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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 04/26/14

Saturday, April 26, 2014

THE BANSHEES OF IRISH FOLKLORE!



    In Irish folklore, the Banshees are known as the ancestral spirits of the Fairy world. Their history extends way back into the dim and mysterious past.
    Banshees are among the oldest Fairy folk of Ireland, associated as strongly as shamrocks and potatoes. Banshees, also known as Bean-Sidhe, were appointed to forewarn members of Irish families of impending death. Her prescence alone brings no harm or evil, but to hear a Banshee in the act of keening is to have witnessed the announcement of the death of a loved one. The Banshee's wail pierces the night and its notes rise and fall like waves over the countryside.
    It is said that Banshees never appear to the one who is to die but to their loved ones. In times gone by she was seen washing human heads, limbs or bloody clothing until the water was dyed with blood. Over the centuries this image changed. The Banshee now paces the land, wringing her hands and crying. Sometimes she is known as the Lady of Death or the Woman of Peace, for despite her wails she is graced with serenity.
    A Banshee won't cry from just anyone. According to legend, each Banshee mourns for members of one family. Some say only the five oldest Irish families have their own Banshees: the O'Neills, O'Briens, O'Gradys, O'Connors and Kavanaghs.
The Banshee is a solitary Fairy creature who loves the mortal family she is connected to with a fierce, unearthly care and will pace the hills in sorrow when she knows a death is looming.
    She will follow her family's members right across the world-her keening can be heard wherever true Irish are settled, because just like them she never forgets her blood ties. Unseen, she will attend their funerals and her wails mingle with those of the mourners.
Famous tailes of Banshee sightlings are plentiful. One dating back to 114 AD tells of a Banshee attached to the kingly house of O'Brien who haunted the rock of Craglea above Killaloe. Legend has it that Aibhill the Banshee appeared to the aged King Brian Boru before the Battle of Clontard, Which was fought in the same year.
    A recounting from the 18th century concerns a group of children who on an evening walk saw a little old woman sit on a rock beside the road. She began to wail and clap her hands and the children ran away in fear, only to later discover that the old man who lived in the house behind the rock died at that very moment.
    A little girl in the mid-19th century, standing at the window in her house in Cork, saw a figure o the bridge ahead. She heard the Banshee's wails and the figure disappeared but the next morning her grandfather fell as he was walking and hit his head, never to wake up. The same little girl was an old lady by 1900 and one day when she was very ill her daughter heard wailing round and under her bed. The mother didn't see to hear, but sure enough it protended her death.
    A party on a yacht on a Italian lake told its owner they witness a woman with a shock or red hair and a hellish look in her eyes. The owner, Count Nelsini, formally known a O'Neill, became anxious that the Banshee was announcing the death of his wife or daughter, but within two hours he was seized with an angina attack and died.
Descriptions of the Banshee vary but she appears in one of three guises; young woman, stately matron or raddled old hag.
  • A Banshee as a beautiful young girl appears with red-gold hair and a green kirtle and scarlet mantle, traditional dress of Ireland.
  • As matron she is said to be tall and striking, contrasting sharply with the dark of night. She is pale and thin, her eyes red from centuries of crying, her silver-grey hair streaming all the way to the ground as her cobweb-like grey-white cloak clings to her body.
  • In the hag guise she usually wears grey, hooded cloaks or the grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may appear as a washer-woman or be shrouded in a dark, mist-like cloak.
  • The Banshee can also appear in other forms, such as a stoat, crow or weasel-animals associated in Ireland with witchcraft.
    One of the most notorious tales of a Banshee comes from the memoirs of Lady Fanshaw. Along with her husband, in 1642 she visited a friend in an ancient baronial castle surrounded by a moat. At midnight she was woken suddenly by a ghastly, supernatural scream. Leaping upright in bed, there was a young, handsome woman hovering outside the window in the moonlight. The woman was pale with dishevelled, loose red hair and wearing a dress in the style of the ancient Irish. The apparition stayed for some time and then disappeared with two loud shrieks.
    When morning came, Lady Fanshaw, not without some trepidation, told her host what she had seen. Her friend looked at her gravely and explained that she had seen the family Banshee, the ghost of a woman of inferior rank who married one of his ancestors, but he drowned her in the moat to atone for the shame he had brought on his family. She had come that night, as she always did, to announce a death in the family-one of his relations passed away in her sleep.
    Always appearing as a woman, there is no shortage of legends of Banshee sightings. Stretching back for more than a millennium, the Banshee, continues ringing a death knell for the witness's loved ones.

MOLTEN CHOCOLATE BANANA BREAD!!

   I know I know, bananas and chocolate… pfff… hardly any ground-shattering pairings there, I mean they’ve already had so much unlawful sex together it’s scandalous.  But I don’t want just chopped chocolates in my banana bread.  I want… a banana bread that comes with its own chocolate sauce!  Sauce, sauce… the world molten came to mind.  And really though, why not?  They need to spice things up a bit.  They need to make illegitimate royal babies!  And… violà.
   There’s a river… running through my banana bread, a choco river… wider than a mile.  I knew I’d cross you in style someday…  Listen, there’s a ridiculous amount, almost too much molten chocolate-lava moving slowly inside this supposedly rustic cake, only, if only, there’s such a thing as “too much chocolate” in your world or HA! I’m just talking crazy.  And even though it’s absolutely unnatural not toeat this cake warm out of the oven, the chocolate-lava never really solidifies even when it’s cooled, making it kind of a thick/super rich chocolate ganache-filling right in the center of this unseemly banana bread.  Is that offending anybody here?
   Well then you’re not getting a slice.


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   The amount of molten chocolate in this recipe was quite… ferocious.  I would dial it back to about 2/3of the amount in this recipe.  But then again, I’m not that big of a chocolate person so you be the judge.  And also, the molten chocolate recipe was adapted in a way that it’s thicker than a typical molten chocolate cake (think thick fudge).  Because this is a “rustic loaf cake” after all and I wouldn’t want half of the cake “running away” at the first slice.
   I used a combination of wholewheat flour and cake flour because I ran out of all-purpose, a littleaccidental conscience…  But you may use other whole-grain combination that you prefer.  And also I prefer a combination of unsalted butter and vegetable oil to reach a balance of flavour and moisture.  But if you want to use all butter, not gonna hurt my feelings…
   I suspect that these would be fabulous in individual muffin-size as well if you don’t mind the dividing.  The baking-temperature should probably be increased to 375ºF/190ºC, and the baking-time shortened down to 25~30 min.  Just a thought.
Ingredients:

  • Molten chocolate center:  

    • 5.3 oz (150 grams) of dark chocolate, chopped
    • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 grams) of unsalted butter
    • 3 tbsp (24 grams) of all-purpose flour
    • 1 large egg
    • 1/3 cup (47 grams) of powdered sugar

  • Banana bread:  
    • 5 tbsp (73 grams) of unsalted butter
    • 3 tbsp (40 grams) of vegetable oil
    • 3 large, super ripen bananas
    • 1 large egg
    • 1/2 cup (100 grams) of light brown sugar
    • 1 tbsp (21 grams) of molasses
    • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
    • 1 cup (120 grams) of wholewheat flour
    • 1/2 cup (62 grams) of cake flour, or all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp of baking soda
    • 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 tsp of grated nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp of salt





To make the molten chocolate center:  
   Add the chopped bittersweet chocolate and unsalted butter into a microwave-proof bowl.  Microwave on high on a 30 seconds-interval and stir in between, about 1 min in total, until the chocolate has just melted but not scolded, then whisk in the flour until very smooth.  In another bowl, whisk the large egg and powdered sugar until foamy, then add to the chocolate mixture and fold it in until evenly incorporated.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 min (easier to work with when firmed up) while preparing the banana bread.
To make the banana bread
 Preheat the oven on 350ºF/175ºC.
   Add the unsalted butter and vegetable in a large microwave-proof bowl.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds and whisk the warmed up mixture until the butter has completely melted (if the butter is still too cold to melt, microwave for another 10 seconds).  Break the bananas in pieces and mash them into the melted butter with the tip of the whisk until very little lumps are left.  Whisk in the large egg, light brown sugar, molasses and vanilla extract until smooth and thick.  (To spare using an extra bowl) Whisk wholewheat flour, cake flour (or all-purpose), baking soda, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg and salt inside the loaf-pan that you’re baking with.  Then add the dry ingredients into the banana/butter mixture, and slowly fold the batter together with a fork until just evenly combined, but not over-worked.
   Pour the batter into the loaf-pan (if yours isn’t non-stick, lightly butter and flour the pan first), then take the molten chocolate-batter out of the fridge and add it right into the center of the banana bread-batter in dollops.  Gently press the chocolate-batter into the banana bread-batter, but not too much.  Bake in the oven for 45~50 min, until a wooden skewer comes out clean from the center of the banana bread, but still runny and gooey from the center of the molten chocolate.
Let it cool for 15 min in the pan before removing.  I may have made the mistake of cutting it too soon (can you blame me?) and the I had a chocolate-river situation… sort of.
If not serving immediately, warm up each slice in the microwave for 15~20 seconds.  Dont’ worry, the chocolate center will not set, but it’s just better to eat when it’s hot…


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CHEUNG CHAU BUN FESTIVAL FROM CHINA!




   Cheung Chau Bun Festival or Cheung Chau Da Jiu Festival is a traditional Chinese festival on the island of Cheung Chau in Hong Kong. Being held annually, and with therefore the most public exposure, it is by far the most famous of such Da Jiu festivals, with Jiu being a Taoist sacrificial ceremony. Such events are held by mostly rural communities in Hong Kong, either annually or at a set interval of years ranging all the way up to once every 60 years ( the same year in the Chinese astrological calendar). Other places that may share the folk custom include Taiwan, Sichuan, Fujian and Guangdong.
   Cheung Chau's Bun Festival, which draws tens of thousands of local and overseas tourists every year, is staged to mark the Eighth day of the Fourth Moon, in the Chinese calendar (this is usually in early May). It coincides with the local celebration of Buddha's Birthday.






    The Cheung Chau Bun Festival began as a fun and exciting ritual for fishing communities to pray for safety from pirates. Today this religious origin has largely been forgotten, and the festival has mainly become a showcase of traditional Chinese culture
HistoryOne story of the origin of the festival is that in the 18th Century the island of Cheung Chau was devastated by a plague and infiltrated by pirates until local fishermen brought an image of the god Pak Tai to the island. Paraded through the village lanes, the deity drove away evil spirits. Villagers also disguised themselves as different deities and walked around the island to drive away the evil spirits.





History

    One story of the origin of the festival is that in the 18th Century the island of Cheung Chau was devastated by a plague and infiltrated by pirates until local fishermen brought an image of the god Pak Tai to the island. Paraded through the village lanes, the deity drove away evil spirits. Villagers also disguised themselves as different deities and walked around the island to drive away the evil spirits.






Activities

Vegetarian:

    A notice announces that McDonald's is selling vegetarian burgersEvery year on the 8th day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, the islanders organise a weeklong thanksgiving, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival usually in April or May. The festival lasts for seven days. On three of these days the entire island goes vegetarian; most of the island's famous seafood restaurants adhere to this tradition. The local McDonald's also takes meat off the menu and instead sells burgers made of mushrooms.






Parade of Floats / Parade-In-The-Air:

    In addition to traditional lion dances and dragon dances, children dressed as legendary and modern heroes are suspended above the crowd on the tips of swords and paper fans. They form the parade-in-the-air and are all secured within steel frames, though they appear to glide through the air. Parents consider it a great honour for their offspring to be part of the parade.
   This fascinating procession is accompanied by the bedlam of musicians loudly beating gongs and drums to scare away evil spirits. It is led by a spectacular image of Pak Tai, the God of Water and Spirit of the North, to whom the island's Temple of the Jade Vacuity is dedicated.






Deities

Here are some divinities Cheung Chau people celebrate in the festival:

Pak Tai-
    Since Cheung Chau is traditionally an island of fisherfolk, Pak Tai is its most revered divinity, since it is believed he has the power to confer smooth sailing for the fishing boats as well as providing good catches for their crews. Pious believers recognise him as "Pei Fang Chen Wu Hsuan T'ien Shang Ti" (True Soldier and Superior Divinity of the Deep Heaven of the North).





Tin Hau-
    The second of the significant deities whose images add a supplementary splatter of Oriental holiness to the pageant is the much-revered Tin Hau, Goddess of the Seas and protector of all fishermen and boat people. Celebrated for providing warnings of imminent storms and saving countless lives from wreckage, she is in many ways Pak Tai's competitor for the fondness of the fisherfolk.

Kuan Yin and Hung Hsing-
   Two more gods complete the celestial divinities taking part in the parade: Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy with her tranquil and ever compassionate smile; and Hung Hsing, the terrifying God of the South with his menacing head-dress, unkind face, bushy black beard, and stave at the ready to chastise all enemies.





Bun Snatching

    Steamed buns for the "Bun Mountain", being stamped the crimson characters of the respective district, "Northern Society" shown in a combined way) on the island.The centrepiece of the festival is at Pak Tai Temple where are the "Bun Mountains" or "Bun Towers", three giant 60-feet bamboo towers covered with buns. It is those bun-covered towers that give the festival its name. Historically, young men would race up the tower to get hold of the buns; the higher the bun, the better fortune it was supposed to bring to the holder's family; the race was known as "Bun-snatching". However, during a race in 1978 one of the towers collapsed, injuring more than 100 people. In subsequent years, three designated climbers (one climber to each tower) raced up their respective towers and having cleared the top buns proceeded to strip the towers of their buns as they descended.






    The three "Bun Mountains" are still placed in the area in front of Pak Tai Temple, and are constructed using the traditional fixation method -- bamboo scaffolding.
In 2005, a single tower climbing event in the adjacent sports ground was revived as a race -- with extra safety precautions including proper mountain-climbing tools as well as tutorials for participants (which now include women). A teamwork version of the event was added in 2006.The revised version of "Bun-snatching" as well as the traditional three "Bun Mountains" still have their buns removed from the towers at midnight of the Festival.