30 September 2010

30 September - Saint Jerome and Libraries

Memorial of Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church, patron of libraries and librarians, archivists, Bible scholars, translators, and students.  Among other things in a long and full life, he wrote extensively in defense of orthodox Christianity against the heresies of Origen, Helvidius, Vigilantius, and Jovinian, and revised the Latin text of the Bible.

He could also be the patron saint of those with a bad temper, because his own irascibility comes through in his writings and his dealings with people.  He was one that did not suffer fools gladly.  As you might imagine, this did not make him very popular, and quite often he found it advisable to move along.

The Apache leader Goyathlay is said to have been nicknamed "Geronimo" by Mexican soldiers praying to the saint for help against him.  Perhaps the soldiers thought that a stubborn and irascible saint would be of good use against a stubborn and irascible warrior.

Saint Jerome loved to read, and had an extensive collection of books including Greek and Roman philosophers and Christian theological treatises.

Jerome (and faithful companion) in his library

Today would be a good day to send a note of thanks or make a donation to your local library.  Or both.  Libraries are the next greatest invention after books; free libraries are at the forefront of making information available to all, which is necessary for a free society.

29 September 2010

29 September - Saint Michael*; Goose and Bannock

Weather:  "If Saint Michael brings many acorns, Christmas will cover the fields with snow." I wonder what 'many acorns' entails?  I've seen a tidy few under the oak trees - even after the squirrels have plundered among them. 

"A dark Michaelmas, a light Christmas"  It wasn't dark, per se; mostly overcast with some stiff breezes.  Does overcast count as dark?

Superstitions: "Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day to have money in the coming year." One roast goose, coming right up!

"All blackberries should be gathered before today.  The devil stalks the blackberry bushes now."

Garden: Michaelmas Daisies are one of the joys of my backyard. They are wild and grow everywhere - lovely violet colored flowers bravely standing up to the winds of autumn.

Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron (among other things) of soldiers and police officers.

Today would be a nice day to thank your community's finest, if not in person, then maybe with a little note to the nearest precinct or a letter to the editor of the local paper.  An equally good day to thank our people in uniform.

From Catholic Culture:
"Therefore, in our Catholic tradition, St. Michael has four duties: (1) To continue to wage battle against Satan and the other fallen angels; (2) to save the souls of the faithful from the power of Satan especially at the hour of death; (3) to protect the People of God, both the Jews of the Old Covenant and the Christians of the New Covenant; and (4) finally to lead the souls of the departed from this life and present them to our Lord for the particular judgment, and at the end of time, for the final judgment."

That's quite a lot of duties.

Father Weiser's page of background and customs for the feast and Prof. Plinio CorrĂȘa de Oliveira's commentary, are two good pages to read on the Defender of God's People.  Activities for the day can be found here.

And for dinner tonight?  Well, money or no, a Michaelmas roast goose would be nice, accompanied, of course, by Saint Michael's Bannock.  And check the wishbone before you use it to see who gets their wish.  A dark one means a severe winter coming; if it is light, winter will be mild.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who roam about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

* Since 1969, this feast has included the Archangels Gabriel and Raphael, which seems to me kind of chintzy.  Sort of like celebrating the birthdays of every member of the family on one day in the year.  In my almanac, you will find the celebrations of Gabriel on March 24 and Raphael on October 24.

28 September 2010

28 September - Saint Wenceslaus; Czech Statehood Day; Beefsteak Na Kyselo

Memorial of Saint Wenceslaus (Vaclav) I, Duke of Bohemia (assassinated c935), subject of the Christmas season carol "Good King Wenceslaus", and patron of the Czech Republic and its capital city of Prague.

As patron of the Czechs, his feast day is also Czech Statehood Day, which has been celebrated since 2000.

As it says on expats.cz, "Czech food is not exactly diet food."  No, indeed.  It is hearty, flavorful food that won't leave you feeling hungry an hour later.


Thinly slice 1-1/2 pounds of round steak.  Trim slices and cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces.

Heat 1 tablespoon lard [shortening or butter also work] in a heavy skillet; add meat and brown on both sides.  Lower heat; sprinkle meat with 1 teaspoon of salt and top with slices from 1 large onion.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the meat; cover and simmer for about an hour or until meat is tender. (Check the liquid occasionally. You don't want it to boil away, and there should be about a cup of liquid at the end of cooking time.)

When tender, transfer the meat to a hot dish.  Blend 1 cup of sour cream with 2 tablespoons of flour; stir this into the skillet and mix well with the liquid.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and, if you like, stir in 1 tablespoon of tomato ketchup.  Heat through and pour sauce over meat. 

Serve with boiled noodles or boiled potatoes or with the famous Czech dumplings, which you can find on My Favorite Czech Recipes blog (along with dozens of good recipes and tips for making Czech food)

And to drink?  Well, Wenceslaus is also the patron of brewers, so what could be more appropriate than "the world's first golden beer" - Pilsner, of course.

Dobrou chut!

27 September 2010

27 September - Saints Cosmas and Damian (traditional); Louis XIII

Memorial (on traditional calendars) of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, brothers, often depicted as twins, who, as skillful practitioners of the art of medicine, are patrons of doctors, surgeons, apothecaries, and pharmacists.  They took no money for their services, thereby leading many to Christ, and were martyred in the 3rd century.

Today would be a good day to send a message of thanks to your family doctor, the pharmacist who fills your prescriptions, or the surgeon (and his team) who saved your life.
Birthday, in 1601, of Louis XIII, King of France (d. 1643), son of Henri IV (the Evergreen Gallant) and Marie de Medici.  You might know him best from the Dumas novels concerning those brave swashbucklers, the Three Musketeers (and D'Artagnan).  Films seem to portray him as a buffoon, or at least as a very shallow person, only interested in his own amusements and gorgeous costumes (such as my own personal favorite movie with Jean-Pierre Cassel here as Louis.)

Not long after seeing that, there was another rendition of "The Man in the Iron Mask" (oh, by the way, Louis XIII was the father of him as well) in which D'Artagnan tells the rightful king that his father was the bravest and wisest man in France.
Richelieu (Charlton Heston) with Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway) at the Ball in which Richelieu will try to discredit Queen Anne
"Will Your Majesty try the sweetmeats in this box? I'm sure you will find they are a royal confection." (Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) presenting Queen Anne's diamonds to Louis XIII (Jean-Pierre Cassel). [The Three Musketeers: The Queen's Diamonds, 1974]

The sweetmeats that Louis would have been expecting would have been along the lines of 'Sugarplums', a confection of fruits (not necessarily plums) preserved in sugar. The Historical Cookery Page has directions for making these treats.  Try making them, and you will agree that they are indeed, a royal confection, both in preparation time and ingredients.

A suitable toast to Louis XIII?  If you can, how about the cognac "Louis XIII de Remy Martin" at about $3000 per bottle.

26 September 2010

26 September - John Chapman; Applesauce

Weather: The last Sunday of the month indicates the weather for next month.
Quite warm and overcast. 

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, woodchucks hibernate now.

I wish Wendy could hibernate now.

Today in 1774, John Chapman, aka 'Johnny Appleseed', was born in Leominster, Massachusetts.  At the age of eighteen he started his wanderings to the northwest frontier, which at that time included Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.  Rather than just scattering apple seeds, he was a nurseryman, planting and caring for seedling trees, which could then be sold or bartered to incoming pioneers.

However, for my generation, Johnny Appleseed goes along wearing a tin pot for a hat, befriending animals, planting seeds, and singing "Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need - the sun, the rain, and the apple seed; the Lord is good to me."

Apples have been known for centuries in Europe, but they is so much a part of our social history, that we can still say "As American as apple pie".  They can be sweet for dessert; savory, sauteed with onions to  accompany pork roast; the main ingredient in salads; added to bread dough; poached, frittered, baked, and scalloped; dried, to eventually form the basis for "Schnitz und Gnepp" (apples and dumplings); mashed to form applesauce and apple butter; and really mashed to become apple juice, apple cider and apple jack.

Right now, on a cool evening, it is good to sit down with a glass of mulled cider, or a cup of hot cider stirred with a cinnamon stick.

And yes, tonight, Apple Pie is in order.

Try making your own applesauce.  It keeps for a long time (I freeze mine.  It will last up to a year; just in time for the next apple season).


Select your apples.  If you use all sweet varieties, you won't need much - if any - sugar.  I don't care for really sweet things (even chocolate is better bitter), so I use a mix of 3 sweet to 1 tart.  Last  year I used 1 pound each of Red Delicious (sweet), Fuji (sweet), Yellow Delicious (sweet) and Granny Smith (tart) for each batch of sauce, and no sugar.  This year I might try a 2:2 ratio on one batch and see how that turns out. (You will weigh it at the store, but a pound is roughly 3 apples.)

Wash, peel, quarter, and core your apples. Put in a large pot with a cinnamon stick and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (both are optional) and 1 cup of water.  Cover and cook for about 30 minutes or until apples are soft, stirring occasionally, and adding small amounts of water if needed to keep the apples from scorching.

When the apples are soft, remove pan from heat; take out the cinnamon stick.  Mash in the pot with a potato masher.  This will produce 'chunky' applesauce, which is how I like it (although more mashing = less chunky).  If you want really smooth applesauce, you will need to put it through a sieve or a food processor.  If it is not sweet enough, you can add up to 1/2 cup of either white or brown sugar (or 1/4 cup of each).  You can also add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg (or to taste), either before cooking or after.  Raisins also make an interesting addition to the cooked sauce.

Serve hot or cold, and freeze the rest.

25 September 2010

25 September - Balboa and the Pacific; Carimanolas

On this day in 1513, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, a Spanish explorer, 'discovered' the Pacific Ocean, from the summit of a mountain range next to the Chucunaque River in modern Panama.

Can surfing be far behind?

Actually, he and his expedition were the first Europeans to see the Pacific Ocean from the New World.  European and Middle Eastern explorers who went east instead of west and 'discovered' Japan and Korea (and their immediate neighborhoods), saw the Pacific years before, and of course, those people who lived along the coast line or on one of the islands knew all about it for centuries.

But now it was certain, at least to the Spanish.  There may be a large landmass in the way - a large, RICH landmass - but on the other side was the large body of water which must lead to the East Indies and the spice trade.

Upon reaching the shoreline, Balboa waded in, knee-deep, raised his sword aloft, and claimed the ocean and all lands which touched it for the Spanish crown.  He named it the Mar del Sur, the South Sea.  Seven years later, Magellan, rounding Cape Horn, named it the Mar Pacifica, as it looked peaceful and calm (little did he know!), and the name has remained Pacific.

A suitable way to celebrate this discovery would be with cuisine from any part of the Pacific, most notably  from Panama.  Considering the size of the ocean (the earth's largest), this gives you endless varieties.

There are several good sites with Panamanian recipes. This one, Canal Zone and Panama Recipes, has "Jim's Pineapple/ Pecan/ Cherry/ Mango Upside-down Cake" (oh, it looks good!) which I will be trying, and several recipes for "Johnny Mazetti" (various spellings), which seems to have been a favorite from Canal construction days.

Try this one from Panama Living. There are also a couple of drink recipes on that site, which should make cooking an adventure.

CARIMANOLAS: (these would be excellent as appetizers)
[I've added replacement ingredients and further instructions inside the brackets]
  • 3 lbs yuca  [or 3 lbs of sweet potatoes, steamed and mashed, and mixed with 1 beaten egg]
  • salt to taste
  • 1 lb ground meat (iguana (iguana), gatosolo (coati), vaca (beef), puerco (pork).....) [ground beef or ground pork would be my choice]
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 clove garlic pressed
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 3 or 4 capers
Boil yuca with salt but do not allow to get too soft.  Grind with fine blade in grinder and knead with salt.  [Knead potatoes to make a dough].

Form balls, flatten in the palm of the hand and fill with stuffing forming into an oval shape.  Pinch to close ends.  [On floured board, pat or roll flat about 3 tablespoons of potato dough.  Fill dough with 1 heaping teaspoon of meat mixture.  Bring dough up, over, and around meat, similar to shape of  a football. Repeat for all dough and filling]

Fry in very hot oil until golden. [Fry in deep hot fat (375 degrees F.) for 4 or 5 minutes, until golden. Serve hot]

To Make Filling:
Season ground meat with salt, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, capers, onion, sugar, garlic and parsley.  Brown in very small amount of hot oil and add tomato paste.  Simmer until quite dry.

If you want to freeze the carimonolas, dust with a little flour after they are formed and place on a cookie sheet in the freezer until firm and then place in sealed ziplock bags.  To fry, take from freezer to hot oil at one time as they may fall apart.  Do one or two at a time only.

(courtesy of Tula Brown)

24 September 2010

24 September - F. Scott Fitzgerald; Lobster Newburg

Born today in 1896, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, aka F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and the Damned, Tender is the Night, and This Side of Paradise, and a host of short stories, which delineated the Jazz Age of the 1920's.

My own visions of the 1920's are flappers (a la Thoroughly Modern Millie) and speakeasies; bootleg rum and bathtub gin; the Charleston and "Rhapsody in Blue".  I suppose there were other things, but they were the icons of the Lost Generation, with their 'bee's knees' and bobbed hair, short skirts and flat chests, all engaged in a frenzied, spirited dance of unrestrained materialism that ended with a crash in 1929.

So just what would Jay Gatsby and his guests eat at one of his fabulous parties? "On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold."

To celebrate Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age, have an ostentatiously decadent buffet.  To the above ham, and turkey, add Tournedos Rossini, breast of chicken with truffles, slices of cold duckling and tongue, oyster patties, curried lobster with rice, Lobster Newburgh on toast points, little neck clams and oysters on the half shell, and Mousse de Fois Gras.  Oh, and don't forget the caviar!

Stuffed tomatoes and artichoke bottoms with Hollandaise can join the vegetable and fruit salads, and for those who still have room, eclairs, petit fours, ice cream, and fancy fruit in a basket. 

What to drink?  Well, it was the era of Prohibition in the U.S., so lemonade and soft drinks would be the legal thing to do, but Jay Gatsby would have known how to provide champagne, fine wines, sherry and port, gin and rum for his guests.

Myself, I think I shall have Lobster Newburg, a glass of champagne, and a truly decadent chocolate, and watch the 2000 A&E version of The Great Gatsby.


Beat 3 egg yolks lightly; gently mix in 1 cup of cream (light or heavy) and set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan, then add 1-1/2 to 2 cups cooked lobster meat (or canned) and heat.  Season with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne; add 1/4 cup of Madeira or sherry.  Stir in egg/cream mixture.  Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Do not boil.

Serve on toast points, in patty shells, or over rice.

23 September 2010

23 September - Saint Thecla

Astronomy: Full Harvest Moon rises at 6:24 pm (EDT)
Memorial of Saint Thecla (1st century)

The image here to the right was in our old Family Bible, with the inscription "Virgin and Child with Saint Inez and Saint Tecla" (El Greco)***, and while I knew who Saint Inez (Agnes) was, I had never heard of Saint Tecla.

Now I have.

It is a popular name, and there are several saints who carry it, but today's Saint Tecla was a maiden of Iconium who lived in the 1st century, converted to Christianity (perhaps under the guidance of Saint Paul), and thereafter supported Christian missionary activity.  An oral tradition, into which several similar stories of other female martyrs were mixed, gave rise to a 2nd century writing called "The Acts of Paul and Thecla", which for some reason took hold of the Eastern imagination, and assured that her cult would flourish.  They call her "Protomartyr" (except that she wasn't martyred) and "Equal to the Apostles" a title given to several saints as a kind of accolade for "outstanding service in the spreading and assertion of Christianity, comparable to that of the original Apostles".

I tried to summarize the story, but I can't do it without snark showing through every line.  "Pious fiction" and "religious romance" are charitable labels.  It reads more like a Mary-Sue fanfic, with pornographic overtones.  The heroine is a Paul-groupie and stalks him all over until she runs him to earth - actually under the earth - he's dead and buried.  She is, in true Mary-Sue fashion, so lovely that all men desire her and several try to rape her (even as a 90-year old woman), and in true Mary-Sue fashion, she bravely confronts her tormentors and their torments with fearlessness, nobility and good sense.

Poor Saint Thecla really deserves better.

Tarragona, Spain celebrates its patroness with the Santa Tecla Festival, 15 - 25 September, with religious ceremonies, parades, fireworks, music, dancing, and all-around merry-making.

***Yes, I know that this painting is labeled "Virgin and Child with Saint Agnes and Saint Martina".  Don't know why, except that it seems to be based on a supposition of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and even they suggest that it might be Saint Thekla instead.  Agnes is clearly indicated by her lamb; the other animal, the lion, has nothing to do with Martina, who was scourged with iron hooks (her usual symbols in art) and beheaded.

22 September 2010

22 September - Autumn Equinox; Harvest Home

Weather: If it is warm today, the season will be fine.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, which will take place at 11:09 pm (EDT).  Time for those Equinoctial Storms.

Those who have read the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder may remember in "The Long Winter" that Ma Ingalls placidly refers to the three days of steady rain as an equinoctial storm. 

According to The Old Farmers Almanac, today is Harvest Home, a festival which marks the conclusion of the harvest, in which thanks is rendered unto God for a good harvest, and the workers are paid and feasted.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of Harvest Home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God, our Maker, doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come, raise the song of Harvest Home.

Yes, Thanksgiving in the U.S. is still two months ahead (not that you would know it by the decorations in the stores), but now is the time to give thanks for a good harvest, while you continue canning the proceeds from your garden or the treasures from the farmer's markets.  If thanking God for our sustenance is beyond you, at least express your appreciation to your local farmers and growers for their efforts.  And if thanking God for our sustenance is not beyond you, remember to offer up a prayer for our local farmers and growers, in gratitude for their expertise and hope that their efforts may again be crowned with success.

And it is time again to read Thomas Tryon's novel "Harvest Home", which I have always enjoyed because I hate city mice trying to become country mice - they can't do it, and when they discover that they can't, they demand that the farms go away and the big box stores and malls come in, so that they have something to do with themselves.

No, I'm not bitter.  I just envision the fate of the narrator visited on the latest owners of a McMansion in the country, who race down my street and demand closer places to shop (it's a whole two miles into town).  Not bitter at all.

21 September 2010

21 September - Saint Matthew

Weather: "Matthew's Day bright and clear, brings good wine in the next year."

C'mon, sunshine!  [and it did!  Abundance of it!  Good wine coming next year!]

Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist, writer of the first gospel, and patron of those who deal with money: accountants, bankers, bookkeepers, customs officers, stock brokers, and, of course, Tax Collectors, of which he was one.  His neighbors considered him much as we think of our own IRS agents - horns and a pitchfork - with the added bonus that he Collaborated With The Enemy (that is, Rome).

And this is one of the guys Our Lord chose as a disciple?  Yep.  Comforting thought.  There's hope for us, yet.

Dinner tonight will honor Saint Matthew with root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, fingerling potatoes) cut into - wait for it! - Coins, tossed with olive oil and seasonings and roasted.  There are several good recipes online; I found one here at Epicurious.

Were there children in this house, dessert would somehow incorporate chocolate coins, maybe positioning one on top of a frosted cupcake.  As it is, dessert will be a glass of the good wine promised us from last year's bright, clear Saint Matthew's Day, a Riesling from Newport Vineyards.

20 September 2010

20 September - Saint Eustace

Commemoration of Saint Eustace, patron of hunters, firefighters, and torture victims.  As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, he is invoked against family troubles.  According to his legend, he had plenty of them.

A mighty hunter (and a pagan), Eustace encountered Our Lord in a Crucifix seen between the antlers of a deer he was chasing.  He, his wife, and two sons were baptized, and the troubles began.  He lost all his money and property; his wife and sons were taken by the authorities; if it weren't for bad luck, he'd have no luck at all...  However, his services as a soldier were needed to defend the Empire, and he answered his Emperor's call, duly repelling the enemy.  For this, he was reunited with his family - but woe is me!

As Christians, they would not join in the celebratory sacrifice to the gods of Rome, and were condemned to death.

(Take heed here, children - employers only like you when you save their sorry hides.  After that, you are expendable.)

Eustace and his family were thrown to the lions, who must have already had a good dinner, because they didn't do what you might expect.  Therefore, he and family were roasted to death inside a bronze bull.

Read the story of Saint Eustace from the medieval Golden Legend here.

In his honor, perhaps a last barbecue.  Venison steaks would be appropriate.

And perhaps a toast with this, which carries the symbol of Saint Eustace on its label:

19 September 2010

19 September - Hurricanes

Weather: If on September 19, there is a storm from the south, a mild winter may be expected.

If on September 19, there is a storm from the south, it is liable to be a hurricane, and a pretty hefty one at that.

Case in point: the New England Hurricane of 1938 - aka the Long Island Express - which on this day that year, was churning pretty quickly up the coast to hit the unsuspecting populace of Long Island and southern New England two days later on the 21st.

The storm was so strong and fast that it plowed through Connecticut and Rhode Island to Massachusetts and Vermont, then Quebec (no, it didn't need a passport), and finally died in Ontario.

Photos and eyewitness accounts of survivors are horrific.  Between 600 (official body counts) and 800 people were killed, over half of them in Rhode Island; property damage was in the millions.  The storm surge and the killer waves behind it - those towering walls of water, which looked to one man like a fog bank on the horizon - pounded the coastline and overwashed the islands and low-lying areas of Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, and the southern Rhode Island and Massachusetts coastlines.  The Bay formed a funnel, pushing the water higher and with ever-increasing speed until it crashed into the city of Providence at its tip, where almost 14 feet of water surged through the downtown streets.  Motorists were drowned in their autos, and pedestrians were pulled out into the Bay.  Those who could swim to safety were rescued by people hanging out of second story windows.

Houses and buildings disappeared into the waves all along the coastline, along with their terrified occupants.  Boats were driven onto the shore and into houses.  As far from the coast as Vermont, whole forests of trees fell like matchsticks in the blowdown.  Along the coast, sandbars and islands disappeared; new inlets formed.

That was one nightmarish day.

The Hurricane page at southstation.org has several photos of the unbelievable devastation in the area.

My old farmhouse, built in 1917, survived all of the hurricanes of 1924, 1927, 1934, 1936, 1938, 1944, 1950, 1953, 1954, 1960, 1961, 1971, and 1976.  Between the time we closed on our house in 1985 and the day we moved in, Hurricane Gloria intervened, knocking down a bunch of trees on the edge of our property line.  Hurricane Bob in 1991 accounted for a couple more trees in the front yard.  Since then, it has mostly been near-misses and tropical storms - a few high winds, a few power outages, a little localized flooding, nothing to get upset about.  The complacency here is visible.  People have again built in the low-lying areas, or made their own islands in the midst of the local rivers.

Well, that's their privilege.  As for me, the only hurricane I want to experience is this one:

18 September 2010

18 September - Ember Day; Saint Joseph of Cupertino

Weather:  Ember Day. The weather today foretells the weather for December.
Bright sunshine, clear skies, comfortably warm.
Memorial of Saint Joseph of Cupertino, patron of aviators, astronauts, air travelers, and those who have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and touched the Face of God.  Visions and ecstasies in which he would levitate and float, caused, as you might suppose, both admiration and consternation among his fellow Franciscan monks.  When the crowds thronging around this Italian mystic grew too large, he was moved to another house; when it was too much for the other monks, he was confined to quarters.

He was also naturally clumsy, a real Mr. Fumblefingers, and to top it off, he couldn't pass a test to save his life.  For this reason, he is also the patron of students and of those taking tests.  At this time of year, he should be very popular.

Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira has an insightful commentary on this amazing saint:

"Even though he was poorly gifted, humanly speaking, Saint Joseph of Cupertino did the will of God, sanctified his soul, and allowed God to shine through his incapacity in a way that attracted the admiration of multitudes." (read more here)

17 September 2010

17 September - Ember Day; Stigmata of St. Francis; The Wild, Wild West

Weather: Ember day.  Weather today foretells the weather for November.
Rain in the morning, a little sunshine, and then overcast for the rest of the day.  Will November be a dreary month?
Today, in traditional calendars, is the memorial in honor of the Stigmata of Saint Francis (yes, the same 'Saint Francis' that you find in gardens, usually with a bird or two in hand). 

While praying and meditating on the suffering and supreme sacrifice of Our Lord, Francis had a vision in which he received the gift of the Five Wounds of Christ, thus making him more like the Master he served.  There are several accounts of this miracle, some very imaginative.  Meditations and prayers in honor of this day can be found here and here.


Today in 1965, The Wild, Wild West premiered on CBS.

What can I say?  Two handsome leading men, ingenious villains and villainesses, and some really cool gadgets, not the least of which can be found on their train - and all played on the backdrop of the West of the Imagination.

I loved it!  Especially the gorgeous female costumes (I love bustles!)

Unfortunately, it was the sacrificial lamb for watch-dog groups concerned that There Was Too Much Violence on TV (there was.  The news broadcasts brought most of it into our living rooms.  Nobody canceled them or told them to tone it down).  Rumor has it that the watch-dog groups were headed by a politician from the Smallest State.  That figures.

Thankfully, the show is available on DVD.

16 September 2010

16 September - Butterfield Overland Mail

Today, in 1858, the Butterfield Overland Mail started operations from Tipton, Missouri, on its way south and west to end up in San Francisco, California, some 23 days later.  This was quite a feat, at a time when such a trip took months to accomplish, whether overland by the Oregon Trail, or by sea, around Cape Horn or the shorter but equally dangerous crossing of Panama.

Realizing this required a great deal of planning, and a great ordering of supplies, including the Concord coaches so beloved of Western Movies, and their lighter and less-beloved cousins, the Celerity wagons.  Stage stops were set up in already established towns or built where there were none, where new teams could be harnessed and passengers might have time to grab a bite.  Mail was the first priority; no shipments of money or gold were allowed, to prevent highway robbery.  Passengers, at $200 going west or $100 coming back east, could ride inside the coach, bouncing and jostling over the entire 2800 miles, but their comfort wasn't a consideration.  "Nothing on God's earth must stop the mail!" said John Butterworth, and that included travel-sick and weary passengers.

The food available to the travelers varied according to locale.  In the established towns along the route through Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma, and northern Texas, the hungry traveler might find milk, butter, eggs, and vegetables to accompany whatever meat and bread was served.  Waterman L. Ormsby, a reporter for the New York Herald and passenger on that first trip, wrote that in West Texas he breakfasted on jerked beef cooked over buffalo chips, raw onions, slightly wormy crackers, and a bit of bacon, and that was likely the fare through New Mexico and Arizona as well, until they reached the farmlands of California.  Occasionally, the meat (often floating in grease) might be venison steaks; there might be hot biscuits or cornbread, beans, and coffee made of ground roasted chicory roots, sweetened with molasses.

That is, when they had time to eat, and there wasn't much of it.  The travel time was 25 days or less; in order to achieve that, the coaches ran 24 hours for the most part, taking time only to change teams or coaches.  The two stops for breakfast and dinner were not prolonged, and passengers were encouraged to carry food with them for the stretch between meals.

In spite of the discomfort, it was a major accomplishment.  In its 2-1/2 years of operation, mail and passengers could arrive in San Francisco or St. Louis in less than a month, bringing the eastern and western sides of the United States that much closer.  The looming Civil War brought an end to the southern route; transcontinental mail would be carried first by the Pony Express and then by the another company under the ownership of Ben Holladay, over a more central route to the north.

Today would be a good day to raise a glass of wine from the Butterfield Station Winery to those hardy souls who ventured cross country on the most rapid transit available at the time.

15 September 2010

15 September - Ember Day (traditional); Harvest Vegetable Soup

Weather:  The weather today foretells the weather for October.  Beautiful weather! Bright, sunny, blue skies, warm enough to be comfortable.

The Ember Days, of which these three (today, Friday, and Saturday) are the last of the church year, are three days set aside in every quarter of the year in which we fast and thank God for his blessings, and ask for the grace to use them well and in the service of others.  There are different sins assigned to each set of Ember days, from which we pray to be delivered; otherwise, prayers are usually in thanksgiving and for priests and the holy souls in Purgatory.  Pride and covetousness are two sins for which we pray especial grace to overcome at this time, and our thanksgiving is for the harvest.

The other Ember days take place in December - the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Saint Lucy's Day (December 13); in the Spring, same days following the first Sunday in Lent; in the Summer, the same days after Pentecost.

The traditional calendar places the Fall Ember days on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following Holy Cross Day (September 14); the revised Catholic calendar now puts them in the third full week of September, which means that according to the new use, the days will fall next week on the 22nd, 24th, and 25th.  For the purposes of my Book of Days, I tend to follow tradition and the almanac.

As these are fasting and partial abstinence days (i.e. meat can be served at one meal), almost any Lenten recipe will do.  A soup of harvest vegetables such as the one below would be apropos.


An onion, a couple of potatoes, a couple of leeks (white and light green sections only, and wash them well), a couple of turnips, 3 carrots, 3 parsnips, a rib or two of celery.  Those are the amounts I usually use - unless I have 4 carrots left in the bag, and then it is 4 carrots.  Sometimes I add a cup of (chopped) butternut squash.  Which vegetables I use and how much of each depends mostly on what is available. You can be equally diverse.

Cut all of the vegetables in a small dice.  The original recipe called for a 1/4 inch dice, but I'm not that fussy.  Just chop them not too large.

Start with 6 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 2 teaspoons of salt in a large saucepan or kettle. Bring it to a boil, then add your vegetables, 2 mashed garlic cloves ( I use crushed garlic), and 1/2 teaspoon of thyme (optional), and simmer until the vegetables are very tender (about half an hour or so).  Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper (you can be a liberal as taste allows).  Ladle into bowls, drizzle a little olive oil (half a teaspoon is usually sufficient), and serve.

14 September 2010

14 September - Exaltation of the Holy Cross; Basil; Have Gun Will Travel

Weather: No rain on Holy Cross, no rain for six weeks (which hopefully will take us out of hurricane season).

The feast today, Exaltation or Triumph of the Holy Cross, commemorates the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in 335, in which was placed a portion of the Holy Cross of Our Lord found by Saint Helena; it also commemorates the recovery of the relic from the Persians, and its return to that church by Emperor Heraclius in 629.

According to the story, the Emperor carried the Cross back to Jerusalem, dressed in his best.  For some reason, though,  he stopped and could not move forward.

 The Bishop then told him that even though he carried the Cross, he did not resemble Our Lord, who wore no costly robes or jewels.  Heraclius then divested himself of his attire, and in penitential garb and barefoot, carried the Cross into Jerusalem.

Ways to celebrate this important Feast can be found here on Catholic Culture, including several recipes for Hot Cross Buns (normally seen on Good Friday, but equally good here).
The 'royal herb' Basil is associated with this day, as the story is that Saint Helena found the Cross after digging under a bed of basil.

When next you plan your garden, make sure you have basil plants next to your tomatoes.  The basil protects the tomatoes, and gives them a good flavor.  It is a tender plant, and doesn't usually survive North American winters, so treat it like an annual - start the seeds indoors and plant them when the ground has warmed.

(Don't let your plants get to the flowering point seen here. If you want to keep more flavor in the leaves (and you do), pinch off the seed heads as soon as they show up.

Pots of basil set around the patio, or on the table, repel flies, and sometimes mosquitoes as well.

The easiest recipe is sliced tomatoes dressed with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of chopped basil. (Basil and tomatoes just go together)

Make BASIL BUTTER by mixing 1/2 cup of softened butter and 3 teaspoons fresh chopped basil.  This can be frozen, and pieces sliced off as needed.  Vary it by adding garlic and/or a little lemon juice.
Use it to dress pasta or vegetables.

There are any number of PESTO recipes; here's an easy one:

2 cups washed fresh basil
3 cloves of garlic
(optional: 4 tablespoons of pine nuts.  Many people are allergic to nuts, so I leave them out.)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Using a pestle, grind and mash the basil and garlic (and nuts if you use them) into a paste in a mortar; add olive oil a tablespoon at a time, alternating with a tablespoon of Parmesan, blending well each time.  Season with salt and pepper - or not.

Or go the easy route and put all ingredients except the Parmesan into a blender, and pulverize until it is a paste; add the Parmesan and blend again briefly. Season - or not.

In 1957, the television series, Have Gun, Will Travel premiered on CBS and continued for six seasons.  The half-hour show starred Richard Boone as "Paladin", the champion-for-hire, who used his weapons as a last resort, always preferring to find a peaceable way (or at least, a less life-threatening way) to settle a conflict.

The best website for the show can be found here.
(there are more candles hiding behind the ones you see)

Also, today is my younger sister's birthday.

"And the greatest of these is Charity."

Again, her 29th (and I hope she doesn't admit to anything more, because I am five years older).

Happy birthday, Sis!  And many, many more!

13 September 2010

13 September - Hershey, Dahl, and Kiel

Today are three notable birthdays.
(I know that Milk Chocolate is their flagship, but I have always turned to the Dark Side)
In 1857, Milton S. Hershey, the philanthropist and founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company and Hershey, Pennsylvania.  He also endowed his school for orphan boys, the Hershey Industrial School (now Milton Hershey School and co-ed), with a trust fund which holds the majority of voting shares in the Hershey Chocolate Company, as well as control of Hershey Park.  His "company town" of Hershey is favorably discussed in a recent book, "The Company Town" by Hardy Green.

In 1916, Roald Dahl, author of such dark and enduring tales as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches.  And those are just some of his children's stories.  Stories for adults are even darker and funnier, usually with a plot twist at the end.  If, while reading them, you find the storyline familiar, it is probably because many of them showed up on the television shows Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of the Unexpected.

The Roald Dahl website focuses on the children's stories (but hey, I just read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory again.  I love to see the brats get their comeuppance!)  And if you need ideas for ways to celebrate, go here to Roald Dahl Day

I think eating chocolate would be a fitting way to celebrate.  Mmmmm, chocolate!

Even more fitting would be a donation to an orphanage or shelter for children.

Today also, in 1939, Richard Kiel, actor and author.

Remember this guy?  I do.  I was a bit young to understand the punchline of the story, but I do remember that costume.  (Maybe I should make him the guardian of my recipes folder)

Then came The Wild, Wild West and the much-abused "Voltaire".  He liked toys and songs, and usually was quite gentle - except with Mr. West.

I must be one of the very few who remember him as "Moose Moran", the bouncer of Cash Conover's Golden Gate Casino, on the delightful and very short-lived Barbary Coast.

But this role was iconic.  'Fess up, now.  When "Jaws" fell into the shark tank in The Spy Who Loved Me, didn't you immediately think, "Oh, those poor sharks!"?

There are scores of others - these are the ones that I remember.  Mr. Kiel has his own website, where you can find a lot of good information about him (I understand that he now lives in my hometown of Clovis (California)).

Happy birthday, sir, and many, many more!

12 September 2010

12 September - Hudson River; Oysters

In 1609, Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, and his crew of the ship Half Moon (Halve Maen), began exploring the river which now carries his name.  He was searching for a northeast passage either around or through this land mass (we call it North America) that lay between Europe and the spice trade of the East Indies.  The Half Moon sailed up to approximately the area of Albany, before Hudson was forced to accept the fact that the river was too shallow and that there was no passage here. 

Five years later, however, the Dutch established a trading post at Fort Nassau (modern Albany) and engaged in the profitable fur trade.  Within sixteen years, New Amsterdam on the island of Manhattan became the capital of Dutch colony of New Netherland.  Both the city and the colony eventually became New York.

The New Netherland Museum maintains and operates a replica of the Half Moon; right now they are engaged in their annual "Fall Voyage of Discovery", a re-creation by crew and students of Hudson's exploration of the river.

On Ian Chadwick's Henry Hudson website, you can read an in-depth account of Hudson, his voyages, and his world.  There is a time-line of Hudson's third voyage, with entries based on crew-member Robert Juet's account of the exploration of the river.  On September 4, Hudson got his first taste of maize, which he called "Turkish Wheat"; on the 13th, the crew traded with the Indians for oysters, which could be 'sowced' or pickled for the long voyage home.

Oysters were plentiful in England and were consumed by all classes, but by most accounts, the colonists were amazed by the size of the bivalves in North America.  Cookbooks had instructions for pickling oysters to keep for future use, and recipes for Oyster Stuffing, Oyster Sauce, and Oyster Pie, like the one here, taken from "The Queen-like Closet, or Rich Cabinet" by Hannah Wolley:

"To make an OYSTER-PIE"

"Make your Paste as before, and lay it in your Pan, then lay in Butter, and then put in as many great Oysters as will almost fill your Pan, with their Liquor strained, some whole Pepper, Mace and Nutmeg; then lay in Marrow and the Yolks of hard Eggs, so cover them with Butter, close them, and bake your Pie, then put in White Wine, Anchovies, Butter and Yolks of Eggs; cover it again and serve it the Table."

Myself, I like oysters on the half-shell, with (pace James Beard) a dash of vinegar or hot sauce (and brown bread and butter, of course).
An invitation to dinner

10 September 2010

10 September - Saint Pulcheria

Memorial of Saint Pulcheria, Empress, born Alia Pulcheria in 399 to Emperor Arcadius and his wife, Alia Eudoxia.  Staunch opponent of the Nestorian and Eutychian heresies.

Her father dying when she was nine years old, her younger brother became Theodosius II; at the age of fifteen, she was made regent for her brother, and greatly influenced him throughout his life.  Upon his death, she was proclaimed Empress, and continued her tireless support of orthodoxy in the Church, and denunciation of heresy until her death in 453.

Professor Plinio Correa de Oliveira, in his discussion of Saint Pulcheria, says:

"Above all, the Catholic Religion must have holy priests, Bishops, and Popes.  But often this is not enough.  It is also necessary to have saints in principal posts of the civil order.  The life of St. Pulcheria teaches us that the laypeople also have an important role to play in building Christian Civilization and defending the Church.  The clergy, even with saints as Pope and Bishops, was not able by itself to extirpate the heresies of Nestorianism and Monophysism."

A good thing to remember, as we go to the polls.  We need saints in the posts of authority. We need robust Byzantine saints, who are not afraid to stand up against the heresies gaining acceptance in our country.  For now, all we have are the usual self-proclaimed 'ardent and devout' cultural Catholics and that ilk.  The 'yeah, sure, I'm a good Catholic, I just don't believe what the Church teaches, because it's not relevant to our modern lives, and besides, Saint Augustine said..." types.

A good thing to remember as we go about the rest of our daily lives.  We must always be ready to defend the Church's teachings - and we can't do that if we don't know what they are, or have decided that they are not relevant to our modern lives, and besides, Saint Augustine said...

I'd like to say, "Saint Pulcheria, pray for us", but I think she'd reply, "Get off your duff and do what needs to be done, like I did."

Saint Pulcheria, pray for us to have the strength to get off our duffs.  Amen.

09 September 2010

9 September - California; Santa Maria de la Cabeza; Puchero

Today is the memorial of Blessed Maria Torribia  (died c. 1175) also known as Saint Mary of the Head (Santa Maria de la Cabeza), wife of Saint Isidore the Laborer  (San Isidro Labrador).  Her unusual name comes from the use of her relic - her head, conserved in a reliquary -  in intercessions to relieve drought.

The couple lived in Torrelaguna, near Madrid, where Isidore was a farm laborer, and were known for their piety and charitable works.  Maria was beatified in 1697.

The Bear Flag

Today in 1850, California was admitted as the 31st state in the Union, after spending a small amount of time as a republic.

California had an amazing diversity of cooking traditions, even before it became a state, as people from all over the world flooded in to try and strike it rich in the Mother Lode, and found that selling and serving food to those who had "come to see the elephant" was often more profitable than squatting in a river for endless hours, swirling sand in a pan.

This year I am mixing an Old World recipe with New World ingredients, and honoring Santa Maria de la Cabeza and the diversity of California's agricultural produce, by making PUCHERO.

Hard on the heels of a Dagwood sandwich (September 8) comes another recipe which adds everything but the kitchen sink, and you may well wonder if the cook is supposed to clean out the larder and vegetable bin for one meal.  From its origins in Spain (the name means stew-pot), it traveled to all parts of the Spanish-speaking world, adapting to local tastes and available ingredients, even including fruit such as pears and pineapples.

And it is good, especially on the second day.

(8 servings, plus some for the following day's lunch)

You will need a large kettle for this.
Start with 1 cup chick-peas or garbanzo beans and 4 quarts of water. Either soak the legumes overnight OR cover with water, bring to a boil, and boil for 2 minutes.  Cover and let stand for 1 hour.

To the pot add:
2 lbs beef short ribs or stew beef
1 lb lean fresh pork, diced, and/or 1 ham hock.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Then add to the pot:
1 chicken (about 3 lbs), cut up
1/2 lb chorizo or hot Italian sausage
1 beef marrowbone (optional)
2 large onions, sliced, and 8 small white onions
4 carrots, scrubbed and halved
2 garlic cloves, minced.  Cover and simmer for another hour or until the meat is tender.

Then add to the pot:
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 lb yellow squash, peeled and sliced and/or 8 small zucchini, halved lengthwise
4 tomatoes, quartered
1 large green pepper, chopped and/or 1 can whole kernel corn
4 - 6 leeks, cleaned and cut up.
4 stalks celery, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
4 turnips, peeled and halved.  Cook for 30 - 40 minutes or until vegetables are almost done.

Then add to the pot:
1 small head of cabbage, cut into 8 wedges.  Cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until cabbage is tender/crisp.

Either serve from the pot as a stew, or arrange meat and vegetables on a platter (or a couple of platters, one of meat and one of vegetables); strain the broth and serve it as a first course, with side garnishes of chopped parsley, chopped onions, cilantro, diced avocado, and lime wedges.  If there isn't enough liquid, add chicken broth and heat.

Accompanied, of course, by a California wine.  Nothing else will do.

And please note: you don't have to use ALL the meats or vegetables.  You can get along quite well with boiled beef and chick-peas, onions, garlic, and whatever vegetables you have on hand - tomatoes, corn, squash - canned or not.  It can be seasoned with tomato sauce or tomato paste, ground cumin and dried oregano.  The choices are really yours.

Diverse.  Just like Californians.

08 September 2010

8 September - Our Lady; Star Trek; Cranberries and Dagwoods

Today we celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, the Cape Cod cranberry bog harvest starts today.
This is a very interesting process to watch, as the farmers flood the 'fields', then start pulling in the floating cranberries.  If you are in Southern New England and want to experience a cranberry harvest, the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association has a "Cranberry Harvest Trail Guide", with farms, directions, and phone numbers - and use those phone numbers!  Harvest may be slated to begin today, but not all and not everywhere.

The Association also sponsors a Cranberry Harvest Celebration, which this year will be held on the 9th and 10th of October in Wareham. The festival includes tours of a working cranberry bog - and you can see photos of the previous festivals here.

For the record, I have to wonder who discovered that cranberries are sour and must be mixed with something to combat that ultra-mouth puckering, eye squeezing, tear forming taste.  Once I added fresh cranberries to the stuffing for the turkey.  Oy!  Not a good idea.  And I see that there are recipes which still ask for fresh, unadulterated cranberries to be added in all their naked glory to the stuffing mix.  Nope.  Not again.  (Although now it looks like everyone is using dried cranberries instead of fresh for their stuffing.  Good idea.)

I love cranberries in any form - juice, sauce, in breads or as dessert, and yes, even in stuffing, in spite of that one major error on my part.  Here are two sauces that I love to make - they go very well with turkey (and actually, the spicy one does nicely on ice cream).

(serves 6)

1 cup Merlot or other red wine
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup chopped onion
1 bag fresh cranberries

Combine wine, orange rind, sugar, and onion in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve sugar.  Add cranberries and simmer until berries burst.  Cool.  Can serve at room temperature or chilled.

You can make a sweeter, spicier version by upping the wine to 2 cups and the sugar to 1 cup; add 1 cup of light brown sugar.   Tie up whole cloves and whole allspice (5-6 each) and a couple of cinnamon sticks in a cheesecloth bag and add that to the wine-sugar mixture (you can add them as is, without the bag, but you will need to strain the mixture before adding the cranberries). Bring to a boil, and stir until the sugars dissolve, then simmer about 10 minutes.  Strain the mixture, if needed, and return to the saucepan.  Add fresh cranberries (1 bag); cook until berries burst.  Cool and refrigerate.
In 1930, the comic strip "Blondie" made its first appearance today.  The comic was created and drawn by Chic Young until his death in 1975 (since then, his son, Dean, has been doing the honors).  Blondie Boopadoop (or as my Mom remembered her "Blondie the Gold-digger"), a happy-go-lucky flapper, finally married the wealthy heir, Dagwood Bumstead - but Dagwood was promptly disowned and the Bumsteads became a middle-class family with two children, a dog, a tyrannical boss, and a host of friends.

One of the running gags is Dagwood's enormous sandwich creations, which has led to any towering sandwich being referred to as a Dagwood in the popular lexicon.  The star sandwich of the "Dagwood's Sandwich Shoppe" had these ingredients: three slices of bread, hard salami, pepperoni, cappicola, mortadella, deli ham, cotto salami, cheddar, provolone, red onion, lettuce, tomato, red bell peppers, mayonnaise, mustard, and their own Italian olive oil dressing.   And as you can see here, Dagwood added a whole fish, a lobster, and a fried egg to his work of art.

So, to honor Dagwood and Blondie, grab everything but the kitchen sink and place it between slices of bread.  Don't forget the olive skewer on top!
In 1966, Star Trek (The Original Series, the progenitor of it all) premiered on NBC TV.

"Where no man has gone before" (and didn't that become the catch-phrase of a generation of would-be Casanovas!)

Oh, my.  What can I say?  An iconic show if ever there was one.  There were the phrases: "Live long and prosper"; "He's dead, Jim"; "I'm a doctor, not a _______".

Did anyone ever say "Beam me up, Scotty"?  No matter, it is part of our cultural history.  As is the concept of the "Red Shirt": The team beams down to a planet - Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, and a guy (who you will never see again) wearing a red shirt.  He is the one who gets killed.

Yeah, I loved that show.

I wonder if the food slot could produce Dagwoods?

07 September 2010

7 September - Elizabeth I

Born today, 1533, the long-awaited son of Henry VIII and his wife, Anne Boleyn - except that the newborn wasn't a son, but a daughter, and the clerks holding the proclamations ready to be sent out to the crowned heads of Europe had to squeeze in the letters "ss" after the word "Prince", before filling in the name "Elizabeth".

At first, Henry seems to have put a good face on his disappointment, taking comfort in the fact that the baby was healthy, and if it was daughter this time, well, sons would follow.

Only, they didn't.  Instead of a brother for Princess Elizabeth, the Queen miscarried - and you all know the rest of the story...  *

With 'er 'ead tucked underneath 'er arm
She walks the bloody Tower
With 'er 'ead tucked underneath 'er arm
At the midnight 'our.

Princess Elizabeth, not yet 3 years old, was demoted down to Lady Elizabeth, another of the King's bastard daughters, with a reduction in household and income to match.

*If you don't know the rest of the story, go here or here or here.  Actually, I could have a two inch paragraph of 'here's - there are a goodly amount of sites.

In an account of Elizabeth's christening at Greenwich, the refreshments are given as "wafers, confects, and ipocrasse".

Wafers were, as the name suggests, thin, crisp, pressed 'cookies', made of batter spooned into wafer irons and baked (much as we make the thicker waffle today - for those that still make waffles).  The wafer was either left flat or rolled up.

Medieval and Renaissance wafer irons can be seen here, which will give you an idea of the shapes and sizes of the wafers likely to have graced the christening. 

Confects are defined as "a sweet confection, such as candy; a rich sweet made of flavored sugar and often combined with nuts or fruit." Another name for them is comfits (of which you can find extensive background information here), familiar to most of us in the form of the pastel-colored French Almonds often found wrapped in tulle net as favors for weddings.  Several sites have recipes for them, such as this one for Sugared Almonds.

Ipocrasse or Hippocras, the Wine of Hippocrates, was a spiced wine used as a digestive aid.  Red or white wine would receive an infusion of "hot" spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and pepper and lesser known (to us) spices like grains of paradise, galingale, and the flowering buds of Balsam of Judea.  Spices being expensive, this was only offered on special occasions and celebrations by the wealthy.

The recipe below can be found on the website Historic Food, which showcases the exhaustive research of Ivan Day. (And he offers courses in the preparation of these old recipes!)

The christening account doesn't say what the King and Queen ate, only that the mayor and his crew, having waited around to offer Henry their congratulations, were finally dismissed by the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk with the King's thanks.  Very likely, neither Henry or Anne was in the mood to eat anything.

Image: Detail of The Family of Henry VIII, c. 1545.  The Royal Collection
Accessed from Tudor History.org, Lara E. Eakins.

06 September 2010

6 September - Labor Day

Weather: "As on the 6th, so for the next four weeks."
And with Hurricane/Tropical Storm Earl finally past the New England coast, the day is forecast to be sunny and comfortable.

Today, the first Monday in September, the United States celebrates Labor Day.  So drink beer (the working man's tipple) and celebrate all those who fought - and sometimes died - for decent wages and working conditions.

For many, this will be the last weekend to enjoy the beach or the mountains - a last camping trip, a last cookout, a goodbye to summer - before the school year starts and summer is officially over.

For those of us living in vacation destinations, it marks the last time we must put up with the cone-eaters, the out-of-towners, whose tourist dollars fund our economies, but who we are secretly glad to see the tail-lights of, as they return to inflict their horrible manners on their own neighbors.

I will be raising my glass, not only to my laboring forebears, but also to the herd of receding tail-lights.

05 September 2010

5 September - Sam Houston; Southwestern Beans

On this day in 1836, Samuel Houston (1793 - 1863) was elected president of the Republic of Texas.

A busy year for Sam.  Having been appointed major general of the Texas army the previous November, acting as delegate to the convention in March which adopted the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico, organizing the poorly formed Texas military forces as the newly appointed Commander in Chief, facing the far superior Mexican army under General Santa Anna, which culminated in the Battle of San Jacinto in April and victory for the Texians - take a breath - he would be the first regularly elected president of the new republic, have a town founded and named in his honor, which would serve off and on as the capital, and started motions to have Texas annexed to the United States.

And that is just one year in the life of this amazing and controversial figure, of whom you can read more here.

Since we still have some good barbecuing days, what better way to honor him than with a dinner of steaks or chicken basted in Sam's famous barbecue sauce, accompanied by Mrs. Houston's Fried Green Tomatoes, and of course, the inevitable beans (recipe below) and corn bread.  Dessert could be the Houstons' White Cake or one of the bread puddings, recipes for which can be found on the website for the Sam Houston Memorial Museum.

And in the afterglow of a good dinner, what better way to round things off, than sipping on a glass of Sam Houston Bourbon.

(serves 6 - 8)

Cover 1 pound of dry pinto beans or red beans with cold water and soak overnight. 

Next day, add 1 ham bone and 1 red chili pepper to the pot of beans.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for several hours or until beans are tender. Drain the beans into one bowl, and save the liquid in another.

Meanwhile, chop:
  • 1/4 pound of suet (or use salt pork.  I do)
  • 1 large onion (a sweet Texas onion would be in keeping with the spirit of the day)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of fresh parsley

Heat the suet in a large pot, stir in the onion and garlic, and cook about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, parsley, 1 cup of the bean liquid, 1/2 teaspoon EACH of ground cumin and dried marjoram, 1-1/2 tablespoons of chili powder and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 45 minutes, adding more liquid if necessary.  Add beans and continue simmering gently for 20 minutes.

Here's to you, Sam!

04 September 2010

4 September - Los Angeles; Atole and Posole

Today in 1781, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was formally established on the Rio Porciuncula near Mission San Gabriel in Alta California.  Forty-four people (Los Pobladores) settled in the town named for the Queen of the Angels, and the place grew from there.  For more on the first settlers of Los Angeles, see the Los Angeles Almanac here.

From Food Timeline: "According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, the Spanish introduced many foods to California via Mexico."  The list includes several fruits: apples, grapes, cherries, peaches and the famed citrus trees of oranges, lemons, and limes; beans, chickpeas, chiles, olives and tomatoes, and the all-important maize.

Two foods that would have been known to the early settlers were Atole and Posole.  Atole is a nourishing drink made of gruel mixed with sugar and spices; posole is a stew of hominy and meat, flavored with onions, chiles, and herbs.  Both were part of the daily rations of the Indian neophytes at the California missions (although probably not as fancy as the recipes below).

(about 6 cups)

2 cups water
1/2 cup masa harina
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
4 cups milk

In a large pan, stir the water into the masa harina.  Add the vanilla and cinnamon and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened.  Remove from heat and add the sugar and milk.  Then return to heat, bringing mixture just to a simmer (don not allow to boil).  Serve hot.

There is a chocolate version (champurrado), which uses a tablet of Mexican chocolate (mine look like large chocolate drops) and a molinillo to froth it up nicely.

Another recipe on the website of San Miguel de Allende uses Mexican cone sugar and vanilla beans.
The original recipe for Posole uses posole, a specially treated corn which can be found at ethnic stores and many supermarkets.  I've substituted hominy for this recipe.

(serves 10-12)

3 large cans (29 oz each) hominy, rinsed and drained
3 pounds boneless pork, cut in 1 inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
4-6 whole, dried red chiles, rinsed, deseeded, and crumbled

Put pork, onion, garlic, and spices with 2 quarts of water in a large kettle and cook slowly until meat is tender.  Then add hominy, and simmer for 30 minutes longer to blend flavors.  When done, salt to taste and serve with garnishes such as chopped vegetables, lime and lemon wedges, sliced avocados, and cubed cheese.