Feb 172018
 

Today is Random Acts of Kindness Day in the US. In fact, the second full week of February is designated as Random Acts of Kindness week. It is celebrated on different days across the world. For example, it is celebrated on September 1 in New Zealand, and November 13 in many other countries. The phrase “random acts of kindness” comes from the longer, now famous, phrase “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” written by Anne Herbert on a placemat in Sausalito, California in 1982. It was meant as an antonym to the common news phrases “random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty.” I do want to celebrate the notion, but I’ll add a small qualification or two.

First, I do not like designating ONE day (or one week) as the time to do good stuff, so that you can be a selfish jerk for the other 364. When I was married, my late wife and I NEVER did anything special on St Valentine’s Day. Our reasoning was that if you love someone you do loving things for that person whenever you feel like it. I have given chocolates, flowers, jewelry, to girlfriends on random days of the year because I feel like it. I do not need ONE day as permission to do it. I do think that the word “random” is important, however. The essence is to be kind to strangers, or to be kind for no reason. I like that. When Jesus said “love your enemies” he was making a somewhat similar point because he added, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5). If we are kind to people who are kind to us, there is no real merit to the kindness. If you are kind for absolutely no reason, you are doing something far greater. The world needs that sort of kindness.

Second, it is important not to practice random acts of kindness because you expect thanks. Some of the random acts of kindness discussed on websites are expressly anonymous so that the recipient cannot thank you because that person does not even know who you are. For example, in Naples there used to be a custom called caffè sospeso (literally “suspended coffee”) In the working-class cafés of Naples, when a person had experienced good luck he/she would pay for two coffees, but drink only one. The second payment was left until a person enquired later whether a sospeso was available. That means that if you were broke that day and could not afford to buy even a cup of coffee, you might benefit from the kindness of a stranger. I like it.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK) was founded in 1995 in the US. It is a nonprofit headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Its website is: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/

Anne Herbert, originator of the phrase, put out a book called Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty 1993 detailing true stories of acts of kindness.

Some special days are difficult for me to find recipes for. Searching the internet was not very helpful. Several sites suggested sharing your favorite recipe, but I have already shared numerous favorites. In looking around, though, I found a recipe for ground beef and rice that reminded me of a dish I concocted back in my student days when I was just learning how to cook. I do not remember how I hit upon it, but I used to make it all the time. I never measured anything, and I dumped in what I had most of the time, but here’s the basics.

© Tío Juan’s Ground Beef and Rice

Ingredients

1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 bell pepper, cored, seeded, and sliced.
½ lb ground beef
1 cup long grain rice
beef stock
dried oregano
fresh parsley, chopped
vegetable oil

Instructions

Grease a heavy skillet lightly. Sauté the onion and pepper over medium heat until they soften. Add the ground beef and brown, stirring frequently.

Add the rice to the beef and vegetable mixture and stir to coat with oil. Add beef stock to cover and bring to a steady simmer. Add oregano and parsley to taste.

Keep a pot of stock simmering separately.

Continue simmering the beef and rice, and as the rice absorbs the stock add a little more from the spare pot.

After about 20 minutes, check the rice to see if it is cooked. You are trying to balance things so that when the rice is fully cooked the mixture does not have excess stock. By being vigilant you will know when to stop adding stock.

Serve hot from the skillet.

NOTES: You can add pretty much any vegetables you have on hand such as peas, tomatoes, green beans, or zucchini. When I was broke I always had something on hand to add for variety.

Jan 132018
 

On this date in 1879, Ada Anderson completed a great feat of pedestrianism (endurance walking) in Mozart Gardens in Brooklyn: 2700 quarter miles in 2700 quarter hours. She started on 16 December 1878 and finished on 13 January 1879, and during that entire time was not allowed rest periods longer than 20 minutes. Nothing so grueling had ever been attempted before, although she and others had done somewhat shorter events of the kind before. I don’t know if it has ever been replicated. She was one of a handful of female athletes who are largely forgotten now, but were extremely important in their day in pressing for equal rights for women.

Anderson was born Ada Nymand, but very little about her early life is known, including her birth date. Her father Gustavas Nymand was reported to be a ‘Cockney Jew’ and the identity of her mother is not known. She left home at 16 to join a theater company and five years later married the man whose name she was most commonly known by. She claimed to have been a singer, clown, and theater proprietress, with a childhood ambition to be famous by accomplishing something no one else could do. Having struggled to make a name for herself as an actress Anderson and her husband became managers of a theatre in Cardiff. But in 1877 her husband died, leaving her on the brink of bankruptcy.

Anderson’s interest in pedestrianism started in 1877 when she met British champion racewalker William Gale at an event in Cardiff. Unlike other working-class pedestrians, such as Emma Sharp who claimed to do no formal training, Anderson was trained by Gale who specialized both in pedestrianism and sleep deprivation. After training for six weeks with Gale, Anderson made her pedestrian debut in Newport, Wales in September 1877. She walked 1,000 half-miles in 1,000 half-hours and got no more than 20 minutes rest at one time during the entire three-week trial. There were several days of rain which required her to walk with an umbrella and a lamp, but this did not prevent her from finishing.

Her second walk was planned to be 1,250 half-miles in 1,000 half-hours in Exeter, October 1877, which would break a record of 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours set by Captain Robert Barclay, but that had to be abandoned when a storm blew in. This did not deter Anderson and Gale, and they were able to accomplish that feat in Plymouth later that year. In addition to breaking the distance record by 250 miles, by starting each 1¼ mile at the beginning of the hour (rather than completing two consecutive miles as Barclay did) Anderson completed the event with much shorter rest periods. After this event Anderson was referred to in the press as a ‘Champion Lady Walker of the World’.

Anderson’s first indoor event was a 100-mile 28-hour walk, again in Plymouth. However, the pollution from gas lamps and cigars gave Anderson problems breathing. After falling a number of times, she collapsed unconscious after completing 96 miles. Following this failure Anderson went to the press and claimed she would “never take on another event she would not finish.” She completed 1,344 quarter-miles in the same number of quarter-hours in Plymouth and 1.5 miles every hour for 28 days in Boston before attempting to equal Gale’s record of 1,500 miles in 1,000 hours. Anderson started the event on 8 April 1878 and finished on 20 May 1878. Two days later, she got married for the second time to William Paley, who was in theater.

After completing three more walks during the summer of 1878, Anderson established herself as the dominant pedestrian in the UK. Therefore, on 13 October 1878, with the aim of making a name for herself in the US, Anderson, Paley, her manager J. H. Webb and her assistant Elizabeth Sparrow sailed on the steamship Ethiopia.

Anderson’s manager, Webb, wanted to launch her US debut (2,700 quarter-miles in 2,700 quarter-hours) in Glimore’s Garden (which later became Madison Square Garden). However, William Kissam Vanderbilt, the venue’s owner rejected their request claiming, “The woman will never accomplish the feat and nor can any woman.” This led Webb to approach Mozart Garden, a smaller venue in Brooklyn which was refurbished for the event, reducing the seating from 2,000 to 800 to make way for a track which was surrounded by an 18-inch railing and measured by Brooklyn’s city surveyor to ensure accuracy. The venue was so small that the track was only 189 feet in circumference, requiring Anderson to walk seven laps to complete each quarter of a mile. A ‘privacy tent’ was built for Anderson to use during her short rest periods containing a bed and a makeshift kitchen including a stove. Walking 2,700 quarter-miles in so many quarter-hours was an accomplishment never attempted by any person before in the US, requiring an ability to endure severe sleep deprivation, leading the champion US pedestrian Daniel O’Leary to state that he would never attempt it.

The event was so popular that the spectator fee was raised from 25 cents to 50 cents after 23 days of the event had been completed (with 5 to go). By the final day of the event, ticket prices were $1 for standing and $2 for reserved seating. As many as 4,000 people per day came to see Anderson during the event which started at 8pm on 16th December 1878. She completed the event at 11pm on 13th January 1879 to a venue so packed that police had to prevent additional spectators. Many of the spectators were women whom it was reported regarded Anderson as ‘the most wonderful of their sex’.

There were numerous checks and judges to ensure the integrity of the event, and doctors who checked on Anderson concluded that she had trained herself to cope with sleep deprivation, since she had no more than nine minutes sleep at a time during the entire 28-day event. 55 miles into the event Anderson played the piano and sang Verdi’s “Back to Our Mountains” during her rest period and became known for such entertainment during the walk. Over the next few weeks she continued to entertain the crowds with impromptu singing and speeches. Anderson had a number of celebrities come and walk with her during the event including 75-year-old boxer Bill Tovec, General Tom Thumb and Texas Jack. She also entertained the crowd by marking the faces of sleeping spectators with coal. Because of the heavy wagers on the completion of the event, Anderson required protection in the final days of the walk. There were reports of attempted gassing with chloroform although Anderson denied this. With only half a mile to go Anderson sang ‘Nil Desperandum’ to the crowd before completing her penultimate lap. She completed her final quarter of a mile in 2 minutes 37 seconds the fastest of all 2,700. The total receipts of the event were reported to be $32,000 of which Anderson’s personal share was reported to be $8,000.

When asked by reporters about fatigue, Anderson claimed her biggest problem was often with blisters and the pain of them preventing her sleeping. However, the sleep deprivation became apparent even within the first two days where she had periods of stumbling through the walk in an almost semi-conscious state before appearing as lively as she was at the start a few hours later. In these sleepy periods her assistant, Sparrow, had to prepare her to walk at the three-minute warning bell and on occasion had to send her back to the track when she hadn’t completed the required seven laps. After 100 miles, the regular check by the a physician noted she had a temperature of 99 °F (37 °C), pulse 78-80 with her only complaints badly blistered feet and mental anxiety interfering with sleep. Mike Henry, Anderson’s coach, who walked with her for much of the event was not in such good health, and with blisters covering his feet and suffering from exhaustion and dizziness he had to retire, being replaced by one of the race judges Charles Hazelton. Anderson ate at almost every rest time unless she was sleeping and her diet included beef, oysters, corned beef, potatoes, cakes, and grapes, she drank beef tea, port wine and occasionally champagne.

Local magistrates in Boston, UK, objected to walking events on Sundays believing that they corrupted morals. However Anderson found support in the local mayor who claimed that Boston was ‘more moral than Plymouth’ where Anderson had last walked on a Sunday. The New York Times was also critical of Anderson’s journey stating it had no “skill” attributes” and the sport “leads people to bet on any absurd performance of uncertain issue.” There were others who claimed that it was cruelty for a woman to be put through such suffering, and claims during her walk in Chicago that her husband coerced her. To these criticisms Anderson responded, “I am walking against my husband’s wishes.” Reverend W. C. Steele of the Third St. Methodist Church published sermons in a number of newspapers criticizing pedestrianism for a number of reasons, including event walking on a Sunday.

Given Anderson’s published diet for the event I would certainly have a nice steak and oysters on the half shell if I could get hold of them here in Cambodia. I need to be back in Argentina for the steak, and anywhere but SE Asian waters for raw oysters. Anyway . . . have at it. Or try Mrs Beeton’s beef and oyster sauce. In this case “oyster sauce” is, of course, not the Asian variety, but her own recipe made with fresh oysters. I don’t think it’s quite clear that the beef is sliced cold, but you could broil the beef while cooking the oysters and slice (and serve) it hot.

BROILED BEEF AND OYSTER SAUCE (Cold Meat Cookery).

  1. INGREDIENTS.—2 dozen oysters, 3 cloves, 1 blade of mace, 2 oz. of butter, 1/2 teaspoonful of flour, cayenne and salt to taste, mashed potatoes, a few slices of cold roast beef.

Mode.—Put the oysters in a stewpan, with their liquor strained; add the cloves, mace, butter, flour, and seasoning, and let them simmer gently for 5 minutes. Have ready in the centre of a dish round walls of mashed potatoes, browned; into the middle pour the oyster sauce, quite hot, and round the potatoes place, in layers, slices of the beef, which should be previously broiled over a nice clear fire.

Time.—5 minutes. Average cost, 1s, 6d., exclusive of the cold meat.

Dec 192017
 

On this date in 1154 Henry II was crowned king of England, along with his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Westminster Abbey. Henry, and his two sons, Richard and John, sometimes referred to by historians as the Angevins, sometimes the Plantagenets, have had a tough time being assessed fairly by history, literature, and the general public. I’ve posted repeatedly about how Richard and John have been treated strangely, mostly by Victorian and Whig historians. Henry also has had his ups and downs in the histories of Victorians to the present day, and I doubt that he will ever get a dispassionate treatment. My feeling is that unless you lived in those times, you’ll never truly know what they were like.

“There’ll Always Be an England” (more accurately “There’s Always Been an England) is a strange lens through which to view history.  At one time or another, the rulers of what is now England, or significant parts of it, along with many of the citizens, spoke Gaelic, Latin, Old German, Old Norse, Danish, and French. English came rather late in the succession. If you view England from the present, you can see it as always being a solitary, defiant part of an island, rather disconnected from continental Europe, and, judging by Brexit, that sentiment is alive and well in many parts of the country. But certainly, in Henry’s day, stretching back to William the Bastard and the Conquest (with a capital “C”), England was not much more than a money-making bit of a European empire as far as its kings were concerned, and not important enough to spend a whole lot of time in, or worrying about. Peasants, of course, saw things differently. Richard (Lionheart) had virtually no interest in England, except as a place with enough money to fund his exploits in Europe (not to mention bailing him out of capture), and on Crusade. Henry, likewise, saw England as a component of his Angevin empire in France, although he did spend considerable time there trying to consolidate his holdings after a disastrous civil war between his mother, Matilda, and Stephen of Blois. Both claimed to be the rightful heirs to the throne of England, and each controlled significant parts of the country for the period now commonly called the Anarchy (1135 – 1153).

Henry’s accession to the throne of England was a clear end to the Anarchy, but it did NOT mark the (second) beginning of an English nation as an independent sovereign state with Henry at the helm, as many historians claim. I give that mantle to John, who was the first king in the Norman succession who spoke English as his first language, and the first king in the Norman succession to live primarily in England, and look primarily to England as his power base and stronghold. Henry could understand English, but he always spoke either Norman French or Latin. Henry did consolidate a power base in England, expand his Angevin empire into Scotland and Wales, and initiate laws and institutions that still exist in England in radically altered form, it is true.  But it is not fair to say that Henry established England as England, separate from continental Europe. If anything, the Normans and Plantagenets (Henry included), were an interruption of the process of consolidation of England as an independent, autonomous nation begun under Anglo-Saxon kings, such as Edmund and Alfred, and restored under the Tudors. In between the Normans and the Tudors there were an awful lot of Henrys, all with their part to play.

Henry’s mother, Matilda, was the granddaughter of William I, and cousin of Stephen of Blois, grandson of William. Stephen’s mother, Adele, was William’s daughter. At the time that Stephen was crowned king of England, the country was not quite ready to have a queen even though her father, Henry I, was the previous monarch. Stephen seemed like a better choice at the time, to put it bluntly, because he was a man, not because he had a better genealogical claim to the throne than Matilda. Matilda disagreed. She had proven her chops as empress. Hence the Anarchy, when for almost 19 years Stephen and Matilda fought it out. Why this period is called the Anarchy and not the First English Civil War escapes me. When we talk about THE English Civil War(s) these days we mean Charles versus Cromwell.  But the civil war between Stephen and Matilda was every bit as bloody and considerably longer. Why aren’t the Wars of the Roses called civil wars either? What makes the Stuarts so special?

In any case . . . back to Henry II.  He’s now chiefly remembered for being the king who (perhaps) ordered the murder of Thomas Becket, although the details are still murky, and popular opinion, such as it is, is generally “informed” by plays and movies, and not by actual primary documents of the time.  Henry is generally portrayed as an irascible tyrant and Becket as a piously fervent servant of God and country. Both portraits owe more to dramatic license than actual history.

Henry controlled more of France than any ruler since the Carolingians (yellow and orange shaded areas). These lands, combined with his possessions in England, Wales, Scotland and much of Ireland, produced a vast domain often referred to by historians as the Angevin empire. But it was not really an empire in the classic sense of a domain with a coherent structure or central control. Instead, it consisted of a loose, flexible network of family connections and lands, with local laws and customs applying in different territories, although common principles underpinned some of these local variations. Henry traveled constantly across the empire, and these travels coincided with regional governmental reforms and other local administrative business. This practice has led some historians to conclude that the reforms Henry instituted in England created a lasting notion of England as a distinct, and distinctive, nation. These claims seem overblown to me.

It is true that Henry’s reign saw significant legal changes in England and Normandy. By the middle of the 12th century, England had many different ecclesiastical and civil law courts, with overlapping jurisdictions resulting from the interaction of diverse legal traditions. Henry greatly expanded the role of royal justice in England, producing a more coherent legal system, summarized at the end of his reign in the treatise of Glanvill, an early legal handbook. Despite these reforms it is uncertain if Henry had a grand vision for his new legal system, and the reforms seem to have proceeded in a steady, pragmatic, but piecemeal, fashion, rather than from a core set of principles. Indeed, in most cases he was probably not personally responsible for creating the new processes at all, but delegated the duties to local officials.

I’ll leave the last word to Sellar and Yeatman from 1066 And All That. They defined Henry as a “Just King” with the following pronouncement:

HENRY II was a great Lawgiver, and it was he who laid down the great Legal Principle that everything is either legal or (preferably) illegal.

Makes as much sense as the pontifications of most historians.

There are not many recipes from the 12th century that are much use for recreating typical dishes, but there are a few. A MS was recently discovered in Durham which contains mostly medicinal concoctions, but has a few recipes for sauces. Likewise, Alexander Neckam’s treatise de utensibilis has some recipe suggestions. But we are talking about lists of ingredients, not actual, full-blown recipes. Nonetheless, you could make a sauce for a roast from the ingredient lists. One “lordly sauce” that is commonly offered by bloggers involves combining cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, ginger, and cinnamon. Some want you to combine them in equal amounts; some want you to have equal amounts of the first five, and then cinnamon equal to all the others combined. Either way, the next step is to add breadcrumbs equal to the quantity of spices, and then mix it all to a thick sauce with vinegar. There is no mention of cooking the mixture, but, usually, a suggestion that the mix should be bottled up and kept to mature (in the manner of what came to be called ketchup).

In the modern kitchen I could see such a brew being used to season a gravy made from pan juices from a roast. In fact, it’s quite similar to gravies I make at this time of year for beef. It has a modern (English) Christmas feel to it, but would have been more year-round in Medieval times (in noble households). It was customary to cut large chunks from a roast and place them on trenchers of bread. Then the diner could use a personal knife to hack off bits of meat and dip them in a bowl of sauce. It’s a bit reminiscent of beef au jus in modern times, except the sauces were much more flavorful.

Nov 272017
 

Today is the birthday (1940) of Li Jun-fan (李振藩)known professionally as Bruce Lee, an enormously influential actor, film director, martial artist, martial arts instructor, and founder of the Jeet Kune Do style of wushu or kungfu. He is widely considered by commentators, critics, media, and other martial artists to be one of the most important martial artists of all time, and a pop culture icon of the 20th century. He is also credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in Hollywood films.

Lee was born on November 27, 1940, at the Chinese Hospital, in San Francisco’s Chinatown. According to the Chinese zodiac, Lee was born in both the hour and the year of the Dragon, which according to tradition is a strong and fortuitous omen. Lee and his parents returned to Hong Kong when he was three months old. Bruce’s father, Lee Hoi-chuen, (李海泉) was Han Chinese, and his mother, Grace Ho (何愛瑜), was of Eurasian ancestry. Grace Ho was the adopted daughter of Ho Kom-tong (何甘棠) and the half-niece of Sir Robert Ho-tung, both notable Hong Kong businessmen and philanthropists. Bruce was the fourth child of five: Phoebe Lee (李秋源), Agnes Lee (李秋鳳), Peter Lee (李忠琛), and Robert Lee (李振輝). Grace’s biological parentage remains unclear, but a common belief is that she had a German father and a Chinese mother.

In Chinese naming customs, the family name comes first, and the given name is second. Given names are typically unique, given by parents for some personal reason, and may be homophonically ambiguous. In Cantonese Jun-fan sounds like “return again” and was given to Lee by his mother, who hoped he would return to the United States when he came of age. The English name Bruce is thought to have been given him by the hospital attending physician, Dr. Mary Glover. Lee had three other Chinese names: Li Yuanxin (李源鑫), a family/clan name; Li Yuanjian (李元鑒), which he used as a student name while he was attending La Salle College, and his Chinese screen name Li Xiaolong (李小龍; Xiaolong means “little dragon”). Lee’s given name Jun-fan was originally written in Chinese as 震藩, however, the Jun (震) Chinese character was identical to part of his grandfather’s name, Lee Jun-biu (李震彪). In consequence, the Chinese character for Jun in Lee’s name was changed to the homonym 振 instead, to avoid a naming taboo in Chinese tradition. The character 李 in his name can be transcribed as Lee or Li using the Roman alphabet; the pinyin is Lǐ, which can mean “plum.”

Lee’s father, was one of the leading Cantonese opera and film actors of his day, and was embarking on a year-long opera tour with his family on the eve of the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. He had been touring the United States for many years and performing in numerous Chinese communities there. Although many of his peers decided to stay in the US, Lee’s father returned to Hong Kong after Bruce’s birth. Within months, Hong Kong was invaded and the Lees lived for almost 4 years under Japanese occupation. Lee’s mother was from one of the wealthiest and most powerful clans in Hong Kong, the Ho-tungs. As such, the young Bruce Lee grew up in an affluent and privileged environment. Despite the advantage of his family’s status, the neighborhood in which Lee grew up became overcrowded, dangerous, and full of gang rivalries due to an influx of refugees fleeing communist China for Hong Kong, which at that time was a British Crown colony. After Lee was involved in several street fights, his parents decided that he needed to be trained in the martial arts. Lee’s first introduction to martial arts was through his father, from whom he learned the fundamentals of Wu-style t’ai chi ch’uan.

The greatest influence on Lee’s martial arts development was his study of Wing Chun. Lee began training in Wing Chun when he was 16 years old under the Wing Chun teacher Yip Man in 1957, after losing several fights with rival gang members. Yip’s regular classes generally consisted of practicing forms, chi sao (sticking hands) drills, wooden dummy techniques, and free-sparring. There was no set pattern to the classes; Yip tried to keep his students from fighting in the street gangs of Hong Kong by encouraging them to fight in organized competitions.

After a year into his Wing Chun training, most of Yip Man’s other students refused to train with Lee after they learned of his mixed ancestry, because the Chinese were generally against teaching their martial arts techniques to non-Asians. Lee continued to train privately with Yip Man and Wong Shun Leung in 1955.

In the spring of 1959, Lee got into another street fight and the police were called. Until his late teens, Lee’s street fights became more frequent and included beating the son of a feared triad family. Eventually, Lee’s father decided his son should leave Hong Kong to pursue a safer and healthier life in the United States. His parents confirmed the police’s fear that this time Lee’s opponent had an organized crime background, and there was the possibility that a contract was out for his life. In April 1959, Lee’s parents sent him to the United States to stay with his older sister, Agnes Lee (李秋鳳), who was already living with family friends in San Francisco. After living in San Francisco for several months, he moved to Seattle in 1959, to continue his high school education, where he also worked for Ruby Chow as a live-in waiter at her restaurant. In December 1960, Lee completed his high school education and received his diploma from Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central Community College, located on Capitol Hill in Seattle). In March 1961, Lee enrolled at the University of Washington, majoring in drama, but also studying philosophy, psychology, and various other subjects.It was at the University of Washington that he met his future wife Linda Emery, a fellow student studying to become a teacher. They were married in 1964.

Lee began teaching martial arts in the United States in 1959. He called what he taught Jun Fan Gung Fu. It was basically his approach to Wing Chun. Lee taught friends he met in Seattle, starting with Judo practitioner Jesse Glove, and opened the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, in Seattle. Lee dropped out of college in the spring of 1964 and moved to Oakland to live with James Yimm Lee (嚴鏡海), a well known Chinese martial artist in the area. Together, they founded the second Jun Fan martial art studio in Oakland. James Lee was also responsible for introducing Bruce Lee to Ed Parker, organizer of the Long Beach International Karate Championships at which Bruce Lee was later “discovered” by Hollywood.

At the invitation of Ed Parker, Lee appeared in the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships and performed repetitions of two-finger push-ups (using the thumb and the index finger of one hand) with feet at approximately a shoulder-width apart. In the same Long Beach event he also performed the “One inch punch.” Lee could stood upright, his right foot forward with knees bent slightly, in front of a standing, stationary partner with right fist approximately one inch (2.5 cm) away from the partner’s chest, and, without retracting his right arm, deliver a punch to his partner that would send him sprawling to the floor. His first volunteer was Bob Baker of Stockton, California who recalled, “When he punched me that last time, I had to stay home from work because the pain in my chest was unbearable.”

Lee appeared at the 1967 Long Beach International Karate Championships and performed various demonstrations, including his famous “unstoppable punch” against USKA world Karate champion Vic Moore. Here, as with many other of Lee’s competitive bouts, Lee’s version of events and his opponent’s version differ significantly. Lee claims he threw 8 straight punches to Moore’s face (stopping before contact), and Moore failed to block any of them because Lee was too quick. Moore denies this, claiming he blocked every punch.

In Oakland, California in 1964 in Chinatown, Lee had a controversial private match with Wong Jack Man, a student of Ma Kin Fung known for his mastery of Xingyiquan, Northern Shaolin, and T’ai chi ch’uan. According to Lee, the Chinese community issued an ultimatum to him to stop teaching non-Chinese. When he refused to comply, he was challenged to a combat match with Wong. The arrangement was that if Lee lost, he would have to shut down his school; while if he won, then Lee would be free to teach Caucasians or anyone else. Wong denied this, stating that he requested to fight Lee after Lee boasted during one of his demonstrations at a Chinatown theatre that he could beat anyone in San Francisco, and that Wong himself did not discriminate against Caucasians or other non-Chinese. Individuals known to have witnessed the match include Cadwell, James Lee (Bruce Lee’s associate, no relation), and William Chen, a teacher of T’ai chi ch’uan. Wong and William Chen stated that the fight lasted an unusually long 20–25 minutes. Wong claims that he had originally expected a serious but polite bout; however, Lee attacked him very aggressively with intent to kill, straight from the beginning of the bout when he had replied to Wong’s traditional handshake offer by pretending to accept the handshake, but instead turning that hand into a spear aimed at Wong’s eyes. Forced to defend his life, he had nonetheless refrained from striking Lee with killing force when the opportunity presented itself because it would land him in prison. Wong claims the fight ended due to Lee’s “unusually winded” condition, as opposed to a decisive blow by either fighter. According to Bruce Lee, Linda Lee Cadwell, and James Yimm Lee, however, the fight lasted a mere 3 minutes with a decisive victory for Lee. In Cadwell’s account, “The fight ensued, it was a no-holds-barred fight, it took three minutes. Bruce got this guy down to the ground and said ‘Do you give up?’ and the man said he gave up.” The bout is famous, and accounts vary enormously. The part I tend to believe is that Lee got over-emotional in the fight and friends broke it up. From there it seems likely to me that both sides evolved a story flattering to themselves to avoid losing face. Losing face is a BIG DEAL among Chinese.

After filming one season of The Green Hornet in 1967 Lee was out of work and opened The Jun Fan Institute of Gung Fu. The controversial match with Wong Jack Man changed Lee’s philosophy of martial arts. Lee concluded that the fight had lasted too long and that he had failed to live up to his potential using his Wing Chun techniques. He took the view that traditional martial arts techniques were too rigid and formalistic to be practical in street fighting. He decided to develop a system with an emphasis on “practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency”. He started to use different methods of training such as weight training for strength, running for endurance, stretching for flexibility, and many others which he constantly adapted, including fencing and basic boxing techniques.

Lee emphasized what he called “the style of no style”. This consisted of getting rid of the formalized approach of traditional styles. His system of Jun Fan Gung Fu was even too restrictive, and eventually evolved into a philosophy and martial art he came to call Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist), a term he later regret, because it implied a certain style whereas the idea of his martial art was to exist outside of parameters and limitations.

Lee was introduced into films at a very young age and appeared in several films as a child because of his father’s fame as a Chinese opera star. He had his first role as a baby who was carried on to the stage in the film Golden Gate Girl. By the time he was 18, he had appeared in twenty films. While in the United States from 1959 to 1964, Lee abandoned thoughts of a film career in favor of pursuing martial arts, but his martial arts exhibition on Long Beach in 1964 eventually led to the invitation by William Dozier for an audition for a role in the pilot for “Number One Son”. The show never aired, but Lee was invited for the role of the sidekick Kato alongside the title character played by Van Williams in the TV series, The Green Hornet. The show lasted only one season of 26 episodes, from September 1966 to March 1967. Lee and Williams also appeared as their respective characters in three crossover episodes of Batman, another William Dozier produced television series. This was followed by guest appearances in three television series: Ironside (1967), Here Come the Brides (1969), and Blondie (1969).

According to statements made by Lee, and also by Linda Lee Cadwell after Lee’s death, in 1971 Lee pitched a television series of his own tentatively titled The Warrior, discussions which were also confirmed by Warner Bros. During a December 9, 1971 television interview on The Pierre Berton Show, Lee stated that both Paramount and Warner Brothers wanted him “to be in a modernized type of a thing, and that they think the Western idea is out, whereas I want to do the Western.” According to Cadwell, Lee’s concept was retooled and renamed Kung Fu, but Warner Brothers gave Lee no credit and rejected him for the role of Kwai Chang Caine, Kung Fu master, in favor of US-born David Carradine, who had no martial arts experience at the time, but had the benefit of being the son of a famous actor, John Carradine. Hollywood had, and still has, a bad habit of casting WASP actors as non-WASP characters. How many Arabs played leads in Lawrence of Arabia?

Producer Fred Weintraub advised Lee to return to Hong Kong and make a feature film which he could showcase to executives in Hollywood. Lee returned to Hong Kong, unaware that The Green Hornet was very successful there and generally referred to as “The Kato Show.” After negotiating with both Shaw Brothers Studio and Golden Harvest, Lee signed a film contract to star in two films produced by Golden Harvest.

Lee played his first leading role in The Big Boss (1971) which proved to be an enormous box office success across Asia and catapulted him to stardom. I suppose you could say, “The rest is history.” I’ll say simply that you can study his subsequent movie career on your own.

On July 20, 1973, Lee was in Hong Kong, to have dinner with actor George Lazenby, with whom he intended to make a film. According to Lee’s wife Linda, Lee met producer Raymond Chow at 2 p.m. at home to discuss the making of the film Game of Death. They worked until 4 p.m. and then drove together to the home of Lee’s colleague Betty Ting Pei, a Taiwanese actress. The three went over the script at Ting’s home, and then Chow left to attend a dinner meeting. Later Lee complained of a headache, and Ting gave him an analgesic, Equagesic, which contained both aspirin and the tranquilizer meprobamate. Around 7:30 p.m., he went to lie down for a nap. When Lee did not come for dinner, producer Raymond Chow went to the apartment, but was unable to wake him. A doctor was summoned, who spent ten minutes attempting to revive Lee before sending him by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. By the time the ambulance reached the hospital he was dead. He was 32 years old. The autopsy revealed that he had had an allergic reaction to the meprobamate, and that his brain had swollen fatally.

Lee’s stringent physical regimen had an important nutritional component which has been widely publicized. Key elements are:

  1. Little and often: Lee ate 4 or 5 small meals a day and snacked on fresh fruit.
  2. Avoid empty calories: Lee avoided pastries, breads and sweets.
  3. Dietary supplements: Vitamin C, Lecithin granules, bee pollen, Shilajit, Vitamin E, rose hips (liquid form), wheat germ oil, Acerola – C and B-Folia, and brewer’s yeast.
  4. Daily tea: Lee drank Lipton tea with honey or a Chinese tea called Li-Cha with milk and sugar.
  5. Balance: Lee’s diet was a healthy combination of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Lee’s favorite dish was beef in oyster sauce, a mainstay of Chinese-American restaurants. The Westernized version is easy enough to make if you have a wok and a hot enough gas burner. The key is finding good-quality, tender beef. Choice of vegetables in the dish is up to you. You’ll usually find broccoli, carrots, cauliflower or pea pods in restaurants across the US. I’m happy with bean sprouts or mushrooms (if I can get Asian mushrooms).

Beef in Oyster Sauce

1 lb. tender beef steak
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger (chopped)
1 cup Asian mushrooms (sliced)
1 cup bean sprouts (or pea pods)
2 ½ tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soft brown sugar
¼ cup chicken broth
vegetable oil (for frying)

Marinade

1 ½ tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
2 tsp cornstarch
1 ½ tbsp water
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Instructions

Cut the beef across the grain into thin slices.

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and marinate the beef for at least 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the chicken broth, sugar, and oyster sauce together and set aside.

Heat the wok on the highest heat possible until it is as hot as you can get it. Add a little vegetable oil, swirl, and add the ginger. Drain the beef. As soon as you smell the fragrance of the ginger, add the beef and stir fry (in batches if necessary) until it is lightly browned. Transfer the beef to a dish and clean out the wok.

Repeat the heating of the wok over the highest heat and add a little vegetable oil. Add your choice of vegetables and stir fry briefly. Push the vegetables to one side and add the oyster sauce mixture to the center. Bring it to a boil and add the beef back to the wok. Stir fry everything together for a minute or less, until everything is hot and the sauce is thick. Serve with plain boiled rice.

Jul 112017
 

Today has been designated the day of the bandoneon in Argentina by official law of Congress.  This date was chosen because it is the birthday of (1914) Aníbal Carmelo Troilo, much loved and revered bandoneon player, composer, and orchestra leader in the 1930s and 1940s in the heyday of tango in Buenos Aires.  The bandoneon is the quintessential tango instrument even though it was invented in Germany and produced there exclusively until the 1940s. Subsequently classic bandoneons became rarer and rarer in Argentina and helped contribute to the slow death of traditional tango.  Here’s a link to a documentary that, in my opinion, is the best single review of the history and current status of the bandoneon in Argentina. It follows the fortunes of a young woman who is attempting to join an orquesta tipica (tango band) and learn from one of the masters.  It also talks about the slow demise of the bandoneon in Buenos Aires and has interviews with famous older players (as well as many full-length performances and discussions of playing style).  It is around 90 minutes long, so I have not embedded it here for the sake of conserving disc space. It is in Argentine Spanish with English subtitles and is well worth your time if you want a really comprehensive understanding of the instrument:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5a6SJOH2-A

Here is Troilo playing his own composition“Sur” in rare live footage:

The bandoneon is named for its inventor, Heinrich Band (1821–1860), and was originally intended as an instrument for religious and popular music of the day, in contrast to its free reed predecessors the concertina and the button accordion which were largely used for folk music. Around 1870, German and Italian emigrants and sailors brought the instrument to Argentina, where it was adopted into the nascent genre of tango music which was slowly emerging as a distinct musical and dance form at the time, particularly (but not exclusively) in the docklands of my old barrio, san Telmo.

By 1910 bandoneons were being produced expressly for the Argentine and Uruguayan markets, with 25,000 shipping to Argentina in 1930 alone. However, declining popularity and the disruption of German manufacturing in World War II led to an end of bandoneon mass-production. Bandoneons were never produced in Argentina itself despite their popularity. As a result, by the 2000s, vintage bandoneons had become rare and expensive limiting prospective bandeonistas. In 2014, the National University of Lanús announced their development of an affordable Argentine-made bandoneon, which they hope to market for one-third to one-half of the cost of vintage instruments.

The bandoneon is like a concertina in that it has buttons on the left and right hand, but it has many more than a typical concertina so that it can play completely chromatically over a number of octaves. Typically bandoneons are bisonic, meaning that each button produces one note when the bellows are pushed, and a different note when they are pulled.  Here’s a fairly standard layout (click to enlarge):

The bandoneon is not an enormously difficult instrument to play if all you want to do is bang out a simple tune with a few chords. That was its original intention. But to master the instrument for tango is a lifetime’s occupation, and very few people succeed. You really have to start at 5 or 6 years old, and even then, with constant practice, you are not ready to join an orquesta until your 20s at the earliest. The bandoneon in this respect is like any classical orchestral instruments. It’s not just a matter of playing the notes, but of understanding the subtleties of rhythm and intonation that are unique to the instrument and to tango itself.

As Argentina modernizes, classic tango and bandoneon playing are seen as old fashioned, and, consequently, are dying as younger people embrace pop, rock, and hip-hop. To my mind, and to the minds of many Argentinos, this state of affairs is a tragedy because tango is truly Argentine grown. It has some roots in European musical style, to be sure, but what it evolved into is uniquely Argentino. Even attempts to modernize it by the likes of Ástor Piazzolla, (who played with Troilo before branching out), weaken the spirit of tango, in my oh-so-humble opinion, by introducing elements of blues, jazz, etc. which are not Argentine products at all. For me, nuevo tango is simply not tango. Most foreigners don’t get it because they don’t know real tango to begin with. If you go to plaza Dorrego in san Telmo on a Sunday afternoon, chances are you’ll run into one of my favorite tango orquestas, playing down a side street opposite iglesia san Pedro. They are young enthusiasts keeping the tradition alive.

Over 4 years of posting I’ve pretty much covered the waterfront when it comes to Buenos Aires cooking.  There’s not a whole lot to it to begin with. Some regional recipes find their way into Capital’s kitchens, however.  Here’s a recipe for Patagonian Carbonada Criolla which I’ve had once or twice made by local cooks. Its origins in European stews are obvious but the ingredients are a little different – especially the dried apricots. Argentine beef is best of course. Even stewing beef is a lot tenderer there. You may have to adjust cooking times if you use your local beef.

Carbonada Criolla

Ingredients

⅓ cup olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ lbs stewing beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 28 oz can stewed tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 white potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tbspn sugar(optional)
1 large winter squash, peeled and cubed
7 oz dried apricots, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
2 ears sweetcorn, sliced in 1” rounds

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the peppers and onions until they are lightly golden.

Add the beef and brown on all sides.

Add the stewed tomatoes, beef broth, potatoes, sugar (if used), squash and apricots plus salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow simmer, cover and cook for an hour. Check periodically to make sure the stew is not too dry.  If so add a little more beef broth. Simmer longer is the beef is not tender.

Add the corn and cook for 15 minutes longer.

Serve hot in soup dishes.

Jun 182017
 

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo in 1815, arguably one of the key defining moments in European and world history – inasmuch as any single day or battle can be said to be such. Longtime readers know that I don’t like to celebrate battles in and of themselves, but I do take note of a few that stood at turning points in history. I don’t want to talk about the battle itself, you can look those details up. I want to talk about the implications of the decisive victory of the Seventh Alliance (United Kingdom, Netherlands, Hanover, Nassau, Brunswick, and Prussia) under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, over Napoleon’s French Empire which put paid to the Napoleonic Wars once and for all, but led to a slew of problems, many of which are still with us 200 years on.

Let’s dispense with a bit of English jingoism first. Wellesley was in charge and the honor of the victory was given to him in England, launching a political career that landed him as Prime Minister – reminiscent of Eisenhower in the U.S. To set the record straight, the army that Wellesley commanded at Waterloo was an ALLIED army that consisted of approximately 73,000 troops, 26,000 of whom were from the UK, approximately 30% of whom were Irish conscripts who were probably more sympathetic to Napoleon than to England. So around 18,200, that is, about 25%, were English, Scots, and Welsh volunteers. They would not have been much use by themselves against Napoleon, but if you study history in England you get the impression that the English won the battle of Waterloo with a little help from the Prussians. The battle of Waterloo was, in actual fact, the culmination of the Waterloo Campaign in which 116,000 Prussian troops were deployed.  The Prussians didn’t just help out a little. Without them the English would have been destroyed.

Popular history is marvelously myopic. Washington got a tiny bit of help from the French and Spanish empires in the American Revolution, and Eisenhower had a few allies to “help” him as he stormed the beaches of Normandy; but to hear tell of these famous engagements in the US you’d believe that the US secured victories all alone. In fact, at the beginning of the American Revolution, the Colonial troops were seriously outnumbered, underequipped, and poorly trained until the French joined in (purely to weaken England). The notion that savvy backwoods militias from the colonies won the day due to their cunning and experience as skilled hunters who knew how to attack stealthily and handle a musket, is pure modern-day patriotic nonsense, but it is incredibly widespread (not least because it fuels a rampant desire to keep gun ownership alive via the 2nd Amendment).  But . . . I digress.

The Congress of Vienna had actually begun in September 1814, after Napoleon had been defeated and exiled to Elba, but was interrupted when he escaped and returned to France to take up arms again. The final Treaty of Vienna was actually signed on 9th June 1815, 10 days before Waterloo, but took effect in practical terms (with a few minor revisions), after Waterloo.  I’ve discussed the century-long (and more) ramifications of this treaty in another post: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/congress-vienna/  No need to repeat myself. Europe (and the rest of the world with it) took a marked left turn after Vienna, leading to ethnic conflicts, revolutions, tyrannical governments, the unification of Italy and Germany, and a near-maniacal concern with radical Industrialism within Europe which, coupled with Colonialism, fueled major trade wars, as well as real wars between European powers outside of Europe – notably in Asia and Africa.

Waterloo left an indelible mark on popular consciousness in Britain spawning tales and ballads.  Here is an old favorite ballad of mine, “The Plains of Waterloo,” which I first heard sung by June Tabor around 1970 at Oxford’s Folk Club, Heritage. She was a relatively unknown librarian who liked to sing in the clubs in those days.  Here she is:

She self-parodied this ballad some years later with “The Trains of Waterloo” (Waterloo is a well-known commuter station in London), on the hilarious album Oranges and Lemmings.

Trains of Waterloo
(Les Barker)

As I was a-walking one midsummer’s evening,
All among the brick-red of surburbian sprawl,
I met a young maid making sad lamentation,
And it seemed all Basingstoke heard her sad call,

She walks the street lined with small maisonettes,
The semi-detatched, the town houses too.
Crying day it is over, executives come home again,
But my Nigel’s not returned upon the Trains of Waterloo.

I stepped up to this fair maid and said my fond creature
Oh, May I make so bold as to ask your true love’s name
It’s I have done battle in the Cannon Street rattle
And by some strange fortune I might have known the same

Nigel Clegg’s my true loves name, Merchant Banker of great fame
He’s gone to the wars out on platform two
No-one shall me enjoy but my own darling boy
No Milkman, and the Postman, and the Man from the Pru

If Nigel Clegg’s his name a commuter of great fame
Then we fought together the daily campaign
His brave brolly poking invaders at Woking
He was my loyal comrade on the five-thirty train

We fought with our Guardians we fought with our Filofax
Our rolled umbrellas our telegraphs too
We fought every evening all down the platform
And back through the night on the Trains of Waterloo

Dear lady I bring you the saddest of tidings
The five-thirty train it was cancelled you see
And Nigel not looking he went to step onto it
Straight into the path of the five-thirty-three

Your poor Nigel Clegg I have brought you his leg
And so sadly she gazed at the limb she once knew
And fondly she browsed on one half of his trousers
Oh My Nigel’s not returning on the trains of Waterloo

The suffix /-loo/ got detached from /Water/ and applied to other bloody events – in particular the Peterloo massacre in Manchester http://www.bookofdaystales.com/peterloo/   –  much as /-gate/ has been detached from Watergate in the US and applied to various political scandals.

I’ll give you beef Wellington for today’s recipe, not because it was named in honor of Wellington and Waterloo, but because everyone thinks it is, and they are wrong. It’s my tribute to false history. By the time Wellington became famous, meat baked in pastry was a well-established part of English cuisine. Some claim that the dish’s similarity to the French filet de bœuf en croûte (fillet of beef in pastry) was renamed “beef Wellington” as a “timely patriotic rebranding of a trendy continental dish.” There are, however, zero records of a dish called beef Wellington throughout the 19th century. The name first appears in the early 20th century.

I’m just going to give you some pointers here but I’ll start with a video of Gordon Ramsay giving a fairly standard treatment (with a few twists):

Some of the tips here are fine; some I diverge from. The essence of beef Wellington is layers of flavor so choose the layers to suit your palate (not someone else’s):

  1. Choose the most succulent filet of tenderloin of beef you can find.
  2. Sear it quickly in a very hot, dry pan. I don’t like to use oil at this stage. You are looking for a good sear for flavor, not fat.
  3. Slather with prepared horseradish. I just love the combination of beef and horseradish. English mustard is OK too, but for me, horseradish is king.
  4. A duxelles of mushrooms is pretty standard. Ramsay’s chestnuts are a distraction for me. Make a paste of crimini (or other well-flavored mushrooms) with a little garlic, and fry it off in a dry pan to remove the moisture.
  5. An Italian ham, such as prosciutto, is a common final layer, but pâté (conventionally pâté de foie gras) is more classic. I have moral objections to foie gras so I use a highly seasoned pâté (sometimes of my own making).
  6. You’ll occasionally see recipes with a crêpe as the final layer before the pastry goes on, “to seal in moisture.” In my humble opinion this is a complete waste of time. The crêpe gets soggy, and seals in nothing.
  7. Use cling wrap to encase the beef in the same way Ramsay does but spreading a layer of pâté down first instead of the ham. Using the cling wrap is essential to get the layers all around the beef. Chilling afterwards is also essential to set up the roll for encasing in pastry.
  8. Using cling wrap for the puff pastry is also useful, but I make a regular parcel of the pastry (like wrapping a package), not Ramsey’s toffee roll. Refrigeration overnight is also key to setting up the shape.
  9. I too bake at 200°C/400°F for about 30 minutes, because I like the beef to be rare. If you want it more well done you well have to cover the pastry with foil after it has browned and lower the oven temperature. If you do that don’t expect me to show up for dinner.
May 282017
 

On this date the short-lived South Caucasian state of Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (TDFR), which lasted only from 22 April – 28 May 1918, split into different political units, including the Democratic Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. I dealt with Azerbaijan here  http://www.bookofdaystales.com/azerbaijan-republic-day/ so now I will turn my attention to Armenia.

On December 5, 1917, the armistice of Erzincan was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Transcaucasian Commissariat, ending armed conflict between the two (part of Russia’s disengagement from the First World War following the Russian Revolution). After the Bolshevik seizure of power, a multinational congress of Transcaucasian representatives met to create a provisional regional executive body known as the Transcaucasian Seim. The Commissariat and the Seim were heavily encumbered by the pretense that the South Caucasus formed an integral unit of a non-existent Russian democracy. The Armenian deputies in the Seim were hopeful that the anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia would prevail in the Russian Civil War and rejected any idea of separating from Russia. In February 1918, Armenians, Georgians, and Muslims had reluctantly joined to form the Transcaucasian Federation but disputes among all the three groups continued and unity began to falter.

On March 3, 1918, Russia followed the armistice of Erzincan with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and left the war. It ceded territory from March 14 to April 1918, when a conference was held between the Ottoman Empire and the delegation of the Seim. Under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Russians allowed the Turks to retake the Western Armenian provinces, as well as to take over the provinces of Kars, Batum, and Ardahan.

In addition to these provisions, a secret clause obligated the Armenians and Russians to demobilize their forces in both western and eastern Armenia. Having killed and deported many Armenians of Western Armenia during the Armenian Genocide, the Ottoman Empire intended to eliminate the Armenian population of Eastern Armenia. Shortly after the signing of Brest-Litovsk the Turkish army began its advance, taking Erzurum in March and Kars in April, which the Transcaucasian government of Nikolay Chkheidze had ordered soldiers to abandon. Beginning on May 21, the Ottoman army moved ahead again.

On May 11, 1918, a new peace conference opened at Batum. At this conference, the Ottomans extended their demands to include Tiflis, as well as Alexandropol and Echmiadzin, which they wanted for a railroad to be built to connect Kars and Julfa with Baku. The Armenian and Georgian members of the Republic’s delegation began to stall. On May 26, 1918, Georgia declared independence and on May 28, signed the Treaty of Poti, thus receiving protection from Germany. The Muslim National Council in Tiflis also announced the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. Having been abandoned by its regional allies, the Armenian National Council, based in Tiflis and led by Russian Armenian intellectuals who represented Armenian interests in the Caucasus, declared its independence on May 28. It dispatched Hovhannes Kajaznuni and Alexander Khatisyan, both members of the ARF, to Yerevan to take over power and issued the following statement on May 30 (retroactive to May 28):

In view of the dissolution of the political unity of Transcaucasia and the new situation created by the proclamation of the independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Armenian National Council declares itself to be the supreme and only administration for the Armenian provinces. Because of the certain grave circumstances, the national council, deferring until the near future the formation of an Armenian National government, temporarily assumes all governmental functions, in order to take hold the political and administrative helm of the Armenian provinces.

Meanwhile, the Turks had taken Alexandropol and were intent on eliminating the center of Armenian resistance based in Yerevan. The Armenians were able to stave off total defeat and delivered crushing blows to the Turkish army in the battles of Sardarapat, Karakilisa and Abaran. The Republic of Armenia had to sue for negotiations at the Treaty of Batum, which was signed in Batum on June 4, 1918. It was the ADR’s first treaty. After the Ottoman Empire took vast swathes of territory and imposed harsh conditions, the new republic was left with 10,000 square kilometers.

A considerable degree of hostility existed between Armenia and its new neighbor to the east, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, stemming largely from to ethnic, religious, and cultural differences. The Azeris had close ethnic and religious ties to the Turks and had provided material support for them in their drive to Baku in 1918. Although the borders of the two countries were still undefined, Azerbaijan claimed most of the territory Armenia was sitting on, demanding all or most parts of the former Russian provinces of Elizavetpol, Tiflis, Yerevan, Kars and Batum. As diplomacy failed to accomplish compromise, even with the mediation of the commanders of a British expeditionary force that had installed itself in the Caucasus, territorial clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place throughout 1919 and 1920, most notably in the regions of Nakhichevan, Karabakh and Syunik (Zangezur). Repeated attempts to bring these provinces under Azerbaijani jurisdiction were met with fierce resistance by their Armenian inhabitants. In May 1919, Dro led an expeditionary unit that was successful in establishing Armenian administrative control in Nakhichevan. Conflict and tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan were suppressed under Soviet rule, but have resurfaced since the fall of the Soviet Union and continue to this day.

On September 20, 1920, the Turkish General Kazım Karabekir invaded the region of Sarikamish. In response, Armenia declared war on Turkey on September 24 and the Turkish–Armenian War began. In the regions of Oltu, Sarikamish, Kars, Alexandropol (Gyumri) Armenian forces clashed with those of Karabekir’s XV Corps. Fearful of possible Russian support for Armenia, Mustafa Kemal Pasha had earlier sent several delegations to Moscow in search of an alliance, finding a receptive response from the Soviet government, which started sending gold and weapons to the Turkish revolutionaries. This proved disastrous for the Armenians.

Armenia gave way to communist power in late 1920. In November 1920, the Turkish revolutionaries captured Alexandropol and were poised to move in on the capital. A ceasefire was concluded on November 18. Negotiations were then carried out between Karabekir and a peace delegation led by Alexander Khatisian in Alexandropol; although Karabekir’s terms were extremely harsh the Armenian delegation had little recourse but to agree to them. The Treaty of Alexandropol was thus signed on December 2/3, 1920.

The 11th Red Army began its virtually unopposed advance into Armenia on November 29, 1920. The actual transfer of power took place on December 2 in Yerevan. The Armenian leadership approved an ultimatum, presented to it by the Soviet plenipotentiary Boris Legran. Armenia decided to join the Soviet sphere, while Soviet Russia agreed to protect its remaining territory from the advancing Turkish army. The Soviets also pledged to take steps to rebuild the army, protect the Armenians and not to oppress non-communist Armenians, although the final condition of this pledge was reneged on when the Dashnaks were forced out of the country. On December 5, the Armenian Revolutionary Committee (Revkom, made up of mostly Armenians from Azerbaijan) also entered the city. Finally, on the following day, December 6, Felix Dzerzhinsky’s Cheka entered Yerevan, thus effectively ending the existence of the First Republic of Armenia.

The most common Armenian dish, thought of as “everyday food,” is called dzhash (Ճաշ), but you won’t find much if you search for recipes under that name because it’s just a generic term like “soup” or “stew”. Most versions are a soupy stew made with meat (or a legume) plus a vegetable, and spices. Well-known examples of dzhash are:

Meat and green beans or green peas with tomato sauce, garlic, and mint or fresh dill.

Meat and summer squash. This is a signature dish from Ainteb, and is characterized by the liberal use of dried mint, tomatoes, and lemon juice.

Meat and pumpkin. This is a wedding dish from Marash made with meat, chick peas, pumpkin, tomato and pepper paste, and spices.

Meat and leeks in a yoghurt sauce.

Dzhash was traditionally cooked in a tonir, a clay-pot oven embedded in the ground, but now it is cooked on the stovetop. Dzhash is generally served over a pilaf of rice or bulgur, sometimes accompanied by bread, pickles or fresh vegetables or herbs.

Dzhash with Beef and Leeks

Ingredients

1 ½ lbs leeks, chopped into ½ inch pieces
butter
1 ½ lbs stewing beef, cut into small cubes
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. tomato paste
6-8 cups beef stock
2 cups madzoun (Armenian plain yoghurt)
1 egg, beaten

Instructions

Brown the meat quickly with a small amount of butter over high heat in a deep skillet. Add the onion, garlic, salt and cayenne to taste and sauté until transparent. Add the tomato paste, stir briefly, then add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat so that the liquid is gently simmering, cover tightly, and cook until the meat is tender (about 2 hours).

Add the leeks and add more broth if the soup is too thick. Continue cooking until the leeks are tender.

Beat the egg and madzoun together, and very gradually, add 2 cups of hot soup liquid, whisking as you add to prevent the yoghurt from curdling. The slowly pour the egg-yoghurt mixture into the soup, stir continually until everything is well blended. Take off the heat and serve in deep bowls with rice and bread.

Serves 4-6

Apr 182017
 

Today is celebrated in Russia as the Victory of the Novgorod Republic over the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of the Ice (Ледовое побоище), fought on 5th April 1242, largely on the frozen Lake Peipus. I don’t often commemorate battles on this blog, but I am making an exception here because this battle illuminates a part of European history that tends to get underplayed, or plain ignored, in modern consciousness, namely the general understanding of what the so-called Crusades were all about. The popular image of the Crusades, very poorly understood, is of Western Christian armies fighting Muslims in the Near East for control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, ostensibly to allow access by Christian pilgrims. This piece of the puzzle is only a very small part of the whole story. In a nutshell, with me being hopelessly simplistic as usual, the Crusades were an attempt by Western European powers to control Eastern Europe as well as the Near East using religion as their justification. In my cynical opinion the real motive was power and wealth. For me the only important question in history is WHY?  The answer is always the same – MONEY.

Although the Crusades are usually characterized in the Western mind as wars between Christians and Muslims, they were as much, if not more, wars between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox territories, as well as between Catholic forces and inhabitants of regions that are now, rather misleadingly, called “pagan” where pagan means not Jewish, not Christian, and not Muslim.  There was no pagan religion as such. The word is a catchall for numerous diverse religions outside those that are sometimes called the Religions of Abraham (because he is ancestral to all three) or Religions of the Book (i.e. the Torah which is common (sort of) to all three), that is, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The First Crusade arose after a call to arms in a 1095 sermon by Pope Urban II. Urban urged military support for the Byzantine Empire and its Emperor, Alexios I, who needed reinforcements for his conflict with westward migrating Turks who were colonizing Anatolia. One of Urban’s stated aims was to guarantee pilgrims access to the holy sites in the Eastern Mediterranean that were under Muslim control. Urban’s wider strategy may have been to unite the Eastern and Western branches of Christendom, which had been divided since their split in the East–West Schism of 1054, and establish himself as head of the unified Church. The response to Urban’s preaching by people of many different classes across Western Europe established the precedent for later Crusades, which, among other things, provided opportunities for economic and political gain.

The Crusaders’ behavior, under Papal sanction, was often deplorable. For example, Crusaders frequently pillaged as they travelled, while their leaders retained control of much captured territory rather than returning it to the Byzantines. During the People’s Crusade (1096) thousands of Jews were murdered in what is now called the Rhineland massacres. Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade (1202-04) rendering the reunification of Christendom impossible. Subsequently the Crusades actively attempted to capture regions that were under Eastern Orthodox control. The Battle on the Ice was part of this larger enterprise sometimes called the Northern Crusades.

The Northern Crusades or Baltic Crusades were religious wars primarily undertaken by Christian military orders and kingdoms against the Baltic, Finnic, and Slavic peoples around the southern and eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. The crusades took place mostly in the 12th and 13th centuries and resulted in the subjugation and forced baptism of indigenous peoples. The Teutonic Order’s attempts to conquer Orthodox Russia (particularly the Republics of Pskov and Novgorod), an enterprise endorsed by Pope Gregory IX, marked the tail end of the Northern Crusades. The Battle of the Ice in 1242 is usually considered to be the key turning point, although historians do not all agree concerning its importance.

Hoping to exploit Novgorod’s weakness in the wake of the Mongol and Swedish invasions, the Teutonic Knights attacked the neighboring Novgorod Republic and occupied Pskov, Izborsk, and Koporye in autumn 1240. When they approached Novgorod itself, the local citizens recalled 20-year-old Prince Alexander Nevsky to the city, whom they had banished to Pereslavl earlier that year. During the campaign of 1241, Alexander managed to retake Pskov and Koporye from the Crusaders.

In the spring of 1242, the Teutonic Knights defeated a detachment of Novgorodians about 20 km south of the fortress of Dorpat (Tartu). Led by Prince-Bishop Hermann of Dorpat, the knights and their auxiliary troops of local Ugaunian Estonians then met with Alexander’s forces by the narrow strait (Lake Lämmijärv or Teploe) that connects the north and south parts of Lake Peipus (Lake Peipus proper with Lake Pskovskoe).

On April 5, 1242. Alexander, intending to fight in a place of his own choosing, retreated in an attempt to draw the  over-confident Crusaders on to the frozen lake. The crusader forces likely numbered around 2,600, including 800 Danish and German knights, 100 Teutonic knights, 300 Danes, 400 Germans and 1,000 Estonian infantry. The Russians fielded around 5,000 men: Alexander and his brother Andrei’s bodyguards (druzhina), totaling around 1,000, plus 2000 militia of Novgorod, 1400 Finno-Ugrian tribesman and 600 horse archers.

The Teutonic knights and crusaders charged across the lake and reached the enemy, but were held up by the infantry of the Novgorod militia. This caused the momentum of the crusader attack to slow. The battle was fierce, with the allied Russians fighting the Teutonic and crusader troops on the frozen surface of the lake. After a little more than two hours of close quarters fighting, Alexander ordered the left and right wings of his army (including cavalry) to enter the battle. The Teutonic and crusader troops by that time were exhausted from the constant struggle on the slippery surface of the frozen lake. The Crusaders started to retreat in disarray deeper onto the ice, and the appearance of the fresh Novgorod cavalry made them retreat in panic.

It is commonly said that “the Teutonic knights and crusaders attempted to rally and regroup at the far side of the lake, however, the thin ice began to give way and cracked under the weight of their heavy armor, and many knights and crusaders drowned”; but Donald Ostrowski in Alexander Nevskii’s “Battle on the Ice”: The Creation of a Legend contends that the part about the ice breaking and people drowning was a relatively recent embellishment to the original historical story. He cites a large number of scholars who have written about the battle, none of whom mention the ice breaking up or anyone drowning when discussing the battle on the ice. After analyzing all the sources Ostrowski concludes that the part about ice breaking and drowning appeared first in the 1938 film Alexander Nevsky by Sergei Eisenstein. The day is particularly celebrated in Russia because it is commonly held, although disputed by historians, that the victory of Novgorod at the Battle on the Ice stopped further incursions into Russia by Crusaders.

There’s not much source material on uniquely Novgorod cooking of the Middle Ages. They ate cereals, such as oats, rye, wheat and barley as both bread and porridge primarily, with the addition of vegetables and meat on occasion, just as did all Slavs at the time. The common Russian word “kasha” which refers to buckwheat in the West, is just a general term for porridge in Russia, made from any cereal including rice.  I have already given a basic recipe for buckwheat kasha here – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/yuris-night/  Let’s try something a bit heartier. I suggest kholodets, a common Slavic cold dish of shredded meat in gelatin made by boiling down meaty bones. I figured a cold dish was suitable to commemorate a battle that took place on ice. You can choose what meats you want, including pork, veal, beef, or chicken. A mixture is common. I like beef and veal.

You’ll need to start with 2 pounds of beef bones and a mix of stewing beef and veal. Place them in a large stock pot with a scrubbed, unpeeled onion, cover with cold water, bring to a simmer, and cook, covered, for at least 5 hours, skimming the scum from the pot as necessary. Remove the bones and onion from the broth, add what vegetables you would like as a garnish – one or two peeled carrots will do – plus seasonings that you prefer, such as garlic, salt and pepper. Bring back to a simmer and cook for another 45 minutes. Remove the meat and vegetables, and strain the broth through fine muslin into a clean bowl. Shred the meat into small pieces and slice the vegetables.

You can use one big mould or several smaller ones for the finished dish. Lightly grease the moulds then lay some vegetable pieces at the bottom. Then add the shredded meat and fill up the moulds with the strained broth. Refrigerate overnight. In the morning the broth will have set up as a gelatin with some fat on top. Scrape off the fat, dip the moulds in hot water for a minute to release the jellied meat, place an inverted plate over each mould, turn it right side up and tap gently to release. If you have created enough gelatin from the bones they will come out clean.  Of course you can always cheat and add a little extra packaged gelatin during the final simmering to be on the safe side. I usually do. The onion skin will give the broth a brownish tinge. Some people use sliced boiled eggs rather than vegetables as the garnish. Your choice.

 

Mar 182017
 

Today is the birthday (1844) of Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (Никола́й Андре́евич Ри́мский-Ко́рсаков) a Russian composer who was a member of the group of composers known as The Five or The Mighty Handful: a late 19th century group intent on promoting a distinctively Russian style of music. I have covered two other members here:

Borodin: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/alexander-borodin/

Mussorgsky: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/modest-mussorgsky/

Rimsky-Korsakov was known among The Five as a master of orchestration. His best-known orchestral compositions—Capriccio Espagnol, the Russian Easter Festival Overture, and the symphonic suite Scheherazade—are staples of the classical music repertoire, along with suites and excerpts from some of his 15 operas. Scheherazade is an example of his frequent use of folk subjects with magical components. Rimsky-Korsakov believed in developing a nationalistic style of classical music. This style employed Russian traditional lore married to exotic harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic elements and only reluctantly used traditional Western compositional methods. Rimsky-Korsakov appreciated Western musical techniques more after he became professor of musical composition, harmony and orchestration at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1871. He undertook a rigorous three-year program of self-education and became a master of Western methods, incorporating them alongside the influences of Mikhail Glinka and fellow members of The Five.

For much of his life, Rimsky-Korsakov combined his composition and teaching with a career in the Russian military—at first as an officer in the Imperial Russian Navy, then as the civilian Inspector of Naval Bands. He wrote that he developed a passion for the ocean in childhood from reading books and hearing of his older brother’s exploits in the navy. This love of the sea probably influenced him to write two of his best-known orchestral works, the musical tableau Sadko (not to be confused with his later opera of the same name) and Scheherazade. Through his service as Inspector of Naval Bands, Rimsky-Korsakov expanded his knowledge of woodwind and brass playing, which enhanced his abilities in orchestration. He passed this ability to his students, and also posthumously through a textbook on orchestration that was completed by his son-in-law, Maximilian Steinberg.

Rimsky-Korsakov left a considerable body of original Russian nationalist compositions. He prepared works by The Five for performance, which brought them into the active classical repertoire, and shaped a generation of younger composers and musicians during his decades as a teacher. Rimsky-Korsakov is therefore often considered to be the main architect of what the art music world considers the Russian style of composition.  These days I have two problems with Rimsky-Korsakov’s activities in this sphere. On the one hand, his orchestrations of works by other members of The Five, notably Mussorgsky’s, is often considered as meddling these days, and it is sometimes difficult to find the original that Mussorgsky intended under Rimsky-Korsakov’s “improvements.”  On the other hand, nationalism in its many forms is toxic to my soul, not least Russian nationalism (although I hate it wherever it lives). I can certainly appreciate the desire on the part of young Russian composers to break away from the mold of what they saw as German or Italian styles of music, but the nationalism of The Five (as noted below) can get a bit too heavy handed for my tastes at times.

Rimsky-Korsakov is sometimes seen as a transitional figure between the generally self-taught members of The Five and the professionally trained composers who became the norm in Russia by the closing years of the 19th century. Rimsky-Korsakov’s style greatly influenced two generations of Russian composers, but also non-Russian composers such as Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas, and Ottorino Respighi.

For the sake of brevity I am going to focus on Rimsky-Korsakov’s most popular piece “The Flight of the Bumblebee” which is very frequently played on its own as a bravura solo. Isolating the piece from its operatic context and from its original scoring does it an injustice in my humble opinion. Let’s start with a fairly standard solo version for trumpet, preceded by a worthy pep talk from the soloist.

This is familiar stuff, whatever the solo instrument may be.  But Bumblebee is a small, one might say insignificant, part of a large-scale operatic treatment by Rimsky-Korsakov of a Russian folk tale from Pushkin. Pushkin’s original is known in English as The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan.  The première of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera was held in Moscow on 3 November (O.S. 21 October) 1900 at the Solodovnikov Theatre.

Pushkin’s narrative, adapted by Rimsky-Korsakov is as follows:

The tale concerns three sisters whom the tsar spies on. He chooses the youngest as his bride (tsaritsa) because when he overhears them discussing what they would do if the tsar were to marry them, the eldest says she would make a sumptuous feast, the middle sister says she would weave fine cloth, and the youngest says she would bear him a son. When he chooses to marry the youngest, he orders the other two sisters to be his royal cook and weaver. They become jealous of their younger sister, so when the tsar goes off to war and the tsaritsa gives birth to a son, Prince Gvidón, the elder sisters arrange to have the tsaritsa and the child sealed in a barrel and thrown into the sea. The sea takes pity on them and casts them on the shore of a remote island, Buyan. The son, having quickly grown while in the barrel, goes hunting. He ends up saving an enchanted swan from a kite bird.

The swan creates a city for Prince Gvidon to rule, but he is homesick, so the swan turns him into a mosquito to help him. In this guise, he visits Tsar Saltan’s court, where he stings his aunt in the eye and escapes. Back in his realm, the swan gives Gvidon a magical squirrel. But he continues to pine for home, so the swan transforms him again, this time into a fly. In this guise Prince Gvidon visits Saltan’s court again and he stings his older aunt in the eye. The third time, the Prince is transformed into a bumblebee and stings the nose of his grandmother.

In the end, The Prince expresses a desire for a bride instead of his old home, at which point the swan is revealed to be a beautiful princess, whom he marries. He is visited by the tsar, who is overjoyed to find his newly married son and daughter-in-law.

In the opera, “The Flight of the Bumblebee” is a musical interlude in Act 3 between scenes 1 and 2 representing the prince’s initial transformation into a bumblebee and his flight to the ship that will carry him to his homeland. In the opera, the Swan-Bird sings during the first part of the “Flight” but her vocal line is melodically unrelated and so can easily be omitted. Because of this feature and the fact that this section conclusively ends scene 1, it can stand alone.  Here is a link to the full opera. I find the heavy-handed nationalism a little hard to stomach, but it is useful to hear “Flight” in its musical context.  You’ll find it at 1.27.00.  If you rewind to 1.25.00 you’ll hear the lead in, and be able to note the leitmotifs that appear in various places throughout the opera, and which are incorporated in “Flight.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsqZU9y1FMk

For my money “Flight” sounds much richer and more fully developed as an orchestral piece than as a solo act. Here it is extracted  from the opera:

What do you think?

For Borodin and Mussorgsky I gave full blooded Russian recipes from St Petersburg, so there is no need to alter course with Rimsky-Korsakov.  I have chosen pirozhki (Пирожки) for today – a savory or sweet  bread-dough encased pastry that can be baked or fried.  In keeping with Rimsky-Korsakov’s fame as a master of orchestration I am going to give you a choice of three fillings and instructions for baking or frying. In truth they can be stuffed with all manner of things: meat, cabbage, fish, rice, fruit, etc. Take your pick. You can make a decidedly Russian lunch by serving pirozhki with borshcht.

Pirozhki

Ingredients

Dough

1 (⅜ oz) package dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups milk
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup oil or butter
4 ½ cups flour

Filling #1 (Braised Cabbage)

1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 tsp paprika
1 small head cabbage, shredded
10 white mushrooms, diced
salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic cloves, finely minced
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced

Filling #2 (Beef and Onion)

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp flour
½ cup stock
3 tbsp sour cream
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
salt and black pepper

Filling #3 (fruit)

2 ¾ cups peeled, cored and finely diced apples
¼ cup sugar
lemon juice

oil for frying (if necessary)
beaten egg (if necessary)

Instructions

Dough

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let it stand 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Make a well in the flour and add the milk, egg, oil and yeast. Combine to make a soft dough. Knead for about 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled in size (one half hour to one hour).

Filling #1

Sauté the carrots, onion, mushrooms and bell pepper in a large pan with a tablespoon of butter or oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Add the cabbage, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the cabbage is tender. Set aside to cool.

Filling #2

Brown the beef in a dry skillet over high heat, then add the onions and continue to cook the mixture for a few minutes until the onions have softened. Combine the flour with the stock and pour over the meat.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat.

Add the sour cream, boiled eggs, dill, and salt and pepper to taste and stir thoroughly to mix.  Set aside to cool.

Filling #3

Toss the apples and sugar in a mixing bowl with some lemon juice to prevent browning. Set aside.

To Bake

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.

Pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of dough, flatten it with your fingers or roll it out in a circle to ⅛” thickness. Place 2 tablespoons of filling in the center and bring the opposite edges of circle together. Pinch the seam securely. (The traditional shape is a plump center with tapering ends). Repeat.

Let the pirozhkis rise on a lightly greased baking tray, seam side down, for 30 minutes.

Brush with beaten egg and bake until golden brown (approx 20 minutes). Serve warm.

To Fry

Heat your deep fryer to 360°F.

Roll out dough circles as for baked pirozhki and fill them in the same way, making sure the seam is tight and no filling is in the seam. Deep fry them in batches immediately until they are golden (that is, do not let them rise).  Drain on wire racks and serve warm.

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