Midsummer’s Eve Skies

Midsummer is one of those words that I always heard, but for a long time I didn’t actually know what it meant. I just assumed that it was another way of saying “the middle of the summer” and didn’t mean anything specific. I later learned that Midsummer actually is a specific day; it coincides with the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and the official first day of summer.

So why is the first day of summer also called Midsummer? As it turns out, the traditional first day of summer used to be on May Day, or May 1. This makes sense, when you think about it. At least here in Tennessee the weather is usually pretty summery by the beginning of May, and the longest day of the year certainly seems like a fitting midpoint to the sunny summer season.

Midsummer has a bit of a magical reputation and a traditional connection with the fairy realms (for example, it’s when the events of A Midsummer Night’s Dream take place) so I thought it merited a bit of a twilight frolic in the out-of-doors. I wasn’t disappointed; the sunset-filled sky was a wonder to behold.

Last night may have been Midsummer’s Eve, but today is Midsummer proper. If you’re feeling a little down or stagnant, today is the perfect day to get outside and soak up some rays (with the proper sun protection, of course!) and fresh air. You will feel refreshed and restored!

Advertisements

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!

A Lucky Find

img_7340

I love farmers’ markets. There’s just something about heading out early on a Saturday (ok, midmorning on a Saturday) to walk around and look at all of the produce and products available in the different stalls. I think the trip is really half the fun!

There are many reasons to support your local farmers’ market. For one thing, just think of the convenience – it’s nearby, and you have experts on hand to help you with any questions you might have. After all, who could possibly tell you more about available produce than the very people who grow it? The stalls are run by individual farmers or farming families, and they are all happy to help you select items, tell you how to prepare fruits and veggies that you may be unfamiliar with, or suggest food pairings.

Take this rope of hot peppers, for instance. It caught my eye at the farmers market with the gorgeous red color and shiny skins of the dried peppers. Just looking at it lying on a table, I didn’t really know what to do with it, but fortunately there was a farmer on hand to help me out! She showed me that there is loop at one end so that you can hang the peppers up in your kitchen, then you just pull the peppers off from the bottom as you need them. Not only do the peppers look beautiful hanging in a garland in your kitchen, but she said they also bring good luck to the kitchen where they hang.

So far, these peppers have been great in tomato sauce for pasta and pizza and for flavoring beans. I can’t wait to see what other uses I can come up with for them!

Pretty, delicious, and lucky? This peppers were a deal that I couldn’t refuse!

Soup Art

Coffee art has become ubiquitous in the foamy tops of cappuccinos, lattes, and other milky coffee treats in cafes everywhere, but did you know soup art was a thing, too? With efforts to plate food that is a treat for the eyes as well as the palate, it’s not exactly a shocker, but it is still a pleasant surprise when you get some food that is beautiful to look at as well as tasty to eat.

I was at Terranova’s in Huntsville, Alabama recently, when I came across some pretty soup of this kind. Now, usually I don’t bother with any sort of appetizer, soup, or salad at Terranova’s, considering their pasta bowls are big enough to take a bath in and filled to the top (a good place to get two meals out of one, for those ladies and gents who are like me and always looking for an opportunity for leftovers). However, sometimes there are specials that are just too scrummy to pass up, one of which is their seasonal butternut squash soup. Obviously, when I saw it posted on the special board walking in, I had to indulge.

Now, I make my own butternut squash soup at home, and I have to say that it is pretty delicious. I also must admit that about as far as I get with a garnish for it is a little pile of grated parmesan in the middle of the bowl. The saltiness of the cheese is a good contrast with the rich sweetness of the soup, and I most always find good quality cheese appetizing.

Terranova topped their soup with a balsamic glaze, however, which complements the rich, sweet taste of the soup, and the dark color looks gorgeous against the buttery yellow of the squash soup. A glaze like this is simple to make: just reduce some balsamic vinegar on the stove until it thickens; this will also intensify the flavor of the vinegar. Less known fact? It is also good for drawing patterns in the hands of a cook with some artistic talent – it looks like I have a new skill to start practicing!

What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

img_7391

It may seem strange to think about flowers blooming in October, but morning glories bloom until they’re killed off by frost. Since we are having the hottest fall on record, they are still going strong! (There has to be at least some sort of silver lining to all this hot weather, right?)

img_7393

Morning glories bloom in the early morning, so you have to get out before the blooms are spent in too much sun if you want to see them. (Note: Morning glories do need a lot of sun to grow well, so trying to extend the blooming time with a shady area probably won’t work.) These were already starting to wilt by the time I got to them.

img_7394

As you can probably tell from the tall grass, weeds, and overgrown lettuce, these morning glories are wildflowers growing over a spent section of the garden. No one planted them; they showed up all on their own. A lot of people might say that this looks like a mess, but I’d say it’s a good argument for not over landscaping; if you leave a few wild areas, you’re sure to get some interesting wildlife that you might miss out on otherwise.

img_7395

Want to know more about morning glories? The Old Farmer’s Almanac has an information page about them, and Southern Living’s The Grumpy Gardner has tips for growing these easy care flowers on The Daily South.

Busy Little… Spider?

This is Charlotte. Charlotte is a garden spider (Argiope aurantia) who annually makes our home her home. Though of course it isn’t the same spider year to year, we always call her Charlotte. She used to always make her web on or beside the back porch, but she has moved to a sunny spot in a corner over the past couple of years.

img_7173

Each year, female garden spiders lay eggs, which they enclose in durable webbing sacs to protect them through the winter. Then, in the spring, these eggs hatch, and tiny spider hatchlings come out to make their own webs or fly away on bits of thread to find new homes – just like at the end of Charlotte’s Web.

Normally, you see one big brown egg sac on Charlotte’s web every fall. This year she’s been especially busy, however. Not one, not two, but three egg sacs adorn Charlotte’s web. We may have a whole family of Charlottes next spring!

img_7172

Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun

The light is getting that mellow, golden quality, the smell of dry leaves fills the air, the weather gets cooler (some days)… And the dogs want to go outside and gallop around playing. Of course Jake couldn’t resist joining in. Florence is even getting into the fall spirit with a festive bandana!

img_7180img_7181img_7183img_7185img_7191