Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Emperor Hadrian's Daily Meal

"Why did the soldiers love the emperor Hadrian so?" you might be wondering. Well, according to that late 4th century text, Historia Augusta, it is because Hadrian would live the life of the soldier when he was with the soldiers. "What did living this life consist of?" you now ask? Well, all we learn is that it consisted of eating outdoors and eating 'camp food' - bacon, cheese, and cheap wine!
Hadrian's Camp Food
Cheap wine
1) Fry up some bacon.
2) Put it on a plate with some cheese.
3) Pour a big glass of wine. This wine must come from a box or enormous jug. The specified wine in the text is posca, the worst of the worst, even worse than acetum on the ancient-crappy-wine-scale.
4) Eat and drink and feel the love of the troops for you grow and grow.

So, this is how Hadrian made the troops love him! (Uh, and according to the very next sentence it is also because Hadrian gave the soldiers lots of gifts. The author of the Historia Augusta is a wonderfully snarky devil!)
There is a true kernel of wisdom here: if you eat bacon and cheese with people while drinking wine and then give them lots of gifts, they will love you! Hooray!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Plautus' Epityra

Plautus' very funny comedy Miles Gloriosus begins with a soldier and his sidekick on stage. The soldier is bragging and the sidekick flatters him while at the same time telling the audience what a fool the soldier really is. The best line is when he says, "There is no one more full of empty boasts than this guy - but I love to eat his epityra!" See, cause this sidekick is a parasite, basically a professional dinner party attender who sucks up to people like this soldier for free food. What is this food that is worth the company of such a boor, you ask? Well, luckily for us, Cato has a recipe for it!
Cato's Epityra 
Suggested by Plautus
1 pound assorted olives
olive oil
red wine vinegar
1) Gather ingredients
2) Take the pits out of the olives and chop them up. To take pits out of olives, press an olive lightly under the flat of your knife until it bursts, so to speak. Please do not horrible slice your hand doing this. 

3) Now, add all the other ingredients! I would start with, say, 3 Tablespoons of oil and 1 Tablespoon of vinegar. In the summer I would use more vinegar and add some arugula! It would be delicious and summery. Add herbs and spices. Taste. Adjust. Delicious!
4) Make sure to stir everything up really well. I forgot to take a picture when it was all stirred up. 
5) Now eat with some bread. But be careful that your friends do not say that they cannot stand to hear you talk but they are willing to hang out with you just to eat your epityra!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Manius Curius' Turnips

According to Plutarch, Cato the Elder learned his farm-loving and luxury-hating ways from Manius Curtius who lived in a villa down the road. Cato was amazed at how this three-triumph having, Pyrrhus-out-of-Italy-driving, belligerent-tribe-subduing man lived such an impressive life of utter simplicity on his small farm. And, there is even a famous story about this man's favorite food! See, once upon a time some Rome-hatin' Samnites tried to bribe Manius Curtius with gold. And oddly they chose to try to do this while he was cooking dinner. But, this enabled Manius Curtius to point to his pot of boiling turnips and cry out, "He who is content with radishes has no need for gold!" or some such impressive phrase. He then went on about liking to defeat those who had gold rather than possess it himself, blah blah blah. What matters to us is the decisive role Manius Curtius' favorite dish plays in the story!
Manius Curtius' Turnips
1) Boil turnips until they are how you like them, 20 minutes or so.
2) Eat. 
3) Feel resistance to bribery grow in your heart.

Now, don't boil them in stock or add seasoning or anything that tastes good - this will get in the way of their bribery-resistance powers!