Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Positive Aspect of War

One of the great outcomes of a major war is that people of all classes and from various strata of life are thrown together in a common cause.
This means that the lavatory attendant and the Lord must live together closely and have to get on with it.
In the last war, certainly, the self-important, mother-spoiled and pompous of any class, soon had it knocked out of them. So all were quickly seen as being of their own worth. The good and the bad came from all classes, sects, professions, religions or whatever. In the eyes of their comrades, superficiality was soon stripped from their outer surfaces and they were revealed as humans, humans with much the same aspirations and ambitions in life as those of their comrades.
Initially, one’s part in a war with its drill and be drilled gave little time for personal thought. It was not much fun. But you survived it. Then there was more time to make friendships as people developed their own maturing wartime characters.
Those of us who trained as pilots in the RAF and survived, eventually were demobilised and released from service life to go our own way. A few had jobs to return to. Because of our age, most of my contemporaries, who left school life to fight, had then to decide how to contend with the future.
Our war experiences had taught us that rich or poor, famous or not, opulent or pauper, we were all much the same as one another. And we had learned to speak to our fellows as equals. For this bit of free and major part of my education I was extremely grateful.
Some of us who flew together are still bonded by our wartime past. We meet before Christmas in friendship, and to celebrate the fact that some of us are still alive.
One of our number, a Bishop, has just died. We were friends as airmen in war, seldom, if ever mentioning religion. With one being a devout Christian and the other becoming a staunch atheist, our friendship continued in peacetime with me an artist and writer, and he a Bishop.
We will miss the Bishop, even though he became too frail to join our recent get-togethers.
But he has died and, no doubt, in his earthly Christian mind he will have gone to heaven.
I just wonder if having passed through the Pearly Gates he will be thrown together with a disparate bunch of characters, just as he was with us in wartime.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A marriage of Mustards

Many of us have heard that the Colman family made their fortune not with the consumption of their excellent mustard but with what was left on the plate.
They would not have been so prosperous had their customers, like me, usually had a soup on the go.
Any mustard left over from the table and about to dry out and become useless and a nuisance to deal with, may be diluted right away with a little water and added to an on-going winter – or even summer – soup, to its considerable advantage.
Now it so happens that in our household I use Dijon mustard (bought in France cheaply in jars) mainly for sauces and English mustard powder turned into mustard for the plate. My wife, Margreet, on the other hand, uses Dijon mustard as an accompaniment to meats, and English mustard hardly at all.
So I wondered whether the combination of the two types might be to both of our tastes. And it was.
In a small pot, blend together about 1/3 Colman’s mustard powder with about 2/3 Dijon.
Any left over from a meal can go immediately into a soup or sauce and not be wasted.
Mustard harmony/marital harmony.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Melting Chocolate Bars

In the early part of the ‘39/’45 war, when I was a refugee in America waiting to be old enough to return home to become an RAF pilot, I much enjoyed eating a chocolate bar, called OHenry.
Being then entirely dependant on the Killorin family who very kindly took me in, I earned my pocket money (for such as OHenry chocolate bars and ice cream covered in liquid marshmallow and chocolate shot), by selling subscriptions to magazines and garden work (avoiding the nasty poison ivy, which is prevalent in Connecticut).
Move forward to just after the war, in the late 1940s, when TB had destroyed my start in medicine and when I had become an art student.
In England we were still suffering from winning the war, and subject to severe rationing.
In France things were different. Food there was so plentiful that a war might never have happened (I suppose there’s a moral there).
So, in Paris, while drawing at La Grande Chaumière and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, I met up with friends made in those refugee times in America. Several were now in their Foreign Service. Among them was Jeremy Hodson, who was one with whom I kept in touch afterwards.
Move forward once more, now to 1959 and Vietnam, before America’s disastrous war there.
Jeremy Hodson was based in Saigon in the employ of the U.S. government, and living within the kind of compound of American life and artefacts that suits them when abroad.
He wanted to escape those confines and see what was actually happening outside Saigon, and to understand the feelings of Vietnamese people.
He managed to obtain permission to travel a long way north toward the 49th parallel (the border between North and South Vietnam) and to take me along. We were to see, among other surprising things, many South Vietnamese troops being trained to fight their fellow countrymen in the north (crazy) should those in the Communist north encroach on the American-run south.
Armed with food aplenty in ice-boxes, including OHenry bars, we headed north, a journey about which Jeremy wrote a report for his government (ignored) concerning the feelings of the Vietnamese people toward their northern countrymen and of the Americans.
Back in Saigon, and now knowing of my enthusiasm for OHenry bars, he very kindly gave me a whole box of them.
The room in which I lodged had a fan in the ceiling for air-conditioning. In the extreme heat at that time, the chocolate bars melted – to become a thick liquid. To consume flowing chocolate in a steamingly hot climate is not a particularly appetising prospect.
Move forward again to now, as I write, in a period of hot English summer.
With OHenry bars unobtainable, my wife, Margreet, kindly surprised me with a gift of its near equivalent – a bar with a fudgey centre, surrounded by roasted peanuts with a coating of milk chocolate.
The bar was beginning to melt like the OHenry bars in Vietnam. So I shoved it into a freezer drawer of our refrigerator.
What came out, hard, cold and crisp, was quite delicious – and very different from the bar that went in.
It was not the first time that I have frozen chocolate bars and greatly enjoyed the result. I recommend the procedure – even in cooler weather.
Belgian-type chocolates were not a success. So it is probably only run-of-the-mill chocolate bars that respond well to this freezing treatment.