Truth or Fiction?

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Fray Bentos is one of the most important port cities in Uruguay.  The name is a Spanish version of “Friar Benedict” a local mendicant who lived in the area.  In the 19th Century Uruguay was the Beef Capital of the world.  Beef exporting made Uruguay a boom economy.  Fray Bentos was perfectly positioned to capitalise on its position as a harbour on the Rio Negro, and the good times rolled.

In the mid 19th Century  a German Chemist named Justus von Liebig perfected a process for extracting flavour from meat.  He invented the OXO cube.  His company opened a plant in Fray Bentos to make the meat extract product.  Over the years they expanded into tinned corned beef under the Fray Bentos brand.

When the British Army included Fray Bentos tinned meats in their ration packs in the Boer Wars and subsequently in WW1 the brand became a household name.  The company flourished during WW2.  After that war they moved upmarket and released the round tinned oven ready puff pastry pies in the photo above.  As a child I remember cooking one of these in a clay oven on a boyscout camp in County Wicklow.

In the 1960s the brand was damaged by an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen which was traced back to the Rio Negro.  The company was cooling their tinned meats in river water contaminated by excrement.  Since then the brand has gone largely downhill.  It is associated with working class diets, red meat and saturated fats.  The products have traded between food companies ever since.

Then Game of Thrones arrived on the scene.  G.R.R. Martin is a fan of history and I suspect he has delved into ancient greek history and myths.  There are many myths in the Greek Pantheon of parents eating children, but my favourite comes from Herodotus.  It is related as true history.

King Astyages of the Medes had a dream about his daughter, Mandané, where a flood of water flowed from her that drowned his capital. He feared her child, Cyrus, would overthrow him. So he sent his general Harpagus to slay the child.

Harpagus gave the baby to a shepherd, Mitradates, replacing the child with the stillborn corpse taken from the shepherds wife, which he showed to the King.

Astyagus found out many years later that Cyrus was alive. The King invited Harpagus to a banquet. At the conclusion of the feast Harpagus was asked if he had enjoyed his meal. Astyagus then asked that Harpagus be shown the head and feet of the beast he had eaten, a tradition of the country for truly excellent food. When the basket was brought Harpagus saw that he had eaten his own son.

Fast forward to Game of Thrones and Arya Stark’s revenge on Walder Frey for his actions at the red wedding.  It was one thing for Frey to kill his enemies, but a far worse crime to breach the laws of hospitality by killing them under his roof as they ate his food.

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Pie of Frey must be a breach of the Fray Bentos brandname.  The pie of the TV series itself is very similar to that served to the hapless Harpagus.  Inside the pie crust Walder Frey finds the digits of his missing sons.  You may need to use the pause button on the TV to capture the moment.

Truly there is nothing new under the sun!

Game of Thrones: Why Book Fans Love Wyman Manderly - IGN

They also serve.

Famous Quotes John Milton. QuotesGram

Born Dec 9th 1608 John Milton grew up in Stewart England at a time of religious fervor.  The King James Version (KJV) Bible was published when he was an infant.  Milton studied for Aglican religious orders and attended Cambridge for his Bachelors and Masters degrees.   He then delved further into personal study and left England on a Grand Tour of Europe.  At Naples he cancelled his plans to travel onwards to Sicily and Greece due to the outbreak of Civil War in England.

He was a committed supporter of the Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell and he worked as a civil servant in that administration.  He fought the English Civil War with his pen while Cromwell wielded his sword.  In the dying days of the commonwealth he lost his sight to blindness.  Once Cromwell passed away the commonwealth was doomed and Milton found himself in mortal danger.

He was saved by the pleas of influential friends and lived the remainder of his life in relative poverty, writing poetry by dictation, including his Magnum Opus “Paradise Lost”.

Many consider him to be a writer to match Shakespeare and he was hugely influential to his contemporaries like Andrew Marvell, and subsequent critics and writers such as Samuel Johnson, William Blake, William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy.

 

On his blindness; by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
‘ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
and that one talent which is death to hide
lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
to serve therewith my Maker, and present
my true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
that murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
and post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Depression art.

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Art-Deco cartoon of Ethel Hays

Born this day in 1869 Ellis Parker Butler was a full time banker and a part time author.  Between 1931 and 1936 Ethel Hays illustrated his short stories.  She was a well known cartoonist of the 20’s and 30’s and later became a childrens book illustrator.

I pose a question here, and feel free to comment if you have an insight.  If we look at art in the great depression 1930 – 1936 and compare it with art in the recent depression 2008 – 2014 ; can we draw any commonalities?  What are the major themes that emerge?

A Minute; by Ellis Parker Butler

She plucked a blossom fair to see;
upon my coat I let her pin it;
and thus we stood beneath the tree
a minute.

She turned her smiling face to me;
I saw a roguish sweetness in it;
I kissed her once;—it took, maybe,
a minute.

The time was paltry, you’ll agree;
it took but little to begin it;
but since my heart has not been free
a minute.

Cyber Monday Pawns

Howeswho: Doctor Who - The Rise of the Cybermen

Happy Cyber Monday.  There, if ever there was one, is an oxymoron.  Happy nothing!  Cyber Monday is an out and out marketing scam designed to wrest any remaining contents from the wallets of Black Friday shoppers.

Marketing people fight for what they call “Share of Wallet”.  Not their wallet of course, they are dipping into yours.  They know that because of the twinkly lights and the happy songs that you are feeling all warm and fuzzy and Christmassy right now.  You are full of the joys of the consumerist season, ready to enrich the lives of all about you with the wonderful presents you will give.

Come January all that warm fuzzyness will have descended into a cold, hard, grey reality when you see what you have done to your wallet.  January is a long month, and because the December paycheque usually arrives early the gap between the December and January paycheques is a chasm.

Blue Monday, the saddest day of the year, is the Monday of the final week in January before that new year paycheque arrives in your torn and battered bank account.

The Cybermen were a race of cybernetically augmented humanoids from the Dr. Who series.  They are the equivalent of the Borg Collective from the Star Trek series.  They want everyone to become like them.  They are devoid of emotion, like the Borg they are a collective and see themselves as an upgrade to normal humanity.

The Marketing Industry want to to become an upgraded human.  Enhanced by your PC, Laptop, Tablet or Smartphone and granted instant access to the Global Marketplace you are their pawn.  They lure you into making poor decisions with incomplete information in the very opposite of what the Internet was supposed to provide.

They harvest your search information and use that knowledge to gouge you on the prices for the items of most interest to you.

Instead of becoming a Cyber Monday Pawn today why not defy marketing manipulation.  Be Human, be a Mensch.  Save the planet from consumerism.  Refuse to purchase.  If you need to give gifts why not give gifts that save the planet?  Plant a tree!  Plant a dozen.  One dollar plants one tree.

Spending your money well now will make you feel so much better come the January Blues.

Nixtamalisation

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The process of nixtamalization is one of my favourite cooking stories from history.  It is a sophisticated process involving empirical chemistry to convert maize from useless bulk into a nutritional food.

The nixtamalization process was vital to the early Mesoamerican diet.  Unprocessed maize is deficient in vitamin B3; niacin. A population that depends on untreated maize as a staple food risks malnourishment and is more likely to develop deficiency diseases such as pellagra, niacin deficiency, or kwashiorkor, the absence of certain amino acids that maize is deficient in.

To unlock the niacin you must cook the maize in a solution containing lime, and ideally calcium.   This can be done by adding lye (wood fire ash) to the kernels during boiling or by the addition of lime as a slaked rock.

Nextamalli is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word for the processed grain – also called Hominy which comes from the Algonquin word uskatahomen.

The spread of maize cultivation in the Americas was accompanied by the adoption of the nixtamalization process.

How this process developed may be understood by looking at cooking in Ancient Ireland, despite the fact that the Irish did not need the process.  If you look at the cooking arrangement in the photo above you will see what is called a Fulacht Fiadh.  In bronze age Ireland people did not have good cooking pots.  If you are really careful it is possible to boil a stew in a bark container or an anmial skin, but it’s not easy.

The Irish used a cooking pit.  The pit was lined with timber to prevent the sides from collapsing into a muddy hole.  It was filled with water.  Then a fire was built in the hearth and limestone rocks were placed on the fire.  When they heated up the “cooks” used large wooden paddles to lift  or roll the hot rocks and place them in the pit, which caused the water to boil and the meal to cook.

Using the same process in South America the locals found that the combination of slaked lime stone, and the wood ash from the fire had a magical effect on the maize.  It converted maize from a vegetable into a staple food that gave almost everything you needed to live.  Add a few beans, potato, tomato, chile and you have a feast.

When Europeans discovered maize in the new world, and saw how it formed a staple food, they brought it home and used it as a food in their colonies, especially in Africa and India.  But they didn’t know about nixtamalization and famine soon followed.  To this day pellagra remains a problem in some parts of the world where the grain spread without the process.  South Africa, Egypt and Southern India still see problems.

The British attempted to feed the Irish with maize during the potato famine.  Robert Peel imported Indian Corn from America and had it distributed at cost price.  Most people could not afford it and those that could were appalled by the garish yellow rock hard grain that was unfit to make bread.  They labelled it “Peel’s Brimstone” and many thought it was a plot to poison them.  They had no idea how to cook the food.  Those who persisted and boiled it down to a tasteless porridge were not feeding themselves in any case, because they had no niacin.

 

Catherine the Great Vaccinator

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Catherine the Great, born 1729, staged a coup d’état to overthrow her husband Peter III, and ruled as empress from 1762 dying on this day, Nov 17th 1796.

In 1762 Catherine controversially brough the English Doctor Thomas Dimsdale to Russia to innoculate herself, her son and her court against smallpox.  Vaccination was in its infancy and this was a high risk endeavour on her part.  To her credit she recognised the danger the Doctor faced if the experiement failed.  The Empress arranged for a relay of fast horses to speed the Dimsdales out of the country were she to die.

The procedure succeeded and the Doctor, and his son Nathaniel, were fabulously well rewarded, gaining a Russian Barony in the process.  Dimsdle was able to return to England and leverage his funds to become a banker and an MP.

Catherine used the success of the endeavour to promote vaccination to her subjects and succeeded in rolling out 2 million vaccinations in her lifetime, 6% of the Russian Population.

Catherine brought enlighenment to Russia and her rule is considered a golden age.  The Golden Age of Russian poetry followed her rule.  Pushkin was born in 1799 just 3 years after her passing.  Zhukovsky, who introduced Romanticism to Russia,  was born in 1783 and was 13 when Catherine passed away.  I find the Russians a bit sentimental, a bit flowery and very religious, but they were of their time and of course I know them only through translations, and how good are the translations?

 

The Boatman; by Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky

Driven by misfortune’s whirlwind,
having neither oar nor rudder,
by a storm my bark was driven
out upon the boundless sea.
‘midst black clouds a small star sparkled;
‘Don’t conceal yourself!’ I cried;
but it disappeared, unheeding;
and my anchor was lost, too.

All was clothed in gloomy darkness;
great swells heaved all round;
in the darkness yawned the depths
I was hemmed in by cliffs.
‘There’s no hope for my salvation!’
I bemoaned, with heavy spirit…
Madman! Providence
was your secret helmsman.

With a hand invisible,
‘midst the roaring waves,
through the gloomy, veiled depths
past the terrifying cliffs,
my all-powerful savior guided me.
Then-all’s quiet ! gloom has vanished;
I behold a paradisical realm…
Three celestial angels.

Providence – O, my protector!
My dejected groaning ceases;
on my knees, in exaltation,
on their image I did gaze.
Who could sing their charm?
or their power o’er the soul?
All around them holy innocence
and an aura divine.

A delight as yet untasted –
live and breathe for them;
take into my soul and heart
all their words and glances sweet.
O fate! I’ve but one desire:
let them sample every blessing;
vouchsafe them delight – me suffering;
Only let me die before they do.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges, the name in isolation might conjure up an image of a bridge in an imperial palace adorned with precious stones.  Ruby was a different kind of bridge.  A bridge between cultures, between eras, a bridge between apartheid and a hoped for equality.

The 1964 painting above, by Norman Rockwell is called “The problem we all live with”.  It captures the moment from November 14th 1960 when the little black girl, Ruby Bridges, was “integrated”  into an all white elementary school in Louisiana.

On the wall to the left of the front marshalls the initials KKK.  Above Ruby the N word appears, and to the right of that a hurled piece of fruit.  He has intentionally framed out the marshalls heads, making them taller, anonymous, more powerful.  The yellow ruler, badges and armbands immediately call to mind the yellow star of David as used by the Nazi regime.  The sparkling white dress is like an image from a detergent commercial, evoking the racist ads where little dark children were washed white and “clean”.

Also captured in the iconic photograph below, the tiny girl flanked by U.S. Marshalls.  It is the inspiration for the painting and you can see where the artistic licence was applied.

Former United States Deputy Marshal Charles Burks later recalled, “She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very very proud of her.”

Many white parents reacted by withdrawing their children from the school.  All but one teacher refused to teach Ruby, so she had a year in a class, on her own.  Her teacher was Barbara Henry from West Roxbury, an Irish Catholic area of Boston.

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