Mar 302015

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My birthday has rolled around again. Last year I focused on birthdays past but with a nod to other birthdays and events:

Here’s a few more anniversaries before I settle down to Vincent van Gogh.

The Sicilian Vespers, was an event that takes its name from an insurrection which began at the start of Vespers, the sunset prayer marking the beginning of the night vigil on Easter Monday, March 30, 1282, at the Church of the Holy Spirit just outside Palermo. Beginning on the night of the Vespers, thousands of Sicily’s French inhabitants were massacred within six weeks. According to Steven Runciman, the Sicilians at the church were engaged in holiday festivities and a group of French officials came by to join in and began to drink. A sergeant named Drouet dragged a young married woman from the crowd, pestering her with his advances. Her husband then attacked Drouet with a knife, killing him. When the other Frenchmen tried to avenge their comrade, the Sicilian crowd fell upon them, killing them all. At that moment all the church bells in Palermo began to ring for Vespers.

The Territory of Florida was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from March 30, 1822, until March 3, 1845, when it was admitted to the Union as the State of Florida.

1793 – Juan Manuel de Rosas, Argentinian politician, army officer, and caudillo(provincial political ruler)who was a major figure in the War of Indepence and subsequent Civil Wars.

1937 – Warren Beatty, American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter

1949 – Ray Magliozzi, American radio host, with his brother Tom hosted NPR’s Car Guys

1962 MC Hammer, American rapper, dancer, and actor

1968 – Celine Dion, Canadian singer-songwriter and actress

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Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853 in Groot-Zundert, a village close to Breda, in the predominantly Catholic province of North Brabant in the southern Netherlands. He was the oldest surviving child of Theodorus van Gogh, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. Vincent was given the name of his grandfather, and of a brother stillborn exactly a year before his birth. The practice of reusing a name was not unusual. Vincent was a common name in the Van Gogh family: his grandfather, Vincent (1789–1874), had received his degree of theology at the University of Leiden in 1811. Grandfather Vincent had six sons, three of whom became art dealers, including another Vincent who was referred to in Van Gogh’s letters as “Uncle Cent”. Grandfather Vincent had perhaps been named in turn after his own father’s uncle, the successful sculptor Vincent van Gogh (1729–1802). Art and religion were the two occupations to which the Van Gogh family gravitated. His brother Theodorus “Theo” was born on 1 May 1857. He had another brother, Cor, and three sisters: Elisabeth, Anna, and Willemina “Wil”.


On 15 September 1866, he went to the new middle school, Willem II College in Tilburg. Constantijn C. Huysmans, a successful artist in Paris, taught Van Gogh to draw at the school and advocated a systematic approach to the subject. Vincent’s interest in art began at an early age. He began to draw as a child and continued making drawings throughout the years leading to his decision to become an artist. Though well-done and expressive, his early drawings do not approach the intensity he developed in his later work. In March 1868, Van Gogh abruptly left school and returned home. A later comment on his early years was in an 1883 letter to Theo in which he wrote, “My youth was gloomy and cold and sterile.”

In July 1869, his uncle Cent helped him obtain a position with the art dealer Goupil & Cie in The Hague. After his training, in June 1873, Goupil transferred him to London, where he lodged at 87 Hackford Road, Brixton, and worked at Messrs. Goupil & Co., 17 Southampton Street. This was a happy time for Vincent; he was successful at work and was, at 20, earning more than his father. Theo’s wife later remarked that this was the happiest year of his life. He fell in love with his landlady’s daughter, Eugénie Loyer, but when he finally confessed his feelings to her, she rejected him, saying that she was secretly engaged to a former lodger. He became increasingly isolated and fervent about religion; his father and uncle arranged for him to be transferred to Paris, where he became resentful at how art was treated as a commodity, a fact apparent to customers. On 1 April 1876, Goupil terminated his employment.


He traveled to Brussels in autumn 1879, intending to follow Theo’s recommendation to study with the prominent Dutch artist Willem Roelofs, who persuaded him—in spite of his aversion to formal schools of art—to attend the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where he registered on 15 November 1880. At the Académie, he studied anatomy and the standard rules of modeling and perspective, about which he said, “you have to know just to be able to draw the least thing.”

In January 1882, he settled in The Hague, where he called on his cousin-in-law, Anton Mauve (1838–88), who was a Dutch realist painter and a leading member of the Hague School. Mauve introduced him to painting in both oil and watercolor and lent him money to set up a studio, but the two soon fell out, possibly over the issue of drawing from plaster casts. Van Gogh’s uncle Cornelis, an art dealer, commissioned 12 ink drawings of views of the city, which Van Gogh completed soon after arriving in The Hague, along with a further seven drawings that May. In June, he spent three weeks in a hospital, suffering from gonorrhea, and that summer, he began to paint in oil.


For the first time, there was interest from Paris in his work. That spring, he completed what is generally considered his first major work, The Potato Eaters, the culmination of several years work painting peasant character studies. In August 1885, his work was exhibited for the first time, in the windows of a paint dealer, Leurs, in The Hague.

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During 1885, he painted several groups of still-life paintings. From this period, Still-Life with Straw Hat and Pipe and Still-life with Earthen Pot and Clogs are characterized by smooth, meticulous brushwork and fine shading of colors. During his two-year stay in Nuenen, he completed numerous drawings and watercolors and nearly 200 oil paintings. His palette consisted mainly of somber earth tones, particularly dark brown, and he showed no sign of developing the vivid coloration that distinguishes his later, best-known work. When he complained that Theo was not making enough effort to sell his paintings in Paris, his brother wrote back, telling him that the paintings were too dark and not in line with the current style of bright Impressionist paintings.

In November 1885, he moved to Antwerp and rented a small room above a paint dealer’s shop in the Rue des Images (Lange Beeldekensstraat). He had little money and ate poorly, preferring to spend the money Theo sent on painting materials and models. Bread, coffee, and tobacco were his staple intake. In February 1886, he wrote to Theo saying that he could only remember eating six hot meals since May of the previous year. His teeth became loose and painful. While in Antwerp, he applied himself to the study of color theory and spent time in museums, particularly studying the work of Peter Paul Rubens, gaining encouragement to broaden his palette to carmine, cobalt, and emerald green. He bought Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts in the docklands, and incorporated their style into the background of some of his paintings.

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Van Gogh traveled to Paris in March 1886, where he shared Theo’s Rue Laval apartment on Montmartre, to study at Fernand Cormon’s studio. In June, they took a larger apartment further uphill, at 54 Rue Lepic. Because they had no need to write letters to communicate, little is known about this stay in Paris. In Paris, he painted portraits of friends and acquaintances, still-life paintings, views of Le Moulin de la Galette, scenes in Montmartre, Asnières, and along the Seine.

After seeing Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli’s work at the Galerie Delareybarette, which he admired, Van Gogh immediately adopted a brighter palette and a bolder attack, particularly in paintings such as his Seascape at Saintes-Maries (1888). Two years later, in 1890, Vincent and Theo paid to have a book about Monticelli published, and Van Gogh bought some of Monticelli’s paintings, adding them to his collection.

For months, Van Gogh worked at Cormon’s studio, where he frequented the circle of the British-Australian artist John Peter Russell, and met fellow students like Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – who painted a portrait of Van Gogh with pastel. The group congregated at Julien “Père” Tanguy’s paint store (which was, at that time, the only place where Paul Cézanne’s paintings were displayed). He had easy access to Impressionist works in Paris at the time. In 1886, two large vanguard exhibitions were staged; shows where Neo-Impressionism was first exhibited and seen, with works by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac becoming the talk of the town. Though Theo kept a stock of Impressionist paintings in his gallery on Boulevard Montmarte (by artists including Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro), Van Gogh seemingly had problems acknowledging developments in how artists view and paint their subject matter.

Conflicts arose between the brothers. At the end of 1886, Theo found that living with Vincent was “almost unbearable”. By the spring of 1887, they were again at peace, although Van Gogh moved to Asnières, a northwestern suburb of Paris, where he became acquainted with Signac. With Émile Bernard, he adopted elements of Pointillism, a technique in which a multitude of small colored dots are applied to the canvas such that—when seen from a distance—they create an optical blend of hues. The style stresses the value of complementary colors—including blue and orange—to form vibrant contrasts that are enhanced when juxtaposed. While in Asnières, he painted parks and restaurants and the Seine, including Bridges across the Seine at Asnieres.

Van Gogh moved to Arles, hoping for refuge at a time when he was ill from drink and suffering from smoker’s cough. He arrived on 21 February 1888 and took a room at the Hôtel-Restaurant Carrel, which he had idealistically expected to look like one of Hokusai (1760–1849) or Utamaro’s (1753–1806) prints.He seems to have moved to the town with thoughts of founding a utopian art colony.

Van Gogh was enchanted by the local landscape and light, and his works from this period are richly draped in yellow, ultramarine, and mauve. His portrayals of the Arles landscape are informed by his Dutch upbringing; the patchwork of fields and avenues appear flat and lack perspective, but excel in their intensity of color. The vibrant light in Arles excited him, and his newfound appreciation is seen in the range and scope of his work.

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He moved from the Hôtel Carrel to the Café de la Gare on 7 May, where he became friends with the proprietors, Joseph and Marie Ginoux. Although the Yellow House had to be furnished before he could fully move in, Van Gogh was able to utilize it as a studio. Hoping to have a gallery to display his work, his project at this time was a series of paintings including Van Gogh’s Chair (1888), Bedroom in Arles (1888), The Night Café (1888), Cafe Terrace at Night (September 1888), Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888), and Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888), all intended to form the décoration for the Yellow House. Van Gogh wrote about The Night Café: “I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime.”

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When Gauguin agreed to visit Arles, Van Gogh hoped for friendship, and the realization of his utopian idea of an artists collective. That August he painted sunflowers. When Boch visited again, Van Gogh painted a portrait of him, as well as the study The Poet Against a Starry Sky. Boch’s sister Anna (1848–1936), also an artist, purchased The Red Vineyard in 1890.In preparation for Gauguin’s visit, Van Gogh bought two beds, on advice from his friend the station’s postal supervisor Joseph Roulin, whose portrait he painted, and on 17 September spent the first night in the still sparsely furnished Yellow House. When Gauguin consented to work and live side-by-side in Arles with Van Gogh, he started to work on The Décoration for the Yellow House, probably the most ambitious effort he ever undertook. Van Gogh did two chair paintings: Van Gogh’s Chair and Gauguin’s Chair.

After repeated requests, Gauguin finally arrived in Arles on 23 October. During November, the two painted together. Gauguin painted Van Gogh’s portrait The Painter of Sunflowers: Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, and—uncharacteristically—Van Gogh painted some pictures from memory (deferring to Gauguin’s ideas in this) as well as his The Red Vineyard. Notable amongst these “imaginative” paintings is Memory of the Garden at Etten. Their first joint outdoor painting exercise produced Les Alyscamps, and was conducted at the Alyscamps.


The precise chain of events that led to the celebrated incident of van Gogh slicing off his ear is not known reliably in detail. The only account attesting a supposed earlier razor attack on Gauguin comes from Gauguin himself some fifteen years later, and biographers agree this account must be considered unreliable and self-serving. However, it does seem likely that, by 23 December 1888, van Gogh had realized that Gauguin was proposing to leave and that there had been some kind of contretemps between the two. That evening, van Gogh severed his left ear (either wholly or in part; accounts differ) with a razor, inducing a severe haemorrhage.He bandaged his wound, wrapped the ear in paper, and delivered the package to a brothel frequented by both him and Gauguin, before returning home and collapsing. He was found unconscious the next day by the police and taken to hospital. The local newspaper reported that van Gogh had given the ear to a prostitute with an instruction to guard it carefully.


After the wound healed van Gogh spent time in a mental clinic with limited access to the world outside. This resulted in a shortage of subject matter. He was left to work on interpretations of other artist’s paintings, such as Millet’s The Sower and Noon – Rest from Work (after Millet), as well as variations on his own earlier work. Van Gogh was an admirer of the Realism of Jules Breton, Gustave Courbet, and Millet. Many of his most compelling works date from this period.


His The Round of the Prisoners (1890) was painted after an engraving by Gustave Doré (1832–1883). Despite the pessimistic initial diagnosis, Van Gogh made a quick recovery. He returned to the Yellow House by the beginning of January, but was to spend the following month between the hospital and home, suffering from hallucinations and delusions that he was being poisoned.


During his stay, the clinic and its garden became the main subjects of his paintings. He made several studies of the hospital interiors, such as Vestibule of the Asylum and Saint-Remy (September 1889). Some of the work from this time is characterized by swirls, including The Starry Night, his best-known painting. He was allowed short supervised walks, which led to paintings of cypresses and olive trees, such as Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background 1889, Cypresses 1889, Cornfield with Cypresses (1889), Country road in Provence by Night (1890). That September, he also produced a further two versions of Bedroom in Arles.

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Between February and April 1890 Van Gogh suffered a severe relapse. Nevertheless he was able to paint and draw a little during this time, and he later wrote Theo that he had made a few small canvases “from memory … reminisces of the North.” Amongst these was Two Peasant Women Digging in a Snow-Covered Field at Sunset. Hulsker believes that this small group of paintings formed the nucleus of many drawings and study sheets depicting landscapes and figures that Van Gogh worked on during this time. He comments that—save for this short period—Van Gogh’s illness had hardly any effect on his work, but in these he sees a reflection of Van Gogh’s mental health at the time. Also belonging to this period is Sorrowing Old Man (“At Eternity’s Gate”), a color study that Hulsker describes as “another unmistakable remembrance of times long past.”

In May 1890, Van Gogh left the clinic in Saint-Rémy to move nearer the physician Dr. Paul Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise, and also to Theo. Gachet was recommended by Camille Pissarro, had treated several other artists, and was himself an amateur artist. Van Gogh’s first impression was that Gachet was “…sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much.” In June 1890, he painted several portraits of the physician, including Portrait of Dr. Gachet, and his only etching; in each, the emphasis is on Gachet’s melancholic disposition. Van Gogh stayed at the Auberge Ravoux, where he paid 3 francs and 50 centimes to rent an attic room measuring 75 square feet (7.0 m2).


Before he left, in his last weeks at Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh’s thoughts returned to his “memories of the North” and several of the approximately 70 oils he painted during his 70 days in Auvers-sur-Oise, such as The Church at Auvers, are reminiscent of northern scenes.


Wheat Field with Crows (July 1890) is an example of the use of double square canvases he developed in the last weeks of his life in which he paired two square blank canvases to form a single, larger canvas. In its turbulent intensity, it is among his most haunting and elemental works. It is often mistakenly believed to be his last work, but Hulsker lists seven paintings that postdate it.


Barbizon painter Charles Daubigny had moved to Auvers in 1861, and this in turn drew other artists there, including Camille Corot and Honoré Daumier. In July 1890, Van Gogh completed two paintings of Daubigny’s Garden; one of these is likely to be his final work. There are also paintings that show evidence of being unfinished, including Thatched Cottages by a Hill.

On 22 February 1890, Van Gogh suffered a new crisis that was “the starting point for one of the saddest episodes in a life already rife with sad events,” according to Hulsker. From February until the end of April he was unable to bring himself to write, though he did continue to draw and paint, which follows a pattern begun the previous May, in 1889. For a year he “had fits of despair and hallucination during which he could not work, and in between them, long clear months in which he could and did, punctuated by extreme visionary ecstasy.”

On 27 July 1890, aged 37, Van Gogh is believed to have shot himself in the chest with a revolver (although no gun was ever found).There were no witnesses and the location where he shot himself is unclear. Ingo Walther writes, “Some think Van Gogh shot himself in the wheat field that had engaged his attention as an artist of late; others think he did it at a barn near the inn.” Biographer David Sweetman writes that the bullet was deflected by a rib bone and passed through his chest without doing apparent damage to internal organs—probably stopped by his spine. He was able to walk back to the Auberge Ravoux, where he was attended by two physicians. However, without a surgeon present the bullet could not be removed. After tending to him as best they could, the two physicians left him alone in his room, smoking his pipe. The following morning (Monday), Theo rushed to be with his brother as soon as he was notified, and found him in surprisingly good shape, but within hours Vincent began to fail due to an untreated infection caused by the wound. Van Gogh died in the evening, 29 hours after he supposedly shot himself. According to Theo, his brother’s last words were: “The sadness will last forever.”

The Southern Dutch cuisine constitutes the cuisine of the Dutch provinces of North-Brabant (where van Gogh was born) and Limburg, and the Flemish Region in Belgium. It is renowned for its many rich pastries, soups, stews and vegetable dishes and is often called Burgundian which is a Dutch idiom invoking the rich Burgundian court which ruled the Low Countries in the Middle Ages renowned for its splendor and great feasts.


It is the only Dutch culinary region which developed an haute cuisine, as it is influenced by both German cuisine and French cuisine, and it forms the base of most traditional Dutch restaurants including typical main courses served such as Biefstuk, Varkenshaas, Ossenhaas, these are premium cuts of meat, generally pork or beef, accompanied by a wide variety of sauces and potatoes which have been double fried in the traditional Dutch (or Belgian) manner.

Stews, such as hachee, a stew of onions, beef and a thick gravy (pictured), contain a lot of flavor and require hours to prepare. Vegetable soups are made from richly flavored stock or bouillon and typically contain small meatballs alongside a wide variety of different vegetables. Asparagus and witlof are highly prized and traditionally eaten with cheese and/or ham.

Pastries are abundant, often with rich fillings of cream, custard or fruits. Cakes, such as the Moorkop and Bossche Bol from Brabant, are typical pastries. Savory pastries also occur, with the worstenbroodje (a roll with a sausage of ground beef) being the most popular.

The traditional alcoholic beverage of the region is beer. There are many local brands, ranging from Trappist to Kriek. Beer, like wine in French cuisine, is also used in cooking; often in stews



2 large onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup flour
¼ cup butter
2 cups stock or 2 cups beef bouillon cubes
3 bay leaves
5 cloves
1 tablespoon vinegar
½ lb beef, cubed
2 tablespoons cornflour
1 pinch pepper
1 dash Worcestershire sauce


  1. Brown the onions and the flour in the butter in a saucepan.
  2. Add stock gradually, stirring all the time. Add bay leaves and cloves and simmer for five minutes with the lid on the pan.
  3. Add the vinegar and the diced meat.
  4. Simmer for another hour.
  5. Mix the cornflour with a little water. Add this to the stew to thicken the sauce. Simmer for five minutes, stirring continuously.
  6. Add a little pepper and Worcestershire sauce to taste.
  7. Serve with mashed or boiled potatoes


Jun 072013
Paul Gauguin in 1891

Paul Gauguin in 1891

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born in Paris on this date in 1848, to journalist Clovis Gauguin and Alina Maria Chazal, daughter of the proto-socialist leader and feminist Flora Tristan, whose father was part of an influential Peruvian family. In 1850 the family left Paris for Peru, but Clovis died on the voyage, leaving eighteen-month-old Paul, his mother, and sister, to fend for themselves. They lived for four years in Lima with Paul’s uncle and his family. The imagery of Peru would later influence Gauguin in his art. It was in Lima that Gauguin encountered his first art. His mother admired Pre-Columbian pottery, collecting Inca pots that were at the time dismissed as barbaric by artists. Such memories later triggered an interest in Primitivism in his art.

At the age of seven, Gauguin and his family returned to France, moving to Orléans to live with his grandfather. The Gauguins came originally from the area and were market gardeners and greengrocers: gauguin means ‘walnut-grower.’ His father had broken with family tradition to become a journalist in Paris. Although Gauguin learnt French his preferred language remained the Peruvian dialect of Spanish all of his life.  Gauguin apparently excelled in school, but hated the boarding school he was sent to, and so left at age seventeen. He worked as a pilot’s assistant for three years in the merchant marine, and then served in the French navy for two. In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he secured a job as a stockbroker. He became a successful Parisian businessman and remained one for eleven years. At this time he began painting, being inspired by his many friends and acquaintances who were painters, most notably Camille Pissarro, who was also his teacher.

In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad and they had five children.  In 1884 the family moved to Copenhagen where Gauguin tried his hand as a tarpaulin salesman.  Given that he could not speak Danish and there was not a huge market for French tarpaulins in Denmark, his endeavors failed, and his wife became the breadwinner whilst he took up painting full time. In 1885 he left the family (on his family’s insistence), and moved back to Paris.   In 1887 he sailed for Panama where he worked as a laborer on the canal before being laid off after only 15 days.  From there he moved to Martinique where he painted tropical scenes he hoped would sell in Paris (they did not).

In 1888 he was back in France where he spent a famously tormented three months with Vincent van Gogh (kudos to anyone who can pronounce his last name correctly — a source of constant irritation to Vincent). Both shared bouts of depression, suicidal tendencies, and an inability to sell their paintings.  It was in December of that year that van Gogh, during an illness, threatened Gauguin with a razor and then fled to a brothel where he cut the lower lobe of his ear off and gave it to a prostitute for safe keeping wrapped in his handkerchief (there are multiple versions of this story). Hint: if you are depressed, broke, and suicidal, making art that no one understands, try not to hang out with like people. Gauguin took the hint and left soon after.

In 1891, Gauguin sailed to French Polynesia to escape European civilization and “everything that is artificial and conventional.” He wrote a book there titled Noa Noa describing his experiences in Tahiti (although some modern critics believe it was largely fantasy).  He returned to France in 1893, but then left for Polynesia again in 1895, dying on Atuona in the Marquesas Islands in 1903 at age 54 of the combined effects of alcoholism, morphine use, and syphilis. No one is really sure how many children he left behind in Polynesia.

In the popular mind Gauguin is perpetually associated with his paintings of Tahitian women, but he experimented with many styles such as Cloisonnism, Primitivism, and Synthetism, influencing a generation of Post-Impressionists to come.  Most of his paintings are in museums, so one rarely comes up for sale. The last auction at which one of his paintings came on the block had a pre-sale estimate of $15.6 million, but ended up being sold privately.  It always irks me more than a little that he (and his erstwhile friend van Gogh) died in poverty, whilst now the über-rich battle over the spoils.

Today’s recipe combines elements from two aspects of Gauguin’s life: Peru and Tahiti.  It is a ceviche given a Tahitian twist. Ceviche is a dish of raw fish marinated in lime juice, now popular throughout Latin America and Polynesia, whose origin point is disputed.  However, it most likely originated in Peru where nowadays the varieties are seemingly endless.  I was once in a restaurant in Cusco with 58 versions on the menu.  This dish gets its Tahitian twist from the coconut milk in the marinade, and also from the fact that it is marinated very briefly so that the fish does not have a chance to “cook” in the citrus juice. Make sure the ingredients are well chilled before assembling the dish.

E’ia Ota (Tahitian Ceviche)


1 ½ lb (.7 kilos) sashimi quality tuna or firm white fish cut in ½ in (1.25 cm) cubes.
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into ½ in (1.25 cm) cubes
1 tomato, seeded and diced
3 scallions, chopped (plus 1 for garnish)
½ cup (118 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice strained of pulp
¼ cup (59 ml) coconut milk
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper


Toss together in a non-reactive bowl the fish, cucumber, tomato, scallions, lime juice, and coconut milk with a large pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Drain off the excess fluid.  This can be served in small glasses with the ceviche. In Peru it is known as leche de tigre.

Serve in chilled bowls or large shells garnished with scallion.

Serves 4 to 6