Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I bid you Velcome!

Happy Halloween! The day of ghosts, pumpkins and ghouls! I just love the holiday, and do my best to do it up, with my annual pumpkin carve and the making of Cat and Bat cookies, courtesy of a marvelous chocolate pepper recipe by Martha Stewart.

Of course, I never miss watching Dracula with Bela Lagosi. It's so much fun. Among my favorite lines, " I bid you Velcome!" When offered some rare old wine, Dracula tells Mr. Renfield, "I never!" Another while listening to the wolves in the distance, "Children of the night! What music they make!" He's great!

We are all extremely familiar with the adventures of Count Dracula, the most famous or infamous vampire, but way before Bram Stoker put pen to paper, vampire fiction had its beginnings in the "vampire craze" of the early 1700's, culminating in the bizarre exhumations of a couple actual suspected vampires! The suspected "vampires" were Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole of Serbia, during the Hapsburg Monarchy. Paole was thought to become a vampire upon his death, and when a number of deaths were reported shortly after, it was thought that it was the work of Paole. When Austrian authorities got involved, the case became notorious, and people were convinced of the existence of vampires!

One of the first art works to touch on the subject is a German poem entitled "The Vampire", written in 1748 by Heinrich August Ossenfelder. The poem has strong erotic overtones, of course, about a man who is rejected by his love, and then visits her nightly to drink her blood in a seductive revenge. Another poem, "Lenore" by Gottfried Burger (German) was writen in 1773, again tackles the subject of the undead and their penchant for drinking "the red stuff". Finally, "The Bride of Corinth (1797)" written by Goethe, tells about a young woman who returns from the grave to seek her betrothed. Ahh, you gotta love those Germans and their heavy, passionate lore of the taboo subjects.

The English, as well, enjoyed a good vampire thriller, with Robert Southey's monumental work, "Thalaba the Destroyer (1797)" and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Christabel (1797-1801)". It must be the cold, the damp, the foggy weather!

Anyway, I send wishes for a very Happy Halloween! Enjoy the day with a classic flick like Dracula or Frankenstein, or other horror films like House of Wax, Sleepy Hallow, Young Frankenstein, Pit and the Pendulum. I don't like the kind like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, or any of the Freddy Krueger offerings. I like the camp, fun films that allow for a laugh or two!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Best Laid Plans...........

Even the best laid plans sometime "go South", as it were, when Mother Nature decides to have her way. I am nursing my traveler's emotional wounds this day, as I see my plans to visit Colonial Williamsburg go down the drain with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. I was so looking forward to what would have been a charming long-weekend visit to one of my favorite places, with one of my favorite people. My daughter and I were to spend a couple days in the historic town as she, seamstress extraordinare, participated in a sewing workshop, and I was going to explore some of my favorite haunts, see some of the re-enactments of the Founding Father's quest for independence, and do a little Christmas shopping for family and friends.

But, it was not to be, especially with the eventuality of delayed flights, closed roads, inclement weather. It's just no fun when you have to make your way through cold and damp and mud, and according to the latest reports, no electricity.

So, I will wait until another day, but meanwhile I have been looking up some interesting facts about Storms in the 18th Century on our eastern seaboard. These storms are nothing new along the Atlantic, but have hit and done damage whether we like it or not.

For instance, in 1703, a major storm hit Virginia, Maryland and greater New England with a loss of life of 18 souls, many ships lost, with great winds, flood damage recorded.
In 1761, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, on September 20-23, described as a "severe equinoctial storm", with $600,000 in damage, an incredible amount in those days.
In 1776, on July 10, in Virginia, a storm arose that affected a Revolutionary War battle, causing supply ships to sink in Chesapeake Bay.
In 1788, July 24, George Washington reported from Mount Vernon, "a very high northeast wind" which sank ships and blew down trees. "A more violent and severe a hurricane than for many years", he stated.

I guess it's best to avoid the area when events like this occur. Best to visit another day. But as you can see, Weather can have great effect on the economy, the military, political events. In a perfect world, it might be "fun" to tough it out like the early Colonists, reading by candlelight, and stoking the fire to keep warm or heat some porridge, the adventure of cold water for bathing...... but maybe for an hour or two! Then, you say, "Get real! Where's my electric blanket? And, turn on that tv! I don't want to miss the next episode of Downton Abbey!"

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Please, Have a Seat!

I was recently reading about Campaign Furniture, and found it fascinating! I have heard the term, but knew very little about this wonderful type of furniture that has been around since the Roman times, but really hit its height during the 18th Century.

Military "CAMPAIGNS" or extended tours of duty in various places around the world is the impetus for this type of furniture. The miliary not only took armaments with, but once they reached a strategic point and dug in for the long haul,  they needed to be able to store maps, have a place to develop correspondence, congregate for strategies, sleep, eat, etc. The officer's tents served as the accomodation, but it needed then to be fitted out with tables, chairs, chests, beds. All these items were taken with the Army, carried with on foot, by boat or wagon or carriage. This furniture needed to be collapsable or made in pieces that were then able to be assembled on site. It also should be easily assembled, lightweight and quickly folded up if the campaign needed to be on the move at a moment's notice.

In the 18th Century, companies such as Sheraton, Hepplewhite and Chippendale made these designs for the British military, all focusing on functionality, weather conditions and durability.  Actually, with "form following function" (per the 20th Century German-American architect Mies Van der Rohe creed), some beautiful designs were created.

The chair at left is particularly lovely, belonging to Thomas Jefferson, who was a devotee of functional furnishings, designing many pieces of his own as well as writing implements, tools, etc.

There is a certain simplicity to these pieces of furniture that is compelling. They are straightforward and utilitarian. But of course, there is always the one piece that truly works, yet is way over the top where function or use can't possibly yield the most elegant solution. Take the camp bed below, for instance. It does work, but it must unravel and elongate several times to be of a proper length, and achieve the correct support. I wouldn't want to get a foot or arm tangled in those acordian folds! Ouch!

In Britian, the Army and Navy Society orinally made this type of furniture. As mentioned early, with demand, additional private companies continued production. The Army and Navy Society, by the way, was eventually bought by House of Fraser Victoria, which is still in existence today as one of Britian's major department stores.

There are contemporary takes on campaign furniture, but they hardly have the elegance of their wood forerunners. See below. :(

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Delicious Beauty of Autumn

When I woke up this morning, I could feel a change in the weather, and a wonderful, magical sense that something new is beginning to occur! What is that?! Why, it's Autumn! My favorite time of the year.
I know that technically, Fall has already started, but in the high desert, we have been experiencing a longer Summer, and so today I felt a definite change.
With its beautiful warm hues, the crispness to the air, the thought of pumpkins and pine cones, and comfort foods, it is a time alive with excitement and anticipation, rather than the way Autumn is so often thought of. The autumn of one's life, the sad thought that the best is now in the past, the dead leaves, the bare trees, etc, etc.

One of my favorite places to experience Autumn is Colonial Williamsburg, the historically accurate place to experience the American Revolution and Colonial life and times.
I am going to be visiting there soon, and my excitement is growing. The streets there are lined with wonderful trees dressed in all their red, brown and gold apparel. The doors of the houses don wreaths of pine cones and other seasonal fruits. And, the delicious comfort foods from 18th Century America are on display in the historic taverns. A couple of my favorites recipes are below. I love ANYTHING with apples, and the peanut soup served at The King's Arm Tavern on Duke of Glouchester Street is wonderful, with an unexpected flavour. A real delight when you want to cozy up with a simple meal, and a crust of good bread.
See below the recipes (taken from the Coloinal Williamsburg site) for your enjoyment:

To make an Apple Tansey, Take three pippins, slice them round in thin slices, and fry them with butter; then beat four eggs, with six spoonfuls of cream, a little rosewater, nutmeg, and sugar; stir them together, and pour it over the apples; let it fry a little, and turn it with a pye-plate. Garnish with lemon and sugar strew'd over it.

Serves 10-12
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 8 cups Chicken Stock* (or low-salt canned chicken stock)
  • 2 cups smooth peanut butter
  • 1 ¾ cups light cream or half-and-half
  • Finely chopped salted peanuts, for garnish.
In a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring often, until softened, three-five minutes. Stir in flour and cook two minutes longer. Pour in the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until slightly reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Pour into a sieve set over a large bowl and strain, pushing hard on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible. Return the liquid to the sauce pan or pot.Whisk the peanut butter and the cream into the liquid. Warm over low heat, whisking often, for about five minutes. Do not boil. Garnish with the chopped peanuts.


Monday, October 15, 2012

May I offer you a spot of tea?

I attended a tea party this weekend, an event sponsored by our local Orthodox Church's Ladies Philoptochos Society. These women do incredible things, filling the need of charitable work not only for our local community of the Faithful, but for the greater local area, as well as national and international causes. Some of these include helping women and children at the Shade Tree Shelter, sending packaged goods to our service personnel overseas, helping grow Orthodox mission churches around the world.

I love tea time! It is a wonderful tradition. It represents one of the nicer, more gracious things in life, with its lovely degree of formality and etiquette. People have been drinking tea for centuries, but the tea time we know and love (for those of us who appreciate it), has its roots in the 18th Century. Everyone can have a cup of tea, high-test or herbal, piping hot from a Starbucks paper cup, but nothing takes the place of the "correct" way to prepare, pour, steep and savor your favorite brew, along with delicate sandwiches and tasty finger-sized desserts. The event is not to be hurried, or loud, or boisterous. It demands order and balance and a degree of restraint.

The highest expression of tea time is HIGH TEA, a bit misunderstood by American, as it is really includes a heavier meal. The tea time with the little delicasies is really AFTERNOON or LOW TEA, because it was taken in a sitting room, where low tables were placed near chairs or sofas where attendees could sit and converse. There were three types of offerings:  Cream Tea with  tea, scones, jam and cream. Or, Light Tea with tea, scones and sweets. Or Full Tea that included savories as well.

In Britian, traditional tea time is four or five o'clock; Americans rather prefer two or three pm. In the early 1700's tea drinking became popular when Queen Anne (1665-1714) began drinking tea rather than ale for her breakfast. Few people drank water, as it was not always clean and dependable. At the beginning of the 18th Century, the English had two main meals, breakfast and dinner. Later on, dinner was shifted from noontime to an evening meal for the upper and middle classes, so a mid-afternoon snack became popular. Tea fit the bill!
 Tea has always been highly regarded, and kept in special tea caddies to retain freshness and flavor. The caddies at left and right are wonderful examples of how important the caddie was. The treasure chest caddie is certainly symbolic of how special tea could be.
Below, are some examples of tea service. Be it humble or palacial, it speaks to the importance of this wonderful ritual. My personal favorite tea is Earl Grey, but there are so many that do the trick. And, remember, tea is taken with lemon or milk, not cream as cream is too strong and masks the delicate flavors. The cream is used as clotted or whipped up heavy cream for the scones. Yumm!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Exotic Food: Leaving a Bad Taste

Ever since I've been back from London, I have been so very busy at work, that I haven't had time to do any research and blogging, but I have found a spare moment today.
And, about some information on Peacock and Swan Pie!? We all have heard about the exotic, excessive feasts of the Renaissance courts, but even by the 18th Century, these indulgent banquets were still taking place.
Today I saw some information on Swan and Peacock pie recipes from the 1700's from the book called Art of Cookery, 1757.

Both call to plucking the feathers, cutting off the neck, leaving the feathers on the neck, setting it aside for later. Then, put a stick up into the neck to the head, and place in low oven to dry. Also, the legs and large wings shall be dried and saved for later as well.
Of course, the body cavity shall be cleaned out, and cooked like any other bird, with or without stuffing.
Then, the finished bird will have the neck re-attached, and feathers put back in place for the presentation. Another way to have the pie is to cook the bird, carve it up into pieces, and put into a pie shell as a stew or a casserole. Then, the decorative parts will be stuck into the pie crust, the swan or peacock sitting atop the pastry.
The thought of having the proverbial boar's head with apple in its mouth, is almost a required dish for the flamboyant feast, but nobody really cares about the boar. There are plenty of them, and they are rather ugly, too.

But, the swan or peacock is an exceptional animal, and it is hard to imagine actually killing it, let alone stuffing it, and serving it. I'm sure it is tasty, like duck, with a lovely sweet glaze or chutney to go with, but it is also very sad, pitiful to say the least.

Of course, we can be outraged if we go by today's standards, but life was cheap in the 18th Century, and before. It was only until much later that human rights and dignity were considered, or even thought to be secured in the political or governmental forum. Before then, women and children were chattel, and some men were considered beasts of burden. So, if a person's life was worth so very little, how much more disregarded were the animals. To please a king or nobleman, these lovely creatures represented a delightful culinary fantasy come true, with no regard to the loss of one of Nature's most beautiful creatures.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Right v. Left

Tonight, for those who choose to watch, the first of the 2012 Presidential Debates will be aired. I will not be able to watch this one because I will not be home, but frankly, I really don't want to see it.

Technically speaking, it is not really a debate, but an extremely controlled question and answer period.And, one false move by a candidate, perhaps a sneeze at the wrong moment, will be analyzed to death.  Is he sick? In poor health? Looking for attention?

Ever since Nixon debated Kennedy on television, one looking tired and a bit deshelved, the other looking at the peak of his athletic manhood, it's been all downhill since then. It doesn't matter anymore what is said, but how it appears in its saying. Does the better candidate swagger and almost flirt with the camera? Oh! But be careful.....too much flirting many not be good either.

I am looking for substance, but today many are looking for a celebrity they can vote for. It wouldn't hurt if he could sing either.

Anyway, looking way back there has always been competition in the Presidential Election.  In 1789, President Washington was unopposed, and reluctantly accepted, saying he thought it might be dishonorable. Can you imagine!?

But by the next election, there was fierce competition between Adams and Jefferson, opposing parties having been more developed. The Federalists (obviously wanting a strong federal government represented by Adams), and the Anti-Federalists (or Republicans, represented by Jefferson, clearly looking for more states rights). Jefferson accused Adams of monarchism; Adams chastised Tom for being a Jacobin, or French Revolution sympathizer.

Of course, without the beneft of television, radio or internet, these statements flew around, and caused turmoil, but not to the degree the campaigns suffer today.
We will see what happens tonight. It's sad that unless you have a media presence, you hardly have a chance anymore. When it becomes important to appear on Letterman, or the opening of Saturday Night Live, something is the matter. God help us all.

Monday, October 1, 2012

An ounce of prevention!

This morning, being a new month and a Monday, I decided to go get my annual flu shot (ouch!). Nobody enjoys going, but I have found that for me, at least, it makes a difference between catching the dreaded bug, spending some miserable days at home on the couch, or biting the bullet, getting the shot and continuing on. If I do get the 'bug", it has been very mild, and a Bayer aspirin helps make it barely noticable.

Well, historically, the influenza, or flu as commonly known, has occurred around the world, at unpredicable times, for centuries. Even Hippocrates in 412BC described a flu-like disease in the North of Greece.

In the late 1400's, a flu-like malady swept across Britian, called the "Sweating Sickness", and took out flocks of people. Doctors knew very little about these sicknesses, and perscribed tobacco juice, lime juice, emetics, bleeding as cures. Perhaps the lime juice might have been like an infusion of vitamin C! But, I don't know about the bleeding escapades?!
Above, see a print of  King Henry VIII leaving the palace to get away from the plague. At the time, catching the flu was a virtual death sentence.

The term influenza comes from the Italian word meaning "influence", with the popular belief that the stars influenced health and disease.

By the 18th Century, there were at least three major outbreaks of the flu, 1729-1730; 1732-1733 and 1781-1782. The pandemic in 1781 caused huge mortality among the elderly that spread across Russia from Asia. People still knew very little about the spread of bacteria and viruses. Bleeding was still a very popular form of cure, doctors believing that this removed toxins.

These forms of disease prevention and cures sound so bizarre to us today, knowing what we know now about the spread of germs, but I guess someday, our methods will appear equally archaic.

Today, take megadoses of vitamins and herbs as preventatives. We sweat out in extreme heat in saunas; we exercise until we wear out joints; we even inject toxins to plump up wrinkles as if keeping a youthful appearance will stave off physical aging!

Right about now, my arm is starting to feel a little hot and bothered. We'll see what happens later. I think tonight a nice scotch on the rocks and a good movie will be just what "the doctor orders"!!