It’s over for another year!

The holidays are over and so begins a new year. I’m sure we all hope it’s better than last year and lots and lots better than 2020, the year of the infamous Covid 19 pandemic. That year belongs totally in history and we wish it would never be resurrected. However, every time we turn around, the ubiquitous “they” tell us that a new strain has been discovered, mask up, don’t mask up, you’ve had two shots and a booster and now “they” are telling us this may not be enough. Personally, I’m tired of all of it. If so many untruths or misleading “facts” had not been given us in the beginning maybe we could all have handled it differently.
My last week of the holiday season was wonderful, our bunco Christmas party took place at the Housing Authority building on Wednesday evening and was really great. We had excellent food, played our games and then we did our gift exchange, mine was a beautiful wooden cross that can be used either indoors or outdoors. Everyone enjoyed themselves and had a great time. The rest of my fun evening began when I got out to my son’s home and got to help him unload his dehydrator and taste the different flavors of jerky he was removing! He had some really tasty stuff he was putting in bags. Some of it was a little spicy, but all of it tasted great.
Thursday morning, I went out to my daughter’s home, as Christmas with the rest of the family was going to be that evening. Actually, I think we sort of grazed most of the morning, then had cold cuts for lunch and out main meal later that day. All six of her grand children were there and it was fun watching them interact with one another. Their personalities are all so very different! We than had gifts to open, and the smallest one was handing them out and she did an awesome job for a young lady who is only two years old! Thursday evening, I got to watch my son make a pan of salsa, and taste that as he was making it, he nearly asphyxiated his wife and I with the fumes from the peppers when he started cooking them, but the salsa was delicious, if a bit on the hot side!
The feast of Epiphany or Feast of Three Kings as it is also called was on January 2. In older times, the Christmas and Manger scene were left up until this date. My mother and both grandmothers followed this custom, and I usually do the same. This year, celebrating on the 30th, has made the Epiphany seem to have come really early and if my tree gets taken down any time soon, it will be a miracle.
Epiphany, the evening of the twelfth day after Christmas, also goes by the name of Twelfth Night, Feast of the Magi and also Three Kings Day, concludes the period allotted in the church calendar to the Feast of the Nativity. The word epiphany means “appearance”.
In the West, Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Three Kings, or Wise Men to the infant Jesus. In Eastern churches, it is primarily the baptism of Christ, which is commemorated. What began as a most solemn feast, Twelfth Night became a time of revelry, especially during the sixteenth century in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. La Levantada Del Niño means the “raising or lifting of the child Jesus from the cradle” and brings the Christmas season to a fitting close.
Another part of this festivity is the special cake in which is baked a little figurine. The cake is cut into slices, and whoever has the slice with the figurine has to bake the cake the following year or for the next party.
In Mexico, this custom is called Roscas de los Reyes. The same type of celebration also goes on in Louisiana. The following is from a cookbook called “Picayune Creole Cook Book”, which was published in 1966. The book is one that came from an estate sale and has all sorts of interesting material in it. Also interesting is the fact that in 1966, this hard cover book that contains over 1,000 pages sold for only $3. The previous printing dates began in 1901 and it was published every five to ten years thereafter. Here is their story of Twelfth Night or King Cake. This is a Creole cake whose history is the history of the famous New Orleans Carnivals celebrated in song and stories.
The “Kings Cake”, or “Gateau de Roi”, is inseparably connected with the origin of the now world-famous Carnival balls. In fact, they owe their origin to the old Creole custom of choosing a king and queen on King’s Day, or Twelfth Night. In old Creole New Orleans, after the inauguration of the Spanish domination and the amalgamation of the French settlers and the Spanish in that particularly chivalrous and romantic race, the Louisiana Creole, the French prettily adopted the customs of the Spanish relatives, and vice versa.
Among these was the tradition Spanish celebration of King’s Day, “Le jour des Rois”, as the Creoles always term the day. It always falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and it commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men of the East to the lowly Bethlehem manger. This day is, even in our time, still the Spanish Christmas, when gifts are presented in commemoration of the Kings’ gifts. With the Creoles, it became “La Petit Noel”, or Little Christmas, and adopting the Spanish custom, there were always grand balls on Twelfth Night; a king and queen were chosen, and there were constant rounds of festivities, night after night, until the dawn of Ash Wednesday, which marked the beginning of the Lenten season.
The time frame of Kings’ Day to Mardi Gras Day became the accepted Carnival season. Each week, a new king and queen were chosen, and no royal rulers ever reigned more happily than did these kings and queens of a week. The open celebrations took place in private homes and culminated in the eating of the Gateau du Roi, which was made of brioche batter, and hidden away somewhere in the cake was either a small doll or a bean, usually a red bean. Tradition says that the person who received the piece of cake with the doll or bean inside would become or queen of the ball. That person was then held responsible for hosting the next ball and party during the next week. These balls continued until Mardi Gras itself.
A plastic doll, which is impervious to heat, has come to be used almost exclusively, because of the danger of someone biting down on the bean before they were aware they had it. (Some of the above sounds as if I am repeating myself, but I wanted to use the whole article from the cookbook. J).
Ash Wednesday and Easter are late this year, with Ash Wednesday being the 2nd of March and Easter being April 17th!
Next week, I will give you a recipe of a King’s Cake in case you would like to make it. This week, here are a couple of recipes for soup, which just come in handy, since the temperature outside as I’m writing this on Sunday morning is a bit nippy. I wasn’t sleeping well last night and watched as the temperature dropped 30º in about four hours. Every time I looked it was down a few more degrees. The clock in my bedroom is one that shows the time and temp on the ceiling, so it wasn’t difficult to see what was going on. The wind was really blowing then and is doing the same now, I have had to be in and out of the house a bit and as long as you’re out of the wind, it isn’t too bad.
This cheese soup is fairly simple to make, as you can use canned broth. Just don’t add any extra salt without tasting the soup first. Every time I made this for the office girls, everyone loved it, and most of my family loves it as well. I use a mixture of cheese, but you can use all one kind if that is what you care to do. (If you ever eat at Sammy’s Restaurant in Castroville, be sure to try their cheese soup, this is where I got hooked on it the first time I tasted it). The potato soup is another that everyone at the office loved. We usually polished off the entire pot of soup, especially if it was a cold day!
Cheese Soup
¼ cup butter or margarine
½ cup finely chopped carrot (I like to use the shredded you can purchase and chop it finer, this works really well)
½ cup finely chopped or diced celery
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup flour
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups milk
1 pound shredded cheese (I like to use a mixture of cheddar, American and Velveeta)
Salt and pepper to taste if desired
1 tablespoon chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
Heat the butter or margarine and sauté the vegetables, until nearly done and the onion is transparent. Stir in the flour and cornstarch and cook, stirring until bubbly, gradually whisking in the broth and milk (they can be mixed together for easier handling). Cook and stir until smooth. Add the cheese, continue cooking until thick, add salt and pepper if necessary (do not boil). Spoon into bowls and garnish with parsley.
Potato Soup
3 or 4 large russet potatoes
1 chopped onion
2 to 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup milk or Half-and-Half
Salt and pepper to your taste
1 to 1½ cups shredded cheese (optional)
Peel potatoes and cut into small pieces. Place in pot and barely cover with water. Cover and cook until tender. While the potatoes are cooking, sauté the onion in the butter or margarine until tender. Set aside. Use your potato masher (bean masher?) and break up the potatoes without mashing them completely. Add the onions and milk. Simmer gently until as thick as you want. Stir in cheese if used and simmer until cheese is melted. Garnish with parsley and add additional cheese if desired.