Jul 182017

On this date in 1555, Mary I granted the College of Arms a new house called Derby Place or Derby House and a new charter. The College is still more or less in the same place under much the same charter, although the College’s fortunes have come and gone over the years. The College of Arms, also known as the College of Heralds, is a royal corporation consisting of professional officers of arms, with jurisdiction over England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth countries. The heralds are appointed by the British Sovereign and are delegated authority to act on behalf of the Crown in all matters of heraldry, the granting of new coats of arms, genealogical research, and the recording of pedigrees. The College is also the official body responsible for matters relating to the flying of flags on land, and it maintains the official registers of flags and other national symbols. Though a part of the Royal Household of the United Kingdom, the College is self-financed, unsupported by any public funds. I have to say that I despise the hereditary monarchy, hereditary privilege and all their trappings, including heraldic design, flag duties and all the rest of it. But there was a time in my boyhood when heraldry held my interest, along with ancient calligraphy, historical naval uniforms, and a host of other more or less useless things that now clutter up the dusty attic of my brain.  So, I’ll give the College of Arms its day in the sun.

At one time the College of Arms was an extremely important body, because it was responsible for the validation of hereditary rights to titles and property, including the right to be king or queen of England. For Mary I this function of the College was of supreme importance, not only because she had been declared illegitimate by her father, Henry VIII, when he invalidated his marriage to her mother, Catherine of Aragon, but also because certain factions in England were intent on putting Lady Jane Grey on the throne instead of her, and heralds of the College of Arms had dutifully certified that Jane was the legitimate heir to the throne and not Mary. Mary had an army, most of the citizens of London, and other powerful factions on her side, and, so, won the day without too much trouble – beheading Jane and her supporters into the bargain for their troubles. The officers of the College were also, of course, in a certain amount of hot water for backing Jane instead of Mary, but they pleaded that they had been forced to act under threat of death, so Mary, in an uncharacteristic act of mercy, pardoned them, and gave them a new house and a new charter, no doubt assuming they would be on better behavior thereafter. The thing is that in the turbulent times of the Wars of the Roses (when the crown changed hands multiple times), followed by the reigns of the Tudors and then the Stuarts, the succession to the throne was constantly in doubt, and the support of the College of Arms was vital on many occasions.

The College of Arms was originally founded by royal charter in 1484 by King Richard III, the first year of his reign.  The College had several functions related to heraldry and genealogical claims. Richard’s royal charter outlines the constitution of the College’s officers, their hierarchy, the privileges conferred upon them and their jurisdiction over all heraldic matters in the kingdom of England. The College was also granted a house named Coldharbour (formerly Poulteney’s Inn) on Upper Thames Street in the parish of All-Hallows-the-Less, for storing records and living space for the heralds. The house, built by Sir John de Pulteney, four times Lord Mayor of London, was said to be one of the greatest in the City of London, testifying to the College’s importance as supporters of Richard’s claim to the throne and of his grants of titles to his allies.

Unfortunately for the College, Richard was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field by Henry Tudor who was crowned Henry VII soon after the battle, inaugurating the troubled house of Tudor. Henry’s first Parliament of 1485 passed an Act of Resumption, in which large grants of crown properties made by Richard to his allies were cancelled, and Coldharbour was taken from the College and given to Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, for life. As a result, the heralds were left destitute and many of their books and records were lost. Nonetheless, the heralds’ position at the royal court remained, and they were compelled by Henry to attend him at all times (in rotation).

During the reign of Henry’s son, Henry VIII, the heralds were of supreme importance in a number of areas. Henry VIII was fond of pomp and magnificence, and thus gave the heralds plenty of opportunity to exercise their roles in his court. In addition, the members of the College were also expected to be regularly dispatched to foreign courts on missions, whether to declare war, accompany armies, summon garrisons or deliver messages to foreign potentates and generals. During his magnificent meeting with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, Henry VIII brought with him 18 officers of arms, probably all he had, to regulate the many tournaments and ceremonies held there.

Nevertheless, the College’s petitions to the King and to the Duke of Suffolk in 1524 and 1533 for the return of their chapter house were rejected, and the heralds were left to hold chapter in whichever palace the royal court happened to be at the time. They even resorted to meeting at each other’s houses, at various guildhalls and even a hospital. It was also in this reign in 1530, that Henry VIII conferred on the College one of its most important duties for almost a century, the heraldic visitation. The provincial Kings of Arms were commissioned under a royal warrant to enter all houses and churches and given authority to deface and destroy all arms unlawfully used by any knight, esquire, or gentleman. Around the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries this duty became even more necessary as the monasteries were previously repositories of local genealogical records. From then on, all genealogical records and the duty of recording them was subsumed by the College. These visitations were serious affairs, and many individuals were charged and heavily fined for breaking the law of arms. Hundreds of these visitations were carried out well into the 17th century; the last was in 1686.

And so we get to Mary I. Although it must have been embarrassing for both sides, after the heralds initially proclaimed the right of her rival Lady Jane Grey to the throne. When King Edward VI died on 6 July 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen four days later, first in Cheapside then in Fleet Street by two heralds, trumpets blowing before them. However, when popular support swung to Mary’s side, the Lord Mayor of London and his councils accompanied by the Garter King of Arms, two other heralds, and four trumpeters returned to Cheapside to proclaim Mary’s ascension as rightful queen instead. The College’s excuse was that they were compelled in their earlier act by the Duke of Northumberland (Lady Jane’s father-in-law, who was later executed), an excuse that Mary accepted.

Mary and her husband (and co-sovereign) Philip II of Spain then set about granting the College a new house called Derby Place or Derby House, under a new charter, dated 18 July 1555 at Hampton Court Palace. The charter stated that the house would: “enable them [the College] to assemble together, and consult, and agree amongst themselves, for the good of their faculty, and that the records and rolls might be more safely and conveniently deposited.” The charter also reincorporated the three kings of arms, six heralds and all other heralds and pursuivants, and their successors, into a corporation with perpetual succession.

Derby Place was situated in the parish of St Benedict and St Peter, south of St Paul’s Cathedral, more or less on the College’s present location. There are records of the heralds carrying out modifications to the structure of Derby Place over many years. However, little record of its appearance has survived, except the description that the buildings formed three sides of a quadrangle, entered through a gate with a portcullis on the west side. On the south range, roughly where Queen Victoria Street now stands, was a large hall on the western end. Derby Place’s hearth tax bill from 1663, discovered in 2009 at the National Archives at Kew, showed that the building had about thirty-two rooms, which were the workplace as well as the home to eleven officers of arms.

The College had its work cut out for it under the Tudors and Stuarts. Of the ruling monarchs, Mary I, Elizabeth I, Charles II, William III and Mary II, and Anne all died without direct heirs, and throughout Tudor and Stuart times, not to mention the Civil Wars, hereditary titles and property were in a constant state of flux. Under the Hanoverian Georges down to the present day, things in those quarters have been much more orderly and the College has gradually subsided into a largely ceremonial role (with ups and downs from time to time). Unless you are in danger of inheriting a castle from a distant relative, or you are intrigued by the archaic language and honors associated with coats of arms, this post will be about the sum total of your interest in, and knowledge of, the College of Arms.

Here’s 2 Tudor recipes for salmon.  It’s not rocket science to translate them into usable recipes for the modern kitchen:

Salmon Sallet for fish days From Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Jewell (1585, 1594, and 1596)

‘Salmon cut long waies with slices of onyons upon it layd and upon that to cast Violets, Oyle and Vineger’.

Here my main question is how the salmon is prepared first. I assume this is not a Tudor version of sashimi and that the salmon is cooked and then chilled before serving. I’d grill it with sliced onions, cool, then lay on violets, and sprinkle over oil and vinegar.

Salmon Rostyd in sauce  From Gentyll Manly Cokere, MS Pepys 1047 (c1490)

‘Samon rostyd in sause. Cut thy salmon in round pieces and roast it on a grid iron. Take wine and powder of cinnamon and draw them through a strainer. Add thereto onions minced small. Boil it well. Take vinegar or verjuice and powder of ginger and salt. Add thereto. Lay the salmon in dishes and pour the syrup thereon and serve forth’.


Jul 092017

Here I am back again after my move from Mantua to Mandalay. I’m not sure I can get back in the swing of daily postings right away because I am still navigating deep and treacherous waters with a new job and new living situation in a country where I speak one phrase of the local language — မင်္ဂလာပါ which means “hello.” After that, all bets are off.  But today is the birthday (1858) of Franz Boas, often called the Father of American Anthropology, and I am a professional anthropologist in the Boasian tradition, so I have to honor him today. In the profession he’s sometimes known as Papa Franz, and any American Anthropologist trained in the Boasian tradition can trace a lineage back to him, through doctoral supervisors. My doctoral supervisor was James Peacock, his was Cora Du Bois who took courses with Boas at Columbia as an undergraduate but did her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley under Alfred Kroeber, who was a doctoral student under Boas. Three short generations and I am back to Boas. Boas really revolutionized anthropology in the US, and because I have spent a lifetime teaching and writing in the Boasian tradition I could obviously write volumes on his influence. I’ll try to pare it down to some simple, salient facts.

Franz Boas was born in Minden, Westphalia. Although his grandparents were observant Jews, his parents were educated, well-to-do, and free thinking, not liking dogma of any kind. Because of this background Boas was allowed to think for himself and pursue his own interests. Early in life he displayed a passion for both nature and natural sciences. He wrote:

The background of my early thinking was a German home in which the ideals of the revolution of 1848 were a living force. My father, liberal, but not active in public affairs; my mother, idealistic, with a lively interest in public matters; the founder about 1854 of the kindergarten in my home town, devoted to science. My parents had broken through the shackles of dogma. My father had retained an emotional affection for the ceremonial of his parental home, without allowing it to influence his intellectual freedom.

From kindergarten on, Boas was educated in natural history, a subject he enjoyed. In gymnasium, he was most proud of his research on the geographic distribution of plants. When he started his university studies, Boas first attended Heidelberg University for a term followed by four terms at Bonn University, studying physics, geography, and mathematics at these schools. In 1879, he hoped to transfer to Berlin University to study physics under Hermann von Helmholtz, but ended up transferring to the University of Kiel instead for family reasons. At Kiel, Boas studied under Theobald Fischer and received a doctorate in physics in 1881 for his dissertation entitled “Contributions to the Understanding of the Color of Water,” which examined the absorption, reflection, and the polarization of light in seawater. Although technically Boas’ doctorate was in physics, his advisor Fischer, a student of Carl Ritter, was primarily a geographer and thus some biographers view Boas as more of a geographer than a physicist at this stage. For his part Boas self-identified as a geographer by this time, prompting his sister, Toni, to write in 1883 “After long years of infidelity, my brother was re-conquered by geography, the first love of his boyhood.”

In his dissertation research, Boas’ methodology included investigating how different intensities of light created different colors when interacting with different types of water, however he encountered difficulty in being able to objectively perceive slight differences in the color of water and as a result became intrigued by this problem of perception and its influence on quantitative measurements. Boas had already been interested in Kantian philosophy since taking a course on aesthetics with Kuno Fischer at Heidelberg. These factors led Boas to consider pursuing research in psychophysics, which explores the relationship between the psychological and the physical, after completing his doctorate, but he had no training in psychology. Boas did publish six articles on psychophysics during his year of military service (1882-1883), but ultimately he decided to focus on geography, primarily so he could receive sponsorship for his planned Baffin Island expedition.

Hence, Boas took up geography as a way to explore his growing interest in the relationship between subjective experience and the objective world. At the time, German geographers were divided over the causes of cultural variation. Many argued that the physical environment was the principal determining factor, but others (notably Friedrich Ratzel) argued that the diffusion of ideas through human migration is more important. In 1883, encouraged by Theobald Fischer, Boas went to Baffin Island to conduct geographic research on the impact of the physical environment on native Inuit migrations. The first of many ethnographic field trips, Boas culled his notes to write his first monograph titled The Central Eskimo, which was published in the 6th Annual Report from the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1888. Boas lived and worked closely with the Inuit peoples on Baffin Island, and he developed an abiding interest in the way people lived.

In the perpetual darkness of the Arctic winter, Boas reported, he and his traveling companion became lost and were forced to keep sledding for twenty-six hours through ice, soft snow, and temperatures that dropped below −46 °C. The following day, Boas penciled in his diary,

I often ask myself what advantages our ‘good society’ possesses over that of the ‘savages’ and find, the more I see of their customs, that we have no right to look down upon them. We have no right to blame them for their forms and superstitions which may seem ridiculous to us. We ‘highly educated people’ are much worse, relatively speaking.

He went on to do field work with the indigenous cultures and languages of the Pacific Northwest which became the core of his ethnographic studies, even though he never published a proper ethnography of the peoples. His massive collections of Northwest art and artifacts are still housed in a special exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York City where he worked as a curator before taking up a professorship at Columbia university in 1899 where he remained for the rest of his career. Boas’ first task at Columbia was to organize a department of anthropology by pulling together experts from different departments who were anthropologists of one stripe or another according to Boas’ ideals. He saw the study of humanity as embracing all manner of scientific disciplines that when collected together gave a rounded, holistic understanding of the human condition.

Many of Boas’ doctoral students went on to found anthropology departments and research programs inspired by his ideas, and, as such, Boas profoundly influenced the development of American anthropology. Among his most well-known students were Alfred Kroeber, Ruth Benedict, Edward Sapir, Margaret Mead, Melville Herskovits, Ruth Bunzel, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Boas was one of the most prominent opponents of the then popular ideologies of scientific racism, the idea that race is a biological concept and that human behavior is best understood through the typology of biological characteristics. In a series of groundbreaking studies of skeletal anatomy he showed that cranial shape and size were highly malleable depending on environmental factors such as health and nutrition, in contrast to the claims by racial anthropologists of the day that held head shape to be a stable racial trait. Boas also worked to demonstrate that differences in human behavior are not primarily determined by innate biological dispositions, but are largely the result of cultural differences acquired through social learning. In this way, Boas introduced culture as the primary concept for describing differences in behavior between human groups, and as the central analytical concept of American anthropology. The concept of culture remains his enduring legacy, even though, like so many pivotal ideas of the early 20th century, it has yet to penetrate to the popular level. It has been demonstrated repeatedly and convincingly time and again that the popular conception of race has ZERO basis in biology – I mean zero. But the idea that biological races exist will not go away.  My simple definition of a racist: “Anyone who believes that biological races exist.” Period. People are people, and what unites and defines them are cultural behaviors not biological traits. Hence, nowadays anthropologists in the Boasian mode (including myself) speak of “ethnicity” and not “race.”

One of Boas’ main contributions to anthropological thought was his rejection of the then-popular evolutionary approaches to the study of culture, which saw all societies progressing through a set of hierarchic technological and cultural stages, with Western European culture at the summit. You probably know some version of this such as, stone age, bronze age, iron age. Lewis Henry Morgan in the US and E. B. Tylor in Britain had published widely accepted theories of general cultural evolution that pegged all world cultures on a fixed scale from most primitive to most modern. Boas argued that culture developed historically through the interactions of groups of people and the diffusion of ideas, and that consequently there was no process towards continuously “higher” cultural forms. This insight led Boas to reject the stage-based organization of ethnological museums, instead preferring to order items on display based on the affinity and proximity of the cultural groups in question.

Boas also introduced the ideology of cultural relativism which holds that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or lower, or better or more correct, but that all humans see the world through the lens of their own culture, and judge it according to their own culturally acquired norms. For Boas the object of anthropology was to understand the way in which culture conditioned people to understand and interact with the world in different ways, and to do this it was necessary to gain an understanding of the language and cultural practices of the people studied. By uniting the disciplines of archaeology, the study of material culture and history, and physical anthropology, the study of variation in human anatomy, with ethnology, the study of cultural variation of customs, and descriptive linguistics, the study of unwritten indigenous languages, Boas created the four-field subdivision of anthropology which became prominent in American anthropology throughout the 20th century.

The four-field approach still exists in theory, but not in practice. When I was a doctoral student in the early 1970s I was expected to be minimally competent in all four fields and for my M.A. I had to take coursework in all four. Furthermore, I taught Introduction to General Anthropology, the basic anthropology course for undergraduates, which was evenly divided between the four fields. But even then the four fields were an atavism, and no one was seriously expected to do research in all four. For a time, in fact, doctoral candidates became highly specialized in their sub-disciplines to their detriment. At my graduate university the archeologists and the cultural anthropologists occupied completely separate parts of the building and rarely spoke to one another. The pendulum has been swinging back the other way for some years now as specialists in the different disciplines see the merits for their long-term goals of embracing a more holistic outlook. Archeologists, for example, who were once content to dig up and classify projectile points and broken bits of pots postulating sequences and time lines, now see the benefit of studying cultural anthropology to give these artifacts a broader context which allows them to theorize more widely about the cultural patterns to which the artifacts testify.  I don’t do any physical anthropology, but my own research and writing embraces archeology, linguistic, and cultural anthropology fairly evenly, and I see the holistic approach to culture and history as essential in understanding behavior.

Boas’ fieldwork with the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest was eye opening in that it showed that people without domesticated plants and animals (commonly called foragers) need not necessarily live in small egalitarian bands as is the norm among the majority of foragers. The Kwakiutl gathered, hunted, and fished in an environment that was abundant with natural resources, and, in consequence developed an extremely complex, hierarchical system of social organization that revolved around feasts known as potlatches whose rules of protocol and etiquette (Who sits where; what portion of an animal each receives based on social rank; the method of cooking food for different ranks; and so forth) were so complicated that key informants themselves had to spend days discussing them among themselves to make sure they had them correct before reporting them to Boas. Here’s a very small sample of his notes:

The hair seal teaches the common people [bEgwil] their place; for chiefs receive the chest, and all the chiefs in rank receive the limbs. They only give pieces of the body of the seal to common people [bEgwil] of the tribes and they give the tail of the seal to people lowest in rank [bEkwaxa]. Therefore trouble often follows a seal-feast and a feast of short and long cinquefoil roots; for when a man who gives a seal feast with many seals hates another man, he gives him a piece of blubber from the body, although he may be of noble descent; and they do the same with the short cinquefoil roots.

Salmon was caught by the Kwakiutl in abundance in local rivers and was commonly roasted over an open fire on a cedar plank.  This has become a popular method for chefs in Washington state and British Columbia.  The cedar imparts a delicate flavor to the fish which, unfortunately, too many cooks these days overwhelm with marinades and such.  There is no need for complexity here.

Soak a thick untreated cedar plank in water overnight. Prepare a hot bed of coals (or use your grill if you have to). Place the cedar plank over the coals, and when it begins to smoke place thick salmon fillets on it. Let them cook through without turning or disturbing in any way. You can test for doneness by trying gently to pry open the fillet. Serve the salmon on the plank. It will continue cooking at the table.

Nov 292016


Today is the birthday (1825) of Jean-Martin Charcot, a legendary French neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology now mostly forgotten outside of professional medicine and psychology. He is known in the history of medicine as one of the founders of modern neurology and his name has been associated with at least 15 medical eponyms, including Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease and Charcot disease (better known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), motor neurone disease, or Lou Gehrig disease in the U.S.). He is also credited with being the first to diagnose multiple sclerosis. His work greatly influenced doctors in the developing fields of neurology and psychology, especially his student Sigmund Freud, who initially adopted many of his ideas, but then moved off in new directions. Much of Charcot’s theory and practice in hysteria and hypnosis which was highly regarded in his time has now been debunked, but he blazed the trail on the road to discovery of the subconscious mind in significant ways. Whether we should thank him for this discovery or not is another matter.

Charcot was a native Parisian who worked and taught at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital for 33 years. His reputation as an instructor drew students from all over Europe. In 1882, he established a neurology clinic at Salpêtrière, which was the first of its kind in Europe. Charcot was a part of the French neurological tradition and studied under, and greatly revered, Duchenne de Boulogne whom Charcot credited as the true father of neurology. Medical historians credit Duchenne, not Charcot, with being the first to bring discipline and focus to what beforehand had been a sprawling and incoherent mess of diagnoses and treatments.


Charcot named and was the first to describe multiple sclerosis. Summarizing previous reports and adding his own clinical and pathological observations, Charcot called the disease sclérose en plaques. The three signs of Multiple sclerosis now known as Charcot’s triad 1 are nystagmus, intention tremor, and telegraphic speech, though these are not unique to MS. Charcot also observed cognition changes, describing his patients as having a “marked enfeeblement of the memory” and “conceptions that formed slowly.” He was also the first to describe a disorder known as Charcot joint or Charcot arthropathy, a degeneration of joint surfaces resulting from loss of proprioception. He also researched the functions of different parts of the brain and the role of arteries in cerebral hemorrhage.

Charcot was one of three physicians to describe ALS. The announcement was made simultaneously with Pierre Marie of France (his resident) and Howard Henry Tooth of England. Therefore it was originally known as Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease (CMT). It can also be called peroneal muscular atrophy, but ALS is the more common term. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure within 2 to 4 years of diagnosis. Stephen Hawking, who has lived for 50 years with the disease, is a rare case.

Charcot’s studies between 1868 and 1881 were a landmark in the understanding of Parkinson’s disease. Among other advances, he accurately codified distinctions in symptoms, such as, rigidity, weakness and bradykinesia (slow movement), as well as classifying variations.  The disease was formerly named paralysis agitans (shaking palsy), but Charcot had it renamed after James Parkinson.


Charcot was famous in his day for his studies of hypnosis and hysteria, although his work is now largely discredited. Sometimes going down the wrong path can be fruitful. He initially believed that hysteria was a neurological disorder for which patients were pre-disposed by hereditary features of their nervous system, but near the end of his life concluded that hysteria was a psychological disease. Charcot first began studying hysteria after creating a special ward for women with “hystero-epilepsy.” He classified two distinct forms of hysteria among these women: minor hysteria and major hysteria. His interest in hysteria and hypnotism coincided with a public interest in what were called ‘animal magnetism’ or ‘mesmerism’ – methods of inducing hypnosis in a variety of arenas including spiritualism and spiritual healing that had been kicking around in Europe since the 17th century. Charcot’s use of hypnosis to help patients he diagnosed with hysteria, led to considerable notoriety and mixed reception. For Charcot, the ability to be hypnotized was a clinical feature of hysteria such that at the outset he considered the susceptibility to hypnotism to be synonymous with hysteria. Later he distinguished between grand hypnotisme (in hysterics) and petit hypnotisme (in ordinary people).


Charcot’s position on hypnosis was sharply criticized by Hippolyte Bernheim, who was also a leading neurologist at the time. Actually Charcot, and his student Georges Gilles de la Tourette (after whom Charcot named Tourette’s syndrome), long had qualms about the use of hypnosis in treatment and about its effect on patients. He also was concerned that the sensationalism hypnosis attracted had robbed it of its scientific interest. It’s fair to say that the jury is still out.

Charcot thought of art as a crucial tool of his clinical methods. He used photos and drawings, many made by himself or his students, in his classes and conferences. He also drew outside the neurology domain, as a personal hobby. Like his mentor Duchenne, he is considered a key figure in the incorporation of photography in the study of neurological cases.


In October 1885, Freud went to Paris on a fellowship to study with Charcot, and later described the experience of this stay as catalytic in turning him toward the practice of medical psychopathology and away from a less financially promising career in neurological research. It is not recognized enough that Freud always had an eye towards fame and profitability in his career, and that neither he nor Charcot were averse to sensationalism and public acclaim.

Freud began using hypnosis in his clinical work under the influence of Charcot, but then steered away from his approach, using it to encourage patients to release hidden memories rather than as a cure via hypnotic suggestion. Freud’s treatment of one particular patient, Anna O., involved inviting her to talk about her symptoms while under hypnosis. In the course of talking in this way these symptoms became reduced in severity as she retrieved memories of traumatic incidents associated with their onset. She called it the “talking cure” which was subsequently a signature method for Freud — for which he is rarely credited in the popular mind these days, as people, who have never read or studied Freud, habitually dismiss him as a sexist quack. Charcot might suffer the same fate were it not for the fact that he is h

Food that is good for the brain is a hot topic these days, although medical opinion goes through shifts in opinion now and again. In earlier centuries walnuts were considered to be good for the brain following the homeopathic principal that walnuts look like brains so must be good for them. Nowadays nutritional research tends to be more empirical and statistical, although causative principles are still hard to come by. Thus, people who eat diets rich in unsaturated fats, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and whole grains, have fewer neural problems than people who eat diets rich in red meat, dairy products, and sugars. Likewise, simple, natural ingredients are better than processed foods for a healthy brain. Walnut crusted baked salmon combines the theories of two eras, and is delicious.


Walnut Crusted Baked Salmon


1 ½ cups shelled walnuts
3 tbsp dry breadcrumbs
3 tbsp finely grated lemon rind
1 ½ tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
salt and pepper
6 3-oz salmon fillets, skin on
Dijon mustard
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice


Place the walnuts in a food processor and chop them coarsely. Add the breadcrumbs, lemon rind, olive oil and dill. Pulse a few times to mix until thoroughly combined and sticks together when pressed.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange the salmon fillets skin side down on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Brush the tops with mustard.

Divide the walnut-crumb mixture into 6 and spoon a portion over each fillet and gently press it into the surface of the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

Bake at 350°F 15 to 20 minutes, or until salmon flakes with a fork. Just before serving, sprinkle each with  lemon juice.

Jul 282013

faroe3  faroe2

Today is the Eve of Ólavsøka in the Faroes, a self governing island nation within the Kingdom of Denmark, located north of Scotland between Iceland and Norway.  Ólavsøka (St Olaf’s Wake) is celebrated on July 29, but the festivities actually begin (as with so many European saints’ festivals) on the eve, that is, July 28, with a parade with speeches, and rowing races in the capital, Tórshavn. Before the Reformation, the Wake of St. Olaf was an important religious festival in Norway and the Norwegian tributary countries, of which the Faroes were one. The Norwegian king Olaf II fell in the battle at Stiklestad in 1030.  He was almost immediately canonized and his cult helped unify Norway.  Every year on the anniversary of Olaf’s death Norway commemorated him as its patron saint.  The celebrations have faded in Norway, but continue full force in the Faroes.

Despite speculation that Irish monks may have migrated north to the Faroe Islands long before the Vikings arrived, no certain evidence has been found that people lived on the Faroe Islands before around 800. In a Latin account of a voyage made by Saint Brendan, an Irish monastic saint who lived around 484–578, there is a description of ‘insulae’ (islands) resembling the Faroe Islands. This, however, is far from conclusive. It is known that Norsemen settled the islands c. 800, bringing the Old Norse language that evolved into the modern Faroese language. These settlers are not thought to have come directly from Scandinavia, but rather from Norse communities surrounding the Irish Sea, Northern Isles, and Western Isles of Scotland, including the Shetland and Orkney islands, as well as Norse-Gaels from western Scotland and the Isle of Man.

The culture of the Faroe Islands has its roots in coastal and insular Nordic culture. The Faroe Islands were long isolated from the main cultural phases and movements that swept across parts of Europe. This means that they have maintained a great part of their traditional culture. The language spoken is Faroese and it is one of three insular Scandinavian languages descended from the Old Norse language spoken in Scandinavia in the Viking Age, the others being Icelandic and the extinct Norn, spoken in the Shetland and Orkney Islands until the end of the 18th century, and which is thought to have been mutually intelligible with Faroese. Until the 15th century, Faroese had a similar writing system to Icelandic and Norwegian, but after the Reformation in 1538, the ruling Danes outlawed its use in schools, churches and official documents. Although a rich spoken tradition survived, for 300 years the language was not written down. This means that all poems and stories were handed down orally. These works were split into three categories: sagnir (historical), ævintýr (stories) and kvæði (ballads), often set to music or the mediaeval chain dance. These works were eventually written down in the 19th century.

Traditional Faroese music was primarily vocal, and was not accompanied by musical instruments. Only in Tórshavn were instruments like fiddles played in times past. When trade grew in the 20th century the Faroese started to use imported musical instruments. Even so the imported music and instruments were popular only in Tórshavn. Rural peoples remained true to traditions of the chain dance and ballads. The chain dance is a medieval dance, with accompanying ballad which only survived in the Faroe Islands, while in other European countries it was banned by the church. The dance is traditionally danced in a circle, but when a lot of people take part in the dance they usually let it swing around in various wobbles within the circle. The following description is by V. U. Hammershaimb from Færøsk Anthologi (1891):

“The storyline of the ballad is attended by everybody with great interest, and if something especially pleasant or moving occurs, you can see it in the look and movement of the dancers – when the rage of the battle is described, the hands are clenched together, and when victory is in hand, they make cheering movements.”


Normally the opening of Ólavsøka on July 28 starts with a procession of sports people from Tórshavn, city council members, a brass band and people riding on horses. They walk in procession from the public school, Kommunuskúlin, down to the center of town to Tinghúsvøllur on Vaglið, where people are waiting for the procession to arrive. The people who walk in procession then gather on the triangle-shaped Tinghúsvøllur in front of the parliament building (Løgtingshúsið og Tinghúsið), there will be a speech by someone who is appointed, and this person will officially open the Ólavsøka. A brass band normally plays at the opening.


The Ólavsøka Boat Race is always held on the eve of Ólavsøka on 28 July. Before the Ólavsøka festival there are several other village festivals around the islands, where preliminary rounds of  the Faroese version of boat racing are held, starting at the Norðoyastevna in Klaksvík (either in the beginning of June or in the end of May). The Faroese boat race has several divisions, divided into groups of children, boys, girls, men, and women. The boat races are also grouped by the size of the boats. All the boats are standard wooden rowing boats. The rowers sit together two and two, and one person steers at the back of the boat. In Faroese the boats are called 5-mannafør, 6-mannafør, 8-mannafør and 10-mannafør, depending on the size of the crew. The crews who win each division of the Ólavsøka Boat Race win a trophy and the winning boats also win a trophy. Because a particular boat can be rowed by groups of men, women, and children, it may win several trophies. The distance is 1,000 meters for adults, and shorter distances for the children.


Traditional Faroese food is mainly based on meat, seafood and potatoes, and uses few fresh vegetables. Mutton is the basis of many meals, and one of the most popular treats is skerpikjøt, well aged, wind-dried mutton, which is quite chewy. The drying shed, known as a hjallur, is a standard feature in many Faroese homes, particularly in the small towns and villages. Other traditional foods are ræst kjøt (semi-dried mutton) and ræstur fiskur, matured/fermented fish (very much an acquired taste). Another Faroese specialty is grind og spik, pilot whale meat and blubber. (A parallel meat/fat dish made with offal is garnatálg, a caul wrapped package somewhat like Scottish haggis). Well into the 20th century, meat and blubber from a single pilot whale fed a whole community for some time. Fresh fish also features strongly in the traditional local diet, as do seabirds, such as Faroese puffins, and their eggs. Dried fish is common as well.

Pilot whale meat and blubber

Pilot whale meat and blubber

Here is a modern recipe created by the Bakkafrost salmon company from the Faroes. I chose it because it replicates some of the complexity of traditional fermented fish, but is likely to be more palatable to people outside the Faroes. I’ve given the recipe in Faroese first, just for fun. Being a fan of fresh salmon, smoked salmon, and blue cheese I find the combination irresistible.  I use stilton or roquefort, but you can use whatever blue cheese is available. Bakkafrost recommends a spinach, avocado, and mango salad as an accompaniment.


Laksur við blámuosti


4 laksastykkir á 125 gr
4 skivur av royktum laksi
4 flísar av blámuosti

Sker ein skurð vatnrætt ígjøgnum laksapettini. Legg ost og eina skivu av royktum laksi ímillum, og set kjøtnálir í fiskin. Krydda við eitt sindur av pipari. Legg stykkini í eitt smurt, eldfast fat og koyr
eitt lítið sindur av vatni í fatið. Set inn í ovnin á 175 stig í umleið 20 minuttir.

Laksur við blámuosti  (Salmon with blue cheese)


4 salmon portions  (125 gm/4.5 oz each).
4 slices of smoked salmon
4 slices of blue cheese


Slice once horizontally through the middle of each piece of salmon.
Insert the cheese and a slice of smoked salmon in between the two halves of salmon.  Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Place the salmon pieces on a buttered oven-proof dish and add a little water to it. Put it in the oven at 175°C/350°F for approximately 20 minutes.

Serves 4

Jun 202013

morse3  Morse_telegraph

Gallery of the Louvre by Morse

Gallery of the Louvre by Morse

On this date in 1840 Samuel Morse filed US Patent 1,647, “Improvement in the mode of communicating information by signals by the application of electro-magnetism.” It was the first in a string of patents  filed by Morse that made effective telegraphy a reality.  There were a number of other people in the game at the time, but Morse’s system (working with several collaborators) as well as his code for transmitting messages (also worked on with others) was the one that ultimately triumphed.

Morse, because of the code that bears his name, will forever be associated with the telegraph, but he actually had a well established career as a painter before he switched, midstream, to the communications field.  Many of his portraits and classical images enshrining the political values of the young nation had earned him national fame, and were commissioned for public display.  He worked professionally full time as a painter from around 1808 (supporting himself whilst a student at Yale) to 1825 (and part time until 1837).  In 1825, the city of New York commissioned Morse for $1,000 to paint a portrait in Washington of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette (a general under George Washington in the Continental Army). While Morse was painting, a horse messenger delivered a letter from his father containing one line, “Your dear wife is convalescent.” Morse immediately left Washington for his home at New Haven, leaving the portrait of Lafayette unfinished. By the time he arrived, his wife had already been buried. Heartbroken in the knowledge that for days he was unaware of his wife’s failing health and her lonely death, he moved on from painting to the creation of a means of rapid long distance communication.

During the 1830’s there was fierce competition between British scientists (notably Charles Wheatstone, inventor of the English concertina), and Morse to develop a commercially viable telegraph system.  The British team filed patents and opened telegraph lines several years before Morse, but their system had two drawbacks: they could not transmit over very long distances, and their use of electromagnetically controlled needles to point to letters on a dial was cumbersome.  Morse understood that the use of a single telegraph wire with a single battery had severe limitations because the resistance in the wire weakened the signal over distance.  With the assistance of chemistry professor Leonard Gail (and, later, researcher and backer Alfred Vail), Morse developed a line that used battery powered relays at frequent intervals along the line to continually boost the signal.  In theory such a system had no distance limits.  In addition Morse’s team developed transmitting and receiving keys. At first the keys read punched tape strips at one end, and punched identical tapes at the other end using a code of dots and dashes.  But when it was discovered that the punching/receiving key emitted clicks as it punched the tape, the tape was abandoned in favor of the audible clicks.

Initially Morse had difficulty getting federal funding to support his work, so he set up a number of demonstrations, the most impressive of which occurred on May 1, 1844, when news of the Whig Party’s nomination of Henry Clay for U.S. President was telegraphed from the party’s convention in Baltimore to the Capitol Building in Washington. Subsequently Morse traveled extensively in Europe and Latin America to promote his telegraph and to apply for patents and, in turn, received international fame.  It was only in Britain that his system was rejected in favor of the older use of electromagnetic needles.  In time, however, the Morse system and the Morse code became, and remain, international standards.

Morse spent a great deal of the next 30 years both promoting his system and defending himself legally against endless patent infringements at home and abroad.  However, he lived comfortably despite receiving only a fraction of his due financially.  It is also notable that he was honored more abroad than at home. The photo above, taken by Mathew Brady in 1866 shows him wearing from his right to left — top row: Nichan Iftikhar (Ottoman); Order of the Tower and Sword (Portugal); Order of the Dannebrog (Denmark); Gold Medal of Art and Science (Württemberg); Gold Medal of Science (Austria); Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus (Italy). Bottom row: Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain). A United States honor is conspicuous by its absence.

My recipe to celebrate Samuel Morse is a bit of a cheat, but only a bit of one.  There’s not a whole lot you can cook with dots and dashes.  But Morse’s invention was made possible by the huge strides being made in electromagnetism in general at the time.  The electromagnetic spectrum ranges over all manner of waves including visible light, X-rays, radio waves . . . and microwaves.  I tend not to use a microwave oven for much more than rapid defrosting of frozen foods and reheating leftovers.  But a microwave, with a little ingenuity, can produce excellent dishes.  Here is a recipe for salmon that is superb (akin to the dishwasher recipe in my post on Dalí: May 11).  The only catch is that the power of microwave ovens varies so much that to get this recipe right will require a bit of experimentation with times and intensities. Fortunately there is a fair degree of latitude. It is very important that the parchment cooking pouch is tightly sealed before cooking to prevent the escape of moisture. When chilled, the cooking liquids make a delectable aspic.

-… — -. / .- .–. .–. . – .. –  (I had to learn Morse Code in the Boy Scouts – you’ll figure it out. Hint: the first word is a giveaway).

Cold Salmon from the Microwave


2 lbs (1 kg) fresh salmon
1/3 cup (.8 dl) melted butter
juice of ½ a lemon
1/3 cup (.8 dl) dry, white vermouth
salt and pepper, to taste
2 or 3 sprigs fresh dill
lettuce leaves
parsley sprigs
thin lemon slices
thin cucumber slices


Lay a large sheet of baking parchment into an 8 inch (20 cm) square glass dish.

Lay the salmon on the parchment and brush it with melted butter.

Pull up the sides of the parchment, shaping it into a bag.

Pour in the lemon juice and vermouth, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange the dill sprigs on top of salmon.

Close the bag tightly, folding the top pieces over each other several times, but keeping as big an air pocket inside as possible.

Microwave for 20 minutes on medium/high (high is too intense).

Leave the package to rest for 20 minutes.

DO NOT unwrap the salmon.

Let the package cool to room temperature and then refrigerate it for 12 hours.

Unwrap and serve the salmon over lettuce leaves.

Garnish with parsley sprigs, lemon and cucumber slices.

Serves 4.

Note:  If you do not have baking parchment you can use 2 thicknesses of waxed paper.

May 112013


Today is the birthday (1904) of Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol usually known simply as Salvador Dalí, surrealist master and moustache specialist.  Although he is best known for his paintings he had a hand in a great many fields – cinema, theater set design, fashion, photography, and sculpture.  He was also known for his great wit and outrageous public displays.  Here are some quotes from him that illustrate his style.

“At the age of six years I wanted to be a chef. At the age of seven I wanted to be Napoleon. My ambitions have continued to grow at the same rate ever since.”

“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”

“Painting is an infinitely minute part of my personality.”

“I seated ugliness on my knee, and almost immediately grew tired of it.”

Bob Blumer had a series on the Food Network for a while called The Surreal Gourmet.  He was fond of making dishes that looked like one thing but were actually something quite different, such as french fries and ketchup where the “fries” were actually pound cake cut to resemble fries and the “ketchup” was raspberry sauce (served in a fast food cardboard container).  He experimented with various “cupcakes,” my favorite being one in which the “cake” part was ground lamb and the swirled “butter cream” on top was mashed potato dyed pink with beet juice.  But my personal favorite is salmon poached in a dishwasher.  Here’s his recipe:

Bob Blumer’s Dishwasher Salmon Recipe


1 tablespoon olive oil
4 6-ounce pieces salmon fillet
¼ cup fresh lime juice
kosher salt and black pepper
1 lemon, cut into wedges

heavy-duty foil


1. Grease the shiny side of two 12-inch squares of heavy-duty foil with the oil. Place 2 pieces of fish side by side on each square. Fold up the outer edges of the foil (to contain any liquid) and drizzle the fish with the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Fold the foil closed to form 2 airtight packets. (To test the seal, press down on a packet gently with your hand. If air escapes easily, rewrap.)

3. Place the packets in the top rack of the dishwasher. Run a normal cycle. Remove the fish from the foil and serve with the lemon wedges.  Serves 4