04 January 2012

4 January - 11th Day of Christmas; Carbonnade Flamande

Weather: The weather today foretells that of November (if you are going by the Twelve Days of Christmas) or April (if you are going by the first twelve days of January).

If the sun shines on the 11th day of Christmas, then will there be many deaths among men.

If the sun shines on St. Pharaildis' day, there will be pestilence.

Saint Pharaildis (c650 – c740) belongs to that group of women saints who married abusive husbands.

That is the shortest form of her history, and probably the best.

The longer form is one that you can find everywhere on the Internet.  In that story, she is a young girl who, in spite of a private vow of virginity – private, mind you – was married off to a nobleman, and he (unreasonably, one assumes) actually expected her to act like a wife!  The very idea!  She preferred to spend her nights down at the local monastery – praying, of course.  Telling her that she was married to him, not to God (which was true) didn’t cut any ice with her, so the enraged husband took to physically abusing her (I suppose that means that he beat her).  As a good saint, she suffered all this without a complaint – and without giving in.  She was still a virgin when her husband died.

[What a pity they didn’t live some 900 years later.  He could have taken a leaf from Henry VIII’s book and had his marriage annulled for non-consummation.  And then set about finding a lady more inclined to be bonny and buxom in bed and at board.]

On top of that story [which to my mind does not show her in a very good light], are little additions in the way of family members.  She is said to be the daughter of Count Witgar of Lotharingia and his wife St. Amalburga, and sister to St. Gudule, St. Rainelda, and St. Emenbert.  Oh, and niece of St. Gertrude as well.

Now, really!  If a person needs any support in showing a desire for the religious life or keeping even a private vow of chastity, this is the family to belong to.  Witgar and Amalburga embraced a religious life in separate monasteries after their children were grown – Amalburga took the veil, and I suppose Witgar got the equivalent – a tonsure?  Their son Emenbert ended up Bishop of Cambray, daughter Rainelda was a nun (and martyr), and daughter Gudule dedicated her life to religious exercises and good works.  Aunt Gertrude was the abbess of the double monastery at Nivelles which her sainted mother had founded.  Certainly, a vow of chastity would not need to be kept private in this family.  A desire to marry, maybe, but not a vow of chastity.

Perhaps Pharaildis was a rebel and turned her back on the paths trodden by the rest of her kin.  Maybe she was one of those who marry in haste and repent at leisure, and the private vow of chastity was her version of “not tonight dear, I’ve got a headache”.  Whatever.  I feel that we should live and act to the best of our abilities in the vocation to which God calls us, so St. Pharaildis is not on my list of saints to emulate.

However, she is the patron saint of Ghent, Belgium, which is a good excuse to make, in her honor, the delicious and hearty CARBONNADE FLAMANDE aka Flemish Beer Stew.

Slice 1 pound of onions (about 3-4 medium)
Cube 2-1/2 pounds of round steak (or the equivelent of stew beef)
Mince 1 clove of garlic.
In a large kettle (I’d call it a Dutch oven, but this is a Flemish recipe) melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and sauté the onions in it until soft.  Remove onions with a slotted spoon to a bowl and reserve.  Melt another 2 tablespoons of butter in the kettle and brown the beef on all sides, until it is a deep brown.  Return the onions to the kettle and stir in the minced garlic, ½ teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and thyme, 1 teaspoon of salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper.  Add 1 quart of ale or beer [the recipe calls for a light beer, I prefer a dark beer, and some recipes call for ale, either light or dark.  If you can find a good Belgian beer or ale, use it.  Otherwise, use what you have],

Bring the stew to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, or until the meat is tender.  About 15 minutes before the meat is ready, knead 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of flour with your fingers to make balls the size of a pea.  When the meat is tender, remove it with a slotted spoon to another pan.  Add the butter/flour peas to the pan juices in the kettle and stir until thoroughly blended.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of sugar and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the meat to the kettle again, stir to mix, and heat through.

This is good with boiled potatoes.  Or with mashed potatoes.  Or with noodles.

In any case, it is very good on a cold January day.