29 January 2011

29 January - Edgar Allan Poe; Welsh Rabbit

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore;
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "Tapping at my chamber door -
Only this and nothing more."

Today in 1845, The Raven, a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, was published under his own name.  It was immediately successful, and led to further publication of collections of his poems and stories.  In spite of this new popularity, Poe still could not make a living of his writing.

[From what I've read of his life, I think he was like a lot of us - extremely good at what he did, but could never get paid for it]

You can read the rest of the poem, along with other poems and his short stories at PoeStories.com, a delightful website full of Poe-iana, including the poem, A Valentine.  Try your hand at deciphering the name of the person to whom the valentine was written.  If you think you are good at cryptology (no, it has nothing to do with some long-haired death's-head announcing his 'Tales') read The Gold Bug and solve the mystery. ["The Gold Bug" should have been part of your childhood reading, but if it wasn't, repair the omission now]

And if you think Mr. Poe only wrote tales of horror, read "Some Words with a Mummy", a perfect anodyne to an evening spent reading Berenice, The Masque of the Red Death, or The Premature Burial.

So tonight, raise a glass of Amontillado to a Master Storyteller.
A light supper of course.  I am exceedingly fond of Welsh rabbit.  More than a pound at once, however, may not at all times be advisable.  Still, there can be no material objection to two.  And really between two and three, there is merely a single unit of difference. I ventured, perhaps, upon four. My wife will have it five; -- but, clearly, she has confounded two very distinct affairs. The abstract number, five, I am willing to admit; but, concretely, it has reference to bottles of Brown Stout, without which, in the way of condiment, Welsh rabbit is to be eschewed.  From Some Words with a Mummy.


Shred 1/2 pound of sharp Cheddar cheese.  Beat 1 egg lightly.

In a heavy skillet, melt the cheese over very low heat (very. low. heat.), stirring the whole while.  As it melts, add 1/3 cup of milk, stirring to blend.  Then stir in 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire, 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard, and a dash of cayenne.

Add the egg and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and thickened.   Serve on toast with bottles of Brown Stout on the side "without which, in the way of condiment, Welsh rabbit is to be eschewed."

I cannot say that I was alarmed at the phenomenon, because "alarmed" is, in my case, not exactly the word. It is possible, however, that, but for the Brown Stout, I might have been a little nervous.  

[Brown Stout has its uses]

28 January 2011

28 January - Saint Agnes again; Shish Kabob

In the traditional calendars, this day was celebrated as the second commemoration of Saint Agnes.  It is the octave day of her feast on January 21 [remember that the eight days are counted inclusively.  While the Church keeps only two Octaves now, for centuries important feasts had their own octaves.  The eighth day after a saint's feast day - like those of Agnes, Lawrence, Genevieve of Paris, or Januarius of Naples - would also be celebrated].

Reverend Alban Butler could not account for this second celebration [he is not alone in this], and suggested that it was possibly the day she was buried, or the day of the translation of her relics, or a day in which a miracle took place due to her intercession.

I put it down to the octave day of her feast, on which, perhaps, the final part of her story would be recounted.  For it is said that on the eighth day after her death, she appeared in a vision to her grieving parents - holding a spotless lamb and surrounded by other holy martyrs - and assured them of her complete happiness.

That would be something to celebrate.

And a good celebratory dinner should include lamb, of course.  SHISH KABOB is easy.  If you are in an area whose weather will allow the grill to be fired up, use that.  This recipe uses the broiler.

Cut up 1 pound of lamb into (more-or-less) 1-inch cubes.  Marinate for 4 hours. (A simple marinade is one part lemon juice to three parts oil and whatever seasonings you wish, such as 1/2 teaspoon of dried mustard, paprika, oregano, and/or salt).

Cut up 1-2 green peppers into 1-inch pieces.  If desired, marinate green pepper, 8 small onions (peeled), and 16 cherry tomatoes.

Position the oven rack and broiler pan below the broiler so that the top of the meat will be 3 inches from the heat.

Remove all pieces from marinade; pat dry; reserve marinade. Thread the meat on metal skewers, leaving a little space between each piece.  Broil for 5 minutes.  Turn the meat over, brush with marinade, and broil another 5 minutes.

Alternate the vegetables on skewers, leaving space between each piece.  Turn the lamb again, brush both the meat and vegetables with marinade, and broil another 3-4 minutes, turning the vegetables every 2 minutes.

27 January 2011

27 January - Lewis Carroll; Chess Tarts

Born today in 1832, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known to most of the world by his pen name, "Lewis Carroll": mathematician, Oxford don, photographer, inventor, and, of course, author.

"Curiouser and curiouser"

The man himself is touted as an enigma [although I feel that much of it is sensationalism mixed with a generous amount of wishful thinking].  Be that as it may, his fertile imagination and gift for word games produced two books with which I have whiled away many hours of enjoyment: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

You can read more about the author at the Lewis Carroll Society (UK) and the Lewis Carroll Society of North America websites, and find a lot of interesting information about the books, like notes about Tenniel's illustrations, or how to throw your own Wonderland Tea Party, at Lenny's Alice in Wonderland site.

In honor of both books, make a nice pot of tea, and bake CHESS TARTS:
The Queen of Hearts
She made some tarts,
All on a summer's day...
[although her's were probably jam tarts]

Line small fluted tart pans with pie pastry, and refrigerate.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter.  Grate the rind of 1 lemon, then juice the lemon and reserve.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat 3 eggs vigorously, then add 3/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt, and beat until smooth.  Stir in the butter, lemon rind, and juice.

Fill tart shells with the mixture.  Bake for about 30 minutes.  Cool completely.
Or you can make a CHESS PIE if you are so inclined:

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a pie plate with one crust.  Melt 1/2 cup of butter.

In a large bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 cup of packed brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon of flour.

In a smaller bowl, beat 2 eggs lightly; then stir in 2 tablespoons of milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and the melted butter.  Pour into sugar/flour mixture, and mix well.  Stir in 1 cup of pecans or walnuts; pour into pie pan. 

Bake for about 45 minutes.  Let cool before serving.

For dinner... well, it won't be Mock Turtle Soup ("... so rich and green, waiting in a hot tureen...), at least not as Reverend Dodgson would have known it (and Mrs. Goodfellow printed in her Cookery Book).  Nor do I think a Leg of Mutton, as there is always the danger of being introduced to the entree.

"You look a little shy; let me introduce you to that leg of mutton"

Tonight it will be a substantial tea, with bread-and-butter, ham sandwiches (and hay), and the tarts.  And maybe oyster stew.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax -
Of cabbages - and kings -
And why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings..."

25 January 2011

25 January - Conversion of Paul; Robert Burns

If Saint Paul's Day be fair and clear, it doth betide a happy year;
But if it chance to snow or rain, then will be dear all kinds of grain;
If clouds or mists do dark the sky, great store of birds and beasts shall die;
And if the winds do fly aloft, then wars shall vex the kingdom oft.

Let's hope it is sunny and clear.
Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles - 'a perfect model of a true conversion' - as he met Our Lord on the road to Damascus.

On this day is also commemorated the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, in 1759.

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!"

It is called a 'second national day', but seems to be more celebrated that the first national day, Saint Andrew.  (Well, Saint Andrew does belong to other countries, like Russia and Greece, but Rabbie Burns belongs to Scots alone.)

Scotland.org has a listing of the different celebrations connected with Burn's Night, and an interactive video to meet Robert Burns and learn more about his life and times (it is good just to listen to that man talk).

See the Burns Night web-site for menus for a Burns Supper (and the protocol - including piping in the haggis - that goes with it).

A good day to celebrate with your Scots friends.  Even with your 1/32 Scots friends.  Even with friends who haven't a drop of Scottish blood in them, but love to listen to the pipes and drums.  Oh, heck, just break out the Scotch and celebrate!

24 January 2011

24 January - Gold in Them Thar Hills!; Beefsteak and Oysters

Today in 1848, John Marshall found a few flakes of gold in the tailrace of John Sutter's new sawmill on the South Fork of the American River in California - and you know the rest.  Thousands of people from all over the world rushed to the Mexican territory by land and by sea, and by a bit of both, if they took the Panama route (there wasn't a canal cutting across the isthmus then). 

At first there were big strikes, and the stories of huge nuggets picked up off the ground and rich diggings easily worked weren't all untrue.

But the best way to make a fortune was by dealing in provisions for the miners - everything from tools to clothes to groceries to cooking meals to doing laundry to delivering mail to freighting goods (ahem! and to providing an evening's entertainment with card games and buxom wenches).  When you consider oysters at $1 each, eggs at $6 - $12 per dozen (originally 37 cents), and a washing pan for $16 (originally $2), you can understand how the Big Four - Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington, and Charles Crocker - made their piles.

There are lists of the costs of living here at the Life of a 49er page, and while the prices don't seem so high, remember that an ounce of gold [a rounded teaspoonful of dust or a tablespoonful of flakes] was equivalent to about $16, and 10 hours of work might yield one ounce, or less.  Of course, it might yield a whole lot more, which is what the gambling spirit of the miner counted on.

You can see a replica of the sawmill and try your hand at panning for gold at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park (you can even take gold panning lessons there, if you want to learn the correct techniques).  Good luck!  ---------------------------------------------------------------
The Widow, in her much younger days, while hiking along a pretty-much deserted river, decided to try her hand at gold-panning, and learned two things: 1. that paper plates don't work, and 2. that she was claim-jumping.

Yes, indeed.  A bearded man came out of nowhere, and informed me of my crime [I can't call him an old prospector.  He was older than me, that much I know, and about three times my size, and I'm not sure when he last had a bath].  Well, I watched the Westerns, and I knew what happened to claim-jumpers, and it wasn't good.  However, the old[er] prospector, instead of stringing me up as a warning to others, let me go with a caution - but not before showing me how to use a real pan, and slosh the sand and gravel around, all the while looking for 'color'.  I spent the better part of an hour there with him, squatting in the icy cold water, sloshing sand around, and knowing that there was a gold nugget just waiting to be found with the next pan-full.

Well, like John Marshall, I found a few (tiny) flakes, which I gave to my host.  It was his claim, after all.
To determine their purchase of food and supplies, forty-niner Howard Gardiner and and a few of his friends kept their takings in a mustard bottle, on which they had marked the foods available at the camp, starting at the bottom with pork stew; then pork and beans; roast beef and potatoes; plum duff; canned turkey with fixings; and at the top, oysters with ale and porter.  "The average height," said Gardiner, "was pork and beans," and rarely got above plum duff.  According the the Bill of Fare at San Francisco's upscale Ward House restaurant (found here at Food Timeline) , the roast beef entree cost $1 (at the economical What Cheer Restaurant, roast beef and lima beans cost 10 cents), which might give you an idea of how much gold filled the mustard bottle at any given time.

(Plum duff is our old friend plum pudding - a flour pudding with bits of dried fruit which is steamed or boiled in a cloth bag.)

Well, let's strike it rich and have oysters, either in Hangtown Fry or in BEEFSTEAK AND OYSTERS:

First, the oysters.  You will want a pint of shucked oysters or about 16 - 18 unshucked (4 - 6 per person, if you are dining a deux).  If canned, drain and move on to the steak.  If fresh... scrub the shells and rinse in cold water.  Shuck the oysters by inserting the point of a sharp thin knife into the hinged end of the oyster and pushing the blade between the valves (shells) until the muscle at the center is cut and the valves begin to separate.  Run the knife around the shell, separate the valves, and loosen the oyster from the shell.

Broil a nice steak (or individual steaks) to almost your preferred degree of doneness.  Remove steak and lower oven temperature to 375 degrees F.

Cover the steak with drained oysters.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper; dot with butter.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until oysters are plump and beginning to curl at the edges.  Remove, and serve, garnished as you like.

23 January 2011

23 January - Saint Emerentiana

One of the obscure saints.  Saint Emerentiana (or Emerentiane) was the friend and foster-sister of Saint Agnes (see January 21), and possibly the daughter of Agnes' nurse.  While mourning the death of her friend and praying at her tomb in the Via Nomentana, she was discovered by a pagan mob and stoned to death.  Lightning is said to have darted out of the skies and killed many of the assailants.

She is invoked against abdominal pains, colic, and stomach-ache [not sure why.  Maybe she took a couple of stones to the midsection], which is a good reminder to add peppermint and catmint when you are planning your herb garden this year.  An infusion of the dried leaves of either is a sovereign remedy for indigestion and 'nervous stomachs'.

This is the Voice of Experience speaking.  Trust me.

22 January 2011

22 January - Saint Vincent

Weather:  If the sun shines brightly on Vincent's Day, we shall have more wine than water (i.e. optimum growing conditions for the vineyards this year).
( However )
If the sun shines on St. Vincent, there shall be much wind.

To predict the harvest in the coming season, light a torch (a real torch, not a flashlight) and carry it to a high hill.  If the flame is extinguished in the wind, crops will be abundant; if the torch burns in spite of the wind, the season will be bad.

So let us hope for lots of sun, and enough wind to extinguish a torch!
Saint Vincent, Deacon and Martyr (d. 304). A native of Huesca (Spain) and a deacon in Saragossa, he was martyred in Valencia in the persecutions of the governor, Dacian.  The Golden Legend describes his tortures - his limbs pulled from their sockets on the rack, his flesh torn with iron combs and burned with iron plates, left to lie on a pot-shard strewn prison floor, and finally yielding his spirit unto God in a feather bed.

He is the patron saint of Lisbon (Portugal), and of Vicenza (Italy), and the islands of Sao Vicente (Cape Verde) and St. Vincent (Caribbean).

He is also the patron saint of vine growers and dressers, vintners, and vinegar makers, probably from a pun on his name.  Winemakers and wine-growing regions have celebrations, like this one in Normandy

Wine is very definitely on the menu today.  And perhaps something from one of the countries listed above.  This being winter, I'm inclined to choose a recipe from the Caribbean.

21 January 2011

21 January - Saint Agnes

Feast of Saint Agnes of Rome, a young girl (age 12-13) who was executed for her faith.  As one of the most popular of saints - you can find her in almost any depiction of a gathering of virgin saints - her story has been added to through the centuries. The Catholic Encyclopedia gives the basics here, and the Golden Legend expands on her story.

Customs for this day in Lithuania and Italy are described on Catholic Culture.
The young saint is usually portrayed with a lamb, a pun on her name (Latin, agnus).  If you have a cookie cutter, cake mold, or jello mold in the shape of a lamb (usually saved for Easter desserts), use it today.

20 January 2011

20 January - Saints Fabian and Sebastian; Saint Agnes Eve

Weather: another piece of weather lore says that the last 12 days of January rule the weather for the year, but I don't know if it is collectively or to be applied to the corresponding months.

I have kept track of weather through the 12 days of Christmas, and the first 12 days of January.  Someone else can keep track of the last 12 days.
Feast of Saint Fabian, Pope and Martyr, and Saint Sebastian, Martyr.

Saint Fabian was Pope from 236 to 250, a period of relative peace for the Church, between the persecutions of Maximinus Thrax and Decius.  He is said to have got a lot done, reorganizing the clergy, building churches, and sending missionary bishops into Gaul, among them St. Denis.  He was martyred under Decius.

Saint Sebastian was a young man in the Roman army, highly favored by the Emperor Diocletian, and secretly a Christian "... but his faith only rendered him more loyal to his masters; more faithful in all his engagements; more mild, more charitable; while his favor with his prince, and his popularity with the troops, enabled him to protect those who were persecuted for Christ's sake, and to convert many to the truth."

The secrecy, however, couldn't last; the emperor found out and ordered Sebastian to be shot full of arrows until he died.  Sebastian survived this, and returned to reproach the emperor with his intolerance and cruelty.  This time he was sentenced to be beaten to death, and this time they made sure of it.  He died in 288.
Tomorrow being the feast of Saint Agnes, tonight is Saint Agnes Eve, and a time for divination.

And on sweet St. Agnes' night
Please you with the promis'd sight,
Some of husbands, some of lovers.
Which an empty dream discovers.  
Ben Jonson.

First let us dispose of a healing charm for the ague.  It is to be said tonight up the chimney by the eldest female in the family:
Tremble and go!
First day shiver and burn
Tremble and quake !
Second day shiver and learn;
Tremble and die!
Third day never return.

Are you wishful to see your future spouse?  Here are several charms to try:

" Upon St. Agnes' night you take a row of pins, and pull out every one, one after another, saying a Pater Noster, sticking a pin in your sleeve, and you will dream of him or her you shall marry." Aubrey
A more elaborate method is to leave your home and go to a strange locality.  Before going to bed (without supper, mind you), take the stocking from your right leg and knot it to the garter from your left leg, singing the following,—
I knit this knot, this knot I knit,
To know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see
The man that shall my husband be,
Not in his best or worst array,
But what he weareth every day;
That I to-morrow may him ken
From among all other men.

Then lie down on your back with your hands under your head, and your future spouse will surely appear in a dream and give you a kiss.
Take a sprig of rosemary and a sprig of thyme; sprinkle each three times with water, then place one in each shoe (probably shouldn't be the shoes you've been wearing all day, lest you will the herbs), and stand shoe and sprig on each side of the bed, repeating,—

St. Agnes, that's to lovers kind,
Come east the trouble of my mind.

Your future spouse should then appear in a dream.
Meet a bunch of your friends (male and female) at midnight near a cornfield.  One by one, each person should go into the cornfield and throw grain on the soil.  When you have all gathered together again, repeat the following rhyme:

Agnes sweet and Agnes fair, 
Hither, hither, now repair; 
Bonny Agnes, let me see 
The lad [or lass] who is to marry me. 

On your return home, you should see in a mirror the shadow of your destined spouse. 
For the more adventuresome: Place on the floor a lighted pigtail (a small candle), which must have been previously stolen, or else the charm will not work.  Then sit down in silence and watch it till it begins to burn blue, when your future husband will appear and walk across the room. 
The following is a very simple plan: Spread bread and cheese on the table, and sit down to it alone, observing strict silence. As the clock strikes twelve your future lover will appear and join you at your frugal meal.
Eat nothing all day till bedtime, then boil an egg hard, extract the yolk, fill up the cavity with salt, and eat the egg, shell and all [oh, ick].  Then walk backwards to bed, repeating these lines: 

Sweet St. Agnes, work thy fast; 
If ever I be to marry man, 
Or man be to marry me, 
I hope him this night to see. 

Some say that the same result may be effected by eating a raw red herring, bones and all, before going to bed [that hardly seems any better]. 
 On going to bed, place your shoes at right angles to each other in the shape of a T, saying the while: 
I place my shoes in form of a T, 
Hoping my true love to see; 
Not dressed in his best array, 
But in the clothes he wears every day.
Another more elaborate ceremony is the preparation of the dumb-cake.  The cake must be prepared fasting, and in silence. When ready it must be placed in a pan on the coals to bake, and at midnight the future husband will come in, turn the cake, and go out again.
From Mother Bunch's Closet Newly Broke Open
"On that day thou must be sure that no man salute thee, nor kiss thee; I mean neither man, woman, nor child, must kiss thy lips on that day ; and then, at night, before thou goest into thy bed, thou must be sure to put on a clean shift, and the best thou hast, then the better thou mayst speed. And when thou liest down, lay thy right hand under thy head, saying these words, Now the god of Love send me my desire; make sure to sleep as soon as thou canst, and thou shalt be sure to dream of him who shall be thy husband, and see him stand before thee, and thou wilt take great notice of him and his complexion, and, if he offers to salute thee, do not deny him." 

And again, "Upon this day thou must be sure to keep a true fast, for thou must not eat or drink all that day, nor at night; neither let any man, woman, or child kiss thee that day ; and thou must be sure, at night, when thou goest to bed, to put on a clean shift, and the best thou hast the better thou mayst speed ; and thou must have clean cloaths on thy head, for St. Agnes does love to see clean cloaths when she comes ; and when thou liest down on thy back as streight as thou canst, and both thy hands are laid underneath thy head, then say,—
Now, good St. Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
And shew me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.
And then be sure to fall asleep as soon as thou canst, and before thou awakest out of thy first sleep thou shalt see him come and stand before thee, and thou shalt perceive by his habit what tradesman he is ; but be sure thou declarest not thy dream to anybody in ten days, and by that time thou mayst come to see thy dream come to pass."

However, Mother Bunch later writes: "I have found a more exact way of trial than before. You need not abstain from kisses, nor be forced to keep fast for a glance of a lover in the night. If you can but rise, to be at the church door between the hours of twelve and one in the morning, and put the forefinger of your right hand into the keyhole and then repeat the following words thrice:
'O sweet St. Agnes, now draw near,
And with my true love straight appear.'
Then will he presently approach with a smiling countenance."
(No texting the guy of your dreams to be at the church after midnight.  That would be cheating.)
"Fair Saint Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
Not in his best nor worst array,
But in the clothes he wears every day ;
That to-morrow I may him ken,
From among all other men." 

19 January 2011

19 January - Saint Canute; Burning Love

AstronomyFull Wolf Moon

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night...
Feast of Saint Knud (Canute) IV, King of Denmark.

Knud was king at a difficult time in Danish history, as he used various methods (none of them popular) to strengthen the Danish monarchy against the wealthy landowners.  He was not above a bit of strong-arming when necessary.

For instance, in response to one of his demands, the people decided that they would stand on their rights and refuse.  He then said that they could stand on their rights, and he would also.  This took the form of forbidding the people to use his lands for grazing their animals, and since this was important to their survival, the people capitulated.

In strengthening the monarchy, he also strengthened the Church in Denmark, ordering the building of churches, monasteries, and hospitals.   He is described here as a Champion of Catholic Orthodoxy: "He had every quality which forms a Christian prince: he was a zealous propagator of the Faith of Christ, he was a brave warrior, he was pious, and he was charitable to the poor. His zeal for the Church (and in those days Her rights were counted as the rights of the people) was made the pretext for putting him to death: he died in the midst of a sedition as a victim sacrificed for his people’s sake."

Killed in 1086 by rebellious subjects, as he and his followers took sanctuary in a church, he was canonized almost immediately in 1101 as the patron saint of Denmark.
An easy and filling Danish dish (and one suitable to winter) is BRAENDENDE KAERLIGHED (Burning Love):

The amount of each ingredient is up to you and how many you are feeding. Try to keep everything hot. 

Make a batch of creamy mashed potatoes.  Season well with butter, salt, and pepper.

Fry several slices of bacon, Danish bacon if you can find it, regular bacon otherwise.
Fry a couple of onions as follows: cut large onions into halves from stem to stern; remove skins and slice about 1/8 inch thick.  Heat fat in a deep fryer or skillet to 370 degrees F.   Fry onions, one at a time, in hot fat for about 5 minutes.  Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

Mound the mashed potatoes on a round platter and make a depression in the middle.  Surround with crumbled bacon, and fill depression with fried onions.  If you need to, put the platter in a 350 degree F. oven for about 5 minutes to heat.

Slices of cold pickled beets are the usual accompaniment.

And for dessert?  Danish (Wienerbrod) of course.

18 January 2011

18 January - Saint Peter's Chair at Rome; Baked Rockfish

Today has been traditionally the first of two celebrations in honor of Saint Peter's cathedra (chair), the other taking place on February 22.  In the new calendar, the feast is celebrated only on the latter date.

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains the importance of both, and gives a history of the ancient chair itself.

What could be more appropriate for Peter the Fisherman than "Rockfish" (aka 'Striped Bass' here on the East Coast)?


You can use this recipe for either a whole fish, or fish steaks.

Finely chop 2 onions.  Minced 2 garlic cloves.
If using a whole fish, clean the fish and remove the scales.  Make a few slits crosswise on the top.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Pour 1/3 cup of olive oil into your baking dish.  Spread half of the onion and garlic in an even layer in the dish, and lay the fish or fish steaks on top.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, the remaining onion and garlic, 1/8 cup of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs, and about 1/2 cup of white wine.

Bake, allowing about 12 minutes per pound.  Sprinkle fish with 2 tablespoons of parsley and a little lemon juice, and serve.

17 January 2011

17 January - Saint Anthony, Abbot

Feast of Saint Anthony of Egypt, Abbot and Hermit. (born 251- died 356)

As a young man, Anthony took to heart the words of the gospel "Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor".  He divided his inheritance with his sister, gave away his share of it to the poor, and retired to the outskirts of town to live the life of an ascetic.  Eventually, that wasn't enough, and he moved out into the desert, occasionally returning to live near other hermits, then moving farther away again.

At one point, he shut himself up in a ruined fortress for 20 years, only coming out at the end of that time to be a spiritual guide to the hermits who had taken up residence in the caves around his place of solitude.  After organizing them, he again withdrew to a solitary life, emerging to combat Arianism, and at one point paying a visit to Saint Paul the Hermit (see January 15).

He suffered much through the attentions of demons, whether by temptations to sensuality and gluttony, or by physical beatings and torments, but through all of it he emerged victorious, and died in an odor of sanctity at age 105.

Traditionally, animals are blessed today, particularly horses, mules, donkeys, and dogs.

A plague spread across Europe in 1089, which in this instance was probably ergotism.  Miraculous cures were reported of those who implored God's mercy through the intercession of Saint Anthony, especially those who prayed before his relics, and the inflammatory disease (and a couple of others) became known as Saint Anthony's Fire.

In art, he is often depicted with a pig nearby.  The reasons given for this bit of iconography are various: that (like Merlin) the pig was a pet; or that pork fat was used in the treatment of skin diseases, therefore, by association, Saint Anthony became the patron of swineherds; or that it is neither of the above - the hog represents the gluttony and sensuality over which he triumphed.

Whatever the reason, the old saying "to follow someone about like a tantony pig" means to stick as close to that person as St. Anthony's favorite is said to have done to the saint.

I found this in a book written in 1897: "He [Anthony] is the great misogynist of the Church. He regarded the whole sex with profound mistrust, a mistrust not untinged with fear; for, although always on the alert, he seems to have been never quite sure what trick they might be up to next. That they were, for the most part, the devil's closest and most unscrupulous allies was a point about which he personally had very little doubt... He was, in fact, the organizer and leader of the first anti-women crusade; and it was part of his regular propaganda to insist that there could be neither peace on earth nor good will among men unless the whole feminine tribe were boycotted. Evidently he had no great faith in the resisting powers of his fellows; for the lesson he most impressed upon them was that in dealing with women their only chance of safety lay in flight."

Interesting.  I wonder if he really did believe that women were "the devil's closest and most unscrupulous allies"?

16 January 2011

16 January - Prohibition

Today in 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned the sale, manufacture, and transportation (but not the consumption) of alcohol in the United States, had been ratified by 38 states - two more than was necessary to make it into law - and accordingly, one year later in 1920, the Amendment took effect.

(By the way, of the 48 states, only two rejected the Amendment: Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Go, Little Rhody!

The 13-year era that the Amendment was in place is called "Prohibition" and has been celebrated in song and story (and TV shows and movies) as the time of speakeasies and bootleggers, moonshine stills and 'revenooers', rum-runners and the 'Untouchables', Al Capone and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Individuals could make wine and cider for their own consumption (up to 200 gallons per year), but not beer; companies were forbidden to make anything alcoholic.  Vineyards put their efforts into making grape juice and grape concentrates, with instructions on the labels NOT to put the mixture in a cupboard for 20 days or it would turn into wine. (Gee, we wouldn't want that...

In spite of its good intentions, the government's attempt to legislate morality didn't work - in fact, it made things worse than before.  The 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealed the 18th Amendment in December 1933.

In honor of the day, make Bathtub Gin - set it off to one side, and raise a toast with some good bonded hooch (or not, as the spirits move you).

15 January 2011

15 January - Saint Paul the Hermit; Hermits (cookies)

As a young man, Paul fled to the desert to escape persecution, and lived in a cave for the rest of his very long life.  Most of his story, as related by Saint Jerome and in the Golden Legend, is about his meeting with Saint Anthony the Abbot, whose feast is in two day's time.

Saint Anthony, being rather proud of himself as the first hermit and one who had lived in the desert longer than any other, learned otherwise in a holy vision, and set out to meet the man who had been living in the desert for nearly 100 years.  They talked and shared a meal; Paul then revealed that he was going to die, and asked Anthony to bring the mantle of Saint Athanasius to bury him in.  

Anthony did so, but by the time he returned, Paul was dead, and two lions were digging a grave for him.  Anthony buried him in the mantle of Saint Athanasius, and took Paul's coat, made from the leaves of a palm tree, with him when he went back to his cell.
Almost daily I read, "Oh, I wish I could be alone; I wish that I didn't have to deal with the outside world!"  Most people don't mean it - they want to be alone for a little while to gather their thoughts, and then they pine to be back in the world again.

Professor Plineo Correia de Oliveira says, "In effect, the desire to talk and be with others is never so strong as when one is alone.  Human nature is made in such a way that when we are with others for a long time, we want to be alone; but after we are alone for a time, we want to be among others.  So, one of the greatest glories of the eremitic state would be to live alone and in silence."

"This is true in a certain way. But there is another aspect of the eremitic state to consider.  Its nobility lies not just in remaining silent, but also in speaking with God.  Speaking with God should be understood not as having continuous apparitions and revelations, but in keeping the spirit occupied with things of God, profound thoughts, elevated aspirations, noble causes.  It is to be familiar with the highest cogitations of the human spirit, which are religious thoughts.  This is, in my opinion, the excellence of the eremitic state, what constitutes its principal adornment and highest respectability.
What more suitable for today than to bake HERMITS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  
Grease cookie sheets (this recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies, so plan accordingly)

In a bowl, sift together 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon each of ground cloves and nutmeg.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together 1/2 cup of softened butter and 1 cup of firmly packed brown sugar.  Add two eggs, beating after the addition of each egg, until mixture is light and fluffy.

Stir the flour mixture into the sugar/butter mixture.  Add 2 cups of raisins and 1/2 cup of chopped nuts; mix well.

Drop by teaspoonfuls (more or less) onto the greased cookie sheets.  Bake for about 10 minutes.  Cool on wire racks.

14 January 2011

14 January - Saint Hilary; Feast of the Ass

Weather: Saint Hilary's Day is traditionally the coldest day of the year.
Saint Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, whose feast is now celebrated on the 13th of January, was declared a Doctor of the Church for his role in combating Arianism in the 4th century.

From Chambers' Book of Days: "The council of Arles, held in 353, had condemned Athanasius and others, who were opponents of the Arian doctrine; and Hilarius, in the council of Beziers, held in 356, defended Athanasius, in opposition to Saturninus, bishop of Arles.  He was in consequence deposed from his bishopric by the Arians, and banished by Constantius to Phrygia."

"There he remained about four years, occupied in composing his principal work, On the Trinity, in twelve books. Hilarius, besides his twelve books On the Trinity, wrote a work On Synods addressed to the bishops of Gaul and Britain, in which he gives an account of the various creeds adopted in the Eastern church subsequent to the council of Nice; and he addressed three books to the Emperor Constantius, of whose religious opinions he was always an energetic and fearless opponent."

"He continued, indeed, from the time when he became a bishop till the termination of his life in 368, to be zealously engaged in the Trinitarian controversy; and the final triumph of the Nicene creed over the Arian may be attributed in a great degree to his energetic exertions. After the death of Constantius, in 361, he was restored to his bishopric, and returned to Poitiers, where he died."
Before the Council of Trent, marriages were forbidden between the onset of Advent (around the end of November) and Hilary's Day.  Marriages could be solemnized between now and Septuagesima (the Sunday approximately 70 days from Easter), and then again after the Octave day of Easter.   
This is another day on which to toast the apple trees (see January 5th); Hard Cider is apropros
In the Middle Ages, today was celebrated under the name "The Feast of the Ass", originally a commemoration of the Flight into Egypt by the Holy Family, and as with many such feasts, filled with plays and pageants which explained the scriptures to a mostly illiterate populace.

Again, from Chambers' Book of Days: "But the advantages resulting from this mode of instruction were counterbalanced by the numerous ridiculous ceremonies which they originated.  Of these probably none exceeded in grossness of absurdity the Festival of the Ass, as annually performed on the 14th of January." 

"The escape of the Holy Family into Egypt was represented by a beautiful girl holding a child at her breast, and seated on an ass, splendidly decorated with trappings of gold-embroidered cloth. After having been led in solemn procession through the streets of the city in which the celebration was held, the ass, with its burden, was taken into the principal church, and placed near the high altar, while the various religious services were performed." 

"In place, however, of the usual responses, the people on this occasion imitated the braying of an ass; and, at the conclusion of the service, the priest, instead of the usual benediction, brayed three times, and was answered by a general hee-hawing from the voices of the whole congregation. A hymn, as ridiculous as the ceremony, was sung by a double choir, the people joining in the chorus, and imitating the braying of an ass. Ducange has preserved this burlesque composition, a curious medley of French and mediæval Latin, which may be translated thus:
From the country of the East,
Came this strong and handsome beast:
This able ass, beyond compare,
Heavy loads and packs to bear.
     Now, seignior ass, a noble bray,
     Thy beauteous mouth at large display;
     Abundant food our hay-lofts yield,
     And oats abundant load the field.
     Hee-haw! He-haw! He-haw!

True it is, his pace is slow,
Till he feels the quickening blow;
Till he feel the urging goad,
On his hinder part bestowed.
     Now, seignior ass, &c."

There are several more stanzas praising the ass, but having nothing to do with its service to the Holy Family.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its article "Feast of Asses" says that at the end of Mass "...apparently without awakening the least consciousness of its impropriety, the following direction was observed:
In fine Missæ sacerdos, versus ad populum, vice 'Ita, Missæ Est', ter hinhannabit: populus vero, vice 'Deo Gratias', ter respondebit, 'Hinham, hinham, hinham.'
"At the end of Mass, the priest, having turned to the people, in lieu of saying the 'Ite, Missa est', will bray thrice; the people instead of replying 'Deo Gratias' say, 'Hinham, hinham, hinham.'"

[and then what?  "The Lord be with you"... "And with thy Ass"]
[no, better not.]

13 January 2011

13 January - 20th Day of Christmas; Glogg

This is the Octave day of Epiphany, and traditionally the day dedicated to commemorating The Baptism of Our Lord.

(It was celebrated last Sunday in the new calendar.)
"Saint Knut drives Christmas away"

Knud IV, the devout Christian King of Denmark, was murdered in 1086 as he knelt at the altar.  He is the patron saint of Denmark, and his feast is celebrated on the 19th of January.

Except in Sweden and Finland, where it is celebrated on the 13th of January.

For the Swedes and Norwegians, today - Tjugondag Knut or Tyvendedagen - is the 20th and last Day of Christmas.   Christmas trees are lit one last time and then dismantled, the decorations are carefully packed away, the greeting "Glaedlig Jul" is used for the last time, and the last Christmas parties are held.

Sip GLOGG while you enjoy the sight of your decorations on last time.

Fill a saucepan with 1-1/2 cups of water.  In a cheesecloth bag, tie up 3 whole cardamoms, 8 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, and a strip of orange rind.  Add this to the water and bring it to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of blanched almonds and 1/2 cup of golden raisins and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add one bottle (750 ml) of red wine [dry or sweet, your choice.  The recipe calls for Bordeaux], the same amount of port, and 1/2 pint of brandy.  Bring to a quick boil, and remove from heat immediately.  Cool, and store, covered, overnight.

Before serving, remove the spice bag.  Heat the Glogg (do not boil).  Add sugar to taste and serve in heated mugs or glasses.

This makes about 20 servings, if you are using punch cups, less if you are using tall mugs.

If you just cannot wait, simmer together the wine, brandy, and spices for about 45 minutes, strain, and serve.

12 January 2011

12 January - Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys

Weather: the weather today indicates the weather of December.
Big snowstorm.  BIG!  High winds and a LOT of SNOW!
If on January 12th the sun shines, it foreshows much wind. No sun today, but the wind was up in any case.
In the new calendar, this is the memorial of Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys (or Bourgeous)

This remarkable woman followed a call to teach children of the colonists in Ville Marie (Montreal), and left France for the New World in 1653.   Her first view of the field of her future endeavors must have been discouraging, as there were only about 150 people there, living in rude huts, and few children who even lived to school age.

After putting her hands to all sorts of work under rough conditions - nursing, establishing a local church (Notre Dame de Bon Secours), restoring a cross which had been destroyed Indians, keeping house for the governor - she was finally able to open her first school in 1658, and taught both the children of the colonists and the children of local Amerindians.

She returned twice to France to recruit women to help her - together they formed the Congregation of Notre Dame, a non-cloistered community requiring simple vows, which allowed the sisters to move to where they were needed throughout the wilderness.

Women had been coming to New France from the 1630's to find husbands among the colonists, but life was much different in the New World, even for those women who had been bred up in the country.  This was very apparent with the arrival of the first Filles du Roi in 1663.  Most of them were recruited from orphanages in the larger cities and towns, and the girls needed instruction in the domestic skills needed on a farm, from cooking to gardening to slaughtering animals.

Realizing that these women in their outlying and often isolated farms would be the primary means of education for their children, Marguerite and her sisters set out to teach them not only the rudiments of farm life, but literacy and religious instruction as well.

By the time Mother Marguerite died in 1700, the Rule for her Congregation had been approved, and several schools and missions established.

This interactive site has a lot of interesting information about Saint Marguerite and her life in New France, including a bit of genealogy.  Could you be descended from a Fille du Roi or their predecessors, the Filles a Marier?

11 January 2011

11 January - Lazy Day

Weather: the weather today foretells the weather of November
Cloudy, and not overly cold.
Today just feels like a lazy day, so I am going to yield to temptation.

10 January 2011

Plough Monday

Weather: the weather for today indicates the weather of October.
Overcast, for the most part, and slightly chilly.
The first Monday after Epiphany is called "Plough (Plow) Monday", as that is the day that men are supposed to return to their work after the Christmas holidays. 

Thomas Tusser in his Redivivus (1710) wrote: " After Christmas (which formerly, during the twelve days, was a time of very little work) every gentleman feasted the farmers, and every farmer their servants and task men. Plough Monday puts them in mind of their business." 

As with Distaff's Day, it is partially (if not mostly) a day of frolic.  A group of men would go in procession from house to house and from one village to another, dragging a gaily decorated plough and begging "plough-money" from the bystanders (which would be spent that night in celebration at the nearest public house).  Sometimes the processions were quite elaborate with costumed participants, morris-dancers, small pageants, and sword-dancing.

Robert Chambers in his Book of Days (1869) records the theory of a correspondent that the day and the tradition came from begging money for candles (called 'plough-lights') to burn in the shrine of a local saint, and that while the shrine and the candles were destroyed by the Reformation, the begging procession continued.

From Chamber's Book of Days, here is the plowman's day, as depicted by Gervase Markham in his Farewell to Husbandry (1653):

"We will suppose it to be after Christmas, or about Plow Day, (which is the first setting out of the plow,) and at what time men either begin to fallow, or to break up pease-earth, which is to lie to bait, according to the custom of the country. At this time the Plow-man shall rise before four o'clock in the morning, and after thanks given to God for his rest, and the success of his labours, he shall go into his stable or beast-house, and first he shall fodder his cattle, then clean the house, and make the booths clean; rub down the cattle, and cleanse their skins from all filth. Then he shall curry his horses, rub them with cloths and wisps, and make both them and the stable as clean as may be. Then he shall water both his oxen and horses, and housing them again, give them more fodder and to his horse by all means provender, as chaff and dry pease or beans, or oat-hulls, or clean garbage (which is the hinder ends of any grain but rye), with the straw chopped small amongst it, according as the ability of the husbandman is.

'And while they are eating their meat, he shall make ready his collars, hames, treats, halters, mullers, and plow-gears, seeing everything fit and in its due place, and to these labours I will also allow two hours; that is, from four of the clock till six. Then he shall come in to breakfast, and to that I allow him half an hour, and then another half hour to the yoking and gearing of his cattle, so that at seven he may set forth to his labours; and then he shall plow from seven o'clock in the morning till betwixt two and three in the afternoon. Then he shall unyoke and bring home his cattle, and having rubbed them, dressed them, and cleansed them from all dirt and filth, he shall fodder them and give them meat. Then shall the servants go in to their dinner, which allowed half an hour, it will then be towards four of the clock; at what time he shall go to his cattle again, and rubbing them down and cleansing their stalls, give them more fodder; which done, he shall go into the barns, and provide and make ready fodder of all kinds for the next day.
'This being done, and carried into the stable, ox-house, or other convenient place, he shall then go water his cattle, and give them more meat, and to his horse provender; and by this time it will draw past six o'clock; at what time he shall come in to supper, and after supper he shall either sit by the fireside, mend shoes both for himself and their family, or beat and knock hemp or flax, or pick and stamp apples or crabs for eider or vinegar, or else grind malt on the querns, pick candle rushes, or do some husbandly office till it be fully eight o'clock. Then shall he take his lanthorn and candle, and go see his cattle, and having cleansed his stalls and planks, litter them down, look that they are safely tied, and then fodder and give them meat for all night. Then, giving God thanks for benefits received that day, let him and the whole household go to their rest till the next morning."
That is quite a day's work, and worth an evening of conviviality.

Today, remember to thank the men whose labors have contributed to your well-being: fathers who spent long hours in factory or office, and then long hours teaching the finer points of riding a bicycle or driving a car; husbands who dig up a plot of land for your garden and haul in the fertilizer (ignore the "Green Acres" song); neighbors who plow the snow from your driveway; employers who travel and schmooze and put up with a lot of nonsense from the buying public in order to keep the business (and your job) going...

God speed the plough!

09 January 2011

9 January - Rawhide!; Sourdough Starter

Weather: the weather today foretells the weather of September
Warm to begin with, then it got colder
Today in 1959, the western Rawhide premiered on CBS, and continued rollin', rollin', rollin' until 1966.

This is the first 'adult' western that I can remember ('adult' in that it aired at night, rather than Saturday morning), and it remains at the top of my favorites list.

I like this opening because it features the main characters of the show.  In order: Trail Boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming); Ramrod Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood); Scout Pete Nolan (Sheb Wooley); Drover Jim Quince (Steve Raines); Drover Joe Scarlet (Rocky Shahan); Cook G.W. Wishbone (Paul Brinegar) and Cook's Louse Mushy [aka Harkness Mushgrove III] (James Murdock), along with a host of unsung extras (the beeves).  The only one missing is Hey-soos Patines (Robert Cabal), the likable young remudero (in charge of the horses).

The premise is based on the cattle drives north out of post-Civil War Texas to the rail-heads at Sedalia (Missouri), Abilene, Wichita, and Dodge (Kansas).  Thieves, murderers, and con-men (and women) abound on the trail, along with irate indigenous people, encroaching farmers, crooked sheriffs, and clueless greenhorns.  And this on top of stampedes, badlands, deserts, mountains, dry rivers, flooded rivers, blue northers, tornadoes, and the general cussedness that comes from being in the saddle 25 hours out of 24, with 20 men and 2,000 head of ornery cattle for company.

Favor and crew manage to come through it all with nary a scratch (black eyes, sore heads, hanging-rope burns, poisonings, gunshot wounds, whippings, hangovers, and heartaches are just part of the job) and the occasional loss of a drover.  Bad guys (and gals) got their comeuppance; disaster threatened, but was somehow averted - and if not averted, the drovers managed to make good out of it.

And came out looking as handsome as ever.
One of Wishbone's pride-and-joys was his sourdough keg, which provided the necessary leavening agent for biscuits, bread, and flapjacks.  There are a lot of ways to make SOURDOUGH STARTER - the easiest is just mixing flour and water and letting it ferment.  This recipe uses potato water:

Boil some peeled potatoes (4-5 will do) in water to cover until tender, about 20 - 30 minutes (you will need 2 cups of potato water for this recipe, so judge accordingly).  Drain the potatoes, reserving the water; use the potatoes for something else (mashed potatoes comes to mind).

Let the potato water cool to lukewarm.  Mix 2 cups of it with 2 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Put the mixture in a crock, loosely cover, and let it stand in a warm place (above 75 degrees F) for 3 - 4 days.  It should start bubbling away and smelling on the sour side.  Then you can put the whole crock (still loosely covered, as you want it to breathe) in the refrigerator.  Before using, let it return to room temperature.

When you use an amount of the starter in a recipe, return an equal amount of flour and water to the crock, i.e. if you remove 1 cup of starter, then add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water (any water, it doesn't have to be potato) back into the crock.

Go here for an easy recipe for Sourdough Biscuits with step-by-step pictures (it isn't mentioned in the process, but remember to remove the plastic wrap before baking).  Or try to make them as Wishbone would have done in a dutch oven.  A couple of those, a plate of baked beans, and a mug of scalding coffee that you can float a horseshoe in, and you'll be ready to hit the trail.
If you are also a fan, join us around the campfire on the Rawhide list at Yahoo! Groups.

Head 'em up, move 'em out!

08 January 2011

8 January - Battle of New Orleans; Southern Baked Beans

Weather: the weather today foretells the weather of August
Cloudy and warm
Today in 1815 - neither side knowing that the War of 1812 had ended the previous December - the British troops of Major General Sir Edward Pakenham met the American troops under Major General Andrew Jackson some few miles from the city of New Orleans.  One side was intent on gaining control of the Mississippi River and the lands sold to the United States by France in 1803 (and greater bargaining power in the peace talks), the other side aimed to stop it.  That they did stop it was a surprise to everyone, for while Pakenham had between 8,000 and 11,000 men in the field, veterans of the Peninsular Wars against Napoleon, Jackson had less than half that number - a mixture of regular army, militia, Indians, pirates, and volunteers.

In 1814, we took a little trip,
along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip
We took a little bacon an' we took a little beans,
an' we fought the bloody British in a town called New Orleans...

(sing it, Johnny!)
[You can hear the original and expanded version (no expletives deleted) by Jimmy Driftwood here]

At some point, commemoration of the battle became a day to honor Andrew Jackson, and eventually a day solely celebrated by members of the Democrat Party.  In 1896, the New York Times wrote an article on the commemoration of the day, beginning: "All good Democrats remembered that yesterday was Andrew Jackson's Day in their calendar, and that in the world's record of important events it was the anniversary of the battle of New-Orleans." (download the article here) At the time the article was written, there were still four veterans of the War of 1812 living.

A reenactment of the battle and a living history encampment take place annually at Chalmette Battlefield (Jean Lafitte NHP and Preserve) on the weekend closest to today, where you can meet troops from both sides, and get more of a lesson in the 'why' and 'how' than you would from the history books.

Well, we can do better than Andy's boys and turn their bacon and beans into something fit for a cold day in... January.


Either soak 1 pound of dried white beans in 6 cups of water overnight; or put beans and water in a kettle, bring to a boil, and boil for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for an hour.

Mince 2 garlic cloves.  Slice 1 onion.  Slice 3/4 pound of salt pork or cut about 6 slices of bacon in half.

To the kettle add the garlic, onion, 1 small dried hot red pepper, 1 bay leaf, and the salt pork or bacon.  Simmer, covered, until beans are tender, about 1 hour.  Drain, reserving liquid.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Put the beans in a shallow 2-quart baking dish.  Arrange the pork slices or bacon on top.

Measure the bean liquid, adding water if necessary to equal 2 cups.  To the liquid, add 1/4 cup of ketchup, 3 tablespoons of molasses, 1-1/2 teaspoons of Worcestershire, 1 teaspoon of powdered mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon EACH of ground ginger and salt.  Pour liquid over beans (carefully. You don't want them sloshing out of the dish).  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of firmly packed brown sugar.

Bake, uncovered, for about 1 hour.

07 January 2011

St. Distaff's Day

Weather:  the weather today indicates the weather in July.
Overcast, chilly.
No, there is no Saint Distaff in the calendar.

This was the first day after Epiphany, when women resumed their spinning (and by extension, other chores relegated to last on the list of things to do for the past couple of weeks), the Christmas festivities being over.  The men, however, would not return to work until Plough Monday; sometimes the same day, but most often days later.  This left time for the hired men to play pranks on the maids as they resumed their domestic chores; the maids in retaliation would dump buckets of water on the pranksters.

Partly work and partly play
You must on S. Distaff's Day.
From the plough soon free your team,
Then come home and fother them.
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.

Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give S. Distaff all the right:
Then bid Christmas sport good-night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.
                                                    Robert Herrick

This would be an appropriate day to thank the women who make your life comfortable and productive.  Moms who did endless loads of your laundry, wondering if your clothes would corrode the inside of the washing machine and should be fumigated first.  Wives who take charge of Christmas, buying and wrapping presents, signing and mailing endless cards, organizing Christmas parties and dinners.  The dragon on the front desk who fields cold calls from people wanting to waste your time with "a sure deal that will help your business grow!"  The secretary who corrects grammar and punctuation so that your business correspondence presents a professional appearance to the world. Mothers who worked sometimes two jobs in order to pay the bills, but still found time to help you with that science project.

I'm sure you can find at least one woman to thank.  I'm going to start with the agent at the payroll company, whose professionalism always makes my job easier.

06 January 2011

6 January - Epiphany; King Cake

Weather: the weather today indicates the weather of June.
Sunny, some overcast, warm.
Today we celebrate the manifestation - epiphania - of the glory of Our Lord on three separate occasions: the adoration of the Wise Men from the East; His Baptism, when the Voice from heaven proclaimed Him the Son of God; and His first recorded miracle of changing water into wine at the marriage at Cana. (The Golden Legend adds The Feeding of the Five Thousand as the fourth manifestation.)  All were believed to have happened on the same day, albeit in different years.

While originally, Our Lord's Baptism was considered the most important Theophany, in time the Adoration of the Magi took precedence; this day is also known in many cultures as the "Day of the Kings".

By the Middle Ages, the unnamed [and unnumbered] Wise Men had become Caspar or Jaspar, King of Tarsus, the land of myrrh, Melchior, King of Arabia, where the land is ruddy with gold, and Balthasar, King of Saba, where frankincense flows from the trees. The Hebrew version of their names was said to be Galgalath, Megalath, Tharath, and in Greek: Appelius, Amerius, Damascus.  Caspar was depicted as a beardless youth, Balthasar as a man in the prime of life, and Melchior as an old man with a long flowing beard.  They were also depicted representing three racial types: European, African, and Middle Eastern.

The custom of today is to bless the rooms of your house with holy water and use blessed chalk to inscribe 20 C + M + B 11 above the front door.
A young lady wishful to dream of her future husband should walk backward, throw a shoe over her left shoulder, and pray the Holy Kings to reveal him that night.
In honor of the Kings, make a KING CAKE.  A bean or a baby figure can be hidden inside - the one who finds the bean is the king of the celebration.  This same cake can be made and eaten throughout the Carnival season - but not past Shrove Tuesday!

There are, as usual, several recipes online to try.  This is the same sweet bread that I use for Pan de Muerto:

Heat 1/4 cup of milk to boiling, stirring to prevent curdling; remove from heat.  Stir in 1/4 cup of butter (cut into small pieces), 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Set aside and keep warm at about 110 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix 1 package of active dry yeast with 1/4 cup of warm water until dissolved; let stand 5 minutes.  Slowly stir in warm milk mixture until well blended.

Separate 1 egg; save white for another use.  Add the yolk and 1 whole egg to the milk/yeast mixture, then add 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing well with each addition.  Turn out the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead dough until smooth.  Grease a large bowl. Place dough in the bowl, turn over to coat entire ball of dough with oil; cover with a dish towel, and let rise in a warm place until double, about 90 minutes. Grease a baking sheet.

Punch down dough, and turn out again onto a floured surface.  Knead until smooth.  Divide dough into thirds.  Roll each third into a rope.  Pinch one end of the three ropes together; braid them, form the braided dough into a circle and pinch the opposite ends together.  Place the circle on the greased baking sheet.  Insert an almond, pecan half, dried bean, or ceramic baby figure into the dough so that it can't be seen.   Cover loaf with a dishtowel and let rise for about 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.   Bake for about 35 minutes.

Mix 1 cup of confectioner's sugar with 1 tablespoon of water (add another tablespoon of water if needed to make frosting thin).  Either glaze the cake with frosting, and sprinkle colored sugars in sections on the top (green, gold, and purple are traditional) or divide the frosting into 3 parts and tint each part with food coloring, then glaze the cake, with one color to a section.

05 January 2011

5 January - 12th Night; Epiphany Eve

Weather: the weather today foretells the weather of May and December.
Sunny, blue skies, and warm.
This is Twelfth Night, and traditionally the day of the greatest celebrations in the Christmas season.  For many children, tonight is when gifts will be left for them by the Holy Kings or by Befana.

Today, all Christmas decorations in and around the house must be removed and put away, or risk bad luck for the year. [Time to take down that Christmas tree and all the lights with which you have been dazzling your neighbors since Thanksgiving].

On the other hand, some traditions, like those in the Nordic countries, wait until the 20th Day of Christmas (January 13) to take down their decorations.  And some people consider that the season does not end until Candlemas, the Feast of Our Lady's Purification on February 2.

So let us not go against tradition.  Pick a tradition, and take down the decorations then.

This is the day to wassail the apple trees, by taking a pitcher of cider [hard or soft is left to your discretion] and a few like-minded friends to the orchard, make a circle around one of the best bearing trees [if you don't know which one that is, pick a tree, any tree], and drink the following toast three times:
Here's to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud, and then mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full!  Caps full!  Three bushel sacks full!
And my pockets full too!  Huzzah!

The premier tradition of Twelfth Night is the choosing of the King and Queen, most usually by the finding of a bean or a coin in the Twelfth Night Cake, sometimes by drawing the King card.  Sheets of Twelfth Night Characters, like the ones seen here, were cut up, and the characters either assigned directly to the guests invited to the Twelfth Night party, or chosen by lot out of a hat or bag.   Some had amusing verses to be read to the assembled company; some had riddles.  The Character had to be maintained until midnight or risk a forfeit, and impromptu costuming as one's character was part of the fun.


Here is a description of the latter practice from 1823 : "First, buy your cake.  Then, before your visitors arrive, buy your characters, each of which should have a pleasant verse beneath.  Next look at your invitation list, and count the number of ladies you expect; and afterwards the number of gentlemen.  Then, take as many female characters as you have invited ladies; fold them up, exactly of the same size, and number each on the back; taking care to make the king No. 1, and the queen No. 2.  Then prepare and. number the gentlemen's characters.  Cause tea and coffee to be handed to your visitors as they drop in."

"When all are assembled and tea over, put as many ladies characters in a reticule as there are ladies present; next put the gentlemen's characters in a hat.  Then call on a gentleman to carry the reticule to the ladies as they sit, from which each lady is to draw one ticket, and to preserve it unopened.  Select a lady to bear the hat to the gentlemen for the same purpose.  There will be one ticket left in the reticule, and another in the hat, which the lady and gentleman who carried each is to interchange, as having fallen to each.   Next, arrange your visitors according to their numbers; the king No. l, the queen No. 2, and so on.  The king is then to recite the verse on his ticket; then the queen the verse on hers; and so the characters are to proceed in numerical order.  This done, let the cake and refreshments go round..." 

This description of festivities in the Netherlands is similar to those once obtaining in England and France and other European countries: "Characteristic of Driekoningenavond [Three King's Eve] celebrations is the special cake which, according to tradition has a bean or an almond in the dough. Whoever finds the bean or nut in his portion is proclaimed King of the Feast and crowned with mock pomp. The King chooses his consort who is also crowned and rules with him."

"In some places the King gives a party to everybody else later in the year; in others guests draw lots to indicate the duties of various members of the Royal Household. Thus the Steward serves food; the Musician improvises entertainment on a paper-covered comb, pots, pans, or other musical instruments he can invent on the spur of the moment; the jester tries to make everyone laugh; the Wine Taster samples drinks and the Councilor gives sage advice. In other words, each member of the court has a special function to perform. If anyone forgets his allotted role he must pay a forfeit assigned by the Head of the Exchequer.Source

Twelfth Night, or thereabouts, is a popular time for reenactors and playhouses to stage elaborate productions and feasts of medieval/Renaissance celebrations.  In the Smallest State, our Chorus of Westerly will have its annual Celebration of Twelfth Night with "music, tragicomedy, dance, swordplay, mythical beasts, and poetry," [and a Peasant's Feast], produced by "over 300 singers, actors, instrumentalists, acrobats, and dancers."  

A good way to start the Carnival season.