In the Company of Kindred Spirits

Our friends joke about having a, “Covid bubble.” The Covid bubble contains a very small group of people who practice physical distancing, keep very serious sanitizing routines, and have little public exposure. We maintain a Covid bubble with a few friends. Since we still have to eat, often we choose to eat together…at a distance.

A few weeks ago, I had to travel to present a documentary in which I was involved. Humanities Kansas pays chosen speakers to talk about their projects. While I did not make the film, I was, somewhat, involved with its production. Strangers in Town. The film chronicles immigrants in a rural community and their positive impact on communities. Watch it and see what you think.

While I was in the area, we stayed with our good friends Mark and Kathy. The rest of the “Covid Bubble, ” Bob and Adrian, showed up for happy hour. Bob, an avid hunter, brought his smoked duck to the small gathering. Mark, another avid hunter, added elk smoked sausage. Adrian and Kathy added cheeses and crackers, and, voilà! We added gin and tonics to the menu for a lovely meal and great conversation. Here’s Bob with the duck:

He says the best way to smoke a duck:

Brine the duck in 1 cup (200g) brown sugar, 1 cup (273g) salt in 1 gallon (3.785 litres) for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, drain the duck. Pat dry, and place in smoker until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees (68.33 Celsius). Cool and serve. The smoked duck and elk sausage offer nice changes in meats on a charcuterie board.

The next morning, Kathy served a wonderful breakfast of egg, bacon, and cheese on a multi-grain bagel. That delicious meal serves as my featured image for this blog. One of the many things I love about my friends is that we all like to cook/bake, and we all like to eat.

In this time of Covid, we work quite diligently at make our meals special. I know that I write on this subject quite often, but I cannot emphasize this enough. Find those moments where you can derive special pleasures even out of the most mundane things. That concept surely plays a key role in sound mental health during isolating and challenging times.

Weeks later, we took a special trip with Mark and Kathy. We drove to their second home in Western New York where lakes were frozen hard enough to land small aircraft and support hundreds of ice fisher persons. Of course, one cannot be near a lake and not partake in good things that come from water. We like to eat at a little place called, Guppy’s. They specialize in the bounties of lake, ocean, and sea waters. The evening we ate there, I had the mussels steamed in a delicate wine, garlic, and butter sauce. Come to think of it, one could steam an old shoe in white wine, garlic, and butter, and it would likely be yummy. I digress. The mussels in their sauce came with a side of linguine and a glass of chardonnay, naked, not aged in oak barrels, a specialty of a nearby vineyard.

I should mention that the community posted 124 inches of snow had fallen since the beginning of winter. The frozen lake and all its charms were just one of the highlights. We traveled to Lake Erie one of the days. It had large snow cliffs where the waves had lapped up against the shore only to freeze in the process. Mark took this lovely picture of Kathy standing on one of the snow cliffs. It looked surreal at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Later, Kathy and I trekked out onto the lake close to her house. I wore my vintage grizzly bear coat, popular in the 1970s, which protected me from the elements quite well.

We spent Valentines Day with our Kathy and Mark at this auspicious lake cottage, so we decided to prepare a loving meal of lobsters, baked potatoes, drawn butter, and asparagus. We ate like queens and kings and washed it all down with, again, the local chardonnay. I loved it. I like a meal that makes me work hard for the sweet morsels of meat hidden behind an exoskeleton. Crusty bread made its way from Kansas to Western New York, so we had that, too.

Back home again, we arrived just a few days after freezing temperatures had dipped well below zero (-15F). Our neighbors dripped the kitchen faucet for us, so we came home to a cozy house feeling lucky that no pipes had burst. We found the four bird feeders and heated water dish quite empty with only a block of feed, meant for deer, as the only remaining food for our yard visitors. They flocked back to the yard once feeders and waters dishes filled.

Thank you for reading.

Remembering MLK

Remembering the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his work toward equity and justice, makes me think of family, so my featured image today is one of a memorable sisters’ trip. We visited the U.S. Airforce Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As I remember, the chapel, pictured behind us, closed for five years for restorations. We took this shot in 2017, so those repairs should be finished in another few years.

Today, I offer my reflection offered before a wreath laying ceremony, done virtually, at the bust on Dr. King on the campus of Kansas State University. Dr. King spoke at the university shortly before his untimely death at the hands of an assassin. I share this with you.

Please reflect with me.

As we prepare to lay wreaths at the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us remember his words, “The ultimate measure of persons is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”

One can hardly acknowledge King’s work toward social Justice and equity without remembering his words of our past and thinking, “Why does this struggle continue today?”  Or asking, “Have we learned nothing?”

However, we see hope when, as Amanda Gorman put it, “a skinny little Black girl” steps to the Inauguration podium, and, as Dr. King did, tugs at the conscience of a Nation by telling us that, “the norms and notions of what Just Is, is not always Jus-tice!”

Let us reflect on those eloquent words while we remember Dr. King’s letters from the Birmingham Jail: Lodged, there for “parading without a permit.” For it was not legal for Black Folk to participate in public demonstrations, an exercise NOT for a people deemed “unworthy” or “un-deserving.”

He said, “Injustice is here in Birmingham, if the Negro man cannot exercise his first amendment rights in acts of peaceful assembly demonstrating for change with non-violence.” 

Dr. King noted, “They protested for the Negro brothers and sisters smothering in airtight cages of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”  They demonstrated for equity and justice. They were not insurrectionists, putting their feet on desks in hallowed halls and placing their knees upon the throat of democracy where, We. Could. No Longer. Breathe.

Dr. King emphasized, “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must transcend our, so-called, race, our tribe, our class, and our nation. This means we must develop a world perspective and tear down the walls of separation and hatred to seek common ground and to dissolve hierarchies.”

Further he encouraged for us to, “Rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the hills of creative protest!” “Humans are put on this earth to serve one another, and it must transcend class and privilege.” 

Dr. King possessed a deep hope that the world could be a better place for his children and for our children.

May Kansas State University as a community defined by pluralism find the common ground to stand together against darkness and hate to find light and love.

As we close our gathering today, I ask that you greet, even virtually, those around you with your own word or action that communicate peace. “Every effort we make to connect is meaningful.”

So be it…

Thank you for reading my blog. Enjoy this piece of art painted by my talented friend, Carole Geier.

Winter Comfort Meals

I think that my hibiscus has made more than one appearance in my featured image, but I can’t help sharing pictures with you. I took this photo last week when it had 11 blossoms on its branches. I keep it pruned into a sort of topiary. It appeared to be content when it was on the patio. Now it seems to have what it needs in the living room.

In the Northern Hemisphere around the 39th parallel in the Midwest, the throes of a rather mild winter offer us opportunities to be outside. With more activity, comes the desire for comfort foods. I am glad to share a few simple recipes for some lovely meals.

Some time in December, I made mashed potatoes with some leftover whipping cream from holiday desserts. It made all the difference in the world! I boiled some russet potatoes. I save the starchy and salty water for making bread. I will tell that in another post.

Once I drain the potatoes, I pour the cream over the potatoes and put the lid back on so that the cream is heated. I take three to five minutes for this step. Then I remove the lid and mash the potatoes with a little added pepper and a little salt to taste. When you use the whipping cream, you do not need to add butter, as with many mashed potatoes recipes. It goes well with meat loaf.

After years of watching my mother make meat loaf, I borrowed some of her techniques. She used oatmeal in place of crackers, as many people use. Here’s my recipe:

1 (45g) pound ground beef

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons (19.5g) Oat flour

Fresh onion, minced (to taste)

Seasoned salt (your choice) and pepper

Worschestishire sauce (to taste)

Ketchup and a small amount of mustard

Bake in a hot oven. I use a two-piece meatloaf pan that has holes in it to drain away the grease into another part of the pan. This makes the meat loaf nice and solid, not to mention less greasy. During the last 10 – 15 minutes of baking, I pour a ketchup/brown sugar mixture, which bakes into a tasty glaze.

I served the meat loaf and mashed potatoes with my giardiniera pickle mix from the garden last summer.

I do love reading cook books and magazines. I cannot say that I follow the directions of the recipes exactly, but I do love the suggestions. Then I cook it how I want or with the ingredients that I do have. For example, I found this recipe for pasta with peas and mint. I did not have mint, so I used one of my 40 frozen jars of pesto from the garden last summer. Basil and mint are in the same family, so that is what I had. Also, I did not have the 2 cups of parmesan as the recipe called for. Instead, I melted graded pepper jack cheese in the simmering cream as I awaited the pasta (shells) to finish cooking. When the shells reached the al dente stage, I tossed the frozen peas in the water (before I saved two ladles full for the creaming of the dish) for one minute. Then I drained the shells and peas into the creamy, cheesy, béchamel. The final result reminded me of the chicken alfredo that the grandchildren had prepared for us.

Perhaps I present a backward way of giving you this recipe. I did sauté onions, garlic, and bacon bits in oil before adding the cream and the cheese. This gave it a base to begin the melt. Anyway, it went well with a crisp chardonnay. My carbon steel wok works the best for preparing sauces. The sweet, from the peas, and the creamy savory of this meal satisfied our appetites while serving as a warm comfort food.

Finally, another one of our comfort meals centers on rice. We love different types of fried rice for breakfast. It tends to be a great way to use rice from other meals. We have a rice cooker, which keeps the rice at just the right temperature for two to three days. It never lasts that long since we love rice.

For this particular breakfast, I had a few mushrooms and part of a red pepper and one grilled chicken thigh that needed to be used. I like to begin by sautéing, in sesame oil, what ever vegetables and protein that I will use for the rice. Then I add at least two eggs and cook until almost finished. Then I add the rice. After everything is thoroughly blended, I add a little soy sauce and some chili sauce. Blend again. I sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on before I serve it.

It went quite well with whipped instant coffee and milk.

We make breakfast special, because it sets the tone of the day. Since the weather is cold, and we cannot sit on the front patio, we sit at our dining room table situated by a large picture window. Today, we had 14 species of wonderful birds at the feeders that I counted within a 15-minute time span.

Take care. Be well, and thank you for reading.

Soups and Stews

My featured image, today, comes from the loving hands of my friend, Lynn, who celebrates camping life with us. We found delightful winter camping, sans tents and camper trailers, at Osage Hills State Park in Oklahoma in cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. The ginger camper and its subsequent decorating entertained us one evening.

With cold weather comes body-warming, emotion-comforting, and energy-giving soups and stews. My seasonally renewed love for soup began with my sister’s Zuppa Toscana! This recipe floats all over the web. I think Sis’s came from one of those. Her recipe consisted of: Italian sausage, 5-7 strips of bacon, 5 medium russet potatoes, Kale, heavy whipping cream, water, one half large onion, 2-3 garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Fry sausage and bacon. Set cream aside, but add all the rest of the ingredients, and cook well. I added fresh rosemary and a few shakes of Kitchen Pepper (recipe found in one of my previous blogs). Add the whipping cream just before you serve the soup. Be sure to heat it through once you add the cream. Serve with crusty bread and a crisp white wine, like Chardonnay. The good cook stands to the right with our 90 year old mother in the middle.

Just before Thanksgiving, we traveled to see Granddaughter in her choral concert. Grandmother P invited us to dinner for a heart-warming soup. Like me, she favors pinto beans and other legumes in her soups. I like that she used pinto beans and peas together with potatoes and carrots. It proved to be a most lovely meal. She served it with piping hot dinner rolls and juice.

Several years ago, when she was six years old, we took our granddaughter to Alaska. We taught her how to harvest mussels from Resurrection Bay during low tide. She fell in love with the taste. Now, six years later, she continues to love mussels. She visited recently, and I always ask the Grands to pick their meals. She chose mussels. As luck would have it, the grocery store did not have any. She did find clams, so I prepared them. I really don’t know if she actually likes the mollusks, of if she likes the way I prepare them. As you may have guessed, I sauté garlic in butter and olive oil. Then I add white wine to simmer for a few minutes. I toss in the cleaned mussels, or in this case, clams. I let them steam for a bit with the lid on the pot. After the shells open, we know that they are finished. She likes to eat them served from the pot. We like to serve them with buttered linguine and crusty bread. One can add a salad, but do not forget to consume with a crisp white wine, like a sauvignon blanc. We see, here, the six year old with her mussels and the 12 year old with her clams. I put this in since the clams or mussels do swim in a luxurious soup.

Finally, I leave you with my all time favorite soup or stew, depending on whether it has a thin broth or a thick gravy. In the case of Thanksgiving 2020, instead of Turkey and all the trimmings, we had our Indigenous/Native traditional “Three Sisters,” corn, beans, and squash. The most important thing to remember about cooking pinto beans: they do not need soaking when you have new crop beans. Producers harvest pinto beans in the fall, usually October. They stay “fresh” for about a year. Then they begin to harden and become darker. Those you buy in the grocery store are darker, because they are older than a year. I prefer “new crop” beans, and they usually cook in two hours or less time, without soaking. We use dried sweet corn in our bean soups/stews. Our grandmas taught us to grow our corn and dry it on the cob. Once dry, the kernels fall off with little coaxing. The dried kernels can be stored in jars on the shelf. Now, to add corn to the stew/soup, it does work best to soak the kernels first, usually one hour in hot water. Drain the water before adding to the soup. To prepare the soup or stew, cook the beans and corn in well-salted water, which becomes your broth. As the beans cook and hydrate in the broth, prepare your meat: lamb, beef or pork. I prefer lamb. My Grandmothers used mutton. I like to use green chili as my seasoning. I do not add chili, garlic or onions until the beans are cooked. Adding an acidic vegetable too early does not allow the beans to hydrate properly, and you can have hard beans. Use salt and pepper to taste.

You might be saying, “Where’s the third sister?” You can choose to put the squash in the soup or stew, but I like to have it served on the side. I take chopped apples, chopped naval orange, raisins, and walnuts. I mix them in brown sugar, butter, Chinese five-spice, and brandy (or bourbon, or Fireball). Mix the fruit mixture and put it inside the seed cavities of acorn squashes that have been split and seeded. Save the seeds for later to bake or plant. It tastes wonderful with a hot piece of crusty bread just taken from the oven.

Thank you for reading.

Time with the Grands

The featured image is the hand of our lovely granddaughter, age 12. She is quite artistic, and she has lovely hands.

The U.S. Holidays seem to center on the fall and winter months. That means we look for ways to gather, at a distance, and partake in each other’s light. I do not have to tell you that the pandemic challenges of 2020 did change the way we interact with one another. While we continue to weep for those who lost their battles with the virus, we must cherish one another and do all we can to stay safe and care for those we love.

We spent some lovely time with three of our four grandchildren. Number three grandson went on a beach trip, so this is what we received from him.

With the other three spending one week of their holiday break from school, and also bringing a friend, we had three teens and one pre-teen in our house for a week. The tradition of their spending the holiday break has lasted a decade. We keep thinking that the soon-to-be 18 year old and the soon-to-be 17 year old “boys” will no longer want to do this, but we have been fortunate.

The week-long visit tends to focus on a very long, at least five evenings, game of Monopoly. Grandson number two took all our properties on the fifth day. Also, to give the kids some responsibilities, we asked them to pick on evening to prepare a menu and meal. This blog celebrates our evenings of meal choices and preparations by the grands plus one.

First night:

Granddaughter number one chose sushi for her evening. Her menu: Sushi (California rolls) and shrimp tempura. Grandpa wanted Inari (bean curd pockets) sushi, so we helped with that part. I did not get pictures of the tempura, but it was delicious. We have an excellent Asian market where we live, so we purchased tempura batter mix. The other items were purchased there, too. Here she is preparing a roll in which she added sushi-prepared rice, imitation crab, avocado, cucumber, carrots. She found it hard to keep up with the demand of the sushi lovers.

Second night:

This day happened to be our wedding anniversary, so Grandson number two wanted his meal to be special. His girlfriend came along for the week and bunked with our granddaughter. They chose chicken broccoli alfredo from a recipe that, said girlfriend, brought along. This grandson likes my homemade bread, so he asked me to bake some that day. I did. These kitchen helpers cooked chicken thighs, and then cut the meat away from the bones and sauteed the meat with onions and garlic. Then they added broccoli and cooked a little while longer. Once the penne pasta finished cooking to al dente, they added it to the meat. The final ingredient, as I remember it, called for whipping cream and parmesan cheese to be added and stirred until creamy. Here they are.

I had my serving of chicken broccoli alfredo with a crisp chardonnay from the Brix cellars in Upstate New York. After dinner, we played more Monopoly.

Third night:

Grandson number two chose steak, baked potatoes, and grilled asparagus for this night of preparation. The university, which employs me, has a meats department from which I purchase beef and, on occasion, lamb, when they have it. I wanted to assure good cuts of meat for this evening’s meal. Grandson #1, first marinaded the steaks with Daddy Hinkle’s marinade, that he learned from his father. His grilled steaks turned out fork tender. He prepared the asparagus in foil packets on the grill. It tasted buttery with a hint of lemon, and the potatoes came out with creamy flesh. I served the children sparkling grape juice, and I had my serving with a dark red cabernet.

We had s’mores for dessert prepared over an indoor grill:

Besides eating their prepared meals, the week consisted on shopping and playing Monopoly. The game began on Sunday the 27th and ended on New Year’s Eve. Grandson #2 won, and we each took our losses with great consternation. Over that past ten years of playing this game with them, I have never won. I do not possess that killer instinct when it comes to games and acquiring properties. In this game, I managed to have one full set of properties on which I put houses. Here’s what the game looked like before #2 wiped out the last three players before me.

Alas, it became time to store the holiday decorations, which consisted of a colored light on the hibiscus and a small Precious Moments Nativity with a few of my edits.

Luckily, the hibiscus, which I moved in from the front patio, served as a decorative tree with its four to seven blossoms per day. We had a wonderful time, though we greatly missed grandson #3. He did love his trip to the beaches of Mexico, however.

Thank you for reading.

Geography Awareness

Though I am running a week behind the actual Geography Awareness week, which begins on the third week in November, I think it’s always important to understand place and our relationships to our environments. The study of geography must move beyond memorizing state capitals. In this vein, I wish to offer some tidbits from what used to be an annual Geography Awareness Week (GAW) program on a public radio station in the Central High Plains. My dear friend, Lynn, and I did this fabulous music show. The music reflected people of the world and the music of their people.

Neither of us live near that public radio station, and the live show is not one we can do remotely, though I do have an in-home studio, thanks to National Geographic Society (NGS)! Over the years, Lynn and I have collected geography facts and turned them into radio segments called, “Did You Know?”

GAW used to have different themes each year, and we would find music, of the world in the folk traditions, that matched or supported the themes. Lately, NGS encourages teachers, professors, and anyone else interested in promoting the discipline of geography, to celebrate all aspects of geography since it is considered “the mother of all sciences.” Here are some geography facts that you may not have known or thought of.

Did you know that early human migrations are thought to have begun when Homo erectus first migrated out of Africa to Eurasia around 1.8 million years ago?

Did you know that one of the greatest waves of immigrants to the USA was during the 1820s – 1890s, when more than 5 million immigrants arrived in America from Ireland and Germany.

Did you know that Immigration to Australia is estimated to have begun around 50 000 years ago when the ancestors of Australian Aboriginals arrived from the islands of the Malay Archipelago and New Guinea. 

Did you know that according to the Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011, 3% of the world population (more than 215 million people) live in a country other than the one in which they were born.

Did you know that the largest migration corridor in the world is Mexico? The second largest migration corridor in 2010 was between the Ukraine and Russia, followed by Bangladesh and India. 

Did you know that Asian Indians make up the largest percentage of immigrants coming into the United Kingdom, followed by migrants from Pakistan, Poland, Australia and China. 

Did you know that relative to world population size, more people were migrating around the end of the 19th Century than they are now, in the 21st Century. 

Did you know that an “emigrant”’ is a person who is leaving one country to live in another?  An “immigrant” is a person who is entering a country from another country to make a new home, and a refugee is a person who has moved to a new country because of conflict, abuses, and other harmful threats in the home country.

Did you know that in 2017, 48% of international migrants were women? Female migrants outnumber males in all regions except Africa and Asia.  In some countries of Asia, male migrants outnumber females by about three to one.

Did you know that Human Migration is movement by people from one place to another with the intension of settling temporarily or permanently in the new location? It may involve movements over long distances and from one country to another.

Did you know that a demographer is a scientist who studies human population dynamics by investigating three main demographic processes?  Demographers consider birth, migration, and aging. 

Did you know that Climatology is the study of how climates are created and what they do the environment?  Climatology is a long-term study of the geographic world. 

Did you know that Geography is considered the “Mother of Sciences”?  Geography’s study field embraced the entire universe and later bore many children, among them astronomy, botany, geology, and anthropology. 

Did you know that the Geographic Inquiry Process helps us to understand the interaction of human and natural systems with a framework that promotes understanding?  Geo-Inquiry guides us to Ask, Collect, Visualize, Create, and Act.  For more information, explore geo-inquiry online. 

Did you know that Human Ecology, the study of humans in their environments, is a unique field of Geography?  This form of geographic inquiry aims to clarify the relationships between natural environments and varying activities of humans.

Did you know that the study of geography explores different systems such as human, physical, and biological through space? Explore geography! It is more than states, capitals, rivers and trivia. 

Did you know that geography explores human systems, which include culture, economics, migration, and politics?

Did you know that geography explores physical systems such as landforms, climate, and rivers?

Did you know that geography explores biological systems such as habitat, species dispersal, and adaptation?

Did you know that Geographers identify relationships and explain spatial patterns?

Did you know that geography is not just something you know; it is something you do!  Geographers explore systems and processes in human, physical, and biological worlds using a geographic perspective!  Look it up!

Did you know that geography has different perspectives within its discipline? For example, an ecologist might study how individual species depend on one another while a biogeographer might study how those dependencies influence and are influenced by location!

These geography moments come from several of my geography friends who love this discipline as much as I do.  I have had the pleasure of serving as a National Geographic Society Explorer these past four years. Lynn and I serve on the Kansas Geographic Alliance, a group of fine people.  I hope you enjoy these geography moments.

Thank you for reading.

Foods: Dickens’ Great Expectations

My featured image surly points to my curiosity in many subjects. I agree with Horace Mann, “Every addition to knowledge is an addition to human power!” I took this picture of the limestone etching on the front of a building. I think the drive to add to our knowledge begins with curiosity. So, while my blog posts may appear random, they do reflect my curiosity. Today is one of those random interests of mine.

The Foods in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectation

As an English and Geography major, I tend toward the writings of Dickens, Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Chaim Potok, when I’m reading great writers. For some reason, the foods in their books intrigued me. Once I invited a friend to dine with us. She replied, “I don’t know. What are you reading?” She remembered that I like to cook the foods in the books I read. For this entry, I offer something I wrote about foods in Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Charles Dickens describes the meal scenes in Great Expectations in sensual and appealing ways. Whether Pip and Joe Gargery sit down to light meal, called tea, consisting of bread, butter and a mug of tea or relatives gather around Mrs. Joe’s Christmas table to consume a spread of meats, sweet and savory pies, each food stuff carries with it custom and innovation. Food served in Pip’s’ era, 1860s Britain, possessed different qualities specific to each region of England. The story takes place in Kent, London, and Rochester and near the tributaries of the Thames River (Hunt vii), and each meal or food scene invites the reader into Pip’s world with regional flavors and traditional presentations.

The first meal encountered in Great Expectations finds the main character, Pip, and his gentle brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, a blacksmith, in the kitchen watching Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, preparing their afternoon tea (Dickens 9). According to Roz Denny, afternoon tea, “a very British meal,” started as a fashion begun by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840.  Since the Duchess became hungry between lunch, served at midday, and dinner, served around 8:00 p.m., she demanded a small meal around 4:00 p.m.  Tea for the rich usually consisted of brewed tea, plates of sliced bread and butter; cucumber, egg or tomato sandwiches; buttered scones with jam; and pieces of sponge cake or fruitcake (31).  Similar to Denny’s description, but more like the afternoon tea of the poor, Pip and Joe enjoy only bread and butter with their brewed tea.  The description of the bread served in the Gargery household carries tradition of its own as well.

Pip observes Mrs. Joe, known for her foul temper, serving his and Joe’s afternoon tea.  He notes that her trenchant way of cutting his and Joe’s bread-and-butter never varies:

First, with her left hand she jammed the loaf hard and fast against her impregnable bib. Then she took some butter (not too much) on a knife and spread it on the loaf, in an apothecary kind of way, as if she were making a plaster, using both sides of the knife with a slapping dexterity. (Dickens 9)

Visualizing Mrs. Joe’s use of her bib to steady the bread while she cuts it, as opposed to using a cutting board, calls to mind images of a rather large loaf.  In his book, The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson explains many varieties of bread loaf shapes of the nineteenth century.  Mrs. Gargery’s sounds like the Coburg or the cob.  Davidson describes the cob as a popular English crusty loaf made from plain white dough.  Round in shape, since bakers or “housewives” did not bake bread in a pan, the cob has a plain, uncut (no slashes like French or sourdough loaves) crust.  Cob loaves were formerly small and round and baked with coarse flour.  The name Coburg had just come into use during Mrs. Joe’s time possibly introduced by a German baker who settled in London.  The loaves became larger and more substantial when baked by women in the country.  A loaf of bread served by a country housewife, like Mrs. Joe Gargery, measured about 12 to 14 inches in diameter and four to six inches in height (Davidson 98).  Hence Mrs. Joe’s ability, or necessity, of jamming the loaf into her bib, and, Pip says,  “sawing a very thick round off the loaf: which she finally, before separating from the loaf, hewed into two halves, of which Joe got one, and I the other” (Dickens 9).  In Dickens’ day, more professional bread makers worked to provide bread to those living in the city.  Country women baked their own bread. Bread’s importance lay in its energy value for food to hard working lower and middle class people because it provided protein, iron, nicotinic acid and vitamin B1 (Toussaint-Samat 237). It consisted of baked dough made of wheat flour, water, and yeast.  After combining the three components, the baker mixes then kneads the dough to incorporate air into the dough.  The flour ferments producing bubbles of carbonic gas, which raise the dough. In the heat of the oven, the bread increases in volume, and forms a firm crust once the evaporation of the water in the dough stops (Toussaint-Samat 239).  

Partaking of bread-and-butter appears in a few other scenes of Great Expectations.  The best scene involving bread and butter shows Pip, well after settling in London, at the home of John Wemmick.  Wemmick’s fiancée, Miss Skiffins, engages in a Sunday ritual with the Aged Parent to prepare tea. Pip states that the “Aged P” prepared a haystack of buttered toast, which left them “warm and greasy after it” (Dickens 327). The scene represents Pip in a happy time, but skipping back before the move to London, shortly after Pip learns of his call to visit the wealthy recluse, Miss Havisham, he first heads to Uncle Pumblechook’s living quarters in the High Street of the market town.  The next morning, before going to Miss Havisham’s, Pip wakes up to a breakfast consisting of a mug of tea (with watered-down milk) and haunch of bread-and-butter, which he refers to as a penitent’s meal because of the butter’s scarcity in relation to the amount of bread presented.  Soon after breakfast, Pip meets Miss Havisham and her ward, Estella, who soon becomes his life-long love.  After playing cards with Estella and being the victim of her many insults centered on his coarseness, Pip’s day at Satis House ends with his receiving a small meal of bread, cold meat (meat’s first appearance) and a mug of beer, which he eats while he sits alone in the yard like a “dog in disgrace” (Dickens 66). Having meat during the week proves Miss Havisham’s wealth (Tannahill 207).  On the last Saturday before embarking to London and beginning his journey of becoming a “gentleman,” one of Pip’s final suppers at Joe Gargery’s forge consists of bread-and-cheese and beer (Dickens 159).  Beer, a cereal beverage, contains protein, and people with limited incomes favored it as a drink in Dickens’ era because of its low cost and nutritious value (Tannahill 330). Cheese also served the same purpose in terms of being healthful and relatively inexpensive (Tannahill 208).

In the thirteenth-century, Britons relied on sheep to supply their dairy products.  Three hundred years later, cows became the main source for what the English called, white meats, claiming cow’s milk to be more versatile than sheep’s (Tannahill 208).  In the nineteenth-century, Britain’s cheeses continued to come from cow’s milk.  Professional cheese makers or country housewives, like Mrs. Joe, produced hard cheeses made in large cylinder shapes, called truckles, from which triangular wedges were cut (Denny 27). The cheese ripening process requires bacteria, yeasts, and molds.  The rind of the cheese holds much of the bacteria necessary for aging.  Unlike modern consumers of cheese, the British of Pip’s time ate the whole cheese, rind and all (Davidson 160).  Recall Pip’s stealing the rind of cheese for the shackled convict out on the marshes near the churchyard (Dickens 12).   Abel Magwitch ate the cheese rind just as the rotund Uncle Pumblechook greedily ate his Christmas dinner at Gargery’s home, only more thankfully (Dickens 13).

The grandest meal in Great Expectations certainly must be the Christmas dinner early in Pip’s story.  Pip illustrates Mrs. Joe’s preparation of the house for Christmas dinner:

Mrs. Joe put clean white curtains up, and tacked a new flowered-flounce across the wide chimney to replace the old one, and uncovered the little state parlor across the passage, which was never uncovered at any other time, but passes the rest of the year in a cool haze of silver paper, which even extended to the four little white crockery poodles in the mantelshelf. (Dickens 220)

In a chapter entitled, “A Victorian Christmas,” the editors of The Pageantry of Christmas recall Christmas in England during the reign of Queen Victoria as a “time stirred up by a great hustle and bustle for ordinary folks preparing a bountiful holiday” (74).  The serious eating began about 1:00 p.m. with an elaborate tea at 5 o’clock (Fillmore 76).  The meal laid out on the table by Mrs. Joe differs little from that described in Pageantry only Pip’s sister adds a bit more: “leg of pickled pork with greens, a pair of roast stuffed fowls, a handsome mince pie, a beautiful, round, compact pork pie, and the pudding”.  Mrs. Joe put the pudding on to boil the day before, and Pip had to stir it on Christmas Eve “with a copper-stick, from seven to eight by the Dutch clock” (Dickens 12).  Mrs. Joe presents each course with a touch of pomp and circumstance beginning with the leg of pickled pork and the greens (Dickens 22).

     Mrs. Joe’s leg of pickled pork comes from a long tradition of preserving meat, an essential process because of a lack of refrigeration to keep it bacteria free. Preservation by salt and/or brine curing (pickling) yields the best results (Tannahill 210).  TheWorld Atlas of Food notes that the British had not acquired an art of resourceful pork cooking, so pickling seemed to work best in the nineteenth century (Hale 82). Pip’s sister displays her wealth and motivation with a no-expenses-spared dinner for her honored guests because pickling meat requires extra money and time.  A scarcity of salt and spices increases the meat’s cost.  Spices such as peppercorns and cloves add extra expense to the already expensive meat, so wives have to be mindful not to waste precious salt and spices on poor cuts of meat such as tough, stringy mutton, hence the saying, “That sheep’s not worth his salt” (Tannahill 212).  The extra time involved in pickling meat includes pounding and smashing the large, lumpy salt, (Tannahill 210) and days of planning, because the curing process in pickling takes two to five days, and the spiced brine must be changed daily to prevent spoilage (Kerr 25).  Mrs. Joe serves the pickled pork and greens as the first course along with the roast stuffed fowl (Dickens 22).

     In the Literary Gourmet, Linda Wolfe names roast goose as the favorite fowl served on the Victorian Christmas table (151).  The eating of goose on ritual occasions or seasonal feast days comes to Western Europe directly from the Celts and Germanic peoples (Toussaint-Samat 337).  Mrs. Joe, likely, offers her family and guests a goose that she first rubbed with butter, flour and salt then browned in hot grease to seal the juices in before roasting (Wolfe 152).  Recall Pip and Joe warming themselves at the chimney corner in the kitchen (Dickens 7).  The chimney in a wooden country house, like the Gargery’s, rose above the roof from the kitchen where women of the era cooked their meals.  Families gathered in the kitchen for its warmth as well.  Mrs. Joe probably roasted her Christmas fowl before a brisk fire without the use a pan, but rather something like a large skewer, and she had to baste the bird often before its own juices began to flow (Wolfe 152). Like other women in her region of southeast England, around Kent, Mrs. Joe roasted the fowl with stuffing inside made of the goose’s liver, breadcrumbs, onions, sage, butter, egg yolk, salt and pepper (Wolfe 153). After Mrs. Joe’s meat courses, her diners still have more than half of the whole meal left to consume, and next comes the mince pie.

 Pip stole mincemeat from a jar in the pantry (Dickens 15).  Mrs. Joe had already made the “handsome mince pie”, so she did not notice any missing (Dickens 22).  Mincemeat has its origins in thirteenth century England when the aristocracy kept large amounts of dried fruits in their larders because varying climate made the storage of fresh fruit impossible.  In addition to the variety it added, dried fruits served to disguise meat past its prime. Mrs. Joe likely served it because of tradition, and almost everybody in England continues to eat mince pies at Christmas, presently (Hale 86).  The World Atlas of Food cites “Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management of 1856-1861” as having the original mincemeat recipe, which bakers continue to use today.  It includes raisins, currants, lean rump steak, beef suet, sugar, candied citron peel, lemon peel, orange peel, nutmeg, apples and brandy all mixed and stored in glass jars to mature for about two weeks (87). The Kerr Home Canning and Freezing book written more than a century later offers the same basic recipe as well (25). However, Kerr promotes the use of a pressure canner, 10 pounds of pressure for 90 minutes. I have found this much too long as the juices tend to flow out of the jars, so I have opted to freezing my annual mince made from my Native American Grandmother’s recipe.  Mincemeat’s function, besides serving as a sweet treat, lay in its relatively long shelf life, essential in not having adequate refrigeration (Davidson 507).  At Pip’s Christmas dinner, the mince pie came just before the “savory pork pie”.

Minced meat continues to be one of my all time favorite luxuries. Take a look at one of my blog entries two years ago with history and a recipe found here: https://peopleandcultures.blog/2018/08/09/history-of-mince-pie-and-a-recipe/

Before Mrs. Joe serves her next to the last item on the menu, she coyly teases her guests, Mr. Wopsle and the Hubbles, with the portly Uncle Pumblechook’s gift of a pork pie.  Lucky for Pip, the teasing delays his sister’s discovery of the missing pie.  Just as Mrs. Joe is about to discover the missing pie, soldiers, looking for the blacksmith to construct leg irons, interrupt the grand dinner.  Thankful at the interruption, Pip thinks of the convict out on the marshes hungrily consuming the pie (Dickens 30).  The British pork pie originates from a medieval tradition, but the practice has changed little in modern times.  Fresh pork seasoned with salt, pepper and lots of sage goes into a hot watercrust pastry case made with boiling salted water, flour and lard heavily kneaded for strength.  The pie, baked in a three-pint basin, measures about eight inches in diameter and four inches high.  When the pie finishes baking, the baker pours rich stock from the trimmings through a hole with a funnel.  The stock congeals when the pie cools.  Pip’s convict enjoys the pork pie cold just as anyone in Britain would eat it (Davidson 624).  Magwitch does exonerate Pip’s thievery, as he is being led to the prison ship, by claiming to have stolen the “wittles” himself. Magwitch offers this gesture to honor Pip for his generosity.  Sadly, for Mrs. Joe, the soldiers’ interruption did overshadow her presentation of the final item on the feast menu: the pudding.

The Pageantry of Christmas illustrates a scene of “Plump Molly Dumpling,” as the epitome of a chubby Victorian housewife plunging her Christmas pudding, cradled in a large white bag, into boiling water (75).  Like Molly Dumpling, Mrs. Joe uses a pudding cloth to hold the pudding while it cooks in a boiling liquor bath.  Her predecessors had to use the stomach or entrails of a sheep or pig to hold the pudding while it cooked, similar to Scottish Haggis, which is not sweet.  The guts were only available at the time of the animal’s slaughter, which did not necessarily coincide with Christmas (Wilson 283). The Christmas pudding recipe dates back hundreds of years before Mrs. Joe put hers on the table.  The recipe varies from region to region with base ingredients that do not change: breadcrumbs, sugar, rich dried fruits, nuts, spices and suet (Hale 87).  Pudding sounds similar to mincemeat without the meat but with flour. Roz Denny notes that most cooks begin their puddings six weeks before Christmas for thorough mingling of the ingredients’ flavors (34).  Mrs. Joe may have rushed her pudding only beginning it the day before (Dickens 12), but Dickens relates the scene with lively beauty.

The author describes the meals in Great Expectations in ways that conjure visions of happiness and grief, and they invite questions about their origins.  Pip and Joe’s humble teas, served by the bitter Mrs. Joe, date back twenty years before their time as a remedy to quell hunger between the long hours of lunch and dinner. Menu items of the teas reflect the household incomes and range from only tea-and-bread to elaborate menus including sweet cakes, scones, butter, jam, and sandwiches. Pip’s teas mostly consist of bread-and-butter with a mug of tea, but when he has tea at Miss Havisham’s, he receives cold meat, a sign of the recluse’s wealth. The shape of Mrs. Joe’s bread loaf, the Coburg, hints at her place of regional residence, a southeast England countryside, and cheese and dairy products provide vital protein, as a white meat, to Pip’s diet even though he must consume his milk watered-down.  The scene with the most tradition, pomp and circumstance shows Mrs. Joe presenting a Christmas meal to friends and family. The meal demonstrates a bountiful household graced with a clever and hardworking mistress. 

Necessity-becomes-tradition describes each item on the Christmas menu. Pickling pork gives it a longer shelf life at the same time imparting flavor to an otherwise mild meat. Sweet dried fruits disguise spoiling meat while providing tastes to satisfy the sweet tooth, and the fruity mass of the Christmas pudding gives everyone at the table something to anticipate.  Pip’s world can be beautiful at times thanks to the delicious meal scenes. 

Next time you read a book, if it features food, try creating the recipe. It may be fun. Also, I have a works cited list if you’re curious. Thank you for reading.

Making Meal Times Special

While this story focuses on making meal times special, notice my featured image. I walk in the cemetery in the mornings before work. The cemetery in my town stands out among cemeteries because there are no restrictions on headstone sizes, as far as I know. The cemetery’s rolling topography with expansive spaces supports many species of flora and fauna! Only a block from my home, the burial space offers inviting views of nature, and it links to a network of trails that lead to the creek. I especially love the stone picnic tables on the trail built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the U.S. depression of the 1930s.

Meals: While walking in nature remains one way to make our day special, we look to our meals as a way to find memorable moments. Given my penchant for cooking, I’ve added pictures to mark such memorable moments. There have been times when we have finished a well-prepared meal only for me to remember that I failed to snap a shot. But then, not all gustation should be chronicled for posterity!

We like to go camping, and we don’t live far from that opportunity. I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and we used to spend many weekends enjoying trees, streams, lakes, and rivers, not to mention a wide variety of four-legged and winged creatures. That’s where my love for camping grew. I like to cook outdoors, too! My husband likes to eat, so we make a fine pair!

Breakfast helps us to begin our day with special contemplation. Something as simple as my homemade granola. Preparing granola is a significant event that takes the better part of a Saturday since I make about 25 pounds (11.34kg) at a time, and I pack it into freezer-safe container. That much granola lasts six to eight months. Pictured above is a bowl of granola with whole milk and a steaming cup of coffee. Eating it from my favorite restaurant ware, Shenango China, makes it extra special. The “vitrified china” from New York and Pennsylvania will have to be a story for another time.

We love granola, and here is a general recipe for my bi-annual mix. Instead of baking the granola in the oven, I use an electric roaster, those used for preparing a turkey!

38 Cups (5.9kg) of rolled oats

3 pounds (1360.78g) mixed raw nuts (I like almonds, filberts, walnuts, pecans, and cashews) Hemp seeds work well, too.

3 pounds of raisins or dried fruit of your choice

3 teaspoons Kitchen pepper (seasoned salt of the 18th century!) This recipe can be found in a previous blog.

4 Tablespoons crushed cardamom, 4 Tablespoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 cup coconut oil (not fractionated) and 3/4 cup of sunflower oil

2 cups honey (use your local honey where possible)

2 cups of sorghum or cane molasses and 1 half cup of pure maple syrup

Heat liquids on the medium heat enough to blend.

Have oats, spices, fruits, nuts, and seasonings set in roaster. Pour the hot oil and sweeteners over the dry ingredients, fruits and nuts. If you bake this in the oven, it will take several batches.

This process takes about three hours. You will know it’s finished when the ingredients begin to clump a bit together.

Store in freezer containers. Keep what you use out on the counter or in a cupboard. Enjoy with yogurt, on ice cream, as a crunchy addition to cooked oatmeal. Also, you can heat the granola with milk to make a creamy hot meal with nuts and fruit.

Breakfast Ice Cream

I call it “breakfast ice cream” because it originally began as a smoothie. My ingredients tend to produce a consistency too thick to be a smoothie. It’s more of a soft serve ice cream, which can be a quite special treat no matter what time of day you eat it. It requires a food processor as opposed to a regular blender since it has frozen fruit. Here’s the lucious outcome:

2 frozen bananas (I cut them into pieces before freezing them) This is a good way to use bananas that are about to over ripen.

1 cup frozen blueberries (about 190g)

1 cup plain yogurt (285g) or a similar non dairy substitute

1 serving of any type of protein powder

2 TBS (18g) Badia Trilogy health seed mix (Flax, chia, hemp)

1/4 cup water (59g) or equivalent in ice

Blend in your food processor (I use a Ninja, which is one-thousand watts). It takes a bit, and you have to scrape it down once in a while, but the end product is about four, 1 cup servings. It’s thick, creamy, sweet, and smooth. Be creative and enjoy!

Eggs Benedict

I love eggs benedict. There are some days I don’t want to consume bread, so I made these with crispy hash browns. I had just eaten a salmon eggs benedict in a restaurant in Kansas City, so I thought I’d try this with Canadian bacon like traditional benedict. I grated potatoes, steamed them in oil with the lid on so that they would cook while the bottom would brown. When the potatoes looked transparent, I flipped them to brown on the other side. This time without the lid. I used the lid to steam them initially.

The Hollandaise sauce came from the Betty Crocker cookbook, and it’s the best-ever. We enjoyed it with espresso, and sometimes we add steamed milk for a luscious cappuccino.

These are just a few of the things I’ve been creating lately. I hope you like it, and I thank you for reading my blog.

Cantigas de Santa Maria: A Musical Exploration of Medieval King Alfonso X of Spain

One of my greatest passions is the music, originally poems authored by King Alfonso X of Castile-Leon, now Spain, from 1252 to 1284. My great love for what the King, referred to “the wise,” or El Sabio, was trying to do with his kingdom, was to bring about unity among Christian, Jewish, and Muslim peoples, though he had inherited separation, and it continued after his death in 1284. Then the Inquisition happened in 1492 along with colonization of the Americas.

What follows here is my transcript for an upcoming holiday special in December. At this point, I know that High Plains Public Radio will run this program, usually, on December 25. We have put it up for national acquisition, so check your local public radio station for listing. I begin, here, with an image of the Learned King, taken in Spain last year by Alfonsine Scholar, Dr. Jessica Knauss.

Embedded in this narrative are the songs, their timings, and their performers. You will see pictures as well.

Prologue: Ensemble Unicorn, CSM #60 2:16

Hello. I’m Debra Bolton, and welcome to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria (The Holy Canticles of St. Mary), Songs and poems in praise of Holy Mary – and the poetic/musical biography of Alfonso, “the wise”, who lived from 1221 to 1284. I appreciate your joining me today. 

King Alfonso ruled his Kingdom of Castile-Leon, now Spain, from 1252 until his death.  We began with Ensemble Unicorn presenting the prologue, which is Cantiga de Santa Maria, which I will refer to as CSM, #60, when the Learned King declares himself Mary’s Troubadour to the “noble lady” and asks her to bestow the inheritance of eternal life and grant Alfonso’s kingdom a place in eternity. Interesting to note, of the 420 Marian poems written by King Alfonso X and his assistants, about every 10th poem is a song of love for the Virgin, and since this is not an “official” prologue, since it has the even number #60, it would also be considered a “cantiga de loor” song of love for Mary.

Now we hear the Prologue of the five festivals, performed by Eduardo Paniagua and his Musica Antigua. Paniagua, a musicologist and an early music instrumentalist, devotes much of his time to researching, performing, and recording the vast catalogue of Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, poems and songs in praise of Holy Mary. This is was from “The Life of Mary” songs of the festivals devoted to her. The number is CSM #410.

CSM #10 Rosa das Rosas, “Cantiga de loor”                             4:01

Throughout the life of King Alfonso X, he devoted himself to learning and being surrounded by the learned.  He believed a learned King and court with great knowledge of the natural world, mathematics, architecture, human behavior, and great discernment could only benefit the people of his kingdom. Being a pluralist, he employed Christian, Jewish, and Muslim in his court to advance learning.

Let’s turn to the marvelous miracles of Mary found in CSM#37.  This is a story of Mary healing a man with a sorely infected and inflamed foot.  When Mary went to the church to heal the man, there she found many other who needed healing.  The poem tells us that because they believed that Mary would heal them, so it happened.  Antequera                    6:17

CSM Como Poden   Hesperus                                                                3:36

You just heard Hesperus, founded by the late Scott Reiss and Tina Chancey. Named for the Venus and the West Wind, Hesperus specializes in exploring musical parallels between the Old World and the New in what they sometimes call, Medieval Fusion.  Band member Tina Chancey continues an active performance and teaching schedule in the Washington DC area with music of the Sefardi.

Later in this program, we will explore how this music continues to inspire musicians, musicologists, historians, and other social scientists.

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of Spain’s King Alfonso X and his praise to the Virgin Mary.  I’m your host, Debra Bolton

Instrumental, CSM #323, Musica Antigua, “Nino de Coria”             3:13

                                                                   Total Time (music) 25:33

End of Segment 1

Segment 2

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the holy canticles of the Virgin Mary in music, poetry, and art.  My name is Debra Bolton.  I am your host for this special music.  If you go out to my website on WordPress, you will find examples of some of the art that corresponds with the songs and poetry. King Alfonso employed artists to create two and three-dimensional works of art to correspond to the poems and songs, which would have made the Learned King an early pioneer in multi-media (Knauss, interview, 2018).  Now, here we are putting it all in digital form!  Some scholars point of the works of art, the songs and the poems as Alfonso’s way to teach morality to the subjects of his kingdom on many levels.  While those in his court were, themselves, learned and well-educated people, there were many in his kingdom who, perhaps, could not read or write.  Hence the need for the lessons on morality in more than written forms.

Let’s continue with the miracles performed for the people in Alfonso the X’s Kingdom.  Some of the miracles awarded people for their faith while some punished people for their transgressions. We hear CSM#163, “The Gambler who renounced the Virgin.”  A gambler, playing dice in Huesca, lost everything and renounced the Virgin. He was instantly crippled and struck dumb. He could not move from that place, and if he wanted something, he had to gesture for it. Using sign language, he asked to be taken to Salas. At Salas, he gazed at the Virgin’s statue and asked her pardon. The Virgin healed him and he praised her from then on.  Performed here, by another Alfonsine scholar, Maestro Jordi Savall, and his Hesperion 20 featuring the late soprano, Montseratt Figueres.

CSM# 163                                                                             4:53.

Go to Esther Lamandier and CSM #159 Cantiga de Loor    4:56

Back announce Esther Lamandier:

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the holy canticles of the Virgin Mary in music, poetry, and art.  I’m the producer and your host, Debra Bolton.  I began exploring the history of the CSM, because I found the tunes, songs, poems, and art pieces so wonderfully extraordinary with their passion and multimedia approaches.  I love the instruments of the time, too.

The poems and songs employ the language of the time, which is Galician-Portuguese, Medieval Galician, or as some linguists and historians simply call the language, Romance, the root language of Castilian, the language of Spain. 

After 1492, in addition to colonizing the lands and its people, Spain, also, colonized the languages of the Americas and the Caribbean. Since the so called, “first contact,” we saw Castilian overwhelming, and often erasing, many Native languages of the islands and the continents, thanks to the Doctrine of Discovery establishing a  so called, “spiritual, political, and legal” justification for colonization and seizure of land NOT inhabited by Christians.  Again, the Spanish we hear today differs widely from that of the CSM and Alfonso X’s time.  However, you don’t need to understand Galician-Portuguese to enjoy this music, known for its complex musical structures and its use of what we now call, ancient instruments.  Let’s turn to two more miracles, “The Baby Rescue” and The Priest who steels an altar cloth, performed by the Martin Best Ensemble

CSM #7 (Pregnant Abbess)CSM #327 (Priest who steels altar cloth)

An abbess became pregnant by her steward. The nuns in her charge discovered her indiscretion and were vindictive. They accused the abbess to their bishop, who travelled from Cologne. He summoned her.

After meeting with the bishop, the abbess prayed to the Virgin. Mary appeared to her, as if in a dream, and had the baby delivered and sent to Soissons to be raised. The abbess appeared before the bishop and he made her undress. He declared her innocent and berated the nuns.

A church dedicated to the Virgin stood outside the town of Odemira. It was a venerable church and many miracles were performed there. A woman offered to the church a finely woven altar cloth. It measured a little more than a vara. A priest admired the cloth and coveted it. He stole it and took it to his house. He had a pair of underpants fashioned from it.

He put on his new underwear and lay down, but he could not sleep because his heels began to press into his thighs. The pain was excruciating, and, confessing his sin, he called on the Virgin. He repented and had a large linen cloth placed on the altar. He was taken to the church and everyone prayed for him to the Virgin. She cured him and they praised her name.

Both songs 5:20

We heard the Martin Best Ensemble with Cantigas de Santa Maria performing CSM 7 and 327, the miracles of the Pregnant Abbess and the Priest who stole an altar cloth. 

You’re listening to this holiday special, Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of 13th Century King of Spain, Alfonso, the wise.  I am Debra Bolton, your host.

As we continue in this exploration of this very small part of King Alfonso X’s tribute to the Virgin Mary, my references come from the writings of Dr. Jessica Knauss, whose books continue to inspire me. Coming up in the next segment, I will explore Dr. Knauss’ book, Violence in the Cantigas de Santa Maria. In addition, I refer to the writing of  Professor Joseph F. O’Callahan, Mr. Andrew Casson, Maestro Jordi Savall, Maestro Eduardo Paniagua, John Esten Keller, Robert I. Burn, Editor of “The Emperor of Culture” and from Oxford Univesity’s CSM database.

Let’s take a moment to talk about some of the instruments that you’re hearing on this musical journey of 13th Century Spain, then called, Castile-Leon. 

Shawm – 12th c conical bored double reed instrument of Middle Eastern origin, a precursor of the oboe. Like the oboe, it is conically bored; but its bore, bell, and finger holes are wider, and it has a wooden disk (called a pirouette, on European shawms) that supports the lips

Recorder – Yes.  That woodwind instrument that many of us learned in grade school. We hear this in the CSM, usually, on a wider variety of wood recorders.

Organetto – a small portable organ, which you heard performed by Esther Lamandier

Oud – Literally, wood in Arabic, short-necked, pear-shaped with 11 – 13 strings grouped in 5, 6, or 7 courses.  A few of the oud players that stand oud are Driss El Maloumi, a group called 3MA and Halk Egitim Merkezi Yalova, both Maloumi and Yalova perform with Jordi Savall’s Hesperion groups.  The Oud is considered the most important instrument in Middle Eastern Music.  

Qanun (a.k.a., kanun, ganoun, kanoon) an Arabic stringed instrument, introduced to Europe in the 12th Century.  It’s played on the lap with picks that surround both index fingers, and the player can change the pitch of the strings with brass levers.

Hurdy Gurdy, a.k.a. Viola de Rueda, and the Zanfona.  Here we hear this instrument in Musica Antigua and by a group called, BIDAIA, featuring Caroline Phillips.

Vielle – the Medieval fiddle with five strings and six tied frets.

Rebec – A three-string “fiddle” often held between the legs as it’s played.

Viola de Gamba – (a.k.a., Viol or gamba), a six-stringed instrument, said to be a precursor of the four-stringed cello.  The Gamba, usually, is much larger and has frets, like a guitar. Pictured here, the great Jordi Savall.

Gaita – Galician bag pipe, also common in Portugal.  We’ll hear the Gaita in the next hour of this musical journey. Pictured here, Cristina Pato.

Duduk – Double reed Armenian flute, featuring those mournful, lamenting tones.

Let’s listen to another Cantiga de Loor, a lively dance, CSM#20 and CSM#353 –  A rich man in Venice sent his son to live in a monastery to be raised by the abbot. The abbot, who called the boy his son, let him play in the cloister. While playing, the boy would go into the church to admire a statue of the Virgin and Child.  Captivated by the Christ Child, the boy visited often and gave the Christ Child food. He promised to bring the Christ Child food every day, for 15 days, and encouraged him to eat. Then the statue of the Child spoke to the boy, bidding him to eat at his Father’s table the next day.

The abbot noticed that the boy was growing thin. The boy said that he had been sharing his food with the Child on the altar and said that the Christ Child had asked him to dinner. That night both the abbot and the boy fell ill; at the sixth hour they were taken to heaven.

Performed here by the Swiss Medieval music ensemble Freiburg Spielleyt. (Free-borg Schpee-loyta), we hear CSM#20 and CSM#353       7:10

-Freiburg Spielleyt performing CSM #20 and CSM #353 here on Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of King Alfonso X.

You’re listening to a musical journey of 13th Century Spain’s King Alfonso the X and his devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Alfonso X ruled from 1252 to 1284.  To put the world into perspective at the time, the English language continued to change from its Germanic-rooted Olde English of the Beowulf poet (circa 9th or 10th century) after the Norman invasion of 1066. In the next century, we hear the English of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Gawain Poet.  Europeans now use Arabic numerals in favor of Roman Numerals. In the Mongol Empire, Mongke, officially, marks the worship of his grandfather, Genghis Khan while Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity flourish. The Inca Empire of Peru is thriving. England begins the process of segregation of Jewish peoples, and other countries begin to follow suit. The Mexica people, also known as Aztecs are building their great city on a lake in what is now Mexico City. King Alfonso X’s bid to be King of the Holy Roman Empire fails in favor of Count Rudolf, bringing prominence to the Habsburg family, Rudolf was considered mediocre as Alfonso was to ambitious.

This body of work was written in the language of the time, Galician-Portuguese. Scholars argue today that Galician and Portuguese are dialects of the same language. As you hear it, it will remind you more of Portuguese than of Castilian, the root language of modern day Spanish, and you will hear the softly spoken syllables of the Portuguese language, Portugal being directly south of Galicia, which was home to the Celts the Sephardim, the Jewish peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. We hear now from the band, Milladoiro (Millan-dwowro), often compared to Ireland’s Chieftains. Performing on the regional instruments of the Gaita (Galician bagpipes) Ullean pipes, flutes, whistles, button accordions along with guitar and bouzouki.  We hear their interpretation of CSM #49, The Lost Pilgrims led to Soissons by the Virgin after they lost their way in the mountains and prayed to her. It will be followed by a traditional Galician tune, Alalás da Ulla.

CSM#49                       4:41

Alalás da Ulla              4:49

Traditional, Alalas da Ulla – You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of King Alfonso X, I’m your host, Debra Bolton.                              

Hour 2, Segment One:

Begin with the Prologue by Waverly Consort   Cuts 1 and 2: 3:45

Hello, and welcome to hour two of Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the musical biography of Medieval King of Castile-Leon, Alfonso X, the wise and learned.  I’m your host, Debra Bolton.

We just heard an interpretation of the prologue, where the wise King announces himself in the role as the Virgin Mary’s troubadour.   The Waverly Consort, founded by Kay and the recently deceased Michael Jaffe performed that piece.

Alfonsine scholar, Dr. Jessica Knauss describes the importance of the Cantigas de Santa Maria saying, “The most appropriate single adjective for the corpus of cultural work produced under Alfonso X is ‘encyclopedic.’” He wrote books of history, astronomy/astrology, law, poetry and music.  Even his written leisure activities continue to survive the vagaries of time, bearing the King’s name as patron or author.”

In Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the CSM, we witness a general feeling that 13th century Castile is a rather unsafe place populated with people who engage in counter-productive behavior, according to Dr. Knauss. However, a point to ponder would be to write songs and poems, or commission works of arts to correspond with the songs and poems that contrasted good and evil.  How are we to know what is righteous if we don’t know what is truly evil, asks the learned king. For example, CSM 34 tells the story of a man who disgraced an image of the Virgin hanging in a street in Constantinople. The man finished his deed by throwing the image in a latrine. As the story goes, the devil killed him and the people washed the image and cleaned it with sweet spices. From then on, the image emitted a sweet smelling oil as a testimony of this event. We hear Ensemble Alcatraz, from their album “Visions and Miracles.” (Cut 6, 8:04).

That was Ensemble Alcatraz, from their album “Visions and Miracles,” CSM#34, the story of a man’s not-so-nice deeds.

For more perspective of the time, King Henry III ruled England about the same time Alfonso X ruled Castile-Leon, the greater part of what is now known as Spain.  While El Sabio ruled his lands with Christians, Muslims, and Jewish peoples living and studying side-by-side with some appreciation and great tolerance, it would not be until 208 years later that Isabella and Ferdinand would expel all non-Christians and the time Christopher Columbus would set sail for Asia but landed in the Americas, which changed extensively the lives that he touched. Before that, well-civilized Indigenous tribes had not yet had contact with European colonialists. The surnames that most people connect with Latin American countries were the surnames of their Spanish conquerors.  During and after the inquisition, many non-Christians, Jewish and Muslim people, added the suffixes of –ez, -es, or -os to their surnames. For example, the Muslim man, Alvar, became Alvarez.  The Jewish man, Martin became Martinez.  Consistent with most surnames, there remained a connection to the family trade or place of origins.   The Herrera were Jewish iron-smiths.  Those hailing from Galicia, or Galego, were the Gallegos. 

The music of the time, including the Cantigas de Santa Maria, demonstrate a heavy influence of the people who were in Castile-Leon.  Here we have interpretations of CSM performed by Camerata Mediterranean under the direction of Joel Cohen and Mohammed Briouel.  We hear two Cantiga de Loor, the songs of love, CSM #230 and #130                                                        (Cuts 8 and 9, 7:00)

(Follow with Voice of the Turtle – La Prima Vez  (Cut 1, 3:10)

Poder a Santa Maria – Syfonye, Taquism   (Cut 5, 3:21)

Second Segment, Second Hour

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria on this public radio station. I’m your host, Debra Bolton, and I appreciate that you’re here with me today.

Before that short break we heard a group based in Massachusetts and Turkey called, Voice of the Turtle exploring the music of the Spanish Jewish peoples of Spain an Turkey.

(Go directly to the Prologue and Cantiga de Loor performed by Theatrum Instrumentorum (Cuts 1 and 2, 4:34)

That was Theatrum Instrumentorum performing a prologue, speaking of Alfonso’s devotion to the Virgin Mary followed by a song of love, Cantiga de Loor.

El Sabio, King Alfonso the X ascended the throne of Castile-Leon, now Spain, in 1252 and immediately devoted himself to the creation of new laws, the Siete Partidas (seven parts) and the Fuero Real (Royal Municipal Code), both of which continue to be in effect here in the 21st Century. 

Alfonsine scholar, Dr. Jessica Knauss posits that the CSM continue to be a testament by which the king wished to be remembered after his death. That means that we, also, are part of the intended audience.  Knauss continues that the learned king, likely, did not fathom this kind of dissemination, now in this digital age.  She says, “With these technologies, it grants scholars who study the CSM a place in his highly exclusive circle of apprentices.”

Here we have a group focused on the music of the Middle Ages with their interpretation of CSM#100. Then we hear from another of the great and contemporary apprentices of Alfonso X is Eduardo Paniagua who leads the Musica Antigua, performing CSM#77, the story of a contorted woman in Lugo, who prayed to the Virgin and since was relieved of her paralysis.

Sonus  (Cut 2, 4:31)

Musica Antigua, CSM #77 (Cut 2, 4:58)

That was Musica Antigua with CSM#77 in which you heard the hurdy gurdy, a chorus, flutes, psaltry, and Egyptian hand drum, among others. Before that, Sonus, featuring Hazel Ketchum, and their interpretation of a song of love to the Virgin.

In my exploration of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, I continue to celebrate the creativity in which musicians arrange their interpretations of the CSM into their musical genres.  Hesperus is one of the band who have made Medieval and Appalachian genres sit very well side by side.  This is a song made popular by Doc Watson, Little Sadie with a CSM tune woven in. We’ll follow that with Jazz guitarist, Frederick Hand and his interpretation of a CSM tune. 

Thank you for listening to Cantigas de Santa Maria, I’m Debra Bolton (Pictured here with Jordi Savall)

Hesperus, (Cut 4, 3:44)

Frederick Hand – CSM 100, (Disk#67, Cut 3, 4:36)

Thank you for reading, and I hope you get to listen to this show on your local public radio station.

Remembering Riki

Yes. My featured image is fuzzy, to say the least, but I want to share the story of Riki.  She’s the loved one in the middle of her friends who are kissing her, which epitomizes the life of our daughter, Riki. We lost her nearly five years ago, and Sunday, September 27, 2020 would have been her 39th birthday.

While, not a day goes by that she’s not on our minds, I take the day of her birth to remember. Often, those remembrances come by her presence in photos and artwork, or by the sound of her voice emanating out of her, now, 12 year old daughter. Her sons exhibit her soul when they demonstrate empathy for others and by their senses of humor, which make Riki ever-present in our minds and hearts.

Our son, Stevie, often shows Riki’s expressions when he’s run out of patience for “stupid” people, and his language certainly echoes shades of his sister. The more expletives, the more he sounds like her. If you can raise your children to be best friends, do it. Riki and Stevie were always best friends, and I know he talks to her daily. I see the same closeness in Riki’s three children. The eldest anticipates his high school graduation and takes college classes now! Our granddaughter made known her worries about big brother “leaving us” to live on his own during college and eventually off to work. The middle child demonstrates his responsibility by having a job and maintaining a car.  The three interact with great love, and, like most siblings, have their disagreements, but come back to each other at the end of the day.  I love when siblings depend on each other emotionally. That makes for life-long friends when siblings feel that deep connection to one another.

Interesting thing, for me, about Riki and Stevie is that they, were, and are great in the kitchen. Riki specialized in homemade noodles, breads, and creative dishes. She could look in our refrigerator at the random things, and come up with a great meal.

Stevie, also, specializes in breads, meat dishes, and the creative process in the kitchen.  He’s a building contractor, and I think he approaches baking and cooking much the same way he meets the challenges of building a house, a deck, or any structure he’s hired to build.  In the end, he creates some memorable feasts, such as meat pies, hamburgers encased in their own buns, and “steak au frites!”

Celebrating the life of a child who has passed from this life, which no parent should ever have to do, surely means we learn to live with the loss, and we find ways to live with our “new normal.” We celebrate our son, Stevie, and continue to find daily joys in our grandchildren.  Stevie has a son, who we love dearly for his spirit, his no-nonsense approach to life, and his laugh.  Riki’s children give us joy as we watch them mature into wonderful young adults. 

Riki taught us how to love life, how to gather friends around us (even if at a distance as per the challenges of living during a pandemic), how to appreciate the little things, and how to find the greatest joy in music and nature.

We learn that it’s okay to grieve.  It is not a weakness to grieve the loss of a loved one.  No amount of “faith in a higher power” should lessen our ability to grieve a loss.  Yes. That faith may be part of how one survives the loss and navigates the daily sense of loss, but by no means should we work to replace ignore those feelings.  If you suffer a loss, such as that of a child, sibling, parent, etc. grieve as you see fit.  Face it head on, which is much healthier, emotionally and physically, than stuffing or ignoring the emotions after the loss of a loved one.  Feel it. Face it directly.  Yes. Painful though it is, we come out in a better place. Grief does not go away by ignoring it.

In all this, I have not found great books on grief.  I would dream of writing a book on the subject one day.  I do know one thing.  Self-care and grace for one self is key to its survival.

Thank you for reading my blog.