Country CousinIssue Date: December 26, 2018
Ring out the old
Christmas has come and gone. Winter is officially here. By this time next week we'll be having to remember to use 2019 when we fill out forms and write checks. Hope everyone had a Blessed Christmas and wish everyone a happy, happy New Year. May God bless us one and all.
We had a somewhat White Christmas. Luckily, there wasn't enough snow to halt traffic, so the family visits could go on as planned.
Soon those who love the outdoors, cold or not, will be enjoying snowmobile events, ice fishing derbies, skiing and all sorts of other winter sports. Many who do not enjoy the cold outdoors will be heading for warmer climes. Some will send postcards saying "Wish you were here!" Personally can reply sincerely, "So do I!"
NEW YEAR CHEER
Ogden Nash, in a verse comprised in 1929, wrote:
"Tonight's December thirty-first,
Something is about to burst.
The clock is crouching, dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark, it's midnight, children dear.
Duck! Here comes another year!"
Lots of us are making resolutions to change our lives for the new year. Friend says her resolution is to change the name for "restroom" from John to Jim. That way, she can honestly tell her friends that she goes to the Jim every morning.
IT'S STILL YULETIDE
Christmas itself is over, but it's still the Yuletide Season. Back in Merrie Olde England, they used to actually celebrate for the full Twelve days of Christmas.
My father's French Canadian family and their friends here in the United States used to observe Christmas as more of a solemn religious day, and do their merrymaking on New Years and Jan. 5, which Dad called "Little Christmas."
Dad remembered his family traveling by sleigh from their home in Middle Inlet to his grandparents home in Walsh. Considering the number of children they had, that must have been quite a feat. Back in those days there were no telephones. One year, for what reason I can't recall, Dad's family did not make it for the big family celebration. His Dad was so concerned that he walked from Walsh to Middle Inlet on a cold winter day to check on them. Dad does not recall his family ever again missing the traditional family gathering.
Dads in those days tried to put on a gruff front, but most of them were softies then just as most of them are softies now. My grandpa, when I attempted to scold him for breaking a rule that I had to follow, scolded loudly, "You do as I say, not as I do!" and he meant it.
He also had a 4-inch wide double razor strop that hung behind the bathroom door. We were threatened with that strap every now and then, but as we got older we all began to realize that the strop was never actually used for anything other than sharpening Grandpa's old fashioned straight edged razor.
The word Yuletide originated from the word Yule, which was recorded in Latin writings as early as A.D. 726. At that time, the form of the word was guili, but the "g" was pronounced like we say "y" . Both terms refer to a 12-day pagan feast celebrated around the time of year that has come to be known as the Christmas season.
WHERE DOES "GODSPEED" COME FROM?
When folks traveled, and regularly at New Years, folks often wished each other "Godspeed". This dates back to a 15th century song sung by English ploughmen on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Day, the end of the Christmas holidays. Before farm laborers went back to the fields, they dressed all in white and went from door to door drawing a plough and soliciting "plough money" to spend on a last celebration. The song lyric "Godspeed the plough" expressed a wish for success and prosperity and was soon shortened to just "Godspeed".
UNDER THE MISTLETOE
Of all the plants used as Christmas decorations, possibly none has as long and interesting a history as mistletoe, evergreen leaves, yellow flowers, and white berries. Mistletoe is considered a symbol of life because even when its host is leafless, it is evergreen and bears fruit in the winter. The word mistletoe is from the Saxon word mistl-tan meaning "different twig."
And probably none is more likely to be left up until after the new year's celebrations are over. Kissing under the mistletoe has a long, long history.
Druid priests thought mistletoe to be a sacred plant because it didn't grow from roots in the ground. When they found some growing on an oak-their most sacred tree-they considered it to be the soul of the tree. The high priest would climb the tree on the 6th night of the new Moon after the winter solstice and cut the mistletoe with a golden sickle. Worshippers caught the pieces in their long white robes or on a white cloth spread under the tree because it was bad luck to let even the smallest piece touch the ground. The faithful would wear mistletoe charms for good luck and protection from witches and evil spirits. Sprays of mistletoe hung over the doorway ensured that only happiness could enter the home.
The Swiss traditionally shot mistletoe out of the trees with an arrow and for good luck they had to catch it in the left hand before it hit the ground. It was also associated with lightning and fire, and subsequently called "thunder-besom." In some parts of northern Europe, it was used as a divining rod to find treasure and as a master key to open locks.
KISSIN' UNDER THE MISTLETOE
The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe started with an old Norse legend, in which Frigga, the goddess of love, had a son named Balder who was the god of innocence and light. To protect him, Frigga demanded that all creatures - and even inanimate objects - swear an oath not to harm him, but she forgot to include mistletoe. Loki, god of evil and destruction, learned of this and made an arrow from a sprig of mistletoe. He then tricked Hoth, Balder's blind brother, into shooting the mistletoe arrow and guided it to kill Balder. The death of Balder meant the death of sunlight - explaining the long winter nights in the north.
Frigga's tears fell onto the mistletoe and turned into white berries. She decreed that it should never cause harm again but should promote love and peace instead. From then on, anyone standing under mistletoe would get a kiss. Even mortal enemies meeting under mistletoe by accident had to put their weapons aside and exchange a kiss of peace, declaring a truce for the day.
BALLS OF MISTLETOE
By the 1700's, traditional "kissing balls" made of boxwood, holly, and mistletoe were hung in windows and doorways during the holiday season. A young lady caught under the mistletoe could not refuse to give a kiss. This was supposed to increase her chances of marriage, since a girl who wasn't kissed could still be single next Christmas.
The custom of kissing under the mistletoe may date to at least the 1500s in Europe. We know it was practiced in the early United States. Washington Irving referred to it in his 1820 collection of essays and stories, "Christmas Eve," in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. In Irving's day, each time a couple kissed under a mistletoe sprig, they removed one of the white berries. When the berries were all gone, so was the sprig's kissin' power.
The traditional mistletoe produces large leaves and big berries, but this leafy type of "kissing mistletoe" is not native to Wisconsin. Wisconsin's only native mistletoe species is the extremely tiny eastern dwarf mistletoe, which only grows to heights of a couple of centimeters, easily making it Wisconsin's tiniest shrub.
According to an article written by botanist Matthew Wagner, of Summit lake, Wis., and published in Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, Eastern Dwarf Mistletoe is a hemi-parasitic plant, meaning it derives some of its nutrients from photosynthesis, but also robs some nutrients from the host plant. In nature, its hosts are primarily black spruce trees and occasionally white spruce and tamarack. The vast majority of mistletoe populations occur in the swamps of Northern Wisconsin.
Have never notices it myself, but do plan to look for it in the future.
Eastern dwarf mistletoe derives its nutrition, especially amino acids and sugars, from the host. The mistletoe seeps a growth-inhibiting hormone into the host tree's branches, upsets the hormonal balance and causes proliferation of twigs in dense clumps called a witches' broom. The deformed tree, weakened by the loss of nutrients, eventually succumbs, but this is not really a bad thing. The death of an individual tree from dwarf mistletoe can take several decades and more widespread infestation of a forest stand may take centuries.
Meanwhile, the witches' brooms provide nesting sites for birds, the buds of infected spruce trees often open very early in spring when other buds are still closed, yielding sugars for ants and other insects, which in turn serve as food for birds.
When infected trees eventually die and fall to their swampy floor, they open up the forest canopy to sunlight that gives other trees the opportunity to grow. A more uneven aged forest stand enhances the health and ecology of the whole forest.
Since a witches' broom can make a tree more top heavy and the roots of most swamp dwelling trees are shallow, the tree is more susceptible to toppling. Wind-felled trees in swampy areas often cause the roots to come out of the ground, creating a topsoil spot ideal habitats for many of beautiful native orchid species.
Although eastern dwarf mistletoe may not be the showiest or most elegant plant of the season, its diminutive size and fascinating life cycle more than make up for its unsightly form. Though few Wisconsinites will be scouring the swamps for some eastern dwarf mistletoe to hang over a doorway, we can all raise a glass of eggnog and toast this tiny, most interesting native shrub.
STILL HANG MISTLETOE
As part of our Christmas decorating, lots of us still hang Mistletoe in doorways and other handy spots in hopes of catching a quick kiss from someone we catch there. When the grandsons were small, but not quite small enough to accept random kisses from Grandma, they used to love it when I'd catch them near the mistletoe and drag them for a quick smooch. Hate to admit it, but I was also quite happy if someone I loved did that to me.
Somehow in recent years we've forgotten about mistletoe. Will need to remember that for next year.
Incidentally, recently gained the company of another enchanting little boy, and he voluntarily came up several times on his last visit and asked for a hug, after I had reminded him when they came in that I love hugs. A voluntary hug from a little boy (or girl) is easily as good as a smooch under the mistletoe from someone older.
NOT THE FIRST
Incorrectly wrote last week that the late George H.W. Bush was the first U.S. president to have a who also was elected president.
Was kindly informed by Gerald Peterson of Marinette that the first father and son to hold the position of President of the United States were John Adams, and his son, John Quincy Adams.
John Adams helped write the Constitution, served as vice president under George Washington, and became the new nation's second president in 1797. His son, John Quincy Adams, became president in 1824. In that election, Andrew Jackson had the most electoral votes but did not have the majority. Therefore, the vote was decided in the House of Representatives, and John Quincy Adams became president. There has not ben another father/son presidential combination since then.
SPAGHETTI MARINARA WREATH
Makes one 12-cup Bundt or tube cake. If you don't want to be that fancy, bake it in an ordinary deep casserole dish.
1 box (16 oz) dry spaghetti
4 large eggs
1 container (15 oz) whole ricotta cheese
1-1/2 cup whole milk
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 oz bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
4 cups marinara sauce
Preheat over to 350 degrees. Liberally spray bottom and side of 12-cup bundt or tube pan. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain over sink and rise under cool water.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, ricotta, milk, salt and pepper. Using hands, squeeze excess water from thawed spinach; add to egg mixture. Add both cheeses, basil and sun-dried tomatoes; stir to combine. Add drained pasta; toss with tongs to thoroughly combine. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Bake until golden brown around edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove and cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Heat marinara sauce on medium heat. Using oven mitts, carefully invert pasta on a serving dish. Cut into 10 pieces. Serve with marinara sauce.
Want an egg nog drink without eggs for someone who's lactose intolerant? Try this one. No vanilla bean? Just add a half teaspoon or so of vanilla extract instead. Great for Christmas Eve, possibly even better for your New Year celebration!
5 cups almond milk
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup whiskey
1/3 cup amaretto
Freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Add milk, syrup, whiskey, amaretto and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg to blender; scrape in vanilla bean seeds and blend until frothy. Pour over ice in 8 glasses. Sprinkle with more nutmeg. To be really fancy, hold a Christmas stencil over the filled glass when you sprinkle on the nutmeg. The pattern will sit on top of the drink until they start sipping. If your guests drink a lot, you probably will want to do this only for the first drink. After that, let them sprinkle on the nutmeg themselves. The pattern doesn't add to the flavor, just gives a festive look.
CHOCOLATE WHISKEY BUNDT CAKE
Makes one 12-cup Bundt or tube cake. Haven't tried this yet, but it sounds like a marvelous dessert for a New Year party.
1 tablespoon flour mixed with 1 tablespoon cocoa (mixed together to dust inside of pan)
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 warm water
1/4 cup whiskey
4 tablespoons clear corn syrup
6 ounce (3/4 cup) heavy cream
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or in pieces
1 teaspoon whiskey or bourbon
PREPARE THE CAKE: Preheat over to 350 degrees. Generally butter or spray a Bundt cake pan with nonstick food spray. Dust with a tablespoon of flour mixed with a tablespoon cocoa. Flip pan and tap out excess. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine. Place eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla in bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium to combine. Slowly add dry ingredients. Mix to combine. Add warm water and whiskey. Mix lightly, being careful not to over beat.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from over and let cook on a wire rack. Flip cake over after 20 minutes. Keep cake on rack with parchment paper underneath.
PREPARE GANACHE: Heat corn syrup and cream in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add chocolate and stir until smooth. Add the whiskey. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. The ganache will thicken as it cools. Pour over top of cake.
Thought for the week: As New Years Eve approaches, remember the words of Turkish philosopher/author Mehmet Murat Ildan: "The New Year is a painting not yet painted; a path not yet stepped on; a wing not yet taken off! Things haven't happened as yet! Before the clock strikes twelve, remember that you are blessed with the ability to reshape your life!"
Remember also that we all have faults, flaws and failures. We need to forgive others for theirs, and even more importantly, we need to forgive ourselves for our own. We can resolve to be better in future and quit kicking ourselves for failures of the past. Anyone who succeeds in doing that we will indeed have a truly happy New Year.
(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-291-9002 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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