Greek lemon cookies — not just for special occasions

 

 

Greek Lemon Cookies — not just for special occasions

Greek lemon cookies, slow-roasted grapes [photo, TWCarns] 

Trying to replicate someone else’s recipe is always a chance for lots of discoveries. In this case, I was attempting to make something similar to delicate shortbreads with coconut oil, lemon and thyme from a local bakery. None of my cookies taste exactly like theirs, but I found treasures along the way. The recipe below is adapted from the internationalkitchen.com, “Shortbread cookies with olive oil and lemon.”

One big surprise for me with these cookies is how much kids like them. I thought that they would be too lemony, but not so. And the grown-ups are fond of them too, so make plenty. They are supposed to last well, but they’re always gone in a couple of days.

The basic recipe calls for:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (the online recipe doesn’t specify, but this temperature seems to work well).

  • 1 cup oil (olive in the recipe, I’ve used that, and also substituted refined organic coconut oil)
  • 1 cup sugar (try substituting 1/2 cup brown sugar, + 1/2 cup white sugar)
  • 1 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (I use this amount even when making 1/2 the recipe; it just makes the cookies a bit more cake-like in texture)
  • 1/3 tsp salt (try kosher or a slightly rougher salt than table salt to give more taste)
  • zest of 1 lemon (medium-size lemon)
  • about 4 cups of all-purpose flour (I start with 3 cups, and add 1/4 cup at a time until I have a very soft, sticky dough — usually about 3 1/2 cups altogether)
  • white sugar to roll cookies in before baking (optional) OR
  • sea salt flakes (like Maldon) to sprinkle on top if not rolling the cookies in sugar

 

 

I have also added 1 to 2 tsp of minced fresh thyme.
Beat together the sugar, oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest (and thyme or other herbs if using).
Whisk together the 3 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt. Add gradually to the liquids, and whisk until smooth. Then add 1/4 cup of flour at a time, until it is a very soft dough. You can add more flour to make a slightly stiffer dough if you prefer.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Shape small balls of dough (about 1 Tablespoon). Press flat onto cookie sheet. You can roll in them in sugar before flattening them on the sheet. They should be about 1/2 inch thick. If you don’t roll them in sugar, you can flatten them and sprinkle a few flakes of salt on top. Or leave them plain. In the photo above, some are rolled long, some are round and pricked with a fork, and some are round and plain.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until light golden brown. The online recipe cautions that they overbake easily, but I haven’t yet had that problem. Allow to cool before removing from the cookie sheet, so that they firm up a bit.
Although the recipe calls these “shortbread” cookies, purists might say that they are not true shortbreads because they have both leavening (baking powder) and liquid (lemon juice) in them.
Bonus recipe for slow-roasted grapes
One advantage of making several batches of shortbreads in a moderately heated oven is that it is the perfect opportunity to roast grapes. These pictured above were red seedless grapes (green seedless work just as well), broken into clusters of 3 to 6 grapes each and left on the stems. I tossed them in a mixing bowl with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, and spead them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. They stayed in the 350-degree oven for about 2 1/2 hours. That’s it. They are somewhat wrinkled and the juices have seeped out a bit and caramelized.
Some recipes call for roasting the grapes tossed with a light coating of olive oil for about 15 minutes in a 450-degree oven. Those are not as wrinkled — they are still whole, bright and juicier — a different and equally delicious experience.
 Street in the Plaka, the old section of Athens, with the Parthenon at top of picture [TWCarns]

 

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La Baleine on the Homer Spit, open for 2014

 

La Baleine.

Mandy Dixon has just re-opened La Baleine on the Homer Spit (here’s my post from last year about the opening days).  Go for absolutely fresh food, cooked to order, and beautifully presented. It’s easy to spot, on the left just past Salty Dawg Saloon as you’re headed toward Land’s End.

Best breakfast sandwich anywhere, the mostly veggie version with zucchini, mushrooms, greens. The meatier variation includes bacon, an egg, and cheese. The staff will make anything you like within this range.

We ate Mother’s Day breakfast there, and in keeping with her generosity, Mandy served a small bag of mini-beignets drenched  in confectioners’ sugar to each mom — enough to share, if one was so  inclined. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of them before they disappeared.

Jim’s oatmeal, with choices of fresh fruit, dried cranberries, brown sugar, cream, honey, and more for toppings. All of La Baleine’s dishes are unusual pottery, suitable for setting off the food.

Added attractions — fresh flowers on every table, free coffee, food to go (including cookies, salads, and sandwiches perfect for a picnic lunch), and friendly staff. The prices are low — Mandy says that she wants a place that serves “local food that local people can afford.”

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Fresh Sourdough Express is open in Homer!

 

Scones made with the trademark sourdough in the bakery cabinet at Fresh Sourdough Express, Homer.

 

Last year, Kevin and Donna Maltz sold Fresh Sourdough Express on the road to the Homer Spit and headed for a well-earned retirement. And at the end of the 2013 season, we saw signs saying that the restaurant was closing permanently. Imagine our delight then this past weekend to find the place open and bustling.

 

Chocolate chip cookies — indulgent, but Fresh Sourdough Express has plenty of savory specials as well.

 

The menu has our favorite Mocha Milkshake (nothing like it anywhere else that we’ve been), Homer Spuds, and Sourdough biscuits. When we stopped by on Mothers’ Day, Donna personally made us a mocha milkshake, and said that they’re planning new treats for the menu. Check in with them at (907) 235-7571 for hours.

 

                        Donna’s welcoming smile.

 

And after you’ve had your fill of the delicious food, continue on to enjoy the Homer Spit, or Bishop’s Beach, or  . . .  there are many choices.

 

   Homer Spit, from the top of the hill coming into town.

 

 

 

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E.J.’s authentic Philly pretzels

 

Soft pretzels, Philly style, with sea salt flakes, and butter glaze. [Photo, TW Carns]

My friend E.J. from Pennsylvania says these are the real deal. Having never eaten a Philly pretzel, I have no way of telling, but the ones he made sure tasted good, so I tried his recipe.

File:Hortus Deliciarum 1190.jpg

Painting  from Alsace, 12th century C.E., may be the earliest picture of a pretzel (on the table). From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hortus_Deliciarum_1190.jpg.

I reviewed pretzel recipes on a few web sites to see what the most important things about baking pretzels might be. Bottom line — boil  or dip them briefly, in an alkaline bath (made with baking soda or lye; here’s a link to a discussion of the merits of each). That’s what makes them pretzels rather than bread. Boiling them helps set the proteins on the outside, limiting how much they can rise in the oven. That gives them a texture that’s denser and chewier than regular breads.

They also are pretzels because of the way that they are traditionally twisted, representing someone praying according to many accounts They were good for Lent because Christians in the Middle Ages and Renaissance gave up all meat, dairy products, and fat for the forty days, and pretzels are just flour, water, and salt.

 Photo, traditional pretzel twist, looking like arms across chest in a gesture of prayer. [How Stuff Works.]

I wondered what makes a bagel actually a bagel instead of a pretzel — because you boil both of them. Historically, it appears that bagels descended from pretzels, a “Christian” bread, remade in Jewish ghettos in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. (Of course, others suggest that the pretzel itself descended from circular Pagan breads, made to represent the sun.)

Two answers to the bagel question were, a) some sweetening (often mixed into the dough), and b) some malt or malt syrup, either in the dough or in the water. I didn’t have malt on hand, and impatient as always, didn’t want to go out for it. One recipe recommended boiling the bagels in sweetened water, so I tried that, and sure enough — they tasted bagel-ish, not pretzel-ish. On the other hand, as I read further, I found recipes for boiling bagels in water with baking soda (just like pretzels), or with nothing in the water, etc. So the answer to the question of why is it a bagel rather than a pretzel (besides the shape) remains ambiguous, like so many culinary questions.

E.J.’s Philadelphia pretzel recipe – 5/19/2012

This recipe is a basic yeast dough — flour, water, salt. You’re kneading it; letting it go through a standard first rise (about an hour, until about doubled); cutting and shaping the dough (either pretzels or bagels); boiling it very briefly and draining it; baking in a hot oven; letting cool a bit before eating.

Ingredients

1 package dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast from a jar)
1 1/4 cup warm water
2 teaspoons salt
4 to 5 cups all purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking soda (for pretzels), 1 1/2 Tablespoons golden syrup (for bagels), in 4 cups boiling water

Kosher salt, coarse (or other toppings, as desired); melted butter if desired

How to make them

     Make the dough

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of the warm water, and let stand for about 10 minutes until foamy. Stir in the rest of the water (one more cup).

Mix 4 cups all purpose flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast in water and enough additional flour (or water, as needed) to make a stiff dough. As with any yeast dough, the proportions of flour and water will vary somewhat depending on the season, humidity, and so forth).

     Knead, and let the dough rise

Knead dough for 10 minutes on lightly floured board OR until dough is elastic. Form the dough into a ball, coat lightly with butter, place in bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes. Note that this dough only rises once.

Dough in bowl, ready to rise. Cover with a damp towel or lightly layer plastic wrap over it, to keep it from drying out. [Photo, TW Carns]

     Shape and boil the pretzels/bagels

At the beginning of this step, shaping and boiling the pretzels/bagels, do these three things:

  • Preheat oven to 475 degrees;
  • Butter a baking sheet; and
  • Bring to a boil 4 cups of water, and dissolve 4 Tablespoons of baking soda in it (for pretzels) or 1 1/2 Tablespoons of golden syrup (for bagels).

I made small, snack or appetizer-size pretzels and bagels, by pinching off a small dough ball (one ounce for each pretzel or bagel), rolling it by hand into a 8 or 10 inch long x 1/2 inch diameter rope, and forming the rope into a pretzel (see pictures here) or bagel shape. E. J. noted that for larger pretzels, “It’s easier to make the ‘ropes’ of dough by rolling out all your dough with a rolling pin, cutting it into strips, and rolling the strips lengthwise.”

Shaped pretzels, ready to boil. [Photo, TW Carns]

Drop pretzels into boiling water; fish them out after 5 to 10 seconds using a slotted spoon (the surface will look a little dimpled). Drain them on paper toweling, briefly, and put them onto the buttered baking sheet.

Boiling the bagels, in 4 cups of water, with 1 1/2 Tablespoons of golden syrup added. The pretzels were boiled in 4 cups of water with 4 Tablespoons of baking soda added. [Photo, TW Carns]

Sprinkle with sea salt, to taste (Maldon flakes are a good size), or use kosher salt.

Boiled pretzels, sprinkled with salt and ready to bake. [Photo, TW Carns]

Bake for 8 to 12 minutes OR until golden (start checking at 6 minutes). Cool on a rack.

Pretzels, some salted and some not, cooling. Brush them with melted butter, if you like. [Photo, TW Carns]

  Baked snack-size bagels. [Photo, TW Carns]

 

File:Baeckerzunft goerlitz bismarckstrasse.JPG
Pretzel as bakers emblem, traditional in Goerlitz, Germany.

Historical notes

Easter: Besides being a Lenten food, in some places a pretzel was hidden, along with two hard-boiled eggs, for people to find on Easter.

Weddings:  Pretzels were associated with marriages as well. One site notes  that the knotted shape represented the binding of the two parties, or, “Tying the knot.”  “Weddings in Europe for a time used the tradition of the bride and groom tugging at a pretzel like a wishbone, the larger piece assured the spouses fulfillment of their wishes.”

Coming to the United States: From foodtimeline.org, under “Pretzels  —  “The Dutch probably brought the pretzel to America, and there is a story that in 1652 a settler named Jochem Wessel was arrested for using good flour to make pretzels to sell to the Indians at a time when his white neighbors were eating bran flour. The first mention of the word ‘pretzel’ in American print was about 1824, and the first commercial pretzel bakery in the United States was set up in 1861 by Julius Sturgis and Ambrose Rauch in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Most pretzels are twisted by machine, introduced in 1933.” —Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 255-6)

                       Jacob Fobsen Van Es Déjeuner Nancy  (1596–1666).

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Iranian flatbreads — by guest Antonia Moras

 

             Barbari bread in Iranian bakery. [ photo by Kamyar Adi.]

Antonia Moras spent more than a year in Iran teaching in the mid-1970s. She recalls the breads:

“In Iran, we ate marvelous breads – some of very very simple composition and baking. One type was merely water, flour, and salt in a thin dough baked by pressing it against the walls of a stone oven for a few minutes until it fell off. It sounds like something kids might do, yet it had a distinct identity. 

I did a little Google research to revive my Iranian memories. The three types of bread that were most common in Tehran were sangak, lavash, and barbari.  They were all somewhat similar to Indian naan — thin and best served immediately.  Lavash is the one made by pressing the thin oblong against the wall of a hot stone oven. It cooks in a minute or so.

Lavash [Photo by Kamyar Adi.]

Sangak, also just water, flour, and salt, is rolled out and baked over a bed of very hot pebbles, You need to brush away remnants of the pebbles before eating it.

   Sangak in oven.  [Photo by Muslim Harji at simerg.com].

Barbari, which was my favorite, is somewhat thicker, is slightly leavened, and lasts longer. The other two types turn to crackers within a few hours, but barbari remains softer for about a day. The practice was to send a servant to wait in line for the bread twice a day. Everyone queued for bread — odd discipline in a place where otherwise queues were rare.



Woman buying barbari bread [Photo, Creative Commons.]

There were other types too, but those are the three I remember encountering most frequently. They all also bear some resemblance to different types of pizza crust.

To my knowledge, no one prepared their bread at home in Tehran, not even the poorer people. The different types may have required less fire but not necessarily less heat and the ovens each had a special construction. My research this morning mentioned that soldiers would prepare theirs (sangak) on beds of hot pebbles while they were on the march. They carried their pebbles with them. But I can’t say that I’ve witnessed this!”

 “Fresh nans off the stone tandoor.” [Photo by Muslim Harji at simerg.com]

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Dante’s Inferno, the ballet — produced by Glenna Burmer

 

Dante’s “Inferno” — the ballet, composed and produced by Glenna Burmer


Dante Aligheri’s Divine Comedy, and especially The Inferno, has been known since its publication in Italy in about 1317 for beauty and intense humanity. In February 2014, Glenna Burmer’s music, evocative of the strength and imagination in The Inferno was brought to life by Ballet Bellevue (Bellevue, Washington) with the choreography of Ronn Tice and Jennifer Porter. This is an account of the ballet, in rehearsal and in production, with the permission of Dr. Burmer.
Satan, in rehearsal. [TW Carns photo.]

Backstory
Dr. Glenna Burmer graduated from University of Washington Medical School in 1981 and started a biotech company in Seattle in the 1990s. She turned to composing music in the mid-2000s, and has produced several concerts in Seattle. Dante’s Inferno is her first ballet. Jim Carns and Glenna were lab partners in medical school, and he worked with Glenna in her biotech company for several years as a pathologist. Anthea Carns worked with Glenna as the webmaster, production assistant, and finally assistant stage manager for The Inferno. Jim had the opportunity to be a (non-dancing) demon in the production, and thus we had the great good fortune to be part of this production.
Three dances
Glenna staged Dante’s Inferno as one of three pieces, each representing an aspect of the themes of the Underworld and the other worlds, and the sacred and the profane.Demeter and Persephone with music by Tim Huling and choreography by Ronn Tice explored the Greek myth of the origins of the seasons. When Hades, lord of the Underworld, kidnaps Demeter (goddess of the harvest)’s daughter Persephone from a spring time meadow, Demeter mourns and the earth grows cold and barren until the gods cooperate to return Persephone to the earth. Although Persephone must return to Hades for a few months each year (winter), when she is on earth with Demeter, everything flourishes.
Photo: Persephone (Megan Horton) and friend (Maya Huling) greet Demeter (Alyssa Gold). Photo by Fred Burmer.
Flower girl (Maya Huling), Persephone (Megan Horton), and Demeter (Alyssa Gold). [Fred Burmer photo]
Sacred and Profane, with music by both Glenna and Tim, and choreography by Jennifer Porter, explored the dual aspects of a dancer’s being, showing them distrusting each other, but in the end, joining in harmony.
Photo: Mireya Mascarello and Alisha Cushing. Photo by Fred Burmer.

Sacred (in white, Mireya Mascarello) and Profane (Alisha Cushing, in red). [Fred Burmer photo]

Credits
Anthea Carns, Gordon Compton (stage manager), Glenna Burmer (composer, producer for Dante’s Inferno, Jim Carns (in his demon blacks) on February 17, at Ballet Bellevue rehearsal space. On the table in the bottom left corner are some of the masks; the orange and yellow fabrics to the upper right are the skirts for the Fire Dancers.  [TWCarns photo]
Glenna began writing music in the mid-2000’s (http://www.glennaburmer.com/Glenna_s_Music_A9GT.html), and most recently composed the music for the Dante’sInferno ballet. The production was a benefit for Ballet Bellevue (http://www.balletbellevue.org/), which provided many of the dancers, as well as the rehearsal space, and some of the administrative assistance. Ronn Tice (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/ronald-tice/4b/62b/a1b) and Jennifer Porter (http://www.balletbellevue.org/jenniferporter.php) were choreographers, and Fred Burmer (Glenna’s dad, a professional photographer,   http://www.glennaburmer.com/Burmer_Art.html) did most of the show photography. There will be a video, available on the website.
All of the production photos are from the website and FaceBook pages, and are (except as noted) by Fred Burmer. All of the rehearsal shots are by Teri White Carns, with permission of Glenna.
Ballet

A dancer’s foot at rest [TWCarns photo].
Ballet (from Italian, ballare, to dance)  —  The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre website puts its origins in the 1600s in the French royal courts [http://pbt.org/community-engagement/brief-history-ballet]. The classical ballet style used in Dante’s Inferno by the choreographers relies on a “vocabulary” of movements that was developed in the 1800s. Anyone who took ballet classes knows of the five positions for the feet, and five for the arms. There are bends, jumps, spins, and rising to the ball of the foot or the toes. From these positions and a few more, all of the classical ballet stories are constructed. In the French courts in the 1600s and early 1700s, ballet was combined with opera, but since then ballet dancers are silent. The dance movements and the music convey the narrative.
The story of Dante’s Inferno
 
 
 Northwest Sinfonia | Dante's Inferno-the Ballet

The cover for the CD [from http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/nwsinfonia]
Here is the web site’s account of the history of the Inferno [http://dantesinfernoballet.com/Inferno_StoryandMusic.html]: “The ballet Dante’s Inferno is based on the first part of Dante Alighieri’s magnificent poem, the Divine Comedy, which chronicles Dante’s journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Paradise (Paradiso). Dante was born in Florence, Italy, in 1265, during the early Renaissance period of two warring political factions, the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, who were loyal to either the Pope or the Holy Roman Emperor. Dante was passionate about politics, and also about Beatrice, the first love of his life, who played an important role in his poetry. Although Beatrice married another man and died when Dante was 25, for the poet, she was the idealized representation of all of the heavenly virtues, and his guardian angel.
Dante’s Inferno is an allegorical morality tale. Dante began writing the poem in middle-age, after he had witnessed years of the brutality of war, politics, and painful exile from his beloved city of Florence. The poem graphically depicts his view of sin and divine punishment, as well as his strong religious belief in the power of salvation. Although Dante’s views of the levels of Hell, as described in the Divine Comedy, largely reflect those that were held by the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope during the 13th century, the poem is also highly personal, and Dante includes the names of many famous and powerful Italian contemporaries as well as his enemies among the sinners that are given horrifying and specific punishments. Although contemporary views of sin and evil do not completely overlap with the views of the 13th century, Dante’s passionate and fundamental cry for human salvation and justice, written in beautiful prose, is a compelling message that transcends time and culture.” [Anthea Carns]
 
Here’s a link to the website, where you can buy the music, and learn more:

http://dantesinfernoballet.com/

 . And here’s a link to a review of the performances:

http://seattledances.com/2014/02/dantes-inferno-sets-classical-ballet-on-fire/

 .

Dante (Shane Tice) and Virgil (Philip Laue), in rehearsal. [TWCarns photo]
The story opens with Dante waking in a forest. The Roman poet Virgil comes to guide him through the Inferno, which he must traverse before he can go through Purgatory into Paradise. Hell, for Dante, was divided into nine circles, with the first being the least evil — lusts and carnal passions. Lower down are greed, jealousy, fraud, despair, and violence. In the Ninth Circle where Satan resides are the traitors. In the poem and the ballet, Dante traverses all of them, fending off temptations along the way and eventually climbing on Satan’s back to get out of hell and back to the verge of Purgatory where he dances with the three Graces (the counterpoint to the earlier dances with the Furies). From there, Virgil will guide him part of the way to Paradise.
Masks and creatures, costumes and props
Glenna conceived of masked dancers for most of the characters in The Inferno, and made some of the masks herself. She also commissioned creation of several non-human inhabitants of The Inferno, including
  • Cerberus (the three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades; in Dante, he sits in the Third Circle and punishes those whose main sin was gluttony);
  • the Minotaur (in Dante, the bull-headed man is at the gate of the Seventh Circle, punishing those whose sins were violent);
  • giant bat wings rising from the orchestra pit, representing one aspect of Satan at the entrance to the Ninth circle of the Inferno; and
  • A three-headed figure in Limbo, before the actual Inferno, representing three of the great Pagan philosophers who were virtuous but not allowed to enter Paradise because they were not Christian or in the Old Testament.
A favorite mask, the green Medusa head.   [Photo, TWCarns]
Inferno masks, juxtaposed with flowers for the companion ballet, Demeter and Persephone, and someone’s glasses (part of a modern-day means of seeing the world differently). [TWCarns photo]
A mug in the office area with an appropriate slogan for The Inferno. [TWCarns photo.]
Cerberus in the making (February 16). Shoresh Araundi, the creator of Cerberus, built a structure from foam, tubing, black plastic, and other materials. The brown “fur” is wool, felted over the framework and stitched to give depth and character. [TW Carns photo.]
Two of the three virtuous philosophers in Limbo with whom Dante talks, waiting for their cue to enter. [TW Carns photo.]
Jim in his demon mask (chosen in part because it was the only one that would fit over his glasses). [TW Carns photo.]

Jim’s partner in the Inferno was 5-year-old Maya Huling, daughter of Tim Huling, the composer for Demeter and Persephone, one of the companion ballets. I never managed to get a picture of Maya in her Inferno costume and mask, so she is shown here with Persephone waiting to rehearse that dance. [TWCarns photo]

Maya and Persephone (Megan Horton) in performance [Photo, Fred Burmer]
Rehearsals
February 15, Ballet Bellevue rehearsal space, the tech line up. The rehearsal floor is open and free of clutter, but the sidelines were packed with people with computers (e.g., Anthea, to the right in the mid-distance), creatures under construction, and an organized tangle of cords and gear.

  [TWCarns photo]
More tech — the sound and light engineers.   [TWCarns photo]
Whole lot of waiting going on during rehearsals. The younger dancers did homework.   [TWCarns photo]
Temporarily at rest, but feet still gracefully placed.   [TWCarns photo]
Shoresh Araundi works on Cerberus (he is attaching felt, for the fur, to the understructure) while dancers wait for their cues.  [TWCarns photo]
Ron Tice (main choreographer for Inferno, on stage to the left), leads warmups in the theater  while Gordon looks on. (February 20)   [TWCarns photo]
The transformation, from rehearsal to stage
One of the things that struck me most about the experience was the transformation that the dancers and the story underwent between the rehearsal hall and the stage. The dancers were beautiful, in motion or at rest, in the rehearsal hall. On stage, with the  music, the costumes, the lights and sets, they  gained a dimension of magic.
The Furies in the rehearsal hall; Shane Tice (Dante) at the back of the room.  [TWCarns photo]
The Furies onstage, barring Dante’s entrance to the Inferno.  [Fred Burmer photo]
Dante ( Shane  Tice)  in rehearsal.   [TWCarns photo]
1097990_287662074691806_450648250_n.jpg (960×736)
Dante (Shane Tice) lifting Cleopatra (Megan Horton), in the first circle of Hell, the carnal sins.  [Fred Burmer photo]
Fire dancers in rehearsal.  [TWCarns photo]
Fire dancers in production.  [Fred Burmer  photo].
The shows
       Off-stage
 
Opening night, February 21, Green Room. Mark Burmer, Glenna’s son, Glenna, and Anthea work on masks that will be sold to benefit Ballet Bellevue.  [TWCarns photo]

Masks for sale to benefit Ballet Bellevue. The leather masks, some of which were for sale here, were created by well-known  mask-makers across the country, including River Gypsy Arts, Merimask, Misfit Leather, MaskEra, Morgan, Kmickel, Mr.Hydes Leather, Squirrel Creek Creations, Oddfae, and Vincent Cantillon. [TWCarns photo]

Pre-matinee warm-up in the company of Satan  (created by Timothy Stephens) , February 22. 

 [TWCarns photo]
Kyra Stewart, (in red, center front) celebrated her birthday at the Saturday evening show, bringing a dozen or so friends, and outfitting them with masks (by the Tacoma artist Morgan) from her company “A Masquerade” costume and mask store in Bellevue).   [TWCarns photo]
        Scenes from the show
The Three Furies[Fred Burmer photo]
Demons (masks created by Glenna Burmer).[Andrew Ness photo]
The Fire Dance.  [Fred Burmer photo]
Cerberus. [Fred Burmer photo]
Satan in the Ninth Circle. [Fred Burmer photo]
Dante (Shane Tice) returns from the Inferno to earth on the dawn of Easter Sunday, dances with the three Graces (Ashley Zimmerman, Megan Horton, Alyssa Gold).  [Fred Burmer photo]
Postlude
Glenna is writing the music for the other two parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy,Purgatorio, and Paradiso. She hopes to take the trilogy to Italy in the future. In the meantime, she’s also working on music for a performance to be put on in conjunction with the UW Astrobiology department, on a series of commissioned short symphonic pieces based on paintings, and more. You can keep track of her on her website, http://www.glennaburmer.com/Home.html.
Anthea is focusing on writing [her blog is at http://runonthewater.wordpress.com/] and driving the foodtruck, 314pie [http://www.314pieseattle.com/].
Jim is back in Anchorage contemplating his next adventure, which is unlikely to involve ballet. Demons are a different question.
Scene VI: Visions of Beatrice

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Garlic Bread, a poem

 

 


Baugettes, Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, Anchorage. [TWCarns Photo]

Garlic Bread

Streamlined torpedo.
Exterior, a hard brittle crust,
but it’s a sham.
At your core,
you are soft and yielding.

 
Indulgent tang
of garlic minced in butter.
My lips are slick
with guilty pleasure.

 

Did your ancestors
come through Ellis Island?
Did they lose
the French surname Pain,
to help you fit in
with this hodgepodge
of western food?

 

I see your great grandfather
strapped to the back of a bicycle
being pedaled up
the steep cobbled streets
of Montmartre

 
Did he spend time
in a sidewalk café,
a third at the table
with Hemingway and Joyce
sharing a bottle of Bordeaux?

 
Would he look
on his Americanized descendant
with the disdain
of a Parisian waiter?

Paul Winkel
Anchorage, March 29, 2014

Paris Photography  3
Streets of MontMarte in Paris,, ephotozine.com picture.

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The history of grasses — a timeline


Snow’s melting in Berrien County, Michigan, showing the winter wheat greening up, March 22, 2014 [Photo, Micki Glueckert]

The dates given in this timeline are the best approximations available at the time of publication (March 25, 2014).

One hundred million years ago — Grasses appear 


Oat grass, Locust Lane, Michigan. [Photo, TWCarns]

Grasses evolved relatively late among the land plants, near the end of the Mesozoic period. Dinosaurs ate them, as shown in 2005 when scientists found silica from grass leaves in fossilized dinosaur dung. They spread everywhere, adapting to a wide range of conditions because they had:

  • Bits of silica in their leaves, to make it harder for animals to eat them. That didn’t prevent numerous animals from evolving ways to consume them anyway — extra stomachs (ruminants like cows, zebras, elephants and deer), big teeth and extra digestive spaces (like horses), and jaws and mandibles (insects).
  • Growth from the ground up, rather than from the top of the plant, which allowed them to survive fires, droughts, winds, and other harsh conditions.
  • Two types of photosynthesis, allowing them to grow in a wide range of climates. Some grasses have C-3 photosynthesis, adapted for tropical climates; the C-4 path of photosynthesis developed more recently and enabled grasses to colonize colder and drier climates, including Antarctica.
  • The ability to propagate both by runners,(above and below ground) and with seeds.
  • Wind-carried pollen, so that the grasses didn’t have to rely on insects for fertilization.
     The climate cooperated as well. No-one knows for sure why the dinosaurs went extinct about 65,000,000 years ago, but cooling climates and ice ages after that often favored mammals and grasses. Herds of ruminants and the animals who ate them for dinner covered much of Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

Deer eating grass in Tacoma, Washington, February, 2014. [Photo, TWCarns]

Six million years ago — human ancestors appear 
     Fast forward through many millions of years to the grasslands of Africa where the earliest signs of humans appeared.

Savanna, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.  Credit: Thure Cerling, University of Utah.

Humans developed their cultures and civilizations in close relationship to grasses. Whether they were feeding themselves or their domesticated animals, or subsisting on wild animals that foraged on grasslands, much of the human diet came — and still comes — from grass. One human ancestor, Ardipithecus, from 4.3 million years ago was eating grass; its members lived in woodlands near the savanna. Other evidence from about 3.5 million years ago suggests that grass was a main component of the hominids (pre-humans) diet, distinguishing them from their primate ancestors who subsisted mainly on fruits, leaves, and insects or small animals.

File:Ardipithecus ramidus.jpg
An artist’s image of Ardipithecus. 

3.4 million to two million years ago — evidence of hominids using stone tools, and eating grasses

About 2.6 million years ago, humans were making stone tools, in the Kenyan grasslands, and elsewhere, while continuing to eat grasses. At the same time, the climate was shifting from more tropical in most places to drier, cooler, and more variable, well-suited to grasses, as shown by a variety of scientific data, from undersea sediments to fossilized vegetation.


Tools from the Stone Age. [Photo, Wikipedia]

There’s plenty of evidence that humans were eating meat at the same time as the grasses and other foods, but data suggest that human kidneys and livers are limited in in their ability to process proteins. Too much meat is toxic, and half or more of human calories must come from fats and carbohydrates such as grains. Wheat is the focus of this blog; others have done great justice to the rest of the omnivores’ diets.

1.9 million years ago — hominids begin to cook?


[Photo, TWCarns]

When did people begin to cook grains, whether by roasting them, boiling them, or in some other fashion? The evidence is so murky that it’s probably better to be cautious rather than to say that anyone knows with certainty. One study looked at the size of hominid molars from about 2,000,000 years ago, and suggested that they were much smaller than those of related primates because hominids needed to spend much less time and energy chewing food — only possible if they were cooking it.

40,000 to 23,000 years ago — people begin to grind up grains

bilancino grinding tools_wide-8f335c65606968d602b5e2ec5d546a973c021abd-s6-c30.jpg (948×532)
Paleolithic grinding stone (Italy, 30,000 years ago). [Photo, NPR]

Tools for grinding grains appear well before humans domesticated the grasses with agriculture. Excavations have found stones that were used to grind tubers and grains in Italy, Russia, and elsewhere. A flat stone found in Israel in 1989 had been used to pulverize barley, and possibly wheat. The earliest evidence of wheat ancestors, such as wild einkorn and emmer, dates from about this time as well.

12,000 to 10,000 years ago — the beginnings of agriculture


Northwest Ohio wheat field, June 30, 2013. [Photo, Betsy Slotnick]

Finally, we get to agriculture when people began to deliberately plant crops — mostly grains — and cultivate the ground. Notice that by the time agriculture begins, people had been eating grains for most of the multi-million-year history of hominds; they had been cooking grains for perhaps two million years; and they had been grinding grains into pastes (and probably cooking the pastes) for tens of thousands of years.

Most of the existing evidence for the earliest farms is from archaeological sites in the Middle East. Agriculture would assure a reliable source of grains and legumes for proteins to supplement meat. People had been eating wild wheats, and they were among the earliest plants to be cultivated.


A fox and other carvings on stones at Gobekli Tepe. [Photo, Smithsonian]

One of the most interesting possibilities for the origins of agriculture comes from a site in southeast Turkey, Gobekli Tepe, where excavation began in earnest in 1994. Stones, some that are sixteen feet tall and quarried with flint tools from about 11,000 years ago suggest a temple or burial site. Many have sophisticated carvings of everything from lions to snakes, vultures to spiders. Twenty miles away, a village site contains the earliest evidence of domesticated wheat, from 10,500 years ago. Within a few hundred years after that, signs of domesticated sheep, cattle, and pigs appeared in the area. Klaus Schmidt, the archaeologist who began excavating Gobekli Tepe suggests that the need to care for the large numbers of hunter-gatherers while they were building the monuments led to villages and thence to agriculture, rather than (as has often been thought) agricultural settlements leading to formal religions.

10,000 years ago to the present: Mesopotamia to Monsanto


Left to right, einkorn, emmer, spelt, and kamut — all ancient varieties of wheat. [Photo, Purdue University.]

Wheat has changed so drastically that none of the wheat strains most commonly cultivated in the 20th and 21st centuries would have been found in Mesopotamia, at Gobekli  Tepe and elsewhere.  What’s more, the wheat grown in the past fifty years, since the “Green Revolution” differs greatly from the wheat that farmers grew before the 1950s. Some of the most important changes during the past ten millenia include:

  • Thousands of years ago, farmers selected the strains of wheat that held onto their grains (had a rachis, or stem for the grains, that did not shatter when the grains were ripe) — so that the seeds stayed on the stalks until they could be harvested rather than scattering to the winds.
  • Farmers also selected wheats that did not have tight hulls, because these were easier to thresh.
  • Over the centuries, farmers have grown wheats with differing levels of gluten, in part because those with higher gluten contents do better in northern climates and those with lower gluten do better in warmer areas. The foods of the regions with low-gluten wheat are different, as a result, from those in the high-gluten regions. [Current concerns about the pros and cons of gluten are discussed here.]
  • Dr. Borlaug, in the Green Revolution during the 1950s, won a Nobel Peace Prize for hybridizing wheat that was much shorter, so that the stalks didn’t topple under their own weight before harvest, or get blown down in summer storms. He also developed wheat that was far more productive, although it did require substantially more nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Wheat displayed at Alaska State Fair, 2013. [Photo, TWCarns]
  • Monsanto, characterized as the world’s largest seed company, said in January 2014 that although no genetically modified wheat is grown anywhere in the world today,  it was coming closer to marketing one. The company halted field testing in 2004 because of resistance from potential foreign purchasers and others. Plants from genetically modified seeds would resist destruction by glyphosphate, sold by Monsanto as Round-up. The weed-killer is already widely used on Monsanto’s patented GM corn, soy and other crops. One source suggests that consumers are less concerned about using the herbicide on those crops because they are more widely used as animal feed or biofuels than as food for people, like wheat.
       Wheat’s future, despite many concerns about celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, and its healthfulness, seems assured after so many years of serving as one of the most important foods in many parts of the world. The great majority of people are not sensitive to gluten, and wheat provides substantial percentages of the protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients needed daily.
Loaf of bread, Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, Anchorage, 2013. [Photo, TWCarns]
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Sicilian artichoke and tuna stew  

 

4345844745_3ea0b5be52.jpg (400×400)
Artichokes, Santa Cruz News.

After Pablo Neruda

Find a tuna among the market vegetables, a solitary man of war. Pair it with artichokes, their sides burnished as grenades. Take them in your market basket, home to the deep soup pot. I am envisioning a Sicilian fish stew, one where you start by sauteeing the small diced onion and smashed cloves of garlic (two, maybe, or three) in olive oil that smells of the dusty October hillsides where it was harvested. After the onion and garlic have scented the kitchen, stir in the baby artichokes, two dozen or so cut into quarters, and stir them sizzling but not burning for a good five minutes. Then it will be time to splash in half a dozen crushed tomatoes, red with the blood of the New World from which they came, along with the chopped green celery stalk and its leaves, and the bright bitter parsley — enough to bring summer into this autumn dish.

You will stir this with salt and pepper (“to taste,”as all of the good books say), half a glass of white wine, a cup of stock (fish or vegetable) and simmer for half an hour, while you turn back to the noble tuna, the missile that has become a missive, a letter from Pablo Neruda to your kitchen. Now you must bravely cut the tuna into one-inch pieces, of a size to cook quickly and tenderly, each piece a word, and all of them together a pound of the red muscles that propelled the tuna through the deeps. When the artichokes have let down their guard and are al dente, slip the tuna chunks into the pot, and quickly toast some slices of ciabbata that have been brushed with more of the olive oil. They will be done at the same time, the tuna and the toasted bread, and you may ladle the stew over the slice of bread in the bottom of each bowl. Some would fling more parsley atop the stew, or a lemon aioli, or some other garnish. You must be the judge. Take the bowls outside, sit with them under the fig tree in the evening, and drink a wine from the slopes of Mt. Aetna with your meal.

Artichoke, tuna —
Neruda immortalized
you. I make a stew.

Northern blue-fin tuna.

Pablo Neruda, Ode to a Large Tuna in a Market; Ode to the Artichoke

My thanks to the poets of “Ten Poets” in Anchorage for their thoughtful and helpful comments.
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Why the Magi brought gifts

 

 

 

 

 

   

Christmas gifts of years past.

[Note — this was written in mid-December, as I was busy wrapping gifts for dozens of friends and family members, for charities and hostesses. It is now late January. Hanukkah, Christmas, Epiphany — all those gift-giving occasions have come and gone. This still seems Important.]

The Magi traversed wild deserts and hostile trails seeking the new-born king whose star they saw. They went to Bethlehem to take the baby gifts — gold, frankincense and myrrh — things of this world, material things. Why, when we are told so often and so harshly that Christmas is too materialistic, would the Three Kings have been the first to bring the Christ Child gifts of this world?

In the Catholic teaching, God gave us bodies, and a world of plants and animals, seas and mountains, fields and orchards to live in. Then God became human to live among us — in the Catholic teachings, fully God and fully human. He broke and ate the bread, drank the wine, laughed with his friends, and walked the dusty paths of Israel. He welcomed the material gifts, like the ointment from the woman who washed his feet. We owe it to the God who shared these gifts of shape and form, taste and sound with us to appreciate them and in our turn, share them with others. 

Instead of rejoicing in gifts this season, we wail about the materialism of the world, and the burdens of giving. It can be tough. We feel pinched for time and money. The demands appear insatiable. Who has any idea what a teenage boy wants — that we can afford or appropriately give him? Or a friend of exquisite taste? Or someone living out their last days asleep in a nursing home? Not to despair — there is always something to give, from a tech-friendly gift card, to an hour sitting beside the sleeper as a quiet companion.

If we don’t want to take the Christian view of the season, we can see the holiday as a chance to show our deep delight in the world we live in. The fact that we are body intertwined with spirit means that our relationship with everything around us is one of interaction. It is not given to us to reproduce just in the most physical sense. Every time we cook, garden, clean, create a song, make a child, throw a pot, write a story, we share in the creation of and maintenance of the world. Resting, enduring, pushing the Sisyphean rock up the hill, we share in the creation and maintenance of the material world. It is our gift and our task. 

As artists, we have even more responsibility. If we don’t share the things that we create with our talents as gifts to others, and recognize the talents of our fellow artists by giving others their work, how can we think that people in general will take the time to do that? It doesn’t seem to me to be an either-or. Each aspect, material and spiritual, supports and enlarges the other.

Snowflakes, a gift (Micki Glueckert, December 8, 2013).

 

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