Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Part I – Exterior

Rome, Italy

Some landmarks simply seem too big to write about. I mean does anyone really have the words to describe the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest? That’s how I feel about St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It’s the biggest church on earth, filled with incredible Renaissance art from the likes of Rafael, Bernini, Michaelangelo, and so on and so forth. It sits within a stone’s throw of arguably the greatest art collection on earth, the Vatican Museum, and it’s built on a scale that totally bends the mind.

Rome, Italy

I guess I must start by talking briefly about St. Peter’s Square. If you want to visit the basilica, you’ll be going through the square to get through security. The scale is massive. There are two enormous colonnades extending from either side of the basilica, and perched on top are larger than life statues of all the saints. Each saint is holding the implement used to kill them. Very artistic. Kinda dark.

Rome, Italy

From a little bit closer, the scale becomes a bit more clear. The facade of the basilica is so tall that you can’t even see the cupola on top. You can see the cupola from anywhere in Rome, except for right in front of the church. Like most major basilicas, St. Peter’s is built in the shape of a cross, and the cupola sits over the transept. It is so far back from the foot of the cross, where you enter, that you can’t even see it. And it’s like 400′ tall, so it’s not easy to miss.

Rome, Italy

That’s not to say that the entry way is in any way less than major. Freaking Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in the doorway. Charlemagne. Does that speak to how old this building is, or what?

Rome, Italy

The exterior of St. Peter’s gets its own post because it’s SO BIG. Another couple of topics will be the interior (general), the art, and the relics. I can’t think of another church that has so much to cover, but then again I can’t think of another church that is widely considered the epicenter of western Christianity. Also, those Swiss Guard dudes were intimidating AF.

Ciao.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Saint-Ferrol des Augustins, Marseilles, France

Marseille, France

The Vieux Port of Marseille is a pretty stunning location with views of rows and rows of boats sitting in turquoise water, cafes and brasseries, the citadel and Abbey of St. Victor, and the shining beacon of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking it all, and one building stands out amongst the rest. It’s the building that will blind you as it reflects the sun, will make you need to take HDR photos to avoid a hot spot with your camera, and may pique your curiosity, the church of Saint-Ferrol des Augustins.

Marseille, France

Unlike Notre Dame de la Garde and Marseille Cathedral, this is a parish church. Apparently the church has been here in one form or another, continuously built upon and expanded since it was owned by the knights Templar in the 12th century. The Baroque facade and Italian style bell towers were built much later.

Smaller chapels dot the edges of the main sacred space, but there’s no super famous artwork or relics or famous dead folks to go visit it. It’s simply a nice and extremely old church that you should visit as you walk around the old port.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Trinity Episcopal Church, New York, New York

Trinity Episcopalian Church

In lower Manhattan’s hustle and bustle lies a gem from the colonial days, and I would imagine is one of the oldest continually operating churches in the United States (not THE oldest, factcheckers!). Trinity Church is an Episcopal Parish in the Diocese of New York, situated on Wall Street, featuring beautiful stained glass and the corpse (maybe just the gravestone now) of famed colonial rapper Alexander Hamilton.

Trinity Episcopalian Church

My visit to Trinity Church was, not unlike my visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a welcome opportunity to warm up on a very cold day in New York. This was something like six years ago, so the details aren’t so fresh in my memory, but mommyPrimate and I met her sister for lunch in Lower Manhattan. I had some delectable swedish meatballs (of course I remember what I ate.) We stopped at a bakery (where I had the most wonderful pistachio macaron I can remember ever eating) then checked out Battery Park. We stopped into Trinity to warm up and see if we could find Mr. Hamilton.

Trinity Episcopalian Church

I do remember the simplicity of the architecture, and thinking that the exposed beams were beautiful. When we visited the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Hong Kong, I remember thinking the construction was very similar. The stained glass was brilliant, and the darkness certainly gave everything a nice warm feel in contrast to the cold wind outside.

Trinity Episcopalian Church

Once we warmed up, we ventured into the graveyard. The snow was fairly deep, and I was amazed at the years on the gravestones. This part of the country was colonized at perhaps even a later time than the part where I currently reside, but by a different group of people, of course. I’m not so accustomed to seeing old gravestones in english, so it was a historical treat.

Alexander Hamilton's Grave

After a bit of a search, we finally found Mr. Hamilton, in the ground, where notorious rapper Aaron Burr put him many years ago. Yes. I realize they were actual important historical figures, and calling them rappers is just throwing some humor at my amusement over the popularity of the musical. I would really like to see it.

The end.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, New York, USA

St. Patrick's Cathedral

My first visit to New York was cold, very cold. I was there with my then-girlfriend (now wife) visiting her sister before we moved to Korea for a couple of years, in the middle of the winter, and our visit was bookended with major snowstorms making the streets a slushy, soggy, mess. If I remember the order of events right, we spent the morning at the MoMA, then walked back through mid-Town in the cold on our way to Koreatown for dinner. Frozen, tired, and in need of a respite, we ducked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a warm-up and sightseeing break. I was pretty certain at the time that this church was featured in Home Alone, maybe Home Alone 2, but in retrospect I think I was wrong about that.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

I remember that it was warm inside. There was a little music going, and it was very green. I guess that makes sense for St. Patrick. Anywho, I definitely remember it being beautiful and ornate, even more ornate than St. John’s, if a bit darker on the inside.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

When we lived in New York I visited St. Patrick’s again briefly, but it was totes under renovation and I don’t think I even took any pictures because it was all scaffolding everywhere. I would certainly love to go back and check it out again the next time we’re in New York, though.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

I just realized, when I took all of these pictures it was after sunset, in the middle of the winter, no wonder the church seemed dark inside.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

The Chancel was spectacular, though.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Something about the cloisters of cathedrals really piques my curiosity. I’d probably be disappointed to go on an exploratory expedition in one to find nothing but offices and broom closets, but I imagine there are all sorts of holy relics hidden in them.

So yeah, St. Patrick’s is big and beautiful, right in midtown Manhattan ready for you to walk in and snap a photo or two. If you visit St. Patrick’s though out of church hopping interest and not just because it’s close to Rockefeller Center and on your tourist map, you must head up to 110th and Cathedral Parkway to see the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, too. It’s worth the trip.

Learning to Bake with daddyPrimate: Bakewell Tart

A co-worker’s birthday is always a good time to remind my team that they are glad they hired me. This time, though, a super sweet baklava, or a big ass kugelhopf wouldn’t do the trick. This coworker likes their food light, not overly sweet, and beautiful. Well fuck. That rules out a lot of what I make. A frangipane tart though, that’s always a crowd pleaser, and a Bakewell Tart isn’t overly sweet, I mean the crust is barely sweetened at all. That’ll do, pig!

 

So I made the crust, and it rolled out so beautiful and thin that I thought the whole thing was going to go to shit because I’ve never made a crust so easily. In fact, it seems like usually I should just use the rolling pin as a can opener because every time I get the thing out I have trouble, but not this time! I blind baked the crust and let it dry out nicely because as my gurl Mary Berry says, no one likes a soggy bottom.

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I made the filling before putting my little girl to bed, and when I went to pour it into the crust it didn’t pour. It was a big thicker than I remembered, and I really had to work at it to get it nice and even in the crust. As for the berries I had placed at the bottom of the crust…well…they moved to where they wanted to be and I had no choice in the matter.

In the end, though, the tart was well received by my coworkers. They’re still happy that they hired me. And I got to use my beautiful tart pan. That is success, my friends.

 

Learning to bake with daddyPrimate: Weihnachts Kugelhopf (Christmas Kugelhopf)…a daddyPrimate riff on a classic Kugelhopf

If you read my previous post about Kugelhopf you already know it’s a 15th century Austrian yeast-raised cake that’s not really cake but not really a bread either and somewhere in between in texture and flavor. Or maybe I wrote that post poorly. Well, mommyPrimate got a gift card to Sur la Table and bought a really beautiful “bundt” pan that looks a bit more like a kugelhopf mold to me, so I decided to have a second go at it. I got the recipe once again from Epicurious but somehow I got the magic right a little better this time.

When I made the dough this time, I don’t think I got the milk quite as hot. I may have had a little bit of a yeast die-off last time from too-hot liquid ingredients. I also put blobs in the pan (which I sprayed with coconut oil and floured pretty aggressively) by hand instead of dropping it in like a comforter in a washing machine. Once the blobs were in, I aggressively smoothed out the dough with a lubed up spatula (Lubed Up Spatula, by the way, is the name of my new band.) I let it rise for two hours.

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Risen! #boom

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After a two hour prove it looked like this. BAM. I credit the success of this prove to my lucky tea towel that has my daughter’s name on it. There is no other secret to my success. So, now that the dough had risen, I tossed it in a 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes, slid some foil on top, and let it go another 20 minutes. It was soft and bounced back when I touched it with my finger, and a wooden skewer inserted came out clean.

After about 3 minutes or so I tipped it out of the pan and it came out cleanly. No idea how that actually happened. I credit dumb luck, the lucky tea towel, and the liberal application of coconut oil and flour on the pan. Now, while this beautiful beast cools down a little, I’ll tell you about why it’s a Weihnachts Kugelhopf instead of just a Kugelhopf.

Basically, we didn’t have a bunch of sultanas lying around, but we DID have a bunch of fresh cranberries. And oranges. So I tossed in whole fresh cranberries while it was mixing, and flavored it with orange zest. Cranberry and orange is about as wintry of a flavor combination as I can come up with. Christmas is in two weeks. BOOOOM! Weihnachts Kugelhopf. I bet your mind is BLOWN right now.

Now, to decorate this beautiful lady of a cake, I candied fresh cranberries and mandarin orange slices by boiling them in simple syrup for about an hour and cooling them in the fridge. I dusted the cake with icing sugar, then creatively placed the candied fruits in the crevasses. This may very well be the most spectacular baked good I’ve ever brought into this world, AND I WILL TAKE IT RIGHT BACK OUT.

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The texture of this kugelhopf came out MUCH more pleasantly than the last one I baked. It’s similar to what you would expect if an angel food cake and a brioche had a baby. It’s soft, light, spongy, but not too sweet. It’s wonderful, and its rightful place is at breakfast, I think.

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If you’d like to try to bake one of these, use the recipe I linked above, and swap out the raisins with fresh cranberries. Your taste buds will thank you.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Hong Kong, China

Hong KongHong Kong, a city that truly never sleeps…pretty sure you could see it from space if you needed to. 

I knew that Hong Kong was a former British colony well before I ever had the opportunity to visit, but I guess I never realized just how British it would still be nearly two decades after the colony was handed back to the People’s Republic. I also had no idea at the time that Anglican churches and their histories would become very interesting to me – I certainly did not foresee my return to church, nor my return to church happening in a member of the Anglican Communion.

Hong KongBell tower of St. John the Evangelist in Hong Kong’s Central district

So today, looking through my old photos for a beautiful old church to write about, I came across the photos of this beautiful old church in Hong Kong, only to to burst with joy in my heart when I realize it’s the Anglican Cathedral in Hong Kong, the seat of the diocese of the Anglican Church in one of the world’s most vibrant cities. The church I’m referring to here is the beautiful, understated, Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Hong KongEven the interior of the church is stately, reserved, and beautiful

The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist is, like the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, a haven of calm in a frenetic, bustling city. Given all of Hong Kong’s glitter and glamour, a quiet, calm spot is a bit of an oasis. I guess it always seemed that way, as the were conducting mass in the church even as the Japanese were shelling the island during the second world war.

Hong KongThe Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist is completely dwarfed by its more modern surroundings

It’s also a great contrast between 19th century British Empire and ultramodern Hong Kong/Chinese architecture. The contrast is stark. From any angle of St. John’s, a skyscraper looms in the background. The sound of taxis and the lift to the summit of Victoria Peak create a din in the background. The tropical environs clash with the British decorative-Gothic architecture of 1849.

What a cool old church, in a cool old/new city.

Learning to bake with daddyPrimate: Festive Panettone Pudding

Like the Bûche de Noel, this Festive Panettone Pudding has become somewhat of an advent tradition since my dad passed away/baby was born. As I’ve said before, as soon as Christmas time rolled around after becoming a father, I felt the drive to become the most Christmas Tradition laden family on the planet. At the same time I was burying my grief over the loss of my dad in delicious holiday foods.

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Ye Olde Panetonne Bread Pudding #baking @sortedfood

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The good men of Sorted Food really caught my eye with their Chocolate Panettone Pudding, which I renamed Festive Panettone Pudding because, well, cranberries. I love these tart bitter little shits in everything at this time of year. They’re also the only food on the traditional North American holiday table that comes from North America. CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE. This bread-pudding style of dessert strikes me as very British Isles, too. ANCESTRALLY APPROPRIATE. And it calls for a Panettone. ADVENT APPROPRIATE. It’s a very appropriate dessert for this time of year.

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Basically, you take 8 eggs,  (4 whole, 4 extra yolks), 2 tbsp of sugar, orange zest, and cinnamon, whisk that shit right up with 250ml of cream, then rip up and dunk the panettone in it and toss it in a pan. Crush up some chocolate (whatever you have leftover from your other holiday baking) and toss a handful of fresh cranberries in it, then goosh it all up with your hands until it’s a dense, muddled mess. Then pat it down into your baking dish and let it sit for about half an hour. Once that’s done, toss it in a 400F oven for 20-25 minutes, pull it out and serve it. DELICIOUS AND EASY.

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You can even make it after the kids are in bed because it doesn’t call for a mixer. It would probably be good if you poured some booze on it too, but I’m not sure what kind would be best. Anyhow, go over to Sorted Food, watch the video, try the recipe, thank me later.

Learning to Bake with daddyPrimate: Bûche de Noel

Okay, making a Bûche de Noel isn’t a new thing around my house. I decided this should be a tradition in 2014, when I realized that as a (then new) father, I needed to take Christmas over the top always so that my kid(s) would have the most magical winter memories EVAR.

Behold, the 2014 (and my first ever) Bûche de Noel!

It was rich, the sponge was a little dry, and I’m pretty sure that when I presented it to my family they found it all a bit much since it wasn’t an existing tradition. To be fair, my dad had just passed away and our Christmas baking event that year was the saddest on record. I believe I decorated my gingerbread men to look like the dead characters from Game of Thrones.

Fast forward one year. My 2015 Bûche de Noel was inspired by the Great American Baking Show, you know, the cheap knockoff of the British masterpiece that still thankfully stars Mary Berry. I made a sponge, it didn’t work, I made another, it did. I was afraid to roll too tightly and PLOP, the cake unrolled, leaving one big round lump of a log without a pretty swirl inside sitting on a pile of whipped cream.

2016 has been a little different, though. I actually learned how to bake this year. I started with easy breads, I’ve dabbled with cakes, and had more success than failure all around. I actually understand which dry ingredients are raising agents, and the basics of how to put things together to some extent. I haven’t used a box or a mix in a year, and making things from scratch doesn’t intimidate me in the least. I’d like to think I’ve even learned a little bit about style.

I started to look for a recipe, I usually use the Sorted Food recipe, but I did have a look at Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, only to turn away in disgust at the idea of chestnut puree. I would have looked at Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake, however it was across the room and I had just run a half marathon. I decided at that point that I would make two, one for work, and one for home, and change the flavors and decor a bit.

BEHOLD the 2016 Bûche de Noel(s)!

My “home” Bûche de Noel this year was a Swiss Roll filled with Irish Whiskey spiked whipped cream, with two snowflakes stenciled on top in icing sugar. No buttercream icing this year. In the past I’ve found it quite heavy and it makes the cake a bit too rich. Especially in combination with the whipped cream filling.

My “work” Bûche de Noel was the same sponge, but rather than a boozy whiskey filling, it had vanilla whipped cream, and a single snowflake stenciled on top.

I’ve become slightly famous at work for baking things that people don’t normally bring to “potluck” events. I guess most people don’t want to mess with yeast or measuring ingredients. So much the better. Eat my baked goods. Be impressed. Give me a raise! Amirite?

Three years on, I’d say this Bûche de Noel tradition is going strong, and I think this year’s edition certainly demonstrates that I’ve learned a bit more about baking than I ever knew before.

 

 

 

Found Ruins, They Old: Temple of Artemis, Selçuk, Turkey

The Temple of Artemis has been built in a far away land!

This is the rather frustrating message I often receive one turn before completing the Temple of Artemis whilst playing Civilization (you know, the computer game for nerds!). I never follow up to see who it was, but I always grimace at the amount of wasted turns. I mean I could have had the Colossus of Rhodes or some shit.

Temple of ArtemisI honestly expected a much more barren landscape

Anyhow, one of the “must see” items we had on our list for our stay in Turkey was to visit the ruins of the old city of Ephesus. Ephesus gets its own post. Enough about Ephesus. Anyhow, we woke up early and took the train from Izmir to Selçuk, had lunch, visited the little tourist information center where we picked up a book with info about ancient Ephesus, and started the 3-5km walk from Selçuk to the ancient city. The book mentioned the Temple of Artemis was on the way, so when we saw the sign (in plain english, BTW “TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS ->”) we took a right and headed down a little embankment towards a pond.

Temple of ArtemisThis is where the Temple of Artemis used to be, and where a couple parts of it still are

Standing there, in a kind of worn out, faded, weathered glory, was the one remaining column from the Temple of Artemis. Now, if you’re not familiar with your ancient history and Greek Pantheon, the Temple of Artemis was one of the most grand architectural pieces of the classical era…that is until it burned down. Also Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, who gave us the gift of bows and arrows and protected the woodlands. Or something.

Temple of Artemis

Clearly, there wasn’t much exploring to do, but to see what’s left of a 2,000 year old structure that once dominated the landscape is always a bit of a thrill, and considering that a huge “not quite as ruined” CITY of ruins sits another kilometer down the road. A city that is referenced in ancient Persian, Greek, and Roman literature, as well as the Bible. Well, I think whence surrounded by such archeological riches one really gets an idea of how long humanity has been trucking along.