26 December 2010

26 December - St. Stephen; 2nd Day of Christmas; Dublin Rock

Weather: The weather on the last Sunday of the month indicates the weather for the next month.
Weather today foretells the weather of February.
SNOW!  And not just a little snow.  Nope, a blizzard today, with about a foot of SNOW. 

If Saint Stephen's Day is windy, it betokens ill for next year's grapes.
Well, strong gusts, but not sustained, so there is hope for next year's grape harvest.
Today is the feast of the first martyr of the Church, Saint Stephen the Deacon.

"And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost..." (Acts 6:5) as one of seven men to minister not only in word but in the administration of church funds and in care for the needy, leaving the apostles to preach and make disciples as they had been bidden.

His ministry seems to have been among the Greek (Hellenist) Jews, and his arguments and logic were so successful in converting many, that men beaten in a dispute with him determined to destroy him.  This they did by false witness, accusing and condemning him of blasphemy; he was taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and stoned to death, in accordance with the Law of Moses.  The dying saint prayed for the Lord to forgive his murderers, and at the end said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit".

The Golden Legend relates several miracles attributed to Saint Stephen, and Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira provides a commentary on each of the steps leading to the saint's murder.  
Among his patronage:  To relieve headaches (that makes sense); patron of deacons and of stonemasons (that also makes sense).  And then he is the patron of horses and of coffin-makers.  Why?

As Stephen was stoned to death, a suitable dessert for today would be Rock Cakes, and there are recipes online which are more gentle on the dentures and digestion than the name (and a one-time experience on my part) would suggest; instead, however, here is a confection called DUBLIN ROCK:

Beat 2 eggs whites until stiff.  Whip 1-2/3 cup of heavy cream (it doesn't have to be stiff.  I used whipped cream - the real stuff, not 'dessert topping'.)

Cream together 1/3 cup of unsalted butter and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.  Add the whipped cream.  Gently fold in 1 cup of ground almonds.  Add a few drops of orange flower water and 1 tablespoon of brandy.  Stir in the beaten egg whites until well incorporated.

Pour the mixture into a dish and refrigerate until set (this may take overnight).  Remove and break the mixture into pieces (some people utilize a couple of forks to help the process), which will be rough and look like rocks.  Pile the pieces on a platter.  Decorate as you might a Buche de Noel, with green-tinted coconut or angelica to resemble grass, and ground or chopped pistachios to resemble lichen (and a little squiggle of green gel frosting to resemble a snake returning to its lair, or a couple of yellow saurian eyes peeking out from the hole under a rock.  Ooo, she says, warming to her theme, what about gummy worms in the pile?).

And then enjoy.
In the good old days, the village idiots boys would capture a wren today and parade around town with the poor thing in a cage.  Then they would kill it.  The village idiots are as stupid as their name suggests.  Wrens are very useful birds, who like to eat insects and spiders in great numbers, and have condescended to eat birdseed in winter in my backyard, before attacking their preferred diet.

If you must capture a wren, please do it on film.  And for them and their equally voracious feathered brethren, put out birdseed, lots of it, and suet if you can.  You may find a lot less garden pests, mosquitoes, and spiders next year, in gratitude.
This is also the day that Good King Wenceslas looked out and espied a poor man "when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even".  A good day to give food to your local pantry, homeless shelter, women's shelter, or Saint Vincent de Paul society.

As the blessed saint asked his page to "Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me firing hither...", you might also make a donation to your local utility to help heat someone's house this winter.  Our utilities include a little yellow envelope labeled "Warm Thy Neighbor" with their paper invoices.  If you pay your bills online, see if they have a place for donations.

And God bless you for your charity.