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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 01/07/12

Saturday, January 7, 2012

THE HISTORY OF NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS!












   The tradition of the New Year's Resolutions goes all the way back to 153 B.C. Janus, a mythical king of early Rome was placed at the head of the calendar.    With two faces, Janus could look back on past events and forward to the future. Janus became the ancient symbol for resolutions and many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies and also exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year.
   The New Year has not always begun on January 1, and it doesn't begin on that date everywhere today. It begins on that date only for cultures that use a 365-day solar calendar. January 1 became the beginning of the New Year in 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar developed a calendar that would more accurately reflect the seasons than previous calendars had.
   The Romans named the first month of the year after Janus, the god of beginnings and the guardian of doors and entrances. He was always depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back. Thus he could look backward and forward at the same time. At midnight on December 31, the Romans imagined Janus looking back at the old year and forward to the new.





   The Romans began a tradition of exchanging gifts on New Year's Eve by giving one another branches from sacred trees for good fortune. Later, nuts or coins imprinted with the god Janus became more common New Year's gifts.
   In the Middle Ages, Christians changed New Year's Day to December 25, the birth of Jesus. Then they changed it to March 25, a holiday called the Annunciation. In the sixteenth century, Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar, and the celebration of the New Year was returned to January 1.
   The Julian and Gregorian calendars are solar calendars. Some cultures have lunar calendars, however. A year in a lunar calendar is less than 365 days because the months are based on the phases of the moon. The Chinese use a lunar calendar. Their new year begins at the time of the first full moon (over the Far East) after the sun enters Aquarius- sometime between January 19 and February 21.
   Although the date for New Year's Day is not the same in every culture, it is always a time for celebration and for customs to ensure good luck in the coming year.





Ancient New Years

   The celebration of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC, Babylonians celebrated the beginning of a new year on what is now March 23, although they themselves had no written calendar.
   Late March actually is a logical choice for the beginning of a new year. It is the time of year that spring begins and new crops are planted. January 1, on the other hand, has no astronomical nor agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary.
   The Babylonian New Year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had its own particular mode of celebration, but it is safe to say that modern New Year's Eve festivities pale in comparison.
The Romans continued to observe the New Year on March 25, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun.
In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 to be the beginning of the New Year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar. It again established January 1 as the New Year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.




Global Good Luck Traditions

   With New Year's upon us, here's a look at some of the good luck rituals from around the world. They are believed to bring good fortune and prosperity in the coming year.

Australia - The suckling pig is the symbol for good luck for the new year. It's served on a table decorated with tiny edible pigs. Dessert often consists of green peppermint ice cream in the shape of a four-leaf clover.

England - The British place their fortunes for the coming year in the hands of their first guest. They believe the first visitor of each year should be male and bearing gifts. Traditional gifts are coal for the fire, a loaf for the table and a drink for the master. For good luck, the guest should enter through the front door and leave through the back. Guests who are empty-handed or unwanted are not allowed to enter first.

Wales - At the first toll of midnight, the back door is opened and then shut to release the old year and lock out all of its bad luck. Then at the twelfth stroke of the clock, the front door is opened and the New Year is welcomed with all of its luck.

Haiti - In Haiti, New Year's Day is a sign of the year to come. Haitians wear new clothing and exchange gifts in the hope that it will bode well for the new year.






Sicily - An old Sicilian tradition says good luck will come to those who eat lasagna on New Year's Day, but woe if you dine on macaroni, for any other noodle will bring bad luck.

Spain - In Spain, when the clock strikes midnight, the Spanish eat 12 grapes, one with every toll, to bring good luck for the 12 months ahead.

Peru - The Peruvian New Year's custom is a spin on the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes at the turn of the year. But in Peru, a 13th grape must be eaten to assure good luck.

Greece - A special New Year's bread is baked with a coin buried in the dough. The first slice is for the Christ child, the second for the father of the household and the third slice is for the house. If the third slice holds the coin, spring will come early that year.

Japan - The Japanese decorate their homes in tribute to lucky gods. One tradition, kadomatsu, consists of a pine branch symbolizing longevity, a bamboo stalk symbolizing prosperity, and a plum blossom showing nobility.

China- For the Chinese New Year, every front door is adorned with a fresh coat of red paint, red being a symbol of good luck and happiness. Although the whole family prepares a feast for the New Year, all knives are put away for 24 hours to keep anyone from cutting themselves, which is thought to cut the family's good luck for the next year.



Pomagranates are good luck in Turkey



United States- The kiss shared at the stroke of midnight in the United States is derived from masked balls that have been common throughout history. As tradition has it, the masks symbolize evil spirits from the old year and the kiss is the purification into the new year.

Norway- Norwegians make rice pudding at New Year's and hide one whole almond within. Guaranteed wealth goes to the person whose serving holds the lucky almond.

Chinese New Year

   Except for a very few number of people who can keep track of when the Chinese New Year should be, the majority of the Chinese today have to rely on a typical Chinese calendar to tell it. Therefore, you cannot talk of the Chinese New Year without mentioning the Chinese calendar at first.
   A Chinese calendar consists of both the Gregorian and lunar-solar systems, with the latter dividing a year into twelve month, each of which is in turn equally divided into thirty- nine and a half days. The well-coordinated dual system calendar reflects the Chinese ingenuity.




   There is also a system that marks the years in a twelve-year cycle, naming each of them after an animal such as Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar. People born in a particular year are believed to share some of the personalities of that particular animal.

BLACKBERRY COBBLER WITH VANILLA BEAN ICE CREAM!







   These recipes come from www.mangiodasola.com .  Two great desserts that go really well together.  And nothing is better than berries and ice cream.  Enjoy!





When strawberry season was well underway, I wanted to go to a berry farm near where I live. I saw a link to all the picking farms in the United States (and many other countries) and found 2 places that sounded promising. Then, after I saw photos of some beautiful, enticing strawberries on Monica's photo site, Natural Lighting, I had to ask where she got the berries (actually, I just found out that strawberries are NOT berries. Read more about it here.). She told me that she got them from Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls, Texas.




Because I don't like to go to public places by myself (yeah, I have issues), I waited for my mom to arrive to go to the farm. Well, rain happened; my mom didn't want to go to the farm at first; and then, finally we went the day before she left....and guesss what?! We came the very day after the strawberries were in season there!! ARGH! I was so disappointed. I had been wanting to go for so long. Next time, I will have to get over my fears and go alone haha.





My mom washing her hands after berry picking. Her box was empty because we were going on our second round to look for any leftover strawberries. We were unsuccessful in our quest. :(


Anyway, even though the strawberries were no longer in season there, the blackberries were coming in with fury. So, my mother and I grabbed a box each and picked a bunch of these dark beauties. I thought I'd add that I picked the most berries*.






*sidenote: Ignore the comment my mom is going to make about her picking the hard-to-get-because-they-were-deep-behind-or-in-the-middle-of-a-bunch-of-thorns blackberries for me. Don't believe her! She was just delirious from the hot sun! LOL!





So, what did I do with these luscious berries?! I made the only type of fruit cobbler I like - the one with a pie-pastry-like topping as opposed to cobblers with biscuits on top of the fruit.





I searched everywhere for the right recipe for a pastry-topping cobbler. I remember finding the perfect one over a year ago that I had made with peaches two or three times. Since I have a new laptop (I'M STILL A PC AND AM DARN PROUD OF IT! WOOHOO!), I no longer had that website bookmarked. Fortunately, I found the site again because the recipe is popular even though it was posted in 2006. In addition to his recipe, I picked and chose other ingredients and methods from three other recipes to end up with the one that is warm and settled in my tummy right now as I type. YUM!





This cobbler was amazing. My only mistake was not mushing up the berries. I think it is definitely a personal preference, but I didn't like tasting the less-hot interior of the berries after the first two bites. I think it would have been a better balance of crunchy, butter pastry taste and sweet, sour, berry taste if I had mushed them a bit. Nevertheless, it was still amazing.





I had run out of butter *GASP THE HORROR!* due to a 3-STICK ERROR (it still makes me sad to know I wasted that much butter) in a chocolate frosting I made, so I had to use butter-flavored shortening in the crust. I think the shortening caused the crust to be harder to handle. It still worked out in the end.
   If you would like to use another pie pastry recipe, feel free to do so. I doubled the pastry recipe and used 2 extra cups of fruit because of the size of my dish (I will be blogging about this dish very soon). I like the double layer of pastry because you get a good amount of contrasting, yet complementary flavors.


Don't forget to make some vanilla bean ice cream to go with it!




Blackberry Cobbler - The Pie Pastry Variationadapted from Stephen Cooks and other sites
Yield: 6 - 8 modest servings
Pastry (I doubled this for an 11" oval dish):

1-1/2 C flour
6 T butter
3 T shortening
1/2 tsp salt
3 T ice water
1/4 C sugar

Fruit Filling:
6 C blackberries
3/4-1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup AP flour
2 T cornstarch
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 T melted butter

To make the pastry, place the flour, butter, shortening, salt and sugar in the processor bowl with the steel blade. Pulse a few times until the mixture is like cornmeal. Add the ice water and pulse a few times, just enough to mix the water into the other ingredients. Turn the mixture out into a plastic food storage bag (it will be crumbly, not yet like dough) and quickly knead it through the bag a few strokes, till it just starts to hold together. Refrigerate for an hour or more.



Meanwhile, preheat oven to 475º. Combine the blackberries, sugar, flour, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir mixture until you see mostly the color of the berries.Taste and correct seasoning and sugar content. Stir in the melted butter (I didn't have butter, so I added the 1/2 Tbsp left of COLD butter to the top of the filling right before baking. See photo below).
   Reserve and keep cold 1/3 of the dough. Roll out the rest to the approximate shape of your dish. (I used an 11" oval baking dish with double the pastry, but with the recipe as is, you can use a 5" x 9" oval baking dish about an inch and a half deep or a 6" square dish or 7" round dish). Butter the baking dish and spoon in half of the fruit mixture. Lay the pastry sheet over the fruit.
Bake about 12 minutes in a preheated 475º oven, until the pastry is just starting to brown. Spoon in the rest of the fruit mixture.


Ooops! I messed up on the collage of process photos. Just ignore the first and last photos.

Roll out the reserved dough, cut in strips and lay in a lattice pattern over the fruit.



Sprinkle with sugar and bake about 15 minutes more, until the fruit is bubbling and the lattice is browned.



Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream.