I know that Cinco de Mayo is one of those consumer filled holidays that Americans don’t even know what they’re celebrating, but the food is so good, especially if you can find an authentic Mexican restaurant (which fortunately, we have.)
These are my three favorite Mexican dishes. I do go back and forth with what favorite places I like, but Mexican holds a special place in my heart. My husband and I went on our first date at a Mexican restaurant, and the service was so slow that we were there for at least two hours. Lots of time to talk. I also think we each thought the other one really liked Mexican food, which it turned out that we did, whether we knew it or not.
Passover, Easter, Spring Break, Prom Season. So much to do, including cooking. Holiday cooking plus the regular everyday cooking that we’re expected to do. These last few weeks had me teaching, my daughter working practically every day after school, my son trying to break the world’s record for most movies seen in a month (kidding), my husband’s job is one person short, and no one wants to cook dinner. They also don’t want to pay for take out or fast food, and frankly, I don’t blame them. I thought I would take this Friday Food to share some shortcuts and new things to try.
Everyone knows about cooking two meals on Sunday and then eating leftovers. I try to make one big meal a week, like a roast beef, a pork loin, or a whole chicken. They make a great meal, and then they make great leftovers. All of them can be eaten as sandwiches later in the week with a side of chips and cole slaw. If the first night is mashed potatoes, the next night can be rice. My daughter likes Minute Rice, but regular rice is very easy to make. I got the recipe from The Kitchen Survival Guide by Lora Brody and while I’ve changed some things, the gist of it is the same.
St. Patrick’s Day has long been one of my favorite holidays. Long before I met and married my husband with Irish roots, and well before I set foot on the Emerald Isle. I have always been fascinated by the Celts, their people, their land, their culture, especially in relation to ancient and medieval culture. I have also been a questioner. Why? Why do we do this? Why don’t we do that? As a young child being told that I couldn’t write during Rosh Hashanah, I was devastated. But writing isn’t work; it’s writing, I whined to no avail. Becoming Catholic has not broken me of that – is it really a – failing.
And so, I question – why?
Why can’t we eat meat on Friday? Is it because Peter was a fisherman? Will there be a dispensation for today? It is a saint’s feast day after all. I waited for Pope Francis, and then was told that it’s up to the local bishops. I still couldn’t find it, so I texted my godmother and she okayed the corned beef which made my husband happy (as if he wasn’t going to indulge on his holiday).
But I still wondered: Why?
In googling and asking my questions of the internet, I discovered the controversy that is North Dakota. Apparently, they have three dioceses, and two have them have allowed meat today, and one has not. The idea that North Dakota has three dioceses makes little sense to me, but I found no less than twenty-five separate links about St. Patrick’s Day in North Dakota. Amazing.
Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia popped up as did Cardinal Dolan in New York City’s Diocese. I didn’t see Boston, but I came to the logical conclusion that there would be dispensation for Boston Catholics. What holy hell would be raised if even one of those cities banned meat on St. Patrick’s Day? I hope we never find out.
During Pope Nicholas I in 866 CE, Friday abstinence became a universal rule. Fasting also on Fridays was common by the twelfth century. It was expected for everyone, including those as young as twelve with very few exceptions.
It also used to be that you couldn’t eat any animal products on Fridays, not just during Lent, but ALL YEAR. I learned that Fat Tuesday began as a way to use up all of the animal products that you couldn’t eat – butter, cheese, eggs, lard, and of course, meat.
Pope Paul VI changed things in 1966 in his Paenitemini. His object wasn’t to end abstinence and fasting but for Catholics to choose to abstain and fast as part of their own penance practices; let their conscience be their guide.
With Sunday being a weekly Easter, shouldn’t every Friday be a Good Friday? This was asked by the US Bishops in 1966 and I tilt my head wondering the same thing.
Lent is an opportunity to lend mutual support on our spiritual and faith journey. We are in it together and have a shared experience through Christ’s death and resurrection.
So why the exception for St. Patrick’s Day?
I mean, look at this filled soda from Northern Ireland! Resistance is futile. This was a breakfast sandwich shared between my husband and myself (and after twenty-three years of marriage he still had to take it under consideration).
I can imagine that they might have thought they’d lose all the Irish American Catholics if they said no corned beef on Friday of St. Pat’s Day, although this quandary occurs once or twice a decade, so it isn’t exactly a pressing issue.
I would also note that the traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebration food in Ireland is different from the traditional food eaten in the US. In Ireland, sausage is usually eaten, and not your teeny-tiny frozen breakfast sausage, but a lovely, large, grilled bit of deliciousness. Bangers and mash. In the US, we serve corned beef and cabbage with mashed potatoes and carrots. Yesterday, I had cabbage with leeks, and it really boosted the flavor.
What are you to do?
It becomes a crisis of conscience.
Well, as I mentioned, dispensations are local, so check with your diocese.
Is it a pass? Not really. You’re expected to abstain from meat on a different day during the week.
Usually, you’re expected to give up meat on a day before the next Friday after St. Patrick’s Day and (or) perform acts of charity and good deeds to atone or call it even with the meat eating.
We’ll be having corned beef, cabbage, mashed potatoes (possibly champ), carrots, and Irish Soda bread with Kerrygold butter.
Where to find Jamie and all her wonderful food expertise and recipes.
I “met” Jamie Schler in the midst of the pandemic and through the former guy’s administration and our mutual resistance. She offered recipes from her home in Chinon, France and brought her followers along as she went (post-pandemic) to a family reunion stateside. I downloaded her free e-book, Isolation Baking, which along with Chef Jose Andres’ #RecipesForThePeople kept us creatively cooking while “trapped” in our own homes and kitchens. She makes an amazing assortment of homemade jams that she offers as part of her bed and breakfast at her Hotel Diderot in the beautiful Loire Valley. I’m looking forward one day to actually make her French Onion Soup, which is one of my favorite things to eat, and whose recipe I share below.
Jamie is generous with her time and love of food on social media and now on her Substack. She shares her techniques for making jam, which she does in abundance as well as recipes and insights. The jam is one of the highlights of the hotel’s breakfast and jam-making has been a hotel tradition since it’s early days of the 1960s. Each new owner has introduced new varieties of the jams, bringing the total to over 50 kinds.
The main building of the hotel dates from the 15th century. I can feel the history through the splendid pictures Jamie posts on her social media.
Food and cooking are universal. We all eat, we all need to get food on the table, and even if it’s not us directly, someone needs to cook. From small galley kitchens in apartments to large farmhouse kitchens looking out over lush, green backyards, whatever kitchens we are destined to be “stuck with” we adapt and we learn how to work with what we have. If we don’t have an ingredient, we try a different one. When my kids were little, in the summer we held taste tests. I would get things they’d never eaten and we’d try them. It was great fun, and the kids had an awesome time choosing what new food, mostly fruit they wanted to try. Some (donut peaches) did better than others (anchovies).
I had the privilege of working one of my first jobs out of college as a civilian for the US Navy’s child development program and through that job met people from all over the country and we shared food and recipes and cultural traditions, and it was wonderful.
One of my mentors, Sylvia was an African-American woman from New Orleans. She had a demeanor of floating on air, gliding through our lives, and expressing and encouraging our wonder in the world and in diversity. I learned so much from her. She was ethereal and offered her words and advice as a sage. From her, I learned to make her sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving.
I followed her recipe exactly for years and my family loved this new item in our Thanksgiving celebration. My mother could not reconcile that sweet potato pie was served cold and as a dessert. She just could not get used to it, and soon it became a side dish in our house. The only difference between Sylvia’s and my version was temperature and time to eat.
After a while, after three kids and depression, and “I don’t have time for this” I converted it to a casserole, but I still miss that original version that Sylvia introduced me to. At the bottom, I’ll share my recipe, which, while excellent is not what you’d find in New Orleans.
Combining Sylvia’s traditions with mine was one way I blended her African American heritage with my Jewish heritage and then further blending Jewish and Christian traditions for holidays, in classrooms as a teacher and in my husband’s Catholic family.
This has been a longwinded introduction to a Twitter friend of mine, someone I met on the social media site in the last few months.
Michael W. Twitty is a proud African-American Jew who expresses himself through cooking and writing about food and culinary history. His Twitter handle is KosherSoul, which exemplifies his focus.
I’m going to quote from his website because this epitomizes how I think of my own cooking: Michael has introduced me to the term, “identity cooking.” “Identity cooking isn’t about fusion; rather its [sic] how we construct complex identities and then express them through how we eat.” This is a truism that if you follow me for any length of time and read my food posts, you’ll see that connecting different foods has always been my cooking style. Bringing together flavors that don’t necessarily go, but manage to surprise. None of us eats in a singular “culinary construct”. We often work with what we have and adapt. My mother-in-law was excellent at pulling things together from her cupboards and turning it into a gourmet meal. She had a rare talent.
As for Twitty, I could easily just copy and paste his website to describe how he blends the two diasporas of African-Americans and the Jewish people and their food, but I’ll let you visit him yourself as he explores their crossroads. He is a two time James Beard award-winning author and his recent book, KOSHERSOUL: The Faith and Food Journey of an African-American Jew was the winner of the 2023 National Jewish Book Council Award for Book of the Year.
Find all his socials below as well as his website and links to purchase his books.
He also offers classes in the DC/Baltimore area. Information here.
As promised, my recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole
To make this as a pie, pour into a graham cracker pie crust, cover with mini marshmallows and bake for about 35 minutes at 350, until marshmallows are golden brown.
Ingredients & Directions:
1 large can of sweet potatoes (cook, drain, mash) 1 stick of butter 1/4 cup of brown sugar (whatever variety you prefer – I use dark, Sylvia used light) I don’t measure the spices, but I add about: 1 TB cinnamon 1/2 tsp nutmeg Incorporate everything together and pour into a small, any shaped casserole dish. Cover the top with mini marshmallows and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.
Scoop and serve. If pie, let cool, slice, and serve.
There is nothing better than sitting quietly with a good journal and fancy pen trying out a new type of tea. This was a tea service that I gave to myself one day, and it was everything. The tea was unique; the food was exquisite, and the journaling was productive.
Have yourself a unique, exquisite, productive day.
Today marks the first day of the Chinese New Year. As you may know, the Asian new year is based on the lunisolar calendar and celebrates the spring season. In reading up on it, it sounds a bit like our American Thanksgiving where you gather with family and friends and reflect with gratitude on our lives. In the Asian countries it marks the end of the winter season. The evening before is commemorated with a Lantern Festival and there are many cultural rituals and customs to be done to bring in a happy and healthy new year. I will suggest that you google some of them. I don’t want to give out the wrong information on a culture that I do not belong to. I can tell you, however how we, as non-Asian Americans celebrate the Chinese New Year in our house.
One fun feature of googling “Chinese New Year” or “Year of the Rabbit” is there is an animated fireworks display across your screen with an accompanying bunny. It is very colorful and fun. Mesmerizing to watch.
I’ve done it three times now.
Typically, the New Year begins between January 21 and February 20 on the new moon. This year it starts today. It was first mentioned during the Han Dynasty which flourished between 202 BCE and 220 CE. It was written that the celebration included worshipping the ancestors and toasting their parents and grandparents.
We don’t go overboard in our house; we’re not of Asian descent, but we love to enjoy multicultural holidays and usually (if not always) celebrate with food. We’ll get take-out from our favorite Chinese restaurant. I think the last time we had take-out was for Christmas Eve which is our yearly tradition. One year, we took the kids to the local Chinese buffet – it was my daughter’s first new year – she had been born that year on the 5th of January, so she was a tiny baby, but cutely dressed in red with a bow on her head. They gave the kids red envelopes for luck and there was a dragon dance through the restaurant around the tables along with a train that traveled just below the ceiling. It really was a special time for the kids. They loved it.
At home recently, we’ve been enjoying barbeque chicken tenders in Hoisin sauce. It’s my version with Chinese spices and sauce. It’s funny because my daughter is quite picky and won’t really eat a lot of sauces or dressings, but she loves the hoisin sauce as well as the sesame chicken she gets from the restaurant. I also do a great fried rice, and now that I’m thinking of it, maybe I’ll whip that up some time this week. I’ll need sesame oil and I already have the eggs; those are probably the biggest expense.
The bunny picture that I’ve shared above is one that we’ve seen in our backyard. I think because we don’t have dogs, the rabbits tend to congregate in our yard. We even had babies in a burrow one spring. This one is probably the biggest rabbit we’ve seen locally.
Two customs that everyone can do is clean your house to sweep out the ill and welcome the good fortune. This is similar to our Jewish custom at Passover of cleaning and getting rid of any bread and crumbs to make ready for the unleavened matzo. Decorations in red are also fun to hang in windows and on doors.
For anyone wondering, my zodiac sign is the Horse.
This advice from VeryBritishProblems may sound a bit peevish at first, but for tea, the microwave is very uneven. You’re likely to find the first sip warm, and then drink it faster only to discover the middle scalding. Best to boil new water and brew another tea bag for evenness. One thing I learned from Douglas Adams’s advice on the perfect cup of tea is to boil the water, fill your mug, and pour it out. Then refill the mug with the boiled water and a tea bag. Let it steep. This will warm the cup and keep your tea warmer longer. I’ve tried this method and it really is perfect.
We also invested in an electric kettle. It is very fast and does a great job, and by invest, we paid about $25, so it easily pays for itself if you start brewing your tea at home.
I finally broke down and created this special area for our breakfast needs. My husband works from home and makes himself coffee every morning. For myself, I drink tea, especially during the cold months, and I wanted a space that spoke to me and that I could find everything I needed for my cup of tea since tea is more than a drink – it is life-giving and life-sustaining. There is so much more to tea than drinking leaves steeped in hot water.
One of my favorite ways to make tea is the way Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy described in 1999. It really works well. It’s the using a hot cup that really does the trick. You can read his brilliant way to brew tea by clicking here.
There is never a wrong day to drink tea. I had two cups of hot tea myself on Sunday and one hot vanilla chai latte yesterday. January is National Tea Month, although I’ve seen several references to hot tea month. I’m not sure which is accurate, so pick your favorites and have a cuppa.
This coming Thursday is National Hot Tea Day, and that is when I will share my favorite missive on the proper brewing of hot tea from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
In the meantime, to whet your appetite for the nectar of the gods, enjoy some of my favorite tea-related photos below: