Oct 252017
 

Today is the birthday (1881) of Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, usually shortened to Pablo Picasso. Pablo is the first of his many given names and Picasso is his mother’s father’s family name in the combination of Ruiz y Picasso which is the usual Spanish way of denoting father’s and mother’s family names. Picasso needs no introduction, so I am going to dispense with most (not all) of my usual biographical and technical information in posting on him and cut to the chase. I will also admit that I am posting this year about Picasso because I have 2 recipes which he wrote for Vogue magazine. This is a food blog after all. Sometimes people forget that fact.

Picasso was born in Málaga in Andalusia, the first child of Don José Ruiz y Blasco (1838–1913) and María Picasso y López. Picasso’s father was a painter who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. For most of his life Ruiz was a professor of art at the School of Crafts and a curator of a local museum. Ruiz’s ancestors were minor aristocrats. Picasso showed a passion and a skill for drawing from an early age. According to his mother, his first words were “piz, piz”, a shortening of lápiz, the Spanish word for “pencil.” From the age of 7, Picasso received formal artistic training from his father in figure drawing and oil painting. Ruiz was a traditional academic artist and instructor, who believed that proper training required disciplined copying of the masters, and drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models.

The family moved to A Coruña in 1891, where his father became a professor at the School of Fine Arts. They stayed almost 4 years. In 1895, Picasso was traumatized when his 7-year-old sister, Conchita, died of diphtheria. After her death, the family moved to Barcelona, where Ruiz took a position at its School of Fine Arts. Picasso thrived in the city, regarding it in times of sadness or nostalgia as his true home. Ruiz persuaded the officials at the academy to allow his son to take an entrance exam for the advanced class. This process often took students a month, but Picasso completed it in a week, and the jury admitted him, at just 13. Picasso lacked discipline but made friendships that would affect him in later life. His father rented a small room for him close to home so he could work alone, yet he checked up on him numerous times a day, judging his drawings. The two argued frequently.

Picasso’s father and uncle decided to send him to Madrid’s Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the country’s foremost art school. At age 16, Picasso set off for the first time on his own, but he disliked formal instruction and stopped attending classes soon after enrollment. Madrid held many other attractions. The Prado housed paintings by Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Francisco Zurbarán. Picasso especially admired the works of El Greco; elements such as his elongated limbs, arresting colors, and mystical visages are echoed in Picasso’s later work.

Picasso’s progress as an artist can be traced in the collection of his early works now held by the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, which provides one of the most comprehensive records extant of any major artist’s beginnings. During 1893 the juvenile quality of his earliest work falls away, and by 1894 his career as a painter can be said to have begun. The academic realism apparent in the works of the mid-1890s is well displayed in The First Communion (1896), a large composition that depicts his sister, Lola. In the same year, at the age of 14, he painted Portrait of Aunt Pepa, a dramatic portrait that in hindsight presages great things.

Art historians usually divide Picasso’s oeuvre into “periods,” which I find a bit academic and stilted, but for the sake of brevity I’ll play along. The resultant gallery does show Picasso’s evolution as an artist which is something I like to contemplate with any artist. My question is always: What did this artist paint besides the immediately recognizable stuff? In Picasso’s case it’s more a matter of: “How did he get here from there?”

We start with the blue period (1901-1904) when he painted primarily monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors. These somber works painted first in Barcelona and then Paris, are now some of his most popular works, although he had difficulty selling them at the time. During this period Picasso was financially hard up and chronically depressed.  It shows. So does the influence of El Greco (to me, at least).

Picasso’s rose period (1904-1906) presents some more pleasant themes of clowns, harlequins, carnival performers, depicted in cheerful vivid hues of red, orange, pink and earth tones, although the somberness of the blue period is still there. These paintings are largely (not exclusively) based on memory rather than direct observation and marks the beginning of his stylistic experiments with primitivism influenced by pre-Roman Iberian sculpture, Oceanic and African art.

Picasso’s African period (1907-1909), also sometimes called the proto-cubist period, begins with his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Picasso painted this composition in a style inspired by Iberian sculpture, but repainted the faces of the two figures on the right after being powerfully impressed by African artefacts he saw in June 1907 in the ethnographic museum at Palais du Trocadéro. When he displayed the painting to acquaintances in his studio later that year, the nearly universal reaction was shock and revulsion. Matisse angrily dismissed the work as a hoax. Consequently, Picasso did not exhibit Le Demoiselles publicly until 1916. Formal ideas developed during this period lead directly into the Cubist period that follows.

Picasso and Georges Braque developed analytic cubism jointly and their paintings in the years 1909 to 1912 often seem stylistically indistinguishable. I am attracted to the cubist paintings of the era by different artists, but I do also notice a fair degree of sameness among them. In mitigation I will also say that I admire collaboration among creative people. I’d appreciate being able to do something similar in my waning years, but I travel too much to settle into a group.

From 1912 to 1919 Picasso’s cubist style shifted from strict analytic cubism to what he called crystal cubism – a more distilled form of cubism – and also towards cubist collage. This is sometimes called his synthetic cubist period. At this point, you can begin to see how the grouping of Picasso’s paintings into “periods,” not especially helpful all along, begins to crumble. During this “period” some of his contemporary complained that he was defecting from cubism back to realism. During this time Picasso entertained a distinguished coterie of friends in the Montmartre and Montparnasse quarters, including André Breton, Guillaume Apollinaire, Alfred Jarry, and Gertrude Stein. (As an aside, Apollinaire was arrested on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. Apollinaire pointed to Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated).

 

In February 1917, Picasso made his first trip to Italy. In the period following the Great War of 1914 to 1918, Picasso produced work in a neoclassical style. This “return to order” is evident in the work of many European artists in the 1920s. Picasso’s paintings and drawings from this period frequently recall the work of Raphael and Ingres.

In 1925 the Surrealist writer and poet André Breton declared Picasso as ‘one of ours’ in his article “Le Surréalisme et la peinture”, published in Révolution surréaliste. Yet Picasso exhibited Cubist works at the first Surrealist group exhibition in 1925; the concept of ‘psychic automatism in its pure state’ defined in the Manifeste du surréalisme never appealed to him entirely.

During the 1930s, the minotaur replaced the harlequin as a common motif in Picasso’s work. His use of the minotaur came partly from his contact with the surrealists, who often used it as their symbol, and it appears in his Guernica (1937). Guernica is Picasso’s depiction of the German bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. This large canvas embodies for many the inhumanity, brutality and hopelessness of war. Asked to explain its symbolism, Picasso said, “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.” Guernica was exhibited in July 1937 at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition, and then became the centerpiece of an exhibition of 118 works by Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Henri Laurens that toured Scandinavia and England. After the victory of Francisco Franco in Spain, the painting was sent to the United States to raise funds and support for Spanish refugees. Until 1981 it was entrusted to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, as it was Picasso’s expressed desire that the painting should not be delivered to Spain until liberty and democracy had been established in the country.

I saw Guernica in 2007 when I was in Madrid. At the time it was housed in its own exhibit at the Museo Reina Sofia along with dozens of photographs showing Picasso painting it, preliminary sketches Picasso made, and a host of related items exploring the painting’s imagery. I spent a large part of a day at the exhibit.

All right, I’ll leave it there and move to Picasso’s recipes – finally !! These recipes come from Vogue September 1st, 1964, and are reproduced on this website https://www.vogue.com/article/haute-cuisine-pablo-picasso-recipes-vogue At the time Vogue was in the habit of contacting famous people and asking for their favorite recipes. This is Picasso’s contribution. The material is copyright by Vogue.

Picasso’s Omelette Tortilla Niçoise for Four People

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion

4 peppers, red and green

3 tomatoes

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

8 eggs

Salt and pepper

In a flat-bottomed frying pan, heat oil gently, adding the onion, sliced and separated into rings. After 5 minutes, add the peppers, seeded and diced. Mix and cook gently for a few minutes, then slip in the tomatoes, seeded, peeled, and cubed. After mixing and seasoning, cover pan and let simmer over a low flame for 1 hour. Vegetables should not stick. Uncover the pan, pour in the wine vinegar, and let cook until liquid is reduced.

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Pour them over the vegetables, mix well, and let the omelette cook gently without touching it. When it is well set, put a big plate over the pan and reverse the omelette onto it, then slide it back into the pan on the other side. Finish over a higher flame until golden underneath. Cut the omelette tortilla like a pie, and serve with a bowl of garlic-mayonnaise seasoned with saffron.

Picasso’s Eel Stew for Four People

6 tablespoons olive oil

6 tablespoons butter

12 small white onions

1 teaspoon sugar

2 yellow onions, chopped

12 mushrooms

⅓ pound salt pork, cubed

2 shallots, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 eels of about 1 pound each, cut into four- to five-inch sections

1 bottle of good red wine

1 tablespoon flour

Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper

Bouquet garni: thyme, bay leaf, parsley, fennel, and a small branch of celery

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan, add small white onions and sprinkle them with sugar. When golden on all sides, cover the pan and cook gently, turning onions carefully from time to time. Be sure they are well caramelized without sticking. After 10 minutes add the salt pork cut in cubes; when transparent, put in the mushroom heads, and let simmer.

At the same time: Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of oil in a casserole. Cover the bottom with 2 chopped onions, minced shallots, garlic, and chopped mushroom stems. Put the bouquet garni in the center and the sections of fish around it. Season and cook gently for 5 minutes, then cover with wine. Bring to a boil, then lower flame as far as possible, to simmer, without boiling, for 15 minutes.

Drain the pieces of eel and place in the frying pan with the small onions. Keep warm over a low flame.

Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, return to high flame and reduce, uncovered for 5 minutes. Work 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon flour into a paste, and add it in bits to thicken sauce; stir to boiling point before removing from stove.

Cover the eel stew with sauce; and serve surrounded by croutons fried in butter.

Oct 042017
 

Today is the birthday (1896) of Dorothy Lawrence, an English reporter, who posed as a man so as to be able to work  as a soldier during World War I. She is the only English woman known to have served in any military capacity as a man in World War I. There are dozens of women who have served in the military, openly or disguised as men, but Lawrence’s is a special case for many reasons. She had no intention of picking up a rifle; she just wanted to report on the war, thinking she would have a great scoop on her hands. In this sense she was hopelessly naïve. The government severely censored news reports for fear that the British public would turn against the war and recruitment would dry up.  For example, photos of dead soldiers were forbidden to be published, and events such as the 1914 Christmas truce in the trenches would never have come to light were it not for stories leaked to newspapers in the US:  http://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-christmas-truce/  The High Command was in a panic over the Christmas Truce lest British soldiers saw Germans as people rather than the enemy, and, consequently, refused to fight. Lawrence thought she could send back honest reports from the Western Front; instead her fate was tragic.

Lawrence was likely born in Hendon in Middlesex, of unknown parents. She was probably illegitimate and was adopted as a baby by a guardian of the Church of England in Salisbury. Her parentage is under some dispute, however. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (which at time of publication in 2004 did not mention details of her life after 1919) reports that Lawrence was born on 4 October 1896 in Polesworth, Warwickshire and was the second daughter of Thomas Hartshorn Lawrence and Mary Jane Beddall. These details may or may not be erroneous. Regardless, she was adopted as an orphan and grew up in Salisbury.

Lawrence wanted to be a journalist and had had success in having some articles published in The Times. At the outbreak of war she wrote to a number of the Fleet Street newspapers in the hope of reporting the war but was rejected. In consequence she travelled to France in 1915, and volunteered as a civilian employee of the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Again she was rejected. Then she decided to enter the war zone via the French sector as a freelance war correspondent, but was arrested by French Police in Senlis, 2 miles (3.2 km) short of the front line, and ordered to leave.  She pent the night sleeping on a haystack in a forest, and returned to Paris where she concluded that it was only in disguise the she could get the story that she wanted to write.

She befriended two British soldiers in a Parisian café, and persuaded them to smuggle her a khaki uniform, piece by piece, within their washing. Ten men eventually shared in this exploit, later referred to in her book, Sapper Dorothy Lawrence, The Only English Woman Soldier, as the “Khaki accomplices.” She then began practicing transforming herself into a male soldier, by flattening her figure with a home-made corset; using sacking and cotton-wool to bulk out her shoulders; and persuading two Scottish military policemen to cut her long, brown hair in a short military style. She darkened her complexion with Condy’s Fluid, a disinfectant made from potassium permanganate; razored the pale skin of her cheeks in the hope of giving herself a shaving rash; and added a shoe-polish tan. Finally she asked her soldier friends to teach her how to drill and march.

Wearing a blanket coat and no underwear, lest soldiers discover her abandoned petticoats, she obtained forged identity papers as Private Denis Smith of the 1st Bn, Leicestershire Regiment, and headed for the front lines. She set out by bicycle for the British sector of the Somme. On her way towards Albert on the Somme, she met Lancashire coalminer turned British Expeditionary Force (BEF) tunnel-digging sapper Tom Dunn, who offered to assist her. Fearing for the safety of a lone woman amongst female-companionship starved soldiers, Dunn found Lawrence an abandoned cottage in Senlis Forest to sleep in. During her time on the front line, she returned there each night to sleep on a damp mattress, fed by any rations that Dunn and his colleagues could spare.

Dunn found her work as a sapper with the 179 Tunnelling Company, 51st Division, Royal Engineers, a specialist mine-laying company that operated within 400 yards (370 m) of the front line. Lawrence writes that she was involved in the digging of tunnels. But later evidence and correspondence from the time after her discovery by British Army authorities, including from the files of Sir Walter Kirke of the BEF’s secret service, suggest that she did not undertake this highly skilled digging work, but work within the trenches with a degree of freedom.

The toll of the job, and of hiding her true identity, soon led to illness including constant chills and rheumatism, and latterly fainting fits. Because she was concerned that if she needed medical attention her true gender would be discovered and the men who had befriended her would be in danger, after 10 days of service she presented herself to the commanding sergeant, who promptly placed her under military arrest.

Lawrence was taken to the BEF headquarters and interrogated as a spy by a colonel, she was declared a prisoner of war. From there she was taken cross country by horse to Third Army headquarters in Calais, where she was interrogated by six generals and approximately twenty other officers. She was ignorant of the term “camp follower” (prostitute) and she later recalled “We talked steadily at cross purposes. On my side I had not been informed what the term meant, and on their side they continued unaware that I remained ignorant! So I often appeared to be telling lies.”

From Calais she was taken to Saint-Omer and further interrogated. The Army was embarrassed that a woman had breached security and was fearful of more women taking on male roles during the war if her story got out. On the orders of a suspicious judge, fearing she could release sensitive intelligence, he ordered that she remain in France until after the Battle of Loos. She was held within the Convent de Bon Pasteur, and was also made to swear not to write about her experiences, and signed an affidavit to that effect, or she would be sent to jail. When she was sent back to London, she travelled across the English Channel on the same ferry as Emmeline Pankhurst, who asked her to speak at a suffragette meeting.

Once in London, she tried to write about her experiences for The Wide World Magazine, a London-based illustrated monthly, but had to scrap her first book on the instructions of the War Office which invoked the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act to silence her.

In 1919, she moved to Canonbury in Islington, and published Sapper Dorothy Lawrence. Although well received in England, America and Australia, it was heavily censored by the War Office, and with a world wishing to move forward it did not become the commercial success that she wanted. With no income and no credibility as a journalist, by 1925 her increasingly erratic behavior was brought to the attention of the authorities. After confiding to a doctor that she had been raped in her teenage years by her church guardian, and with no family to look after her, she was taken into care and later deemed insane. Committed first to the London County Mental Hospital at Hanwell in March 1925, she was later institutionalized at the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in Friern Barnet, north London. She died at what was by then known as Friern Hospital in 1964. She was buried in a pauper’s grave in New Southgate Cemetery, where today the site of her plot is no longer clear.

Lawrence’s story lay dormant for decades, but came to light as part of historical researches concerning the suffragettes on the centenary of their struggles.  A number of newspaper articles and other published materials on her life are now available and there a couple of plays produced in 2015 documenting her life, both in the trenches and in Friern Barnet asylum. The best researched is The Disappearance of Dorothy Lawrence.

I can’t imagine what rations Lawrence’s confidantes managed to smuggle out to her as she hid behind the trenches. I’ve spoken about Great War British rations before, noting that bully beef (tinned corned beef) was a mainstay. But in reality bully beef was the best on offer in the trenches. Worst was probably Maconochie’s stew which the label described as containing the finest beef equivalent to 1 lb on the bone, but was, in fact, mostly fat with unidentifiable vegetables. It was said that it was barely palatable if eaten hot (which was not always possible), but inedible when cold. When opened the can had a deep layer of congealed fat and an unpleasant smell.

These recipes (and ration list) were issued by the army around 1915.  Do with them what you will.  The biscuits in the first recipe are the hard tack that soldiers were issued.

Allowances per person per day, were: 1¼lb fresh or frozen meat, or 1lb salt meat; 4oz bacon; 20oz of bread or 16oz of flour or 4oz of oatmeal; 3oz of cheese; 4oz of butter or margarine; 2oz of tea, 4oz of jam or 4oz of dried fruit; pinch of pepper; pinch of mustard; 8oz of fresh vegetables or a tenth of a gill lime juice; half a gill of rum or 1pt of porter; maximum of 2oz of tobacco.

DINNER TIME

Recipe for Milk Biscuit Pudding (feeds 100 men):

Ingredients: Biscuits (15lb), milk (3lb or 3 tins), sugar (5lb), currants (4lb), spice (a packet), candied peel (4oz)

Method:

Soak biscuits until soft, about three hours in cold water.

Cut up peel finely. Place biscuits, sugar and currants into baking dishes; add milk and mix well with spice and peel.

Place in oven until cooked. Time: One hour.

Recipe for Brown Stew

Ingredients: Meat, onions, flour, mixed vegetables, pepper, salt, stock.

Method:

Bone meat, remove fat, cut into 1oz pieces.

Place 3lb flour, ½oz pepper, ½oz salt in a bowl and mix

Place stock in bottom of cooking vessel and dredge meat in flour.

Peel and cut up onions, wash and peel and cut up the mixed vegetables, add onions and vegetables to meat, mix well together. Barely cover with stock and place in oven to cook.

Stir frequently. Time: 2½ to 3 hours.

Jun 172016
 

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Today is World Day to Combat Desertification because on 17 June 1994 the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (UNCCD) was adopted in Paris. Its purpose is to address desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements. Almost every nation in the world is a signatory. Canada withdrew in 2013 because the, then, conservative government was concerned about the financial efficiency of the UN program (claiming that only 18% of money paid into the fund went on programming, and the rest was spent on bureaucracy). Otherwise 194 countries participate in worldwide partnership. Only about 10 micro-nations  are not party to the Convention.

Combating desertification is a component of linked ecological strategies worldwide that include encouraging sustainable agriculture, using sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions, halting climate change, and conserving water resources. The global observance event on 17 June 2016 will be held in Beijing. By organizing the global observance in China, the 2016 WDCD will demonstrate how Land Degradation Neutrality can be a critical element for achieving other sustainable development goals, especially for promotion of inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

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Desertification is defined in the text of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.” The earliest known discussion of the topic arose soon after the French colonization of West Africa, when the Comité d’Etudes commissioned a study on desséchement progressif to explore the prehistoric expansion of the Sahara Desert.

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The world’s most noted deserts have been formed by natural processes interacting over long intervals of time. During most of these times, deserts have grown and shrunk independent of human activities. Paleodeserts are large sand seas, some extending beyond the present margins of core deserts, such as the Sahara, the largest hot desert.

Desertification has played a significant role in human history, contributing to the collapse of several large empires, such as Carthage, Greece, and the Roman Empire, as well as causing displacement of local populations. Historical evidence shows that the serious and extensive land deterioration occurring several centuries ago in arid regions had three epicenters: the Mediterranean, the Mesopotamian Valley, and the loess plateau of China, where population was dense.

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Drylands (areas where precipitation is counterbalanced by evaporation) occupy approximately 40–41% of Earth’s land area and are home to more than 2 billion people. It has been estimated that some 10–20% of drylands are already degraded, the total area affected by desertification being between 6 and 12 million square kilometers. About 1–6% of the inhabitants of drylands live in desertified areas, and around one billion people are under threat from further desertification.

The immediate cause of desertification is the loss of vegetation. This is driven by a number of factors, alone or in combination, such as drought, climatic shifts, intensive tillage for agriculture, overgrazing, and deforestation for fuel or construction materials. Vegetation plays a major role in determining the biological composition of the soil. Studies have shown that, in many environments, the rate of erosion and runoff decreases exponentially with increased vegetation cover. Unprotected, dry soil surfaces blow away with the wind or are washed away by flash floods, leaving infertile lower soil layers that bake in the sun and become an unproductive hardpan.

A downward spiral is created in many underdeveloped countries by overgrazing, land exhaustion and overdrafting of groundwater in many of the marginally productive world regions due to overpopulation pressures to exploit marginal drylands for farming. Decision-makers are understandably averse to invest in arid zones with low potential. This absence of investment contributes to the marginalization of these zones. When unfavorable agro-climatic conditions are combined with an absence of infrastructure and access to markets, as well as poorly adapted production techniques and an underfed and undereducated population, most such zones are excluded from development. This results in mass migrations out of rural areas and into urban areas, particularly in Africa. These migrations into the cities often cause large numbers of unemployed people, who end up living in slums.

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There are techniques  for mitigating or reversing the effects of desertification; however, there are numerous barriers to their implementation. One of these is that the costs of adopting sustainable agricultural practices sometimes exceed the benefits for individual farmers, even while they are socially and environmentally beneficial. Another issue is a lack of political will, and lack of funding to support land reclamation and anti-desertification programs. Reforestation gets at one of the root causes of desertification and is not just a treatment of the symptoms. Environmental organizations work in places where deforestation and desertification are contributing to extreme poverty. There they focus primarily on educating the local population about the dangers of deforestation and sometimes employ them to grow seedlings, which they transfer to severely deforested areas during the rainy season. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations launched the FAO Drylands Restoration Initiative in 2012 to draw together knowledge and experience on dryland restoration.

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I have lived in or near desert areas for many years, notably in Australia as a youth, and in New Mexico in the mid-1990s (where I conducted anthropological research on local populations). If you are used to living in a well-watered temperate region, deserts can seem stark and inhospitable, but they are not what they appear to the untrained eye. I grew to love the desert regions of the North American southwest after I had lived there for some time. You may imagine the vast tracts of dunes from Lawrence of Arabia, or the Sahara in general, when you imagine desert areas, but these images are not characteristic of deserts on the whole. Deserts are home to a diversity of plants and animals (as well as humans), and can be very productive if managed well.

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If you have lived in a desert region you’ll know the difference that water can make. I well remember the first time that I was driving in an arid region of New Mexico, turned down a small track, and within a few miles I was suddenly in a lush, green environment, filled with green trees and shrubs, contrasting with the desert browns, because I had struck on a river valley. The vegetation was only dominant within a few meters of the river’s edge, and beyond that zone, desert prevailed. But it was immediately obvious what a difference water can make. I also recall one amazing year in South Australia when there were heavy rains in the interior. This sort of event may occur only once or twice per century. Dry saltpan beds became temporary lakes, rivers flowed where there had been none, and the desert sprang to life. It was amazing to see. Such events show clearly that with proper management drylands can support abundance.  It’s a big undertaking, however. I also recall the reclamation attempts in my youth in arid parts of Australia that involved massive effort and financing, but when you looked on a map the area covered by the projects was minuscule in comparison with the total land mass of the continent. Containing and reclaiming desert areas is a massive undertaking that requires global commitment and cooperation.

Desert plants have many culinary uses. Everyone knows, I hope, about agaves, especially blue agave, native to the Mexican states of Jalisco, Colima, Nayarit and Aguascalientes, and the key ingredient in the production of tequila. Nopal (from the Nahuatl, nohpall) is a common name in Mexican Spanish for Opuntia cacti (commonly referred to in English as prickly pear), as well as for its pads. There are approximately one hundred and fourteen known species indigenous to Mexico, where the plant is a common ingredient in numerous Mexican cuisine dishes. The nopal pads can be eaten raw or cooked, used in marmalades, soups, stews, and salads, as well as being used for traditional medicine or as fodder for animals. Farmed nopales are most often of the species Opuntia ficus-indica or Opuntia joconostle although the pads of almost all Opuntia species are edible. The other part of the nopal cactus that is edible is the fruit called “la tuna” in Spanish, and the “prickly pear” in English.

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Nopales are generally sold fresh in Mexico, cleaned of spines, and sliced to order on the spot. You can also buy them canned or bottled in good supermarkets or online. Cut into slices or diced into cubes, nopales have a light, slightly tart flavor, like green beans, and a crisp, slightly mucilaginous texture.

Nopales are most commonly used in Mexican cuisine in dishes such as huevos con nopales (eggs with nopal), carne con nopales (meat with nopal), tacos de nopales, in salads with tomato, onion, and queso panela (panela cheese), or simply on their own as a side vegetable. Nopales can also be found in the Hispano communities of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Most commonly I use nopales as a salad ingredient when I can get them – which is not often now. They make a nice crispy, tangy addition. More rarely I use prickly pear fruit as an ingredient in fruit salads. They come in great variety, some very sweet, some more astringent to the taste buds. In supermarkets they come stripped of spines, which is just as well because they are extremely difficult to handle in the wild. Cut them open and scoop out the soft interior flesh. It pairs well with other fruits or with vanilla ice cream.

May 122016
 

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Today might be the birthday (1812) of Edward Lear or it might be tomorrow. The records are not clear.  A perfect date for a man who dealt in absurdity all of his life, and also for my blog which now deals in celebrations that move around the calendar.

Lear was born in North London, the second to last of twenty-one children (and youngest to survive) of Ann Clark Skerrett and Jeremiah Lear. He was raised by his eldest sister, Ann, 21 years his senior. Owing to the family’s limited finances, Lear and his sister left the family home and lived together when he was aged four. Ann continued to act as a mother for him until her death, when he was almost 50 years of age.

Lear suffered from lifelong health afflictions. From the age of six he suffered frequent grand mal epileptic seizures, and bronchitis, asthma, and during later life, partial blindness. Lear experienced his first seizure at a fair near Highgate with his father. The event scared and embarrassed him and consequently he felt lifelong guilt and shame for his condition. His adult diaries indicate that he always sensed the onset of a seizure in time to remove himself from public view. When Lear was about seven years old he began to show signs of depression, possibly due to the instability of his childhood. He suffered from periods of severe depression which he referred to as “the Morbids.”

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Lear was already drawing “for bread and cheese” by the time he was aged 16 and soon developed into a serious draughtsman employed by the Zoological Society and then from 1832 to 1836 by the Earl of Derby, who kept a private menagerie at his estate Knowsley Hall. Lear’s first publication, published when he was 19 years old, was Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots in 1830. He was considered one of the greatest ornithological artists of his era, compared favorably with John James Audubon.

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Among other travels, he visited Greece and Egypt during 1848–49, and toured India and Ceylon during 1873–75. While traveling he produced large quantities of colored wash drawings in a distinctive style, which he converted later in his studio into oil and watercolor paintings, as well as prints for his books. His landscape style often shows views with strong sunlight, with intense contrasts of color.

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Between 1878 to 1883 Lear spent his summers on Monte Generoso, a mountain on the border between the Swiss canton of Ticino and the Italian region of Lombardy (very near where I live now). Throughout his life he continued to paint seriously. He had a lifelong ambition to illustrate Tennyson’s poems; near the end of his life a volume with a small number of illustrations was published.

Lear played the accordion, flute, and guitar, but primarily the piano. He composed music for many Romantic and Victorian poems, but was known mostly for his many musical settings of Tennyson’s poetry. He published four settings in 1853, five in 1859, and three in 1860. Lear’s were the only musical settings that Tennyson approved of. Lear also composed music for many of his nonsense songs, including “The Owl and the Pussy-cat,” but only two of the scores have survived, the music for “The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò” and “The Pelican Chorus.” While he never played professionally, he did perform his own nonsense songs and his settings of others’ poetry at countless social gatherings, sometimes adding his own lyrics (as with the song “The Nervous Family”), and sometimes replacing serious lyrics with nursery rhymes.

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Lear travelled widely throughout his life and eventually settled in San Remo, on the Mediterranean coast, in the 1870s, at a villa he named “Villa Tennyson.”

Lear was known to introduce himself with a long pseudonym: “Mr Abebika kratoponoko Prizzikalo Kattefello Ablegorabalus Ableborinto phashyph” or “Chakonoton the Cozovex Dossi Fossi Sini Tomentilla Coronilla Polentilla Battledore & Shuttlecock Derry down Derry Dumps” which he based on Aldiborontiphoskyphorniostikos.

After a long decline in his health, Lear died at his villa in 1888 of heart disease, from which he had suffered since at least 1870. Lear’s funeral was said to be a sad, lonely affair by the wife of Dr. Hassall, Lear’s physician, none of Lear’s many lifelong friends being able to attend. Lear is buried in the Cemetery Foce in San Remo. On his headstone are inscribed these lines about Mount Tomohrit (in Albania) from Tennyson’s poem To E.L. [Edward Lear], On His Travels in Greece:

                 all things fair.
With such a pencil, such a pen.
You shadow forth to distant men,
I read and felt that I was there.

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Lear had a longstanding friendship with an Albanian chef, Giorgis, whom he described as an excellent friend and a thoroughly unsatisfactory cook. So I won’t give you an Albanian recipe.  Instead here are some of Lear’s own “recipes.” They should appeal to Lear fans.

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THREE RECEIPTS FOR DOMESTIC COOKERY

TO MAKE AN AMBLONGUS PIE

Take 4 pounds (say 4 1/2 pounds) of fresh Amblongusses, and put them in a small pipkin.

Cover them with water and boil them for 8 hours incessantly, after which add 2 pints of new milk, and proceed to boil for 4 hours more.

When you have ascertained that the Amblongusses are quite soft, take them out and place them in a wide pan, taking care to shake them well previously.

Grate some nutmeg over the surface, and cover them carefully with powdered gingerbread, curry-powder, and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper.

Remove the pan into the next room, and place it on the floor. Bring it back again, and let it simmer for three-quarters of an hour. Shake the pan violently till all the Amblongusses have become a pale purple colour.

Then, having prepared a paste, insert the whole carefully, adding at the same time a small pigeon, 2 slices of beef, 4 cauliflowers, and any number of oysters.

Watch patiently till the crust begins to rise, and add a pinch of salt from time to time.

Serve up in a clean dish, and throw the whole out of the window as fast as possible.

TO MAKE CRUMBOBBLIOUS CUTLETS

Procure some strips of beef, and having cut them into the smallest possible slices, proceed to cut them still smaller, eight or perhaps nine times.

When the whole is thus minced, brush it up hastily with a new clothes-brush, and stir round rapidly and capriciously with a salt-spoon or a soup ladel.

Place the whole in a saucepan, and remove it to a sunny place, — say the roof of the house if free from sparrows or other birds, — and leave it there for about a week.

At the end of that time add a little lavender, some oil of almonds, and a few herring-bones; and cover the whole with 4 gallons of clarified crumbobblious sauce, when it will be ready for use.

Cut it into the shape of ordinary cutlets, and serve it up in a clean tablecloth or dinner-napkin.

TO MAKE GOSKY PATTIES

Take a pig, three or four years of age, and tie him by the off-hind leg to a post. Place 5 pounds of currants, 5 of sugar, 2 pecks of peas, 18 roast chestnuts, a candle, and six bushels of turnips, within his reach; if he eats these, constantly provide him with more.

Then, procure some cream, some slices of Cheshire cheese, four quinces of foolscap paper, and a packet of black pins. Work the whole into a paste, and spread it out to dry on a sheet of clean brown waterproof linen.

When the paste is perfectly dry, but not before, proceed to beat the Pig violently, with the handle of a large broom. If he squeals, beat him again.

Visit the paste and beat the pig alternately for some days, and ascertain that if at the end of that period the whole is about to turn into Gosky Patties.

If it does not then, it never will; and in that case the Pig may be let loose, and the whole process may be considered as finished.

 

 

 

 

Apr 242016
 

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International Sculpture (IS) Day, is a worldwide annual celebration of sculpture on April 24 that was established by the International Sculpture Center in 2015 and is meant to raise awareness, appreciation and enjoyment of sculpture in communities across the globe. During the inaugural IS Day last year, over 50 events were held in 12 countries including Switzerland, China, Germany, England, Australia, Austria, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, and the USA. IS Day events include open studios, demonstrations, workshops, public art tours, open museums, brown bag lunches, sculpture scavenger hunts, book signings, foundry pours, pop up exhibitions, opening receptions, competitions, artist talks, and more. The International Sculpture Center website is here — http://www.sculpture.org/isday/

All my life I’ve lived and worked in places where public sculpture was the norm, and I’ll put a gallery of the pieces that have been an integral part of my life, at various times, at the end of my brief comments. Public sculpture as a fact of life reaches back into antiquity.  For me it’s not a question of promoting sculpture, so much as getting the public to PAY ATTENTION. But, I suspect that is a lost cause. Right now I live in Mantua where sculpture in the historic center is everywhere. Mobs of tourists snap photos all the time, whereas locals just go about their business without much interest in their surroundings. That’s normal. I very much doubt that having a special day devoted to sculpture will do much to change that.

To a large degree the location of sculpture plays a part in its reception and use. Placed in a park or other area of general recreation, it’s likely to attract attention; placed on a busy thoroughfare, it’s likely to be ignored by the majority. I don’t see how we can do anything to change that. Nor should we. What I would say, however, is that I feel better when I am living and working in areas where sculpture is all around me than in places that are generally devoid of public art, even though I am not always explicitly paying attention to it. It’s there.

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When I first arrived on the campus of the College of Purchase, State University of New York, where I worked for over 30 years, I was immediately struck – as is every newcomer – by the Henry Moore (Large Two Forms) at the end of the mall, site of the main academic buildings. It was kinda hard to miss. Students sat on, in, and around the sculpture on sunny days, and it always drew your eye to that part of the mall. It was, therefore, a tragedy when it had to be moved to make way for a new administration building. I’m not bemoaning the march of “progress” – the building was much needed, and the empty space at the end of the mall was the best place for it. But we all felt the loss, like the death of a dear friend. The Henry Moore (as we called it – few knew its name) was an active part of people’s lives.  I don’t see how you can legislate that. Location, size, design etc. all play a part. It is or it isn’t – but I don’t mind celebrating sculpture on this day. Here’s a gallery of a few of the thousands of sculptures I have lived with over the years in Buenos Aires, Eastbourne, Adelaide, Oxford, New York, Yunnan, and Mantua. A rich life !!

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Food sculpture is an important part of my life too, and I have already focused on it in posts in the past. For example, you’ll find my rapture (and recipe) on gingerbread sculpting here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/christmas-is-over/ and the recipe for a Jupiter structural cake here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/gustav-holst/  Have at it.  Here’s a gallery to inspire:

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Your turn !!!

Mar 142016
 

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Today is White Day (ホワイトデー Howaito Dē) in east Asia, falling one month after Valentine’s Day. It began as a marketing ploy in Japan because of a misunderstanding about how Valentine’s Day works in the West. When the Japanese began adopting Valentine’s Day as a celebration they took it as a day when women gave gifts to men (particularly of chocolate) and not the other way round. So manufacturers invented a day for men to reciprocate a month later.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is typically observed by girls and women presenting chocolate gifts (either store-bought or handmade), usually to boys or men, as an expression of love, courtesy, or social obligation. On White Day, the reverse happens: men who received a honmei-choco (本命チョ, ‘chocolate of love’) or giri-choco (義理チョコ, ‘courtesy chocolate’) on Valentine’s Day are expected to return the favor by giving gifts. Traditionally, popular White Day gifts are cookies, jewelry, white chocolate, white lingerie, and marshmallows. Sometimes the term sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し, ‘triple the return’) is used to describe the generally recited rule that the return gift should be two to three times the worth of the Valentine’s gift. Very Japanese.

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White Day was first celebrated in 1978 in Japan. It was started by the National Confectionery Industry Association as an “answer day” to Valentine’s Day on the grounds that men should pay back the women who gave them chocolate and other gifts on Valentine’s Day. In 1977, a Fukuoka-based confectionery company, Ishimuramanseido, marketed marshmallows to men on March 14, calling it Marshmallow Day (マシュマロデー Mashumaro Dē). Soon thereafter, confectionery companies jumped on the bandwagon and began marketing white chocolate. Now, men give both white and dark chocolate, as well as other edible and non-edible gifts, such as jewelry or objects of sentimental value, or white clothing like lingerie, to women from whom they received chocolate on Valentine’s Day one month earlier. If the chocolate given to him was giri choco, the man likewise may not be expressing actual romantic interest, but rather a social obligation.

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Eventually, this practice spread to the neighboring East Asian countries of South Korea, China, and Taiwan. In those cultures, White Day is for the most part observed in the same manner. I’ll check in with my son later to see what he’s done. He lives in China and has a Chinese girlfriend. I know he did the standard Western thing on Valentine’s Day, but I expect he’ll do something today as well.

Me? I don’t live in China any more and don’t have a girlfriend. So I’m good. Furthermore, I don’t care for sweets in general, or white chocolate in particular, so I can’t be much help. This site should give you plenty of ideas:

http://www.averiecooks.com/2012/09/25-national-white-chocolate-day-recipes.html

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Dec 252015
 

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Christmas Day (by the Julian calendar in use in England at the time), is the birthday (1642) of Sir Isaac Newton PRS, who is widely regarded as one of the most influential scientists of all time, and as a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), first published in 1687, laid the foundations for classical mechanics. Newton made seminal contributions to optics, and he shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of calculus.

Newton’s Principia formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. By deriving Kepler’s laws of planetary motion from his mathematical description of gravity, and then using the same principles to account for the trajectories of comets, the tides, the precession of the equinoxes, and other phenomena, Newton removed the last doubts about the validity of the heliocentric model of the solar system. This work also demonstrated that the motion of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies could be described by the same principles. His prediction that Earth should be shaped as an oblate spheroid was later vindicated by the measurements of Maupertuis, La Condamine, and others, which helped convince most Continental European scientists of the superiority of Newtonian mechanics over the earlier system of Descartes.

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Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a theory of color based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colors of the visible spectrum. He formulated an empirical law of cooling, studied the speed of sound, and introduced the notion of a Newtonian fluid. In addition to his work on calculus, as a mathematician Newton contributed to the study of power series, generalized the binomial theorem to non-integer exponents, developed a method for approximating the roots of a function, and classified most of the cubic plane curves.

Newton was a fellow of Trinity College and the second Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He was a devout but unorthodox Christian and, unusually for a member of the Cambridge faculty of the day, he refused to take holy orders in the Church of England, perhaps because he privately rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. He was a devout, but unorthodox, Christian. Beyond his work on the mathematical sciences, Newton dedicated much of his time to the study of biblical chronology and alchemy, but most of his work in those areas remained unpublished until long after his death. In his later life, Newton became president of the Royal Society. Newton served the British government as Warden and Master of the Royal Mint.

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I am going to assume that you either are familiar with Newton’s work in physics and mathematics, or don’t want a lesson from me. Instead I’ll focus on a few lesser known aspects of his life and work. First , here are two well-known quotes that I think adequately display his humility:

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.

I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

These are less well known:

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.

Genius is patience.

Plato is my friend; Aristotle is my friend, but my greatest friend is truth.

I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.

We could use him around today. As many of my readers know, I do not use superlatives such as “best” in relation to the greats of the world or their works. But I certainly stand in absolute awe and wonder at what Newton accomplished. Here’s a few tidbits from his life.

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Although born into an Anglican family, by his thirties Newton held a Christian faith that would not have been considered orthodox by contemporary Christianity, and, in consequence, he did not make his fundamental beliefs public. By 1672 he had started to record his theological researches in notebooks which he showed to no one and which have only recently been examined. They demonstrate an extensive knowledge of early church writings and show that in the conflict between Athanasius and Arius, which spawned the Nicene Creed, he took the side of Arius, the loser, who rejected the conventional view of the Trinity. Newton saw Christ as a divine mediator between God and humans, who was subordinate to the Father who created him. He wrote, “the great apostasy is trinitarianism.” Newton tried unsuccessfully to obtain one of the two fellowships that exempted the holder from the ordination requirement. At the last moment in 1675 he received a dispensation from the government that excused him and all future holders of the Lucasian chair from being ordained.

Newton was not a deist, in the conventional way, however. Rejecting trinitarianism did not mean rejecting Christianity. Although the laws of motion and universal gravitation became Newton’s best-known discoveries, he warned against using them to view the universe as a mere machine, as if akin to a great clock. He said, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”

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Newton wrote works on Biblical textual criticism, most notably An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture. He placed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at 3 April, AD 33, which is now one of several dates accepted by some scholars. He believed in a rationally immanent world, but he rejected the hylozoism (matter is living) implicit in Leibniz and Baruch Spinoza. The ordered and dynamically informed universe could be understood, and must be understood, as directed by active reason. In his correspondence, Newton claimed that in writing the Principia “I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity”. He saw evidence of design in the system of the world: “Such a wonderful uniformity in the planetary system must be allowed the effect of choice”. But Newton insisted that divine intervention would eventually be required to reform the system, due to the slow growth of instabilities. For this, Leibniz lampooned him: “God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion machine.”

Newton and Robert Boyle’s approach to a mechanical philosophy was promoted by rationalist pamphleteers as a viable alternative to the pantheists and enthusiasts, and was accepted hesitantly by orthodox preachers as well as some dissidents. The clarity and simplicity of science was seen as a way to combat the emotional and metaphysical superlatives of both superstitious enthusiasm and the threat of atheism, and at the same time, the second wave of English deists used Newton’s discoveries to demonstrate the possibility of a “Natural Religion”.

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In a manuscript Newton wrote in 1704, in which he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible, he estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said, “This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.”

It is now just beginning to be recognized in the wider intellectual world that Newton spent over 30 years studying and writing about alchemy. John Maynard Keynes, who acquired many of Newton’s writings on alchemy, asserted that “Newton was not the first of the age of reason: He was the last of the magicians.” Newton’s interest in alchemy cannot be isolated from his contributions to science. In Newton’s day there was no clear distinction between alchemy and science. Had he not relied on the occult idea of action at a distance, across a vacuum, he might not have developed his theory of gravity. Newton’s writings suggest that one of the goals of his alchemy was the discovery of The Philosopher’s Stone (a material believed to turn base metals into gold), and perhaps to a lesser extent, the discovery of the highly coveted Elixir of Life. Some practices of alchemy were banned in England during Newton’s lifetime, due in part to unscrupulous practitioners who would often promise wealthy benefactors unrealistic results in an attempt to swindle them. The English Crown, also fearing the potential devaluation of gold, should The Philosopher’s Stone actually be discovered, made penalties for alchemy very severe, including execution.

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The story of Newton and the apple has sometimes been debunked as legend, and often popularly altered to claim that the apple struck him on the head. In fact, Newton himself often told the story that he was inspired to formulate his theory of gravitation by watching the fall of an apple from a tree. Acquaintances of Newton (such as William Stukeley, whose manuscript account of 1752 has been made available by the Royal Society) do in fact confirm the incident. Stukeley recorded in his Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life a conversation with Newton in Kensington on 15 April 1726:

we went into the garden, & drank tea under the shade of some appletrees; only he, & my self. amidst other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. “why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground,” thought he to himself; occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood. “why should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earths center? assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. there must be a drawing power in matter. & the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the earth must be in the earths center, not in any side of the earth. therefore dos this apple fall perpendicularly, or toward the center. if matter thus draws matter; it must be in proportion of its quantity. therefore the apple draws the earth, as well as the earth draws the apple.

John Conduitt, Newton’s assistant at the Royal Mint and husband of Newton’s niece, also described the event when he wrote about Newton’s life:

In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge to his mother in Lincolnshire. Whilst he was pensively meandering in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend much further than was usually thought. Why not as high as the Moon said he to himself & if so, that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition.

It is known from his notebooks that Newton was grappling in the late 1660s with the idea that terrestrial gravity extends, in an inverse-square proportion, to the Moon; however it took him two decades to develop the full-fledged theory. The question was not whether gravity existed, but whether it extended so far from Earth that it could also be the force holding the Moon to its orbit. Newton showed that if the force decreased as the inverse square of the distance, one could indeed calculate the Moon’s orbital period, and get good agreement. He guessed the same force was responsible for other orbital motions, and hence named it “universal gravitation”.

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Various trees are claimed to be “the” apple tree which Newton describes. The King’s School, Grantham, claims that the tree was purchased by the school, uprooted and transported to the headmaster’s garden some years later. The staff of the [now] National Trust-owned Woolsthorpe Manor dispute this, and claim that a tree present in their gardens is the one described by Newton. A descendant of the original tree can be seen growing outside the main gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, below the room Newton lived in when he studied there. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale can supply grafts from their tree, which appears identical to Flower of Kent, a coarse-fleshed cooking variety.

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To honor Newton I’ve culled several apple recipes from 17th century cookbooks. The first, entitled “To fry Applepies” comes from A True Gentlewomans Delight, 1653. These are like fruit empanadas or empanaditas. You need to peel the apples and chop them very fine, otherwise they will not cook when you fry the pastries. You could parboil the apples in a little sugar syrup before filling the pastry if you wish.

To fry Applepies.

Take Apples and pare them, and chop them very small, beat in a little Cinnamon, a little Ginger, and some Sugar, a little Rosewater, take your paste, roul it thin, and make them up as big Pasties as you please, to hold a spoonful or a little lesse of your Apples; and so stir them with Butter not to hastily least they be burned.

Here’s apples in wine sauce and cream from Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus; Or, Excellent & Approved Receipts and Experiments in Cookery, 1658. The herb and spice combinations are well worth a try.

Apples in wine sauce & cream

Boil six Pippins pared, (doe not cut the cores apieces) in Claret wine, a little more than will cover them, put in of sugar a good quantity, then boil a quart of good cream, with a little rosemary and thyme, sweeten it with sugar, one spoonful of sack, when they be cold put them together, lay your Apples like Eggs: Remember to boil in your Apples some ginger, lemmon pils very thin sliced.

Finally a refreshing alternative to cider from The Closet Of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt. Opened, 1677, where, again, rosemary is the flavoring of choice.

Apple-Drink with Sugar, Honey, &c..

A very pleasant drink is made of Apples, thus: Boil sliced Apples in water, to make the water strong of Apples, as when you make to drink it for coolness and pleasure. Sweeten it with Sugar to your taste, such a quantity of sliced Apples, as would make so much water strong enough of Apples; and then bottle it up close for three or four months. There will come a thick mother at the top, which being taken off, all the rest will be very clear, and quick and pleasant to the taste, beyond any Cider. It will be the better to most tastes, if you put a very little Rosemary into the liquor when you boil it, and a little Limon-peel into each bottle when you bottle it up.

Merry Newtonian Christmas !!!

Dec 082015
 

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Today is the birthday (1894) of James Grover Thurber, cartoonist, author, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit. Thurber was best known for his cartoons and short stories, published mainly in The New Yorker magazine and collected in his numerous books. One of the most popular humorists of his time, Thurber celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people. In collaboration with his college friend, Elliott Nugent, he wrote the Broadway comedy, “The Male Animal,” later adapted into a film, which starred Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland.

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Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Charles L. Thurber and Mary Agnes “Mame” (née Fisher) Thurber. Both of his parents greatly influenced his work. His father, a sporadically employed clerk and minor politician who dreamed of being a lawyer or an actor, is said to have been the inspiration for the small, timid protagonist typical of many of his stories. Thurber described his mother as a “born comedian” and “one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known.” She was a practical joker and on one occasion pretended to be crippled and attended a faith healer’s revival, only to jump up and proclaim herself healed.

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Thurber had two brothers, William and Robert. Once, while playing a game of William Tell, his brother shot James in the eye with an arrow, and Thurber lost that eye. This injury would later cause him to become almost entirely blind. Unable in his childhood to partake in sports and other physical activities because of his injury, he developed a creative mind which he then used to express himself in his writings. Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran suggests Thurber’s imagination may be partly explained by Charles Bonnet syndrome, a neurological condition that causes complex visual hallucinations in otherwise mentally healthy people who have suffered some level of visual loss.

From 1913 to 1918, Thurber attended Ohio State University, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He never graduated from the university because his poor eyesight prevented him from taking a mandatory ROTC course. In 1995 he was posthumously awarded a degree.

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From 1918 to 1920, Thurber worked as a code clerk for the Department of State, first in Washington, D.C., and then at the Embassy of the United States in Paris. On returning to Columbus, he began his career as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch from 1921 to 1924. During part of this time, he reviewed current books, films, and plays in a weekly column called “Credos and Curios”, a title that later would be given to a posthumous collection of his work. Thurber returned to Paris during this period, where he wrote for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers.

In 1925, Thurber moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, getting a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post. He joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1927 as an editor, with the help of E.B. White, his friend and fellow New Yorker contributor. His career as a cartoonist began in 1930 after White found some of Thurber’s drawings in a trash can and submitted them for publication; White inked-in some of these earlier drawings to make them reproduce better for the magazine, and years later expressed deep regret that he had done such a thing. Thurber contributed both his writings and his drawings to The New Yorker until the 1950s.

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Thurber was married twice. In 1922, Thurber married Althea Adams. The marriage was troubled and ended in divorce in May 1935. They had a daughter Rosemary together, and lived in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He remarried in June 1935 to Helen Wismer (1902–1986).

Thurber was stricken with a blood clot on the brain on October 4, 1961, and underwent emergency surgery. The operation was successful, but he died, aged 66, due to complications from pneumonia which set in. His last words, aside from the repeated word “God,” were “God bless… God damn”, according to his wife, Helen. Ironically, Thurber could be the poster child for the saying “the operation was a success but the patient died.” It would be suitably Thurberesque.

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As a tribute here’s a few of my favorite Thurber quotes and cartoons:

I used to wake up at 4 A.M. and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness.

A drawing is always dragged down to the level of its caption.

You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.

The nation that complacently and fearfully allows its artists and writers to become suspected rather than respected is no longer regarded as a nation possessed with humor or depth.

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Thurber’s ridicule of pretentious talk about wine and cheese led me to ask – what is a reliable cheese? In what sense can one rely on one cheese versus another? In some ways I see this as asking what the most versatile cheese might be. That question in itself is hard to answer. No single cheese covers the waterfront and some, of course, serve highly specialized needs. So I pondered a kind of “desert island” cheese question. If for some reason I were limited for the rest of my life to one kind of cheese, what would it be? This took a lot of thought plus a tour around the cheese section of my local market. Finally, I settled on brie. It’s one of my favorite cheeses anyway – has been all my life.

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Brie is a soft cow’s milk cheese named after Brie, the French region from which it originated (roughly corresponding to the modern département of Seine-et-Marne). It is pale in color with a slight grayish tinge under a rind of white mold. The whitish moldy rind is typically eaten, with its flavor depending largely upon the ingredients used and its manufacturing environment. It is made worldwide, but the French government officially certifies only two types of cheese to be sold under that name: Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun.

Brie de Meaux is an unpasteurized Brie, with an average weight of 2.8 kg (6.2 lb) for a diameter of 36 to 37 cm (14 to 15 in). It is manufactured at the town of Meaux in the Brie region of northern France since the 8th century, was originally known as the “King’s Cheese”, or, after the French Revolution, the “King of Cheeses,” and was enjoyed by the peasantry and nobility alike. It was granted the protection of Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status in 1980, and it is produced primarily in the eastern part of the Parisian basin.

Brie de Melun has an average weight of 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb) and a diameter of 27 cm (11 in).[5] It is therefore smaller than Brie de Meaux but is considered to have a stronger flavor and more pungent smell. It is made with unpasteurized milk. Brie de Melun is also available in the form of “Old Brie” or black brie. It was granted AOC status in 1980.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that these AOC bries are the best, but they are distinctive and worth a try. But I’ve had a perfectly palatable brie made locally in Argentina as well as in Italy. Smoked brie is also worth a taste, but I don’t care for those with added ingredients such as spices or fruits and nuts. I can add them myself if the need arises. Brie is, indeed, versatile; it makes a nice sandwich on its own or with other things, it can be baked, grilled, or simply melted, you can use it for pizza, stuffing vegetables and so forth, and it works well with both sweet and savory dishes. This link provides an abundance of ideas (from which I also took this amazing photo):

grilled jerked chicken with peaches on a skewer

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/27/brie-cheese-recipes_n_3677996.html

Baked brie is a treat for me. Pop a whole wheel in a moderate oven – 350°F – for about 15 minutes until it is oozing and warm, drizzled with what you will – honey, preserves, spicy sauce – and then spread it on crusty bread. Or encase it in puff pastry and bake it until the pastry is golden.

Nov 252015
 

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On this date in 1884, U.S. Patents 308,421 (Apparatus for Preserving Milk) and 308,422 (Process for Preserving Milk) were issued to John Baptist Meÿenberg (1847-1914). Thus, began the evaporated milk industry. Meÿenberg had been an operator at the Anglo-Swiss milk condensery at Cham, Switzerland, which produced sweetened condensed milk. From 1866 through 1883, Meÿenberg experimented with the preservation of milk without the use of sugar. He discovered that condensed milk would last longer if heated to 120°C (248°F) in a sealed container, and hence could be preserved without adding sugar. When Anglo-Swiss declined to implement Meÿenberg’s work, he resigned from the company and emigrated to the United States. John Meÿenberg first moved to St. Louis, but soon left for Highland, Illinois, where there was a large Swiss population.

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Meÿenberg partnered with various local merchants, including John Wildi, Louis Latzer, Dr. Knoebel, George Roth and Fred Kaeser and, on February 14, 1885, organized the Helvetia Milk Condensing Company. The company commenced operations in a closed wool factory. Helvetia started processing 300 gallons of raw milk a day. On 8 July 1885, the steam-powered sterilizer exploded and Helvetia Milk Condensing Company closed operations for repairs. Milk canned in early 1886 spoiled. Although John Meÿenberg believed that cans were inadequately sealed, others claimed that Meÿenberg’s sterilization process was the cause. Due to this criticism, Meÿenberg left in August 1886.

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In 1899, Meÿenberg assisted Elbridge Amos Stuart in developing Carnation Evaporated Milk. Louis Latzer assumed the role of technical director. He determined that the spoilage was caused by bacteria and resolved the problem. John Wildi was instrumental in marketing the product nationally and internationally, especially in areas where fresh milk or refrigeration were scarce. In 1895, the company registered the Pet trademark. In 1907, John Wildi separated from the company and organized the John Wildi Evaporated Milk Company in Columbus, Ohio. During World War I, U.S. troops referred to a Helvetia milk can as a “Tin Cow”. In 1923, the Helvetia Milk Condensing was renamed the Pet Milk Company after its signature product “Our Pet Evaporated Cream”. In 1929, Pet established the PET Dairy division by acquiring a fluid milk processing plant in Johnson City, Tennessee.

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Evaporated milk must be distinguished from sweetened condensed milk and the two cannot be used interchangeably in recipes. You can think of evaporated milk as regular milk with about 50% to 60% of the water removed. It is slightly caramelized because of the processing, so does not have quite the same taste as regular milk, and is also slightly sweeter because of the evaporation. Otherwise you can use it in recipes that call for milk, but with the quantities adjusted. Sweetened condensed milk has sugar added (an anti-bacterial), which radically changes the flavor. It is also thicker than evaporated milk.

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Of course, Carnation, has a website with a ton of recipes. Go here: http://www.carnationmilk.ca/recipes.aspx This one, for chocolate fudge, appeals to me although I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and tend to prefer darker, bitterer chocolate. http://www.carnationmilk.ca/recipe-details.aspx?rid=938 There’s a handy-dandy video along with the recipe if you need it.

Aug 202015
 

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Today is World Mosquito Day, created on 20 August 1897, marking a world changing discovery made by Sir Ronald Ross, a British doctor working in India who first made the link that female mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans. On making this breakthrough on this date, Ross declared that it should be known as World Mosquito Day henceforth. Ross went on to become the first British person to be awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1902.

Ross’s discovery laid the foundations for scientists to better understand the deadly role of mosquitoes which currently infect 250 million people with malaria every year, causing 850,000 deaths. World Mosquito Day is still a little known celebration, but given the global importance of eradication of malaria it should be better known.

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Females of most mosquito species are ectoparasites, whose tube-like mouthparts. or proboscis, pierce the hosts’ skin to consume blood. Thousands of species feed on the blood of various kinds of hosts, mainly vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even some kinds of fish. Some mosquitoes also attack invertebrates, mainly arthropods. Though the loss of blood is seldom of any importance to the victim, the saliva of the mosquito often causes an irritating rash that is a serious nuisance. Much more serious though, are the roles of many species of mosquitoes as vectors of diseases. In passing from host to host, some transmit extremely harmful infections such as malaria, yellow fever, west nile virus, dengue fever, filariasis, and other arboviruses, making it the deadliest animal in the world.

Various species of mosquitoes are estimated to transmit various types of disease to more than 700 million people annually in Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico, Russia, and much of Asia, with millions of resultant deaths. At least two million people annually die of these diseases, and the morbidity rates are many times higher still. Effective control is a major health concern. There are various methods:

Personal protection

Fortunately mosquitoes don’t like me apparently because I don’t have any of the usual attractors. The feeding preferences of mosquitoes include those with type O blood, heavy breathers, those with a lot of skin bacteria, people with a lot of body heat, and pregnant women. Individuals’ attractiveness to mosquitoes also has a heritable, genetically-controlled component. If you do suffer, repellants and mosquito nets work.

Source reduction

Since many mosquitoes breed in standing water, source reduction can be as simple as emptying water from containers around the home. This is something that homeowners can accomplish. For example, homeowners can eliminate mosquito breeding grounds by removing unused plastic pools, old tires, or buckets; by clearing clogged gutters and repairing leaks around faucets; by regularly (at least every 4 days) changing water in bird baths; and by filling or draining puddles, swampy areas, and tree stumps. Eliminating such mosquito breeding areas can be an extremely effective and permanent way to reduce mosquito populations without resorting to insecticides. However, this may not be possible in parts of the developing world where water cannot be readily replaced due to irregular water supply.

Biocontrol

Biological control or “biocontrol” is the use of natural enemies to manage mosquito populations. There are several types of biological control including the direct introduction of parasites, pathogens and predators to target mosquitoes. Effective biocontrol agents include predatory fish that feed on mosquito larvae such as mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) and some cyprinids (carps and minnows) and killifish. Tilapia also consume mosquito larvae. Direct introduction of tilapia and mosquitofish into ecosystems around the world have had disastrous consequences. However, utilizing a controlled system via aquaponics provides the mosquito control without the adverse effects to the ecosystem.

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Other predators include dragonfly naiads, which consume mosquito larvae in the breeding waters, adult dragonflies, which eat adult mosquitoes and some species of lizard and gecko.

Dead spores of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, especially Bt israelensis (BTI) interfere with larval digestive systems. It can be dispersed by hand or dropped by helicopter in large areas. BTI loses effectiveness after the larvae turn into pupae, because they stop eating. Two species of fungi can kill adult mosquitoes: Metarhizium anisopliae and Beauveria bassiana.Oil drip

An oil drip can or oil drip barrel was a common and nontoxic antimosquito measure. The thin layer of oil on top of the water prevents mosquito breeding in two ways:[ mosquito larvae in the water cannot penetrate the oil film with their breathing tube, and so drown and die; also adult mosquitoes do not lay eggs on the oiled water.

Pesticide

Control of adult mosquitoes is the most familiar aspect of mosquito control to most of the public. It is accomplished by ground-based applications or via aerial application of residual chemical insecticides. Generally modern mosquito-control programs in developed countries use low-volume applications of insecticides, although some programs may still use thermal fogging.

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DDT was formerly used throughout the world for large area mosquito control, but it is now banned in most developed countries. DDT remains in common use in many developing countries (14 countries were reported to be using it in 2009), which claim that the public-health cost of switching to other control methods would exceed the harm caused by using DDT. It is sometimes approved for use only in specific, limited circumstances where it is most effective, such as application to walls.

The role of DDT in combating mosquitoes has been the subject of considerable controversy. Although DDT has been proven to affect biodiversity and cause eggshell thinning in birds such as the bald eagle, some say that DDT is the most effective weapon in combating mosquitoes, and hence malaria. While some of this disagreement is based on differences in the extent to which disease control is valued as opposed to the value of biodiversity, there is also genuine disagreement amongst experts about the costs and benefits of using DDT.

Notwithstanding, DDT-resistant mosquitoes have started to increase in numbers, especially in tropics due to mutations, reducing the effectiveness of this chemical; these mutations can rapidly spread over vast areas if pesticides are applied indiscriminately. In areas where DDT resistance is encountered, malathion, propoxur or lindane are used.

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There’s no question that blood should be the culinary ingredient of the day. In looking back I see that I have made reference to blood in recipes a few times; now it’s time for the full monty. Many cultures consume blood as food, often in combination with meat. The blood may be in the form of blood sausage (the most common), as a thickener for sauces, a cured salted form for times of food scarcity, or in a blood soup. Culinary blood comes from domesticated animals, obtained at a place and time where the blood can run into a container and be swiftly consumed or processed. In many cultures the animal is slaughtered, in others it is bled and remains alive. In some cultures, blood is a taboo food.

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Blood sausage, or black pudding, is any sausage made by cooking animal blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled. Pig or cattle blood is most often used. Typical fillers include meat, fat, suet, bread, rice, barley and oatmeal. Varieties include drisheen, moronga, black pudding, blutwurst, blood tongue, kishka (kaszanka), biroldo, morcilla, mustamakkara, verivorst, and many types of boudin. Blood sausage is found worldwide. Black pudding is a great favorite in the U.K. as part of the full English breakfast. In Argentina and China it is commonly found grilled.

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Blood pancakes are found in Galicia (filloas), Scandinavia, and the Baltic; for example, Swedish blodplättar, Finnish veriohukainen, and Estonian veripannkoogid. There’s a video here on Swedish blood pancakes in English (with a fair amount of swearing!).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQcGprXpjk0

You’ll see that blood pancakes are like regular pancakes – a mix of egg flour and mix – only some of the fluid is blood which darkens and thickens the batter when cooked. Could be good with blood sausage.

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Blood soups and stews, which use blood as part of the broth, include czernina, dinuguan, haejangguk, mykyrokka, pig’s organ soup, tiet canh and svartsoppa. Spartan warriors going into battle reputedly ate blood soup for strength and courage. Such soups are most often found in eastern Europe and SE Asia.

Blood is also used as a thickener in sauces, such as in traditional coq au vin or pressed duck, and puddings, such as tiết canh. It can provide flavor or color for meat, as in cabidela.

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Blood can also be used as a solid ingredient, either by allowing it to congeal before use, or by cooking it to accelerate the process. In Hungary when a pig is slaughtered in the morning, the blood is fried with onions and served for breakfast. In China, “blood tofu” is most often made with pig’s or duck’s blood, although chicken’s or cow’s blood may also be used. The blood is allowed to congeal and simply cut into rectangular pieces and cooked. This dish is also known in Java as saren, made with chicken’s or pig’s blood. Blood tofu is found in curry mee as well as the Sichuan dish, maoxuewang. In Tibet, congealed yak’s blood is a traditional food.

In some cases, blood is used as an ingredient without any additional preparation. Raw blood is not commonly consumed by itself, but may be used as an addition to drinks or other dishes. One example is the drinking of seal blood which is traditionally believed by the Inuit to bring health benefits.

Consumption of blood as a nutrient is forbidden in Islam and Judaism, and in many cultures meat that is considered “bloody” (such as rare or raw beef) is thought unfit for consumption. In the Greek Bible, blood was forbidden by Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19-21).