Apr 272018
 

On this date in 711 CE Moorish troops led by Tariq ibn Ziyad landed at Gibraltar to begin what turned into the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. (The name Gibraltar is the Spanish version of the Arabic name Jabal Ṭāriq meaning “Mountain of Tariq”which refers to the Rock of Gibraltar). One can make too much of single dates in history. July 4th 1776 gets celebrated in the US as Independence Day even though the war for independence had already started, and continued for a number years after. Dates get enshrined in history books because people like symbols to hang on to. The Umayyad conquest of Visigothic Hispania, the initial expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate over a large section of the Iberian peninsula, took from 711 to 788. The conquest resulted in the destruction of the Visigoth kingdom and the establishment of the independent Emirate of Córdoba under Abd ar-Rahman I, who completed the unification of Muslim-ruled Iberia, or al-Andalus. The conquest marks the westernmost expansion of both the Umayyad Caliphate and Muslim rule into Europe. One can peg the landing at Gibraltar as significant, but Muslim expansion into Iberia had begun earlier, and continued for many years after.

The historian al-Tabari transmits a tradition attributed to the Caliph Uthman (579 –  656) who stated that the road to Constantinople was through Hispania, “Only through Spain can Constantinople be conquered. If you conquer (Spain) you will share the reward of those who conquer (Constantinople).” The conquest of Hispania followed the conquest of North Africa.

Precisely what happened in Iberia in the early 8th century is uncertain. There is one contemporary Christian source, the Chronicle of 754 (which ends on that date), regarded as reliable but often vague. There are no contemporary Muslim accounts, and later Muslim compilations, such as that of Al-Maqqari from the 17th century, reflect later ideological influence. This paucity of early sources means that detailed specific claims need to be regarded with caution. Historical opinion about the initial nature of the expedition is divided into four directions (I favor #4):

(1) It was sent to aid one side in a civil war in the hope of plunder and future alliance.

(2) It was a reconnaissance force sent to test the military strength of the Visigoth kingdom.

(3) It was the first wave of a full–scale invasion.

(4) It was an unusually large raiding expedition with no direct strategic intentions.

The Visigoths who controlled Iberia from the 5th to the early 8th centuries were successors of the Western Roman empire. They, like other groups who swept over the Roman empire in the 5th century, are known to history as barbarians, because that is what the Romans called them. The word “barbarian” has changed meaning over time, unfortunately, and has corrupted our modern view of them. The Latin word from which the English word derives comes from the Greek βάρβαρος (barbaros), used by the ancient Greeks initially for certain Anatolians whose language sounded to them like, “bar bar bar bar . . .”  So, they were the “bar bar” people. We would say, “blah, blah people” these days. In other words, “barbarian” had no especially negative connotations, it just meant foreigners who spoke an incomprehensible language.

The Visigoths were barbarians in the ancient Roman sense (i.e. non-Romans), not in the modern sense. Therefore, saying that the Moorish conquest of the Visigoths in Iberia was a move that “civilized” a barbarian land is a stretch. This period in European history is often known as the Dark Ages, not because they were especially barbaric, but because we have few historical sources to judge them accurately, and archeology is of only limited help. There is no doubt that Islamic philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, and astronomers of the period were more accomplished then European Christians and pagans, and we owe them a great debt because they preserved a great many texts from ancient Greece that Christians destroyed or lost.

Tariq ibn Ziyad was a Muslim Berber client of Musa bin Nusair, the governor of Islamic Africa (Ifriqiya), who invaded Iberia with a disputed number of Berber men (anywhere from 1,700 to 7,000) in 711, while Roderic, king of the Visigoths was in the north fighting the Basques. The tale that Julian, Count of Ceuta, facilitated the invasion, because one of his daughters had been dishonored by Roderic, is apocryphal. By late July, a battle took place at the Guadalete River in the province of Cádiz. Roderic was betrayed by his troops, who sided with his enemies, and the king was killed in battle. The Muslims then took much of southern Spain with little resistance, and went on to capture Toledo, where they executed several Visigothic nobles. In 712, Musa, arrived with another army of 18,000, with large Arab contingents. He took Mérida in 713 and invaded the north, taking Saragossa and León, which were still under king Ardo, in 714. After being recalled by the Caliph, Musa left his son Abd al-‘Aziz in command. By 716, most of the Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic rule, with Septimania taken between 721 and 725.

The first expedition led by Tariq was made up mainly of Berbers who had themselves only recently come under Muslim influence. It is probable that this army represented a continuation of an historic pattern of large-scale raids into Iberia dating to the pre–Islamic period, and hence some historians believe that actual conquest was not originally planned. Both the Chronicle of 754 and later Muslim sources speak of raiding activity in previous years, and Tariq’s army may have been present for some time before the decisive battle. This possibility is supported by the fact that the army was led by a Berber and that Musa, who was a major player in North Africa, only arrived the following year, because as a governor he had not stooped to lead a mere raid, but hurried across once the unexpected triumph by Tariq and the possibilities for further conquests became clear. Several Arab-Muslim writers mention the fact that Tariq had decided to cross the strait of Gibraltar without informing his superior and wali Musa as evidence that he had planned no more than a raid. The Chronicle of 754 states that many townspeople fled to the hills rather than defend their cities, which might support the view that this was expected to be a temporary raid rather than a permanent change of government.

The only effective resistance to Muslim conquest was in Asturias, where a Visigothic nobleman, Pelagius (Pelayo), revolted in 718, allied with the Basques and defeated the Muslims at the battle of Covadonga. Resistance also continued in the regions around the Pyrenees with the establishment of the Marca Hispanica from 760 to 785. The Berbers settled in the south and the Meseta Central in Castile. Initially, the Muslims generally left Christians alone to practice their religion, although non-Muslims were subject to Islamic law and treated as second-class citizens. The northern areas of Iberia drew little attention to the conquerors and were hard to defend when taken. The high western and central sub-Pyrenean valleys remained unconquered.

The resistance of 1718 eventually evolved into the Reconquista (the Reconquest) which dragged on for 700 years. The Muslims were generically called Moors even though most were Arabs, and the battle to oust them spawned a series of traditional dances and dramas, including Moros y Cristianos, which I researched for over 30 years. The final act of the Reconquista, the Fall of Granada at the beginning of 1492 http://www.bookofdaystales.com/fall-of-granada/  led almost seamlessly to Columbus’ voyage of discovery and the Spanish conquest of much of the Americas.

Islamic Iberia was known at the time as al-Andalus (الأنْدَلُس ), which eventually metamorphosed into “Andalusia” the shrunken vestige of al-Andalus as the Reconquista progressed. Cooking in al-Andalus is represented by an anonymous MS of the 13th century, brimming with recipe ideas which show how Spanish cooking evolved over the centuries, and how much it owes to Arab influence. Many of the recipes from the MS are translated here: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Andalusian/andalusian1.htm#Heading34 Worth a browse.

This little snippet gives the sense, and also reveals a few problems in actually recreating the recipe which is for a type of lamb sausage. The translator notes that the Arabic for “meatball,” “al-bunduqa,” became the Spanish “albondiga,” but the Arabic is derived from the word “hazelnut,” suggesting that the meatballs of the day were small. Here I will add the necessary caution that etymological reasoning of this sort can trip you up.  The ingredient that baffles most cooks is murri naqî’ It is apparently an ingredient unique to al-Andalus and means “infused” or “marinated” murri. There is a great deal of disagreement about what murri is, although food historians favor the idea that it was a fermented sauce made from barley flour that vaguely resembles soy sauce, and was used as a salt substitute.

Recipe for Mirkâs

It is as nutritious as meatballs and quick to digest, since the pounding ripens its and makes it quick to digest, and it is good nutrition. First get some meat from the leg or shoulder of a lamb and pound it until it becomes like meatballs. Knead it in a bowl, mixing in some oil and some murri naqî’, pepper, coriander seed, lavender, and cinnamon. Then add three quarters as much of fat, which should not be pounded, as it would melt while frying, but chopped up with a knife or beaten on a cutting board. Using the instrument made for stuffing, stuff it in the washed gut, tied with thread to make sausages, small or large. Then fry them with some fresh oil, and when it is done and browned, make a sauce of vinegar and oil and use it while hot. Some people make the sauce with the juice of cilantro and mint and some pounded onion. Some cook it in a pot with oil and vinegar, some make it râhibi with onion and lots of oil until it is fried and browned. It is good whichever of these methods you use.

Jan 022017
 

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On this date in 1492 the city of Granada, last vestige of the emirate of Granada, surrendered to Spanish/Christian forces, meaning that the Reconquista (the Reconquest) of the Iberian peninsula was complete. All of Spain was free from Moorish control after centuries of Moorish colonization followed by centuries of resistance. Note the date most especially. Spanish forces did not stop with the reclamation of Iberia. From this point on they moved outward with the intention of colonizing Africa, and of finding new worlds to conquer. That’s why it’s not a coincidence that 1492 is the year that Ferdinand and Isabella funded Columbus in his first journey of discovery. The Fall of Grenada was the first domino in a long succession of dominos that, in falling, changed the world forever.

The Emirate of Granada had been the last Muslim state in Iberia for more than two centuries by the time of the Granada War (the series of battles and sieges to free Granada from Moorish control). The other remnant al-Andalus states (the taifas) of the once powerful Caliphate of Córdoba had long been conquered by the Christians. Despite being surrounded by hostile states, Granada was wealthy and powerful, and the Christian kingdoms were divided and fought amongst themselves. Granada’s problems began to worsen after Emir Yusuf III’s death in 1417. Succession struggles ensured that Granada was in an almost constant low-level civil war. Clan loyalties were stronger than allegiance to the Emir, making consolidation of power difficult. Often, the only territory the Emir really controlled was the city of Granada itself. At times, the emir did not even control all the city, but rather one rival emir would control the Alhambra, and another the Albayzín, the most important district of Granada.

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This internal fighting greatly weakened the state. The economy declined, with Granada’s once world-famous porcelain manufacture now disrupted and challenged by the Christian town of Manises near Valencia, in Aragon. Despite the weakening economy, taxes were still imposed at their earlier high rates to support Granada’s extensive defenses and large army. Ordinary citizens of Granada paid triple the taxes of (non-tax-exempt) Castilians. The heavy taxes that Emir Abu-l-Hasan Ali (1464–85) imposed contributed greatly to his unpopularity. These taxes did at least support a respected army. Hasan was successful in putting down Christian revolts in his lands, and some observers estimated he could muster as many as 7,000 horsemen.

The frontier between Granada and the Castilian lands of Andalusia was in a constant state of flux. Raids across the border were common, as were intermixing alliances between local nobles on both sides of the frontier. Relations were governed by occasional truces and demands for tribute should one side have been seen to overstep their bounds. Neither country’s central government intervened or controlled the warfare much.

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King Henry IV of Castile died in December 1474, setting off the War of the Castilian Succession between Henry’s daughter Joanna la Beltraneja and Henry’s half-sister Isabella. The war raged from 1475–1479, setting Isabella’s supporters and the Crown of Aragon against Joanna’s supporters, Portugal, and France. During this time, the frontier with Granada was practically ignored. The Castilians did not even bother to ask for or obtain reparation for a raid in 1477. Truces were agreed upon in 1475, 1476, and 1478. In 1479, the Succession War concluded with Isabella victorious. Isabella had married Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, and this meant that the two powerful kingdoms of Castile and Aragon could stand united, free from inter-Christian war which had helped Granada survive.

The truce of 1478 was still theoretically in effect when Granada launched a surprise attack against Zahara in December 1481, as part of a reprisal for a Christian raid. The town fell, and the population was enslaved. This attack proved to be a great provocation, and factions in favor of war in Andalusia used it to rally support for a counterstrike, quickly moving to take credit for it, and backed a wider war. The seizure of Alhama and its subsequent royal endorsement is usually said to be the formal beginning of the Granada War. Abu Hasan attempted to retake Alhama by siege in March, but was unsuccessful. Reinforcements from the rest of Castile and Aragon averted the possibility of retaking Alhama in April 1482. King Ferdinand himself formally took command at Alhama on May 14, 1482.

The Christians next tried to besiege Loja, but failed to take the town. This setback was balanced by a twist that would prove to aid them greatly: on the same day as Loja was relieved, Abu Hasan’s son, Abu Abdallah or Boabdil, rebelled and styled himself Emir Muhammad XII. The war continued into 1483. Abu Hasan’s brother, al-Zagal, defeated a large Christian raiding force in the hills of the Axarquia east of Málaga. However, at Lucena the Christians were able to defeat and capture King Boabdil. Ferdinand II and Isabella I had previously not been intent on conquering all of Granada. With the capture of King Boabdil, however, Ferdinand decided to use him to conquer Granada entirely. In a letter of August 1483, Ferdinand wrote “To put Granada in division and destroy it We have decided to free him…. He [Boabdil] has to make war on his father.” With Boabdil’s release, now as a pseudo-Christian ally, the Granadan civil war would continue. A Granadan chronicler commented that Boabdil’s capture was “the cause of the fatherland’s destruction.”

In 1485, the fortunes of the Granadan internal conflict shifted yet again. Boabdil was expelled from the Albayzín, his base of power, by Hasan’s brother al-Zagal. Al-Zagal also took command of the nation itself, dethroning his aging brother, who died shortly thereafter. Boabdil was obliged to flee to Ferdinand and Isabella’s protection. The continuing division within the Muslim ranks and the cunning of the Marquis of Cádiz allowed the western reaches of Granada to be seized with unusual speed in 1485. Ronda fell to him after a mere fifteen days, thanks to his negotiations with the city’s leaders. Ronda’s fall allowed Marbella, a base of the Granadan fleet, to come into Christian hands next.

Boabdil was soon released from Christian protection to resume his bid for control of Granada. For the next three years, he would de facto act as one of Ferdinand and Isabella’s vassals. He offered the promise of limited independence for Granada and peace with the Christians to the citizenry and extracted from the Catholic Monarchs the title of Duke for whatever cities he could control.

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Málaga, the chief seaport of Granada, was the main objective of the Castilian forces in 1487. Emir al-Zagal was slow to march to attempt to relieve the siege and was unable to harass the Christian armies safely due to the ongoing civil war; even after he left the city to come to the aid of Málaga, he was forced to leave troops in the Alhambra to defend against Boabdil and his followers.

The first main city to be attacked, Vélez-Málaga, capitulated on 27 April 1487, with local supporters of Boabdil directly aiding the Christian besiegers. Málaga held out during an extended siege that lasted from 7 May 1487 until 18 August 1487; its commander preferred death to surrender, and the African garrison and Christian renegades (converts to Islam) fought tenaciously, fearing the consequences of defeat. Near the end, the notables of Málaga finally offered a surrender, but Ferdindad refused, as generous terms had already been offered twice. When the city finally fell, Ferdinand punished almost all the inhabitants for their stubborn resistance with slavery, while renegades were burned alive or pierced by reeds. The Jews of Malaga, however, were spared, as Castilian Jews ransomed them from slavery.

In 1489, the Christian forces began a painfully long siege of Baza, the most important stronghold remaining to al-Zagal. Baza was highly defensible as it required the Christians to split their armies, and artillery was of little use against it. Supplying the army caused a huge budget shortfall for the Castilians. Occasional threats of deprivation of office were necessary to keep the army in the field, and Isabella came personally to the siege to help maintain the morale of both the nobles and the soldiers. After six months, al-Zagal surrendered, despite his garrison still being largely unharmed; he had become convinced that the Christians were serious about maintaining the siege as long as it would take, and further resistance was useless without the hope of relief, of which there was no sign. Baza was granted generous surrender terms, unlike Málaga.

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With the fall of Baza and the capture of al-Zagal in 1490, it seemed as if the war was over. Ferdinand and Isabella certainly thought this was the case. However, Boabdil was unhappy with the rewards for his alliance with Ferdinand and Isabella, possibly because lands that had been promised to him were being administered by Castile. He broke off his vassalage and rebelled against the Catholic Monarchs, despite holding only the city of Granada and the Alpujarras Mountains. It was clear that such a position was untenable in the long term, so Boabdil sent out desperate requests for external aid. The Sultan of Egypt mildly rebuked Ferdinand for the Granada War, but the Mamluks that ruled Egypt were in a near constant war with the Ottoman Turks. As Castile and Aragon were fellow enemies of the Turks, the Sultan had no desire to break their alliance against the Turks. Boabdil also requested aid from the Kingdom of Fez (modern Morocco), but no reply is recorded by history. North Africa continued to sell Castile wheat throughout the war and valued maintaining good trade relations. In any case, Granada no longer controlled any coastline from which to receive overseas aid. Thus, no help was forthcoming.

An eight-month siege of Granada began in April 1491. The situation for the defenders grew progressively dire, as their forces for interfering with the siege dwindled and advisers schemed against each other. Bribery of important officials was rampant, and at least one of the chief advisers to Boabdil seems to have been working for Castile the entire time. After the Battle of Granada a provisional surrender, the Treaty of Granada, was signed on November 25, 1491, which granted two months to the city. The reason for the long delay was not so much intransigence on either side, but rather the inability of the  government of Granada to coordinate amongst itself in the midst of the disorder and tumult that gripped the city. After the terms, which proved rather generous to the Muslims, were negotiated, the city capitulated on January 2, 1492. The besieging Christians sneaked troops into the Alhambra that day in case resistance materialized, which it did not. Granada’s resistance had come to its end.

The surrender of Granada was seen as a great blow to Islam and a triumph of Christianity. Other Christian states offered their sincere congratulations to Ferdinand and Isabella, while Islamic writers reacted with despair. In Castile and Aragon, celebrations and bullfights were held. People rejoiced in the streets. Not least of the consequences of the Reconquista in general is the civic pageant/dance/celebration of Moros y Cristianos which is one of my professional interests. I have researched and written about the tradition in Europe and the Americas for 40 years.

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There is a dish called Moros y Cristianos made from black beans and white rice that is ubiquitous in the Spanish Diaspora. It is one more version of beans and rice that you can find anywhere. On New Year’s Day, Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice) is a common favorite in the American South, and I always cook it when I can get the black-eyed peas. Yesterday I had to use Italian fagioli cannellini and Jasmine rice because I could not do better – I didn’t plan well enough ahead and the markets were all closed. Today I am making black beans and rice.  There are lots of different ways to make Moros y Cristianos. The standard Cuban way is to cook the beans and then add the rice and cook it in the bean water. This makes the rice grey (i.e. dirty rice).  That’s OK if you like it. I prefer to have my beans black and my rice snowy white, so I cook them separately. This is strictly my version. I’m just giving you some ideas.

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The beans require the normal 2-day effort. First day put them in abundant cold water and soak them overnight. Next day, drain the beans and put them in a stock pot and cover with rich stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 2 hours or until the beans are tender Add whatever flavoring and meats you want during the cooking process and TASTE CONSTANTLY to be sure you have what you want. Today I browned some shallots and sliced leeks along with sliced prosciutto and  whole Italian sausage, and added them to the beans after about 30 minutes. I also added some hot pepper and ground cumin. When the beans are cooked keep them warm while you cook your white rice.

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Then use a slotted spoon to remove the beans from the broth, place them in a pot. Drain the rice and add it to the beans so that you have about equal proportions. Then mix the beans and rice gently together and serve hot.

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I’m going to give you a two-fer today so that you have an authentic dish from Granada. Tortilla del Sacromonte is a very famous dish from Granada which, in its traditional form, is not a great tourist magnet because it is made with offal, such as brains, testicles, and sweetbreads. When it is made with sweetbreads only it is sometimes called tortilla granadina. Spanish tortilla is akin to an omelet or frittata but is unique, and I can’t honestly say that mine matches what can be found in Spain. The thing is that they are often loaded with ingredients cooked inside the tortilla. You need to use a wide, deep skillet for this recipe.

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Tortilla del Sacromonte

Ingredients

150 gm pig’s, cow’s or sheep’s brain
150 gm pig’s, cow’s or sheep’s testicles
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup cooked peas
150 gm cured ham, diced
1 cup diced sweet red pepper
4 slices chorizo, chopped
1 cup diced potatoes
olive oil

Instructions

Wash the brains and testicles well in several changes of water, then plunge them into boiling water and blanch them for about one minute. Drain them, cut them into small squares, and sauté them in a little olive oil for about 15 minutes. At the same time sauté the potatoes in a generous amount of oil. Add the peas, pepper, chorizo, cured ham, brains and testicles, to the potatoes and continue to sauté for a few minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to remove all the ingredients from the oil and place them in a large bowl.  Add the beaten eggs and mix everything together gently.

Heat a small amount of oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the egg mixture. Shake the skillet periodically so that the eggs do not stick. When the top of the tortilla starts to firm place a large plate over the top and invert the tortilla on to the plate. Then slide the uncooked side of the tortilla into the skillet and continue cooking until it is cooked through on both sides. Invert again over a large plate and serve.

Mar 272016
 

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World Theatre Day was initiated in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI). Each year someone is chosen to reflect on the worldwide importance theatre and a culture of peace. The first World Theatre Day International Message was written by Jean Cocteau  in 1962. This year’s message was written by Anatoly Vassiliev. The full message is here:

http://www.world-theatre-day.org/

Here’s an excerpt:

To hell with gadgets and computers – just go to the theatre, occupy whole rows in the stalls and in the galleries, listen to the word and look at living images! – it is theatre in front of you, do not neglect it and do not miss a chance to participate in it – perhaps the most precious chance we share in our vain and hurried lives.

Indeed. Television, movies, internet, etc. cannot match the power of living theater. Despite all manner of technological innovations, live theater will not die because the power to connect person to person is immortal.  It is also international.

I first started acting in South Australia at the age of 11 and was immediately hooked. Despite professional conflicts, I’ve found the time to act, write, or direct most of my life. I’ve also witnessed theater in a great array of forms worldwide. Here’s my head shot from the time I acted with the Beaconsfield New Theatre Group:

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My first and favorite part with them was as Stanislas, the revolutionary young poet/assassin in Cocteau’s An Eagle with Two Heads.  The immense challenge of this part is that Stanislas enters, bleeding and fainting, in the first act and remains mute on stage for the rest of the act whilst the queen pleads with him, berates him, toys with him in a torrent of words – all of which he endures without uttering a word. There’s a palpable frisson of release in the audience when he first speaks in the second act. I had my first stage kiss in this part too.

If I had to recount the various forms of theater I’ve  witnessed or taken part in, I’d be writing all day.  Here’s a sample gallery instead:

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Cast parties after opening night are always wonderful. I’ve been to no end of them, but the first always remains imprinted in memory because it was the first time I had steak tartare (as well as a glass of red wine, which my mother was none too pleased to hear about the day after – I was only 11).  Steak tartare is easy to make. The main issue is that you need the very freshest ground sirloin. Because the beef is served raw there’s no room for error here.**

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Make sure your butcher knows what the meat is for, have him grind it fresh on the day you are serving it, and keep it refrigerated until then. Make sure the meat is very lean.  Serve the beef on individual platters to guests with a whole raw egg yolk on top, and a side plate of toasted French bread slices. The garnishes to serve alongside the beef are your choice, but chopped cornichons, shallots, and capers are standard. You should also provide salt and a pepper mill. Guests mix the meat with the yolk and garnishes to their taste and eat it heaped on the toast.

** Be aware of the health risks of eating raw animal products. I still eat raw eggs, meat, and fish, but I no longer serve them to guests.