Monthly Archives: December 2011

Marzipan Christmas Experiment

It was a pretty pleasant Christmas, albeit without snow. Midnight Mass (or 11 PM Mass) went well, and my voice worked out pretty well. My presents were also fairly well appreciated.

Made marzipan from almond flour and sugar, as a treat for my little brother. (He got addicted to it in Germany, where it’s pretty easy to get.) So I consulted the Internet, compared various versions, paid careful attention to people’s advice, and wrote down a recipe that seemed pretty easy. Two parts almond flour, 1 part sugar, a teaspoon of water or flavoring per 150g (which was about a third of my bag of almond flour). I was so ready.

I made it in a saucepan, as directed. Within five minutes, I was sure it wasn’t working. Then I started to have heat-control problems (ie, the sugar was caramelizing into little brown morsels instead of getting soft and melty). Finally I got fed up with it, turned down my pan a lot, put a little little sugar and water in the microwave for a minute or so with extreme speed (trying to move fast enough to avoid more caramelizing), and dumped the resulting “sugar syrup” (not really, because the hot water and hot sugar separated, of course) into the almond flour/sugar mix.

This method (a very bastardized version of the sugar syrup method of making marzipan) apparently did the trick, because when I stirred it some more, the marzipan started looking more like marzipan. Victory! So I put it aside in a cool place as recommended. (No room in the fridge, so the covered pan went out to the garage, to sit it out on top of the washing machine. Such are the glories of cooking in a real house.)

The major problems with my marzipan were two.

1) The sugar was still not as uniform as it should have been, though it wasn’t bad.

2) My little brother turned out to like marzipan that was more 1:1 almond to sugar, as opposed to the German opinion that 2:1 almond to sugar was better. 1:1 is less froufrou because it’s EASIER TO MAKE, and also easier to mold into shapes, etc. However, I only made a small batch, so I can always try again, and make it more to his taste.

The good news is that, even though it was my first try and I didn’t know much, the marzipan was very tasty all the same. It was also fun to mold, as it’s one of those things that gets more pliable as it warms up in your hands. (Since my marzipan wasn’t quite right, it wasn’t as pliable as a really good batch of marzipan.) I’m not much at sculpting and painting, so I mostly just made little marzipan balls until I’d filled up a plate. The rest went to my little brother as a plain slab of marzipan. It was a pretty good snack, since it had all that almond protein in it.

Waxed paper is pretty helpful.


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I Found a Job Opening…

… But I think they’re prejudiced against bachelor degrees in the social sciences. And I’d have to move to Houston.

Seriously, though, I’m sure there are plenty of math, science, and engineering folks who are qualified for this job, especially folks once in the military! So apply to be an astronaut!

(And if you aren’t in a position to live the dream, you can always play Kerbal Space Program.)

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The Gift of Yeasts

One of the most endearing things about animals and plants is that, every so often, the Garden of Eden doesn’t seem so far away. Sometimes we can talk to the animals and understand them, or grow plants in such a way that they make the butterflies happy and the hummingbirds come to call.

But I’ve been ignoring some of the little critters that serve us. This cook does not.

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Turkey Cuts Diplomatic Ties with France Over Genocide-Denial Law.

Turkey keeps on lying and lying about the Armenian genocide. You know, the bit where hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, Armenian-Turkish people were driven from their homes, their stuff stolen, and then either killed outright or killed in a Trail of Tears situation. (And of course, tons of raping.) They did the same thing to a lot of Greek-Turkish people, if they didn’t leave for Greece and leave behind all their stuff, but mostly it was Armenians.

Anyway, the Turkish government has claimed for years that this didn’t happen, that it’s a mortal insult to Turkey to say it did happen, and anyway, hundreds of thousands of people disappearing in a single year is perfectly normal. Mass graves? Happen all the time. The people that used to live in this house? Ummmmm….

The problem is that so many soldiers and civilians, and so many founders of modern Turkey, were involved in this little genocide party, that Turkey is shamed by this. They can’t stand it, so they won’t admit it. Even now, when most of the perpetrators are long dead and when Ataturk’s vision of a modern, secular Turkey is almost dead, the new sharia-based Turkey is still ashamed of what they did to their Armenian neighbors.

So yeah, what happened was that a French legislator proposed a genocide-denial law to go along with their Holocaust denial law. It’s not the kind of law I approve in the US, but it goes right along with French legal theory; and today’s Turkey is not known for its freedom of speech. (Especially for Christians.)

So basically, Turkey went crazy and threatened France, which of course made it certain that the genocide denial law would pass. And now Turkey is going nuts and withdrawing its embassy staff in protest, while trying to whip up Turkish French people.

Well, I know this really isn’t amusing. Europe is not in good shape, and Turkey is already crazy enough. But on the other hand, any government which has gone around refusing to acknowledge its own actions for almost a hundred years — well, it deserves what it gets. Also, it’s fun to watch France when it’s in the right. They do the things other countries just contemplate. So yeah, France may be working off its anger with the UK on Turkey, but that’s not going to make most of the world cry any.

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Vaclav Havel: Father of His Country

A big post of Vaclav Havel remembrances and video links.

He was a great man. And how often does a poet and playwright excel in politics as well?

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University Mottos: When Translators Are Liars

One of the entertaining and disturbing things about learning languages is finding out how badly people have misrepresented the world to you. Translations of Latin mottos are particularly prone to mishandling, in these sad days when few people learn Latin. Heck, you can make up anything and people will swallow it.

For example:

The University of Cincinnati’s motto has long been “Juncta juvant.” It’s also New College in Toronto’s motto. Both universities’ official materials say it means “Strength in Unity.” But where on earth do they get that?

Obviously, there are plenty of noble Latin words for strength: virtus, robor, vis, potestas, fortitudo. And unity is unitas. “Virtus in unitate” would be a perfectly cromulent motto. (Although it does sound very Nazi or Communist or collectivist.) But that’s not it.

“Juncta” means yoked. Hence, joined, joint, together. “Juvant” means “They help”, with connotations of support, service, and pleasing each other. None of this is about strength, and it’s a unity of separate things being joined together. “Those joined together support each other.”

So Washington and Jefferson College (which also uses the motto) is giving a lot better information with its official translation, “Together We Thrive.” (Although that we would make it “Juncta Juvamus.”)

Sometimes, you can understand a translator’s liberties. The University of Wisconsin, Madison, has the unexpectedly religious motto “Numen Lumen”. First of all, it’s two rhyming nouns. In Latin, this usually implies an “is” (though three is usually a list). Second, while “lumen” is easy — it’s just “light, lamp” — “numen” is one of those weird Latin words with a lot of meaning. If you were an ancient Roman, and you went up a hill or down into a hollow, and you felt something holy or scary or beautiful, you would say that you were sensing the “numen” of the place. So “numen” means some sort of indwelling of God. “Numen lumen” is saying that the Divine is the guiding Light. There’s no good way to say this as succinctly as Latin does.

Latin mottoes often include some kind of joke. For example, the older motto of the University of Cincinnati was “Alta petit”, which means “She seeks the heights.” The idealistic reason was that they meant students to strive for high standards. But the joke was that UC was built on some very tall hills.

Here’s a great site consisting totally of translations of Latin university mottoes. Have fun!


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“Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” Is Not a Dirge

We sing Elizabeth Poston’s arrangement of “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” in my choir. Her melody is a drastically slowed, minored, extremely boring version of Jeremiah Ingalls’ in-period hymn tune, BICENTENNIAL. It’s a very beautiful piece, mind you, but it always sounded kind of un-American to me, and not much at all like the Great Awakening religious period. That was an awfully energetic religious revival, after all!

So as an antidote and corrective for the historical imagination, here’s a group of Northern-tradition shape-note singers going at it, from the actual BICENTENNIAL harmony setting in The Christian Harmony, or The Songster’s Companion. The recording starts with them singing syllables, to get secure on the harmony; then they let rip with a few of the five verses.

Mind you, the Protestant tradition of shapenote singing was not Protestant church hymn singing. It was a devotional but fun and educational activity suitable for Sunday socializing, a sing done after church services for the most part. Hence the un-solemn tone of the tunes. 🙂

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