Jun 202017
 

Two anniversaries significant to the development of rocketry can be celebrated on this date. To start, the V-2 rocket became the first artificial object to cross the boundary of space with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on this date in 1944.  Second, on this date in 1945, Edward Reilly Stettinius, United States Secretary of State approved the transfer of Wernher von Braun and his team of Nazi rocket specialists to the U.S. under Operation Paperclip. I like to think of Operation Paperclip as the US part of the “first space race” – a race by both US and Soviet agencies to capture and expatriate German rocketry scientists and technicians to their respective countries to build rocket programs there.  These men had all been working, one way or another, on the initial stages of a space program in war-time Germany, and had varying degrees of loyalty to Hitler and the Nazi Reich. The US and Soviet governments turned a blind eye to their Nazi affiliations in their greed to enhance their own space programs which were practically non-existent before the arrival of the Germans. Henceforth the US and the Soviet Union were locked in a race, first for space, then for the moon, that became emblematic of the Cold War. Sputnik was the first score for the Soviets; the moon went to the US.

The V-2 (Vergeltungswaffe 2, “Retribution Weapon 2”) technical name Aggregat 4 (A4), was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile. The missile with a liquid-propellant rocket engine was developed during the Second World War in Germany as a “vengeance weapon” to try to reassert dominance at a time when the Axis powers were daily, and consistently, losing ground to the Allies. Nazi Germany was at a severe logistical disadvantage, having failed to conquer the USSR with Operation Barbarossa (June–December 1941), the Siege of Leningrad (September 1941 – January 1944), Operation Nordlicht (“Northern Light”, August–October 1942), and the Battle of Stalingrad (July 1942 – February 1943). The failed conquest had depleted German resources, and its military-industrial complex was unprepared to defend the German Reich against the Red Army’s westward counterattack. By early 1943, the German government began recalling from combat, a number of scientists, engineers, and technicians, many of whom had been relegated to menial jobs to keep them out of the way; part of the general Nazi distrust of intellectuals. The recall from frontline combat included 4,000 rocketeers who were put together as a research force in Peenemünde, in northeast coastal Germany.

Dieter K. Huzel in Peenemünde to Canaveral notes:

Overnight, Ph.D.s were liberated from KP duty, masters of science were recalled from orderly service, mathematicians were hauled out of bakeries, and precision mechanics ceased to be truck drivers.

The Nazi government’s recall of their now-useful intellectuals for scientific work first required identifying and locating the scientists, engineers, and technicians, then ascertaining their political and ideological reliability. Werner Osenberg, the engineer-scientist heading the Wehrforschungsgemeinschaft (Military Research Association), recorded the names of the politically cleared men to the Osenberg List, thus reinstating them to scientific work.

Research into the military use of long range rockets had previously begun in Germany when the investigations of Wernher von Braun into rocketry in the 1930s attracted the attention of the German Army. His research got a huge boost in 1943 when the government assembled its team of specialists at Peenemünde.  A series of prototype rockets culminated in the A-4, which went to war as the V-2. Beginning in September 1944, over 3,000 V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets: first London and later Antwerp and Liège. According to a 2011 BBC documentary, the attacks from V2s resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel, and a further 12,000 forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners died as a result of their forced participation in the production of the weapons.

As part of continued research into rocket capabilities, the V-2 research team built its version MW 18014 which was launched on 20 June 1944 at the Peenemünde Army Research Center. It was the first artificial object to reach outer space, attaining an apoapsis of 176 kilometers, which is above the Kármán line (the currently accepted boundary of Earth’s atmosphere, at 100 km above the surface). It was a vertical test launch and although it reached space, it was a sub-orbital flight and therefore returned to Earth and crashed.

As Germany collapsed, teams from the Allied forces—the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union—raced to capture key German manufacturing sites and technology. Wernher von Braun and over 100 key V-2 personnel surrendered to US troops. Eventually, many of the original V-2 team ended up working at the Redstone Arsenal. The US also captured enough V-2 hardware to build approximately 80 of the missiles. The Soviets gained possession of the V-2 manufacturing facilities after the war, re-established V-2 production, and moved it to the Soviet Union.

Operation Paperclip, originally Operation Overcast, was the secret United States Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) program which brought more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians (many of whom were formerly registered members of the Nazi Party and some of whom had leadership roles in the Party), including Wernher von Braun’s rocket team, to the United States for government employment from post-Nazi Germany. By comparison, the Soviet Union was even more aggressive in recruiting Germans: during Operation Osoaviakhim, Soviet military units forcibly (at gunpoint) recruited 2,000+ German specialists to the Soviet Union in one night.

The original intent of Operation Overcast was simply to interview designated scientists, but what was learned in th process changed the operation’s purpose. On May 22 1945, Colonel Joel Holmes sent a telegram to the Pentagon urging the evacuation of German scientists and their families, suggesting they were crucial to the Pacific war effort. After capturing them, the Allies took them from Peenemünde (which was in what was to become Soviet controlled East Germany) and initially housed them and their families in Landshut in Bavaria, in southern Germany.

In order to harness German war technology the United States created the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS) which targeted scientific, military and industrial installations (and their employees) for their know-how. Initial priorities were advanced technology, such as infrared, that could be used in the war against Japan; finding out what technology had been passed on to Japan; and finally to halt the research. A project to halt the research was codenamed “Project Safehaven”, and it was not initially targeted against the Soviet Union; rather the concern was that German scientists might emigrate and continue their research in countries such as Spain, Argentina or Egypt, all of which had ties with Nazi Germany. In order to avoid the complications involved with the emigration of German scientists, the CIOS was responsible for scouting and kidnapping high profile individuals in order to deprive nations outside the US of their abilities.

Much U.S. effort was focused on Saxony and Thuringia, which by July 1, 1945, would become part of the Soviet Occupation zone. Many German research facilities and personnel had been evacuated to these states, particularly from the Berlin area. Fearing that the Soviet takeover would limit U.S. ability to exploit German scientific and technical expertise, and not wanting the Soviet Union to benefit from this expertise, the United States instigated an “evacuation operation” of scientific personnel from Saxony and Thuringia, issuing such orders as:

On orders of Military Government you are to report with your family and baggage as much as you can carry tomorrow noon at 1300 hours (Friday, 22 June 1945) at the town square in Bitterfeld. There is no need to bring winter clothing. Easily carried possessions, such as family documents, jewelry, and the like should be taken along. You will be transported by motor vehicle to the nearest railway station. From there you will travel on to the West. Please tell the bearer of this letter how large your family is.

By 1947 this evacuation operation had netted an estimated 1,800 technicians and scientists, along with 3,700 family members. Those with special skills or knowledge were taken to detention and interrogation centers to be held and interrogated, in some cases for months. A few of the scientists were gathered up in Operation Overcast, but most were transported to villages in the countryside where there were neither research facilities nor work; they were provided stipends and forced to report twice weekly to police headquarters to prevent them from leaving. The Joint Chiefs of Staff directive on research and teaching stated that technicians and scientists should be released “only after all interested agencies were satisfied that all desired intelligence information had been obtained from them”.

On November 5, 1947, the Office of Military Government of the United States (OMGUS), which had jurisdiction over the western part of occupied Germany, held a conference to consider the status of the evacuees, the monetary claims that the evacuees had filed against the United States, and the “possible violation by the US of laws of war or Rules of Land Warfare”. The OMGUS director of Intelligence R. L. Walsh initiated a program to resettle the evacuees in the Third World, which the Germans referred to as General Walsh’s “Urwald-Programm” (jungle program), however this program never matured. In 1948, the evacuees received settlements of 69.5 million Reichsmarks from the U.S., a settlement that soon became severely devalued during the currency reform that introduced the Deutsche Mark as the official currency of western Germany. As a consequence, the United States put some of Germany’s best minds on ice for three years, therefore depriving the German economic recovery of their expertise.

I don’t think I need to say more on the ethical problem of rounding up thousands of Nazi scientists and technicians (no questions asked) and shipping them off to the US or the Soviet Union. Some, like von Braun, went quite willingly, seeing the opportunity for continued advancement.  Many would have preferred to stay in Germany and resume their careers after the war in their homeland. Both the arms race and the space race that followed during the Cold War between the US and the USSR were driven by men who had once been collaborators in Germany.  Capitalists and Communists were equally welcoming to former Nazi enemies.

No need to think twice about a recipe ingredient for today. It has to be rocket, the old fashioned English name for Eruca sativa, variously known as arugula, rucola, rucoli, rugula, and Roquette (which Anglicized becomes “rocket”). I use rocket in sandwiches in place of lettuce often because it adds an interesting flavor note that lettuce doesn’t. I also use it in salads either in place of lettuce or mixed with it.

In Italy, rocket (rucola) is often added to pizzas just before serving so that it will not wilt in the heat. It is also used cooked in Apulia, in Southern Italy, to make the pasta dish cavatiéddi, coarsely chopped rocket added to pasta seasoned with tomato sauce and pecorino.”  In Rome, Italy rucola is used with special meat dish called straccietti that are thin slices of beef with raw rocket and Parmesan cheese In the Slovenian Littoral, it is often combined with boiled potatoes, used in a soup, or served with the cheese burek, especially in the town of Koper.

Use your imagination.

Dec 042016
 

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Today is the second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love. Now we light the second candle in the wreath and the feeling that Christmas is on its way is getting a little stronger.  In church today the reading will be this famous passage from Isaiah:

40:1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.

40:2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

40:3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

40:4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

40:5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

40:6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.

40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.

40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

40:10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

40:11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

This passage has several things to note in it. One is that it was used by Mark in his gospel to speak about John the Baptist:

1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”

1:3 A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’

The astute among you will note the difference between Isaiah and Mark concerning the voice and the wilderness. Of course, the quotation marks in the English translation here are not in the original Hebrew and Greek. If they were in the original Hebrew, Mark would not have made the fundamental mistake he made in his Greek gospel. My question: where is the voice located that Isaiah and Mark mention? Isaiah does not say. Mark says it is in the wilderness (supporting his claim that John – famous for living in the wilderness – is the foretold prophet of the Messiah, crying out in the wilderness). But Isaiah says that a voice cries out about making the Messiah’s path straight in the wilderness. The voice is not in the wilderness, the path is. This ought to alert you to the fact that the gospel writers liked to twist prophecy to suit their purposes. Nonetheless, the passage gives us numerous pieces from Handel’s Messiah that are brilliant. This is possibly my favorite (and one of my favorite renditions):

The thing I like about certain seasons is the sense of familiarity mixed with newness. That’s the great thing about ritual in one’s life. It provides order, but not necessarily sameness. This year Christmas will be a lot like others I have celebrated for decades, but it will also be fresh in numerous ways.

Let’s talk about spices. Christmas, for me, is very much about seasonal spices when it comes to cooking. I like to follow the seasons in general with my cooking, and I am very careful to avoid eating things out of season. In many countries I have lived – especially the United States – I could, if I wished, eat about anything I wanted, any time of the year. If I had wanted strawberries for Christmas dinner I could have found them. But that’s all wrong. Where I lived in the Catskills, strawberries ripened in May and I bathed in them for the month. Then, when the season was over, I put them aside. I eat lamb at Easter, not just because of the obvious Biblical associations, but also because the new lambs of the year are ready to eat at that point. It doesn’t take a lot of pondering to figure out why lamb is the traditional meal for Passover and how it got tied into the Easter story.

Christmas for me smells of allspice.  Actually, Christmas smells of all the sweet spices – nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. But allspice stands out for me. Maybe it’s just my personal quirk, but there’s a strong personal connexion for me. I dump it in my mincemeat and puddings, of course, but I also use it to flavor meat dishes. Last year I first had to figure out the Italian – pepe di Jamaica – and then turn Mantua upside down to find it. I did, in the end, but it was touch and go for several weeks. Now I have a big stash. Today I am making dinner for my girlfriend and allspice will be a prominent player. The pasta course will feature a sauce made with goat meat I found at the market yesterday.

Goat is not a popular meat in the West, largely because goats are not common and because the meat can be tough if not cooked properly. I found some nice meaty leg bones which I browned and then gently simmered for several hours in a stock I made with wild mushrooms and liberally spiced with allspice and fresh ground black pepper. The bones and stock have been sitting overnight in the refrigerator ready for stage 2 today. There was no fat to skim this morning because goat is not fatty.  Here’s the image I have from this morning.

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Today I am going to strip and shred the meat. Meanwhile I’m going to reduce the stock, cook some pasta, reheat the meat in the stock, drain the pasta and add it to the meat, swirl around and serve. I’ll post a photo tomorrow.

 

Aug 082016
 
Dr Bob

Dr Bob

Today is the birthday (1879) of Robert Holbrook Smith,  also known as Dr. Bob, a U.S. physician and surgeon who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) with Bill Wilson, more commonly known as Bill W. Bill W. is much better known both inside and outside AA because he is credited as the author of the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism), in which all manner of AA philosophies are expounded, especially the 12 Steps. But it was the meeting of Bill W with Dr Bob that set the whole process of AA in motion, and without the collaboration of Bill W with Dr Bob it is unlikely that AA would have existed.

Dr Bob was born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where he was raised. His parents took him to religious services four times a week, and in response he determined he would never attend religious services when he grew up. Smith began drinking at university, attending Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Early on he noticed that he could recover from drinking bouts quicker and easier than his classmates and that he never had headaches, which caused him to believe he was an alcoholic from the time he began drinking. Smith was a member of Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity at Dartmouth. After graduation in 1902, he worked for three years selling hardware in Boston, Chicago, and Montreal and continued drinking heavily. He then returned to school to study medicine at the University of Michigan. By this time drinking had begun to affect him to the point where he began missing classes. His drinking caused him to leave school, but he returned and passed his examinations for his sophomore year. He transferred to Rush Medical College, but his alcoholism worsened to the point that his father was summoned to try to halt his downward trajectory. But his drinking increased and after a dismal showing during final examinations, the university required that he remain for two extra quarters and remain sober during that time as a condition of graduating.

After graduation Smith became a hospital intern, and for two years he was able to stay busy enough to refrain from heavy drinking. He married Anne Robinson Ripley on January 25, 1915, and opened up his own office in Akron, Ohio, specializing in colorectal surgery and returned to heavy drinking. Recognizing his problem, he checked himself into more than a dozen hospitals and sanitariums in an effort to stop his drinking. He was encouraged by the passage of Prohibition in 1919, but soon discovered that the exemption for medicinal alcohol and bootleggers could supply more than enough to continue his excessive drinking. For the next 17 years his life revolved around how to subvert his wife’s efforts to stop his drinking and obtain the alcohol he wanted while trying to hold together a medical practice in order to support his family and his drinking.

In January 1933, Anne Smith attended a lecture by Frank Buchman, the founder of the Oxford Group. For the next two years she and Dr Bob attended local meetings of the group in an effort to solve his alcoholism, but recovery eluded him until he met Bill Wilson on May 13, 1935.

Bill W

Bill W

Bill W was trying to stay sober by helping other alcoholics through the Oxford Group in New York, but was in Akron on a business trip that had proven unsuccessful, and was in fear of relapsing. Recognizing the danger, he made inquiries about any local alcoholics he could talk to and was referred to Dr Bob by Henrietta Sieberling, one of the leaders of the Akron Oxford Group. After talking to Bill W, Dr Bob stopped drinking and invited Bill W to stay at his home. This was the seminal moment in the founding of AA.

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Bill W and Dr Bob discovered a key ingredient in recovery at that time, namely, one’s sobriety can be bolstered constantly by listening to the stories of other alcoholics in a non-judgmental way. You might call it the “listening cure,” a sort of mirror of Freud’s talking cure. Bill W listened to Dr Bob, and vice versa, and both were helped by simply listening to the story of the other. This became the heart of AA, although it has been subverted in many ways since.

Generally speaking, AA is now known for the 12 steps, which have been incorporated into numerous programs of aid for addicts of all stripes, and which were originally devised by Bill W and Dr Bob in the course of their work together and with other alcoholics — and enshrined in the Big Book.  The 12 steps have their supporters and their detractors, without doubt. They require a spiritual awakening, self analysis, confession and so forth, that mimic certain aspects of puritan Christianity, even though the overtly Christian, even theistic, rhetoric was eventually toned down. The part of AA that too often gets underplayed is the listening cure. The most important point about the listening cure is that it is not about giving or receiving advice: it is about the simple acts of talking and listening. One alcoholic tells his story and another listens. The listener does not offer advice, but simply absorbs the story. Nor does the person telling the story offer any advice either. The story is usually some version of, “I did that and things got worse; I did this and things got better.” The listener is then left to absorb and interpret the story in any way that suits — in common AA parlance, “take what is useful, and leave the rest.”

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Bill W’s great insight was that he benefited from hearing Dr Bob’s story, pure and simple. No advice or commentary was necessary. In this sense we can speak of Bill W and Dr Bob as co-founders of AA, even though Bill W became the poster boy, and Dr Bob tends to be forgotten. In Gregory Bateson’s terms (I’ll write a post on his work at some time), Bill W and Dr Bob were a dyad: each needed the other. Each needed a listener, and each needed to listen. The essential message, all too often forgotten nowadays, is, “don’t judge, don’t offer advice, just listen.” In my oh so humble opinion, the world would be a lot better place if everyone learned to listen more and talk less.

My recipes are a little like AA talks in that I tell you what I do and what I like, but you can do what you want. In fact, I’m not sure how many readers have actually tried any of my recipes. I do know that a friend used one of them once, and modified it to his own tastes. As far as I am concerned that’s the best way to use any recipe. I tell you what I do; you decide what you want to do. As long as it works, we are both fine.

With cooking for recovering alcoholics there is a rule of sorts, but it’s not hard and fast. AA recommends that you not cook with alcohol for two reasons. First, not all alcohol always cooks away when you use alcoholic drinks in recipes. Second, the taste of the alcoholic drink remains even if all or almost all of the alcohol burns off. In either case, the alcoholic in recovery can be reminded of drinking by the dish and may be, consciously or unconsciously, encouraged to pick up a drink. But you can’t really call this a rule. Active alcoholics vary greatly in the their habits, and so do those in recovery. Some, for example, are so sensitive to reminders of drinking that they will avoid drinking any liquid straight from a bottle (in the way they used to drink beer or whisky), others can cook with wine or spirits and not be fazed.

To be safe I’ll give you a summer lunch idea that I use for guests once in a while. It does not involve alcohol. Take from it what you want and leave the rest.  August in Mantua is hot and humid, so if I want to entertain guests it’s a good idea not to cook for them immediately before or during the meal because the kitchen gets really hot and spills over into the dining area. Besides hot dishes do not always go down well in the summer. So sometimes I make a lunch or dinner of different salads. The idea is to give diners an extensive choice of vegetables, carbs, and protein and let them choose how to make up a plate. This is a lunch of five salads I made in Argentina in the height of summer some years ago.

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Green Salad

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This is a blend of endive, fennel, and roquette (arugula). The idea was to have pronounced flavors and crunchiness.

Cabbage and Caper Salad

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I’ve always been a fan of making salad from fresh cabbage, by cutting the cabbage into shreds and macerating it overnight in the refrigerator with some kind of vinegar.  In this case I used capers with all their juice. Shred the cabbage fine, put it into a bowl, dump a whole bottle of capers over it, mix well, and refrigerate overnight.

Fish Salad

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Cooked fish and shellfish, served cold, work well as the protein element. This one was halibut, sea legs (imitation crab), and calamari.

Pasta Primavera

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Pasta salad is a common summer favorite of mine. Cook the pasta al dente the day before. Drain it well and refrigerate it overnight. Next day add your choice of vegetables. In this case I used tomatoes, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Toss with extra virgin olive oil and oregano.

Potato Salad

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I wash potatoes thoroughly and then dice them without peeling, and boil them until they are cooked but not too soft. Whilst the potatoes are cooking I sauté some ham or bacon until it is crisp. Then I drain the potatoes and refrigerate them, and break the cooked ham into pieces over the top. When cool I add mayonnaise and toss. Then I decorate with sliced boiled egg.

Make up a plate of these salads any way that you want.

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Jun 132016
 

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On this date in 313 the Edict of Milan was posted in Nicomedia. The precise dating of the Edict and its exact nature is still under dispute, but in general it was a Roman proclamation (one of several) to declare that Christians were to be treated fairly throughout the empire. It was originally devised in February of that year, but no other definitive dates are known, nor has the original document survived. Western Roman Emperor Constantine I, and Licinius, who controlled the Balkans, met in Milan and among other things, agreed to change policies towards Christians following the Edict of Toleration by Galerius issued 2 years earlier in Serdica. The Edict of Milan gave Christianity a legal status, but did not make Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire.

The document we now call the Edict of Milan (Edictum Mediolanense) is found in Lactantius’ De Mortibus Persecutorum and in Eusebius of Caesarea’s History of the Church with marked divergences between the two. Whether or not there was actually a formal ‘Edict of Milan’  is debatable. The version found in Lactantius is not in the form of an edict. It is a letter from Licinius to the governors of the provinces in the Eastern Empire he had just conquered by defeating Maximinus later in the same year and issued in Nicomedia.

Ever since the fall of the Severan dynasty in 235, rivals for the imperial throne had bid for support by either favoring or persecuting Christians. The previous Edict of Toleration by Galerius had been recently issued by the emperor Galerius from Serdica and was posted at Nicomedia on 30 April 311. By its provisions, the Christians, who had “followed such a caprice and had fallen into such a folly that they would not obey the institutes of antiquity”, were granted an indulgence:

Wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.

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Their confiscated property, however, was not restored until 313, when instructions were given for the Christians’ meeting places and other properties to be returned and compensation paid by the state to the current owners:

. . . the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception.

It directed the provincial magistrates to execute this order at once with all energy so that public order may be restored and the continuance of divine favor may “preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state.”

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The actual letters have never been retrieved. However, they are quoted at length in Lactantius’ On the Deaths of the Persecutors (De mortibus persecutorum), which gives the Latin text of both Galerius’ Edict of Toleration as posted at Nicomedia on 30 April 311 and of Licinius’s letter of toleration and restitution addressed to the governor of Bithynia and posted at Nicomedia on 13 June 313.

Eusebius of Caesarea translated both documents into Greek in his History of the Church (Historia Ecclesiastica). His version of the letter of Licinius must derive from a copy posted in the province of Palaestina Prima (probably at its capital, Caesarea) in the late summer or early autumn of 313, but the origin of his copy of Galerius’s Edict of 311 is unknown since that does not seem to have been promulgated in Caesarea. In his description of the events in Milan in his Life of Constantine, Eusebius eliminated the role of Licinius, whom he portrayed as the evil foil to his hero Constantine.

The Edict was actually directed against Maximinus Daia, the Caesar in the East who was at that time styling himself as Augustus. Having received the emperor Galerius’ instruction to repeal the persecution in 311, Maximinus had instructed his subordinates to desist, but had not released Christians from prisons or virtual death-sentences in the mines, as Constantine and Licinius had both done in the West. Following Galerius’ death, Maximinus was no longer constrained. He enthusiastically took up renewed persecutions in the eastern territories under his control, encouraging petitions against Christians. One of those petitions, addressed not only to Maximinus but also to Constantine and Licinius, is preserved in a stone inscription at Arycanda in Lycia:

Christians, who have long been disloyal and still persist in the same mischievous intent, should at last be put down and not be suffered by any absurd novelty to offend against the honor due to the gods.

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The Edict of Milan is popularly, but falsely, thought to concern only Christianity, and even to make Christianity the official religion of the Empire (which did not actually occur until the Edict of Thessalonica in 380). In fact, the Edict expressly grants religious liberty not only to Christians, who had been the object of special persecution, but goes even further and grants liberty to all religions:

When you see that this has been granted to [Christians] by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made that we may not seem to detract from any dignity of any religion.

Because Licinius composed the Edict with the intent of publishing it in the east following his hoped-for victory over Maximinus, it expresses the religious policy accepted by Licinius, a pagan, rather than that of Constantine, who was already practicing some form of Christianity. Constantine’s own policy went beyond merely tolerating Christianity: he tolerated paganism and other religions, but he actively promoted Christianity.

People commonly point to the Edict of Milan as Constantine’s first great act as a Christian Emperor, although, it is unlikely that the Edict of Milan was an act of genuine Christian faith on Constantine’s part. The document instead should more accurately be seen as the first step in creating an alliance with the Christian God, whom Constantine considered the strongest deity – among many. Constantine at that time was more concerned about social stability and the protection of the empire from the wrath of the Christian God than he was for justice or care for the Christians. The Edict of Milan is more indicative of the Roman culture’s genuine desire for seeking the gods’ intervention – which ones might prove profitable –  than of Constantine’s or Licinius’ religious beliefs.

The Edict of Milan required that the wrong done to the Christians be righted as thoroughly as possible. From the state’s perspective all wrongs should be righted as it claims “it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever.” The edict further demanded that individual Romans right any wrongs towards the Christians as well. These provisions indicate that more than just the establishment of justice was intended. After stating that they should return what was lost to the Christians immediately, the edict states that this should be done so that “public order may be secured,” not for the intrinsic value of justice or even for the glory of God. The sense of urgently righting wrongs reflects the leaders’ desires to avoid unfavorable consequences, which in this case included social unrest and both internal and external weakness.

Constantine is known to have been superstitious and believed in the existence of a number of gods. Because Constantine actually revered all the gods worshiped in the Roman Empire at that time, his fear of, and desire to form an alliance with, the Christian God (as demonstrated in the Edict of Milan), is insufficient to claim he was actually a Christian in the conventional sense. He was just trying to cover all bases. Nonetheless, the Edict stopped the persecution of Christians, which many historians see as both a blessing and a curse.

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Constantine was first exposed to Christianity by his mother, Helena. At the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312, Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with the Christian symbol in accordance with a vision that he had had the night before. After winning the battle, Constantine was able to claim the emperorship in the West. How much Christianity Constantine had adopted at this point is difficult to discern. The Roman coins minted up to eight years subsequent to the battle still bore the images of Roman gods. Nonetheless, the accession of Constantine was a turning point for the Christian Church. After his victory, Constantine supported the Church financially, built various basilicas, granted privileges such as exemption from certain taxes to clergy, promoted Christians to some high-ranking offices, and returned property confiscated during the Great Persecution of Diocletian.

Between 324 and 330, Constantine built, virtually from scratch, a new imperial capital that came to be named for him: Constantinople. It had overtly Christian architecture, contained churches within the city walls, and had no pagan temples. In accordance with a prevailing custom, Constantine was baptized on his deathbed.

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Constantine also played an active role in the leadership of the Church. In 316, he acted as a judge in a North African dispute concerning the Donatist controversy. More significantly, in 325 he summoned the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council. Constantine thus established a precedent for the emperor as responsible to God for the spiritual health of his subjects, and, thus, with a duty to maintain orthodoxy. The emperor was to enforce doctrine, root out heresy, and uphold ecclesiastical unity. As far as I am concerned this is the curse.

Constantine’s son’s successor, known as Julian the Apostate, was a philosopher who upon becoming emperor renounced Christianity and embraced a Neo-platonic and mystical form of paganism shocking the Christian establishment. He began reopening pagan temples and, intent on re-establishing the prestige of the old pagan beliefs, he modified them to resemble Christian traditions such as the episcopal structure and public charity (previously unknown in Roman paganism). Julian’s short reign ended when he died while campaigning in the East.

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Subsequently Church Fathers such as Augustine, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, John Chrysostom and Athanasius published extensive theological texts, and argued non-stop about the correct interpretation of canonical texts including the gospels and the Pauline epistles. This all led to the entrenchment of the rigidly dogmatic and hierarchical Catholic Church that was opposed periodically by various elements, leading to the kaleidoscope of sects we have today. I suspect that the Christian Church was a great deal more faithful to the precepts of Jesus before the Edict of Milan than it ever was subsequently, even following the Protestant Reformation.

I could give a recipe from De Re Coquinaria of Apicius. The period is right (4th century) as well as the general provenance. But I’ve given quite a few already. Search for Apicius in the search box and you’ll find plenty. They are really very much all on the same theme and are not easy to understand. A lot of the time he just gives lists of ingredients which all seem to be limited to the same items, such as here:

Piper, cuminum frictum, ligusticum, mentam, uuam passam enucleatam aut Damascena, mel modice. uino myrteo temperabis, aceto, liquamen et oleo.

Pepper, roasted cumin seeds, mint, grapes or raisins, honey, myrtle wine, vinegar, liquamen (fermented fish sauce) and olive oil.

These are pretty standard seasonings for Apicius, and, trust me, I’ve searched his work extensively. What we’re looking at is a sauce that is sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. Could be classic Chinese!

Let’s take a small, and slightly anachronistic detour. The village of Gorgonzola is in the Milan district and gives its name to the famous blue cheese, which can be found easily throughout Lombardy, and is immensely popular. The cheese was probably not made until the 9th century at the earliest, so it does not fit the period of the Edict, but it is regionally suitable. Like Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses, I’m fond of a midday snack of a Gorgonzola sandwich because I usually have some on hand, and it’s quick and easy – nothing additional necessary because Gorgonzola is rich, complex, and tangy. Gorgonzola is a good addition to pasta sauces too.

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For a basic Gorgonzola sauce, heat one or two tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil in a wide, deep skillet over medium heat. Add some finely diced onion and cook gently until soft (2 to 3 minute). Add equal quantities of shredded gorgonzola and heavy cream, and stir until the cheese melts. Then add small cooked pasta, such as penne, farfalle, or conchiglie, and stir until the sauce coats the pasta completely. I like to add a little cooked spinach to the sauce for both color and flavor. Very traditional.

Sep 152015
 

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Today is conventionally taken as the birthday (1254) of Marco Polo although the actual date and place of his birth are sometimes disputed. Polo learned the mercantile trade from his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, who travelled through Asia, and met Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice to meet Marco for the first time. Although Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China, he was the first to leave a detailed chronicle of his experiences.

In 1260, Niccolò and Maffeo, while residing in Constantinople, then the capital of the Latin Empire, foresaw a political change; they liquidated their assets into jewels and moved away. According to The Travels of Marco Polo, they passed through much of Asia, and met with the Kublai Khan, a Mongol ruler and founder of the Yuan dynasty. Their decision to leave Constantinople proved timely. In 1261 Michael VIII Palaiologos, the ruler of the Empire of Nicaea, took Constantinople, promptly burned the Venetian quarter and re-established the Eastern Roman Empire. Captured Venetian citizens were blinded, while many of those who managed to escape perished aboard overloaded refugee ships fleeing to other Venetian colonies in the Aegean Sea. Meanwhile, Marco Polo’s mother died, and an aunt and uncle raised him. He received a good education, learning mercantile subjects including foreign currency, appraising, and the handling of cargo ships, but he learned little or no Latin.

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In 1269, Niccolò and Maffeo returned to their families in Venice. In 1271, during the rule of Doge Lorenzo Tiepolo, Marco Polo (at seventeen years of age), his father, and his uncle set off for Asia on the series of adventures that Marco later documented in his book. They returned to Venice in 1295, 24 years later, very rich. They had traveled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km).

At this time, Venice was at war with the Republic of Genoa. Polo armed a galley equipped with a trebuchet to join the war. He was probably caught by Genoans in a skirmish in 1296, off the Anatolian coast between Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta and not during the battle of Curzola (September 1298), off the Dalmatian coast, as is sometimes reported. The latter claim is due to a later tradition recorded by Giovanni Battista Ramusio in the 16th century.

Polo spent several months of his imprisonment dictating a detailed account of his travels to a fellow inmate, Rustichello da Pisa, who incorporated tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China. The book soon spread throughout Europe in manuscript form, and became known as The Travels of Marco Polo. It depicts the Polos’ journeys throughout Asia, giving Europeans their first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan.

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Polo was finally released from captivity in August 1299, and returned home to Venice, where his father and uncle had purchased a large house in the zone named contrada San Giovanni Crisostomo (Corte del Milion). The company continued its activities and Marco soon became a wealthy merchant. Polo financed other expeditions, but never left Venice again. In 1300, he married Donata Badoer, the daughter of Vitale Badoer, a merchant. They had three daughters, Fantina, Bellela, and Moreta.

In 1323, Polo was confined to bed, due to illness. On January 8, 1324, despite physicians’ efforts to treat him, Polo was on his deathbed. To write and certify the will, his family requested Giovanni Giustiniani, a priest of San Procolo. His wife, Donata, and his three daughters were appointed by him as co-executrices. The church was entitled by law to a portion of his estate; he approved of this and ordered that a further sum be paid to the convent of San Lorenzo, the place where he wished to be buried. He also set free a “Tartar slave” who may have accompanied him from Asia.

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The Travels is divided into four books. Book One describes the lands of the Middle East and Central Asia that Marco encountered on his way to China. Book Two describes China and the court of Kublai Khan. Book Three describes some of the coastal regions of the East: Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and the east coast of Africa. Book Four describes his trip back to Italy. The trip involved a number of hazards such as a gang of pirates robbing thousands of gold pieces from Marco and holding him hostage. Eventually the pirates were arrested by a passing ship which called for help from the Chinese authorities.

I think it is generally understood nowadays that Marco Polo did not bring pasta back to Italy from China, although for a long time that was the common misconception. Archeologists have proven that pasta existed in Italy before Polo went on his travels.  It’s quite easy to imagine that boiled dough was invented independently in different cultures.  But the association lingers despite the evidence, so let’s celebrate Polo’s journey with a pasta dish.  I discovered that Julia Child cooked  a dish she called Marco Polo spaghetti when she visited Mr Rogers in his Neighborhood. I could not find a video of this event but I do have a general recipe.  I’m not sure why Child thought this was especially Marco Polo-ish.

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Marco Polo Spaghetti

Cook 1 lb of spaghetti in plenty of salted water until it is al dente, that is, with a bite (not limp), but cooked through.

Heat a generous amount of butter or olive oil in a heavy pot.  Add sliced, roasted red pepper, pitted and halved black olives, chopped walnuts, chopped green onions, and flaked tuna (drained). Sauté until all the ingredients are heated through. Add the spaghetti and toss around until the ingredients are all thoroughly mixed and coated with butter or oil.

Serve on a warmed platter topped with shredded Swiss cheese.

May 282014
 

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On this date in 585 BCE there was a total solar eclipse. According to NASA, the eclipse peaked over the Atlantic Ocean at 37.9°N 46.2°W and the umbral path reached south-western Anatolia in the evening hours. This eclipse is significant for two reasons. First, the eclipse was accurately predicted by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Thales of Miletus. This report, which comes from The Histories of Herodotus is disputed because it is not clear how Thales could have done so, although he was an excellent mathematician. If it is true this is the earliest case in history of an eclipse being predicted. Second, according to Herodotus, the appearance of the eclipse was interpreted as an omen, and interrupted a battle between the Medes and the Lydians. The fighting immediately stopped, and they agreed to a truce. Because astronomers can calculate the dates of historical eclipses, the date of the battle is known with precision – a rarity in the ancient world.

Historical eclipses are a very valuable resource for historians, in that they allow a few historical events to be dated precisely, from which other dates and ancient calendars may be deduced. A solar eclipse of June 15, 763 BCE mentioned in an Assyrian text is important for the chronology of the Ancient Mideast, for example.

The method of using eclipses to date historical events does have problems, however. An eclipse recorded by Herodotus before Xerxes departed for his expedition against Greece – traditionally dated to 480 BCE – was matched by John Russell Hind to an annular eclipse of the Sun at Sardis on February 17, 478 BC. However, there was also a partial eclipse that was visible from Persia on October 2, 480 BCE. So, which eclipse was it?

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Chinese records of eclipses begin at around 720 BCE. The 4th century BCE astronomer Shi Shen described the prediction of eclipses by using the relative positions of the Moon and Sun. In the Western hemisphere, there are few reliable records of eclipses before 800 CE, until the advent of Arab and monastic observations in the early medieval period. The first recorded observation of the sun’s corona (visible during a total eclipse) was made in Constantinople in 968 CE.

Thales of Miletus is also known for another prediction associated with the sun and weather. One story recounts that he bought all the olive presses in Miletus after predicting the weather and a good harvest for a particular year. In another version of the same story, Aristotle explains that Thales reserved presses ahead of time at a discount only to rent them out at a high price when demand peaked, following his predictions of a particularly good harvest. This first version of the story would constitute the first creation and use of futures, whereas the second version would be the first creation and use of options.

So, it should be olive oil today. I use olive oil in a myriad ways. I always use it as the oil of choice when sautéing at the start of a soup or stew, like most Argentinos it is the only dressing I use for a salad, and nothing is better to start a meal than a little dish of olive oil for dipping crusty bread. For a recipe of the day I suggest pasta with olive oil and garlic. It’s such a simple and quick dish. It can be on the table in 20 minutes or less. The dish pictured below took less time than it took me to write out the recipe.

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I won’t bother with exact quantities. You should be able to figure it out. Get your pasta cooking in salted boiling water. Then add a generous quantity of olive oil to a wide deep skillet. Add a good quantity of minced garlic (about two cloves per person), and heat the oil gently over slow heat. On no account let the garlic change color. All you are trying to do is flavor the oil and slightly cook the garlic so that it is not quite as sharp as the raw deal. Heat the oil during the cooking of the pasta, then drain the pasta and dump it wholesale into the oil and garlic. Swirl around so that the pasta is evenly coated and serve immediately with some crusty bread (to mop up the remaining oil on your plate), and a green salad drizzled with olive oil.

 

Jun 232013
 
Isle of Man

Isle of Man

Galicia

Galicia

Poland

Poland

Finland

Finland

Prague

Prague

Today is the eve of the feast of St John the Baptist whose birthday was set as June 24 by the medieval church so as to be six months prior to the birth of Jesus (conforming to the description in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke).  This is a rare example of a feast day celebrating the birth of the saint rather than the death.  Just as Christmas coincides roughly with the northern winter solstice, so St John’s Day falls near the northern summer solstice. Both celebrations occur slightly after the actual solstice because in ancient times observers needed to be certain that the sun had indeed reversed its course.  Both Christian festivals have adopted solstice customs that pre-date Christianity.  Sometimes I struggle with the collection of information to disseminate for my daily posts.  Today the problem is reversed: how do I whittle down all the St John’s Eve traditions from across the Christian cultures of the world to give you something of the spirit of the festival without writing a book?  Here’s the bare bones.  I urge you to look up the customs that are particular to your part of the world.  Unlike those of Christmas, St John’s Eve traditions are slowly fading.

Bonfires

St John’s Eve has something of the quality of Halloween.  In many cultures it is believed that various forms of spirit roam the earth on this night.  In latter centuries these spirits came to be classified as evil, but the anthropologist in me suspects that at one time they were not deemed evil necessarily but, rather, spirits (such as those of dead forebears) that just did not belong in the world of the living and so needed to be kept away from villages and towns.  One almost universal practice to keep the spirits away was to light huge midnight bonfires, often on the highest point in the area.  In some cultures people leapt over the fires to purify themselves.  They could also be used for cooking.

Fairies and witches

Through much of the recorded history of St John’s Eve, malevolent spirits have been associated with witches (much to the distaste of modern Wiccans).   Witches were believed to be especially active this night, and had to be protected against.  The custom, now quite common in Scandinavia, of burning an effigy of a witch atop the local bonfire is, however, a twentieth century innovation.  But not all of the supernatural creatures abroad this night were evil (although mostly should be avoided).  On the Isle of Man in the British Isles, it was said that at one time the king of the fairies, Mannanan and his queen, Fand, led a procession of the lords and ladies of the island to the High Court at Tynwald, where they passed the night away in dance and song led by fairy music.  The following day the old laws of the island were read aloud to the gathered population. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its plot of the intertwining of the lives of humans and fairies, is actually set on St John’s Eve (which was, and is, quite commonly referred to as Midsummer Night).

Water

Although fire is the great purifying element of this festival, there are water customs too, especially in eastern Europe.  In Poland girls weave garlands of flowers and herbs, set lighted candles in the center, and set them afloat in flowing streams.  If the garland is caught in weeds the girl will have no luck in love that year.  But if it floats downstream it will be gathered up by a boy who will be her love.  Nowadays  in some towns boys stand in the streams ready to catch the garlands.  In the early twentieth century some villages held mock weddings for the boys and girls who had become “engaged” by this custom.  In Russia there were similar customs except the girls tossed the garlands into the tide by the sea shore, and on the southern coast of Spain women bathe in the ocean. St John’s Day is still considered a lucky day on which to hold a (real) wedding.

Medicinal plants

Across all of Europe it is still traditional to gather medicinal herbs on this night in the belief that they will have special powers.  Naturally, St John’s Wort is the most commonly collected where it is available (which is quite widespread because it has become invasive in many parts of Europe). Also gathered, depending on the region, are fennel, different species of fern, rue, rosemary, dog rose, lemon verbena, laburnum, foxglove, and elderflower. In some places these gathered herbs are arranged in a bunch and hung in doorways to ward away evil through the year. In others, they are dipped in a vessel filled with water and left outside exposed to the dew of night until the following morning when people use the resulting flower water to wash their faces.

St John's Wort

St John’s Wort

Music

As I write (dawn in Buenos Aires), drummers and wooden flute players with flaming torches are parading through the streets of my neighboring barrio, and I just saw a woman throwing ashes from her balcony.  Village processions were once common on this night, usually in the form of house to house visits, with an accompanying song as the people walked the streets.  In northern Europe householders would have food and drink (commonly bread, cheese, and beer) waiting for the revelers.

Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” was originally titled “St John’s Night on the Bare Mountain,” based on Russian folk tales.  The original was never performed in Mussorgsky’s lifetime and was not published until 1968.  The concert version we all know (made famous, or infamous, by Disney in “Fantasia”), is actually a re-scoring of Mussorgsky’s original by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. There are hints that Mussorgsky had plans for a 3-act opera based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story “St John’s Eve,” but it never materialized.

Foods

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Which St John’s Eve recipe shall I choose?  There are so many.  Do you want Swedish salmon, Mexican tamales, Finnish pancakes, Latvian fresh cheese . . .? In the end I settled on this pasta dish from Brindisi in the Apulia region of Italy off the Adriatic coast. The recipe is adapted from one by Mario Batali.  He calls for whole salted anchovies which are best.  If you cannot find them use tinned anchovies.  You’ll need about 8 to 10 (or as many as suit your tastes). The pasta recommended in the recipe (lasagnette or pappardelle) are broad noodles.  Fettuccini will work fine.

St John pasta

St. John’s Eve Pasta

Ingredients:

¾ cup (120 g) sliced blanched almonds
2 cups (300 g) fresh bread crumbs
4 salt-packed anchovies, filleted, rinsed, and chopped (or 8 tinned fillets chopped)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 ½ cups (3.5 dl) tomato sauce
6-8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
1 pound (.5 kg) lasagnette or pappardele pasta (or any broad noodles)
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil

While the water is coming to the boil, add a small amount of olive oil to a sauté pan (enough to generously coat the pan), and gently toast the almonds over medium heat until golden brown.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the almonds to a plate. In the oil remaining in the pan, toast the bread crumbs, stirring, until golden brown and crisp. Combine the bread crumbs and almonds in a small bowl.

Add more olive oil to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the anchovies and crush them into the oil with a fork. Add the anchovies and oil to the bread crumb mixture and season with black pepper. Set aside.

Add more olive oil to the pan.  Add the onion and garlic, and cook  gently until softened but not browned.  Add the tomato sauce to the onions and garlic, bring it to a brisk simmer, and cook until the sauce has reduced by one-third. Add the basil, remove from the heat, and set aside.

Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Drain the pasta well, and toss it into the pan with the sauce. Add half of the bread crumb mixture and toss to mix well.

Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl. Sprinkle the remaining bread crumb mixture over the top, and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

Jun 032013
 

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torres is    mer is

Mabo Day commemorates the anniversary of the historic Mabo Decision when on 3 June 1992 the High Court of Australia approved Eddie Koiki Mabo’s petition to grant ownership of his native Mer Island (Murray Island), in the Torres Strait, to the local inhabitants, rejecting the legal doctrine of terra nullius (no one’s land) applied by the British government when they claimed Australia for the crown.  British explorers and colonists used three separate principles when claiming and occupying territories. One was outright military conquest. The second was by treaty (although treaties were usually backed up by armies).  The third was terra nullius which was applied to uninhabited regions, or when the new arrivals determined that the indigenous population were not “civilized” enough to own land and sign treaties.  I am not a big fan of any of these principles, but terra nullius is clearly based on racism and ignorance.  Not all indigenous peoples on discovery by Europeans had laws of land ownership, but ALL had rules concerning land rights. Mabo, with aid of legal counsel, was able to demonstrate that Mer Island had always had a traditional system of laws regarding land rights (and had occupied those lands continuously since colonial times), and therefore terra nullius did not apply.  The court agreed.  This action has set the cat among the pigeons throughout Australia with regard to aboriginal land rights.  Mabo Day is an official holiday in Queensland and the Torres Strait islands, but since the 10th anniversary in 2002 there have been efforts to make it a national Australian holiday.

The Torres Strait islands lie in a navigable channel between the tip of Cape York in Queensland and the southern coast of the island of New Guinea.  There are 274 islands in the group of which 14 are inhabited.  Most of the islands are now governed from Queensland, and a few that lie close to the New Guinea mainland fall under the jurisdiction of  the Western Province of Papua New Guinea. It was at Possession Island (now Darnley Island or Erub Island) in the eastern region of the islands that Lieutenant James Cook first claimed British sovereignty over the eastern part of Australia in 1770.

Torres Strait Islanders are genetically and culturally distinct from aborigines of the Australian mainland. They are Melanesians, related to the peoples of Papua New Guinea. On European arrival their subsistence base was farming and fishing primarily, with the turtle occupying a key role in daily and ceremonial cooking.  For centuries they were the dominant culture of the region with a certain amount of interchange between both the Australian mainland and New Guinea.  Upon European colonization and the introduction of Christianity via missions there was a major upheaval in the culture.  Eddie Mabo’s victory was a great step forward in recognizing not only indigenous rights, but in the intrinsic value of Torres Island culture.

Eddie Mabo died of cancer before the verdict was handed down, worn down by 10 years of struggle. But his daughter wrote:

“It was a shock when he won because most people didn’t think we would win. It was unheard of for a single person to change the whole history of a nation and for Dad to do that it was an awakening call to Australia to say ‘it’s time to right a wrong’ and embrace indigenous people.”

“For me, Dad’s legacy is that through strength of culture and commitment you can achieve anything. People who are fighting for their own native title have to believe in themselves and their culture because that is what will help them succeed.”

“His strength was that he knew who he was as a man, where he was from and that the fight he was doing was right. He always knew the land was his.”

“I was sitting in a car breastfeeding my six month old son, who was born the day before I buried my dad, when I heard on the radio we had won the case. I started crying and thinking that if my father was alive he would be dancing. I then heard the sound of thunder and said to my son ‘hear that, he is dancing.’”

Torres Strait Island cooking has absorbed diverse elements from Europe and Asia, but still retains its individuality.  This recipe stems from a 2004 foodie event in Melbourne entitled Eating the City, in which an extraordinary medley of ethnic groups from all over the city came together to represent their cultures with food.  This dish, a puffy noodle concoction, was served by Torres Strait Elder Ella Pitt who has lived on the mainland since being evacuated from her island (Darnley Island or Erub, near Mer) during the Japanese bombing of Darwin in WW II. You can use these noodles to accompany a main dish, or sweeten them for a dessert. Golden syrup is a British favorite which can be found online in the U.S. These do not keep well, so halve the recipe if necessary.

Sabi Sabi Domboy

Ingredients:

1 lb (450 g) plain flour
8 oz (225 g) self-raising flour
1 ½ cups (400 ml) coconut cream
Salt to taste

Instructions:

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. The saucepan should be large enough to accommodate the pasta without going off the boil too long.  If you do not have a large enough one, cook them in two batches.

Mix the two flours together and add enough cold water to make an elastic dough like pasta dough. Mix and knead well for at least 5 minutes.

Roll the dough flat until it is a ¼ inch (6 mm) thick.

Break the dough into little pieces (domboys), the size of small flat pasta. Uniformity is not important. Think of classic Southern chicken and dumplings.

Add the domboys all at once to the boiling water.

When the domboys begin to float to the top of the water, drain immediately.

Combine the domboys and coconut cream in the same pot, bring slowly to the boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so the domboys don’t stick or burn. Add a little more coconut cream if needed.

Serve with fish, or as a dessert with golden syrup.

Serves 8-10