May 302017

How do you feel about voting for a man for president who had shot and killed a man in a duel? Well . . . on this date in 1806, Andrew Jackson, future 7th president of the United States, killed Charles Dickinson in a duel in Kentucky. They had nipped over the border because dueling was illegal in Tennessee. Jackson was severely wounded in the duel, and carried a bullet lodged in his lung the rest of his life because, at that time, surgery to remove it was too risky. There’s a fundamental difference between a real alpha male (Jackson) and a fake one (Trump), but I don’t care for either.

Andrew Jackson’s quick temper was notorious. One of his biographers wrote,

His audacity on behalf of the people earned him enemies who slandered him and defamed even his wife, Rachel. He dueled in her defense and his own, suffering grievous wounds that left him with bullet fragments lodged about his body.

However, most historians are of the general opinion that Jackson was usually (not always) in control of his rage, and used it (and his fearsome reputation) as a tool to get what he wanted in his public and private affairs. Certainly, his opponents were terrified of his temper:

Observers likened him to a volcano, and only the most intrepid or recklessly curious cared to see it erupt. …His close associates all had stories of his blood-curling oaths, his summoning of the Almighty to loose His wrath upon some miscreant, typically followed by his own vow to hang the villain or blow him to perdition. Given his record—in duels, brawls, mutiny trials, and summary hearings—listeners had to take his vows seriously.

On the last day of his presidency, Jackson said that he had but two regrets, that he “had been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun.” The ineluctable fact about such threats (unlike those of Trump), is that once in a while you have to actually kill someone to show that you are serious. In my opinion, therefore, Jackson’s duel with Dickinson was as much about proving he was ruthless, as about actual grievances – although in his mind they were real enough.

The Jackson-Dickinson duel had been developing over some time:

In 1805 a friend of Jackson’s deprecated the manner in which Captain Joseph Erwin had handled a bet with Jackson over a horse race. Erwin’s son-in-law, Charles Dickinson became enraged and started quarreling with Jackson’s friend which led to Jackson becoming involved. Dickinson wrote to Jackson calling him a ‘coward and an equivocator.’ The affair continued, with more insults and misunderstandings, until Dickinson published a statement in the Nashville Review in May 1806, calling Jackson a ‘worthless scoundrel, … a poltroon and a coward.’

Although the actual issue that led to the duel was a horse race between Andrew Jackson and Dickinson’s father-in-law, Joseph Erwin, Jackson had confronted Dickinson over a report that he had insulted his wife, Rachel. Dickinson said if he had, he was drunk at the time and apologized. Jackson accepted his apology, but there were probably still hard feelings between the two. Jackson and Erwin had scheduled their horse race in 1805. The stakes specified a winning pot of $2,000 paid by the loser, with an $800 forfeit if a horse couldn’t run. Erwin’s horse went lame, and after a minor disagreement about the type of forfeit payment, Erwin paid.

Later, one of Jackson’s friends, while sitting in a Nashville store, shared what was probably a more lurid story about Erwin’s disputed payment. When Dickinson heard the story, he sent a friend, Thomas Swann, to act as a go-between to inquire about what Jackson said about his father-in-law. Whether the friend misinterpreted or even misrepresented what was said by the two men. This minor misunderstanding flamed into a full-blown battle.


In a confrontation at Winn’s Tavern, Jackson struck Swann with his cane and called him a stupid meddler. Dickinson sent Jackson a letter calling him a coward about the same time that Swann wrote a column in a local newspaper calling Jackson a coward. Jackson responded in the same newspaper saying Swann was a “lying valet for a worthless, drunken, blackguard” – that is, Dickinson. That did it for Dickinson who, after he returned from New Orleans in May 1806, published an attack on Jackson in the local newspaper calling Jackson “a poltroon and a coward.” After reading the article, Jackson sent Dickinson a letter requesting “satisfaction due me for the insults offered.”

Because dueling was outlawed in Tennessee, the two men met in the Adairville, Kentucky, area, which sits right on the border, on May 30, 1806. Dickinson left Nashville the day before the duel with his second and a group of friends, confident, even demonstrating his shooting skills at various stops along the way. Since Dickinson was considered an expert shot, Jackson and his friend, Thomas Overton, determined it would be best to let Dickinson fire first, hoping that his aim might be spoiled in his quickness. The obvious weakness of this strategy was, of course, that Jackson might not be alive to take aim. Dickinson did fire first, hitting Jackson in the chest. Under the rules of dueling, Dickinson had to remain still as Jackson took his one shot. Jackson’s pistol stopped at half cock, so he drew back the hammer and aimed again, this time hitting Dickinson in the chest. Dickinson bled to death.

Doctors determined that the bullet in Jackson was too close to his heart to operate, so Jackson carried it for the rest of his life, and suffered much pain from the wound. Locals were outraged that Dickinson had to stand defenseless while Jackson re-cocked and shot him, even though it was acceptable behavior in a duel. Jackson could have shot in the air or shot only to injure Dickinson; this would have been considered sufficient satisfaction under dueling rules. Jackson said afterwards that Dickinson had meant to kill him, so he had also shot to kill. Jackson’s reputation did, however, suffer greatly in some quarters from the particulars of the duel. I suppose if you’ve just been shot in the lung and have a loaded pistol in your right hand, you don’t take a lot of time to ponder your choices, although you do beforehand and Jackson knew what he wanted to do. He considered himself the aggrieved party and killing Dickinson was his chief purpose. Dickinson had aimed at Jackson’s heart though the bullet had been slightly deflected by Jackson’s choice of loose clothing over his lean frame, and by his careful sideways stance. The bullet broke some of Jackson’s ribs, and had lodged inches from his heart. While Jackson could easily have fallen from such a wound, he said later, “I should have hit him if he had shot me through the brain.”

Tennessee, Jackson’s actual home state despite the fact that the duel was in Kentucky, ought to be the site of today’s recipe. Tennessee produces wonderful BBQ, especially ribs, but I suggest that you save your pennies and pay a visit to sample it rather than try to replicate it at home. Tennessee pit masters have been honing their skills a long time. Chicken and dumplings is much more easily duplicated in your kitchen. Chicken and dumplings is actually a fairly widespread Southern dish, but Tennessee makes a fair go of it. Sadly, these days Southern cooks in general do not make their own dumplings, but buy what is, more or less, basic dried pasta which are labeled “dumplings.” Good old fashioned cooks, including those who taught me, fortunately, would never hear of such a thing. They make their own dumplings – which are somewhat akin to boiled short pastry – and therein lies the secret of a great dish. Chicken and dumplings is classic Southern comfort food; just what you need after being shot in the chest.

 Southern Chicken and Dumplings


3 cups chicken, cooked and shredded
chicken stock
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra
½ tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. salted butter, cubed
1 cup whole milk


Use a pastry blender or food processor (or your hands), blend together the flour and butter as you would for making short-crust pastry. Add in and mix the milk a little at a time until you have formed a soft, pliable dough. Knead for a few minutes and let it rest.

Bring about 2 pints of chicken stock to a gentle boil in a large pot. Add the chicken.

Liberally flour your work surface and roll out the dough to about the same thickness as thick noodles or a little thicker. Cut into 1” squares and dust with flour.

Bring the stock to a good rolling boil, but not too fierce, and add the dumplings. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Southern cooks like their dumplings very soft, but you will have to decide for yourself. Check for doneness after 15 minutes, and keep cooking until they reach the consistency you like. They should not be doughy, but Italian al dente is off the table. The extra flour on the dumplings will thicken the stock to a sauce.


Apr 232016


Breweries in Germany traditionally celebrate National Beer Day on April 23. On this day in 1516, the “Reinheitsgebot” or “Beer Purity Law” came into force in Bavaria. That makes today the 500th anniversary. According to the 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. With some important changes, this law is still widely in effect in Germany. The 1516 Bavarian law also set the price of beer (depending on the time of year and type of beer), limited the profits made by innkeepers, and made confiscation the penalty for making impure beer.


The text of the 1516 Bavarian law is as follows (translated):

We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer:

From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [Bavarian Liter 1069 mL] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and

From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller = one-half Pfennig].

If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered.

Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Mass.

Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.

Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or markets buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass of the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley, WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned.

The Bavarian order of 1516 was introduced in part to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye. The restriction of grains to barley was meant to ensure the availability of affordable bread, because wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers. It may also be that the rule had a protectionist role, since beers from Northern Germany often contained additives that were not present in Bavarian beer. Religious conservatism may have also played a role in adoption of the rule in Bavaria, to suppress the use of plants that were allegedly used in pagan rituals, such as gruit. The rule also excluded problematic methods of preserving beer, such as adding soot, stinging nettle and henbane.

While some sources refer to the Bavarian law of 1516 as the first law regulating food safety, this is inaccurate; earlier food safety regulations can be traced back as far as ancient Rome. Similarly, some sources claim that the law has been essentially unchanged since its adoption, but as early as the mid-16th century Bavaria began to allow ingredients such as coriander, laurel, and wheat. Yeast was also added to modern versions of the law after the discovery of its role in fermentation.

beer2 beer1

Historically, the restriction on ingredients led to the extinction of many brewing traditions and local beer specialties, such as North German spiced beer and cherry beer, and led to the domination of the German beer market by pilsener style beers. Only a few regional beer varieties, such as Kölner Kölsch or Düsseldorfer Altbier, survived its implementation. However, modern versions of the law have contained significant exceptions for different types of beer (such as top-fermented beers), for export beers, and for different regions.

More recently, German brewers, and some German politicians have argued that the Reinheitsgebot has slowed Germany’s adoption of beer trends popular in the rest of the world, such as Belgian lambics and Euro-American crafted beers. In March 1987, in a case brought by French brewers, the European Court of Justice found that the Reinheitsgebot was protectionist, and therefore in violation of Article 30 of the Treaty of Rome. This ruling concerned only imported beer, so Germany chose to continue to apply the law to beer brewed in Germany.


After German reunification in 1990 the Neuzeller Kloster Brewery, a former monastery brewery in the East German town of Neuzelle, Brandenburg, was warned to stop selling its black beer as it contained sugar. After some negotiations the brewery was allowed to sell it under the name Schwarzer Abt (“Black Abbot”) but could not label it “bier”. This decision was repealed by the Federal Administrative Court of Germany through a special permit, and after legal disputes lasting ten years (known as the “Brandenburg Beer War”) Neuzeller Kloster Brewery gained the right to call “Schwarzer Abt” “bier” again.

The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations, is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany. In addition, the law allows the use of powdered or ground hops and hops extracts, as well as stabilization and fining agents such as PVPP. Top fermented beer is subject to the same rules with the addition that a wider variety of malt can be used as well as pure sugars for flavor and coloring.

The law’s applicability was further limited by a court ruling in 2005, which allowed the sale of beer with different ingredients as long as it was not labeled “beer”. Exceptions to the current rules can be sought, and have been granted to allow gluten-free beer to be labeled as beer despite the use of different ingredients.

I’ve never been a fan of German pilsners and bottom fermented beers in general, either for drinking or cooking. Not enough flavor or body, especially when cooking beef or pork.  Chicken, however, is a potential mate for pilsner or lager, so I have adapted a German recipe for chicken and dumplings to incorporate German beer. I have given several chicken and ale recipes in previous posts.

They are of my own devising based on old recipes. So this one is in the same vein. This version of chicken and dumplings is not at all like the version from the U.S. South (which is closer to chicken and noodles). I just invented this for lunch today using a German recipe as a base. Here’s my heuristic description which you can modify as you wish.


©German-Style Chicken and Dumplings

Cut a chicken in 8 parts (removing the backbone), and sauté in a little olive oil (or lard) to brown on all sides. Place in a heavy pot with a leek (green and white parts) sliced thickly, and a chopped onion. Add a half and half mix of chicken stock and German beer.  Add a handful of chopped parsley. Bring slowly to a gentle simmer and cook covered for 40 minutes. Do not overcook. You want the meat juicy yet tender.


While the chicken is cooking make the dumplings. Mix 1 cup of all purpose flour with 4 tablespoons of chopped suet or shortening until they are evenly blended. Add chopped fresh parsley and salt to taste. Add cold water a little at a time and mix to form a stiff dough. Roll the dough into small balls with floured hands and drop them into the cooking broth with the chicken. They will cook in about 10 minutes (depending on size).

Serve in deep bowls with a green vegetable as a side dish, and crusty bread.

Dec 292015


On this date in 1911 Mongolia declared independence from the Qing dynasty of China. The National Revolution of 1911 in China ended over 200 years of Qing rule, though it was not until the Revolution of 1921 that de facto independence from the Republic of China was firmly established. The area of what is now Mongolia has been ruled by various nomadic empires, including the Xiongnu, the Xianbei, the Rouran, the Turkic Khaganate, and others. In 1206, Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, and his grandson Kublai Khan (see link below) conquered China to establish the Yuan dynasty. After the collapse of the Yuan, the Mongols retreated to Mongolia and resumed their earlier pattern of factional conflict, except during the era of Dayan Khan and Tumen Zasagt Khan. In the 16th century, Tibetan Buddhism began to spread in Mongolia, being further led by the Manchu-founded Qing dynasty, which absorbed the country in the 17th century. By the early 1900s, almost one-third of the adult male population were Buddhist monks. During the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, Mongols established the Temporary Government of Khalkha on November 30, 1911. This was before the abdication of the last Qing emperor and the establishment of the Republic of China.


Mongolia is the 19th largest and one of the most sparsely populated independent countries in the world, with a population of around 3 million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by grassy steppe, used by nomadic pastoralists, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south.


Mongolia is colloquially known as the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky” or “Country of Blue Sky” (“Mönkh khökh tengeriin oron”) because it has over 250 sunny days a year. The geography of Mongolia is varied, with the Gobi Desert to the south and with cold and mountainous regions to the north and west. Much of Mongolia consists of steppes, with forested areas comprising 11.2% of the total land area. The highest point in Mongolia is the Khüiten Peak in the Tavan bogd massif in the far west at 4,374 m (14,350 ft). The basin of the Uvs Lake, shared with Tuva Republic in Russia, is a natural World Heritage Site. Most of the country is hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter, with January averages dropping as low as −30 °C (−22 °F). A vast front of cold, heavy, shallow air comes in from Siberia in winter and collects in river valleys and low basins causing very cold temperatures while slopes of mountains are much warmer due to the effects of temperature inversion (temperature increases with altitude).


The pastoral nomads of Mongolia make up about one-third of the population. They are self sufficient and live on the products of domesticated animals such as cattle, horses, camels, yaks, sheep, and goats, as well as game. Meat is either cooked plain, used as an ingredient for soups and dumplings (buuz), or dried for winter (borts). The Mongolian diet includes a large proportion of animal fat which is necessary for the Mongols to withstand the cold winters and their hard work. Winter temperatures get as low as −40 ° (which is the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit !!) and outdoor work requires large energy reserves. Milk and cream are used to make a variety of beverages, as well as cheese and other fermented products.

Traditional Mongolian cooking methods (with a good video) are covered in this post:


Buuz are a very common style of dumpling, similar to those found in Eurasia, Russia, and Italy. Dough is made from flour and water, filled with chopped meat, and then boiled or fried. Here is a very comprehensive video on all manner of buuz. It’s in Mongolian but has subtitles in 12 languages, including English.

Sep 102015


Today is World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) and works in association with World Suicide Prevention Week and World Suicide Prevention Month. WSPD has a number of goals, prime of which is to raise awareness along with removing the stigma of talking about suicide. Suicide is not a simple issue; it does not have simple causes, and, therefore, does not have simple solutions. I am neither a clinician nor an expert, but I have been touched by suicide directly and indirectly – everyone has. Although it has been over a year, many, many people are still saddened by Robin Williams’ suicide and seek answers. Off the top of my head I can list dozens of suicides, and I am sure you can too.


The harder issue to deal with is what to do about it. To address this you have to try to understand the causes of suicide, which is far from easy because there are so many. Depression tops the list, and, there too, there are no easy explanations. Depression comes in many forms; sometimes it is situational, sometimes it is clinical. The most important thing to know is that depression is not simply sadness or unhappiness, and cannot be cured simply by cheering the depressed person up. To those who have not experienced depression it can seem unfathomable. You often hear people say things like, “why did he kill himself, he had so much to live for?” This shows a clear lack of understanding of suicide and depression. Being in the public eye as a sports figure, musician, comedian, or actor may look good to others – a reason to live – but it may be a form of self medication that ultimately fails for one reason or another.


Let me be clear, depression is not the only cause of suicide by any means, even though it is a big one. People can be driven to suicide for any number of reasons – bullying, chronic pain, seemingly impossible life circumstances, crushing debt, you name it.

This site – – is an excellent resource. S.A.V.E stands for Suicide Awareness Voices for Education.

Here, for example, is a sample from their page on Common Misconceptions:

“People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.”

Not True. Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

“Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.”

Not True. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain are always signs of mental illness but are not signs of psychosis.

“If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.”

Not True. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waiver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to end their pain. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

“People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.”

Not True. Studies of adult suicide victims have shown that more then half had sought medical help within six months before their deaths and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of their death.

“Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.”

Not True. You don’t give a suicidal person ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true — bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.


I am not going to give a lot of advice because all circumstances are different, thus, help comes in many different forms. The only advice I think that is useful is to educate yourself. Don’t think that you can puzzle it out by yourself. You need help and guidance from others. Plenty of people, both professional and non-professional, have experience that they are more than willing to share. Seek them out.

Just as there is no general “recipe” for helping people who are suicidal there is no food recipe that fills the bill. However, depressed and suicidal people do need our comfort in one form or another. So I thought it might be helpful to talk about comfort food. I ask a “question of the day” at the beginning of every class so that everyone speaks and is comfortable speaking, and everyone feels included. One question I ask a lot is “what is your favorite comfort food?” Mac and cheese is a biggie in the U.S., as is chocolate. Some comfort foods are quirky, some remind people of childhood, it doesn’t matter. For me it is nice that people have ways of comforting themselves when need be. I used to be a big fan of Asian soup noodles – didn’t really matter what kind of soup or noodles. That was in the days when I lived elsewhere. Now that I live in China I’m rather sated on noodles, so now various kinds of dumplings in broth, preferably spicy, have taken over.


Jun 042014


Emancipation Day or Independence Day, commemorates the abolition of serfdom in Tonga by King George Tupou in 1862, and the independence of Tonga from the British protectorate in 1970.

Tonga (Tongan: Pule?anga Fakatu?i ?o Tonga), officially the Kingdom of Tonga, is a Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago comprising 176 islands with a surface area of about 750 km2 (290 sq mi) scattered over 700,000 km2 (270,000 sq mi) of the southern Pacific Ocean, of which 52 are inhabited by its 103,000 people. Tonga stretches over about 800 km (500 mi) in a north-south line about a third of the distance from New Zealand to Hawaii. It is surrounded by Fiji and Wallis and Futuna (France) to the northwest, Samoa to the northeast, Niue to the east, Kermadec (part of New Zealand) to the southwest, and New Caledonia (France) and Vanuatu to the west.

Tonga became known as the Friendly Islands because of the congenial reception accorded to Captain James Cook on his first visit in 1773. He arrived at the time of the ?inasi festival, the yearly donation of the first fruits to the Tu?i Tonga (the islands’ paramount chief) and so received an invitation to the festivities. According to the writer William Mariner, the chiefs wanted to kill Cook during the gathering but could not agree on a plan.

The dates of the initial settlement of Tonga are still subject to debate, nonetheless one of the oldest occupied sites is found in the village of Pea on Tongatapu. Based on radiocarbon dating of a shell found at the site dates the occupation at 3180 ± 100 BP. Some of the oldest sites pertaining to the first occupants of the Tongan Islands are found on Tongatapu which is also where the first Lapita ceramics were found by WC McKern in 1921. Reaching the Tongan islands was a remarkable feat accomplished by the Lapita peoples. Not much is known about Tonga before European contact because of the lack of a writing system. There are, however, transcripts of oral histories told to the early European explorers. The first time the Tongan people encountered Europeans was in April 1616 when Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten made a short visit to the islands to trade.


Centuries before Westerners arrived, Tongans created large monumental stoneworks, most notably, the Ha?amonga ?a Maui and the Langi (terraced tombs). The Ha?amonga is 5 meters high and made of three coral-lime stones that weigh more than 40 tons each. The Langi are low, very flat, two or three tier pyramids that mark the graves of former kings.

By the 12th century, Tongans, and the Tongan kings, the Tu’i Tonga, were known across the Pacific, from Niu?, Samoa to Tikopia they ruled these nations for over 400 years, sparking some historians to refer to a “Tongan Empire,” although it was more of a network of interacting navigators, chiefs, and adventurers. It is unclear whether chiefs of the other islands actually came to Tonga regularly to acknowledge their sovereign. Distinctive pottery and Tapa cloth designs also show that the Tongans have traveled from the far reaches of Micronesia, all the way to Fiji and even Hawaii.


In the 15th century and again in the 17th, civil war erupted. Into this situation the first European explorers arrived, beginning in 1616 with the Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire (who called on the northern island of Niuatoputapu), and in 1643 with Abel Tasman (who visited Tongatapu and Ha?apai).


Later noteworthy European visitors included James Cook (British Navy) in 1773, 1774, and 1777, Alessandro Malaspina (Spanish Navy) in 1793, the first London missionaries in 1797, and the Wesleyan Methodist Rev. Walter Lawry in 1822.


In 1845 the ambitious young warrior, strategist, and orator T?ufa??hau united Tonga into a kingdom. He held the chiefly title of Tu?i Kanokupolu, but had been baptized with the name Siaosi (“George”) in 1831. In 1875, with the help of missionary Shirley Waldemar Baker, he declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy; formally adopted the western royal style; emancipated the “serfs,” enshrined a code of law, land tenure, and freedom of the press; and limited the power of the chiefs.

Tonga became a protected state under a Treaty of Friendship with Britain on 18 May 1900, when European settlers and rival Tongan chiefs tried to oust the second king. The treaty posted no higher permanent representative on Tonga than a British Consul (1901–1970). Although under the protection of Britain, Tonga maintained its sovereignty, and remained the only Pacific nation never to have given up its monarchical government (as did Tahiti and Hawai?i). The Tongan monarchy follows an uninterrupted succession of hereditary rulers from one family.

The Treaty of Friendship and Tonga’s protection status ended in 1970 under arrangements established by Queen Salote Tupou III prior to her death in 1965. Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970 (atypically as an autochthonous monarchy, with its own local monarch rather than that of the United Kingdom—compare Malaysia, Lesotho, and Swaziland), and became a member of the United Nations in September 1999. While exposed to colonial pressures, Tonga has never lost indigenous governance, which makes it unique in the Pacific.


In former times, there was only one main meal, a midday meal cooked in an earth oven. Villagers would rise, eat some leftover food from the previous day’s meal, and set out to work in the fields, fishing, gathering shellfish, etc. The results of the morning’s work would be cooked by the men, and served to the assembled household. The remnants would be placed in a basket suspended from a tree. This food is served as an end-of-the-day snack as well as the next day’s breakfast. Food past its prime was given to the pigs.

The diet consisted mainly of taro, yams, bananas, coconuts, and fish baked in leaves; shellfish were usually served raw, as a relish. The liquid from the center of coconuts was commonly drunk, and the soft “spoon meat” of young coconuts much relished. Baked breadfruit was eaten in season. Pigs were killed and cooked only on special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, feasts honoring a visiting chief, and the like. Tongans also ate chickens.

Food could be stored by feeding it to pigs. Pre-contact Tongans also built elevated storehouses for yams. Yams would keep only a few months. Hence a household’s main security was generous distribution of food to relatives and neighbors, who were thus put under an obligation to share in their turn – typical of traditional Polynesian cultures.

Topai (flour dumplings) in sweet coconut syrup are extremely popular on Tonga and very easy to make. The ones here are plain but you can add all manner of ingredients to enrich them; for example, breadfruit or mei (faikakai mei) a combination of taro leaves and flour (faikakai ngou’a), a combination of flour and ripe bananas (faikakai malimali), or manioke which is tapioca or casava (faikakai manioke tama). You can get raw sugar in health food stores. It is not the same as brown sugar, but brown sugar will work.


Faikakai Topai


Lolo (Syrup)

1 cup raw sugar
1 cup coconut cream

Topai (dumplings)

3 cups plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
3-4 pints water
1 cup cold water, extra


Put the sugar in a heavy saucepan and melt over gentle heat. Before the sugar boils, add the coconut cream and stir continuously until thick. Keep warm.

Boil the water in a large pot.

Sift the flour and baking powder together. Make a dough that just holds together by adding water slowly and mixing with your hands.

Drop tablespoonfuls of the dough into the boiling water and gently boil for a further 10 minutes or until cooked.

Place the dumplings in a bowl and pour the syrup over them.

Apr 052014


Today is the day of the Qingming Festival in China, also known as Pure Brightness Festival, or Clear Bright Festival, or Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day. It falls on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox), so it is a minimally movable feast in that it can sometimes fall a day earlier or later, but normally it falls on 5 April in the Gregorian calendar. Qingming denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime ( “treading on the greenery”) and tend to the graves of departed ones.  There are also special foods for the day usually tinged green from the juice of fresh wild greens of spring.

In China, the holiday is often marked by people paying respects to those who died in events considered sensitive. The April Fifth Movement and the Tiananmen Incident were major events on Qingming in the history of the People’s Republic of China. When Premier Zhou Enlai died in 1976, thousands visited him during the festival to pay their respects. Many also pay respects to victims of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and the graves of Zhao Ziyang and Yang Jia in areas where the right of free expression is generally recognized, as in Hong Kong. In most areas of China, observance of sensitive events is suppressed and all public mention of such events is forbidden. In Taiwan, this national holiday is observed on April 5 because the ruling Kuomintang moved it to that date in commemoration of the death of Chiang Kai-shek. Qingming has been regularly observed as a statutory public holiday in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. Its observance was reinstated as a nationwide public holiday in mainland China in 2008.


On Qingming Festival Chinese people visit the graves or burial grounds of their ancestors. Traditionally, people brought a whole rooster with them to the graves visited, but the occasion has become less formal over time. The festival is also associated with Hanshi Day (literally, “day with cold food only”), a memorial day for Jie Zitui. Jie Zitui who died in 636 BC around this time. He was one of many followers of Duke Wen of Jin prior to his elevation to the nobility. Once, during Wen’s 19 years of exile, they had no food and Jie prepared some meat soup for Wen. Wen enjoyed it immensely and wondered where Jie had obtained the soup. It turned out that Jie had cut a piece of flesh from his own thigh to make it. Wen was so moved that he promised to reward him one day. However, Jie was not the type of person who sought rewards. Instead, he wanted only to help Wen to return to Jin to become king. As soon as Wen became duke, Jie resigned and stayed away from him. Duke Wen rewarded the people who helped him in the previous decades, but for some reason he forgot to reward Jie, who by then had moved into the forest with his mother. Duke Wen went to the forest, but could not find Jie. Heeding suggestions from his officials, Duke Wen ordered men to set the forest on fire to force Jie out. However, Jie died in the fire. Feeling remorseful, Duke Wen ordered three days without fire to honor Jie’s memory. The city where Jie died is still called Jiexiu (literally “the place Jie rests forever”) and Hanshi Day became his permanent memorial.


Qingming has a tradition stretching back more than 2,500 years. Its origins are credited to the Tang Emperor Xuanzong in 732. Wealthy citizens in China were reportedly holding too many extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies in honor of their ancestors. Emperor Xuanzong, seeking to curb this practice, declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestors’ graves only on Qingming.

The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for celebrants to remember and honor their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, joss paper accessories, and libations to the ancestors. The rites have a long tradition in Asia, especially among farmers. Some people carry willow branches with them on Qingming, or put willow branches on their gates or front doors. They believe that willow branches help ward off the evil spirit that wanders on Qingming.

On Qingming, people go on family outings, start the spring plowing, sing, and dance. Qingming was also the time traditionally when young couples started courting. Another popular thing to do is to fly kites in the shapes of animals or characters from Chinese opera. Another common practice is to carry flowers instead of burning paper, incense, or firecrackers.


Despite having no holiday status, the overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asian nations, such as those in Singapore and Malaysia, take this festival seriously and observe its traditions faithfully. Some Qingming rituals and ancestral veneration decorum observed by the overseas Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore can be dated back to Ming and Qing dynasties. Qingming in Malaysia is an elaborate family function or a clan feast (usually organized by the respective clan association) to commemorate and honor recently deceased relatives at their grave sites and distant ancestors from China at home altars, clan temples, or makeshift altars in Buddhist or Taoist temples. For the overseas Chinese community, the Qingming festival is very much a family celebration and, at the same time, a family obligation. They see this festival as a time of reflection and to honor and give thanks to their forefathers.

Overseas Chinese normally visit the graves of their recently deceased relatives on the nearest weekend to the actual date. According to the ancient custom, grave site veneration is only feasible ten days before and after the Qingming Festival. If the visit is not on the actual date, normally veneration before Qingming is encouraged. The Qingming Festival in Malaysia and Singapore normally starts early in the morning by paying respects to distant ancestors from China at home altars. This is followed by visiting the graves of close relatives in the country. Some follow the concept of filial piety to the extent of visiting the graves of their ancestors in mainland China. Traditionally, the family will burn spirit money and paper replicas of material goods such as cars, homes, phones, and paper servants. In traditional Chinese culture, it is believed that people still need all of those things in the afterlife. Then family members take turns to kowtow three to nine times (depending on the family adherence to traditional values) before the tomb of the ancestors. After the ancestor worship at the grave site, the whole family or the whole clan feast on the food and drink they brought for the worship either at the site or in nearby gardens in a memorial park, signifying family reunion with the ancestors.

The Qingming festival holiday also has significance in the Chinese tea culture since this day divides the fresh green teas by their picking dates. Green teas made from leaves picked before this date are given the prestigious ‘pre-qingming’ designation which commands a much higher price tag. These teas are prized for having much lighter and subtler aromas than those picked after the festival.

The famous Qingming scroll by Zhang Zeduan is an ancient Chinese painting which portrays the scene of Kaifeng city, the capital of the Song Dynasty during a Qingming festival.

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Quingming festival food consists of an assortment of dishes and drinks consumed on the Quingming festival. It includes eggs, rice porridge, cakes, and snacks such as Juan Bao Bing (pancake roll) and Po Zi Guo, a dish made of fruits and leaves of Po Zi Guo tree and prepared in a bamboo steamer.


Green Tuanzi: It is a traditional Chinese dish, which looks much like a dumpling, and has a green color. The green color comes from the juice of a wild plant and the dumpling skins are made from rice flour.


Qingming guo is a dish looking like a steamed dumpling, and made of an outer shell of rice, glutinous rice and green wormwood, with a stuffing of beans inside it. Fillings may also include dried bamboo shoots, bacon and mushroom in different regions of China.


Wuren Rice: It is made of glutinous rice and leaves of wuren tree and is an essential part of Quingming festival food.

It is not really possible to give recipes for these dishes because they involve wild plants that are indigenous to Asia only.  However, I did find this one:

Making Wuren rice is not a complex or a difficult task. Here’s the recipe. Clean the Wuren leaves (vaccinium bracteatum) first, boil the leaves and remove them before adding glutinous rice into the prepared Wuren soup. Drain the glutinous rice after immersing for 9 hours and steam the glutinous rice in a bamboo steamer until the rice is cooked thoroughly. The prepared Wuren rice will have a nice and unique smell with a special flavor compared with common cooked glutinous rice.

Jun 032013

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Mabo Day commemorates the anniversary of the historic Mabo Decision when on 3 June 1992 the High Court of Australia approved Eddie Koiki Mabo’s petition to grant ownership of his native Mer Island (Murray Island), in the Torres Strait, to the local inhabitants, rejecting the legal doctrine of terra nullius (no one’s land) applied by the British government when they claimed Australia for the crown.  British explorers and colonists used three separate principles when claiming and occupying territories. One was outright military conquest. The second was by treaty (although treaties were usually backed up by armies).  The third was terra nullius which was applied to uninhabited regions, or when the new arrivals determined that the indigenous population were not “civilized” enough to own land and sign treaties.  I am not a big fan of any of these principles, but terra nullius is clearly based on racism and ignorance.  Not all indigenous peoples on discovery by Europeans had laws of land ownership, but ALL had rules concerning land rights. Mabo, with aid of legal counsel, was able to demonstrate that Mer Island had always had a traditional system of laws regarding land rights (and had occupied those lands continuously since colonial times), and therefore terra nullius did not apply.  The court agreed.  This action has set the cat among the pigeons throughout Australia with regard to aboriginal land rights.  Mabo Day is an official holiday in Queensland and the Torres Strait islands, but since the 10th anniversary in 2002 there have been efforts to make it a national Australian holiday.

The Torres Strait islands lie in a navigable channel between the tip of Cape York in Queensland and the southern coast of the island of New Guinea.  There are 274 islands in the group of which 14 are inhabited.  Most of the islands are now governed from Queensland, and a few that lie close to the New Guinea mainland fall under the jurisdiction of  the Western Province of Papua New Guinea. It was at Possession Island (now Darnley Island or Erub Island) in the eastern region of the islands that Lieutenant James Cook first claimed British sovereignty over the eastern part of Australia in 1770.

Torres Strait Islanders are genetically and culturally distinct from aborigines of the Australian mainland. They are Melanesians, related to the peoples of Papua New Guinea. On European arrival their subsistence base was farming and fishing primarily, with the turtle occupying a key role in daily and ceremonial cooking.  For centuries they were the dominant culture of the region with a certain amount of interchange between both the Australian mainland and New Guinea.  Upon European colonization and the introduction of Christianity via missions there was a major upheaval in the culture.  Eddie Mabo’s victory was a great step forward in recognizing not only indigenous rights, but in the intrinsic value of Torres Island culture.

Eddie Mabo died of cancer before the verdict was handed down, worn down by 10 years of struggle. But his daughter wrote:

“It was a shock when he won because most people didn’t think we would win. It was unheard of for a single person to change the whole history of a nation and for Dad to do that it was an awakening call to Australia to say ‘it’s time to right a wrong’ and embrace indigenous people.”

“For me, Dad’s legacy is that through strength of culture and commitment you can achieve anything. People who are fighting for their own native title have to believe in themselves and their culture because that is what will help them succeed.”

“His strength was that he knew who he was as a man, where he was from and that the fight he was doing was right. He always knew the land was his.”

“I was sitting in a car breastfeeding my six month old son, who was born the day before I buried my dad, when I heard on the radio we had won the case. I started crying and thinking that if my father was alive he would be dancing. I then heard the sound of thunder and said to my son ‘hear that, he is dancing.’”

Torres Strait Island cooking has absorbed diverse elements from Europe and Asia, but still retains its individuality.  This recipe stems from a 2004 foodie event in Melbourne entitled Eating the City, in which an extraordinary medley of ethnic groups from all over the city came together to represent their cultures with food.  This dish, a puffy noodle concoction, was served by Torres Strait Elder Ella Pitt who has lived on the mainland since being evacuated from her island (Darnley Island or Erub, near Mer) during the Japanese bombing of Darwin in WW II. You can use these noodles to accompany a main dish, or sweeten them for a dessert. Golden syrup is a British favorite which can be found online in the U.S. These do not keep well, so halve the recipe if necessary.

Sabi Sabi Domboy


1 lb (450 g) plain flour
8 oz (225 g) self-raising flour
1 ½ cups (400 ml) coconut cream
Salt to taste


Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. The saucepan should be large enough to accommodate the pasta without going off the boil too long.  If you do not have a large enough one, cook them in two batches.

Mix the two flours together and add enough cold water to make an elastic dough like pasta dough. Mix and knead well for at least 5 minutes.

Roll the dough flat until it is a ¼ inch (6 mm) thick.

Break the dough into little pieces (domboys), the size of small flat pasta. Uniformity is not important. Think of classic Southern chicken and dumplings.

Add the domboys all at once to the boiling water.

When the domboys begin to float to the top of the water, drain immediately.

Combine the domboys and coconut cream in the same pot, bring slowly to the boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so the domboys don’t stick or burn. Add a little more coconut cream if needed.

Serve with fish, or as a dessert with golden syrup.

Serves 8-10