Jun 212016
 

dbboot

On this date in 1986 Deborah Blincoe and I were married. This would have been our 30th anniversary, therefore. Ever since she died (2007) I’ve marked the date in a small way, but this year seems like a good time to do something more. Before I talk about our wedding in particular let me say a little about weddings in general to set the context.

As an anthropologist I’ve lectured and written about marriage and the family a great deal. Weddings are classic rites of passage which have been studied intensively by anthropologists, but I’ve always argued that classic analysis misses the mark in an important way. I have tried to make the case that in LAW, strictly speaking, both the groom and the bride are changing their status, but in the classic Western wedding ceremony the ritual and symbols focus almost exclusively on the woman and her changes, and not the man. Broken down into simple components, the traditional Western wedding symbolizes the passage of a woman from one man’s sphere to another’s, and that was the economic and social reality for centuries – and still lingers in the ceremony even though realities have changed.

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The traditional Church of England wedding takes place in the bride’s home town. Her father walks her down the aisle to the waiting groom and “gives her away” to join the groom, then steps back. That ought to be enough to convince you, but there’s more. She wears white, the universal symbol of transition and purity; he does not. Upon marriage her last name changes from her father’s to her husband’s – his does not change. Furthermore she changes from Miss to Mrs. He’s Mr all along. At one time he did not usually wear a wedding ring either, but she did. In the traditional Anglican vows he promises to love and honor her, but she promises to love, honor AND obey him.  Get the point?

A lot has changed, of course, but remnants persist. Ms has generally replaced Miss/Mrs in many circles, both man and woman usually wear rings, and last names are more fluid. Some women retain their unmarried names (as my wife did), and some women hyphenate their unmarried names with their married names. In the latter case it’s still uneven. The man does not change his name at all, and the woman subordinates her unmarried name to her married name.We both retained our unmarried names, and hyphenated them for our son. But . . . my name is first and hers is last — Forrest-Blincoe. We liked the sound better than the other way around.

Whilst  we are on the subject, “maiden name” is a fraught term. The word “maiden” is an old synonym for “virgin” as it is also in the term “maiden aunt.” The assumption is that a woman is a virgin until she marries. I don’t use the term at all. I find it offensive. Likewise men don’t have maiden names, so there’s no veiled presumption that he is a virgin before marriage.

Despite changes, old parts persist. It’s still common to marry in the woman’s home town, she still wears white, and she is usually walked down the aisle by her father and “given away” with a physical gesture even if not a verbal one. The man’s symbolic role as recipient of the woman is still the same. There is no symmetric gesture of him being given away by his mother. He stands alone and receives his bride.

Whilst I’m on the subject let me have a little rant about vows. In the modern era couples often want to write their own vows. When I was an active pastor I discouraged this practice. Part of the point of ritual is for it to be familiar. The couple getting married may be the focus, but the whole community participates, and not just in a passive way. The whole community is witnessing the event, especially the vows. Vows are promises. That’s what the word means. They are not just cheery statements of affection. The bride and groom are making promises, and the community is there to hear them and afterwards to support them, and, if need be, enforce them. Of course, there is marriage law too, so that if the vows are a bit flaky, the law can step in. All the same, people want to hear the same vows that they made when they married, not some generic love poem. When they hear others repeating vows, they are reminded of their own. That’s proper ritual.

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Deborah and I broke most of the old rules as necessary and kept the ones we liked. Admittedly we agreed to her wearing rings (engagement and wedding) but not me, and I got comments on that after the ceremony. It was partly a matter of expense and partly the fact that I don’t like rings. On the few occasions when I have been given one, it has spent most of its life in a box. I have one now of great sentimental value that sits in a drawer. I never wear it.

The ceremony took place at a friends’ house in their garden near our house. We owned a house on the Neversink River in Cuddebackville, NY and had lived there for 3 years. So there was no business of going to the bride’s town for the service, or of not seeing the bride before the ceremony, etc. Nor did I have a bachelor party. I find them pretty tasteless affairs anyway. We decided on 21 June for the wedding by consulting an almanac. It seemed like an auspicious date because in that year (1986) the almanac listed 21 June as a Saturday, the solstice, and a full moon (called the Strawberry moon). What could be better?

Deborah’s family all came from Kentucky (where she was born) including her parents and grandmothers; her father was there but had no part in the ceremony. We organized the entire affair jointly. Our main idea was to avoid all the usual expensive trappings whilst maintaining a sense of dignity and formality for the ritual part. The whole wedding cost us under $200, including the justice of the peace’s fee. Admittedly my sister contributed the cake and baked goods, and our friends bought the champagne. Everyone agreed it was one of the best weddings they had attended; better than many that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

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The home owners had constructed a white cloth screen backdrop with ribbons and bows for the focal point of the service. I wore a new grey suit and Deborah made a white outfit for herself. We used flowers from our garden – mock orange and roses.

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In the late morning both families gathered inside our friends’ house, and the other guests mingled in the garden where there was a table for the cake, which my sister had baked, and presents, at the back. When the JP came he situated himself by the screen, and a few minutes later Deborah and I came out of the house side by side into the garden, and through the guests standing around. Our neighbors’ dog led the way with a white ribbon around her neck. Deborah called her our flower girl. As soon as we got before the JP, she sat down and went to sleep. Meanwhile our witness party (the two home owners and Deborah’s sister) brought up the rear and then flanked us when we stood before the JP. The ceremony was standard, by-the-book stuff – short and sweet, but covered all the bases.

When we turned around after the ceremony we scanned all the faces. Everyone had come including, to our amazement, two friends from England whom we had invited as a joke more than anything else, just to indicate to them that we were thinking of them. They had kept it completely secret, but co-ordinated with some other friends of ours who picked them up at the airport, housed them, and brought them along. Amazing.

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We had champagne and cake (recipe at the end) and opened our presents with a certain degree of formality. My friend Royston Wood had offered to be photographer and took a stellar set of pictures, which proved to be exceptionally difficult to take because the Midsummer sun was bright that day and reflected fiercely off the white cloth backdrop. This was in the days of chemical film and light meters. After cake, Royston and I sang together the traditional English folk song, the Wedding Song from the Copper family, with him singing bass and me tenor (also playing the concertina). He had been bass singer with the legendary 1960s group, the Young Tradition. He was to die several years later in a tragic car accident.

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After some toasts and general well wishing, we all went back to our house for a garden party. We had a big garden with tons of space. Much to our surprise, our guests had all brought changes of clothes and some games, including a softball set. We all changed into casual wear from our smart clothes and had one big blowout. Deborah and I laid out a big buffet of salads, cold cuts, and what not, and my sister had brought a boat load of cakes and goodies, including chocolate squares with a delectable chocolate cream topping that were so yummy that our English friends’ young daughter literally bathed in one all over her arms and face and went up to her father and spread out her thoroughly daubed arms and said – “Look daddy.” To which he replied, “That’s lovely dear. Go and show your mummy.” Smart lad; he knew what mummy’s reaction would be. Marriage at work.

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The house and garden were packed with people eating and drinking, and generally having a good time. My sister’s son was in his element playing softball, and he had no idea that all my friends were setting it up so that eventually he could win the game with a grand slam which he thought was the highlight of the wedding. At sundown the family helped us clean up after the guests had left, and then went off to hotels to leave us alone. Next day we packed the car and headed off for our honeymoon at Niagara Falls.

For years afterwards people who had come to the wedding commented on how much fun they had had. Here’s the cake recipe that my sister sent me recently. I’ve edited it a little, but it’s basically how she sent it to me.

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Orange Wedding Cake

Ingredients

Cake

2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder,
1 ½ cups sugar
6 eggs, separated
½ cup vegetable oil
6 fl oz orange juice

Filling

1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
10 egg yolks
¼ lb unsalted butter
1 orange rind, grated

Buttercream

2 lb unsalted butter at room temp.
1 ⅓ cups sugar
2 tspn vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream

Instructions

For the cake

Put the oil, egg yolks and orange juice into a bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Add the dry ingredients by sifting them over the bowl a third at a time and mixing gently with a wooden spoon until they are thoroughly combined.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry, and fold them into the batter gently a third at a time

Bake in a 12 inch pan with grease proof paper lining the bottom at 350°F  for about 30 minutes. The top should bounce back and toothpick inserted should come out clean

For the filling

In a non reactive pot put the sugar, orange juice, and egg yolks. Mix and then bring slowly to near the boil over medium heat, stirring gently all the time. When it coats the back of a spoon, it is ready. DO NOT BOIL. Add the grated rind of an orange. Take off the heat

Add unsalted butter and stir to melt

Transfer to a bowl and put plastic wrap on the surface. Refrigerate until cold

Whip 2 cups of cream until it is stiff and fold gently in to the orange curd a little at a time.

For the buttercream

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until they are almost white when. Add the vanilla extract. Continue beating  and slowly trickle in 2 cups of cream.  It will become very smooth and spreadable.

Assembly

Slice the cake horizontally into thirds. This takes experience. Best to use a long, serrated bread knife and put toothpicks into the side of the cake all round so you can use this to guide the knife.

Use the orange mousse for the filling by placing the bottom third of the cake on a plate, adding half the mousse on top, then spreading it evenly. Next place the middle layer of cake over the mousse, spread the other half of the mousse on it and spread it. Then add the top layer of cake.

Using a flat spatula ice the sides of the cake with buttercream. When the sides are finished put a healthy layer on top and smooth everything. If you are able, pipe stars all round the bottom of the cake where it meets the plate. Finish it off with either sliced oranges or a cluster of pretty flowers. We used pink roses.

May 182013
 

Bertrand_Russell

Today is the birthday of Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (1872). He was was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, pacifist, and social critic. He was born in Monmouthshire, into one of the most prominent aristocratic families in Britain. He was awarded the 1950 Nobel Prize in literature “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”.

He is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege and his protégé, and my hero, Ludwig Wittgenstein. He is widely held to be one of the 20th century’s premier logicians, mathematicians, and philosophers. His work has had a considerable influence on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, computer science, and philosophy, especially philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics.

bertr russ

Russell was a prominent anti-war activist; he championed anti-imperialism, and went to prison for his pacifism during World War I. Later, he campaigned against Adolf Hitler, then criticized Stalinist totalitarianism, attacked the United States of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and was an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament. He was briefly jailed again in 1961, following his conviction on public order charges brought after a large central London peace demonstration in commemoration of Hiroshima Day. The cartoon above appeared in the Evening Standard at the time.

Russell was a humanist who wrote extensively on the human condition.  The following quotations are representative:

“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”

“I believe in using words, not fists. I believe in my outrage knowing people are living in boxes on the street. I believe in honesty. I believe in a good time. I believe in good food. I believe in sex.”

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”

The following tale is based on what is sometimes called “Russell’s chicken” – an evaluation of the limits of inductive reasoning:

On a farm, there was a flock of chickens. One chicken started talking with another, remarking: “How good our farmer has been to us. I think he is an awfully nice man, because he comes every morning to feed us.” The other chicken nodded in agreement, adding “and he has been feeding each and everyone of us here every day like clockwork, every day without fail since we were all just little baby chicks.” Indeed, when queried, most of the other chickens clucked in agreement about how benevolent their farmer was.

But there was one chicken, intelligent but eccentric, who countered saying “How do you know he is all that good? I remember, not too long ago, that there were some older chickens who were taken away, and I haven’t seen them since. Whatever happened to them?”

Some of the chickens may have slept a little uneasily that night, but in the morning the farmer came as usual, this time scattering even more corn around. The chickens ate this with gusto, and this dispelled any remaining doubts about the benevolence of the farmer. “You see, there is nothing to worry about. Our farmer had a little extra food, so he gave it to us because he likes us! He is a good man,” remarked one chicken to the others, and they all nodded in agreement, all of them, that is, except one. The intelligent but eccentric chicken became even more agitated. “He is just fattening us up! We are going to be slaughtered in a week’s time!” he squawked in alarm. But nobody listened. All the other chickens just thought he was a troublemaker.

A week later, all the chickens were placed into cages, loaded on to a truck, and driven to the slaughterhouse.

Moral of the story: You cannot always induce the truth from past experience!

In honor of Russell’s chicken I give you a recipe for coq au vin, one of the first dishes I learned to cook when I was a student at Oxford (Russell went to Cambridge). There are hundreds of recipes for classic coq au vin but they are all variations on a theme: chicken simmered in wine with onions, bacon, mushrooms, and vegetables. My cooking mentor, Robert Carrier, in his recipe insists that when you cook with wine you should not use some cheap plonk, but a wine you would be willing to serve at table. Cheap ingredients produce cheap results. Like all fine soups and stews, coq au vin is best if made the day before it is needed, and refrigerated overnight to marry and mature all the flavors.  Therefore, you should allow three days to make the finished dish. Be warned: when preparing this dish you need a lot of bowls and plates to reserve cooked ingredients before they are all combined.


Coq au Vin

Ingredients:

For marinating the chicken

1 bottle French Burgundy or California Pinot Noir
1 large onion, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled, sliced
1 large garlic clove, peeled, flattened
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 6-pound roasting chicken, backbone removed, cut into 8 pieces (2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings with top quarter of adjoining breast, 2 breasts)

For cooking the chicken

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
6 ounces thick-cut bacon slices, cut crosswise into small pieces
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 large shallots, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 large fresh thyme sprigs
4 large fresh parsley sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 pound assorted mushrooms (dark mushrooms such as crimini or stemmed shiitake are best but any mushrooms will do)
20 pearl onions
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
½ lb of baby potatoes, or large potatoes peeled and chopped into bite sized chunks.

Instructions:

First Day: Marinating the chicken

Combine the wine, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and peppercorns in large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool completely then mix in the oil. Place the chicken pieces in a large glass bowl. Pour the wine mixture over the chicken; stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 day and up to 2 days, turning the chicken occasionally. Alternatively you can use two large ziplock bags that between them can accommodate the chicken and marinade.  Divide the chicken evenly between the two bags and place half in each.  Divide the marinade evenly between the two bags.  Close the bags almost completely leaving small opening. Squeeze as much air as possible out of the bags. Close the hole and lay the bags flat on the counter.  Shift the chicken around so that there is one layer. And place flat in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days  I prefer this method because the marinade evenly coats the chicken and does not need to be turned, although once in a while, if you like, you can flip the bags over.

Second day: cooking the chicken:

Using tongs, transfer the chicken pieces from the marinade to paper towels to drain; pat dry. Strain the marinade reserving the vegetables and liquid separately.

Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil and put in the pearl onions. After 30 seconds drain the onions and plunge them into a boil of iced water. When they are cool they can be peeled easily by simply squeezing the skin.  The onions will pop out. Reserve in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in a heavy large pot (wide enough to hold chicken in single layer) over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and sauté until crisp and brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a small bowl. Add the chicken, skin side down, to the drippings in the pot. Sauté until brown, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to large bowl. Add the vegetables reserved from marinade to the pot. Sauté until brown, about 10 minutes. Mix in the flour; stir 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the reserved marinade liquid and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, whisking occasionally, about 2 minutes. Mix in the shallots, garlic, herb sprigs, and bay leaves, and then the broth. Return the chicken to the pot, arranging the chicken skin side up in single layer. Bring to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and simmer the chicken for 30 minutes. Using tongs, turn the chicken over. Cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the same skillet. Add the onions and sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer onions to a plate. Reserve the skillet.

Boil the potatoes until just tender and keep warm.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a plate. Strain the sauce from the pot into the reserved skillet, pressing on the solids in the strainer to extract all the sauce and discard the solids. Bring the sauce to a simmer, scraping up browned bits. Return the sauce to the pot. Add the onions to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook until the onions are almost tender, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and bacon. Simmer uncovered until the onions are very tender and the sauce is slightly reduced, about 12 minutes. Tilt the pot and spoon off any excess fat from top of sauce. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Return the chicken to the sauce. (This can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Warm over low heat when ready to serve.)

Arrange the chicken on a large rimmed platter. Spoon the sauce and the vegetables and bacon over the chicken. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with boiled potatoes.

Get someone else to do the washing up.

Serves 4