For St. Patrick’s Day: The Book of Kells

A day to celebrate Ireland is a good time to take a closer look at one of Ireland’s treasures, the Book of Kells. This richly decorated and illuminated medieval manuscript contains the four gospels in Latin using Celtic script. It is believed to have been the work of monks from Iona, who fled to Kells in AD 806 following a raid by Vikings. (The monastery at Kells in County Meath, Ireland, was set up by St. Columba in the 6th Century.) The book was moved to Trinity College in Dublin in the 17th Century, where it is on permanent display at Trinity College Library. It is considered to be a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of “Insular illumination”. [The term derives from insula, the Latin term for “island”; insular art was that produced in this period in Great Britain and Ireland rather than in the rest of Europe. Most Insular art originates from the Irish monasticism of Celtic Christianity.]

Christ Enthroned

Christ Enthroned

The most famous page of the book (since 1953, bound in four volumes) is the Chi-Rho Monogram Page, shown below, which contains the first three words of Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 18:1). (This first word, “XRI” is an abbreviation of “Christi.”)

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You don’t even have to travel to Ireland anymore to see the book (although that would, of course, be optimal). Trinity College Library Dublin has put the entire Book of Kells online, free, in a digitized version using state of the art imaging technology. You can see it here. The Library also has a wonderful website, with news alerts about interesting scholarly books.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

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Once in A Lifetime Pi Day in 2015!

This year, Pi Day will have special significance because at 9:26:53 a.m. and p.m., the date and time will represent THE FIRST TEN DIGITS of π (the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter), that is, 3.141592653 coincides with the numerical representation of March 14, 2015, at 9 hours, 26 minutes and 53 seconds. (Take anything round and divide the length around by the length across, and you will always get the number PI. The numbers of the decimal go on and on without repetition; it has been calculated to more than 1 trillion digits.)

Piday

To celebrate, I have asked one of my favorite pie bakers to share a recipe.

This is by the best pie baker I know, Rita of the blog Old But Not Dead Yet Librarian. As an example, this is one of the several pies she made for me:

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She offers the recipe below for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. [While it just looks like a normal recipe, Rita does something secret to make her pies superb. All sorts of people (like me) pretend to be her friend just to get those pies!]:

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Crust
1 ¾ cups flour
1 tsp salt
½ cup canola oil
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

Measure flour and salt into bowl. Add oil and mix until size of peas. Sprinkle in water, one tablespoon at a time, until flour is moistened and the dough almost cleans the side of the bowl. Gather dough into a ball and press firmly. (I usually put the dough into the fridge while I do the filling).

Roll the dough out between sheets of waxed paper. Peel off top sheet and place in pan, paper side up. Then peel off paper.

Trim as needed. (This will make 2 thin pie crusts for 9 inch pie – divide dough in half before rolling).

Filling
Place in bottom of unbaked pie crust in pan
3 ½ cups rhubarb, cut up
2 ½ cups sliced strawberries

Combine the following in bowl and add to fruit.
1 ½ cups sugar
3 T. quick-cooking tapioca
¼ t. salt
¼ t. nutmeg

Dot the pie 3-5 times with butter. Put on top crust and flute edges. Sprinkle a little sugar on the pie. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes.

Remove pie and set aside for a few hours and serve.

Rita's finished pie

Rita’s finished pie

You can also stop over at Care’s blog to check out her links for Pi Day. Care not only is always baking pies, but she even rates her books by “slices of pie” instead of stars.

In any event, you might want to accompany your baking or pie eating to music. To that end, there are a number of videos on YouTube that set music to PI, or that refashion old songs to explain PI, such as the one below to the tune of “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie”. The singing isn’t so good, but it’s cute, and will remind you of the good old days associated with that other version of the song….


Happy 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939… Day!

wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

New Year’s Eve: Let It Drop!

Many of us wait up until midnight to watch the ball drop from Time’s Square in New York City. But a lot of other cities participate in New Year’s Eve celebrations, and some of them drop some very strange things, such as in that “other” Manhattan (“The Little Apple” as opposed to “The Big Apple”), in Kansas, where a red delicious apple is dropped at midnight from a building at the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Broadway.

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Other cities drop other oversized items: Atlanta, Georgia drops an 800-pound peach; Gainesville Georgia (“the poultry capital of the world”) drops a chicken; Plymouth, Wisconsin drops a big block of cheese at midnight. Prescott, Arizona drops a cowboy boot and Show Low, Arizona drops a two of clubs. Pennsylvania probably has the biggest number of unusual drops, including a giant wooden sled (Duncannon, Pennsylvania), a giant marshmallow Peep (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania), a 700-pound stainless steel mushroom (outside of Philadelphia), a 16-foot Lebanon Bologna in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, a giant strawberry in Harrisburg, and a giant crayon in Easton, inter alia.

Boot drop in Prescott, Arizona

Boot drop in Prescott, Arizona

A relatively new popular event takes place in Mobile, Alabama. Ever since New Year’s Eve in 2008, a twelve-foot tall electronic MoonPie is dropped from a 34-story building. The event is known as “MoonPie Over Mobile.” (A traditional MoonPie consists of two round graham cracker cookies with marshmallow filling in the center, dipped in chocolate.)

MoonPie Over Mobile

MoonPie Over Mobile

Chattanooga Bakery started making MoonPies in 1917, in response to a request from local coal miners who wanted something they could eat without stopping for an actual break which they couldn’t take. When the bakery salesman asked how big this treat should be, a miner held out his hands, framed the moon, and said, “About that big!”

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You may ask, isn’t Chattanooga in Tennessee? Why does a MoonPie drop in Mobile? The answer is related to Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebration. Mardi Gras in Mobile is the oldest annual Carnival celebration in the United States, having started in 1703. This was fifteen years before New Orleans was founded, although today the celebrations in New Orleans are more widely known. (Mobile, it should be noted, was the first capital of French Louisiana, which is not the same thing as The Louisiana Territory. A map of French Louisiana is shown below).

French Louisiana was the name of French-controlled land in North America; this map shows territorial holdings in around 1750.

French Louisiana was the name of French-controlled land in North America; this map shows territorial holdings in around 1750.

In Mobile, some 33 different groups stage the major parades each year for Mardi Gras over a three-week periods.

Cache of Mobile Mardi Gras throws

Cache of Mobile Mardi Gras throws

During the parades, members of societies (“krewes”) on floats toss gifts known as throws to the public, that might include plastic beads, doubloon coins, decorated plastic cups, candy, wrapped cakes/snacks, stuffed animals, and small toys, footballs, frisbees, or whistles. It used to be that Cracker Jacks were thrown, but their rectangular boxes could injure people, and they were banned in the early Seventies. MoonPies had been used by some as throws since the 1950‘s, but after the Cracker Jack ban, the soft wrapped treat took over as the signature throw. In 2012, more than 3 million Moon Pies were tossed from floats. With the MoonPie now being an unofficial emblem of Mobile, and Mardi Gras being very big business in Mobile, the MoonPie was first used for the New Year’s Eve drop in 2008. In addition, the Chattanooga Bakery creates a giant edible MoonPie to carve up for partiers.

50-pound MoonPie served to revelers on Dec. 30, 2008, in downtown Mobile

50-pound MoonPie served to revelers on Dec. 30, 2008, in downtown Mobile

Happy New Year!!!

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth!

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Merry Christmas!!

November 27, 2014 – Happy Thanksgiving (Wait: Is That THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVING?)

You may be wondering what Jim and I argue about besides issues like the efficacy of torture or the relevance of cost-benefit analysis for economic behavior. The answer is: whose regional pronunciation is superior? When someone dies do you “bury” them or “berry” them? Is it “sawsage” or “sahhsage” on the pizza? Is it CORNED beef or corned BEEF, BREAD pudding or bread PUDDING?

Joshua Katz, a doctoral student studying statistics at NC State University, recently created interactive dialect maps using data from Bert Vaux at the University of Cambridge. How you pronounce “Thanksgiving” also depends on where you live… (Click here and select question 47 for a larger view.)

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Happy ThanksGIVING!!

October is National Pizza Month (Or Not)

If you google “National Pizza Month” you will find a gazillion hits alleging that Congress designated this holiday in 1987. However, if you check through the bills passed by Congress that year, you will not find such a declaration. [You will, however, find all kinds of other designations, such as for a National Dairy Goat Awareness Week and a National Tap Dance Day and even a National Day of Excellence (wait: just one DAY?)].

But no matter: Congress should have done it, so we’ll celebrate anyway! Because approximately three BILLION pizzas are sold in the U.S. every year, two billion of them going to MY house.

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On average, every person in the U.S. consumes around 23 pounds of pizza each year. (Again, that average is skewed by the number of pounds eaten by my husband and me, and for that matter, by the number of pounds acquired by my husband and me after consuming all that pizza.)

The top 5 pizza sales days are Super Bowl Sunday, New Year’s Eve, Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving, & New Year’s Day. In our house, the top pizza consumption days are Saturday and Sunday (“treat days”) and then other days for leftovers.

In spite of the fact that this pizza consumption kills off some 252 million pounds of pepperonis a year, we don’t do pepperoni. Neither do we go for the pizza toppings popular in Japan, which include squid and Mayo Jaga (mayonaise, potato and bacon).

According to the Guinness World Records site, the most expensive pizza commercially available is a thin-crust, wood fire-baked pizza topped with onion puree, white truffle paste, fontina cheese, baby mozzarella, pancetta, cep mushrooms, freshly picked wild mizuna lettuce and garnished with fresh shavings of a rare Italian white truffle. Depending upon the amount of truffles available each season, the pizza is regularly sold at £100 each to customers of Gordon Ramsey’s Maze restaurant, London, UK.

We don’t do that kind of pizza either. We like lots of cheese. I like mushrooms and onions. Jim occasionally insists on an add-on of sausage because he, after all, was born in Chicago. But I insist on strict lines of demarcation between his half and mine. Here is a recipe I have used for a wonderful pizza. It is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks: The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two by Anna Thomas:

Basic Short-Crust Pastry

1 ½ cups flour
½ to ¾ tsp. salt
½ cup butter, well chilled
scant 1/3 cup ice water

Sift together the flour and the salt. Slice the cold butter rapidly and drop the slices into the flour. With a pastry cutter or two sharp knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal.

Sprinkle the ice water over the flour-butter mixture and stir it in very quickly with a fork, until the dough gathers together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in wax paper or foil, and chill it for about 2 hours.

Makes enough dough for 1 large (11 or 12 inch) quiche shell.

Preparing the shell

On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out in a circle about 2 ½ inches larer than your quiche pan. Roll the circle of dough loosely around your rolling in and unroll it over the quiche pan, centering it as well as possible. Press the sides in against the rim of the pan, pushing the extra dough down a bit to make an edge that is slightly thicker than the bottom. Trim the dough off with a sharp knife, about ¼ inch above the rim of the pan.

Crimp the ridge of dough neatly just about the rim of the pan. Prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork, and chill the shell for ½ hr.

Prebake the shell in a preheated 450 oven for about 8 minutes, prick again with a fork, and return to the hot oven for another 4-5 minutes, or until the bottom of the shell begins to color. Allow the shell to cool slightly on a rack, then fill and finish baking according to recipe.

Cheese and Tomato Deep Dish Pizza

1 recipe Basic Short-Crust Pastry (or what the heck, buy it pre-made)
3 lbs. ripe tomatoes
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried basil, crushed
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
1 lbs. yellow onions
2 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ lb. mozzarella cheese

Prepare the short crust, line an 11-inch quiche pan with it, and prebake according to instructions above.

Chop the tomatoes coarsely, reserving their juice. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the garlic in it for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, ½ tsp of the salt, the basil, and a little fresh-ground black pepper. Simmer this sauce, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced by about half. It should be quite thick.

Peel, halve, and thickly slice the onions. Saute them in the butter until they are golden and sprinkle them with the ¼ tsp salt.

Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the bottom of the quiche shell. Arrange the sautéed onion slices over it in an even layer. Cover the onions with the tomato sauce.

Cut the mozzarella in thin strips and arrange them evenly on top of the tomato sauce. Slice the olives off their pits and sprinkle the olive bits over the mozzarella cheese.

Bake the pie for 35 minutes in a preheated oven at 375 and serve hot.

Serves 6 to 8.

Pizzeria_Uno_Chicago-style_deep-dish_pizza

Happy Quasi-Legal Pizza Month!!

***

wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

August 22 – National Eat A Peach Day

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Today is a day to celebrate peaches.

The peach is actually a member of the rose family and originated in China, as ascertained by genetic studies. There are two main varieties of peaches and one hybrid form: clingstone (the flesh sticks to the stone), freestone (the stone is easily separated from the flesh), and semi-free.

Peach flower, fruit, seed and leaves as illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885)

Peach flower, fruit, seed and leaves as illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885)

Could you really imagine celebrating Eat a Peach Day without considering making a cobbler? No, unthinkable. And since there are so many blueberries around too, I think it would only be appropriate to combine them.

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There are some great looking recipes all over the Web and Pinterest. Two that look especially good to me are at Picky Palate and Homestyle Report.

The picture shown below comes from another good recipe at The Browneyed Baker, a cook who always knows the importance of adding a dollop of ice cream to the top of whatever you’re serving!

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As you may know if you follow this blog, my favorite poem is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, which includes the famous stanzas:

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?”

On this day, I think the answer is decidedly YES.

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wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

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