KC Unplugged (sorta): 2012 in review, plus the Witch of the Epiphany (La Befana)

New tree at the Days this year, awaiting angel-topping and gifts below.

New tree at the Days this year, awaiting angel-topping and gifts below.

I imagine readers have figured out that the holidays took over my life, timewise, which resulted in no blogposts since a couple about our Thanksgiving feast weeks ago. More to come, but possibily not for a few days. (Here’s a tease: I’m hoping daughter Kristen will do a blogpost, or at least provide the recipe, for the awesome peppermint cheesecake she baked this year for Christmas Eve lunch.)

Tomorrow, the Feast of the Epiphany, brings a few more family members to our house and I’ll be prepping for that. I am, however, somewhat copping out on this one: so tired of cooking, baking, making-everything-nice that I’ve scheduled the gathering as mid-afternoon, snacks-only. And many of those will be from-the-freezer-case items or straight from grocery aisles I usually don’t bother much with in recent years. There will also be cheese and crackers. Probably hummus, salsa and nachos as well.

Christmas 2011 at George's: Bill, Marilyn (me), George, Heidi.

Christmas 2011 at George’s: Bill, Marilyn (me), George, Heidi.

Brother George and wife Heidi are expected. Niece Chrissy (Heidi’s daughter) and her husband Chad, plus the four kids from their household are also coming. We didn’t get to see them on Christmas as all of us were heading in different directions this year. Nephew Matt (George’s son) and wife Kate, with their two young’uns Alex and Ella, won’t be joining us tomorrow but that’s fine – we did Christmas Eve lunch at their home (and a fine meal that was- mostly prepared by Matt) and exchanged gifts that afternoon. I made some homemade focaccia for that meal (a first for me), and Kristen’s cheesecake was a wonderful and ultra-filling dessert to close it out. We missed George and Heidi that day, however, as they arrived just minutes after we’d departed for home! 

Kristen's peppermint cheesecake, Xmas Eve lunch at Matt & Kate's (photo by Kate).

Kristen’s peppermint cheesecake, Xmas Eve lunch at Matt & Kate’s (photo by Kate).

Xmas Day 2011 at George's: Chrissy, Chad & kids.

Xmas Day 2011 at George’s: Chrissy, Chad & kids.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s batch of kids – I have become, per my brother, “the aunt who gives books.” Each child gets two of them this year along with an inexpensive toy (went a little overboard). I probably have more fun selecting those volumes than the kids do opening them!

If I had any energy left, I’d be baking some kind of cookies honoring Italy’s “Christmas Witch” or, to be more accurate, La Befana, the Witch of the Epiphany. Two or three years ago, when I was writing “goddess journal entries” about goddess-as-archetype and sharing them with a few friends, I somehow came upon La Befana. That discovery resulted in my creating an extensive e-journal entry about her. At the beginning of each entry, I always included an original poem about the entry’s g-archetype. Here’s my humble poetic creation about Italy’s famous holiday witch:

Sonnet for Befana, Witch of the Epiphany

Shadow sweeps across frozen yellow moon,
ragged cloak trailing soot of workworn days.
Befana, mounted, rides astride straw broom,
sharp-eyed despite the chilling winter haze.
She stills a howling wind, clears ice, melts snow –
while packing a bag more joy-filled than tears.
Most wishes She grants, detests the word No;
Stockings well-filled, she smiles, then disappears.
Santa’s got nothin’ o’er this wild old hag,
not loud ho-hos nor reindeer attractions,
for witches own magic – a well-known fact!
Sure work might delay her, too long a lag?
Adjustments she’ll make for odd distractions
so long as by morn She’s emptied that sack.

                                                 by Marilyn Zembo Day

Here’s the beginning of my 2011 La Befana e-entry:

She is folklore and She is goddess. She is Christian and She is Pagan. She can scare you – if you judge only by physical attributes – and yet you might await Her arrival on the edge of a child‘s excited anticipation. The ugly, soot-sodden hag Befana is the woman who won‘t disappear from Italian traditions, having survived the fall of the Roman Empire, the witch hunting crazes of the Catholic Church, devastating wars and deprivations, and some of the worst of patriarchal times. Just when you think the Yule holidays are done-for, She makes Her appearance, a smiling, female Santa Claus of ancient and modern times.

What?!!, you might say, Santa Claus? Witches are for Halloween, not Christmas time! And you’d be right… and wrong. Witches are among us always. We are all witches. We are all magick.

Google La Befana and Italy to see what you come up with, but I must tell you that I particularly love this video of DisneyWorld’s Epcot La Befana performance. Such fun! Check out the Witch of the Epiphany! She turned down the chance to travel with the Wise Men to honor the newborn Christ Child because she was busy “sweeping out the old, in the new” with her broom, before the coming Solstice/New Year. Then she tried to find the Child herself, bearing gifts. Unsuccessful, she vowed to bring gifts to all children she could find, until she came upon the Saviour. She does this every year on the eve of the Epiphany.

Today, the only “feast” shared on KitchenCauldron is this WildWoman of the Feast of the Epiphany… and statistics about the “feast” I’ve provided for you over the last 12 months, comprised of a smidgen of recipes I’ve prepared this year, served to friends and family, and photographed for this blog. WordPress provides its bloggers with the past year’s statistics in a report about their blog, and I’m offering them here for you to peruse (see below).

Thank you, all, for checking out KC (over 5700 hits!). I hope you’ve enjoyed my family and other stories, as well as the many recipes and food-related book and event entries. Hopefully, you’ve tried making a few of the dishes and baked goods (perhaps with your own creative twists and touches) and you’ve shared them in a comfortable space with your own circles of loved ones. It gives me pleasure to imagine such a scene.

Here’s to a healthy, happy, prosperous 2013 for all of us… with more recipes, stories and sharing throughout!

May the New Year be full of light and love for you and your loved ones. (Artist Trading Card #55, "Candle Comfort" by MariLyn)

May the New Year be full of light and love for you and your loved ones. (Artist Trading Card #55, “Candle Comfort” by MariLyn)

*****

Here’s what the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared, as a 2012 annual report, for this blog:

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 10 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

KitchenCauldron – Unplugged

One of the foodblogs to which I subscribe, Frugal Feeding, is written by a young guy in England who offers some pretty yummy cooking/baking possibilities for those of us lucky enough to discover his place on the web. Actually, I think he found me, signing on to receive KitchenCauldron postings early into my foodie-blogosphere experience (which, as you know, only began in October of last year). Usually, Frugal Feeding posts are all about the recipe but his 1/22/12 post began:

Earlier this afternoon I received an e-mail from one of my favourite bloggers – The Dusty Baker. She asked me whether I would like to participate in the “Unplugged” chain, which is essentially an interview in blog form. Usually it is against my sensibilities as a writer and food blogger to take part in any such self-indulgence. However, for now I shall set aside any such critical self-awareness and proceed with the faint suspicion that this will be, for most, a rather uninspiring and rather uninteresting post.

I found his posting to be far from “uninspiring and rather uninteresting.” On the contrary, I love reading about what inspires people to cook or bake (probably why I enjoy food-related memoirs so much); and I intend to check out the blogs suggested in his “unplugged” post.

I also loved that he ended his post with a picture of his chickens! It reminded me of the egg-laying hens that wandered freely at the site where we used to pick up our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share a few years ago (the farmer, a really great guy, wound up having to go out of business after a couple difficult years). They were referred to as “the ladies” and theirs were probably the freshest eggs we’d had up until we’d found Butch’s CSA on the Local Harvest website). Unfortunately either a weasel or a fox took up residence nearby and, since these little beauties were cage-free, they were picked off one or two at a time.

I confess that I love taking those fill-in-the-blank surveys that circulate amongst friends and relatives, inviting me to “let us get to know each other better.” I even go through any reading list or bibliography in the back of a good book, checking off books I’ve read on the list (and those I own but haven’t gotten around to yet), as well as some I might like to read. For me, the “foodblog unplugged” is simply another one of those surveys about getting-to-know-me-better, except it targets some things I love doing: cooking, baking, sharing recipes and writing. What could be more fun?

So here it goes…

Who or what inspired you to start your blog?

I love to cook and bake. Well, most of the time; sometimes I’d rather be reading or creating a piece of art or writing – and then, if there aren’t any leftovers to eat, it’s subs from Subway, or Five Guys’ burgers, or pizza takeout, or a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner! People ask for my recipes when I’ve served something delicious. A blog is a great way to get the recipe to them – just say, “Check out my blog, it’s posted,” and hand them a card with its site (oops, haven’t put it on my card yet…). It can be time-consuming to create a post: writing, editing, downloading pictures, editing pictures, transferring everything to WordPress, proofreading, more editing before pushing that Publish button. Still, it’s worth it because it’s another creation, isn’t it?

I also enjoy that it puts me in contact with other people who share some of my interests – and they can live on the other side of the world or practically next door. In some cases, it’s like looking through a window into another culture.

And it’s fun. I get to tell my food memories, which usually involve friends and/or family. It’s writing, which I love. And taking photos falls under the heading of art, although I don’t aspire to be a renowned food photographer. I have enough on my plate as it is! (My husband Bill, however, now tends to ask, before eating any meal, “Do you need to take a picture or can I eat?”)

"Burger" by MariLyn, Artist Trading Card

Who is your foodie inspiration?

I have many foodie inspirations so it’s hard to nail one down. I love The Food Network but don’t focus on one star, having learned from, and salivated over, dishes and desserts by Ina Garten, Mario Batali, Paula Deen, Giada De Laurentis, Tyler Florence, Rachel Ray, Aaron Sanchez and more. I even love shows like Chopped and Iron Chef because they give me ideas. I read several magazines (in order of my preference): Eating Well, Clean Eating, Cooking Light, La Cucina Italia, Food Network Magazine and Rachel Ray Magazine. But my earliest, truest inspiration was a woman I worked with decades ago, Laura Kurner.

Laura was about my mother’s age but so different. She seemed to have a younger spirit (with an infectious laugh that I’ll never forget), and she was perhaps the first true “foodie” I ever met. I grew up in a meat-and-potatoes home, where vegetables mostly came out of cans and cakes were Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines products (but nicely decorated by Mom). We didn’t have lots of money, but Dad ran a small grocery store so we weren’t about to starve. Laura’s culinary background was totally different, resulting in an ability to simply taste something and then rattle off its basic ingredients. There’s a whole story about how she told me I “should marry that one” as she pointed to my Bill, minutes before I was about to introduce her to him. But I’ll save it for a future blogpost. Suffice to say, I was intrigued by my friend’s amazing cooking knowledge and skills. I wanted to become the kind of cook she was: intuitive and magical-seeming.

Your greasiest, most batter-splattered cookbook is?

I’m not sure this says anything about anything, since I’ve just become a little neater about splattering over the years, often putting a cookbook behind a plastic screen to avoid messing it up! However, for the sake of an answer, I’ll mention two, out of the close-to-300 in my kitchen, one of which I’ve mentioned on this blog at least twice.

The first spattered book would be my very first cookbook, the General Foods All About Home Baking book. My mother gave it to me probably in sixth seventh grade, after I’d tried baking a sponge cake from a copy an old Williamsburg cookbook that had somehow come into my hands as a result of a school lesson. When I say “old” I mean “olde,” as in the original recipes with no info about oven temps (after all, they baked over fireplaces, right?) and not great measurements of ingredients either. It didn’t rise at all, imitating a thick yellowish pancake (didn’t taste too awful though). I baked several items from All About Home Baking over the years, before abandoning it for better books. Somehow, however, I can’t seem to recycle it to a used bookstore. (Incidentally, I now own a beautiful volume, The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook, put out by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which I purchased two years ago when we visited Williamsburg enroute back to New York State from Florida. No sponge cake recipes within its covers but at least measurements make sense and oven temps are specified!)

Not only is the other cookbook, Robert Ackart’s A Celebration of Soups, splattered – it’s also full of penciled-in notes about how I changed the recipe while concocting the mixtures. I own about four or five soup cookbooks, but this is the one I go to first every time. I think Mom gave me this one too, back in the ’80s.

The best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it and what was it?

This answer won’t be long since the only other country I’ve been in would be Canada and haven’t been there since the ’90s. We were in Niagara-on-the-Lake one summer, for one day only (staying at Niagara Falls Air Force Base on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls for several days), and we stopped in a tavern with an Old English décor (Niagara-on-the-Lake is, after all, located in a realm of the United Kingdom). We were asked if we wanted to do tea. Yes, we did. Tea and scones were placed in front of us. I’d heard of scones before. Maybe even seen a picture of one somewhere. Never tasted one. Had to be told to try it with a little butter and then some jam atop that. Loved them. Bought some at the bakery down the street to bring back to the Base for later on too. Yum. I’ve even baked them since, but not for years now. Hmmm… maybe too long… and I happen to have a tiny cookbook filled only with scones…

Another Food Blogger’s table you would like to eat at?

David Lebovitz. Who cares about appetizers, entrées or side dishes when there’s the potential for some of the desserts that this guy could whip up for me! I have two of his cookbooks, and I’ve read his memoir (with recipes), The Sweet Life in Paris. OK, maybe I’m a little enticed by the idea that his table happens to be in Paris, so who wouldn’t like to eat at it? But my mouth is watering at this moment just thinking about a great lemon meringue dessert of his that I’ve been contemplating taking a stab at baking.

What one kitchen gadget would you like Santa to bring you? (If money were no object.)

I don’t really require any more kitchen gadgets, nor do I have any more space for gadgets – BUT I wouldn’t mind a larger food processor than my current one. I think KitchenAid makes a 13-cup one that would be quite fine (and I’d recycle the current one to our daughter, who doesn’t own one at all). Would I have to wait for Santa? How about the Easter Bunny?

Who taught you how to cook?

Lots of people: Mom. Laura. Other friends. Cookbooks. Television. And plenty of experimenting, some of which were disasters, most were at least edible, many have been dubbed as delicious (& similar adjectives).

I’m coming for dinner, what is your signature dish?

Not sure if I have one. If you talk with our daughter and some of her friends, they might say my macaroni and cheese. But I think my cream of broccoli is probably a true favorite. It’s thick and easily goes down as a main dish, with salad and a good bread. But I’d have to serve a light dessert, cuz you’d have wanted – and devoured – a second helping of the soup.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Guilt about food? The only time I feel guilty about food is when I’ve consumed far too many calories and too much fat, for too many days in a row… or been tempted by the advertising/packaging of some pre-processed crap that turns out to taste as bad as I should have expected.

Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn.

I can’t think of anything that would be terribly surprising to most folks, foodwise, about myself. I’m pretty open about who I am and what my culinary experience has been (I’m not a chef, for sure; just a home cook). And the “remembrances” part of my blog gives readers glimpses into Who I Am and how I got to be this person who loves food and enjoys cooking/baking.

What bloggers would you love “to know more about”?

I’m going to take the “know more about” to mean that I’d want to continue to read their blogposts, since that’s how one gets to know a blogger better – through their recipes and stories. So here are a few blogsites I enjoy immensely (aside from Frugal Feeding, of course, which I noted above as the source, for me, of this survey):

David Lebovitz, whose sense of humor never fails to give me a chuckle and whose blog is awesome. Great stuff about Paris too, a place I dream (probably more like pipe-dream) about visiting someday.

Gluten Free Girl and the Chef amazes me with her success – and her comeback from barely surviving to “having a life” through changing her diet to exclude gluten (she was finally diagnosed with celiac’s disease after years of always feeling ill). Shauna James Ahem (and her husband, the chef, Daniel) has one cookbook out and another in process (the first was named one of the Best Cookbooks of 2010 by the New York Times). Since I have several friends with either celiac’s or a wheat allergy, I’m always looking for good recipes to serve them as guests at home, or to bring to a potluck.

Orangette is Wendy Wizenberg’s blog, started in July 2004. I read her memoir, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, which is how I found her blog, and I keep it on my cookbook shelves for the recipes in it (someday I’ll get around to photocopying the ones I want to save and then pass it on to a friend). Wizenberg even met her husband through her blog, and they’ve since opened up a restaurant (2009) called Delancey.

A Year of Slow Cooking, Stephanie O’Dea’s blog, is based on her determination to use her slowcooker to cook something ever day for a year. This is another blog I found because I bought a book, this one being a cookbook, Make it Fast, Cook It Slow (which was followed by More Make it Fast, Cook It Slow, which I also own). O’Dea has a wise-cracking sense of humor that I love—and I love that she gives an honest critique of what she’s just made, including opinions stated by family and friends.

Domestic Diva, M.D.: My Mother Raised the Perfect Housewife… Then I Went to Med School is new on the blog scene (even newer than KitchenCauldron!) but already I’m liking it. She’s got a sense of humor and, more importantly, a sense of story to go along with her recipes and foodie memories. She’s a 4th year med student who’s probably going into anesthesiology.

Savory Simple says she’s a 2010 graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which was a career change from 10 years in IT. When she started the blog, she was more into savory foods but has now developed a sweet tooth as well. Whatever she’s cooking/baking, it’s sounds and looks (wonderful photos) scrumptious.

And that’s the survey, with my answers. It’s been fun. Now I have to decide what recipe I’ll next post, and what “remembrance” might work with it… stirring the cauldron of memory.

"Spell-Bound" by MariLyn, Artist Trading Card