Archive for the ‘The Times’ Category
Of all the recipes in The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia — a book of sexy cooking by the restaurateur and bon viveur Mark Douglas Hill — “Roast Iguana with Chipotle and Oregano Marinade” is the most exotic. The iguana, Hill writes, is revered in Central America as a “paragon of virility” and feasted on by libidinous Nicaraguans during their Holy Week.
“You can grab an iggy at any pet shop,” he explains when my wife Isobel and I join him at home in Bloomsbury, Central London, for an afternoon of aphrodisiac cooking. “The tricky part is slaying it. My method is to put some Chopin on, feed the creature some beaten egg and brandy, then hack at it with an axe.”
For a long moment we almost believe him. “OK, OK,” he says at last. “But I have eaten iguana. Did you know they have two penises? That is absolutely true.”
Mark Douglas Hill — self-confessed “epicurean, glutton, sybarite and sensualist” — knows these things. His conversation is peppered with similar morsels of trivia. Within half an hour I have learnt that 10th-century Arab traders used whale’s bile to make them horny; that the Filipinos used curled-up duck embryos for the same reason; and that Livia, the wife of Augustus Caesar, found that lacing her guests’ food with desiccated Spanish flies contributed to their arousal. All this information, he tells me, is in his book. But, he adds, notwithstanding the iguana, the recipes themselves are far more palatable.
I have decided that Hill will be a trustworthy aphrodisiac cooking instructor. He learnt how to cook at the prestigious Leiths School of Food and Wine, then went on to become a culinary entrepreneur, travelling all over the world. He runs a spice company called Little Devils, has a foodie hotel in India and is about to open a restaurant in Oxford. He moonlights as a gastronomic consultant, and says he designed “40 per cent of Giraffe’s menu” (that’s Giraffe the restaurant chain).
He is also a published psychologist, and for years has been fascinated by the aphrodisiac qualities of food. “I have dined and dallied to my heart’s content, sowing wild oats with enthusiastic abandon,” he writes in the introduction. “Suffice to say, my efforts have never been met with anything short of ecstatic approval.”
In the flesh, however, all this seems unlikely. Tall and avuncular, with a beard and gleaming pate, Hill is ponderous around the kitchen and hardly your obvious Lothario. “It’s a question of persona,” he says when I confess these thoughts. “Honestly. I have a list of conquests as long as my arm. I am a superman lover.”
Like any parents of multiple toddlers, Isobel and I live our lives in a perpetual state of near-exhaustion. So we decided that we could benefit from a super-lover’s aphrodisiac recipes. Hill reassures us that the dishes are all genuine, and that none of them involves exotic wildlife. We make him promise. Then we go for it.
The fun begins with a pair of Bloody Marys. Apparently tomatoes were known as pommes d’amour in 18th-century France, and were banned by the Roman Catholic Church for their licentious associations. Squeezed and “tooled up” with vodka, chilli pepper, anchovy essence, wasabi and celery, they are pure love juice.
After a few sips we set about making nibbles: devilled almonds. Aphrodisiac almonds, Hill explains, were a favourite of the “swashbuckling scribbler” Alexandre Dumas, who would drink a bowl of almond soup before wooing Mademoiselle Mars. The addition of cayenne, paprika, black pepper, cumin, sea salt and honey gives them an extra sexual kick.
The recipe is straightforward: mix up all these ingredients and dry-fry for 15 seconds “while agitating”. The almonds are nice — blackened, very spicy. This, together with the Bloody Mary, causes a powerful heat to rise within me.
“I think it’s working,” I murmur to Isobel. She shrugs. “It’s definitely doing something,” she says. “To you, at least.”
We crack on. The first starter is Avocado with Crab, Chervil and Samphire. Avocados, which grow in pairs, derive their name from the Aztec word ahuacatl, meaning “testicles”. They are, Hill explains, “awash with potassium” and rich in vitamins E and B6, which reduce stress-related sexual hesitancy. Crab, meanwhile, contains “all the goodness of the sea” and is “stocked with libido-enhancing minerals, vitamins and amino acids”.
The samphire and spinach are “blanched” in boiling water for a minute, then chopped with chervil and herbs and mixed with mashed crabmeat. A splash of Tabasco, a squeeze of lime, and the garnished crab meets the sliced avocado on buttered toast. There is a coolness about the dish that nicely mellows the heat inside me. Something physiological is certainly happening.
I am reminded that, back when I was a gap-year student, I had a travelling companion who used to carry vials of snake sperm — a traditional Chinese aphrodisiac, available in a district of Taipei known as “Snake Alley” — in his backpack. He claimed that it had the power to transform the demurest of Chinese maidens into raging nymphomaniacs.
“That’s a bit like my next recipe,” says Hill. “Oysters with Watermelon and Daikon Salsa. There’s a close link between oysters and sperm. When oysters ejaculate, they lose a third of their body weight. The sea around the oyster bed is turned into a sexual soup.” Hill, I discover — like Emperor Vitellius, apparently — is a big oyster man. Every birthday, he tells us, he slurps down a number of oysters equivalent to his years. “My girlfriend really looks forward to it,” he laughs. “She always gets a night to remember.”
Isobel and I are impressed with the oyster recipe. The Japanese-style salsa freshens up the pungent sliminess of the oyster and adds a new, almost fruity dimension. “Oysters actually taste a lot like sperm,” says Hill. “Both are rich in zinc.” There is an awkward silence.
The main course is Seared Duck Foie Gras with Roast Cod, on a bed of spinach. We toss two slices of foie gras in honey and flour, then sear it. The spinach is tossed in the foie gras pan, then the dish is assembled with a fillet of roast cod in the middle. It is rich and potent, the tangy foie gras matched by the flaky succulence of the cod.
For dessert we make Hazelnut Cranachan, Scotland’s answer to Eton Mess, which Hill refers to as “a hairy Scottish chest kind of pudding”. Fifty grams of oats — which “free up testosterone in both men and women” — are baked for eight minutes with demerara sugar, heather honey and hazelnut pieces. Then they are added to warmed whisky and heather honey, folded into whipped cream and raspberries, and finished with raspberry coulis. This is no Roger Moore dessert. This is Sean Connery.
Our toddlers are unimpressed that we have abandoned them for the afternoon. Bedtime is a labour, and by the time we go to bed ourselves the aphrodisiac effects have been tempered by nappy-changing and the repeated return of crying children to bed.
Nevertheless, once the lights are out and the duvet is on, the warm, tingling sensation returns. “Maybe,” I say, “old Mark Douglas Hill is on to something.”
“Mm,” Isobel murmurs. “Just don’t go and buy an iguana.”
The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia is published on Oct 20 (Square Peg, £9.99)
It is every parent’s worst nightmare. Kirsty Bentley, a part-time teacher from Horsham, West Sussex, was feeding her two-month-old son Liam as usual. Suddenly she felt him go “limp as a rag doll. His skin was turning purple and his lips had gone blue. All I could think was, ‘Please don’t take my baby away from me! Please don’t take him away!’ It was horrible,” she says.
Fortunately, Kirsty had been on a St John’s Ambulance first-aid course ten weeks earlier and the techniques were still fresh in her mind. “Even though I was panicking, I managed to visualise the emergency procedure,” she says.
“I checked his airways and he wasn’t breathing. So I put him in the correct position and gave him some sharp blows on the back.” It worked. Liam started breathing again and she called 999.
As it turned out, her baby had been choking silently and Kirsty hadn’t noticed. Thanks to her swift action, he received the treatment that he needed and made a complete recovery. “As soon as Liam is old enough,” Kirsty says. “I’m going to teach him basic first aid. It’s something that absolutely everyone should know.”
Kirsty’s story may sound extreme, but it is true. According to a recent study by the BabySafe campaign, one parent in four will have to administer emergency first aid to his or her children. In contrast, only 14 per cent of parents would feel confident to do so, and 81 per cent don’t have the correct training.
Parents often don’t get round to learning first aid, the study suggests, because the courses are seen as costly, complicated and inaccessible. In the busy life of a modern parent, it’s often things such as this — potentially the most important things — that can fall by the wayside. Read more on the Times website (subject to paywall restrictions)
Pawel Bromson was a neo-Nazi skinhead who attacked ethnic miorities and vandalised Auschwitz. Then one day he discovered the secret that his family had buried – he was Jewish. On the eve of the anniversary of the Jedwabne massacre, he tells his story
The skinhead thug who became an Orthodox Jew
Ten years ago, when the President of Poland apologised for the 1941 massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbours, a controversy flared up. Much Polish public opinion supported the views of controversial Polish MEP Michał Kamiński, who opposed the apology, stating that “all of Jedwabne is being spat on and the entire country is being put on trial.” Most of the citizens of Jedwabne boycotted the memorial service, and the local Catholic church even rang its bells in attempt to drown out the prayers.
Now, however, as the seventieth anniversary of the massacre approaches, it is clear that Poland has changed. A memorial service is being planned at the site of the killings, led by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, the former Polish Foreign Minister and former Auschwitz prison inmate Władysław Bartoszewski, and a senior Catholic figure, Bishop Mieczyslaw Cislo. This is an unequivocal demonstration of Polish sympathy for the Jews.
“Ten years ago, Poland was still in shock,” says Robert Szaniawski, spokesman for the Polish Embassy in London. “Especially the people of Jedwabne. They couldn’t believe that their parents or grandparents had carried out this massacre. But now everyone accepts the facts. As a nation, we are coming to terms with it.”
In 1938, three million Jews lived in Poland. By 1945 ninety per cent had perished, and more were butchered in the communist pogroms that followed. But since the collapse of the Communist regime, attitudes in Poland have been changing. A quiet Jewish revival is taking root. In Warsaw, for example, the number of Jewish families has increased by over 150% in the last six years.
Poland’s difficult journey is, perhaps, embodied in a man called Pawel Bromson, one of a tiny handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews now living in Warsaw. Bromson has not always been an Orthodox Jew. For many years, he was a nationalist skinhead.
I meet Bromson in Oxford, at the David Slager Jewish Community Centre. This is his first interview outside Poland. With his beard and black hat, he could undoubtedly blend in anywhere from Jerusalem to Brooklyn. Yet it is surprisingly easy to imagine him as a thug. He is unusually boisterous, almost laddish; he gets me to buy him cigarettes, talks enthusiastically about drinking, and claps me too hard on the back.
He is thirty-four years old, he tells me. He grew up in the bleak tower blocks of Warsaw during the final decade of the communist regime. So far as he knew, his was a Catholic household; he had no idea that his parents were really Jewish. This was not by any means unusual. Like many others, his parents had kept their Jewishness a secret from their children for their own protection.
During Bromson’s teenage years, the Polish skinhead movement was in full swing, gaining popularity partly as a reaction against the repression of communism. “Life in Poland was stifling for young people at that time,” he tells me. “Becoming a skinhead gave us back our pride. The sense of power was intoxicating.”
Bromson and his friends would roam the streets with baseball bats, attacking people from ethnic minorities and setting fire to foreign-owned schools and shops. He was arrested many times for violent offences. Once he and his gang travelled by train to Auschwitz where they intimidated the staff, shouted that the genocide “should have been bigger,” and carried out some acts of vandalism. As he speaks, Bromson has been looking increasingly uncomfortable. “These are things I would like to forget,” he says. “I apologise if I can’t look you in the eye.” Read more on the Times website (subject to paywall restrictions)
Here’s a teaser for you. Of the following six countries, which will have the fastest population growth between now and 2050 — China, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Iceland or Norway? I’d be willing to bet that your answer is wrong. But then, I’ve got an unfair advantage. I’ve just had a conversation with Laurence C. Smith, dashing Arctic adventurer and professor of earth and space sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I meet Smith over a coffee in Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell. His new book, The New North: The World in 2050, demonstrates a remarkable knack for divining global megatrends from the stuff of daily life. It seems this is a man to whom the world whispers its secrets. So a simple question first. When he looks around this room — this typical London room — what does it tell him?
Smith weighs his cardboard coffee cup in his hands. “First, I see oil,” he says. “I’m drinking oil as I sip coffee from my cup.” How so? “Oil fuels 99 per cent of our transportation and is an essential ingredient of nearly everything we make. Our food is grown with it, our plastics, lubricants, pharmaceuticals and millions of other products derive from it. Without oil, this coffee wouldn’t exist.”
OK, that’s cute. What else? “I see water,” he says mysteriously. “Or, to put it another way, I see virtual water. Virtual water looks like coffee, or cardboard, or cotton, or cookies. It is embedded in almost everything. Water is in this coffee and this cup. It was vital to produce the floorboards beneath our feet; it made the electricity that powers the lights, and the shirt I am wearing.
“Entire oceans, such as the Aral sea in Central Asia, have been sucked dry to grow our cotton. Water is one of the reasons why the northernmost countries are in the ascendence.”
Thus we have arrived at Smith’s big prophetic idea: the “Northern Rim Countries” or “NORCs” — Canada, the state of Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Russia — will be the dominant powers of tomorrow.
As you read this, far away in the suburbs of Buenos Aries, a writer prepares to mark his 100th birthday. Unable to walk, unable even to speak, he is confined to what will almost certainly become his deathbed. But, still being in possession of a lucid mind, he is aware that this week his first book, which he wrote in 1948, will appear as a Penguin Classic in bookshops across the UK. It is a short, existentialist novel about the confession of a murderer, picked out in stinting prose. When it was first published in English, in 1950, it was entitled The Outsider.
Much to my regret, I am not bringing to you the scoop that Albert Camus is still alive. (The fatal car accident in Burgundy in 1960 was precisely that.) Rather, the writer I am referring to is Ernesto Sábato, one of the grand old men of Argentinian literature. Soon after his publishers realised their woeful oversight, they rechristened his first novel The Tunnel — the name by which it is still known today.
Strangely enough, the bizarre overlap with Camus’ masterpiece turned out to be as appropriate as it was unintended. The Tunnel became widely viewed as the Latin American existentialist novel, and the relationship between Sábato and Camus was one of mutual respect. Indeed, Camus was instrumental in The Tunnel being published in France. In an unpublished letter to Sábato he wrote:
“Dear Sir, I thank you for your letter and your novel … I loved its arid intensity … I hope that The Tunnel will achieve the success in France that it deserves … with my fraternal best wishes, Albert Camus.”
Last week my daughter, who is three years old, went to play at a friend’s house. When she returned, she was in a mood that can only be described as Satanic. After an hour or so, thankfully, she recovered. The cause? While I thought that she and her friend had been digging for worms in the garden, in actual fact, she told me, they had spent the whole day cooped up in front of the TV.
As it turned out, her friend’s mother had been busy, so she had used the “goggle box” (as my mother calls it) as a mechanical baby-sitter. To some extent, this was understandable. Which parent isn’t familiar with the strategic deployment of CBeebies? But for an entire day? No wonder my daughter was in a monster grump.
“Well-researched and very moving. A fine tribute to the bravery of the Kindertransport.” (the Times)
The Times reviews The English German Girl: “One morning in 1933, Dr Otto Klein is told that he may no longer have contact with patients because he is Jewish. He’s unfazed. “Almost 50 per cent of doctors in Berlin are of Jewish origin. They can’t do without us.” But over the years the family loses more and more.
Fighting to survive, they put 15-year-old Rosa on a Kindertransport train, to begin a new life in England. The distant cousins who are sponsoring her speak no German and were expecting her little sister; “Aunt Mimi” does not want a grown girl near her teenage son.
This well-researched and very moving novel is dedicated to the children of the Kindertransport and is a fine tribute to their bravery.” Visit the website
On March 5, 1943, The Times reported the findings of an inquiry into a “London shelter disaster” at Bethnal Green Tube. According to the report, a middle-aged woman, “burdened with a bundle and a baby”, had lost her footing on the stairs and obstructed the entrance to the landing. An “elderly man” stumbled over her; within seconds “a large number of people were . . . completely blocking the stairway”. This caused a crush in which 173 people were asphyxiated.
A yellowing clipping of the story in The Times is featured in Under Attack, a new exhibition at the London Transport Museum that explores life under bombardment. There is no other mention of the disaster, the worst civilian tragedy of the Second World War.
“Nearly 200 people suffocated needlessly, and the British Government hushed it up,” says the American writer Jessica Francis Kane, whose novel about the disaster, The Report — shortlisted for two prizes in the US — comes out in the UK later this month. “Churchill feared that the accident would be used as propaganda by the enemy, who would claim that Londoners were so scared they were crushing themselves to death in their scramble for the shelters.”
Remember that creepy chap in the black hat who used to make art out of dead bodies? He’s now looking rather passé. At the end of January, the Science Gallery in Dublin is opening the doors on Visceral, an exhibition of “bio-art” that makes art out of living organisms, such as home-grown chunks of human tissue.
“H. G. Wells thought that a living being is raw material, something that may be shaped and altered,” says Oron Catts, the curator of the exhibition. “Our group of artists, SymbioticA, explores this idea. We make people feel uncomfortable, and that is part of the point. We test the boundary where art becomes emotionally unacceptable.”
Israel’s latest literary sensation was something of a late starter. Until 1999 she was a puppeteer in northern Israel and would have laughed at the notion of writing a novel. After all, she had never read one before. “I suffer from ADHD,” Sara Shilo explains when we meet in London. “As a child, I didn’t have enough concentration to read.”
Eleven years ago, however, when she was 40, she decided to give books a second chance. The first novel she picked up was Be My Knife, a dense exploration of obsessive love by the pre-eminent Israeli novelist David Grossman. Shilo was deeply affected. “The book awakened something profound inside me,” she says. “Suddenly I saw the world through someone else’s eyes. Nothing could be the same again.”
This encounter with fiction threw her into an existential crisis. The very next day she put her life on hold, stopped work and cancelled all social engagements. Without knowing why, she wrote a long letter to Grossman, explaining how his book had moved her.
“From the very first words of her letter, I could tell that Sara Shilo was special,” Grossman tells me from his home in Jerusalem. “She was not only describing reality with her writing. She was generating reality. There was something in the way she juxtaposed words, the rhythm of her sentences. It had a tangible, primal beauty.”