Aug 102019
 

On this date in 1793 the Louvre Museum (Musée du Louvre) in Paris, brainchild of the French Revolution, opened to the public. Nowadays it is the world’s largest art museum. The Louvre is a central landmark of the city, located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city’s 1st arrondissement. Approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 72,735 square meters (782,910 square feet). In 2018, the Louvre was the world’s most visited art museum, receiving 10.2 million visitors.

The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre castle in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to urban expansion, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function, and in 1546 Francis I converted it into the main residence of the French Kings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The latter Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces.

When the museum opened on 10th August 1793 it showed an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property. Because of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed in 1796 until 1801. The collection was increased under Napoleon and the museum was renamed Musée Napoléon, but after Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 many works seized by his armies were returned to their original owners. The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. Holdings have grown steadily through donations and bequests since the Third Republic. The collection is divided among eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings.

My son and I spent a week in Paris 14 years ago (when he was 14), and we spent a good part of every day at the Louvre. He got in free because he was an EU citizen under 18, but I had to pay.  It was worth it. First day we just wandered hither and yon, unable to take in its vastness.  We made the obligatory stop to see the Mona Lisa, taking 25 minutes to get close to the front so that we could see it (it’s small). The fact that this one painting out of the tens of thousands on display was crushed with humanity was depressing. Apparently, it’s common knowledge that the Mona Lisa is “the best painting in the world.” Absurd!!!  All you have to do is walk up a few stairs to the next floor and you find yourself in gallery after gallery wallpapered with priceless masterpieces – virtually deserted.

On that first day, we got lost and by accident stumbled into a display of Greek and Roman bronzes when we were trying to find the exit to get some lunch. Next day we made a beeline for that display and he was enchanted.  After that, we selected a wing per day, but barely scratched the surface, even so.  If you spent just one minute in front of each piece in the permanent collection – not allowing time for movement between rooms, and staying 24 hours per day – it would take a month to see everything. Meanwhile you would have no time to eat, sleep, or go to the toilet. It is vast.  I can understand why people return again and again and again – more than I can fathom why people return to Disney World.

There are several cakes called Louvre Cake although they do not have much of a connexion with the Louvre itself.  They are variations on a theme (lots of chocolate), and are all both sumptuous and appetizing.  As befits a place noted for its images, I will give you a small gallery to drool over.  Recipes are extra.

 

Aug 072019
 

On this date in 1947, the Kon-Tiki expedition came to a successful (of sorts) conclusion when it struck a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotus. The Kon-Tiki expedition was a journey by raft across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands, led by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl. The raft was named Kon-Tiki after the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name. Kon-Tiki is also the name of Heyerdahl’s book, the Academy Award-winning documentary film chronicling his adventures, and the 2012 dramatized feature film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Heyerdahl believed that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. His aim in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so. Although the expedition carried some modern equipment, such as a radio, watches, charts, sextant, and metal knives, Heyerdahl argued they were incidental to the purpose of proving that the raft itself could make the journey.

The Kon-Tiki expedition was funded by private loans, along with donations of equipment from the United States Army. Heyerdahl and a small team went to Peru, where, with the help of dockyard facilities provided by the Peruvian authorities, they constructed the raft out of balsa logs and other native materials in an indigenous style as recorded in illustrations by Spanish conquistadores. The trip began on April 28, 1947. Heyerdahl and five companions sailed the raft for 101 days over 6,900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean before landing on the reef at Raroia. The crew disembarked safely with the assistance of local Polynesians and all returned safely to Europe. For Heyerdahl this was just the beginning.

Thor Heyerdahl’s book about his experience became a bestseller. It was published in Norwegian in 1948, and appeared with great success in English in 1950, as well as in many other languages. You can read more about the Kon-Tiki expedition in Heyerdahl’s work or here in a previous post http://www.bookofdaystales.com/thor-heyerdahl/   In that post I explored the basic weaknesses in Heyerdahl’s hypothesis that Polynesians are descended from ancient peoples from the Americas. I probably do not need to point out that demonstrating that seafarers from the Americas could have made the journey to Polynesia, in no way proves that they did make the journey.

I suppose if you have Norse heritage and your name is Thor, you are on track to being a seafaring adventurer, and the Kon-Tiki expedition was certainly a daring adventure.  But Heyerdahl was drawing conclusions from faulty premises, whereas the prevailing hypotheses of his day — which he opposed — have proven correct. He made the common error of assuming that the existence of cultural similarities in two different regions implies actual contact between the regions, whereas it is equally likely that the similarities are the result of independent invention. Archeological and linguistic evidence strongly supports the belief that Polynesians migrated from SE Asia, and in more recent times this hypothesis has been confirmed by DNA tests. But . . . I should point out that contemporary Polynesians do have small percentages of Native American DNA that is not accounted for by post-Columbian migration. That is, it is (minimally) theoretically possible that a small group of Native Americans in prehistory managed to travel to Polynesia where they met and interbred with Polynesians from Asia. It is more likely that the test samples were contaminated in some fashion, or misinterpreted.

To celebrate Heyerdahl I printed a Norwegian recipe, but for Kon-Tiki something Polynesian is warranted.  Here’s a video about traditional methods of cooking taro with coconut:

Aug 042019
 

Today is the birthday (1792) of Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the major English Romantic poets, who is regarded as among the finest lyric and philosophical poets in the English language, and one of the most influential. Shelley did not see fame during his lifetime, but recognition of his achievements in poetry grew steadily following his death. Shelley was a key member of a close circle of visionary poets and writers that included Lord Byron, John Keats, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Love Peacock and his own second wife, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. I have reviewed a good deal of Percy’s life already in my post on Mary (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mary-shelley/ ) which you should consult for extra details. I’ll be much briefer here because I don’t care for Shelley’s poetry.

Shelley is perhaps best known for classic poems such as “Ozymandias”, “Ode to the West Wind”, “To a Skylark”, “Music, When Soft Voices Die”, “The Cloud” and The Masque of Anarchy. His other major works include a groundbreaking verse drama, The Cenci (1819), and long, visionary, philosophical poems such as Queen Mab (later reworked as The Daemon of the World), Alastor, The Revolt of Islam, Adonais, Prometheus Unbound (1820) – widely considered to be his masterpiece –, Hellas: A Lyrical Drama (1821) and his final, unfinished work, The Triumph of Life (1822).

I gave a great deal of information about the middle section of his life in the Mary Shelley post, so let me look at the beginning and end. In 1804, Shelley entered Eton College, where he fared poorly, and was subjected to an almost daily mob torment at around noon by older boys.  The grabbed his books from his hands and had his clothes pulled at and torn until he cried out madly in his high-pitched “cracked soprano” of a voice. This daily misery could be attributed to Shelley’s refusal to take part in fagging (menial labor for older boys) and his indifference towards sports and other popular activities. Because of these peculiarities he acquired the nickname “Mad Shelley”.  He took a keen interest in science at Eton, which he would often apply to cause a surprising amount of mischief for a boy considered to be so sensible. Shelley would often use a frictional static electric machine to charge the door handle of his room, much to the amusement of other boys.  His mischievous side was again demonstrated by “his last bit of naughtiness at school” which was to blow up a tree on Eton’s South Meadow with gunpowder. Despite these incidents, a contemporary of Shelley, W. H. Merie, recalled that Shelley made no friends at Eton.

On 10 April 1810 he matriculated at University College, Oxford. Legend has it that Shelley attended only one lecture while at Oxford, but frequently read sixteen hours a day. His first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he vented his early atheistic worldview through the villain Zastrozzi; this was followed at the end of the year by St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance (dated 1811).

In 1811 Shelley anonymously published a pamphlet called “The Necessity of Atheism”, which was brought to the attention of the university administration, and he was called to appear before the college’s fellows, including the dean, George Rowley. His refusal to repudiate the authorship of the pamphlet resulted in his expulsion from Oxford on 25th March 1811. Shelley was given the choice to be reinstated after his father intervened, on the condition that he would have to recant his avowed views. His refusal to do so led to a falling-out with his father.

On 8th July 1822, less than a month before his 30th birthday, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm in the Gulf of Spezia while returning from Leghorn (Livorno) to Lerici in his sailing boat, the Don Juan. The name Don Juan, a compliment to Byron, was chosen by Edward John Trelawny, a member of the Shelley–Byron circle in Pisa. However, according to Mary Shelley’s testimony, Shelley changed it to Ariel, which annoyed Byron, who forced the painting of the words “Don Juan” on the mainsail. The vessel, an open boat, was custom-built in Genoa for Shelley. It did not capsize but sank. Mary Shelley wrongly claimed in her “Note on Poems of 1822” (1839) that the design had a defect and that the boat was never seaworthy. In fact, the Don Juan was seaworthy; the sinking was due to a severe storm and the poor seamanship of the three men on board.  Numerous conspiracy theories circulated for decades:  Shelley was murdered, pirates attacked them, etc. etc., but all have been debunked

Two other Englishmen were with Shelley on the boat. One was a retired naval officer, Edward Ellerker Williams; the other was a boatboy, Charles Vivien. The boat was found ten miles (16 km) offshore, and it was suggested that one side of the boat had been rammed and staved in by a much stronger vessel. However, the life raft was unused and still attached to the boat. The bodies were found completely clothed, including boots. Shelley’s body was washed ashore and later, in keeping with quarantine regulations, was cremated on the beach near Viareggio.

Shelley’s close circle of friends included some of the most important progressive thinkers of the day, including his father-in-law, the philosopher William Godwin, and Leigh Hunt. Though Shelley’s poetry and prose output remained steady throughout his life, most publishers and journals declined to publish his work for fear of being arrested for either blasphemy or sedition. Shelley’s poetry sometimes had only an underground readership during his day, but his poetic achievements are widely recognized today, and his political and social thought had an impact on the Chartist and other movements in England, and reach down to the present day. Shelley’s theories of economics and morality, for example, had a profound influence on Karl Marx; his early – perhaps first – writings on nonviolent resistance influenced Leo Tolstoy, whose writings on the subject in turn influenced Mahatma Gandhi, and through him Martin Luther King Jr. and others practicing nonviolence during the American civil rights movement.

I am fine with much of his political and philosophical inclinations, but I have enormous trouble getting through his poetry.  I find the conscious use of archaic grammar and vocabulary tedious at best.  To a Skylark is an exemplar:

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

I just can’t read further.

You could not by any stretch of the imagination call Shelley a foodie. His biographer Richard Stoddard noted that “He could have lived on bread alone without repining . . . Vegetables, and especially salads were acceptable.” Mary was the one who made sure he was fed, not that he noticed much. She “used to send him something to eat into the room where he habitually studied; but the plate frequently remained untouched for hours upon a bookshelf, and at the end of the day he might be heard asking, ‘Mary, have I dined?’”  When her aunt Everina fell ill, Mary, far away in Rome, asked a friend to put together a care package of her own: “jelly, oranges, spongecakes and her favourite kale.” Kale became a frequent gift.

Kale had a vogue for some time as a “miracle food” – which it is not – but it was around long before the fad.  In fact, it was commoner than cabbage in Britain for centuries as a basic green vegetable.  Young kale used to be chopped up into what we called “spring greens” (along with colewort), when I was a boy.  There is the secret for kale and for colewort (called collards in the US).  If you let the leaves grow big, they also get tough and hard to cook.  But if you cut them young in the spring, they are tender and easy to cook.  That means you have to grown them yourself of course.  Commercial greens are always going to be old and tough(er).  The simplest way to prepare kale is the strip the leaves from their stalks by hand and to rip them up into small pieces.  Wash the pieces thoroughly and then put them into a pot with the water still clinging to them. Cover tightly and steam until tender.  With young leaves, this is not a long process, but will take trial and error.  Drain and mix into the greens some olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and minced garlic.  Reheat for a few minutes, and serve.  Even Shelley would like that dish.  If you want to get fancier, serve the kale with poached egg on top – or add some chopped ham in with the kale.

Jun 172019
 

Today is the birthday (1903) of Ruth Graves Wakefield, a US chef, best known as the inventor of the Toll House Cookie, the first chocolate chip cookie. She was also an educator, a business owner, and an author. Wakefield grew up in Easton, Massachusetts, and graduated from Oliver Ames High School in 1920. Wakefield was educated at Framingham State Normal School Department of Household Arts and worked there as a dietitian and lectured about foods. In 1928, she and her husband Kenneth Donald Wakefield (1897–1997) had a son, Kenneth Donald Wakefield Jr. In 1930, she and her husband bought a tourist lodge in the town of Whitman, Massachusetts in Plymouth County. Located about halfway between Boston and New Bedford, it was a place where passengers had historically paid a toll, changed horses and ate home-cooked meals. When the Wakefields opened their business, they named the establishment the Toll House Inn. Ruth cooked and served all the food and soon gained local fame for her lobster dinners and desserts. Her chocolate chip cookies which she invented around 1938 became popular.

She added chopped up bits from a Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate bar into a cookie. It is often incorrectly reported that the cookie was an accident, and that Wakefield expected the chocolate chunks to melt making chocolate cookies. In reality, Wakefield stated that she deliberately invented the cookie. She said, “We had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream. Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different. So I came up with Toll House cookie.” Wakefield wrote a best selling cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes, that went through 39 printings starting in 1930. The 1938 edition of the cookbook was the first to include the recipe for a chocolate chip cookie, the “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie”.

During WWII, US soldiers from Massachusetts who were stationed overseas shared the cookies they received in care packages from back home with soldiers from other parts of the US. Soon, hundreds of soldiers were writing home asking their families to send them some Toll House cookies, and Wakefield was soon inundated with letters from around the world requesting her recipe. As the popularity of the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie increased, the sales of Nestlé’s semi-sweet chocolate bars also spiked. Andrew Nestlé and Ruth Wakefield made a business arrangement: Wakefield gave Nestlé the right to use her cookie recipe and the Toll House name for one dollar and a lifetime supply of Nestlé chocolate. Nestlé began marketing chocolate chips to be used especially for cookies and printing the recipe for the Toll House Cookie on its package. Chocolate chip cookies currently have a market share of over $18 billion in the US.

Wakefield died on January 10, 1977 following a long illness in Jordan Hospital in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In 2018 the New York Times published a belated obituary for her.

Nestlé’s recipe:

Toll House Cookies

Ingredients

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts

Instructions

Step 1

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

Step 2

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Step 3

BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Jun 042019
 

I am not posting very often these days because I am traveling in Borneo and have no time (or, often, no WiFi). But I have a quiet evening, so let’s talk about Magenta (town, battle, color, and food).  Today is the anniversary the battle of Magenta, fought on 4 June 1859 during the Second Italian War of Independence, resulting in a French-Sardinian victory under Napoleon III against the Austrians under Marshal Ferencz Gyulai. It took place near the town of Magenta in the kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, a crown land of the Austrian Empire. Napoleon III’s army crossed the Ticino River and outflanked the Austrian right forcing the Austrian army under Gyulai to retreat. The confined nature of the country, a vast spread of orchards cut up by streams and irrigation canals, precluded elaborate maneuver. The Austrians turned every house into a miniature fortress. The brunt of the fighting was borne by 5,000 grenadiers of the French Imperial Guard, still mostly in their First Empire style of uniforms. The battle of Magenta was not a particularly large battle, but it was a decisive victory for the Franco-Sardinian alliance. Patrice Maurice de MacMahon was created duke of Magenta for his role in this battle, and would later go on to serve as one of the presidents of the Third French Republic.

A dye producing the color magenta was invented in 1859, and was named after this battle, reportedly to represent the blood spilled. The first magenta aniline dye was made and patented by the French chemist François-Emmanuel Verguin, who originally called it fuchsine, but it was subsequently renamed to honor the battle. Magenta is an extra-spectral color, meaning that it is not found in the visible spectrum of light. Rather, it is physiologically and psychologically perceived as the mixture of red and violet/blue light, with the absence of green. In the RGB color system, used to create all the colors on a television or computer display, magenta is a secondary color, made by combining equal amounts of red and blue light at a high intensity. In this system, magenta is the complementary color of green, and combining green and magenta light on a black screen will create white. In the CMYK color model, used in color printing, it is one of the three primary colors, along with cyan and yellow, used to print all the rest of the colors. If magenta, cyan, and yellow are printed on top of each other on a page, they make black. In this model, magenta is the complementary color of green, and these two colors have the highest contrast and the greatest harmony. If combined, green and magenta ink will look dark gray or black. The magenta used in color printing, sometimes called process magenta, is a darker shade than the color used on computer screens.

Those who are old enough will remember that 1980s IBM b/w monitors could make magenta and cyan as well, producing some grainy, almost-colored images for games and such.  I went for a Tandy knock-off because it came with a 16-color monitor, but I had several IBM games in black, white, magenta, and cyan, so I remember magenta well.  Here’s magenta sticky rice from Vietnam (using natural plant dye):

May 192019
 

Prior to Thomas Becket’s rise to fame, Dunstan was the most celebrated saint in England. Dunstan was born in Baltonsborough, Somerset. He was the son of Heorstan, a noble of Wessex. Heorstan was the brother of Athelm, the bishop of Wells and Winchester. The anonymous author of the earliest Life places Dunstan’s birth during the reign of Athelstan, while Osbern fixed it at “the first year of the reign of King Æthelstan”, 924 or 925. This date, however, cannot be reconciled with other known dates of Dunstan’s life and creates many obvious anachronisms. Historians therefore assume that Dunstan was born around 910 or earlier.  As a young boy, Dunstan studied under the Irish monks who then occupied the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Accounts tell of his youthful optimism and of his vision of the abbey being restored. While still a boy, Dunstan was stricken with a near-fatal illness and effected a seemingly miraculous recovery. Even as a child, he was noted for his devotion to learning and for his mastery of many kinds of artistic craftsmanship. With his parents’ consent he was tonsured, received minor orders and served in the ancient church of St Mary. He became so well known for his devotion to learning that he is said to have been summoned by his uncle Athelm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to enter his service. He was later appointed to the court of King Athelstan.

Dunstan soon became a favorite of the king and was the envy of other members of the court. A plot was hatched to disgrace him and Dunstan was accused of being involved with witchcraft and black magic. The king ordered him to leave the court and as Dunstan was leaving the palace his enemies physically attacked him, beat him severely, bound him, and threw him into a cesspool. He managed to crawl out and make his way to the house of a friend. From there, he journeyed to Winchester and entered the service of his uncle, Ælfheah, Bishop of Winchester.

The bishop tried to persuade him to become a monk, but Dunstan was doubtful whether he had a vocation to a celibate life. The answer came in the form of an attack of swelling tumors all over Dunstan’s body. This ailment was so severe that it was thought to be leprosy. It was more probably some form of blood poisoning caused by being beaten and thrown in the cesspool. Whatever the cause, it changed Dunstan’s mind. He took Holy Orders in 943, in the presence of Ælfheah, and returned to live the life of a hermit at Glastonbury. Against the old church of St Mary he built a small cell five feet long and two and a half feet deep. It was there that Dunstan studied, worked at his handicrafts, and played on his harp. It is at this time, according to a late 11th-century legend, that the Devil is said to have tempted Dunstan and to have been held by the face with Dunstan’s tongs. Legend also says that the Devil asked Dunstan to make new shoes for his hooves, but when they were attached they pained the Devil so much that he begged for them to be removed.  Subsequently the Devil is said to avoid houses where horseshoes hang over the door.

Dunstan worked as a silversmith and in the scriptorium while he was living at Glastonbury. It is thought likely that he was the artist who drew the well-known image of Christ with a small kneeling monk beside him in the Glastonbury Classbook, “one of the first of a series of outline drawings which were to become a special feature of Anglo-Saxon art of this period.” Dunstan became famous as a musician, illuminator, and metalworker. Lady Æthelflaed, King Æthelstan’s niece, made Dunstan a trusted adviser and on her death she left a considerable fortune to him. He used this money later in life to foster and encourage a monastic revival in England. About the same time, his father Heorstan died and Dunstan inherited his fortune as well. He became influential, and on the death of King Æthelstan in 940, the new king, Edmund, summoned him to his court at Cheddar and made him a minister.

Again, royal favor fostered jealousy among other courtiers and again Dunstan’s enemies succeeded in their plots with the king was preparing to send Dunstan away. But following a death scare whilst hunting Edmund recanted his treatment of Dunstan and instead made him abbot of Glastonbury. He went to work at once on the task of reform and began by establishing Benedictine monasticism at Glastonbury. Nevertheless, not all the members of Dunstan’s community at Glastonbury were monks who followed the Benedictine Rule.

Within two years of Dunstan’s appointment, in 946, Edmund was assassinated. His successor was Eadred. The policy of the new government was supported by the queen mother, Eadgifu of Kent, by the archbishop of Canterbury, Oda, and by the East Anglian nobles, at whose head was the powerful ealdorman Æthelstan the “Half-king”. It was a policy of unification and conciliation with the Danish half of the kingdom. The goal was a firm establishment of royal authority. In ecclesiastical matters it favored the spread of Catholic observance, the rebuilding of churches, the moral reform of the clergy and laity, and the end of the religion of the Danes in England. Against all these reforms were the nobles of Wessex, who included most of Dunstan’s own relatives, and who had an interest in maintaining established customs. For nine years Dunstan’s influence was dominant, during which time he twice refused the office of bishop (that of Winchester in 951 and Crediton in 953), affirming that he would not leave the king’s side so long as the king lived and needed him.

In 955, Eadred died, and the situation was at once changed. Eadwig, the elder son of Edmund, who then came to the throne, was a headstrong youth devoted to the reactionary nobles. According to one legend, the feud with Dunstan began on the day of Eadwig’s coronation, when he failed to attend a meeting of nobles. When Dunstan eventually found the young monarch, he was cavorting with a noblewoman named Ælfgifu and her mother, and refused to return with the bishop. Infuriated by this, Dunstan dragged Eadwig back and forced him to renounce the girl as a “strumpet”. Later realising that he had provoked the king, Dunstan fled to the apparent sanctuary of his cloister, but Eadwig, incited by Ælfgifu, whom he married, followed him and plundered the monastery.

Although Dunstan managed to escape, he saw that his life was in danger. He fled England and crossed the channel to Flanders, where he was unable to speak the language and ignorant of the customs of the locals. The count of Flanders, Arnulf I, received him with honor and lodged him in the abbey of Mont Blandin, near Ghent. This was one of the centers of the Benedictine revival in that country, and Dunstan felt at home. His exile was not long. Before the end of 957, the Mercians and Northumbrians revolted and drove out Eadwig, choosing his brother Edgar as king of the country north of the Thames. The south remained faithful to Eadwig. At once Edgar’s advisers recalled Dunstan.

On Dunstan’s return, Archbishop Oda consecrated him a bishop and, on the death of Coenwald of Worcester at the end of 957, Oda appointed Dunstan to the see. In the following year the see of London became vacant and was conferred on Dunstan, who held it simultaneously with Worcester. In October 959, Eadwig died and his brother Edgar was readily accepted as ruler of Wessex. One of Eadwig’s final acts had been to appoint a successor to archbishop Oda, who died on 2nd June 958. The chosen candidate was Ælfsige of Winchester, but he died of cold in the Alps as he journeyed to Rome for the pallium. In his place Eadwig then nominated the bishop of Wells, Byrhthelm. As soon as Edgar became king, he reversed this second choice on the ground that Byrhthelm had not been able to govern even his first diocese properly. The archbishopric was then conferred on Dunstan.

Dunstan went to Rome in 960, and received the pallium from Pope John XII.[3] On his journey there, Dunstan’s acts of charity were so lavish as to leave nothing for himself and his attendants. On his return from Rome, Dunstan at once regained his position as virtual prime minister of the kingdom. By his advice Ælfstan was appointed to the bishopric of London, and Oswald to that of Worcester. In 963, Æthelwold, the abbot of Abingdon, was appointed to the see of Winchester. With their aid and with the ready support of king Edgar, Dunstan pushed forward his reforms in the English Church. The monks in his communities were taught to live in a spirit of self-sacrifice, and Dunstan actively enforced the law of celibacy whenever possible. He forbade the practices of simony (selling ecclesiastical offices for money) and ended the custom of clerics appointing relatives to offices under their jurisdiction. Good order was maintained throughout the realm and there was respect for the law. Trained bands policed the north, and a navy guarded the shores from Viking raids. There was a level of peace in the kingdom unknown in living memory.

In 973, Dunstan’s statesmanship reached its zenith when he officiated at the coronation of king Edgar. Edgar was crowned at Bath in an imperial ceremony planned not as the initiation, but as the culmination of his reign. This service, devised by Dunstan himself and celebrated with a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle forms the basis of the present-day British coronation ceremony.

Edgar ruled as a strong and popular king for 16 years. In 975 he was succeeded by his eldest son Edward “the Martyr”. His accession was disputed by his stepmother, Ælfthryth, who wished her own son Æthelred to reign. Through the influence of Dunstan, Edward was chosen and crowned at Winchester. Edgar’s death had encouraged the reactionary nobles, and at once there was a determined attack upon the monks, the protagonists of reform. Throughout Mercia they were persecuted and deprived of their possessions. Their cause, however, was supported by Æthelwine, the ealdorman of East Anglia, and the realm was in serious danger of civil war. Three meetings of the Witan were held to settle these disputes, at Kyrtlington, at Calne, and at Amesbury. At the second of them the floor of the hall where the Witan was sitting gave way, and all except Dunstan, who clung to a beam, fell into the room below; several men were killed.

In March 978, king Edward was assassinated at Corfe Castle, possibly at the instigation of his stepmother, and Æthelred (the Unready) became king. His coronation on Low Sunday 31 March 978, was the last state event in which Dunstan took part. When the young king took the usual oath to govern well, Dunstan addressed him in solemn warning. He criticized the violent act whereby he became king and prophesied the misfortunes that were shortly to fall on the kingdom, but Dunstan’s influence at court was ended. Dunstan retired to Canterbury, to teach at the cathedral school. Dunstan’s retirement at Canterbury consisted of long hours, both day and night, spent in private prayer, as well as his regular attendance at Mass and the daily office. He encouraged and protected European scholars who came to England, and was active as a teacher of boys in the cathedral school. On the vigil of Ascension Day 988, it is recorded that a vision of angels warned he would die in three days. On the feast day itself, Dunstan said Mass and preached three times to the people: at the Gospel, at the benediction, and after the Agnus Dei. In this last address, he announced his impending death and wished his congregation well. That afternoon he chose the spot for his tomb, then went to his bed. His strength failed rapidly, and on Saturday morning, 19 May, he caused the clergy to assemble. Mass was celebrated in his presence, then he received Extreme Unction and the Viaticum, and died. Dunstan’s final words are reported to have been, “He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He hath given food to them that fear Him.”

St Dunstan’s is a charity that provides support, rehabilitation, and respite care to blind ex-service personnel of the British Armed Forces. Periodically they have a recipe competition and bake sale to raise money — https://www.50connect.co.uk/food-drink/articles/phil-vickery-whips-up-support-for-st-dunstan%E2%80%99s-g  Here is one of the winning recipes:

Sticky Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake

Ingredients

Cake

175 gm/6 oz unsalted butter
175 gm/6 oz caster sugar
2 whole eggs, beaten
175 gm/6 oz self-raising flour
1 tbsp shredded fresh basil
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
4 tbsp water
25 gm/1 oz poppy seeds

Sticky lemon topping:

3 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp water
zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp icing sugar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Grease and line a 900 gm/2 lb loaf tin with baking parchment paper.

Cream the butter and caster sugar together until pale, light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs, a little at a time. Fold the flour into the mixture, then stir in the basil, lemon zest, water and poppy seeds. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sticky topping. Heat the caster sugar and 3 tbsp water in a pan until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon zest, increase the heat and bring to a simmer and cook for about 3-5 minutes.

Place the lime juice and icing sugar in another small pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Drain the lemon zest, add it to the lime syrup then bring to a simmer. Prick the hot, cooked cake using a skewer, then pour over the hot lime syrup and lemon zest. Leave the cake in the tin until cool, then carefully lift out using the lining paper.

May 102019
 

Six years ago today I started this blog, so it’s time once again to wish it a Happy Birthday.  I may bake a cake (and I have candles).

In years past I have posted all manner of things on this anniversary, but this year I am going to make a simple announcement. I’m giving up posting daily.  I am not giving up posting entirely, but it will be sporadic in future.  Instead I am starting a YouTube channel. I have it set up, but I need to work on my video skills, which will take time. I will not post videos daily – more like once or twice per week – and they will be all over the map: cooking, philosophy, history, songs . . . you name it.  When it is off the ground, I will post a link here.

If you click to “follow” this link you will receive notification of anniversaries from past years: https://www.facebook.com/BookOfDaysTales/  You have to be on FB to follow, I believe.

Between starting this post and putting it up I did bake a cake – chocolate and lychee:

¡Hasta luego!

 Posted by at 10:13 am
May 092019
 

Today is the feast day of two saints named Beatus: Beatus of Vendôme and Beatus of Lungern who might be the same person, neither of whom may have existed at all.  Their stories are fragmentary, overlapping, and mostly hard to believe. Tomorrow is the 6th birthday of this blog and after that I am going to cease posting routinely, so ending substantive posts today with the celebration of someone who probably did not exist (in multiple ways), seems like a suitably surreal slow fade into the sunset.

Beatus of Lungern, also known as the Apostle of Switzerland, could have been the son of a Scottish king, or could have been born in Ireland in the 1st century CE. His legend states that he was a convert to Christianity, baptized in England by Saint Barnabas. He was allegedly ordained a priest in Rome by Saint Peter the Apostle, whereupon he was sent with a companion named Achates to evangelize the tribe of the Helvetii. The two set up a camp in Argovia near the Jura Mountains, where they converted many of the locals. Beatus then ventured south to the mountains above Lake Thun, taking up a hermitage in what is now known as St. Beatus Caves, near the village later called Beatenberg. Tradition states that he fought a dragon in one of these caves.

Saint Beatus’ grave is located between an Augustinian monastery and the cave entrance. He died at an old age in 112 CE.

Beatus of Vendôme is commonly known as Saint Bienheuré. Tradition states that he lived in a cave near the town of Vendôme also occupied by a dragon. His legend states that Bienheuré fasted and prayed before fighting the dragon. According to the legend, the dragon was so large that when it went to drink from a river at some distance away, its tail still lay in its cave. It was also so large that it drained the Loir when it drank from it. There are three versions of this combat: the first states that the dragon fled at the sight of Saint Bienheuré; the second version states that Saint Bienheuré defeated the dragon with one blow from his staff; the third states that the dragon strangled itself with its chain.

Bienheuré is identified with a missionary who traveled and preached in Garonne, Laon, and Nantes, besides Vendôme, and his place of death is claimed to have been Chevresson, near Laon. A chapel dating from the 5th century was built on the hillside where he is said to have lived.

For a recipe I give you this video which is actually a contest between 2 chefs to make a meal for a unicorn proposed by a 9 yr old girl.  Seems imaginary enough to round out tales of dragons in caves:

May 082019
 

Today is the birthday of actor Sid James (1913) who was born Solomon Joel Cohen in South Africa, later changing his name to Sidney Joel Cohen, and then Sidney James. His family lived on Hancock Street in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Upon moving to the UK later in life, he claimed various previous occupations, including diamond cutter, dance tutor and boxer. In reality, he had trained and worked as a hairdresser. It was at a hairdressing salon in Kroonstad, Orange Free State, that he met his first wife. He married Berthe Sadie Delmont, known as Toots, on 12th August 1936 and they had a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1937. His father-in-law, Joseph Delmont, a Johannesburg businessman, bought a hairdressing salon for James, but within a year he announced that he wanted to become an actor and joined the Johannesburg Repertory Players. Through this group, he gained work with the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Toots divorced him in 1940.

During the Second World War, he served as a lieutenant in an entertainment unit of the South African Army, and subsequently took up acting as a career. He moved to Britain immediately after the war, financed by his service gratuity. Initially, he worked in repertory before being spotted for the nascent British post-war film industry.

James made his first credited film appearances in Night Beat and Black Memory (1947), both crime dramas. He played the alcoholic hero’s barman in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (1949). His first major comedy role was in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951): with Alfie Bass, he made up the bullion robbery gang headed by Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway.

In the same year, he also appeared in Lady Godiva Rides Again and The Galloping Major. In 1953, he appeared as Harry Hawkins in The Titfield Thunderbolt, and also had a major, starring role in The Wedding of Lilli Marlene. In 1956, he appeared in Trapeze (1956) as Harry the snake charmer, a circus film which was one of the most successful films of its year, and he played Master Henry in “Outlaw Money”, an episode of The Adventures of Robin Hood. He also had a supporting part as a TV advertisement producer in Charlie Chaplin’s A King in New York, a non-comic supporting role as a journalist in the science-fiction film Quatermass 2, and he performed in Hell Drivers (all 1957), a film with Stanley Baker. The next year, James starred with Miriam Karlin in East End, West End by Wolf Mankowitz, a half-hour comedy series for the ITV company Associated Rediffusion. Set within the Jewish community of London’s East End, the series of six episodes was transmitted in February and March 1958, but plans for further episodes were abandoned after a disappointing response. For a while though, it had looked as if his commitment elsewhere might end his work with Tony Hancock, one of the most popular television comedians of the time.

In 1954, he had begun working with Tony Hancock in his BBC Radio series Hancock’s Half Hour. Having seen him in The Lavender Hill Mob, it was the idea of Hancock’s writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, to cast James. He played a character with his own name (but having the invented middle name Balmoral) who was a petty criminal and would usually manage to con Hancock in some way, although the character eventually ceased to be Hancock’s adversary. With the exception of James, the other regular cast members of the radio series were dropped when the series made the transition to television. His part in the show now greatly increased and many viewers came to think of Hancock and James as a double act.

Feeling the format had become exhausted, Hancock decided to end his professional relationship with James at the end of the sixth television series in 1960. Although the two men remained friends, James was upset at Hancock’s decision. The experience led to a shift away from the kind of roles for which he had become best known. He remained the lovable rogue but was keen to steer clear of criminal characters – in 1960 he turned down the part of Fagin in the original West End staging of Oliver! for that very reason.[10] Galton and Simpson continued to write for both James and Hancock for a while, and the Sidney Balmoral James character resurfaced in the Citizen James (1960–1962) series. Sid James was now consistently taking the lead role in his television work.

James became a leading member of the Carry On films team, originally to replace Ted Ray, who had appeared in Carry On Teacher (1959). It had been intended that Ray would become a recurring presence in the Carry On series, but he was dropped after just one film because of contractual problems. James ultimately made 19 Carry On films, receiving top-billing in 17, making him one of the most featured performers of the regular cast. The characters he portrayed in the films were usually very similar to the wise-cracking, sly, lecherous Cockney he was famed for playing on television, and in most cases they bore the name Sid or Sidney. His trademark “dirty laugh” was often used and became, along with a world-weary “Cor, blimey!”, his catchphrase.

In 1967, James was intending to play Sergeant Nocker in Follow That Camel, but was already committed to recording the TV series George and the Dragon (1966–1968) for ATV, then one of the ITV contractors. James was replaced in Follow That Camel by Phil Silvers. On 13th May 1967, two weeks after the filming began of what eventually became an entry in the Carry On series, James suffered a severe heart attack. In the same year in Carry On Doctor, James was shown mainly lying in a hospital bed, owing to his real-life health problems. After his heart attack, James gave up his heavy cigarette habit and instead smoked a pipe or an occasional cigar; he lost weight, ate only one main meal a day, and limited himself to two or three alcoholic drinks per evening. Meanwhile, his success in TV situation comedy continued with the series Two in Clover (1969–70), and Bless This House (1971–1976) as Sid Abbott, a successful enough series in its day to spawn its own film version in 1972.

On 26th April 1976, while on a revival tour of The Mating Season, a 1969 farce by the Northern Irish playwright Sam Cree, James suffered a heart attack on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre. Actress Olga Lowe thought that he was playing a practical joke at first when he failed to reply to her dialogue. When he failed to reply to her ad libs, she moved towards the wings to seek help. The technical manager, Melvyn James, called for the curtain to close and requested a doctor, while the audience – who were unaware of what was happening – laughed, believing the events to be part of the show. He was taken to hospital by ambulance, but was pronounced dead. He was 62.

Here are some clips of Sid James in roles that are not the stereotypic Cockney con man:

I wouldn’t call him a great actor, but he did have a certain range and a certain naturalness when playing ordinary people.

The East End of London is noted for its pie and eel shops. I’ve already mentioned traditional London pie and mash, so here’s a video on jellied eels.

May 072019
 

Today is a rather odd coincidence day, the birthday, one year apart, of two Scottish philosophers, Thomas Reid (1710) and David Hume (1711).  In his day, Reid was perhaps the more influential, but nowadays Hume has the upper hand, although both have been superseded.  I’ll give you a small taste of their ideas, and of their critiques of one another, but my major point is to examine why we should care about the philosophy of knowledge and reason at all. Reid and Hume were pillars of what is now called the Scottish Enlightenment, the era that saw the flourishing of rigorous scientific method and the championing of reason over faith. The current pseudo-debate over science versus religion is an outgrowth of ideas generated in the 18th century, and the debates within the philosophical community of the era are germane to concerns we have nowadays – most especially political and social concerns. The question I ask continually in my own research is: “Why do people cling to ideas – often fervently – when they fly in the face of demonstrable facts?” Reid and Hume both had their answers to that question, radically different answers, involving the consideration of the question: “What is a fact, and how do we know it is true?”

Reid was the founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, that is, “common sense” with a special philosophical meaning (sensus communis – natural senses humans have in common), not the popular meaning. According to Reid, our common sense is built on innate ideas (ideas we are born with). Hume denied the existence of innate ideas, believing that our ideas develop purely from our learned experience.  Reid believed, for example, that we are born with a sense of right and wrong – very Scottish Protestant of him, I am sure.  His moral philosophy is reminiscent of Roman stoicism in its emphasis on the agency of the subject and self-control. He often quotes Cicero, from whom he adopted the term “sensus communis”. Reid’s answer to Hume’s sceptical and naturalist arguments was to enumerate a set of principles of common sense (sensus communis) which constitute the foundations of rational thought. Anyone who undertakes a philosophical argument, for example, must implicitly presuppose certain beliefs like, “I am talking to a real person,” and “There is an external world whose laws do not change,” among many other positive, substantive claims. For Reid, the belief in the truth of these principles is not rational; rather, reason itself demands these principles as prerequisites, as does the innate “constitution” of the human mind. It is for this reason (and possibly a mocking attitude toward Hume and Berkeley) that Reid sees belief in the principles of common sense as a litmus test for sanity. For example, in The Intellectual Powers of Man he states, “For, before men can reason together, they must agree in first principles; and it is impossible to reason with a man who has no principles in common with you.”


Hume’s empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, George Berkeley, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with A Treatise of Human Nature (1738), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of humans that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behavior. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is founded solely in experience.

In what is sometimes referred to as Hume’s problem of induction, he argued that inductive reasoning and belief in causality cannot be justified rationally; instead, our trust in causality and induction result from custom and mental habit, and are attributable only to the experience of “constant conjunction” of events. This is because we can never actually perceive that one event causes another, but only that the two are always conjoined. Accordingly, to draw any causal inferences from past experience it is necessary to presuppose that the future will resemble the past, a presupposition which cannot itself be grounded in prior experience.

Hume was also a “sentimentalist” who held that ethics are based on emotion (or sentiment) rather than abstract moral principles, famously proclaiming that “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.” Hume maintained an early commitment to naturalistic explanations of moral phenomena, and is usually taken to have first clearly expounded the is–ought problem, or the idea that a statement of fact alone can never give rise to a normative conclusion of what ought to be done. Hume influenced utilitarianism, logical positivism, Immanuel Kant, the philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive science, theology, and other movements. Kant himself credited Hume as the spur to his philosophical thought who had awakened him from his “dogmatic slumbers”.

So, why should you care about any of these debates?  Right now they are important because they are crucial to understanding the state of the world today. What is the status of knowledge and rationality these days?  At election time do people look at the candidates on offer, assess all the information available to them, and then vote rationally? I think you know the answer to that question.  People favor candidates for many reasons, and logic is rarely in the mix when they make their choices.  As often as not they choose candidates who are going to work against their own interests and/or the interests of the country – and the evidence that they will do this is in plain sight. But they vote for them anyway. Why?  Much of it has to do with embedded ideas based on sentiment that cannot be changed by facts. Then we have to ask: How do we stop people from behaving irrationally, especially when their decisions negatively impact others in dramatic ways?  Good question. Such questions cannot be explored sensibly without knowing how people think, and our understanding in this regard is still pitiful.

On that note let’s turn to cooking.  What knowledge do you need to possess to follow a recipe successfully?  Recipes from 200 years ago made gigantic assumptions about what the cook who read them already knew.  They were of the style: “Take some of this and a bit of that and boil it over a brisk fire until it is done.” Contemporary recipes are much more specific when it comes to ingredients, preparation, quantities, timing, temperatures, etc., but an enormous amount is still left unsaid, or assumed.  I can give identical recipes to two different cooks, and even when following the recipes to the letter they will produce notably different dishes.  Years ago I used to make Argentine tortillas for my girlfriend all the time, and she asked me to teach her how to make them.  First, I showed her – step by step – then I stood over her and supervised her as she cooked one. We did this multiple times, and yet she never could replicate my method, and her tortillas were nothing like mine. Somehow our knowledge base was not the same. The knowledge base of expert cooks is a mystery.  I travel so much because it’s the only way to taste the dishes of the world.  People who have devoted their lives to hand making rice noodles, roasting duck, or slow baking tripe in their corners of the world, make dishes that cannot be replicated by anyone else.  You have to go to where the cooks live and work to sample their wares.

For today’s recipe think of those dishes that you know from the hands of one cook only.  They could be a memory of a favorite grandmother, or a special delight you experienced on a trip. I think of my father’s ravioli or my mother-in-law’s fried chicken; I think of my favorite Kunming duck and a little baklava shop in Istanbul.