how to celebrate a royal event at home, all proper-like

party like the Queen, yo

this one made us delirious

2012 is shaping up to be one of the merriest of years in merrie olde England.  For the engineers in MoT‘s Celebratoria, which is housed in the Department of Festive Studies and Fun-Time Rituals, that means overtime.  Significant projects have bene undertaken (supported by funds from a MacArthur Fellowship . . . that we’re still waiting for) to celebrate, albeit long-distance, all manner of Britophilia.  In addition to a whole new year of hat-wearing by the Kate The Nearly Impeccable (any new hat day is reason enough for the full MoT staff to drop everything and pop open the clotted cream with a shout of huzzah!), a few specific big events are posted on the calendar: the Royal First Anniversary (29 April), C. F. A. Voysey’s 155th Birthday (28 May), the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (2-5 June) and the Olympics open in London (27 July).  If for some reason you have not received your invitation or secured your tickets for these big events, never fear.  MoT can help you turn your living room into a wee colony of Little Britain in three easy steps and at varying levels of economic investment (to which we are sensitive; times are tough!) and relative interest in the Royal Family (for which we have no sympathy; get with the program, mate!).

the MoT staff's Royal Anniversary Tea

the MoT staff’s Royal Anniversary Tea

Step 1: Prepare your feast.  British food gets a bad rap but, while it’s not cuisine française, you can navigate your way away from murky fields of kidney pie and eel grossness to the juicy and carboriffic heights of a roasted meat and baked pudding wonderland.  High end:  Eat the kind of thing the Queen and her Jubilee guests will enjoy: roast lamb, Beef Wellington.  A bit less so:  Toad in the Hole with long-simmered onion gravy.  That’s still too much work:  Lay out a proper afternoon tea with scones, clotted cream, jam, sandwiches, cakes (and if you go to the Italian Bakery down the street because your staff pastry chefs threw the whole pan of cakes–pan included–into the rubbish bin in frustration, we won’t tell).  Don’t know a Chelsea Bun from an Eccles Cake:  Cut the crusts off your kids’ PB&J, butter up some English muffins, and call it good.

one lump or two?

Step 2: Plan your attire.  High end: Bring out the gloves, gems and regalia, if you have them.  I’ve Got a Hot Glue Gun and I’m Not Afraid to Use It: Spend $10 at Hobby Lobby and become your neighborhood Philip Treacy.  Make fascinators for yourself, your friends, your children, your dog.  You must be kidding: Please, at least wear something that needs ironing.  Iron it.  Not allowed: Scorn your droll guests who wear their Sex Pistols t-shirts from college; it’s neither ironic nor clever.

Step 3: After taking gratuitous picture of Dog In Fascinator and dealing with the resultant canine thrashing, blot spilled tea with paper towel, spritz with a solution of water and vinegar.  If carpet stain persists, gently rub with dish detergent or salt, alternate with more cold-water dabbing.  Tune in BBC, turn up volume loud enough to drown out complaints of husband.  Proceed with festivities.

There you have it: the MoT Geek Guide to Britophilia in three easy steps.  Cheerio!

cats may also celebrate, even if they defy any monarchy they don’t control

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ode to St. Barbara: masonry walls

“Saint Barbara Crushing Her Infidel Father” by Domenico Ghirlandaio ca. 1473 (detail)

Although she was edged out of first place (by St.-Denis) for the honors of Best Martyr in a highly influential and absolutely definitive study (read the full account of My Favorite Martyr here), St. Barbara (d. 306; see full image detailed above here) is associated with more tangible elements that ought to draw one’s attentive devotion to her on a regular basis.  Because of her imprisonment in a great tower, artistic renderings of which are normally included in her portraits, she is associated with masonry, and properly named the patron saint of masons (initially stone masons, but claimed by brick masons too).

By further association, she has been identified also as the patron saint of architects.  Doubtless, architects would have preferred a saint with more apropos accoutrements (they’re still hoping historical research–conducted by someone else, of course–will reveal a martyr stabbed to death by his own trendy glasses).  The list of possibilities was quite short, since the architects’ martyr faces the tall order of out-martyring architects themselves.

Although designers and builders honored St. Barbara with their craft for centuries following her martyrdom, St. Barbara has been rarely honored in the more recent era.  To help remedy this sad state of affairs in some small way, and in honor of St. Barbara’s feast day, December 4, MoT presents the following  collection of images that capture Significant Achievement in Masonry: Walls We Have Loved, presented here as a pictorial prayer.

Praise be to thee, St. Barbara, favored of the Lord and exalted by Him,

For your manifold graces on masons—and even architects, too. 

Your grace knows no bounds.

Hallowed be thy memory among men and women,

Especially those who make buildings of brick and stone.

Philadelphia: Christ Church

Give us this day reverence for those who passed before us: intuitive minds and skilled hands

Barcelona: S. Pau de Camp

Who wrought timeless beauties from the brute geology of Creation.

Milan: Palazzo Castiglione

We pray for your continued blessing on them: those who worked in brick,

Newark DE: Gore Hall

Prague: Church of the Sacred Heart

those who worked in marble,

Bergamo

Beijing: Forbidden City

those who worked in granite,

Wilmington DE: Hagley

Chicago: May House

and stone we can’t name,

Granada: the Alhambra

Washington DC: DuPont Circle

and spiffy glazed masonry,

London: Debenham House

and sometimes all of them at once.

Surrey: Standen House

Bless the Romans, 

Rome: Baths of Caracalla

And the medieval masons,

Paris: S.-Denis

And the nineteenth century architects and builders,

Bishop Hill IL: Steeple Building

And even those few radical Modernists who dared to work in a traditional material.

Barcelona: German Pavilion

Bless those who could organize bricks like they were sewing a quilt,

London: All Saints, Margaret Street

and those who could spread mortar like it was butter,

New Orleans: somewhere in the French Quarter

and those who recognized mortar as a design element.

Philadelphia: UPenn campus

We ask your special blessing on those devotees of yours who really knew how to build a wall:

Brunelleschi

Florence: the dome

Richardson

New Orleans: Taylor Library

Lutyens

Manchester: Midland Bank

and Pope.

Washington DC: National Gallery

We beseech your grace and your intercession, through which may we be spared the glare of glassy curtain walls.  Forgive us our double-skin facades.  Deliver us from concrete panels and lead us back to ashlar.

Norristown PA: county prison

May we ever be blessed by thermal mass, color and sculptural richness.

Barcelona: Gothic Quarter

Amen.

Baltimore: Eutaw Baptist Church (portrait of the author)

the war on National Coffee Day

We’ll give you our mug when you pry it from our cold, dead hands.

Another battle in the Culture Wars has begun.  Don’t think only Christmas is at  issue here–that’s what the far left wants you to think, to distract you from the real threat to the American way of life.  The real problem is their adamant stance against National Coffee Day.

At least at Christmastime, staff at Target, Wal-Mart and the rest will wish you Happy Holidays.  How many people dared to wish you a Happy National Coffee Day? We rest our case.  No, no we don’t: we’re just getting started here.

a patriotic, truly American coffee house in ye olde Colonial times

It’s more of the same, the never-ending assault from secular progressives on traditional American values, and most important thing in the country today (maybe a close second to the war on terror).  At stake: whether the USA, with its long tradition of National Coffee Day, so intimately tied to our set-in-stone Constitution, will turn into a mirror of pathetic National Coffee Day-free countries on which God has not bestowed His blessing, or maintain its  traditional coffee-loving values.  And the stakes could hardly be higher.

Just look at Western Europe and Canada, which don’t have National Coffee Days: there they are, swilling in secular progressive programs, the legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, naked beaches, failing banks, marriage between cats and dogs.  Just look at Holland, known for its legalized prostitution and streets paved with reefer, whose “coffeeshops” do not specialize in pumpkin spice lattes.  Be warned, citizens: lose National Coffee Day, and your beloved Panera might exchange its Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich for a pile of doobies.

Conservative American coffee values are under siege.  America is a coffee nation, and statistics cherry-picked (or perhaps coffee-bean-picked) from varying sources prove it: 80% of Americans drink coffee (fact!) while only 78% planned to watch the Superbowl in 2011 (fact!), 39% of households own dogs (fact!), 70% go to college (fact!), 56.8% voted in the 2008 presidential election (fact!),  53.3% watched the “Who Shot J.R.” episode (fact!) and 74% believe in life after death (fact!).  That makes coffee-drinking Americans–245,605,240 strong!–the single most important majority in American life, and the liberal plot hatched by a progressive minority against them, played out in shopping malls, schools and public parks is patently offensive to Real America.

Coffee-drinking Americans, it’s time to take a stand.  Embrace your righteous rage and don’t sit by quietly while your cherished holiday is being denigrated and disrespected by hostile forces of the secular progressive non-National Coffee Day agenda.  Don’t support retailers who have knocked the word “coffee” out of Coffee Day.  Take your children out of schools that don’t have coffee-themed programming.  Picket your city government until they agree to Juan Valdez displays on public grounds.

The battle lines are drawn.  You’re with us or against us.  Which is it, punk?

architecture’s sweetheart

C.F.A. Voysey

Judging by his portraits alone, Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857–1941) appears to have been an awfully grouchy person, someone with whom you’d not want to quibble over the last crumpet on the tea service let alone venture into whatever severe, strict, minimal architectural setting that such a grump would design.  Yet Voysey’s work represents a completely different character and personality than that which is suggested by this unfortunate photograph (which must have been the result of a dawdling photographer keeping a perturbed Voysey from getting some cookies out of the oven, or perhaps finishing some sweaters he was knitting for puppies).  Quite simply put, Voysey has left us the most charming and engaging architecture; this is especially true considering how seldom architects have regarded these small human values through the centuries.

Moor Crag (1899)

Some may argue that Voysey was one of the world’s greatest architects, and they might be right.  Surely in the sphere of domestic architecture at the turn of the century he was far ahead of the rest of the field (even eclipsing MoT‘s closer-to-hometown hero from nearby Oak Park).  Much has been written about Voysey’s special, un-niche-ifiable place in the history of architecture, with something in common with the woozy use of history and industry among Art Nouveau masters, on the outskirts of the medieval craftiness of the Arts and Crafts tradition, and claimed by many to be adjacent to the more abstract thinkers formulating the Neues Bauen.

"Let Us Prey" (1909)

Once in a while it looks like Voysey visited one of these neighborhoods, but he never completely settled in. Although there’s still much to be said to try to either shackle him to one or more of these movements, or to free him altogether as a uniquely creative person, our interest in Voysey is focused on an attribute of his work which is sorely lacking in architecture today, yesterday, and almost all periods in history.  It’s a simple notion and one that’s very human: affection.  Style issues aside, most of the great architects have in common a tendency toward expressing much greater ideals through the use of carefully studied symbols drawn explicitly from architecture’s history or building technology.  To understand those buildings, a person needs to have a certain education in architecture.  Voysey, on the other hand, celebrates common experiences and that taps into core qualities of young and old at a very innocent and effortless place.  In architecture and design, he celebrates and elevates the vernacular in a familiar yet extraordinary way.

Oftentimes work like Voysey’s is described as being “lovingly crafted,” leaving one to wonder: just what is loved here?  And who has done the loving: the architect, or the workers on the site who actually smoothed the stones and sanded the wood?  (Note: we use the word work with some discomfort since there is little sense of toil about what Voysey did, but his production does spread far beyond the realm of architecture to virtually all furnishings welcome in a house.)  In Voysey’s case it’s clear the architect cared for people. From the big formal decisions of his houses (big and little) which drew from a longstanding tradition of comfortable residential design in Britain, to the small notes of decorative objects, Voysey designed in a way that was at once as delightful as it is engaging: a sign of respect for the original dwellers in these places and a pleasure for us later visitors to these well-scaled, simply-rendered  forms sheltered with strong roofs.  Interiors are fitted with decorative arts similarly designed to serve and shelter a cozy life.

"Whoot" fabric (1898)

These may be Arts and Crafts goals generally speaking, but Voysey succeeds here more so than the other acknowledged masters of the movement.  Voysey’s two-dimensional designs reveal obvious similarities to, say, William Morris; but where Morris’ designs tend toward the high contrasts and vivid color combinations, Voysey is softer and gentler.  Morris’ birds flit among thorny flowers and prickly leaves; Voysey’s critters nestle into yielding petals and curvaceous plants. Morris’ designs represent a taxonomy of whatever sprouted or chirped in his yard.  Voysey selects those elements of nature that are most fun.  Morris’ famous “Strawberry Thief” is cheeky only in title; Voysey’s owl is a whoot even before we know the name of the pattern.

"Hey Diddle Diddle" wallpaper

Others of his designs even more clearly reveal Voysey’s intent to make us smile.  Up close, sophisticated patterns remind us of childhood rhymes and nursery tales.  Like the poem from which it is drawn, the “Hey Diddle Diddle” paper neither hides nor reveals satire or critique; it’s simply delightful.  (Our only complaint is the dominance of the cat and fiddle at the expense of the little dog.)  Several other such patterns appear in Voysey’s collection, including a rambunctious “Alice in Wonderland” as dizzying as Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole must have been.  In “Let us Prey,” the line of a grey cat’s tail echoes that of a worm burrowing into a flower, being eyed by a bird who is being stalked by a cat.

Norney Grange (1897)

Plenty of other obvious narratives and identifiable emblems appear throughout his houses and gardens, from laughing faces in a sundial, to ships sailing smooth waters on the face of a clock, to the Tree of Life–home to kissing birds–appearing on everything from mantlepieces to brooches.  All of these speak of whimsy, delight, hope and other good things.  But none represents these positive ideals so clearly as one of the simplest shapes, the heart.

Voysey’s hearts are all over his houses (and even in the grumpy portrait above, where the “hand and heart” idea is seen in the sculpture next to Voysey).  The heart is the simplest sign of love and affection, a form every school child learns to make with their first Valentine in art class.  It shows up in religious art also, and Voysey’s affection for mankind appears to have been a response to his personal faith in a benevolent God.

front door, The Orchard (1899)

The Voysey heart appears everywhere: from coat hooks, mantlepieces and wall paper, to hinges and letter slots.  Overuse of this simple shape, in the hands of a lesser designer, could easily veer into the cloying realm of Hello Kitty; Voysey reins in the potential saccharine in part because his heart is unique.  It is broader  than most and less bulbous on top.  Voysey’s heart swells.  More importantly, he means it; the heart is not an afterthought but a symbol of a driving motive and greater ideals in Voysey’s designs, especially the houses.  It is appropriate that they cluster around doors, in letter box details, hinges, latches.  Like the rest of Voysey’s design work, the doors to his houses are proportioned in a slightly different, but always right-feeling way.  Voysey rejected standard doors which to him resembled coffins.  Instead, he said, the door to a house should be wide enough to accommodate  two people to walk in together: husband and wife, a pair of friends or siblings, parent and child, or–we imagine–dog and dog-person.

it's a coat hook!

This detail speaks to the consistency and sincerity of Voysey’s sentiment.  His legible symbolism is not born of the smirking, clever architect’s play at theory that appears to draw in the uninitiated with recognizable cues but really distances them all the more for their unsophisticated misreading of multi-valent emblems.  Neither is it the ponderous essay of the erudite academician whose dignified ornament is appealing but demands we sit up straight.  Voysey does not mind if we slouch.

One of the legacies of twentieth century is a judgement of architecture that favors exposure of industrial materials and structure and treating “rational” utility as the sole end of building.  This is a skewed way to judge architecture that diverges from the manner common for millenia during which architects recognized three criteria of judgement, famously paraphrased from Vitruvius by Henry Wotton (Elements of Architecture, 1624) in his dictum “Well building hath three conditions, firmness, commodity and delight.”  Voysey reminds us of the importance of that final goal: delight.  Wit without irony, humor with no bite.  An engaging architecture of strong forms protecting lovely, harmonious, warm, personable, affectionate interiors in which the human spirit can thrive.  Houses where heart is king.

"Union of Hearts" (1898)

truisms for a tastier Christmas

Roast Beast should always be served medium-rare, and shared with good friends.

C-9 lights are superior to LED and chaser lights.

Christmas cards should be signed by hand.  If you can’t manage that, don’t bother.

Crappy new holiday-themed songs by contemporary pop stars should not be played in public.

Everyone needs more Nat King Cole.

Decorate your tree with more ornaments made by little hands and fewer ornaments that make you worry about little hands getting too close to the tree.

The best bosses act like post-ghost Ebenezer Scrooge, all year.

For the month of December, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s Dietary guidelines should replace “whole grains” with “cookies” and “low-fat milk products” with “eggnog.”

Factory-packaged Panettone and Bûche de Noël should be avoided, as should all fruitcake, no matter how good someone promises this recipe is.  Shun them all.

You should have Christmas Eve dessert for Christmas Day breakfast.

More activities should require neither batteries nor electricity.

Stores with regular hours and regular prices are better.

More Magi (and/or Max the Reindeer-dog) and less McCallister is better.

There should be an additional Lady Dancing to fulfill the age-old Christmas wish of that lonely tenth Lord-a-Leaping.

Dress up.  Little girls should have big bows and patent leather shoes.  Little boys should wear velvet vests and ties until they are strong enough to fight you to get out of them.  Gents, if you can pull off a turtle neck and blazer, do it.  Ladies, you do not have to freeze to be fashionably festive: open-toe shoes and/or lack of hosiery looks really dumb in snow.

Allow cats to climb in the Christmas tree.

Dress dogs in sweaters and funny hats.

Lawn decorations should strive for thematic clarity: choose one per lawn (the Away In A Manger OR Santa’s Workshop), or if you can’t decide between them, they should be clearly separated, if not for theological reasons, then to avoid the uncomfortable juxtaposition of camels and snow men.  (Elves and/or toy soldiers might be given a Roman army makeover to provide a reasonable barrier between them.)

Santa should replace his team of flying reindeer with DRAGONS.

Rudolph would be SO out of a job. And, the kids won’t dare creep out of their rooms after bed time.

the founding fathers

Life, liberty & the pursuit of tastiness: "Declaration of Independence" (John Trumbull, 1819)

This is not a “Fourth of July” post.  We do not celebrate the fourth day of the seventh month any more than we would celebrate any of the other 364 days of the year that roll around on schedule.  But this post is indeed inspired by Independence Day, the day that memorializes the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which is definitely something worth celebrating—year-round rather than just this one day that is too often seen as little more than National BBQ and Fireworks Day.  We are not above the parades, bottle rockets, sparklers and picnics that tend to accompany the holiday, but we take greater interest in this season of remembrance, to consider the work that a small group of radicals did to invent a whole country.  The Founders are a fascinating lot, people “we cannot learn too much about”—that’s what David McCullough says.  And we do not argue with David McCullough, whose books should be required reading for anyone who maintains US citizenship.

The Founders, the Framers, the Guys Who Were There: they were, all of them, über-accomplished men, most of them in a staggering number of disparate fields.  They were lawyers, bankers, merchants, farmers, philosophers, authors and inventors.  All at once.  They could tune a violin, read Aristotle in the original Greek, hybridize grain and negotiate peace treaties all before lunchtime.  Without the benefit of espresso.  And while rocking lace cravats and embroidered waistcoats.

They were gifted, talented, brilliant, inventive and brave, as history has shown. But MoT dares to raise the question: were they tasty? Among the dozens of Revolutionary-era protagonists who have been variously included on lists of “Founding Fathers,” the canonical seven are listed here with an assessment of the level and sort of taste displayed by each.  This is not a scientific survey because Taste, like patriotism, cannot really be measured (and indeed, both virtues can look different in different people). They illustrate very individualized approaches to the concept of Taste, and we celebrate their independence in this arena.  Behold them here, in no particular order:

Benjamin Franklin (engraving by C. N. Cochin, 1777)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Franklin is perhaps the most diversely tasty of the Founders.  Setting aside his many contributions to science, since they are not tasteful (science cannot be tasteful; it just is), Franklin’s extra-curricular writings are pretty interesting and impossible to pigeonhole.  The thirteen virtues listed in his autobiography (including temperance, order, resolution, sincerity, moderation and tranquility) might have roots in Puritan values but they also describe the best collections that ever came out of Coco Chanel’s atelier.  At the same time, Franklin was an unabashed nut, scamping about Paris in a crazy rustique fur hat and dropping great one-liners (“Fish and visitors stink in three days”).  You can just tell that if he was alive today, he would collect all of Will Ferrell’s movies on dvd.  It does not take much imagination to picture Franklin, brandy sniffer in hand, hollering, “Cannonball!” and jumping into the Grand Canal at Versailles.

John Adams (as recently caught by paparazzi)

John Adams (1735-1826)

Taste does not rank high among Adams’ many gifts.  Brilliant writer, keen political theorist, effectual lawyer and full-time squabbler, Adams had the good sense to surround himself with more likeable people.  His colleague Washington was a better military man; his friend Jefferson was more posh and popular; his cousin Sam was a superior brewer.  While Adams was content to live in a crummy, dark house built by Loyalists who fled during the Revolution, it was his fantastically energetic and whip-smart wife Abigail who managed the farm and directed the addition of a gracious Georgian wing (and probably came up with the estate’s lovely name, Peacefield).  Meanwhile, as other Founders represented the nascent nation in Paris and London; Adams went to Amsterdam. Amsterdam! We have the sense that Adams was too busy with Important Things to bother with the niceties of life and things of taste, both high and low, good and bad.  As second president, Adams whined about trying to keep up with the lavish presidential style instituted by Washington; we get the sense that Adam is the kind of guy who would complain about splitting the restaurant check if he didn’t have any of the appetizer.

Thomas Jefferson (detail of portrait bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1789)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

We really don’t even want to begin with Jefferson, since it’s impossible to know how to stop.  In addition to his mad skills in science and politics, he was a writer, musician, gourmet, book collector, gardener, art adviser and architect.  While his friend Adams was holed up in some crummy damp Amsterdam canal house, Jefferson was entertaining in an hôtel on the Champs-Élysées.  And although he certainly enjoyed his artsy life, he saw its political end, writing in 1785 “I am an enthusiast on the subject of the arts. But it is an enthusiasm of which I am not ashamed, as its object is to improve the taste of my countrymen, to increase their reputation, to reconcile them to the rest of the world, and procure them its praise.”  If we had a taste-o-meter, the units of measure would have to be Jeffersons.

John Jay (Gilbert Stuart, 1794)

John Jay (1745-1829)

John Jay just barely sneaks onto the Founders’ list.  Maybe we should call him a Foundrette.  As far as we can tell, he pretty much flew under the radar and ended up on a weirdo ambassadorial mission to the Spanish government, which did not yet recognize the United States as an independent nation.  Even so, Jay was able to shake a cool $170K out of them to aid the Revolutionary War effort.  We assume it was during his downtime in Spain, amidst the flamenco and the paella, that dour Mr. Jay absorbed the verve evident in his later portrait. Props for the fly gear, Mr. Chief Justice!

James Madison (immortalized in posthumous portrait, to right)

James Madison (1751-1836)

Madison may be even more boring than Jay.  He had a decent 1760s house, Montpelier, but didn’t do much to make it more than decent.  Surprisingly, his vivacious wife Dolley, who brought so much zazz to Washington, didn’t help her husband’s tastiness all that much (research shows she was saving her best efforts for the snack-cake empire she would found some 150 years after her husband left office).  We can credit Madison with the (begrudging) establishment of the Second Bank of the US, which was built in Philadelphia and designed in very good Greek taste.  Taste by association?  That’s the best we can do.

Alexander Hamilton (photographed in peppier, poppier, pre-emo days)

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

Secretary of the Treasury, economist, banker: Hamilton spent his life dealing with the stuff that pays for the material of taste, but really didn’t do much with it himself in life beyond the regular kind of aristocratic trappings of his social class.  But his death was a different thing.  Interpretations of his infamous duel with Aaron Burr abound, but it does seem pretty clear that Hamilton shot first: a throwaway, I-am-a-gentleman-of-courage-and-honor-but-geez-I-really-don’t-intend-to-kill-the-sitting-Vice-President kind of shot (that, as you know, was standard procedure in the code duello).  Unfortunately, Hamilton communicated his intentions only in his diary (preserved in the National Archives, it is a black Mead spiral-bound notebook with band stickers on the front), rather than to Burr, who understood the bullet whizzing by his head as anything but a gentlemanly gesture and thus unloaded into Hamilton.  So it is here in his final act that Hamilton finally expresses a taste: unfortunately he was way ahead of the curve in his non-communicative, romantic-violent/apathetic not violent behavior.  Hamilton is the Emo Founder.

"George Washington at the Battle of Princeton" (Charles Willson Peale, 1779)

George Washington (1732-1799)

Maybe it has something to do with all the ladies swooning for a man in a uniform, but Washington learned early on that a military man can be tasty.  He enjoyed all manner of imported luxuries, paid for by tobacco money.  He could have been addressed as “your majesty” but preferred “Mr. President.”  He married well, and into a great estate that he improved into the striking house we know as Mt. Vernon.  Now, this is no Monticello: some of its interior paint colors are pretty trippy, and some of its ornament looks like it was designed by an 18th-century Robert Venturi.  There’s definitely a taste going on there; you be the judge as to what to call it.  We remain a little on the fence about Washington, although the mythical story he inspired about the cherry tree is unfortunate, as it has condemned Americans to untold numbers of fruit pies in lieu of more celebration-worthy treats when national holidays roll around.  If the story was about young George chopping down a cocoa tree, that would be a different story altogether.

kitchen geek: Star Wars edition

A few days ago, in a kitchen not so far away . . .

. . . a class of Jedi Younglings gathered to reinforce (haha) their skills while celebrating the birthdays of two of their number.  MoT’s resident StarWarsologist (and ranking Jedi Knight) was on the scene to ensure an appropriately Jedish revelry.

The evening began with the Initiates’ preparation of their Factryn meat pies.  Ideally they would have used the Force, but apparently their skills were a little off this night so manual work was allowed.  Factryn meat pies probably look like pepperoni pizza to you, but take note, dear reader, that these meat pies are prepared with slices of Bantha sausage, not pepperoni.  Do you know what Bantha sausage tastes like?  Pepperoni.

Younglings’ favorite beverage

Judge me by my color, do you? The most appropriate beverage to pair with a Factryn meat pie is this lovely green punch that has a certain frothy and misty quality that evokes its planet of orgin, Dagobah.  Although served in small quantities, it is strong, powerful and one cannot help but feel a little wiser for drinking it.

What is it called, you ask?  Yoda soda, it is.

Younglings’ favorite dessert

Finally, as is the case at birthday parties in so many galaxies, the meal was concluded with galactic cake (marbled, to symbolize the ‘light’ of the true Jedi’s path and the ‘darkness’ of the Sith).  Formed in the shape of a lightsaber, that symbol of the Jedi’s attainment of manual dexterity along with absolute harmony with the Force, it was served with another Youngling favorite: Wookie Cookie ice cream.

MoT special consultant Jon B. described it as “not as clumsy or random as a blastercake: an elegant cake, for a more civilized age,” and we thank him for that excellent critique. True though Master Jon’s words may be, this Knight does recognize a discrepancy between this description and the general lack of civility observed during the Younglings’ sleep-over, especially a few hours past their bedtime.  Perhaps a Blastercake would have been in order.

kitchen geek: “Chamber of Secrets” edition

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose in the kitchen: a time to whip up a noodle casserole, and a time to knock out a Boeuf Bourguignon à la Julia; a time to roast a turkey for family gathering, and a time to bake brownies to comfort a broken heart; a time to cook a meal that is both an intellectual and a culinary wonder, and a time to geek out and play with your food.  This is one of those times.

Life goes by too quickly to celebrate only a small, select number of big holidays and universally-acknowledged achievements with a special meal: birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, graduations.  Why wait, when the calendar is full of anniversaries of historical significance, and better yet, when interesting things are happening around you all the time?

Recently the Matters of Taste staff has undertaken a group reading of the Harry Potter books.  Upon completion of the second volume MoT’s Literary Liason proclaimed a Chamber of Secrets weekend centered around a screening of the film and, of course, a special meal.  With just a brief consideration of general nutritional goals, range of palates that would be present, and general story themes, the menu almost wrote itself.

basilisk loaf with minty peas

Behold: The Basilisk Loaf

Preparation: Form the ground basilisk meat in the usual way (with egg, bread crumbs, sauté of onion and red pepper; use plenty of pepper but go light on the essence of Slytherin); wrap in bacon scales and ornament with onion fangs, mushroom nostrils and red pepper tongue and yellow pepper eyes.   Present the loaf in a bed of minty peas because, you know, they’re British and stuff.

Note: This dish is always better when you grind your own basilisk meat at home.

Service: At table, massacre the basilisk with three swift strokes of a long bejewelled sword.  Present the severed head with artfully sprayed ketchup-colored bile as shown above.  Suggest that the diner poke out the basilisk’s yellow pepper eyes.  Did you just gross out a fourth-grader?  Nicely done!

horcrux cakes

Behold: Horcrux Cakes

Preparation: Use your preferred molten-chocolate lava cake recipe.  It should go without saying that we emphasize the importance of dark chocolate in this recipe.

Note: We do not recommend the addition of an actual piece of a person’s soul in these cakes as it adversely affects the quality of the cake crumb; however, a little espresso powder does lift the flavor profile nicely.

Service: Arm your wizards with forks, Fawkes, and/or basilisk fangs to attack the cakes in the manner of Harry going after Tom Riddle’s diary within moments after they’ve been pulled from the oven.  Watch their insides ooze all over the place.  Consume.  We bet you didn’t know that Lord Voldemort tasted like Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, did you?  He may be dark and bad, but he is also delicious–and that’s even before he takes the form of Ralph Fiennes (a noseless and cruel Ralph Fiennes, but Ralph Fiennes, none the less).

Dinner may be served with a nice polyjuice potion and, of course, make sure your house elf cleans up the mess while you watch the movie.  As Aragog would say, bon appétit, my children.

the baker’s twelve days of christmas (the view from the kitchen)


The following is the thirteenth installment of the Baker’s Twelve Days of Christmas posted previously (click here)–making it a baker’s dozen.  Get it?!

After that earlier post’s celebration of baked goodness from around the world, we give you the view from the kitchen.  Behold:

By the twelfth day of Christmas, my baking had given to me:

Twelve dried-out muffins

Eleven runny puddings

Ten burned-up biscuits

Nine soggy pie crusts

Eight deflated yeast loaves

Seven fallen soufflés

Six tearful breakdowns

Five hissy fits!

Four abrasions

Three knife cuts

Two blistered burns

And Christmas Eve in the E.R.

Artwork: “The Biscuit Fire” by skorchomatik

(part of a series on the Popped Culture site; check it out)