31 October 2010

31 October - All Hallows Eve

Weather: The last Sunday of the month indicates the weather for next month.
Halloween, possibly the second favorite holiday for children after Christmas.  Now to the superstitions of the day, which might make the evening merry:

[Of course, says that enlightened intellectual, Robert Burns, these things are only done by the peasantry, and "may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind".]

First of all, ring the church bells to drive away evil spirits.

If you have served Colcannon or Champ tonight, see who finds the charms -  a ring, a thimble, a button, a china pig, a doll, and a coin - in their portion.  The one who finds the ring will be married within the year; the finder of the doll will have children; those who find the thimble and the button will still be a spinster and a bachelor, respectively, in the coming year; the one who finds the pig will have good luck; and the one who finds the coin will have wealth.

If you have baked a ring and a nut in a cake, remember that the one who finds the ring will marry; so too, will the finder of the nut, but his or her future spouse will be a widow or widower.

When a girl walks out, she will meet her future husband walking towards her [wearing a Casper the Friendly Ghost mask?]

Burning nuts is a time-honored tradition. Take three nuts, name one after yourself and the other two after men in whom you are interested, and lay all three in fireplace coals.  If one of the nuts burns quietly beside the nut named for you, it means that person is true to you. If the nuts bounce and fly asunder, there will be no happy relations between you and either of the men. [Move on to B list and name some more nuts]  Equally, take two nuts, name one after yourself and one after the favored suitor, or one after a friend and her favorite suitor, and toss them into the fire.  The same obtains here: if they burn together, the suitor is true; if they pop and bounce away from each other, the couple is ill-matched, and, should they marry, will just as noisily try to get away from each other.

Take a handful of hempseed and go out into a field and sow it, repeating during the process: "Hempseed, I saw thee; hempseed, I saw thee; and he [or she] that is to be my true love, come after me and draw thee."  Now, summon up all your courage and look over your left shoulder.  You may see the apparition of your true love following you and reaping the hemp.

Reaping.  You know.  With a sickle.  Or maybe a combine.  After all, this is a modern apparition.  Then explain to your father why you are scattering seeds in his newly-laid and meticulously maintained turf.

Take a ball of blue yarn and throw it out of the window after dark, holding on to one end of the yarn.  Then wind it over your hand from left to right, or widdershins, and repeat the Creed backward [uh-huh.  For those of you who even know the Creed, try saying it backwards, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE PRINTED WORD. Not so easy, is it?]  If the charm works, the end of the yarn still outside the window will be held by someone so that you can wind no more around your hand.  If you then ask, "Who holds?" the name of your sweetheart should be wafted through the window.

If a young man puts nine grains of oats in his mouth and takes a walk, and continues walking until he hears the name of a girl mentioned, he will know that his future wife will have that same name (and have a mouthful of oatmeal, to boot.)

You can find out the shape and size of your future spouse by harvesting a cabbage blindfolded.  Or to be more precise, as described by John Brand in his "Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain": "The first ceremony of Hallowe'en is each pulling a stock or plant of kail.  They must go out, hand in hand, eyes shut, and pull the first they meet with; its being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells - the husband or wife.  If any yird or earth stick to the root, that is tocher, or fortune; and the taste of the custoc, that is, the heart of the stem is indicative of the natural temper and disposition."

More from the same source:

Take a candle and go alone to a looking glass; eat and apple before it, and, some traditions say, you should comb your hair all the time [yeah, right.  Have you ever tried eating an apple and combing your hair at the same time? Might want to practice first.]  The face of your conjugal companion-to-be will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.

You can try again with an unbroken apple paring (as you did on Saints Simon and Jude) to find the first initial of your future spouse.  And this time, take the apple seeds, name two of them for persons in whom you are interested and place one on each cheek.  The last to stay on will be true to you.

To know if you will have the man of your dreams: take two lemon peels and carry them around all day in your pockets (under your armpits, says another. That should be interesting); at night, rub the four posts of the bedstead with them.  If you are to succeed, the person will appear in your dreams and give you a couple of lemons.  If he does not, then there is no hope.

You can find out the name of your future spouse by finding a peascod [yes, that is the original packaging of peas; they don't grow in frozen food boxes] with exactly nine peas.  Write the following on a slip of paper: "Come in my dear, and do not fear", place the paper inside the peascod, and place the peascod under the door.  Mind the next person to come in through that door, for you will certainly marry someone with the same name.  [I think this one was invented by a mother who was trying to convince her daughter to shell enough peas for dinner.  Exactly nine peas.  Must have taken a tidy few peascods to find that!]

There are other superstitions about bonfires and throwing stones into them to see who will die within the coming year, but that is not something The Widow cares to investigate, and so she will leave that topic.

More Hallowe'en superstitions here and here.

30 October 2010

30 October - Soul Cakes

"Soul! Soul! For a Soul Cake!  
Pray you, good mistress, a Soul Cake!"

Soul Cakes, which are supposed to be handed out and eaten on November 2nd, the Feast of the Holy Souls, are also supposed to be made tomorrow, the 31st of October; but I am reasonably sure that your day will be spent putting in last minute touches to costumes and making sure there is enough swag to satisfy the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties (the accompanying parents) who will show up at your door, leaving little time for anything else, except church.

So either make them today, or use this as a reminder to have the ingredients ready, in case you have time on your hands tomorrow.

There is quite a bit of information out there, some of it not worth the mentioning.  Most of the good sources say that this was a time when bread was bought or made, and doled out to those who would pray for the family's dead.  In some places, it was a triangular cake, or a seed-cake, or a cake containing fruit.  Below are a few different recipes to try, or use one of your own favorites.

Make one cake for each of your deceased relatives, and a few (or a lot) more for those who have nobody to pray for them.

And remember, the person who eats the soul cake is required to pray for a holy soul in Purgatory, even if it is only "(Name), God have your soul, bones and all."

To start with, Fisheaters has a great overview of "Hallowtide": "31 October and 1 and 2 November are called, colloquially (not officially), "Hallowtide" or the "Days of the Dead" because on these days we pray for or remember those who've left this world..." and a recipe for soul cakes in the shape of doughnuts. Oh, and it explains why All Hallows Eve has nothing to do with Irish pagan harvest festivals.

Historical Foods uses a bit of white wine vinegar to balance the sweetness of the sugar in their recipe for Souling Cakes, which is more like a shortbread cookie in shape and texture.  The page has photos of the steps used.  (It is based on British measurements, so I have listed the ingredients below):
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon of sifted flour
3/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of butter
scant 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and 'mixed spice' (pumpkin pie spice comes closest)
scant 1-1/2 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
1 egg = 1 egg, no matter where you are, unless you are talking ostrich eggs.
Roll out dough to 1/4 inch.
Oven: 200 degrees C = 400 degrees F, which seems to be more a hot oven, rather than a moderate oven. Keep a watch on your cakes and lower the temperature to 375F if needed.

Catholic Culture has a yeast bread recipe, and says that originally the buns were "shaped like men and women, with raisins or currants for eyes" (much like you would decorate gingerbread men).

Gode Cookery uses a recipe from 1604 which has this advantage: it uses ale and dry sack sherry (only 1/2 cup of each, so there is plenty left for the cook!)

Now, get to it!  There are a lot of Holy Souls for whom to pray.  Perhaps one day, of your charity, you will pray for The Widow as well.

29 October 2010

29 October - Nevada Admission Day (observed)

Nevada, the Silver State, the Battle Born, was admitted to the Union as the 36th state on October 31, 1864.

Yes, I know that everyone considers it as the place for gambling and easy marriages (and equally easy divorces).  It is...  But let us also remember the first travelers through here: the Pima, the Ute, the Spanish/Mexicans and their descendants, the mountain-men, the Mormon Battalion, the silver miners, the sheepherders, and yes, the gamblers and those vampires who live off of the lifeblood of gamblers.

And so we come to Nevada Day.  For four days, from today through Monday, you can enjoy the Official Celebration in the state capital of Carson City, with several events guaranteed to keep the whole family amused. This year, the theme is "100 Years of Aviation in Nevada".

(Actually, the celebrations started awhile back: the Nevada Day Treasure hunt started on October 5th (mark your calendars for next year) and then a week ago the cemetery tour, the ghost walk, and the Carson City Symphony.  The RSVP Carnival (Retired and Seniors Volunteer Program) started yesterday and goes on until midnight on Sunday.)

The Grand Marshal's Dinner is tonight, the Grand Marshal being Dick Rutan, 'the aviator who piloted the Voyager aircraft on the first-ever non-stop, unrefueled flight around the world.'  Tomorrow (the 30th) are most of the events, starting with the Balloon Launch and the Pancake Breakfast (proceeds go towards scholarships),  the Classic Run/Walk (benefits the Special Olympics) -  THE PARADE -  followed by the Beard Contest (so Western!  North-easterners don't know what a proper beard is), the Chili Feed, Championship Band Awards (yes, The Widow once played an instrument in Marching Band, for her sins and those of the Music Teacher), the Pinewood Derby, a Rock Drilling Contest (from the days when a man's life and limbs could be sacrificed to the correct placement of the dynamite), the Silver State Rumble, and rides on the Nevada State Railroad Museum Steam Train (The Widow loves trains!)

There is also the Governor's Mansion Tour , and, so dear to The Widow's heart, the Governor's Ball, wherein required attire is "Victorian, Civil War, and/or Formal Western."  Oh, yeah!  Let me don one of those '70s bustles, and I will be right there, waltzing with a guy in a bolo tie!

On Sunday, the Capitol City Community Band gives a concert; a welcome interlude while your progeny get their fill of Carnival Rides and the wonderful Carnival Food (that Mom never makes).

And this is just Carson City!  If you can leave the gaming tables long enough, there might be celebrations to attend in Reno and Las Vegas, as well.

28 October 2010

28 October - Saints Simon and Jude; Another Love Charm

Weather: Simon and Jude is almost certain to be rainy.
Feast of Saint Simon the Zealous and Saint Jude Thaddeus, Apostles and Martyrs; invoked against rheumatic pain [which cold, wet days are likely to aggravate].  Saint Simon, who (according to one tradition) was sawed in half, is the patron of those who use saws and other toothed instruments, like curry-combs.  Saint Jude is well known as the patron of hopeless problems and lost causes (you can still see any number of prayers to Saint Jude published in the newspapers).

The lives of both can be read here in the Golden Legend.

As Apostles go, these two are the obscure ones - Simon more so than Jude. Jude, at least, wrote an epistle.  But where they preached and where they were martyred - even how they were martyred - is disputed.  Read an interesting disquisition on Saint Simon by Otto Hophan, OFM Cap.,  from which I take this comforting paragraph:

"Simon, the unknown apostle, is the patron of the countless Christians who go through life without fame, without a name. He is the patron of the army of unknown workers in the vineyard of the Lord, who toil in the last places for the kingdom of God. He is the patron of the unknown soldiers of Christ, who struggle on the disregarded and thankless fronts. No one notices, no one praises, no one rewards this obscure and often misunderstood apostle-no one except the Father, who sees through all obscurity, who understands all misjudgments."

Father Hophan wrote about Saint Jude as well.

So, young ladies... you have dreamed of your future husband (Saint Faith's Eve) and found what kind of husband he will make (Saint Luke's Day).  Care to find out the initial of his surname?

Take an apple and pare it whole (or as long of a paring as you can get). Take the long paring in your right hand, stand in the middle of the room, and say:

"Saint Simon and Jude, on you I intrude,
By this paring I hold, to discover
Without any delay, tell me this day,
The first letter of my own true lover."

Then turn around three times (doesn't matter which way) and cast the paring over your left shoulder.  It will form the first letter of your future husband's surname.  But if the paring breaks into many pieces, so that no letter is discernable, then you will never marry.

[Remember that there are several alphabets out there (my parings always look Cyrillic, if not Middle Eastern) and that even our own familiar Latin-based Alphabet has several ways to form its letters.  If you can't tell immediately (and with no cheating!) what initial the paring has formed, look up different fonts and different alphabets.  I'm sure you will find something to match.]

After throwing the parings as described, take the pips of the apple, put them in spring water, and swallow them. [Why? Who knows.]

Then explain to your mother why you are throwing garbage on the floor ('It's for a good cause!")

27 October 2010

27 October - Traditional Food for Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en cometh shortly, followed by the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls, so herein are some traditional dishes with which to celebrate.

Apples and nuts are still being harvested and are in plentiful supply, so naturally they take pride of place in all sorts of ways, including the superstitions of Hallowe'en, which will be posted on that day.

Since pumpkins are the gourd of choice at this time of year, make PUMPKIN SEEDS when you carve your jack o' lanterns.  This article has an easy recipe, and do scroll down to read the comments and tips by people who have made them, for different flavors and techniques.

A traditional dish for Hallowe'en is COLCANNON (also called Kailkenny or Rumbledethumps), in which are mashed together 6-8 cooked potatoes, and 1 head of shredded, boiled cabbage.  Stir in 1-1/2 cups of milk and 6-8 tablespoons of butter, and salt and pepper to taste. (Alternatively, you can chop up two leeks, cook them in the milk, then add leeks and milk together to the potatoes/cabbage, and mash away). Heat immediately and serve in a warm dish.  Make a well in the middle of the Colcannon and pour in a little melted butter.

Like plum puddings and 12th Night Cakes, a ring, a thimble, a button, a china pig, a doll, and a coin were stirred into the Colcannon, and when it was served the one who found the ring would be married within the year; the finder of the doll would have children; the finders of the thimble and the button would be a spinster and a bachelor, respectively; the one who found the pig would have good luck; and the one who found the coin would have wealth.

If cabbage is not to your taste, make CHAMP instead:

Cook and mash 6 - 8 potatoes.  Chop up enough spring onions to make 1 cup and cook them in 1-1/2 cups of milk.  Mix together the potatoes, onions, and milk, with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of butter, and season to taste.  Put the same charms in the Champ and serve hot.

A variation on this was to bake a ring and a nut in a cake such as BARM BRACK.  The one who found the ring would marry; so too, would the finder of the nut, but his or her future spouse would be a widow or widower.

Mix 1/2 ounce of fresh yeast with 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Add 1-1/4 cup of warm water and set aside.  Sieve together 3-1/2 cups of flour, a dash of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (or a half teaspoon of cinnamon and a half teaspoon of nutmeg). Stir in the yeast mixture and mix to a stiff dough.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead about 5 minutes, or until it is smooth and springy. Return dough to the bowl, cover with a cloth, and let stand in a warm place for 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Now mix together 6 tablespoons of melted butter, 2 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup EACH of currants, raisins, and sultanas, and 2 tablespoons of candied peel.  Stir into dough and beat well.

Fill 2 greased bread tins halfway-up with mixture; cover with a cloth, and let rise again in a warm place for about an hour or until dough has risen above the tops of the bread tins.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for about 50 minutes.  Glaze while hot.
GLAZE: 2 tablespoons of sugar mixed with 4 teaspoons of water, boil for half a minute.

If you are going to bake the ring in the cake, make sure it is metal and wrap it in a piece of waxed paper before dropping it in the batter. And remind your guests to be on the lookout for it and the nut.

APPLE BRACK is another good cake:

Peel, core, and slice 2 large apples or 4-5 small ones (about 2 pounds of apples).  Place slices in a a saucepan with a tablespoon of water and cook over low heat until soft, stirring often. Cool.

Sift 4 cups of flour with 2 teaspoons of baking soda.  Rub 1 cup of butter into flour.  Add 1 cup EACH of sultanas and raisins; mix well.  Stir in 1-1/3 cups of the cooked apple.  Beat 1 egg with a little milk (I used 2 teaspoons); add to flour mixture and mix well.  Pour into round cake tin and bake in a 375 degree F oven for about 1-1/2 hours.

FADGE is a flat cake made of mashed potatoes and flour:

Mix 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 pounds of mashed potatoes (4 medium or 2 large potatoes). Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Work in 4 tablespoons of flour and mix well (add more flour if needed to make a non-sticky dough).  Roll out dough on a floured surface to 1/2 inch thick; cut into circles (about 4 inches across).  Prick on both sides with a fork and cook either in bacon fat or on a non-stick griddle until brown on both sides.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar for a sweet treat.

And to drink?
LAMBS-WOOL was a traditional drink made by bruising roasted,  hot apples and mixing them with ale or wine (or sometimes milk).   "Lamb's-wool is thus etymologized by Vallancey:—"The first day of November was dedicated to the angel presiding over fruits, seeds, & etc., and was therefore named La Mas Ubhal, that is, the day of the apple fruit, and being pronounced lamasool, the English have corrupted the name to lamb's-wool."  Or it is from the appearance of the apples bobbing on top of the liquid.

Heat oven to 450 degrees F.  Place 4 - 6 cored apples in a baking pan and roast in hot oven for about an hour or until they are very soft.

Heat 1 quart of ale or cider in a pot.  Stir in of any of the hot spices: ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground cardamom, ground allspice (and depending on how many spices you use, don't let the total be more than 1 to 2 teaspoons.  1/4 teaspoon EACH of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves is good; more or less according to taste).  Add brown sugar by tablespoonsful - up to 1/2 cup - tasting after each addition for desired sweetness.  Bring the mixture to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Place the roasted apples in a warmed punchbowl and pour the hot liquid over them.  Serve hot.

This recipe from Historic Foods adds eggs and cream, while this one from The Foody is less complicated.

Go thou and enjoy.

26 October 2010

26 October - Charles W. Post; Grape-Nut Pudding

Today in 1854, Charles William Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company, and inventor of breakfast foods which eventually became Post cereals, was born in Springfield, Illinois, to Charles and Caroline Post.

In poor health, he entered the sanitarium of the great food faddist holistic healer and vegetarian Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of Battle Creek, Michigan, where he learned and later expanded on Dr. Kellogg's gospel of proper food and nutrition.

He founded the Postum Cereal Company in 1895, which first offered Postum, a roasted grain beverage touted as a healthful alternative to coffee [the black broth of Satan].  "Improper food and stimulants like coffee and tea create unnatural appetites", said one of his early advertisements, and in 1897, Post developed his first breakfast cereal, Grape-Nuts.  In keeping with his vision of healthy eating habits, the cereal claimed to have "nothing left out that could build strength and health", and that it "enriches the blood and builds sound, healthy bodies"; the cereal, which could be eaten hot or cold, was also said to increase the flagging appetite, and even cure a liquor habit.

Well, I don't know how much we want to be cured, but on a day like this, (New England) thoughts turn to GRAPE-NUT PUDDING:

Scald 1 quart of milk; pour over 1 cup of Grape-Nuts cereal in a bowl and let stand about 15 minutes.

Beat 4 eggs.  Add the milk mixture to the eggs a little at a time, stirring constantly.  Stir in 1/2 cup of sugar, a dash of salt, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Pour into a casserole (lasagne-pan size) and sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg on top.

Place the casserole dish in a large pan that has 1 to 2 inches of hot water in the bottom (not so much that it is higher than the sides of the casserole).  Bake at 325 degrees F. for about 1 hour or until set. A knife inserted in the center will come out clean if the pudding is done.

Now, that is the way to eat Grape-Nuts!  That is, if you can't have them mixed in your ice cream.

Meanwhile, a good read on healthy breakfast foods is Saki's Filboid Studge: the Story of a Mouse that Helped (scroll down for the contents).

25 October 2010

25 October - Saints Crispin and Crispinian; Crispin Apple Crisp

In the traditional calendar, today is the memorial of Saints Crispin and Crispinian,  patrons of shoemakers, cobblers, tanners, saddle-makers, and other who work with leather.  They were 3rd century Romans, perhaps brothers, perhaps even twin brothers, who settled in Soissons (northern France) and set about preaching and converting the inhabitants by day, and making shoes by night.  They were denounced as Christians, tortured, and beheaded.  You can read the story of Crispin and Crispinian in the Golden Legend.

The most famous mention of Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian is in the speech of Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt (1415), as written by Shakespeare:

"This day is call'd the feast of Crispian: 
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, 
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age, 
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian:"
Then will he strip his sleeve, and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day; then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, 
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so base,
This day shall gentle his condition: 
And gentlemen in England, now abed,
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here;
And hold their manhoods cheap, whiles any speaks 
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day." 
William Shakespeare, The Life of King Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii.

A good way to celebrate today would be to donate a pair of shoes to the local homeless shelter, woman's shelter, Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Goodwill, or any of a number of good causes.  Clean out your closet, or go and buy a stout pair of shoes, and take them to one of the aforementioned.  You will be in my prayers for your charity.

For tea or dessert tonight, The Feast Day Cookbook (by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger) suggests a Fruit Cobbler in honor of the cobbler saints, with a recipe easy enough for cook's helpers to attempt.  In the same vein, I propose:

(Ahem! Thou shalt not groan in mental anguish, neither shalt thou roll thy eyes, lest The Widow box thy ears for thy effrontery!)

Crispin Apples look like large Golden Delicious.  Of course, any good cooking apple will do.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.   Grease a square pan, 8" x 8" x 2".

Wash, dry, peel, core, and slice 4 Crispin Apples [or any cooking apple; I just used 5 small Macintosh Apples for an Apple Crisp].  Arrange apple slices in the greased square pan,

In a bowl, mix together 2/3 cup of packed brown sugar [3/4 cup if you are using very tart apples], 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 cups of oats, and 3/4 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg.  Stir in 1/3 cup of softened butter or margarine [or you can cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, if it is not softened enough to mix easily with the dry ingredients]; mix well together.

Sprinkle topping evenly over apples.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender.  Serve warm [ice cream goes really well with warm apple crisp, trust me].

And for your drinking pleasure, perhaps Crispin the Saint ("Elevated Hard Apple Cider") from the Crispin Cider Company.

24 October 2010

24 October - Saint Raphael, Archangel; Mother-in-Law Day

In the traditional calendar, today is chosen to honor the archangel, Saint Raphael, patron of lovers, happy meetings, travelers, and those engaged in the healing arts; he is invoked against blindness and other eye problems.  In the General Calendar, he and Gabriel are honored on Saint Michael's Day, now known as the feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

His name means "Healing of God" or "God Heals".  Much of his story is found in the Book of Tobit, where Raphael, disguised, accompanies Tobias on his travels, helping the young man by delivering his wife, Sara, from a demon and curing his father, Tobit, of blindness.  Raphael is also thought to be the angel which 'troubled the waters' of the healing pool of Bethesda.

Saint Raphael is usually shown holding a fish, as it was the heart and liver of the fish that delivered Sara from the demon, and its gall which restored Tobit's sight.  So dinner tonight should be one of fish.

There is always Fish and Chips, although that would probably make you think of Fish Friday, and this is a Feast Day!  Let us have something elegant, and/or substantial.  Lobster isn't the only thing that can wear a Newburg Sauce.

One of my favorite fish dishes is the Portuguese BACALHAU A BRAS (Salt Cod with Potatoes and Scrambled Eggs):

Take 1 to 1-12 pounds of dried salt cod, rinse it and put it in a bowl with enough water to cover; let stand overnight.  Rinse and drain [recipes will tell you to change the water several times, at least every six hours.  I merely rinse the fish well, bathe it overnight, and rinse it again.  Of course, I don't add any salt to the recipe!]

Put drained fish in a large saucepan with enough water to cover.  Heat to boiling; reduce heat, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily.  Drain.  Cool.  Flake fish.  Discard bones [I've never found any, yet, but there's always a first time.]

While your fish is boiling/simmering, thinly chop 1 to 2 cloves of garlic [I like garlic; I use 2 cloves] and slice 1 large onion.  Cut 3 to 4 frying potatoes (like russets) into matchsticks.

Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and cook until garlic starts to brown.  Then add potatoes in batches, sauteing them until golden and crisp.  Remove each batch of potatoes to drain on paper towels and add the next batch.

When potatoes are done and draining, reduce heat to medium and add onion slices and 1 bay leaf, cooking until the onion is golden (you can add another tablespoon of oil if it looks like there is not enough in the pan.)  Discard bay leaf.  Stir flaked fish into skillet with onions.

In a bowl, whisk together 8 beaten eggs and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper; add to skillet, stirring to mix.  Cook for about 1 minute, or until the eggs are starting to set.  Now add the potatoes to the skillet and cook for another couple of minutes or until eggs are fully set, stirring as needed.

Spoon the entire lovely mess onto a platter, sprinkle chopped parsley on top, and garnish with black olives (sprinkle with olive halves or pieces; line whole olives down the middle of the platter; or whatever suits your fancy.)

"Blessed Saint Raphael, Archangel, we beseech you to help us in all our needs and trials of this life, as you, through the power of God, didst restore sight to Tobit and gave guidance to young Tobias. We humbly seek your aid and intercession, that our souls may be healed, our bodies protected from all ills, and that through divine grace we may become fit to dwell in the eternal Glory of God in heaven. Amen."
Today is also Mother-in-Law Day.  Raise the Battle-Axe Flag!

(Yes, there actually is one!)

23 October 2010

23 October - Saint John of Capistrano; Stuffed Eggplant

"When the swallows come back to Capistrano...."

In the General Calendar, today is the memorial of the Franciscan reformer Saint John of Capistrano (March 28 in the Traditional Calendar).  Prof. Plinio CorrĂȘa de Oliveira calls him one of the saints "who were the defensive walls of the House of God."  And he did indeed defend, whether with words or in the midst of battle.

As Saint John is the patron of military chaplains, I suppose eating MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) would be appropriate; still, he came from southern Italy, which should have some bearing on tonight's dinner, so use the MREs as a centerpiece and choose something flavorful from Capistrano.

Capistrano is in the Calabrian region of Italy, at the toe of the Italian boot.  Surrounded by the sea, seafood and shellfish vie with the meats of the interior: pork and beef.  There are innumerable pasta dishes (including one with anchovies that I must try!), and vegetables, most especially eggplant.  So for Saint John's day, let us have STUFFED EGGPLANT:

Start with eggplants about 5 - 7 inches long, and plan on one or two halves per person.

There are any number of ways to prepare the eggplant - drizzle the halves with olive oil and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes; set them in a covered pan with a half inch of water and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes; or parboil a whole eggplant for about 20 minutes then slice in half.  In all cases, cook until flesh inside is tender.

While your eggplant halves are cooling, mince 1 onion and 1/2 of a clove of garlic (the whole clove if you like garlic) and set aside.  Mince 8 - 10 black olives and set them aside.  If using fresh herbs, mince enough marjoram to equal 1 teaspoon; enough thyme to equal 1/2 teaspoon; and parsley to equal one tablespoon - if using dried, then halve the above amounts.  Set aside.

When your eggplant halves are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh, leaving between 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch of flesh lining the skins.  Be careful not to break through.  Yes, this is just like making stuffed baked potatoes.  Chop up the eggplant flesh and set aside.

Saute 1/2 pound of ground pork or ground beef in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until no longer pink, then add onion and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chopped eggplant and 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs; cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.  In a bowl, mix together 1 beaten egg, 2 tablespoons of grated Italian cheese, the olives, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste; add to cooled meat mixture and mix well.

Stuff the eggplant halves with mixture, place them in a baking dish, and bake uncovered in a 325 degree oven for about 25 minutes.

Rosetta at Calabria from Scratch has another good Stuffed Eggplant recipe, with pictures of each step.

22 October 2010

22 October - Hunter's Moon

Astronomy: Tonight is the full moon called the Hunter's Moon; like the preceding Harvest Moon of September, its light in the early evening allowed men to continue their employments in the fields - agricultural field or hunting field - and with winter announcing its coming in the northern latitudes, every hour that could be spent gathering food was utilized.

As with the Harvest Moon, now would be a good time for a festival to celebrate a successful season - there are not many days left before our employments and celebrations must be held indoors. 

The Tippecanoe County (Indiana) Historical Association celebrates a two-day Feast of the Hunter's Moon, recreating the gathering of Voyageurs and Indians at the French settlement and trading post, Fort Ouiatenon.  This year, it was held on the 2nd and 3rd of October; in 2011, it will be held on the 24th and 25th of September.  By all accounts, it is well attended and a lot of fun, so mark your calendars accordingly.

Just looking at their schedule of events for this year, it is hard to believe that everything can be done in two days; Fashion shows, Minstrel shows, games, story-telling, drilling, artillery demonstrations, and music by members of the military, Native American and Colonial French dancing... check out their Schedule of Events to see all.

Naturally, at a Rendezvous of men coming back from long months of trapping with furs for sale or barter, there must be goods to buy from sutlers and peddlers alike.  And of course, food - including Buffalo Stew and something called Desperation Pie (which sounds wonderful if you have a sweet tooth, and I do!) - but don't worry!  The Colonial Tavern has ale to wash it down!

And try your hand at the Tomahawk Throwing Challenge - aim true, and don't let it land amidships, as Ed Ames did on the Tonight Show, many moons ago.
 Tonight you can tour the 'infamous Lone Mountain Cemetery in Carson City, Nevada.  I like their other name "aka, Friends in Low Places".  Not sure what makes the cemetery infamous (but a link on that page might give a clue); the advertisement says that it is "not recommended for young-ins", which means that it is probably plenty scary, and not recommended for The Widow as well, but those of you with stout hearts who go on haunted hayrides and through haunted houses and haunted factories (and all those other deliciously frightening tours) will enjoy it.

There is a Ghost Walk, as well, tomorrow afternoon, which is more like what The Widow can handle.  A little (self-administered) Hard Cider, and The Widow can handle anything!

And the Carson City Symphony gives a concert at 4 pm on Sunday, the 24th, with "Halloween & Harmonicas", featuring Harmonica Soloist Jia-Yi He.  And, of course, "Night on Bald Mountain" (one of The Widow's favorite pieces).

21 October 2010

21 October - Orionids; Hunter's Stew

Astronomy:  The Orionid meteor shower, which started on the 17th of this month and will continue through the 25th, reaches its peak tonight and tomorrow, with about 15 shooting stars per hour.  Unfortunately, the full Hunter's Moon will pretty much drown it out.  Still, you might be able to see something.  Viewing is best in the predawn hours.  Look south/southeast; the meteors will appear to be coming from Orion's right arm (left as you look at it).

You should know what Orion looks like, but if not, here is one of the clearest images I could find.  The 'belt', the three stars at an angle, is very recognizable.  The reddish-yellow star is his right shoulder (left as you are looking at it), and the meteors come from just above that.

(They are not in this photo, but if, when you are stargazing, you look to the right of his left shoulder (right as you are looking at it) you will see a group of stars hanging down in a semi-circle.  These are often drawn as the skin of a beast he has recently slain, and since he is waving it in the face of Taurus, the Bull (the 'V' of the horns is easily seen), this makes him the oldest bullfighter in history.)

Orion, in Greek mythology, was a mighty hunter - a real Nimrod - and so in his honor, and that of Canis, his faithful companion, and the Hunter's Moon as well, let us have a HUNTER'S STEW:

Start with 2 pounds of moose, elk caribou, venison, or (if you are not a hunter; or you are, but your shot accounted for one of the local farmer's best milk cows, and you have paid a really whopping fine and now own a carcass) beef pot roast.

[ahem!  And even if he flushed a pheasant and startled you so that your shot went wild, dropping poor Elsie in her tracks, please do not substitute faithful Canis for the above. Thank you.]

Cut up the meat into manageable chunks and brown in 2 tablespoons of hot bacon fat in a large saucepan or kettle.  Just cover browned meat with water and simmer, covered, for about an hour. [From the Experience Files: check on the level of water throughout the hour.  You'd be surprised how fast it can evaporate, even at a slow simmer.  Add a little hot water if needed.] 

Cut 6 carrots into 1-inch pieces. Add carrots, a bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste to the pot; simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.  Coarsely chop 3 medium onions; peel and cube 6 medium potatoes. Add onions and potatoes to pot; simmer, covered for 20 minutes (you may need to add a little hot water to keep the ingredients covered).  Quarter a small green cabbage and add that to the pot; simmer, covered for a final 15 minutes.  Season as desired and serve.

[And for faithful Canis?  Probably his usual kibble.  Something like this recipe might operate so powerfully on his digestion as to make moving the doghouse to the very end of the back 40 feasible.  Of course, cabbage may have the same effect on the Mighty Nimrods of the house, in which case they should also be sent out to the back 40.]

20 October 2010

20 October - Saint John Cantius

In the traditional calendar, this is the memorial of Saint John Cantius (died 1473), patron of Poland and Lithuania (December 23 in the General Calendar).

Also known as Saint John of Kanty, from the town in which he was born in 1390.  A very learned man and humble; hard-working, even when afraid of the responsibilities he held; generous to the poor, taking only what he needed to live (which was much less that most people would think necessary) and giving away all else. 

He could easily be the patron of those pastors who are constantly beset with the complaints and attacks of their parishioners, for whom nothing is right: "Why doesn't Father...?  When will Father...? I can't believe Father is....!  How dare Father not listen to me and do what I say!... Well, I don't care what Father says, I'm doing things MY way...!"

His motto was: "Conturbare cave; non est placare suave. Infamare cave; nam revocare grave."
("Beware offending; to ask forgiveness is not pleasant. Beware insulting; for it is difficult to take back.")

"Fight all error, but do it with good humor, patience, kindness, and love. Harshness will damage your own soul and spoil the best cause." -Saint John of Kanty

Good words to live by.  Good words to write blogs and comments by.

Saint John did not eat any meat after he received his doctorate, so today's dinner should be one of fish or vegetables, like LOSOS DO SOSOW GORACYCH I ZIMNYCH (far more descriptive, but 'Poached Salmon' is close enough):

First, make your Court Bouillon in which the fish will be poached.  Cut up 1 large onion, a couple of carrots, two celery stalks and half of a celery root, half of a parsnip, and one leek.   Tie a small bunch of dill and parsley together with string (2-3 sprigs of each should do it). Put everything in the pot with 5 cups of water, a bay leaf, 10-12 peppercorns, and a teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil.  Simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender. Strain and return to pot; bring liquid again to a boil.

Place a 3-4 pound piece of salmon (skin on) in a pot large enough to hold it [you can also cut it into individual pieces] and add the boiling Bouillon.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until done.  [Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of butter and warm your serving platter] Drain the fish and remove the skin.  Arrange fish on your warmed serving platter, spoon the melted butter over it, and garnish as you wish - parsley and lemon wedges are usual.  Serve with a nice sauce such as hollandaise.  You can also cool and chill the fish, and serve cold with mayonnaise or a nice SOS Z JAJ DO RYBY (Egg Sauce) of two hard-cooked eggs, chopped up and added to 4 tablespoons of melted butter, with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook the sauce for a couple of minutes or until the eggs begin to brown.  Pour over the fish and serve immediately.

While searching out these recipes I found one for a drink called KRUPNIK.  The description is rather daunting: "...it is said to go to the feet rather than to the head.  It is also said to fell the mighty and conquer the conquerors." (Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, Volume 9, p. 1431)  The Wikipedia article says that it was also used as a medicinal disinfectant for Polish soldiers during World War II.  You have been warned!

In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of dark honey with 1 cup of water, then add 8 cinnamon sticks; 1 - 2 vanilla beans, crushed; 1/4 whole nutmeg, freshly grated (1/2 to 1 teaspoon); 6 cloves, crushed; 10 peppercorns, freshly ground (optional); and a piece of lemon or orange peel.  Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Strain mixture through cheesecloth, pour strained liquid back into the saucepan, and again bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, stir in 1 pint of vodka, and serve, very hot, in small cups or warmed liqueur glasses.

Go here for more recipes of Poland, including a Hunter's Stew (BIGOS) which would make a grand dinner tomorrow in honor of Orion the Hunter. 

That is, if you are still standing after sampling the Krupnik...

19 October 2010

19 October - Saint Peter of Alcantara; The Martyrs of North America

In the Old Calendar, today is the memorial of Saint Peter of Alcantara (Spain), reformer and mystic, a rather terrifying saint to our hedonistic age.  You can read about his voluntary mortifications and sufferings here, along with commentary on enduring our own spiritual physical sufferings.

"He does much in the sight of God who does his best, be it ever so little." - Saint Peter of Alcantara

In the General Calendar, today is the memorial of the Martyrs of North America: Brother Rene Goupil; Father Isaac Jogues; Jean de la Lande (a layman); Father Antoine Daniel; Father Gabriel Lalemant; Father Jean de Brebeuf; Father Charles Garnier; and Father Noel Chabanel.

They were Jesuit missionaries, laboring among the Huron in what is now Ontario, Canada, and martyred there and in upstate New York between 1642 and 1649.  Their feast was celebrated on 26 September in Canada.

From "Saint John de Brebeuf”. Saints.SQPN.com. 10 August 2010. Web. {accessed 19 October 2010}.
Brebeuf’s Instructions to the Missionaries:
In 1637, Father Brebeuf drew up a list of instructions for Jesuit missionaries destined to work among the Huron. They reflect his own experience, and a genuine sensitivity toward the native people.
  • You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.
  • You must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking.
  • Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp; these little services win their hearts.
  • Try to eat the little food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours.
  • Eat as soon as day breaks, for Indians when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun.
  • Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe.
  • Be the least troublesome to the Indians.
  • Do not ask many questions; silence is golden.
  • Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to appear cheerful.
  • Carry with you a half-gross of awls, two or three dozen little folding knives, and some plain and fancy beads with which to buy fish or other commodities from the nations you meet, in order to feast your Indian companions, and be sure to tell them from the outset that here is something with which to buy fish.
  • Always carry something during the portages.
  • Do not be ceremonious with the Indians.
  • Do not begin to paddle unless you intend always to paddle.
  • The Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip.
  • Always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey.

18 October 2010

18 October - Saint Luke

Weather:   Today, and the days fore and aft, are known as Saint Luke's Little Summer, a bit of warmth in the crisp October days.   
Well, Saint Luke hasn't failed yet!  Warm, bright, and sunny yesterday and today - a welcome relief, and one not entirely expected after the nor'easter of Friday and the continual cold winds of Saturday.
Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist: the first ecclesiastical historiographer, author of the Gospel of Luke and of The Acts of the Apostles.  His symbol is the horned ox, usually winged.  Patron of artists, especially painters, and physicians, and a whole host of others.   You can read a nearly exhaustive account of Saint Luke, including arguments for and against the authenticity of his writings, here.    More ways to celebrate Saint Luke's day can be found on Catholic Culture.
Today is another good day to find out who you are going to marry, but unlike Saint Faith's Eve, you can also find out what kind of husband he will be.  This charm is taken from Mother Bunch's Closet Newly Broke Open, as found in Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain by John Brand:

"Take marigold flowers, a sprig of marjoram, thyme, and a little wormwood; dry them before a fire, rub them to a powder, then sift it through a fine piece of lawn; simmer these in a small quantity of virgin honey in white vinegar, over a slow fire; with this anoint your stomach, breast, and lips, lying down, and repeat these words thrice:

Saint Luke, Saint Luke, be kind to me
Let me in dreams my true love see

This said, hasten to sleep, and in the soft slumber of your nights repose, the very man whom you shall marry will appear before you, walking to and fro, near your bedside, very plain and visible to be seen.  You shall perfectly see his visage, stature and deportment; and if he be one that will prove a loving husband, he will approach you with a smile; which, if he does, do not seem to be over fond or peevish; but receive the same with a mild and modest blush.  But if it be one, who after marriage will forsake thy bed to wander after strange women, he will offer to be rude and uncivil with thee."

Good luck!  Were I to see some guy walking to and fro near my bedside, I would be dialing 9-1-1; that is, I would if I could do anything more than pray, "Take me now, Lord!"

17 October 2010

17 October - Time to Make Butter

Astronomy:  The Orionid Meteor shower begins today and ends on the 25th.  Peak will be on the 21st and 22nd.  Look south in the predawn hours, however, the full moon will drown out most of it.

Right now, there are two foods which are plentiful and cheap at the farmers markets - cheaper still if you pick your own - apples and onions.  And today is a good time to get started on two of my favorite spreads - apple butter and onion butter.

Most of you have probably come across APPLE BUTTER, either in the grocery store, or a specialty store which sells locally canned goods, or the church fair.  This is a favorite recipe that I use:

Slice into eighths 3-1/2 pounds of cooking apples [as far as I can tell, they are all cooking apples].  Boil 2 quarts of cider for 15 minutes.  Add apple slices and cook until very tender; strain mixture through a sieve [this removes the seeds and peel], and return pulp to the saucepan.  Add 3 cups of sugar, 1 teaspoon of ground allspice, 1 teaspoon of ground cloves, 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  Simmer slowly until thick, stirring frequently (you don't want it to burn).  Pour into jars and seal.

Next, toast your bread, and spread it with the sweet, spicy treat.  Or use it in APPLE BUTTER PIE:

Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry. [This is a custard-type pie, much like pumpkin pie, and will rise as it bakes, so flute the edges high.] 

In a large bowl, mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 3 tablespoons flour.  Stir in 1/2 cup of apple butter and 2 tablespoons of melted [dairy] butter.  In another bowl, beat 2 eggs with 1-1/2 cups of milk and 1 cup of cream.  Pour it into apple butter mixture, beating as you do so.

Pour the whole mixture into your lined pie pan and sprinkle the top with about 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg.  Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until a knife inserted into the pie comes out clean.  Cool pie.
ONION BUTTER is even easier to make, and sweeter than you would expect.  It is good on toast, on crackers, on oatmeal [yes, really!], on vegetables...

No, this isn't Onion 'flavored' butter, with bits of onion or onion juice stirred into dairy butter, although those are good too (especially a plug melting on a newly grilled steak!)  This is a spread made with onions, and nothing but the onions.

Peel 3 to 5 pounds of onions. [I use yellow onions; I can get huge 10 and 15 pound sacks of them for a few dollars - 10 yellow onions are about 3 pounds.  Big, flat, sweet onions are also good.  I've never tried using red onions]

Slice the onions into quarters and place in a large, heavy pot; barely cover the onions with water.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat; cover and simmer for a long time - aka about 24 hours. [No use trying to hurry things along, at least not with this recipe.  Since I don't leave ANYTHING burning when I am not there to watch it, I turn off the stove burner when I go to bed and start it up again the next day.]

Periodically check the mixture - you might need to add a little water.  I give it a stir each time, just to make sure nothing is burning on the bottom.  Once everything is cooked down, you will end up with a pint or two of a brown, lumpy mass; use your favorite method to make it smooth - hand-held or electrical mixer/beater, food processor, whatever. [I stir it and then use a potato masher to break up the lumps.  Arm power may not be Food Channel worthy, but it gets the job done]. 

Some people like to add a little salt to taste at this point.  Once that is done, simmer until all of the excess liquid is gone.  Keep an eye on this, because the liquid can evaporate before you know it, and you will be left with a burned mess.

It is ready to eat, now.  Warm onion butter on toast - heaven!

Once it is cooled sufficiently, I put it in a small crock, a small bowl, even a plastic container, and store it, covered, in the refrigerator.  It doesn't last long.

Of course you can go all fancy and roast the onions with a drizzle of olive oil before dumping them in a pot with melted butter, and using a food processor to make a smooth paste.  That seems like a lot of work to me, but go ahead, be creative.

16 October 2010

16 October - Saint Hedwig and her Soles; Marie Antoinette

Memorial of Saint Hedwig (a name quite familiar to Harry Potter fans), Widow and Patroness of Silesia.

A German princess, she was married at a young age to the Duke of Silesia.  She carried out her duties of wife and mother, convincing husband and children by her example to perform pious acts of charity and submission to God's will.  After her husband's death, she retired to the Cistercian convent of Trzebnica, which she had persuaded her husband to build, and of which her daughter was prioress.

When her son was killed in battle against the invading Mongols, she could, even in her grief, thank God for his blessings:

"I thank you, my God, for having given me such a son, who always loved and honored me, and never gave me the least occasion of displeasure.  To see him alive was my great joy; yet I feel a still greater pleasure in seeing him, by such a death, deserve to be forever united to you in the kingdom of your glory.  O my God, with my whole heart, I commend to you his dear soul."

God, give us the strength and the grace to praise You, even as we mourn. Amen.

According to accounts of her life, she practiced humility by going barefoot, even in winter, carrying a pair of shoes under her arm to put on if she met anyone.  There was a bread called "Saint Hedwig's Soles", made for this day; you can use any yeast bread recipe you like for it.  The shape of the buns resembles the kind of shoe seen in portraits of Henry VIII and his court - a kind of truncated triangle, wide at one end, slightly narrower at the other.


Scald 1/2 cup of milk, then cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, dissolve 1 package of active dry yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water (105 to 115 degrees F).  Sir in 1/2 cup lukewarm milk, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup of shortening or softened butter, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 egg, and 2 cups of flour.  Beat until smooth, then mix in enough flour to make the dough easy to handle.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead it until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. 

Place the dough in a greased bowl; turn greased side up.  Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1-1/2 hours. 

Punch down dough.  Pinch off pieces of dough and roll them to form 10 - 12 small balls.  Flatten the balls to about 1/4 inch thick and shape them into soles.  Place the soles on a greased baking sheet and let them rise for about 40 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Heat 1/2 cup of jam (any flavor) until melted; brush lightly over soles.  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of chopped nuts, if desired.
Today in 1793, another royal widow was martyred - the Widow Capet, in happier times known as Marie Antoinette, Queen of France.  For in-depth research on her, I will send you to the blog Tea at Trianon, where Elena Maria Vidal battles against the usual calumnies and time-hallowed lies that surround this much-maligned Princess.

15 October 2010

15 October - Saint Teresa

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Avila - Discalced Carmelite, mystic, and Doctor of the Church.

Teresa Sanchez Capeda Davila y Ahumada, born in Avila, Spain on the 28th of March 1515; died at Alba de Tormes 4 October 1582.  Her's is a fascinating life, full of contradictions.  I have always liked the story of her persuading her brother to go with her to Africa, so that they could be martyred ("a quick way to see God").  That is very much a child's reasoning.

You can read Saint Teresa's Autobiography at Project Gutenberg; The Interior Castle at Sacred Texts (the translation is by the Benedictines of Stanbrook, which will make this edition more in keeping with Saint Teresa's vision than that of the New Age translations you'll find in the local bookstore); and Way of Perfection at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Other ideas for celebrating the life of Saint Teresa can be found at Catholic Culture, including "Saint Teresa's Bookmark" and more Spanish recipes to enjoy.

Avila has several dishes for which it is justly known, but in honor of Teresa, here is a candy made in Avila called YEMAS DE SANTA TERESA (Yolks of Saint Teresa). 

Some say that Teresa's nuns made these sweets to raise money; others, that they have been made from secret recipes handed down in baking families.  Whatever their origins, they are a fascinating and contradictory concoction... just like the Saint.

Start with 12 egg yolks (save the whites for angel food cake or meringue).  Put the yolks through a fine mesh sieve into a saucepan and set aside.

In another saucepan, mix together 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water, a cinnamon stick, and the zest of one lemon (you can add 1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice as well, if you want the flavor to be more lemony).  Stir over medium heat, thoroughly dissolving the sugar, until it reaches a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until syrup reaches the soft-ball stage (about 234 degrees on the candy thermometer).  Remove from heat and discard the cinnamon stick.

Carefully add the syrup to the egg yolks (or the egg yolks to the syrup, if you prefer), stirring constantly.  (I have found that adding a spoonful of hot mixture into the eggs, stirring furiously, then adding another spoonful, stirring furiously, and maybe a third spoonful, helps to incorporate the hot mixture without cooking the eggs. Then, either mixture can be stirred into the other.)  Cook mixture over medium heat, still stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly.  Remove from heat, and stir until mixture is stiff and does not stick to the sides of the pan.

You can now either pour the mixture onto a greased flat pan, or sprinkle powdered sugar on a plate and spread the mixture on it.  Allow the mixture to cool until you can handle it.

When cool enough to handle, form mixture into small balls and roll them in more powdered sugar. Place the balls on a clean plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill completely (overnight is best).

You can also order these sweets (and other foods from Spain) on the La Tienda website.

14 October 2010

14 October - Chilean Miners; Battle of Hastings

All of the Chilean miners are back on the surface and safe, thank God!  Watching the rescue has been very emotional and intense - real edge-of-seat fare, with prayers and encouraging words for all involved.  Congratulations to the miners, their families, the rescue teams, and the people of Chile for a job well done!

Time to celebrate!  One aunt said that she would feed her nephew "champagne and bits of roast chicken", which sounds good enough for dinner tonight (I love roast chicken).  Or have Empanadas de Pino (Chilean Empanadas) which look like the traditional Miners' Pasties to me.

And champagne.  We are celebrating!

Today, in 1066, after months of planning and waiting, the forces of William, Duke of Normandy engaged those of Harold, King of England, and as we all know, William was victorious, thereby earning the appellation "The Conqueror" and a coronation on the following Christmas Day.

While this historic contest is referred to as "The Battle of Hastings", the actual fighting took place a few miles to the north at Senlac Hill.  King Harold and his army, which had just repulsed an invasion by the Viking King Harald Hardrada in the north of England and then hurriedly marched south to meet this new invasion, took up a good defensive position.  It might have worked.  It didn't.  King Harold and much of his Anglo-Saxon army were cut down over the course of the day.

William had to do a bit more 'persuading' as he marched north to London before the English were ready to accept him as their king, but by early December, they had been convinced - and thus ended the last successful invasion of England.

The Bayeux Tapestry (which you can see here in its entirety with very good commentary) is perhaps the most well known 'history' of the events leading up to and including the battle.  One of the panels shows William and his brother, Bishop Odo, at dinner after landing in England.  We see cooks with a cauldron suspended over a fire - perhaps for boiling beef or pork? - and a box-like contraption standing on three legs over another cooking fire.  The author calls it an oven; others have interpreted it to be a kind of barbecue.  Servants carry meat on skewers to the diners, including what looks like a fowl of some kind.  What other dishes are on the table is anybody's guess.

A good dinner to have tonight would be a small chicken or game hen roasted on a spit or rotisserie, a dish of mushrooms and leeks, or carrots, seasoned with herbs, and slices of sourdough bread.

And wine.  Or beer.  Or ale.  No water.

13 October 2010

13 October - Claudius; Mushrooms

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (the former Tiberius Claudius Drusus) died today in 54 AD.  He had been the Emperor of Rome for thirteen years, succeeding his infamous nephew Caligula at the age of 51.

After 51 years of doing pretty much nothing - which probably had a hand in saving his life - Claudius embarked on an energetic career as Emperor.  There were his building projects: aqueducts, roads, canals, and the port at Ostia.  There were his empire expansions: the additions of Britain, Thrace (northeastern Greece), Noricum (western Austria), Pamphylia and its neighbor Lycia (southern Turkey), Judea (part of Israel) and Mauretania (Morocco and western Algeria).  There were his edicts, some of them very humane.

And then, there were his wives.  The first two aren't noteworthy - at least, they didn't provide exciting material for historians and composers of opera like the last two - Messalina and Agrippina.

So we come to today in 54 AD.  Rumor has it that Claudius was poisoned.  Rumor can't decide how the poison was administered (although the 'dish of mushrooms' story is very popular), or who provided the poison, but rumor seems quite set on the person at whose instigation the poison was given - Claudius's fourth wife and niece, Agrippina, mother of an unassuming young man named Nero.  Yes.  That Nero.  Martyrdoms-of-Peter-and-Paul-and-a-whole-bunch-of-others Nero.  Who became emperor after the death of his grand-uncle and step-father, Claudius.

And who is said to have called mushrooms "the food of the gods" - supposedly because his step-father had become a god by eating them.

Well, I don't know if that's true, but I will agree that mushrooms are a divine delight.  Here are three recipes to make yourself and your guests feel divine.


Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a skillet until hot; place 2 pounds of mushroom caps in skillet (cap side down); season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and cook until brown.  Turn the mushrooms and cook until the liquid has evaporated and there is only butter (and mushrooms) in the pan.  Stir lemon juice into the mushrooms.  Serve immediately, spooning the butter/lemon sauce over the mushrooms. (These are nice served on hot toast)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Take the caps of one dozen large fresh mushrooms and wipe them with a damp cloth.  Put 1 drop of onion juice* in each cap; arrange, cap side down, in a baking dish.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Dot with 1 tablespoon of butter and then pour 1/2 cup of light cream over all.  Cover and cook in oven for 15 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.  Serve on buttered toast.

* Onion juice - either buy it, if you can find it, or make your own by grating an onion, then either placing the gratings in a strainer and mashing it through, or by placing the gratings in cheesecloth or a towel and squeezing the liquid out. Or use a food processor.


Preheat oven to #50 degrees F.
Remove the stems from 16 large mushrooms and chop them fine; set mushroom caps aside.  Remove the casings from 6 ounces of sweet Italian sausage; add sausage, chopped mushroom stems, 1 minced garlic clove, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet.  Cook, breaking up the meat, until lightly brown.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of minced Italian parsley, and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and mix well.

Spoon mixture into mushroom caps; put caps in a shallow baking pan.  Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to 1/4 cup of water and pour into the bottom of the pan.  Bake for about 20 minutes.

12 October 2010

12 October - Columbus Day

Today is the day that Christopher Columbus (or, more likely, Rodrigo de Triana, the Pinta's lookout) sighted land on his 1492 voyage to find a way to the rich Indies by a westward route.  It was observed yesterday in order to give everyone three days in which to celebrate the European discoveries of our continents OR to bemoan the same.  I personally am inclined to celebrate.

So here's to you, Columbus (and de Triana) and Brendan and Verazzano and Madog and Hudson and Cabot and Eriksson and Balboa, and Cartier, and more that I cannot even remember.  And also, here's to all of those brave enough to get on small boats and large ships (over the last four centuries), leaving everything behind, the good with the bad, to start over in a new land that most likely didn't speak the same language and has a habit of looking down on immigrants other than themselves.

An appropriate celebration dinner could include foods that the sailors would have eaten on their voyages.  Two essays on the cuisine Columbus would have known and eaten can be found at the Castello Banfi website: 'Christopher Columbus - His Gastronomic Persona', and 'Recipes' from the same; both are pdf files.

According to Lucio Sorre, who wrote the above essays, the victuals on that first voyage included olive oil, vinegar, wine, honey and molasses;  flour, rice, dried chickpeas and lentils; garlic, cheese, raisins, and almonds; sardines, anchovies, salt cod, and pickled or salted beef and pork.

Of course, what did sailors from time immemorial eat?  That's right: SHIP'S BISCUIT
(but I don't suggest you do the same)

A recipe for ship's biscuit from The Royal Naval Museum:

"To produce a similar plain ships biscuit, a medium coarse stone-ground wholemeal flour should be used."

"Add water to 1lb wholemeal flour and 1/4oz salt to make a stiff dough. Leave for 1/2 hour and then roll out very thickly. Separate in to 5 or 7 biscuits. Bake in a hot oven approx. 420 degrees F for 30 minutes. The biscuits should then be left undisturbed in a warm dry atmosphere to harden and dry out."

Other recipes leave off the salt.

The biscuits would then be broken up, pulverized, mixed together with more water, shaped, and baked again.  This process would take place up to four times, to make a durable breadstuff that would last for years.  It also made the biscuit extremely hard - so much so that one did not munch on a biscuit (it would be like munching on a brick), but rather sopped it in soup or gravy or other liquid until soft.  Biscuits were also used in soups and stews as thickening agents.

Well, here is something the sailors might have had to soften their biscuits: Chickpea Stew with Salt Cod, found on the Jose-Made-in-Spain website.  Garlic, salt cod, saffron, and cumin - what's not to like?

... Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
                        And peered through darkness.  Ah, that night
            Of all dark nights!  And then a speck—
                        A light! a light! a light! a light!
            It grew; a starlit flag unfurled!
                        It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
            He gained a world; he gave that world
                        Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”
                                                             —Joaquin Miller  "Columbus"

11 October 2010

11 October - Thanksgiving Day

Turkey! Mashed potatoes! Corn! Pumpkin Pie! And of course, Football!

And it is all happening in Canada, because today has been declared, "A day of general Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed..."

I do hope and pray that it has been a bountiful harvest, and that all shall reflect on their many blessings.

And then, tuck in!

(And for those south of the 49th Parallel who cannot wait another month, have a mini-feast with a turkey breast and the usual suspects, ending with Mini Pumpkin Pies)

10 October 2010

10 October -

The Widow is in mourning today for a dear friend.  Life is so much emptier now.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.  May her soul rest in peace. Amen.

09 October 2010

9 October - Saint Denis of Paris; Leif Ericson; Blabaerkake

Weather: A hard winter follows a fine Saint Denis.
It was a fine day here in the smallest state. "Hard winter, hard winter, come again no more..."

Feast of Saint Denis (Dionysius), bishop and martyr, and his companions, Father Rusticus and Deacon Eleutherius.

Sent to restore the Church in Gaul, which had suffered terribly under the persecutions of Decius, Dionysius and his friends arrived in the vicinity of modern Paris and settled on the Ile de la Cite.  His untiring efforts to re-establish and strengthen the Church, and the many conversions resulting from his preaching, aroused the enmity of the pagan priests.  The three men were arrested, tortured, and beheaded at a place now called Montmartre.

Popular depictions show him holding his head in his hands; occasionally he is shown walking with it, as he was said to have carried his head six miles to the place where the Basilica of Saint Denis was later built, preaching a sermon all the while.

As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, he is invoked against headaches, hydrophobia, and rabies.  He is also the patron of Paris (France) and of possessed and frenzied people [that makes sense].

You can read the Golden Legend account of his life here.
Today is also Leif Erikson Day in the United States.

There is no mention of the day in the early 11th century when Leif landed on the coast of Newfoundland (or possibly Massachusetts) and established a settlement in 'Vinland', which you can read about at the 'Saga of Eric the Red' here.    Rasmus B. Anderson, in his book "America Not Discovered by Columbus" (a partial view can be found on Google Books), thought that Vinland was to be found near Fall River in Massachusetts, mentioning both the "Skeleton in Armor" and the "Newport Tower" as part of his evidence.  Dighton Rock in the Taunton River is also supposed to be covered with Norse writing.

The Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland has also been proposed as the site of Vinland, while Norwegian researcher  Johannes Kr. Tomoe placed the site further east at Waquoit Bay in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Wherever it was, blueberries were available, so a nice dessert for the day would be BLABAERKAKE:

You will need 2 cups of fresh (or frozen and thawed, or canned and drained) blueberries
1-1/2 cups fine cracker meal
1/2 to 1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup  melted butter or margarine
Grease a 1 quart casserole and fill with half the blueberries.  Top with half of the cracker meal, half of the sugar, and half of the butter.  Repeat layering, ending with butter.  Bake in a preheated moderate oven (375 degrees) for 1 hour.  Serve warm, with whipped cream.

08 October 2010

8 October - Saint Reparata and Nice

AstronomyDraconid meteor shower: October 7th and 8th, in the late evening.  Not one of the spectacular showers, with only about 6 meteors per hour, but it should be dark enough to see, as the New Moon was two days ago.  Look north.

Feast of Saint Reparata.  The story is that she was a young girl of Caesarea in the 3rd century, who was tortured and thrown into a furnace when she would not sacrifice to the Roman gods.  She survived the flames, and was beheaded.

The patron saint of Nice, her annual fete will be held there this year on October 10.

So naturally, we should have a SALADE NICOISE to celebrate.

On a large dish or platter, lay a bed of Boston or Butter lettuce leaves, and arrange on top of them in a pleasing pattern:
Peeled and cooked small red potatoes (whole or sliced),
Cooked and refreshed green beans, 
Wedges of ripe tomatoes,
Hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved,
Nicoise olives,
Oil packed tuna,
Canned anchovy fillets.

You can toss the vegetables with a little garlic vinaigrette before assembling, or spoon the vinaigrette over the salad before serving.  Or both. Very easy, and very impressive.

You can find another good recipe for this and other Provencal food at "Provence Beyond".  Another Nice specialty is 'socca', which is a very thin pancake/flatbread made of chickpea flour and olive oil, baked on a HUGE round cast iron or copper pan.  When done, it is sprinkled generously with pepper, broken into pieces, and eaten hot.

If you don't have a HUGE round pan, try David Lebovitz's recipe, which uses a cast iron skillet or a tart pan.  (It also has pictures, which is always a great help to the exuberant but easily confused cook)

Nice is on the Cote d'Azur in southern France.  Go here to the Provence Web page for more information, and for lovely photos that will look even lovelier as winter sets in, believe me.

07 October 2010

7 October - Draconids; Lepanto and Our Lady of the Rosary

AstronomyDraconid meteor shower: October 7th and 8th, in the late evening.  Not one of the spectacular showers, with only about 6 meteors per hour, but it should be dark enough to see, as the New Moon was two days ago.  Look north.

Battle of Lepanto and feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

From Catholic Encyclopedia:

"Occupied by the Turks in 1498, Lepanto is chiefly celebrated for the victory which the combined papal, Spanish, Venetian, and Genoese fleets, under Don John of Austria, gained over the Turkish fleet on 7 Oct., 1571. The latter had 208 galleys and 66 small ships; the Christian fleet about the same number. The crusaders lost 17 ships and 7500 men; 15 Turkish ships were sunk and 177 taken, from 20,000 to 30,000 men disabled, and from 12,000 to 15,000 Christian rowers, slaves on the Turkish galleys, were delivered. Though this victory did not accomplish all that was hoped for, since the Turks appeared the very next year with a fleet of 250 ships before Modon and Cape Matapan, and in vain offered battle to the Christian, it was of great importance as being the first great defeat of the infidels on the sea."

The victory was attributed to praying the rosary, and the day now honors Our Lady of the Rosary.

06 October 2010

6 October - Saint Bruno

Feast of the uncanonized saint, Bruno (c1030 - 1101), scholar, professor, hermit, Papal adviser, and prolific writer.  Being called to a solitary life, he removed with six companions to a desolate area of the Chartreuse mountains, fourteen miles north of Grenoble in the French Alps. In keeping with the desire for an eremitical life, they built an oratory, where they met twice a day for Matins (morning worship) and Vespers (evening worship), and several individual cells at a distance from each other, where they spent their days in solitude, engaged in copying manuscripts, study, and prayer. This was the beginning of the Carthusian order.

The story of the event which caused Bruno to retire into solitude was a favorite of the Medieval period.  Miniatures, such as those found in The Belle Heures of Jean Duke of Berry, related the tale of the death and burial of the eminent Parisian theologian and doctor, Raymond Diocres. 

According to the story, Diocres, a famous professor of theology, died, and fellow clerics, students, and theologians gathered in Paris to honor the man at his obsequies.

But during the ceremonies, the corpse rose up on its bier in front of all and called out, saying, "I have been called to the just judgment of God!"  [This, not unnaturally, stunned the mourners into silence.]

Again, on the following day, while the funeral was being celebrated, the dead man again cried out, "I have been justly accused in the judgment of God!" The mourners, greatly astonished [which must be the understatement of the day], considered among themselves whether the judgment could be for good or for evil.

On the day of the burial, as the coffin was being lowered into the grave, again the corpse cried out, "Justly I am judged by God and I am damned!"  Whereupon everyone was terrified that a man of such accomplishments could be lost. [I probably would have dropped the body and run; Medieval folk were obviously made of sterner stuff.]

This caused Bruno to exclaim to his companions, "What hope is there for us, miserable as we are?  Let us flee and live in a solitary place!"  And so they did.

Of course, everyone knows that the Carthusian monks created a medicinal concoction named after their mother-house, La Grande Chartreuse.  It would be fitting to honor Bruno and his sons and daughters in the faith with a glass of the green elixir.

As Reginald says in his discourse on Christmas presents, "...people may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die."

True words.