14 Dec 2018

Reconstructing the Recipe for the Soul Cake

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Atlas Obscura:

Last month, a challenge from Durham University spurred bakers to whip up a soul cake, a bygone bun once integral to a medieval tradition of feeding the poor and honoring the dead. But, in the spirit of competitive baking reality shows, there was a catch: Nobody really knows how, traditionally, it was supposed to be baked.

We know generally what soul cakes looked like, and what was inside of them. We know that bakers crafted them into small, round, square, or oval buns—garnishing the top with currants in the shape of a cross. And we know its purpose: Giving a soul cake to someone in poverty allegedly freed a departed soul from Purgatory. But we’re still in the dark about its intended taste and texture, and exactly how to go about concocting a soul cake in true medieval fashion.

“We have a recipe from a household book from 1604 compiled by a certain Lady Elinor Fettiplace that includes a recipe for a soul cake,” says Dr. Barbara Ravelhofer, a professor of English literature at Durham University and facilitator of the soul cake challenge. “However, it doesn’t give us the quantities—nor does it tell us how long to bake it. So you have to work out for yourself what to do with the ingredients.” Spearheaded by Dr. Ravelhofer and the Records of Early English Drama North East team, the Great Northern Soul Cake Bake doubles as a competition and crowdsourcing project. By challenging the public to decode the bare-bones recipe, the research team hopes to understand and resurrect the original soul cake—as well as the tradition that surrounds it.

Soul cakes are connected to Britain’s early Christian celebrations known as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Halloween-like festivities commemorating the recently departed. On November 2nd, beggars would weave their way through the chilly darkness, rapping on wealthy homeowners’ doors in exchange for a soul cake. But obtaining it was no cake walk. To successfully soul, one had to sing for sweets.

Whether it be musical or theatrical, souling required performance in exchange for a cake—a tradition that looks a lot like modern-day trick-or-treating. And, though it’s impossible to definitively claim souling as the progenitor of tricking and treating, Dr. Ravelhofer says they’re certainly connected. However, she points out, there are key differences. “A soul-caker was somebody who did something to obtain something,” she says. “Whereas trick-or-treating strikes me as, ‘Give me something or else I’ll do something.’”

Demanding candy door-to-door, she posits, is a “slightly degenerated, commercialized form” of the All Souls’ Day transactions of medieval Europe. Souling, Dr. Ravelhofer adds, also had a strong connection to charity and memoriam. The act of doling out freshly baked goods, while thinking of a “poor, departed soul,” filled two needs with one deed, giving to the hungry and freeing a soul in question from Purgatory in one fell swoop.

While vestigial remnants of this practice can still be found in some parts of England, the tradition of souling, and the cakes that came with it, have since disappeared—until now.

To more fully understand the history and tradition of All Souls Day, Dr. Ravelhofer and her team devised the bake off. The technical challenge (the first of a series of three) called for readers to recreate a successful iteration of the festive bun using only Elinor Fettiplace’s 17th-century recipe, which reads:

    “Take flower & sugar & nutmeg & cloves & mace & sweet butter & sack & a little ale barm, beat your spice & put in your butter & your sack, cold, then work it well all together & make it in little cakes & so bake them, if you will you may put in some saffron into them or fruit.”

Folks from across the globe responded, submitting recipes, photographs, and anecdotes via email, Facebook, and Twitter, with results ranging from wild successes to valiant flops.
“We had proper food archaeologists who really got into the spirit of things, and then we had candidates who tried to microwave it,” says Dr. Ravelhofer.

David Petts, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University, posted about his soul cakes on his personal blog, likening them to “slightly dense hot-cross buns.” Another participant found that using a ruby or dark ale gave the cakes a soft, chewy texture. Yet another made a successful stoneground cake by adding rye, theorizing that medieval bakers may have used additional grains.

But cataloguing the failed cakes, Dr. Ravelhofer says, has been just as informative as admiring the more edible ones.

Understanding what doesn’t work, and why, allows historians to do detective work when it comes to understanding what the recipe may or may not have looked like.

RTWT

13 Dec 2018

Monet, Renoir, Rodin, Degas on Film

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12 Dec 2018

Hamburger on the Administrative State

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12 Dec 2018

10 Tales of the Conquistadors

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Boy, would these stories trigger the snowflakes of color on any major college campus these days! Listverse:

Although nearly all of the conquistadors were men, there were a few women who participated in the conquests. Maria de Estrada, who was nicknamed the “Great Lady,” was probably the first white woman to set foot in the Americas. Estrada and her husband, Pedro Sanchez Farfan, spent time in Hispaniola and Cuba before investing and enlisting in Hernan Cortes’s expedition to Mexico in 1519.

Estrada was a full-fledged soldier, unwilling to receive special treatment because she was a woman. She participated in every battle and is believed to have been quite skilled with the sword. Her greatest moment was considered to be her fighting in La Noche Triste (“The Night of Sadness”), the conquistadors’ disastrous retreat from the Aztec capital on June 30, 1520. After the conquest of the Aztecs in 1521, Cortes rewarded Estrada for her brave service with two towns in Morelos.

RTWT

12 Dec 2018

How Salt and Pepper Became Our Leading Condiments

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Gizmodo:

They’re staples on every American dining table and the requisite ingredients in virtually every European cuisine, so inseparable that polite society dictates they always be passed together. Salt and pepper are the undisputed champions of condiments—but how did they get so popular?

RTWT

12 Dec 2018

Art Noveau Architecture

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————————–

Lavirotte Building (1901), 29 Avenue Rapp, 7th arrondissement, Paris.

I bet people who live here smile every time they see that doorway.

11 Dec 2018

Bring Back Motorcycle Fenders!

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“Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines.”

-– Enzo Ferrari

11 Dec 2018

Sweet Valley High

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Nigerian-born Bim Adewunmi fell in love as a teenager with the characters and California milieu of the (My god! there were nowhere nearly that many Hardy boys books.) 181-volume young adult series Sweet Valley High.

Last night I dreamt I went to Sweet Valley again.

I dreamt I went to high school with Bruce Patman, Lila Fowler, Todd Wilkins, and of course, the most important fictional twins of my young life, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. I dreamt I knew those twins — identical in every way, right down to their perfect size-six figures, honey-blonde hair, and aquamarine eyes. At one point in my life, I thought about these twins and the assorted all-American boys and girls that made up their high school class as often as I did anything of significance in life. The novelistic tales of the Wakefields and their frenemies, pals, and rivals were interwoven with the fabric of my own real life in a way that felt close to irreversible. My school transcripts might suggest otherwise, but I know in my heart that I attended Sweet Valley High.

For those who weren’t there, or choose not to remember, Sweet Valley was the fictional town created by New York author Francine Pascal (now 80), and the setting for a series of young adult books that shook the world for generations of readers. The first of what would go on to expand to 181 books was published when I was barely a year old, in 1983, but I know that when I first got my hands on them, a decade later, everything still felt fresh, exciting, and, oddly enough, very relatable.

In the Wakefield twins — perpetually 16 years old or thereabouts — I found a sort of kinship. These blondes were as familiar to me as any single one of my friends at my all-girls boarding school in the southern Nigerian city of Sagamu, one state over from our home in Lagos. I knew them intimately and could probably have picked them out in a crowd of similarly blonde and peppy Californian teenagers with no difficulty. The sun beating over my head was a few time zones and thousands of miles away, but it was the same sun. And most days that was enough.

RTWT

I can understand. When I was in elementary school, I absolutely loved the Rick Brant Science Adventure series. Who would not, as a small boy, want to live on an island, have access to a laboratory, get to help adult scientists, and own his own airplane?


Bim Adewunmi.

11 Dec 2018

A Catfishing Story with a Happy Ending

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“Ronnie” (left); Alan (right).

53-year-old short, balding Alan Stanley tricked twenty-odd-years-younger Emma Perrier into an on-line romantic relationship by “catfishing,” i.e. presenting a false photo (a picture of a young, hunky Turkish model) and a false identity on an Internet matchmaking app called Zoosk.

Pathetic and despicable? Perhaps, but oddly enough, the old deceiver’s trick led to a happy ending (though not actually the one the reader is likely to expect).

The Atlantic has the story.

Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 mending a broken heart, after a recent breakup. By September, the restaurant manager had grown tired of watching The Notebook alone in her apartment in Twickenham, a leafy suburb southwest of London, and decided it was time to get back out there. Despite the horror stories she’d heard about online dating, Emma, 33, downloaded a matchmaking app called Zoosk. The second “o” in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which suggested that its 38 million members were seeking more than the one-night stands offered by apps like Tinder.

To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app.

She snapped the three selfies the app required to “verify her identity.” Emma, who is from a volcanic city near the French Alps, not far from the source of Perrier mineral water, is petite, and brunette. She found it difficult to meet men, especially as she avoided pubs and nightclubs, and worked such long hours at a coffee shop in the city’s financial district that she met only stockbrokers, who were mostly looking for cappuccinos, not love. …

As soon as her dating profile went live, Emma’s phone started to bleep and whistle with interest from strangers. The app allowed her to gaze at a vast assortment of suitors like cakes in a coffee-shop window, but not interact with them until she subscribed. That evening, a private message arrived in her inbox. It was from a dark-haired Italian named Ronaldo “Ronnie” Scicluna, who looked to Emma like a high-school crush. …

Ronnie seemed exciting, so she paid the £25 ($34) subscription to Zoosk.

Ronnie’s message materialized. It said: “You look beautiful.”

A rally followed. Emma discovered that she and Ronnie were two lonely Europeans working blue-collar jobs in England. Charming Ronnie attempted a little French, but when Emma wrote to him in Italian, she was surprised that he didn’t speak it. His mother was English, Ronnie explained, his Italian father spoke English too, “except when he swears.”

Their conversation moved from Zoosk onto WhatsApp, a free messaging app. Each morning on the train to work, Emma sat glued to her iPhone. She wondered how a guy like him was interested in her. “I’m very natural,” Emma said. “I mean, I’m nothing. I’m very simple you know … so I was flattered.” In her favorite photograph, Ronnie wore a leather jacket that made him look like a pop star. As a teenager, Emma had obsessed over the British boy band Take That. But Ronnie was the opposite of a celebrity; he was down-to-earth.

“You could easily have picked someone else,” Ronnie told her one day.

“No. You’re the only one I wanted to talk to … I paid because of you,” she replied.

“As soon as I saw your picture I wanted you,” he wrote.

“Makes me happy to know that,” Emma replied.

When four red heart emojis appeared on her screen, Emma was thrilled. Unlike her ex-boyfriend, Ronnie seemed mature and attentive. Ronnie was easy on the eyes, funny, and caring, but there was one problem: He did not exist.

Ronaldo Scicluna was a fictional character created by Alan Stanley, a short, balding, 53-year-old shop fitter—a decorator of retail stores. Alan lived alone in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Like one of the Bard’s shape-shifting characters, Alan used a disguise to fool women into romance, and to prevent himself from getting hurt. His alter ego “Ronnie” was a ladies’ man, charming, and attractive—everything Alan was not.

RTWT

10 Dec 2018

Russia Lining Up Tanks Near Ukraine Border

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Defense Blog:

Satellite imagery from Google Earth taken on November shows hundreds of Russian main battle tanks at a new military base on the outskirts of the Kamensk-Shakhtinsky.

The large-scale military base only 18 kilometers away from the border with toward rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine. Images show hundreds of main battle tank like as T-64 and also T-62M, while a thousand military trucks, artillery systems and tankers are located slightly higher.

Russia has been ramping up its forces near the border with Ukraine since August and now poses the greatest military threat since 2014, the year Moscow annexed Crimea, the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

Muzhenko said Russian troop levels were at “the highest” since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and then deployed forces to eastern Ukraine.

“In front of us is an aggressor who has no legal, moral or any other limits,” he said. “It is very difficult to predict when it will occur to him to begin active combat actions against Ukraine.”

10 Dec 2018

Boxing

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Women Boxing on Roof, New York City, 1930.

10 Dec 2018

“Baby, Just Go Outside!”

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