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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.

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Filling a Hole

It’s a day off today, so we made a plan for our free kitchen time. In the spirit of Sunday morning, a day of traditionally indulgent eating, we chose to make donuts.


My dad and I made cake donuts a few times when I was a kid and it was a very fond memory. We did it again years later when I was in my thirties; we couldn’t find the original recipe so we worked out another one. We called the recipe “Born Again Donuts“, as it was a resounding success.

Today I went wild and created a new variation (it’s listed with the recipe in the link). My dad loved an adventure; I’m pretty sure he would have approved of the new chocolate orange flavour. I got a kick out of the new Rabbit Hollow-inspired shape, too.

My hubbie decided to make a yeast donut, so that we could have a variety of flavours. He created a chocolate caramel glaze for the usual donuts with holes, and then filled some round donuts with strawberry jam we had in the fridge (not a house-made preserve, but strawberry is the kind of jam you need to put in a donut). I also made a rosewater honey glaze that we dunked a few twists into, just for a bit of sticky fun. All those flavours covered the retro and foodie angles nicely.



Donuts are certainly not a healthy food, what with being deep-fried and coated in sugar or honey. However, homemade with no chemicals or preservatives they are at least natural. And they can provide a sense of emotional wellness.

My dad would have been tickled pink if he could have sat down with us to sip on a cup of fresh coffee and a homemade jam buster.

Here’s looking at you, Daddy!

 

Sticky candy, melting chocolate or popcorn kernels in your teeth?

I love going to the movies. There is something about sitting in the dark with strangers all being immersed in the same experience. The big screen and surround sound are fun, but they are just part of the ambience. The last part is crucial – movie snacks.

For me, popcorn at a movie is a required component. My hubbie is more of a chocolate and licorice kind of guy, munching only the occasional handful of popcorn. Despite our disparity on choice of snack, we have managed to attend movies happily together on enough Tuesdays to fill a large bucket.

Regardless of the snack you choose, its enjoyment can provide the final step in immersing oneself in the movie. Munching M & M’s or gnawing on a bite of licorice can help manage the stress of a horror movie monster’s massacre; nibbling popcorn can aid in maintaining one’s heartbeat at a reasonable level during fast-paced action scenes. The smell of the treats, the movie soundtrack music that leads us in, the darkness that envelops us and the smoke and mirrors of a story on the screen all blend together to take you away from the regular world.

There are consequences to every action. Just like a good movie will also make you think, the snacks leave a lasting impression as well. Tonight on the way home from the theatre it occurred to me – I was busy fussing with popcorn kernels in my teeth and my hubbie was sucking on bits of licorice stuck in his teeth. (He had already licked his fingers of the melting chocolate as we walked to the car.) Was this a marketing ploy, I wondered? Perhaps the movie production companies are in cahoots with Nestlé or Cadbury’s to ensure we are sucked into a lasting experience. Does the popcorn machine company Cretors & Co. put something in with the kernels? After all they have had five generations of their family sustaining movie goers all over North America. (You can read my article on the history of popcorn if you’re keen to know more on this story.)

I suppose I’m just getting sentimental as I age. Much about movies and the movie-going experience has changed in my lifetime. “Extreme” theatres and reclining seats, movies about video game characters – all things that didn’t exist twenty years ago when hubbie and I started our movie date night.

Part of me likes that the popcorn kernels still stick in my teeth the same way they always have. I smile when I hear the outrageously loud sound of my hubbie opening his bag of licorice. Some things don’t need to change.

 

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.

 

 

No green beer here, but soda bread is tasty stuff

I love special days, holidays. At their root, all of them involve food in some way. It’s fun to explore special foods and traditional dishes, especially in the ambience that surrounds such a day. The other part of these days is the social celebration. Gathering together to share the food and the spirit of the day is essential to the fun. What’s not to love about all that?

I am not so much a fan of commercial efforts to popularize a holiday; green beer, for example, is not my thing. It’s not an Irish tradition to have green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, but rather a Guinness or other Irish brew. I like the opportunity to try the local specialty. Even as a kid I was not a fan of the then-trendy Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s.

Some say that it’s a travesty to bastardize tradition by commercializing the essence of a holiday, but sometimes there are benefits. In the mid-70’s McDonalds used some of the proceeds from Shamrock Shake sales to fundraise with the Philadelphia Eagles. This not only benefited the child of one of their players but also helped to create the Ronald McDonald Houses.

St. Patrick’s Day food is all about the meat and potatoes. Corned beef and cabbage is a popular dinner, as is colcannon (a combination of mashed potatoes and cabbage) usually served with lamb or even sausages. There is traditional bread too – brown bread and soda bread. I find it a bit filling to have potatoes and bread at one meal, so I like to have soda bread for breakfast. It would be delicious with Beef & Guinness Stew as well, though. The stew takes a bit of time to make, but it’s worth the wait.

Ultimately the best part of St Patrick’s Day is to share one’s good blessings with a friend. Even if you only get down to the local pub for a green beer, you can at least enjoy that fraternal sentiment. In case you’re not familiar with an Irish toast, here is an easy one to use: “Sláinte”. (That’s “cheers!” in Gaelic, pronounced “slancha”.)

One last bit of advice before you head out, from the Irish themselves:

Saint Patrick was a gentleman,
Who through strategy and stealth,
Drove all the snakes from Ireland,
Here’s a toasting to his health.
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself and then
Forget the good Saint Patrick
And see all those snakes again.

 

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