Tuesday, January 27, 2015

HB, Wolfgang!

I remember when it all started! The love affair with Wolfgang, or more accurately, the love affair with his music.

It was actually quite a long time ago. I, of course, was always familiar with his most popular works, heard on the radio or in commercials on the television, etc. i.e. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

I was on a day trip with my husband, out to the high desert in California. He was to take a look at some land with some colleagues. He was a builder, and it was a Summer day, and hot. I was none-to-pleased to be using my Saturday in this way, but went along to be friendly. I chose to sit in the air-conditioned car, while the guys trudged around the dusty land. I turned on the radio, and was dialing around, when I landed on some beautiful music, and chose to listen. I was transfixed! It was the Sinfonia Concertante K364. I also was transported! The music was complex, sublime, soothing yet challenging. I loved it.

And so, I continued to explore Mozart's music, first the symphonies, then the concertos, getting into his operas and choral works. The list of his musical genres goes on and on - over 600 pieces of work to investigate! And then there are his letters which support his composition, his joys, trials, travels, relationships. Some are quite humorous, some filled with frustration, longing, all the humanity we can relate to. I celebrate in one way or another each year, sometimes with a purchase of another cd, sometimes with a book, or DVD on his life. Sometimes it calls for German food! But January 27th has become over the years a day to celebrate!

Happy birthday, my friend! Only 259 years old! Congrats!

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Kaffehausers! Mozart's local Starbuck's!

Spent the weekend preparing some things in honor of Herr Mozart's birthday (January 27th). Made some Sacher tortes, or "tortlettes" (individual ones), as well as sewing up a special blouse to wear for the day. It's a simple top, really, but the fabric is the thing! Musical notes on an ongoing pattern of scales. I tea-dyed the fabric to give it that look of old parchment.

But, back to the delicious part! The Austrians had a weakness for coffee, and during the 1700's, the famed kaffehausers, or coffee houses, sprang up throughout Vienna. The Starbuck's of their day, but with the added social atmosphere that attracted the "glitterati", or the elite of the city. Many of these cafes still survive, now serving coffee and pastries to tourists and locals. Some of these places are quite luxurious, and though folks aren't decked out in powdered wigs and satin, the décor and the service is formal and particularly lovely. Waiters in black pants and vests with crisp white full length aprons, calling people "sir" and "madame". Wonderful!

One famous coffee house is the Café Sacher (part of the Sacher Hotel), home of the Sachertorte! Vienna's signature cake, with dark, dense chocolate cake, thin layer of apricot jam, and the incredible chocolate/coffee icing that is got a smooth finish to die for! have it with some strong coffee mit schlagg (whipped cream)! Yumm!

Another lovely place is the Café Landtmann, where politicians hung out! Still do! Same bit....the wonderful desserts, and this time, try the "mélange", the Viennese version of café latte.

Finally the oldest café, Café Diglas, with its red velvet booths and marble tables. They promote their exquisite strudel!

Makes you want to book a flight right now, doesn't it?!

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Fantasy of Chocolate!

The Germans and Austrians just love their desserts, the more chocolate and cream, the better. And here's one to make, if you have the time, for Mozart's Birthday! It is called the Mozart Cake, and pays homage to the famous musician! The cake is not hard to make but has many steps, all put in a medium size spring-form pan. This is a fantasy of chocolate and cream and nuts! Take the time to make it, and you will sing praises, perhaps to a tune from Il Nozze di Figaro!

It starts with a meringue base:
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 +1 tablespoon powdered sugar
3/4 cup ground hazelnuts
3/4 cup ground almonds

The Mousse
3 cups sweet whipping cream
1 cup bitter chocolate, chopped
1 cup white chocolate, chopped

Chocolate Creme
1/2 cup bitter chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon whipping cream
1/2 cup butter

4 oz whipping cream
5 oz bitter chocolate, chopped
1 1/3 cups  hazelnuts or walnuts chopped or sugared hazelnuts, broken into small pieces

Make the meringue:
Whip egg whites in mixer until just foamy. Slowly add sugar and continue until soft, stable peaks are reached.
Fold in the powdered sugar, hazelnuts and almonds.
Outline the circle of the pan on two separate pieces of parchment paper. Turn the papers over ( so the pencil side is down) and place on a baking sheet.
Using a spatula or piping bag, fill in circles of the meringue using the pencils marks as the outer border.
Bake at 225F for 2 hours until the meringue hardens.

Make the mousse:
Heat the whipping cream until just before boiling.
Prepare one bowl with the dark chocolate and one bowl with the white chocolate. Pour half of the hot cream over the dark chocolate and the other half over the white chocolate. Mix until smooth cream is formed for each and chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours.

Make the chocolate cream:
In a pan, melt all the ingredients for the chocolate cream, mix and cool.
Putting it together:
Place one meringue base in the spring-form pan and spread the chocolate cream over the top.
In a stand mixer, whip the chilled white chocolate mousse. If it hardened too much in the fridge, let it soften for a few minutes at room temperature before whipping.
Spread the white mousses over the cream. Place the second meringue base on top of the white mousse. and press firmly down.
Whip the dark chocolate mousse and spread evenly over the top meringue layer.Freeze for ay least 24 hours.

After the freeze:
Heat the last bit of whipping cream to almost boiling.
Pour the cream over the dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts.
Pour the topping over the frozen cake evenly. Return to the freezer for about 10 minutes, until the topping hardens. At this point you can cover the cake with plastic wrap and leave in the freezer for a few days.
To serve, remove from freezer and defrost for 3-4 hours in the fridge. Release the cake from the pan using a hot, wet kitchen towel wrapped around the pan to help it slip out easily.
Press the chopped nuts onto the sides of the cake.
Cut the cake with a smooth edged knife dipped in boiling water to help cut it smoothly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mozart and the Movies!

We are well into January, and next week we will celebrate the 259th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart! He was born on January 27th, at 9 Getreidegasse in Salzburg, Austria. Viewed as a normal everyday child, until about age 4-5, he began to show a tremendous affinity for music. In a very short time, his father Leopold who was a musician and composer, recognized that he had a musical genius on his hands. Leopold gave up his work to be full time tutor, mentor and booking agent to his son. And, the rest is history. Very soon, the son's abilities far outstripped anything his family or those in musical circles could fathom. Wolfgang has over 600 works of various genre - sonatas, symphonies, concertos, church music, ballets, operas for a myriad of instruments - to his name.

So, I was thinking: If Wolfgang lived today, I'm sure we would, among all his music compositions, include soundtracks! Now there is a form that did not exist at that time! And so, what type of movies would he write for? Off the top, I think he probably would write for any assignment that came along, as he did when he was living. Financially, he could not afford to be so very choosy and pass anything up. But, idealistically, I think he would gravitate towards the sweeping epic. Music like John Williams' (Schindler's List, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Wars); or Nicholas Hooper (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince); or Maurice Jarre (Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia); Hans Zimmer (Gladiator); Ennio Morricone (The Mission). The list of the greats goes on and on. I haven't scratched the surface, only to point out a couple favorites of mine.

He might have embarked on a mini-series, if grand enough, and so I include HBO's Band of Brothers (Michael Kamen)

Of course, I love the soundtrack from Master and Commander, but Mozart's music is featured prominently! And in the movie Amadeus, the music, frankly, is included like one of the principal characters.  I guess Wolfie would be proud!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Admiral Horatio Nelson - A January Tribute

Admiral Nelson, Britian's hero of the Napoleonic Wars, was quite busy in his January months. Here is a summary:

1)  Born in 1758, his naval career began on January 1, 1771. He reported to the HMS Raisonnable as an ordinary seaman and coxswain. His maternal uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling commanded the vessel. This was a typical way for young boys to get a start. After a short time on board, he was appointed midshipman and began officer training. It was at this time that he discovered, ironically, that he suffered seasickness, which became a lifelong complaint.

2) In January 1784, he returned to England and attended court as part of Lord Hood's entourage. He enjoyed politics, and contemplated standing for Parliament as a supporter of William Pitt, but was unsuccessful. Lucky for all, he went back to sea.

3) So, it was back in January 1796 to the Mediterranean, appointed by Sir John Jervis (Old Jarvie) who was commander-in-chief of the Fleet, to the position of Commodore running blockage near the French coast. When the blockade was eventually found useless, he was back in England, and appointed second-in-command of the Channel Fleet under Lord St. Vincent, another luminary of the British Royal Navy.
4) On January 1st, 1801 he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue. On January 29nd of that same year, he daughter Horatia was born, his child by the notorious Emma Hamilton. Their affair was really a scandal, and unfortunately, Emma, though quite the thing in her day, was reduced to the life of a beggar upon his death. The Admiralty did not recognize her in any way, shape or form. He did leave his daughter a legacy of 200 British Pounds a year for her life.

5) In January 1805, the French fleet escaped Toulon and Nelson set off in pursuit. The French commander managed to elude him, passing through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic. Eventually, of course, they were intercepted by the British fleet at the Battle of Cape Finisterre.

6) Here's a sad one: Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in late 1805. By this time in his life, he had become a national hero, a larger-than-life figure, and his death shocked the nation. It was on January 9, 1806 that there was an enormous funeral procession for Nelson in London to St. Paul's Cathedral. The procession was what amounted to a state funeral, with 32 admirals present, over 100 captains, an escort of 10,000 soldiers who took the coffin from the Admiralty to the Cathedral. After a four hour service, he was interred in a sarcophagus originally carved for Cardinal  Wolsey (of Henry VIII's time). The sailors who were charged with folding the flag draped over Nelson's c
offin and placing it in the grave, instead tore it into tiny pieces, each taking one as a memento.

I have made the pilgrimage to see his tomb, and it is impressive. In the crypt of St. Paul's, it is in a rotunda, cool and dimly lit, and quiet. Though personally he was a flawed figure, he was a giant to the British people, the leader they could look up to in troubled times. His memory also endures in Trafalgar Square in the heart of London, where he overlooks the scene from his Nelson Column!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Regency Era

At the end of this month, I am attending a Regency Ball in California. I attended last year, and it was quite an eye-opener, what with the costuming and attitudes of all the participants. Some were friendly and engaging, but some were haughty and foppish. Dance cards were filled out prior to the dance, and so if you did not do that, or were not approached, you were relegated to the "wall", unless someone happened by, or you were bold enough to get up and find a partner yourself. I am much more prepared this year. And, frankly, I'm all about the outfit. If I don't dance, I will not be put out. I will just remember to take my flask, and find another wallflower willing to toast one up! (I don't know if that's quite the etiquette of the Regency folk, but I'm not going to worry about it).
So, meanwhile, I am sewing away. This year I decided on an homage to Nelson's navy, and am designing a Spencer jacket that looks like a naval officer's coat. Lots of gold braiding on a midnight blue field.

I got to thinking about the word "regency". People of this English County Dance ilk are more concerned with Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. But, really, what was the Regency period?! 

Well, for those who don't already know, it is the years between 1811 and 1820 when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince of Wales ruled as regent in his place. When King George died in 1820, the prince became King George IV and continued on. But the idea of a regency is fraught with problems. When the child or young person is not ready to rule, then a regency or council of others "help" his or her get the job done. There is a lot of vying for position or favor, and there is "power behind the throne" that does not always have the country in mind. Sometimes the Regency refers to 1795-1837, the latter part of George III's reign, when he was still king but watched over. He was diagnosed with porphyria (a blood disease), and had some periods of lack of clarity and lucidity. 

The Regency era, socially, focused on distinctive trends of style for British literature, fashion, culture. Elegance and achievements in fine arts and architecture were everywhere. Of course, there was war with Napoleon, that eventually gained Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson tremendous fame with his winning of the Battle of the Nile and Trafalgar! There was sort of a mini-Renaissance, and great patrons helped with the building of the exotic Brighton Pavilion (at left), and the refurbishing of other fine public works. Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, and the early steam engine was developed. Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry started her work at Newgate Prison. As you can see there were many things on many fronts going on. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Baddeley Cake

Still in the holiday mood, I looked into another new year's tradition and found THE BADDELEY CAKE! And what is this, you say?
Well, here is the story:

In old London town, one of the original directors of the famed Drury Lane Theatre died in 1794. His name, Robert Baddeley. He was an actor, and had worked as a cook and valet, though little else is known about him. In his Will, he left a bequest to provide a Twelfth Night Cake and Punch to be enjoyed by the actors in residence at the Drury every year on January 6th!

A Fund was established for the "purchase of the cake and wine for ever." The first cake was cut on January 6th, 1795, making this the oldest theatrical tradition still in existence! The cutting of the special cake is a big event to this day.

Robert had become an actor having been inspired by his employer, actor Samuel Foote. Robert spent three years on a Grand Tour, which allowed him to develop accents and learn languages that helped with his acting. These accents became a hallmark of his career. One of his famous roles was in The School for Scandal, a melodramatic work by Sheridan. By the way, Robert's wife Sophia, was also a noted actor, and later on, others of the Baddeley clan took to the stage, including Hermione Baddeley (Mary Poppins, Little House on the Praire, Maude).

Over the years, the cake has become more and more famous for its unique annual theme. Sometimes, it displays the theme of the play that is appearing at the Drury. Only a few times, the cake was not presented, one being during WWII when the theatre was closed, and the ingredients were not available because of rationing.  The punch, in recent years, has been served from a lovely silver bowl given to the theatre by the original My Fair Lady company!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Comfort and Joy!

Happy New Year! 

We are well on the way into January, but there is still time to celebrate it a bit. When friends came to see in 2015 with me, upon their departure, I gave them a small bag of black eye peas to take home with them. It is a bit of a tradition in our family, but not ours alone. As long as I can remember, my Mom made black eye peas after New Year's Day. It is supposed to guarantee a year of adundance!

I looked into this, and find the following:
These peas, which are actually a bean, originated in Africa in ancient times. They only came to America in the 1700's along with the slave trade. Mostly used in the South in Florida and the Carolinas, they became a staple and were used in stews with greens and ham hocks as an inexpensive flavor booster.

There are many recipes but the traditional is best, first soaking the beans, then putting them in water with salt, peppper, a ham hock, and a squeeze of lemon. Let them simmer til softened, but not too soft. You don't want mush.

They are a friendly food, and if they don't bring wealth, they will certainly bring comfort and joy!