Fat Tuesday Celebration and Food!

Parades, customs and food are all enjoyed before the fasting begins.

Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday which is the day before Ash Wednesday and the first day of lent. Lent is 40 days (not including Sundays) before Easter and a time for prayer and repentance. Lent is not mentioned in the Bible and not all Christian denominations commemorate it. It began in the Catholic churches but in the 1960s and 70s some Protestant churches added this day to their church calendars.

The idea of fasting was and is a part of Lent. In Medieval Europe, people were told they had to eliminate eggs, fats, meat and dairy by the local priests. This was based on the 40 days Jesus fasted before he began his ministry. Today people will eliminate food from their diet or add a healthy practice such as exercise. Many pastors encourage spending more time in prayer and reading the Bible.

In the minds of many, Tuesday is their last chance to have fun and perhaps devour a pan of chocolate brownies. (Not that I can relate to that!) Pancakes and crepes were the first food to become a traditional Shrove Tuesday treat because people had to use the ingredients before Lent began. The German traditional food is Fastnachts which are doughnuts and Paczkis are a Polish jelly filled doughnut. The King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras treat. It is made in early January to be eaten on Epiphany (January 6) in celebration of the three kings arriving in Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. It is made up until Lent. A small plastic baby is placed inside the cake and whoever gets it in their piece of cake will have prosperity. The cakes all are covered with sprinkles. The purple represents power, yellow-justice and green faith.

I was in Germany as a teacher chaperone several years ago and was shown pictures of people in costumes. I asked if this was Halloween. I was told not many people celebrated Halloween and this was their Mardi Gras. Costumes, parades and lots of food. It sure looked like Halloween!

There is so much unrest in the world but religious traditions unite us. Churches will be filled on Ash Wednesday and people will receive ashes on their foreheads. Ashes were used as a sign of repentance in the Old Testament. People wore sack cloth and covered themselves with ashes and asked for God’s forgiveness. People will try to grow closer to God during Lent and will give up unhealthy habits. I usually struggle the first two weeks with my Lenten choices, but then it becomes easier. Good luck to all of you who plan on doing something special during lent. I think God must look forward to this time when so many find time for Him.

Happy Halloween!

I continue to learn more Halloween history every year.

For many of us, Halloween is a fun holiday filled with costumes and candy, but it began as a harvest and new year festival called Samhain. The Celtic people also used this day to talk with their ancestors and to ask for guidance in the new year. They made bonfires and wore masks to ward off evil spirits that might have crossed over on this night. The Irish immigrants brought Halloween to America and discovered pumpkins made a much better lantern for their jack o lanterns than turnips. Unfortunately, some turned a harvest festival into something evil by performing satanic rituals and welcoming demons. That is truly scary!

Tonight children will carry bags and receive packaged candy. Prior to the 1950s, homemade treats and coins were given to the trick or treaters. Caramel apples, popcorn balls and cookies were popular treats. Candy corn was one of the first manufactured candies and was called chicken feed. The Goelitz Confectionery Company sold the boxes with a rooster on it in1880 and people are still enjoying these sugary pieces of corn.

Dressing in costumes and performing tricks or giving the treat of song was called mumming or guising prior to Christianity in the Celtic countries. Children had to earn their treat. After Christianity replaced paganism, children went souling and agreed to pray for deceased loved ones in exchange for a small biscuit or piece of bread.

People around the world celebrate Halloween. Ireland is the country where it originated and in addition to costumes and trick or treating, they eat barmbrack cake. This is a bread filled with fruit and surprises inside. These little surprises carry a meaning for the person. For example, finding a ring means a wedding in the coming year. In Scotland, sausage is eaten on Halloween and is known as their traditional Samhain food. I think candy is America’s traditional Halloween food!

I love seeing the costumes children choose and every year I still see witches, vampires, and ghosts. I just read they are still in the top five costumes. It’ll be a fun night if the rain holds off. Happy Halloween everyone!

Worth Your Salt?

I grew up hearing “You are not worth your salt,” but I didn’t know where it came from.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used salt in trading for slaves. If they weren’t good workers, they weren’t worth the salt that was paid for them. Salt was so important it was sometimes used to pay Roman soldiers, and the word salary is derived from the Latin word “sal” or salt. Roman soldiers received a “salarium”. Historical records show how ancient people used salt around the world and the uses were many.

Growing up, we had one kind of salt in the cupboard and it was iodized salt. Salt became iodized in the U.S. in 1924 in order to address the goiter problem (enlarged thyroid) many people were having. It worked! I have three kinds in my cupboard but the iodized is used the most. In Europe, some salts also contain fluoride because fluoridation of water is not customary. In Germany, most of the salt sold also contains folic acid which is vitamin B. If salt in America contained vitamins, just think how healthy French fries would be!

Salt has been used in religious ceremonies, as a preservative, and has medicinal uses. The Bible makes 30 references to salt, and it was used as offerings and for purification. Salt was used in baptisms and in burials as an act of purification and giving salt as an offering to God was a common Hebrew practice. Ancient Egyptians and Native American used salt as a preservative and boiling brine was practiced in many countries. Being able to preserve fish with salt saved the lives of many colonists in America. Much is written about the medicinal uses of salt and gargling with salt water to treat sore throats and cancer sores was a common practice in my house growing up. Epsom salts is recommended for aching feet and muscles, and bubble baths are sold that contain Epsom salt to enhance relaxation. Salt is available and inexpensive today and is used in many countries like the people of ancient times.

I read so much about salt I can’t even begin to share all of it, but here are a few interesting things I learned: there are 12 different types of salts for cooking, constipation can be treated by drinking Epsom salt dissolved in water and the Erie Canal was referred to as “the ditch salt built” because salt was the main product transported and the salt tax paid for half of the construction cost.

The next time you reach for a salty chip, you might look at it with a little more interest. I know I now have more respect for salt.

Dandy Dandelions!

Dandelions are flowers that are considered weeds because of how easily they spread.

Dandelions are one of the few plants that every part can be used. It arrived in America in the mid 1600’s when settlers brought the seeds because they knew the value of the plant. Dandelions had been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and the settlers knew this. The Egyptians, Romans and Greeks all knew they improved various conditions from fevers to constipation.

As a child, I remember eating dandelion greens. I was told it would taste like spinach which I liked. I remember it being very bitter. I know it is very nutritious, but I’m not inclined to pick any leaves. I read it’s best to harvest the leaves before the flowers bloom. The internet has recipes if anyone is interested.

If you want to dig up your dandelions, consider waiting until they are finished blooming. They are a food source for bees, butterflies, moths and some birds. They are also pretty.

I was surprised to learn that dandelion wine is made from the flowers. I read a recipe for it and it sounded pretty good. Lots of sugar, but it also had lemons, oranges, and raisins. Fermentation is one to two years. Tea is made from the roots and that is what is sipped to relieve ailments. It really is a wonderful plant, but I’m a gardener, so I dig them after they bloom. In case you’re wondering, the picture is not from my yard. I only have a couple.

Hope everyone is enjoying the spring. Blossoms are every where and those with allergies are suffering. My eyes itch, but I don’t care. I can’t resist being outside in spring’s beauty.

Pasta is a Comfort Food

Making noodles is easy and comforting!

My mother made noodles frequently but seldom took the time to let them dry completely. I loved those chewy noodles. My problem in making noodles was getting them thin enough. Fortunately, Kitchen Aid makes a wonderful attachment that rolls the dough thin and then another attachment cuts it uni formally. It’s great! During times of stress, a nice bowl of pasta and a glass of wine are very comforting.

A bowl of 4000 year old noodles was found in China that was made from millet. Noodles have been made from rice, semolina, potato starch and wheat. Many cultures share the love of noodles. Romans used to fry their noodles and cover them with a fish sauce and the Chinese boiled their noodles which were made from ground wheat and water. The Europeans added egg and created egg noodles. The most interesting noodle I read about is the Japanese Shirataki noodle. It is made from the konjac yam also called elephant yam. It didn’t sound very appetizing to me.

There is much discussion on who was first to make noodles. It is believed that the Arabs brought them to Italy, but it appears China was also making them. All the countries who enjoy noodles have their own traditional dishes and I would be willing to try almost all of them.

Years ago I went to Germany as a teacher chaperon and stayed with a family for a week in Dresden. The first meal was spaghetti with tomato sauce. That was a surprise. I don’t know why Spatzle (a German egg noodle) wasn’t served instead. Another surprise was sauerkraut was not served with their bratwursts. In fact, my host was surprised to hear that I ate my brat with kraut. Travel is very enlightening!

I ‘m suggesting if you are feeling a little blue, ( a favorite saying of my grandmother) make some noodles! Egg, flour and a little milk. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes and roll it out. Easy and fun. A bowl of pasta can brighten any day!

Versatile Vinegar!

Vinegar is amazing!

There aren’t many things we clean with and use in cooking, but vinegar is one and most likely the most popular. I love researching common things and vinegar is truly amazing.

The word vinegar means sour wine and was once known as the poor man’s wine. It has been found in ancient Egyptian urns and is mentioned in Babylonian scrolls that date back to 5000 B.C. The Roman soldiers were known to carry vinegar and the Bible even tells of a soldier offering Jesus vinegar.

I was surprised to learn all the things vinegar can be made from. The most unusual item was dates. White vinegar is made from grains and is the most popular. I used it last week to kill moss on the patio. I couldn’t believe how quickly it worked! The recipe was 4 cups vinegar, 1/4 cup salt, 2 tsp. dish detergent. It worked better than a product I bought last year.

I cook with apple cider vinegar. It is a great meat tenderizer and brings a nice tang to sauces. Balsamic vinegar is sweetest of all vinegar and makes a nice glaze to serve over chicken. It is made from grapes and aged in oak barrels. Like wine and olive oil it varies in price. The most expensive balsamic vinegar has been aged the longest. I just checked the price for a bottle that had been aged 25 years and it cost $179.99. That was a shock!

I am a fan of vinegar for it’s incredible versatility. I know that some people are drinking it as a way to lose weight. I don’t know if that works, but if it does, chalk that up to another attribute of vinegar!

Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday?

Last Day to Feast!

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of forty days of fasting for Christians and perhaps for those who want to end a bad habit. The forty days is because Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness praying.

For many it is Mardi Gras which is the French term for Fat Tuesday. It is also Shrove Tuesday. It was customary for early Christians to ask to be forgiven of their sins or shriven on this day. The Pancake Bell would ring, people would confess their sins and then make pancakes in order to use up all the rich ingredients. During lent, people were not to eat eggs, milk, butter, or meat. People around the world will eat pancakes today in keeping with this custom.

It makes me wonder what people did with the eggs they gathered and the milk that the cows produced during that time. Cows have to be milked twice a day, so they probably made butter and cheese and ate it on Sundays along with eggs. Sundays were exempt from fasting because they were (and still are) considered days of joy in celebration of Jesus’s resurrection.

I always give up sweets and seldom make it the forty days. I have chocolate chip cookies to eat tonight! I plan to make it this year. (I always plan to make it!) I will give up the unhealthy sweets and add more prayer time. A time to grow spiritually is the benefit of lent. Hope you all find a benefit in this lenten season.

Coffee is more than a drink!

The joy of a cup of java!

Many of us begin our day with a cup of coffee, but it took The Boston Tea Party for coffee to become the drink of the people. Rebelling against the tax on tea, the colonists turned to coffee. Coffee was part of the rations the soldiers (both Union and Confederate) received during the Civil War. During WWII, coffee was rationed here in order to ensure our soldiers had enough. After the war, instant coffee became popular. My mother drank it, and I don’t know how. Yuck!

Coffee has had a profound effect on society. There are coffee houses, coffee breaks, coffee groups, and “Let’s meet for coffee.” The quiet time spent talking over a cup of coffee is special. It’s a time of sharing and listening. For many, it’s a time to relax and perhaps reconnect with those who are important in our lives. Our lives are busy and sitting down with a cup of coffee is frequently needed. The caffeine helps too!

I salute James Folger, Maxwell House and the Hills Brothers for promoting the sell of coffee. They were rewarded financially, but we were rewarded with a drink that brings people together in a quiet, communal way. Enjoy your coffee and those you share a cup with, it’s an important part of any day.

Food for Good Luck!

Eating Black-Eyed Peas is a Southern Tradition

I have never eaten black-eyed peas. Every New Year’s Day I eat sauerkraut and pork. I grew up believing it brought good luck in the coming year. I decided to do a little research to find out why.

Pigs move forward in rooting for food and since we are moving into a new year, it seems appropriate. The German settlers ate sauerkraut with their pork and since many Germans settled in Ohio their traditions have continued. I also read that cabbage counts as a green leafy vegetable that brings fortune in the new year.

In the South, black-eyes peas reign as the New Year’s meal for good fortune. One story is that the only food Union soldiers didn’t take during the Civil War was black-eyed peas. They thought it was food for the animals. To have the peas spared was indeed good fortune!

Grapes are also considered a food to bring good fortune and in Spain they are eaten as the clock strikes midnight. In addition, eating a green leafy vegetable brings good luck along with cornbread because it is yellow like gold. I never knew I had these food options to bring me good luck!

I will continue my family tradition and have pork and sauerkraut cooked with apples. That along with mashed potatoes and gravy will be delicious. The diet begins January 2, so I plan on enjoying my New Year’s meal! Happy New Year, everyone!

All Hallow’s Eve

Soul Cakes anyone?

Don’t these look good? Soul cakes were given to children who went souling on All Hallow’s Eve. They were given in exchange for the promise of prayers for the deceased. It was believed that souls went to purgatory when a person died and prayers were needed to get them out. The Soulers carried hallowed out turnips with candles in them that supposedly represented a soul trapped in purgatory. It was also a good lantern!

The Irish immigrants brought this custom with them when they came to America in the mid 1800’s due to the potato famine. Like many customs, it changed to a night of song and treats. It took awhile for Americans to adopt the idea but they did. Trick or treating became popular throughout America in the 1950’s. Since costumes had been worn by the early Soulers to ward off spirits, that custom was borrowed too. Of course it was Americanized!

I don’t know why the veil between heaven and earth is thought to be thin during this time of year, but if you believe this, then it’s a good time for fortune telling. The early settlers celebrated the harvest with hard cider and fortune telling. My uncles told me stories of upsetting outhouses and buggies on Halloween. For these farm boys, it was a night of mischief which drove my grandmother crazy! I think they were letting off steam after working so hard to get the crops in.

I wish you all a Happy Halloween! Lots of candy will be given to children in costumes, but there will be no Soulers. There are recipes online for soul cakes for you bakers! But I’m sticking to raisin oatmeal.