Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Saturday, May 9, 2015

What Foods These Morsels Be









Animals fill themselves; man eats. The man of mind alone knows how to eat.
~Brillat Savarin, The Physiology of Taste



Few men knew the mind of man better than William Shakespeare. No mere refugee from the 16th century whose tomes are only occasionally dusted off by scholars wearing moth-eaten raiment, Shakespeare remains the best known author in Western history and is quite rightly regarded as a cultural icon, if not the cultural icon. Some of Shakespeare's plays were published individually in his lifetime, but most were printed for the first time in the First Folio of 1623. This was a collection of 36 plays, divided into Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, in one printed volume. It is arguably the most influential and important literary publication in Western History. The sonnets were published for the first time in 1609. A true genius who made remarkable analyses on the human psyche, Shakespeare's observations were unique, although his early work was likely grounded in and influenced by the ancient Latin morality plays and comedies like those of Terence and Plautus that he undoubtedly enjoyed performing as a young student in the grammar school attended by the children of Stratford-upon-Avon. Unlike those plays which contained protagonists depicted merely as abstractions of human emotions, Shakespeare presented his literary characters as fully fleshed human beings - naturally expressing their inner mental conflicts and behavior in an aesthetic form that we still enjoy and relate to today.

The Bard of Avon had an exclusive ability to grasp the dynamics of the human mind and decipher the dysfunctions of the human psyche 400 years before anyone else had catalogued them. Indeed Shakespeare was exceedingly comprehensible and comprehensive in his descriptions of various psychological and psychiatric symptoms. Shakespeare’s influence on psychopathology was immense.  Many of Shakespeare’s lead characters seem to suffer from mental disorders, neuroses and even psychoses, from depression to substance abuse to post-traumatic stress syndrome to sociopathy. His extraordinary insight into the psychology of human beings extending to the emotional effects that manifested themselves physically on the body. Perhaps Shakespeare qualifies to earn the title as the first true psychoanalyst in history. Freud, Jung & then Lacan certainly owe him debts of gratitude. His brilliance is as immeasurable as space, we may have some idea of it, but no true capacity to fully fathom it.

Shakespeare had a working understanding not only of human nature, but also of its history, its art, its culture. "Thus, while in London’s bawdyhouses and taverns his body fulfilled its destiny as body, the soul that dwelled in it was Caesar, failing to heed the augurer’s admonition, and Juliet, detesting the lark, and Macbeth, conversing on the heath with the witches, who are also the fates. Nobody was ever as many men as that man, who like the Egyptian Proteus managed to exhaust all the possible shapes of being. At times he slipped into some corner of his work a confession, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his single person he plays many parts, and Iago says with strange words, “I am not what I am.” His passages on the fundamental identity of existing, dreaming, and acting are famous." ~JL Borges, Everything and Nothing

He invented 1700 words... all of them words we still use in our everyday lexicon. The English language is obliged to Shakespeare. His neologisms created words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original. Words like arouse, lonely, moonbeam, impartial, skim milk, zany... It is that love of language he embraced that made me first fall for him when I was a young child - just sounding out the music of his sonnets was enough to bring a smile to my face and to the face of every adult within my ken who indulgently endured a six year old's illiterate but impassioned recitals of the great poet's works from an old book that somehow never quite got returned to the 110th Street branch of the New York Public Library known as the Aguilar Library. The Aguilar is one of the oldest branch libraries in New York and was a sanctuary for me back then, when things became unbearable at home. It was founded in 1886 and was named for Grace Aguilar, a Sephardic Jewish author. After World War II, an influx of Puerto Rican immigrants (like my family) led to the creation of an extensive collection of materials in Spanish. We never did borrow any books in Spanish, but Shakespeare's complete works somehow became a permanent part of our own personal 'collection'.

G. K. Chesterton once said of Shakespeare,

"The souls most fed with Shakespeare's flame
Still sat unconquered in a ring,
Remembering him like anything."

Feed my flames he did. As a 13 year old, my poetry was profoundly influenced by his poems and plays - me always so greedy, so hungry for vocabulary - selecting favorite words from them, then incorporating those delectable morsels into my own little scribbler's confections. Silly things like taking the words paragon and effigy from his 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' which we performed in Miss Shomenuchi's English Lit class, and using them in Young Girl's Lament, an unsympathetic poem I wrote about my mother to my mother on Mother's Day. Needless to say, my poem wasn't as well received by my mother as Shakespeare's plays were by Queen Elizabeth's court, but I still feel like repaying the favor today by creating a menu as homage to his great works -- treating him to the kind of banquet someone being honored by the aristocracy might enjoy, but before I do I think it important to discuss what sitting at a table and breaking bread with friends and family actually entailed during Shakespeare's time.

Gastronomy reveals as much about a particular culture and era as does any shard of pottery, or fragment of scroll. Dig into a cookbook, delve into a recipe and learn from these food archives something about the mores and manners of their original readers' and authors' place and time. Menus provide us with a form of time travel. If Shakespeare were to thumb a ride on a time machine to the present day and surfeit the current culinary landscape, I wonder how many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune he'd fear he dodged before finding a meal he'd consider digestible despite the glut of fast food chain restaurants, Tescos and Whole Food Markets that abound in this so-called civilized modern world.

In seeking appropriate recipes for my homage to the Bard,  I was certainly transported back even without Dr. Who's TARDIS. The machine I rode was called Early English Meals and Manners : with Some Forewords On Education in Early England by Frederick James Furnivall, published in 1868. Old Freddy tried his best using bibliographical references and indexes that re-introduced 15th and 16th century classics such as John Russell's Boke of Nurture - which begins its exegesis into all things gastronomical with a prayerWynkyn de Worde's Boke of Keruynge; The Boke of Curtasye; R. Weste's Booke of Demeanor; Seager's Schoole of Vertue. --The Babees book. --The lytylle childrenes lytil boke; For to serve a lord. --Old Symon... among many others, including an interesting boke titled The ABC's of Aristotle. All of them covering everything from deportment to haberdashery to medical & dietary advice to the best way to pluck a peacock, as well as furnishing the good little homemaker with recipes and appropriate menus of service. It's like Martha Stewart's Good Living Magazine on steroids. Furnivall was something of a literary connoisseur, as well, and includes many poetic verses with which to regale the discerning reader of the time.






The Elizabethan era that Furnivall and Co.'s advisories depict was in many ways a golden one for Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth's reign emerged from a period of strife to begin and sustain a flourishing of economic, artistic, and political achievements that can be easily referred to as the British Renaissance. She entered the Crown an illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII, at the tender age of 25, succeeding the infamous Bloody Mary,  but reigned for 44 years and died a beloved monarch, one who is considered by many historians the greatest ever to rule the realm.

Elizabethan society was above all else hierarchical. Men above women. Adults above children. Rich above poor. The highborn above the lowborn. Inequalities abounded. Its cookery varied according to one's station in life, not so unlike our modern era, but with one huge exception. The Little Ice Age brought colder winters and significant and severe climate change to all the continents. NASA defines the term as a cold period between AD 1550 and 1850. Much of Europe was quite literally under ice.  This obviously affected agriculture and animal husbandry adversely. Shortages in livestock, vegetation and grains caused privations among the people of the time, and, unlike our era, in Shakespeare's England changes in diet protocols were imposed - "Sumptuary Laws" that specified what could be worn and eaten by whom (including two days per week of fasting) were strictly enforced, transgressors of the laws found themselves incarcerated for reasons of maintaining the hierarchal feudal social and religious structures unquestioned and intact. The poorest were prohibited many types of textiles and foods, especially silks, satins, fowl and meat - even if they could manage to afford them (which many couldn't, but it wasn't a question of affordability, they absolutely weren't allowed them under any circumstances) so that the royals, aristocrats and nobles could clothe their bodies and fill their bellies to their glut's content.

"They are as sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing." wrote Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice. And so it was, with a diet that was up to 90% meats (the remaining 10% being consumption of sugary sweets and refined flours), the aristocrats of Queen Elizabeth's court ate foods that made them relatively unhealthy to modern eyes vs. the peasantry's meals that consisted of 90% whole grains, vegetables, potages, soups, some limited dairy, including eggs and cheeses -- black teeth became fashionable at The Royal Court (its members often choosing to blacken their teeth cosmetically) because the high amounts of sugar consumption by the Queen had rotted and blackened hers... talk about the folly of fashion!

Desserts and crystallized fruit and syrup were the root cause of the tooth decay. The Tudors were especially fond of sugar and marzipan and on special occasions such as banquets, all kinds of specialities would be made out of them such as animals, birds, fruits or baskets. Sometimes wine glasses, dishes, playing cards and trenchers were made out of a crisp modelled sugar called sugar-plate which would be elaborately decorated. Baked pastry dough used as trays and service platters somewhat grimly called "coffins". Guests brought their own utensils when they dined outside of their homes, with the exception of forks which were not widely used then. The idea of being able to eat everything including your serving plate was well ahead of its time. All the hipsters that go about polluting today's planet would applaud such sustainable practices.

The meals eaten by all classes were influenced by seasonality. What was freshly foraged or grown often limited according to the whims and vagaries of Mother Nature.  Coffee, tea, chocolate, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines were rare being New World products imported from the Americas. Salt was scarce, not the commodity it is now - hence a thing being "worth's one salt" was one that was highly valuable. “Sallet” greens like sorrel, spinach and mustard were important parts of the Tudor diet, although they were rarely eaten raw: raw vegetables and fruits were distrusted and (rightly or wrongly) considered carriers of contagions, so were often stewed, baked & preserved in sugar. Root vegetables such as turnips, carrots, and parsnips were seen as peasant food since they grew in the dirt. The aristocracy ate things that grew above ground, dangled off trees, or could be picked from shrubs. Dairy products produced in the Elizabethan era included milk, cream, butter and cheese. Milk was used as a beverage and cream, curds, whey, butter and cheese was a by-product of this basic commodity. Strawberries and cream was already a staple on the menu in Elizabethan England. Eggs were also consumed. Butter was stored in wooden barrels called firkins but only used by the upper classes for cooking food. Several types of cheese was available. Hard cheeses were made from skimmed mild, soft cheeses were made from whole milk. All of these dairy products were deemed inferior foods and therefore only to be eaten by the poor.





The variety of game, meat and birds eaten by the wealthiest would be astonishing to our modern sensibilities. Seagull, crane, heron, swan and peacock were commonly roasted; peacock feathers were especially prized and used to decorate plates and dishes. In fact, meal preparations were quite elaborate, even among the middle classes. Live blackbirds baked in a pie and flying out when the pie was sliced is more than just a nursery rhyme.  Bakers would outdo themselves creating such contrivances to delight and entertain the courtiers at the highest levels of society. Hedgehogs were served alongside lamb, beef, veal, pork, venison, and rabbit. Every bit of the animal was consumed. A variety of fish and eel was eaten on 'fasting days', but not overly enjoyed by the general populace. Music and drink were common features accompanying meals. There were four alcoholic levels of ale of varying strengths, and copious quantities of it were consumed - a weaker type of ale was commonly drunk in the mornings, instead of water. Potable water was available in wells, of course, but it was precious, so mead, ale & fortified wines quenched one's thirst, instead.

Spices from the Near East along with various vinegars, honey, sugar and the precious salt were used to both season and preserve meats. Today's love of charcuterie hearkens back to those days when meat was scarce and storing it fresh impossible. Many savory dishes contained elements of the sweet and might seem overly so to today's palates. Sauces were served with everything, and Elizabethan cooks were very particular about proper sauces. Three meals a day were not uncommon. According to A Book of Cookrye printed by Edward Allde in 1591.

The order how Meats should be served to the Table, with their sauces

The First course.

Potage or stewed broth.
boiled meat or stewed meat.
Chickins and Bacon.
Powdred Beefe.
Pyes, Gooce, Pigge.
Rosted Beefe.
Rosted Veale.
Custard.

The second course.

Rosted Lamb.
Rosted Capons.
Chickins.
Pehennes.
Bakte Venison, Tart.



The Service at Supper.


Potage or Sew.
A Sallet.

A Pigges petitoe.
Powdred Beef sliced.
A shoulder of mutton or a brest.
Vele, Lamb, Custard.
The second course.

Capons rosted.
Cunnies rosted.
Chickins rosted.
A Pye of Pigions or Chickins.
Baked Venison, Tarte.


The Service at Dinner.


The first course

Brawne and Mustard.
Capons stewed in white broth.
A Pestell of Venison upon brewes.
A chine of Beef & a brest of mutton boild.
Chewets or Pyes of fine mutton.
Three green geese in a dish, sorrell sauce.
For a stubble goose, mustard and vinagre.
After Alhalowen daye a Swan, sauce Chaudron.
A Pigge.
A dubble Rib of Beef rosted, sauce Pepper and Vinagre.
A loyne of Veale or brest, sauce Orenges.
Half a Lamb or a Kid.
Two Capons rosted, sauce wine & salt,
Ale and Salt except it be upon sops.
Two Pasties of falow Deer in a Dish.
A Custard.
A Dish of Leash.

The second course.

Jelly.
Pecock, sauce wine and Salt.
Two Cunnies or half a dozen of rabbets.
sauce Mustard and Sugar.
Half a dozen of chickins upon sorrel sops.
Half a dozen of Pigions.


The average home was not furnished with an oven: breads, pies, puddings and meats (such as they were) were prepared at home and then taken to a local baker to be baked and roasted. There were specialty shops that sold ready-made breads, scones, and pies, In 1577, Holinshed's Chronicles described bread as follows:  "...The bread throughout the land is made of such grain as the soil yieldeth; nevertheless the gentility commonly provide themselves sufficiently of wheat for their own tables, whilst their household and poor neighbours in some shires are forced to content themselves with rye, or barley, yea, and in time of dearth, many with bread made either of beans, peas, or oats, or of altogether and some acorns among, of which scourge the poorest do soonest taste, sith they are least able to provide themselves of better..."

Manchet was the fine white bread consumed by the 'Haves'. Cheat or wheaten bread (with its coarse texture, grey in color),  Ravelled bread - containing less of the "pure substance" of the wheat, as well as Brown or Black bread were eaten by the "Have Nots". Stews, pottages, soups were cooked over fires & hot irons in hearths. Castles and manor homes, however, were replete with all manner of kitchenware, ovens, chafing dishes and culinary gadgetry of the time; evening meals were often served buffet-style and cold, tables filled until overflowing because the distance from the kitchens to the dining halls was too far to serve food individually as true courses.

All those masterful Dutch and Flemish paintings of the time did not exaggerate the cornucopia of delicacies proffered to the Elizabethan era guest. Of course, the station of an actor and playwright might not ordinarily afford him the greatest scope for gastronomical pleasures at the dining table.  Which brings us full circle back to Brillat-Savarin's marvelous quote about the man of mind alone knowing how to eat, how to be discerning about his culinary choices, rather than merely being satisfied with the animal need to fill his gut. Tempted though I might be to offer William a slice of pepperoni pizza, I'd have all those careful chroniclers of 'Books of Cookrye' haunting me like Hamlet's ghost so I will proceed with a bill of fare that would satisfy the meanest gourmand of the time.  Sadly, in Elizabethan England, actors/playwrights/poets were officially classified as vagabonds and routinely despised by their 'betters' (although because of their unique work they were allowed to wear clothes as costumes,  and eat meals onstage that others in their low station were prohibited to).

However, I won't be serving the 'upstart crow'  crow - as playwright and critic Robert Greene did when referring to Shakespeare in 1592 in a scathing review of Shakespeare's very first play, Henry VI Part One.  No,  I'm taking a page from el esposo's book: when we were dating one of his favorite games to play with me was "If you..." The 'if you' was always followed by a provocative question that would require us both to respond thoughtfully about the criteria of the query and explain why we chose what we chose...

I remember the first time we played the game. One night, he decided he wanted to cook me dinner. It was my first time eating at his little bachelor pad. We hadn't been sexually intimate yet... and, in fact, I had treated him more like a friend up until that point, than a potential lover.  I was always rather standoffish with him. He was a member at the health club I was employed in. It was against company policy to date the members, not that anyone ever let that stop them from dating members or vice-versa, except me. I made what I thought was a tremendous concession by dating this man, so whenever he would stand in front of me on the gym floor where I worked, I'd pretend not to see him. I'd look right at him and pretend I could see through him.  It was grand fun.

At dinner that night, over a creamy plate of tortellinis with Alfredo sauce and fried veal cutlets, expertly cooked and dished out by him, he asked me what kind of vegetable I would be and why. I said I would be corn on the cob because I loved to be buttered and nibbled all over. He dropped his fork on the bare wood floor in response. I can still hear that clatter. I picked up his fork, handed it to him with a wry smile  He was always Joe Cool, so it was especially sweet to witness him stymied that way.  It was a corny response, I know. The man dropped his fork for that? Yes, incredibly, I'm afraid he went all Hugh Grant, but only because it was ME, the iceberg, purring it - even the slightest bit of flirtation from me lit him up. I play games with him still...

And now I will play this with Shakespeare and with each course be inspired by my favorite characters from his many wondrous plays - trying my best to exemplify each character's 'humours' (or psychological traits, if you prefer), matching them to the choice of dish :

Serving him an Elizabethan dinner using my favorite characters of his as inspiration for each course.  Essentially asking them what dish they would be and why...




What Foods These Morsels Be

Le Menu:


Ophelia's Vegetable Pottage

***
MacBeth's Blancmange

***
Iago's Hashed Tongue Sallet Served Two Ways

***
Malvolio's Stewed Hedgehog
Petruchio's Roasted Peacock
Hamlet's Roasted Lamb with Cameline Sauce

***
Falstaff's Raspberry Trifle

***








 Ophelia's Vegetable Pottage




"Frailty, thy name is woman."

We will begin the meal with Hamlet's Ophelia and serve a vegetable pottage. In the 16th century, vegetables were often called herbs. A pottage is a simple stew of water, vegetable, herbs, perhaps some bone & scraps of meat thrown in a cauldron over a low fire, and then once the brew is sufficiently flavored from the cooking of its ingredients, a thickening agent was used: oats, bread, wheat, rice... anything when mixed with the broth that will blossom and make it hearty. It was a staple at the peasant's table and often the only course served, but also found its way into the nobility's dishes as a first course.   Pottage was either thick or thin depending upon the ingredients available. Frumenty and morrews were types of thick pottage eaten mainly by the upper class.

I chose this dish for obvious reasons. Ophelia drowns in the play, whether she committed suicide or not is still a matter of debate. That she is driven mad by  the murder of her father by Hamlet - the man whom she loves whom she believes both loves her and loves her not (in typical vacillating daisy-petal pulling fashion) we know, but Shakespeare never specifies that she killed herself.

Feminists deplore her, calling her weakness and inability to stand up to the men in her life a sign of patriarchal tyranny, a will-less repressed version of Hamlet- a depiction of womanhood as little more than a man sans the almighty phallus; seeing Shakespeare as a misogynist who perpetuates the myth of woman as weeping willow.

Lacan calls her a piece of bait casting her off as a device to reveal Hamlet's secret plot, even as Lacan describes her as the ultimate fetishist object desired by the perverse Prince only when she is unattainable; seeing Hamlet's cruelty toward her and rejection of her in the second stage of their relationship as emblematic of his own denial and postponement of manhood, the object destroyed to save himself, but then reinstated to its rightful place when in his mourning of her death, he chooses to sacrifice his own life and is reintegrated with her as object.  All being well that ends well, one supposes, in that fateful tragedy known as human desire?

I am more Jungian in my thoughts about Ophelia, seeing her as perhaps a female Peter Pan, one who has reached the threshold of adulthood, but not quite up to coping with the responsibilities that being a woman entails. In the modern world, Ophelia could easily be depicted as an anorexic or bulimic, trying to forestall the inevitable by willful control manifested as starvation - keeping her pre-adolescent body intact.

The action of Ophelia her last appearance onstage is, in absence of stage directions by Shakespeare, a matter of conjecture. The role, as commonly enacted at the present day, has been described as follows:

"Ophelia enters with her hair and whole figure entwined with chains of flowers; and in her thin outer skirt, she carries a mass of them. She advances slowly with the strange light of insanity in her eyes, sits down upon the floor, and plays with the flowers in a childish way, as she sings. Then she arises, distributes rosemary, pansies, fennel, columbine and rue, sings her last song, loiters a moment after her parting benediction, and runs out in a burst of mad laughter."

The language of flowers is an ancient one, and was to Ophelia a fond subject of study. Rosemary is emblematic of remembrance, and was distributed and worn at weddings, as well as at funerals. The pansy is a symbol of thought, of pensiveness, and of grief. The daisy represents faithlessness and dissembling. Fennel designates flattery, or cajolery and deceit; and columbine, ingratitude; and these two flowers Ophelia befittingly presents to the guileful and faithless Claudius. Rue is a bitter plant with medicinal qualities, and was in folk lore a symbol of repentance.

She calls it "an herb of grace on Sundays;" because the wearer when entering a church on that day, dipped his rue in Holy Water, which always stood within the portals, and blessed himself with it, in the hope of obtaining God's "grace" or mercy. "There's rue for you," she says to the Queen, and "here's some for me." The Queen, however, is to wear hers with a difference, that is, in token of repentance, while Ophelia will wear it in regret and grief at the loss of her father and her lover. In the distribution, the demented maiden is seen naively but seemingly unwittingly to choose the flower most suited to each person.

Her death happens offstage and in Act 1V, Scene V11 is described by Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, to Ophelia's brother (and Hamlet's friend), Laertes, as follows:

QUEEN: One woe doth tread upon another's heel, So fast they follow; your sister's drown'd, Laertes.

LAERTES: Drown'd! O, where?

QUEEN:  There is a willow grows askant the brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.
There on the pendent boughs her crownet weeds
Clamb'ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaidlike awhile they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and endued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.








Ophelia's Vegetable Pottage

The word pottage comes from Old French and in fact means contents of a pot. Pottage was a common dish in the Middle Ages and would typically include ingredients such as peas, carrots, leeks, onions, cabbage and beans, oats, herbs, saffron and sometimes meat. All and any of the aforementioned can be substituted.



Ingredients:

3 pints of stock (about 6 cups)
10 oz. of dry lentils 
1 oz. of thick-cut bacon, chopped (salt pork, pancetta or guanciale can be substituted)
1/2 onion
2 peeled garlic cloves, halved
1 leek
1 fennel bulb
1 carrot
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander or ground cardamom
1 large whole sprig of rosemary
1 bay leaf
Fresh ground pepper to taste
A pinch of salt

Cooking Instructions:

Begin by sauteing bacon until crisp in a large saucepan... when the bacon is crisp & all the fat is rendered, remove the bacon & set aside (as garnish). Add the stock into the saucepan and bring to simmering point, meanwhile coarsely chop the leek, onion and the carrot. When the stock is simmering add lentils, the chopped onion and the chopped carrot together with the sugar and the salt. Bring to the boil, then gently simmer for about one and a half hours or so, until the lentils are soft.

Next remove the rosemary sprig & bay leaf, discard, then carefully pour liquid into a blender (or use an immersion blender) to puree the ingredients until thick and uniformly smooth. Then return the soup to the saucepan and very gently reheat. Before serving taste to see if the pottage needs a little more seasoning, and garnish with reserved bacon bits.










 MacBeth's Blancmange





"too full o' the milk of human kindness"


Macbeth is the title character of "The Scottish Play" so-named by those in theatrical circles because many a production is purportedly to have met with misfortune since Shakespeare (or the play's revisers) are said to have used the spells of real witches in his text, angering the witches and causing them to curse the play. So, to say the name of the play inside a theatre is believed to doom the production to failure, and perhaps cause physical injury or death to cast members. There are stories of accidents, misfortunes and even deaths taking place during runs of Macbeth. It's a quaint urban legend. I've no idea whether or not it's true.
True or not, Macbeth is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, and is full of his most famous and oft quoted scenes. It tells the story of a once brave Scottish general named Macbeth who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne for himself. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia, and is forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion until he eventually has his own head handed to him, so to speak, by Macduff.
Blancmange started essentially as a chicken dish with almonds and cream, a minced chicken mould. Around 1600 it dropped the chicken, and kept veal gelatine that was the only meat left in it. Francis Bacon said that it is a great health food - it has almonds, milk, gelatine, a bit of ground rice. Spices too, cinnamon, crystallised cloves. Since like the King, blancmange lost its meat as well as its appeal to those subjected to it, I thought I'd dedicate it to Macbeth, and all those who see ambition as their own end.

Macbeth's Blancmange

A capon or hen and a calves foot were boiled together, and the stock drawn off and strained. Before it set, beaten chickenflesh, rosewater, ground almonds and breadcrumbs were added, creating a thick jelly.








 Iago's Grand Sallet Two Ways w/ Hashed Calve's Tongue







"But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am."

John Keats, in a letter to his brother George, made one of the most trenchant observations about Shakespeare’s technique and art in the whole mountain of Shakespeare scholarship:

"At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

Nothing proves that statement more than the play Othello. Othello's Iago is in my estimation the greatest villain of all-time. It is not his Machiavellian-like tactics that make him so, but rather his inscrutability. We see and know what he is doing as his nefarious plot is put into action, but why, why did he risk his ruin for such a convoluted (albeit successful) treachery?

"Demand me nothing; what you know, you know:
From this time forth I never will speak word."
 (V.ii.301-304) 

So ends the play... yet demand of him we do. We see how he uses his understanding of human nature to turn his targets' best qualities against them, and in so doing against each other... it is not jealousy alone that "doth mock the meat it feeds on."  We know that Iago is charming, calm, cool, calculating - his sociopathic nature seems to bring to mind the fable of the scorpion and the frog... the scorpion stings the frog who carries him across the pond, despite knowing that he, too, will drown; the frog carries the scorpion knowing he will be stung - both of them victims to their own nature... Iago claims to love Othello and desire Desdemona, to admire Cassio, despite also revealing his envy that Cassio was promoted by Othello over him, his jealousy that Desdemona desires Othello over him, his misogyny that makes him accuse his own wife Emilia of having an affair with Othello, his racism that makes him hate Othello's rise to wealth & power thereby putting Iago in the position of  being Othello's servant... we see all of this as the play unfolds. We hear all of it from his own lips. Some of his motivations seem obvious - too obvious, yet we are still left wondering why...

Since Iago is such a mixed bag of tricks with a poisonous tongue that did ruin all those he loved best, I offer this Tongue Sallet (Salad) served two ways both raw and cooked in his honor from A new booke of Cookerie by J. Murrell in its nearly inscrutable Middle English parlance: 

Raw Sallet

Take your hearbes and picke them very fine onto faire water, and picke your flowers by themselves, and wash them al cleane, and swing them in a strainer, and when you put them into a dish, mingle them with Cowcumbers or Lemmons payred and sliced, and scrape suger, and put in vineger and Oyle, and throwe the flowers on the toppe of the sallet, and of every sorte of the aforesaide things and garnish the dish about with the foresaid things, and harde Egges boyled and laid about the dish and upon the sallet.

 Diuers Sallets Boyled:

Parboyle Spinage, and chop it fine, with the edges of two hard Trenchers vpon a boord, or the backe of two chopping Kniues: then set them on a Chafingdish of coales with Butter and Uinegar. Season it with Sinamon, Ginger, Sugar, and a few parboyld Currins. Then cut hard Egges into quarters to garnish it withall, and serue it vpon sippets. So may you serue Burrage, Buglosse, Endiffe, Suckory, Coleflowers, Sorrel, Marigold leaues, water Cresses, Leekes boyled, Onions, Sparragus, Rocket, Alexanders. Parboyle them, and season them all alike: whether it be with Oyle and Uinegar, or Butter and Uinegar, Sinamon, Ginger, Sugar, and Butter: Egges are necessary, or at least very good for all boyld Sallets.

To Hash Calves Tongues:
Boyl them tender and pill them, then lard them with Limon Pill, and lard them also with fat Bacon, then lay them to the Fire and half rost them; then put them in a Pipkin with Claret Wine, whole Spice and sliced Limon, and a few Caraway Seeds, a little Rosemary and a little Salt, boil all together and serve them in upon Toasts. Thus you may do with Sheeps Tongues also


Malvolio's Stewed Hedgehog





"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

The name hedgehog came into use around the year 1450, derived from the Middle English heyghoge, from heyg, hegge ("hedge"), because it frequents hedgerows, and hoge, hogge ("hog"), from its piglike snout. Hedgehogs are easily recognized by their spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin. Their spines are not poisonous or barbed and, unlike the quills of a porcupine, cannot easily be removed from the hedgehog.  This is called "quilling". When under extreme stress or during sickness, a hedgehog can also lose spines.  A defense that all species of hedgehogs possess is the ability to roll into a tight ball, causing all of the spines to point outwards. However, they are much more likely to try to run away and sometimes even attack the intruder, trying to ram into the intruder with its spines; rolling up into a spiny ball is used by those species as a last resort. They are solitary creatures. They pair only to mate. They will separate thereafter and the male takes no part in rearing the family.

The Elizabethans had a fondness for dramatic presentations at the table & hedgehog with its round form & spiny quills suited their taste for serving up the bizarre. I chose Twelfth Night's Malvolio because he is harmless, solitary, even with all the spines that stick out of him & and into those he considers beneath him as he swanks about Lady Olivia's manor as her head steward of the household, but despite his imperious Puritanical manner and his ridiculous ambitions,  he just rolls up into a big hairy ball when he actually is challenged... finally receiving his comeuppance in the play at the hands of detractors. I always felt a gentle pity for him. When Sir Toby and company lock him up in a dark room and perform a mock exorcism, Shakespeare raises the point that the trick is like a bear-baiting, an Elizabethan blood-sport that involved chaining a bear to a post and setting a pack of dogs on it. In this sense, Malvolio's comeuppance is a bit like what happens to Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew. Malvolio and Sly are both abused for the entertainment of others – including Shakespeare's audience, which itself becomes a cohort with the pranksters.

Hedgehogs (Yrchouns)

Take Piggis mawys, & skalde hem wel: take groundyn Porke, & knede it with Spicerye, with pouder Gyngere, & Salt & Sugre; do it on the mawe , but fille it nowe to fulle; then sewe hem with a fayre threde, & putte hem in a Spete as men don piggys; take blaunchid Almaundys, & kerf hem long , smal, & scharpe, & frye hem in grece & sugre; Take a litel prycke, & prykke the yrchouns, An putte in the holes the Almaundy, every hole half, & eche fro other; ley hem then to the fyre; when they ben rostid, dore hem sum whyth Whete Flowre, & mylke of Almaundys, sum grene, sum blake with Blode,& lat hem nowt brone to moche, & set forth.Serves 6-8

2 lb (4 cups) minced (ground) pork
2 tbs breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp mace
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbs sugar
1/2 oz (1 tbs) softened butter
2 egg yolks
2 oz (4 tbs) butter
4 tbs vegetable stock or water
2 oz slivered almonds
vegetable colouring

Modern Translation: Mix the pork, breadcrumbs, spices, seasonings and softened butter. Bind with the beaten egg yolks and form a ball. Place in a buttered pan. Cook, covered, for 1 hour, basting at intervals with the rest of the butter melted in the vegetable stock or water. Stick the slivered almonds, dyed with the vegetable colouring, all over the pudding, so that they look like the quills of a hedgehog or a sea urchin (recipe from Seven Centuries of English Cooking).







 Petruchio's Roasted Peacock
















"Tush! tush! fear boys with bugs."

Peacocks are large, colorful pheasants (typically blue and green) known for their iridescent tails. These tail feathers, or coverts, spread out in a distinctive train that is more than 60 percent of the bird’s total body length and boast colorful "eye" markings of blue, gold, red, and other hues. The large train is used in mating rituals and courtship displays. It can be arched into a magnificent fan that reaches across the bird's back and touches the ground on either side. In courtship, vocalization stands to be a primary way for peacocks to attract peahens. Some studies suggest that 'intricate song played whilst birds displayed prove to be impressive to females, whereas other studies show high call 'rates' to be more successful which brings us to Petruchio.

In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio is a gentleman from Verona. Showy, proud, loud, boisterous, daring, eccentric, quick-witted, and frequently drunk, he arrived in Padua “to wive and thrive.” by marrying wealth. He announces this to all and sundry. Katherine's shrewish nature has made her father up the ante and offer an enormous dowry to the intrepid suitor who would woo & wed her. Disregarding everyone who warns him about her infamous temper, he eventually succeeds not only in wooing Katherine, but in silencing her tongue and temper with his own. I could wish for no better embodiment of Petruchio's spirit animal than this bird which even roasted, was served proudly and triumphantly by the Elizabethan cook with feathers and all.

I've no doubt that dear Kate would have gladly cooked Petruchio up in like manner, even after he allegedly 'tamed' her shrew. 




PECOK ROSTED

Take a Pecok, breke his necke, and
kutte his throte, And fle him, the skyn
and the ffethurs togidre, and the hede
still to the skyn of the nekke, And kepe
the skyn and the ffethurs hole togiders;
drawe him as an hen, And kepe the bone
to the necke hole, and roste him, And set
the bone of the necke aboue the broche,
as he was wonte to sitte a-lyve, And
abowe the legges to the body, as he
was wonte to sitte a-lyve; And whan
he is rosted ynowe, take him of, And
lete him kele; And then wynde the skyn
wit the fethurs and the taile abought
the body, And serue him forthe as he
were a-live; or elle pull him dry, And
roste him, and serue him as thou
doest a henne.

Or you could always just make a pie made up with peacock

meat and then stick the head and tail feathers into it.




Hamlet's Roasted Lamb with Cameline Sauce 






"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so"

If you called Hamlet Oedipus Rex on steroids you would be wrong, but not too far off the mark. Sigmund Freud himself spoke of the guilt in Hamlet's oedipal conflict being the cause of his hesitation to avenge his father's death by killing his uncle and stepfather who did what Hamlet himself really wanted to do. His existential crisis was built upon an all too keen self-awareness - something that Oedipus, poor guy, never had being blinded by the fates as he was. No, Hamlet KNEW... therein lied the tragedy. He was the philosopher Prince. He continued to delay what he knew obsessed him... what gave his existence meaning and purpose , in a world he saw as purposeless, even as he continued to go through the motions of his plots - haunted as he was by his father's ghost, but he was the ultimate procrastinator, alternately punishing and pleasuring himself with the torturous desires that would perversely tantalize and taunt him, until the end was achieved. Feeling his desires were base and made him no better than the man he wished to avenge himself against - a man who ultimately turned out to be himself... He saw himself in Claudius, in Laertes, perhaps even in Pollonius. Perhaps in everyone and everything. His empathy prevented him from acting.  His pretense at madness was not at all a pretense, but a true escape until Ophelia's death. The mirror cracked. He was what he knew he had always been - his own sacrifice.

"However contradictory the coroner's report — whether he pronounces Consumption or Loneliness or Suicide to be the cause of death — isn't it plain how the true artist-seer actually dies? I say that the true artist-seer, the heavenly fool who can and does produce beauty, is mainly dazzled to death by his own scruples, the blinding shapes and colors of his own sacred human conscience.” ― J.D. Salinger

Although, an atheist, when thinking of sacrifices, I think first of the story of Christ, the Lamb of God, but in many ways, Hamlet is a story of sacrifice. The sacrifice of love, of desire, of truth - for honor, or some idealized version of it... therein lies his real perversion, and yet in Act 4, Scene 4, he says,

How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do;'
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me:
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

Still, Hamlet's course will be Roasted Lamb with Cameline Sauce.

Cameline was one of the most common sauces used in the middle ages. It was so common that it could be purchased pre-made from vendors in late 14th century Paris. When the Ménagier was instructing his new wife about shopping he wrote, "At the sauce-maker's, three half-pints of cameline for dinner and supper and a quart of sorrel verjuice."

The following recipe is a typical one, based on a 15th century English source. I've added salt (common to over half of the sources I consulted), and boiled the sauce (which was sometimes done, and other times not). The result is a sweet and zesty sauce that is more than a little like modern steak sauce.

3 slices white bread
3/4 cup red wine 
1/4 cup red wine vinegar 
1/4 tsp. cinnamon 
1/4 tsp. ginger 
1/8 tsp. cloves 
1 Tbsp. sugar 
pinch saffron 
1/4 tsp. salt 

Cut bread in pieces and place in a bowl with wine and vinegar. Allow to soak, stirring occasionally, until bread turns to mush. Strain through a fine sieve into a saucepan, pressing well to get as much the liquid as possible out of the bread. Add spices and bring to a low boil, simmering until thick. Serve warm.

Source [Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books, T. Austin (ed.)]: Sauce gamelyne. Take faire brede, and kutte it, and take vinegre and wyne, & stepe þe brede therein, and drawe hit thorgh a streynour with powder of canel, and drawe hit twies or thries til hit be smoth; and þen take pouder of ginger, Sugur, and pouder of cloues, and cast þerto a litul saffron and let hit be thik ynogh, and thenne serue hit forthe.

Lamb to make like Venison

PERIOD: England, 17th century | SOURCE: The Whole Duty of a Woman: Or a Guide to the Female Sex, 1696 

DESCRIPTION: How to prepare lamb to taste like venison

Lamb to make like Venison.

Bone it, and take the side or quarter, and dip it in its Blood, sprinkle it over with Salt, Cinamon and Pepper, rowl it up, and parboyl it, adding some Vinegar to the Water you boyl it in, a sprig or two of Hysop and Thyme, let it stand six hours in the water when it is off the Fire, put it into a coffin, and pour to it when half Baked, Claret and Melted Butter, with some Cloves Mace and dryed Rosemary, finely beaten.

Note: Many recipes require "coffins", the somewhat doom-laden medieval term for a pastry case. Medieval cooks were perfectly aware of the technique of pre-hardening open pastry cases in an oven before adding the filling, and directions for such a process can be quite elaborate. The 15th-century Harleian MS recipe for Doucetes, a custard tart, requires the cook to "take þine coffins, & put in þe ovynne lere, & lat hem ben hardyd; þan take a dysshe y-fastenyd on þe pelys ende; & pore þin comade in-to þe dyssche, & from þe dyssche in-to þe cofyns." The purpose here is apparently to avoid cooling the hardened cases by removing them from the oven; the baker's peel, a long-handled flat shovel for moving items in and out of the oven, here has a bowl attached so that the filling can be poured into the cases while they're still in the oven. I'm not quite sure what difference this makes; I've always removed the pastry cases from the oven to fill them, and the skies have not yet fallen.

There seems to be little or no notion in the medieval recipes of filling the case with anything (we'd use beans or rice in modern kitchens) to keep it from rising while the empty case is being hardened. The one exception is Martino's elaborate live-bird pie (Italy, 14th century), which requires pre-baking the shell filled with flour, subsequently removed through a hole in the bottom. And just for fun:

Flying pie 

Make a mold for a large pie, and in the bottom make a hole large enough that your fist can pass through, or even bigger if you please, and the sides around it should be slightly higher than the common usage; fill it with flour and cook in an oven. Once it is cooked, open the hole on the bottom and remove the flour; beforehand, prepare another small pie filled with good stuff that has been well cooked and seasoned and that has been made as big as that hole in the large mold; place this pie through the hole into the mold; and in the empty space that remains around the small pie, put some live birds, as many as it will hold; and the birds should be placed in it just before it is to be served; and when it is served before those seated at the banquet, you remove the cover above, and the little birds will fly away. This is done to entertain and amuse your company. And in order that they do not remain disappointed by this, cut the small pie up and serve.

This, however, is a very specific use of pastry for effect, rather than a standard procedure, and also presupposes a particularly deep covered pie which needs to stand alone without filling (live birds being a bit dodgy for purposes of support). It thus seems safe to assume that the standard pastry tart case was not filled during pre-baking.








Falstaff's Raspberry Trifle







"The better part of valor is discretion"

Sir John Falstaff, one of the most famous comic characters in all English literature, appears in four of Shakespeare’s plays. Falstaff is the embodiment of rebellion and disorder. Literary critics frequently link his character to "carnival," a religious festival season that celebrates the inversion of social order and the indulgence of unruly and riotous behavior. Much like Mardi Gras, it was seen as a temporary way for ordinary folks to cut loose and engage in rebellious behavior without getting into permanent trouble. And, much like a "Lord of Misrule" (one who was appointed to reign over carnival festivities, which included drinking, eating, and raucous theatrical productions), Falstaff presides over the Boar's Head Tavern.

"He [Falstaff] is a man at once young and old, enterprising and fat, a dupe and a wit, harmless and wicked, weak in principle and resolute by constitution, cowardly in appearance and brave in reality, a knave without malice, a liar without deceit, and a knight, a gentleman, and a soldier without either dignity, decency, or honour. This is a character which, though it may be decompounded, could not, I believe, have been formed, nor the ingredients of it duly mingled, upon any receipt whatever. It required the hand of Shakespeare himself to give to every particular part a relish of the whole, and of the whole to every particular part. "

~Morgann: The Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff.







The word trifle means a literary, musical, or artistic work of a light or trivial character having no great or lasting merit; bagatelle, and yet, like Sir John Falstaff it is a substantial dessert, its deceivingly light fluffy appearance, notwithstanding.

In Elizabethan times the name ‘trifle' was applied to a thick cream flavored with sugar, ginger, fortified wine, and rosewater, which became part of the banquet course. Later trifles consisted of custards poured over wine-soaked sweet biscuits (usually macaroons), and topped with syllabub. In this one, which is simplicity to do, I have reverted to the cream topping. Serves 6 people

Ingredients:
1 Swiss roll
2 Bananas
225 g (7.9oz) Raspberries
1 Sherry glass sweet sherry (or as much or as little as you like!)
115 g (4.1oz) Raspberry jam
300 ml (10.6fl oz) Double cream
25 g (0.9oz) Caster sugar
55 g (1.9oz) Chopped pistachios
300 ml (10.6fl oz) Milk - for the vanilla custard
300 ml (10.6fl oz) Double cream - for the vanilla custard
300 ml (10.6fl oz) Double cream - for the vanilla custard
1 Vanilla pod, split - for the vanilla custard
4 Egg yolks - for the vanilla custard
2 Eggs - for the vanilla custard
115 g (4.1oz) Caster sugar (or superfine sugar) - for the vanilla custard

Instructions:
Cut the Swiss roll into slices or chunks and lay in the bottom of a large glass bowl or individual glass bowls (it used to be the best crystal bowl). Peel and slice the bananas, and sprinkle the slices over the Swiss roll. Scatter the raspberries on top, and leave to one side.
For the custard, put the milk and double cream on to boil in a medium pan with the scraped vanilla pod and seeds. Put the egg yolks, eggs and sugar into a bowl and beat well together. Pour the hot cream mixture on to the eggs and mix well.
Put this mixture into a clean pan and heat gently, stirring carefully, to allow the custard to thicken slightly. Do not let it curdle. Pull off the heat, put into a cold container and leave to cool.
When the custard is cool, pour the sweet sherry over the fruit and sponge in the bowl or bowls. Now pour the cooled custard over. Refrigerate and allow to set (overnight is good).
Warm the jam then allow it to cool a little, but whilst still runny, pour it over the custard. Allow to set.

Whip the cream with the sugar and put into a piping bag. Decorate the top of the trifle with this, then carefully sprinkle the pistachios over the cream. Serve.






Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Arroz Con Pollo, Gandules y Amor






There are dishes that warm our hearts as much as they fill our stomachs. They do more than merely sate hunger - they stir feeling, release memory. They are place settings in time. I always associate certain foods with certain people. Whilst hardly the first writer to acknowledge the strong ties to memory that aromas, flavors and textures have (Proust beat me by 112 years), I can say that when I contemplate making arroz con pollo y gandules, I think of my father, and of Nancy, my stepmother.

 The summer I was 10, I met my stepmother for the first time.  Her marriage to my father only lasted two years. I never saw her again after that August. When I told el esposo  I was going to write about my stepmother, at first, he looked bemused. He had a stepmonster. A truly despicable creature whom neither of us could bear when she inflicted herself upon us twice a year (and surprise, surprise she hated cooking - always a sign of a nasty selfish individual). After all, as far as he knew, I had no such creatures in my own past that could haunt the recesses of my cerebral cortex. I hadn't mentioned her once to him before. The truth is I have no real reason to remember my stepmother. Except maybe this one:

My father took time off for good behavior after his 10 year marriage to my mother. Of course, as far as my mother was concerned, he freed himself from the bonds (& a few of the less stringent vows) of marriage well before the divorce decree was ever final. They lived with each other for a total of four years.They'd been childhood sweethearts since grade school. I was two when they separated; 8 when they divorced.

Permit the little girl in me to gush about my father. The man was a born charmer with an Adonis-like body, a rapier-like wit and a dazzling smile, armed with just enough self-deprecating humor to make him seem humble without turning him into a Puerto-Rican version of Woody Allen. He had charisma. That 'thatness' that drew people to him.

In fact, he was recruited by a Hollywood talent scout in the 60's when he was doing a stint as a waiter in New York's Russian Tea Room.  They were looking for another John Garfield (whose movie, The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Lana Turner was hot stuff back in the day and reminds me of my parents' near fatal relationship).  My mom gave the idea of a Hollywood-bound husband the big 86 (restaurant speak for HELL NO!)

Theirs was a passionate affair. My mother's and my father's. She was the Lana Turner to his John Garfield and she wanted to keep it that way.  I learned the bewitchery of tumultuous relationships early on - from them. I conflated a certain degree of mischief and mayhem with love. Maybe I still do...

 I remember being 2 years old, my father was taking a shower. I entered the bathroom. The bathroom was good & steamy, so I knew the shower was hot. I had asked my mother for a glass of water. She poured from a bottle in the fridge (she liked everything ice cold). I still had the glass in my hand as I entered the bathroom. At that time we lived in one of those enormous old pre-War buildings in the Bronx on Gerald Avenue, just a subway stop away from Yankee Stadium. Our tub was an old clawfoot titan that had been converted into a shower and had a shower curtain that circled as an enclosure. I could see my father's legs through the curtain.

I said, "Hi, Daddy!" then pulled the curtain open and threw the cold water at him. He let out a HOWL! I went running out of the bathroom giggling like crazy. He came out with a towel wrapped around his waist, grabbed me and tickled me like crazy. It's the last memory I have of living with him.  I guess I'm always trying to re-live that moment. I'm sure every man I ever loved could attest to my porcupine nature- my need to alternately badger & cuddle.

Legend has it that during the course of one infamous blow-out with my mother, he once lifted the fully stocked kitchen refrigerator in their Gerard Avenue apartment and hurled it out the first floor window which despite its first floor location was actually some 20 feet above ground level.

The refrigerator and its contents splattered all over the large back alley of the building complex.  Fortunately, the only witnesses were a few startled stray cats who eventually got over their trauma enough to pick over the more delectable bits of the wreckage.

I have only the vaguest recollection of the incident. Most of that recollection is based on my mother's recounting of the story to me. Still, I told her she was lucky. Better the Frigidaire than her carcass. At least, he showed some level of self-control.  Knowing my mom, I'm sure it took a helluva lot of restraint on his part not to have defenestrated her, instead.  She makes Katherine from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew seem like Shirley Temple. Hell hath no fury like my mother. Period. Even on her best days. She never needed a reason to be hellacious. She was born feeling scorned.

Soon after that incident my father was sent to Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary on 'racketeering' charges - a polite way of saying he was a part of the NYC mob - and my mother, baby brother and I went to live in The East River Projects with my grandparents; back to the apartment my mother was raised in after our family's immigration from Puerto Rico.  I remember long rides from the Port Authority terminal on 42nd Street to Pennsylvania on Visiting Day - sardine-canned into stuffy buses with my mother, and the ham and cheese heroes on Italian sesame rolls from Tony's Deli on 104th and 2nd Ave. that she bought for the trip that somehow made seeing my father in that place palatable.



Picture of me and Daddy in Lewisburg Penitentiary on Visiting Day.
My mother cropped him out - her way.




My father never smoked, rarely drank as a young man; although alcoholism did eventually claim his liver, just as complications from AIDS later claimed his life far too soon. His name was Hector Afortunato Gomez - years of enduring that name may eventually have taken its toll on him. To hector means to bully. He had a dark side -- one that sent him into my arms one day, he drunk, maudlin and full of regret apologizing for the many unsaid deeds done; me young startled, trying to accept the weight of him and realizing that maybe every terrible thing my mother ever said about him might be true -- but bullying wasn't one of his vices. He joked about his name often enough to make me realize how much he hated it - calling himself HAG (an acronym with his initials). My full name is Lori Ann Gomez. I called myself LAG for that whole summer I spent with him...

He was a poet, an artist, a voracious reader, part-time waiter and a professional cook - in fact, all of his side of the family were in the restaurant business. I suppose the proclivity for finer dining could be a genetic pre-disposition, not unlike a form of insanity that undoubtedly afflicted us all.

He had a strict code of honor. He never swore and was extremely insistent to those within earshot of the beloved females in his life that they toe the line of respectability... or else!

A gifted martial artist, as well,  he would not hesitate to impose his idea of civility on those whose behavior fell short of the ideal. Like John Wayne (actually more like Steven Segal), after a fair warning, he would knock the offenders lights out.  Really thrilling and I'm sure very sexy for those lucky ladies he was courting.  You always felt safe even in the deepest darkest corners of the concrete jungle  of El Barrio with my Daddy.

I called him Daddy.  I was after all his little girl.  Sometimes I called him my gypsy. Daddy was a gypsy, too. He never stayed at one address for longer than a few months. He traveled sans caravan, however: "He travels fastest who travels alone" - and he was always alone until that summer.

Daddy was light speed with hummingbird wings. Alone he stood proud on the edge of Life's prow along the river Tao with open hand and open mind feeling the whim of the wind, but his will sailing firm on its own chartered cut-across. He told me, "You must learn to kill and then not to kill." and showed me his empty hands. Palms uplifted, like a supplicant. I clasped them, feeling their supple strength. Studying them like a treasure map. Fascinated by his lifeline. I remember him as a wink and a smile. He smelled like sunshine and sky blue serenity, like some men smell of toothpaste and Aqua Velvet. Yet he died young. Crying into empty bottles at the end.  His tears only salting the wound in the broken skin of his wrongs. I never saw him dead. I barely saw him alive. But so fiercely I feel his pulse - through mine. I feel his pulse - in mine. In a way that I have never felt my mother's.

After scores of women, he finally took the plunge again. He only dated women who resembled my mother both physically and temperamentally, but when he remarried, he married someone who was her polar opposite.

My mother was... how shall I put it? I'll try to be fair, but I doubt I'll succeed...

The bad seed.

The rotten apple in a barrel full of crisp, shiny Jongolds.  When she thought of us at all, she resented our smooth, glossy skins & tart/sweet juices and made us miserable for being something she was not. She was to be more pitied than censured, she was ultimately wormy, mealy and so unhappy about the fact that nobody really wanted to take another bite after the first taste.  Why would they? She did nothing to improve her flavor & everything to poison us. Still, she couldn't help it. Everyone knew this and forgave her it. Even my daddy.

Daddy married Nancy.  Tall, slender, dark-skinned mulatta with fine features and beautiful hands.  Her fingers fascinated me, long, cool to the touch, and very capable.  She was a Seventh-Day Adventist or Jehovah's Witness, I forget which.  Both seemed so foreign, so exotic like she was.

Daddy was a Catholic (well like most Puerto Ricans, he was dutifully baptized, communed & confirmed in that "universal" Church of Rome, if not exactly devout) but converted to Nancy's form of Protestantism which she took very seriously when they united in their holy wedlock. And holy it was. Daddy, a lifelong reader, began eschewing other reading material to focus on his Bible studies, such was Nancy's sphere of influence on the man.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe death is a state of non-existence with no consciousness. There is no Hell of fiery torment; Hades and Sheol are understood to refer to the condition of death, termed the common grave. Jehovah's Witnesses consider the soul to be a life or a living body that can die. I bet that appealed to Daddy, far better no consciousness than an eternity in the hell he figured was bound for under the Catholic Church.

He knew he loved Nancy, he said, when they were traversing La Ruta Panorámica in Cordillera, Puerto Rico. He was driving & showing her the sights. The Panoramic Route is a single lane, two way snake-like road. Really a combination of over 40 of Puerto Rico's secondary highways along the spine of the island's mountain range and through the Cordillera Central.

As he was talking to her, gesticulating wildly while navigating a hair pin turn, she suddenly very calmly and casually said to him, "Bear right, dear."

Which, thankfully, he did as a reflexive response to her interruption of his flow of prattle. If he had hesitated at all, they would have gone careening off the edge of a 1500 ft cliff and been smashed into smithereens.

He took her lovely calm demeanor in the face of such imminent catastrophe (not to mention their subsequent avoidance of death) and his reflexive reaction to heed her lightest word as a sign that they were meant to be together and proposed to her on the spot!

Nancy was a good woman. Quiet, calm, kind.  She had a natural elegance and poise that belied her simple dress and lack of cosmetic enhancement.  Music and dance were not allowed in her religion but she never seemed severe and she never preached. She would tend to house, go to her services. I spent a good deal of time with her that summer, but all I can recall about her was her beatific Madonna-like smile and a sort of zen-like sensibility she had. The way she was fully present, seemingly engaged yet silently observant. Like the moon. Cool, brightly beaming, benevolent. Content to shine in the night sky and revolve around the larger planets in her orbit.

I don't remember her ever laughing which is funny because Daddy was always joking.  Some things were corny, some things were brilliant.  While she may never have rocked with laughter at our antics, she never scowled or sulked or seemed resentful of my presence.

She bore a son, my half-brother, not long after the marriage.  He looked almost exactly like me.  She & my daddy separated after two years of marriage. I strongly suspect it was his fault. He was a restless soul. My gypsy. I never saw her or my baby brother again.  I don't blame her. The universe is a big place filled with billions and billions of stars. We all have our own planets to revolve around, I guess.

Unlike my mother who never saw a frozen t.v. dinner or take-out menu she didn't like, Nancy cooked. Cooking is a true sharing. Every dish is another opportunity to show the love. My mother's mother, mi abuelita, exemplified this. She was not an affectionate woman, but she moved tectonic plates making sure that I had everything made EXACTLY the way I liked it... it was so important to her that even a slice of toast be done the perfect shade of golden brown. She CARED! Nancy cared, too.

I do remember Nancy's arroz con pollo y gandules. I suppose I do because it felt like so magical a time for me. For the first time ever, I was part of a conventional nuclear family - short-lived though that moment was. Mother, father, kiddies... we could have been featured characters of some Walt Disney film. Daddy in the starring role. As I lay on the living room floor devouring my daddy's Stephen King novels and sucking on quenepas ( a Puerto Rican fruit, so tart on the tongue with a slick fleshy pulp that can adhere to your tastebuds, they should be served with a warning), Nancy was in the tiny galley kitchen cooking up a storm.

Arroz con pollo y gandules is such a quintessentially Puerto Rican one-pot meal.  It is the island's national dish. A true family-style food. The warm rice kernels mingling with savory spices and chicken was soul food, the real deal - la cocina criolla - a panacea for what ailed you, if anything did; and doled out as preventative medicine even if anything didn't. Most Americans will associate Creole cooking with Louisiana’s Cajun cuisine, but that’s not the case here. In the Spanish Caribbean, “criollo” refers to Spanish Americans of European descent. Hence, “cocina criolla” is the cuisine created by the European (predominately Spanish) colonists using their traditional recipes while intimately canoodling with the native Caribbean foods of the Tainos. Those gandules themselves having traversed as long and far as Columbus and the African slaves that once populated the island. Consequently, you will find both native and Spanish influences, cooking techniques, and ingredients in Puerto Rican cuisine. La comida criolla is THE melting pot.

My mother would never have stood over a hot stove on a sweltering summer night for her own children, no less her stepchildren, but Nancy chopped, fried, and stewed like a pro. Daddy, who was the superior cook, peering over her shoulder the whole time,  suggesting a bit more sofrito, a pinch of adobo, a splash more tomato sauce, sprinkling a few more capers over the rice, but Nancy didn't mind. She added the most essential ingredient of all - love.





Traditionally, pigeon peas (gandules) & sweet (not spicy) scotch bonnet peppers are used in the dish; however, they are not always readily available especially here in San Francisco where seemingly every other latino country's staples are available except amazingly those from the only U.S. latino nation, Puerto Rico. So, small bell peppers or even banana peppers make adequate substitutes for the sweet scotch bonnets, and garbanzos or small English peas can be substituted for the gandules. Gandule is another name for pigeon peas (Cajanus Cajan). Pigeon peas are a small bean that are native to Africa and/or India but most likely originated in India and were brought to Africa millennia ago...

Arroz con Pollo y Gandules







Ingredients

Adobo for the chicken:
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 2-1/2 lbs. of chicken pieces (with skin & bone for additional moisture & flavor)

For the rice:
  • 1 ounce pancetta or salt pork, cut into small dice
  • 2 ounces prosciutto or other lean cured ham, cut into small dice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeded & finely chopped
  • 3 sweet (not spicy) chili peppers or one red pepper, seeded & finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, seeded & chopped
  • half a handful of cilantro leaves, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 10 spanish olives, stuffed with pimientos, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup of tomato puree or tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of achiote (annato) oil or 2 tablespoons canola oil mixed with 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 3 cups of long grain rice
  • 3-1/2 cups of water or low-sodium chicken stock, heated & reserved
  • 1 can of gandules ( pigeon peas), drained or 1 cup of frozen green peas, thawed
  • 1 jar roasted red peppers, drained for garnish

Directions:



Place first 7 ingredients in a mortar or food processor & mix into a paste. Cut chicken into equal sized pieces & rub all over with the garlic paste (known as adobo) marinating the chicken in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

In a dutch oven or large braising pan heated over med-high heat, add olive oil & rapidly brown the pork fat & ham. Reduce heat to medium, add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes, searing all sides of the chicken.

Reduce heat to low, & add the onion, green pepper, sweet or red pepper, tomato & cilantro (known collectively as the sofrito). Saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Increase heat to medium, then add the salt, olives, capers, tomato sauce, achiote or paprika oil and rice. Mix well & cook for two or three minutes, stirring rice mixture occasionally.

Add the reserved heated water or stock to the mixture, mixing well then cook uncovered over medium heat until liquid evaporates and rice is dry.

When rice is dry, turn it over once from top to bottom using a fork.

Lower heat to lowest setting, cover rice with tightly fitting lid or use aluminum foil to create a seal & cook for 20 minutes, turn rice over again with a fork & cook for an additional 20 minutes. (40 minutes in total)

Add peas, folding them into the rice carefully with a fork, and cook for 15 minutes. Then remove pot from heat, allowing rice to stand with lid firmly in place for 5 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat large platter or plates for 1 minute in microwave or 5 minutes in oven. Serve rice on warm platter and garnish with roasted red peppers & sprigs of cilantro. A simple little salad of sliced avocado, tomato, cooked green beans & lettuce with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil & fresh lemon juice makes a nice accompaniment to the dish. Serves 6-8 nostalgic Puerto Ricans. Buen Provecho!