Floating Island

Below is an article about the French dessert known as Floating Island:

FLOATING ISLAND

Many people might find this odd, but the first time I ever heard about the French dessert, Floating Island, was in the 1994 comedy called “MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY”. I have not thought about it for a while, until I came across a few passages about the dish on The Food Timeline website.

The Floating Island is a meringue that floats on crème anglaise, or a vanilla custard. The meringues are prepared from whipped egg whites, sugar and vanilla extract. The crème anglaise is prepared with the egg yolks, vanilla, and hot milk. There is some confusion about the name of the dessert. In French cuisine, the terms Oufs à la Neige, also known as “Eggs in Snow”, which originated in Elizabethan England, and Ile Flottante aka Floating Island, are sometimes used interchangeably. The difference between the two dishes is that the Floating Island (Ile Flottante) sometimes contains islands made of “layers of alcohol-soaked dessert biscuits and jam”.

The dish originated in eighteenth-century France. However, no particular chef has been credited as its inventor. Below is a recipe for the Floating Island from the Epicurious.com website:

Floating Island

Ingredients

Sauce
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar

Meringues

2 cups whole milk
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar

Caramel
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Preparation

For Sauce
Scrape seeds from vanilla bean halves into heavy small saucepan; add beans. Add milk and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from heat, cover, and steep 10 minutes.

Whisk yolks and sugar in heavy medium saucepan until thick, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in warm milk mixture (including vanilla beans). Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 9 minutes (do not boil). Strain custard into small bowl. Cover and chill until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

For Meringues
Lay smooth kitchen towel on work surface. Pour milk into medium (10-inch) skillet. Bring milk to simmer over medium heat.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large bowl until foamy. Add salt and beat until whites hold soft peaks. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until whites are stiff and glossy. Scoop some meringue (about twice the size of an egg) onto large oval spoon. Using another large spoon and gently transferring meringue from spoon to spoon, shape meringue into smooth oval. Drop oval into milk. Quickly shape 2 or 3 more meringues, dropping each into milk. Simmer meringues 1 minute. Using heatproof rubber spatula, turn meringues over in milk. Simmer 1 minute longer (meringues will puff up while poaching). Using slotted spoon, transfer meringues to towel (meringues will deflate slightly as they cool). Repeat process, shaping and then poaching enough meringues to make total of 12. Transfer meringues to waxed-paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours.

For Caramel
Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to boil, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush to dissolve any sugar crystals. Boil until syrup is pale golden color, occasionally swirling pan, about 6 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Let syrup cool until thick enough to fall from tines of fork in ribbons, about 8 minutes. (If caramel becomes too thick, rewarm slightly over low heat, stirring constantly.)

Spoon some sauce into center of each plate. Arrange 2 meringues on each. Dip fork into caramel and wave back and forth over meringues so that caramel comes off in strands that harden like threads, and serve.

The Meaning of Colors

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THE MEANING OF COLORS

Several years ago, I came across an old website about Wiccan practices and meanings. I was surprised to discover that even before the advent of Wicca in the early 20th century, Pagan worshipers associated colors with certain meanings. And those meanings turned out to be quite different than many people would today assume.

Unlike today’s societies – especially in the Western world – white or light did not automatically mean something good, pure or noble. In fact, even the white wedding dress has nothing to do with the lack of sexual experience or innocence of the bride. The white wedding dress started out as a fashion trend . . . and remains one to this day. This fashion trend was created by Britain’s Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840. The young queen wanted to show that she was just a “simple” woman getting married, so she wore a white dress. She also wanted to incorporate some lace into her dress. Queen Mary of Scots wore a white wedding gown when she married Francis, Dauphin of France. Why? Because white was her favorite color. Before Victoria, women usually wore their best outfit for their wedding.

But there are the exceptions in which white is used as a negative form of symbolism in Western culture. One of the major villains in C.S. Lewis’ “THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA” literary series is Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia. There is nothing dark about this character’s physical appearance and wardrobe. She is all white. Another example of a villainous character who wore a white costume is Thomas Arashikage aka Storm Shadow from the “G.I. JOE” movie franchise. Ironically, Storm Shadow is a Japanese character portrayed by South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun. And white is usually associated with negative traits and death in Asian cultures.

Albinism is also associated with the color white and negative traits in various forms of popular culture . Albino characters can be found in movies like “COLD MOUNTAIN”, “THE DA VINCI CODE”, “THE MATRIX RELOADED”; and in novels like “The Invisible Man” and “Blood Meridian”. And all of these characters are either portrayed villains or those with negative traits. However, these are rare forms of white used as negative symbols and stereotypes.

So, what was the color white associated with . . . at least in Pagan circles? Simple. The color was associated with psychic pursuits, psychology, dreams, astral projection, imagination and reincarnation. Apparently moral goodness or purity has nothing to do with the color white. At least in old Pagan terms. Which leads me to this question . . . why do today’s Western societies insist that white has anything to do with moral compass of any form.

Finally, we come to the color black. As many people should know, modern Western societies tend to associate black or anything dark as something evil or negative. There are probably other societies that do the same. Fictional characters associated with evil in many science-fiction/fantasy stories are usually associated with black. Sorcery that has a negative effect upon someone is either called “black magic” or “the Dark Arts” (at least with the “HARRY POTTER” and Buffyverse franchises. And in the “POTTER” series, wizards and witches who have given in to evil are labeled as “dark”. The “STAR WARS” franchise usually refer to evil as “the Dark Side of the Force”.

In the “ONCE UPON A TIME” television series, the Rumpelstiltskin character was also called “the Dark One”. Why? As it turned out, some entity called “the Darkness” had entered his body after he had stabbed the former holder of “the Dark One” title. Apparently, show runners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz could not find a name for the entity and called it “The Darkness” – automatically associating its black coloring with evil. Now it seems that the series’ main character, Emma Swan, has been given the name, due to the entity entering her body. The ironic thing is that Emma’s physical appearance – her skin, her eyes and hair – have become pale or white. Yet, she dresses in black and is called “the Dark One” or “the Dark Swan”. I am still shaking my head over this contrast. As for magic, sorcery, or even psychic abilities in many of these movies and television shows, it is clear that their creators/show runners associate dark or black with evil and light or white with goodness. The only fictional character I can recall that go against this grain is Snake Eyes from the “G.I. JOE” movie franchise. Not only is he villain Storm Shadow’s main adversary and one of the main heroes of the G.I. Joe team, he also wears a black costume.

Ironically, long time Pagans associated the color black with the following – binding, protection, neutralization, karma, death manifestation and will power. Someone might say – “A ha! Death manifestation! This is a term can be regarded as something negative or evil.” But can it? Why is death constantly regarded as something negative? Because people are incapable of truly facing the idea of death. It is a natural part of our life span and yet, many people cannot accept it. And because of this negative attitude toward death, society associates death with . . . you guess it . . . the color black. Apparently the Pagans believed differently and did not associate black with anything evil or negative. I was surprised to discover that Chinese culture regard black as a symbol of water, one of the five fundamental elements believed to compose all things. The Chinese also associated black with winter, cold, and the direction North, usually symbolized by a black tortoise. Black is also associated with disorder – including the positive disorder which leads to change and new life.

I have one last statement to make. I have noticed a growing trend on Internet message boards and forums for television shows and movies that deal with science-fiction and fantasy. This trend features a tendency by many of these fans to automatically associate white/light with goodness and black/dark with evil. The fans on these message boards no longer use the words “good” and “evil” anymore. Honestly. I am deadly serious. These fans either use the words light (lightness) or white; or . . . dark (darkness) or black. Why? And why do the creators of these television shows and movie franchises resort to the same behavior? I have to wonder. By associating anything black or dark with evil, are they associating anything or anyone with dark or black skin with evil? I suspect that many would say “of course not”. Considering the notorious reputation of science-fiction/fantasy fans (or geeks) of being racist, I have to wonder.

 

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English Trifle

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Below is an article about the English dessert known as the Trifle:

ENGLISH TRIFLE

Trifle is an English dessert that is made from thick custard, diced fruit, sponge fingers or thin layer sponge cake that is soaked in fortified wine, sherry or fruit juices and topped with whipped cream. The ingredients are usually arranged in three or four layers, while suspended in fruit-flavored jelly or gelatin.

The dish can be traced back to the later years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. The earliest recipe for trifle consisted of a thick cream flavored with sugar, ginger and rosewater. The recipe, which was published in an 1587 English book called “The Good Hyswife’s Jewell” by Thomas Dawson. Sixty years later, eggs were added to the recipe and the custard was poured over alcohol soaked bread.

It was not until the mid-18th century that something like the modern trifle began to emerge. Biscuits soaked with wine were then in place at the bottom of the bowl, and custard was on top of them, while the topmost layer could be achieved by pouring whipped syllabub froth over all. When this froth was replaced by plain whipped cream, the process of evolution was virtually complete. While some believe the addition of jelly to the recipe to be recent, the earliest known recipe to include jelly dates from 1747 and was featured in “the Art of Cookery”, authored by Hannah Glasse. In her recipe she instructed using hartshorn or bones of calves feet as the base ingredient for the jelly.

Below is a recipe from the Food.com website for a traditional trifle:

English Trifle

Ingredients

1 packet single trifle sponge cakes (or a ready-made pound cake or similar)
1 pint English custard, made from bird custard powder
1⁄2 pint whipping cream (heavy)
1 package frozen berries (better than fresh)
100 g jar of strawberry jam
1 can sliced fruit or 2 very ripe fruit, skinned and sliced
1⁄4-1⁄2 pint cooking sherry
50 g sliced almonds, toasted

Preparation

Slice the cake into slices measuring about 3 x 2 x 1/2 inches, or whatever is convenient, and spread each slice with a little strawberry jam.
Layer in a glass dish, leaving no significant gaps.
Pour sherry over to soak sponge.
Spread frozen berries over sponge, followed by sliced fruit.
Make up custard, cool slightly and pour over all.
Allow to cool in fridge.
When set, whip cream and layer on top of custard.
Chill for at least half an hour.
Toast the almonds and scatter over.

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Top Ten Favorite HISTORY Documentaries

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Below is a list of my favorite history documentaries:

TOP TEN FAVORITE HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

1 - Ken Burns The Civil War

1. “The Civil War” (1990) – Ken Burns produced this award-winning documentary about the U.S. Civil War. Narrated by David McCullough, the documentary was shown in eleven episodes.

2 - Supersizers Go-Eat

2. “The Supersizers Go/Eat” (2008-2009) – Food critic Giles Coren and comedian-broadcaster Sue Perkins co-hosted two entertaining series about the culinary history of Britain (with side trips to late 18th century France and Imperial Rome).

3 - MGM - When the Lion Roared

3. “MGM: When the Lion Roared” (1992) – Patrick Stewart narrated and hosted this three-part look into the history of one of the most famous Hollywood studios – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

4 - Africans in America

4. “Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery” (1998) – Angela Bassett narrated this four-part documentary on the history of slavery in the United States, from the Colonial era to Reconstruction.

5 - Queen Victoria Empire

5. “Queen Victoria’s Empire” (2001) – This PBS documentary is a two-part look at the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria. Donald Sutherland narrated.

6 - Motown 40 - The Music Is Forever

6. “Motown 40: The Music Is Forever” (1998) – Diana Ross hosted and narrated this look into the history of Motown, from its inception in 1958 to the 1990s.

7 - Ken Burns The War

7. “The War” (2007) – Ken Burns created another critically acclaimed documentary for PBS. Narrated by Keith David, this seven-part documentary focused upon the United States’ participation in World War II.

8 - Manor House

8. “The Edwardian Manor House” (2002) – This five-episode documentary is also a reality television series in which a British family assume the identity of Edwardian aristocrats and live in an opulent Scottish manor with fifteen (15) people from all walks of life participating as their servants.

9 - Elegance and Decadence - The Age of Regency

9. “Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency” (2011) – Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley presented and hosted this three-part documentary about Britain’s Regency era between 1810 and 1820.

10 - Ken Burns The West

10. “The West” (1996) – Directed by Steven Ives and produced by Ken Burns, this eight-part documentary chronicled the history of the trans-Appalachian West in the United States. Peter Coyote narrated.

HM - Fahrenheit 9-11

Honorable Mention: “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004) – Michael Moore co-produced and directed this Oscar winning documentary that took a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media.

Pumpkin Pie

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Below is an article the popular Thanksgiving dessert, Pumpkin Pie

PUMPKIN PIE

As many Americans know, Pumpkin Pie is a sweet dessert, traditionally eaten during the fall and early winter seasons. They are especially popular during the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in the United States and Canada. Many view the pumpkin as a symbol of harvest time. The pie consists of a custard made from an actual pumpkin, canned custard or packaged pie filling made from the plant. The pie’s color usually range from orange to brown and is baked in a single pie shell, rarely with a top crust. Pumpkin pie is generally flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.

The pumpkin is a native of the North American continent. The oldest evidence of its existence were pumpkin-related seeds that dated between 7000 and 5500 BCE, has been found in Mexico. Despite the discovery of its seeds in Mexico, the pumpkin was first exported to France in the 16th century. From there, it was introduced to Tudor England. The English quickly accepted the flesh of the “pompion” as a pie filler. Following its introduction to England, pumpkin pie recipes could be found in 17th century English cookbooks such as Hannah Woolley’s 1675 book, “The Gentlewoman’s Companion”.

English immigrants such as the Pilgrims eventually introduced the pumpkin pie to the New England region. Recipes for the pie did not appear in American cookbooks until the early 19th century. During this same period, the dessert finally became a common addition to the Thanksgiving dinner. Meanwhile, the English method of cooking the pumpkin took a different course. The English pumpkin pie was prepared by stuffing the actual pumpkin with apples, spices and sugar, before baking it whole. The dessert, which more or less remained traditional in the United States, inspired songs and poems. Nineteenth century activist Lydia Maria Child referenced the pumpkin pie in her 1844 song, “Over the River and Through the Wood”. And in 1850, John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem called “The Pumpkin”.

Below is a recipe for a fresh pumpkin pie from the Full Circle website (which was adapted from a recipe found on http://www.rwood.com:

Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients

Your favorite pie crust dough, enough for one 9-inch shell.
1 pie pumpkin
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups organic cream
1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, place the pumpkin halves in a pan, shell side up, and bake for 1 hour or until the pumpkin is tender, exudes liquid and the shell starts to sag.

Pour off accumulated liquid, scrape the pulp from the shell and purée it with a potato masher or in a blender. Measure 2 cups of the purée and set it aside. Reserve any additional pumpkin for another use.

Place your pie dough on a lightly floured surface and, starting from the center out, roll the dough to about 2 inches larger than the size of the pan. Loosen the pastry, fold it in half, lift it and unfold it into the pan. Press it into place, trim off the excess dough and crimp the edges.

Increase the temperature of the oven to 425°F. In a large mixing bowl lightly beat the eggs. Add the purée and the remaining ingredients and stir to blend. Pour the mixture into the dough-lined pan.

Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake an additional 45 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

“THE SUPERSIZERS”: Eating Through History

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Here is a look at a series of episodes about the history of food, mainly in Britain: “THE SUPERSIZERS”: 


Eating Through History

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In April 2007, the BBC aired a special episode in which food critic Giles Coren and broadcaster-comedienne Sue Perkins explored the history of food during the Edwardian Age. The result was the television special called “Edwardian Supersize Me”. This episode was part of a series called “The Edwardians — the Birth of Now”. Following the success of this special, the BBC commissioned a series of six episodes in which Coren and Perkins explored the history of food through six eras in British history. This series, which aired in May and June of 2008, was called “The Supersizers Go . . .”.

Below is a list of the episodes:


“The Supersizers Go . . .”

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“Wartime”

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“Restoration”

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“Victorian”

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“Seventies”

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“Elizabethan”

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“Regency”

Following the success of “THE SUPERSIZERS GO . . .”, the BBC commissioned a second series of episodes featuring Coren and Perkins called “THE SUPERSIZERS EAT . . .”.

Here is the list of episodes from that series:

“The Supersizers Eat . . .”

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“The Eighties”

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“Medieval”

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“The French Revolution”

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“The Twenties”

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“The Fifties”

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“Ancient Rome”

“ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE” (2007) Review

“ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE” (2007) Review

Nine years after the release of 1998’s “ELIZABETH”, director Shekhar Kapur returned to direct a sequel called,“ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE”. Like the 1998 movie, it stars Cate Blanchett as England’s “Virgin Queen” and Geoffrey Rush as the sovereign’s most trusted spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. The movie covers a period during Elizabeth I’s reign in which she had faced the double threat of Philip II of Spain (Jordi Mollà) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). The movie also features a romantic triangle for Elizabeth that features Clive Owen as Walter Raleigh, famous poet and explorer (and the Queen’s object of desire) and Abbie Cornish as one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waitng and Raleigh’s future wife, Bess Throckmorton. 

Despite having the same director and star as the previous film, “ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE” seems like a different kettle of fish from its predecessor. Michael Hirst and new writer, William Nicholson’s screenplay seem more somber and less violent than the 1998 film. The most graphic violence shown in the movie is actually heard as Mary Stuart’s neck is severed by a sword (or axe). And its sensuality almost seem subdued in compared to the earlier film. The most titillating scene seemed to be Cate Blanchett’s backside after she disrobes in one scene.

The movie covers a period in Elizabethan history that has been featured many times in the past – namely Elizabeth Tudor’s decision to execute Mary Stuart for plotting treason. It also covers the consequences of this act – namely Spain’s decision to send an armada to England. Although I found this mildly interesting, I wish that one day in the future, some filmaker would focus upon a period in Elizabeth’s reign that did not cover her early years as queen, Mary Stuart’s death or the Spanish Armada. Unfortunately, these incidents seem to define her reign in history. Perhaps that is why I found the story’s main conflict anti-climatic. At least the royal triangle between Elizabeth, Raleigh and Throckmorton managed to provide some spark in the story . . . even if this actually played out in the early 1590s, instead of the 1580s as shown in the film.

The performances are basically first-rate – especially by Rush, Owen and Cornish. Although I must confess that I found Owen’s presence in the movie to be almost irrevelant. Aside from participating in the defense of England against Spain, he had no serious role in the movie’s main story – namely Elizabeth’s conflict with Mary and Philip.

I really do not know what to make of Jordi Mollà’s portrayal of Philip II. I guess I found it rather odd. I think he had tried to portray the Spanish sovereign as someone more eccentric than he actually was. And quite frankly, screenwriters Hirst and Nicholson did not serve him well by dumping some rather pedantic dialogue upon him that seemed focused around insulting Elizabeth’s character. I do not know what he had called English queen more – ‘whore’‘bastard’ or simply‘darkness’. Quite frankly, he had made a much better villain in “BAD BOYS II”.

As for Blanchett, I really enjoyed her performance in the movie’s first half. She seemed more self-assured, mature and perhaps manipulative than she was in the 1998 movie. Yet, once when affairs of both the state and the heart began to sour for her, she engaged in more over-the-top mannerisms than Bette Davis did during her entire 17 years at Warner Brothers. Before one starts thinking that I was more impressed by Blanchett’s performance in “ELIZABETH”, let me assure you that I was not. If anything, her twitchiness in the movie’s second half only reminded me of the same mannerisms that I almost found annoying in the first movie. Yet . . . she still managed to turn in an excellent performance.

Like its 1998 predecessor, “ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE” is not perfect. It lacks the previous movie’s colorful panache, despite the lavish costumes and sets. In fact, those very traits nearly threaten to overwhelm both the story and its characters. Thankfully, Kapur manages to prevent this from actually happening. And although it is historically incorrect, at least it is not marred by an unforgivable revision of history as was the case with the Elizabeth/Dudley storyline in the first film. Despite its imperfections, I suggest you go see “ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE”. Especially if you enjoy lavish costumes in a historical setting.