As the weather is on Ash Wednesday, so it will be through Lent.
Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.
"The name of Ash Wednesday, as well as its equivalent, Dies Cinerum, is taken from an ancient custom of placing cineres, or ashes, upon the head of the penitent, and at a subsequent period upon the heads of all the faithful, on this day." [Medii aevi kalendarium, Robert Thomas Hampson, 1841].
Ashes are a biblical sign of repentance; we are given them as a reminder of our sins and our final outcome (to dust thou shalt return) as we repent and humbly beg God to forgive us.
IN ALL things consider the end; how you shall stand before the strict Judge from Whom nothing is hidden and Who will pronounce judgment in all justice, accepting neither bribes nor excuses. And you, miserable and wretched sinner, who fear even the countenance of an angry man, what answer will you make to the God Who knows all your sins? Why do you not provide for yourself against the day of judgment when no man can be excused or defended by another because each will have enough to do to answer for himself? In this life your work is profitable, your tears acceptable, your sighs audible, your sorrow satisfying and purifying.
The patient man goes through a great and salutary purgatory when he grieves more over the malice of one who harms him than for his own injury; when he prays readily for his enemies and forgives offenses from his heart; when he does not hesitate to ask pardon of others; when he is more easily moved to pity than to anger; when he does frequent violence to himself and tries to bring the body into complete subjection to the spirit. The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis
For a detailed explanation of Ash Wednesday and its origins, see the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia and the commentary in Fisheaters. Catholic Culture has several family-oriented activities (including great recipes) and readings for Lent.
Among the customs of the day is one that comes from Spain called "Burial of the Sardine". A small paper-covered coffin holding a piece of fish (or a bit of sausage cut into the shape of a fish) is carried with great ceremony and mourning in a funeral procession, and buried with equal ceremony and lamentations, "this being regarded as a symbol of the burial of all worldly pleasures and desires during the impending fast."
In the remote parts of Wales, silence was once enforced upon young people today. [That may be a penance for the young people, but to me it sounds heavenly. Could we extend it to televisions and boom-boxes?]
Salt Cod is the traditional food today, and my favorite salt cod recipe is BACALHAU A BRAS:
Most recipes ask you to rinse the fish over night, in several changes of water, to remove the salt. Maybe I just like salt, but I've never found the need to do more than rinse the fish well in a bowl of water and then under a bit of running water. If I know I will be using it that night, I might soak it in water during the day.
This recipe serves 2-3; you can double it if you wish.
Rinse and soak 1/2 pound of salt cod (if you buy it in the little wooden 1-pound box, it will be 1 piece of fish, more or less). When it is suitably clean, place the fish in a saucepan with enough water to cover; simmer until the fish flakes easily. Remove from pan, cool, and flake the fish (and toss any skin or bones you find).
Either finely chop or thinly slice 1/2 of a large onion and 1 garlic clove. Chop fresh parsley to equal 2 tablespoons. Lightly beat 4 eggs.
Now, then, you have a choice: you can either make your own matchstick french-fried potatoes (cut up a couple of potatoes into matchsticks, rinse until water is clear, dry thoroughly, drop in hot oil and cook until golden) or you can go the heretical-but-easy route and fix frozen, store-bought shoestring potatoes. I've done it both ways, including dropping my baked shoestrings into hot olive oil for a few seconds to give them a bit of flavor. Whichever way you choose, you want them to be CRISP.
Drain the cooked potatoes on paper towels.
In a heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil; add the onion and the garlic and cook until golden. Mix in the fish and half of the potatoes. Add 1/4 teaspoon of pepper to the eggs (and an equal amount of salt, if you think that the fish isn't salty enough); stir this into the fish and potatoes with 1-1/2 tablespoons of parsley. Cook over medium heat until the eggs are set (something like soft scrambled eggs).
Now, then, you have another choice. You can either add the remaining potatoes to the mixture before piling the whole thing on a platter, or you can pile the remaining potatoes on the platter first and top with the fish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of parsley over the fish and garnish with black olives.
This is yet a day of fasting and abstinence; judge your meal portions accordingly.