Sunday, December 13, 2009

Amelia's World-Famous Eggnog

As served at last night's pre-Yuletide bash! Coming soon: my sugarless Lebkuchen recipe.

Amelia's Famous Eggnog

Yield: about 6 cups


3 cups whole milk
7 large eggs
3/4 cup agave nectar
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup bourbon
1/3 cup brandy
1 tsp vanilla
freshly grated nutmeg


Bring milk just to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Whisk together eggs and agave in a large bowl, then add hot milk in a slow stream, whisking. Pour mixture into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture reaches 170F (6 to 7 minutes).

Pour custard through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl and stir in the cream, bourbon, brandy and vanilla. Cool completely, uncovered, then cover and chill until cold, at least 3 hours but no longer than 24.

Grate nutmeg over each glass of eggnog immediately before drinking.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A new name-related quandary in transliteration

As you may have heard, as of October 17th Amelia and I are both changing our last name to Birch, and for the first time in my life I'm faced with an option: do I want a middle name? Being as interested as I am in naming conventions, it seems like an opportunity in self-identification way too fantastic to pass up; but it does also bring up this question of choosing said middle name.

Since I'm giving up Brandt, my connection to my Jewish/Yiddish heritage, I've been thinking about...something I don't know how to write, which is indeed the main point of this post, so just pretend for the moment that there's a name here...almost since the inception of discussion about this whole Birch idea. This is my paternal grandfather's original Yiddish name, before he gave it up to avoid persecution in post-WWII Poland, and also the name of his uncle who protected him and helped him survive in hiding during the Holocaust and was killed in Russian-German crossfire in the war's final days. It's a good name, and it makes me feel proud to imagine carrying it around with me.

So that's not the problem; no, the problem is one of spelling. In various systems of transliteration, the name is as follows:

[ˈɡɛɾʃən] or [ˈɡɛɾʃn̩] - IPA
[`gErS@n] or [`gErS=n] - SAMPA
[gārshŭn] - American dictionary phonetics
[GAIR-shin] - Phrasebook English

I just discovered this afternoon that this is actually a Biblical name, and as such in English is generally spelled Gershon (from Hebrew גרשון, "gršun" in transliteration). When my grandfather learned to write, though, he was taught to spell his name גערשן, "geršn," which represents the way it's actually pronounced in Yiddish (Yiddish, unlike Hebrew, uses a phonemic writing system). Now, if I were going to transcribe the Yiddish גערשן into English, the standard system would give me Gershn. And just to throw some further confusion into the mix: since we're talking about Polish Jews, another possibility is the standard Polish transliteration of this name: Gerszon.

So which should it be? Gershon, as the English (and even the educated Yiddish) print standard? Or Gershn as representative of the way it was apparently written in the community of farmers in Eastern Poland to whom I'm paying homage in adopting this name? Or something else? Any input would be very much appreciated.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

More lost and found

I just dug out of my wallet a crumpled and bedraggled but historically significant piece of paper: a list of ingredients in green ink on the back of a Port Townsend bed-and-breakfast receipt, being the toppings of a particularly extraordinary pizza that I once consumed in Great Barrington, MA. I'm excited to have found this, not only because now Amelia and I can try to reproduce it next time we make pizza crust, but also because I can now send this scrap to its long home after its five years of following me on my travels, and thereby lighten my wallet by a fractional but nonetheless meaningful amount. Here's the list:


tomato sauce
wilted spinach
mozzarella cheese
Gorgonzola cheese
sprinkled with rosemary-infused olive oil and Parmesan cheese

I'll post some pictures if/when we get around to making this...

Friday, April 17, 2009


So Andrew Jackson is on the new dollar coins. I know it's a president-by-president progression, but I'm still incensed.

Part A:
What was wrong with Sacagawea, anyway? Why can't we have a woman on a single piece of U.S. currency?

Part B:
Andrew Jackson was a tyrant whose presidency was an embarrassment to the ideals this country is supposed to stand for. His actions against the Native Americans (with particular reference to his defiance of the Supreme Court and the Trail of Tears) were simply unconscionable and there is just no excuse for our condoning his actions by honoring him in this way. I object, that's not strong enough: I am nauseated by being made to see this blackguard's face a hundred times every day.

That is all.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why I love the propaganda

Polish Communist propaganda songs are spectacular, and the world deserves more access to this very unique and now sadly vanished art form. To this end, here's a quick on-the-BART translation of one of my favorites, Budujemy Nowy Dom = "We're building a new house." This dates from shortly after WWII when Warsaw had basically been razed to the ground, and in fact Budujemy Nowy Dom was the slogan of the reconstruction movement.

Note that first person plural verbs in Polish often do the job of the English hortative "let's..." even without an imperative ending, so the title of the song might be more accurately translated as "Let's build a new house," which is what I've done below. Try to imagine this being sung in fervent operatic tones.
Let's build a new house
Yet another new house
Unto our future better days,
O Warsaw

Multiply our work with us,
Come share our work with us
For this is our common goal
O Warsaw

From the basement to the roof
May the building joyfully rise
Into my dreams and yours
O Warsaw

May the walls leap skywards
Since the hands are willing
Let's build a new concrete house!
Who wouldn't be excited about a new concrete house? My absolute favorite for sheer ridiculousness, though, has to be Piosenka o Nowej Hucie = "Song about Nowa Huta." Nowa Huta is an enormous industrial suburb of Kraków (Cracow) built by the government in the late 40s and early 50s to try to balance out the intellectual population of the city and make it more amenable to Communist policy. Listen to a little bit of the recording to get the vibe, and then check out what they're actually saying.

My attempt at a reasonably idiomatic English version (thanks go to Jesse for his help with the incredibly difficult-to-translate second line of the first stanza):
On the Vistula, the wide Vistula,
The bricklayers' chatter fills the air in song
And the song of the bricklayer floats up high
And floats through nights and days.

This is a song about Nowa Huta
This is a melody about Nowa Huta
It's so simple and pretty
And has such a nice melody.
This is a song about Nowa Huta
The words are about Nowa Huta
It's so simple and pretty
And new like Huta is new.

A hundred blocks have sprouted up along the Vistula
And a thousand roads straight to them
The bricklayer's song has grown out into the future
And joins the two banks like a bridge.


And there can be no other future now:
The peace and good that it sends us
And when you're in Huta with your girl
And hear this song, know that...

Remarkably (and sort of worryingly) this song is still reasonably popular today. But come on, is this not a paragon of...well, something we probably don't have a word for yet? The chorus in particular needs to win some kind of award -- a Rory, perhaps -- for the most gratuitous lack of content in a serious song. "And new like Huta is new." Dude.

Next time: Na Prawo Most, Na Lewo Most.