31 March 2011

31 March - Festival of Luna

"Soon as the moon gathers her returning fires, if she encloses a dark mist within dim horns, a heavy rain is awaiting farmers and seamen. But if over her face she spreads a maiden blush, there will be wind; as wind rises, golden Phoebe ever blushes. But if at her fourth rising--for that is our surest guide--she pass through the sky clear and with undimmed horns, then all that day, and the days born of it to the month’s end, shall be free from rain and wind; and the sailors, safe in port." Virgil, Georgics 1. 426 ff.  
Read more about Luna under her Greek name 'Selene' here.
The Romans held their festival in honor of the Moon today.

According to Ovid,
The Moon rules the months: this month’s span ends
With the worship of the Moon on the Aventine Hill.

Luna, on account of her greater influence upon the Roman mode of calculating time, seems to have been revered even more highly than Sol, for there was a considerable temple of her on the Aventine, the building of which was ascribed to Servius Tullius (Ov. Fast. iii. 883 ; Tac Ann. xv. 41 ; P. Vict. Beg. Urb. xiii.).  A second sanctuary of Luna existed on the Capitol, and a third on the Palatine, where she was worshipped under the name of Noctiluca, and where her temple was lighted up every night. (Varro, de Ling. Lot. v. 68 ; Horat. Carm. iv. 6. 38). Further particulars concerning her worship are not known.  Sir William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1880, p. 839.

So, suspend your fantasies of bacchanalian orgies under a full moon.  Instead, check out EarthSky's page for tonight and then go out and smile back at the big smile in the night sky.

Meanwhile, here is weather lore concerning the moon:
If a new moon falls on a Saturday, there will be twenty days of wind and rain.

If there are two moons in one month, the weather will be unsettled until the next new moon.

The larger the halo around the moon, the nearer the rain clouds, and the sooner the rain may be expected.

The open side of the halo tells the quarter from which the rain may be expected.

If the full moon rises clear, expect fine weather.

If the full moon rises pale, expect rain.

A pale moon indicates rain; a red moon indicates wind.

If the moon rises red and large, with clouds, expect rain within 12 hours.

If the full moon rises large and luminous, there will be fair weather for several days.

If the new moon appears with the horns of the crescent turned up, the month will be dry.  If the horns are turned down, the month will be wet.
A lunatic, or one who had been moonstruck, was periodically insane; his lucid intervals supposedly depended on the phases of the moon.  It does seem suitable to celebrate la luna today, and tomorrow, on the festival of Fools, celebrate those that she touches.

29 March 2011

29 March - Fort Christina and New Sweden; Appelkaka

Weather: The worst blast comes from the borrowing days.

The 'borrowing days' are the last three days of March, for they are said to be borrowed from April, and are exceptionally stormy days.
Today in 1638, Peter Minuit purchased land in the area now known as Wilmington, Delaware, and set about building a fort.  He was experienced in this, having purchased Manhatten Island in 1626, when he was the Director General of New Netherland.  Now he was leading a company of fifty Swedish, Finnish, and Dutch men to establish a settlement where the New Sweden Company hoped to trade for beaver pelts with the local Lenape.

Two ships, the Kalmar Nyckel (Key of Kalmar), a large man-of-war, and the Fogel Grip (Griffin or Bird Griffin), a sloop, left Sweden in December 1637, and making good time, arrived in the Delaware River the following March.  The company first stopped in a place they named Paradis Udden (Paradise Point), located somewhere between Murderkill and Mispillion Creek near Lewes, but Minuit had another place in mind for the settlement farther upstream.

Named Christina in honor of Sweden's young queen, the fort was a small square enclosure surrounding two log buildings, one of which housed the garrison and the other holding the stores of provisions and bartering goods.  The town of Christinaham was laid out behind the fort, and Minuit acquired more land, until New Sweden covered much of current Delaware and parts of southeastern Pennsylvania and southwestern New Jersey.  The garrison had 24 men.  Now all that was needed were settlers.

Emigration to the New World not being high on Swedish lists, the government resorted to taking up such married soldiers as had deserted or committed other offenses and transporting them and their families to the new colony, promising to bring them back home in two years.  This group arrived on the 17th of April in 1640. 

The Dutch of New Netherland along the Hudson River also claimed the land on which Fort Christina was built, and for the next 18 years there was an amicable friction between the two colonies.  In 1651, Peter Stuyvesant built Fort Casimir  (present Newcastle, Delaware) about seven miles south of Fort Christina.  Three years later, the Swedes captured Fort Casimir, but in the following year, 1655, the Dutch took over New Sweden in a bloodless conquest, and renamed the Swedish outpost "Fort Altena".  This was held by the Dutch until 1664, when the whole of New Netherland was surrendered to the British.

The fort and the original town have long since been built over, but you can visit the Old Swedes Church (built by descendants of the Swedish colonists in 1698) and the Hedrickson House (1690).  Tours are arranged and managed by the Old Swedes Foundation, which also holds many special events throughout the year, including "Ghosts in the Graveyard" in October.

The Rocks, a natural wharf where the ships landed, can be seen at Fort Christina State Park.  The fort was built nearby.  A fully operational re-creation of the ship Kalmar Nykel is home-ported next door and has both dock-side tours and grand events like "Pirate Sailings", but check for availability - the Tall Ship of Delaware also sails as a good-will ambassador to many festivals along the east coast.

Is it Christina or Christiana?  My history books called it Christiana.  Read how and why both names are used, here.
Now, what could be more suitable to celebrate New Sweden than a melding of old Sweden and North America in a Swedish American Smorgasbord?  You can always add a few more American dishes to your buffet, such as a plate of sliced cold roast turkey and a dish of cranberry sauce.


Preheat oven to 400° F. 
Butter a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan.
Might as well cut up 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick) into little bits.  You will be using them to dot the bread crumb layers.

In a bowl, mix together 2-1/2 cups of plain fine dry bread crumbs, 1-1/4 cups of light brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

In another bowl, mix together 2 cans (1 pound, 4 ounces each) of sliced apples and 2 cans (1 pound each) of applesauce [Or use your own canned apples and applesauce].  Stir in 4-1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice (about 1-1/2 lemons if using fresh).

Start with a good layer of crumbs on the bottom of the baking pan.  Dot with butter and cover with a layer of the apple mixture.  Another layer of crumbs, dot with butter, another layer of apples.  Continue and end with a top layer of crumbs (dotted with butter).

Bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes.  Serve either warm or cold. (Mmmm... warm, with ice cream).

25 March 2011

25 March - Annunciation; Pope Ladies

Weather: Is't on St. Mary's bright and clear, fertile is said to be the year.

If before sunrise, the sky is clear and the stars shine brightly, the year will be fruitful.

An east wind on Lady Day, will keep in till the end of May. 
Mary blows out the candle; Michael lights it again.

At Our Lady in March we put them [candles] by; at Our Lady in September, we take them up again.

As there was now some 12 hours of daylight, it was traditional to leave off the use of candles in the evening, especially by the servants; this would last until September, either the Nativity of Our Lady (September 8) or St. Michael's Day (September 29).
Today we commemorate the message of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin full of grace that the Word was made flesh, and Mary's reply: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  Be it done to me according to thy word."
Roger Campin, "Merode Triptych" (c1425)

From Rev. Butler's "Lives of the Saints":
THIS great festival takes its name from the happy tidings brought by the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, concerning the incarnation of the Son of God.  It commemorates the most important embassy that was ever known: an embassy sent by the King of kings, performed by one of the chief princes of his heavenly court; directed, not to the kings or emperors of the earth, but to a poor, unknown, retired virgin, who, being endowed with the most angelic purity of soul and body, being withal perfectly humble and devoted to God, was greater in his eyes than all the sceptres in the world could make an universal monarch.  Indeed, God, by the choice which he is pleased to make of a poor virgin, for the accomplishment of the greatest of all mysteries and graces, clearly demonstrates that earthly diadems, dignities, and treasures are of no consideration with him; and that perfect humility and sanctity alone constitute true greatness.

The medieval Golden Legend believed that other incidences in the Bible occurred today as well:
This blessed Annunciation happened the twentyfifth day of the month of March, on which day happened also, as well tofore as after, these things that hereafter be named. On that same day Adam, the first man, was created and fell into original sin by inobedience, and was put out of paradise terrestrial. After, the angel showed the conception of our Lord to the glorious Virgin Mary. Also that same day of the month Cain slew Abel his brother. Also Melchisedech made offering to God of bread and wine in the presence of Abraham. Also on the same day Abraham offered Isaac his son. That same day S. John Baptist was beheaded, and S. Peter was that day delivered out of prison, and S. James the more, that day beheaded of Herod. And our Lord Jesu Christ was on that day crucified, wherefore that is a day of great reverence. 

A traditional treat for today is "Pope Ladies" (also called "Pop Ladies"), a yeast bread in the (rough) shape of a female figure.  Curiosities of Popular Customs (1897) offers the following explanation of its origins:
Pope Ladies. A species of buns sold in Hertfordshire, England, on the feast of the Annunciation. This is a custom that dates from a remote antiquity. A legend thus accounts for their origin. A noble lady and her attendants were benighted while traveling on the road to St. Albans.  Lights in the clock tower at the top of the hill guided their steps to the monastery, and the grateful lady gave a sum of money to provide an annual distribution to the poor on Annunciation or Lady Day of cakes baked in the form of ladies.  As this bounty was distributed by the monks, the Pope Ladies probably thus acquired their name.  At the time of the Reformation the dole came to an end, but the local bakers continued to bake and sell buns made on the same pattern.

Other sites call them "pop ladies" (as in lollipop); they are said to be a favorite addition to the New Year's Day table.  Well, at one time, Annunciation Day was considered the first day of the year, so it makes sense that once that was forgotten, the tradition would be moved to the 1st of January.

Catholic Culture has a recipe here or use your own favorite sweet yeast-bread recipe and add a little cinnamon or nutmeg to your dough.


This is a yeast-bread and needs time to rise twice.

Heat 3/4 cup of water to about 110° F.  Sprinkle 1 package of active dry yeast into the water, let it stand for a few minutes, and then stir until dissolved.

Meanwhile lightly beat 2 eggs.  In a large bowl, mix together eggs, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter.   Stir in the yeast.  In a medium bowl, mix together 3-1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 2 teaspoons of nutmeg or cinnamon.  Add 2 cups of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and and beat well until smooth. Stir in the remaining flour and beat again until smooth.  Cover bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Punch down dough (or stir it down by beating it with 25 strokes).  Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface and roll to coat (this makes it easier to handle).  Now comes the fun.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (more or less).  You can roll the pieces into balls if it will make life easier. Take one piece/ball and divide it in half.  Flatten one of the halves and shape into an oval (or a body shape) for the body.  Take the other half and divide it in half again.  Roll one of the halves into a ball and attach it to the body for a head.  Pinch off a tiny bit of the remaining half and roll into a ball to make a nose (attach it to the face).  Roll the remaining half into a cylinder about 4 inches long (these are the arms); cut in half and attach to the body, then cross the arms over the body.

Repeat with the remaining pieces.

Place about 3 inches apart on greased cookie sheets and let rise until doubled, about 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Decorate buns with currants for eyes (I don't know if Our Lady had buttons, but you could add them down the front of her dress if you like.  Or decorate the hem).  Brush with egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water).  Bake in the preheated hot oven until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

21 March 2011

21 March - St. Benedict; Nettle Soup

In the traditional calendar, today is the feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia, father of Western Monasticism (the revised calendar celebrates him on July 11).

He was born into a noble Roman family and received the education commensurate with his station in life, but early finding that he wanted more spiritually than was to found in his society, he went to live in solitude for a time.  Subsequently, he became a hermit, but his sanctity and knowledge led many to seek him out, including a group of monks who wished him to be their abbot.  Big mistake.  His attempts to reform them led to their attempts to poison him; he took the hint and went back to solitary living.

However, others came to learn from him, and for them he established monasteries, eventually writing his Rule for conducting their lives.

An important point about the Rule is found in the Catholic Encyclopedia:
"1. Before studying St. Benedict's Rule it is necessary to point out that it is written for laymen, not for clerics. The saint's purpose was not to institute an order of clerics with clerical duties and offices, but an organization and a set of rules for the domestic life of such laymen as wished to live as fully as possible the type of life presented in the Gospel."

You can read an analysis of the Rule of St. Benedict here and the Rule itself here.  Reading two chapters of the Rule every day is a good Lenten practice.

In honor of Saint Benedict, make NETTLE SOUP.

Why, you ask?  A good question.

In Rumer Godden's novel "In This House of Brede", the Benedictine nuns have "Nettle Soup" on their founder's day (and the nettles are picked by the novices, leading to a crisis).  Perhaps this is traditional for Benedictine monasteries - I don't know (yet).  St. Benedict is said to have rolled in nettles whenever he was attacked by lustful thoughts, or as related in The Golden Legend "...and after, he despoiled himself all naked and went among thorns and wallowed among the nettles, so that his body was torn and pained, by which he healed the wounds of his heart. Then after that time he felt no more temptation of his flesh."  In consequence, he is invoked against nettle rash.

Nettles are a perennial.  They are also rich in vitamins, and you can imagine that, after a winter of eating stored vegetables which were dried when gathered (like peas) or which dried out and wrinkled each day successively as the months wore on (like carrots), the first greens to show themselves were much relished.  The additions of iron and vitamins A and C to combat that run-down, spring-fever malaise didn't hurt; that it was said to purify the blood can probably be laid to the increase in iron as well.

I am told that one can find nettles in farmer's markets.  I don't know.  For the following recipe, I use scallions or green onions.  However, if you do find nettles and want to use them LISTEN CAREFULLY! I will say this only once.  Nettles sting.  That's why they are called stinging nettles.  They are like poison ivy and poison oak and other evil plants.  They will hurt you.  They are not your friend.  If you must deal with nettles, WEAR GLOVES.  Wear gloves when you are picking them out of the farmer's market's bin or out of your own overgrown acreage.  Wear gloves when you are chopping them.  Parboiling them for a couple of minutes in salted water takes some of the sting out (so I am told).  The recipe below says nothing about that, but it is okay to be safe rather than sorry.

This recipe serves 4-6, so if it is just you and a friend, cut the recipe in half.

If using nettles, boil a pot of water with a couple of teaspoons of salt; toss in nettles and boil for a couple of minutes.  Drain and coarsely chop to equal 4 cups.

If using green onions or scallions, coarsely chop enough to equal 4 cups (one to two bunches is usually more than enough).

Slice 1 pound of potatoes (3 - 4 medium).  Slice off white part of one leek, slit white part in half, slice  each half into quarter-inch slices (i.e. thin slices).  If you didn't already clean the leek, put slices in a bowl of water, swish them around for a moment, and drain. (Yes, the slices will come apart. That's what you want.)  Make 4 cups of chicken stock (I use chicken bouillon or you could use a couple of cans of chicken broth.  In other words, use what you have.)

In a kettle melt 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick); add the chopped nettles or green onion, and the sliced leek.  Cook for about ten minutes, until soft but not brown.  Add the chicken stock, the potatoes, and 1 cup of pearl barley.  Simmer on low for about 1 hour.

Now...  in the good old days, the cook mashed everything together, then pushed it all through a sieve, to create a smooth, creamy soup.  We can use something called an immersion blender, or pour the soup into a regular blender and puree until smooth, then return it to the pot. 

Stir in 1 cup of light cream.  Taste and adjust seasonings (i.e. add salt and pepper to taste).  Heat to serving temperature.  And serve.  (If you have a few tablespoons of scallions left, sprinkle them over the top.)

20 March 2011

20 March - Vernal Equinox

Weather: As the wind and weather at the equinoxes, so they will be for the next three months.

If a storm comes from the east today (or in the next week), the summer will be dry; if from the southwest, the summer will be wet.

Easterly gales without rain foretell a dry summer.

If the wind is northeast or north at noon of the equinox, there will be no fine weather until midsummer. If the wind is southwest or south, there will be fine weather until midsummer.

A southwest wind at the equinox indicates rain.

If the wind is northeast at the equinox, it will be a good season for wheat and bad for other kinds of grain.  If south or south-west, it will be a good season for other kinds of grain and bad for wheat.

The vernal equinoctial gales are stronger than the autumnal.

The first three days of any season rule the weather for that season.

Lightning in Spring indicates a good fruit year.
"March" from the Tres Riche Heures
Astronomically speaking, winter turns into spring at 7:21 tonight, at least for those in the northern hemisphere.  The days are getting warmer and longer, the sun is moving higher in the sky.  We are out in our yards cleaning up the debris left by winter and planning this year's gardens.  The last couple of days have been warm enough that I can open the windows and let some 'real air' circulate throughout the house.

And soon, the voice of the mower will be heard in the land...

If the weather is agreeable and you have a burn permit, why not gather all the fallen branches, dead wood, and garden clearings into a pile and have a vernal bonfire (the ashes can be worked back into your garden again).

19 March 2011

19 March - Ember Day; St. Joseph

Weather: Ember Day - the weather today foretells the weather of June
Bright, sunny, a few clouds, a few stiff breezes

Is't on St. Joseph's day clear, so follows a fertile year.
Astronomy: The closest moon of 2011 is tonight.  Check out EarthSky's page on the 'supermoon' and Saturn nearby.

And PLEASE check out the page "What's true - and false - about the March 19 supermoon".  Really, people!  It is sad that such a page has to be written.  As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a gulli-bull."

Today is the feast of Saint Joseph, foster-father of Our Lord and protector of the Church.

There is so much written about Joseph, that I can only send you to read some of them.
 After the scripture story of St. Joseph,  Fisheaters describes the custom of St. Joseph's Table, la tavola di San Giuse:  
"Today, after Mass (at least in parishes with large Italian populations), a big altar ("la tavola di San Giuse" or "St. Joseph's Table") is laden with food contributed by everyone (note that all these St. Joseph celebrations might take place on the nearest, most convenient weekend). Different Italian regions celebrate this day differently, but all involve special meatless foods: minestrone, pasta with breadcrumbs (the breadcrumbs symbolize the sawdust that would have covered St. Joseph's floor), seafood, Sfinge di San Giuseppe, and, always, fava beans, which are considered "lucky" because during the drought, the fava thrived while other crops failed (recipes below)." Continue reading here...

The Feast Day Cookbook has recipes for Minestrone and Sfinge di San Giuseppe.

Here in the Smallest State, several of the bakeries have a delightful pastry called 'zeppoles' at this time of year.  An old dictionary describes it as "A doughnut-like pastry which may be filled with bits of cooked cauliflower, anchovies, etc., before frying."  Well, that is as may be.  Here they are filled with a lovely creamy custard which will use up all of your diet plans points for a month.  So be it.  As the song goes, "In Himmel gibt's kein Bier, drum trinken wir es hier..." (In heaven there is no beer; that's why we drink it here...).  That goes for zeppoles as well.

[Its pronunciation?  Good luck.  In this Italian-rich part of the United States, I have heard it pronounced every possible way: zep o lay, zep o lee, tzee po la - and more I can't remember.  Look for something like this in the bakery counter 
point to it, and say, "One of those, please." 

18 March 2011

18 March - Ember Day;

Weather: Ember Day - the weather today foretells the weather of May.

Started out overcast (but warm), then sunny (and warm), then overcast with high winds (but still warm).
According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, chipmunks emerge from hibernation about now.  Soon they will be hanging out below the bird-feeders, taunting the sparrows into throwing seeds down on them.

And if they are not careful, soon I will find little chipmunk corpses on the back steps - presents from the true Rulers of the Yard.

And Spring is here at last in the Smallest State! (Not that it won't be cold until May - that's a given.) The crocuses (croci?) are blooming all over the yard.

Lovely, just lovely...

I think today I will just celebrate the Return of the Croci (and that I've been allowed to see them once again).

16 March 2011

16 March - Ember Day; Liberalia; Raspberry Wine

Weather: Ember Day - the weather today foretells the weather of April.

Cloudy, overcast, rainy.

The ancient Roman festival in honor of the god Bacchus - Liberalia - was celebrated today [and if that isn't a reason for a party, I don't know what is].  According to Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1875) (found here at Lacus Curtius, part of Bill Thayer's website), Roman youths who had attained their 16th year received their toga virilus (the white toga of an adult man) today.

Ovid, in his Fasti, says that the Liberalia was held on the third day after the Ides (the 15th), which, if counted inclusively, translates to the 17th of March.

There’s a popular festival of Bacchus, on the third day
After the Ides: Bacchus, favour the poet who sings your feast...
The task of this verse is to set out the reasons,
Why a vine-planter sells his cakes to the crowd.
Liber, before your birth the altars were without offerings,
And grass appeared on the stone-cold hearths.
They tell how you set aside the first fruits for Jupiter,
After subduing the Ganges region, and the whole of the East.
You were the first to offer up cinnamon and incense
From conquered lands, and the roast entrails of triumphal oxen.
Libations derive their name from their originator,
And cake (liba) since a part is offered on the sacred hearth.
Honey-cakes are baked for the god, because he delights in sweet
Substances, and they say that Bacchus discovered honey...

So celebrate that which gladdens men's hearts and fogs their minds on the 16th or 17th (or both days, if you are so inclined).  To help, here is a recipe from the early 18th century for "RASBERRY (sic) WINE":

"Take ye frute full ripe, brus and strain ym, and to every gallan of juce put 2 pound of sugar.  Put it in a barrill or pot and boung it close up.  Let it stand a month or 5 weeks yn bottel it.  Put in every bottel a lump of sugar.  You may make chirey wine ye same way.

[Take the fruit full ripe, bruise and strain them, and to every gallon of juice put 2 pounds of sugar.  Put it in a barrel or pot and bung it close up.  Let it stand a month or 5 weeks, then bottle it.  Put in every bottle a lump of sugar.  You may make cherry wine the same way.]

Then drink heroically.  Or go the easy route and uncork an elixir from California.

10 March 2011

10 March - The Telephone; Telephone Pudding

Today in 1876, after much work and experimentation, Alexander Graham Bell uttered those immortal words "Mr. Watson, come here! I want to see you!" into his contraption and the telephone was born.  I wonder if he knew then that he was creating a tyrant that would rule us all and eventually deform an entire generation into Unfocused Creatures Whose Heads Rest On Their Shoulders As They Wander Aimlessly Along Seemingly Talking To The Air.

[Not to mention the number of first dates which never make it to second dates, because Mr. I-Am-An-Important-Jerk spends more time talking on his phone than to his companion.]

This page, Alexander Graham Bell's Path to the Telephone, has much information on the steps leading up to the invention.  Also see Wikipedia's articles, here for how it works and here for a timeline with links to the Other People Who Invented the Telephone First.  Funny how everybody seems to be inventing the same thing at the same time.

Yes, children, the above picture is a 'rotary phone'.  Once upon a time, we had to dial each number separately and wait for the dial to swing back into position before dialing the next number.  And there was no redial button.

It was also completely necessary if one was to have any social life at all.  How else could one tell one's girlfriends, not one hour after seeing them at school: what-she-said, what-he-said, who's-cute, who's-not, who's-going-to-the-prom-with-whom (with commentary on the suitability), and who-is-wearing-what-tomorrow, and, oh yeah, what-was-the-homework-in-history-class-again?  Since there was usually only one phone line to the house, this continued until Dad stormed in saying that he'd been trying to get through for the last hour (Dads always exaggerate) and what could be so important that it couldn't wait until tomorrow?

But that was a big improvement on the candlestick telephone, for which one clicked the receiver switch-hook (what the receiver is hanging on in the drawing to the left) to get the attention of the operator, who would then connect you to whomever you were calling (you'll see these in old movies especially - "Hello, operator?  Get me the police!  There's been a murder at Millstone Manor!").

And that, being of a useful size for desks, was a big improvement over the large wall-box magneto telephone, the crank on one side being turned rapidly several times to get the attention of the operator, who could then switch the caller to the callee.  (They do look like something out of a cartoon, don't they.  This one is at the Binghamton, New York, Historical Society

For more on antique phones and their history, check out the Antique Telephone History Website.

Meanwhile, tonight would be a good night for TELEPHONE PUDDING [if you are looking for the South African version, you need to look further.  This recipe is from the South United States]:

To start with, you will need about 2 dozen almond macaroons (either buy them or try one of the many recipes online).  Cut them into halves and use the halves to line a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish.

Heat oven to 350° F.  Separate 6 eggs.  Scald 2 cups of cream [the recipe calls for 'medium' cream, so I mixed together 1 cup of light cream and 1 cup of heavy cream.  Seems pretty medium to me].

Beat the yolks with 6 tablespoons of sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of salt until the mixture is thick, then add 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla.  Add a little of the scalded cream to the egg yolks, beating as you do so [you don't want to cook the yolks... yet], then gradually beat in the rest of the cream.  Pour this mixture over the macaroons.

Place the dish in a larger pan of hot water; place both in the oven and bake until the custard sets, about 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and dot the top of the custard with 1 cup of blackberry jam.  Turn the oven down to 325° F.

Now take the egg whites which have been sitting so patiently off to one side and beat them with 1/4 teaspoon of salt until foamy.  Then beat in 6 tablespoons of sugar (1 spoonful at a time) until the meringue is stiff.  Carefully spread the meringue over the custard (edge to edge).

Return it to the oven (without the pan of hot water, this time) and bake it for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve it either warm or cold, but not - NOT - while you are clacking away on the 'phone.  Let's give the dessert the respect it deserves, and our fellow diners as well.

09 March 2011

Ash Wednesday; Bacalhau a Bras

Weather: Wherever the wind lies on Ash Wednesday, it continues during the whole of Lent.

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 FisheatersCatholic 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.

08 March 2011

Shrove Tuesday; Fastnachtkuchen

Weather: As much as the sun shines on Shrove Tuesday, so will it shine every day in Lent.

Thunder on Shrove Tuesday foretells prosperity in the land.
Today, we are called on to confess our sins and be shriven (or shrove), in other words, given absolution.  Tomorrow we begin our penitential season of Lent.

This is the last day of Carnival, the end of the season of good living, and so today is celebrated with all sorts of merry-making, games, and good food.  Pancakes, fritters, and fried cakes were the traditional fare of Shrove Tuesday in many countries, possibly as a way to use up the very last of the lard before the fasting and abstinence of Lent began.

The customs surrounding the making and eating of pancakes today have been around for a few centuries now.  Flipping the pancake was a source of entertainment; the one who could successfully flip his pancake and catch it again in the skillet received the applause of all, while he whose pancake dropped to the ground was greeted with laughter.  [Don't feel so smug.  Have you tried flipping a pancake lately?  Takes a fair amount of skill.]  In some schools, the cook would enter the classroom with great ceremony, and with equal decorum flip a pancake into the crowd of waiting pupils, who then tried to capture it whole (the winner received a present of money).  The remnants of these games are found in the well-known Pancake Races, in which women race down a length of road, flipping a pancake a certain number of times in a skillet.

It was believed that making and eating pancakes ensured prosperity for the coming year, and that if you buried a piece of the pancake, you would have luck for the next 12 months.

Of course, whenever there is jollity and celebration around, there will also be those who roll their eyes and bemoan how the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  Consider this diatribe, published in 1630, from the (uneducated and self-proclaimed) Water Poet,  John Taylor:

"Always before Lent there comes waddling a fat, grosse groome, called Shrove Tuesday, one whose manners show he is better fed than taught, and indeed he is the only monster for feeding amongst all the dayes of the yeere, for he devoures more flesh in fourteene houres than this old kingdom doth (or at least should doe) in sixe weekes after. Such boyling and broyling, such roasting and toasting, such stewing and brewing, such baking, frying, mincing, cutting, carving, devouring, and gorbellied gurmondizing, that a man would thinke people did take in two months' provision at once. 

Moreover it is a goodly sight to see how the cookes in great men's kitchins doe frye in their master's suet, that if ever a cooke be worth the eating, it is when Shrove Tuesday is in towne, for he is so stued and larded, basted, and almost over-roasted, that a man may eate every bit of him and never take a surfet. In a word, they are that day extreme cholerike, and too hot for any man to meddle with, being monarchs of the marrow-bones, marquesses of the mutton, lords high regents of the spit and kettle, barons of the gridiron, and sole commanders of the frying-pan. 

And all this hurly-burly is for no other purpose than to stop the mouth of the land-wheale, Shrove-Tuesday, at whose entrance in the morning all the whole kingdome is in quiet, but by the time the clocke strikes eleven— which, by the help of a knavish sexton, is commonly before nine, —then there is a bell rung called the Pancake-Bell, the sound whereof makes thousands of people distracted and forgetful either of manners or humanitie."

[I think the pancake flippers had more enjoyment in life than did the Water Poet]

In some parts of Belgium, it was traditional to eat cabbage today, believing that it would prevent flies and caterpillars from destroying the year's crop of cabbages.

In Germany, this was known as Fastnacht, and the traditional fare included FASTNACHTKUCHEN (aka Fastnachts or  Raised Doughnuts), for which I here give a recipe:

These are yeast doughnuts and must have time to rise twice before they are formed and fried in hot fat.  Plan accordingly. Also, this recipe makes about 3 dozen.

Sift 2-2/3 cups of flour and set aside.  Sift another 2 cups of flour in another bowl and set aside.

Scald 1-1/4 cups of milk.  Stir in 1/4 cup of shortening and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Cool mixture until it is lukewarm, then add either 1 small yeast cake or 1 package of active dry yeast, and stir.

Gradually add the flour to the mixture, beating it thoroughly with every addition.  Put the bowl in a warm place, cover, and allow to stand until the batter is full of bubbles.

In another bowl, mix 3/4 cup of sugar with 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and 3 lightly beaten eggs.  Stir this into the batter, and add the remaining 2 cups of sifted flour.

Knead well in the bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured board and roll out to about 3/4-inch thick.  Cut out with a biscuit cutter (or a glass with a 2 to 3-inch diameter), and cut a small slit in the center of each.  Cover lightly with a cloth and let rise until the tops are springy when touched (about an hour).

Heat fat or oil to 375° F.  Drop doughnuts into hot fat and fry until golden brown on both sides.  Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and [voice of experience here] let them cool down to at least warm before you eat them.  Your mouth will thank you.

So, go to confession today and be shriven, then come home to feast on pancakes and fastnachts.  Tomorrow, Lent begins.

01 March 2011

1 March - St. David's Day: Leek Soup

First comes David, next comes Chad,
Then comes Winnall as if he was mad. 

If it snows on the first day of March, there will be snow for thirty days.
Gwnewch y pethau bychain ("Do the little things..."

Today is the feast of Saint David - Dewi Sant - the titular saint of Wales.

As described in Catholic Culture: "Very little is known about the life of St. David (Dewi Sant). He belonged to that great monastic movement which became influential in Wales in the sixth century and which had links with monasticism in Gaul and in Ireland. The earliest references to David are in the Irish Annals. Many churches across South Wales claim David as their founder. His chief foundation was at Mynyw or Menevia in Dyfed. He was canonized by Pope Callistus II in 1123."

The earliest known Life of the saint was written by one Rhygyvarch in the latter half of the 11th century.  It is best described as "...a masterful hagiography in which miracles abound and historical details are ever subordinated to them."  You can read Rhygvarch's Life of Saint David, from which subsequent biographers took their material, here at Online Texts from English Religious History.

Giraldus Cambrensus said of him: "... [he was] a mirror and pattern to all, instructing both by word and example, excellent in his preaching, but still more so in his works. He was a doctrine to all, a guide to the religious, a life to the poor, a support to orphans, a protection to widows, a father to the fatherless, a rule to monks, and a model to teachers; becoming all to all, that so he might gain all to God."

Saint David himself left these words for his people: "Be joyful and keep your faith and your creed.  Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about.  I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us." 

In honor of Saint David and his people everywhere, fly the Welsh flag [it has a dragon, which will appeal to the youngsters], decorate the table with daffodils, and serve a hearty Welsh dinner such as the traditional Cawl, a delicious soup of lamb and vegetables; as described, it is indeed "A meal in itself".  The site, Traditional Welsh Recipes has several good and authentic dishes, most of them very easy to put together.  [Full Disclosure: this is one of the Widow's favorite sites; many of his recipes have gotten her through meatless days, especially in Lent, and she is very grateful]

And, of course, one must have leeks. 

Leeks are associated with victory by the Welsh.  It was once supposed that the warrior who had leeks or garlic on his body would not only be victorious in a fight, but come through it unharmed, for the leek had the power to scare evil spirits and enemies away.  According to Folk Lore and Folk Stories of Wales, "Men notorious as fighters in Wales wore the leek in their caps, and were accustomed to rub their bodies with leeks, wild onions, or garlic before encounters with opponents".  In a battle against the Saxons, Saint David is said to have ordered the Welsh troops to wear a leek as their badge; this early form of chemical warfare seems to have been effective, since the Saxons lost [it's hard to swing a battle-ax with any accuracy when your eyes are streaming and your nose is burning].

My own celebratory dinner always includes LEEK SOUP.

This makes about 2 quarts of soup (approximately 8 cups), so if it is just you and a friend, cut the recipe in half.

Wash 6 leeks thoroughly.  [Since this recipe calls for thin sliced rounds, you might do as I do, and slice the white part of the leeks first, separate the rings, drop them into a bowl of water, then rinse them in a colander]  Thinly slice the white part of the leek into rounds.

Fry a couple of slices of bacon [this will be used as a garnish on the finished soup, so it is optional].  Prepare 6 cups of chicken bouillon.

Thinly slice 1 white onion.  Peel and thinly slice 6 potatoes.  Chop parsley to equal 1/2 cup.  Lightly beat 1 egg yolk.

In a large saucepan or kettle, saute the leeks and onion slices in 1/4 cup of butter until soft.  Add the potato slices, the bouillon, and the parsley.  Simmer until vegetables are soft (about 10 to 20 minutes).

Remove the vegetables from the broth using a slotted spoon.  Sieve the vegetables and return the puree to the broth.  Stir a little of the warm broth into the egg yolk, then stir the egg into the broth in the saucepan, along with a dash of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in 2 cups of light cream and reheat gently (do not boil).  Garnish with crumbled bacon, either in the tureen or each individual serving. 

Also (and this is probably heretical), I drop any vegetables that didn't make it through the sieve back into the soup with the cream.  It may not present a refined appearance, but then, neither do I, and waste good vegetables I won't.


Astronomy:  Full Worm Moon, also called Full Sap Moon, on the 19th.  This is the closest Full Moon of 2011.

Vernal Equinox at 7:21 pm on the 20th. 

Spring Forward!  Daylight Saving Time begins (for those that are required to follow it) at 2:00 am on the 13th.  Move your clocks ahead one hour when you go to bed the night before.
Weather for March:
According to the Twelve Days of Christmas: Snow and high winds.
According to the first twelve days of January: Brilliant sunshine and chilly.
According to the Ember Days: Bright clear skies and chilly.
According to the last Sunday of the previous month: Snow.  Would you believe it?  More snow.
Weather Lore: 

The Ember Days (and the months whose weather they foretell) are the 16th (April), 18th (May), and 19th (June).

Everyone knows that March 'comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb' or vice-versa.  Except in New England.  Here it comes in like a lion, and stays that way.

A dry March, wet April, and cool May,
fill barn and cellar, and bring much hay

So many mists in March you see
So many frosts in May will be.

When March has April weather, April will have March weather.

As it rains in March, so it rains in June.

Fog in March, thunder in July.

A wet March makes a sad August.  Sad in the form of a bad harvest.

Dust in March brings grass and foliage.  And if the dust is mud (which it usually is)?

Thunder in March betokens a fruitful year.
When it thunders in March, it brings sorrow.
When March thunders, tools and arms get rusty. [I'm thinking that the arms referred to here are firearms - however, I've noticed my own two arms sounding and feeling a little creaky]

There will be heavy rains on the first Monday in March.

If it snows on the first day of March, there will be snow for thirty days.

If it doesn't freeze on the 10th, a fertile year may be expected.

First comes David, next comes Chad,
Then comes Winnall as if he was mad.  (the first three days of March)

If on Saint Joseph's Day it is clear,
So follows a fertile year.
Lady Day clear, expect a fertile year.  (St. Joseph's day is the 19th; Lady Day, Annunciation, is on the 25th)
These superstitions have nothing to do with the weather, but they are rather interesting:

If you cut your hair in March...
...you will have a year of headache.
...you will be sick before the year is out.
...you will lose a horse.
...you will never live to see another March

To move in March brings bad luck.

If a person lives through March, he will live the rest of the year. [Unless he cuts his hair]