Lessons from The Prince and the Pauper

I have just finished reading the first book on the September 2013 Reading List: The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain. And honestly, I liked it a great deal more than I imagined I would. The book was easy to read, with a simple yet interesting plot that quickly gained the sympathy of Twain’s audience.

Thus far, my only association with this great American writer is through the first few pages of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which I forced myself to read. The man is a lot cooler than than book would make him appear. Before we get into the book, here is a brief biography.

About Mark Twain:

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Mark Twain was born Samuel Clemens in 1835 shortly after a sighting of Halley’s Comet. This seemingly minor coincidence truly impacted him, as he believed it a sign that he was somehow connected to the greater universe and its ongoings. Later in his life Clemens reported said “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.” This quote proved to be prophetic, as he died the same week that Halley’s Comet next appeared. Spooky!

He is frequently referred to as “the Father of the American novel” due to the fact that so many of his stories take place on the banks of the Mississippi and highlight the innovation and culture surrounding the all-American steamboat. This inspiration came from the fact that he himself was a Steamboat captain for much of his life. He was forced to stop his work due to the outbreak of the Civil War (much like the other September 2013 author, Walt Whitman). Out of work, he headed West, hoping to find success in the gold and silver industries. When this failed he took up job writing stories for a local paper under the pen-name “Mark Twain”. His intimate knowledge of the steamboat culture of the Mississippi made him quickly famous. And so we get one of the most celebrated American writers of all time.

(Biographical info courtesy of http://www.biography.com/people/mark-twain-9512564)

The Prince and the Pauper

This classic story revolves around two young English boys born at the same instant: the dirt-poor Tom Canty of the slum Offal Court, and Prince Edward son of the notorious King Henry VIII. Tom spends his days (when he isn’t begging or being beaten for not begging enough) dreaming of how life would be if he were “a real prince”. Perchance on day Edward sees Tom observing him through the palace gates, and seeing that they are the same age, invites him inside. The Prince quickly learns of Tom’s impoverished life, but rather than turning his nose up at such conditions, longs to be a part of it:

“Oh, prithee, say no more, ’tis glorious! If that I could but clothe me in raiment like to thine, and strip my feet, and revel in the mud once, just once, with none to rebuke me or forbid, meseemeth I could forego the crown!” (pp. 17)

Naturally Tom agrees, seeing the opportunity to have his dreams realized.

But not all goes according to plan. For nobody believes the rag-clad Prince of England when he goes to Offal Court and claims to be royal. And even more disturbing, when poor Tom Canty denies his crown and claims to be a penniless begger in front of the royal court, the King thinks him to be mad. Being slighly stuck in the other’s shoes, Tom has learns the tricky ettiquette of the palace and discovers that his dreams are not what they appear. On one particular amusing occation he is so befuddled by the delicate manners of the dinner table that he completely breaks down when he has an itch on his nose and doesn’t know what to do about it:

“‘I crave your indulgence; my nose itcheth cruelly. What is the custom and usage in this emergence? Prithee speed, for ’tis but a little time that I can bear it.’ None smiled; but all were sore perplexed, and looked one to the other in deep tribulation for counsel. But behold, here was a dead wall, and nothing in English history to tell how to get over it. The Master of Ceremonies was not present; there was no one who felt safe to venture upon this uncharted sea, or risk the attempt to solve this solemn problem. Alas! there was no Hereditary Scratcher. Meantime the tears had overflowed their banks, and begun to trickle down Tom’s cheeks. His twitching nose was pleading more urgently than ever for relief. At last nature broke down the barriers of etiquette; Tom lifted up an inward prayer for pardon if he was doing wrong, and brought relief to the burdened hearts of his court by scratching his nose himself.” (pp. 49)

Meanwhile, Prince Edward makes the acquaintance of one Miles Henton, who feigns to belive that the Prince is actual the heir to the throne, thinking him but a lunatic street child abandoned by his parents. And while he must endure hunger, cold, and shabby clothing, Edward becomes much more acquainted with his kindgom and learns the wayward practiced of his evil father, the King. On one occasion he overhear some drunk beggars mourning their late companion:

“My good old blameless mother strove to earn bread by nursing the sick; one of these died, the doctors knew not how, so my mother was burned for a witch, whilst my babes looked on and wailed. English law! — up, all, with your cups! — now altogether and with a cheer! — drink to the merciful English law that delivered her from the English hell!” (pp. 150)

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say this. The plot is simple and, yes, a little predictable, but the themes are true and still relevant today.

Connections:

There are several more modern stories that reflect themes of class and identity in much the same way as The Prince and the Pauper.

One of my favorite examples is the Classic Disney movie Aladdin. We all know the story: Aladdin is poor beggar who discovers magic lamp and wishes to be a Prince to win the heart of the princess. Princess Jasmine longs for a more meaningful life where she isn’t treated as an object to be married off. When Aladdin first meets Jasmine, they exchange the following words:

Aladdin: Wow. The palace looks pretty amazing, huh?
Princess Jasmine: [disappointed] Oh, it’s wonderful.
Aladdin: I wonder what it’d be like to live there, and have servants, and valets.
Princess Jasmine: Oh, sure. People who tell you where to go and how to dress.
Aladdin: That’s better than here. You’re always scraping for food and ducking the guards.
Princess Jasmine: You’re not free to make your own choices.
Aladdin: Sometimes you feel so…
Princess Jasmine: You’re just…
Aladdin, Princess Jasmine: …trapped.

Aladdin Quote: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103639/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu
A slightly more modern (and real) example is the reality show “Secret Millionaire” in which millionaire business owners pose as blue-collar or impoverished laborers to see how difficult life is on minimum wage and how badly these workers get treated. (Secret Millionaire:
http://abc.go.com/shows/secret-millionaire).

Even more recently is this true story, about the Panera CEO who decided to live off of food stamps and an income of $4.50 per day.

Links:
http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/25/opinion/shaich-food-stamp-challenge/?hpt=he_c2

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/09/19/panera-bread-ceo-on-living-on-4-50-a-day-food-dominates-my-life/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2013/09/20/panera-bread-isnt-just-hungry-for-attention/

Conclusion:
If there is one thing that I look away from this book it is this: that walking in someone else’s shoes, literally and physically, has enormous potential. In a time where money seems to be an enormous problem in politics, whether it be the Federal Deficit or the income gap or the sequester (yay America!), the true solution will not come through locking Congress up in a room without food until they fix themselves (a girl can dream though). It will come from people understanding various dispositions. The Wealthy must understand the challenges that the poor face in order to make an informed decision, rather than just blaming them. And the working class must not assume that all millionaire and billionaires are out for themselves. There are a lot of business owners who legitimately care about the world are are eager to help. Shoveling money at a problem does not solve it. When compassion is added and ignorance is removed, then only can we expect real progress.

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Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

How is it that Brussels sprouts came to be hated so much? While they, like beets and arugula, are making a culinary comeback as of late, showing up in gourmet food trucks and increasingly being featured on recipe blogs, the majority of people I talk to still seem to have some reservations about this adorable little veggie.

There seem to be three primary reasons why people avoid the Brussels sprout:
1. It’s bitter
2. It’s smelly
3. It’s a gassy food

My recipe will prove them wrong. Using a classic accompaniment of this ingredient and jazz it up with a few of my favorite spices. As for the naysayers? Here is how my recipe thwarts your argument.
1. The balsamic vinegar, lemon, and ginger subdue the bitterness, adding a gentle tang and zest
2. The molasses caramelized in the oven, filling your kitchen with the smell of sugar and spice
3. Like cabbage, Brussels sprouts only make you gassy if they are boiled. The prolonged exposure to the extreme heat breaks down the healthy fibers and becomes harder to digest. While eating cabbage and Brussels sprout raw is the best solution to this, a quick broil, saute, or steam will cook them properly without damaging the healthy compounds within. (Thank you to the ever-impressive Alton Brown for teaching me that!: )

Need another reason to eat Brussels Sprouts? It’s one the healthiest vegetables around! One raw cup of this veggie packs almost 200% the daily recommended amount of Vitamics C and K, and also promote heart health, DNA stability, and support white blood cell strength. It’s also a great source of iron, Vitamin A, manganese, and fiber. Not to mention it contains only 37 calories. Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous vegetable family, which some studies have shown to have cancre-fighting properties (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/diet/cruciferous-vegetables). Other vegetables in this family are cabbage, as well as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, wasabi, horseradish and bok choy. It’s also a great way to take advantage of seasonal vegetables. Cabbages and other cruciferous vegetables grow best in the late summer and naturally mature in the fall, making this a great nutritional and environmental choice.

Read more about Brussels sprouts’ nutritional qualities here: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=10

There are lots of ways to cook Brussels sprouts without steaming them soggy and drenching them in butter. One year my aunt serves them at Thanksgiving, grilled with smokey prosciutto and walnuts! It was so delicious. Even my vegetarian mother was eyeing them. They are usually served with various cuts of pork, because both Brussels sprouts and pork are complemented with sweeter, fruit flavors. Here are a few other ideas for Brussels sprouts, courtesy of one of my favorite magazines, Real Simple: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/popular-ingredients/brussels-sprouts-recipes-00100000088372/index.html#2

Are you ready to meet your new favorite vegetable?

BrusselsSprouts

Recipe:
Marinade
½ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup molasses or brown sugar
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger or ginger powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 pounds Brussels sprouts

1. Start by preheating your oven to a high broil

2. Next clean your Brussels sprouts. Chop off the stem at the bottom and remove the outer dark leaves only if they look torn or are full of wholes. There are also usually a bit soggy, so it will taste better without them.

3. Cut eat sprout in half. Rinse thoroughly. Shake out any excess water

4. In a large bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients.

5. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss gently in the marinade until most of the liquid has been soaked up into the sprouts. Like cabbage Brussels sprouts have layers of leaves, and the marinade will seem into these.

6. Pour the sprouts and any extra marinade into a greased sheet pan. Broil on the middle rack for about 10 minutes. If there is a lot of extra marinade, shake the pan every few minutes to redistribute the sauce and get more coverage on the sprouts.

7. Switch to top rack and broil for another 5-10 minutes, until the tops are slightly burnt and the marinade is bubbly and sticky.

8. Serve immediately!

My family absolutely loved this recipe. The sweet-and-salty crunch make them addictive and best served alongside a nice grilled salmon, chicken, or just plain!

Introduction to Open-Face Sandwiches

Yes! The first post on the “Adventures in Cold Cooking” page! Part of the reason for starting this theme was to help solve a daily dilemma of mine: what should I take for lunch?

These days the problem is easy to solve, what with fast-food chains and quick-service lunch joints conveniently popping up near office parks. Lunch is especially easy for my co-workers and me to find, as there is a cafe in our building itself and a shopping mall with a fully stocked food court just across the street. Within a mile of my office are the following sandwich opportunities:

– Chipotle
– Bobby’s Burger Palace
– B. Good Burgers
– Charley’s Subs
– Subway
– D’Angelo
– Chick-Fil-A
– Rebecca’s Cafe (a sort of corporate cafeteria in my building)
– McDonald’s
– Burger King

…as well as Chinese, Japanese and Thai restaurants, numerous pizza joints, the Cheesecake Factory, and Uno’s: all with a take-out option.

Portable, bread-wrapped food seems to be a staple for corporate America’s lunch time. But there are obvious health consequences. These options are backed with lots of added fat and sodium, and are usually accompanied by a deep-fried side dish. Lately, my solution to this problem has come in the form of the open-face sandwich. I came upon them as I was remembering a trip I took to Montreal a few years back with the college marching band. After eight hours on a bus, we wandered into the chill, dimly lit stone streets of the city searching for dinner, and very grateful that one of our friends spoke French. We stumbled into a local pub, and ordered the cheapest items we could find. They emerged from the kitchen bubbling and toasted, Swiss cheese gently hugging the sides of the thick French bread, carved turkey and juicy ripe tomatoes. Warm, cheesy, and best enjoyed with friends.

Open sandwiches actually have quite an interesting history. In 15th Century England, people ate something called “trenches” (or “tranches” for the French). It was essentially an old hard piece of bread that was used as a plate on which to serve other things, like cheese and meat or stew etc. The plate was therefore disposable/edible and prevented old bread from being wasted. Eventually it evolved and is more currently a staple in Scandinavian countries, where it usually comprises of buttered rye bread topped with a combination of smoked salmon, caviar, eggs, cold steak, cucumbers and tomatoes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_sandwich Delicious! No creamy cheeses or sweet sauces needed here! The fresh, simple local ingredients make this a true delicacy, and it is this tradition upon which I would like to build.

Open-Face
Photo Credit: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/advice/health/diet-food-myths-open-faced-sandwich#slide-2

In spite of their greatness, open-faced sandwiches don’t seem to be headed into the American canon of sandwich culture, or legal reasons as well as cultural ones. A 2006 court case defined the “sandwich” (as if such a thing could be done) as “two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture) spread between them” (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/textual_originalism_and_the_great_sandwich_debate_posner_reviews_scalia/).

Excuse me? Most of the sandwiches I’ve had in my life do not fit that description. Which brings to me the actual purpose of this post: to extol the wonders of the open-face sandwich, and give you all 5 reasons to make it part of your lunch routine!

Health Benefits:

1. Less Bread: I have never been one to denounce carbs. It is the rightful base of the food pyramid, and some varieties have high fiber that promotes heart health. Even so, excessive carbs can still cause you to gain weight, so it’s important to consume bread, which is usually lower in whole grains and complex carbohydrates, in moderation. Bread also absorbs more of those delicious, but fattening, sandwich spreads that we love so much, like mayonnaise and cream cheese. Using only one slice for a sandwich allows you to the same range of toppings with more appropriate nutrient ratio.

2. Not Portable: Some of you may be wondering, “How is lack of portability a good thing?” Let me explain. Fast-food is not named so just because of the quick cook time: it also primarily consists of foods that are particularly easy to eat quickly, or while you’re driving (never a good idea), or while you’re running to that afternoon meeting you aren’t ready for. It’s packaged in a very ergonomic way so that you can eat with one hand and hold your smartphone with the other. Sandwiches are exemplary at this: The bread shields the filling, leaving you free to scarf down your lunch and get back to work in no time.

Open-faced sandwiches, I confess, are a bit messy. There is no guardrail as such for the ingredients, and it’s not the type of lunch you can walk around with or casually reach for while you’re typing reports at your desk. It takes time and care (and tastes even better if you sit outside). The open-faced sandwich encourages you to take a real lunch break. It tells you to look away from the computer and close your email for just 15 minutes, allowing your mind to recharge and your body to relax.

delores-building-sandwich
Photo Credit: http://www.delorescuster.com/about/


3. Better Ingredients:
You know those gorgeous photos that delis hang on their walls, of sandwiches stacked high with piles of cold cuts, cheese, and an entire entree salad? Would anyone be able to even fit that in their mouth? No! Therefore the average sandwich eater is greatly limited by the dimensions of their oral cavity. It’s simple economics: You only have a limited space to fill with deliciousness, so you’re more likely to cram it full of cheese and sauce and use less vegetables, since they are bulky and take up space (and usually fall out of the sandwich anyway). Channel your 15th Century French-peasant spirit, and view your single bread slice as a plate: you can add whatever you want! The removal of the top bread slice gives your more room to add veggies or fruits, and less need to use “compact ingredients” like peanut butter (yum), cold cuts, cheese, and sauces.

4. They’re Pretty: No, seriously. I mean it! I do not believe it is the intention of sandwich artists everywhere to conceal from consumers the true appearance of their food. Not at all. What I mean is that when you have to look at what you’re eating, you literally see it differently. The open-faced sandwich, on the other hand, is a canvas. Since you have to look at it while you eat it, you will likely spend more time artfully arranging your ingredients, adding less gloopy sauces and using more fresh colorful veggies. Eating “pretty food” makes us more mindful of what we eat. We take more time to prepare it, and therefore take more time to enjoy it. After all, when you work so hard to create such a beautiful work of culinary art, it would be quite sinful to just stuff it down your throat.

hilton-chocolate-tea-05
Photo Credit: http://www.chocablog.com/features/chocolate-afternoon-tea-at-the-hilton-park-lane/

5. Mindful Eating: The aesthetics and lack of portability of these sandwiches make them a mindful food. Mindful eating can mean eating healthier things, yes, but it also means taking time to enjoy our food rather than treating it as a side-item, something that’s a means to an end and doesn’t deserve attention. People who enjoy their food more also tend to weigh less because they eat slower and and more aware of the flavors and textures of their meal. As a result, slow-eaters tend to consume less food and feel satisfied more quickly that fast-eaters. This is another reason why going out to eat frequently is so unhealthy. It’s not just about the nutrition. Since you yourself did not take the time to prepare it, you are likely to not care as much about where the ingredients come from or how it looks, and so you are less likely to eat it with attention or feel satisfied after.

Now that we all have some background information we can continue to appreciate the immense variety of the open-faced sandwich as the recipes come along.

Happy Lunch time!

PS: Never had a food been so taken for granted by the gourmands of the world as the sandwich. If you are interested in sandwich history and culture, here are a few links that I enjoyed while writing this post.

Links:
Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_sandwich

Court Case: What is a sandwich?
http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/textual_originalism_and_the_great_sandwich_debate_posner_reviews_scalia/

CNN: The Best Sandwich in the Universe
http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2011/08/10/the-best-sandwich-in-the-universe/

Unbreaded: Is a Burrito a Sandwich?
http://unbreaded.com/2009/02/06/is-a-burrito-a-sandwich/