29 August 2010

29 August - Beheading of John the Baptist; artichokes

Most saints are celebrated on the day of their 'birthday into heaven', i.e. the day they die.  John the Baptist has two feast days - his birth (June 24)  and his death.  Today we honor the martyrdom of the Forerunner.

Everyone knows the story: John was put in prison for preaching against the adulterous relationship of Herod and his sister-in-law Herodias.  At a banquet, the daughter of Herodias (named Salome, according to Josephus) so pleased Herod with her dancing that he promised her anything she wished.  After consulting with her mother, she wished for the head of John on a platter.  And so it was done.

Artists have had a field day with this story, as evidenced by their - ahem - depictions of a pretty much unclothed Salome, not to mention her rather nasty occupation with the head.  Really.  Some of those images make you wonder about the psychological profiles of the artists.

In any case, can you see that story speaking to Modern Woman?  Let's try an update.

We all know that John was put in prison, because the law of the land forbade anyone, especially religious people, from having or speaking their opinions of anyone's chosen lifestyle.  Morals are in the eye of the beholder, after all, and natural law has nothing to do with civil law. People have a right to their own lifestyle choices, and besides, it wasn't immoral, because Herod and Herodias were in Love.

Herodias hated John for calling her names, and made sure that one of the many judges in her pocket condemned him for slander, but Herod wouldn't do more than keep him in prison - the law of the land not allowing execution for one's opinions.  Not yet.

One night, Herod and Herodias invited a lot of friends to one of those Executive Mansion dinner parties in honor of Herod's birthday - you know, with a glittering guest list of actors, talk-show celebrities, athletic stars, movie moguls, highly placed politicians, Wall Street wizards, and the like, all being entertained with cuisine from top chefs and music from the latest discovery in street bands.

All that good food and liquor (and maybe a few under-the-table political deals) had made Herod feel pretty mellow.  Enter Salome, his wife's daughter.

She was a pretty little thing, who had gone to the Jerusalem High School for the Performing Arts, and her mom thought that maybe she could help entertain the guests by showing them what she learned in school. (Herod and the Mrs. were great patrons of the arts, you know.)

So she obliged, and while a bunch of unenlightened bobos from Flyover Country might consider it a lascivious dance, it was nothing of the kind!  Nope.  It was her Expression of Man's Inhumanity to Woman, in which the Freedom we crave is juxtaposed against a backdrop of War and Cruelty and Female Problems, not the least of which are Arrogant White Men.

Herod, as a great Patron of the Arts and an Enlightened Intellectual, was so impressed by her Expression of Female Problems, that he swore to give her whatever her little heart (thrust prominently into his line of sight) desired (hoping with Typical Male Arrogance that she would ask for something like his Crown Jewels. She didn't).

After a consultation with the CEO of the firm, she asked for the head of John the Baptist, in a charger.

Well, poor Herod!  Not only is his reputation as a Connoisseur of the Arts at stake, but he's been scattering promises of preferment and ambassadorships and lucrative defense contracts right and left, and if he doesn't make good on his bargain with Salome, he can expect a marked lack of enthusiasm on the part of those who keep him in office.  Already, there are rumblings in the air of a new messiah - and his guests will eat just as happily at that guy's table as here.

So, the order goes out, and Salome comes in with John's head on a charger.  That's what happens when you criticize someone's lifestyle choice as immoral.

Now, Salome's Expressionistic Dance included (according to Oscar Wilde) the peeling off of Seven Veils.  To honor John the Baptist, let us unveil ARTICHOKES.

First, prepare your artichokes - wash, drain, cut off the stem to 1" stub, then trim (with kitchen shears) the thorny end of each leaf (or not.  I don't bother.  Just be careful not to grab the leaf by the thorny end).

Cook in boiling salted water until tender, anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes, depending on the size and number of the artichokes.  Alternately, you could steam them in a basket over boiling water until tender.  They are ready when a leaf can be pulled off easily.

Serve with a dish of dressing, such as melted butter, mayonnaise, French Dressing, Hollandaise, etc.

You should already know how to eat artichokes, but if not:

Grab the end of each leaf (you'll learn to miss the thorny part, believe me) and pull it off of the head.  Dip the fleshy end into sauce, present the sauced, fleshy end to your mouth, take it between your teeth, and gently scrape the fleshy part off of the leaf.  Discard the leaf.


Once you have removed all of the leaves that can be eaten, there remains the choke (a fuzzy covering) and the heart (your goal).

Scrape off the fuzzy choke with a spoon. What remains is the heart, which can be cut up, dipped in sauce, and eaten.

It is a sensual delight, and one which must be savored.  There is no hurrying through artichokes.