Jan 272018
 

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an international memorial day commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jewish people, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, 9,000 homosexual men, as well as thousands of Slavs, dissidents, and intellectuals by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 on 1 November 2005 during the 42nd plenary session. The resolution came after a special session was held earlier that year on 24 January 2005 during which the United Nations General Assembly marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust. The date was chosen because on 27 January 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Red Army.

Prior to the 60/7 resolution, there had been national days of commemoration, such as Germany’s Tag des Gedenkens an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (The Day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism), established in a proclamation issued by Federal President Roman Herzog on 3 January 1996; and the Holocaust Memorial Day observed every 27th January since 2001 in the UK.

Resolution 60/7 establishing 27th January as International Holocaust Remembrance Day urges every member nation of the U.N. to honor the memory of Holocaust victims, and encourages the development of educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. It rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an event, and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief. It also calls for actively preserving the Holocaust sites that served as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps and prisons, as well as for establishing a U.N. program of outreach and mobilization of society for Holocaust remembrance and education.

Resolution 60/7 and the International Holocaust Day was an initiative of the State of Israel. Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, Silvan Shalom, was the head of the delegation of Israel to the United Nations.

The essence of the text lies in its twofold approach: one that deals with the memory and remembrance of those who were massacred during the Holocaust, and the other with educating future generations of its horrors.

The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is thus a day on which we must reassert our commitment to human rights. […]

We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history. We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s world. And we must do our utmost so that all peoples may enjoy the protection and rights for which the United Nations stands.

The UK goes one step further on this date in commemorating not only those who suffered in The Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution, but also those in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and elsewhere. The Nazi Holocaust is fading rapidly from active memory. There are few survivors and they are all aged. Therefore, it is more important than ever to keep the lessons learned alive to make the best effort to prevent future genocides. I live in Phnom Penh where the genocide perpetrated by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge is still active in memory, and the effects were devastating on the country. The Khmer Rouge murdered 25% of the population, based largely on ethnicity, but they also massacred monks, dissidents, and intellectuals (meaning, anyone with a university education).

The murder of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust is prominent in commemoration events, as it should be. Jews were the main target of the Nazis, and the number murdered far outweighs any other group. That said, I would like to take a moment to remember the Gypsies (Roma) who were victims of the Nazis. Numbers vary depending on what you count as a “Gypsy,” but a figure commonly agreed upon is 600,000.

After the war, discrimination against Roma continued throughout Central and Eastern Europe. The Federal Republic of Germany determined that all measures taken against Roma before 1943 were legitimate official measures against persons committing criminal acts, not the result of policy driven by racial prejudice. This decision effectively closed the door to restitution for thousands of Roma victims, who had been incarcerated, forcibly sterilized, and deported out of Germany for no specific crime. The postwar Bavarian criminal police took over the research files of the Nazi regime, including the registry of Roma who had resided in the Greater German Reich.

It was not until late 1979 that the West German Federal Parliament identified the Nazi persecution of Roma as being racially motivated, creating eligibility for most Roma to apply for compensation for their suffering and loss under the Nazi regime. By this time, many of those who became eligible had already died.

There is now a memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism in Berlin, dedicated to the memory of the Gypsies murdered in the Porajmos (a Roma word for the Holocaust). It was designed by Dani Karavan and was officially opened on 24 October 2012 by German chancellor Angela Merkel in the presence of president Joachim Gauck. The memorial is on Simsonweg in the Tiergarten in Berlin, south of the Reichstag and near the Brandenburg Gate.

The memorial was designed by the Israeli artist Dani Karavan, and consists of a dark, circular pool of water at the center of which is a triangular stone. The triangular shape of the stone is in reference to the brown triangular badges that had to be worn by concentration camp prisoners of Roma descent. The stone is retractable and a fresh flower is placed upon it daily. In bronze letters around the edge of the pool is the poem ‘Auschwitz’ by Roma poet Santino Spinelli, although the monument commemorates all Roma and Sinti murdered during the Porajmos:

    Gaunt face
    dead eyes
    cold lips
    quiet
    a broken heart
    out of breath
    without words
    no tears

Information boards surround the memorial and provide a chronology of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma.

The following is one of a series of recipes provided by English Roma that can be found on this site which commemorates the Roma victims of the Holocaust — https://hmd.org.uk/sites/default/files/nazi_persecution_recipe_card_hmd_2017_final.pdf It is a classic English suet pudding, but was collected from indigenous Roma in England. It is cheap to make, and can be boiled all day on the yog (communal campfire) while people are at work. Potatoes and cabbage were usually added to the water used for steaming the pudding.

Bacon and Onion Pudding

Ingredients

225g plain white flour
100g shredded beef suet
10-16 bacon rashers (smoked or unsmoked)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 beef stock cube
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Mix the suet and flour together with around 150 to 200ml water to form a suet pastry. Add the

water gradually to get the right consistency.

Take the suet pastry dough and roll it out quite thinly on a floured surface into a rough rectangular or oval shape. It should be around quarter of an inch thick. Any thicker and it will become to wet and doughy when it is steamed. The pastry expands in the steaming process.

Trim any excess fat from the bacon and place slices on the rolled out pastry. Sprinkle the chopped onions on top, ensuring an even coverage. Sprinkle with the crumbled stock cube and add salt and pepper to taste. Carefully roll the pastry up, as you would when making a Swiss roll. Make sure you have enough pastry at the ends to seal the roll, crimping the edges to ensure it stays together.

Wrap the pudding in foil or a new clean muslin or tea towel. Make sure you seal it well to prevent steam or water getting in when cooking.

Place the pudding in a steamer and steam for two and a half hours. Alternatively, boil it in a large pan of water. Make sure to keep an eye on the water level and top up as needed.

Carefully lift the pudding out of the pan and unwrap. Slice into individual portions and serve with cabbage and potatoes.

 

Dec 272017
 

On this date in 1836, the worst avalanche in English history happened in Lewes in Sussex, on the south coast. I know that initially you want to say, “WHAT !!!! An avalanche in England – on the south coast ???? Are you kidding me?” No, I’m not. Sussex is not in the Alps, it’s true, but the avalanche happened, and 8 people died in it. Not surprisingly, it remains, to this day, the deadliest avalanche on record in the United Kingdom.

The town of Lewes (pronounced /Lewis/) is about 7 miles north of the Sussex coast, on the River Ouse in a gap in the South Downs, and is known in Sussex for its steep hills. I’ve visited Lewes a number of times on my travels in Sussex. I lived in Sussex for 5 years as a small boy, and my mother and her sister were born there. So, I go back once in a while to see old friends, and mooch about. Lewes is a picturesque town, loaded with local historic sites and good places to eat. Hills rise above the town to the east and west, with Cliffe Hill to the east rising to 538 feet (164 meters) above sea level. The hill has a precipitously sloping western edge which dominates the eastern panorama from the town. In 1836, a row of 7 flimsily constructed workers’ cottages called Boulder Row, on South Street, stood immediately at the foot of Cliffe Hill. The total number of inhabitants of Boulder Row is unknown, but contemporary reports indicate that 15 people were in the cottages when the avalanche struck.

The winter of 1836–1837 was exceptionally severe across the whole of Great Britain, with heavy snow, gale force winds and freezing temperatures being recorded in locations all around the country from the end of October 1836 until  April 1837. Very heavy snowfall began across South East England, and in particular over the South Downs, on 24th December 1836, and continued unabated over the Christmas period. Strong winds at the same time created blizzard conditions, with reports of snowdrifts over 10 feet high in some areas of Lewes. Unknown to the inhabitants of the town, the accumulation of snow at the top of Cliffe Hill, driven by a particularly severe gale on Christmas night, had been forming into a large cornice overhanging its almost sheer western edge. On the evening preceding the disaster, a significant build-up of snow was observed falling from the top of the hill into a timber yard close to Boulder Row. The inhabitants were warned that they could be at risk and were advised to leave their homes until the danger had passed, but for their own reasons they chose to ignore the warning.

At 10.15 on the morning of Tuesday 27 December the cornice collapsed more extensively, producing an enormous avalanche of accumulated snow directly on to Boulder Row. The Sussex Weekly Advertiser, reporting the testimony of eyewitnesses, stated: “The mass appeared to strike the houses first at the base, heaving them upwards, and then breaking over them like a gigantic wave. There was nothing but a mound of pure white.” A rescue operation by townspeople succeeded in pulling 7 survivors from the wreckage before hypothermia or suffocation could claim them, but 8 other individuals were found dead. Their names are recorded on a commemorative tablet on the inside wall of South Malling parish church, one mile away, where their funerals and burials took place. The fatalities included people with the family names Barnden, Bridgman and Geer, while survivors included a young laborer Jeremiah Rooke, a middle-aged woman named Fanny Sherlock (or Sharlock) and a two-year-old child, Fanny Boakes, believed to be Sherlock’s granddaughter (the 1841 census records two people matching these names and ages living at the same address in South Street). In the aftermath of the tragedy, a fund was set up by prominent townspeople to provide financial assistance to the survivors and families of the deceased.

A public house called the Snowdrop Inn was built in South Street on the site once occupied by Boulder Row, and still trades under the same name today. The name is testament to the stalwart but black sense of humor of Sussex people. I’ve been to the pub a few times with an old friend from Ferring who enjoys hurtling over the South Downs in antique convertibles, and I humor him. There’s a certain macabre wonder to drinking a pint of Harvey’s (from Lewes brewery), in the location of the deadliest avalanche in UK history. The white dress being worn by Fanny Boakes when she was rescued was preserved and is now in the Anne of Cleves House museum in Lewes.

Lewes is an excellent place for good traditional Sussex cooking at its many pubs, including the Snowdrop, and puddings of all sorts are high on the list of Sussex favorites. Sussex pond pudding is a classic, and I’ve already given a recipe. Sussex bacon pudding is another favorite of mine. It’s a steamed suet pudding, but, unlike its kin, it is not meat surrounded by suet crust; instead, the bacon and suet pudding are all mixed together and steamed. It’s a treat for a snowy day.

Sussex Bacon Pudding

Ingredients

4 oz/125 gm all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
2 oz /50 gm shredded suet
1 onion, finely chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 tsp powdered sage
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
milk

Instructions

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, suet, onion, bacon, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the egg and fold all the ingredients together to make a soft dough. Add a little milk if necessary, but do not make the dough too moist.

Grease a 1 pint (600 ml) pudding basin and lay cheesecloth or greaseproof paper inside and overlapping the edges. Put the pudding mixture in the basin, and cover the top with the excess cheesecloth or greaseproof paper. Cover the top with foil, and either tuck it under the rim or secure it with string.

Place the basin in a steamer and steam for 1 ½ hours. When I don’t have a steamer I put a saucer in the bottom of a saucepan, place the basin on top, fill with water to come halfway up the side of the basin, and let the water simmer with the pot covered. Make sure to check the water level every 15 minutes or so. Keep a kettle boiling nearby in case you need to replenish your pot.  Do not let the water go off the boil.

It is traditional to serve this pudding with a white parsley sauce.

Jun 162017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CALF’S LIVER AND BACON.

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

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

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

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

Seasonable from March to October.

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 272017
 

Today, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, used to go by a lot of names in England at one time, but they are all pretty well defunct.  Shrove Monday is technically correct because it is the Monday in Shrovetide.  But just as tomorrow is technically Shrove Tuesday, but the English all call it Pancake Day (because you eat pancakes on that day), today – to my mind, is best known as Collop Monday, although the tradition of eating collops today has fallen away in most places – except in my house.

Formally, Shrovetide is the week before Lent, but in many parts of the world where Carnival now stretches from Epiphany to Lent (New Orleans, Buenos Aires, Rio etc.), Shrovetide covers that whole season.  There’s nothing really wrong with merging Christmas and Easter. In the Medieval church the two festivals were seen as quintessentially linked.  Many traditional (supposedly Christmas) carols actually follow the arc of the two seasons, but now they get sung at Christmas and miss out the Easter bits.  Handel’s Messiah is well known for having what people think of as the Christmas part and the Easter part. Handel was following the ages old tradition of placing the two celebrations together. If you follow the arc all the way from Advent to Pentecost you cover half the year (from the end of November to May), so, in some ways you can conceive of the winter and spring as the sacred half of the year, and summer and autumn as the secular half. I’ll unpack some of this as the Easter season progresses.

I like splitting the year in two like this.  I also like the ups and downs of the Christmas to Easter arc.  It’s not all feasts and merriment. There are feasts AND fasts, and, for my money, the fasts are as important as the feasts. Feasting after a fast is much more celebratory than simply pigging out all year, with extra blow outs once in a while.

Shrovetide is, of course, feast time because Lent is coming.  The Monday and Tuesday before Lent are typically associated with rich foods. I don’t buy the idea that people used to use up all their fats, meats, etc. before Lent in celebratory meals so that they did not go to waste, but there is plenty of evidence that the days before Lent were especially joyous – and still are.   Pancakes on Tuesday still survive, but collops on Monday did not.

The word “shrove” is the past tense of the English verb “shrive,” (past participle, “shriven”) which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession and doing Penance. Early English Christians were expected to be shriven immediately before Lent began. The terms “Shrove Monday” and “Shrove Tuesday” are no longer widely used in English-speaking countries outside of high liturgical traditions, such as in the Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Churches.

The name Collop Monday leaves us with a bit of puzzle because what collops were when the day got its name is not clear.  A collop is a slice of meat, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but the derivation is obscure. By Elizabethan times, “collops” came to refer specifically to slices of bacon. Shrove Monday was traditionally the last day to cook and eat meat before Ash Wednesday A traditional breakfast dish was collops of bacon topped with a fried egg. This could well be the beginning of eggs and bacon as a breakfast dish.

But collops are not simply slices of bacon; any cutlet could be referred to as a collop, and there are also examples in early sources of minced meat (lamb, beef, or bacon), served in thin patties being called collops. At Christ’s Hospital, founded before the reign of Elizabeth I, the word collops was used on the menu to mean stewed minced beef. Scotch collops are a traditional Scottish dish. It can be created using either thin slices or minced meat of beef, lamb or venison. This is combined with onion, salt, pepper and suet, then stewed, baked or roasted with optional flavorings according to the meat used. It is traditionally served garnished with thin toast and mashed potato. It is referred to as a meal in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped. Lamb collops were included on the breakfast menu for first class passengers of the Titanic.

In east Cornwall, today is sometimes called Peasen Monday or Paisen Monday after the custom of eating pea soup on this day.  I’m not sure why pea soup was especially recommended for Shrovetide unless it was made with bacon or ham hocks which would be forbidden in Lent. In any case, for my Collop Monday dinner I usually combine the two traditions in my own special way – pea soup followed by a slice of steak with an egg on top (plus an onion and mushroom garnish in between).  Here’s my gallery from this year with notes:

Here’s my pea soup.  I usually make it by keeping the split peas somewhat integral, rather than making a purée of the soup with a blender.  This year I had to use prosciutto for the ham part.  It worked.

Caramelize some onion

Quickly sear a thin slice of steak in a very hot pan (without fat)

This year I mixed in some wild mushrooms with the caramelized onions

Fry an agg

Serve with the egg over the steak garnished with onions

Jan 182017
 

aam1

Today is the birthday (1882)  of Alan Alexander “A.A.” Milne best known for his books about the teddy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and also for various poems. Milne actually thought of himself primarily as a playwright but the huge success of Pooh overshadowed all his previous work. Both he and his son, Christopher Robin, spent much of their lives trying to escape the fame of Pooh (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/christopher-robin/ ).

Milne studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge graduating in 1903. He collaborated with his brother Kenneth on humorous pieces whilst at Cambridge and their articles appeared over the initials AKM. Milne’s work came to the attention of the magazine Punch, where Milne was to become a contributor and later an assistant editor. He also played for the amateur English cricket team, the Allahakbarries, alongside the likes of J. M. Barrie, P.G. Wodehouse, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Milne joined the British Army in World War I and served as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and later, after a debilitating illness, the Royal Corps of Signals. He was commissioned into the 4th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 17 February 1915 as a second lieutenant. On 7 July 1916, he was injured while serving in the Battle of the Somme and invalided back to England. Having recovered, he was recruited into Military Intelligence to write propaganda articles for MI 7b between 1916 and 1918. He was discharged in 1919.

aam2

Milne married Dorothy “Daphne” de Sélincourt in 1913 and their son Christopher Robin Milne was born in 1920. In 1925, Milne bought a country home, Cotchford Farm, in Hartfield, East Sussex. During World War II, Milne was Captain of the British Home Guard in Hartfield & Forest Row, insisting on being plain “Mr. Milne” to the members of his platoon. He retired to the farm after a stroke and brain surgery in 1952 left him an invalid, and by August 1953 “he seemed very old and disenchanted”. Milne died in January 1956, aged 74.

aam3

Milne is most famous for his Pooh books inspired by his son and his stuffed animals, most notably the bear named Winnie-the-Pooh. Christopher Robin Milne’s stuffed bear, originally named “Edward”, was renamed “Winnie-the-Pooh” after a Canadian black bear named Winnie (after Winnipeg), which was used as a military mascot in World War I, and left to London Zoo during the war. “The pooh” comes from a swan called “Pooh”. E. H. Shepard illustrated the original Pooh books, using his own son’s teddy, Growler (“a magnificent bear”), as the model. The rest of Christopher Robin Milne’s toys, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger, were incorporated into Milne’s stories, and two more characters – Rabbit and Owl – were created by Milne’s imagination. Christopher Robin Milne’s own toys are now under glass in New York where 750,000 people visit them every year.

Here’s a little selection of Milne’s quotes: some from Pooh, others from elsewhere.  I could have chosen dozens of others, of course. If you are a Milne fan you’ll know these and many more. It’s just a reminder.

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If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.

Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.

Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”

If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.

I’m not lost for I know where I am. But, where I am may be lost.

The things that make me different are the things that make me.

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

Christopher Milne noted that his father was something of a nostalgic eater; he savored food for the memories it brought back to him as much as for their present flavors. However, he does not say what these dishes were. Various cooks have fancifully created Milne’s non-existent Cottleston pie:

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Well, Milne lived most of his life in Sussex, so maybe this old-fashioned Sussex recipe will suit.

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Sussex Churdle Pie

Ingredients

1 oz butter
1 onion, peeled and finely-chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely-chopped
1 lb lambs liver, chopped
2 oz streaky bacon, rind removed and chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
salt and pepper
2 oz fresh breadcrumbs
4 oz Cheddar, shredded
10 oz puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

Gently melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, then add the garlic, bacon and liver. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté, while stirring constantly, until the liver has browned. Add the sage, apple, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another minute and then remove from the heat.

Roll out the pastry and cut it into 7” rounds.  It should make from 4 to 6.

Divide the meat mixture between the pastry circles, and top each one with some cheese and breadcrumbs.

Gather the pastry around to form a purse shape, with the opening at the top.  Squeeze together to form a seal, using a little of the beaten egg to form a seal. Paint the remaining egg wash over the pastry.

Bake the pies, in the oven, for 18-20 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

Nov 172016
 

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Today is the birthday (1790) of August Ferdinand Möbius a Saxon mathematician and theoretical astronomer whose name is pretty well universally associated with the Möbius strip. Möbius was born in Schulpforta, Saxony-Anhalt, and was descended on his mother’s side from Martin Luther. He was home-schooled until he was 13 when he attended the College in Schulpforta in 1803 and studied there graduating in 1809. He then enrolled at the University of Leipzig, where he studied astronomy under the mathematician and astronomer, Karl Mollweide. In 1813 he began to study astronomy under the  renowned Carl Friedrich Gauss at the University of Göttingen while Gauss was the director of the Göttingen Observatory. From there he went to study with Carl Gauss’s instructor, Johann Pfaff at the University of Halle, where he completed his doctoral thesis, The Occultation of Fixed Stars in 1815. In 1816 he was appointed as Extraordinary Professor of astronomy and higher mechanics at the University of Leipzig. Möbius died in Leipzig in 1868 at the age of 77. His son Theodor was a noted philologist.

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He is best known for his discovery of the Möbius strip, a non-orientable two-dimensional surface with only one side when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space. It was independently discovered by Johann Benedict Listing around the same time. The Möbius configuration, formed by two mutually inscribed tetrahedra, is also named after him. Möbius was the first to introduce homogeneous coordinates into projective geometry.

Many mathematical concepts are named after him, including the Möbius plane, the Möbius transformations which are important in projective geometry, and the Möbius transform of number theory. His interest in number theory led to the Möbius function μ(n) and the Möbius inversion formula. In Euclidean geometry, he systematically developed the use of signed angles and line segments as a way of simplifying and unifying results.

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OK, I promise not to get much more mathematical. I know how easily eyes glaze over. Just be assured that Möbius was a smart guy and his ideas have many practical applications as well as being important to pure mathematics. The Möbius strip or Möbius band can be created by taking a paper strip and giving it a half-twist, and then joining the ends of the strip to form a loop. However, the Möbius strip is not a surface of only one exact size and shape, such as the half-twisted paper strip shown in the illustration. Rather, mathematicians refer to the closed Möbius band as any surface that is homeomorphic (topologically identical) to this strip. Its boundary is a simple closed curve, i.e., homeomorphic to a circle.

A half-twist of the band clockwise gives an embedding of the Möbius strip different from that of a half-twist counterclockwise – that is, a Möbius strip can be right- or left-handed, although the underlying topological spaces within the Möbius strip are homeomorphic in each case. There are an infinite number of topologically different Möbius strips since they can be formed by twisting the strip an odd number of times greater than one, or by knotting and twisting the strip, before joining its ends.

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The Möbius strip has several curious properties. A line drawn starting from the seam down the middle meets back at the seam but at the other side. If continued the line meets the starting point, and is double the length of the original strip. This single continuous curve demonstrates that the Möbius strip has only one boundary. Cutting a Möbius strip along the center line with a pair of scissors yields one long strip with two full twists in it, rather than two separate strips; the result is not a Möbius strip. This happens because the original strip only has one edge that is twice as long as the original strip. Cutting creates a second independent edge, half of which was on each side of the scissors. Cutting this new, longer, strip down the middle creates two strips wound around each other, each with two full twists.

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If the strip is cut along about a third of the way in from the edge, it creates two strips: one is a thinner Möbius strip – it is the center third of the original strip, comprising 1/3 of the width and the same length as the original strip. The other is a longer but thin strip with two full twists in it – this is a neighborhood of the edge of the original strip, and it comprises 1/3 of the width and twice the length of the original strip.

Other analogous strips can be obtained by similarly joining strips with two or more half-twists in them instead of one. For example, a strip with three half-twists, when divided lengthwise, becomes a strip tied in a trefoil knot. (If this knot is unraveled, the strip is made with eight half-twists in addition to an overhand knot.) A strip with N half-twists, when bisected, becomes a strip with N + 1 full twists.

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There have been several technical applications for the Möbius strip and they can be found naturally occurring at the micro- and macro-level. Giant Möbius strips have been used as conveyor belts that last longer because the entire surface area of the belt gets the same amount of wear, and as continuous-loop recording tapes (to double the playing time). Möbius strips are common in the manufacture of fabric computer printer and typewriter ribbons, as they let the ribbon be twice as wide as the print head while using both halves evenly.

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A Möbius resistor is an electronic circuit element that cancels its own inductive reactance. Nikola Tesla patented similar technology in 1894: “Coil for Electro Magnets” explored a possible system of global transmission of electricity without wires.

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Charged particles caught in the magnetic field of the earth that can move on a Möbius band.

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The cyclotide (cyclic protein) kalata B1, active substance of the plant Oldenlandia affinis, contains Möbius topology for the peptide backbone.

Möbius strips of bacon are the most obvious and completely pointless uses of Möbius geometry. Still, they’re fun. This site http://www.instructables.com/id/M%C3%B6bius-Bacon/ gives you all the instructions you need including a description of meat glue – yup, meat glue !! Even though Möbius bacon has a never-ending surface, it doesn’t last long on the table.

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When you are done fiddling with strips of bacon you can turn your attention to Gose beer. Today, by happy coincidence is International Gose Beer day, and Gose beer is native to Möbius’ homeland of Saxony and Leipzig. Gose beer is unusual, and has never been tremendously popular because it is a sour wheat beer (as opposed to bitter), flavored with coriander and salt – a most definitely acquired taste.

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Gose was first brewed in the early 16th century in the town of Goslar, from which its name derives. It became so popular in Leipzig that local breweries copied the style. By the end of the 19th century it was considered to be local to Leipzig and there were numerous Gosenschänken (gose taverns) in the city.

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Originally, gose was spontaneously fermented. A description in 1740 stated “Die Gose stellt sich selber ohne Zutuung Hefe oder Gest” (“Gose ferments itself without the addition of yeast”). Some time in the 1880s, brewers were achieving the same effect by using a combination of top-fermenting yeast and lactic acid bacteria.

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By the outbreak of World War II, the Rittergutsbrauerei Döllnitz, between Merseburg and Halle, was the last brewery producing gose. When it was nationalized and closed in 1945, gose disappeared temporarily. In 1949, the tiny Friedrich Wurzler Brauerei opened in Leipzig; Friedrich Wurzler had worked at the Döllnitz brewery and had known the techniques for brewing gose. Before his death in the late 1950s, Wurzler passed the recipe to his stepson, Guido Pfnister. Brewing of gose continued in the small private brewery, though there appears to have been little demand. By the 1960s there were no more than a couple of pubs in Leipzig and possibly one in Halle that were still selling it. When Pfnister died in 1966 the brewery closed and gose production again ceased. Since then it’s been pretty much on again, off again – currently on. Who knows?

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I’m not a fan of sour or wheat beers, and, besides, I don’t drink any more. But I do still cook with various alcoholic beverages including beer. I know that cooking with beer seems like a waste to drinkers. Live with it. You can cook beef with beer very successfully and still drink it. Last I heard, beer is not in short supply in the world. Gose is an excellent beer to cook with because of its tart notes along with the coriander and salt.

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Use your imagination. You don’t need me to give you an exact recipe. My most usual way to cook beef in beer is to sauté a mix of chopped leeks and onions in olive oil until lightly browned, reserve, and then brown chunks of stewing steak – all in a large skillet. Add back the leeks and onions plus a half-and-half mix of beef stock and beer to cover. Usually I add additional flavorings but with gose there is no need, and they will mask the notes of the beer. Simmer covered for about 2 hours, or until the beef is in shreds. Uncover and reduce the remaining stock. Serve over noodles or with boiled new potatoes.

Mar 012016
 

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Today is National Pig Day one of many pseudo-holidays held in the United States to celebrate the pig. The holiday celebration was started in 1972 by sisters Ellen Stanley, a teacher in Lubbock, Texas, and Mary Lynne Rave of Beaufort, North Carolina. According to Rave the purpose of National Pig Day is “to accord the pig its rightful, though generally unrecognized, place as one of man’s most intellectual and domesticated animals.” The holiday is most often celebrated in the Midwest where pig farming is extensive. Seems like a suitable holiday on which to indulge my ramblings.

National Pig Day includes events at zoos, schools, nursing homes, and sporting events around the United States. It is also recognized at “pig parties” where pink pig punch and pork delicacies are served, and pink ribbon pigtails are tied around trees in the pig’s honor. According to Chase’s Calendar of Events, National Pig Day is on the same day as pseudo-holidays Share a Smile day and Peanut Butter Lover’s day, so take your pick if you don’t like pigs. The question of whether the holiday is a time to honor pigs by “giving them a break” or to appreciate their offerings is an open question.

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Archaeological evidence suggests that pigs were domesticated from wild boar as early as 13,000–12,700 BCE in the Near East in the Tigris Basin being managed in the wild in a way similar to the way they are managed by some modern New Guineans. Remains of pigs have been dated to earlier than 11,400 BCE in Cyprus. Those animals must have been introduced from the mainland, which suggests domestication in the adjacent mainland by then. There was a separate domestication in China which took place about 8000 years ago. DNA evidence from sub-fossil remains of teeth and jawbones of Neolithic pigs shows that the first domestic pigs in Europe had been brought from the Near East. This stimulated the domestication of local European wild boar resulting in a third domestication event with the Near Eastern genes dying out in European pig stock.

The adaptable nature and omnivorous diet of the wild boar allowed early humans to domesticate it readily. Pigs were mostly used for food, but early civilizations also used the pigs’ hides for shields, bones for tools and weapons, and bristles for brushes. In many parts of Asia, pigs have been domesticated for a long time for pig toilets. Though ecologically logical as well as economical, pig toilets are waning in popularity as use of septic tanks and sewage systems is increasing in rural areas.

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A pig toilet (sometimes called a “pig sty latrine”) is a simple type of dry toilet consisting of an outhouse mounted over a pig sty, with a chute or hole connecting the two. The pigs consume the feces of the users of the toilet. Pig toilets were once common in rural China, where a single Chinese ideogram (Chinese: 圂; pinyin: hùn) signifies both “pigsty” and “privy”. These arrangements have been strongly discouraged by the Chinese authorities in recent years; although as late as 2005, they could still be found in remote northern provinces.

Pigs were brought to southeastern North America from Europe by de Soto and other early Spanish explorers. Escaped pigs became feral and caused a great deal of disruption to Native Americans, who had no domesticated livestock. Domestic pigs have become feral in many other parts of the world (e.g. New Zealand and northern Queensland) and have caused substantial environmental damage.

Pork is a well-known example of a non-kosher food. This prohibition is based on Leviticus 11:2–4, 7–8 (as well as Deuteronomy chapter 14):

These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the animals that are upon the land. Everything that possesses a split hoof, which is fully cloven, and that brings up its cud—this you may eat. But this is what you shall not eat from what brings up its cud or possesses split hooves—the camel, because it brings up its cud but does not possess split hooves…and the pig, because it has split hooves that are completely cloven, but it does not bring up its cud—it is impure to you and from its flesh you may not eat.

Why pork was prohibited in ancient Israel is a source of ongoing debate. When undercooked pork was discovered in the 19th century to be a cause of the parasite trichinosis, many scholars jumped on this fact as the principal reason for the pork taboo in ancient times. But this is a lame argument. Animal borne diseases such as salmonella (chicken) or anthrax (beef) are much more virulent and harder to get rid of. Trichinosis can easily be avoided by cooking the pork properly.

Structural anthropologists, such as Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger, have argued that the taboo comes from ancient Israelite cultural categories propounded in Genesis. Israelite cosmology adamantly believed in the existence of three zones – land, sea, and sky – that were created by God during creation and should be kept separate. Not only that, each zone has animals that truly “belong” and those that do not. Fish (with fins and scales), for example, belong in the sea because they swim and can breath underwater. Lobsters do not belong because they walk on the bottom. Amphibians that can live in water and on land are an abomination. In this cosmology, sheep and goats belong and pigs do not, because the former eat grass (land food), but pigs eat everything.

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Marvin Harris in Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches takes up a more ecological argument. Why, he asks, do some cultures despise pigs, while others, such as people in highland New Guinea, love them? For the ancient Israelites, he argues, sheep and goats were environmentally beneficial, but pigs were destructive. The core lands of ancient Judah (around Jerusalem) are hilly and difficult to farm. Sheep and goats can be grazed in mountainous regions that are not suitable for arable, eating herbage, and, therefore, turning otherwise unusable land into meat, milk, and bone. Pigs can’t do this. They have to be kept in urban environments.

I have spent a lot of energy asking the question why city-dwelling Jewish priests in Jerusalem despised cities and loved mountain herders, and, in brief, I think the answer lies in Israel and Judah’s constant subjugation to multicultural cities in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. I think I can combine Douglas’ and Harris’ ideas, therefore. In part I think they are both right. Jerusalem priests wanted to be left alone and were afraid of assimilation into these vast multicultural empires in which their ethnic identity would be lost. This led to a theology that valued the separation of different things – which included animals, types of cloth, peoples etc. The word “separate” in Hebrew (qadosh) and “holy” are the same. Multicultural cities were evil; the wilderness of shepherds was good. Great leaders such as Abraham, Jacob, and David kept herds. They dwelt in lands that made them tough and fierce fighters. Cities bred arrogance and sloth. Pigs were the food of city dwellers and symbolized their habits: dirty, greedy, and slothful.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Be that as it may, pork is incredibly versatile. I couldn’t even begin to list the food products containing pork – sausages, hams, bacon, etc., never mind chitterlings, pork rind, trotters, boar’s head . . . and on and on. Lard is a great medium to fry in and makes superb pastry. I won’t go on. This site is a fairly broad listing of pork dishes around the world – enough to make you salivate.

http://www.wikiwand.com/en/List_of_pork_dishes

Ok, OK, pork fat is not tremendously good for your arteries. I get it. But, as with all foods that can be harmful, moderation is the key. Four years ago I moved from Argentina which has the lowest per capita consumption of pork of countries where pork is not taboo, to China which has the highest consumption. Even so, Argentina was the first country where I found pork kidneys for sale in markets, and they were delectable. In China I could have drowned in pork. If you ask for “meat” (肉: ròu) in a restaurant you’ll invariably get pork.

I won’t prejudice you with a recipe. You pick – lentils with ham hocks or pig’s trotters, prosciutto, a BLT, black pudding, chicharrones, pork pie

. . . have at it. Here’s a small gallery:

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Jan 302016
 

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On this date in 1826 the Menai Suspension Bridge (Welsh: Pont Grog y Borth), a suspension bridge to carry road traffic between the island of Anglesey and the mainland of Wales was opened to traffic. Before the bridge was completed all movements to and from Anglesey were by ferry across the fast flowing and dangerous waters of the Menai Strait. The main source of income on Anglesey was from the sale of cattle, and to move them to the markets on the mainland, including London, they had to be driven into the water and encouraged to swim across the Strait, a dangerous practice which often resulted in the loss of valuable animals. With Holyhead as the closest point to, and thus one of the principal ports for ferries to Dublin, Engineer Thomas Telford (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/thomas-telford/ ) was engaged to complete a survey of the route from London to Holyhead, and he proposed that a bridge should be built over the Menai Strait from a point near Bangor on the mainland to the village of Porthaethwy (which is now also known as Menai Bridge) on Anglesey.

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Because of the high banks and fast flowing waters of the Strait, it would have been difficult to build piers on the shifting sands of the sea-bed and, even if it could have been done, they would have obstructed navigation. Also, the bridge would have to be high enough to allow the passage of the tall ships of the day. In view of this, Telford proposed that a suspension bridge should be built and his recommendation was accepted by Parliament.

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Construction of the bridge, to Telford’s design, began in 1819 with the towers on either side of the strait. These were constructed from Penmon limestone and were hollow with internal cross-walls. Then came the sixteen huge chain cables, each made of 935 iron bars, that support the 176-meter (577 ft) span. To avoid rusting between manufacture and use, the iron was soaked in linseed oil and later painted. The chains each measured 522.3 meters (1,714 ft) and weighed 121 tons. Their suspending power was calculated at 2,016 tons.

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Because of its isolation for much of its history, Anglesey has been a bastion of Welsh culture and language. At the beginning of the 20th century 90% of the population were native Welsh speakers. Now they are closer to 50%.

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Numerous megalithic monuments and menhirs exist on Anglesey, testifying to the presence of humans in prehistory. Plas Newydd is near one of 28 cromlechs that remain on uplands overlooking the sea. Geologists believe that Anglesey was once part of the mainland. Historically, Anglesey has long been associated with druids. In 60 CE the Roman general Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, determined to break the power of the Celtic druids, attacked the island using his amphibious Batavian contingent as a surprise vanguard assault and then destroying their shrines and the sacred groves. News of Boudica’s revolt reached him just after his victory, causing him to withdraw his army before consolidating his conquest. The island was finally brought into the Roman Empire by Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britain, in 78 CE. During the Roman occupation, the area was notable for the mining of copper. The foundations of Caer Gybi as well as a fort at Holyhead are Roman, and the present road from Holyhead to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll may originally have been a Roman road.

British Iron Age and Roman sites have been excavated, and coins and ornaments discovered, especially by the 19th century antiquarian, William Owen Stanley. Following the Roman departure from Britain in the early 5th century, pirates from Ireland colonized Anglesey and the nearby Llŷn Peninsula. In response to this, Cunedda ap Edern, a Gododdin warlord from Scotland, came to the area and began the process of driving the Irish out. This process was continued by his son Einion Yrth ap Cunedda and grandson Cadwallon Lawhir ap Einion, the last Irish invaders finally being defeated in battle in 470. As an island, Anglesey was in a good defensive position and, because of this, Aberffraw became the site of the court, or Llys, of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. Apart from a devastating Danish raid in 853 it was to remain the capital until the 13th century, when improvements to the English navy made the location indefensible.

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After the Irish, the island was invaded by Vikings, some of these raids being noted in famous sagas, as well as Saxons, and Normans, before falling to Edward I of England in the 13th century.

Anglesey is a relatively low-lying island with hills spaced evenly over the north of the island. The highest six are: Holyhead Mountain (220 metres (720 ft)); Mynydd Bodafon (178 metres (584 ft)); Mynydd Llaneilian (177 metres (581 ft)); Mynydd y Garn (170 metres (560 ft)); Bwrdd Arthur (164 metres (538 ft)) and Mynydd Llwydiarth (158 metres (518 ft)). To the south/south-east the island is separated from the Welsh mainland by the Menai Strait, which at its narrowest point is about 250 meters (270 yd) wide. In all other directions the island is surrounded by the Irish Sea. It is the 51st largest island in Europe.

Anglesey has several small towns scattered around the island, making it quite evenly populated. The largest towns are Holyhead, Llangefni, Benllech, Menai Bridge, and Amlwch. Beaumaris (Welsh: Biwmares), in the east of the island, features Beaumaris Castle, built by Edward I as part of his Bastide Town campaign in North Wales. Beaumaris is a yachting centre for the region, with many boats moored in the bay or off Gallows Point. The village of Newborough (Welsh: Niwbwrch), in the south, created when the townsfolk of Llanfaes were relocated to make way for the building of Beaumaris Castle, includes the site of Llys Rhosyr, another of the courts of the mediaeval Welsh princes, which features one of the oldest courtrooms in the United Kingdom. Llangefni is located in the centre of the island and is the island’s administrative centre. The town of Menai Bridge (Welsh: Porthaethwy) (in the south-east) expanded when the first bridge to the mainland was being built, in order to accommodate workers and construction. Until then, Porthaethwy had been one of the principal ferry crossing points from the mainland. A short distance from this town lies Bryn Celli Ddu, a Stone Age burial mound. Also nearby is the village with the longest purported place name in the United Kingdom, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Nearby is Plas Newydd, ancestral home of the Marquesses of Anglesey. The town of Amlwch is situated in the northeast of the island and was once largely industrialized, having grown during the 18th century supporting the copper mining industry at Parys Mountain.

Other villages and settlements include Cemaes, Pentraeth, Gaerwen, Dwyran, Bodedern, Malltraeth, and Rhosneigr. The Anglesey Sea Zoo is a local tourist attraction, providing a look at and descriptions of local marine wildlife from lobsters to conger eels. All the fish and crustaceans on display are caught around the island and are placed in reconstructions of their natural habitat. They also make salt (evaporated from the local sea water) and breed commercially lobsters, for food, and oysters, for pearls, both from local stocks.

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The island’s entire rural coastline has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and features many sandy beaches, especially along its eastern coast between the towns of Beaumaris and Amlwch and along the western coast from Ynys Llanddwyn through Rhosneigr to the little bays around Carmel Head. The northern coastline is characterised by dramatic cliffs interspersed with small bays. The Anglesey Coastal Path is a 200-kilometre (124 mi) path which follows nearly the entire coastline. Tourism is now the most significant economic activity on the island. Agriculture provides the secondary source of income for the island’s economy, with the local dairies being amongst the most productive in the region.

Anglesey eggs is a popular dish using local ingredients. It is essentially a casserole of mashed potatoes and leeks in which are embedded boiled eggs. The whole is bathed in cheese sauce, and may be topped with chopped bacon. Here’s the recipe in pictures. I made it for my breakfast this morning.

Cut in half enough boiled eggs to make one layer in your casserole.

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Mix mashed potato with sliced poached leeks.

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Make a cheese sauce by gently simmering heavy cream with butter and adding grated cheese.

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Combine the cheese sauce and mashed potatoes.

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Spread the mashed potatoes on the bottom of a casserole and top with eggs.

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Cover with the remainder of the mashed potato and sprinkle with bacon.

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Heat under the broiler or in a hot oven.

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May 212015
 

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On this date in 1927, Charles Lindbergh touched down at Le Bourget Field in Paris, completing the world’s first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean AND on this date in 1932 bad weather forced Amelia Earhart to land in a pasture in Derry, Northern Ireland, and she thereby became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Of course, this was no coincidence; Earhart chose the date of takeoff as a deliberate homage to Lindbergh. All the same, I like it.

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Six well-known aviators had already lost their lives in pursuit of the Orteig Prize ($25,000 for the first solo NY to Paris flight), when Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field on his successful attempt in the early morning of Friday, May 20, 1927. Burdened by its heavy load of 450 U.S. gallons (1,704 liters) of gasoline weighing about 2,710 lb (1,230 kg), and hampered by a muddy, rain-soaked runway, Lindbergh’s Wright Whirlwind-powered monoplane gained speed very slowly as it made its 7:52 am (07:52) takeoff run, but its J-5C radial engine still proved powerful enough to allow the Spirit to clear the telephone lines at the far end of the field “by about twenty feet [six meters] with a fair reserve of flying speed”. Over the next 33.5 hours, he and the Spirit—which Lindbergh always jointly referred to as “WE”—faced many challenges, including skimming over both storm clouds at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and wave tops at as low at 10 ft (3.0 m), fighting icing, flying blind through fog for several hours, and navigating only by the stars (whenever visible), and dead reckoning before landing at Le Bourget Airport at 10:22 pm (22:22) on Saturday, May 21. The airfield was not marked on his map and Lindbergh knew only that it was some seven miles northeast of the city. He initially mistook the airfield for some large industrial complex with bright lights spreading out in all directions. The lights were, in fact, the headlights of tens of thousands of cars all driven by eager spectators now caught in “the largest traffic jam in Parisian history.

A crowd estimated at 150,000 spectators stormed the field, dragged Lindbergh out of the cockpit, and literally carried him around above their heads for “nearly half an hour”. While some damage was done to the Spirit (especially to the fine linen, silver-painted fabric covering on the fuselage) by souvenir hunters, both Lindbergh and the Spirit were eventually “rescued” from the mob by a group of French military fliers, soldiers, and police, who took them both to safety in a nearby hangar.

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On the morning of May 20, 1932, Earhart set off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland with a copy of the Telegraph-Journal, given to her by journalist Stuart Trueman, intended to confirm the date of the flight. She intended to fly to Paris in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B to emulate Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight. Her technical advisor for the flight was famed Norwegian American aviator Bernt Balchen who helped prepare her aircraft. He also played the role of “decoy” for the press as he was ostensibly preparing Earhart’s Vega for his own Arctic flight. After a flight lasting 14 hours, 56 minutes during which she contended with strong northerly winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland. The landing was witnessed by Cecil King and T. Sawyer. When a farm hand asked, “Have you flown far?” Earhart replied, “From America.” The site is now the home of a small museum, the Amelia Earhart Centre.

Both Lindbergh and Earhart received national and international awards following their flights and were lionized by the public; both wrote autobiographical works that were best sellers; both suffered personal tragedy; and both capitalized on their fame for social causes. But they were very different people, especially in the latter case.

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Lindbergh’s main cause in the lead up to U.S. involvement in World War II was to try to persuade the U.S. to stay out of it. His motives are not entirely clear and I think the accusations that he was a closet Nazi are overblown. There is no question, however, that until Pearl Harbor his public statements are heavily tinged with fascist sympathies:

I was deeply concerned that the potentially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed and impractical idealism, might crusade into Europe to destroy Hitler without realizing that Hitler’s destruction would lay Europe open to the rape, loot and barbarism of Soviet Russia’s forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of western civilization.

We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.

We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence … Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.

Lindbergh’s personal life leaves a certain amount to be desired also. It was not until almost three decades after Lindbergh’s death in 1974, and two-and-a-half years after his widow’s in 2001, that their children and the public learned that from the late 1950s until his death Lindbergh had maintained three secret families in Europe which included seven out-of-wedlock children born by three different mothers. In late July 2003, one of the largest national daily newspapers in Germany, Munich’s Suddeutsche Zeitung, reported that Lindbergh had fathered three children by German hat maker Brigitte Hesshaimer (1926–2003), who had lived in the small Bavarian town of Geretsried just south of Munich. By the time of the publication of German biographer Rudolf Schröck’s book Das Doppelleben des Charles A. Lindbergh (The Double Life of Charles A. Lindbergh) two years later, however, it had been further revealed that Lindbergh had also fathered four other such children in Germany and Switzerland with two more mistresses. Beginning in March 1957, Lindbergh had established romantic relationships with Brigitte Hesshaimer, her sister, Mariette, a painter living in Grimisuat in the Swiss canton Valais with whom he had two children, and with Valeska, an East Prussian aristocrat who was his private secretary in Europe and lived in Baden-Baden with whom he had two more children, a son born in 1959 and a daughter in 1961. All seven children had been born between 1958 and 1967.

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Earhart undertook twin missions after her transatlantic flight along with extensive record setting flying exploits. On January 11, 1935, Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California. Although this transoceanic flight had been attempted by many others, most notably by the unfortunate participants in the 1927 Dole Air Race which had reversed the route, her trailblazing flight had been mainly routine, with no mechanical breakdowns. In her final hours, she even relaxed and listened to “the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera from New York.”

That year, once more flying her faithful Vega which Earhart had tagged “old Bessie, the fire horse,”[N 12] she soloed from Los Angeles to Mexico City on April 19. The next record attempt was a nonstop flight from Mexico City to New York. Setting off on May 8, her flight was uneventful although the large crowds that greeted her at Newark, New Jersey, were a concern as she had to be careful not to taxi into the throng.

Earhart again participated in long-distance air racing, placing fifth in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, the best result she could manage considering that her stock Lockheed Vega topping out at 195 mph (314 km/h) was outclassed by purpose-built air racers which reached more than 300 mph (480 km/h). The race had been a particularly difficult one as one competitor, Cecil Allen, died in a fiery takeoff mishap and rival Jacqueline Cochran was forced to retire due to mechanical problems, the “blinding fog”, and violent thunderstorms that plagued the race.

Between 1930 and 1935, Earhart had set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records in a variety of aircraft including the Kinner Airster, Lockheed Vega, and Pitcairn Autogiro. By 1935, recognizing the limitations of her “lovely red Vega” in long, transoceanic flights, Earhart contemplated, in her own words, a new “prize… one flight which I most wanted to attempt – a circumnavigation of the globe as near its waistline as could be.”

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Accepting a position as associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, she turned this forum into an opportunity to campaign for greater public acceptance of aviation, especially focusing on the role of women entering the field.[63] In 1929, Earhart was among the first aviators to promote commercial air travel through the development of a passenger airline service; along with Charles Lindbergh, she represented Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) and invested time and money in setting up the first regional shuttle service between New York and Washington, DC. (TAT later became TWA). She was a Vice President of National Airways, which conducted the flying operations of the Boston-Maine Airways and several other airlines in the northeast. By 1940, it had become Northeast Airlines.

Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue University in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and as a technical advisor to the Department of Aeronautics. Early in 1936, Earhart started to plan a round-the-world flight. Not the first to circle the globe, it would be the longest at 29,000 miles (47,000 km), following a grueling equatorial route. With financing from Purdue, in July 1936, a Lockheed Electra 10E was built at Lockheed Aircraft Company to her specifications which included extensive modifications to the fuselage to incorporate a large fuel tank. Earhart dubbed the twin engine monoplane airliner her “flying laboratory” and hangared it at Mantz’s United Air Services located just across the airfield from Lockheed’s Burbank, California plant in which it had been built.

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Although the Electra was publicized as a “flying laboratory”, little useful science was planned and the flight was arranged around Earhart’s intention to circumnavigate the globe along with gathering raw material and public attention for her next book. Her first choice as navigator was Captain Harry Manning, who had been the captain of the President Roosevelt, the ship that had brought Earhart back from Europe in 1928.

Through contacts in the Los Angeles aviation community, Fred Noonan was subsequently chosen as a second navigator because there were significant additional factors which had to be dealt with while using celestial navigation for aircraft. He had vast experience in both marine (he was a licensed ship’s captain) and flight navigation. Noonan had recently left Pan Am, where he established most of the company’s China Clipper seaplane routes across the Pacific. Noonan had also been responsible for training Pan American’s navigators for the route between San Francisco and Manila. The original plans were for Noonan to navigate from Hawaii to Howland Island, a particularly difficult portion of the flight; then Manning would continue with Earhart to Australia and she would proceed on her own for the remainder of the project.

If anything this doomed effort made Earhart much more famous that she already was, and speculations about what happened at the end continue to make headlines. Where did she crash? Did she crash? Did she survive? All the stuff of sensational journalism and continued interest in a legend. It has often been said that her fame would not be anywhere near as great nowadays had she not disappeared. The public loves a mystery.

What to cook? What to cook? What to cook? Two different people with two different histories. There’s an elegant gin cocktail called “Aviation,” but I’m not a big fan of drink “recipes.” Nor do I want to focus on one or the other by presenting Lindbergh’s or Earhart’s favorite dishes, or some such. So I’ll weasel out by celebrating TWO U.S. heroes with the great U.S. classic: the hamburger. But not just any old hamburger – the bacon blue cheese burger, to my taste buds one of the world’s greatest dishes.

I had my first bacon blue cheese burger when I was a young professor in Purchase, NY, one of the most atrocious sites for a college. It has clusters of multi-million dollar houses, corporate headquarters (including Pepsi across the road), a Quaker meeting house, a library, an overworked Post Office, a deli, and three bar/restaurants. The Hilltop was my dean’s “office east” after hours and the place I first sampled the burger of choice. It was not brilliant – they used blue cheese dressing and indifferent meat. But they introduced me to the great secret: toast the bun. Here’s the basic idea.

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©Bacon Blue Cheese Burger

This burger is best made over charcoal.

Crisp 2 strips of bacon and keep warm.

Grill a ¼ lb burger patty, made with freshly ground sirloin, over the coals for about 5 minutes per side, or until it is nicely browned on the outside, but pink and juicy on the inside.

Wrap 2 oz of shredded blue cheese in foil and place it on the grill to melt. Use the best cheese you can find such as Stilton or Roquefort. Toast the bun at the same time.

Assemble the burger by putting the patty on the bottom half of the bun, then add the cheese, then the bacon cut to fit, then the top of the bun.