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

Nov 172016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 052016
 

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Today is the birthday (1911) of Leonard Franklin Slye, better known by his stage name — Roy Rogers. He was a U.S. singer and cowboy actor who was one of the most popular Western stars of his era. I was certainly a fan as a boy.  He was known as the “King of the Cowboys” and appeared in over 100 films and numerous radio and television episodes of The Roy Rogers Show. In many of his films and television episodes, he appeared with his wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd dog Bullet. His show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually featured a sidekick, often Pat Brady, Andy Devine, or George “Gabby” Hayes.

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Leonard Slye typifies for me the U.S. cowboy singer/actor. That is, he was not born in the West, nor worked as a real cowboy. The cowboy of movies and television bears little resemblance to real cowboys of the Old West. Slye was born to Mattie (née Womack) and Andrew “Andy” Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. The family lived in a tenement building on 2nd Street, where Riverfront Stadium would later be constructed (he would later joke that he was born at second base). Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy and his brother Will built a 12-by-50-foot (3.7 m × 15.2 m) houseboat from salvage lumber, and in July 1912 the Slye family traveled up the Ohio River towards Portsmouth, Ohio.[1] Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, they purchased land on which to build a house, but the Great Flood of 1913 allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.

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In 1919 the Slye family purchased a farm in Duck Run, near Lucasville, Ohio, about 12 miles (19 km) north of Portsmouth, and built a six-room house. Andy Slye soon realized that the farm alone would provide insufficient income for his family, so he took a job at a Portsmouth shoe factory, living in Portsmouth during the week and returning home on weekends bearing gifts following paydays. A notable gift was a horse on which young Len Slye learned the basics of horsemanship. Living on the farm with no radio, the family made their own entertainment. On Saturday nights, the family often invited neighbors over for square dances, during which Len would sing, play mandolin, and call the square dances. He also learned to yodel during this time.

After completing the eighth grade, Len attended high school in McDermott, Ohio. After his second year in high school, his family returned to Cincinnati, where his father began work at another shoe factory. Realizing that his family needed his financial help, Len quit school and joined his father at the shoe factory. He tried to attend night school, but after repeatedly falling asleep in class, he quit and never returned.

By 1929, after Len’s older sister Mary and her husband moved to Lawndale, California, he and his father quit their factory jobs, packed up their 1923 Dodge, and drove the family to California to visit Mary. They stayed for four months before returning to Ohio. Soon after returning, young Len had the opportunity to travel again to California with Mary’s father-in-law, and the rest of the family followed in the spring of 1930. The Slye family rented a small house near Mary, and Len and his father found work driving gravel trucks for a highway-construction project. In the spring of 1931, after the construction company went bankrupt, Len traveled to Tulare, California where he found work picking peaches for Del Monte. During this time he lived in a labor camp similar to the ones depicted in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath.

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After 19 year old Len Slye’s second arrival in Lawndale, his sister Mary suggested that he audition for the Midnight Frolic radio program, which broadcast over KMCS in Inglewood. A few nights later, wearing a Western shirt that Mary had made for him, Leonard overcame his shyness and appeared on the program playing guitar, singing, and yodeling. A few days later, he was asked to join a local country music group called The Rocky Mountaineers. Len accepted the group’s offer and became a member in August 1931.

By September 1931, Slye hired Canadian-born Bob Nolan who answered the group’s classified ad in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that read, “Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred.” Although Nolan stayed with the group only a short time, he and Len stayed in touch. Nolan was replaced by Tim Spencer. In the spring of 1932, Len Slye, Spencer, and another singer, Slumber Nichols, left the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio, which soon failed. Throughout that year, Len and Tim Spencer moved through a series of short-lived groups, including the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. When Spencer left the O-Bar-O Cowboys to take a break from music, Len joined Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station.

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In early 1933, Len Slye, with Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer formed a group called the Pioneers Trio, with Slye on guitar, Nolan on string bass, and Spencer on lead vocals. The three rehearsed for weeks refining their vocal harmonies. During this time, Slye continued to work with his radio singing group, while Spencer and Nolan began writing songs for the trio. In early 1934, fiddle player Hugh Farr joined the group, adding a bass voice to the group’s vocal arrangements. Later that year, the Pioneers Trio became the Sons of the Pioneers when a radio station announcer changed their name because he felt they were too young to be “pioneers”. The name was received well and fit the group, who were no longer a trio.

By the summer of 1934, the popularity and fame of the Sons of the Pioneers extended beyond the Los Angeles area and quickly spread across the country through short syndicated radio segments that were later rebroadcast across the United States. After signing a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label, the Sons of the Pioneers made their first commercial recording on August 8, 1934. One of the first songs recorded by the group during that first August session was “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” written by Bob Nolan. Over the next two years the Sons of the Pioneers would record 32 songs for Decca, including the classic “Cool Water”.

From his first film appearance in 1935, he worked steadily in Western films, including a large supporting role as a singing cowboy while still billed as “Leonard Slye” in a Gene Autry movie. In 1938, when Autry was demanding more money for his work, Slye was immediately rechristened “Roy Rogers.” Actually, there was a competition for a new singing cowboy, and many western singers sought the job, including Willie Phelps of the Phelps brothers who appeared in early western movies. Slye ended up winning the contest and became Roy Rogers. Slye’s stage name was suggested by Republic Picture’s staff after Will Rogers and the shortening of Leroy, and he was assigned the lead in Under Western Stars. Rogers became a matinee idol and U.S. cowboy legend. A competitor for Gene Autry as the nation’s favorite singing cowboy was suddenly born. In addition to his own movies, Rogers played a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940). Rogers became a major box office attraction. Unlike other stars, the vast majority of Rogers’ leading roles allowed him to play a character with his own name in the manner of Gene Autry.

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The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity, and they have never stopped performing from the time Rogers started the group, replacing members as they retired or died (all original members are deceased). Although Rogers was no longer an active member, they often appeared as Rogers’ backup group in films, radio, and television, and Rogers would occasionally appear with them in performances up until his death.

When Rogers died of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998, he was living in Apple Valley, California. He was buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, as was his wife, Dale Evans, three years later.

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The Roy Rogers is a very simple non-alcoholic drink which I won’t spend too much time on. You’ll need a bottle of Coca-Cola, some grenadine syrup, maraschino cherries, and a glass of ice. Add a dash of grenadine to the ice, pour in the Coke, and garnish with a cherry. Done.

Let’s get a little more serious about cowboy cooking. I’ll state point blank, as an historian, that I don’t think there is any such thing as authentic cowboy cooking. It’s as much of a romantic fiction as Roy Rogers is. Sure, cattle drives needed a chuck wagon and a cook. But, did these cooks have special recipes and recipe books that they followed once they were out on the trail? Spare me. What we should remember is that in the 19th century cattle drives had most of the limitations of sea-going vessels when it comes to the basics of the larder, but they did have live meat on the hoof. Chuck wagons would have carried the obvious staples such as dried legumes, rice, and flour which would form the basis for stews and breads. Perishables such as fresh vegetables and eggs would have been in short supply. If an animal died on the drive it would have been eaten – pure and simple. The slow and sick would also have been disposed of in short order.

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More to the point for me is the nature of the cooking equipment. When you look at old photos of cattle drive makeshift kitchens you see a lot of cast iron pots – skillets and ovens. Cast iron is eminently practical on a cattle drive because it is durable. For over 30 years I had two cast iron skillets which I used just about every day. One I had inherited from my wife’s grandmother, and one I bought new. After 30 years I couldn’t tell the difference. New cast iron pans have to be seasoned so that they do not rust. This is really only the start of a very long process. They take years to season properly. As it is, there is a great deal of false information doing the rounds about cast iron skillets. For a start, well-seasoned skillets are NOT non-stick. Preheated properly, and lightly coated with oil, they will resist sticking. But take it from me – they stick. They are not Teflon. Second, they do not heat evenly. They do, however, retain heat very well. Third, you do not have to worry about cooking acidic sauces in them. The seasoning remains just fine. In fact acidic sauces combine with a tiny bit of the iron to provide you with extra dietary iron.  Fourth, you can clean a cast iron skillet with soap and water just as you do any other cooking pot.

Seasoning is not complicated. The simplest way is to clean the skillet thoroughly with soapy water and a stiff brush. This removes any oil that it was coated with to prevent rust. Dry the skillet thoroughly and then wipe it with fat or oil so that it is completely covered. Place it upside down on the middle rack of an oven heated to 350°F with a pan under it to catch drips. Let it bake for at least an hour, then turn the oven off and let the skillet cook down in the oven. It is now minimally seasoned. Cooking with it for 10 years will finish the job. If you see an old skillet in a yard sale going cheap, snag it.

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I’d say that the simplest “cowboy” recipe is beef and beans, and would have been very common on the trail. No need for a detailed recipe. Soak a pot of dried beans overnight. In the morning drain them and add fresh water to cover. Also add stewing beef (preferably on the bone) and simmer for at least 2 hours. You can add whatever spices come to mind. I’m sure trail cooks had their favorites. Hot paprika is enough for me, but I like cumin as well. The main trick is to simmer very slowly for long hours so that the meat is falling from the bone. The starch from the beans will thicken the sauce as it reduces. This is as about as simple as it gets and I am sure is very close to what cowboys ate a lot of the time.

Aug 212016
 

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Today is the birthday (1872) of Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, an English illustrator and poet, best known for his drawings in black ink, influenced by the style of Japanese woodcuts, which emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic. He was a leading figure in the Aesthetic Movement which also included Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler. Beardsley’s life was short (25 years) but his contribution to the development of Art Nouveau was immense.

During his lifetime, and ever since, Beardsley’s life and work have been the subject of intense discussion ranging from passionate endorsement to furious condemnation, with not much room in between. I know from experience that undergraduate rooms in the late 1960s and early 1970s were wallpapered with his posters, mostly, I think, in a trite way. His work no longer shocks as it did on Victorian England, so it had become a rather mild nod in the direction of decadence.  The seemingly enduring mystery among scholars is the question of what he was attempting to achieve by his work. I’m not an art historian but it all seems rather simple to me. He lived in Victorian England in the “gay 90s” and knew the Paris of la belle époque. This heady world fascinated him and he wanted to make a mark. He did. What more is there to know?

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Beardsley was born in Brighton on the south coast of England. Beardsley’s mother, Ellen Agnus Pitt (1846–1932), was the daughter of Surgeon-Major William Pitt of the Indian Army. The Pitts were a well-established and respected family in Brighton, and Beardsley’s mother married a man of lower social status than might have been expected. In 1883 his family settled in London, and in the following year he appeared in public as an “infant musical phenomenon”, playing at several concerts with his sister. In January 1885 he began to attend Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School, where he spent the next four years. His first poems, drawings and cartoons appeared in print in “Past and Present”, the school’s magazine. In 1888 he obtained a post in an architect’s office, and afterwards one in the Guardian Life and Fire Insurance Company. In 1891, under the advice of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, he took up art as a profession. In 1892 he attended the classes at the Westminster School of Art under Professor Fred Brown.

Also in 1892, Beardsley traveled to Paris, where he discovered the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and the Parisian fashion for Japanese prints, both of which would be major influences on his own style. Beardsley’s first commission was Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory (1893), which he illustrated for the publishing house J. M. Dent and Company.

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His six years of major creative output can be divided into several periods, identified by the form of his signature. In the early period his work is mostly unsigned. During 1891 and 1892 he progressed to using his initials, A.V.B. In mid-1892, the period of Le Morte d’Arthur and The Bon Mots he used a Japanese-influenced mark which became progressively more graceful, sometimes accompanied by A.B. in block capitals. He co-founded The Yellow Book with US writer Henry Harland, and for the first four editions he served as art editor and produced the cover designs and many illustrations for the magazine. He was also closely aligned with Aestheticism, the British counterpart of Decadence and Symbolism. Most of his images are done in ink, and feature large dark areas contrasted with large blank ones, and areas of fine detail contrasted with areas with none at all.

Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era, renowned for his dark and perverse images and grotesque erotica, which were the main themes of his later work. His illustrations were in black and white, against a white background. Some of his drawings, inspired by Japanese shunga artwork, featured enormous genitalia. His most famous erotic illustrations concerned themes of history and legend, including his illustrations for a privately printed edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, and his drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, which eventually premiered in Paris in 1896. Other major illustration projects included an 1896 edition of The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, and the collection A Book of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (1897).

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He also produced extensive illustrations for books and magazines and worked for magazines such as The Studio and The Savoy, of which he was a co-founder. As a co-founder of The Savoy, Beardsley was able to pursue his writing as well as illustration, and a number of his writings, including “Under the Hill” (a story based on the Tannhäuser legend) and “The Ballad of a Barber” appeared in the magazine.

Beardsley’s work reflected the decadence of his era and his influence was enormous, clearly visible in the work of the French Symbolists, the Poster art Movement of the 1890s and the work of many later-period Art Nouveau artists such as Pape and Clarke. Beardsley was a public as well as a private eccentric. He said, “I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing.” Like Wilde and other aesthetes, Beardsley was meticulous about his attire: dove-grey suits, hats, and ties, and yellow gloves. He would appear at his publisher’s in a morning coat and patent leather pumps.

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Although Beardsley’s sexuality has been discussed numerous times no data outside of his art exist. Numerous fanciful tales exist – for example, that he got his sister pregnant and they she either miscarried or had an abortion – but this stuff all comes from the gossip mill. Apparently he was generally regarded as asexual. During his entire career, Beardsley had recurrent attacks of tuberculosis, which he was diagnosed with at age 7. He suffered frequent lung hemorrhages and was often unable to work or leave his home. It was either Beardsley himself or Wilde who quipped that both he and his lungs were affected.

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Beardsley converted to Roman Catholicism in March 1897, and subsequently begged his publisher, Leonard Smithers, to “destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings… by all that is holy all obscene drawings.” Smithers ignored Beardsley’s wishes, and actually continued to sell reproductions as well as forgeries of Beardsley’s work.

In 1897 deteriorating health prompted his move to the French Riviera, where he died a year later on 16 March 1898 at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Menton, attended by his mother and sister. Following a Requiem Mass in Menton Cathedral the following day, his remains were interred in the adjacent cemetery.

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I assume that Beardsley’s art is well known, so I’ll give a small gallery which I’ll intersperse with some quotes.

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All humanity inspires me. Every passer-by is my unconscious sitter; and as strange as it may seem, I really draw folk as I see them. Surely it is not my fault that they fall into certain lines and angles.

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I see everything in a grotesque way. When I go to the theatre, for example, things shape themselves before my eyes just as a I draw them — the people on the stage, the footlights, the queer faces and garb of the audience in the boxes and stalls. They all seem weird and strange to me. Things have always impressed me in this way.

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What is a portrait good for, unless it shows just how the subject was seen by the painter? In the old days before photography came in a sitter had a perfect right to say to the artist: “Paint me just as I am.” Now if he wishes absolute fidelity he can go to the photographer and get it.

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I think the title page I drew for Salomé was after all “impossible”. You see booksellers couldn’t stick it up in their windows.

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I have always done my sketches, as people would say, for the fun of it… I have worked to amuse myself, and if it has amused the public as well, so much the better for me.

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Beardsley’s era was dominated in English cuisine by Isabella Beeton and in French by Auguste Escoffier, both of whom I have mentioned many times already. Anything decadent would be suitable as a recipe. I found this picture online and thought it captured the spirit perfectly.

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It is an individual serving of beef, topped with foie gras (both of which have been seared), and encased in puff pastry – served with a little spinach and demi-glace.

Feb 282016
 

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Today is the birthday (1820) of John Tenniel, Victorian graphic artist and political cartoonist who is generally known to the world as the first illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s works. Historians of the period know his political cartoons very well because they had a major impact on popular opinion, but they are not widely known outside of academic circles any more. I’ve covered his works several times here as an adjunct to discussions of Carroll. Now it’s time to give him his due directly.

Tenniel was born in Bayswater, West London. He was a quiet and introverted person, both as a boy and as an adult; a man whose “life and career was that of the supreme gentlemanly outside, living on the edge of respectability.” In 1840, whilst fencing with his father, Tenniel received a serious wound in his right eye from his father’s foil, which had accidentally lost its protective tip. Over the years Tenniel gradually lost sight in his eye but he never told his father of the severity of the wound, because he did not wish to upset him.

Tenniel was self taught as a youth but became a student of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1842. He found the training there unhelpful, though, and continued educating himself even as a student. He drew the classical statues at the London’s Townley Gallery, copied illustrations from books of costumes and armor in the British museum, and drew the animals from the zoo in Regent’s Park as well as the actors from the London theatres, which were drawn from the pits. It was in these studies that Tenniel learned to love detail. He did, however, become impatient with his work from life and was the happiest when he could draw from memory.

Tenniel’s first book illustration was for Samuel Carter Hall’s The Book of British Ballads, in 1842. While engaged with these illustrations, various contests were taking place in London, as a way for the government to combat the growing Germanic Nazarenes’ style and promote a truly national English school of art. Tenniel planned to enter the 1845 House of Lords’ competition to win the opportunity to design the mural decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. Despite missing the deadline, he submitted a 16-foot (4.9 m) cartoon, An Allegory of Justice, to a competition for designs for the mural decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. For this he received a £200 premium and a commission to paint a fresco in the Upper Waiting Hall (or Hall of Poets) in the House of Lords.

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At Christmas 1850 Tenniel was invited by Mark Lemon to fill the position of joint cartoonist (with John Leech) on Punch. He had been selected on the strength of his recent illustrations to Aesop’s Fables. He contributed his first drawing in the initial letter appearing on p. 224, vol. xix. His first cartoon was Lord Jack the Giant Killer, which showed Lord John Russell assailing Cardinal Wiseman. In 1861, Tenniel was offered John Leech’s position at Punch, as chief political cartoonist.

Because his task was to construct the willful choices of his Punch editors, who probably took their cue from The Times and would have felt the suggestions of political tensions from Parliament as well, Tenniel’s work, as was its design, could be scathing, and rather unpleasant to modern sensibilities. The restlessness of the Victorian period’s issues of working class radicalism, labor, war, economy, and other national themes were the targets of Punch, which in turn influenced Tenniel. His cartoons published in the 1860s made popular the portrait of the Irishman as a subhuman being, wanton in his appetites and most resembling an orangutan in both facial features and posture. Many of Tenniel’s political cartoons expressed strong hostility to Irish Nationalism, with Fenians and Land leagues depicted as monstrous, ape-like brutes, while “Hibernia”—the personification of Ireland—was depicted as a beautiful, helpless young girl threatened by these “monsters” and turning for protection to “her elder sister”, the powerful armored Britannia.

When examined separately from the book illustrations he did over time, Tenniel’s work at Punch alone, expressing decades of editorial viewpoints, often controversial and socially sensitive, was created to echo the voices of the British public. Tenniel drew 2,165 cartoons for Punch, a liberal and politically active publication that mirrored the Victorian public’s mood for liberal social changes. Thus Tenniel, in his cartoons, represented for years the conscience of the British majority. Here’s a gallery:

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Despite the thousands of political cartoons and hundreds of illustrative works attributed to him, much of Tenniel’s fame stems from his illustrations for Alice. Tenniel drew 92 illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Carroll originally illustrated Wonderland himself, but his artistic abilities were limited. Engraver Orlando Jewitt, who had worked for Carroll in 1859 and having reviewed Carroll’s drawings suggested that he employ a professional illustrator. Carroll was a regular reader of Punch and was therefore familiar with Tenniel. In 1865 Tenniel, after long talks with Carroll, illustrated the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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One of the most unusual and original elements of the Alice books is the placement of Tenniel’s illustrations on the pages. There was a physical relation of the illustrations to the text, intended to subtly mesh illustrations with certain points of the text. Carroll and Tenniel expressed this in various ways including bracketing, where two relevant sentences would bracket an image, thus defining the moment that Tenniel was trying to illustrate. Tenniel also produced L-shaped illustrations that contained relevant text within them, so that text and illustration were totally integrated.

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The grotesque quality in Tenniel’s work was one of the main reasons Carroll wanted him as the illustrator for the Alice books. Tenniel had a knack of combining the grotesque, fantasy, and realism in one package, as did Carroll. Thus the illustrations of Alice blend smoothly with the text which has exactly the same quality.

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Tenniel was honored as a living national treasure and for his public service by being knighted in 1893 by Queen Victoria. This was the first such honor bestowed on an illustrator or cartoonist. His colleagues saw his knighthood coming as gratitude for “raising what had been a fairly lowly profession to an unprecedented level of respectability.”

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What else to celebrate Tenniel than a dish from Mrs Beeton? What else but oysters? Steak with oyster sauce was a favorite “manly” meal for Victorian gentlemen. Here’s Beeton’s recipes (three in all to create the dish). You’ll note that she says these dishes are seasonable from September to April. That’s because these months have an “r” in them – months when oysters are at their best, and not breeding.

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MELTED BUTTER MADE WITH MILK.

 INGREDIENTS.—1 teaspoonful of flour, 2 oz. butter, 1/3 pint of milk, a few grains of salt.

Mode.—Mix the butter and flour smoothly together on a plate, put it into a lined saucepan, and pour in the milk. Keep stirring it one way over a sharp fire; let it boil quickly for a minute or two, and it is ready to serve. This is a very good foundation for onion, lobster, or oyster sauce: using milk instead of water makes it look so much whiter and more delicate.

Time.—Altogether, 10 minutes. Average cost for this quantity, 3d.

OYSTER SAUCE, to serve with Fish, Boiled Poultry, &c.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—3 dozen oysters, 1/2 pint of melted butter, made with milk, No. 380.

Mode.—Open the oysters carefully, and save their liquor; strain it into a clean saucepan (a lined one is best), put in the oysters, and let them just come to the boiling-point, when they should look plump. Take them off the fire immediately, and put the whole into a basin. Strain the liquor from them, mix with it sufficient milk to make 1/2 pint altogether, and follow the directions of No. 380. When the melted butter is ready and very smooth, put in the oysters, which should be previously bearded, if you wish the sauce to be really nice. Set it by the side of the fire to get thoroughly hot, but do not allow it to boil, or the oysters will immediately harden. Using cream instead of milk makes this sauce extremely delicious. When liked, add a seasoning of cayenne, or anchovy sauce; but, as we have before stated, a plain sauce should be plain, and not be overpowered by highly-flavoured essences; therefore we recommend that the above directions be implicitly followed, and no seasoning added.

Average cost for this quantity, 2s.

Sufficient for 6 persons. Never allow fewer than 6 oysters to 1 person, unless the party is very large.

Seasonable from September to April.

A more economical sauce may be made by using a smaller quantity of oysters, and not bearding them before they are added to the sauce: this may answer the purpose, but we cannot undertake to recommend it as a mode of making this delicious adjunct to fish, &c.

BEEF-STEAKS AND OYSTER SAUCE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—3 dozen oysters, ingredients for oyster sauce (see No. 492), 2 lbs. of rump-steak, seasoning to taste of pepper and salt.

Mode.—Make the oyster sauce by recipe No. 492, and when that is ready, put it by the side of the fire, but do not let it keep boiling. Have the steaks cut of an equal thickness, broil them over a very clear fire, turning them often, that the gravy may not escape. In about 8 minutes they will be done, then put them on a very hot dish; smother with the oyster sauce, and the remainder send to table in a tureen. Serve quickly.

Time.—About 8 to 10 minutes, according to the thickness of the steak.

Average cost, 1s. per lb.

Sufficient for 4 persons.

Seasonable from September to April.

 

Feb 082016
 

My last post on Ruskin 2 years ago was hopelessly inadequate because I was so distracted at the time http://www.bookofdaystales.com/john-ruskin/ This is much better.

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Today is the birthday (1819) of John Ruskin, leading English art critic of the Victorian era. He was also a patron of the arts, draughtsman, watercolorist, social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy. His writing styles and literary forms were equally varied. Ruskin wrote essays and treatises, poetry and lectures, travel guides and manuals, letters and even a fairy tale. His early writing style when writing about art was elaborate but he later toned it down for plainer language designed to communicate his ideas more effectively. In all of his writing, he emphasized the connexions between nature, art, and society. He also made detailed sketches and paintings of rocks, plants, birds, landscapes, and architectural structures, and ornamentation.

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He was hugely influential in the latter half of the 19th century, and up to the First World War. After a period of relative decline, his reputation has steadily improved since the 1960s with the publication of numerous academic studies of his work. Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognized as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability, and craft.

Ruskin came to widespread attention with the first volume of Modern Painters (1843), an extended essay in defense of the work of J. M. W. Turner in which he argued that the principal role of the artist is “truth to nature”. From the 1850s he championed the Pre-Raphaelites who were influenced by his ideas. His work increasingly focused on social and political issues. Unto This Last (1860, 1862) marked the shift in emphasis. In 1869, Ruskin became the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford, where he established the Ruskin School of Drawing. In 1871, he began his monthly “letters to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain”, published under the title Fors Clavigera (1871–1884). In the course of this complex and deeply personal work, he developed the principles underlying his ideal society. As a result, he founded the Guild of St George, an organization that endures to this day.

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As with many of the “greats” whom I celebrate here, there is way too much to say about Ruskin. If you need to know more there are plenty of places to find information on him. I’m going to focus on one adventure of his, now known as the Ruskin Diggers, which I think symbolizes his life’s work.

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Ruskin was fond of riding out into the countryside from Oxford, and his trips often took him westwards to North Hinksey, whose rustic charm he admired. (There is a plaque to this effect on one of the old thatched cottages.) He noted the poor state of the village road, and in 1874, he thought of a scheme which would give Oxford students the benefits of manual labor, and also improve conditions for the villagers. He organized a group of undergraduates to help him in the building of an improved road, bordered with banks of flowers. The episode might have vanished into historical obscurity, except that the students in his road-building gang included Oscar Wilde, Alfred Milner, Hardwicke Rawnsley, William Gershom Collingwood and Arnold Toynbee. Wilde later wrote of the episode in “Art and the Handicraftsman” (published in Essays, 1879):

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We were coming down the street—a troop of young men, some of them like myself only nineteen, going to river or tennis-court or cricket-field—when Ruskin going up to lecture in cap and gown met us. He seemed troubled and prayed us to go back with him to his lecture, which a few of us did, and there he spoke to us not on art this time but on life, saying that it seemed to him to be wrong that all the best physique and strength of the young men in England should be spent aimlessly on cricket ground or river, without any result at all except that if one rowed well one got a pewter-pot, and if one made a good score, a cane-handled bat. He thought, he said, that we should be working at something that would do good to other people, at something by which we might show that in all labour there was something noble. Well, we were a good deal moved, and said we would do anything he wished. So he went out round Oxford and found two villages, Upper and Lower Hinksey, and between them there lay a great swamp, so that the villagers could not pass from one to the other without many miles of a round. And when we came back in winter he asked us to help him to make a road across this morass for these village people to use. So out we went, day after day, and learned how to lay levels and to break stones, and to wheel barrows along a plank—a very difficult thing to do. And Ruskin worked with us in the mist and rain and mud of an Oxford winter, and our friends and our enemies came out and mocked us from the bank. We did not mind it much then, and we did not mind it afterwards at all, but worked away for two months at our road. And what became of the road? Well, like a bad lecture it ended abruptly—in the middle of the swamp. Ruskin going away to Venice, when we came back for the next term there was no leader, and the ‘diggers’, as they called us, fell asunder.

In lieu of a parade of “useful” things to know about Ruskin’s life here’s some poignant quotes. In all of this I hear my own mantras, chief of which are – PAY ATTENTION, SLOW DOWN, BE HUMBLE. Furthermore I firmly believe that merely writing or reading lofty words is pointless. You must believe them deeply and incorporate them into your being:

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To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.

It is better to lose your pride with someone you love rather than to lose that someone you love with your useless pride.

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.

I believe that the first test of a great man is his humility. I don’t mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.

A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel.

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them.

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.

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All art is but dirtying the paper delicately.

Every increased possession loads us with new weariness.

No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour will make us one whit stronger, or happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than man could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace. It does a bullet no good to go fast; and a man, if he be truly a man, no harm to go slow; for his glory is not at all in going, but in being.

Modern traveling is not traveling at all; it is merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel.

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.

Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.

Education does not mean teaching people what they do not know. It means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.

 You will find it less easy to unroot faults than to choke them by gaining virtues. Do not think of your faults, still less of others faults; in every person who comes near you look for what is good and strong; honor that; rejoice in it and as you can, try to imitate it; and your faults will drop off like dead leaves when their time comes.

Remember that the most beautiful things in life are often the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.

It rather surprises me that Ruskin had virtually nothing to say about food and cooking given his interest in the sensual and its effects on the mind and body. However, after much hunting I found this quote from him in the first edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896)

Cookery means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe and of Helen and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs and fruits and balms and spices, and all that is healing and sweet in the fields and groves and savory in meats. It means carefulness and inventiveness and willingness and readiness of appliances. It means the economy of your grandmothers and the science of the modern chemist; it means much testing and no wasting; it means English thoroughness and French art in Arabian hospitality; and, in fine, it means that you are to be perfectly and always ladies — loaf givers.

Perfectly Ruskin-esque: bread is the staff of life. Not much help in choosing a recipe, however, other than for me to tell you to go and bake a wholesome loaf. So, I am going to be inventive and show you what I made for breakfast today. This year (2016) today is Collop Monday in England, that is, the Monday before Ash Wednesday. In Victorian times it was a common custom to have a collop for breakfast right before Lent. “Collop” is a dialect cognate of the French loan word “escalope” which generally means a thin slice of meat (sometimes flattened with a mallet). Typically on Collop Monday people ate a collop of bacon and a fried egg for breakfast, as prelude to the Lenten season when meat and fat are forbidden.

Living in Italy, a rustic slab of English bacon is not easy to come by, and, besides, bacon and eggs is a little pedestrian as a celebratory meal, I think. I happened to have some beef scaloppine in the refrigerator, so I cooked up a hearty breakfast of beef collops, cheese, and vegetables. I began by sautéing sliced mushrooms, leeks, and hot peppers in olive oil.

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Then I pan fried the beef and topped it with cheese.

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Then I served the beef and melted cheese with the veggies on top – color, sight, sound, smell, and taste.

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Feed your inner Ruskin !!

Jun 062015
 

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Today is the birthday (1868) of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, CVO, RN, a British Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13. On the first expedition, he set a new southern record by marching to latitude 82°S and discovered the Polar Plateau, on which the South Pole is located. During the second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that they had been preceded by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition. On their return journey, Scott’s party discovered plant fossils, proving Antarctica was once forested and joined to other continents. At a distance of 150 miles from their base camp and 11 miles from the next depot, Scott and his companions died from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.

Before his appointment to lead the Discovery Expedition, Scott had followed the conventional career of a naval officer in peacetime Victorian Britain. In 1899, he had a chance encounter with Sir Clements Markham, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, and learned for the first time of a planned Antarctic expedition. A few days later, on 11 June, Scott appeared at the Markham residence and volunteered to lead the expedition.[2] Having taken this step, his name became inseparably associated with the Antarctic, the field of work to which he remained committed during the final twelve years of his life.

Following the news of his death, Scott became an iconic British hero, a status reflected by the many permanent memorials erected across the nation. In the closing decades of the 20th century, the legend was reassessed as attention focused on the causes of the disaster that ended his and his comrades’ lives. From a previously unassailable position, Scott became a figure of controversy, with questions raised about his competence and character. Commentators in the 21st century have on the whole regarded Scott more positively, emphasizing his personal bravery and stoicism while acknowledging his errors and, more recently, errors by his team members, but ascribing the expedition’s fate primarily to misfortune.

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When I learnt about Scott in school in the 1950s and’60s he was generally regarded as a hero and there was not a lot said about his mistakes. I did think it was a bad idea to use ponies and motorized vehicles for hauling supplies (and if I remember rightly, my teacher said something about it too). But it was not made much of. The focus was most definitely on the whole party’s courage against the odds. The 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic, which I saw on television, said much the same thing. I did not know the whole story. Here it is, and you can decide for yourselves.

Ernest Shackleton forged an expedition to the Pole from 1907 to 1909, but returned from the Antarctic having narrowly failed to reach the Pole. This gave Scott the impetus to proceed with his own plans for his second Antarctic expedition. On 24 March 1909, he had taken the Admiralty-based appointment of naval assistant to the Second Sea Lord which placed him conveniently in London. In December he was released on half-pay, to take up the full-time command of the British Antarctic Expedition 1910, to be known as the Terra Nova Expedition from its ship, Terra Nova.

It was the expressed hope of the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) that this expedition would be “scientific primarily, with exploration and the Pole as secondary objects” but Scott stated that its main objective was “to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the honor of this achievement”.

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In a memorandum of 1908, Scott presented his view that man-hauling to the South Pole was impossible and that motor traction was needed. Snow vehicles did not yet exist however, and so his engineer Reginald Skelton developed the idea of a caterpillar track for snow surfaces. In the middle of 1909 Scott realized that motors were unlikely to get him all the way to the Pole, and decided additionally to take horses (based on Shackleton’s near success in attaining the Pole, using ponies), and dogs and skis after consultation with Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen during trials of the motors in Norway in March 1910. Man-hauling would still be needed on the Polar Plateau, on the assumption that motors and animals could not ascend the crevassed Beardmore Glacier.

Dog expert Cecil Meares was going to Siberia to select the dogs, and Scott ordered that, while he was there, he should deal with the purchase of Manchurian ponies. Meares was not an experienced horse-dealer, and the ponies he chose proved mostly of poor quality, and ill-suited to prolonged Antarctic work. Meanwhile, Scott also recruited Bernard Day, from Shackleton’s expedition, as his motor expert.

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On 15 June 1910, Scott’s ship Terra Nova, an old converted whaler, set sail from Cardiff. Scott meanwhile was fundraising in Britain and joined the ship later in South Africa. Arriving in Melbourne in October 1910, Scott received a telegram from Amundsen stating: “Beg leave to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic Amundsen,” indicating that Scott faced a race to the pole.

The expedition suffered a series of early misfortunes which hampered the first season’s work and impaired preparations for the main polar march. On its journey from New Zealand to the Antarctic, Terra Nova nearly sank in a storm and was then trapped in pack ice for 20 days, far longer than other ships had experienced, which meant a late-season arrival and less time for preparatory work before the Antarctic winter. At Cape Evans in Antarctica, one of the motor sledges was lost during its unloading from the ship, breaking through the sea ice and sinking. Deteriorating weather conditions and weak, unacclimatized ponies affected the initial depot-laying journey, so that the expedition’s main supply point, One Ton Depot, was laid 35 miles (56 km) north of its planned location at 80° S. Lawrence Oates, in charge of the ponies, advised Scott to kill ponies for food and advance the depot to 80° S, which Scott refused to do. Oates is reported as saying to Scott, “Sir, I’m afraid you’ll come to regret not taking my advice.” Four ponies died during this journey either from the cold or because they slowed the team down so they were shot.

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On its return to base, the expedition learned of the presence of Amundsen, camped with his crew and a large contingent of dogs in the Bay of Whales, 200 miles (320 km) to their east. Scott conceded that his ponies would not be able to start early enough in the season to compete with Amundsen’s cold-tolerant dog teams for the pole, and also acknowledged that the Norwegian’s base was closer to the pole by 60 miles. Shortly afterwards, the death toll among the ponies increased to six, two drowning when sea-ice unexpectedly disintegrated, casting in doubt the possibility of reaching the pole at all. However, during the 1911 winter Scott’s confidence increased; on 2 August, after the return of a three-man party from their winter journey to Cape Crozier, Scott wrote, “I feel sure we are as near perfection as experience can direct.”

Scott outlined his plans for the southern journey to the entire shore party, but left open who would form the final polar team. Eleven days before Scott’s teams set off towards the pole, Scott gave the dog driver Meares the following written orders at Cape Evans dated 20 October 1911 to secure Scott’s speedy return from the pole using dogs:

About the first week of February I should like you to start your third journey to the South, the object being to hasten the return of the third Southern unit [the polar party] and give it a chance to catch the ship. The date of your departure must depend on news received from returning units, the extent of the depot of dog food you have been able to leave at One Ton Camp, the state of the dogs, etc … It looks at present as though you should aim at meeting the returning party about March 1 in Latitude 82 or 82.30

The march south began on 1 November 1911, a caravan of mixed transport groups (motors, dogs, horses), with loaded sledges, traveling at different rates, all designed to support a final group of four men who would make a dash for the Pole. The southbound party steadily reduced in size as successive support teams turned back. Scott reminded the returning surgeon Edward Atkinson of the order “to take the two dog-teams south in the event of Meares having to return home, as seemed likely”. By 4 January 1912, the last two four-man groups had reached 87° 34′ S. Scott announced his decision: five men (Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans) would go forward, the other three (Teddy Evans, William Lashly and Tom Crean) would return. The chosen group marched on, reaching the Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by five weeks. Scott’s anguish is indicated in his diary: “The worst has happened”; “All the day dreams must go”; “Great God! This is an awful place.”

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The deflated party began the 800-mile (1,300 km) return journey on 19 January. “I’m afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous”, wrote Scott on that day. However, the party made good progress despite poor weather, and had completed the Polar Plateau stage of their journey, approximately 300 miles (500 km), by 7 February. In the following days, as the party made the 100-mile (160 km) descent of the Beardmore Glacier, the physical condition of Edgar Evans, which Scott had noted with concern as early as 23 January, declined sharply. A fall on 4 February had left Evans “dull and incapable”, and on 17 February, after another fall, he died near the glacier foot.

Meanwhile back at Cape Evans, the Terra Nova arrived at the beginning of February, and Atkinson decided to unload the supplies from the ship with his own men rather than set out south with the dogs to meet Scott as ordered. When Atkinson finally did leave south for the planned rendezvous with Scott, he encountered the scurvy-ridden Edward (“Teddy”) Evans who needed his urgent medical attention. Atkinson therefore tried to send the experienced navigator Wright south to meet Scott, but chief meteorologist Simpson declared he needed Wright for scientific work. Atkinson then decided to send the short-sighted assistant zoologist Apsley Cherry-Garrard on 25 February, who was not able to navigate, only as far as One Ton depot (which is within sight of Mount Erebus), effectively cancelling Scott’s orders for meeting him at latitude 82 or 82.30 on 1 March.

On the return journey from the Pole, Scott reached the 82.30°S meeting point for the dog teams, three days ahead of schedule, noting in his diary for 27 February 1912 “We are naturally always discussing possibility of meeting dogs, where and when, etc. It is a critical position. We may find ourselves in safety at the next depot, but there is a horrid element of doubt.” By March 10 it became evident the dog teams were not coming: “The dogs which would have been our salvation have evidently failed. Meares [the dog-driver] had a bad trip home I suppose. It’s a miserable jumble.” With 400 miles (670 km) still to travel across the Ross Ice Shelf, Scott’s party’s prospects steadily worsened as, with deteriorating weather, a puzzling lack of fuel in the depots, hunger and exhaustion, they struggled northward. In a farewell letter to Sir Edgar Speyer, dated March 16, Scott wondered whether he had overshot the meeting point and fought the growing suspicion that he had in fact been abandoned by the dog teams: “We very nearly came through, and it’s a pity to have missed it, but lately I have felt that we have overshot our mark. No-one is to blame and I hope no attempt will be made to suggest that we had lacked support.” On the same day, Oates, whose toes had become frostbitten, voluntarily left the tent and walked to his death. Scott wrote that Oates’ last words were “I am just going outside and may be some time”.

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After walking 20 miles farther despite Scott’s toes now becoming frostbitten, the three remaining men made their final camp on 19 March, 11 miles (18 km) short of One Ton Depot. The next day a fierce blizzard prevented their making any progress. During the next nine days, as their supplies ran out, and with storms still raging outside the tent, Scott and his companions wrote their farewell letters. Scott gave up his diary after 23 March, save for a final entry on 29 March, with its concluding words: “Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people”. He left letters to Wilson’s mother, Bowers’ mother, a string of notables including his former commander Sir George Egerton, his own mother and his wife. He also wrote his “Message To The Public”, primarily a defense of the expedition’s organization and conduct in which the party’s failure is attributed to weather and other misfortunes, but ending on an inspirational note, with these words:

We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last … Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.

Scott is presumed to have died on 29 March 1912, or possibly one day later. The positions of the bodies in the tent when it was discovered eight months later suggested that Scott was the last of the three to die.

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The bodies of Scott and his companions were discovered by a search party on 12 November 1912 and their records retrieved. Their final camp became their tomb; a high cairn of snow was erected over it, topped by a roughly fashioned cross. In January 1913, before Terra Nova left for home, a large wooden cross was made by the ship’s carpenters, inscribed with the names of the lost party and Tennyson’s line from his poem Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”, and was erected as a permanent memorial on Observation Hill, overlooking Hut Point.

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Oxo was one of the sponsors of Scott’s expedition. Concentrated meat extract was invented by Justus von Liebig around 1840 and commercialized by Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company (Lemco) starting in 1866. The original product was a viscous liquid containing only meat extract and 4% salt. In 1899, the company introduced the trademark Oxo for a cheaper version; the origin of the name is unknown, but presumably comes from the word ‘ox’. The first Oxo cubes were produced in 1910 and further increased Oxo’s popularity, as the cubes were cheaper than the liquid. This means that Scott did not take Oxo cubes to the Antarctic but presumably took meat extract.

I’ve always been a fan of Oxo cubes using them as a simple hot drink when I want something besides mate or tea, or when I need a lift when convalescent. I also use them quite often to enliven soups and stews. Here’s Oxo’s recipe site for beef cubes (they now make several flavors) http://www.oxo.co.uk/recipes They’re not very imaginative I’m afraid, but you get the general idea.

One of my personal favorites is beef and barley soup, warming for polar weather. It’s much like Scotch Broth but with beef instead of lamb, and you can ring the changes with the vegetables (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-andrew/). My heuristic recipe:

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©Beef and Barley Soup

Chop an onion and sauté in olive oil over medium heat in a heavy stock pot until golden. Set aside, heat the remaining oil to high, and brown 1 pound of lean beef, cut in bite-sized pieces, on all sides. Add 2 pints of water, 2 cups of pearl barley, and 2 Oxo cubes. Bring to a boil and simmer.

Whilst on the simmer you can chop and add what you want in the way of veggies and herbs. I always add the green parts of leeks (well scrubbed), and sometimes carrots. For flavor I use freshly ground black pepper, fresh parsley, and thyme. You can add rosemary as well if you like. I never add salt to my recipes, especially here because the Oxo cubes have enough.

Simmer until the barley is cooked, about an hour, adding more water as needed. Add the white parts of leeks cut into thin rounds, adjust the seasonings, and simmer for about 10 minutes more.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread.

 

Aug 072013
 

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Today is the birthday (1932) of Abebe Bikila (??? ???) double Olympic marathon champion from Ethiopia, most famous for winning a marathon gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics while running barefoot, and from that point on a great hero of mine.

Abebe Bikila was born in the North Showa region of Ethiopia, in a village called Jato. In his youth, he was noted as a good swimmer, Guna player (a type of hockey played during Christmas), and a skillful horse rider. At the age of 17 he moved to the capital city, Addis Ababa, where he began a military carrier in the imperial bodyguard regiment. To keep the troops physically fit, the army unit had regular sport activities. This program gave him a chance to develop his natural talent for sport. Later on as a symbol of unity the armed forces established a yearly sport competition event, which was designed to reunite the three forces, army, air force and navy in shared activities. In his first Annual National Army Athletic competition he finished a marathon in 2 hours 39 minutes and 50 seconds. That opened a new chapter in his life. He was noted by the Swedish coach Onni Niskanen who was then a director of athletics under the ministry of education and later an official of the Red Cross.

With the assistance of Niskanen, Bikila began intensive training for the 1960 Rome Olympics. Abebe Wakijera was the only other Ethiopian athlete who qualified to go to Rome besides Bikila. Just days before the competition Bikila developed a blister on his foot due to running with new shoes that did not fit properly (Adidas was low on stock when they got to him). Some journalists had claimed that he used to train barefoot, but this was not true. He decided to run barefoot only as a result of the inconvenience of the blister. Sergei Popov of Russia, who was the world record holder, Abdesselem Rhadi of Morocco, who won an international marathon that same year and another notable, Barry Maggee, of New Zealand were among the participants and the favorites to win the race. Bikila was completely unknown from a country with little Olympic presence.

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The race began at Campidoglio Square. Abebe kept running close but was not in the leader pack until they approached the 10 kilometer mark. By the 15 kilometer point, he had gained momentum and joined the leaders. By then the competition came down to four people : Rhadi and Arthur Kelly of Britain in the lead, shadowed by the Belgian Van den Dreissche and Abebe Bikila. At the 20 kilometer mark Bikila and Rahdi were running side by side leaving everybody behind them. They passed the 35 kilometer mark running neck and neck. With 1 kilometer left, Bikila drew away. The distance between the two front runners gradually grew. Running strongly Bikila finished the race with a new record time of 2:15:16.25 improving the previous record, set at Helsinki in 1952, by about 8 minutes. Bikila became the first sub-Saharan African to win an Olympic gold, ushering in an era of dominance by east African distance runners. I remember it vividly, including being amazed at watching him do exercises just off the track by the finish line at the end of the race as if he were fresh as a daisy.

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When Niskanen was later asked by a reporter if he was surprised by Abebe’s victory, he replied that he was not and he added that “others do not know Abebe as I do. He has no fear for his rivals. He has strong willpower and dedication. There is none like Abebe I have ever seen. Abebe was made by Abebe, not by me or anyone.”

On 13 December 1960, while Emperor Haile Selassie was on a state visit to Brazil, his Imperial Guard forces, led by General Mengitsu Neway, staged an unsuccessful coup, briefly proclaiming Selassie’s eldest son Asfa Wossen as Emperor. Fighting took place in the heart of Addis Ababa, shells detonated inside the Jubilee Palace, and many of those closest to the Emperor were killed. Bikila took no part in the uprising, but was briefly held in detention after the coup. Most of the surviving Guards were disbanded and dispersed. One newspaper remarked, “Abebe owes his life to his gold medal.”

In 1961, Bikila ran marathons in Greece, Japan, and Czechoslovakia, all of which he won. He entered the 1963 Boston Marathon and finished in just 5th place—the only time in his career that he finished a marathon and did not win. He did not compete again until the Addis Ababa marathon in 1964 which he won in 2:23:14.

40 days prior to the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, during a training run near Addis Ababa, Bikila started to feel pain. Unaware of the cause of the pain, he attempted to overcome it but collapsed. He was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with acute appendicitis. He was operated on and shortly thereafter he started jogging in the hospital courtyard at night.

The Tokyo marathon (which, like the Rome marathon, I still remember vividly), started with 68 world class athletes. Immediately Ron Clark of Australia and Jim Hogan of Ireland took the lead. Bikila stayed close. At the 20 kilometer mark he took the lead and slowly opened a gap between himself and the other frontrunners. He won the race with a record time of 2:12:11.2 improving his own record time in Rome. After finishing the race, as in Rome, he went through a series of vigorous exercises as if he were getting ready to start another marathon. In a news conference after the event Abebe predicted that he would win in the 1968 Olympic in Mexico City.

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While training before the 1967 Zarauz competition Bikila hurt his leg. He competed in the race but failed to finish the course. He was sent to Germany for the necessary treatment by the emperor. But the discomfort in his leg recurred during training. In Mexico City Bikila was confident of winning a third gold medal in part because the altitude was similar to that of Addis Ababa, and would affect other runners more than he. He started in the leading pack running ahead most of the way. But his leg injury flared up. As the pain became unbearable, he decided to leave the competition. It was reported that he encouraged Mamo Wolde who was in the race by saying, “I cannot continue running because I am seriously ill. The responsibility of winning a gold medal for Ethiopia is on your shoulders.” At the 15 kilometer mark Bikila dropped out of the race. Wolde took the lead, running alone with little competition from the rest of the athletes, and finished the race in first place in 2:20:26.4.

In 1969 while traveling from his home town, Abebe had a tragic car accident. Because he could not be treated effectively at the local medical facility, he was sent to the Stoke Mandeville hospital in England. He was originally paraplegic but after 8 months of treatment he recovered use of his upper body. As soon as he was able he began physical training to enhance his upper body strength. Two years later, in 1971, he entered a paraplegic sport competition in England in archery, finishing seventh out of one hundred. In that same year he participated in the International Paraplegic Games in Norway. He competed in a dog sled race and finished first.

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In 1972, Bikila was invited to the Munich Olympic Games as a special guest. He was received with a standing ovation as he entered the stadium in a wheelchair. In honor of his fortieth birthday a gala celebration was held at the Olympic village in the presence of athletes and officials of the organization.  Bikila died In 1973 October 20 at the age of 41. An estimated 75,000 mourners attended the state funeral, including members of royal families, and ambassadors, as well as local and international reporters.

Ethiopian cuisine characteristically consists of very spicy vegetable and  meat dishes, usually in the form of wat (also w’et or wot), a thick stew served on top of injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter, made from fermented teff flour. Teff is a grain that makes a  flour similar to quinoa flour. Teff (Eragrostis tef) was first domesticated in Ethiopia around 4000 BCE. It is very versatile and can be used in place of wheat flour to thicken soups, stews, gravies, puddings. It is practically gluten free and so cannot be used to make leavened bread. What gluten there is in teff does not contain the a-gliadin-fraction that causes allergic reactions, and has a high concentration of different nutrients:  a very high calcium content, and significant levels of the minerals phosphorus, magnesium, aluminum, iron, copper, zinc, boron and barium, and thiamin. Teff is high in protein. It is considered to have an excellent amino acid composition, including all 8 essential amino acids for humans, and is higher in lysine than wheat or barley. It can be fermented naturally to make an alcoholic drink similar to Peruvian chicha. Typically in Ethiopia stews are served on top of injera.  Diners break off pieces and scoop up the stew with it, right hand only.

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Injera

Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants have modified their recipes after moving to the United States or Europe, depending on what grains are available to them. The injera you find in many Ethiopian restaurants in the United States includes both teff and wheat flours. Most injera made in Ethiopia and Eritrea, on the other hand, is made solely with teff. Depending on where you live, teff flour can be difficult to come by. Try a well-stocked health food store or go online. I give a half-and-half flour and teff recipe here, which I find works well, but you can experiment with proportions.

Ingredients:

½ cup teff flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water
pinch of salt
peanut or vegetable oil

Instructions:

Put the teff flour in the bottom of a mixing bowl, and sift in the all-purpose flour.

Slowly add the water, stirring to avoid lumps.

Put the batter aside for a day or more (up to three days) to allow it to ferment. You will know if the process is working because the batter will start to bubble. This process relies on airborne yeasts, so I usually put mine outside until the bubbles start to form (typically within a day). It helps if you live in the country. If it does not start fermenting you can add a teaspoon of fresh yeast.

Stir in the salt.

Heat a nonstick pan or lightly oiled cast-iron skillet until a water drop skitters across the surface.

Brush the pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil and pour in enough batter to form an even layer over the entire surface, thicker than a crepe but not as thick as a U.S. pancake. Swirl the pan to achieve this.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until holes appear on the surface of the bread. Once the surface is dry, remove the bread from the pan and let it cool. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

Do not brown the underside of the bread and do not flip it.  It takes some experience to get this process right, and I also find that the process gets easier after I make the second and third injera. I use a cast iron skillet and it seems that as the cooking process continues the heat spreads more evenly and consistently across the pan. Often I eat the first one in the kitchen dipped in a little meat sauce!
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Beef Wat

Several properties distinguish wats from stews of other cultures. Perhaps the most obvious is an unusual cooking technique. The preparation of a wat begins with chopped onions slow cooked, without any fat or oil, in a dry skillet or pot until much of their moisture has been driven away. Fat (usually niter kibbeh, a kind of clarified butter) is then added, in quantities that might seem excessive by modern Western standards. The onions and other aromatics are sautéed before the addition of other ingredients. Indian ghee is a suitable substitute for niter kibbeh (as is clarified butter). This method causes the onions to break down and thicken the stew.

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs (750 g) beef, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tablespoons oil
6 tablespoons niter kibbeh, ghee, or clarified butter
1 onion, small, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped and crushed
2 teaspoons berbere, spice (see below)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ tsp sugar
2 cups (500 ml) beef stock
2 tsps sea salt (or to taste)

Instructions:

Put the onions in a dry heavy skillet. Cook over very low heat until they are lightly caramelized, the slower the better.  Sometimes this takes me up to an hour.

Raise the heat to medium and add the garlic, berbere spice, tomato paste and sugar. Stir well, and cook until thick.

Add a little of the stock to make a paste. Then stirring constantly add the remaining liquid and the meat cubes. Season with salt to taste, and cook gently for 1 hour or longer until the meat is tender (so that it shreds easily) and the sauce is thickened and reduced. Shred the meat with two forks, and serve the wat on top of injera.

Berbere Spice Mixture

Berbere spice is available online or you can make your own.

Ingredients:

½  tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fenugreek
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp turmeric
4 tbsps hot pepper flakes
2 tbsps paprika
1 tsp dried ginger
2 tsps dried onion flakes
½ tsp garlic powder (or flakes)
¼ tsp ground allspice
¾ tsp cardamom seed
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground coriander powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Mix all the spices and toast in a dry, hot pan, shaking to prevent scorching. Cool the mixture, then grind it into a powder. I use a coffee grinder which I reserve for spices. Save the leftover spice in a small glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid.