directors.

Bild Lilli

During a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Ruth Handler came across a German toy doll called Bild Lilli. The adult-figured doll was exactly what Handler had in mind, so she purchased three of them. She gave one to her daughter and took the others back to Mattel. The Lilli doll was based on a popular character appearing in a comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Bild. Lilli was a blonde bombshell, a working girl who knew what she wanted and was not above using men to get it. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.

Upon her return to the United States, Handler redesigned the doll (with help from engineer Jack Ryan) and the doll was given a new name, Barbie, after Handler’s daughter Barbara. The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. This date has become Barbie’s official birthday according to Mattel, making her 58 this year (2017).

The first Barbie doll wore a black and white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. The doll was marketed as a “Teen-age Fashion Model,” with her clothes created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan, with their clothes hand-stitched by Japanese home workers. Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production.

Louis Marx and Company sued Mattel in March 1961. After licensing Lilli, they claimed that Mattel had “infringed on Greiner & Hausser’s patent for Bild-Lilli’s hip joint, and also claimed that Barbie was “a direct take-off and copy” of Bild-Lilli. The company additionally claimed that Mattel “falsely and misleadingly represented itself as having originated the design”. Mattel counter-claimed and the case was settled out of court in 1963. In 1964, Mattel bought Greiner & Hausser’s copyright and patent rights for the Bild-Lilli doll for $21,600.

Ruth Handler believed that it was important for Barbie to have an adult appearance, and early market research showed that some parents were unhappy about the doll’s chest, which had distinct breasts. Barbie’s appearance has been changed many times, most notably in 1971 when the doll’s eyes were adjusted to look forwards rather than having the demure sideways glance of the original model. Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising, which has been copied widely by other toy companies. It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.

The standard range of Barbie dolls and related accessories are manufactured to approximately 1/6 scale, which is also known as playscale. The standard dolls are approximately 11½ inches tall. In January 2016, Mattel announced that it will add tall, curvy, and petite body shapes to its line-up of dolls. Alternative skin tones, hair styles, and hair colors will also be added.

 

Barbie is without doubt a pop cultural icon of considerable magnitude. Andy Warhol used Barbie in his art and the Andy Warhol Foundation then teamed up with Mattel to create an Andy Warhol Barbie, setting Barbie alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara. Al Carbee took thousands of photographs of Barbie and created countless collages and dioramas featuring Barbie in various settings.

As a pop icon Barbie has come in for her fair share of criticism.  In her early days Barbie was a teenage fashion model. This was a huge shift away from the classic 1950s doll market that featured babies for little girls to look after which at best cried, peed, and closed their eyes, so that girls were limited to mother roles such as feeding, cradling, and putting to bed. Barbie opened up professional opportunities for little girls. At first these opportunities were limited to affluent, White, middle-class aspirations but she did eventually appear as an astronaut, surgeon, Olympic athlete, downhill skier, aerobics instructor, TV news reporter, vet, rock star, doctor, army officer, air force pilot, summit diplomat, rap musician, presidential candidate (not entirely clearly defined), baseball player, scuba diver, lifeguard, fire-fighter, engineer, dentist, and more.

To counter the WASP image artists have created a variety of trailer park “Barbies.”

Barbie was also criticized for her body type in the earlier years and that the doll promotes and unrealistic image for a young woman, leading to a risk that girls who attempt to emulate her will become anorexic. A standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall, giving a height of 5 feet 9 inches at 1/6 scale. Barbie’s vital statistics have been estimated at 36 inches (chest), 18 inches (waist) and 33 inches (hips). According to research by the University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, she would lack the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate. In 1963, the outfit “Barbie Baby-Sits” came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight which advised: “Don’t eat!” The same book was included in another ensemble called “Slumber Party” in 1965 along with a pink bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs., which by medical standards is clinically underweight for a woman 5 feet 9 inches tall. Mattel said that the waist of the Barbie doll was made small because the waistbands of her clothes, along with their seams, snaps, and zippers, added bulk to her figure. In 1997, Barbie’s body mold was redesigned and given a wider waist, with Mattel saying that this would make the doll better suited to contemporary fashion designs.

Mattel introduced the Ken doll in 1961 to be Barbie’s boyfriend – also a fashion model whom, in Mattel’s fantasy world, Barbie met on a fashion shoot.  Subsequently Mattel introduced a host of friends to include Mexican, African-American, and other ethnic groups under the Barbie umbrella.

In Japan, where cosplay is a huge cultural phenomenon, boys and girls have major plastic surgery so that their facial features resemble Ken and Barbie, which they supplement with exotic makeup, body shaping, hair color, wigs, and couture.

I can’t say I’d get on with Barbie if I met her in New Jersey. I’d certainly not be impressed with her cooking skills.  Her kitchen is not bad when it comes to basic utensils and equipment, but terrible with regard to food items.  This Japanese video showing Barbie cooking has to stock the kitchen with non-Mattel food items that are mostly out of scale and highly ordinary. Looks like if Barbie is cooking for me we’re having roast turkey, pasta, and salad.  Have fun with that.