Friday, 16 August 2013

A Short Goodbye

Alfred B Mittington will be traveling in Europe over the next three weeks. Hence he - in his Royal Manifestation and cloned a few dozen times - waves a Short Goodbye to you, dear reader, and wishes you a happy healthy and holy remainder of the summer.

(This video was shot in the small town of St Rémy de Provençe, where they locked up Van Gogh when he went stark mad. It shows you that madness is sometimes contagious; but that it often comes with a sense of artistic beauty, obviously)

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Cookbook: Perfect Peanutsauce

Noblesse Oblige, dear reader! So I must make a truly stunning revelation. Those of you who regularly follow this cookblog may be astonished to hear it, but – hold on to your chair now!! - not all good sauces are Mayonnaise based!!! 

Yes, let that sink in for a moment! Take a deep breath and let that quarter drop! I repeat (in different words): there are indeed a few yummy and useful sauces which need neither egg yolk nor oil. Which forgo the heavenly mustard, the lemon juice and the magic whisk. Which use different ingredients, and still come out edible. I’m aware you can hardly believe this, but, c’me on now, take old Al’s word for it! Has he ever let you down???

Admittedly, such acceptable ‘bohemian’ sauces are extremely few in number (please do not get me started on Hollandaise, Béarnaise, or the mindboggling varieties of Blender-o-naise thatthis evil world’s brought forth…). But Indonesian Peanut Sauce must most certainly be counted among that limited number. Despite its odd, near-Nietzschian Umwertung Aller Werte (water comes in the place of oil; oily nuts in place of honest yolk!) it is a splendid sauce, of tremendous taste, countless applications, and inviting ease to make.

So, without more ado, bring out the saucepan and the stirring spoon and let us set to work!

Indonesian Sateh Sauce

40 grams of roasted peanuts per person (or 40 grams of peanut butter)
Water, however much it takes

Half an onion
A clove of garlic

Sambal (Hot Indonesian Red Pepper sauce)
Sweet soy sauce
Coconut milk or coconut butter (if you can find it)

1 or 2 cloves
1 or 2 cardamom pods
Some ground cumin

There are two ways to start this sauce: the first, and more authentic one, starts with a bagful of roasted peanuts. The other skips a stage, and starts from ready-made peanut butter. Both are fine in my (quite critical) book, AS LONG AS YOU DO NOT USE THAT MOST HORRID VARIETY OF YANKEE PEANUTBUTTER, the abominable stuff, full of sugars and perfumes, that usually comes plastered with Stars ‘n’ Stripes wherever you look, and often sports pictures of Football Hulks and Superblond Cheerleaders on the label. Avoid such horrors, and try to get an ecological, vegetarian, or health food variety instead. Even if it happens to come from weirdo places like Sweden or Holland, where peanuts do not even grow! (As in this picture)

If you start from peanuts you will have to convert them into a sort of peanut butter paste yourself. For this you need a blender (it can be done by hand but it takes three days…) Get the machine out, plug it in and toss in some 40 grams of peeled, roasted peanuts for every guest you hope to impress. Run until you get a paste. If need be, add a little oil to smoothen the process (but be careful there: peanuts are greasy enough by themselves already!)

Now chop about half a middle sized onion and a good clove of garlic into very small pieces. Get out a deep sauce pan and fry these in one teaspoon of vegetable oil for about a minute. As soon as they are hot, toss in a fair spoonful of Sambal, or any other sort of red pepper preserve you happen to have at hand. Let this fry for a moment as well.

Now put in the peanut paste you made, or the peanut butter from the jar. Let it melt and get really hot. Stir so as not to let it burn too much. Once it begins to bubble, it is time to add a splash of water. TAKE CARE: at first, the water will not dilute the sauce, but – for some funny chemical reason unknown to me – it will stiffen it like drying cement and change its colour to deep dark brown. That is precisely what you want it to do. Stir until all the water has been absorbed. Then repeat the process. You will need to add about three to four times the amount of water as the original volume of peanut butter, but this must be done little by little, splash by splash, as you keep stirring.

At long last, you will notice that the water gets the upper hand, and the sauce begins to get fluid. This is the moment to put in the following ingredients: 1 or 2 cloves, 1 or 2 cardamom pods, a teaspoon of ground cumin, a very sturdy splash of sweet soy sauce, a fair chunk of coconut butter from a block, or coconut milk from a can. (You may also add some sweet exotic fruit juice for extra ‘fruitiness’).

Keep stirring, until the coco butter is dissolved. Let the sauce bubble softly for three minutes more. Add more water if it looks like it’s getting too thick and sticky, or if too much oil bubbles to the surface. Finally, remove the pan from the fire and let it sit and cool, covered, for a couple of hours. Shortly before you serve dinner, heat it up again very slowly, always stirring so that it does not cake on the bottom of the pan, adding water if the sauce, once warm, is too thick.

The marvellous quality of this grand sauce is that it is able to turn every bland or boring dish into a veritable feast. Do you have a greyish, tasteless chunk of meat? Daub it with Sateh Sauce and you will ride to heaven. Is there nothing in your pantry (or on the menu due to them awful vegetarian friends your spouse invited to dinner AGAIN this decade…) except bland rice and broiled vegetables? Pour some peanut sauce on top, and the evening is saved! A plate of eggs on a bed of Sateh Sauce is an irresistible temptation! And I have even known people who served Peanut Sauce with fish (steamed mackerel for instance), but I must admit those were not the people I most admired for their culinary skills (if you get my drift…).

Traditionally, however, Sateh Sauce goes with Sateh (surprise!), which is grilled chunks of chicken or pork on a bamboo stick. And that is how it really is best. Needless to say: kids love this stuff, as long as it is not too spicy!

Monday, 5 August 2013

War over Gibraltar

Old habits, dear reader, die hard, especially when they are convenient.

Today, Spain is in a spot of trouble – shameless general corruption that runs from the royal house to every politician of the ruling party and all the members of the socialist opposition, skyrocketing national debt, immense unemployment, lethal train accidents caused by stupidity, a 40-year scandal of newborn babies robbed from their mothers and sold by nuns and doctors, and a sickening, life-sentenced paedophile liberated from a Rabat jail by the merciful King of Morocco on the request of the concerned King of Spain and helped rapidly out of the country by, it seems, the Spanish Secret Service - and so, to solve these minor problems quickly and efficiently, the Government of Spain has decided to declare war on Gibraltar.

Good old generalissimo Franco used the same trick to divert attention from hunger, political upheaval, protests and the corruption of his immediate family and friends. In Spain it always works.

What can a civilised man like myself possibly say when such a very cheap trick is pulled out of Madrid’s magician’s hat? Why, nothing really. The second rate demagoguery is so very transparent that no further comment of mine could help any reader’s misunderstnadings. But it is a good occasion to republish my unsurpassed 1992 essay on the hilarious subject. For your fun and your enlightenment, dear reader. So enjoy:

 Phoenicians Go Home !!!

By Alfred B. Mittington

One of the more hilarious spectacles I know in the theatre of International Diplomacy, is to hear a Spanish Foreign Minister discourse upon foreign enclaves planted on national soils. Or, to put it simpler: on how Spain wants Gibraltar back, today rather than tomorrow. It is a marvellous exercise in geopolitical acrobatics. As long as the poor sod is preaching for his own parish, all goes splendidly well. He simply draws a deep breath, inflates his most cavalieresque chest and shouts: ‘IT’S OURS!’ Next thing you know, the whole Spanish congregation jumps to its feet and bursts out in massive applause, most reminiscent of Sieg Heil! and the kind of thing you hear when the Argentinian National Soccer Team scores a point against Lichtenstein.
So far so good. Everybody happy.
But unfortunately, now and again, His Excellency gets invited to comment upon the matter in, say, an interview with Newsweek, or during a live session before BBC cameras. And then things soon turn ugly for the poor fellow; because he’ll be called upon to formulate a principle by which a colonial enclave like Gibraltar belongs rightfully to the mainland nation to which it hangs on for dear life, in this case the Kingdom of Spain. Not so complicated, you say? Well, considerably more so than you imagine. Because His Poor Excellency has a major dilemma. Or still better said: he has two major dilemma’s. You see: on the opposite shore of the Gibraltar Straights, on the coast of what is, for all to see, the Sovereign and Independent Kingdom of Morocco, rise two medium-sized little towns, one called Ceuta, the other Melilla. And guess who owns those??
            Why, yes, you guessed it! They belong to Spain.
            And here’s the rub: Spain wants Gibraltar back. But it balks at the thought of giving up Ceuta and Melilla. And so, to your immense entertainment, you will hear His Iberian Excellency proclaim, in one fine sentence and a single breath: ‘Gibraltar is Ours but the sovereignty of Spain over Ceuta and Melilla is incuestionable y indebatible’. Read: we’re not even going to discuss it! Alas for His Excellency, there is no bleeding way that anybody in the world could formulate an allotting principle for foreign enclaves on national soils, which will return Gibraltar to Spain, yet at the same time will allow Madrid to hold on to Ceuta and Melilla.

            Try for yourself.
Criterion: ‘Gibraltar is part of the Territorial Integrity of Spain’. Well, this is an easy one, ain’t it? Sure, Gibraltar is on the Spanish coast. But Ceuta and Melilla are plainly on the coast of Morocco as well. So if Territorial Integrity is really what decides it all, then you win one and you lose two. (And that’s not even mentioning the tiny complication that, for instance, the Republic of Portugal is also undeniably on the coast of Spain. I mean: where do you draw the line?? Better not introduce that there principle in the United Nations Charter, I say!)
            Another one: ‘English Gibraltar is the fruit of conquest in war.’ Oops. True enough. And modern times might do well to repair such nasty little anomalies from the past… Only: Ceuta and Melilla are also the fruit of Spanish conquest in the distant past (how else do you get such places?) And what counts for one odd colony counts for another, right??
            Okay, a third try: ‘The people of Ceuta and Melilla deeply wish to remain Spanish’. I have no doubt about it. But the people of the Rock want nothing better than to remain as Limey as they can; and then from that pleasant extra-territorial position serve Spain at their best by smuggling drugs into the country and by offering a safe haven for Spanish black money. So if popular sentiment has any say in the matter… 
            We won’t go through the whole arsenal of muddy formulations of principle. All of them are equally valid or nonsensical; but in all cases, to get what you want and keep what you shouldn’t, you’ll have to apply them in one case and ignore them blatantly in the carbon-copy other. No way around that. It works out the same with every single criterion you may invent.
            There is, however, one such formulation which I find particularly amusing, because of the astounding consequences it might have if generally applied. That criterion goes as follows: ‘Gibraltar was conquered by force, but we Spaniards founded Ceuta and Melilla. Therefore Gibraltar still belongs to us, and Ceuta and Melilla belong to…. Us!’
            Now HERE is an interesting variation which might just work! Too bad it is not all the way true. Melilla indeed seems to have been founded by Spanish colonists, on a jutting chunk of useless rock where only a few goats were grazing. But Ceuta was, unfortunately, already in existence when the Spaniards took it over, and so, if strictly applied, Spain might get its Gibraltar and keep its Melilla, but it would fairly be called upon to yield Ceuta to Morocco. Perhaps perhaps perhaps, Their Hispanic Majesties and the Dons who run the show in Madrid would be willing to strike such a neat deal…. But barely would the ink be dry under the pertaining Triangular Treaty of Renunciation, than Spain would find itself in an awful, nay: a horrid fix again. Because, you see, the day after the various take-overs and the feisty lowering and hauling up of the different flags had been performed, Morocco would file a formal complaint with the United Nations, claiming, under the newly formulated Principle of the Return of Foreign Founded Enclaves in the UN Charter, the return to the Kingdom of Morocco of the city of…. Gibraltar!!

            And… Oh Dear!!... They would get it!! Because you see: it just so happens that the city of Gibraltar was founded, back in 711 A.D., by a Berber gentleman called General Tariq, who landed at the rock with his army to conquer Spain, burned his boats behind him, founded the city and even called it after himself (Djebel al-Tariq, the “Rock of Tariq”). No way around that, señor Ministro! Tariq was a Moroccan. So a Moroccan founded the city. So the city belongs by International Right to the Alaouite Kingdom.
            Panic breaks out in Madrid; Rabat delivers a threatening Diplomatic Note; NATO declares non-intervention, but Britain, the only one who lost but never gained in the whole darn operation, gleefully comes out on the side of ‘legitimacy’ and shores up Morocco’s claim in the General Assembly; gunboats draw up before Algeciras; Andorra declares it will stand by its ally and sends troops to Andalusia; and with that heartening sign of international support, Spain mobilises….
You can guess the rest, dear reader: bloodshed, mayhem and Bring the Boys Home Before Christmas.  
            The trouble is that Spain simply has no choice but go to war. Even if she were willing to admit she blundered badly by proposing the Principle of the Return of Foreign Founded Enclaves for inclusion into the UN Charter, and were graciously to yield Gibraltar to Morocco, that would only be the beginning of her urban dismemberment! For not a few cities big and small in Spain have been founded and settled and built by foreign nations!
            Italy, for instance, would be sure to put in an immediate claim for such urban pearls, originally founded by the Romans, as Saragossa (‘Caesar Augustus’), Merida, Lugo, Seville and Santiago de Compostela. No sooner does the UN comply with these demands, then further claims are put forth by the Berlusconi government (Il Condottieri was never a man to let a good occasion slip by without taking advantage!) Cologne, Lyon, Utrecht, Mainz, Bordeaux, every English city that ends in –chester and yes, even London itself would soon fly the Italian tri-colour. Bliss and celebration in the Italian capital are, however, of short duration… For it turns out that the city of Rome itself really belongs to Turkey! After all: it was founded, as every reader of Virgil knows, by Prince Aeneas, who fled from Troy with his pappa on his back and sonny-boy at his elbow, and Troy is Turkish! Are the Turks happy? Well, no longer than an instant! For Greece, dispised, feared, much-maligned Greece, immediately occupies Istanbul, founded, they maintain, by the Greek-Roman Emperor Constantine. Macedonian troops, meanwhile – oh no, I’m sorry: troops of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Blimey and Parblue!) – disembark in Alexandria in Egypt, and in every other of the roughly 24 Alexandria’s which were founded, all over the Middle East and Western Asia, by the great youthful conqueror of the 4th Century B.C. The Netherlands get New York, Cape Town, Jakarta, Sao Paolo and a coastal village in Japan. The French take New Orleans and Quebec. Dublin devolves on the Danes. The Portuguese move into Mombassa. Hong Kong, just duly returned to mainland China, is once again handed back to England. Jericho declares itself an Independent Canaanite People’s Republic… And so on and so forth. The Principle of the Return of Foreign Founded Enclaves wrecks havoc on the world map, on peaceful foreign relations, and on the Nation State as we know it.
            And do you know who benefits most?
            Oh, you’ll never guess it. You’re really gonna stound!
            Lebanon, of all places.

Lebanon, which at present has barely a city to speak of (why, even Beirut seems to be more of a Syrian Colony than the capital of the land!) Lebanon, from which, in days gone by, those travel-happy Phoenicians sailed their triremes. This little land, which so far only had cedar trees, hashish and rocket throwers to its name, will come out a mighty winner in this game of urban musical chairs, for the Phoenicians had this happy habit of sailing far away and then, when they got tired of rowing, to settle down and start a city. And what really was little more than a rather silly little hobby of B.C.E. times, now pays off prettily. What will they not get?! Tunis will be theirs. Barcelona, Carthagena, Cadiz, Astorga and Lisbon, Marseille perhaps, Palermo for sure, Thebes in Greece undoubtedly. They may make a claim on an English and Irish city here and there. They are sure to get an African capital or two if we may believe Herodotus about the expedition of Pharaoh Necho. They take – there is no question of it – Larache, Salé and Casablanca from Morocco. And go deep enough into mythology and ancient travelogues, and you can be sure they have inalienable rights to some metropolis in the good old US of A. Not bad for a place that yesterday only grew plywood, right? And the most beautiful bit of it is that they, exceptionally, are entitled to keep all their own cities, because Tyrus, Byblos and Sidon were all genuine Phoenician towns from the very first!  
            Let Spain have its way, and a new Superpower will be born: the United City-states of Phoenicia.
            Or, alternatively, I propose we just leave Gibraltar to the Gibraltareños, Ceuta and Melilla to the Spaniards, and the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs to the applause of his chauvinistic sports-palace audience. Everybody will be much happier that way, and comiendo perdices until the end of time!
Tangiers, December 1991

P.S. Oh dear! There is always one in every tour-group! No sooner had I published this fine exposé, than a learned gent whose name I only remember as Prof. Dr. Habib Al-Macaroni, Fulbright lecturer at the Beirut American University if I’m not mistaken, hurried to correct my facts in undiluted academic manner (regular readers of my writings know what I think of undiluted academic manners!) Ceuta and Melilla, he takes great pains and costly postage to point out, were not founded by the Spanish at all, but also by the Carthaginians (i.e. late Phoenicians), back in the days when you could do such things without a licence. Thank you so much, Doctor Habib! Your exquisite correction strips absolutely nothing from my Q.E.D., right? It adds to it, you oaf! With readers like that, who needs editors!? 

[Note from the editor: The above article appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique on 2 January 1992. Against expectations, the Spanish Foreign Ministry declared it had no comment. The Moroccan government asked for details]