2017: The Renaissance Man Challenge

blog-picsThe New Year is almost upon us. Many (including myself) are going to start diets or go the gym as a resolution. That’s great, of course. Always good to be fit. But what about getting the Brain to hit the gym too?  Well, I have spent some time putting together a list of semi-resolutions for 2017. I call it the Renaissance Man Challenge.

blog-pics

Hildegard von Bingen and Leonardo da Vinci, two of the most famous polymaths in history

Also known as a polymath, a Renaissance Man is a person who excels in the study and appreciation of many different subjects. They have a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning. For example, Hildegard von Bingen, a medieval German nun. She was well educated in and pioneered music, philosophy, writing, medicine and several sciences. There is also Leonardo da Vinci, who is famous for his work in subjects such as art, science, invention, astronomy, architecture and many others. Seriously, many others. Of course, we can’t all be Hildegards and Leonardos. But then again, why not? We may not be able to pioneer subjects, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn them and love them.

So, just for fun, I have composed a list of twenty five activities specifically designed to either find or develop new interests in diverse subjects. Some are quick and easy. Some will last a few months. Some take all year. I suggest picking at least three. Time to become a polymath!

Renaissance Man Challenge 2017

1.) Read one classic novel longer than 500 pages or three shorter classics. The only rule? Make sure they are all books you have never read before! Some great authors of long books are Dickens, Hugo, Dumas and Tolstoy.

2.) Become familiar with one of the main historical eras of music. For Western music, those are the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic. With YouTube and the rest of the internet, it is easy to listen and learn about these eras!

ma-31816931

Japanese art is very beautiful and interesting to study

3.) Become familiar with the works and artists of one art period from any part of the world. You can choose a Western movement like Rococo or Renaissance or an Eastern movement, like the Tang Dynasty or Heian Period. There are so many books, websites and documentaries out there waiting for you.

4.) Take up a handcraft, such as knitting, wood-burning, sculpting, leather-work or jewelry making. There is nothing like being able to make something with your own hands. And if you work hard enough at it, you can even end up selling your work and making a few extra dollars!

5.) Read a book in a new language. Any difficulty or length, as long as you learn enough of the language to understand it.

6.) Read a book of the folk takes or mythology of a different culture. Preferably of another continent, so that you get to learn about a history and culture that is different than your own. Practically every culture has unique stories you can read. Some suggestions: Greek, Egyptian, Japanese, Hawaiian, Native American, Celtic, or Norse.

7.) Write a short story, at least 20-30k words. Write it about something you dreamed or always wanted to do. Write characters based on your friends, family or coworkers. Tip: You can kill off the characters based on people who drive you crazy!

blog-pics

La bohème is an excellent place to start in the world of opera

8.) Watch five operas and/or ballets. Get in touch with the entertainments of history!

9.) Write an essay about the images, themes or characters of one of your favorite movies. This is a really cool exercise, as it helps you to understand exactly what it is you love in a story.

10.) Pick one Shakespeare play and hyper focus on it. Read the play, analyze the themes, characters and messages. Watch every filmed version of it you can find and discover in what ways you like the interpretations and what ways you don’t. It’s much better to do this with a tragedy than a comedy, and preferably one of his Big Four: Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear or Othello. These plays are exceptionally rich and you can practically feel your brain expanding as you study them.

11.) Learn about something new using only books, no internet. A period of History is especially good for this entry.

12.) Try a different country’s cuisine for one week. The more different from your usual, the better!

44ff5169bbecfd049ec93efd4fb18224

Tolkien’s Tengwar alphabet is very elegant and is surprisingly easy to learn

13.) Learn to write one calligraphic script. Or learn to write with a new alphabet like Greek, Cyrillic, Chinese or even Elvish!

14.) Read an epic poem or a ballad. Ballads and epics can be some of the most exciting and moving forms of literature. A few of my favorites are the Illiad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Ballad of the White Horse, and the Ballad of Reading Gaol.

15.) Watch at least one historical or scientific documentary every month.

16.) Read three Greek Dramas, tragic or comedic. They are some of the finest and oldest dramas that the world possesses, and are really worth a read.

17.) Learn about the history of the city or town in which you live. Sometimes it’s more interesting than you think it is!

18.) Once a month, try making a food that you have never had before. If you have to go to a special store for the ingredients, that’s a good sign! And maybe invite friends over to try it with you. If you can get them in on it, you can have a multi-cultural potluck!

19.) Learn to read Music. This is an incredible thing to do. When you can read music, it’s like knowing another language.

20.) Read or watch three things geared towards a demographic to which you do not belong. For instance, read a Jane Austen novel if you’re a dude. Watch an old John Wayne Western if you’re a girly girl. Read a children’s’ book series. And always look for the artistic value. You might find you have interests you never thought you had!

a3251-2-150dpi

La donna è mobile is a fun and catchy aria to sing with

21.) Teach yourself to sing a classical aria or an art song. Switch up your commute sing-a-longs from Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift to Verdi and Mozart. And YouTube has orchestral backing tracks for countless operatic hits, so Classy Karaoke is possible!

22.) Memorize a poem at least a page long. It can be a whole poem, or part of one. Just push your memory to the maximum!

23.) Pick a science that interests you. Animal, astronomy, anatomy, physics, anything. Study it. Don’t just read about it a little. Dive into it, teaching yourself as best as you can. Be that cool person who knows those random facts!

24.) Find a type of math you were always really bad at and learn it all over again. Go, see, and conquer! Make Geometry and Calculus fear your name!

25.) Study the architecture of certain era or culture, historical or modern. It’s astounding how much artistry can be put into buildings.

You’ll have to forgive me that a lot of these are pretty Western-centric. I know unfortunately little about Eastern Culture. But that’s one of the things I’m planning to change this year! I’m picking Numbers 6 and 13 on my list, and reading about Japanese folklore and how to write some Japanese calligraphy. I’m also planning on 18! I want to try some of the tasty dishes that the world has to offer. And I’ve been meaning to read The Count of Monte Cristo, so I’ll be doing Number 1 as well.

Any other Hildegards and Leonardos out there to give this a try?

Classy Recipes: Smoking Becket

Blog pics.pngMerry Christmas, everyone! Let’s celebrate the holiday the Victorian way with a bowl of Smoking Bishop: the spicy, fruity beverage drunk by Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Smoking Bishop is a is a spiced wine punch, served hot and flavored with oranges. It is a traditional drink of England and was very popular in the Victorian Era as a winter (and especially Christmas) drink. It is famously mentioned in Charles Dickens’ aforementioned book, when Scrooge is a changed man. He offers Bob Cratchit his help and a fortifying drink of the season: Smoking Bishop.

blog-pics

Henry II and Thomas Becket

Honestly though, there are lots of articles about Smoking Bishop in the blog world. You could go anywhere to get those recipes. So I decided I should come up with a twist on the classic Christmas beverage: Smoking Becket! It is inspired by the famous English saint, Thomas Becket, the 12th Century Archbishop of Canterbury who defied King Henry II. His feast day for Catholics and Anglicans and the day of his death is on December 29th , so perhaps, save a glass for a toast next Thursday!

This drink is made with spices, bold like Becket himself. And because the saint met a martyr’s death, the punch is uniquely flavored with Blood Oranges rather than the traditional Valencia or Seville varieties. Smoking Becket is served hot and is perfect for winter-time. It is a strong, flavorful and rich beverage that warms the drinker to the toes with robust and exotic flavors of citrus and spices.

Smoking Becket (Spiced Blood Orange Punch)

blog-picsIngredients:

Six small blood oranges
One Lemon
About 36 Whole Dried Cloves

2 ½ cups (600 ml) of Water
1 ½ cup (350 ml) of Port
1 ½ (350 ml) Fruit Wine (I used Manischewitz Blackberry Wine)
1 tsp (5 ml) fresh grated ginger (or ginger paste)
1 tsp (5 ml) allspice
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp (5 ml) Anise Extract (optional)
1 cup (225 ml) unbleached cane sugar

1 ½ (350 ml) more cups of Port (Three cups in whole recipe)
4-6 cups (950-1400 ml) medium bodied red wine (I used Merlot)

Instructions:
blog-pics

1.) Preheat oven to 325°F (About 165°C)

2.) Stud the blood oranges and lemon with cloves, five or six in each. To do this, make a small incision in the peel with a knife and stick the clove in, making a criss-cross incision if the peel is very thick. Place the studded fruits in a baking dish and roast in the oven for one hour.

blog-pics3.) While the oranges are baking, heat the water, the fruit wine and half the port to boiling. Add ginger (or ginger paste), cinnamon sticks and allspice. (You can add dashes of ginger powder and ground cinnamon if you like it spicier). Also add the Anise extract, if desired. Stir in the sugar and simmer, allowing it to steep, whisking occasionally. It should be a little bit thicker, reddish brown and very fragrant.

blog-pics4.) Take the oranges and lemon out of the oven. Half them and squeeze the juices into a cup (careful, they will be hot!) and then add the juice to the spice syrup. Make sure to remove the seeds.

5.) Add the remaining port and the wine to taste. Start with four cups of red wine, but if the flavor is still too strong, you can add more wine or even water. Whisk the punch thoroughly and heat it until it is at a nice warm temperature for drinking. Preferably smoking hot!blog-pics

You can garnish each glass of Smoking Becket with a slice of Blood Orange and a cinnamon stick, if desired. This recipe makes almost a gallon, enough for a nice hefty punch bowl and maybe a little extra to help you recover after cooking for the Christmas party!

 

This recipe is very flexible. If you want to use a favorite fruit wine, a special port, a different red, more orange, or less spice, you can! It’s really a made to order drink.

If you like my recipe and want to share it, please do! But do make sure to tell everyone where you got it from and link back to my post.

(To learn more about Thomas Becket, you can visit this link: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Thomas-Becket. You could also read T.S. Elliot’s fantastic play Murder in the Cathedral, or watch the two great actors Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole in the 1964 film Becket. While highly dramatized and not entirely true to the real story, the film is marvelous.)