Feb 102016


Today is the feast day of St Paul’s Shipwreck (San Pawl Nawfragu) which is a public holiday in Malta, especially in Valletta, Marsalforn, and Munxar. I am not sure why this date was chosen. The event is described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27:27-28:5), the tail end of the book. The chronology of events in Paul’s life is endlessly disputed by scholars because what facts can be gleaned from letters that we are reasonably certain were written by Paul are not always in agreement with Acts. According to Acts Paul arrived in Jerusalem on his fifth and final visit in 57 with a collection of money for the community there. Acts reports that he was warmly received, but goes on to recount how Paul was warned by James and the elders that he was gaining a reputation for being against the Law, saying “they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.” (Acts 21:21) Paul underwent a purification ritual in order to give the Jews no grounds to bring accusations against him for not following the law. But he then caused a stir when he appeared at the Temple, and he escaped being killed by the crowd only by voluntarily being taken into Roman custody. When a plot to kill Paul on his way to an appearance before the Jews was discovered, he was transported by night to Caesarea Maritima. He was held as a prisoner there for two years, until a new governor reopened his case in 59.


When the governor suggested that he be sent back to Jerusalem for further trial, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar, so he was transported to Rome. During the journey, vividly described in Acts, the shipwreck occurs. This passage is notable in that it is one of the so-called “we” passages – written in the 1st person plural. There is no scholarly consensus concerning these passages. They could be a deliberate forgery to suggest that the author of Acts was an actual eyewitness, or they could be redactions based on older, fragmentary primary material written by an eyewitness. I incline towards the latter, but this is more of an educated guess than anything else. Here’s the passage:

27:27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.

33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.

28:1 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.


There is a special celebration in Valletta on Malta at the Collegiate Parish Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck on this day. The church hosts fine artistic works, including the magnificent altarpiece by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, as well as paintings by Attilio Palombi, and Giuseppe Calì. The wooden titular statue of St Paul was carved in 1659 by Melchiorre Cafà, the brother of Lorenzo Gafà who designed the dome. The statue is paraded through the streets of Valletta on the feast day of St Paul’s Shipwreck even (and appropriately) during heavy rain One can also view the relic of the right wrist-bone of St Paul, and part of the column from San Paolo alle Tre Fontane, on which the saint was reputedly beheaded in Rome.

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For this feast day I have chosen the unofficial national dish of Malta, rabbit braised in red wine and garlic. Given the name, you scarcely need a recipe, but here goes. The trick is to use A LOT of garlic. This recipe calls for three BULBS, not cloves – whole bulbs.


Rabbit with garlic & wine (Fenek fit-tewm u l-inbid)


1 rabbit cut into 6 or 8 pieces
500ml red wine
3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 bay leaves
salt and pepper


Place the rabbit pieces in an earthenware pot and cover with the wine. Refrigerate overnight.

In a large, heavy skillet gently sweat the garlic in the olive oil. Do not let it take on color.

Remove and reserve the garlic, leaving the oil in the pan. Heat the oil on medium-high, remove the rabbit pieces from the wine, and brown them in the oil on all sides – reserving the wine.

Place the rabbit, garlic and bay leaves in an ovenproof casserole. Cover with the wine, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and bake at around 375°F for an hour or until the meat is tender. Check the liquid level periodically to make sure that the wine is reducing to a thick sauce, but not drying out. Uncover towards the end if it is not reducing sufficiently.

Serve with boiled new potatoes and marrowfat peas.

Serves 4

Jul 232015


Today is the birthday (1864) of Apolinario Mabini y Maranan, a Filipino revolutionary leader, educator, lawyer, and statesman who served as the first Prime Minister of the Philippines, serving first under the Revolutionary Government, and then under the First Philippine Republic. Mabini performed all his revolutionary and governmental activities despite having lost the use of both his legs to polio shortly before the Philippine Revolution of 1896.

Mabini’s role in Philippine history saw him confronting first Spanish Colonial Rule in the opening days of the Philippine Revolution, and then American colonial rule in the days of the Philippine–American War. The latter saw Mabini captured and exiled to Guam by American colonial authorities, allowed to return only two months before his eventual death in May, 1903.

I want to make a polemical point here before I continue. Among the many reasons I write this blog is to draw attention to people and events that don’t make it into standard Western textbooks. When I mention to people that I am Argentino, the most common response is to the effect that Argentina is good at football. Some sing a snatch from “Don’t cry for me Argentina” but they rarely know who Evita was or why she was important. The Philippines suffer the same fate on the international stage. Among other things the colonization of the Philippines in the 16th century by the Spanish played a vital role in Euro-Chinese relations for several hundred years. You’d never know this reading a Western history textbook.


Mabini was born on July 23, 1864 in Barangay Talaga in Tanauan, Batangas. He was the second of eight children of Dionisia Maranan, a vendor in the Tanauan market, and Inocencio Mabini, an illiterate peasant. Mabini began informal studies under the guidance of Maestro Agustin Santiesteban III his mother (being illiterate does not make you stupid). Because he demonstrated uncommon intelligence, he was transferred to a regular school owned by Simplicio Avelino, where he worked as a houseboy, and also took odd jobs from a local tailor – all in exchange for board and lodging. He later transferred to a school conducted by Fray Valerio Malabanan, whose fame as an educator merited a mention in José Rizal’s novel El Filibusterismo.

In 1881 Mabini received a scholarship to go to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila. An anecdote about his stay there says that a professor decided to pick on him because his shabby clothing clearly showed he was poor. Mabini amazed the professor by answering a series of very difficult questions with ease. His studies at Letran were periodically interrupted by a chronic lack of funds, and he earned money for his board and lodging by teaching children.

Mabini’s mother had wanted him to take up the priesthood, but his desire to defend the poor made him decide to take up law instead.He wrote:

I am convinced that the true minister of God is not one who wears a cassock, but everyone who proclaims His glory by good works of service to the greatest possible number of His creatures.


A year after receiving his Bachilles en Artes with highest honors and the title Professor of Latin from Letran, he moved on to the University of Santo Tomas, where he received his law degree in 1894.Comparing Mabini’s generation of Filipino intellectuals to the previous one of José Rizal and the other members of the propagandista movement, journalist and artist Nick Joaquin describes Mabini’s generation as the next iteration in the evolution of Filipino intellectual development:

Europe had been a necessary catalyst for the generation of Rizal. By the time of Mabini, the Filipino intellectual had advanced beyond the need for enlightenment abroad[….] The very point of Mabini’s accomplishment is that all his schooling, all his training, was done right here in his own country. The argument of Rizal’s generation was that Filipinos were not yet ready for self-government because they had too little education and could not aspire for more in their own country. The evidence of Mabini’s generation was that it could handle the affairs of government with only the education it had acquired locally. It no longer needed Europe; it had imbibed all it needed of Europe.

Mabini joined the Guild of Lawyers after graduation, but he did not choose to practice law in a professional capacity. He did not set up his own law office, and instead continued to work in the office of a notary public. Instead, Mabini put his knowledge of law to much use during the days of the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American war. Joaquin notes that all his contributions to Philippine history somehow involved the law:

His was a legal mind. He was interested in law as an idea, as an ideal[…] whenever he appears in our history he is arguing a question of legality.

Mabini joined the fraternity of Freemasonry in September 1892, affiliating with lodge Balagtas, and taking on the name “Katabay”. The following year, 1893, Mabini became a member of La Liga Filipina, which was being resuscitated after the arrest of its founder José Rizal in 1892. Mabini was made secretary of its new Supreme Council This was Mabini’s first time to join an explicitly patriotic organization.


Mabini, who advocated for the reformist movement, pushed for the organization to continue its goals of supporting La Solidaridad and the reforms it advocated. When more revolutionary members of La Liga indicated that they did not think the reform movement was getting results and wanted to more openly support revolution, La Liga Filipina split into two factions: the moderate Cuerpo de Compromisarios, which wanted simply to continue to support the revolution, and the explicitly revolutionary Katipunan.

When José Rizal, part of La Liga Filipina, was executed in December that year, however, Mabini changed his mind and gave the revolution his wholehearted support. Mabini was struck by polio in 1895, and the disease gradually incapacitated him until January 1896, when he finally lost the use of both his legs. When the plans of the Katipunan were discovered by Spanish authorities, and the first active phase of the 1896 Philippine Revolution began in earnest, Mabini, still ill, was arrested along with numerous other members of La Liga.

Thirteen patriots arrested in Cavite were tried and eventually executed, earning them the title of “Thirteen Martyrs of Cavite”. José Rizal himself was accused of being party to the revolution, and would eventually be executed in December that year. When the Spanish authorities saw that Mabini was paralyzed, however, they decided to release him.

Sent to the hospital after his arrest, Mabini remained in ill health for a considerable time. He was seeking the curative properties of the hot springs in Los Baños, Laguna in 1898 when Emilio Aguinaldo sent for him, asking him to serve as advisor to the revolution. During this convalescent period, Mabini wrote the pamphlets “El Verdadero Decalogo” and “Ordenanzas de la Revolucion.” Aguinaldo was impressed by these works and by Mabini’s role as a leading figure in La Liga Filipina, and made arrangements for Mabini to be brought from Los Baños to Kawit, Cavite. It took hundreds of men taking turns carrying his hammock to portage Mabini to Kawit.


He continued to serve as the chief adviser for General Aguinaldo after the Philippine Declaration of Independence on June 12. He drafted decrees and edited the first ever constitution in Asia (the Malolos Constitution) for the First Philippine Republic, including the framework of the revolutionary government which was implemented in Malolos in 1899.

Mabini was appointed prime minister and was also foreign minister of the newly independent dictatorial government of Aguinaldo on January 2, 1899. Eventually, the government declared the first Philippine republic in appropriate ceremonies on January 23, 1899. Mabini then led the first cabinet of the republic.

Mabini found himself in the center of the most critical period in the new country’s history, grappling with problems until then unimagined. Most notable of these were his negotiations with the United States, which began on March 6, 1899. The United States and the Philippine Republic were embroiled in extremely contentious and eventually violent confrontations. During the negotiations for peace, the U.S. offered Mabini autonomy for Aguinaldo’s new government, but the talks failed because Mabini’s conditions included a ceasefire, which was rejected. Mabini negotiated once again, seeking for an armistice instead, but the talks failed yet again. Eventually, feeling that the Americans were not negotiating in good faith, he forswore the Americans and supported war. He resigned from government on May 7, 1899.

The Philippine–American War saw Mabini taken more seriously as a threat by the Americans than he was under the Spanish: F. Sionil José writes:

The Spaniards underestimated Mabini primarily because he was a cripple. Had they known of his intellectual perspicacity, they would have killed him earlier. The Americans did not. They were aware of his superior intelligence, his tenacity when he faced them in negotiations for autonomy and ceasefire.


On December 10, 1899, he was captured by U.S. troops at Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, but granted leave to meet with W.H. Taft.In 1901, he was exiled to Guam, along with scores of revolutionaries, whom Americans referred to as ‘insurrectos’ and who refused to swear fealty to imperialist America. When Brig. Gen. Arthur C. MacArthur, Jr. was asked by the U.S. Senate to explain why Mabini had to be deported, he cabled:

Mabini deported: a most active agitator; persistently and defiantly refusing amnesty, and maintaining correspondence with insurgents in the field while living in Manila, Luzon.

Mabini returned home to the Philippines in February 1903 after agreeing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States on February 26, 1903 before the Collector of Customs. On the day he sailed, he issued this statement to the press:

After two long years I am returning, so to speak, completely disoriented and, what is worse, almost overcome by disease and sufferings. Nevertheless, I hope, after some time of rest and study, still to be of some use, unless I have returned to the Islands for the sole purpose of dying.

To the chagrin of the American colonial officials, however, Mabini resumed his work of agitating for independence for the Philippines soon after he was back home from exile. Not long after his return, Mabini died of cholera in Manila on May 13, 1903 at the age of 38.  He is often known now by two epithets — The Brains of the Revolution and The Sublime Paralytic.

Rice is a staple in the Philippines, of course, and I have chosen sinangag (garlic fried rice) as my recipe du jour for several reasons. First because I am a big fan of properly cooked fried rice (which I get in abundance at street stalls in China). Second, because it is, among other things, a cheap peasant dish indicative of Mabini’s roots. Third, because I like garlic. In fact, just today I bought 50 cloves of peeled garlic (for about 50 cents) and have been chucking it in everything. You are best using non-sticky long grained rice, jasmine rice is excellent, that was cooked the day before. Sinangag is often served as a breakfast dish, either on its own or with some meat and vegetables. It can also be used as a side dish for regular meals. Kissing immediately afterwards is not recommended.



Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok over medium-low heat.

Add 10 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, and cook slowly. If the oil is too hot the garlic will become bitter. Let it sauté, stirring now and again, until it is golden brown.

Turn up the heat and add 4 cups of day-old, cooked rice. Fry stirring constantly until the rice is heated through and the garlic flavored oil has coated the rice grains.

Serve immediately.

May 282014


On this date in 585 BCE there was a total solar eclipse. According to NASA, the eclipse peaked over the Atlantic Ocean at 37.9°N 46.2°W and the umbral path reached south-western Anatolia in the evening hours. This eclipse is significant for two reasons. First, the eclipse was accurately predicted by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Thales of Miletus. This report, which comes from The Histories of Herodotus is disputed because it is not clear how Thales could have done so, although he was an excellent mathematician. If it is true this is the earliest case in history of an eclipse being predicted. Second, according to Herodotus, the appearance of the eclipse was interpreted as an omen, and interrupted a battle between the Medes and the Lydians. The fighting immediately stopped, and they agreed to a truce. Because astronomers can calculate the dates of historical eclipses, the date of the battle is known with precision – a rarity in the ancient world.

Historical eclipses are a very valuable resource for historians, in that they allow a few historical events to be dated precisely, from which other dates and ancient calendars may be deduced. A solar eclipse of June 15, 763 BCE mentioned in an Assyrian text is important for the chronology of the Ancient Mideast, for example.

The method of using eclipses to date historical events does have problems, however. An eclipse recorded by Herodotus before Xerxes departed for his expedition against Greece – traditionally dated to 480 BCE – was matched by John Russell Hind to an annular eclipse of the Sun at Sardis on February 17, 478 BC. However, there was also a partial eclipse that was visible from Persia on October 2, 480 BCE. So, which eclipse was it?


Chinese records of eclipses begin at around 720 BCE. The 4th century BCE astronomer Shi Shen described the prediction of eclipses by using the relative positions of the Moon and Sun. In the Western hemisphere, there are few reliable records of eclipses before 800 CE, until the advent of Arab and monastic observations in the early medieval period. The first recorded observation of the sun’s corona (visible during a total eclipse) was made in Constantinople in 968 CE.

Thales of Miletus is also known for another prediction associated with the sun and weather. One story recounts that he bought all the olive presses in Miletus after predicting the weather and a good harvest for a particular year. In another version of the same story, Aristotle explains that Thales reserved presses ahead of time at a discount only to rent them out at a high price when demand peaked, following his predictions of a particularly good harvest. This first version of the story would constitute the first creation and use of futures, whereas the second version would be the first creation and use of options.

So, it should be olive oil today. I use olive oil in a myriad ways. I always use it as the oil of choice when sautéing at the start of a soup or stew, like most Argentinos it is the only dressing I use for a salad, and nothing is better to start a meal than a little dish of olive oil for dipping crusty bread. For a recipe of the day I suggest pasta with olive oil and garlic. It’s such a simple and quick dish. It can be on the table in 20 minutes or less. The dish pictured below took less time than it took me to write out the recipe.


I won’t bother with exact quantities. You should be able to figure it out. Get your pasta cooking in salted boiling water. Then add a generous quantity of olive oil to a wide deep skillet. Add a good quantity of minced garlic (about two cloves per person), and heat the oil gently over slow heat. On no account let the garlic change color. All you are trying to do is flavor the oil and slightly cook the garlic so that it is not quite as sharp as the raw deal. Heat the oil during the cooking of the pasta, then drain the pasta and dump it wholesale into the oil and garlic. Swirl around so that the pasta is evenly coated and serve immediately with some crusty bread (to mop up the remaining oil on your plate), and a green salad drizzled with olive oil.


Oct 052013


World Teachers’ Day, held annually on October 5th since 1994, commemorates teachers and teachers’ organizations worldwide. Its aim is to mobilize support for teachers and to ensure that the needs of future generations will continue to be met by teachers. This year’s slogan, “A Call for Teachers” focuses on the critical shortage of qualified teachers worldwide.

This celebration has a special resonance for me. From the age of 5 until I retired 3 years ago, not a year passed when I was not either a student or a teacher (sometimes both). I have been through all levels of education from kindergarten to Ph.D., and I have taught students from primary grades to graduate work.  In addition I home schooled my son from 6th to 12th grades.  Furthermore, my father, mother, and elder sister were all teachers, as is my son now.  I think it’s fair to say that I know a little something about teaching. (Incidentally, it’s not a genetic condition!)

Here’s my teacher family:

Forrest006  family017

Tokyo1 155

I would like to give every reader of this blog a challenge, the same challenge I quite often issued my students over the years, namely, if there is a teacher who changed your life in some way, write, call, email . . . whatever, TODAY and say “thank you.”  I guarantee you have no idea what joy you will bring to that person.  I started doing this myself about 20 years ago when some of my former teachers were getting a bit long in the tooth.  I am glad I did, though, because almost all of them have since passed on.  How else would they have known the profound impact they had on me?

As a small indulgence I am going to take this opportunity to talk a little about five teachers who I remember fondly for one reason or another. This little exercise is mostly to demonstrate what I think good teaching is all about.

Mrs Huggle.  What a great name. (The caretaker of the school was Mr Coalstick – I swear I am not making this up). Mrs Huggle was my first teacher ever, at Roselands Infant school in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. I don’t remember her terribly well, but I remember the first day vividly. I was dreadfully afraid. My mum took me directly to my classroom where Mrs Huggle sat in splendor.  She was an ample woman, probably my granny’s age.  I really have no idea.  She was definitely not one of the young teachers. She wore a flowing black dress with her hair in a bun – normal 50’s style.  She had a crying child on each knee, but was all smiles as she greeted us.  Around her swirled benign chaos as the newcomers found things to amuse themselves. Mrs Huggle was not fazed in the slightest; she just let it all flow over her. The minute I met her my fears vanished. She welcomed me, gave me a piece of chalk and suggested I draw on the blackboard along with three or four others. My first impression of school was that it was a warm place full of fun, thanks in great part to Mrs Huggle.

Here I am (top left) at Roselands. Start of an illustrious life of cooking:


Mrs Murphy. After Roselands my family emigrated to Gawler, South Australia where I was enrolled in Gawler Primary School, something of a Dickensian nightmare in many ways.  My Grade 4 teacher was Mrs Murphy. For reasons I never understood, Grades 4 and 6 at Gawler Primary were segregated into one boys’ and one girls’ class. I can’t imagine that a class of more than thirty 9 year-old Aussie farm boys was a plum assignment, but Mrs Murphy was up to the task. When I was doing my teacher training the golden rule of good teaching was the “3 F’s” – Friendly, Firm, and Fair. Mrs Murphy embodied those principles perfectly and we all loved her for it.  We got Firm, but without the Friendly and Fair in most other grades. From Mrs Murphy we got the whole package. Over 50 years later I can still conjure an image of her smiling face, as well as the not-so-smiling face I invoked on occasion.  I honestly cannot recall a single day in her class I did not enjoy, and I have an excellent memory.

Sixth Former

Sixth Former

John Pearce.  When I was 15 my family returned to England and I was enrolled at Burnham Grammar School (in south Buckinghamshire). In the 4th form (9th grade) I had John Pearce for English. John Pearce was, and is, my all time favorite teacher, and we are still in touch. A simple paragraph cannot begin to summarize my admiration for the man.  Although he had no more than a B.A. he was a scholar, and by the end of his career had several notable publications to his name.  What was so amazing about him was that he introduced us, mere 15 year olds, to current scholarship – work normally studied by postgraduate students.  He taught us, for example, about the composition of acting companies in Shakespeare’s day and how this affected the dramatic structure of the plays.  One critical issue concerned the limited number of actors in the companies (for financial reasons), usually about 8 principles, 4 boys, and 8 apprentices.  Thus, most actors had to play 2, sometimes 3, parts in the same play. As an exercise he had us all cast Hamlet for a Shakespearean company by charting the appearances of every character scene by scene, noting which ones never coincided, and doubling them up for one actor.  I remember him calling my doubling of Claudius and the Ghost “a daring move.” But I remember him most for his drive to make me a better writer with his tireless, in-depth critiques. I rarely received an alpha for my work (he used Greek letters for grades), and I never attained the ultimate prize – “alpha distinction” (a large alpha with “D” inscribed inside).  He ALWAYS pushed me to do better. Even today when I write emails to him I quadruple check all punctuation, spelling, phrasing, and, especially, word choice.

Here I am as Orsino in the school’s rendition of Twelfth Night.  In those days we did a Shakespeare every year.


Leslie Ashford.  Leslie Ashford was the headmaster of Burnham Grammar School and had studied history at Cambridge University. He taught me modern English history in the fifth form.  His very first lesson will live with me forever.  We had studied the Industrial Revolution the year below and so he began by seeing what we had learnt. Opening question “What were the causes of the Industrial Revolution in Britain?” We all thought this was an easy one; it was a favorite question in one form or another on the public exam we had to sit that year.  We had all memorized lists of “causes” such as “abundance of coal and iron deposits,” “wave of inventors” (my current favorite for sheer stupidity), “increase in cheap labor force,” and so forth.  We all put our hands up, eager to show we knew the answers, but he shot each answer down. “Hadn’t the coal and iron always been there?” “Aren’t there smart people in every generation?” “Did the cheap labor force magically appear?”  I trace my lifelong professional interest in historical questions to that single class.  He taught me that the only historical question worth asking is “Why?” and that the answers are never simple nor easily found.

Andrew Panton. In the sixth form we had to specialize in three subjects in preparation for university.  I signed on for Latin, Greek, and Modern History. My history master was Andrew Panton, newly graduated from Oxford – a bit wet round the ears as a teacher, but crack up to the minute on the latest research.  When he learnt that I was the only classics student in the school he took it upon himself to offer to tutor me, one-on-one, in Ancient History in his free periods. When I decided to sit the entrance exams for Oxford University he personally coached me after school. He was completely dedicated to my success by teaching me the study habits and critical thinking skills of an undergraduate, and he got no additional compensation from the school for any of the work he did with me.  As a small aside, he married one of my class mates, a slightly flaky girl named Bridget Jones – I swear, I am not making this up.

I have had many other teachers, of course, each teaching me something, if only what NOT to do in the classroom. But these five taught me core values that I have tried to emulate with my students, which I can summarize as “be caring, smart, passionate, critical, dedicated, and respectful – and make them work their tails off.” In return I will end by saying that I have been blessed over the years with exceptional students.  They have made me work my tail off too, and I was a better teacher because of them.

I used to be able to find some excuse to combine my passions and give a cooking lesson in one of my university classes.  This image is from a lesson of mine concerning the making of apple crumble (see https://www.bookofdaystales.com/chameleon-cooking/ ) given to my Anthropological Fieldwork Methods class.  Over the years I taught students how to make cock-a-leekie soup, eggplant parmesan, Javanese soto ayam (my favorite soup of all time), and English pancakes, to name a few.

fieldwork 044

I am not going to give you a recipe today.  Instead I am going to teach you some things I have learnt by experiment over the years about the onion family rather like I would tutor you for an upcoming test. This is not an exhaustive list by any means.


Tío Juan’s Onion Family Tips

1 .The onion family (genus Allium) has many brothers and sisters, many of which are under-used in home cooking. Learn about ALL of them and don’t be afraid to change one for another in a recipe.  My commonest substitution is to use leeks in place of onions. But you can also use caramelized scallions in place of onions in stews.

2. Use chives more often.  They are a perennial that quickly spread and provide years of enjoyment in the garden as well as the kitchen because of their profuse flowers in the border.  I use them most commonly in egg dishes and salads, as well as a soup garnish.  They come in several varieties, including garlic chives and Chinese chives, each with distinctive flavors that enhance soups, stir fries, and salads.  Don’t forget, too, that the flowers are edible.  They make a colorful and delicately pungent addition to a green salad.

3. Onions change flavors dramatically depending on how they are cooked. I tend to distinguish four categories – raw, translucent, amber, and dark. Each imparts a different flavor to a dish. I use a very fine dice of raw onions in soups and stews sometimes, added almost at the last minute. You will be amazed at how much this brightens up the flavors.  A SE Asian favorite is to deep fry onion threads until they are dark and crisp. Drained and dried of excess oil they will keep in an airtight container for weeks.  They are marvelous sprinkled over rice or curries.

4. Shallots tend often to be forgotten, perhaps because many cooks do not know what they are or because they are expensive. They look like small, brown-skinned onions shaped much like big garlic cloves.  To my mind their best uses are raw, finely chopped in salads, or deep fried in thin slices to a crisp golden and used as a garnish for beef stews.

5. Use leeks more. Try buttered leeks as a bed for fish. Slice both the green and white parts thinly on the diagonal. Melt a generous amount of butter in a heavy skillet and cook the leeks on a very slow flame for 15 to 20 minutes.  Plain poached leeks, cut into big rounds, make an excellent accompaniment for any meat dish. Put a few, cut into 4” lengths (white part), into the roasting pan along with whatever else you are roasting. Onions are great roasted this way too. A whole head of garlic roasted makes a delicious spread for toasted bread.

6. All of the onion family (with the exception of leeks) are dead easy to grow.  Even if all you have is a sunny balcony, pot up some chives at the very least.  If you have a garden plot always devote a patch to onions.  They can be eaten at all stages from spring onions to full matured bulbs.  Garden onions cannot be rivaled in cooking.

May 262013

Bram Stoker

Annex - Lugosi, Bela (Dracula)_04

On this date in 1897 Bram Stoker’s Dracula was first published.  I first read the book when I was 11 years old.  I bought a used copy from a book stall near Adelaide train station on one of my Saturday jaunts. It cost the equivalent of about 25 cents in today’s money.  I started reading it on the train on the way home, and could not put it down until I was finished. At the time I found the style of the writing rather strange, but engaging.  I suspect that very few people nowadays actually read the book, but know the basics from movies and such.  This is a pity. Even the attempt at sticking to the original in the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula was more or less of a flop in my estimation.  Someone should tell casting directors to stop hiring Keanu Reeves for serious roles (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is more his speed).  In any case, despite the title, the movie did not follow the book particularly closely.

Stoker’s original is what is known as an epistolary novel, that is, the plot moves forward via letters back and forth between key characters, journal entries, newspaper articles and such.  The beginning and the end, however, are conventional prose fiction. I won’t go into details about the plot because I would spoil it for you if you get inspired to read it – which I strongly urge you to do.  Some of the specifics of Stoker’s original conception of Dracula now floating around in folklore are close to accurate.  For example, Dracula does indeed go after beautiful young women, but he does not kill them with a single bite.  Rather he drains their blood slowly over weeks.  As the process progresses he and his victim become mystically attached to one another, able to communicate telepathically. The veiled eroticism is patent to a modern reader.

Although Stoker’s novel is now iconic, it was by no means the first novel about vampires. It was preceded and partly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 Carmilla, about a lesbian vampire who preys on a lonely young woman, and by Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood, a long (667,000 words), inconsistent, and tedious “penny dreadful” serial published between 1845 and 1847 by James Malcolm Rymer. Many of the images of a vampire adopted by Stoker – fangs, two puncture wounds, hypnotic powers, superhuman strength – come from Rymer.  But his vampire usually appears as a normal human most of the time, and has no fear of garlic or the daylight. Vampirism comes over him in fits, and he despises himself when he is a vampire (a kind of Jekyll and Hyde character).

The image of a vampire portrayed as an aristocratic man, like the character of Dracula, was created by John Polidori in The Vampyre (1819), during the summer spent with Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron in 1816. The Lyceum Theatre, where Stoker worked between 1878 and 1898, was headed by the actor-manager Henry Irving, who was Stoker’s real-life inspiration for Dracula’s mannerisms and whom Stoker hoped would play Dracula in a stage version. Although Irving never did agree to do a stage version (which Stoker eventually wrote and produced), Dracula’s dramatic sweeping gestures and gentlemanly mannerisms drew their inspiration from Irving. It was Stoker’s synthesis of these elements from different sources that created the stereotypical vampire we know today.

What else could I produce for recipes but garlic dishes? Not dishes with garlic in them, but dishes where garlic is the headline star. You get a two-fer today: a garlic sauce from Transylvania, and a garlic soup.  The garlic sauce is a modern recipe and I have no idea what its roots are.  It is superb, though, especially with grilled meats such as lamb or beef.  Grill the meat until it is nearly ready, then spread the sauce thickly on top of it while still on the grill to warm through and suffuse the meat. Or you can serve the sauce chilled at the table for guests to help themselves. The combination of roasted and plain garlic cloves makes the flavor of the soup complex, and using 44 cloves of garlic in total makes it robust.  I recommend making the soup the day before and refrigerating over night for the flavors to marry and mature.

Mujdei De Usturoi, Transylvanian Garlic Sauce


1 head garlic, broken into cloves and peeled
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp kosher salt or table salt
½ cup sour cream
black pepper to taste


Use a mortar and pestle to crush the garlic and salt together into a paste. You can also use a garlic press and then mash the garlic to a paste in a bowl with the back of a spoon. (Or you can use a mini blender or food processor and process, in which case you would add the garlic and oil together.)

Put the garlic paste into a small bowl, and add the oil. Whip with a fork until it becomes fluffy. Add the sour cream and continue to whip until all of the garlic is incorporated. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Garlic Soup


26 garlic cloves (unpeeled)
18 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 1/4 cups sliced onions
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
4 lemon wedges


Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 26 garlic cloves in a small glass baking dish. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake until the garlic is golden brown and tender, about 45 minutes. Cool. Squeeze the garlic between your fingertips to separate the meat from the skin. Discard the skin and put the garlic in a small bowl.

Melt the butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook until the onions are translucent but have not taken on color, about 6 minutes. Add the roasted garlic and 18 raw garlic cloves and cook 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock. Cover and simmer until the garlic is very tender, about 20 minutes.

Purée the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth (working in batches if necessary). Return the soup to the saucepan, add the cream and bring to simmer. Remove from the heat.

Season with salt and pepper.

Divide the grated cheese among 4 bowls and ladle the soup over it. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon wedge into each bowl and serve.

Serves 4