Saturday, November 29, 2014


Heading to Boulder for the Thanksgiving holidays, the Denver Botanical Garden with a Chihuly exhibit, running throught November 30th, offered an appealing option for a side-trip.

"I want my work to look like it just happened, as if it was made by nature."
~Dale Chihuly

Chihuly, born in Tacoma, Washington, has long been associated with the Pacific Northwest, where he co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle in 1971. A permanent display of his works, Chihuly Garden and Glass, opened in 2012 in Seattle at Seattle Center. His works are in the collections of some 200 museums worldwide, and exhibitions have been staged around the world,

As an artist, Chihuly has always been a scavenger of images and ideas. He's known for translating forms and patterns from nature and other media into glass: the designs of Native American blankets, the undulating shapes of sea creatures, the orbs of Japanese glass floats.  Chihuly began making forms that deliberately allowed glass to spin off-center. He invented a mode of working with the molten material that let it find its final shape in its own organic way. It's ironic that Chihuly, a leader of the studio glass movement, reverted early on to the factory model of production. His franchise has grown from a small glassblowing shop in the 1980s to a conglomerate that produces, warehouses and ships thousands of glass components each year for sale and display. He has built a multimillion-dollar business, generating the bulk of that exposure himself. Most of the exhibitions have been organized and distributed by Chihuly Inc and most of the books and television shows have been produced by Chihuly's publishing company, Portland Press.

Chihuly's Garden Cycle, builds on the strongest aspects of his prior Chihuly Over Venice and Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000 projects. It consists of a group of exhibitions at a number of different sites: the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in England, and gardens in the United States. The cycle format enabled him to rework the original set of ideas established in the first exhibition, inside Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago in 2001.  Then he moved on to botanic gardens with glass conservatories and finally to venues chosen by garden type: a tropical garden, a desert garden, a sculpture garden, and estate gardens. Subsequent exhibitions included new works developed for each garden, resulting in a different experience each time. The glass forms came more from the natural process of glassblowing that Chihuly and his team have explored and perfected. Planning these installations required lengthy discussions about plantings and their colors. For some venues, Chihuly’s studio installs lighting for very popular night viewings. His team packs, ships, installs and de-installs all the artwork for shows, exhibitions and installations around the world.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables  12/6/14-5/31/15
Denver Botanic Garden                                           6/14/14-11/30/14
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix                          11/10/13-5/18/14
Dallas Arboretum                                                    5/5/12-11/5/12
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park,           4/30/10-9/30/10
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Chihuly at Cheekwood, Nashville                          5/25/10-10/30/10
Seymour Botanical Conservatory, Tacoma            11/16/08-02/22/09
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix                         11/22/08-5/31/09
Fairchild Botanic Garden                                       12/9/06-5/31/07
New York Botanical Garden                                   6/25/06-10/29/06
Missouri Botanical Garden                                     4/30/06-12/30/06
Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago                     11/01-11/4/02

The exhibit came 1,300 miles from Tacoma,  with thousands of glass pieces wrapped in foam that was reassembled in the Denver Botanic Botanic Gardens. The boxes, along with armatures, hardware and tools, filled six 53-foot tractor trailers. Then a lengthy installation process ensued with a team of 11 Chihuly Studio employees spending 17 days.

Blue and Purple Boat and Walla Wallas by Dale Chihuly
at the Japanese garden at the Denver Botanic Garden Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix Franklin Park Conservatory
'Boats' at the Chihuly exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum 
Sunset Boat, 2006,
Dale Chihuly’s boat sculpture transforms the canal pond at Chatsworth.
Carnival Boat
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables
Boat lit at night at cheekwood, Nashville

The Denver Botanic Gardens recently announced that it will purchase a large sculpture from Dale Chihuly.  Chihuly announced that a new work from the Tower series titled "Colorado", inspired by the local sunsets, will be added to the Gardens' permanent collection. The piece will be customized for a spot in the center of a pond in the Ellipse rose garden.  The sculpture will consist of 750 pointy red, orange and yellow rods that will shoot off a central axis standing over 11' tall. The work will look like it is floating above the water.

A rendering of glass artist Dale Chihuly's "Colorado,"
which will be added to the Denver Botanic Garden's permanent collection. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It appears winter has arrived

Ice has been building up along the shores of Lake Winnebago during the last few days of unseasonably cold weather.  Continual wind with occasional strong gusts are leading to big upward shoves along the edge of the ice formation.

Venturing out to explore the biting wind prevents us from staying long.  How cold is it?  A quick check online reveals 15 degrees with a windchill of -5 degrees F at 3:30 pm on November 17.  While the average high on November 17 is 43 degrees, we barely made it to 15 degrees today.  January weather in mid-November doens't bode well for warmer weather this winter.

And another day dawns with ice stretching further and further out into the lake as temperatures struggle to get to the teens.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Earl Grey is one of the most recognized flavored teas in the world. This quintessentially British tea is typically a black tea base flavored with oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a citrus fruit with the appearance and flavor somewhere between an orange and a lemon with a little grapefruit and lime thrown in. Lady Grey tea, named for Mary Elizabeth Grey, the wife of the famous Earl Charles Grey for whom the original blend was created, generally contains rather lighter bergamot flavouring and the additional presence of cornflower, lemon and Seville orange. The full make up of the tea blend of Lady Grey varies slightly depending on the maker, and different varieties may contain lavender in place of Seville orange, or different proportions of the component flavours and aromas within the blend.

Earl Grey is one of the most recognized flavored teas in the world. This quintessentially British tea is typically a black tea base flavored with oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a citrus fruit with the appearance and flavor somewhere between an orange and a lemon with a little grapefruit and lime thrown in. Today’s cultivar of the bergamot orange is believed to be a hybrid of the bitter Seville orange native to the Mediterranean and a sweet lime/lemon native to Southeast Asia.

While Earl Grey tea was popularized by the English, it was not an English invention. Scented and flavored teas are uniquely Chinese. Early Chinese tea masters constantly experimented with ways to make their teas more exotic, not only to capture the attention of the reigning emperors of the time but also the business of worldwide trade merchants looking to return home with the unique flavors of the Far East. From fragrant jasmine flowers and wild rosebuds to bitter oranges and sweet lychee fruits, Chinese tea masters infused all kinds of fragrance and flavor into their teas during processing to create distinctive and highly drinkable beverages.

One history of the origins of Earl Grey explains that a Chinese mandarin tea master blended the first Earl Grey tea as a gift for Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl of Grey and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834. According to the Grey family, the tea master used bergamot as a flavoring to offset the lime flavor in the well water on Earl Grey’s estate, Howick Hall, near Newcastle, England. Earl Grey’s wife, Lady Grey, loved the tea so much that she entertained with it exclusively. It proved so popular with London society, she asked tea merchants in London to recreate it. Exactly which English tea merchant marketed the first Earl Grey tea blend is somewhat of a debate in the world of tea. But one thing is for sure: While the 2nd Earl of Grey abolished slavery and reformed child labor laws in England during his political leadership, he will be most famously remembered for the beloved tea he helped introduce to the world.

A tea is flavored or scented during manufacturing toward the end of the processing, usually once the tea leaves have dried. One way teas are flavored is by blending the finished tea with flowers, herbs and spices so that the blended ingredients are visually appealing and lightly infuse the tea leaves with their aroma and flavor. Another way tea is flavored is by spraying or coated the finished tea with extracts, essential oils or flavoring agents during or after the drying process. This adds much a much stronger flavor to the tea and uses fewer ingredients. The flavoring-to-tea ratio is completely up to the tea manufacturer, and the flavors that come through to a brewed cup of flavored tea will vary by brand.

Earl Grey is most widely defined as a black tea that has been flavored with the oil of bergamot.

People who find the bergamot aroma of Earl Grey rather heady and overwhelming often take to Lady Grey’s lighter, more subtle flavouring mix as an alternative.

Twinings Lady Grey
Black tea
Orange peel
Lemon peel
Citrus flavouring

Twinings Earl Grey
Black tea
Bergamot (a citrus fruit) flavouring

2014 tea menu

Lady Grey tea
A fragrant, bright and light black tea scented with bergamot, orange,
 and lemon citrus flavours that can be enjoyed with or without milk.
People who find the bergamot aroma of Earl Grey rather heady and overwhelming
 may enjoy to Lady Grey’s lighter, more subtle flavouring mix as an alternative.
(Earl Grey tea pairs fabulously with dishes with citrus as the main ingredient
 as well as dark chocolate.)

Lavender scones

Lady Grey tea bread

Mulled cranberry boisson

Tea dyed deviled eggs

Smoked chicken tea sandwiches

Salmon spread on rye

Cucumber tea sandwiches

Assam tea
Produced exclusively from the highly skilled tea region of Assam in India,
this black tea has become a morning favorite because of its rich aroma,
crisp flavor, and penetrating color. Contains caffeine.
 Pairs well with hearty foods; breakfast foods;
 chocolate, custard or lemon desserts

Pumpkin chai tarts 

2    c.   chai Tea, strongly brewed (4 bags, steeped about 5-7 minutes)
8    oz.  cream cheese, softened
1/2 c.    sugar
1/2 c.    sour cream
1           egg
2           egg yolks
2/3 c.    pumpkin
1/2 t.    salt
1    t.    vanilla extract
             gingersnap cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put brewed Chai tea in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring a boil and reduce to 4-5 Tbsp.  Set aside and cool.  In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar and cream cheese.  Add sour cream and mix well.  Add eggs and egg yolks one at a time. Add pumpkin, salt, vanilla, and Chai tea reduction.  Stir together. Pour into tart pan lined with liners and gingersnap cookies  Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes, or until set.

Earl Grey truffles

2/3 c.    heavy cream
2    T.    unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and softened
2     t.    loose Earl Grey tea leaves
6     oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
1     c.   unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

Bring cream and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan and stir in tea leaves. Remove from heat and let steep 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, finely grind chocolate in a food processor and transfer to a bowl. Pour cream through a fine-mesh sieve onto chocolate, pressing on and discarding tea leaves, then whisk until smooth. Chill ganache, covered, until firm, about 2 hours.
Spoon level teaspoons of ganache onto a baking sheet. Put cocoa in a bowl, then dust your palms lightly with it. Roll each piece of ganache into a ball (wash your hands and redust as they become sticky). Drop several balls at a time into bowl of cocoa and turn to coat. Transfer as coated to an airtight container, separating layers with wax paper. (Truffles can be made 1 week ahead and chilled, or 1 month ahead and frozen in an airtight container.)
(Gourmet, 2002)

Macaroons with absinthe filling


100 g. finely ground almonds
90   g. egg whites, aged 48 hours
200 g. powdered sugar
30   g. caster sugar
1     t. aniseed, finely ground with mortar and pestle
1/2  t. matcha powder or alternatively a small amount powdered green food colouring

Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment. In a medium bowl, sift together the almonds and powdered sugar.
In a separate, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the caster sugar until you get a stiff but still very glossy meringue.Add the sifted almonds and powdered sugar and begin folding gently until you get a uniform mass. Try the batter by dropping a bit onto some parchment paper: if the top smooths over by itself, the batter is good to go.
Put the batter into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. Pipe out little bite-sized macaroons. Once you've piped a whole baking tray, pick it up and give it a good, straight whack against the kitchen counter to knock out any air bubbles. At this point leave the macaroons sitting at room temperature for about 30 minutes to harden their shells.
Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C. Check that the macaroons are ready to go in by touching one gently with your finger. If some of the dough sticks back, they're not ready yet! Leave them a while longer.Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes.
Remove the macaroons from the oven. If they stick to the parchment paper, pour a little bit of boiling water underneath it - this will set them free!


100 g.       caster sugar
2               large egg whites
180 g.       butter, softened
3-4  T.       French absinthe, or to taste
1-2 drops  green food colouring

For the shells, follow the instructions previously outlined in this recipe
For the absinthe buttercream: place the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.  Using an electric mixer, mix the whites and sugar on medium speed until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove the mixture from heat and continue mixing until it more than doubles in volume and comes to room temperature.  Add the butter in three batches, mixing completely after each addition. Continue mixing patiently until the buttercream comes together into a mayonnaise-like consistency. Add absinthe and green food colouring and mix again.
Pipe a small dollop of buttercream onto one macaron shell and sandwich gently with another.


A drink made by steeping herbs, spices, and flowers in hot water is a tisane or herbal infusion.  (While the word “tea” is often loosely used to describe any beverage made with the leaves of a plant, true “tea” is made only from Camellia sinensis.)

The FDA also recommends proceeding with caution if you're considering supplemented tea like Comfrey (could cause liver damage), Woodruff (acts as an anticoagulant), Ephedra (could affect heart rhythm), Lobelia (may cause breathing problems), and even chamomile (may cause allergic reactions.) And don't assume that herbal tea doesn't contain caffeine. If caffeine keeps you up at night, make sure your box of tea explicitly says "caffeine-free" or "decaffeinated."

"Tea Leaves the Cup" at Green Bay Botanical Garden

The Green Bay Botanical Garden has been decorated for the upcoming holiday season.

And the North East Wisconsin Herb Society of America members got to work setting up for a festive tea.

Guests at the  2014 Christmas Tea were promised traditional and new sweets and savories, some made from tea, would grace the plates.  Unique beverages and herbal tisanes suitable to the holiday season were provided along with information on the history of tea, the proper preparation of tea, tea etiquette, and holiday lore.

According to the Tea Association of the USA, the wholesale tea industry has grown from an estimated $2 billion dollars in 1990 to an estimated $10 billion in 2013.

All tea comes from a single plant, the Camellia Sinensis. Before the advent of tea cultivation, two genera of Camellia Sinensis thrived in the wild. Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis (China bush) is at home on the foggy mountainsides of Southwestern China and produce a small, tender leaf during a short growing period. Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica (Assam bush) prefers the jungle-like conditions of Northeastern India and yields a large, broad leaf that can be picked year-round.

Harvesting, picking and processing the camellia sinensis bush yields 5 classes of tea: white, green, oolong, black, and pu·erh.

White Tea
Harvested in early spring, tender young buds are carefully plucked the day before they unfurl into leaves, briefly withered and then quickly air driedsteamed to prevent oxidation. As a result of minimal processing, white tea is valued for its high concentration of polyphenols. The flavor of white tea can be described as delicate, smooth, sweet, velvety, and reminiscent of fresh apricots.
Green Tea
The buds and top leaves from the tea plant are thinly spread in the shade and left to air-dry. This primary drying is kept short to prevent oxidation of the leaf. Working with fresh product, a team of firers will sift, roll, flatten, tumble, or shake the tea over a heat source until it is thoroughly dried and the flavor is locked in. Careful manipulation of the leaves during the firing process results in distinctive shapes and flavors. Traditionally, this process was done entirely by hand in baskets and woks carefully placed over coal and wood burning fires. Today, large tumblers and ovens are employed during this phase to process large amounts of green tea for export. Pan-frying results in the toasty flavor of Long Jing, while steaming results in the sweetly vegetal flavors of Japanese Sencha.
Oolong Tea
Oolongs can be made from the bud of the tea plant with up to three large leaves still attached to the twig, or from a single large leaf picked later in the season than green tea. Oolongs are only partially oxidized. A  complex method of bruising the tea leaves is used to break down cell walls and begin the oxidation of the leaf. Low heat is then used to halt the process, allowing for the still pliable leave to be rolled, curled, crimped, twisted, and fired into their final form. Different levels of oxidation and firing are used to bring out complex flavors and aromas that are uniquely “oolong.” ranging from distinctively floral, to reminiscent of stone fruit. Flavors can be smooth, savory, full-bodied and rich; or delicate, with notes of orchid, honey, and exotic fruits.
Black Tea
Black tea results from the full oxidation of the bud and first two leaves of the tea plant picked early in the spring. Leaves are spread thickly for an extended withering time (up to 18 hours) to drive moisture out of the leaf and begins the conversion of delicate “juices” within the leaf into dark, complex liquoring compounds. The oxidation begins at this stage and continues into the rolling process. After being sorted by size, the withered leaves will be twisted, compressed, and rolled multiple times, breaking down cell walls and allowing enzymes to mix. Special oxidation chambers are used to feed air through thin layers of rolled leaves to quicken the process. Once the tea master determines oxidation is complete and the flavors and aromas properly developed, the leaves will be dried, cooled, and packaged for sale. Black tea is graded and sold by its size of leaf and point of origin. High quality black teas are of whole leaf with a high ratio of leaf buds (tips) to leaf.  Full leaf black teas will have aromas that are clean, nutty, and bright, with flavors that are brisk, full, coppery and soft. Names like: Assam, Darjeeling, Yunnan, and Ceylon refer to the region where the tea was grown

Pu·erh Tea
Pu·erh (pū-ĕr) is an ancient healing tea picked from 500 year old organic wild tea trees in the majestic mountains of China's Yunnan province. Over 2000 years ago the tea was transported along five Tea Horse Roads’. The first and most traveled road began in the village of Pu Erh. In order to maximize their load, merchants compressed the tea, and to their surprise, the tea tasted better at the journey’s end and yielded additional health benefits. Pu·erh is processed differently than traditional white, green, oolong, and black teas. Pu·erh undergoes a unique fermenting process: once picked, the leaves are piled, dampened, and turned, over a 60-day period. The tea is then dried and ready to be compressed into bricks for additional aging, or left as loose tea. The resulting taste is rich and smooth with hints of malt - a great alternative to coffee.

Herbal infusions & tisanes
While the word “tea” is often loosely used to describe any beverage made with the leaves of a plant, true “tea” is made only from Camellia sinensis.  A drink made by steeping herbs, spices, flowers,... in hot water is more accurately referred to as a tisane or herbal infusion.  What are commonly referred to as "herbal teas" are often consumed for their soothing or rejuvenating qualities, suiting the needs of those who wish to avoid caffeine.

Flavored tea
Tea easily absorbs other aromas and tastes from flowers, oils, herbs, and spices. Flavoring tea is a well-established tradition in China, where tea is brewed with onions, orange peel, peach leaves, and berries. The Chinese are also known for their flower teas, including jasmine, orchid, rose, and magnolia. In many Arabic nations, mint with a generous amount of sugar, is the flavoring of choice. In India, the spicy “masala tea” is made by boiling black tea with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and black or white pepper; milk and sugar are usually added as well.

Tea has a spectrum of strong, unique flavors that can shine through when integrated into a dish. Dried leaves can add crunch and flavor for rubs to coat fish, meat or poultry or to be used as a garnish, particularly when young and green. Smoked teas lend a deep, dark smokiness to poultry and seafood. The tannins in tea complement the fats in things like meat and dairy, while adding subtle flavor. Brewed tea can be used as a braising liquid, or as a seasoning for marinades. As the base for a sauce, fruit juices gain depth of flavor with a tea addition. A small handful of tea leaves adds an herbaceous flavor and a golden glow to cream sauces. Tea can be used to tease flavors out, to bridge between different disparate ingredients or highlight certain aspects of a dish. Beyond using the hot water-infused beverage, teas can be infused into cold water, oils, dairy products, vinegars, juices and even alcohol. Chefs use teas to complement the sweeter items on their menus, especially desserts and breakfast pastries. To make a cake or shortbread with tea, melt the butter with tea leaves in it, allow to stand for a few minutes and then sieve out the leaves, chill the butter to firm, and proceed with your favorite recipe.

It is important to brew tea differently for cooking and baking than you would for brewing. The simplest, easiest way is to pour pure spring water on the leaves and allow them to brew at room temperature up to 20 to 30 minutes to ensure neither excessive astringency nor bitterness. For a quicker brewing of tea for cooking, use water at 185 degrees F. or slightly lower temperature and infuse the tea for three to five minutes. Although you might be tempted to use leftover brewed tea in cooking, resist as it will be too strong, have an off flavor or be subsequently bitter when used in cooking or baking.Pure spring water seems to bring out both the flavor of tea better than purified or certainly distilled waters, because it has enough natural minerals to "connect" with the flavor-producing polyphenols.

When sieving out the liquid from tea, a fine-meshed sieve or a chinois, a sophisticated French sieve, make it easier to press down on the leaves themselves and squeeze out as much flavorful tea as possible for your dish. Or use French press-style tea infuser to make infusing easy,and cleanup effortless.

You want the tea to be something you can taste, but not something that overpowers everything else.
As a general guideline, try pairing teas with foods from the same geographic region. 

Teas and foods that complement them:

Pu-erh teas: Pu-erhs can often be paired with meats and poultry.
Black teas: Teas like Lapsang souchong, have full body and taste, and often work well with meat dishes. Classic black teas like Keemun or Yunnan, or Lapsang souchong with hot, spicy foods such as Sichuan tea-smoked duck.

  • Darjeeling - egg dishes; creamy desserts 
  • Keemun - meats; fish; Chinese foods; spicy Mexican, Italian, or Indian dishes 
  • Yunnan - highly seasoned foods 
  • Lapsang Souchong - chicken, smoked salmon, lemony desserts 
  • Assam - hearty foods; breakfast foods; chocolate, custard or lemon desserts

Oolong tea: Oolong teas have a light character and often complement shellfish such as lobster and shrimp.
Japanese green teas: Sencha and other Japanese green teas work well with seafood, fish and rice, or to balance out foods high in sodium.
Jasmine green tea: works well with delicately flavored cooking.
Lighter, green teas: pair best with seafood and chicken.

Cheese and Tea Pairings
Asiago: Keemun, Pai Mu Dan
Brie: Dragonwell, Ha Giang, Darjeeling, Tung Ting Oolong
Camembert: Dragonwell, Chun Mee, Gunpowder, Ha Giang, First-Flush Darjeeling, Sikkim
Cheddar: Tung Ting Oolong, Darjeeling
Cream Cheese: Ceylon, Darjeerling, Cameroon
Edam: Ceylon, Autumnal Darjeeling, Buddha’s Finger Oolong
Gorgonzola: Chun Mee, Ha Giang, Ceylon, Pouchong
Muenster: Tung Ting Oolong, Pouchong
Provolone: Ceylon, Nilgri

Chocolate & Tea Pairings
Tea pairs well with chocolate so long as the flavors do not overwhelm one another. Black teas are the preferred choice for chocolate.
Dark Chocolate: Assam, Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Gyokuro, Oolong or Pu-erh
Milk or White chocolate:Darjeeling, Dragonwell, Oolong, Sencha or Yunnan

Many other uses have been found for tea leaves and brewed tea.
Use teabags to:

  • Cool sunburned skin & minor burns
  • Relieve your tired eyes
  • Reduce razor burn
  • Drain a boil
  • Soothe bleeding gums
  • Relieve pain from an injection
  • Dry poison ivy rash
  • Place a few used tea bags on top of the drainage layer at the bottom of the planter before potting to retain water and leach nutrients to the soil.
  • Sprinkle contents around your rose bushes to give them a midsummer boost.
  • Add to a compost pile
Use brewed tea solution to:
  • Soak white lace or garments in a tea bath, using 3 tea bags for every 2 cups of boiling water, and steep for 20 minutes or longer, to create an antique ivory, ecru, or beige color
  • Use a quart (liter) of warm, unsweetened tea (freshly brewed or instant) as a final rinse after your regular shampoo to give natural shine to dry hair
  • Stop foot odor by soaking feet in tea bath
  • Occasionally substitute brewed tea when watering ferns and other acid-loving houseplants
“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.” 
~William Ewart Gladstone

Monday, November 10, 2014

Yule logs

The Yule Log was part of winter solstice celebrations dating back to the pagan Celts and Romans. Burning a ceremonial log ushered in the sun’s warmth during the shortest days of the year.

On the longest night of the year—the Winter Solstice—ancient people celebrated the return of the sun god. The darkest time of the year was past; now the days would begin getting longer. The festival known as Yuletide involved burning a log on the eve of the Solstice (which occurs on either December 20 or 21 each year in the Northern Hemisphere).
Although the name Yule comes from the Norse words “Yul” or “Jul,” the ritual burning of a special log during the Winter Solstice took place in such far-flung places as Ireland, Greece, and Siberia. The earliest burning of a Yule-type log was in ancient Egypt around 5000 BCE in honor of the sun god, Horus.
The Celtic Druids decorated their logs with holly and pinecones. The remnants of the burned logs, believed to protect the homes from evil and lightning, were traditionally kept to start the fire the following year as a symbol of the cycle of seasons, the annual death and rebirth of the sun, and the triumph of good against evil. Ashes from the Yule log were spread around homes and gardens as added protection.

As Christianity spread, the tradition of the Yule log came to be associated with Christmas, particularly in England, where Father Christmas was often portrayed carrying the Yule log.
In the 4th century CE, Pope Julius I decreed that Christmas would be celebrated around the Winter Solstice. The Yule log tradition continued, but came to represent the Savior, rather than the sun (it’s no coincidence that in Christianity, Jesus is often referred to as the “light of the world”).

Similar traditions existed in France and Italy.The Yule Log is a tradition that dates back to the 12th century, observed in the rural areas of France. The family goes out into the woods on Christmas Eve to select a tree, which is then cut down. The men carry an enormous log of freshly cut wood called the Yule log (ceppo) into the house. They circle the room three times and the log is placed in the fireplace. A glass of wine along with oil and salt is poured over the log. Prayers are offered and Christmas songs are sung and the log is lit. In some families, the young girls of the house lite the log with splinters from the preceding year, which they had carefully tucked away. In other families, the mother had this privilege. It was said that the cinders of this log could protect the house from lightning and the malevolent powers of the devil. Choices about the variety of wood, the way in which it was lit and the length of time it took to burn constituted a genuine ritual, which could vary from region to region This tradition lasted up to until the last quarter of the 19th century. Its disappearance coincides with that of great hearths, which were gradually replaced by cast-iron stoves. The great log was thus replaced by a smaller one, often embellished with candles and greenery, placed in the center of the table as a Christmas decoration. This tradition continues in Italy today, where—with many variations—it is it known as a ceppo.

Buche de Noel
The French, though, with their love of cooking, took the custom in another direction, replacing the actual log with a log-shaped cake called a “buche de Noel” (Christmas log).
Although never as popular in the United States as in Europe, the burning of the Yule log, known as a “backstick,” marked the beginning of Christmas celebrations in Appalachia. According to their tradition, as long as the backstick burned, people were not allowed to work and could enjoy themselves.

The first Christmas yule log cake, or buche de Noel, recipe was cleverly created in the late 1800s by a French pastry chef looking to replace and pay culinary homage to the original yule log tradition. This new, gastronomic tradition caught on in spectacular fashion, and the Christmas dessert is now celebrated worldwide. This chocolate buche de Noel recipe showcases a light-as-air, vanilla Genoise cake rolled into a cylinder with the richest, homemade chocolate buttercream frosting.

Buche de Noel
(Southern Living)

4 large eggs, separated $
2/3 cup sugar, divided $
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract $
1/2 cup ground almonds $
1/2 cup sifted cake flour $
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Dash of salt $
2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar $
Rich Chocolate Buttercream
1/2 cup chopped pistachios $
Meringue Mushrooms (optional)

Grease bottom and sides of a 15- x 10-inch jellyroll pan; line with wax paper, and grease and flour wax paper. Set aside.
Beat egg yolks in a large mixing bowl at high speed with an electric mixer 5 minutes or until thick and pale. Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar, beating well. Add water and vanilla. Fold in ground almonds. Gradually fold in cake flour and cocoa.
Beat egg whites at high speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt; beat until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into egg yolk mixture.
Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes or until top springs back when touched.
Sift powdered sugar in a 15- x 10-inch rectangle on a cloth towel. When cake is done, immediately loosen from sides of pan, and turn out onto sugared towel. Peel off wax paper. Starting at narrow end, roll up cake and towel together; cool completely on a wire rack, seam side down.
Unroll cake, and remove towel. Spread cake with half of Rich Chocolate Buttercream; carefully reroll. Cover and chill. Cut a 1-inch-thick diagonal slice from 1 end of cake roll.
Place cake roll on a serving plate, seam side down; position cut piece against side of cake roll to resemble a knot. Spread remaining Rich Chocolate Buttercream over cake.
Score frosting with the tines of a fork or a cake comb to resemble tree bark. Garnish with chopped pistachios scattered around to resemble moss growing on the log. If desired, add Meringue Mushrooms. Store cake (but not mushrooms) in refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Schieg Center at Memorial Park Gardens

Inside the Schieg Center, a surprise awaits in the Ladies room...


Preparations for upcoming winter weather are going on all around town.  A row of decorated plows were lined up in a parking lot at Memorial Park Gardens.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Day of the Dead

Day of theDead - Oxaca, Mexico
Latino Arts’ annual Day of the Dead Pfrendas celebration in Milwaukee features a bright and eclectic collection of ofrendas (altars) prepared by local, regional, and international artists on display for the first 3 weeks of November.  Exhibiting presenters share their tributes to lost loved ones as a celebration of their lives and accomplishments, often decorating their altars with their loved ones’ personal effects and favorite items.

Homemade altars are built to entice those who've passed to the other side back for a visit for Dia de los Muertos, a tradition originating in central Mexico on Nov. 1 and 2.  Altars are used to welcome the ancestors' spirits into the home.  It is also common practice to visit the ancestral burial ground to celebrate with picnics and music.

The Aztecs developed the ritual over 3,000 years ago because they believed one should not grieve the loss of a beloved ancestor who passed. Mourning was not allowed because it was believed tears would make the spirit's path treacherous and slippery.  The Aztecs celebrated their lives and welcomed the return of their spirits to the land of the living once a year with offerings of  food, drink and music. During the Spanish conquest, Catholic leaders exerted their influence on the tradition, the resulting in changes to the Day of the Dead celebration.

A Day of the Dead altar is usually arranged on a table top that is used exclusively for the altar, or it is built from stacks of crates. Altars have at least two tiers, sometimes more. The table or crates are draped with a covering of cloth,  paper, or plastic. An arch made of marigolds is often erected over top of the altar.

Everything on an altar has special meaning:

Monarch butterfly: These butterflies, which migrate to Mexico each fall, were believed to be the spirits of the ancestors coming to visit.

Marigolds - These yellow-orange flowers symbolize death. Their strong fragrance also help lead the dead back to their altars. Marigold petals may also be sprinkled on the floor in front of the altar, or even sprinkled along a path from the altar to the front door, so that the spirit may find her way inside.

Incense - Most commonly, copal incense, which is the dried aromatic resin from a tree native to Mexico. The scent is also said to guide the spirits back to their altars.

Candles: represent fire and are a light guiding them back to visit the land of the living.

Papel picado: Delicately decorated tissue paper, draped around the altar's edge or hung from above,
represent wind and the fragility of life.

Toiletries: A hairbrush, a mirror,  soap, and a small towel, may be left so a spirit can freshen up after reaching the altar.

Ceramics and woven baskets: Ceramics and baskets may included in Day of the Dead altars.

Food: Traditional foods found on altars include atole, mole, tamales, and tortillas. Altars usually include the dead person's favorite foods.

Sugar skulls: Elaborately decorated skulls crafted of pure sugar and given to friends as gifts and also placed on altars as offerings. The colorful designs represent the vitality of life and individual personality.

Pan de Muertos: Semisweet breads are baked in the shape of bones, with a small human figurine inside, and dusted with sugar.  It's considered good luck to find the tiny surprise in your slice. Breads are also used to represent the soil.

Seeds: Pumpkin seeds or amaranth seeds are offered as snacks for the visiting ancestral spirit. In pre-Columbian times, Aztecs used amaranth seeds instead of sugar to make the skulls.

Salt: represents the continuance of life.

Water - Souls are thirsty after their long journey from the Other Side, s a glass of water may be placed on the altar.

Alcohol: Bottles are offered to toast the arrival of the ancestors.

Photographs: Images of loved ones who have died are placed on the altar.

Dogs: were believed to guide the ancestral spirits to their final resting place in the afterlife.