Feb 042017
 

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Today, the first Saturday in February, has been recognized for about 50 years (unofficially, of course) as Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (ICFBD).  The holiday was invented on a snowy winter day in the 1960s by Florence Rappaport in Rochester, New York. Florence had six children, but it was her youngest two, Ruth (now Kramer) and Joe Rappaport, who inspired her on a cold and snowy February morning. To entertain them, she declared it to be Ice Cream For Breakfast Day. She recalls, “It was cold and snowy and the kids were complaining that it was too cold to do anything. So I just said, ‘Let’s have ice cream for breakfast.'” The next year, they reminded her of the day and a family custom began. The exact year of the first ICFBD is unrecorded, but it is speculated to be 1966, when a huge blizzard hit Rochester in late January, dumping several feet of snow on Rochester and shutting down schools. When the siblings grew up, they held parties and introduced the custom to friends while in college, and it began to spread.

The holiday began to spread across the world thanks to Florence’s grandchildren, who have traveled extensively. Celebrations have been recorded in Nepal, Namibia, Germany, New Zealand, and Honduras. Some are small family celebrations and others are larger parties. The holiday has even been celebrated in China since 2003 and was featured in the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan magazine and local magazines in Hangzhou, China. Ice Cream for Breakfast Day enjoys particular popularity in Israel. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on ICFBD in 2013 in Hebrew and then in 2014 in English.

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I’ve always been interested in what people eat for breakfast in general (from the sidelines). For many years I’ve eaten whatever I want – curry, leftovers, soup, eggs . . . anything that I fancy at the time.  I find the idea of certain foods being designated as “breakfast foods” (particularly eggs or cereals) patently absurd, but millions of people throughout the world have fixed notions of what you can and cannot eat for breakfast.  Some eateries in the UK advertise “breakfast served all day” meaning that there is a fixed notion of what breakfast should consist of, despite the fact that you can eat it at any time of day.

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The word “breakfast” itself is relatively modern. The Old English word for dinner, “disner,” means to break a fast, and was originally the first meal eaten in the day until its meaning shifted in the mid-13th century. It was not until the 15th century that “breakfast” came into use in written English to describe a morning meal, literally meaning to “break” the “fast” of the prior night.

Having a meal to start the day before work has obvious benefits and is occasionally noted in ancient texts. Manual workers in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome all ate something to begin the work day, but it was not a meal that differed in any substantive way from other meals – it was just regular food, including things such as bread, cheese, olives, dried fruit, legumes, and so forth (along with beer or wine).

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In the Middle Ages in Europe, breakfast was not usually considered a necessary and important meal, and was practically nonexistent during the earlier medieval period. Only two formal meals were eaten per day—one at mid-day and one in the evening. The exact times varied by period and region, but this two-meal system remained consistent throughout the Middle Ages. Many written accounts in the medieval period disparage eating in the morning. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica (1265–1274) that breakfast committed “praepropere,” or the sin of eating too soon, which was associated with gluttony. Breakfast in some times and places was solely granted to children, the elderly, the sick, and to working men. Eating breakfast, therefore, meant that one was poor, was a low-status farmer or laborer who truly needed the energy to sustain his morning’s labor, or was too weak to make it to the large, midday dinner, and was potentially shameful.

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By the 15th century breakfast became a more common practice for nobles and by the early 16th century, recorded expenses for breakfast became customary in household account books. The 16th -century introduction of caffeinated beverages into the European diet was part of the reason for allowing breakfast; it was believed that coffee and tea aided the body in “evacuation of superfluities” if they were drunk in the morning.

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To the best of my knowledge, the makings of the classic Full English breakfast date to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. My musings on this subject can be found here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jerome-k-jerome-english-breakfast/  and elsewhere on the blog. Meanwhile here’s a description I like of a traveler’s breakfast in England from Tom Brown’s Schooldays (published in 1857 but reminiscing about the 1830s).  Tom is on his way from Berkshire to Rugby by coach, and makes a stop at an inn on the way in the morning:

And here comes breakfast.

“Twenty minutes here, gentlemen,” says the coachman, as they pull up at half-past seven at the inn-door.

Have we not endured nobly this morning? and is not this a worthy reward for much endurance? There is the low, dark wainscoted room hung with sporting prints; the hat-stand (with a whip or two standing up in it belonging to bagmen who are still snug in bed) by the door; the blazing fire, with the quaint old glass over the mantelpiece, in which is stuck a large card with the list of the meets for the week of the county hounds; the table covered with the whitest of cloths and of china, and bearing a pigeon-pie, ham, round of cold boiled beef cut from a mammoth ox, and the great loaf of household bread on a wooden trencher.

And here comes in the stout head waiter, puffing under a tray of hot viands–kidneys and a steak, transparent rashers and poached eggs, buttered toast and muffins, coffee and tea, all smoking hot. The table can never hold it all. The cold meats are removed to the sideboard–they were only put on for show and to give us an appetite. And now fall on, gentlemen all. It is a well-known sporting-house, and the breakfasts are famous.

Two or three men in pink, on their way to the meet, drop in, and are very jovial and sharp-set, as indeed we all are.

“Tea or coffee, sir?” says head waiter, coming round to Tom.

“Coffee, please,” says Tom, with his mouth full of muffin and kidney. Coffee is a treat to him, tea is not.

Our coachman, I perceive, who breakfasts with us, is a cold beef man. He also eschews hot potations, and addicts himself to a tankard of ale, which is brought him by the barmaid. Sportsman looks on approvingly, and orders a ditto for himself.

Tom has eaten kidney and pigeon-pie, and imbibed coffee, till his little skin is as tight as a drum . . .

You can find the same basic elements in Mrs Beeton (1861).  She speaks of steaks, chops, eggs, kidneys, bacon etc. as breakfast food, but she does not single them out as uniquely fit for breakfast.  The elements of a hearty breakfast are proteins, bread of some sort, and tea or coffee (or small beer).

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The addition of breakfast cereals to the mix was a U.S. invention by the likes of C.W. Post and the Kellogg brothers http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kelloggs-corn-flakes/ following an almost universal trend for centuries of eating cereals (in the generic sense), that is, oats, rice, corn, etc. to start the day, simply because they were daily staples for many people throughout the world.

Nowadays I neither eat a meal you could label as “breakfast” nor do I eat foods you would call “breakfast foods” (at any time of the day). I eat what I want, when I want.  So, why not ice-cream for breakfast? – not just today, but any day.

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Oct 142015
 

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Today is the birthday (1894) of Edward Estlin Cummings, usually going by his middle name, Estlin, but quite often referred to in lowercase letters without punctuation as e e cummings. This usage mimics the style of his poetry, but was mostly something others did. The use of lowercase for his initials was popularized in part by the title of some books, particularly in the 1960s, printing his name in lower case on the cover and spine. In the preface to E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer by Norman Friedman, critic Harry T. Moore notes, “He [Cummings] had his name put legally into lower case, and in his later books the titles and his name were always in lower case.” According to Cummings’s widow, however, this is incorrect. She wrote to Friedman: “You should not have allowed H. Moore to make such a stupid & childish statement about Cummings & his signature.” On February 27, 1951, Cummings wrote to his French translator D. Jon Grossman that he preferred the use of upper case for the particular edition they were working on. Cummings himself occasionally used lower case initials when he signed, but normally he used upper case.

Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a professor at Harvard University and later the nationally known minister of Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He exhibited transcendental leanings his entire life. As he grew older, Cummings moved more toward an “I, Thou” relationship with God. His journals are replete with references to “le bon Dieu,” as well as prayers for inspiration in his poetry and artwork (such as “Bon Dieu! may I some day do something truly great. amen.”). Cummings “also prayed for strength to be his essential self (‘may I be I is the only prayer—not may I be great or good or beautiful or wise or strong’), and for relief of spirit in times of depression (‘almighty God! I thank thee for my soul; & may I never die spiritually into a mere mind through disease of loneliness’).”

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Cummings wanted to be a poet from childhood and wrote poetry daily from 8, exploring assorted forms. He went to Harvard and developed an interest in modern poetry which ignored conventional grammar and syntax, aiming for a dynamic use of language. Upon graduating, he worked for a book dealer.

In 1917, with the First World War ongoing in Europe, Cummings enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with his college friend John Dos Passos. Due to an administrative mix-up, Cummings was not assigned to an ambulance unit for five weeks, during which time he stayed in Paris. He fell in love with the city, to which he would return throughout his life. During their service in the ambulance corps, they sent letters home that drew the attention of the military censors, and were known to prefer the company of French soldiers over fellow ambulance drivers. The two openly expressed anti-war views; Cummings spoke of his lack of hatred for the Germans. On September 21, 1917, just five months after his belated assignment, he and a friend, William Slater Brown, were arrested by the French military on suspicion of espionage and undesirable activities. They were held for 3½ months in a military detention camp at the Dépôt de Triage, in La Ferté-Macé, Orne, Normandy.

They were imprisoned with other detainees in a large room. Cummings’ father failed to obtain his son’s release through diplomatic channels and in December 1917 wrote a letter to President Wilson. Cummings was released on December 19, 1917, and Brown was released two months later. Cummings used his prison experience as the basis for his novel, The Enormous Room (1922), about which F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Of all the work by young men who have sprung up since 1920 one book survives—The Enormous Room by e e cummings… Those few who cause books to live have not been able to endure the thought of its mortality.”

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Cummings returned to the United States on New Year’s Day 1918. Later in 1918 he was drafted into the army. He served in the 12th Division at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, until November 1918. Cummings returned to Paris in 1921 and remained there for two years before returning to New York. His collection Tulips and Chimneys came in 1923 and his inventive use of grammar and syntax is evident. The book was heavily cut by his editor. XLI Poems, was then published in 1925. With these collections Cummings made his reputation as an avant garde poet.

During the rest of the 1920s and 1930s Cummings returned to Paris a number of times, and traveled throughout Europe, meeting, among others, Pablo Picasso. In 1931 Cummings traveled to the Soviet Union, recounting his experiences in Eimi, published two years later. During these years Cummings also traveled to Northern Africa and Mexico and worked as an essayist and portrait artist for Vanity Fair magazine (1924–1927).

In the 1930s Samuel Aiwaz Jacobs was Cummings’ publisher; he had started the Golden Eagle Press after working as a typographer and publisher. In 1952, his alma mater, Harvard University awarded Cummings an honorary chair as a guest professor. The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures he gave in 1952 and 1955 were later collected as i: six nonlectures.

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Cummings spent the last decade of his life traveling, fulfilling speaking engagements, and spending time at his summer home, Joy Farm, in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. He died of a stroke on September 3, 1962, at the age of 67 in North Conway, New Hampshire at the Memorial Hospital. His cremated remains were buried in Lot 748 Althaeas Path, in Section 6, Forest Hills Cemetery and Crematory in Boston. In 1969, his third wife, model and photographer Marion Morehouse Cummings, died and was buried in an adjoining plot.

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I’ve been a huge fan of Cummings’ poetry since the age of 15 when my English teacher, John Pearce, who was enormously influential on me (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-teachers-day/ ), introduced my class to “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” I can’t honestly say I grasped much about the poem then, but it sowed a seed. For many years I kept a complete anthology of his poems on my nightstand, and frequently dipped into it for old favorites or new finds. His style, marked by a disregard for grammar and syntax, is immediately recognizable. This is the first stanza of a well-known favorite:

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

Cummings’ father was killed in a tragic car accident which Cummings grieved dreadfully, and this poem is his eulogy. There is no mistaking Cummings’ style here – especially the odd pairings of images and the seemingly meaningless phrases created by lack of grammar (e.g. “sames of am”), which freak out my word processor more than when I write in Spanish. Once in a while I’ll read an “interpretation” of one of his poems and am instantly horrified by the attempt to pin his poetry down. You can’t. I do the same when somebody tries to “explain” a painting or a piece of music. The meanings are ineffable. I just let his words wash over me in waves of feeling. When I mention Cummings to friends, they more often than not have a favorite to tell me about; it touches them in ways that cannot be articulated. Many people (especially students) try to imitate him, but it is useless. His poems are unique. Of course, they are not all pearls, but that may be, in part, because some do not speak to my own life experiences.

Here is the last stanza of “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond”

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

I would not dream of trying to “explain” such a poem. It simply resonates with me and my feelings.

Despite Cummings’s familiarity with avant-garde styles, much of his work is quite traditional. Many of his poems are sonnets, often with a modern twist, and he occasionally made use of the blues form and acrostics. Many of his most striking poems do not involve any typographical or punctuation innovations at all, but purely syntactic ones.

Cummings, who was also a painter, understood the importance of presentation, and used typography to “paint a picture” with some of his poems. This one is a classic:

l(a
le
af
fa
ll
s)
one
l
iness

I could tell you what critics have said about this poem, but I’m not going to. It should be easy enough to pull your own meanings out of it without my help. If you want a little help try writing it out horizontally:

l (a leaf falls) oneliness

The seeds of Cummings’ unconventional style appear well established even in his earliest work. At age six, he wrote to his father:

FATHER DEAR. BE, YOUR FATHER-GOOD AND GOOD,
HE IS GOOD NOW, IT IS NOT GOOD TO SEE IT RAIN,
FATHER DEAR IS, IT, DEAR, NO FATHER DEAR,
LOVE, YOU DEAR,
ESTLIN.

It’s amazing to me that a 6 year old could write this. His affection for his father is palpable.

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I could use the fact of his confinement in Normany in La Ferté-Macé as an excuse to write about a culinary specialty of the town – tripe fertoise – but I’ll spare you. Maybe one day I’ll recount the story of my pilgrimage to La Ferté-Macé. For now I turn to another famed Cummings poem, “as freedom is a breakfastfood.” This reminds me of discussions I have had over the years with people over the notion of “breakfast food.” Different cultures and different times have their own ideas of what you should eat for breakfast. I’ve mention the full English breakfast many times. Here’s an image to make the mouth water.

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Many Western cultures see eggs as the quintessential “breakfast food” whether fried, scrambled, poached, or in an omelet. But this is mere habit. In Yunnan my students tell me that noodles in broth is classic breakfast food.  They would NEVER eat rice for breakfast — unthinkable. And so it goes. In London workers at all-night markets have steak, chips (fries), and a pint of beer for breakfast (then go to bed). My father told me when I was young that when he was a Royal Navy officer the crew ate what they felt like eating. I firmly remember his image of eating curry for breakfast. Sounded good to me at the time, and still does.

In accord with my general philosophy about eating, I eat what I want when I want. I don’t have set meal times, and I don’t have set foods for set times. In fact it’s clear that in the Western world breakfast is a popular dish all day.  Many road joints offer “breakfast all day.” I once saw a sign that read “breakfast at any time” and I was tempted to order “poached eggs on toast in the Renaissance.” Yeah, I’m a smart ass. But you get the idea. Put something together like a Cummings poem. It doesn’t matter if it breaks “the rules,” in the same way that he broke the rules of grammar and syntax. Just have at it, and be happy.

May 102015
 

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On this date in 2013 I posted on this blog for the first time. Happy 2nd birthday my brain child, and thanks to all my readers for the support over the past 2 years. First month it was up, I got a whopping 47 readers; now I average around 9,000 per month. I’ve also received nearly 500,000 SPAM “comments” that, happily, are almost always caught by my filter. A few (very few) sneak through by using extra-crafty techniques, but my second layer of defense, the need for new comments to be moderated by me, collars them.

Reviewing my past posts is a fun experience. They were a lot shorter at the beginning, and have steadily grown in length and complexity. Here’s the first:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/micronesia-day/

We’ve come a long way since then.

I spend around 3 hours a day on them now. Does not eat into my social life because I write them between 4 and 7 am when my internet functions reliably here in China, and just before the WordPress server (on GMT) turns over to the next day. This does mean that readers in parts of the West are still working on “yesterday” when I post. I am 12 hours ahead of the east coast of the U.S., for example. The opposite was true when I was living in Buenos Aires. There the server turned over at 9 pm my time, so I had to get a move on to get the post up in time some days.

The most popular posts are a bit baffling to me. This one easily comes in at number 1:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/independence-day-vanuatu/

Not a clue why. Cleopatra and the Asp http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cleopatra-and-the-asp/ also had a long run, but has since faded. Mondrian (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mondrian/ ) and Arthur Rackham (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/arthur-rackham/ ) pop back in the picture now and again. No clue why either.

I don’t typically pick the daily anniversaries for their potential popularity; it’s more about my own tastes. There are a number of factors in play when choosing:

  1. I avoid battles because I don’t like to celebrate wars. But some battles have had a major impact on local or global history, so I include them.
  2. I also have trouble with unpleasant people who are famous. You won’t ever see a post on Hitler, not even on the day he killed himself (although he got a (dis)honorable mention two days ago on V-E Day).
  3. I’ve softened my stance on not celebrating countries with poor Human Rights records ever since a friend noted that this is not usually the people’s fault, and they deserve to be recognized despite what their leaders are up to. Good food trumps politics. In any case, as my friend pointed out, I can spotlight the abuses so that my readers know.
  4. Getting wide global coverage can be tricky, but I work on it. It’s nice to have a variety of recipes from far-flung places. My sources for dates to use are more than a little centered on Europe and the U.S. One major problem with sources is that they are sometimes wrong. I spend a certain amount of time daily cross-checking and I’m sure that I still make mistakes. I was sad to see the demise of Wilson’s Almanac which was a treasure trove (although also a major source of errors).
  5. I try to vary the topics as much as I can. Not always easy because I am hobbled by the vagaries of what happened when. You have no idea how much I pummel my brain on certain days to find a topic that works.

In light of #5 I will also note that this coming year is going to be a challenge. There are some dates I could probably post on, without repetition, for the next 10 years. Others were difficult the first time around, never mind the second. I’ll manage. But when the next birthday rolls around I may have to have a serious rethink. I have three major choices when the third birthday arrives. One is to simply end posting, but I hate to do that. I enjoy daily posting too much. The second is to move to posting less often. That’s dangerous though. That may lead me to get lazy. Although I have occasionally taken time off because of illness or travel or whatnot, being regular in daily posts keeps up interest. I don’t want that to slide. My third idea is to change the focus slightly. Right now I am strict about reporting on things that happened on a specific date. This leaves out all kinds of celebrations that shift about, such as those that are based on a lunar calendar (Easter, Chinese New Year, etc.), or those that are pegged to a certain day of the week (Thanksgiving, Mother’s day etc.). There’s a ton of them. Not sure if I could post that kind of celebration every day of the year, though. I’ll ponder. What do you think?

Eventually I want to turn the blog into a book, but that’s a bit in the future and will require a lot of work. I’ll also have to build up a bigger readership to assure a publisher of a ready market. A book was my intention long before I started the blog. I sketched it out over 10 years ago and then shelved the idea for other more pressing matters. The trouble with a book is that it would have to be mostly a cookbook with the historical and cultural material drastically cut and used simply as a short preamble to each recipe. Still, it should work; and, besides the blog would still be here.

I laugh at the mental tortures I go through sometimes matching a recipe to a topic. Generally this is not a problem, but sunspots, elevators, and typewriters gave me trouble. Fortunately my brain is a clutter of random stuff, so something always occurs to me. Here’s a little gallery of photos I like that I took for the blog:

jf2 jf6 jf5  jf15  jf16  jf17

And three videos on me making an Argentine tortilla (in case you want voice and all):

Part 1 (The batter)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMEpmZkVZLUJsR1U/edit?usp=sharing

Part 2 (The filling)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQU3JZUzIyLUxrU3c/edit?usp=sharing

Part 3 (The tortilla)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMXFsTUJvMXNBaDQ/edit?usp=sharing

Finally here’s a walk through my transformations over the past 2 years. I like the current profile photo (thanks Kate), but it’s not me now.

Chillin’ in Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires

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Summer sojourn in England (chops made a comeback).

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On my balcony in san Telmo with my favorite skyline. The background of this blog is the sunset shot from here.

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Photo for my first China visa.  Surprised they let me in.

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In China going for the shaggy professor look

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Current visa photo (suitably cleaned up) 2 weeks ago.

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It’s breakfast time here. I’d give a lot for a Full English. Here’s what I had to say:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jerome-k-jerome-english-breakfast/

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The “full English” is a BIG meal. You won’t need lunch later. I make it whenever the mood strikes, so it could be lunch or dinner (as is not uncommon in many households). There are some essentials, and then all the trimmings:

Essentials

Eggs. Usually these are fried (one per person), with the yolk runny. Poached would be all right, but is not quite the thing. Scrambled are good for a big crowd when you don’t want to cook eggs to order.

Meat. Bacon is hyper-traditional, but it should be back bacon that is very meaty. People in the U.S. can often get this in supermarkets labeled “Canadian bacon.” I can’t get bacon at all in Argentina except Italian styles. Sausages are also a good breakfast meat, nicely browned. Ham steaks are a rare treat, also well browned.

Bread. Toast is usual. It should be well buttered and served with a pot of English marmalade. Customarily people will eat the eggs and bacon with buttered toast, and then add some marmalade to finish off, with tea. Fried bread is also common. You simply fry the bread until it is golden and then put the egg on top. Breakfast rolls, preferably toasted, will also pass muster.

Tea. Here I part ways with normal customs in my own habits. I rarely drink tea any more (yerba mate is my thing). But when I do indulge, I drink it like the Chinese – relatively weak and with nothing added. Of course, I use high quality imported Chinese teas. The English “cuppa” deserves a whole blog post to itself. Here I will just say that English Breakfast tea is the standard. Earl Grey and the like are for wimps, and certainly not suitable for breakfast. English Breakfast tea is strong and black, an eye opener, meant to be brewed dark with milk (and sugar if you like) added.

Trimmings

Potatoes. These can be hashed or chipped but must be fried.

Tomatoes. Use small-ish tomatoes, halve them, and sear them on both sides. They must be warm throughout when served.

Mushrooms. Halve or quarter them, and sauté them in butter until golden.

Kidneys. Use lamb’s kidneys. Cut them in half and remove all the white bits from the inside. Then cut them in bite-sized pieces and serve them fried in butter, or fried with a piquant English mustard sauce.

Black pudding. This is a northern English blood sausage which people either love or despise. It should be sliced in thick rings and fried on both sides.

Baked beans. These have always been a standard filler – straight out of the can and heated through. I’m not partial, but many are.

These are the standard accoutrements. I am sure I, or others, could add more.

Please comment if you can. Always good to have input on how I am doing, and thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to a splendid 3rd year.

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May 022014
 

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Today is the birthday (1859) of Jerome Klapka Jerome, an English writer best known for the comic travelogue Three Men in a Boat (1889). Other works include the essay collections Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow and Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, as well as the sequel to Three Men in a Boat, Three Men on the Bummel.

Jerome was born in Caldmore, Walsall, England. He was the fourth child of Jerome Clapp (who later renamed himself Jerome Clapp Jerome), an ironmonger and lay preacher, and Marguerite Jones. He had two sisters, Paulina and Blandina, and one brother, Milton, who died at an early age. Jerome was registered, like his father’s amended name, as Jerome Clapp Jerome, and the Klapka appears to be a later variation (after the exiled Hungarian general György Klapka). Owing to bad investments in the local mining industry, the family fell into poverty and debt collectors visited often, an experience Jerome described vividly in his autobiography My Life and Times (1926). The young Jerome attended St Marylebone Grammar School. He wished to go into politics or be a man of letters, but the death of his father when Jerome was 13 and of his mother when he was 15 forced him to quit his studies and find work to support himself. He was employed at the London and North Western Railway, initially collecting coal that fell along the railway, and remained there for four years.

In 1877, inspired by his older sister Blandina’s love for the theatre, Jerome decided to try his hand at acting, under the stage name Harold Crichton. He joined a repertory troupe that produced plays on a shoestring budget, often drawing on the actors’ own meager resources – Jerome was penniless at the time – to purchase costumes and props. After three years on the road with no evident success, the 21-year-old Jerome decided he had had enough of stage life and sought other occupations. He tried to become a journalist, writing essays, satires and short stories, but most of these were rejected. Over the next few years he was a school teacher, a packer, and a solicitor’s clerk. Finally, in 1885, he had some success with On the Stage — and Off (1885), a comic memoir of his experiences with the acting troupe, followed by Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886), a collection of humorous essays which had previously appeared in the newly founded magazine, Home Chimes, the same magazine that would later serialize Three Men in a Boat. On 21 June 1888, Jerome married Georgina Elizabeth Henrietta Stanley Marris (“Ettie”), nine days after she divorced her first husband. She had a daughter from her previous, five-year marriage nicknamed Elsie (her actual name was also Georgina). The honeymoon took place on the Thames “in a little boat,” a fact that was to have a significant influence on his next, and most important work, Three Men in a Boat.

Three Men in a Boat

Jerome began to write Three Men in a Boat as soon as the couple returned from their honeymoon. In the novel he replaced his wife with his longtime friends George Wingrave (George) and Carl Hentschel (Harris). This allowed him to create comic (and non-sentimental) situations which he intertwined with the history of the Thames region. The book, published in 1889, became an instant success and is still in print. Its popularity was such that the number of registered Thames boats went up fifty percent in the year following its publication, and it contributed significantly to the Thames becoming a tourist attraction.

In its first twenty years alone, the book sold over a million copies worldwide. It has been adapted to movies, television and radio shows, stage plays, and even a musical. Its writing style influenced many humorists and satirists in England and elsewhere.

Here’s a television tribute to Three Men in a Boat from the 1960’s using a revised version of the immortal “Messing about on the River.”  Very unusual part for Dusty:

With the financial security the sales of the book provided, Jerome was able to dedicate all of his time to writing. He wrote a number of plays, essays and novels, but was never able to recapture the success of Three Men in a Boat. In 1892 he was chosen by Robert Barr to edit The Idler (over Rudyard Kipling). The magazine was an illustrated satirical monthly catering to gentlemen who, following the theme of the publication, appreciated idleness. In 1893 he founded To-Day, but had to withdraw from both publications because of financial difficulties and a libel suit.

In 1898, a short stay in Germany inspired Three Men on the Bummel, the sequel to Three Men in a Boat. While reintroducing the same characters in the setting of a foreign bicycle tour, the book was nonetheless unable to capture the wit, energy, and historic roots of its predecessor, and it enjoyed only a mild success. In 1902 he published the novel Paul Kelver, which is widely regarded as autobiographical. His 1908 play The Passing of the Third Floor Back introduced a more somber and religious Jerome. This was a tremendous commercial success but was condemned by critics – Max Beerbohm described it as “vilely stupid” and called Jerome “tenth-rate writer.”

Jerome volunteered to serve Britain at the outbreak of the First World War, but, being 56 years old, was rejected by the British Army. Eager to serve in some capacity, he volunteered as an ambulance driver for the French Army.

In 1926, Jerome published his autobiography, My Life and Times. Shortly afterwards, the Borough of Walsall conferred on him the title Freeman of the Borough. During these last years, Jerome spent more time at his farmhouse in Ewelme near Wallingford. In June 1927, on a motoring tour from Devon to London via Cheltenham and Northampton, Jerome suffered a paralytic stroke and a cerebral hemorrhage. He lay in Northampton General Hospital for two weeks before succumbing on 14 June. He was cremated at Golders Green and his ashes buried at St Mary’s Church, Ewelme, Oxfordshire. Elsie, Ettie, and his sister Blandina are buried beside him. A small museum dedicated to his life and works was opened in 1984 at his birth home in Walsall, but this closed in 2008.

Here’s a few favorite snippets from various books:

I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.

I can’t sit still and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I can’t help it.

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do.

I don’t know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me.

But who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.

It is always the best policy to tell the truth, unless of course you are an exceptionally good liar.

I often arrive at quite sensible ideas and judgements, on the spur of the moment. It is when I stop to think that I become foolish.

It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon it says, “Work!” After beefsteak and porter, it says, “Sleep!” After a cup of tea (two spoonfuls for each cup, and don’t let it stand for more than three minutes), it says to the brain, “Now rise, and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature, and into life: spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!”

On that note, which brings me to food, I have this quote from the beginning of Three Men in a Boat. The three are discussing what provisions to take for the trip:

Then we discussed the food question. George said:

“Begin with breakfast.” (George is so practical.) “Now for breakfast we shall want a frying-pan”—(Harris said it was indigestible; but we merely urged him not to be an ass, and George went on)—“a tea-pot and a kettle, and a methylated spirit stove.”

[long ramble about camp stoves omitted]

For other breakfast things, George suggested eggs and bacon, which were easy to cook, cold meat, tea, bread and butter, and jam. For lunch, he said, we could have biscuits, cold meat, bread and butter, and jam – but NO CHEESE. Cheese, like oil, makes too much of itself. It wants the whole boat to itself. It goes through the hamper, and gives a cheesy flavour to everything else there. You can’t tell whether you are eating apple-pie or German sausage, or strawberries and cream. It all seems cheese. There is too much odour about cheese.

This, naturally, brings me to the classic “full English” breakfast. Isabella Beeton has the following general comments on breakfast:

2144. It will not be necessary to give here a long bill of fare of cold joints, &c., which may be placed on the side-board, and do duty at the breakfast-table. Suffice it to say, that any cold meat the larder may furnish, should be nicely garnished, and be placed on the buffet. Collared and potted meats or fish, cold game or poultry, veal-and-ham pies, game-and-Rump-steak pies, are all suitable dishes for the breakfast-table; as also cold ham, tongue, &c. &c.

2145. The following list of hot dishes may perhaps assist our readers in knowing what to provide for the comfortable meal called breakfast. Broiled fish, such as mackerel, whiting, herrings, dried haddocks, &c.; mutton chops and rump-steaks, broiled sheep’s kidneys, kidneys à la maître d’hôtel, sausages, plain rashers of bacon, bacon and poached eggs, ham and poached eggs, omelets, plain boiled eggs, oeufs-au-plat, poached eggs on toast, muffins, toast, marmalade, butter, &c. &c.

2146. In the summer, and when they are obtainable, always have a vase of freshly-gathered flowers on the breakfast-table, and, when convenient, a nicely-arranged dish of fruit: when strawberries are in season, these are particularly refreshing; as also grapes, or even currants.

The current “full English” is a much pared down version of this Victorian feast, but, nevertheless, still substantial. A “good fry up” as it is usually called, is nowadays reserved for weekends when busy families have the time not only to cook such a meal, but also to be able to sit together and eat at leisure. In my youth the “full English” was the province of cafés during the week. George’s Café in the covered market in Oxford was always packed to overflowing at breakfast time, mostly with bus drivers and market workers, who had already done part of their shift, and were tucking into eggs and bacon with buckets of sweet milky tea — toast and dripping on the side. I believe most of these places have vanished (unless readers tell me otherwise).

I won’t try to tell you that the “full English” is good for your arteries. It isn’t, even if you use polyunsaturated cooking oil in place of butter or lard. You have to face the fact that it is a fat and cholesterol fiesta, and act accordingly. When I get misty eyed for the shores of Blighty, out comes the frying pan. But it’s not often. Here are recent photos:

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The “full English” is a BIG meal. You won’t need lunch later. I make it whenever the mood strikes, so it could be lunch or dinner (as is not uncommon in many households). There are some essentials, and then all the trimmings:

Essentials

Eggs. Usually these are fried (one per person), with the yolk runny. Poached would be all right, but is not quite the thing. Scrambled are good for a big crowd when you don’t want to cook eggs to order.

Meat. Bacon is hyper-traditional, but it should be back bacon that is very meaty. People in the U.S. can often get this in supermarkets labeled “Canadian bacon.” I can’t get bacon at all in Argentina except Italian styles. Sausages are also a good breakfast meat, nicely browned. Ham steaks are a rare treat, also well browned.

Bread. Toast is usual. It should be well buttered and served with a pot of English marmalade. Customarily people will eat the eggs and bacon with buttered toast, and then add some marmalade to finish off, with tea. Fried bread is also common. You simply fry the bread until it is golden and then put the egg on top. Breakfast rolls, preferably toasted, will also pass muster.

Tea. Here I part ways with normal customs in my own habits. I rarely drink tea any more (yerba mate is my thing). But when I do indulge, I drink it like the Chinese – relatively weak and with nothing added. Of course, I use high quality imported Chinese teas. The English “cuppa” deserves a whole blog post to itself. Here I will just say that English Breakfast tea is the standard. Earl Grey and the like are for wimps, and certainly not suitable for breakfast. English Breakfast tea is strong and black, an eye opener, meant to be brewed dark with milk (and sugar if you like) added.

Trimmings

Potatoes. These can be hashed or chipped but must be fried.

Tomatoes. Use small-ish tomatoes, halve them, and sear them on both sides. They must be warm throughout when served.

Mushrooms. Halve or quarter them, and sauté them in butter until golden.

Kidneys. Use lamb’s kidneys. Cut them in half and remove all the white bits from the inside. Then cut them in bite-sized pieces and serve them fried in butter, or fried with a piquant English mustard sauce.

Black pudding. This is a northern English blood sausage which people either love or despise. It should be sliced in thick rings and fried on both sides.

Baked beans. These have always been a standard filler – straight out of the can and heated through. I’m not partial, but many are.

These are the standard accoutrements. I am sure I, or others, could add more. There are also other classic English breakfasts, such as kippers or kedgeree, which, no doubt I will wax lyrical about some other time.