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!

Super Quick Baguette Pizza

It’s been a long day. It’s late, and you’re tired and hungry. What to do? Find the quickest and easiest possible supper, of course, and hope it’s not peanut butter.

This is a lot easier to do in the summer than any other time of year. When you have good fresh tomatoes and some basil, your possibilities really start growing; there are so many delicious ways to eat them! Super Quick Baguette Pizza has got to be one of the easiest.

Any time you can make your own bread, it will make everything more delicious, but you can also pick up pretty good bread from a grocery store’s bakery section. Our local store actually does a good baguette. This works out especially well, because baguettes are one of my favorite types of bread, and are kind of a pain to make.

I start out by slicing a section of baguette in half and drizzling the halves with olive oil, and sticking that in the oven for a few minutes. In the meantime, you can prepare your other ingredients. Just slice some fresh mozzarella, a tomato (I used an Italian variety called Pompeii), a few leaves of basil, and chop some garlic. Take the bread out of the oven, and layer on the mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil and garlic. Add a little sea salt and pepper and put it back in the oven until everything is warm and the cheese melts. That’s all there is to it!

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This is a good way to eat tomatoes for July, because they are just starting to ripen and you may only have a tomato or two ready. The garlic was especially good because it came fresh from the farmers’ market, but any grocery store garlic will do if you don’t have access to fresh.

It sure beats peanut butter!

Quick, Easy, Delicious, Healthy

It’s always a dilemma when you realize it’s gotten pretty late and you haven’t started any supper yet. Do you slave away in the kitchen and not eat until ten o’clock? Or do you break down and order a pizza and tell yourself that it must not be that bad, because cheese has calcium, and tomatoes are good for you, right?!?

Now that struggle is over. I have fallen in love with Ree Drummond’s Chicken Florentine Pasta. The Pioneer Woman really masters quick and easy with this dish, and it just tastes healthy in the best way possible!

ImageEven though the picture is a little blurry (oops!), you can still see the lovely colors- the bright green spinach and bright red tomatoes taste really fresh and remind me of the old rules about eating colorful foods.

I confess that I tweaked the recipe a bit this time by adding a little bit of red pepper flakes. I love spicy food, and that little bit of heat really rounds the dish out for me. If you don’t like hot food, don’t worry, the recipe is delicious as it is! I love that this pasta is so good for tweaking; one time in the past I didn’t have any chicken, so I put in mushrooms instead. It is a nice light meal either way, but especially with the mushrooms substituted. Meatless, it is almost like a hot pasta salad; you could even use it as a side dish!

This pasta is also good left over. There is some in my refrigerator right now – I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!