Tag Archive | "King Louis XIV"

Let Them Eat Cake

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Although some historians attribute the phrase, “Let Them Eat Cake” to various sources, Marie Antoinette is generally credited as its originator.   In case you’re not up on your history, Marie was the last queen of the French royal family, crowned after her marriage to King Louis XIV.

Allegedly, Marie’s extravagances single-handedly ruined the French finances.  For that, anti-royalists dubbed her “Madame Deficit” during a time of famine.  When her starving constituents cried out for bread, the queen’s advisors warned her that the people had no bread.  “Let them eat cake!” Marie quipped.  This cavalier remark was credited with sparking the French Revolution and the ultimate loss of Marie’s head.

There is a saying, “What goes around comes around.”  Now, many moons later, America’s royal family seems to be headed down the same path as Marie Antoinette.

Since the Obamas inherited the White House, The First Lady has spared no expense on her personal staff, her wardrobe, family vacations, and pet projects.  She has indulged in all of this despite the many problems facing our nation.

One of her projects is a campaign to rid the country of obesity in children.  Mrs. Obama aims to make kids healthier even if it kills them.  The program focuses on the free lunches provided to schoolchildren nationwide.  Thanks to Mrs. Obama, hot dogs, hamburgers, sugary deserts and drinks (i.e., traditional American fare) will be wiped clean off the menu.  No longer will these foods exist to widen the posteriors of our children.  The new menu will include such goodies as tofu, lychee nuts, acai berries, high protein foods — and, if she continues in this vein, Soylent Green.

To bolster this yummy new diet and burn excess fat even faster, children can look forward to extended physical education classes via the addition of new gym programs.  For some reason, this puts me in mind of Adolph Hitler’s youth movement and the Bataan Death March.  What a way to make our kids lean and mean!

This new plan does not come cheaply: to fund it, the Obama administration proposes to usurp money from the current Food Stamp Program.  Since this move will only affect the undocumented workers, it could prove to be a windfall for America.  What a great idea to kill two birds with one stone!

Since obesity seems to be the root of all evil (and all along, I’d thought it was money), I envision needless healthcare systems and more time for sports activities on our nation’s horizon.   As a little bonus to this program, the fast food industry will be taxed heavily, just like those other two vice-laden businesses, cigarettes and alcohol.  The taxes will raise the nation’s coffers, which will, in turn, pay our governmental representatives and support their entitlements while simultaneously reducing the temptations to eat unhealthy meals.

As I said before, “What goes around comes around.”   A second American Revolution may not spring from the disgruntled and disenfranchised middle class.  It may come from that generation of kids that were deprived of all the goodies they have come to know and love. 

Let There Be Peas on Earth

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In the 17th century, King Louis XIV of France elevated the humble pea by ordering it to be placed, en masse, on the dishes served at the parties in his most elegant palace.   Tasty snow peas were being developed in Holland at about the same time Louis’ guests were rolling them around on their plates in Versailles. After the colonists arrived on the shores of America, peas were introduced to the “New World” and thus became a staple here.   Peas, as legumes, belong to the family of beans.

In the 19th century, an enterprising monk and botanist, Gregor Mendel, played a pivotal role in the budding field of genetics by crossbreeding peas in his experiments.

A more modern experiment, in the 1970’s, crossed the common garden pea with the snow pea to result in a new product: the sugar snap pea.  To extend the edible life of the pea, most are canned or frozen; only 5% of the fruit is marketed fresh.  Today, the largest growers of fresh peas are the United States, Great Britain, China, Hungary, and India.

At the turn of the 20th century, when America opened its doors to thousands of immigrants flocking in from Western Europe, those throngs included Italians. Their culture had a history of cultivating, drying, reconstituting, and eating legumes.  Along with their food and its preparation came the Italian culture.

Many Italians celebrate Spring by eating fresh peas at their peak.  Although this peak occurs in May, peas are in season from February until September.  As a boy, I would sometimes help my mother shuck fresh peas from their pods when she made a delicious vegetable soup with other assorted vegetables.

Many families of Italian immigrants grew up on pasta e fagioli (macaroni and beans, usually cannellini), lentils and peas, lentils and pasta, and pasta e piselli.  All of these dishes from “the old country” are meatless; all are very tasty and healthy.  And all go a long way in feeding a hungry family on a stretched-to-the-limit budget.  Peas have also been used as ravioli filling in place of the usual meat or ricotta cheese.  Pea ravioli are usually served with a rich pesto sauce.

One of the joys of growing up in an Italian family is to reminisce about the old days and our favorite dishes.  As I listened to these tales, I sometimes smiled and interjected, “Did you ever eat stuffed peas?”  With that, everyone around the table looked quizzical until one brave soul asked, “How do you stuff peas?”  With a wicked grin and a bad Italian accent, I would reply, “Upper U.S.,” thus giving my audience a little chuckle.

The little round legumes have finagled their way into our vernacular through sayings such as, “They are as close as two peas in a pod”.  The modest pea is also featured in nursery rhymes like “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in a pot, nine days old.  Some likes it hot and some likes it cold, and some likes it in the pot nine days old!”  Given American ingenuity, it was inevitable that we take William Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy and give it a little twist.  What school kid has not recited the immortal words, “To pea or not to pea?  That is the question!”

Peas have been also used as bait in catching fish and small animals. Armed with a wooden mallet and a can of peas, the hunter or fisherman spreads the peas on the water or the ground and waits patiently.  As soon as the beast comes in range, he hits it on the head.  Believe that one, and I have a Bugs Bunny cartoon to sell you!

As Bugs noshes his carrots (another veggie best left to another story), let us return to the pea’s main use in our society.  It is a wonderful legume in all of its varieties.  It brightens plates, provides nutrition in a pretty little package, and gives our grandkids something to play with at the dinner table, other than their sisters’ pigtails. In today’s fine Italian and Continental restaurants, one often finds the hearty peasant dishes, such as pasta e fagoli.  Like King Louis’ peas, the modern pea and its cousins in the legume family are now served to very discerning diners!

So, the next time you are faced with a plate of peas, either stuffed into ravioli or mounded on your dish with a pat of golden butter, you may feel vindicated in telling them, “You’ve come a long way, baby!” 

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