Monday, October 17, 2011

It's National Pasta Day!

Today is National Pasta Day, so of course one needs to celebrate it by eating...pasta!

Pasta has a history. Yes, really! There is evidence that the ancient Etruscans prepared a wheat and egg paste, but it was baked not boiled. There are artifacts from a period 3,000 years ago that look remarkably like pasta dies and extruders. But naturally the material they worked on is not preserved.

The ancient Greeks had some form of flattened dough that resembles lasagna. The knowledge to mix wheat and egg with water was known long before. But the result was roasted on hot stones. The Romans quickly followed suit in the 1st century AD with a layered dish comprised of 'lasagna' and meat or fish. In the 1st century BCE writings of Horace, lagana were fine sheets of dough which were fried and were an everyday food. Writing in the 2nd century Athenaeus of Naucratis provides a recipe for lagana which he attributes to the 1st century Chrysippus of Tyana: sheets of dough made of wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, then flavored with spices and deep-fried in oil.

An early 5th century cookbook describes a dish called lagana that consisted of layers of dough with meat stuffing, a possible ancestor of modern-day lasagna.

By the 5th century AD, cooking noodles was commonplace, as is known by references from the Talmud. The Jerusalem Talmud records that itrium, a kind of boiled dough, was common in Israel from the 3rd to 5th centuries AD. This record of pasta-like preparation in Arab lands provides a basis for the claim that the practice spread to Italy from Arabia. With the incursion of Arabs into Sicily, they would undoubtedly have brought a food that could travel well. A flour-based product in the shape of strings was produced in Palermo at the time that might fit the bill. A dictionary compiled by the 9th century Arab physician and lexicographer Isho bar Ali defines itriyya, the Arabic cognate, as string-like shapes made of semolina and dried before cooking. The geographical text of Muhammad al-Idrisi, compiled for the Norman King of Sicily Roger II in 1154 mentions itriyya manufactured and exported from Norman Sicily.

While for a time it was thought that Marco Polo returned from China in 1295 with pasta, there are Italian recipe books from twenty years earlier containing references to pasta dishes. However, it is certain that he did encounter pasta on his travels. Since China is an ancient civilization, with a complex culture dating back 5,000 years, it's likely that pasta existed in China very early. Marco Polo describes a food similar to "lagana" in his Travels, but he uses a term with which he was already familiar. Some historians believe that in 1295 Marco Polo brought rice flour pasta, the type used to make Chinese dumplings.

Nevertheless, pasta did become more popular during the 14th century and spread to the 'New World' as Italian and Spanish explorers sailed the seas to new lands. In the 'Old World' it continued to spread, with tubes of pasta in use at 15th century Italian monasteries. By the 17th century, it was a common food throughout the region.

In the New World, pasta grew in popularity through the 18th century. By its end, it graced the table of Thomas Jefferson and commoner alike. When the American Ambassador returned from France in 1789 he brought with him a maccaroni maker that he used to delight friends.

Macaroni and cheese was enjoyed by many during the period of the Civil war in the mid-19th century (1859-1864), owing to its ease of storage and cooking, along with the satisfying taste.

But it was with the large Italian immigration around the turn of the century that pasta really took off in America. Spaghetti, lasagna and a great many other forms became widespread as a result. With the ubiquitous consumption of pre-made dried macaroni and cheese during WWII, the dish became a staple of the American diet for decades after.

Whatever its true origins, and subsequent history, one thing is sure. Pasta is here to stay.

Here are several recipes for you to try:

Peanutty Pasta
Garlicky Red Pepper Pasta
Quick Pasta Special
Taste of the Tropics Pasta Salad
Easy Minestrone
Popeye Pasta
Fettuccine Alfreda with Gomasio
Fettuccine with Cilantro Lime Pesto

Are You Ready For Some Hallowe'en?

I am! Well, almost. Still have plenty of decorating to do.

There is so much about the month of October that excites me! I love all the spooky movies and shows that dominate this time of year. I am especially fond of the older movies, that are creepy scary, not gory scary. One of my favorites from my childhood is The Haunting. The 1963 version with Julie Harris, not the newer one with Liam Neeson.

A few years ago I was introduced to The Changeling with George C. Scott. I had to add it to my repertoire.

And, of course, ANYTHING with Vincent Price. My parents have told me about old zombie movies that they loved when they were young. I'm still trying to track down a few of those. Try as I might, I cannot get into today's zombie movies, although I will admit to being a fan of the Resident Evil movies. I couldn't even sit through the show The Walking Dead. <shudder>

I had to pull back out a book I never finished earlier this year, because it seems entirely appropriate this month: Witches Bane by Susan Wittig Albert.

I've been discovering a wealth of mysteries lately that revolve around certain themes. Albert's books take place in a small town in Texas and the main character runs an herb shop. Another series I've fallen in love with takes place in Charleston and the main character run a tea shop. I just requested several different other similarly themed mysteries from the library. Now if I could only spirit myself away to a spa and sit poolside doing nothing all day but read...

You can't consider October without appreciating the foods. I always have to do something with pumpkin this month, like last year when I whipped up some Pumpkin Alfredo.

This year I am considering an entire black and orange themed meal. Kind of excited about the prospect, really.

And who can forget the decorating? I have been collecting patterns for several cross stitch pieces and was blessed to have a friend send a pattern for me to sew a witch's hat.

I've still got a LOT to do yet, but at least it's a start! More to come! If you haven't gotten a move on for the holiday - WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Celebrate Easter Monday the Italian Way!

The Italians have a saying, “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi”. It means "Christmas with family, Easter with whoever you like". This especially applies to the Monday following Easter.

Easter Monday or 'La Pasquetta' - literally little Easter - is a day spent when families and friends who have been solemn and pensive get together in a completely relaxed, informal, always noisy way to enjoy each other's company and - hopefully - the warmer spring weather. It is often spent by going on a picnic with plenty of yummy treats, and, of course, wine.

Although it's not really celebrated as a religious part of Easter in Italy,  (though inevitably mass is said in churches all over the country) Easter Monday does have some religious significance. It's also known in Italy as 'Lunedì dell'Angelo' ('Monday of the Angel') - the day to remember Mary and Mary Magdalene visiting the sepulchre and, finding it empty, being comforted by an angel.

The origins of Easter Monday celebrations, like the origins of Easter in Italy, are based in pagan tradition.  The ancient Roman culture feast of 'Lupercalia' was linked to re-birth after the hardships of winter and was a period of several days celebrating fertility and family.

In Old Ireland, Easter Monday was always filled with fun and festivities. Not only was it a favorite day for buying and selling livestock and merchandise at fairs and markets, it was also a time for enjoying sports, games, sideshows, dancing, eating, drinking, gambling, tugs of war, hurling matches, card games and reels and jigs. Those days are long gone, but would that dear old Ireland could go back to the Easter Mondays of long ago. Much more fun than the traffic jams as everyone returns home after spending Easter with extended family!

Easter Monday (Andre påskedag) in Norway is the end of the Easter holidays and is about cleaning, clearing and returning home (including sitting in traffic jams).

To me, the cleaning can wait another day. I like the Italian's idea of going on a picnic and dining casually with a bottle of wine. I think spending the day at a local park with a picnic basket, and incorporating some of the fun of the Irish would be grand. Invite some friends, find someone who can play guitar (or at least bring a portable music player and have plenty of Irish music to play) and play some games - frisbee or softball for the more physical guests or card or board games for the more cerebral.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Celebrating with the Bard

So, what are you doing today to celebrate the birthday of William Shakespeare? What? You don't know what to do? Well, then, let me help you out!

There are several ways to celebrate today, and is only limited by your imagination! But, to get you started, here are several ideas:

-Make a cake replica of the Globe Theatre. When you blow out the candles, quote Macbeth: "Out, out, brief candle!" Too much? Well, hey, some of us might be so clever!
-Speak only in iambic pentameter.
-Speak in a British accent all day.
-Take a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace. If that's not practical, look at photos online of Stratford-upon-Avon and pretend you're there.
-Text a sonnet to someone.
-Perform one of his plays, or at least a scene.
-Listen to the music of a composer from Shakespeare's time. Popular music-writers from Renaissance England include William Byrd, Thomas Campion and Robert Johnson. Such music was often composed for lute and voice and can serve as a quiet accompaniment to a Shakespearean reading.
-Prepare a Shakespearean feast that features food from Elizabethan England. Savory porridge dishes known as "pottage" were popular fare, along with traditional English foods like Shepherd's Pie, and Yorkshire puddings and roasts. You can find an easy to make Blancmange here.
And remember:
Guests generally sat at benches; chairs were for the really important people. Common folk ate most food using wooden bowls & spoons.
Salt was highly prized, and usually resided at the head of the table. Hence the phrase "below the salt."
Forks weren't in common use. Fingers worked fine.
Meat was in short supply in common homes, whose inhabitants made do with grains and vegetables.
The nobility loved meat and sweets. When they got enough to eat, the lower classes may have had the more healthy diet.

Whatever you do, just make it fun and have fun!

There is the whole topic of Shakespeare gardens I could talk about, but I'll save that for a future post!

White Saturday

In the Czech tradition, today is Bílá sobota (White Saturday). I'm not sure exactly why it is called White Saturday other than the fact that the past fews days of Holy Week were spent at cleansing the soul, body and dwellings, so that everything was to be spick and span. Bílá sobota is regarded as a lucky day for sowing. The farmers place ashes on their fields to ensure a good crop, and shake the trees, so that they'll yield a lot of fruit. They say that if it rains on Bílá sobota, it will rain often during the coming year. So we know rain on Good Friday - bad, rain on Holy Saturday - good. I'd hate to be a weatherman during this time!

In Ireland, the people ate a lot of fish during Lent and by the end of Lent were probably pretty tired of it, so on Holy Saturday, the butchers would lead the people in a funeral for a fish. I'm vegan, so I don't get tired of anything we eat, since there's a lot of variety. However, in the German tradition of Good Friday, last night I did fry up a batch of tofu using spices for fish. It was really good. I slathered the slices with garlic paste, then coated them with a mixture of Indian spices and flour before frying them up crispy. Delish!

One of the more amusing things I've discovered in the research, was the penchant in Norway for reading crime stories and detective novels during Easter. In order to cash in on this national pastime, publishers churn out series of books known as "Easter-Thrillers" or Påskekrimmen. TV stations, radio and newspapers also jump on the bandwagon by running detective series based on the works of famous crime novelists such as Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Simenon and Ruth Rendell. Interesting that it was during this time that I stumbled upon my latest addiction - China Bayles mysteries (she runs an herb shop) and Theodosia Browning mysteries (she runs a tea shop). I am currently reading Witches Bane by Susan Wittig Albert and Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs.

Okay, it's a beautiful day and I'm off to Lowe's to take advantage of their free tree give-a-way today in celebration of Earth Day and then a trip to the library! Get thee to a Lowe's near you to get a tree, and check out a good mystery to lose yourself in, in the Norwegian tradition!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Celebrating a Good Friday Earth Day!

It both fascinates and amuses me that Good Friday this year should also fall on Earth Day.  Why? The continuing saga of my tradition research. According to an old Czech saying, for example, farming should not be done on Good Friday. Na velký pátek zemi nehýbej. ("On Good Friday, do not move the soil.") And yet, in Ireland, little or no work was done on the land, except for the planting of a small quantity of grain or potatoes to invoke a blessing on the crops. Czechs believe turning the soil is a bad thing on this day, but the Irish believe turning the soil to plant potatoes is a blessing. I love this stuff!

For the Czechs, the weather for the whole year is foretold from the weather on Velký pátek (Good Friday). For instance, if it rains on Velký pátek, then the rest of the year will be dry. They have a saying, "A rainy Good Friday makes for a thirsty year." Another belief is that on Velký pátek, according to legend, anyone can look upon the sun without being blinded by its glare. In folk tradition this day is closely connected with the belief in the magic powers of the Earth - how appropriate, then, that it should fall this year on Earth Day! Many believe that on this day the Earth gives up its secret treasures before sunrise.

It was believed that Mt. Blaník opens up for a couple of hours on this day. Mt. Blaník is famous among the Czechs as it's said that an army of Czech knights lies asleep within the mountain, waiting to come forth and help the nation in its hour of greatest danger, that when the Motherland is in danger in its darkest times and close to ruin, the equestrian statue of King Wenceslas will come to life. He will raise the sleeping army in  Blaník, and upon crossing the Charles Bridge his horse will stumble and trip over a stone, revealing the legendary sword of  Bruncvík.  With this sword, King Wenceslas will slay all of the enemies of the Czechs, bringing peace and prosperity to the land.

Kind of reminds me of King Arthur.

On a more mundane level, the day was spent making sure the house, yard and out-buildings were clean and tidy.

Sounds like an ideal way to spend  Earth Day!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Green Thursday

In both the Czech and German traditions, Thursday of Holy Week is known as Green Thursday, or  Zelený čtvrtek  (Czech) and Gründonnerstag (German).  Explanations range from that before the thirteenth century, green vestments were used for the Mass that day to references to "the Green Ones," the penitents who, being re-admitted to the Church, wore sprigs of green herbs to express their joy. More than likely, however, ir does not derive from the name of the color but is a corruption of the word "greinen" (weinen, to weep). A strict fast used to be observed on Green Thursday. Because only a single, meatless, complete meal - free of any food of animal origin - was allowed, only vegetables were eaten. Thus, Green Thursday.

The eating of green vegetables is still a customary part of the meals served on this day in many parts of Europe and, to some extent, in the United States. The Czechs and Moravians eat a soup of green herbs, followed by a green salad.

In the Czech Republic, the children must go out very early in the morning and bathe - naked! - in the river. This is supposed to be a cure for laziness. And when they come in, shivering and complaining that they’ve just been made to do something they would be punished for in summer, when they would enjoy it, they are given a braided bread that was made the Monday or Tuesday before. Supposedly this bread, made to look like rope, suggest the fate of Judas Iscariot, who "went and hanged himself". That's a little too morbid for me.

In Slovakia, the housewives diligently sweep around the home, the yard and the street to ward off harm to the home for the coming year. During the course of this Thursday, the women wash the wooden boards upon which they make noodles. They also wash the rolling pin, the large wooden mixing spoon and the bowl used for mixing the dough for bread and kolaches.

I decided  my family would celebrate by eating an all green supper.

We had a Green Goddess Salad with Green Goddess Dressing, Green Beans with  Brazil Nuts, and Okra Strips in a Lemon-Tarragon Viniagrette. All recipes can be found here.

I spent the day in my gardens. I can't imagine being greener than that! The fresh smells released when I stroke each plant as I talk to them are pure bliss.

Some people shy away from greens because of scares of contaminated vegetables in the past. There are ways to protect yourself:
Rinse all produce with cool water before serving. Tap water is just as effective as bottled veggie washes and a lot cheaper. Don't use dish soap! It can leave a film and upset your stomach.
When in doubt, wash! Many bagged lettuces say washed and ready, but if you aren't sure, wash!
Discard outer layers of leafy vegetables like cabbage and lettuce. Place leaves in a bowl of cool water with 1-2  T. of vinegar and stir for 20 seconds. Soak for 30-60 seconds, dump the water and repeat. Or to heck with that and compost those outer leaves, instead!
Scrub firm fruits and veggies, like apples and carrots (you can use your fingers) for about 30 seconds. Clean the skin even if you don't plan to eat it - that way bacteria can't pass from the outside in when you slice it.
Don't use the same cutting board for veggies and fruit that you'd use for other things (like meat. Ick.)

I hope your Green Thursday was pleasant!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Black Wednesday

I have always been fascinated by tradition and traditions. In that quest, I am ever on the lookout for practices or celebrations to add to my own family's routine. My preferences tend to lean toward those with an ancestral connection to me, but are not limited to those alone.

Of course, any time I hear the word *tradition* I automatically think of the song from Fiddler on the Roof.

This is Holy Week, for those that follow the Christian tradition, leading up to Easter. The days of Lent are winding down to the celebration to come. There is a plethora of cultural traditions, as well as religious traditions, that interest me.

My husband is Czech. In researching Czech traditions, I discovered that today is called Black Wednesday. It has other names, but this one I liked best. Czechs will have spent Monday and Tuesday baking. One reason that the baking had to be finished by Tuesday is that on Wednesday the whole house must be turned out from top to bottom and all the soot cleaned out of the chimneys (hence the name, Black Wednesday). Naturally, this requires that the stove be cold. No time is wasted on the usual kitchen work; the meals are very casual and light. Rugs, sofas, chairs and mattresses are carried into the open and every speck of dust beaten out of them. Women scrub and wax the floors and furniture, wash the windows and the curtains; the home is abuzz with activity. After the interior is fully cleaned, the entire cottage is then also whitewashed on the outside as well. This has to be done quickly as everything has to be back in place by Wednesday night, glossy and shining.

This traditional spring cleaning is, of course, to make the home as neat as possible for the greatest holiday of the year, a custom taken over from the ancient Jewish practice of a ritual cleansing and sweeping of the whole house as prescribed in preparation for the Feast of Passover.

I'm not Moravian, but love the idea of how houses in the Podluí region blossom with the fleeting flowers of spring painted on the windows with soap or made on the porches or in the yards with water or sand. The window linings, wine cellar, chapel portals and rooms are also decorated with new ornaments.

There is a superstition that anyone eating honey on this day will not be bitten by serpents. In some places, they eat bread smeared with this honey for protection against snakebite. In other places they throw honey-buttered bread into wells so they will have water in them all year round. As a vegan, I wonder if I could use agave nectar instead?

This is the last Wednesday before Easter. On this day everyone is supposed to smile at each other. If they don't, the entire year will be a sad one. It is said that people shouldn't frown on this day for fear of frowning every Wednesday throughout the year! I think this would be a good practice every day, not just today!

So for today, why not give the house a good scrubbing, whether or not you are anticipating Easter? If you can, throw open your windows, and get out your cleaning supplies. I don't use harsh chemicals - I don't like the way they smell or their impact on the environment. Some things I do:

Oven cleaning - sprinkle baking soda along the bottom and spray with water from a spray bottle. Let sit. Scrub. If the oven is particularly dirty, let the baking soda sit overnight.

Sink drain cleaner/deodorizer - sprinkle a cup of baking soda down the drain, and follow it with boiling water. I like to clean my teakettle by filling it with half water and half white vinegar and bring it to a boil. I then dump this down the kitchen drain after the baking soda. If your sink backs up after this, don't panic. It just means you had some gunk clogging the drain. Once the baking soda dissolves, your drain will clear. This is a good thing to do weekly, to help keep things clear.

Baking soda is my friend. I use it to scrub my sinks and counters, as well. You can also sprinkle it on your carpets and upholstered furniture to freshen them before vacuuming. I will mix up baking soda with an essential oil, like lemon or peppermint to use on my carpets and upholstery. Just adds a little bit of nice. Be absolutely certain to get it vacuumed up, though, if you have cats. Essential oils can be harmful to cats, so I take no chances. All I have to do is wheel the vacuum cleaner into a room and they scatter.

Wipe down walls and brush out corners. It surprises me how walls can get dirty even when there are no little children with mucky hands.

I mop my kitchen floor with ½ cup white vinegar in a gallon of water. This is a safe way to clean hardwood, laminate or tile floors. Studies have shown that 5% solution of vinegar (straight out of the store-bought bottle) kills 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold, and 80 percent of germs (viruses). It is non-toxic and the smell dissipates much more quickly than chemical cleaners.

So have at it! Be clean and green and hopefully not soot covered, and enjoy the clean feel and smell of your home!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Being Nice is Good For You!

We have a joke in my house where when one tells another to "Be nice!", the other responds with "No way!" You see, in Middle English, to say someone nice is to say, well, that they are stupid. But, like so many other words in common use now, meanings change. And this one, I think, for the better.

There are actually health benefits to being nice. Psychologists have discovered that nice people typically have stronger marriages, stronger friendships and actually live longer. Being nice is not to be confused with being a pushover. A nice person is considerate of others, but has boundaries and is assertive when the needs arises.

The health and happiness benefits of being nice is probably attributed to the fact that nice people tend to be optimists. Optimists, it has been discovered, have better functioning immune systems which helps to ward off disease. Being positive can act as a buffer against stress and the chemicals associated with stress, norepinephrine and cortisol, two hormones associated with heart disease.

How can you create positivity? Be around happy people. Simple, right? Not so much, but even faking being positive has positive effects. When you start feeling grumpy, smile. That's right, just smile. It will boost your mood. How? Two key facial muscles are flexed when you smile. When flexed, these muscles trigger brain activity that occurs naturally when you are feeling happy. But it has to be a big smile, not a grimace-y type smile; a big genuine grin - lips apart, mouth turned up at the corners and crinkly eyes.

Another way to improve the mood is to help others. It may be doing something nice for your spouse or your child, or volunteering. The important factor is that you do it without intending to get something in return. Giving is the key. Doing so triggers the release of mood-elevating endorphins.

So, what are you doing right now? Check your mood. Need a lift? Put a comedy in the dvd and laugh out loud. Smile, really smile. Do something nice for some one. Feeling better? You will!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

This is what a gardening diva does!

The hubs and I made our rounds yesterday to pick up new plants so that I could spend today getting my hands in the dirt. And I did! My newest plant babies are:

Newe Yaar Sage, two bell peppers - one yellow, one chocolate!

Three hot peppers. A sweet banana pepper, a mild jalapeno pepper and a Mucho Nacho hybrid pepper. These and

Mariachi red pepper are all more for hubby than for me. He figures since I'm growing tomatoes and bell peppers, we need hot peppers to make some salsas!

My tomatoes, peppers, sages and mints that I planted last time are all doing very well!

I added marigolds to them today to help with any pest control issues. I haven't seen any yet, thank goodness!

I found some hanging  strawberries and tomatoes in the garage that I had bought last year and forgot about. The tomatoes are really springing up, and I'm seeing signs of baby strawberry plants. When they are large enough I'll transplant them into their hanging containers and have some topsy-turvy treats!

I added some stevia

and some lime balm

to my other tea plants, lemon balm, peppermint and chamomile.

I picked up some little planting kits from the dollar store, so hopefully will see some rudbeckia, daisies and parsley at some point. Going through other gardening supplies I came upon some vegetable seeds. Don't know if they will favor me, but I planted some in my old mint bins. I consider it a gardening experiment.

I potted a dill and put some Mexican mint marigold in the ground. I'm looking forward to all the taste sensations I can expect this year from my gardens!

Trimmed my curry plant. I thought the cold snaps may have killed it, but I'm seeing new growth, so am hopeful.

Hubby gave me an old burro planter his dad gave him, thinking that as a gardener, I'd be interested.

It was pretty weathered, so I've spray painted it solid brown. I'll go back with additional paint to detail it later. I'm thinking some cactus might look cute in it.

I've been motivated by two of my favorite locals. Lucinda Hutson has a wonderful herb cookbook, The Herb Garden Cookbook, that I love, and pictures of her gardens truly do inspire me to not shy away from color in anything! Madalene Hill is well known in these parts for her amazing way with herbs, and her book, Southern Herb Growing, is my bible!

Now I'm just waiting for some patchouli to arrive at my favorite nursery. I'd also like to get a hamellia and a bay laurel. Maybe next trip.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring is Here!

Today couldn't have been more pleasant. The first day of spring and the weather is just gorgeous! Hubby and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves working outside cleaning up the yard, and even planted a few things! There is just something about getting your hands in the dirt that brings out the kids in all of us.

I started the day off by planting three plants in the ground - pineapple sage, lemon verbena and fennel. I love seeing butterflies flitting about my yard while I sit on my porch, and fennel is a known black swallowtail attractor.

We get a lot of Monarch butterflies, but I think the Black Swallowtail is stunning.

I did an inventory of all my gardening pots. I'm planning more container gardening this year, as opposed to in the ground, with a few exceptions above. The first task was my little tea garden.

Right now it is on the porch, but I'd like to either make or buy a table to put them on, to get them off the ground. I planted chamomile, peppermint and lemon balm.

I added a teacup bird feeder.

I had planned to add the matching teapot birdhouse, but discovered a small nest with a single egg in it! Not being sure if it is an abandoned nest or not, I left it for now.

As a vegan, we eat a lot of vegetables. So, this year, I planted some!

This container has Roma grape tomatoes, bell pepper and garlic chives. It holds a little stone that reads: Hope.

This one holds a regular grape tomato plant, sweet basil and spearmint. I added the tomato cages to both to help them as they grow. Both also have a little gnome with them to watch over them.

I have more gardening adventures planned for the spring, but this was a good start. We ended our outdoor fun by dining on leftovers from hubs grilling adventure yesterday, and a lovely tropical pasta salad.

Now back to my garden planner and tomorrow's search for a patchouli plant!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Today, March 1, the Romans celebrated Matronalia, a festival celebrating Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth ("Juno who brings children into the light"), and of motherhood (mater is "mother" in Latin) and women in general.

Matronalia is a celebration of women and power as well as a celebration of virtuous marriage, marked by gifts from husband to wife, from lovers to young women, and feasts given by the wives for their female slaves. It was celebrated by both the Roman matrons and virgins. At this festival Juno was represented veiled, with a flower in her right hand, and an infant in swaddling clothes in her left. In the time of the republic, the public festival was for only one day, but in private houses, the celebration continued for seven days.  Prayers were offered to the goddess for a fruitful marriage, and husbands give gifts to their wives while temple fires were lit welcoming the new growth to the earth.

In the worship of Juno Lucina, women untied knots and unplaited their hair – sympathetic magic to prevent entanglements in the delivery of babies. She was in charge of newborn infants, and a woman in labor might make offerings to her so that she would have a safe delivery of a healthy child.

Women and girls prayed to her and brought offerings for prosperity in marriage. Gifts were exchanged, people feasted on similla, cakes decorated it with 12 balls of marzipan around the edges. and everyone treated the ladies exceptionally well on this day. Cakes with a similar name, simnel cakes, are associated with Mothering Sunday in England from which Mothers’ Day is derived.

Today is a day to celebrate the birth of your true self. Perhaps call your mother or take time to say a prayer of thanks for the gift of your life.

Perhaps celebrate with your version of a similla cake:

1 cup margarine, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
4 eggs
1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
1 1/3 cups golden raisins
1 cup dried currants
2/3 cup candied cherries - rinsed, dried and quartered
1/4 cup candied mixed fruit peel, chopped
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons mixed spice

1 pound almond paste
2 tablespoons apricot jam
1 egg, beaten

1.Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8 inch springform pan. Line the bottom and sides of pan with greased parchment paper.
2.In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour. Stir in the golden raisins, currants, candied cherries, mixed fruit, lemon zest and mixed spice. Pour 1/2 of batter into prepared pan.
3.Divide almond paste into 3 equal portions. Roll out 1/3 of the almond paste to an 8 inch circle. Place the circle of almond paste on the cake batter in pan. Cover with remaining cake batter.
4.Bake in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until evenly brown and firm to the touch. If the cake is browning too quickly, cover with foil after an hour of baking. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Set oven to broil.
5.When the cake has cooled, brush the top with warmed apricot jam. Roll out 1/3 of the almond paste into an 8 inch circle and place on top of cake. Divide the remaining 1/3 of almond paste into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Brush the almond paste on top of cake with beaten egg. Arrange the 12 balls around the outside edge on the top of cake. Brush the balls lightly with egg.
6.Place cake under the broiler for 8 to 10 minutes, or until almond paste is golden brown.

It will look something like this:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to Celebrate the Chinese New Year

Never one to miss an opportunity to find a reason to celebrate in my home, Chinese New Year just invites fun!

One way to bring in the Chinese New Year is to clean house. While this would seem to be a good habit to have anyway, it is important for the holiday, because in doing so, you are also sweeping away any bad luck.

Decorate! Especially using red. Red candles, red paper lanterns, red tablecloths. Red symbolizes good fortune and joy.

Buy red envelopes and fill with homemade coupons. Homemade coupons ideas might include anything you know the receiver will love: maybe an extra hour before bedtime for the kids, a neck rub for a needy spouse.

Food is always an important aspect for any celebration. One idea is Asian Barbecued Tofu, but any family favorite Chinese dish will work. One staple is dumplings. While it is common to hide a coin in one of the dumplings because whoever gets the dumpling with the coin will supposedly have good luck in the coming year, I tend toward not putting inedible items in foods. Choking hazards and all that.

Have a bowl of oranges and tangerines (or any of the many varieties of oranges out there, now available) sitting on the table to be enjoyed by family and guests. They symbolize wealth and good luck.

Offer guests foods from the Tray of Togetherness - a circular or octagonal shaped tray filled with an assortment of symbolic foods to provide a sweet beginning to the New Year. I use a standard relish tray that is round and fill it with eight different finger foods.

By all means, have fun with it. Just remember - don't clean for the first few days of the New Year - if you do any sweeping during this time, you risk sweeping away your good luck.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Creating a Charmed Life

I am creating a charmed life. I saw this quote somewhere online and saved it;  it explains it best:
What is the charmed life? It isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t require power, fame, or fortune. It doesn’t actually require anything more than what you have today. The charmed life is taking delight in the life you have, making every day a brilliant day, and simply savouring the experience.
It is being open to possibilities, receptive to new ideas, and not hesitating to take a first step into unknown territory. It is a complete life strategy, meant to keep you grounded and happy today, while also working to ensure future joy and enchantment. It means living abundantly, embracing life to its fullest.

It does not mean living materialistically. Margaret Young was a singer and comedienne in the 1920's. She knew what she was talking about when she said:
Often people attempt to live their lives backwards; they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.
Living a charmed life, living abundantly isn't about the having it all, because having it all is never enough. It's about being grateful for what you do have, because it is impossible to be simultaneously grateful and unhappy. It's all about the journey and experiencing and creating joy, and charm, along the way.
I want to follow Jean Luc Picard's directive - make it so!

Monday, January 31, 2011


Years ago, my husband and I were searching for our first home. Having spent part of our children's childhood in the military, we wanted a place to call our own. One we could paint and decorate, with a real fenced in yard, and the kids could have their own bedroom! We found the perfect home and closed one month later - everything fell into place. It was Imbolc Eve.

That night after closing, we set up camping chairs in the den just so we could sit and take in the majesty of our new home. I made up special essential oil mixtures and we misted each room, claiming it as our own. We set out the brat Bride on the back porch, inviting Brigid to come and bless our new place. It was, and still is, a magical place for me.

The years have passed, the kids are grown (and still living at home...), but Imbolc is still a special time. A day to honor the patroness of our home.

 The brat Bríde

I repurposed a shawl I've had for years. Brigid's Mantle is now used exclusively for the healing properties she has endowed it with.

The cros Bríde

Brigid's cross made from  stalks of wheat. You have to soak them in the tub to make them pliable, but once made, the effect is lovely!

The Brídeóg

I made her from cornhusks I picked up at the dollar store. These have to be soaked as well. I dressed her in material I thought reflected the day, reds. blacks, fire. She lays in the bed I made for her.

The crios Bríde

Brigid's Girdle is typically made from straw, but I don't have any of that around, living in the suburbs. So I bought a hula hoop and wrapped it with red, white and black ribbon. We have fun stepping through it, the women top to bottom and the men through the side, all three times.

My altar to honor Brigid. Simple but nice. White tablecloth topped with a sheer, sparkly silver square. White candles.

There is more I would like to do, and will eventually. I try to add a new component each year, if I can. Irish food is always on the menu.
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