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New Month, New Start

Today is May Day, a celebration in many parts of the world – some countries have made it a workers day, and others have it as a celebration of spring, an evolution of pagan festivals such as Beltane. I am always struck by nature’s timeline on this day, perhaps because I live in Canada where the winter weather likes to linger.

It seems this year I am leaning more to the other side of May Day’s meaning – I need help to get out of my winter funk. I was in the garden this morning with my fingers in the dirt and that was a good tonic but wearing two woolly layers and still having my gumboots dampened my mood, if you’ll pardon the pun. My Lilies of the Valley have come up, but are far from blooming yet this year, so there will be no real “Fête du Muguet” for me.

The naval term “mayday” was created in 1923 by a British radio operator who came up with an easily recognizable phrase (he was inspired by the French “m’aider”, meaning “help me”). It is repeated 3 times when calling for help, to make sure everyone hears it correctly. It seems to me that wouldn’t be too hard in disastrous situations; one has a tendency to shout and repeat things. When the clouds get low and the wind blows day after day I feel like I should run out in the yard and send out this call.

I suppose a better way to deal with our long winter is to engage in the celebration of moving forward, though. I flipped the calendar pages and I will be planting the last of my greenhouse seedlings today. I will bake a pound cake to signify the sweeter time of summer with sunshine and warmth. (Historically, this was when grazing animals were put out to pasture to feed on the wild grasses and flowers, making butter and milk richer and more flavourful.)

I’ve always wanted to dance under a Maypole, but that will take some more work. There is something romantic and wistful about maidens in flowing dresses dancing with ribbons barefoot in the grass. Maybe I’ll put together a fairy garden. No one will notice if I tiptoe out tonight to dance with the little ones and have my own Beltane ritual.

The Fairy Dance (1875) – Richard Doyle

Occupational Hazards

I work with food and wine. Much of why I do is because it is a passion to share good food and drink with others. I love to see people enjoying time around a table for a meal.

In the summer season much of what I do is helping cater large events, like weddings and corporate appreciation events. This is not a cozy dinner party, unless you can imagine fitting 150 people in your dining room. On top of that, we prepare fresh food on site from scratch and my hubbie (the chef) cooks slow food – southern style BBQ meat.

a wedding buffet at Ancient Hills Winery, in Lake Country

wedding dinner at Okanagan Centre Hall in Lake Country

These events work out to about a 14 hour day, usually. Much of it is outside in the elements, since we live in a piece of Paradise – the Okanagan. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate an event in the summer here?

wedding ceremony at Silver Sage Stables in Lavington

a private wedding and reception lakeside in Coldstream

wedding reception on the crush pad at La Stella Winery in the South Okanagan

private wedding and reception by the lake on the Westside

I don’t tell you all this to make me sound special – my work day in the catering world is a variation on the work day most people spend if they work in the restaurant industry. The irony is, at the end of those work days I don’t feel much like eating or drinking any of the fine food we prepared. I taste of course, all day long, but by the end of service when there is time to eat, I’m tired and just want to wrap up. (I also feel like if I sit down I might not get up again.)

Tomorrow is the first wedding of the season. Today I’ve got my ducks in a row, getting platters ready and double-checking all the little details. I planned out my layers of clothes to wear in our less-spectacular-than-usual spring weather. I have snacks loaded in my bag: a banana, energy bar, nuts and raisins, and lots of water. I’m good to go!

Every occupation has its hazards. I can be grateful that mine are only that my feet hurt, my muscles are tired and I don’t have the energy to eat wonderful food for a day. There is no need to feel sorry for me, that’s for sure. On top of it all, I get to share in the joy of some momentous occasions. That is worth missing a meal in my book. I go to bed knowing that I have helped make great memories.

 

 

A Tisket, A Tasket, A Biscuit in a Basket

I know, I’m sorry – I didn’t post anything all weekend, not even on Monday. In my defense, I was busy being a gourmand – in the garden planting and pruning during the day and at a table enjoying food and drink with friends at night. There simply was no time left to catalog it all. But I took pictures, so here I am catching up.

We love brunch. Everything about this blended meal appeals to us, and so we work it into our schedule whenever we can. Since we work on many Sundays, it’s a particularly joyous treat when we do get the time to lounge over all the flavours. Brunch is a foodie’s meal.

Brunch was invented by an Englishman in the late 19th century. Believe it or not, Guy Beringer first publicized the idea in an essay defending the case for weary social butterflies suffering from a successful Saturday party. A traditional English breakfast which started with heavy meat pies and other rich proteins was too drastic, so brunch allowed people to ease into a meal, and the day. The idea was to start with “tea pastries”, and perhaps even have a bit of hair of the dog with a cocktail. If brunch was a real thing, he proposed, people wouldn’t be judged harshly for proceeding this way. Interestingly, the concept didn’t catch on in North America for more than thirty years.

Even when we do have a big work day ahead, we have been known to salvage a component of a brunch meal to raise our spirits. Even without a Caesar or a glass of bubbly, a bit of brunch works wonders to make me feel spoiled even on a work day.

Last weekend was hectic with yard projects and deck building so there was no time to waste. Saturday we went all out, and Sunday we dragged our tired selves out of bed to get back at it. My hubbie decided we deserved a treat and so he whipped up some biscuits with the first of the fresh herbs in the back garden. Thanks to Ina Garten’s fantastic biscuit recipe and some of our chili grape jelly, I got to feel spoiled if only for a mere half hour.

Pulling a warm biscuit out of the basket was a highlight of my day.


I might not have had a hangover on Sunday morning but my sore muscles were grateful for the chance to ease into the day. Mr. Beringer was so right:

“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling,” Beringer wrote. “It makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings.”

 

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.

Food Tastes Better with Friends

Yesterday I spoke of comfort food, and how the company that shares the food sometimes has a lot to do with the comfort we get. I am often singing the praises of sharing a meal to bring people together. But what about the times when we eat alone?

You stand out as a solo diner.

I don’t want to say that eating alone can’t be enjoyable; sometimes people want to have quiet time to themselves. What I am referring to are the times when we yearn for company but don’t have any. Then food can taste bland and one can feel much less than nourished after the meal.

Having been a person that didn’t fit in to a group most of my life, I can relate to the loneliness of not being popular as a kid and I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t make any friends at school. I was lucky, and found some great companions. I never ate lunch alone.

Sometimes it is the food that heals, and other times it is the company who helps us move forward. In a world of reality TV that promotes singling people out, where the pressure to fit in is even stronger than in generations past, we need to have friends with whom we can feel nourished. Who says that can’t start by “paying it forward” and making a new friend?

Perhaps my teenage memories are why I was so struck by a piece I saw on CBS Sunday Morning today. This show of mostly heartwarming news is always inspiring, and I especially love the stories from Steve Hartman. Mr. Hartman took over for the delightful Bill Geist in delivering tales of everyday heroes that offer hope and inspiration, and today’s entry was no different. #WeDineTogether is a wonderful group of young people… see for yourself:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/starved-for-company/

I’d like to think this idea can spread, just like peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich. As Steve Hartman says, maybe the grown ups can learn just as the kids do. Perhaps we could extend the camaraderie from around the table to a philosophy of life. It’s just an idea.

 

 

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