Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘out of print’

19 NOVEMBER, 2014

Ted Turner on the Meaning of Life, the Trouble with Religion, and His Revision of the 10 Commandments

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“Our reason for being here is to have a productive, good, long life and to experience the truth that we’re in paradise right now.”

For more than half a century, media pioneer and philanthropist Ted Turner (b. November 19, 1938) has been earning his reputation not only as an extraordinary businessperson but also as a man of exceptional integrity, conviction, and goodwill in an industry so permeated by ruthlessness and unethical conduct as matter of course. (It speaks to his character that his arch-nemesis is media villain Rupert Murdoch.) Turner founded CNN, turned his massive library of animation into the Cartoon Network, and donated $1 billion to the United Nations to start the United Nations Foundation. Intensely invested in the environmental movement, he even co-created the beloved 1990s environmentally-themed children’s series Captain Planet and the Planeteers.

In 1991, Turner participated in The Meaning of Life: Reflections in Words and Pictures on Why We Are Here (public library) — a wonderful collections of reflections on the essence of existence by a humbling roster of luminaries, including Carl Sagan, Rosa Parks, John Cage, Annie Dillard, George Lucas, Charles Bukowski, Arthur C. Clarke, and more.

Turner’s short essay, reminiscent of young Jack Kerouac’s memorable clarion call — “Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.” — is essentially a case for spirituality without religion, delivered with his penchant for the punchy and with a heartfelt dose of concern for our planet:

There is nothing wrong with thinking there’s a next life, a dream-world, a happy hunting-ground, a paradise over the rainbow, salvation. But don’t go to church on Sundays to pray to some unknown being who hasn’t shown up in thousands of years to come save you. You need to get off your knees and roll up your sleeves and save yourself. Our reason for being here is to have a productive, good, long life and to experience the truth that we’re in paradise right now. In the Old Testament paradise was, at one time, here on this earth. Native American Indians consider earth as paradise. Go into the Adirondacks, assuming you’re not in an area where acid rain has killed the trees, go into the Alps, go into the jungle: Paradise is just hanging out, waiting for you…

The problem with all the world’s religions is that they have commandments engraved in stone, and none speaks about achieving paradise [now]. Christianity had a couple thousand years to try to solve the world’s problems, and we’re in a bigger mess now than we ever were as we go on killing the planet, destroying our home, devouring the host. How can Christianity address the problems of air pollution and nuclear proliferation and overpopulation when it’s geared toward the issues of Jesus Christ’s day: the domination of Rome and grinding slavery? Jesus tried to give his contemporaries hope in the next world because he could see there was no hope in the current one.

In place of the ten commandments, Turner proposes “ten voluntary initiatives” — updated versions of those timeless aspirations, geared for the problems of our time:

I suggest trying these on for size, as a way of helping foster the idea that our purpose while alive is to make a heaven here.

  1. Love and respect the planet and all living things thereon.
  2. Treat all persons with dignity, respect and friendliness.
  3. Have no more than two children.
  4. Help save what is left of our natural world and restore damage where practical.
  5. Use as few nonrenewable resources as possible.
  6. Use as few toxic chemicals, pesticides and other poisons as possible.
  7. Contribute to those less fortunate than yourself to help them become self-sufficient and enjoy the benefits of a decent life.
  8. Reject the use of force, military force in particular.
  9. Support the total elimination of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and, in time, that of all weapons of mass destruction.
  10. Support the United Nations.

Turner ends on an optimistic note about how the field in which he built his business could help cultivate these “voluntary initiatives.” Citing Marshall McLuhan’s notion of the “global village,” Turner writes:

I believe mass communication has helped make us all closer today than we’ve ever been. And I believe that the gathering and dissemination of worthwhile information to all the peoples of the world is the most important tool we have for achieving the end of realizing that our planet is the address of paradise.

Two decades later, much of Turner’s television business might be paying the price for his partially correct prophecy — indeed, we are more connected than ever, but in large part thanks to web video ecosystem that is cannibalizing TV. The disorienting thing today is that because scarcity is no longer the problem — abundance is — the true challenge of mastering these ten aspirations, or any set of aspirations for a meaningful life, is one of wisdom rather than information, and that is vastly harder to cultivate.

The Meaning of Life is, sadly, out of print but is very much worth the used-copy hunt. Sample it further with contributions by George Lucas, Carl Sagan, and other icons.

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03 NOVEMBER, 2014

Found Meals of the Lost Generation: An Edible Time-Capsule of the Creative Scene of 1920s Paris

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James Joyce’s cocoa, Ernest Hemingway’s sausages, Gertrude Stein’s jugged hare, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s chicken, and more.

Given my voracious appetite for unusual cookbooks — particularly those at the intersection of literature, art, and cuisine, such as the vintage treasure Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, the recently released Modern Art Cookbook, those real recipes from Roald Dahl’s children’s books, Salvador Dalí’s erotic gastronomy, Andy Warhol’s little-known illustrated recipes, and Dinah Fried’s magnificent photographs of meals from famous fiction — I was delighted to chance upon the 1994 gem Found Meals of the Lost Generation: Recipes and Anecdotes from 1920s Paris (public library). This unusual compendium offers what author Suzanne Rodriguez-Hunter aptly calls “social history with recipes, a kind of edible time machine” transporting us to the Parisian creative coterie of the 1920s, which Hemingway termed a “movable feast.” Each chapter is devoted to a major literary or artistic figure from that era’s artistic ecosystem, cumulatively known as the Lost Generation — including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Josephine Baker, and Isadora Duncan — and weaves together biographical anecdotes with recipes for an actual meal in which that person participated.

Rodriguez-Hunter writes of the Lost Generation’s singular allure:

They rebelled against their parents, danced to loud and shocking music, were disillusioned by war, flirted with cocaine, pushed the boundaries of sexual freedom, cut their hair geometrically and colored it with henna, loved abstract art, joined cults, flew in airplanes in a world grown small, drove fast cars, pondered their subconscious motivations, rejected conformism, and a lot of them drank or drugged too much… They were the Moderns — the first modern generation.

Zelda Fitzgerald's painting of Paris, one of her little-known watercolors. Click image for more.

These generational pioneers were born into a unique precipice of cultural change — the automobile had arrived, but it was clunky and expensive; phones were around, but far from common; the radio was yet to be invented; children worked in factories and most families lived in homes with outdoor toilets. During their heyday, the members of the Lost Generation witnessed and partook in remarkable social shifts — women’s right to vote, Freud’s liberation of the subconscious, the invention of the airplane, the rise of the cinema, and a seemingly uncontainable range of other innovations. Meanwhile, WWI had left millions disillusioned and dejected. Paris, emerging as the capital of Modernism, offered alluring respite from the breakage of the human spirit. In promising unparalleled creative refuge and revival, the city attracted a steady cohort of American expat artists and writers, who fused with the local community at literary salons, art exhibitions, parties, and various other social cross-pollinators.

The excitements and ambivalences of those changes became deeply embedded in how the Lost Generation lived and celebrated their lives — which invariably included their cuisine.

Here are a few favorites, beginning with hot chocolate, quaintly termed cocoa, à la James Joyce — one can easily envision him sipping it while sitting at his desk, careful not to drip any on his white writing coat.

COCOA

In a saucepan over very low heat combine 1 cup boiling water, ¼ cup of your favorite powdered cocoa, a dash of salt, and sugar to taste (approximately 3 tablespoons). Mix thoroughly. Add 3 cups scalded milk. Stir gently while mixture slowly heats, approximately 3 minutes. If desired, add 1 teaspoon vanilla near the end. Remove from heat, beat lightly with wire whisk, and pour into moustache cups or mugs.

Perhaps as James Joyce was warming up for his most revealing interview with a cup of hot chocolate, his interviewer, Djuna Barnes, was fortifying herself with a salad of winter lettuces.

A SALAD OF WINTER LETTUCES

In a small bowl combine 1 tablespoon walnut oil, 2 tablespoons high-quality olive oil, 1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar, and 1 finely minced shallot. Let flavors blend while preparing the salad.

Cut away and discard the stem of two large Belgian endives, removing whole leaves. Discard stems of 1 bunch watercress, breaking into sprigs. Tear 1 frisée endive into pieces (or equivalent amount of curly endive). Wash and dry all greens and place in salad bowl. Peel a small celeriac, slice it thinly, and cut slices into strips; add no more than ½ cup celeriac strips to greens. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently. Just before serving, sprinkle petals of 1 perfect red rose across the salad.

Even though Ernest Hemingway believed that “writing, at its best, is a lonely life,” it’s hard to imagine him feasting on these cervelas — short, fat sausages made of pork, usually seasoned with garlic — all by himself.

CERVELAS WITH MUSTARD SAUCE

Plunge 4 fresh cervelas or other pork/garlic sausages into a pot of boiling water, reduce heat, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and rinse with cold water. In frying pan, melt small amount butter over moderate heat. Add sausages and cook until lightly browned. Serve with Mustard Sauce.

MUSTARD SAUCE

In a small mixing bowl combine 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard and 3 tablespoons boiling water. Slowly add, drop by drop, 1/3 cup olive oil, beating constantly with a wire whip. The resulting sauce should be creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste, lemon juice if desired.

While Papa was a fan of pork, his buddy F. Scott Fitzgerald was partial to chicken.

CHICKEN MARYLAND

Cut a 3 ½ pound chicken into pieces. Dip each piece into milk, season with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, and let dry 30 minutes. In heavy skillet heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and sauté chicken on all sides until nicely browned. Add 1 cup hot water, ¼ teaspoon cumin, and ¼ teaspoon sage, and let come to boil. Immediately reduce heat, cover, and let simmer 45 minutes. Remove lid and simmer until all moisture has evaporated from pan. Serve.

A couple of decades before George Orwell concocted his 11 golden rules for the perfect cup of tea, Nina Hamnett and Jean Cocteau delighted Paris with their Formosa oolong tea, often considered the very best tea available — one would expect nothing less of Cocteau as a host.

FORMOSA OOLONG TEA

Bring a generous amount of very pure water to boil. Heat teapot by rinsing with boiling water. Put 1 teaspoonful of Formosa oolong or other tea into pot for each person; add an extra spoonful “for the pot.” Add boiling water approximately 1 cup per teaspoon of tea. Stir well. Let steep for 5 minutes. Serve.

And what would the era’s culinary scene be like without Parisian power couple Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, the former being the fairy godmother of the city’s creative community and the latter a culinary legend herself? Their jugged hare with red currant “found meal” is something Gertrude Stein recalls being served frequently by the wife of Henri Matisse, whose paintings became a centerpiece of Stein’s famed, generation-defining art collection.

JUGGED HARE

Cut a 5-pound rabbit or hare into pieces and place in deep (sic) bowl. In a separate bowl combine 1 cup red wine such as burgundy, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 large onion cut into quarters, 2 sliced carrots, 1 bay leaf, 12 whole peppercorns, 4 sprigs parsley, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper. Stir ingredients well and pour over rabbit. If rabbit is not covered by mixture, add more wine. Cover and let marinate in refrigerator overnight.

Two hours before serving, drain rabbit mixture through a colander reserving marinade. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large frying pan; sauté rabbit until browned on all sides. Remove to covered casserole. Sauté onions and carrots until soft in the same pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Add vegetables to casserole. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup water and add reserved marinade to casserole. Place casserole, covered, preheated in 300 degree oven. Prepare a beurre manié by blending with a fork ¼ cup flour and 2 tablespoons softened butter; stir into the casserole after 1 hour. Return casserole to oven for another 30 to 45 minutes. Arrange rabbit on a serving platter, strain sauce over meat, and surround with boiled potatoes. Serve with red currant jelly-wine sauce.

RED CURRANT JELLY-WINE SAUCE

Slowly heat 1 cup red currant jelly over medium fire; when runny, add 1 cup good red wine and 1 tablespoon lemon juice; mix well and simmer gently, uncovered, 5 minutes. Thicken to taste with sauce from the rabbit casserole. Just before serving blend in 1tablespoon brandy.

Illustration of Gertrude Stein by Natacha Ledwidge from a rare 1993 edition of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. Click image for more.

And for dessert, it hardly gets more modernist than Stein’s “nameless cookies” — because, after all, a cookie is a cookie is a cookie.

NAMELESS COOKIES

Sift together ¼ cup powdered sugar and 2 cups white flour. Cream 1 cup butter and add the flour mixture slowly, little by little; this procedure, stirring rather than beating as flour is added, should take about 20 minutes. At midway point, add 1 tablespoon curaçao and 1 teaspoon brandy. When mixture has been combined, roll the dough into small “sausage” rolls about 2 inches long and ½ inch thick. Place on lightly oiled cookie sheet 1 inch apart in preheated 275º oven; bake 20 minutes. Remove gently with spatula, gently sifting powdered sugar over them while still hot. Kept in tightly closed container, cookies will last up to 3 weeks.

Found Meals of the Lost Generation is absolutely delicious in its entirety. Complement it with the era’s ultimate culinary time-capsule, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, then revisit The Modern Art Cookbook and the Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook.

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29 OCTOBER, 2014

25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy: Andy Warhol’s Little-Known Collaborations with His Mother

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The cat listicle goes pop art half a century before cat listicles existed.

In the 1950s, long before he had invented himself as pop art’s pioneer, Andy Warhol was making ends meet by working as a freelance children’s book illustrator for Doubleday. Still, he was unable to escape poverty. When his mother, Julia Warhola — an artist herself and one of history’s unsung champions behind creative icons — found out about her son’s destitute conditions in 1952, she boarded a bus from Pittsburgh to New York and moved into Andy’s tiny apartment on East 75th Street, intent on taking care of him and helping him get by. The two shared a love of cats so strong that their squalid home was populated by a multitude of felines, all but one named Sam; the sole outlier, Julia’s most beloved companion, was named Hester. But in addition to cat-rearing, the mother-son cohabitation inevitably led to a series of creative collaborations and an adventure of self-publishing.

In 1954, Andy and Julia released a limited-edition artist’s book ungrammatically titled 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy (public library), featuring Andy’s signature blotted-line watercolor drawings in vibrant pop-art colors and calligraphy by Julia. Oddly enough, there were only sixteen rather than twenty-five cats portrayed and Julia had accidentally missed the letter “d” from “Named,” but Andy decided to keep the title and fold the idiosyncratic wording into the already quirky yet strangely contemporary concept — not only was it a book solely about cats half a century before the cat meme of the modern web, but it was also practically an illustrated listicle.

The book was conceived as an edition of 190 signed and numbered copies, most of which Warhol gave away to friends and clients as gifts.

But perhaps even more intriguing was the sequel, another self-published book unambiguously titled Holy Cats by Andy Warhol’s Mother (public library) — a playful and irreverent eulogy for Julia’s beloved Hester, which she wrote and illustrated herself.

Warhol would later remark of his mother’s peculiar labor-of-love project: “It featured what she loved to draw most, angels and cats.”

The two books were eventually reproduced and published as a boxed set a few months after Warhol’s death in 1987.

The two books were followed by the duo’s final collaboration, the little-known cookbook Wild Strawberries. Shortly after that, Warhol underwent what Lou Reed called the “PHOOM!” moment when he stopped being Andy Warhol and became Andy Warhol.

Complement this illustrated love letter to felines with a similar concept from Indian folklore and Gay Talese’s field guide to the social order of New York City cats, then revisit Warhol’s graphic biography and his musings on the joys of virtual relationships.

Donating = Loving

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.