Nov 112017
 

Today is the birthday of Frans Snyders or Snijders (1579-1657), a Flemish painter noted for his paintings of animals, hunting scenes, market scenes and still lifes. He was one of the earliest specialists in specifically animal paintings without humans in them, and he is credited with initiating a wide variety of new still-life and animal subjects in Antwerp. He was a regular collaborator with leading Antwerp painters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. I have always been a fan of Flemish and Dutch still lifes and, in fact, often recreated them with real fruit and vegetables as centerpieces at dinner parties.

Snyders was born in Antwerp, son of Jan Snijders, the keeper of a wine inn frequented by artists. Snyders had five siblings. His brother Michiel also became a painter but no works by him are known to have survived. Snyders was recorded as a student of Pieter Brueghel the Younger in 1593, and subsequently trained with Hendrick van Balen, who was the first master of Anthony van Dyck. Snyders became a master of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1602. He travelled to Italy in 1608-9 where he first lived in Rome. He subsequently traveled from Rome to Milan. Jan Brueghel the Elder had introduced him there by letter to the famous art collector Cardinal Borromeo. Brueghel asked Snyders to paint a copy after a portrait by Titian in the Borromeo collection. This act is regarded as evidence that Snyders was a skilled figure painter before he turned his attention to still life painting, although his collaborations with other artists involved him painting animals and backgrounds and the other artists painting the human figures. is collaboration with Rubens started in the 1610s.

Snyders had many patrons including the Ghent Bishop Antonius Triest who commissioned four paintings of market scenes around 1615 (Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg). He was a friend of van Dyck who painted Snyders and his wife more than once (leading image). Snyders was commercially successful and was able to purchase a house on the high-end Keizerstraat in Antwerp. In 1628 he became the dean of the Guild of Saint Luke.

In the period 1636-1638 he was one of the Antwerp artists who assisted Rubens in a large commission for decorations for the hunting pavilion Torre de la Parada of Philip IV of Spain. The two artists also worked together on decorations for the Royal Alcazar of Madrid and the royal Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. Snyders painted about 60 hunting paintings and animal pieces after designs by Rubens. In 1639 Rubens and Snyders received a follow-up commission for an additional 18 paintings for the hunting pavilion.

In the years 1641 and 1642 Snyders traveled with other artists to the Dutch Republic. In 1646 Snyders was probably in Breda working on a commission. Snyders became a widower in 1647. He died  on 19 August 1657 in Antwerp. He died childless and bequeathed his fortune to his sister, a beguine (a lay sister in a religious community).

Snyders initially devoted himself to painting flowers, fruit and still lifes. Later he turned to painting animals. He was particularly interested in depicting wild animals, which he showed engaged in lively hunts and fierce combats. He was one of the earliest specialist animaliers. His work as an animal painter was very influential on his contemporaries as well as on 18th-century French animal painters.

His stay in Italy is believed to have had an important influence on his style of fruit painting. He is likely to have seen Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit in Cardinal Borremeo’s collection in Milan.

He painted many market scenes and his earliest work in this area was inspired by the work of Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer who had pioneered and developed the genre in 16th century Antwerp. Whereas Aertsen and Beuckelaer often included a religious scene in the background of their market pieces, Snyders dispensed with this. Initially he worked in a Mannerist idiom. His style gradually matured as a result of his exposure to Italian art during his trip to Italy and the work of Rubens after his return to Antwerp. As a result the dark surroundings of his early still lifes disappeared after 1614 and he became a fine colorist with strong compositional skills allowing him to structure a profusion of disparate objects.

He not only created many large market and pantry scenes and game still lifes, usually including dead deer. He also painted smaller works which were reminiscent of the breakfast pieces and still lifes that originated in northern art around 1600. Rather than continue the descriptive manner of the Antwerp painter Osias Beert, Snyders’ innovative still lifes combined objects in groups to form a geometrically structured composition. Recurring motifs were dead hares and birds, tazze (shallow dishes on a tall foot), baskets with grapes and other fruit, enameled pitchers and Chinese Kraak porcelain.

Snyders typically depicted game in the stage before it is prepared as food. These dead animals therefore resemble hunting trophies, which were often not even intended as food but rather for stuffing. Snyders often included live animals such as cats to create a contrast between the animate and inanimate elements. Snyders’ large game pieces were very influential and the Dutch painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem, who worked in Antwerp for a significant period of time took inspiration from Snyders’ work to develop his own large-scale game pieces.

Snyders is believed to have been a skilled figure painter in his own right as is evidenced by Jan Breughel the Elder’s request that he make a copy after a Titian portrait in the Borromeo collection during his stay in Milan. Even so he still often collaborated with figure artists such as Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, his brother-in-law Cornelis de Vos, Theodoor van Thulden and Jan Boeckhorst, who painted the figures in compositions to which he added the still life elements. He also collaborated with landscape specialists such as Jan Wildens, who provided the landscape setting for his hunting scenes.

Collaborations with Rubens were particularly frequent. Snyders’ expressiveness and ability to render different textures of furs and skins excited the admiration of Rubens. Rubens frequently employed him to paint animals, fruit and still life in his own pictures. Snyders developed a particularly close collaborative relationship with Rubens between 1610 and 1640. Their collaborative efforts are well documented. In the early period of their collaboration, Rubens would paint an oil sketch of the complete composition and mark out clearly where Snyders would have to put his contribution. This has been documented for the painting The recognition of Philopoemen. It is possible that in this early period Rubens was not sure about Snyders’ compositional skills and wanted to show him the way. In the later Prometheus bound the process was reversed and Snyders made a sketch leaving the space for the figure by Rubens. The recognition of Philopoemen is reckoned to be the first Baroque still life with figures.

A famous collaboration between Rubens and Snyders is the Medusa (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Painted around 1613-1617/1618, this small-scale work showed that Snyders’ manner was not only well suited to Rubens’ large pieces, but also adaptable to his smaller-scale works. Rubens relied on Snyders to create the visual richness that went hand in hand with his Baroque style, which stressed abundance and bounteousness. The two artists’ brushwork was so close that contemporaries had difficulty distinguishing their contributions in collaborative works.

Snyders also painted the still life elements for other Antwerp painters such as Jacob Jordaens, Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert, Jan Janssens and other artists. Frans Snyders collaborated with his second brother-in-law Cornelis de Vos. An example is the Still life with fruit and vegetables, which likely represents a larder of a fine house. The impression given by this composition is one of abundance as well as chaos. Closer inspection shows that the produce is arranged in a hierarchy reflecting their value and rarity. Cheaper root vegetables are on the ground while highly prized peas and asparagus are placed in the basket on the right.

One of the symbolic representations that Snyders created and to which he returned regularly is the concert of birds. Compositions on this theme represent different species of birds perched on tree trunks in the form of a concert of birds, sometimes with a musical score. The theme of the concert of birds predates the courtly fashion of the Baroque period of maintaining aviaries.

His compositions with monkeys wreaking havock in a pantry became very popular. The Louvre collection holds two monkey-themed paintings. They show two capuchin monkeys in a pantry pillaging a basket of fruit and toppling dishes. While the monkey had since the Middle Ages symbolized the sinner – a greedy, lecherous creature, driven by its senses only – during the 16th and 17th centuries it became the prime symbol of stupidity.

Here’s a 17th century Flemish/Dutch recipe for the day. It comes from an anonymous text of 1667: De verstandige kock, of sorghvuldige huys houdster (the wise cook, or caring householder). I am a little uncertain of my translation in places, given that I speak no Dutch. It says to spice the meat with “Noten” for example, which usually means “nuts” but is translated as “nutmeg” in some versions online of this recipe. I have not tried this recipe yet, but on first glance I can see problems with placing egg yolks raw inside a ground veal wrapping. It seems like a pretty idea but rather difficult to manage. I’d be inclined to boil some eggs first, take out the yolks whole, then pack the ground veal mix around them and wrap them in lettuce leaves. It’s also possible that this whole idea is a misreading of the recipe, but it is specific about one yolk per meatball.

Om Frickedillen in Krop-Salaet te maken.

Neemt gehakt kalfs-vlees, met kalfsvet wat vetter als ordinaris,  en dat wel gekruydt met Noten en een weynich Foelie, Peper en Sout na behooren, kneet wel ondereen, neemt dan soo veel van de malste kroppen salaet als’t u belieft, en suyvert die van de buytenste bladeren, en dan schoon uytgewassen en de krop van binnen de bladers wat open ghedaen, neemt dan soo veel eyren als gy kroppen hebt, maeckt oock soo veel Frickedillekens, en doet in’t midden van yder den door van een ey, leght dan in de krop en bindt hem met een draedt toe, en als’t water koockt, doet in de pot als het gaer is, kont dan in’t sop een weynigh fijn gestooten beschuyt doen, en wat boter, wat Kruys-bessen of onrijpe Druyven, Verjuys, naer elck sijn believen.

To make meatballs in lettuce head.

Take chopped veal with veal-fat, a little fatter than usual, and spice it with nutmeg and a little mace, pepper and salt as appropriate. Knead everything together, then take as many tender lettuce heads as you please, and take off the outer leaves. Wash the heads and open up the inner leaves. Take as many eggs as you have heads and make as many little meatballs [from the ground veal mixture]. Place an egg yolk in the middle of each [meatball], and put it inside the head. Tie it up with string. Boil water in a pot and place them in the boiling water. When cooked you can add to the broth a little finely crushed rusk and some butter, some gooseberries or unripe grapes or verjuice, according to your tastes.

Oct 302017
 

Today is supposedly the anniversary of the Banquet of Chestnuts (or Ballet of Chestnuts) which refers to a supper purportedly held in the Papal Palace by former Cardinal Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI on 30th October 1501. An account of the banquet is preserved in a Latin diary by Protonotary Apostolic and Master of Ceremonies Johann Burchard (it is titled Liber Notarum), but its accuracy is disputed. Burchard is cited as a primary source but no one believes that he was actually in attendance. Also, his account is written in language that is uncharacteristic of the rest of the diary entries, so it may be a later interpolation. Nonetheless, it’s an amusing story, even if fictional. Worth a tip of the hat and a recipe or two.

According to Burchard’s account, the banquet was given in Cesare’s apartments in the Palazzo Apostolico. Fifty prostitutes or courtesans were in attendance for the entertainment of the banquet guests. Burchard describes the scene in his Diary:

. . . Cesare Borgia arranged a banquet in his chambers in the Vatican with “fifty honest prostitutes”, called courtesans, who danced after dinner with the attendants and others who were present, at first in their garments, then naked. After dinner the candelabra with the burning candles were taken from the tables and placed on the floor, and chestnuts were strewn around, which the naked courtesans picked up, creeping on hands and knees between the chandeliers, while the Pope, Cesare, and his sister Lucretia looked on. Finally, prizes were announced for those who could perform the act [orgasm] most often with the courtesans, such as tunics of silk, shoes, barrettes, and other things.

To begin with, this account was dismissed as highly improbable by many contemporaries. The Borgias were certainly not especially pleasant and upright people, but a lot of their bad press was based on propaganda circulated by enemies. That is, they were not above killing anyone who got in their way, but that was not especially unusual at the time. Machiavelli modeled The Prince in part on Cesare and was an admirer. I suppose that might be faint praise in some people’s eyes. You’ll find my thoughts on Cesare and Lucrezia here:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cesare-borgia/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/lucrezia-borgia/

Although it may sound a little odd to modern ears, I think there is a great difference between bumping someone off because he is in the way, and having a lewd sex party. I will also (in limited fashion) defend pope Alexander against the worst accusations. Sure, he was openly sexually active as pope (and as cardinal before that), but those were the norms of the times. Celibacy for the clergy had been around for some time, but it was not taken as seriously then as it is now. Besides, Alexander was the first pope to openly acknowledge that he fathered his children, set them up well in life, and clearly was very devoted to them. Certainly, he favored his family in appointments and wealth as pope, but there was more than nepotism at stake. The Borgias were from Spain and their power in Italy was resented by noble Italian families, such as the Sforzas, who saw them as opportunistic interlopers and, as such, were always seeking ways to undercut them. Alexander’s favoritism towards his family was, therefore, as much protection against his enemies as it was paternal affection.  By the standards of most modern historians, Alexander is considered a shrewd and just diplomat and politician. From the outset he did a great deal to rid the clergy of the most evidently corrupt and self-serving appointees, for example.

So, is Burchard’s account of the banquet accurate? I seriously doubt it. Alexander was not Caligula.

Vatican researcher Right Reverend Monsignor Peter de Roo (1839–1926), rejected the story of the “fifty courtesans” as described in Louis Thuasne’s edition of Burchard’s diary (vol. 3). While granting that Cesare Borgia may have indeed given a feast at the Vatican, de Roo attempts, through exhaustive research, to refute the notion that the Borgias—certainly not the pope—could have possibly participated in “a scene truly bestial” such as Burchard describes, on grounds that it would be inconsistent with Alexander’s essentially decent, though much maligned, character, and that the majority of writers at the time either questioned the story or rejected it as outright falsehood. He also notes that the writing style is not consistent with Burchard’s other writing. De Roo concludes that a more credible explanation for the alleged “orgy” is that it is a later interpolation of events into Burchard’s diary by those hostile to Alexander:

To support the interpolated story, the enemies of pope Alexander VI bring forth of late other writers of the time. So does Thuasne produce Matarazzo, or the Chronicle ascribed to him. But Matarazzo essentially alters the tale, taking away its greatest odium, when he replaces Burchard’s courtesans and valets with ladies and gentlemen of the court. Thuasne also quotes Francis Pepi, who writes that it was Cesar de Borgia, not the Pontiff, who invited low harlots, and who cuts away the most abominable details, by saying that they passed the night in dancing and laughing, and by leaving out the presence of Lucretia de Borgia. The anonymous letter to Silvio Savelli is also mentioned to prop the report of Burchard’s diary. This letter, however, states only that the courtesans were invited to eat at the palace and offered a most shocking sight. It notices no further particulars nor the presence of any of the Borgias.

As always, to be scrupulously fair, de Roo is hardly a disinterested party in all of this. The Catholic church has spent a lot of time and energy cleaning up the history of the papacy. From the historical perspective I find this effort completely unnecessary. The times were what they were, and popes were what they were. But if your perspective is that the church embodies timeless and universal truths and moral values, it’s not possible to adopt that kind of relativistic view. I have no horse in this race, so I don’t care whether the banquet happened as described or not. I am disposed to think that it did not, because it seems out of place even for the times. I also accept the principle of oral transmission in which stories easily get embellished when passed by word of mouth. De Roo points out the possible confusion between the words for “courtier” and “courtesan,” and also that in the original telling of the story it was reported that some guests took off some of their clothes (because the room was hot) before they commenced dancing, and that this act, in itself, would have been notable. From there it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine enemies reporting the story going from removing an outer garment to dancing stark naked.

When I gave recipes for Lucrezia Borgia I used Libro de arte coquinaria (c. 1465) by Martino de Rossi, who is known to have been the head chef at the Vatican at the end of his career, so it is possible he was chef to Pope Alexander. Whether the banquet happened or not, and whether de Rossi was the chef or not, the recipes are quite suitable for the period and many can be recreated.  Here’s several for you to mull in the original and in my translation (with some notes).

Polpette di carne de vitello (veal roulade)

Per fare polpette di carne de vitello o de altra bona carne.

In prima togli de la carne magra de la cossa et tagliala in fette longhe et sottili et battile bene sopra un tagliero o tavola con la costa del coltello, et togli sale et finocchio pesto et ponilo sopra la ditta fetta di carne. Dapoi togli de petrosimolo, maiorana et de bon lardo et batti queste cose inseme con un poche de bone spetie, et distendile bene queste cose in la dicta fetta. Dapoi involtela inseme et polla nel speto accocere. Ma non la lassare troppo seccar al focho.

To make a roll of veal or other good meat

First, take some lean meat from the haunch and cut it into long slices and beat it on a cutting board or table using the knife handle. Take some salt and ground fennel seeds and spread over the cutlets. Then take some parsley, marjoram, and good lardo* and chop together with some good spices and spread this mixture over the cutlets. Roll them and cook them on a spit, but do not let them get too dry over the flame.  

* It is important to note that lardo is not lard, as it is normally translated. Lardo is specially prepared pork fat that some Italians eat raw in slices or with bread.

Roast chicken/pullet with orange juice

Per fare pollastro arrosto

Per fare pollastro arrosto si vuole cocere arrosto; et quando è cotto togli sucho di pomaranci, overo di bono agresto con acqua rosata, zuccharo et cannella, et mitti il pollastro in un piattello; et dapoi gettavi questa tal mescolanza di sopra et mandalo ad tavola.

How to prepare roast pullet

To prepare roast pullet you need good coals. When it is finished roasting, take some orange juice, or good verjuice mixed with rose water, sugar, and cinnamon. Put the pullet on a dish, dress it with the above mixture and send to the table.

[This recipe is rather simple, but if you wanted you could use the plain sauce as a marinade for chicken pieces before grilling them, or use it as a basting sauce when roasting the chicken.]

Chicken/Pullet sofftritto

Suffritto de Pollastri

In prima nectali molto bene e tagliali in quarto, o vero in pezzi piccholi, et poneli in una pignatta a frigere con buono lardo voltando spesse volte col cochiaro. Et quando la carne è quasi cotta getta fore la maiore parte del grasso de la pignatta. Et dapoi togli de bono agresto, doi rosci d’ova, un pocho pocho de bono brodo et de bone spetie, et meschole queste cose inseme con tanto zafrano che siano gialle et ponile in la dicta pignatta inseme co la carne et lascial bollire anchora un pocho tanto che tutte queste cose ti parano cotte. Dapoi togli un pocho pocho de petrosillo battuto menuto et ponilo insieme col ditto soffritto in un piattello et mandalo ad tavola. Et questo tale soffritto vole essere dolce o agro secundo il gusto comuno o del patrone.

Chicken Soffritto

First clean and quarter the chickens, or cut them into small pieces. Put them in a pan to fry with some good salted pork fat turning often with a spoon. When the meat is almost cooked discard most of the fat in the pan. Then take some good verjuice, two egg yolks, a little stock and some good spice, and mix all these with enough saffron to make it yellow. Put the mix in the pan with the meat and let it boil a little until it is cooked as you like. Then take a small amount of finely chopped parsley and add it to the soffrito and turn it on to a dish and send it to the table. This soffritto can be sweet or sour according to general tastes or according to the taste of your master.

[A version of this dish used to be one of my favorites. You’ll find it these days, occasionally, throughout Italy, Spain, and France.]

 

Jan 082017
 

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Today is the birthday (1924) of Ronald Moodnick, a British actor who used the stage name Ron Moody,  best known for his portrayal of Fagin in the film version of Oliver! (1968) as well as the original stage version in London in 1960 and its 1983 Broadway revival.  Moody rather reminds me of actors such as Joel Grey (MC in Cabaret) and Clive Dunn (Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army) in that his professional life was dominated by a single role.  He once wrote:

My proudest moment was the number “Reviewing the Situation”. I suspect that, because I gave my all to the role, and because I was working with such a fine team of people, it inhibited my future career. I turned down quite a few offers afterwards because I thought the people didn’t come close to those I’d worked with on Oliver!—which in retrospect was a mistake.

Here’s that number from the film:

Moody was born in Tottenham in north London. His father, a studio executive, was a Russian Jew and his mother was a Lithuanian Jew. Moody once said, “I’m 100% Jewish—totally kosher!” He was a cousin of director Laurence Moody and actress Clare Lawrence. He changed his name legally to Moody in 1930.

Moody was educated at Southgate County School, which at the time was a state grammar school, and based in Palmers Green, Middlesex, followed by the London School of Economics in Central London, where he trained to become an economist. During World War II he enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and became a radar technician. Despite training to be an economist, Moody began appearing in theatrical shows and later decided to become a professional actor.

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Moody created the role of Fagin in the original West End production of Oliver! in 1960, and reprised it in the 1984 Broadway revival. For his performance in the 1968 film version of Oliver!, he received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor (Musical/Comedy), the Best Actor award at the 6th Moscow International Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination in the same category. Moody wrote: “Fate destined me to play Fagin. It was the part of a lifetime. That summer of 1967 [during filming] was one of the happiest times of my life.” As well as performing on Broadway, he reprised his role as Fagin at the 1985 Royal Variety Performance in Theatre Royal, Drury Lane before Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh.

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There is no question that Fagin, as originally conceived by Dickens in Oliver Twist, is a stereotypical, anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews in 19th century London. The first 38 chapters of the book refer to Fagin by his ethnic origin 257 times, calling him “the Jew”, against 42 uses of “Fagin” or “the old man.” In later editions Dickens took out 180 references to “the Jew” but the basic image remains. In Oliver Twist Fagin has no redeeming features; he ruthlessly beats and exploits his boys, his lies get Nancy murdered, and in the end he is hanged (as one expects of all of Dickens’ villains). But the scripts of the original play and screenplay of Oliver!, along with Moody’s interpretation of the character, softens the anti-Semitic tones considerably (though not completely). He ends up being more a figure of comic relief than of evil, although he does have introspective moments.

In 1969, Moody was offered, but declined, the lead role in Doctor Who, following the departure of Patrick Troughton (which would have made him the third Doctor). Apparently he later regretted the decision, and one does have to wonder what he might have brought to the part.  He did play other roles over his career (including Sherlock Holmes) and here’s a small gallery so that you do not have Fagin as your only image.

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Ron Moody died in a London hospital on 11 June 2015, aged 91.

A Dickensian recipe is warranted for Fagin, and I originally thought that Mrs Beeton would be useless when it came to the cooking of Jewish Londoners of the time.  Actually, I was right – largely because English Jews are not noted for a cuisine of their own. So-called “Jewish cooking” is a misnomer anyway, latched on to by Jews in the USA who mistake German and Eastern European cuisines for specifically Jewish cuisine. On the other hand, Mrs Beeton does have this to say about calves and the Jews in her section on veal:

THE CALF A SYMBOL OF DIVINE POWER.—A singular symbolical ceremony existed among the Hebrews, in which the calf performed a most important part. The calf being a type or symbol of Divine power, or what was called the Elohim,—the Almighty intelligence that brought them out of Egypt,—was looked upon much in the same light by the Jews, as the cross subsequently was by the Christians, a mystical emblem of the Divine passion and goodness. Consequently, an oath taken on either the calf or the cross was considered equally solemn and sacred by Jew or Nazarene, and the breaking of it a soul-staining perjury on themselves, and an insult and profanation directly offered to the Almighty. To render the oath more impressive and solemn, it was customary to slaughter a dedicated calf in the temple, when, the priests having divided the carcase into a certain number of parts, and with intervening spaces, arranged the severed limbs on the marble pavement, the one, or all the party, if there were many individuals, to be bound by the oath, repeating the words of the compact, threaded their way in and out through the different spaces, till they had taken the circuit of each portion of the divided calf, when the ceremony was concluded. To avert the anger of the Lord, when Jerusalem was threatened by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian host, the Jews had made a solemn to God, ratified by the ceremony of the calf, if He released them from their dreaded foe, to cancel the servitude of their Hebrew brethren. After investing the city for some time, and reducing the inhabitants to dreadful suffering and privation, the Babylonians, hearing that Pharaoh, whom the Jews had solicited for aid, was rapidly approaching with a powerful army, hastily raised the siege, and, removing to a distance, took up a position where they could intercept the Egyptians, and still cover the city. No sooner did the Jews behold the retreat of the enemy, than they believed all danger was past, and, with their usual turpitude, they repudiated their oath, and refused to liberate their oppressed countrymen. For this violation of their covenant with the Lord, they were given over to all the horrors of the sword, pestilence, and famine—Jeremiah, xxxiv. 15-17.

She follows this dubious diatribe with this equally dubious recipe:

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MINCED VEAL AND MACARONI.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—3/4 lb. of minced cold roast veal, 3 oz. of ham, 1 tablespoonful of gravy, pepper and salt to taste, 3 teaspoonful of grated nutmeg, 1/4 lb. of bread crumbs, 1/4 lb. of macaroni, 1 or 2 eggs to bind, a small piece of butter.

Mode.—Cut some nice slices from a cold fillet of veal, trim off the brown outside, and mince the meat finely with the above proportion of ham: should the meat be very dry, add a spoonful of good gravy. Season highly with pepper and salt, add the grated nutmeg and bread crumbs, and mix these ingredients with 1 or 2 eggs well beaten, which should bind the mixture and make it like forcemeat. In the mean time, boil the macaroni in salt and water, and drain it; butter a mould, put some of the macaroni at the bottom and sides of it, in whatever form is liked; mix the remainder with the forcemeat, fill the mould up to the top, put a plate or small dish on it, and steam for 1/2 hour. Turn it out carefully, and serve with good gravy poured round, but not over, the meat.

Time.—1/2 hour. Average cost, exclusive of the cold meat, 10d.

Seasonable from March to October.

Note.—To make a variety, boil some carrots and turnips separately in a little salt and water; when done, cut them into pieces about 1/8 inch in thickness; butter an oval mould, and place these in it, in white and red stripes alternately, at the bottom and sides. Proceed as in the foregoing recipe, and be very careful in turning it out of the mould.

I’m not inclined to try this. Not only would Italians cringe at it; I do too. But something can be salvaged from it. Instead of making a mould and overcooking the pasta, you can make a veal sauce for the macaroni. Italians do not generally eat meat and pasta together but they occasionally make meat sauces for pasta in northern Italy.  This one would work by cooking the macaroni (al dente) separately, and then tossing it with a sauce  made with chopped veal in a thickened beef broth, seasoned with nutmeg. I’ve had a similar dish in Mantua although the meat was donkey.

Dec 182016
 

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Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Peace. This completes the Sundays in the Advent season, and I like to think of the coming days until Christmas as akin to Holy Week in Lent. This analogy is apt this year (2016) because Christmas is on a Sunday. But it’s possible for the 4th Sunday of Advent to be on Christmas Eve, in which case there is no gap between it and Christmas Day. Usually there’s at least a few days between the two, and these are the days when I get more in the swing of Christmas proper. I do my Christmas baking, buy presents, send Christmas cards, and play a lot of traditional carols.

On this Sunday we light the fourth of the colored candles on the Advent wreath which makes the room feel a lot more festive than when we began with one solitary candle four weeks ago. You will see (if you have been paying attention) that my Advent wreath is more colorful now. I add bits and pieces in the Advent season.  Only the white Christ candle remains unlit. I’ll light that at midnight on Christmas Eve.

The paired readings for today from the Common Lectionary are Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25.  The salient verses are Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:22-23. Let’s start with Matthew:

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Matthew is asserting that Jesus was born of a virgin, and the rest of the passage in the gospel is about the problem that arose when Joseph found out that his wife-to-be was pregnant. The passage explains that Mary conceived through the Holy Spirit, and Joseph was not the father (but he accepted the reality). It also says that Joseph and Mary did not have sex until after Jesus was born (but the implication is that they did later).

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Matthew does not go into the whole Bethlehem thing, that’s Luke’s bag, but he does pick up on Isaiah’s prophesy. If you’ve been following my general logic from previous posts you’ll know that my basic argument is that a lot of passages in the gospels are worded so as to make the direct connexion between Jesus and the foretold Messiah. The gospel writers’ huge problem was that Jesus did not match very well with prophesy and so a certain amount of (fictionalized) explaining had to happen. The prophet Joel says that the Messiah was from the house and lineage of David and would be born in Bethlehem, but Jesus was from Galilee. So Luke gives us this ludicrous story of a census decree issued by Augustus that required everyone to return to their ancestral villages to be counted, meaning that Mary and Joseph had to trek to Bethlehem while she was pregnant. There was no census. Jesus was born in Galilee.

Let me also put to rest all the endless attempts to figure out when Jesus was “really” born. All of these attempts are based on Luke’s fiction to begin with. Some people assert that he was born in the summer because the shepherds who visited the manger were out tending their flocks when the angel told them of the birth, which means it must have been summer. You buy this? The narrative itself shows no understanding of pastoral practices in Judah 2,000 years ago. Adult men did not sit around in groups watching their sheep at night. They went to bed. They might have stayed up in the lambing season, but they would not have been all clustered together. Even Luke knew nothing about keeping sheep – he was a city boy (and was not a Jew).

Others try to calculate the timing of the birth based on the Visitation of Mary which links the timing of the birth of John the Baptist to the birth of Jesus and also to the timing of Temple events. You’ll get my opinion of all of that here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/visitation-mary/  Same story. Luke made all this up (or borrowed it) to help fit in with his beliefs. But there’s more to it than that.

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Matthew and Luke did not have a good grasp of the Hebrew used by the prophets. My considered opinion is that the prophecy from Isaiah in question here was written some time in the 7th century BCE and is an indirect reference to king Josiah – who was purportedly in the Davidic line and made great strides in revitalizing Judah and Jewish religion with the hope of restoring the former glories of the kingdom. That is, Isaiah is not referring to Jesus at all, but to Josiah. Josiah was the great hope of Judah at the time, but unfortunately he was killed in battle, and eventually Judah was crushed by Babylon. So the Messianic hopes died with him. But they were revived in Jesus’ day, even though so many questions remained – Why was Jesus not from Bethlehem? What do we do with people who think John the Baptist is the Messiah? Why was the Messiah crucified? etc. etc. The gospels try to provide the answers.

The thing is that by Luke’s and Matthew’s time the Hebrew of the prophets and the Torah was already archaic and not properly understood. Matthew may have spoken Aramaic which is related to Hebrew, but Luke spoke Greek. Neither was particularly conversant with scriptural Hebrew, nor were many Jews at this time – especially those living outside the general region of Israel. That’s part of the reason that Matthew gives the gloss “God with us” for Immanuel. Anyone conversant with Hebrew would not need this translation. It’s obvious – ‘im (with) anu (us) el (God).

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The full text of Isaiah contains another important misunderstanding by Matthew:

יד  לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא, לָכֶם–אוֹת:  הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה, הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן, וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ, עִמָּנוּ אֵל.

The word הָעַלְמָה (ha-‘almah) is critical here. Matthew translates it as “virgin” but it could simply mean “young woman” (including a newly married young woman). That is now the more normal English translation, and is the scholarly consensus. The Virgin Birth is an unnecessary confusion that simply muddies the waters. It came about because Matthew’s Hebrew was not very good and so he assumed that Isaiah was saying that the promised Messiah would be born of a virgin, rather than from a newlywed young woman.

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For new readers who do not know that I am an ordained minister (as well as for those who do), let me explain that getting rid of such non-historical rubbish does not undermine the spiritual power of the Bible for me. Nor is Christmas diminished in its effects on me, even though it is based on a fiction. The Christmas story is deeply rooted in Western tradition and has immense value spiritually even though the literal story is nonsense. What I’m trying to do is rescue Christmas from the crass materialism that dominates it, and inject some spirituality back into it. Today we should reflect on the notion of peace in the world and in our lives.

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I asked my youngest students this week what they do for Christmas. Almost all of them mentioned arrosto (roast) as a part of the Christmas meal (cooked by nonna). They had trouble explaining what they meant in English because “arrosto” is sort of understood without saying what meat you mean. Unfortunately, also, “arrosto” is a cut of meat, not a method of cooking. So there was a lot of confusion. Some of them said that they had the meat roasted, some braised, some boiled. It was a good exercise in vocabulary building – not to mention cultural exchange.

One common Christmas dish is either arrosto di vitello (veal) or arrosto di pollo (chicken) – usually al forno (in the oven).  In Lombardy a festive roast is first boned, then tied, and wrapped with prosciutto. Then it is roast (perhaps with potatoes) in much the same way as you would normally do.  Here’s mine for today:

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Italians typically don’t make a gravy for the meat. I can’t say that I find this terribly appealing but I went along with the practice for today. The meat was very juicy partly because it was a rather fatty cut, and also because the fat from the prosciutto based the meat. In turn the prosciutto was crispy and delicious.

I also made some sausage rolls just to feel at home.

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Mar 032016
 

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Today is the birthday (1845) of Georg Ferdinand Ludwig Philipp Cantor a German mathematician of immense importance. He created set theory, which has become a fundamental theory in mathematics. Cantor’s work is of great philosophical interest, as well as being purely mathematical, a fact I want to dwell on after dribbling on a bit about his life.

Cantor’s theory of transfinite numbers (numbers larger than all finite numbers, yet not absolutely infinite) was originally regarded as so counter-intuitive – even shocking – that it encountered resistance from his mathematical contemporaries and later from philosophers. Cantor, a devout Lutheran, believed the theory had been communicated to him by God. Some Christian theologians saw Cantor’s work as a challenge to the uniqueness of the absolute infinity in the nature of God – on one occasion equating the theory of transfinite numbers with pantheism – a proposition that Cantor vigorously rejected.

The objections to Cantor’s work were occasionally fierce: Henri Poincaré referred to his ideas as a “grave disease infecting the discipline of mathematics,” and Leopold Kronecker’s public opposition and personal attacks included describing Cantor as a “scientific charlatan”, a “renegade” and a “corrupter of youth” (shades of Socrates !!). Writing decades after Cantor’s death, Wittgenstein lamented that mathematics is “ridden through and through with the pernicious idioms of set theory,” which he dismissed as “utter nonsense,” “laughable” and “wrong”. Cantor’s recurring bouts of depression from 1884 to the end of his life have been blamed on the hostile attitude of many of his contemporaries, though some have explained these episodes as probable manifestations of a bipolar disorder.

Those whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of mathematics might be amazed that mathematical propositions could engender such base emotions. But Cantor’s work had, and has, implications for some of the most basic, but enduring, human questions such as “what is real?” and “what is God?” I promise I won’t delve too deeply into mathematics, I’ll just use a few analogies, with apologies to those who know a bit more than the basics about number theory and set theory. I realize they are over-simplifications, as well as being vaguer than the underlying mathematics.

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Georg Cantor was born in the western merchant colony in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and brought up in the city until he was eleven. Georg, the oldest of six children, was regarded as an outstanding violinist. His grandfather Franz Böhm (1788–1846) was a well-known musician and soloist in a Russian imperial orchestra. Cantor’s father had been a member of the Saint Petersburg stock exchange but when he became ill, the family moved to Germany in 1856, first to Wiesbaden then to Frankfurt, seeking winters milder than those in Saint Petersburg. In 1860, Cantor graduated with distinction from the Realschule in Darmstadt. His exceptional skills in mathematics, trigonometry in particular, were noted. In 1862, Cantor entered the University of Zürich. After receiving a substantial inheritance upon his father’s death in 1863, Cantor shifted his studies to the University of Berlin, and then spent the summer of 1866 at the University of Göttingen, a major center for mathematical research.

Cantor submitted his dissertation on number theory to the University of Berlin in 1867. After teaching briefly in a Berlin girls’ school, Cantor took up a position at the University of Halle, where he spent his entire career. Cantor was promoted to Extraordinary Professor in 1872 and made full Professor in 1879. To attain the latter rank at the age of 34 was a notable accomplishment, but Cantor desired a chair at a more prestigious university, in particular at Berlin, at that time the leading German university. However, his work encountered too much opposition for that to be possible.

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Cantor suffered his first known bout of depression in 1884, which some scholars attribute to the constant criticism of his work by famous scholars that weighed heavily upon him. This crisis led him to apply to lecture on philosophy rather than mathematics. He also began an intense study of Elizabethan literature thinking there might be evidence that Francis Bacon wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare (in my opinion a fruitless quest, but endlessly simmering at the fringes of Shakespeare scholarship). It never ceases to annoy me that such investigation is based on the premise that a poor grammar school boy can’t be a genius.

After Cantor’s 1884 hospitalization his youngest son Rudolph died suddenly (while Cantor was delivering a lecture on his views on Baconian theory and William Shakespeare), and this tragedy drained Cantor of much of his passion for mathematics. Cantor was again hospitalized in 1903. One year later, he was outraged and agitated by a paper presented by Julius König at the Third International Congress of Mathematicians. The paper attempted to prove that the basic tenets of transfinite set theory were false. Since the paper had been read in front of his daughters and colleagues, Cantor perceived himself as having been publicly humiliated. Although Ernst Zermelo demonstrated less than a day later that König’s proof had failed, Cantor remained shaken, and momentarily questioning the existence of God. Cantor suffered from chronic depression for the rest of his life, for which he was excused from teaching on several occasions and repeatedly confined in various sanatoria. The events of 1904 preceded a series of hospitalizations at intervals of two or three years. He did not abandon mathematics completely, however, lecturing on the paradoxes of set theory (I’ll get to it in a minute !!) to a meeting of the Deutsche Mathematiker–Vereinigung in 1903, and attending the International Congress of Mathematicians at Heidelberg in 1904.

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Cantor retired in 1913, living in poverty and suffering from malnourishment during World War I. The public celebration of his 70th birthday was canceled because of the war. He died on January 6, 1918 in the sanatorium where he had spent the final year of his life.

The concept of the existence of an actual infinity was an important shared concern within the realms of mathematics, philosophy and religion. Differential calculus was not developed until the 17th century, even though the basic building blocks had been available to ancient Arab and Greek mathematicians. The problem was that calculus requires use of infinity and ancient mathematicians could not accept the existence of infinity. It turns out that you don’t have to accept the existence of infinity to use the concept mathematically. The square root of -1 cannot logically exist, because there does not exist a pair of identical numbers that when multiplied together produce -1. But if you just give it a name (the letter “i”) and use it in equations without worrying about whether it exists or not, the equations often work out when you cancel out i. For example, x – i = y – i simplifies to x = y, so you don’t need to worry about whether i exists or not. Infinity can work in much the same way mathematically. But dealing with infinity is both tricky and counterintuitive.

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If you’re smart but not especially well versed in mathematics, I highly recommend George Gamow’s book, One, Two, Three . . . Infinity. It explores Cantor’s mathematics in simple terms. Gamow’s birthday is tomorrow and since I can’t very well celebrate a mathematician followed next day by a theoretical physicist (working in complex mathematics), I’ll tip my hat to Gamow today. He was an early advocate and developer of the Big Bang Theory. In the book he uses a thought experiment to help explain the weirdness of infinity. Imagine you have a hotel with finite rooms, all of which are full, and a new guest arrives. You have to send him away because there is no room. Now imagine you have a hotel with infinite rooms and a new guest arrives. “No problem,” you say. You move the person in room 1 to room 2, in room 2 to room 3, in room 3 to room 4 . . . and so on. The series of integers (whole numbers) is infinite, so you never run out at the upper end. Now room 1 is free for the new guest. Now suppose the infinity hotel is full and an infinite number of guests shows up. “No problem,” you say again. This time you put every guest in the room that is double the number of the room they are in now. The guest in room 1 goes to room 2, in room 2 goes to room 4, room 3 goes to room 6 . . . and so on. In this way you free up all the odd-numbered rooms (double ANY number is an even number). There is an infinite number of odd numbers, so you can accommodate an infinite number of new guests. Maybe now you are beginning to grasp the problem of the existence of infinity. This thought experiment is counter-intuitive, and, hence, why so many philosophers and mathematicians objected.

So . . . are mathematical objects (things) real or not? Mathematicians, philosophers, and theologians have been arguing about this question for millennia with no end in sight. Cantor believed that absolute infinity was God. I find this equation an admirable idea, but it does not answer the question as to whether absolute infinity exists any more than whether God exists. Even if infinity defines God it does not prove his existence. I can define unicorns, but they don’t exist.

Cantor’s set theory also can lead to paradoxes, and mathematicians don’t like paradoxes. The barber paradox is an informal version. Imagine a town in which all the men need to shave, but are clean shaven. Men either shave themselves OR are shaved by the barber. Who shaves the barber? The two sets “shaved by the barber” and “shave themselves” cannot logically be distinct sets.

 

If nothing else, I hope I have shown that mathematics prompts questions and puzzles that are more than of scientific or logical interest. They strike at the very heart of issues such as, “What is the meaning of life?” and “Is there a God?” or “What is existence?” Cantor died poor and believing he was a failure. How many giants have died likewise? We owe it to Cantor today to keep him in memory.

I’m going to give you a great Saint Petersburg recipe in Cantor’s honor, because he was born there, even though he spent most of his life in Germany. Germans will like this too. It is a version of stuffed cabbage, but not the kind that you are used to. Instead of peeling off the leaves and stuffing them individually, you stuff the whole cabbage intact. Herbs can be of your choosing.

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St Petersburg Stuffed Cabbage.

Ingredients:

1 small cabbage
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
3 onions, peeled and sliced
1 bouquet garni
1-2 bay leaves
2-3 cloves
5-8 peppercorns
salt

Filling:

14 oz veal
7 oz pork lard
2-3 slices stale white bread
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper

Instructions:

To make the filling, grind the veal with the lard. Soak the bread in milk for several hours, then wring out the excess. Mix the bread thoroughly with the meat and lard, add the eggs and mix the whole filling uniformly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the toughest outer leaves of the cabbage. Immerse fully in a large pot of water and simmer until the leaves are soft and pliant. Drain the cabbage and put the filling between the leaves without tearing them off. Tie the cabbage with strong (colorless) twine and simmer in water or stock. Add the carrot, onions and seasonings. Cook on low heat for around 30 minutes. Serve the cabbage whole with the vegetables to garnish, and with sour cream.

Sep 172015
 

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Today is the birthday (1935) of Kenneth Elton “Ken” Kesey, U.S. author and countercultural figure who considered himself a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s. Ken Kesey was born in La Junta, Colorado, to dairy farmers Geneva (née Smith) and Frederick A. Kesey. In 1946, the family moved to Springfield, Oregon. Kesey was a champion wrestler in both high school and college in the 174 pound weight division, and he almost qualified to be on the Olympic team until a serious shoulder injury stopped his wrestling career. He graduated from Springfield High School in 1953. He was an avid reader and filmgoer, and took John Wayne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Zane Grey as his role models (later naming a son Zane) and toyed with magic, ventriloquism, and hypnotism.

In 1956, while attending college at the University of Oregon in neighboring Eugene, Oregon, Kesey eloped with his high-school sweetheart, Norma “Faye” Haxby, whom he had met in seventh grade. “Without Faye, I would have been swept overboard by notoriety and weird, dope-fueled ideas and flower-child girls with beamy eyes and bulbous breasts.” No comment. They were married until his death at age 66 and had three children: Jed, Zane, and Shannon; Kesey had another child, Sunshine, in 1966 with fellow Merry Prankster Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams. So . . . although not “swept overboard” he was not monogamous.

Kesey had a football scholarship for his freshman year, but switched to University of Oregon wrestling team as a better fit to his build. After posting a .885 winning percentage in the 1956–57 season, he received the Fred Low Scholarship for outstanding Northwest wrestler. In 1957, Kesey was second in his weight class at the Pacific Coast intercollegiate competition. He remains ranked in the top 10 of Oregon Wrestling’s all time winning percentage.”

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A frat boy, Kesey graduated from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech and Communication in 1957. After a brief stint as a struggling actor in Los Angeles, he was awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship in 1958. Because he lacked the prerequisites to work toward a master’s degree in English, Kesey elected to enroll in the non-degree creative writing program at Stanford University that fall, where he would develop lifelong friendships with Ken Babbs, Larry McMurtry, Wendell Berry, Ed McClanahan, Gurney Norman, and Robert Stone.

While at Stanford, Kesey lived on Perry Lane (an historically bohemian enclave adjacent to the university golf course) and clashed with program director Wallace Stegner, who had previously rejected Kesey’s application for a departmental Stegner Fellowship before permitting his attendance on the Woodrow Wilson grant. According to Stone, Stegner “saw Kesey… as a threat to civilization and intellectualism and sobriety” and continued to reject Kesey’s Stegner Fellowship applications for the 1959–60 and 1960–61 terms. Nevertheless, Kesey received the prestigious $2,000 Harper-Saxton Prize for his first novel in progress (the often-rejected Zoo) and continued to audit the graduate writing seminar—a courtesy accorded to former students, including Tillie Olsen—through the 1960-1961 academic year (taught that year by Frank O’Connor and the more congenial Malcolm Cowley, who was happy to see Kesey) as he began the manuscript that would become One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

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At the instigation of Perry Lane neighbor and Stanford psychology graduate student Vik Lovell, an acquaintance of Richard Alpert and Allen Ginsberg, Kesey volunteered to take part in what turned out to be a CIA-financed study under the aegis of Project MKULTRA, a highly secret military program, at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital where he worked as a night aide. The project studied the effects of psychoactive drugs, particularly LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, cocaine, αMT, and DMT on people. Kesey wrote many detailed accounts of his experiences with these drugs, both during the study and in the years of private experimentation that followed.

Kesey’s role as a medical guinea pig, as well as his time working at the state veterans’ hospital, inspired him to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The success of this book, as well as the demolition of the Perry Lane cabins in August 1963, allowed him to move to a log house at 7940 La Honda Road in La Honda, California, about 45 minutes into the dark, forested hills that lie west of Perry Lane. He frequently entertained friends and others with parties he called “Acid Tests”, involving music (such as Kesey’s favorite band, The Warlocks, later known as the Grateful Dead), black lights, fluorescent paint, strobes, and other “psychedelic” effects, and, of course, LSD. These parties were noted in some of Ginsberg’s poems and are also described in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, as well as Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs by Hunter S. Thompson and Freewheelin Frank, Secretary of the Hell’s Angels by Frank Reynolds.

In 1959, Kesey wrote Zoo, a novel about the beatniks living in the North Beach community of San Francisco, but it was never published. In 1960, he wrote End of Autumn, about a young man who leaves his working-class family after he gets a scholarship to an Ivy League school, also unpublished.

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The inspiration for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came while working on the night shift (with Gordon Lish) at the Menlo Park Veterans’ Hospital. There, Kesey often spent time talking to the patients, sometimes under the influence of the hallucinogenic drugs with which he had volunteered to experiment. Kesey did not believe that these patients were insane, but rather that society had pushed them out because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave. Published under the guidance of Cowley in 1962, the novel was an immediate success; in 1963, it was adapted into a successful stage play by Dale Wasserman, and in 1975, Miloš Forman directed a screen adaptation, which won the “Big Five” Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Director (Forman), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman).

Kesey originally was involved in creating the film, but left two weeks into production. He claimed never to have seen the movie because of a dispute over the $20,000 he was initially paid for the film rights. Kesey loathed the fact that, unlike the book, the film was not narrated by the Chief Bromden character, and he disagreed with Jack Nicholson’s being cast as Randle McMurphy (he wanted Gene Hackman). Despite this, Faye Kesey has stated that Ken was generally supportive of the film and pleased that it was made.

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When the publication of his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion in 1964, required his presence in New York, Kesey, Neal Cassady, and others in a group of friends they called the “Merry Pranksters” took a cross-country trip in a school bus nicknamed “Further.” This trip, described in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (and later in Kesey’s own screenplay “The Further Inquiry”) was the group’s attempt to create art out of everyday life, and to experience roadway America while high on LSD. In an interview after arriving in New York, Kesey is quoted as saying, “The sense of communication in this country has damn near atrophied. But we found as we went along it got easier to make contact with people. If people could just understand it is possible to be different without being a threat.”[1] A huge amount of footage was filmed on 16mm cameras during the trip which remained largely unseen until the release of the documentary film “Magic Trip” in 2011.

After the bus trip, the Pranksters threw parties they called “Acid Tests” around the San Francisco Bay Area from 1965 to 1966. Many of the Pranksters lived at Kesey’s residence in La Honda. In New York, Cassady introduced Kesey to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who then turned them on to Timothy Leary. Sometimes a Great Notion inspired a 1970 film starring and directed by Paul Newman; it was nominated for two Academy Awards, and in 1972 was the first film shown by the new television network HBO, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

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Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1965. In an attempt to mislead police, he faked suicide by having friends leave his truck on a cliff-side road near Eureka, along with an elaborate suicide note, written by the Pranksters. Kesey fled to Mexico in the back of a friend’s car. When he returned to the United States eight months later, Kesey was arrested and sent to the San Mateo County jail in Redwood City, California, for five months where he was introduced to a highly recommended San Francisco lawyer, Richard Potack, who specialized in marijuana cultivation. On his release, he moved back to the family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, in the Willamette Valley, where he spent the rest of his life. He wrote many articles, books (mostly collections of his articles), and short stories during that time.

Kesey was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992. In 1994, he toured with members of the Merry Pranksters performing a musical play he wrote about the millennium called “Twister: A Ritual Reality.” Many old and new friends and family showed up to support the Pranksters on this tour that took them from Seattle’s Bumbershoot, all along the West Coast including a sold out two-night run at The Fillmore in San Francisco to Boulder, Colorado, where they coaxed the Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg into performing with them.

Kesey mainly kept to his home life in Pleasant Hill, preferring to make artistic contributions on the Internet or holding ritualistic revivals in the spirit of the Acid Test. In the official Grateful Dead DVD release The Closing of Winterland (2003) documenting the monumental New Year’s 1978/1979 concert at the Winterland Arena in San Francisco, Kesey is featured in a between-set interview.

In June 2001, Kesey was invited and accepted as the keynote speaker at the annual commencement of The Evergreen State College. His last major work was an essay for Rolling Stone magazine calling for peace in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

In 1997, health problems began to weaken him, starting with a stroke that year. On October 25, 2001 Kesey had surgery on his liver to remove a tumor. He did not recover from that operation and died of complications on November 10, 2001 at age 66.

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I’m really torn about Kesey and his legacy, mostly because I am torn about the 1960s and counterculture in general. I was smack in the middle of it all in some ways, as a college student, and on the sidelines in other ways. I was well on my way to becoming an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist at the time, and so was more interested in world cultures and travel than in the usual sex, drugs, and rock and roll of the 60’s and early 70s. Therefore I saw the relatively hedonistic, anti-establishment attitudes of hippies as largely irrelevant to my life, and, to tell the truth, rather trivial. Once you understand the centuries-old traditions of psycho-active drugs in non-Western cultures and their associations with healing, spirituality, and the like, the Acid Tests seem like not much more than bourgeois parties. Kesey’s association with the Hell’s Angels also troubles me. I can see the attraction in some ways. The Angels are certainly countercultural, but not in a way I want any part of. Sometimes, Kesey can be on the money, however. His analysis of people who are institutionalized is spot on; many, many inpatients in psychiatric wards would be considered important figures in other cultures. They are marginalized in the West because their values are not “normal.” Avoiding being “normal” is my life’s work. Kesey’s “movement” had little staying power because his followers grew up and moved on, becoming part of the Establishment themselves, for the most part Still, I suppose it’s all right to remember an era and what it supposedly stood for. I’m still an anthropologist, still world traveling, and still much more interested in global diversity than fighting the Western Establishment which seems to me to be incurably corrupt, violent, and exploitive.

I’ve posted now and again on hippie/psychedelic dishes in the past. Famed druggie Aldous Huxley gave us a recipe for psychedelic cole slaw http://www.bookofdaystales.com/aldous-huxley/ . This same idea can be extended into “tie-dyed” cake baking which I imagine I will get round to posting recipes for at some point.

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The musical Hair brought us that most famous of hippie dishes, tabouli salad http://www.bookofdaystales.com/hair/ . However, we should also not forget that not all hippies were about bean sprouts and quiche. Many were hooked on soda and junk food. So I thought I’d take a decidedly left turn and give you a video on the making of psychedelic veal medallions by a Michelin 3-star chef. His musings on intellect and spirituality are quite hippie-esque. Well worth a look.

Jun 112014
 

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Today is the birthday (1864) of Richard Georg Strauss, major German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his lieder, particularly his Four Last Songs; and, especially, his tone poems Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and other orchestral works, such as Metamorphosen. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria.

Strauss was born in Munich, the son of Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. In his youth, he received a thorough musical education from his father. He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death. During his boyhood Strauss attended orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra (now the Bavarian State Orchestra), and he also received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor there. In 1872 he started receiving violin instruction at the Royal School of Music from Benno Walter, his father’s cousin.

In 1874 Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. The influence of Wagner’s music on Strauss’s style was to be profound, but at first his musically conservative father forbade him to study it. Indeed, in the Strauss household, the music of Richard Wagner was viewed with deep suspicion, and it was not until the age of 16 that Strauss was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde. In later life, Strauss said that he deeply regretted the conservative hostility to Wagner’s progressive works. Nevertheless, Strauss’s father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son’s developing taste, not least in Strauss’s abiding love for the horn.

In early 1882 in Vienna he gave the first performance of his Violin Concerto in D minor, playing a piano reduction of the orchestral part himself, with his teacher and cousin Benno Walter as soloist. The same year he entered Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he studied Philosophy and Art History, but not music. He left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow, who had been enormously impressed by the young composer’s Serenade for wind instruments, composed when he was only 16 years of age. Strauss learned the art of conducting by observing Bülow in rehearsal. Bülow was very fond of the young man and decided that Strauss should be his successor as conductor of the Meiningen orchestra when Bülow resigned in 1885. Strauss’s compositions at this time were indebted to the style of Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father’s teachings. His Horn Concerto No. 1, Op. 11, is representative of this period and is a staple of modern horn repertoire.

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Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna on 10 September 1894. She was famous for being irascible, garrulous, eccentric and outspoken, but the marriage, to all appearances, was essentially happy and she was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of 1948, he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain significant soprano roles.

Some of Strauss’s first compositions were solo and chamber works. These pieces include: early compositions for piano solo in a tonally traditional style, many of which are lost; a string quartet (opus 2); a cello sonata; a piano quartet; Violin Sonata in E flat major.

After 1890 Strauss composed very infrequently for chamber groups, his energies being almost completely absorbed with large-scale orchestral works and operas. Four of his chamber pieces are actually arrangements of portions of his operas, including the Daphne-Etude for solo violin, and the string Sextet which is the overture to his final opera Capriccio. His last independent chamber work, an Allegretto in E major for violin and piano, dates from 1940.

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Strauss’s style began to truly develop and change when, in 1885, he met Alexander Ritter, a noted composer and violinist, and the husband of one of Richard Wagner’s nieces. It was Ritter who persuaded Strauss to abandon the conservative style of his youth, and begin writing tone poems. He also introduced Strauss to the essays of Richard Wagner and the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer. Strauss went on to conduct one of Ritter’s operas, and at Strauss’s request Ritter later wrote a poem describing the events depicted in Strauss’s tone poem Death and Transfiguration.

The new influences from Ritter resulted in what is widely regarded as Strauss’s first piece to show his mature personality, the tone poem Don Juan (1888), which displays a new kind of virtuosity in its bravura orchestral manner. Strauss went on to write a series of increasingly ambitious tone poems: Death and Transfiguration (1889), Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (1895), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote (1897), Ein Heldenleben (1898), Symphonia Domestica (1903) and An Alpine Symphony (1911–1915). One commentator has observed of these works that “no orchestra could exist without his tone poems, written to celebrate the glories of the post-Wagnerian symphony orchestra.”

For analysis of Strauss’s mature style I am going to focus on the tone poem Till Eulenspiegel. Here it is conducted by Lorin Maazel from memory.

Till Eulenspiegel is an impudent trickster figure originating in Middle Low German folklore. His tales were disseminated in popular printed editions narrating a string of lightly connected episodes that outlined his picaresque career, in Germany, Denmark, the Low Countries, the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy. He was commonly found in English-speaking culture late in the nineteenth century as “Owlglass” (English version of Eulenspiegel), but was previously mentioned in English literature by Ben Jonson in his comedic play The Alchemist, and even earlier – Owleglasse – by Henry Porter in The Two Angry Women of Abington (1599).

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The full title of Strauss’s piece is “Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche nach alter Schelmenueise in Rondeau form fur grosses Orchester gesetz” (Till Eulenspiegel’s merry pranks, after the old rogue’s tale, set for large orchestra in Rondo form).It chronicles the misadventures and pranks of the folk hero who is represented by two themes. The first, played by the horn, is a lilting melody that reaches a peak, falls downward, and ends in three long, loud notes, each progressively lower. The second, for D clarinet, is crafty and wheedling, suggesting a trickster doing what he does best. Sometimes these two themes are known as “the adventurer” and “the trickster.”

Strauss keeps the piece moving by casting it as an extended rondo in which this pair of repeating themes is contrasted against separate motifs meant to represent Till’s various adventures. Strauss did not claim the music represented any particular chapters in the Eulenspiegel tales, though when pressed he conceded that the musical episodes include Till riding through a marketplace and upsetting the goods, then poking fun at the clergy, flirting with girls, mocking university academics, and finally being hanged for blasphemy.

In music criticism a piece of music that “describes” a non-musical form such as a story, poem, or image, is called “program music,” as opposed to classical forms such as the sonata and the symphony – music for music’s sake – which is usually called “absolute music.” The brilliance of Till Eulenspiegel lies in the fact that it is neither fully program music nor absolute music either, hence Strauss’s reluctance to nail down each section to a specific story. He felt that one ought to be able to listen to the piece without any reference to an external narrative and, therefore, view it as absolute music even though it had a programmatic side.

Strauss called the piece a rondo, a classical form, but it is not a rondo in the conventional use of the term. Typically a rondo has one principal theme (sometimes called the “refrain”) which alternates with one or more contrasting themes, generally called “episodes,” but also occasionally referred to as “digressions” or “couplets.” Common patterns in the Classical period include: ABA, ABACA, or ABACABA. The number of themes can vary from piece to piece, and the recurring element is sometimes embellished and/or shortened in order to provide for variation. In Till Eulenspiegel the two themes carry equal value and alternate in extraordinary ways with variations in tempo, orchestration, harmony, and syncopation. He wrote to Franz Wüllner, who conducted the first performance, “I really cannot provide a program for Eulenspiegel. Any words into which I might put the thoughts that the several incidents suggested to me would hardly suffice; they might even offend. Let me leave it, therefore, to my listeners to crack the hard nut the Rogue has offered them. By way of helping them to a better understanding, it seems enough to point out the two Eulenspiegel motifs [Strauss here jots down the two themes], which, in the most diverse disguises, moods, and situations, pervade the whole up to the catastrophe when, after being condemned to death, Till is strung up on the gibbet. For the rest, let them guess at the musical joke a Rogue has offered them.” Strauss did not want to have detailed program notes describing the various incidents in the piece because he did not want the audience to be distracted by being glued to the program, figuring out which musical section belonged to which incident. He wanted them to just listen to the music.

In 1905 he tried to explain his theories to a French writer and critic, in a letter he wrote “a poetic program is exclusively a pretext for the purely musical expression and development of my emotions.” The program was not, Strauss emphasized, “a simple physical description of precise facts of life. For this would be contrary to the spirit of music.” But Strauss never felt dependent on Classic forms in his series of tone poems either. “New ideas must search for new forms,” he kept on insisting. For the most part he was successful in his formal structures. Whatever the intrinsic value of the musical materials, Strauss put them into well-integrated free forms – modified sonata, variations, rondo. He was a superb technician.

The work is scored for a large, complex orchestra allowing for extraordinary richness and variation, which Strauss takes full advantage of:

woodwind: piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in B-flat, D clarinet, 1 bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon

brass: 4 horns in F and E, 4 horns in D, 3 trumpets in F and C, 3 trumpets in D, 3 trombones, tuba

percussion: timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, large ratchet

strings: violins I, II, violas, violoncellos, double basses

Many critics argue that the tone poem reached its pinnacle in Strauss’s oeuvre. Although technically highly sophisticated, his tone poems remain accessible to the general public as seen in the opening bars of Also sprach Zarathustra which Stanley Kubrick famously used in 2001: A Space Odyssey. After Strauss the tone poem quickly waned in popularity with composers, as if the master had perfected the form and there was nothing left for his followers to accomplish.

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Strauss was from Munich, the capital of Bavaria. Historically the everyday cuisine of the citizens of Munich differed somewhat from that of the rural people of Bavaria, especially in the greater consumption of meat. In the city, more people could afford beef, and on festival days, roast veal was preferred. From 1840 to 1841, with Munich having a population of about 83,000 citizens, 76,979 calves were slaughtered, that is, approximately one calf per citizen per year. The number of slaughtered cows was about 20,000. Bratwursts of beef were especially popular. In the 19thcentury, potatoes were also accepted as a part of Bavarian cuisine, but they could still not replace the popularity of Dampfnudel, steamed yeast dumplings.

One author wrote in 1907, “The ‘Munich cuisine’ is based on the main concept of the ‘eternal calf’. In no other city in the world is so much veal consumed as in Munich. Even breakfast consists mainly of veal in all possible forms mostly sausages and calf viscus! The dinner and evening meal consist only of all sorts of veal. And still the Munich innkeepers speak of a ‘substantial selection of dishes’ without realizing that the one-sidedness of the ‘Munich veal cuisine’ cannot be surpassed any more!”

Bavaria is sometimes nicknamed the “Weisswurst Equator.” The Weisswurst was created in Munich on February 22, 1857, and has since become a very important part of Bavarian cooking. The Weisswurst is so important there that a number of “rules” and taboos have been created around this popular dish. Those who don’t follow these rules are quickly labeled as “foreigners” (i.e. non-Bavarian).

1. The Weisswurst must never be eaten with fork and knife. Instead, one is supposed to cut it in half, and with the hands, pick up one of the halves and dip it in sweet (and only sweet) mustard. The Weisswurst is to be eaten only with the hands.

2. The Weisswurst is to be eaten only with a roll or pretzel and sweet mustard – no other side dishes are acceptable.

3. The Weisswurst cannot be eaten after 12:00pm. This rule actually goes back to the 19th century when the wurst was first invented. Back then, there was no way to preserve or refrigerate fresh, uncooked wurst. Because of this, all Weisswurst that was made had to be eaten quickly, so the rule was created that the wurst could not be eaten after 12:00pm to avoid any food-borne illnesses.

With the right equipment it is easy enough to make Weisswurst at home. You need a meat grinder with fine blades, and a sausage nozzle. The wurst can be cooked in plain water, but I prefer to use a good Munich beer. It really lifts the taste.

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Weisswurst

Ingredients

5 feet natural hog casing
1 tablespoon white vinegar
3 ½ lb veal shoulder, trimmed, cut into ½ inch cubes
½ lb pork fat cut into ½ inch cubes
1 ½ cups onion, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 tsp lemon zest, grated
1 ¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Munich beer (optional)

Instructions

Place the casing in medium bowl. Cover generously with cold water and stir in the vinegar. Allow casing to soak 30 minutes.

Drain the casing. Fit one end of the casing over mouth of faucet and holding it in place run a thin stream of cold water slowly through length of casing, untwisting as the water passes through. Increase water flow slightly to stretch casing to full width. Allow water to run through the casing for 2 minutes and then return casing to a bowl of cold water.

Pass the veal through a meat grinder fitted with a fine disc a bowl; grind pork fat into same bowl. Sprinkle onions, parsley, lemon zest, salt, and pepper over the meat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until evenly distributed. Pass the mixture through the grinder at least twice, then beat the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon until creamy and light.

Remove the blade and disc from the grinder and attach a sausage funnel. Drain the sausage casing thoroughly. Run your fingers gently down the length of casing, pressing thumb and forefinger together, to remove water. Pass the forcemeat through the grinder until even with end of funnel in order to prevent an initial air pocket. Fit one end of the casing over mouth of funnel. Pull the rest of the casing up on to funnel, leaving 4 inches hanging. Tie the unattached end of the casing into double knot to seal.

Pass the veal mixture through the funnel into the casing, easing the casing off the funnel gradually as the casing fills out. Work at a steady pace, making sure the casing is evenly and firmly packed. If any air pockets form in the casing, pierce them with needle. Continue filling the casing until all veal mixture is used. Tie the top end of the casing into a double knot. To form smaller sausages, tie the casing tightly at 4-inch intervals with short pieces of butcher’s twine.

Heat a large kettle or stockpot with salted water or Munich beer over medium heat to boiling. Reduce heat to lowest possible setting. Form the sausages into coil and place in large flat plate. Slip sausages into water; cook, covered, until firm, about 20 minutes. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon to a warmed serving platter. Serve with pretzels or rolls and a good Munich beer.

Yield 4 lb.

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Apr 222014
 

Kant

Today is the birthday (1724) of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher who is widely considered to be a central figure in the development of certain branches of modern philosophy. He argued that human concepts and categories structure our view of the world and its laws, and that, therefore, reason is the source of morality. Kant’s major work, the Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1781), aimed to bring reason together with experience and to move beyond what he believed to be failures of traditional philosophy and metaphysics. He hoped to end an age of speculation in which objects outside of experience were used to support what he saw as futile theories, while also resisting skepticism.

Kant proposed a “Copernican Revolution-in-reverse.” In simple terms, Kant argued that our experiences are structured by necessary features of our minds. The mind shapes and structures experience so that, on an abstract level, all human experience shares certain essential structural features. Among other things, Kant believed that the concepts of space and time are integral to all human experience, as are our concepts of cause and effect. We never have direct experience of things, the noumenal world, and what we do experience is the phenomenal world as conveyed by our senses.

Kant published other works on ethics, religion, law, aesthetics, astronomy, and history. These include the Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, 1788), The Metaphysics of Morals (Die Metaphysik der Sitten, 1797), which dealt with ethics, and the Critique of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790), which looks at aesthetics and teleology. He aimed to resolve disputes between empiricist and rationalist approaches. The former asserted that all knowledge comes through experience; the latter maintained that reason and innate ideas are prior. [There is a famous joke involving a rationalist and empiricist passing a flock of sheep.  The rationalist says, “those sheep are white,” to which the empiricist replies, “on this side.”] Kant argued that experience is purely subjective without first being processed by pure reason; using reason without applying it to experience only leads to theoretical illusions. The free and proper exercise of reason by the individual was a major theme both of the Age of Enlightenment, and of Kant’s approaches to the various problems of philosophy.

I’m not going to launch into a treatise on the technical aspects of Kant’s work. You can look them up for yourselves if you are interested. Instead I am going to give a few biographical details followed by some quotes, and then a little discourse on his views on aesthetics as a prelude to a recipe.

Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 in Königsberg then in Prussia (since 1946 the city of Kaliningrad in the Russian Federation). He was the fourth of nine children (four of them reached adulthood). He was baptized Emanuel but changed his name to Immanuel after learning Hebrew. In his entire life, he never traveled more than ten miles from Königsberg. His father, Johann Georg Kant (1682–1746), was a German harness maker from Memel, at the time Prussia’s most northeastern city (now Klaip?da in Lithuania). His mother, Anna Regina Reuter (1697–1737), was born in Nuremberg. Kant’s paternal grandfather, Hans Kant (in German), had emigrated from Scotland to East Prussia, and his father still spelled their family name “Cant.” In his youth, Kant was a solid, but undistinguished, student. He was brought up in a Pietist household that stressed intense religious devotion, personal humility, and complete faith in the authority of the Bible. Kant received a strict education that preferred Latin and religious instruction over mathematics and science. Despite his upbringing in a religious household and still maintaining a belief in God, he was skeptical of religion in later life. Thus he is often labeled as agnostic.

There are a great many stories about Kant’s personal mannerisms which are largely unfounded. It is often held, for example, that Kant lived such a strict and predictable life, that neighbors would set their clocks by his daily walks. He never married, but by all accounts had a rewarding social life. He was a popular teacher and a successful author even before starting on his major philosophical works.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes which give a small taste of the man:

Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another.

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.

Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination.

Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.

Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.

Kant trivialized gustatory experience as incapable of being truly aesthetic because it is driven by appetite and, therefore, cannot be separated from desire or utility (the need to satisfy hunger). Painting, by contrast, can be viewed in a “disinterested” way without reference to utility. I, and many others, have argued strongly against this narrow view of food as utilitarian – perhaps a product of his Puritanical upbringing? You only have to watch the judges’ table on Top Chef to see the gaping flaw in his reasoning.

Here is a recipe for Königsberger Klopse named for Kant’s home town, and one of the highlights of East Prussian cuisine. In the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the dish was officially renamed Kochklopse (“boiled meatballs”) to avoid any reference to its namesake city, which in the aftermath of World War II had been annexed by the Soviet Union. The city’s German inhabitants had been expelled, and the city had been repopulated with Russians and renamed after a close ally of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet leadership. The GDR forbade using the historic names of the annexed territories or cities. Königsberger Klopse were jokingly referred to as Revanchistenklopse (revanchist/revisionist meatballs).

The meatballs are made from very finely ground veal along with onions, eggs, and white pepper. The traditional recipe uses anchovy. If herring is substituted, the dish is called Rostocker Klopse. If both anchovy and herring are omitted, it is called Soßklopse. The meatballs are carefully simmered in veal stock, and the resulting broth is mixed with a roux, cream, and egg yolk to which capers are added. A simpler version of the recipe thickens the sauce with flour or starch only, omitting the egg yolk. A refined version uses only egg yolk as a thickener. Capers are an essential ingredient in all these versions. The dish is traditionally served with boiled potatoes.

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Königsberger Klopse

Ingredients:

Meatballs

1 day-old bread roll
1 tbsp lukewarm milk
1lb/500g ground veal
1 large egg, beaten
2-4 Anchovies, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
1 tsp butter
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, ¾ of the bunch finely chopped
zest of 1 small lemon
1 ½ cups/400 ml light beef or veal stock
white pepper

Sauce

1 oz/30g butter
1oz/30g flour
3 tablespoons capers
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsps cream
1 tbsp dry white wine
pinch of sugar
white pepper
2 egg yolks, beaten

 

Instructions

Tear the bread roll into small pieces and soak them in the milk. Squeeze out any excess milk and mix the bread together with the ground veal and beaten egg. Add the chopped parsley and lemon zest.

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat until transparent. Add them to the ground veal mixture together with the finely chopped anchovies. Season with salt and pepper to taste and form the veal mix into approximately 16 meatballs.

Bring the stock to a gentle simmer, add the meatballs and cook them, covered for about 10 minutes. Do not overcook.

Remove the meatballs and keep them warm. Strain the stock and reserve it for the sauce.

For the sauce melt the butter in a heavy skillet. Add the flour and stir continuously to form a golden roux. Add the stock slowly, whisking constantly to form a smooth sauce. Add the capers along with their liquid, the lemon juice, cream and the wine. Season to taste with salt, sugar, and white pepper.

In a small bowl temper the egg yolks by adding a few tablespoons of hot sauce to them and whisking vigorously. Then add the tempered egg yolks to the sauce, whisking constantly, and making sure it does not boil.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and let them to heat through gently.

Serve garnished with the rest of the parsley and lemon wedges, and with boiled potatoes, buttered.

Serves 4

Mar 182014
 

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Today is the birthday (1893) of Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC, English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War. His shockingly realistic war poetry concerning the horrors of trenches and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his friend and mentor Siegfried Sassoon, and stood in stark contrast both to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Among his best-known works – most of which were published posthumously – are “Dulce et Decorum Est,” “Insensibility,” “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” “Futility,” and “Strange Meeting.”

Wilfred Owen was born at Plas Wilmot, a house in Weston Lane, near Oswestry in Shropshire of mixed English and Welsh ancestry. He was the eldest of four children, his siblings being Harold, Colin, and Mary Millard Owen. At that time, his parents, Thomas and Harriet Susan (née Shaw) Owen, lived in a comfortable house owned by his grandfather, Edward Shaw but, after the latter’s death in January 1897, and the house’s sale in March, the family lodged in back streets of Birkenhead while Thomas temporarily worked in the town with the railway company employing him. In April the latter transferred to Shrewsbury, where the family lived with Thomas’ parents in Canon Street.

In 1898, Thomas transferred to Birkenhead again when he became stationmaster at Woodside station   and the family lived with him, at three successive homes in the Tranmere district, before moving back to Shrewsbury in 1907. Wilfred was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School (later known as the Wakeman School).

He discovered his poetic vocation in 1903 or 1904 during a holiday spent in Cheshire. Owen was raised as an Anglican of the evangelical school, and in his youth was a devout believer, in part due to his strong relationship with his mother, which was to last throughout his life. His early influences included the Bible and the “big six” of romantic poetry, particularly John Keats. For Owen’s last two years of formal education he was a pupil-teacher at the Wyle Cop school in Shrewsbury. In 1911, he passed the matriculation exam for the University of London, but not with the first-class honours needed for a scholarship, which in his family’s circumstances was the only way he could have afforded to attend.

In return for free lodging, and some tuition for the entrance exam, Owen worked as lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading. During this time he attended classes at University College, Reading (now the University of Reading), in botany and later, at the urging of the head of the English Department, took free lessons in Old English. His time spent at Dunsden parish led him to disillusionment with the Church, both in its ceremony and its failure to provide aid for those in need.

From 1913, he worked as a private tutor teaching English and French at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France, and later with a family. There he met the older French poet Laurent Tailhade, with whom he later corresponded in French. When war broke out, he did not rush to enlist, and even considered the French army, but eventually returned to England.

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On 21 October 1915, he enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles Officers’ Training Corps. For the next seven months, he trained at Hare Hall Camp in Essex. On 4 June 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant (on probation) in the Manchester Regiment. Initially, he held his troops in contempt for their loutish behavior, and in a letter to his mother described his company as “expressionless lumps.” However, his life was to be changed dramatically by a number of traumatic experiences. He fell into a shell hole and suffered concussion; he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, and spent several days lying out on an embankment in Savy Wood amongst (or so he thought) the remains of a fellow officer. Soon afterwards, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. It was while recuperating at Craiglockhart that he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, an encounter that was to transform Owen’s life.

Whilst at Craiglockhart, he made friends in Edinburgh’s artistic and literary circles, and did some teaching at the Tynecastle High School, in a poor area of the city. In November he was discharged from Craiglockhart, judged fit for light regimental duties. He spent a contented and fruitful winter in Scarborough, and in March 1918 was posted to the Northern Command Depot at Ripon. While in Ripon he composed or revised a number of poems, including “Futility” and “Strange Meeting.” He spent his 25th birthday quietly at Ripon Cathedral, which is dedicated to his namesake, St. Wilfrid of Hexham.

At the very end of August 1918, Owen returned to the front line – perhaps imitating the example of his admired friend Sassoon. On 1 October 1918 Owen led units of the Second Manchesters to storm a number of enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt. However, only one week before the end of the war, whilst attempting to traverse the Sambre canal, he was shot and killed. The news of his death, on 4 November 1918, arrived at his parents’ house in Shrewsbury on Armistice Day. For his courage and leadership in the Joncourt action, he was awarded the Military Cross, an award he had always sought in order to justify himself as a war poet, but the award was not gazetted until 15 February 1919. The citation followed on 30 July 1919:

2nd Lt, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, 5th Bn. Manch. R., T.F., attd. 2nd Bn.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on the Fonsomme Line on October 1st/2nd, 1918. On the company commander becoming a casualty, he assumed command and showed fine leadership and resisted a heavy counter-attack. He personally manipulated a captured enemy machine gun from an isolated position and inflicted considerable losses on the enemy. Throughout he behaved most gallantly.

Owen is regarded by some critics as the leading poet of the First World War, known for his war poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare. He had been writing poetry for some years before the war, himself dating his poetic beginnings to a stay at Broxton by the Hill, when he was ten years old. The Romantic poets Keats and Shelley influenced much of Owen’s early writing and poetry. His great friend, the poet Siegfried Sassoon, later had a profound effect on Owen’s poetic voice, and Owen’s most famous poems (“Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth”) show direct results of Sassoon’s influence. Manuscript copies of the poems survive, annotated in Sassoon’s handwriting. Owen’s poetry would eventually be more widely acclaimed than that of his mentor. While his use of pararhyme (near rhyme) with heavy reliance on assonance of consonants was innovative, he was not the only poet at the time to use these particular techniques. He was, however, one of the first to experiment with it extensively.

Here is an excerpt from “Strange Meeting” with the pararhymes in bold.

Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

Here is “Dulce et Decorum Est” preceded by the marked up manuscript.

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Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

His poetry itself underwent significant changes in 1917. As a part of his therapy at Craiglockhart, Owen’s doctor, Arthur Brock, encouraged Owen to translate his experiences, specifically the experiences he relived in his dreams, into poetry. Sassoon, who was becoming influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, aided him here, showing Owen through example what poetry could do. Sassoon’s use of satire influenced Owen, who tried his hand at writing “in Sassoon’s style”. Further, the content of Owen’s verse was undeniably changed by his work with Sassoon. Sassoon’s emphasis on realism and “writing from experience” was contrary to Owen’s hitherto romantic-influenced style, as seen in his earlier sonnets. Owen was to take both Sassoon’s gritty realism and his own romantic notions and create a poetic synthesis that was both potent and sympathetic, as summarised by his famous phrase “the pity of war”. In this way, Owen’s poetry is quite distinctive, and he is, by many, considered a greater poet than Sassoon. Nonetheless, Sassoon contributed to Owen’s popularity by his strong promotion of his poetry, both before and after Owen’s death, and his editing was instrumental in the making of Owen as a poet.

Owen’s poems had the benefit of strong patronage, and it was a combination of Sassoon’s influence, support from Edith Sitwell, and the preparation of a new and fuller edition of the poems in 1931 by Edmund Blunden that ensured his popularity, coupled with a revival of interest in his poetry in the 1960s which plucked him out of a relatively exclusive readership into the public eye. Though he had plans for a volume of verse, for which he had written a “Preface”, he never saw his own work published apart from those poems he included in The Hydra, the magazine he edited at Craiglockhart War Hospital, and “Miners,” which was published in The Nation.

There were many other influences on Owen’s poetry, including his mother. His letters to her provide an insight into Owen’s life at the front, and the development of his philosophy regarding the war. Graphic details of the horror Owen witnessed were never spared. Owen’s experiences with religion also heavily influenced his poetry, notably in poems such as “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, in which the ceremony of a funeral is re-enacted not in a church, but on the battlefield itself, and “At a Calvary near the Ancre”, which comments on the Crucifixion of Christ. Owen’s experiences in war led him further to challenge his religious beliefs, claiming in his poem “Exposure” that “love of God seems dying”.

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In July 1918, Owen returned to active service in France, although he might have stayed on home-duty indefinitely. His decision was probably the result of Sassoon’s being sent back to England, after being shot in the head in an apparent “friendly fire” incident, and put on sick-leave for the remaining duration of the war. Owen saw it as his duty to add his voice to that of Sassoon, that the horrific realities of the war might continue to be told. Sassoon was violently opposed to the idea of Owen returning to the trenches, threatening to “stab [him] in the leg” if he tried it. Aware of his attitude, Owen did not inform him of his action until he was once again in France.

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Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death. His mother received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice Day, as the church bells were ringing out in celebration. He is buried at Ors Communal Cemetery. There are memorials to Wilfred Owen at Gailly, Ors, Oswestry, Birkenhead (Central Library) and Shrewsbury.

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On 11 November 1985, Owen was one of the 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. The inscription on the stone is taken from Owen’s “Preface” to his poems: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” There is also a small museum dedicated to Owen and Sassoon at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, now a Napier University building.

The forester’s house in Ors where Owen spent his last night, Maison forestière de l’Ermitage, has been transformed by Turner Prize nominee Simon Patterson into an art installation and permanent memorial to Owen and his poetry, which opened to the public on 1 October 2011.

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Here’s a recipe from Picardy where Owen was killed and now rests in peace. Picardy is especially noted for terroir cuisine (cooking using local ingredients only). Maroilles (also known as Marolles) is a cow’s-milk cheese made in the regions of Picardy and Nord-Pas-de-Calais in northern France. It derives its name from the village of Maroilles in the region in which it is still manufactured. The curd is shaped and salted before being removed from its mold and placed in a ventilated drying area for around ten days during which time a light coating of bacteria develops. The cheese is then brushed and washed and cellared for at least five weeks, though periods of up to four months are not uncommon. During this time it is turned and brushed at regular intervals to remove the natural white mold and to allow its red bacteria to change the rind from yellow to red.

For filet de veau au lard à la crème de maroilles a loin of veal is larded with bacon, baked, and then smothered in a sauce made from Maroilles and Picardy beer. Because this is a terroir dish you going to be hard put to make it at home — unless your home is in Picardy.

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Filet De Veau Au Lard À La Crème De Maroilles

Ingredients:

22 ozs/600 gm veal loin
10 slices Picardy bacon
½ cup/1 dl Picardy beer
7 ozs/200 gm of Maroilles cheese
3 ozs80 gm butter
1 cup/2 dl cream

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 250°F /(120 °C

Bard (wrap) the veal loin with slices of bacon.

Brown the barded loin on all sides in a heavy skillet. Place the loin in a baking dish and bake for 40 minutes.

Melt the maroilles with the beer in the skillet along with the veal and bacon juices. Add the cream plus  salt and pepper to taste.

Coat the bottom of a serving plate with the  maroilles sauce. Place the loin on top cut into thick slices (3 per person).  Serve with egg noodles or new potatoes plus crusty bread.

May 222013
 

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Today is the birthday of Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1869) best known for the creation of the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. Often the author is referred to as Conan Doyle as if he had a compound last name.  But, in fact, Doyle was his last name and Conan was one of his first names.  He was born and raised in Edinburgh and went to Edinburgh University to study medicine. In 1882 he opened his first medical practice in partnership with a classmate in Plymouth but within months left to set up an independent practice in Portsmouth.  He was not very successful at first, so while he was waiting for patients he wrote short stories. He had trouble finding publishers until he wrote his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. It was picked up by Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, a paperback magazine founded by Samuel Orchart Beeton, husband of legendary cookbook author, Isabella Beeton ( and her publisher). The character of Holmes was loosely based on one of Doyle’s teachers, Joseph Bell, who was noted for his powers of deductive reasoning. One might get the impression from his photo, and his profession that Doyle modeled Dr Watson on himself. Like Watson, Doyle worked as a field hospital doctor (in the Boer War).

Doyle always considered his other writing, especially his historical novels, as more important than the Holmes stories, and so wrote to his mother in 1891: “I think of slaying Holmes… and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.” His mother responded, “You won’t! You can’t! You mustn’t!” Yet, in 1893 in “The Final Problem” he had Holmes tumble over the Reichenbach Falls with his arch enemy Moriarty and thought he was done with him.  But public outcry was so great that he agreed to write more and published The Hound of The Baskervilles in 1901, set at a time before the Reichenbach incident.  Then in 1903 he brought Holmes back in the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes, in which he explained that only Moriarty had fallen to his death, but Holmes let it be thought he was dead because he had other mortal enemies.

In the collection, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, is a story called “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez.” Holmes is able to solve the mystery of a disappearing murderer in part by noting the eating habits of the occupant of the house, a mysterious professor, where the murder takes place. The following exchange occurs between Holmes and the housekeeper.

“I suppose the professor eats hardly anything?”
“Well, he is variable. I’ll say that for him.”
“I’ll wager he took no breakfast this morning, and won’t face his lunch after all the cigarettes I saw him consume.”
“Well, you’re out there, sir, as it happens, for he ate a remarkable big breakfast this morning. I don’t know when I’ve known him make a better one, and he’s ordered a good dish of cutlets for his lunch”

Ever since his first appearance, Holmes has attracted a huge following, and there are scores of clubs devoted to picking apart every detail of the stories trying to complete a biography of him from tiny slivers of evidence.  Dozens of books have been written extending tales of Holmes’ life, and there seems to be no end of movies and television shows attempting to expand our vision of the detective. So I guess I should join the crowd (I am a fan too), and attempt to recreate the dish of cutlets the professor had ordered. If you want to know why the cutlets are important you will have to read the story for yourself.  What sort of fan would I be if I gave away the ending?

Given the connexion between Doyle and Isabella Beeton I give here one of her recipes in her own words for veal cutlets, which is a variant of breaded cutlet recipes found from Vienna to Buenos Aires, but with an English twist. She does not say what “savoury herbs” to use but I would imagine that parsley, thyme, and sage would fit the bill nicely.  I don’t doubt Holmes ate something similar on many occasions. The gravy might be a bit bland for modern tastes so you can use beef stock instead of water and use a few pinches of fresh thyme and parsley to punch it up. Forcemeat balls are meatballs made from equal quantities of finely ground meat and fat pounded together, much like a sausage filling, sometimes bound with an egg (and breadcrumbs) and shallow fried.  Forcemeat made from bacon and suet would work well with this recipe. For some reason Beeton mentions forcemeat balls all the time in her cookbook but gives a recipe only for fish forcemeat. So I have appended a modern recipe from Scotland for bacon forcemeat balls.

VEAL CUTLETS .

866. INGREDIENTS.—About 3 lbs. of the prime part of the leg of veal, egg and bread crumbs, 3 tablespoonfuls of minced savoury herbs, salt and pepper to taste, a small piece of butter.

Mode.—Have the veal cut into slices about 3/4 of an inch in thickness, and, if not cut perfectly even, level the meat with a cutlet-bat or rolling-pin. Shape and trim the cutlets, and brush them over with egg. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, with which have been mixed minced herbs and a seasoning of pepper and salt, and press the crumbs down. Fry them of a delicate brown in fresh lard or butter, and be careful not to burn them. They should be very thoroughly done, but not dry. If the cutlets be thick, keep the pan covered for a few minutes at a good distance from the fire, after they have acquired a good colour:  by this means, the meat will be done through. Lay the cutlets in a dish, keep them hot, and make a gravy in the pan as follows: Dredge in a little flour, add a piece of butter the size of a walnut, brown it, then pour as much boiling water as is required over it, season with pepper and salt, add a little lemon-juice, give one boil, and pour it over the cutlets. They should be garnished with slices of broiled bacon, and a few forcemeat balls will be found a very excellent addition to this dish.

Time.—For cutlets of a moderate thickness, about 12 minutes; if very thick, allow more time.

Average cost, 10d. per lb. Sufficient for 6 persons.

Bacon Forcemeat Balls

Ingredients:

6 oz (175g) breadcrumbs
2 oz (50g) finely shredded suet
2 oz (50g)bacon, finely chopped and fried until crisp
4 teaspoons of mixed fresh parsley, sage and thyme finely chopped
salt
black pepper
1 egg, well beaten
1 1/2 oz (40g) butter

Instructions:

Mix together the breadcrumbs and the suet in a bowl.

Add the bacon, herbs, salt and pepper (to taste).

Stir the beaten egg into the mixture.

Form into balls about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter.

Melt the butter in a frying pan.

Add the forcemeat balls and fry for 6 minutes.

Yield: 6-8 balls