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Making the most of your New Year’s luck

Did you know there are a plethora of traditions surrounding the idea of maximizing one’s good fortune for the coming year? For those of you looking for last-minute boosts, or anyone starting the New Year and checking up, here are some tips for you (of course I make no guarantees, but it couldn’t hurt, right?)

  • I live in wine country, so this tradition from Spain sounds like a good place to start – consume one grape at each strike of the midnight clock(Spanish grape growers started this tradition to rid themselves of a glut of fruit in the last century, and it stuck). This is a lo-cal tradition, at least 🙂 They say to take heed at the taste of  each grape, as it signifies the tone of each month.
  • Moms will love this one – the more leafy greens you eat at New Year’s, the more likely you are to have lots of money in the coming year (the green colour symbolizing money, of course). This also applies to legumes (peas, beans) – they swell when cooked, signifying a growing fortune.
  • Did you know we don’t just eat ham at New Year’s to give the turkeys a rest? Pigs signify prosperity in many cultures, due to their habits of rooting forward on steady legs, and also due to their rich fat content. By the way, if ham is not your thing, any pork dish will do. Even pigs made of marzipan are considered lucky in Austria!
  • Fish has been a popular “feasting food” since the Middle Ages (before refrigeration), as it could be easily preserved and cooked later. Baccala, or bacalao (dried salt cod) is popular in Italy and Spain from Christmas through New Year.
  • Cakes of various kinds are popular in most cultures (surprised?) Often a token was hidden in the cake and the person receiving it would be the lucky one in the group. (See my recipe for “Twelfth Night Torte”, a French tradition for Epiphany)
  • if you don’t want to eat too much but want to participate, how about passing along the food? A Scottish tradition for Hogmanay is to be a “first-footer” – the first person through the door of a friend’s house in the New Year, bearing gifts. You are to bring coal – to warm their house – or salt – to flavour their food – or sweets – to enrich their lives.

For those of you who want to hedge your bets, here are the things to AVOID for New Years’…

  • lobster – it crawls backwards, thus signifying a lack of progress in the New Year
  • chickens – they scratch backwards, and so could cause regret or focus on the past
  • birds of flight – they could signify your luck flying away (was this why we chose the turkey as a popular holiday bird??)

And, for those wanting to start the year on the right foot, not over-indulging, take heart! You can tell your dining companions you are leaving food on the plate to symbolize food in the pantry all year (and perhaps a healthier waistline, too).

Whatever you eat at New Years’, however you ring in 2012, may you be with loved ones with a smile on your face.

Cheers!

Remembering…

"in Flanders fields, the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row..."

One of the things I do in my free time is to volunteer as a Girl Guide leader. I have had the good fortune to watch a number of local girls grow up as they have gone from Brownies to Guides and now to Pathfinders (in other words, through elementary school and now on to middle school). I am proud of the fact that one of our yearly service commitments is to attend the community Remembrance Day ceremony. It is a sombre affair, of course, made more so by the weather. It has been my observation that November 11th is never a bright, sunny day. Perhaps Mother Nature, too, is making a gesture. (I am glad that our local ceremony is indoors, not for the sake of the kids, but rather for the veterans who I am sure have seen their fair share of hard weather.)

I am including a post below that I wrote for a  weekly column on a local website. As I thought of all the comforts we enjoy and that were sacrificed by those that serve in battle, it occurred to me that the topic of comfort food was rather a propos. I wonder what comfort food is for soldiers… my uncle was a Captain in the Canadian Air Force and I remember sampling some of the K rations that they give out. It didn’t seem very comforting to my brother and I as kids, but away from home in the cold and the mud, perhaps a simple can of scrambled eggs and ham might bring back a glimmer of light on a dreary day.

The minister who spoke at the ceremony today spoke of the Golden Rule and how that principle exists in all cultures and religions, and it is most often the cause for which people serve (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). I was heartened to hear him include the Earth in his list of entities and groups. We all deserve to be treated as equals, and to enjoy a sustainable life on this planet of ours.

Cheers to you, comrades, and thank you.

 

What is comfort food in today’s world?

 When I was a kid, my favourite comfort food was my Mom’s tuna casserole. It was one of those “soup can” recipes, I think – it had a can of mushroom soup in the sauce part of the recipe, and it basically involved layering canned tuna, sliced mushrooms and cooked pasta in a casserole dish with the mushroom soup, and baking it in the oven. Not fancy, but good stuff. Mom used to jazz it up with those crunchy Chow Mein noodles you could get at the grocery store, and when I got older we upgraded to include chopped herbs with the soup and a bit of grated cheese on top. I wonder, in today’s world of rushing around from work to soccer practice while dropping off someone at zumba or scouts, does anyone ever sit down for a simple meal anymore, or is that kind of dinner relegated to the drive-thru window?

 I have written before about my memories of foods I class as favourites, easily included in the “comfort” category. Many of them are not homemade treats (Oreos are a good example) but often they did involve a homespun angle to them, like the glass of milk that had to go with the Oreos. I guess part of my comfort always came from the memory of being safe at home when the tradition was established. Then having that same thing again somewhere else is still comforting. (This must have been the reason I insisted on carry my teddy bear everywhere we went too…) You can recreate the original feeling even if the people or place are not with you, and your heart is warmed in the same way.

 I know that memorable visits to restaurants can certainly fit in this category too – my cousins used to love going to White Spot as a family. They claimed the burgers were in a class by themselves. I still contend that part of this experience was the shared quality time as a family, though, don’t you think? I am not convinced that time shared as everyone slams back a burger in their seat on the way to the next appointment could count similarly.

 I know, I’m old fashioned. Some of my friends who have children would likely say I don’t understand the pressures of the schedule of today. I have to stand my ground on this one: I believe that spending time around a dining table with friends and family is key to having a happy soul. It doesn’t have to be every night, but on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be homemade, but that adds to the memory. Do you want your kids to leave your house only knowing how to open a box and heat things up for dinner, or do you want them to have some ammunition for starting a healthy life of their own?? Maybe your quality night could be about everyone pitching in to make dinner.

 To those of you who already do these things, I applaud you. Please keep up the good work. Share your wisdom with your friends. Let’s not move to the future with only things like Timmy’s commercials as the warm, fuzzy moments of how we share food and drink together.

Hello world!

Okay, so this may be a bit extreme, but doesn't it look like fun?

Welcome to my blog. Here is my first post – hooray! I hope you will come back often to see what’s new. I will be posting recipes, food & wine trivia, wine reviews, entertaining ideas, gardening info and my unsolicited opinions on the value of quality time spent around sharing a meal. I do think that the concept of enjoying food and drink with friends and family is the quintessential method of enjoying life. I hope that sharing this passion will encourage you to do the same. Please feel free to comment!

I’m wondering…

how many more gourmands are out there? Do they know what a privilege it is to have the talent of appreciating a good meal? If you don’t mind, fill out this little survey and we’ll see!

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