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.
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.”
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.
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?
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:
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.
Time to get down to business. Sunday is Oscar night and I have appies to plan. This post will be a bit of streaming consciousness, as I figure out what will work this year. You see, in a household where movies are such a lynch pin, Oscar night is a great opportunity to honour that.
Setting aside the politics of the broadcast, we join in the festivities and do our best to honour the movies we enjoyed through the past year, whether they are on the nominations list or not. Our food theme works to coincide somehow with the movies. So let’s begin with a recap of who’s up for Best Picture:
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Hell or High Water
- Hidden Figures
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
We can literally go all over the map this year – movies that take place in the northern and southern United States, west coast, east coast and south coast, in Europe and India, involving African American and Caucasian culture. I suppose I could even interpret what aliens might eat. Ooh, the adventure of it all!
So, sticking with alphabetical order, here is my brainstorm…
ARRIVAL – something ethereal, perhaps, to go along with the theme of other-worldly creatures… like a meringue!
FENCES – this one is easy, if you saw the film. More than a few sandwiches are consumed in this movie. Middle class sustenance at its best.
HACKSAW RIDGE – since this is a war film, I thought a play on rations would be fun – how about a homemade chocolate “bar”?
HELL OR HIGH WATER – I could go with biscuits to play on the good old south setting, but I’d rather have fun with the title – hot wings it is.
HIDDEN FIGURES – let’s take from the church picnic and riff on those flavours – no fried chicken needed, but sweet potato cubes wrapped in bacon are good comfort food.
LA LA LAND – I can’t help it, I have to do some fish tacos. Sorry, Ryan Gosling.
LION – more bold flavours to represent the characters in this film. I have a wonderful curry yogurt dip that will be nice with some veggies.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – here’s the chance to add some kind of seafood to the menu. A lobsgter roll would be good, but we already have fish tacos. Some garlic butter prawns would be lovely, though.
There we have it – a menu. Nine nibbles should keep us satiated. We still need beverages though, and there are some other films I want to recognize from 2016.
THE JUNGLE BOOK – not a new film, but newly done. The animated Disney version was one of my favourites as a kid, so a coconut cocktail is in order.
DOCTOR STRANGE, DEADPOOL, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM – all of these films offered exotic and fantastic effects and storylines. Here are a few colourful drink ideas:
- Sangria – mix 8 parts fruity red wine, 1 part peach schnapps, 1 part triple sec, the juice of half a lemon, half a lime, and half an orange. For real authentic sangria, add slices of citrus and chunks of apple or other tropical fruit in the mix to soak for a few hours or even overnight. Serve over ice for your basic colourful drink.
- Blue Monday – mix 2 oz vodka, ¼ oz triple sec, ¼ oz blue curacao in a shaker with ice and strain into a fancy glass. Serve with a lemon twist. (Feel strange only if you want.)
- the Matador – like a margarita with a twist, this concoction of tequila with 1/2 lime and 1/2 pineapple juice is both refreshing and exotic. (Chase wild animals only if you drink water in between refills.)
- Mike’s Full Moon – pour in a glass with ice: 1 part Mike’s Hard Lemonade, 1 part Blue Moon beer. Garnish with lemon. (Howl at will.)
- Death in the Afternoon – (Hemingway’s favourite drink is for Ryan Reynolds, but it is not named lightly so beware drinking anything after this) Pour a jigger of absinthe in a champagne glass and top up with champagne so that it reaches an opalescent colour.
We have the makings of a good party here. I have some work to do to get ready, but I’m looking forward to a fun evening. I may even dust off something fancy to make it official.
You might think I’ve gone off my rocker, doing so much for such a superficial event. Consider it more of a serious effort to have a lot of fun. Everyone will be a winner around our table, no matter what Jimmy Kimmel does.
Do you ever end up on an adventure because of some small moment? Often life gets in the way of us being able to take advantage of serendipity, but with food and drink it can happen more easily. Today is a day we got to enjoy such an adventure.
I like to window shop at food stores. If you’re not a foodie you probably think I’m crazy but I believe it’s a skill I have developed as a Gourmande. I can ferret out an obscure condiment or spice from a shelf full of otherwise mundane choices, and I can imagine an entire dinner party with the inspiration of a single ingredient. Those things tend to happen on more random occasions, especially when you live in a smaller city with not much in the way of specialty food shops. I always have my eyes peeled for opportunities…
Over the holidays, I was at the liquor store (as happens on more of a regular basis than the rest of the year). I was buying rum for holiday egg nog and Christmas pudding hard sauce but being a wine geek I did wander through the wine section. We live in wine country, so we tend to drink more local wine but I love wines from all over. Imagine my delight when I saw a bottle of Chianti wrapped in straw! You know, the ones our parents had with a candle stuck in them, like they were channeling that romantic scene from “Lady and the Tramp”?
How could I resist? I would be able to dress up a lazy night when we ordered pizza, or I could turn my husband’s favourite meal – spaghetti and meatballs – into a romantic evening. And all for under $20! I bought s bottle and tucked it away in our pantry (a.k.a. Back-up supply of goods, and my special storage for “good things”).
So this morning when my beloved said, “what would you like for dinner? I have some meatballs in the freezer we could have…”, I saw my serendipitous moment. It’s slow season for us, so being a “school night” doesn’t matter; we can put regular routines aside for the evening and none of the balls will fall out of the air. I picked up spaghetti to make sure he didn’t use just any old pasta, and pulled the wine from its hiding place. I dug out the checkered napkins for added effect. The candles are ready, and the table is set. I might even put on a bit of Billy Joel…
And so now I have to go, and as they say, “slip into something more comfortable.” We are having a romantic dinner. See you tomorrow!
(Watch for my new candle holder in a future post!)