Oct 122017
 

On this date in 1915 nurse Edith Louisa Cavell (1865 – 1915) was executed by a German firing squad. She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination and in helping about 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during the First World War, for which she was arrested. She was accused of treason, found guilty by a court-martial and sentenced to death. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage. She is well known for her statement that “patriotism is not enough, I must have no hate in my heart.” Her strong Anglican beliefs propelled her to help all those who needed help, both German and Allied soldiers. She was quoted as saying, “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.” The Church of England commemorates her in their Calendar of Saints on this date.

Cavell was born on 4 December 1865 in Swardeston, near Norwich, where her father was vicar for 45 years. She was educated at Norwich High School for Girls, then boarding schools in Clevedon, Somerset and Peterborough. After a period as a governess, including for a family in Brussels 1890–1895, she returned home to care for her father during a serious illness. The experience led her to become a nurse after her father’s recovery. In April 1896, at the age of 30, Cavell applied to become a nurse probationer at the London Hospital under Matron Eva Luckes. She worked in various hospitals in England, including Shoreditch Infirmary (now St Leonard’s Hospital). As a private traveling nurse treating patients in their homes.

In 1907, Cavell was recruited by Dr Antoine Depage to be matron of a newly established nursing school, L’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées, (or The Berkendael Medical Institute) on the Rue de la Culture (now Rue Franz Merjay), in Ixelles, Brussels. In 1910 she launched the nursing journal, L’infirmière” and within a year she was a training nurse for three hospitals, 24 schools, and 13 kindergartens in Belgium.

When the First World War broke out, she was visiting her widowed mother in Norfolk. She returned to Brussels, where her clinic and nursing school were taken over by the Red Cross. Cavell had been offered a position as the matron (head nurse) in a Brussels clinic. In November 1914, after the German occupation of Brussels, Cavell began sheltering British soldiers and funneling them out of occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands. Wounded British and French soldiers as well as Belgian and French civilians of military age were hidden from the Germans and provided with false papers by Prince Réginald de Croÿ at his château of Bellignies near Mons. From there, they were conducted by various guides to the houses of Cavell, Louis Séverin and others in Brussels; where their hosts would furnish them with money to reach the Dutch frontier and provide them with guides obtained through Philippe Baucq. This placed Cavell in violation of German military law. German authorities became increasingly suspicious of her actions, further fueled by her outspokenness.

She was arrested on 3 August 1915 and charged with harboring Allied soldiers. She had been betrayed by Gaston Quien, who was later convicted by a French court as a collaborator. She was held in Saint-Gilles prison for ten weeks, the last two of which were spent in solitary confinement. She made three depositions to the German police (on 8, 18 and 22 August), admitting that she had been instrumental in conveying about 60 British and 15 French soldiers as well as about 100 French and Belgian civilians of military age to the frontier and had sheltered most of them in her house.

In her court-martial she was prosecuted for aiding British and French soldiers, in addition to young Belgian men, to cross the border and eventually enter Britain. She admitted her guilt when she signed a statement the day before the trial. Cavell declared that the soldiers she had helped escape thanked her in writing when they arrived safely in Britain. This admission confirmed that Cavell had helped the soldiers navigate the Dutch frontier, but it also established that she helped them escape to a country at war with Germany.

The penalty according to German military law was death. Paragraph 58 of the German Military Code said that guilty parties; “Will be sentenced to death for treason any person who, with the intention of helping the hostile Power, or of causing harm to the German or allied troops, is guilty of one of the crimes of paragraph 90 of the German Penal Code.” The case referred to in the above-mentioned paragraph 90 consists of “Conducting soldiers to the enemy”, although this was not traditionally punishable by death.  Additionally, the penalties according to paragraph 160 of the German Code, in case of war, applied to foreigners as well as Germans.

While the First Geneva Convention ordinarily guaranteed protection of medical personnel, that protection was forfeit if used as cover for any belligerent action. This forfeiture is expressed in article 7 of the 1906 version of the Convention, which was the version in force at the time. The German authorities instead justified prosecution merely on the basis of the German law and the interests of the German state.

The British government could do nothing to help her. Sir Horace Rowland of the Foreign Office said, “I am afraid that it is likely to go hard with Miss Cavell; I am afraid we are powerless.” Lord Robert Cecil, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, advised that, “Any representation by us, will do her more harm than good.” The United States, however, had not yet joined the war and was in a position to apply diplomatic pressure. Hugh S. Gibson, First Secretary of the U.S. legation at Brussels, made clear to the German government that executing Cavell would further harm Germany’s already damaged reputation. Later, he wrote:

We reminded [German civil governor Baron von der Lancken] of the burning of Louvain and the sinking of the Lusitania, and told him that this murder would rank with those two affairs and would stir all civilised countries with horror and disgust. Count Harrach broke in at this with the rather irrelevant remark that he would rather see Miss Cavell shot than have harm come to the humblest German soldier, and his only regret was that they had not “three or four old English women to shoot.”

Baron von der Lancken is known to have stated that Cavell should be pardoned because of her complete honesty and because she had helped save so many lives, German as well as Allied. However, General von Sauberzweig, the military governor of Brussels, ordered that “in the interests of the State” the implementation of the death penalty against Baucq and Cavell should be immediate, denying higher authorities an opportunity to consider clemency. Cavell was defended by lawyer Sadi Kirschen from Brussels. Of the 27 persons put on trial, five were condemned to death: Cavell, Baucq (an architect in his thirties), Louise Thuliez, Séverin and Countess Jeanne de Belleville. Of the five sentenced to death, only Cavell and Baucq were executed; the other three were granted reprieve.

When in custody, Cavell was questioned in French, but the session was minuted in German; which gave the interrogator the opportunity to misinterpret her answers. Although she may have been misrepresented, she made no attempt to defend herself. The night before her execution, she told the Reverend Stirling Gahan, the Anglican chaplain who had been allowed to see her and to give her Holy Communion, “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” These words are inscribed on her statue in St Martin’s Place, near Trafalgar Square in London. Her final words to the German Lutheran prison chaplain, Paul Le Seur, were recorded as, “Ask Father Gahan to tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country.”

From his sick bed Brand Whitlock, the U.S. minister to Belgium, wrote a personal note on Cavell’s behalf to Moritz von Bissing, the governor general of Belgium. Hugh Gibson; Maitre G. de Leval, the legal adviser to the United States legation; and Rodrigo Saavedra y Vinent, 2nd Marques de Villalobar, the Spanish minister, formed a midnight deputation of appeal for mercy or at least postponement of sentence. Despite these efforts, on 11 October, Baron von der Lancken allowed the execution to proceed. Sixteen men, forming two firing squads, carried out the sentence pronounced on her, and on four Belgian men at the Tir national shooting range in Schaerbeek, at 7:00 am on 12 October 1915.

In the months and years following Cavell’s death, countless newspaper articles, pamphlets, images, and books publicized her story. She became an iconic propaganda figure for military recruitment in Britain, and to help increase favourable sentiment towards the Allies in the United States. She was a popular icon because she was a woman, her nursing profession, and her apparently heroic approach to death. Her execution was represented as an act of German barbarism and moral depravity.

The Imperial German Government believed that it had acted fairly towards Cavell. In a letter, German undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Dr Alfred Zimmermann (not to be confused with Arthur Zimmermann, German Secretary for Foreign Affairs) made a statement to the press on behalf of the German government:

It was a pity that Miss Cavell had to be executed, but it was necessary. She was judged justly…It is undoubtedly a terrible thing that the woman has been executed; but consider what would happen to a State, particularly in war, if it left crimes aimed at the safety of its armies to go unpunished because committed by women.

German laws did not make distinctions between sexes, the only exception to this rule being that according to legal customs, women in a “delicate” condition (that is, pregnant), could not be executed. However, in January 1916 the Kaiser decreed that regarding women from then on, capital punishment should not be carried out without his explicit prior endorsement.

I’ve chosen a Norfolk recipe for today because of Cavell’s place of origin: Norfolk dumplings. They are sometimes known as “sinkers and swimmers” because of the habit of some of them to float and some to sink when cooked. You should really prefer the swimmers to the sinkers. Unlike other British dumplings, the Norfolk variety are traditionally made without suet or fat. Because of the lack of fat they are a bit more digestible for invalids I suspect. They can be served on their own as a side dish, but they are usually cooked in stews. This recipe is absolutely plain and basic, but you can add some flavorings such as parsley, if you prefer.

Norfolk Dumplings

Ingredients

½ lb plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
salt

Instructions

Sieve the flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Mix all the ingredients together with enough water to make a light dough.

Turn the dough on to a floured board, knead lightly. Then pinch off small pieces and form into round dumplings.

The dumplings can be cooked in gently boiling water for 20 minutes, or added to a stew 20 minutes before serving.

Jul 242016
 

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Today is the memorial day of St Christina the Astonishing, a 12th/13th century Christian convert from Brustem, near Sint-Truiden, now a city in the Flemish region of Belgium. She has been popularly recognized as a saint from the 12th century to current times although never officially canonized, so has a memorial day rather than a feast day. She was placed in the calendar of the saints by at least two bishops of the Catholic Church in two different centuries (17th & 19th). The Catholic Church allows and recognizes the veneration of saints upheld by the laity even though they have not been officially canonized. Although veneration of Christina the Astonishing has never been formally approved by the Catholic Church, there remains a strong devotion to her in her native region of Limburg. Prayers are traditionally said to Christina to seek her intercession for millers, those suffering from mental illness, and mental health workers.

I’d like to start this post with a little detour into linguistics because her appellation – the Astonishing – amuses me and is the main reason I’ve been attracted to her story for a long time. What does it take to be astonishing? Like so many adjectives these days, “astonishing” – not to mention “awesome,” “fabulous,” “amazing” etc. – has been crassly weakened to the point that it has virtually no force. Etymologically, it comes from the vulgar Latin extonare, a compound of ex (out) and tonare (to thunder), originally meaning to stun or daze as if hit by thunder (i.e. thunderstruck). “Astonishing” nowadays is a pretty tame word, which we use to mean, “really surprising” or the like, and it tickles me to have a saint designated as “astonishing.” Christina the Astonishing is her usual name in English only; her common Latin name is Christina Mirabilis, which we can translate as Christina the Miraculous – much clearer.

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Christina was born around 1150 into a non-Christian family, the youngest of three daughters. After being orphaned at the age of 15, she worked taking herds to pasture. She suffered a massive seizure when she was in her early 20s. Her condition was so severe that witnesses assumed she had died. A funeral was held, but during the service, she “arose full of vigor, stupefying with amazement the whole city of Sint-Truiden, which had witnessed this wonder. “She levitated up to the rafters, later explaining that she could not bear the smell of the sinful people there.”

She related that she had witnessed Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, and that as soon as her soul was separated from her body, angels conducted it to a very gloomy place, entirely filled with souls whose torments endured there were such that that it was impossible for them to describe. She claimed that she had been offered a choice to either remain in heaven or return to earth to perform penance to deliver souls from the flames of Purgatory. Christina agreed to return to life and arose that same moment. She told those around her that she returned for the sole purpose of relief of the departed and conversion of sinners.

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Thereafter, Christina renounced all comforts of life and reduced herself to extreme destitution. She dressed in rags and lived without a home. At first she avoided human contact, and, under suspicion of being possessed, was jailed. Upon her release, she took up the practice of extreme penance. Thomas of Cantimpré, then a canon regular who was a professor of theology, wrote a report eight years after her death, based on accounts of those who knew her. Cardinal Jacques de Vitry, who met with her, said that she would throw herself into burning furnaces, suffering great tortures for extended times, uttering frightful cries, yet emerge with no sign of burns upon her. In winter she would plunge into the frozen Meuse River for hours (even days and weeks) at a time, all the while praying to God and imploring God’s mercy. She sometimes allowed herself to be carried by the currents downriver to a mill where the wheel “whirled her round in a manner frightful to behold,” yet she never suffered any dislocations or broken bones. She was sometimes chased by dogs which bit her.

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After being incarcerated a second time, she moderated her approach somewhat, upon her release. Christina died at the Dominican Monastery of Saint Catherine in Sint-Truiden, of natural causes, aged 74. The prioress there later testified that, despite her behavior, Christina would humbly and fully obey any command given her by the prioress.

Modern scholars are all pretty much in agreement as to Christina’s life. If you strip away the typical Medieval clerical hyperbole and credulousness you see a woman who most likely suffered from frontal lobe epilepsy who went into status epilepticus and was presumed dead, only to spontaneously revive at her funeral. In later life the epilepsy continued along with a powerful conviction that her state was the work of God. I don’t see this naturalistic explanation as diminishing her status in any way. Modern people have a habit of dismissing people simply as “abnormal” or “mentally ill” and not to be bothered with. We live in a mundane world. Historical women are especially treated in this manner. Venerating this kind, loving, and generous person as a saint seems much more human to me than dismissing her as an hysterical loony. Science has made great strides technologically, but it has left us impoverished as people.

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Christina’s home town in Limburg lies at the center of the fruit-producing region of modern Belgium, noted especially for apples, pears, and cherries, but also for berries, which are made into juices, syrups and preserves. Hundreds of hikers and bikers flock to the region in Spring to see the abundant blossoms all around. Here’s an old country recipe for Belgian apple pie that is fiddly, but delectable (probably not something Christina would approve of). I cook it quite often but usually modify it by using regular short pastry rather than a yeast dough. I also vary the spices for the apples sometimes. You can use sweet spices such as powdered cloves and allspice, but this is not supposed to be heavily spiced. You want the fresh apple flavor to be dominant. If you like you can omit the spices altogether. I do that sometimes also. If you like you can sprinkle the finished pie with chopped nuts and/or some sliced fruit.

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Belgian Country Apple Pie

Ingredients

Apple Filling

3 cups peeled and sliced cooking apples
3 tbsp water
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Cheese Topping

1 cup dry-curd cottage cheese
6 oz softened cream cheese
2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
4 tsp lemon juice
light cream (as needed)

Pastry Dough

1 tbsp warm water
4½ tsp sugar
1 egg
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp light cream, warmed
3 tbsp butter, softened
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp active dry yeast

Instructions

Prepare the apple filling.

Simmer the apples in the water over medium heat until they are very tender (45 minutes to an hour) . Combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg and stir them into the apples. Keep cooking and stirring for about 2 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Reserve.

Prepare the cheese topping

In a medium bowl, beat together the cottage cheese and cream cheese with a fork until they are well mixed. Add the egg yolks, sugar, and lemon juice and beat to a spreadable consistency. Add a little light cream if the mix is too dry. Set aside.

Prepare the pastry.

Stir together the yeast, warm water, and ½ teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Let it stand for a few minutes until bubbles form.

Beat the egg, 4 teaspoons of sugar, and 4 teaspoons of salt in a mixing bowl until they are well  combined. Add the light cream, butter and yeast mixture and mix well.  Begin adding the flour slowly, stirring all the time until you have a soft dough that is not sticky. The amount of flour you use will depend on a variety of factors which I can never fully gauge. Just use your judgment and don’t add more flour than necessary to make a dry dough.

Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in volume (about 45 minutes). Punch the dough down, shape it into a ball, and let it rest, covered, for a further 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, grease a 9-inch pie plate. Place the dough in the center of the pie plate and use your hands to spread it evenly over the bottom and up the sides. You can use a rolling pin to flatten out the dough and fill the pie plate if you prefer, but hand spreading is better. If you’ve had any experience with hot water pastry you’ll know what I am talking about. Cover the dough and let it rise for about 30 minutes, by which time it should have doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.

For assembly and baking, spread the apple filling evenly across the bottom of the pie dough, then spread the cheese topping over the filling to form two layers.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. The crust will brown, but if the exposed parts brown too quickly cover them with foil. You need the dough to cook through completely.

Cool the pie a little on a wire rack, and then serve it warm. It’s also good served cold, but I prefer warm.

Jan 102016
 

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The Adventures of Tintin first appeared in French on this date in 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, a youth supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle. The Adventures of Tintin (Les Aventures de Tintin) is a series of comic albums created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name Hergé. The series was one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century. By the time of the centenary of Hergé’s birth in 2007, Tintin had been published in more than 70 languages with sales of more than 200 million copies.

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The series is set during a largely realistic 20th century. Its hero is Tintin, a young Belgian reporter and adventurer. He is aided by his faithful fox terrier dog Snowy (Milou in the original French edition). Later, popular additions to the cast included the brash and cynical Captain Haddock, the highly intelligent but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus (Professeur Tournesol), and other supporting characters such as the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupont et Dupond) and the opera diva Bianca Castafiore.

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The series has been admired for its clean, expressive drawings in Hergé’s signature ligne claire (“clear line”) style. Its plots straddle a variety of genres: swashbuckling adventures with elements of fantasy, mysteries, political thrillers, and science fiction. The stories feature slapstick humor, offset by dashes of sophisticated satire and political or cultural commentary.

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I’m not a big fan of Tintin for a variety of reasons. The cartoons of the 1930s and ‘40s are awash in ethnocentric cultural stereotypes which are supposed to be amusing, but which I just find offensive. Admittedly things got better over time, particularly as the series was translated into other languages. But therein lies another problem. Tintin, like my Franco-Belgian favorite, Asterix (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/asterix-gaul/) struggles in translation because a lot of the humor is verbal. I can read French reasonably well, so this does not bother me unduly. But in the English-speaking world it can be difficult to find Tintin in the original.

The earliest stories in The Adventures of Tintin have been criticized for displaying racial stereotypes, animal cruelty, colonialist, violent, and even fascist leanings, including ethnocentric caricatured portrayals of non-Europeans. While the Hergé Foundation has presented such criticism as naïveté and scholars of Hergé such as Harry Thompson have said that “Hergé did what he was told by the Abbé Wallez,” Hergé himself felt that his background made it impossible to avoid prejudice, stating, “I was fed the prejudices of the bourgeois society that surrounded me.” Cop out.

In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the Bolsheviks were presented as villains. Hergé drew on Moscow Unveiled, a work given to him by Wallez and written by Joseph Douillet, the former Belgian consul in Russia, that is highly critical of the Soviet regime, although Hergé contextualised this by noting that in Belgium, at the time a reasonably devout Catholic nation, “Anything Bolshevik was atheist.” In the story, Bolshevik leaders are motivated by personal greed and a desire to deceive the world. Tintin discovers, buried, “the hideout where Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin have collected together wealth stolen from the people.” Hergé later dismissed the failings of this first story as “a transgression of my youth.” By 1999, even while Tintin’s politics was the subject of a debate in the French parliament, part of this presentation was noted as far more reasonable, with British weekly newspaper The Economist declaring, “In retrospect, however, the land of hunger and tyranny painted by Hergé was uncannily accurate.”

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Tintin in the Congo has been criticized as presenting the Africans as naïve and primitive. In the original work, Tintin is shown at a blackboard addressing a class of African children. “My dear friends,” he says, “I am going to talk to you today about your fatherland: Belgium.” Hergé redrew this in 1946 to show a lesson in mathematics. Hergé later admitted the flaws in the original story, excusing it saying, “I portrayed these Africans according to … this purely paternalistic spirit of the time.”

Drawing on André Maurois’ Les Silences du colonel Bramble, Hergé presents Tintin as a big-game hunter, accidentally killing fifteen antelope as opposed to the one needed for the evening meal. However, concerns over the number of dead animals led Tintin ’​s Scandinavian publishers to request changes. A page of Tintin killing a rhinoceros by drilling a hole in its back and inserting a stick of dynamite was deemed excessive; Hergé replaced the page with one in which the rhino accidentally discharges Tintin’s rifle while he sleeps under a tree. In 2007, the UK’s Commission for Racial Equality called for the book to be pulled from shelves after a complaint, stating, “It beggars belief that in this day and age that any shop would think it acceptable to sell and display Tintin in the Congo.” In August 2007, a Congolese student filed a complaint in Brussels that the book was an insult to the Congolese people. Public prosecutors investigated, and a criminal case was initiated, although the matter was transferred to a civil court. Belgium’s Centre for Equal Opportunities warned against “over-reaction and hyper political correctness.” Sorry, this constant defense of “political correctness” does not wash with me. Objections to racist portrayals of colonized peoples are perfectly legitimate.

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Hergé altered some of the early albums in subsequent editions, usually at the demand of publishers. For example, at the instigation of his U.S. publishers, many of the African-American characters in Tintin in America were re-colored to make their race ambiguous. The Shooting Star originally had an American villain with the Jewish surname of “Blumenstein”. This proved controversial, as the character exhibited exaggerated, stereotypically Jewish characteristics. “Blumenstein” was changed to an American with a less ethnically specific name, Mr. Bohlwinkel, in later editions and subsequently to a South American of a fictional country—São Rico.

Tintin has also been the subject of analysis by literary critics, primarily in French-speaking Europe. Their dense, tortured prose is generally overwrought, and unreadable at times. But their admiration is clear. In 1984, Jean-Marie Apostolidès published his study of the Adventures of Tintin from a more “adult” perspective as Les Métamorphoses de Tintin, published in English as The Metamorphoses of Tintin, or Tintin for Adults in 2010. In reviewing this book, Nathan Perl-Rosenthal of The New Republic thought that it was “not for the faint of heart: it is densely-packed with close textual analysis and laden with psychological jargon.”

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The first English-language work of literary criticism devoted to the series was Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by the novelist Tom McCarthy and published in 2006. McCarthy compares Hergé’s work with that of Aeschylus, Honoré de Balzac, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James and argues that the series contains the key to understanding literature itself. McCarthy considers the Adventures of Tintin to be “stupendously rich,” containing “a mastery of plot and symbol, theme and sub-text” which, influenced by psychoanalytical readings of the work, he believed could be deciphered to reveal a series of recurring themes, ranging from bartering to implicit sexual intercourse that Hergé had featured throughout the series. Reviewing the book in The Telegraph, Toby Clements argued however that McCarthy’s work, and literary criticism of Hergé’s comic strips in general, cut “perilously close” to simply feeding “the appetite of those willing to cross the line between enthusiast and obsessive.” There you have it.

To honor Hergé and Tintin I’ve chosen stoemp, a popular dish that is simple to make and enjoys wide appeal in Belgium. It is a dish of mashed potatoes in cream sauce with one or more vegetables, such as onions, carrots, leeks, spinach, green peas or cabbage, and seasoned with garlic, thyme or bay. Strictly speaking there is no definitive recipe. The basic idea is to make mashed potato rich with butter and cream plus a vegetable of choice. I like it with spinach, but here is a recipe using leeks, because I love the combination of potato and leeks, and am reveling in “leeks with everything” right now after 5 years of leek deprivation in Argentina and China. Seasonings are also cook’s choice. I use nutmeg, but you can also use thyme or sage if you prefer, or simply salt and pepper.

Stoemp is traditionally featured alongside fried boudin, fried braadworst, grilled bacon, fried ground beef or fried eggs, but it can work as a side dish with anything you like.

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Stoemp

Ingredients

5 large potatoes, peeled and diced
4 tbsp butter
¾ cup cream (single or double)
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
4 medium leeks, washed and finely sliced
light stock (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg (optional)

Instructions

Simmer the potatoes in stock until they are soft. Drain them and reserve the liquid. Mash them in whatever fashion suits you. I’ve used a potato masher plus whisk for years, because I like my potatoes a little lumpy.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions, and leeks and sauté until soft but not browned. Add the cream and ½ cup of stock and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon, and reduce the liquid by half over high heat. Add back the leek mix and mashed potatoes, lower the heat to medium, and stir everything until everything is well combined. Season to taste.

Nov 062015
 

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Today is the birthday (1814) of Antoine-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax, a Belgian inventor and musician who invented the saxophone. He played the flute and clarinet, and his other creations are the saxotromba, saxhorn and saxtuba. Sax was born in Dinant in Belgium. While his first name was Antoine, he was referred to as Adolphe from childhood. His father and mother were instrument makers and designers themselves, who made several changes to the design of the horn. Here’s a couple of images of their creations (the clarinet is ivory):

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Adolphe began to make his own instruments at an early age, entering two of his flutes and a clarinet into a competition at the age of 15. He subsequently studied performance on those two instruments as well as voice at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. After he left the Conservatory, Sax began to experiment with new instrument designs, while his parents continued to make conventional instruments to bring money into the household. Adolphe’s first important invention was an improvement of the bass clarinet design, which he patented at the age of 24.

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Sax relocated permanently to Paris in 1841 and began working on a new set of instruments exhibited there in 1844. These were valved bugles, and although he had not invented the instrument itself, his examples were so much more successful than those of his rivals that they became known as saxhorns. They range in approximately seven different sizes, and paved the path to the creation of the flugelhorn. Today, saxhorns are sometimes used in concert bands and orchestras. The saxhorn also laid the groundwork for the modern euphonium. Sax also developed the saxotromba family, valved brass instruments with narrower bore than the saxhorns, in 1845, though they survived only briefly.

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Saxhorn instruments spread rapidly throughout the world. The saxhorn valves were accepted as state of the art and are largely unchanged today. The advances made by Adolphe Sax were soon followed by the British brass band movement which exclusively adopted the saxhorn range. The Jedforest Instrumental Band formed in 1854 and The Hawick Saxhorn Band formed in 1855, within the Scottish Borders, a decade after saxhorn models became available.

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The period around 1840 saw Sax inventing the clarinette-bourdon, an early unsuccessful design of contrabass clarinet. He developed around this time the instrument for which he is now best known, the saxophone, patented on 28 June 1846. The saxophone was invented for use in both orchestras and concert bands. Composer Hector Berlioz wrote approvingly of the new instrument in 1842. By 1846 Sax had designed, on paper, a full range of saxophones (from sopranino to subcontrabass). Although they never became standard orchestral instruments, the saxophones made his reputation and secured him a job, teaching at the Paris Conservatoire in 1857.

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Sax continued to make instruments later in life and presided over the new saxophone class at the Paris Conservatoire. Rival instrument makers attacked the legitimacy of his patents and mounted a long campaign of litigation against Sax and his company. He was driven into bankruptcy in 1856 and again in 1873.

Sax suffered from lip cancer between 1853 and 1858 but made a full recovery. He died in 1894 in Paris and was interred in section 5 (Avenue de Montebello) at the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.

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Flamiche or flamique, a kind of quiche with a brioche crust is a specialty of Dinant and of Walloon cuisine. It is essentially a tart made from a base of low-fat cheese (boulette de Romedenne) butter and eggs, is eaten hot and traditionally accompanied by Savigny, a Burgundy wine. It probably originates in Picardy where the filling includes leeks. You can add other ingredients such as chopped leeks or ham, or anything else you would add to a conventional quiche.

Flamiche

Ingredients:

Pastry

350 g flour
1 pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
85 g of butter
2 dl milk
20 g yeast

Filling

200 g Romedenne cheese
150 g butter
3 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper

Instructions

Dissolve the yeast in the milk which has been warmed slightly, and let sit for a few minutes.

Mix the flour with salt, beaten egg, softened butter, milk and yeast with your hands, or in a mixer using a dough hook.

Knead the dough vigorously for about 20 minutes, then roll it into a ball and let it rise in an oiled bowl in a warm place covered with a cloth. When it has doubled in volume roll it on a floured surface as thinly as possible and use it to line a greased quiche mold.

Grate the cheese and butter and add them to the beaten eggs. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour this batter into the dough shell and bake at 180 °C for about 40 minutes. Check that the filling has set properly and the crust has browned. Serve hot straight from the oven.

 

 

Jul 212013
 

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Today is a national holiday in Belgium celebrating the inauguration of Leopold I, the first king of the Belgians, after the nation’s independence from the Netherlands in 1831. Belgium’s history is intertwined with those of its neighbors: the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg. For most of its history, what is now Belgium was either a part of a larger territory, such as the Carolingian Empire, or divided into a number of smaller states, prominent among them being the Duchy of Brabant, the County of Flanders, the Prince-Bishopric of Liège and Luxembourg. Due to its strategic location and the many armies fighting on its soil, Belgium since the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) has often been called the “battlefield of Europe” or the “cockpit of Europe.” It is also remarkable as a European nation which contains, and is divided by, a language boundary between Latin-derived French, and Germanic Dutch (Flemish)

After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the major victorious powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia) agreed at the Congress of Vienna on reuniting the former Austrian Netherlands and the former Dutch Republic, creating the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was to serve as a buffer state against any future French invasions. This kingdom was under the rule of a Protestant king, William I.

The Congress of Vienna treated Europe as if it were a giant board game with territories and ethnic groups carved up and reorganized in hopes of creating a balance of power between the major players and with suitable buffer zones between them.  The hope was that the resultant layout would prevent the rise of another Napoleon, and that there would be a measure of peace thereby.  Instead what resulted was a century of revolution and warfare initiated in large part by frustrated ethnic groups who resented being pushed around and manipulated like pieces in a game.  The inclusion of the Belgians in the Kingdom of the Netherlands was one such problem.

The first 15 years of the Kingdom showed progress and prosperity, as industrialization proceeded rapidly in the south (that is, the Belgian sector) where the Industrial Revolution allowed entrepreneurs and labor to combine in a new textile industry, powered by local coal mines. There was little industry in the northern provinces, but most overseas colonies were restored, and highly profitable trade resumed after a 25 year hiatus. Economic liberalism combined with moderate authoritarianism under William 1 accelerated the adaptation of the Netherlands to the new conditions of the 19th century. The country prospered until a crisis arose in relations with the southern provinces.

Protestants controlled the new country although they formed only a quarter of the population. In theory, Catholics had full legal equality; in practice their voice was not heard. Few Catholics held high state or military offices. The king insisted that schools in the south end their traditional teaching of Catholic doctrine, even though everyone there was Catholic. Socially, the French-speaking (Belgian) Walloons strongly resented the king’s policy to make Dutch the language of government.

Political liberals in the south had their own grievances, especially regarding the king’s authoritarian style; he seemed uncaring about the issue of regionalism, flatly vetoing a proposal for a French-language teacher-training college in francophone Liège. Finally, all factions in the South complained of unfair representation in the national legislature. The south was industrializing faster and was more prosperous than the north, leading to resentment of northern arrogance and political domination.

Belgium1

The outbreak of revolution in France in 1830 was a signal for revolt in Belgium. The demand at first was autonomy for Belgium, as the southern provinces were now called. Eventually, revolutionaries began demanding total independence. The Belgian Revolution broke out in August 1830 when crowds, stirred by a performance of Auber’s La Muette de Portici at the Brussels opera house of La Monnaie, spilled out on to the streets singing patriotic songs. Violent street fighting soon broke out, as anarchy reigned in Brussels. The liberal bourgeoisie who had initially been at the forefront of the revolution, were appalled by the violence and willing to accept a compromise with the Dutch.

The king assumed the protest would blow itself out. He waited for a surrender, announcing an amnesty for all revolutionaries, except foreigners and the leaders. When this did not succeed he sent in the army. Dutch forces were able to penetrate the Schaerbeek Gate into Brussels, but the advance was stalled in the Parc de Bruxelles under a hale of sniper fire. Royal troops elsewhere met determined resistance from revolutionaries at makeshift barricades. It is estimated that there were no more than 1,700 revolutionaries (described by the French Ambassador as an “undisciplined rabble”) in Brussels at the time, faced with over 6,000 Dutch troops. However, faced with strong opposition, Dutch troops were ordered out of the capital on the night of September 26 after three days of street fighting. There were also battles around the country as revolutionaries clashed with Dutch forces. In Antwerp, eight Dutch warships bombarded the city following its capture by revolutionary forces.

Belgian independence was not allowed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna; nevertheless the revolutionaries were regarded sympathetically by the major powers of Europe, especially the British. In November 1830, the London Conference of 1830 or “Belgian Congress” (comprising delegates from five major powers) ordered an armistice on November 4. The British foreign secretary Lord Palmerston was fearful of Belgium either becoming a republic or being annexed to France, and so invited a monarch from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in Germany to take the throne. On July 21, 1831, the first “King of the Belgians,” Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg was inaugurated. Even so it took a further eight years of war with the Netherlands before Belgium was fully independent and was designated by the major powers as a neutral nation.

From its founding as a nation Belgium has been divided along linguistic/ethnic lines: Dutch speaking Flanders in the north, and French speaking Wallonia in the south.  This division has caused endless social and political tensions down to the present day, and the two regions are culturally as distinct as if they were separate nations.  Yet somehow the nation retains a level of unity and identity within the broader European stage. Outsiders know Belgium chiefly for two products – beer and chocolates, produced and enjoyed across the ethnic divide of the country.  Brands of Belgian chocolate and pralines, like Côte d’Or, Neuhaus, Leonidas, and Godiva are famous, as well as independent producers such as Burie and Del Rey in Antwerp and Mary’s in Brussels. Belgium produces over 1100 varieties of beer. The Trappist beer of the Abbey of Westvleteren has repeatedly been rated the world’s best beer. The biggest brewer in the world by volume is Anheuser-Busch InBev, based in Leuven.

Belgian-chocolate2  belgium4
I can think of no better dish to represent Belgium on this day than the beef and onion stew known as Carbonade  à la Flamande in French and Stoverij in Flemish. Beer is a key ingredient, and the dish is popular in both Flanders and Wallonia. It is crucial to understand that this is not just the usual European beef in beer recipe.  You are striving for a sauce that is markedly bitter and sweet. Therefore the type of beer used is important, and traditionally an Oud bruin, Brune Abbey beer or Flanders red are the beers of choice because of their bitter flavor. Either brown sugar, or (preferably) red currant jelly, provides the sweet note.

Carbonade  à la Flamande/ Stoverij

Ingredients

3 ½ lbs chuck roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsp butter
3 medium yellow onions peeled and sliced about ¼ inch thick (about 8 cups)
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups beef broth
1 12 oz bottle Belgian beer
4 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
2 tbsp redcurrant jelly or 1 tbsp brown sugar

Instructions:

Season the beef with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tbsps of butter in a heavy dutch oven and brown the meat thoroughly in batches over high heat. It is best if the beef is not stirred too often.

Transfer the browned beef to a separate bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons butter to the dutch oven; reduce heat to medium. Add the onions and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook until the onions are caramelized and golden-brown.

Add the flour and stir until the onions are evenly coated and the flour is lightly browned.

Add the broth, scraping the pan bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits stuck to the bottom. Add the beer, thyme, bay leaves, and browned beef with any of the accumulated juices.

Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a full simmer.

Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and let cook for 2-3 hours until the beef is fork tender. Keep an eye on the sauce as it reduces in the final hour.  Add a little water if it reduces too fast.

About half an hour before it finishes cooking, add the mustard and redcurrant jelly (or brown sugar).

Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve over noodles or with boiled potatoes, or French fries (which the Belgians claim to have invented).

Serves 6

Whatever beer you have used in the cooking makes for a great drink to accompany the stew.