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Posts Tagged ‘carnival’

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.  –  “a great princess” (according to Rousseau)

I like cake, and I’m sure you do as well unless you’re some sort of disguised alien (just kidding)(not really).  But I wonder if you’ve considered the amazing variety of cakes that there are?  They come in many shapes, textures, flavors and presentations, and the familiar chocolate cake, wedding cake and the like represent a very small region of the cake world.  Recently, I realized I hadn’t done any recipes lately, and since a couple of sex workers I follow on Twitter often mention how much they love cake I was inspired to share some favorites you might not find in the typical cookbook.  I’ve assigned each of these recipes to one of the demi-seasons as I count them (each anchored by one of the sabbats), but you can really make most of them any time you like.  Some of these recipes are easy, and some a bit trickier; the first two are actually brioches, and two others (one today and one tomorrow) could even be made with a box cake (just don’t tell me if you do that).

There are a few general things I should note before we start; if you’re an experienced baker you can skip this paragraph.  First of all, DO NOT be tempted to replace butter with margarine; butter is pure fat, while margarine is an emulsion of fat and water which does not behave the same way in cake recipes and may ruin the results.  If you want low-fat, I’ll be happy to share my recipe for angel food cake if you haven’t got one (it has no fat whatsoever).  DO NOT omit salt if a recipe calls for it; it’s there for a reason, especially in the brioches (yeast needs a slightly saline environment in which to grow).  Use large eggs, and unless a recipe says otherwise add them one at a time, beating for about a minute after each.  You don’t need to use cake flour for any of these recipes, though you might get a slightly finer result from Moss Ross Cake (tomorrow) if you do.  Though I’ve provided metric equivalents for most ingredients, I don’t know whether sticks of butter are the same size in other countries as in the US, where a standard stick is 4 ounces (113 grams).  The same goes for pans; a 13” x 9” rectangular pan would be 33 x 23 cm, so use the closest equivalent.  Test most cakes for doneness by inserting a wooden toothpick or skewer near the center; if it comes out clean, it’s done.  Test sponge cakes (like Moss Rose) by lightly touching the top; if done, it will spring back.  And since brioche is really a sweet bread, panettone and king cake are tested as bread is: by tapping on the top, which sounds hollow when done.

Yuletide  (late November – January 5th)

Panettone is an Italian brioche traditionally eaten during Yuletide; you can buy it imported from Italy in a box, but making it fresh is so much better.  You’ll need a peculiar baking tin for this one: a large, clean coffee can with a volume of about 3 liters, or something similar to that.

4½ to 5½ cups (1 to 1.3 liters) flour
1 package fast-rising yeast
1 teaspoon (5 ml) nutmeg
1 tablespoon (15 ml) ground orange peel (orange zest)
1¼ cups (300 ml) milk
½ cup butter (1 stick)
¼ cup (60 ml) sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) raisins
½ cup (120 ml) candied orange peels

panettoneCombine 2 cups (480 ml) flour, yeast, nutmeg and zest in a large mixing bowl.  Heat and stir milk, butter, sugar and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter almost completely melts, then pour the mixture over the flour mixture and beat with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix on high speed for 3 more minutes.  Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can, plus raisins and peels.  Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough; this will take about 3 to 5 minutes and will still be slightly sticky when you’re done kneading.  Shape the dough into a ball, put it in a lightly greased bowl (cooking spray is perfect for this) and turn the ball to grease the surface of the dough.  Then cover it with a clean towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour.

Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour the coffee can, then cut a circle of waxed paper to fit in the bottom of the can and sprinkle a little more flour on it.  At the end of the rising time, make a fist and punch down into the uncovered dough (it will deflate as gas escapes), then gather it up and put it into the prepared can.  Let it rise until double again (another hour), and near the end of the time preheat the oven to 350o Fahrenheit.  Bake the loaf for 35 minutes, then drape a piece of aluminum foil on top to prevent overbrowning and bake 15 minutes more (50 minutes in all); the top should sound somewhat hollow when you tap on it.  Immediately remove the panettone from the tin to a cooling rack and dust the top with powdered sugar; when ready to serve, cut it with a bread knife.

Carnival  (January 6th – Mardi Gras)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In New Orleans, the traditional dessert of this season is king cake, the very first recipe I ever shared on this blog (on Twelfth Night, 2011).  Of all these it is the one most firmly attached to the season I’ve assigned it, though panettone is a close second and pumpkin cake third.

Lent  (Ash Wednesday – Easter Eve)

When I was a lass, Easter baskets in the Deep South could be counted on to prominently feature products from the Elmer’s candy company of New Orleans, and among the most prized of these was a chocolate, marshmallow and almond confection called Heavenly Hash.  Here’s a cake based on it, though it uses pecans rather than almonds; if you can’t get pecans I’m sure almonds would be just as nice.

Heavenly Hash Cake

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
4 eggs
1½ cups (360 ml) flour
1½ teaspoons (8 ml) baking powder
¼ cup (60 ml) cocoa powder
2 cups (480 ml) chopped pecans
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
3 cups (720 ml) miniature marshmallows
1 recipe icing (see below)

Heavenly Hash cakePreheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit, grease a 13” x 9” baking pan and sift dry ingredients together.  Beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds or so, then add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each one, then add flour mixture and mix well.  Add vanilla and pecans, mix just until combined and pour into pan.  Bake for 40 minutes or until done; remove from oven, immediately cover cake with marshmallows and prepare icing.

3½ cups (840 ml) sifted powdered sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) cocoa powder
½ cup (120 ml) cream or evaporated milk
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, melted

Beat together all ingredients until smooth; pour over hot marshmallow-covered cake.  Allow cake to cool thoroughly in pan, then cut into squares.

Springtide  (Easter – late May)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe arrival of spring meant Maman “would pay me far too much money to cut her lawn every week, and usually made a cake for me; my favorite one was a simple yellow cake made in a ring pan and drizzled with powdered-sugar icing flavored with a powdered drink mix.”  I now call it Love Cake in memory of my beloved Maman.  Just bake a regular yellow cake in a tube pan (an angel food cake pan); you’ll probably need to add 5 minutes to the baking time.  Cool it for 20 minutes in the pan before removing it, then combine 2 cups (480 ml) sifted powdered sugar with ½ a packet (just under a teaspoon, about 4 ml) unsweetened powdered drink mix and 2 or 3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) milk and mix well; drizzle it evenly over the top of the cake, letting it pour down the sides.  You can use any flavor, but I like orange best.

Tomorrow:  Four more recipes for the other half of the year!

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All because it’s carnival time
Well, it’s carnival time
Well it’s carnival time
Everybody’s having fun.
  –  Al Johnson, “Carnival Time

Mardi Gras 2014 by Andrea MistrettaAs I’ve written before, “even though today isn’t a holiday for most of you, it will always be one for me,” and though I don’t live in the city any longer I always try to avoid going anyplace on Fat Tuesday (in French, Mardi Gras) because it’s just too weird seeing everything open and everyone acting as though it isn’t a holiday.  See, even though the occasion’s rationale is strictly Catholic (it’s the last day one can eat, drink and be merry before the solemn season of Lent begins tomorrow, Ash Wednesday), the actual celebration is purely pagan and comes down in a direct line from the Babylonian Zagmuk by way of Saturnalia and medieval Twelfth Night celebrations.  The mock king who was sacrificed in the true king’s place became for centuries the Lord of Misrule, then eventually a mock king again…wearing raiment made to last one day and a cardboard crown, seated on a papier-mâché throne and dispensing plastic largesse to people who are not his subjects.  That’s why it’s so funny to hear idiots babbling about the ribaldry and excess of carnival and attempting to shame women for baring their tits; the misbehavior is exactly the point, and the deities who preside over the festival are not those associated with Christianity, but rather the ancient pagan gods who, in New Orleans alone out of this whole grim, Puritanical country, have never fully relinquished their rule.

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‘Twas Christmas broach’d the mightiest ale;
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.
  –  Sir Walter Scott, Marmion

Los Tres Reyes¡Feliz Día de Los Reyes!  In other words, Buona Epifania!  Or, S Roždestvom!  Which is to say, Melkam Gena!  In the English-speaking world yesterday was the last of the twelve days of Christmas, and last night was Twelfth Night, on which Yuletide gives way to Carnival; in these hasty modern times, most of those countries were done with Christmas days ago, rushing it out practically before it had found itself a comfortable seat.  But in other parts of the world, the best part of the holiday has only just arrived.  For those traditionally-Christian countries which use the Gregorian calendar, today is the feast of the Epiphany, on which the Magi were supposed to have visited the infant Jesus; it is thus also called “King Day”, and in the Middle Ages was the day on which presents were exchanged in deference to that belief.  But while the gift-giving shifted back to Christmas Day in most of Christendom, Italy and Spain retained the King Day tradition, and it is still the custom in both countries and all over Spain’s former empire.  Children in those countries awoke this morning to discover that Los Tres Reyes (The Three Kings), or in Italy the good witch Befana, left them presents during the night.  But in countries whose churches stubbornly refused the Gregorian calendar, today is only December 24th (liturgically speaking), and tomorrow is Christmas Day.  In Russia it’s even more complicated, because the officially-atheist Soviet Union switched the winter celebration to New Year’s Day; different families might be visited by Grandfather Frost on the night of December 24th, December 31st or January 6th. But whether today is for you the beginning of the Christmas festival, or the end of it, or the first day of Carnival (which ends this year on March 4th), or just another work day, may it hold many gifts for you.  Christmas Witch 1907

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On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two turtle-doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
  –  Traditional Christmas carol

wren boys on Wren DayWe all learned the traditional carol as children, but did you ever stop to think of what it’s actually about?  Other than a rather improbable inflation of increasingly expensive gifts, I mean; just imagine how much it would cost to hire ten noblemen to leap at someone’s party on three successive days.  I’m sure most of you realize that Christmas was originally a twelve-day festival, but you may not realize what that actually means:  pre-industrial European society essentially shut down for twelve days while everyone celebrated.  Other than the Church, virtually every social institution – banks, businesses, governmental functions, the lot – was closed until January 6th.  Now, obviously things moved a lot more slowly in those days; crossing the average country took days rather than hours, and people (again, outside the Church) planned more by the calendar than by the clock.  Considering that, the twelve-day hiatus was not much more inconvenient than a weekend was in my childhood, when virtually everything other than restaurants (and the Church) was closed from 5 PM Friday to 9 AM Monday.  On top of that, it came midway through the slowest time of the year: though most modern people imagine that the agricultural lifestyle meant constant hard work, that was really only true in the spring and autumn; summers weren’t at all bad, and winter was basically a three-or-four-month vacation except for normal household chores.

That started to change with the rise of the towns in the High Middle Ages, but even then work during the festival was probably a lot like the Friday afternoon before a long weekend:  lots of people out “sick”, and the ones who aren’t not really trying too hard.  This was undoubtedly a large part of the reason dour work-until-you-drop-you-horrible-sinner-because-God-hates-you Protestants condemned the festival so relentlessly, even getting it banned in Britain under the Commonwealth from 1647-1660, and in Boston from 1659-1681.  Industrialization and the breakup of extended families renewed the attack a century later, and though the influence of rural people and writers like Charles Dickens revived the holiday in the first half of the 19th century, it only survived as a shorn, domesticated, factory-friendly one-day celebration rather than a two-week orgy of eating, drinking, games, music and most un-Puritan laziness.

But today, we’ve regained some of that leisure time we started losing in the 18th century; though many of my readers returned to work today, many others did not (perhaps even using vacation or “flex time” to accomplish that).  If you’re one of those lucky ones, I suggest you resist the urge to join the throngs at Boxing Day sales or returns counters; instead, indulge in the traditional activities associated with this day such as visiting friends or helping the less fortunate, or else just rest at home with those you love and eat Christmas leftovers.  While it’s true that we can no longer put the entire world on hold for twelve days, I’m sure most of you can manage two. Medieval Christmas banquet

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Christmas Day

Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we.  –  Dr. Seuss

Father ChristmasIn “Visions of Sugarplums” I imagined a Christmas centuries in the future, and that’s probably the least-fantastic premise of the entire story:  I am sure that Dr. Seuss was correct in asserting that the holiday will last for as long as humans remain human, because it has already lasted for as long as we’ve been civilized (and began just a bit before).  What we now regard as the “jolliest” of holidays started out as a dead-serious affair involving human sacrifice and inspired by the event from which the myths of the Fall are derived, yet many of our Christmas traditions can be traced directly back to that dark beginning.  But so much other lore has been added along the way that I couldn’t fit it all into just my Christmas columns; you might be interested in these discussions of the Christmas tree and other greenery, Saint Nicholas and other gift-giving figures, the traditions which grew into Carnival and official Christianity’s long crusade against the holiday, and that’s just a start.  If you’ve got some time to kill tomorrow, there are quite a few items in every December that relate either directly or indirectly to the holiday that dominates this month so thoroughly that it’s impossible to even hear the word “December” without thinking of it.  And since I have written so extensively on it in the past, I don’t think I have to feel bad about taking today off from blogging to commit myself to cooking for my family and then having a well-earned rest when it’s all done.  Merry Christmas, dear readers!

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Proof of our society’s decline is that Halloween has become a broad daylight event for many.  –  Robert Kirby

sexy HalloweenFor the fourth time since I’ve been writing this blog, we’ve come around to my favorite day of the entire year – All Hallows Eve, which also happens to be my birthday.  This is the forty-seventh time I’ve seen this particular day (the first one hardly counts, since I arrived less than ninety minutes before the Witching Hour), and though I no longer observe it with the wild exuberance I did in my youth I still look forward to it every year, and still enjoy all the little rituals by which we celebrate it.  In last year’s Halloween column I listed a number of “spooky” columns which might put y’all in the mood, and this year I decided to expand those recommendations into a full column:  Monday’s “Trick or Treat“, which you really should read if you haven’t yet.

Unfortunately, Halloween has in our culture become merely a ghost (pardon the jest) of its former self; it is now largely an adult celebration, just a second carnival out of place in mid-autumn rather than where it belongs in the dead of winter.  Today’s children are completely cheated of the holiday as it was meant to be celebrated; as I wrote in “The Day of the Dead“,

…our decaying society is far too obsessed with “safety” to let the kids be kids.  It’s a peculiar paradox:  the Child Cultists enshrine an idealized, romanticized view of childhood “innocence” to the point of trying to force it upon young adults who have long since grown out of it, yet are so frightened of the imaginary haunts their timid souls see in every shadow that they cheat actual children of the joys of childhood…And though we once understood that an annual dose of controlled fear and mild chaos helped children to cope with the existence of Mortem Imperator Mundi in much the same way vaccines protect them from disease, we have forgotten the former (and many of us the latter as well)…

Now, more than ever, we need Halloween.  Death will claim us all soon enough; it’s both foolish and counterproductive to waste one’s life trying to escape the inescapable, and to suck all the marrow out of its bones in a futile attempt to delay the inevitable.  Today is the day to flirt with the Reaper, to dance on one’s own grave, to play with skulls and to have fun with the gruesome…because the more familiar one is with something, the less terror it holds.  And the less we fear death, the freer we are to enjoy everything life has to offer.

Happy Halloween, Dear Readers, and Blessed Be!

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The glorious gifts of the gods are not to be cast aside.  –  Homer, Iliad (III, 65)

Every June I’ve published a story of Aella, a young Amazon warrior of the mythic past; the first one was “A Decent Boldness” and the second “A Haughty Spirit”.  And though you might be able to enjoy this one without having read those, you’ll probably understand what’s going on a lot better if you get to know the lady’s previous history first.

Asteria send me guidance tonight, for I am afraid.

I who alone of this living generation travelled West to the very end of the Earth, bathed in the waters of Keto and returned to tell the tale; I who walked in the ancient places of our people, rescued my dearest friend from the hands of barbarians and protected us both from the beasts of the wilderness; I who lived among strangers for five years and brought much of the learning of the Outer World back to the Motherland:  I am more frightened than I have ever been since earning the title of warrior.  For tomorrow, I must face the Council of Elders, thirteen grey old veterans of battles fought before my mother was born, and defend my conduct before them.

stairwell ruinsBut for the life of me, O Blessed Goddess, I cannot fathom why what I did should have shocked the others so.  True, it was a new idea, but what of that?   Why was I brought home through so many dangers if not to share the knowledge and the ideas of our sisters across the sea?  Harmothoe says my mind was addled by my time in Man’s World, but she’s simply jealous because I returned from my journey with enough wealth to buy a farm and enough slaves to work it, while she’s stuck toiling on our mother’s place.  I offered to lend her my slaves this winter to clear new land, but that won’t win her the respect and admiration I’ve enjoyed since my return, nor an invitation to visit the Queen’s palace next month so that I can tell her of my adventures.  Of course, if the hearing goes against me tomorrow I may see her sooner than that, though as a prisoner rather than an honored guest.

And all this fuss over something so completely stupid.  Are not health, strength, beauty, wisdom and skill at arms gifts of the goddesses?  And are we not to use those gifts to improve our places in the world?  Don’t the more beautiful and distinguished among us have greater choice among the Scythian men at the Spring Festival?  After all, our Princess Penthesilia is the daughter of their King Arius, not of some lowly tradesman; our Queen sought out the best sire available when she was ready to bear the child who would succeed to her throne.  And though I am not of noble blood, yet my company was highly sought by the men this year for the same reason my Amazon sisters have sought it since my return: though men and women differ in many ways, we all love a good story and many of both sexes seek to borrow prestige by association when they cannot win it for themselves.

But all that attention was a mixed blessing; with so many men competing to mate with me this year, how was I to choose one?  I’m no mere girl to be impressed by a handsome face, and my experience in Man’s World taught me that many a great athlete is also a great fool.  I thought on this as I watched the games and partook in the feasting, and it occurred to me that the best approach would be a practical one.  After all, our motives for mating with the Scythian men are wholly pragmatic in the first place; it stands to reason a pragmatic means of choosing a mate is in order as well.  And one can never have too much wealth, so what could be more sensible than simply announcing that the man who gave me the most generous gift would be the one who could lie with me?  I thought it was a wonderful idea, and the men responded with enthusiasm; the winner gave me six snow-white kine and an equally-beautiful bull.  But to hear my sisters, one would’ve thought I had drunk myself silly and puked on the banquet table.  The next day it was the talk of the town, and by the end of the week…well, here I am.

mounted Amazon vs Phrygian warriorGoddess, I suppose You know all this already, but it never hurts to summarize; besides, I want You to understand how I saw the matter.  Mother says I’ve disgraced our family, and Aunt Laomache says it just goes to show why Amazons shouldn’t associate with outsiders any more than is strictly necessary.  Granny is the only one who was helpful; she says what this demonstrates is that long periods of peace aren’t good for us, because when there isn’t anything real to fret about people make a big deal out of nothing, and in the absence of an actual enemy they invent imaginary bogeys to get worked up about.  She also said that the council only summoned me to shut up the prattlers, and that if they were truly concerned I would be spending the night under guard rather than lying in my own bed.  Also, Elder Dioxippe is Granny’s best friend, and Granny told me that she had talked it over with her and at least several of the Council were equally unimpressed with the gravity of my so-called sin; she predicted they would direct me to apologize to my family and sacrifice one of the kine to Astarte, and that would be the end of it.

I certainly hope so, but I can’t help worrying.  And that’s why I’m praying about this to You instead of Themis or Metis; there’s no justice in this situation, it seems like thinking logically is what got me into this fix, and perhaps divine inspiration is what’s needed to get me out.  If my punishment is as light as Granny thinks it’ll be, I’ll make a special gift to You; I think I might have conceived by the generous one, and if it’s a girl and I name her for You, she will be a constant reminder of Your grace.

And also of the fact that most people have no respect for pragmatism.

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