How ‘Bout Some Culture?


As always, the day before lent is Mardi Gras, and this year it falls on March 4th. As mentioned in a previous blog (found here, go read it!), Fat Tuesday is also known in many parts as Pancake Day. This year I wanted to revisit the holiday, so I made American pancakes with a little update, using jam as a decorative and delicious accent.

Mardi Gras Pancakes with Berry Syrup

Never having been to The Big Easy, I was surprised to learn that Mardi Gras has ‘official colors.’ (Who knew?!) They are Purple, Green and Gold.

According to the site MardiGrasNewOrleans.com:

The official Mardi Gras colors were selected in 1872 to honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Alexis Alexandrovich Romanoff, whose house colors were purple, green and gold. The 1892 Rex Parade theme “Symbolism of Colors” affirmed the colors’ meaning.

Purple Represents Justice. Green Represents Faith. Gold Represents Power.

To honor this, I made my pancakes using berry jam (purple), lemon zest (gold), and a little mint (green).

Mardi Gras Pancakes

Here’s my mother-in-law’s recipe:

  • 1-1/3 cup flour
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbps. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together the dry ingredients with a whisk. Add egg, milk, oil and vanilla. Stir together and cook on hot griddle until done.

To make the fancy fleur-de-lis design, I used seedless boysenberry jelly, and put it in a plastic bag with the corner cut off.

Pipe the jelly onto the pancake on the griddle.

Now. Here’s the tricky part. When I flipped the first few pancakes, the jelly smeared. To prevent this, I took out my handy kitchen torch, and applied heat to the uncooked side of the pancake, until the surface was cooked just a little. When the ‘gloss’ of the batter was cooked away, it was ready to flip, and no longer smeared.

Use torch on top of pancake

*Note: The fleur-de-lis is not directly connected to Mardi Gras, but does have connections to New Orleans. As a francophile, I just like the symbol. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to draw, and just looks fancy. You could also make swirls or hearts. Go crazy!

For more information and another recipe, take a look at my original blog on Mardi Gras and Pancake Tuesday here. Enjoy!

Mardi Gras Pancakes with Mint

Update: I just learned that the National Cathedral in Washington DC has an annual Pancake Race. Check out the pics for the 2012 Pancake race here. And the 2013 race pics are here. Fun!

With all the holidays and parties this time of year, this is definitely Champagne season.

Close Up Flutes

In fact, of the nearly 18 million cases of bubbly consumed in the US last year, 40% were sold in the last quarter.

And while that may be impressive, there’s no more impressive way to open a champagne bottle than by sabering it.

When a bottle is sabered, it appears that the sword is slicing off the cork, when in reality, it’s cleaving the ring from the bottle neck.

Here’s how I do it.

Floral Head Wreaths

In northern European countries, where the winters are very long, very cold and very dark, the much-anticipated arrival of summer is definitely something to celebrate. The festival commemorating such an arrival is aptly titled, Midsummer. It’s celebrated on or near the solstice (the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere), which usually falls on June 21st. Depending on cultures and calendars, however, the date for midsummer festivals varies, and can come as late as June 25th.

In Scandinavia, Midsummer is so revered it’s nearly as anticipated as Christmas or New Year.

Often thought of as a food-and-drink holiday, it’s traditional to eat foods that honor new life: new potatoes and the year’s first strawberries are consumed, and herbs are thought to be at their most flavorful and potent.

Strawberry Ganache Cake

Other traditions include placing greenery swags over doorways to bring good fortune and health, staging mock-weddings, and young girls placing flowers under their pillows, thus ensuring dreams of their future spouse.

Another charming tradition is the making and wearing of floral head-wreaths. They’re pretty, and unmistakably festive. Grown women and girls alike wear them, and they are easy to make.

Wreath on Kristen

Supplies:
22 gauge wire
Green Floral Tape
Assorted Flowers — smaller ones work better
Ribbon 1/8″ to 1/4″ wide
Wire cutters
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Measure out enough wire to fit around your head, then add 2″ and cut.
Form that length of wire into a circle.

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Using the last 1” of each end, twist together to secure.

Choose flowers, cut stems to 3″ to 4″ lengths.

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To make the wreath you’ll start at the front of the wire circle (the part farthest away from the twisted ends), and add flowers to one half of the circle, working your way to the back. When that half is done, you’ll return to the front and repeat the process on the remaining half.
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Beginning at the front, hold flower parallel to the wire and wrap with floral tape. Start near the blossom, and spiral the tape tightly around both stem and wire until the entire length of the stem is fully wrapped around the wire.

Lay on the next flower, overlapping stems and wrap with floral tape as before. Continue overlapping flowers and wrapping stems with tape toward the back of the wire where the ends are twisted together.

Once the first half is complete, return to the front, and repeat the process overlapping stems and wrapping with tape on the remaining half until the wire circle is covered with blossoms.

 Rose and Mum Wreath

Once all flowers are in place, you may need to add more tape to make everything more secure.

Cut ribbon to 72″ long, use a half-hitch knot to attach at the center-back of the ring, or tie in a bow.
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For a full wreath, you’ll use 15 to 25 flowers, depending on size. If your desired wreath has flowers that just cover the front, use the floral tape to cover all the bare wire for a finished look.
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Faux flowers are hardier, and a bit easier to work with. Real blooms can break and lose petals as you work with them, so treat them with care. For the best of both worlds, create the base of your wreath with faux greens and light filler flowers, then add real rosebuds or other less-fragile flowers to add scent and a more natural look.

Parts of Scandinavia are called The Land of the Midnight Sun, because on these long summer days, the sun never sets! When I was there as an exchange student, we would go out in the evenings and tell my Norwegian mother, “We’ll be home by dark!”

Enjoy this welcoming of the summer sun, and happy Midsummer!

On Set

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To commemorate St Patrick’s day, here’s a project that incorporates an important Irish symbol – the Celtic Knot.  This bracelet is macramé, and uses one of the most popular types of “Celtic knots” (it’s called a Double Coin in Chinese knotting, and a Josephine knot in other macramé).

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There are many interpretations of the Celtic knot, which is characterized by loops and crosses.  The ‘classic’ Celtic knot has no end — symbolic of eternal love and devotion.  The most simple version of the knot is comprised of three points with connected intersecting loops, symbolic of the elements – fire, earth and water.

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The knot pre-dates Christianity, but as often occurs, the early Church leaders adopted regional motifs and incorporated them into religious symbolism.  For example, the ‘endless’ thread is symbolic of God’s eternal love, and the triple Celtic knot, like the shamrock, is often used to refer to the holy trinity.

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Here’s what you’ll need to make your Celtic Knot Bracelet:

72” of leather cording – 1.5 to 2mm thick

4 to 6 Beads — with the hole large enough for 2 widths of cord to pass through

Button for clasp — with the hole big enough for one width of cord to pass through

Clipboard

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Find the center of cord.  Thread on the button, tie an overhand knot to hold button in place.

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Secure the button-end of the cord in the clip of your clipboard.

Tie first Celtic knot.

Using the cord on the left, form a loop.P1030592

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Bring the right cord over the top of the loop and pull it under the left-hand cord.

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There is a ‘triangle’ space at the top of the two cords, just under the knot that holds the button.  Place the ‘right hand’ cord through that triangle, then thread it under, over, and under the next cords.  Pull through.

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Adjust the knot so the two sides are even and it sits near the overhand knot.  Click here to see video of tying the Celtic knot.

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Slide on the first bead, and place it up near the knot.

Tie another Celtic knot, as above.  Add another bead, and continue until the bracelet is one inch smaller than you want the finished bracelet to be.

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After your final Celtic knot, tie another overhand knot and pull tight.

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Measure the diameter of the button clasp, and tie another overhand knot with that distance in mind, thus creating a loop for the button to pass through.

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Trim off ends, and you have a finished bracelet!

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A few tips:

If you have trouble with the bracelet laying flat, pin the unruly loops to a surface and let the bracelet sit overnight.  Think of it like blocking your wool sweater after washing! (My work and I both enjoy acupuncture!)

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Buttons with a shank give you a bit more ‘play.’  If you use a traditional button (with holes drilled through the button), make sure you leave some space between the holes and the first knot.

Raw cording is a bit easier to work with – the ‘finished’ or ‘polished’ cording is a bit stiffer and takes some getting used to.  You can also make this bracelet out of silk cord, cotton twine, hemp or yarn, but I don’t recommend using ‘fuzzy’ cords… the result is messy-looking.

For a more masculine look, eliminate the beads and tie knots close together. I found that in making this bracelet with the knots against each other, it’s best to reverse the knot-tying direction, so as to eliminate twisting of the bracelet.  For pictures on how to tie the knot in reverse, click here. 

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The bracelet can also be made with two or three strands of fiber, be sure that the holes in the button clasp can take the two or three thicknesses of thread.  This process takes a lot more time and patience, as the individual threads must be separated when knotting for a smooth, uniform look.  But the result is gorgeous!

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On set with the bracelets.

On set with the bracelets.

In the very first post I ever created for this blog, I included a traditional housewarming gift.  Relocating, or ‘moving house’ — as my British friends call it — can be a whirlwind-y stressful process.  Time-honored, traditional gifts can be a reminder of the truly important things in life.  These classic items are even mentioned in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when George and Mary give the Martinis a gift of bread, salt and wine.

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Wine – May you never go thirsty.

A beautiful bottle of sparkling wine is always appreciated.

Bread – May you never be hungry.

A loaf of crusty sourdough is perfect, but if your friend is a foodie, perhaps some gourmet flour could stand in.

Salt – It represents life’s tears, may they always be happy ones. And may life always have flavor.  (You can also use a pinch at threshold of each door and window for good luck.)

With the salt renaissance that has emerged in the past few years, you can have fun with this one… pink Himalayan salt, a beautiful truffle salt, or even a salt slab could work.

Candle – May you always have light.

Consider unscented candles, so the scent doesn’t interfere with dinner aromas.

Coin – May you have good fortune.

An antique or foreign coin is charming, or perhaps a coin minted in the year the house was built or purchased.

Broom – With it, sweep away the evil.

Straw brooms can often be found at Farmer’s markets or, of all places, Asian markets or Chinatown.

Honey –It represents the sweetness of life.

Local honey is a lovely choice, and often has prettier packaging than commercial choices.

 

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Find a container that can serve as a double-gift. Baskets are always useful, but there are lots of options: A colander, soup pot, salad bowl, or even a laundry basket could be a thoughtful choice. Fill the bottom of the vessel with beautiful kitchen towels, add gifts, and wrap the whole thing with tissue or cellophane and a bow. The addition of a hand-written note explaining the contents will add to the charm of your gift, should your recipients not be familiar with the traditions.

In Jewish customs, salt represents ‘home’ as sanctuary.  In other traditions, it is meant to ensure luck, or seen as a reassurance that this home always have flavor or ‘spice.’

Whatever meaning you assign to these gifts, the thought behind them will surely be received with open arms, and remembered as thoughtful mementos to honor a milestone for new home owners.

Midsummer, also called the solstice, marks the beginning of the summer season.  This longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is cause for a celebration, especially in the Scandinavian nations.  I spent one summer in Norway – Land of the Midnight Sun – and loved to tell my Norwegian mother before going out, “I’ll be home when it gets dark.”

This year it occurs on June 20th, but is sometimes celebrated the weekend after the actual solstice.  The holiday is one of the most-anticipated events of the year, and is marked by bonfires, eating delicious food, dancing, and drinking (natch).

Herbs harvested during midsummer were thought to be highly potent, and have healing properties.  Here I offer my Herbalicious Salmon recipe from The Tamara Twist.

Celebrating Midsummer began as a pagan holiday, and many of the traditions from those times prevail.  Thought to be the most “fertile” day of the year, mock weddings symbolic of new life, are a tradition for both adults and children.  Also thought to be a time when evil spirits are close, bonfires are burned to protect revelers from malicious powers.  Folklore says that if a girl sleeps with flowers under her pillow on this night, she will dream of her future husband.

So have a drink, eat some salmon, and enjoy this longest day of the year.  Skol!

I have a dear friend who hails from Scotland, and over the course of our friendship, he has regaled me with many a story from the homeland. One of the more lively is his commentary on the New Year traditions.

Hogmanay celebration. Photo from rampantscotland.com

In Scotland, the New Year is referred to as Hogmanay, a word which may have derived from the Gaelic, French or Anglo-Saxon languages. The holiday has special importance in Scotland, as the church virtually banned the celebration of Christmas from the late seventeenth century until 1958, stating that it had no biblical basis.

Winter’s cold and darkness, and the region’s flair for good whisky encouraged end-of-year revelry, and Hogmanay became an institution. Bonfires to shed light, clearing of old debts to start the year fresh, and the singing of Auld Lang Syne are standard customs, as is the practice of First Footing.

After the stroke of midnight, neighbors visit one another, and give and receive traditional symbolic gifts. Historically, those would include coal – to ensure a warm house, salt – representing flavor, a coin – prosperity, and shortbread or fruitcake – sweetness. These days, shortbread and whisky are the staples, and as my friend tells it, shortbread and whisky make for an epic hangover. Luckily, Jan 2nd is also a holiday.

The tradition of First Footing is rooted in ancient customs. It is believed that the first person to enter one’s house brings good or bad luck. In Scotland, it is preferred that the first foot across the threshold belong to a dark haired male. The fear that a fair-haired person brings bad luck perhaps harkens back to Viking times, when having a flaxen-haired Saxon arrive at your door was always a bad thing. The Viking in me apologizes, and in penance, I offer my brown sugar shortbread (Recipe Here). Note: Traditional shortbread shapes are half-inch thick rectangles.  Adjust cooking time a bit longer.

A very Happy New Year to you… may it bring you delight, promise, and love.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

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