Friday, December 29, 2017

A Country Christmas--George Eliot

 Returning to Elizabeth David's Christmas, she reprints a passage from George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss (1860) called "A Country Christmas."

"There was the smell of hot toast and ale from the kitchen, at the breakfast hour; the favorite anthem, the green boughs, and the short sermon, gave the appropriate festal character to the church-going; and aunt and uncle Moss, with all of their seven children were looking like so many reflectors of the bright parlour fire, when the church-goers came back, stamping the snow from their feet. 

The plum-pudding was of the same handsome roundness as ever, and came in with the symbolic blue flames around it, as if it had been heroically snatched from the nether fires into which it had been thrown by dispeptic puritans; the dessert was as splendid as ever, with its golden oranges, brown nuts, and the chrystalline light and dark of apple jelly and damson cheese: in all these things Christmas was as it had always been since Tom could remember; it was only distinguished if by anything, by superior sliding and snowballs."

 The Mill on the Floss, 1860, George Eliot

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas at Sea

Last month I spent time reading Elizabeth David's Christmas book.  It was a mixture of memories, recipes and quotes from other authors about Christmas in their distant pasts, or while at war, as this Graham Greene passage is, part of his printed diaries from World War II.

"Christmas Day started at 11 in the morning with a bottle of champagne to cure the hangover.  Round-the-Empire broadcast and the King's rather lugubrious speech at lunch.  Dinner with a huge menu.  Hors d'oeuvre, soup, fried whiting, tinned asparagus, roast turkey and chipolatas, plum pudding, grapefruit ice.  It was like peace.  Toasts to the King, Churchill, Roosevelt (for W.) Sikorski (for the Pole), etc.  Then the captain, mate and the chief came to the smoking-room.  A shy R.N.V.R. officer tried to play hymns (the only tunes he knew), but the atmosphere by that time  was not propitious.  Played Sing, Say or Pay.  Broke up traditionally at midnight with Auld Lang Syne, and afterward I settled down to chess with the Pole. One was less homesick than one had expected.  Presumably that was the drink.  Woke up at about 5 in the morning with an explosion; I thought that one of the convoy had caught it, but it must have been the clap of the wind as we changed course."

From the author's diary of a convoy to West Africa, December 1941, Graham Greene "In Search of a Character", The Bodley Head, 1961.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

When The Circle Is Broken

I don't remember when I started making wreaths for friends homes and the graves of family members. Certainly, some time ago.  A longstanding friend lost her husband this year.  He had gone from physically fit with regular sports activities to sitting in a recliner staring blankly into space.  Dementia.  Early onset.  Her living room was full of gifts for her family, but she hadn't decorated her house.  As she told me, "Who will be here to see it?" and now she's starting to notice that her family is moving away and involved in their own lives.  One grandchild is at Oxford. Another in Vermont.
I'm glad we did this today, because it's supposed to grow bitterly cold as soon as Thursday. My friend asked for a John Deere "Gator" ride out to the grave. It's up on a hill and far from the road. She had twisted her ankle the last time she went out there. I drove and walked the hill behind them. They were talking during the ride, and my friend learned that Pat was also from New York. Earlier, in the Visitor's Center, my friend ...solemnly turned to me and said, "I want apples on my wreath because of New York. The Big Apple." I told her that if she pre-deceased me, it would be done. I told Pat this story when they were getting out of the Gator, and she laughed and said, "She really believes in being pre-prepared, doesn't she?"
We both talked to her husband while we were standing there. I had cut some non-invasive dwarft nandina fronds from the shrub at their home, and while we were talking I was tucking these in. They had gone a rosy copper and matched everything perfectly.
My friend noticed the figures and said, "Oh! There are cherubs in there," and I told her "yes," for the two of them. She said, "Look, Honey. Just like when we first met. Naked all of the time."
I looked across to where her parents are buried. I glanced to the right where my parents are. I was thinking about how I used to take my parents to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland to see the geese (and snow geese) migrating from Canada. They would stop there for a few days on their Southern migration path and had done so for a long time. Now? They are in that cemetery and all over the D.C. area, including golf courses. Anywhere there are large swaths of grass.
Oddly, I didn't see one goose that day, and normally there are swarms of them.

The next wreath was for a family I've known since diapers.  The husband was the chief elder in the church.  The wife was my primary sunday school superintendent.  Their daughter was a dear friend (she died last year) and their son is my attorney.  The wreath is for him, and we go out to a civil war cemetery where his family is buried and take pictures, then he walks around and shows me all of his clients that have died in the past year.  That sounds like a queer thing to do, but some of the stories are over the top, as life can be.

This was a larger wreath, so more to fill in.  I had a bag of pine cones, and I admit I used liquid glitter eye shadow to fix them up on the tips.  I also had cut and dried my hydrangeas, and I shoved one in the wreath for filler.  It worked out fine.

 This bit was from one of my decorator boxes.  I was loathe to give it up, but I needed additional filler.
I won't make the mistake of using live eucalyptus again.  It's resin sticky so that when you cut it, you get black goop all over your fingers and it's hard to remove.  Dried is fine, you just don't get that lovely menthol scent.

This will probably go out to the cemetery tomorrow.  Also tomorrow--I need to finally get to me and make the wreath for my front door.  It was my mother that started with wreaths.  The tradition continues.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Tió De Nadal, or Nothing Says Christmas Like A Poop Log...If You Are In Spain

Tió de Nadal, a “pooping” Christmas log, is an obsession among the kids in Catalunya for a few weeks leading into the holidays.  It usually starts on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.   Part of the ancient tradition of burning a Yule log in the hearth at Christmastime, these days it is a short trunk of wood propped up by two front legs, with a smile, pug nose, and floppy red felt Catalan hat called a Barretina.  Wrapped in a blanket and placed beside the fireplace.  Every night it is “fed” Clementine and potato peels until the evening of the 23rd or 24th of December.  Sometimes, the logs are hollowed out (via the face) and candies are put inside for future treats.  Tootsie rolls?
The tió does not drop larger objects, as those are considered to be brought by the Three Wise Men.  It does leave candies, nuts and torrons.  Depending on the region of Catalonia, it may also give out dried figs. When nothing is left to "shit", it drops a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion, or it "urinates" by leaving a bowl of water. What comes out of the Tió is a communal rather than individual gift, shared by everyone there.

On that night, the family gathers around and the kids whack the log with a stick while chanting at the top of their voices, "Ca-ga-ti-o, Ca-ga-ti- o!" (Poop log!  Poop log!") and singing a short song about poopiing torro (almond and honey nougat called turron in Sapnish) and oranges instead of salted herring or charcoal.  They then reach under the blanket and find pieces of torro (and often a small present) that has been "pooped out."   
 Around Catalunya, homes resound with chanting versions of the song.  Schools have an enormous Tió that kids bring scraps from home to feed.  The offerings look like rich mounds of compost.  Sometimes Tió is whacked so vigorously that the sticks are broken and have to be replaced. 
To make the log defecate, one beats the tió with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.  There are many versions of the Tió song, but the standard one goes like this:
Cago tió   (Poop log)
Tió de Nadal   (Trunk of Christmas)
No caguis arengades   (Don’t poop herring)
Que són salades  (Which are salty)
Caga torrons   (Poop nougat)
Que són més bons   (Which are much tastier)
Caga taronges   (Poop oranges)
Que són Ben Dolces  (that are very sweet)
There are several versions of this ditty.  And if you’ve been around kids, you know how they love saying “poop.”  Another version goes:
Poop log, log of Christmas
We will put the pork in salt
The hen at the trough
And the chick on top of the pine tree
Play, play Valentine
Oxen and cows pass
Hens with shoes
And roosters with big shoes (*blink*)
Run, run children
Because the aunty is making nougat
The Vicar has tasted them
And he says they are a bit salty
Oh the donkey, oh the pig
Oh the face, face, face
Of the donkey, oh the pig
Oh the face of a pepper.
….and sometimes, for good measure they add:
Trunk of Christmas
Poop neules (a rolled wafer biscuit) and nougat
And piss champagne…”I pixa xampany!”  Don’t we all?


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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Drink A Bite To Eat

On this day, the first Dr. Pepper was served in Waco, Texas in 1885.  Like many soft drinks of that era, it started in a pharmacy, and a kindly old country doctor, wearing a monocle and top hat became the first visual image for the product.  Personally, I think he's more of an evil cross between the Monopoly guy and Mr. Peanut.  While it is reputed that the signature ingredient is prune juice, you might think the 10, 2 and 4 slogan refers to "regularity." 

The 10, 2 and 4 slogan actually began sometime during the 1920's when it was believed that consuming sugar gave you energy (in a positive way.) The official slogan was "Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4" to reinforce the peppy belief of the beverage. Coca Cola had cocaine. Seven-Up had lithium, but Dr. Pepper only had sugar...and maybe some prunes.
A copyright drawing for an early bottle design.  Invariably, because of the "10, 2 and 4" you would often see clocks in Dr. Pepper commercials, or even clocks made using the Dr. Pepper logo.

Further proof the the subtle genius of Lux Interior of The Cramps, where he wrote a song called "Bop Pills" in which he describes the doctor prescribing "take three Bop Pills at 10, 2 and 4."  It's just past four, so here's to you....

"Drink A Bite To Eat"

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Inka Dinka Doo. I Like Ink. Do You?

Has anyone ever been unhappy shopping for art supplies?  I went to an art supply store the other day.  It's in an old enough building, the floors creak while you walk the aisles.  My goal was to find a new color of ink to use with a fountain pen that hadn't been active in a while.  So many art supplies shops that were present in my youth up until now are gone.  I truly mourn the loss of Pearl Art (still in New York) that we had for a while.  I could spend hours in there looking at paint and colored pencils and all of the beautiful handmade papers.
I studied the inks and decided I wanted to focus on the line made by Winsor & Newton, a company based in London, England, but the ink is made in France.  I also like using Pelikan ink which is made in Germany.  I've never settled on just one color of ink when I'm using a fountain pen.  My mother always used a navy that was then universally called "blue-black."   Even though I was writing thank you notes and letters as soon as I could write, I didn't begin with a fountain pen until I was about 11, and my first color choice was a turquoise then called "Peacock Blue."  I probably remained loyal to that color for two years, then played around a bit more, even using ink colors seasonally (red for Christmas, etc.) which I still do.

Sometime in my early 20's it was all about a mahogany brown that I used with a cream stationery, the envelopes lined with a reproduction of an antique browned map of the world.  My first time in London I went to Smythson's and fell in love with color bordered papers (they even made mourning paper--something I had first read about in "Brideshead Revisited," by Evelyn Waugh.  Sebastian Flyte writes to his friend Charles on his parent's Victorian mourning paper, because he's bored and wants company after breaking his foot in an alcohol fueled fall--and I've always been loyal to Crane paper, started by Stephen Crane in Boston in 1770.
I chose a sanguine red, called "Deep Red" that looks rather like dried blood, and I'm using it for my Moore fountain pen, Moore being a defunct pen company out of Boston.  I bought the pen several years ago from a fountain pen specialist in Somerville, just a short distance from Harvard.  It's nothing fancy, a real workhorse of a pen and it has sentimental value.  I tend to use one color of ink with each pen so that hues don't muddied and not reflect their true shade.  I photographed a recent pen I bought that has a silver and checkerboard effect that I use for emerald ink, and probably for the longest period of my fountain pen existence, I've been writing with green inks. 
You have to slow down and think when writing with ink.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Pomegranate Porno: Taste of Persia

 Taste of Persia:  A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and Kurdistan by Naomi Duguid. 
Such an unusual cookbook covering the author's travels and recipes from the Persian regions.  Saffron water, mint oil, rhubarb syrup, tons of flat breads and meals using "greens" (herbs.) A real work of love in this book. I had to share the section where the author teaches you to eat a pomegranate "nomad style." The author was taught this technique by a Khamseh nomad man in the mountains east of Shiraz, Iran.  

 Here is his method:  Pomegranates are full of juicy seeds held in place by bitter pith.  When the fruits are ripe and fresh, sucking the juice is the easiest and best way to eat them.  Start by holding the pomegranate in your hands and squeezing it all over, pressing on it with your fingertips all over until it goes from being a tight-skinned fruit to feeling very soft.  Feel for any firm places and press on them.   
Poke a small hole in the fruit and immediately put your mouth over the hole and start swallowing the juice (it will spurt out if you're not careful.)  Suck and swallow some more.  Keep pressing on the fruit as you suck and keep rotating it around.  The pressing breaks up the seeds, releasing the juice.  As you continue to suck, the fruit will get more and more like a basketball that has host its air, with dents and hollows and softness.  Eventually, when it is very saggy, you can break the pomegranate open.  Inside, the seeds will be a pale pink, having had their juice pressed and sucked out of them.  There may be the odd renegade still red seed or two, those you can eat one by one.  At the end of the process, your pucker muscles will be a little tired, but you'll have had a delicious drink of fresh pomegranate juice without having had to deal with the messiness of the seeds and pits and membranes. 
HA!  I wonder, after writing this out, if I can market it as porn!

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