Jul 182018
 

Today is the birthday (1811) of William Makepeace Thackeray who in the 19th century was considered second only to Dickens in the British literary world. These days he is mostly forgotten except for Vanity Fair, a staple of Eng. Lit. classes. Thackeray was an only child, born in Calcutta in British India, to Richmond Thackeray (1781 – 1815), secretary to the Board of Revenue in the British East India Company, and Anne Becher (1792–1864), the second daughter of Harriet Becher and John Harman Becher, who was also a secretary for the East India Company.

His father died in 1815, which caused his mother to send him son to England in 1816, while she remained in British India. The ship on which he travelled made a short stopover at Saint Helena, where the imprisoned Napoleon was pointed out to him. Once in England he was educated at schools in Southampton and Chiswick, and then at Charterhouse School, where he became a close friend of John Leech. Thackeray disliked Charterhouse, and parodied it in his fiction as “Slaughterhouse”. Nevertheless, Thackeray was honored in the Charterhouse Chapel with a monument after his death. Illness in his last year there, during which he reportedly grew to his full height of six foot three, postponed his matriculation at Trinity College, Cambridge, until February 1829. Thackery was indifferent to academic studies and so left Cambridge in 1830. However, some of his earliest published writing appeared in two university periodicals, The Snob and The Gownsman.

Thackeray then traveled for some time on the continent, visiting Paris and Weimar, where he met Goethe. He returned to England and began to study law at the Middle Temple, but soon gave that up. On reaching the age of 21 he came into his inheritance from his father, but he squandered much of it on gambling and on funding two unsuccessful newspapers, The National Standard and The Constitutional, for which he had hoped to write. He also lost a good part of his inheritance in the collapse of two Indian banks. He was thus forced to consider a profession to support himself, turning first to art, which he studied in Paris, but did not pursue it directly. In later years he did produce illustrations for some of his own novels and other writings. He married 1836, Isabella Gethin Shawe (1816–1894) in 1836, second daughter of Isabella Creagh Shawe and Matthew Shawe, a colonel who had died after distinguished service, primarily in India. They had three children, all girls: Anne Isabella (1837–1919), Jane (who died at eight months old) and Harriet Marian (1840–1875), who married Sir Leslie Stephen, editor, biographer and philosopher (and Virginia Woolf’s father by a different wife).

Isabella

After marriage, Thackeray began “writing for his life”, as he put it, turning to journalism in an effort to support his young family. He primarily worked for Fraser’s Magazine, a sharp-witted and sharp-tongued conservative publication for which he produced art criticism, short fictional sketches, and two longer fictional works, Catherine and The Luck of Barry Lyndon. Between 1837 and 1840 he also reviewed books for The Times. He was also a regular contributor to The Morning Chronicle and The Foreign Quarterly Review. Later, through his connection to his school pal, John Leech, he began writing for the newly created magazine Punch, in which he published The Snob Papers, later collected as The Book of Snobs. This work popularized the modern meaning of the word “snob”. Thackeray was a regular contributor to Punch between 1843 and 1854.

Self caricature

Thackeray’s wife, Isabella, succumbed to depression after the birth of their third child, in 1840. Finding that he could get no work done at home, he spent more and more time away until September 1840, when he realized how grave his wife’s condition was. Struck by guilt, he set out with his wife to Ireland. During the crossing she threw herself from a water-closet into the sea, but she was pulled from the waters. They fled back home after a four-week battle with her mother. From November 1840 to February 1842 Isabella was in and out of professional care, as her condition waxed and waned. She eventually deteriorated into a permanent state of detachment from reality. Thackeray desperately sought cures for her, but nothing worked, and she ended up in two different asylums in or near Paris until 1845, after which Thackeray took her back to England, where he installed her with a Mrs Bakewell at Camberwell. Isabella outlived her husband by 30 years, in the end being cared for by a family named Thompson in Leigh-on-Sea at Southend until her death in 1894.

In the early 1840s Thackeray had some success with two travel books, The Paris Sketch Book and The Irish Sketch Book, the latter marked by hostility to Irish Catholics. However, as the book appealed to British prejudices, Thackeray was given the job of being Punch‘s Irish expert, often under the pseudonym Hibernis Hibernior. It was Thackeray, in other words, who was chiefly responsible for Punch‘s notoriously hostile and condescending depictions of the Irish during the Irish Famine (1845–51).

Thackeray achieved more recognition with his Snob Papers (serialized 1846/7, published in book form in 1848), but the work that really established his fame was the novel Vanity Fair, which first appeared in serialized instalments beginning in January 1847. Even before Vanity Fair completed its serial run Thackeray had become a celebrity, sought after by the very lords and ladies whom he satirized. They hailed him as the equal of Dickens.

He remained “at the top of the tree”, as he put it, for the rest of his life, during which he produced several long novels, notably Pendennis, The Newcomes and The History of Henry Esmond, despite various illnesses, including a near-fatal one that struck him in 1849 in the middle of writing Pendennis. He twice visited the United States on lecture tours during this period. Thackeray also gave lectures in London on the English humorists of the 18th century, and on the first four Hanoverian monarchs. The latter series was published in book form as The Four Georges. In Oxford he stood unsuccessfully as an independent for Parliament. He was narrowly beaten by Cardwell, who received 1,070 votes, as against 1,005 for Thackeray.

In 1860 Thackeray became editor of the newly established Cornhill Magazine, but he was never comfortable in the role, preferring to contribute to the magazine as the writer of a column called “Roundabout Papers”. Thackeray’s health worsened during the 1850s and he was plagued by a recurring stricture of the urethra that laid him up for days at a time. He also felt that he had lost much of his creative impetus. He worsened matters by excessive eating and drinking, and avoiding exercise, though he enjoyed riding (he kept a horse). He has been described as “the greatest literary glutton who ever lived” (which is certainly hyperbole – there have been many). His main activity apart from writing was “guttling and gorging.”

On 23rd December 1863, after returning from dining out and before dressing for bed, he suffered a stroke. He was found dead in his bed the following morning. His death at the age of fifty-two was entirely unexpected, and shocked his family, his friends and the reading public. An estimated 7,000 people attended his funeral at Kensington Gardens. He was buried on 29th December at Kensal Green Cemetery, and a memorial bust sculpted by Marochetti was placed in Westminster Abbey.

Here’s a few memorable quotes:

To love and win is the best thing. To love and lose, the next best.

Good humor may be said to be one of the very best articles of dress one can wear in society.

If a man’s character is to be abused, say what you will, there’s nobody like a relative to do the business.

People hate as they love: unreasonably.

There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write.

The wicked are wicked, no doubt, and they go astray and they fall, and they come by their deserts; but who can tell the mischief which the very virtuous do?

And now a rather longer quote from Vanity Fair leading to our recipe du jour.

“Give Miss Sharp some curry, my dear,” said Mr. Sedley, laughing. Rebecca had never tasted the dish before. “Do you find it as good as everything else from India?” said Mr. Sedley. “Oh, excellent!” said Rebecca, who was suffering tortures with the cayenne pepper. “Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp,” said Joseph, really interested. “A chili,” said Rebecca, gasping. “Oh yes!” She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported, and was served with some. “How fresh and green they look,” she said, and put one into her mouth. It was hotter than the curry; flesh and blood could bear it no longer. She laid down her fork. “Water, for Heaven’s sake, water!” she cried.

Hot curry it is then. You may indulge in “guttling and gorging” if you wish — or not. You can take your pick of recipes I have already given, or make a vindaloo, which is often the hottest curry you can get in South Asian restaurants in Britain. Lamb vindaloo is my favorite, although it is commonly made with pork in Goa where it originates. I have had it made with duck and chicken as well. In this recipe I will list “meat” for the ingredient, and you can take your pick. Just remember that cooking times will vary depending on the meat you choose. The masala paste is the key to the dish. It gives it the pungent and fiery taste. Use brown sugar for the dish if you cannot get jaggery.

Vindaloo

Ingredients

75 ml cider vinegar
700 gm meat, cut into chunks
4 tbsp ghee
500 gm finely sliced onions
60 gm tamarind pulp
10 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
5 cm length of ginger, peeled and cut into slim matchsticks
4 ripe tomatoes, diced
2-4 small hot peppers
10 curry leaves
1 tbsp jaggery
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black mustard seeds

For the masala

2 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder or paprika
Seeds of 8 cardamom pods
1 tsp black peppercorns
8 cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp turmeric
5 cm cinnamon stick

Instructions

Grind to a coarse powder all the ingredients for the masala, then stir in the vinegar. Rub the mixture into the meat and leave it to sit for three to four hours.

Heat the ghee in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat, and fry the onions until they are soft and golden. Take your time with this step, stirring periodically to make sure the onions are evenly caramelized. Meanwhile, soak the tamarind pulp in 120 ml of hot water for 15 minutes, then gently rub any remaining pulp from the seeds and strain off the liquid, discarding the solids.

Stir the garlic and ginger into the onions and cook, stirring, for another five minutes, then add the tomatoes, hot peppers and curry leaves, and cook until the tomatoes start to break down.

Add the pork and the masala rub to the pan and turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir well, add the jaggery, salt and mustard seeds, followed by the tamarind liquid. Bring to a simmer, cover tightly, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for one hour.

Partially remove the lid and cook for another 30 minutes, until the meat is very tender and the sauce has thickened.

Serve with your choice of Indian flatbreads, Basmati rice, and a dish of dahl (at minimum).

Jul 012018
 

Today is the birthday (1804) of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, best known by her nom de plume George Sand, French novelist and memoirist. Sand wrote: “My name is not Marie-Aurore de Saxe, Marquise of Dudevant, as several of my biographers have asserted, but Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, and my husband, M. François Dudevant, claims no title: the highest rank he ever reached was that of infantry second lieutenant.”

Sand, who was always known simply as “Aurore”, was born in Paris, but raised for much of her childhood by her grandmother, Marie-Aurore de Saxe, Madame Dupin de Francueil, at her grandmother’s estate, Nohant, in the French province of Berry. Sand later used the setting in many of her novels. Her father, Maurice Dupin, was the grandson of the Marshal General of France, Maurice, Comte de Saxe, an illegitimate son of Augustus II the Strong, king of Poland and a Saxon elector, and a cousin to the sixth degree to kings Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X of France. She was also related much more distantly to king Louis Philippe of France through common ancestors from German and Danish ruling families.

In 1822, at the age of 18, Sand married Casimir Dudevant (1795–1871), illegitimate son of baron Jean-François Dudevant. She and Dudevant had two children: Maurice (1823–1889) and Solange (1828–1899). In early 1831, she left her husband and entered upon a period of “romantic rebellion.” In 1835, she was legally separated from Dudevant and took her children with her.

Sand conducted affairs of varying duration with Jules Sandeau (1831), Prosper Mérimée, Alfred de Musset (summer 1833 – March 1835), Louis-Chrysostome Michel, Pierre-François Bocage, Charles Didier, Félicien Mallefille, Louis Blanc, and Frédéric Chopin (1837–1847). Later in life, she corresponded with Gustave Flaubert, and despite their differences in temperament and aesthetic preference, they eventually became close friends. She engaged in an intimate friendship with actress Marie Dorval, which led to widespread but unconfirmed rumors of a lesbian affair. Letters written by Sand to Dorval made such references as “wanting you either in your dressing room or in your bed”.

In Majorca one can still visit the Carthusian monastery of Valldemossa, where she spent the winter of 1838–1839 with Chopin and her children. She described this trip to Majorca in Un hiver à Majorque (A Winter in Majorca), first published in 1841. Chopin was already ill with incipient tuberculosis (or, as has recently been suggested, cystic fibrosis) at the beginning of their relationship, and spending a winter in Majorca — where Sand and Chopin did not realize that winter was a time of rain and cold and where they could not get proper lodgings—exacerbated his symptoms. They separated two years before his death for a variety of reasons. In her novel Lucrezia Floriani, Sand used Chopin as a model for a sickly Eastern European prince named Karol. He is cared for by a middle-aged actress past her prime, Lucrezia, who suffers a great deal because of her affection for Karol. Though Sand claimed not to have made a mockery out of Chopin, the book’s publication and widespread readership may have exacerbated their antipathy to each other. The tipping point in their relationship involved her daughter Solange. Chopin continued to be cordial to Solange after she and her husband, Auguste Clésinger, had a vicious falling out with Sand over money. Sand took Chopin’s support of Solange as outright treachery and confirmation that Chopin had always “loved” Solange. Sand’s son Maurice also disliked Chopin. Maurice wanted to establish himself as the “man of the estate” and did not wish to have Chopin as a rival. Chopin was never asked back to Nohant. In 1848, Chopin returned to Paris from a tour of the United Kingdom, and died at the Place Vendôme the following year. Chopin was penniless at that time. His friends had to pay for his stay there, as well as his funeral at the Madeleine. The funeral was attended by over 3,000 people, including Eugène Delacroix, Franz Liszt, Victor Hugo and other famous people. George Sand was notable by her absence.

A liaison with the writer Jules Sandeau began her literary career. They published a few stories in collaboration, signing them “Jules Sand”. Her first published novel, Rose et Blanche (1831), was written in collaboration with Sandeau. She subsequently adopted, for her first independent novel, Indiana (1832), the pen name that made her famous – George Sand. Drawing from her childhood experiences of the countryside, she wrote the pastoral novels La Mare au Diable (1846), François le Champi (1847–1848), La Petite Fadette (1849), and Les Beaux Messieurs Bois-Doré (1857). Her other novels include Lélia (1833), Mauprat (1837), Le Compagnon du Tour de France (1840), Consuelo (1842–1843), and Le Meunier d’Angibault (1845). Theater pieces and autobiographical pieces include Histoire de ma vie (1855), Elle et Lui (1859, about her affair with Musset), Journal Intime (posthumously published in 1926), and Correspondence. Sand often performed her theatrical works in her small private theatre at the Nohant estate.

In addition, Sand wrote literary criticism and political texts. She sided with the poor and working class, and championed women’s rights. When the 1848 Revolution began, she was an ardent republican. Sand started her own newspaper, which was published in a workers’ co-operative. However, by 1871, during the Paris Commune, she had become more conservative, she wrote: “The horrible adventure continues. They ransom, they threaten, they arrest, they judge. They have taken over all the city halls, all the public establishments, they’re pillaging the munitions and the food supplies.”

Sand’s reputation came under stern criticism when she began wearing men’s clothing in public, which she justified by saying that men’s clothes were far sturdier and less expensive than the typical dress of a noblewoman at the time. This is still true. Sand also found men’s clothing comfortable and enabled her to circulate more freely in Paris than most of her female contemporaries, and gave her increased access to venues from which women were often barred, even women of her social standing. Sand’s smoking tobacco in public was also considered scandalous. No one approved the free indulgence of women in such a habit, especially in public (though Franz Liszt’s mistress, Marie d’Agoult, did this as well, smoking large cigars). These and other behaviors were exceptional for a woman of the early and mid-19th century, when social codes—especially in the upper classes—were of the utmost importance. As a consequence of many unorthodox aspects of her lifestyle, Sand had to relinquish some of the privileges afforded her by her class status.

George Sand died at Nohant, near Châteauroux, in France’s Indre département on 8th June 1876, at the age of 71 and was buried in the private graveyard behind the chapel at Nohant-Vic. In 2003, plans that her remains be moved to the Panthéon in Paris resulted in controversy.

Here are a few salient quotes from Sand:

I have an object, a task, let me say the word, a passion. The profession of writing is a violent and almost indestructible one.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed how much more power words have than ideas, particularly in France.

Life resembles a novel more often than novels resemble life.

The truth is too simple: one must always get there by a complicated route.

We cannot tear a single page from our life, but we can throw the whole book into the fire.

Art for the sake of art itself is an idle sentence. Art for the sake of truth, for the sake of what is beautiful and good — that is the creed I seek.

All of us who have time and money to spare, travel — that is to say, we flee; since surely it is not so much a question of travelling as of getting away? Which of us has not some sorrow to dull, or some yoke to cast off?

In my post on Flaubert http://www.bookofdaystales.com/gustave-flaubert/ I noted that Sand and Flaubert were constant companions for dinner, and wrote at great length about their rather similar problems with digestion. Sand’s recipe for galette which I posted there will work for today as well. Sand was not only a noted cook and gourmet, but she also kept a collection of family recipes which her granddaughter collected into a cookbook: À la table de George Sand. Here is her recipe for veal cutlets. Given that she often swore off meat because it did not agree with her, this recipe is unusual, not only because it is a meat dish, but also because it is meat wrapped in meat. I have given the recipe in Sand’s original French (marginally edited). If you are French challenged, any online translation app will work. It’s easy French.

Côtelettes de veau en papillotes

4 côtes de veau
400 g de filets de Poulet
100 g de champignons de Paris
2 œufs
50 g de beurre
100 g de chapelure
50 g de persil haché
Sel, poivre

Préparation

Mettez dans le bol d’un mixeur les filets de poulet coupés en morceaux, les champignons coupés en quatre, le persil, les oeufs, salez et poivrez. Démarrez le robot à vitesse moyenne, de manière à obtenir une farce « coupée au couteau », pas trop fine, mais homogène tout de même. Enduisez des deux côtés les côtes de veau avec cette farce, en tapotant pour qu’elle adhère bien. Panez recto verso avec la chapelure. Mettez une heure au réfrigérateur pour que l’ensemble tienne bien. Dans une poêle, faites délicatement dorer au beurre les côtes des deux côtés. Préchauffez le four à 180 °C. Beurrez du papier cuisson sulfurisé. Enveloppez les côtes en formant des papillotes. Placez-les sur une plaque de cuisson et enfournez-les pendant 20 minutes. Servez dans le papier.

May 292018
 

Today is the birthday (1874) of Gilbert Keith “G.K.” Chesterton, KC*SG, English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic. Chesterton was at one time well known for his fictional priest-detective Father Brown, and for his reasoned apologetics, but his star is perhaps a little pale over the horizon these days. As you will see from the few quotes I give at the end, I greatly value his wit and intellect. I have yet to glean why so many High Anglicans of his era converted to Catholicism in later life. Chesterton routinely referred to himself as an “orthodox” Christian, and came to identify this position more and more with Catholicism. I have no doubt that many do not understand my Protestantism. I come by it honestly (and wear it lightly).

Chesterton was born in Campden Hill in Kensington, London, the son of Marie Louise, née Grosjean, and Edward Chesterton. He was baptized at the age of one month into the Church of England, though his family themselves were irregularly practicing Unitarians. According to his autobiography, as a young man Chesterton became fascinated with the occult and, along with his brother Cecil, experimented with Ouija boards. Chesterton was educated at St Paul’s School, then attended the Slade School of Art, a department of University College, London, to become an illustrator. He also took classes in literature, but did not complete a degree in either subject.

Chesterton married Frances Blogg in 1901 and the marriage lasted his whole life. In September 1895 Chesterton began working for the London publisher Redway, where he remained for just over a year. In October 1896 he moved to the publishing house T. Fisher Unwin, where he remained until 1902. During this period he also undertook his first journalistic work, as a freelance art and literary critic. In 1902 the Daily News gave him a weekly opinion column, followed in 1905 by a weekly column in The Illustrated London News, for which he continued to write for the next 30 years.

Chesterton had planned to become an artist, and his writing often shows a sense of the visual that grounds the abstract in the concrete Father Brown is perpetually correcting the incorrect vision of the bewildered people at the scene of the crime and wandering off at the end with the criminal to exercise his priestly role of recognition and repentance. For example, in the story “The Flying Stars,” Father Brown entreats the character Flambeau to give up his life of crime: “There is still youth and honour and humour in you; don’t fancy they will last in that trade. Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down. The kind man drinks and turns cruel; the frank man kills and lies about it. Many a man I’ve known started like you to be an honest outlaw, a merry robber of the rich, and ended stamped into slime.”

Chesterton loved to debate, often engaging in friendly public disputes with the likes of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Clarence Darrow. According to his autobiography, he and Shaw played cowboys in a silent film that was never released.

Chesterton was a large man, standing 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) and weighing around 20 stone 6 pounds (130 kg; 286 lb). His girth gave rise to a famous anecdote. During the First World War a lady in London asked why he was not “out at the Front”; he replied, “If you go round to the side, you will see that I am.” On another occasion he remarked to Shaw, “To look at you, anyone would think a famine had struck England.” Shaw replied, “To look at you, anyone would think you have caused it.” P. G. Wodehouse once described a very loud crash as “a sound like G. K. Chesterton falling onto a sheet of tin.”

Chesterton usually wore a cape and a crumpled hat, with a swordstick in hand, and a cigar hanging out of his mouth. He had a tendency to forget where he was supposed to be going and miss the train that was supposed to take him there. It is reported that on several occasions he sent a telegram to his wife Frances from some distant (and incorrect) location, writing such things as “Am in Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?” to which she would reply, “Home.” (Chesterton himself tells the story, omitting his wife’s alleged reply, in ch. XVI of his autobiography.)

In 1931, the BBC invited Chesterton to give a series of radio talks. He accepted, tentatively at first. However, from 1932 until his death, Chesterton delivered over 40 talks per year. He was allowed (and encouraged) to improvise on the scripts. This allowed his talks to maintain an intimate character, as did the decision to allow his wife and secretary to sit with him during his broadcasts. The talks were very popular. A BBC official remarked, after Chesterton’s death, that “in another year or so, he would have become the dominating voice from Broadcasting House.”

Chesterton died of congestive heart failure on the morning of 14 June 1936, at his home in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. His last known words were a greeting spoken to his wife. The homily at Chesterton’s Requiem Mass in Westminster Cathedral, London, was delivered by Ronald Knox on 27th June 1936. Knox said, “All of this generation has grown up under Chesterton’s influence so completely that we do not even know when we are thinking Chesterton.” He is buried in Beaconsfield in the Catholic Cemetery. Near the end of Chesterton’s life, Pope Pius XI invested him as Knight Commander with Star of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great (KC*SG). The Chesterton Society has proposed that he be beatified. He is remembered liturgically on 13th June by the Episcopal Church, with a provisional feast day as adopted at the 2009 General Convention.

My favorite quote from Chesterton of all time (which I cite often) is:

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.

If he had said no more, that would be sufficient. [Bold italics seem about right to me.] But he had much, much more to say. A sampling:

Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.

It’s not that we don’t have enough scoundrels to curse; it’s that we don’t have enough good men to curse them.

If a man called Christmas Day a mere hypocritical excuse for drunkeness and gluttony, that would be false, but it would have a fact hidden in it somewhere. But when Bernard Shaw says that Christmas Day is only a conspiracy kept up by Poulterers and wine merchants from strictly business motives, then he says something which is not so much false as startling and arrestingly foolish. He might as well say that the two sexes were invented by jewellers who wanted to sell wedding rings.

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.

If there were no God, there would be no atheists.

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.

To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.

To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.

The rich are the scum of the earth in every country.

There is not a shadow of a doubt that Chesterton loved his food, and cheese was certainly high on his list of favorites:

Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.

His actual food favorites are not easy discern, except that his secretary noted that he rarely ate vegetable, but preferred meat and potatoes. He also went through long spells of heavy drinking. At age 40 he came close to dying from the ill effects on his heart of his obesity. Surprisingly, as a young man he was rail thin, and often teased about it. But from his 30s onward, he waged a battle with excessive eating and drinking. He put his height and weight at 6’ 2” and 300 lbs, although he claimed that the weight was just a guess. Normal scales don’t typically go much over 250 lbs, and he was usually heavier than that.

I’m sure Chesterton ate roast ribs of beef in the quantity recommended by Mrs Beeton:

ROAST RIBS OF BEEF.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Beef, a little salt.

Mode.—-The fore-rib is considered the primest roasting piece, but the middle-rib is considered the most economical. Let the meat be well hung (should the weather permit), and cut off the thin ends of the bones, which should be salted for a few days, and then boiled. Put the meat down to a nice clear fire, put some clean dripping into the pan, dredge the joint with a little flour, and keep continually basting the whole time. Sprinkle some fine salt over it (this must never be done until the joint is dished, as it draws the juices from the meat); pour the dripping from the pan, put in a little boiling: water slightly salted, and strain the gravy over the meat. Garnish with tufts of scraped horseradish, and send horseradish sauce to table with it (see No. 447). A Yorkshire pudding (see Puddings) sometimes accompanies this dish, and, if lightly made and well cooked, will be found a very agreeable addition.

Time.—10 lbs. of beef, 2-1/2 hours; 14 to 16 lbs., from 3-1/2 to 4 hours.

Average cost, 8-1/2d. per lb.

Sufficient.—A joint of 10 lbs. sufficient for 8 or 9 persons.

Seasonable at any time.

MEMORANDA IN ROASTING.—The management of the fire is a point of primary importance in roasting. A radiant fire throughout the operation is absolutely necessary to insure a good result. When the article to be dressed is thin and delicate, the fire may be small; but when the joint is large, the fire must fill the grate. Meat must never be put down before a hollow or exhausted fire, which may soon want recruiting; on the other hand, if the heat of the fire becomes too fierce, the meat must be removed to a considerable distance till it is somewhat abated. Some cooks always fail in their roasts, though they succeed in nearly everything else. A French writer on the culinary art says that anybody can learn how to cook, but one must be born a roaster. According to Liebig, beef or mutton cannot be said to be sufficiently roasted until it has acquired, throughout the whole mass, a temperature of 158°; but poultry may be well cooked when the inner parts have attained a temperature of from 130° to 140°. This depends on the greater amount of blood which beef and mutton contain, the colouring matter of blood not being coagulable under 158°.

 

 

May 252018
 

Today is the birthday (1803) of Ralph Waldo Emerson, an essayist and lecturer who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century in the United States. He was a champion of individualism and a critic of the prevailing pressures of society at the time which he disseminated through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay “Nature”. Following this work, he gave a speech entitled “The American Scholar” in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr called “America’s intellectual Declaration of Independence”. Emerson wrote most of his important essays as lectures first and then revised them for print. His first two collections of essays, Essays: First Series (1841) and Essays: Second Series (1844), represent the core of his thinking. They include the well-known essays “Self-Reliance”, “The Over-Soul”, “Circles”, “The Poet” and “Experience”. Together with “Nature”, these essays made the decade from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s Emerson’s most fertile period. Emerson wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenets, but developing certain ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for humankind to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. Emerson’s “nature” was more philosophical than naturalistic. Emerson took a kind of pantheistic or pandeistic approach to nature by rejecting views of God as separate from the world.

Emerson’s work remains among the linchpins of the American romantic movement, and it has greatly influenced the thinkers, writers and poets who followed him. I could give you whole biography and long assessment of his oeuvre, but I’ll provide some of my favorite quotes instead. You’d think the man was born to be a meme maker’s inspiration:

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

Every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.

The only way to have a friend is to be one.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.

People do not seem to realise that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.

You become what you think about all day long.

Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting some on yourself.

Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.

Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.

Beware what you set your heart upon. For it surely shall be yours.

Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.

For today’s recipe I turn to this quote from Emerson:

There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.

I suppose that to be thoroughly Emersonian you should do nothing more for your recipe than find a perfectly ripe pear and enjoy it to the fullest. But I can be a bit more less telegraphic than that. Here is a classic New England recipe for pears poached in red wine.

Poached Pears

Ingredients

2 cups red wine
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1 whole cinnamon stick
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1 whole bay leaf
6 ripe pears, stems on

Garnish: raspberries (optional)

Instructions

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the wine, sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, orange zest and juice, lemon zest, and bay leaf. Stir them together until the sugar dissolves.

Peel the pears carefully, leaving the stems intact. Cut ¼ inch off the bottom of each pear to allow the pears to stand upright for serving. Add the pears to the liquid in the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring gently, until a paring knife pierces the pears easily (about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and let the pears cool in the liquid.

When cool, remove the pears from the liquid with a slotted spoon and place in a small container. Cover and refrigerate until chilled through (about 2 hours).

Pour the poaching liquid through a sieve set over a second saucepan. Discard the solids. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook until reduced to a thick syrup (about 20 minutes). Let cool to room temperature.

Arrange the pears on a platter or individual plates and drizzle the poaching liquid over them. Garnish with raspberries if desired. I like to add a little sour cream as well, but you can also use whipped cream if you wish.

Apr 162018
 

Today is the birthday (1918) of Terence Alan “Spike” Milligan KBE who may be best known as the co-creator, main writer and a principal cast member of the The Goon Show, performing a range of roles including the popular Eccles and Minnie Bannister characters. It is possible to trace the history of absurdist English comedy – from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore to Monty Python and beyond – back to The Goon Show and ultimately to Milligan. It was not simply that Milligan was able to see the humor in any situation you can name, including the Second World War, but his humor frequently broke any pretense at reality. His legacy within English comedy is immense, and sets it light years away from what counts as comedy in other cultures.

Milligan was born in Ahmednagar in India, the son of an Irish father, Captain Leo Alphonso Milligan, MSM, RA (1890–1969), who was serving in the British Indian Army. His mother, Florence Mary Winifred (née Kettleband; 1893–1990), was English. He spent his childhood in Poona (now called Pune) and later in Rangoon (now Yangon), capital of British Burma. He was educated at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Poona, and later at St Paul’s High School, Rangoon. After moving to Brockley, south east London at the age of 12 in 1931, he attended Brownhill Road School (later to be renamed Catford Boys School) and St Saviours School, Lewisham High Road. On leaving school he played the cornet and got involved in jazz performance. He also joined the Young Communist League in opposition to Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, who were gaining support near his home in south London.

After returning from Burma, Milligan lived most of his life in the United Kingdom apart from overseas service in the British Army in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War. During most of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Milligan performed as an amateur jazz vocalist and trumpet player before, during and after being called up for military service in the war. Even then he wrote and performed comedy sketches as part of concerts to entertain troops. After his call-up, but before being sent abroad, he and fellow musician Harry Edgington (1919–1993) (whose nickname ‘Edge-ying-Tong’, inspired one of Milligan’s most memorable musical creations, the “Ying Tong Song”) would compose surreal stories, filled with puns and skewed logic, as a way of staving off the boredom of life in barracks. One biographer describes his early dance band work as follows: “He managed to croon like Bing Crosby and win a competition: he also played drums, guitar and trumpet, in which he was entirely self taught.” He also acquired a double bass, on which he took lessons and would play along in jazz sessions. He is known to have had absolute pitch.

During the Second World War, Milligan served as a signaller in the 56th Heavy Regiment Royal Artillery, D Battery (later 19 Battery), as Gunner Milligan, 954024. The unit was equipped with the obsolete First World War era BL 9.2-inch howitzer and based in Bexhill on the south coast of England. Milligan describes training with these guns in part  II of Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, claiming that, during training, gun crews resorted to shouting “bang” in unison as they had no shells to practice with. The unit was later re-equipped with the BL 7.2-inch howitzer and saw action as part of the First Army in the North African campaign and then in the succeeding Italian campaign. Milligan was appointed lance bombardier and was about to be promoted to bombardier, when he was wounded in action in the Italian theatre at the Battle of Monte Cassino. He was hospitalized for a mortar wound to the right leg and was demoted by an unsympathetic commanding officer (identified in his war diaries as Major Evan “Jumbo” Jenkins) back to Gunner. It was Milligan’s opinion that Major Jenkins did not like him, because Milligan constantly kept up the morale of his fellow soldiers, whereas Jenkins’ approach was to be stern and bullying. A compounding incident may have been that Jenkins invited Gunners Milligan and Edgington to his bivouac to play some jazz with him, only to discover that their musicianship was far superior to his own.

After hospitalization, Milligan drifted through a number of rear-echelon military jobs in Italy, eventually becoming a full-time entertainer. He played the guitar with a jazz and comedy group called The Bill Hall Trio, in concert parties for the troops. After being demobilized, Milligan remained in Italy playing with the trio but returned to Britain soon after. While he was with the Central Pool of Artists (a group he described as composed “of bomb-happy squaddies”) he began to write parodies of their mainstream plays, which displayed many of the key elements of what would later become The Goon Show (originally called Crazy People) with Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine.

Milligan returned to jazz in the late 1940s and made a precarious living with the Hall trio and other musical comedy acts. He was also trying to break into the world of radio, as a performer or script writer. His first success in radio was as writer for comedian Derek Roy’s show. After a delayed start, Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine joined forces in a relatively radical comedy project, The Goon Show. During its first season the BBC titled the show as Crazy People, or in full, The Junior Crazy Gang featuring those Crazy People, the Goons!, an attempt to make the program palatable to BBC officials, by connecting it with the popular group of theatre comedians known as The Crazy Gang.

The first episode was broadcast on 28 May 1951 on the BBC Home Service.  Although he did not perform as much in the early shows, Milligan eventually became a lead performer in almost all of the Goon Show episodes, portraying a wide range of characters including Eccles, Minnie Bannister, Jim Spriggs and the nefarious Count Moriarty. He was also the primary author of most of the scripts, although he co-wrote many scripts with various collaborators, most notably Larry Stephens and Eric Sykes. Check out my main post for more details: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-goon-show/

Milligan made several forays into television as a writer-performer, in addition to his many guest appearances on interview, variety and sketch comedy series from the 1950s to the 2000s. The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d (1956), starring Peter Sellers, was the first attempt to translate Goons humor to TV. It was followed by A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred, both made during 1956 and directed by Richard Lester, who went on to work with the Beatles. During a visit to Australia in 1958, a similar special was made for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, “The Gladys Half-Hour” which also featured local actors Ray Barrett and John Bluthal, who appeared in several later Milligan projects. In 1961, Milligan co-wrote two episodes of the popular sitcom Sykes and a…, co-starring Sykes and Hattie Jacques and the one-off “Spike Milligan Offers A Series of Unrelated Incidents at Market Value”.

The 15-minute series The Telegoons (1963), was the next attempt to transplant the Goons to television, this time using puppet versions of the familiar characters. The initial intention was to give a visual representation of original recordings of 1950s Goon Show episodes, but this proved difficult because of the rapid-fire dialogue and was ultimately frustrated by the BBC’s refusal to allow the original audio to be used. 15-minute adaptations of the original scripts by Maurice Wiltshire were used instead, with Milligan, Sellers and Secombe reuniting to provide the voices; according to a contemporary press report, they received the highest fees the BBC had ever paid for 15-minute shows. Two series were made in 1963 and 1964 and (presumably because it was shot on 35mm film rather than video) the entire series has reportedly been preserved in the BBC archives.

Milligan’s next major TV venture was the sketch comedy series The World of Beachcomber (1968), made in color for BBC 2. It is believed all 19 episodes are lost although audio survives. That same year, the three Goons reunited for a televised re-staging of a vintage Goon Show for Thames Television, with John Cleese substituting for the late Wallace Greenslade but the pilot was not successful and no further programs were made.

In early 1969, Milligan starred in blackface in the situation comedy Curry & Chips, created and written by Johnny Speight and featuring Milligan’s old friend and colleague Eric Sykes. Curry & Chips set out to satirize racist attitudes in Britain in a similar vein to Speight’s earlier creation, the hugely successful Till Death Us Do Part, with Milligan ‘blacking up’ to play Kevin O’Grady, a half-Pakistani–half-Irish factory worker. The series generated numerous complaints, because of its frequent use of racist epithets and ‘bad language’ – one viewer reportedly complained of counting 59 uses of the word “bloody” in one episode – and it was cancelled on the orders of the Independent Broadcasting Authority after only six episodes.

Director John Goldschmidt’s film The Other Spike dramatized Milligan’s mental breakdown in a film for Granada Television, for which Milligan wrote the screenplay and in which he played himself. Later that year, he was commissioned by the BBC to write and star in Q5, the first in the innovative “Q” TV series, acknowledged as an important precursor to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which premiered several months later. There was a hiatus of several years, before the BBC commissioned Q6 in 1975. Q7 appeared in 1977, Q8 in 1978, Q9 in 1980 and There’s a Lot of It About in 1982. Milligan later complained of the BBC’s cold attitude towards the series and stated that he would have made more programs, had he been given the opportunity. A number of episodes of the earlier “Q” series are missing, presumed erased. In 1979 he hosted an episode of The Muppet Show.

Milligan also wrote verse, considered to be within the genre of literary nonsense. His poetry has been described by comedian Stephen Fry as “absolutely immortal—greatly in the tradition of Lear.” One of his poems, “On the Ning Nang Nong”, was voted the UK’s favorite comic poem in 1998 in a nationwide poll, ahead of other nonsense poets including Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.

While depressed, Milligan wrote serious poetry. He also wrote a novel Puckoon and a series of war memoirs, including Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall (1971), “Rommel?” “Gunner Who?”: A Confrontation in the Desert (1974), Monty: His Part in My Victory (1976) and Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall (1978). Milligan’s seven volumes of memoirs cover the years from 1939 to 1950 (his call-up, war service, first breakdown, time spent entertaining in Italy and return to the UK).

Bernard Miles gave Milligan his first straight acting role, as Ben Gunn, in the Mermaid Theatre production of Treasure Island. By chance I met Milligan outside the Mermaid one afternoon. He was sitting on the ground smoking a cigar. He abruptly left, dropping his cigar which I picked up and kept for a number of years. Treasure Island played twice daily through the winter of 1961–62 and was an annual production at the Mermaid Theatre for some years. In the 1968 production, Barry Humphries played the role of Long John Silver, alongside William Rushton as Squire Trelawney and Milligan as Ben Gunn. Humphries wrote, “Milligan’s best performance must surely have been as Ben Gunn. Milligan stole the show every night, in a makeup which took at least an hour to apply. His appearance on stage always brought a roar of delight from the kids in the audience and Spike had soon left the text far behind as he went off into a riff of sublime absurdity.”

The Kobal Collection / United Artists

In 1961–62, during the long pauses between the matinee and the evening show of Treasure Island, Milligan began talking to Miles about the idea he and John Antrobus were exploring, of a dramatized post-nuclear world. This became the one-act play The Bed-Sitting Room, which Milligan co-wrote with John Antrobus and which premiered at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury on 12th February 1962. It was adapted to a longer play and staged by Miles at London’s Mermaid Theatre, making its debut on 31 January 1963. It was a critical and commercial success and was revived in 1967 with a provincial tour before opening at London’s Saville Theatre on 3 May 1967. Richard Lester later directed a film version, released in 1969. You can find the full movie here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=de0w8tU0j1U It’s a bit of a period piece now. I saw it when it first came out, and was marginally traumatized by it because of its savage view of the world I lived in at the time. Some of Terry Gilliam’s more apocalyptic movies clearly were influenced by it.

To the end of his life, Milligan maintained a twisted sense of humor. After the death of Harry Secombe from cancer, he said, “I’m glad he died before me, because I didn’t want him to sing at my funeral.” Perhaps as a wry backhander, a recording of Secombe singing was played at Milligan’s memorial service. He also wrote his own obituary, in which he stated repeatedly that he “wrote the Goon Show and died.” Milligan died from kidney failure, at the age of 83, on 27th February 2002, at his home in Rye in Sussex.  On the day of his funeral, 8th March 2002, his coffin was carried to St Thomas Church in Winchelsea, East Sussex, and was draped in the flag of Ireland. He had once said that he wanted his headstone to bear the words “I told you I was ill.” He was buried at St Thomas’ churchyard but the Chichester diocese refused to allow this epitaph. A compromise was reached with the Irish translation, Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite and in English, “Love, light, peace.” The additional epitaph “Grá mór ort Shelagh” can be read as “Great love for you Shelagh”.

I could give you Milligan quotes for a month and not be exhausted, but I’ll settle for a few of my favorites:

All men are cremated equal.

A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.

All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.

Money can’t buy you happiness but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.

My Father had a profound influence on me. He was a lunatic.

I’m not afraid of dying I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

Milligan’s food habits are elusive. He is known to have invited the likes of Prince Charles and Dusty Springfield to dinner but I cannot find anything on the kinds of things they ate. His daughter, Jane, records that during the day he had tea and toast, and that was it. There’s this from his poetry:

The Herring is a lucky fish
From all disease inured.

Should he be ill when caught at sea;
Immediately – he’s cured!

You can cure your own herrings, and I could give you a recipe, but you are quite capable of looking one up on your own. It’s not hard, just time consuming. Besides, commercial varieties are not all that bad, and satisfy my occasional cravings. I like herrings, cured, and preserved in sour cream over the straight pickled variety. Dill is my preferred seasoning, with dark brown bread as an accompaniment for an open-faced sandwich. Very Norse of me, no doubt.

If you want to go to town, you can make all manner of sauces for pickled herrings, including cream and mustard, or horseradish, or a tomato sauce with hot pepper. You can serve them separately in their sauces with bread, and let guests make their own choices. I’d also recommend pickled herring salad with mandarin orange slices and shaved fennel. While facing the fact that pickled herrings are strongly distinctive (like Milligan), they are versatile (also like Milligan).

 

Jan 072018
 

 

Today is the birthday (1891) of Zora Neale Hurston, African-American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist who is known not only for her contributions to African-American literature, but also for her portrayal of racial struggles in the American South, and works documenting her research on African-American folk traditions in Florida, and voodoo in Jamaican and Haiti. She is probably best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. . Her novels went relatively unrecognized by the literary world for decades, but interest revived after author Alice Walker published “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in the March 1975 issue of Ms. Magazine.

Hurston was the sixth of eight children of John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston (née Potts). All of her four grandparents had been born into slavery. Her father was a Baptist preacher and sharecropper, who later became a carpenter, and her mother was a school teacher. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, on January 7, 1891, where her father grew up and her grandfather was the preacher of a Baptist church. When she was three, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida which later became the location of several of her important works. Eatonville was one of the first all-African-American towns to be incorporated into the United States (1887). Hurston said she always felt that Eatonville was “home” to her because she grew up there, and sometimes claimed it as her birthplace. Her father later was elected as mayor of the town in 1897 and in 1902 became minister of its largest church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist.

Eatonville was a place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of White society, and this upbringing undoubtedly influenced Hurston’s political outlook. She often sided with Southern conservatives who opposed integration, seeing “separate but equal” as a positive value, given that integration inevitably exposed African-Americans to racism and discrimination. The problem, of course, as was made clear by the Civil Rights movement is that the “separate” part is easy to accomplish, the “equal” part is not.

In 1917, Hurston began attending Morgan College, the high school division of Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, Maryland. At this time, apparently to qualify for a free high-school education (as well, perhaps to reflect her literary birth), the 26-year-old Hurston began claiming 1901 as her year of birth.[12] She graduated from the high school of Morgan State University in 1918. In 1918, Hurston began her studies at Howard University, where took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an associate degree in 1920. In 1921, she wrote a short story, “John Redding Goes to Sea,” which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus. Hurston left Howard in 1924 and in 1925 was offered a scholarship by Barnard trustee Annie Nathan Meyer to Barnard College of Columbia University, where she was the college’s sole African-American student.

Hurston received her B.A. in anthropology in 1928, when she was 37. While she was at Barnard, she conducted ethnographic research directed by Franz Boas. She also worked with Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead was a fellow student. After graduating from Barnard, Hurston spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University. Living in Harlem in the 1920s, Hurston befriended the likes of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Her apartment, according to some accounts, was a popular spot for social gatherings.

In later life, in addition to continuing her literary career, Hurston served on the faculty of North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) in Durham, North Carolina. Hurston traveled extensively in the Caribbean and the American South and immersed herself in local cultural practices to conduct her anthropological research. Based on her work in the South, sponsored from 1928 to 1932 by Charlotte Osgood Mason, a wealthy philanthropist, Hurston wrote Mules and Men in 1935. In 1936 and 1937, Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti for research, with support from the Guggenheim Foundation. She drew from this for her anthropological work, Tell My Horse (1938). From October 1947 to February 1948, she lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, set in Florida.

Hurston never had much income from her writing and so later in life she took a number of poorly paid odd jobs to make ends meet. She worked at the Pan American World Airways Technical Library at Patrick Air Force Base in 1957, but was fired for being “too well-educated” for her job. Subsequently she moved to Fort Pierce, taking jobs where she could find them. She worked occasionally as a substitute teacher. At age 60 she was helped by public assistance, and at one point she even worked as a maid on Miami Beach’s Rivo Alto Island

During this period of financial stress and medical difficulties, Hurston was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home, where she suffered a stroke. She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida. Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973. Novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte D. Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.

Hurston has two distinct voices in her writing: one was a standard literary voice; the other was an attempt to capture the sounds and rhythms of Southern African-America speaking style. Here’s some examples of both:

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place

Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep.

At the beginning of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the lead character, Janie Crawford, returns from the Everglades, where she has shot her husband and been acquitted, to Eatonville, in ragged overalls, where all the women are gossipy and unwelcoming. The one exception is her best friend Phoeby, who brings her a “heaping plate of mulatto rice.” Phoeby notes that it “ain’t so good dis time. Not enough bacon grease . . . but it’ll kill hongry.”

The Savannah Cook Book: A collection of old fashioned receipts from Colonial kitchens by Harriet Ross Colquitt contains this recipe for mulatto rice:

Fry squares of breakfast bacon and remove from the pan. Then brown some minced onion (one small one) in this grease, and add one pint can of tomatoes. When thoroughly hot, add a pint of rice to this mixture, and cook very slowly until the rice is done. Or, if you are in a hurry, cold rice may be substituted, and all warmed thoroughly together.

Seems simple enough. I’m assuming that you use the bacon in another dish but keep the rendered fat for flavoring. On the other hand, I see no reason not to include the fried bacon in the dish.

Dec 262017
 

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

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

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

June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without a Coca-Cola life is unthinkable.

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

I have found God, but he is insufficient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croque Monsieur

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

Jul 102017
 

Today is the birthday (1856) of Nikola Tesla (Никола Тесла) a Serbian inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist who was virtually unknown to the general public from the time of his death to the 1990s when he achieved a kind of semi-mythic status in the science fiction, comic book, and fantasy realms. Tesla is one of the numerous real scientists who worked for Thomas Edison who reaped both the credit and profit for things they invented. Tesla is now best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system although he made many other discoveries in, and improvements to, electrical systems.

Tesla was born and raised in the Austrian Empire to Serbian parents in what is now Croatia. He received an advanced education in engineering and physics in the 1870s and gained practical experience in the early 1880s working in telephony and at Continental Edison in the new electric power industry. He emigrated to the United States in 1884, and eventually became a naturalized citizen. He worked for a short time at the Edison Machine Works in New York City before he struck out on his own because of severe disagreements with Edison who continued to hold high hopes for the commercial possibilities of direct current even though Tesla’s alternating current was clearly superior for transmitting electricity over long distances. With the help of partners to finance and market his ideas, Tesla set up laboratories and companies in New York to develop a range of electrical and mechanical devices. His alternating current (AC) induction motor and related polyphase AC patents, licensed by Westinghouse Electric in 1888, and became the cornerstone of the polyphase system which Westinghouse marketed and is to this day the industry standard.

Tesla also conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. Even though he was quite deliberately asocial (anti-social is too strong), Tesla became well known as an inventor and demonstrated his achievements to celebrities and wealthy patrons at his lab, and was noted for his showmanship at public lectures.

Throughout the 1890s Tesla pursued his ideas for wireless lighting and worldwide wireless electric power distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs. I’m a little surprised he didn’t electrocute himself along the way. In 1893, he made pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices. Tesla tried to put these ideas to practical use in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project, an intercontinental wireless communication and power transmitter, but ran out of funding before he could complete it.

After Wardenclyffe, Tesla went on to try and develop a series of inventions in the 1910s and 1920s with varying degrees of success. Having spent most of the money he earned from the AC patents, he lived in a series of New York hotels, leaving behind unpaid bills. The nature of his earlier work and the pronouncements he made to the press later in life earned him the reputation of an archetypal “mad scientist” in US popular culture. Tesla died in New York City in January 1943. His work fell into relative obscurity following his death, but in 1960, the General Conference on Weights and Measures named the SI unit of magnetic flux density the tesla in his honor.

I strongly urge you to look up more details about this man who was an intriguing personality. He stood 6’2” tall and weighed a scant 142 lbs all of his life: quite noticeably tall and thin for his era. He was also notably reclusive when not conducting experiments or giving public lectures. Here’s some of my favorite quotes from Tesla:

My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.

Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.

The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane

The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.

What we now want is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth, and the elimination of egoism and pride which is always prone to plunge the world into primeval barbarism and strife… Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment.

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.

If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.

From childhood I was compelled to concentrate attention upon myself. This caused me much suffering, but to my present view, it was a blessing in disguise for it has taught me to appreciate the inestimable value of introspection in the preservation of life, as well as a means of achievement.

Tesla was Serbian although born in what is now Croatia. Serbs and Croats share many cultural similarities with minor differences, although it’s probably a good plan to keep this idea to yourself when traveling in the region. Serbian and Croatian languages, for example, are mutually intelligible, but Serbs use Cyrillic script and Croats use the Roman alphabet. Their cuisines are also quite similar although the Dalmatian coast of Croatia has a distinctive set of dishes relying on seafood. Both Serbs and Croats historically were fond of tripe, especially goat and lamb tripe, but these dishes are falling into disfavor nowadays. Oh well !!! Here’s a classic recipe found in both Serbia and Croatia.

Škembići

Ingredients

2 lbs cooked tripe cut in bite-sized pieces
1 lb onions, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
vegetable oil for frying
ground black pepper
powdered red paprika
2 bay leaves
⅓ cup dry white wine
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp vinegar

Instructions

Heat a little vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and then sauté the onions, stirring frequently until they are a deep golden.

Place the tripe, onions, ground pepper to taste, bay leaves, paprika to taste, crushed garlic, and white wine in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.  At this point I like to let the pot rest and cool for several hours. It can also be refrigerated overnight to marry the flavors.

Reheat the pot when about ready to serve and add the tomato puree and vinegar towards the end, stirring well to combine thoroughly.

 

May 202017
 

Today is the birthday (1799) of legendary French author Honoré de Balzac.  His father, born Bernard-François Balssa, was one of eleven children from an artisan family in Tarn, a region in the south of France. In 1760 he set off for Paris with only a Louis coin in his pocket, intent on improving his social standing; by 1776 he had become Secretary to the King’s Council and a Freemason (he had also changed his name to the more noble sounding “Balzac,” his son later adding—without official recognition—the nobiliary particle: “de”). After the Reign of Terror (1793–94), François Balzac was sent to Tours to coordinate supplies for the Army. Balzac’s mother, born Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier, came from a family of haberdashers in Paris. Her family’s wealth was a considerable factor in the match: she was 18 at the time of the wedding, and François Balzac, 50

Honoré (named after Saint-Honoré of Amiens http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-honore-of-amiens/ ) was the second child born to the Balzacs. Exactly one year before, Louis-Daniel had been born, but he lived for only a month. As an infant Balzac was sent to a wet-nurse; the following year he was joined by his sister Laure and they spent four years away from home. When the Balzac children returned home, they were kept at a distance from their parents. At age 10 Balzac was sent to the Oratorian grammar school in Vendôme, where he studied for 7 years. His father intentionally gave him little spending money to try to instill in him a sense of a hardscrabble upbringing but it primarily served to make him the object of ridicule among his much wealthier schoolmates.

Balzac had difficulty adapting to the rote style of learning at the school. As a result, he was frequently sent to the “alcove”, a punishment cell reserved for disobedient students. (The janitor at the school, when asked later if he remembered Honoré, replied: “Remember M. Balzac? I should think I do! I had the honour of escorting him to the dungeon more than a hundred times!”) His time alone, however, gave Balzac the opportunity to read voraciously.

Like Dickens (sometimes called the “English Balzac”), Balzac used scenes of his boyhood in his writing, especially La Comédie Humaine. His time at Vendôme is reflected in Louis Lambert, his 1832 novel about a young boy studying at an Oratorian grammar school at Vendôme. The narrator says : “He devoured books of every kind, feeding indiscriminately on religious works, history and literature, philosophy and physics. He had told me that he found indescribable delight in reading dictionaries for lack of other books.”

Balzac often fell ill, finally causing the headmaster to contact his family with news of a “sort of a coma.” In 1814 the Balzac family moved to Paris, and Honoré was sent to private tutors and schools for the next two and a half years. This was an unhappy time in his life, during which he attempted suicide on a bridge over the Loire River. In 1816 Balzac entered the Sorbonne, where he studied under three famous teachers: François Guizot, who later became Prime Minister, Abel-François Villemain, a recent arrival from the Collège Charlemagne who lectured on French and classical literature, and, his favorite, Victor Cousin, who strongly encouraged independent thinking.

After the Sorbonne Balzac was persuaded by his father to follow him into the Law. For three years he trained and worked at the office of Victor Passez, a family friend. During this time Balzac began to delve the vagaries of human behavior. In Le Notaire (1840), he wrote that a young person in the legal profession sees “the oily wheels of every fortune, the hideous wrangling of heirs over corpses not yet cold, the human heart grappling with the Penal Code.”

In 1819 Passez offered to make Balzac his successor, but he had had enough of the Law. He despaired of being “a clerk, a machine, a riding-school hack, eating and drinking and sleeping at fixed hours. I should be like everyone else. And that’s what they call living, that life at the grindstone, doing the same thing over and over again…. I am hungry and nothing is offered to appease my appetite.” In consequence he determined to become a writer.

Balzac’s work habits are legendary, he wrote from 1 am to 8 am every night and sometimes even longer. Balzac could write very rapidly; some of his novels, written with a quill, were composed at about thirty words per minute. His preferred method was to eat a light meal at 5 or 6 in the afternoon, then sleep until midnight. He then rose and wrote for many hours, drinking innumerable cups of strong black coffee. He would often work for 15 hours or more at a stretch, and claimed to have once worked for 48 hours with only 3 hours of rest in the middle.

Balzac revised obsessively, covering printer’s proofs with changes and additions to be reset. He sometimes repeated this process during the publication of a book, causing significant expense both for himself and the publisher. As a result, the finished product quite often was different from the original text.

Balzac died in Paris in 1850, 5 months after marrying Ewelina Hańska, widow of count Hańska, in Russia.  He had never enjoyed good health, but the journey to Russia to finalize his courtship with Ewelina (who was also being courted by Franz Lizst), and his persistent overeating, along with his generally poor personal habits, weakened his system fatally. He showed all the symptoms of heart failure in his final year.

The day he died he had been visited by Victor Hugo, who later served as a pallbearer and eulogist. Balzac is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. At his memorial service, Victor Hugo said, “Today we have people in black because of the death of the man of talent; a nation in mourning for a man of genius.” The funeral was attended by the literary elite of Paris”, including Frédérick Lemaître, Gustave Courbet, Dumas père and Dumas fils,[84] as well as representatives of the Légion d’honneur and other dignitaries. Later, Auguste Rodin created the Monument à Balzac in his honor, and featured him in several smaller busts.

Here’s a few of my favorite quotes:

Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.

First love is a kind of vaccination which saves a man from catching the complaint a second time.

Life is simply what our feelings do to us.

If you mean to cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands; the real art is in getting them clean again.

Great love affairs start with Champagne and end with tisane.

The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.

And he, like many jaded people, had few pleasures left in life save good food and drink.

Cruelty and fear shake hands together. An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man’s entire existence.

Hatred is the vice of narrow souls; they feed it with all their littleness, and make it the pretext of base tyrannies.

After Balzac had closeted himself away for lengthy creative bursts, drinking coffee and eating only fruit and eggs, he would take a break and wolf down vast quantities of food. Once he asked his publisher, Monsieur Werdet, to lunch between writing bouts. According to the food historian Giles MacDonagh, he ate “a hundred Ostend oysters, 12 Pre-Sale mutton cutlets, a duckling with turnips, a brace of roast partridges, a sole Normand, without counting hors d’oeuvres, entremets, fruits etc.”

Balzac sometimes gave dinner parties with a theme. Once he served a meal of nothing but onions: onion soup, his favorite onion puree, onion juice, onion fritters and onions with truffles. His idea, apparently, was to showcase the purgative properties of the vegetable. It worked. All his guests got sick. Maybe if you just make French onion soup you can avoid this fate. I’ve been making classic French onion soup since I was a novice cook, which, if made well, is superb. But you must get  it right. It takes time and patience. This is my recipe from memory which I have played with over the years. It makes about 8 servings, so I don’t make it very often these days. You really shouldn’t make small quantities.

French Onion Soup

Peel 10 sweet white onions, halve them, and finely slice them. Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy Dutch oven, over low heat and layer in the onion slices sprinkling salt between each layer. Let the onions sweat down, undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes.  After that, stir the onions occasionally until they take on a dark, even, mahogany color. This is the absolutely critical step, and requires patience and attentiveness. You don’t want any of the onions to burn but they must be dark brown. Eventually the onions will reduce to about 2 cups. Ignore cookbooks that say you can brown the onions in 10 minutes or so. This is complete nonsense. Slowly cooked onions take an hour (sometimes longer) to reach this stage.

Add a cup (or more) of dry white wine to cover the onions and turn the heat to high. Reduce the wine to a syrup, then add 5 cups of beef consommé. See the HINTS tab for my recipes. You want this consommé to be of the highest quality. Also add a cup of good quality farm apple cider, and a bouquet garni (your choice of herbs; I use thyme, parsley, marjoram, and bay leaf). Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight.

Reheat the soup next day when ready to serve.

Heat the broiler. Cut day old baguette slices into rounds to fit the  mouths of oven-safe soup crocks. Very lightly toast the bread under the broiler on one side only.

Add a little cognac to the soup, and ladle it into the crocks, leaving space for the bread. Place the bread, toasted side down, on top of the soup and spread it with grated Gruyère. Place the crocks under the broiler and broil until the cheese is bubbly and toasted.

May 082017
 

Today is the birthday of Edward Gibbon FRS, English historian famous for The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788 and is known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its open criticism of organized religion. Gibbon traces the trajectory of Western civilization (as well as the Islamic and Mongolian conquests) from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium. The work covers the history, from 98 to 1590, of the Roman Empire, the history of early Christianity and then of the Roman State Church, and the history of Europe, and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire in the East and West. Because of its relative objectivity and heavy use of primary sources, unusual at the time, its methodology became a model for later historians. This led to Gibbon being called the first “modern historian of ancient Rome”

According to Gibbon, the Roman Empire succumbed to barbarian invasions in large part due to the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens. They had become weak, outsourcing their duty to defend their empire to barbarian mercenaries, who then became so numerous and ingrained that they were able to take over the Empire. Romans, he believed, were unwilling to live a tougher, military lifestyle. Furthermore, Gibbon argued that Christianity created a belief that a better life existed after death, which fostered an indifference to the present among Roman citizens, thus sapping their desire to sacrifice for a larger purpose. He also believed that Christianity’s comparative pacifism tended to hamper the traditional Roman martial spirit. Finally, like other Enlightenment thinkers and British citizens of the age steeped in institutional anti-Catholicism, Gibbon held in contempt the Middle Ages as a priest-ridden, superstitious Dark Age. It was not until his own era, the “Age of Reason,” with its emphasis on rational thought, he believed, that human history could resume its progress.

He compared the reigns of Diocletian (284–305) and Charles V (1519–1556), noting some similarities. Both, for example, were plagued by continual war and compelled to excessive taxation to fund wars. We might do well to compare these two reigns with the US of our own times.

Gibbon’s style is frequently distinguished by an ironically detached and somewhat dispassionate yet critical tone. He occasionally lapses into moralization and aphorism. He is so eminently quotable:

History is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortune of mankind.

If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery [of gunpowder] with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

The five marks of the Roman decaying culture:
Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth;
Obsession with sex and perversions of sex;
Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original;
Widening disparity between very rich and very poor;
Increased demand to live off the state.

 I make it a point never to argue with people for whose opinion I have no respect.

Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.

Corruption, the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.

I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.

The history of empires is the history of human misery.

The power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous.

Gibbon succumbed, as did many writers of his age (and later), to the debatable notion that a culture’s base temperaments are heavily influenced by the foods they eat:

THE CORN, or even the rice, which constitutes the ordinary and wholesome food of a civilized people, can be obtained only by the patient toil of the husbandman. Some of the happy savages, who dwell between the tropics, are plentifully nourished by the liberality of nature; but in the climates of the north, a nation of shepherds is reduced to their flocks and herds. The skilful practitioners of the medical art will determine (if they are able to determine) how far the temper of the human mind may be affected by the use of animal, or of vegetable, food; and whether the common association of carnivorous and cruel deserves to be considered in any other light, than that of an innocent, perhaps a salutary, prejudice of humanity. Yet if it be true that the sentiment of compassion is imperceptibly weakened by the sight and practice of domestic cruelty, we may observe that the horrid objects which are disguised by the arts of European refinement are exhibited in their naked and most disgusting simplicity in the tent of a Tartarian shepherd. The ox, or the sheep, are slaughtered by the same hand from which they were accustomed to receive their daily food; and the bleeding limbs are served, with very little preparation, on the table of their unfeeling murderer.

Anthropologists and archeologists (including myself) have long argued that the people who herd (and slaughter) animals are the ones to fear, over the long run, more than the farmers. I don’t believe it’s so much a matter of diet as of lifestyle. Herders are mobile whereas farmers are sedentary. Farmers, therefore, are more prone to armies of defense, whereas herders can be actively aggressive. Who are the warrior heroes of the Hebrew Bible? Abraham, David etc. – all herders. Of course, this is grossly simplistic, and things change over time, especially with the rise of empires.  But it does give me a segue into a recipe for the day.

I’ll resort to Hannah Glasse for an 18th century recipe, and I’ll choose a rice dish to favor Gibbon’s notion of a peaceable diet. I used to be very fond of rice in broth (my daily starter on board an Italian ship going from Australia to England), but Glasse’s rice soup is closer to rice pudding than to soup. (Be careful of the long “s” – which ignorant people mistake for “f”).

To make a rice ſoup.

TAKE two quarts of water, a pound of rice, a little cinnamon; cover it cloſe, and let it ſimmer very ſoftly till the rice is quite tender: take out the cinnamon, then ſweeten it to your palate, grate half a nutmeg, and let it ſtand till it is cold; then beat up the yolks of three eggs, with half a pint of white wine, mix them very well, then ſtir them into the rice, ſet them on a ſlow fire, and keep ſtirring all the time for fear of curdling. When it is of a good thickneſs, and boils, take it up. Keep ſtirring it till you put it into your diſh.

If you’re more in the mood for conquering Rome, have a steak.