Jan 072019
 

Today is the birthday (1502) of Ugo Boncompagni who became pope Gregory XIII in 1572. He is best known for commissioning his namesake Gregorian calendar, but his influence in his day was much more widespread. Remember, his lifespan covered the major upheaval in Europe of the Protestant Reformation.

Gregory was the son of Cristoforo Boncompagni (1470 – 1546) and Angela Marescalchi, born in Bologna, where he studied law, graduating in 1530. Later he taught jurisprudence for some years. He had an illegitimate son, Giacomo, after an affair with Maddalena Fulchini, before he took holy orders. At the age of 36 he was summoned to Rome by Pope Paul III (1534–1549), under whom he held successive appointments as first judge of the capital, abbreviator, and vice-chancellor of the Campagna. Pope Paul IV (1555–1559) attached him as datarius to the suite of cardinal Carlo Carafa, Pope Pius IV (1559–1565) made him cardinal-priest of San Sisto Vecchio basilica and sent him to the Council of Trent, which met from 1545 to 1563 to address the crisis in the Catholic church created by the Protestant Reformation and to launch the Counter Reformation.

He also served as a legate to Philip II of Spain (1556–1598), being sent by the Pope to investigate the cardinal of Toledo. It was there that he formed a lasting and close relationship with Philip, which was to become a key component of his foreign policy as Pope, especially in his dealings with England and Ireland.

Upon the death of Pius V (1566–1572), the conclave chose Boncompagni as pope, who assumed the name of Gregory XIII in homage to the great reforming Pope, Gregory I (590–604), surnamed the Great. It was a very brief conclave, lasting less than 24 hours. Many historians have attributed this to the influence and backing of the Spanish king. Gregory XIII’s character seemed to be perfect for the needs of the church at the time. Unlike some of his predecessors, he was to lead a faultless personal life, becoming a model of simplicity. Additionally, his legal brilliance and management abilities meant that he was able to respond and deal with major problems quickly and decisively, although not always successfully.

Once he came pope, Gregory XIII’s rather worldly concerns became secondary and he dedicated himself to reform of the Catholic Church. He committed himself to putting into practice the recommendations of the Council of Trent. He allowed no exceptions for cardinals to the rule that bishops must take up residence in their sees, and designated a committee to update the Index of Forbidden Books. He was the patron of a new and greatly improved edition of the Corpus juris canonici. In a time of considerable centralization of power, Gregory XIII abolished the consistories of cardinals, replacing them with colleges, and appointing specific tasks for these colleges to work on. He was renowned for having a fierce independence; some confidants noted that he neither welcomed interventions nor sought advice. The power of the papacy increased under him, whereas the influence and power of the cardinals substantially decreased.

A central part of the strategy of Gregory XIII’s reform was to apply the recommendations of Trent. He was a liberal patron of the recently formed Society of Jesus throughout Europe, for which he founded many new colleges. The Roman College of the Jesuits grew substantially under his patronage, and became the most important center of learning in Europe for a time. It is now named the Pontifical Gregorian University. Pope Gregory XIII also founded numerous seminaries for training priests, beginning with the German College at Rome, and put them in the charge of the Jesuits.

In 1575 he gave official status to the Congregation of the Oratory, a community of priests without vows, dedicated to prayer and preaching (founded by Saint Philip Neri). In 1580 he commissioned artists, including Ignazio Danti, to complete works to decorate the Vatican and commissioned The Gallery of Maps. Also noteworthy during his pontificate as a further means of putting into practice the recommendations of the Council of Trent is the transformation in 1580 of the Dominican studium founded in the 13th century in Rome into the College of St. Thomas, the precursor of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum.

Pope Gregory XIII is best known for his commissioning of a new calendar started by the Calabrian doctor/astronomer Aloysius Lilius with the aid of Jesuit priest/astronomer Christopher Clavius who made the final modifications. The reason for the reform was that the average length of the year in the Julian calendar was too long. It treated each year as 365 days, 6 hours in length, whereas calculations showed that the actual mean length of a year is slightly less (365 days, 5 hours and 49 minutes). As a result, the date of the actual vernal equinox had slowly (over the course of 13 centuries) slipped to 10th March, while the computus (calculation) of the date of Easter still followed the traditional date of 21st March.

This was verified by the observations of Clavius, and the new calendar was instituted when Gregory decreed, by the papal bull Inter gravissimas of 24th February 1582, that the day after Thursday, 4th October 1582 would be not Friday, 5 October, but Friday, 15 October 1582. The new calendar duly replaced the Julian calendar, in use since 45 BCE, although it took centuries to come into universal use, particularly because of resistance in Protestant countries.

Though he expressed the conventional fears of the danger from the Turks, Gregory XIII’s attentions were more consistently directed to the dangers from the Protestants. He also encouraged the plans of Philip II to dethrone Elizabeth I of England, thus helping to develop an atmosphere of subversion and imminent danger among English Protestants, who looked on any Catholic as a potential traitor (right through the reigns of all the Stuart monarchs).

In 1578, to further the plans of exiled English and Irish Catholics such as Nicholas Sanders, William Allen, and James Fitzmaurice FitzGerald, Gregory outfitted adventurer Thomas Stukeley with a ship and an army of 800 men to land in Ireland to aid the Catholics against the Protestant colonies. To his dismay, Stukeley joined his forces with those of king Sebastian of Portugal against Emperor Abdul Malik of Morocco instead.

Another papal expedition sailed to Ireland in 1579 with only 50 soldiers under the command of Fitzmaurice, accompanied by Sanders as papal legate.[citation needed] All of the soldiers and sailors on board, as well as the women and children who accompanied them, were beheaded or hanged on landing in Kerry, in the Smerwick Massacre. Gregory’s greatest success came in his patronage of colleges and seminaries which he founded in continental Europe for expatriate Irish and English Catholics, among others. In 1580 he was persuaded by English Jesuits to moderate or suspend the Bull Regnans in Excelsis (1570) which had excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England. Catholics were advised to obey the queen outwardly in all civil matters, until such time as a suitable opportunity presented itself for her overthrow.

After the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres of Huguenots in France in 1572, Gregory celebrated a Te Deum mass. However, some hold that he was ignorant of the nature of the plot at the time, having been told the Huguenots had tried to take over the government but failed. Three frescoes in the Sala Regia Palace of the Vatican depicting the events were painted by Giorgio Vasari, and a commemorative medal was issued with Gregory’s portrait and on the obverse a chastising angel, sword in hand and the legend UGONOTTORUM STRAGES (“Overthrow of the Huguenots”).

In Rome Gregory XIII built the magnificent Gregorian chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter, and extended the Quirinal Palace in 1580. He also turned the Baths of Diocletian into a granary in 1575. He appointed his illegitimate son Giacomo, castellan of Sant’Angelo and Gonfalonier of the Church, and Venice, anxious to please Gregory, enrolled him among its nobles. Philip II of Spain appointed him general in his army. Gregory also helped his son to become a powerful feudatary through the acquisition of the Duchy of Sora, on the border between the Papal States and the kingdom of Naples.

Gregory died on 10th April 1585.

Gregory was born, raised, and practiced law in Bologna before moving to Rome, so that a recipe for ragù alla bolognese is suitable even though the first documented recipe comes from the late 18th century – well after Gregory’s time. Can’t have everything. In Italian cuisine this sauce is customarily used to dress tagliatelle al ragù and to prepare lasagne alla bolognese. In the absence of tagliatelle, it can also be used with other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine. Genuine ragù alla bolognese is a slowly cooked sauce, and its preparation involves several techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. Ingredients include a characteristic soffritto of onion, celery and carrot, different types of minced or finely chopped beef, often alongside small amounts of fatty pork or pancetta. White wine, milk, and a small amount of tomato concentrate or tomatoes are added, and the dish is then gently simmered at length to produce a thick sauce. What is called Bolognese sauce outside of Italy is usually more akin to southern Italian sauces that are heavy with tomatoes, whereas ragù from Bologna is not. Also, ragù is not served with spaghetti in Italy, where the ubiquitous US and UK “spag Bol” is unheard of and unthinkable (much the same as spaghetti and meatballs is an abomination).

The earliest documented recipe for a meat-based sauce (ragù) served with pasta comes from late 18th century Imola, near Bologna. Pellegrino Artusi published a recipe for a meat sauce characterized as being bolognese in his cookbook published in 1891. Artusi’s recipe, which he called maccheroni alla bolognese, is thought to derive from the mid-19th century when he spent considerable time in Bologna (maccheroni being a generic term for pasta, both dried and fresh). The recipe only partially resembles the ragù alla bolognese that is traditionally associated with tagliatelle. The sauce called for predominantly lean veal filet along with pancetta, butter, onion, and carrot. The meats and vegetables were to be finely minced, cooked with butter until the meats browned, then covered and cooked with broth. Artusi commented that the taste could be made even more pleasant by adding small pieces of dried mushroom, a few slices of truffle, or chicken liver cooked with the meat and diced. As a final touch, he also suggested adding half a glass of cream to the sauce when it was completely done to make it taste even smoother. Artusi recommended serving this sauce with a medium size pasta (“horse teeth”) made from durum wheat. The pasta was to be made fresh, cooked until it was firm, and then flavored with the sauce and Parmigiano cheese.

The trick to cooking ragù alla bolognese traditionally is to take your time. Let the meat and vegetables simmer in broth for hour upon hour until the sauce is thick, rich and flavorful. Then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight to let the taste mature. You can follow Artusi’s directions, or add a little tomato paste to the broth. But do not add too much. This is not a Neapolitan sauce. If you are in any doubt, hop a plane to Italy and head to any trattoria in Bologna. You will not find a bad ragù; you will have to wait, though. This is not fast food.

Jan 062019
 

Today is Þrettándinn (literally, the thirteenth) in Iceland, their equivalent of Epiphany marking the end of the Christmas season. Icelanders follow both the traditional Christian calendar to mark the season, and also a traditional calendar that specifically mark Yule. According to the church calendar the Advent season begins four Sundays before Christmas Day, with an Advent wreath and 4 candles marking the progress through Advent.

According to the traditional Icelandic calendar, Yule begins 13 days before Christmas, and on the eve of this day, children leave their shoes by a window so that the Yule Lads can leave them small gifts. The Yule Lads are the sons of two trolls living in the Icelandic mountains. Each of the Yule Lads is known for a different kind of mischief (for example slamming doors, stealing meat, stealing milk or eating the candles). The Yule Lads traditionally wear early Icelandic wool clothing but are now more commonly depicted in red and white suits. Each home typically sets up a Christmas tree indoors in the living room with most decorating it on December 11. In addition to the decorations, presents are put underneath the tree. It is also a tradition in many homes to boil skate on the 23rd of December. The day is called Saint Thorlak Mass (Þorláksmessa).

The end of year is divided between two days – the Old Year’s Day (Gamlársdagur) and the New Year’s Day (Nýársdagur). At the night of the former and morning of the latter Icelanders set off fireworks blowing the old year away and welcoming the new one. Thirteen days after Christmas (6th January) Icelanders say goodbye to the Yule Lads and other mystical creatures such as elves and trolls. There are bonfires held throughout the country while the elves, Yule Lads, and Icelanders dance together before saying goodbye until the next Christmas.

According to folk traditions and tales, Þrettándinn is gloriously weird: it is a time of talking animals, aquatic metamorphoses, naked dancing, supernatural gifts, and precognitive dreams. In some ways it is like Samhain in the Celtic world where the human and spirit realms come together for a time. These are a few tales and traditions:

Icelanders make the most of New Year’s Eve and Þrettándinn, indulging their pyrotechnic sides: large bonfires are regularly held on both New Year’s Eve and Þrettándinn. The bonfires celebrate all of the fairies and elves who are said to be departing on Þrettándinn, and many local celebrations elect Fairy Queens and Kings who lead ‘elf dances’ around the fire. Elf dance traditions may originate with a popular play called “Nýársnóttin,” or ‘New Year’s Eve,’ which was written by Indriði Einarsson in 1907 and first featured the King and Queen of the elves.

According to some local traditions, such as on the Northern island of Grímsey, Þrettándinn is known as “The Great Dreaming Night.” The dreams that you have on this night must be taken very seriously, as they may hold clues to the future.

On the evening of Þrettándinn, many folktales say that cows can suddenly speak. There are many variations on this story—in some versions, for instance, they specifically speak Hebrew. In one version collected by Jón Árnason, a cowhand hangs around in the barn after his work is done on Þrettándinn. Around midnight, the cows all stand up and begin to speak to each other in nonsensical rhyming couplets, which are supposed to drive anyone who overhears them crazy. The cowhand escapes before he fully loses it, but is unable to prove his tale to anyone the next day. In other variations, however, the cowman is not so lucky, and goes mad listening to bovine poetry.

There are many folktales about seals transforming into humans on New Year’s Eve and Þrettándinn. In one variation, seals are actually the animal incarnations of an ancient Pharaoh’s army, drowned in the Red Sea while chasing Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt. The drowned soldiers became seals, but their bones remain much like human bones. So once a year, they become human, shedding their skins and dancing naked on beaches. In one famous tale, a man goes walking on a beach and sees many seal skins lying on the shore. He takes one home with him and locks it in a chest. Later, he discovers a beautiful naked woman crying on the same beach because he’s taken her skin and she cannot return to the sea. He takes her home, marries her, and they have many children, but he keeps the seal skin locked away so that she can never escape. One day, however, he forgets to take the key to the chest, and the woman retrieves her skin and returns to the ocean.

Þrettándinn is often thought to be the day in which fairies and elves leave their current dwellings and find new homes. In some traditions, residents walk around the home asking for the family’s continued well-being while those spirits who have arrived to come in, and those who want to leave go on their ways. Þrettándinn is a time to say goodbye to the spirits. As the fairies take their leave and the elves move house, so also the last Yule Lad leaves town. Iceland’s thirteen Yule Lads arrive one by one on the days leading up to Christmas, and then also leave one at a time on the thirteen days following. The last Yule Lad to leave is Kertasníkir, or “Candle Beggar.”

Traditionally, Þrettándinn is the last day for people to get their fill of Christmas decadence. So, Icelanders “burn out” Christmas by finishing off the remains of their candles, “eat up” the season by finishing all the leftovers, and “play out” the day with long card games.

During the holiday season, it is traditional for families to work together to bake small cookies to serve or give to guests. Most common are thin gingerbread cookies which are decorated in many different colors of glaze. Many families also follow the tradition of making Laufabrauð (Leafbread), which is a flat thin bread that is cut out using a special tool and folding technique. Here is a very good instructional video, with no voice over but plenty of visuals and quantities of ingredients given in English (and Spanish !!).

Jan 052019
 

Today is the feast day in the Roman Catholic communion of Saint Simeon Stylites or Symeon the Stylite (Classical Syriac: ܫܡܥܘܢ ܕܐܣܛܘܢܐ‎ Koine Greek Συμεών ὁ στυλίτης, Arabic: سمعان العمودي‎) (c. 390 – 2nd September 459), a Syriac ascetic saint who achieved notability for living 37 years on a small platform on top of a pillar near Aleppo (in modern Syria). Several other stylites later followed his model (the Greek word style means “pillar”). He is known formally as Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder to distinguish him from Simeon Stylites the Younger, Simeon Stylites III, and Saint Symeon Stylites of Lesbos.

Simeon was the son of a shepherd. He was born in Sis, now the Turkish town of Kozan in Adana Province. Sis was in the Roman province of Cilicia. After the division of the Roman Empire in 395 CE, Cilicia became part of the Eastern Roman Empire. Christianity took hold quickly there. According to Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus, Simeon developed a zeal for Christianity at the age of 13, following a reading of the Beatitudes. He entered a monastery before the age of 16. From the outset, he gave himself up to the practice of an austerity so extreme and to all appearance so extravagant, that his fellow monks judged him to be unsuited to any form of community life, and asked Simeon to leave the monastery.

He shut himself up in a hut for one and a half years, where he purportedly passed the whole of Lent without eating or drinking. When he emerged from the hut, his achievement was hailed as a miracle (which it certainly would have been if he had lived over 40 days without drinking). He later took to standing continually upright so long as his limbs would sustain him. After one and a half years in his hut, Simeon sought a rocky eminence on the slopes of what is now the Sheik Barakat Mountain, part of Mount Simeon. He chose to live within a narrow space, less than 20 meters in diameter. But crowds of pilgrims invaded the area to seek him out, asking his counsel or his prayers, and leaving him insufficient time for his own devotions. This eventually led him to adopt a new way of life.

In order to get away from the ever-increasing number of people who came to him for prayers and advice, leaving him little if any time for his private austerities, Simeon discovered a pillar which had survived among ruins in nearby Telanissa (modern-day Taladah in Syria), and formed a small platform at the top. He determined to live out his life on this platform. For sustenance small boys from the nearby village climbed up the pillar and passed him parcels of flat bread and goats’ milk. He may also have pulled up food in buckets via a pulley.

When the monastic Elders living in the desert heard about Simeon, who had chosen this new and strange form of asceticism, they wanted to test him to determine whether his extreme feats were founded in humility or pride. They decided to order Simeon under obedience to come down from the pillar. They decided that if he disobeyed, they would forcibly drag him to the ground, but if he was willing to submit, they were to leave him on his pillar. St Simeon displayed complete obedience and humility, and the monks told him to stay where he was.

The first pillar that Simeon occupied was little more than nine feet high. He later moved his platform to others, the last in the series reportedly more than 15 meters (50 ft) above ground. At the top of the pillar was a platform, which is believed to have been about one square meter and surrounded by a baluster. Edward Gibbon in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire describes Simeon’s life as follows:

In this last and lofty station, the Syrian Anachoret resisted the heat of thirty summers, and the cold of as many winters. Habit and exercise instructed him to maintain his dangerous situation without fear or giddiness, and successively to assume the different postures of devotion. He sometimes prayed in an erect attitude, with his outstretched arms in the figure of a cross, but his most familiar practice was that of bending his meagre skeleton from the forehead to the feet; and a curious spectator, after numbering twelve hundred and forty-four repetitions, at length desisted from the endless account. The progress of an ulcer in his thigh might shorten, but it could not disturb, this celestial life; and the patient Hermit expired, without descending from his column.

Even on the highest of his columns, Simeon was not withdrawn from the world. If anything, the new pillar attracted even more people, both pilgrims who had earlier visited him and sightseers as well. Simeon was available each afternoon to talk with visitors. By means of a ladder, visitors were able to ascend within speaking distance. It is known that he wrote letters, the text of some of which have survived to this day, that he instructed disciples, and that he also lectured to those assembled beneath. He especially preached against profanity and usury. In contrast to the extreme austerity that he practiced, his preaching conveyed temperance and compassion, and was marked with common sense and freedom from fanaticism. Much of Simeon’s public ministry, like that of other Syrian ascetics, can be seen as socially cohesive in the context of the Roman East. In the face of the withdrawal of wealthy landowners to the large cities, holy men such as Simeon acted as impartial and necessary patrons and arbiters in disputes between peasant farmers and within the smaller towns.

Reports of Simeon reached the church hierarchy and the imperial court. The Emperor Theodosius II and his wife Aelia Eudocia greatly respected the saint and listened to his counsels, while the Emperor Leo I paid respectful attention to a letter he sent in favor of the Council of Chalcedon. Simeon is also said to have corresponded with St Genevieve of Paris. Patriarch Domninos II (441–448) of Antioch visited the monk, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy on the pillar. Once when Simeon was ill, Theodosius sent three bishops to beg him to come down and allow himself to be attended by physicians. But Simeon preferred to leave his cure in the hands of God, and before long he recovered.

A double wall was raised around him to keep the crowd of people from coming too close and disturbing his prayerful concentration. Women, in general, were not permitted beyond the wall, not even his own mother, reportedly telling her, “If we are worthy, we shall see one another in the life to come.” She submitted to this, remaining in the area, and embraced the monastic life of silence and prayer. When she died, Simeon asked that her coffin be brought to him.

Simeon spent 37 years atop the pillar. He died on 2nd September 459. A disciple found his body stooped over in prayer. The Patriarch of Antioch, Martyrios performed his funeral before a huge throng of clergy and people. They buried him not far from the pillar.

Simeon inspired many imitators. For the next century, ascetics living on pillars, stylites, were a common sight throughout the Christian Levant. He is commemorated as a saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church, where his feast is on 29 Pashons. He is commemorated on 1st September by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, and 5th January in the Roman Catholic Church. A contest arose between Antioch and Constantinople for the possession of Simeon’s remains. The preference was given to Antioch, and the greater part of his relics were left there as a protection to the unwalled city. The ruins of the vast edifice erected in his honor and known in Arabic as the Qalaat Semaan (“the Fortress of Simeon”) can still be seen. They are located about 30 km northwest of Aleppo.

A recipe to commemorate a celebrated austere ascetic is always a challenge. We know that Simeon ate flat bread and goat milk, so you could go in that direction. Depends how austere you want to be. Syriac Christians, on the other hand, have a wide variety of recipes you could follow. I have been making some version of their stuffed eggplant and zucchini for over 45 years. You make a mix of cooked rice, ground lamb, and spices, hollow out the vegetables, stuff them with the rice/meat mix, and bake in a hot oven for 30 minutes. I usually added a small amount of broth and tomato paste to the pan for added flavor and juiciness.

Syriac Christians also make a soup with lentils, noodles, and spinach. I am fond of this one too, and it is austere enough even for a stylite. Place a cup of dried lentils in a large pot with abundant broth. Add several handfuls of washed spinach with the toughest stems removed. Bring to a boil and then simmer covered for 30 minutes. Check periodically to make sure the soup does not dry out, and add more broth as needed. Meanwhile, peel and slice an onion and sauté it over medium heat in a skillet in a little olive oil until it is evenly browned on all sides. Doing this well takes more time than you might think – 20 to 25 minutes at a minimum (and you need to stir regularly to avoid burning and to brown evenly). When the lentils start to soften add a cup of uncooked egg noodles broken into short strips. Continue to simmer until the lentils are fully cooked and the noodles are also cooked through. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the browned onions and stir them in thoroughly. Ideally the soup should be thick rather than watery. Serve in deep bowls with lemon wedges (for guests to add a splash of juice if they desire), and flatbread.

Jan 042019
 

Today was not a good date in two separate years for Charles I of England. On this date in 1642 he stormed into the House of Commons with armed guards to arrest five members he had a dispute with, and on this date in 1649 – perhaps as an anniversary present – the Rump Parliament voted to put him on trial for treason, ending in his execution. These two events can be thought of as bookends to what is generally known as the English Civil War (or Wars) even though there had been numerous civil wars previously (during the Anarchy, for example, or the Wars of the Roses).

When the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, died childless, the throne of England passed to the son of Mary Queen of Scots – James VI of Scotland – who was the great-great-grandson of Henry VII, inaugurating the House of Stuart as James I of England. Despite numerous tensions and disputes with the nobility, as well as an ongoing dispute between Catholic and Protestant lords that led to the Gunpowder Plot — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-gunpowder-plot/ — and did not end until his son James II was deposed, James I managed to hold on to his throne, and die in his bed, by being a shrewd and effective conciliator (mostly drinking heavily rather than antagonizing people). His son, Charles I, was not so lucky because he was far from being a peacemaker, but, instead, was egotistical, arrogant, and headstrong, believing firmly that kings were appointed by God and should be given the authority to rule autocratically as absolute monarchs. Parliament respectfully disagreed.

Charles’ increasing monarchic profligacy resulted in two important Acts in pursuit of the rights of Parliament and People, the Triennial Act of 1641 which gave Parliament autonomy of the monarchy, and the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640, which extended one of the key terms of Magna Carta to the general population, the right not to be summarily arrested by the king without due process.  The increasing tensions between Charles and Parliament led the king to attempt to arrest (without warrant or just cause) five members of the Long Parliament.

John Pym

Charles believed that Puritans encouraged by five vociferous Members of the House of Commons, known thereafter as the Five Members – John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Arthur Haselrig and William Strode – together with the peer Edward Montagu, Viscount Mandeville (the future Earl of Manchester), had encouraged the Scots to invade England in the recent Bishops’ Wars, and that they were intent on turning the London mob against him. When rumors reached the court that they were also planning to impeach the queen for alleged involvement in Catholic plots, Charles decided to arrest them for treason. The counterclaim was that the king had an Irish army set to reduce the kingdom.

The Speaker of the House during the Long Parliament was William Lenthall. On Tuesday, 4th January 1642, Charles entered the House of Commons to seize the Five Members, and sat in the speaker’s chair. Not seeing the Five Members and commenting “I see the birds have flown”, the King then turned to Lenthall, who stood below, and demanded of him whether any of those persons were in the House, whether he saw any of them and where they were. Lenthall fell on his knees and replied: “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here”. However, he later consented to appear as a witness against Thomas Scot in the wave of prosecutions of the regicides in 1660 which followed the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.

This action of the king was the catalyst for the Civil War, the beheading of the king, and the rule of Oliver Cromwell. After his failure to capture the Five Members and fearing for his family’s lives, Charles left London for Oxford. Most of the royalist members of Parliament joined him there, where they formed the Oxford Parliament. The Long Parliament continued to sit during and beyond the Civil War without its royalist members, because of the Dissolution Act.

Nowadays, Charles’s act is commemorated at the annual opening of parliament when the reigning monarch delivers a speech (written by the Prime Minister of the Commons) from the throne in the House of Lords.  The monarch sends a representative, known as Black Rod, to the Commons chamber to summon the members of Parliament to hear the speech, and, when he approaches, the chamber the door is slammed in his face, signifying the fact that both the monarch and any representative is barred from entering the Commons. Black Rod knocks three times on the door, and the members of Parliament, after hearing Black Rod’s summons, file to the House of Lords where they hear the monarch’s speech crowded into the doorway of the House of Lords. The Commons’ chamber remains their sanctuary.

After the royalist army had been defeated, it became apparent to the leaders of the New Model Army that Parliament—then controlled by the Presbyterian faction—was ready to come to an agreement with Charles that would restore him to the throne (though without effective power) and negate the power of the Army, they resolved to shatter the power of both king and Parliament. Pride’s Purge brought Parliament to heel under the direct control of the Army; the remaining Commons (the Rump) then on 13th December 1648, broke off negotiations with the king. Two days later, the Council of Officers of the New Model Army voted that the King be moved from the Isle of Wight, where he was prisoner, to Windsor, “…in order to the bringing of him speedily to justice.” Charles was brought from Windsor to London in the middle of December.

On 4th January 1649, the House of Commons passed an ordinance to set up a High Court of Justice, to try Charles I for high treason in the name of the people of England. The House of Lords rejected it, and as it did not receive Royal Assent, Charles asked at the start of his trial on 20th January in Westminster Hall, “I would know by what power I am called hither. I would know by what authority, I mean lawful authority”, knowing that there was no legal answer under the constitutional arrangements of the time. In fact, he offered no defense whatsoever, refusing to accept (quite correctly), the legitimacy of the court that was trying him. In consequence, he was convicted with 59 Commissioners (judges) signing the death warrant. At the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, all the living signers of the death warrant were tried and executed as regicides.

Charles was stalwart in the face of his execution on January 30th and wore two heavy shirts to the beheading block in case his shivering from cold were mistaken for fear. Prior to his execution he took a glass of claret and a piece of bread (not intentionally Eucharistic, I believe – but also not much of a final meal). The tradition of a condemned prisoner being granted a last meal request before execution is not especially old – 19th century in most countries – and is being increasingly abolished in countries that still apply the death penalty. In September 2011, the state of Texas abolished all special last meal requests after condemned prisoner Lawrence Russell Brewer requested a huge last meal and did not eat any of it, saying he was not hungry. His last meal request was for a plate of two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeños, a bowl of fried okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecued meat with half of a loaf of white bread, a portion of three fajitas, a meat-lover’s pizza (topped with pepperoni, ham, beef, bacon, and sausage), a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts, and a serving equivalent to three root beers.

I believe that I have asked this question before, but it is worth asking again today: “What would you order for a last meal?” I have seen this question played out on cooking competition television shows where contestants are invited to prepare “last meals” for a panel of celebrity judges. I think I’d have to go with cock-a-leekie soup, steak and kidney pudding, and apple crumble – suitably English of me, I know, and might well be replaced with locro (with tripe) and milanesa at the last minute.

Jan 032019
 

Today is the birthday of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973). Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, (my college) from 1925 to 1945. When I was an undergraduate, I would see him coming to dinner in hall from time to time. This was a very formal affair in those days. We all had to wear a suit and tie plus our academic gowns. The dons (professors in U.S. dialect) processed in to sit at a table on a raised dais (called high table), followed by grace in Latin. By that time Tolkien was old and bent over, using two canes to walk. He looked like something from Middle Earth. This post is my second on Tolkien largely caused by oversight, but, the old gaffer deserves an extra cheer given that we were college mates (of sorts). I read Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit in the wave of enthusiasm for Tolkien’s work in the 1960s and continue to remain disgusted by all attempts at turning the books into films (much as my son is disgusted by Harry Potter movies).

Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now Free State Province in South Africa) to Arthur Reuel Tolkien (1857–1896), an English bank manager, and his wife Mabel, née Suffield (1870–1904). The couple had left England when Arthur was promoted to head of the Bloemfontein office of the British bank for which he worked.

When he was three, Tolkien went to England with his mother and brother on what was intended to be a lengthy family visit. His father, however, died in South Africa of rheumatic fever before he could join them. This left the family without an income, so Tolkien’s mother took him to live with her parents in Kings Heath, Birmingham. Soon after, in 1896, they moved to Sarehole (now in Hall Green), then a Worcestershire village, later annexed to Birmingham. He enjoyed exploring Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog and the Clent, Lickey and Malvern Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books, along with nearby towns and villages such as Bromsgrove, Alcester, and Alvechurch and places such as his aunt Jane’s farm of Bag End, the name of which he used in his fiction.

Mabel Tolkien taught her two children at home. Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany and awakened in him the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favorite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early.

In 1904, when Tolkien was 12, his mother died of acute diabetes at Fern Cottage in Rednal, which she was renting. She was then about 34 years of age, about as old as a person with diabetes mellitus type 1 could live without treatment—insulin was not discovered until two decades later. Prior to her death, Mabel Tolkien had assigned the guardianship of her sons to her close friend, Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory, who was assigned to bring them up as good Catholics.

After his mother’s death, Tolkien grew up in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham and attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and later St. Philip’s School. In 1903, he won a Foundation Scholarship and returned to King Edward’s. While a pupil there, Tolkien was one of the cadets from the school’s Officers Training Corps who helped “line the route” for the 1910 coronation parade of King George V. Like the other cadets from King Edward’s, Tolkien was posted just outside the gates of Buckingham Palace.

While in his early teens, Tolkien had his first encounter with a constructed language, Animalic, an invention of his cousins, Mary and Marjorie Incledon. At that time, he was studying Latin and Anglo-Saxon. Their interest in Animalic soon died away, but Mary and others, including Tolkien himself, invented a new and more complex language called Nevbosh. The next constructed language he came to work with, Naffarin, would be his own creation. Tolkien learned Esperanto some time before 1909. Around 10th June 1909 he composed “The Book of the Foxrook”, a sixteen-page notebook, where the “earliest example of one of his invented alphabets” appears. Short texts in this notebook are written in Esperanto.

In 1911, while they were at King Edward’s School, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Christopher Wiseman, formed a semi-secret society they called the T.C.B.S. The initials stood for Tea Club and Barrovian Society, alluding to their fondness for drinking tea in Barrow’s Stores near the school and, secretly, in the school library. After leaving school, the members stayed in touch and, in December 1914, they held a “council” in London at Wiseman’s home. For Tolkien, the result of this meeting was a strong dedication to writing poetry.

In 1911, Tolkien went on a summer holiday in Switzerland, a trip that he recollects vividly in a 1968 letter, noting that Bilbo’s journey across the Misty Mountains (“including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods”) is directly based on his adventures as their party of 12 hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and on to camp in the moraines beyond Mürren. Fifty-seven years later, Tolkien remembered his regret at leaving the view of the eternal snows of Jungfrau and Silberhorn, “the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams”. They went across the Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald and on across the Grosse Scheidegg to Meiringen. They continued across the Grimsel Pass, through the upper Valais to Brig and on to the Aletsch glacier and Zermatt. In October of the same year, Tolkien began studying at Exeter College, Oxford. He initially studied classics but changed to English language and literature, graduating in 1915 with first-class honours.

In August 1914 Britain entered the First World War. Tolkien’s relatives were shocked when he elected not to immediately volunteer for the British Army. In a 1941 letter to his son Michael, Tolkien recalled: “In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage.” Instead, Tolkien, “endured the obloquy”, and entered a programme by which he delayed enlistment until completing his degree. By the time he passed his finals in July 1915, Tolkien recalled that the hints were “becoming outspoken from relatives”. He was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers on 15th July 1915. He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, for 11 months. In a letter to his future wife, Edith, Tolkien complained: “Gentlemen are rare among the superiors, and even human beings rare indeed.” Following their wedding, the couple took up lodgings near the training camp.

On 2nd June 1916, Tolkien received a telegram summoning him to Folkestone for posting to France. The Tolkiens spent the night before his departure in a room at the Plough & Harrow Hotel in Edgbaston, Birmingham. He later wrote: “Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then … it was like a death.” On 5th June 1916, Tolkien boarded a troop transport for an overnight voyage to Calais. Like other soldiers arriving for the first time, he was sent to the British Expeditionary Force’s (BEF) base depot at Étaples. On 7th June, he was informed that he had been assigned as a signals officer to the 11th (Service) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers.

While waiting to be summoned to his unit, Tolkien sank into boredom. To pass the time, he composed a poem entitled The Lonely Isle, which was inspired by his feelings during the sea crossing to Calais. To evade the British Army’s postal censorship, he also developed a code of dots by which Edith could track his movements. He left Étaples on 27th June 1916 and joined his battalion at Rubempré, near Amiens. He wound up commanding enlisted men who were drawn mainly from the mining, milling, and weaving towns of Lancashire. According to John Garth, he “felt an affinity for these working class men”, but military protocol prohibited friendships with “other ranks”. Instead, he was required to “take charge of them, discipline them, train them, and probably censor their letters … If possible, he was supposed to inspire their love and loyalty.” Tolkien later lamented, “The most improper job of any man … is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”[55]

Tolkien arrived at the Somme in early July 1916. In between terms behind the lines at Bouzincourt, he participated in the assaults on the Schwaben Redoubt and the Leipzig salient. Tolkien’s time in combat was a terrible stress for Edith, who feared that every knock on the door might carry news of her husband’s death.

On 27th October 1916, as his battalion attacked Regina Trench, Tolkien came down with trench fever, a disease carried by the lice. He was invalided to England on 8 November 1916. Many of his dearest school friends were killed in the war. Among their number were Rob Gilson of the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, who was killed on the first day of the Somme while leading his men in the assault on Beaumont Hamel. Fellow T.C.B.S. member Geoffrey Smith was killed during the same battle when a German artillery shell landed on a first aid post. Tolkien’s battalion was almost completely wiped out following his return to England. A weak and emaciated Tolkien spent the remainder of the war alternating between hospitals and garrison duties, being deemed medically unfit for general service.

During his recovery in a cottage in Little Haywood, Staffordshire, he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin. Lost Tales represented Tolkien’s attempt to create a mythology for England, a project he would abandon without ever completing. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, but he had recovered enough to do home service at various camps.

On 3rd November 1920, Tolkien was demobilized and left the army, retaining his rank of lieutenant. His first civilian job after the war was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W. In 1920, he took up a post as reader in English language at the University of Leeds. While at Leeds, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E. V. Gordon; both became academic standard works for several decades. He translated Sir Gawain, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. In 1925, he returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College.

During his time at Pembroke College Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. During this time Tolkien was a member of the Inklings, an informal group of writers who met weekly at a pub in Oxford. The Eagle and Child, known affectionately as the Bird and Baby, has claimed pride of place in tourist circles as the permanent home of the Inklings with a plaque located in the corner that used to be the pub’s snug. It is a lesser known fact that the Inklings more often than not met in the Lamb and Flag (across the street from the Eagle and Child), and, mercifully, does not currently advertise the fact and is, in consequence, a quieter and more peaceful location for a lunchtime pie and pint.

Tolkien once wrote:

I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; … I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humor (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome).

Frodo was fond of mushrooms and frequently stole them from his neighbor’s garden, so mushrooms it is. When I was a boy in South Australia, I used to walk across a sheep paddock to a shop where I bought my penny sweeties on Saturday mornings, and, after a rainfall there were often field mushrooms to pick to take home to mum who cooked them for breakfast. Those field mushrooms were so much richer in taste than the white commercial mushrooms I became accustomed to in England later on. Then when I bought a riverside house in the New York Catskills my woodlot and the surrounding woodlands were common hunting grounds for boletus, sulfur shelf, morels, and puff balls. I also grew accustomed to buying shiitake, enokitake, oyster mushrooms, and straw mushrooms in a Japanese market near my university. When I moved to Kunming in southern China a number of years ago, I was overwhelmed with the array of wild mushrooms sold on the streets by people from the surrounding hills who picked them in the woods and brought them to town for sale. Now in Phnom Penh, the variety is limited to dried and cultivated mushrooms, but I always keep a plentiful variety handy.

I’ll eat an omelet stuffed with lightly sautéed mushrooms (of whatever variety is on hand) at the drop of a hat, and mixed mushroom soup is a common pleasure. My favorite way to cook enokitake is to wrap them in foil with a knob of butter and a thin slice of lemon, and bake the package for about 15 minutes at 450°F.

My suggestion for the day is to break out of your rut if you are in one. Maitake, also known as Hen-of-the-Woods, is a great choice or white or brown beech mushrooms – if you can find them. They are common in markets in Asia, but you can find them in Europe or the US if you look hard enough. In fact, buy whatever does not look like a white button mushroom and use it in any recipe that calls for mushrooms. Go for crimini or portobello mushrooms if that’s the most exotic you can find.

Jan 022019
 

Today is Berchtoldstag (also Bechtelistag, Bächtelistag, Berchtelistag, Bärzelistag, in Liechtenstein Bechtelstag, Bechtle) in parts of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It is near New Year’s Day, during the latter part of the 12 days of Christmas, in Switzerland nearly always on 2 January (in Frauenfeld on the third Monday in January), with the status of a public holiday in a number of cantons. It is spoken of as an Alemannic holiday, meaning that it occurs in regions where Alemannic German dialects remain spoken, which include German Swabia and Baden, French Alsace, German-speaking Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austrian Vorarlberg. Its observation is attested since the 14th century, although celebrations were limited after the Protestant Reformation.

Throughout pre-industrial Europe, agricultural laborers had a great deal of work to do before the midwinter break at Christmastide, so their annual round was quite different from the contemporary materialist mayhem that cranks up months before Christmas, resulting in a huge sigh of relief when Christmas can be left behind. Rather, pre-industrial laborers ground out tough, short, cold, days leading up to Christmas, and welcomed the relief that almost a fortnight of holiday afforded before getting back to ploughing and lambing in January. Consequently, they found excuses to extend the Christmas merriment as much as possible in different ways. Berchtoldstag is one such custom.

Various speculations exist concerning the holiday’s name. Blessed Berchtold of Engelberg abbey died circa 2nd November 1197, and the abbey could have been important enough to translate his feast out of advent. According to others, the name celebrates a hunting trip circa 1191 by Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen, who decided to name his new city after the first animal he killed on that trip, hence Bern, Switzerland. Another speculation associates the name with the verb “berchten,” which means “to walk around, asking for food.” The most likely explanation is offered by the Schweizerisches Idiotikon that considers it derived from Middle High German berhttac or berhteltac, which translated the Greek epiphanias. (Epiphany). Berchtoldstag especially occurs in Protestant regions where Epiphany has been abolished and replaced by a second day-off after New Year’s Day.

In the German-speaking cantons of Zurich, Thurgovia and some parts of Central Switzerland, families celebrate the holiday with meals at taverns or offered by traditional societies. The Argovian village of Hallwil holds a masked parade with entries symbolizing fertility, age, ugliness, wisdom, vice, etc. In the French-speaking Vaud, children celebrate Berchtoldstag with neighborhood parties which include traditional dancing and singing.

Nuts are associated with this holiday. They are both eaten in a “nut feast” and used for games. Children build “hocks” of four nuts close together on the ground with a fifth nut balanced on top. Here is Swiss nusstorte (nut tart) in keeping with the holiday.

Nusstorte

Ingredients

⅓ cup plus 1 tbsp whipping cream
¼ cup honey
1 tbsp unsalted butter
⅔ cup sugar
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
puff pastry
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk

Instructions

Stir 1/3 cup cream, honey and butter in small saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts. Set aside. Stir sugar, water and lemon juice in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until syrup turns golden, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat. Add warm cream mixture (mixture will bubble up). Stir over very low heat until smooth. Add vanilla. Chill uncovered until cold, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; keep chilled.)

Roll out 1 pastry sheet on floured surface to 11-inch square. Using 10-inch-diameter cake pan bottom as guide, trim to 10-inch round. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet. Roll out second pastry sheet to 11-inch square. Using 11-inch-diameter tart pan bottom as guide, trim to 11-inch round. Using fork, score design on 11-inch round; cut out small hole from center.

Mix nuts into cold caramel. Brush beaten egg in 1-inch border on pastry on baking sheet. Spread filling over pastry, mounding in center and leaving 1-inch border. Cover with 11-inch round. Press to seal. Fold edge of bottom pastry over top pastry. Seal edge tightly. Mix 1 tablespoon cream and yolk into remaining beaten egg. Brush top of tart with egg mixture. Chill tart on baking sheet 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Bake tart until golden, about 25 minutes. Cool. (Can be made 8 hours ahead.)

Jan 012019
 

I am finally back from my travels through Vietnam and Laos in time to wish you a joyous New Year, and peace, health, and happiness for 2019. Here’s a Scots custom for the day to mark the beginning of blogging for 2019 – without too many interruptions, I hope.

In Scotland, the first Monday of the New Year was traditionally known as Hansel Monday, or Handsel Monday, and gifts (Scots: hansels) were given at this time. Among the rural population of Scotland, Auld Hansel Monday, is traditionally celebrated on the first Monday after January 12. This custom reflects a reluctance to switch from the old (Julian) style calendar to the new (Gregorian) calendar.

The word “hansel” originates from a mix of an Old English word “handselen” which means “to deliver into the hand” and an Old Norse word “handsal” meaning “to seal a promise with a handshake,” and evolved into the Middle English “hansel” which refers to small tips and gifts of money given as a token of good luck, particularly at the beginning of something. The modern house-warming gift is a hansel. John Trotter Brockett’s 1825, A glossary of north country words, in use, describes Handsel Monday as an occasion “when it is customary to make children and servants a present.” On this day, tips of small gifts were expected by servants, as well as by the postman, the deliverers of newspapers, and all people who serve a house or houses. In this respect it is somewhat similar to Boxing Day, which eventually supplanted it. If the handsel was a physical object rather than money, tradition said that the object could not be sharp, or it would “cut” the relationship between the giver and the recipient. The day is known in Scots Gaelic as Diluain Traoighte (drained Monday).

It was custom when I was growing up not to give a new purse or wallet to someone without placing a token coin in it, and at one time this custom was known as “handseling a purse.” Not to do this supposedly meant that the purse would always be empty. Money received on Handsel Monday is supposed to insure monetary luck all for the rest of the year. Similar customs accrue to New Year’s Day in other parts of the world, where giving small tokens of food, especially green food (because money is green), ensures financial fortune in the coming year.

In his Statistical Account of Scotland (1792) John Sinclair notes:

It is worth mentioning that one William Hunter, a collier (residing in the parish of Tillicoultry, in Clackmannanshire), was cured in the year 1738 of an inveterate rheumatism or gout, by drinking freely of new ale, full of harm or yeast. The poor man had been confined to his bed. for a year and a half, having almost entirely lost the use of his limbs. On the evening of Handsel Monday, as it is called, some of his neighbours came to make merry with him. Though he could not rise, yet he always took his share of the ale, as it passed round the company, and in the end he became much intoxicated. The consequence was that he had the use of his limbs next morning, and was able to walk about. He lived more than twenty years after this, and never had the smallest return of his old complaint.

So, Handsel Monday has multiple benefits.

These days, people who make regular deliveries expect money in their Christmas “boxes” rather than small gifts, and I understand the change in customs. Nonetheless, I lament the passing of the old ways because money, while welcome, is impersonal. At Christmas in the Catskills I always spent several days making a wide range of cookies to make up mixed plates to give to friends and neighbors, inspired by an old friend who used to do the same. It seems like a lot of work, and it is – no question. You have to love baking and the expectation of the joy of the season you will bring. I don’t do this any more because I live in countries that do not celebrate Christmas, and I do not have the circle of friends close by that I once had. Still, I recommend the practice. I always made springerle along with other cookies. Here is a good video:

Dec 242018
 

A joyous Christmas Eve to all my readers. I am sorry I have been absent this past week – I have a hectic travel schedule in Vietnam and Laos (currently in Hanoi). I notice, though, that I have never posted about Christmas Eve, so time to make up the deficiency — briefly. I will be absent again for a few days. Sorry.

As I am wont to say, with a slight scowl, “eve” does not mean “evening” – it means “the day before.” The eve of holidays is usually more fun for me than the day itself. Christmas Eve was always special for me when I was pastor of a church because we had a candlelit service, which was always moving. In Argentina, Christmas Eve is the BIG day – not Christmas Day. We meet with family and friends that day (or the day before) and start cooking in the morning. Get the asado going, start on salad and fruit salad, etc. We sit down to eat between 10 and 11, and at midnight drink a champagne toast and let off a barrage of fireworks that lasts easily 2 hours.  Then more eating and drinking until 4 or 5 am, then sleep all morning Christmas Day.

Here in Asia, different countries make modest efforts to celebrate Christmas.  It’s all for show and commercialism. In China it’s quite laughable.  One year I saw a young woman of about 20, weighing maybe 50 kilos, wearing a white beard and dressed as Santa. Very seasonal.

On Christmas Eve, Roman Catholics and high church Anglicans traditionally celebrate Midnight Mass, which begins either at or sometime before midnight on Christmas Eve. In recent years some churches have scheduled their “Midnight” Mass as early as 7 pm. In Spanish-speaking areas, the Midnight Mass is sometimes referred to as Misa de Gallo, or Missa do Galo in Portuguese (“Rooster’s Mass”). In the Philippines, the custom has expanded into the nine-day Simbang Gabi, when Filipinos attend dawn Masses (traditionally beginning around 04:00 to 05:00 PST) from 16 December, continuing daily until Christmas Eve. In 2009 Vatican officials scheduled the Midnight Mass to start at 10 pm so that the 82-year-old Pope Benedict XVI would not have too late a night.

The Church of Scotland has a service beginning just before midnight, in which carols are sung. The Church of Scotland no longer holds Hogmanay services on New Year’s Eve, however. The Christmas Eve Services are still very popular. On Christmas Eve, the Christ Candle in the center of the Advent wreath is traditionally lit in many church services. In candlelight services, while singing Silent Night, each member of the congregation receives a candle and passes along their flame which is first received from the Christ Candle.

Lutherans traditionally practice Christmas Eve Eucharistic traditions typical of Germany and Scandinavia. “Krippenspiele” (Nativity plays), special festive music for organ, vocal and brass choirs and candlelight services make Christmas Eve one of the highlights in the Lutheran Church calendar. A nativity scene may be erected indoors or outdoors, and is composed of figurines depicting the infant Jesus resting in a manger, Mary, and Joseph. Other figures in the scene may include angels, shepherds, and various animals. The figures may be made of any material, and arranged in a stable or grotto. The Magi may also appear, and are sometimes not placed in the scene until the week following Christmas to account for their travel time to Bethlehem.

Christmas Vespers are popular in the early evening, and midnight services are also widespread in regions which are predominantly Lutheran. The old Lutheran tradition of a Christmas Vigil in the early morning hours of Christmas Day (Christmette) can still be found in some regions. In eastern and middle Germany, congregations still continue the tradition of “Quempas singing”: separate groups dispersed in various parts of the church sing verses of the song “He whom shepherds once came Praising” (Quem pastores laudavere) responsively.

Methodists celebrate the evening in different ways. Some, in the early evening, come to their church to celebrate Holy Communion with their families. The mood is very solemn, and the only visible light is the Advent Wreath, and the candles upon the Lord’s Table. Others celebrate the evening with services of light, which include singing the song Silent Night as a variety of candles (including personal candles) are lit. Other churches have late evening services perhaps at 11 pm, so that the church can celebrate Christmas Day together with the ringing of bells at midnight. Others offer Christmas Day services as well.

The annual “Nine Lessons and Carols”, broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve, has established itself a Christmas custom in the United Kingdom. It is broadcast outside the UK via the BBC World Service, and is also bought by broadcasters around the world.

I always make fish dishes for Christmas Eve (many throughout the day).  This was last year – salmon and John Dory on buttered leeks with a cream sauce.

 Posted by at 2:54 pm
Dec 162018
 

Today is the birthday (1882) of Zoltán Kodály, Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, pedagogue, linguist, and philosopher.  Kodály was born in Kecskemét and learned to play the violin as a child.

Though from a musical family, Kodály’s initial inclination was towards literary studies. Because his father was a railway official, the Kodály family wandered a lot: from 1884 until 1891 they lived in Galánta (later to be immortalized in the orchestral dances Kodály based on folk music from the area), then moving to Nagyszombat, where Kodály studied violin and piano and sang in the cathedral choir – an early introduction to the importance of choral singing. He explored the scores in the cathedral music library, and taught himself the ‘cello to make up the numbers for his father’s domestic quartet-evenings. He was also already composing: in 1897 the school orchestra played an overture of his, to be followed by a Mass for chorus and orchestra a year later.

His higher education began at the University of Sciences in Budapest in 1900, but the call of music proved too strong and in 1902 he enrolled at the Academy of Music, taking a doctorate in 1906 with a thesis entitled “Strophic Construction in Hungarian Folk Song”. He was now composing prolifically – and he had already begun his fieldtrips, collecting folksongs in the Hungarian countryside At around this time Kodály met fellow composer and compatriot Béla Bartók, whom he took under his wing and introduced to some of the methods involved in folk song collecting. The two became lifelong friends and champions of each other’s music.

Kodály (R) and Bartók

As with Bartók, Kodály’s own music was colored by the joint influence of Hungarian folk song and of Debussy and French impressionism (he spent some months in Paris, where he attended Widor’s lectures). On his return to Budapest in 1907 he was appointed teacher of theory at the Academy of Music, and a year later he began to teach composition. He was to teach there for the rest of his life: upon his retirement as a professor, he was brought back as the Director of the Academy in 1945.

Kodály’s works show originality of form and content, an unusual blend of the western European style of music, including classical, late-romantic, impressionistic and modernist traditions, and, on the other hand, a profound knowledge and respect for the folk music of Hungary (including the ethnically Hungarian parts of modern-day Slovakia and Romania, which were then part of Hungary). Partly because of the Great War and subsequent major geopolitical changes in the region, and partly because of a naturally somewhat diffident temperament in youth, Kodály had no major public success until 1923. This was the year when one of his best-known pieces, Psalmus Hungaricus, was given its first performance at a concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the union of Buda and Pest (Bartók’s Dance Suite premiered on the same occasion.)

Kodály’s first wife was Emma Gruber (née Schlesinger, later Sándor), the dedicatee of Ernő Dohnányi’s Waltz for piano with four hands, Op. 3, and Variations and Fugue on a theme by E.G., Op. 4 (1897). In November 1958, after 48 years of harmonious marriage, Emma died. In December 1959, Kodály married Sarolta Péczely, his 19-year-old student at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music with whom he lived happily until his death in 1967 at the age of 84 in Budapest.

In 1966, Kodály toured the United States and gave a special lecture at Stanford University, where some of his music was performed in his presence.

Throughout his adult life, Kodály was keenly interested in the problems of many types of music education, and he wrote a large amount of material on teaching methods as well as composing plenty of music intended for children’s use. Beginning in 1935, along with his colleague Jenő Ádám, he embarked on a long-term project to reform music teaching in Hungary’s lower and middle schools. His work resulted in the publication of several highly influential books. The Hungarian music education program that developed in the 1940s became the basis for what is called the “Kodály Method”. While Kodály himself did not write down a comprehensive method, he did establish a set of principles to follow in music education, and these principles were widely taken up by schools (mostly in Hungary, but also in many other countries) after World War II.

Pörkölt is a traditional Hungarian pork stew, flavored with paprika, of course – lots of it. Choose the Hungarian paprika you like (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-stephen-of-hungary/ ) making sure that under no circumstances you use generic paprika from the supermarket.  Kodály came from the region of Hungary that is a major producer of pork, and not far from the main paprika-producing region.

Pörkölt

Ingredients

5 slices bacon, diced
2 large onions, peeled and diced
¼ cup Hungarian paprika
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp ground black pepper
5 lb boneless pork chops, cubed
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
⅔ cup beef broth
2 cups sour cream
2 (6 oz) packages wide egg noodles

Instructions

Place the bacon in a large, deep, dry skillet, and cook over medium-high heat until evenly browned (about 10 minutes). Drain, and reserve the drippings. Add the onions to the bacon and cook together until the onion is translucent. Remove the skillet from heat and stir the paprika, garlic powder, and pepper into the bacon mixture. Transfer the mixture to a large stockpot.

Heat a small amount of the reserved bacon drippings in the skillet again over medium-high heat. Cook the pork in batches in the hot drippings until evenly browned on both sides. When browned stir into the bacon mixture.

Heat the bacon drippings in the skillet. Sauté  the bell pepper in the hot drippings until softened and fragrant. Drain and stir the cooked pepper into the bacon mixture.

Pour the tomatoes with liquid and beef broth into a stockpot and place the pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until the stew begins to thicken, stirring occasionally, about 90 minutes. Stir the sour cream into the stew just before serving.

Meanwhile, cook the egg noodles, drain, and ladle the stew over the drained noodles in a serving bowl to serve.

Dec 152018
 

Francesco Vincenzo Zahra, a Maltese painter who mainly painted religious works in the Neapolitan Baroque style was baptized on this date in 1710. His date of birth is unknown. His works may be found in many churches around the Maltese Islands, as well as in some private collections and museums.

Zahra was born in Senglea, the son of the stone carver Pietro Paolo Zahra and Augustina Casanova. Zahra’s career as an artist lasted for four decades, and he came to be considered as the greatest painter from Malta of the 18th century. He painted in the Baroque style and was strongly influenced from the art scene of Naples. Zahra’s works include many religious paintings, including altarpieces or other large paintings for churches, vault murals and devotional paintings for private commissions. He is also responsible for a number of portraits, drawings for reredoses, some furniture in churches, and works in marble.

He probably began to paint at a young age, and he likely trained at Gio Nicola Buhagiar’s workshop in the 1730s. By around 1740, his style began to mature and develop further than that of his tutor Buhagiar. Zahra became the most prolific Maltese painter by around 1745, being rivaled only by the French artist Antoine de Favray who at that time worked in Malta. Zahra’s style further developed over the years, and in around the mid-1750s his figures and the atmosphere of his paintings had changed, showing influences from Mattia Preti and Favray himself.

Zahra’s first significant commission came in 1732, when he painted an altarpiece depicting Three Dominican Saints Adoring the Holy Name of Jesus for the Church of Santa Maria della Grotta in Rabat. His most significant work includes the paintings on the ceiling of the Chapter Hall of the Mdina Cathedral, which were done in 1756.

Zahra moved from his hometown Senglea to the capital Valletta. He was married to Teresa Fenech from 26th February 1743 until her premature death on 27th May 1751. They had five children together, three of whom survived infancy. Zahra died on 19 August 1773 at the age of 62.

Here is your gallery:

Pie made from the fish the Maltese call lampuki is a local favorite. In the US and English-speaking world, lampuki is called mahi-mahi or, sometimes, dolphinfish or dorado. This is not your usual fish pie. It has a mix of black olives, sultanas, and capers to complement the fish.

Torta tal-lampuki

Ingredients:

400 gm flaky pastry
800 gm lampuki fillets cut in bite-sized pieces
1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets
150 gm diced carrots
12 black olives, pitted and halved
2 tbsp capers
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp of sultanas dehydrated in warm water
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
250 ml/1 cup fish stock
olive oil
salt and pepper
beaten egg

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Steam the fish quickly until it is barely cooked. Drain and set aside.

Heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and sauté the chopped onions and garlic until soft. Add the tomato purée, cauliflower, and carrots together with 1 cup of fish stock, and cook until the vegetables are tender.  Add the olives, capers and sultanas, and stir. Remove from the heat.

Line a pie dish with ¾ of the pastry.  Place half of the vegetable mixture into the pie dish and spread the fish evenly over it, then cover the fish with the remaining half of the vegetables.  Spread the remaining pastry over the filling and brush it with some beaten egg.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.