06 October 2010

Boiled to a tender mess

I've been trying to write about cooking adventures on Wednesdays, but this week, I got nothin'. Sorry about that.

All the usual excuses apply. I've been sucked into an interagency working group at the office, not because I am a powerful policy-maker, but because I am a grunt who understands the regulatory process and some of the powerful policy-makers in the group don't. Also, I am apparently diplomatic, or at least smart enough to know when to mute the polycom.

It does often frustrate me that policy-makers know so little about the process, but to be fair, the regulatory process is full of arcana in the form of statutory requirements, executive orders, and the need to be politic, if not political. It really does require a team of specialised grunts to manage it. Whether or not that is a good thing is another question, and one I answer differently on different days. On most days, I think the metaphor of making sausage is apt.

When I first started at my agency, the Deputy Administrator chatted with me a little about where I'd gone to school and what I'd done before I got here. I gave him the thumbnail sketch -- English major undergrad, graduate school, 4 years teaching high school English. He wanted to know what I'd studied in graduate school, so I told him about the interdisciplinary M.A. in 'Medieval and Byzantine Studies' and the PhD in history.

'Wait,' he said. 'A Byzantine specialist? On the regs staff? That's perfect. So perfect. Brilliant.'

He seemed so pleased I didn't have the heart to tell him I am no more a Byzantinist than I am an electrical engineer. Fortunately the job does not require me to read mediaeval Greek or be conversant with the finer details of family relations in the Komnenos dynasty, or even remember if the Komnenos dynasty came before or after the Paleologi. (As it happens, they came before).

... and that gives me an idea (or five) for a cooking adventure. There isn't much available 1 on the cooking of the Eastern Roman Empire, but I've bookmarked several of Aglaia Kremezi's (modern, Greek) recipes with the idea of trying them. Maybe this is a good weekend for Patatopita (potato pie) or Tsigarelli (sort of Greek gumbo z'herbes), or maybe Kotopoulo me Dendrolivano (rosemary chicken).

1 Andrew Dalby's Flavours of Byzantium was well reviewed by the Bryn Mawr Classical Review but isn't on my bookshelf and seems more a history book than a cook book. Anyone here ever seen it?

Scott Cairns


  1. Nora, while I was in Philly this weekend visiting my son, he showed me one of his recent finds--a cookbook of ancient Roman food. The recipes were really good! It made us wonder how the culture ever descended to eating gruel and boiled chicken in the Dark Ages.

    Your education has made you flexible and conversant with many different ways of seeing and doing things. What a great thing, to be a liberal arts major!

  2. Hmm. As a mediaevalist I'm not sure I wholly approve of your characterisation of food in the 'Dark Ages,' though certainly the average peasant probably did eat a lot of gruel, if it was what they had to eat. Chickens were probably worth more alive and laying eggs.

    Nevertheless, by the time cookery books reappear in western Europe in the 14th C., we're well beyond gruel (no comment on the boiling). I've cooked some lovely things out the recipe section of Le Menagier de Paris.

    You're right about the joys of being a liberal arts major. Being able to see and do things from different perspectives is I think the real value of a university education, not just getting a diploma so you can 'get a good job.'

  3. What's weird about our modern use of the word "byzantine" to connote an absurdly large and complex bureaucracy is that the actual Byzantine administrative system probably consisted of no more than 1,000 people, including church officials. Byzantine politics were nasty, but it's sort of a shame that the word has come to imply needlessly inscrutable rules.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...