Archive for July, 2009
With all the discussion of the fact that a potato blight led to the death of nearly one quarter of Ireland’s population in the mid-18th century, a major question remains unanswered: what did the Irish do with all of those potatoes before the famine? Below, selected spud specialties of pre-famine Eire.
Irish Potato Soup
2 lb. potatoes (6 medium potatoes)
1 tbs. butter
6 cups skim milk or a mixture of whole milk and water
chopped chives or parsley
2 medium sized onions or leeks
1 cup light cream
6 strips bacon, crisply fried and crumbled (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1) Peel and slice potatoes. Peel and slice onions.
2) Melt butter in a saucepan. Add the onions (or leeks) and cook gently until soft.
3) Add potatoes and season to taste. Stir.
4) Add milk or milk water mixture. Cover the saucepan. Cook over low heat one hour.
5) Prepare bacon.
6) Puree potato-onion mix in a blender. Add cream and reheat.
7) Serve sprinkled with chopped chives or parsley and bacon.
Boxty pancakes are a traditional Irish potato dish served on the eve of All Saints’ Day, Halloween. Boxty also can
be baked as a kind of potato bread.
1 cup raw potatoes
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
large knob of butter, melted
1/2 cup of milk
1) Peel and grate potatoes. Drain liquid. Separate fluid from starch. Mix starch with grated and mashed pota-
2) Mix grated potatoes, mashed potatoes, flour, salt, melted butter or margarine, baking powder, and milk to
make a thick batter that will still pour.
3) Lightly oil a frying pan. Spoon mixture on the pan. Cook both sides over a moderate heat.
4) Serve with butter or sprinkled with sugar.
Colcannon (Potato and Cabbage Casserole)
1 lb. potatoes (3 medium potatoes)
4 cups water
1 lb. green cabbage (1/2 medium head)
1 large onion
1/4 cup skim milk
1 tbs. butter or margarine
salt and pepper to taste
1) Boil potatoes in lightly salted water for 40 minutes until they are very tender but not mushy. Drain the
potatoes and save the cooking liquid. Set the potatoes aside to cool.
2) Shred the cabbage. Chop onion.
3) Use the potato water (add more water if necessary to cover the vegetables) to boil the cabbage and onion
for about 10 minutes until softened. Drain the vegetables and set them aside.
4) When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin, place the potatoes in a bowl, add the milk
and margarine, and mash them until they are smooth.
5) Add the boiled cabbage, onion and salt and pepper to the potato mixture. Mix.
6) Transfer to a greased baking dish. Before serving, heat in a moderately hot oven (15 minutes at 350 degrees).
(All recipes from A Taste of Ireland: Irish Traditional Food, by Theodora Fitzgibbon)
What Do You Think? »
Shaken, Not Stirred please...
Anyone who is familiar with the beloved James Bond book and movie franchise knows that the fictional British secret service agent takes his martinis “shaken, not stirred.” Bond’s idiosyncratic preference has long puzzled mixologists, scientists and laypeople alike, as conventional wisdom holds that a proper gin martini is in fact stirred, not shaken. As such, Bond fans, martini connoisseurs and even biochemists have investigated what factors may have motivated Bond’s iconoclastic preference.
Biochemists have cited three main differences between a stirred and shaken martini: 1) A shaken martini is usually colder than a stirred martini, since the ice has swirled around the drink more; 2) Shaking a martini dissolves air into the cocktail, thereby “bruising” the gin and sharpening the its taste; and 3) A shaken martini dissolves more of the vermouth, giving the cocktail a less oily mouth feel. Thus, one could conclude that Bond simply preferred his martinis ice cold, strong and light on the vermouth.
However, the most plausible theory has come from die hard Bond fans themselves, who have suggested that Bond actually drank vodka martinis. They cite a passage in the first Bond book, Casino Royale (1953), where he provides the bartender with a recipe for his favorite cocktail, dubbed “The Vesper.” This cocktail, named after the comely double agent in the book, contains the following ingredients:
3 measures of Gordon’s Gin
1 measure of vodka
1/2 measure Kina Lillet vermouth
Shake it very well until its ice cold; pour into a deep champagne glass. Garnish with a slice of lemon peel.
Old school cocktail enthusiasts maintain that a traditional martini must be made with gin, dry vermouth and either an olive or a lemon peel. If anything else is added to the concoction, it ceases to be a “real” martini. However, a vodka martini either substitutes vodka for the gin, or is added to the gin like “The Vesper.” Because cocktails with vodka are always served very cold, “The Vesper” may explain why Bond preferred his “martini” shaken instead of stirred.
What Do You Think? »
Similar to the longstanding urban legend claiming that Michael Jackson’s prosthetic nose flew off and struck an astonished audience member during a concert, actress Jamie Lee Curtis has been plagued by the decades-old rumor that she was actually born a hermaphrodite and/or suffers from Testicular feminization syndrome. Testicular feminization syndrome, also known as complete Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), is a genetic disorder that that renders XY fetuses unresponsive to androgens (male hormones, including testosterone). This insensitivity to androgens prevents a genetically male fetus from developing male body parts and other physical characteristics. Thus, people with this disorder are born looking female, even though they are genetically male: internally, they have testes (located either in the abdomen or the inguinal canal), but externally they have a vaginal opening (with no uterus). It is estimated that complete AIS occurs in 1 in 20,000 live births.
Because a person with complete AIS externally appears female, the disorder usually remains undetected until puberty, when a girl would normally begin to menstruate. A person with AIS might have little or no pubic or armpit hair; however, they frequently have luxurious scalp hair (and do not develop male pattern baldness later in life). Upon the commencement of puberty, a person with AIS will develop breasts, but do not menstruate and are infertile, as they lack a uterus.
AIS can be diagnosed with a pelvic sonogram, genetic testing and/or blood work. Once diagnosed with the syndrome, a person will usually begin estrogen replacement therapy, as the syndrome sharply increases the likelihood of developing osteoporosis later in life. Moreover, the testicular tissue is usually removed after puberty, because of an increased risk of developing cancer.
Despite the widespread dissemination of this urban legend, only circumstantial evidence has been put forward in support of the claim that Jamie Lee Curtis actually has AIS. Proponents of this rumor cite her “androgynous” appearance, “gender-bending” name and the fact that she and her husband, actor Christopher Guest, adopted their two children. Interestingly, the longevity of the rumor is often attributed to the fact that it is spoken of as a given in medical school classrooms and textbooks, despite the fact that she has never been mentioned in any medical textbooks or journals to date.
What Do You Think? »
There is something very wrong with this picture...
In 1939, five-year-old Lina Medina was brought to a small hospital in the town of Pisco, Peru by her concerned father from their small village in the Andes mountains. He told the doctors that the shamans in his village had been unable to cure his daughter of the growing tumor that had visibly distended her stomach. Upon examination, the doctors discovered a truth stranger than fiction: little Lina was seven months pregnant. Her father told the astonished doctors that Lina had began menstruating at two-and-a-half years old, and that she had begun developing breasts as a four-year-old.
At the age of 5 years, 7 months and 21 days, Lina gave birth to a healthy 6 lb. baby boy by caesarean section on Mother’s Day (May 14, 1939). She named the boy Gerardo, after Dr. Gerardo Lozado, the doctor who had performed the surgery. After further research, it was discovered that Lina had actually began menstruating at eight-months-old, and that she had the ovaries of a mature woman. Researchers concluded that her precocious puberty was probably the result of a pituitary hormonal disorder.
Lina never revealed the identity of her son’s father, and the circumstances surrounding her impregnation remain a mystery. Her father was initially arrested on suspicions of rape and incest, but the charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence. Gerardo was initially raised in the Medina household as though he was Lina’s baby brother: he discovered the truth when he was ten-years-old, after suffering taunts from schoolmates. Sympathetic to Lina’s plight, Dr. Lozado supported her through high school, and she subsequently went to work for him as a secretary at his clinic. She eventually married and gave birth to a second son in 1972.
What Do You Think? »
A Saint to Some...
Constantine I, best known for being the first Christian Roman emperor, is considered a saint (along with his mother Helena) by the Eastern Orthodox Church, and is revered under the title “The Great” by the Latin church for his contribution to Christianity. The circumstances surrounding his conversion to Christianity remain in dispute; while it is widely believed that his mother exposed him to the religion as a child, some scholarship suggests that he converted to Christianity following his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. However, it is undisputed that Constantine had converted to Christianity by the time he issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which reversed the persecution of Christians that had been enacted under his predecessor, Diocletian.
While Christians throughout the Roman Empire rejoiced at their newfound religious freedom, Jews were forced to reckon with a new set of restrictive laws imposed by the Emperor. In fact, Constantine I was the first Roman emperor to promulgate laws that radically proscribed the rights of Jews as Roman citizens, in effect rescinding this privilege granted to them by Emperor Caracalla is 212. By 329, the Emperor had outlawed the conversion of Christians to Judaism, a crime punishable by death. Moreover, he issued an edict forbidding the intermarriage between Christians and Jews (also punishable by death). He also proclaimed that Jews were not allowed to own Christian slaves and could not circumcise them. Notably, these laws were written in extremely hostile language, even going so far as to refer to Judaism as a “bestial sect.”
As Christianity grew in both strength and number throughout the Roman Empire, subsequent emperors went even further than Constantine I in promulgating laws that restricted the civil and political rights of Jews. In fact, many Jewish scholars trace the subsequent and progressive deterioration of Jewish rights throughout Europe to the influence of Constantine I and his negative attitude towards the religion.
Despite countless analogous examples in history, it is always surprising to see how an influential leader can be both lionized and loathed by the people affected by his rule…..
What Do You Think? »
The Lovely Oona O'Neill Chaplin
Oona Lady Chaplin (May 14, 1925- September 27, 1991) was a woman largely distinguished by the powerful men in her life; namely, her Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright father, Eugene O’Neill, and her legendary husband of 35 years, Charlie Chaplin. Oona was born while her parents were living in Bermuda, and was effectively abandoned by her father at two-years-old when he left her mother, writer Agnes Boulton, for actress Carlotta Monteray (who later became his third wife). Perhaps motivated by his guilt, O’Neill largely avoided seeing his daughter while she was growing up, but the two of them remained on good terms throughout her teenage years.
A noted beauty, seventeen-year-old Oona was named “Debutante of the Year” in 1942. Eager to seek fame and fortune as a Hollywood actress, Oona moved to California, briefly dating both director Orson Welles and the famously reclusive author J.D. Salinger. However, her high-profile romantic flings (and career aspirations) came to an abrupt end when she met Charlie Chaplin, then 36 years her senior. Despite their age difference, the two of them fell passionately in love with one another, and the still underage Oona sought permission to marry Chaplin from her estranged father.
O’Neill was so incensed at his daughter’s relationship with the older actor that he rejected her entreaty and subsequently cut her completely out of his life, refusing any and all attempts at a reconciliation. Despite her father’s strong paternal misgivings (or perhaps in spite of them), Oona married Chaplin when she turned 18, and remained happily married to him until his death 35 years later (they had eight children together, including actress Geraldine Chaplin, who played Tonya in the film Dr. Zhivago (1965)).
Despite Oona’s happiness with Chaplin, her estrangement from O’Neill remained a source of great sadness for the rest of her life. In 1981, moved by Jack Nicholson’s depiction of her father in the film Reds, she wrote the actor a letter saying, “Thanks to you, I now can love my father.” Nicholson reportedly said that this was the best compliment he had ever received.
What Do You Think? »
On September 29, 1982, the first of seven people (including three members of the same family) died in the Chicago area after taking Extra Strength Tylenol contaminated with cyanide, setting off a “Tylenol Scare” across the nation. Sales of the popular headache medication plummeted overnight, with widespread reports of panicked people literally rushing home to dispose of all of the Tylenol in their cabinets. Johnson & Johnson, facing a publicity crisis of epic proportions, immediately went on the offensive in an effort to salvage its severely tarnished image.
The company promptly distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors, halted Tylenol production and advertising, issued a nationwide recall of Tylenol products (a rare move at the time) and offered a reward of $100,000 for information about the perpetrator. With an estimated 31 million bottles in circulation (with a combined retail value of $100 million), Johnson & Johnson took a massive financial hit in defense of their brand; many financial experts at the time expressed serious doubts that the company would ever be able to salvage its reputation and recoup its losses.
The subsequent FBI investigation ruled out the possibility of sabotage during production of the capsules, when it was discovered that all of the tampered bottles had come from different factories. Investigators came to believe that the saboteur had stolen packages of Tylenol from area stores, poisoned their contents and then returned the bottles to the supermarkets. Despite the concerted efforts of the investigators, the Tylenol murders were never solved. However, Johnson & Johnson’s good deed did not go unnoticed: sales of Tylenol almost fully rebounded in less than a year, thanks to the company’s widely praised handling of the crisis. In what would prove to be a masterstroke of genius, Joseph Chiesa (who was later promoted to Chairman), convinced Johnson & Johnson to hire new product consultants Calle & Company to help rescue the brand. Calle & Co. rose to the challenge, inventing the first tamper-proof capsule, Tylenol Geltabs. Thus, thanks to its quick thinking, Johnson & Johnson was able to recapture an astonishing 92% of the capsule market it had lost after the scare. Moreover, the company now consistently ranks as one of the most trusted companies in America, coming in at #5 in 2008 (only American Express, eBay, IBM and Amazon polled better).
What Do You Think? »