Monthly Archives: February 2012

Many variations on the same thing

This week we had Groundhog Day, that day made famous in pop culture by Bill Murray, when he lives February 2nd over and over again until he learns that he must make the most of what life has given him. I thought I would share the more historical interpretation, which has some similarities, but more complexity (and of course, some food elements as well).

As history tells it, the original name for Groundhog Day is Candlemas. It was a celebratory feast to commemorate the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, and included blessing the candles that would be used throughout the coming year (Jesus was seen as a symbol of light or revelation, so the connection with candles is certainly logical.) It was also known as the earliest of festivals celebrating the Virgin Mary. With the light stretching further through the day, it signifies the first leap to spring and in fact was considered by some to be the start of the spring season. (Here lies the connection to our current rodent-centric customs.) Significant things to remember about the more secular Candlemas traditions are that this is when any symbols of Christmas are to be removed (this formally ends the Christmas season, being 40 days later); and beginning a voyage at sea is not recommended on this day (sailors believed it would end in disaster). If you followed the tradition of Epiphany on January 6th that I spoke of in an earlier column, having won the figurine in the Three Kings Tart would mean you were beholden to host a party on Candlemas.

Being the point of transition between seasons, whether you consider religious seasons or nature’s seasons, our Groundhog Day has a noble history. When our favourite rodent in various North American cities peeks his nose out from his winter slumber, he offers an omen of the days to come, but it is based in some kind of logic, as traditions often are. Groundhogs aren’t scared of their shadows, and sailors aren’t scared to sail on a calendar date, but they know weather patterns. The same is true with foodie traditions that occur at festival time. If you missed these this year, you can look this column up again next year as inspiration. Or maybe you want to create your own festival to kick away those winter blues? There are some good ideas here:

    In France, they celebrate by eating crepes, but only after 8 pm – are they waiting for the winter moon to rise, and the crepes symbolize the shape? If you can flip a crepe successfully while holding a coin in the other hand you will see prosperity in the coming year (of course you will – you just kept the coin, didn’t you?!)

    In Spain, they celebrate by eating tamales, as the planting of the corn can begin as early as this. Even if you don’t want to be that elaborate in your cooking, a bit of cornbread or even a muffin could stand in as a nod for the tradition of farmers beginning their work of the season. (Do you even need another reason to stop at Timmies?)

In Ireland, they put a loaf of bread on the windowsill as an offering for St. Birgid, who is associated with both a pagan goddess of fertility and a saint in County Kildare. (Remember, it’s still a wee bit cold, so it’s okay to consume those carbohydrates, right?)

I hope these ideas lead to inspiration. If not, well, never fear. We have Mardi Gras coming up next, and that certainly deserves celebrating. Or I suppose, if you need immediate gratification and are sorry you missed the significant date for these offerings, you could just break open the snacks and enjoy the Superbowl on Sunday with some friends. Whatever works, cheers to you! Stay warm – the groundhog I listened to said we only have a little while longer to hold out!!


I saw a fantastic YouTube video this morning, about a great food service experience.  It made me think, perhaps sometimes we might have a better experience if we started out by being better customers. We are always harping about staff being surly or uninterested but if we start off on the right foot, with a smile or a friendly greeting, that couldn’t hurt, right?


I think that’s one of my favourite reasons I enjoy cooking. Sharing food is almost always a pleasant experience (except say, when your kids don’t appreciate your hard work spent on Sunday dinner). Food cheers people up. You have to be careful not to over-use that sentiment – the odd tub of Haagen-Das or Ben & Jerry’s to drown heartbreak or other sorrows is a worthy remedy, but it shouldn’t be used every time you have a bad day. Besides, wouldn’t you rather have a positive memory attached to such a good treat?

Food memories are important in our lives too. That’s how we decide on what we define as comfort food. Having tuna casserole on cold winter nights while sharing family stories made it one of my childhood faves. And associations of food with other people or places helps to strengthen memories, too. I still remember a summer of “huckle-blue-toons” with my cousins while vacationing at Kootenay Lake in B.C. Those prolific wild berries (we could never figure out if they were huckleberries, Saskatoons, or blueberries) were in pancakes, pies, muffins, and on our hands and clothes, too. Memories like that help me when I am wine tasting; the smell and taste of that experience solidifies “blueberries” in my olfactory system. I am often inspired when experiencing new flavours to try and add them to my mental catalog for future reference. A whiff of cardamom from the chai at an Indian restaurant was an exciting aroma I wanted to remember. It became the impetus I needed to create an exotic version of rice pudding one night at home.

Back to the idea of being a good customer… if I remember a good time and try to repeat that or share it while I am out shopping or dining, can I influence the employees I deal with?  I think there is hope; they say that even clinically depressed people feel better after smiling for even a few minutes. (Don’t get me wrong – I am not trying to insinuate that most service staff are clinically depressed.) If it doesn’t work, all I have to do is keep my sense of humour. Laughing is much better medicine than crying.

So, in an effort to give you more ways to keep smiling, here is a link to a fellow blogger who muses about the humour and silliness in everyday commuting, Train Pains… and here is the link for that wonderful video.

The most soulful fast food order ever, via

If you need more reasons, try these ten reasons to smile:

1. Smiling Makes Us Attractive

2. Smiling Changes Our Mood

3. Smiling Is Contagious

4. Smiling Relieves Stress

5. Smiling Boosts Your Immune System

6. Smiling Lowers Your Blood Pressure

7. Smiling Releases Endorphins, Natural Pain Killers and Serotonin

8. Smiling Lifts the Face and Makes You Look Younger

9. Smiling Makes You Seem Successful

10. Smiling Helps You Stay Positive

Happy Hump Day!

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