“There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth, though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world, though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.” Hannah Senesh
As I stare up at the last full moon of 2020, I reflect on this past year and previous happier New Years. The brilliant light of the moon brought back memories of a friend of mine. A friend I worked with, socialized with, and who I respected and admired for well over thirty years.
Though my friend and I didn’t see or talk daily, we always seemed to connect during the holidays. It was 2009 New Year’s Eve in California around 10:00 pm, a few years before this friend passed away. I was on my balcony looking up at the full radiant moon and I wondered if he too was looking up at the moon.
When I left my balcony and returned to my living room, I heard an incoming email notification on my laptop. I was astonished to see the email was from my friend. He was vacationing in Belize, as he always did during the holiday season. The email simply read:
JR, It’s midnight in Belize. I’m looking up at a magnificent moon over the bay here and am thinking of you. It’s still a wonder to me that we all can see the same moon from different places–albeit at different times and longitudes, but with no major physics correction involved. John Muir said, ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’ Happy New Year
During the holidays, I find myself reminiscing about this dear friend. I miss him and our long talks about life, history, and whether or not we are alone in the Universe. I miss the special connection we had. A connection, I believe all of us have the ability of obtaining.
All of us have the energy and light within us to light the way for humankind.
As a child I was captivated by the French writer Alexandre Dumas 1844 novel, The Three Musketeers. Dumas was the Stan Lee of his time, creating the first youthful super heroes, Aramis, Porthos, Athos, and their protege D’Artagnan. The only difference is, Musketeers actually did exist and Dumas based his characters on some of the most famous of Musketeers.
Anything I could find to read or watch about the Musketeers was on my radar. Mostly because they were excellent equestrians and fencers, two of my favorite combinations, and all Musketeer entertainment had plenty of those two activities.
My late great uncle was an Olympic fencer. I never had the honor of meeting him, but I like to imagine his passion and talent for fencing was passed on to me. I was fortunate to attend a high school that offered beginning fencing, and this was my first hands-on introduction to this 14th century sport. It’s amazing how much fencing requires a great deal of mental and physical stamina, balance and fast reflexes. I took to this sport quickly, learning all the common moves and French words for them such as, Advance Lunge, Assault, Extension, Flick, Touché and the most famous En-garde.
Most are introduced to fencing through Hollywood movies. There have been numerous movies about the Musketeers dating as far back as the 1921 silent film adaptation starring Douglas Fairbanks. The first movie I remember watching about the Musketeers was on TV in the 1960s, and was the 1948 movie with Gene Kelly. It’s still one of my favorites because it not only had fencing and horses, but as an extra bonus it had Gene Kelly performing ballet type moves while fencing.
In the 1970s the studios came out with a Raquel Welch and Michael York Musketeer version, which wasn’t one of my favorites. As a little trivia note, this movie was originally proposed in the 1960s as a vehicle for The Beatles.
Disney released their Musketeer movie adaptation in 1993 starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt and Chris O’Donnell. This became my favorite version of all time, until now.
A few weeks back, I discovered on Amazon Prime a 2014 BBC Musketeer series. This exceptional rendition of the swashbuckling Musketeers is now one of my top go to TV series. The acting, costumes, romantic locations, storylines and cinematography is awe inspiring. If you’re looking for some great entertainment to fill your evenings, I highly recommend this series. It certainly is fulfilling my Musketeer mania.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Roald Dahl
“The only thing I am afraid of is fear.” Arthur Wellesley
You’ve got to take your hat off to the 1st Duke of Wellington. Not only did the feisty Irishman vanquish Napoleon, he twice became prime minister and lend his name to the infamous Wellington boot as well as giving us the delicious Beef Wellington to remember him by.
Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley was born in Dublin, May 1, 1769 into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family. At age 12, he was sent to school at Eton in England. His father’s death that same year threw the family into financial turmoil. Arthur’s mother withdrew him from Eton to be schooled in Belgium and France. She saw such little promise in her son that she felt the military was the best career choice for him. In 1787 at age 18, he was commissioned as an ensign in the British Army.
An outstanding British soldier and statesman, he was one of the most important military and political leaders of 19th-century Britain. Rising to prominence as a general during the Peninsular campaign of the Napoleonic Wars, he was promoted to the rank of field marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the French Empire at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813.
Following Napoleon’s exile in 1814, he served as the ambassador to France and was granted a dukedom. During the 1815 Hundred Days War, he commanded the allied army, which together with a Prussian Army under Blücher, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. His battle record is exemplary; he ultimately participated in some 60 battles during the course of his military career.
Wellesley died from a stroke on 14 September 1852. On his death, he was once again hailed as the hero of Waterloo. Queen Victoria even described him as ‘the greatest man this country ever produced’. He was given a state funeral in London and was laid to rest in St Paul’s Cathedral, next to Britain’s other military heroes.
So, how does all this history relate to Beef Wellington? Well, it seems the Duke of Wellington was quite indifferent to food. However, he did love a dish of beef, mushrooms, truffles, Madeira wine, and pâté cooked in pastry. The Duke loved this dish so much, it had to be served at every dinner. Therefore, his chefs named the dish in his honor. Some also speculate the dish was named after him because the fillet of beef, wrapped in puff pastry finished product looks like a highly polished Wellington riding boot.
Beef Wellington, like many other dishes, has a debatable story of origin. Many different experts cite England, France, Ireland, and even Africa as the possible birthplace for the dish. Although, several contend that France is the most likely origin for the dish since wrapping meat in pastry is a technique that has been practiced in France for a long time, even before the dish became popular.
This tenderloin of beef in puffed pastry was first made famous in the USA by the TV chef, Julia Child. Her cook book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking was immensely popular in the USA. She presented a version of the well-known French fillet of beef in crust, which she entitled, Filet of Beef Wellington on TV in her New Year’s Day 1965 show.
Thanks to the success of Childs’ Beef Wellington show, the dish became hugely popular in North American social circles and was repeated in a large number of magazines and cookbooks, including the very influential, White House Cookbook.
To Americans, unaccustomed to the English idea of meat in pastry, Beef Wellington must have seemed like quite an exotic dish. It can be an intimidating and complicated dish to put together. But, thanks to cooking shows and YouTube, anyone with a desire to cook this fancy feast can put together a beautiful and tasty Beef Wellington.
“Life should be lived with a smile on your face and no one does a better job of putting one on my face than you.” Happy Birthday!
Shortly after our Thanksgiving dinner together, I asked my son what his plans were for his upcoming birthday. He planned to spend his birthday with his girlfriend and wanted to spend the following day with me to celebrate.
In a normal year, I would take my son out for a birthday dinner at his favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants have closed due to the pandemic. I offered to cook and bake whatever his heart desired.
He had never had Beef Wellington nor my famous family recipe of noodle kugel. He also wanted me to make his favorite dessert I make, Chocolate Mousse. So, with that request, having never made Beef Wellington before, I had time to learn how to make this classic traditional English comfort food.
I spent hours watching YouTube videos of dozens of chefs from around the World share their techniques for Beef Wellington. Taking notes and making a long list of ingredients required, I spent one day just shopping at a half a dozen stores for all the ingredients for my son’s special birthday dinner.
The recipe I ended up using was Gordon Ramsay’s, which seemed to be the most popular among Michelin star chefs. The few changes I made to Ramsay’s recipe is, refrigerating the prepared beef tenderloin a day before rolling it up in the puff pastry. I also cooked it almost 40 minutes because the tenderloin I had bought was 2.5 pounds and required more time in the oven.
Here are some photos from my son’s birthday celebration: