Retro Saturday: All Creatures Great & Small

The stories of James Herriot thrilled millions with his tales of treating animals, the people he met, and the unforgettable characters of Sigfried, Tristan, and Mrs. Pumphrey. Herriot was the pen name for James Alfred Wight (1916-1995) who used his real life experiences as a Yorkshire veterinarian for his books. The books were made into film and television. All Creatures Great & Small ran on BBC first from 1978-1980 and then from 1988-1990. It was one of the most highly watched shows in its first incarnation in the UK. The books have been translated all over the world. They almost did not get printed in the U.S. An employee of the printing company brought back one of the small Herriot books in his briefcase and did not even open it. But his wife did and told him what a great book it was. By putting together several of the smaller books into the larger All Creatures Great & Small, it took off. And so did the other books that followed. Herriot was a success but it took a while for people to learn his true identity of James Wight in Thirsk, UK.

I highly recommend the books and the first incarnation of the tv series. The books are a delight to read, full of interesting characters and the animals he treated. Back in the early days, there were few drugs so the vet really had to nurse an animal. And it was not without being messy at times. While many people were friendly,some were not. And there are some sad stories in the books as well of people losing their prized pets. Many were inspired by the books to become vets themselves. While some of the mucky work they did back then is not done as often (today all dairy cows are immunized against tuberculosis so little need to check every cow on a regular basis),it is still done today. You still have to put your arm inside a cow or horse to correctly determine what is wrong inside but you have protective wear (robots or drones may do it eventually). Today most animal doctors treat lots of pets and not just cats, dogs, and the occasional bird. Nope today it is a wide assortment of rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, mice, and even pet rats (yes,there are such things as pet rats). Of course now people are getting into raising chickens at home so some urban vets are seeing them too (fresh eggs!).

The tv show starred Christopher Timothy as Herriot,Robert Hardy as Sigfried Farnon,Peter Davison as Tristan Farnon, and Carol Drinkwater as Helen (she was replaced by Lynda Bellingham in the second incarnation). The character of Mrs. Hall was given more presence than in the books (which was great because the actress who played her was terrific). Some of the stories were altered for television (especially when Christopher Timothy was injured and thus could not walk around much in the last episodes of season 1 and opening episodes of season 2). Peter Davison, though much taller than the real Tristan, Brian Sinclair, was excellent in the role as the brother. Robert Hardy got to play Sigfried (Donald Sinclair)and gets him exactly as Herriot wrote him. Donald was not exactly happy with the first book depicting him as it did (it was toned down later)but everyone who knew the real Donald Sinclair says it was spot on.

All of the main characters of the show and books have passed away. Tristan (Brian Sinclair) passed away in 1988. Of the three, he was the only one who actually went to war-but as a vet in India!. James Herriot passed away in 1995 and his wife Joan (Helen in the books)in 1999. Sigfried (Donald Sinclair)passed away in 1995 a few months after James. His wife of 45 years had recently passed away and James death was a blow as well. He died from an overdose of barbiturate. Herriot’s books not only inspired many vets, it brought lots of tourists to Yorkshire to see what he so vividly describes in his books. He was made an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II, a fan of his books and tv show. Numerous other memorials exist including a statue at Thirsk Racecourse.


Masterchef US Season 6, Episode 7: Upscale breakfasts and TV dinners

Photo:Fox
Photo:Fox

Our gallant cheftestants faced a Mystery Box that required them to make an upscale breakfast but for the elimination round have to cook a posh TV dinner. Poor execution of a dish and clueless on a concept sends not one but two home in the end.

*Breakfast Masterchef style means upscale and fit to have been served on Titanic. Graham Elliot joins the cheftestants in masterfully cooking three breakfast dishes in 30 minutes for the judges. Meanwhile the others have to whip up something pretty good to get the judges to notice. Derrick, Nick, and Katrina have the three best but Derrick beats them all and gets exemption from cooking in the elimination challenge.

*TV dinners. They are still popular despite how far we have come culinary wise. Why? Ease. You get home and do not have time or the energy to cook a full three -course meal. A tv dinner fits the bill. You can either put it in the oven or microwave. And today there are lots of choices that include ones that are low calorie and low fat. So Derrick gets to choose which of the Masterchefs favorite TV dinners they will cook: Christina’s Salisbury Steak, Graham’s Meatloaf, or Gordon’s Turkey. Derrick opts for Christina’s.

*And for the extra point Derrick gets to choose someone to sit out for 15 minutes. He chooses Christopher. Surprising since he put a target on Shelly’s back last time. But if he was hoping Christopher would crash and burn, he was wrong. He instead excelled and wowed the judges. His arrow would have been better spent on someone else. If anything making him sit out made him better.

*The Gong of Doom
Veronica’s problem is never getting the presentation or serving size right. She tells Christina she intends to present it as a TV dinner. Christina reminds her that they want something above that but Veronica seems clueless or oblivious. She cooks like that clichéd Army chef that cooks tons of food and slops it on the plate as the soldiers go by. No surprise the gong of doom is ringing loudly when Christina walks away.

*Hetal’s Challenge
Hetal had to cook with beef, a taboo food in her native India. Gordon did point out she could ask someone else to taste it. Sure, ask one of your fellow competitors to tell you if your food is good or bad. But you got to know that some would opt to deceive rather than help. If she wants to move forward in this competition, you have to handle the curves they throw at you since they do not make exemptions for vegetarians or foods banned by religion.

*Jesse tries to impress Gordon with his venison dish and fails. Gordon, who knows a thing or two about cooking venison, was displeased with it being overcooked. Jesse came off not well trying to say it was not that dry. Later when the three bottom people are called, Gordon says (without saying his name) that he ought to come up. He starts the turns back forcing Gordon to call out his name.

*Hetal and Veronica in the bottom with Jesse. Hetal got so flustered in dealing with beef that her dish suffered horribly. It could not be more disappointing for her. She could have done okay with the beef and spectacular with the sides. Instead it really was a mess but luckily both Jesse and Veronica were worse. Veronica brought up massive portions to the judges sitting in large serving dishes. It did not look good and Gordon was angry. He reminded her that they had repeatedly told her to watch those portions and presentation. When he tilts the dish with vegetables, a whole lot of water comes out. He declines to taste any of her dishes.

*Without fanfare, Veronica was sent him. No kind words and no sympathy from the judges. Just turn in your apron and leave. The top 15 applaud but quickly turns to a hush when another person will be sent home. No surprise it was Jesse leaving Hetal safe for the next round.

*The good news is that Olivia and Nick won. I am impressed with both but Olivia most of all. I was not sure she really had the motivation or cooking skills. She has both and showed it tonight. She and Nick will be team captains next week.

*Lessons
1. Always follow what the judges want in terms of presentation and serving.
2. They know that some people do not like certain foods (they find this out during the intake process) so they will throw challenges that contain proteins or foods you do not like or prohibited.
3. Be brave and take chances but remember to follow those rules about cooking it right. And remember to taste it. Overcooked food is about as welcome as cow chips on a plate.

Next week: Masterchef celebrates its 100th episode with an outdoor party. And catering it will be the cheftestants. The Dreaded Pressure Test will be a birthday cake but when the two candles are blown out, it will be a double elimination.


Pachycephalosaurus Troubles

"Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis dinosaur (Upper Cretaceous; Montana, USA)" by James St. John - Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis dinosaur (Upper Cretaceous; Montana, USA) 1. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pachycephalosaurus_wyomingensis_dinosaur_(Upper_Cretaceous;_Montana,_USA).jpg#/media/File:Pachycephalosaurus_wyomingensis_dinosaur_(Upper_Cretaceous;_Montana,_USA).jpg
“Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis dinosaur (Upper Cretaceous; Montana, USA)” by James St. John

If you have never heard the dinosaur named pachycephalosaurus, you would not be alone. It lived a very long time ago in North America during the late Cretaceous Period and remains have been found in Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Scientists believe it was either herbivorous or omnivorous. The name means “thick headed lizard.” This dinosaur makes an appearance in the latest Jurassic Park movie(which is doing extremely well at the box office).

Guzzy Bear (aka Mobeen) did a YouTube video where he accuses the movie Jurassic World and those behind it as racist. When you shorten pachycephalosaurus to “pachy” it sounds like an offensive slur used in the U.K. against people from Pakistan. Now he was of course being facetious. Alas, just like people who saw a picture of Speilberg sitting next to a dinosaur prop from the original thinking he had bagged a real animal, this has spawned its own circus. Some are outraged at this “Pakisaurus” demanding it be changed and those responsible forced to grovel for forgiveness.

What a bunch of nonsense. Again people are not bothering to check the facts and just jumping at the slightest possible connection to something racist. Take the word picnic, which comes from the French word pique-nique. It means eating food outside. The word has been around for a long time and documented in the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary. Yet some came to believe the word meant people gathering to watch black people being lynched. It was a hoax definition put out via email way back in 1999. Sadly some people actually believed it and sought removal of the word from describing outdoor outings. Gullible people bought this hook, line, and sinker until it was pointed out the word was never ever connected to lynchings.

There are many words out there that are genuine racist slurs that ought never to be spoken or put into print (except for historical research). People who thought picnic, just like those who think pachycephalosaurus shortened to pachy is racist, look like fools. Again it reflects ignorance and illiteracy. Simply type in pachycephalosaurus in a search engine and you will quickly learn this dinosaur roamed North America and its name has nothing whatsoever to do with a British slur against Pakistani people.


First Day of Summer 2015

The sun rising over Stonehenge on summer solstice(2005) Photo:Andrew Dunn (Wikimedia)
The sun rising over Stonehenge on summer solstice(2005)
Photo:Andrew Dunn (Wikimedia)

Today is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. For those below the equatorial line, it is the Winter Solstice. The June Solstice usually takes place between June 20-22. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, it usually is the longest day of sunlight as the North Pole tilts directly towards the sun. Which translates into more sunlight particularly the further north you live. For those more closer to the North Pole (Alaska, parts of Canada, and Scandinavian countries)the sun literally never sets during this time of year.  Of course the reverse is true in the Southern Hemisphere. They get less sunlight on the June Solstice and the closer you are to the Antarctic Circle means less sunlight or total night.

The coming of summer is usually a time for celebration in many cultures. Festivals in Northern Europe celebrate summer and the fertility of the Earth. Bonfires are lit and homes are decorated to mark the festival. Many cultures honor the sun in some fashion. Modern day pagans and druids also celebrate the day with their own festivals and many go to Stonehenge in England to witness the first rays of summer.


Masterchef US:Season 6, Episode 6: Vegas or Bust

18 cheftestants remain after Justin went home for using canned corn last week. Tonight they cooked a meal for those work in Vegas with the losers proving who can cook the best steak. It had better be good because Gordon Ramsay is the only one judging them!

*Sadly Dan has left the show likely for personal reasons so there are now 17 competing.

*Roadtrip! Off to Vegas and all that glitz and glam.

*Team challenge: Cooking for 101 entertainers. But Stephen, who had the best dish last week, gets to pick his team or the protein. He opts for making the dream team and deceives Shelly into thinking he is not that much interested in lobster(which he is). Shelly opts for chicken while Stephen selects everyone she wanted. So Stephen gets not only the team he wanted but lobster as well.

Cooked Lobster Photo: Junior Libby (publicdomainpictures.net)
Cooked Lobster
Photo: Junior Libby (publicdomainpictures.net)

*Team Red (Stephen)
The team is well organized as Stephen tells them what he needs done. And he is no distant leader either constantly checking on the progress of those around him. Tommy is the one who causes the most problems. First, he plates the smashed potatoes badly. Second, he is overcooking the potatoes in the skillet. He is under the delusion that people want burnt potatoes on their plates. Really Tommy? Sorry, do not buy it when he says that is how he learned it. Perhaps he confused smashed with another type of potato dish sometimes served with breakfast. I doubt it as he is too smart for that. After Gordon threatens to toss Tommy out, Stephen relegates him to pot washing. Team Red gets their plates while the other team is ponderously slow.

Team Blue (Shelly)
As they say, it was all balls up! First off she decides to a chicken roulade. Now that requires you pound the chicken, put a filling in it, wrap it up, and cook it. That is a lot of prep work for a dish that will be served for 101 people in an hour. Derrick tries to point out this is unfeasible but shot down. Others on the team echo that sentiment as well. Things go from bad to worse as was predicted when they cannot get one dish out to the waiting people while Team Red is doing it. There was a mutiny by consent as Derrick took control, got everyone fired up, and getting dishes out. It was remarkable to watch and shows why he is someone that may go far in this show. The result was that the team got dishes out and even better got within three points of the win. Very good considering the long odds against it. Team Blue loses and must face the dreaded pressure test.

Dreaded Pressure Test
*What is worse is not just one pressure test but two!

*Shelly was given immunity from taking the pressure test but could save three. Why? This is totally inexplicable to save her. Her team was a failure and at the least she ought to have been in the trenches or forced to save herself (as they have done in the past). This shows again how they try to manipulate tension for ratings (not uncommon by the way). They (the producers )know that the survivors will really dislike Shelly leading to some interesting confrontations down the road.

*Shelley thinks she was thrown under the bus when her team criticizes her leadership. It is like this gal never had anyone critique her before. She decides to send all the strong ones (the most vocal about her lack of leadership)into the elimination challenge while saving ones who were the weakest (like Hetal). Shelly is hoping that Derrick will be sent home.

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

*New York Strip Steak is what they are cooking for just one judge: Gordon. And at his own steak house in Sin City. All four get busy cooking their steaks and they are presented to Gordon without knowing who cooked what. Both Claudia and Derrick cooked the best medium rare steaks and head up to the balcony to Shelly’s dismay. Meanwhile Ailsa and Christopher face cooking filet mignon rare (which does not mean raw!). A beautiful piece of meat that must be treated with the respect it deserves. Ailsa though ends up losing the challenge and heads home.

*A couple of things about this episode. First, we saw the difference between firm and weak leadership styles. Second, choosing the right dish to prepare under the time constraints makes all the difference. Third, when a team member is doing sub-par work you do not keep them there. Fourth, when things are really going bad it is okay for another team member to step up and take charge. Derrick saved them from an even worse defeat for doing this. Fifth, leaders have to accept criticism.

*Tommy was a disappointment here. He whined about how they (Stephen and Gordon)got in his face about his presentation and cooking. He will not last long on this show if he continues in this manner. Hetal will have a problem (perhaps several down the road)not because she is vegetarian but because it may require handling meat from cows. Eating any part of the cow is verboten in India and with faithful Hindus. Amanda has a different problem as that Muslims do not eat pork. And pork usually shows up on the show. It might be an option to choose from (which means she can avoid it). My guess is it will be an option rather than a requirement to avoid being criticized for being insensitive to Muslims.


Masterchef Retro-Christine Ha’s Apple Pie

Season three of Masterchef had perhaps the most unique contestant ever-Christina Ha. Christine is legally blind and during the show needed an assistant to tell her where things were. She ultimately won the title and to this day it is remarkable to go back and see some of the things she pulled off. Like this apple pie. She was flustered and thought she was doomed (in fact it was the guy who decided to put cheddar cheese on top of his pie).

Look for Masterchef cookbooks on Amazon.

Liverpool Seafarers’ Centre Calls China’s Titanic Sinking Simulator Disrepectful

The Grand Staircase of the RMS Olympic Photo:Public Domain (Wikipedia)
The Grand Staircase of the RMS Olympic
Photo:Public Domain (Wikipedia)

It is not the first criticism of this idea but it is the latest. Presently a full scale Titanic replica is being built for a Chinese theme park. Not a movie set type but the real thing that will be permanently docked. It will even rent out rooms so people can experience the era and even eat foods they did back then. It will also feature a sinking simulator so that you will feel, see, and hear the iceberg strike Titanic. John Wilson, chief executive of the Liverpool Seafarers’ Centre believes it is in bad taste. He is not against them have a Titanic attraction but thinks the sinking simulator is wrong.

“But having an attraction where it replicates what it’s like to sink is out of order and disrespectful to those who did lose their lives and their relatives. A lot of lives were lost and this is not something which sits easy.”

Source: Titanic theme park slammed as “disrespectful” by Liverpool Seafarers’ Centre(14 Jun 2015,Liverpool Echo)


Captain Bligh and Others Arrive Safely After 4,000 Mile Trek

Bligh and other officers and crew put adrift by HMS Bounty mutineers on 29 April 1789. Painting: Robert Dodd (1748-1815)  Public Domain (National Maritime Museum, London, UK)
Bligh and other officers and crew put adrift by HMS Bounty mutineers on 29 April 1789.
Painting: Robert Dodd (1748-1815)
Public Domain (National Maritime Museum, London, UK)

On 14 June 1789 Lieutenant William Bligh of British Royal Navy who formerly commanded HMS Bounty and eighteen others arrived at Timor in the West Indies after nearly a 4,000 mile trek in a small boat. Bligh and the others were put on the boat back on 28 April after Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian and others led a mutiny on the Bounty. The ship was tasked with transporting Tahitian breadfruit saplings to the British Caribbean colonies. The Bounty arrived for a five month layover in 1789. During that time many of the crew lived ashore and formed relationships with the locals. This caused a serious issue for discipline and Bligh began handing out harsh discipline and criticism of the crew.

When Bligh and his other supporters were put into the boat, they had 25 gallons of water, 150 pounds of bread, 30 pounds of pork, six quarts of rum, and six bottles of wine. They were not expected to survive but through Bligh’s exceptional navigation skills and careful rationing of the supplies, they made and survived the ordeal. For the mutineers, life was not as it was hoped. Some of the crew decided to stay in Tahiti despite the possibility of British capture. Christian and six others including some Tahitian men and women ultimately settled on Pitcairn Island about 1,000 miles east of Tahiti.

Aftermath
After returning to England, the HMS Pandora was dispatched to Tahiti in April, 1790. 14 of the mutineers were captured but failed to find Christian or his party, On the return voyage Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef resulting in 31 crew dead and 3 of the mutineers as well. After a court martial in 1792, four were acquitted, three pardoned, and two were hung. The fate of Fletcher Christian was not determined under 1808. An American ship drawn by a fire visited Pitcairn. Only one mutineer, John Adams, was still alive. The Bounty had been scuttled and all of the other mutineers (including Christian) had been killed either by each other or by the Tahitians. He was not arrested and today many of the descendants still live on Pitcairn, which is a British Overseas Territory

Rear Admiral William Bligh by Alexander Huey(1814) Image: Public Domain
Rear Admiral William Bligh by Alexander Huey(1814)
Image: Public Domain

William Bligh
HMS Bounty was not a ship of the line but a small commercial vessel purchased by the Royal Navy for the botanical mission. As such command of a vessel of this kind would fall to a senior lieutenant. Bligh was selected because he had served under James Cook in his third and final voyage (1776–1780). After that voyage, like many officers of that time, he was put on half-pay as the American war was over. He commanded a commercial vessel before being given command of HMS Bounty. After the court martial in 1792, the general opinion of Bligh was negative both in the Royal Navy and by the public. And the fact that those who survived confirmed some of the cruel and possibly paranoid actions also fed into a negative opinion of him. He would be put on half-pay and wait a long time for his next appointment in 1797 where he commanded HMS Director at the Battle of Camperdown (October, 1797). He would next  command the HMS Glatton in Battle of Copenhagen (March 1801) and be praised by Lord Nelson for his actions. While in command of the HMS Warrior he was court-martialed for use of bad language to his officers and officially reprimanded in 1805. In 1806 he was sent as Governor to New South Wales in Australia

His style of leadership was a firm disciplinarian which made him ill-suited to the position where you had to deal with wealthy and important landowners on one hand, and powerful officials on the other. He managed to anger both with his confrontational style. He did face a serious problem in that some of these wealthy landowners and crown officials were engaged in private trading. His attempt to shut them down was met with the Rum Rebellion in 1808. On 26 Jan 1808, Major George Johnson of the Royal Marines led 400 soldiers of the New South Wales Corp to Government House in Sydney and arrested Bligh. Bligh was placed on HMS Porpoise where he would remain until January 1810. Bligh tried and failed to get the British authorities in Hobart to support him in retaking New South Wales. Bligh would be allowed to leave in 1810 and eventually returned to England for Major Johnson’s court martial. The trial court sentenced him to be dismissed from the Royal Marines, a very mild sentence considering what he had done. He would return to Australia without his officer’s commission but his wealth from the private trade deals were more than sufficient for him to live a comfortable life.

As the Royal Navy promoted on seniority and patronage rather than by merit, Bligh would be promoted to rear admiral in 1810 and in 1814 admiral of the blue. He would never hold command again even during the height of the Napoleonic War when commands were available. He would design the North Bull Wall on the River Liffey in Dublin. He also mapped Dublin Bay. Bligh died on 7 Dec 1817 at the age of 63. He was buried at the family plot in St. Mary’s, Lambeth though now the church is now the Garden Museum. His tomb is topped with a breadfruit.

Mutiny on the Bounty Books At Amazon.


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