Monthly Archives: February 2018

Happy Lupercalia!

I was curious about the origins of this overly-commercialized holiday so I turned to history.com for info. Read on, and have a lovely day! xoxo

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THE LEGEND OF ST. VALENTINE

The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

ORIGINS OF VALENTINE’S DAY: A PAGAN FESTIVAL IN FEBRUARY

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.

Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide.

Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

VALENTINE’S DAY: A DAY OF ROMANCE

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

TYPICAL VALENTINE’S DAY GREETINGS

In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century.

By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”

Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

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Image source: Pixabay

Can This Recipe Be Saved?

Hi everyone, it’s hack time again. First up: cooking.

This weekend, DH and I struggled to fix a chicken dish that was weirdly sweet. After adding multiple ingredients, it was eventually quite good. But it got me researching solutions to some common kitchen problems you might encounter, too.

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KITCHEN HACK: Adjusting a Recipe

Too Salty

  • If you can rinse off the overly salty ingredient (such as the brine on your olives), that’s an easy place to start.
  • Add a raw potato (you don’t have to cut or peel it) to a liquid dish such as soup or curry. Potatoes will soak up some of the extra salt as they cook and add starch that will further dilute the saltiness.
  • Rice or a small amount of flour are other options.

Too Spicy

  • As with saltiness, adding starch is a quick fix for an overly spicy soup or curry.

Too Sweet

This is a common result when using carrots, red peppers or other vegetables with hidden sugars.

  • Add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or a spoonful of apple cider vinegar.
  • Balance the sweet taste with more seasoning to make the dish spicier.
  • Add a fat such as olive oil or avocado.
  • Try adding tangy yogurt if it’s appropriate for your dish.
  • Add more liquid to dilute it.
  • Avoid adding salt, as it will bring out all flavors, including sweetness.

Too Sour

The best way to counter too much sourness is to add sweet, salty or savory flavors. Think of the way a salt rim balances the sweetness of a margarita, or how adding carrots rounds out the taste of a marinara sauce.

Too Bitter

Leafy greens such as kale, collard, and mustard greens can be overpoweringly bitter. Other ingredients with a bitter edge include coffee, espresso, cocoa and herbs and spices such as parsley, paprika and cayenne (red) pepper.

Bitter is the opposite of acidic or sour so adding vinegar, citrus juice or yogurt can help balance the dish.

  • Squeeze some lemon over sautéed greens.
  • In Mexican cooking, lime helps balance red spices such as chile powder which can taste bitter.
  • Add a dash of grated nutmeg. The nutty taste helps balance other flavors.

HOUSEHOLD HACK: Splinters

 

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Don’t you hate those suckers?! I’ve collected a few tips for your next run-in with old furniture, fences or floorboards. It almost makes me wish I had a splinter so I could try them out. Almost.

  • Baking soda technique
  1. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda or baking powder with a few drops of water until it forms a paste.
  2. Apply the paste to the splinter.
  3. Wait 10-20 minutes until the skin swells a little and the splinter pops out of the skin.
  • Use a piece of duct tape or a drop of Elmer’s Glue to remove the splinter.
  • Soak. Pour some white vinegar into a small bowl. Soak the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes. Once the splinter has risen sufficiently out of the skin’s surface, it should be easy to remove with tweezers.

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FOLLOW-UP: Sicily

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My friend O suggested a post on my Do’s and Don’ts for next time. If you’re planning a trip to Sicily, here are a few post-vacation thoughts.

What I’d do again

  • Reserve Blacklane upon arrival at an unfamiliar destination. It will cost more than a taxi but the price is established and paid by credit card in advance. Benefits: 1) You won’t be driven all over the place to run up the meter. 2) You won’t have to change money at exorbitant airport rates. 3) Drivers are safe and you can request one who speaks your language. 4) The cars are cleaner and nicer than cabs.
  • Rent apartments instead of staying in hotels. Cooking (and grocery shopping) is fun and cheaper than always eating out.
  • If you plan to drive into the country, consider an apartment rental outside of the city so you can easily get in and out of town.
  • Buy tickets online in advance for popular museums and attractions.
  • Bring a good map and pocket Italian language guide.

What I’d do differently

  • Don’t plan on using Taormina as a base from which to travel to other areas unless you book a tour from town. It’s well located but too hard to navigate in and out.
  • One day is sufficient unless you really like to shop.
  • I’d spend more time in Palermo (better shopping, too).
  • I’d rent a place for a week about an hour’s drive from Siracusa and Noto. I’d rent another place for the second week an hour’s drive from Ragusa and the coast.

FOLLOW UP: Biscuits

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I’m still experimenting, but so far Alton Brown’s recipe checks all the boxes.

Curious about the meaning of the word “hack”? Originating as a computer term, it “… refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency….”

The Apocalypse on $10,000 a Day

A couple of nights ago, we watched the 2012 movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The premise: an asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and will wipe out everyone in 3 weeks.

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What would you do? Here’s my exit strategy.

Liquidate savings, leaving just a little in case the forecast is, you know, wrong.

Fly (first class of course) to a remote tropical island with a 5-star resort. Pack tons of books, many bottles of limited edition Islay whiskey, and sunscreen. (My end-of-life scenario doesn’t include suffering from painful sunburn.)

Check into our suite, having reserved all the rooms on the floor so as not to endure  fighting couples or screaming children.

Every day:

  • Walk on the beach. No sense meeting my Maker with flabby thighs.
  • Have a 3-hour massage, with one hour spent on neck and shoulders.
  • Drink steadily but only to maintain pleasant buzz, not hangover.
  • Have dessert at lunch and dinner. Who’s judging?
  • Have sex. OK, maybe not EVERY day.

Binge-watch all 19 seasons of Midsomer Murders. Mysteries are soothing because  bad guys always get caught. Unlike life.

Be friendly but don’t waste a minute with anyone who is boring or mean.

Consume plenty of fresh papaya, mango and strawberries. End-of-days plan should  not include constipation.

See glorious sunsets.

Gorge on cheese and chocolate. Cholesterol be damned.

Snuggle up with my sweetie every night. Drift off remembering every nice thing that’s ever happened to me.

There are worse ways to go.

Photo source: Pixabay