Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Last Meal Of Edgar Allan Poe

Portrait of American Writer Edgar Allan Poe 
Since the dawn of American gothic horror writer Edgar Allan Poe’s life, he was surrounded by  poverty, isolation, coldness, loneliness and death.  His stormy life was drawn from good and evil which provided the groundwork for his famous dark literary masterpieces.   

Poe was born in 1809 and 40 years later in 1849, his short life ended abruptly, causing a stir of mystery to his enigmatic persona that continues to fascinate us until today.  His death was reported in a newspaper as having been stricken on a cold night in a tavern in Baltimore, where he was found delirious, in great distress, laying in a gutter and later carried to a hospital where he died a lonely death four days later.

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague.  
Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? - Edgar Allan Poe  

Scholars conclude that Poe’s life of misery could have psychologically been self inflicted.  He published masterpieces that today are recited, performed in theaters, reenacted and made into films in many languages around the world.  Yet there are accounts of him living in dire poverty, barely making enough money to pay the rent.  Many nights, he was found wandering the streets in Baltimore begging for a meager 50 cents to buy a meal.  It was the amount that in those days, a simple plate of food in a tavern would have cost, which would include a pint of ale.           

The writing desk and bed of American writer Edgar Allan Poe
Poe would stay most nights in his rented room writing until dawn.  In the winter months, when the cold was waiting in the shadows, he often kept himself sheltered from the bone chilling wind and had only a candle or an oil lamp for light and the warmth of ragged old blankets.  By the end of his life, he had suffered much loss including the death of his beloved wife Virginia, which he immortalized in his poem: Annabel Lee.  His ruined finances provided very little money to feed himself and there were accounts of him not having much to eat except bread, wine and occasionally cheese.  He was a man of refined taste and he enjoyed a good brandy or a Spanish Amontillado sherry, but he could rarely afford it.  Most days, a piece of bread was all he ate during the day, saving the wine and cheese, and maybe a crusty crumb for the evening supper. 

It was October 7th, a dark, icy night when he uttered his last words: “Lord help my soul.”  At his last breath, strange rumors began to circulate across many towns and his macabre stories were not very well appreciated among the society, whom considered them too eerie and horrific.  There was never an autopsy report, and the cause of his death was disputed.  Bone deep hunger, emotional emptiness, depression and loneliness could have been the reasons of his untimely death, with hunger being the principal cause which provoked all the other symptoms to follow him like a dark plague.     

In those days, it was the Victorian era when good food and refined tastes were in fashion.  Meal times were an opportunity for the rich to display their wealth and elaborate feasts were the norm.  Employed people and farm laborers ate reasonably well and could afford heartier food such as sausage, bacon, cheese, eggs, fish, beef, game, fruits and vegetables.  The tables of that era were splendid and much cheer, sweets and good wine were customary.  Luxury was high on the menu and the quality of food greatly improved as agricultural methods continued to evolve in abundance.  But the diet of the very poor marked a stark and terrible contrast.   Those with very little money survived on potatoes, bread and gruel of little nutritional value.  Poe, lived way below poverty level, which for him meant no food at all for long stretches of time.  It was very hard to earn a living being a man of letters.  He was at the mercy of greedy publishers yet he was determined to pursue his literary ideals.
The Last Meal Of Edgar Allan Poe
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
In the last days of the young poet’s life, dessertion, darkness, mystery, unbearable pain, beauty and his genius mind were all that were left.  On the menu, his las meal most undoubtedly consisted of bread and wine, and if a few coins came his way, he was able to afford cheese.  His writing desk, his pen, an ink well and a wax candle were his only companions.

Only Edgar Allan Poe, who knew the secrets of madness could concentrate his brilliant mind away from the thoughts of biting hunger and steer his pen to create intense suspense, terror, sensation, simple truth, stories and poems of grim realities that mirrored his own life.   

He was caught between a fine line of rationality and irrationality.  For what is considered one of the greatest poems published to his name, The Raven, he earned only $14 dollars.  Just about what a bottle of wine would cost these days.  

In a strange macabre way, The Raven is a narrative poem of a kind of rehearsal for his own death.  A poem which, can be interpreted as Edgar Allan Poe speaking thru The Raven as he recounted the words: Nevermore, Nevermore, Nevermore...    

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seaming of a demon that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor,
And my soul from out that shadow that lies of floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore!  
Quoth The Raven Nevermore! - Edgar Allan Poe

By Leticia Alaniz © 2015  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Crema de Naranja - Orange Cream

Crema de Naranja - Orange Cream Recipe by Susana Gertrudis Jimenez Moya
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015 
Hosting an elegant dinner party makes special occasions more festive, especially when you celebrate with good food and good friends.  Fine food, does not always mean complicated dishes.  Sometimes, it can be several small courses that can be as simple as starting with a plate of fromage or cheese course with nuts, herbs and honey; followed by a course of grilled or baked vegetables and a salad with a light vinagerette or even a soup served warm with bread.  For the main course, a dish than can be grilled  or roasted ahead of time and kept warm before serving, is always a very nice way to present an elegant plate.  Best of all, it keeps the host free to enjoy as much time as possible with the guests, rather than spending too much time in the kitchen.  

The last course is one of my favorites as the evening warms up with lively conversation.  It’s the dessert course that can be made ahead of time and served with a glass of sparkling wine, cordial, a velvety Spanish jerez (sherry), or a fine brandy.  Many desserts taste even better if they’re made the night before so that if they’re served cold, they can have plenty of time to set.  

Why do we love desserts?  Medieval and renaissance phisicians used to promote the value of a little bit of sweets in our diets for good health and mental wellbeing.  Most cultures of the world did not need to be told twice about the benefits of having dessert after a meal or in between meals.  It was just a natural instinct that has evolved with us.  Who wants to take a chance and not do something good for our health?  It’s a good thought and at least it’s good for our souls!   

When I asked my very special friend from Spain, Susana Jimenez Moya, what is one of her favorite desserts to serve after dinner, she mentioned Crema de Naranja or Orange Cream.  Spain is a major contributor to gastronomy when it comes to desserts.  Many have a rich heritage in dairy so it's no surprise Susana has suggested a sweet cream.  In Spain,  every region has their own culinary traditions and each region has their own signature dulces or desserts that have travelled the world over and have endured for centuries.  The Spaniards have followed the recommendations of physicians of yesteryear to the letter, and desserts and sweets are a very proud part of their varied and elegant cuisine.  

Susana Gertrudis Jimenez Moya
Málaga, Spain
Susana is from the picturesque southern region of Andalusia, specifically from Málaga.  Pronounce out loud Andalusia several times and it sounds like you’re reciting a poem.  With the beautiful seaside and rural landscapes, fresh ingredients and a cool fragrant breeze, it’s a perfect environment for creating special meals in the kitchen or better yet outdoors, which is exactly what Susana does.  Susana is a very passionate cook and food is one of the subjects we love to talk about.  So, on we go to make the recipe that Susana has contributed for Crema de Naranja.  It’s so simple yet sophisticated, with a silky finesse texture, you’ll want to make it often.  Once your dessert is made, you can proudly exclaim as the Andalusian people do, “¡Olé!”, which is an expression to mean well done, or to say a task or play was triumphant.  

Crema de Naranja (Orange Cream)

3 to 4 Valencia or Málaga oranges
Juice of one small lime
10-12 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon of orange grated zest
fresh mint leaves for garnish


Grate enough zest from an orange to make at least 1 teaspoon.  Cut the oranges in half and squeeze the juice.  It’s important to obtain as much pulp as possible as that contributes to the concentrated flavor.  Don’t waste any.  In a bowl,  beat the orange juice with the lime. Add the condensed milk.  Next, add the orange zest and mix.  That’s it!  It’s so creamy and fragrant.  Pour into small containers or the halves of the juiced oranges and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Even better if it’s chilled overnight so that the flavors can intensify and set.  Garnish with fresh mint leaves and serve at your next dinner party.  

  • Susana is a passionate cook and reaches deep down into her roots to learn ancestral recipes that weave the very essence of Spanish culture.  She is a talented artisan with a successful boutique, named aptly Glamour Marie Antoniette that features her very own handmade artistic creations.  She is passionate about traveling and world cuisines form part of her cooking repertoire such as Italian, French and lately Indian.  She is an avid day dreamer and lover of literature and fine arts.