Dec 122018
 

Today is the birthday (1913) of James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) who was a US track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1936 Games. He is often remembered as the African-American athlete who embarrassed Hitler at the Berlin Games, and you frequently see movie clips of Hitler leaving the stadium, appearing to show that he was disgusted to have his Aryan race athletes defeated by a definitively non-Aryan. This is a complete misrepresentation. In fact, Hitler shook hands with Owens and congratulated him, as Owens himself recalls (and there was purportedly a photo of them shaking hands that has since disappeared). FDR, on the other hand, refused to meet with Owens after the Games, and never congratulated him. Indeed, Owens’ life in the US after the Games was extremely hard.

Owens was the youngest of ten children, three girls and seven boys, born to Henry Cleveland Owens (a sharecropper) and Mary Emma Fitzgerald in Oakville, Alabama. J.C., as he was called, was 9 years old when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for better opportunities, as part of the Great Migration, when 1.5 million African Americans left the segregated South. When his new teacher asked his name (to enter in her roll book), he said “J.C.”, but because of his strong Southern accent, she thought he said “Jesse”. The name stuck, and he was known as Jesse Owens for the rest of his life.

As a youth, Owens took different jobs in his spare time: he delivered groceries, loaded freight cars and worked in a shoe repair shop while his father and older brother worked at a steel mill. During this period, Owens realized that he had a passion for running. Throughout his life, Owens attributed the success of his athletic career to the encouragement of Charles Riley, his junior high school track coach at Fairmount Junior High School. Since Owens worked in a shoe repair shop after school, Riley allowed him to practice before school instead.

Owens first came to national attention when he was a student of East Technical High School in Cleveland; he equaled the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yards (91 m) and long-jumped 24 feet 9 ½ inches (7.56 meters) at the 1933 National High School Championship in Chicago. Owens attended Ohio State University after his father found employment, which ensured that the family could be supported. Under the coaching of Larry Snyder, Owens won a record eight individual NCAA championships, four each in 1935 and 1936. (The record of four gold medals at the NCAA was equaled only by Xavier Carter in 2006, although his many titles also included relay medals.) Though Owens enjoyed athletic success, he had to live off campus with other African-American athletes. When he traveled with the team, Owens was restricted to ordering carry-out or eating at “blacks-only” restaurants. Similarly, he had to stay at “blacks-only” hotels. Owens did not receive a scholarship for his efforts, so he continued to take part-time jobs to pay for school.

Owens achieved track and field immortality in a span of 45 minutes on May 25th, 1935, during the Big Ten meet at Ferry Field in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he set three world records and tied a fourth. He equaled the world record for the 100-yards (9.4 seconds), and set world records in the long jump (26 ft 8 ¼ in or 8.13 m, a world record that would last for 25 years); 220 yards (20.3 seconds); and 220-yard low hurdles (22.6 seconds, becoming the first to break 23 seconds).

On December 4th, 1935, NAACP Secretary Walter Francis White wrote a letter to Owens, although he never actually sent it. He wanted to dissuade Owens from taking part in the Olympics on the grounds that an African-American should not promote a racist regime after what African-Americans had suffered at the hands of white racists in his own country. In the months prior to the Games, a movement gained momentum in favor of a boycott. Owens was convinced by the NAACP to declare “If there are minorities in Germany who are being discriminated against, the United States should withdraw from the 1936 Olympics.” Yet he and others eventually took part after Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee branded them “un-American agitators.”

In 1936, Owens and his United States teammates sailed on the SS Manhattan and arrived in Berlin to compete at the Summer Olympics. Owens arrived at the new Olympic stadium to a throng of fans, according to fellow American sprinter James LuValle (who won the bronze in the 400 meters), many of them young girls yelling “Wo ist Jesse? Wo ist Jesse?” Owens’ success at the games did present problems for Hitler, who was using them to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany. He and other government officials had high hopes that German athletes would dominate the games with victories. Just before the competitions, Adi Dassler visited Owens in the Olympic village. He was the founder of the Adidas athletic shoe company, and he persuaded Owens to wear Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik shoes. This was the first ever sponsorship for a male African American athlete.

On August 3rd Owens won the 100 meters with a time of 10.3 s, defeating teammate and college friend Ralph Metcalfe by a tenth of a second and defeating Tinus Osendarp of the Netherlands by two tenths of a second. On August 4th, he won the long jump with a jump of 8.06 m (26 ft 5 in) (3¼ inches short of his own world record). He later credited this achievement to the technical advice that he received from Luz Long, the German competitor whom he defeated. On August 5th, he won the 200 meters with a time of 20.7 s, defeating teammate Mack Robinson (the older brother of Jackie Robinson). On August 9th, he won his fourth gold medal in the 4 × 100 m sprint relay when head coach Lawson Robertson replaced Jewish-American sprinters Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller with Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, who teamed with Frank Wykoff and Foy Draper to set a world record of 39.8 s in the event. Owens’ record-breaking performance of four gold medals was not equaled until Carl Lewis won gold medals in the same events at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Owens set the world record in the long jump with a jump of 8.13 m (26 ft 8 in) in 1935, the year before the Berlin Olympics, and this record stood for 25 years until it was broken in 1960 by countryman Ralph Boston.

The long-jump victory is documented, along with many other 1936 events, in the 1938 film Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl. On August 1st, 1936, Hitler shook hands with the German victors only and then left the stadium. International Olympic Committee president Henri de Baillet-Latour insisted that Hitler greet every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations. On August 2nd Hitler did not publicly congratulate any of the medal winners. Even so, the communist New York City newspaper the Daily Worker claimed Hitler received all the track winners except Johnson (African-American high jumper) and left the stadium as a “deliberate snub” after watching Johnson’s winning jump. Hitler was subsequently accused of failing to acknowledge Owens (who won gold medals on August 3, 4 (two), and 8) or shake his hand. Owens responded to these claims at the time:

Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave. It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100 meters. But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was bad taste to criticize the ‘man of the hour’ in another country.

In an article dated August 4, 1936, the African-American newspaper editor Robert L. Vann describes witnessing Hitler “salute” Owens for having won gold in the 100m sprint (August 3):

And then … wonder of wonders … I saw Herr Adolph Hitler, salute this lad. I looked on with a heart which beat proudly as the lad who was crowned king of the 100 meters event, get an ovation the like of which I have never heard before. I saw Jesse Owens greeted by the Grand Chancellor of this country as a brilliant sun peeped out through the clouds. I saw a vast crowd of some 85,000 or 90,000 people stand up and cheer him to the echo.

Albert Speer wrote that Hitler “was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games.”

In a 2009 interview, German journalist Siegfried Mischner claimed that Owens carried around a photograph in his wallet of the Führer shaking his hand before the latter left the stadium. Owens, who felt that the newspapers of the day reported “unfairly” on Hitler’s attitude towards him, tried to get Mischner and his journalist colleagues to change the accepted version of history in the 1960s. Mischner claimed that Owens showed him the photograph and told him: “That was one of my most beautiful moments.” Mischner added: “(the picture) was taken behind the honour stand and so not captured by the world’s press. But I saw it, I saw him shaking Hitler’s hand!” According to Mischner, “the predominating opinion in post-war Germany was that Hitler had ignored Owens, so we therefore decided not to report on the photo. The consensus was that Hitler had to continue to be painted in a bad light in relation to Owens.” For some time, Mischner’s assertion was not confirmed independently of his own account, and Mischner himself admitted in Mail Online: “All my colleagues are dead, Owens is dead. I thought this was the last chance to set the record straight. I have no idea where the photo is or even if it exists still.”

However, in 2014, Eric Brown, British fighter pilot and test pilot, the Fleet Air Arm’s most decorated living pilot, independently stated in a BBC documentary: “I actually witnessed Hitler shaking hands with Jesse Owens and congratulating him on what he had achieved.” Additionally, an article in The Baltimore Sun in August 1936 reported that Hitler sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself.

Meanwhile . . . on October 15th, 1936, Owens repeated this allegation when he addressed an audience of African Americans at a Republican rally in Kansas City, remarking: “Hitler didn’t snub me — it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.” A real instance of the pot calling the kettle – er – Black. The US was just as replete with racism as Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust originated in eugenics carried out by scientists in California who instructed the Nazis in the 1930s. Joseph Mengele was taught by Americans!!!! Furthermore, the US refused to get involved in the Second World War until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. To be fair, Britain, France, and Russia did not want to get involved either until their homelands were threatened.

In Germany, Owens had been allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, at a time when African Americans in many parts of the United States had to stay in segregated hotels that accommodated only Blacks. When Owens returned to the United States, he was greeted in New York City by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. During a Manhattan ticker-tape parade in his honor along Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes, someone handed Owens a paper bag. Owens paid it little mind until the parade concluded. When he opened it up, he found that the bag contained $10,000 in cash. Owens’s wife Ruth later said: “And he [Owens] didn’t know who was good enough to do a thing like that. And with all the excitement around, he didn’t pick it up right away. He didn’t pick it up until he got ready to get out of the car.” After the parade, Owens was not permitted to enter through the main doors of the Waldorf Astoria New York and instead forced to travel up to the event in a freight elevator to reach the reception honoring him.[42][46] President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) never invited Jesse Owens to the White House following his triumphs at the Olympic Games. When the Democrats bid for his support, Owens rejected those overtures: as a staunch Republican, he endorsed Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s Republican opponent in the 1936 presidential race.

Owens joined the Republican Party after returning from Europe and was paid to campaign for African American votes for the Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon in the 1936 presidential election. Speaking at a Republican rally held in Baltimore on October 9, 1936, Owens said: “Some people say Hitler snubbed me. But I tell you, Hitler did not snub me. I am not knocking the President. Remember, I am not a politician, but remember that the President did not send me a message of congratulations because, people said, he was too busy.”

After the games had ended, the entire Olympic team was invited to compete in Sweden. Owens decided to capitalize on his success by returning to the United States to take up some of the more lucrative endorsement offers. United States athletic officials were furious and withdrew his amateur status, which immediately ended his career. Owens was angry, saying, “A fellow desires something for himself.” Owens argued that the racial discrimination he had faced throughout his athletic career, such as not being eligible for scholarships in college and therefore being unable to take classes between training and working to pay his way, meant he had to give up on amateur athletics in pursuit of financial gain elsewhere.

Jesse Owens returned home from the 1936 Olympics with four gold medals and international fame, but there were no guarantees for his future prosperity. Racism was still prevalent in the United States, and he had difficulty finding work. He took on menial jobs as a gas station attendant, playground janitor, and manager of a dry cleaning firm. He also raced against amateurs and horses for cash.

Owens was prohibited from making appearances at amateur sporting events to bolster his profile, and he found out that the commercial offers had all but disappeared. In 1937, he briefly toured with a twelve-piece jazz band under contract with Consolidated Artists but found it unfulfilling. He also made appearances at baseball games and other events. Finally, Willis Ward—a friend and former competitor from the University of Michigan— brought Owens to Detroit in 1942 to work at Ford Motor Company as Assistant Personnel Director. He later became a director, where he worked until 1946.

Owens helped promote the exploitation film Mom and Dad in African American neighborhoods. He tried to make a living as a sports promoter, essentially an entertainer. He would give local sprinters a ten- or twenty-yard start and beat them in the 100-yd (91-m) dash. He also challenged and defeated racehorses; as he revealed later, the trick was to race a high-strung thoroughbred that would be frightened by the starter’s shotgun and give him a bad jump. Owens said, “People say that it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.” On the lack of opportunities, Owens added, “There was no television, no big advertising, no endorsements then. Not for a black man, anyway.”

Owens ran a dry cleaning business and worked as a gas station attendant to earn a living, but he eventually filed for bankruptcy. In 1966, he was successfully prosecuted for tax evasion. At rock bottom, he was aided in beginning his rehabilitation. The government appointed him as a US goodwill ambassador. Owens traveled the world and spoke to companies such as the Ford Motor Company and stakeholders such as the United States Olympic Committee. By this time, Civil Rights had made a mark.

Owens initially refused to support the black power salute by African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics. He told them:

The black fist is a meaningless symbol. When you open it, you have nothing but fingers – weak, empty fingers. The only time the black fist has significance is when there’s money inside. There’s where the power lies.

Four years later in his 1972 book I Have Changed, he revised his opinion:

I realized now that militancy in the best sense of the word was the only answer where the black man was concerned, that any black man who wasn’t a militant in 1970 was either blind or a coward.

Owens traveled to Munich for the 1972 Summer Olympics as a special guest of the West German government, meeting West German Chancellor Willy Brandt and former boxer Max Schmeling.

A few months before his death, Owens had unsuccessfully tried to convince President Jimmy Carter to withdraw his demand that the United States boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He argued that the Olympic ideal was supposed to be observed as a time-out from war and that it was above politics.

Owens was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker for 35 years, having started at age 32. Beginning in December 1979, he was hospitalized on and off with an extremely aggressive and drug-resistant type of lung cancer. He died of the disease at age 66 in Tucson, Arizona, on March 31, 1980, with his wife and other family members at his bedside. He was buried at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. Although Jimmy Carter had ignored Owens’ request to cancel the Olympic boycott, the President issued a tribute to Owens after he died: “Perhaps no athlete better symbolized the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry.”

One of the great old timey recipes from Alabama is bananas and custard, which is as easy to make as it sounds. It is not to be confused with banana cream pie, or banana custard pie. You’ll need bananas, vanilla biscuits (cookies), egg custard, and toasted meringues.

Make an egg custard of your choice. I make a classic egg custard in a double boiler, which is not complicated – egg yolks, cream, and sugar. Use the whites to make meringues. Assemble by cutting bananas into a bowl and adding an equal quantity of vanilla biscuits or wafers. Pour custard over the bananas and biscuits to cover, and chill. When ready to serve, top with meringues.

Aug 222017
 

Two slave revolts broke out on this date: one in 1791 in French colonial Saint-Domingue, leading eventually to the creation of the sovereign nation of Haiti; the other, led by Nat Turner in Virginia in the United States in 1831 was suppressed within one day. These anniversaries give me the opportunity to talk about slavery in the New World as well as slavery in general. It staggers me that even in the year 2017 there are people who argue that slavery was beneficial to people brought from Africa in chains to the New World and sold with almost no chance for freedom for themselves in their lifetimes, nor for their offspring and descendants. SLAVERY IS AN UNMITIGATED EVIL.

Here’s a list of the slave revolts in the New World from the beginnings of European colonialism to the abolition of slavery, indicating their dates, locations and outcomes:

1526 San Miguel de Gualdape (Spanish Florida) Victorious

c.1570 Gaspar Yanga’s Revolt (Veracruz, New Spain) Victorious

1712 New York Slave Revolt (British Province of New York) Suppressed

1730 First Maroon War (British Jamaica) Victorious

1733 St. John Slave Revolt (Danish Saint John) Suppressed

1739 Stono Rebellion (British Province of South Carolina) Suppressed

1741 New York Conspiracy (British Province of New York) Suppressed

1760 Tacky’s War (British Jamaica) Suppressed

1787 Abaco Slave Revolt (British Bahamas) Suppressed

1791 Mina Conspiracy (Spanish Louisiana) Suppressed

1795 Pointe Coupée Conspiracy (Spanish Louisiana) Suppressed

1791–1804 Haitian Revolution (French Saint-Domingue) Victorious

1800 Gabriel Prosser’s Revolt (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1803 Igbo Landing Revolt (St. Simons Island, Georgia, US) Suppressed

1805 Chatham Manor Revolt (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1811 German Coast Uprising (Territory of Orleans, US) Suppressed

1815 George Boxley’s Revolt (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1816 Bussa’s Rebellion (British Barbados) Suppressed

1822 Denmark Vesey’s Revolt (South Carolina, US) Suppressed

1831 Nat Turner’s rebellion (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1831–1832 Baptist War (British Jamaica) Suppressed

1839 Amistad, ship rebellion (Off the Cuban coast) Victorious

1841 Creole case, ship rebellion (Off the Southern U.S. coast) Victorious

1842 Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation (Indian Territory, US) Suppressed

1859 John Brown’s Raid (Virginia, US) Suppressed

Slavery in the New World was part and parcel of colonization and needs to be remembered for what it was: a deliberate undervaluation and subjugation of a whole continent of people who were oppressed and exploited simply because of the color of their skin. From the 16th to the 19th centuries the principal colonial powers that benefited from slavery were Spain, Britain, and France, all of whom practiced slavery because it was economically expedient, but covered their actual motives with a thin veneer of philosophical justification. Their argument was that people of African origin were better off as slaves because living in “civilization” was better than living in “savagery.” To this day you will sometimes hear this argument espoused by media commentators in the United States. This rationale, such as it is, shows absolutely no understanding of traditional African cultures, as well as zero understanding of that it means to be the property of someone else.

The future William IV of the United Kingdom, (who was my focus yesterday http://www.bookofdaystales.com/sailor-king/ ), when he was a member of the House of Lords, argued against the abolition of the Slave Trade on the grounds that slaves in the US lived in better conditions than people he had seen living in the Scottish Highlands. All well and good when you are a royal duke living in luxury in London. Whether you are dirt poor in Scotland or a well-dressed slave in Virginia, there is a vast chasm between being free and being owned by another person. Probably William had seen house slaves in the United States and was comparing their conditions to crofters in Scotland. House slaves were sometimes educated, wore decent clothes, had some freedom of movement, and ate better than field slaves. But they were still slaves. They could be sold at will; they could be beaten or even killed without legal penalty; their children were slaves who could be separated from their parents and sold at any age; the women could be raped by their masters. They had no rights as humans. It is simply not legitimate to compare the visible economic conditions of US slaves with Scottish crofters and come to a conclusion about which were better off. The former were slaves, the latter were free. Their situations are in no way comparable.

The Haitian Revolution that began in 1791 ended in 1804 with the former colony’s independence. It was the only slave uprising in the world that led to the founding of a state, which was both free from slavery, and ruled by non-whites and former slaves. Its effects on the institution of slavery were felt throughout the Americas. The ending of French rule and the abolition of slavery in the former colony by the former slaves was followed by their successful defense of the freedoms they won, and, with the collaboration of mulattoes, their independence from rule by white Europeans. It represents the largest slave uprising since Spartacus’ unsuccessful revolt against the Roman Republic nearly 1,900 years before. It challenged long-held beliefs about black inferiority and about enslaved people’s capacity to achieve and maintain their own freedom. The rebels’ organizational capacity and tenacity under pressure became the source of stories that shocked and frightened slave owners throughout the Americas.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion (also known as the Southampton Insurrection) took place in Southampton County, Virginia, during August 1831. It was led by Nat Turner, and rebel slaves killed as many as 65 people in one day. It was the largest and deadliest slave uprising in U.S. history. The rebellion was put down within a few days, but Turner survived in hiding for more than two months afterwards, before he was captured and hanged. The rebellion was effectively suppressed at Belmont Plantation on the morning of August 23, 1831.

There was widespread fear in the aftermath of the rebellion, and white militias organized in retaliation against the slaves. The state executed 56 slaves accused of being part of the rebellion. In the frenzy, many non-participant slaves were punished. Approximately 120 slaves and free African-Americans were murdered by militias and mobs in the area. Across the South, state legislatures passed new laws prohibiting education of slaves and free African-Americans, restricting rights of assembly and other civil rights for free Black people, and requiring White ministers to be present at all worship services.

In the current climate of publicly avowed racist and anti-racist sentiments in the United States today, as well as worldwide, it is important to remember these two events and to hold them up to scrutiny. I urge you to read more about them: especially the Haitian Revolution, which does not generally figure in the history books outside of Haiti.  For now I’ll turn to cooking.

Haitian cuisine is often lumped together with other regional islands as a part of Caribbean cuisine but it is distinctive, even though, like all island cuisines it is a blend of European, African, and indigenous cooking methods and ingredients. It involves the extensive use of herbs, and the liberal use of peppers. The ubiquitous rice and beans of all of the Caribbean and South America is found as riz collé aux pois (diri kole ak pwa), rice with red kidney beans (or pinto beans) glazed with a marinade as a sauce and topped off with red snapper, tomatoes and onions. It is often called the Riz National, and is considered to be the national rice of Haiti. The dish can be accompanied by bouillon. Bouillon is a hearty soup consisting of various spices, potatoes, tomatoes, and meats such as goat or beef as well as fish or shellfish. Recipes vary by region.  Here’s a video that has a rather unusual ingredient list that includes beef tripe and crabs:

Jul 242017
 

On this date in 1847 a group of Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young entered Salt Lake Valley where they permanently settled after being forced out of Nauvoo, Illinois, which they had built, and other locations in the eastern United States. The date is a public holiday in Utah, known as Pioneer Day, celebrated with parades, fireworks, rodeos, barbecues and the usual hoopla. Although Pioneer Day is an official state holiday it is considered a special occasion by many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) both within and outside Utah.

Since its founding in 1830, members of the LDS Church were often badly treated by their neighbors, partially due to their religious beliefs, and partially as a reaction against the actions and the words of the LDS Church and its members and leaders. As an anthropologist I’ll make a small linguistic correction here to a common misusage of the term “polygamy.” “Polygamy” as a term is gender neutral. A woman with more than one husband is as much a polygamist as a man with more than one wife. So, yes, the early Mormons were polygamists but not in both senses. A woman could not have more than one husband. The technical term for the (legal) practice of a man having more than one wife is polygyny (-gyny from the Greek for a woman – as in gynecology), and is the most commonly allowed marriage practice worldwide, if you count cultures where it is legal rather than numbers of marriages. Even in cultures where polygyny is legal, monogamy is the norm. Polygyny is expensive for a man, which is why it stood as a sign of wealth and prestige in ancient cultures, such as ancient Israel (tell that to fundamentalists who call monogamy “traditional Biblical marriage”), and conflicts between co-wives is an ever-present reality. Why the early LDS Church (and still some breakaway groups) practiced polygyny is still an open question. Usually historians put it down to the preponderance of women in the early church, but I am not so sure about this. The LDS Church will never admit that there was a degree of misogyny (-gyny again !!) among early Mormon leaders, not to mention a desire to expand their numbers rapidly (which polygyny will do), and some well documented cases of church leaders being sexual predators.

Brigham Young had 55 wives (that is, women who were “sealed” to him by church doctrine), some of them conjugal, some not. Of Young’s 55 wives, 21 had never been married before, 16 were widows, six were divorced, six had living husbands, and the marital status of six others before being sealed to Young is unknown. Young was also a noted racist, banning African-Americans from the LDS church, asserting that they were descendants of Cain and, therefore, human outcasts to be shunned. This doctrine of the Church was only recently revisited. Because of these practices, as well as other conflicts with their neighbors, the central Church had moved from one place to another for many years: Ohio, Missouri, and then to Illinois, where church members founded the city of Nauvoo. Sidney Rigdon was the First Counselor in the LDS First Presidency and, as its spokesman, Rigdon preached several controversial sermons in Missouri, including the Salt Sermon and the July 4th Oration. These speeches are generally considered to be prime causes of the conflict known as the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. As a result of the conflict, the Mormons were expelled from the state by Governor Boggs, and Rigdon and Joseph Smith, the Church’s founder, were arrested and imprisoned in Liberty Jail. Rigdon was released on a writ of habeas corpus and made his way to Illinois, where he joined the main body of Mormon refugees in 1839. In 1844 Joseph Smith, and his brother Hyrum Smith were killed by a mob while in custody in the city of Carthage, Illinois.

According to church belief, God inspired Brigham Young, Joseph Smith’s successor as President of the Church, to call for the Saints (church members) to organize and head west, beyond the western frontier of the United States (into what was then Mexico, though the U.S. Army had already captured New Mexico and California in late 1846). During the winter of 1846-47 LDS leaders made plans for the migration west of the bulk of church members, their equipment, and their livestock. For his role in the migration, Brigham Young is sometimes referred to as the “American Moses.” Brigham Young personally reviewed all available information on the Salt Lake Valley and the Great Basin, consulting with mountain men and trappers, and meeting with Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, a Jesuit missionary familiar with the Great Basin. Young insisted the Mormons should settle in a location no one else wanted, and felt the Salt Lake Valley met that requirement and would provide them with many opportunities as well.

Brigham Young organized a vanguard company to break the trail west to the Rocky Mountains, gather information about trail conditions, including water sources and local Indians, and to ultimately select the central gathering point in the Great Basin. The initial company would select and break the primary trail with the expectation that later pioneers would maintain and improve it. It was hoped that the group could, wherever possible, establish fords and ferries and plant crops for later harvest. In late February, plans were made to gather portable boats, maps, scientific instruments, farm implements and seeds. Techniques for irrigating crops were investigated. A new route on the north side of the Platte River was chosen to avoid major interaction with travelers using the established Oregon Trail on the river’s south side. Given the needs of the large volume of Saints who would travel west, Church leaders decided to avoid potential conflicts over grazing rights, water access and campsites.

In April 1847, Young consulted with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the LDS governing body) who had recently returned from a mission to Britain. John Taylor, Parley P. Pratt and Orson Hyde brought money contributed by the English Saints, a map based on John C. Fremont’s recent western expedition, and instruments for calculating latitude, elevation, temperature and barometric pressure. Chosen members of the vanguard group were gathered together, final supplies were packed, and the group was organized into military companies. The vanguard consisted of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children. The following train consisted of 73 wagons, one cannon, 93 horses, 52 mules, 66 oxen, 19 cows, 17 dogs and some chickens, and carried enough supplies to fully provision the group for one year.

On April 5, 1847, at 2 p.m., the wagon train moved west from Winter Quarters (now Omaha, Nebraska) toward the Great Basin. With the afternoon start, they made only 3 miles that day before camping for the night. Thereafter, camp was typically awakened by a bugle at 5 a.m. and the company was expected to be prepared for travel by 7 a.m. Each day’s travel ended at 8:30 p.m. and the camp was in bed by 9 p.m. The company traveled six days during the week, but generally stayed in camp on Sunday to observe the Sabbath.

William Clayton was appointed company scribe and was expected to record an accurate description of their journey and the distance they traveled each day. After three weeks, Clayton grew tired of personally counting the revolutions of a wagon wheel and computing the day’s distance by multiplying the count by the wheel’s circumference. After consulting with Orson Pratt, an accomplished mathematician, he designed a mechanism consisting of a set of wooden cog wheels attached to the hub of a wagon wheel, with the mechanism counting the revolutions of the wheel. Clayton’s design, which he called the roadometer, is the basis for most modern odometers. The apparatus was built to Clayton and Pratt’s specifications by the company’s carpenter Appleton Milo Harmon and was first used on the morning of May 12, 1847. The roadometer showed that the company averaged between 14 and 20 miles per day.

The first segment of the journey, from Winter Quarters to Fort Laramie took six weeks, with the company arriving at the fort on June 1. The company halted for repairs and to reshoe the draft animals. While at Fort Laramie, the vanguard company was joined by members of the Mormon Battalion (from the Mexican wars) who had been excused from service due to illness and sent to winter in Pueblo, Colorado. Also traveling in the new group were Church members from Mississippi who had taken a more southern route toward the Great Basin. At this point, the now larger company took the established Oregon Trail toward the trading post at Ft. Bridger.

During the last week of June, Sam Brannan, leader of the Mormon emigrant ship Brooklyn, met the company near Green River, Wyoming. He reported to Young about his group’s successful journey and their settlement in what is today San Francisco, California. He urged the vanguard company to continue on to California but was unable to shift the leader’s focus away from the Great Basin. Young also met mountain man Jim Bridger on June 28. They discussed possible routes into the Salt Lake Valley, and the feasibility of settlements in the mountain valleys of the Great Basin. Bridger was enthusiastic about settlement near Utah Lake, reporting fish, wild fruit, timber and good grazing. He told Young that local Indians raised good crops, including corn and pumpkins, but that there was ever-present danger of frost. The company pushed on through South Pass, rafted across the Green River and arrived at Fort Bridger on July 7.

The vanguard company now faced a more rugged and hazardous journey, and were concerned about negotiating the passes of the Rocky Mountains. They had received conflicting advice, but Young chose to follow the trail used by the Donner-Reed party on their journey to California the previous year. Shortly after leaving Fort Bridger, the group met trapper Miles Goodyear, who owned a trading post at the mouth of the Weber River. He was enthusiastic about the agricultural potential of the large Weber Valley. During the trip through the rugged mountains, the vanguard company divided into three sections. Since crossing the Green River, several members of the party had suffered from a fever, generally accepted as a “mountain fever” probably induced by wood ticks. Young himself became ill soon after meeting Goodyear. The small sick detachment lagged behind the larger group, and a scouting division was created to move ahead on the designated route.

In July 1847 the first company reached the Salt Lake Valley, with scouts Erastus Snow and Orson Pratt entering the valley on July 21. Pratt wrote: “We could not refrain from a shout of joy, which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery was within our view.” The two scouts undertook a 12-mile (19 km) exploratory circuit into the valley before returning to the larger party. The next day, larger segments of the valley were explored, streams and hot springs investigated and the first camp established in the Salt Lake Valley. On July 23rd Pratt offered a prayer dedicating the land to God. On July 24th Young first saw the valley from a “sick” wagon driven by his friend Wilford Woodruff. According to Woodruff, Young expressed his satisfaction at the appearance of the valley and declared “This is the right place, drive on.” Today a monument stands in the spot where he made this declaration. Young later reported that he had seen the valley, including Ensign Peak, in a vision and recognized the spot.

While Pioneer Day has strong links to the LDS Church, it is officially a celebration about everyone, regardless of faith and nationality, who emigrated to the Salt Lake Valley during the pioneer era, which is generally considered to have ended with the 1869 arrival of the transcontinental railroad. Notable non-LDS pioneers from this period include Episcopal Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle, who was responsible for Utah’s first non-Mormon schools (Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s) and first public hospital (St. Mark’s) in the late 19th century, and a handful of African-Americans.

I spent part of a summer in 1967 in Provo, Utah, with a fairly conventional Mormon family of the time, and can confidently assert the truth of the assertion that traditional Utah Mormon “cuisine” consists of green Jell-O, funeral potatoes, and lots of casseroles of meat with vegetables and condensed soup. I’m told that things have improved since the 1960s, but I’m not going back there to find out. I’ve never made funeral potatoes and have no wish to. Anything casseroled with condensed soup and a topping of corn flakes is pretty well anathema to me. I had a lifetime’s supply when I was in Provo. Here’s a website giving 10 recipes for funeral potatoes “to die for”

http://www.ldsliving.com/10-Funeral-Potatoes-Recipes-to-Die-For/s/75517

I suppose the website title is ironic. Funeral potatoes got the name because they were (and are) a common dish for potluck suppers following funerals. They are also popular at picnics and celebrations in general.  There will be plenty of dishes of funeral potatoes served today in Utah. You’re on your own with this one.

Feb 232017
 

Today is the birthday (1868) of William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois, U.S. sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, author, and editor. Now is an excellent time to champion Du Bois because of his brief return to the spotlight when Trump’s new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who is about as nakedly ignorant and ambitious as they come, tried to win points by quoting Du Bois in a tweet, but then misspelled his name. DeVos joins a long line of bigots who think that by quoting an eminent and respected African American they are cleared of all accusations of racism and bias.  Sorry – it doesn’t work that way.  What’s more DeVos most certainly does not subscribe to what Du Bois had to say, even though she quoted him:

Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life.

DeVos, along with numerous colleagues on the far right, right, center, and slightly left of center all hold up education as the path to jobs and financial success, and hold schools accountable by such criteria.  To the best of my knowledge, no one in politics thinks education is of much value (as seen by constant cuts to education and threats to the whole involvement of the government in education at all), and when they do value it it’s because of its ability to turn out skilled workers, not for its intrinsic merits.  I am a rare bird these days because no matter what the subject matter, my underlying agenda is to teach students to think for themselves, and in the process to pursue truth, beauty, and happiness. I TEACH LIFE.

Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community. After completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African-American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Du Bois rose to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists who wanted equal rights for Blacks. Du Bois and his supporters opposed the Atlanta compromise, an agreement crafted by Booker T. Washington which proposed that Southern Blacks would work and submit to White political rule, while Southern Whites guaranteed that Blacks would receive basic educational and economic opportunities. Instead, Du Bois insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation, which he believed would be brought about by the African-American intellectual elite. He referred to this group as the Talented Tenth and believed that African Americans needed the chances for advanced education to develop leadership skills.

Racism was the main target of Du Bois’s polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. His cause included people of color everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in colonies. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for independence of African colonies from European powers. Du Bois made several trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After World War I, he surveyed the experiences of Black American soldiers in France and documented widespread bigotry in the United States military.

Du Bois was a prolific author. His collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, was a seminal work in African-American literature; and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that Blacks were responsible for the failures of the Reconstruction Era. He wrote one of the first scientific treatises in the field of American sociology, and he published three autobiographies, each of which contains insightful essays on sociology, politics and history. In his role as editor of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis, he published many influential pieces. Du Bois believed that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and he was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life. He was an ardent peace activist and advocated nuclear disarmament. The United States’ Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death.

Here’s a few salient quotes. I feel the need to annotate each one because each is so rich and insightful. But . . . I am also mindful that this is a cooking blog (even though it doesn’t always seem so) so I will resist:

There is always a certain glamour about the idea of a nation rising up to crush an evil simply because it is wrong. Unfortunately, this can seldom be realized in real life; for the very existence of the evil usually argues a moral weakness in the very place where extraordinary moral strength is called for.

I am one who tells the truth and exposes evil and seeks with Beauty for Beauty to set the world right.

Human nature is not simple and any classification that roughly divides men into good and bad, superior and inferior, slave and free, is and must be ludicrously untrue and universally dangerous as a permanent exhaustive classification.

The world is shrinking together; it is finding itself neighbor to itself in strange, almost magic degree.

The time must come when, great and pressing as change and betterment may be, they do not involve killing and hurting people.

The cause of war is preparation for war.

I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development.

Amen and amen to all of that and more. Du Bois had quite a lot to say about African-American cooking habits as well as the role of African Americans in the food industry. His best known quote concerns soul food:

The deceitful pork chop must be dethroned in the South and yield a part of its sway to vegetables, fruits, and fish.

There isn’t a broad line between Black and White cooking styles in the South. Greasy greens, foods fried in lard, fatty meats such as pork belly are the mainstays of Black and White equally, and are equally unhealthy as a steady diet. Once in a while is all right. You can’t beat lard in some dishes. You don’t have to eat them every day.

Catering was dominated by African Americans in the North in the 19th century but they were supplanted by Greeks and Italians by the early 20th century. In antebellum Philadelphia there was practically an African-American monopoly on catering and restaurant business with many chefs and entrepreneurs claiming fame:

The institution of catering reaches its highest excellence in Philadelphia. This occupation was originated by a Phildelphia Negro, Robert Bogle, whose services were marked by such superlative excellence that one of his discriminating patrons, Nicholas Biddle, the leading Philadelphia financier of this time, was moved to poetic expression, and wrote his ‘Ode to Bogle’ in 1829. The Negro caterers have given to this art a quality and flavor which is unique and distinctive and which tradition is being continued along admirable lines by Holland’s, Augustine and Baptiste, and others.

As a tribute to Du Bois and his inclinations towards healthy eating I have created this dish which is simple, yet elegant – tonight’s dinner for me. You can call it Perch Du Bois or Perch Florentine. The term “Florentine” means served on bed of spinach. No need for a detailed recipe.  I found some perch in the market this evening and I had spinach on hand. There is no need for fat of any kind.  I don’t cook with salt either.

Wash your spinach well, drain it, but leave some water on the leaves. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat, add the spinach and let it cook down. Push the spinach to one side, then add a perch fillet to the skillet. If it is thick, cover it so that it cooks through evenly.  Turn once – carefully. Season with freshly ground black pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice and serve with boiled new potatoes.

Oct 062016
 

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Today is the anniversary of several significant events in the development of motion pictures.  On this date in 1889 Thomas Edison gave a public display of his first motion picture and in 1893 on this date he received the first copyright for a motion picture filmed with his Kinetograph camera. Edison’s contribution to the motion picture industry has been highly exaggerated and disputed, but the events are milestones of a sort. What cannot be disputed is that the first “talkie” which completely revolutionized motion pictures, The Jazz Singer premiered on this date in 1927 at the Warner Theater in New York.  Let’s dispense with Edison first.

Although Edison’s tireless self promotion and business acumen have left a permanent legacy in the U.S., and the world, of him as a genius inventor – the light bulb, the phonograph, etc. etc. – with his name permanently enshrined in place names and business enterprises, modern historians have picked apart the legend, showing that others who preceded him in fields that he claimed credit for have, until recently, languished in obscurity, and that even in his own laboratories other scientists and inventors were ultimately responsible for inventions which Edison patented and took credit for. What he was undeniably a genius at was funding and selling commercially viable products, using his name as a selling point (remind you of anyone currently in the public eye?), and profiting from the work of others. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Edison’s promotion of motion pictures.

In the late 1880s a number of people were working on ideas pioneered by Eadweard Muybridge (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/eadweard-muybridge/ ) to take multiple still photographs in rapid sequence and string them together so that, when projected, they become “motion pictures.” That concept is still, in essence, the basis of celluloid movies. In the mid-19th century, inventions such as Joseph Plateau’s phenakistoscope and the later zoetrope demonstrated that a carefully designed sequence of drawings, showing phases of the changing appearance of objects in motion, would appear to show the objects actually moving if they were displayed one after the other at a sufficiently rapid rate. Each sequence was limited to a small number of drawings, usually twelve, so it could only show endlessly repeating cyclical motions. By the late 1880s, the last major device of this type, the praxinoscope, had been elaborated into a form that employed a long coiled band containing hundreds of images painted on glass and used the elements of a magic lantern to project them on to a screen.

The use of sequences of photographs in such devices was initially limited to a few experiments with subjects photographed in a series of poses, because the available emulsions were not sensitive enough to allow the short exposures needed to photograph subjects that were actually moving. The sensitivity was gradually improved so that in the late 1870s Eadweard Muybridge created the first sequences of  images photographed in real-time which could be animated. He used a row of cameras, each in turn capturing one image on a photographic glass plate, so the total number of images in each sequence was limited by the number of cameras, about two dozen at most. Hand-painted images based on the photographs were projected as moving images by means of his zoopraxiscope.

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By the end of the 1880s, the introduction of lengths of celluloid photographic film and the invention of motion picture cameras, which could photograph an indefinitely long rapid sequence of images using only one lens, allowed several minutes of action to be captured and stored on a single compact reel of film. Edison was granted a patent for his motion picture camera or Kinetograph. He helped with the electromechanical design, while his employee W. K. L. Dickson, a photographer, worked on the photographic and optical development. The bulk of the credit for the invention belongs to Dickson.

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The Kinetograph was used initially with a Kinetoscope for viewing motion pictures made by the Kinetograph. The Kinetoscope was designed for films to be viewed by one individual at a time through a peephole viewer window at the top of the device. The Kinetoscope was not a movie projector but introduced the basic approach that would become the standard for all cinematic projection before the advent of video, by creating the illusion of movement by conveying a strip of perforated film bearing sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter. A process using roll film was first described in a patent application submitted in France and the U.S. by French inventor Louis Le Prince. The concept was copied by Edison in 1889, and subsequently developed by Dickson between 1889 and 1892.

This video gives a little bit of the history, and at the end shows what is claimed to be the first motion picture – a quick, blurry clip of a woman twirling.

It is not undisputably the first motion picture, although it is probably the first that Edison’s company produced. It does give the basic idea from which Edison and others developed short movies. Claims about dates of production and priority are murky at best.

In 1893, what is sometimes claimed as the world’s first film production studio (it isn’t), the Black Maria, or the Kinetographic Theater, was completed on the grounds of Edison’s laboratories at West Orange, New Jersey, for the purpose of making film strips for the Kinetoscope. Construction began in December 1892 and was completed the following year at a cost of $637.67 (around $18,000 in current dollars). In early May 1893 at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, Edison conducted his first public demonstration of films shot using the Kinetograph in the Black Maria, with a Kinetoscope viewer. The exhibited film showed three people pretending to be blacksmiths.

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The first motion pictures made in the Black Maria were deposited for copyright by Dickson at the Library of Congress in August, 1893. In early January 1894, The Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (Fred Ott’s Sneeze) was one of the first series of short films made by Dickson for the Kinetoscope in Edison’s Black Maria studio with fellow assistant Fred Ott. The short film was made for publicity purposes, as a series of still photographs to accompany an article in Harper’s Weekly.

It was the earliest motion picture to be registered for copyright — composed of an optical record of Ott sneezing comically for the camera. While Edison was not a great inventor, he was a shrewd enough businessman to know that copyright was important for his commercial success. Patenting and copyrighting of inventions can most definitely be attributed to him.

The first films shot at the Black Maria, which Edison had little to do with other than financing, included segments of magic shows, plays, vaudeville performances (with dancers and strongmen), acts from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, various boxing matches and cockfights, and scantily-clad women. Many of the early Edison moving images released after 1895, however, were non-fictional “actualities” filmed on location: views of ordinary slices of life — street scenes, the activities of police or firemen, or shots of a passing train.

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In April 1896, Thomas Armat’s Vitascope, manufactured by the Edison factory and marketed in Edison’s name, was used to project motion pictures in public screenings in New York City. Later he exhibited motion pictures with voice soundtrack on cylinder recordings, mechanically synchronized with the film. Some of the early Kinetoscopes also had synchronized sound which could be heard through earphones. So, “talkies” had been around since the beginning of motion pictures. But until the 1920s they had mechanical problems and were not commercially viable.

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The Jazz Singer is the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized sound; its release on this date in 1927 heralded the commercial ascendance of the “talkies” and the decline of the silent film era. It was directed by Alan Crosland and produced by Warner Bros. with its Vitaphone sound-on-disc system.  The film, featuring six songs performed by Al Jolson, is based on a play of the same name by Samson Raphaelson, adapted from one of his short stories “The Day of Atonement.”

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The film depicts the fictional story of Jakie Rabinowitz, a young man who defies the traditions of his devout Jewish family. After singing popular tunes in a beer garden he is punished by his father, a cantor, prompting Jakie to run away from home. Some years later, now calling himself Jack Robin, he has become a talented jazz singer. He attempts to build a career as an entertainer but his professional ambitions ultimately come into conflict with the demands of his home and heritage.

The premiere was set for October 6, 1927, at Warner Brothers’ flagship theater in New York City. The date was chosen to coincide with Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday around which much of the movie’s plot revolves. The buildup to the premiere was tense. Beside Warner’s precarious financial position at the time, the physical presentation of the film itself was remarkably complex:

Each of Jolson’s musical numbers was mounted on a separate reel with a separate accompanying sound disc. Even though the film was only eighty-nine minutes long…there were fifteen reels and fifteen discs to manage, and the projectionist had to be able to thread the film and cue up the Vitaphone records very quickly. The least stumble, hesitation, or human error would result in public and financial humiliation for the company.

None of the four Warner brothers was able to attend: Sam Warner— the strongest advocate for Vitaphone—had died the previous day of pneumonia, and the surviving brothers had returned to California for his funeral.

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According to Doris Warner, who was in attendance, about halfway through the film she began to feel that something exceptional was taking place. Jolson’s “Wait a minute” line had prompted a loud, positive response from the audience. Applause followed each of his songs. Excitement built, and when Jolson and Eugenie Besserer began their dialogue scene, “the audience became hysterical.” After the show, the audience turned into a “milling, battling, mob”, in one journalist’s description, chanting “Jolson, Jolson, Jolson!” Among those who reviewed the film, the critic who foresaw most clearly what it presaged for the future of cinema was Life magazine’s Robert E. Sherwood. He described the spoken dialogue scene between Jolson and Besserer as “fraught with tremendous significance…. I for one suddenly realized that the end of the silent drama is in sight.”

Critical reaction was generally, though far from universally, positive. The sound quality was fine for the songs, but critics complained that it was not able to capture the nuances of dialog as effectively. For the film to be shown nationwide theaters had to be modified at considerable expense. The Jazz Singer was certainly a commercial success, but its impact was not felt immediately. Silent films continued to be popular for some time for many reasons. One that tends to be forgotten these days is that large, cosmopolitan cities, such as New York, had sizeable immigrant populations who did not speak English, and they preferred silent movies where the main action was visual.

Here’s the famous, or infamous, conclusion to the film.

This leads me to a discussion of racism in the film. Nowadays minstrelsy and blackface are universally condemned as racist holdovers from vaudeville and earlier, and people without any knowledge of the era or Jolson simply dismiss The Jazz Singer as one more chapter in perpetual racism. In fact film historians see the film quite differently. Jazz historians have described Jolson’s blackface and singing style as metaphors for Jewish and black suffering throughout history. Historian Michael Alexander describes The Jazz Singer as an expression of the liturgical music of Jews with the “imagined music of African Americans,” noting that “prayer and jazz become metaphors for Jews and blacks.” Playwright Samson Raphaelson, after seeing Jolson perform his stage show Robinson Crusoe, stated that “he had an epiphany: ‘My God, this isn’t a jazz singer’, he said. ‘This is a cantor!'” The image of the blackfaced cantor remained in Raphaelson’s mind when he conceived of the story/play which eventually led to The Jazz Singer.

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Jolson first heard music from the African-American community, such as jazz, blues, and ragtime, played in the back alleys of New Orleans, and he enjoyed singing the new jazz-style of music. He often performed in blackface, especially in the songs he made popular, such as “Swanee”, “My Mammy”, and “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody”. Jolson’s black stage persona, called “Gus” was a wily and wise-cracking servant who was always smarter than his white masters, frequently helping them out of problems they created for themselves. In this way, Jolson used comedy to poke fun at the prevalent idea of white supremacy. In most of his movie roles, however, including a singing hobo in Hallelujah, I’m a Bum or a jailed convict in Say It With Songs, he chose to act without using blackface. In The Jazz Singer, he performed only a few songs, including “My Mammy”, in blackface, but the film is concerned in part with the experience of “donning a mask” that the young Jewish singer embraces in performing popular songs onstage.

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As a Jewish immigrant and the most famous and highest-paid entertainer in the U.S. at the time, he may have had the incentive and resources to help break down racial attitudes. For instance, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) during its peak in the early 1920s, included about 15% of the nation’s eligible voting population, 4–5 million men. While The Birth of a Nation glorified white supremacy and the KKK, Jolson chose to star in The Jazz Singer, which defied racial bigotry by introducing African-American music to audiences worldwide.

While growing up, Jolson had many African-American friends, including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who later became a prominent tap dancer. As early as 1911, at the age of 25, Jolson was already noted for fighting discrimination on the Broadway stage and later in his movies. At a time when African-American people were banned from starring on the Broadway stage, he promoted a play by African-American  playwright Garland Anderson, which became the first production with an all-Black cast ever produced on Broadway. In addition he brought an all-Black dance team from San Francisco that he tried to feature in his Broadway show (without success); he demanded equal treatment for Cab Calloway, with whom he performed a number of duets in his movie The Singing Kid; and he was supposedly “the only white man allowed into an all black nightclub in Harlem.”

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Al Jolson once read in the newspaper that songwriters Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, neither of whom he had ever heard of, were refused service at a Connecticut restaurant because of their race. He immediately tracked them down and took them out to dinner, “insisting he’d punch anyone in the nose who tried to kick us out!” Subsequent to their meeting, according to biographer Al Rose, Jolson and Blake became friends. Rose writes:

This didn’t have anything to do with the theater, because they never worked together. Rather, they both had a love of prize fighting and used to go to boxing matches together, engaging in jocose discussion of the relative merits of Negro with Jewish pugilists. They would occasionally wager a bottle of whisky on these bouts.

Film historian Charles Musser notes that “African Americans’ embrace of Jolson was not a spontaneous reaction to his appearance in talking pictures. In an era when African Americans did not have to go looking for enemies, Jolson was perceived a friend.” There’s plenty of racism to go around these days; I’d advise not pointing fingers because of current sensitivities. Attention to context goes a long way.

Popcorn is the obvious recipe to go along with the movies although it’s hardly gourmet fare and you don’t really need a recipe in these days of popcorn machines and microwave bags. Movie theater popcorn tends to range from mediocre to barely edible, but you can do a better job at home even without special equipment. When I was a boy we made popcorn once in a while using a heavy lidded skillet. It’s a matter of greasing the skillet well, adding a small amount of popcorn, covering, and heating over medium-high heat whilst shaking vigorously until the popping has stopped. This type of popcorn was not popular or common in cinemas in Australia or England when I was growing up. Packaged caramel corn was the norm. You can make this yourself if you wish.

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Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients

10-12 cups freshly popped popcorn
1 tbsp vegetable oil
¾ cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
¼ tsp baking soda

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 250°F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

To make the caramel sauce, melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Mix in the sugar until the sugar is completely moistened. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, boil for 3-4 minutes while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan continuously.

The exact cooking temperature is not absolutely critical with this recipe, but ideally you should use a sugar thermometer and let the sugar mixture reach between 250°F and 300°F. The higher the temperature, the crunchier the popcorn, but do not let it go over 300. At this point smoke will appear.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla, salt, and baking soda and stir until combined. The sugar mixture will bubble up violently. Continue stirring until you have thick, glossy sauce.

Slowly pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn while stirring the popcorn and continue stirring the sauce into the popcorn until all of the kernels are coated.

Divide the popcorn between two baking sheets, spreading the popcorn out into an even layer. Bake for one hour, checking and stirring every 15 minutes and breaking up any clumps.

Let the popcorn cool completely on the baking sheets. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Aug 112016
 

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Today is the birthday (1897) of Enid Mary Blyton, prolific  English children’s writer whose books have been among the world’s best-sellers since the 1930s, selling more than 600 million copies. Her first book, Child Whispers, a 24-page collection of poems, was published in 1922. She wrote on a wide range of topics including education, natural history, fantasy, mystery, and biblical narratives and is best remembered today for her Noddy, Famous Five, Secret Seven, and Adventure series.

Blyton’s work became increasingly controversial among literary critics, teachers and parents from the 1950s onwards, because of the alleged unchallenging nature of her writing and the themes of her books, particularly the Noddy series. Some libraries and schools banned her works, which the BBC had refused to broadcast from the 1930s until the 1950s because they were perceived to lack literary merit. Her books have been criticized as being elitist, sexist, racist, xenophobic and at odds with the more open environment that eventually emerged in post-war Britain, but they have continued to be best-sellers since her death in 1968.

I’ll address those criticisms in a bit. They are perfectly justified. But I was raised on a diet of Noddy and Secret Seven in the 1950s, in the days before television in South Australia, let alone the internet. Reading was my constant pleasure, and Blyton was one of my favorites before I graduated to more mature books. I lived in a world dominated by elitism, sexism, and racism and took them, more or less, as normative even though I did not accept them or agree with them. I am older, and things are different nowadays, but at 8 years old I wasn’t going to take on the world of prejudice that Blyton extolled. Besides, her books have redeeming qualities, and beneath it all she was deeply compassionate. Even back in the 1950s I cringed at her portrayal of boys and girls, but I liked her stories, nonetheless.

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Blyton worked in a wide range of fictional genres, from fairy tales to animal, nature, detective, mystery, and circus stories. In a 1958 article published in The Author, she wrote that there were a “dozen or more different types of stories for children”, and she had tried them all, but her favorites were those with a family at their centre.

In a letter to the psychologist Peter McKellar, Blyton describes her writing technique:

I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my portable typewriter on my knee – I make my mind a blank and wait – and then, as clearly as I would see real children, my characters stand before me in my mind’s eye … The first sentence comes straight into my mind, I don’t have to think of it – I don’t have to think of anything.

In another letter to McKellar she describes how in just five days she wrote the 60,000-word book The River of Adventure, the eighth in her Adventure Series, by listening to what she referred to as her “under-mind,” which she contrasted with her “upper conscious mind.” This tactic inevitably presented the danger that she might unconsciously, and clearly did, plagiarize the books she had read, including her own.

Blyton’s daily routine varied little over the years. She usually began writing soon after breakfast, with her portable typewriter on her knee and her favorite red Moroccan shawl nearby; she believed that the color red acted as a “mental stimulus” for her. Stopping only for a short lunch break she continued writing until five o’clock, by which time she would usually have produced 6,000–10,000 words.

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Blyton’s writing exemplifies a strong mistrust of adults and figures of authority, creating a world in which children govern. Her daughter notes that in her mother’s adventure, detective and school stories for older children, “the hook is the strong storyline with plenty of cliffhangers, a trick she acquired from her years of writing serialised stories for children’s magazines. There is always a strong moral framework in which bravery and loyalty are (eventually) rewarded.” Blyton herself wrote that “my love of children is the whole foundation of all my work.” It’s not too much of a leap of faith to believe that Blyton herself idealized her own childhood, and lamented the changes in her world over her lifetime (wrought by adults).

Blyton felt a responsibility to provide her readers with a positive moral framework, and she encouraged them to support worthy causes. Her view, expressed in a 1957 article, was that children should help animals and other children rather than adults:

[children] are not interested in helping adults; indeed, they think that adults themselves should tackle adult needs. But they are intensely interested in animals and other children and feel compassion for the blind boys and girls, and for the spastics who are unable to walk or talk.

Blyton and the members of the children’s clubs she promoted via her magazines raised a great deal of money for various charities. The largest of the clubs she was involved with was the Busy Bees, the junior section of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, which Blyton had actively supported since 1933. The club had been set up by Maria Dickin in 1934, and after Blyton publicized its existence in the Enid Blyton Magazine it attracted 100,000 members in three years. Such was Blyton’s popularity among children that after she became Queen Bee in 1952 more than 20,000 additional members were recruited in her first year in office. The Enid Blyton Magazine Club was formed in 1953. Its primary object was to raise funds to help those children with cerebral palsy who attended a center in Cheyne Walk, in Chelsea, London, by furnishing an on-site hostel among other things.

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The Famous Five series gathered such a following that readers asked Blyton if they might form a fan club. She agreed, on condition that it serve a useful purpose, and suggested that it could raise funds for the Shaftesbury Society Babies’ Home in Beaconsfield, on whose committee she had served since 1948. The club was established in 1952, and provided funds for equipping a Famous Five Ward at the home, a paddling pool, sun room, summer house, playground, birthday and Christmas celebrations, and visits to the pantomime. By the late 1950s Blyton’s clubs had a membership of 500,000, and raised £35,000 in the six years of the Enid Blyton Magazine‘s run. By 1974 the Famous Five Club had a membership of 220,000, and was growing at the rate of 6,000 new members a year. The Beaconsfield home it was set up to support closed in 1967, but the club continued to raise funds for other pediatric charities, including an Enid Blyton bed at Great Ormond Street Hospital and a mini-bus for disabled children at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

To address criticisms leveled at Blyton’s work some later editions have been altered to reflect more contemporary attitudes towards issues such as race, gender and the treatment of children. Modern reprints of the Noddy series substitute teddy bears or goblins for golliwogs, for instance. The golliwogs who steal Noddy’s car and dump him naked in the Dark Wood in Here Comes Noddy Again are replaced by goblins in the 1986 revision, who strip Noddy only of his shoes and hat and return at the end of the story to apologize.

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The Faraway Tree‘s Dame Slap, who made regular use of corporal punishment, was changed to Dame Snap who no longer did so, and the names of Dick and Fanny in the same series were changed to Rick and Frannie. Characters in the Malory Towers and St. Clare‘s series are no longer spanked or threatened with a spanking, but are instead scolded. References to George’s short hair making her look like a boy were removed in revisions to Five on a Hike Together, reflecting the idea that girls need not have long hair to be considered feminine or normal.

In 2010 Hodder, the publisher of the Famous Five series, announced its intention to update the language used in the books, of which it sold more than half a million copies a year. The changes, which Hodder described as “subtle,” mainly affect the dialogue rather than the narrative. For instance, “school tunic” becomes “uniform,” “mother and father” becomes “mum and dad,” “bathing” is replaced by “swimming,” and “jersey” by “jumper.” Times change; so does language.

Blyton’s books are not great literature: no one suggests that they are. I think of them as period pieces reflective of my own boyhood, and not something I could recommend for my son when he was growing up. Japanese comics and video games were much more appealing to him in those days.

I have to go with Mrs Beeton’s nursery recipes for jam roly-poly and rolled treacle pudding to honor Blyton; they seem so terribly apt. I give the suet crust recipe at the end for completeness, and because I still use it. Outside of the UK you generally have to buy suet from a proper butcher and it comes in big lumps. Typically I freeze it and then hand grate it.

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ROLY-POLY JAM PUDDING.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—3/4 lb of suet-crust No. 1215, 3/4 lb. of any kind of jam.

Mode.—Make a nice light suet-crust by recipe No. 1215, and roll it out to the thickness of about 1/2 inch. Spread the jam equally over it, leaving a small margin of paste without any, where the pudding joins. Roll it up, fasten the ends securely, and tie it in a floured cloth; put the pudding into boiling water, and boil for 2 hours. Mincemeat or marmalade may be substituted for the jam, and makes excellent puddings.

Time.—2 hours.

Average cost, 9d.

Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

Seasonable.—Suitable for winter puddings, when fresh fruit is not obtainable.

ROLLED TREACLE PUDDING.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of suet crust No. 1215, 1 lb. of treacle, 1/2 teaspoonful of grated ginger.

Mode.—Make, with 1 lb. of flour, a suet crust by recipe No. 1215; roll it out to the thickness of 1/2 inch, and spread the treacle equally over it, leaving a small margin where the paste joins; close the ends securely, tie the pudding in a floured cloth, plunge it into boiling water, and boil for 2 hours. We have inserted this pudding, being economical, and a favourite one with children; it is, of course, only suitable for a nursery, or very plain family dinner. Made with a lard instead of a suet crust, it would be very nice baked, and would be sufficiently done in from 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Time.—Boiled pudding, 2 hours; baked pudding, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Average cost, 7d.

Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons. Seasonable at any time.

SUET CRUST, for Pies or Puddings.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—To every lb. of flour allow 5 or 6 oz. of beef suet, 1/2 pint of water.

Mode.—Free the suet from skin and shreds; chop it extremely fine, and rub it well into the flour; work the whole to a smooth paste with the above proportion of water; roll it out, and it is ready for use. This crust is quite rich enough for ordinary purposes, but when a better one is desired, use from 1/2 to 3/4 lb. of suet to every lb. of flour. Some cooks, for rich crusts, pound the suet in a mortar, with a small quantity of butter. It should then be laid on the paste in small pieces, the same as for puff-crust, and will be found exceedingly nice for hot tarts. 5 oz. of suet to every lb. of flour will make a very good crust; and even 1/4 lb. will answer very well for children, or where the crust is wanted very plain.

Average cost, 5d. per lb.

 

 

May 282016
 

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Today is the birthday (1807) of Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz , a Swiss-American biologist and geologist who was an innovative and prodigious scholar of Earth’s natural history. Agassiz grew up in Switzerland, and studied and received doctoral and medical degrees at Erlangen and Munich, respectively. After further studies with Cuvier and von Humboldt in Paris, Agassiz proceeded with research leading to his appointment as professor of natural history at University of Neuchâtel.

Agassiz emigrated to the U.S. in 1847 and became a professor of zoology and geology at Harvard University, headed its Lawrence Scientific School and founded its Museum of Comparative Zoology. Agassiz made extensive contributions to the classification of fish (including of extinct species) and to the study of geological history (including to the founding of glaciology), and has become broadly known through study of his thorough regimen of observational data gathering and analysis. He made vast institutional and scientific contributions to zoology, geology, and related areas—including many multi-volume research series. Nevertheless, his reputation has suffered in hindsight because of his resistance to Darwinian evolution, and his later writings on human polygenism.

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After Agassiz went to the United States he wrote prolifically on polygenism, the idea that human races were created separately, that they could be classified on the basis of specific climatic zones, and that they were endowed with unequal attributes, ideas now included under the rubric of scientific racism. Let’s look at that aspect of his writing first. “Racist” is a term that means different things to different people. Leaving aside all the biases and bigotry that can be attendant to the term, under its most basic meaning a racist is anyone who believes that human races exist at all. I don’t. There is absolutely no physical or biological basis for such a classification. Under this rubric Agassiz was a racist.

Agassiz believed that God had created the races at separate times, and that the Biblical account of Adam and Eve concerned the origin of white people. Actually Genesis is a little more nuanced, ascribing the origins of peoples in Europe, Asia, and Africa to descent from the three sons of Noah – Ham, Shem, and Japheth. According to Agassiz, genera and species were ideas in the mind of God; their existence in God’s mind prior to their physical creation meant that God could create humans as one species yet in several distinct and geographically separate acts of creation. Agassiz was, in modern terms, a creationist who believed nature had order because God created it directly. Because of this belief, Darwinian evolution was anathema to him. Species were created as distinct entities for a reason.

The fact that Agassiz saw humans as ONE species created as separate races at different times in different places is problematic. It suggests that migration is “unnatural.” Therefore, for example, black people belong in Africa because God created them for that particular environment. Migration from their home environment goes against their nature.  Agassiz questioned how plants or animals could migrate through regions they were not equipped to handle. According to Agassiz the conditions in which particular creatures live “are the conditions necessary to their maintenance, and what among organized beings is essential to their temporal existence must be at least one of the conditions under which they were created.”

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In 1837 Agassiz was the first to scientifically propose that the Earth had been subject to a past ice age. Prior to this proposal, Goethe, de Saussure, Venetz, Jean de Charpentier, Karl Friedrich Schimper and others had made the glaciers of the Alps the subjects of special study, and Goethe, Charpentier and Schimper had even arrived at the conclusion that the erratic blocks of alpine rocks scattered over the slopes and summits of the Jura Mountains had been moved there by glaciers. The question having attracted the attention of Agassiz, he not only discussed it with Charpentier and Schimper and made successive journeys to the alpine regions in company with them, but he had a hut constructed upon one of the Aar Glaciers, which for a time he made his home, in order to investigate the structure and movements of the ice.

This work resulted, in 1840, in the publication of his work in two volumes entitled Etudes sur les glaciers (“Studies on Glaciers”). In it he discussed the movements of the glaciers, their moraines, their influence in grooving and rounding the rocks over which they travelled, and in producing the striations and roches moutonnees seen in Alpine-style landscapes. He not only accepted Charpentier’s and Schimper’s idea that some of the alpine glaciers had extended across the wide plains and valleys drained by the Aar and the Rhône, but he went still farther. He concluded that, in the relatively recent past, Switzerland had been another Greenland; that instead of a few glaciers stretching across the areas referred to, one vast sheet of ice, originating in the higher Alps, had extended over the entire valley of northwestern Switzerland until it reached the southern slopes of the Jura, which, though they checked and deflected its further extension, did not prevent the ice from reaching in many places the summit of the range. The publication of this work gave a fresh impetus to the study of glacial phenomena in all parts of the world.

Thus familiarized with the phenomena associated with the movements of recent glaciers, Agassiz was prepared for a discovery which he made in 1840, in conjunction with William Buckland. The two visited the mountains of Scotland together, and found in different locations clear evidence of ancient glacial action.

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Within his lifetime, Agassiz had developed a reputation for a particularly demanding teaching style. He would allegedly “lock a student up in a room full of turtle-shells, or lobster-shells, or oyster-shells, without a book or a word to help him, and not let him out till he had discovered all the truths which the objects contained.” Two of Agassiz’s most prominent students detailed their personal experiences under him, Samuel Hubbard Scudder in a short magazine article for Every Saturday and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler in his Autobiography.  Ezra Pound drew on these recollections for his short piece “Agassiz and the sunfish:”

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A post-graduate student equipped with honors and diplomas went to Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.

Post-Graduate Student: “That’s only a sunfish.”

Agassiz: “I know that. Write a description of it.”

After a few minutes the student returned with the description of the Ichthus Heliodiplodokus, or whatever term is used to conceal the common sunfish from vulgar knowledge, family of Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject.

Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish.

The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.

This re-telling is not entirely accurate in its specificss, but the overall idea is correct. I don’t teach my students in quite the same way, but I expect them to observe the world carefully, not superficially. My mantra is PAY ATTENTION (yes, in caps !!). Details matter.

After the 1906 San Francisco earth­quake toppled Agassiz’s statue from the façade of Stanford’s zoology building, Stanford President David Starr Jordan wrote that “Somebody—Dr. Angell, perhaps—remarked that ‘Agassiz was great in the abstract but not in the concrete.’

By coincidence, today is National Brisket Day in the United States, so why not focus on brisket to celebrate Agassiz? Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of beef or veal. Beef brisket is one of the nine beef primal cuts, though the precise definition of the cut differs internationally. The brisket muscles include the superficial and deep pectorals. As cattle do not have collar bones, these muscles support about 60% of the body weight of standing/moving cattle. This requires a significant amount of connective tissue, so the resulting meat must be cooked correctly to tenderize the connective tissue.

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This normally tough cut of meat, due to the collagen fibers that make up the significant connective tissue in the cut, is tenderized when the collagen gelatinizes, resulting in more tender brisket. The fat cap, which is often left attached to the brisket, helps to keep the meat from drying during the prolonged cooking necessary to break down the connective tissue in the meat. Water is necessary for the conversion of collagen to gelatin, which is the hydrolysis product of collagen.

Popular methods in the United States include rubbing with a spice rub or marinating the meat, then cooking slowly over indirect heat from charcoal or wood. This is a form of smoking the meat. A hardwood, such as oak, pecan, hickory, or mesquite, is sometimes added, alone or in combination with other hardwoods, to the main heat source. Sometimes, they make up all of the heat source, with chefs often prizing characteristics of certain woods. The smoke from these woods and from burnt dripping juices further enhances the flavor. The traditional New England boiled dinner features brisket as a main course option. Brisket can also be cooked in a slow cooker, usually about 8 hours for a 3lb brisket.

In traditional Jewish cooking, brisket is most often braised as a pot roast, especially as a holiday main course, usually served at Rosh Hashanah, Passover, and Sabbath. For reasons of economics and kashrut, it was historically one of the more popular cuts of beef among Ashkenazi Jews. Brisket is also the most popular cut for corned beef, which can be further spiced and smoked to make pastrami. Brisket can be found in cuisines throughout the world, particularly Asia, where it is slow cooked then sliced thinly or shredded, and served with vegetables or noodles in broth.

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Here is an oven version for braised brisket. If you have a slow cooker big enough to hold a whole brisket, so much the better. The basic recipe is the same. Some people like to add a host of vegetables, but I prefer to keep the beef simple and serve vegetables cooked separately. Ditto for herbs and spices. If you use an oven, cooking the day before and then reheating the next day is preferable.

Braised Brisket

Ingredients

olive oil
2 lb beef brisket, whole
2 large white onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 cup beef stock
salt and pepper

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat a little olive oil in a wide 5-to 6-quart heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them gently, stirring often, until they are deep brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate.

Next, turn up the heat to high and brown the brisket in the oil, turning once. Transfer the brisket to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium under the pot, and add the vinegar, stirring and scraping up all the brown bits. Return the brisket and onions to the pot, add the stock, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover with a tight-fitting lid and braise in the oven on a low shelf until fork-tender. Times vary – anywhere from 3 to 4 hours.

Serve with boiled carrots and potatoes.

Jan 102016
 

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The Adventures of Tintin first appeared in French on this date in 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, a youth supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle. The Adventures of Tintin (Les Aventures de Tintin) is a series of comic albums created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name Hergé. The series was one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century. By the time of the centenary of Hergé’s birth in 2007, Tintin had been published in more than 70 languages with sales of more than 200 million copies.

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The series is set during a largely realistic 20th century. Its hero is Tintin, a young Belgian reporter and adventurer. He is aided by his faithful fox terrier dog Snowy (Milou in the original French edition). Later, popular additions to the cast included the brash and cynical Captain Haddock, the highly intelligent but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus (Professeur Tournesol), and other supporting characters such as the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupont et Dupond) and the opera diva Bianca Castafiore.

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The series has been admired for its clean, expressive drawings in Hergé’s signature ligne claire (“clear line”) style. Its plots straddle a variety of genres: swashbuckling adventures with elements of fantasy, mysteries, political thrillers, and science fiction. The stories feature slapstick humor, offset by dashes of sophisticated satire and political or cultural commentary.

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I’m not a big fan of Tintin for a variety of reasons. The cartoons of the 1930s and ‘40s are awash in ethnocentric cultural stereotypes which are supposed to be amusing, but which I just find offensive. Admittedly things got better over time, particularly as the series was translated into other languages. But therein lies another problem. Tintin, like my Franco-Belgian favorite, Asterix (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/asterix-gaul/) struggles in translation because a lot of the humor is verbal. I can read French reasonably well, so this does not bother me unduly. But in the English-speaking world it can be difficult to find Tintin in the original.

The earliest stories in The Adventures of Tintin have been criticized for displaying racial stereotypes, animal cruelty, colonialist, violent, and even fascist leanings, including ethnocentric caricatured portrayals of non-Europeans. While the Hergé Foundation has presented such criticism as naïveté and scholars of Hergé such as Harry Thompson have said that “Hergé did what he was told by the Abbé Wallez,” Hergé himself felt that his background made it impossible to avoid prejudice, stating, “I was fed the prejudices of the bourgeois society that surrounded me.” Cop out.

In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the Bolsheviks were presented as villains. Hergé drew on Moscow Unveiled, a work given to him by Wallez and written by Joseph Douillet, the former Belgian consul in Russia, that is highly critical of the Soviet regime, although Hergé contextualised this by noting that in Belgium, at the time a reasonably devout Catholic nation, “Anything Bolshevik was atheist.” In the story, Bolshevik leaders are motivated by personal greed and a desire to deceive the world. Tintin discovers, buried, “the hideout where Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin have collected together wealth stolen from the people.” Hergé later dismissed the failings of this first story as “a transgression of my youth.” By 1999, even while Tintin’s politics was the subject of a debate in the French parliament, part of this presentation was noted as far more reasonable, with British weekly newspaper The Economist declaring, “In retrospect, however, the land of hunger and tyranny painted by Hergé was uncannily accurate.”

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Tintin in the Congo has been criticized as presenting the Africans as naïve and primitive. In the original work, Tintin is shown at a blackboard addressing a class of African children. “My dear friends,” he says, “I am going to talk to you today about your fatherland: Belgium.” Hergé redrew this in 1946 to show a lesson in mathematics. Hergé later admitted the flaws in the original story, excusing it saying, “I portrayed these Africans according to … this purely paternalistic spirit of the time.”

Drawing on André Maurois’ Les Silences du colonel Bramble, Hergé presents Tintin as a big-game hunter, accidentally killing fifteen antelope as opposed to the one needed for the evening meal. However, concerns over the number of dead animals led Tintin ’​s Scandinavian publishers to request changes. A page of Tintin killing a rhinoceros by drilling a hole in its back and inserting a stick of dynamite was deemed excessive; Hergé replaced the page with one in which the rhino accidentally discharges Tintin’s rifle while he sleeps under a tree. In 2007, the UK’s Commission for Racial Equality called for the book to be pulled from shelves after a complaint, stating, “It beggars belief that in this day and age that any shop would think it acceptable to sell and display Tintin in the Congo.” In August 2007, a Congolese student filed a complaint in Brussels that the book was an insult to the Congolese people. Public prosecutors investigated, and a criminal case was initiated, although the matter was transferred to a civil court. Belgium’s Centre for Equal Opportunities warned against “over-reaction and hyper political correctness.” Sorry, this constant defense of “political correctness” does not wash with me. Objections to racist portrayals of colonized peoples are perfectly legitimate.

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Hergé altered some of the early albums in subsequent editions, usually at the demand of publishers. For example, at the instigation of his U.S. publishers, many of the African-American characters in Tintin in America were re-colored to make their race ambiguous. The Shooting Star originally had an American villain with the Jewish surname of “Blumenstein”. This proved controversial, as the character exhibited exaggerated, stereotypically Jewish characteristics. “Blumenstein” was changed to an American with a less ethnically specific name, Mr. Bohlwinkel, in later editions and subsequently to a South American of a fictional country—São Rico.

Tintin has also been the subject of analysis by literary critics, primarily in French-speaking Europe. Their dense, tortured prose is generally overwrought, and unreadable at times. But their admiration is clear. In 1984, Jean-Marie Apostolidès published his study of the Adventures of Tintin from a more “adult” perspective as Les Métamorphoses de Tintin, published in English as The Metamorphoses of Tintin, or Tintin for Adults in 2010. In reviewing this book, Nathan Perl-Rosenthal of The New Republic thought that it was “not for the faint of heart: it is densely-packed with close textual analysis and laden with psychological jargon.”

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The first English-language work of literary criticism devoted to the series was Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by the novelist Tom McCarthy and published in 2006. McCarthy compares Hergé’s work with that of Aeschylus, Honoré de Balzac, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James and argues that the series contains the key to understanding literature itself. McCarthy considers the Adventures of Tintin to be “stupendously rich,” containing “a mastery of plot and symbol, theme and sub-text” which, influenced by psychoanalytical readings of the work, he believed could be deciphered to reveal a series of recurring themes, ranging from bartering to implicit sexual intercourse that Hergé had featured throughout the series. Reviewing the book in The Telegraph, Toby Clements argued however that McCarthy’s work, and literary criticism of Hergé’s comic strips in general, cut “perilously close” to simply feeding “the appetite of those willing to cross the line between enthusiast and obsessive.” There you have it.

To honor Hergé and Tintin I’ve chosen stoemp, a popular dish that is simple to make and enjoys wide appeal in Belgium. It is a dish of mashed potatoes in cream sauce with one or more vegetables, such as onions, carrots, leeks, spinach, green peas or cabbage, and seasoned with garlic, thyme or bay. Strictly speaking there is no definitive recipe. The basic idea is to make mashed potato rich with butter and cream plus a vegetable of choice. I like it with spinach, but here is a recipe using leeks, because I love the combination of potato and leeks, and am reveling in “leeks with everything” right now after 5 years of leek deprivation in Argentina and China. Seasonings are also cook’s choice. I use nutmeg, but you can also use thyme or sage if you prefer, or simply salt and pepper.

Stoemp is traditionally featured alongside fried boudin, fried braadworst, grilled bacon, fried ground beef or fried eggs, but it can work as a side dish with anything you like.

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Stoemp

Ingredients

5 large potatoes, peeled and diced
4 tbsp butter
¾ cup cream (single or double)
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
4 medium leeks, washed and finely sliced
light stock (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg (optional)

Instructions

Simmer the potatoes in stock until they are soft. Drain them and reserve the liquid. Mash them in whatever fashion suits you. I’ve used a potato masher plus whisk for years, because I like my potatoes a little lumpy.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions, and leeks and sauté until soft but not browned. Add the cream and ½ cup of stock and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon, and reduce the liquid by half over high heat. Add back the leek mix and mashed potatoes, lower the heat to medium, and stir everything until everything is well combined. Season to taste.

Apr 292015
 

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Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical opened on Broadway on this date in 1968. It is a rock musical with a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot – a product of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s. Several of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. The musical’s profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and its nude scene caused much comment and controversy. The musical broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of “rock musical,” using a racially integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a “Be-In” finale.

Hair tells the story of the “tribe”, a group of politically active, long-haired hippies of the “Age of Aquarius” living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War. Claude, his good friend Berger, their roommate Sheila and their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war and their conservative parents and society. Ultimately, Claude must decide whether to resist the draft as his friends have done, or to succumb to the pressures of his parents (and conservative America) to serve in Vietnam, compromising his pacifistic principles and risking his life.

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After an Off-Broadway debut in October 1967 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and a subsequent run in a midtown discothèque space, the show opened on Broadway in April 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances. Simultaneous productions in cities across the United States and Europe followed shortly thereafter, including a successful London production that ran for 1,997 performances. Since then, numerous productions have been staged around the world, spawning dozens of recordings of the musical, including the 3 million-selling original Broadway cast recording. Some of the songs from its score became Top 10 hits, and a feature film adaptation was released in 1979. A Broadway revival opened on March 31, 2009, earning strong reviews and winning the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for best revival of a musical. Time magazine wrote, “Today Hair seems, if anything, more daring than ever.”

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Hair explores many of the themes of the hippie movement of the 1960s. Theatre writer Scott Miller described these as follows:

The youth of America, especially those on college campuses, started protesting all the things that they saw wrong with America: racism, environmental destruction, poverty, sexism and sexual repression, violence at home and the war in Vietnam, depersonalization from new technologies, and corruption in politics. … Contrary to popular opinion, the hippies had great respect for America and believed that they were the true patriots, the only ones who genuinely wanted to save our country and make it the best it could be once again. … [Long] hair was the hippies’ flag – their … symbol not only of rebellion but also of new possibilities, a symbol of the rejection of discrimination and restrictive gender roles (a philosophy celebrated in the song “My Conviction”). It symbolized equality between men and women. …The hippies’ chosen clothing also made statements. Drab work clothes (jeans, work shirts, pea coats) were a rejection of materialism. Clothing from other cultures, particularly the Third World and native Americans, represented their awareness of the global community and their rejection of U.S. imperialism and selfishness. Simple cotton dresses and other natural fabrics were a rejection of synthetics, a return to natural things and simpler times. Some hippies wore old World War II or Civil War jackets as way of co-opting the symbols of war into their newfound philosophy of nonviolence.

Extending the precedents set by Show Boat (1927) and Porgy and Bess (1935), Hair opened the Broadway musical to racial integration; fully one-third of the cast was African American. Except for satirically in skits, the roles for the black members of the tribe portrayed them as equals, breaking away from the traditional roles for blacks in entertainment as slaves or servants. An Ebony magazine article declared that the show was the biggest outlet for black actors in the history of the U.S. stage.

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Several songs and scenes from the show address racial issues. “Colored Spade”, which introduces the character Hud, a militant black male, is a long list of racial slurs (“jungle bunny… little black sambo”) topped off with the declaration that Hud is the “president of the United States of love”. At the end of his song, he tells the tribe that the “boogie man” will get them, as the tribe pretends to be frightened. “Dead End”, sung by black tribe members, is a list of street signs that symbolize black frustration and alienation. One of the tribe’s protest chants is “What do we think is really great? To bomb, lynch and segregate!” “Black Boys/White Boys” is an exuberant acknowledgement of miscegenation; the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down laws against the practice in 1967. Another of the tribe’s protest chants is “Black, white, yellow, red. Copulate in a king-sized bed.”

“Abie Baby” is part of an Act 2 “trip” sequence: four African “witch doctors”, who have just killed various U.S. historical, cultural, and fictional characters, sing the praises of Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by a black female tribe member, whom they decide not to kill. The first part of the song contains stereotypical language that black characters used in old movies, like “I’s finished … pluckin’ y’all’s chickens” and “I’s free now thanks to y’all, Master Lincoln”. The Lincoln character then recites a modernized version of the Gettysburg Address, while a white female tribe member polishes Lincoln’s shoes with her blond hair.

The many references to Native Americans throughout the script are part of the anti-consumerism, naturalism focus of the hippie movement and of Hair. The characters in the show are referred to as the “tribe”, borrowing the term for Native American communities. The cast of each production chooses a tribal name: “The practice is not just cosmetic … the entire cast must work together, must like each other, and often within the show, must work as a single organism. All the sense of family, of belonging, of responsibility and loyalty inherent in the word “tribe” has to be felt by the cast.”[54] To enhance this feeling, O’Horgan put the cast through sensitivity exercises based on trust, touching, listening and intensive examination that broke down barriers between the cast and crew and encouraged bonding. These exercises were based on techniques developed at the Esalen Institute and Polish Lab Theater. The idea of Claude, Berger, and Sheila living together is another facet of the 1960s concept of tribe.

The brief nude scene at the end of Act I was a subject of controversy and notoriety. Miller writes that “nudity was a big part of the hippie culture, both as a rejection of the sexual repression of their parents and also as a statement about naturalism, spirituality, honesty, openness, and freedom. The naked body was beautiful, something to be celebrated and appreciated, not scorned and hidden. They saw their bodies and their sexuality as gifts, not as ‘dirty’ things.”

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Hair glorifies sexual freedom in a variety of ways. In addition to acceptance of miscegenation, mentioned above, the characters’ lifestyle acts as a sexually and politically charged updating of La bohème; as Rado explained, “The love element of the peace movement was palpable.” In the song “Sodomy”, Woof exhorts everyone to “join the holy orgy Kama Sutra”. Toward the end of Act 2, the tribe members reveal their free love tendencies when they banter back and forth about who will sleep with whom that night. Woof has a crush on Mick Jagger, and a three-way embrace between Claude, Berger and Sheila turns into a Claude-Berger kiss.

Various illegal drugs are taken by the characters during the course of the show, most notably a hallucinogen during the trip sequence. The song “Walking in Space” begins the sequence, and the lyrics celebrate the experience declaring “how dare they try to end this beauty … in this dive we rediscover sensation … our eyes are open, wide, wide, wide”. Similarly, in the song “Donna”, Berger sings that “I’m evolving through the drugs that you put down.” At another point, Jeanie smokes marijuana and dismisses the critics of “pot”. Generally, the tribe favors hallucinogenic or “mind expanding” drugs, such as LSD and marijuana, while disapproving of other drugs such as speed and depressants. For example, Jeanie, after revealing that she is pregnant by a “speed freak”, says that “methedrine is a bad scene”. The song “Hashish” provides a list of pharmaceuticals, both illegal and legal, including cocaine, alcohol, LSD, opium and Thorazine, which is used as an antipsychotic.

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The theme of opposition to the war that pervades the show is unified by the plot thread that progresses through the book – Claude’s moral dilemma over whether to burn his draft card. Pacifism is explored throughout the extended trip sequence in Act 2. The lyrics to “Three-Five-Zero-Zero”, which is sung during that sequence, evoke the horrors of war (“ripped open by metal explosion”). The song is based on Allen Ginsberg’s 1966 poem, “Wichita Vortex Sutra”. In the poem, General Maxwell Taylor proudly reports to the press the number of enemy soldiers killed in one month, repeating it digit by digit, for effect: “Three-Five-Zero-Zero.” The song begins with images of death and dying and turns into a manic dance number, echoing Maxwell’s glee at reporting the enemy casualties, as the tribe chants “Take weapons up and begin to kill”. The song also includes the repeated phrase “Prisoners in niggertown/ It’s a dirty little war”.

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“Don’t Put It Down” satirizes the unexamined patriotism of people who are “crazy” for the American flag. “Be In (Hare Krishna)” praises the peace movement and events like the San Francisco and Central Park Be-Ins. Throughout the show, the tribe chants popular protest slogans like “What do we want? Peace! – When do we want it? Now!” and “Do not enter the induction center”. The upbeat song, “Let the Sun Shine In”, is a call to action, to reject the darkness of war and change the world for the better.

Hair also aims its satire at the pollution caused by our civilization. Jeanie appears from a trap door in the stage wearing a gas mask and then sings the song “Air”: “Welcome, sulfur dioxide. Hello carbon monoxide. The air … is everywhere”. She suggests that pollution will eventually kill her, “vapor and fume at the stone of my tomb, breathing like a sullen perfume”. In a comic, pro-green vein, when Woof introduces himself, he explains that he “grows things” like “beets, and corn … and sweet peas” and that he “loves the flowers and the fuzz and the trees”.

Religion, particularly Catholicism, appears both overtly and symbolically throughout the piece, and it is often made the brunt of a joke. Berger sings of looking for “my Donna”, giving it the double meaning of the woman he’s searching for and the Madonna. During “Sodomy”, a hymn-like paean to all that is “dirty” about sex, the cast strikes evocative religious positions: the Pietà and Christ on the cross. Before the song, Woof recites a modified rosary. In Act II, when Berger gives imaginary pills to various famous figures, he offers “a pill for the Pope”. In “Going Down”, after being kicked out of school, Berger compares himself to Lucifer: “Just like the angel that fell / Banished forever to hell / Today have I been expelled / From high school heaven.” Claude becomes a classic Christ figure at various points in the script. In Act I, Claude enters, saying, “I am the Son of God. I shall vanish and be forgotten,” then gives benediction to the tribe and the audience. Claude suffers from indecision, and, in his Gethsemane at the end of Act I, he asks “Where Do I Go?”. There are textual allusions to Claude being on a cross, and, in the end, he is chosen to give his life for the others. Berger has been seen as a John the Baptist figure, preparing the way for Claude.

Songs like “Good Morning, Starshine” and “Aquarius” reflect the 1960s cultural interest in astrological and cosmic concepts. “Aquarius” was the result of Rado’s research into his own astrological sign. The company’s astrologer, Maria Crummere, was consulted about casting: Sheila was usually played by a Libra or Capricorn and Berger by a Leo, although Ragni, the original Berger, was a Virgo. Crummere was also consulted when deciding when the show would open on Broadway and in other cities. The 1971 Broadway Playbill reported that she chose April 29, 1968 for the Broadway premiere. “The 29th was auspicious … because the moon was high, indicating that people would attend in masses. The position of the ‘history makers’ (Pluto, Uranus, Jupiter) in the 10th house made the show unique, powerful and a money-maker. And the fact that Neptune was on the ascendancy foretold that Hair would develop a reputation involving sex.”

In Mexico, where Crummere did not pick the opening date, the show was closed down by the government after one night. She was not pleased with the date of the Boston opening (where the producers were sued over the show’s content) saying, “Jupiter will be in opposition to naughty Saturn, and the show opens the very day of the sun’s eclipse. Terrible.” But there was no astrologically safe time in the near future.

Hair makes many references to Shakespeare’s plays, especially Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, and, at times, takes lyrical material directly from Shakespeare. For example, the lyrics to the song “What a Piece of Work Is Man” are from Hamlet (II: scene 2) and portions of “Flesh Failures” (“the rest is silence”) are from Hamlet’s final lines. In “Flesh Failures/Let The Sun Shine In”, the lyrics “Eyes, look your last!/ Arms, take your last embrace! And lips, O you/ The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss” are from Romeo and Juliet (V: iii, 111–14). According to Miller, the Romeo suicide imagery makes the point that, with our complicity in war, we are killing ourselves.

Symbolically, the running plot of Claude’s indecision, especially his resistance to burning his draft card, which ultimately causes his demise, has been seen as a parallel to Hamlet: “the melancholy hippie”. The symbolism is carried into the last scene, where Claude appears as a ghostly spirit among his friends wearing an army uniform in an ironic echo of an earlier scene, where he says, “I know what I want to be … invisible”. According to Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis, “Both [Hair and Hamlet] center on idealistic brilliant men as they struggle to find their place in a world marred by war, violence, and venal politics. They see both the luminous possibilities and the harshest realities of being human. In the end, unable to effectively combat the evil around them, they tragically succumb.”

Other literary references include the song “Three-Five-Zero-Zero”, based on Ginsberg’s poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra”, and, in the psychedelic drug trip sequence, the portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara, from Gone with the Wind, and activist African-American poet LeRoi Jones.

In the 60’s I was overwhelmingly in support of Hair’s message(s) and music; now I am a tad more critical. Then I was a young long-haired hippie (of sorts); now, almost 50 years on, I am a close cropped, retired college professor. I still believe in equality, global sustainability, peace, and so forth, but my views on the musical’s portrayal of sexuality, religion, and astrology are somewhat tempered. On the whole I am happy to let people do what they want without harming others, but I am by no means fully in accord with the values presented of the latter in Hair. Yes, organized Christianity has desperate failings, but this is largely because of its seeming inability to take Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to heart; the core values are peace and love, as they are in Hair. 21 years ago I became an ordained Presbyterian minister to try to inject more spirituality into the church from the inside rather than railing at it (largely unthinkingly) from the outside. Sexuality is a complex issue, and “free love” has its pitfalls. I’m ambivalent about astrology

I’ve frequently argued that the tenor of U.S. culture at any one time is linked to the concerns of the Baby Boom generation at that time. In the 1960s they/we were adolescent and post-adolescent teens (and a bit older), grasping for personal values. Many (most?) hippies were attending college (in a lot of cases to avoid the draft), and came from solid middle class families. The famed “Summer of Love” in San Francisco in 1967, for example, came to an end because most participants went back to college in the fall. It was summer vacation for them. In that respect it’s hard not to see their actions as superficial and hedonistic. Nonetheless, a vital thread remains because the issues addressed by Hair remain unresolved – war, poverty, racism, inequality, environmental degradation – and many of us grey hippies still fight the good fight although in a less flamboyant way.

A hippie recipe is easy to come by. I wouldn’t hazard a guess at percentages, but there were hippies who believed in eating healthy foods, and others who lived on fast food. Commitment to the core value of sustainability (plus healthy living) tussled with simple hedonism. Here’s a healthy recipe for tabouli salad, very popular in hippiedom. No need for exact quantities; it would not be a hippie dish if it involved rules. It’s good to make a fair amount because it keeps well refrigerated, and is a good side dish.

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Tabouli Salad                                                                                                  

The basis of this dish is bulgur wheat. My preference is about 60% bulgur to 40% vegetables (organic, of course). Cook the bulgur by simmering it in water for about 20 minutes (2 cups water:1 cup water) or until softened. Drain and let cool. Cut into small dice seeded tomatoes, green onions, cucumber, and celery. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and chill. Take what you need to serve and dress with fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and chopped parsley (or cilantro). Leave the rest chilled, undressed.