Dec 062017
 

On this date in 1768 the publication of the 1st edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica began, more fully titled, Encyclopædia Britannica, or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, compiled upon a New Plan. In part, it was conceived in reaction to the French Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (published 1751–72), which had been inspired by Chambers’s Cyclopaedia (1st edition 1728). It appeared in 100 weekly instalments (“numbers”) from December 1768 to 1771.  The publication history of the Britannica is usually divided into five periods based on who the publishers were, how it was marketed, and where it was published. In the first period (1st–6th editions, 1768–1826), the Britannica was managed and published in Edinburgh by its founders, Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell, then by Archibald Constable, and then by various others. The Britannica of this period was primarily a Scottish enterprise, and it is one of the most enduring legacies of the Scottish Enlightenment. In this era, the Britannica moved from being a 3-volume set (1st edition) compiled by one editor—William Smellie —to a 20-volume set written by numerous authorities. Several other encyclopaedias competed throughout this period, among them editions of Abraham Rees’s Cyclopædia and Coleridge’s Encyclopædia Metropolitana and David Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopædia, but it was Britannica which endured, and is still being published (although no longer in print form).

At the age of 28, Smellie was hired by Macfarquhar and Bell to edit the first edition of the Britannica. In many respects it was a masterful composition although, by his own admission, Smellie borrowed liberally (i.e. plagiarized) from many authors of his day, such as Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson. Despite its many fine qualities, the first edition of the Britannica contained gross inaccuracies and fanciful speculations not supported by sources. For example, it states that excess use of tobacco could cause neurodegeneration, “drying up the brain to a little black lump consisting of mere membranes.” Smellie strove to make Britannica as usable as possible, saying that “utility ought to be the principal intention of every publication. Wherever this intention does not plainly appear, neither the books nor their authors have the smallest claim to the approbation of mankind”. Smellie entertained strong opinions; for example, he defines farriery as “the art of curing the diseases of horses. The practice of this useful art has been hitherto almost entirely confined to a set of men who are totally ignorant of anatomy, and the general principles of medicine.” Sometimes Smellie could be rather too brief. His article on “Woman” has but four words: “the female of man.” Despite its incompleteness and inaccuracies, Smellie’s vivid prose and the easy navigation of the first edition led to strong demand for a second. Some engravings by Andrew Bell, that were considered prurient and later censored by King George III, may also have contributed to the success of the first edition. Smellie did not participate in the second edition onwards of the Britannica, because he objected to the inclusion of biographical articles in an encyclopedia dedicated to the arts and sciences. Instead, friends of the editors were recruited for new material.

During the second period (7th–9th editions, 1827–1901), the Britannica was taken over by the Edinburgh publishing firm A & C Black. Although some contributors were again recruited through friendships of the chief editors, notably Macvey Napier, others were attracted by the Britannica‘s reputation. The contributors often came from other countries and included the world’s most respected authorities in their fields. A general index of all articles was included for the first time in the 7th edition, a practice maintained until 1974.

Production of the 9th edition was overseen by Thomas Spencer Baynes, the first English-born editor-in-chief. Called the “Scholar’s Edition”, the 9th edition is, indeed, the most scholarly of all Britannicas. After 1880, Baynes was assisted by William Robertson Smith. No biographies of living persons were included. James Clerk Maxwell and Thomas Huxley were special advisors on science. However, by the close of the 19th century, the 9th edition was outdated, and the Britannica faced financial difficulties.

In the third period (10th–14th editions, 1901–1973), the Britannica was managed by U.S. businessmen who introduced direct marketing and door-to-door sales. The U.S. owners gradually simplified articles, making them less scholarly for a mass market. The 10th edition was a nine-volume supplement to the 9th, but the 11th edition was a completely new work, and is still praised for excellence; its owner, Horace Hooper, lavished enormous effort on its perfection.

When Hooper fell into financial difficulties, the Britannica was managed by Sears Roebuck for 18 years (1920–1923, 1928–1943). In 1932, the vice-president of Sears, Elkan Harrison Powell, assumed presidency of the Britannica, and in 1936, he began the policy of continuous revision. This was a departure from earlier practice, in which the articles were not changed until a new edition was produced, at roughly 25-year intervals, with some articles completely unchanged from earlier editions. Powell developed new educational products that built upon the Britannica‘s reputation.

In 1943, Sears donated the Encyclopædia Britannica to the University of Chicago. William Benton, then a vice president of the University, provided the working capital for its operation. The stock was divided between Benton and the University, with the University holding an option on the stock. Benton became Chairman of the Board and managed the Britannica until his death in 1973. Benton set up the Benton Foundation, which managed the Britannica until 1996. In 1968, near the end of this era, the Britannica celebrated its bicentennial.

My family owned a set of Britannicas from this third period (revised 14th), when I was growing up, and later I bought my own copy (as a memento of childhood), in a basement sale in my local library in Port Jervis, New York.  My father bought his edition of the Britannica when he was a medical student at King’s College, London, in the early 1950s, from a door-to-door salesman. It was in a red cloth binding, called the student binding, that is, the cheapest on offer. Britannica was a gold mine for the whole family during my childhood, even though pretty much all of the articles on science and technology were completely outdated. My father bought a fold top desk with a glass fronted bookcase as a base to house the encyclopedia, and it traveled the world with us. We shipped it to Australia and back again, and he still had it in Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire when he died. My sisters and I both worked at that desk, with Britannica at our feet, for may years as schoolchildren. I used the articles to assist with homework until my middle years in secondary school, especially for geography and history. When I first started reading articles, when I was about 7 years old, they seemed to weighty and impossibly academic, but by the time I was 16 they had all become dated and less than satisfactory for my needs.  Nonetheless I bought a similar edition, in a blue leather binding this time, purely as a memento of childhood. Once in a while I would dip in to recall those innocent days.

An 18th century Scottish recipe is called for, and since we are in the Advent season leading to Christmas let’s have roastit bubblyjock (roast turkey) from an 18th century cook, Susanna MacIver, who ran a cooking school in Edinburgh, and published Cookery and Pastry in 1774, among its highlights being the first printed recipe for Scottish haggis (reminding me that William Smellie, first editor of Britannica, was a friend of Robert Burns). Several things to note. I suspect she does not mean to stuff the turkey under the breast skin (although this works well), but to stuff the cavity. In MacIver’s day poultry was sold with the head and feet attached, and this is still true in Asia in general. The “gravy-sauce” under the roasting turkey would be a dripping pan, which you then take up and use to cook the sauce. Sauce thickened with bread, rather then flour, can turn to a thick bread sauce if you let it. Bread sauce is traditional for poultry in Britain, but MacIver is suggesting a thinner gravy.

To roast and stuff a Turkey

Slit it up and the back of the neck; take out the crop; make the stuffing of crumbs of bread and currants; a little sugar and a scrape of nutmeg; work it up with a piece of fresh butter and a beat egg; fill up the breast with it, and skewer it with the head looking over the wing; it must be well floured and basted with butter, and roasted with a clear, quick fire; put a gravy-sauce under it; make a sauce of some thin sliced bread, some water, a little white wine, a blade of mace, some sugar, and a piece of fresh butter; let all boil until is it very smooth; and don’t let it be too thick. Send it up in a sauce boat.

Oct 102016
 

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Today is the birthday (1901) of Alberto Giacometti, Swiss sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printmaker. Giacometti was born in Borgonovo, now part of the Swiss municipality of Bregaglia, near the Italian border. He was a descendant of Protestant refugees escaping the inquisition. Alberto attended the Geneva School of Fine Arts. His father, Giovanni Giacometti, was a well known post-Impressionist painter and his brothers, Diego (1902–85) and Bruno (1907–2012), went on to become artists as well. Additionally, Zaccaria Giacometti, later professor of constitutional law and chancellor of the University of Zurich grew up together with them, having been orphaned at the age of 12 in 1905.

In 1922 Giacometti moved to Paris to study under the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, an associate of Rodin. It was there that Giacometti experimented with cubism and surrealism and came to be regarded as one of the leading surrealist sculptors. Among his associates were Miró, Max Ernst, Picasso, Bror Hjorth and Balthus.

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Between 1936 and 1940, Giacometti concentrated his sculpting on the human head, focusing on the sitter’s gaze. He preferred models he was close to: his sister, Ottilia, and the artist Isabel Rawsthorne (then known as Isabel Delmer). This was followed by a phase in which his statues of Isabel became stretched out; her limbs elongated. He often carved until his sculptures were as thin as nails and reduced to the size of a pack of cigarettes, much to his own consternation. A friend of his once said that if Giacometti decided to sculpt you, “he would make your head look like the blade of a knife.” After his marriage to Annette Arm in 1946 his tiny sculptures became larger, but the larger they grew, the thinner they became. Giacometti said that the final result represented the sensation he felt when he looked at a woman.

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His paintings underwent a parallel procedure. The figures appear isolated and severely attenuated, as the result of continuous reworking. Subjects were frequently revisited: one of his favorite models was his younger brother Diego.

In 1958 Giacometti was asked to create a monumental sculpture for the Chase Manhattan Bank building in New York, which was beginning construction. Although he had for many years “harbored an ambition to create work for a public square”, he “had never set foot in New York, and knew nothing about life in a rapidly evolving metropolis. Nor had he ever laid eyes on an actual skyscraper,” according to his biographer James Lord. Giacometti’s work on the project resulted in the four figures of standing women—his largest sculptures—entitled Grande femme debout I through IV (1960). The commission was never completed, however, because Giacometti was unsatisfied by the relationship between the sculpture and the site, and abandoned the project.

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In 1962, Giacometti was awarded the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale, and the award brought with it worldwide fame. Even when he had achieved popularity and his work was in demand, he still reworked models, often destroying them or setting them aside to be returned to years later. The prints produced by Giacometti are often overlooked but the catalogue raisonné, Giacometti – The Complete Graphics and 15 Drawings by Herbert Lust (Tudor 1970), comments on their impact and gives details of the number of copies of each print. Some of his most important images were in editions of only 30 and many were described as rare in 1970.

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In his later years Giacometti’s works were shown in a number of large exhibitions throughout Europe. Riding a wave of international popularity, and despite his declining health, he traveled to the United States in 1965 for an exhibition of his works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As his last work he prepared the text for the book Paris sans fin, a sequence of 150 lithographs containing memories of all the places where he had lived.

Giacometti died in 1966 of heart disease (pericarditis) and chronic bronchitis at the Kantonsspital in Chur in Switzerland. His body was returned to his birthplace in Borgonovo, where he was interred close to his parents.

Normally I end my posts on artists with a gallery (before my recipe), but for Giacometti I’m going to give you some of my favorite quotes of his. I look at his art better through them.

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What I am looking for is not happiness. I work solely because it is impossible for me to do anything else.

The more you fail, the more you succeed. It is only when everything is lost and – instead of giving up – you go on, that you experience the momentary prospect of some slight progress. Suddenly you have the feeling – be it an illusion or not – that something new has opened up.

When I make my drawings… the path traced by my pencil on the sheet of paper is, to some extent, analogous to the gesture of a man groping his way in the darkness.

In a burning building I would save a cat before a Rembrandt.

The one thing that fills me with enthusiasm is to try, despite everything, to get nearer to those visions that seem so hard to express.

Failure is my best friend. If I succeeded, it would be like dying. Maybe worse.

The head is what matters. The rest of the body plays the part of antennae making life possible for people and life itself is inside the skull.

I don’t know who I am or who I was. I know it less than ever. I do and I don’t identify myself with myself. Everything is totally contradictory, but maybe I have remained exactly as I was as a small boy of twelve.

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The cooking of the Italian Graubünden or Italian Grigioni (Grigionitaliano or Grigioni italiano) where Giacometti was born and lived for some time is very much like the cuisine of Lombardy because most of the Swiss Italians of that region came originally from Lombardy. Milanese-style saffron risotto is a popular dish and I gave a recipe for it here on Verdi’s birthday which happens to be today also — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/giuseppe-verdi/ . In fact pretty much any dish from Lombardy would work.

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Turkey with chestnut stuffing is popular in this region at this time of year. Italian turkeys are usually smaller than the U.S. monsters which I think is great deal better from a culinary standpoint. For me an 8 to 10 pound turkey is more than adequate for a family meal and if you have a large number of guests (at Thanksgiving for example) cook two, rather than one giant bird. That way you stand a chance of the meat tasting of something other than cardboard. Here’s the classic Lombardy chestnut stuffing for a turkey that is no more than 5 pounds:

Chestnut Stuffing

Ingredients

250g chestnuts
2 eggs, hard boiled
125ml white wine
50ml milk
30g butter
4 fresh Italian sausages,
salt and black pepper,
100g sliced white bread, diced

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C with the rack in the middle.  Cut an X in the rounded side of each chestnut with a small sharp knife. Roast the chestnuts, cut side up, in a shallow baking pan until the shells curl away from the nut meat (20 to 30 minutes). Wrap the hot chestnuts in a kitchen towel and squeeze gently to further loosen shells. Whilst still warm, peel off the shells.

Soak the bread in milk.

Chop the chestnuts and eggs coarsely.

Heat the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat and, when melted, add all the other ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook for 5-10 minutes stirring frequently so that the ingredients do not stick and so that they are all combined thoroughly.

Stuff the cavity of the turkey and roast.

Nov 262015
 

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In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. That was this date – 26 November – in 1863. So today marks the anniversary of the first federally mandated Thanksgiving day.

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The document proclaiming the day, written by Secretary of State William H. Seward, reads as follows:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863.

Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.

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Of course there had been state and national days of thanksgiving going all the way back to 1621 when the pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in the New World. But Lincoln’s proclamation established the date and the celebration as a federal holiday in perpetuity. His proclamation was slightly modified by FDR in 1939. November had five Thursdays that year (instead of the more-common four), Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving rather than the fifth one. Although many popular histories state otherwise, he made clear that his plan was to establish the holiday on the next-to-last Thursday in the month instead of the last one as a general rule. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the Depression. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate. Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy’s), is credited with convincing Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving to a week earlier to expand the shopping season, and within two years the change passed through Congress into law.

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Republicans decried the change, calling it an affront to the memory of Lincoln. People began referring to November 30 as the “Republican Thanksgiving” and November 23 as the “Democratic Thanksgiving” or “Franksgiving”. Regardless of the politics, many localities had made a tradition of celebrating on the last Thursday, and many football teams had a tradition of playing their final games of the season on Thanksgiving; with their schedules set well in advance, they could not change. Since a presidential declaration of Thanksgiving Day was not legally binding, Roosevelt’s change was widely disregarded. 23 states went along with Roosevelt’s recommendation, 22 did not, and some, like Texas, could not decide and took both days as government holidays.

In 1940 and 1941, years in which November had four Thursdays, Roosevelt declared the third one as Thanksgiving. As in 1939, some states went along with the change while others retained the traditional last-Thursday date. On October 6, 1941, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942. However, in December of that year the Senate passed an amendment to the resolution that split the difference by requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes (less frequently) the next to last. So it remains to this day.

For many years my wife and I celebrated Thanksgiving with her cousins in Philadelphia. They always had 20 to 30 people over, so it was a big blowout with mountains of food. But then when my wife died I stopped going to her cousins’, and my son and I celebrated alone for a while. This was both an opportunity and a challenge. You see, there’s not much on the traditional Thanksgiving plate I like. I’m more or less indifferent to roast turkey, especially when others cook it. The general idea that you should have the biggest, monster bird possible has always seemed to me to be a mistake. Sure, a 25 lb bird makes a great show when first presented on the table, but more often than not it’s been cooked to death, so that the breast meat is dry and tasteless, made only slightly palatable by tons of gravy. Every year television cooks share their secrets for making the breast moist from very slow cooking, to internal basting, or whatever. For me the only good solution is to roast a small bird – 8 to 10 lbs. If you need more meat because you have a large crowd, roast two birds. And roast at very high heat, as hot as possible, 500 degrees or higher if possible. That way you get moist breast meat and a delectably thin and crisp skin.

Before I left the U.S. and stopped cooking Thanksgiving dinner altogether, I switched gears and started smoking the turkey. Here’s an image of my setup.

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To the left of the apparatus is the smoke box, and to the right is the chamber where the meat smoked. This is a bit of a rigmarole and I’ll spare you the details. You need to have the right equipment AND know what you are doing. You have to brine the bird first for about 24 hours, then smoke it for 8 to 10 hours. This means a long day for the cook, because you have to make sure that the smoke box is producing constant smoke. But for my money this is the best way to cook a whole turkey; the meat is moist, rich, and delicious.

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In theory it keeps for a long time too, but not in my house. I also make a mean pumpkin pie with local maple syrup and toasted hazel nuts, but you’ll have to wait for the recipe. Happy Thanksgiving.

May 192015
 

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Today is the conventionally celebrated birthday (1881) of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a Turkish army officer, revolutionary, and the first President of Turkey. He is credited with being the founder of the Republic of Turkey. His surname, Atatürk (“Father of the Turks”), was granted to him in 1934 and forbidden to any other person by the Turkish parliament. Atatürk was a military officer during World War I. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, he led the Turkish National Movement in the Turkish War of Independence. Having established a provisional government in Ankara, he defeated the forces sent by the Allies. His military campaigns led to victory in the Turkish War of Independence. Atatürk then embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern and secular nation-state. Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, and women were given equal civil and political rights, while the burden of taxation on peasants was reduced. His government also carried out an extensive policy of “Turkification” (modernizing whilst retaining unique Turkish cultural values). The principles of Atatürk’s reforms, upon which modern Turkey was established, are referred to as “Kemalism.”

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Atatürk’s reforms have been the subject of numerous works, and are still a matter of intense debate in the modern political climate. His basic ideological stance was that Turkey needed to emulate the Western secular states in terms of science, education, and so forth, whilst maintaining an underlying sense that Turkey, like all states, had unique qualities that should be preserved and treasured: a delicate balancing act that in general he managed to pull off. Obviously he encountered immense opposition from traditionalists whose vested interests were at stake, but there is no question that he was a masterful politician and tactician in navigating these troubled waters.   Turkey is now a modern secular state in large part because of Atatürk’s sweeping reforms. Rather than go into them all in detail, I am going to focus on his attitude towards women in society which in many respects was more enlightened than that of Western nations of his day.

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Ottoman practice discouraged social interaction between men and women in keeping with Islamic practice of male and female segregation. Atatürk began developing social reforms very early, as is evident in his personal journal. He and his staff discussed issues like abolishing the veiling of women and the integration of women into the outside world. The clue on how he was planning to tackle the issue is stated in his journal from November 1915;

Social change can come by (1) educating capable mothers who are knowledgeable about life; (2) giving freedom to women; (3) a man can change his morals, thoughts, and feelings by leading a common life with a woman; as there is an inborn tendency towards the attraction of mutual affection.

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Atatürk needed a new civil code to establish his second major step of giving freedom to women. The first part was the education of girls and was established with the unification of education. On 4 October 1926, the new Turkish civil code passed. It was modeled after the Swiss Civil Code. Under the new code, women gained equality with men in such matters as inheritance and divorce. Mustafa Kemal did not consider gender a factor in social organization. According to his view, society marched towards its goal with men and women united. He believed that it was scientifically impossible for him to achieve social transformation if the gender separation continued as in Ottoman times. During a meeting he declared:

To the women: Win for us the battle of education and you will do yet more for your country than we have been able to do. It is to you that I appeal.

To the men: If henceforward the women do not share in the social life of the nation, we shall never attain to our full development. We shall remain irremediably backward, incapable of treating on equal terms with the civilizations of the West.

Atatürk promoted modern teaching methods at the primary education level, and Dewey took a place of honor. Dewey presented a paradigmatic set of recommendations designed for developing societies that are moving towards modernity in his “Report and Recommendation for the Turkish educational system.” Atatürk was interested in adult education for the goal of forming a skill base in the country. Turkish women were taught not only child care, dress-making and household management, but also skills needed to join the economy outside the home. Turkish education became a state-supervised system, which was designed to create a skill base for the social and economic progress of the country. His “unified” education program was designed to educate responsible citizens as well as useful and appreciated members of society. Turkish education became an integrative system, aimed to alleviate poverty and used female education to establish gender equality.

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On 5 December 1934, Turkey moved to grant full political rights to women, before several other European nations. The equal rights of women in marriage had already been established in the earlier Turkish civil code. Women’s place in Mustafa Kemal’s cultural reforms was best expressed in the civic book prepared under his supervision. It said that

There is no logical explanation for the political disenfranchisement of women. Any hesitation and negative mentality on this subject is nothing more than a fading social phenomenon of the past. …Women must have the right to vote and to be elected; because democracy dictates that, because there are interests that women must defend, and because there are social duties that women must perform.

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In the 1935 Turkish elections there were 18 female MPs out of a total of 395 representatives, compared to 9 out of 615 members of the British House of Commons and 6 out of 435 in the US House of Representatives.

Kemal Atatürk is commemorated by many memorials throughout Turkey, such as the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, the Atatürk Bridge over the Golden Horn (Haliç), the Atatürk Dam, and Atatürk Stadium. Atatürk statues have been erected in all Turkish cities by Turkish Government, and most towns have their own memorial to him. His face and name are seen and heard everywhere in Turkey; his portrait can be seen in all public buildings, in all schools and classrooms, on all school books, on all Turkish lira banknotes, and in the homes of many Turkish families. At the exact time of his death, on every 10 November, at 09:05 am, most vehicles and people in the country’s streets pause for one minute in remembrance.

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Turkish cuisine is a rich and eclectic mix – the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, which can be described as a fusion and refinement of Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Balkan cuisines. Many dishes and specialties, such as kebabs, Turkish delight, baklava, and dolmas (stuffed vine leaves), are known worldwide (and also claimed by other cultures as their own). Here’s my version of a classic dish served both as a home breakfast (or other meal) and as street food – menemen. It is essentially scrambled or poached eggs in a tomato and bell pepper sauce. I prefer the poached egg variety.

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Menemen

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, sliced
1 red or green pepper, halved deseeded and sliced
1-2 red chiles, deseeded and sliced
400g can chopped tomatoes
1-2 tsp caster sugar (optional)
4 eggs
1 small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
6 tbsp thick, creamy yogurt
2 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed, and finely minced

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet (I use my trusty cast iron version) over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions, pepper, and chiles and cook until they soften but do not take on color. Add the tomatoes and sugar (if used) and stir will with a wooden spoon. mixing well. Simmer until the liquid has reduced and the sauce thickens. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Make 4 pockets in the tomato mixture and crack the eggs into them. Cover the pan and cook the eggs over a low heat until the whites are set, but the yolks are still runny.

Meanwhile, beat the yogurt with the garlic and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the menemen with parsley and serve from the frying pan with a tablespoon or so of the garlic yogurt.

Apr 162015
 

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Today is the birthday (1755) of Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, also known as Madame Lebrun, a French portraitist under the patronage of Marie Antoinette at Versailles before the French Revolution, and often thought of as the greatest female painter of the 18th century. Yesterday’s post tells you what I think of terms like “greatest painter,” but she was certainly a very important figure – male or female. Her artistic style is generally considered part of the aftermath of Rococo, although she often adopted a neoclassical style. While serving as the portrait painter to Marie Antoinette, Vigée-Le Brun worked purely in Rococo in both her color and style choices. Vigée Le Brun left a legacy of 660 portraits and 200 landscapes.

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Born in Paris on April 16, 1755, Marie-Louise-Élisabeth Vigée was the daughter of a portraitist and fan painter, Louis Vigée, from whom she received her first instruction. Her mother, Jeanne (née Maissin) was a hairdresser. She was sent to live with relatives in Épernon until the age of 6 when she entered a convent where she remained for five years. Her father died when she was 12 years old. In 1768, her mother married a wealthy jeweler, Jacques-François Le Sèvre and shortly after, the family moved to the Rue Saint-Honoré, close to the Palais Royal. She was later patronized by the wealthy heiress Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon, wife of Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. During this period Vigée benefited from the advice of Gabriel François Doyen, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Joseph Vernet, and other masters of the period.

By the time she was in her early teens, Vigée was painting portraits professionally. After her studio was seized for her practicing without a license, she applied to the Académie de Saint Luc, which unwittingly exhibited her works in their Salon. In 1774, she was made a member of the Académie. On January 11, 1776 she married Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, a painter and art dealer. Vigée-Le Brun began exhibiting her work at their home in Paris, the Hôtel de Lubert, and the Salons she held here supplied her with many new and important contacts. Her husband’s great-great-uncle was Charles Le Brun, the first Director of the French Academy under Louis XIV. Vigée-Le Brun painted portraits of many of the nobility of the day.

On 12 February 1780, Vigée-Le Brun gave birth to a daughter, Jeanne Julie Louise, whom she called “Julie.” In 1781 she and her husband toured Flanders and the Netherlands where seeing the works of the Flemish masters inspired her to try new techniques. There, she painted portraits of some of the nobility, including the Prince of Nassau. In 1787, she caused a minor public scandal with a self-portrait, exhibited the same year, in which she was shown smiling open-mouthed – in contravention of painting conventions going back to antiquity. The court gossip-sheet Mémoires secrets commented: ‘An affectation which artists, art-lovers and persons of taste have been united in condemning, and which finds no precedent among the Ancients, is that in smiling, [Madame Vigée-Lebrun] shows her teeth.’

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As her career blossomed, Vigée-Le Brun was invited to the Palace of Versailles and granted patronage by Marie Antoinette. The queen was so pleased that over a period of six years, Vigée-Le Brun painted over thirty portraits of the queen and her family, leading to her being commonly viewed as the official portraitist of Marie Antoinette. Vigée-Le Brun helped to improve Marie Antoinette’s image by painting portraits that included her children and worked towards making her more relatable to the public, in hopes to counter the bad press and judgment the queen had recently received.

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Marie Antoinette later worked as a helping hand in Vigée-Lebrun ‘s acceptance into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1783. Whilst of benefit during the reign of the Bourbon royals, this label was to prove problematic later. She submitted numerous portraits along with an allegorical history painting which she considered her morceau de réception—La Paix qui ramène l’Abondance (Peace Bringing Back Prosperity). The Academy did not place her work within an academic category of type of painting—either history or portraiture.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard also was admitted on the same day. The admission of Vigée-Le Brun was opposed on the grounds that her husband was an art dealer, but eventually they were overruled by an order from Louis XVI because Marie Antoinette put considerable pressure on her husband on behalf of her portraitist. In 1789, she was succeeded as court painter to Marie Antoinette by Alexander Kucharsky.

After the arrest of the royal family during the French Revolution, Vigée-Le Brun fled France with her young daughter Julie. She lived and worked for some years in Italy, Austria, and Russia, where her experience in dealing with an aristocratic clientele was still useful. In Rome, her paintings met with great critical acclaim and she was elected to the Roman Accademia di San Luca.

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In Russia, she was received by the nobility and painted numerous aristocrats, including the last king of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski and members of the family of Catherine the Great. Although the French aesthetic was widely admired in Russia, there remained various cultural differences as to what was deemed acceptable. Catherine was not initially happy with Vigée-Le Brun’s portrait of her granddaughters, Elena and Alexandra Pavlovna, due to the area of bare skin the short sleeved gowns revealed. In order to please the Empress, Vigée-Le Brun added sleeves, thereby giving the work its characteristic look. This tactic seemed effective in pleasing Catherine, as she agreed to sit herself for Vigée-Le Brun (although Catherine died of a stroke before this work was due to begin).

While in Saint Petersburg, Vigée Le Brun was made a member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Saint Petersburg. Much to Vigée-Le Brun’s dismay, her daughter Julie married a Russian nobleman. After a sustained campaign by her ex-husband and other family members to have her name removed from the list of counter-revolutionary émigrés, Vigée-Le Brun was finally able to return to France during the reign of Emperor Napoleon I. In spite of being no longer labeled as émigrée, her relationship with the new regime was never totally harmonious, as might be expected given that she was a strong royalist and the former portraitist of Marie Antoinette.

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Much in demand by the élite of Europe, she visited England at the beginning of the 19th century and painted the portrait of several British notables, including Lord Byron and Lady Hamilton (Nelson’s wife). In 1807 she traveled to Switzerland and was made an honorary member of the Société pour l’Avancement des Beaux-Arts of Geneva.

She published her memoirs in 1835 and 1837, which provide an interesting view of the training of artists at the end of the period dominated by royal academies. Her portrait of fellow neoclassical painter Hubert Robert is in Paris at the Louvre.

Still very active with her painting in her fifties, she purchased a house in Louveciennes, Île-de-France, and lived there until the house was seized by the Prussian Army during the war in 1814. She stayed in Paris until her death on 30 March 1842 when her body was taken back to Louveciennes and buried in the Cimetière de Louveciennes near her old home.

Her tombstone epitaph states “Ici, enfin, je repose…” (Here, at last, I rest…).

Vigée-Le Brun would have eaten with Marie Antoinette on occasion and her tastes were legendarily lavish. Here is a menu for a supper from the imperial archives quoted by L’Almanach des Gourmands pour 1862, by Charles Monselet.

Her Majesty’s Dinner, Thursday 24 July 1788 at Trianon:

Four Soups

Rice soup, Scheiber, Croutons with lettuce, Croutons unis pour Madame

Two Main Entrees

Rump of beef with cabbage, Loin of veal on the spit

Sixteen Entrees

Spanish patés, Grilled mutton cutlets, Rabbits on the skewer, Fowl wings à la maréchale, Turkey giblets in consommé, Larded breasts of mutton with chicory, Fried turkey à la ravigote, Sweetbreads en papillot, Calves’ heads sauce pointue, Chickens à la tartare, Spitted sucking pig, Caux fowl with consommé, Rouen duckling with orange, Fowl fillets en casserole with rice, Cold chicken, Chicken blanquette with cucumber

Four Hors D’Oeuvre

Fillets of rabbit, Breast of veal on the spit, Shin of veal in consommé, Cold turkey

Six dishes of roasts

Chickens, Capon fried with eggs and breadcrumbs, Leveret, Young turkey, Partridges, Rabbit

Sixteen small entremets

(menu stops here)

Plenty for you to choose from. Here’s my idea for fried turkey à la ravigote. Ravigote is a cold vinaigrette and all the recipes from the 18th century I have found serve the dish cold. So . . .

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©Fried Turkey à la Ravigote

Ingredients

4 turkey breast cutlets
butter

1 hard-boiled egg coarsely chopped.
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 onion
1 tbsp capers
3 cornichons coarsely chopped.
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped tarragon
1 tbsp chopped chervil
salt and pepper

Instructions

Gently fry the turkey cutlets in butter over medium-high heat until lightly browned and cooked through. Chill for several hours.

Peel and chop the onion, and then purée it with the herbs plus salt and pepper to taste. Add the oil and vinegar. Blend to make a smooth sauce. Put one cutlet per plate and divide the vinaigrette between the four. Garnish with egg, cornichons, and capers.

Jun 272013
 

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Today is one of several days celebrated as Seven Sleepers Day.  In Germany it is called Siebenschläfertag (I love those German mashed-together words), and it is believed that whatever the weather is on this day, it will remain so for seven weeks.  Apparently this forecast is about as accurate as Groundhog Day forecasts in the U.S. The story of the Seven Sleepers has many versions and is widespread throughout the Christian and Muslim worlds.  It has been told and retold repeatedly from ancient times to the present day.

The earliest Syriac version of the tale states that during the persecutions of the Roman emperor Decius, around 250, seven young men were accused of being Christians. They were given some time to recant their faith, but chose instead to give their worldly goods to the poor and retire to a mountain cave to pray, where they fell asleep. The emperor, seeing that their attitude towards their faith had not changed, ordered the mouth of the cave to be sealed. Decius died in 251, and many years passed during which Christianity went from being persecuted to being the state religion of the Roman Empire. At some later time—usually given as during the reign of Theodosius II (408–450)—the landowner decided to open up the sealed mouth of the cave, thinking to use it as a cattle pen. He opened it and found the sleepers inside. They awoke, imagining that they had slept for a single day, and sent one of their number to Ephesus to buy food, with instructions to be careful in case the Romans were to recognize him and seize him. Upon arriving in the city, this youth was astounded to find buildings with crosses attached. The townspeople for their part were amazed to find a man trying to spend old coins from the reign of Decius. The bishop was summoned to interview the sleepers; they told him their miracle story, and died praising God.

As the earliest versions of the legend spread from Ephesus, an early Christian catacomb came to be associated with it, attracting scores of pilgrims. On the slopes of Mount Pion (Mount Coelian) near Ephesus (near modern Selçuk in Turkey), the cave of the Seven Sleepers with ruins of the church built over it was excavated in 1927–28. The excavation brought to light several hundred graves which were dated to the 5th and 6th centuries. Inscriptions dedicated to the Seven Sleepers were found on the walls of the church and in the graves. This cave is now a local tourist attraction.

The earliest version of this story comes from the Syrian bishop Jacob of Sarug (c. 450-521), which is itself derived from an earlier Greek source, now lost. An outline of this tale appears in De gloria martyrum (Glory of the Martyrs) by Gregory of Tours (538- 594), and in Paul the Deacon’s (720-799) History of the Lombards. The best known Western version of the story appears in Jacobus de Voragine’s (c. 1230- 1298) “best-seller” Legenda sanctorum (Tales of the Saints).

The story of the Seven Sleepers is probably best known in the Muslim world.  It is told in the Qur’an (Surah 18, verse 9-26). The Qur’anic rendering of this story doesn’t state exactly the number of sleepers; the exact number is believed to be known to God alone. It also gives the number of years that they slept as 300 solar years (equivalent to 309 lunar years). Unlike the Christian story, the Islamic version includes mention of a dog who accompanied the youths into the cave, and was also asleep. But when people passed by the cave it looked as if the dog was just keeping watch at the entrance, making them afraid of seeing what is in the cave once they saw the dog. In Islam, these youths are referred to as “The People of the Cave.”

There are numerous retellings of the tale in early modern and modern literature.   John Donne’s (1572-1631) poem “The good-morrow” contains the lines

were we not wean’d till then?
But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?”

Serbian writer Danilo Kiš retells the story of the Seven Sleepers in a short story, “The Legend of the Sleepers”, in his book The Encyclopedia of the Dead. Italian author Andrea Camilleri incorporates the story in his novel The Terracotta Dog. The Seven Sleepers appear in two books of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series; Will Stanton awakens them in The Grey King, and in Silver on the Tree they ride in the last battle against the Dark. The Seven Sleepers series by Gilbert Morris takes a modern approach to the story, in which seven teenagers must be awakened to fight evil in a post-nuclear-apocalypse world.

The Persian–Dutch writer Kader Abdolah gives his own spin on the Islamic version of the story in the 2000 book Spijkerschrift (English trans. 2006 “My Father’s Notebook”), based on the writer’s experience in the left-wing opposition to both the Shah’s regime and the Islamic Republic. At the book’s end the narrator’s sister and fellow-activist escape from prison and together with other escaped political prisoners hide in a mountain cave in north Iran, where they would sleep until Iran is free of oppression.

The legend of the Seven Sleepers has given origin to a number of proverbial phrases: sjusovare or syvsover (or variants), in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, Siebenschläfer in German, zevenslaper in Dutch, hétalvó in Hungarian, sedmispá? in Czech, and a saith cysgadur in Welsh, all literally meaning a “seven sleeper,” that is, someone who sleeps late in the day. In some countries the word is also used to mean the hibernating rodent called the edible dormouse (see blog post for June 25).

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The game of Seven Sleepers was copyrighted by E.I. Horsman in 1891 and included The 24 Puzzle challenge within its directions.  It is a board game played on a board like a chess board but with special markings to denote the original positions of the pieces in the home rank.  The object of the game is to get one’s pieces across the board lined up in original position in one’s opponent’s rank whilst capturing the “sleepers” in the middle.  The game is surprisingly complex and requires considerable strategy to win.

Given that the sleepers were hungry when they awoke and sent one of their number to buy food, I thought a local Turkish recipe found at roadside food stalls would be suitable for the day. Gözleme are flaky pastry packets stuffed with a mix of feta cheese and spinach plus herbs and spices. Variants can be found throughout Turkey and Greece.  They can also be stuffed with ground lamb flavored with garlic, paprika, and cumin.  Once in a while you will come across them with both fillings in one.

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Gözleme

Ingredients:

Dough
2 cups (250 g) plain flour, unbleached
2 cups (250 g) wholemeal flour
pinch of salt
vegetable oil

Filling
2 cups (450 g) grated feta cheese or
2 cups (200 g) finely chopped spinach leaves
½ cup (50 g) chopped fresh mint leaves
½ cup (50 g)chopped flat leaf parsley
½ cup (80 g) chopped green onion
½ cup (80 g) diced white onion
1 tsp (5 g) white pepper
1 tsp (5 g) allspice
1 tsp (5 g) dried oregano
1 tsp (5 g) dried sage

Instructions:

Sift the flours and salt and mix with 1 ½ cups (210 ml) of water in an electric mixer with a dough hook or knead by hand for at least ten minutes.

Keep adding more water a little at a time until you get a very pliable, elastic dough that is easy to knead, but not so watery that it is too sticky to handle.

Dust frequently with the extra flour.

Allow the dough to stand, covered, overnight (at least 10 hours).

When ready to cook, divide the dough into six round portions. Dust with flour.

Roll one of the rounds flat with a rolling pin on a flour-dusted surface, into a rectangle shape, as thinly as possible.

Brush on a little oil, then fold over into a square. Fold over twice more into a square. Repeat the dusting, rolling out to a large rectangle, folding, oiling, dusting process three more times.

Repeat the entire process for each of the six rounds

Take one of the folded dough squares and roll it out very thinly for the final time, into a large square. Sprinkle on the filling sparingly – – as you would for a pizza topping but on half of the square only.

Start with a layer of cheese. Mix the spinach, mint, green onion and parsley together in a bowl, and add some of this as the next layer. Mix together the white onion, spices, and dried herbs, and add some as a final topping.

Fold over the uncovered half of the square to cover the filling. Press down lightly all over.

Cook on a pre-heated oiled heavy skillet (cast iron if possible). Make sure the skillet is not too hot.  It takes about 10 minutes to cook everything through. Turn them often until the outside is golden and crisp.

Cut into smaller squares and serve with lemon wedges.

Yield 6.