Friday, July 17, 2015

Ashley Sterne The New Cook

From the Bowen Independent (Queensland), 22 November 1919.

[Note: Ashley Sterne's comic sketch below refers to ortolans, a species of small birds of the bunting family.  An article in Wine Spectator (June 30, 1999) states:  "For centuries, a rite of passage for French gourmets has been the eating of the ortolan. These tiny birds — captured alive, force-fed, then drowned in Armagnac — were roasted whole and eaten that way, bones and all, while the diner draped his head with a linen napkin to preserve the precious aromas and, some believe, to hide from God."

Also, this sketch is notable for having the first recorded instance of the verb "googled."]


(By Ashley Sterne.)

One learns in the army to turn one’s hand to many a job to which one has not been reared.

For instance, at a time of grave crisis (when, in fact, our mess-cook unselfishly speeded up the work of demobilisation by demobilising himself without any assistance — in other words, he just "bimbled off”), I unhesitatingly volunteered to turn cook; and to this day a souffle and a tea cake which I made are affectionately treasured in the officers' mess as a pen-wiper and a pin-cushion respectively.

When, therefore, my housekeeper recently asked me if she could absent herself for the day in order to assist at the obsequies of an aged aunt who had been moribund for years, but who had eventually made a determined effort and done the job thoroughly, the prospect of doing my own cooking did not strike that terror into my breast which it would certainly have done a few years previously.

A man who has made an imperishable and indestructible souffle and a tea-cake that possesses many of the characteristics of the Rock of Gibraltar, is not to be daunted at the thought of performing a few comparatively simple culinary tricks which require no virtuoso technique.

Mrs. D., my housekeeper, left immediately after breakfast, in high feather — a scarlet one stuck jauntily in her hat, and totally out of keeping with the solemn ceremony she was alleged to be attending — and I at once began my preparations for lunch.

One of the secrets of successful cooking is to allow oneself plenty of time. To leave everything until the last possible moment is, alas, all too frequent a failing, and many a man is to-day writhing through life in the throes of dyspepsia because his cook has steadfastly retrained from putting on the potatoes in reasonable time.

I chose poached eggs with macaroni — a dish of which I am particularly fond, but which I can never induce Mrs. D. to prepare for me. The macaroni is always either too long or too short, the eggs are invariably of a brand that won't sit down properly, while there is never any cheese that is sufficiently senile to grate satisfactorily. In fact; there are as many difficulties placed in the way of gratifying my craving as if I had demanded a gilded peacock or a dish of ortolans’ tongues.

With Mrs. D. out of the way all would, I felt sure, go smoothly. I found some eggs that were guaranteed not to have come over with the Conqueror, several lengths of macaroni that were not fractured badly enough to warrant the use of splints, and a piece of dry cheese hard enough to grate — it would, in fact, have made an excellent substitute for pumice-stone. My one fear was that it would smoothen the grater.

I first gave my attention to the macaroni. This I intended to cook in a saucepan, but unfortunately I could not find a receptacle large enough to hold the sticks unless I broke them. This I did not wish to do, as a great deal of the charm and excitement of eating macaroni lies in carrying out successfully the conveyance of this sinuous, and elusive item from the plate to the palate. I therefore decided to boil the sticks in a tall coffee-pot, but even so my trained eye saw at a glance that I should have to boil the two ends separately. When the lower half was cooked I would then "turn” them and cook the top half — quite a good idea that may be usefully employed in cooking eels, tarpon, or very long bananas.

It was not until I came to effect the necessary turning movement that I realised that the cooked half would not stand up straight. It was very stupid of me to overlook this, as my attention to the eggs was constantly being distracted by festoons of macaroni dropping out of the coffee-pot and squirming about on the floor, where they entangled themselves round my ankles, wriggled into my slippers, and even attempted to climb up my legs. Once they actually tripped me up, thereby ruining a young and innocent egg which I was about to transfer to the poacher. Instead it traversed a most beautiful and interesting trajectory and hit the wall, on which it at once spread-eagled itself in a fascinating pattern which would have driven a Cubist mad with jealousy.

I regret to have to record that I also experienced considerable trouble with the eggs themselves. It would appear to be a simple matter to break an egg into a poacher, but from my experience I should imagine it is far easier to perform the reputed impossible feat of driving a needle through the eye of a camel. I managed the shell-burst all right, but when it came to parting the two halves the yolk thing would swerve, break sharply from leg, and — did you ever watch a “googly” bowler? Well, my yolks googled, that’s all. They went every where except into the poacher. One ran up my sleeve; another tobogganed down my leg; while a third fell into the interior of the gas-cooker at which I was operating, and was slowly cremated amidst dense sacrificial fumes.

I eventually managed to coax a brace of eggs into the poacher by the process of breaking them in the first place into a large stewpan, and thence slipping them into smaller and smaller receptacles until I finally wound up by sliding them into the poacher with a shoe-horn. Even then they didn’t seem thoroughly comfortable, for as soon as the water boiled they made frantic efforts to get out. It was not until I had placed a weight from the kitchen scales on each egg that I was able to start grating the cheese.

This process was exceedingly painful, but my doctor tells me that the skin on my fingers will be grown again in about three weeks, and that the disfigurement will not be permanent.

I sat down to lunch at 6 o’clock that evening, but I never got any further, It is not until you have tasted poached eggs of the consistency of tennis balls on macaroni that is red hot at one end and frigid at the other, both plentifully garnished with grated cheese, that you realise how necessary it is for a cook to be able to distinguish between Canadian Cheddar and brown Windsor soap.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Black-crowned Night Heron

I was walking in the Cherry Creek State Park this afternoon and met this stocky Black-crowned Night Heron.  It didn't move a feather when I approached to take its picture, although it refused to pose.  I was an intruding paparazzo after all.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mount Falcon Hike

Today I attempted a hike on Mount Falcon that has defeated me twice before.  I was defeated again today.  My objective was to hike 3.2 miles up the Castle Trail (an elevation gain of nearly 2000 feet) to visit the ruins of the Walker Home.  Instead I walked about 1.6 miles up the Castle Trail, totally ran out of energy, and had to backtrack to the parking lot.

The hike began well.  I felt strong and the trail conditions were excellent.  However, I started late, around noon, and the temperature was already in the low 80s.  The temperature soon became a significant burden.

After about a mile I was gasping for breath.  My stops for rest and water became more frequent.  To save face, I disguised some of my rest stops as nature viewings.  It seemed better to have my fellow hikers think "That fat man with the giant hat is certainly sensitive to the beauty of nature" than have them think "That fat man with the giant hat lacks endurance."  Here are some specimens from my nature viewings.

I took a picture of today's terminus at 1.6 miles along the Castle Trail to give me something to better on my next hiking attempt.  The measurement of incremental progress is a great encouragement.

Mysterious Tools

When I returned from my visit to Iowa, I found two tools on the kitchen table.  They are related somehow to my younger son's interest in metalwork and appear, to my untrained eye, to be stands for holding things in place.  Their names and precise functions remain a mystery to me, because my son rarely offers explanations unless asked.  I haven't asked yet.

Fortunately, there was still enough space left at the end of the table for me to eat my oatmeal this morning.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Rock Park

This afternoon I was looking for a short hike close to home and came across Rock Park on the internet.  The hike was made to order: a 1.4 mile loop that takes you up to the Castle Rock butte, which is the namesake of the town of Castle Rock, Colorado. 

The trail was rated as difficult because of its 370 foot elevation difference over the half mile climb to the summit.  But the climb was so short that even I -- I who am fat, lazy, sluggish, out of shape, etc. -- was not huffing and sweating at the summit.

The trail made switchbacks through stands of scrub oak.

Here is a side view of the Castle Rock formation, photographed at the midpoint of my ascent.

At the top!

Cliff swallows were flying around.  I also spotted two hawks up on the cliff face.  Here is a murky picture of one of them.

 As I descended to the parking lot, I passed many wildflowers.  Here are some fairy trumpet flowers (Ipomopsis aggregata).  They are also called scarlet gilia or skyrocket.  Hummingbirds like them.

A Trip to Iowa

I flew to Iowa on Sunday to see family members.  While there I devoted one morning to visiting the Davenport river front and admiring the vestiges of Davenport's golden era of a century ago.  The history and beauty of old Davenport has been under attack during recent decades (more about this later).  The old buildings, carefully adorned with elegant details and flourishes, are my favorites.  Here is the Petersen redstone building, the most famous of the downtown Davenport buildings.  My family shopped at Petersen's when I was young.

A Davenport history buff supplied a nice review of the Petersen building on Wikipedia:

"J.H.C. Petersen was an immigrant from Schleswig in present-day Germany where he was educated until he was 16. After settling in Scott County, Iowa he worked in farming and at a match-factory. He and his three sons Max, Henry and William opened a dry goods store in 1872. By 1875 they were handling both wholesale and retail lines of merchandise from Chicago. Branch stores were opened in Clinton, Iowa and Geneseo, Illinois in the 1880s. The J.H.C. Petersen's Sons' Store was built in Downtown Davenport in 1892. The structure was designed by Frederick G. Clausen, a German immigrant who moved to Davenport. It followed the latest marketing principles of the day with specialized departments under one roof. The three sons took over the store's operations at this time. During this same time period several competitors established operations in the city. J.H.C. died in 1910 and Max and Henry died in 1915. The following year William sold the store to one of their competitors, Harned and Von Maur Co. In 1928 the J.H.C. Petersen's Sons' store was consolidated into the Petersen-Harned-Von Maur Store and it ceased independent operations. The Redstone Building, however, would continue to house the flagship store well into the 20th century, keeping the Petersen name until 1989. The name of the department store chain, which expanded in several Midwest states, was simplified to Von Maur.

The Petersen's Sons Store is a small-scale version of Burnham & Root's Rookery Building in Chicago. It is a local example of the late 19th century development of the department store. The structure is four stories in height, and built of stone on a brick foundation. It features round arched arcades around groups of vertical windows and the name plate decorated in terracotta on a slightly projecting entrance frontispiece. Diaperwork spandrels are located between the windows. The building culminates in elaborate parapets with oversized finials. At the roofline is a traditional brick cornice and the spandrels above the third floor arches are plain."

Down near the river (the great Mississippi River, that is, to make things clear for my overseas readership), there is a lovely fountain.  According to Wikipedia, it is a memorial fountain to Iowa Chief Justice John F. Dillon, "erected in downtown Davenport, Iowa in 1918, carved of Indiana limestone in Romanesque style, by sculptor Harry Liva."  This fountain is Davenport's link to the illustrious New York Yankees baseball team.  (Stay with me. An explanation follows.)

"Dillon Memorial" by Ctjf83 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The placard emblem states "Presented to the city of Davenport by John F. Dillon, May 5th 1914."

From Wikipedia:  "John Forrest Dillon (December 25, 1831 – May 6, 1914) was an American jurist who served on federal and Iowa state courts. He authored a highly influential treatise on the power of states over municipal governments.

Dillon was born in Northampton, Montgomery County, New York (now part of Fulton County, New York). He studied medicine at the University of Iowa at the age of 19. Shortly after beginning his medical practice, he abandoned it to read law, and was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1852. He worked in private practice until he was elected Scott County prosecutor in 1853, and then to a judgeship in Iowa's 7th Judicial Circuit in 1858. He was elevated to the Iowa Supreme Court, serving from January 1, 1864, until he resigned December 31, 1869. For two years of this period he was Chief Justice. In 1869, President Grant appointed him to the United States Circuit Court, which became the Eighth Circuit."

Okay, Dillon was a venerable old jurist and philanthropist and he gave Davenport a nice fountain.  Where do the Yankees come in?

More from Wikipedia:  "John F. Dillon's sister married John B. Jordan, a Davenport, Iowa, merchant. That marriage produced a daughter Jennie, who married Louis Stengel. Louis and Jennie Stengel had a son, Charles Dillon (Casey) Stengel, named after the Judge, who had a long career as a baseball player and manager."

Yes, this is the same Casey Stengel who found fame as the manager of the New York Yankees (and later the Mets).  Here are some of Stengel's colorful quotes:

"They say some of my stars drink whiskey, but I have found that ones who drink milkshakes don't win many ball games."

"The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven't made up their minds."

On a less cheerful note, I walked to the levee to see the loathsome gambling boat, which has filthified downtown Davenport for many years.

The boat will be relocated soon, leaving a hole in the downtown economy and rendering pointless an expensive pedestrian walkway constructed to convey suckers from the hotels to the river boat.

The little boxy structure in the foreground is a defunct concession stand.  The stand is of historical interest because it records the high-water marks for past flooding of the Mississippi River.  As the marker below indicates, in 1965 the river crested well above a normal person's height.  My father sold our house in the river flood plain and moved to his present house, safe on high ground in northwest Davenport, right before this horrific flood of 1965. 

Finally, no blog article about Iowa could be complete without a picture of the rich Iowa soil.  Here is my father's garden of tomatoes, green beans, and kale.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ashley Sterne Out of School

A nostalgic article from Ashley Sterne in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Queensland), 25 October 1937.

[Note: a sporan is a small pouch that hangs in front of a Scotsman's kilt.)

Out of School

By Ashley Sterne

I have hitherto always imagined an educationalist to be a terribly severe-looking individual, with knobs of knowledge sticking out of his forehead like walnuts, a head of hair like a hastily-constructed stork's-nest, and a long, disorderly beard like a moth-eaten sporan.  I must now amend this mental picture and visualise him as a merry and bright sort of fellow; for I read that a certain "Prominent Educationalist" has recently been urging the total abolition of homework for schoolboys. 

This much-needed reform is, of course, no very novel and original idea.  Smith Minor has been advocating it for several generations, but unfortunately without anybody sitting up and taking notice.  Now, however, that the voice of a Man that Matters has set the wild echoes flying, there seems to be a reasonable chance of the schoolboy being granted this indoor relief. 

How homework ever came to be imposed upon the wretched scholar must be a matter for conjecture.  In my own days at St. Barabbas's, during the most vicious period of the Victorian era, I can only imagine that our homework was designed to keep us out of the ale-houses, gin-places, and opium-dens (which, I agree, are not exactly a good thing for Young England), for we were regularly burning the midnight therm in our futile endeavours to cope with it.  Slacking or ignoring it altogether simply meant that on the morrow we should, for health and comfort's sake, have to return to school with our trousers lined with sheet-iron.

Yet consider what we had to accomplish. Take the Latin stuff we were expected to prepare alone and unguided.  Here's a bit from Platypus which I well remember sitting up all night over — all adverbs and conjunctions and prepositions — stuff which I would have defied even John Milton to construe without a crib.

"Propinque nunc tunc junc punc zinc dum turn jamdudum teetotum hicockolorum ..."

In despair, I translated it as: "Caesar, having quartered Gaul Into three halves, at once retired to his winter-quarters."  What it really means, in good Modern English, is: "Then pious Aeneas splashed himself out a good four fingers of 20 u.p. Old Falernian from the Sabine jar, and, with a nod to the terra-cotta bust of Old Man Anchises on the mantelpiece, knocked it back with his usual cheery 'Here's how!'"  And you, no doubt, will be as surprised as I was at this most unexpected result.

Then, again, there were those diabolically harassing mathematical exercises which invariably concerned either an old market woman buying and selling fruit, or three wasters named A, B, and C performing a "piece of work."  I cannot remember, at this distance of time, the precise wording of the problem set us to elucidate, but the following examples reflect the spirit, of them:—

"An old market-woman buys Ribston pippins at the rate of 29 for 5 1/2 d. and sells them as Cape gooseberries at 8 1/2 d. a pint.  Calculate to three decimal-places what relation she was to the person whose photograph she was looking at. (Brokerage 1/8.)"

Of course, the problem would have been simple if the old crone had been looking at the actual person.  But schoolmasters are always out to catch chaps whenever they can; otherwise there would be nothing to justify their trailing half the alphabet after their names.

"A, B, and C are digging an artesian well.  A works twice as fast as B, who has to attend hospital twice a week for deep-ray therapy.  Nevertheless, B works twice as fast as A and C together, and C can give A a stroke a hole.  How much does each draw at the end of the week? (Reckon £1 to be worth 4.86 dollars.)"

The answer should be 6 quarts, of course.  But the only solution I could suggest, after three hours' intensive study of the erudite Mr. Pendlebury, was that it turned blue litmus red.

And then, after the written homework, there was always something to be got off by heart — such as "Paradise Lost," or a list of the coaling stations between Archangel and Honolulu, or possibly the genealogical table showing Hardicanute's descent from Boadicea.  I tell you, it was no joke for a lad in the early 'teens to sit up till long past midnight wrestling with such tasks, his eyelids propped open with drawing-pins, his brows swathed with cold-tea bandages, and his feet immersed in strong black coffee.

And when the Schoolboy's Friend has triumphantly succeeded in getting home-work abolished, I hope that he will see what he can do about the extirpation of school-exams. The pedagogues may argue that they are necessary in order to test the height of a boy's knowledge, but as no school-exam has ever achieved anything except plumb the depths of a boy's ignorance (none of the set questions is ever part of former instruction), their futility is obvious.  I still retain in my archives a set of the St. Barabbas's exam-papers, from which I cull the following specimens:—

"State what you know about Jenkins's Ear, Peter's Pence, Queen Anne's Bounty, Jessica's First Prayer, Christy's Old Organ.  Give a reason for your answers, and an example of each."

"On the accompanying blank map of Tristan da Cunha insert the following geographical features: (a) the Pier and Bandstand: (h) the Red Lion; (c) the Vicarage, (d) the Gaumont Palace, (e) the blacksmith's, (f) the route of the underground railway system."

"What chemical reaction takes place when you pour hydraulic acid on (a) sulphate of zinc, b) the Sultan of Zanzibar?"

"What is the difference — stop us if you've heard it — between the table of affinity and the theory of relativity?  Write a life of Einstein, and illustrate with photographs."

Well, I knew nothing of any of these things, but all the same, what I knew about other things not covered by the questions would have filled a pantechnicon.  From which it follows that the only way by which school exams can ever ascertain the extent of a boy's learning is to let him set his own exam papers.  Thereafter what his tutors wouldn't know about blowing birds' eggs, rearing silkworms, the market value of three-cornered Cape of Good Hope postage stamps, and the private lives of such famous individuals as the Young Lady of Nottingham, the Curate of Kidderminster. and the Old Man of Pernambuco could all be written upon a couple of confetti.

These reformations would naturally come rather too late in my young life to be of any advantage to me, but I do not hesitate to affirm that if I were Wee Georgie Wood or Ivor Vintnor I'd forthwith buy myself a sachtel and crash straight back to the Lower Third at dear old St. Barabbas's, if only to feel what it felt like to be home-workless and examless.

As it is, what a hope of passing myself off for fourteen, with my left foot done up in a parcel, and wide open spaces on my skull that stand in dire need of returfing!