Category Archives: seasons

One a Penny, Two a Penny…

Did you have hot cross buns for breakfast today? I did. Do you know why we have them at Easter? I remember the rhyme from childhood, but I must admit that not having a religious upbringing I didn’t know the history of this seasonal sweet bun. As I sat munching and sipping my tea this morning I did some research, and I figured I can’t be the only one who didn’t know all the tidbits I found. So, here you go – new knowledge for your brain.

Let’s start at the beginning: Easter Sunday is the celebration at the end of Lent, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the period before Easter, starting on or about Ash Wednesday  (depending on your religion),  and ending just before Easter. It signifies the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the desert, and those observing Lent solemnly honour his sacrifice by many activities that seek to bring them closer to God. Fasting as Jesus did, or giving up luxuries in life is usual for the faithful during Lent; prayer, penance and repentance are also common. Hence the common expression, “giving up (something) for Lent”.

The Lenten fast of ancient times was much more broad and strict than it is today, in some places allowing only bread in one’s diet, but for most removing all animal products and allowing no meals until later in the day or the evening. Nowadays, a fast usually involves a full meal and up to two “collations” – sustenance to keep one going, but not so much as to count for a full meal. Some people do not fast but do remove meat from their diets, either for all of Lent or at least on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays and Saturdays in Lent. Lent ends either on Good Friday, or at midday on Easter Saturday, depending on your faith.

Since no animal products were allowed during Lent, sweet breads (containing milk, eggs and/or butter) would not be on the menu. Therefore, hot cross buns would be eaten at the end of Lent. They are not just a random treat, either – the cross on the top signifies the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices represent those used to embalm him for his funeral. The first hot cross bun was apparently baked by a monk in medieval times.

The solemn nature of hot cross buns is not to be taken lightly – in 1592, Queen Elizabeth I actually forbid their sale on any day but holy days (Good Friday, Christmas, or for funerals). The punishment for selling them was to have all your product donated to the poor. James I of England did the same thing in the 1600’s; for many years you could not find a hot cross bun recipe, as the buns were only made in secret by home bakers. The first modern record of them is a written account of street sellers hawking them in the 1700’s, the source of the nursery rhyme I remember:

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!

Of course, as with most things that carry such significance there are many bits of folklore attached to hot cross buns. Did you know…

  • hot cross buns are said to have healing powers? If you give one to someone who is sick, it can help make them better (perhaps this comes from sharing them with those less fortunate?)
  • hot cross buns don’t go bad? If you hang one in your kitchen on Good Friday, it will bode for good breads all year long, and keep your house safe from fire and bad spirits. (the preserved fruit would help keep the bun fresher, but I’m not sure I would keep it up for a full year.)
  • hot cross buns are full of luck? Taking one on a sea voyage will prevent a shipwreck, and it is said that friends sharing a bun will have a strong bond of friendship in the coming year. (Any hope against shipwreck was probably worth trying; as for friendships, well who wouldn’t want a pal that shared their treat?)

Although I don’t observe any traditional religion, I do certainly believe that sharing oneself with loved ones and in the community is important. I also believe that to be a good person requires thoughtfulness and focus. As such, I can understand the importance of Easter and appreciate its solemn history.

So, in honour of Easter, may you enjoy every moment. Whether you celebrate a feast day that is at the centre of your faith, or your family, or both, I wish you well this Easter weekend.

Peace be with you.

Stuck in the snog

I know March is supposed to come in like a lion, but really?! Here in the Okanagan we are used to a real evolution of spring, with temperatures warming and sunny days multiplying along with blossoms appearing all over. This dreary combination of snow and fog that a friend recently christened as “snog” – this is not springy at all. It’s charming in December, but not now. 

So I’m going to the cellar to get a big bottle of red. It’s too late to be cookingup a storm for dinner so we might even order in. If this keeps up though, I will work on a Pot au feu (a stew, literally from the French “pot in the fire”). Comfort food is definitely in order. 

I hope you are warm where you are. Hopefully you have a four-legged friend or a lover with whom you can snuggle; if not, pull on those cozy slippers and grab a blanket. Tonight is a night for being warm. 

Oh, and by the way, did you know the British call a snuggle a snog? Perhaps that is not a coincidence. 

Freakish Spring 

This week has been a perfect example of the schizophrenic nature of the season we are in. One day it will be grey and dreary with cold winds blowing, and the next day will be splendid sunshine and blue skies. The day after that was today, and well – it snowed. 

We tried to keep up in the kitchen. I made  comforting cookies to relieve the dreariness, then we ate salad to rejoice in the warmth of the sun. Today we are preparing a bit of everything – in part to celebrate the Oscars but also because it’s hard to know what one wants when the world disappears in a whiteout. 


Maybe I’ll just pour myself a cocktail and ponder my next vacation…

Springing Up!

I am just back from a vacation to a sunny clime, and I am now home to mud and mostly grey skies.In this environment I look for every scrap of inspiration I can find. Today was my lucky day.

It started out as another grey day.Ella and I walked through the remaining snowy patches amidst the mud and other slippery bits in the orchard (those Canada Geese can be messy creatures). We slipped around as we worked our way home; I endured what I call the swampy smell of pre-spring and Ella revelled in the many earth-borne smells, her nose on overdrive.

The clouds broke this afternoon and the sun proceeded to warm everything, including my sense of gratitude. I wandered out with the dogs to let them get some fresh air and I breathed deep, too. In the brighter afternoon light I could see the new shoots all around…

Crocuses are always some of the first to break ground

Can you see the pussywillows in the foreground?

 

It felt easier to breathe, with the sun and the greenery. The dogs lifted their noses and seemed to fill them up with scents. Usually we walk later in the afternoon but today I decided to seize the moment. I put on my brand-new muck boots and grabbed Ella’s collar and leash. I figured we would see just how spring was advancing.

Ella is a great companion any time of year, but when I am in my winter doldrums she is a wonderful boost to my soul. Her enthusiasm with fresh smells and small puddles is completely infectious. She searches out every new shoot to sniff it out, and every little puddle is worth at least a step – usually more of a splash. The way she bounces into the mud and smiles back at me makes me smile – how can I get mad at such boundless joy?

It was in watching Ella one day on our expedition up the road that I first discovered the wild watercress in the ditch. Now it’s a race for us both to find our spots in the spring – her to splash in the mud, and me to harvest. It takes triple washing at home to make it ready to use, but the peppery flavour and fresh juicy crunch is worth the work. Long before I can harvest any wild lettuce, these leaves are ready to enjoy.

Today the leaves were just barely above the ground, but that’s okay. Every leaf gave me hope. On the way back home I tried to limit the muck damage – I said to Ella, “Try to stay out of the muck”; she trotted squarely through a tire rut full of muddy water and gave me a big grin. All I could do was chuckle.

 

My thanks go out to Diana Gabaldon and her character Claire Randall Fraser, who prompted me to look for wild herbs and plants. (All those Outlander books are sexy but also informative.) Props also to L.L. Bean, who make the best muck boots ever. My last pair held on for 10 years of our daily walks, and I’m excited to rack up the miles on my new ones. But most of all my gratitude is for my Brown Girl, Ella. You can say what you want about having four-legged friends – quality time with a creature so intent on loving life is good for the soul.


 

 

So Cheap It’s Almost Free

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‘so cheap it’s almost free’

Sometime from Friday night to yesterday evening our little freezer went down. There is still some home grown from last year and other assorted that freezers collect but we were struck by how little we have on hand. Although a lot of what you buy up north is grown here, that’s just what happens to most of it…it goes north. On occasion as with all growers, growth exceeds demand and produce of whatever being grown for the export market floods the grocery stores and it is ‘so cheap it’s almost free’.  Well, here anyway. And like anywhere, no tomatoes or they are so tasteless and expensive you do without. The freezer is a wonderful hedge.

Today in the grocery store tomatoes were approximately .25$ Cdn. per kilo.These are not the ones at the fresh street markets grown in backyards, delicious and just off the vine. These were all Roma, uniform ripe and unusually this time, very, very tasty. We thanked our lucky stars at our 9kilos and roasted half and stewed the other half. Our version of canned tomatoes. No salt or preservatives and very little effort. Yes, electricity (which can be iffy here and costly) plus the freezer. Supermarket cost usually of tomatoes is about 1.5/2$ per kilo. Markets are less and how the farmers stay alive I don’t know. Minimum wage has just risen yet so has the cost of gasoline and other consumables. Globalization is here but as always, only a few really get to partake.photo-1

We eat according to the market. The Mexican diet is not heavy on vegetables except as an additive or salsa. When your diet is the opposite, a little meat and mostly vegetables sometimes it’s a strain. Unexpected tomatoes are a delight but we do grow our own. Plus chard, arugula, dill, oregano, mint, basil, squash, beets and I notice this year, a volunteer sunflower. Always a welcome addition.  Fruit here takes space and concentrated watering; there are orange plantations, lemons like mandarins, grapefruit (all with a gazillion seeds), mangoes, strawberries and from the south papaya, bananas, pineapple and much more. Markets are seasonal so we are back to eating seasonal rotations. Everything tastes better and it travels little. It is also economical.

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I am very fortunate. The sun shines, there is lots to eat and the people of Mexico are charming.  I travel when the sun gets too hot (I hear you groaning!) and I live the same in Europe as I do here, whatever is available at the market is what’s for dinner. And it’s always a delight of experience.

 

 

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