Brain Pickings

E.O. Wilson on How We Give Meaning to Life

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“The most successful scientist thinks like a poet … and works like a bookkeeper.”

Just as the fracturing of our inner wholeness ruptures the soul, a similar fissure rips society asunder and has been for centuries — that between science and the humanities. The former explores how we became human and the latter what it means to be human — a difference at once subtle and monumental, polarizing enough to hinder the answering of both questions. That’s what legendary naturalist, sociobiologist, and Pulitzer-winning writer E.O. Wilson explores with great eloquence and intellectual elegance in The Meaning of Human Existence (public library | IndieBound).

Three decades after Carl Sagan asserted that “if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed,” Wilson — a longtime proponent of bridging the artificial divide between science and the humanities — counters that “we’ve learned enough about the Universe and ourselves to ask these questions in an answerable, testable form.”

And that elusive answer, he argues, has to do with precisely that notion of meaning:

In ordinary usage the word “meaning” implies intention, intention implies design, and design implies a designer. Any entity, any process, or definition of any word itself is put into play as a result of an intended consequence in the mind of the designer. This is the heart of the philosophical worldview of organized religions, and in particular their creation stories. Humanity, it assumes, exists for a purpose. Individuals have a purpose in being on Earth. Both humanity and individuals have meaning.

There is a second, broader way the word “meaning” is used and a very different worldview implied. It is that the accidents of history, not the intentions of a designer, are the source of meaning. There is no advance design, but instead overlapping networks of physical cause and effect. The unfolding of history is obedient only to the general laws of the Universe. Each event is random yet alters the probability of later events. During organic evolution, for example, the origin of one adaptation by natural selection makes the origin of certain other adaptations more likely. This concept of meaning, insofar as it illuminates humanity and the rest of life, is the worldview of science.

Whether in the cosmos or in the human condition, the second, more inclusive meaning exists in the evolution of present-day reality amid countless other possible realities.

Illustration from 'Alice in Quantumland' by Robert Gilmore. Click image for more.

The idea that we are a cosmic accident is far from new and, to the unexamined existential reflex, far from comforting. And yet, Wilson suggests, there is something enormously gladdening about the notion that out of all possible scenarios, out of the myriad other combinations that would have resulted in not-us, we emerged and made life meaningful. He illustrates this sense of “meaning” with the particular evolutionary miracle of the human brain, the expansion of which was among the most rapid bursts of complex tissue evolution in the known history of the universe:

A spider spinning its web intends, whether conscious of the outcome or not, to catch a fly. That is the meaning of the web. The human brain evolved under the same regimen as the spider’s web. Every decision made by a human being has meaning in the first, intentional sense. But the capacity to decide, and how and why the capacity came into being, and the consequences that followed, are the broader, science-based meaning of human existence.

Premier among the consequences is the capacity to imagine possible futures, and to plan and choose among them. How wisely we use this uniquely human ability depends on the accuracy of our self-understanding. The question of greatest relevant interest is how and why we are the way we are and, from that, the meaning of our many competing visions of the future.

Illustration from 'Evolution: A Coloring Book' by Annu Kilpeläinen. Click image for more.

Perched on the precipice of an era when the very question of what it means to be human is continually challenged, we stand to gain that much more from the fruitful cross-pollination of science and the humanities in planting the seeds for the best such possible futures. Like an Emerson of our technoscientific era, Wilson champions the ennobling self-reliance embedded in this proposition:

Humanity … arose entirely on its own through an accumulated series of events during evolution. We are not predestined to reach any goal, nor are we answerable to any power but our own. Only wisdom based on self-understanding, not piety, will save us.

That self-understanding, he cautions, necessarily requires both science and the humanities:

This task of understanding humanity is too important and too daunting to leave exclusively to the humanities. Their many branches, from philosophy to law to history and the creative arts, have described the particularities of human nature back and forth in endless permutations, albeit laced with genius and in exquisite detail. But they have not explained why we possess our special nature and not some other, out of a vast number of conceivable natures. In that sense, the humanities have not achieved nor will they ever achieve a full understanding of the meaning of our species’ existence.

The key to the great mystery of just what we are, Wilson argues, lies in “the circumstance and process that created our species,” which span millions of years of evolutionary history, long transcending the timeline of human civilization and “culture” — the substance of the humanities. Indeed, the very forces of natural selection that shaped our evolution are now gradually being replaced by a kind of “volitional selection” — directly, as we set out to redesign our biology and mold human nature to our wishes, and indirectly, by the biosociologically homogenizing effects of such forces as the global flux of emigration (I imported my own Eastern European genes into the American population pool) and the rise in interracial marriages (my best friend’s daughters are the glorious fusion of her own Korean heritage and her husband’s Irish-French-Lebanese genetic ancestry). Wilson writes:

The human condition is a product of history — not just the six millennia of civilization but very much further back, across hundreds of millennia. The whole of it, biological and cultural evolution, must be explored in seamless unity for a complete answer to the mystery.

[…]

The time has come to consider what science might give to the humanities and the humanities to science in a common search for a more solidly grounded answer than before to the great riddle of our existence.

Illustration from 'You Are Stardust' by writer Elin Kelsey and artist Soyeon Kim. Click image for more.

One of Wilson’s most intriguing forays into the riddle has to do with the notion of good and evil in human nature, the perennial question at the heart of Tolstoy and Gandhi’s little-known correspondence and Richard Feynman’s contemplation. Wilson writes:

Are human beings intrinsically good but corruptible by the forces of evil, or the reverse, innately sinful yet redeemable by the forces of good?

[…]

We are all genetic chimeras, at once saints and sinners, champions of the truth and hypocrites — not because humanity has failed to reach some foreordained religious or ideological ideal, but because of the way our species originated across millions of years of biological evolution.

He illustrates our dual natures with a wonderfully vulnerable and self-aware personal anecdote:

When Carl Sagan won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1978, I dismissed it as a minor achievement for a scientist, scarcely worth listing. When I won the same prize the following year, it wondrously became a major literary award of which scientists should take special note.

Much of that duality, Wilson argues, is rooted in the eternal conflict between the two facets of the evolutionary force that shaped us — the individual and group levels of natural selection. He examines our “overpowering instinctual urge to belong to groups” and how it relates to our profound unease with solitude:

To be kept forcibly in solitude is to be kept in pain, and put on the road to madness. A person’s membership in his group — his tribe — is a large part of his identity. It also confers upon him to some degree or other a sense of superiority. When psychologists selected teams at random from a population of volunteers to compete in simple games, members of each team soon came to think of members of other teams as less able and trustworthy, even when the participants knew they had been selected at random.

The dark underbelly of this tendency is at the root of most bigotry — our tendency to judge and reject those who don’t fit the parameters of some tribe we feel we belong to. (Wilson, who grew up in the deeply racist Deep South in the 1930s and began his professional career during the sexist 1950s, brings to these scientific insights his profoundly human experience of having witnessed such group-selection-driven injustices in action.) Understanding the various levels on which natural selection operates, Wilson argues, is the key to understanding ourselves as a species and as individual moral agents:

Within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. Or, risking oversimplification, individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue. So it came to pass that humans are forever conflicted by their prehistory of multilevel selection. They are suspended in unstable and constantly changing positions between the two extreme forces that created us. We are unlikely to yield completely to either force as the ideal solution to our social and political turmoil. To give in completely to the instinctual urgings born from individual selection would be to dissolve society. At the opposite extreme, to surrender to the urgings from group selection would turn us into angelic robots — the outsized equivalents of ants.

More than a century after Nietzsche’s case for the creative value of turmoil and decades after Anaïs Nin’s memorable assertion that “great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions,” Wilson argues that “a large part of human creativity is generated by the inevitable and necessary conflict between the individual and group levels of natural selection” and returns to the chance-nature of our nature:

The eternal conflict is not God’s test of humanity. It is not a machination of Satan. It is just the way things worked out. The conflict might be the only way in the entire Universe that human-level intelligence and social organization can evolve. We will find a way eventually to live with our inborn turmoil, and perhaps find pleasure in viewing it as the primary source of our creativity.

'Genealogical distribution of the arts and sciences' by Chrétien Frederic Guillaume Roth, 1780, from 'The Book of Trees' by Manuel Lima. Click image for more.

That pleasure, Wilson suggests, is to be found in reconciling science and the humanities — two branches of knowledge that, despite their differences, “have risen from the same wellspring of creative thought.” Reflecting on the Enlightenment’s legacy, he considers the vitalizing value of reviving the quest for unification of science and the humanities and argues that it must begin with how we design education:

Studying the relation between science and the humanities should be at the heart of liberal education everywhere, for students of science and the humanities alike.

And yet the great enemy of that unification, specialization — something the quintessential polymath-generalist Buckminster Fuller vehemently opposed — is still king in how the education system structures its priorities. Wilson, a longtime Harvard professor, points to the revered university’s policy of seeking out faculty with “preeminence or the promise of preeminence in a specialty” and wryly laments the illusion that “the assembly of a sufficient number of such world-class specialists would somehow coalesce into an intellectual superorganism attractive to both students and financial backers.” With this, Wilson arrives at the crux of the matter:

The early stages of a creative thought, the ones that count, do not arise from jigsaw puzzles of specialization. The most successful scientist thinks like a poet — wide-ranging, sometimes fantastical — and works like a bookkeeper. It is the latter role that the world sees. When writing a report for a technical journal or speaking at a conference of fellow specialists, the scientist avoids metaphor. He is careful never to be accused of rhetoric or poetry… The language of the author must at all times be restrained and obedient to logic based on demonstrable fact.

The exact opposite is the case in poetry and the other creative arts. There metaphor is everything. The creative writer, composer, or visual artist conveys, often obliquely by abstraction or deliberate distortion, his own perceptions and the feelings he hopes to evoke — about something, about anything, real or imagined. He seeks to bring forth in an original way some truth or other about the human experience. He tries to pass what he creates directly along the channel of human experience, from his mind to your mind. His work is judged by the power and beauty of its metaphors. He obeys a dictum ascribed to Picasso: art is the lie that shows us the truth.

For all his timeless wisdom and unassailable genius, Wilson’s only point of datedness shows in his use of pronouns, an inherited linguistic tick burdened by a previous era’s bigotry — must the scientist or the poet always be a “he”? Somewhere, Leonard Shlain is smiling wistfully. But Wilson’s essential quest remains a noble one — to bridge our two most potent sensemaking mechanisms, science and the humanities, and fuse them into a more intelligent and inspired understanding of ourselves, our place in the world, and our best possible future.

In the remainder of The Meaning of Human Existence, he goes on to explore such facets of the quest as the power of instinct, the role of religion, the drivers of social evolution, and why microbes rule the world. Complement it with Dorion Sagan on why science and philosophy need each other and Manuel Lima’s visual history of mapping science and the humanities.

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Lucinda Williams on Compassion

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“You do not know what wars are going on down there, where the spirit meets the bone.”

Recently, in witnessing the astounding haste with which people were lashing out against one another, without so much as a moment of pause for understanding, without so much as a basic intention to reflect and respond rather than react, I lamented that the world would be much kinder if everyone believed that everyone else is doing their best, even if they fall short sometimes. Mere hours later, my heart stopped as I heard the first track from Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (iTunes), the altogether spectacular new album by Lucinda Williams.

Titled “Compassion,” the song — a line from which lends the record its name — pins down with devastating precision just what we do to one another, and what we reveal about ourselves, when we deny each other the simple human dignity of kindness. It is nothing short of a masterwork at the intersection of poetry and philosophy from one of the greatest songwriters of our time.

Have compassion for everyone you meet
Even if they don’t want it
What seems conceit
Is always a sign
Always a sign
Always a sign
For those you encounter
Have compassion
Even if they don’t want it
What seems bad manners
Is always a sign
Always a sign
Always a sign

Always a sign
of things no ears have heard
Always a sign
of things no eyes have seen
You do not know
What wars are going on
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down where the spirit meets the bone

For everyone you listen to
Have compassion
Even if they don’t want it
What seems cynicism
Is always a sign
Always a sign
Always a sign
Always a sign

Always a sign
Of things no ears have heard
Always a sign of things no eyes have seen
You do not know
What wars are going on
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down where the spirit meets the bone

Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone
Down where the spirit meets the bone

That Williams should possess the poetic form with such mastery should come as no surprise — the daughter of the prolific poet Miller Williams, she grew up reading and writing poetry. Her father’s mentor was none other than Flannery O’Connor, whose house young Lucinda used to visit with her dad and whose Southern Gothic sensibility seems to permeate Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. “Compassion” itself is, in fact, adapted from Miller Williams’s poem by the same title, found in his 1997 collection The Way We Touch: Poems.

In her short memoir, Williams reflects on the interplay between misery and compassion:

Here’s the thing about misery. I had a lot of misery when I was growing up. I have enough misery to last me for the rest of my lifetime. The misery is like a well, and I just dig into the thing and pull it out anytime I want. I have misery and then some. I don’t need to create any more.

[…]

The hardest thing is not looking like you’re pointing the finger and blaming someone…

Complement with Anne Truitt on compassion and our chronic self-righteousness and Mark Twain on what a simple remark by his mother taught him about compassion.

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Bruce Springsteen’s Reading List: 28 Favorite Books That Shaped His Mind and Music

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From Montaigne’s philosophy to Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, literary anatomy of the creative icon.

“A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her beautiful essay on reading and writing. It is also, perhaps, a seed planted in another’s garden of consciousness. It is no coincidence that most highly creative people are voracious readers — books, after all, enable us to live multiple lives in one by giving us access to emotions and experiences impossible to compress into a single lifetime, and creativity is the combinatorial product of all the ideas and experiences floating around our minds. To peek inside a creative icon’s lifelong reading list is to glimpse his or her existential library of the mind — the range of ideas and influences and inspirations that were fused together into the work for which that person is known and beloved.

Joining the previously published reading lists of notable luminaries — including those of Leo Tolstoy, Carl Sagan, Alan Turing, Nick Cave, David Bowie, and Brian Eno — is singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, one of the most influential and celebrated musicians of the twentieth century, and the recipient of twenty Grammy Awards. In a recent New York Times interview, marking the release of his charming picture-book Outlaw Pete (public library), Springsteen shares the books that shaped his music and his mind, from poetry to philosophy to children’s books — an eclectic reading list spanning numerous genres and sensibilities, life stages and moods. (Favorite childhood book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; last book that made him laugh: Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land; last book that made him cry: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road).

  1. Moby-Dick (free download; public library | IndieBound) by Herman Melville
  2. How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (public library | IndieBound) by Sarah Bakewell
  3. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe (public library | IndieBound) by Dennis Overbye
  4. Love in the Time of Cholera (public library| IndieBound) by Gabriel García Márquez
  5. Anna Karenina (free download; public library | IndieBound) by Leo Tolstoy
  6. Leaves of Grass (public library | IndieBound) by Walt Whitman
  7. The History of Western Philosophy (public library | IndieBound) by Bertrand Russell
  8. Examined Lives (public library | IndieBound) by Jim Miller
  9. American Pastoral (public library | IndieBound) by Philip Roth
  10. I Married a Communist (public library | IndieBound) by Philip Roth
  11. Blood Meridian (public library | IndieBound) by Cormac McCarthy
  12. The Road (public library | IndieBound) by Cormac McCarthy
  13. The Sportswriter (public library | IndieBound) by Richard Ford
  14. The Lay of the Land (public library | IndieBound) by Richard Ford
  15. Independence Day (public library | IndieBound) by Richard Ford
  16. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (public library | IndieBound) by Flannery O’Connor
  17. Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music (public library | IndieBound) by Greil Marcus
  18. Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (public library | IndieBound) by Peter Guralnick
  19. Chronicles (public library | IndieBound) by Bob Dylan
  20. Sonata for Jukebox (public library | IndieBound) by Geoffrey O’Brien
  21. Soul Mining: A Musical Life (public library | IndieBound) by Daniel Lanois
  22. Too Big to Fail (public library | IndieBound) by Andrew Ross Sorkin
  23. Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression (public library | IndieBound) by Dale Maharidge
  24. The Big Short (public library | IndieBound) by Michael Lewis
  25. The Brothers Karamazov (free download; public library | IndieBound) by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  26. Great Short Works (public library | IndieBound) by Leo Tolstoy
  27. The Adventures of Augie March (public library | IndieBound) by Saul Bellow
  28. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (public library | IndieBound) by L. Frank Baum

Complement Springsteen’s Outlaw Pete with a sweet illustrated adaptation of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”

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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.

Donating = Loving

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