Apr 142018
 

Today is the first day of the Cambodian New Year in 2018, Khmer: បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី or Choul Chnam Thmey, literally “Enter New Year.” The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year’s Day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th, which is the end of the harvesting season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins. Khmers living abroad may choose to celebrate during a weekend rather than just specifically April 13th through 16th. The Khmer New Year coincides with the traditional solar new year in several parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. It was originally pegged to the lunar calendar, but is now more fixed within the Gregorian calendar. Cambodians also use the Buddhist Era to count the year based on the Buddhist calendar. For 2018, it will be 2562 BE (Buddhist Era).

The three days of the new year are:

Maha Sangkran (មហាសង្រ្កាន្ត)

Maha Sangkran, derived from Sanskrit Maha Sankranti, is the name of the first day of the new year celebration. It is the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up in new clothes and light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines, where the members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before his image. For good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.

Virak Vanabat (វិរ:វ័នបត)

Vireak Vanabat is the name of the second day of the new year celebration. People contribute charity to the less fortunate by helping the poor, servants, homeless, and low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at monasteries.

Vearak Loeng Sak (វារៈឡើងស័ក)

T’ngai Loeng Sak in Khmer is the name of the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists wash the Buddha statues and their elders with perfumed water. Bathing the Buddha images is a symbolic practice to wash bad actions away like water clean dirt from household items. It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By washing their grandparents and parents, the children can obtain from them best wishes and good pieces of advice to live the life for the rest of the year.

In temples, people erect a sand hillock on temple grounds. They mound up a big pointed hill of sand or dome in the center which represents Valuka Chaitya, the stupa at Tavatimsa where the Buddha’s hair and diadem are buried. The big stupa is surrounded by four small ones, which represent the stupas of the Buddha’s favorite disciples: Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, and Maha Kassapa. There is another tradition called Sraung Preah (ស្រង់ព្រះ): pouring water or liquid plaster (a mixture of water with some chalk powder) on an elder relative, or people in general. This is now mostly a lark for younger people. I will have to watch my step.

There are also a number of traditional games performed over the three days.

Chol Chhoung (ចោល⁣ឈូង), for example, is played on the first nightfall of the Khmer New Year by two groups of boys and girls. Ten or 20 people comprise each group, standing in two rows opposite each other. One group throws the “chhoung” to the other group. When it is caught, it will be rapidly thrown back to the first group. If someone is hit by the “chhoung,” the whole group must dance to get the “chhoung” back while the other group sings to the dance.

Chab Kon Kleng (ចាប់⁣កូនខ្លែង) is a game played by imitating a hen as she protects her chicks from a crow. Adults typically play this game on the night of the first New Year’s Day. Participants usually appoint a strong player to play the hen who protects “her” chicks, while another person is picked to be the “crow”. While both sides sing a song of bargaining, the crow tries to catch as many chicks as possible as they hide behind the hen.

The Khmer New Year is also a time to prepare special dishes. One of these is a “kralan”: a cake made from steamed rice mixed with beans or peas, grated coconut and coconut milk. The mixture is stuffed inside a bamboo stick and slowly roasted. I have prepared ansom chek (អន្សមចេក) for today – sticky rice and banana steamed in banana leaves. It’s traditional and not that hard to make – if you live in Cambodia. I’ll make a sour fish soup that I like, as well. Also, very popular for festivals. This site gives a ton of Khmer recipes for festivals. As ever, the challenge is finding the right ingredients http://www.khmerkromrecipes.com/recipes/recipe273.html . I’ll break my normal reluctance to post recipes from Asia because of the difficulty in getting ingredients (this once). If you do not know what you are aiming for I will not be answerable for your results. I’ll also embed a video at the end for good measure (in English). Fish amok is a fish curry with coconut that is very common in Cambodia, year round, but you will find it on festive tables too. Unless you live in SE Asia you will not find all of the ingredients, but here’s the recipe anyway.

Fish Amok (ហហ្មុកត្រី)

For kreung paste

5 kaffir lime leaves, ribs removed, thinly sliced
3 dried Thai red chiles, soaked in water until soft, drained, seeds discarded, chopped
3 slices galangal, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 slices kacheay (also known as lesser ginger or lesser rhizome), peeled and chopped
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 stalks lemongrass, bottom parts only, thinly sliced
2 small pieces fresh turmeric, peeled and sliced, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

For fish amok

½ cup coconut milk, plus extra
1 tbsp Cambodian chili paste
1 tbsp Cambodian (or Thai) fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp shrimp paste
½ tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 lb boneless skinless meaty white fish, cut into chunks
8 banana leaves
¼ cup nhor/noni leaves (morinda citriforlia), shredded
4 fresh red chiles, cut lengthwise in thin strips

Instructions

First make the kreung paste. Pound together the lime leaves, red chiles, galangal, garlic, kacheay, shallots, lemongrass and turmeric, a few ingredients at a time, using a mortar and pestle until a fine paste forms. You can do this in a food processor, but mortar and pestle is better.

Mix the kreung paste with the coconut milk, chili paste, fish sauce, sugar, shrimp paste, salt and egg in a large bowl. Add the fish and combine well with the kreung paste marinade. Set aside and allow the marinade to infuse the fish for about 15 minutes or longer.

Set up a steamer. Make banana leaf bowls (konthoangs) by placing 2 banana leaves on top of each other and folding into little rectangular bowls with the tapered sides folded up and held together with bamboo toothpicks. Make 4 in total. Make a bed of noni leaves in the bottom of each konthoang. Divide the marinated fish between the bowls, and place on top of the noni beds. Spoon 2 tablespoons of coconut milk over each serving of fish and top off with a fresh red chile. Place the filled konthoangs in the steamer and steam until the fish is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve with plain, boiled jasmine rice.

Dec 262017
 

Today is the birthday (1891) of Henry Valentine Miller, a US writer who often lived in Paris, and known for breaking with existing literary forms, developing a new type of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association, and mysticism. He was inspiration for the beat generation writers, among others. His most characteristic works are Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Tropic of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, which are based on his experiences in New York and Paris (all of which were banned in the United States until 1961). Miller went through much the same accusations of obscenity as D.H. Lawrence did in Britain over Lady Chatterley. Small minds simply cannot distinguish descriptions of (loving) sex and pornography. In fact, to many, sex is, by definition, obscene. This very notion is the true obscenity, and I suspect stems from lascivious minds. Miller also wrote travel memoirs and literary criticism, and painted watercolors.

Miller was born at his family’s home, 450 East 85th Street, in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, New York City. He was the son of Lutheran German parents, Louise Marie (Neiting) and tailor Heinrich Miller. As a child, he lived for nine years at 662 Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, known at that time (and referred to frequently in his works) as the Fourteenth Ward. In 1900, his family moved to 1063 Decatur Street in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. He attended the City College of New York for one semester only.

Miller married his first wife, Beatrice Sylvas Wickens, in 1917. They divorced in 1923. Together they had a daughter, Barbara, born in 1919. They lived in an apartment at 244 6th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn.[14] At the time, Miller was working at Western Union, where he worked from 1920-24. In March 1922, during a three-week vacation, he wrote his first novel, Clipped Wings. It has never been published, and only fragments remain, although parts of it were recycled in other works, such as Tropic of Capricorn. Clipped Wings was a study of twelve Western Union messengers, which Miller called “a long book and probably a very bad one.”

June

In 1923, while he was still married to Beatrice, but in the process of divorcing, Miller met and became enamored of a mysterious dance hall dancer who was born Juliet Edith Smerth but went by the stage name June Mansfield. She was 21 at the time. They began an affair, and were married on June 1, 1924. In 1924 Miller quit Western Union in order to dedicate himself completely to writing. Miller later describes this time – his struggles to become a writer, his sexual escapades, failures, friends, and philosophy – in his autobiographical trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion.

Miller wrote his second novel, Moloch: or, This Gentile World, in 1927–28, initially under the guise of a novel written by June. A rich older admirer of June, Roland Freedman, paid her to write a novel. She would show him pages of Miller’s work each week, pretending it was hers. The book went unpublished until 1992. Moloch is based on Miller’s first marriage, to Beatrice, and his years working as a personnel manager at the Western Union office in Lower Manhattan. A third novel written around this time, Crazy Cock, also went unpublished until after Miller’s death. Initially titled Lovely Lesbians, Crazy Cock (along with his later novel Nexus) told the story of June’s close relationship with the artist Marion, whom June had renamed Jean Kronski. Kronski lived with Miller and June from 1926 until 1927, when June and Kronski went to Paris together, leaving Miller behind, which upset him greatly. Miller suspected the pair of having a lesbian relationship. While in Paris, June and Kronski did not get along, and June returned to Miller several months later. Kronski committed suicide around 1930.

In 1928, Miller spent several months in Paris with June, a trip which was financed by Freedman. One day on a Paris street, Miller met another author, Robert W. Service, who recalled the story in his autobiography: “Soon we got into conversation which turned to books. For a stripling he spoke with some authority, turning into ridicule the pretentious scribes of the Latin Quarter and their freak magazine.” In 1930, Miller moved to Paris unaccompanied. Soon after, he began work on Tropic of Cancer, writing to a friend, “I start tomorrow on the Paris book: First person, uncensored, formless – fuck everything!” Although Miller had little or no money the first year in Paris, things began to change after meeting Anaïs Nin who, with Hugh Guiler, went on to pay his entire way through the 1930s including the rent for an apartment at 18 Villa Seurat. Nin became his lover and financed the first printing of Tropic of Cancer in 1934 with money from Otto Rank. She wrote extensively in her journals about her relationship with Miller and his wife June. A great deal of what we know about Miller’s personal life comes from Nin’s journals, and the two continued a (now famous and celebrated) relationship for many years. Late in 1934, June divorced Miller by proxy in Mexico City.

In 1931, Miller was employed by the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune as a proofreader, thanks to his friend Alfred Perlès who worked there. Miller took this opportunity to submit some of his own articles under Perlès’ name, since at that time only the editorial staff were permitted to publish in the paper. This period in Paris was highly creative for Miller, and during this time he also established a significant and influential network of authors circulating around the Villa Seurat. At that time a young British author, Lawrence Durrell, became a lifelong friend. Miller’s correspondence with Durrell was later published in two books. His first published book, Tropic of Cancer (1934), was published by Obelisk Press in Paris and banned in the United States on the grounds of obscenity. The dust jacket came wrapped with a warning: “Not to be imported into the United States or Great Britain.” He continued to write novels that were banned.  Along with Tropic of Cancer, his Black Spring (1936) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939) were smuggled into the US, building Miller an underground reputation. In 1939, New Directions published The Cosmological Eye, Miller’s first book to be published in the US. The collection contained short prose pieces, most of which originally appeared in Black Spring and Max and the White Phagocytes (1938).

In 1939 Durrell, who lived on Corfu, invited Miller to Greece. Miller described the visit in The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), which he considered his best book. One of the first acknowledgments of Henry Miller as a major modern writer was by George Orwell in his 1940 essay “Inside the Whale”, where he wrote:

Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses.

In 1940, Miller returned to New York; after a year-long trip around the United States, which was to become material for The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, he moved to California in June 1942, initially living just outside Hollywood in Beverly Glen, before settling in Big Sur in 1944. While Miller was establishing his base in Big Sur, the Tropic books, then still banned in the USA, were still being published in France by the Obelisk Press and later the Olympia Press. There they were acquiring a slow and steady notoriety among both Europeans and the various enclaves of US ex-pats. As a result, the books were frequently smuggled into the States, where they proved to be a major influence on the new Beat Generation of American writers, most notably Jack Kerouac, the only Beat writer Miller truly cared for. By the time his banned books were published in the 1960s and he was becoming increasingly well-known, Miller was no longer interested in his image as an outlaw writer of “dirty” books, but he eventually gave up fighting the image.

In 1942, shortly before moving to California, Miller began writing Sexus, the first novel in The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, a fictionalized account documenting the six-year period of his life in Brooklyn falling in love with June and struggling to become a writer. Like several of his other works, the trilogy, completed in 1959, was initially banned in the United States, published only in France and Japan. In other works written during his time in California, Miller was widely critical of consumerism in the US, as reflected in Sunday After The War (1944) and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945). His Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, published in 1957, is a collection of stories about his life and friends in Big Sur.

In 1944, Miller met and married his third wife, Janina Martha Lepska, a philosophy student who was 30 years his junior. They had two children: a son, Tony, and a daughter, Valentine. They divorced in 1952. The following year, he married artist Eve McClure, who was 37 years his junior. They divorced in 1960, and she died in 1966, likely as a result of alcoholism. In 1961, Miller arranged a reunion in New York with his ex-wife and main subject of The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, June. They hadn’t seen each other in nearly three decades. In a letter to Eve, he described his shock at June’s “terrible” appearance, as she had by then degenerated both physically and mentally.

In February 1963, Miller moved to 444 Ocampo Drive, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California, where he would spend the last 17 years of his life. In 1967, Miller married his fifth wife, Hoki Tokuda. After his move to Ocampo Drive, he held dinner parties for the artistic and literary figures of the time. His cook and caretaker was a young artist’s model named Twinka Thiebaud who later wrote a book about his evening chats. Thiebaud’s memories of Miller’s table talk were published in a rewritten and retitled book in 2011.

Only 200 copies of Miller’s 1972 chapbook On Turning Eighty were published by Capra Press, in collaboration with Yes! Press, it was the first volume of the “Yes! Capra” chapbook series and is 34 pages long. The book contains three essays on topics such as aging and living a meaningful life. In relation to reaching 80 years of age, Miller explains:

If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power.

Miller died of circulatory complications at his home in Pacific Palisades on June 7, 1980.

Here’s some quotes, some from Miller’s novels and some personal. It’s hard to tell the difference anyway. I’ve interspersed a few of his watercolors.

Without a Coca-Cola life is unthinkable.

To be joyous is to be a madman in a world of sad ghosts.

I have found God, but he is insufficient.

There is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy.

What holds the world together, as I have learned from bitter experience, is sexual intercourse.

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.

I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.

Finding a recipe for Miller is no small matter. Miller himself, and others, mentioned repeatedly how much he loved eating. Here’s Miller:

‘Life,’ said Emerson, ‘consists in what a man is thinking all day.’  If that be so, then my life is nothing but a big intestine. I not only think about food all day, but I dream about it at night.

Nin wrote in her diary that Miller had two primal needs: sex and food. They were, indeed, famous for frequenting the cafes of Paris, and nowadays you can go on a tour of their most popular haunts – many decorated with their photos and other memorabilia. Miller was also legendary in giving dinner parties.

The biographer of Miller’s last years, Barbara Kraft wrote:

The house bore the face of the man. The walls were covered with his paintings, posters, memorabilia, photographs of friends and the famous framed lists. Lists of places he had been, list of places he hadn’t been, lists of all the women he never slept with — but no lists of those he had, lists of favorite foods, of favorite piano music — Ravel’s virtuosic Gaspard de la nuit comes to mind . . .

All good to know. But, what about the actual food in his list of favorites? Or what he ate when dining with Nin? Nothing. Not a word. I’ve gleaned her diaries, as well as Miller’s writings and come up empty – except for this:

Henry was eating red beans for lunch. Heavy red beans. When I met Betty Ryan at the Dôme I told her about the red beans and ordered Vichy. How we laughed!

It’s a start, I suppose, but not much of one. She might have been talking about a cassoulet or a hundred other ways of cooking beans. Why did they laugh? Anyway, you can go with a dish of red beans if you wish, but make it heavy. Here’s a recipe for croque Monsieur which has been a popular favorite in Parisian cafes for many years. If you are a good cook you don’t need a recipe, just the idea. Croque Monsieur is a grilled sandwich of Parisian ham and Gruyere cheese, smothered in a cheesy béchamel and baked. I expect Miller enjoyed it on occasion.

Croque Monsieur

Ingredients

2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus extra
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese, plus 8 slices
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 thick slices crusty bread
12 slices Parisian ham
Dijon mustard

Instructions

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat, and whisk in the flour to make a blond roux. Add the milk slowly, stirring all the time. Bring to a simmer, whisking all the time until the sauce thickens. Add the grated cheeses and remove from the heat. Keep whisking until the cheeses are completely melted and the sauce is smooth.

Generously butter the bread slices on one side only. Put half the slices, buttered side down, in a heavy skillet. Layer each bread slice with 2 slices of Gruyere and 3 slices of ham, with the Gruyere on the outside. Spread the Dijon mustard on the unbuttered sides of the remaining bread slices, and put each on top of a sandwich, buttered side up.

Put the skillet over medium-high heat and cook the sandwiches until golden on each side. If the cheese melts well, flipping them with a spatula should be easy. I help the melting process along by covering the pan, or weighting down the sandwiches with a large plate.

Place the sandwiches in a baking dish and divide the béchamel evenly between them, spooning it generously over the top. Broil the sandwiches until the sauce is bubbling and golden.

Serve immediately. I like to serve this sandwich with buttered, steamed asparagus spears.

Serves 4

Nov 252016
 

storm2

You may have seen in the past on this blog that a certain date is noteworthy because two notable people with related interests share the same birthday. Today I give you an accounting of the many disastrous events that happened on 25th November in different years worldwide, all related to bad weather. The events span a total of 170 years from 1839 to 2009. I get the strong feeling that this is not a good date to be thinking about venturing out to sea or climbing a mountain. These are the weather disasters that occurred on this date to my knowledge. There may have been more.

storm-cor

1839  On this date, the bustling port city of Coringa, situated near the mouth of the Godavari River on the southeastern coast of India was slammed by a disastrous cyclone. In 1789 it had been brutally hit by a cyclone that left around 20,000 dead, but though devastated, the port city was still able to function. The 1839 cyclone delivered terrible winds and a giant 12 m (40 ft) storm surge. The port was destroyed, about 20,000 vessels were lost, and 300,000 people were killed. The port was never fully rebuilt and Coringa today remains a simple village. It was in the wake of this storm that the term “cyclone” was coined by British East India Company official Henry Piddington to describe devastatingly swirling winds. The word “cyclone” is irregularly formed from a Latinized form of Greek kyklon “moving in a circle, whirling around,” present participle of kykloun “move in a circle, whirl,” from kyklos “circle” (from which we also get “cycle”). This, so far, has been the third most destructive storm in history.

storm1

1926  The deadliest November tornado outbreak in U.S. history struck on this date, which was Thanksgiving Day, and continued the following day. A total of 27 tornadoes of great strength were reported in the Midwest, including the strongest November tornado, an estimated F4, that devastated Heber Springs, Arkansas. There were 51 deaths in Arkansas alone, with a total of 107 deaths and 451 injuries overall.

storm-snow

1950 On this date, the Great Appalachian Storm of November 1950, a large extra-tropical cyclone,  moved through the Eastern United States, causing significant winds, heavy rains east of the Appalachians, and blizzard conditions along the western slopes of the mountain chain. Hurricane-force winds, peaking at 110 miles per hour (180 km/h) in Concord, New Hampshire and 160 miles per hour (260 km/h) in the New England highlands, disrupted power to 1,000,000 customers during the event. In all, the storm impacted 22 states, killing 353, injuring over 160, and creating US$66.7 million in damage (1950 dollars). At the time, U.S. insurance companies paid more money out to their policy holders for damage resulting from this cyclone than for any other previous storm or hurricane. The cyclone is also the highest-ranking winter storm on the Regional Snowfall Index with a maximum value of 32.31.

The cyclone initially began forming in southeast North Carolina near a cold front on the morning of November 24 as a cyclone over the Great Lakes weakened. Rapid development ensued and the cyclone completely formed while moving north through Washington D.C. the next morning. The former occluded front to its northwest became a warm front which moved back to the west around the strengthening, and now dominant, southern low pressure center. By the evening of November 25, the cyclone retrograded, or moved northwestward, into Ohio due to a blocking ridge up across eastern Canada. It was at this time that the pressure gradient was its most intense across southern New England and eastern New York.  The cyclone moved west over Lake Erie before looping over Ohio as the low-level and mid-level cyclone centers coupled. Significant convection within its comma head led to the development of a warm seclusion, or a pocket of low level warm air, near its center which aided in further development due to the increased lapse rates a warmer low level environment affords under a cold low. After the system became stacked with height, the storm slowly spun down as it drifted north and northeast into eastern Canada over the succeeding few days.

storm-nina

1987 Typhoon Nina, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Sisang, struck the Philippines on this date. Typhoon Nina originated from an area of convection near the Marshall Islands in mid-November 1987. It gradually became better organized, and on November 19, was first classified as a tropical cyclone. Moving west-northwest, Nina attained tropical storm intensity that evening. Late on November 20, Nina passed through the Chuuk Lagoon. After a brief pause in intensification, Nina intensified into a typhoon on November 22. Two days later, the typhoon intensified suddenly, before attaining its peak 10 minute intensity of 165 km/h (105 mph). During the afternoon of November 25, Nina moved ashore in southern Luzon at the same intensity.

Across the Chuuk Lagoon, four people were killed and damage ranged from $30–$40 million (1987 USD). In the capital of Weno, 85% of dwellings and 50% of government buildings were damaged. Throughout the atoll, at least 1,000 people were rendered homeless, approximately 1,000 houses were damaged, and 39 injuries were reported. While crossing the Philippines, Nina brought extensive damage to the northern portion of the island group. The town of Matnog sustained the worst damage from the typhoon, where 287 people died. 61 people died in the nearby city of Verla, where 98% of all structures were either damaged or destroyed. 400 people died, 80% of all crops were destroyed, and 90% of all homes were either damaged or destroyed in Sorsogon province. Nearby, in the Albay province, 73 people were killed. Throughout both the Albay and Sorsogon provinces, four-fifths of all schools and half of all public infrastructure were destroyed. Elsewhere, in Boac, 80% of homes lost their roofs. In Bacacay, 18 of the village’s 200 homes were destroyed. However, the capital city of Manila avoided the brunt of the typhoon. Throughout the Philippines, approximately 114,000 people sought shelter, approximately 90,000 houses were destroyed, leaving more than 150,000 homeless. Nationwide, damage from the storm totaled $54.5 million and 808 people died.

storm-ice

1996 On this date a powerful ice storm struck the central U.S., killing 26 people. I had never experienced an ice storm until I moved to New York State and found them quite beautiful until I became a home owner. After that I was more concerned than entranced. The formation of ice begins with a layer of above-freezing air in the atmosphere over a layer of sub-freezing temperatures closer to the surface. Frozen precipitation melts to rain while falling into the warm air layer, and then begins to refreeze in the cold layer below. If the precipitate refreezes while still in the air, it will land on the ground as sleet. However, the liquid droplets may continue to fall without freezing, passing through the cold air just above the surface. This thin layer of air then cools the rain to a temperature below freezing. In this case the drops themselves do not freeze, a phenomenon known as supercooling. When the supercooled drops strike ground or anything else below 0 °C (32 °F) (e.g. power lines, tree branches, aircraft), a layer of ice accumulates as the cold water drips off, forming a slowly thickening film of ice.

Ice storms can be perfectly beautiful to look at (from a distance), but they frequently bring down tree limbs or whole trees, power lines and such from the sheer weight of accumulated ice. When they occurred on my property it was eerie to go out, especially at night, and hear the periodic sound of limbs creaking and crashing. I’m glad to say that none ever fell directly on my house, but there were some close calls.

To add to the misery on this date, a powerful windstorm affected Florida with winds gusting over 90 mph, toppling trees and flipping trailers.

storm-nisha

2008 On November 24 an area of low pressure formed over land in Sri Lanka. Later that day the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) assessed the low-pressure area’s chance of becoming a significant tropical cyclone within 24 hours as ‘poor’, due to the minimal convection near the Low Level Circulation Center. The next morning the JTWC issued a Tropical Cyclone Formation Alert on the low-pressure area, stating it had a ‘good’ chance of becoming a significant tropical cyclone within 24 hours, as the Low Level Circulation Center was moving into the Bay of Bengal. Two hours later the India Meteorological Department (IMD) upgraded the area of low pressure to Depression BOB 07. Three hours later the IMD reported that the depression had intensified into a Deep Depression whilst remaining stationary. Later that day the JTWC upgraded the Deep Depression to Tropical Cyclone 06B and reported that the depression had wind speeds equivalent to a tropical storm, on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The cyclone was named Nisha.

15 people were killed when Nisha hit northern Sri Lanka on November 25, 2008, causing heavy rains and flooding that reportedly displaced between 60,000 and 70,000 people in Vanni and 20,000 people in Jaffna district. Jaffna recorded the highest rainfall since 1918, of 520.1 mm of rain in one week, with the 26 November total rainfall (389.8 mm) being the highest in nine decades.

At least 189 people were killed by the heavy rains and floods caused by Nisha in Tamil Nadu. Some places recorded extreme rainfall, notably Orathanadu, Thanjavur District where over 660 mm of rain fell in a 24-hour period, breaking the 65-year-old record of highest daily rainfall in Tamil Nadu. In two days, Orathanadu registered 990 mm of rainfall. Previously the highest amount of rainfall in a day was 570 mm registered by Cuddalore on May 18, 1943. During the four-day period from 25 through 28 November, Orathanadu received 1280 mm of rainfall, making it as the 4th wettest Cylone in India to date. A map showing the most affected areas was released by ReliefWeb. Damage in India totaled to 3789 crores, or 800 million in 2008 USD.

storm-jeddah

2009 The 2009 Saudi Arabian floods affected Jeddah, on the Red Sea (western) coast of Saudi Arabia, and other areas of Makkah Province. They have been described by local officials as the worst in 27 years. About 122 people were reported to have died, and more than 350 were missing. Some roads were under a meter (3 ft) of water on 26 November, and many of the victims were believed to have drowned in their cars. At least 3,000 vehicles were swept away or damaged.

More than 90 mm (3½ inches) of rain fell in Jeddah in just four hours on Wednesday 25 November. This is nearly twice the average for an entire year and the heaviest rainfall in Saudi Arabia in a decade. The flooding came just two days before the expected date of the Eid al-Adha festival and during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to nearby Mecca. Business losses were estimated at a billion riyals (US$270 million). The poorer neighborhoods in the south of Jeddah were particularly hard hit, as was the area around King Abdulaziz University. The university was closed for vacation at the time of the floods, preventing even higher casualties.

25 November was the first day of the annual four-day Hajj pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in and around Mecca, for which Jeddah is the main entry point for foreign pilgrims arriving by air or sea. The number of foreigners, as well as Saudi citizens, was slightly lower than in previous years, possibly because of health fears due to the pandemic of H1N1 influenza. However, over 1.6 million are still believed to have made the hajj, with 200,000 coming from Indonesia alone.

According to the Saudi Interior Ministry, none of the flood victims was taking part in the pilgrimage. However, the main Haramain expressway between King Abdulaziz International Airport and Mecca was closed on 25 November, stranding thousands of pilgrims. Parts of the 80-km (50 mi) highway were reported to have caved in, and the Jamia bridge in eastern Jeddah partially collapsed. The highway remained closed on 26 November amid fears that the bridge would collapse completely.

Rain was unusually heavy in Mecca on 25 November, as well as in nearby Mina, where many pilgrims stay in vast tent cities. The weather had improved by 26 November, and pilgrims had to face scorching heat on the plain of Mount Arafat for the second day of the Hajj.

I have lived through my fair share of stormy weather over the years, including hurricanes, typhoons, and ice storms in North Carolina, New York, Hong Kong, and mainland China. I’ve also had to deal with the aftermath of storms in Florida and Louisiana. For me, having a good water and food supply is essential for weathering bad storms and I was always prepared. Typically in my house in the Catskills the power would go out during a storm either because the local sub-station was disrupted, or because power lines had fallen. Power outages could last from a few hours to a week depending on the nature of the problem. About half a day was typical for an averagely severe storm. In my house, water was supplied by a well with an electric pump, and heat came through forced hot air driven by an electric fan. So a power outage meant no water and no heat.  I always stocked up with several gallons of water before a major storm, and kept a stack of firewood indoors for my wood stove. My cooking stove ran on bottled gas. The electric igniters would not work with the power out, but matches always work. So, I could always keep warm, hydrated, and fed.

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With the power out for an indefinite period of time you shouldn’t open the refrigerator or freezer doors. I would seal the doors with strong duct tape to prevent momentary lapses in judgment resulting in melted ice cream. Without the refrigerator my menu choices came down to my non-perishables.   I’m nowhere near as assiduous with non-perishables as my mother used to be, but back in New York I could survive for a week without assistance. My mum’s pantry used to look like a culinary Aladdin’s cave. Given her wartime and post-war experiences she felt it her duty to have a year’s supply of food in the pantry including dried soups, canned goods, and other non-perishables. I don’t go any near that far but I always have a number of grains, dried pulses, and whatnot on hand for regular meals, and keep a stock of canned goods. I’ve always got rice (jasmine, basmati, Arborio), pasta (various types), and pulses (red and brown lentils, beans, chick peas, black-eyed peas). I don’t normally buy canned vegetables except tomatoes which I always have, both whole and crushed. They are better than fresh tomatoes for sauces, soups and stews. Of course I also have my herb and spice collection plus assorted bouillon cubes  along with wheat and rice flour, rolled oats, pearl barley, white and brown sugar, and various condiments and pickles.

Protein is the only limitation I have in my non-perishable stock. There’s lots possible – corned beef, sardines, herrings etc. – but I’m not a big fan of most tinned proteins. I do like bottled clams, though, and sporadically I use anchovies. I don’t keep it around a lot, but I do also use canned salmon once in a while for kedgeree. So, fish and shellfish are all right with me, but canned meats and common fish, especially tuna, don’t make it to my list. There are a few dried meats and sausages that keep more or less indefinitely however, and they can be reconstituted in soups and stews.

When the lights go out there’s plenty for me to make – linguine with clams or tomato sauce, bean or lentil soup. Of course fresh items such as butter, cream, milk, and eggs are missing. You could stock milk powder or dehydrated eggs, but you can do without them for a few days.

Oct 082016
 

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On this date in 1956, in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Larsen’s perfect game is the only perfect game in the history of the World Series one of only 23 perfect games in major league baseball history. His perfect game remained the only no-hitter of any type ever pitched in postseason play until Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on October 6, 2010, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

I’ve never been a huge baseball fan, but when I lived in New York I occasionally went to games. They have a certain atmosphere. I supported the Mets and my colleague down the hall from my office at Purchase College, Rich Nassisi, was a die-hard Yankees fan. We indulged in a great deal of friendly banter about baseball over the years, so this post is my little memory of those days. I hope you enjoy it Rich.

Rich and I agree that the true baseball aficionado knows that the most crucial element of any baseball team is the pitching staff. Sure it’s great to see your favorite slugger hit a game-winning grand slam, but at the end of the day, if your team has gorillas for batters but mediocre pitching, you’re not going into the post season.  End of story. If you go to a Yankees or Mets game you’ll see that the fans pay as much attention to the pitching as the batting, because they are true baseball fans. At other venues the fans are less knowledgeable or caring. I went to a Cincinnati Reds game once and was astounded to find that the fans around me were riveted to the play when the Reds were at bat, and totally uninterested when they were pitching. They went off to get hot dogs or beer, or else chatted mindlessly about something other than baseball. Not fans in my book. Hitting is important, but it’s the pitching that counts.

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I can’t imagine that Don Larsen’s feat will ever be repeated. The fact that it took until 2010 for a pitcher to pitch even a no-hitter in the post season is telling. Perfect games are rare under “ordinary” circumstances and every pitcher who pitches one in the major leagues becomes a legend – rightly. As a small sop to his teammates I will grant the fielders some credit too !!  A perfect game means that no hitter reaches base – 27 up, 27 down – for any reason. That means, no hits, no walks, and no hit batsmen. Rarely an error occurs but does not count if the batsman does not reach base – a misplayed foul ball, for example. Only 21 perfect games have been pitched in the modern era, that is, since 1900 when the rules changed substantially, and only 3 had been pitched before 1956 (1904, 1908, 1922). Don Larsen’s World Series feat is unlikely to be repeated because these are not “ordinary” circumstances. You’re talking about the two best teams of the season that year, slugging it out to be the champions. The chances that no one on a team will reach base under any circumstances are minuscule.

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The game is also a great classic because it was between the old Yankees and Dodgers as they are fondly remembered – bitter cross-town rivals (just before the Dodgers moved to L.A.).  In the late 1940s and early 1950s you almost didn’t need to ask who was in the World Series: it was the Yankees and Dodgers most of the time (and the Yankees usually won). The games were played in those great cathedrals to baseball – Yankee Stadium (as it once was) and Ebbets Field. This was also in the days before the designated hitter was introduced into the American League. In the 1950s pitchers had to bat.

I’ll spare you a long-drawn-out description; you can find details in plenty of places. Here’s some stock footage:

Larsen came to this game as a good pitcher, but not stellar in World Series play. He made his first start in a World Series game in the 1955 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers and was the losing pitcher. The 1956 series was extremely tight. Behind Sal Maglie, the Dodgers defeated the Yankees in Game 1. Casey Stengel, manager of the Yankees, selected Larsen to start Game 2 against the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe. Despite being given a 6–0 lead by the Yankees’ batters, he lasted only  1 2⁄3 innings against the Dodgers in a 13–8 loss. He gave up only one hit, a single by Gil Hodges, but walked four batters, which led to four runs in the process, although none of them was earned because of an error by first baseman Joe Collins. The Yankees won Games 3 and 4 to tie the series at two games apiece.

With the series tied at two games apiece, Larsen started Game 5 for the Yankees. Larsen’s opponent in the game was Maglie. Larsen needed just 97 pitches to complete the game, and only one Dodger batter (Pee Wee Reese in the first inning) was able to get a 3-ball count. In 1998, Larsen recalled, “I had great control. I never had that kind of control in my life.” The closest the Dodgers came to a hit were in the second inning, when Jackie Robinson hit a line drive off third baseman Andy Carey’s glove, the ball caroming to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw Robinson out by a step, and in the fifth, when Mickey Mantle ran down Gil Hodges’ deep fly ball. Brooklyn’s Maglie gave up only two runs on five hits and was perfect himself until Mantle’s fourth-inning home run broke the scoreless tie. The Yankees added an insurance run in the sixth as Hank Bauer’s single scored Carey, who had opened the inning with a single and was sacrificed to second by Larsen. After Roy Campanella grounded out to Billy Martin for the second out of the 9th inning, Larsen faced pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, a .311 career hitter. Throwing fastballs, Larsen got ahead in the count at 1–2. On his 97th pitch, Larsen struck out Mitchell for the 27th and final out. Mitchell appeared to check his swing on that last pitch, but home plate umpire Babe Pinelli, who would retire at the end of this World Series, called the last pitch a strike. Mitchell, who struck out only 119 times in 3,984 at-bats (or once every 34 at-bats) during his career, always maintained that the third strike he took was really a ball.

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In one of the most memorable images in  U.S. sports history, catcher Yogi Berra leapt into Larsen’s arms after the final out. With the death of Berra on September 22, 2015, Larsen is the last living player who played in this game for either team.

I’m stumped when it comes for a recipe today. I’ve talked about hot dogs to death in my posts, not least of all here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/baseball/ in my homage to the history of baseball. I can’t even give a recipe for Cracker Jack (as in, “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack), because I gave a recipe for caramel popcorn two days ago http://www.bookofdaystales.com/motion-pictures/ Life gets bleak when you post constantly for over three years. But . . . there’s always hope. Larsen’s game was played at Yankee Stadium, last of a 3-game set before the series returned to Ebbets Field. Nowadays at Yankee stadium there’s a great deal more on offer than hot dogs and Cracker Jack, although you’ll certainly find them. You won’t find anything at the stadium this year (2016) in the post season, though. The Yankees had a dismal year.  Nonetheless, here’s a listing of food stalls at the stadium from this website — http://ny.eater.com/2016/4/1/11347464/what-to-eat-at-yankee-stadium-2016

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Section 100

For the meat lovers in the crowd, there are outposts of both Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (133) and Lobel’s of New York (134), plus Parm, the well-known Italian sandwich shop in Section 104. NYY Steak Express, which serves strip steak sandwiches in Section 109, is right next to chicken wing stand Wings (109). Johnny Rockets, the faux-retro chain also serves burgers, hot dogs, shakes and fries in Section 132. And starting next week, Carl’s Steak (107) is offering a two-footlong cheesesteak for $27.

For a snack that doesn’t involve beef, the best bet is Garlic Fries (108) which offers French fries in a variety of permutations, including cheese fries and garlic fries, plus chicken fingers. Cheese lovers can go to Big Cheese (107) for grilled cheese sandwiches with Boar’s Head cheese. And those looking for something completely different can find noodle bowls and assorted sushi platters at the Noodle Bowl and Sushi Stand (Section 127B and A, respectively)

The Pepsi Food Court (126) is where fans can find Papa Johns Pizza and Nathan’s hot dogs, plus frozen drinks, craft beer, premium drafts, and cask-aged cocktails including a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Negroni. Making its debut at the ballpark and the Pepsi Food Court this year is lunchtime favorite Hale and Hearty Soups. A rotating menu will include a classic chicken noodle, chili mac and cheese, lasagna, sweet-corn chowder that’s gluten-free, and a vegetarian three-lentil chili. The menu also offers a variety of cold soups.

Between Sections 100 and 200 is the Tommy Bahama Marlin Bar serving drinks like a classic piña colada, tropical Tea, and “The Spicy Apple.”

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Cheese steaks, burgers, garlic fries, and ribs all seem like reasonable additions to the old stand-bys, but sushi????? I’m crushed. The point is that creating ballpark food at home is a mistake. Go out to a game, and should you ever find me at one ever again, I’ll be eating a hot dog with mustard, onions, and sauerkraut.

Aug 122016
 

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Today is the birthday (1925) of twins Norris Dewar McWhirter, CBE, and Alan Ross McWhirter, both of whom were athletes, sports journalists, television presenters, and co-founders of Guinness World Records, which began as The Guinness Book of Records, a book which they wrote and annually updated together between 1955 and 1975.

Norris and Ross were the twin sons (Norris was the elder) of William McWhirter, the editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret Williamson. In 1929, as William was working on the founding of the Northcliffe Newspapers chain of provincial newspapers, the family moved to “Aberfoyle”, in Broad Walk, Winchmore Hill.  Like their elder brother, Kennedy (born 1923), Norris and Ross were educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford.  Between 1943 and 1946, both served with the Royal Navy on active service in the Atlantic (escort duty) and the Pacific (minesweeping).

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Ross and Norris both became sports journalists in 1950. In 1951, they published Get to Your Marks, and earlier that year they had founded an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street, setting out, in Norris’ words “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers.” At the same time, he became a founding member of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians.

Norris came to public attention while working for the BBC as a sports commentator, when on 6 May 1954, he kept the time at Iffley Rd track in Oxford when Roger Bannister ran the first sub four-minute mile. His announcement after the race has gone down in sports history because of his droll drawing out of the delivery of the actual result:

As a result of Event Four, the one mile, the winner was R.G. Bannister of Exeter and Merton colleges, in a time which, subject to ratification, is a track record, an English native record, a United Kingdom record, a European record, in a time of three minutes…

The rest of the announcement was drowned out in the deafening uproar.

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One of the athletes in Bannister’s record mile, whom the twins knew and covered on several occasions, was Christopher Chataway, who, as an employee at Guinness, introduced them to Hugh Beaver (managing director of Guinness). After an interview in 1954 in which the Guinness directors enjoyed testing the twins’ knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agreed to start work on the book that would become The Guinness Book of Records. In August 1955, the first slim green volume – 198 pages long – was at the bookstalls, and in four months it was the UK’s number one non-fiction best-seller.

Both brothers were regulars on the BBC television show The Record Breakers. They were noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about world records – both published and unpublished.

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Both brothers had political views that I find repugnant. They were both highly conservative with pro-business, anti-trade union opinions (bordering on libertarian). Both stood for elections as Tory MPs, but were defeated. They also had hard-line policies concerning sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and England.

Ross was a vocal critic of British government policy in Northern Ireland, and called for a “tougher” response by the Army against Irish republicans. He advocated restrictions on the Irish community in Britain such as making it compulsory for all Irish people in Britain to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels. In addition, he offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for several recent high-profile bombings in England that were publicly claimed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

On 27 November 1975, Ross was murdered by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom were members of what became known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture Ross had offered the reward. He was shot at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Enfield, Middlesex. Of course I absolutely deplore this murder, and admire his courage for standing out against violence. I will not brook any sentiment that suggests that he deserved to be a target.

Following Ross’s murder, Norris co-founded the right-wing political organization the National Association for Freedom (now The Freedom Association). This organization initiated legal challenges against the trade union movement in the UK, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and the European Economic Community (EEC), later the European Union (EU). I don’t agree with any of these stances or their political motivation.

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After Ross’s death, Norris continued to appear alone on Record Breakers, eventually making him one of the most recognizable people on children’s television in the 1970s and 1980s, leading him to be made a CBE in 1980.

Norris retired from The Guinness Book of Records in 1985, though he continued in an advisory role until 1996, when he was forced out by the company, which wanted to downplay the listing of records in favor of dramatic illustrations. Nonetheless, he continued to write, editing a new reference book, Norris McWhirter’s Book of Millennium Records, in 1999. Norris died of a heart attack at his home in Kington Langley, Wiltshire, on 19 April 2004, aged 78.

Several world records that were once included in Guinness World Records have been removed for ethical reasons, including concerns for the wellbeing of potential record breakers. The “eating and drinking records” section of Human Achievements was dropped over concerns that potential competitors could harm themselves and expose the publisher to litigation. These changes included the removal of all liquor, wine, and beer drinking records, along with other unusual records for consuming such unlikely things as bicycles and trees. Nonetheless, the world’s largest, heaviest, etc. foods are still very much in play.

This gallery taken from this site — http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/03/18/top-7-record-breaking-foods/ — gives an idea of why you’re not going to break any records cooking today.

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Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be part of making such gargantuan dishes. They are surely a tribute to quantity over quality which I heartily disdain. World’s most expensive foods don’t float my boat either as in the case of this fish sandwich:

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The Birds Eye company created this sandwich to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. It cost £187 to make.

Most delicious, most artistic, and so forth interest me a lot more, but here we’re dealing with personal aesthetics which are not quantifiable. You might be able to quantify world’s favorite, but that’s iffy. Oxfam recently did a survey of 16,000 people worldwide and determined that pasta was the most popular choice. Big help. What does that even mean? What kind of pasta? Prepared how? In general, food superlatives are of little interest to me. I don’t have a favorite food, as such. My tastes constantly change based on all manner of factors. The list of the foods I’ve disliked the most is fairly short, but, of course, it’s highly subjective, and every one of them is something that some people adore. I’ll die a happy man if I never eat sea cucumber with winter melon again, but it is considered a great delicacy in east Asia. You’ll at least give me credit for eating the whole plateful I was served, even though I wanted to run a mile.

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Basically I think you ought to cook your own favorite today, but given that the McWhirters had a Scots heritage I’ll go with what many people outside of Scotland will grant as a (perhaps uniquely) strange dish in name and construction – crappit heid. Actually when it comes to a competition for strangest name in Scots’ cooking there are a lot of entrants: festy cock, clapshot, rumbledethumps, and fatty cutty are strong contenders. But crappit heid has name and ingredients on its side, even though it’s a great dish. Crappit heid is lowland Scots dialect for “stuffed head” – stuffed fish head to be precise.

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Crappit heid originated in the fishing communities of the Hebrides and North-Eastern Scotland in the 18th century. Money was scarce so the desirable fillets of cod or haddock were be sold by fishermen to markets, but the offal and less attractive parts were retained for the pot. Crappit heid was a common meal in fishing communities, consisting of the head of a large cod or similar sized fish, washed, descaled and then stuffed with a mixture of oats, suet, onion, white pepper and the liver of the fish. This was then sewn or skewered to close the aperture and boiled in seawater. The dish was served with potatoes or other root vegetables in season.

Although once a common dish in Scotland, crappit heid has, like many traditional dishes, become a rarity. Cod livers are now harder to obtain and usually only available if the fish has been caught by local line fishermen. However if you can get them, they add valuable nutrients including, of course, cod liver oil. I don’t live anywhere near the sea at present and can’t get access to whole fresh fish to give it a whirl. I don’t imagine either that any of my readers will want to rush out to snag fish heads for dinner. Here’s a website instead that tells you all you want if you are interested. The URL says it all:

http://foodanddrink.scotsman.com/general/a-history-of-crappit-heid-including-a-recipe-for-making-your-own/

Jul 162016
 

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Today is the birthday (1821) of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. Eddy wrote the movement’s textbook Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (first published 1875) and founded the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1879. She also founded the Christian Science Publishing Society (1898), which continues to publish a number of periodicals, including The Christian Science Monitor (founded in 1908).

Eddy was born Mary Morse Baker in a farmhouse in Bow, New Hampshire to farmer Mark Baker (d. 1865) and his wife Abigail Barnard Baker, née Ambrose (d. 1849). She was the youngest of the Bakers’ six children.

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Eddy and her father reportedly had a volatile relationship. Ernest Sutherland Bates and John V. Dittemore wrote in 1932 that Baker sought to break Eddy’s will with harsh punishment, although her mother often intervened; in contrast to Mark Baker, Eddy’s mother was described as devout, quiet, light-hearted, and kind. Eddy experienced periods of sudden illness, perhaps unconsciously in an effort to control her father’s attitude toward her. Those who knew the family described her as suddenly falling to the floor, writhing and screaming, or silent and apparently unconsciousness, sometimes for hours. Robert Peel, one of Eddy’s biographers, worked for the Christian Science church and wrote in 1966:

This was when life took on the look of a nightmare, overburdened nerves gave way, and she would end in a state of unconsciousness that would sometimes last for hours and send the family into a panic. On such an occasion Lyman Durgin, the Baker’s teen-age chore boy, who adored Mary, would be packed off on a horse for the village doctor …

Eddy described her problems with food in the first edition of Science and Health (1875). She wrote that she had suffered from chronic indigestion as a child and, hoping to cure it, had embarked on a diet of nothing but water, bread, and vegetables, at one point consumed just once a day.

She also wrote in her autobiography Retrospection and Introspection (1891) that, when she was eight, she heard a voice call her name, which she interpreted as a religious experience:

For some twelve months, when I was about eight years old, I repeatedly heard a voice, calling me distinctly by name, three times, in an ascending scale.

One day, when my cousin, Mehitable Huntoon, was visiting us, and I sat in a little chair by her side, in the same room with grandmother, — the call again came, so loud that Mehitable heard it, though I had ceased to notice it. …

That night, before going to rest, my mother read to me the Scriptural narrative of little Samuel, and bade me, when the voice called again, to reply as he did, ‘Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.’ The voice came; but I was afraid, and did not answer. Afterward I wept, and prayed that God would forgive me, resolving to do, next time, as my mother had bidden me. When the call came again I did answer, in the words of Samuel, but never again to the material senses was that mysterious call repeated.

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Eddy was badly affected by four deaths in the 1840s. She regarded her brother Albert as a teacher and mentor, but he died in 1841. In 1844, her first husband George Washington Glover (a friend of her brother Samuel’s) died after six months of marriage. They had married in December 1843 and set up home in Charleston, South Carolina, where Glover had business, but he died of yellow fever in June 1844 during a business trip to Wilmington, North Carolina. Eddy was with him in Wilmington, six months pregnant. She had to make her way back to New Hampshire, 1,400 miles by train and steamboat, where her only child George Washington II was born on 12 September in her father’s home.

Her husband’s death, the journey back, and the birth left her physically and mentally exhausted, and she ended up bedridden for months. She briefly tried to earn a living by writing articles for the New Hampshire Patriot. She also worked as a substitute teacher in the New Hampshire Conference Seminary, and ran her own kindergarten for a few months in 1846.

Then her mother died in November 1849. Eddy wrote to one of her brothers: “What is left of earth to me!” Her mother’s death was followed three weeks later by the death of her fiancé, lawyer John Bartlett. In 1850 her son was sent away to be looked after by the family’s nurse; he was four years old by then. Sources differ as to whether Eddy could have prevented this. It was difficult for a woman in her circumstances to earn money and, according to the legal doctrine of coverture, women in the United States during this period could not be their own children’s guardians. When their husbands died, they were left in a legally vulnerable position.

Eddy married again in 1853. Her second husband, Daniel Patterson, was a dentist and apparently said that he would become George’s legal guardian; but he appears not to have gone ahead with this, and Eddy lost contact with her son until he was in his thirties:

My dominant thought in marrying again was to get back my child, but after our marriage his stepfather was not willing he should have a home with me. A plot was consummated for keeping us apart. The family to whose care he was committed very soon removed to what was then regarded as the Far West.

After his removal a letter was read to my little son, informing him that his mother was dead and buried. Without my knowledge a guardian was appointed him, and I was then informed that my son was lost. Every means within my power was employed to find him, but without success. We never met again until he had reached the age of thirty-four, had a wife and two children, and by a strange providence had learned that his mother still lived, and came to see me in Massachusetts.

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In October 1862, Eddy became a patient of Phineas Quimby, a magnetic healer from Maine. From 1862 to 1865, Quimby and Eddy engaged in lengthy discussions about healing methods practiced by Quimby and others. The extent to which he influenced her is much debated. Originally, Eddy gave Quimby much credit for his hypnotic treatments of her nervous and physical conditions and initially thought his brand of mesmerism entirely benign.

Quimby was steeped both in the Protestant Christianity of his time and the science of the Industrial Revolution. He wrote in 1864,

The wise man, in like measure … knows that the light of the body or natural man is but the reflection of the scientific man. Our misery lies in this darkness. This is the prison that holds the natural man, till the light of Wisdom bursts his bonds, and lets the captive free. Here is where Christ went to preach to the prisoners bound by error before the reformation of science.

It is evident that Eddy and Quimby worked together, appreciated one another, and learned from one another, although they often disagreed. Quimby later said that he learned more from Eddy than she did from him. Eddy clearly respected him and, at one point, referred to him as an “advanced thinker” with a “high and noble character.” However, she later disavowed the hypnotic aspect of Quimby’s methods. She refutes hypnotism in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, calling it “mere deception practiced by those who aim to control the patient.”

Eddy wrote that she experienced a healing on February 4, 1866, after a fall in Lynn, Massachusetts on February 1 caused a spinal injury:

On the third day thereafter, I called for my Bible, and opened it at Matthew, 9:2 [And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.]. As I read, the healing Truth dawned upon my sense; and the result was that I arose, dressed myself, and ever after was in better health than I had before enjoyed. That short experience included a glimpse of the great fact that I have since tried to make plain to others, namely, Life in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of existence.

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She wrote in her autobiography Retrospection and Introspection that she devoted the next three years of her life to biblical study and what she considered the discovery of Christian Science: “I then withdrew from society about three years,–to ponder my mission, to search the Scriptures, to find the Science of Mind that should take the things of God and show them to the creature, and reveal the great curative Principle, –Deity.”

Eddy became convinced that illness could be healed through an awakened thought brought about by a clearer perception of God and the explicit rejection of drugs, hygiene, and medicine, based on the observation that Jesus did not use these methods for healing:

It is plain that God does not employ drugs or hygiene, nor provide them for human use; else Jesus would have recommended and employed them in his healing. … The tender word and Christian encouragement of an invalid, pitiful patience with his fears and the removal of them, are better than hecatombs of gushing theories, stereotyped borrowed speeches, and the doling of arguments, which are but so many parodies on legitimate Christian Science, aflame with divine Love.

Eddy separated from her second husband Daniel Patterson, after which she boarded for four years with several families in Lynn, Amesbury, and elsewhere. Frank Podmore wrote:

But she was never able to stay long in one family. She quarreled successively with all her hostesses, and her departure from the house was heralded on two or three occasions by a violent scene. Her friends during these years were generally Spiritualists; she seems to have professed herself a Spiritualist, and to have taken part in séances. She was occasionally entranced, and had received “spirit communications” from her deceased brother Albert. Her first advertisement as a healer appeared in 1868, in the Spiritualist paper, The Banner of Light. During these years she carried about with her a copy of one of Quimby’s manuscripts giving an abstract of his philosophy. This manuscript she permitted some of her pupils to copy.

Between 1866 and 1870, Eddy boarded at the home of Brene Paine Clark who was interested in Spiritualism. Séances  were often conducted there, but Eddy and Clark engaged in vigorous, good-natured arguments about them. Eddy’s arguments against Spiritualism convinced at least one other who was there at the time—Hiram Crafts—that “her science was far superior to spirit teachings.”

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Eddy divorced Daniel Patterson for adultery in 1873. She published her work in 1875 in  what was titled Science and Health (years later retitled Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures) which she called the textbook of Christian Science, after several years of offering her healing method. The first publication run was 1,000 copies, which she self-published. During these years, she taught what she considered the science of “primitive Christianity” to at least 800 people.

In 1877, she married Asa Gilbert Eddy; in 1882, they moved to Boston, and he died that year. Eddy devoted the rest of her life to the establishment of the church, writing its bylaws, The Manual of The Mother Church, and revising Science and Health. By the 1870s she was telling her students, “Some day I will have a church of my own.” In 1879 she and her students established the Church of Christ, Scientist, “to commemorate the word and works of our Master [Jesus], which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.” In 1892 at Eddy’s direction, the church reorganized as The First Church of Christ, Scientist, “designed to be built on the Rock, Christ….” Some years later in 1881, she founded the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, where she taught approximately 800 students between the years 1882 and 1889, when she closed it.

Her students spread across the country practicing healing, and instructing others. Eddy authorized these students to list themselves as Christian Science Practitioners in the church’s periodical, The Christian Science Journal. She also founded the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine with articles about how to heal and testimonies of healing.

In 1894 a building for The First Church of Christ, Scientist was completed in Boston (The Mother Church). In the early years Eddy served as pastor.

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Eddy died of pneumonia on the evening of December 3, 1910 at her home at 400 Beacon Street, in the Chestnut Hill section of Newton, Massachusetts. She was buried on December 8, 1910 at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hundreds of tributes appeared in newspapers around the world, including The Boston Globe, which wrote, “She did a wonderful—an extraordinary work in the world and there is no doubt that she was a powerful influence for good.”

Christian Science has only very general views on food (no alcohol, coffee, or tea), and the Christian Science Monitor these days publishes a wide range of recipes. Here’s a link to the Monitor’s cooking pages with recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches (with apple and arugula) and lentil soup – my kind of basic cooking when I want something soothing.

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http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Food/Stir-It-Up/2016/0412/Smile-it-s-National-Grilled-Cheese-Day These recipes are perfectly in line with Eddy’s youthful vegetarianism and her desire for a healthy diet.

Apr 192016
 

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On this date in 1943, Albert Hofmann, creator of synthetic lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)  performed a self-experiment to determine the true effects of LSD, intentionally ingesting 0.25 milligrams (250 micrograms) of the substance, an amount he predicted to be a threshold dose (an actual threshold dose is 20 micrograms). Less than an hour later, Hofmann experienced sudden and intense changes in perception. He asked his laboratory assistant to escort him home and, as use of motor vehicles was prohibited because of wartime restrictions, they had to make the journey on a bicycle. On the way, Hoffman’s condition rapidly deteriorated as he struggled with feelings of anxiety, alternating in his beliefs that the next-door neighbor was a malevolent witch, that he was going insane, and that the LSD had poisoned him. When the house doctor arrived, however, he could detect no physical abnormalities, save for a pair of incredibly dilated pupils. Hofmann was reassured, and soon his terror began to give way to a sense of good fortune and enjoyment, as he later wrote:

Little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.

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The events of this first LSD trip, now known as “Bicycle Day”, after the bicycle ride home, proved to Hofmann that he had indeed made a significant discovery: a psychoactive substance with extraordinary potency, capable of causing significant shifts of consciousness in incredibly low doses. Hofmann foresaw the drug as a powerful psychiatric tool; because of its intense and introspective nature, he couldn’t imagine anyone using it recreationally. Bicycle Day is increasingly observed in psychedelic communities as a day to celebrate the discovery of LSD.

The celebration of Bicycle Day originated in DeKalb, Illinois, in 1985, when Thomas B. Roberts, then a professor at Northern Illinois University, invented the name “Bicycle Day” when he founded the first Bicycle Day celebration at his home. Several years later, he sent an announcement made by one of his students to friends and Internet lists, thus propagating the idea and the celebration. His original intent was to commemorate Hofmann’s original, accidental exposure on April 16th, but that date fell midweek and was not a good time for the party, so he chose the 19th to honor Hofmann’s first intentional exposure.

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Albert Hofmann was born in Switzerland and joined the pharmaceutical-chemical department of Sandoz Laboratories, located in Basel as a co-worker with professor Arthur Stoll, founder and director of the pharmaceutical department. He began studying the medicinal plant squill and the fungus ergot as part of a program to purify and synthesize active constituents for use as pharmaceuticals. His main contribution was to elucidate the chemical structure of the common nucleus of Scilla glycosides (an active principle of Mediterranean Squill). While researching lysergic acid derivatives, Hofmann first synthesized LSD on November 16, 1938. The main intention of the synthesis was to obtain a respiratory and circulatory stimulant (an analeptic). It was set aside for five years, until April 16, 1943, when Hofmann decided to take a second look at it. While re-synthesizing LSD, he accidentally absorbed a small amount of the drug through his fingertips (and may have accidentally touched his eye) and discovered its powerful effects. He described what he felt as being:

 … affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After about two hours this condition faded away.

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Beginning in the 1950s, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began a research program code named Project MKULTRA. Experiments included administering LSD to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, prostitutes, mentally ill patients, and members of the general public in order to study their reactions, usually without the subjects’ knowledge. The project was revealed in the US congressional Rockefeller Commission report in 1975.

In 1963, the Sandoz patents expired on LSD. Several figures, including Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Al Hubbard, began to advocate the use of LSD. LSD became central to the counterculture of the 1960s. In the early 1960s the use of LSD and other hallucinogens was advocated by new proponents of consciousness expansion such as Leary, Huxley, Alan Watts and Arthur Koestler, which profoundly influenced the thinking of the new generation.

On October 24, 1968, possession of LSD was made illegal in the United States. The last FDA approved study of LSD in patients ended in 1980, while a study in healthy volunteers was made in the late 1980s. Legally approved and regulated psychiatric use of LSD continued in Switzerland until 1993.

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I grew up in the 1960s so acid and psychedelic counterculture is old hat for me. By just in case you are too young to remember those crazy days I’ll give a brief synopsis. By the mid-1960s, the psychedelic lifestyle had already developed in youth countercultures in California, particularly in San Francisco, with the first major underground LSD factory established by Owsley Stanley. From 1964 the Merry Pranksters, a loose group that developed around novelist Ken Kesey, sponsored the Acid Tests, a series of events primarily staged in or near San Francisco, involving the taking of LSD (supplied by Stanley), accompanied by light shows, film projection and discordant, improvised music known as the psychedelic symphony. The Pranksters helped popularize LSD use, through their road trips across America in a psychedelically-decorated converted school bus, which involved distributing the drug and meeting with major figures of the beat movement, and through publications about their activities such as Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) – a good read. In both music and art, the influence on LSD was soon being more widely seen and heard thanks to the bands that participated in the Acid Tests and related events, including The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and through the dazzling and wildly inventive poster and album art of San Francisco-based artists like Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Bonnie MacLean, Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley, and Wes Wilson.

A similar and connected nexus of LSD use in the creative arts developed around the same time in London. A key figure in this phenomenon in the UK was British academic Michael Hollingshead, who first tried LSD in the US in 1961 while he was the Executive Secretary for the Institute of British-American Cultural Exchange. After being given a large quantity of pure Sandoz LSD (which was still legal at the time) and experiencing his first trip, Hollingshead contacted Aldous Huxley, who suggested that he get in touch with Harvard academic Timothy Leary, and over the next few years, in concert with Leary and Richard Alpert, Hollingshead played a major role in their famous LSD research at Millbrook before moving to New York City, where he conducted his own LSD experiments. In 1965 Hollingshead returned to the UK and founded the World Psychedelic Center in Chelsea in London.

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Among the many famous people in the UK that Hollingshead is reputed to have introduced to LSD are artist and Hipgnosis founder Storm Thorgerson, and musicians Donovan, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison. Although establishment concern about the new drug led to it being declared illegal by the Home Secretary in 1966, LSD was soon being used widely in the upper echelons of the British art and music scene, including members of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, The Small Faces, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and others, and the products of these experiences were soon being both heard and seen by the public with singles like The Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” and LPs like The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Cream’s Disraeli Gears, which featured music that showed the obvious influence of the musicians’ recent psychedelic excursions, and which were packaged in elaborately-designed album covers that featured vividly-coloured psychedelic artwork by artists like Peter Blake, Martin Sharp, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (Nigel Waymouth and Michael English) and art/music collective “The Fool.” Memories !!!

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In the 1960s, and ever since, when LSD became illegal, people have tried to promote natural (legal) foods that can produce hallucinations. Most mushrooms with hallucinogenic qualities are banned in the West, but I know of a few that can be legally obtained in China. In fact I’ve seen a number sold on the streets in cities, but never bought any because the sale is largely unregulated and people die annually from poisonous mushrooms. I did buy quite a few funky looking mushrooms for culinary purposes, however, and lived to tell the tale.

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Heavy doses of very hot foods created with powerful chile peppers are also known to induce hallucinations, though not reliably. I’m a big fan of intense curries and have never experienced anything other than tongue-searing heat, pouring sweat, and the feeling that my eyeballs were falling out.  It is also said that large doses of ground fresh nutmeg (2 tablespoons or more) can be hallucinogenic. As with chiles and other home experiments I DO NOT RECOMMEND this. You’re more likely to get nauseous than anything else, and there may be physical damage.

It has been known for centuries that Sarpa salpa, known commonly as the salema, salema porgy, cow bream or goldline, a species of sea bream, recognizable by the golden stripes that run down the length of its body, can cause hallucinations when eaten. It is found in the East Atlantic, as well as the Mediterranean, ranging from the Bay of Biscay to South Africa. It has occasionally been found as far north as Great Britain. It is quite common and found from near the surface to a depth of 70 m (230 ft). Males are typically 15 to 30 cm (6–12 in) in length, while females are usually 31 to 45 cm (12–18 in).

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Sarpa salpa became widely known recently for its psychoactivity following articles published in 2006 (and disseminated widely), when two men ingested it at a Mediterranean restaurant and began to experience auditory and visual hallucinogenic effects. These hallucinations, obviously unexpected, were reported to have occurred minutes after the fish was ingested and had a total duration of 36 hours. Salema is, in fact, often served as a dish at seafood restaurants in the Mediterranean area without these effects. It is believed that this and other Mediterranean fish sometimes ingest a particular algae or phytoplankton which renders it hallucinogenic. These effects have been reported sporadically all the way from classical times by Greeks and Arabs – often after eating the head.

Varieties of sea bream are quite readily available and can be prepared in any number of ways – poached, fried, baked, grilled, etc. I’ve always been a big fan of oven baked whole fish because there’s nothing much to it, the fish is tasty, and the results are healthy.

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Make sure the fish is scaled and gutted. Place it on a well greased baking tray, fill the cavity with lemon slices, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 500°F (or hotter) until the skin is browned and the meat is cooked through – between 20 and 30 minutes. Serve on a bed of boiled new potatoes (black olives add a spark), with a green salad or poached green vegetables. I usually go with spinach or asparagus.

Dec 172015
 

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Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn, held on the 17th of December of the Julian calendar, originally, and later expanded with festivities through to the 23rd of December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days.” In Roman official religion, Saturn was an agricultural deity who was said to have reigned over the world in the Golden Age, when humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor, in a state of innocence. The revelries of Saturnalia were supposed to reflect the conditions of the lost mythical age.

Although probably the best-known Roman holiday, Saturnalia as a whole is not described from beginning to end in any single ancient source. Modern understanding of the festival is pieced together from several accounts dealing with various aspects. Saturnalia was the dramatic setting of the multivolume work of that name by Macrobius, a Latin writer from late antiquity who is the major source for information about the holiday. In one of the interpretations in Macrobius’s work, Saturnalia is a festival of light leading to the winter solstice, with the abundant presence of candles symbolizing the quest for knowledge and truth. The renewal of light and the coming of the new year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire at the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun,” on December 25.

The popularity of Saturnalia continued into the third and fourth centuries, and as the Roman Empire came under Christian rule, some of its customs have influenced the seasonal celebrations surrounding Christmas and the New Year. But it is a common mistake to think of Christmas as no more than Saturnalia redux. Obviously there is a degree of borrowing and syncretism, as is only natural because both are midwinter celebrations. But there are also underlying themes that are quite different.

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The statue of Saturn at his main temple normally had its feet bound in wool, which was removed for the holiday as an act of liberation. The official rituals were carried out according to “Greek rite” (ritus graecus). The sacrifice was officiated by a priest, whose head was uncovered; in Roman rite, priests sacrificed capite velato, with head covered by a special fold of the toga. This procedure is usually explained by Saturn’s assimilation with his Greek counterpart Cronus, since the Romans often adopted and reinterpreted Greek stories, iconography, and even religious practices for their own deities, but the uncovering of the priest’s head may also be one of the Saturnalian reversals, the opposite of what was normal.

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Following the sacrifice the Roman Senate arranged a lectisternium, a ritual of Greek origin that typically involved placing a deity’s image on a sumptuous couch, as if he were present and actively participating in the festivities. A public banquet followed (convivium publicum). The day was supposed to be a holiday from all forms of work. Schools were closed, and exercise regimens were suspended. Courts were not in session, so no justice was administered, and no declaration of war could be made.

After the public rituals, observances continued at home. On December 18 and 19, which were also holidays from public business, families conducted domestic rituals. They bathed early, and those with means sacrificed a suckling pig, a traditional offering to an earth deity.

The phrase io Saturnalia was the characteristic shout or salutation of the festival, originally commencing after the public banquet on the single day of December 17. The interjection io (Greek ἰώ, ǐō) is pronounced either with two syllables (a short i and a long o) or as a single syllable (with the i becoming the Latin consonantal j and pronounced yō). It was a strongly emotive ritual exclamation or invocation, used for instance in announcing triumph or celebrating Bacchus, but also to punctuate a joke.

Macrobius writes:

Meanwhile the head of the slave household, whose responsibility it was to offer sacrifice to the Penates, to manage the provisions and to direct the activities of the domestic servants, came to tell his master that the household had feasted according to the annual ritual custom. For at this festival, in houses that keep to proper religious usage, they first of all honor the slaves with a dinner prepared as if for the master; and only afterwards is the table set again for the head of the household. So, then, the chief slave came in to announce the time of dinner and to summon the masters to the table.

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Saturnalia is the best-known of several festivals in the Greco-Roman world characterized by role reversals and behavioral license. Slaves were treated to a banquet of the kind usually enjoyed by their masters. Ancient sources differ on the circumstances: some suggest that master and slave dined together, while others indicate that the slaves feasted first, or that the masters actually served the food. The practice may have varied over time, and in any case slaves would still have prepared the meal.

Saturnalian license also permitted slaves to enjoy a pretense of disrespect for their masters, and exempted them from punishment. It was a time for free speech: the Augustan poet Horace calls it “December liberty.” In two satires set during the Saturnalia, Horace has a slave offer sharp criticism to his master. But everyone knew that the leveling of the social hierarchy was temporary and had limits; no social norms were ultimately threatened, because the holiday would end. In fact, in my own writing I call such role reversal “safety valves” because they allow “letting off steam” in a “pressure cooker” culture. When the Puritans tried to ban “safety valves” in England there were grave social consequences.

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Gambling and dice-playing, normally prohibited or at least frowned upon, were permitted for all, even slaves. Coins and nuts were the stakes. On the Calendar of Philocalus, the Saturnalia is represented by a man wearing a fur-trimmed coat next to a table with dice, and a caption reading “Now you have license, slave, to game with your master.” Rampant overeating and drunkenness became the rule, and a sober person the exception.

Seneca looked forward to the holiday, if somewhat tentatively, in a letter to a friend:

It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business. … Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga.

Some Romans found it all a bit much, though. Pliny describes a secluded suite of rooms in his Laurentine villa, which he used as a retreat “especially during the Saturnalia when the rest of the house is noisy with the license of the holiday and festive cries. This way I don’t hamper the games of my people and they don’t hinder my work or studies.” Gift-giving

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The Saturnalia reflects the contradictory nature of the deity Saturn himself: “there are joyful and utopian aspects of careless well-being side by side with disquieting elements of threat and danger”. As a deity of agricultural bounty, Saturn embodied prosperity and wealth in general. The name of his consort Ops meant “wealth, resources”. Her festival, Opalia, was celebrated on December 19. The Temple of Saturn housed the state treasury (aerarium Saturni), and was the administrative headquarters of the quaestors, the public officials whose duties included oversight of the mint. It was among the oldest cult sites in Rome, and had been the location of an ancient altar (ara) even before the building of the first temple in 497 BC.

The Romans regarded Saturn as the original and autochthonous (indigenous) ruler of the Capitolium, and the first king of Latium or even the whole of Italy. At the same time, there was a tradition that Saturn had been an immigrant deity, received by Janus after he was usurped by his son Jupiter (Zeus) and expelled from Greece. His contradictions—a foreigner with one of Rome’s oldest sanctuaries, and a god of liberation who is kept in fetters most of the year—indicate Saturn’s capacity for obliterating social distinctions.

Roast pork is the most obvious dish to celebrate the Saturnalia since it was the most common meat at festivities in Rome. A whole suckling pig would be perfect. But there were a lot of sweet dishes too for the festivities. Here’s must (young wine) rolls that I have adapted from a description by Cato. They can be used as savory or sweet. The recipe contains no leavening, so the rolls tend to be a bit tough, like ship’s biscuit. You can add some baking powder to make them lighter. Leaving the anise seeds whole or grinding them is your choice. I prefer whole. Obviously you can replace the lard with a “healthier” fat, but lard was the original choice. Spelt flour would also be a bit more “authentic.”

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Must Rolls

Ingredients

500g wheat flour
300ml young wine or grape juice
2 tbsp anise seeds, fresh ground or whole
2 tbsp ground cumin
100g lard
50g grated sheep’s cheese
bay leaves

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Pour some wine over the flour, add the anise and cumin, the lard and cheese. Work it together with your hands until you have a pliant dough, adding wine as needed. Form the dough into small rolls, then put one bay leaf under each of them on a greased baking tray.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

 

Aug 132015
 

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Today is the birthday (1899) of Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE, well known English film director and producer, who pioneered many elements of the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema with both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood in 1939 and became a US citizen in 1955.

Over a career spanning half a century, Hitchcock fashioned for himself a recognizable directorial style. His stylistic trademarks include the use of camera movement that mimics a person’s gaze, forcing viewers to engage in a form of voyeurism. In addition, he framed shots to maximize anxiety, fear, or empathy, and used innovative forms of film editing. His work often features fugitives on the run alongside “icy blonde” female characters. Many of Hitchcock’s films have twist endings and thrilling plots featuring depictions of murder and other violence. Many of the mysteries, however, are used as decoys or “MacGuffins” that serve the films’ themes and the psychological examinations of their characters. Hitchcock’s films also borrow many themes from psychoanalysis and sometimes feature strong sexual overtones. Through interviews, movie trailers, cameo appearances in his own films, and the ten years in which he hosted the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he became a highly visible public figure.

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Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature films. Often regarded as the greatest British filmmaker, he came first in a 2007 poll of film critics in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, which said: “Unquestionably the greatest filmmaker to emerge from these islands, Hitchcock did more than any director to shape modern cinema, which would be utterly different without him. His flair was for narrative, cruelly withholding crucial information (from his characters and from viewers) and engaging the emotions of the audience like no one else.”

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I don’t think there’s any need to go through his movies and production techniques in detail. They are all well known. Instead I’ll focus on three things, his cameos, his practical jokes, and (since this is a foodie blog) his relationship to food, and his favorite dishes.

His cameos are justly famous: a trademark. When I was a young boy my mother told me about them and said I should watch out for them. It can be a challenge. Some are fleeting, or in the far distance, or from behind or disguised in some fiendish way. The one in Lifeboat is classic. Here’s a compilation of all his cameos:

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

His practical jokes were also famous, some benign and some quite sadistic. He once sent Peter Lorre a suit made by London’s most prestigious tailor; the suit, however, was sized for a child. On another occasion, he sent an actor 400 smoked herrings. He had a horse delivered to the dressing room of actor Sir Gerald du Maurier (father of Daphne) just to see how he would react to inconvenience. When a cameraman boasted about his elaborate new all-electric kitchen, the man returned home to find two tons of coal delivered to his doorstep with a receipt marked ‘Paid by A Hitchcock’.

Hitchcock would often enlist a colleague to whom he would tell a tantalizing story in a loud voice while they were in a packed elevator. He would perfectly time his exit just before the punch line and then bow politely to the eavesdropping passengers.

He may have inherited some of this behavior from his father who, when Hitchcock was about five, sent him with a note to a local police chief, who locked the little boy in a cell. After about 10 minutes, the policeman released Hitchcock, saying: “That’s what we do to naughty boys.” Hitchcock later said he could never forget the fear of such a humiliation.”

There was certainly an element of bullying. Assistant cameraman Alfred Roome had been the target of one of his jokes but exacted revenge by putting a fake smoke bomb under Hitchcock’s car. “You never saw a fat man get out of a car quicker,” he recalled. “Hitch never tried anything on me again. He respected you if you hit back. If you didn’t, he’d have another go.”

Hitchcock himself called it the “humor of the macabre.” He believed it was simply a typically London form of humor, and used to say as an example: “It’s like the joke about the man who was being led to the gallows, which was flimsily constructed, and he asked in some alarm, ‘I say, is that thing safe?’ ”

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Actresses were often the target of his ‘jokes’. Elsie Randolph revealed her fear of fire to Hitchcock and he later played an elaborate trick on her, getting a technician to pump smoke into a telephone box after the door had been surreptitiously locked. This was probably just a sadistic prank, but his treatment of Tippi Hedren (The Birds) was malicious, which she suggests resulted from her refusing his advances. He sent her daughter, Melanie Griffith, an exquisitely lifelike miniature of Hedren in a coffin in one of the dresses from The Birds when Griffith was 6. I would hardly call this a joke or prank. Furthermore, he used his influence to prevent Hedren from getting further roles after his second film with him which, she says, effectively ruined her career.

Hitchcock’s relationship with food was also dark. He was bullied a great deal in school and compensated by overeating and developing what he called his “armor of fat.” This no doubt made things worse. English schoolboys (and schoolmasters) are, or at least were, merciless with any boy who is fat. My take on it all is that Hitchcock was both jovial and twisted because of his upbringing, and was largely oblivious to his own peculiarity which he turned to good use in his films.

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Hitchcock’s overeating was legendary. He could eat three steaks and three portions of ice-cream at a sitting. But then would go on crash diets. His cameo in Lifeboat shows a “before” and “after” of him in a slimming ad during a dieting phase.

Sometimes he combined pranking with eating. His targets were often people he had privately identified as “phonies” and “big heads”. Pompous guests would be invited to dinner parties where he would slip whoopee cushions on to their chairs before they sat down. Sometimes, the food would be served in the wrong order, starting with dessert. At one lavish meal, guests were disturbed to find all the food dyed with blue coloring: blue soup, blue trout, and even blue peaches and ice cream.

It’s hard to tell when he was joking about food. He once told an interviewer, “I’m frightened of eggs. That white round thing without any holes…have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid? Blood is positively jolly by comparison.” He also claimed to have a phobia for making soufflé, because he couldn’t stand the suspense of waiting 40 minutes to see how it would turn out. This has to be a joke from the “master of suspense.” His daughter Pat said that soufflé was one of his favorite desserts.

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Soufflé is one of those dishes that frightens a lot of cooks, but if you follow some simple rules they are not as hard as you might think. When my son was under my tutelage as a homeschooler I gave him cooking lessons, and his first soufflé was stellar. The links below to videos give all you need to know.

A soufflé really has two basic components: a cream, which for a savory soufflé is usually made from béchamel and for sweet an egg custard, folded with stiffly beaten egg whites. The two must get combined together to form a mixture that is then poured into special molds and then placed in the oven. This is when a law of physics comes in, in the form of evaporation. The mix first gets cooked externally, along the borders of the mould, trapping the water molecules from the steam from within. When the temperature rises, they seek a way out and the only way is upwards – the only part of the soufflé not confined by the mould. As the top of the soufflé bakes and becomes thicker, the molecules push harder and this is why the top rises. And here lies the crux of the issue: a proper soufflé is one that creates the most resistance for the steam molecules. The secret to this is to beat the egg whites until they are very stiff, so they create a compact foam that serves as a barrier.

Key “secrets” revealed in the videos are:

  1. Brush the sides of the molds with softened butter with upward strokes to guide the soufflé straight up as it rises.
  2. Preheat the oven 10 degrees hotter than you want for baking, so that when you put the molds in, the temperature change by opening the door merely lowers it to the desired level.
  3. Temper one-third of the beaten whites with the béchamel/custard, then fold in the other two-thirds.
  4. Run your thumb around the edge of the molds once they are filled so that the tops can rise freely.
  5. NEVER open the oven when the soufflés are baking.

Early on I had some fair disasters, but it got easier once I followed the rules. I prefer savory soufflés with cheese, mushrooms, or tomato. That’s because I am generally not a fan of desserts. Follow the same rules for savory as for sweet. Use a béchamel as your base adding the necessary ingredients and cooking them in the sauce before adding the egg whites. Happy viewing – they are good videos.

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jc1DtH-OC94