Candlemas

Candlemas falls in that cluster of holidays at the beginning of February, considered archaic by some but delightful by others. The most famous one of these in the US is, of course, Groundhog Day, when we look to cute, chubby, prophetic rodents to find out how much longer our winter will last. Groundhog Day originates from a similar German holiday, when badgers were consulted about this issue. When German immigrants came to the United States, badgers were scarce, but the native groundhog, it was discovered, was equally capable. This tradition coincided with  the British holiday of Candlemas, which also had weather prognostication associated with it. An old rhyme reads:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

Candlemas comines elements of the Roman and Celtic festivals of Lupercalia and Imbolc, which celebrate the winter’s turn toward spring and the coming fertility of the earth, with the Christian festivals of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the Purification of the Virgin. There are elements of purification involved in all of these festivals, which is symbolized by fire, be it in the form of bonfires, torches, or, of course, candles.

I love traditional old celebrations like Candlemas, and I see no reason not to celebrate them! Just because you don’t have an elaborate gathering planned with a long guest list and a carefully constructed menu doesn’t mean it’s not worth making your own party, even if you are all by yourself, or just have a couple of other people present.

The obvious necessity for Candlemas is candles. I think you should always have some candles around, because they make any occasion more festive. You can always keep them in a drawer when you’re not using them if you want to keep them out of the way. Antique stores are a great place to find candleholders. You can usually find some nice, inexpensive options in brass, silver, or silver plate. If you’re into collecting you can learn how to tell silver from silver plate or about different styles and design periods, or if you’re approaching it more casually, just pick some that you find beautiful. I like getting pairs for balance, but if you find single candlesticks that you love, don’t worry about it; you can always group them in clusters instead. Think about getting varying heights to add some depth to the arrangement. They don’t have to match!

I didn’t stress myself out over the food, either. I cooked some pre-made spinach and ricotta ravioli from Earth Fare and heated up some tomato sauce (you can make your own and store it in jars in the refrigerator, or buy it) and poured over it, then topped it with a little freshly grated parmesan. It was delicious, and took very little effort!

There you have it: an instant celebration, that involved little more than cooking some pasta and pulling some candles out of the drawer. Even with the minimal effort, I think the effect was marvelous. This serves as a reminder to me, and hopefully to you as well, that we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of life’s little pleasures just because we don’t have time to make them into something grand.

Happy Candlemas, and may the coming spring bring many wonderful things your way!

Summer Harvest & Preservation Chronicles: Tomatoes

Remember those tasty Pompeii tomatoes that I’ve featured in a couple of recipes? Well, now they are starting to ripen in bulk, so instead of just a pizza to use a tomato or two, it is time to start stocking up for the winter! Here are some of these nice sauce tomatoes, just picked from the garden:

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Not only do they look great, but they also smell delicious already!

These tomatoes are going to be used to make some sauce that will be frozen in small containers. It’s great on its own for pasta or in dishes like chicken parmesan. It speeds up recipes a lot, like canned sauce from the grocery store would, but it’s really a big step up!

First you need to prepare the tomatoes for cooking. Start out by peeling them; you have several options for this. If you have lots of tomatoes, you might want to use hot+cold water to loosen the skins (more on that in a later post). There weren’t a whole lot of tomatoes this time, so the tomato peeler came in handy. What a useful tool! You can also use a knife, which you will need to cut the tomatoes up. Cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and then cut them up into smaller pieces that are roughly the same size. Then just throw them in a pan with a little butter, a beef bouillon cube and basil, rosemary, and sage. If you have fresh herbs, definitely use them!

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Now just leave them to cook, stirring occasionally. It’s pretty hard to mess this part up. A lot of juice will cook out of the tomatoes, so that you will have the pieces in a very thin sauce, then it will cook down further, so that the sauce is thicker and the tomato pieces are very soft and starting to break down.

To make the sauce extra healthy, add some heavy cream. You can add as much or as little as you want. It will end up being a creamy pink color, like this (unless you don’t want as much cream, but why wouldn’t you?).

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This sauce is a staple of my diet. It’s quick and easy when the garden is producing, and easy to freeze to heat up later or make from canned tomatoes. It’s good on its own over pasta or used in recipes that call for tomato sauce. I even dipped some out of the pan to eat as tomato soup with a pimento cheese sandwich!

Go get some tomatoes and try it out. With a sauce that’s this fast, easy, and delicious, you may never buy another can again!