Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

We get our television programming from DirecTV, and our channel lineup doesn’t contain any of the standard movie channels (HBO, Cinemax, etc.), but it does have two channels wholly devoted to food – the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.  The Food Network used to show primarily cooking shows, where people demonstrated how to actually make something.  Nowadays, it’s slipped into more of a “lifestyles” channel, which means a little bit of cooking, and a bunch of advertising of local one-off restaurants.  The Cooking Channel seems to be more the place to go if you actually want to learn how to cook.  At least that’s the way it appears to me.

I’m sure some will argue that I have no idea what I’m talking about, which is probably true.  But outside of Alton Brown and Jamie Oliver, there’s not a ton of cooking shows I really enjoy, so I’m basing my opinions on a rather small sample size.  Anyways, arguing over channel content wasn’t the point of my typing.  Both channels, regardless of what they show you, owe a world of thanks to Julia Child.

It was her culinary skills, her humor, and her bravery that gave rise to the popularity of cooking shows in the first place, and made “channels specializing in food” possible.

In case you didn’t know, one of the first cooking demonstration shows ever was Child’s The French Chef.  It was filmed in black and white in a rather modest kitchen.  And from my perspective, the editing floor was remarkably clean, because it doesn’t appear that anything was cut from the show.  It resulted in what was truly a “reality” show, not the trash we pass off as reality today.

The French Chef, which was first broadcast on February 11, 1963, was full of real-life kitchen goof-ups.  Julia would sometimes forget her place in the recipe she was demonstrating.  She would sometimes mix ingredients in the wrong sequence.  Pans and utensils would, on occasion, be so elusive as to be invisible.  The end product would sometimes look a little strange and, on rare occasions, wound up being tossed in the trash.

And that’s what made the show so incredibly popular.  Through all the real-life “drama” in Julia’s kitchen, viewers learned the basic (and the not-so-basic) techniques to cooking food once thought only achievable by a master chef.  Of course, Julia herself was classically trained in the art of French cooking, but she worked hard to make difficult processes accessible to cooks of all levels.  And we learned that even great chefs get it wrong sometimes, which made us more likely to give it a go ourselves.

Julia herself became a celebrity.  Her lilting voice, that touch of comedian in her, and her adaptability to the changing conditions of the kitchen and a show that was filmed live without editing brought forth a charm that was addicting.  She brandished a cleaver and a mallet, and she talked about “courage of your convictions” as she flipped half a potato pancake on to the stove.  I don’t have a clue what she was like when the camera wasn’t rolling, but she was lovable when it was.

There have been hundred of cooks on television since, some of them really good.  I think of Justin Wilson (the cajun cook that I always thought was hilarious).  That guy Yan who did the show Yan Can Cook.  Of course, Emeril Lagasse.  The Galloping Gourmet and Mary Ann Esposito.  The list goes on and on.  Julia stands alone.

Recently, our local Public Television station dug into the archives and, for a few weeks at least, showed some of those original episodes.  My wife and I watched them, fascinated by how much television cooking has changed.  Yes, there are far fewer gaffes now.  The stars of the shows don’t make very many mistakes because those are edited out.  They don’t look off-set and they don’t drop their dishes.  But they’re not The French Chef, either.

A while back, when I talked about the movie Die Hard, I said that movie sequels aren’t usually as good as the original.  All those cooking shows we watch now?…they’re the sequels to Julia’s masterful original.

Bon Appetit!!

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On April 12, 1770, British Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts.  That’s Today’s History Lesson, and you’re free to go.  Enjoy your evening.

For those of you that would like a wee bit more information, you’re welcome to hang out for a couple minutes longer.

The Townshend Acts were a series of laws passed by the British in the late 1760s.  Their function (like many of the “acts” of the time) involved some form of taxation.  The British were carrying an enormous war debt and needed help paying for it.  They also maintained a sizeable military force in the Colonies, and one of its functions was (ostensibly) to protect the Colonies.  So Parliament believed that the protected citizens should help defray the costs.

The Townshend Acts included the Revenue Act of 1767, the Indemnity Act, the Commissioners of Customs Act, the Vice Admiralty Court Act, and the New York Restraining Act.  In the past, it had been notoriously difficult for the British to collect the taxes it levied against the Colonies, because people didn’t want to pay and found ways around them.  The Townshend Acts were designed to make the people kind of feel better about paying up.

The taxes from these acts were used to pay the salaries of judges and governors, the idea being that the money collected came from the Colonists, so the people in power would be independent of British rule.  Yeah, it seems a little fishy to me, too.  The money was also used to improve enforcement of other trade rules (in other words, to make sure taxes from other laws still in place were collected).  And, in the case of the New York Restraining Act, there was a bit of punishment for the response to the Quartering Act.

Like most other tax laws of the day, these were met with serious opposition.  This led to the call by local British officials for more soldiers.  This led to more unrest, and eventually the city of Boston was occupied by the British.  This led to more angst, and then there was the death of Christopher Seider which, along with the strong British presence, culminated in the Boston Massacre.

At this point, debate began on at least a partial repeal of the “revenue” parts of the Townshend Acts.  That repeal was passed a month later, on April 12th.

One interesting note as we close.  The one tax that remained was the tax on tea, and we all know how that ended up.

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Little Christopher Seider probably just wanted to play.  I will wager that, like any ten-year-old boy, he was short on attention and long on energy.  Running through town with his friends, throwing whatever he could fit in his hands, and yelling were not strange activities to him.

I can say all that because I was ten once, though it was quite a while ago.  I did all those things.  I also rode a bike, played with toys, watched a little TV, and so on.  The biggest difference between myself and Christopher Seider (besides the year in which we were ten) is that I lived to see my eleventh birthday.

Christopher Seider did not.

In fact, little Seider died on this day in history.  But his death was not just another in a long line of deaths that has plagued a world where death rates run pretty close to 100%.  This young boy lost his life at a significant time in history, and while you may not have heard of him, he was famous.

To know Christopher, you must also know Ebenezer Richardson.  Well, we can’t fully know him, because there isn’t a lot to know.  He was something of a shady character with a spotted reputation around Boston.  He was a Loyalist, which should give you a hint that we’re heading toward the time of the American Revolution.  He also was an informant to the Attorney General, giving up information about “rebel” activity in town.

February 22, 1770 was a cold, bleak, wintery Thursday that found the Boston townsfolk in an uproar about a local Loyalist merchant.  The standard action was to raise a ruckus at the shopkeeper’s home, yell a lot, throw some rocks, break a window or two, and make their point.  Ebenezer Richardson, wanting to protect a fellow Loyalist, tried to stop the mob, but they simply threw rocks at him, at least one of which hit him in the head.

So Richardson did what all too many people do when something doesn’t go their way:  get a gun and shoot somebody.  More specifically, he went to his house, grabbed his musket, and headed for the shopkeeper’s house, where the mob had gathered.  He climbed to the top of a neighboring building and…

Christopher Seider had little idea what the mob was about, but here was a chance to run down the streets of Boston and throw some rocks.  He and his friends were having a ball.  The people they were with were not only going to let them throw rocks, they were going to do it themselves.  For a ten-year-old, this was pretty exciting.  Exciting, that is, until the bullets started flying.

Richardson, in an effort to break up the mob, began firing randomly into the crowd.  He hit Christopher twice, in the chest and head, and the little boy died that evening.  Ebenezer was immediately apprehended and jailed, but later acquitted.

Needless to say, Seider’s death galvanized Bostonians against the British.  Where there used to be vocal exchanges between the two groups, there now snowballs, which became rocks and homemade spears.  The tensions rapidly reached the breaking point.

Two weeks later, the rocks and snowballs morphed into a physical group attack, as angry citizens charged into a group of British soldiers.  This most famous of events, which we know as the Boston Massacre, left another five people dead.

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Several months back I got a smartphone.  I really didn’t have much interest in one at the time, but since our company was planning to build a mobile version of one of our websites, it kind of made sense (as one of the developers) to have one.  So now we’re developing the site, and it’s been pretty handy.  In the meantime, I’ve added a few free apps to the phone, which have made the fact that it’s bulkier than its predecessor a little more bearable.  One of the first apps I installed was one called “Latest Quakes” that allows me see when quakes occur anywhere in the world.  And this year, we’ve had plenty of them to view.

Back in 1755, smartphones didn’t exist.  Dumb phones didn’t exist, either.  But earthquakes did, and they could certainly be felt, whether seismographs were around or not.  And one of the largest quakes to hit the eastern seaboard occurred on November 18, 1755.  The quake has been estimated to be something greater than 6.0.  Now that doesn’t sound especially large in light of the quake that struck off Japan’s coast back in March, but apparently, the composition of the ground east of the Rockies means that earthquakes have a greater “punch per Richter number”.

This particular quake struck early in the morning off the coast of Massachusetts.  It was in the general vicinity of Cape Ann, so it’s been named the Cape Ann Earthquake, but the shaking wasn’t limited to Cape Ann.  It was felt as far south as South Carolina and well out into the Atlantic.  Damage in eastern Massachusetts was pretty extensive.  Since the Richter Scale didn’t exist back then, earthquakes were measured by the Chimneys-Knocked-Down Scale.  Jay Feldman quotes the Boston Weekly News-Letter in When the Mississippi Ran Backwards (which, by the way, is a completely fascinating read)  “The Convulsions were so extreme as to wreck the Houses in this Town to such a Degree that the Tops of many Chimnies…were thrown down…”.  Fences were reported knocked down and there was some soil liquifaction as well.

Many citizens pointed ominously to the sky and fingered the Hand of God as the cause of the quake, citing punishment for evil deeds and immoral behavior.  This led to something of a religious revival, as preachers took the opportunity to remind their congregations of the Almighty’s Powerful right hand.  It also led to a lot of employment opportunities for guys that knew something about brickwork.

Recommended Reading: When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes – A super-intriguing tale. A little murder. A little earthquake. A Cape Ann mention.  I think you’ll like it.

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When a Representative or Senator goes to Washington and doesn’t do what he or she was elected to do, the responses from the constituents are generally predictable.  Some will call and gently remind the official of the promises made before the election.  Others will call and be somewhat less gentle.  A few traditionalists will write a letter, while more techno-savvy voters will go to the representative’s website and send an email.  But even more than that, a good many of that Congressperson’s supporters will begin reassessing their votes, and many will start looking for alternatives.

That’s just the way things work.  We want our elected officials to hold true to their word.

William Symmes wasn’t elected to go to Washington, because Washington, D.C. didn’t yet exist.  But he had been sent to Boston as one of 355 delegates that gathered to debate ratification of the U.S. Constitution in Massachusetts.  Hailing from Andover, this up-and-coming lawyer didn’t have a laundry list of agenda items or a lot of goals to accomplish.  He had been given just one task by his constituents:  oppose ratification of the Constitution.

And that he had done, along with a majority of the delegates present.  The month of January was filled with back-and-forth debate.  But you already know that…we talked about it earlier this week.  And you also know that, as January ended, the opposition to ratification had begun to weaken in the face of a well-organized, and well-spoken, group of pro-ratification delegates.

A real difference maker was the Conciliatory Proposition, a list of amendments that would be made to Congress.  These addressed many of the concerns that the Antifederalists had, thereby undercutting many of their arguments.  But even after Governor Hancock officially presented the document to the assembly, there was still deadlock and debate.

That deadlock lasted until February 5, 1788.  It was then that William Symmes “defected” from his constituents.  He had become convinced that ratification was the right solution, and stood up to say that his conscience was clear.  He hoped his constituents would agree with him.  Other Antifederalists followed.  They still had reservations, but believed they were making the right long-term decision.  The debate continued throughout the day, but it now looked as though ratification was inevitable, and the vote of 187-168 confirmed it.

Once the matter was decided, the delegates came together to work for unity.  Members of the opposition vowed to work to get citizens to live in peace under the new Constitution.  It’s something I wish we saw more of today…once a decision is make, everyone works together to make things work.  No whispers, no sour grapes, no back-biting.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

And William Symmes?  Well, things didn’t go so well for him.  His neighbors reacted so strongly to his decision (to the brink of violence) that the lawyer was forced to leave Andover.  He would not return.  But for Massachusetts, the matter of the Constitution had been settled.  She would be admitted to the Union the next day as the new nation’s 6th State.

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He was a noted silversmith in Boston in the late 18th century, but it’s certainly not how he’s best known.  His name is mentioned in 21st-century kitchens every single day, but most cooks have no idea they’re doing so when they grab the saucepan from the drawer.  He was the father of a dozen children, but pretty much no one knows that, either.


When it comes to Paul Revere, we pretty much know him for one thing.  The Midnight Ride.  What else is there, right?  Well, other than the remaining 83 years of his life, not much.  His ride is the stuff of legends, not surprisingly, a number of legends surround that famous event…the precursor to the opening shots of the American Revolution.

British soldiers had been a (mostly unwelcome) fixture in Boston for years.  But in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, the Redcoats took up residence in greater numbers, both to keep the peace and to enforce the closure of Boston Harbor.  As Boston became more and more a powderkeg than a bustling harbor town, Paul Revere turned much of his silversmithing business over to his oldest son and served as a messenger, shuttling updates on the situation in Boston to others in the Colonies.

So Revere’s midnight ride, begun in the last hour of April 18, 1775, was nothing new.  It was what he had been doing for some time, though this time, the news was a little more urgent.  British regulars had begun moving across the Charles River.  Their destinations were two-fold, as were their objectives.  First, they headed for Lexington (10 miles west of Boston) to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were both considered important leaders in the Colonial resistance.  And realizing that meeting this objective would likely inflame the Colonists to take up arms, the British had as their second objective seizing the ammunition depot at Concord (5 miles further west of Lexington).

Paul Revere and William Dawes set out from the Old North Church.  And of course, as they departed, the famous pair of lanterns (“one if by land, two if by sea”) were held up in the steeple to warn Charlestown (just to the north) of the British movements.

Revere and Dawes would both reach Lexington in time to warn Adams and Hancock, but neither would reach Concord.  They were stopped at a roadblock were Paul was detained.  Dawes made his escape, but was soon thrown from his horse and didn’t complete his ride.

Paul Revere would survive the war and found the Revere Copper Company, which was renamed Copper and Brass, Inc.  And that company would begin producing Revere Ware Copper Clad Stainless Steel Cookware, which to this day sits in millions of cupboards.

But that doesn’t matter, because the British would continue on and engage the Colonists in both Lexington and Concord the next day (which I hope to cover tomorrow), and the American Revolution was on.  And Paul Revere’s name, stamped on a kitchen cooking utensil or not, would become synonymous with start of the fight for American independence.

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For many Americans Colonists, the time for “words with the homeland” was over.  By the time June of 1775 rolled around, clashes with British soldiers in Massachusetts had already left Colonial blood pooled on the ground.  It was now time to fight.  A Continental Army had just been formed and, on the 15th of June, George Washington was chosen to lead it.

The 15th was also when the Colonists received word that the British were looking to take control of the Charlestown peninsula.  On it were Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill, which would give the British the strategic high ground, overlooking Boston and its harbor.  Armed with this advanced information, General William Prescott decided to get there first and, under the cover of night, he and 1,200 of his men made for Bunker Hill and began building an earthen works to serve as “musket ball absorption” material.

And as dawn broke on June 17, 1775, everyone got a surprise.  When British General William Howe arrived with 2,400 soldiers, he was shocked to see his enemy in an advantageous position (on the high ground) and waiting for him.  For his part, General Prescott was shocked to see that he and his soldiers were not dug in on Bunker Hill, but rather on neighboring Breed’s Hill.  I suppose digging in the dark with an 18th-Century map as a guide could get one into trouble.

General Howe may have figured that, if the Colonists couldn’t get their hills straight, they couldn’t shoot straight, either.  So, once out of their transport (a British frigate) and on solid ground, Howe marched them into battle and discovered he was only 50% right.

It’s reported that the famous words, “Don’t one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” were said by General Prescott at this point.  But even if he didn’t, accounts bear out that the Colonists waited (almost too long) to fire.  And when they did, they pushed a British force twice their size back down the hill.  The British regrouped and again charged, but were again repulsed with heavy loss.

General Howe’s third attempt however, was successful.  The Colonists, now out of ammunition, had no way to further defend their positions and were forced to abandon them.  And once the British Regulars took the hill, they held the high ground and put lead and powder into the Colonial retreat.  In fact, a majority of the casualties among the Colonists (100+ dead, 300 wounded) occurred during the retreat, when they were most exposed.  But the Continental Army, still in its infancy, had stood its ground against a vastly superior force that was better equipped and better trained.

And as General Howe looked back at his path up the hill, he saw the bodies of nearly 250 men and officers lying still on the slopes.  He would have also seen more than 800 men with injuries, slight or grevious.  Howe’s Pyrrhic victory would be the last direct frontal assault the British would attempt in the Revolution.

Recommended Reading:  The American Revolution Website – All Revolution, all the time.

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