28 February 2011

28 February - St. Romanus; Kalevala Day in Finland; Karjalanpaisti

Weather:  Saint Romanus bright and clear, indicates a goodly year.

Today is the feast of Saint Romanus, Abbot, a 5th-century Gallo-Roman who lived as a hermit with his brother in the region of Condat (modern St. Claude) in eastern France.  A number of scholars placed themselves under the direction of the two brothers, who founded and directed several monasteries.

He is invoked against insanity and mental illness, and about now, when we are very tired of endless cold, and spring seems long a-coming, and some of us are succumbing to Seasonal Affective Disorder, while others are merely coming down with Cabin Fever and thinking homicidal thoughts about their housemates... it seems a good time to ask for his help in staying strong and overcoming the Winter Blues.
This is also the Eve of Saint David's Day.  If you wish to see a vision of your future spouse, walk silently around the leek bed three times at midnight.  No bed of leeks?  Now you know what to add to your garden.

If you walk in the churchyard at midnight, you will see the corpse-candles floating above the graves of those families who will suffer a death in the coming year.
Flag of the Republic of Finland

In Finland, today is known as Kalevala Day, a day in which to celebrate Finnish culture.

As related in Helsingen Sanomat (International Editon) 28.2.2002:
"... today is Kalevala Day, marking the anniversary of the publication of Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, compiled by Elias Lönnrot (1802-1994) from poetry in the ancient oral tradition.  The material, comprising old Finnish ballads and lyrical songs depicting "the sons of Kalevala", was first published in two editions in 1835 and 1849."

"Kalevala was a significant factor in the National Awakening (as part of the patriotic nationalist revival taking place throughout Europe during the mid-19th century) that led ultimately to Finnish independence and to a greater role for literature in Finnish, rather than in Swedish as had been the rule prior to this."

You can read the Kalevala in Finnish here and translated into English here.  Wikipedia gives synopses of the several cycles which make up the epic.  As both Longfellow and J. R. R. Tolkien were influenced by it, you may recognize several character types.
The national dish of Finland is KARJALANPAISTI (Karelian Hot Pot or Finnish Three-Meat Ragout), and suitable for a celebratory feast as it was in East Karelia (northeastern Finland where it joins Russia) that Herra Lönnrot found many of the stories which make up the epic.

The basic recipe was cubed pieces of beef and pork (and sometimes mutton) with a little salt, covered with water and cooked in a slow oven for hours until tender.  Added to this basic recipe were various seasonings, the amount and the kind being left to the ingenuity of the cook. Thus you will find variations such as in the amount of onions used - anywhere from two to six onions, and the onions either thinly sliced or coarsely chopped - the use of peppercorns (white or black) or not, bay leaves or not, whole allspice or not.  Below is the Hot Pot as I made it:


Into 1-inch pieces cut:
  • 1 pound of beef [I used already packaged stew meat.  Beef round or chuck can be used instead]
  • 1 pound of pork [the commissary had pork stew meat as well, but you could use a pork shoulder or leg]
  • 1 pound of lamb [no lamb stew meat.  I used a lamb shoulder.  Breast or leg is also good]
Slice 5 onions [I used large white onions.  Onions can be chopped instead, if preferred]

You can brown the meat in a little oil or not.  I didn't.

In the bottom of a heavy, oven-proof casserole (with a lid) or Dutch oven, place 1/2 of the meat and onions.  Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of whole peppercorns, and 4 whole allspice [I didn't have any bay leaves, but you can add a leaf to each layer].  Repeat the layer, including the salt and spices.  Add enough water or beef broth to almost cover the meat.

Cover and cook in a slow oven (275° - 300° F) for about 5 hours or until the meat is tender.

(If you would like to use your crockpot for this, and let the meat cook while you are away, try this recipe.)

Serve with mashed potatoes, like the oven-baked Perunasoselaatikko, or boiled potatoes, and with lingonberry sauce (cranberry sauce works, if you can't find lingonberry).

[One final thing: if you transfer the cooked meat and onions to a warm platter before serving, isolate and remove the peppercorns and whole allspice (bay leaves as well).  If you serve from the pot, try to get the peppercorns and allspice out first (they tend to float).  The look of pained reproach that a diner will give you when they bite into a peppercorn will stay with you a long time, believe me]

Hyvää Ruokahalua!

27 February 2011

27 February - Sexagesima; Dominican Republic Independence; Sancocho

Weather:  The weather on the last Sunday of the month indicates the weather for the next month.
Snow.  Would you believe it?  More snow.
This is Sexagesima Sunday, or the Sunday within sixty days of Easter.

It was also known as Exurge Sunday, from the Introit of the Mass, which is taken from lines 23-26 of Psalm 43:
Exurge, quare obdormis Domine? Exurge, et ne repellas in finem: quare faciem tuam avertis, oblivisceris tribulationem nostram? Adhaesit in terra venter noster: exurge, Domine, adjuva nos, et libera nos.

"Arise, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? Arise and cast us not off to the end.
Why turnest thou thy face away? and forgettest our want and our trouble?
For our soul is humbled down into the dust; our belly cleaveth to the earth.
Arise, O Lord.  Help us and redeem us for thy name's sake."

Today we recognize our separation from God and cry, "How long, O Lord?"  There is also more than a hint of "Are you listening, Lord?"  [Answer: Yes.]
Today is Independence Day in the Dominican Republic, celebrating their declaration of independence from Haitian rule and the capture of the Ozama Fortress in the capital of Santo Domingo.
Duarte, Mella, Sanchez, the Founding Fathers
The oath of La Trinitaria, the underground society that worked for the liberation of the Republic:

“In the name of the Holy, August and Indivisible Trinity of Omnipotent God: 
I swear and promise, by my honor and my conscience, in the hands of our President, Juan Pablo Duarte, to cooperate with my person, life and goods in the definitive separation from the Haitian government and to plant a free, sovereign and independent republic, free from all foreign domination, that will be called the Dominican Republic, and which will have its tri-colored flag in crimson and blue quarters traversed by a white cross.”

“In the meantime, we will be recognized as the Trinitarians, with the sacred expressions of God, Country and Freedom.  I promise this before God and the world.  If I do this, may God protect me, and if not, may He take it into account; and may my associates punish me for perjury and treachery if I betray them.”


There are two national dishes that you could serve today in honor of the Dominicans, one informal and one formal.  The informal dish is La Bandera Dominicana (the Dominican Flag), a glorious concoction of stewed meat, beans, white rice, and a salad, which is eaten by nearly everybody as the midday meal.  The recipe here at Colonial Zone (scroll down the page to find it) is easy and uses ingredients available at any supermarket.  You may need to start the stew mid-morning if you plan to serve it for lunch, remembering that you will need at least an hour.  If you don't use canned beans, remember also that beans take a while to cook until tender as well.

The formal dish is SANCOCHO, a delicious slow-cooked meal somewhere between a soup and a stew.  The recipe given here also has ingredients available at any supermarket.

Finely chop 1 large onion.  Peel, seed, and chop 1 large tomato.  Mince 2 garlic cloves.
Cut up 2 frying chickens into pieces, and sprinkle pieces with salt and generously with pepper.  Cut 1/2 pound of smoked ham into small (1-inch) cubes.

In a large kettle, saute onion in 1/4 cup of butter until translucent.  Add the tomato, chicken pieces, ham, garlic, 1 bay leaf and 3/4 teaspoon of dried oregano.  Pour in 2 cups of water.  Cover pot and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel 2 medium-sized potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch slices.  Peel 1/2 pound of winter squash and cut into 3/4-inch slices.  Peel 3 carrots and cut into 1/2-inch slices.  Chop fresh parsley to equal 3 tablespoons.

When meat has simmered for 30 minutes, add potatoes, squash, and carrots.  Cover the pot and simmer until chicken and vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.  Taste the broth and adjust seasonings, if needed.  Add the parsley and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Serve in wide soup-bowls, placing a portion of each meat and vegetable in each bowl, covered with plenty of broth.  Each serving should be accompanied by an individual bowl of steamed white rice and a chilled plate of salad.

Now, that is for Americanized tastes.  However, please check out this easy-to-follow recipe, "Elida's Special" on the Visiting the Dominican Republic website for an authentic taste of this national dish.  It does call for ingredients not normally found in the local supermarket (unless you live in a Caribbean populated neighborhood) - yuca, naranja agria, yautia - but with a little effort, you can find everything and put together an authentic dish (and find out what yuca really tastes like).  The Smallest State has at least one Dominican market and an all-purpose Caribbean market within a 20-minute drive of my house - you can probably find one or two near you as well.

Buen provecho!

24 February 2011

24 February - Saint Matthias; Granita

Weather:   If it freezes on St. Mathias' Day, it will freeze for a month together.

St. Matthias breaks the ice; if he finds none, he will make it.

St. Matthie sends sap into a tree.

Today (in the Traditional Calendar) is the feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle and Martyr, the man chosen to fill the place of Judas Iscariot among the apostles.  In a leap year, this is celebrated on the 25th of February.  In the New Calendar, his feast is celebrated on 14 May.

The Golden Legend treats of Saint Matthias (after an interesting prologue on the 'history' of Judas which you can read there (if the story sounds familiar, think of Paris of Troy and, more especially, Oedipus of Thebes)):

And then they made their orisons and said: Lord God, which knoweth the hearts of all the persons, show to us whom we shall choose of these twain here. And after, they cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias, which forthwith was enumbered with the other eleven, and then were they twelve. ... He did that which he preached, he made the blind to see and healed the sick men, he raised the dead men, and did great miracles in the name of Jesu Christ.

And when he was accused hereof tofore the bishop of Jerusalem, it was demanded him that he should answer thereto and he said: It behoveth not much to answer hereto, because for to be a christian man it is nothing criminal but it is a glorious life.

[Well, that didn't go over very well.]

The Jews took him and brought him to justice and had gotten two false witnesses against him and for to accuse him, the which cast on him first stones, and the other after, and so was stoned, and he prayed that the stones might be buried that the false witnesses had cast upon him, for to bear witness against them that stoned him, and finally he was slain with an axe after the manner of the Romans. And he held up his hands and commended his spirit to God.

Other accounts say that he preached near Sebastopolis (modern Sulusaray, Turkey) and was either stoned or crucified there.  He is the patron of reformed alcoholics, of carpenters, and of tailors [an interesting grouping].
If, as it says above, "Saint Matthias breaks the ice; if he finds none, he will make it", it behooves us to have ice for the good saint to break.  With this in mind, why not make GRANITA.

Granita is very easy to make - fruit juice, pureed and strained fresh fruit, coffee, chocolate, whatever, mixed with sugar and water and frozen.  The hardest part is that, every once in a while, you must stop whatever you are doing and go rake up the frozen crystals.  However, it is little enough effort and the result makes a grand presentation.

There are lots of good recipes online.  The easiest is one that a friend served at a kid's party:

Pour 5 to 6 cups of root beer into a large, flat, baking dish (if you use a short, flat, baking dish, be prepared for a longer freezing time).  Put the dish into the freezer and let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour (different freezers, different freeze times).  Take it out of the freezer and use either a fork or a whisk to break up the frozen pieces and mix them with the liquid.  Even out the mixture and return to the freezer for another 45 minutes to one hour.  Remove, whisk again, return.  When mixture begins to freeze totally, switch to using a fork to scrape down the ice crystals. Do this until there is no more liquid.  Serve.  Granita looks best served in chilled glasses.  Top with a scoop of ice cream and you have the taste of a root beer float.

And that should be enough ice to keep the good saint from making more.

23 February 2011

23 February - Saint Serenus

Today is the feast of Saint Serenus the Gardener, martyr, who was executed in the first decade of the 4th Century.

According to Rev. Alban Butler, Serenus was a Greek by birth, who, in order to live a life given wholly to God, moved far from home and family to Sirmium in what is now Serbia [when Rev. Butler wrote his "Lives", the area was part of the Kingdom of Hungary].  Sirmium was the capital of the District of Galerius Caesar, under the Tetrarchy (298-c. 313), and like capitals everywhere, full of wealthy, important, and influential people.

Here Serenus bought a little garden where he could live by himself from the fruits of his labors.  Perhaps it was a beautiful garden, or perhaps, as Serenus wished to live apart from men, it was a secluded garden.  For whatever reason, the wife of a high-ranking officer and her daughters decided one day to walk in the garden at around the noon hour, when the Roman populace normally reposed.

Upon seeing them, Serenus said, “A lady of your quality ought not to walk here at unseasonable hours, and this you know is an hour you ought to be at home. Some other design brought you hither. Let me advise you to withdraw, and be more regular in your hours and conduct for the future, as decency requires in persons of your sex and condition.”

Walking in a garden during the heat of the day seems a reasonable activity, so there there must be something more to this walk than is related.  Rev. Butler is rather coy on the subject, and the only hints we are given are that the women were there at an unseasonable hour, that Romans rested at home at noon, and that the lady's husband recognized that her action "was too plain an indication of her wicked purpose and design."  Leaving us to wonder what the wicked purpose and design was.

In any case, those at fault will not take even a charitable remonstrance kindly, and the lady wrote to her husband, one of the guards of the Emperor Maximian, complaining of the insult offered to her by this member of the hoi polloi.  Naturally, her husband was upset and complained in his turn to the Emperor.

On the basis of this, Serenus was hauled into court.  At first surprised at the charge that he had insulted a woman (something he had never done in his life), he then remembered the lady in the garden and related what he had said to her. "This plea of Serenus, having put the officer to the blush for his wife's action, which was too plain an indication of her wicked purpose and design, he dropped his prosecution of the innocent gardener, and withdrew out of court."

You'd think that all would be right for Serenus now, but, while his answer got him off one hook, it put him on another.  The governor, suspecting that a man who resented visits from ladies at improper hours might just be a Christian [giving us an odd idea of the morality of pagans], determined, through questioning, that his suspicions were correct and sentenced Serenus to death by beheading.  The sentence was carried out immediately, sending Serenus to the most beautiful Garden of all.
Since gardening catalogs are now showing up in our mailboxes [I just got another one], today would be a good day to start planning our own gardens.  Serenus used his plot of land to grow fruits and vegetables for his consumption; in his honor, consider planting a new fruit tree or adding a new vegetable to your kitchen garden.  Or perhaps this year, set aside a little space for a Mary Garden, with Sea Pinks, Lily-of-the-Valley, Roses, Madonna Lilies, or any of the others listed.

22 February 2011

22 February - George Washington; Cherry Pie; Punch

Weather: If it is cold on St. Peter's Day, it will last for a while.

The night of St. Peter shows what weather we shall have for the next forty days.

If it freezes on February twenty-second, there will be forty more freezes.
Today is the feast of the Chair (Cathedra) of Saint Peter at Antioch.

Holy church halloweth the feast of S. Peter the apostle, and this day was S. Peter honorably enhanced in the city of Antioch, and set in the chair as a bishop.  The Golden Legend
George Washington, first President of the United States, was born today in 1732 at his father's plantation of Pope's Creek (the site of which you can visit), the first child of Augustine Washington's marriage to his second wife Mary Ball.

Actually, it was the 11th of February when he was born, but the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752 and the loss of 11 days moved his birthday to the 22nd.  Our Congress has been moving it around since then, which is why Washington's Birthday and Washington's Birthday Observed are usually on two different days.

Before he was 16, he transcribed a list of Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, of which there were 110.  You can read the list here at the Colonial Williamsburg site; as stated there, the original spelling is unchanged.

The offenses to which he refers haven't been eradicated nor even changed much in the last couple of centuries. These listed below are transgressions against Civility and Decent Behavior which I have seen in the last week: 

2d When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered. [Scratch your nether parts in private, please] 

5th If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkercheif or Hand before your face and turn aside.  [We are still asking people to do that! Still!] 

7th Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest. [Although sometimes it is hard to figure out if they are half-dressed or if it is the prevailing fashion.] 

18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the Books or Writings of Another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unask'd also look not nigh when another is writing a Letter. [And this can be updated to no texting or carrying on conversations on your cell-phone while in company.  The rest of the company is not entertained by this, I assure you.] 

23d When you see a Crime punished, you may be inwardly Pleased; but always shew Pity to the Suffering Offender. [In charity, pray for the person.  Shrieking with glee when a sinner is pilloried is unbecoming to a civilized person.  Excoriating those who pray for or show pity to the offender is equally unbecoming.] 

38th In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physicion if you be not Knowing therein [Also, if you are not a lawyer, don't give legal advice; the same if you do not know canon law] 

50th Be not hasty to beleive flying Reports to the Disparagement of any. [The media has its own agenda.  Don't be so quick to burn people at the stake based on media reports.] 

65th Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion. [And if you insult somebody and are called on it, please don't hide behind "It's just my sense of humor; nobody understands it".  We understand all too well.  Believe me.] 

74th When Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience if any hesitate in his Words help him not nor Prompt him without desired, Interrupt him not, nor Answer him till his Speech be ended. [Of this, I am often guilty.  I think this will form the basis of my Penance Box for Lent this year.] 

79th Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof. In Discoursing of things you Have heard Name not your Author always A Secret Discover not. [And if you don't know for certain that Hiram Daugherty (born 1809) is the son of Hiram Daugherty (born 1801) (and it is hard to see how he could be) please don't publish it for everyone on the Internet to copy to their family tree.  Trying to correct the enormous number of mistakes created by that one error is work for a lifetime.]
In his honor, a CHERRY PIE would be an appropriate today, even though that whole thing about the cherry tree was made up after his death.  If you haven't already, you can read Parson Weem's 'biography' of George Washington here (the cherry-tree incident is in the 2nd chapter).

Heat oven to 425 degrees F. 
Drain two 16-ounce cans of tart cherries (at this time of the year, the colonists would have used preserved cherries, dried or bottled.  Go thou and do likewise). 
Line a pie plate with pastry (made or bought.  This is a two-crust pie).

Mix together 1-1/3 cups of sugar and 1/3 cup of flour.  Stir in the drained cherries.

Pour cherry mixture into pastry-lined pie plate.  Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract and dot with 2 tablespoons of butter.  Cover with top crust [a lattice crust is very eye-appealing]; seal and flute the edges.  If you aren't using a lattice crust, cut several slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.

Bake about 35 to 45 minutes. [And remember to cover the edges with strips of aluminum foil to prevent them from over-browning; remove the foil 15 minutes before the pie is done.]

A suitable toast to Mr. Washington would be with a glass of PUNCH from a 1764 recipe:
Take of Fair Water two Quarts, pure Limejuice a Pint, treble-refined Sugar, 3 Quarters of a Pound, or better, mix and perfectly diffolve the Sugar, then add of choice Brandy 3 Pints ftirring them well together, and grating in one Nutmeg.

Mix together 2 quarts of water and 2 cups of lime juice (about 16+ limes, if you are using fresh juice).  Pour this over 1-1/2 cups of sugar and mix well to dissolve.  Stir in 3 pints of brandy and grate 1 nutmeg over it or stir in about 2-1/2 teaspoons of ground nutmeg.

[A cup or two of that, and you can take on a whole regiment of redcoats.]

Actually, the author considered that recipe old-fashioned (by 1764 standards) and suggested that the punch could be made more a la mode by making a few changes: To the above Quantity of Water, 6 Lifbon Lemons, no quite fo much Sugar, one fixth Part of the Spirits, and the Nutmeg to be omitted.

[It may be a la mode, but it sounds pretty dull compared to the old-fashioned recipe.  Give me a robust punch or give me death!]

21 February 2011

21 February - Feralia

Today is the ancient Roman festival of Feralia, when the spirits of the dead hover above their graves.  To propitiate them, food and drink and little gifts were left nearby. 

And the grave must be honoured. Appease your fathers’
Spirits, and bring little gifts to the tombs you built.
Their shades ask little, piety they prefer to costly
Offerings: no greedy deities haunt the Stygian depths.
A tile wreathed round with garlands offered is enough,
A scattering of meal, and a few grains of salt,
And bread soaked in wine, and loose violets:
Set them on a brick left in the middle of the path.
Not that I veto larger gifts, but these please the shades:
Add prayers and proper words to the fixed fires.

[I am told in strictest confidence by certain cemetery groundskeepers that the spirits are very fond of a bottle of good whiskey.  Like calling to like, I daresay.]

But while these rites are enacted, girls, don’t marry:
Let the marriage torches wait for purer days.
And virgin, who to your mother seem ripe for love,
Don’t let the curved spear comb your tresses.
Hymen, hide your torches, and carry them far
From these dark fires! The gloomy tomb owns other torches.
And hide the gods, closing those revealing temple doors,
Let the altars be free of incense, the hearths without fire.

20 February 2011


The third Sunday before Lent.  Septuagesima is also the name given to these three weeks before Ash Wednesday.  The next two Sundays in this period are called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. The Sunday after Ash Wednesday is called Quadragesima.

As related in the Golden Legend: "The time of Septuagesima representeth the time of deviation, that is of transgression. The Sexagesima signifieth the time of revocation. The Quinquagesima signifieth the time of remission. The Quadragesima signifieth of penance and satisfaction."

This is our preparation for Lent.  It is time to consider our sins and all which keeps us separate from God; during Lent, we will mourn our sins and repent, mortifying ourselves with fasting, abstinence and prayers.

Read an overview of the season of Septuagesima, its meaning and customs, here, and here.

The Alleluia is removed from our liturgy, and will not be said again until Easter.  There were different ways to represent the 'death' of the Alleluia, the most well-known being the ceremony of its burial.  From Curiosities of Popular Customs: "It was formerly distinguished in England by a strange ceremony denominated the Funeral of Alleluia. On the Saturday of Septuagesima, at nones, the choristers assembled in the great vestiary of the cathedral, and there arranged the ceremony.  Having finished the last benedicamus, they advanced with crosses, torches, holy water, and incense, carrying a turf in the manner of a coffin, passed through the choir, and went howling to the cloister as far as the place of interment; and then, having sprinkled the water and censed the place, they returned by the same road." (fosbroke: British Monachism, 1843, p. 56.)

19 February 2011

19 February - Saint Barbatus of Benevento

Today is the feast of St. Barbatus (or Barbas) of Benevento, Bishop.  He was born around 610 in Benevento (southern Italy) and died there in 682.

Of St. Barbatus, Rev. Butler states: "He was immediately employed by his bishop in preaching, for which he had an extraordinary talent; and, after some time, made curate of St. Basil’s, in Morcona, a town near Benevento. His parishioners were steeled in their irregularities, and averse from whatever looked like establishing order and discipline amongst them. As they desired only to slumber on in their sins, they could not bear the remonstrances of their pastor, who endeavoured to awake them to a sense of their miseries, and to sincere repentance: they treated him as a disturber of their peace, and persecuted him with the utmost violence. Finding their malice conquered by his patience and humility, and his character shining still more bright, they had recourse to slanders, in which, such was their virulence and success, that he was obliged to withdraw his charitable endeavours amongst them."

He returned to Benevento, where even many of the Christians held idolatrous superstitions, venerating a viper made of gold and a tree whereon was hung the skin of a wild animal.  Barbatus preached against these practices, but made no headway until the siege of the city by Emperor Constans (an event which he foretold).  Then the people "renounced their errors and idolatrous practices", and Barbatus gave them good comfort that the siege would soon be lifted.  He cut down the tree and melted the golden viper to fashion a chalice from it.

He was consecrated Bishop of Benevento in 663, and continued his work of eradicating the superstitions in the area.  Barbatus died in 682.

Rev. Butler goes on to moralize about people who only seek God when faced with troubles, and then return to their former lives when the trouble is gone.

I think more of our modern priests and bishops who are trying to eradicate the excesses and abuses which have crept in to our faith, most notably in our worship.  Like Barbatus, they are not popular, and their parishioners think nothing of slandering them and causing hate and discontent within the parish, going so far as to demand that the priest be removed.

Saint Barbatus, protect and strengthen your brothers, who are trying hard to cut down the trees and melt the golden idols that keep us from God.

18 February 2011

18 February - Queen Mary I of England; Caudle

Astronomy: Full Snow Moon

"God give good life and long unto the right high, right noble, and right excellent Princess Mary, Princess of England and daughter of our sovereign lord the King..."

Today in 1516, in the royal palace at Greenwich, a daughter was born to King Henry VIII of England and his queen Catherine of Aragon.  Two days later, the baby was christened in the Church of the Observant Friars at Greenwich, and named Mary after her aunt, the beautiful Princess Mary Tudor, dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk.

The baby's sponsor was Margaret Plantagenet Pole, Countess of Salisbury (daughter of Henry's maternal grand-uncle Clarence); her godmother was Catherine Plantagenet Courtney, Countess of Devon (Henry's maternal aunt).  A second godmother was the Duchess of Norfolk; Mary's godfather was the powerful Cardinal Wolsey.

She is reputed to have been not only a beautiful child, but also intelligent and precocious.  Both Henry and Catherine doted on her and took great pains with her education.  As the child of parents noted for their learning, she was tutored in various languages - Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, and Italian, musical instruments and dance, religion and philosophy, and read the Bible, especially the New Testament, writings of the early Church Fathers, and the works of Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, and Plato.

From the start of her life, she was considered a useful pawn for alliances with the European powers, and just short of her third birthday was formally betrothed to the 7-month-old son and heir of the King of France; within two years it was set aside.  At the age of 6, she was just as formally betrothed as part of a treaty to her 22-year-old cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but this again lasted only long enough to ensure an alliance between the two sovereigns; Charles married his (and Mary's) cousin Isabella of Portugal in 1526.
Mary about the time of her engagement to Charles V
In 1525, the 9-year-old princess was sent to Ludlow in Wales to hold court there and to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches.  While she was never formally invested as the Princess of Wales, this move was considered by many as Henry's acknowledgment of his daughter as Heiress Presumptive.

To secure a new alliance with the French in 1527, Mary was promised in marriage to either King Francois of France, or to his second son Henri; this also fell through, and the alliance was made without her having to marry either man.  A year previously, Mary's father (wondering if maybe the lack of a living son was Heaven's way of disapproving of his marriage to his brother's widow) had started the process which would end in 1533 with an annulment from Mary's mother, depriving the teenage girl of both her mother and her position. 

Overnight she went from Princess Mary to Lady Mary, bastard daughter of the king.  This considerably lowered her attractiveness in the royal marriage mart, even though most of Europe considered her Henry's legitimate daughter.  There were other abortive negotiations in the succeeding years, and Mary, wondering if she would ever be married lamented, "...there was nothing to be got but fine words and while my father lives, I shall be only the Lady Mary, the most unhappy lady in Christendom."

You know the rest of the story, and if not, go here or here or here.
CAUDLE was a popular drink from at least the Middle Ages through the beginning of the 19th century, and was considered especially nourishing for invalids, including women in childbed.  Those visiting the newborn were also offered caudle as part of the refreshments.  It was a thick drink, of a texture between thin pudding and eggnog, most often made with eggs (although not invariably), mixed with warm wine or ale, with additions of sugar and spices.

Here is a medieval recipe for caudle as printed in "Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books" edited by Thomas Austin and found here at Internet Archive:

This recipe mixes almond milk with wine (red or white) and a few beaten egg yolks, some sugar and a little salt.  The mixture is cooked until almost boiling and then served with a sprinkling of 'Alkenade' (a red dye made from the root of the alkenet plant).  If the cook wanted a thicker mixture ('chargeaunt'), he could mix in rice flour or wheat flour.  The caudle could also be colored with a little saffron while cooking and sprinkled with ground spice and sugar before serving.

In honor of the newborn Princess, here is an easy recipe for CAUDLE:

Lightly beat 4 egg yolks.  Fill the bottom part of a double boiler with water and heat to simmering. In the top part of the double boiler, mix the beaten yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of white wine [I like Riesling] and a pinch of saffron.  Cook over the simmering water, beating constantly with a wire whip or an egg beater, until the mixture thickens slightly and is soft and fluffy (about 10 minutes).  Serve immediately in glasses or small cups.  Sprinkle a little ground nutmeg or cinnamon on each serving, if preferred.

17 February 2011

17 February - Fornacalia; Johnny Cakes and Hoe Cakes

Not what it sounds like (you should have got that out of your system three days ago), but the ancient Roman festival honoring bread, ovens, and Fornax (the oven goddess) of which this is the last day.  Read about Fornacalia here and Ovid's explanation of it here, then be heavenly yourself and bake bread today.

An easy bread is Johnnycake (Johnny Cake, Jonnycake), also known as Hoe Cake, a member of the pancake family.  The origin of the name is unknown, although its use was attested in the 18th century. One etymology claims that they were originally called "journey cakes," as they were carried for sustenance on tedious journeys.  This is not as far fetched as it sounds, because New Englanders (especially) are known for dropping r's from words where they legally should be (cah, bah, and hahbah come to mind - car, bar, and harbor for those who pronounce the correct letters) and "journey" does become 'jawnee' under those circumstances.

[But don't worry.  Thrifty New Englanders don't just toss those unused r's.  They add them to other words, like 'Americar' and 'Bermudar'.]

Of course, it could be another pronunciation of Shawnee Cake or of jonikin... or they all might be mispronunciations of each other.

What makes it different from most pancake recipes is the absence of eggs or any other leavening.

The Newport Cookbook (Ceil Dyer, 1972) delicately hints that jonny-cakes were invented in Rhode Island, and downright declares that to be authentic, they must be made with white-cap corn which has been ground with fine-grained millstones, producing a flat meal.  That the Smallest State could have regional differences within its borders as to the proper way to fix the cakes is rather amusing, but so it would seem, and the debate was carried all the way to the state's General Assembly.  Does one pour scalding water over the meal first, before frying the cakes on a hot griddle, or is it more proper to mix the meal with cold milk into a thin batter before frying?  I don't know for sure, but it is possible that one might be invited to leave the region for another part of the state if one gave the wrong answer.

If you want to try your hand at making Rhode Island Johnnycakes (water or milk), allow me to send you to the website of Kenyon's Grist Mill, where you can find recipes and the authentic white cornmeal needed. [They also have Blue corn meal and Red corn meal - which would make some colorful pancakes for Independence Day]

The New-England Cookery of Lucy Emerson (1808) gives three ways to make "Johny Cake, or Hoe Cake".  The cook has the choice of:
"Scald 1 pint of milk and put to 3 pints of indian meal, and half pint flower"
"Scald with milk two-thirds of the indian meal"
"Wet two thirds with boiling water, add salt, molasses and shortening, work up with cold water pretty stiff"
bake before a fire.

Originally, the batter was thick enough to hold its shape as it was baked on a board propped up at an angle before the fire.  When the upper part was brown, the cake was turned over to allow the underside to bake.  Later, the batter was thinned to something more resembling gruel and dropped by spoonfuls onto a hot griddle.

Hoe Cakes is more of a Southern term, although Miss Lucy used it as an alternate name for her Johny Cakes above.  They were also thicker cakes, being shaped by hand before being baked on a well-greased griddle, or, as the name implies, a hoe.

Put 2 cups of white cornmeal in a bowl and pour over it 2 cups of boiling water.  Then stir in 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 cup of milk, and 1/4 cup of melted butter. (Add more water if necessary, so that the batter is soft, but not thin.)  Bake on a well-greased griddle, turning to brown both sides.  Serve with butter and maple syrup. 

(contributed by Mrs. W. P. Trotter in Mountain Makin's in the Smokies (1957), available at the Great Smoke Mountains Association website):
Mix thoroughly 2 cups of cornmeal, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 cup of boiling water, and 1/2 cup of cold water.  Shape with hands in oblong cakes.  Bake on a well greased griddle [she calls for bacon fat], turning when partly done so both sides will be brown.

Mmmm... good eating, north or south.

16 February 2011

16 February - Lithuanian Independence Day; King Tut

Weather: "Winter's back breaks", says The Old Farmer's Almanac.

[Not noticeably, says the Widow]
Today is Lithuanian Independence Day, celebrating the day in 1918 when 20 men signed the Act of Independence proclaiming their country once again an independent State (against great odds, I might add, for neither Russia, to whom it belonged, nor Germany, who maintained its influence in the territory with German troops, wanted an independent Lithuania).

Several communities in the United States are holding ceremonies and festivities in honor of the day, some of which you can find here.    Many of them are celebrated on the weekend closest to today, but some of them will be held in March, near the day when Lithuanians reiterated their independence and broke away from the Soviet Union, becoming the first of the Soviet Republics to do so.

       The Council of Lithuania in its session of February 16, 1918 decided unanimously to address the governments of Russia, Germany, and other states with the following declaration:
       The Council of Lithuania, as the sole representative of the Lithuanian nation, in conformity with the recognized right to national self-determination, and in accordance with the resolution of the Vilnius Conference of September 18-23, 1917 proclaims the restoration of the independent state of Lithuania, founded on democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital, and declares the termination of all state ties which formerly bound this State to other nations.
       The Council of Lithuania also declares that the foundation of the Lithuanian State and its relations with other countries will be finally determined by the Constituent Assembly, to be convoked as soon as possible, elected democratically by all its inhabitants.
       The Council of Lithuania in informing the Government of ..................... to this effect kindly requests the recognition of the Independent State of Lithuania.
       Vilnius, February 16, 1918

This is called the national dish of Lithuania, and like a good national dish [think American Apple Pie] you will find subtle differences according to the cook.  The basic ingredients are potatoes and bacon, eggs, milk, and onions, BUT!  how many and what kind of potatoes? how much bacon? a whole onion or only half... and do you grate it or chop it? how many eggs? how much milk and is it regular milk or something out of a can?... 

All of these decisions must be made before you add seasonings.  And then...  just when you think you have the recipe down pat, those who regularly enjoy this dish will tell you that sometimes they change the amounts of the main ingredients - and the seasonings - to suit their fancy (grandmothers will tell you that the changes had more to do with what was available).  And they very kindly invite you to do so as well!

Well, it is good and filling, trust me.  Find one of the recipes online, especially this one from Beer and More in Food, and give it a try, remembering that 1 pound of bacon is the usual size package, and 5 pounds of potatoes is a small sack or bag. [I used that recipe and cut it in half.  And yes, it is good the next day lightly fried for breakfast]
Today in 1923, after months of cataloging the treasures found in the antechamber of tomb KV62, Egyptologist Howard Carter opened the sealed doorway and discovered the burial chamber, with intact sarcophagus, of King Tutankhamen.  This is worthy of its own post, but for now I will leave you with this:

I hope this works.  If it doesn't, put "Steve Martin" and "King Tut" in your search engine and look for one of the videos (you will have to anyway, if you want to see the original Saturday Night Skit)

He was born in Arizona
Got a condo made of stona!
King Tut!

15 February 2011

15 February - Saints Faustinus and Jovita; Risotto alla Milanese

Today is the feast of Saints Faustinus and Jovita (or Jovinus), brothers who were martyred in the 2nd century under Hadrian.  Like Valentine before them, nothing is really known about them except their martyrdom.

Tradition says that they were great and fearless preachers in Brescia (Lombardy, northern Italy) and zealous in all good works.  Faustinus was a priest and Jovita was a deacon.  The brothers were denounced to the authorities as Christians and ordered to worship the sun; they replied that they worshiped only God, who created the sun as a light for man.  At that, they were subjected to various tortures: thrown to the lions, who would not touch them; starved in prison, but received heavenly succor; and finally beheaded.

[Don't look for them on the General Calendar - like Valentine and Apollonia and several others, they have been sent to Saint Limbo, which means "removed from the calendar and cultus suppressed".]
A good entree for dinner tonight in honor of these two saints would be something from Brescia.  Catholic Culture has a recipe for Risotto alla Bresciana which was enjoyed by Pope Paul VI in his younger days.  Or you can try this recipe for the classic RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE (from Milan, which is just down the road from Brescia).

  • Rub 1 cup of rice well in a clean towel. (If you can get Italian rice, use that; otherwise, use the rice you are used to cooking)
  • Mince 1 onion and 1/2 clove of garlic.
  • Heat 3 to 4 cups of chicken stock, chicken broth, or bouillon to just simmering; remove from heat and keep hot.
  • Soak a pinch of powdered saffron (1/16 teaspoon powdered or substitute 1/8 teaspoon threads) in 2 tablespoons of white wine.
  • Cut up dried mushrooms to equal 1/2 cup.

In a saucepan or skillet (with a cover), melt 2 tablespoons of butter; then add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  When it is hot, add the rice and stir well to coat; then spread it evenly over the pan to cook to a golden translucency, stirring frequently (don't want it to scorch or burn).  This will take about 3 - 4 minutes; halfway through, add the onion and garlic and let them brown as well.

If you prefer, you can add 1/2 cup of white wine to the rice, stir, and allow to cook for 3 minutes, before going on to the next step.

Add 1 cup of the hot stock to the rice, along with the saffron/wine and salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and cook slowly, without stirring, adding another cup of hot stock to the rice when the first has cooked away (the entire cooking time will take between 20 to 30 minutes).  Meanwhile, soak the mushrooms in a little hot stock for 10 minutes, then add them and the stock to the rice.

When all of the stock has been used and the rice is tender and moist, lightly stir in 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.  If desired, put a large lump of butter (2-3 tablespoons) on top of the cooked rice.  Serve with more cheese.

14 February 2011

14 February - Saint Valentine

Of Saint Valentine nothing is known, except that he (or they - there were at least two of the same name around the same time) was martyred for his faith.  Everything else is pious legend.  His association with lovers seems not to have occurred until the late 14th century.

The story of Saint Valentine, as known to the medieval European, is recounted in the 13th century "Golden Legend":
"S. Valentine, friend of our Lord and priest of great authority, was at Rome. It happed that Claudius the emperor made him to come tofore him and said to him in demanding: What thing is that which I have heard of thee, Valentine? Why wilt thou not abide in our amity, and worship the idols and renounce the vain opinion of thy creance? S. Valentine answered him: If thou hadst very knowledge of the grace of Jesu Christ thou shouldest not say this that thou sayest, but shouldest deny the idols and worship very God."

This did not go over well with the emperor "...and S. Valentine was delivered in the keeping of the provost."

"When S. Valentine was brought in an house in prison, then he prayed to God, saying: Lord Jesu Christ very God, which art very light, enlumine this house in such wise that they that dwell therein may know thee to be very God. And the provost said: I marvel me that thou sayest that thy God is very light, and nevertheless, if he may make my daughter to hear and see, which long time hath been blind, I shall do all that thou commandest me, and shall believe in thy God. S. Valentine anon put him in prayers, and by his prayers the daughter of the provost received again her sight, and anon all they of the the house were converted. After, the emperor did do smite off the head of S. Valentine, the year of our Lord two hundred and eighty. Then let us pray to S. Valentine that he get us pardon of our sins. Amen."

The choosing of a 'valentine' seems to have been an attempt to nudge young people in the right direction toward matrimony - following along the thought that if you pair up an unmarried young man with an unmarried young woman, who then keep company together, give each other little presents, wear each others' favors, attend the dances and festivals together, etc., they might just have a heart-shaped lightbulb moment and continue keeping company all the way to the altar.

Be that as it may, once the idea of choosing a valentine took hold, it stayed - except that it wasn't so much choice as luck of the draw.  The universal custom relied on lots to assign valentines to each other - but from there, the customs differed according to time and place.

[Oh, and none of this had anything to do with the Roman festival of Lupercalia.  Nothing.  Zip. I refer you to this article on the Lupercalia, and Mr. Thayer's comments at the end of it.   As he says, "There are a lot of things we don't know.  Many people, abhorring a void, fill it up with nonsense."  True... too true.]

But, back to the differing customs:

1. The names of the young unmarried women (only) were put in a receptacle. Each unmarried young man drew a name, and for the time being (whatever it was by custom) was that woman's cavalier servente. [per Rev. Butler, Saint Francis de Sales tried to stop this in the early 17th century by substituting saints' names for those of the young women.  I wonder, did he substitute female saints for the young men to worship?]

2. The names of the unmarried young men and the unmarried young women were put in different receptacles.  Each person drew from the names of the opposite gender, giving each young woman two beaus to her string (the one she chose and the one who chose her) and each young man two belles to his.  Little attentions were expected from all, but, as reported in Francois Maximilian Misson's "Memoirs and Observations in his Travels into England" in 1698: "... the Man sticks faster to the Valentine that is fallen to him than to the Valentine to whom he is fallen. Fortune having thus divided the company into so many couples, the Valentines give balls and treats to their mistresses, wear their billets several days upon their bosoms or sleeves, and this little sport often ends in Love."

3. Another custom using the lot was that the first person of the opposite sex one sees that day is one's Valentine.  William Walsh in his "Curiosities of Popular Customs" (1898) calls this "challenging your Valentine": "The challenge consisted simply in saying, "Good morrow, 'tis St. Valentine's Day," and he or she who said it first on meeting a person of the opposite sex received a present.  Later a gallant custom enacted that the gentleman alone should give the present, but only if he were successfully challenged. This explains good Mr. Pepys's anxiety when early on St. Valentine's Day (1664) he called at Sir William Batten's and would not go in "till I asked whether they that opened the door was a man or a woman, and Mingo, who was there, answered a woman, which, with his tones, made me laugh; so up I went, and took Mrs. Martha for my Valentine (which I do only for complacency); and Sir W. Batten he go in the same manner to my wife, and so we were very merry.""

Further: "It seems also that some element of choice as well as of chance had now been introduced into the sport, for a person could wilfully close his or her eyes and refuse to open them until an appropriate mate arrived. Thus, on next St. Valentine's Day Mr. Pepys records that Will Bowyer came to be his wife's valentine, "she having (at which I made good sport to myself) held her hands all the morning, that she might not see the painters that were at work gilding my chimney-piece and pictures in my dining-room." "

Today would be a good day to make a contribution to the Heart Association; maybe even a pretty quilt or two for the use of young heart patients at your local Children's Hospital; or start saving up your pledge for the local heart walks which will be starting up here shortly as the weather gets better.

A teeny-tiny rant:
Oh dear.  As with every holiday so far, the legions are out decrying today's celebration.

"It is just an excuse for debauchery and fornication!"

("Where?" says the Widow, suddenly interested.)

13 February 2011

13 February - St. Valentine's Eve

Tomorrow being Saint Valentine's Day, tonight is St. Valentine's Eve, and time for another love charm.

From Mother Bunch's Closet Newly Broke Open:
"Fifthly, my daughters, know ye the 14th of February is Valentine's day, at which time the fowls of the air begin to couple ; and the young men and maids are for choosing their mates. Now, that you may speed, take this approved direction: Take five bay-leaves, lay one under every corner of your pillow, and the fifth in the middle; then lying down to rest, repeat these lines seven times:
" Sweet guardian angels, let me have,
What I most earnestly do crave,
A Valentine endowed with love,
That will both kind and constant prove."
Then to your content you'll either have the Valentine you desire, or one more excellent."

[Be ready to explain to your mother why her stock of bay leaves is suddenly diminished: "But it's for a good cause, Mom!  You want grandchildren someday, don't you?"]
Another form of divination was to take hempseed in hand and go to the porch of a church tonight; at half-past midnight the seeker after knowledge would "proceed homewards, scattering the seed on either side, repeating these lines:

Hempseed I sow, hempseed I mow,
She (or he) that will my true love be,
Come rake this hempseed after me; 

The person's true love would be seen behind in a winding-sheet [i.e. grave-clothes or a shroud], "raking up the seed just sown." [That seems to me to be a mixing of the superstition of seeing the people who will die in the coming year on St. Mark's Eve with the love-charm of the hempseed on St. John's Eve.  In any case, it is not one that I will try, and not just because it is far too cold to be walking home from church in the wee hours of the morning!]
From the Chromolithograph (1868):
"A curious custom is still kept up in Norwich, on the eve of St. Valentine, of giving presents; and the mode adopted among all classes, that of placing the presents on the doorsill of the house of the favoured person, and intimating what is done by a run-away knock or ring, as the giver pleases.  In Madder's "Rambles in an Old City" (Norwich), it is thus described: "The streets swarm with carriers, and baskets laden with treasures; bang, bang, bang go the knockers, and away rushes the banger, depositing first upon the doorstep some packages from the basket of stores ; —again and again at intervals, at every door to which a missive is addressed, is the same repeated till the baskets are empty. Anonymously, St. Valentine presents his gifts, - labeled only with 'St. Valentine's love' and 'Good-morrow, Valentine.' 

Then within the houses of destination, the screams, the shouts, the rushings to catch the bang-bangs—the flushed faces, sparkling eyes, rushing feet to pick up the fairy gifts—inscriptions to be interpreted, mysteries to be unravelled, hoaxes to be found out—great hampers, heavy and ticketed 'With care, this side upwards' to be unpacked, out of which jump live little boys, with St Valentine's love to the little ladies fair—the sham bang-bangs, that bring nothing but noise and fun—the mock parcels that vanish from the doorstep by invisible strings when the door opens— monster parcels that dwindle to thread papers denuded of their multiplied envelopes, with fitting mottoes, all tending to the final consummation of good counsel, 'Happy is he who expects nothing, and he will not be disappointed.' It is a glorious night: marvel not that we should perpetuate so joyous a festivity." 

[Much more fun than the generic box of chocolates and the half-hearted "Where do you want to go for dinner?"] 

12 February 2011

12 February - Abraham Lincoln; Corned Beef and Cabbage

Weather: If the sun smiles on Saint Eulalie's Day, it is good for apples and cider, they say.

The weather on the 12th, 13th, and 14th of February is supposed to indicate the weather for the coming year.  If the days are fair, it will be a stormy year; if the days are stormy, the weather will be fair.

Today is the feast of Saint Eulalia of Barcelona, Virgin and Martyr, killed in 304 during the persecutions of Diocletian.  She is the patron of Barcelona and of sailors, and is invoked against drought.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States (ten less than his predecessor, if you count the gain of West Virginia against one of the seceding states) was born on this day in 1809 in Kentucky. 

O CAPTAIN! my captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring.
   But O heart! heart! heart!
     O the bleeding drops of red!
       Where on the deck my captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.

O captain! my captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up! for you the flag is flung, for you the bugle trills:
For you bouquets and wreaths, for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning.
   O captain! dear father!
     This arm beneath your head;
        It is some dream that on the deck
          You've fallen cold and dead.

My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will.
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done:
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won!
   Exult, O shores! and ring, O bells!
     But I, with silent tread,
       Walk the post my captain lies
           Fallen cold and dead.
Walt Whitman
According to The American Heritage Cookbook, Lincoln's Inaugural Luncheon of March 1861 included Mock Turtle Soup, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Parsley Potatoes, Blackberry Pie, and Coffee - all of the dishes chosen by himself.  (The Bill of Fare for his Inaugural Ball four years later, an image of which you can see here at Szathmary Culinary Arts Collection, was more extensive and much fancier, and shared only coffee in common.)

So without further ado (or fanfare), here is simple CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE (if you must be fancy, call it Boeuf Corne au Cabeau, as another president is said to have done).

Cut 1 small onion into fourths.  Crush 1 clove of garlic.  Cut 1 small head of green cabbage into 6 wedges.

In a large kettle or dutch oven, pour enough cold water on a 2-pound corned beef boneless brisket or round just to cover.  Add the onion and garlic.  Heat to boiling; reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 2 hours or until beef is tender.

Remove beef to a warm platter and keep warm.  Add the cabbage to the broth (if needed, skim the fat from the broth first).  Bring the broth again to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Or if you have enough room in your kettle, add the cabbage to the simmering meat 15 minutes before the meat is done and let them cook together.

There it is.  Very simple.  Now, if you add a bunch of vegetables and a few seasonings, you'll have a New England Boiled Dinner, which you can look up on your own.  It is enough that I celebrate Mr. Lincoln's birthday - I'm not going all Yankee for it.

09 February 2011

9 February - The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

Tonight, in 1964, the first episode of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh played on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.

On the southern coast of England,
There's a legend people tell
Of days long ago, when the great Scarecrow
Would ride from the jaws of hell,
And laugh with a fiendish yell.

And that eldritch laugh haunted 9-year-old me for many moons.  It was only in the opening and closing songs - the Scarecrow's laugh in the film is much less frightening - and I knew by the second episode when to cover my ears.

But once past the opening theme, what a world of adventure!  The weirdly-dressed Scarecrow and his lieutenants, Hellspite and Curlew, lead a gang of smugglers - the Gentlemen of the Marsh - in their illegal activities.  They outrun and outwit the forces of the Law at every turn, from leading Excise-men on a wild-goose-chase across country and away from the night's 'run', to rescuing prisoners from King George's general, Pugh.

And then, very early on, we discovered that the nefarious Scarecrow is the 'mild and gentle as a dove' Vicar of Dymchurch, Dr. Syn (played by Patrick McGoohan), while Hellspite is his sexton, Mipps (George Cole), and Curlew is John Banks (Sean Scully), the young son of the local squire.

Even a 9-year-old can laugh at the idea of the pompous General Pugh telling the secrets of his campaign against the Scarecrow to the Scarecrow himself - if he only knew!

The original character of Dr. Syn was created by Russell Thorndike, who recounted the arch-smuggler's adventures first in a novel of that name published in 1915, and later in a series of 6 books that expanded on the original tale.  Mr. Disney adapted his version from a retelling of Thorndike's book The Further Adventures of Dr. Syn, written by William Buchanan and titled Christopher Syn.

After watching The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, I looked for (and found) that book in the local library.  Oh joy!  Oh rapture!  Contra Mr. Disney, Curlew, in the book, was a girl.  Not John Banks, but Jennifer Banks.  The fun of outriding Excise-men and outwitting General Pugh was not reserved to the male of the species.  My dreams suddenly got far more adventuresome.

(Yes, there were bits of romance in the book.  I ignored them.)

You can find out about Dr. Syn, the books, comic books, movies, et al, at DrSyn.com, which, since Tom Hering took down his excellent website "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh", is the best site for information.

Meanwhile, raise a glass of (smuggled) brandy to the Scarecrow!

So the king told all his soldiers,
"Hang him high or hang him low!
But never return 'till the day I learn
He's gone in flames below,
Or you'll hang with the great Scarecrow!"

07 February 2011

7 February - Charles Dickens; Gruel

Charles Dickens, likely the most famous Victorian author in the English-speaking world, was born today in 1812, in Portsmouth, England.

It would be difficult, indeed, to escape from his iconic characters (supposing one would want to!)  While few of my generation - and subsequent ones - have actually read one of his novels, unless required to do so for English Lit, adaptations abound, mostly on Public Television, while the weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with every possible rendition of A Christmas Carol - cartoon characters (remember Mr. Magoo as Scrooge?), musicals, plays, movies, and television specials.  There are the images and words of Sidney Carton facing the guillotine ("It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done..."), of old Miss Havisham sitting in her ancient wedding dress among the cob-webbed and rat-infested remains of her wedding reception, of Oliver Twist holding his bowl up ("Please, sir, I want some more").

On of the best websites (and my favorite) honoring Mr. Dickens is David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page. If you have not read the books (and there is no library handy), every one of them is available there.  He also provides a glossary for unfamiliar words, synopses of the characters, illustrations, and a lot more. If nothing else, read "Dickens in America".  His account of trying to give a restorative to his wife during their transatlantic voyage is worth it alone.
Of all foods that might represent Mr. Dickens and his characters, GRUEL comes first to mind - a dish made from a cereal (like oatmeal or cornmeal) boiled with water to the consistency of a thin porridge, for more of which poor Oliver Twist took courage and bowl in hand.  According to the story, the gruel served in the workhouse was made with a little oatmeal and a lot of water.  If you want to make it as Oliver  and his fellow inmates would have known it, try this:

Put 3 tablespoons of oatmeal in the top part of a double boiler.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the oats and blend.  Cook over boiling water for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  Strain through a fine sieve.  Add another cup of water and cook until just below the boiling point.

And if it still looks like it could keep body and soul together, add more hot water.

Contra Mr. Dickens, however, gruel was not the exclusive purview of work-house inmates and the working poor.  All classes served it - it was easily made and easily digested, making it not only a nourishing drink for invalids, but a light drink before bedtime that wouldn't lie heavy on the stomach.  The difference was, as usual, in the amount served and the flavorings used.  Boiled oatmeal is pretty bland, after all, but the addition of sugar and cinnamon make it a favorite dish.

So to make a more palatable gruel, add 1/8 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar to the 3 tablespoons of oatmeal before pouring on the 1 cup of boiling water.  Cook in the top part of the double boiler over boiling water for 30 minutes.  Strain as above, then add 1 cup of milk.  Bring to just below boiling point.  Remove from heat.  Stir in a little butter and either cinnamon or nutmeg (about 1/8 teaspoon) and serve.

Much more palatable.

Or make it in spirit only and go out to a nice restaurant. 

Or, even better yet - make it in spirit, then go out and support the personnel of a nice restaurant (and I leave the definition of a 'nice restaurant' to you) and then donate the same amount of money on your bill to the local soup kitchen or food pantry.

06 February 2011

6 February - Saint Dorothea

Weather: St. Dorothea gives the most snow.

[The good saint will have to work hard to beat the amount of snow we've had already this winter]

If it storms on the first Sunday of the month, it will storm every Sunday.

In the traditional calendar, today is the feast of Saint Dorothea (or Dorothy), a Christian maiden of Caesarea in Cappadocia, martyred in 311 during the persecution of Diocletian.  The oldest story of her witness says that her description of the garden of her Heavenly Bridegroom led a lawyer named Theophilus to mock her as she walked to her execution, telling her to send him some fruits and flowers from the Garden.  She sent her veil to him by the hand of a child; the veil held the aroma of roses and fruit, and Theophilus was converted on the spot.

detail of an altarpiece by an anonymous Swiss painter  (Source)
The medieval Golden Legend expanded on this meager account, giving her a family to exhort, a few miracles which converted many who saw them, and quite a few tortures before her execution.  But the part of the story for which she is known is still there: "And then said the holy virgin with a glad semblant: Do to me what torment thou wilt, for I am all ready to suffer it for the love of my spouse Jesu Christ, in whose garden full of delices I have gathered roses, spices, and apples."

As she was being led to the place of execution, "...a scribe of the realm, named Theophilus, said to her in scorn: I pray thee to send me some of thy roses and apples that thou hast gathered in the garden of thy spouse that thou praisest so much, and she granted to him his desire. And this was in the cold winter time when there was both frost and snow."

Dorothea prayed before her head was cut off, and a little child appeared before her with a golden basket bearing roses and apples, which she sent to Theophilus.

"And as this said Theophilus stood in the palace of the emperor, this child came to him and presented to him the basket, saying: These be the roses and apples that my sister Dorothy hath sent to thee from Paradise, the garden of her spouse, and then this child vanished away. Then he, considering the marvellous work of God in this holy virgin, said anon with a stern voice, praising the God of Dorothy for that great miracle which was showed to him of roses and apples that time, that he that sent to me these things is of great power, and therefore his name be blessed world without end, Amen. And then he was converted to the faith of Jesu Christ, and the most part of the people of the city."

Theophilus was then tortured and executed, as well.  I'm sure Dorothea was on hand to greet him as he walked into the Garden.

Dorothea is the patron of florists and gardeners [for obvious reasons].  For maintaining her faith in her Heavenly Bridegroom, she is the patron of brides.  For some reason, she is also the patron of brewers, but I haven't found out why yet.

For those (like me) who are weary of winter, a centerpiece of hothouse roses and apples would be an appropriate way to celebrate Saint Dorothea.  As my budget doesn't run to hothouse roses and apples, I will make do with rose-scented candles and apple-scented candles.

05 February 2011

5 February - Saint Agatha; Lava Cakes

Today is the feast of Saint Agatha of Sicily, Virgin and Martyr, who died circa 251.

By Bergognone (1481–1522) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Source
That she was a young woman martyred for her Faith is all that is really known about her, but her hagiography has been richly embellished.  As related in the medieval Golden Legend and by Reverend Alban Butler in his Lives of the Saints, Agatha was a young, lovely, and nobly-born maiden of Catania in Sicily.  "Quintianus the provost of Sicily, being of a low lineage, was lecherous, avaricious, and a miscreant... to accomplish his evil desires fleshly, and to have riches, did do take S. Agatha to be presented and brought tofore him, and began to behold her with a lecherous sight."  She naturally repulsed him, whereupon, in an effort to break her spirit, he sent her to a brothel run by a prostitute named Aphrodisia, along with her nine daughters.  Cajolings, promises of rich presents, and fair words alternated with threats and abuse, but Agatha stood firm against them, and after a month, Aphrodisia finally had to admit defeat.

Quintianus then thought to get her into his power by means of the emperor's edict against Christians.  He had her bound and brought before him, with orders either to sacrifice to the Roman gods or be tortured.  She chose the latter, but not before arguing with him: "If they [his gods] be good I would that thy life were like unto theirs; and if thou refusest their life, then art thou of one accord with me. Say then that they be evil and so foul, and forsake their living, and be not of such life as thy gods were."

He had her beaten and thrown into prison, and when that did not change her mind, he resorted to the cruelest tortures he could think of.  The one that provides the attributes most often seen in depictions of the saint - the mangling and cutting off of her breasts - was followed a few days later by the executioners rolling her torn and bleeding body over a bed of pottery shards and live coals.  At that, she rendered up her soul to God, and devout Christians buried her.

She is the patroness of Catania, and of Malta and San Marino, of nurses, nursing mothers, and of those who suffer from diseases of the breast.  She is invoked against fire and natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. (You can find more of her patronages here.)
One of the legends about Saint Agatha is that her veil - carried by the [really nervous] townspeople of Catania - stopped the flow of lava from an eruption of Mount Aetna before it could engulf the town.  In honor of that, you could make a Volcano Cake [and one day I shall do so; I have just the right mold for it], for which you can find many recipes on the web.  Basically, it is a pyramidal cake in which a small dish with dry ice is concealed at the top; a little water on the dry ice, and - hey presto! - the 'mountain' seems to smoke like a volcano.  There was one recipe that used gelatin to make a real 'lava' which poured down the sides.  If you are celebrating the birthday or name-day of an Agatha, that would be the cake to make. [I would make little houses out of marzipan to put at the bottom of the mountain.  And little people with a Mr. Bill 'Oh Nooooo' face, holding Saint Agatha's veil.  And sculpt the frosting so that the lava flows away from the town.  And.... oh sorry.  I get carried away.]

Today I am making LAVA CAKES, which are not as dramatic, but to chocoholics infinitely more enjoyable.  I found this recipe on the inside of a Challenge Butter package, and is here reproduced with permission of Challenge Dairy Products, Inc., on whose website - www.challengedairy.com - you can find more delightful recipes [there is a "Limoncello Cheese Cake" recipe enticing me to try it].

1/2 cup (1-stick) Challenge Butter, melted
7 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Use approximately 1 Tablespoon of the melted butter to brush the inside of six, 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together remaining melted butter, cocoa powder, sugars, flour and salt.  Stir in eggs until smooth.  Stir in vanilla.

Pour batter into the prepared ramekins and set the ramekins in a large baking dish.  Pour hot water into the baking dish to a level about halfway up the side of the ramekins.

Bake for 14-15 minutes until the batter puffs but the center is not set.  The edges will be firm but the center will be runny.
[How can you tell?  Same as you would for a cake - with a toothpick - except that this time, you want to see the toothpick come out "not clean"].

Serve the cakes in the ramekins or run a knife around the edge of each cake and unmold onto plates [the buttering previously helps a lot with this].  Serve the cakes warm or chilled.  Garnish with raspberry sauce, fresh berries, vanilla ice-cream or a dusting of powdered sugar.

I just finished making a batch of these for tea.  Let the snow fall if it must; who cares?  I have CHOCOLATE lava love facing me on my tea table.

Come to me, my Dark Master!

04 February 2011

4 February - St. Jeanne de Valois

Today is the feast of Joan of France, canonized as Sainte Jeanne de Valois (in English, Saint Jane of Valois), for a short time the Queen of France.

[Of her looks, there are varying descriptions from several modern writers, ranging from "possibly lame" to "a slight curvature of the spine" to "slight, sickly, and to some extent deformed" to "extraordinarily ugly and deformed".  I wonder how much of it is true, and how much is based on the reports of her husband.  After all, he wasn't unbiased in this.  Makes me think of the number of people who still believe that Richard III was a hunchback - Shakespeare said so!]

Joan was born in 1464, the younger daughter of Louis XI, King of France.  At the age of 12, she was married to her cousin Louis, Duke of Orleans, the head of a cadet branch of the French royal family and next in line for the throne, if Joan's brother Charles died leaving no son to inherit.

Charles VIII did indeed die childless in April 1498, and Joan's husband ascended the throne of France as Louis XII.  First on his list of things to do was to get an annulment from his wife of 22 years.  There was a younger cousin named Anne, the widow of his predecessor and Duchess of Brittany in her own right.  Should she marry elsewhere, France would lose that valuable bit of land.  Quelle horreur!  We cannot have that!

Despite her original marriage contract, which stipulated that if her husband died, she would agree to marry the subsequent king of France, the 21-year-old Duchess and Queen Dowager was in no hurry to marry the 36-year-old king.  Finally, she said she would do so if he could get an annulment.  He wanted Brittany, he wanted Anne, he didn't want the old ball-and-chain.

[Yes, I know the political arguments.  If Brittany had become part of, say, the Holy Roman Empire, France would have been surrounded on all sides by anti-French forces.  One of the duties of a ruler is to act in the best interests of his subjects, which includes protecting them by all possible means.  By dumping his neglected and unwanted wife and marrying more land (in a young and attractive package), Louis was merely acting in the best interests of France.  Blah, blah, blah.  We can always find good reasons to do what we want and hide our sins under the veneer of piety.]

But how to do it?  Too young to have consented to the marriage?  No proof.  Within forbidden degrees of consanguinity? No proof.  Couldn't consummate the marriage?  That might work, and if needs be, we'll tell everyone that it was either marriage or death - in other words, a marriage made under duress.  That should clinch it.

So Louis published to the world the story that his wife was physically malformed - so much so, that he could not consummate the marriage [sounds so Henry VIII, doesn't it?] - and that she was incapable of having children.  Joan fought the annulment and the stories as much as she could, and in a fair world, she would have won.  Unfortunately, the Pope at the time was Alexander VI [you know, the Borgia guy that everyone points to whenever they want to denigrate the Papacy]; after careful examination of all the 'facts' (not least of which were some political considerations of his own) he ruled against her by accepting Louis' 'lack of free consent' plea.  Louis received his annulment and three weeks later married Anne of Brittany; Joan unhappily accepted the verdict and retired to Bourges with the title of Duchess of Berry, supposedly saying, Job-like, "If so it is to be, praised be the Lord".

There she lived a life serviceable to God and to her people.  In fulfillment of a heavenly promise that she heard at her prayers as a young girl, she founded an order of Franciscan contemplatives called the Soeurs de l'Annonciade (Sisters of the Annunciation), which was approved in 1502 [by that same Alexander VI who had dissolved her marriage].  Among other things, the sisters were required to pray for her errant husband, as well as for the souls of her father and brother.

Princess, Queen, and Duchess Joan died February 4, 1505.

As a child neglected by her parents, she turned for consolation to Our Lady, whom she considered as her own Mother, and to Our Lord, Who loved her and considered her beautiful.  As a wife, she performed her duties, despite the alternating neglect and ridicule to which she was subjected by her husband and his cronies, going so far as to plead with her brother for his treasonable life.  As queen, she fought against the lies that would put her husband in a state of mortal sin.  As duchess, she was at the service of her people in both social and spiritual welfare.

She could easily be the patron of those who are scorned and abused for being ugly in the world's eyes; also, the patron of those wives who are shunted aside for younger models, especially under excuses that seem to the rest of the world not only good but necessary.
Louis survived her by 10 years all but one month.  His queen, Anne of Brittany, having died in January 1514, leaving two daughters and no sons, Louis cast about immediately for a replacement.  Devotees of Tudor history know that the old king married the 18-year-old Princess Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII, and died three months later in January 1515 - rumor has it from his frantic attempts to engender a son.

I wonder if Henry VIII thought that his unwanted wife (Katherine of Aragon) would also go off into retirement like Joan of Valois, or that the Pope would rule in his favor, so that he could marry his own young Anne and produce sons.  After all, it worked for Louis.

Well, sort of.  Louis had no surviving sons.  I wonder if Henry remembered that as well.