An Interesting Dinner With Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

She’s the queen of crime.  The best selling author of all time.  As it so happens, a great consumer of cream (yes, just plain clotted cream out of the jar).  And it’s her 125th anniversary this year.

Of course I am referring to the late, the great, the impossible to emulate Agatha Christie.

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on September 15, 1890 in Devon, England into a middle class family. She was home schooled largely by her American father, and taught herself to read by the age of five.  Like the Bronte sisters, Agatha invented imaginary friends, played with her animals, attended dance classes and began writing poems when she was still a child.  Her father died when she was eleven, and she grew very close to her mother. She was an accomplished piano player but was too shy to play in public. By the age of 18 she began to write short stories that were later published.

In 1912, Agatha met Archie Christie. They married on Christmas Eve 1914 after Archie returned from war in France, while Agatha worked with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in a Red Cross Hospital. Archie returned to France two days later, and they didn’t see each other often until Archie was posted to the War Office in London in 1918.

In 1919, Agatha gave birth to her daughter, Rosalind, and John Lane of The Bodley Head accepted The Mysterious Affair at Styles for publication and contracted five additional books. Following the war Agatha continued to write, creating Tommy and Tuppence and Miss Marple. In 1922, she and Archie travelled across the then British Empire, promoting The Empire Exhibition of 1924. She became the first British woman to surf standing up in Cape Town.  She changed publishers to William Collins and Sons (HarperCollins).

After returning to England, Archie and Agatha began to grow apart.  Agatha’s mother died, and Archie fell in love with another woman. One night, Agatha disappeared.  She left her daughter behind and told no one where she was going; her car was found abandoned the next morning several miles away. After a high profile search, hotel staff at the Harrogate Spa Hotel recognized her and notified the police.  Agatha was suffering from amnesia and had no idea who she was.

She and Archie never reunited.  Agatha lived with Rosalind and her close friend and secretary Carlo following a course of psychiatric treatment in Harley Street.  She was not officially divorced until 1928, when she and Rosalind left England for the Canary Islands where she continued to write.

In 1929 she met her second husband, the archaeologist-in-training Max Mallowan.  They married on September 11, 1930 on the Isle of Skye.  They split their time between England and on digs.  Agatha averaged about two to three books a year.  During WW II,  Max worked in Cairo while Agatha remained in England, writing volunteering at the Dispensary at University College Hospital in London. In 1943, Rosalind gave birth to Agatha’s grandson Mathew, who she spent much time visiting.  She wrote as productively as ever, including her best selling novel, And Then There Were None.

By the end of the war, Agatha became less prolific. She spent much of the 1940s and 50s working with theatrical productions, and died on January 12, 1976, after a very long and successful career, and many happy years.

Here are some more interesting things about Mrs. Christie:

* She didn’t drink or smoke.
* She is the only female dramatist ever to have had three plays running simultaneously in London’s West End.
* Her first book waited five years before publication having been rejected by six publishers.
* Hercule Poirot was given a full-page obituary in The New York Times.

She ate cream out of the jar.  When you’re Agatha Christie and you don’t drink or smoke, you choose your vices wisely.

A recipe for Devonshire cream (and some scones to go with them:

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An Interesting Dinner with Pi

piToday is Pi Day (3.14.15).  Pi is not a person.  But it is very interesting.

The people who initiated the hunt for pi were the Babylonians and Egyptians, nearly 4000 years ago. They found that pi was slightly greater than 3, and came up with the value 3 1/8 or 3.125.  At around 1650 BC, a scribe named Ahmes implied in the Rhind Papyrus that pi = 4(8/9)2 = 3.16049, which is also fairly accurate. The next approximation of pi is found in the Old Testament. 1 Kings 7:23, says: “Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.” This implies that pi = 3.

The first man to really make an impact in the calculation of pi was the Greek, Archimedes of Syracuse. Archimedes fapproximated the circle’s circumference instead of the area. He started with an inscribed and a circumscribed hexagon, then doubled the sides four times to finish with two 96-sided polygons. The earliest value of pi used in China was 3. In 263 AD, Liu Hui arrived at the value pi = 3.14159, which are the correct first five digits. Near the end of the 5th century, Tsu Ch’ung-chih and his son Tsu Keng-chih calculated 3.1415926 < pi < 3.1415927. Soon after, the Hindu mathematician Aryabhata gave the ‘accurate’ value 62,832/20,000 = 3.141.  Another Indian mathematician, Brahmagupta, calculated pi would approach the square root of 10 [=3.162…].

In 1593, Adrianus Romanus used a circumscribed polygon with 230 sides to compute pi to 17 digits after the decimal, of which 15 were correct. Just three years later, Ludolph Van Ceulen presented 20 digits, and by the time he died in 1610, he had accurately found 35 digits.  These digits were cut into his tombstone in St. Peter’s Churchyard in Leyden. In 1873, an Englishman named William Shanks used the formula to calculate 707 places of pi, but only the first 527 digits were correct. Johann Heinrich Lambert proved the irrationality of pi first in 1761 and then in more detail in 1767. In 1882, Ferdinand von Lindemann proved the transcendence of pi. Since this means that pi is not a solution of any algebraic equation, it lay to rest the uncertainty about squaring the circle.

In the twentieth century, computers allowed mathematicians to get to previously incomprehensible results. In 1947, D. F. presented 808 digits of pi. One and a half years later, Levi Smith and John Wrench hit the 1000-digit-mark . Finally, in 1949, the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was finally functional, the gigantic machine calculated 2037 digits in just seventy hours. John Wrench and Daniel Shanks found 100,000 digits in 1961, and the one-million-mark was surpassed in 1973.

Just thirty-nine decimal places would be enough to compute the circumference of a circle surrounding the known universe to within the radius of a hydrogen atom. At the present time, the only tangible application for all those digits is to test computers and computer chips for bugs.

March 14th has long been considered to be “pi” day, celebrated by eating pies (and maybe doing some Math.  There are some wild and hardcore partiers out there).  This is my favorite recipe, by Rose Levy Beranbaum, from her book The Baking Bible.  Her other book, The Bread Bible, is my favorite cookbook of all time.  We’re talking serious breads, scones, cakes.  But here is the- dare I say- perfect pie recipe:

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An Interesting Dinner with Marie Antoinette

Marie_Antoinette_Young2Let them eat cake.

Marie Antoinette, France’s last queen, was born in Vienna on November 2, 1755.  She was beheaded on October 16, 1793, by order of the Revolutionary tribunal.  In between, her lavish lifestyle seriously pissed people off, leading to the French Revolution and to the overthrow of the monarchy in August 1792.  She married at age fourteen, in 1770, to Louis-Auguste.  She was homesick and wrote home often to her mother about it.  She became queen of France at 19, when Louis XV died and Louis XVI ascended to the throne.  She was a high fashion partier, and indulged in gambling and a decadent lifestyle.  She and Louis XVI did not consummate the marriage for several years; she gave birth to Marie Therese Charlotte in 1778 and by 1780, she spent most of her time at her own private castle within the Palace of Versailles, and was reportedly involved in an affair with a Swedish diplomat.  This is around when things started to take a turn for the worse.  She earned the nickname “Madame Deficit” due to her extravagant spending, and public opinion slid rapidly.  She was blamed for the theft of a 647-diamond necklace by an imposter and criticized further.

On July 14, 1789, the French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille prison, and on October 6, 10,000 people went to Versailles and demanded the King and Queen be brought to Paris, where Marie Antoinette took over Louis XVI’s diplomatic and political duties.  The royal family attempted an escape from France in 1791 unsuccessfully, and in 1792, Maximilien de Robespierre demanded the king be removed, and the National Convention abolished the monarchy and arrested Louis and Marie Antoinette.  They were both tried and convicted of treason, and Marie Antoinette was additionally charged with theft, and falsely accused of sexual abuse of her son.  An all-male jury found her guilty of all charges.  On the night before her execution, she wrote,

“I am calm as people are whose conscience is clear.”  At her execution, she announced, “the moment when my ills are going to end is not the moment when courage is going to fail me.”

So what about that cake?  There’s a lot of speculation that she never actually said this, but she is popularly remembered for callously responding “let them eat cake” upon hearing her people had no bread to eat.

Let’s assume, though, with her reputation for extravagance, that cake was one of her favorite things (as it is mine).

Cake for dinner with Marie Antoinette:

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