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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Shh, I think I hear something. It… it sounds like distant fizzing and the faint jostling of aluminum. Why, it’s the sound of a billion cans of beer carbonating in anticipation of the three day weekend! Woooo!!!  Barbecues! Beer! Wooo! Why? I don’t care! Beer!

HappyLaborDay2

I didn’t realize we were due for a holiday weekend until about a week ago, and even then was confused (“Wait, when? Are you SURE? It’s Labor Day?? Really? Okay! Woo!!!”). Maybe I could retain information like this if I knew a bit more about the holiday. We’re celebrating labor, right? And beer?

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Sweet, sour, salty, bitter… I’m sure you’re wondering what the roadmap of my typical workday mood decline has to do with food.

Incidentally, these are also the names of the flavors most familiar to Western palates. But as is the case in so many instances, Eastern civilizations have had knowledge of something slightly more sophisticated for centuries and the rest of us are now playing catch up. In this case, the topic is a fifth flavor and its name is umami.

Hola, umami

Hola, umami

Thanks to their cultural fondness for foods like seaweed and soy, Chinese and Japanese diners have, at least subjectively, known about this fifth flavor for countless generations. Even Brillat-Savarin hit upon it when he referred to “osmazome”, the “essence of meat” that he required for many soups and stews. And some time around 2007, this “new” flavor finally began to eke its way into North American vocabularies.

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Poised on steady legs
First your poet begs
Several eggs.
Froth them to a mousse,
And then introduce
Lemon juice.
Shimmering like silk,
Aromatic milk
Of almonds will
come next, and next prepare
Pastry light as air
To coat with care
Each pretty pastry mould.
Which sweetly will enfold
The liquid gold.
Smile, a father, fond
Wave your fiery wand,
Bake till blond.
Melting mouths and hearts,
Mmmmmm, saliva starts –
Almond tarts.

Edmond Rostand (1868-1918) Cyrano de Bergerac, Act II (translated by Anthony Burgess)

The legend of Cyrano de Bergerac is familiar: man with disfiguringly large nose falls for a lady, persuades a dashing but daft gentleman to act as his mouthpiece to woo the lady, feeds gentleman lines of poetry from the bushes, lady falls for handsome man thinking he is the poet, comedy then tragedy ensues.

"Maybe you'd like some wine with your nose? Cheese."

"Maybe you'd like some wine with your nose? Cheese."

Edmond Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac in 1897, roughly based on the life of the actual Cyrano de Bergerac who lived in France from 1619 – 1655. Fittingly perhaps, the image of Bergerac that Rostand presents to the world through his verse (the entire play is written in rhyming couplets) is a rather deceptive version of who the actual man was. So who exactly was the man behind the man behind the character of the man behind the other guy?

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In the spirit of honesty and the boozy congeniality which I always like to promote, booze or no, I’ll admit that my sister’s engagement was liberating. I finally had an excuse to buy all previously verboten bridal magazines and do all the research and contemplation of a topic that I could only consider with feigned aloofness before. I had a license to swoon, and to swoon over pastry specifically. No problem.

Sigh...

Sigh...

I was shocked (in a sedate way) to learn that the first recipe ever written expressly for wedding pastry was not for a cake, but for a pie. An extraordinary British Pye, to be exact.

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First of all, I would like to clarify that this is not a Bible blog. Despite my first post about fish, the appearance of Jesus at the top of the page and what is about to be a post about a Saint, I am Not Exactly Christian. I have always been interested in getting to the root of things, however, and you have to admit that the Bible is impossible to avoid if you have any hope of understanding how the sausage of Western culture is made, so to speak.

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