A Hot Catalan Cocktail for Halloween

If you are looking for an interesting beverage for your Halloween party, gentle reader, or indeed any evening when the air is chilly, allow me to suggest a Catalan concoction which is not only extremely tasty, but also very festive. Along the Costa Brava in Catalonia, fishermen gathered around the fire on the beach in the evenings came up with a rather strong brew called a “rom cremat”, which literally means “burnt rum”, but is more commonly simply referred to as a “cremat”. Dating from the 19th century when Catalonia was heavily involved with business dealings in Cuba, the drink was easy to prepare outdoors, warming, and potent enough to lubricate the vocal cords for the singing of sea shanties known as “habeneres” after La Habana – which are usually about immigration to Cuba, pretty girls left behind in port, adventures during the Spanish-American War, and so on.

The cremat is a mixture of rum, espresso, cinnamon, sugar, lemon peel, and coffee beans, at minimum, although there are optional additions such as brandy (which I add), aguardiente, and so on. The preparation is fairly straightforward, but involves setting the drink on fire for a considerable length of time; culturally speaking, this is in keeping with the Catalans having a thing for pyromania. Naturally, dear reader, this would make a very fitting and impressive display for your Halloween party. Just make sure to do this outside, away from anything flammable, and keep an eye on it with a garden hose or bucket of water handy.

Below follows a pretty basic recipe that I particularly favor. Those interested in the variations available should be able to find numerous English-language versions of how to make cremat on the internet. NOTE: when choosing the alcohol for the dish, do not get the top shelf stuff; this is a burnt drink, so you want a high alcohol content, and any subtleties of flavor in the unadulterated liquids will be completely lost during the burning process.

– 1 bottle of dark rum
– 1 bottle of brandy
– 1/2 cup of espresso
– 1/2 cup granulated sugar (to taste)
– 3 cinnamon sticks
– the peel of 1-2 lemons
– 6-8 coffee beans (optional)

Add everything EXCEPT the espresso into a shallow earthenware casserole dish (you can also use a stockpot or Dutch oven if it is flameproof and not coated with a non-stick material), and warm it on top of the stove until the mixture is fairly warm, like bath water temperature. You need to do this or the sugar will not melt and the liquor will not ignite. Taste the mixture and add some more sugar to taste, if you wish.

Now take the dish off the stove, take it outside, and set the mixture alight. You may need to use several long matches or a long kitchen lighter to get it going. Do NOT leave the mixture unattended. EVER.

Purists believe you should allow the mixture to burn for 10 minutes: no more, no less. This allows the flavors to develop through caramelization. You may stir from time to time if you wish, but use a metal spoon or spatula with a long handle to keep you away from the flames.

Practically speaking, apart from the 10-minute rule, when the mixture has reduced in volume about 1/3 to 1/2 it is ready to serve. Put out the flame quickly by smothering it with a metal saucepan lid or, if you have big lungs for it like I do, just blow out the flame. Then add in the espresso, stir, and ladle the finished drink into cups.

Bon profit!!!


>Keep Halloween Spooky!

>Recently The Courtier had the pleasure of dining at an out-of-the-way Capitol Hill boîte with two friends, younger Catholic gentlemen of the “vast Right Wing conspiracy” variety. Over the course of the evening and several excellent dishes, numerous topics were raised and discussed, from usus antiquior liturgy to the upcoming mid-term elections to urban forestry. One of said conversations involved the question of how Catholics should mark Halloween, particularly in light of a recent statement by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales suggesting that Catholic parents should have their children dress up as saints instead of monsters, and avoid creepy decorations. The Courtier welcomes his readers’ opinions on this subject, should they wish to comment on this blog, but he hopes that his readers will indulge his wanting to raise a few points on this topic.

While agreeing that some aspects of Halloween can go too far, on the whole The Courtier would argue that many aspects brought to the forefront at Halloween are not only very ancient and based on sensible considerations of the human condition, but in measured doses actually healthy for children rather than otherwise. Ultimately it is the responsibility of parents – not the Church, nor government, nor schools, nor society – to ensure that children are properly brought up and educated, and those institutions which exist to provide aid and guidance to the rearing of children are supports, not substitutions for parental involvement.

Take for example, the practice of trick-or-treating. While only having become commonplace in America in the preceding century, this traditional aspect of Halloween not only has commonalities in other parts of the world, but is in fact of very ancient lineage. The medieval custom of “souling”, which was particularly popular in the British Isles but spread over much of Europe as well, involved the baking of special sweet cakes for the dead, made of ingredients such as cinamon and raisins, which were presented to children or to the poor who would come and knock on the door on Hallowmas (Halloween) night, and performed a song or said a prayer for the dead. In fact, Shakespeare mentions the practice in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”:

Go to, sir: tell me, do you know Madam Silvia?

She that your worship loves?

Why, how know you that I am in love?

Marry, by these special marks: first, you have
learned, like Sir Proteus, to wreathe your arms,
like a malcontent; to relish a love-song, like a
robin-redbreast; to walk alone, like one that had
the pestilence; to sigh, like a school-boy that had
lost his A B C; to weep, like a young wench that had
buried her grandam; to fast, like one that takes
diet; to watch like one that fears robbing; to
speak pulling, like a beggar at Hallowmas.

– William Shakespeare
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act II Scene 1

Today of course, American children are given candy as a matter of course when they ring the bell. However The Courtier’s proposal to his dining companions was that the practice ought to be interpreted differently in the instruction of one’s children. If children are rewarded for choosing not to do something evil – like throw eggs or soap windows – they will learn that it is better to be good than to be bad.

The complaint from the bishops that things have gotten out of hand is in fact, nothing new at all. For example in the Middle Ages the festival known as the “Burial of the Sardine” in Spain, involved a mock funeral of a – well, fish, with people dressed in costumes and generally behaving with abandon. It infuriated the bishops over the years, and in fact at various points was banned by local authorities. A very famous painting by the great Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, reproduced below and now in the Royal Academy in Madrid, was completed during the transitional phase of his career into his “Black Paintings”; it shows an example of the typical wildness and scariness of the day, hearkening back to earlier imagery of peasant revelry by artists such as Bruegel and Bosch.

With respect to the scary aspects of Halloween, it must be said that society has developed a rather unhealthy attitude toward depictions of either suffering or the infernal: it has either become completely gratuitous and senseless (e.g. “slasher films”), or it has been completely sanitized and removed from view. In early times of course, the Church made a point of commissioning art that would show the faithful what would happen if they did not repent from their sins. Look at the Romanesque and Gothic churches that dot Europe, and notice how often the Devil and his cohorts make an appearance, as a stern warning to those who continue down the wrong path. They are to be found devouring souls atop column capitals, on entrance portals, in altarpieces and stained-glass windows, and in choir stalls.

In The Courtier’s opinion Southern Mediterranean Catholics have always had a healthier view of such things, perhaps because they have a more realistic view of sin, suffering and death as a part of everyday life. Crucifixes and portrayals of Christ’s Passion in American and British churches, for example, more often than not seem to be devoid of any real depiction of suffering. A blond, blue-eyed Nordic Jesus looks as though he has just had a shower and smells of talcum powder, rather than being beaten and covered in blood and sweat; indeed the blood, if it is even visible, is merely a small daub or smear here and there. Certainly things can go too far in the opposite direction, as can sometimes be seen in art from Latin America, but on the whole Americans and our cousins across the pond are more in favor of a sanitized, Protestant-looking Christ.

Similarly, The Courtier cannot recall the last time he went into an American church built in the post-conciliar period and saw a representation of the Devil, the damnation of souls, or even something so much as an imp. Hell is a real place, and not a theological construct (much as the Jesuits tried to convince The Courtier otherwise.) The Church does not know who is in Hell, but we know for a fact that there are souls there, and they will be joined by others as time proceeds.

The anemia which seems to have gripped much of the Church since the middle of the last century has yielded what can only be described as a weak, wimpy, and languid attitude toward the depiction of salvation and what St. Paul (no shrinking violet) called “the wages of sin”. Catholics from bishops to priests to the laity seem to have become so focused on the Mercy of God that, great as that Mercy is, they have forgotten that God has also promised us that He is coming back to separate the sheep from the goats. This is a deliberate, intentional, and active act of permanent separation which God will perform: Christ does not lie, and if He tells us there is to be wailing and gnashing of teeth, Catholics desperately need to be reminded of that.

By way of conclusion, The Courtier does not mean to suggest that everyone should dress up their children (or themselves) as vampires, ghouls, and so on; in fact this weekend The Courtier will be dressed as an historical figure. The choice of a child’s costume should be made or approved by his or her parents, and the eschewing of particularly gruesome garb is a good idea. At the same time however, allowing children capable of a degree of reason to not only see but be frightened by the infernal, provided the proper guidance, will provide a teaching opportunity.

Human beings are visual creatures. On the whole, unless we have achieved a level of spirituality along the lines of the Trappists, we need sight aids in envisioning theological concepts. Children need to understand that Hell is real, and that they need to avoid Hell at all costs. Halloween is a great opportunity to teach this lesson, and to follow it up with the celebration honoring all of the people who have made it to Heaven, encouraging children to strive for that goal as well, allows the chance to pass from darkness into light.

In other words, parents and friends, bring out the giant fuzzy spiders, the jack-o-lantern, the crepe paper, and make sure there are plenty of Hershey’s products at the door, because you never know whether The Courtier and his retinue may be stopping by this Halloween.

The Burial of the Sardine by Francisco de Goya, c. 1816
Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid

>Candy Corn, BBQ and Sarah

>My neighborhood of Georgetown is a marvelous place to live throughout the year, but particularly during the autumn. The variety of buildings dating from the 18th to the 21st centuries give it architectural diversity, with interesting variations on every block, all superimposed upon a largely Georgian-era, English country town grid. When taken in combination with the large number of mature trees and gardens throughout the village, this time of year is a photographer or flâneur’s delight as front steps are decorated with pumpkins and piles of multi-colored leaves begin to accumulate along the brick and cobblestone paths. And most residents of D.C. know that Halloween on M Street is Georgetown’s slightly tamer and chillier version of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

However for a truly chilling Halloween, the place to be this October 31st is Canton, North Carolina, where the Amazing Grace Baptist Church will be setting a bonfire to burn non-King James translations of the Bible, as well as books on spirituality by authors such as Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Pope Benedict XVI, and The Rev. Billy Graham. According to Marc Gizzard, pastor of the church, the King James translation is the only true translation of the Bible, and all other translations are “satanic”. “I believe the King James version is God’s preserved, inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God… for English-speaking people,” he declares. So he and his congregation intend to, for lack of a better description and apparently without considering the ironic implications of such an event, give Satan a burnt offering on Halloween during their church barbecue.

A movement to say that a 17th century translation of the Bible is the “infallible” Word of God, rather than the text written by the prophets and evangelists, is illogical. On an experiential level, the King James version has had to be corrected at least 20 times since its original printing due to some whopping errors, such as the case of the infamous “Wicked Bible”, where the word “not” was omitted from “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, or the “Camel Bible” where Rebecca and her “damsels” was translated as Rebecca and her “camels”. From a purely semantic standpoint however, I was pleased to see that Karl Keating agreed with my initial head-scratching: I am not sure than an inanimate object can be “infallible”, since a book does not ACT – to be fallible or infallible requires some degree of decision-making capability.

However aside from this type of discussion – and a discussion about the inerrancy of the Bible should be a discussion rather than a publicity stunt – the key point is something I have been considering since yesterday, when The American Papist wrote a piece critical of comedienne Sarah Silverman’s nonsense about selling off the Vatican to feed the poor, a matter which in fact we discussed briefly last evening at an enjoyable local venue. Does a YouTube video or a book burning, both of which are essentially blasphemy, require extensive public refutation? I have always found blasphemy to be rather a pathetic sin, since we tiny bags of bones and fluids can’t exactly injure God in any way. The real sin of blasphemy is that of causing scandal to others, and perhaps for that reason a detailed refutation is indeed necessary at times; the problem with this, I fear, is one of invincible ignorance.

In any case, since more skilled writers and commentators than I, dear reader, will weigh in on these subjects, I leave it to them to make the reasoned arguments in refutation of book burning or auctioning off the Sistine Chapel. I would suggest that those particularly disturbed by either Mr. Grizzard or Ms. Silverman take advantage of the resources available to understand why their arguments are incorrect. For my part, I am looking forward to candy corn, coming up with a costume, and enjoying the fact that Halloween falls on a Saturday this year.