Saturday, December 20, 2014

The House That Time Forgot

From the Daily Mail:
Owned by the National Trust since the family of grocers who lived there passed it on, it is one of the Trust's more unusual properties, and all the more fascinating for it. There are no expensive treasures or rare antiques; instead the house, known as Mr Straw's House, offers an authentic glimpse into how an ordinary British family lived a century ago. Built in 1905, it was the home of the Straws, a grocer family headed by William Straw senior and his wife, Florence.
The couple, who had two sons, William and Walter, decorated it in 1923 in the style of the day, with dark and heavy wallpaper, patterned carpets, dark wooden furniture and thick curtains to keep out the cold.
William Straw senior ran a thriving grocery and seed business, and his younger son Walter joined him in the business while William junior left to teach in London where he made a considerable fortune by investing in Marks & Spencer shares.
A well-to-do local family, they lived a quiet, respectable and well-ordered life until 1932 when Mr Straw senior died suddenly at the age of 68.  In their grief, the family decided nothing would be changed. (Read more.)

Off-beat Christmas Music

From R.J. Stove:
“O Magnum Mysterium”, by Francis Poulenc. Those who have read this far could well have heard Tomas Luis de Victoria’s motet of the same title, but how about Poulenc’s? It comes from Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël, begun in 1951 and finished the following year. Somehow, despite the more or less complete moral mess which Poulenc made of his private life, he retained enough of a religious spirit to have responded intermittently to Chesterton’s “twitch upon the thread.”

After one has heard this, it comes as no surprise that Poulenc would soon knuckle down to the best and most powerful thing he ever did: Dialogues of the Carmelites.The inimitable Robert Shaw (R.I.P.) conducts. (Read more.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Marie-Antoinette Playing the Harp

From Madame Gilflurt:
D'Agoty had been the queen's painter of choice since she came to France and became peintre de la reine in 1775. That same year, he began work on a painting showing Marie Antoinette playing the harp at Versailles. Surrounded by an audience of adoring courtiers, she happily performs music for their entertainment. Dressed casually in a morning gown, Marie Antoinette looks at ease in her role as hostess, though she remains the centre of both the scene and attention.

In the bottom right of the portrait d'Agoty has added himself as a character, sketching out the formal full-length portrait of the queen below. Clearly very happy with the way his life and career had gone, d'Agoty couldn't help but add a little self-congratulatory element to the painting and to the left Marie Antoinette's lady-in-waiting hands her the royal warrant that will name d'Agoty as peintre de la reine! (Read more.)

Sold into Marriage

Very sad that this is still going on. From The Washington Post:
In a village about 50 miles from Marigat in Baringo County, Kenya, among a tribe that practices genital mutilation as a rite of womanhood, a teenage girl is sold into an arranged marriage. Her price is 20 goats, 10 cows and a few camels, paid to her family over several weeks. And her reaction is heartbreaking.

Dressed in bright-colored clothes and ceremonial beads, she tries to escape, balling up a fist and kicking her bare feet from the ground when a man picks her up from behind and pulls her away from her home. The scene, which unfolded over the weekend in the Pokot tribe, was captured and described by Reuters photographer Siegfried Modola. His photos document a Pokot tradition in which parents give away their daughters, usually at the start of adolescence. The girls are sold for a dowry and married to men in the tribe.
The girl’s family claimed she didn’t know about the arrangement her father made with her future husband, Reuters reported. If they told her, they feared, she would run away. A group of men from the tribe came to collect her and led her to a two-day ceremony in the village. (Read more.)

Origins of the Christmas Tree

From Regina:
Christmas trees became popular in Britain after the German husband and Consort of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, introduced them in 1841. And where the Royal Family led, fashionable society was sure to follow. Soon Christmas trees became an essential part of the British Christmas. Interestingly however, Prince Albert was in fact completing a circle in the real story of the Christmas Tree. For it was an Englishman who once upon a time gave the German people the gift of the Christmas Tree. (Read more.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Last Portraits of Marie-Antoinette―Dumont

From Rodama:
 According to Olivier Blanc Dumont, along with Kucharski, was the artist of Marie-Antoinette's "mauvais jours".   He never hid his royalist sympathies and was imprisoned in the Abbaye prison at the end of 1793, to be  liberated only after the fall of Robespierre. He continued to occupy a place in salons of painting from 1789 to 1824 though his work was overshadowed after the Revolution by that of Isabey and Augustin.... 
Marie-Antoinette had herself painted, probably in 1791, as a vestal, standing next to an altar (identified by Olivier Blanc as a altar to amitié) and holding a vase of lilies with an image of Louis XVI.  The pose is a standard one, though it may have been chosen to echo French Revolutionary imagery;  certainly the fleurs-de-lys are an obvious royalist emblem.  It is possible too that the picture portraits the more personal theme of conjugal love elevated into passionate friendship.  Louis XVI was fond of the picture; according to Marguerite Jallut the original gouache stood on his bureau in the Tuileries, whilst a smaller copy accompanied him on the flight to Varennes.

The only version of this work now publicly accessible is an engraving by Pierre-Alexandre Tardieu, begun in 1793 but only completed in 1815, having been interrupted by the Revolution. According to the Louvre database the gouache was formerly in the Collection of the duc de Mouchy and the miniature copy sold by Drouot in 1991. The books by  Marguerite Jallut and Olivier Blanc have reproductions of what are obviously the two different versions, though which is which is not entirely clear!  (Read more.)



A recipe from Slate:
There are certain things Germans do better than everyone else. Not incurring massive amounts of public debt is one of them. Christmas baking is another....
A buttery, fruit-filled, sugar-coated loaf, stollen is about as rich and dense as yeast bread can get—and therein is a potential pitfall. Some years I have been disappointed by stollen dough that did not rise at all, thanks to amounts of melted butter and booze-soaked nuts and raisins so copious that they suffocated the yeast. Making stollen as luxurious as possible without dooming it to leadenness is a tricky balancing act—especially since I, and most other home bakers I know, have no patience for recipes that call for proofing the yeast in a sponge and letting the dough rise several times.

But there is a solution: Let the dough rise once without any fruit and nuts in it—during which time, conveniently, you can let the fruit and nuts soften in alcohol—and then knead in the fruit and nuts, shape the dough into loaves, and let it rise only once more before baking. This way, the yeast gets a head start on fermenting without the extra weight of fruit and nuts—but be warned that this is not a dough that will double in size while rising. Nor is it the world’s most compliant dough; there’s no avoiding sticky fingers while you’re shaping the loaves. But the resulting texture is moist as all get out, with a lovely buttery orange flavor, thanks to orange liqueur and, well, lots and lots of butter....

The biggest mistake people make with stollen, I’ve found, is not making it at all. This Christmas, don’t let that happen to you.

Ginger-Orange Stollen
Yield:  2 to 4 loaves (24 to 32 servings)
Time:  About 6 hours, mostly unattended, plus time to let the stollen sit before serving
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
⅔ cup orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
1¾ cups (3½ sticks) butter
⅓ cup milk, preferably not skim
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast or one ¼-ounce packet active dry yeast
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Oil or butter for greasing the bowl and baking sheet
1½ cups powdered sugar

1. Combine the raisins, cherries, crystallized ginger, almonds, and orange liqueur in a medium bowl. Stir to combine, cover, and let sit at room temperature while you make the dough or overnight if time allows.

2. Meanwhile, put 1 cup (2 sticks) of the butter and the milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and cook until the butter melts (or combine the butter and milk in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals until the butter melts). Combine the flour, ¼ cup of the sugar, the orange zest, the yeast, 1 teaspoon of the ground ginger, the cardamom, the salt, and the nutmeg in a large bowl. When the butter mixture cools to 100°F—about the same temperature as the inside of your wrist—add it to the flour mixture and stir with the dough-hook attachment of a stand mixer or by hand. Lightly beat together the eggs and vanilla and stir them into the dough.

3. Knead the dough with the dough-hook attachment of a stand mixer or by hand until it feels smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Grease a large bowl (it’s fine to use the same one you mixed the dough in), add the dough, and turn it over to coat it lightly with oil or butter. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap, put it in a warm place, and let the dough rise for 1½ to 2 hours.

4. Punch down the dough and add the raisin mixture. Knead the dough in the bowl with the dough-hook attachment of a stand mixer or by hand until the fruit, nuts, and ginger are evenly incorporated. (The dough will be sticky.) Grease a baking sheet and shape the dough, as well as you can, into 2 to 4 long, oval loaves on the baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap, put it in a warm place, and let the loaves rise for 1 hour.

5. Heat the oven to 350°F. Uncover the baking sheet and bake until the loaves are golden brown, about 35 minutes (for smaller loaves) to 1 hour (for larger loaves). When the stollen is done, melt the remaining ¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat (or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave). Brush the tops and sides of the stollen with the butter while the loaves are still warm. Combine the remaining ¾ cup sugar and 1 teaspoon ground ginger and sprinkle over the stollen. Cool thoroughly. Sprinkle the powdered sugar all over the stollen, pressing lightly to help it stick. Wrap each loaf in foil or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 day before serving. (Read more.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Little Habsburgs

A handful of some of Empress Maria Theresa's sixteen children. I assume the oldest son and heir, Joseph, is in the middle. Here is another:
More from Tiny-Librarian.