French Songs

One of the songs my piano book has had me playing for a while now is Alouette. The song is, of course, unmistakably French. For some reason, it was bugging me that I didn't know the words very well. So I looked them up. Unfortunately, being the curious sort of person that I am, I also looked up what they actually mean. Skylark, gentle skylark, skylark, I will pluck you. I will pluck your head! Skylark, gentle skylark, skylark, I will pluck you. I will pluck your beak! The scary thing is, this is supposedly a popular children's song.

When I read that, it caused me to wonder a bit about French culture. Bear in mind, this is only the third French song that I have seen translated into English. There's nothing particularly worrisome about Frere Jacques, but La Marseillaise is... very violent. Of course, it was written during a rather bloody revolution, and it's doubtless not the only national anthem to have a little war in it. Even our own Star Spangled Banner, which is mostly about a flag, nonetheless speaks of munitions going off in the first verse, and the third verse, although it is less graphic than the French anthem, is very much the stuff of war. Again, the song was written during a war of revolution, so it's going to contain some violence. Goes with the territory.

So what's running through my head now is, maybe Alouette is an aberration, and most French children's songs are more like Frere Jacques. Probably that is the case, and I just had the misfortune, in knowing only three French songs, to run into an abnormally high percentage of violent ones.

Still, would you encourage your children to sing a song with lyrics like that? Skylark, gentle skylark, skylark, I will pluck you. I will pluck your neck! And your beak! And your head! I'm pretty sure that if I were a French parent, I wouldn't teach my children this song.

Pink Grapefruit Pie

Crust Ingredients:

  • 1 cup soft shortening
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 7/4 cups wheat flour
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP hot water

Filling Ingredients:
  • 1 ripe pink grapefruit
  • boiling water, divided
  • 3 cups granulated sugar, or a bit less
  • 3/4 cups cornstarch
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 TBSP shortening (optional)
  • 1 drop each red and yellow food coloring (optional)

Mirengue Ingredients:
  • 4 egg whites
  • 4 TBSP granulated sugar
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla flavoring

First, mix the crust dough: beat the butter together with the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and hot water until creamy, then add the cornstarch and flour and mix thoroughly with a sturdy spoon until it looks homogenous at a glance. Form into two lumps and refrigerate at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the filling: Stir the cornstarch into the sugar. Bring the water to a rolling boil. Grate some grapefruit rind (according to taste) into a large measuring cup, then add the pulp and juice, discarding the section dividers, seeds, and remaining peel. Add boiling water to make a total volume of four and a half cups, including the fruit, then immediately combine this with the sugar and cornstarch, stirring. Place this mixture in a saucepan over low to medium heat, and stir until it boils gently. Add another half cup of boiling water and the egg yolks and continue stirring until it comes to a good boil. It should be a nice translucent pale pink. Stir in the food coloring if desired, for a stronger shade of pink. Remove from heat and stir in the butter, if desired. Let it cool.

Preheat your oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

When the dough has chilled enough to be workable, place each half of it in turn on a large floured board and roll with a floured rolling pin, flipping and flouring once or twice as necessary, rolling it into (approximately) a circle a bit larger than a pie pan. Using a broad plastic spatula, loosen it from the board. Place a pie pan over it (upside down) and invert both together, then adjust as necessary so that the crust fits the pan, cutting off the edges. One nice thing about this shortbread crust recipe is that if it tears a bit, it mends easily enough: take a small scrap from the edge and patch the hole or tear, pressing gently. This works better than with traditional pie crust dough. Once you have both pie pans nicely lined with shortbread dough, bake them for a few minutes until they are nearly done, but don't overdo it, as they're going to spend some more time in the oven after they're filled.

When the crusts are ready and the filling cool, put half the filling in each of them, then make the meringue: beat the egg whites thoroughly, then add the sugar 1 TBSP at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla last, when the merengue is already beaten well enough, and then beat it only just enough to mix the vanilla in. Using a rubber spatula, spread it evenly over the filling, making sure it goes all the way to the edge and seals to the crust. Bake until the meringue is just lightly browned, then cool them.

Makes two pies. Serve chilled. (Yes, I know I misspelled marang about five different ways. I have never quite gotten the hang of French phonetics.)

Nice to have an excuse

I must be the most efficient person in my workplace.

Esoteric Knowledge Quiz #1

Do your friends, family, and coworkers accuse you of being a repository of useless information? (Mine do.) Here's your chance to test your knowledge of obscure but interesting tidbits...

  1. In a large glass bowl over medium heat, mix distilled water, gastric acid, and lye, taking care that it doesn't get out of the bowl. Balance the amounts of the acid and the lye so that the pH is precisely neutral, then boil away all the water. What's left?
    1. sodium hydroxide
    2. calcium perchlorate
    3. table salt
    4. sneezing powder

  2. What was the name of Julius Caesar's wife?
    1. Cornelia
    2. Calpurnia
    3. Pompeia
    4. all of the above

  3. The English words dam, dyke, and sluice all come from the same source language. Which language is that?
    1. Old German
    2. Dutch
    3. Greek
    4. Finnish

  4. When the priest Hilkiah found a long-lost copy of the book of the law while cleaning the temple, he gave it to a secretary, who read it, then took it to King Josiah and read it to him. What was the secretary's name?
    1. Shaphan son of Azaliah
    2. Joah son of Asaph
    3. Benaiah son of Jehoiada
    4. Shebna

  5. For most of the twentieth century, the Poincaire Conjecture was widely considered to be the most important open problem in mathematics. Today it is widely considered solved, due mostly to the work of one man. What is his nationality?
    1. Russian
    2. German
    3. American (of mixed European descent)
    4. Han Chinese

Answers have been posted: see the comments.

A Treatise on Mustard

I grew up thinking I didn't like mustard. The reason I thought this... well, I'll come back around to the reason in a moment. Anyway, my dad really liked mustard, but I liked ketchup, not mustard, or so I thought. But I have since discovered that mustard can actually be a quite worthwhile culinary item.

The first seeds of doubt about my dislike of mustard were sewn years ago, when I was working in fast food and became cognizant for the first time of the fact that some of the items on the menu contained mustard, and (although I had not been a big fan of fast food for other reasons) the mustard had never bothered me. At first I thought maybe it was a different, more palatable form of mustard, but no, it was indeed regular ordinary yellow mustard.

If I'd been making the sandwiches (and thus actually dispensing the mustard) right away, I'd have figured out the real issue sooner, but assembling sandwiches requires actual training, so they don't teach you to do it until you've demonstrated the ability to show up for several consecutive shifts. (Back then you could spend your first week doing nothing but toasting buns; this practice was discontinued in the late nineties, but I assume they still find extremely easy things for the first-week employees to do, because something like half of all new hires industry-wide never make it to the second week, and it would be a waste of other employees' time to train them on anything very significant.)

So anyway, what I did really notice first was that the ketchup had to be refilled about every hour (more during a busy lunch), but the mustard dispenser, which was smaller, was refilled much less often (perhaps twice a day, thrice at the outside). I watched for items that received ketchup but not mustard; there weren't any. Light bulbs started going on in my head. I already knew that fast food didn't go very heavy on the ketchup, but yet it disappeared much faster than the mustard.

Indeed, mustard is typically used in smaller quantities. This, believe it or not, was news to me. Growing up, I only had my dad's example to look at. He uses mustard in roughly the same way I use ketchup, applying it liberally to both sides. (He puts his mustard straight on the bread; I tend to put something (lettuce for instance) between the ketchup and the bread, to keep the bread from getting soggy, but other than that the principle is the same.) He uses it in quantities such that in addition to dominating the flavoring it also significantly increases the moisture level of the sandwich, oozes around when you take a bite, and so forth. I don't think I will ever like mustard used in this way.

Having discovered, however, that mustard used in smaller quantities as a seasoning is much more palatable, I began to experiment. I've since discovered any number of uses for it, some few of which I will list here:

  • Downmixed with about ten parts ketchup (and possibly some brown sugar, depending on your mood and the rest of the meal), it jazzes up the flavor, making a good dipping sauce for anything from dill pickles to fried potatoes.

  • It also adds interest to barbeque sauce. I use about the same amount of mustard as worchestershire sauce in this context.

  • A little mustard in some water makes a good cooking medium for chicken.

  • A couple of teaspoons of mustard goes well in some molasses-based sauces, e.g. for over a stir-fry or glazed carrots.

Basically, the trick is to know how to use it.

Paul's News (draft two)

As I said initially back in January, I've been working some more on this poem, which I like to think of as potential song lyrics (though a refrain would probably be needed). Anyway, I've worked on it a little more and have made good progress, so I thought I'd post an update. I expected to only go through chapter 12, but it fell shy of the end of the stanza, so I added brief synopses of the following three chapters, which in some ways does draw the whole thing to a better close.

The Good News According to Paul:
A Synopsis of Romans 1-15

God can be known, but men turned aside, exchanging their God for nothing.
Wickedness grew, and God let them go, his judgement in sin erupting.
Hypocrites boast, condemning themselves, but Gentiles and Jews are the same.
No one does good, but God gave the law to show us our sin, then he came.
Righteousness comes apart from the law by faith in the act of his Son.
Abraham's faith that justified him preceded his circumcision.
He is our father, we who believe. Our sins are not held against us;
Thus we rejoice: our hope comes from God, and hope does not disappoint us.

While we were helpless, God demonstrated love when he shed his own blood.
Death from the time of Adam till Moses reigned, for we couldn't make good.
Now we can die to sin and can live to God through the life of one man.
Slaves must obey the master they serve, but sin is no more our sultan!
Freed by this gift, we die to the law, which made us aware of our sin.
Ruled by my sin, I do what I hate: I know nothing good is within.
Through the command sin put me to death — I can't keep the law, I now see.
Sin within me does what I should not; he rescues me, setting me free.

God sent his Son in likeness of man to do what the law requires.
Live by the Spirit: you are in Christ, your mind set on God's desires.
We are his children, led by the Spirit; this is our obligation.
Nothing can take away his great love; we wait in anticipation,
Children of promise, chosen by God, because of his mercy righteous.
Israel's sons, to whom it belongs, received it from God before us.
Though they pursued, they did not obtain; they fell on a stone of stumbling.
We are his people, though we were not; they did not accept his coming.

Working to gain salvation themselves, they did not rely on God's plan.
Faith comes from hearing: someone must preach, and it is by faith that you stand.
You make them jealous, that they may come; a remnant was chosen by grace;
We are included based on their fall. They will be restored to their place.
Their unbelief was mercy for us, so God may receive the glory;
Therefore, respond by giving yourselves to God. We all form one body,
Different gifts for serving the Lord. With love accept one another,
Living in peace and trusting in God and praying for me, your brother.

Isomorphisms, Popular Hymns, Equivalence Classes, and Gilligan's Island

I have known for some time that an isomorphism of timing exists between certain popular hymns (e.g., Amazing Grace, and the verse of Oh, How I Love Jesus), campfile songs (e.g., Fill Up My Cup), and the theme song from Gilligan's Island. As a result, the music and lyrics are interchangeable, so you can sing the words from one to the tune of another.

It has now come to my attention that the popular Christmas carol, Joy to the World, is also a member of this same equivalence class. So if you've ever wanted to sing Joy to the World to the tune of Gilligan's Island, now you can.