All of us have seen beautiful works of art from ancient Egypt. Here I’d like to share some photos I’ve taken that give you a feeling for the daily life of my Isis of The Red Mirror. These are actual artifacts, thousands of years old.
If you’re like me, you love to imagine the hands that poured jasmine oil from glass flasks – or shaved heads and mounds with copper blades. Each object has a story – tales of love and disappointment, tragedy and triumph. And each object has a history that begins with the man who wrought it into being and those who used or wore it, then continues through the lives of all who have held the object in their own hands over the centuries – and finally to those who gaze upon it in wonder today.
This is a meal Elektra could have eaten in Roman North Africa, only instead of venison, the host might have served a young Barbary stag or oryx. Of course, my guests would have been reclining on lounges and served by slaves. And the Zinfandel would have been watered.
The recipe for the sauce comes from one of the most famous cookbooks of antiquity. Today it is known simply as the Apicius.
There is disagreement about whether the famous epicure of the Tiberian reign (1st c AD) Marcus Gavius Apicius was the original collector or the inspiration. Most probably, he had nothing to do with the book, De re coquinaria “On the Subject of Cooking,” which eventually became known by his name.
Most scholars believe the collection of Roman cookery recipes was compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century. The language in which it was written is closer to Vulgar than Classical Latin.
A huge hunk of frozen venison turned out to be three roasts when defrosted. I marinated all three for 24 hours in red wine, fresh rosemary and cloves of garlic.
The smallest roast was cut into chunks for a tajine (see photos) with onions, fingerling potatoes, chunks of carrots, and tons of peas topped with baby bell peppers. Spicing: cumin, cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, clove, smoked paprika and fresh ground black pepper.
The middle-sized roast was coated in cajun spices and slow-cooked on the charcoal grill. Real charcoal please with mesquite chips! I served the Cajun venison with cherry sauce.
The large venison roast (see photo at top) was browned on all sides in olive oil and then put in a 350 oven with a few strips of bacon on top. Venison is very lean.
Now we come to the sauce from a recipe translated from the original Apicius. [Thank you to the food blog Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook]
I had to substitute a couple of herbs. And I used the reduced marinade for a base. I’m sure Apicius would have approved.
Ingredients for the sauce
note: all herbs are fresh, some from my own garden.
rue (I used fresh rosemary)
lovage (I used celery leaves)
Thai fish sauce (in place of Roman garum, the salty cured fish sauce Romans used with almost all meats and that they stole from the Greeks)
sweet wine (I used Port)
salt and pepper
Not having a slave to grind the herbs into a paste, I threw them into a small food processor. You use the goodies from the bottom of the roasting pan to make a sauce much like gravies are made today. The end result should be something between a liquid and a syrup.
Salty and sweet with tons of herbs. That was the Roman taste. Also black pepper – lots of it. Even with syrupy pears.
Not sure if the Romans had cous cous, but they definitely had grain, so I suspect they might have discovered this primitive way of making pasta long before Marco Polo. I toasted slivered almonds and soaked giant raisins in brandy (until they are plump and soft) to put in the cooked cous cous.
In addition to remembering our own fallen heroes on a splendid Memorial Day, we stepped back a little further in history to remember the Romans. To borrow from the gladiators, “We who are about to eat, salute you!”
The table setting is my vision of Roman North Africa. Need to get some silver chalices!
I took a hiatus from The Black Scroll to fly/drive to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri for Mother’s Day.
The Ozarks was the home of my Dad’s mother and many of my extended family. I used to spend the summers and school holidays there, roaming the woods, fishing and hunting with my cousins.
It was in the Ozarks that my imagination flourished. Lying on a warm boulder beside the lake on a hot summer day with dragonflies zooming round my ears, I’d imagine I was an Indian princess or a pioneer girl about to be kidnapped by a handsome brave.
Swinging in a hammock at my Aunt Jerry’s house, I devoured her romance novels with one man and two women – the angel and the not so angelic. Even then, I thought – why can’t a woman have two men?
I’M EXCITED! Technology has caught up!
Now I can offer Sex and the Zen of Shopping in a full color Kindle ebook that looks exactly like the color print copy.
We were able to create this Kindle edition with a new software that will revolutionize epublishing for picture book and how-to authors.
The costs of Amazon print-on-demand for color are steep. I’d say prohibitive in today’s market. I really disliked the $25 we had to charge for my shopping book, Sex and the Zen of Shopping: Live Rich by Shopping Smart.
This is, after all, a book about bargain shopping!
Until this latest Kindle technology, the best solution was to produce a Black & White Bargain print edition.
You can now get the layout, the embedded text and the vivid color of photos in an ebook! You’ll see exactly the same format as the print edition – IF you have a Kindle Fire, an equivalent tablet or Kindle for PC.
Check it out. There are sample pages you can “leaf through” here: Amazon Sex and Zen of Shopping Kindle Version.
Caution: This Kindle Fire edition is for tablets and Kindle for PC only. It will not work on older Kindle readers.
At risk of this turning into a food blog – and what would be so bad about that, you’re saying? – I’m passing on the steps and ingredients to create the birthday cake you see above. Caution: You need 2-3 hours to put this together & clean up.
3 – 9″ cake pans
parchment paper (not necessary but works better than greasing pans)
double boiler – or saucepan that can balance inside a larger saucepan
note: smaller pan must hold at least 5 liquid cups.
small frying pan
2 shelves in oven
several size mixing bowls
measuring cups and spoons
flat blade (for spreading frosting)
recommend heat resistant glove
cream of tartar
chocolate cake mix (Yes! I CHEAT!)
Ingredients by steps:
I prefer Duncan Hines Triple Chocolate or Dark Chocolate Fudge. You can make from scratch, but really not worth it. IMHO
vegetable oil (not olive)
3 eggs whole
1/2 c butter (1 stick) ROOM TEMPERATURE (softened)
2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder (my preference is Hershey’s)
2 c powdered sugar (sifted)
1/3 c milk (minimum – you’ll need a little more)
note: WARM slightly in microwave
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Red Raspberry Jam – I love Stonewall Kitchen, but other brands will do.
3 oz (half a package) Slivered Blanched Almonds (to be toasted)
Meringue-like Topping (known as 7 minute frosting):
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c water
2 egg whites
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Put it together:
- grease 3 cake pans. Coat with cocoa powder instead of white flour. MUCH easier if you use parchment paper so guaranteed not to stick. Use both.
- mix according to directions
- using 1 cup measure, distribute batter evenly in 3 pans
- bake in 350 oven. Put shelves close together so baking as even as possible
- took about 18 minutes for 2 on top. Bottom shelf took couple of minutes longer
note: I use toothpick to test
- remove pans to rack or gas burners on top of stove and let cool 15 minutes. No more.
- remove layers from baking pans and set aside
TOAST ALMONDS while cake is baking.
- heat small skillet to hot on stovetop
- put almonds in pan – NO OIL
- stir constantly with wooden spoon
- lift up and down from fire if getting too hot
- keep toasting – KEEP TURNING – as almonds turn golden.
- remove from heat and keep stirring.
note: almonds will continue to toast in hot pan
- when desired color is reached, turn onto a plate and spread almonds to cool
CHOCOLATE FROSTING (makes about 1 1/2 c)
- soften butter in a small-medium mixing bowl (room temperature or few seconds in microwave)
- mash with rubber spatula
- stir in cocoa and salt, blending with rubber spatula until smooth paste
- using low to medium speed on electric mixer, alternately add sifted powdered sugar and warm milk
- beat on medium speed until spreading consistency and very smooth
- blend in vanilla extract at end
- Choose layer with highest top and set aside
- Using a bread knife, slice off rounded top of two remaining layers so they are relatively flat on both sides
- put one layer on cake plate
DRESSING the cake layers
- spread chocolate frosting generously on top of layer 1 (on cake plate)
- spread carefully (not thick) red raspberry jam on top of chocolate
- place layer 2 on top
- spread chocolate frosting generously on top of layer 2
- sprinkle toasted almonds, covering surface well
- place layer 3 (with rounded top) on top of layer 2
TOPPING with 7 minute frosting
note: this makes enough frosting to cover a cake. I pile it on top to show the layers. If stiff enough, topping will stand on its own and hang over the edges as above.
- place sugar, cream of tartar, salt, water and egg whites in the top of a double boiler (or smallish saucepan over larger one)
- beat with an electric mixer for 1 minute
- place pan over boiling water.
note: to avoid grainy frosting, make sure water doesn’t touch bottom of the top pan.
- beat constantly on high speed for 7 minutes (this is when I recommend a heat-resistant glove)
- remove from boiling water (heat) and beat in vanilla
- check consistency – MUST stand in peaks. Beat more if necessary.
- spread on cake right away
- sprinkle toasted almonds before frosting sets
- when frosting sets, it forms a delightful soft crust while the inside remains gooey – thus I call it “meringue-like”
Be sure to cover remaining cake under a cake dome, as the meringue frosting will get gooier over time.
Store any left-over almonds in an airtight container to sprinkle on salads etc.
Whew! Did I really do all that????
Last night some friends were dropping by with a bottle of good Merlot to see the sunset. As life has been more than hectic lately, I wasn’t up to a full-on meal. Greg and Jess live in North San Luis Obispo County where hunting abides, so I pulled out a wild boar shoulder from the freezer and invented a new dish inspired by my years in North Africa.
The nomads cook their tajines (also spelled tagine) with camel or goat, so wild boar seemed a logical progression.
This stew was designed to eat around the bar. Instead of dipping into the sauce with chunks of bread in the North African fashion, I rolled up the shredded boar with a couple of spoonfuls of sauce in whole wheat tortillas to create a North African, Mexican Moo-Shoo wild boar.
Where do you get wild boar? Either you need to hunt yourself – or have generous friends that do. In this case, a friend of a friend passed the meat to me. P.S. Our wines are listed at end of post.
ON TAJINE DISHES:
There are many kinds of tajine dishes on the market now. I prefer ones with metal bottoms with one-step cooking on top of the stove. Ceramic tajines (traditional ones) do not do well for stove-top cooking. The ceramic was designed to be placed over charcoal. In Morocco, the circumference of the bottom dish fits exactly its own charcoal cooker.
The web shows many pictures of ceramic dishes on a gas fire, but as I’ve had a couple dishes break while cooking, I feel obliged to caution you. If you have a ceramic or silicon dish, then I advise you to do all the sauteing in a frying pan, then transfer to tajine dish and cook in oven. The temperature should be medium heat.
This stew could also be made in one of those French-style iron cookers with heavy lids (also called Dutch ovens). But I’m a firm believer that the conical lid of the tajine dish adds a dimension in savory moistness.
For a little history note, the Romans cooked stews in pots with conical lids. I’m wondering which came first, the Romans’ introduction into North Africa, or the Berbers teaching the Romans?
Wild Boar Tajine (Moroccan stew)
shoulder of wild boar, cut into big chunks with the bony piece left whole
tortillas, strongly advise whole wheat for texture and flavor
garlic, 5-6 cloves, minced
onions, 2 large yellow, cut in 2-3 inch wedges
olive oil, enough to generously cover bottom of pan
tomato paste, 2 Tblsp
salt, rock, sprinkle generously
black pepper, fresh ground over all
apricots, dried, generous handful
raisins, big and black, generous handful
carrots, 4 large, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced in narrow wedges
red wine, 1/3 bottle
Guinness, ½ bottle
diced smoky bacon, 1 Tblsp
***Please note: You will never find wine/beer or bacon in a traditional Moroccan recipe
beef stock (paste), heaping Tblsp
cumin, 2 heaping Tblsp
paprika, 1 generous Tblsp
cardamon, very generous pinch
ginger, very generous pinch
cloves, very generous pinch
cinnamon, 2 generous pinches
Take a Tajine dish and set on medium fire
Sauté garlic, onions and bacon in olive oil until onions soft and starting to clear
Add in tomato paste, turn well
Sprinkle with salt
Add wild boar
Sprinkle meat with spices, one at a time, turning the pieces to make sure coated
Salt more if desired
Add apricots and raisins to pan, distributing evenly
Add red wine
Add beef stock paste, turning well
Mix in carrots
Put on lid, reduce heat to low – as low as possible while still cooking.
Cook 3-4 hrs – longer is best – removing lid and turning meat chunks every 45 minutes or so for even soaking in sauce.
Let sit as long as you want and reheat with lid on to serve.
note: the longer the spices sit, the better they taste. The flavors meld together with time.
- Remove boar meat onto carving board and shred.
- Warm tortillas in microwave.
- Spoon on shredded meat, then sauce from Tajine dish. Amount of sauce subject to taste. I recommend each guest building their own.
- Wrap tortilla like moo shoo pork so doesn’t drip.
Sandra adds “This is simply marvelous (ain’t it grand to love your own cooking!) if you want exotic spicing combined with the wild taste of the boar. You could use any meat, but the very long cooking is especially good for tougher cuts.
The Secret: USE FRESH SPICES! I get mine from Penzeys Spices. If you use from grocery store, then DOUBLE at least the above. Also LONG slow cooking vital to bringing out flavors. www.penzeys.com
SUGGESTED WINES: We started with EOS Estate Merlot, Sonoma, 2009 and finished with Red Carpet Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, 2011.
I have set the beginning of The Black Scroll in Leptis Magna, just outside of today’s Tripoli, Libya. When you look at these splendid images by Jason Hawkes of some of the world’s best extant Roman ruins, you will understand my passion to visit. Unfortunately for myself and others like me, the politics of Libya have kept tourists at bay for decades. Fortunately for the ruins, they remain virtually undisturbed ghosts of the distant past.
As fortune would have it, these photos came out shortly after I started writing The Black Scroll (Feb 11 my start date – Mar 05 publication of photos). I am pleased to say that the LM (Leptis Magna) of my fantasy is remarkably like the one in the photos below.
For more wonderful shots of Leptis Magna and Sabratha, the second of the three ancient Roman cities (Tripolitania) as well as some of modern Tripoli (Oea), please click on the link at end of post to go to The Telegraph page with 24 aerial photos by Jason Hawkes.
click link for more aerial photos of Leptis Magna, Sabratha and Tripoli by Jason Hawke published in The Telegraph Apr 03 2013: